India’s first varsity for the differently-abled, NISH

“About three per cent of the population in the country is differently abled. I always say that these people don’t need your sympathy. They want their due – better opportunities,” says G Vijayaraghavan, a technocrat who founded a small school 18 years ago, after his twin daughters were born with hearing and speech impairments. The school he founded at Thiruvananthapuram, the National Institute of Speech and Hearing (NISH), situated on the outskirts of city, is set to scale new heights now. With the announcement of union finance minister Arun Jaitley in his budget speech, NISH has been elevated as India’s first university for disability studies and rehabilitation sciences.
What the central government is planning is to develop NISH as an institute of excellence on the lines of IIT, IIM and AIIMS. The honour has come to the proud father a year after his twin daughters, Lakshmy and Parvathy, graduated in fine arts from NISH, married grooms with the same challenges. Vijayaraghavan’s indomitable spirit has provided succour to many, reports The Hindu. “My husband and I were working in Dubai. We left our jobs and returned home after our daughter was born with hearing disabilities,” says C Anu, the mother of preschooler Andrea (5). The child, who was enrolled in NISH four years ago, is now ready to join a mainstream school.
“Early intervention is critical in shaping a disabled child’s life. After leaving my job, I had to stay in a rented house near the school for three years to help my six-year-old son,” the report quotes another mother saying. For many parents, the economic burden of having a child with disabilities often outweighs the social stigma and the emotional stress.
Vijayaraghavan started the school on rented premises in 1997 with seven students. As there were no facilities available at Thiruvananthapuram, he often had to take his little daughters to Mysore for treatment. “This was a big problem and really motivated me to think of an institution in my city. Once my dream blossomed, successive governments helped it to stand on its own”, Vijayaraghavan recalls.
Though the Kerala government asked him to take over the school’s administration, Vijayaraghavan chose to opt for experts in the area. Soon after NISH was established, a batch of teachers was sent for training at the best institutes across the world. A UK-trained teacher Anu Kurian joined them on an honorary basis to take care of the preschool section. Former chief minister EK Nayanar also took a keen interest as did former defence minister AK Antony, who helped to set up a new building block.

The institution which functions under the state social welfare ministry, now offers a variety of courses including preschool training, parent guidance courses, audiological rehabilitation programme, vocational courses and summer programmes. It runs graduation programmes like BSc in Computer Sciences, BA in Fine Arts and Bachelor of Commerce and a course to groom professionals, both at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, in Audiology and Speech Language Pathology. NISH also offers a diploma course in teaching children with challenges.
Apart from such academic activities, NISH plays a major role in various social service initiatives. Since rubella in mothers is a major cause for hearing ailments, it popularised the need for the rubella vaccine. Now, girl children in all government schools in the state are vaccinated against rubella. All government hospitals in the state also now have equipment to detect hearing ailments at birth.
Parents from places as far away as Punjab and the Andamans are now sending their children here.
Besides children, NISH offers training modules for parents on how to deal with the situation.