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Before Hannah Alice Simon began using computers, her mother would painstakingly convert all her textbooks into braille. Although visually impaired, Simon’s parents decided rather early on that she would not study at a special school.
“They wanted me to have the same opportunities as other children. They never saw me as different,” said 19-year-old Simon, with a wide smile on her face.
Her parents hard work and Simon’s perseverance paid off. On 22 July, she topped the CBSE class XII result in the “students with disabilities” category.
She scored 496 out of 500 marks and is set to leave for the University of Notre Dame in the US to pursue a degree in Psychology.
“Mother Converted Textbooks into Braille so I Could Study”
Simon was born with microphthalmia, which means she has 100 percent blindness. At first, Simon’s mother would translate her textbooks into Braille. She said, “My mother would type out all the textbooks using a Braille printer. We had no other choice back then.”
By the time, she was in class VIII, she began using computers and availed PDF format of books, which she studied using a software meant for those with a visual impairment.
She said, “CBSE books were available in the PDF format but had a lot of errors and inaccuracies because they were scanned versions of the textbooks, perhaps.” Simon said that even the diagrams and maps did not have written descriptions.
Online learning came with a new set of challenges for Simon. She said;
We had started using Microsoft Teams for our classes but others with visual impairments told me that Microsoft Teams is not very accessible to us.Hannah Alice Simon
Simon had to take help of family members to upload assignments and answer sheets. “It took a while, but I got used to online classes," she said.
"Bullied as a Child Because I was Different"
Simon, who is a student of Rajagiri Christu Jayanthi Public School in Kerala’s Kochi, said that when she was younger, she was “bullied” and “teased” by her classmates.
“My classmates were curious about my impairment. They would tease and bully me. When we grew up, it subsided. I have a small circle of friends and for them I am not blind, I am just Hannah, their best friend,” she said.
Demotivated at first, Simon turned to music, and began composing her own songs. Next month, as she begins her stint at the University of Notre Dame, she will pick music as a minor.
My parents never wanted me to go to a special needs' school. They didn’t think I was different. A special needs’ school is a very sheltered place. If I had gone to a blind school, I would have met others like me and when I would have finally been exposed to the real world, it would have been hard.Hannah Alice Simon
Now that she is older, she understands the decision her parents took. Simon said, “Parents of special needs children often don’t have anymore children but I have two younger siblings. Our parents treat us equally and that makes all the difference.”
Apart from being a CBSE topper, Simon is a YouTuber, a singer and a published author too. She was recently published her first book; 'Welcome Home,' which is a collection of six short stories.
A Brighter Future
“The University I am going to is so inclusive that my family is not very nervous about sending me far away,” said Simon. The University has put her in touch with other special needs’ students, and the Disabilities Centre on campus.
“They have already sent me textbooks in an accessible format. My dormitory is centrally located. They have ensured that I will be comfortable and will have people to reach out to if I need help,” she said.
And the best bit is that apart from studying Psychology, Simon gets to minor in music and writing, two of her most favourite subjects.
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