Mentor Profile Bapin Axbhatta
I am a 25-year-old male. I am both deaf and blind, and I come from India. I am currently in an undergraduate program at University of Arkansas at Little Rock, majoring in political science.
I was brought up in a village twenty miles south of Calcutta. The village is mostly filled with farmlands and forests. It has no paved roads, vehicles, or fancy markets but a few food bazaars. Eighty-five percent of its population lives in poverty and illiteracy. It does not mean they have no homes; they get free land on which they build huts from mud, hay, and bamboos. I feel gifted as I sometimes think how God has provided me with a wonderful family. Most people in this kind of culture would be too embarrassed to show their disabled children to the public.
When I was a child, I was not blind. I was only born deaf; why I am deaf is unknown. Fortunately, my parents are well educated and could understand that my needs were very special. At the age of two, my mother taught me how to speak Bengali, my native language. She used many artistic ways to describe how to make the sound of a letter by moving her lips and had me feel her throat for vibrations. I could then speak and lipread; people that understood me were the ones who had heard my voice often.
When I was six years old, I was sent to a school in Calcutta near my mother's family's house. As I was deaf, I had to sit in the front of teachers to be able to lipread what was said. I had a hard time there because the kids were mean and picked on me a lot as I could not hear. They made fun of my mistakes when I was trying to understand what the teachers were saying. The teachers also did not understand what was going on; they let this situation go on and on. At that time, I was too innocent to deal with the situation so instead I got really frustrated and behaved badly. The school got tired of me and expelled me after six months. I went back home to the village.
One day my mother decided to test my vision. She put her hand on my right eye and asked if I could see from my left eye. I said yes. Then she put her hand on my left eye. I was terribly shocked to learn that I could not see anything from my right eye! I was afraid to tell her the truth so I lied and said yes. She was clever enough to use an object before my eye and asked what it was. I said the name and she said wrong. So she told me not to worry about being blind in my right eye. Although she felt very sad, she was still glad to have discovered the problem I had. At this point, I froze into a deep thought about how this all happened. I then remembered something: I told my mother that I was digging soil one day some time ago with one older boy from my neighborhood. He accidentally threw the soil into my right eye. Maybe this was the cause that I lost sight in one eye, but I never realized this since I still could see in the other eye.
My father sent me to a hospital where I stayed for three months. Nothing succeeded; the doctor said that the retina had been badly damaged. So I went back home where I was admitted to a nearby school. At first this school did not accept me, because they thought I could not do what other students did. My father persistently persuaded the master of this school to let me in. I was then seven and half years old when I was in the first grade.
When I was half way through the second grade, I had a fight with a boy who decided to throw ash-like dirt into my eyes. Again, I was hurried to the hospital. The doctor could not get my sight back fully as the retina was already detached. I slowly became totally blind during a three-month period. I was so frightened and felt lost as I did not know how to live or move around freely without any sight. I had to quit school. After the accident, my young brother was born so it was tough for my family to handle many situations at a time.
During the next four-year period, my father tried to find a way for me to resume my education. Unfortunately, all the schools for the blind in India would not accept me as they had no provisions for working with deaf students. But with the grace of God, my father met a principal at a blind School who had gone to Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts years ago. She told him that Perkins would be an excellent place for me to go.
Since the government in India would not aid me either financially or otherwise, the process in making arrangements for me to enter Perkins was complicated. However, Perkins very generously offered me scholarships for the time I was enrolled as a student there. Were I to have remained in India, I could never have succeeded going through school and making it to college, due to the paucity of services there.
In September 1983 my father and I came to the United States. He acted as my interpreter to translate from English to Bengali until I learned enough English to go on my own. So I busied myself learning English, Braille, and American Sign Language.
Coming to the United States has changed my life significantly. I still cannot believe how terrible a boy I was in the past. But at least I am now very happy with my life although I cannot see anything. Many great technologies here enabled me to be as independent as those who are hearing and sighted. When I think about all of that, I am even more surprised to realize that I am really in college where I am now majoring in political science! I am very grateful for what I have received and that the University of Arkansas has the accommodations necessary to facilitate my academic progress. I expect to earn a bachelors degree in May 1997 and then hopefully to go to law school.
Throughout my life, I have developed a strong interest in helping others who are in my situation. Knowing all about laws and becoming a lawyer myself, I want to be able to lobby and convince the government to look into the possibilities of establishing various services to meet the needs of people with disabilities. This includes my goal to work with those with disabilities to ensure their civil rights and equal opportunities for achievement.
Because of my strong interest in issues for persons with disabilities, I have traveled to many countries to attend conventions based on various perspectives toward problems encountered by deaf-blind people. I was once in Russia where I was asked to meet with commissioners of several agencies that worked to protect the rights of people with disabilities. This was where it led to my interest in becoming a lawyer.
As for my hobbies, I love computing, woodworking, traveling, obtaining new cultural experiences, creative writing, cooking, sewing, participating in sports, and the list goes on! At this time, I am mainly interested in traveling to different places to learn more about the perspectives that different parts of the world offer toward deaf-blindness.
If you have any questions, just ask me. I'm here to help you. I'm here as your friend if you need anything. Please feel free to email me anytime you need someone to talk to, to discuss problems with, to just "hang out" with over email. Hang in there, and take good care of yourselves!!! :)