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Ilina Rughoobur

Ilina Rughoobur, '23

Increasing accessibility for Mauritian people with disabilities

“I am confident that we can bring about a change.” 

The determination in Kirti Ramchurn’s voice over the screen sent chills down my back. I could imagine her in front of her laptop in her home, poised and yet so resolved. Such a bold statement, but not impossible.

My internship with Kirti and other advocates as an International Public Service Fellow through Cardinal Quarter evolved my social justice consciousness. Despite living in Mauritius for 19 years, I was not aware of the privileged life I was leading as someone without disabilities. When I joined a disability rights advocacy foundation last summer, I was exposed to a side of the island about which I had been ignorant. 

When I came to Stanford, I was astonished by the emphasis on accessibility for students and the mere fact that Office of Accessible Education existed. I was surprised to see that every room number was also written in braille and that there were ramps all over campus. My high school, similar to most public high schools and universities in Mauritius, did not have any accommodations for students with disabilities. For instance, labs are usually on the second or third floor, with no elevators or ramps for students using wheelchairs. Now that I think back to the educational institutions I attended throughout my life, there was barely any assistance for people with disabilities. When one of my peers had a leg cast, the entire system at school was disrupted. Our class had to switch rooms with the class nearest to the school gate and there was no way to go for my classmate to the library or labs, or to use the restrooms comfortably. 

Research during the course of my internship indicated that such problems were typical. Despite promises of an inclusive education, the Mauritian government segregates students with disabilities from the mainstream population. They are put into “special” schools, and even then, those students don’t have access to assistive technology. One student, who is visually impaired, shared that she got her textbooks in braille after three months of school.

Our research showed that accessibility challenges in Mauritius do not stop at the education level; they spill over into the employment sector. Even though people with disabilities should represent three percent of a company’s workforce according to Mauritian law, the majority of companies do not comply with this law. 

Lack of accessible transportation compounds the difficulties that people with disabilities encounter when seeking employment. For instance, companies may not offer benefits related to transportation services necessary for people with disabilities, which hinders or negates their ability to accept offers. 

As a key part of my internship, I worked with colleagues to advocate for a disability bill in Mauritius that would expand legal protections for people with disabilities and hold organizations accountable to these laws. During this process, I participated in various research projects and learned a great deal about deafness in Mauritius, rights for people with disabilities, rights to information, and a similar disability bill in India. 

A life lesson that I learned was that, when discussing policies, the most important voices in the conversation are those of members of the affected community. I remember my supervisor telling me that we should only lend our voices to those who can’t speak for themselves instead of using our power to impose our own ideas and biases. 

Striving to reach solutions to improve the lives of those with disabilities has made me reflect on myself and my privileges. To bring about a change is tough and riddled with challenges, but I am confident that we can address legal and systemic inequities to improve the lives of people from marginalized communities. Such a bold statement, but not impossible.

Ilina Rughoobur, '23, is studying anthropology. She is the director of the Stanford Alzheimer's Alliance, an outreach member for Stanford Synapse, and has been also involved with Stanford Servant Breakfast and Stanford Housing Justice. Ilina is originally from Quatre-Bornes, Mauritius.
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