She is a YouTuber, singer, motivational speaker and, as of Friday, a CBSE Class XII topper. Kochi resident Hannah Alice Simon, who suffers from microphthalmia, a condition that makes her blind, tops the disabled student category – with a score of 496 out of 500.
For the 19-year-old humanities student, who has always studied in a “normal” school, negotiating life is a challenge she was prepared for from an early age at home.
“Usually, when a child is born with a disability, the parents treat him with gloves. But in my house, I had the same responsibility and the same treatment as my younger brothers. They even enrolled in a regular school, not a school for the blind,” Hannah told The Indian Express.
In microphthalmia, the eyeballs do not develop fully or do not develop at all. Because of this, she was often made to feel self-conscious that she “looked different” from others.
“When they treated me differently at school, it hurt, because I had been made aware of my disability. Until class IV, I was in another school and I was a victim there bullying. They insulted me, called me a ghost and a devil, they said I scared them. I changed schools to class V,” says Hannah, who studies at Rajagiri Christu Jayanthi Public School. in Kakkanad.
As I got older, bullying was no longer a significant problem. “Students weren’t bullying but didn’t interact much, teachers were trying to protect me like keeping me a seat at events, asking me not to run, even the excessive care felt oppressive. I’ve always been different to most people,” she says.
Academically too, there were many challenges for the student who scored a total of 100 in Psychology, Sociology and Economics, 99 in Politics and 97 in English.
“At first, I didn’t have access to manuals in pdf format. Later, when I received them, there were errors and mistakes. My main problem was studying math, especially geometry, because there were no tactile devices to understand shapes. Teachers usually do sums on the board and I have trouble keeping up. But they can’t give me special attention. But they really tried to make me feel comfortable, like in social studies, instead of a card-based question, they gave me something else and several examples like that,” she says.
Although difficult at first, she says her parents’ decision to enroll her in a regular school was the best for her.
His father, Simon, legal director in a private practice, explains why. “When we inquired about schools for the blind, we realized that she could only study there until class X. But we didn’t want her to drop out later. My wife, Lija, learned Braille herself and taught Hannah,” he said.
Hannah’s teachers and principal call her exceptionally talented. “My own child is hard of hearing and studied here. As for Hannah, she’s not just good at academics. She is a gifted singer, great speaker, writes wonderfully and has also released a book. She is extremely poised and confident for someone her age,” says Saji Varghese, Principal of Rajagiri Christu Jayanthi Public School.
A music student, Hannah completed her 8th year at Trinity College London in Western Classical Music, Rock and Pop. “In Class VI, during a competition, I composed some original songs. It was then, at my father’s suggestion, that I wrote my first song, ‘Jesus by my Side’, and my parents created a YouTube channel for me,” she recalls.
Since then, Hannah has written eight songs, racked up 20,000 subscribers for her YouTube channel, recently published a short story book — and is a speaker at schools and colleges to boot.
“I started by sharing my experiences in the Church, someone found it inspiring and asked me to come and share somewhere else. Now schools and colleges are calling me, I’m just going to share my experiences – they call it motivational speeches,” said Hannah, who now wants to major in psychology in addition to studying creative writing and music. .
On August 9, she left with her parents for the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, USA, where she was offered a full scholarship.
“All I want is for the world to treat me like any other regular, normal student. I know the first few months will be tough, but I want to prove that I can survive on my own in a country foreigner, like any other student.