Kochi girl who topped Class 12 in CBSE disabled category is also a YouTuber, singer and speaker

For the 19-year-old humanities student, who has always studied in a “regular” school, negotiating life is a challenge she had been prepared for from a young age at home.
She is a YouTuber, a singer, a motivational speaker, and, since Friday, a CBSE Class XII topper. Kochi resident Hannah Alice Simon, who has microphthalmia, a condition resulting in blindness for her, topped the category of students with disabilities — scoring 496 out of 500.

For the 19-year-old humanities student, who has always studied in a “regular” school, negotiating life is a challenge she had been prepared for from a young age at home.
“Generally, when a child is born with a disability, parents treat them with kid gloves. But in my house, I got the same responsibility and treatment as my younger brothers. They even enrolled in a regular school, not blind school,” Hannah told The Indian Express.

In microphthalmia, the eyeballs don’t fully develop or develop at all. Because of this, she was often made to feel conscious of “looking different” from other people.

“When they would treat me differently in school, it hurt, because I was made aware of my disability. Till Class IV, I was in another school and I faced some bullying there. They would call me names, called me a ghost and a devil, they said I scared them. I changed my school in Class V,” says Hannah, who studies in Rajagiri Christu Jayanthi Public School in Kakkanad.
As she grew older, bullying was no more a significant problem. “Students wouldn’t bully but wouldn’t interact much, teachers would try to cushion me like saving me a seat at events, asking me not to run, even the excessive care felt oppressive. I was always different for most people,” she says.

In terms of academics as well, there were many challenges for the student who scored a full 100 in psychology, sociology and economics, 99 in politics, and 97 in English.

“Initially I didn’t have access to pdf format textbooks. Later, when I received them, there were errors and mistakes. My main problem was studying maths, especially geometry since there were no tactile devices to understand shapes. Teachers usually do sums on the board and I find it difficult to follow. But they can’t give me special attention. But they really tried hard to make me comfortable, like in social sciences, instead of a map-based question they would give me something else and several such instances,” she says.
Though difficult at first, she says her parents’ decision to enrol her in a regular school was the best one for her.

Her father, Simon, a legal manager in a private firm, explains why. “When we enquired about blind schools, we realised she could study there only till Class X. But we didn’t want her to drop out later. My wife, Lija, learnt Braille herself and taught Hannah,” he said.

Hannah’s teachers and principal call her exceptionally talented. “My own child is hearing impaired and studied here. As far as Hannah goes, she is not just good at academics. She is a gifted singer, great orator, writes wonderfully and has in fact released a book. She is extremely composed and confident for someone her age,” says Saji Varghese, principal, Rajagiri Christu Jayanthi Public School.

A student of music, Hannah has completed her Grade 8 from Trinity College London in western classical and rock and pop. “In Class VI, during a competition, I composed a few original songs. It was then, on my father’s suggestion, that I wrote my first song, ‘Jesus by my Side’, and my parents created a YouTube channel for me,” she recalled.

Since then, Hannah has written eight songs, garnered 20,000 subscribers for her YouTube channel, published a book of short stories recently — 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 elsewhere. Now schools and colleges call me, I just go and share my experiences — they call it motivational speeches,” said Hannah, who now wants to major in psychology besides studying creative writing and music.

On August 9, she leaves with her parents for the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, US, where she has been 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 challenging but I want to prove that I can survive on my own in a foreign country just like any other student.”

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