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The Salsa Dancing Blind Student Who Won a Scholarship to the U.S.

Being blind hasn’t stopped Shalini Menon from acing her SAT tests - and now she’s about to embark on a most exciting adventure – with a scholarship to Amherst College in the U.S. The inspiring young student took some time off from her salsa dance practices, singing classes and swimming, to talk to
BY Braingain Staff Writer |   06-06-2013

A regular school-day for Bangalore based Shalini Menon meant waking up early, leaving home at 7am for the one hour car ride to school, and not returning until 7pm most days. Keeping busy with extra mathematics tuitions, singing, swimming, and salsa, along with a love for ‘watching’ conversation-based teen movies, Shalini is not one to be idle.

This is tough enough for any student to keep up with, but Shalini is completely blind. She can perceive only vaguely the source of light in her immediate environment, but everything else is in darkness.

And yet that hasn’t stopped her from being adventurous. She has gone canoeing  in the U.S., regularly treks and rock climbs in and around Bangalore, and most recently went scuba diving in the Indian Ocean off the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where she had a chance to touch coral, sea cucumbers, and starfish to understand what she was ‘seeing’.

Born blind to a family that gave her up to an orphanage in Bangalore, Shalini was adopted at the tender age of three months, by the Menon family – a bustling family that at the time consisted of mum Nirmala, dad Vikram, two brothers, Nikhil and Naveen, and a sister, Nandini – the siblings were then aged 20, 18, and 14 years old respectively.

Soon after Shalini’s adoption, Nirmala took an online course with the Hadley School for the Blind in the U.S. – which equipped her to help Shalini acquire the necessary skills so she could keep up with sighted kids her age. She taught Shalini how to crawl towards something, taught her Braille, and later, how to familiarize herself with the computer keyboard through calling out the letters as she felt them. The entire family spoke with Shalini constantly, describing everything they were doing and what was happening in her immediate vicinity.

 “My mum who has been my teacher since I was a young child used to tell me to like everything I do! So if I got grumpy with say Geography she’d say – ‘but it’s so important for you to understand climate and know why it is the way it is’ – and just the way she’d say it, with so much passion and enthusiasm, it would infect me, and I ended up loving nearly everything I studied!”

Shalini took a year off after high school, after which she took the SAT exams as a student with disabilities at her high school, the Mallya Aditi International School in Bangalore. She was granted small accommodations including more time, access to Braille graphs and a Braille device for written responses. She also worked with a reader, who had to learn how to explain the questions to her in preparation for test day.
It all paid off. When the envelope came in, she had scored a perfect 800 out of a possible 800 marks in the SAT 2 Subject test, with high scores in the general SAT test and the SAT 2 English Literature test as well.
And in the midst of all the studying, Shalini kept up with her singing, playing and learning music. She’s been playing the piano since the age of three, the recorder since the age of five, and has been involved in vocal music and the school choir since the age of six.
Last October she took part in a pop vocal musical recital, and practiced hard to make sure she had the right moves to match with her singing.

She’s even a salsa performer who took part in the International Salsa Congress in 2012

In its preparations to receive one of their first blind students in many years, Amherst has been in close contact over the past weeks, learning how they can ensure she has all she needs to be independent, safe, and comfortable both in the classroom and outside.

Planning to study Mathematics and Economics during a four-year undergraduate program, Shalini loves to analyze things and apply mathematical principles to everyday life.

“I want to do a Masters – go on to graduate school – after which I want a career in economics. I’m also very passionate about music. So in an ideal world, I’d like to pursue music alongside this. I’m writing songs – so if I can compose music while working with economics I’d be very pleased – and maybe get into teaching or investment banking.”

It’s all a heartening reminder that sight isn’t the only requirement for leading an adventurous life – and for winning a scholarship to the U.S.



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Jaime Trevino
The article on Shalini Menon is very familiar to me, we have been trying to find her for years is there any contact info for family?
12 June 2013

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