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What Children With Disabilities Need, Beyond Inclusive Infrastructure

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By Paavani Sachdeva:

Remember the movie Anjali? It revolved around a middle class family, where a man hides the existence of his new born “mentally retarded” daughter from his wife. The movie shows the trials faced by the child and the family regarding the unacceptance of this innocent little girl, Anjali, by the society. It was my earliest exposure to the plight of children living with disabilities, and the first reality check regarding societal attitudes on the acceptance, or the lack of it, for the needs of these children.

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In a time when India loudly leads the discourse on development and the need for inclusive education, we are obliviously, systemically, excluding a section of our population, who we believe are forever doomed to be dependents. We have restricted our definition and understanding of inclusiveness largely to the economically and socially “weaker” sections of the society. We do not pause in our conversations to think about the needs of the children who traverse through the compartments of caste, creed, religion, gender, and economics. Children with Special Needs (CWSN) or Children with Disabilities (CWD) are a section of our population that is pushed into obscurity through a distressing collusion of poverty, lack of facilities, and a general acceptance that these children shall forever be indebted to other “normal” people.

In 2007, The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was signed and ratified by India. The purpose of this convention was to promote, protect, and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all the human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.

India has significantly emphasised upon the need for education for children. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan is the single biggest elementary education drive in the country. Despite the attempts made through the SSA, the National Survey on Estimation of Out of School Children estimates that there are 3 lakh children with intellectual disabilities of which 36% are out of school. Poor health, financial burden, and lack of facilities are cited as the most common reasons for keeping these children out of school.

While the first step towards inclusiveness is the acknowledgment of the existence of these children, the second step is to have an understanding of their needs. We must recognise that there are many types of intellectual disabilities, and each child is unique. While not giving up on inclusive education in regular schools, we must also realise that no uniform standard curriculum or process can be followed to prepare these children for the future.

Children with intellectual disabilities are often unable to engage with other people easily. Such children often face derision and ridicule at the hands of their peers. It is here that we must engage the rest of the society to accept them in our environment and mainstream education. It may not be your child who is living with disabilities, but being supportive of one who is, is a habit that must be encouraged.

The present understanding of the scenario and the policy on accessible education for the needs of the disabled  has to evolve beyond the singular stress on infrastructure. Dr. Mithu Alur, founder-chairman of ADAPT, explicitly sums up the prevailing misunderstanding inSpecial Education is Inclusive Education’ – “We think that making education accessible to the disabled means providing physical infrastructure like ramps or toilets,” he adds, “It actually means addressing pedagogy, teacher training, and spending money, strengthening the knowledge base of the regular teachers through short and regular courses on inclusive education. School and teacher preparation is what is needed. While we seem to fulfil the recommendations of toilet and ramps, we are shying away from the central driver of quality education — good pedagogy.”

It is here that the Government needs to step in aggressively.

A longstanding notion is that despite efforts to educate and encourage independence amongst children with intellectual disabilities, they shall always be dependent on others. While, the extent of their dependence is debatable, outright assertions of utter dependency are wholly incorrect.

In addition to creating an inclusive and conducive environment, a conscious effort must be made to particularly protect CWDs from abusers, both within and outside the family. A study reported that CWDs are 10 times more likely to be sexually and physically abused, because they are considered easy targets, and are less likely to complain.

Some of us would react to this article by saying that the government isn’t doing enough. I agree. Building infrastructure such as handicap friendly transport and comfortable workplace access are just some of the things that only the government is capable of providing.

But what the government cannot do is force a change in the attitude of the people towards the children with special needs. I leave you with a thought, is it not our responsibility too? Not as members of society, not as citizens, but as humans – is the onus not on us to ensure that no individual is bereft of the right to live with dignity and respect? A small effort from our side is all that is required. A smile, a few words of encouragement, and a chance to earn respect, are a few things that people with disabilities would prefer over altruism.

This article was originally published here

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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