I am a student with a disability by birth. When I was little, I could not walk without the support of a walker, or another person. Hence, I joined school later than other children. I was six years old when my parents decided to admit me in school as they wanted to provide me with a good education. They approached a good private school in my locality for admission and informed them of my unique needs. For example, I would need to be carried to the bathroom and other spaces in the school. The school authorities accepted and gave me admission.
School was a very different experience for me. Friends, teachers and aunts (helpers) all were very kind to me. The aunts even carried me to the playgrounds, sometimes. They made all attempts to comfort me, and I performed well in academics, too. After two years of attending the school, during the summer vacations, a few days before school was about to reopen, the school authorities informed my mother that they can’t admit me to next class; it would be difficult for them to ‘carry’ me.
When my mother returned from school, I saw tears in her eyes. After that, my mom and dad were continuously discussing my education, and were in search of a new school that was ready to accommodate me. I still remember the day school reopened. My elder brother was getting ready for class in his uniform and new bag. When I think back it is difficult for to describe my exact feelings. But I will try. The fact that I could not go to school along with my brother made me very, very sad, and I remember crying quite a lot.
But my father is a determined man. That very day he took me to a primary school near my house. The school accepted me, and I studied there for three years as, after which I had to attend another school up to Class 10.
Both my schools were absolutely wonderful for me. I didn’t experience sympathy, which is something I absolutely hate. I made true friends who treated me like one of them. During these school years, I have had aunts, uncles, teachers, and sometimes, friends who would carry me in the school. In time, with the help of physiotherapy, I was able to walk with the help of a walker, or by holding the hands of my friends.
Today, there is no need for anyone to carry me.
Research proves that inclusive education helps in the socialisation process and psychological well-being of children with disabilities. Yet, sadly, there’s a tendency in India to establish special schools. Further more, every Indian child with a disability seeking admission to a “mainstream” school might have faced some bitter experience. But we can’t merely blame a school or college for this because inclusive education where children with disabilities learn with others is a new concept in India. The Rights of Persons with Disability Bill 2016 had made attempts to bring inclusive education in our country. However, it is clear post the 2011 census that inclusive education can’t be addressed with just laws. Of 2.9 million children with disabilities in India, 990,000 children aged 6 to 14 years (34%) are out of school. The percentages are even higher among children with intellectual disabilities (48%), speech impairments (36%) and multiple disabilities (59%).
Italy adopted an inclusive education policy since 1971. In 1977, they banned special schools. Consequently, 99 percent of students with disabilities study in mainstream educational institutions, except in very severe cases. The presence of specialised teachers and an inclusive syllabus, collaboration of parent, teacher and health professionals and proper infrastructure, are the reasons behind the success of Italian model.
On the other hand, infrastructure facilities at Indian educational institutions are not often inclusive. In my case, I decided to study in a government school after Class 10 as there is no good private institution for higher secondary education nearby. Once again, I made true friends and had good teachers. However, my biggest hurdle is going to the washroom. Here I need to walk a longer distance from class and there is no accessible toilet. For this reason, the thought of going to the toilet instills a great deal of fear within me.
As I finish Class 12, my parents are once again haunted with worry, because they want me to get admission to a good college. I would like to study law or journalism but there is no good institution in my district providing such courses. Hence, I am worried and confused about my future. There are many like me, which is why it is high time India adopted a common inclusive education policy throughout the country and made campuses accessible for all students with disabilities. After all the right to education is not a privilege but a basic human right.
Adil AH is an intern with Youth Ki Awaaz for the February-March 2017 batch.