This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by India Development Review (IDR). Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

What Stops Us From Making Education Inclusive For Children With Disabilities

More from India Development Review (IDR)

By Krisstina Rao and Mary Ellen Matsui:

Rohit is a 17-year-old living in Pune. He has autism.

His parents have struggled to find a vocational or higher learning programme for him, so he travels eight hours every day on a bus to Mumbai and back, just to attend a catering course.

Rohit’s situation is indicative of the key challenges in India’s effort to educate all children. Like him, children with disabilities (CWD) face a number of barriers that prevent them from obtaining a quality education.

Identifying Disability Is A Challenge; Poverty And Under-resourced Environments Exacerbate The Situation

Atma, the organisation where we work, carried out a survey interviewing 21 organisations — segregated school setups, vocational training institutes, therapy centres and community rehabilitation centres — working with children with disabilities. 50% of the leaders of middle – and high-income schools reported that parents of CWD had knowledge of the disability before enrollment (The other 50% neither agreed nor disagreed with parents having prior knowledge on this subject).

In the case of low-income schools, 60% of the leaders stated that parents of CWD did not have any prior knowledge about their child’s disability. These findings are important because they reveal gaps that disproportionately disadvantage the poor, especially families with children that have disabilities.

While middle and high-income families have a variety of channels through which they can access information about primary healthcare, low-income households — rural and urban alike — tend to rely on health and medical camps, the frequency and quality of which vary widely.

This knowledge deficiency among the poorer parents makes them largely dependent on the school’s administration and faculty when it comes to their child’s development. In some cases, schools may not be adequately resourced to take on that responsibility entirely. In the case of wealthier households, parents can exercise more control over their child’s education and the onus of care doesn’t, therefore, fall completely on the school.

Thus, in a developing country like India, low identification numbers are particularly concerning as disabilities are often exacerbated in under-resourced environments. The more the delay in identification, the greater is the chance of an exacerbated disability, and higher is the cost to quality of life.

Disability Is Under-reported

Disability is often wrongly considered to be an issue that affects a few, which is reflected in the number and quality of resources devoted to it. The 2011 Indian census pegged the figure at roughly 2% of the nation’s population. But since WHO estimates that 15.6%  of the world’s population is disabled, India’s figure seems disproportionately low. We do, after all, make up 1/6th of the world’s population.

This underestimation creates two challenges. One, in spite of progressive legislation including the Right to Education (RTE) and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act (2009), the availability of existing education services fails to meet the demand.

The Right to Education Act (RTE) mandates inclusion of all children in mainstream schools. This has hopefully provided some access to critical resources for CWD, but knowing how the mainstream schooling falls short even for non-disabled students poses the question, “Are schools currently capable of supporting the inclusion of children with disabilities?”

Two, quality services within inclusive education remain unreachable for most CWD. When dealing with children with disabilities, both pedagogy and clinical intervention must cater to the specific needs to each child as much as possible. This high intensity of service provision means that recruiting and retaining qualified staff is both extremely important and difficult to achieve. Staffing challenges were reported as the most crucial organisational pain point by 14 of 21 schools surveyed. Our research also showed that due to the lack of qualified teaching staff, student-teacher ratios in segregated schools are often stretched to as much as 8:1.

Moreover, funding challenges and high asking salaries from qualified candidates in special education force smaller segregated setups to heavily rely on in-service training of under-qualified candidates.

Because of these challenges around the availability and quality of inclusive education within schools, segregated setups continue to proliferate and are a popular choice for parents. We have found that there is a need to support these setups to begin their move towards inclusion within mainstream schools. Inclusion, while not simple, will go a long way in enhancing the scope of a student’s achievement once out of school.

Read also: Education in India – Where funders need to focus efforts

State Support Is Lacking And Benefits Are Difficult To Avail

The official yardstick to determine the type and extent of a person’s disability and the concessions they are entitled to comes in the form of a disability certificate, which acts as ‘proof of disability’ and was codified through the 1995 PWD Act.

Obtaining this document, however, is a laborious process and therefore limits the tool’s ability to empower individuals with disabilities. On what basis it is granted and after what time period is often arbitrary. Parents from low-income households are unclear about the benefits/concessions relating to exams, travel and tax that CWD can avail with the certification, and therefore, in weighing the costs of obtaining such a certificate, often decide against it. This, in turn, impacts government reporting on national disability figures, as this document is the primary source of data used.

The Mindset Is Still One Of Segregation, Rather Than Inclusion

Sadly, the pervading perspective is that disability is something to be diagnosed and cured.

A more enabling way to think about this instead would be how an individual with a disability can participate successfully within their environment. For example, for students with physical disabilities, classes can be moved to the ground floor to make them more accessible.

What Does All This Mean And What Needs To Be Done?

Children with disabilities are not considered in broader education discussions. Funders committed to improving education need to be thinking about how children living with disabilities are being integrated and included in the programmes they support.

In order to achieve this, investing in the following areas will be catalytic in improving access to education for all:

  • Programmes that work in communities:
    • To equip parents to identify disabilities in their children, and
    • To help enrol children early on in intervention programmes.
      The nonprofit Gharkul, for example, ensures early identification in the community through its ECD programme, and thereby ensures higher enrollment in their following school programme.
  • Programmes that work with mainstream schools:
    • To develop resources that support schools to create an inclusive culture. Public-private partnerships have performed well in this space.
      Mimaansa, a Mumbai- based nonprofit, works with 11 BMC schools to do this, working with nearly 4,500 students.
  • Assessments that acknowledge pre-academic skills, for instance, ensuring a child can match, identify and demonstrate through non-verbal behaviour rather than verbal learning of the alphabet.
  • Inclusive materials for classroom instruction that serve CWD. Sol’s ARC develops curriculum and implements it across both segregated setups and mainstream schools to bridge the gap between them.

In India today, children with disabilities are excluded. Accepting poor quality means that we are continuing to expect less from these exceptional young people.

About the authors: 
Krisstina Rao manages Atma’s consortium on education for persons with disabilities called Gati.
Mary Ellen Matsui is the executive director of Atma.
Dr. Franzina Coutinho and Satvika Khera provided edit support at Atma for this article.
This article was originally published on India Development Review.
You must be to comment.

More from India Development Review (IDR)

Similar Posts

By Aziz Minat

By Ankita Rath

By Javed Abidi Foundation

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below