The 2011 census revealed that out of a population of 121 crores in India, 2.62 crore people i.e. 2.1% of the total population is disabled, which leads to the need for more inclusivity in our country. ‘Inclusivity’ as a concept is not fully ingrained in the minds of people. Schools in India can be places where everyone can bring in the concept of inclusivity into society as a whole, or it can cause even further division.
Children with disabilities in schools and colleges are not treated equally by the teachers in any way imaginable. If there is a visually impaired student in their class, the child is often not considered by the teacher when devising a method of teaching. When a disabled child goes to a school where the other children and teachers are not sensitised to the presence of a disabled student among them, it often leads to isolation, bullying, impolite curiosity, or just unwarranted stares.
Having had the same experiences in my life, I feel that schools, even after claiming to be taking care of the inclusivity aspect, don’t really think or act that way. Being ridiculed by my teacher for not dancing in our dance class was an eye-opener, as this early in my life, I never thought that anyone could be ridiculed for something which might not be his or her fault.
Being called names and being asked a number of personal questions affect the child a lot. Though we have schools which claim to have inclusive environments which teach each student to believe in the principle of equality, the schools don’t actually practise this inclusivity and the child is often discriminated against. They tend to have an introverted personality and the fear of being judged for anything and everything they ever do. It gets even more difficult when people start to question the way they walk or what happened to them.
Being a disabled person, the only thought that came to my mind while answering this question at a young age (when I didn’t know much about my disability) was that I have a leg problem because that was the only visible thing to everyone. It used to bother me a lot when I was asked such personal questions about my life.
Schools also have an important component in the form of peers and friends. The attitude of the other children and teachers in interacting with the disabled child also plays an important role here as in most cases, they are insensitive towards the child and tend to discriminate against them, often unknowingly.
There have been various times when the peers have been the source of the problem itself. They are supposedly not used to the presence of the disabled person and are often hesitant to speak to them as they are not sure how to approach them. The faculty members in most schools are not trained to look after the needs of the disabled students, be it any disability. I have had experiences of teachers calling me out names just because I wasn’t able to do something and they weren’t even interested to know the reason for the same.
78% of the Indian population lives in rural areas, and thus, the need for schools in the village area to be inclusive becomes more important due to the unavailability of the resources in most places. These schools are inaccessible and inconsiderate to the needs of the people with and without disabilities.
Many disabled children become school dropouts. Children with disabilities are more likely to be out of school than the average child. Many times, the schools don’t have ramps, trained teachers, or an inclusive environment, which leads to many disabled students dropping out of school entirely.
I think that teacher-training workshops on disability can go a long way in resolving these issues as we need attitudinal change along with making inclusive education. We also need each teacher to understand diversity, I would ask why isn’t disability a compulsory subject for the training courses for the teachers?
We need disability to be mainstreamed in education so that teachers are not new to this aspect and understand the importance of inclusive education. In most cases, the students follow what their teacher does. If the teacher understands disability and treats the child with a disability as an equal, it also encourages the children to do the same. A teacher who is well aware can become a perfect example for the students, and together, everyone can bring in inclusivity in schools.
Note: This article is written by JAF volunteer Medha Prakash, who is a student of Delhi University (DU). You can reach the Convenor of JAF Shameer Rishad on Twitter.