Like most 11-year-olds, Mithun is a big fan of Hrithik Roshan and loves to dig into masala dosa. But unlike many kids his age, he doesn’t want to emulate Sachin Tendulkar. He has his eyes set on being a bank manager instead.
Mithun has cerebral palsy, a permanent physical disability that affects movement. However, the confidence in his voice makes one forget his ‘special’ status. And this confidence stems from the fact that he’s at par with other kids in his class.
With mainstream schools coming forward to integrate disabled children in their inclusive education regime, the future looks bright not just for Mithun but for other children with special needs.
Special kids like Mithun could also look at a number of organisations willing to offer training and education. Action for Ability Development and Inclusion (AADI), for instance, works with 1,500 families every year and has initiated a programme to prevent disabled kids from being marginalised.
“Growing up in a secluded environment did not equip these children to face life,” says AADI programme manager Nirmal Malhotra, “Today, we have succeeded in making the programme more inclusive, with the non-disabled and disabled sharing their lunch in the same classroom. We have mainstreamed about 600 children with disabilities into regular schools in urban and rural areas.”
Under the provisions of the Disability Act, 1995 and the inclusion of persons with disability in census 2001, no school can deny admission to a disabled child.
Schools like Father Agnel’s and St Mary’s have imbibed this in letter and spirit. In many of the upwardly mobile schools of the city — such as Vasant Valley, Delhi Public School (RK Puram), Springdales, Sanskriti, Laxman Public School, Sriram—special children are admitted in classes along with non-disabled kids.
Says Shyama Chona, principal, DPS (RK Puram), who has launched a special school named after her daughter Tamanna, “We have about 75 disabled children in DPS and there are special education therapists employed to take care of their needs.” However, the exorbitant fee charged for the support services provided by these schools burns a hole in the pockets of middle-class parents. “It’s not easy. I pay more than Rs 7,000 per quarter for my child’s education,” says Vipin, parent of an autistic child studying at Laxman Public School.
With the growing awareness about the needs of special children, the Central Board of Secondary Education, too, has relaxed its guidelines. “Candidates who are dyslexic, blind, spastic or have visual impairment are allowed an additional hour for each paper of external examination. They also have the option of studying one compulsory language as against two,” says a CBSE spokesperson. That’s the good news. Estimates provided by the National Council for the Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) reveal that only 0.14 per cent of the total school population comprises children with disability. “The number of disabled children studying in mainstream schools is very few. It’s because most of these schools are so unprepared to address their needs. How many schools in the city actually allow wheel-chair users to move about with dignity?” asks Javed Abidi, executive director, National Council for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP).
A long way to go
Planning the future of a disabled child remains a daunting task for most parents. Concurs Arpita Yadav, a special educator at AADI, who’s raising her child single-handedly, “I can’t always be around my son. He cannot even express himself clearly. At present, I can’t think about his future.”
Apart from the emotional stress of having a disabled child, day-to-day issues like carrying a 10-year old upstairs or leaving him with the maid are more taxing. “To the world at large, my son is autistic, but for me he’s my son who yearns for friends and to be invited to birthday parties,” says Anjali Menon, a journalist who quit working full-time to be able to care for her son.
And when it comes to extending a helping hand where it really matters, business houses rarely step forward. Nisha Sawhani’s resume gets rejected repeatedly owing to her disabled status. Constantly discriminated against after losing her left arm in an accident, she explains, “Despite the fact that I met all the requirements of a job, an interviewer refused to entertain me. While commuting too, I experience difficulties as people refuse to offer me a seat in the bus.”
The adult training programme at AADI includes vocational training. However, its utility is limited. Those who manage to secure a job after the course have reasons to complain. “I got a job at NIIT, but was asked to sit at the first floor despite the fact that I am wheel-chair bound,” says Pankaj Kapur, 30, now employed as a receptionist at AADI.
A friend indeed
There is more to special education than doting over the child. In fact, it’s more about bonding like a friend. Says Shahana Chakravarty, a special educator at AADI, “Like any other kid, they throw tantrums, have adolescent urges and are stubborn at times. But yes, they are relatively less exposed to the outside world.”
And the fact that they are not segregated on the basis of their abilities helps them stride ahead with confidence. “Rather they are clubbed on the basis of their age and engaged in activities that involve each one of them. Recognising their needs helps them believe they can make their mark on the world,” sums up Roomki Mitra, a special educator at AADI.
In their own special way, these children are taking their first steps towards a brighter future.