The Right To Education Act made sure that children with disabilities and special needs get a shot at mainstream schools. But city schools are yet to make sure they are equipped to accommodate them, say experts. Many schools do not have facilities such as ramps or toilets for children in a wheelchair. Nor do they have counsellors to enable students with special needs to study alongside a regular student.
The state government has now given schools a deadline to set their house in order. The government has said it would be forced to take strict action such as levying a monetary penalty against schools if they do not build ramps by October.
“Only schools that have a ground floor and no other stories are exempted from building ramps. Other schools have to build it, not having space cannot be cited as an excuse,” said MD Kamble, assistant deputy director of education, Mumbai division.
Installation of ramps is one of the 10 infrastructure norms listed in the schedule of the RTE Act (2009). However, according to the latest District Information System for Education (DISE) report 2011-12, only 64% schools in the state have installed ramps for physically-disabled students.
Maharashtra is lagging behind states such as Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi in offering the facility in schools. While 81.98% schools in Gujarat have ramps, the figure stands at 73.32% in Uttar Pradesh and 65.40% in Delhi.
Of the schools in state do not have ramps, majority are from big cities, says a senior education official from Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan — the main vehicle for implementation of the RTE Act. “In cities such as Mumbai, schools are built in such crammed spaces that there is often no space to build ramps alongside the staircase,” said the official.
This year, two special schools that inspired the Aamir Khan’s film Taare Zameen Par — Bandra’s Tulip school and Dadar’s Saraswati Mandir — are on the verge of closing down because children from Class 1 to Class 8 have to be integrated into mainstream schools under the RTE.
Currently, students use the elevator in schools that don’t have ramps. But often, elevators are not wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. In such situations, children are either carried to their classroom by the parent or school peon to allotted classrooms only on the ground floor. “It is humiliating for children to face such inconvenience every day,” added Kamble.
Experts suggest that schools should install wheel-chair friendly elevators if they do not have space to build ramps. “Many malls and multiplexes in the city have such spacious elevators, so why not schools?” said Arundhati Chavan, president of the PTA United Forum.
“Schools should be built according to a universal design so that it is accessible to everyone. Even though RTE act has not stipulated it, schools should also have disabled-friendly toilets, wider entrances to classrooms and wider corridors,” Chavan added.