Academic Spaces and Student with Disabilities: The Structural and Functional Challenges
Education and equal opportunities in life are strongly correlated in modern society. Education provides an opportunity for everyone to grow in life and be self-sufficient to earn a livelihood, including people living with disabilities. The holistic development of the society largely depends upon the educational framework and scope available for the people irrespective of caste, creed, gender, disability etc. According to the Census of India, 2011, there are 78,64,636 children with disabilities in India constituting 1.7% of the total population. Yet, according to the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People, there are only 3000 schools available for these children. This implies that for every 7800 children, there is only one special need school, thereby highlighting the insufficient educational facilities catering to children with disabilities. The 2019 State of the Education Report for India: Children with Disabilities also highlighted that 27 per cent of students with disabilities have never attended an educational institution. While the overall figure of the child population is estimated to be 17 percent. Various studies by the Ministry of Human Resource and Development has shown that children with disabilities belonging to the marginalised community such as the scheduled caste and tribe, religious minorities, families with girl children have more chances to be excluded from the education system, in comparison to the others. Societal stratification plays a crucial role for students with disabilities to access educational institutes.
The struggle of a student with disabilities starts with searching for a school in the neighbourhood or to an accessible distance. In this context we must remember that the types of disabilities are different and the requirements are different too. There is however a huge gap in meeting these needs. For instance, a child with intellectual disability has to travel a considerable distance in order to access education that specially caters to intellectual disability, or that for a child with visual impairment there might be only schools in the near vicinity for hearing impairment and not visual impairments. The situation hence discourages students with disabilities from accessing education, especially children from the lower strata of society who have very few means to access private transportation .The struggle to access education even continues for students who are enrolled in mainstream schools and institutions that lack proper infrastructure to support the needs of students with disabilities, such as the absence of elevators, ramps, proper signages and washrooms that are specifically for students with disabilities. The insufficient infrastructural facilities also includes very less number of specially trained teachers, student with disabilities friendly books and alternative learning procedures etc. for eg. a student with visual impairment is unable to write an examination in the higher education system through Braille. To ease that, policies recommend having a “writer” who writes on the behalf of the student with visual impairment during the examination. Despite it being mandatory for the student with disabilities, the institution fails to provide them to the students while needed in most cases.
Besides infrastructural struggles, very few schools have made an effort to include students with disabilities in their educational system as disability sensitization workshops are barely organised for both teachers, and students with regards to building understanding and empathy towards students with disabilities. Oftentimes the stigmas attached to disability alienate the student with disabilities even within the boundaries of educational institutes, which eventually leads to children dropping out of studies because of the hostility or indifference displayed. Many students with disabilities have also shared their disappointments in how they were not included in the daily fun activities with the other children, or how during the Physical Education (P.E) class, they were made to stay inside the classroom because there were no ‘appropriate’ games for them. Schools and Institutions, therefore, need to ensure that discussions on inclusivity are initiated in classrooms, strict code of conduct even for teachers are there, and that curriculums (Including P.E activities) are made for inclusiveness.
In current times, while we all are trying to make our country more inclusive in nature and develop the society more holistically we have failed to include a large part of our population. We have failed to provide basic and essential services like Education. Besides having a considerable number of policies and schemes implemented to assist students with disabilities, there seems to be a disconnect between these schemes and students with disabilities. Even the current National Educational Policy, 2020 has not been able to positively include the requirement of education and the supported facilities for students with disabilities. This necessarily calls for attention that there should be a policy level as well as implementational level change for providing the student with disabilities the opportunity to learn and grow and eventually be self-sufficient in earning a livelihood.
More involvement from the urban local bodies is required in terms of establishment of schools and special education institutes for students with disabilities, increasing the number of teachers with special training, promoting barrier-free infrastructure to schools and institutions for better accessibility and inclusivity. Along with measuring learning outcomes, the overall participation of students with disabilities in discussion and other extracurricular activities should be made. Similarly, the administrative body of the school should be held accountable if seen lackadaisical in facilitating their participation. Most importantly, schools and institutes should compulsorily take active initiatives to organise disability sensitisation workshops both for teachers and students regularly to create sensitivity and build empathy for fellow students and classmates.
Apart from various infrastructural interventions and development, governance level changes are also required. Unless there are strict monitoring and grievance redressal mechanisms in place, the implementation of various policies and provisions for persons with disabilities will not produce effective results. Moreover, awareness should be generated by various governmental and non-governmental agencies so that more inclusive planning, policies and programmes come to be, for more effective impacts and future. Policy and decision-makers who are at the forefront of formulating and implementing policies for people with disabilities should first be sensitized on the sensitivity of the area of work. No implementation should be made unless representatives from people with disabilities are consulted and approvals are received for the same from the community who are directly being affected by these policies and programs.
Bio of the authors:
Ipsita Chanda is a Geographer Planner from School of Planning and Architecture, Bhopal. She has an interest in social planning and land use planning and culture study.
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