Mainstream, VOL LV No 17 New Delhi April 15, 2017
Education as a Tool of Empowering Differently Abled Persons in India
Wednesday 19 April 2017
by Duryodhan Nahak
Education is being increasingly viewed as a significant tool of empowering the weaker sections of the population including differently abled persons. Education as a discipline of social science not only helps in transmitting cultural and civilisational values from one generation to another, but it plays a vital role in helping physically challenged persons like their other counterparts to live with dignity and honour, confidence and independence. Physically handicapped, physically challenged, disabled, differently abled etc. are being commonly used in the plethora of social science at present.
In order to study the causes and issues of disability, several models have been advanced over the years. The medical/individual/personal tragedy model, the social welfare model are different models which have been evolved for several years. The medical model recognises those persons as disabled who have abnormal functions or are malfunctioning due to impair-ment of any part of the body which requires urgent medical attention. It was the dominant model till the 1950s and 1960s in most of the countries. The assistance and safety nets were provided to the differently abled persons based on this model. As most of the states adopted the welfare model in the post-World War period, the voice for the education, rehabilitation and training of the differently abled persons gained momentum as the disabled rights activists demanded more welfare measures for the upliftment of this neglected section. Many differently abled scholars and organisations rejected the traditional and charity model and led several movements for getting equal treatment based on rights.
At present the focus is more upon the right-based approach than on the traditional and charity models. The progressive disabled teachers, organisations and activists empha-sised more on education which can enable the disabled persons to voice for equality and social justice. A differently abled person can only lead a healthy civic life with the most potent instrument of education. Education not only aims at making an individual economically self-sufficient, it cultivates physical, social, mental and spiritual developments as well. Counting of the disabled population began with first census in 1872, but special emphasis was given in the 2001 census. Although it puts the total number of the differently abled population at 2.19 crores, that is, 2.13 per cent of the total population, the 2011 census puts it at 26.8 crores which constitutes 2.21 per cent of the total population. Despite the fact that this data shows marginal increase in the differently abled population, the non-governmental organisations have contested this figure, which they put at between five-to-six per cent. The World Bank estimates it at between four-to-eight per cent. Further, the United Nations places it at between five-to-10 per cent of the total population. In spite of the differently abled persons constituting a fairly large segment of the demographic dividend, they are being neglected conscientiously by the government, the family, political parties, media from time-to-time. Again, there are different categories within the differently abled population like visually challenged, locomotors, hearing and speech impaired, so on and so forth. Hence, it is a challenge before governments to provide them special need-based education.
Like different models to study the causes of disability, there are different models that are in operation to educate disabled children over the years and decades. First, it was the only special/residential school system working to educate disabled children as the institutions in general were not equipped with special necessities of the differently abled persons. In the special schooling system, the trained teachers were appointed, hostels constructed, and teachers were given training to understand the problems of the students and thereafter all efforts were made to create barrier-free environment inside the campuses. In the Fifth Five-Year Plan that lasted till 1974-77, a new scheme was announced by the Central Government, known as the integrated education for the disabled children (IEDC). In this pattern, they are allowed to study with normal students by using specific teaching-learning material designed for them.
Meanwhile, in the beginning of the 1990s the Union Government announced another special scheme, named the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP), to expedite the process of primary education throughout the country. Now the focus is given on inclusive education. The inclusive model facilitates physically challenged students with normal children to study in normal schools in the classroom setting by applying audio-visual aide that benefits not only the disabled students but also all the students in the class. This model is highly appreciated as it is considered instrumental in introducing differently abled students in the mainstream of society and socialising them. Experts and disabled scholars even view the significance of this model in removing inferiority complex and socio-psychological barriers from the minds of the differently-abled persons in a large measure. In the scheme of Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, there is a provision to appoint an instructor in each block whose responsibility is to identify the disabled children and bring them into the main schooling system. Furthermore, the workshops and summer trainings for the school teachers are organised at the block and district levels to sensitise them about the issues which differently abled students face in the class and school as well.
It is to be noted here that as each section of the disabled suffers from a special set of problems, they require special attention differently. More-over, the United Nations has taken a number of steps for the differently abled persons which can facilitate them to lead a decent life. It declared the year 1981 as the year of disability. It recognised, among other rights, the right to education for different category of disability. The ratification of the United Nations Con-vention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities guarantees fundamental rights like “the right of persons with disabilities to education”. The advent of software computer and other assistive techno-logies have been instrumental in bringing about a revolutionary change in the sphere of education for the disabled persons. Two decades down the line, completing Ph.D for a large number of visually challenged persons was a distant dream. Of course, a few have been able to complete their doctoral research degree with sincerity and sheer commitment by using the Braille script. But most notably, with the help of the screen reader, scanner and computer, many visually impaired persons have been able complete their doctoral research degree successfully from premier institutions like the Jawaharlal Nehru University, University of Delhi, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai so on and so forth. The University Grants Commission (UGC) has made provisions for financial assistance in the 11th and 12th Five-Year Plans to the Central and State universities and colleges to set up enabling units to address the problems of the physically challenged students and teachers.
Nowadays, many institutions have been set up by the government and non-governmental organisations to give training in computer to the visually challenged persons. The National Institute for the Visually Handicapped, Dehra-dun, Blind Relief Association, New Delhi, All India Confederation of the Blind, New Delhi, National Association for the Blind, Mumbai and New Delhi can be named a few in this regard. The work of the National Association for the Blind, New Delhi deserves special mention because of its work and sincere endeavour in educating visually challenged students through the inclusive model. Even some students have been able to earn their livelihood by working in different IT companies at many places in Delhi and the National Capital Region. Moreover, it is one of the pioneering institutions which is providing daisy books, CDs, and even Braille books to the visually challenged students at the school and college levels.
After giving training to the students in the special way and Braille at primary level it is sending students to various government and Kendriya Vidyalayas, reputed public schools for the secondary level study. More importantly, the visually challenged persons are more friendly to the Braille script at the school level than the listening voice through CDs, cassettes. Again the lacuna is that the computer and assistive technology is confined to a few metros and urban municipalities. Besides this, absolute dependency on the computer in the rural area is a far-fetched dream because of lack of electricity round the clock. As most of the disability occurs due to the backward economic status of the family, parents are not able to provide computers to their disabled children.
The Braille script, which is an eighteenth century discovery by a Frenchman, Lewish Braille, still remains an important source of learning for the majority of the visually challenged persons in the world at the kinder-gatten and primary levels. Notwithstanding this, large numbers of visually challenged persons are dependent upon it even today to complete their higher education as they are not able afford the cost of advanced software. It is to be noted that the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped (NIVH), Dehradun, All India Confederation of the Blind (AICB), New Delhi, Ramakrishna Mission, Kolkata, National Association for the Blind (NAB), Mumbai are printing Braille books for the benefit of the visually challenged students. Besides this, many States have their own Braille press which help in printing Braille books at the school level. Despite this silver-lining, as this process involves a large chunk of money, fund, adequate space for storing, and is found to be time-consuming, the credibility of Braille books and magazines is slowly losing its value day by day. In addition to this, it is not possible to print large number of books simultaneously.
Of course, the orthopaedically challenged persons do not face a severe problem in reading books and accessing materials, but poor infrastructure creates a major impediment on the way of smooth study. The orthopaedically challenged persons suffer a lot and more often than not are deprived from going to schools as schools and higher educational institutions do not provide sufficient facilities for the smooth movement like ramps, wheel chairs, lifts and a truly barrier- free environment. The educational institutions even do not make arrangements for toilets which can be specially friendly to the orthopaedically impaired students. The National Institute for the Orthopaedically Handicapped, Kolkata is a premier government organisation, and provides vocational and other training for the betterment of this group.
As hearing impaired persons cannot talk and express themselves her through verbal expression, they face major problems in education unlike orthopaedically and visually challenged persons. Despite the fact that the PWD Act 1995 clearly states that each school would make classroom environment disabled-friendly, schools, colleges, even universities do not make provision for sign language, gestures, lip-reading, alphabet etc. through which things can be transmitted easily for the benefit of the hearing impaired persons. Adequate steps are rarely taken to bring out hidden potentials within them like drawing, painting, wooden works and other artistic talents. The Ali Yavar Jung Institute for the Hearing Handicapped, Mumbai is the premier Central Government organisation providing training for the rehabilitation of the hearing impaired persons.
It is to be regretted that only two per cent of the disabled have been educated. Furthermore the percentage of disabled persons in higher education is dismal. According to the statistics, only 0.56 per cent of the total disabled persons have benefited from college/university education. Unfortunately, the case of the disabled girl-child is most pathetic. The average age of the disabled girl is 10-11 when she becomes a victim of sexual violence and oppression. As such girls take admission in the late childhood stage; naturally they face problems related to mens-truating and puberty. The educational institutions do not provide adequate physical infrastructure specially meant for different category of disabled girls. In a male-biased society like India, even parents hesitate to send their disabled girl children to schools at an early age as compared to boys. They are afraid of marriage, parenting and employment of their children.
The basic structure of the Constitution of India, as reflected in the Preamble, ensures social, economic and political justice as well as equality of status and opportunity to all citizens of India. Nevertheless, the fundamental rights from Articles 14 to 18 of the Indian Constitution speak about equality before law and equal protection and equality of opportunity in matters of employment. It is thus the constitu-tional obligation of the state to ensure equal justice and equality to all citizens including the disabled and marginalised groups of people. The Directive Principles of State Policy embody the aims and objects of the state under the republican Constitution, as, for example, that it is a Welfare State. In other words, it shall strive to promote welfare of the people by securing as effectively as possible a social order in which social, economic and political justice shall inform all the institutions of normal life.
The state policy regarding right to work in case of disablement is enshrined in the Directive Principles under Section 41 of the Constitution of India. It states that the state shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, and in other cases of undeserved wants. As regards education, Article 45 of the Constitution of India on the Directive Principles of State Policy instructs “The State to provide free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.” The Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995 goes a step further and desires provision of free education to children with disabilities till the age of 18 years. Thus the Constitution of India has duly recognised the provision of education to all children including those with disabilities. Furthermore, more recently, in the 109th Amendment Act of the Indian Constitution, Article 45 of Directive Principles of State Policy has converted into a fundamental right and is placed in 21 (a) of the Constitution guaranteing free and compulsory education for all the children at the primary level. Obviously, that does not exclude differently abled children from their due. Although the country has declared education as a fundamental right, education for the physically impaired is still considered a welfare activity.
After 67 years of the Indian Constitution by which India declared itself as a Republic, the physically handicapped persons are being actually neglected and provided education as a charitable act. Besides the government, the role of the civil society such as NGOs, associations, churches, cinema etc. in educating the physically challenged persons is equally important. The Bollywood industry, which has hundred years of glorious history and has highlighted the evils embedded in the socio-cultural life of the Indian people, has done little in educating the general public about the needs of the children with special needs. Although a few popular films have highlighted the neglect of the disabled person by the family and peer groups, at the same time, several others have portrayed differently abled as objects of caricature. More-over, the media, which is regarded as the fourth pillar of the democratic state, does not hesitate to repeatedly give coverage to the birth anniver-saries of noted Bollywood actors and actresses but the ideologues of disabled persons like Louis Braille, Keller, Calor, Stephen Hawking hardly hog the limelight of national dailies or dominate the television channels.
No doubt, education is certainly regarded as the vehicle of progress of any political system and society. It may be democracy/socialism, monarchy/militarism, communism/imperialism, education plays a vital role in preserving culture and empowering citizens. However, education for the physically challenged is considered as a charitable act. If proper education and training facility can be provided to the physically challenged persons they can contribute signifi-cantly for the prosperity of the family and reduce the burden on their parents. In the case of visually challenged persons it is said in particular that they are physically fit, mentally alert, academically suitable and socially amicable. Similarly, the hearing impaired persons have good artistic quality and talents.
A few have been successful in getting into the Indian Administrative Service and other jobs in the public and private sectors. Likewise, ortho-paedically challenged persons are performing significantly and can contribute more in the field of administration, private sector, and academics if they are provided proper facilities with a barrier-free environment.
In sum, it can be aptly said, only the words in the Constitution, Acts and legislation cannot empower the citizens but recognition of their rights, sensitisation about the needs of differently abled persons, meaningful and proper strate-gised education and sincere implementation can help in empowering differently abled citizens so that they become national assets and not a national wastage as is considered by some sections of the society.
Dr Duryodhan Nahak is an Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, PGDAV College, University of Delhi. He himself is a visually challenged person.