The reality of disability
No hope at home
Until a couple of years back, children with disabilities in 3 blocks of Chanditala, Hooghly district, West Bengal were regarded as non-entities and a burden within their own families and in the eyes of the local communities and schools. At home, the families of these children regarded them to be a burden, unable to take care of them. Superstitious beliefs further compounded the problems, making the parents reticent and fatalistic. They would not get the births of their children with disability registered; they would not take them to the Integrated Child Development (ICDS) centers for their pre-school education or ration cards or disability certificates for the children.
Cruel treatment by society
The society or the community also treated these children as social outcast, not fit to be part of the community. They were not allowed to participate in family and community functions, festivals and events. The other children were discouraged from meeting and befriending these children with disabilities.
The hospital in the villages was poorly equipped. IQ testing, audiometric test, physio-occupational therapy, speech therapy, corrective surgery and mobility training were all unheard of in these villages.
The parents of children with disabilities (except for the mentally challenged) did not know about their type of disability and means of coping up with it. In the absence of therapies and treatments, the physical condition of these children was not good.
Discrimination at schools
Integrating the children with disabilities to public schools was a big struggle. Most of the children who managed to enroll in the public schools, eventually dropped out, because of open and clear discrimination in the classrooms.
The teachers and principals of these schools were reluctant to admit these children. They would say, ‘admitting these children to the school will adversely affect the environment of the school and other children who are coming to study here’.
Further, the teachers feared that they did not possess the skills to teach these children, and feared their accountability to them, hence becoming totally indifferent towards them.
Even where schools admitted these children, they were made to sit at the back of the class and often separated from other children. They were not allowed to participate in school functions or to mingle and play with other fellow mates in school. When confronted, the teachers would express their inability to look after these children and feared accountability in case these children injured themselves while playing.
A dearth of special educators assigned to visit these government schools did not help the situation as teachers supposed to receive training from these special educators on the techniques of teaching the children with disabilities still remain untrained.