Education of PWDs in the state remains in limbo, no effective systems in place for higher studies
Who is a person with disabilities (PWDs) and a person with benchmark disability? A person with a disability is a person who has long term physical, intellectual, mental, or sensory impairment which during interaction hinders or acts as a barrier for the individuals to participate in society equally fully or effectively with others.
A person with benchmark disability is a person with not less than forty per cent of any of the 21 specified disabilities including physical, intellectual, mental, neurological, visual, hearing and speech and blood disorders and multiples disabilities.
The 21 disabilities are as categorized as
Physical- Locomotor disability, Dwarfism, Cerebral Palsy, Acid Attack Victims, Leprosy Cured Person and Muscular Dystrophy.
Intellectual Disability-including specific Learning Disability and Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Mental Illness- disability due to Chronic Neurological Conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis Parkinson’s Disease.
Visual-Blindness and Low Vision.
Hearing- Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
Speech and Language Disability
Blood Disorder- Haemophilia, Thalassemia and Sickle Cell Disease.
Multiple Disabilities- Including Deaf-Blindness.
Others-As may be notified by Central Government.
Disability is one of the most important issues in the present society because stigmatization of people with disabilities led to the formation of preconceived and biased opinions which put them into a downside position compared to people who did not have any problems of disability. Discrimination towards the people with disabilities (PWDs) has been a great obstacle which they are facing consistently despite many Civil Rights and Legal Changes.
One of the great challenges that PWDs face is the challenge in their development and professional training. For PWDs it may be difficult to obtain the proper education for having a successful career as they might have limited learning ability. For instance, a person with a learning disability such as ASD has limited learning ability which prevents from successful learning. Conditions as such will lead to an incomplete education which will limit their career opportunities.
Since the modern education system attempts to provide equal opportunities for all students the problem of eliminating the discrimination of students with disabilities and the integration of the students into the learning process is still very vulnerable.
The education system should all be aware of the special needs of students with disabilities. The educators should understand the special needs of the students with disabilities despite their special needs they are no different from other students. Educators should help them succeed in their learning and academic progress.
The concept of disability is vulnerable to the modern education system and society at large because it influences the development of students and the position of individuals with disabilities. In this regard, disability may raise problems in the personal and professional development of individuals because they face the risk of the development of poor interpersonal relations with their peers. At the same time, students with disabilities need integration into their classroom environment and the development of positive interpersonal relationships with their peers.
People with Disabilities Sikkim (PWDS) is an informal forum which was started in 2019 with a small number of members. Though there were many NGOs but were only working for a certain disability therefore, the group was started to bring all the people with disabilities together to work for a bigger and better platform for everyone. Currently, the number of members has increased, and they are from across the state.
There have not been many large scale programs since the PWDs is still in a growing period, but they have been trying to work consistently according to their capability. For instance, recently there was a change in the syllabus in primary levels for the students which was visual-based, but the syllabus remained the same for the visually impaired students. Therefore, they took immediate action and wrote a letter to the Education Minister and met him to request the new improved syllabus for the visually impaired students and demanding equality for the visually impaired students. It is their right and the inclusiveness in the education system is necessary.
They have recently collected disability date from Social Justice and Welfare Department and they are planning a project where they are trying to find out what kind of special schemes are there for disabled people in the state in education, health and employment sector.
Sikkim has a total of three special education schools with two in Gangtok and one in Namchi. Since these are in a more urban area, there is a little divide when it comes to educating students from rural places. The students with disability in rural areas either study in general schools or they never go for any education. But JMIH Blind School in Namchi visits rural areas every now and then in search of visually impaired children. Once they find a child they meet with the parents and asks for their permission to take the child for education to Namchi.
Since there are many people with disabilities who cannot acquire proper education, skill improvement courses for PWDs could possibly help them to learn more. Unfortunately, no such courses are provided in and by the state. There are several types of courses for people with disabilities outside Sikkim like handicrafts, spa, breast cancer detection and many more.
Mr. Rai*, a member of PWDS explains education for PWDs further. "It is important for the kids to go to a special school as they will be provided with all the necessary materials and will be given special attention as required at the early stage of education. When it comes to attending a general school in the state there are no special provisions provided for children with disabilities. There will be no necessary materials provided and the human resources can be hardly found in any general school. Since many children with a disability do not have any other choice than to attend a general school so it is only right if the government acts and makes the changes necessary.
Speaking of attending a general school yes, it is very difficult for children with disability to adjust and learn in such a different environment. Firstly, the basic materials required for the students with disability will not be provided even if the materials will be provided there be no human resources for them to help in the learning process. The infrastructure of the institute will be built in a general way in cases like it will be difficult for students with a physical disability. There are also lots of fears involved, fear of being bullied, fear of discrimination from the faculty directly or indirectly, fear of not being able to cope up with the peers and many more.
This not only happens in the schools but also in higher education fields. To be able to face situations like these a person with a disability should have a lot of self-confidence and trust in oneself that they can do it. Also, the correct peers and the positive help from the teachers could change the life of the students forever. Therefore, it is necessary for inclusiveness and equality to be present in the education sector for people with disabilities."
Currently, there is no specific number but there are many who are working in the government sector. As per the Rights of people with disability they have right of 4% reservation in employment in the government sector. Though the right has not been exercised in a long time in the state, hopefully, there will be changes in the future.
What are the duties and responsibilities of the government towards people with disabilities? To create awareness on disability rights and to train and develop more human resources for people with disabilities. Mandatory to make accessible norms in transport, information, infrastructure, consumer goods and technology. Strict actions to be taken against the frauds who takes the benefits meant for people with disabilities. Penalties for offences of atrocities against persons with disabilities including neglect, intimidation, assault, insult, exploitation, voluntary injury or damage, the performance of medical procedure without their informed consent.
What are the Rights of a person with a disability?
-Equality, personal liberty, and non-discrimination.
-Access to justice.
-Right to home and family.
-Equal rights for women and children with disabilities.
-Accessibility in voting.
-Right to live in the community and have access to support services and personal assistance.
-Protection from cruelty, abuse, violence, inhuman treatment, and exploitation.
-Guardianship: to provide support of a limited guardian to take legally binding decisions.
-Protection and safety in situations of risk, armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters and inclusion of persons with disabilities in disaster management interventions.
-Access to information on reproductive rights and family planning. No person with a disability to be subject to medical procedure leading to infertility without informed choice.
-Legal capacity: People with disabilities to have equal rights to own, inherit property, control financial affairs, have access to bank accounts, loans, mortgages, and financial credit.
-Health: Government to provide free healthcare, a barrier-free environment in all hospitals and priority in attendance and treatment.
-Employment: There should be no discrimination in employment on the ground of disability. Every establishment to notify equal opportunity policy. Every government establishment to appoint a Grievance Redressal Officer. Reservation of 4% in identified government jobs.
-Social Security: Government must formulate necessary schemes and programmes to safeguard and promote the rights of persons with disabilities for an adequate standard of living to enable them to live independently or in the community. 5% reservation for persons with disabilities in poverty alleviation and development schemes with priority to women with benchmark disability. The quantum of assistance to persons with disabilities shall be at least 25% higher than what is applicable to others under similar schemes.
-Education: Educational institutes funded or recognized by Government/local authorities to provide inclusive education (IE) to children with disabilities. Specific measures to promote IE like establish teacher training institutions; train/ employ teachers qualified in sign language, Braille and trained in teaching children with intellectual disability; detect specific learning disabilities in children at the earliest and take pedagogical measures; individualized support to maximize academic and social development; provide for transport facilities; remove architectural barriers from educational institutes; reasonable accommodations; suitable modification in the curriculum and examination system and provide scholarships.
With regard to the Draft University of Disability Studies and Rehabilitation Sciences Bill, 2021, Mr. Rai* states, "All the time we have been demanding for inclusiveness and now the university especially for people with disabilities is just the wrong thing to do. Also, the Bill says that the university will be “self-sustaining” which makes the idea even worse because not every individual suffering from disability will be able to attend such university. Instead of building a self-sustaining university, the government should focus on the inclusiveness, they should make changes in the infrastructure, bring the needed materials and train more human resources. There is no need to make a special university the students can attend the general universities provided the special needs and help.
“We just want to say that we are no different. Please do not call us differently-abled or specially-abled because we are not different and special from the rest of the world. We lack in our own way, but we are trying to work on it and do better. Do not treat us any different, treat us equally and the inclusiveness which we have the right should be given to us.”
By Sangay Palmu Bhutia