Facing disabilities: Until we do something about it, no one will
Having a disability does not necessarily make you worse off; it simply means you have to do things differently. However, it is sad to say, our society is plagued with ignorance when it comes to meeting the needs of mentally or physically challenged people.
A blind eye is turned towards the needs of these people and because of this ignorance we do not realise the fact that most of the public places lack the basic necessities, such as ramps, integral for the physically challenged. Apart from this, very few schools exist for children with developmental delays. In a social setup like this, it is important for organisations to take initiatives on raising awareness about this concern so that people can contribute towards changing it for the better.
ACELP (Association for Children with Emotional and Learning Problems) is one such initiative. ACELP is one of the very few voluntary organisations in Karachi that has been working for the well-being of children with developmental delays since the past 30 years. It provides diagnostics, education, therapy, vocational training and rehabilitation to the children in need of special education and training. Currently, the school has 150 children who regularly receive physical education, sport skill training, medical evaluation and referrals for consultancy where ever it is needed.
The school has now become a two storied purpose-built campus with modern infrastructure that will help in increasing the number of classrooms and hence, accommodate more children. The floor now hosts 10 purpose-built rooms with one main hall that helps with the educational aspirations of the school.
In my opinion, children with special needs are no different from other children and require the same attention, support, care and guidance. As individuals we need to realise that levels of disability are unique to every individual and all they require is fulfilment of their needs.
One of the parents in attendance at the school pointed out that parents only want their children to be brought up in the best possible manner and acquire the best education - which is their right. The parents of these children have similar aspirations for their kids, but due to the ignorant nature of our society, parents feel apprehensive bringing their kids on the forefront and, hence, deprive them of their basic needs.
Ms Mehar, the principal of the school, said,
“Even though some schools do exist for such children, where various activities take place, they are not enough to cater to the needs of all such children - the main reason for this is lack of awareness”
The harsh reality, that I see in our society today, is that a majority of people do not even know that there is a ‘World Down Syndrome Day’ or a ‘World Disability Day’; while I am sure all of us are aware of other, more popular days such as ‘Father’s Day’ and ‘Mother’s Day’ that are deemed to be more important. While I agree, that these days are extremely essential, my point is that the same importance should be bestowed upon days that relate to children with special needs. These children face severe challenges in coping with their peers and the society as a whole. They have to be treated in a way that makes them feel they are a productive part of main stream society; this lack of awareness is just widening the gap instead of bridging it.
On a recent visit to the school, I saw children with bright smiles on their faces and it seemed like they were filled with hope and motivation. They were involved in different activities ranging from flash cards, for younger children, to physical exercises for those with physical disabilities. As I stood there watching them, a young girl came running to me with some flashcards and though she could not speak I knew that she was signalling me to take part in the activity with her. One of the teachers said,
“They are determined to learn, and we feel proud to be associated with such kids and school, but more schools like these, need to open.”
When I inquired about the chances these kids have in succeeding in their respective careers and acquiring employment, she pointed out that there has been a change in the community and people have become more open to hiring children with disabilities.
I went around the school in search of water and ran into Ejaz, a 14 year old boy. His journey at ACELP started three years ago. Ejaz stopped and said
“Bhai dekh kar tou chalo”
(Brother, at least look where you are going)
I immediately apologised and started a conversation with him.
“Aap baray hokar kiya banogay?”
(What do you want to be when you grow up?)
He promptly replied,
“Helicopter banun takay aap say takra na sakun
(I want to become a helicopter so that I don’t crash into you)
Astonished and speechless, I was left in complete awe of how intelligent this child was. I could never imagine any of my 14-year-old cousins giving me such an answer.
I think that even though the society has adopted an open-minded attitude to some extent, a lot still needs to be done. If these children can represent their country on a global front, all they need is a little support from us as a society which will allow them to excel more. It’s about time that the society starts seeing these children, as an asset rather than a burden. I see schools at every nook and corner of Karachi but none of them cater to the needs of special children. ACELP is one example of such a school, along with a handful of others, but this is not enough and the average person needs to play his/her part to raise awareness about this issue.
I am not asking everyone to open up a school but, at the least, support such initiatives and provide the little help they require.
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