Activists working for the welfare of people living with disabilities on Monday demanded that inclusive education projects be made more expansive with the government playing an active role.
Marking the International Day of People with Disability in Lahore on Monday, activists and NGOs held a demonstration at the Liberty Roundabout. Holding placards (‘Inclusion not Isolation’), young students and children with disabilities demanded that they get equal education and social opportunities.
The event was mainly organised by the Ghazali Education Trust (GET) and Amin Maktab, Punjab Welfare Trust for the Disabled and the Rising Sun Education and Welfare Society. Sixty children, including some with disabilities, participated in the event.
“Our aim is not only to raise public awareness but also to reinforce the fact that people living with disabilities are just like anyone else. They do, however, require greater love, care and attention,” said Muhammad Noorul Huda, who works in the media department at GET. Huda said disability as a subject was largely ignored and even close family members often turned a blind eye to the needs of the person living with a disability. “Disabilities comes in all forms and we are trying to teach people to be sensitive to the needs of the disabled.”
Saleha Kanwal, who has taught children in an inclusive programme under the GET, said teachers needed to be trained. “We were taught for a year before we were deemed fit to teach children with disabilities,” she said. Kanwal said children living with disabilities often find their own ways to compensate. “They have this natural tendency to make sure that they make their voices heard and their needs felt,” she said.
According to the GET, there are around 15 to 20 children in every village of the country who are living with a disability. They were not able to provide an actual figure. “There is a lack of reliable data in this regard,” said GET Executive Director Amir Mahmood Jaffrey.
GET works in 35 districts across the country with over 350 schools. As many as 111 mentally challenged children are being educated in inclusive education programmes in six schools under their pilot project, said Jaffrey. He said close to 45,000 children were being taught in GET schools by almost 2,200 teachers. He added that the GET administration was working on providing inclusive education training to all of its teachers.
Jaffrey said that parents of able bodied children did no want inclusive education programmes in private schools. “People are largely ignorant and think inclusion of children with special needs will pose hurdles in the learning of other children,” he said.
Rising Sun Institute (RSI) chief executive Prof Dr Rao Tawwab Khan said the government was inattentive to inclusive education programmes. “There are lots of issues – lack of awareness, sensitivity and funds, as well as will,” he said. RSI has trained 750 teachers in inclusive education teaching programmes in the past year, he said, adding that almost 350 of these teachers were from Lahore.
A six-member team of Amin Maktab, a school for intellectually impaired children, came up with a unique awareness strategy in which passer-bys at the Liberty Roundabout were handed crayons and a printed pamphlet, ‘Be a friend – make a friend.’ The pamphlet bore illustrations which depicted the needs of children living with disabilities.
Nuzhat Rubab and Khawar Sultana, psychologists at Amin Maktab, said they had designed the pamphlets to appeal to children. “Children can colour the illustrations and read how children living with disabilities are like ordinary children but require a little special attention,” said Rubab.
Within 20 minutes, close to 300 pamphlets had been distributed, she said. Rubab said around 10 per cent of Pakistanis had physical disabilities, while about 4 per cent had intellectual disabilities. She said there was no exact data on the number of disabled people in the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 4th, 2012.