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A path to better life

“Disability only becomes a tragedy when society fails to provide the things needed to lead one’s life”

          The majority of disabled persons have been living in denial from the society from a very long time. They were treated unwanted and were mostly segregated from other children. Later, the concept of Inclusive Education slowly started branching out. It is the implementation of the `policy and process' that allows all children to participate in all programmes. It ensures equality and acceptance to all children in an unbiased manner. The idea goes an extra mile in defining itself as “education for children with special needs”. But the picture when it comes to post-secondary education, is quite shocking. Nineteen percent of undergraduates in 2015–16 reported having a disability, i.e., only a very small number of people with disabilities have access to higher education in developing countries like India. It is important to note that higher education plays a significant role in the employability of disabled persons. Themes such as accessibility, functions in the classroom, accommodations for examinations, communication, social attitude and employment challenges were highlighted as major aspects that needed attention.

Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft recently posted a story of Katrin Langensiepen, a German politician and current Member of the European Parliament (MEP)

     On linked in. In that conversation with Zula Rabikowska, Katrin shares about physical and systemic challenges faced by people with disabilities in education, technology and the workforce across Europe. She is the first female MEP with a visible disability, and joined politics to better advocate for social affairs.

     The conversation starts with Katrin points how she found the difficulty when there was no open system for voting for the people with disabilities. She got her own remote voting machine. However, she thinks people with disabilities are not factored in the design stage and town halls where European elections take place are not wheel chair accessible. The governments consider implementations of change when there is a problem just like how emergency exits and seatbelts became mandatory in Indian vehicles within past 10 years.

     She lists down certain obstacles occurred in her professional journey which ranges from the podium with no adjustable microphone, which ultimately makes someone to speak on their toes if they want to speak. She had to do regular checks on the accessibility of rooms.

     “The way that reports are written often not in a language accessible to others. Some colleagues face challenges because it’s currently not possible to include pictures in report drafts, which would be one of the elements that should be changed” Katrin mentions other challenges. 

 

     In her opinion, people with disabilities in Germany are afraid of politics and private sector. She talks about a German employment initiative of sheltered workshop which currently employs 300,000persons with disabilities. “Those designated programs are problematic as they separate people with disabilities from mainstream employment. In such workshops, persons with disabilities are protected” The idea of protection is problematic here. People are supposed to be socialized harmoniously instead of protected. She is asking who are the people with disabilities are being protected from.

 

     In her opinion, she grew up in a regular school without being in any disability bubble. Her parents decided to bring her up in the mainstream world. The institutions which are specialized in catering for those who are with special needs are in one way or other try to protect them from various dimensions of socializing. They are more or less socialized with other people with disabilities.

 

     “When you are educated like this you don’t have to fight for anything, you don’t have the possibility to fail, you can’t make mistakes. This means that persons with disabilities are then scared to go out of that bubble and jump into politics or try to work for Microsoft. It’s a question of socialization and of education.”  

     Katrin opens up as she is a fan of digital systems on public sector where townhalls in Germany still work only with paper. The digital system doesn’t exist in such places.

     “I think accessibility in terms of technology is having products that are easy to use and operate. Using devices, like PC’s, the questions I consider are practical and consider a physical disability, for example, how heavy is this, can I open it? How can a person without arms use it? For me, carrying things is a problem, so I have to think about the weight of the product. If I am a person who is blind, I need to consider where the information that I need is, or how easy is it to access and start things, such as computers. Another issue for people who are blind is reading information from a website if someone is unbale to see the picture or the video how can they use it. More companies who design these features and services need to start seeing people with disabilities as clients and factor our needs in.”

     It is also mention worthy that persons with disability are ready to take up jobs like tele- calling and WFH(Work From Home) jobs in order to support their family. A more prominent education policy for people with disabilities in postsecondary education could promise solid careers and therefore betterment of many lives.

     As we have seen many companies are trying to include the people with disabilities in their team so that people won't feel left out. The acculturation and adapting of social currents and trends majorly happen to the one who goes with the flow. Comparing life of a person with disabilities to a person without disabilities, the first generally loses the pace and diversity of adaptation. Be it is education and livelihood, people have to invest more time and effort to build their ideas and have to go through one step more challenges to work those out. The competitive world has already come to terms with the multi-tasking ability of the employee where organizations have to invest less on them. Companies have come to that psychological approaches of fast learners with multi- tasking. In this scenario the genuine changemakers have to look for people whom they can support. The initial trauma and trust issues have been identified as the factors pulls back every individual. If the education sector can work on the wholistic training to the humanistic approaches of individuals from a tender age, it can create wider reflections in designs and planning.      

References:

  • Inclusive Education for Disabled Children- M. Manivannan

  • ∙Higher Education for Students with Disabilities in India: Insights from a Focus Group Study

      Suja Kurian Kunnath, Samuel N. Mathew- SageJournals.