Raj, a Class X student of a government-run Sarvodaya School in the city, has to make several trips, climbing up and down from his classroom on the first floor everyday. There is nothing unusual about a teenage boy making frequent use of the stairs, except that for Raj each of these trips is agonising. Polio struck when he was a baby and with a calliper weighing him down, Raj wishes his classroom was on ground floor.
In the same school, 15-year-old Rashi fights to maintain her dignity as others watch her crawl up the stairs. Rashi has lost the use of her legs and though she insists on trying to stand and walk, grabbing walls for support, her body buckles under the strain. She is happy to get an education and keep up with her peers, but the ordeal that she undergoes everyday to reach her classroom and the curious glances that she draws often become the reason for skipping school.
Interventions to make schools accessible to differently-abled children in government-run schools are limited to the construction of ramps and special toilets. Schools authorities have given small, but significant measure, like providing classrooms on the ground floor a miss. Special educators have not been hired and staff and the students have not been sensitised about special needs.
“We have ramps, we have special toilets…we are complying with the law,” the Principal of the Sarvodaya School where Raj and Rashi are enrolled told The Hindu.
The ramp in this school was being used as a common passage and the special toilet was locked.
When questioned about the number of students in the school with special needs, the answer was a single digit figure.
Children with disability are being kept out of government-run schools also because of prejudices and lack of sensitisation.
“Facilities like ramps and toilets are just one aspect of the story. The biggest challenge is to get these children into school. Schools encourage children with disability to opt for special schools, whereas the law specifies there should be mainstreaming of children. But there is no awareness and a completely lack of sensitisation,” says Ashok Agarwal of the Social Jurist, a lawyers’ collective that fights for children’s right to education.
Reluctance to enrol disabled children often results in their parents or non-government organisations working in the sector to seek out legal recourse.
Recently, the Delhi High Court ordered a government-aided school to admit two visually-challenged girls after a public interest litigation was filed by Mr. Agarwal. The school had denied admission and hostel facility to Sita and Ranjana, both in Class XI. “The girls had been studying in the same school and had a hostel accommodation since class VI, but the school refused to admit them on flimsy grounds after the passed their Class X.”
As per the law, children with more than 80 per cent disability are the ones who need special schools; the rest can be integrated in regular schools. “There is a provision in the Act that says all school students will be screened once a year to check for disease and disability, but that doesn’t happen, there is no single window for addressing the concerns of the disabled. In fact, it is our schools with poor lighting and safety features and no amenities that put the health of children at risk,” Mr. Agarwal points out.