We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion Max de Pree Society, of late has divided itself into various communities. One such community is what the layman calls the community of the specially-abled which is often subjected to segregation rather than inclusion in mainstream society. However, every individual in this world is differently abled than the other; hence the idea of distinction holds no value whatsoever. But the stereotypes and myths garnered by the society over a period of time has actually lead to an attitudinal problem in the minds of the people. Two of the most important sectors to focus in this regard are early development including parenting and schooling; and employment opportunities. The Transcendent Knowledge Society (TKS) presided over by Amrita Roy Chowdhury has been working relentlessly in trying to do away with the imaginary barrier created between the ‘normal’ and the ‘specially-abled’ through their work which includes running an integrated school, parental counselling and support groups, vocational workshops and regular awareness seminars and conferences.
On the 12th of August TKS along with the support of the Lions Club of Calcutta Roshni ,Julian Day New mission, Down Syndrome Federation of India (DSFI), Keystone Institute India and National Trust organised a seminar on Segregation to Inclusion. It was an interactive discussion on the Rights and spheres of included life for people with disabilities. The seminar opened a platform for a plethora of discussions regarding the specially-abled individuals which included topics on parenting, inclusion in family, integrated schools, and discrimination in schools during admission as well as employment. It saw an array of eminent speakers including Dr Monidipa Banerjee Senior Consultant Paediatrician; Dr Rekha Ramachandran, Chairperson, DSFI; Mr Aditya Tiwari, youngest single-father in India ; Betsy Neuville, Director of The Keystone Institute; and a discussion by self-advocates, Priya , Diya, Pritha and Saptarsha.
The worth of acceptance. . . .
Dr Banerjee started her speech by drawing an analogy between landing in Holland on an Italy—bound flight to having been blessed with a child with special needs. Just as a new destination becomes acceptable and enjoyable after the first few unsettling days; similarly parenting children with special needs becomes equally desirable and fun after the first few days. However, the essence of such parenting lies in acceptance of the situation and letting go of the expectations. Parenting is not a rat race to compete in creating customized children to its perfection. It is instead a journey, one which needs to be enjoyed in every stage and cherished forever. No statement, comment or saying is ever more than the smile on the face of a child.
The value of health. . . . .
Dr Ramachandran focused on few relevant facts which have so found a home in the attitude of certain parents that it restricts their liberal thinking and jeopardizes the scope of giving their children a chance to pursue their alternate paths. It is often the fear of societal pressure that ends up being more prominent than better parenting. In fact, through word of mouth and nowadays the internet, parents gather excessive knowledge which at times can be dangerous. Moreover, teachers and students in school have a number of inhibitions regarding those needing special care. That is primarily because they are not trained or aware enough to handle the situation. This is a lack on the part of schools in giving training to their staff for creating an integrated learning platform. She also touched upon the ‘attitudinal issue’ often displayed by schools who are on the lookout for ‘high level functional performers ‘ to carry their legacy forward. Dr Ramachandran pointed out a very important factor which is almost forgotten and that is the accompanying health issues that the children face. They need to be regularly monitored health wise so that they may lead a better life.
Focussing on employments she stressed on how in Kerala more than three thousand children are made to work in the temples and how in Jaipur most of the Dholak boys are individuals who need special care. But they have made a mark for themselves through their talents and vocations. She rounded up by focussing on support groups for not only parents but also siblings so that problems can be openly discussed and solutions found to deal with certain situations.
Breaking barriers. . . . . .
Aditya Tiwari has become a role model in contemporary India having been courageous enough to fight for the adoption of a child with Down syndrome and compelling the Court to amend its adoption laws. His journey with his son was inspiring for every individual present in the conference. At the end of his speech, his valour and courage was given a standing ovation by the audience.
Meaning of inclusion. . . . .
Betsy Neuville focused on the idea of Inclusion. According to her, ‘This is not a campaign, not a scheme, but a vision.’ This vision cannot be achieved overnight but would definitely be achieved overtime through openly talking about it and accepting it. She spoke about the Stages of Inclusion and discussed the importance of role model or imitation. Children often pick up behavioural patterns from their models and elders. She stressed on the idea of RE-SPECT. One should not only respect them but also re-spect themselves to change their perceptions about the society to make it more inclusive. Betsy too ideated on the need to create social groups as well as taking a risk with the children. The essence of her speech would be to not jump to the conclusion that special children need special assistance; rather to rethink it as special children need a typical environment with a little modification.
My dreams, my aspirations. . . . . . .
One of the great moments for the children and young adults was to be appreciated for their service in the canteen and providing refreshments at the conference through their first entrepreneurial venture Sip and Bite. They were handed out their first pay-cheque at the conference in the presence of all the dignitaries. This boosted their morals and gave them encouragement. They also got their second order from the Lions Club of Calcutta Roshni. If you want to hire their services for your functions or events please drop a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Few other self-advocates shared their dreams with the audience. Priya is an assistant teacher and wants to join as a dance teacher later on. Diya wants to pursue Hotel Management as her career. Saptarshi has found his knack in baking and is one of the members of Sip and Bite. Pritha loves to work and opined for being given more work to showcase their abilities.
My biggest takeaway from this conference was meeting some wonderful people. Two things which would always be with me was the fact that the children are not special. The parents are. They were chosen to take care of some of the most beautiful souls in this world. Further, there is a need to change the I and the Eye. Changing the I would mean to change one’s mind set and attitude and changing the eye refers to changing their perception. I wold personally sum up my feelings through this quote by Theodore Melfi which says, ‘You have a responsibility to make inclusion a daily thought, so we can get rid of the word ‘inclusion.’