It is always good to see the work of colleagues and students receiving affirmation and brought to the attention of the public. Today’s Metro Supplement from the Deccan herald carries an article reporting on the International Day of People with Disability and the work of teachers in Bangalore (http://www.deccanherald.com/content/445176/confident-strides.html). At the head of the article is a picture of children, and in their midst the smiling face of my colleague Jayashree with whom I am fortunate to work whenever I am in the city.
The article celebrates the work of teachers, including those from the Brindavan Educational Trust where our MA programme is based, with a particular focus on the support they give to children with disabilities and special educational needs. The article celebrates the successes of young people and includes an example of a young man with Down’s syndrome, who following some initial difficulties in school now has a successful career working for a multi-national company.
The importance of the support provided to children who experience difficulties with learning, by well qualified professionals such as Jayashree, is emphasised throughout the article, and a very positive outlook on issues of disability is given.
Newspaper reports such as this can play an important role in bringing issues related to disability to public attention, and the support provided by journalists and others in the media is to be welcomed. However, I can’t help feeling that the very fact that we still perceive a need for an International Day of People with Disability tells us something about the long journey that still has to be travelled to achieve a more equitable society. I certainly do not wish to decry the tremendous efforts that are made by individuals and organisations, to bring the needs of children and others who have been marginalised, to the attention of the general public, many of whom remain ignorant of the challenges they have faced. The work undertaken by professionals and parents to raise awareness, has been critical in many of the advances made for children with special educational needs over the past century. I also believe that the media can play an important and responsible role in assisting moves towards achieving more inclusive communities. There have been many excellent campaigning journalists in recent years who have taken up cudgels against inequality and injustice.
Once the International Day of People with Disability passes, the difficulties that these individuals face in their everyday lives don’t go away. It is certainly good to see the commitment of individuals celebrated on this particular day, but it should be recognised that the efforts that they make will also be in evidence for the three hundred and sixty four days that are not in the public eye. I may be accused of being curmudgeonly, and certainly run the risk of antagonising some of my colleagues who have devoted much of their time to the organisation of these one day events. But Just as women in England no longer feel the need to throw themselves under the hooves of the King’s horse in order to demand the vote, and Indian politicians no longer spend time in prisons in order to gain national independence, I hope that a day will come when the rights of individuals with disabilities are fully recognised and those who support them can take a break from the efforts they make to obtain social justice.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has recognised the need to work towards a change in society for a time when:-
Persons with disabilities are not viewed as “objects” of charity, medical treatment and social protection; rather as “subjects” with rights, who are capable of claiming those rights and making decisions for their lives based on their free and informed consent as well as being active members of society.
How long, I wonder until this ambition is achieved?