‘One of the greatest problems facing the world today is the growing number of persons who are excluded from meaningful participation in the economic, social, political and cultural life of their communities.’(UNESCO)
Disability has been viewed in two perspectives: medical and social. The former understands disability as an attribute of an individual and the latter, in contrast, a product of society. The social model maintains that it is the society which prevents people with impairments in participating in all spheres of life and impairment would not become disability if the society provides equal access to them. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that ‘persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others’ (p.4). The above views suggest that disability is a complex mixture of individual impairments that are unavoidable and societal factors, which the society concerned can address through legislation and execution of it.
The social model gave rise to inclusive education, which was adopted by India in the 1990s in accordance with the international developments. National Curriculum framework (NCF) 2005 states that, ‘a policy of inclusion needs to be implemented in all schools and throughout our education system’ (p.85). The participation of all children, ‘especially the differently abled children from marginalized sections, and children in difficult circumstances’ requires to be ensured in ‘all spheres of their life in and outside the school’ (NCF 2005, p.85).The concept of inclusion as envisaged by NCF 2005 goes beyond education and people with disabilities and includes other spheres of life and other marginalized sections as well. It is not just about building schools to welcome and enable children with disabilities to participate in education but, more importantly, about developing inclusive attitudes and values among the non-disabled so that an inclusive ethos can be created both inside and outside school. The National Focus Group’s Position Paper on Education of Children with Special Needs states in its executive summary that ‘implementation of an inclusive curriculum would require a number of changes in present day teaching practices, curriculum content, evaluation procedures and available resources … would also involve curricular modifications and the use of human and technological support’. Consistent with the NCF 2005 and the Position Paper, the National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education 2009 stresses the need for sensitising teachers to the philosophy of inclusive education and orienting them to ‘the different kinds of adjustments that schools have to make in terms of infrastructure, curriculum, teaching methods and other school practices to relate teaching to the needs of all learners’ (p.13). The discussion that follows is an attempt to respond to that call. Though, the examples given below focus on students with visual impairments, they have a philosophy that can be applied to the others as well.
Different words have different meanings, and different meanings have different effects. A stereotyped language, which assumes stereotypes about disabilities, will have a detrimental impact on both students with and without disabilities. Expressions such as ‘Are you blind?’ and ‘Are you deaf?’ are used to chide someone who fails to employ common sense. Additionally, stereotypes such as ‘handicapped’, ‘crippled’, ‘confined’ and ‘wheelchair-bound’ are common in English. Such stereotypes, especially by teachers, hurt the sentiments of people with disabilities and negatively shape the language usage and the thinking of people without disability. The teachers of English may draw the attention of the students and the colleagues towards these stereotypes to create awareness among them. As a student, the author heard words like ‘relaxation’ and ‘extra’ repeatedly instead of ‘additional’ for describing the right of people with disabilities to have additional time for completing a test. Ideally, the author would prefer the term ‘additional’ to ‘relaxation’ or ‘extra’ as it implies their right to have more time.
The multi-sensory approach in teaching benefits both the students with and without disabilities. The teachers, following this approach, speak as they write on the board, turn to face students with hearing impairments so that they can lip read, provide models, whenever possible, so that the students can touch and feel, use appropriate intonation and pitch patterns and modulate voice along with facial expressions and gestures according to the situation. Perhaps, a teacher of English may associate the colour ‘white’ with snow or the moon. However, associating ‘white’ with a ‘tooth’ can be inclusive both for the students with visual impairments as the ‘tooth’ is accessible to them and for the students with hearing impairments as it is a sign for the white colour in the Indian sign language.
The Multi-personnel Approach
Following a multi-personnel approach can offer solutions to some of the challenges faced by the teachers in educating the students with disabilities. The teachers can seek support from the parents, the family, the classmates, the colleagues, the administrators and the community. The student concerned, the peer group and the family can be significant agents of education.
Individual: The students can be asked to maintain an Individual Educational Plan, a document containing information about the students’ levels of functioning and goals. The teachers can report the educational services provided and required to achieve those goals and information about how the students’ disabilities shape the process of their learning and performance. This document helps the students in knowing about their progress on a particular goal and about what they need to do to achieve it. This also helps the educators to plan the learning opportunities if the students change either their schools or the board.
Peers: According to the socio cultural theory of language learning, peer interaction plays a significant role in language learning which eventually shapes the mind. Hence, peer interaction and cooperative learning can be considered resources for an inclusive classroom. Involving peers to explain and discuss what is happening in and around the classroom may enable the students with disabilities to participate
in the activities. For example, if the class goes on a field trip, the students with disabilities may also be included so that their self-esteem is improved. Involving, rather than excluding, the students with disabilities in everyday activities of the class can develop a positive attitude among the students without disability towards the students with disabilities.
Family: The process of socialisation and inclusion of children begins right from the family, and the children with disabilities are no exception. Some family members tend to react either with rejection or over protection which prevents the child to participate fully in the socialisation process. Such circumstances offer an opportunity to the teachers to counsel the parents and the siblings to respond positively, rather than negatively, to the situation. The parents may be encouraged to identify and reinforce the strengths and competencies of their children, not to compare them with others and to provide ample opportunities for the use of life skills such as eating and dressing. The children with disabilities develop a great deal of confidence by performing these life skills independently; although these seem simple to the normal children. The author experienced an incident that happened in a seminar where a student with visual impairment narrated with confidence and pride how he used to cut onions in his free time to help his parents run a ‘tiffin shop’. When he said that he chose to cut onions as he does not have tear glands (acknowledgement: his words inspired the title), it touched the hearts of the audience who responded with claps.
In educating the students with disabilities, the teachers may concentrate on the students’ abilities and strengths. For example, research suggests that people with visual impairments perform better on perceptual auditory tasks and memory tasks as compared to the sighted people since ‘some auditory functions including language processing and auditory short-term and long-term memory have been found to be more efficient in blind humans as compared to sighted’ (Hötting & Röder, 2009, p.168). An example of the ability-driven approach is the news item published in 2007 about the Belgian police that recruited six blind people as detectives based on their sound auditory perception for guiding the police to detect and identify criminals through analysing wiretap recordings. The implication from the above two examples is that voice modulation and intonation of the teacher can be a great resource for students with visual impairments. For instance, ‘gushing’ can be pronounced with force and speed on ‘sh’ sound in pronouncing ‘gushing blood’ so that they can internalise the concept by associating it with the sound.
The stakeholders in education across the world have always been obsessed with normalisation and standardisation in assessment. But, in an inclusive classroom, teachers may search for alternatives in assessment such as performance-based assessment procedures. Would it be justifiable if a teacher conducts an oral test for a student with hearing impairment and a written test for a student with visual impairment? Since English is an unphonetic language and the students with visual impairments are exposed to limited written language, expecting accurate spelling from them is a demanding call. Instead, the teachers may look for alternatives that are user-friendly. Moreover, modules such as ‘phonemic transcription’, ‘information transfer’, picture description’ and ‘spelling’ have visual component and so they may be considered cautiously.
Recreational activities, including games and sports, can boost the confidence of the disabled students. The school personnel may avoid bias against them when they participate in their favourite games and sports. The talent and skills of students with disabilities may be identified and honed individually. The school personnel may avoid stereotyping, for example, the students with visual impairments are guided to play chess as they are known to be successful in chess.
Education has been recognised as a tool for reducing inequalities within society. Developing material, which does not stereotype disabilities and which includes inclusion literature, may develop an anti-disablist society. It is necessary to have literature about disabilities, known as inclusion literature, as part of syllabus to address the dearth of inclusion literature in textbooks. Inclusion literature could prove decisive in developing a positive attitude towards people with disabilities and among students and teachers without disability. Even if such literature is not available in textbooks, the teachers may use inclusion literature, sometimes, in the class to break the monotony of reading the regular textbook. A list of resources of inclusion literature can be found at http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ ALAN/spring98/andrews.html (link valid on 25 April, 2014).
Assistive technology is any piece of equipment used by the students with disabilities for achieving optimal functional abilities and independence. Technology such as hearing aid, wheelchair, braille and computer- all support people with disabilities to participate in everyday life. Among these, the braille has been recognised as a revolutionary innovation in the life of people with visual impairments. However, the use of braille is a cognitively demanding process as it needs a stronger engagement of the right hemisphere in addition to engaging the left hemisphere for language processing since braille depends more on spatial components than on printed or spoken language (Roder et al., 2002). Hence, assistive technology cannot be treated as a replacement for the teachers and its limitations may be kept in mind while using it.
In conclusion, this paper aimed at sensitising people to issues related to inclusive pedagogy for people with disabilities. The paper addressed issues such as disability-sensitive language and an inclusive approach to resources, pedagogy, assessment, recreational activities, syllabus and assistive technology. To end the paper, it is only a fitting tribute to people with disabilities to quote Helen Keller, whose words succinctly express the approach an inclusive teacher may adopt: ‘the best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.’
Hötting, K., and Röder, B. (2009). Auditory and auditory-tactile processing in congenitally blind humans. Hearing Research, 258(1), 165-174.
National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education (NCFTE). (2009). New Delhi: NCTE.
National Curriculum Framework (NCF) (2005). New Delhi: NCERT.
Position Paper National Focus Group on Education of Children with Special Needs. (2006). New Delhi: NCERT.
Röder, B., Stock, O., Bien, S., Neville, H., Rösler, F. (2002). Speech processing activates visual cortex in congenitally blind humans. European Journal of Neuroscience, 16 (5), 930-936.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Retrieved April 25, 2014 from http://www.un.org/disabilities/ documents/convention/convoptprot-e.pdf
Lakshmana Rao Pinninti
Lakshmana Rao Pinninti is a PhD (ELT) student at the University of Hyderabad. His research interests include reading strategies and sociocultural theory of language learning.