This paper will begin with an exposition of the necessity of the recognition of human rights of the disabled within the Indian context. It would, then briefly, look at the situation of the absorption of the disabled at the school and the college levels. One will focus on the constant dilution of the absorption of students with special needs (as one moves to higher levels in education) from the secondary to the higher educational levels and on the employment situation that has not been able to absorb them sufficiently. The focus would then shift on to how the ELT skills of the college teachers need to be developed to take cognizance of an array of handicaps that students with special needs have to face in the class in the form of visual, loco-motor, or physical disabilities.
The disability situation in India has certain specific angles to it which would be the starting point for this paper. Usually, birth defects on grounds of someone either being visually or hearing impaired or intellectually challenged are not treated with that amount of comprehensive seriousness as recommended by the global standards.1 Furthermore, as noted by G.S. Karna in an important work titled United Nations and the Rights of Disabled Persons: A Study in Indian Perspective, in India the problem is also often compounded by the fact that a lot of the
disabled, actually, belong to the poorer sections of the society. In such a situation, there is neither any medical awareness about the importance of adequate therapeutic care from the earliest years in childhood nor much incentive in proper educational rehabilitation of the disabled. Quite often, this has also meant that there doesn’t exist much of a possibility of sufficient livelihood options for the disabled children, who then usually enter into adulthood with similar kinds of anomalies and helplessness.
Within the Indian school education system, the recognition of the rights of the disabled children usually comes under the “Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995”. The disabilities absorbed at the level of school education system, in India, are usually comprehensive in nature, with some rudimentary provisions made for various forms- visual, loco-motor, auditory, mental retardation, or autistic. However, the sorry situation can be gauged from the fact that only about one per cent of the disabled children actually get to go to schools.
In this light, some field work based evidence would be of help. A visit to Mano Vikas Kendra, a school for children with special needs located in North Delhi, brought some interesting observations to the light.2
The school consists of around 200 to 250 children with various forms of disabilities such as the slow learners, the intellectually challenged, the autistic and the visually impaired. It runs in the form of a special school-cum-rehabilitation centre with the presence of provisions such as an early intervention centre, a physiotherapy unit, teaching made through special audio-visual aids and a special vocational centre. The achievements of some of the students of the higher wing seemed to be more than impressive, but there were clear indications of the lack of livelihood options for these students after school with any absorption of the severely intellectually challenged or the hearing impaired obviously beyond possibility.
Most of these students belonged to the middle class or the lower middle class families with the case of one severely intellectually challenged student who had crossed thirty years of age but continued to do minor vocational tasks in the school in the absence of his parents, being unable to find any suitable means of alternative employment. Furthermore, there were observations made from the pedagogical point of view: it was pointed out that every special education class should have at least two to three special educators for a recommended intake of not more than 12-13 children. In this regard, some inadequacies were pointed with respect to the government run special schools, e.g. the dearth of special educators per classroom and the lack of infrastructural enabling environment in the light of the severity of disabilities faced by some of the students.
Understandably, from the school education to the higher education level, the absorption of disabled students is both less than satisfactory and limited and also depends on the severity and the type of the disability. It is usually the visually and the physically handicapped (VH/PH) categories that make it to the higher education level. A personal engagement on the part of this researcher/academician with a few prominent colleges of the University of Delhi did bring to the fore an increasing amount of sensitivity which higher education has, fortunately, started displaying towards students with multiple forms of disabilities. It is recognisable in the form of the existence of the ‘Equal Opportunity Wings’ in the colleges, the provision of enabling infrastructural environment such as ramps, special toilets and tactile paths, the provision of Braille aided material and specifically designed labs and class rooms to suitably enhance the learning ambience for these students.
However, this is certainly not a universal scenario and the problems at the higher education level are compounded by slightly less than required sensitivity on the part of the concerned pedagogues. This is especially more relevant in the context of ELT and the ELT teachers at the higher education level. From the perspective of the two pioneering universities in Delhi: the Delhi University and the JNU, English language teaching ranges from training the students in the basic skills of reading and writing through the utilisation of some basic prose or poetry texts (usually confined to the students of B.A Tool/ Programme) to the teaching of specialised courses in literature or cultural studies under the aegis of English teaching programmes.
A short survey conducted by this researcher amongst VH/PH students exposed the basic inadequacies that English language teaching faces in the colleges. These usually vary from the disabled student’s inability to comprehend or keep up with the pace of the lectures, inaccessibility of English teachers in terms of the language used, the absence of prop aided teaching, the lack of special focus on the specific nature of disability that a student might face in the class and an absence of examples to facilitate understanding in language teaching.
The suggestions made by the students were of the nature of providing additional help as a supplement to classroom teaching in the form of recording of lectures of language classes to the possible and increased usage of audio-visual aids to enhance the comprehensive nature of these lectures. Some of the students emphasised on the advantages of bilingualism or on conducting an English language class in two languages such as English and Hindi, so that slow learners could benefit from the same. There was also the case of a student with minor dyslexia in one of the language classes who suggested how he required additional help in improving his handwriting techniques since that proved to be a major hurdle in his learning process. Some of the VH students also pointed towards their inadequacy to keep pace with the lectures in an English classroom in the face of their inability to write or their dependence on the Braille systems. The VH/PH students highlighted the need for the development of language and translation software so that they could be in a position to improve the base of their English language skills which were inadequate from the school level.3
There was also an emphasis made on lack of remedial sessions and absence of vocation centred learning or learning conducive from the employment perspective as far as training in English language classes or cultural studies is concerned. The students pointed out that the teachers’ role was often confined to reading from the textbook and providing a standard set of explanations with very little focus on improving English language skills of the students or on enabling them to write better. Here, an example can be cited of the Jawahar Lal Nehru University which has been conducting exclusive workshops on teaching or improvising the language skills of the visually or the hearing impaired through the utilisation of advanced techniques in sign language or exclusive sessions on English language for Academic Writing. All of this, understandably, becomes all the more necessary as the students quite often do not know even the basics of academic writing. The problem is due to the assumption that these students have most of the basic language skills and, therefore, do not require either remedial intervention or a revisit of the basic skills in academic writing or pronunciation. The students also pointed to a lack of personal involvement on the part of the teachers with the background and profile of these students so that the necessary interventions could be made on any of the desired lines—economic, psychological, or remedial.
There has been a provision of reservation for the disabled in the Indian higher education sector. In addition, there has also been an apparent amount of greater focus and sensitivity displayed towards these students through consecutive Five Year Plans. However, despite these provisions, the ground realities are different and disturbing. There continues to be a relatively lesser absorption of the disabled students from the school to the college levels. Within the context of the ELT classes, there is very little emphasis on personal intervention in the students’ specific situations which could put a check on the increasing absenteeism or a drop in the level of engagement in the classroom. Sadly, very little attention is paid to train these students, genuinely, in language skills which would actually translate into meaningful employment or improved social equity.
A greater sensitivity and a step towards that extra mile forward would definitely lead to a relatively conducive situation in which a deep engagement would translate into meaningful pedagogy for the disabled at the higher education level, with increased chances of their absorption within the existing employment situation.
1 As observed by G.N. Karna, the most important outcome of the observance of IYDP (1981) was the adoption of World Programme of Action, concerning disabled persons (1983-92), which represented a global commitment to creating full participation and equal opportunity for disabled persons. (Karna, 1999, p.121)
2 The visit was made by this researcher on April 30, 2014, at around 11.00 A.M. with major directions in the school provided by Ms Jharna, the head; and Ms. Yamini, the school counsellor.
3 These observations have been derived from a short personal interview based survey conducted by this researcher across two prominent colleges in the University of Delhi in the months of March-April, 2014; and a talk with some teachers engaged in the running of EOC wings in these colleges.
Karanth, Pratibha and Joe Rozario, (Eds.). (2003) Learning disabilities in India. New Delhi: Sage Publications.
Karna, G.N. (1999) United Nations and the rights of disabled persons: A study in Indian perspective. New Delhi: A.P pbs.
Guntasha Kaur Tulsi
Guntasha Kaur Tulsi is an Assistant Professor Delhi University and a PhD Scholar at Centre of English Studies, JNU, Delhi.