“Inclusion works to the advantage of everyone.
We all have things to learn and we all have something to teach.”

-Helen Henderson

India is home to one of the largest disabled populations in the world. In India, according to 2011 Census, 2.21% of the population has one or multiple types of disabilities. World Bank data suggests that this percentage is actually skewed; the numbers are nearly four-five times higher.

Inspite of progressive legislations (e.g., Rights of Persons with Disability Act of 2016), we still lag behind. Literature suggests that there are both physical and attitudinal challenges that come in the way. Persons with disability face different forms of discrimination in various fronts like schools, collages, malls, restaurants, parks and workplaces. Can these legislations alone protect us from more subtle forms of discrimination and prejudices? In our country there are so many notions attached to disability, which get highlighted from time to time. Isn’t it heartbreaking?

We recently conducted a group discussion with parents of children with disabilities. I must admit that these parents are a courageous lot, trying to navigate through this challenging yet beautiful journey. There was one thing that struck me- one parent shared, “my son wasn’t given his due chance to perform on the annual day. They didn’t want to mess up the show after all.” This beautiful child goes to one of the so-called progressive/mainstream schools. I am sure there are many such untold stories of discrimination. These things happen all the time! Isn’t it unnerving?

Inclusive education is one of the important aspects of Rights of Persons with Disability Act, 2016. The Act defines inclusive education, as “a system of education wherein students with and without disability learn together and the system of teaching and learning is suitably adapted to meet the learning needs of different types of students with disabilities.” Inclusive education largely means different and ‘diverse’ students learning side by side in the same classroom.

Proponents of inclusive education identify ‘benefits’ of inclusive education for everyone. It nurtures diversity, empathy, cooperation, flexibility and mutual respect.

But are we really geared towards inclusive education? The need of the hour is a complete overhaul of the education system. We need reorientation of the teaching/ non-teaching staff, enabling infrastructure/technology, and inclusive curriculum among others. But even before that, we need attitudinal change.Isn’t this the toughest thing? Changing mindsets is tough! But we really need to initiate a dialogue. Otherwise, ‘Inclusive’ society will remain a distant dream.

Written by: Minakshi Dewan

Minakshi Dewan holds a doctoral degree from the Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She has worked with various NGOs after completing her master’s degree from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. She has authored a picture book for children. She is also an expert blogger with Momspresso.