It is always great to be able to reach you through our website. Introducing, redefining or brushing up old and new issues and concerns in the field of special education and disability management have always been a part of our mission. Most of our alumni work in interior areas and do not have many avenues for updating their knowledge and skills. In our own small way, through Arushi (our newsletter), through our website (and our annual conference which is attended by more than 250 teachers every year), my team and I try to keep you in the loop of national and international trends and developments.
India has a long history of special schools, teacher education programs in special education and NGO networking in the field of disability management. However, the focus of these activities has remained to be disability specific objectives and services. For example, a teacher of mentally challenged students in most of the cases did not have basic knowledge and skills needed to work with individuals with other disabilities. In fact, until very recently, minimum possible support in the form of referring other disability cases to appropriate organization, I may be pardoned for saying this - was not a common practice among the professionals and organizations.
As is said often, the only permanent thing in life is ‘change’. Fortunately, in recent years there have been positive changes in the field of special education and disability management. Some of these changes are slow (sometime frustratingly slow!) and steady and hence may win the game! One of the changes which I feel has extreme relevance in terms of strengthening existing service delivery and reaching the unreached is the shift from single disability to cross disability perspective. This could be indicator of maturity of policy makers and re/habilitation professionals or just one of the outcomes of ‘trial and error’ strategies in the disability management. It could be outcome of a push and pressure from international trends and developments like UNCRPD or internal realization of existing limitations post PWD Act. Most probably, each of these factors played role in pushing the changes in this direction. Concentrating more on the action points rather than the driving forces, I must say, we all have to run extra miles. Thankfully, Rehabilitation Council of India has initiated the process by modifying the current teacher education syllabi. A very pragmatic course titled “Introduction to Disabilities” has been added to the existing syllabi to focus on cross disability understanding. It would be appropriate to mention here that the RCI has launched e courses in various disabilities. Teachers who are qualified for a single disability have a great and the most convenient opportunity to learn about other disabilities. I wish all my readers – experienced or inexperienced would avail this option of getting additional training. But particularly the newly trained and not so experienced teachers must explore the opportunities of undergoing certificate and diploma courses in other disabilities to increase their employability. Job market today is very pro for cross disability skills – may that be through Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan or through private upper middle class mainstream schools. There is a gap in job market and training options. Teachers who are equipped to deal with various disabilities will get benefit out of these existing gaps.
At the end, a point to ponder for those who still are in doubts about – ‘can there really be a cross disability expert or a cross disability teacher’. We carefully need to look at the concept of special teacher itself. At the end of the day what is a special teacher? A special teacher is nothing more and nothing less than a ‘good’ teacher. And what is a good teacher? A good teacher is an inclusive teacher – the one who can satisfy different educational needs of students with different abilities and disabilities. Do you see the link and does it make you more positive about possibility of creating cross disability teachers! We are already special teachers and hence are good teachers. Let us strengthen our cross disability skills and become inclusive teachers. Let me share my own experience here. I was sitting in my own comfort zone calling myself ‘exclusive expert’ on hearing impairment. Today I feel, I can work effectively only if I have adequate knowledge and skills related to other disabilities as well. I have enrolled myself in a short term program on one of the other disabilities, how about you?
Dr. Asmita Huddar