Being disabled should not mean being disqualified from having access to every aspect of life. But this is the reality faced by several children in schools served by Shashamane Sunrise across the globe. It is a reality that is not often addressed or even spoken about, and it continues to be one of the greatest hindrances to universal education, especially in developing countries.
Physical disability is being unable to use one or more of your limbs effectively or appropriately or being unable to see, speak, hear and walk. Education, it can be argued, is the right of all, including disabled children. However, have you ever thought about the number of uneducated disabled children in both Developed and Developing Countries? Over the years many disabled children have been deprived of proper education. Disabled students in the Caribbean are at a disadvantage due to little or no assistive technologies and essential infrastructure in most primary, high schools and common areas.
Excluding children with disabilities from educational institutions and eventually employment opportunities can result in high social and economic costs. Adults with disabilities tend to be poorer than those without disabilities. Therefore, it is very important to include children with disabilities into the educational system. Physical accessibility of schools and classrooms, in terms of distance, ramps, and other needed resources, will facilitate inclusion of children with disabilities.
There is an obvious need for more assistive technologies aid in educating disabled children. The education of disabled children can be made easier and more comfortable through the use of new technologies. More than 4,000 assistive technologies have been designed for students and teachers. These include wheelchairs and a wide variety of high-tech tools such as hearing aids and amplification devices, braille note taking devices, voice recognition software that converts the spoken word into a type-written format on a computer screen as well as technologies that enable severely disabled students to control their computers simply by following letter and commands on the computer screen with their eyes. These adaptive technologies encourage disabled students to perform as efficiently as their non-disabled peers. Hence when primary and high schools are equipped with these high-tech tools more disabled students will be able to attend classes and participate. However, these devices are expensive, and it is also costly to train teachers to use them, and schools in most developing countries do not have the capital necessary to implement these technologies.
To use Jamaica as an example, based on the Report on Access and Inclusion in 2011, 96.4% of the schools in that developing country are not equipped with assistive technologies. In contrast, in the United States (1999-2000), the total spending to provide education for disabled students was $77.3 billion, which translated to $12, 474 per student. A high percentage of primary and secondary schools in Jamaica were not constructed with essential infrastructures (ramps, handicapped bathrooms, elevators and automated doors) to accommodate disabled students. A survey conducted within primary and high schools in Jamaica by the Centre of Disability Studies (2011) showed that a small number of schools were built to be accessed by the disabled – most reported no bathroom facilities for the disabled.
Most schools in Jamaica were built several decades ago when such plans for the disabled community were even more far-fetched. Currently schools with more than one floor do not have elevators to allow physically disabled students to access them. In addition, the doors are not automated so that disabled students can enter sections of the school without help from able-bodied individuals.
Disabled students have been afflicted and excluded from the education system for too long, and the governments in developing countries need to address the inaccessibility of relevant institutions by disabled students. Non-governmental organizations also need to see what role they can play in addressing such concerns in developing countries as we move to guarantee education for all students in the coming years.
By Yulanda Campbell, Shash Jamaica