No special children, just special needs

Only a tinge of India’s 2.5 million plus disabled children walk every morning into a specialised school on the outskirts of Delhi that charges no fees and accommodates a little over 1000 children with special needs. The rest, especially those in the hinterland, lead desolate lives.

According to koodakpress، The school is the world’s largest with all special needs for children who need special care, its efforts unique because it – on an average – has a teacher dedicatedly looking after ten students, the ratio a heartening one in a country which lacks schools of such kind.


Last year, probably tired of showcasing their talent time and again without recognition, the children enacted (because they could not sing) Jana Gana Mana, the national anthem, with background music. It was a tearjerker, everywhere it was showcased, the audience stood in muted silence and there weren’t any arguments, no racial overtones.


The Mata Bhagwanti Chadha Niketan (MBCN) is funded by the Ponty Chadha Foundation, the CSR arm of Wave Group that was once led by Ponty Chadha, the liquor and infrastructure baron who died outside his farmhouse in a hail of gunfire. The incident also killed his brother, Hardeep. The dual deaths still make news, five years have passed since the shootout triggered breaking headlines.


But the school – established way back in 1999 – continues to make news among India’s disabled world, it recently developed India’s first mobile based application, Vaakya, which translates into “Word” for children speech impaired, affected by autism, cerebral palsy and various other mental and physical conditions.


It is an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) tool, a no language barrier that creates a combination of custom images and phrases, which can be related to an individual user in order to effectively communicate. More than 70 percent of India’s disabled children who live in the villages can use it because it does not rely on internet connectivity and utilises the phone’s own memory only.


But to get the application to the hinterland, the State needs to get involved. Like all other countries, Indian laws are also silent on the disability rights of special students, who routinely get rejected in general education classrooms. Worse, specialised schools rarely demonstrate that they use any type of specialised curriculum to meet disabled children’s needs.


The great debate for the disabled has not happened in India, it must, especially when December 3 in the World Day for people with disabilities. For the disabled, there is no perfect school, no perfect life, all they need is a break from the daily fight. MBCN has major investments to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities, including hiring more staff, opening new programs and expanding partnerships with providers.


Other schools for such children must open up in India, where every years parents queue up outside school gates with application forms in hand and hope in heart. All they need is a seat for their child. Very few remember the plight and fate of children with special needs, those who require assistance to do most things.


I have a strange point of view here. I feel the needs of such children are not special at all. They need to eat, get around, be educated, use the bathroom and be entertained and sent out to have fun. These need extra efforts, requires careful planning. But the needs themselves are basic and ordinary. There is nothing special about them.


Time to spare a drop of tear for the teachers and students of this very unique school.


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