Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together – Vincent Van Gogh

Posts tagged ‘Children’

When It Rains, It Pours … In Goa

Come mid –June and the South-West monsoons descend upon Goa, and you can’t truly understand what that means unless you are there. The tourist brochures and languid, sultry pictures of waving palms, happy people, parties, little boats and great fish, lull your senses into somehow believing that this is Goa all year round, but if you happen to arrive there anytime from June to August, be prepared for a shocker.


As I nested into the Goa bound Bangalore bus, I was heading to a monsoon whose ferocity and viciousness I had all but forgotten. The monsoon in Bangalore is a myth, which keeps getting larger by the year; we don’t carry umbrellas or rain coats and if there is a sudden downpour we just wait it out. The longest it’s rained here is half an hour and so no Bangloreans wears rainy shoes.


At the border we were welcomed by dark clouds, the premonition of doom and it began raining so heavy the windshield of the bus turned opaque. The wipers zoom back and forth, and the rain gushing down in torrents, giving just a second of visibility to the driver.


Looking out of our window, it was like heading into a surreal place. The barks of trees were slippery black, the leaves heavy and droopy; there is a flourish of life as nature tries to capture lost territory and every little spot, except the grey, smooth road had turned green. Everywhere you cast your eyes, its green, green, green in different shades and shapes, but it’s pleasant, smoothing, almost calming to the mind.

The sky stays an angry gray through many days. The cloud cover so thick, not even a blush of sunlight penetrates its strong armor. Goa has a significant population that works abroad, and having lived there for some time forget the ferocity of the south-west monsoons. Often, they build houses in the new fancy styles they may have encountered abroad – flat rooms, courtyard covered in tiles – and when the monsoons rule supreme for three months each year, you see these homes cowering in fear of destruction. Huge structures covered in plastics of yellow and blue, the windows all wrapped up, their balconies and verandas shielded from the lashing rain; the tiles gone deep green and dangerously slippery and for a brief time nature wins.


In such inclement weather, you would think the population of one and a half million would slow down their lives, and burrow in for some cozy rest. But no, school children trudge on like little turtles. Colorful raincoats protecting their lovely new books, people head to work, driving many kilometers mostly on their two wheelers, the place is abuzz with vinyl mushrooms, and man fights to retain his superiority.  It’s a constant battle, man and nature fighting to win. In days gone by, people prepared, and stored food for the monsoons. Transportation was a problem then, and everyone was engaged in agriculture, not so now and people who about their daily life, making the rains an integral part of it.


One of the main highlights for us in the monsoons, when we were kids was to set little paper boats afloat in the storm water drain that ran by our house. The water gushed by with a strong gurgle and we competed to see whose boat went furthest. The rocks in the drain were the main obstacles and led to the sinking of many newspaper vessels. The monsoons were also a great time to take our rudimentary fishing rods and head to little ponds that formed again through the network of storm water drains. A piece of earthworm for bate and we would sit around for hours waiting for fish the size of your index finger to tug at our line. Fish is scarce in the monsoon, and all the fish was taken home by one of the kids whose mother actually cleaned and cooked them.

The fields are flooded by the incessant rain, and field crabs and muscle flourish – amazing that pesticides haven’t yet decimated them into a hot, spicy, coconut curry.

While being great fun for kids, the three whole months of rain are hard work for the farmers. Organic manure is still extensively used, and you can see folks with baskets of cow dung on their head, walking off to their fields. Ploughing is still done with oxen and buffalo, with the wooden plough held down by a man standing at the end. The sowing of paddy seed is down by hand. The pigeon population has grown exponentially claim many, and you see men and women, weathering it out in the incessant rain to prevent the newly soared paddy from being devoured by these little feathered pests.  Soon, women will wade into shin deep water to begin transplanting the young crop, then the weeding, fertilizing, weeding again, followed by constant monitoring that the little mud banks around the field are holding strong. Rice needs to constantly have a few inches of water so that it grows well – ah it’s a treadmill. When I see the work put in by farmers, I hesitate to waste even a grain of rice, one cannot help but remember the manual labour, through health and sickness  that goes into growing that food. In other parts of India, it is the loss of these very life sustaining crops that drives farmers to despair and suicide, touch wood, Goa has been shielded.Image

For three whole days we battled the inclement, hostile weather, as we had loads of outdoor work. The loud patter on my raincoat, as I huddled pillion on a two-wheeler. The rain comes down in sheets and one needs to bow their head in submission to keep the face from the incisive, sharp rain that hits you with the force of acupuncture needles. The rains seeps through the strongest raincoat, soaking your hair, your clothes, you can feel the dampness taking over, your body shivers with the discomfort and you usually come out of this downpour shaking yourself like a wet dog and feeling as forlorn as a wet cat. But that’s the monsoon in Goa and for a short break, offers up its own charming experience.

Pictures by Nagaraj Papanna



The Frenzy of Football

Football in Goa

Football is in the blood of every Goan and the high that comes only with this racy sport can be seen as people gather at their village grounds every other day. Some of these football fields are mere flattened paddy fields, but the thrill of watching the ball race around can be got just about anywhere if you’ve a Goan.

Came rain or shine, week days or weekends, there are matches happening almost every day in some parts of Goa or the other. And many a young athletic boy dreams of taxing his muscles, getting his adrenaline going, covered in the sweet smell of excited sweat, all to be playing for a local club.

With people fanatic about football, most villages have their own football clubs and the inter-village tournaments can be fiercely fiery ones.

“Goans have the potential to lead the country in football” says Aldrid DaCosta, English FA-qualified football coach, who left the UK and followed his passion for football, all the way to ancestral Goa. “Countries all over the world with Portuguese or Spanish influence make up the best football teams in the world, some examples being Brazil and Argentina. Goa needs to exploit this heritage”, he continues.

Getting their kicks from Football

Aldrid DaCosta walks his talk and has set up the GOA Learning Soccer School which conducts football camps for young students all year round. Aldrid has tied up with numerous schools and trains their football teams too. Many of these schools have gone on to win inter school championship trophies too.

Sport, as a vital part of education has been diminishing in value. Burdened by school, travel and tuitions, children have become couch potatoes, preferring to unwind before the TV or computer than go out and exercise their muscles.

Sports, help young boys and girls grow to their full potential, make them physically strong and athletic.

Sports, especially group sports like football, instill young boys and girls not just with a competitive spirit, but gives them faster motor- eye co-ordination, enhancing their instinctual abilities, helping them understand the importance of team work and co-operation. All these are invaluable learns which will help young boys and girls get ahead in life.

Thankfully some school and parents are beginning to recognize the importance of sports in the development of their child and going by the large turn outs for the GOA Learning Soccer School Camps, Goa may well retain its dominance in the football arena after all.

If you would like to contact Aldrid DaCosta,

Cell number  +91-  9823 281781   Email –

Bullying the big ‘B’ in schools

Bullying the big ‘B’ in schools


I couple of days back, at a little past 6.p.m, I was rushing through the last few things for the day, getting ready to dash for the bus, and psychologically preparing for the tiring task of standing the 45 minutes home, when I was a distracted by the incoming mail as it popped up in Gmail window. It said an old school friend had tagged me on Facebook.

It has been nearly 4 years that I have left Goa, a lot more since I lost contact with people and events in my village and so it has been years. But my school stands large and looming, not just physically but also in my minds eye. My twelve years of school were right there. Twelve years of memory, imprinted on a developing mind can fill up a rather large space, even now when tons of experiences and day to day life clutters on. My school, the village can still be recalled, a large bulky volume? and so that mail from this old school mate instantly filled me with a warm glow. The same kind as soft golden wine would bring, on a tiring day.

I accepted the invitation to add him to my Facebook instantly, saved his mail id and sent him a brief mail in minutes. He was excited that I was online and had written back to him so fast. Our words instantaneous, warm. In my minds eye I could see him, sitting somewhere at a desk with that huge ear to ear smile that always filled his face, that unforgettable sparkle in his jet black eyes. The pictures that filled my mind were old ones, his hair straight and falling over his forehead, and then some other thoughts intruded into the forefront.


I have worked ‘officially’ on disability issues for a little under a year, but my friends with disability have had a lasting impact on my life. My time with them has since coloured my perception and it popped up here too. My old school friend and fellow villager from Saligao, Goa was also a person with disabilities (PwDs), thought he probably would not fit in with the definition used by the government. But he definitely was my first exposure with a PwDs. Then, I didn’t know about ‘disability’ as an issue and would have described him as someone with a strange gait.

Some more memories, of kids in maroon short pants and pink shirts, running after each other on the playground. Kids have endless and uncontainable energy and in my minds ear I could hear, calling names……, names that weren’t pleasant. They were used to tease. Relentlessly through the day, for years, and the warm glow, wasn’t all that warm anymore.


I particularly remember this school mate being teased and bullied for having a deformity and can empathize with him because I myself was bullied and teased. Relentlessly, for years. I was tiny, still am, and that became point of ridicule. If somebody told me children as little as five and six years of age can tease, to the point of harass and bully each other, I would never have believed then, definitely not if I had not been a victim myself.

In my minds eye, images are fresh, like they happened yesterday of yet another classmate who was again constantly bullied. His bag hidden in the bin, in the sink, I can still see him frantically searching for his bag even while the other kids ran around teasing and laughing.

Undoubtedly, bulling and teasing that actually amounts to harassment, is an issue in schools. I know it is a big and recognized issue in schools abroad, I don’t believe it is recognized as a serious issue in schools in India or in its numerous States.

Bullying gains an additionally serious dimension when the person being bullied is a person with disabilities. I know I carry the scars of the constant bullying and harassment, I’m sure my old classmate carries them too, since it was a lot harsher for him.

When I look back I’m filled with anger. Couldn’t the teachers see and hear the bullying, I never heard a single teacher voice her disapproval nor did I hear a reprimand. I wonder if teachers have since become aware of the issue of bullying, if they take a stand about it now.

In hind sight I feel shocked, that not a single teacher in my school was sensitive enough to see this boy’s pain, forget about address it.

Children with disabilities have a huge battle when it comes to simply attending schools. Finding an accessible school is a big challenge and additionally is the burden of being bullied.


If there is something I’d like to advocate from this rambling piece is that bullying in school should be addressed with zero tolerance. Parents, school children and most importantly teachers need to make themselves aware about the lasting effects of bullying.

If you are a parent in India reading this, please raise the issue of bullying in your Parent Teachers Association (PTA), if you’ve a student please take a stand against bullying. School should be fun, I would not wish anyone to experience the pain I or my classmate with disabilities did, simply because other children had not been taught to be sensitive.

If you are a teacher, please sensitize your students to issues related to disability. After all these are the students who will grow to be parents themselves, doctors, lawyers, bus drivers, shopkeepers, bureaucrats etc. Insensitive children make insensitive adults.

Up for Grabs

Up for Grabs

I often looked at all those millions of ad, in all shapes, colours, sizes, messages, competing for eye space and wondered, do these advertisements really help.

Does anyone read this stuff, do they actually go out and buy these things, consciously?.

This weekend, I happened to visit the Sisters of Charity orphanage in the neighborhood, and saw children, disabled and not, who so needed other people around them.

That’s when I realized, oh yes, those advertisements do work, for today, all we have is a community, society of shoppers. Me included, until I just realized it.

Making Inclusive Education A Reality For Children With Disabilities*

Making Inclusive Education A Reality For Children With



One cannot argue adequately enough the importance of education and its over-arching influence on every aspect of a person’s life, least of all on that of a person with disability (PWD). Discriminated against, socially, politically and economically, education is arguably their only means to long term empowerment and social respectability, and yet sixty years on, India has rather unimpressive statistics to show for the level of literacy in the country. About 38% of the country’s population is illiterate, the rate is 15% higher among PWDs. Conservatively, there are about 10 million Children with Disabilities (CWD) in the country and about 90% of them are out of school. When one tries to understand the problem faced by CWDs in accessing education, one cannot help but stumble upon the larger problem of education facing the country. The education budgets in the country are falling instead of increasing. The Common Minimum Programme of the UPA Government promised to gradually hike the education budget to at least 6% of the GDP; however three years later it continues to linger at around 3%. Numerous States like Karnataka have a budget of 2.25% lower than the national average. Pedagogical methodology continues to be archaic, rote based, and the dis-empowered approach of the education system continues to view the educational needs of CWDs as a non-issue. School is considered a past time for the CWD and their presence in the classroom, a burden to the teacher. And yet, the right to education is a Fundamental Right of all children including those with disabilities.

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA)

For a long while education for CWDs had been paid only lip service. However, with the launch of the SSA in 2001, the educational needs of CWDs for the first time ever, got a budgetary allocation and an opportunity to study in a common school with non-disabled children their age. The key word that Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA) helds for CWDs was ‘Inclusive Education’. According to the definition employed by the Government of India while formulating the Action Plan for Inclusive Education for Children and Youth with Disabilities in 1995, “Inclusive education, as an approach, seeks to address the learning needs of all children, youth and adults with a specific focus on those who are vulnerable to marginalization and exclusion. It implies all learners, young people – with or without disabilities – being able to learn together through access to common pre-school provisions, schools and community educational settings with an appropriate network of support services.”

Most people, especially those sensitive to disability issues concede that the imperatives of social justice and equality mandate the education of physically and mentally challenged children and that too in a happy environment. Special schools are often un-stimulating environments that are poor replicas of real-life. Most PWDs who have studied in special schools feel these spaces deprived them of an opportunity to develop their confidence and engage in real life adjustments. In a cash strapped economy like India, where the education budget has been declining, inclusive education holds the key to ensuring successful education of the over 10 million CWDs in the country. An inclusive school is also a microcosm of society and it is in this school environment that non-disabled children can be sensitized to all types of people around them.

The Law

India is signatory to numerous International Conventions and has a fairly comprehensive set of laws itself

International Laws

· UN Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons 1975

· The Salamanca Declaration 1994

· The Biwako Millennium Framework for Action 2002

· The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2006

National Laws

· Article 21A of the Indian Constitution – guarantees education as a fundamental right.

· The 86th Constitutional Amendment of India Act 2002 – makes it mandatory for the Government to provide free and compulsory education to “all children of the age of 6-14 years”, with its preamble clarifying that “all” includes children with disabilities as well.

· The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, Chapter 5, Section 26 – ensures the above and more. To read the Act visit

While the Law itself is fairly comprehensive, not much has been done in the country by way of implementation. The primary problem being that the knowledge of the law is still very rudimentary both among bureaucrats and PWDs, who should have been demanding its implementation. Not much thought has gone into the effective policy formulation for its implementation and nor has any monitoring system with time frames been put in place, thus CWDs continue to struggle to access even a basic education. PWDs being a tiny unorganized population have not been able to successfully lobby for their rights and so, if one is fortunate to see some implementation of The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 it is only in urban areas. The Act itself is in dire need of amendment, to bring in punitive measures for those breaching it, to ensure easy access and speedy redressal before the law and to ensure its implementation within a stipulated time frame.

Hurdles in achieving Inclusive Education

While the intentions of policy makers may be genuine, there are a whole set of problems which crop up when CWDs attempts to exercise their right to education. Some problems that they encounter are situational, others bureaucratic and still others a result of poor understanding of village level scenarios which have impacted policy formulation. When addressing the educational needs of CWDs it is essential to remember that 90% of CWDs are in rural areas, where even able-bodied children struggle to access education. Secondly, rehabilitation facilities funded by both NGOs and the Government are concentrated in urban areas and so CWDs in rural areas are pushed to the margin of priorities. One of the major problems which hinder children with disabilities from attending school is the distance from home to school and the need for special transportation to commute. Public transport in rural areas is little and far between. Children on wheelchairs, wearing callipers or on elbow crutches find it extremely difficult to get in and out of buses, while most areas however, simply lack transportation and the student is required to walk. SSA does have a provision for providing a transport cost of Rs 400 p.a per student but it is grossly inadequate to hire private transport.

Most schools have been given grants under SSA to modify the school and make them accessible to CWDs. But these modifications have been restricted to constructing ramps and putting railings for children with locomotor disabilities. Since specifications have not been given for these constructions, it is not unusual to find the gradient of the ramp too steep, and the child unable to push his/her wheelchair without assistance. Little or no attention has been paid to making toilets accessible and this results in health problems for CWDs, nor is any attention given to ensure proper lighting for students with low vision, tactile tiles and Braille signage for children with a visual impairment.

Another major problem is the virtual non existence of disabled friendly study material. For example a student with visual impairment requires audio tapes containing the syllabus; needs to be taught Braille and be provided with a Braille slate. None of this is done and thus students with visual impairments who do attend school simply sit as mere spectators. A similar situation arises for children with hearing impairments who need to be taught sign language. In a survey done by the author in over 50 schools in Kolar District of Karnataka and in urban Bangalore, not a single teacher was found who knew how to communicate in sign language, nor was a single student found who had been taught to communicate in sign language. This is clearly indicative that no teaching and minimal learning is happening among children with speech impairments. Presently, of the two teachers in each village school in Karnataka, one is trained to handle children with disabilities. She is expected to deal with all types of disabilities and she is expected to do this over and above her regular class, which may range from teaching students of Std I-IV or Std V-VII!!

Teachers were found to be extremely poor in pedagogical methodology as they have received very rudimentary training, if any, on disability. They used teaching aids but these were designed for non disabled children. While the SSA has put an elaborate man power infrastructure in place in the form of Block Resource Centres and Integrated Education Resource Teachers (IERTs), the staff is meagre, untrained and over stretched.

The way ahead

When one thinks carefully of the millions of CWDs who are denied their right to an education, one cannot fail to realise the tremendous waste of human potential and the violation of the child’s fundamental right. The SSA maybe a great policy on paper but when it comes to implementation it is still a hotchpotch of experiments and trial and error schemes. There is an urgent need for greater commitment and decisive action from Governments at both the State and Central level and a need for greater involvement of the various stakeholders. To begin with there is a need for a policy change to make the SSA document flexible enough to incorporate local needs. The SSA document must incorporate the educational experiences of older PWDs, parents of CWDs, the teaching fraternity, CWDs, educationalists, concerned citizens and voluntary organizations to make it a vibrant document that achieves what it promises to do. Parents of CWDs are the stakeholders with the greatest interest, involving them in the education process of their child will ensure follow-up at home. There is also an urgent need for training and employing an adequate numbers of teachers to handle the special needs of CWDs, drawing up a syllabus that can be uniformly taught, designing teaching aids and handing them out in kits so that teachers can use these aids. There is also a need for roping in the village panchayats, women self help groups and others to develop a local monitoring team.

With The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan policy document (besides the others) we have a fairly comprehensive legislation in place, the time now is to use these legislations to demand the rights to inclusive education for CWDs. Laws like the Right to Information Act 2005 can be used to instill transparency and ensure that legislations are implemented and when breached challenged in the appropriate forum. If not, we will push yet another generation of persons with disabilities into the unending cycle of poverty, disempowerment and misery.

* This article is based on the authors experience in working with inclusive education for CWDs in Karnataka, specifically Kolar District and Bangalore Urban.

(The author is a founding member of disAbilityFirst, a disability group working on advocacy issues and can be contacted at

This article was published in Combat Law, Volume 7, Issue 1, Jan-Feb 08

Eyes on the future

Eyes on the future


The Government should address low vision problems in children.

It is widely believed that there are over 120 million people worldwide with Low Vision (LV), a condition that cannot be corrected, cured or treated by conventional medicine or surgery. Over 90 per cent of these people with LV live in developing countries.

According to the National Association for the Blind (NAB), this figure could be as high as 45 million children and adults in India. Approximately 50 per cent of all childhood blindness is preventable or treatable, unfortunately less than 15 per cent of those with a visual impairment have access to vision enhancement or rehabilitation services that could help change their lives! Despite the magnitude of the problem, LV is still sadly no where near the top of the agenda, for governments either at the state or national level.

Govt complacency

More than a decade on, the government has done little more than list LV as one of the seven disabilities in The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995. Most of those with LV, despite having usable vision continue to be packed off to schools for the blind or neglected in the general school system simply because they don’t have access to or cannot afford vision enhancement or rehabilitation that could help them to integrate into regular schools.

A survey done among ophthalmologists in 2005, listed some of the barriers to effective treatment of LV in India.

It was found that an overwhelming majority of ophthalmologists lacked training and knowledge of LV, while others lacked awareness, a sizeable percentage cited non-availability of LV devices for effective treatment. On the other hand, it is important to remember that ophthalmologist can only provide medical intervention; while social and economic rehabilitation needs to be planned for and addressed by the government.

It is extremely important that LV during childhood should be addressed seriously because it has a tremendous impact on the child’s development, education, future work opportunities and quality of life. The disability has serious social and economic implications for the family and the negative effects experienced by the child will influence the child’s life and beyond.

Since nearly 50 per cent of LV and visual impairment is preventable, it is important to focus on the causes of LV, one of which is Vitamin A deficiency, which results in corneal scarring and thus visual impairment. Vitamin A deficiency gains special significance due to the high levels of malnutrition in the country. Economically backward states are known to have higher rates of LV due to malnutrition; other causes of LV include diseases that the mother may have during pregnancy eg Rubella and genetic causes.

Implement SSA

However, NGOs can do only very little and it should largely be the responsibility of the government to take steps adequate to the scale of the problem and size of the country.

The need of the hour is to implement the Sarva Shiksha Abhayan (SSA) so as to benefit children with LV. Launched in 2001-02, the SSA seeks to provide inclusive education for all with a zero rejection policy and strives for 100 per cent retention of all children in school. However, it has been largely found that children with LV are passive attendees in class, having not been provided text books with large print, magnifiers or assistive devices like spectacles; they are thus unable to reap the fruit of a formal education.

The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, needs to go beyond paper and be implemented to bring concrete social and economic rehabilitation in the lives of those with LV.

The government must provide for the medical rehabilitation of those with LV, for if left untreated, LV can degenerate into a progressive loss of vision and only adds to the already large figure of totally visually impaired individuals in the country, thus further putting pressure on already scare welfare.

(The writer is a member of DisAbilityFirst, an advocacy group working on issues of disability)

(The above article appeared on the 23rd of May 2008 in the Bangalore Edition of the Deccan Herald,

Developmental Disabilities

Developmental Disabilities


For a long while, it was believed that people with DD were incapable of learning.

Commonly known as mental retardation, Developmental Disabilities (DD) is a term used for a pattern of persistently slow learning of basic motor and language skills during childhood and significantly below-normal intellectual ability as an adult. One common criterion for the diagnosis of DD is a tested intelligence quotient of 70 or below and deficits in adaptive functioning.

DD is diagnosed by looking at two main aspects: the ability of a person’s brain to learn, think, solve problems and make sense of the world; and a person’s ability to develop skills that allow for independent living. Some of the common signs that help identify DD in a child are delay in sitting, crawling or walking and delayed speech. As the child grows older DD manifests itself as difficulty in remembering, trouble understanding social rules, trouble seeing the consequences of their action, trouble solving problems, thinking logically and persistence of infantile behaviour.

The causes of DD could be anywhere from genetic conditions like Down Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, Mowat-Wilson Syndrome, or Phenylketonuria to problems during pregnancy such as fetal alcohol syndrome or the mother having rubella. DD can also be caused due to problems at birth — if the baby does not get enough oxygen during birth, or the improper use of forceps which fractures the skull and causes brain damage.


Health problems like the new born developing whooping cough, measles or meningitis can also result in DD, so can iodine deficiency, which affects approximately two billion people worldwide and is known to be the leading preventable cause of DD. Another cause of DD and of deep concern in a country like India is malnutrition. The National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau’s figures for 2006-07 show a deficit of over 500 calories in the intake of 1-3 year olds and 700 calories amongst 3-6 year olds.

For a long while, it was believed that people with DD were incapable of learning and were therefore largely ignored and left to themselves, with little or no social interaction and an un-stimulating environment. Thankfully, today we know better. When responding to people with DD it is necessary to remember that every person is born with some amount of potential and early intervention is most important so as to bring out the full potential of the child. With support and teaching, children with DD can learn to do many things. People with DD learn throughout their lives and can obtain new skills even late in life with help from their families and caregivers.

Even though training children with DD can be quiet a challenge, the government has taken a positive step towards mainstreaming those with DD into the education system, through the launch of the Sarva Shiksha Abhayan. SSA promises inclusive education for all with a zero rejection policy and strives for 100 per cent retention in schools. Even though teachers have much to learn about dealing with children with DD, incorporating a few changes can go a long way in making a child independent and confident.


Teachers need to develop an understanding of DD to facilitate effective intervention and realise that they have the power to make an enormous difference in the student’s life. Teachers need to teach life skills such as daily living, social skills and occupation awareness. Involve students with DD in group activities and get other students to interact with them. Break longer, new tasks into small steps and demonstrate them when necessary. Besides providing immediate feedback, teachers must constantly encourage and praise the child.

An equally invaluable resource to the child is the parents and family. Meeting parents frequently to acquaint them with the child’s progress means that the child can be involving into meaningful activity — both at school and home. In the long run, this removes over dependence on parents and caregiver.

(The writer is a member of DisAbilityFirst, an advocacy group working on issues of disability)

The above article appeared in the Bangalore edition of the Deccan Herald on 16th April 2008 and can also be viewed at

In Search of Words

In Search of Words


To put it more simply, dyslexia implies a difficulty with words…

To quote a dyslexic “For me words are meaningless – just labels to be put on pictures. If the label falls off or changes, I don’t care, because I’m thinking in pictures. The challenge is in explaining it to this highly verbal world that relies solely on the language of words to define itself.”

While it is difficult to arrive at a figure of dyslexic children in India, it is widely accepted that the figure could be anywhere between 5-10 per cent of the total population. Numerous people who have been diagnosed as dyslexic have turned out to be hugely successful in their profession, Leonardo da Vinci, John F Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Tom Cruise, Bill Gates and even writers like Agatha Christie, to name a few.

According to the International Dyslexia Association, “Dyslexia can be defined as specific learning difficulties with accurate or fluent word recognition, poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction.”

But to put it more simply, dyslexia implies a difficulty with words.

Scientific reasons

For over a century, scientists have mulled over the cause of dyslexia. Current findings show that the left hemisphere of the brain specialises in language function and the right hemisphere controls non verbal functions. However, the two hemispheres do not work independently and there are many interrelated elements and functions. Inefficient functioning of either hemisphere reduces the total effectiveness of individuals and affects their acquisition and use of language, and this dysfunction is largely believed to be the cause of dyslexia.

Dyslexia is not a disease to be cured. Although early diagnosis presents the best possibility for intervention. Knowing the signs is therefore imperative for a correct diagnosis. Dyslexia is often referred to as a “hidden handicap”.

You know a child is dyslexic if they exhibit some or all of these signs – lack of awareness of sounds in words like sound order, rhymes or sequence of syllables, difficulty in decoding words like single word identification, difficulty in encoding word spellings, problems with reading comprehension, difficulty in expressing thoughts in written form, delayed spoken language, imprecise or incomplete interpretation of language which is heard, difficulty in writing and confusion with the difference between left and right.

However, it is important to note that not all characteristics of dyslexia are negative. Dyslexics are known to be highly intuitive and insightful. They think mostly in pictures and have an avid imagination. They think and perceive multi-dimensionally, using all their senses. It is these qualities that allow some of them to be geniuses and excel in their profession.

Role of teachers

Discouraged, children with dyslexia can become introverted, self-destructive, have self-esteem and rage issues. They can develop psychological problems and split personalities as a means to deal with the perceptions of inadequacy. Identifying dyslexia and developing a strategy to deal with it will save the child, months, perhaps years of torture from parents, teachers and peers. The Sarva Shiksha Abhayan (SSA) is rather silent about identifying disabilities like dyslexia.

Dyslexic students need teachers who understand the frustration of being smart, yet unable to do what other students do so easily: read, write, spell and memorise. They need teachers who understand that these difficulties are due to a brain difference – not laziness, lack of intelligence or lack of motivation. They need teachers who will not give up on them – a teacher who is willing to learn how to teach around their disability.
They also need teachers who know that they suffer from extreme anxiety. More than anything else, dyslexic students fear that their teachers will make them look stupid in front of their classmates. The teaching fraternity must be made aware and sensitive towards dyslexia to save these students the physical and emotional violence they are subjected to, due to the widespread ignorance about their disability.

(The author is a founding member of disAbilityFirst, a disability group working on advocacy issues.)

The article above was published in the Bangalore Edition of the Deccan Herald on 21st February 2008.

Let us talk Autism

Let us talk Autism


Part of the answer lies in the educational system adopting a more flexible approach.

These days, children with autism and their parents are an excited lot. Finally through a two hour commercial film they can expect a little more understanding, from their relatives, friends, teachers, peers and associates. A nuanced and compassionate film Taare Zameen Par is already receiving awards for its cinematography. By making this film Aamir Khan has placed in the centre stage yet again the plight of over 70 million people with disabilities in this country and especially the 1.7 million children with autism.

One in approximately 500 children is born autistic in India. Autism impacts the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Children and adults with autism typically have difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities. The disorder makes it hard for them to communicate with others and relate to the outside world.

They can also do it

In some cases, aggressive and self-injurious behaviour may be present. Persons with autism may exhibit repeated body movements (hand flapping, rocking), unusual responses to people or attachments to objects and resistance to changes in routines. Individuals may also experience sensitivities in the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. Autism is four times more prevalent in boys than girls and usually occurs during the first three years of life.

However, it is important to remember that through early intervention and productive support from their family, friends and professionals autistic children can live productive lives. Research also indicates that if autistic children are given early intervention in the form of specific and appropriate training methods that are tailored to a child’s needs and learning style, they can reach their maximum potential.

While the disorder is not rare, the majority of autistic children in India do not get diagnosed early or correctly. Infact a search for a diagnosis can send the parents of autistic children onto a road of anguish and waste of scarce economic resources.

The next big challenge faced by parents of autistic children is to find a school that accepts the child and is willing to and knowledgeable enough to cater to the child’s special needs. While the Sarva Shiksha Abhayan launched in 2002 calls for “Inclusive Education” and makes it mandatory for all children between 6 and 14 years of age to be in school, the reality is that children with disabilities (CWDs) are largely ignored in the classroom.

While this may be the situation in government schools, private schools may simply refuse to accept the child. Parents of children with autism are finding that while searching high and low for a school that will meet their child’s educational needs; the teaching fraternity is all but ignorant about autism and the pedagogical requirements for these children.

Role of educators

Thus it is not uncommon to hear of autistic children being frequently punished and labeled as “problem” children. Since autistic children have developmental delay and may be older for the class, they are often rejected during admission into school, as being “not up to the standard of non disabled children and not appropriate for their age”.

Part of the answer to the educational needs of children with autism lies in the educational system adopting a more flexible approach. It is imperative that every school accept CWDs including children with autism, not only because the law says so, but also because a school is a microcosm of society. In school an autistic child learns vital social skills and non disabled children learn to become sensitive to CWDs.

Every educational institution must have at least one special educator. The special educator must design the curriculum for each child with special needs, modifying it to suit the child’s level.

The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 recognizes autism as a disability however people with autism and their parents need to vociferously fight for their rights using this Act to their advantage. Offices of the National Disabilities Commissioner and State Disabilities Commissioner need to create greater awareness on autism thus saving lakhs of innocent children, horrific experiences that scar them.

The above article was published in the Bangalore edition of Deccan Herald on 18th January 08

A little care can go a long way


Negligence and malnutrition, known to cause disability, can be easily prevented.

There are some 15 lakh disabled people in Karnataka, 75 per cent of whom live in rural areas. Only two per cent have access to community-based rehabilitation, 51 per cent of them are illiterate and a predominantly large number live below the poverty line. These and more statistics indicate that the situation of People With Disabilities (PWDs) is not at all impressive in the state. If the government is struggling to reach the existing disabled population, its primary endeavour should be to engage in methods that reduce additions to the number of PWDs. Yet it is astounding, if not infuriating, to see the negligence and lackadaisical attitude causing new cases of disability that could easily be avoided.

One part of the vulnerable population with the potential to join the ranks of disabled are the malnourished. The government admits that 84.3 per cent of rural children and 79.4 per cent of urban children aged 0-6 years in the ICDS are anaemic. It is not uncommon for workers doing community-based rehabilitation (CBR) to find children with low vision and night blindness caused by vitamin A deficiency, or malnourished children becoming hearing impaired due to recurring ear infection.

As these children come from poor economic backgrounds, their parents cannot afford to improve the child’s diet or seek timely medical help. Yet the government and the community leisurely spend months discussing, debating and arguing whether lakhs of these poor children should be given fruit, egg or milk in their diet. If this isn’t a negligent attitude, what is?

Causes of disability

Awareness of the causes of disability is still abysmal. According to the National Family Health Survey 2005-06, 59.5 per cent of pregnant women aged 15-49 were found to be anaemic — an important cause of disability in newborns. Another prime cause for the birth of children with cerebral palsy (CP) is a prospective mother consuming “over the counter” drugs, unaware that they will affect the foetus. Others, unable to access medical facilities, have home deliveries and complications which lead to the child getting CP. Shockingly, the state health budget has declined from 5.85 per cent of the total expenditure in 1998 to 3.73 per cent in 2005-06.

Yet another cause of children being born with disabilities is a delivery mishandled by a doctor. With District Government Hospitals overburdened, private nursing homes are springing up to meet the growing health needs of people and many doctors are over-worked and stressed. It is under circumstances such as these that doctors make errors that condemn an innocent child and its family to lifelong misery. However, this does not mean that government doctors do not have lapses. Despite doctors coming under the Consumer Protection Act, getting one to take responsibility for these lapses is a tedious task. Consequently, there is need for clear protocols to initiate action and for families to claim compensation.

Screening the problem

Thus far the government has only paid lip service to the screening of newborns for birth defects. Child screening not only helps detect and stem the progression of physical disabilities and CP, it also helps detect metabolic disorders and hormonal defects that can cause CP and mental retardation. In Karnataka the neonatal mortality is 38 per 1,000 and the infant mortality rate is 51.5 per 1,000, a needless loss of life that could have been prevented by newborn screening centres in district hospitals.

When it comes to disability related issues the government relies heavily on non-governmental organisations. But it is essential to realise that these NGOs are based in urban areas and large cities like Bangalore, while the majority and the poor live in rural areas. There is thus an urgent need for a Disability Policy for Karnataka that focuses primarily on prevention and early detection of disability. There is also a need for greater financial investment in disability awareness and prevention. NGOs and disability groups must put pressure on the government to train primary health centre staff, such as doctors and auxiliary nurses and midwives, in disability prevention and detection besides creating public awareness on the causes of disability.

This article was published in the B’lore edition of the Deccan Herald on 8th March 2007

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