Today, there are many learners with a whole range of special needs that may set them apart from the majority of students in a classroom. These learners may have physically handicapping conditions – such as visual, hearing, orthopedic and speech problems; learning disabilities- based on slow progress in basic skills and language-related areas; emotional disabilities or even circumstantial disabilities that would make their behavior in a classroom special interest to you as a teacher.
The surprising fact about these learners today, is that, regardless of their disabilities, their special needs or even discriminations at some points, they have acquired education and benefitted from it to lead meaningful lives as those of the `normal` people. Therefore, before we have a look at these disabilities, how these learners have overcome their disabilities to acquire education and how have they benefitted from it, it is important to start by knowing what disability actually is. What is disability?
The WHO defines disabilities as: Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering:
- Impairments- problems in body function or alterations in body structure – for example, paralysis or blindness; •activity limitations- are difficulties in executing activities – for example, walking or eating;
- Participation restrictions- are problems with involvement in any area of life – for example, facing discrimina¬tion in employment or transportation. Thus disability is a complex phenomenon, reflecting an interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives. What is inability?
Inability (to do something) is the fact of not being able to do something. Disability is not inability, therefore generally means that people with any impairments, activity limitations or participation restrictions are not lagging behind in achieving their goals. In fact they have optimized whatever they have to lead a meaningful life.
Therefore, to define the claim “disability is not inability” in relation to learners with special needs, let’s begin to look at the different categories of special needs or disabilities and how they are dealt with to make acquisition of education possible, together by having a look at different case studies.
LEARNERS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
There is often a difficulty in talking about them since they are not a homogenous population anymore than are `normal` children. There is a great range of differences among them. However they can be categorized as such: PHYSICALLY DISABLED Orthopedically handicapped This category applies to people with major physical problems, such as celebral palsy or spina bifida, whose mobility and other functions are impaired as a result. Spina bifida is a developmental birth defect involving the neural tube, incomplete closure of the embryonic neural tube results in an incompletely formed spinal cord.
Rene Kirby – Rene Kirby (born February 27, 1955) is an American film and television actor. Kirby used spina bifida to his advantage when he played his role in shallow Hal, he was also in “Stuck on you” with Matt Damon. He is the living proof that you can lead a productive life even with disabilities. Cerebral palsy (CP) is an umbrella term encompassing a group of non-progressive, non-contagious diseases that cause physical disability in human development. Karen Ann Killilea – (born August 18, 1940) – is the subject of two bestselling books by her mother Marie Killilea, Karen and With Love from Karen.
These books were groundbreaking in their assertion that children with cerebral palsy could be raised to lead productive lives. Karen Killilea was born three months prematurely and as a result of her prematurity, she developed cerebral palsy. After she was diagnosed, Karen’s parents decided to actively raise her at home, contrary to the advice of doctors to commit her to an asylum and forget her. After visiting at least 23 doctors, they found one who taught them to do physical therapy with Karen (then a radical concept), which they did for six hours per day for over ten years.
Karen learned to walk with crutches, write, and use her arms and legs. She developed into a fairly happy teen and adult who has been living independently and working for decades. As explained in Marie Killilea’s book “Karen” and the sequel “With Love From Karen,” the Killilea family chose to raise Karen at home instead with as normal a life as possible, and proved that children with cerebral palsy can live normal lives and need not be mentally impaired.
Speech handicapped This category includes individuals who have common speech problems such as faulty articulation (the inability to produce sounds correctly) or less common problems, such as stuttering and cleft palate. Tiger Woods – Tiger Woods (born Eldrick Tiger Woods, December 30, 1975) is an American professional golfer whose achievements to date rank him among the most successful golfers of all time.
Tiger Woods had stuttering problems at childhood but he got past it through hard work and practice. He admitted doing everything possible to conquer his speech disorder including talking to his dog until he would fall asleep.
He did have a lot of help from his family, especially his mother. He then became one of the most successful golfers the world has ever known. Blind and partially sighted The blind, as defined for purposes of education, are those individuals with eyesight so poor that visual reading methods are inappropriate. A non-visual procedure, such as Braille reading, must be substituted. The partially sighted are those with significant visual problems who, with accommodations, can be taught to read printed books.
Hellen Keller would be the one the most inspiring person who proved that disability is not inability. She was left deaf and blind by a disease when she was 19months old. Born in the 19th Century, it was difficult to communicate or try to use technology to easen the disabilities, but she went on to become the first deaf/blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts Degree. She learnt English, French, Latin, Greek and German using braille. She wrote 12books. She was an activist for the rights of the Blind and deaf. She was widely travelled and even an acclaimed favourite of the Japanese.
Her disabilities earned her some ridicule especially when she aired her political views, some claiming her stand was due to her “limited development” but such words did not make her lose hope in her fight. Her sheer determination and Anne Sullivan, Helen’s tutor who motivated her to study and compelled her to use her sense of touch and her mental power to achieve all the success that she was capable to achieve. Louis Braille – (January 4, 1809 – January 6, 1852) Louis Braille became blind after he accidentally stabbed himself in the eye with his father’s awl.
He later became an inventor and designed braille writing, which enables blind people to read through feeling a series of organized bumps representing letters. This concept was beneficial to all blind people from around the world and is commonly used even today. If it were not for Louis Braille’s blindness he may not have invented this method of reading and no other blind person could have enjoyed a story or been able to comprehend important paperwork. Deaf and hard of hearing A hearing impairment or hearing loss is a full or partial decrease in the ability to detect or understand sounds.
A hearing impairment exists when an individual is not sensitive to the sounds normally heard by its kind. In human beings, the term hearing impairment is usually reserved for people who have relative insensitivity to sound in the speech frequencies. People who are hard of hearing have varying amounts of hearing loss but usually not enough to be considered deaf. Many people who are deaf consider spoken language their primary language and consider themselves “hard of hearing”. People with unilateral hearing loss (single sided deafness/SSD) can hear normally in one ear, but have trouble hearing out of the other ear.
A problem with this type of deficit is the inability to localize sounds. Those who lose their hearing later in life, such as in late adolescence or adulthood, face their own challenges. For example, they must adjust to living with the adaptations that make it possible for them to live independently. They may have to adapt to using hearing aids or a cochlear implant, develop speech-reading skills, and/or learn sign language. “Until I was 19 years old, I had no opportunities to learn sign language, nor had Deaf friends. After I entered a university, I learned sign language(s) and played an active role as a board member of Deaf clubs.
Since I completed graduate school, I worked as a bio-sci¬entist in a national institute. I mainly communicate with my colleagues by hand-writing, while I use public sign language-interpreting service for some lectures and meetings. My Deaf partner and I have two Deaf children…my personal history gives me the distinct opinion that the sign language and Deaf culture are absolutely imperative for Deaf chil¬dren to rise to the challenge. ”Akio
Mentally retarded This is a broad category, including individuals whose intellectual abilities develop slowly enough that modifications in the school curriculum are required. Very often distinctions are made among several levels of mental retardation, such as educable or mild (the most able and most numerous group), trainable or moderate, and severe or profound (the least able and least numerous group). EMACK ( Education for Marginalization Children in Kenya ), implemented by the Aga Khan Foundation, expands educational opportunities for over 4 million pre-school and primary school students from marginalized populations in selected 808 schools, both in Coast and North Eastern Provinces. The program encourages schools to create effective learning environments supported by parents and enjoyed by children.
It also enables teachers deliver quality education to students. Teachers and families at The Lamu Special School for the Mentally Challenged have noticed remarkable changes since the school introduced the clubs. Many of the students had difficulties communicating and interacting with their peers, teachers and parents. Most of them had low self-esteem, others lacked self-confidence and a few were totally withdrawn. The club has helped these children gain communication skills through arts and sports. By making learning more enjoyable for disabled children, EMACK has given children opportunities they were previously denied.
Parents and communities are learning how to support their children, to help them actualize their potential as well as improve their emotional and social well-being. Eight year old Swaleh loves to drum and dreams of being a sailor. When the time comes for club activities, he rushes to get a drum with a big smile on his face. Swaleh’s parents both have mental disabilities; Swaleh also has mild mental and behavioral disorders. The club has helped him build his self-esteem. With pride, teachers note improvements in his social and communication skills.
Learning disabled Include students who show satisfactorily or even high intellectual ability but whose progress in basic skill learning and language related areas (reading, spelling, and writing) or in arithmetic is lagging badly. Albert Einstein who is the greatest scientist of the twentieth century and the greatest physicist of all time had a learning disability in the early parts of his life. Till the age of three he could not speak and was severely dyslexic and autistic . As he grew older he started to focus on the only thing he was exceptional at and that was mathematics.
Soon he fought his disability and entered into the world of theoretical physics where he changed the face of physics and science forever. His theory of relativity is said to be the most revolutionary theory of physics. He won a Nobel Prize for his photoelectric effect theory in 1921. Thomas Edison, one of the greatest inventors of all time, he is the reason why we are using bulbs today. He is the one who set the foundation for most of the electrical things that we use today. No one can imagine that this great inventor of the 19th century was partially deaf and had a learning disability as a child.
He could not read up the age of 11 and was never the favorite amongst the teacher, but then who knew that the kid who could not read would one change the face of world with his inventions. He turned the attention of the world first time by the invention of phonograph after that nothing could stop him. He invented the electrical bulb and the telegraphic system. He invented the carbon Telephone emitter which was the basis for the invention of carbon microphone. Indeed he was a great scientist and a great man.
Emotionally disturbed. This group includes learners whose behavior is disturbed or disturbing to a very high degree or who have other traits, such as extreme withdrawal.
Financially disabled These include learners who cannot enjoy the rights of education due to lack of funds for paying fees, or even buying necessities such as books, stationary or even clothes. A case study shows that a student called Jackline says that, “What makes me to feel not included in this school is because my parents are poor; they can’t provide me with enough books. This makes my life difficult in the school. They also can’t buy me everything which I am supposed to have, like clothes.
Being in school without books and pens also makes me feel not included, because teachers used to send me out because I don’t have books to write in. ” This can however be fought back by providing funds to these child to buy books so that she can study, instead of sending out of the class. Teachers should understand this situation as circumstantial and not voluntary. Also some other difficult circumstances include; orphaned children, abandoned children, imprisoned children, IDB children, war-tone children, children with nomadic lifestyles and also children whose parents are suffering from HIV/ AIDS.
So far, we have looked at different categories of disabilities, examples and case studies of learners who have fought their disabilities and how they have managed to lead a meaningful life. However, we still need to have a look more into how these disabilities can be fought back, so that the disability is no longer an inability, and learners can enjoy a normal life.
Rehabilitation is a “a set of measures that assist individuals who experience, or are likely to experience, disability to achieve and maintain optimal functioning in interaction with their environments”. For some people with disabilities, rehabilitation is essential to being able to participate in education, the labor market, and civic life. Article 26, Habilitation and Rehabilitation, of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) calls for: “… appropriate measures, including through peer support, to enable persons with disabilities to attain and maintain their maximum independence, full physical, mental, social and vocational ability, and full inclusion and participation in all aspects of life”.
This further call on countries to organize, strengthen, and extend comprehensive rehabilitation services and programmes, which should begin as early as possible, based on multidisciplinary assessment of individual needs and strengths, and including the provision of assistive devices and technologies. Rehabilitation measures are broadly divided into three categories:
- rehabilitation medicine
- Assistive technologies.
Rehabilitation medicine is concerned with improving functioning through the diagnosis and treatment of health conditions, reducing impairments, and preventing or treating complications. Doctors with specific Expertises in medical rehabilitation are referred to as physiatrists, rehabilitation doctors, or physical and rehabilitation specialists. Medical specialists such as psychiatrists, paediatricians, geriatricians, ophthalmologists, neurosurgeons, and orthopaedic surgeons can be involved in rehabilitation medicine, as can a broad range of therapists.
In many parts of the world where specialists in rehabilitation medicine are not available, services may be provided by doctors and therapists. Rehabilitation medicine has shown positive outcomes, for example, in improving joint and limb function, pain management, wound healing, and psychosocial well-being. Therapy Therapy is concerned with restoring and compensating for the loss of functioning, and preventing or slowing deterioration in functioning in every area of a person’s life.
Therapists and rehabilitation workers include occupational therapists, orthotists, physiotherapists, prosthetists, psychologists, rehabilitation and technical assistants, social workers, and speech and language therapists. Therapy measures include:
- training, exercises, and compensatory strategies
- support and counseling
- modifications to the environment
- Provision of resources and assistive technology.
Convincing evidence shows that some therapy measures improve rehabilitation outcomes. Distance training was used in Bangladesh for mothers of children with cerebral palsy in an 18-month therapy programme. It promoted the development of physical and cognitive skills and improved motor skills in the children. Assistive technologies An assistive technology device can be defined as “any item, piece of equipment, or product, whether it is acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities” Common examples of assistive devices are:
- crutches, prostheses, wheelchairs ,and tricycles for people with mobility impairments;
- hearing aids and cochlear implants for those with hearing impairments;
- white canes, magnifiers, ocular devices, talking books, and software for screen magnification and reading for people with visual impairments;
- communication boards and speech synthesizers for people with speech impairments;
- Devices such as day calendars with symbol pictures for people with cognitive impairment.
Assistive technologies, when appropriate to the user and the user’s environment, have been shown to be powerful tools to increase independence and improve participation. A study of people with limited mobility in Uganda found that assistive technologies for mobility created greater possibilities for community participation, especially in education. In a study of Nigerians with hearing impairments, provision of a hearing aid was associated with improved function, participation and user satisfaction. More steps taken to prove that disability is not inability:
- National plan – creating or amending a nation plan of action and establishing infrastructure and capacity to implement the plan are key to including children with disabilities in education. For instance; The Ministry of Education in Kenya provides for children with physical and mental disabilities to be placed in mainstream schools. Other significant bodies:
- The Kenya Institute of Special Education (KISE), a government institution established in 1986, with the aim of meeting the educational needs of disabled children, youth and adults.
- The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, established through an Act of parliament, monitors abuse of human rights in Kenya.
2. Policy- clear national policies on the education of children with disabilities are essential for the development of more equitable education system.
3. Funding- this includes financing special needs of education, whether in specialized institutions or mainstream schools, maybe through the National Budget, or even financing particular needs of the institutions for materials, teaching aids and operating staff. The National Fund for the Disabled of Kenya is an endowment Fund established under the Perpetual Succession act Cap 164 of the Laws of Kenya and mandated to utilize our income for the bene¬fit of the disabled persons within Kenya, to offer the best support services to persons with disability in Kenya through provision of resources, promotion of awareness on the contribution they make towards national development, and advocacy of appropriate measures to minimize conditions giving rise to disability.
4. Providing additional support to children with disabilities through guidance and counseling.
5. Building teacher capacity – to provide appropriate training to teachers to be confident and competent in teaching learners with diverse educational needs. Diploma and Certificate Courses in Special Needs Education through Distance Learning is provided by Kenya Institute of Special Education (KISE). These courses aim at giving expertise, knowledge and skills for effective support of children with special needs including those with disabilities.
6. Community and parent participation- to make facilities available for learners with special needs to pursue education.
7. Forming organizations – that deal with disabled people. For example in Kenya The United Disabled Persons of Kenya (UDPK) is an umbrella body made up of disabled persons’ organizations (DPOs). UDPK’s main aims are to address disability equality concerns through legislation and advocacy and awareness-raising. Other significant organizations include:
- Kenya Society for the Blind
- Kenya Programmes of Disabled Persons
- Kenya Institute of the Blind
- Kenya Union of the Blind
- African Union of the Blind
- Kenya National Association of the Deaf
- Kenya Association of the Intellectually Handicapped.
- Autism Society of Kenya
No learner with special needs would be like to be referred to as a disabled person or as an exceptional case. Therefore, inclusive education is the answer to that. It is the kind of educational set ups that caters for learners with special needs in the regular and ordinary learning environment. Inclusion in education is an approach to educating students with special educational needs. It appreciates and considers the individual learning abilities and disabilities without discriminating or making learners feeling bad about their conditions.
No labels are attached to persons with regard to their disability. For example: blind, mentally retarded. Inclusive education differs from previously held notions of ‘integration’ and ‘mainstreaming’ , which tended to be concerned principally with disability and ‘special educational needs’ and implied learners changing or becoming ‘ready for’ or deserving of accommodation by the mainstream. By contrast, inclusion is about the child’s right to participate and the school’s duty to accept the child. Inclusion rejects the use of special schools or classrooms to separate students with disabilities from students without disabilities.
A premium is placed upon full participation by students with disabilities and upon respect for their social, civil, and educational rights. Also learning and learning materials, instructions, environment, and relationships are adapted to suit individual needs. It simply means that having a special need (disability) does not make one special or disabled. It simply means that he or she can do the same thing the others do but in a different style. For example: •You walk on your two feet, I walk on crutches, wheelchair or crawl •You use sight to read, I use touch (fingers) •You hold your pen with your fingers; I use my legs or mouth.
The case studies and people discussed in this paper are those brave and heroic people who have achieved a lot of success in their lives despite of all the hindrances they face being disabled. These valiant people have amazed the world with their courage, determination, strength and amazing will. They overcome all the obstacles they faced and never let their disabilities come in their path of glory. With their determination, these extraordinary individuals have made a difference in this world, and such people are numerous, who are a motivation for others, by proving that nothing is impossible when you have the will and determination to do it.
I would like to end this paper with some of Helen Keller’s famous quotes, which can conclude that without any doubt, disability is not inability. “While they were saying among themselves it cannot be done, it was done” “We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world” “Unless we form the habit of going to the Bible in bright moments as well as in trouble, we cannot fully respond to its consolations because we lack equilibrium between light and darkness” “People do not like to think. If one thinks, one must reach conclusions. Conclusions are not always pleasant”
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