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Including Students with Disabilities: between Reality and Dreams (Part 1)

2014-08-24

Prince Mired bin Ra’ad

 

Amira is a five-year-old girl who has not attended Kindergarten. She eagerly awaits a moment when she could carry her school bag like the neighbor’s daughter, Wafa’a, take her sandwich and daily allowance to go to school.

 

Amira spends a large part of her time playing with Wafa’a, who loves playing at school. In the game, Wafa is always the teacher, and Amira is the wonderful little student who passionately learns whatever Wafa’a is generous enough to teach her.

 

As Wafa’a goes to Kindergarten, Amira looks out of the window and waves goodbye to her. She spends the rest of her time in front of the television or helps her mother as much as she can; she arranges her bed and dusts around the house. Then, she sits down and looks at the clock, although she does not understand the concept of time.  She waits until the big hand reaches the top and the small one reaches the number that follows, for her mother taught her that: it is the time when Wafa’a returns from Kindergarten.

 

Amira’s mother remembers the day the doctor told her that her daughter was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. At that time, she did not realize what that meant, for her daughter seemed well physically.

 

She got tired after that trying to find someone who could explain to her what it meant. How can a doctor's diagnosis affect the course of her daughter's life? However, Amira's mother had an optimistic outlook towards life and began the rehabilitation phase for her daughter and consulted with specialists and specialized centers. She was hoping to find something helpful at that sensitive stage of her daughter's life, especially when she read about the importance of early intervention in the development of her daughter’s case and in limiting her disability.

 

Disability is a word that is hard to accept. Amira’s mother tried to find synonyms that were milder, but found out that her daughter is different from others and that her difference did not make her flawed or less distinguished. We are all different from each other, and every of us has features that are unique from others’. Why doesn’t she accept this reality and live with it, then? And that is what happened.
 

Due to her knowledge and mastery of English, Amira's mother resorted to foreign websites where she might find the answers to her many questions. She read about the British experience in the inclusion of children in schools and kindergartens, and found out that the learning environment has special pioneering programs to teach children and develop their abilities and integrate them from an early stage. It even goes beyond those years to stages of learning that many might think are advanced, but Britain was able to prepare students for inclusion and for independent living in the community by adopting educational and rehabilitation programs that match their abilities.
 

“Then my daughter can achieve her dream of going to Kindergarten,” thought Amira’s mother only to face the apology of the director of the Kindergarten of her neighbor's daughter because the school was not equipped to receive her.

Amira's mother thought “not equipped?” Whose problem is that? Why should my daughter be deprived of her right to education because the Kindergarten is not equipped? Who licensed a kindergarten that is not equipped? Who bears responsibility for this? Did not international conventions and local laws guarantee everyone's right to get an education and not to exclude a person from any educational institution on the basis of or due to a disability?
 

Amira's mother tried to register her daughter with more than one Kindergarten director, and she was always rejected with different excuses. She realized that all those excuses boiled down to the same origin: it is called disability. Does she have to immigrate to be able to achieve her daughter's dream? Is there another solution?
 

The question raised by many of the mothers of children with disabilities remains the same in regards to their children's right to education: aren’t they guaranteed the right to live in an inclusive society that accepts differences and seeks to integrate everyone as stipulated in the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Law on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?
 

Despite the efforts made by the Ministry of Education, which acts as the official umbrella for basic education in Jordan under the law, these efforts are still modest and unable to provide education to a large segment of our children with disabilities. The Ministry of Social Development, the multiple centers serving students with disabilities, the associations and private centers that have been licensed by the ministry may still need to develop their services and programs to ensure hosting students in schools just like other students without disabilities. Students with disabilities should not be attending those centers and institutions exclusively; they should be joining them as a preparatory phase to complement a more important one, which is school attendance.

 

* President of the Higher Council for the Rights of Persons Affairs with Disabilities and Special Envoy of the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines.