Showcasing Abilities Of Persons With Disabilities
Uma Tuli, Founder, Amar Jyoti Charitable Trust has been instrumental in making inclusive education a nation-wide movement
Born in Delhi but brought up and educated in Gwalior, Uma Tuli was teaching at a college in Gwalior when her elder brother met an accident in 1965. To save his life, his leg had to be amputated. While he was in hospital, the attitude of people towards the disability that he got into was quite appalling. “The talk that I was listening to, overhearing people around – ‘Haaye bechara attitude – how will he get married or work’ – hit me hard. So being an educationist, I said we must do something to prove that disability is not inability. People should understand that if one body part has a problem it doesn’t mean that the whole person is worthless,” says Tuli, in a conversation with BW Education.
Tuli thought education is the only platform from where we can bring about a change in society. The seeds of a mission were sowed then. “This thought of inclusive education came into our mind that if we put children with disability and those without disability together at an early age, say, starting from nursery, they will accept each other, understand each other and win over their own complexes. If possible, they should be in a class in equal number, not just one or two children with disability,” she adds.
Tuli’s brother was sent to America for his prosthesis. He did great in his career and became vice president for a tractor company. He never let his disability dampen his spirits and motivated everyone around him, informs Tuli.
Vision takes shape
Tuli’s academic journey continued and she taught in a college at Delhi University and got a doctorate from the university. But even while teaching, she started penning down her vision of an institute. She fathomed that if they could provide skill training as part of the educational programme, it would create opportunities for employment. If that institute would have some kind of medical care available in the campus, inclusion would become a reality. And, as she adds, “If you have a kind of understanding amongst the teachers that sensitivity has to be there and you understand the needs of persons with disabilities, you can become a special educator.”
She travelled to many countries to understand the concept of rehabilitation.
In 1981, the International Year for Persons with Disabilities, she decided that now was the time to launch the institute, even if on a small scale. The institute – Amar Jyoti - started with 30 children, from space offered at Brahma Samaj building near her college.
“People wrote off our initiative but I tried to prove that if you have determination, if you have clear vision and if you work hard to achieve your goal, you can be certain to be successful in your vision. I think we need individual will, political will, social will and above all God's will.”
Building blocks of success
Tuli entailed her students’ help to find out how many persons with disability were there in their respective areas. In areas that had more than 100 such cases, she would organise a camp on Sundays, entailing the help of voluntary doctors, therapists, counsellors and a huge team of other volunteers.
There were stumbling blocks, like hesitation of parents in sending their wards without disability to a school where children with disability came. The team sought to tackle this by offering quality education and learning facilities to families of first-generation learners. “That’s how inclusion crept in. We could succeed because we started from nursery itself, in equal numbers.”
They also made constant effort to educate the communities through community-based rehabilitation (CBR) in urban slums of Delhi for counselling of parents.
When numbers increased, Tuli realised the school needed bigger space, from where her vision of inclusive education, immediate medical care and skill training as part of the curriculum would be possible.
The institute got an acre of land and shifted to the present premises; several philanthropists pooled in to help with construction of the building, building a ramp for wheelchairs and a disabled-friendly bus.
Several professionals like doctors, lawyers, industrialists and educationists joined on voluntary basis, including an occupation therapist, who still offers here voluntary service, from Geneva.
And since there was a dearth of physiotherapists, Amar Jyoti also started a physiotherapy college on its campus, which has been running for 23 years now. Similarly, the institute is training special educators to fill a critical gap.
Over the years, the institute has made much headway in innovative ways of teaching. Much expert input goes into learning needs for specific disabilities. Its committed team of educators engages children through cultural activities and sports, to make learning fun and inculcate self-esteem.
In the area of skills development, the institute trains its students in beauty culture, art and craft, jute bag making and pottery, artificial jewellery making, cutting and tailoring, data entry operations and computer application. As the institute website informs, “The beauty culture, cutting and tailoring and data entry operations courses are accredited by the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS). Amar Jyoti Charitable Trust is also affiliated as training partner under Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojna in Delhi and Gwalior.”
On the medical care side, the institute has Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy Departments, Speech Therapy and Audiology Unit, Prosthetic and Orthotic Workshop which provides and repairs assistive devices for Amar Jyoti school children as well as other beneficiaries, Dental Care Unit, Ophthalmologic Care unit, X-Ray Unit, Pathology Laboratory, Operation Theatre, Homeopathy, Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity and Dietary Clinic, as per the website.
Tuli calls the whole journey that of 'hurricane and a lamp'.
From 2001 to 2005, Tuli also held charge as Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disability, the first non-bureaucrat to do so. During this tenure, she focussed on accessibility, inclusive education and employability, mainstreaming through sports and cultural activities.
The concept of inclusion became acceptable in the society because people started seeing the ability in disability. And inclusivity as a priority was brought into the Disability Act and Right to Education Act.
Some of the steps that Tuli initiated as Chief Commissioner were sensitisation workshops in various states and engaging corporates for job opportunities to persons with disabilities. “I started conducting workshops on accessibility, made a team and sent them all over the country to train people in different states; so much so that people started thinking in terms of constructing ramps and understanding the needs and working accordingly to cater to their needs.”
Also, “We listed out types of jobs which could be done by persons with diverse disabilities and that was a big help in convincing the corporate sector to give them an opportunity.”
Among her most noteworthy contributions has been bringing Abilympics to India. It’s an international event showcasing skills of persons with disabilities in different trades. Tuli informs that when the first Abilympics happened in Japan, she took a small team of six people to Japan to participate in that. Highly impressed with the kind of events she saw in vocational skills in that first ever international epidemics in Japan, she wanted to start Abilympics in India.
“So, at Amar Jyoti, we started having different competitions and skills and were able to get jobs or people with disabilities, through showcasing this competition. We got an opportunity to host 6th international Abilypmics in India.”
Making the entire IG stadium in the capital and the various hotels and other residential areas accessible to persons with disability was not a mean task, but the event became a huge success.
“Now, there is much more acceptability for persons with disability, but it is still an iota of what needs to be done,” says Tuli and points out specific areas where work is needed.
Accessibility in public conveniences is the foremost among the areas of concerns for her. She says issues like access to wheelchair without it getting stuck in door needs to be addressed. “For a dignified life to persons with disability we have to do this. Every institution, every public place, every transport, should look at it.”
As regards inclusive education and skilling, Tuli has great hopes from the National Education Policy. “We are hoping that with the National Education Policy, things are going to be much better and I must say that Ministry of Social Justice and Ministry of Education and other ministries are also joining hands to make this. I'm sure when political will is strong and there are people with individual will to carry it through.”
Students of Amar Jyoti have excelled in academics and competitive exams, and have showcased their talent in cultural aspects too. From performing on wheel chairs on Rajpath (now Kartavya Path) on Republic Day to performing in the House of Commons in London and World Bank in New York, they have done it all. The impact was mirrored in the episode of Satyamev Jayate on inclusion of persons with disability that Aamir Khan shot on the Amar Jyoti campus in November 2011.
Tuli herself has won several accolades for her exemplary work, foremost among them being Padma Shri Award in 2012. Other awards conferred on her are UN-ESCAP Award for Pioneering Achievement, Hong Kong Foundation Award, Nehru Smriti Award, Lakshmipat Singhania – IIM Lucknow National Leadership Award and Presidential Plaque for Exemplary Service by Rehabilitation International.
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