“I was born in this wonderful world like every one else. But my parents did not rejoice. Rather, they grieved. Why! You may ask! ……you see, people call me “mentally retarded”. If some error of nature occurred when I was growing in my mother’s womb, was that my fault? Does it really matter that I am not like majority of people in terms of my physique or intellect? Being different is not a crime. I too have feelings and aspirations. I too need love and recognition like all of you. I do have a right to respectful life! I do require education and training to grow up and develop! I too need to be as self- reliant as possible and work and earn like every one else!”
It is a story of majority of the intellectually challenged persons as well as people with other disabilities. The irony is that they live in a world where norms are created by the majority and they have to face difficulties and challenges at every turn of their lives.
Mind is much wider term that includes all aspects of our functioning including emotional and other psychological functions. Intellectually challenged persons are like anyone else in their feelings, needs, aspirations etc. except the fact that their cognitive/intellectual functions are not optimally developed. Despite difficulties, their initiative for learning is not diminished. Their love, Cheerfulness and zest for life is infectious.
Those of us who are working with intellectually challenged children and adults realize that their marginalization is not because of their disability but due to the ignorance and arrogance of larger society. Attitudinal barriers are the reasons for their impoverished life. For a moment if we visualize life by keeping ourselves in their situation we would wonder how they survive the injustice, neglect, ridicule and apathy of the society around them. We need to come out of charity mode and understand the humanness of every one irrespective of class, creed or ability levels.
Education is the fundamental right of everyone including intellectually challenged children. Education does not mean academics alone; education and training helps us in expanding our learning experiences and inner development of our potentials as human beings including all faculties of mind. Human system is a wonderful learning system. Everyone has great learning potential and can grow if we focus on the needs of the person and design our goals and teaching methods accordingly.
Like everyone else, children and adults with intellectual disability need to go to schools and get necessary training and education for optimal development. The best place for it are the mainstream schools as these would provide opportunity for learning social skills and be with their peer group. It would also sensitize younger generation about the difficulties and challenges faced by the people with disabilities.
Working with intellectually challenged persons is a great humanizing and life transforming experience. Their purity, loving and caring nature and capacity for happiness is heart-warming.
Disability or diversity—
People are born with certain conditions and live their entire life with unique set of experiences but so does everyone else. We need to remind ourselves that the world itself, specifically the social world, is a construction, built by majority and that becomes a norm. It does not necessarily accommodate diverse experiences and needs of people. It is nowhere as stark as with reference to people with cognitive and psychosocial disabilities. It forces them to live at the margins of the society because their world is misunderstood, their psychological needs remain unrecognized. The larger society fails to provide necessary psycho-social infrastructure enabling them to live as fully as possible. The lack of facilities enhances their dependence on others and reduces their functionality. Is it a fair deal ?