Inclusion is a belief. It is not a project or a programme but a philosophy. Inclusion means respect for you, for me and everyone. Inclusion sees us as a person; sees that we exist.
A socially inclusive environment is one where everyone is welcome to establish their identity and express their feelings openly. Social inclusion assures that one’s opinions and experiences are honoured just like everyone’s.
Today differently abled are viewed as part of an inclusion cohort. Due to physical or mental impairments, they all feel like outsiders. Consequently, despite the many successful programmes in our education system and in our society, there is an epidemic of low self-esteem that inhibits real progress.
This year has seen a tremendous change in the society, where several initiatives have been taken by individuals and brands to move towards a more inclusive society. One famous brand, Savlon India, created the first-of-its-kind braille-inscribed antiseptic bottles to help the visually impaired to identify and access the product easily. This proactive initiative exemplifies the brands commitment towards an equitable and inclusive society.
Starbucks has opened a signing store in Washington DC, with all employees who work there fluent in American sign language. The store, which is the first-of-its-kind in the US, has opened close to Gallaudet University, an institution that caters for students who are deaf or have partial hearing loss. The branch of the coffee chain has been designed with a mural inspired by sign language, adorning a large wall in the store and a “DeafSpace” environment that’s been built specifically with customers who are deaf or hard of hearing in mind.
Apart from these big brands taking a step towards inclusion, there have been individuals like Pranav Desai, who decided to use his experience – personal and corporate – to empower the specially abled through his organisation, the Voice of Specially Abled People (VoSAP). Born in Ahmedabad to a middle-class family in the year 1969, Pranav was affected by polio at the age of four. By the time he recovered, both his legs were crippled; he needed braces and a cane to walk. The VoSAP mobile app he launched allows volunteers to capture building accessibility with a photograph. The app updates that information using GPS on the map. This helps people in wheelchairs find places they can visit based on accessibility, ratings and comments.
In 2004, Dr. Jitender Aggarwal, a dentist, was robbed of his vision due to macular degeneration. After losing his sight, he came to realise the hardships differently abled people struggle with, especially in an environment characterized by limited resources and opportunities. He dreamed of a center where people with disabilities can be equipped with the skills to find good jobs. And this is how Sarthak Educational Trust came into being. What started as one centre in Delhi, is now operational in 21 states with 12 centres throughout India.
Our school for students with special needs, Mata Bhagwanti Chadha Niketan, strives to make the society inclusive by educating and empowering our students. We encourage them to pursue their dreams, guiding them in every step of the way.
2018 is nearing an end, let’s pledge to resolve in the New Year to take up new steps to achieve milestones in making our society inclusive, regardless of one’s abilities or lack thereof.