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The Marred Body: Amputated Access to Education

The discourse around resumption of education, in post-conflict regions, often operates within two assumptive polarities: the martyred child and the surviving refugee child. Within these two extremities lies hidden the disabled child, and hence, the programs of educational rehabilitation that emerge, often fail to cater to these children who require specific physical and psychological aid to ensure an uninhibited access to education. Graca Machel, the former Minister of Education of Mozambique, in a report presented to the UN General Assembly highlighted the gravity of the dilemma through the following statistical reality:


‘Millions of children are killed by armed conflict, but three times as many are seriously injured or permanently disabled by it’


The report further highlighted the structural, institutional and contextual hurdles that complicate these children’s access to education. The lack of infrastructural accommodation coupled with the threat levied on their lives, absence of medical aid, economic insecurity and a deep rooted fear of abandonment abets abuse and stigma within the societal and communal consciousness of the conflict stricken region.


Inaccessibility to education caused by unruly roads, pathways, security threats and impoverished schools, by disposition, causes immense difficulty for able bodied children in conflict zones however for disabled children this difficulty becomes an impossibility compromising the demographics’ survival probability. In Syria, it is estimated that nearly 28% of Syria’s population suffers from a disability and only 14% of the disabled children attend schools. In Afghanistan only 20% of disabled young girls are afforded formal education. The low numbers of attendance can be accounted for by a brief overview of the infrastructural frailty of the educational institutes of these regions: most schools do not offer ramps for accommodation, do not possess technological aid for the visually and/or aurally impaired and are devoid of architectural and service oriented instalments that may aid mobility for the differently abled students.

A damaged. dysfunctional wheelchair used by a young girl in northeast Syria.

[hrw.org]


Families and teaching faculties may deem these children liabilities in reference to emergency situations that may require immediate evacuation which complicates their access to education. This causes these children to develop abandonment fears and may cause long term impact on their mental health. This is exacerbated by the economic insecurity that conflict breeds as these children begin to deem themselves a burden owing to their accelerated medicinal needs.

The psychological trauma is what many programs fail to adequately address as the main objective remains resumption of formal education. Some initiatives may take this psychological aspect into account yet they also operate within the assumption of the grander conflict based trauma caused that is exclusive of individual traumas that these disabled students may be facing. Addressing the physical needs in many ways can mediate many psychological traumas that emerge from the feeling of absolute dependency that these kids may be facing. Numerous initiatives such as UNICEF’s mission in Cambodia that actively made education accessible to children, is one of the many examples of how this is not an unsolvable conundrum. Effort needs to be made but effort is a product of statistical acknowledgement of this ‘hidden’ demographic reality. Sending in special needs trained instructors along with the conventional humanitarian aid organizations, building disability friendly infrastructure and providing technological and instrumental assistance can be just a few limited ways of including this group of hopeful, aspiring students.


Assistance provided to disabled children under the UNICEF Cambodia inclusive education project:

"Ensuring Children with disability from remote communities access to education" [Khen Cambodia]



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Such an important piece, especially in today's world. I personally think that the discourse around children - or by extension, people - with disabilities is marred by a kind of performative activism which is propogated by the internet. A person with disability perform any given action is considered to be a personal achievement. "What an achievement", says the Instagram comment.


There's hardly ever a conversation on why such a task is considered a special feat. Why is it that a child with disability has to go through absolute hell to achieve what able-bodied children consider to be the norm? Why don't we question our intitutions instead of singling out their individual psychological fortitude? I am not asking us to move…


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I agree, this performativity breeds a kind of 'otherization' of the differently abled that complicates their rehabilitation into society, intensifying the implications of the stigma governing their existence within society. Just by making small adjustments, we can allow these individuals more room to exercise their agency without dependency which would help aid in addressing the prejudiced narrative existing within society.

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I think one thing often ignored, or rather, often not admitted (due to shame of doing so) when talking about the negligence of disabled children is that many in society do not want to claim them. When one's own parents wish to disassociate themselves from a child, how can society help them? For all its faults, the US has very good systems in place for the inclusivity of disabled children, with all their public and private universities showing no discrimination in their enrolment policies (at least on paper which is more than what most countries can claim). Their IVY leagues have set up wonderful frameworks, models, and standards to be followed to aid differently abled individuals.

Maybe at this point,…

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I believe you beg an interesting question. I do not believe the two concepts, social acceptance and systematic inclusion, are mutually exclusive. It is a conundrum: social stigma stems from the systematically created allusion of the disabled children being burdens and the lack of infrastructural/systematically assistance then becomes a response to this otherization. If there is an adequate system in place and infrastructural amendments are made to cater to the needs of the differently abled, society perhaps be more open to the idea of them not being perceived as burdens.

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A flawed argument that is often presented when questions are raised about the access to education for the differently abled in post-conflict regions is that providing access to the able-bodied takes priority when resources are scarce. I totally disagree with this approach, and like you mentioned in your blog that disability friendly infrastructure needs to be built and I totally agree. The able-bodied can easily gain education in a school that has ramps for wheelchairs, but those who are disabled cannot. In this vein, it is possible to provide education with the scarce resources available and cater to at least a proportion of the disabled if not all.

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I believe the genuine stigma around their beings, the perception of them as burdens and liabilities, allows for such discourses to thrive. Accommodating this demographic within the initial relief response should be a priority and not an after-thought.

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