Able hands, willing heart

Usha Ram with one of her students. Photo: R.V. Moorthy.

Usha Ram with one of her students. Photo: R.V. Moorthy.  

USHA RAM, Principal of Laxman Public School in New Delhi calls her book, "Children with Special Needs: All That You Wanted to Know", the fulfilment of a dream. Crammed full of information on aspects of disability, ranging from terminology to integration and inclusive education, with case studies and 11 annexures containing details of Government schemes, screening tools, Acts of Parliament pertaining to persons with disabilities and other technical data, the book, published by Frank Brothers and Company, came about as a response to a need she often came across in people who required practical guidance in educating and caring for special children. "This is a thesis in which I have given everything," she says.

As a principal of an inclusive school in which children with disabilities study alongside healthy ones, she is full of enthusiasm and youthful energy. "For me, it is a mission, my obsession, a passion. I want that in every school in India we should have an integrated section. Because these children don't look for charity. They look for love, understanding. They need the feeling of equality. They may not even need a helping hand, only an opportunity to prove themselves. But if they need a helping hand, someone should be there to provide it," she says feelingly.

For the past 25 years, she has been introducing sections for special children in the institutions she has been associated with.

She began the special section at Laxman Public School in 1994. The ratio of teachers to students here is 1:7. Some physically and mentally challenged children may not require separate teaching and are completely integrated with the rest. Others are treated individually, and the academically inclined are enrolled in the National Open School.

But education, points out this dynamic educator who is currently pursuing her doctoral studies in English Literature, is not merely about the three R's. "Why not the three H's," she asks. "Head, Heart and Hand?"

Vocational training, emotional sustenance and sensitisation of society figure prominently in her scheme of education. "What is the main purpose of our living anyway? To be self-reliant."

Considered an authority on the subject of special education, she is often consulted, conducts workshops and speaks on inclusive education. However, her academic subject of preference has always been literature. With hands-on experience dealing with children who are physically or mentally challenged, autistic, dyslexic, or faced with some other disability, she has never felt the need for degrees in special education. But she has travelled to other countries to gain exposure to the methods of other societies in providing facilities for the disabled - as when she spent time with the Strathclyde Regional Council of Scotland, U.K.

Associated with the Special Olympics and regularly organising tournaments in her school giving equal sporting opportunities to the able bodied and disabled, Usha Ram is cautiously optimistic about the future of the disabled in India. "This particular generation of parents is educated, so there is hope," she says, adding, "But how about the villages? The Government still has to do a lot." On the other hand, in this vast country with endless needs, "We can understand the Government's problems too," she says. But that doesn't mean she leaves all the responsibility with the Government.

"It should become a movement. Each person should take responsibility," says the woman who has been commended by President APJ Abdul Kalam - who released her book - for doing "God's work".

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