Tag Archives: disabilities

The students and the educational system Left Behind

28 Feb

When I first imagined a Masters in International Education I thought I was going to compare and analyze different educational systems across the world. I had it all planned out in my mind, I wanted to write my thesis about how U.S. educational system is designed to fail its students through their absurd obsession with standardized testing. Nothing happened like expected and there was no thesis to be written.

A couple of weeks ago two friends brought to my attention two similar articles about the realities and consequences of standardize testing – the unpreparedness of students going to College and how standardize testing hurts children with disabilities. I strongly recommend you to read them.

As a former special education teacher I can confidently say that I was one of those teachers getting low evaluations because my students wouldn’t show a “significant” progress. A certain percent of the entire school special education population had to get above certain score in order for the school- and for us the teachers- to make it to safe heavens. My students were often treated more like numbers and labels rather than capable students. Every progress (personal or academic) they made was often diminished by those absurd standards set up by standardize testing. Subsequently, most of my students, just like the girl from the article, felt incompetent and stupid when taking such tests. Those two weeks of testing were the worst two weeks of the year for them. Their self-confidence was at its lowest and this kind of testing was a perfect trigger for anxiety and panic attacks.

I knew my students well, I knew what they learned and what not, the way they learned better and I know that the ways in which they grew personally and academically could not be measured by a standardized test. Parents, general ed teachers, and students themselves knew and noticed such progress, but the pressure is such that before their eyes the “real deal” was their standardized test score. It was very painful and heartbreaking to see my students go through the entire process. I ended up spending my time teaching to the test (not by choice…) – a set of “skills” that students will actually never use in real life. After teaching for only two years I became bitter and helpless and I left the system disappointed.

I honestly believe that the inclusive education model (and perhaps the entire system) needs to be revised and reformed to better and truly serve our kids. The day our education system stops being so politicized MAYBE that will be the day when we will stop failing our students with disabilities and we might then treat them more as capable human beings rather than just as a label with a price tag. And that absurd obsession with foolish standardize testing and their guidelines and modified tests for kids with disabilities means nothing to them or to their families. It’s a mere bureaucracy and a misuse of time.

I have very strong feelings against standardized testing in general, but when it comes to students with disabilities, I think it’s the most absurd thing!! It’s just a political thing and a huge waste of students’ and teachers’ time. If we look into it, I am pretty sure we can find other ways to measure and assess student achievement and teacher accountability. But then again I guess standardized testing is a multi-million industry…


Indonesia’s mentally ill and its “banned ‘pasung’ practice”

14 Feb

In Ghana’s rural communities they have rituals to kill the “spirit child” while in Indonesia they shackle them and confine them to small places to prevent them from attacking other-  like a wild animal. IRIN (humanitarian news and analysis) published an article today called Tackling shackling of the mentally ill in Indonesia.

The Indonesia Health Ministry estimates 19 million people nationwide have various mental health disorders, of which18 million live in rural areas. Currently, Indonesia counts with 33 specialized mental health hospitals and 600 psychiatrists to attend 19 million people.

The ‘pasung’ practice (shackling) was banned since 1977 and in 2011 the Health Ministry launched the campaign “Menuju Indonesia Bebas Pasung” or in English “Towards a Shackle-free Indonesia”, but hasn’t made much progress due to the lack of trained health professionals and the lack of funding. Despite those efforts by the government people are still embracing the pasung practice it in both rural and urban communities. People with mental disorders are being shackled behind their homes and/or inside their homes in small rooms to avoid stigma.

Mental health institutions (long-term) have become the solution to mental health prevalence among many developing countries. Such institutions are understaffed, under resourced, and highly costly to sustain for the kind of services they inevitably fail to provide. What is considered a “severe” disability justifying institutionalization in these countries may be a minor disability in other countries that would require limited family and professionals support to integrate disabled people back into society. In countries such Indonesia, where their health care system is decentralized, is very easy to ‘allocate’ or not allocate funds to some regions and the federal government does not have a final registry on how many adults, youth and children are placed in public mental health institutions throughout the country. Needless to say, reports on abuses and maltreatment are nonexistent. Placement of children with disabilities these institutions increases their vulnerability to violence making children easy prey. By funding long- term mental care institutions, instead of funding people, governments are hampering the social, economic, and educational development of the country

While people all over the world try to escape stigma and prejudice by others, they much rather kill, ignore, maltreat, and fear their own family members. Why are we so scared of disabilities? I insist the more we don’t talk about it, the more we contribute to the stigma.

We can’t change what others will say, think or feel towards people with disabilities, but we sure can change the way we make feel our loved ones suffering from a mental health disorder.

2013 Winter Special Olympics: Apathy adds to more stigma.

4 Feb

The games started on January 29 in Pyeongchang, South Korea with the participation of 3,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities from all over the world pledging their Olympic oath- “let me win but if I cannot, let me be brave in the attempt”. The games have the support of prominent political leaders and Olympian athletes, but somehow that’s not enough to get the media’s attention.

The games are aimed at helping people with intellectual disabilities find new strengths and abilities through sports, and to inspire communities to “open their hearts to a wider world of human talents and potential”, organizers said. The Special Olympics have been held every two years since 1968, with summer and winter games alternating since 1977. Anyone over the age of eight with intellectual disabilities can participate in the Special Olympics.

I found out about the Winter Special Olympics via twitter. The only reason why I have a twitter account is to follow news and updates by INGOs and news portals. I don’t tweet. I don’t even know how to do it. I read it. Twitter and the Special Olympics website are the two places where I was able to follow the games. Sadly, the coverage of the 2013 Special Olympics has been minimal to nonexistent. I’ve done a little research in the mainstream media over the past seven days, and I found the media to be disinterested and indifferent towards such event. Only four news outlets, often disseminating the same information from the Associated Press, published one article during the event. The Huffington Post, The Guardian, The Washington Post and The Bangkok Post mentioned the games in some section of their news. However, the Huffington post published more than one article in their blog during the games, as a part of a series produced in collaboration with the Special Olympics.

Even more disappointing is the fact that two of those articles (except the Huffington Post and the Bangkok Post) focused their stories on South Korea’s long-criticized treatment of the disabled, who for decades were kept out of the mainstream. I understand the critics and the degradation and dehumanization ways with their classification of disabilities. It is something that needs to be addressed, but (today) why not emphasize and celebrate these athletes and their amazing achievements. The Olympian athletes have come very far, have sacrificed a lot and have undergone an intense routine of self-discipline, resilience and self-discovery. They have endured hard training sessions and they have learned to go on despite all the obstacles they have encountered along the way. It all sounds familiar, right? It does because every athlete goes through that. The only difference between these athletes and you and me is that most live in poverty, most are denied education, most are unemployed, most are lonely and most are stigmatized. And yet, they have followed their dreams, they have fought social stigma and for the past seven days they have braved the slopes, the half pipe, and the ice rink. Therefore, yes it’s TIME to CELEBRATE and ACKNOWLEDGE them! It’s about them, not politics, not the 2018 Winter Olympics, it’s about THEM!

I don’t expect a front page in the NYTimes, but I would love to see more inclusive media coverage that promotes awareness and that celebrates differences. If we want things to change, Dr. Aung San Suu Kyi, Chairperson of the National League for Democracy in Burma and Nobel Prize, said during the games, “we must face reality in order to address it”. For now, the 2013 Winter Special Games have come and go and the media is still talking about Beyonce’s lip-sync… go figure. There’s a long road ahead for the 2015 Special Olympics in Los Angeles.

“When we empower people with disabilities we strengthen dignity for all” Ban-Ki Moon UN Secretary General at the opening ceremony via video conference.

Congratulations to all the participating athletes!

Spirit Child: A ritual of killing disabled children in Ghana

25 Jan

The other day Devin sent me this Spirit Child (click on the link for media) video from Aljazeera of an investigation about a practice of a ritual of killing disabled children that are thought to be possessed by evil spirits in Ghana. The first half of the film is interesting and very informative. The second half “catch the predator” set up is a little bit too much, but I guess that’s just a journalism style. The content is what matters.

Our friend and fellow classmate Mike Moran described the video better in his own words “[the video] is mostly disturbing but somehow more terrifying because those concoction men seem so excited to kill children. The whole setup and raid thing was a bit much but definitely good that something is being done. I hope that woman at the end was serious about taking action to stop it. It’s one thing to pass legislation and “enforce” it in the capital, while allowing not addressing the real base of the issues in village society. Hopefully there’s some local education/advocacy going along with it”.

Disability is defined differently by every person, family, community and country. Societal norms, stigmas, cultural beliefs, the educational and health care systems, transportation availability and inconsistency in defining disabilities impacts the inclusive practices put in place by governments. In traditionalist countries disability is a stigma and a burden to families; therefore, disability awareness is minimal and inclusive education practices are practically non-existent.

There are children born with disabilities that are being kept in the dark. Women are blamed for having a disabled child, and as a result, the child is hidden, denied critical care, ignored, and neglected by their families. In traditional societies disabilities are considered a taboo and are seen as a curse against communities. Society’s values are one of the barriers impeding to treat these children as human beings; thus, every day they are being deprived of their human rights.  The result of this stigmatization and exclusion of children with disabilities leads to a profitable business between families and militia/rebels or in this case concoction men. Families frequently either volunteer their child with disabilities or they receive money to send their children to fight in the frontlines or they hire concoction men to kill their children ‘possessed by evil spirits’. What about that for a human rights violation that hasn’t been widely addressed by INGOs, academia or the media. The indifference and neglect towards children with disabilities and the cultural prejudices are conveying a message of acceptance for the unscrupulous acts committed against these children.

Societal values in these communities allow these atrocities to happen without even questioning the moral and ethical values of the crime. But then again, I don’t know if we will get to see a generational shift of values in our lifetime and like Mike said “It’s one thing to pass legislation and “enforce” it in the capital city, while allowing not addressing the real base of the issues in village society”. How can a situation like this be approached and addressed at a local and international level?  Is education the key solution to a generational shift of values? What’s next on the INGOs agenda on disabilities awareness and program implementation?

An open letter to ALL of those who use the R-word

25 Oct

Ann Coulter’s “retard” remarks to President Obama on Twitter are the product of mere IGNORANCE. Even more sadly is the fact that it is a misconception that unfortunately a big fraction of the population holds. As much as this country does to integrate and mainstream people with disabilities, mere physical inclusion is NOT enough.  Bullying children with disabilities at schools is at his all-time highest and  my former students can speak to that. Public perceptions MUST change, but it won’t happen unless people  gets educated about disabilities or have gained enough perspective through family members or friends with disabilities to know that having a disability is NOT a determinant of stupidity and dumbness.  To degrade and belittle someone because they learn different than most, because it takes them a little more time to process information or because they look different is disgraceful. People are NOT their disability, they are people just like you and me, but then again many many people can’t see further than a diagnosis.

The moment people understand the meaning of having a disability, it will be the moment they are going to open their hearts and minds and gain ample understanding of things such as respect, humanity and kindness.

Sadly, topics like this go unnoticed in the media. Clearly, in this time and era people are more interested on their Facebook lives or on TV reality show more than anything else. Apathy is an ill-state that has taken over our society.

John Franklin Stephens, a Special Olympics athlete and global messenger,  wrote a response letter to Ann Coulter. His inspiring letter was brilliantly and thoughtfully written. If you read John’s letter and touched you I am going to ask you to please share his letter with family and friends.  A piece of truth and art like this must be seen by everyone.