Education policy-makers are not fully aware of what an inclusive education really means. The government is, therefore, failing to ensure an inclusive education system that is available, accessible, appropriate and of good quality for children who suffer from visual impairment or blindness. As a result, illiteracy is high among blind people
The World Health Organisation (WHO) 2018 report says that 253 million people worldwide are blind or have severe to moderate vision impairment. More than 90 per cent of them live in developing countries like Nepal. The World Blind Union argues that people who are blind have only a 1 in 10 chance of going to school or getting a job. The lack of reasonable accommodation is a key barrier to getting an education.
The right to education enhances individual freedom and enables people to exercise other human rights, such as the right to vote or the right to free speech. Education can ensure that those who are marginalised in society can lift themselves out of poverty and participate as citizens on an equal basis with others in society.
It is universally accepted that education contributes to the development of the human personality and constitutes a source of knowledge. Education has a vital role to play in empowering women, safeguarding children from exploitation and hazardous labour and sexual exploitation, promoting human rights and democracy, protecting the environment, and controlling population growth.
Also, education is a powerful tool in awakening children to cultural values, in preparing them for later professional training, and in helping them to adjust normally in their environment.
It is obvious that they cannot succeed in life if they are denied the opportunity to an education.
But the realisation of the right to quality inclusive education is still a pipe dream for visually impaired children in Nepal, more so if they happen to be girls, especially in the remote rural areas. They face multiple challenges while exercising the right to an education.
These challenges are associated with disability-based discrimination.
In many parts of the country, blindness is still attributed to past wrongdoing by the parents or even by persons with disabilities themselves. In remote regions, blind persons are barred from religious and cultural events like wedding ceremonies and other formal occasions, as their presence is thought to bring bad luck.
Blind people are often subjected to inhuman treatment and are perceived as objects requiring charity, and with seemingly no rights. This shows the lack of awareness among the people regarding the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD); most people don't even know it exists. Resource allocation for blindness is inadequate and government plans and programmes are not fully blindness inclusive.
Moreover, in rural Nepal, many children with blindness don't go to school at all; many never get disability identity cards; and many teachers know very little about how to help blind children. The truth is, not much has been done by the government especially for blind girls nationally.
This means that girls with blindness experience double marginalisation – first as girls and then as girls with blindness, which often results in their social exclusion.
In some rural areas of Nepal, women and girls, including blind girls, during their monthly period must stay in an isolated shed, called a chaugoth, as it is feared that should a menstruating girl touch a man or a plant or an animal, it will bring bad luck on the family or even the village.
Blind girls, especially from the Dalit community, face multiple forms of discrimination and violence because of their caste, gender and disability status.
Blind girls need a rights-sensitive inclusive education with reasonable accommodation if they are to have equal opportunity.
If given a chance, blind girls can live a fully independent life; reach out to a career they want; and be productive members of their communities.
Education policy-makers in our country are not fully aware of what an inclusive education really means.
Policy-makers have a poor idea of the meaning of inclusive education, integrated education and special needs education, or the differences between them.
The government is, therefore, failing to ensure an inclusive education system that is available, accessible, appropriate and of good quality for children who suffer from visual impairment or blindness. As a result, illiteracy is high among blind people.
In the hinterlands of Nepal, some parents do not send blind children to school for their safety and to protect them from the prevalent cultural attitudes and practices at home, school and community.
Also, there is no provision of Braille and large print textbooks for those who are blind and visually impaired in the schools of rural Nepal.
Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) requires states parties to ensure that children with disabilities, including blind children, "are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability" and that they have access to "inclusive, quality and free primary and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live".
UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) says that equal access to all levels of education and vocational training must be ensured for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities.
But schools are not equipped to give the support required for blind students.
Parents see blind children, especially girls, as a burden, and will not make the effort to accompany them to school, given the low expectation from them and general neglect.
Blind girls, especially from the Dalit community, are likely to skip school altogether as they face a triple burden. They are often subjected to inhuman treatment such as untouchability, and, being blind, they are perceived as objects requiring charity.
To change public perceptions about the blind, the government should engage organisations dealing with disabled persons and other community groups to collaborate and collectively advocate for the right to inclusive education of students, especially girls, who are blind.
Joshi is a human rights lawyer
A version of this article appears in the print on July 15 2021, of The Himalayan Times.