Integration of Individuals with Limited Abilities need Effective Legal and Humane Support
Dr. Tatjana (Marjana) Çadri
Principal of the Institution of Visually Impaired Students
Everyone who comes to this world is entitled to live the life with dignity, despite the fact that he may be completely capable or with limited abilities. Being a reality of society, the individuals with limited abilities have in common the need to be helped, in order to break the framework of their own social isolation.
These stigmatized groups, even though not without difficulty, attach more and more to the other part of society. The society itself accepts to provide them with more space and opportunity for integration in the normal life, for the protection of their rights and equality before law. And, yet, neither party involved in this process, feels completely satisfied with what has been achieved.
We are going to make two principal issues as object to this paper:
a) The factors that impede the integration of visually impaired individuals
b) The legal and humane support on function to this integration
But which are some of the principal factors that impede the social integration of visually impaired individuals: mentality, sense of inferiority of the visually impaired themselves, economic conditions, educational and cultural level, or the social system?
Without any doubt, each of these factors has its own influence. One of them is the mentality of the parents in not making the blindness of their own child public, which is associated, in most cases, with unrecoverable results. So, from the declarations of the directors of different centers, this results in the tendency of abandonment of the blind children from their parents in 50% of the cases. The interested, mention as causes of abandonment the difficult economic conditions, lack of institutional support to the families, and also the traditional mentality that the handicap is an object of shame for the members of the family. This mentality and also the disbelief of the parents in the possibility of change, development or integration has made it possible for a number of blind people in Albania, especially in rural areas, to remain uneducated.
Children, young people or other age groups are entitled to live in a way that gives them self-confidence and possibility for an active life in society. They should receive technical assistance, moral support and the necessary education. The “sick” person in the Albanian families has always been under the custody of the others, but his status always remained the status of “the sick person”, entirely dependant on the family circle, which surrounds him/her, and in most cases isolated from the other part of the world. “The social role” the sick person gains, is in itself an attribute that gives secondary benefits, (he/she absorbs care and consideration) being at the same time excluded from the requirements of “his/her role”, which he/she would carry out in normal circumstances.
It is often said that the attitude towards the individuals with limited abilities reflects the level of civilization and tolerance of a society. From the institutional viewpoint of the problem, the analysis offers these data:
Until 1994, the majority of the institutions for the incapable were depending on The Ministry of Health. Later The Ministry of Labor and Social Issues took over their administration. The change was positive, because it implied the transition from a mere medical method under care oriented to the social and educational aspect, giving a stronger emphasis to the relationships between the incapable and their families. Nonetheless, the coordination between the two responsible ministries has been inconsiderable. Public services regarding the incapable children are limited to a small number of institutions situated primarily in urban areas and with economic benefits from the departments of social help in towns. Even though state institutions and centers for these children have been supported by international organizations, still the capacity to fulfill the needs of this social group is limited. This is observed not only in the large number of the beneficents (with no source at all in rural areas), but also as far as the factor of age, underestimated by the state, is concerned. There exists the great need for structures that can make early diagnosis and deal with family interferences. Due to this situation, it is the family, which should care first, with all the difficulties and insufficiencies in professional counseling.
The history of developed countries shows that the pressure of public opinion, already made aware of the need for legislation drafting in help to this category, is an important factor to enable the protection of the rights of the individuals with limited abilities.
But which is the actual social status of the visually impaired individuals in present day Albanian society?
For the category of the blind in Albania, this has been made concrete with the draft of Law No. 8098, dated March 28, 1996 “On the status of the blind” and also with Resolution No.277, dated June 18, 1997 “On the benefits from the status of the blind”.
Drafting the respective laws constitutes but the first important step. But as much important, or even more important, is also their implementation into practice, which sometimes comes up against versatile difficulties. So, the Resolution of the Council of Ministers, No.277, dated June 18, 1997, prescribes the amount of blindness payment and also custody payment for the blind. However, in its implementation into practice, cases of transgression are noticed. So, for example, for two blind children of the same family, who possess the medical report, MLCILA (Medico-Legal Commission for Individuals with Limited Abilities) has also defined the level of the first group of blindness. Meanwhile, both children are given the blindness payment, but only one of them is acknowledged the right to receive the custody payment, allowing in this way a completely subjective interpretation of the law.
The majority of the cases of transgression of the rights of individuals with limited abilities are observed especially in everyday life, particularly in the sector of urban, interurban transport, public services, etc.
The care for the individuals with limited abilities constitutes a moral and important norm, which should be carried out by the entire society.
Despite the sometime contradictory data, it should be accepted that present day Albanian society is made aware of the conditions of the individuals with limited abilities and of the fulfillment of the rights that belong to them. Expression of this awareness is also the revival of the activities of the Albanian and foreign NGOs, especially after 1990s, with applications of programs and successful projects for the integration of the children with special needs into the system of public schools, and also as a new alternative with profitable advantages. In this process, which of course is not easy, there now exists an experience, even though minimal. This is confirmed, among others, by the results of a study generated recently from AFRH (Albanian Foundation for the Rights of the Handicapped) in cooperation with ED (Educational Directories) in several schools of Tirana and Durresi concerning the problem of whole-inclusive education.
In the answers of the teachers of these common schools, the majority of whom have had the chance to work with students of limited abilities of different types, 75% of them, look at these children as individuals that should be respected, that should be trained with attention and special care and that should be kept close. 40% of them accept integration in their common schools, which shows that the mentality of common schools’ teachers has started to change in a positive sense.
Nonetheless, even though the teachers of common schools accept this in principle, they tend to hesitate to carry it out in practice. They introduce a range of causes that oblige them to hesitate and list a range of proposals for concrete changes in school, so that the teachers are successful and the students feel good. Among the supportive factors, 90% of the teachers list family and parents’ role. In the data of the study of 80 concrete cases of students with limited abilities, integrated in elementary education of the common schools, it is emphasized that they do not constitute a problem for the school, and that their behaviors change in a positive sense during the four years of school. This is owing to the measures that school itself has undertaken. Still, many students of common schools express themselves that they find the presence of children with limited abilities in classes, problematic. About 80% of them think that society should feel responsible and should create facilities for them.
In the parents’ questionnaires regarding the children with limited abilities, who actually attend these schools, we observe that 87% of them want these children to pursue common schools, suggesting also the need to make changes. All parents think that their solution has been proper. Children with limited abilities themselves, in 80% of the cases, express themselves that they would like to attend schools together with their peers without problems and that they feel good close to them. Still, about 32% of the administrative personnel interviewed, think that the conditions are not yet ripe for the integration of children with limited abilities into normal schools and that harder work is expected on this.
It is obvious that the results of this study, regarding blind students, are only partially worth it, mostly just to confirm to the social opinion, because as it is known, the category of the completely blind students finds the integration into common schools almost impossible. It is different the work with visually impaired children. This opportunity is not excluded to them, in addition, the Normative Provisions on special education in Albania, different from other special schools, predict almost complete coherence in structure, content, and procedures of this institution with other common schools, homologous with public compulsory education. Furthermore, in these Provisions, the integration of the children with limited abilities with the students of ordinary schools is treated as an ordinary, contemporary process that should be carried out in the special schools themselves, not only within the teaching-educational process, but also outside it. This practice coincides with present day socio-pedagogical (interactive pedagogy) tendency, which emphasizes especially the need to provide with a whole-inclusive education for the students with special needs, for their inclusion in common classrooms and schools, providing a flexible solution to constantly promote their progress in classes and their individual development.
Indeed, these recent years, concerning whole-inclusive education, all Albanian opinion, public and official, is being made aware, day by day, to transit from sporadic practices to actions legally supported. The current legislation enables all the necessary openings for a more spacious breathing, because it should be improved and enriched with instruments, which strongly support the activity for the education of the students with special needs and also their integration in society.
Time has come to shed some light onto the school practice regarding the important principle of differentiation in the learning of students with problems in special classrooms of common schools and in special schools, taking into consideration the distinctions in their needs, interests and wishes. This has started with the preparation of a new curriculum, where alongside the memorandum and emphasis of purposes and common requirements for students of a specific age, flexible and whole-inclusive solutions are also made possible. The new curriculum, also considers the students with special needs, where the students with visual impairment are included. On this basis, the draft of special plans should be worked for, up to working plans for individual education, to develop self-confidence and self-assessment in the blind people. Such an aim requires, among others, the functioning of the continual qualification system of the teachers and also the introduction of a curriculum for special education in the teaching department, to complete the shaping of the future teachers for the education of the students with special needs.
Following the example of the more developed countries, the Albanian society, too, is not hesitating to face the process of whole-inclusion, which constitutes one of our present day challenges. In this process, teachers and students of the Institute of the Visually Impaired Students in Tirana, find themselves included. We can affirm that even here, possibilities are already created that for certain subjects, visually impaired students develop their classes with students of public 8th grade schools, establishing thus, mutual cooperative connections. The cultural-artistic activities, organized with common programs with students of common schools in Tirana, the participation of blind students in different national and international activities, give evidence for the potentiality this category carries within themselves and also for their exceptional will to challenge the results of misfortune, to break the frameworks of darkness.
Blind students have a very well developed personality and a high level of sensibility. Unknowingness of psychological features of this category of students, of contemporary methods of techniques of orientation, development of touching and speaking in the everyday work, infringes to a great extent the effectiveness of teaching-educational work inside school and outside it.
Integration should not be understood as a formal concept, but as a practical possibility with high applicative values. Planting of a seedling or flower in the school garden, the care for its growth, the interest for environmental maintenance, the realization of an activity with artistic or applicative character, strengthen the connective strands with the real world, integrate the blind into life, promote his/her courage and confidence, make him/her more independent.
Blind children don’t need mercy, but kindness and support inspired by humane feelings. Mercy hurts them spiritually, results into their closing up in themselves, decreasing their opportunity for integration in everyday life.
The worsening condition of infrastructure in our country and the density of traffic have complicated even more the independence of orientation of the blind outside familiar environments or institutions, where they are taught and educated. In these conditions, special value and importance is attributed to the companion, which should be qualified in order to increase sensibility and possibility of orientation of the appointed person. This should be accomplished by means of drafting of special programs for the training of companions from the centers of rehabilitation and also from other special institutions.
Children and other individuals with physical and mental limited abilities are undeniably entitled to require from society continual improvement of the respective legislation and fulfillment of their human, material and spiritual needs, not to feel alienated but maximally integrated. From this point of view, the continual improvement of the social status of the individuals with limited abilities and the further accurateness of the existing legislation, bearing also in mind the experience of developed countries, constitutes a very important aspect which influences in a very straightforward way all the process of teaching-educational work with visually impaired students.
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