So the other day I bumped into a lecturer friend who drives discussions on Inclusive Education. As we talked, our conversation drifted to a 1989 movie, “My Left Foot.” The story is on Christy Brown, an Irishman born with Cerebral Palsy. This is a neurological disorder caused by a non-progressive brain injury or malformation that occurs while the child’s brain is under development.
Cerebral Palsy primarily affects body movement and muscle coordination. Christy could only control his left foot. As I watched the movie over the Easter Holidays, as I had promised myself to after the chance-meeting, a question kept lingering in my mind.
Is there a possibility that each child living with or without disability has a unique purpose in this world? Could we be losing our children living with disabilities without discovering their unique purpose because of not paying much attention to their abilities? Let me explain.
Christy’s abnormality was noticed at birth and the weakness became more pronounced as he grew. He could not move his limbs, he was incoherent and of course no one seemed to understand his behaviour or language except his mother.
Like most mothers, she paid attention to minutest detail the milestones her son made —and was always at his side — to cheer him on. Christy, who had many brothers and sisters, observed his siblings’ every move from his corner spot on the floor of their house where he stayed in prostrate position. When they were writing, playing, laughing or even arguing, he lay there, watching, recording.
It seemed like he seeped their emotions and actions even though he could not move. It was like all these emotions and behaviours were registered in his brain and to be replayed in a scene. He can write Then one day, Christy struggled and picked a chalk with his left foot and wrote on the floor the word “mother”.
Every one in the room stopped to look in shock and amazement. His mother shed tears of joy while his elated father carried him on his shoulders dashed with him to a nearby bar shouting to every man who cared to listen….“Christy, my son.”
This marked a new beginning in Christy’s life. Inclusiveness kicked in… He was taken out by his siblings to play with other children on the make-shift wooden trolley.
They even allowed him to take a penalty kick. From his horizontal position on the makeshift pitch, he scored with a spectacular kick that left the goal keeper, who was moments earlier mocking his disability, red-faced in awe and embarrassment.
However, Christy was not a footballer. But he was discovered to have passion for writing and painting. So he was given an opportunity to learn the skills and became a renowned painter.
He even fell in love and got married. Christy became self-actualised as he continued to be celebrated in his own community. Now, this is inclusion.
We can look at inclusive education through different lenses but the long and short of it is about ensuring a child is empowered to achieve their fullest potential.
Locally, we have a pool of professionals living with disabilities who have participated in an inclusive environment and are thriving and contributing to national development.
This group is thriving in their careers mainly because they were not “hidden” like many children with disabilities are. The exposure helped identify their strengths which were then developed into life-changing skills.
In fact, inclusive education is about identifying the needs of our children, living with or without disabilities, and the mechanisms of how these needs are met. This is a right to every child.
However, we need to shake off the cultural myths that are tied in our stereotyping behaviour. We need to unlearn our cultural norms and ensure that no child is left behind in our education system. Imagine the amount of work and faith that the family and scholars had on Christy. He learned to paint and write with his left foot.
You can tell he loved the fine things in life, just like any other person. Imagine his heart pounding with love as he stretched his left foot to give a rose to his woman, whose heart he stole from another man.
As a child, Christy observed his siblings and community who included him in their day to day life to a point he knew that he was uniquely different but was challenged to put his passion forth.
Children learn from hearing and observing. Denying our children living with disabilities an inclusive society and education denies them a chance to realise realise their fullest potential.
Open closets As parents, we need to get the children out of the closets and take them for assessment at the Education Assessment and Resource Centres managed by the Kenya Institute for Special Education (KISE) and Ministry of Education.
I believe every child has a capability which should be discovered and let to bloom. Some abilities blurred in disabilities can be discovered soonest and while others will require patience.
However, secluding our children with disabilities in own communities will not only hinder them from discovering their full potential, it will be a shame to let them just leave this world without discovering their “left foot.” The writer is head of HR and Administration, Mediamax Network Limited