Deepmila Pandey, a primary school principal from Uttar Pradesh in Bareilly, has been instrumental in enrolling more than 800 disabled students into schools. Supported by 400 teachers.

High Court Justice DY Chandrachud has called on the government and private bodies to work for a fairer world for people with disabilities noting the lack of accessibility for them in public and other places.

Addressing an assembly at Professor Shamnad Bashir’s Memorial Lecture on ‘Making Disability Rights Real: Addressing Accessibility and More’, Justice Chandrachod noted, “State or private entities must ensure compliance with laws and policies. This is of the utmost importance. From our individual perspective, the very least What we can do is give people with disabilities the respect they deserve and treat them as equals (according to a roundup in the Indian Express).”

To investigate the case, Dembila Pandey (35), principal of Dabura Primary School in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, has been working for five years.

Deepmala Pandey makes education accessible to all students.
Making education accessible to everyone – Deepmala Pandey.

Thanks to her endeavors, more than 800 students with disabilities have been able to attend the school and this movement that started with a single teacher now has the support of more than 400 teachers.

Recently, in acknowledgment of the selfless work that Deepmila is doing, PM Modi also mentioned her modeling work during an episode of Mann Ki Baat.

“Teaching is challenging and rewarding at the same time.”

Deepmila Pandey with students at her school in Bareilly.
Teaching children to use technology.

Talking to India’s bestShe says, “I have always been interested in teaching. I enjoy the company of children and feel that teaching is a great way to give back to the community and make a meaningful difference. However, teaching is not easy and comes naturally to everyone.”

Deepmala started teaching in 2009 and says, “The schools where I have taught have always been in areas that have remained underdeveloped. So, in a sense, the work we do can be considered a social service, if only because we get paid to do it.” In 2015, she was promoted and transferred to Daburah Primary School as the principal.

In 2018, after three years as principal, a student named Anmol joins the school and changes the course of things for Deepmala. “Anmol came to me four years ago and was somewhat of a harbinger of change. It changed my perspective on teaching. Anmol is a child with severe learning disabilities and just being able to navigate with him was challenging at first.”

She continues, “Because of his poor learning, integrating him with the rest of the class right away was never an option. It had to be a gradual process. For the first few weeks, he would just follow me and not communicate at all. Then we started using nonverbal cues to communicate and slowly Shadid made him enter the classroom.”

What’s amazing is that Anmol is still a student at the school and is currently in Class 5.

Deepmila Pandey with one of the school's first disabled students.
Deepmala with Anmol.

Anmol’s mother Munni Devi (39) says: “I am very happy to see Anmol at school. I have four daughters and one boy. While all the others were enrolled in school, Anmol was only at home. The growth I have seen in him since he started coming here It’s massive. He’s more on his own now and he’s very confident now.”

She continues, “I celebrate every small victory and milestone of his. From being able to operate a mobile phone to communicate in his own way what he needs and likes. These are big wins for him and for us.”

Besides, says Dembila, “Anmol is the recipient of the government scholarship. When the form itself arrived at the school, I was thrilled to see Anmol sign it. Normally, in such cases, teachers or parents sign the form on behalf of the child.”

Bringing the teacher community together

Making learning fun for students with disabilities.
Engaged in artistic and craft activity.

Dembila realized early on that the payment for enrolling students with disabilities had to come from the teachers. And so, in April 2018, I started a WhatsApp group consisting of teachers from Bareilly. Having started with a handful of teachers, the online community has grown many-fold today.

“In the group there is a lot of information we post about inclusive education, examples of best classroom practices to follow, activities for better inclusion and also awareness building content. All this is to make sure we can accommodate every child in our classroom.

She says that while teachers often attend workshops and seminars on inclusive education, it is only when it is implemented that one truly understands how it works. “Theory and practice are two different things. Therefore, we needed to enroll children so that we could teach them and make a difference.

She also launched a campaign aptly named – “One Call to One Teacher”. “This campaign ensures that every teacher contacts at least one other teacher and explains why it is important that children with disabilities are not denied access to mainstream schools, and that there is a central law to support this enrollment,” she says.

While the campaign has hit a snag during lockdowns, when schools remain closed, the enthusiasm with which teachers work has not diminished.

“Our endeavor is to take every child to school. The onus of finding ways to teach them falls on us – the teachers. Seeing an increase in student enrollment is really rewarding.”

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

The Need to Ensure Greater Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities: Justice Chandrachod


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