Starting early with acceptance of disability
Instilling strong values in children begins at an early age. At this time, children are taught manners, the difference between right and wrong and how to be the best they can be. It is no coincidence that, during these early years, children are also likely to be more accepting and non-judgmental
This is why the Spastic Children’s Foundation in Turkey (SCFT) teaches children about disability at this stage of their life.
The Project of Avoiding Discrimination Against People with Disabilities (PADAPD) is an initiative that teaches children to accept others who are different from themselves. Through the proactive work of the project and SCFT, Turkish children will grow up learning that everyone is equal whether they have a disability or not. This, in turn, will help break down barriers and create an inclusive society in Turkey.
From the grassroots
A clear impetus for change has been identified by the SCFT. “The level of public awareness about disability issues is inadequate,” says project spokesperson, Banu Sözen. “Turkish society in general has limited awareness of discrimination against individuals with disabilities”. In the 2011 Census, approximately 4.8 million people were identified as disabled, accounting for 6.6 per cent of the population.
The Project of Avoiding Discrimination Against People with Disabilities is a strategy for attitudinal change, held in partnership with CESIE a non-profit organisation working towards the promotion of cultural, educational, scientific and economic development in the EU, and co-funded by the European Union and Republic of Turkey. Its ultimate aim is to change the elementary school curriculum in Turkey to include teaching about disabilities in the general education syllabus from a very young age.
A reason for change
“It makes sense for individuals to receive their first knowledge on discrimination against the disabled in pre-school and primary school years,” suggests Banu Sözen. “Children in these age groups can easily embrace others with disabilities and normalise the situation.”
When children show their acceptance and willingness to include the disabled, this teaches others in society to follow. As these children grow up, a change in attitudes is created and a new generation is created – one that accepts the disabled and expects equality and inclusion.
“The levels of innovation, growth, production, expansion and general welfare in our country will depend on the investments we make in our children’s education,” adds Banu. “Raising children in the best way is as much the responsibility of society and the state, as it is their parents.”
By encouraging inclusion in children, the negative attitudes and perceptions of their parents may also change. “When children from the Foundation start school, their classmates are open to them and quickly get accustomed to their disability,” says Banu. “However, it’s the parents who have difficulty accepting this and don’t want their children to be in the same classroom as a child with a disability.”
Planning for success
One of the success factors for the project has been the positive working relationship with CESIE. Specialist researchers have been investigating anti-discrimination practices for the disabled in EU countries. Findings will be incorporated into the Turkish project to provide a richer understanding of anti-discrimination best practice.
At the end of the 15-month project the results – along with comparative analysis reports, activity models and activity cards – will be submitted to the Turkish Ministry of National Education to be integrated into the curricula of primary education.
“Our main goal is to create a sustainable and applicable model for the Turkish curriculum,” explains Banu.
During the second phase of the project, seminars will be delivered to all teachers working at elementary schools in the Ataşehir province in Turkey. The seminars will include topics such as “What is disability?” and “What kind of manner should be adopted against the social discrimination of disabled persons?” Seminars will also be held for more than 20,000 elementary school students and will be supported by awareness activities, resources and an animation movie.
The third phase of the project is the evaluation of the performed awareness seminars. The outcomes of the project will be evaluated through a sociological study performed by an independent research company.
Inclusion and acceptance is a life value that, if learned early, will remain with a person for life. Children who are taught about tolerance and equality through this inspiring project will be strong and positive role models for their parents and the community. The future is in their hands and their hearts.