05 Aug Webinar on Inclusive education: How to combat ableism in Uzbekistan?
Photo: UNICEF Uzbekistan
On 1 August 2020, American Councils for International Education in Uzbekistan hosted a webinar on “Inclusive education: How to combat ableism in Uzbekistan” dedicated to the 30th anniversary of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) which was celebrated on July 26, 2020.
I was invited as one of the guest speakers together with a deaf rights activist Bobobek Khalilov, an undergraduate student at Webster University in Tashkent and Rauf Salahodjaev Senior Research Fellow at Westminster International University in Tashkent (WIUT) and Founder of ERGO Research and Advisory.
Gulnaz Bektermirova, WIUT Director of Student Support Services, who is keen on implementing inclusive practices in higher education in Uzbekistan kindly moderated our talk. If you missed our webinar you can watch the video recording below and download the presentation slides here.
In brief, we talked about differences in legal definitions of disability in ADA, the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and in the Law ‘On Social Protection of Disabled People in the Republic of Uzbekistan’ as well as the differences in disability prevalence globally and in Uzbekistan. The main focus was on how ableism and disability discrimination are leading to exclusion, segregation and integration of disabled children and adults from mainstream educational systems in Uzbekistan.
In the end, we suggested the ways on combatting attitudinal and environmental barriers so that disabled people in Uzbekistan could have equal access and opportunities in order to fulfil their human right for receiving inclusive and quality education throughout their lives.
I already wrote a blog about Bobobek as ‘the person who embraced the power of silence’ who recently delivered a TEDx Talk in Bukhara (TEDxYouth@TKA) titled “Voices of the Silent”. It was very interesting to learn about his difficult educational journey and therefore I decided to publish his speech during the webinar:
Q1. Bobobek, it will probably be interesting for our audience to know a little about your educational background, what schools have you gone through…
Bobobek: I have never studied at deaf schools in Uzbekistan, due to the fact that education for disabled people in Uzbekistan is very limited. When I was 7, I faced a challenge with getting into an elementary school, as a school-child with hearing disabilities was not welcomed and it required the special methods of teaching. However, my parents managed to persuade one of the schools in Kokand to give me a chance. They decided to accept me for one academic year and see if I progress. To everyone’s surprise, I did well in most classes. Then they gave me a full chance to study at elementary, secondary and high school. A year ago, I have graduated from an ordinary school, and become one of the first deaf people in Uzbekistan who has been able to do so. 2 years ago, I have attended Gallaudet University Youth Programs, where I immersed myself into the deaf community to learn how their community works. Now, I am a sophomore student at Webster University in Tashkent, majoring in Media Studies. Recently I gave a TED speech, about Voices of the Silent. The purpose of the speech was to spread the awareness of disabled people. I have come this far because of the support and help of my family and friends.
Q2. Based on your own experience, what specific barriers did you find most challenging and how did you overcome them?
Bobobek: To be honest, it is going to take a while to answer this question, but I am going to keep it short. Ups and downs are part of humanity, part of life. No one can expect a perfect and happy life always. We gotta enjoy good moments and learn from the bad. It is what helped and still helps me get through life hardships and make my journey worthwhile. Regarding your question, everything is about mindset and the way people see things. One of the things that was pretty tough for me, especially during my school times, was disability discrimination. Because I was the only one hearing disabled student at my school, and I had to face discriminations and bullies on a daily basis. Sometimes, I used to get into fights, because I could not stand for too offensive words. Taking up boxing sport, was one of the best things that happened in my life. It shaped me into a real fighter, not just to get into fights, but to defend myself from attacks.
Apart from sport, I practised to embrace the reality, that everyone has mental, physical and spiritual disabilities. Learning how to speak, without being able to hear my own words was another hardest challenge for me. Why? Imagine yourself being deaf and think of how you can learn to speak without hearing your own sound. Thankfully, I had a special speech therapist, who helped me produce any kind of sound and teach me how to control my voice while speaking. I had to practice my speaking with my parents in front of a mirror on a daily basis. Such life barriers shaped me into a person that I am today. Everyone has different life hardships, but I truly believe that they all are capable of overcoming them all because that is what we are made of.
Q.3 What systems of support do you think should schools create to improve the learning experience of students with disabilities?
Bobobek: Most people, especially from Uzbekistan, would agree that the larger part of education system available today is old-fashioned. Of course, there is a need for change, by all means. Now I am going to highlight the main systems and accommodations that should be met at schools and able to provide disabled people with their needs, in order to improve students’ learning performance:
- Improvements to the physical environment
- Improving the way information is delivered to students with disabilities
- School Curriculum
- Assistive Technology
- Financial Aids
I truly believe that we, as human beings, should bear in mind that disability is not abnormal at all. Anyone can join disabled people at any point in their lives. It is all about everyone. Schools should definitely do everything possible to meet all the needs of people with any type of disabilities. Governments must make sure there is equal access to education. Everything should be done to continue making the world more accepting of people with disabilities.
Q.4 What training, in your opinion, should teachers receive in order to meet the learning needs of students with disabilities?
Bobobek: Like I said earlier, everything is about mindset and the way people see things. As for teaching trainings, I think there are different trainings that teachers should get to teach disabled people, and it all depends on students with disabilities. For deaf students, teachers should be a professional who knows sign language and have the enthusiasm to teach and explain a lesson with more detailed information. That’s why professional trainings should be prioritized in order to provide disabled people with high-quality education based on their particular needs.