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Helen Keller Day – Celebrating Inclusive Education for people with deafblindness

26 June 2019

Today (27 June), marks Helen Keller Day - a day to celebrate the life and achievements of pioneering deafblind activist Helen Keller and recognise the work done by organisations across the globe for people with deafblindness, including that of Sense International.

Helen KellerBorn in 1880 in America, Helen Keller suffered from an unknown illness at 19 months old which resulted in her deafblindness. Through the vital support of her tutor and family, she learned to communicate through a few signs, then attended a school for the blind and eventually became the first person with deafblindness to graduate from university. Throughout her life she wrote several books, including her now famous autobiography ‘The story of my life’, while also being an active political campaigner.

The education she received and the lectures she delivered herself, played a big part in her life and so today we’d like to recognise the Inclusive Education work of Sense International.

Sense International supports the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) Article 24 (2016) which requires States to ensure realisation of the right of persons with disabilities to education through an inclusive education system at all levels.

Our vision for inclusive education is a world in which every person with deafblindness is included in high-quality, life-long education alongside diverse peers and without segregation or exclusion. Sense International seeks to achieve this through its model for Inclusive Education which is built on a so called twin-track approach. This means that our work has two inter-connected work streams:

  • change mainstream settings so they welcome and support learners with deafblindness;
  • developing innovative inclusive education solutions in diverse other settings for learners for whom inclusion in a mainstream setting is not yet a viable option. 

Afsana looking at a school bookOne example of this work is the support Sense International provides in Bangladesh. Our partners there first met Afsana aged eight. At the time she was silently sitting in her father’s small shop, unable to do much on her own. After explaining to Afsana’s family that she is deafblind and has developmental delays, she started to receive therapy and support. She soon began to walk more confidently and do daily activities, such as brushing her teeth, almost independently.

After several years of physiotherapy, home-based education, and working with her local school, Afsana, now aged 12, joined mainstream education. She now attends pre-school where she enjoys interacting with the other children and looking through the different picture books. As her needs are complex she does require one-to-one support which means she is currently only able to attend one day a week when our field educator visits. We hope to be able to increase our support to Afsana and many more children like her in the future. Every child deserves to live, learn and thrive.

There are many more children like Afsana who we support across the globe - during the last financial year: 

  • In Tanzania we supported 100 children with multisensory impairment to attend mainstream schools, many of which receive 1:1 support teaching assistants.
  • In Kenya we supported 84 children to learn in ‘deafblind units’ attached to mainstream schools.
  • In Uganda we supported 120 children through home-based education and launched a one-year online training course on deafblindness for teachers and other practioners.
  • In Romania we enabled 224 young people to undertake vocational training.
  • In Bangladesh we enabled 57 children with multi-sensory impairments to either learn at home, supported by visits from specially trained staff, or to join mainstream schools supported 1:1 by teaching assistants.
  • In Peru we continued to support the Ministry of Education with teacher training around assessment and sensory stimulation and provision of sensory equipment.
  • In India we progressed a research project on inclusion of children with deafblindness in Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (the Government’s Education for All initiative) and continued to support inclusive education across the country.

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First published: Tuesday 18 June 2013
Last updated: Friday 6 December 2019