Students working with headsets on a computer
Students working with headsets on a computer

At the British Council, we aim to provide inclusive education to students of all backgrounds.

What do you understand as Disability?

A note from our Special Educational Needs Coordinator - Ruthy Gunstone

It can be very difficult sharing something so personal, especially when sharing a ‘hidden’ disability. I have my own experiences of working and living with such a disability and from working with others as the current Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo) and am often surprised at how caring and helpful people can be. What was I worried about?

Sharing this knowledge and these experiences enable the British Council to better support you or your child to learn and use English with confidence and with complete confidentiality. 

As SENCo, I am available for consultations at any time during the school working hours. To best meet and support the student’s needs whilst on the course, we need to speak to the student (with parents if appropriate) and teacher so that we can support their learning in the best possible way. Participation is monitored to determine if we are able to provide the appropriate level of support and how this may change and develop as time goes on. 

At this point, I would like to share with you a short article written by a current student studying at the British Council in Colombo. The topic was to write about something you feel passionate about. 

My experience with autism

As an elder brother of an autistic child, a nephew of a schizophrenic uncle, life can get interesting. Especially when having the opportunity to live with both of them under the same roof. As I am closer to my brother and spend more time with him, I will be writing about my experience with autism.

By definition autism is a developmental disorder characterised by difficulties with social interaction and communication and by restricted and repetitive behaviour. During their childhood, these timorous spirits often lack the typical inquisitive nature of a 'normal' child. At early stages, they are disinterested in maintaining eye contact, which is how my father who is a paediatrician first realised that something was just not right. 

My brother thrives in chaos but wants to have order; wants to be isolated but also wants attention, loves getting brushed but scratches himself till he bleeds. Parents often end up confused and clueless and they try to give up all the responsibilities and hope towards the teachers to 'fix' them.

To grow up mentally disabled is hard, but in Sri Lanka, it is even harder. One rarely sees disabled people on the streets of Colombo. If you are wondering why perhaps you should consider these factors: public spaces, transportation and buildings are seldom designed to be disabled-friendly. Many conservative families consider disability a burden at best and a shame at worst. Room is seldom made for them in the workplace, which makes them unable to support themselves even if they could.

For their families, there are few options and many hard choices. There is virtually no help available and caring for them becomes the duty of their relatives, who often struggle to meet the tremendous challenge of providing full-time care. Financial constraints, a genuine lack of knowledge and awareness, as well as social pressures, all make it harder for them to provide any significant quality of life for their loved ones.

Educational facilities are particularly poor. The very few specialized nurseries or schools that provide training and education are overwhelmed, ensuring that the vast majority of these children remain at home without professional care. Understandably, their parents are often at a complete loss to know how to cope with the behavioural and social problems they face. On top of all this the stigma attached to such children and adults, which makes their lives and those of their families even harder. 

When walking with my brother in public, generally the people are considerate and sympathetic but in some parts of Sri Lanka, you can feel the occasional contemptuous eyes glaring with annoyance at his behaviour and mannerism. Obviously we are now used to it and have learned to mind our own business and focus on being attentive to the child but as intelligent citizens, in a multi-cultural society, we should learn not only to be harmonious with other races and religions but make sure to further make the country an even more inclusive place by being more considerate, empathetic and supportive towards the mentally disabled and the less fortunate.

By Hiruna’s brother

Defining Disability 

Words and concepts used about disability vary enormously. Exploring the best available current definitions and beliefs around disability is an effective way to deepen our collective understanding. What follows aims to support an appropriate foundation for our work and nurture respect and inclusion. 

Disability is a broad concept. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) states: 'Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.' 

The UK Equality Act (2010) definition similarly states that a disability is: 'A physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.'

Impairment here means ‘a physical, mental or sensory functional limitation within the individual’. But impairment is only part of the experience of disability, which also includes: '…the loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in the normal life of the community on an equal level with others due to physical and social barriers' (Constitution of Disabled People's International,1981). 

So disabled people are not 'people with impairments' but: '...people with impairments who are additionally ‘disabled’ by socially constructed barriers' (Colin Barnes, Disabled People in Britain, 1991). 

These differences between disability, disabled people and impairment are important distinctions. They underline how the physical, mental or sensory impairments which can limit someone’s abilities, or indeed the fact of neurodiversity are different from the external conditions which can also limit them. These conditions can vary from an inaccessible office or unreadable safety notice to the attitude of someone recruiting for a job, or a line manager or a teacher. 

It’s also important to realise that impairments aren’t always obvious or physical: many are hidden or invisible. These might include mental impairments, like bipolar disorder or chronic depression, or cognitive ones like learning disabilities, or autism or dyslexia, as well as physical ones, like sickle cell anaemia, diabetes, cancer or HIV/AIDS.

Exclusion is not Inevitable

Please do contact us if you or your child would like to learn more about studying with the British Council. 

The British Council Sri Lanka is constantly developing and adapting to make itself more accessible to those with Special Needs. Please let us know if we can better support you and to give us feedback. 

Contact point: Ruthy Gunstone (Special Educational Needs Coordinator)

Feedback on Special Educational Needs at the British Council

“Further as discussed, my child has shown some improvement after she started attending the program at the British Council and we are so happy.”

- Parent of a student currently studying at secondary level -

See also

External links