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Calm Lake

An Ocean of Possibilities

The Genesis of Vidya Sagar

Leaves Shadow

On 15th March 1985, we started as a branch of  The Spastic Society of India Mumbai. The Spastic society of Mumbai was started in 1972 by  Dr Mithu Alur, a parent of a child with Cerebral Palsy. This was a parent initiative, to create services in Chennai. Poonam Natarajan had trained at Mumbai and then worked in The Spastic Society of Northern India, in Delhi.

She became a special educator to better understand the needs of her son Ishwar who was born with multiple disabilities. When her husband got transferred to Chennai, they wanted to start services, which specially reach out to parents with children with similar needs.  In the Delhi centre there was a home management programme which catered excellently to conditions in India. It is both cost effective and caters to larger numbers than a western model of special school. It also helped to empower parents to understand and learn the therapy and education needs of their child.

 

an image of Dr. Mithu Alur with her daughter Malini Chib

Transforming Perspectives

The team at the centre began to evolve its own set of values and perspective to disabilities. Inclusive education became a priority much before the Government programme started. We worked with many schools and convinced them to admit children with disabilities. We supported training programmes for teachers. We also started our community based rehab services in 1989 responding to the request of the self help groups of disabled people in the State. 

The centre attracted many volunteers and people from other disabilities and started working on disability issues and advocacy. The staff and students played an active role as advocates in the making of all the disability laws in the country. There is also active participation for raising awareness in the community. 

an image of an old photo of happy students of vidya sagar on wheelchairs one child is standing

Pioneering Strategies in Communication, Advancing Employment Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities

In our new building many new strategies were studied, tried out and developed. Alternative and Augmentative communication for non verbal children was hardly known. Together with Spastic Society  of Eastern India we developed new indigenous aids like Kathamala, Athithi and Awaz. This was done by networking with the IIT’s in Kharagpur and Madras. We are one of the leaders in AAC. 

For employment we have explored a range of possibilities from open placement, supported employment, to neighbourhood initiatives. We took a franchise of Aavin Ice cream parlour and ran it as supported employment for two years. We bagged the contract from National Institute of Port Management to run their shop at ECR .We started neighbourhood initiatives like small self help groups for manufacture of leaf cups, plates and paper bags.

an image of the whole team of vidya sagar on the 35th anniversary all dressed in blue and pink
Ocean
an image of poonam akka and students Lighting a lamp to mark the beginning of our school in our garage

From Garage to Lifespan Support

 

It started as a small project in a garage, but expanded rapidly as there was a huge demand from families from all economic groups within and outside the city. This showed that there was a wrong assumption that parents only wanted to dump their child in a hostel, and get on with their lives. The Home Management programme was a forerunner of all the different services, many children who came with different ages and needs, became the milestone children for starting Early intervention, Outstation Programme, Advisory and referral services, vocational training and ultimately  a day school because of working mothers. The day school catered to students till  class 10th and supported them to write the school leaving exams. At present drop outs from regular Government schools who have learning disabilities are  also admitted to write the exams.  We then expanded to give services across the lifespan and to range of disabilities , from mild to people with very high support needs. Many mothers who were trained in this programme became experts and some have even started services in different parts of the state. 

an image of poonam akka with her son ishwar

Building Capacity for Quality Care

 

As the services grew a paucity of trained staff was felt and we decided to start a Teacher Training course which till date has trained over 450 special educators. We first started PG Diploma and now run a two year B.Ed course. We also found therapist training lacked inputs in developmental disabilities, we offered internships to therapy students to expose them to developmental disability. We have over the years interns from several colleges in physio, and speech therapy.

 

In 1996 we moved into our own purpose built building on land given as lease by the Government of Tamil Nadu. 

There was from beginning active engagements with the medical fraternity. In 1997 Dr Jayam – Neonatologist invited and introduced us to High Risk Babies. At present we work at three hospitals. Screening and assessing over  1200 babies in a year. 

an image of tree planting of copper pod seeds done by poonam akkas parents on the inauguration of our accessible building
an image of tree planting of copper pod seeds done by actress revathi and others on the inauguration of our accessible building

Unleashing Potential: Innovation, Inclusion, and Empowerment in Education and Beyond

 

IIT Madras gave us a space to start a shop for binding and lamination, named Samyukta. Our students also started making beautiful products of paper, leaf with a lamination machine. We also do handmade paper weaving. We started a shop in our new building called Kalakal Kadai

We also explored emerging concepts like multiple intelligence and accessibility .

We set up annual events for the students – 

  • VIKASA an innovative theatre production by the student.  

  • Project day – Students would make models and charts to explain what they have learned. 

  • V-Access  and  Mela – to showcase accessible solutions and sell products made by people with disabilities. 

  • Accessible Sports- designed for people with high support needs. We also have adapted cricket, basketball, and football. Boccia is a very loved game among the students. 

The journey has been exciting and eventful. We have recently set up the Museum of Possibilities in partnership with the Government of Tamil Nadu, a demonstration centre for accessible technology and assistive devices.  Museum Café which is a vocational training centre for bakery, confectionery and quick service restaurants. 

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