Community Schools in India: Design Considerations to Improve Participation and Inclusion for Children with Physical Disabilities
Rehabilitation Science , School Design , Participation , Social Interaction , Children with Disabilities , Children with Physical Disabilities , Community School , Design and disability , Mumbai-India , Inclusive Design , Universal Design , Architects , Disability conceptualization , Qualitative Research , Case Study , Exploratory research , Accessibility and Inclusion
Background: More than 1.7 million primary school-age children do not attend school; among them, children with physical disabilities (hereinafter referred to as "children”) in grades 3-8 face significant barriers to education due to limited built environment support in Mumbai. Despite local government efforts to reduce physical barriers, inclusive education remains challenging, particularly in Dharavi, an informal settlement in Mumbai. Furthermore, there is a lack of insight into how Indian architects perceive physical disability and design needs and how this translates into designing community schools. Exploring school environments, children's experiences, and architects' perspectives is crucial to enhancing children’s inclusion. Purpose: The research was guided by three specific questions: (1a) How do Indian architects conceptualize physical disability and disability-related design needs? (1b) How is this conceptualization reflected in their community school design in Dharavi, Mumbai? (2) How does community schools’ built environment impact children's meaningful participation and social interaction in Dharavi, Mumbai? (3) What modifications could be made to the built environment to facilitate children's meaningful participation and social interaction at school? Method: I conducted two studies: a) an exploratory qualitative descriptive study involving architects' interviews to gain insight into their conceptualization of physical disability and how it influenced their school design decisions; b) an embedded instrumental case study involving multiple data sources (interviews, photograph, mental maps) with five children and ten people from their educational circle (i.e., a teacher and a family member for each child) in one community school focused on children’s participation and social interaction experiences inside the school. Findings: The architects had difficulties conceptualizing physical disabilities, leading to well-intentioned but misguided design choices that did not align with the needs of children and their educational community. Children and their education circle emphasized the importance of accessible, safe spaces with adequate physical support and informal areas for socialization, fostering friendships, and enhancing participation in academic and non-academic activities. Conclusion: Access to education is a human right, and children have the right to be actively involved in decisions about their school spaces. Architects must collaborate with children to create safe, accessible, inclusive, and conducive environments for all.