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  • Writer's pictureMadhavi Latha Prathigudupu

Forget me Not - October is the month of Down Syndrome Awareness.

I learned about Down Syndrome only when I formed the Paralympic Swimming Association of Tamil Nadu along with a few like-minded people. We had called for applications from para swimmers for a championship. That was when I first met Ms Sandhya, the mother of Arti - winner of several medals in the Special Olympics. Some time later I learned about Ms Rekha Ramachandran, the founder of the Down Syndrome Federation of India. This Federation has been supporting persons with Down Syndrome and their families with great passion and concern from a very long time.


During our para-swimming events, I enjoyed watching the parents of these swimmers - to see their love and concern for their children. I could relate to their feelings since I too am a person with disability. During our conversations, parents shared with me that most of these children were going to special schools.


Personally, I have never liked the concept of isolating a segment of students under the banner of Special Schools. I always wondered why we can’t provide the opportunity to our kids (who are the future of this world) to learn to accept their fellow students with diverse requirements and to enjoy the beauty of diversity.


Recently I got the opportunity to watch an award-winning documentary film “Forget me not” by Olivier Bernier, USA, produced by NYC based Rota 6 about inclusion in education. I enjoyed this fantastic movie! The theme of this film is very close to my heart. Throughout the film I could see myself in Emilio and my parents in his parents. Though there are many differences in our circumstances - Emilio and his parents are from a city like New York and we were from a remote village in India. Yet inclusion in education is something common to both the US educational system and the Indian one. Country names may be different, policies may be different but the ultimate effect is same across the globe, as far as I can tell.


In this film, at the time of Emilio’s birth itself, his parents came to know that he had Down Syndrome. But in my case, I was affected by massive polio attack at my 7th month. It took sometime for my parents to come to terms with that situation. In this film, parents try to fight for their child’s rights for an inclusive education. But in our case, neither my parents nor I had any idea about our rights. If somebody supported us in any matter, we were tremendously grateful. Or else, we would meekly accept the insensitive attitude of some people and disadvantageous situations and moved on without giving up - making every adjustment on our end. You’ll find more about that in my autobiography "Swimming against the Tide" (https://www.pmlatha.com/book).


In Emilio’s case, schools were not ready to include him in the mainstream education. In my case schools/colleges didn’t have any problem to include me but they were not ready to provide any required accommodations for me. As a result of this insensitive attitude of educational institutions, I studied privately after my 10th standard and acquired all my academic and professional qualifications. Later I became a banker with the unstinted support of my parents.


In the latter part of my life, I became a national para swimming champion which was one of the most unexpected yet fabulous twists in my life. That led to the formation of Yes, We Too Can!!! Movement (YWTC) by me mainly to promote sports for persons with disabilities. I started this initiative after experiencing the enormous benefits of sports and the transformation sports can bring in the lives of people particularly persons with disabilities. Later we registered it as a Not for profit organisation i.e. YWTC Charitable Trust and have been working for the empowerment of Persons with Disabilities and for promoting inclusion in various walks of life like education/employment/sports/entertainment etc (www.ywtc.org)


Totally,watching Forget me Not was an unforgettable experience for me. I strongly feel visual media has the potential to greatly impact society. I am confident that this film’s powerful portrayal will definitely bring required changes in the education system. Similar efforts need to be undertaken in other countries too. In fact, we too made a short film with

our limited resources on recruitment and career growth of persons with disabilities. (https://youtu.be/ftEXzxhOjM4)


I sincerely wish Forget me not will not be forgotten but will build a legacy in the coming days.


FORGET ME NOT: INCLUSION IN THE CLASSROOM was released October 19, 2022 on DVD and via select streaming in North America. Learn more at forgetmenotdocumentaryfilm.com


Today, I’m exposed to various corporates with regard to diversity and inclusion related efforts. I do wonder had there been proper encouragement for inclusive education in a big way in the country, organisations would have created inclusive environments effortlessly in their respective organisations. How sad that all our efforts at inclusivity happen for adults! What a loss for children with disabilities! Starting early with inclusivity in school-going years has the potential to spread inclusivity far and wide!


Pic details: this pic was taken from a cultural event as a part of a Para Swimming National Championship hosted by us in Chennai in 2012 in which children from Down Syndrome Association of Tamilnadu performed dance


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