Programs for Children with Special Needs

The Challenge

Historically, access to education for children who are blind or have other special needs has not been widely available in much of the developing world.

In Indonesia, an estimated 3 million children are living with disabilities, yet fewer than 4% have access to any educational services. Many children with disabilities, especially those in impoverished communities, do not attend school at all due to transportation and economic barriers, their parents’ lack of knowledge about options, and the low number of qualified teachers.

In Sierra Leone, two million people are at risk of permanent vision loss. Children who are blind or experience low vision also lack access to education. As one of the poorest countries in the world, many of Sierra Leone's families cannot afford text books in Braille for their children. During the country's civil war (1991-2002), many schools for the blind were burned and looted, and there is still a severe lack of trained special needs teachers in the country.


Our Solution

In 2003 Indonesia’s Ministry of Education invited Helen Keller International to help forge pathways of change. In support of the government’s goal to create “Education for All,” we developed a comprehensive strategy to address the lack of access to education for children with disabilities.

Inspired by the spirit of our founder Helen Keller, who first visited Indonesia in 1958 as an ambassador for those with special needs, we introduced the groundbreaking Opportunities for Vulnerable Children program. Through it, we have developed the supportive policy, infrastructure and professional training needed to improve access to inclusive education so that children with vision impairments and other special needs can attend Indonesia’s public schools.

To date, more than 26,000 children have benefited from these efforts and are thriving in integrated classrooms in Jakarta, West Java, Central Java/Yogyakarta, East Java, South Sulawesi, and Aceh. 

The program has also trained hundreds of educators as resource teachers.  These dedicated professionals partner with traditional classroom teachers to ensure that special needs students receive additional assistance so they can engage and fully benefit from lessons with the rest of their classmates.

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”
— Helen Keller

In 2011, Helen Keller International embarked on an ambitious initiative to rebuild access to education for Sierra Leone’s blind and visually impaired. In addition to the construction of three provincial schools for the blind, we have partnered with The Perkins School for the Blind, which counts Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller as alumni, to supply Perkins Braillers and Braille text books, tape recorders, Braillet board teaching aids, and other essential teaching tools, as well as music and weaving equipment.

We have also introduced the first Special Needs Education certificate program at Sierra Leone’s University of Makeni and support vocational training for blind and visually impaired adults in computing, weaving and music.