Natalya Hladkykh

Special School 'Nadia', Kyiv, Ukraine

Natalya  Hladkykh

Growing up, Natalya’s sister had a disability, and although they attended elementary school together her sister eventually had to go to a special residential school a hundred kilometers away from home. When Natalya visited the school, she met children with musculoskeletal problems, mental disorders and epilepsy, all isolated from other children. She did not understand why her sister could not study with others, but “inclusion” was not an idea in common currency at the time. As a result, Natalya formed the life goal of creating an inclusive type of education that accepts all children – where every child is important and valuable regardless of personal characteristics or abilities.

While training to be a teacher, Natalya’s first placement was at an elementary school teacher and head of a children's choreographic group. She realized that in teacher training, students were not taught much about children with disabilities. Continuing her studies, she met blind and visually impaired children. At the same time, she started working in a special school, teaching children with several serious disorders. Working as an individual teacher for 10 consecutive years, she was able to support families having children with complex developmental disorders and prove to the doctors that these children can develop if one believes in them. Unfortunately, Ukrainian society is not always ready to accept disability.

More recently, Natalya has taken charge of educational programs at the Seeing With Heart NGO. The school enrols 35 teenagers with various severe developmental disorders. One innovation she has created for them is a virtual travel programme as part of which students study different languages, cultures, traditions and religions throughout the year. This knowledge has helped the students expand their horizons and understand the world better. Her aim now is to show the teenagers’ positive results and further expand this and similar schools in Ukraine.

Natalya was nominated for the Ukraine Global Teacher Prize in 2017, and the First Lady of Ukraine has also become interested in her educational work on inclusion and tolerance.

Her dream is to create an affordable inclusive educational centre where children with complex developmental disorders will study together with other children and be fully-fledged citizens. If awarded the Global Teacher Prize, she would found a dance and motion therapy studio that would allow teachers and parents to come and talk about difficulties, find solutions, and prevent burnout. She would also aim to launch a school for children with and without disabilities, conduct exchanges for young people with disabilities from different countries, and launch a training centre for inclusive education.