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Global network brings together key stakeholders to address gaps faced by disabled youth in higher education

April 29, 2019

In today's competitive world higher education is a necessity as it increases the chances of finding gainful employment. It is also a means to gaining independence, feeling confident and empowered. However, people with disabilities in India and in many parts of the world face barriers when it comes to higher education. Not many are even encouraged to think about pursuing this.

Recognizing this, the Supreme Court in 2017 directed government institutions of higher education and other aided institutions to comply with the provisions of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, which provides for reservation of not less than 5% for people with benchmark disabilities.

However, barring some exceptions like Ashoka University, Anna University and more recently Satyabama Institute of Science and Technology, not many higher institutes of learning in India have shown a commitment towards inclusion. Most of these institutes work in isolation but to make it well entrenched, a network is needed to create awareness and build an eco-system. Something akin to the role played by Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) in the United States.

Towards enabling this worldwide, AHEAD is spearheading a global network called Global University Disability & Inclusion Network (GUDIN), which aims to serve as a point of connection and communication between people and organizations around the world working in the space of inclusion in higher education.

Higher Education is one key pathway to employment as we know. We also know that increasing access to higher education increases eligibility for employment. Networks around the world are seeking to created environments where disabled youth have an equal opportunity to succeed and pursue employment as an outcome. Until now, there has not been a central organization designated to provide this connection; the GUDIN seeks to fill that void. - Stephan J Smith, Executive Director, AHEAD

Mission statement

The aim of GUDIN is:

  • Sharing best practices on inclusion of students, faculty, staff and administrators with disabilities in higher education settings around the world.
  • Initiating or promoting research on inclusion and accessibility related topics.
  • Facilitating exchanges, meetings and interactions between members.
  • Participating in data collection efforts and monitoring of the impact of the network.
  • Working with employers and other stakeholders to help students develop skills that will lead to success in the labor market after graduation.

The overall goal, adds Smith, is to increase equitable opportunities for disabled people when it comes to participating in higher (tertiary) education.

Among the organizations associated with GUDIN is v-shesh, the impact enterprise that prepares job seekers with opportunities and organizations with disability inclusion.

"We need to make sure that disabled people enter universities and graduate, says P Rajashekharan, Co-founder, V-shesh, who was among the key speakers at GUDIN's Paris launch. "A lot of effort needed on the part of universities in India to demonstrate their commitment towards inclusion and we need to focus on how to get disabled students into these universities. We want to drive this in India and this kind of network will help push that further.

The presence of such a network could also perhaps help direct much needed focus to filling the gaps in schooling when it comes to students with disabilities. And there are many, as Reena Gupta, Director, Office of Learning Support, Ashoka University points out.

"Students often tell us they don't have the academic rigor to take up the curriculum at Ashoka University, so we believe a lot of work needs to be done at the high school level. For instance, I know of a visually impaired student in class 9 who want to study math but is not being encouraged to by his school. That's the larger fight we have to take up so that these students are not stopped from taking up subjects of their choice. If we don't, by the time they are in class 11, they are left with subjects that don't help in building careers, which is sad.

In India, there has a rise in organizations coming together to create forums like GUDIN. Ashoka University, for instance, is collaborating with many Indian Institutes of Technologies to create an organization that will promote inclusion in higher education. Hopefully this put some focus into ensuring a level-playing field for people with disabilities in education and employment.

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