Experts, students frame disability inclusive guidelines for educational institutions
Online classes have become the norm during the Covid-19 lockdown but students with disabilities are battling challenges on many fronts. To ensure they are not left out, the Javed Abidi Foundation has sent to the Ministry of Human Resource Development a list of disability inclusive recommendations for educational institutions.
“Students did not have study material with them as they were on mid-semester break when lockdown was announced and had not taken study material with them”.
“Students with blindness will face additional challenges in writing online open book exams”.
“It will be impossible to observe physical distancing between the scribe and the person who is dictating his/her exam to the scribe”.
This Twitter thread under the hashtag #DUAgainstOnlineExams by visually impaired student Sanchit Katiyar highlights just some of the challenges and anxieties that students with disabilities are experiencing across India.
Disabled students at disadvantage
Classes on video conferencing platforms have become the norm since the lockdown but access to laptops, Internet, accessible teaching materials and sign language interpreters are among the barriers that an estimated 75,000 disabled college students are voicing.
Disability rights groups have long been demanding that the government frame a guideline for online classes and the examination schedule. On 29 April the Department of Empowerment for Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) sent a letter to the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) to frame guidelines in this regard. This is after the Javed Abidi Foundation (JAF) wrote a letter to the DEPwD highlighting how online classes were not accessible to many disabled students.
However, the MHRD is yet to respond and the JAF has followed this up with a set of recommendations for educational institutions.
Not having heard from MHRD though and with the intention of expediting the process, JAF held formal consultations with students and experts between 30 April and 3 May 2020 to formulate recommendations for the Department of Higher Education, MHRD. We sent these recommendations on 5 May and are waiting for a response. –Shameer Rishad, Convenor, Javed Abidi Foundation
Recommendations address varying disability types
The recommendations are comprehensive and cover the needs of people with varying types of disabilities. These include, in brief:
- Educational institutions should have a list of students with disabilities along with the details of their individual accessibility and accommodation needs. Students should be given the opportunity to self-identify as a PwD and seek reasonable accommodation or to share their needs in accessing online education.
- The Equal Opportunity Office or Office of Disability Services should reach out to each disabled student to check if they need any reasonable accommodation/individualised support. In case there is no such office, the institution should appoint a coordinator for this purpose.
- Provide disabled students with specialised services like tuitions, note takers, modification in teaching method/curriculum/assessment etc. online.
- Trainings and meetings online should be made accessible and inclusive. This means using an accessible web/video conferencing platform, equipped with assistive technologies like screen reader, magnifier and speech recognition software. Accessibility features should be checked before procuring the platform.
- Sign language interpreters for deaf students.
- PPTs to be should be shared in advance with people with print disabilities.
- Speakers should speak slowly and clearly to enable more accurate captioning. Videos should have captions and audio descriptions. Transcripts should be provided for deaf-blind people.
- All lectures should be recorded and made available to students with captions and transcripts.
- Social distancing may not be possible for some people with disabilities. They may need support in moving around or carrying out routine activities etc. There should be awareness regarding this amongst students, faculty and staff members.
The letter also highlights the need to ensure disabled students have access to assistive technologies. “Develop a scheme for students with disabilities to provide them with laptops and assistive technology”, it says.
“Given the government’s emphasis on Accessible India as well as Digital India, we feel that this is an opportunity for them to do the right thing and show by example how an adversity can be turned into an opportunity”, says Shameer. “While our push is for college and university students because JAF works with them as a group, this is equally applicable to school students and all students writing a variety of entrance exams. All care and steps must be taken to make online education accessible now. It must not come as an afterthought”.
- India for Accessibility of online classes a major issue for disabled students during lockdown, DEPwD intervenes
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