Accessibility of online classes a major issue for disabled students during lockdown, DEPwD intervenes
From the inaccessibility of online classes to lack of access to laptops, students with disabilities are facing many struggles during the COVID-19 lockdown. Fortunately, the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities has taken note of the matter after it was raised by the Javed Abidi Foundation.
From Zoom to Google Meet, schools and colleges across India have gone virtual since the COVID-19 lockdown was declared. However, this is not such good news for students with disabilities who are facing many issues. A chief problem is the lack of accessibility of online classes in different universities and colleges.
Inaccessible classes, availability of laptops among challenges
The Javed Abidi Foundation (JAF) has raised the matter with the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities. Shameer Rishad, Convenor, JAF, has highlighted some of the main challenges students are facing. These are:
- Access to online classes – Study material given is inaccessible as some of it is in image form and there is no alternative text for these images. Documents are not scanned properly or not converted via OCR reader. Deaf and hard of hearing students are unable to participate in lectures as there are no transcripts. Nor are there sign language interpreters.
- Exam Schedule – Many colleges have scheduled exams after the lockdown ends. This puts disabled students at a disadvantage as they are not able to access online classes. Also, with NGOs that support disabled students shut, they are unable to reach out for support when it comes to tutors or scribes.
- Fears over discrimination post lockdown – Social distancing is not possible for some disabled students who need caregiver support on a regular basis. There’s a concern that they face discrimination after the lockdown ends as they were not able to follow this practice.
The letter asks the Commissioner to issue specific guidelines to ensure disabled students are supported.
“Some students may not have access to laptops and the Internet”, says Shameer in his letter. “Hence we suggest providing free laptops and Internet if the lockdown continues. Some people with disabilities require individualised support in specific subjects. We request you to direct colleges to provide teaching assistants to provide support”.
The letter also asks that exam schedules be fixed keeping in mind the needs of students with disabilities.
DEPwD responds with advisory
The DEPwD has responded to this letter with an advisory.
Ministry of HRD, Department of Higher Education, may issue an appropriate advisory to States/UTs/Academic institutions to take measures to ensure that students with disabilities participate equally with others in online classes and also take into consideration the plight of such students while finalising the examination schedule. – KVS Rao, Director, Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities
Calling the Ministry’s response positive, law student and JAF volunteer Tapas Bharadwaj, cautions that it is just the first step towards setting up an accessible education mechanism. “A constant advocacy campaign needs to be taken up by the various stake holders in different capacities to ensure that we get an appropriate advisory by the Ministry of Human Resource and Development”.
JAF plans to keep the issue alive by working with civil society organisations to set up a proper mechanism to make this a reality. “All of it is guaranteed by the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. We are just asking for the implementation of the Act”, adds Tapas.
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