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Digital education for children with disabilities

The pandemic has born heavy consequence on the education system, with schools being shut for more than a year now. As schools are closed, the education of children shifted to digital medians.

The Education Ministry has laid down new guidelines for producing digital education resources for children with disabilities. This comes after a year in which the COVID-driven shift to online education has spotlighted the gaps in the resources.

The guidelines released:

The guidelines were released by Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank on Tuesday, are based on four guiding principles, stipulating that all resources must be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust for disabled students.

They suggest that all textbooks be made digitally accessible in a phased manner. This will ensure the availability of the material in multiple formats such as text, audio, video and sign language with turn-on and turn-off features. Detailed technical standards have been provided.

The closure of regular schools and learning centres due to COVID-19 has led to extraordinary challenges for disabled children.

As an example, a current examination by the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy revealed that more than half of the NCERT textbooks accessible on the government’s digital education platform DIKSHA weren’t accessible for visually impaired college students.

Supplementary content

The guidelines implement strategies to provide supplementary content for varying disabilities, including students who face visual and hearing challenges, those on the autism spectrum, those with intellectual or special learning disabilities, and those with multiple disabilities.

It said that the learning activities must include audio, visual and tactile experiences, while evaluation must be multimodal.

Ironically enough, while the guidelines call for the use of image descriptions wherever pictures are used in order to be accessible to visually challenged students using screen readers, this is not even followed by the guidelines document itself, according to Muralidharan, secretary, National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled.

“So much for a document that talks of e-accessibility,” he said. “As guidelines, they are very comprehensive and cover all aspects … Concerns of each disability are identified and solutions worked around them. How far they would be implemented is something that we will have to see. The taste of the pudding will lie in its eating.”

The roadmap for implementation is not mentioned in the guidelines. The subsequent steps are the nomination of an expert technical team to update the DIKSHA platform, followed by training and development of prototypes of the accessible digital textbooks.

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