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Education

India is not particularly far-sighted when it comes to legislating on the country’s future. The development agenda has given little attention to the education of children with disabilities, and in turn prevented breaking the vicious cycle of persons with disabilities entrapped in underdevelopment.

More than a decade since independence and children with disabilities are still stigmatized, hidden and outcast from society. With the little progress achieved of late, a system persists with students trapped in an education system that wasn’t built for them, that does not equip them with requisite skills for prospects of future employment. It is not uncommon knowledge to know of weaving, candle making, back-end operations as the only career prospects for youth with disabilities who finally crossed the education bridge. The ‘exceptionally’ bright become the one oft case of clearing the Civil Services exam, only to be further burdened with institutional discrimination and apathetic attitudinal biases.

Without education, the majority of persons with disabilities in developing countries cannot find employment and will never be able to live independently. Thus, reducing poverty among persons with disabilities and their families means providing quality inclusive education.

While a child’s disability is not what defines them, society makes it so by failing to provide them and their families with essential services that will enable them to live their lives more independently.

According to the International Labor Organization, between 785 and 975 million persons with disabilities are estimated to be of working age, but most do not work. In a July 2015 paper, ‘Towards a Disability Inclusive Education’ , a team of global experts note that of the 58 million out-of-school children at the primary level alone, an estimated one-third have a disability.

Legal Framework

As per the Constitution of India (Article 21A), “the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine.”

The Kothari Commission in 1966 recommended education of children with disabilities in regular schools. Based on the recommendations, in 1974, the Department of Social Welfare launched the Scheme of Integrated Education for Disabled Children (IEDC). The implementation of this scheme was transferred to the Department of Education in 1982. The National Education Policy, announced in 1986, reiterated that “physically and mentally handicapped children should be integrated with the general community as equal partners, to prepare them for normal growth and to enable them to face life with courage and confidence”.

Under The Rehabilitation Council of India Act, 1992, the term ‘Rehabilitation professionals’, include “special teacher for educating and training the handicapped”. The Act focuses on recognizing rehabilitation courses, setting standards for curriculum and ethics for rehabilitation professionals and registering of these professionals.

Chapter 5 (clauses 26-30) and Chapter 6 (Clause 39) of The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, are on education. The Act mandates that every child with a disability should have access to free education in an appropriate environment till the age of eighteen years. It provides for a comprehensive education scheme, which should cover transport facilities; removal of architectural barriers from schools, colleges or other institutions; supply of books, uniforms, etc; scholarships and setting up of a forum for the redress of grievances. It also mandates restructuring of curriculum for the benefit of children with disabilities. It mandates the Government to set up an adequate number of teachers’ training institutions and to assist the national institutes and other voluntary organizations with the same so that requisite trained manpower is available for special schools and integrated schools. It provides for research for designing and developing new assistive devices, teaching aids and special teaching materials. It also mentions provisions of non-formal education.

Chapter 6, Clause 39 mandates 3% reservation for persons with disabilities in all educational institutions and other educational institutions receiving aid from the Government. However, this particular section appears under the chapter “Employment”, and not in chapter 5 “Education”. This anomaly in drafting has caused considerable confusion while deciding cases relating to reservations in higher education. In Kumari Rekha Tyagi vs. Vice Chancellor, University of Delhi and others the court held that Chapter V of the 1955 Act titled "Education" nowhere provides for reservation of seats for candidates in educational institutions including institutions of scientific, technical and super technical areas, and that extending the benefit of the Act for the purpose of admission to medical college may not be in conformity with the intention of the legislature. This position was clarified by the Supreme Court in All Kerala Parents Association vs. State of Kerala. The Court stated that “We fail to understand as to how and on what principles of construction, the High Court has given a construction to the provision of Sec. 39 not only by doing violence to the language of Sec. 39 but also rewriting the provisions of Sec. 39". Discarding the error in drafting, the court affirmed the reservation of 3 per cent of available seats in government educational institutions for students with disabilities.

India ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (UNCRPD) in 2007. Path-breaking amongst other things, for education it was hoped that the ratification and adherence to the CRPD would help to close the gap between the theory of inclusive education and reality.

The implications of the CRPD for education for all was primarily seen through the Preamble on Family; Article 3 – General Principles; Article 5 – Equality and Non-Discrimination; Article 7 – Children with Disabilities; Article 8 – Awareness-raising; Article 9 – Accessibility; Article 23 – Respect for the home and family; Article 24 – Education; Article 27 – Work and Employment; Article 30 – Participation in cultural life; recreation, leisure and sport; Article 32 – International Cooperation; and Article 33 – National Implementation and Monitoring.

Post ratification of the CRPD, in August 2009, India enacted The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE). Initially, limited in scope, due to strong opposition and advocacy at the highest level by the disability sector, amendments were made to the Act wherein now:

  • Children with Disabilities were included in ‘children belonging to disadvantaged groups’, thus entitling them for the 25% reservation in neighborhood schools;
  • The definition of children with disabilities would be as defined by both The Disability Act, 1995 and The National Trust Act, 1999.

Right to Education Bill ignoring disabled, pass only after changes: disability activists

The Indian Express, August 03, 2009

The Right to Education Bill, likely to be passed by Lok Sabha on Monday, is at the centre of a new row with disability activists alleging that it deliberately excludes disabled children from its ambit, in effect denying some 30 million children their right to education.

These activists, who are accusing Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal of prompting a U-turn in the UPA government's policy on education for disabled children, want the passage of the Bill to be stalled until it is amended to include provisions for disabled children.

As proof that the previous UPA government was alive to concerns of disabled children, these activists point to previous HRD minister Arjun Singh's statement to the Lok Sabha of the government's commitment to primary education for the disabled. They also refer to the 11th five year plan which stresses on inclusive education for the disabled. Most crucially, they rely on the initial, 2005 draft of the Right to Education Bill which had several specific provisions for disabled children. The current draft has done away with many of these provisions.

Sibal denies any change in government policy. "This government is sensitive to the rights of the disabled," he told The Indian Express; "the current Bill includes disabled children within its ambit." Sibal has promised that the Right to Education Act will be his signature reform in the first 100 days of this government. He worries that if the Bill is held up now "it won't be passed for the next three years."

The Right to Education Bill makes free and compulsory education in a neighbourhood school a 'right' for every child between the ages of six to fourteen years. The Bill mandates that no child be held back or required to pass an examination until she or he completes an elementary education. The Bill also mandates that all schools, whether public or private, reserve 25 per cent of their seats for children from "disadvantaged" (as well as "economically")

Disability activists allege that the main problem with the Bill is that it does not provide for disabled-friendly infrastructure in schools. The Schedule to the Bill sets up the "norms and standards" that all schools must compulsorily adhere to, such as "playgrounds", "separate toilets for boys and girls", and "safe drinking water". But there is no express mention of special facilities for disabled children such as ramps and trained teachers.

Javed Abidi, who heads the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People, says that this makes it impossible for the disabled to access such schools. "The right to education will have no meaning for these children," he told The Indian Express.

Sibal, however, says that the Bill provides for 'barrier-free access,' meaning that physically challenged children will be able to access their neighbourhood schools. "What about visually challenged children?" counters the parent of a blind girl. "Just barrier-free access makes little difference to the blind."

Javed Abidi claims that when he, along with a group of activists, met Sibal last Friday to discuss flaws in the Bill, the minister claimed that the government did not have the money for these special facilities to be incorporated in schools across India. But Sibal denies ever referring to the monetary implications of the Bill. "I said no such thing," he said.

In 2005, the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) estimated the possible financial repercussions of the Bill. Their estimate was that the additional burden would be between 54,000 crore and 73,000 crore per year for six years. But Mithu Alur, founder chairperson, Spastic Society of India (Mumbai), says that the costing fears over special facilities for the disabled are overblown. "Under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan and the 11th five year plan, money has already been allotted for disabled education," she says. She feels there is disconnect between what the government has allotted for the disabled, and the assumptions the current HRD minister is possibly harbouring. Both Alur and Javed Abidi were members of the CABE when its report on financial estimates was released.

The other criticism that disability activists have with the current Bill is that disabled children are not categorised as "disadvantaged." "Disadvantaged" children such as Scheduled Castes, Tribes and Other Backward Classes (along with economically "weaker sections") are entitled to 25 percent reservations in all schools. The 2008 draft included disabled children in the definition of "disadvantaged children", but the current draft has deleted "disability" from the definition.

Syamala Gidugu, Executive director of Action for Ability Development and Inclusion, an NGO working on disability rights, says that this is deliberate, and demonstrates the intent of the government. But Sibal said that this is not accurate. "The definition of 'disadvantaged' is broad and wide ranging," he says. "It is up to the state government to define disadvantage, and they could well include disabled children from the neighbourhood. It is up to them."

Sibal also points out that the government's intentions can be seen in Chapter II of the Bill which states that" a child suffering from disability... shall have the right to... the provisions of... the said Act." However, Mithu Alur says that even this definition of "disability" is badly drafted as it only deals with the physically handicapped, excluding those with "autism or cerebral palsy."

Several disability groups are planning a protest tomorrow at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi. Around the same time, the Bill will likely be put to vote in Parliament. Malini Alur, a senior events manager at Oxford book store Mumbai, spoke at a press conference organised against the Bill today. The wheelchair bound Malini is afflicted with cerebral palsy, but this has not stopped her from acquiring two masters degrees. Speaking through an electronic aid, she said: "Without an education, I would never have been able to get my job. I'd like to appeal to the government, let us be educated with our brothers and sisters."

The Sustainable Development Goals adopted at the United Nations in September 2015, now call for access to quality education for all children by 2030, and opportunities for lifelong learning.

With the launch of the Sugamaya Bharat Abhiyaan (Accessible India Campaign) in December 2015, it is hoped that newer dimensions to education most often ignored previously, such as accessibility of schools, transport to schools, documents, school books and websites, shall be encouraged.

Despite all these measures, there have been issues in their implementation. As government services further dilapidate, India is moving towards privatization and availing assumed public goods such as education, by private players. However, ironical as it is, the above mandates/schemes have covered only Government institutions and discrimination in private institutions has not been addressed.

Elementary Education

Some of the stark realities of the status of education of disabled students in India were revealed in a research study conducted by NCPEDP in 2004. Of the 319 schools surveyed, only 89 bothered to respond. In the respondent schools, only 382 children with disabilities were enrolled – a mere 0.5% of the total student population! 34 out of 89 schools did not have a single disabled student and 18 stated that they did not admit disabled students. 8 years after the Disability Act, and most schools did not provide any academic and infrastructural support to facilitate education such as braille books, hearing aids, accessible classrooms.

Schooling a neglected issue for the disabled

Times of India, September 20, 2004

The survey released by National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) has brought the stark realities facing status of education of disabled children to the fore. Perhaps, certain things can't be captured by statistics and these are the experiences of parents which seek to find admission for their children, which only lend credence to the reality that education for the disabled is a neglected field.

Not only is there a substantial shortage of educational institutions, but the process of seeking admission can be a harrowing experience for the parents. Access to information is not easily available and some of the institutions involved in educating special children can themselves be quite apathetic as the following incident highlights.

Navneet, a young educated lady in her early 30s, is the mother of Nanki, a girl diagnosed with 'delayed development of the intellect.' She lost her husband in unfortunate circumstances seven years back and is bringing up her daughter as a single parent. Nanki studied for a couple of years at the special school wing of Lady Irwin College. Since she had been showing signs of improvement, Navneet was recommended to seek admission for her in an integrated set-up.

At this time, Navneet heard about a well-known school in Delhi, which has in place a learning centre to provide inclusive educational opportunities to children with special needs.

Thus began an ordeal, which lasted for more than a year. The first year was spent in repeated meetings where the authorities were sympathetic to her on the front but would avoid meeting her and didn't go beyond telling her to put in applications. There was no initiative from the school and after close to a year, she was told to get an IQ assessment done from a counsellor recommended by the school in October 2003.

The assessment was done for a fee and the IQ of the child could not be gauged. But the counsellor was quite encouraging and affirmed that the child would benefit immensely by studying in an integrated school. Even though the IQ could not be found out, the counsellor was of the view that children like Nanki would normally fall in the category between 'slow learners' and 'mild retardation'.

The school told Navneet that they would get back to her as soon as the admission process would commence. Nanki was called for an interview in March where she was independently assessed for half an hour for rapport building in the absence of the parent. When the school did not get back to her in 20 days, Navneet approached them again and she was simply told that she could not be offered admission, as certain requirements could not be met.

They never disclosed the exact reason or what criteria they used to judge her ability. The apparent basis of selection was the counsellor's report and an interaction longing for just about half an hour, and this after a year and a half of hectic running around.

The unpleasant experience and the indifferent attitude of the school left Navneet quite despondent but she did not lose hope and continued with her efforts elsewhere. Soon, she approached St. Mary's school where the principal took a personal interest in the case.

Normally, special children are evaluated on five parameters that include motor ability, academic skill, social interaction, language skills and personality development (self-help) skills. Nanki was evaluated only on the latter three skills which comprise the confidence index as the first two could be developed.

She was found to be fit and offered admission in inclusive set-up. Ironically, while a school which has a learning centre in place refused to admit her, another which does not have a formal set-up found her fit to be admitted in a class with other non-disabled children and encourages learning through peers.

Eventually, it was a blessing in disguise as the progress of the child in the first four months has been quite encouraging and she is enjoying studying in the school. Navneet says she was fortunate as compared to other parents. Imagine the plight of parents who can't afford the cost of education.

Dismal education conditions for disabled students

The Hindu, September 14, 2004

Reiterating their determination for a year-long campaign to "mainstream disabled students in education", the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People has released a study on "Education scenario vis-a-vis students with disabilities".

According to the study, of the 119 universities that responded, the total number of disabled students was only 1,635. Of these universities, 24 clearly stated that they did not follow the mandatory 3 per cent reservation for disabled students.

"This report clearly shows the abject failure of the Indian education system. The country made a big mistake for going in for what is coming to be called "special education". By setting up these special education institutes like the Blind Schools, Deaf Schools and Spastics Societies, all that they managed to do was to create isolated islands. Neither was a `normal' child exposed to disabled ones nor vice-versa. It just creates a false protection for some years," said executive director, NCPEDP, Javed Abidi while releasing the report today.

Educational institutions also appear to be ill-equipped to support differently-abled students, as per the report. In all the 119 respondent Universities, only 1,203 students with orthopaedic impairments were enrolled. And shockingly, only 18 Universities reported that they provided appropriate desks and chairs for students with disabilities, only 11 provided wheelchairs and only nine of them provided access to tricycles.

While the number of visually impaired students added up to only 311 students, according to the report, only 16 universities had special computer software and only 10 universities provided access to books in Braille. As per the report, it appears that the worse affected category is the hearing impaired as only 10 of the universities provide sign language interpreters.

Pointing out one of the lacunae in the system, Mr. Abidi said, "I don't understand why education for the disabled falls under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. If there is a Department for Education under the Human Resource Development Ministry, then why does this fall into a separate Ministry. After all, the educationists are all associated with the Department of Education".

Challenging the slogan of ‘Education For All’, he added, "This is not `Education For All' when we forget such a large part of our population". As part of their campaign, NCPEDP is also planning a seminar to discuss the various issues.

The study has also tried to incorporate status of education of differently-abled students in mainstream schools.

In the 89 respondent schools, it was revealed that only 382 students with disabilities were enrolled.

Education in India generates several diverse data sets produced by numerous public and private authorities. NCPEDP’s cursory look at data sets only puts into perspective the arrested progress of education of children with disabilities.

NCERT’s Eight All India School Education Survey (8th AISES) , with a reference date of September 2009, showed that a dismal 2,74,445 (21.11%) schools out of a total 12,99,902 schools adhere to inclusive education for children with disabilities. While 60.47% primary schools adhere to inclusive education, when the focus of education begins to turn towards technicalities in subjects, only 6.59% of secondary and 5.07% of higher secondary schools are inclusive. Attitudinal bias prevalent enough, a lack of opportunity further hampers prospects for children with disabilities.

Take, for example, the case of the largest board in India, CBSE, whose results for the year 2003 had only 909 students with disabilities pass the exam constituting a mere 0.1% of the total of 6,32,014. In 2016, while 3510 students with disabilities were registered, 3504 appeared for the exam and 3335 passed, from a total of 1496066 who appeared, making it a mere 0.23% of children with disabilities. Evidently, not much has improved!

The case for inclusive education is strong enough not just for outcomes in terms of literacy. Inclusive education has the potential to transform societies, simply by allowing children from diverse backgrounds to grow up together, to understand differences, and more importantly, to understand accommodation of these differences. Students with exposure to peers with disabilities can be architects of more inclusive and empathetic societies. Only then would the future lawyers, architects, bureaucrats and decision makers be simulated to understand disability.

Higher Education

In NCPEDP’s 2003 survey, out of the 7,13,167 reported number of university students, merely 1500 or 0.2% or so were disabled. Out of them, 1,163 were orthopedically disabled, 307 were visually impaired and only 38 were deaf. The enrolment rate at college level was 0.5%.

A decade later, NCPEDP’s 2013 - 2014 survey showed that students with disabilities filled only 0.56 percent of the 3 per cent seats reserved for them in all public institutions of higher education. It revealed shocking statistics, that girls accounted for only 22.7 percent of the total number of disabled students, as opposed to the 74.08% enrollment rate for males. Of the total number of disabled students surveyed, 46.67 per cent had orthopaedic disabilities, 32.13 percent were visually impaired and only 5.16 per cent were speech or hearing impaired.

Seminar to discuss higher education for disabled

The Hindu, August 15, 2004

Alarmed over a finding that just 1.2 per cent of the 3.6 lakh disabled youth in the country had access to higher education, the Union HRD Minister, Arjun Singh, today said in the next month a national seminar with top educational bodies would take up the issue and make efforts to improve the situation.

"The ones who are really disabled are those who cannot understand the disabled. A seminar in September would deliberate on the issue of improving access to higher education to the disabled," Mr. Singh said at a seminar here.

Top educational bodies like UGC, AICTE, NCERT, Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan are expected to participate in the seminar.
Prominent disabled activist Javed Abidi said though the country got its freedom 57 years ago, the disabled are still not free as far as access to education is concerned.

Referring to a study done by the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), Mr. Abidi said the country's higher educational system is not accessible to 98.8 per cent of its disabled youth.

"This reveals the dismal state of adherence to the three per cent reservation for disabled students as mandated by the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995," he added.

"Though Special Education is under Social Justice Ministry, it ideally should have been under the HRD Ministry as it (HRD Ministry) deals with the education of all others," Mr. Abidi said.

The survey blames technological and infrastructural barriers at higher educational institutions for the low enrolment rate, and consequently, low placement rates of disabled youth.

Away from striking Bullseye: The lost debate in education for children with disabilities

The debate on education in the country today at large is questioning the quality of education being offered to the child. One then has to ask, if inclusive education is being interpreted true to its definition?

Sadly, multiple reports of schools refusing admission to students with disabilities, or subjecting admitted children to abuse and neglect, are rampant. Their vulnerability extends beyond their enrolment. In addition, the lack of evidence of learning outcomes in low-income settings for girls and boys with disabilities, in particular, remains a challenge in understanding how school systems can be more responsive to children with different learning needs.

The condition of special education in India is abysmal notwithstanding the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment providing financial assistance to NGOs to set up special schools under the Deendayal Disability Rehabilitation Scheme (DDRS). Moreover, it is common knowledge that the work of a special educator is often perceived as social service. The need of the hour is skilled professionals. The special school presence continues as they enable basic access such as accessible school buses, that are denied to a child if it wishes to take admission in a regular school. Inclusive education then that is already substandard poses its own dangers of allowing children with disabilities to fall through the cracks. Issues below seek to address prevalence of the many gaps.

Special schools make you aloof, not normal

The Asian Age, October 5, 2004

Visually Impaired twenty-year old Neelima is a product of a special school and has a brilliant academic record.

However, despite her achievements she suffers from low self-esteem each day. The reason: Having studied exclusively with the visually-impaired, she is afraid to mingle with the normal people.

“Had she studied in an integrated school her case would have been entirely different. The special school has harmed her personality restricting her growth,” says Nikhil, a visually-impaired lecturer of Delhi University.

Majority of the disabled children in the country are out of school. And those who are in the classrooms are being deprived of benefit of integrated and inclusive education, almost confined within themselves.

India has over 3,000 special schools. NGOs engaged in the welfare of the disabled children strongly contend that the special school for children with special needs has major drawbacks. “It is expensive, it has only a limited reach,” underlines Javed Abidi of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People.

“The most concerning factor is that it is discriminatory and it segregates children based on disability,” he claims.
The chief commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, Dr. Uma Tuli agrees, “special education is discriminatory and violates human rights. Children with mild and moderate disabilities in general schools can be integrated with others. But they must be provided extra supporting aids to facilitate the integrated education.”

She adds: “At Amar Jyoti, I have tried to promote a holistic approach of integrated education, vocational training, medical care and self-employment in one premise, thus giving them barrier free environment.”

“The National Policy on Education 1986, advocates Integrated Education in general schools for the locomotor impaired and mildly disabled children, and Special Education for the severely handicapped children.

The main aim is to integrate the physically disabled and mentally challenged children into the general community, thus preparing them to live independent lives,” she says. Mr. Abidi adds, “The Persons with Disabilities Act 1995 also promotes the integration of disabled children into normal schools. However, with the existing discriminatory policies in the education system for the disabled students the goal of universal elementary education will remain a dream.”

Inclusive education must go rural

The New Indian Express, September 7, 2005

The South Zone Regional Consultative Workshop on Inclusive education, held in Chennai on Saturday, witnessed heated debates, discussions and springing up of new ideas.

Educationists, social workers and students discussed various issues concerning the policy statement issued recently by the Human Resources Development Ministry on inclusive education. One of the objective stated in the statement on providing home-based learning for persons with severe, multiple and intellectual disability was seriously criticized by the participants.

Poonam Natarajan, founder, Vidya Sagar, an organization for spastics, said: “We are not for home-based learning because some of the disabled children would want to come out and study in schools. Education should be for all. This objective should be changed in the statement.” And the intelligence level could actually be same for these children like others, she added.
According to School Education Secretary Girija Vaidyanathan, “the main idea of inclusive education should be to reach out to the children even in rural areas. We should also be assessing the needs of such students. Surveys should be conducted in rural areas to identify such children.”

The need to have broad-based education system that would help bring children with special needs into the mainstream was stressed at the workshop.

Rajul Padmanabhan, deputy director of Vidya Sagar, said: “Everything that is available for a normal child should be given for the disabled child too. Activity-based flexible curriculum should be evolved so that all the children could benefit.”
Rati Misra, Senior Programme Officer of National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), which jointly organized the workshop with Vidya Sagar, said: “We are trying to generate many opinions on the statement. We would be conducting more such seminars and finally draft recommendations to be given to the government.”

Keshav Desiraju, Joint Secretary, Department of Higher and Secondary Education, Ministry of Human Resources and Development (MHRD), said, “We are very keen on the discussions that is going on about the inclusive education which is a very important statement. We have to focus on getting trained teachers who could help both the normal and disabled children.”

According to him, in the next 10 years, the number of children who would be attending schools could increase and in this situation, resources was a challenge. “The state governments should play a crucial role in expanding their resources,” he added.

Teacher Training

According to NCERT’s 8th AISES, the number of teachers, who had received training of at least two weeks in inclusive education, was dismal. Only 1.32% teachers were equipped to handle special children, which is 80,942 out of 58,76,273 teachers. There is, therefore, a need to upgrade and include curricula on inclusive education in the national standard for teacher training.

Infrastructure deficits

Legal guidelines for educational institutions emphasize ramps and other infrastructural facilities to ensure free movement of students with disabilities. But, the 8th AISES, reveals that out of the total schools only 10.47% have handrails, and 3.81% have adapted laboratories.

A lack of toilets has been proven as a major factor contributing towards the gap in gender wise enrollment, but with a mere 7.64% schools having adapted lavatories, there is no element of surprise left in knowing that there was a drastic decrease of 68.05% in students with orthopaedic disabilities from 2002-2009.

DU still a nightmare for differently-abled

The Asian Age, June 11, 2011

It seems that the dream of pursuing higher studies for the differently-abled is still distant. Delhi University might have taken some steps to ease the admission process for them, but several stumbling blocks still persist.

Wheelchair-bound Sonu Gupta, 23, passed Class 12 two years back but didn’t take up admission in college even though he has always wanted to continue studying. “Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches,” Sonu remarks. “All the major universities might have made special provisions for the disabled, but reaching the campus is a Herculean task,” Sonu explains.

“Low floor buses may be disabled-friendly, but for those on crutches or wheelchairs, boarding it from the bus-stand is very difficult. So much money has been spent on the footpaths and foot overbridges, but not adequate research has been done before making the provisions for the disabled there,” laments the table tennis champion.

Another wheelchair-bound student Gulshan Kumar, 19, is aspiring to join college this year, but hasn’t been receiving any positive response from friends. Even his previous experiences with the educational setups haven’t been good. “I know how difficult it has been to go to a school without ramps. Thankfully many schools have them now. I hope things are better in college,” he says.

“The University has organized a team of volunteers, teachers, counselors and sign language experts who help physically-challenged candidates in completing their forms and formalities. Every year arrangements are made by the Equal Opportunities Cell of the university for the special students,” informs S. K. Vij, former Dean and advisor, DU.

Activist Javed Abidi, chairperson of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People, explains why he thinks the changes announced by the educational institutions and the government are cosmetic only. “DU may boast of the reservation of hundreds of seats for the disabled, but how many seats are actually filled? Also, has anyone checked out the dropout rate, and the reasons behind that? How many hostels in the DU are disabled-friendly?” he asks.

Harish Sharma, 21, a student on crutches, says that he is dependent on at least two escorts to help him go to college. “there is absolutely no off campus facility unlike in the Western countries.” he says.

Abidi adds that accessibility is certainly an issue. “The University had planned to ply special buses within the campus, but the idea is still pending. Let’s suppose that the University has facilities within the campus, but the point is how does one reach there?” he adds.

“The Universities, UGC and the government need to get more serious when it comes to talking about the issues concerning the disabled,” says Abidi.

Schools ignore disabled

Deccan Herald, September 9, 2004

Hyderabad: Not a single school in the State has a ramp to help the physically handicapped enter the school buildings. Only two percent of the 90,000 general schools in the State have Braille teachers to teach the visually challenged. No school has special toilets for the disabled. All these statistics mock the promise of the government to give ‘equal’ treatment to the disabled.

A majority of the schools have been implementing the three percent reservations for the disabled. However, Welfare Department officials say that the disabled people don’t prefer general schools because of the lack of facilities. Even though efforts to bring the disabled to schools have succeeded. AP United Teachers’ Federation general secretary N Narayana said that only 10 percent of the handicapped students continued their studies in general schools.

Disabled persons cannot keep pace with ‘normal’ students in the rough and tumble and the rush of a normal school. This makes them feel alienated. The State government provides free education and scholarships to disabled students till Class X. The government also provides financial assistance of Rs. 1,700 to students who complete their degree in law, to enroll for practice in courts. However disabled students usually don’t pursue their studies to that level.

Koteswara Rao, a former chairman of the Handicapped Finance Corporation said that several representations had been given to the State for provision of special facilities for the disabled in schools.

State under attack

Convenor of the National Disability Network Javed Abidi on Sunday accused the government and its agencies of being insincere towards the Persons with Disabilities Act of 1995, which promises three percent reservations for the challenged in education and jobs. He said the Hyderabad Airport too deprived him of access to an ambulift. When he arrived from Delhi by an IA flight on Saturday, the airport staff physically lifted him with his wheelchair and brought him out of the aircraft.

Lack of Data

Unfortunately, due to lower reporting in the census, the lower-than-actual figures have other repercussions. The census says that more than 54.51% of India’s disabled population is literate. But even primary dropouts manage to pick up sufficient skills to be declared literate, such as writing one’s name. This however does not result in employability prospects. However, the need for greater attention and resources for persons with disabilities in India is clear from the fact that India’s disability numbers, even with the under-reporting, are higher than the population of entire nations.

Accessible learning and teaching materials

One would not discount that advances in assistive technology have had something to do with improvements in learning outcomes. Digital screen readers and magnifiers, text-to-speech apps, tactile diagrams make sure that a blind student and a sighted one are on the same page.

While the state has the intent to support students with disabilities, as understood from the central government's Assistance for Persons with Disabilities (ADIP) scheme, the Scheme of Inclusive Education for Disabled at Secondary Stage (IEDSS), access to material, scribes and readers; and easing exam processes. In practice, however, the process to put intent to action is far from smooth. Copyright restrictions were only recently, and after a tough fight, lifted for the use of the disabled. While Digital India is being emphasized, and there is a rise in the concept of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS), it is a matter of debate if emphasis will be put on accessibility of information and technology. Moreover, it isn't just about getting the tools to students, training is also vital. The usage is also predominantly biased towards urban spaces, especially when media reports of 2016 speak of screen readers such as JAWS being used in Allahabad for the first time!

Can't read, so use new tech to let books speak

The Times of India, January 31, 2010


NEW DELHI:
Fifteen-year-old Ravi has never read a book. Diagnosed with a brain disorder when he was just three years old, he was taught how to read in a school for special children. But apart from some local newspapers and occasional letters from his family, he could never manage to enjoy a book because reading printed words was never comfortable to him.

On Saturday, Ravi was among the 300 print-impaired people — all dressed in identical blue sweatshirts and suffering from various disabilities like blindness, autism, dyslexia etc — who gathered at Pragati Maidan as the World Book Fair kicked off. Taking part in 'Right to Read' campaign organized by Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), they tried to create awareness about the plight of nearly 70 million people in the country who cannot read but, nevertheless, have the ability to enjoy a book or get information if book publishers take care to use the technology.

"We want that people with disabilities should also be able to enjoy popular books like White Tiger or Five Point Someone. But for this, a lot needs to be done. The outdated copyright act needs to be amended so books can be converted to form which is accessible like audio books. Many publishers and writers do not give permission to have their books converted," says Nirmita Narasimhan, programme manager of CIS.

As Amina flashes her wide grin, she seems just like any other normal 12-year-old child. However, a learning disorder stopped future studies for her and now her parents want to get her "settled" in life. "I want to study further," was all she said. Amina has come from a small town in Bihar and is in Delhi with an NGO that is helping her adjust to life as a dyslexic.
Another participant in the campaign, Manoj, is blind. While he learned braille several years ago, his biggest regret is that because of his disability, he cannot enjoy the latest bestsellers. " I read whatever books are available in braille. Popular books are never accessible to me," he said. The nationwide campaign began last year and since then has taken place in Kolkata and Mumbai, with Delhi being the third destination.

"The campaign seeks to draw attention to the fact that out of nearly one lakh books that are published each year, barely 700 are available to people who cannot read print. The books can be converted into formats like braille, audio and large print to make them accessible to disabled people using screen readers (talking software) but it's rarely done," said a campaign volunteer.

Members of the campaign claimed that according to World Blind Union nearly 5% books are available to print-impaired persons in the developed countries. But in India the number of such books is just .5%. Javed Abidi, convener of Disabled Rights Group and one of the key-note speakers in the campaign, said: " Mostly it's the visually impaired who have carry out the task to make the books more accessible to them. They have to scan the book and convert it and so that they can enjoy it. This needs to be changed. The onus should be on the publishers so books are made accessible to everyone."

The leaders of the campaign approached Union HRD minister Kapil Sibal when he came to speak at the inauguration ceremony of the fair. The minister said he has already done a lot for disabled citizens. Since the campaign was launched, over 600 authors and publishers have pledged their support to the campaign. " While technology has enabled the print-impaired community to access print materials in electronic formats that can be read using assistive technologies, converting books to these formats is not permitted by the law. The campaign also seeks necessary amendments in the Indian Copyright Act," said Narasimhan.

19-yr-old rewrites exam rules for disabled students

Hindustan Times, May 5, 2011

19 year old Jaswinder Singh Sodhi has just provided a hope for the disabled to pursue a career in computer engineering. Suffering from cerebral palsy, like 25 lakh other children in India, Sodhi has convinced the government to change its archaic rule of allowing a person to write answers on behalf of a disabled student.

Now, the government will allow disabled the option to use modern aids such as computers, to answer question papers, apart from a writer.

Sodhi will be the first student affected by cerebral palsy in India to have an option, including CAD, to answer the engineering drawing question paper on May 13, courtesy the HRD ministry.

"We will ask University Grants Commission to prescribe modern aids for the disabled students to appear in examination for different streams," a senior HRD ministry official said.

Jaswinder’s parents JS Sodhi and Neelam Sodhi, both doctors by profession, realised in
November 2010 that a writer will not be able to understand instructions of their son for the engineering drawing paper at his college Guru Nanak Dev Engineering College, Ludhiana.

A child with cerebral palsy cannot draw like normal children because of limited control over hands and therefore Sodhis wanted authorities to allow Jaswinder to use Computer Aided Design (CAD) used by majority of architects and engineers.

“Despite modern aids being available government is forcing disabled students to depend on a writer," said Javed Abidi, who runs the Disabled Rights Group.

Neelam Sodhi told HT that they were not asking for relaxation in the question paper but wanted a system to test their son’s "intelligence correctly".

That was beginning of a long and tiring journey for Jaswinder and his parents.
They knocked the doors of technical education bureaucracy at each level – the college, Punjab

Technical University, Punjab government and the All India Council for Technical Education --- but failed to get a favourable response.
"Sometimes it had been very insulting, degrading and frustrating. We have cried a lot when nobody listened," she recalled, in an emotionally choked voice.

Finally, additional secretary in HRD ministry Sunil Kumar came to their rescue. Kumar in this April asked the vice chancellor of the university to provide all help to Jaswinder to his disability and enable him to appear in the examination for engineering drawing.

“Kumar’s letter worked,” Sodhi said on Wednesday, after a meeting with the vice-chancellor.
The university has asked the college to provide Sodhi with the option to use CAD for appearing in the examination on May 13 and decided to have a new examination policy for disabled students in Punjab.

The Jaswinder case has again highlighted the government’s apathy towards disabled people, despite several pronouncements.

The Central government decided that there will be a special unit in education regulatory bodies such as UGC and AICTE to enable the disabled to get higher education during the 11th five year plan ending in March 2012.

The government also ratified the UN convention for disabled in 2008, making a similar declaration.

"Everything has remained on paper," Abidi said.

“I hope Jaswinder would have stirred the government into action”.

Higher Investment

Under the National Scholarship Scheme which is funded from Trust Fund for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, financial assistance is provided to students with disabilities to enable them to pursue professional or technical courses from recognized institutes and get employed/self- employed. 30% scholarships are reserved for girls.

The current lack of funding and investment is primarily due to three main factors:

  1. a widely held misbelief that it is too expensive to include children with disabilities;
  2. perceptions of low expected returns to schooling; and
  3. a lack of reliable data on incidence, educational participation and achievement of children with disabilities.

Private Sector participation is close to nil, with even those projects that emphasize education, forgetting to enable the inclusion of students with disabilities.

Conclusion

Historically, with the government playing little role in the early days in the education of persons with disabilities, NGOs, Madarsas, and concerned individuals took on the role of teaching. MSJE began to give grants to these initiatives, without really taking on the responsibility directly. MHRD that looks into the education of the entire country then started talking about integration and inclusion of persons with disabilities in the regular education system. This lead to a division, where the two ministries, at the national level, were unclear as to whose responsibility it was ultimately and started passing on the buck to each other.

The country is confronting itself with a gamble it has placed in front of itself. Out of 2.9 million children with disabilities in India, 990,000 children aged 6 to 14 years (34 percent) are out of school. Despite a demographic dividend, ignoring a section, not only defeats the purpose of the promise of inclusive education, now a constitutional right, it also ensures policies and their implementation do not rectify the mistake of not including children with disabilities.
An effort in this direction is all it will take to make this paradigm shift that makes the difference between dependence and independence.

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