Concession For Persons With Disability Is Not Cheating

At the ‘Inclusion in Higher Education’ Summit organised by Ashoka University, speakers asked for a level-playing field for all youngsters, to enable them to fulfil their dreams

Zehn Kashyap, a student of class X at Vasant Valley School, New Delhi, is a poet, a disability advocate and, in her own words, “a usual teenager who likes learning new languages and annoying her younger brother.” A person with visual disability, she says we as a society are unwilling to accept that there is a problem and refrain from talking about it. Citing a list of great achievers with disabilities like Hellen Keller, Einstein, Stephen Hawking and Beethoven, “There is a need to normalise differences and to celebrate imperfections. Reciting a touching poem, she called for inclusion through action and added that empathy is a superpower the world most needs today.

Kashyap was addressing a virtual gathering at ‘Inclusion in Higher Education: Leadership Summit 2022’ organised by Ashoka University’s Office of Learning Support.

Similarly, Milli Kuriakose, an alumna of Ashoka University now a Masters student of Clinical Psychology at North Western University in the US, talked about neurodivergence as a lived concept and described how she had to read up bulky passages as many as seven times to understand the author’s intention. That being the case, certain concessions like an audio book are not an unfair advantage. These are steps towards making a class more equitable. “It’s not cheating. If I didn’t need this accommodation (concession), I wouldn’t ask for it.”

Shakul Sonker, an alumnus from Ashoka University with visual disability, described how he persisted with his aim to study sciences when all the institutes rejected his case for fears like how will he handle chemicals or operate in a physics lab. But then one constituent college of Delhi University and finally, Ashoka University granted admission to study Mathematics. Sonker described his struggle to have access to a digital format in Maths, whereas no screen reader can read images, how the faculty would give support by uttering aloud every they were scribbling on the whiteboard and how they finally managed to create the digital infrastructure. He asserted, “Accommodating disability is not a rocket science. It’s providing a level-playing field.”

The tone for the summit was set by Anil D Sahasrabudhe, Chairman, AICTE) and Pankaj Mittal, Secretary General, AIU, in their respective keynote addresses.

Sahasrabudhe pointed out how persons with disability have great strength and determination to pursue their passion, but often face rejection. He delineated how the NEP and the ranking framework address the issue of inclusion and how AICTE is emphasising accessibility in terms of movement across the campus, toilets and other structures. And since some of the persons with disabilities can’t learn the same way as others, technology support provided by schools is also emphasised.

Sahasrabudhe informed that the AICTE has decided to support one model institute in each state, where accessible education is provided making use of technology. The hostel facility will be provided by the institute to students of that state. Appropriate technologies will also have to be developed through R&D, for inclusive education.

Mittal of AIU listed the numerous barriers that need to be overcome for persons with disability – and she listed the 21 disabilities that have been identified under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. Among the problem areas are:

· Structural barriers; wherein, despite legal requirement, institutes are not completely barrier free

· Issue of access to learning resources

· Attitudinal barrier of fellow students and teachers

· Lack of special educators, counsellros for guidance

· Absence of special curriculum or examination as specified by the Act

· No reasonable accommodation

· No disability orientation programme to sensitise fellow students

Among the numerous recommendations she gave were: Appropriate building design and planning; access to wheelchair everywhere across the campus; an equal opportunity cell for grievances; special allowances for books, devices and readers for persons with visual disability; proper lighting and information in pictorial form for those with hearing disability; availability of sign language interpreters; suitable modification in curriculum; special provision of extra time in exams; specific MEd and BEd programmes and also component for special education in regular MEd and BEd programmes and in-service programmes for faculty and staff, for sensitisation, among other measures.

Several other constructive ideas were put forth during the three-hour deliberation involving all the stakeholders.

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