Volume 6 Issue 6 - September 01, 2009

D.N.I.S. News Network, India: The Ministry of Human Resource Development has come up with a draft National Policy on Information and Communication Technology in Education which also includes needs of children with disability. D.N.I.S. reported about it in the last issue. But according to Shilpi Kapoor, Managing Director, BarrierBreak Technologies, it still has a long way to go.

The policy covers I.C.T. infrastructure, digital resources and capacity building for teachers. It mentions I.C.T. software and tools for the visually impaired. In addition, it mentions teachers will have to be sensitized to the needs of children with special needs and the need for web based interfaces to conform to international guidelines on accessibility. Lastly, it mentions that the web based digital repositories should address the needs of persons with disabilities.

According to Kapoor, it needs to be ensured that all hardware and software infrastructure procured should comply with accessibility guidelines. The mention of assistive technology and aids should be broadened to include all disabilities. I.C.T. labs must have assistive technology that would benefit the students with disabilities and the same should be elaborated. Also the policy needs to ensure that the physical infrastructure of I.C.T. labs needs to conform to Universal Design.

The draft policy also talks of freeware, free and open source software applications will be preferred. "Though a few assistive technologies are today available in the open source domain, a large part of the assistive technology for students with special needs might be available as commercial software. The policy should allow for these softwares to be procured to meet the needs of students with disabilities," said Kapoor.

In regard to capacity building, beyond just sensitizing teachers, capacity needs to be created for assistive technology rehabilitation specialists, felt Kapoor. Also I.C.T. labs will need to have resource specialists who can train students with special needs.

The policy does not elaborate on the creation of digital content for students with disabilities. Students should have an equal right to education and opportunity and the first step to that would be providing content or textbooks in an accessible format. Work needs to be done to ensure that certain standards are followed so as to allow the digital repositories as well as the content creation to be accessible to students with special needs.

Another lacuna in the policy is that it does not mention methods of examination and most importantly reasonable accommodation of the individual requirements of students with disabilities. The policy also needs to cover vocational training and open and distance learning for students with special needs. "Overall for this policy to effectively create an inclusive environment for persons with disabilities, it will need to be drafted in an inclusive method providing for persons with disabilities in all areas pertaining to I.C.T. in education," said Kapoor.

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