Creating awareness and improving accessibility is key to bringing persons with special needs into mainstream education.
Physical barriers persist in preventing those with disabilities from having access to higher education. Creating awareness on this condition in educational institutions is the key to promoting higher education for persons with special needs.
This was the outcome of a programme that was held in Coimbatore recently to discuss ways to bringing persons with disability into the mainstream.
The programme on ‘Promotion of Higher Education for Persons with Special Needs' organised by the Department of Special Education of Avinashilingam Deemed University for Women had 40 representatives from 20 colleges and universities deliberating on the topic.
Participants unanimously agreed that to realise the aim of “making mainstream education not just available, but accessible, affordable and appropriate for students with disabilities,” it was necessary to create an awareness about the schemes in universities and colleges.
Besides this, the major recommendations included introducing an optional paper on special education in all universities with provision of credits for the paper, and creating a barrier-free environment in institutions for those with disabilities.
The Department of Special Education of the university has been sanctioned schemes for the ‘Teacher Preparation in Special Education and Higher Education for Persons with Special Needs'. Under the first scheme, there are three components — establishment of enabling unit in universities/colleges, providing access to persons with disabilities, and providing special equipment to augment their educational services.
Even though there were many schemes of the government and the University Grants Commission for bringing those with disabilities into the mainstream, these were not being utilised by many institutions due to lack of awareness, said vice-chancellor Sheela Ramachandran.
Enumerating the challenges encountered by persons with disabilities at institutions, Premavathy Vijayan, Head of the Department, said they included lack of conducive learning environment, inadequate attention to the learning needs of those with disabilities, and inability of the normal person to adapt to their individual needs.
“There is no adequate attention to the learning needs of those with disability both on the part of the parents as well as the community. There is also the absence of commitment on the part of community to overcome discrimination against these persons,” Ms. Vijayan said.
G. Victoria Naomi, faculty of the department, said barriers were not only physical, but also in attitude and communication. The cost of coming up with adaptations in building to make it disabled-friendly was only two per cent of the total building cost. It was not the cost that prevented the institution from making the expenditure, but the insensitive attitude of the society towards disability, she added.
Anjum Khan, a visually-challenged Ph.D. scholar at the university, listed out the various aids that she used during her course of study, which not only helped her academically but also in her personal growth.
The participants urged the department be made a nodal centre to offer various training programmes to professionals from varied backgrounds in educating persons with special needs.