Disability and access to online education: A perspective

The pandemic has altered many facets of our lives. We have been sequestered in our homes as the virus wreaks havoc across the world. The face of education, too, has changed. Schools have become virtual, and classes are being conducted on computer screens. However, online education presents several challenges. The home environment has been stressful for many. In a country where most teachers are female, the pressure of conducting online classes is often accompanied by the burden of housework. Coping with new technology has caused severe anxiety in both students and adults. The most persistent problem, however, has been the access to these online resources.

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Online education

Although there has been some recognition of the connection between access to online education and aspects like caste and class, the role played by disability has been overlooked.

Disability affects access to online education in two crucial ways. Firstly, the correlation between disability and poverty cannot be ignored. While disability affected access to education even before the pandemic, the problem has now become more acute. People with disabilities, who are more likely to be from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, cannot access the resources required for online education. Secondly, the small number of people with the appropriate resources may face problems utilizing them. My own privilege has diminished but not undercut the role my disability has played in shaping my experience with online education. While virtual writing and drawing tools helped me cope with my poor vision, I continued to struggle with other technical aspects of the process. Staring at the computer screen for prolonged periods hurt my eyes and often caused headaches. The issues I faced ranged from a small panic attack every time my eyes darted across the screen to check if my mic was muted to tears streaming down my face as I struggled unsuccessfully to read a scanned document during an online exam.

The Javed Abidi Foundation’s research corroborates this experience. Their research states that 74,435 students have been unable to attend online classes due to the absence of guidance and inaccessibility to tools that can help with visual, hearing, or learning disabilities. Surveys conducted by Swabhimaan and the Eastern Wing of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People suggest that 56.5% of respondents struggled to attend classes, and 77% said they would fall behind because of their inability to cope with the pressures of online education. 67% of respondents also spoke about their needs for electronic devices, and 74% needed an internet connection.

How can we strive for an equal society when a large section of our population is still denied accessible education?

(Photo by PeopleImages/ GettyImages)

Online education affects people with visual disabilities

Authored By: Tarini Agarwal

Edited By: Akanksha Mallick