Globally, around 15% of the population lives with some form of disability. Of that number, 80 percent live in developing countries. People with disabilities (PwD) are among the most marginalized groups. They face a series of barriers and are more likely to experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes. A limited support infrastructure can have a significant debilitating impact on daily life. WHO now considers disability to be a human rights issue. He emphasizes that people are disabled by society and not by their body.
Over the past 65 years, the global literacy rate in the world has increased by 4% every five years, from 42% in 1960 to 86% in 2019. However, the global literacy rate for people with disabilities n is only 3%. with only 1 percent for women. Ninety percent of children with disabilities in developing countries do not go to school, according to UNESCO. The dropout rate is also high due to the lack of adequate infrastructure, inaccessible reading material and untrained teachers. Insignificant numbers go to higher education institutes.
Lack of education has a ripple effect. Most children with disabilities lack basic employability skills. According to the UN, in developing countries 80 to 90 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed, while in industrialized countries it is between 50 and 70 percent. In most countries, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is at least double that of people without disabilities.
The pandemic has made us realize how technology is reshaping education. The lockdowns have prompted schools to quickly migrate to online education. This metamorphosis of education systems has profound implications for children with disabilities. Online education has the potential to make learning more accessible for people with disabilities. It deals with the physical barriers created by transport and mobility issues. Children have the advantage of accessing learning in the safety and comfort of their own homes. This saves them from unnecessary inhibitions in attending physical schools. Students with disabilities in higher education can also access lectures, libraries, and resources without the need to physically travel to remote campuses.
Online learning, in both synchronous and asynchronous modes, offers additional flexibility and the benefit of self-paced learning. With technological aids and assistive devices, it is possible to train children with disabilities in various skills. E-learning enables material review and repeat viewing of video conferences. Various assistive technologies such as screen readers, text magnifiers, speech recognition software, Braille keyboards, sign language interpreters, videos with subtitles, audio recordings, etc. be used.
Internet penetration is increasing rapidly. In January 2021, there were 4.66 billion active Internet users in the world, or nearly 60% of the world population. In 104 countries, more than 80% of the youth population is online. Of the 830 million young people online, 320 million (39%) are in China and India, which are among the countries with the highest incidence of disability.
Internet service prices have fallen by 50 percent on average over the past three years, and broadband and mobile services are available at much higher speeds. This bodes well for online education. Children learn quickly and adapt quickly. With the right support, adopting e-learning may not be a huge challenge.
The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals focus on “inclusive and quality education for all”. With barely nine years on target, bigger steps must be taken. Governments and educational organizations have an important role to play in making ICT accessible to students with disabilities. Those at the forefront of educational administration can facilitate the design of online courses and learning modules in easy-to-deliver formats. The initial challenges exist, but students who did not attend school due to physical limitations have at least one alternative now. This can be a good starting point for bringing in students who have been denied access to schools.
Advances in the digital economy are creating unprecedented job opportunities for people with disabilities, according to an ILO report. With the boom in the concert economy, most of the work is done from home, creating new employment opportunities for physically restricted people with disabilities. Online education could prove to be a turn of the wheel in the quest for people with disabilities to earn meaningful living.
This column first appeared in the print edition on September 25, 2021 under the title “Learning without barriers”. The author is Professor, Department of Business Administration, Faculty of Management Studies and Research, Aligarh Muslim University