Visually challenged students, NGOs hail FM Sitharaman's announcements on development of special e-content

Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala) [India], May 17 (ANI): Visually challenged students and NGOs working for their cause have welcomed the announcement by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman regarding the development of special e-content for visually and hearing-challenged children which will be made available in the coming days.

"When we speak of inaccessibility to online education, usually everyone speaks about students from low-income groups and those from backward communities. But we don't address the issues faced by the visually challenged student. Children with blindness, low vision and print disability are staying home and even those who can afford smartphones and internet access do not have the expertise to learn online," said Ram Kamal, Director, Chakshumathi, an NGO that works for visually impaired students.

"They have to be trained to make them ready for online education and it is the only way to flatten the inaccessibility curve in education. The announcement by the Finance Minister of developing special e-content for visually and hearing challenged is a welcome one that will bridge the digital divide existing between normal students and special students," he said.

He said special content is needed for visually challenged along with proper training for them to access the technology.

Haroon Kareem, a 10th standard visually challenged student, who wrote his SSLC examination using a computer for the first time in Kerala, told ANI that the announcement by FM Nirmala Sitharaman would help students like him.

"It is a very good move. It will help scores of students like me, enabling us to have access to online content and study material," Haroon said.

Partnering with Google, BookShare, Benetech, University of Birmingham, Progressive Access, IIT Delhi and Daisy Forum of India, Chakshumathi has launched a campaign "Let's Flatten inaccessibility curve" with an aim of popularizing the importance of assistive technologies in studies and in the life of visually-challenged and print disabled.

"In an effort to give accessibility to online education for visually challenged students, a free course has also been launched as part of the campaign that has found takers from across the world. When it comes to blindness the students face the same issues anywhere in the world. Already more than 60 students have registered from regions including Europe, Africa, Caribbean islands, Indian subcontinent countries including Pakistan to attend a 60 days online training programme in assistive technologies for education," Kamal said.

Speaking about the course, Prof. V.K. Damodaran, Chairman of Chakshumathi, said, "Through this course, visually challenged and print disabled students can get tutored and master the techniques of using computers and smartphones and through them, learn science and mathematics, within 60 days."

Speaking about changes being made in the Education sector in the wake of COVID-19, Sitharaman had said that the PM eVidya programme for multi-mode access to digital/online education will be launched immediately.

"This will consist of DIKSHA, a one-nation, one-digital platform facility for school education (one nation, one digital platform). One earmarked TV channel for each class (one class, one channel) will also be a part of this. There will be extensive use of radio, community radio stations and podcasts," she said.

The Finance Minister also announced a special e-content for visually and hearing-challenged children which will be made available in the coming days, she also lauded the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development for coming up with the plan. (ANI)