The Supreme Court on Monday asked to place on record details of representation made to concerned authorities and their response received in a plea seeking direction to ensure that students with disabilities participate equally with others in online classes.
A Bench headed by Justice AM Kahnwilkar asked the petitioner's advocate to place on record all applications to government authorities and their response if any and posted the matter for hearing after one week.
The plea filed by Javed Abidi Foundation sought direction to the Centre to issue specific guidelines to all States, UTs and academic institutions as to ensure that students with disabilities participate equally with others in online classes and also take into consideration the plight of such students while finalising the examination schedule.
The plea has sought direction to the Union's Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, and Department of Higher Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development to ensure that the said guidelines are strictly implemented failing which the penalty as stipulated under Section 89 of the RPWD Act should be imposed strictly with immediate effect.
It asked to prevent discrimination against students with disabilities by issuing of an advisory with regards to conducting online classes during lockdown period and examination schedule post lockdown by various higher education institutions for the students with disabilities.
The PIL explained that the online classes provided by schools and colleges are inaccessible for students with disabilities for various reasons like the study material provided is at times inaccessible too because some content is in image form and no alternative text is provided for the description of the images. It added that the scanned documents are at times not properly scanned or at times not converted via OCR reader.
Further, students with hearing disabilities are not able to participate as the lectures do not have transcripts and there are no sign language interpreters, it added.
In several schools and universities, exams are yet to take place, however, with many students with disabilities not having access to the study material, it is impossible for them to prepare for the examinations. "The uncertainty as to how other reasonable accommodations like scribes etc. will be made available to these students for writing examinations is also causing anxiety to these students which is affecting their mental health and worsening the general condition of many students," the plea stated.
The PIL said, "It is not just the wrath of digital divide owing to economic reasons that students with disabilities are facing, they are also being denied the right to equality in access to education in absence of any measure to ensure inclusivity in the online medium of education."