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SC Raps States, UGC For Not Checking Compliance With Schemes On Enhancing Access To Higher Education Of Persons With Disabilities

A Supreme Court bench of Justice AK Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan on Tuesday rapped state governments and the UGC for not checking compliance by higher educational institutions with schemes for enhancing access of disabled persons to higher education, stipulating guidelines on physical environment, transportation and information and communications technology within the premises, as formulated under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act of 2016 and its predecessor of 1995.

“Have you carried out any auditing exercise to ensure that the universities are fulfilling the requirements as per the standards laid down? What measures have been undertaken for the purpose of their enforcement,” inquired the bench, directing the states to file a status report on the compliance.

Further, it was submitted on behalf of the present petitioner, the NGO Disabled Rights Group, that the Central government was required to frame the standards of accessibility pertaining to, inter alia, the infrastructural facilities in hostels and classrooms and special formats in examination and testing models within 6 months of the notification of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Rules of 2017, but the same has not been done.

“In compliance with the apex court order dated December 9, 2010, we have already submitted our suggestions on the needs and problems of the different categories of disabled in accessing higher education and the possible solutions thereto in January, 2011. But the Central Government is yet to lay down the standards on accessibility for the purpose of section 40 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act of 2016 and Rule 15 of the Rules of 2017,” it said.

The suggestions advanced by the petitioner include provision of note takers and scribes for hearing and visually impaired students in the classroom, hostel rooms to be allotted on the ground floor with availability of attendants, barrier-free campus and wheelchair accessibility. Teaching materials should be made available in alternative formats such as Braille, books on tape, and on the Internet, with adaptive computer technology such as screen readers. Some appropriate modifications in examination and testing such as extending the time limit for the differently-abled and allowing examinations to be taken on computers equipped with appropriate software were also forwarded. Besides, the need for carrying out staff and student orientation to sensitize them to the special needs of disabled students was emphasized.

The petitioner also prayed for a direction to the Centre, the states, and the UGC to invite applications from colleges and universities for allocation of funds to materialise the goal of “inclusive education” as envisaged in Section 2(m) of the Act of 2016.

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