INTERNATIONAL Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) has been celebrated on Dec 3 every year since 1992.
The theme for this year, “Building Back Better: Toward A Disability-inclusive, Accessible And Sustainable Post Covid-19 World”, is fitting as it addresses the need to rebuild a new world that also caters to the needs of persons with disabilities.
Awareness of the issues concerning persons with disabilities is growing, but it has remained on a superficial level because their stories are generally still unheard.
In the education sector, as the world is forced into the “new normal” of online/distance learning, children/ students with disabilities are struggling to be included.
A policy brief titled “A Disability-inclusive Response to Covid-19” published by the United Nations outlines the problems facing children with disabilities in accessing education: “Students with disabilities are least likely to benefit from distance learning solutions. Lack of support, access to the Internet, accessible software and learning materials are likely to deepen the gap for students with disabilities.
“Disruption to skills and training programmes are likely to have far-reaching effects on youth with disabilities who face a multitude of barriers to entering the workforce.”
To aggravate the situation, these students also face difficulties coping with mental stress as the movement control order has made them feel more excluded from their peers and teachers who are their fundamental support system.
If these issues are not resolved, students with disabilities are likely to face a bleak future, and the promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – to leave no one behind – would not be delivered.
Bridging the education gap requires a direct approach at the grassroots level. The government should not just provide financial aid to students with disabilities. A comprehensive guide that ensures continuity of learning for them during the pandemic should be formulated.
This may include providing equipment to support their learning, including assistive technology and devices, and support to caregivers/parents of children with disabilities.
It is also important, according to the policy brief, “to ensure that return-to-school programmes are inclusive of children and young persons with disabilities, in recognition of the increase in the learning/achievement gap. This may include development of plans for accelerated education, remedial and catch-up programmes.”
Acknowledging that educators play a vital role in the education of special needs students, they should be given more opportunities for professional guidance and training programmes to equip them with better skills in the teaching and learning process.
First year student
International Islamic University Malaysia
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