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No sign language, no interpreter: Physically challenged students struggle to access online classes in Kashmir

Srinagar: Ever since COVID outbreak, hearing and speech impaired Dildar Ahmad Dar has neither been to his college nor attended online classes.

Pursuing a bachelor’s degree in humanities at Government Degree College, Shopian, the 25-year-old is struggling to adapt to the new education system.


“No one among us knows that Dildar’s classes have been shifted to online mode. A few days back, we got a call from his college for viva examinations. Since he cannot speak, he gave viva in written format. He has missed his classes since March,” said Dilshada, Dildar’s sister.

Despite his disabilities, Dildar wants to complete his studies to earn a livelihood. “He has now contacted his classmates for notes for the missed lecturers. He can read and write, but has a problem in hearing and speech,” Dilshada said.

A bright student since his childhood, Dildar has not let disabilities to become his weakness. “He is not been able to join online classes because he cannot hear what his teachers are saying. He understands sign language but there is no sign language interpreter for such students in any college,” she added.

Dildar is not an isolated case. There are many physically challenged students who have not been taken into account by the education planners while formulating the policy.

Take the case of seventh standard student Farzana Showkat of Bijbehara village. She has not been able to access the online class because she is visually impaired.

“Compared to normal classes, my daughter is receiving less than 30% of education ever since the lockdown. In school, she used to have classes in Braille language. At home, I can only guide her for some specific subjects. She has not taken math classes because I have no knowledge of it,” said Tasleema, Farzana’s mother.

Classes on zoom and other online video conferencing platforms might be the new normal, but students with various disabilities are unable to attend virtual mode of education.

A survey conducted by Swabhiman, a community-based organization working for the rights of persons with disabilities in many states including Jammu and Kashmir revealed that about 43% of children with disabilities are planning to drop out of studies due to difficulties faced by them in online education.

A total of 3,627 people, including students, parents, and teachers participated in the survey.

According to the survey, 56.5 percent of children with disabilities were struggling yet attending classes irregularly, while 77 percent of students said they would not be able to cope and would fall behind in learning due to their inability to access distance learning

Javaid Ahmad Tak, the chairperson of Humanity Welfare Organization Helpline, a community-based association working for disabled students, said there are around 90,000 students with disabilities across the valley and most of them do not have access to education.

“This lockdown will force them to abandon their studies and most of them will drop out of their studies. There must be special schools in every district. Deserving interpreters should be appointed to mitigate the communication gap. Prescribed audiobooks for every class by BOSE should be available for such students. Underprivileged students should get access to technology,” Tak said.