Centre for Internet & Society

The Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), Bangalore in cooperation G3ict, UNESCO, ITU, WIPO, The Deafway Foundation, DEF and SPACE with the gracious support of The Hans Foundation and the Department of Information Technology, MICT, New Delhi organized an international conference "Enabling Access to Education through ICT" in New Delhi from 27 to 29 October 2010. The event was sponsored by Hans Foundation.


Persons with disabilities in India are often left out of mainstream schools and universities due to a variety of reasons, primarily the lack of awareness amongst educational organizations and teachers, near absence of infrastructural resources and lack of training in this regard. It is believed that barely two per cent of the 70 million disabled persons have access to education in India. Unless we take special efforts to remedy this situation by equipping teachers, educational institutions and the entire social infrastructure to adopt innovative, cost effective and technology based resources such as assistive technologies, ubiquitous Web, multiple platforms, social networks, online libraries and digital resources etc, they will continue to remain excluded from social participation.


Edict 2010
Given above is a picture of the speakers from the Edict 2010 event in Delhi.

Edict 2010 was organised by the Centre for Internet and Society, in collaboration with G3ict, UNESCO, ITU, WIPO, The Deafway Foundation, DEF and SPACE with the gracious support of The Hans Foundation and the Department of Information Technology, MICT, New Delhi. The main aim was to highlight existing policy and practical barriers for students and educational institutions in developing countries, showcase ICT based solutions which are presently being adopted around the world and point to existing knowledge resources and emerging trends in education. The conference focused on enabling education at all levels: primary, secondary, tertiary and distance education and vocational training. The success of the conference was characterised by the fact that it brought together a wide range of stakeholders, including industry, special and mainstream educators, disability organisations, policymakers from the ministries of education (MHRD) and information technology (DIT), Technology developers and researchers, librarians and persons with disabilities, from several countries like India, USA, Switzerland, Japan, Nepal and Bangladesh, who were all experts with vast experience. Consequently, the sessions were extremely interactive, with a lot of inputs from the participants and it was commonly acknowledged that the sharing of information and learning was equal for both participants and speakers. The break out sessions resulted in a lot of recommendations and insightful observations from the four groups.

The conference was inaugurated by Smt. Vibha Puri Das, Secretary, Department of Higher Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development. Other special guests were Dr.Indrajit Banerjee, Director, Information and Communications sector, UNESCO and Mr. Andrew Tru from WIPO. Smt. Das released the first copy of the book, ‘E-Accessibility Handbook for Persons with Disabilities’, a book based on the G3ict-ITU on line e-Accessibility Toolkit for Policy makers, which was edited and published by CIS. Dr. Banerjee received the first copy. Smt. Das delivered the key note address; she outlined the situation with respect to education of persons with disabilities in India and highlighted some of the initiatives of the Ministry of Human Resource and Development. She especially drew attention to the NMEICT project of the MHRD, which is a huge fund for supporting initiatives which used ICT to promote Education through ICT. Till now, NMEICT has funded one disability related project for conversion of college level textbooks into daisy format in four languages. The project is being undertaken by IIT Calcutta. She concluded by inviting all persons and organisations present in the conference to apply to the fund for specific projects and said that the ministry would be happy to look at proposals for promoting education for persons with disabilities.

The key note address was followed by remarks from Dr. Banerjee, who gave an outline of UNESCO’s initiatives around the world on education and underscored the importance of attaining the Millennium Development Goal of Education for all for all developing countries and UNESCO’s commitment to support countries in their efforts to do so. Mr.Andrew Tru talked about WIPO’s commitment towards securing access to reading materials for persons with print disabilities in accessible formats around the world and focused on the deliberations on a treaty for the print impaired at WIPO, with special emphasis on the Stakeholders’ Platform initiative of WIPO.

The conference started off with welcome note from the organisers CIS, G3ict, UNESCO, ITU and WIPO. Smt. Vibha Puri Das, Secretary, Higher Education, Ministry of Human Resource and Development gave the key note address and released the e-Accessibility Policy Handbook for Persons with Disabilities, brought out by CIS in collaboration with G3ict and ITU and sponsored by Hans Foundation. The handbook will help regulators around the world in their policy making.  Dr. Indrajit Banerjee, Director, UNESCO gave the introductory remarks. This followed by a presentation of Axel Leblois, Executive Director G3ict, on the dispositions of the UNCRPD relating to digital accessibility.

Over the three days, there were presentations from 29 experts on a variety of topics, ranging from discussing challenges and solutions in educational institutions, to technology development and policy formulation and implementation. The profiles of the speakers are given in Annexure A. The conference was attended by 77 participants and was also attended by a large number of participants from other conferences taking place in the hotel from time to time. The list of the 77 participants is given as Annexure B.


The conference was highly engaging and enabled the attendees to explore the challenges and opportunities and equipped them with the tools needed to implement ICT solutions within their organizations. There was a very high level of expertise amongst educators in the conference which was apparent from the discussions, there were persons who talked about education for the blind, deaf, persons with mental disabilities etc with great authority and put forward insightful perspectives. From a technology standpoint, there was a notion that broadband which was at present not easily available was about to explode because of the huge investment that the government was putting into it and hence it was possible that all the solutions which were being discussed in the conference would be more easily available to persons with disabilities uniformly around the country. There are many opportunities to leapfrog in India. In fact, many speakers considered cloud based technologies being adopted in school systems where there was broadband infrastructure available. There was a common consensus amongst all members present in the conference that universal accessibility could only be achieved with the involvement of all stakeholders; public-private partnership is key to ensuring that all private services and technology solutions are also accessible to persons with disabilities. Participants were very impressed with the innovative teaching methods and technologies in other countries, especially in Japan.

Participants at Edict
Above is a group photo of the participants at the Edict Conference

General Recommendations

  • Calls for proposals for funding projects should be widely publicized: It was a common feeling of all the participants that even though there were several funds which could be tapped into for projects, there was little information about where these funds existed, how they could be applied for and used to fund different kinds of projects. Government should make some effort to ensure that information about funding opportunities should reach intended beneficiaries.
  • Accessibility should be integrated into existing education projects: While it is important to initiate specific accessibility related projects, it is equally necessary to integrate accessibility into existing projects such as introducing creation and distribution of accessible content in existing ICT school programmes.
  • Focus to be given to training students with disabilities: all the groups felt that training was a huge issue and that support for students through training was required. SSA Karnataka gave a good presentation showing how it addressed the issue of training on a large scale. The groups highlighted that the UNCRPD placed an obligation on the government to raise awareness amongst persons with disabilities.
  • Priority attention should be given to the development of language based tools for all Indian languages, especially minority languages. This includes development of optical character recognition (OCR) and text to speech (TTS) software in different languages. This is critical for all levels and forms of education.
  • Access to broadband services for persons with disabilities at affordable prices to be promoted to enable effective use of technology to access educational content.
  • Need to create accessible content and accessible open resources: It was stressed that all study modules used by educators, and open educational resources must be in accessible formats in order to have the widest outreach to students. Cyndi Rowland gave an example where Federal grants would not go to programmes which created non accessible content.
  • Public procurement should be used to promote accessibility.
  • Government should focus on early intervention in education because very few disabled children actually enrolled in schools and even amongst those that enrol, a very miniscule percentage go on to complete secondary and higher education.
  • Need to have a well developed ecosystem: All schools must be equipped with resources to teach disabled children.
  • Solutions and teaching methods must be innovative and highly individualised. Common approaches to teaching disabled children are less likely to be successful.
  • Periodic and on going trainings must be given to field practitioners with special emphasis on sharing information about solutions which have been successful or failed in the past.

Specific Recommendations

  • Training colleges for educators should include a course on disabilities and education for students with disabilities.
  • Children with disabilities in CBSE, ICSE and all state boards should get at least three years to complete class 10th and 12th examinations.
  • Children with disabilities should be allowed to give examinations with computers and in formats of their choice.
  • Each child with a disability should get compulsory training in the use of computers using appropriate assistive technology and be provided these technologies free of cost or at subsidised rates.
  • The government should launch a mandatory ICT training programme for all teachers in rural and urban areas to train them in the use of assistive technologies.
  • Course materials for all classes should be provided in CDs and accessible formats in all schools for children with disabilities.
  • NMEICT should fund development of text to speech software in all Indian languages so that the vast majority of Indian children who cannot read or understand English can continue to study in their native language; it is strongly recommended that such development projects also be entrusted to companies and organisations directly who have expertise in this area and should not be conditional on working with an IIT, IISC or other similar institution. The NMEICT should also fund other projects for the disabled, such as for content creation and so on.
  • It is recommended that the Digital Library project, which is a praiseworthy and extremely important project for creating open resources to all existing regional and English books should be made accessible since it has the potential to benefit a very large number of persons with disabilities. At the moment, the project involves all the steps which are required to create accessible books, i.e., scanning and OCRing, however, despite the fact that OCR is done, the books are still uploaded as image files and not as accessible word or text or html files which can be read using screen readers. If this was done and we had access to TTS in Indian languages, we would have access to all the traditional Indian literature and manuscripts, which are invaluable to a researcher.
  • It is strongly recommended that the web sites of all educational institutions, both public and private should be made accessible so that persons using screen readers can access information about the courses, admissions, read about the organisations and apply on line for admissions. It is also recommended that persons with disabilities should be given the flexibility to take on line examinations and that these should be designed in an accessible manner.
  • It is recommended that all educational institutions and libraries should be made physically accessible for persons using wheelchairs.

What our Speakers and Partners Had to Say

"G3ict was most pleased to organize this very effective workshop with CIS: all stakeholders required to implement the dispositions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in matters of accessible and assistive technologies in Education actively participated.  Disabled Persons Organizations, governments, industry, schools, universities administrators and educators engaged in a very dynamic and practical exchange of experience which created a great learning opportunity for all participants.  It also demonstrated that solutions, funding and expertise can be leveraged in India to leapfrog current implementation methods for accessible and assistive technologies.  Many participants look forward to build on the momentum of the workshop to develop an ongoing national forum on accessible and assistive ICTs in education.  It was clear from the discussions held with government officials that private-public cooperation including industry, education institutions and government agencies are likely to emerge as a result of this dialogue.  A most inspiring workshop, among the most successful that G3ict has been involved with in terms of engaging key ICT accessibility stakeholders at a national level."
Axel Leblois
"There is an urgent need to teach disability studies in India across all levels of school and university. Ignorance and discrimination are so high that even the media does not attempt to mask its poor and misinformed portrayal of disabled people. This conference has started a welcome conversation in that direction."
"This meeting brought together an amazing array of individuals that included those with disabilities, those in education, those in Ministry positions, and experts from India and abroad.  The energy was palpable and the work that began at this meeting will be felt throughout India for years to come. It is clear that this will be the first of many transformative meetings sponsored by CIS."

    For the presentations, click here

    Download the agenda and bios here [Word, 609 kb]

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