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Ashoka University Organizes Disability Inclusion Conclave, Aims To Submit A White Paper To The Government

The university's Office of Learning Support (OLS) organized the conclave, which was attended by representatives from the Central Government and non-governmental organizations.

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Ashoka University hosted a conclave titled ‘The Future of Disability Inclusion in Higher Education’ with the goal of empowering variously abled students and making higher education more inclusive in India. The university’s Office of Learning Support (OLS) organized the conclave, which was attended by representatives from the Central Government and non-governmental organizations.

IIT Delhi, IIT Madras, IIT Kharagpur, IIIT Banglore, IGNOU, OP Jindal Global University, St. Xavier’s College, Ambedkar University, BITS Pilani, Thapar University, Azim Premji University, Plaksha University, Krea University, SRM University, and Bennett University were among the higher education institutions represented.

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Director of the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD), Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Vineet Singhal, delivered the keynote address and stated that despite a reservation policy in higher education, we are still far behind in creating an inclusive environment for differently abled students. Access to both physical and digital infrastructure, as well as inadequate curriculum delivery methods, remain the greatest obstacles. Regarding the conclave, he stated that such deliberations by stakeholders are necessary because they provide the government with valuable insights.

Dr. Manju Singh, former Joint Secretary for the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 at the University Grants Commission (UGC), echoed this sentiment by stating that the journey towards inclusion has just begun. She stated, in reference to the NEP, that it is a clarion call to eliminate barriers regarding physical abilities, neurodiversity, gender identities, and other social hierarchies. She emphasized the implementation of new accessibility guidelines and standards developed by UGC, including the provision of specialized tools and need-based assessments, in order to improve educational support for students with varying abilities. She also advocated for increased collaboration among stakeholders in order to resolve issues such as financial constraints, inaccessible course materials, and inadequate teacher training programmes.

The Office of Learning Support at Ashoka University is drafting a white paper on enhancing inclusivity in India’s higher education. The conclave centered on creating synergy and amassing insights from representatives and specialists, thereby facilitating the paper’s development. In the future, the university intends to submit these synthesised recommendations to the government.

Vice Chancellor of Ashoka University Somak Raychaudhury stated, “We firmly believe that differently abled students should never be prevented from receiving a world-class education.” This conclave is part of a series of dialogues that we intend to continue, paving the way for the exchange of best practices, experiences, and research among institutions so that we can collectively progress.” “At Ashoka University, we place equal emphasis on addressing invisible forms of different abilities, such as chronic illness and neuro-diversity,” he added. It is crucial that we develop the capacity on college campuses across the nation to identify and address these invisible forms.”

Director of the Office of Learning Support at Ashoka University, Reena Gupta, stated that the university began supporting students with all types of visible and invisible disabilities in 2015, beginning with a vision for the inclusion of students with invisible disabilities. Today, at least 3% of the total student body on campus consists of students with disabilities. She added that the university has robust systems that facilitate mobility, accommodations, learning aides, and support for students during their Ashoka studies. In addition, the campus culture has evolved to the point where the entire student body now incorporates accessibility features into all their events. In the future, they hope to establish multi-stakeholder partnerships to make disability inclusion a standard in India’s higher education.

The conclave also featured a workshop titled ‘Unpacking the Vision of Inclusive Higher Education through the Lens of Disability,’ moderated by Neha Trivedi, Founder of Spandan: Inclusion and Accessibility Consultancy Services. The participants deliberated in subgroups to generate solutions for a variety of issues, such as addressing social stigmas, filling voids in research, support services, and recruitment procedures. Consensus was reached on the adoption of a number of measures, such as the establishment of platforms for experience-sharing between and within institutions and the incorporation of individuals with varying abilities in decision-making positions.

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