Emotions were high at the Centre for Research and Democratic Studies (Mambayya House, in Kano, dedicated to a foremost political sage and leader of the masses, Malam Aminu Kano, when the educated blind, deaf and dumb, the cripple and the deformed, narrated the ugly experience they passed through, while struggling to acquire education in the midst of normal persons. They were humiliated and discriminated by lecturers and even classmates who could not give them the deserved chance to enjoy their right to acquire education. These were people who refused to be conquered by pity, instead they conquered their own fate. They refused to become liability to the society. They are proud of who they are and they needed a voice to tell to whom it may concern the need for them enjoy full access to digital technology. They want to enjoy their right to digital knowledge. And in the Centre for information Technology and Development (CITAD), they found not only the voice, but a hope that brightens their future.
The Executive Director of CITAD, Malam Y.Z. Ya’u, on Saturday advocated for a policy thrust that will ensure the provision of needed gadgets that will enable students with disabilities to acquire needed digital knowledge in tertiary institutions across the country.
Y.Z. Ya’u made the call while presenting a research paper entitled “State of Digital Disability Inclusion Compliance for Learning and Research in Tertiary Institutions in the North-West of Nigeria,” during an enlightenment workshop held for disabled under-graduates, at Malam Aminu Kano Centre for Democratic Research and Studies (Mambayya House).
He appealed to relevant authorities to create a framework that will include Digital Education for the disabled right from the secondary school level.
Ya’u who decried the discrimination being suffered by disabled under-graduates in tertiary institutions, urged the Federal Government to formulate a policy that will mandate Citadels of Higher Learning in the country to put in place the needed facilities that can enable the disabled acquire comprehensive digital knowledge.
After a pilot research conducted in selected tertiary institutions within the North-West, CITAD recommended that, “all institutions of higher learning should have a disability policy much in the same line that gender policy was promoted to protect students living with disabilities from discrimination and abuse and to ensure that they are properly incorporated into the academic processes by making available all the necessary disability assistance teaching and study aids.
“All ICT policies of the institutions should be reviewed to incorporate the needs of students (and staff) living with disabilities such that they can have access to and use ICTs as tools for academic work.
“The websites of institutions of higher learning should be disability friendly and complaint by making providing for content to be accessible for students with vision and hearing impairment.
“Institution should not derail the ambition of people living with disabilities by denying them the courses they are interested (a discrimination). Rather they should seek for innovation ways that they should cater for the needs of different disabilities.
“Institutions should accurately capture data about disability at the point of registration and use such data for planning and provision purposes.
“There should be uniform practice with respect to how people living with disabilities are admitted. This should relate to the sitting of both UME and post-UME examinations. Where institutions are not able to provide facilities for the people to sit for these examinations, they should wave them or device alternative tests.
“There is need to sensitize both staff and students in higher institutions to understand the special needs of students with disabilities and to therefore make staff and lecturers more sensitized to think of how they could mainstream them into their teaching.”
Ya’u, however, regretted that students with disabilities have challenges with accessing and using the internet as many of the institutions do not have special provision for appropriate interface tools.
According to him, “only three institutions have special libraries for students studying with disabilities in the North-West of Nigeria. Classroom and lecture halls are not ICT-friendly for disabilities.
“Institutions are not able to accurately capture data about students living with disability. While this is data blindness, it is actually an indication of the attitude of the institutions administration about how they regard disability. Unless you have accurate data.
about them, you cannot plan for them.
“There is low awareness among both administration and academic staff on the ICT needs of students studying with disabilities.”
He further stated that, “in the wider society, there is also low awareness that people living with disabilities need to access and use ICTs.”
Ya’u opined that, “it is easy to think that to be not left behind means not be left behind in terms of embracing digital life. That is correct but it is more than that.
“Digital systems are tools for empowerment and participation, meaning that if one cannot access and use them, that person will be left behind educationally, economically and politically.”
According to him, “the content of this project, we read ‘not be left behind’ as the inability to access higher education by all those desirous of it.
“One category whose need for higher education is often not given the seriousness it serves are people living with disabilities, pointing out that, “the first level is getting admission: all candidates must sit the computer based UME and then sit for post-UME.
“The second level is what courses those students living with disabilities are eventually allowed to register.
“Third level: how their needs at the level of lectures are addressed; and finally how they are catered for in both the libraries and the computer centres.”
He further stated that, “we excluded concerns for accommodation and hostels, not became they are not important but because our focus is on aspects dealing with ICTs.
“A key question that frames how students living with disabilities are admitted and incorporated in the educational processes is the policy environment. We decided to first ask whether the institutions have two some set of policies. These are ICTs Policy and Disability Policy.
“Our expectation was that we should be able to locate how institutions think of making ICT available to students living with disabilities within the framework of any of these two policies, that is either their needs are treated as part of a general institutional ICT policy or is treated as a particular item under an institution’s disability policy.”
Ya’u also lamented that, “while most of the institutions have ICT policy, none has Disability Policy.
“These policies are not publicly available either in printed form distributed to students at the point of registration or uploaded in their websites.
“Generally, ICTs are used in the academic processes in four ways namely: Means for registration by students at the beginning of each semester.
“As teaching aid by lecturer to deliver lectures; as means of research by students; and as mans of engaging such as submission assignments.
“With respect to registration, students are required to register online. However, none of the institutions has website that is disability compliant. In particular, these sites of are not accessible to either those with vision impairment or those with hearing impairment, these categories of students cannot register directly by themselves. They have to be assisted. This assistance is not provided by the institutions. The students have to make their personal arrangement.
“There is no policy on disability among the institutions. Most have ICT policy. However, these policies do not make provision for people living with disability and therefore assume the provision will apply equally to all regardless of differentials in disability.
“As the schools are mixed in terms of ownership, belonging to different states and federal governments, there are differences in the way in which they treat disability. For example, in all Kano State owned institute people living with disability are given concession of free education which means that they do not have to pay for school fees.
“Websites and admission/registration portals of these institutions are not disability complaint. Blind prospective students and the deaf they have to get personal assistants to fill the forms for them. Digital non inclusion affects different students with special needs differently.”