There are a lot of challenges in this government-led initiative in southern India. Bangalore University in Karnataka is now offering free undergraduate and graduate courses to the visually impaired, as well as widows, jail inmates, and transgenders. Unfortunately, the biggest hurdle seems to be the requirement that these visually challenged students (and other eligible groups’ members) must have completed pre-university level training, or have participated in the Open University program and have reached 18 years of age. While government officials tout that they have created a distance or open learning mode, there still seem to be many layers of bureaucratic prerequisites creating challenges themselves. I lived and worked in Karnataka for two years as Peace Corps Volunteer in the late sixties, and returned to Bangalore in 2006 to attend an international conference on educational technology for the disabled. And for the month of July 2008, I returned to the Karnataka town where I had worked as a Peace Corps Volunteer to assist the Deshpande Foundation in its inaugural work there.
I have been very fortunate to have had these opportunities to work in India over the course of my career. From my perspective as a recently retired federal employee, which included many conversations with other countries’ representatives as they explored the appropriate uses of technology within their educational systems, I believe that technology empowers learners of all different levels of abilities to create options for learning that works best for them. Government bureaucracies can help, but sometimes I think they can get in the way. For individuals with disabilities, however, governments should still continue to play a role in supporting their citizens’ access to the most appropriate learning tools they may need.
One program funded by the federal government that works domestically and internationally to provide such support is Bookshare (www.bookshare.org). They are very actively involved in India as part of their international outreach. Please take some time to visit their website and find out more about their initiatives for learners with print disabilities.