Best Practices for Setting up Inclusive Education Services

I. About IUA – The Need

India is estimated to have over twenty-six million Persons with Disabilities (2.21% of the country’s population). About forty-five percent of these persons are in the age group of 0-29, including a significant fraction of this age sub-group that accesses education services (Census of India, 2011).

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (hereafter, the RPWD Act) in India mandates a five percent reservation for students with disabilities. Yet, the lack of financial resources and skilled manpower is creating significant challenges for Higher Education Institutions to deliver Inclusive education services to students with disabilities (SwD).

To address these challenges, a group of leading educational institutions and organizations that feel strongly about enhancing the quality of Inclusive Education in India has formed the Inclusive University Alliance (IUA).

The Alliance aims to share best practices for Inclusion, create accessible teaching-learning resources, and lead advocacy efforts in the space of Inclusive higher education. Additionally, it intends to facilitate student and faculty exchanges and promote Inclusion and access among IUA members and other Higher Education Institutions.

IUA Member Institutions

IUA was formally set up in March 2019, and its member-institutions currently include:

II. IUA Resources to help Institutes of higher education set up Inclusive Education Services.

Inclusive education becomes effective when one takes a 360-degree holistic approach. Such an approach needs to encompass the student’s journey from admission until graduation. Based on the experiences of the member institutions that have implemented Inclusive education in their campuses, IUA recommends the following steps for facilitating Inclusive education.

Steps Involved in Setting up Inclusive Education Services

To make the setting up of Inclusive Education services effective and smooth, the IUA recommends the following four steps:

  • Step 1: Formulate a vision for Inclusive Education.
  • Step 2: Establish an organizational structure for the delivery of services.
  • Step 3: Identify a list of services and deliver them.
  • Step 4: Create a feedback mechanism to evaluate the services provided.

IUA recommended suggestions for each of these steps are presented below, in sections III to VI.

III. Formulate a vision for Inclusive Education.

The Leadership of an Institution needs to fully embrace the idea of Inclusion and drive efforts to make Inclusion an integral part of its educational mission. As a starting point, the leadership needs to formulate a vision statement for Inclusion. The statement will drive and shape the nature of services to be set up. The vision statement can include values such as equal access, universal design, diversity, nothing for us without us (involvement of persons with disabilities in Inclusion), etc. As an example, the Tucson Commission on Disability Issues offered a vision of an inclusive community in a 2010 Conference on Inclusion that we reproduce below:

“An inclusive community for people with disabilities is one that is open and accessible for all. In this community, each member is able to take an active part and is safe and empowered. In an inclusive community, citizens’ voices are heard and their contributions acknowledged and valued by the community. In an inclusive community, each person is respected as a citizen who can fully exercise his or her rights and responsibilities. In an inclusive community, each member brings unique strengths, resources, abilities, and capabilities.”

IV. Establish an organizational structure for the delivery of services.

A comprehensive organization structure that involves all stakeholders on campus is critical for the effective delivery of Inclusion services. IUA recommends the following structure:

1. Management Committee: This is a group of individuals that makes policy-level decisions related to Inclusion. It is recommended that this committee include management, faculty, staff, and students with disabilities. Such a composition would enable equal voice to all stakeholders on campus on Inclusion related decision-making and ensure long-term sustainability and acceptance of the committee's policies. The sample constitution of such a committee from one of the IUA members can be found here.

2. Resource Centre/Office for Inclusion/Disability Services (hereafter, Office/Centre for Inclusion): This Office would be the single point of contact that delivers all inclusion-related services and support.

3. Student-Group: An Inclusion-focused student-group that includes both students with and without disabilities on campus will go a long way toward creating an Inclusive environment both in and outside the classroom. IUA-member experiences indicate that students’ out-of-classroom lives tend to be very influential in shaping their perceptions of a campus's inclusiveness. An example of such a student group's constitution from one of the IUA members can be found here.

V. Identify a list of services and deliver them.

The RPWD Act, 2016 and MSJE Guidelines on Accessible Examinations provide the basic regulations on mandated inclusion services. Each academic institution will be subject to the rules and regulations of its parent university/institution. Against this backdrop, each institution needs to identify the services and provisions that it will deliver to support its vision of Inclusive education.

We recommend that inclusion services be organized around the following five key areas:

  • 1. Beginning-of-year Activities

  • 2. Academic Provisions and Services

  • 3. Non-Academic Provisions and Services

  • 4. Physical Infrastructure

  • 5. Student Outreach, Admissions, and Placement Services

IUA recommended provisions and services for each of these five areas are presented below:

A. Orientation and Sensitization

Student Orientations

Include a half-hour session or a session of shorter duration, depending on whether Orientation is for a week or a day. The sessions can include:

  • Introduction to the Office/Centre that delivers Inclusion services
  • Disability Sensitization program for the entire incoming batch

Faculty and Staff Orientations

  • Include information related to D&I during new faculty orientation programs.
  • Conduct Annual Faculty Sensitization program.
  • Announce any process updates by Management / D&I Office / Centre at the beginning of the year.
  • Create Faculty Resource Guides for teaching SwDs in classes.

B. Needs Assessments and Organizing (request, assessment, and finalization)

  • Students can be classified into:
    • New Students: pre-diagnosed and without a diagnosis
    • Continuing students

The following steps can be implemented to assess the needs of SwD:

  • Office/Centre for Inclusion to obtain the final list of admitted SwD from the Admissions Office.
  • Office/Centre for Inclusion to send a welcome email along with the accommodation form to SwD.
  • One-on-one meetings can be scheduled with students to assess their requirements. Discussions revolve around their disability, its functional impact, and the accommodation form filled by them. Based on this discussion, their needs are finalized. Needs include learning support Plan, in-class needs, and hostel accommodations.
  • Students without disability certificates (this information is obtained during Orientation) can contact the Office to identify needs. This process will have an assessment in addition to the accommodation form filling.
  • Disseminate information on SwD needs during lectures and exams to faculty via letter/ Mail Templates from Office/Centre for Inclusion. Emails can be automatically triggered via an ERP or manually sent.
  • To ensure correction of examinations in line of accommodations granted – Office sends reminders to faculty or Exam provision letters issued to students which are attached to answer sheets for easy reference of correctors.

C. Financial Aid

  • In general, financial aid offices on-campus process applications for financial aid.
  • If financial aid is based on need, students with disabilities may not qualify for aid. Because such students potentially face lower income levels and job opportunities, a separate financial aid program can be instituted based on disabilities.
  • The Committee for Disability/Diversity can evolve guidelines on how applications for financial aid can be evaluated.

D. Confidentiality Note

The Office/Center for Inclusion may include a confidentiality note ensuring that any information regarding student’s disability shall be considered confidential and be shared with other staff members within the institution on a need-to-know basis only. No one has immediate access to student files except the support team.

A. Examination Provision (Assignment Submission)

  • Based on each student’s examination needs (as identified through the accommodation form), data from the Office/Centre for Inclusion is shared with the examination office/teachers (based on centralized/decentralized examinations).
  • Type of examination provisions that could be offered are:
    • Computer Examinations (a scrubbed desktop with a screen reader/magnifiers).
    • Oral Examinations.
    • Spaced-out Assignment Submissions/Extension in Assignment Submission.
    • Permission to answer in key points rather than long answers.
    • Alternative question papers.
    • Extra time, writers, readers, lab assistants, etc.
    • Accessible exam rooms.
    • Question papers in an accessible format (large font, soft copy, tactile diagrams, etc.).
    • Use of Assistive Devices during examination (talking calculators, low vision magnifiers, etc.)

B. Accessible Content Services (All formats)

  • Students needing accessible content need to request the Office/Centre for Inclusion /Professors for such content
  • On receiving the request, the Office either puts the book in production, checks availability on online accessible libraries, recommends purchasing accessible books (Kindle, etc.) or reaches out to publishers for accessible copies.
  • Types of formats that can be provided include:
    • Simplified Easy to Read material (SLD)
    • Braille
    • Accessible E Copy
    • Tactile Diagrams and Alt Text for visuals
    • Subtitled AV content
    • Transcriptions of spoken language

C. Tutor Support

  • Out-of-class tutors and mentorship support go a long way in creating facilitative learning environments.
  • Tutor/mentorship requests are made by a student at the time of filling accommodation form at the beginning of the year, at the time of registration for a course, or after the course has started.
  • Models for offering tutor support can be:
    • Paid-tutors from the Office/Centre for Inclusion.
    • Volunteer-based tutors from the student community – senior students are recommended. Tutors should not be graders to avoid conflict of interest.
    • A Peer Mentorship program for overall guidance and support
    • Department-based help desks/faculty support out of class
    • Language Labs/Centre for Communication on the Institute could support with writing challenges, etc.

D. Assistive Technology Support (Either student-based or resource Centre based or Both)

  • Several Assistive Technologies (ATs) are available that aid learning and independent living for students with disabilities. They are of particular value in making higher education accessible. Some of these technologies are expensive, which students may not be able to afford directly. And in some cases, students may lack the knowledge of their availability. In both cases, institutions can play a facilitative role by making AT available to students.
  • AT can be made available to students either through a stand-alone resource center on campus, a library-based Resource Centre or through individual-based student lending schemes based on feasibility.
  • Technologies that can be explored include:
    • AT for students with blindness and low vision - Screen reader, magnifiers, OCR software, Ebook Readers, Graphing software, Accessible Labs, Geometry construction devices, Talking scientific/regular calculators, Tactile drawings kits, etc.
    • AT for students with Deafness and Hearing Impairment - closed-captioning software, audio amplification software, hardware, etc.
    • AT for students with Specific Learning Disabilities - solutions for facilitative reading, writing, mathematics, organization, and memory.

E. Curriculum Modifications

  • With Inclusive Pedagogy, there is a need to recognize that some academic courses in their current forms have been designed with an underlying assumption that only a certain type of students will take the same.
  • Inclusive education recognizes the need for curriculum modifications to academic courses so that they become accessible to all students, including students with disabilities, without affecting the academic purpose and rigor of the same.
  • It is recommended that curriculum modification requests be considered on a case-by-case basis. Decisions related to curriculum modifications be made by a team consisting of the Academic Board/Program Office, Management, and the Office/Centre for Inclusion.
  • Some of the curriculum modifications that are found to promote inclusive education include:
    • Students with severe learning disabilities and intellectual disabilities are permitted attendance-based college experience, with an attendance certificate being granted rather than an academic degree certificate.
    • For a student with specific learning disabilities who take courses involving a high degree of numbers and mathematical calculations: (a) provide evaluation papers with modified questions where numerical complexity in questions is reduced, (b) MCQ questions with students selecting formulas to be applied for the problem at hand rather than doing the calculation.
    • Undertake the course over a spaced-out duration – three years instead of two or four years instead of three, etc.
    • Attendance Modifications when needed.

F. Priority Registration

In institutions that require students to register for optional courses, it would be a useful practice to have a process of priority registration for students with disabilities. Because course registration may be timebound, SwD may need more time to access the registration portals. By providing priority registration, administrative offices will have an opportunity to arrange a schedule (to the greatest extent possible) that is tailormade to a student’s disability-related needs.

G. Classroom Support

  • Based on the needs of students with disabilities, before each term, allot in-class seating that will allow them to learn best during lectures and presentations.
  • Provide permission to students to record the classroom lecture in consultation with the instructor and make notes from the recordings. This provision is needed only if the institution does not record classes for all students.
  • Provide permission to students to take Assistive Technology tools to class to take notes - laptops, tablets, calculators, etc.
  • Provide a lab assistant to aid in lab work and assist comprehension of the process in lab work on a case-by-case basis.
  • Provide permission to bring personal note-taker to class (offered only to special cases, with prior approval)
  • Assign peer note-takers who are enrolled in the same class/course for students who cannot take notes due to their disability. Students should make requests for peer note-takers as early as possible.
  • Allow for computer-based note-taking in class.

A. Counseling & Guidance Support

  • Determine whether this support activity is handled by Professional Counselors/Faculty/Student Guides/Office/Centre for Inclusion.
  • Types of Guidance:
    • Personal disability linked guidance.
    • Career Guidance
    • Social & Emotional guidance
    • Time Management Skills & Planning.
    • Effective Academic Learning Strategies.
    • Overall executive functioning skills, including self-management and metacognition

B. Specific Skill Training

  • Organize special-skill training sessions for students with blindness and low vision.
  • Remediation support and AT training to students with learning disabilities.
  • Help students develop self-advocacy skills.

C. Awareness and Sensitization

  • Organize Awareness sessions for students, faculty, and non-teaching staff periodically.
  • Conduct a session on ‘Disability Awareness’ for all incoming students during Orientation.
  • Hold pre-Admission information-sharing sessions with parents of SwD who are joining the institution.
  • Hold an annual event to showcase innovations being made in the field of assistive technology and hardware
  • Any discrimination against persons with disabilities or rude/insensitive behavior is to be taken very seriously.

D. Student-Driven Inclusion Programs

  • Create a Student Inclusion Cell, a student body that works under the Office/Centre for Inclusion and promotes Inclusion on campus.

E. Mentorship Support

  • Create a volunteer-based mentorship program; mentors can be current students or SwD Alumni.

F. Residence Life Support

  • Create a Residence Life Support Program through the Office of Residence Life.
  • Making Residence Life accessible through:
    • Resident Assistants who can guide SwD in navigating hostel life.
    • Helpers available for a few hours a day to manage daily life activities.

G. English Language Support

  • English language help and guidance through Centre for Writing and Communication.

Institutions’ campuses will have to be built and modified keeping in mind the needs of students with disabilities so that their movement on the campus is unrestricted, to the extent possible. We suggest the following:

  • Provide barrier-free infrastructure within the campus through the Office of Operations on campus. Examples of infrastructure modifications include: Ramps and lifts
    • Accessible washrooms, hostel rooms, classrooms
    • Alert devices in hostel rooms
    • Accessible ATM/ mess experience
    • Accessible labs/attendants
    • Accessible shuttle for commuting inside the campus.
  • Assign SwD to hostel rooms on the ground floor of hostels.
  • Provide motorized wheelchairs for students with locomotor disabilities and facilitate the procurement of other assistive devices.
  • Make lecture rooms, and faculty blocks wheelchair accessible. Modify a few hostel rooms to ensure that students using a wheelchair can access them easily.
  • In case an escort/caretaker needs to stay with the student, provide accommodation for the same.
  • Conduct annual/bi-annual accessibility audit to evaluate physical infrastructure in terms of compliance with the RPWD Act, 2016, and students’ needs. For more information on accessibility audits, see here.

A. Student Outreach

We believe that there is a considerable lack of awareness about the presence and needs of SwD in higher education. Hence, activities that create awareness about Inclusive Education among students, parents, and educators can be pursued.

The following suggestions can be considered:

  • Keep the institution’s information on Inclusion policies and practices updated and accessible on websites, handbooks, etc.
  • Office/Centre for Inclusion to sensitize Marketing/Communications/Outreach Department about its goals and activities.
  • Office/Centre for Inclusion can offer programs to generate awareness about Inclusion services available at the institution.
  • Prospective SwD and their parents can be encouraged to visit the campus.
  • The Office/Centre for Inclusion can reach out to organizations/NGOs in the Disability Space and make presentations there (e.g., NAB, NIVH, NIHH, etc.)
  • Institution website, information brochures, and social media platforms to have information related to inclusion services, including Office/person to contact for obtaining more information.

B. Admissions

Usually, an Admissions Office controls and executes all admission-related activities. The Office/Centre for Inclusion can coordinate with the Admissions Office to make the admission process inclusive. Suggested activities include:

  • Provide support to SwD in filling application forms.
  • Ensure Application forms are accessible.
  • Make Entrance examination accommodation provisions accessible to SwD (These provisions may be government rules or institution rules based on the nature of the institution)
  • Assess and arrange Admission Interview Accommodation needs.
  • Connect SwD students to Office/Centre for Inclusion before they finalize their decisions so that they make fully-informed decisions.

C. Placement Services

The following are suggested activities for the Office/Centre for Inclusion related to student placements:

  • Maintain the list of companies that have hired SwD in the past and share the same with the students
  • Assess needs of students during the placement process related to form filling, group discussions, personal interviews, and written tests. An email is to be sent to the Institution’s Office that manages student placements describing these needs. In some Institutions, this information can be provided to Student Placement Committee, with the prior permission of the student with a disability.
  • Organize annual interaction sessions with SwD alumni. In this session, current students receive counseling and career guidance to make informed career choices.

VI. Create a Feedback mechanism to review services every academic year.

The effectiveness of any service depends on how well it meets the needs of stakeholders for whom it was created. Since the primary stakeholders of inclusive education services are students with disabilities, it is recommended that a yearly feedback mechanism be set up. Inputs from the same can be used to fine-tune services manuals. If possible, feedback from faculty can also be collected as they remain a crucial stakeholder in the process. If feasible and desirable, an independent audit of services can also be undertaken.