Disabilities and technology: Theirworld research aims to expand inclusive education

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Vibhu Sharma, our disability and inclusion expert, writes about the inclusive education project that she is leading.

Vibhu Sharma at a World Bank forum in Washington, with (right) Jamira Burley, Head of Youth Engagement and Skills at the Global Business Coalition for Education — Photo credit: Global Business Coalition for Education

Around the world, children with disabilities are regularly facing discrimination which prevents them from going to school. The 2011 World Report on Disability found that globally there are over 100 million children living with a disability, with 80% from developing countries. Within these countries, about 40% of primary and 55% of secondary aged children with disabilities are left out of school.

Pushes for inclusive education have been made in recent years, aiming to allow children of different abilities to study together without segregation.

In theory, the idea of inclusivity in the classroom means that all children with disabilities are accepted and are allowed to participate alongside their peers. Yet achieving this can present a significant challenge for schools and teachers as they try to adapt to different learning needs. 

There are still huge disparities between inclusive education policy initiatives and the actual levels of policy implementation in the classroom. 

Even if the idea of inclusive education is embraced by schools and teachers, huge barriers remain, including rigid curricular and assessment methods, shortage of books in accessible media, and improper school infrastructure such as disabled access to classrooms or toilets. 

Technology is one area which has been utilised to help make classrooms more inclusive. It has opened up many avenues for children with disabilities. Assistive technology can be easy-to-use and relatively simple, such as screen reading software for visually impaired students, or can consist of more complex devices such as augmentative communication systems, like speech-generating devices, which require training and greater levels of support to manage.

With this in mind, Theirworld has begun research to identify the most effective assistive technologies for children with visual, hearing and learning disabilities. We are seeking to investigate how these technologies are proving to be effective, as well as the environment in which these technologies are being used to ensure effective inclusion. 

The aim will be to examine best practices in schools in Scotland and New Zealand, countries which are known for excellence in creating inclusive education systems and effectively accommodating children with disabilities in mainstream schools. The project will make recommendations for how to scale up effective assistive technologies for inclusion in education, so that more children with disabilities can be reached in more contexts.

We are actively recruiting participants for this research, and are seeking to speak to schools and teachers working with children with visual, hearing and learning disabilities, who would like to participate in the research. We are also keen to speak to tech experts outside our own circles and would welcome anyone working on assistive technologies for these three disabilities. 

To register your interest in the project, email [email protected]