The DIKSHA platform for students with visual impairment is designed such that a student or teacher can search for learning materials by their state, medium of instruction and curriculum boards. However, for students with visual disabilities using a screen reader, the web platform has a variety of accessibility issues that makes it difficult for them to independently navigate it to search and access the content they are looking for.
Take for example, the drop down menu for language selection. Rather than clearly stating different language options available, the screen reader announces “clickable, clickable, clickable”. This is due to different scripts used for the different languages, which are not readable by a screen reading software. Similarly, the filter for selecting grades is not accessible with a screen reader. Finally, even if a student is able to find the relevant page with the textbooks and other learning materials to select from, the links for opening or downloading materials are not properly labelled, making it difficult for students to download the books independently.
Links for teaching and learning materials (TLM) were also tested to assess whether a student could locate them and access/download the materials with the use of a screen reader alone. We found that a student could independently navigate only 31.8% of the links.
The mobile application of the DISKHA platform had only a few elements, such as QR codes, that could not be used independently by a student with visual disability. However, the mobile application is only available for android devices, despite IOS being more accessible for persons with visual disability. Additionally, it is key to note while the mobile application is far more accessible than the web platform, students with visual disabilities prefer to still use computers at they find it easier to navigate reading materials with the use of a keyboard due to the various shortcuts and other capabilities screen reading softwares provide when using a keyboard.
Inaccessibility of resources on DIKSHA platform
Complete inaccessibility: Where documents/ e-textbooks are not uploaded in appropriate e-text formats, meaning that a screen reader is unable to navigate any part of the material. In some cases, multiple pages within a chapter are uploaded in inappropriate formats, such that a screen reader skips on to the next accessible page. This makes it impossible for a student with visual impairment to follow the content. To provide an example, in a mathematics chapter consisting of 48 pages, 34 or 70.1% of the pages were not accessible to a screen-reader.
Partial inaccessibility: Where uploaded in an appropriate e-text format such that the screen reader can navigate the document broadly, it, nevertheless, contains elements, such as images, tables, graphs, watermarks, etc., that make it difficult for a student with visual impairment to fully comprehend the content of the material.
Accessibility of sample chapters
All chapters sampled from NCERT e-textbooks were uploaded in an appropriate e-text format of which 36.4% were completely accessible. However 54.5% had inaccessible elements, and 9.1% were completely inaccessible.
Of the 21 SCERT chapters sampled for Tamil Nadu, 90.5% were totally inaccessible. Of the remaining chapters, 1 was partially inaccessible, including inaccessible elements such as tables and images without descriptions. Only one of the sampled chapters was totally accessible using a screen reader.
Of the 22 SCERT chapters sampled for Telangana, none were totally inaccessible, however 95.5% were partially inaccessible, and only one chapter was totally accessible.
Inaccessibility of learning activities:
Over the 22 sampled chapters from the NCERT, a total of 907 learning activities were identified, of which 52.6% were inaccessible to a student using a screen reader, and the inaccessibility varied by grade and subject.
Mathematics chapters had the highest number of inaccessible learning activities at 80%. English Science and Geography chapters had 49.1%, 33.9% and 32.8% inaccessible learning activities, respectively. Economics chapters had 23.1% inaccessible learning activities.
Inaccessibility of learning activities by subject
Chapters sampled from grade 1 had the highest extent of inaccessible learning activities at 94.2%. This was followed by grade 8 chapters at 54.6% and grade 10 chapters at 48%. However, this is likely partially led by the selection of subjects within grades. Grade 1 for example had sampled chapters only from Mathematics and English textbooks.
Inaccessibility of learning activities by grade
Mathematics chapters were selected from all four grades. In the table below grades 1 and 5 are clubbed under primary and grades 8 and 10 are clubbed under secondary. We found that mathematics chapters from primary grades had only a marginal 2% higher number of inaccessible learning activities than mathematics chapters from secondary grades.
Inaccessibility of learning activities in mathematics by level of schooling
English chapters were sampled only for grades 1, 5, and 8. Grade 1 chapters had considerably more inaccessible learning activities at 58.2%, compared to 21.2% and 0% inaccessible learning activities in Grade 5 and Grade 8 chapters, respectively. This suggests that the high inaccessibility of Grade 1 chapters might be regardless of the subjects sampled.
Inaccessibility of learning activities in English by level of schooling
Science chapters were sampled only for grades 5, 8 and 10. Chapters from grades 8 and 10 had a higher extent of inaccessible learning activities with about 41% and 42% respectively, compared to only 13.4% inaccessible learning activities in grade 5 science chapters sampled.
Inaccessibility of learning activities in Science by level of schooling
The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 directs government authorities to provide “reasonable accommodation” to meet individual requirements of students under Section 16(iii), and in doing so “to make suitable modifications in the curriculum and examination system to meet the needs of students with disabilities… ”, under Section 17(i).
The RPWD Act 2016 puts the onus of accessibility of educational resources for students with disabilities, including students with visual disabilities, solely on the state as providers of education. Yet this study finds that much of the learning materials hosted on the Centre’s DIKSHA platform are not accessible to students with visual disabilities and the platform itself is not navigable with the use of a screen reader.
Making digital education accessible for all
Making Teaching and Learning Materials accessible for all
Beyond web accessibility however, this study finds that more than half of ‘learning activities’ in textbooks across subjects and grades are inaccessible for students with VI. This suggests that even if the guidelines for web accessibility are met, the true impediment to inclusion in the classroom is built into the curriculum.
Nisha Vernekar is Team Lead, Education, at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy. Tapas Bhardwaj is Project Expert at Vidhi. Views are personal.
This is an edited excerpt from the authors’ report, filed published by the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy. Read the report in full here.