Dr. Anupam Ahuja

Making reading accessible in inclusive settings: An exemplar from India

Dr. (Ms.) Anupam Ahuja

Learning to read is a pivotal milestone in the life of all children. It opens the gateway to a lifetime of exploration and enrichment.What efforts can educators and parents make to ensure that children develop the essential skills of reading with meaning and pleasure?

Professionals working in this area in the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) in the Department of Education of Groups with Special Needs (DEGSN) accepted the challenge of making reading accessible for all children in inclusive settings. In this endeavour, the DEGSNconceptualised the development of reading material following the Universal Design for Learning. An in-depth engagement with the issue led to the following set of guiding questions:

  • How can we promote reading in the early years with meaning and pleasure among all children studying in inclusive settings?
  • What is the importance of supplementary reading in the early years for children with varying needs?
  • How can assistive technologies (AT) as inclusive curriculum aids be used effectively?

In a national collective attempt through a series of workshops and consultations with a multidisciplinary team of experts and practitioners, the DEGSN arrived at the conclusion that all children in the classroom must have the opportunity to use the same book. Also, the transaction of syllabus only through prescribed textbooks leads to disenchantment which inhibits reading for pleasure. Therefore there is a need to go beyond textbooks and highlight the significance of supplementary reading. Additionally, the use of one book for all builds a sense of confidence and camaraderie among peers, leading to inclusive societies. This can be achieved through the use of assistive technologies and incorporating principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in the books.

The adaptations in Barkhaa: A Reading Series for ‘All’ area result of analyses of workshops and consultations with the aim of aiding children of varying needs at the early reading stage. The adapted print and digital versions aim to provide a multi-sensory experience to young readers.  To promote collective reading, the print version has the text in print form and in braille on the same page. Realising the limitations of regular raised braille, embossed invisible braille with a longer shelf life was used in the books. Often books with illustrations are considered redundant for children with visual difficulties. To dispel this myth and make illustrations accessible to all, the salient features of the illustrations are made tactile and high resolution. To facilitate ease of use, the pages that are used are thicker and of higher quality. The booklets areput together with wiro binding keeping in mind that use of staples can be dangerous for young children and that regular book binding will not allow the books to open flat for braille reading. The pages are also graded in width to allow easy page turning. Some of the other features are picture windows or flashcards to reinforce difficult words through real images, green and red dots to indicate beginning and end of sentences, arrows to go to the next page.A note for teachers and parents in Hindi and English at the end of each story helps them facilitate early reading process in the classroom and at home.

All these features are retained in the digital version. In addition, an introductory audio note has been included for each booklet to raise curiosity and motivate children to read. The audio note is also available in video formats including sign language. The digital version can be accessed on computers, mobile phones, lap tops and tablets.

These small adaptations provide a foundation for inclusive schooling that embraces differences.