Embracing Assistive Technology for Inclusive Education

In the realm of technology, the term “assistive” takes on a transformative meaning, becoming a catalyst for leveling the playing field and empowering individuals with disabilities to lead independent, fulfilling lives. Our nation, too, is making significant strides in integrating assistive technology to enhance the lives of its citizens with disabilities, particularly children. A recent development has seen the Bhutan Foundation extend financial support to the Phensem Parents Support Group (PSG), a Civil Society Organization (CSO) dedicated to parents of children with disabilities.

The agreement, inked earlier this week, marks a crucial step towards providing access to customized assistive technology and innovation for persons with disabilities across the country. The spectrum of technologies ranges from cutting-edge sensor-responsive communications to simple, low-tech devices facilitating basic activities like holding a cup or a pen. The goal is clear – to mainstream and include individuals with disabilities in all facets of life.

Traditionally, assistive technology has focused on overcoming physical barriers, such as the use of wheelchairs. However, Bhutan envisions a future where locally developed innovations, utilizing readily available materials, cater to the diverse needs of children and individuals with disabilities. The excitement among parents of children with disabilities is palpable, as they anticipate the positive impact of assistive technology on daily living, recreation, and, most importantly, education.

The prospect of leveraging assistive technology to enhance access to inclusive education is not only a national aspiration but aligns with global goals outlined in SDG4, emphasizing quality inclusive education for all by 2030. While global stakeholders like the Global Partnership for Education and UNESCO champion the cause of inclusive education, they also stress the importance of policy support and social behavioral change as critical drivers of inclusion.

A sobering review of progress reveals that the ambitious goal of inclusive education by 2030 may be elusive, given the significant absence of children with disabilities from schools. Many faced exclusion even when attending schools, as curricula were often not adapted to their needs, and teachers lacked the necessary tools to support their learning. The prevalent practice of segregating them into special schools and separate classrooms further hindered the realization of inclusive learning.

Nevertheless, Bhutan has taken a commendable step forward by implementing an adapted curriculum specifically designed for children with disabilities. Coupled with an enhanced use of assistive technology, this move has the potential to redefine disability as no longer a disqualification for education, paving the way for a more inclusive and equitable future for all children and persons with disabilities in Bhutan and beyond.

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