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University Grants Commission Launches A Completely Inaccessible COVID19 Helpdesk!

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Much to our surprise, the University Grants Commission (UGC), which is the governing body of higher education has a completely inaccessible website. Further, the COVID-19 helpdesk that is set up for students to register their complaints is also inaccessible for students with visual disabilities!

According to the All India Survey on Higher Education 2018-19, 85,877 thousand students with disabilities are engaged in higher education across India. These students face numerous challenges on a daily basis and have overcome countless hurdles to make it to the university level.

Now during the COVID-19 pandemic, a helpline number/help-desk is a welcome move, as it will provide at least some form of relief to individuals. But, what about people with disabilities? Don’t they have an equal right to access this helpline? Are they not paying fees for their education? If UGC has records of such students who have disabilities, why has it not made its helpline accessible to them? Is this an oversight by the authority or blatant discrimination against a marginalized community?

UGC website when evaluated by the Wave Web Accessibility Tool showing multiple errors as mentioned in the article
Image provided by the author.

Javed Abidi Foundation (JAF), a youth advocacy group, while consulting students with disabilities, ran a preliminary accessibility check using the WAVE web Accessibility tool only to find that the web page named ‘UGC Help Desk for COVID-19 Related Grievances’ is completely inaccessible to students with visual impairments. This is because the images on the page don’t have appropriate Alt Text!  The process to register one’s grievances is also inaccessible to blind students, as to do so, an individual has to fill in a captcha code (another image without Alt Text).

Further, on using the accessibility evaluation tool on the main UGC website, it was found that it has 292 major accessibility errors, 494 contrasting errors, and other errors as well. Students with visual impairments volunteering with JAF were also unable to access the web portal.

 

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JAF Volunteer Najrul Islam talks about his article in @youthkiawaaz #RPWD #Accessibility #Disability #Rights Link in bio!

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Accessibility of digital platforms is mandated under section 46 read along with section 40 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act of 2016. UGC needs to take cognizance of the fact that students with disabilities have an equal right to education and the law mandates that the competent authority fulfils their needs so that they can enjoy their rights as citizens of this country. The pandemic should not stop the education students with disabilities, the competent authority needs to adapt so that it can enable students to contribute to the development of the nation.

People with visual disabilities access websites using technologies, such as screen reader software namely: JAWS, NVDA, Supernova, and Window-Eyes. It is pertinent to note that blind individuals access websites using the keyboard and they don’t use a mouse. The screen reader software provides key voice commands to access different elements available on the website. For instance, a JAWS user can move to the next link by pressing ‘TAB’ and to the prior link by pressing ‘SHIFT+TAB’. The ‘ENTER KEY’ activates the link and ‘INSERT+F7’ displays the list of links. When a screen reader user cannot access all the features available on the website, it means it has accessibility issues which act as a barrier for students with disabilities.

Shameer Rishad, Convenor JAF, wrote a letter to the chairmen of UGC on May 31 2020, notifying him of the flaws in the grievance redressal mechanism and the website but sadly he has yet to receive a reply in this matter and the web portal is still inaccessible!

The UGC is blatantly discriminating against students with disabilities, I have written to the office of the chairman multiple times, not once have I even received an acknowledgement nor a simple reply,” he said.

With no response from UGC, JAF filed an official complaint with the Chief Commissioner of Persons with Disabilities (CCPD) on June 5, 2020, and requested them to take the necessary steps as the designated nodal authority to ensure accessibility.

Yet again, the youth advocacy group has been let down by the system as they have received no response from CCPD either!

If students with disabilities are unable to register their grievances then how will their voices be heard? If the nodal authority that is supposed to protect the rights of people with disabilities is unresponsive to the plea of the people, where does this leave the community?

The whole month of June has gone by and we have waited for a response, but there has been no action taken on this matter! As the author of this article, I would implore you to join the movement and connect with JAF to further this advocacy initiative.

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What should the youth advocacy group, Javed Abidi Foundation do next to get a response from the government?

This article is written by JAF volunteer, Najrul Islam, who is a law student at National Law University Delhi (NLUD). You can reach the Convenor of JAF on Twitter.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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