New Delhi, Nov 4: UGC has asked universities across the country to earmark funds to ensure a barrier-free environment for physically challenged students, seeking a status report within a fortnight.
The move comes against the backdrop of the Bombay High Court directing Chief Commissioners for Persons with Disabilities at the Centre to instruct educational institutions in the country to provide a barrier-free environment for disabled students by March 2015.
Barrier free education continues to remain a distant dream for thousands of physically challenged students despite communications, rules and guidelines framed from time to time.
As per statistics, 1.67 percent of the 0-19 age population has a disability, and less than one percent of them have access to educational facilities.
'The University Grants Commission (UGC) has decided that out of the General Development Assistance (GDA) grant provided to University/lnstitution/ College an amount of Rs one lakh would be spent for barrier-free education," said a UGC communication to all the vice chancellors, adding "the status report in this regard may be within 15 days".
Barrier-free environment for disabled students should include ramp, lift and washroom facilities to accommodate wheelchairs, the court specifically said.
The term "barrier-free" indicates an environment where all users irrespective of their physical disadvantages can enter, use or access the resources as and when they want.
In its direction earlier, the HRD Ministry had stated that all educational institutions should be made barrier-free within a reasonable time frame of, say, two years for universities and three years for colleges and schools.
They should also have facilities to provide Braille books and talking books.
Sign language interpreter should also be provided in institutions having hearing impaired students.
It had also stated that most Central universities and, at least one State University in each state should have a Department of Disability Studies, which should address all issues relating to persons with disabilities - specially human rights, rehabilitation, education.
"Things have moved little and ensuring barrier-free education remains a dream," said an official of the HRD Ministry.
While hearing a petition filed by a physically challenged student, the High Court's attention was drawn to a circular dated July 11, 2001, issued by the UGC to vice chancellors of all universities asking them to ensure barrier-free environment for the disabled students.
The court was also informed that on December 8, 2012, the Ministry Human Resource Development had instructed that educational institutions (buildings of universities, colleges and technical institutes, etc) should be barrier free and accessible for all types of disabilities.