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Research Study shows gaps in access to Assistive Technology and UDL Based Materials for Learners with Disabilities in Rwanda

Photo Credit: Kate Maloney

By Ange de la Victoire DUSABEMUNGU

On Wednesday, February 22, 2023, the Rwanda Union of the Blind released the findings on the research conducted on ‘’Existing Innovative Assistive Technology and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Based Materials Facilitating Access to Learning Targeting Learners with Disabilities in Rwanda’’

It is a  research study commissioned by the World Bank –Inclusive Education Initiative and conducted by the Rwanda Union of the Blind in a consortium  with eKitabu .

The study targeted 300 respondents in 19 districts and about 291 respondents participated in this research  which gives the authenticity of the findings.

Normally assistive technology is a technology that increases, improves or maintains the functional abilities of persons with disabilities, according to the terminology taken from Document reviewed during the study.

The research has focused on three areas which included the assessment on the availability, utilization and efficacy of assistive Technology and UDL Based materials in supporting learners with disabilities in primary education.

According to this research study findings it is clear that the existing innovative technology and UDL based materials are not sufficiently enough and this creates a gap in supporting the education of learners with disabilities in Rwanda . Possible solutions should be provided to address all these identified gaps.

Some of the key findings include lack of standardized  sign language  and Kinyarwanda Braille code, lack of clear implementation measures of the Special Needs and Inclusive education policy, limited UDL based materials that do not meet all the UDL principles, insufficient assistive technologies, high cost of assistive technologies for learners with disability and limited awareness of appropriate assistive technology among others.

Presenting the findings, Umutoni Marie Françoise-Research member said that “The key findings include lack of clear implementation measures of the special needs and inclusive education policy.”

She explained that “We have the policy which is good and provides the guidance on how to even accommodate learners with disabilities. But there is that gap between the policy and  the reality on the ground concerning the policy implementation”

She highlighted that there are limited UDL based materials and the available ones do not meet all the UDL principles to meet all the learning needs of learners with disabilities

On the insufficient assistive technologies, she explained that “assistive technology devices are not only insufficient but also expensive. If you look at even the smart screen boards they are expensive even to storing huge and to embed the sign language videos, it’s another cost.”

“So it becomes more expensive when you talk of the Orbit Reader 20  which support learners with visual impairment that even the government of Rwanda launched in the effort of supporting  the inclusive education however, the Orbit Reader 20 itself is  too expensive, about $950 and the available devices are insufficient compared to the needy learners in schools” Umutoni explained.

“Then again, there is limited awareness of appropriate assistive technology. Why?” She asked.

She continued to explain that “Rwanda is evolving, we are now at the international standard. In other places, it’s evolving. As we talk to assistive technology everyday it evolves the same way the other technology. Today we have small mobile phones without internet and tomorrow, we have Smartphones, it’s the same also for assistive technology for learners with disabilities, it evolves all the time.”

On this, she said that the Government should put in place clear mechanisms to keep on the trend of the new versions of assistive technology.

In the meantime, the study found that on utilization of available assistive technologies, there is limited utilization, due to teacher capacity and skills, limited knowledge and available materials, and insufficient educational content in accessible format.

Umutoni said “There is the curriculum, we have the policies, but then when it’s given to the teachers, it’s still in the normal format for use and even, for the teachers,  the visually impaired teachers who have been recently employed by the government are also still having challenges in accessing them.”

However, the study revealed that in special schools, there are  a number of assistive technology  devices compared to inclusive schools and mainstream schools.

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