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AE calls on the EU to adopt measures to respond to the needs of learners with disabilities in the digital age

On September 30, the European Commission released its Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027) that includes some references to the needs of learners with disabilities. Autism-Europe, together with other disability organisations including the European Disability Forum (EDF),  is happy to see its concerns reflected clearly in this communication, but more concrete actions are needed for a real impact.

The Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027) outlines the European Commission’s vision for high-quality, inclusive and accessible digital education in Europe. It is a call to action for stronger cooperation at the European level to learn from the COVID-19 crisis during which technology is being used at a scale never seen before in education and training, and to make education and training systems fit for the digital age.

The Commission’s detailed communication around the Action Plan makes the following direct references to the needs of persons with disabilities regarding digital education and distance learning:

  • Learners with disabilities need tools that are fully accessible if they are to benefit from digital transformation.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, not all distance-learning tools or content were accessible, and learners with disabilities faced particular challenges.
  • Persons with disabilities reported particular difficulties regarding the accessibility of technology and digital educational material, the availability of assistive technology; technical support provided to learners with disabilities and the teacher competence on disability and accessibility matters.

And in its proposed actions, it is mentioned that:

  • The EU will encourage Member States to make the most of EU support with regard to internet access, purchase of digital equipment and e-learning applications and platforms for schools, and in particular for students from disadvantaged groups and for students and educators with disabilities.
  • The EU will work to ensure everyone acquires a basic understanding of new and emerging technologies including Artificial Intelligence. This will help them to engage positively, critically and safely with this technology, and be aware of potential issues related to ethics, environmental sustainability, data protection and privacy, children’s rights, discrimination and bias, including gender bias and disability and ethnicity and racial discrimination.

Read more about the Digital Education Action Plan

Download the Commission’s detailed communication.

The EU needs to put forward actions that will adequately address the needs of disabled people

Although there is an intention to mainstream the needs of learners with disabilities in the planned actions, disability organisations have to ensure that the EU does indeed address the needs of learners with disabilities, and that the recommendations and solutions proposed are clear, with a correct understanding of the issues we have been seeing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

EDF, of which Autism-Europe is a founding member, took part actively in the consultation linked to the action plan and submitted a position paper outlining the major issues learners with disabilities face in accessing digital education. EDF also focused on the challenges learners have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Download here the EDF’s response to the European Commission’s Digital Education Action Plan 2021-2027