The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demanded urgent implementation of social distancing or quarantine, unaware of some disabled people who require support beside them. Government and educational institutions are now struggling to offer them adequate assistance.
Disabled university students are facing renewed difficulties. With the Ministry of Education officially recommending online lectures on March 2, students were provided with online lectures so that they can study at home. However, visually or acoustically impaired students were cornered to a blind spot once again.
Students with auditory hardships used to participate in lectures by reading the lecturer’s lips. With the change to online lectures, however, some lectures did not provide videos of professors talking. In case of audio-only lectures, students had to request subtitles or written records of the lectures themselves to the professor.
Civic groups state this hinders the students’ study compared to nondisabled students, which is an infringement of right to learn. When a member of Korea Association of the Deaf requested a written record for her lecture at school, she was confronted with a new problem. “It is better to have a lecture script than having to listen to the lecture without any support,” she said. “But written records given to me before the lectures sometimes differ a lot from the actual lecture. It’s difficult to match them up.”
Yang Ha-eun, a visually impaired student in a university based in Gyeonggi-do, said, “The ‘screenreader’ program used to read the words on the text when I move the cursor along the text. Unfortunately, this does not work with powerpoint files, nor with texts within a video. It is almost impossible for me to listen to online lectures.”
Yang also faced difficulty when professors indicated certain objects using demonstrative pronouns such as ‘this’ or ‘that’. There being no assistant available, visually disabled students had a hard time distinguishing the pronouns.
Students with auditory problems stated that they were surprised to see the professor wearing a mask in the lecture and that they are worried the subtitles might not be accurate, according to an interview conducted by SBS news.
Civic groups thus presented a petition to National Human Rights Commission of Korea on the right to learn on March 20.
Students at Ewha were no exception from this hardship. Ewha’s Support Center for Students with Disabilities (SCDC) in turn decided to offer AI text-translation service to students with hearing difficulties. The service allows hearing impaired students to receive real-time subtitles on their lectures. In addition, SCDC decided to offer an ‘assistant for handicapped students’ program as usual. With concerns of infection, SCDC made it mandatory to provide online help from home.
As school allowed offline classes upon school’s approval from May 4, however, SCDC also provided countermeasures for offline classes. If a disabled student asks for lecture scripts, the assistant must be at least two meters away from the student, as well as being a meter away when they have a mask on.
Students with hearing difficulties added that both subtitles and sign language should be included in their online lectures. According to SBS news, sign language delivers the content, whereas subtitles are limited to mere words. Even though the Disability Discrimination Act ensures equality for the disabled in everyday lives, the reality for them is harsh. Therefore, various supplements such as stenography, sign language or accurate and quickly uploaded subtitles are needed for impaired students to have an equal chance of education.