The Rwanda Union of the Blind (RUB) is urging the Ministry of Education and the National Examination and School Inspection Authority (NESA) to enforce and monitor the implementation of the special needs and inclusive education policy. This is one of the key recommendations listed in a research study – conducted in 19 out of Rwanda’s 30 districts – on existing innovative assistive technology (AT) and UDL-based materials facilitating access to learning targeting learners with disabilities in Rwanda, made public on Wednesday, February 22. ALSO READ: Special needs education: Teachers weigh in on challenges Assistive technology is defined as technology that increases, improves, or maintains the functional abilities of persons with disabilities. The National Council for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD) should collaborate with Rwanda Revenue Authority to ensure that all assistive technology devices for educational purposes are exempted from taxes so as to reduce their high cost, RUB also recommended. ALSO READ: New device to ease learning for visually impaired students For example, an Orbit Reader 20 – which has a braille display, book reader and note-taker – created for blind people and offers an easy way to read books and note-taking, is portable and features 20 refreshable eight-dot braille cells, costs about $850. Advocates for people with disabilities are calling for the exemption of taxes on the assistive technology devices for educational purposes, after study shows that these remain in short supply in schools across Rwanda. The study, conducted by Rwanda Union of the Blind (RUB) and eKitabu – a digital platform for e-books – in partnership with the World Bank Group, focused on existing innovative assistive technology and universal design for learning (UDL) based materials facilitating access to learning targeting learners with disabilities. ALSO READ: Activists call for schools for children living with multiple disabilities At the presentation of the study findings, Dr Beth Mukarwego, the RUB Chairperson, said tax exemption on assistive technology would contribute to the development of education targeting learners with disabilities. Most assistive technology devices are imported, Mukarwego said. The study showed that available assistive technologies in schools are in short supply and not enough to meet the needs of students with disabilities, despite efforts by the government to provide assistive technology to visually impaired students which has evolved from low-tech to high-tech versions according to key findings. “There are many assistive technology products which are not on the list of educational materials which are tax exempted. This is also very challenging. By the time of importing them, we want the Ministry of Education to update the list of assistive technologies and materials needed in schools,” Mukarwego said. It is still a challenge for schools to cater for learners with special needs, and to recruit skilled teachers. Though some teachers have been trained on inclusive education, it is understood that they still have limited capacity on how to use assistive technology. “It is not easy for us to get a replacement teacher quickly because we need to train them first before they start teaching. And, assistive materials are still not enough to meet learners' needs like braille code books for the visually impaired,” she said. “Assistive technologies facilitate learners with disabilities to be more independent in performing school activities and improve their academic performance,” said Dieudonne Iramumpaye, HeadMaster of Blessing School for the Visual Impaired (BSVI) in Musanze District. Also recommended is that: the Ministry of Education and the Rwanda Education Board should work with experienced partners to develop a standardized Kinyarwanda braille code; and that the government should adopt Rwandan sign language to support learning for deaf learners. Activists also recommend that actors in the education sector ensure capacity development of teachers and, or, learners with disabilities when distributing assistive technology and UDL-based materials They also want the Government of Rwanda, in collaboration with experienced partners, to expedite the implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty roadmap to ease the production of learning materials for learners with print disabilities. The Marrakesh Treaty aims to help people who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print-disabled have access to books and other literary works in accessible formats. ALSO READ: Teachers with disabilities call for inclusive school infrastructure Lack of clear implementation measures for the special needs and inclusive education (SNIE) policy as well as limited Universal Design for Learning-based materials that do not all require principles, are some of the challenges identified by the study. Limited Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an approach to teaching and learning that gives all students equal opportunity to succeed. Other issues highlighted include insufficient AT to support learners with disabilities due to: high cost and taxes; limited awareness of appropriate assistive technology; and insufficient and not well-equipped resource rooms. ALSO READ: Visually impaired call for more reading materials There is also limited use of AT and UDL-based materials due to: limited teacher capacity and skills on use of AT and UDL-based materials; limited knowledge on available AT and UDL-based resources to support learners with disabilities; insufficient educational content in accessible formats; as well as insufficient assistive technology devices. Lack of standardized sign language and braille code for use in schools is another challenge. The research study was conducted to, among others, identify, analyse and assess: availability and utilization of innovative assistive technology; availability and utilization of UDL accessible digital materials; and efficacy in facilitating access to learning and teaching resources for learners with disabilities in Rwanda.