Traditionally examinations are designed and conducted with the assumption that all students can read with the help of their vision, write with their hands, and use spoken languages. In reality, some students use finger for reading and their hands for speaking; they read lip movements and facial expressions for listening.
In order to enable these students to appear in the examinations using their preferred medium of communication, reasonable adjustments have been recommended under the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995 and the rules framed by various educational authorities.
This article highlights the range and nature of adjustments and modifications recommended in the written examinations and interviews.
1. Why are modifications required in the written and other tests for the students with disabilities?
Like other aspects of education, the examination system was also designed to meet the requirements of the non-disabled students. As a consequence, students with disabilities were unable to attempt certain parts of the paper. Group discussions, interviews, science practical examinations, etc also posed numerous challenges for deaf, blind and spastic children.
In order to equalize conditions in which examinations are administered, school boards, universities and other examining authorities have introduced a number of modifications.
2. Is there a legal obligation towards modifying the examination system for students with disabilities?
Yes, modifications in the examination system are a legal obligation. The principle policy regarding modification of examination is laid down in Section 30 and 31 of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995.
3. Are candidates with disabilities entitled to question papers in accessible formats?
Yes, candidates with disabilities are entitled to question papers in accessible formats.
For blind students and low-vision students access to question papers can be ensured by:
· Providing the question papers in Braille script
· Reading out the question paper without giving any clarification or explanation
· Making an audio copy of the question paper on a cassette, provided a cassette player is available
· Making available an electronic copy of the question paper for students who use computers
· By providing a large print copy of the question paper for students with low vision- the print size must be determined as per the individual needs of the child
· By allowing the magnifiers and other assistive devices
The right to receive question papers in accessible formats by students with disabilities has been upheld by the Honorable Supreme Court as well as various High Courts.
Various authorities have issued specific guidelines for making necessary modifications in the question papers keeping in view the needs of students with learning disabilities and hearing impairment.
4. Can alternative questions be offered to students who cannot attempt question based on pictures, graphs, etc?
The blind and low-vision students are at a loss when questions are based on pictures, graphs, etc. In order to provide them an equal opportunity, Section 30 (f) of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995 makes a provision for alternative questions in lieu of purely mathematical questions for the blind. This statutory principle underlines the fact that when there is a question based on pictures, graphs, maps, geometrical illustrations, etc., blind persons should be offered an alternative question, as visual exploration is not possible for those with visual impairment.
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) from the 2002 examination provides:
Alternate questions in lieu of questions requiring special skills based on visual inputs
… in mathematics and science for the Secondary School Examination (Class X).
Some State Education Boards and schools do not offer alternative questions, instead they award proportionate marks based on the overall performance of the student. However, this is not an ideal solution. Paper setters must offer alternative questions to assess the knowledge of disabled students in all areas.
Agencies like the Universities Grants Commission also follow this principle while setting the question paper for the National Eligibility Test (NET).
5. Who among the disabled are entitled to the assistance of scribes/ writers while taking written tests?
Amongst the disabled, the blind and low-vision students, and students with cerebral palsy and learning disabilities are entitled to write their examination with the help of scribes/writers.
Section 31 of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995, provides that:
All educational institutions shall provide or cause to be provided amanuensis to blind students and students with low vision.
Apart from blind and low-vision persons, some other categories of the disabled, such as those with learning disabilities and cerebral palsy, have also been granted the assistance of a scribe.
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) issued guidelines in 2004 extending the facility of using a writer/scribe/amanuensis to spastic, physically handicapped, blind and dyslexic students appearing for their board examinations. The CBSE has further prescribed the following rules for appointing a writer/scribe/amanuensis:
Rules for appointing amanuensis:
· An amanuensis must be a student of a class lower than the one for which the candidate is taking the examination.
· The Superintendent of the examination centre concerned shall choose a suitable amanuensis and forward immediately to the Regional Officer concerned of the Board, a report giving full particulars of the candidate and of the amanuensis for his/her consideration and approval.
· The Superintendent shall arrange a suitable room for the candidate for whom an amanuensis is allowed and appoint one special Assistant Superintendent to supervise the examination.
· Such a candidate shall pay a fee as may be prescribed for the use of an amanuensis. However, a blind or physically handicapped or spastic candidate will be provided with the service of an amanuensis free of cost.
· The amanuensis shall be paid by the Board a remuneration as prescribed from time to time.
6. Can students with disabilities write their examinations with the help of special devices and equipments?
Yes, students with disabilities can write their examinations with a brailler, typewriter or computer, and they are also allowed to record their answers on a cassette.
Since 2003, CBSE has allowed blind and low-vision students to use typewriters/computers for writing their examinations. Students with low-vision can write their examinations like other students but they may use low-vision devices for the purpose of reading the question papers and writing the answers. Some candidates with low-vision prefer writing the examination on a computer. The CBSE, the UGC and others have already granted such permission.
Children with cerebral palsy use a computer either with a regular keyboard or with the help of a specially designed switch. There are a wide variety of switches available. Information regarding these can be obtained from Action for Ability Development and Inclusion (AADI), Delhi and Vidyasagar, Chennai.
7. Is there provision for extra time in examinations for students with disabilities?
Dyslexic, spastic, blind and low-vision students, and students with cerebral palsy are entitled to one hour extra time in the examinations conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).
By this standard, educational institutions across the country grant extra time at the rate of 20 minutes per hour for internal and other tests.
In the higher education and professional courses the cerebral palsy students have been entitled extra time up to three hours.
8. How should practical examinations, interviews and group discussion be conducted for deaf/hearing impaired candidates?
To facilitate barrier free participation by deaf students in practical examinations, interviews and group discussions, it must be remembered that deaf communicate in two distinct ways. Some of them prefer using sign language while others prefer lip reading. Under all circumstances, whether sign language users or lip readers, they are entitled to follow one-language criterion.
For sign language users:
i. School and examining authorities are obliged to arrange for the services of a sign language interpreter during practical examinations, to facilitate communication between the deaf students and the examiners.
ii. It should be ensured that the sign language interpreter is familiar with the sign language used by the hearing-impaired student.
iii. Hearing-impaired students, during the practical examinations and interviews, should be asked questions in their preferred language, as they have been exempted from learning more than one language.
Hearing-impaired persons using lip reading skills generally possess speech ability, though their speech is often monotonous. They may not require the assistance of a sign language interpreter. However, in order for them to efficiently communicate with the examiners, the following points must be taken into account:
· The examiner who wishes to pose a question to the hearing-impaired student must speak in the language chosen by the student.
· The examiner should speak at a medium pace, neither too fast nor too slow.
· The examiner should avoid the use of two languages while posing a question.
· The examiner’s face should be in direct line of vision of the hearing-impaired student, to enable proper reading of the lip movements.
· Before a question is posed orally, the examiner should frame the precise wording of the question and whenever requested by the candidate to repeat the question, should use the same wording. This would help the hearing-impaired student to fully understand the question.
· In case there is more than one examiner sitting to the right and left of the candidate, each one needs to draw the candidate’s attention before posing a question. For this purpose, the member sitting face to face with the candidate could point towards other members wishing to communicate with the candidate.
· Use a blackboard/overhead projectors/LCD is a good idea as members of the interview panel can write their questions. Otherwise, for the purpose of clarity, a spoken question can be supplemented with a handwritten one.
9. What measures are needed to make examination centres fully accessible for students with disabilities?
A minimum level of accessibility to the examination centres can be ensured by providing ramps as an alternative to step and/ or lifts, wide doors, disable friendly large toilets with wide doors for wheelchair movement, drinking water facilities within reach and expanded space in the examination area for keeping crutches, walkers, etc.
People with hearing-impairment generally do not require any modification in the written examination. However, all those handling written examinations must be made aware of the fact that any oral instruction given during the examinations must be communicated to hearing impaired candidate in written format or in sign language. This would enable hearing impaired students to follow oral instructions given by the supervisors and invigilators.
The blind candidates who are using scribes/writers dictating answers to them must be seated in separate room away from other candidates.
In this respect, CBSE guidelines are as follows:
The Superintendent shall arrange a suitable room for the candidate for whom an amanuensis is allowed and appoint one special Assistant Superintendent to supervise his examination.
Allotting the examination centre near the candidate’s place of residence could also help in making the examination centres more accessible.