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Updated: December 30, 2013 09:14 IST

A question paper Miranda could read

Asha Sridhar
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Miranda Tomkinson appeared for the National Eligibility Test to be eligible for the post of assistant professor. Photo: M. Vedhan
The Hindu Miranda Tomkinson appeared for the National Eligibility Test to be eligible for the post of assistant professor. Photo: M. Vedhan

Small victory for rights activists as visually-impaired man takes UGC test in Braille

On Sunday, when 35-year-old Miranda Tomkinson took the national eligibility test (NET) of the University Grants Commission (UGC) at a private college in the city, for the first time in his life, he read the questions without the help of a scribe.

Not just that, the visually-impaired Tomkinson also read out the answers to his scribe with the help of the Braille question paper.

He walked out of the examination hall with the question paper, almost like everybody else. He can now store his question paper and more importantly, refer to it without anybody’s help. This was not possible before.

Tomkinson, who also has a degenerative hearing disorder, was able to get a Braille question paper on Sunday after a year-long struggle and a host of representations, including an RTI petition, to UGC.

On Friday, the Madras High Court directed UGC to set the paper for the visually impaired in Braille. Tomkinson was writing the exam to be eligible for the post of assistant professor.

Smitha Sadasivam, assistant coordinator, disability legislation unit of Vidya Sagar, which took up his cause, said this was the first time the UGC had given a Braille question paper and the case had set a precedent.

“I cannot forget this day,” said Tomkinson after a day spent writing paper I, II and III of the Test. “In the absence of communication, it is not possible to accomplish anything,” he said.

Though it was a victory for Tomkinson on Sunday, Sadasivam said, as per court order, the facility should have been extended to all the visually-impaired candidates who appeared for the Test. According to information from University of Madras, which conducted the exam in Chennai, over 14,000 candidates registered for the examination in the city. Of these, around 164 candidates were visually impaired.

According to an office memorandum of the department of disability affairs, ministry of social justice and empowerment, that speaks of guidelines for conducting written examinations for persons with disabilities, “Persons with disabilities should be given the option of choosing the mode for taking the examinations, i.e. in Braille, or on the computer or in large print or even by recording the answers as the examining bodies can easily make use of technology to convert question paper in large prints, e-text, or Braille and can also convert Braille text in English or regional languages.”

UGC officials were unavailable for comment.

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