Protest eye exam for aspirants; officials scrap it, say it was to mainstream students

A proposed eye exam for aspirants to the Government Higher Secondary School for the Blind in Poonamallee was abandoned on Friday after a group of visually challenged persons staged a protest there.

This is the first time that the government introduced such an eye test but it upset organisations representing visually challenged persons. The activists alleged that the government was trying to shut the school down. However, officials said that the test was to ensure that partially sighted students could go to mainstream schools.

The four persons who came to conduct the test left without performing the medical exam. Students with 40 per cent blindness are certified and provided identity cards, which can be used for school admission.

According to principal V. Gopal, in 2012, the school admitted 48 students in class XII. “The school is 64 years old and it is for the first time in many years that so many students were admitted,” he said. Staff members said that the decision to screen students was the fallout of an incident on World Disability Day in 2012. Students from the school were taken to the venue of celebration in new buses, which were provided by the transport department.

“The next day, officials noticed that several seats had been damaged. The issue was reported to the transport commissioner,” said a staff member at the school. Questions were raised on how blind students could damage the buses by slitting seats with blades. As officials believe that it could have been the work of sighted persons who pretended to be blind, they are encouraging students with low vision and partial blindness to consider integrated education.

School alumni noted that several courses had been scrapped. The school used to offer subjects such as book binding, motor winding, and fitting. Now, only book binding is offered and even this might be discontinued on June 28 as the government printing press has expressed its inability to absorb the students. “One agency has refused to absorb students but that does not mean that the course is useless,” argued Mr. Saravanan, who works as a binder at the district central library in Dharmapuri. “Libraries in every district need binders,” he said.

D. Elumalai, who is completely blind, has four siblings, all of whom are also blind and studied in private blind schools. According to him, in the towns around Tirupattur where he lives, there are several adults with visual impairments who had not gone to school. “Many are unemployable. Had the government created more awareness of such schools, they too would have benefitted,” he rued.

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