A recent government order has brought cheer to disabled students and job aspirants
In a step towards easing the task of persons with visual and other disabilities, a landmark order has been passed to bring uniformity in the country for conducting examinations for the disabled.
Passed by the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (CCPD) recently, the order has forced the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to lay down norms for the same. In a first, the Ministry has sent out comprehensive guidelines for the implementation of the order.
In the policy document circulated in February by the Ministry, specific needs and requirements of the disabled persons have been taken care of by focusing on the use of information and communication technology.
“There should be a uniform and comprehensive policy across the country for persons with disabilities for written examination taking into account improvement in technology and new avenues opened to the persons with disabilities providing a level playing field. Policy should also have flexibility to accommodate the specific needs on case-to-case basis,” states the police document. This policy will cover all the academic and recruitment examinations for the disabled.
Mr. P. K. Pincha, CCPD, while deciding two cases -- Gopal Sisodia, Indian Association of the Blind Vs. State Bank of India and Score Foundation vs. Department of Disability Affairs -- framed the norms for writing and directed the Ministry to take further action for the implementation to bring out a uniform policy. It was a historic order in the sense that there was disorder in the way exams for the disabled used to be conducted in the country, despite a vibrant disability rights movement taking place.
The disabled candidates who had no option but to engage a scribe for writing the examinations had to face problems. They had difficulties in finding a scribe because of certain pre-conditions to be a scribe for a disabled person. The new uniform policy says, “Criteria like educational qualification, marks scored, age or other such restrictions for the scribe/reader/lab assistant should not be fixed. Instead, the invigilation system should be strengthened, so that the candidates using scribe/reader/lab assistant do not indulge in malpractices like copying and cheating during the examination.”
It is said in the policy that the procedure of availing the facility of scribe should be simplified and the necessary details should be recorded at the time of filling up of forms. Thereafter, the examining body should ensure availability of question papers in the format opted by the candidate as well as suitable seating arrangements during the examination.
Even if the candidate does not find any suitable scribe, the policy has a solution, “The examining body may also identify the scribe/ reader/lab assistant to make panels at the district/division/ state level as per the requirements of the examination. In such instances, the candidates should be allowed to meet the scribe a day before the examination so that the candidates get a chance to check and verify whether the scribe is suitable or not.” This is a major shift from the existing system.
The policy reads, “The facility of scribe/reader/lab assistant should be allowed to any person who has disability of 40 per cent and the candidate should have the discretion of opting for his own scribe.”
As far as the format of question papers is concerned, the policy says, “The examining body should also provide reading material in Braille or e-text or on computers having suitable screen reading software for open book examinations. Similarly online examinations should be in accessible format, that is, websites, question papers and all other study material should be accessible as per the international standards laid down in this regard.”
Another big change reflected in the policy is that the disabled candidates are to be given the option of choosing the mode for taking the examinations, that is, 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 papers in large prints, e-text, or Braille and can also convert Braille text in English or regional languages.
Now, as per the policy, all disabled candidates who avail or do not avail the facility of scribe are to be allowed compensatory time of not less than 20 minutes per hour of examination and minimum of one hour for examination of 3 hours duration which could further be increased on case to case basis. This is to extend them equal opportunity.
A major relief for the hearing impaired candidates in the policy is that they are to be provided with alternative objective questions in lieu of descriptive questions in addition to the existing policy of giving alternative questions in lieu of questions requiring visual inputs, for persons with visual impairment.
At present, in the absence of a uniform policy, different academic institutions and recruitment bodies have their own rules. Mr. P K. Pincha, CCPD, says, “We will take every step to ensure that the norms are implemented in all the examinations of education boards, universities, other academic institutions and recruitment bodies like UPSC, Staff Selection Commission, State Public Service Commissions, Banks and Railways etc. This policy is to further the educational and economic empowerment of the disabled by giving them right to equal opportunities as enshrined by the our constitution and UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities .”