Chinese students will be able to sit for the college entrance exam in Braille, the ministry of education has announced.

Human Rights Watch described this week’s directive as an important breakthrough after years of campaigning by disability rights advocates in China, where educational and employment discrimination are rife.

While a few blind students have studied at university, the vast majority have been effectively barred from higher education because there was no provision for them.

While all children are in theory entitled to the same education, parents and campaigners say there is scant means for redress when institutions refuse to enrol students with disabilities or give them the support they need.

According to Human Rights Watch, 28 per cent of children with disabilities are not receiving even a basic education.

“Making exams accessible to the blind would help to minimise discrimination against and maximise respect for people with disabilities in China,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at the group.

Huang Rui, a lawyer who focuses on disability cases at the Boyang law firm in Henan, welcomed the news but added that the core of education was students’ daily experience of study, not just exams.

“Only if their [ability to] study on campus day—to—day is guaranteed will visually—impaired people be more confident to take part in mainstream education,” he said.

The government said two years ago that blind or partially sighted students would be able to sit the exam. But when 45—year—old Li Jinsheng tried to register for this year’s exam — having never abandoned his dreams of studying law — he was rejected by local officials.

While activists still say implementation is key, the new directive makes it clear that the ministry will be responsible for providing braille or electronic exam papers. Li has said he plans to enrol for next year’s test.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2014

Keywords: China examsBraille

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