The university has a lab where the visually impaired are trained on custom-made computers
They do not write with a pen. But they do not use Braille or a scribe either. A laptop ‘writes' the examination for them. And all four of them give print outs of their answer sheets.
Anjum Khan, a Ph.D. scholar, M.K. Maheswari, doing second year MA English Literature, N. Sneha, doing second year BA English Literature, and Uma Maheswari, doing B.Ed., all visually impaired students of Avinashilingam Deemed University for Women, take examinations on their laptops.
Use of technology and computers by the visually challenged has been on the increase for quite some time now, thanks to various assistive softwares such as the screen reader JAWS.
But extending the use of computer and typing knowledge to that of writing a time-bound examination by the four does not sound too easy a task when we hear it from them.
The Department of Special Education of the university has a special computer laboratory where visually impaired are trained on custom-made computers complete with keyboard sans a mouse. But all the training in the world cannot make them take an examination if they do not have the utmost confidence in their skill, says Department Head Premavathy Vijayan.
Twenty-three-year-old Anjum, working on a thesis on “Afro-Canadian Writing”, was initiated into desktop computing in her undergraduate days. She upgraded to a laptop in her first year PG and with “a little re-orientation” Anjum became conversant with it. The very next year she took her examination on the laptop. She is the first student in the university to do so. Today she is a veteran and serves as a role model for her juniors.
Following in her footsteps, Uma Maheswari trained herself to make the attempt in her second year UG. Then came Maheswari and the latest entrant is Sneha. While there are many visually impaired students in the university who use the computer for study, submitting assignments and projects, they do not come forward to take examinations, according to Sneha. Ms. Vijayan says that more than the motivation from the teachers' end, it helps when the motivation comes from the peers.
But she also concurs that it is a very difficult task. “It requires thorough knowledge in spelling, skill in typing and use of the laptop, to complete the examination on time.”
The girls have laboured hard at getting all three skills mastered before sitting for the examination. After the initial hiccup, the subsequent examinations have been better.
In spite of all the hardships they do not want to use a scribe, which would seem like an easier option. But for them it is a curtailing of freedom. Using a laptop gives them total freedom – a wonderful feeling – with the choice of words, altering them, rearranging them, and last but not the least the free flow of thought that can be put on paper without having to go through another person.
They want to be role models so that they can make more visually challenged enjoy the freedom that they are enjoying now. And it is not only restricted to examinations, but also includes being part of social networks, doing online courses, accessing material from libraries and a whole host of goodies that they are party to.