M. Dinesh Varma and Meera Srinivasan

“Government has a few schemes specifically to address this need of the visually impaired”

An estimated 14,600 disabled children are in

school-going age across State

The visually impaired children number around 2,000

CHENNAI: While a majority of the children appearing for their annual examinations in March worry over what questions to expect and whether they will run out of time answering them, there is a category of students sharing a very different fundamental concern.

Every year, hundreds of visually impaired children taking their annual examinations at various levels agonise over uncertainties such as whether they will find a scribe in time, whether the handwriting will be legible enough or whether he or she will write sufficiently quickly.

Disability activists say locating a scribe constitutes a struggle that is as draining for a child with disability as preparing for an annual examination itself.

According to an official with the Education Department, at least 16 students applied for scribes for the class 12 State Board examination. They included the visually impaired as well as students who had fractured their arm.

Ahead of the Class X examinations beginning later this week, the School Education Department has received at least 10 requests for a scribe.

By convention, special schools for visually impaired students usually approach the Social Welfare Department for scribes and other requirements. There are 10 special schools for the blind in the State sector apart from a handful of private aided institutions, an official said.

According to data with the Disability Commissionerate, there are an estimated 14,600 disabled children in the school-going age across the State. The visually impaired children number around 2,000.

There are about 600 students in Government-run special schools for the blind apart from the approximately 1,300 visually impaired students in aided/unaided institutions.

The three State-run institutions for the visually impaired children in Poonammallee, Tiruchi and Thanjavur alone have over 300 students.

The magnitude of various forms of disability -- from visual impairment to cerebral palsy -- among children in the school-going age is a pointer to the demand for scribes.

“The government has a few schemes specifically to address this need of the visually impaired,” said V. Jeyakodi, State Disability Commissioner.

The budget has set apart Rs. 5 lakh by way of the Scribe Assistance scheme. An estimated 400 visually impaired children in classes IX to XII benefit from this scheme, which earmarks Rs.50 per subject paper per examination. Another government welfare measure allocates Rs.1,500 per year – double the amount of the previous year – as reader’s allowance for children in classes IX to XII. This scheme is also available for the visually impaired candidates at the under graduate level (Rs.2,500), postgraduate and professional courses (Rs.3,000). The budgetary allocation for this scheme is Rs.18 lakh, up from Rs.8 lakh the previous year. The scheme has around 1,000 beneficiaries.

NGOs are also pitching in to help the cause of the disabled. Vidya Sagar has launched a website ( www.iscribe.co.in) with the aim of addressing the travails of the visually impaired in securing a capable scribe.

The objective of ‘i-Scribe’ portal is to connect people who want to be scribes and people who need a scribe. All that the needy and the volunteers have to do is to register on the website.

Over 400 scribes have registered for the ‘i-Scribe’ initiative so far, says N. Maheswari, co-ordinator of the initiative.

Children who require a scribe and scribe volunteers can contact her on 98412 97521; Dipti Bhatia on 98409 17314; or Vasavi, 98411 59026.

However, while catching hold of a scribe is one thing, securing a reliable associate is quite another. Visually impaired students say that scribes with empathy, who appreciate how much the examination means to the visually impaired student and always give of their best, are indeed rare to come by.

More In: TAMIL NADU | NATIONAL