Should visually challenged candidates sitting for public examinations be compelled to attempt questions with pictures or diagrams?
The question is raised by M. Sivakumar, who appeared for the Group IIA examination conducted by the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission (TNPSC) on June 29.
The booklet had 200 questions, all compulsory. Of these, six required culling out answers from pictures and diagrams, putting visually impaired candidates at a disadvantage. “Even if I skipped one question, my overall ranking would be affected,” Mr. Sivakumar says.
According to information provided by the TNPSC, 552 candidates with visual impairment were competing against more than six lakh candidates across the State in the examination to fill 2,846 vacancies in various departments.
The question papers are not set in Braille. Though the TNPSC arranges for scribes to help such candidates, Mr. Sivakumar points out that scribes are only supposed to write the answers given by the candidates and not write the examination on behalf of them.
TNPSC officials say the questions comprising pictures and diagrams are meant to test the logical reasoning abilities of the candidates as they ask them to identify patterns in diagrams or interpret data in pictures. “There are scribes to assist them,” says an official.
“There is too much dependence on the scribe, and often the performance of a candidate depends on how well the scribe explains the questions to him. I lost a lot of time because the scribe was not helpful enough,” Mr. Sivakumar says.
A visually impaired person who recently cleared the UPSC examination, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “Questions containing pictures and diagrams are made optional in UPSC examinations so that candidates with visual impairment are not unfairly disadvantaged. The TNPSC must do the same.”
“The same question can be framed differently without using pictures as the purpose is to test whether the candidate can draw the right inferences from the data,” suggests Sushma Agarwal, a visually challenged professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Mathematics, University of Madras.
“If explained properly, visually impaired persons can visualise pictures. There is also the possibility of using tactile diagrams which are being incorporated in special education projects nowadays,” she says.
After taking a look at the question paper provided by this correspondent, senior officials in the Office of the State Commissioner for the Differently Abled agreed that the TNPSC must make the examination process inclusive.
Only in February this year did the Madras High Court issue contempt notice to the Chief Secretary, the head of the Monitoring Committee for Differently Abled and the State Commissioner for the Differently Abled for not implementing the Supreme Court’s October 2013 order, which made it mandatory to fill backlog vacancies with the three per cent quota for persons with disabilities.
“If candidates like us get eliminated at the first step while appearing for the qualifying exams, how can we ever get these coveted jobs despite reservation,” Mr. Sivakumar asks.