Now it would be an easy task for persons with visual and other disabilities in Himachal Pradesh and other parts of the country who can’t write, to take written examinations. Thanks to a landmark order passed by the chief commissioner for persons with disabilities(CCPD) recently which forced the union ministry of social justice and empowerment to lay down norms and bring uniformity in the country for conducting the examinations for the disabled. It is the first time that the ministry has sent the comprehensive guidelines to the quarters concerned for implementation. It’s time for cheers for a large number of disabled students and job aspirants who have been suffers because of the physical barriers in their way of writing.
Himachal Pradesh is the first state to take proactive measures for the implementation of the policy. The High Court of Himachal Pradesh, while taking suo motto cognizance of a letter written by Ajai Srivastava, chairman of Umang Foundation and Associate Professor of Journalism in Himachal Pradesh University, has issued notices on 28th March to the Chief Secretary, Principal Secretary (Education), all the government Universities in the State, H.P. Education Board, H.P. Public Service Commission and National Institute of Technology, Hamirpur to be replied within six weeks. The petitioner had requested the court for intervention to ensure justice to the disabled persons.
The Himachal Pradesh University has already constituted a high level committee to make recommendation in the issue under the chairmanship of Dean of Studies with Ajai Srivastava as member secretary who had written a letter to the Vice Chancellor demanding the implementation of the policy at the earliest.
The policy document was sent on 26th February by the Central Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to all the State governments and central ministries for its compliance. The specific needs and requirements of the disabled persons have been well taken care of by focusing on the use of information and communication technology policy. The policy says, “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.” This policy will cover all the academic and recruitment examinations for the disabled.
Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (CCPD), government of India, PK Pincha, while passing orders in a case, had framed this policy and had directed the government for its compliance. It was a historic order as there was a mess in conducting examinations for the disables despite an upcoming vibrant disability rights movement in the country.
The candidates with visual disabilities and others who can not write have to engage writer for writing in the examination. The procedure was quite tough and they had to face in finding a writer. The new uniform policy mentions, “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 mal-practices like copying and cheating during the examination.” In the policy, it is made mandatory for the examination body to ensure availability of question papers in the format opted by the candidate as well as suitable seating arrangement for taking examination.
The policy has a solution for those candidates who do not find any suitable writer, ‘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 revolutionary change in the existing system,” it says.
It is said in the policy that the examining body should also provide reading material in Braille or E-Text or on computers having suitable screen reading software for open book examination. Similarly online examination should be in accessible format i.e. websites, question papers and all other study material should be accessible as per the international standards laid down in this regard.
Now the disabled candidates, as per policy, are to be given option of choosing the mode for taking the examinations i.e. in Braille or in 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 paper in large prints, e-text, or Braille and can also convert Braille text in English or regional languages.
All the disabled candidates who avail or do not avail the facility of scribe are, now, 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 big 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.
Ajai Srivastava says, “We are sure that the Policy would be implemented from the next academic session. It would be a big achievement for the disabled.”