The exam season is going on in Bengaluru. However, several visually impaired students have more than just the question paper to worry about. Many of them are nowhere close to finding scribes to write the exams on their behalf.
Students continue to face difficulty in finding scribes even after the guidelines were revised by the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment in 2013. The guidelines allow for flexibility in the eligibility criteria of the scribe as well as accommodate a change in the scribe/ reader in case of emergencies. One of the main guidelines says "Criteria like educational qualification, marks scored, age or other such restrictions for the scribe/reader/lab assistant should not be fixed".
But most of the colleges and other competitive examination boards do not seem to follow these guidelines. "It is a great challenge for the students because the colleges are still keen on following the old rules. Rules like how the scribe should be in a class which is lower than the class that the visually impaired student is in or that they have to be in different streams," says Akshata DC, scribe coordinator of a Bengaluru based NGO.
She says that while they have been able to get 1000 volunteers for scribing, there have also been requests by other people who are in their 50s and 60s and homemakers, too, who want to help out. But she is unable to register them as volunteers since many of the institutes and boards do not allow them to do the scribing.
Usually, scribes with the same educational background are preferred. "For theory subjects, the scribes should be well versed in that subject. For example, if a visually impaired student is having a science exam and he or she asks the scribe to draw a table, they should know what they mean by that," says Akshata.
The students find it difficult to get a scribe when they finish schooling since most of them go to blind schools till 10th Std.
"It is with great difficulty that we find scribes now. I had gone to a blind school in Belgaum and came to Bengaluru for my PUC. Sometimes the college helps us get scribes or otherwise, it is left to us to find them," says Sumit M Motekar, a visually impaired student who is doing BA 1st year in Bengaluru.
The difficulty does not end with finding a scribe.
"Even if we find scribes, there are a lot of problems after that. The person who is going to be the scribe has to fill and submit the form himself as well as submit photographs which are clear. Recently, the college authorities declined a submission because the photograph was not clear enough," says Sumit. Usually, they ask their friends or relatives of their friends to scribe for them.
Visually impaired students face the prospect of losing an academic year if they are unavailable to find scribes. "One of my friends was unable to find a scribe for him to write the final three exams during PUC due to which he lost a year," Sumit shares.
"While the guidelines are supposed to be uniform throughout the country, some of the autonomous colleges with their own board and rules tend to not follow them. Also, one of the other problems about the implementation is that some of the boards like the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission), SSC (Staff Selection Commission) and RRB (Railway Recruitment Board) have some issues related to the eligibility criteria of the scribe. For example, a person who is better qualified than the minimum qualifications for scribing will compromise the integrity of that exam," says D Dhariyal, Dy. Chief Commissioner, New Delhi for Persons with Disabilities.