How Do Blind Students Write Their Exams? A Blind Girl Is Solving A Crucial Problem
By: Rukmini Chopra
Published On: June 01, 2018
Ummehaani Bagasrawala was born blind. But she says being specially abled didn’t seem like a challenge, thanks to the support of her family. “If you have that, nothing is difficult.”“My mother started her day at 5 am. She would be with me in school from 8 to 2. She used to go back home during my free classes, look after the house and come back.”
It was much later that Ummehaani learnt about her disability. Her family kept her it hidden for a while, as they didn’t want her to get affected.
“When I got to know about my blindness, the fact that I can’t see did pinch me in the beginning. But my family put the message across in a beautiful way; they said that everybody is different. Even the fingers on our hands are differently shaped. I was told that that there may be a few things I cannot do, but there’s a lot I can do,” she says.
In 2015, she started Pearls of Vision, an organization that sources writers for disabled and visually-impaired students.
A dilemma for the disabled
According to this report by DNA, it gets increasingly difficult for parents to find writers during exam time, for their children who are disabled or visually impaired. The situation is even worse during state board exams, as the board doesn’t provide writers and parents are forced into sourcing writers all on their own.
This article in Mumbai Mirror that features Ummehaani and her work, reports that the writer needs to be academically junior to the candidate and also needs a bonafide certificate from his or her college. The heavy paperwork is one of the many reasons behind the lack of writers.
In situations where writers back out last minute, parents have to bear the brunt and have to arrange for another writer.
Ummehani says that lack of awareness about this practice is the main culprit behind disabled students being left in the dark during exam time. “People still have a hard time coming to terms with the fact that they can be writers and this practice does exist. I have to specifically tell them that they’ll have to read out the questions to the student and the student will dictate the answer to them, which they will have to write.
Many of them just want to make money out of this and ask us about the package. We now have to exclusively tell people that it is an honorary service and there is no money involved.”
Ummehaani says that it gets difficult to find writers for exams in vernacular languages. “Writers are more than willing to write for English exams. But there are no writers willing to take up exams for languages such as Marathi and Hindi.”
Pearls of Vision was started to fill these gaps and help visually-impaired students write exams without worry.
Daughter to father
Ummehaani lost her father to cancer, just four days before starting Pearls of Vision. She says it was her mother who named the organization, in memory of her father. Though she formalized her work in 2015, Ummehaani began helping students during her school days at Hasanat High School.
“Back in school, I was affiliated with the National Association of the Blind. Lots of parents who knew my Mom, kept asking her how she managed to get a writer for my exams. When someone needed help, I would share my contacts and try and find writers for students.”
When I started college at Mithibai, my Dad would always tell me to formalize my work and give myself an identity. He believed the world should know what I am doing (laughs). When you are challenged yourself, and you have faced a similar situation, you wouldn’t want somebody else to go through the same,” she says.
One woman army
Ummehaani started Pearls of Vision all on her own and didn’t have anyone to help her. She eventually got a co-helper and another writer to ease off her burden. But when these two helpers are not available, Ummehaani is a one woman army.
She works at an interior designing company and juggles between her full time job and POV. “I have learnt to sacrifice on sleep,” she says with a chuckle, adding, “I do look at POV in between my work. But if there is an urgent requirement, I have to stay up all night.”
She goes on to explain POV’s working process in detail. “Students who need writers contact me and I forward their request to Whatsapp groups. If I don’t get a response on Whatsapp, I then put the request on our pages on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, through which we source writers.”
Today, POV has roots in Nasik, Haryana, Rajasthan, Pune and Mumbai.
Are things changing?
Ummehani says that people are beginning to become aware about the lack of writers and are offering their services. “There are a lot of senior citizens offering to help. Elderly people enjoy doing this and often ask me if there are more projects for them to take up once they are done,” she says.
But how are adult writers allowed to write exams? “There are universities such as Ruia college that allow adults and elderly people as writers. It’s only during board exams that they require students,” informs Ummehani.
What’s the long term solution?
Ummehaani says that if the universities permit, it may become very easy for the blind to write their exams in braille. “But unfortunately, there is no such provision,” she adds.
“In today’s times, technology is moving at a fast pace. We can easily have vivas, audio and video examinations and send those for correction through a pen drive or a CD.”
Also, I’m sure there are computers in every institute. They can download accessibility screen-readers like NVDA (Nonvisual Desktop Access) which is free. Through that, visually impaired students can write their own exams on the computer,” she concludes.
If you’d like to volunteer or get help, or know more about their activities, follow their social media handles below: