Assistive technology to help students with vision disabilities in exams

Asia-Pacific, April 30 2013

CHENNAI, INDIA: In 2006, Satvir, a student with vision disabilities, became the first in the country to take the board exams using a Braille-enabled assistive software. He had developed the system himself. However, what should have been a turning point in the lives of hundreds of students with similar disabilities turned out to be a one-off case. Now, seven years later, the Central Board of Secondary Exams has decided to allow students to use assistive software to take board exams.

Students with vision disabilities in Classes 10 and 12 in CBSE-affiliated schools can use the Job Access with Speech (JAWS) software for the 2013 boards. They will have to bring their own computers to the exam hall. “Students with vision disabilities have struggled to find scribes with the required qualification. We hope this will help them become more independent,” said D T S Rao, regional officer, Chennai region, CBSE.

Sashirekha Natarajan, who helps students get scribes, said: “The CBSE suggests a scribe for a Class 10 student can be of Class 9 or 8. If technology can help students become independent, it is good.”

Many schools feel this will encourage students with vision disabilities. “We are not sure how it will work out, but it is a step in the right direction,” said director of Paavai Group of Schools C Satish.

Activists in the field said such an option would “definitely be useful”, but said there were limitations in the use of voice-based software. Sometimes the cost is debilitating, because many devices had to be imported.

“JAWS uses phonetics to read out content, so there are certain limitations and the text may not always be correct. Secondly, students need at least six months of training to use it optimally,” said Jerald Inico J, assistant professor of computer science in Loyola College, formerly in-charge of the Resource Centre for the Differently-Abled in the college. Many college students and some in schools have been trained in the software which is commonly used to read out texts from various sources. St Louis Institute for the Deaf and the Blind in Adyar has trained students to use the software.

D T S Rao said the original plan was to allow students using this option to only take the exams in the city where the regional centre was located, but arrangements could be made to allow students to take the exams in their city.

So far, no student in the Chennai region, which comprises Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa, Puducherry, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Daman and Diu, has requested to use the software.

Source: The Times of India

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