Shruti Pushkarna: What’s with the shallow news coverage on disability?

27 Feb,2020

Shruti PushkarnaBy Shruti Pushkarna

 

Last week, two headlines on the digital platforms of leading dailies caught my attention. One read, “Two blind HSC students find writers at the 11th hour”. And the second stated, “HSC exams: Finding writers a real test for some”.

 

Both these news stories highlight one of the most commonly faced problems by any blind student in India. Given their vision impairment, these students are dependent on ‘scribes’ to write their exams.

 

But before I get into talking about the myriad challenges of finding and dealing with scribes, let’s look at the recent news coverage.

 

While I was happy that the issue appeared on mainstream media, I was disappointed at the reportage. The stories lacked any indepth understanding of the issue. For an average reader who is absolutely unfamiliar with the issue, the news item merely touched upon how two visually impaired students in different parts of Mumbai were hassled hours before their examination. Though that’s a start for interest generation, the story ends with no detail or perspective on the matter.

 

Result being, most readers wouldn’t have registered it. Those who did probably went away without processing the gravity of the problem facing blind students.

 

So what exactly is the scribe problem faced by the blind community?

 

A majority of visually impaired students in this country who appear for school, college or any competitive exams, rely on writers to volunteer for assistance or hope that the institutions/ authorities would arrange scribes for them.

 

In the absence of either scenario working out, a lot of them end up paying for scribes, almost like buying themselves a chance to move upward in the educational or employment hierarchy.

 

In fact there are agents and institutions that offer a variety of writers at different prices, depending on subject expertise. Like the millions of scams festering in the country, scribes (or the scribe mafia as I prefer to call them) are eroding the visually impaired students of their ability to learn or become independent.

 

And what are the academic or the government authorities doing about it? Zilch. Absolutely nothing.

 

The education bodies at both national and state level are expected to comply with the central government issued guidelines for visually impaired students to avail scribe facility for assistance, but the ground reality is far from it.

 

Often state boards and examination authorities issue their own rules days before the exam, paying no heed to the policy set in place by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

 

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 mandates for ‘reasonable accommodation’, “to make suitable modifications in the curriculum and examination system to meet the needs of students with disabilities such as extra time for completion of examination paper, facility of scribe or amanuensis, exemption from second and third language courses”.

 

Last year, a job aspirant in Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh lost out on the opportunity of employment because the examiner denied entry to his scribe just minutes before the exam. He had to wait a whole year to apply again. This is just one of the million accounts where students fail to appear or score less in their tests given the shoddy implementation of the law.

 

The scribe problem isn’t new. It persists through the year, for various exams across all states in the country. And yet majority of the Indian population hasn’t a clue about it. It’s a whole different matter that today enough technology aids are available to make visually impaired students self-reliant when it comes to writing their exams. But that’s for another day, another column.

 

How come the mainstream media hardly reports the issue in its entirety? Why doesn’t the media question the implementing agencies? Is it because persons with disabilities are not the ‘sensational’ vulnerable group that will garner eyeballs? Especially when it’s far easier to rake up a storm over some fake news floating around on social media.

 

Shruti Pushkarna is a former journalist (part of the founding team of MxMIndia) who has now moved full-time to the social sector. She heads operations of the New Delhi-based Score Foundation where she works as Director-Programmes & Communications. She writes for MxMIndia every other Thursday. Her views here are personal. She can be reached via Twitter at @shrutipushkarna

 

 

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