“Injustice in the exam system has to be addressed or visually impaired students will continue to suffer”

Post date: 
Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Photo of Hannah (the author) wearing a red top

Hannah Souter, a visually impaired young person, reflects on her experience of external exams and offers a solution to help make the system equal.

While the system of external examinations is challenging for every young person, for the visually impaired (VI), like myself, their experience is even more demanding than you might like to think. So, what is it actually like? Well, the true answer to that question lies in the hands of the VI community alone.

An unjust system

The exam period has proven to be a particularly tiring season for a visually impaired student with extra time. In my case, I had a very intensive couple of weeks in which I completed seven exams more or less back to back, and for the majority of them I was staring at a screen for four hours straight.
You may be wondering why I’m suggesting that extra time is more of a burden than a privilege. The truth is that, in actuality, extra-time exacerbates tiredness and subsequently affects academic performance. It seems unjustifiable for someone dealing with additional needs to have to sit exams for double the length of time than other people their age, especially after an abnormally arduous year of intensive revision and hard work.
People rarely recognise the physical and mental demands that are imposed upon a person when they refuse to allow their disabilities to be a barrier to their academic aspirations. Not in any sense am I suggesting that I’m ungrateful for the provision of 100 per cent extra time; I am most certainly not. But when you feel like you are overcome by tiredness both physically and mentally as the academic year comes to a close, it’s important to articulate a concern that has been an underlying issue for quite some time.

A proposed solution

I’d like to propose an alternative to a final end-of-year exam that’s twice the length of time for visually impaired students: that is, mid-year exam assessments with shorter exam duration. I’m convinced that this approach is entirely just; examining half of the course in December/January with an exam of half the duration, would equate to the same amount of time that students without additional needs spend in the exam hall in the summer.
If this approach was re-introduced (modular exams have been used in the past), it would hugely affect VI students’ confidence to succeed. It’s not uncommon to feel like you aren’t receiving the necessary attention within a classroom setting, because the teacher is moving too quickly for you to be on top of tasks. Leaving the classroom feeling as though you didn’t pursue your academic potential can be greatly demoralising and can mean that you have to complete unfinished tasks at home in conjunction to everything else you have planned. When you’re made to feel incompetent, it subsequently demoralises your social awareness as you begin to compare yourself to students that aren’t putting up with the same, or perhaps any, physical difficulty.
While private tuition can provide a means of addressing this disadvantage, this isn’t always an option that’s feasible for some students. It also seems unfair that VI students need to make use of this provision, simply in order to keep up with the pace of learning.

Time for a change

It’s about time that this issue of workload intensity for visually impaired students is raised. From my perspective, there is an underlying injustice here which needs to be addressed, not only for the current generation, but for generations to come. After all, the understanding of the needs of the individual is a fundamental building block in the construction of a just and fair society.
I’m not compelled to write merely for the self-satisfaction that derives from voicing my own personal opinion; rather, I write with the motivation of pursuing something that will not only impact me, but the wider community as a whole.

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