CHENNAI: Persons with disability and their caretakers have been feeling like victims of apathy and are living under constant fear of contracting the virus after the Madras High Court, on Thursday, rejected a petition seeking to quash the Government Order, that called for conducting Class X exams for private candidates.
While the State announced the cancellation of Class X board exams earlier, it recently notified that supplementary exams for private candidates will begin on September 21. The court said that the guidelines issued by the State were general in nature, and applicable to all students as it did not specify anything about the case of persons with disability.
“My 25-year-old son has cerebral palsy and intellectual disability. He needs my help to take a bath or even to swat a mosquito biting him. If he contracts Covid-19 because of the exams, does the State have the provision to support him?” questioned Malathy Balakrishnan, mother of a private candidate.
She further said that her son, who has a speech impairment, can only be understood by a scribe without a mask. “He also salivates excessively. Therefore, he cannot wear a mask. The scribe will have to sit closer to hear him properly. Will a scribe accept to these norms and adjust with this condition in the middle of a pandemic?” she asked elaborating that visually challenged candidates and those with other kinds of disabilities have different needs from scribes.
‘A case of double discrimination’
Children with disabilities are often kicked out of schools into homeschooling, as institutions are fixate on having a speckless pass percentage in the public exam. Sudha Ramamoorthy from the Equals Centre for Promotion of Social Justice said it was a case of “double discrimination” inflicted on candidates with disabilities. “When the government has passed and promoted all regular candidates this year, it only makes sense that those with disabilities will find it even harder than their counterparts to write exams while living through a pandemic,” she said.
Joseph Sahayarajan, a co-petitioner in the case and the father of a 15-year-old male candidate with mild autism and intellectual disability, said his son was studying in a “mainstream” school until Class VIII, but was asked to quit after that as the school did not want to take candidates with disabilities into Class IX. “When the government cancelled the Class X board exams, my son was excited and asked me when he could start studying for Class XI. He had a seizure after the supplementary exams were announced and is on medication now,” he said.
PwD have weakened immune system: UNICEF
Persons with disability (PwD) often have a weakened immune system that puts them at a higher risk of viral attack. Children and adults with disabilities may have underlying health conditions that increase their risk of serious complications from Covid-19, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in its response to the pandemic.
Lack of access to information and communication means that persons with hearing, visual, intellectual or physical disabilities may not receive key information about prevention and assistance, the response observed, adding that, “Persons with disabilities face barriers in accessing essential health services and washing facilities.” This will extend to lack of accessible public transit systems, limited capacity of health workers to communicate and work with persons with disabilities; and high costs of health care, exacerbated in some contexts by more restricted access to insurance.
“Both students with disability, the often immuno-compromised and their primary caregivers will be needlessly exposed to Covid-19 risks with the burden of foreseeable health care complications,” said Vaishnavi Jayakumar, Disability Rights Alliance.
Subjecting to tests
The court has also directed the School Education Department to conduct Covid-19 tests for the physically and mentally challenged candidates and their scribes.
‘Make necessary amendments’
Activists and caretakers urge the government to consider the situation and make necessary amendments to the exam procedure to protect the health of candidates with disabilities. Express could not reach the School Education Department or State Commissionerate for comments