Tamil Nadu government chips in as colleges deny seat to PwD students citing ‘trivial’ reasons

The May 10 letter was drafted after a detailed study of prospectus of some universities revealed arbitrary reasons for denying admissions to disabled students under the 5% reservation
Image for representational purpose only.
Image for representational purpose only. (Express Illustration)

CHENNAI: The state government has sent a list of pointers to all public and private higher education institutions to ensure disabled students don’t miss out on admissions because of incorrect reading of the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (RPWD) Act.

The May 10 letter by S Nagarajan, secretary for Welfare of Differently Abled Persons, was drafted after a detailed study of prospectus of some universities revealed arbitrary reasons for denying admissions to disabled students under the 5% reservation, which was against the “letter and spirit” of the Act.

The letter noted four major issues: Age relaxation of five years as per the Act not extended, reservation given in case of certain disabilities and blanket restriction for some others, vagueness in assessing suitability of candidates and the method of implementation of the 5% reservation.

For example, the letter cited that Dr J Jayalalithaa Fisheries University gave reservation only to candidates with 40%-70% locomotor disability even in BBA and management-oriented degrees and excluded others. Same issue was found in the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University prospectus too.

Similarly, the directorate of medical education had completely excluded those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Specific Learning Disability for all para medical courses, though mild ASD (<40%) is eligible for MBBS courses.

The letter cited how the prospectus did not give an explicit instruction regarding expected requirements from a candidate leading to subjective assessment by the medical board.

As an example, the department cited how the medical board provided an unfit certificate for a candidate, whose upper limb was amputated, for a BSc (Agriculture) course based on a requirement to drive tractor for practicals. But the candidate was accepted by the Agriculture University when the reasonable accommodation clause was pointed out and the practical course was exempted under Section 17(i) of the RPWD Act.

Another example suggested to the universities was how a candidate with low vision could be allowed to pursue a diploma in film editing with a reasonable accommodation with assistive devices.

Pointing out institutions need to assess the disabled candidate not just with the existing academic models, the department urged them to provide references to the available ‘reasonable accommodation’ for the benefit of the medical board while evaluating the suitability of candidates, in the prospectus.

The prospectus should instruct the medical board to not just assess the disability, but also the ability of the candidate, along with the functional requirements required to study a course. The institution should ascertain if the candidate can fulfil the functional requirements like hearing, reading and writing or sitting and standing, with the help of assistive devices, the letter said.

For example, a visually-impaired person can be considered to satisfy the requirement of reading and writing with the help of assistive devices, it said.

Such confusions arise as educational institutions are conflating reservation provisions for disabled with those for government employment, which were different, the letter said.

The department asked the institutions to consider adding these points to their admission prospectus; in case it was issued and not in line with the RPWD Act, the institutions should consider adding an addendum.

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The New Indian Express