As the exam season draws closer, most students bury themselves in their books along with help from their teachers, but for a few there is more to worry about. The Helen Keller Institute of the Deaf and DeafBlind has petitioned the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education (MSBSHSE) to provide its student, Sourabh Chougale (21), question papers for the SSC exam in Braille.

Chougale is one of three deaf-blind students from the institute appearing from the state board for the first time. “Until now, four of our students have appeared through the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) board, but this time, after a lot of effort, we have prepared them to appear from the state board. Two students with a slight functional vision can read the question papers but Chougale is 100% deaf-blind, due to which he needs the question paper in Braille, and be able to answer it too,“ said Devyani Hadkar, coordinator at the institute. Chougale, who hails from Sangli, resides at the institute hostel in Mahape, and will appear for the exam from Mumbai division.

With no teacher or official equipped to create the question paper in Braille, the board offered to allow Chougale to appear using a writer, which isn't a viable option. “He cannot communicate with a person who does not understand the tactical sign language, so using a writer isn't an option. We had requested the board to let us translate the question papers once the exam begins and give him extra time but they refused, “said Hadkar.

Board chairperson Gangadhar Mhamane said they would try to come up with a solution. “Usually, we get requests only from blind students, who we allow to appear with the help of a writer. This is a unique case. We do not have infrastructure to create question papers or asses them in Braille, but we will try to work out a solution that is in the best interest of the student, so that he does not lose out on an academic year,“ he said.

On the occasion of World Disability Day (December 3), the institute wants the board to address the larger problem. “The problem begins with online exam forms. They do not have deaf-blind listed as a category under the multiple disabilities head, so we had to fill their forms offline. Subject selection was a hurdle too, and the forms got rejected. Only after meeting officials did the forms get accepted. These are hindrances that make it difficult for students with special needs to pursue academics,“ said Hadkar.

The institute also requested the board to consider vocational subjects, instead of languages, to equip students with skills to become independent.