This is not a subject I would have picked for my Teacher Plus article in the normal course of events. However, a chance encounter between two near and dear ones in my family led me to think along these lines. One of them is my uncle who is visually impaired but went on to study law and took up employment in a bank! The other is my father-in-law who is a long-retired professor of English, greatly admired and revered by his students, even to this day. My uncle was one of his students in the past, you see. The conversation between them was about how my father-in-law had played the role of a scribe for his blind student all those years ago and how invaluable that turned out to be in his education and subsequent employment.
There were two happy consequences out of this whole episode for me. One, I realized that my paternal uncle knew my father-in-law so intimately all those years ago, long before my marriage! And second, the conversation motivated me to explore this entirely new world of education for the physically disabled.
For most of us ‘normal’ people who do not suffer from any physical disabilities, the result of an examination is in our own hands. We might not spare a thought for those who are well prepared for the exam but unable to write the exams themselves. I am referring to students with physical disabilities.
A scribe is a person who sits with the physically disabled candidate and transcribes his/her answers in the examination. They read out the questions to them and faithfully reproduce the answers dictated by the candidate. The eyes, ears and limbs of the scribe become those of the candidate’s for the short duration of the examination. It’s a yeoman service performed that could transform the future of the candidate.
Students with physical disabilities eligible for a scribe
The Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India recognizes the following categories of physical disabilities as ‘unable to write their own examination papers’ and hence eligible for employing a scribe.
The categories are:
- An Orthopedically Challenged (OC) person is one who has –
a) Minimum of 40% physical defect or deformity which causes interference with the normal functioning of bones, muscles and joints.
b) Loco motor disability.
c) Any form of cerebral palsy.
- Orthopedically Challenged person with speech impairment.
- Deaf and Hearing Impaired (HI): The deaf are those persons in whom the sense of hearing is non-functional for ordinary purposes of life, i.e., total loss of hearing in both ears. They do not hear; understand sounds at all even with amplified speech. Hearing impairment means loss of more than 60 decibels in the better ear in the conversational range of frequencies.
- Visually Challenged (Blindness or Low Vision) (VC) refers to a person who suffers from either of the following conditions:
a) Total absence of sight.
b) Visual acuity not exceeding 6/60 or 20/200 (Snellen) in the better eye with correcting lenses.
c) Limitation of the field of vision sub-tending an angle of 20 degree or worse and so certified by a medical board OR Head of Department or specialists/sr. medical officers of a state or central government hospital.
d) A person with impairment of visual functioning even after treatment of standard refractive correction but who uses or is potentially capable of using vision for the planning or execution of a task with appropriate assistive device.
What is the role of a scribe?
The following points paraphrase the typical role played by a scribe:
• The scribe will read the questions for the candidate and write answers only as per the dictation of the examinee and the scribe shall not paraphrase, translate, add emphasis or embellish the dictation in any manner, i.e., the scribe shall only transcribe what is dictated to him by the examinee.
• Should be punctual, careful and act in the exam as directed by the candidate without wasting time of the candidate.
• Should not make any claim or accept any money or money’s worth from the candidate. The honorarium to the scribe shall be paid by the institute.
• Should not put the candidate in emotional or stressful situation during the period of examination.
• Should maintain distance with candidate prior and after the exam and not exploit the candidate in any manner.
• Shall submit the required declaration/acceptance in the prescribed format.
• Shall follow all instructions, guidelines, directions, etc., of the institute in true letter and spirit.
• Failure to follow the above may impact the result/enrolment of the candidate apart from being booked under use of unfair means in examination.
How to request for a scribe?
The nuances in the procedure may vary depending on the university, education board in question. But the overall sequence of steps is as follows:
• The student with the disability makes an application in the prescribed form available on the university/education board website seeking help of a “scribe” and/or extra-time.
• Documentary evidences such as disability certificate issued by a government authority and any earlier such approvals granted for examinations attended.
• Documents are to be submitted at least 45 days in advance from the date of commencement of examination in which he/she intends to appear.
• The scribe is then appointed by the examining authority once the request is approved.
• Supposing the candidate wishes to bring his/her own scribe to the exam, permission is subject to the educational qualification and eligibility of the scribe.
• The general thumb rule is that the academic qualification of a ‘scribe’ (writer) to write the examination on behalf of a physically challenged student should be one grade lower than the qualification possessed by the candidate enrolled for appearing in the examination.
• Before commencement of the examination, the ‘scribe’ (writer) shall submit a suitable undertaking in the prescribed format confirming, that he/she fulfils the above criteria, to the competent authority such as Superintendent of the Examination Centre for onward transmission to the institute.
Once the scribe is permitted to accompany the candidate to the examination hall, most examination centers permit additional time for these students for completing the examination paper.
It is also to be noted that most universities and education boards pay an honorarium to the scribe for the services rendered for every examination paper.
Speech to text tools – the new-age scribes!
Digital devices have made a world of difference to the physically disabled through the “accessibility” feature present in most smart phones and computers. Speech to text tools such as Google Docs voice typing, Microsoft Dictate convert spoken words to written text in the gadget. However, punctuation becomes a slight challenge. Braille keyboards are also available. Sound amplification, larger fonts, and several other features are designed to make the gadget usable by differently-abled users. Screen readers also provide a talk back function, so any action performed on the gadget is loudly spoken out. My uncle’s smartphone neatly calls out “Anu calling” every time I call him!
Physically disabled students actively seek the support of human scribes during formal examinations even to this day. However, for several other activities such as seminars, debates, competitions, job interviews, their smartphones and laptops are able to play the digital scribe. But that doesn’t take away the invaluable service performed by a scribe during crucial examinations in one’s academic pursuit.
The author is an IT industry drop-out after several years of slogging and money-making. She is now working freelance as a corporate technical trainer and content writer. She is hoping to channelize her passion for writing into a satisfying experience for herself and a joyous experience for her readers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.