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Times of India
05 April 2011
By Anahita Mukherji

Students With Learning Disability Are Easy Targets Of Discrimination
Law Supports Dyslexics, It’s the System That’s Blind
Call it the mother of all ironies. Five years ago, Suzan Machado was one of two parents to fight a valiant battle against an apathetic education system, which resulted in a landmark high court verdict on learning disability (LD). The order, passed in 2006, made it mandatory for schools to follow government guidelines on students with LD. But this year, when her son Aakil appeared for the HSC exams, he was denied the use of a calculator for his mathematics paper. Needless to say, Aakil is unhappy with his performance in the test. Who or what is to blame for his state of mind? Of course, an unsympathetic exam supervisor, but also ambiguity in the guidelines.

Law Supports Dyslexics, It’s the System That’s Blind
Aakil is a student of the Atomic Energy Junior College, Anushakti Nagar. His HSC exam centre was General Education Academy, Chembur. "On February 28, in the middle of the maths paper, Punam Srivastava, the exam supervisor at the centre, confiscated his calculator despite HSC board rules allowing LD students to use the device for the paper," said Machado. "Srivastava first told me that since another student with LD appearing for the test at the same centre did not use a calculator, she could not allow my son to use one either. "This made no sense. She could not understand the guidelines, which were in Marathi, and got someone to translate them for her after the paper."

Aakil and his mother, Suzan Machado SPECIAL STUDENT: Aakil and his mother, Suzan Machado
Machado was later told by the centre that her son’s calculator was confiscated as it was a scientific calculator and not a simple one. There lies the ambiguity. The guidelines state that a calculator "should be in the form of a calculator only", which means the device cannot be a part of a gadget like a mobile phone. But nowhere do they specify that scientific calculators will not be allowed. TOI knows of instances where LD students in the city have used scientific calculators during HSC exams.

Law Supports Dyslexics, It’s the System That’s Blind
"If the board’s rules are so ambiguous, children should be allowed the use of a scientific calculator," said Sheetal Kumar, the lawyer who won Machado her case. She is currently arguing a case in the Supreme Court to allow a CBSE student the use of a calculator during exams.

When TOI contacted Srivastava, she said she never told Machado that Aakil was being denied the use of a calculator as another LD student was not using one. She said that after confiscating Aakil’s scientific calculator, he was offered a regular one, which he refused. "This is just not true," protests Aakil. Machado says that had her son been offered a regular calculator in exchange, she would not have raised the issue.

Srivastava also said HSC guidelines make it mandatory for students with LD to visit the exam centre a day in advance with certification. While she said Aakil did not do so, the boy told TOI he fulfilled the criterion a week before the exams began.

What is Dyslexia?
Law Supports Dyslexics, It’s the System That’s Blind
Developmental reading disorder (DRD), also called dyslexia, is a learning disability (LD) that occurs when the brain does not properly recognize and process certain symbols Dyslexia occurs when there is a problem in areas of the brain that help interpret language.

It is not caused by vision problems. The disorder is a specific informationprocessing problem that does not interfere with one’s ability to think or to understand complex ideas. Most people with DRD have normal intelligence, and many have above-average intelligence DRD may appear in combination with developmental writing disorder and developmental arithmetic disorder. All of these involve using symbols to convey information. These conditions may appear alone or in any combination
Source: US National Center for Biotechnology Information DOS

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