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China: Exams Accessible to the Blind a Breakthrough

Education Ministry Announcement Would Reduce Discrimination

(New York) – The Chinese Education Ministry’s decision to provide Braille or electronic exams for national university entrance will improve access to higher education for candidates who are blind or have visual impairments, Human Rights Watch said today. Up to now, students who are blind or partially sighted were effectively barred from mainstream higher education because no provision was made to accommodate their disability.

“Making exams accessible to the blind would help to minimize discrimination against and maximize respect for people with disabilities in China,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “This is an important breakthrough after years of advocacy by disability rights advocates in China.”

The Chinese government in 2012 issued national regulations guaranteeing that people with visual impairments could use Braille and electronic paper in national school entrance exams, without laying out the modalities. The Ministry of Education announcement is the first document ever stating that the national university entrance exam, or gaokao, will be accessible to students who are blind or partially sighted and that the ministry will be responsible for providing examination papers in braille or in electronic form.

In July 2013, Human Rights Watch published a 75-page report detailing the numerous educational barriers faced by children and young people with disabilities in China, including the failure by the government to provide appropriate classroom accommodations to help them overcome barriers to school.  Human Rights Watch urged the Chinese government to move towards an inclusive education system in which schooling is fully accessible to children with disabilities.

Mainland disability rights advocates have welcomed the Education Ministry’s directive, calling it a victory over the government’s resistance to fulfill the right to education for people with disabilities.

Under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which China ratified in 2008, governments should “ensure that persons with disabilities are able to access general tertiary education … without discrimination and on an equal basis with others. To this end, [governments] shall ensure that reasonable accommodation is provided to persons with disabilities.”

“Much remains to be done to end the discrimination and exclusion of people with disabilities in China,” Richardson said. “Truly implementing this initiative would be an important step toward building a more inclusive society.”

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