China's famously difficult college-entrance exam is about to get easier--or at least for one group of test-takers, more accessible.
Across the country, the many blind street performers and massage parlors offering treatments from blind masseurs are a testament to the limited opportunities the country's visually impaired individuals can face.
But for the first time, according to a notice from the Ministry of Education, the nation's college-entrance exam will be accessible to the blind or visually impaired, with the government providing exam papers in electronic form or in braille. ( Chinese braille essentially works on a pinyin-like, Romanized alphabet basis--though not always that well, given Mandarin's many homophones.)
Such a move was made, the ministry said, in part to 'enthusiastically show concern and care for test-takers from disadvantaged social groups.'
The move won't affect this summer's crop of test-takers, said Huang Rui, a Henan-based lawyer who works on disability-access issues, as the registration period has already passed. But he said the step should help change the sense of what is possible for the country's visually impaired students. 'Maybe they never thought they could go down the path of taking the gaokao before,' he said, 'but this has opened up a kind of window for them.'
China accounts for about 18% of the world's blind population. While the country makes outwardly visible efforts to cater to the population--city sidewalks, for example, are studded with markers for the blind, but such paths are often more decorative than functional--laws protecting the rights of the disabled are only thinly upheld.
On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch praised the government's latest move, though the nonprofit's researcher Maya Wang also urged caution. 'The test will be whether or not the government will actually provide [accessible] tests in practice,' she said.
In a 75-page report last year, Human Rights Watch--which calls China's estimated 83 million disabled the country's 'largest minority'--found that children with disabilities rarely progress beyond middle school. Some are barred by schools from enrolling, while those who do manage to begin classes face a thicket of obstacles, such as lack of trained staff and an accessible curriculum, the nonprofit said in a report based on 62 interviews conducted across China, mostly with youth with disabilities and their parents.
Access to mainstream colleges is limited, the report found, with Chinese students with disabilities typically restricted to vocational training in special education schools. Accordingly, even if blind students perform well on the gaokao, they'd likely face challenges in finding a school that could--or would be willing--to accommodate their needs.
Given the array of obstacles facing China's disabled students starting from an early age, said Mr. Rui, the ability to take the college-entrance exam is just one of a mountain of problems students face. Still, he praised the move. 'Now at least if they do want to take the test, they know the Ministry of Education at least won't present them with this kind of barrier,' he said.
非营利组织人权观察(Human Rights Watch)周三赞扬了中国教育部的这一决定，但该组织的研究人员Maya Wang也呼吁保持谨慎。她说，要看政府是否真的在实际中提供便于视障者参加的考试。