Blind Woman Takes Tianjin Teaching Exam to Task

2018-01-30 11:56:25

A blind woman in the northern municipality of Tianjin has registered for the provincial-level teachers’ exam — but even if she passes, whether she’ll be eligible for the qualification remains up in the air.

Wang Ying has been completely blind since a genetic disorder took her sight from her at age 10. Her disability did not stop her from taking the college entrance exam for adults, or from graduating from the Open University of China — an institution known for its distance learning programs — last year. On Jan. 19, Wang registered for Tianjin’s teaching qualification exam, having resisted local education officials’ attempts to dissuade her, online media outlet Red Star News reported Monday.

“I’ve been preparing for this test since November,” Wang told Sixth Tone on Tuesday. She explained how she electronically scans her textbooks, one page at a time, so she can listen to the text be played back to her from a computer.

Wang’s first attempt to register for the exam was denied because her photo did not “meet the correct standard.” When she went to the bureau to complain, she was told not to bother with the test since she’d never pass the ensuing health inspection — an indispensable step in the qualification process.

In China, national guidelines expressly state that visually impaired individuals cannot be barred from taking state exams. However, each province, autonomous region, and municipality is allowed to set its own requirements for other steps in the process, such as the physical exam, effectively curbing any noble intentions from the higher authority.

For China’s 12 million-plus visually impaired citizens, the physical exam is generally the biggest hurdle to getting a teaching qualification — and even when this barrier is cleared, it doesn’t guarantee they’ll get placed in a school. In an announcement published Jan. 12, the Tianjin education bureau wrote that prospective teachers should “meet health inspection standards.” But Huang Rui, an attorney at Henan Shuzhan Lawyer Office who is advising Wang on her case, told Sixth Tone that the bureau does not release its health inspection standards for 2018 until well after the test, which is administered in March.

“Last year, the standards for the same test did not prohibit blind people from applying for a teaching position,” Huang said. But according to an undated Tianjin education bureau health inspection document seen by Red Star News, candidates’ corrected vision must be 5/5 or higher — disqualifying many with visual impairments.

Regardless of the health check standard, Huang explained, the education bureau had no legal grounds for denying Wang’s application to take the exam.

In July 2016, a visually impaired woman in the eastern province of Zhejiang appealed a local education bureau’s decision to deny her teaching qualification following a medical check. In March the next year, after two appeals, a court overturned the original verdict and ruled in her favor. After finding some areas of the country had discriminatory policies that effectively barred disabled people from obtaining qualifications, the woman published an article in May 2017 in which she called for a national, transparent standard for health inspections.

“The downside to countrywide standardization is that the wiggle room allowed by some local authorities disappears,” Zhang Yujuan, a lawyer in central China’s Hunan province who has represented visually impaired clients, told Sixth Tone, referring to cases in which blind people have defied the odds and been granted teaching certificates. “The positive side is that a policy change [at the national level] can be consistently enforced.”

Having such arbitrary health inspection standards, Huang said, dates from over 30 years ago — “when jobs were directly assigned to college graduates.” Huang believes the physical exam should be removed from the teaching qualification process altogether, as is the case for the lawyer certification process. A disabled person himself, Huang said he gave up on taking the teaching qualification exam over a decade ago, upon realizing the futility of trying to pass the health inspection.

Despite the obstacles visually impaired people face, there have been a handful of success stories, especially in parts of the country where health inspection criteria are less strict. In 2017, a visually impaired music student in eastern China’s Jiangsu province received a teaching certificate in the first case of a local education authority invoking the “rules of special education,” an exception that allows applicants with disabilities to receive preferential treatment.

China announced national regulations for teaching qualification exams in September 2015, and Tianjin complied in August 2016.

For Wang, fair physical exams would only be the beginning. Because test papers are designed for nondisabled people, she applied on Wednesday to both the Tianjin education commission and the national Ministry of Education to take an electronic test, though neither authority has responded. In the meantime, she is determined to continue studying.

Sixth Tone’s phone calls to the Tianjin education commission went unanswered on Tuesday.

Wang understands from her past experiences that getting a desired outcome often requires persistence. “I’ll just have to take things step by step,” she said.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Corbis-RM/IC)