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2020-11-02 11:26:48

A university in northwestern China has refused to allow a blind woman to take its graduate school entrance exams, once more bringing to light the improving but still-dire education prospects of people with disabilities.

The prospective student, 24-year-old Wu Xiao, was hoping to study psychology at Shaanxi Normal University. In mid-September, she called the school to request Braille test papers. More than a month later, the university rejected her application, saying it was not capable of providing such assistance, domestic outlet Red Star News reported Saturday.

“I just want an opportunity to compete fairly,” Wu told Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper on Monday.

A staff member with the university’s admissions office told The Paper that Wu didn’t meet the degree program’s requirements, citing 2003 government guidelines that say schools may reject people with visual impairments for subjects including applied psychology.

However, experts have noted that the school’s action may be illegal. Jin Xi, a lawyer with Yingke Law Firm in Beijing, told Red Star News that the school cannot reject Wu on the presumption of her failing the physical examination — compulsory for every graduate degree program — even before she takes any written exams.

Sun Tao, an advocate for the rights and interests of people with disabilities, told the outlet that the 2003 document cited by the university, though still in effect, is outdated, as students like Wu can use screen readers or other assistive technology for their studies.

“In 2003, it was totally impossible to have such things,” Sun said. “How do you use that (document) to evaluate whether students nowadays are capable of receiving an education?”

Wu’s case has raised attention from domestic media and the public over the needs of visually impaired people.

“No one’s dreams should be ignored. When they themselves do not give up easily, society and universities should also pay more attention to them, and provide them with basic support and security,” read an editorial from state media outlet China Youth Daily. “The previous success stories of blind people in professions such as software engineering, psychological counseling, law, and (musical instrument) tuning prove that they are fully capable of overcoming physical difficulties and developing more diverse career options.”

Around 13 million people with visual impairments live in China. They often face limited employment opportunities beyond what are considered standard jobs, most notably massage therapy. Though some have explored different careers in recent years such as psychological counseling and software development, many institutions and companies, from universities to government departments, remain ill-equipped to provide services or employment.

In 2015, regulations jointly issued by the Ministry of Education and the China Disabled Persons’ Federation said institutions should provide assistance such as Braille test papers to students with visual impairments who take the gaokao, China’s national college entrance exam. Regulations in effect since May 2017 from the State Council, China’s Cabinet, also require institutions and schools that administer national exams to provide “reasonable accommodation” for disabled students.

However, in May 2017, a college student in northeastern China’s Liaoning province sued the Ministry of Education over a lack of Braille test papers for a standardized English test for college students.

As for Wu, media have reported that she successfully registered to take the graduate entrance exam at Central China Normal University in Wuhan, Hubei province, without incident.

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: People Visual)