Wicklow mum's fury as visually impaired son told he must sit mammoth 54-page maths paper
Cormac Walsh has done all his post-primary studies digitally
A visually impaired student who has done all his post-primary studies digitally has been told he must sit his Leaving Cert as a paper-based exam.
For higher level maths, it would mean enlarging the exam paper to a point were it would extend to 54 pages, with some graphs and answer boxes cut in half.
Cormac Walsh, a fifth year student at Coláiste na Mara, Arklow, Co Wicklow, is preparing for his Leaving Cert next year.
His mother Eithne said it was "a clear case of discrimination" her son could not access the exam paper in a format he has used the whole way through post-primary school.
She said what Cormac needed was non-editable PDF exam papers which would allow him simply to pinch the screen to the size he needs.
That way he could "access the exam independently and complete it in the way he has completed all his work throughout his school life".
Ms Walsh, head of advocacy and communication with Féach, a support group for parents of blind/visually impaired students, has been battling with the State Examinations Commission (SEC) on behalf her son and other students with low vision.
The SEC has a scheme known as Reasonable Accommodation at the Certificate Exams (RACE) to facilitate candidates with special needs, including learning difficulties as well as visual, hearing, medical, sensory, emotional and behavioural conditions, in sitting the exams.
The purpose is to remove barriers that interfere with students' capacity to engage with standard exam arrangements, to allow them to demonstrate what they know and can do, without compromising the integrity of the assessment.
For visually impaired students, supports include enlarged papers, braille papers, magnifiers and readers. Enlarging papers to A3 size is standard, but Ms Walsh said the text would be too small and it was suggested papers be enlarged further to the size Cormac needed.
"This simply will not work, his maths paper would end up 54 pages long," she said.
The SEC said providing access to digital versions of papers would require significant development work as these would be "essentially new versions of the papers and subject to the same development and quality assurance procedures and protocols as their paper equivalents".
Digital papers would also give rise to concerns over exam integrity in light of the requirement for advance access to the exam papers and could threaten exam security and confidentiality.
For that reason, access to digital versions of papers was not currently among the range of supports available, it said.
The SEC said RACE would be reviewed in the context of senior cycle reform and a priority would be increasing use of assistive technology.
But Ms Walsh said the new Leaving Cert was several years away and any accommodations agreed in that context would be of no use to students currently in second-level education.
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