Students unable to access online exams

Date posted: 17th March 2021

With remote exam platforms leaving blind and partially sighted students unable to complete their exams, Higher Education Providers must urgently review their exam practices, says Thomas Pocklington Trust (TPT).

Many of the new exam platforms block assistive technology and screen adjustments on which blind and partially sighted students rely to access on-screen information. This has led to many facing delays in taking the exams or additional risks during Covid-19.

The charity has today published guidance to help Higher Education Providers tackle the issue.

Tara Chattaway, Student Support Manager at Thomas Pocklington Trust, said: “Remote exam platforms have been introduced to help students safely complete assessments at home this year. But, many platforms, including those from leading providers, can be difficult to navigate, or block the use of screen reading software and magnification completely.

“Proctoring systems have caused the most issues, affecting students working towards accredited professional qualifications in subjects such as Law. Some cases have resulted in students taking time out of university, pushing exams back to the next exam period, or trying to complete their exams without the support and accessibility they are entitled to in place.”

Farhana, experienced just this. She is currently studying for a professional qualification and was told her exams would be held remotely last summer due to Covid-19.

The online system used to run the exams was not accessible, as it blocked the screen reading software she relies on to work independently. She thought she would have no choice but to postpone the exams until the threat of Covid-19 reduced. However, after working with the Thomas Pocklington Trust Student Support service, the exam provider recognised the unfair impact this would have on the student and came up with a creative solution before their first exam. By finding new methods for invigilating the exam, Farhana was able to complete her exams remotely and independently, like her peers.

Farhana said “I implore Higher Education Providers and regulators responsible for setting exams to not view every suggestion from candidates with disabilities through an ableist prism and swiftly conclude that we are somehow simply trying to gain an advantage over our non-disabled peers. Our request for alternative reasonable adjustments are merely a wish to commence the race from the same starting point.”


Tara Chattaway commented: “We have supported a number of cases like this and want to share our learning to help other Higher Education Providers working with blind and partially sighted students.

“Professionals from across the education and sight loss sectors were consulted to produce the guide. The aim is to raise awareness of common challenges and suggest ways universities can be proactive and creative with a selection of realistic solutions. This is ultimately to ensure students are informed and empowered to have an equal exam experience.

“These new circumstances demand changes to how we work, and we are all learning to adapt. We want to help universities understand what they can do to support their blind and partially sighted students and enable them to sit their exams remotely and independently.”


Read the guide on exams here

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