For the first time in the history of the University of the Philippines College Admission Test, a visually impaired high school senior will take the entrance exam to the country’s premier university using a test booklet entirely produced using a Braille printer or embosser.
While this is not the first time that the UPCAT will be administered to someone with a visual impairment, it is the firs time the UP will use a Braille booklet as part of what is known as the Special UPCAT administered to students with disabilities.
Prof. Therese Bustos of the UP College of Education in Diliman, who has been administering the UPCAT for persons with disabilities for the past five years, said the Special UPCAT is a way by which the university asserts itself as an academic institution to address diversity.
“Every young Filipino has the right to take the UPCAT,” said Bustos, an expert in special education who trains future teachers to deal with persons with disabilities. “But the university recognizes that not everybody performs in the same manner and that people have different skills and sometimes, special needs.”
The Special UPCAT considers applicants with visual and hearing impairments and learning disabilities like dyslexia. It is usually administered the week following the UPCAT weekend, which falls on Aug. 3 and 4 this year.
On Friday, Aug. 9, UP will conduct the entrance test for the sole visually impaired examinee. On Wednesday, Aug. 7, five students, most of whom have hearing disabilities, will also take the Special UPCAT, which is held at the Office of Admissions in Diliman.
Bustos said this is a testament to the university’s commitment to give every applicant a fair shot at a UP education and “make the UP studentry more representative of the nation’s population.”
In 2009, 14 students took the Special UPCAT, the highest number of examinees on record since 2003.
Effie Vinia Diane Catibog of the University of the Philippines’ Office of Admissions says the special exam does not only acknowledge the new UP Charter’s mandate on democratic access to education. It also upholds the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons which states that the country must consider the special needs of persons with disabilities in formulating educational policies and programs.
Catibog, who has been administering the Special UPCAT since 2003, explained that UPCAT examinees are encouraged to declare their impairment so that they can get proper assistance during the examination.
Most of the examinees who have taken the Special UPCAT were visually or aurally-impaired and people who have autism, Tourette’s syndrome, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Meanwhile, students with physical disabilities who are accommodated in the mainstream UPCAT sessions are usually assigned to test centers with accessible halls and facilities.
Aside from the usual requirements, applicants who wish to take part in the special session are instructed to submit a medical report, and a letter from the school attesting to their disability. This is followed by interviews with parents and high school officials.
“As soon as we receive their applications and we evaluate them to be qualified for the Special UPCAT, we explain to the students and the parents the dynamics of taking the special session, and then they can choose whether to take the regular exam or the Special UPCAT,” Catibog said.
(Amer R. Amor is an UPCAT examiner. VERA Files is put out by senior journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. VERA is Latin for true.)