Two visually impaired senior high school students – who came all the way from Nueva Ecija and Bulacan – on Friday took the special University of the Philippines College Admission Test (UPCAT), which was administered for the first time using an entire Braille test booklet.

(PHILSTAR) By Janvic Mateo, Parcon,Dumlao - “This is the first time that the entire exam was completely in Braille,” said UP Office of Admissions director Gerald Pio Franco.

Franco said the university has administered the exam to visually impaired examinees in the past, but the use of Braille was limited and that they had to orally deliver the instructions and some of the test questions to the examinees.

“It’s the first time that all the questions and instructions were written in Braille,” he said during the conduct of the examinations that lasted for around eight hours at the Diliman campus in Quezon City.

Paul Onel Dumlao, a 15-year-old senior high school student from the College of Immaculate Conception in Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija, started the exam at 8 a.m. He emerged from the testing center, evidently tired but relieved, eight hours later.

Mark Roland Parcon, a 16-year-old senior from Sapang Palay National High School in San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan, started his exam at 10 a.m. The two-hour gap between their schedules was set since only one Braille test booklet was prepared for this year’s UPCAT.

Parcon’s participation in the special UPCAT was only confirmed earlier this month, after he failed to take the regular test as he was confined in a hospital due to dengue.

He was given consideration after school administrators learned of his visual impairment, his mother Digna, a special education (SPED) teacher, said in an interview with The STAR.

Both Dumlao and Parcon are “totally blind,” with the former suffering from retinopathy of prematurity and the latter from glaucoma. The disorders were congenital.

During the separate interviews conducted following their respective exams, both students – who knew each other from the annual camps organized by non-government organization Resources for the Blind – expressed relief that they were finally able to finish the UPCAT.

From the usual five hours for regular students, Franco said they gave time consideration for special UPCAT takers.

“But the test questions are similar (to the exam taken by those who took the regular UPCAT),” he said.

Education for all

Franco said the university conducts the special test to provide persons with disabilities (PWDs) with an opportunity to enroll in the country’s premier state university.

“We try to provide the exam in Braille, if they can read Braille. Or we deliver the exam orally to them if they don’t know how to read Braille,” he said, referring to examinees who are visually impaired.

Franco said six other hopefuls took the special UPCAT on Wednesday. He said some of them had hearing disabilities, while others had autism, low vision, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The UP official said the conduct of the exams for each of the examinees is different.

“We try to accommodate,” he said, citing the assistance provided by interpreters who help the examinees.

“(They are qualified to take the special UPCAT) as long as we think that their disability will make it difficult for them to take the regular exam,” he said.

Enjoying life

Dumlao, who describes himself as a non-conformist, said he wants to work for an international organization in the future, particularly in the United Nations. He listed BA European Languages as his primary degree preference, and BA Journalism as his second.

He said he chose European Languages because he wants to learn French, as well as other languages in the region.

Dumlao said he is currently a member of their school newspaper, and has received numerous awards for his academic achievements. His mother, Elvira, said he ranked second in his class during his third year in high school.

When asked about the things that he plans to do while studying in UP, Dumlao said – despite his non-conformist nature – that he would rather go with the flow at the moment and enjoy life as it is.

He said he decided to take the UPCAT because he knows that it is hard for people who suffer from visual impairment to find a job.

He said graduating from UP can help him land a good job despite his disability.

Narrating his experiences during his high school years, Dumlao said his disability never stopped him from being a usual teenager, saying he enjoys playing musical instruments like the piano.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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