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Year 12 student Connor is blind. This is how he will sit his HSC

Source: SMH. By Natassia Chrysanthos and Taylor Denny. October 27, 2019

While most students will take a few pens, a bottle of water and a calculator into their HSC exams alongside their peers, Arndell Anglican College student Connor McLeod has a different set-up.

"I tend to use about three desks to myself," the year 12 student said.

Video: How Connor sits his HSC exams

Connor McLeod is a trailblazer for the visually impaired, completing French and maths exams.

Connor is blind and sits alone with a supervisor in a private room. He has a braille booklet containing questions, a laptop, headphones and his BrailleSense Polaris device – a tablet that functions as a calculator for maths and business studies and as a translator for French.

He mostly works on his laptop, but for maths he reads the questions in braille, calculates numbers on his Polaris device and types the answers on his laptop, which will read his response back to him in high speed to check over. He then goes onto the next question.
 
This takes a while, and so Connor gets up to 15 minutes of extra time for every half hour. With some exams stretching into four-and-a-half-hour marathons, he also gets rest breaks.

"Studying and doing exams in general has gotten easier as I’ve gotten used to it, but shifts in technology helped a bit," he said.

He previously used a braille typewriter to write his maths responses, and his teacher would get the piece of paper translated to mark. These days he's glad to use his laptop most of the time.

"Reading most of my papers in braille was much harder, especially English. Now I only use braille for things I strictly need it for – maths and French. My typing has gotten quicker, so that’s made things a lot easier," he said.

He's been greatly aided by the Royal Institute of Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC), which translates his study notes into braille and provides practice papers, as well as his school community.

"The support my school has offered throughout my entire education here is phenomenal," Connor said. "It’s really allowed me to focus more on what I have to do, rather than how I have to do it."

Arndell has worked with Connor's family, RIDBC and the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) "to make sure all his educational needs can be catered for and that we can plan for the future", principal Dr Gareth Leechman said.

Connor sits in his exam room with a supervisor and takes rest breaks during the hours-long HSC

"Heads of department had to think 12 months in advance for textbooks [so they could be] put into braille form for him, we worked with the IT department because there are great advancements in software for those with vision impairments. Coming up to the HSC we had to make sure we were preparing him for an external exam and work closely with NESA," Dr Leechman said.
 
"Connor was a bit of a trailblazer for us because it happened six years ago and subsequent to that we’ve had dialogue with other students [who are blind] and they’ve come into the school as a result."

In 2018, 7168 students applied for disability provisions in the HSC and 96.5 per cent (6881) were granted them. They include rest breaks, coloured lenses, large print papers, sign interpreters, readers and writers.

A NSW Education Standards Authority spokesperson said its disability provisions "provide students with a permanent or temporary disability with a fair opportunity to access their HSC exams by allowing practical adjustments".

Source: SMH. By Natassia Chrysanthos and Taylor Denny. October 27, 2019