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With no hearing test facility at Delhi's Safdarjung Hospital, disabled students miss NEET counselling

Counselling for NEET 2019 has begun but there are reports of many disabled candidates struggling to get their disability re-certification done. The Medical Council of India has specified 10 centres from across India for this purpose but many of them either lack the equipment for certain tests or are poorly staffed.

With just two days left before counselling for NEET 2019 ends, candidates with hearing disabilities are lined up outside Vardhman Mahavir Medical College & Safdarjung Hospital (VMMC and SJH) anxiously waiting to get their disability re-certification done.

This is the only facility in Delhi that the (Medical Council of India MCI) has specified for students with a hearing disability. The delay is because the ENT department here does not have the equipment to do a speech discrimination test.

A speech discrimination test is meant to assess how well a person who is hard of hearing can understand words. The audiologist has the person listening to monosyllabic words through the headphones at a decibel level louder than an individual's speech reception threshold, so there is no problem faced with the volume of the speech. The audiologist asks the person to repeat the words played out.

There are just three centres for disability re-certification specified by the MCI in north India, the others are located in Rajasthan and Chandigarh. One students, with a 60% hearing disability has been waiting for three days outside VMMC-Safdarjung Hospital. His father told a newspaper, "We applied for the certificate as soon as the NEET results came out but are still waiting. As a result, my son has missed the counselling.

"The speech discrimination test was added just this year, said Dr N N Mathur, Principal, VMMC & SJH, explaining the hold up. "The facility we have is not robust and the results will therefore not be authentic and may be challenged. When asked about the plight of the students, Dr Mathur admitted, 'Until now, we have ten students still waiting and yes, they will be affected. He said attempts were made to get the students tested at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), but that has not worked out.

Other cities too

This is the story not just in Delhi but other cities like Kolkata, Chandigarh and Mumbai as well, where disabled students have been made to wait for days because either the equipment or the expert was unavailable. The result is unnecessary harassment.

"If VMMC Safdarjung Hospital is seeking help from AIIMS for this test, why has it still been designated as the only centre in Delhi? asks disability rights activist and founder of Doctors with Disabilities, Dr Satendra Singh. He also points to the fact that VMMC Safdarjung had previously denied admission to a hearing disabled candidate who went on to fight the move in court successfully. 'When there is a precedence of a hearing impaired student, why do you want to harass again?, he says.

VMMC has initiated the process of procuring the required equipment but it will be too late for these students to get into good medical colleges as the NEET counselling date ends on 24 June. "Given that VMMC is the only centre in Delhi, an empathic attitude is expected These people only have hearing impairments but our insensitive attitude makes them 'disabled', says Dr Singh.

Dr Achal Gulati, the expert who framed the MCI guidelines for students with a hearing disability, told NewzHook that the speech recognition test has been introduced for the first time this year as previously there was no reservation for students with hearing disability.

"Earlier anyone with over 40% hearing impairment was not eligible to be a doctor. Now the rule is that with the use of a hearing device, the deficit should come down to less than 40%. But in case of a hearing loss of 70%, even if we bring it down with an aid, there is a speech recognition issue. That's why this test was added.

Dr Gulati said that many centres have old audio meters which is creating a problem. But if this was a known fact, then why were steps not taken to ensure that VMMC Safdarjung had the updated equipment in place well in time for students? After all, the cost of the equipment, which ranges between Rs 20,000-30,000, is within affordable range.

The attitude indicates total indifference, says Dr Singh. "The equipment should have been put in place at VMMC or another centre identified at a private facility, so these students are not subject to needless delay and harassment. "

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