IELTS is well known for being a time-intensive test, because there is so much to do and so little time to do it. This presents a problem even for native English speakers, who can read and write quite fast, so it isn’t surprising that students with English as a second language struggle even more. But there is a large cohort for whom IELTS is even more challenging, and that is people who live with a disability that affects the way they read, write, speak or hear.
Anne D., as a person who has difficulty using her hands, faced many problems while taking the IELTS exam. She is a true champion, and because of her amazing determination and resilience she got Band 8 in the test – but to get there she had to go through a lot. In this blog post she is telling her story, to help others avoid obstacles that got in her way.
Anne D. wrote in an email,
“I am a disabled person, a quadriplegic who has difficulty using all four limbs, and that’s why I require more time than the other candidates to write or type. I live in New Jersey, USA. I took the IELTS test for Academics on September 19, 2020 at Manhattan, New York. I faced a lot of challenges when I asked for extra time and I thought I would document my experience so that other disabled students won’t have to face the same problems that I faced.
When I registered for the test in the month of August, the official website gave me two options in New Jersey – one was for a Paper Based Test (PBT) and the other one was a Computer Delivered Test (CDT). The PBT test center was defunct and anyways my first option was to go for the CDT so I chose Newark and registered for October. The website didn’t give me an option to ask for extra time at the time of registering.
After this started a spate of frantic emails and calls to British Council, British Council USA and IELTS USA. I even posted on their Facebook pages. They had the same answer “Sorry, we can’t help you. Please contact your test center.”
So, I called and emailed my test center and they replied after a few days. They redirected me to a test center in New York saying that it wasn’t possible to deliver a CDT with extra time. I was told that I would get a full refund if I cancelled my test well in advance but they deducted $60 from the registration fees when I cancelled the test at Newark.
The test center at Manhattan offered only PBT but there was an option to opt for extra time as well as ask for a word processor while registering so I selected that but the center informed me that to take up a CDT with extra time, I needed to give at least 3 months’ notice to the board. This places a highly unfair restriction on the candidate as University application deadlines don’t allow for that kind of a time frame. Also, the process for obtaining extra time involves a lot of email communication that is time consuming. I had to send a medical certificate not older than a year for the board’s consideration and they took a few weeks’ time to get back with an answer. Finally, they approved me for 25% extra time which was sufficient for me but I had to go through the stress of practicing my handwriting. My handwriting is not legible due to my disability and the whole process caused me a lot of unwanted stress.
While the test center made all possible efforts to accommodate my special request, I was disappointed that I couldn’t take the computer based test as extra time was allowed only while writing the paper based test.
It would be great if the IELTS board can make the process of obtaining extra time for disabled candidates more straightforward (for example, they can give a provision to upload medical certificates while submitting the IELTS application just like they ask for ID) and allow for extra time on a computer based test. They should also make the whole process quicker.
My advice to those who are disabled:
1. Keep a medical certificate explaining your disability handy. It should not be more than a year old.
2. Email and call your test center well in advance.
3. Time. You need a lot of time. Book your test at least 6 to 8 months before your deadlines.
4. Remember that the results take time too, so you need a buffer for that too.
5. Practice writing on paper just in case you’re forced to take the PBT like me. “