IELTS for people with disability

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,

Band 8 in IELTS“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. “

How to focus on IELTS when your mind is somewhere else

It’s an unsettling time and even the happiest and most positive people among us can’t help but feel down occasionally – especially after reading the news.

Those of you who spent some time on know that I often recommend reading the news online or reading newspaper articles to improve your English.

I’m afraid I have to change that advice now. In fact, I take it back!

1. Stop constantly reading the news.

Now your top priority is to keep calm and stay positive. To do that you need to limit your exposure to the news. I believe you already have the words “Coronavirus” and “COVID-19” in your vocabulary, and at the moment there isn’t much content out there about other things. Most people who panic do so because they see and hear others panic – stay away from that mood, stay withdrawn, unplug your mind from the news. You can’t control the virus, but you CAN control how you feel and react to the situation. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. I’m sure you are already protecting your physical health – so it’s time that you start taking better care of your mental health.

So, from today, promise yourself to read the news no more than once a day – allow your thoughts to spend time away from the hysteria, to recover. That includes news in your first language, too!

2. Instead of consuming, create.

Reading the news is so easy, because it’s on your phone, it’s on your laptop, it’s just so accessible. When you read the news, you passively consume content that upsets you. We need to change that, to make you active and doing things that are GOOD for you. So, whatever device you are using, put IELTS materials there, and make it your ‘go-to activity’ on that device.

  • Instead of reading the news, read an IELTS Reading passage and answer its questions.
  • Instead of Googling stories about Coronavirus online, research ideas for an IELTS essay and then write that essay.
  • Instead of watching a news video online, do a Listening test – that’s at least half an hour spent not thinking about the virus.

Now THAT is what I call advancing your IELTS preparation and wellbeing at the same time!

IELTS content is great for taking your mind off everyday life, because its range of topics is very wide. You get to learn interesting facts from the world of physics, chemistry, psychology, marketing, law and more that you wouldn’t discover otherwise.

3. Take a break from reality.

Some people escape stress by reading a book, others like to watch a movie, whichever works for you – do it, just make sure the book or the movie is in English. Reading a book in English will help you learn new sentence structures, linking words, vocabulary, spelling, increase your reading speed, all at the same time as transporting you into another reality. Watching a movie can improve your Listening skills, Pronunciation, Speaking in general, you can learn some new idioms and expressions, and of course it’s a really fun way to spend an hour!

4. Remember your goal.

To keep your sanity and motivation, keep your eyes on the prize – the reason WHY you are taking IELTS. Because even if you don’t feel this way now, as soon as the situation is contained in your country (and hopefully in the world too), that goal will become even more important to you. Look at Hong Kong, for example – the IELTS exams were suspended there at first, but resumed as soon as the virus was contained. Other countries will follow the same pattern, and you want to be ready.

Remember that you are strong, and you will overcome this hardship. Then start proving it to yourself by preparing to ace your IELTS test!

5. Visualise your success.

You probably heard this one before, that visualising things helps you achieve them. But what does it actually mean ‘to visualise’? Surprisingly, not many people know. It means imagining things in detail, in a POSITIVE way. If you want to take IELTS and pass, don’t imagine going to the test centre, sitting down to do the Listening test and missing half the answers. Don’t imagine yourself failing. Imagine how you calmly sit down, put your headphones on, concentrate and tune out all the distractions, and how one by one you hear the answers and write them down in their spaces. You are focused and confident, you know what you’re doing. This is visualising and it prepares you for success.

Stay healthy and spread positivity around you.



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