QUALITY IN THE FIRST PERSON
Not Turning a Blind Eye
Impairment doesn’t stand in the way of certification
by Tanweer Imam
On Oct. 2, 2010, I took ASQ’s certified hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) auditor exam. I knew the results were emailed to candidates in about two weeks’ time, as this was not my first ASQ certification exam. In fact, it was my fifth. Nonetheless, I started checking my emails the next day, hoping to receive my result.
I had already taken and passed four certification exams: certified quality auditor, manager of quality/organizational excellence, quality engineer and Six Sigma Black Belt. I did not have to retake any of the certification exams; I passed all four of them on the first attempt. Not only that, I passed them in a span of just 10 months, between December 2006 and October 2007. This also means that during this period, I did not miss an opportunity to take an exam when it was offered in South Jersey.
After earning my Six Sigma Black Belt certification, I wanted to continue taking certification exams, but life took an unexpected turn. In November 2007, I suffered a significant loss of vision, to the extent that my doctors declared me legally blind.1
Now, I use Access Link, a door-to-door transportation service the state of New Jersey provides to disabled people. For reading books, magazines or any other paper documents, I use a closed-circuit TV (CCTV),2 which is a magnification device. To work on my computer, I installed a screen-reading software that magnifies text and also speaks every letter and word I type.
After adjusting to the new order of life, I started thinking about the certification exams I had always wanted to take. I knew it was not going to be easy, but I was determined to pursue my dreams.
Additionally, in September 2009, I was laid off by my employer. Since then, I have been sitting on the sidelines. I have been denied employment opportunities several times during the last 20 months—I believe due to my visual impairment, although I have never been directly told so. I thought taking and passing this certification exam would help prove that impairment is not a roadblock to acquiring knowledge and enhancing one’s professional capabilities.
I contacted Tina Damon, ASQ certification offerings coordinator, and explained my situation to her. Because I could not take my CCTV to the exam site, Damon offered to have the questions and multiple answers printed in a large font size of my choice. I told her 72 was the optimum size I could read without using a CCTV or holding papers close to my eyes.
I also needed an alternative method to record my answers, because I could not fill in the answer sheet’s small bubbles. Damon suggested I simply circle one of the answers—which are printed below each question—that I thought was correct.
Having covered the exam logistics, I then ordered The Certified HACCP Auditor Handbook from ASQ’s Quality Press. I no longer had the luxury to take a book with me everywhere I went because I could not read without my magnification devices. So, while I waited for the book to arrive, I created a spreadsheet to track my reading progress.
I started reading July 5, 2010, with a target end date of Aug. 31, 2010, to complete the book. This gave me four weeks to take some practice exams before the actual exam, which was scheduled for Oct. 2, 2010.
The big day
On the exam day, my son Tauqeer drove me to the exam location. David Baldwin and John Buhager, exam proctors for the ASQ South Jersey Section 0508, were aware of my situation and the format of my exam.
My exam questions were printed on 11x17-inch papers, in landscape orientation, to fit as many words in a row as possible. The set of papers included more than 200 pages. These pages were split into two stacks of about 120 pages each and held together by two giant-sized binder clips.
As expected, most questions and their possible answers were spread across three to four pages. For some questions, I picked out the correct answer fairly quickly and circled them. For others, I had to read the answers a second or even third time to choose the right answer. It was not easy because in such cases, I had to go back and forth and flip some pages again and again.
I knew I was taking a little more time in answering such questions than my fellow examinees with normal vision who could see the question and possible answers at a glance. For me, it was truly a race against time.
All ASQ certification exams are open book. I had used reference materials myself during my first four exams. This time, I had to rely mostly on my memory.
Although I brought my copy of the HACCP handbook to the exam—and used it once—I realized it was taking more time to find the required information than it took me to answer three or four questions. It was taking so long because my handbook was printed in regular-sized font, which I could not read without my CCTV. The electronic magnifier with a three-inch viewfinder that I brought to the exam would hardly capture 15 characters at a time. This was not a good tool to use to browse through reference material quickly and efficiently.
Six days after I completed the exam, I received the much awaited email—I passed my fifth certification exam. I took this exam—and worked hard to pass it—in just one attempt to prove to the world that thousands of blind people such as myself are fully capable of accomplishing anything that other people, with their normal vision, can.
For me, this was not just another exam. It was a mission—I wanted to raise a voice against the stigma that is unfairly attached to blindness.
- The National Federation of the Blind defines "legally blind" as: central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the use of a correcting lens. An eye which is accompanied by a limitation in the fields of vision such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees shall be considered for purposes in this paragraph as having a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less," www.nfb.org/nfb/legally_blind_definition.asp?snid=2.
- Closed-circuit TV, http://cap.tricare.mil/solutions/product.aspx?id=100973&disabilityid=2&categoryid=8&solutiontype=products.
Tanweer Imam has a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Sindh, Jamshoro, Pakistan. He is a senior member of ASQ and a certified hazard analysis and critical control points auditor, Six Sigma Black Belt and quality manager of quality/organizational excellence, engineer and auditor.