May 13, 2013 (New York, NY): The National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO)
provided Ampreet Singh, a Sikh optometry student, a religious accommodation to use a non-standardized optometry instrument --- allowing him to wear his turban -- to complete the clinical skills portion of the national licensing examination. Recently, Mr. Singh successfully passed the exam, as well as the clinical skills evaluation, with a near perfect score.
The national exam, which consists of three parts, requires optometry students to wear a head-mounted binocular indirect ophthalmoscopy instrument (BIO) for the clinical portion. However, Mr. Singh, because of his religiously-mandated turban, was unable to wear the head-mounted BIO. He requested a religious accommodation to wear an alternative but functionally equivalent spectacle-mounted BIO.
Mr. Singh successfully used the spectacle-mounted BIO throughout optometry school. The NBEO, nevertheless, denied Mr. Singh’s accommodation request, citing concerns about standardization and asked him to proceed with the exam without completing the clinical portion. As skipping the clinical portion would have significantly decreased Mr. Singh's chances of passing the exam, he refused and contacted the Sikh Coalition.
The Sikh Coalition advocated for Mr. Singh extensively. Initially, the NBEO refused to agree to a workable solution. After months of negotiations, the NBEO finally agreed to allow Mr. Singh to wear the spectacle-mounted BIO instrument and graded him on-site through the use of a teaching mirror and a proctor. This accommodation allowed him to complete the practical portion of his board examination while wearing his turban.
"We applaud the NBEO's decision to provide Mr. Singh with a suitable accommodation consistent with his religious rights under state and federal law. It is alarming that the hurdle Mr. Singh faced in his career was not a difficult examination or coursework but the initial failure of a national licensing board to accommodate his religious beliefs. This accommodation embraces diversity in the optometry profession and will pave the way for other Sikhs," said Gurjot Kaur, Staff Attorney.
Ampreet Singh is presently completing his last externship and is set to graduate this month. He will begin his residency in optometry in July. We wish him the best of success and re-affirm our commitment that no person should ever have to choose between his or her career and faith.
To read the complete advisory, please click here.
As always, the Sikh Coalition urges Sikhs everywhere to practice their faith fearlessly.