Schools are set up for students who can see. But around3,000 school-aged childrenin Australia have a vision impairment – 300 of these have a severe vision impairment or are blind. These children are generally educated in mainstream schools, sometimes with little support for their needs.
We interviewed 15 students aged 7-14 with a vision impairment attending state, Catholic, and independent schools. We also interviewed their parents and teachers.
We are both mothers of children born blind and are aware of the diverse range of schooling experiences for such students. We wanted to investigate why the disparity occurs and how students with vision impairments can be helped.
Our interviewees taught us some new things about their experiences at school, including what they wish their peers and teachers knew about them. Here are the four key messages they wanted to communicate.
1. Ask me what you need to know
Many teachers havenever met a student who is blind . These teachers are concerned at their ability to meet the needs of students with a vision impairment.
It was clear from our interviews that students with vision impairments knew what they needed to enable them to participate in class. But they said teachers often provided the solution themselves instead of asking the students what worked best for them.
When we asked our interviewees why they didn’t offer up their own solutions, they said things like
to be honest I don’t really tell them, it’s only a hassle for them
only when it’s really important, I tell them
I have to teach them how to help me. I wish they would just ask.
One child said:
my teachers ask me – ‘is it better if I email you this image or worksheet, or would you like to access it the way everyone else accesses it through OneNote?’ I like being given that choice.
With reference to their peers, one student told us:
it gets really awkward when a classmate doesn’t understand what my vision impairment is. If my peers knew what I could see, it would be really helpful.
From these responses, it is clear students want their teachers and classmates to have an understanding of their vision impairment and ask how to best to support them.