Emerging Issues in Education
IT is the specialist teacher who prepares the visually impaired child for mainstream integration and continues to provide support so that the child remains successfully integrated.
Learners with visual impairment follow the same curriculum as their peers.
These children are expected to produce the same quality of work.
While every child in Zimbabwe is supposed to have the right to primary education, some school requirements render education unavailable to a number of visually impaired children.
Learning materials, inaccessible premises, inflexible curricula requirements and general discrimination faced by visually impaired learners make their right to education questionable.
Welcome to the column “Emerging Issues in Education”.
This week we focus on how schools can include learners with visual impairment in the mainstream.
What is visual impairment?
Many children attend school with visual impairment and quite often proceed to higher learning grades with the impairment being unnoticed.
Mpofu and Oakland (2010) suggest that, “The term visual impairment is often used collectively to describe individuals who have no vision at all and individuals who, while impaired, retain some ability to see.”
Put simply, visual impairment is loss of vision that cannot be corrected to normal vision.
The definitions imply that visual impairment is a condition in which one has difficulty with the sense of sight.
Including the visually impaired in the mainstream
In line with the National Development Strategy 1(NDS1) that encompasses the promotion of equality and universal access to primary education, the Government has embraced the philosophy of inclusivity.
By accepting the provisions of The Convention of the Rights of the Child (1991) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2013), Government made a commitment that requires the participation of schools.
However, segregated special schools are still the main option for children with disabilities, including the visually impaired.
Construction of buildings
It is disturbing to note that schools and the larger society consciously or unconsciously ignores the needs of learners with visual impairment when constructing buildings.
Stairs are put up without rams such that access to classrooms and offices for those on wheelchairs is denied.
Therefore, the designs of various buildings prevents disabled people from living their life like everyone else — going to school, participating in family celebrations and working in various fields.
The consideration of rams should be standard in all public places.
The visually impaired children need Assistive Technology training in the form of reading aids.
Books with large print are essential to those with partial visual impairment.
In some cases, the use of books which are in the form of speech recorded tapes enable them to use the hearing sense for learning.
There is need to work with families of children with visual impairment as they have both the right and the responsibility to play a primary role in determining the nature and extent of services provided for their child.
Computers can provide many benefits to support and enhance both teachers and learners in the teaching and learning processes.
Computers enable a variety of teaching strategies that include individual instruction, as well as collaborative and project-based teaching.
Information Communication Technology can accommodate different learning styles.
ICT can support different learning styles by providing a variety of formats such as text, image, audio, video, simulations, games, and demonstration.
ICT can enable the inclusion of the visually impaired in a variety of formats such as enlarged print to enable the child to read independently.
Some forms of the computers can read to the child aloud so that he or she is aided in learning through the use of the hearing sense.
Teachers or learners who have total vision loss are severely impaired that they must learn to read Braille, apart from audiotapes and records.
Braille are raised dots used by visually impaired people to read with their fingertips.
It consists of quadrangular cells containing from one to six dots whose arrangement denotes different letters and symbols.
Braille allows the visually impaired individuals to learn and read.
Braille comes with a lot more independence for people with visual impairment.
A child or teacher with partial sight may have a visual acuity problem that is correctable with glasses.
Many can see broad shapes but not details.
The person with a reduction in central vision has moderate field loss, that is the area that can be seen when straight-ahead.
Use of optical aids such as magnifying glasses can help improve low vision.
Children with visual impairments may be advanced in speech and language and excel at listening and memory activities.
However, in physical development, they may slower when compared to their peers because they may not be able to see well enough to imitate the actions of peers and movement may be perceived as dangerous.
Moderate functional impairment occurs when a person has moderate reduction of acuity and requires specialized aids and lighting.
The assistive technologies can be directly used by the visually impaired learners.
These can be put in the learning environment to help improve the lighting system so that the individuals’ vision can be improved.
The room or place in which teaching and learning is conducted should provide good overall lighting.
Teachers should avoid areas of deep contrasts between light and shade.
Learning is made difficult, not so much by the visual impairment condition, but mainly by a hostile physical and social environment which excludes learners.
The way in which learning is structured fails learners with disabilities.
Use of concrete media and models enables them to use the other senses for learning.
Schools, as agents of change, should therefore put in place the necessary ingredients that ensures that every child has access to education.