"What I wish you knew". Promoting young voices offering advice for a more informed and respectful education for students with a vision impairment or blindness in mainstream schools.

Year: 2019

Author: Cain, Melissa, Fanshawe, Melissa

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Australian classrooms are increasingly using interactive whiteboards and multimedia presentations to motivate students to learn. So, what happens when you cannot see?

Without vision, children miss out on seeing many things around them that others take for granted, including information from textbooks, instructions and signs, photos in media, videos, pictures, and diagrams.Vision impairment can also impact orientation and mobility, social skills, and emotional wellbeing. The age of e-learning has resulted in advances in accessibility and removal of traditional barriers of access to print. However, for the estimated 300 students with severe vision impairment or blindness who attend mainstream schools, more significant modifications such as braille or adaptive technologies may be required to fully access the Australian curriculum. Most teachers have never met a student who is blind and feel concerned at their ability to meet their needs in the classroom. Teachers may have mixed attitudes towards the student—from trying to do everything for them, to not understanding the need to provide additional information. The Disability Standards for Education (2005) states that students with disabilities have the right to access education ‘on the same basis’ as their peers. In reality, however, schools are set up for those who can see.

This presentation provides important advice for teachers to ensure a more informed, efficient, agentic, and respectful education for students with a vision impairment or blindness. As part of a research project conducted through the Australian Catholic University and the University of Southern Queensland, 15 students attending Queensland government, Catholic, and Independent schools aged 7-14 were interviewed along with their parents. The researchers, both mothers of children born blind, were already aware of the diverse range of experiences of schooling for such students and wanted to investigate the reasons for this disparity. Students were enthusiastic to share their experiences, providing illuminating data on what’s working in mainstream classrooms and what they wish their teachers and peers knew to make their experiences more positive and equitable. The presenters will put forward these voices to provide practical advice around the themes of differentiation, socialisation, adaptive technologies, and subjects that present significant challenges for students. The results of the research suggests implications for a wider national study that documents how differentiation for students with a vision impairment has evolved over time and in a range of educational contexts; with the voices of students, parents, and teachers telling the story from their own experiences.