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Visual Impairment :
Special Educational Needs

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MAKING THE CURRICULUM MEANINGFUL

The curriculum for a severely visually impaired child should be on a par with that for their sighted peers. In order for a VI child to follow the curriculum without difficulty changes must be made in the organisation of the curriculum, the presentation of materials and resources, the topics and tasks planned and in the nature of the additional support and intervention given.

We have experience of many visually impaired children in mainstream schools who have made excellent progress because the support that they receive in school is well planned and effective. However, there are a significant number whose access to the curriculum, and their subsequent progress, is limited as they are frequently given work which is inappropriate or meaningless.

It is important that work is differentiated to suit the individual child. For VI children there are 4 principles in the preparation of modified resources and materials:

Duplication: The work/task is exactly the same as that given to sighted pupils, though it may be presented through enlarged text. This should be presented to the child on A4 sheets. In many schools children are given poor quality A3 photocopies of work that is difficult for the severely visually impaired child to manage. It is unrealistic to expect a visually impaired child to be able to read from such a large piece of paper.

Modification: the same work is given to the child and the work is modified in the way it is presented to the child, i.e. its method of display, the medium used (e.g. audio or tactile), the type of material/resources (e.g. talking equipment such as scales, thermometers, calculators) used and the response expectation from the child, (e.g. typed/key board input or voice recognition software). This requires careful planning to ensure that all the resources that the VI child needs are available at the start of the lesson.

Substitution: when there is no suitable way for the work to be modified alternative work should be substituted so that the child is able to gain knowledge and understanding and develop the same concepts as his/her sighted peer group by different means. The English example, from key stage 3, shown below requires alternative work but the same basic idea/concept can be delivered.

Omission: in some unavoidable circumstances, duplication, modification or substitution are inappropriate and the work has to be omitted. The severely visually impaired child will have to be given alternative, unrelated work to do. It is not acceptable to the VI child to sit through activities and exercises which are completely inaccessible and meaningless.

ORGANISATION

The National Curriculum and Exam syllabuses contain details of important core skills and concepts that are designed for the average (sighted) pupil. These are often inappropriate for a VI child and transcribing the work into Braille or trying to enlarge it will not allow the VI child to access the work.

Science attainment targets (KS3) include Experimental skills and investigations, e.g.

use appropriate techniques, apparatus, and materials during fieldwork and laboratory work, paying attention to health and safety  

make and record observations and measurements using a range of methods for different investigations; and evaluate the reliability of methods and suggest possible improvements

For a child with little or no vision the usual laboratory techniques, equipment and methods would be inappropriate. Achieving the attainment targets requires alternative organisation of work and the use of different equipment so that it is accessible to the child. This would require a different approach to that and careful preparation but would still deliver the key concepts of the subject.

CHOICE OF TOPICS, TASKS AND EXAMPLES


The examples below are all taken from the many cases that Blatchington Court Trust has been involved with during the last few years. They show a lack of understanding by teachers, most of whom are well-intentioned and well-meaning, of the need to choose examples of work that can be meaningful to a VI child.

In a SEND tribunal hearing that we were involved with, the judging panel were bemused and shocked at the work given to a totally blind child. They were extremely critical of both the school and the local authority for the poor quality of the provision made for the child. They heard that the blind child was given an example of a physical change in science (heating and cooling zinc oxide, which involves a colour change). The same principle could have been demonstrated using copper sulphate which emits heat when water is added to the anhydrous powder. The heat output can be felt even if the change in appearance (white to blue, powder to crystal) can not be seen.

In his first technology lesson the child was set a project to create a T shirt design of one of his favourite things, an inappropriate task for a child with no experience of colour or the use of designs on clothing. His well-meaning TA helped him create a 3D design on a card-board cut-out of a T-shirt using cotton wool. This was shown to the Tribunal as an example of fully differentiated, meaningful and appropriate work. 

In our support of severely visually impaired children in schools, we encounter examples of inaccessible and inappropriate work with alarming frequency, where little or no thought has been given to the needs of the visually impaired pupil and whether it is meaningful to the child. These are a few recent examples of inaccessible meaningless work given to severely visually impaired children, all within the last two years.

L. has been totally blind from birth. She was in an English lesson where the work involved scenes from Harry Potter books. For homework she had to describe what it would be like to be the owl when it was in flight. In her PE lesson she had to do warm up exercises in the Sports Hall corridor while the rest of her class played Badminton.

M. is another pupil who is congenitally totally blind. The class were studying the sky and she was asked to build a model of a rocket for homework (which her mother did). The class used this to start a topic on astronomy and the sky at night.

D. is also congenitally totally blind. In his science lesson the class investigated pH by using universal indicator paper which changes colour to indicate pH of a solution. D. has never seen a colour but has often been involved in school work that asks him to describe colours, shapes and sizes of objects.

B.'s sight has deteriorated and now she has no residual functional vision. She spent half a term in Art unable to do anything because the class were drawing portraits and the teacher was unable to provide alternative work for her

R. has no vision in one eye and his acuity in his other eye is 1/60. His homework was to put together an electric circuit, made from two wires, a battery, leading to a light bulb!

L. has no functional vision and no colour perception. During an outing the class were working in a cathedral. A well-meaning TA tried to explain to her what a stained glass window was by helping trace out the glass panels with her fingers.

J. has rod cone dystrophy so has a severely restricted field of vision and is unable to see anything more than outlines of people. He was asked to write a description of the school's head teacher.

T has vision of 1/60 with some additional learning difficulties. He is unable to access much of the work. An educational psychologist's assessment report included the following summary :

T is currently effectively taught in isolation from his peers. Although he is in a mainstream class many of the activities and resources are not accessible for him. In spite of the endeavours of his mainstream primary school his peers do not treat him as an equal. He does not appear to have real friends within his peer group. This raises concerns about his ability to continue within a mainstream setting without his feelings of isolation increasing.