Blind physicist sounded a few uplifting notes on provision for disabled pupils

9th November 2012 at 00:00
Access to school science labs is a must for those with mobility problems and other practical difficulties

If you were listening to BBC Scotland's Out of Doors programme a couple of weeks ago, you would have been treated to yours truly and his wife driving around a forest track, explaining how these trails gave people with restricted mobility access to the tranquillity of the countryside. Full marks to presenter Mark Stephen for sounding relaxed when he was in fact folded like a Z-bed in the two tiny rear seats of our Suzuki.

The last time I wrote about disability, I mentioned that disabled bays were not for members of the senior management team who thought they had a right to park near the door; nor were they for hame eekies teachers with lots of tatties to humph. I urged management not to give those with walking difficulties "please takes" or registration classes at the other end of the building from their usual area of work. Some advice is worth repeating, especially when it comes from the heart.

Any new-build school I've been in has, without exception, been designed with accessibility in mind. Best practice has accessible laboratory facilities, with one bench area and sink at wheelchair height. As we're keen to point out at SSERC, plenty of people with mobility problems work in science, so it makes sense - good grief, it even makes financial sense - to have a provision for disabled youngsters in school labs.

Since one of the simplest safety precautions you can take when handling chemicals is to work standing up, small amendments in risk assessments are needed. A chemical-resistant apron is a practicable control measure, as we health and safety types would say.

I'd describe what follows as an uplifting experience if it wasn't that I have a feeling that the young person concerned wouldn't like to be thought of as someone who goes around uplifting.

We'd been asked if we could advise on a suitable Advanced Higher physics project for a student who was blind. In the end, he and his teacher came to Dunfermline to carry out a project on guitar strings. I was wowed by a Braille laptop with its row of pins that popped up and down as its operator looked up (his words) notes on wave theory.

Now, you may feel that I'm being soulless and overly geeky to be talking about the wonders of the laptop, rather than the wonders of a blind person doing one of the most demanding courses school education has to offer. There are two reasons for me taking this tack. One, I know the laptop won't mind. Two, I lack the ability to find the words to express my admiration for the student and those who have helped him get to where he is.

Gregor Steele, Scottish Schools Education Research Centre, ended up in The Sunday Post next to a cardboard cut-out of Oor Wullie last time he was on the radio.

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