Calls for national transcription centre for blind

9th December 2005 at 00:00
Visually impaired children in Scotland experience regular difficulties accessing curriculum materials in the right format, the Royal National Institute for the Blind in Scotland reports.

The charity is calling on a parliamentary cross-party group on visual impairment to back its demand for a centrally funded national transcription centre to get away from the current "postcode lottery" that exists from one authority to another.

RNIB Scotland says research suggests that there are significant disparities in provision of accessible curriculum materials. A pupil will need an estimated 375 textbooks in primary school and more than 750 in secondary school. Many authorities find it is not viable to produce materials in the full range of accessible formats.

Robert Brown, Deputy Education Minister, did not commit himself to meeting the RNIB demands but he told The TES Scotland: "Visual impairment should not be a barrier to children and young people achieving their full potential and we are committed to ensuring that they receive a quality education that meets their individual needs."

A Government-funded, nationally co-ordinated single transcription service would avoid duplication of work and the dispersal of expertise, and would maintain uniform standards, the RNIB says. It adds that the service need not be centrally located but could operate through a network.

The report also includes an evaluation of the institute's Daisy (Digital Accessible Information System) project, which it has been piloting as an aid for visually impaired pupils and students who work alongside their sighted peers in mainstream schools. Mr Brown was given a copy of the evaluation from the cross-party group yesterday (Thursday).

RNIB Scotland has received pound;210,000 in funding from the United Families and Young Persons' Fund to test the technology in education. Daisy is already an international standard which is used in talking books and allows a high level of flexibility and interactivity.

For schools, it typically involves a portable Daisy player which uses CDs.

Daisy software in a computer allows text to be played as audio and displayed as large type on screen simultaneously for partially sighted pupils, or as audio and Braille strip simultaneously. Other combinations are also appearing.

Helen King, co-ordinator of the visual impairment unit at Darnley primary in Glasgow, one of the schools involved in the project, said the nine blind pupils and three partially sighted pupils in her unit now had much better access to books.

It allows them to read stories independently in the Longman book project, takes less time than Braille and can record information. "One of the children has some difficulty with Braille so she would record her answers on to a CD rather than having to Braille them out - so we are getting much better feedback from her," Ms King said.

Joan Haston, responsible for visual impairment in South Lanarkshire's education department, carried out the external evaluation of the project and found huge benefits.

With Braille, pupils could not skim or scan through books or texts. Daisy made it much easier, for instance, to find a quote in, say, chapter six of a text. It also made revision much easier.

John Legg, director of RNIB Scotland, said: "We believe that the Daisy technology has been successfully demonstrated to be a valuable tool in enabling blind and partially sighted pupils to participate in mainstream education and realise their potential."

A national transcription service would provide every pupil with materials through Daisy, Braille, large print and other formats.

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