Can you see from their point of view?

16th September 2005 at 01:00
Technology is essential in trying to support pupils with visual impairment in mainstream secondary schools. But it is not enough. Feelings and attitudes are important too.

"We started training the teachers and raising awareness at Hawick High more than a year before Katrina and Lewis came up from the primary," says Philip Whittaker, the Scottish Borders' ICT support teacher for additional needs. Both pupils are now in Secondary 2.

"It was a process of consultation that is still going on. Every subject has a different style and emphasis. In English the text is important, while pictures and video convey a lot of information in geography."

Teachers and future classmates were prepared by providing them with information and insight into what a serious visual impairment feels like, says Vicki Logan, the Scottish Borders' principal teacher for additional needs.

"We gave them lessons using books, videos, magnifiers, tactile rulers, Braille and special glasses that show what it's like to have various forms of impairment - central vision loss, tunnel vision, cataracts."

Guidance was also given on the difficulties of simple social interactions for someone who can't read facial expressions.

"Then we talk about how it's best not to offer help all the time, because people like to do things for themselves. The children take it all in."

The feelings that children with visual impairment have about the technology they use to access the curriculum can change as a child matures, says Mr Whittaker.

"Young people don't want to be different. We have to consider how they will feel in a classroom, whether they will be comfortable with a new piece of equipment. For instance, we are looking at putting talking books on MP3 players, because they are cool."

So, too, are the wireless laptops that are central to the support model that has been developed at Hawick High, says Mr Whittaker. "Some authorities we visited were simply producing large print versions of curricular material on A3 paper. But we decided to get as much as we could in every subject on to the school intranet.

"It means the youngsters are able to expand the material on screen to whatever size they need to read it. It works well and we have already begun to develop the same model for a pupil going up to Eyemouth High."

Katrina Thomson uses her laptop in almost every subject, she says. Fingers flying, she demonstrates how she can pull up curricular materials on screen or type in text and magnify it at the touch of a button. "The additional needs teachers taught me to touch-type when I was in P2," she says.

Lewis Teckkam, who is confined to a wheelchair by cerebral palsy, says: "I like using the laptop too. It's handy and I can pick what size letters I want on the screen. Sometimes I use Daisy (Digital Audio Information Systems), which lets you scan a book and listen to it while you read."

SETT

Access to a Full Curriculum for All by Philip Whittaker of Scottish Borders Council, Wednesday, 1pm

Daisy: A New Flower in the Education Garden by Jamie Cuthbertson and Pamela Chater of RNIB, Thursday, 10.30am

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