Royal Commission leaves no doubt systemic issues for blind and low vision students must be addressed

14 October 2020

Vision Australia believes the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability should leave schools and education departments no choice but to address systemic educational issues faced by students who are blind or have low vision.

The Royal Commission will this week hold hearings into barriers faced by students with disability to a safe and inclusive educational experience and the resulting impacts on later life.

A recent survey by Vision Australia of students who are blind or have low vision or their parents revealed a myriad of issues, including a lack of access to material in accessible formats, inadequate support from specialist staff and common occurrences of discrimination, harassment or victimization.

More than a third of respondents said educational materials were only being provided in accessible or preferred formats some of the time, while 27% said they or their child has not been provided assistance from specialist staff with specific training in working with children who are blind or have low vision.

Further, 25% of respondents said the opportunity to learn braille at school had not been provided and one in two respondents said they or their child had experienced discrimination, harassment or victimization in an education setting.

Forty per cent said they have wanted to make a complaint regarding their or their child’s education but have not gone through with it.

Ron Hooton, Vision Australia CEO, said these issues have been impacting students who are blind or have low vision for generations and highlight a pattern of neglect, and in some instances abuse, in educational settings.

“Students who are blind or have low vision are effectively being denied the opportunity for a full and comprehensive education and the attention of Royal Commission shows these issues must be addressed now,” Ron said.

“These are not issues where there can be any debate. Schools and education departments have an obligation to provide students who are blind or have low vision with material that is accessible and the appropriate support to learn alongside their sighted peers, anything less than that is neglect.

“More needs to be done to ensure students who are blind or have low vision feel safe and included in educational settings and students or parents should be able to feel comfortable making any attempt to resolve these issues.”

Ron said it is especially disappointing these issues remain, as it has been proven that accessible and inclusive education for students who are blind or have low vision alongside the wider student body is not difficult to achieve.

Jacob is a primary school student in NSW with low vision. When he was first enrolled in school, an environmental assessment was conducted of the school grounds to determine what adjustments may be needed.

It was found that curbs, steps, other uneven surfaces and poles that were not painted in contrasting colours would limit Jacob’s ability to independently navigate the school grounds and pose various safety issues. To address this, the school painted these areas in a contrasting colour (in this case yellow) so that Jacob could more easily identify them. 

This relatively simple and low cost adjustment, has significantly improved Jacob’s school experience, allowing him to be able to confidently navigate around the school grounds independently.

“Jacob’s experience is one of the few positive stories we hear from parents of children who are blind or have low vision in relation to their education experience. The school have been proactive and maintained open communication with Jacob and his family, working through any challenges that arise together,” Ron said.  

“Their experience demonstrates the power of positive attitudes to inclusion. Jacob’s school principal said to his mother, Lesleigh, ‘we will learn more from Jacob than he will ever learn from us’.

Ends.

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