Lucy smiles with her young female cousin by her side.

Staying in mainstream education with a visual impairment

A guest blog from Lucy Driver, a visually impaired student that decided to stay in mainstream education. She knows the benefits and disadvantages of access to education outside of specialist education for visually impaired students.

When my vision began to deteriorate, I found it difficult to access the relevant information about my sight loss and what impact it might have on my education.

I’m hoping that this blog about my experiences might aid those who find themselves in my situation, or are currently supporting someone facing a similar circumstance. I aim to do this by explaining what I did to enable me to stay within mainstream education.

Registering with the Local VI Authority

Registering with the local authority’s visual impairment (VI) education advisory service provides better access to the curriculum for students with a visual impairment. The process itself was relatively straightforward.

The Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENco) at my school initiated my application. After the administrative side of things was complete, a specialist advisory teacher with the visual impairment team met with me at school for an informal assessment to establish my access needs.

I have since continued to meet with the same VI advisory teacher once or so a term. It can be of great benefit to be able to talk to an individual regarding what is and isn’t being done to support you as a student. It also provides you with some perspective, as you are able to discuss any concerns you may have with someone who has a bit more experience in bridging the gap between special educational needs and education itself.

Exam Modifications

A good exams officer is a blessing!

Visual impairment and academic achievement are not directly related to one another; sight loss does not have to mean worsening academic performance.

Exam modifications are put in place to ensure students that require additional support are at the same starting point as students who do not. These can come in a variety of formats from enlarged font size to additional time allocation.

Prior to the submission of the application, everyone involved (the student, their parent’s, the school’s SENco etc.) will meet to discuss what modifications (if any) would be of benefit to the student. Once these arrangements have been agreed upon, the school’s examination’s officer will apply for the modifications to be made

Technology

The uses of modern technology to secure better access to the curriculum are endless. I use the following to enable me to work independently at school:

  • iPad – This allows me to read text books as ebooks, enlarge imagery and have PowerPoints emailed to me by class-teachers to eliminate the issue of whiteboard glare.
  • iZoom Software – This is a USB containing magnifying software that enlarges the screen format on computers. It can also re-colour the screen if needed.
  • Electronic Video Magnifier – I use this during my exams in order to further enlarge my exam paper manually. This means that I don’t need a reader, which enables me to work independently and at my own pace.

Coming to terms with sight loss

A diagnosis of sight loss is incredibly daunting on its own. Adding that to being a teenager trying to keep up with your peers whilst being conscious of the sight you have lost makes it a very difficult concept to explain to anyone that hasn’t experienced it themselves.Lucy strokes a dog under its chin

I do feel that it’s incredibly important to change attitudes towards people with sight loss, especially when everyone you’ve ever met starts a conversation with, “How many fingers am I holding up?”

Having these conversations sooner rather than later, enables the wheels to be set in motion. This provides peace of mind to both the student themselves and their family. It establishes the knowledge that not everything is changing and that going to school and obtaining the same qualifications whilst aiming for the same future as you would have previously, is not an impossible concept.

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