Report claims that visually impaired students are being let down
Date: Thursday 09 February, 2017
Visually impaired students are being failed by our education system, a worrying new report claims.
They are 50 per cent less likely to go to college than their classmates, research by the Association for Higher Education Access and Disability found.
It also found the number of blind or visually impaired students in higher education has fallen by ten per cent in the last year — for the second year in a row.
More than five per cent of the total third-level population is now disabled and the number of college students with disabilities is on the rise.
But the AHEAD report found those with visual impairments were struggling to advance from secondary school.
Executive director Ann Heelan said the latest figures are “not acceptable if we wish to call ourselves an equitable and fair nation”.
She said previous research found “teaching maths to blind and visually impaired students has been neglected at second level, despite maths being an entry requirement for many college courses”.
TINA Lowe understands more than most what it’s like to go through university with a disability.
With a degree in languages and a Masters in Equality Studies from UCD, she now works as the college campus accessibility officer.
And Tina knows the path to third level can be anything but straightforward when you’re dealing with a visual impairment.
The Dubliner was working as an English teacher in Spain when she lost her sight due to viral meningitis at the age of 27.
She said: “This happened out of the blue. I had two operations on my brain and as a result I was left blind and had to start all over again.
“I figured I had to re-educate myself to get a job, so I did my Leaving Cert again and went back to study in UCD.
“Truthfully it was very difficult but it was really worth it.”
When Tina enrolled in 1997, she didn’t have the advantage of today’s students who can use technology to help them access course material and complete tasks.
She recalled: “I used to get my books on tape and had them read to me by volunteer readers.
“I had boxes and boxes of cassettes. Now, everything is available online, but that can be harder too because there’s so much information so you have to trawl through a lot to get to what you want.”
While Tina reckons students have a great chance of success once they enter third level, the real issue is ensuring they get the support they need at primary and secondary level.
She said: “It’s not always practical for blind children to attend mainstream school as you need specialised teaching for some subjects such as maths.”
She added: “Blind students do need specific resources.
“Coping in a mainstream classroom setting can be very difficult, so it’s something that really needs to be looked at.
“I found it difficult enough in UCD, even though I had a fulltime personal assistant.
“I think we need to look back at primary and secondary schools to see what can be done for people, but I feel that if you get into third-level education now you’ve a much better chance of doing well, because the facilities and technologies are now available.”