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Educational implications

The incidence of blindness and visual impairment in the 0-25 population group is very low. Estimates vary but in educational terms the most practical approach would be to say that those who cannot undertake standard Fe courses using PC-generated modified print or enlarged photocopying, with or without the use of lenses for magnification, and who therefore would functionally be defined as ‘blind’ is no more than 1,000 students in each annual cohort.

Bearing in mind that some blind students fall behind their sighted peers during primary and secondary education and that many of them suffer from additional disabilities, and bearing in mind that a small proportion will qualify for higher education, the potential FE annual cohort of people with such poor vision that they require special provision other than modified print, will be approximately 400; of that number fewer than half will proceed to FE.

It is therefore important to recognise two major educational phenomena:

  1. First, a teacher may go through a whole career of 35 years without ever coming into contact with a blind student
  2. Secondly, the severely visually impaired or totally blind person is likely to need a much higher and specialised degree of additional assistance than the most severely affected members of the other three, higher incidence, clusters of syndromes.

This combination of low incidence and a high specialisation requirement presents a uniquely challenging combination of factors.

Most blind and seriously visually impaired students (from now on simply referred to as VIPs) do not read braille fluently if at all. They rely on modified print (optimally 16-point but often larger) and audio information.

Some VIPs will possess or have access to special equipment which enables them to access text through screen magnification and/or screen readers which reproduce text in synthetic speech or braille. The use of the latter is so challenging that achieving competence will almost certainly be more exacting than the course work being accessed.

It may be obvious but it is still important to say that VIPs have no common characteristics; their acuity will vary from zero to useful and the use they make of their acuity will vary. There is an obvious difference between congenital and acquired conditions and the ambient environment may be critical to functionality.

Further information and guidance