by Jubilee Paul | Trinidad &Tobago Blind Welfare Association
For students across the world, distance learning has become the new normal and in- person classes are now a thing of the past. Although this new way of learning has presented many opportunities, it has placed some persons with disabilities at a disadvantage, specifically those at the primary school level. It’s almost as if they have been forgotten and left to fend for themselves. Students who are blind and visually impaired have experienced a number of challenges in adapting to remote learning.
To begin with, at the primary school level, parents must now attempt to educate their child who is blind, with minimal assistance. This process can be very frustrating for both parent and child, especially if they lack the necessary skills and training for the task. Prior to the pandemic, teacher Aides played an essential role in providing additional help to those who needed individual attention in the classroom. However, with the suspension of physical classes, this is no longer available. Many parents and guardians have taken time off or are even unable to work, in order to assist their child with school.
Since the commencement of online learning, children who are visually impaired have been receiving the short end of the stick, as tactile learning cannot be taught in this way. For persons who are blind, touch plays an essential role in learning. As a result, tactile methods are vital in acquiring the necessary skills which enable them to function as independently as possible. Without the element of touch, subjects like Science and Math can be difficult for students who are blind at different levels of education. “They can’t just listen to a Math book,” one teacher said.
This leads to the next point, which is that online learning can be fast paced. One teacher mentioned that it can take a while for students with visual impairments to manage their technology or read braille at the same rate as those who are reading print. In addition, learning a different language can become a tedious task since the assistive technology software reads in English.
Another challenge is that some students may not have internet access or a device to use for online learning. During this time, many schools offer the option of providing packages for those who are unable to learn virtually. However, these packages aren’t available in braille.
Based on the challenges mentioned previously, students with visual impairments at the primary school level have it harder than those at the secondary and tertiary levels. This is because they are now learning fundamental skills and need more guidance and supervision.
Since the majority of schools have gone completely online, tertiary education has become more obtainable for the blind. In the past, resources such as books, were solely available in hardcopy which had to be converted to an accessible format to be used by persons who are blind. Whereas now, all learning materials are uploaded online, making it more or less available for students with visual impairment.
Suggestions to assist blind students with Distance Learning
Distance learning can be less challenging if schools provided packages which include braille and other tactile materials for students who are blind. In addition, a hybrid education system which uses both tactile methods and virtual learning should be established, especially for those in primary school.
Furthermore, teachers can suggest alternative tactile methods to assist parents, using items found at home where possible. One teacher stated, “If we were in class, I’d have a tactile circle and guide the student’s hand to feel the circle. But now I’d ask them to get a cup from at home and place their hand in the cup to feel what the shape is.”
Some students don’t have internet access but may have access to technology such as a DVD player or computer without internet. Recordings in the form of DVDs or on a flash drive can be shared with them if possible. Educators can also contact families to show parents and guardians how to use the technology and accessibility features for their child. If they encounter difficulties or need further assistance with online learning, parents can contact the Trinidad & Tobago Blind Welfare Association.
If you would like to provide a student who is blind with an electronic device, please contact the Trinidad & Tobago Blind Welfare Association via phone or the email address listed below.
This column is supplied in conjunction with the T&T Blind Welfare Association
118 Duke Street, Port of Spain, Trinidad