Providing Learning Support for Blind and Visually Impaired Students Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities




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НазваниеProviding Learning Support for Blind and Visually Impaired Students Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities
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2.3 Visual impairment statistics

2.3.1 The population at large


Although figures vary between sources and on the base population used, between 6.6 million (DRC, 2000) and 8.6 million (DSS, 1998) people in the UK are classed as disabled, which is almost a fifth of the working age population. Among adults of working age, about 112,000 have difficulty in seeing as their main disability (DRC, 2000). An important fact in relation to mature age students is that some 70% of economically active disabled people become disabled during their working lives and, as more people live longer, so the incidence of visual disability will increase (Employers Forum, 2000).

Worldwide, 45 million people are blind, and 80% of this blindness is preventable or curable. Within this total, about 1.5 million children are blind, mostly in the developing countries of Africa and Asia, and 40% of this blindness is preventable or curable (Sight Savers International, 2000). Avoidable blindness within developed countries is far less prevalent.

2.3.2 Student populations


Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA, 2000) indicate that in 1998/9 22,500 higher education students self-assessed themselves as having a disability; 3.3% of these students had visual impairments. (The National Library for the Blind (no date) suggests a figure of 513 students.) Within geography, a recent survey suggests that only about one in five geography departments have had experience of blind or visually impaired students undertaking fieldwork (Table 1).

Table 1. Departmental experiences of students with different disabilities undertaking, or being required to undertake, fieldwork (total number of respondents = 86). Source: Hall et al. (2001)

Disability

Departments with experience of students with this disability undertaking fieldwork

Percentage of total respondents

Dyslexia

61

69

Hidden disability

60

68

Mobility impaired

52

59

Deaf/hearing impaired

27

31

Mental health

27

31

Blind/visually impaired

18

21

Multiple disability

14

16

2.4 Visual impairment impacts on fieldwork


When attempting to relate visual impairment to fieldwork, the following principles are important:

  • From an educational viewpoint, what matters most is not so much the eye condition which produces the impairment, but the functional effect the impairment has on fieldwork activities, as these can vary from student to student, depending on the coping mechanisms they may have developed.

  • Most eye conditions can vary considerably in severity – it is not enough simply to know which condition a student has.

  • It is essential to talk to students to identify the potential impact of their condition on proposed fieldwork activities.

  • The impacts of a visual impairment can be positive as well as negative.

There are a number of ways in which eye conditions can impact on fieldwork activities. Mann (1999) indicates some of these:

Ocular albinism difficulties with scanning, tracking, depth perception, rapidly shifting visual points, reading

Cataracts wide variation in visual acuity (though full visual field usually maintained), and near and far vision often adversely affected

Diabetic retinopathy fluctuating visual acuity, distortion of vision, and possible impairment of visual field

Glaucoma progressive loss of visual field, poor visual acuity, impaired peripheral and night vision, and difficulty in adapting between light and dark

Macular degeneration loss of central vision (hence reliance on eccentric or sideways looking), difficulty in discerning fine detail and reading, and problems in colour discrimination (especially reds and greens)

Nystagmus blurred vision, difficulty in scanning and tracking, and problems with depth perception

Optic atrophy variable loss of vision and/or total blindness

Retinitis pigmentosa night blindness, narrowed field of vision (resulting in tunnel vision).

According to the Scottish Sensory Centre (SSC, 2000a; 2000d), visual impairment impacts are likely on the following visual capabilities:

  • ability to see details

  • contrast sensitivity

  • colour vision

  • accommodation to changing light levels

  • width of visual field

  • changing focus

  • seeing moving images

  • sensitivity to glare.

Staff responsible for designing fieldwork will need to determine which field activities are likely to be compromised by deficiencies in any of these visual capabilities. They should then consider adopting a suitable course of action (see Section 6.1).

2.4.1 Fieldwork difficulties due to visual impairment


There is no single universal difficulty; each visual impairment will impose its own set of demands and limitations. When undertaking fieldwork, visually impaired students may experience difficulties with a variety of tasks, including:

  • taking accurate notes in non-classroom environments

  • multi-sensory tasking – listening, observing, recording and reading

  • speed of handwriting and legibility

  • organisation of time

  • orientation, reading maps

  • slow reading speed for accurate comprehension

  • visual perceptual difficulties with poorly photocopied material, particularly black print on white background

  • group work

  • recording data and making mathematical calculations.

2.4.2 On the positive side


It is important to recognise that visually impaired students may have counter-balancing strengths in other areas. Staff as well as students should therefore do their best to discuss with the student their particular strengths, and to harness these abilities during fieldwork. For example, groups should consider using the visually impaired student's abilities to compensate for weaknesses in other members of a fieldwork team.

Other advantages include the stimulus given to staff to rethink the accessibility of the fieldwork experience to all students, not simply to those with a visual impairment. (This point is discussed further in Section 14.) Finally, as mentioned in the introduction, the experience of having a visually impaired student undertake a geography course and participate in fieldwork can enthuse and inspire staff and fully sighted students alike.
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