Level the playing field for vision impaired students, with inclusive classroom technology that adapts to individual’s needs.
Across England there are around 9,000 children aged 0-17 who are registered as blind or partially-sighted. The Royal Society for Blind Children supports children and young people and their families across England and Wales, and has done so for almost 180 years. Whilst this challenge initially relates to England, there is no reason that these solutions could not be rolled out further into the rest of the UK, and ultimately to other countries in Europe and beyond.
These are children and young people that we have experience in supporting through our services across England. We have identified England as it is the nation of the United Kingdom we have the most experience operating in.
Vision impaired students are often educated in mainstream schools. However, these often report feeling excluded from education in primary and secondary schools, both in terms of educational attainment and social and emotional aspects of school life.
The long term impact on these is substantial. The RNIB found that only 44% of pupils whose primary Special Educational Need (SEN) was a vision impairment achieved 5 A*-C grades at GCSE compared to 70% of those without an SEN.1 These students all too often grow up to be poor and lonely.
In England, the support in place to ensure students are able to access education depends on their degree of vision impairment. This could include various equipment e.g. a laptop with screen reading software or a Learning Support Assistant (LSA) who supports them with note taking, adapting lesson materials etc. Adapting materials is not always possible, for reasons including teachers not providing the LSA with the materials in time for them to be adapted (say into Braille) or changing the lesson plan. Textbooks tend not to be available in digital formats the student can independently access.
In terms of building relationships with peers, sometimes having an LSA can also make it hard for the student to socialise with others their own age, as they are already ‘in a pair’.
Classrooms are changing. Digital technology in particular is becoming omnipresent in education. We believe this offers an opportunity to redefine inclusivity and accessibility within a classroom, so that it is built in from the start.
The challenge is to explore the use of technology within mainstream education settings and to adapt this ensure inclusive education settings in England. This could be a technological solution that allows students to adapt materials for themselves immediately. We expect that it would work with an existing device that a teenager is expected to use, such as a mobile phone, tablet or laptop – but we are open to suggestions.
Without consideration, the increasing use of technology within all educational settings could further exclude vision impaired people through being inaccessible.Fundamentally, the aim is to remove accessibility barriers to enable vision impaired children and young people to access education, including its social components, equally.
Whilst this challenge initially relates to England, there is no reason that these solutions could not be rolled out further into the rest of the UK, and ultimately to other countries in Europe and beyond.These are children and young people that we have experience in supporting through our services across England. We have identified England as it is the nation of the United Kingdom we have the most experience operating in.
Our five-year strategy, “No Blind Child Can Wait”, states our vision that “No blind child in the UK will live a life of exclusion or poverty.”Our mission is that if a blind child needs our help anywhere in England & Wales, we will be there with real friendship and expert support for them and their family to enable them to take full advantage of what life offers.
Education is a key to making this happen. RSBC has been involved in education since it was founded, and since the closure of our school in 2012 we continue to explore the best ways to support VI children throughout their educational career.
Digital technology is changing every aspect of our lives, including the way children learn. From the internet as a research tool, to interactive whiteboards and tablets in classrooms, we see huge potential to level the playing field for vision impaired students. We want to ensure that accessibility is protected and considered as digital transforms the classroom, so the classroom of the future is inclusive for all. We are therefore seeking solutions that interact with or connect to the educational materials, both digital and non-digital, that teachers are using in classrooms now and in the future. We are open to a range of tools, but they must be user-friendly, accessible and non-stigmatizing to use. Our accessibility criteria includes compliance with international accessibility standards and ease of use, as well as affordability for families or schools.
The RSBC Innovation team will work with the solution providers with further information, research and expertise on childhood sight loss as required. We may also be able to provide potential connections to potential partners going forwards as well as promotion. Throughout the challenge and beyond, our dedicated innovation team will continue to work with the selected solution provider. The area will continue to be a strategic priority for us as an organisation throughout 2018. In terms of experience supporting similar projects, we have experience identifying and developing solutions to challenges faced by vision impaired young people. In 2014 our Youth Forum identified a desire to be able to travel independently on the London Underground using their smart phones.