“Inclusive education” describes the philosophy that students with visual disabilities, regardless of the cause or severity of their disability, are educated within mainstream educational environment. Research has indicated that that this practice results in programs that are better able to prepare students with visual impairments in the world, by fostering independence , being more inclusive in society, and enabling them to most effectively compete with their peers in school and ultimately in society.
To foster inclusive education, we need the following:
- Placing visually challenged children in mainstream schools
- Increasing awareness amongst school teachers, other children & parents
- Special educators to handle the needs of these children
- Availability of material, such as books in large fonts and in braille, in the schools
- Availability of special equipment and technology in schools
The relationship of inclusion may not be obvious to individuals who are not familiar with the educational and social impact of a vision loss. Placing a student with a visual impairment in a regular classroom does not necessarily refer to inclusive education, though it is a good start. Hence, there is a need for increasing awareness amongst mainstream school teachers and other educators, as well as parents and children.
Most educational systems are based on vision being the fundamental upon which most traditional education strategies are based. These strategies must be modified to reflect the child’s visual, auditory and tactile/vision capabilities. A child with a severe visual loss can directly experience only what is within arm’s reach and can be safely touched, and in most cases, what can be heard. To ensure an appropriate education, families and staff with special training must work together to bring the world of experiences to the child in a meaningful manner.
The majority of learning in infants and young children occurs through vision. Soon after the birth of a visually impaired infant, parents soon become aware that their child does not respond to them in the same way as other sighted infant. In order to ensure a healthy bonding process and emotional growth, as well as intellectual development, early intervention is essential for both the child and the family.
As the child grows, absent or reduced vision can sometimes limit the understanding of the world, which is so focused on visual interaction. In spite of this, we have enough visually challenged role models in the country who have succeeded in their lives and in a career.
The first step for a visually challenged child to get good education, as with any other child, is taken by the parents. In most cases, parents undergo a lot of negative emotions, which delays acceptance of the situation. It is hard, especially in our country, to bring up a visually challenged child. But the sooner the parents accept the reality, the easier it is for the child to grow into a full educated and trained adult. In most cases, a significant amount of time is spent in exploring various options for treatments – which should be done, as long as one does not fall into a trap of a ‘quack’. But on the same lines, the parents should be training the child in helping live a life where visual cues will be less, or absent. Such training starts with making changes in the immediate surroundings to accommodate the needs of the child, to teaching braille and technological aids in the future.
The goals in education for a student with visual impairment are essentially the same as those for any student. These include being an effective communicator, being social competent, enough education and training to become employable, and being independent. In order to accomplish these goals, however, students with visual impairments require specific interventions and some modifications of their educational programs. An appropriate assessment of these unique educational needs in all areas related to the disability and instruction adapted to meet these needs is essential to ensure appropriate educational programming.
Retina India, through its project of inclusive education, is bringing all the stakeholders together, to foster an environment of understanding, which will ultimately benefit visually challenged children in getting education that prepares them for a life of independence, of dignity, of a social acceptance that makes them productive partners in the society.