Catering for the Specialized Needs of Students With Vision Impairment in Mainstream Classes: Listening to Student Voices for Academic, Physical, and Social Inclusion

Catering for the Specialized Needs of Students With Vision Impairment in Mainstream Classes: Listening to Student Voices for Academic, Physical, and Social Inclusion

Melissa Cain, Melissa Fanshawe
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2901-0.ch010
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Thousands of students with vision impairment or blindness attend mainstream schools in Australia. Their experiences depend on multiple pertinent factors, including teachers' understanding of the legal requirements to abide by the inclusive education agenda, schools' understanding of the nature of vision impairments, and the challenges they present to learning. Educators' willingness to take on advice regarding adjustments to the curriculum, assessment, technology, and learning environment are also critical to success for such students. This chapter puts forward the voices of students with vision impairment or blindness to provide a picture of the types of alternative formats used in schools today, including braille and assistive technologies. The voices share how important it is for students to be included in all areas of their education to achieve a sense of belonging and acceptance affording them true inclusion. A list of practical recommendations to assist teachers encourage inclusion academically, socially, and physically is detailed in this chapter.
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Teachers in Australia report feeling stress and strain from the ever-increasing responsibilities of their profession (Feltoe, Beamish & Davies, 2016) such as negotiating curriculum changes, meeting professional development demands, and satisfying accountability requirements through constant data gathering and analysis. Recent research indicates that up to 50 percent of Australian teachers leave ‘burnt out’ and within the first five years of joining the profession (Bennett, Newman, Kay-Lambkin & Hazel, 2016). In addition, educators in Australia are required to teach in an inclusive manner and be knowledgeable in making appropriate and effective differentiation decisions for each of their students (Forlin & Chambers, 2011). Unless they are recent graduates, most Australian teachers may not have had any pre-service education around the practicalities of inclusive education, and little-to-no professional development in this area.

The number of students with disabilities being educated in Australian mainstream schools has grown significantly over recent years (ABS, 2011). However, successful implementation of the legal and ethical requirements of inclusive education remains a challenge for many teachers (Round, Subban, & Sharma, 2016). Teachers’ increased workload and the pressure to satisfy accountability requirements leaves little time for them to know their students and how they learn. Teachers also lack time to gather background knowledge about specific disabilities and learning impairments, and research appropriate ways to differentiate for students with special needs. While teachers new to the profession generally report positive feelings towards teaching students with special needs, attitudes are noted to decline significantly after one year of teaching (Boyle, Topping, & Jindal-Snape, 2013; Hoskin, Boyle, & Anderson, 2015). Many teachers feel inadequately prepared to address the obligation to cater for a diverse range of student abilities and to assume responsibility for their needs (Forlin, Keen, & Barrett, 2008). Such apprehension about teaching in diverse contexts usually centres on limited ability and experience in adjusting the content, process of teaching, assessment, and learning environments successfully. A study of Victorian secondary school teachers’ attitudes about teaching in inclusive classrooms by Round, Subban, and Sharma (2016) revealed that time-poor teachers described inclusion as a burden because it was perceived to create additional workload, with limited resources and para-professional staff available to support effective inclusion.

For students with vision impairments, inclusion in the mainstream classroom can seem overwhelming as the curriculum is designed for those who can see (Telec, Boyd, & King, 1997). Curriculum content is primarily displayed in a visual format, along with a range of other important information such as expected behavior standards and visual timetables. Teachers often provide instructions using visual cues (such as pointing or a nod of the head), and students will indicate their willingness and ability to participate in instruction through raising their hand and giving feedback using facial expressions. Students with vision impairment may not be aware that the teacher is looking at them, has pointed to them, or has given them an encouraging smile (Opie, 2018a).

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