Disability is not inability.
Updated: Oct 3, 2022
Words by Aaga Mitoko, Executive Director ; Blue Ray Community Based Organization- Vision for Vision Project
WHO approximates that 1.5 million children are blind and an additional 5 million are visually impaired globally. More than 80% of these children are from developing countries(Clare, 2001). Visual impairment in children affects their social and childhood development. MOPHS and the Ministry of Education (Education, 2009) mention visual impairment as an important factor affecting the performance of children in schools.
Visual impairment in children can be prevented through early detection and management. It is therefore important to have eye projects that target children. The number of visually impaired children is more than the capacity the available Special schools for the visually impaired can accommodate.
There is, therefore, a need to enroll these learners in regular schools. However, most visually impaired children are usually unable to attend regular schools due to scarce resources, untrained teachers and traditional taboos.
Education is a basic right and should be enjoyed by every child regardless of age, gender, race, economic status or physical abilities. Persons with disabilities are usually perceived as disadvantaged groups and are likely to miss out on some economic, political, educational and social opportunities.
Students with visual impairments experience challenges within school environments. Some of these challenges can be alleviated through parental, community and government support.
In most cases, the curriculum in regular schools is designed for fully sighted children and is delivered largely through sight-related media. It is in cognizance of this background that we visited Kibos School for the Blind and M.M. Shah Primary School.
We were able to meet the headteachers of both schools. At Kibos School for the blind, the headteacher, who is visually impaired welcomed us warmly and gave us a brief history of the school. We noted that the school was built in 1964 yet no major renovations had been done. She pointed out that managing the learners during the pandemic was a great challenge since they mostly depend on touch for their movement and learning. Maintaining social distance and frequent hand washing is therefore quite challenging.
We also noted that the school has several visually impaired teachers who offer support to blind learners. These educators act as their role models and are an example that disability is not inability. We were later introduced to a teacher who specializes in refraction and supports both blind and low-vision learners. This teacher has good records on the number of learners screened in the school, diagnosis and referrals.
We did a follow-up visit to the school after one week and interviewed some of the students to enable us to understand the challenges they undergo during their learning. The students started schooling in regular schools but later moved to the special school.
They both acknowledged that it was difficult for them to cope and learn in regular schools since there was little or no effort by the teachers to support their learning in terms of technology, instructional methods and learning resources. The instructional and learning methods in the schools were tailored for students with normal vision and thus the visually impaired would be left behind.
Some teachers in regular schools also view students with visual impairments as a bother to them and may hurl insults at them. One of the students mentioned that she was insulted by some of the teachers in her former school and referred to as “Wang’eOtow” which loosely translates to rotten eyes. This hurt her deeply and she says she was just going to school for the sake of it.
There was also a general feeling that teachers and pupils in regular schools regard them as helpless and useless. One of the students highlighted that some of her teachers asked her to stay at home since they couldn’t accommodate her needs at the regular school.
She therefore stayed without schooling for almost two years. In some instances her fellow students would ask her “Wang’eotow, why do you come to school yet you can’t see?” The respondents wanted this notion to cease and hoped that people would understand that visually impaired children can excel as long as they are provided with opportunities. They shouldn’t be treated differently, they have a right to be educated and pursue their dreams too.
On schooling, both respondents felt that regular schools are not ready for visually impaired students and the students should thus join special schools where their needs will be understood and necessary interventions provided.
They opined that teachers in regular schools should be trained in Special Needs Education, undergo an attitude change and be provided with teaching and learning resources appropriate for the visually impaired to be able to properly handle these students.
Parents make a major contribution to the education of their children and are prospective sources of information about the academic abilities of students with visual impairments. Parents are the ones who know their children, their interests and the things that can prove to be beneficial to them. They also know their educational needs and can plan their future. They should therefore not hide children with disabilities. They should take them to school and provide information about their social, physical and emotional development. This information can help teachers to structure and modify their teaching to make provision of support and assistance to these students.
There is a need for the government to invest in infrastructure and technology in Schools for the Blind to enhance learning and innovation. The education stakeholders, parents and the general public should be sensitized to provide a supportive environment for learners with visual impairments, this will go a long way in integrating them into society. Special needs education should be part of all teachers training curriculum for them to be able to handle leaner’s with visual impairment effectively “Disability is not inability”
Clare, G. (2001). New issues in Childhood blindness: Community eye health Journal, Vol. 14, issue No. 40:53-56
Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation and Ministry of Education (2009).Guidelines for school health policy.Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation and Ministry of Education: 42-43