Thursday, November 09, 2006

Visually impaired student can now see better

Students with serious vision problems have a great deal of support in School District 27.

That was evident last month when a travelling clinic set up shop at Cataline elementary to assess students with vision problems and match them up with the most appropriate tools to enhance their education.

Some of the items are fairly well known such as talking computers and computers that can enlarge the size of print many times over.

But some of the visual aids available are on the cutting edge of technology for the visually impaired.

I and one of the parents attending the session tried on one of these technological gadgets and were suitably impressed.

The vision goggles magnify whatever you are looking at and bring the image to the screen right in front of your eyes.

With the touch of a button you can bring the image in so close that you can see the pours on a person's face from several feet away.

Wide range of aids

Steve Vander Burgh, who tried out the vision goggles, attended the clinic with his daughter Katelyn who has a condition called retinitis pigmantosis which stops the blood flow to the back of the eye. Now 17 Katelyn was diagnosed seven years ago. Vander Burgh says the condition doesn't usually happen to people until they are in their 60s and so far there isn't a cure.

He says Katelyn now has tunnel vision and they attended the clinic to find out what visual aids might be best for her.

A wide range of technological aids are available for visually impaired students including large print books, braille writers, night glasses; closed circuit television with up to 70 times magnification; computer adaptations, and simple things like hand held magnifiers.

The vision team for the Children's Low Vision Project of British Columbia is based in School District 23 near Kelowna and includes specialists in vision technology; orientation and mobility; an education specialist; a low vision specialist, an optometrist; a pediatric ophthalmologist, a director, and an administrative assistant.

The team in Kelowna holds clinics in districts around the province and works closely with Dyane Willis, the vision specialist for School District 27 who helps students in Kindergarten through Grade 12 whose level of visual impairment puts them at risk educationally, socially or emotionally.

Willis a vision specialist

Willis has taught at Cataline elementary for more than 20 years.

For the past two years she has also become the support teacher for the visually impaired students in the district.

Last year she taught four days a week at Cataline and worked one day a week in supporting visually impaired students.

This year she is working four days a week as a vision specialist and one day a week as a classroom teacher at Cataline. Willis is also taking her masters degree on line through the University of British Columbia which includes spending three summers on campus courses. She expects to graduate in September 2007.

She says there are currently 10 students in the district who have been assessed with serious vision problems which qualify for support through the Ministry of Education.

Willis's job is to make sure students get the necessary vision testing they need and the supports they need so they can be successful in school not only academically but socially and emotionally.
She works closely with the student's regular classroom teacher, other educators, support services staff, and parents to modify, adapt, or develop a program of study that is suitable for the visually impaired student to follow in the regular classroom.

Willis is also developing an in-service program for other teachers and educators on effective educational interventions for students with visual challenges.

She also acts as liaison between special classroom teachers and regular classroom teachers; coordinates teacher assistant time for visually impaired students and helps to develop appropriate materials and plans for use by teacher assistants working with visually impaired students.
"We are really lucky to have a program like this in our community," says Diane Wright, support services district principal.

She says the large size of School District 27 poses more challenges than other districts in providing needed orientation, mobility aids and supports for students with serious visual impairment.


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