Saturday, January 17, 2009

The vision of an educator helped the visually impaired

Reading letters of support from his friends, colleagues and former pupils that helped earn him a New Year honour was an emotional experience for Thomas Rogerson.

"It took my breath away. They said so many nice things about me, I had no idea they felt that way.
"It was pretty humbling to see their submissions."

The former teacher and principal was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the visually impaired.

Mr Rogerson, of Mt Albert, says he owes much of his success to his wife Ann, who passed away in 2000.

"I’m convinced in my own mind if it hadn’t been for Ann and the people I worked with, I would have probably been a pretty ordinary sort of joker."

Mr Rogerson has been working with the vision impaired for around 40 years and was nominated for the honour by his daughters Edwina and Christina.

Already a qualified primary school teacher, he came to the career by accident when a friend who was acting deputy principal at the Parnell School for the Blind left the post and suggested Mr Rogerson take it up.

"I said: ‘I don’t know anything about teaching blind children’. He said: ‘You’ll learn’."

With the help and guidance of some blind adults, Mr Rogerson learned to read braille by sight and was able to get valuable advice on teaching the children.

He worked for the New Zealand Foundation of the Blind for 25 years until 1987 and also became principal of the former Homai College for the Blind in Manurewa, now known as the Blind and Low Vision Education Network NZ.

While at the school, he founded the Deaf Blind Children’s Unit to help children affected by an outbreak of rubella in the early 1960s.

He travelled to the United States to learn techniques for teaching the deaf-blind students. He also helped set up a course for teachers of the visually handicapped at Epsom Teachers College and was co-founder of the Blind Sailing School in conjunction with the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron.

In 1986, Mr Rogerson co-founded the Deaf-Blind Society of New Zealand.

He is a life member of the International Council for the Education of Visually Impaired Persons and served as the president of the Pacific region.

The South Pacific Educators of Visually Impaired Persons also made him a life member and he currently belongs to the Mt Albert Rotary Club, which awarded him the Paul Harris Fellowship in 2005.

Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind board chairman Don McKenzie says Mr Rogerson was an innovative teacher.

"He was the first person to travel to the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston and brought back a lot of unique communication techniques that enabled deaf-blind children to gain an education.
"It was a real leap forward for the education of deaf-blind students in New Zealand."

He says Mr Rogerson introduced more sport and music into the curriculum and had students pull apart old machinery and put it back together so they could learn how to use tools.

A teacher who worked under Mr Rogerson at Homai College and later became the school’s principal was also honoured.

Gwen Nagel was made a Companion of the Queen’s Service Order for services to special education.

"He passed the baton on to some very good people," says Mr McKenzie.


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