Visual Impairment

Together member: Haggeye (RNIB)

UNCRC Article 23 (right to special care with disability)  

A child with a disability has the right to live a full and decent life with dignity and, as far as possible, independence and to play an active part in the community. Governments must do all they can to support disabled children and their families.

“We would welcome training for teachers and lecturers on sight-guiding and overall awareness of the very real issues affecting those with sight loss, seeking a good school or further education.”

Claire Forde MSYP (SYP Rights Review, April 2018)

“I lost my sight in my sixth year in school…when I went to college, I found that some lecturers take it personally when they are required to deal with blind or visually impaired students. To gain access to the college, I was interviewed, then had to sit an exam and had conditions placed on my entry to the course which able-bodied people did not have. One of the lecturers became my nemesis and regularly took me to task for small, insignificant things. Eventually, my parents intervened and spoke with the head of Department and insisted that this lecturer have nothing more to do with my coursework. After this I completed my studies without any fuss, gaining my qualification. It did show me, however, that there are people in society who fear disability and there are others who openly treat the disabled with hostility.

Often, I arrived at college to find that no one had charged the Visio-Book that I required to carry out my coursework. This meant that I could do nothing until the Visio-Book was charged. At short notice, the scribe I required to takes notes for me was off or was occupied elsewhere, once again leaving me disadvantaged. On many occasions, I was provided with copy notes in a very small font (on one occasion, Size 8 font), which I struggled to read even when I magnified the notes using my CCTV monitor at home. Classes would be moved from one campus to another. I would miss classes because I couldn’t react to these impromptu changes. Lecturers instructed students to go to the library and research subjects there. I couldn’t read any of the material without magnifying aides. When the fire alarm went off, I was left to last to be evacuated.

My experiences at college have soured me against further education and I decided to take a gap year. It’s unlikely that I’ll return to further education.”

(Anonymous visually-impaired young person, supported by Haggeye.)

Many young people living with sight loss are not achieving their full potential when compared with other disabled and able-bodied peers. A relatively high proportion of pupils with sight loss will achieve low or no qualifications compared to those without sight loss. In a study by RNIB, around one in five blind and partially sighted people reported restrictions to their participation in learning. This impacts on many UNCRC rights, including the right to non-discrimination (Article 2), the right of the disabled child to special assistance (Article 23), the right to education (Article 28) and the right to an adequate standard of education (Article 29).

In 2016, the UN Committee expressed concerns about a lack of accessibility in school buildings and facilities for children with disabilities. The Committee recommended prioritising inclusive education and making mainstream schools fully accessible to children with disabilities. A survey conducted amongst visually impaired students around transitioning into further and higher education identified several factors that were key to success including the need for better planning, preparation and information, and the opportunity to meet their new education provider in advance.

In Scotland 2013, there were reportedly 3,373 young people with a visual impairment in education. Under the 2010 Equalities Act educational institutions must not discriminate against those with disabilities. This applies to schools, higher and further education and as such, they must make reasonable adjustments to meet the needs of students with disabilities. And yet, RNIB Scotland has identified that there is considerable variation between local authorities in levels of educational provision for visually impaired students. With no centralised source of information on the rights of visually impaired students, it is dependent on the individual educational institution to put in place measures to assist students in their learning. There is no standard threshold for receiving support from local authority services. Variance in provision is increasing and public sector cuts have resulted in continued uncertainty about future staffing and funding in many services.

Incorporation of the UNCRC into Scots law is known to create a culture change in which more people become aware of – and understand – the importance of children and young people’s human rights. As such, it may encourage more in-depth human rights training for lecturers and teaching professionals so they are able to promote and support the rights of students with disabilities. Rights-based budgeting at a local authority level may help to protect vital services for children and young people with disabilities to ensure they receive the support they need to ensure their rights in education are upheld.

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