The number of blind and visually impaired children between 0 and 4 years old is relatively small, but the impact of these early years of visual difficulties is critical to establish their future inclusion possibilities.
At the time of birth, an index of 1 per 3000 live births is estimated to be blind or have severe visual impairment. While some children without these problems come to learn mainly through sight, reading and receiving stimuli with their eyes, others, however, although they can manage getting around space using their visual remnants to move, must use their senses of hearing and touch for learning. A minority also lacks a minimum sight for both mobility and educational purposes. All of the above, plus the moment of appearance of the impairment and its evolution, will influence on the overall development of the child and will require different psychopedagogical treatments.
The many studies carried out on children suffering from mild and severe visual deficiencies have proven that developing care mechanisms as early as possible is paramount for them to reach an appropriate maturity and to achieve full inclusion in their families, school, and also socially, without their visual handicap preventing a healthy development.
This early attention to children with visual impairment should begin before 4 years of age and should direct its efforts towards providing stimuli appropriate to their childhood development stage, but considering each individual case. This must be an enriching and compensating mechanism; its true objective is to ease miscellaneous situations, not improvised, with specific stimuli that improve the child’s development in various areas: motor, cognitive, social, language, and personal autonomy abilities.
Until now, this specific education for children with blindness or severe visual impairment was mainly carried out in family or controlled environments for specific training, isolated from the rest of nursery and/or early education schools. However, new studies (such as “La inclusión en la educación: Como hacerla realidad” from “Foro Educativo”, the “Manual de Educación Inclusiva, pág. 16. Ministerio de Educación, 2006, Lima-Perú” or the Primer “Abramos paso a la escuela inclusiva”) advocate for the education of blind children along with non-impaired children in regular schools. This Integrated education offers more possibilities of psychosocial development than a segregated one, which has more protectionist traits. The goal of this type of education is the social and occupational integration of the blind, so that the latter becomes an individual capable of normally participating and interacting with non-visually impaired people and to have the same productivity and efficiency than they have.
THE INCLUSIVE CLASSROOM
The practice of inclusive education—or inclusion—within general education classrooms is becoming more prevalent within early childhood settings.
On one hand, to successfully deliver classroom curriculums, promote learner growth, and meet the goals of all students served within inclusive settings, teachers must have a basic understanding of the unique learning needs of all students, including those with visual impairments. Because students learn best when the teachers who educate them first understand their needs, this chapter is designed as a basic starting point for early childhood educators who have limited to no background in working with students who have visual impairments. The educators need a basic understanding of visual impairments, questions to ask when serving children with vision loss, and to show how accessibility can be approached in a way that is meaningful to students with visual impairments
On the other hand the classrooms, even in the nursery education, need some adapted equipment and specific tools adapted to the specific conditions of their students, not only the students with loss vision, but also promoting the participation in equity for all of them.
GENERAL FEATURES OF A INCLUSIVE CLASSROOM
1.- General strategies, activities and materials for students with low vision
It is important that educators learn to change the environment or alter objects to make them easier to see by their students with low vision. When planning environmental modifications, considerations about lighting, color and contrast, size and distance, and organization of time and space have to be taken into account.
Please remember that even though children with low vision will benefit from the following recommendations, when making specific suggestions to improve vision it is essential to consider the characteristics of the visual impairment (if it causes a reduced visual acuity, a central visual field loss or a peripheral visual field loss).
Some children with low vision are very sensitive to light and glare. Teachers should control the light in the classroom when possible using curtains, maintaining an even amount of light throughout the room, sitting the child with back to windows, reducing the glare on surfaces, and suggesting the child wear a hat/visors or sunglasses even when staying indoors.
Other children need more light and it is recommended to allow the child to position himself near natural light (windows) when possible. When using lamps (if available), they should be placed behind the child’s shoulder, on opposite side of writing hand and/or same side as stronger eye.
1.2: Color and contrast
Children with low vision may benefit from high contrast objects and pictures. For example, the lines on a piece of paper are easier to see if they are highlighted with a black marker. When having lunch, the white utensils are better seen if they are placed on a red or black tray than on a white table. The student will be able to better read his own writing if he uses a thicker black pencil/pen/marker.
Basic principles when using color to create contrast:
- black and white give highest contrast
- do not use dark colors together (like blue and green)
- avoid using white and gray with other light colors
- avoid using pastel colors next to each other
- use bright colored objects for daily life activities
- use masking tape if an object has to be highlighted (like the hanger where the student has to hang his jacket on)
TyposcopeStudents may also need a typoscope when reading. This is a reading shield that it can be made of a black material (or cardboard) in which there is a rectangular (cut out) allowing one or more lines of print to be seen. It reduces extra light reflected from the surface of the paper and helps the student to stay on the correct line while reading.
1.3: Size and distance
Children with low vision might also benefit from magnification. Educators can offer their students pictures/images/maps and enlarged print. These children may also prefer to work at close distances. They can be moved closer to the object (sitting closer to the board) or the object can be moved closer to the student (people can get closer when talking).
To reduce the visual clutter in the classroom, educators should:
- remove useless objects in general
- reduce the number of objects in the immediate working area
- use masking tape to improve the color/contrast on doorframes, tabletops, etc.
- spot lights to highlight a particular area
- maintain the place and all the school supplies well organized so the student can easily identify them
To provide greater physical comfort and encourage appropriate posture, educators can provide their students with: a reading/writing stand, a clip board, a standing lamp and a proper chair/table.
Children with low vision may also benefit from an efficient use of time. Educators can: encourage the child to wear his prescribed glasses (if appropriate) to reduce visual fatigue, propose pre-arranged breaks, allow the student to be visually focused for shorter periods of time, offer more time when visually exploring a material and when concreting a visually challenged task (for example working with a material that hasn’t been adapted to the student’s visual needs).
2: Specific recommendations for students with reduced visual acuity
These children may benefit from prescribed glasses (if used as recommended by an eye doctor), magnification (enlarged print and images), high contrast materials (like highlighting reading materials, stairs, doorways) and preferential seating (moving closer to object, board, etc.).
If glare sensitivity is an issue (what is usual in cases of reduced visual acuity), educators can eliminate or reposition the source of light, position the child away from source and/or recommend the use of sunglasses and hats (especially out of doors).
If the student has difficulties with distance viewing, teachers can try to familiarize him with the proposed task and environment. If the area is visually simplified (fewer objects are around his visual target) and a visual break is allowed the student may highly increase his visual performance.
3: Specific recommendations for students with central visual field loss
Children with this kind of vision loss often benefit from the same implemented strategies than in the case of reduced visual acuity (mentioned above).
What is important to highlight is that these particular students may experience incomplete images or a central “blind spot” when looking. For this reason, qualified vision teachers should teach this specific group of children to visually scan, trace and follow objects. Since they also appear not to maintain direct eye contact, it is recommended to have them practice how to turn their eyes to establish direct eye contact and to give them feedback about this when interacting directly. If they also present a reduction of the ability to see differences in color, clothing and frequently used objects should be labeled with their color.
4: Specific recommendations for students with peripheral visual field loss
Learning to use a white cane by having access to Orientation and Mobility training might be necessary for this group of children. Since they may not be aware of objects or people moving across their path they may need to rely on their other senses to be aware of their environment. Educators can then teach them to use a multi-sensory approach to gather information, which is based on being more aware of not only visual cues, but also tactile and auditory input when travelling.
To help them improve their visual performance, it is also essential to eliminate or reduce extreme changes in illumination and to offer enough time for eyes to adjust to changes in lighting before engaging in activities (for example when entering indoors from outdoors, the child may need more time for their eyes to adjust).
These students may also need additional, glare-free illumination. Ideally, classroom should have good overall lighting supplemented by task lighting (desk/floor lamps, spotlighting). This can also be achieved by proper positioning of the student’s seat.