In an era before smartphone’s and the adoption of personal computers in the class room, the scope of tool’s available to a vision impaired student was limited.
I remember back in primary school (7 years old) the difficulty of copying from the whiteboard. I couldn’t see it, I recall my teacher screaming at me because my chair would squeak each and every time I had to physically walk up to the whiteboard and memorise the paragraphs to copy into my book.
This is a memory that I will never forget and one that I hope that no student suffering a vision impairment like me will ever face.
This is a struggle that I would be forced to endure for the majority of my early education days until year six when technology had advanced enough or a company took an interest in technology for the visually impaired.
My vision aid teacher spoke of the possibility of the department purchasing a technology called “ClearNote“, a device that promised the capability to enlarge books on the desk and make viewing the whiteboard a breeze. The only catch was I would have to use it or lose it. It also required a laptop, a purchase that would not be covered by the department.
Desperate for anything to help, the department and my parents both made purchases and several weeks later I had a shiny new “ClearNote” sitting on my desk in year six.
“the device allowed me to do exactly what it was designed to do, learn!”
The immediate response by students was curiosity, what is that thing, and what does it do! – it’s a likely scenario and once the initial curiosity wore off and all twenty student’s had a glance it was old news and the device allowed me to do exactly what it was designed to do, learn!
Looking back, I would honestly say it was the first time I could actually learn freely, my teacher and teachers aid at the time was accommodating even rearranging the seating in the room to accommodate this, and my fellow students were as equally helpful.
The department would not let me take the technology home, and I had a responsibility to take it to the classroom store room, place it on the charge and ensure it was locked away before leaving. these were some of the compromises required, I was happy to abide by these as the pro’s far outweighed the cons.
As I transitioned into high school things became quite interesting in terms of integrating technology into the classroom. For the first year, I would remain in a homeroom and only change to different rooms and building for subjects such as Science, PE & Industrial arts. This worked fine, and some self-reflection tells me I would be ignorant and idiotic If I had any complaints about this. The same rules applied surrounding the storage of the technology, I would have to walk it to the science staff room to return it, and pray I didn’t get the gremlin who poked fun at my eyes! (a story for another time).
What became apparent was that teachers lack an understanding of the technology, and they’re attitudes surrounding embracing it. I can recall a particular incident in year 7 when a pupil was sitting next to me moving the camera around. Now looking back I should have stopped him, however, when you are just twelve years old and in a new school with thousand-odd students the last thing you want to do if further alienate yourself. I particularly didn’t see any harm in this, and thought, letting him explore for five seconds surely can’t hurt, and I might even build a friendship out of it.
“I felt criminalised for a crime I didn’t commit”
How wrong was I! – the teacher freaked out of the thought of it being capable of seeing other students sent them into overdrive, I felt criminalised for a crime I didn’t commit, this particular student had awoken them to the fear that this could be used to invade the privacy of other students and capture their likeness without permission.
I understand the responsibility of the school to provide a duty-of-care for its students, however they way they executed this was poor in my opinion, this incident with the combination of teachers fear, lack of understanding and plain stubbornness for the technology in the classroom would lead me to later abandon the technology in favor of sourcing digital copies of work and textbooks.
“the department of educations understanding of the technology and they’re paranoia surrounding its use I believe was it’s downfall”
It had its time, but with having to return it to office’s every break, set it up, then pack it down every lesson was not worth it. Add a stubborn teacher who would make me shut my laptop lid when he would talk, it became more of a hindrance. I’m not talking down the technology, the ClearNote, in my opinion, is a technical marvel and one I would fight for any visually impaired student to have in they’re visual toolkit. it just worked, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to use it, however, the department of educations understanding of the technology and they’re paranoia surrounding its use I believe was its downfall.
I eventually stopped using it and surrendered it back into the pool of equipment in the hopes it could aid another student who would benefit from it more. With the initiatives of BYOD tech in the classroom, I ended up using a smartphone and laptop to capture the work off the board. As I grew older I was able to work with my teachers and ask If I could capture the work from the board before they would rub it off.
Now as an adult my studying is completely digital and all work is provided in soft copies, this has proven to be incredibly beneficial to the point that I never have raised this with the teachers, and If I did, I know they wouldn’t have any concerns in accommodating this.
I’m not entirely sure if the issues I experienced were generational, or I was unfortunate enough to experience this during a transitional period. I’m not sure if this is an issue that still exists as of writing this piece in 2018, regardless I believe it’s imperative that you monitor your child and establish good communication and understanding between the school, teachers and your child directly. If it’s not working, be sure to make some noise, otherwise, you might find yourself in this predicament.
I hope to cover my education experience in more detail later this year. If you have questions, please leave them in the comments and I’d be happy to answer them.