Supporting Equitable Education for Alberta Students with Visual Impairments
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As Albertans, we believe in equal education for all children. All children regardless of race, gender, geographical location, or ability should be given every advantage early in life to become successful adults.
We are asking the Provincial Government of Alberta to mandate policy that ensures ALL Alberta students with visual impairment receive an equitable education on par with their sighted peers.
The announcement of the new funding model on February 18, 2020 and the disbanding of the Regional Collaborative Service Delivery (RCSD) and the limitation of Services for Students with Visual Impairement’s (SSVI) have left the educational supports for Alberta’s students with vision loss vulnerable.
Phin is a 4 year old boy who is legally blind, and will be starting kindergarten in 2021. He loves Star Wars, hockey and learning anything new. Like any boy his age, he never stops moving and will talk to anyone at any time. With proper support, he will be a successful student, go on to post-secondary education, and become a productive tax paying member of society. The Conference Board of Canada finds that for every $1 spent on expanding ECE enrolment of children … would yield close to $6 in economic benefits. (October 26, 2017).
From the 2015-16 Guide to Education: ECS to Grade 12, page 25, “To support children and students in attaining the goals as stated in the Ministerial Order on Student Learning, school authorities must ensure that all children and students (Kindergarten to Grade 12) ... have access to meaningful and relevant learning experiences that include appropriate instructional supports.” We are asking the Provincial Government of Alberta to be accountable for their own stated beliefs.
13 year old Gabriel is heading into grade 8 in the fall. He is an easy-going and gentle teenager who loves video games, sports and engaging with his friends. One of his main supports is his Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TVIs) who obtained her Master's Degree with a concentration in visual impairment. She uses this specialized training to teach Gabriel independent living skills, using assistive technology and assessing specific adaptations necessary for comparable learning with his sighted peers.
As Curtis enters High School in the fall, this 15 year old will be learning to navigate a new learning environment. Curtis loves technology, is an avid photographer and enjoys being involved with sports such as skiing and Blind Hockey. Building on the base training he has received throughout his educational years, he will be working closely with his Orientation & Mobility Specialist to learn bus routes, cane skills and safe navigation techniques to support his desire for independence in this important transition.
An outgoing and fiercely independent grade 9 student, Zach is a dual braille/ magnification user. He shares a braille assistant with two other students at a different school. When not working directly with him to reinforce his Braille Literacy, she is adapting his course work into a format that he can access. Whether it be embossing worksheets or converting electronic documents to a form that can be read by a screen reader, she is an important aspect to Zach’s educational success.
Cassandra is a vibrant, outgoing 12 year old who lets nothing stand in her way. As a grade 8 student, she relies heavily on a variety of low tech equipment such as magnifiers, large print documents, slant boards, tactile/large print measuring devices, large print/talking calculators, tactile graphing board, monoculars, low vision pens and more.The TVI’s specialized training allows them to properly assess each individual student to determine which tools and classroom modifications will be most efficient in setting them up for success.
For all these students, assistive technology is a reality of their education. Devices such as braillers, braille devices & displays, CCTV’s, ZoomText, Screen Readers like JAWS, navigational devices, embossers, OCR devices, electronic magnifiers, distance viewing devices and specialized software are essential to learn in the classroom alongside their sighted peers.
Without these specialized equipment and individualized services provided by trained professionals, students with visual impairment will struggle to read their textbooks, decipher what their teacher is writing on the board or even walk between classrooms during the day. Since each student’s vision falls on a broad spectrum and may change throughout their life they need continual assessment by their TVIs to determine which resources are needed for them at the time.
“This research tells us something we’ve known for some time in the international sight loss community: education drives employment outcomes,” says Ron Hooton, CEO for Vision Australia. “Our kids need comprehensive supports delivered by specialists who understand blindness and its unique impacts on learning, to help them thrive in school and succeed in their future careers.” (CNIB, 2018)
As these 4 students continue on their educational journey, these supports are vital to their success. In the present model, these supports are already a limited resource. With the new funding model, the disbanding of the Regional Collaborative Service Delivery (RCSD) and the limitation of Services for Students with Visual Impairement’s (SSVI) we are concerned that these already limited supports will become more difficult to access, allowing up and coming students such as Phin more opportunity to fall through the cracks.
Please take a few minutes to sign this petition, supporting these students and many others like them who want the opportunity to find a career and live as independent adults rather than being reliant on government services for their whole lives.
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