Vision Australia data suggests that around 70 per cent of blind and vision impaired people are unemployed with a significant proportion of the remainder under-employed.
These are sobering statistics considering the centrality of work to income, satisfaction and social engagement.
One Victorian school is attempting to turn these statistics around. The Insight Education Centre for the Blind and Vision Impaired (Insight) offers tailored education with specialist staff for primary and secondary school students from a central school, with three mobile classrooms that visit mainstream schools across metropolitan Melbourne.
Optometrists can play a key role in alerting parents of low vision children to the existence of the school, which opened its doors just three years ago and is the only Victorian school for blind and vision impaired children.
Katie Potter appreciates the critical role education plays in a child’s life. Her daughter Bella was diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity not long after her birth at 24 weeks. Bella weighed just 530 grams. She is legally blind with 18 per cent vision in one eye.
“Every year of primary school we would get to third term and think ‘that was a disaster’,” she said. Bella is now thirteen years old, and for the first time in a long, long time, she is thriving at school. “Bella attended mainstream primary school, but by the end of grade six she had a learning level of grade one or two. She went from being outgoing, to socially withdrawn and experiencing lots of anxieties. It was changing her personality,” Katie explained. “Bella was due to transition to high school, and we knew it was an impending nightmare,” she said. The Insight mobile classroom had been visiting Bella one day a week throughout grade six, and Katie could already see positive changes in Bella.
Towards the end of 2015 Bella completed an orientation session at the school. “She came home after the first day and said ‘I feel like I belong’. I can’t tell you how good that was to hear,” Katie said. Bella started full-time schooling at Insight this year. “It’s a really quiet environment, so she can concentrate and learn, and she has an individually-tailored academic program that is just for her, at the level it needs to be at,” Katie said. “The school also encourages the kids to help each other. It’s the first time Bella’s experienced that – it’s always been other kids helping her. She’s now also happy to use her cane and other equipment,” she said. “She’s not self-conscious anymore.” “I can now see a future for Bella where she finishes school, attends University and gets a great job,” Katie said.
“If I could talk to the parent of any other child with a vision impairment I would say don’t hesitate, do it,” Katie said.