BLIND and partially sighted students are being failed by a lack of support at FE. They are often denied the educational opportunities open to their fully-sighted peers, dramatically impacting their futures.
Barriers include inadequate provision of accessible course materials such as lecture notes and books; students not being given suitable assistive technology; inaccessible exams and assessments using platforms incompatible with assistive technology; students not receiving the level and type of specialist in-class support they require; and a general lack of awareness within mainstream FE providers on how to support blind and partially sighted students.
To address this, Thomas Pocklington Trust (TPT), in partnership with the Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB), has created new guidance for Further Education providers and urges them to take action now.
Tara Chattaway, Student Support Manager at TPT, said:
“It is absolutely vital that blind and partially sighted young people are able to reach their full potential in education. Sadly, at the moment, this is not always the case due to a lack of the right support in Further Education.
“This can often lead to students remaining stuck in FE moving from course to course with no clear path to progression, not due to their talent or ability, but due to being failed by not receiving the support they need.
“Our new guidance aims to provide professionals working in FE with the information they need to ensure that blind and partially sighted students can achieve their educational aspirations and secure better futures.”
The guidance provides information, resources, top tips and checklists to help colleges and FE providers ensure students get the right support.
Caireen Sutherland, Principal Education Officer at RNIB, said:
“Blind and partially sighted students have the same ability, aspirations and potential as their fully-sighted peers. However, there are often obstacles to their learning at Further Education, blocking them from securing their best possible future and achieving the success they deserve.
“These obstacles can be removed through thinking about how courses are delivered, by making information and resources accessible and ensuring students have the right equipment to access their course.
“The impact of inadequate support at this crucial point in a young person’s educational journey can be very damaging to their academic success and their wellbeing.”
Sophie, a student currently studying at mainstream college, said:
“I was working really hard, doing my best, but I couldn’t access my classwork properly. I just wanted to be able to do my work like everyone else. At times I was feeling so stressed and upset about it that I felt like giving up.”
Sophie’s college had not provided course materials, such as lecture slides and handouts, in a format that was accessible to her. This meant she could not take part fully in lessons and keep up with her fellow students. Sophie fell behind with her work, causing her to feel deeply frustrated and upset.
The college has now resolved some of the issues she was facing. She commented:
“Now that I am getting the right support in college, I feel so much happier. It’s great to feel like people are listening to me. I can do my best work and not have to feel like I’m struggling all the time.”
TPT urges all FE providers to read this guidance.