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- Parents' Frequently Asked Questions
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Summary: Below you will find answers to the most common questions asked by parents of children with vision impairment.
My child is not blind. Can I still contact NCBI?
Of course! NCBI offers information, support and advice to individuals experiencing various levels of difficulty with their vision. Just 5 per cent of those who avail of NCBI’s services are totally blind. NCBI offers services to children of all ages who experience significant sight loss, regardless of registration status.
What services does NCBI provide for children?
We offer a range of services to help children with vision impairments adapt to their situation. Find out more about our services.
What is the role of a community resource worker?
NCBI employs a network of local community-based staff called community resource workers, frontline staff who can provide your family with emotional support and practical advice about vision loss. They can also assist you in applying for government entitlements.
Our community resource workers can put your family in touch with other services within NCBI such as our library services as well as other services outside of NCBI such as the visiting teacher service or your local public health nurse, for example.
What is a low vision service?
NCBI provides a low vision assessment service throughout the country, where an optometrist will assess your child’s level of vision and recommend magnification aids which might make certain tasks easier. At our low vision service, your child will initially be seen by an optometrist as well as other professionals specialising in low vision. Their vision is assessed and appropriate magnification can be prescribed. The assessment not only looks at your child’s level of vision, but also what they want to achieve.
The term ‘low vision aid’ covers a wide selection of magnifiers and other low vision equipment used to maximise your child’s useful vision which can be recommended following an assessment.
To discuss your child’s needs in relation to the NCBI low vision service, contact your local community resource worker.
Registration and entitlements
Our doctor says that our son/daughter should be registered as blind. What does that mean?
Being registered blind means that your child’s vision is below a certain level, and it is a term generally used by the Department of Social Protection and the Health Service Executive to determine eligibility for certain government entitlements.
To qualify for registration, ‘best vision must be equal to or less than 6/60 in the better eye, or if the field of vision is limited, the widest diameter of vision subtending an angle of not greater than 20 degrees’. Basically, this means that the person must see at a distance of 6 metres or less what somebody with standard vision would see at 60 metres. One exception to this is where a person can see at a greater distance than 6 metres but have a narrow field of vision.
What is an Ophthalmic Assessment Report?
An Ophthalmic Assessment Report (OAR) shows the results of your child’s vision assessment as well as giving details of their eye condition and diagnosis. It can be completed by either an ophthalmologist or an optometrist. However, only an ophthalmologist can complete the diagnosis section. This form enables staff working with your child to gain information about their eye condition and level of vision.
This form is also necessary to confirm that your child’s vision is at a level, set out by the Department of Social Protection, which makes them eligible for certain government entitlements.
NCBI can post you a registration form to bring with you to your child’s next appointment with your ophthalmologist or optometrist or we can post a form directly to them. If you are not already seeing an eye specialist, ask your local doctor to refer you. Find our more about registration.
Are there any financial entitlements we could apply for?
There are a number of government entitlements that you can apply for if your child’s vision meets the registration criteria set out by the Department of Social Protection. Find out more about government entitlements.
Parents of children with a recent diagnosis
How can I find out more about my child’s eye condition?
If your child has a rare condition or a particular condition which may affect more than their vision, Contact a Family has an A–Z directory of eye conditions.
The Informing Families website provides information for parents at the time of a child’s diagnosis with a physical, sensory or intellectual disability, or when there are concerns about a possible diagnosis.
What is the difference between an ophthalmologist and an optometrist?
An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor specialising in the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases. An ophthalmologist can be based in a hospital or be in private practice or both. He or she can diagnose a patient with an eye condition, treat them when necessary and also perform eye surgery where required.
An optometrist is qualified to examine the eyes and prescribe and supply spectacles and contact lenses. Although commonly referred to as opticians (ophthalmic opticians), the official title in Irish law is now optometrist. An optometrist cannot diagnose disease but is trained to recognise a problem and will make a referral to the appropriate specialist.
I would like to meet other parents who have experienced a similar situation to mine. How can I do this?
For many parents, one of the most important sources of support is from other parents. Parents can offer first-hand advice and support as they can understand the experience you are going through.
NCBI, using its network throughout the country, can assist you in making contact with other families who have a child with a vision impairment. Family support events are also organised where families have an opportunity to meet up and share information and experiences.
Féach is a voluntary organisation of parents of children who are blind and vision impaired. It is primarily a support group but it has also been involved in lobbying various government agencies on particular issues relevant to children who are blind and vision impaired. Féach can also put you in touch with other parents.
How can my child meet other children who are blind or vision impaired?
NCBI offers different opportunities where your child can meet up with other children. This can range from social events during holiday time to specific focus events like low vision workshops or assistive technology training.
Féach also organises some social events for children to meet and make friends with other children who are blind and vision impaired.
Are there any specialist counselling services that my child and our family could avail of?
NCBI’s professional counselling service offers families an opportunity to talk with a professionally trained therapist about sight loss, its impact on themselves, their families and their relationships, as well as their hopes and dreams for the future. Therapists use their skills to facilitate families to explore issues through conversation.
What toys are suitable for my child?
See our section on choosing toys for children with sight loss.
What is the role of the visiting teacher?
The Department of Education and Science provide a visiting teacher service to children with vision impairments. This service is available from birth and follows through to third level. A visiting teacher visits children with sight loss in their own home, pre-school or classroom.
Each visiting teacher covers a specific geographical region in the country and is responsible for a caseload of children in that region. The visiting teacher meets with parents, teachers and any other health or educational specialist who may be working with the child. They offer advice and support in all aspects of education including specialist equipment or instruction in, for example, Braille.
Referral of a child for assessment by a visiting teacher can be requested by parents or guardians, schools, eye clinics, NCBI and the Health Service Executive.
Parents of children of pre-school and school-going age
The visiting teacher service, mentioned above, is also an important resource and service available to children with vision impairments of school-going age. This service is available from birth through to third level.
What is a special needs assistant?
Special needs assistants are employed by the Department of Education and Science to work directly with a child who has a disability, in a mainstream national school or special school. The school would normally apply to the Department of Education and Science for a Special Needs Assistant when they feel that a child with a disability attending their school would benefit from this support.
A special needs assistant’s duties are of a non-teaching nature and focus on assisting the child with vision impairments in both the classroom and playground, where necessary. For example, the special needs assistant could assist the child with typing or reading, boarding or alighting a school bus. They may also provide where necessary, if a child has a physical disability, more direct assistance in the form of toileting or feeding.
What is a resource teacher?
A resource teacher is a teacher who is trained in working with children who have special educational needs. The resource teacher can work individually with a child for a certain amount of time each week or he or she may ‘team teach’ with the child’s regular classroom teacher.
Is there any specialist primary and/or secondary schools for children and young adults who are blind or vision impaired?
There is only one specialist school for primary school children who are blind or vision impaired in Ireland. This is the primary school in ChildVision in Drumcondra, Dublin. All of the pupils attending this school have some degree of vision loss or may be totally blind.
ChildVision also has a post-primary school, called Pobalscoil Rosmini, which provides an inclusive educational environment where students who are blind and vision impaired work alongside their sighted peers. Pobalscoil Rosmini provides specialist teaching and technology supports for pupils who are blind and vision impaired, including a computer room and mobility teacher. Find out more by contacting Pobalscoil Rosmini.
Are there any specialist pre-schools for children who are blind or vision impaired?
NCBI has an Early Learning Service, which offers specialised education to children with vision impairments up to six years of age.
ChildVision also provides a pre-school and early intervention service.
Should my child learn Braille?
Braille gives children who cannot see print an understanding of the written word, and enables them to experience the joy of reading a book.
Children with no sight should be encouraged to learn Braille if at all possible. Braille is often the best way for children who are blind or who have very limited vision to develop skills in literacy and numeracy. This is because school subjects that use tables and diagrams are difficult to describe and understand on audio. Children can learn to read music, mathematics, foreign languages and graphics through Braille or other tactile forms. Braille is also used by people with low vision who cannot read for long periods of time without experiencing eye strain. Many blind children learn to read Braille while at the same time using assistive technology to enhance their educational experience. In general, this approach works very well. School children with limited vision are often advised to learn Braille, particularly if their sight may potentially deteriorate further. Where a child has low vision, a functional vision assessment will provide you with useful information regarding their level of vision and be a good indicator of what format(s) your child is likely to use.
Please contact the visiting teacher for your region, who will offer you more advice on what format is best for your child, for example large print, Braille, etc.
Moving about safely and independently
My child wants to go out and about on their own more. How can I make them safer?
NCBI’s specialist staff can offer orientation and mobility training to your son or daughter to help them develop the skills to move around safely and independently. Most training takes place in your own locality, with particular emphasis on routes that he or she chooses, for example from home to school, college or work and also from home to the shops and other social outlets.
Our experienced mobility trainers will carry out an assessment of their needs, before coming up with a programme that will identify what routes to work on.
The programme might include:
- Maximising any useful vision;
- Body, spatial and environmental awareness;
- Use of sensory clues;
- Orientation and mobility skills within the home, work, college;
- Road safety awareness;
- Independent travel skills.
If you would like to find out more about orientation and mobility training please contact your local community resource worker on LoCall 1850 33 43 53, who will put you in touch with your local mobility specialist.
What is the difference between long cane and mobility training?
Mobility training aims to provide a person who is blind or vision impaired with the necessary skills to move around safely indoors and outdoors, depending on their needs. Training is provided by our mobility officers, who have received specialist training in this area. There are two types of white cane that can be used. The first is a symbol cane. A symbol cane is, as its name suggests, purely a symbol. It is a lightweight, thin, foldable cane which people carry to symbolise that they are blind or vision impaired and may need assistance. A symbol cane is not a mobility aid and does not provide physical support.
A long cane is a mobility aid. It is longer then a symbol cane and usually has a long black handle and may have a roller ball on its tip. People with vision impairments must receive specialist mobility training to use this cane. The cane is moved in a sweeping motion from side to side in front of the person in an attempt to locate any potential hazards and landmarks.
Can my son or daughter get a guide dog?
Your son or daughter must be over 18 years of age to apply for a guide dog. Training for a guide dog is made up of a number of weeks’ residential training and regular follow-up when the guide dog owner returns home with their dog. Find out more by contacting Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Independent living skills
My son/daughter wants to cook for himself/herself but I am frightened they will get hurt. What can I do?
NCBI can offer your son or daughter practical training in independent living skills so that they can learn to cook safely. Find out more about independent living skills or contact you local NCBI community resource worker on LoCall 1850 33 43 53.
What is a technology assessment?
A technology assessment is carried out by one of NCBI’s qualified technical trainers to identify the most appropriate equipment for your child. This equipment can include mainstream and assistive technology, or a combination of both.
The assessment offers a hands-on demonstration of equipment in a relaxed environment and will seek to identify the best possible solution for your child. Find out more about our technology assessment service.
What is a screen reader?
A screen reader is a piece of software that reads aloud the text on your computer screen using synthetic speech. A child that has no sight can use this software to access information at the same time as his or her sighted peers.
What is magnification software?
Screen magnification software enlarges text on your computer screen. The size of the text can be enlarged so that your child can see it more comfortably and the colour of text can be changed, making it easier to see.
What is a CCTV?
Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) is a video magnification system used to enlarge print as well as images such as maps or diagrams. It can also be used to read correspondence and carry out fine tasks. CCTVs can be standalone or portable. Hand-held CCTVs can connect directly to a television or computer monitor.
The visiting teacher service provided by the Department of Education and Science or disability support service within a third level institution can sometimes offer a technology assessment where your son or daughter can try out different types of CCTVs. NCBI also has a technology assessment service, which can support him or her in identifying what equipment best suits their school or college needs.
It is important to have a technology assessment carried out well in advance of starting school or college.
State exams and applying for college
Can my child get any supports when sitting their state exams?
Candidates who are blind and vision impaired may apply to the State Examinations Commission for reasonable accommodations to be made to facilitate them taking state examinations. The commission is responsible for the development, assessment, accreditation and certification of the Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate.
Candidates should apply for these reasonable accommodations through their school or education provider. Applications must be made on the prescribed application form, which is available through schools or education providers or directly from the State Examinations Commission. The means by which a candidate usually studies or communicates will largely dictate the reasonable accommodation(s) required. When applying for a reasonable accommodation, ensure that you provide sufficient information on the application form to enable the commission to provide the accommodations needed.
Some reasonable accommodations can include:
- Question papers can be read to the candidate.
- Alternative questions can be substituted for those which refer to visual material such as diagrams, photographs and maps.
- Question papers can be provided in Braille or enlarged print.
- Candidates may be allowed to record their answers on tape recorder, typewriter or word processor.
- Ten minutes extra time per scheduled hour of each question paper may be allowed where the candidate has a vision impairment.
My son or daughter is filling out their CAO form. Should they tick the box stating they have a disability?
When your son or daughter is completing their CAO form, NCBI would encourage them to indicate that they have sight loss on their application form or by ticking the ‘disability’ box. Although they are under no obligation to include this on their application, it would be to their advantage to do so, as it will enable the college to provide them with the specific supports necessary when they begin their course.
Your son or daughter will then be contacted by the CAO to complete a Supplementary Information Form, which looks for specific details in relation to their sight loss and will ask them to get an Evidence of Disability Form completed too. They will also need to supply a medical report from their eye specialist that is no more than three years old. When the CAO receives their completed Supplementary Information Form, copies of this will be sent to all of the colleges they have applied for. The CAO state that this information will be treated in the strictest confidence.
Be assured that by informing CAO that your son or daughter has a disability you will not negatively affect their application in any way. Read more about applying for college.
The Disability Access Route to Education (DARE)
The Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) is a supplementary admissions scheme for school leavers who have the ability to benefit from and succeed in higher education but who may not be able to meet the points for their preferred course due to the impact of a disability. Find out more about the DARE scheme.
Is there any course my child could attend to become more independent before going to college?
NCBI offers a range of services to children with sight loss which will assist them with building their confidence and independence before moving on to further training or education. These services can include daily living and kitchen skills, job-seeking advice, computer training, personal development, recreational activities, Braille and mobility training. To find out more about these services, please contact your local NCBI community resource worker.
What supports are available for my son or daughter at college?
Contact should be made with the colleges your son or daughter is interested in attending, to find out what support services each institution has to offer. Many colleges have open days, so it is worthwhile taking advantage of these and meeting with the disability support service in the college at this time before completing a CAO form.
Most colleges have a disability support service within the college to provide support for students with disabilities while they are attending college.
A third level disability support service can often provide assistance with, for example:
- Non-standard admissions
- Assistive technology
- Liaising with the examinations office and other personnel in the college
- Learning supports.
The disability support services within third level institutions are committed to ensuring that students with disabilities have access to the wide range of experiences that college life has to offer. They encourage students to disclose their disability and make contact with their service so that they can assist students by meeting their specific requirements. It is up to the student how much contact they have with the disability support service.
By making contact with the college and finding out as much as possible about a prospective course, such as details on reading requirements, amount of laboratory and field work and lecture set-up, you will be best prepared and informed. Gaining this information will help to determine what specific supports will be needed. It is important that your son or daughter is proactive when taking these steps in preparing for and commencing third level.
The disability support service within a prospective third level institution sometimes offers a technology assessment or will provide information on specific technology required for a particular course. It is important that your son or daughter arranges to have a technology assessment carried out well in advance of starting college.
NCBI can also help:
- Our library and Media Centre converts written material and textbooks into Braille and audio.
- Our technology assessment service offers advice on a range of magnification and speech software.
- Our employment advice service assists students experiencing sight loss with career guidance.
- We can also assist students with sight loss to live independent lives by enabling them to carry out everyday tasks and move around safely and independently. See our mobility training service.
- Our community resource service aims to provide emotional and practical support to meet the individual needs of students with sight loss.
AHEAD, the Association for Higher Education Access and Disability, is an non-profit organisation working to promote full access to and participation in third level education for students with disabilities in Ireland. Read more about AHEAD.