Working for People with Sight Loss

NCBI submission to the Public Consultation on Adult Literacy, Numeracy and Digital Literacy Strategy

December 2020

Introduction

NCBI (National Council for the Blind of Ireland) is grateful for this opportunity to put forward the particular needs of people with vision impairment living in Ireland, so they can be fully considered in the Adult Literacy, Numeracy and Digital Literacy Strategy.

NCBI is Ireland’s national charity working for the rising number of people who are blind or vision impaired. Most people we work with have some remaining vision, while only a small percentage are completely blind.

Census 2016 figures show there are currently 54,810 people with vision impairment in Ireland and this number is rising [Source: Census (2016) Census 2016 Results: Profile 3 – An Age Profile of Ireland. Available at www.cso.ie].

The demands on our services are increasing as the population ages and the incidence of age-related vision loss escalates. Interestingly, 68% of our service user base are over the age of 65.

Cost of Technology

The added cost of living as a person who is blind or vision impaired can be significant. These extra costs include the use of:

  • Technical Aids (CCTVS, High Performance computers, specialty software such as magnification and screen reading software for computer access (be it work or education).
  • Visual/tactile Aids (Handheld Magnifiers, Braille typewriter/printers, Specialty Lighting, etc.).
  • Modified Appliances (Smart Appliances that provide spoken feedback to assist with daily living).

Recommendation

The Department of Education needs to fund a Payment Scheme to help with the upfront cost for aids and appliances for people who are blind and vision impaired to participate in adult literacy / numeracy and digital literacy programmes.

Training

The use of assistive technology is essential for a person who is blind or vision impaired to be able to fully access and participate within most forms of education, training and learning.

Recommendation

All education, training and course providers must work with NCBI to provide as much specialised training and support for people who are blind and vision impaired as is needed.

Bookshare

Bookshare Ireland is the largest accessible digital library in the country, available for all people with sight loss and print disabilities. Bookshare.ie provides instantaneous access to over 500,000 international and homegrown titles. Content on Bookshare is available in six accessible formats and allows the student to customise any book they need to suit their learning style.

For students attending higher or further education, it means for the first time ever they will be on the same footing as their sighted peers as they will have access to their required curriculum in real time. Bookshare also has leisure titles too ensuring the joy of getting lost in a book can be shared by all.

Bookshare caters for students with vision impairments as well as students with print disabilities such as dyslexia, students with learning difficulties or extra needs.
Bookshare and the equal footing it provides for students is key to adult literacy among the blind and vision impaired community.

Recommendations

  • Training providers and educators should support students by encouraging the use of Bookshare.
  • The Department of Education must ring-fence adequate funding to facilitate the NCBI Access Library in continuing to better support the evolving access needs of students with print disability in further and higher education.

Flexible Learning and Supports

There are extremely low levels of registration of students with vision impairment in higher education nationwide. Data from AHEAD (www.ahead.ie) shows that in 2017 / 2018, only 1.8% of students registering with a disability at third level (undergraduate and postgraduate) had a vision impairment. Since 2013, this proportion has dropped, whilst the number of students registering with disabilities overall has increased. At 1.8%, students who are blind or vision impaired represent the second smallest category of students with a disability in third level education.

Recommendations

  • Adults who are blind or vision impaired who are seeking education require extra support. Educational structures need to become more individualised, equipped, and responsive to the individual needs of the person with impaired vision.
  • An Expanded Core Curriculum for children who are blind and vision impaired accepts that education is not just academic based. This same Expanded Core Curriculum and understanding also needs to exist for adults. It is essential that adults who may have recently started on their sight loss journey are encouraged to develop and exercise core skills such as sensory efficiency, orientation and mobility, independent living, career education, self-determination, social interaction, recreation and leisure and assistive technology.

Cost of Disability

The findings show that the cost of a Minimum Essential Standard of Living (MESL) is €44.54 higher per week for a person with vision impairment than for members of the general population who have full sight. This fact may have greater significance when it comes to a person’s decision to take part in any education or training. Technology costs as well as fees can be a barrier to a lot of people who are blind or vision impaired. Every attempt should be made to remove the financial barriers that prevent people who are blind or vision impaired from active participation in education or training.

Recommendation

The Department of Education must financially resource an assistance fund / grant scheme that will assist everyone to attend further education, classes and training.

More information

We would be happy to discuss our submission in more detail. Please contact:

June Tinsley
NCBI Head of Advocacy and Communications
Whitworth Road
Drumcondra
Dublin 9
Tel: 01 8307033
Mobile: 087 9955076