Independent learning

RNIB thinks it is time to develop a new approach to the inclusion of children with vision impairment in mainstream schools.

Human support should be seen as the exception rather than the rule and children are taught the skills to be self-reliant in their learning. We believe that recent developments in educational thinking and technology make this possible in ways that have not previously been possible.

Social aspects of learning

It is increasingly clear that the social dimension of learning is just as important as providing access to the curriculum. Strategies such as direct support that might initially appear effective in helping children to learn can easily prove self-defeating if they make them feel and appear different from their peers. The new discipline of habilitation promotes a holistic approach to maximising children's independence and emotional wellbeing in all aspects of their lives. There is also a growing understanding of the importance of including disabled children in decisions about their lives, so that support strategies are discussed with the children concerned and not simply agreed on their behalf. Further information can be found on the Council for Disabled Children website.

Technology revolution and digital resources

There has been a complete revolution in technology in recent years with the development of tablets and smart phones. Increasingly accessibility is being built into devices rather than needing to be added on as an extra and taught as a specialist skill. RNIB views the technology advances of the last few years as a crucial enabler for blind and partially sighted learners of all ages.

There has also been a massive development in the availability of digital resources. This has led to the creation of Load2Learn, an online database of downloadable resources in accessible formats for print disabled learners.  While much of this content is being converted by adults into a student's preferred format, an increasing proportion is going straight to learners themselves so they can choose how they want to read it on their own devices.

Changes to support

These developments suggest that the support that blind and partially sighted children receive in school should be changing too. However, there is still a prevailing assumption that many children with vision impairment can only learn effectively if they are supported by an adult. RNIB has long argued that direct support should be kept to a minimum and that effective forward planning should make much of it unnecessary.

Independent learning conference

In November 2013, we held our first Independent learning conference - Skills for life in a modern world.

The key themes were:

  • the changing role of technology in education - tablets, ebooks, accessible document creation, electronic magnifiers
  • access to learning - tools that support an inclusive curriculum
  • learning to access - skills that promote independent learning
  • emotional competence - strategies that enable social inclusion
  • breaking the mould - developing new support structures that encourage successful transition.

You can download presentations from the conference below

Tablet technology in the classroom - Robin Spinks, Principal Manager, Digital Accessibility, RNIB:

Accessible formats to support the curriculum - Sarah Morley Wilkins, Principal Manager (Centre for Accessible Information):

Supporting self advocacy - Three asks for an accessible education - Alistair McNaught, Senior Advisor, JISC TechDis:

Using vision in the real world - Mary Bairstow, Low Vision Services Implementation Officer, VISION 2020 UK:

Developing emotional competence - Gail Bailey, Child Psychology Consultant and author of 'Emotional Well-being for Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities':

Promoting independence through habilitation skills - Rosie Dunning, Habilitation Officer, Brent Council:

Managing support - Elizabeth Clery, Team Leader, Sensory Service, Brent Council:

Developing skills for independent learning - implications for transition- Graeme Douglas, Senior Research Fellow, Visual Impairment Centre for Teaching and Research, University of Birmingham:

Independent learning resources

You can find about resources that support independent learning here:

Videos on technology and independent learning

The following four films show children and young people with vision impairment discussing how they use technology to learn more effectively and independently.

Film 1: Wilson is 10 years old and uses a tablet

Film 2: Ismail is 13 and uses an electronic magnifier

Film 3: Ben is 14 and uses a tablet and a laptop

Film 4: Hannah is 18 and uses a desktop and an audio text reader

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Right now we can only reach one in three of the people who need our help most. Please make a donation and help us support more blind and partially sighted people.

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