Post date: 
Friday, 12 June 2015

In the UK young people with a vision impairment are reluctant to use equipment that marks them out as different. An iPad might be ok, but is using a magnifier or telescope a recipe for social disaster? Young learners with low vision benefitting from Project PAVE in Tennessee challenge this view.

In the UK we often place more emphasis on providing large print learning materials than on learning to use low vision aids to access regular print. But Project Pave in the US provides vision impaired students with vision services.

“Project PAVE has helped improve my life. It has given me tools to succeed in school and offered devices to try out in hopes of improving my performance at no cost,” explains Seth. 

Maddie said: “I like the dome (magnifier) because I can really see what is on the paper, such as when I look at doll catalogues. I can see pictures, prices and descriptions of the items. The telescope is really great at school because there are times when I need to see things across the room and I don't have to get up and move closer. When I used the telescope to look at houses across the street, I was able to see house numbers, flags, trees and other details I didn't know were there.”  

What do parents think?

Angela Thompson is very positive about the project. “As a former eye care professional, I see the in-depth support this program provides across the state, giving parents more understanding of their children's needs.” 

Bonnie Lawry Heim, a parent, said: “On a regular basis, Brandi McRedmond would work with my daughter, and the tools Project Pave generously distributed. I never felt alone as a parent. I had a team working with me to help my child. As she got older, it was so helpful to have project PAVE speak to my daughter’s teachers as an advocate. Brandi would explain to the teachers her condition and visual educational needs.  Project PAVE was my lifeline in raising my child with ocular albinism”. 

Ginger McMullen, a parent and teacher of students with visual impairments, said: “My daughter was trained in the use of a hand-held magnifier. These skills benefited her when she added a video magnifier to her “tool box” of assistive technology. She used a hand-held magnifier for reading throughout her education; she continues to use one daily in her job and for independent living and leisure activities.” 

Parent Lisa Hanner said: “Lauren was taught that she could do anything she wanted. The Project PAVE staff encouraged her to use every tool and resource available to help her achieve her goals. The instruction she received helped her overcome insecurities and excel. The positive and encouraging Project PAVE support system was amazing.  The tools and training were provided in an environment where she felt safe and confident. She learned to evaluate situations, determine her needs, and utilize the resources available to achieve success.”  

So what is Project PAVE?

Brandi McRedmond explains: “PAVE stands for Providing Access to the Visual Environment. The project is funded by the Tennessee Department of Education. It supplements the vision services provided by the student’s local educational agency. It’s open to students, aged three to 21 years old, who meet state guidelines for either low vision (partial sight) or legal blindness.    

“A doctor who specializes in low vision carries out a clinical low vision evaluation, recommends optical devices and then students are trained to use them in the setting in which they learn best. This might be at home or at school, depending on where they feel most comfortable and confident. 

Along with a principal investigator, the highly skilled staff include a program manager and two educational consultants, who train the students post evaluation. The services include training the student in their preferred educational setting, educating the parent and teachers about the skills needed for using optical devices. We also participate in educational meetings and disseminate information at conferences. 

The hand-held optical devices recommended compliment mainstream technology such as iPads. While mainstream technology sometimes may not work for example if the battery is dead, hand-held optical devices stay functional. And they fit into handbags and pockets, so are easier to carry and use anywhere. Project PAVE has enhanced services for students who are visually impaired in Tennessee for twenty years and has evaluated over two thousand participants.  

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