Children and young people with vision impairment are missing out on vital support
A new Freedom of Information (FOI) report conducted by sight loss charity, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) in Northern Ireland, found that the majority of children and young people with vision impairment are missing out on key specialist skills training, which would enable them to access the Northern Ireland curriculum and develop their independence.
In 2022/23 the total number of children and young people on the active caseload of the Education Authority Vision Impairment (VI) service is 799, aged from birth to those in their late teens (up to 19 years of age). A worryingly low 2% are reported to be receiving habilitation (independent living skills) support funded by the Education Authority. These skills include the ability to move around the school independently, money management and cooking skills.
The full range of specialist skills needed to promote equity, inclusion and personal agency are laid out in the new Curriculum Framework for Children and Young People with VI (CFVI) which was launched in 2022.
For children and young people with vision impairment to receive the right support at the right time, the FOI report recommends that the Education Authority VI team needs an effective structure, sustainable funding, and a clear strategy for the delivery of habilitation support.
Rosaleen Dempsey, Deputy Lead for Children, Young People, Families and Education, said, “We understand the way the VI service is organised, managed, and funded will be reviewed under the SEND Transformation Programme. However, this is currently being impeded by a lack of a sitting NI Executive.
“We believe that funding for roles such as Habilitation Officers and other specialist staff, for example in ICT would benefit the service and the children and young people it supports.
“Specialist support for children and young people with VI is vital to enable them to access education and the wider world with as much independence as possible.”
Elodie Bateson, 12, who is registered severely sight impaired, is currently in first year at a mainstream secondary school. She uses braille and speech technology and has dreams of becoming an app developer.
Mum Michelle explains how transformational habilitation is for Elodie, “It was very hard navigating the education system and getting the support Elodie needed at the start. The Habilitation Specialists from Guide Dogs NI gave Elodie cane training, route familiarisation around the school grounds, and subject risk assessments. They also helped with some independent living skills like cooking and road safety.
“Classroom assistants in her new school have also received training to allow her to fully participate in everyday life of the school, meaning Elodie is now very independent within subjects, and we've been told, even helping her peers with their work.
“We’ve great hopes that she will just continue to amaze us like she does every day. She wants to go to university just like everybody else and hopefully reach her dream of being an app developer.”
To ensure that children and young people with vision impairment now, and in the future, can access the support they need, RNIB NI is calling on the Department of Education to:
- Agree a habilitation specific funding stream, increase funding, and implement a clear strategy to ensure appropriate access to habilitation services for children and young people with VI.
- Recognise and reference the Curriculum Framework for Children and Young People with Vision Impairment in SEN policies, guidance and documentation including any new SEN legislation.
- Provide adequate and protected high needs funding to deliver specialist education services which meet the needs of children and young people with VI from 0-19.
- Use the SEND Transformation Programme to implement an effective structure for the Education Authority VI service which includes roles for a lead QTVI and specialist teaching assistants.
For further information on the new Curriculum Framework for children and young people with Vision Impairment, visit rnib.org.uk/CFVI.
This includes guidance and resources for both parents and professionals to support children and young people with vision impairment access an appropriate and equitable education.