December 2021 edition: Making Education Accessible for all - Learners and Teachers

Making Education Accessible for all - Learners and Teachers

As more of the curriculum is delivered on a screen, rather than from a textbook or reading from a board, we must look at the barriers that stop learners accessing education as well as teachers delivering it.

According to the World Health Organisation, approximately 2 in every 1,000 young people in the UK suffer from visual impairments. In the UK, colour blindness affects approximately 3 million people, which equates to around 4.5% of the general population. What is more, it is estimated that one in five children in the UK have dyslexia.

Following research into what those with dyslexia or a visual impairment find most useful, it should now be standard practice to invest in additions to existing platforms to help.

Emma Slater

Let’s first consider the impact on students. In Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties by Sir Jim Rose, a review that aimed to help improve provisions for dyslexic children, stated: "Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling”.  Those who suffer from dyslexia often have difficulty with phonological awareness (understanding of how words sound), verbal memory, and verbal processing speed.

Dyslexia can also impact a child’s social development. Researchers have found that a person suffering from dyslexia can often have difficulties expressing themselves through language. Despite dyslexia not being linked to a person’s intelligence, the impact on a child’s ability to write and speak can often lead to the person being short on confidence in social situations, often affecting their ability to make friends and maintain relationships.

Children who are visually impaired may not be able to see objects at a distance, like on a whiteboard or blackboard and may therefore have trouble reading (or learning to read) and participating in class and may not be able to focus on objects or follow them.

According to researchers, they also lack visual references and have reduced integration of information from the world around them. Some studies have gone as far to suggest that the language of visually impaired children is more self-oriented and that the word meanings are more limited than for normally sighted children.

A colour vision deficiency can impair a person's ability to read and interpret various diagrams and graphics such as maps, pie charts and slides used in presentations. Colour deficiency can also interfere with the interpretation of advertisements and graphics on websites. Much like dyslexia or other visual impairments, this can lead to the student having a low self-esteem or switching off from lessons.

Identifying these issues and looking for clues surrounding the reasons why a child may be struggling does land at the door of the teacher, but being aware of the halo effect of these impairments may help teachers to understand the needs of the child better and intervene intelligently.

When considering the impact of visual impairments in the classroom we must also consider how it additionally affects teachers. Data from the teacher poll also revealed that six per cent of teachers themselves have dyslexia. This can cause teachers to doubt themselves and require extra support to be organised.

However, that is not to say that those suffering from dyslexia cannot be good teachers. Teachers can develop strategies and lean on technology in the classroom to ensure their teaching is not impacted. Neil Gilbride, a Lecturer in Education at the University of Gloucestershire, who is also dyslexic, says having the condition "can make teachers more empathetic” to the challenges their dyslexic learners face.

So, what can be done to help? The developments in EdTech have meant that teachers and schools can have access to a bank of resources which can help visually impaired teachers plan lessons and homework. Making education accessible for all, learners, and teachers, is at the heart of the progress being made in the industry to ensure that teachers can check their students’ work and provide feedback quickly on screen.

Following research into what those with dyslexia or a visual impairment find most useful, it should now be standard practice to invest in additions to existing platforms to help. For example, a reading guide which highlights the sentence that is being read and blocks out other ones, to help people focus.

For pupils who are visually impaired, removing the background content of the website by putting a black or transparent block over it and just leaving the part someone wants to read accessible. Colour controls, highlighting and font changes can help those with dyslexia enormously.

Technology should be a leveller in education and at present it isn’t. Small changes like those outlined above can improve access to learning online. I hope the EdTech industry as a whole will follow our lead and improve access for all.


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