Researchers share a vision for sight-impaired students

From left: Melissa Cain with her son Mikhail and Melissa Fanshawe with her son Oliver (ACU)

Well-intentioned people are failing to see the entire child and that child’s immense potential because they see the child’s disability first, according to an inclusive education researcher. Source: ACU.

Melissa Cain is an inclusive education researcher and lecturer at Australian Catholic University (ACU). She is also mother to a 12-year-old son with a rare genetic vision impairment. Her son attends a mainstream high school which has taken measures to cater for his disability.

Remarkably, Dr Cain’s research partner, Melissa Fanshawe, not only shares the same name but is also mother to a 12-year-old son with the exact rare vision impairment.

Ms Fanshawe, who is also an inclusive education researcher and a maths lecturer at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ), said, “In my work with students with vision impairment, I have learnt that students are children first with their own talents, interests and passions. The vision impairment impacts the way they access things, not who they are.”

In Australia, it’s estimated there are around 3000 school-aged children with a vision impairment that cannot be corrected with glasses or medication, and 300 have a severe vision impairment or blindness.

Although some children with vision impairment may have other disabilities and attend special education units, the majority of students with vision impairment attend mainstream schools. Creating a culture of inclusive, safe, and supportive environments is not just best practice, it is now an ethical and legal requirement for all educational contexts in Australia.

Inspired to remove barriers, Dr Cain and Ms Fanshawe have doubled their efforts to research ways to improve the mainstream schooling experience for those students with a vision impairment.

The two researchers say that students with a vision impairment also find novel solutions to navigating the environment and are usually only hampered by others who place restrictions on them.

“With some assistance, children with a vision impairment can do everything that everybody else can,” Dr Cain said. “However each student has individual needs, depending on their unique qualities and interests, and whether they were born blind or have acquired sight loss.”

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Seeing double to improve inclusivity in the classroom (ACU) 

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