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Education and Rehabilitation

Education and Rehabilitation

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The Problem

Education
There are nearly 6 million preschool and school-aged children who are blind or have low vision. Eighty percent of these children live in developing countries where less than one out of every 10 currently has access to education. Among the causes for this inequity are a severe shortage of trained teachers and appropriate materials; lack of early identification, referral and intervention; lack of awareness of rights to education by parents and communities; and limited public policy and advocacy.

Rehabilitation and Training
Of the approximately 160 million individuals who are blind or have low vision worldwide, just 10 percent have access to rehabilitation services—a wide range of clinical therapy and non-clinical training to provide blind or low vision persons with the skills and tools to maintain a safe, active and independent lifestyle. The unemployment rate of this group ranges from 75-90 percent; people who are visually impaired are five times more likely to be unemployed than the general public. This high rate of unemployment is the result of factors such as potential employers’ misperceptions, and in developing countries, severe lack of training and technological resources. Excluded from the workplace and unable to be productive citizens, people who are visually impaired become discouraged and experience social and economic isolation.

Global Impact

The lack of training, rehabilitation and education of the blind and visually impaired denies millions of people a chance to engage with others, participate as productive workers and feel that they are valuable members of society. If given the tools and support to receive education and gain useful skills, blind or low vision people could live more fully realize their potential and contribute to society—improving both their lives as well as their communities. 

Solutions

Education
Education for blind children or children who have low vision provides the traditional academic experience with the addition of specialized services to aid in the development of critical life skills for adulthood. Children who are blind or have low vision can attend school in inclusive or integrated classrooms, with trained teachers and modest equipment and materials, or in specialized schools or centers.

The following needs must be addressed to work toward correcting educational inequities:

  • Awareness: In many communities, families, health care professionals and educators are simply not aware that blind or low-vision children can successfully complete their education. Community-based awareness programs can educate communities and bring key stakeholders together to work toward inclusion of disabled students in educational systems.
  • Teacher Training and Materials: The majority of children who are blind or have low vision can be educated in local schools if teachers are trained appropriately. Teachers also need equipment to prepare teaching materials (such as mechanical Braille writing machines) and students must have access to tools and learning materials in alternative formats.
  • Facilities and Equipment: Some students, especially those with multiple disabilities, are enrolled in special schools or centers where additional equipment, materials and multi-disciplinary teams are needed. These facilities can also serve as resource centers for integrated/inclusive schools.
  • Specialist Teachers: Teachers with extensive specialist training can work most effectively with visually-impaired children. Training ranges from short courses on proper use of equipment and materials to comprehensive degree programs.

Rehabilitation
Rehabilitation consists of a wide range of clinical therapy and non-clinical training to provide people who are blind or have low vision with the skills and tools to maintain a safe, active and independent lifestyle.

While rehabilitation cannot restore lost sight, it can help individuals maximize any remaining vision so that they, as well as those who are blind, can travel safely, take care of their needs, meet their career goals, participate in education and enjoy leisure activities. To help the people who are blind or have low vision reach these goals, the following needs must be addressed:

  • Awareness: In many communities, families, health care professionals and business owners are not aware of the employment capabilities of people who are blind or have low vision. Community-based programs can increase public awareness of the employability and entrepreneurial capability of people who are visually impaired, change employment attitudes and practices and create a network of mentors.
  • Training: Employment-related rehabilitation services for the blind and visually impaired may include training with assistive technology, Braille literacy and business skills, as well as customized vocational preparatory training, secondary-level education courses, mentorship and provision of entrepreneurial opportunities.
  • Professional Development: Transition-aged youth and adults who are blind or have low vision require access to educational opportunities to increase their work-readiness. Programs are offered in traditional classroom settings or, with access to affordable technology, students can participate in distance or e-learning webinars and virtual job coaching.

SightFirst’s Work 

SightFirst efforts to prevent and/or restore vision loss have traditionally focused on surgical treatments or drug therapies, infrastructure development and human resource training. Improving access to quality education and rehabilitation for people who are visually-impaired will broaden the program’s reach to include support for services which may fall outside SightFirst’s traditional work for vision care; yet they are crucial to our overall efforts to help those with vision loss and serve our humanitarian mission.

Funding Priorities

The following are priorities for education and rehabilitation projects:

  • Support capacity building of school systems through areas, such as human resource training and infrastructure, to better accommodate children who are blind or have low vision.
  • Support organizations that provide training, mentorship opportunities and subsidies or microloans for microenterprise initiatives of people who are blind or have low vision.
  • Develop and/or expand community-based awareness initiatives that advocate for inclusion of visually-impaired children who are in schools and/or raise awareness about the employability of adults.

In general, SightFirst projects must focus on the major causes of blindness on national or large regional levels. These projects reach populations who are underserved or who have limited or no access to eye health care services. The program funds high-quality, sustainable projects that deliver eye care services, develop infrastructure, train personnel and/or provide education and rehabilitation in underserved communities.

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Find more information, including the SightFirst grant application, disease-specific questionnaires and long-range policy papers. 

To learn more about the statistics found on this page, please visit the following:
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