Friday 6 January 2012

Parody of A Vision Test

There is always a place for humour in training and for this reason I sometimes use the clip from the British comedy duo, the Two Ronnies. I heartily commend this clip because it introduces in a light-hearted and palatable way some of the serious issues, which face a visually impaired child. If you are a VI teacher I recommend it as it always goes down very well in training. The episode is called the Optician. Today I want to use the clip to hang a few questions on as we are scarcely into the New Year. Watch it - enjoy - and then reflect on the following questions. 

1.     What are the common difficulties facing a child with visual impairment?
2.     What modifications to the environment can help a child with visual impairment?
3.     What happens at an eye test?
4.     How important is it to wear your glasses if you have them?

1.     A visually impaired child has to deal with many challenges. These can be outlined from the clip as:

Difficulties with recognising people’s faces. Visually impaired children do learn to identify people by means other than their face, but not to see a face is a serious impediment, you will agree. The face is arguably the most interesting part of a person. Not to be able to look someone in the face or the eyes can create significant social awkwardness. I am not sure anything can compensate for this. Ronnie says he hasn’t been able to see his work colleagues for a little while now. This must surely have significant social implications. If you cannot see  someone well enough to identify them then you have lost a social contact which is so vital for many reasons and in many contexts. 

Difficulty in seeing their own face is also a big issue, depending on how visually impaired they are. Imagine not knowing what you look like? This creates difficulties in preparing yourself for being with people, such as for instance, washing, grooming your hair and adjusting clothes.

The obvious problems are mobility issues. In the clip Ronnie Corbett trips and stumbles, and almost injures himself by sitting on a sharp point. Not to mention drinking a cup of paper clips! It is so easy to forget or ignore the fact that a child who does not have good eyesight lives in a world of perpetual obstacles and hazards. He or she has to learn to get around independently without constantly relying on their sighted peers. Just getting rightly oriented is a challenge. I was walking to work a few months ago and a blind man with a stick, looking quite lost, appeared in my path. I asked him if he wanted help and he said he wanted to cross the road. He was simply facing in the wrong direction and I turned him towards the zebra crossing and let him hold my elbow and crossed over the road. He immediately recognised where he was. But because he had lost his orientation he could not work out where he was. Try closing your own eyes and walking around your house. It is not easy.   

2.     What modifications to the environment can help a child with visual impairment?

In the clip there was a very large orientation strip on the floor, which Ronnie Barker kneeled down on and crawled around to make his way.  This is an indication that signage and orientation markers need to be in place wherever there is a visually impaired child. I have noticed that on the pavement leading up to the big famous Moorfields eye hospital in London there is a wide painted strip. I forget the colour, it may be green. But it leads a person directly to the entrance of the hospital. A new school that is built should have certain basic accessibility features but it does not always happen. The stairs and steps ought to be marked on the nosings with contrasting colours. The handrails should be contrasting against the wall. The doors and frames should have strong colour contrast. These are a few points, as I have dealt in detail with this issue in a different post. 

3.     What happens at an eye test?

I am not too sure the clip gave a very good idea about this. But the distance test is certainly an important part of the eye examination. You should not give the subject clues really…! But I’m sure you know that! Identifying letters on a chart is a clinical test done in the hospital. VI teachers can do this with children in the home or in school. But what advisory teachers also do is the functional vision test. This is not done in the hospital because it is (a) not quite so objective (it is my ‘impression’ of how the child is managing); and (b) relies more on watching the child in a familiar (or unfamiliar) setting for an extended period of time. The hospital tests use precise tools and are performed by people well trained in using these tools. I have to admit that I did not get particularly trained in my mandatory qualification on the use of visual testing. I had to teach myself a lot of this. But I believe it is the role of the advisory teacher to test children’s vision. So if you are a VI teacher you ought in my view to get some training on this area. You cant be relying all the time on waiting for the hospital appointment.  

4.     Why you MUST wear your glasses

The last point in this clip is the pretty obvious fact that if you have been prescribed glasses you must wear them. Obvious? Not to a lot of VI kids I work with. Many children do NOT like to wear their glasses. And mum and dad have a struggle to get them to wear their glasses. But it is a struggle you HAVE to persist in. Some children like to have poor vision. It somehow takes away the strain of having to see things clearly and therefore to respond and react appropriately all the time. It also make them feel self-conscious with their peers who don’t wear glasses.  

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