The development of a functionally representative framework for the assessment and support of students with a vision impairment through education

Author: Lynne Loh

Loh, Lynne, 2024 The development of a functionally representative framework for the assessment and support of students with a vision impairment through education, Flinders University, College of Nursing and Health Sciences

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All students have equal rights to a quality education and learning, however, for students with a vision impairment, access to class materials and therefore educational outcomes can be negatively impacted by their vision impairment. Previous studies have demonstrated that students with a vision impairment do not perform at the same level as their normally sighted peers with respect to reading, in terms of speed but not overall ability, and early intervention can support improved educational outcomes.

Vision function is the measurement of the working ability of the eyes and visual system that can be assessed, with measures of high and low contrast visual acuity, visual fields, and ocular motor balance. Functional vision describes the way in which the eyes and vision perform during visually guided tasks, such as reading, watching television, or playing sports. Support for children with a vision impairment, within the classroom environment, is typically based upon measures of vision function, which do not truly reflect of the student's actual visual ability.

This thesis investigates the functional visual capabilities of students with vision impairment within their educational environment in South Australia, challenging the existing reliance on visual acuity as a proxy for functional vision in classroom settings. This thesis will question the adequacy of visual acuity to fully capturing a student's functional vision in the classroom.

Over 250 students with a vision impairment, aged 5-18 years, are supported by specialist vision teachers within the South Australian School and Services for Vision Impaired (SASSVI) under the South Australian Department of Education. The South Australian School for Vision Impaired caters to children with more severe VI, while those with less severe impairments are integrated into mainstream education. Support eligibility is solely based on clinical measures of VA and visual field extent.

The thesis highlights the complexity of childhood vision impairment and the functional impact, which varies depending on the cause of vision loss and environmental conditions. This can result in significant challenges understanding the functional implications of vision impairment within a classroom environment. From these findings a new and comprehensive assessment framework to tailor classroom support around an individual's functional vision, thereby enhancing curriculum accessibility is proposed. This framework, incorporating a holistic approach by integrating reading performance, visual search, visual processing, and the impact of pathologies like nystagmus. It also includes educational interventions to increase students' understanding of their vision impairment, empowering them to advocate for themselves.

The outcome of this work is impactful. For educators and vision specialists, it provides a comprehensive tool for assessing and supporting students with a vision impairment. For policymakers, it presents empirical evidence to reconsider existing guidelines and practices. Most importantly, for students with VI, it promises a more inclusive and equitable educational experience, ensuring that their unique visual needs are understood and adequately addressed in the classroom.

Keywords: childhood vision impairment, education, disability, educational support, vision impaired, low vision, functional vision,

Subject: Health Sciences thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2024
School: College of Nursing and Health Sciences
Supervisor: Paul Constable