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Inequalities for vision impaired children

Media Statement For Immediate Release

26 May 2008

Budget announcement doesn't address inequalities for vision impaired children

A Government announcement to boost the number of specialist resource teachers supporting vision impaired children will not be enough to address years of underfunding in the area.

Janet Digby, Project Manager for See Here, a nonprofit organisation set up to advocate for the large numbers of Kiwi kids with mild and moderate vision impairment, says the funding will not adequately address the existing imbalance for vision impaired children and their families when accessing support in schools.

Childhood vision impairment is a significant problem in New Zealand, and is thought to affect approximately 10% to 20% of New Zealand children.

In last Thursday's Budget, the Government announced increases in funding for Resource Teachers: Vision (RTVs) who provide specialist educational support to blind and vision impaired learners and their families from birth to 21 years of age, including learners with complex needs.

There are currently 35.5 full time equivalent positions for RTVs in New Zealand. Staffing ratios average one RTV to 37 students. Caseloads are highest in the Wellington region, where there is 1 RTV for every 52 students.

Budget funding will improve this ratio to 1:29 however, this is still far removed from the level of service families can expect in other developed countries, such as Australia, the US and England (1:12).

Parents of Vision Impaired (NZ) Executive Officer, Paul Manning, himself a parent of a vision impaired child, says the additional funding is an improvement but still not enough to support children to reach their potential.

"RTVs are one of the available supports in place to give children equitable access to education but there are just not enough of them to address the need," he says.

Current Special Education policy dictates that RTVs should work with those children classified as having 'moderate' needs, however high caseloads mean they must prioritise the need of those learners who are blind or who have more significant vision impairments. As a result, they children classified as having 'moderate' needs miss out on the support for which they are eligible and which they require.

See Here and Parent of Vision Impaired Children are looking for further changes in policy and staffing provision to provide appropriate and equitable service for all for learners with vision impairment.

ENDS

See Here

See Here was established by the J R McKenzie Trust to focus on the needs of the large number of New Zealand children with mild and moderate vision impairment. Some of these children just need glasses to correct their vision but not all families are able to receive support to pay for assessment services or glasses to correct their vision impairment.

See Here has undertaken research to look at the issue and determine solutions for ensuring that vision impaired children are able to reach their potential.

See Here is working to effect policy changes in three key areas relevant to children with mild and moderate vision impairment:

1. Improved data on the prevalence and characteristics of childhood vision impairment in New Zealand.

2. A review of vision screening in childhood, particularly as it relates to issues with the current National Vision Hearing Screening Programme, and the implementation of the B4 School Check.

3. Increased information and support made available to families whose children are referred by vision screening services or who are suspected, through other means, of having a vision impairment, and who need assessment and intervention services.

This group will be launching the research report in July.

ENDS

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