I am in the very fortunate position of being able to travel around the world to meet and discuss the education of children with visual impairment. I meet fellow psychologists and academics, qualified teachers of pupils with visual impairment (QTVI or sometimes referred to as TVI), ophthalmologists, orthoptists, therapists and most importantly children and parents themselves. The insights I have gained meeting people have been incredibly influential in my thinking and in my approach as a Professor of Childhood Visual Impairment and to what I do and do not include in the training programmes we have at the University of Edinburgh for QTVI status.
As such I think we should be explicit and acknowledge the incredible work that QTVI teachers do.
For me, they play one of the most transformative roles within education.
A QTVI is able to change the lives of the pupils they support either as a class teacher, or as an itinerant/peripatetic teacher by first understanding the holistic child. By this I mean it is the QTVI that takes the time to understand firstly the home environment and what support is needed at home and often it is the QTVI that collaborates with other professionals in other agencies so that this support is given at the right time and by the right people. The QTVI will also assess and understand the community the child lives in, the availability of peer networks, friends, relatives and community support. The QTVI will also have an understanding of the habilitation and mobility needs of the child and again is often the person to arrange support from qualified habilitation officers.
This collaborative role of the QTVI is something else! I often get my students to count up how many different professionals a QTVI may have to work with during their career (I think we got up to 32 different professional roles but if this was higher I would not be surprised). So we begin to see that the QTVI already is playing a pivotal role not just in the child's lives but also in the lives of the parents and the community the child lives.
But without doubt one of the key roles that a QTVI plays is the relationship they have with, as two of my colleagues Graeme Douglas and Michael McLinden have so eloquently put it 'access to learning' and 'learning to access'.
One of the many skills that the QTVI needs to master is the ability to make the educational environment accessible. Providing accessible curriculum materials is no mean feat. Think of the work that is needed to ensure that the curriculum in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is accessible, then there is music, computing, history, geography, English, modern languages, physical education, and so on, so whilst a QTVI may have a specialist curriculum area, suddenly it seems they need to be experts in all curriculum areas.
QTVIs step up to the mark to ensure optimal learning can take place. And what I really like about QTVIs from all over the world is that they understand that what they do for the child with vision impairment is not only beneficial for that child but can be and often is, beneficial for the whole class whether mainstream or in special schools or units. I do not understand why this is our best kept secret in the profession, in that the specialist role of the QTVI is for me a best example of inclusive practice.
Getting the child to 'learn to access' which has been characterised as the 'additional curriculum' which emphasises independence skills, the use of technology, low vision aid use and some mobility sighted guide techniques can also fall within the role of being a QTVI. And then there is Braille, not only is it important to know Braille and all of its contractions, but also how to teach Braille, knowing if it is not sufficient, knowing how to teach a child that is often initially resistant but then becomes an expert skilled reader and producer of knowledge...this is one of the most transformative acts to be seen.
The skill of the QTVI therefore is to understand these two strategies and know when to manage one with the other. A skill I very much admire. A skill that I think is underrated by those that do not understand exactly the role of the QTVI.
But this is not all. QTVIs know how to conduct functional vision assessments, and this is hugely important. The report a family/teacher receives from the eye clinic is not often a functional assessment and again it is the skill of the QTVI that allows the child, parents and the class teacher to understand how to remove barriers to learning, and to use what vision if any the child has. QTVI's know that it is often the functional assessments of vision that are more important than the clinical based ones. QTVIs are not medics but have to understand so much anatomy and this is increasing.
In the past we taught on our QTVI programmes anatomy of the eye and perhaps the optic nerve, and the occipital cortex (if lucky) but now with Cerebral Visual Impairment the most common form of childhood visual impairment in economically developed countries (and significantly increasing in economically developing countries), QTVI's have to understand vision brain pathways, dorsal, ventral networks, the role the temporal and parietal lobes, the way the frontal lobe mediates attention, and so on. Just knowing this is difficult enough, but combining this with all of their other roles and responsibilities is quite spectacular and one that again we should celebrate.
We know that there is no such thing as a "typical" child with visual impairment. Children may have a single disability visually impairment, may be blind, may have additional disabilities, may have significant complex needs and may or may not be mobile. And yet the QTVI rightly sees the child for who they are, individual and each with their own agency and ability. The QTVI works from a strength based position, they do not see what the child cannot do but what they can and what they can achieve. Doing this for the range of children with VI is fantastic and again needs to be applauded.
As you can see for me the QTVI is indispensable, so why do I hear when I travel, (and this includes the UK) that the role of the QTVI is under threat. It is under threat from local authorities, their training is under threat from universities, under threat from those that do not see the role of the specialist teacher in inclusive environments. QTVIs are transformative agents of change for the child, school, community, and for society as a whole. Let us celebrate the QTVI.
QTVIs are transformative agents of change for the child, school, community, and for society as a whole.
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