Education Ministry aims to give blind pupils a boost

Decision to help blind, visually impaired pupils in mainstream schools follows petition by disabled rights organizations.

Blind (R370) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Blind (R370)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With less than two weeks to go until the start of the new school year most parents are only now starting to think about purchasing the required textbooks for their children, but for Ramat Yishai resident Orna Shalmon that daunting task was started months ago.
“Usually, immediately after Passover I go find the teacher in the school who is responsible for drafting the list of required books for each class, and I have to hope that based on goodwill, they will give me the list of books needed for the following year,” said Shalmon, whose 13-year-old daughter, Ori, is blind but insists on learning in a regular school framework.
According to Shalmon, in order to provide Ori with books that she can read in braille, she must either buy or borrow a copy of each printed textbook and then turn them all over to an organization that, throughout the years, has been kind enough to transform the texts for her daughter.
While Shalmon continued this year to take on the lengthy process alone, her hard work could soon become a thing of the past. Two months ago, the Education Ministry decided that from now on it will take over the responsibility of providing textbooks and other teaching materials to thousands of blind and visually impaired pupils who, like Ori Shalmon, study in mainstream schools.
“The ministry really does seem to be making an effort to get the books ready for children like Ori,” said Shalmon, adding that despite this she still decided this year to do it her way in case it did not work out.
“I am very happy that the ministry has decided to do this now,” commented Shalmon.
“While I have the ability to ensure my daughter has the books she needs, there are some families that are simply not able to take on this complicated task.”
The ministry’s decision to help the thousands of blind or visually impaired pupils who study in mainstream schools comes following a legal petition submitted to the Supreme Court last November by disabled rights organization Bizchut and non-profit organization Ofek Liyladenu (Our Children’s Horizon).
“We have been fighting this for many years,” said Bizchut spokesman Oren Ganor.
“While blind children are accepted into the mainstream school system, they cannot fully participate in it without specially adapted books in braille, large text or audio format.”
Ganor said that Shalmon is only one of thousands of parents of blind or visually impaired children who until now had no choice but to turn to charities to get the books transformed into a suitable format or foot the bill for the expensive books themselves.
“Non-profit organizations helped to pay for it or, in some cases, it was the parents who had to pay out of their own pocket,” he said, adding that it is encouraging to see that after pressure from the petition, the ministry is now willing to cover the costs.
Following the submission of the petition, the ministry issued a nationwide tender to have many of the required textbooks transformed into braille for the blind, large text for the visually impaired and audio form. Now parents of blind or visually impaired children will merely be asked to pay the price of a regular schoolbook.
In addition, during the previous academic year the ministry undertook to address the needs of blind and sight-impaired students taking matriculation examinations, providing them with the necessary learning materials and allowing them to sit the exams at the same time as their peers.
A spokeswoman for the ministry said Thursday that as well as providing textbooks and exam conditions for blind and visually impaired students, it was waiting approval on a program that would allow them to work on specially adapted wireless tablets.
“The goal is to make sure everything is ready for them this coming academic year,” she said.
While Shalmon and Ori said they welcome all the practical steps, both said it was more the fact that these changes will break down social barriers, allowing greater inclusion for blind and visually impaired students.
“All these steps will help children with such disabilities to finally become part of society,” said Shalmon. “It will not only help them learn better but it will also help their social standing in school because they will no longer need to have a permanent aide by their side to help them, and that means they can finally feel the same as everyone else.”