University of Edinburgh

Newsletter No 9: March 2000

Gerti Jaritz

In the last newsletter we reported that as part of the Leonardo Project, Gerti Jaritz had been sponsored to spend a month in the UK for her own staff development and to share expertise with British colleagues. We were all happy to meet her and she was kind enough to give this account of her stay with us.

It's unbelievable how short 4 weeks are!

Everybody has these experiences with time: when you go away from your home, your family, your school work - a journey of 4 weeks seems to be incredibly long. But it is not. When I told people that I would be going to Scotland for a study-leave to exchange experiences and visit different services they all appreciated the idea, but they felt sorry for me because of the rough weather which was to be expected in November. However it was one of the mildest autumns with flowers still everywhere. Whereas in Austria it was one of the coldest months with lots of snow, which I do not like as a visiting teacher who has to drive up and down. 

My main goals were:

  • to see work in different services
  • find practical examples of work with Multiply Disabled and Visually Impaired (MDVI) children (especially communication)
  • to study tactile pictures in schoolbooks
  • to find good special literature and materials in English
  • exchange ideas and
  • present my own designed material like Lilly & Gogo and the new Music-Light.
I achieved these goals and a lot more.

I attended 2 courses of the teacher training service: LVA (Low Vision Aids), case-studies and research about print. I attended the ATCVI meeting which was very useful.

I visited a regional staff-meeting in Cardenden with Elspeth McDonald and the Rosslin school for multi-handicapped children. I liked very much the committed work.

I joined Lyn Lymers to see blind, little Sarah in her mainstream class who enjoys playing with her friends and is a marvellous reader.

I saw the team at the University of Birmingham and their new talking books to help starting Braille reading skills.

I visited the Priestley Smith School for the Blind in Birmingham and I went with Chris Fryer to three different places and the visiting teacher service in Birmingham.

I flew to Dublin and stayed a whole day in the St. Joseph's School for Blind Boys. I had a busy discussion with the charming boys about Mozart and some other Austrian celebrities. Then I saw them playing in the soft playroom and the brand new snoezelen room.

I visited the VISSES (Visual Impairment Services in South East Scotland) who do a Rehabilitation and Mobility Service, provide aids for Low Vision and for ADL (Activities for Daily Living). I enjoyed very much joining their leisure group of different VI children aged 5-15 from all around Edinburgh to go bowling, where I met little Sarah again.

Finally I had a whole day in the Royal Blind School in Edinburgh seeing services for MDVI children at Canaan Lodge. I was very impressed with the total approach of movement, gesture and sign and the stressing of communication from all the staff and could really see how well it works.

I had two days doing workshops on our visual stimulation program with Lilly & Gogo and the music light in Leeds and Edinburgh and enjoyed the discussions on these occasions. Most of the time Lilly & Gogo joined me on my travels and are pretty well known everywhere they go!

I really enjoyed the hospitality of all the people in the services who had to fulfill their normal working day, to speak with a foreign visitor and took time to hear something about Austria as well.

I had a lot more invitations but had to be selective in order to see the work in the Call Centre and the treasures of the SSC library and also do some translation work.

The system in Austria is in some aspects quite different. Children go to school only at six. Before that age VI children get a home visit quite regularly from a specially trained early intervention teacher. Then parents can choose between special schools and visiting teacher services who see blind children from 6-12 hours per week and visually impaired children very regularly as well. The visiting teacher service is based at the special school and has the opportunity to use the resources of the special schools.

We do not have that many facilities for people with communication problems. Here we have to work hard to get a better standard for our learners.

The weekends gave me the chance to visit great museums like Dynamic Earth or the Scottish National Museum and to visit lovely places in Dundee, Birmingham and Dublin.

Many thanks for organising my visit go to Marianna Buultjens and the team in Moray House, to Heather Mason and to all of you I met and talked to.

I had a great time in those short 4 weeks!

Gerti Jaritz, Teacher of VI, Austria