University of Edinburgh

Vision for Doing

Assessing Functional Vision of Learners who are Multiply Disabled


Recently I was visiting a school for children with severe learning difficulties, to meet a child who was described to me as "blind". Jamie was sitting in a wheelchair, facing the window, eyes screwed up against the bright sunlight. He could not move his head out of the sun's rays. Gradually it became clear that he could, in fact, see quite a lot. Through lack of understanding, his teachers and carers had been ignoring his most effective means of learning about the world. The word "blindness" had cast its spell.

Throughout the country there are children and young people whose vision loss is being overlooked or not fully understood, in the face of the other disabilities that are present. There is a great need for clear guidance to their professional staff and carers, to help answer the big quesions: how much can this person see? What can I do to help them make best use of what they have?

Vision for Doing goes a long way towards addressing the needs. It seeks to demystify assessment - to take it out of the hands of 'experts' and place it within the reach of all staff and carers. Use of the simple assessment process outlined here can help all of us arrive at a greater understanding of the young person with whom we are all concerned. It also provides some practical ideas for action. Assessment on its own helps no-one - it must be linked to the process of looking ahead. For Stuart Aitken and Marianna Buultjens, a key part of the process of assessment is the drawing up of 'learning objectives'. No more sterile assessment reports, destined only for feeding cabinets. Throughout Vision for doing there are nuggets of ideas and approaches, hewn from the rich mine of experience of the authors. They have observed examples of good practice around the country, distilled the essence of what can be learned from them, and presented them to us for use within the structure of a sound theory of learning.

The reliance on sound theory is important. In a field where the needs are so great ant the attention has been so little, we are prey to the latest fad. Young people with multiple disabilities can find themselves subjected to a bewildering array of stimuli and experiences, in the cause of innovative teaching, based around apparent success with one child. And most of the ideas involve buying another new device. Without a theoretical understanding and without a way of assessing progress and development in young people, how can we distinguish between the prophet and the charlatan?

Over the years Stuart Aitken and Marianna Buultjens have contributed enormously to the education of countless young people with multiple disabilities. In producing Vision for Doing they have taken this contribution further one great leap. They have provided an accessible and welcoming book which will, I hope, generate a new understanding of the visual needs of many learners. If it also generates other writings, by encouraging the many other excellent practitioners out there to put their ideas on paper, then we will owe them a further debt.

Paul Ennals, Director Education and Leisure, Royal National Institute for the Blind, London, November 1991.