KNPD strives for mobility training for visually impaired persons

KNPD strives for mobility training for visually impaired persons

Posted on Aug.02, 2010, by , under Educational

The general perception is that a visually impaired or blind person will not be able to get around alone, but it is precisely this which the National Commission for Disabled Persons (KNPD) is endeavouring to change.

It is doing so by holding a course for those interested in becoming mobility and orientation training instructors. This course, although it does not count as a qualification in itself, offers people a glimpse into what the job involves.

This is a preparatory course which aims to give those interested in becoming qualified instructors a clear idea of what the work involves, according to the manager of the project’s implementation, Alison Zammit.

This idea stemmed from the fact that currently no local mobility and orientation services exist, so this way those following the course can decide whether they are interested in furthering their studies. Although no qualification yet exists, students can opt to study abroad.

This training is then offered to people who are blind or have some visual impairment. Orientation training will teach them how to familiarise themselves and visualise in their minds how they will get around, such as getting from home to work.

Mobility training, on the other hand, teaches the person techniques on how to actually get from one place to another, such as using the white stick. The course also includes an introduction to tactile mapping.

Tactile maps are “images that use raised surfaces so that a visually impaired person can feel them. They are used to convey non-textual information such as maps, paintings, graphs and diagrams.”

Ms Zammit explains that these are often used by the study centre for visually impaired students in Germany to provide support for university students who are visually impaired, such as making exam papers more accessible. The students will get a glimpse into producing a map, as well as the chance to work with a visually impaired person to learn how to make use of it.

Although as far as she is aware tactile mapping is not offered at the University of Malta, Ms Zammit said there are other

services to help these people.

One of the partners in the project, the Study Centre for Visually Impaired Students at the University of Karlsruhe in Germany, will be overseeing the development of the tactile mapping aspect of the course.

The study centre, which has been operating since the 1980’s, has been working at making science subjects, like physics and chemistry, accessible to visually impaired students. They are now working at doing the same with biology.

A UK-based company which offers training to those interested in the field, Provision Solutions, which is also working on the project with KNPD, will focus on the mobility and orientation training aspect of the course.

The course, which is funded by the European Union’s Leonardo da Vinci Programme Transfer of Innovation, currently has five students but originally it was made up of 11 students. Many course members were previously involved in the field, but the course was open to everyone, she said.

Although the aim was that the persons following the preparatory course have an A-level of education, every applicant was given the opportunity to follow the course.

In fact there were discussions with the University’s Degree-Plus programme with the aim of having a number of university students providing mentoring to those requesting it.

The course has run since the beginning of January, and will come to an end towards the end of August.

The preparatory course combines distance learning with a practical and hands on approach. Foreign partners visited for four days in February, April and June, and will be over again for two weeks in August to provide training on tactile mapping and monitor progress.

Since the course is intended to give students a better idea of the practical and the theoretical aspects, the organisers felt it was important to give them the chance to work with the visually impaired or blind persons.

Each student is working with two visually impaired persons, with whom they can work at developing and putting into practice what they are learning. The practice will not, for now, take place outside but give students the basics.

This is because it is a preparatory course, and to be able to teach outdoor training techniques safely would require much more intensive training. So outdoor training focuses on sighted guide techniques.

Those interested in volunteering to help the students along the way had a meeting, where what would be expected of them was explained. As it is there are 12 blind or visually impaired persons forming part of the project.

Ms Zammit explained that for this reason the system does not only benefit prospective instructors but also the visually impaired students, who will have the chance to come to grips with some of the most basic techniques.

As far as possible contact with the visually impaired persons will be conducted via email,

she said, so as to help them acquaint themselves with the internet, and thus gain increased independence.

The course also includes disability equality training, which benefits both the students and the visually impaired. For the latter it is a source of empowerment, as they become aware of their rights and what they are entitled to.

On the other hand, the students become increasingly aware of the barriers which lie in the way of visually impaired people and how these can be overcome.

Ms Zammit said that KNPD is extremely interested in extending this project, and in fact discussions are currently underway to explore this possibility. The idea is to create a foundation of this service and have a number of fully qualified Maltese trainers. This is basically a sort of pilot project, she admitted.

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