Blindness, education and society
This thesis looks at social scientific and disability related research on visual impairment and education. It starts from a historical perspective, and outlines the radical change of emphasis in research and thinking brought about by the Disabled People's Movement. After showing how this movement has developed, it looks at various aspects of visual impairment, concentrating on rehabilitation, personality research and the symbolism of the eye. The next section looks at the development of education for visually impaired people. It starts from a historical perspective, and relates this to mainstream Sociological research on classroom interaction and school culture. All of these sections highlight the importance of attitudes and social factors, whilst not denying the undoubted impact of visual impairment in itself. 23 visually impaired school pupils were interviewed, each individually, in a wide range of schools, and from a variety of social and educational backgrounds although an age range of 14 to 18 years seemed most suitable, for various reasons, the ages of those interviewed range from 13 to 19 years. For more detail see Chapter 7. The results highlighted a lack of understanding amongst educational establishment and society at large, especially with regard to partial sight. They showed that generally people can live normal lives, but that it is difficult for them to become fully part of groups which include sighted people, mainly due to problems in sighted people's attitudes and the effects of not seeing who and what is around. Varying levels of confidence were found in both mainstream and special schools, and these often related to the level of encouragement given by staff for the visually impaired people to mix with sighted people. 10 sighted colleagues of the visually impaired respondents at three of the schools were also interviewed, again individually. They were aged 15 and 16. Again, see Chapter 7 for more details. They highlighted issues including looking different, not "knowing how to act" around a visually impaired person, and in some schools, a lack of information about visual impairment. It was these issues, along with the availability of more mainstream information for visually impaired people, (especially "top shelf" material) that concerned respondents the most.