Providing Learning Support for Blind or Visually Impaired Students Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities

About the Author

Ifan Shepherd (Middlesex University)

My name is Ifan Shepherd, and I am currently Professor of GeoBusiness at the Middlesex University Business School. However, I have spent most of my professional career as a geographer.

My current research interests include: business and public sector applications of geographical information systems and computer mapping; evaluation of information quality on the Internet; data visualization; multi-sensory GIS; evaluation of public sector projects; student transfer of knowledge and skills; and the building of a spatial database for late nineteenth-century London. I have undertaken numerous consultancies in the public sector, including several large-scale audits: poverty in the London borough of Hounslow; early years provision in the London borough of Hackney; and NHS Direct in West London.

I have been involved over many years with research and development in the field of educational innovation, key skills and computer-assisted learning, and I have been a visiting consultant on e-learning to several universities in the UK. I am a member of the editorial board, and former joint editor, of the Journal of Geography in Higher Education.

I have a personal motivation for writing this guide. As a child, I vividly remember a blind neighbour in my home village in Wales who taught basket making in a local evening class. At that time, basket making was one of the few, and certainly the most readily recognised, occupations open to the blind. A measure of the progress made since my childhood in bringing the blind back into the social mainstream is the considerably greater range of occupations now open to them. Nevertheless, unemployment among the blind is still very high (NFB, 2000b), and certain job markets, notably the UK armed forces, are still resistant to disabled entrants.

I was also inspired, more recently, by a geography student with about 10% vision, who refused to be anything other than 'normal'. Not only did he master the art (as it then was) of map interpretation, assisted by maps that had their artwork redrawn with extra-thick lines, but he also joined the student Outdoors Society and spent weekends dragging companions across the Pennines in the North of England. By comparison, the fieldcourses he attended presented him with few significant challenges.

In the past decade, I have been involved in research into multi-sensory GIS and data visualisation, which has opened my eyes to the sensory deprivation perpetuated by modern geographical software that caters almost exclusively for the visually adept. Although several sections of this guide reflect a belief that computer technology can be applied to helping blind and visually impaired students learn more effectively, I hope that this technological perspective does not overshadow the human approaches that are essential if blind and visually impaired students are to participate in effective field learning.

Page updated 14 December 2001

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