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

Field Activities

Getting around

In a recent survey of over 1000 blind and partially sighted young people, it was found that over 80% had difficulty getting out and about, that 70% of those in mainstream schools had not received mobility and attendance education, and that most wanted more mobility education (Sortit, 2000). This is corroborated by a recent RNIB survey (Guardian, 2000c), which found that only about a quarter of visually impaired young people in the UK have received mobility education. The need for careful thinking about fieldwork-related mobility is therefore likely to be of considerable importance to any visually impaired students on your course.

Some practical issues

Getting around involves not only moving about while undertaking field study activities, but also travelling to and from the fieldcourse venue, getting around at the field studies centre (a hotel or study centre), and also in the local area. All students and staff should attend to basic safety procedures when walking around the fieldwork venues. Additional issues come into focus when students are required to work individually in the field, not just on organised fieldcourses, but also when undertaking personal dissertation-related fieldwork.

Some specific field-related mobility issues are summarised in terms of risk in the list below:

Field terrain
Not all terrain is difficult for visually impaired students to negotiate. (See the Impacts of Visual Impairment on Fieldwork document for a description of the problems likely to be caused by specific impairments.) In many cases, strict policing of the safety rules adopted for all students will suffice, particularly where accidents might occur (e.g. crossing a stream or climbing across scree slopes). If you are in any doubt as to whether a particular sortie could prove problematic to a visually impaired student while in the field, have a discrete chat with the student involved, describing the nature of the terrain they are likely to encounter.
Urban environments
For blind students and students with severe visual disabilities, pedestrian safety is a prime consideration, especially when undertaking field surveys in busy urban areas. Some guidelines from an American source are available in the Pedestrian Safety Handbook published by the American Council for the Blind (http://www.acb.org/pedestrian/index.html).
Overseas
A considerable amount of fieldwork by UK universities is now undertaken overseas. In addition to general health hazards (e.g. poor quality drinking water) there may be additional features of a particular field venue that could pose problematical to the visually impaired student — e.g. poor quality bathing water, lack of access to local medical facilities. These should be explored systematically when undertaking the fieldcourse reconnaissance. Although overseas travel can place additional burdens on students, these should not necessarily be over-stressed, as visually impaired students may be just as equally well travelled as their peers.
One point worth bearing in mind is that some countries provide concessionary rates for travel on public transport by people with visual impairment (e.g. Diamond, 2000). And in the UK, 1995 legislation to be enacted from 31 March 2001 means that blind people cannot be charged extra for taking their guide dog in a taxi.

For an exploration of some of the technology that can be used by visually impaired students to get around in the field, see the Mobility Aids and Assistive Technologies documents. Other related documents in this guide include: Travel, Individual and Group Work, and Guide Dogs.

Page updated 14 December 2001

GDN pages maintained by Phil Gravestock