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

Geography, Fieldwork and the Visual

Visual impairment statistics

The population at large

Although figures vary between sources and on the base population used, between 6.6 million (DRC, 2000) and 8.6 million (DSS, 1998) people in the UK are classed as disabled, which is almost a fifth of the working age population. Among adults of working age, about 112,000 have difficulty in seeing as their main disability (DRC, 2000). An important fact in relation to mature age students is that some 70% of economically active disabled people become disabled during their working lives and, as more people live longer, so the incidence of visual disability will increase (Employers Forum, 2000).

Worldwide, 45 million people are blind, and 80% of this blindness is preventable or curable. Within this total, about 1.5 million children are blind, mostly in the developing countries of Africa and Asia, and 40% of this blindness is preventable or curable (Sight Savers International, 2000). Avoidable blindness within developed countries is far less prevalent.

Student populations

Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA, 2000) indicate that in 1998/9 22,500 higher education students self-assessed themselves as having a disability; 3.3% of these students had visual impairments. (The National Library for the Blind (no date) suggests a figure of 513 students.) Within geography, a recent survey suggests that only about one in five geography departments have had experience of blind or visually impaired students undertaking fieldwork (Table 1).

Table 1. Departmental experiences of students with different disabilities undertaking, or being required to undertake, fieldwork (total number of respondents = 86). Source: Hall et al. (2001)
Disability Departments with experience of students with this disability undertaking fieldwork Percentage of total respondents
Dyslexia 61 69
Hidden disability 60 68
Mobility impaired 52 59
Deaf / hearing-impaired 27 31
Mental health 27 31
Blind / visually impaired 18 21
Multiple disability 14 16

Page updated 14 December 2001

GDN pages maintained by Phil Gravestock