Providing Learning Support for Blind or Visually Impaired Students Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities
Much of the groundwork for successful fieldwork by blind and visually impaired students will take place well before the field study actually starts. Several relevant planning and preparatory activities are described in the following documents:
Planning your field study should begin by establishing the precise details of any visual impairments among the students participating in the field work, and talking through with the students their impairment in relation to specific study activities. Early discussion with students is vital, because it may be necessary to vary the overall fieldcourse strategy based on student feedback. (See the Field Study Strategies document.) Ideally, someone familiar with the problems should carry out a reconnaissance, preferably under the same conditions as students will be working. Part of the planning process might involve consultation with others, including operators of transport facilities and sites to be visited. Some might have specific policies with respect to access for students with mobility impairment, and some might even be able to offer help and assistance.
These are some of the key issues you should be thinking about when preparing for fieldwork that is likely to be undertaken by visually impaired students:
- Information dissemination (by staff)
- Have all staff involved in the fieldcourse disseminated relevant information to visually impaired students (e.g. at lectures and seminars, through handouts, on an intranet Web site)?
- Information gathering (by students) — maps, articles, guides, Internet
- Have visually impaired students been properly briefed on the preparatory activities they need to undertake for their fieldcourse? Do they require any special resources in order to undertake these activities? For example, if the entire student group is to analyse geographical information available in a virtual fieldcourse system, how will the visually impaired students do this?
- Financial support
- Have visually impaired students been made aware of sources of funding available to them for acquiring special equipment or other resources needed for their fieldwork?
- Form filling
- Do your visually impaired students require any assistance in filling in forms related to the fieldcourse?
- Risk assessments
- Have you undertaken a risk assessment of the entire sequence of activities involved in the fieldcourse? This should include the preparatory work in and around campus right through to the follow-up and assessment work after the fieldwork is over.
- Developing student-led support mechanisms
- One of the more effective forms of support for visually impaired students will come from their peers. Have you encouraged students to develop strong mutual support networks? It is best to do this right at the start of the degree programme, rather than leaving it to the eve of the fieldwork, as this is the best way to ensure that such support will be fully bedded in by the time the fieldwork gets under way.
- Travel issues
- Some elements of fieldcourse planning are normally left to the students themselves — e.g. travel to and from the field centre. However, for visually impaired students, some form of planning and staff intervention may be necessary. Have you decided which aspects you need to include in your fieldwork planning?
Although this list might appear burdensome, there are usually various people to hand who can help with some or all of these issues. (See the Staff Support Network document for details.)
It is imperative that all people involved in the fieldwork activities know about the visually impaired students and their particular requirements. Amongst those who need to be informed are:
- the departmental secretary or college administrator who makes group transport arrangements for students, or who books field venue accommodation (would a ground floor room be preferable?)
- the teaching assistant who helps to prepare handouts for the fieldwork
- the departmental technician who prepares equipment for use in the field.
© Geography Discipline Network/authors, 2001
ISBN: 1 86174 115 4