It has been three weeks since the start of the new school term and visually impaired Samuel Williams, attending St Anthony’s College has not yet received a student aid. His mother Alicia Modeste has been taking time away from her job to be present at her son’s classes.
“I have been in class with Samuel taking his notes. The teachers are making sure that he is comfortable and do not fall behind as they write on the board, they also call out the notes for Samuel. He has been able to keep up with all his classes, so far,” said Modeste.
Although she continues to make the sacrifice for her son, Modeste said they are in desperate need for a student aid to be present at St Anthony’s College. “A student aid was supposed to be provided at the beginning of the school term. It was pushed back to September 11 and still Samuel is presently without one. He is my son, I don’t mind making the sacrifice but I have to take time away from work,” said Modeste, a domestic cleaner.
Samuel has been enjoying his classes at St Anthony’s where he takes an active role by asking questions. Some of his favourite subjects included French, Spanish, visual and performing arts along with integrated science. “I have been using the laptop I received from (Education) Minister (Terrence) Deyalsingh to do some of my work,” said Williams with a smile.
“The Blind Welfare Association has his textbooks which they are converting to Braille. It is a time consuming process but he would be better equipped when he receives the Braille version of the textbooks,” added Modeste.
An official of the association said that the student aid is for students with special needs, blind and visually impaired and is supplied by the Ministry of Education.
“What we have been informed is that the contracts for these cases have come to an end and they have not been renewed. We at the Blind Welfare Association are aware of 15 children in the public school system who are in need of a student aid.
“These children are at a disadvantage. The association is exploring the possibility when our budget is allocated, to possibly pay for some of the children to get a student aid,” said the association’s chairman Felix Cazoe.
Association CEO Kenneth Suratt said a student aid will dictate the information the teacher is writing on the board into Braille. “For instance if a map of TT is drawn on ordinary paper, a blind person would not be able to make sense of it but if different gradients and textures of sandpaper is used, that would help.
“Through our welfare department the intervention we are trying to make is to allocate funds towards hiring a few student aids who would also teach the children about mobility and how to move around independently. We are having a problem converting the textbooks into Braille, as it is a manual process that takes long to do.
“What we are proposing for the ministry is that all the books they are using in the classroom should also have a soft-copy version. Once there is a soft copy, the child who is blind can use software to read the words to him,” said Suratt. He added that Samuel should not be an exception, but the norm in regard to the ability of children with special needs and those visually impaired to lead successful lives.
“We are proud of him and we want him to have all the support he needs to be successful,” said Suratt.
The National Policy on Persons with Disability advocates for the disabled to have the same rights and responsibilities and should enjoy equal access to the services available to each and every citizen.
“However, these policies are not law...some are still a draft,” said Cazoe.
“The Ministry of Education must partner with the TTBWA in this regard. We want the best for Samuel, but he one of many visually impaired children who are at a disadvantage,” Suratt said.
Contacted for comment. Yolanda Morales-Carvalho, the Ministry of Education’s Communications Manager stated that the ministry is working to address the matter.