In February 2006, the Atlas Alliance ran a four-day inclusive education workshop in Zanzibar, East Africa. Most of the 45 participants were from its member organisations and partners working in East and Southern Africa, Nepal and Palestine. The workshop helped participants to share experiences and learn from each other. Various participatory activities were used, including photo elicitation – the use of photos to stimulate reflection on our interpretations and experiences of inclusion. Blind participant Mr Zefania Kalumuna was interviewed by EENET’s Ingrid Lewis about the use of photo elicitation.
What do you think of the use of photos to stimulate discussions among sighted and blind workshop participants?
I think it is a very good approach. It is important to remember the role that visual images can and should play in the learning process of everyone, including blind people.
What methods did your group use to include you in these activities?
I found the best solution is to have at least two people describe the picture to me, so I can gather several interpretations about what is happening in the picture. This was the same when we did classroom observation during the school visits. It was best if two people described the class to me (one local person and one ‘outsider’).
Did everyone describe the photo in the same way?
No! One person focuses on one thing and someone else notices a different thing in the photo. Each person had a different idea about what barriers to inclusion the pictures showed. I could build up an idea in my mind about what they described, based on different opinions.
What happened when your group discussed and analysed the photos?
I was able to suggest interpretations based on the descriptions. Sometimes my interpretation of the barrier being depicted (and the possible causes/impacts) was the same as the sighted participants’; sometimes I suggested things they hadn’t thought of.
What is your view on the benefits of this activity for yourself and sighted participants?
We both really benefited from the activity. It was different for me to use this activity, but I was able to find out a lot about what was happening in the schools from the pictures. The sighted participants benefited because they had to look more closely at the picture than normal, which helped them analyse the situations of inclusion/exclusion that might exist in the picture.
Does this activity have a wider relevance to inclusive education?
Definitely! When blind children are learning to read at school they may have Braille books containing words, but sighted children have books with words and pictures. Especially in Grades 1 and 2, books are 75% pictures. This means the child with the Braille book is missing a lot. They may be together in the same class, but they are separated by different books.
What solution do you recommend?
I have worked with a project that transcribes children’s books into Braille and there are several solutions I have learned about. Of course, sighted and blind children should be assisted to read together, so that the sighted child can describe the pictures to the blind child. They will both benefit from doing this. We can assist by ensuring that Braille books have both the Braille-page number and the printed-page number on every sheet of the book. This way blind and sighted children can easily know they are reading from the same page.
Another thing we do is to make an audio cassette that has sound effects relating to the pictures. For example, if the printed book has a picture of a lion, the cassette has a sound effect of a lion roaring, and the blind child can listen to this while the sighted child looks at and describes the picture. The sighted child obviously also learns more when they listen to such a cassette.
And even if we really can’t afford Braille or cassettes, we should train teachers how to teach sighted and blind children about how to work together effectively from printed and picture books.
Mr Kalumuna co-ordinates special needs education for visually impaired persons within the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, Special Needs Education Unit. He is Chair of the Information Centre on Disabilities and the Tanzania Braille Audio Trust, and is Assistant Chief Editor of the Tanzania Writers Association.
P.O Box 77700
Dar es Salaam
EENET is committed to promoting the use of images in action research around inclusive education. It has been suggested that such an approach is inevitably exclusive of people with visual impairments, and so we have been keen to investigate this further. This interview has offered us some insights and ideas, and we encourage further discussion of this issue.