Including Blind Children in St Lucia
In 1964, when I was a student, we only had one Braille slate to be shared by the teacher and six blind students in the St Lucia School for the Blind. We had a school and a workshop, but the emphasis was on basket weaving, rather than academic education. We were sending our children to the school for blind children in Trinidad and Tobago, but not everyone could go. In 1984 we decided to educate the children in the mainstream. When we made this change, we stopped sending the blind children to Trinidad, and the school was closed.
We realised that blind children are going to become adults and they have to function in mainstream society. We need to change society to make it more accommodating to blind people. By exposing our children at an early age to the world, they would develop the skills needed to handle wider society. Children who go to school with blind children will also be in the workplace and they will remember going to school with blind students. The process of change will be advanced by this early contact and the blind population will be better off for it.
The beginning of integration
In 1986 we began to integrate the first blind children in mainstream schools. We chose the brightest children, because we wanted to make a point. We held a workshop for school principals, run by the Ministry of Education and we teamed up with the other special schools in St Lucia. The principals identified children with visual impairments and convinced the teachers. We had three children in the Anglican school, the first to take blind children. Then a few months later we brought in the TV for a big media splash to convince the other principals. Now we have blind students at college level – we are beginning to see the fruits of the step we took in 1986.
We didn’t have all the support systems in place when we started, but if we’d waited until we had, we would never have started.
We didn’t want to create a school for the blind in a sighted school, so we began to develop resource rooms in mainstream schools. Here the teachers prepare the children, and produce Braille and large print versions of the textbooks. We realised that we would soon have the responsibility for setting up resource rooms throughout the island. But that is the government’s job. We believe that the best role for the association is to advocate for the resource rooms and make sure that they cater for visually impaired children. The St Lucia Blind Welfare Association is a catalyst for change, rather than a service provider.
Anthony Avril is the Executive Director of the St Lucia Blind Welfare Association and the First Vice President of the Caribbean Council for the Blind. He can be contacted at:
PO Box 788