UsherKids Australia strongly opposes the changes to Specialist Teacher support for students with vision and hearing impairments.

The proposal by Victoria’s Department of Education demonstrates a total lack of understanding regarding the support needs of students with a disability and does not support inclusive education.

Children with Usher syndrome are born with mild to profound hearing loss and progressively lose their sight in their teenage years. They also experience vestibular dysfunction, which affects their balance, coordination and motor skills. These multisensory impairments can cause children with Usher syndrome to face significant safety issues within the school environment, resulting in unique and complex educational needs. However, with the correct support and assistive technology, children with Usher syndrome have the opportunity to thrive in mainstream education and go on to gain meaningful employment beyond education.

Specialist visiting teachers in hearing and vision impairment provide mainstream schools with expert knowledge on current best practices for educating students with sensory impairments. They recommend strategies and tools specific to the needs of the individual student to teachers and schools so they can effectively support a student’s learning. They make recommendations on appropriate accommodations and modifications to ensure the student can be engaged in the school curriculum in a safe and meaningful manner. They spend one on one time with the student ensuring that all the practices that are put in place continue to be effective. They coach the student on how to get the best out of their education and how to be advocates for themselves. Asking a teacher to take on all of these additional tasks is unrealistic.

Without specialist teachers, mainstream schools and classrooms teachers are left in the dark, and it is not just the children with Usher syndrome who suffer, but all students within that classroom. Without the specialist teacher, parents of children with Usher syndrome will have to carry the additional burden to educate themselves and their schools on best teaching practices. Without the specialist teachers, students with Usher syndrome have inequitable access to the full curriculum due to their hearing and vision loss, resulting in them falling behind their peers and not reaching their full potential. Without them, students with Usher syndrome are excluded from important extracurricular activities, like sports and school camps. Mainstream schools aren’t equipped to provide the appropriate accommodations and modifications necessary to enable these students to participate in these vital school experiences while keeping them safe.

With this decision, Victoria’s Department of Education is neglecting the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), which states that all persons with disabilities have the right to access lifelong learning that facilitates the full development of human potential and a sense of dignity and self worth.

The short term impact of this decision will be felt immediately by these students at school but the long term consequences will impact their learning outcomes and opportunities post school. We call on the Department of Education to reverse this decision to reduce the Visiting Teacher Service.

To listen to our interview with Radio National, please visit here:

ABC Radio National interview August 4th 2023

To read our article with The Age, please visit here:

The Age article 3rd August 2023

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