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The Attitude To The Integration Of The Visually Impaired

Focus: School Years

Topic: Inclusive Education

Irena Kaffemaniene

Doctor

Romanas Kaffemanas

Department of Special Education Studies

Siauliai University

Visinskio, 25

5400 Siauliai

Lithuania

kaff@takas.lt

The last decade having substantially changed Lithuania’s life made us looks anew at the situation of the disabled in society. These changes have been especially important for the children with special needs. The Education Act and other state regulations have guaranteed social and educational integration of children with disabilities. The integration of the disabled in Lithuania is a field of great interest and it is being analyzed in different aspects: as the problem of meeting SENs (special educational needs) at mainstream school, as a problem of organization of integrated education, or as a problem of regulation of the law aspects. The processes of integration of children with special needs and the necessity of a faster change in society’s attitude towards the disabled determine the urgency of the theme.

The aim of investigation: to identify the attitude of mainstream pupils and teachers towards visually impaired children.

The tasks of the investigation. The attitude towards the integration of visually impaired pupils is analyzed as a combination of cognitive, affective and connotative components. Therefore it was important to identify the respondents’

Hypothesis. Pupils’ attitude towards their disabled peers may be determined by the communication experience with them and by the teachers’ attitudes to the integration of children with special needs.

Respondents. The investigation took place in Lithuanian mainstream schools; the pupils were of 12-18 years of age. The total number of anonymicall-interviewed pupils was 190.

Investigation techniques. The modified half closed questionnaire by Polish researches A.Girynski and S.Przybylski (1993).

Results of the investigation. Most often the cause of peers’ learning difficulties the pupils consider to be: disability to learn (45.3%); mental retardation (35.3%). Only 12.6% of the pupils think that learning difficulties may be determined by visual impairments, others (5.3%) point out hearing impairments. But one-fifth (21.6%) of the pupils point out other causes of peers’ learning difficulties, i.e. those related with the pupil’s social position: “parents do not take care of their children”*, “no conditions to study”, “because of parents’ dipsomania and noise at home”, “because of bad upbringing”, “because of the lack of communication with children nowadays”. Some pupils think that failures in studies are related with the children’s personal problems, for example, “are lazy, do not want to learn”, “do not care of their future”, “because of smoking and smelling glue”; “because of bad memory”, “because of different problems, conflicts, disappointment in life”, etc. More than a half of the respondents think that children who experience difficulties in learning and life perception must be fostered. Only 6.8% did not agree with this statement. 75.3% of pupils consider that children with learning difficulties must be treated as equal ones and have the same rights as others.

The pupils know the concept of visual impairments quite well. Almost a half of all the respondents consider the concepts “blind” and “partially sighted” basically decent. Almost every other pupil knows a little about visually impaired persons. The smallest number was those who know much o do not know anything about this category of people. 2.6% of the pupils pointed out their own sight to be impaired, and approximately the same number had visually impaired persons in their families. Some of the pupils (0.5%) learned about visually impaired children from their relatives who work in the enterprises for the disabled.

There are special educational institutions in every town, where live and study our respondents. Besides, in the respondents’ schools study both visually impaired and pupils with other disabilities. Therefore we could expect our respondents at least to have seen such children and adults in their native towns. But the knowledge concerning visually impaired persons of the majority of the respondents is very scarce (“almost do not know anything” and “do not know anything”). Disabled members of society are more often seen in the streets and they are beginning to lead a more active life because of the democratic changes in society and integration processes. We asked the pupils if they had seen or met visually impaired persons. Majority of the pupils (78.4%) have seen visually impaired persons. Most often the pupils say that they saw the weak-sighted in town (31.6%) and at school (19.5%). Blind and partially sighted children draw the attention of the surrounding people in shops and public transport because they have difficulties caused by low vision: it is difficult for them to see prices of goods and bus numbers. Though integrated education of children with SENs in mainstream schools is legitimate nevertheless more than a half of all respondents (61.3%) pointed out that they had not communicated with such children. Approximately one-third (38%) of the respondents communicated with visually impaired pupils. 3.2% of the pupils have visually impaired friends. Pupils only seldom communicate with special needs children; the latter ones are still too seldom seen in society.

Some pupils’ answers to the question: “under what circumstances did you happen to see visually impaired children?” quite clearly show a negative attitude towards the visually disabled. Some of the respondents saw them “being on the tramp in town”, noticed them “because of their behavior and character”. Such statements mean humiliation, “looking down on them”.

Quite a different emotional connotation has the following statements: “They are members of our society and one can not unnoticed them”; “They have less opportunities because they depend on other people”. These answers show an adequate assessment of peers with special educational needs.

The great majority of the respondents demonstrated their readiness to help and take care of their peers. The respondents’ motives were different. Some of them would take care of blind children out of pity for them, because of sympathy and wish to help them because: “He can see only darkness and nothing else”; “It would be very bad for him if everybody rejected him”; “We can not pay any attention to a man who is ill; he needs more communication”; “Life has already abused him”; “He needs more attention and help”; “he is weaker than others”; “He is rejected by many people, so he needs support”.

Other pupils would foster and help these peers recognizing their equal rights: “He is also a child and he has the right to live”; “Every child has the right to be a human being and communicate as a human being”; “These children are the same as all other people”; “He is a man despite being blind or weak-sighted; we can’t reject a man because of such misfortune”. Part of the pupils would foster and help their visually impaired peers because “It may happen to me”; “I may become blind myself”; “It may happen to anybody; my children may be like them”; “If I were a man like that I would also like somebody to take care of me”.

The attitude is reflected not only in the knowledge of special needs children, but also in readiness to communicate, to accept them in their peer group at the lessons and leisure. Negative attitude to visually impaired children (“would not like to associate”) is demonstrated by a small part of the respondents, mainly boys.  Usual answers are as follows: “He would be unpleasant to me”; “I would not like to associate because I would feel awkward as if it were my fault”; “He is mentally retarded” (speaking about blind children!), “they are rejected by all the rest”; “I would not like him”; “I would not know the way to treat him”; etc.

More often indifferent (“I would pay no attention”) to visually impaired children are also boys: “I would pay no attention because it would be difficult to look at him”; “It would be difficult to understand what he wants”; “I have my own life”; “I have other friends”; “He would interfere with me, would ask everything”; “He is not interesting to me”.

Part of the respondents think that we do not have to pay too great attention to visually impaired children because: “they do not like being excluded”; “by paying no attention maybe I would reduce his exclusion out of others”; “we must not inflict a feeling of a retarded child in him”; “He is the same as we are and he maybe would not like to be fostered because of pity”; “I would treat him as a human being, not as a patient because I think that being overprotected he would feel bad”.

Learning at school is a regulated pupils’ activity conducted by the teacher. Leisure is usually less regulated; children’s association is more relaxed at leisure. Most often children have no opportunities to choose classmates (in a formal groups). But they are free in choosing their leisure friends. Therefore a real adequate attitude towards SENs children should be reflected by pupils’ approaches to communication at leisure.

Majority of the respondents would willingly be friends with their blind or weak-sighted peers. Though unwillingly, but could be their friends a small part of the respondents, and even more less children were not likely to accept visually impaired peers to their group of friends. Only one-third of the children would agree to spend their leisure with a visually impaired boy or girl, the respondents would rather associate with them only seldom (38.9%). And very few boys, substantially less than girls, would agree to associate with blind or weak-sighted peers at leisure. Important is peers’ attitude to integrated education with SENs children. We asked: “Would you like to have peers who attend special schools in your class?” We received 14.2% positive answers, negative: 34.7%, and 51.1% answered, “I don’t know”. A very small part (14.2%) of the respondents would agree to have special school pupils among their classmates, if “they learned and did not interfere”; “they have the right as we do”; “it is not their fault of being like they are”; “I could help that weaker child”; “I would have more friends, tried to help them”; “I like to learn more about them and associate with them”; “He also want to associate with normal people, he is also a man”; “they need to learn to associate with normal children”; “everybody knows that somebody has more troubles (difficulties) and one should help to better understand and sympathize with each other”…

Approximately one-third of the respondents pointed out that learning together with SENs children is unacceptable because: “I don’t like them”, “they have other schools”; “they are different, one needs to explain everything to them many times”, “I don’t want him to be humiliated”; “It would be difficult for me to get used to it”; “because it is quite unnecessary, one would have more trouble with him”; “It would be difficult for him to adapt”; “I wish there were no such poor people at all”; “many people would not understand them or would nickname them”; “there are few sympathizing children who would like to associate with him”; “I can support them but I would not like to study with them together”; etc.

Majority of the pupils (51.1%) do not know the answer to this question, because they had nothing to do with these children, they doubt if SENs children would feel happy in a mainstream class, or simply they are not interested in it (“it is all the same for me”).

We tried to identify what the reluctance to have SENs children in mainstream classes might be related with. So, we explored the pupils’ opinion on dependency of presented knowledge level at school upon that what pupils study in classes. Majority of the pupils do not relate changes in knowledge level with integrated education of visually impaired children. However 16.8% of the pupils think that the knowledge level would be lower if visually impaired children studied in their classes. It is interesting to point out that some pupils relate integrated education of visually impaired children with a higher level of knowledge, because “the weak-sighted lack teaching devices and so very good specialists are needed that is why knowledge level at school would be higher”. Answers of this kind show that pupils do not understand very well the peculiarities of organization of SENs children’s education (special programs, special teaching methods and devices, etc.).

The data of the whole investigation corroborated that to mainstream pupils’ mind more complicated and therefore more urgent are communication (both among themselves and with special needs children) aspects.

Summing up the interview the pupils were asked about the opportunity of visually impaired children to live a life of full value after finishing school. There were almost no doubts concerning opportunities of visually impaired children to live an independent, of full value life. Much more than a half of the respondents think that while adults’ visually impaired persons will not differ from others in life, only 3.2% denied such chances, and the rest had no opinion about it.

The pupil’s attitude to their disabled peers may also be determined by teachers’ standpoint and assement. Therefore one of the tasks was to analyze mainstream teachers’ point of view to integrated education. 95 teachers from different mainstream schools in Lithuania have been asked by means of an anonymous questionnaire. The teachers were asked to assess the peculiarities of impaired development children’s social integration. The following questions were asked: if they happened to meet visually impaired children at school, how they learned about the child’s disability; if they had a chance to observe disabled children’s association with children of normal development; we asked to assess the voluntaries of children’s association, the use of association for impaired and normal sight children; which SENs children seem to be more acceptable in mainstream school, etc.

55.4% of the teachers have some experience in working with visually impaired children. The teachers point out that most often they observe these children in class (78.3%) and at extra curricula activities (75.7%), i.e. directly in the process of education; and more seldom – in sport competition (25.7%) and rest camps (8.1%). According to the respondents, children’s association with SENs peers is accidental (63.2% of responses); friendly, spontaneous – 47.4% of answers. It seems to some of the teachers that association with these children is merely organized by teachers, in other words – forced.

We asked the teachers’ whom developmentally impaired children are more likely inclined to associate with. The teachers assume that visually impaired children would like to associate with normal sighted children best and that only one-third of them prefers to associate with ones like them. Less than a half of the teachers believe that normal sighted children can make friends with disabled ones; approximately one-third of the teachers think that it is impossible; the rest doubted or had no opinion. The teachers assume that the contacts of visually impaired children with normal sighted peers are:

·       Desirable and useful for both sides – 69.5% (“allow the both sides to improve”; “has a positive influence on character formation”; “both of them learn to communicate”; “become equal learn to agree with each other”);

·       Useful only for visually impaired children – 17.9% (“it is always useful for a weaker one to be next to a stronger one”);

·       Useless for both sides – 3.1% (“contacts may exist, but they must study separately because one or the other side will be offended”);

·       Other opinions – 8.4%; no answers – 1.1%.

The teachers’ opinion concerning what type of school was better to prepare visually impaired pupils for independent life was the following:

·       Visually impaired children are better prepared in mainstream schools – 51.6%;

·       In schools for the visually impaired – 38.9%;

·       No opinion – 9.5%.

According to the teachers, the most suitable form of education for SENs children is:

·       Mainstream school – 31.6%;

·       Special classes in mainstream school – 41.1%;

·       Special school – 30.5%;

·       No answers – 5.2%.*

As we can see, only a little more than one-third of the teachers approve of completely integrated education for visually impaired and other SENs children. The majority admit a compromising variant – special classes in mainstream schools, one-third of the teachers consider schools for visually impaired to be the best for these children.

The most acceptable for the mainstream schoolteachers are: motor impaired children – 31.3%; weak-sighted – 20.0%, blind – 9,5%, though their education process seems less problematic only from the detached view (many schools have not adapted their environment yet, others still lack special technical and teaching devices for blind or other SENs pupil). Only few teachers (8.4%) considered hearing impaired pupils as acceptable in mainstream classes. 3.2% of the teachers considered mentally retarded pupils acceptable in their classes. More than a half of the teachers (52.6%) would not like to teach any of the above mentioned groups of children – the motives were the following – these children must be taught by specialists, “it is to difficult to teach them both from the psychological and methodological points of view”.

Though the weak-sighted are named as more acceptable nevertheless in reality, they still lack attention. Some of visually impaired children hide their disability, they never ask for help. The pupils who do not accept help lag behind. In cases when teachers try to give more time for an individual approach, the children are dissatisfied because they are afraid of exceptional attention. Attempts to set a needed contact after lessons also end in failure. Visually impaired pupils unwillingly take part in school events, they do not want to join trips and go on excursions. Most often it is determined by the child’s vision condition and sensitivity to the peers’ attitude to them. The pupils feel awkward on trips because they always experience small failures (they always get caught, fall down, etc.). So they withdraw, it is impossible to take them out with others; it is difficult to involve them to a dynamic life. The teachers encounter many difficulties because parents cannot adequately assess the child’s opportunities and they accuse teachers because of poor pupil’s academic achievements. Parents do not devote time to work with these children therefore pupils often come to school without having done their homework. The teachers do not keep in touch with pupils’ parents; they receive the information about pupil’s special needs from the educators.

After thorough examination of every teacher’s answer and having assessed their essence, it appeared that the majority of them (61.1%) are opponents of integration (it is apparent from both their negative attitude to pupils’ communication and to difficulties in organizing integrated education, and from their clearly expressed opinion that these children are not acceptable to them and they have to study in schools meant for them). Teachers of different age are opposed to integrated education: those who have worked ad school for about 5 years – 23.5%; from 6 to 10 years – 55.9%; from 11 to 20 years – 65.5% and longer than 20 years – 46.7 %. The statement of many teachers shows that they only formally approve the phenomenon of integrated education as a fact.

Conclusions. Many pupils and teachers are not ready to accept children with SENs, they lack benevolence to them; pupils’ attitude are also determined by teachers’ point of view. Summarizing the investigation data we may state that after almost ten years the attitude of our educationalists towards the integration of the disabled is changing inconsiderably. This is because a lot of integrated education problems have not still been solved, especially in smaller towns.

Literature

1.     Girynski, A., Przybylski, S. (1993). Integracja spoleczna osób uposledzonych umyslowo w swietle ujawnianych do nich nastavien spolecznych. Warszawa.



* Here and farther respondents’ answers are authentic.

* Some teachers suggested several ways of education.


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