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Children with sight loss need support in socially distanced schools – charity

By PA News

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Children with sight loss should be given more support when schools return, a charity has said.

Visually impaired children will face challenges including maintaining social distancing, knowing where to sit and stand and needing to be physically guided.

Schools and local authorities must ensure children have support as they return, Guide Dogs said.

The charity has been calling for children with sight loss to receive specialist support, so they can return to the classroom “with confidence”.

It is estimated that almost 25,000 children in the UK have vision impairment.

The charity, which provides support, skills and dogs to people living with sight loss in the UK, has been working with a number of youngsters to help them return to school with new social distancing measures in place.

It has launched a new advert to raise awareness of the challenges some visually impaired youngsters face.

The ad, which is being launched on Saturday, features Nell Sutton who has congenital glaucoma.

The five-year-old, from Merionethshire in Wales, was born with no sight in one eye and very little sight in the other.

Her mother Rachel told the PA news agency that Guide Dogs has been teaching Nell games to help her understand two-metre distancing rules.

Nell Sutton and her Guide Dogs habilitation specialist Branwen Jones (Guide Dogs/PA)
Nell Sutton and her Guide Dogs habilitation specialist Branwen Jones (Guide Dogs/PA)

Nell, who enjoys going to the beach, the park and baking chocolate cakes, has been working with Branwen Jones – a Guide Dogs habilitation specialist based in Cardiff.

Habilitation specialists work with children and their families, as well as schools to deliver training around mobility and life skills.

Ms Sutton said: “Nell was born with congenital glaucoma. She’s got very limited vision, she can see light and dark and some colours – it all depends on the light she’s is in.

“She deals really well with it – obviously with the help of a cane.

“She’s a bottle of pop – from the moment she wakes up to the moment she goes to bed. She is on the go all the time.

“She is confident, she loves experiencing new things, she loves trying new things. ”

The charity Guide Dogs has been working with Nell to help her return to school (Guide Dogs/PA)
The charity Guide Dogs has been working with Nell to help her return to school (Guide Dogs/PA)

But she added: “Every parent has concerns and worries about what (returning to school) is going to be like.

“We’re lucky in the sense that we have got that outside support – Branwen has advised the school how best to help Nell.”

She added: “We are concerned because we don’t want all of these measures to have an impact on her learning.

“A child who is visually impaired or blind learns the world through touch.

“Guide dogs have been working to make sure that returning to school is a positive experience for Nell.”

Ms Jones said: “Working with children and young people is such a pleasure.

“To see the progress that children make and the positive impact that our service has on the lives of the families is really special.”

Emma Foulds, director of marketing and strategy at Guide Dogs, added: “We hope this campaign will help us raise awareness of the life-changing work Guide Dogs does with blind and partially sighted children.

“Everyone knows us for our iconic dogs, but early intervention can help a child with sight loss reach their full potential, which is any parent’s greatest hope.”

It comes as a poll from the charity found that parents of school-aged children across the UK have concerns over social distancing restrictions.

A survey of 1,000 parents aged four to 16 found that a third were anxious about their child’s return to school.

Almost two-thirds (64%) have concerns over social distancing restrictions being difficult for their child to navigate.

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