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T&T Blind Welfare Association CEO Kenneth Suratt

There is an appeal to the Government to be mindful of the needs of blind students so that they do not get left behind during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chief Executive Officer of the Trinidad and Tobago Blind Welfare Association, Kenneth Suratt, made the appeal during Thursday’s Spotlight on Education consultation.

He explained that blind students, who learn through touch, are having difficulties keeping up with online classes since the only available method of learning for them is through hearing. Suratt said while this works well in some subject areas, there are others which require students to touch.

“They must learn concepts. How do they learn rows and columns? Talking about it would not help, they must be able to touch something to identify. How will they learn what is a square or a circle, if they do not touch it?”, he lamented.

He suggested that the Government allow these students to attend in-person classes at least some days for the week or provide them with tactile tools they can use at home.

If visually impaired students are not brought up to speed soon, Suratt fears that their futures will suffer.

“They will have to keep making baskets and stretching their hand for a disability grant”, Suratt added.

Education Minister, Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly responded to Suratt saying she understands his concerns and admitted it was not the “ideal” environment. However, she stated due to the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual learning will have to continue. The Minister went on to reiterate the warning given by the Prime Minister during his address last Saturday to abide by the public health guidelines to contain the spread of the virus.

Dr Gadsby Dolly said, “What we are aiming to get back to is a phased face to face reopening of schools, that is where we need to get to so that we get to the point where not only the visually impaired or children in special schools or examination students, our little ones who were just learning to read when school would have closed, they can all get back to the interaction needed with the teachers”.