From the first day to the last - RIDBC supports Benj at school - Royal Institute for Deaf & Blind Children

From the first day to the last – RIDBC supports Benj at school

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Photo collage of Benj when he started school versus on his last year of school

For students in their final year of school, one word always springs to mind. Exams. 18-year-old Benj is one of those students who will sit the Higher School Certificate exams in coming months. For Benj, it’s just another step in the right direction.

COVID-19 has been a difficult time for some, but particularly for students in their final year of school. With disruption to classes, modified assessments, and the uncertainty of returning to face-to-face schooling, 2020 has been a rollercoaster. Not that Benj would let you know – he’s taking it all in his stride.

RIDBC support Benj through his entire school journey

Benj has low vision, with a visual acuity that ranges from 6/48 to 6/60, depending on his environment. This means he has vision one-tenth that of most people, allowing him to only read the top letter of an eye chart.

Benj is supported by RIDBC School Support Service and RIDBC Specialist Teacher, Claire Mahony. Claire, or Mrs Mahony to Benj, has helped him navigate high school and prepare him for what lies ahead.

RIDBC School Support Service sees Claire work closely with Benj, his family, and his many teachers at the Covenant Christian School. This support ranges from educating staff on teaching children with vision impairment to weekly sessions with Benj to help him get the most out of his education.

“Everyone at RIDBC have been amazing helping me achieve everything that I have wanted to. They have given me confidence to do anything I set my mind to,” Benj said.

For Claire, the balance between providing support and fostering independence is an important one when working with Benj. She describes him as, “A great student, with many gifts. He has an excellent sense of humour and someone who goes out of his way to contribute to his community.”

Benj holding his Christmas gifts Benj in outdoor

Support beyond the classroom

Claire knows Benj better than most. And it’s that level of understanding that is allowing him to thrive. Mum Danielle says that RIDBC’s support for Benj extends beyond the classroom, and focuses on him as a person first and foremost.

“As a parent it is invaluable to know that someone who truly understands vision impairment is advocating for your child and educating classroom teachers on how to best support Benj.”

Benj has had a few RIDBC teachers since Kindergarten, and according to Danielle they have all been “Passionate, caring and totally on top of what they were doing.”

It’s the type of reassurance that parents need and the level of support that allows Benj to focus on school without needing to worry about issues with accessible class material, for example.

Accessibility is key

Benj can read braille but says he doesn’t use it often. Instead, he prefers technology so most of what he needs is on his PC. And, if it’s printed, it needs to be in large print.

That’s where RIDBC’s Accessible Information Service (AIS) under the leadership of Sonali Marathe comes in. The RIDBC AIS team assist individuals, community groups, businesses and institutions who need to access printed materials in their choice of alternative format. Claire works closely with the AIS team to ensure Benj’s schoolwork, including exams, are in the required format.

Danielle is thankful for their work, “Our sincere thanks to Sonali and the team. Accommodating late changes to papers during this [COVID-19] time is much appreciated. I am so thankful of your efforts to ensure accessibility for Benj,” she said.

But accessibility goes further than large print.

Accessibility is about accessing information in a format people prefer, and Benj prefers the PC. In fact, he will likely complete all of his final year exams on one – including Mathematics, in what Danielle believes to be the first of a kind.

“Our entire household has enormous respect for everyone we have had contact with at RIDBC, especially the amazing teachers working with children with vision impairment,” Danielle said.

The Gulliford family are advocates of RIDBC.

In the last couple of years Benj spoke to a room of Lantern Club members celebrating the end of the year. The Lantern Club is an organisation synonymous with RIDBC, and loyal supporters. On that day he had the audience in awe, but particularly so for Warringah Lantern Club member Robyn, Benj’s grandmother.

Together for life

Benj has been supported by RIDBC since Kindergarten – RIDBC has been by his side at school every step of the way.

From teaching Benj to touch-type to learning braille, RIDBC teachers Mrs Donnelly and Mrs Murphy got Benj off to the best start.

It was in high school Claire started working with Benj for the first time. In her words, “It has been pleasing to see him grow and mature over the years into a confident young adult,” she said.

Early on Claire encouraged Benj to apply for a scholarship to Space Camp, and he succeeded. Benj’s Space Camp experience changed his life. It is just one of many happy and joyful school memories he will graduate with, thanks in no small part to the work of Claire and the RIDBC team.

“She’s a nice, understanding person and we have a great relationship built on trading bad jokes!” Benj said. “She has really helped me in the last few years of school, introducing me to new technology to access information, even if I was hesitant at times! I can’t thank her enough.”

Back in the classroom Benj is studying Extension 2 Mathematics (4-unit maths), Advanced English, Society and Culture, Economics and Modern History. And recently, he completed the prestigious Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award. He has always had a full plate.

If that isn’t enough, Benj mentors a child who is just starting school. The child, like Benj, has a vision impairment and is also supported by RIDBC. Benj knows what it’s like and is happy to help where he can, whether it’s reading or kicking a ball on the oval.

Benj with Claire, his RIDBC support teacher

The future is bright

As well as helping Benj at school, Claire has kept an eye on the future, to help prepare Benj for what might come next in life.

“RIDBC has given me the tools to step into my future,” Benj said.

Like most people his age he is still deciding what to do next year and when to start more study. Gap year? University? Right now, his dream is to study either Chiropractic Science or Security Studies.

Whatever Benj decides, this young man is heading in the right direction.

Visit the RIDBC School Support Service webpage to find more information about how RIDBC can support children who are blind or have low vision in mainstream schools.

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