11-Year-Old Oliver is preparing for his transition to high school, with support from RIDBC Remote Services, Braille Camp, and the Adaptive Technology Team. Oliver, a talented musician and athlete, won’t be held back by his vision impairment. He has a winning team on his side, with support from his amazing mum, Melissa, who has a Master of Special Education from RIDBC Renwick Centre.
In November 2018, following success at school, district and state levels, Oliver travelled to Melbourne to represent Queensland in shot put, long jump and 800 metre events at the School Sports Australia National Track and Field Championships.
Oliver won a gold medal in Shotput, came 4th in long jump and 8th in the 800m event, which he ran with a guide runner, because Oliver is also vision impaired. Diagnosed with Peter’s Anomaly at birth, Oliver had his right eye removed due to glaucoma.
His vision impairment, according to mum, Melissa, has never held Oliver back. On top of his track and field achievements, Oliver plays goalball, loves swimming, and is part of a blind cricket team. His accomplishments aren’t limited to the sporting field either, Oliver is a talented musician. Band leader at his primary school, Oliver is a keen trumpet player and was recently featured on the ABC program Don’t Stop The Music, where he talked about reading braille music. Watch here.
From an early age, Oliver and his family have partnered with RIDBC to help him reach his goals. “If Ollie wants to give something a try, we absolutely encourage him to do so. We’ve found interest groups and sporting teams that encourage him and are prepared to give that extra bit of coaching to help him learn a new skill, and through that, he has found the things that he loves.”
Oliver attends RIDBC Remote Services, where he develops his braille skills. He also takes part in the annual Braille Camps at North Rocks in Sydney. Melissa says this has really helped him to develop his confidence both in using braille and more generally, in social situations. “(Oliver’s Remote Service consultant) Kristen has been fantastic in not only teaching Oliver to use braille, but also supporting him to understand why it is important and will play a big part in his life.”
This year, Oliver is starting high school and has been working with Mike Corrigan, one of RIDBC’s Access Technology Consultants to develop his confidence in using adaptive technologies. “Mike has taught Oliver not only how to independently use a range of technologies that support his learning, but also how to troubleshoot so that he can use the technology with confidence and navigate any issues.”
Mike, who also has a vision impairment says, “Our task is to determine each child’s needs, then help them to use appropriate technology and strategies to achieve the benchmarks set by the school curriculum. Fortunately, kids these days have so many more choices than I had when I was young. Accessibility is now built into many devices such as screen readers in Apple iPads and iPhones. Working with a child as they use a computer with voice output is wonderful. They are so engaged they don’t even realise they’re learning,”
Melissa, who is passionate about education, has been helping Oliver prepare for the transition to a new high school environment – a time that can be challenging for any young person. “For us, it’s about giving Ollie confidence in his new environment,” she explains. “He’s been going to the school regularly and he does his swimming there too, so that has provided opportunities to meet people and get used to the environment.”
“For a child with a vision impairment, mobility and orientation are important, so we’ve been practising getting to and from school and getting him familiar with his surrounds to give him confidence and independence,” she adds.
This is an area Melissa knows more than most. At the time Oliver was born, Melissa was a school teacher working with children who have vision impairments. She says she found her experience working with these children inspiring, and when Oliver was born, says she felt it was her destiny to become more involved in this aspect of education.
Melissa graduated with her Master in Special Education from the RIDBC Renwick Centre in 2014, and is now teaching future educators at the University of Southern Queensland and is also studying her PhD in vision impairment.
She is extensively involved in the blind and vision impaired community as a volunteer and encourages families and individuals with vision impairment to access the VI Family Network. “We found the VI Family Network invaluable when it comes to finding out about resources, events and building connections. It’s a great place for people to share experiences and find out what is out there.”
In both her career and personal experience, Melissa is familiar with the challenges parents and children alike can face and says that, for her, the key lies in encouraging children to find what they love and not let vision impairment hold them back from trying something new. “Every child will find what they love and what they are good at, it’s just about giving them the opportunity and encouragement to find it.”