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Visually impaired 'forgotten about', says worried mum

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Tracey, Alex, Jordan and Lee Percy ahead of school’s return

Tracey, Alex, Jordan and Lee Percy ahead of school’s return

Tracey, Alex, Jordan and Lee Percy ahead of school’s return

A mother of three visually impaired children feels those with disabilities have been "forgotten" by the Government.

Tracey Percy, whose sons Lee (10), Alex (14) and Jordan (15) suffer from a rare eye disorder, said the whole experience has been "extremely stressful" for her family as they prepare to return to school.

Ms Percy is worried about what impact the 'new normal' will have on their education.

Two of her sons are cane users and rely on touching surfaces to navigate their way around, which she fears may be problematic and make them more susceptible to contracting Covid-19.

Ms Percy told the Herald she believes her children have already fallen behind "by the guts of a year".

While she said the schools in general have been helpful and supportive, she feels the Government hasn't done enough to alleviate the pressure on parents of children with disabilities.

"My boys were always so active in mainstream schools, but for the first time they're now really feeling their disability," she said.

"I think the schools have done their best given the situation they were put in, but the stress that was put on parents and the children has been huge.

"Now there is an additional stress, they're going back into a school where everything has changed, and it will be stressful for them to access and walk around the building safely.

Guidance

"My eldest lad has been in his school for four years and now he's getting an email about eating lunch in the hallway."

She said nobody has confirmed to her that they are going to get a full-time Special Needs Assistant to help them get around.

"While I think the Government gave clear guidance about reopening, I think they forgot about children with disabilities who need that extra bit of help.

"How is a child that is visually impaired going to find hand sanitiser without touching the walls? Is there going to be someone there sanitising the walls after they've touched them?"

Ms Percy's youngest son has dyslexia, while her middle son is on the autism spectrum.

She found home- schooling difficult and fears she may eventually have to return to that if her children can't adapt to the new normal.

"I'm not a professional and it wasn't possible to get resource teaching support during lockdown, so I do absolutely think their education has been negatively affected."

Kevin Kelly, head of policy and advocacy with the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI), said some parents couldn't access their child's assistive technology during lockdown as they couldn't be removed from schools due to "insurance reasons".

"The return to school was always a stressful period for any parent, but for the parents of vision-impaired children, with the lengthy period out of school, this year is exceptionally hard," he said.

"Unfortunately there is no clear guidance or instruction from the Department of Education on how the return to school is going to work in practice for vision-impaired children."