Blindness and Social Meaning: The Baleful Tale of Blind Freddy


The widely used Australian expression “Blind Freddy could see that” is proposed as an exemplar of the terms blind and blindness in conveying social meaning. Examples of the expression’s popular use are presented, and the extraordinary origin of the term explored. It is concluded that the expression should cease to exist, and that the challenge of promoting ‘people-first’ language as its replacement should lie primarily with (a) Australians who are themselves blind or significantly vision impaired, and (b) with individuals and organizations who identify with the aims and aspirations of those who are sight impaired.

In a recent issue of this journal, Bolt (2004) focused on the terms “Blind” and “Blindness” as a social construct and asked what both might mean to the majority of the public. He pointed out, with regard to the complexity of the terms as each might interface with public perception that, for example, the Encarta World Dictionary provides 13 adjectives for ‘Blind’, only one of which refers to the medical condition.

An internet search of the words ‘blind’ and ‘blindness’ reveals an even broader array of meaning, ranging from the blind taste tests used in marketing studies, through such expressions as ‘blind fate’ and ‘blind alley’, to terms that imply difficulties in comprehending or ‘seeing’. Further, classical history provides evidence of a pejorative association. As an example, in June 2005, New York’s Theatre By The Blind presented a contemporary version of Seneca's Oedipus in an adaptation by playwright Ted Hughes. The play told the story of the Greek king whose tragedy was prophesied by an oracle: he would kill his father, then marry his mother. The play was littered with pejorative blindness references. It also included a characterization of the blind prophet Tiresius, who was gifted with a second sight, and who therefore, in a sense, projected a valorized blindness, even though his blindness had resulted from the goddess Athena’s curse (Hunter, 1999). As Marks (2005) has pointed out, the eponymous hero’s (Oedipus) blindness was also a punishment, a physical bleakness inflicted to properly reflect the bleakness of his soul.

Neither does blindness as a conveyor of social meaning seem to do particularly well in the Old Testament. It is generally symbolic of the lack of moral and intellectual light (Hunt, 1984).  The Judeo-Christian scriptures abound with stereotypic examples of blindness used as a tool of affliction by the God of the Old Testament on those who had offended Him or His chosen people. The New Testament provides examples of Christ healing the blind, as though blindness was an affliction that could be cured. There are in it, also references to the affinity of blindness with notions of helplessness.  For example, Matthew 15:14 states “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch”. There seems little comfort for our blind fellow citizens with regard to the psychosocial implications of their particular disability in the majority of these scriptural references. The terms “Blindness” and “Blind” have typically been regarded over the centuries, Bolt (2004) suggests, as words that convey notions of psychosocial burden. To this proposition might be added Kant’s assertion that "Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind." (Sorter, 1979). 


With this broad array of meaning as the basis for using the terms Blind and Blindness in ordinary speech, it is sobering to refer to the commonly used Australian expression “Blind Freddy could see that”, as perhaps synthesizing the everyday meaning of Blindness in the Land Downunder. This archetypical ‘put-down’ of those among us who are blind, used as a ‘throw-away’ line in ordinary, everyday conversations across Australia, and often still used on Australian radio or TV, conveys a sense that those who are Blind are also unable to “see” or understand what is happening around them, or what is being assumed or implied; in fact that Blind Freddy is unintelligent, and therefore, those who are blind also fall into that category.

As examples of the term’s wide use in Australia, a Blind Freddy Trend is a term commonly employed on the Australian stock market to describe a strong (or runaway) trend; one that even "Blind Freddy" could spot (Incredible Charts, 2005).  Further, Blind Freddy is the stage name of a relatively popular Canberra-based Blues band, while the good citizens of Sydney’s Fairfield suburb, in a public attack on Federal Government plans to build a new international airport near their homes, listed 12 discrete reasons why Blind Freddy could see that the proposal would not solve Sydney’s airport problems (FRAAN, 2000). As further examples; in November 2002, the Australian Press quoted the barrister for Ivan Milat (the infamous Backpacker Murderer) as saying "Blind Freddie could see that someone in the Milat family murdered seven backpackers", while in June that year, a headline in one of Melbourne’s leading newspapers trumpeted "Blind Freddie can see why house prices soared (Marx, 2004).

Marx (2004) has further reported that The Business Council of Australia ( has added economics to Freddy's list of credentials by claiming, "Blind Freddy can see that the Australian tax system needs a major overhaul", while a former NSW state minister for transport seemed to suggest that Fred would make a fine ferry captain when he told State Parliament that "Blind Freddy could drive the River Cats (sic. catamarans) down Parramatta River" (NSW Legislative Assembly Hansard, November 19, 1993, article 21).

History reveals that the original “Blind Freddy” was Sir Frederick Pottinger, Inspector of Police for New South Wales in the 1860’s (Hocking, 2004). Pottinger was officer in charge of the Lachlan (NSW) District during the reign of the infamous Bushranger “Wild” Ben Hall. The Bushranger was arrested for robbery under arms by Pottinger in April 1862. After four or five weeks in the “lock-up” Hall was released for lack of evidence. He was again, almost immediately arrested and spent another six or seven weeks in the “lock-up” at Forbes. He was once again released for lack of evidence. On returning home he discovered that his house had burned down and all his stock were dead. Further, while he was away his young wife had run off with another man. Wild Ben then embarked on a life of crime. His success in eluding capture scored Pottinger the nickname "Blind Freddy" among his peers and the journalists of the day

In 1865, Sir Frederick was recalled to Sydney and charged with neglecting his duty. He had apparently attended a gentleman’s race at the Wowringragong Race Track, and was totally unaware that the men he was supposed to be arresting were there on the course as well. He had simply not taken any notice of the people in the crowd.

After the enquiry into his negligent behaviour, Pottinger resigned. He was heading towards Sydney to seek redress, when he died, aged 34, from a bullet from his own pistol that he was carrying in his pocket. As a result, he was subjected to such public ridicule that the derisive term “even Blind Freddy could see it” was coined.  

The original Blind Freddy having, almost 150 years ago shot himself, perhaps the time has at last arrived, without lament, to bury him. Language, as the American sociologist Wolfensberger pointed out in the 1960’s is a powerful means of conveying images about people (Wolfensberger, 1992). Blind Freddy as a metaphor conveys distinctly pejorative overtones, implying a foolish or willful overlooking of facts that are plain for all to see (Olson (2004). This is not good for those who struggle with literal vision impairments; since there is scant reason to think the majority of Australians who are blind any less keen on apprehending truth than the rest of us, or any less capable of applying sound judgment to the truths they apprehend.

It seems to the authors that the task of burying Blind Freddy should lie primarily in the hands of (a) Australians who are themselves blind or significantly vision impaired, and (b) in the hands of the individuals and organizations who identify with the aims and aspirations of those who are sight impaired. Resolving the issue is primarily a matter of public education. Whenever this pejorative term is used, we in Australia, the individuals and agencies affronted by its use, should strenuously and noisily object.

Our language has the power to inspire, motivate and uplift people. It also has the power to hurt, isolate and oppress individuals or entire segments of society. During the past several decades we have gradually changed our language and the way we refer to individuals and minority groups, to avoid further oppressing them. The 21st century is certainly not too late to reshape our language once again so that we refer to people who are blind or vision impaired in a respectful and more societally inclusive manner.


Focus on the Assistive Technology Aortas of Learners with Vision Impairments

Author: Dr Mike Steer, Senior Lecturer, Vision Impairment, Renwick College, Royal Institute for Deaf & Blind Children & The University of Newcastle


A wide variety of new technology is currently available to enhance the success of learners with vision impairments in the classroom, laboratory, workshop or at home. Since it should not automatically be assumed that every tertiary setting, or teacher, nor every disability specialist teacher has a thorough knowledge of the many devices that might meet a vision impaired learner’s particular need, the focus of this paper is upon fundamental concepts that considerably enhance teacher and learner effectiveness in using specialised technology. The paper’s title reflects a definition from Afferbeck Lauder’s celebrated dictionary of “Strine”, or everyday Australian conversational speech, in which “Aorta” means “They aught to”. The author proposes and discusses three “aortas” that teachers of learners with vision impairments must consider in the provision of technological supports to their students.

  • Aorta spend time on the selection of appropriate equipment,
  • Aorta be very concerned with classroom set-up; and
  • Aorta take steps to influence lighting, contrast, colour, noise levels and accessibility.

Vision impairment is the loss of visual function of such magnitude that special aids and use of other senses are necessary to achieve performance ordinarily directed by visual clues. Students who have vision impairments range from having total absence of sight to varying degrees of useful vision. Because a student is vision impaired, it should not be assumed that he or she is unable to participate in educational activities. There is for students who are blind or vision impaired a wide variety of special aids and/or accommodations that facilitate learning in the classroom setting.

There are few comprehensive and consistent Australian prevalence data on school-aged students who are blind or vision impaired as a group, so that little is known about those who comprised its membership. It is widely known, however, that in Australia, students who are blind or vision impaired attend all  types of educational systems – government (public), Independent and Catholic (private) that are available to their sighted peers. A survey recently conducted for the Commonwealth Department of EducationTraining and Youth Affairs (Jolley, Steer, Gale & Gentle, 2001), indicated that most attend publicly funded schools.  Respondent estimates revealed that there were (as of April 2001) approximately 4,500 students who are blind or vision impaired attending Australian public and private sector primary and secondary level systems or agency educational programs. This estimate should, however, be treated with reservation.

Of the 4,500 students reported, some 2,700 did not have an intellectual disability that precluded them from using print or braille to attain literacy and numeracy. Estimated numbers by gender indicated that 755 were female and 1,183 male. There was no information on the gender of 412 students

The academic success of students who are blind or vision impaired, whether in special, integrated or inclusive school settings depends on a variety of factors. Among these is their ability to access the classroom curriculum.

Curriculum access for blind and vision-impaired students requires provision of the same books and resource materials as those provided for sighted students.  However, these need to be provided in an appropriate format, for example, braille, large print, e-text and audio), at the same time and at the same level, including the same book edition (Kelley & Gale, 1998; Mason & McCall, 1997; Mosen & Small, 1996; Royal National Institute for the Blind, 1998). Gale & Cronin (1998) have argued that educational goals for students who are blind or vision-impaired should be the same as for sighted students, with some modifications and adaptations according to individual needs.

Kelley & Gale (1998) have contended that literacy and numeracy acquisition, particularly through the medium of braille should involve instruction across all key-learning areas, to the same level of proficiency expected of the student’s sighted peers.  Students should be exposed to text in the full range of contexts, formats and genres, as for example, environmental, factual and fictional. In Australian schools, teachers are free to select the prescribed textbooks until shortly before the year or semester begins.  This is quite a common occurrence in schools but a practice that can cause extensive problems for students who are blind or vision-impaired and who require texts in accessible formats. Such texts take a long time to prepare and if students are without a text or are forced into using the same text, but an earlier edition in which the page numbers, content and layout may differ from the latest edition, they will be severely disadvantaged.

Given the above constraint, appropriate adjustments can be made to the curriculum that render it more accessible and, as Casimir and Alchin, (2001) have pointed out, thus enabling both teachers and students with special needs to take advantage of the many rich learning opportunities available to them. For teachers, designing a classroom with assistive technology that is accessible for students with significant vision impairment can appear a daunting task. Despite such initial apprehensions, curriculum accessibility can be increased with minimal disruption to others in the class through the use of assistive technology.

The term assistive technology refers to items, or pieces of equipment, or products, whether acquired commercially, or off the shelf, modified or customised, that are used to increase, maintain or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities (Kochhar & West, 1996). The effectiveness of a piece of equipment is dependent on its appropriateness to a variety of situational variables. For example, user characteristics, setting demands, particular features of the technology itself, as well as a number of cultural factors (Lewis, 1998). These all require careful consideration prior to deciding whether and how to use assistive technology.

This brief paper will outline some of the fundamental concepts that considerably enhance teacher and learner effectiveness in using technology. It is not possible to provide a fully comprehensive coverage of all aspects of assistive technology due to the vast number of devices and supports that can be classified as assistive technology. These include a widely diverse range of materials, services, systems and devices. It is useful to classify such devices into ‘low-tech’ and ‘high tech’ categories. Those commonly used in schools include positioning equipment, mobility aids, communication devices, computer applications, electronic interfaces that can be categorised into input and output devices, adaptive environments, an assorted array of medical equipment and prostheses (Parette, Brotherson, Hourcade & Bradley (1996). In this paper, its author will, however, focus upon those forms of assistive technology that primarily help students with vision impairments gain access to information, both print and electronic, and as well, facilitate written communication. The key to taking advantage of the opportunity these tools offer, as Koenig and Holbrook (2000) have indicated, is to give students access to the appropriate assistive devices when needed.

With this important goal in mind, the paper’s title reflects a definition from Afferbeck Lauder’s celebrated dictionary of “Strine”, or everyday Australian conversational speech, in which “Aorta” means “They aught to”. (Morrison, 1965). The authors, therefore, propose three “aortas” that teachers of students with vision impairments must consider in the provision of technological supports to their students. The first of these has to do with the importance to teachers and students of adopting a protocol to guide them in selecting the appropriate equipment.


At one time, as Bishop (1996) has pointed out, students with vision impairments had only a typewriter, tape recorder, Talking Book Machine and/or a braille writer as special equipment. Today, the available assistive technology has the potential to increase student and teacher control over a variety of educational materials and can “allow direct contact with classroom activities” (p. 104). There are systems and software to enlarge print spontaneously, software that enables computers to “talk”, self-contained electronic equipment to allow students who are blind to take notes or read print; and software that will translate braille to print and vice versa. The student with a vision impairment in the classroom is only limited by the availability of technology and the skills of the teacher in enabling him or her to use it.

The significant promise of technology for students with vision impairments is accompanied by significant challenges for their teachers. It is critically important, for example, that student’s are taught to operate efficiently in technological environments. This is because the endemic complexity of much assistive technology requires direct instruction from qualified and technologically competent teachers of students with vision impairments (Kapperman, Heinze & Sticken, 1997). In this regard, Kelley, Finley, Koehler and Picard (2001) have reported that a key component of success in integrating technology for students with vision impairments into the curriculum, is the collaboration between classroom and specialist teachers and technology instructors.

The arrival of a piece of complex assistive technology in a classroom will likely be greeted with excitement by the student with a vision impairment as well as by the specialist teacher. However, it might sometimes be regarded as a threat to the competence and an intrusion on the time of the class teacher. Some classroom teachers in fact do not view the teaching and supporting of assistive technology for the student as part of their role. It is therefore essential that initial in-service and on-going support is available to the student, the classroom teacher, the school staff generally, and to the specialist teacher.

The efficiency with which a student who is vision impaired uses sensory information in the learning process is, as Koenig and Holbrook (2000) have indicated, essential to the construction of that student’s individual educational plan (IEP). Issues affecting curriculum access via assistive technology become additionally important to both teacher and student. There must be a systematic decision making process to select any assistive technology device that enhances an individual’s ability to access or engage in critical tasks (Lueck, Dote-Kwan, Senge, & Clarke. 2001). The implications of assistive technology as a means of accessing the student’s instructional program are best determined through specialised assessment processes that are, as Koenig, Holbrook, Corn, DePriest, Erin and Presley (2000), have stated, unique to the needs of students who are blind or vision impaired. These specialised assessments in the school or classroom setting include the following:

  • The functional vision assessment
  • The learning media assessment, and
  • The assistive technology assessment, aimed at determining the appropriate options for using adaptive technology to meet individual student needs and the selection of access devices for computer input and output.

There are of course, overlapping areas in these three types of assessment.

Teachers of students with vision impairments generally have primary responsibility for conducting specialised assessments. They take a lead role in conducting a functional vision assessment and a learning media assessment. In New South Wales for example, this role has also been assumed by the Assistant Principal or Executive Teacher (Vision Impairment). A teacher of students with vision impairments may conduct an assistive technology assessment, or a specialist who has had specific training in the special technology needs of such students may conduct it.

The specialist teacher gathers information from a number of specialised assessments and uses it to design, as part of a team, an appropriate Individualised Educational Plan (IEP) for the student. The particular role of the specialist teacher is to do the following:

  • Conduct the functional vision assessment
  • Conduct the learning media assessment
  • Conduct a screening of assistive technology needs;
  • Ensure that a comprehensive technology assessment has been conducted;
  • Collaborate with parents and other IEP preparation team members to gather objective information on student strengths and weaknesses, related to use of the student’s sensory systems;
  • Offer recommendations for instructional programming literacy media needs, and assistive technology needs on the basis of the specific assessment results, and
  • Ensure ongoing needs assessment using the specialised assessments to gather and synthesise information, at least annually.

The extensive and continuing development of a plethora of new equipment available for people who are vision impaired means that specialist teachers are faced with the daunting task of trying to keep informed about not only the available equipment but also with the continuous developments in the field. Downie (1996) has stated that a major challenge for educators of students with vision impairments is that it is not possible for individuals to hope to keep abreast of all innovations. It is essential that teachers of students with vision impairments have information and access to the range of available equipment. They also need access to the commercial producers of equipment as well as to individuals who are already using the equipment successfully. A teacher of students with vision impairments requires time in her/his busy caseload to investigate, evaluate and select the most appropriate equipment for individual students.

A comprehensive assistive technology assessment identifies the technology that a student will need to complete a variety of tasks in his or her educational program. An effective assessment should be part of a team process. As well as those who normally attend the student’s IEP meeting it is advantageous to include an assistive technology specialist, should one be available, and possibly a vendor or product representative. These additional team members are crucial to successfully completing the assessment.(Koenig & Holbrook, 2000). In this regard the time taken to complete the assessment is an important issue, with team and student being encouraged to take “as long as is necessary”.

The comprehensive technology assessment includes a review of background information on the student and an initial assessment by the specialist teacher, together with a follow-up assessment by an assistive technology specialist (should one be available). Once the recommended technology has been put in place, the specialist teacher and the other team members conduct ongoing assessments and periodic re-evaluations to ensure continuity of support.

The first step in completing the assessment is to secure parental permission to collect comprehensive background information. The specialist teacher typically undertakes this task. Information from the student’s permanent records, together with data from formal evaluations and observations as well as information on the student’s previous use of assistive technology is necessary. Previous evaluations might have provided data on the student’s technology skill levels. Information should be gathered from the following sources:

  • Medical eye examinations
  • Clinical low vision evaluations; (Langley,1999).
  • Learning media assessment; information on the primary learning medium, additional literacy tools, reading efficiency and comprehension;
  • General medical, psychological and academic evaluations;
  • Informal assessments and observations by teachers (Sewell, 1997). This should include information on the student’s use of vision for everyday tasks; preferred font size, comfortable reading distance, positions for materials, lighting preferences and visual stamina.

Background information is also needed on the quantity of printed material that the student needs and the settings in which the information is to be accessed (Koenig & Holbrook, 2000). It is helpful to know the magnitude of tasks and whether or not they are to be completed in class, in a lab, the gym a media centre or at home.

Once the background information has been collected and reviewed, the assistive technology assessment can commence. The specialist teacher conducts the initial assessment. It typically involves determination of student strengths and needs in the following areas.

  • Gaining access to print information though regular print, large print, optical devices, non-optical devices, braille, auditory modes;
  • Producing written communication with standard tools and technological devices;
  • Gaining access to computers through visual, auditory and tactile modes, and;
  • Inputting information into computers using keyboards and other devices.

At this point the teacher might use the comprehensive Technology Assessment Checklist that is presented by the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired at its homepage (

Certain data requested in the checklist might be available from those already collected. If they are not, then direct assessment of each item is required. Should the teacher not have access to some of the technologically advanced options mentioned in the checklist, a technology specialist as part of a comprehensive technology assessment can evaluate these options. All items not assessed should be marked N/A.

In preparing for the initial assistive technology assessment a quiet room is needed, so that the teacher, student and an observer can work without distraction. Since the assessment protocol requires the student to complete many tasks there is danger of physical fatigue. It might be best advised to complete the assessment tasks over several days.

Once the technology selection has been narrowed to one or two specific devices, it is often useful for the student to trial the equipment in situ. This gives the student an opportunity to actually use the device(s) in an environment that is familiar and permits the teacher and assistive technology specialist an opportunity to observe and note difficulties and obstacles.

The Assistive Technology Assessment Checklist has an important role in the process of designing an IEP for a student who is blind or has a vision impairment. Given the specialised nature of the assessment, the special teacher takes the primary role in the assessment protocol, reporting the results and offering useful recommendations. Assessments for educational purposes typically rely on informal measures, observations and interviews, but conclusions must rest on objective data.

A student with vision impairment will benefit from such an assessment since it explores and documents his or her unique requirements. The information thus obtained is used to develop the comprehensive plan from which the student’s school year is designed.

Aorta be concerned with classroom set-up

There are, as Castellano and Kosman (1997) have pointed out, many ways of setting up a student’s classroom work area that aim at maximising independence and seating that aims at ensuring full participation. The following focal areas require teacher consideration:

A student with a significant vision impairment will require a large work area that can accommodate a braillewriter or notetaker a braille or large print book, an answer sheet, perhaps a tray of “manipulatives”, maths counters and the variety of small items often used in classrooms.

An L-shaped arrangement or a larger than usual desk is necessary. It is important not to place the desk or workspace in an isolated (and therefore isolating) spot in the classroom. It is essential, as Castellano and Kosman, (1997), have indicated, that the child who is blind is seated with classmates in order to socialise and be a part of the class (p. 119). If an aide assists in the classroom, teachers should ensure that the desk is set-up for the student rather than the aide.

Introduction of others to the technology will be contingent on the student’s first having accepted it. Some students, for example, will want as little fuss as possible made about its introduction. For others, a planned introduction program can provide useful learning for all concerned.

When introducing a particular student with a vision impairment to assistive technology in the classroom, it can (with the principal user’s prior agreement) be advisable that teachers plan an activity for the whole class that involves a demonstration of the devices and their use (Casimir & Alchin, 2001). Such an activity, as Carney and Dix, (1992) have pointed out, serves several purposes. First, it informs the other class members of the student’s special needs and introduces them to the piece of technology and its uses. Second, it permits the teacher to establish ground rules governing its use, and third, because certain types of technology are associated with recreational purposes, for example, the speech synthesisers used in popular toys, it provides an opportunity for the teacher to explain the more essential purposes of the equipment. It is likely that in inclusive settings, classmates who are given the opportunity to openly obtain information about students with special needs are, as Foreman (2001) has pointed out, more likely to treat the student with greater respect.

Teachers, according to Carney and Dix (1992), can best make use of assistive technology by selecting target activities that might for example, include some or all of the following:

  • The activities should be motivating and enjoyable
  • They should take place each day or at least several times a week
  • The activities ought to present opportunities for enhancing independence in such areas as written and verbal communication, mobility, self-care, numeracy, vocational skills and environmental controls
  • They should be activities that the student(s) are not able to complete without the assistive technology.

The student will need to be able to locate his or her books, folders, notepads, braille paper and a variety of other learning “tangibles”. These items need to be accessed independently and should be within easy reach. An expandable vertical file with several slots works well for holding most of these items (Castellano & Kosman, 1997). Notebooks and folders can be labelled in braille with the braille taped label placed where the title of a book would be, so that it is easy to locate with the fingers. Horizontal stacking trays are another option with each tray appropriately braille labelled.

Braille and large print versions of some school texts can run to several volumes, so that it is advisable to have only one volume of each text at the student’s desk. The braillewriter or notetaker will probably remain on the desk all the time. Thought needs to be given to providing non-slip pads to ensure that books and papers remain on the desk. A tray with raised edges or a box lid is useful for holding “manipulatives”.  Small paper cups or film cylinders can be fastened to the desk with Bluetak in convenient places to hold, for example, pins, magnets, paper clips or braille name labels

Other important issues have to do with student safety and include raising awareness about access to power points, ensuring that the teacher, student and class peers do not trip over electrical cords.

It’s up to the adults in the life of a student who is blind or vision impaired to set up systems for the student’s use. This is done automatically for sighted students. For example, as Castellano and Kosman (1997) have pointed out, bookbags are manufactured to fit print books; ordinary school desks can easily accommodate the materials a sighted student needs in class. When taught good organisation skills, a student with a vision impairment will be able to work efficiently and independently (Bishop, 1996). However, unless such students have skills and behaviours modeled for, or directly presented to them they might not be able to understand how the world is organised.  Since many students with vision impairments are unable to scan a room, or easily locate an object, organisation is an essential skill.

It becomes essential, therefore, to remember that the successful use of assistive technology requires high levels of organisational skill. For example, students need to have electronic content organised appropriately, with the equipment properly charged, as well as any required peripherals; head phones, floppy disks and additional disks, ready to hand for prompt use as required.

The following suggestions for teaching organisational skills have been adapted from Kelley and Smith (2000):

  • Encourage the student to retrieve and replace items from the classroom storage areas. Verbal suggestions might be given on ways of better organising the stored items, so that they might be more efficiently and safely retrieved.
  • Teach the student to arrange objects, for example, books, or “manipulatives” for maximim efficiency and effectiveness. Adequate storage space and the consistent placement of objects in the same places will help the student.
  • Establish routines within the school day, remembering to re-charge electronic equipment overnight.
  • Have the student share responsibilities with classroom peers.
  • Have the student maintain a file (either in notebook or data disk format) on ordering and repairing such equipment as braille writers, canes and adaptive devices.
  • Have the student maintain a file on important telephone/fax numbers and email addresses.  
  • Keep bus and other transportation schedules in a particular place.
  • Have the student make a list of needed items prior to a shopping expedition (pp. 578-9).

Organisation is for the student who is blind or vision impaired, as Gale, d’Apice, Freeman, Payne and Tierney (1998) have pointed out, the key to the acquisition of all independence skills. It must be taught from an early age. Thus it is an important aim for teachers and parents to develop, particularly with regard to the use of assistive technology in the classroom, the life-long ideal of “a place for everything and everything in its place” (p. 229). 

Aorta take steps to influence lighting, contrast, colour, noise levels and accessibility.

Several important environmental factors require teacher consideration before a student who is vision impaired is provided with assistive technology. Among these are the influences exerted upon learning by a variety of factors, among which are lighting, noise levels and accessibility.

There are differences in lighting requirements, as Robbins (1998) has pointed out, for students with low vision. As Robbins (1998) has pointed out, even in groups with the same clinical diagnosis it is possible to find some students who function best with very high light levels, while others require low levels. It is important, therefore, that the teacher take a somewhat flexible approach to classroom lighting. In some instances advice on lighting levels from an ophthalmologist is necessary.

Illumination, as defined by  Corn and Koenig (2000), is “the amount of light on a surface” (p. 135). It is measured in footcandles of power and the term also relates to the type of light that is present. High levels of illumination when using assistive technology in the classroom is best provided by some form of angle poise lamp, on a flexible arm that allows positioning at just the right angle and distance from the task. The amount of light falling on the task varies, not as the distance between the light source and the task, but as the distance multiplied by itself- the so-called inverse square law (Robbins, 1998, p. 293). If the distance between the lamp and the task is halved the illumination increases fourfold. If the distance is reduced by a third, the increase is ninefold.

Angle poise lamps are available with incandescent, fluorescent and halogen globes and it is unnecessary to use a particularly strong globe to get high illumination. Some lamps, particularly of the fluorescent and halogen type emit heat, so that it is sometimes difficult to work near them for long periods.

Koenig and Holbrook (2000) have provided a number of basic and important questions for teachers on lighting as it affects the use of assistive technology in the classroom. These are as follows:

With regard to lighting in the classroom:

  • Is there too much light and/or glare?
  • Is there not enough light?
  • Is it the correct kind of light for the task?
  • Can the ambient and overhead light be controlled by shields around a computer monitor (top and sides)? (p. 138)

The use of contrast can be beneficial to many students with low vision.

Traditionally, vision has been measured using such high contrast tasks as black letters on a white background. Contrast adaptations are not difficult to make, but many teachers do not think of them until some adaptations have been identified (Kapperman & Koenig, 2000). Thus it helps if the teacher can encourage the student to ask him or herself frequently “What could I do to improve the contrast in this situation?”

Some basic suggestions for teachers with regard to the use of contrast in their teaching include the following:

  • Students with partial sight will often benefit from the use of coloured chalk, which gives the greatest amount of contrast (e.g., bright yellow chalk on a green or black board, or white letters on a blue background on a computer screen). If extensive use is made of diagrams or numbers written on the board or overhead, it is extremely helpful for the student  with a vision impairment to have a copy of the class notes
  • Providing large print, high contrast classroom handouts is very helpful and can be done on most laser printers using 18 or 24 point type.

Avoidance of visual clutter (Gale, Kelley & d’Apice, 1998) is another area of concern for the teacher. It relates to material in which objects or print are crowded or difficult to isolate from the background and are therefore difficult to distinguish from one another. Visual clutter is often a feature of highly decorated primary school classrooms as well as pictures and diagrams in textbooks. Its result is visual fatigue (Gale & Steer, 2001), the tiredness or stress in a student with vision impairment caused by the act of looking 

Colour too, has important uses for the student with low vision. For example, it is useful to use colours as coding systems for filing paper work or to colour code school texts for various subjects; green for English, Orange for maths.

Some persons with low vision who have colour deficiencies, as Corn and Koenig (2000) have pointed out, do not find techniques for manipulating colour very helpful. Further, certain colours become more visible and therefore more useful under particular lighting conditions. Some of the colours that fully-sighted people think are highly visible, and not particularly so to students with low vision, for example, bright red on a black background). Because of the idiosyncratic nature of colour perception, teachers and students must experiment to discover the colours that most facilitate learning.

Since a student who is vision impaired relies on hearing to obtain information, extraneous noise is distracting and makes it difficult to concentrate on the information being presented.  Further, the student often experiences difficulty due to noise, in focusing during small-group discussion when there is more than one group functioning. Background noise is also a distractor when

students with vision impairments depend on taped lectures for review and reinforcement. Tape recorders need to be placed in close proximity to the student to eliminate background noise and assure quality.

As mentioned above, students with vision impairments have a wide range of visual capabilities. With regard to the physical accessibility of the classroom or working environments, there are a variety of strategies that teachers might employ that facilitate reasonable accommodation. Kochhar and West (1996) have suggested the following:

  • Creation of barrier-free settings to enhance classroom access. These settings include: libraries, resource areas and technology or learning laboratories.
  • Modifications in the physical grouping of desks
  • Modification of seating arrangements to permit improved viewing
  • Rearrangement or enlargement of vision tools or resources
  • Use of audiotape equipment or alternative communication devices
  • Rearrangement of classes, with consideration of their relationship to school entrances and exits (p. 73).

With regard to instructional strategies, accommodation for the students can be as simple as enlarging text on a copy machine and as complicated as producing entire books in braille. The following are some suggestions that teachers can follow in accommodating their students:

  • Students with vision impairments, as mentioned in the preceding section, are very sensitive to extraneous noise. It is important that teachers be flexible about the classroom location or about the use of various pieces of equipment, for example, overhead fans, if there is excessive background noise.
  • When putting notes on the board, teachers should repeat aloud what they are writing. Many students with vision impairments take their own notes and will not have access to anything that is written and not spoken.
  • It is important to allow partially sighted students to sit near the front of the room or at other optimum locations.
  • Teachers should be sensitive to possible environmental hazards to students with sight problems, be aware of emergency routes and provide assistance to students when necessary.

Environmental considerations with regard to use of assistive technology have received thorough treatment by Koenig and Holbrooke (2000). The following issues; available workspace, positioning, availability of electricity and portability of equipment

There is in schools, an increasing gap between the technological “haves” and have nots” (Stainback & Stainback, 1992). Students who are blind or vision impaired require the same access as their sighted peers to a full range of technologies that are available for instruction. These technologies include: computers, libraries, information centres, technological laboratories and similar resources. In addition they require assistive technology devices specially tailored to their individual needs. Whether or not a school has a lot of technological resources, access by students with disabilities to available technology, as Kochhar and West (1996) have pointed out, is generally more limited than it is for their non-disabled peers. The same holds true for computer access in the home. Issues of access and equity are unavoidable when the high cost of computer equipment adaptation for students with vision impairment is considered. This is particularly the case since so much of the current assistive technology requires customising to the needs of the recipient. 

Ready access to these devices and to the financial support to purchase them are lacking for many students with vision impairments, at least in our public schools. For these students, it is essential that teachers give special attention to computer station adaptations, and instruction, as well as training as early as possible in a student’s schooling. This form of “early intervention for technology access “ can promote independence long before a student with special technological needs reaches adolescence and begins the complex transition through high school to the worlds of employment or tertiary education. Throughout these years, the teacher, with the family and the school, holds the key to student success. Towards facilitating this goal, the  paper has focussed upon a variety of fundamental concepts that considerably enhance teacher and learner effectiveness in using technology.

  • Bishop, V.E. (1996). Teaching visually impaired children. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.
  • Carney J. & Dix, C. (1992). Integrating assistive technology in the classroom and community. In G. Church & S. Glennan (Eds.). The handbook of assistive technology. San Diego: Singular. pp. 207-240.
  • Casimir, G. & Alchin, G. (2001). Enhancing learning with assistive technology. In P. Foreman, (Ed.), Integration and inclusion in action. Southbank, Vic: Nelson.
  • Corn, A.L. & Koenig, A.J. (Eds.). Foundations of low vision: Clinical and functional perspectives. New York: American Foundation for the Blind. 
  • Downie, A. (1996). The technological revolution: Educational opportunities and challenges for students with disabilities. Paper presented at the conference, Shaping the Wisdom of Oz, Bathurst, NSW.
  • Gale, G. & Cronin, P. (1998) The school years. In P. Kelley & G. Gale (Eds.) Towards excellence: Effective education for students with vision Impairments (pp. 118–136) Sydney: North Rocks Press
  • Gale, G., d’Apice, P., Freeman, K., Payne, R. & Tierney, L. (1998). Life skills. In P. Kelley & G. Gale (Eds.) Towards excellence: Effective education for students with vision Impairments (pp. 226-238) Sydney: North Rocks Press
  • Gale, P., Kelley, P. & d’Apice, P. (1998). Accessing the curriculum. In P. Kelley & G. Gale (Eds.) Towards excellence: Effective education for students with vision Impairments (pp.146-178) Sydney: North Rocks Press
  • Gale, G. & Steer, M. (2001). Visual fatigue in students with vision impairments. Sydney: Blind Citizens Australia. Annual Conference.
  • Jolley, W., Steer, M., Gale, G. & Gentle, F. (2001). Literacy and numeracy acquisition including the role of braille for students in Australia who are blind or vision impaired. Canberra: Department of Education, Employment & Youth Affairs. Unpublished research report.
  • Kapperman, G, Heinze, A. & Sticken, J. (1997). Strategies for developing mathematics skills in students who use braille. Sycamore, IL: Research and Development Unit.
  • Kapperman, G. & Koenig, P. (2000). Integration of visual skills for independent living. In A.L. Corn and A.J. Koenig (Eds.). Foundations of low vision: Clinical and functional perspectives. New York: American Foundation for the Blind. 
  • Kelley, D., Finley, R., Koehler, K., & Picard, K. (2001). Early access: Integrating technology into the elementary and secondary curriculum. RE:view, 33(2), 63-69.
  • Kelley P., & Gale, G. (Eds.) (1998) Towards excellence: Effective education for students with vision Impairments, Sydney North Rocks Press.
  • Kelley, P. & Smith, P. (2000). Independent living skills. In A.J. Koenig, & M.C. Holbrook. (2000). Foundations of education, (2nd edition). New York: AFB Press, p.105.
  • Kochhar, C.A. & West, L.W. (1996). Handbook for successful inclusion. Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen
  • Koenig, A.J. & Holbrook, C. M. (Eds.). (2001). Foundations of education (2nd Ed.). New York: American Foundation for the Blind.
  • Koenig, A.J.,Holbrook,M.C., Corn, A.L., DePriest, L.D., Erin, J.N. & Presley, I. (2000). Specialized assessments for students with visual impairments. In A.J. Koenig, & M.C. Holbrook. (2000). Foundations of education, (2nd edition). New York: AFB Press, p.105.
  • Langley, M.B. (1999). Individualised systematic assessment of visual efficiency. Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind
  • Leuck, A,H., Dote-Kwan, J., Senge, J.E., & Clarke, L. (2001). Selecting assistive technology for greater independence. RE:view, 33(1), 21-33.
  • Lewis, R. (1998). Assistive technology and learning disabilities: Today’s realities and tomorrow’s promises. Journal of Learning Disabilities,31(1), 16-16.
  • Mason, H., & McCall, S. (Eds.) (1997) Visual Impairment: Access to children and young people, London: David Fulton.
  • Morrison, A. (1965). Lets talk Strine. Sydney: Sydney University Press.
  • Mosen, J., & Small, J. (1996) Braille Literacy Report to Conference Briefing Paper, Auckland, NZ: Homai Vision Centre.
  • Parette, H., Brotherson, M., Hourcade, J. & Bradley, R. (1996). Family-centred assistive technology assessment. Intervention in school and clinic, 32(2), 104-112.
  • Robbins, H. (1998). Optics and low vision devices. In P. Kelley & G. Gale (Eds.) Towards excellence: Effective education for students with vision Impairments (pp. 280-294). Sydney: North Rocks Press
  • Royal National Institute for the Blind (1998) Numeracy Matters: Preliminary Report of the Numeracy Task Force: Response from RNIB, Jan–March. 
  • Sewell, D. (1997). Assessment kit: Kit of informal tools for assessment of students with visual impairments. Austin: Texas School for the Blind and
  • Visually Impaired.
  • Stainback, W., & Stainback, S. (1992). Controversial issues confronting special education: Divergent perspectives. Needham


Literacy and Australians with Low Vision


The topic of literacy has in recent years received considerable attention by the Commonwealth and State Governments. Few would argue with the notion that in our country, literacy is usually regarded as a birthright. In a society that places a premium on the attainment of literacy, problems and issues abound. Although a child’s congenital vision impairment does not invariably prevent the attainment of literacy, and similarly an adult’s adventitious vision impairment does not invariably preclude the re-attainment of literacy, low vision presents some unique challenges that must be addressed to ensure full literacy.  This presentation will focus upon the weighty issues concerning low vision and the phenomenon of literacy. It will review several of the issues and concerns that confront specialist teachers of students with vision impairments and provide insights into their impact upon professional practice. 

Vision impairment is a huge and largely unrecognized problem in Australia.  As Vision 2020 (2004) point out, despite the availability of technological, financial and human resources, a significant number of Australians face unnecessary vision impairment and vision loss.  Almost 50% of legal blindness and 70% of visual impairment in our country are caused by conditions that are preventable or treatable. Vision2020, for example estimate that there are currently some 212,000 Australians in our nation of 19 million people, who have vision impairment due to under-corrected refractive error that could be eliminated with appropriate glasses. This means that several hundred thousand Australians of all ages are, for example, unable to read the poison warnings on a can of pesticide, a letter from their child’s teacher, or the front page of the Australian, or the newspaper of their choice. As Bush (1990) has indicated, ”parents who cannot read often raise children who cannot read” p. 143.

There are, as the American Foundation for the Blind (2004) has pointed out, few skills more fundamental to making one's way in the modern world than being able to read. For the child or adult with low vision, there may be many paths to becoming literate. For example, such devices as magnifiers and software that simulates a human voice while reading the computer screen can welcome someone with low vision to the world of books. However, it needs to be made clear that reliance on auditory input alone will not make a child literate.

In our antipodean form of Western industrialised society, we place a high premium on the acquisition of literacy, yet problems and issues abound. For example, for children and adults with vision loss to achieve high levels of literacy, or to maintain literacy skills, there must be teachers who are knowledgeable, skilled, and trained in the most promising instructional practices. Unfortunately, many children and adults have limited access to well-trained teachers, because opportunities in Australia for these teachers to acquire updated training and resources are severely limited. There are less than half a dozen university programs across the nation offering course work either in the area of low vision or in literacy acquisition for students with low vision.

Difficulties in teaching literacy are by no means confined to the vision impaired population. A large number of issues also confront the teaching of literacy skills in our schools and colleges. Proponents of the “whole language” approach to literacy acquisition have for some years urged that basal readers, a cornerstone of literacy instruction for most of the 20th century, be abandoned. Critics have suggested that teachers, rather than basal readers are at the root of the literacy acquisition problem. Based upon the perennial notion that the school system is failing, the mass media assert that a focus on phonics is the saviour of children who are having difficulty learning to read. Since, as Koenig (1996) has pointed out, so many people have a stake in promoting literacy or benefiting from it, “it is not surprising that many are involved in trying to shape literacy practices” (p. 55).

It is an overstatement to propose that rejuvenation is on the horizon in the way that vision impairment educators are thinking about, defining and teaching literacy to those on their caseloads in schools throughout Australia.

In 1998, the Commonwealth Government announced its commitment to developing a broad policy framework for improving quality in schooling and enhancing educational outcomes for all students. The approach focussed as well on the importance of parental choice in schooling and the need for diversity in education provision (Commonwealth Department of Education, Science and Training, 1998). In March 1997 Commonwealth, State and Territory Education Ministers agreed to the following national literacy and numeracy goal:

That every child leaving primary school should be numerate, and be able to read, write and spell at an appropriate level.

The Ministers also adopted a sub goal:

That every child commencing school from 1998 will achieve a minimum acceptable literacy and numeracy standard within four years.  

These national goals were intended to represent community expectations for all schools in literacy and numeracy and the policy papers issuing from the initiative make it clear that the goals are inclusive of all children, including those with disabilities.

As an outcome of the initiative, the Government commissioned a paper; Literacy, Numeracy and Students with Disabilities (van Krayenoord, Elkins, Palmer, Rickards, Colbert and others, 2000) that included some information about students with low vision. The following year, the Government funded further research that produced a paper entitled Literacy and Numeracy Acquisition (Including the Role of Braille) for Students in Australia Who are Blind and Vision Impaired (Jolley, Gale, Gentle & Steer, 2001). This research, conducted by experts in the field, produced a report with 16 recommendations, many of which are pertinent to the focus of the present paper, but so far none of the recommendations have been implemented.

That literacy is still high on the political agenda is a reflection of the recent  Australian Labor Party promise that should it gain office it will invest $80 million to give parents and children help in developing a culture of reading. According to a recent press announcement by Opposition Leader Latham, a Read Aloud Australia policy initiative will aim at building the literacy skills and learning capacity of the youngest Australians.

Labor's plan includes:

  • Launching a BookStart program to issue up to three free books to the parents of every new baby to get them on the path to regular reading. We expect to issue over half a million books every year.
  • Building a parental literacy network in Australia so that parents have the skills they need to read to their children. It has been suggested that the policy initiative will help more than 4500 parents every year.
  • Appointing Read Aloud Ambassadors and establishing a Read Aloud Week to emphasise the importance of reading to children from an early age.
  • Work with State and Territory Governments to develop comprehensive neonatal screening for hearing and sight; and
  • Working with the States to include early reading programs in the Personal Health and Development Record Books (better known as the Yellow Book or the Blue Book). (Latham & Collins, 2004).

However, should the policy ever be implemented, we as professionals must question whether or not the Government will also provide books for children who are functionally bind or vision impaired.

Students with low vision are currently at the vortex of discussions by SPEVI, the national vision impairment professional special interest group, over teaching Braille reading and writing skills. The issue of Braille use with students who are functionally blind is relatively clear-cut. However, such is not the case for students with low vision. Some professionals question the efficacy of reliance on print for many students with low vision, particularly those falling within the parameters of legal blindness

Allied with these developments and a particularly important issue for teachers, parents and students, is the dearth of reading materials in large print for students with low vision.

This brief paper will focus upon several of the major issues concerning low vision and the acquisition of literacy. It will review a selection of the issues and concerns that confront specialist teachers of students with vision impairments and provide insights into the impact of the issues upon professional practice.


The major issues

What follows is a selection by the authors of the eight major issues facing teachers, and parents of many Australian students with low vision. The issues presented in the following collection have not been ranked in the order of their importance, but have been selected as focal areas that each warrant thought and discussion.

A series of important factors relate to the way in which visual fatigue affects literacy in students with low vision and the proposition that usually such students read more slowly than their sighted peers. This is because reading is harder for them, so that they are simply unable to get through the amount of reading they need. Further, current reliance on, and the mandatory use of computers in many schools results in some students with low vision experiencing sometimes chronic visual and physical fatigue. (Anshell, 2000).

A great many well-known strategies are recommended for fully sighted computer users to help them avoid visual fatigue. Many of these strategies are not suitable or possible for students with low vision and it is sometimes not possible to obtain an appropriate ergonomic environment so that literacy acquisition suffers. Among the important factors to be kept in mind by teachers and parents when dealing with students who have low vision are the following:

  • the need for enlargement; usually onto A3 sized paper, which makes reading the material difficult and singles them out as being different.
  • the need for early training in the use of visual aides.
  • the need for students to become aware of the nature of their own vision impairment and to realise the limitations and the possibilities.
  • the need for specialist and generalist teachers and all school staff to be aware of and mediate the environment by, for example: 
    • increasing contrast;
    • enlarging images;
    • minimising glare;
    • cutting down visual clutter;
    • using tactile and auditory technologies; and
    • using braille.

Skilled specialist teachers are able to make creative accommodations and modifications to the school’s core and expanded core curricula for students who are blind or vision impaired. For example, reading materials can be transcribed into Braille, tactile or tactual diagrams created, and curricular areas deemed ‘too visual’ can be modified to emphasise the non-visual components. Many students can work with enlarged print or by using low vision devices (LVDs). Because accommodation in such instances is not particularly complex, some teachers, as D’Andrea and Farrenkopf (2000), have pointed out, assume that those students need less help than their Braille-using peers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Such students generally require intense instruction “precisely because they are able to use print” (p. 2). They also need to have a very clear understanding of their vision impairment and the way in which it affects their learning, the way in which they can modify their environment as well as areas of learning that are difficult for them to access and strategies to compensate for this – they must learn to self-advocate. They need to be taught how to maximise the use of the vision they do have, so that they become more efficient in performing visual tasks. This instruction might involve their learning to use specific LVDs, for example CCTV’s, visualettes or other types of hand-held magnifier. It might, for example, involve teaching the student to modify lighting patterns, perhaps to reduce glare, so that a particular task can be completed. It might include a teaching program designed to increase a specific set of visual skills.

According to Corn (1986), there are at least three approaches that may be used in a program targeting visual skills acquisition. These are:

(a) Visual stimulation: i.e reinforcing visual functioning by generating a visually stimulating environment; that is, presenting a variety of stimuli that encourage the individual’s visual system to respond (Corn & Koenig, 1996). The visual stimulation approach emphasizes such basic skills as attending to a light source, attending to a single object, rudimentary tracking of a single object, shifting the gaze from one abject to another and reaching for the object (D’Andrea & Farrenkopf, 2000, p. 3).

(b) Visual efficiency: i.e. through providing instruction aimed at helping the student learn to discriminate fine detail, or differentiate between outline and inner detail, or to discriminate patterns, or translate from concrete to abstract forms (e,g a picture of a ball to represent the printed word ball (Barraga, 1970). The literacy tasks that our workplaces and private lives require are presented in diverse and often, for individuals with low vision, visually challenging formats. For example, the most recent study on U.S. national literacy proficiencies reported on individuals’ ability to perform such varied tasks as planning travel arrangements for a meeting using a flight schedule, interpreting instructions from a warranty, and balancing a cheque book. Each of these tasks involves the use of a variety of visual efficiency skills. To accomplish these tasks many of our students with low vision would need to use a prescribed optical device for optimum viewing. Yet the application of visual efficiency skills and the use of prescribed devices are not naturally developed skills (Corn & Koenig, 2002). Examples of the visual efficiency approach include specific activities created to help the student learn how to discriminate fine details in pictures and designs, to differentiate between outlines and inner details in pictures or diagrams, to discriminate patterns, to differentiate between light and dark intensities and to transfer visual skills from concrete forms (for example a ball) to representational forms (a picture of a ball), to symbolic forms, for example, the printed word ball (D’Andrea & Farrenkopf, 2000, p. 3).

(c ) Visual utilization (an American synonym for vision use), involving a focus on teaching the student to use his/her vision more effectively. In a vision utilization program, instruction focuses on teaching the student to modify the environment, and on using appropriate low vision devices that maximize functional vision. As examples, students can be taught to use task lighting and a handheld magnifier to located a friend’s telephone number in the phone book (D’Andrea & Farrenkopf, 2000, p. 3).

In order to help students with low vision acquire literacy skills, teachers, both specialist and generalist, must first understand the child's visual and literacy needs, and then think of ways that these skills can be inserted into the school day, even if, as D’Andrea and Farrenkopf, 2000) have pointed out, “it appears to take time away from other curriculum areas” (p. 4). Visual skills instruction taught in an isolated, task centred approach has been challenged by some authorities in the vision impairment field (Ferrell & Muir, 1996), since instruction is best given within a meaningful context that is important and relevant to the child ((D’Andrea & Farrenkopf, 2000, p. 3). It is essential for these skills to be started at an early age. A three-year old can be given a magnifier to look at the ants on the path and a monocular to identify the parrot in the tree so that the child is raised with the knowledge that there is an interesting world beyond his field of vision and that he has ways of accessing it.

Koenig (1996) has pointed out that prior to 1990 there were few, if any, assessment processes or strategies for selecting appropriate literacy media for students with low vision. Teachers, he claimed (p. 58), generally made unilateral decisions, based on their ‘professional judgment’ without much input from others on the school’s educational team. In 2004, perhaps as a consequence of recent US Braille legislation, teachers can profit from a wealth of overseas research on objective assessment strategies for selecting literacy media for students with low vision. This is because most such legislation mandates the use of some kind of assessment to identify students who will require curricular or materials modification in order to be successful in mainstream classes.

Typical of the available supports in this area are the highly structured protocols outlined in Chapter 11 of Corn and Koenig’s (1996) classic Foundations of Low Vision and Koenig and Holbrook's Learning Media Assessment (1995) text and at the school systems level, the Indiana Department of Education’s (1996) Functional Literacy Assessment Guidelines.

Part of functional literacy, as Koenig (1996) points out, is the ability to gain access to print independently when information is not in one’s preferred medium (p. 58). Consequently, teachers (and rehabilitation professionals) should focus on providing a range of alternatives for doing so. Thus it is important to determine whether or not the particular student will benefit from using optical devices in preference to large print or Braille or whether a combination of the two media is viable. Some students who are unable to sustain the reading of large print unaided can become efficient readers with optical devices (p.58). As Bell (2004) has pointed out, recent research supports the necessity of providing direct instruction in the use of prescribed optical devices to school age children with low vision (Corn, Wall, & Bell, 2001; Corn, Wall, Jose, Bell, Wilcox, & Perez, 2002). These studies found positive impact on areas of literacy, including reading and accessing common core and expanded core curriculum for students with visual impairments.

Through a recent Delphi study, Corn and Koenig (2002) found that instruction in the use of optical devices should be included in best practices for literacy instruction. More specifically, best practices in the instruction of prescribed optical devices should include 30 minute to one hour sessions of direct instruction for both near and distance devices, one to three times a week, beginning in kindergarten and continuing through high school graduation.

Despite such research, integrating the use of optical devices into school programs continues to be a challenge for teachers of students with visual impairments and for their students with low vision. Integrating optical devices into literacy programs through the use of IEP goals and objectives offers participants creative ways to include approaches for instruction and the use of optical devices into their low vision programs. However, one of the main obstacles to students making effective use of their low vision aids remains a social issue. Many students see the uses of aids and enlarged print on A3 sheets as singling them out as 'different' from their peers.

Students who use large print or LVDs to acquire literacy have the same types (or levels) of need as do those using Braille as their primary medium. In an attempt at demystifying the topic, Koenig (1992) has provided the following taxonomy, that might be applied to all students, including those with low vision:

  • Emergent literacy, refers to a young child’s ability to bring meaning to reading and writing activities;
  • Academic literacy refers to the type of reading and writing mastery skills acquired by children during their school years; and
  • Functional literacy refers to literacy activities that relate to the day-to-day completion of practical tasks, e.g. reading a street sign or a menu. (D’Andrea & Farrenkopf, 2000, p. 5.)

The acquisition of skills at all three levels is essential for students, and it is essential that teachers have a central role in supporting students to develop these vital abilities

The concept of emergent literacy, as Stratton(2004) has pointed out, evolved during the past decade as the result of new information on the ways that young children develop an understanding of reading and writing (Gibson, 1989; Hiebert & Fisher, 1990; Neuman & Roskos, 1993; Rex, Koenig, Wormsley, & Baker, 1994). Emergent literacy may be described as the process of learning about the environment that leads to the development of meaning and concepts, including concepts about the functions of reading and writing. Koenig (1992, p. 279) stated that emergent literacy "is characterised by the early development of understanding that abstract symbols have meaning and that people use these symbols for the communication of ideas."

The process, Stratton (2004) asserts, begins at birth, involves all aspects of a child's development, and continues throughout life (Clay,1991; Neuman & Roskos, 1993; Rex et al., 1994. It begins with the child's early nonverbal and verbal interactions with others, awareness of the environment, and explorations. It continues as the child gains intentional language, broadens explorations, and builds concepts. It progresses as the child gains an understanding of the functions of symbols and language, experiences with books, and experiments with writing. Out of these experiences, the child gradually builds concepts about reading and writing. The focus of emergent literacy is on learning, rather than on teaching, and on the child as an active learner. The teacher’s role is to facilitate and extend child-initiated learning

The emergent literacy process is centered on meaning and is a constructive (Stratton, 2004), functional  and interactive process. It is constructive in that it develops internally as the child builds concepts about the environment (Neuman & Roskos, 1993) and culture (Walker-Dalhouse, 1993) on the basis of active explorations and meaningful language. It is functional, in that its purpose is in that it allows the child to perform activities in natural situations, such as reading directions, scanning a map, or recording a telephone message (Stratton, 2004 ). And it is interactive because it involves feedback from adults or other children on child initiated play and language. The purpose of adult-child interactions, according to the emergent-literacy perspective, is to foster the child's development of the literacy process, rather than to help the child get the "right" answer (Clay, 1991).

Children with low vision, therefore, need to be exposed to a wide a variety of life experiences as possible and be involved in everyday activities that focus on literacy.  As D’Andrea and Farrenkopf (2000) have pointed out, using Lowenfeld’s (1973) principles of special methods, i.e. learning by doing, providing concrete experiences and providing unifying experiences, the teacher is able to encourage development of specific visual skills in ways that enhance emergent literacy skills. At this level of Koenig’s (1996) taxonomy, a great deal of useful information about the ways a child uses his or her vision can be obtained by observation in a variety of settings and lighting conditions. Consultation with parents, family members, and care-givers provides another important avenue of information acquisition.

Low vision intervention focuses on maximising an individual’s ability to perform a variety of visual tasks identified as important and desirable. As Topor, Hall, Lueck and Smith (2004) have pointed out, when a youngster is attending school and undertaking academic work, the focus differs, sometimes dramatically from that of efforts designed for very young children and children with multiple disabilities (p. 353). For example, a team process is vital in implementing special programs across various home, community, school or pre-vocational and vocational settings.

Koenig (1996) has highlighted a growing distinction between basic academic literacy and practical functional literacy that is required for independent and successful functioning in society and discusses the importance of teachers measuring and documenting achievement in reading and writing in order to provide accountability and to encourage minimum levels of student accomplishment. Noting the difficulties involved in establishing criteria for measuring writing skills, he recommends that they should be "commensurate" with reading skills

Academic literacy is important for a variety of reasons. It is a key indicator of success at school, and this factor is considered important by society generally. Several occupations, notably journalism and teaching require these sorts of literacy skills. Further, a student can continue to develop and expand literacy skills, and learning in general, using the basic reading and writing skills that one acquires in school (Koenig, 1996, p. 63).

To acquire competence, comfort and flexibility in the area of literacy, students with low vision must learn how to use various LVD and technological devices, how to modify their surroundings to best enhance their visual abilities, and how to use their vision efficiently for close and distant tasks. These skills must generally be taught by specially trained teachers, so that the students can apply them at home and at school. To further reinforce skill acquisition, the specialist (generally a visiting) teacher, can instruct the regular classroom teachers and parents in ways to implement the same skills, techniques and environmental modifications.

Academic demands will change quite dramatically throughout a student’s school life. Koenig (1996) for example, has pointed to the growing recognition by teachers that the types of literacy skills that are acquired at school, for example, reading and responding to connected pieces of text, or writing stories or term papers, are unique to educational settings (p. 63). He has suggested in consequence that teachers employ more practical applications of literacy that are commonly employed in the workplace, for example, writing short memos to fellow employees, completing forms, writing cheques and reading signs. 

The taxonomy level defined by Koenig (1996) as functional literacy involves skills in "negotiating" one's daily experiences and emphasizes the uses of reading and writing. The focus shifts from school-based literacy to real-world practical applications of reading and writing. The two characteristics of functional literacy for individuals with visual impairments include the successful accomplishment of tasks requiring reading and writing, and "the use of skills or tools to independently gain access to regular print when literacy tasks require communication with others in this medium (p. 281).A variety of options is needed to accomplish these tasks, including the individual's commitment to lifelong learning and self-advocacy skills.

It is important to realise that, as D’Andrea and Farrenkopf (2000) have pointed out, a variety of methods, for example, optical devices (magnifiers, monoculars), non-optical methods (changes in lighting, the use of bold line pen), synthesised speech, live readers, large print or audio-taped materials, can be used at different times to access visual information in the environment, just as they can be used for academic tasks (p. 7). It is also important that students with low vision have access to the full range of these methods together with the option (as necessary) of using Braille. It is also important that they develop an understanding of the appropriate use of the various aids in order to gain optimal access to literature at all times.

Attaining and improving literacy is often, in the professional literature, considered a fundamental human right throughout life. Teachers, therefore, need to develop a ‘mid-set’ that promotes on-going involvement in their literacy programs. Koenig (1996) has provided the following principles to guide professionals in fostering the development of literacy in children and also in adults with low vision:

  • Ensure that young children have a wealth of basic life experiences and direct access to early literacy events.
  • Ensure that students develop academic literacy skills that permit reading with efficiency, stamina, comfort and enjoyment during the school years.
  • Teach persons with low vision, multiple strategies for gaining independent and ready access to information.
  • Ensure that persons with low vision develop functional literacy skills for completing daily tasks that are important for living and work.
  • Address the unique needs of children and adults with adventitious vision impairment in establishing literacy by teaching them new approaches to reading with low vision.
  • Address the needs of illiterate adults with acquired vision impairments by providing opportunities for literacy to be important and meaningful in their lives (p.66).
  • American Foundation for the Blind. (2004). Improving literacy. Retrieved 21 April, 2004 from
  • Anshell, R.J. (2000). Kids, computers: Eyes and visual systems. The RSI Network, 42. 
  • Barraga, N. C. (1970). Teachers’ guide for development of visual learning abilities and utilization of low vision. Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind.
  • Bell, J. K. (2004). Integrating optical devices into literacy programs through the use of IEP goals and objectives
  • Bush, B. (1990). The quest for literacy. American Way, p. 143.
  • Clay, M.M. (1991). Becoming literate: The construction of inner control. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational Books
  • Commonwealth Department of Education, Science and Training (1998). Literacy for all: The challenge for Australian schools
  • Corn, A. (1986). Low vision and visual efficiency. In G.T. Scholl (Ed.). Foundations of education for blind and visually handicapped children and youth (pp. 96-117). New York: AFB Press.
  • Corn, A. L., & Koenig, A. J. (2002). Literacy instruction for students with low vision: A framework for delivery of instruction. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 96, 305-321
  • Corn, A.L. & Koenig, A.J. (Eds.) (1996). Foundations of low vision: Clinical and functional. New York; AFB Press
  • Corn, A. L., Wall, R., & Bell, J. (2001). Impact of optical devices on reading rates and expectations for visual functioning of school-age children and youths with low vision. Visual Impairment Research, 2, 33-41
  • Corn, A. L., Wall, R. S., Jose, R., Bell, J., Wilcox, K., & Perez, A. (2002). An initial study of reading and comprehension rates for students receiving optical devices. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 96, 322-334
  • D’Andrea, F. M. & Farrenkopf, C. (Eds.(. (2000). Looking to learn: Promoting literature for students with low vision. New York: AFB Press.
  • Gibson, L. (1989). Literacy development in the early years: Through children's eyes. New York: Teachers College Press
  • Hiebert, E.H. & Fisher, C.W. (1990). Whole language: Three themes for the future. Educational Leadership, 47, 62-64
  • Indiana Department of Education (1996). Functional literacy assessment guidelines for students who are blind or visually impaired. Retrieved 22 April 2004 from:
  • Jolley, W., Gale, G., Gentle, F. & Steer, M.  (2001). Literacy and numeracy acquisition, including the role of Braille, for students in Australia who are blind or vision impaired. Report commissioned by the Commonwealth Department of Education, Training & Youth Affairs, Canberra, August.
  • Koenig, A. J. (1996). The literacy of individuals.In Neuman, S. & Roskos, K. (Eds.). Language and literacy learning in the early years: An integrated approach. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
  • Koenig, A.J. (1992). A framework for understanding the literacy of individuals with visual impairment. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 86, 277-284.
  • Koenig, A.J., & Holbrook, M.C. (1995). Learning media assessment of students with visual impairments. 2nd ed. Austin, TX: Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
  • Latham, M. & Collins J. (2004). Read Aloud Australia. ALP News Statement, 31 January. 
  • Lowenfeld, B. (1973). Psychological considerations. In B. Lowenfeld (Ed.). The visually handicapped child in school (pp 27-66). New York: John day Company.
  • Rex, E.J., Koenig, A.J., Wormsley, D.P., & Baker, R.L. (1994). Foundations of braille literacy. New York: AFB Press
  • Stratton, J. M. (2004). Emergent literacy: A new perspective. Retrieved 22 April 2004 from:
  • Topor, I, Hall Lueck, A., & Smith, J. (2004). Compensatory instruction for academically oriented students with visual impairments. In A. Hall Lueck (Ed.). Functional vision: A practitioner’s guide to evaluation and intervention. New York: AFB Press.
  • Van Krayenoord, C., Elkins, J., Palmer, C., Rickards, F., Colbert, P and others (2000). Literacy, numeracy and students with disabilities. The Literature Review, 2(1). Nathan, Qld. DETYA Clearinghouse.
  • Vision 2020. (2002). Australia’s story: Facts and figures. Retrieved 27 April 2004 from:
  • Walker-Dalhouse, D. (1993). Beginning reading and the African-American child at risk. Young Children, 49(i), 24-28.



Magister Ludi: Policy Implementation Games


Imagine a scenario in which the Commonwealth and State Government Ministers have been persuaded by the Round Table to allocate $100 million of new monies over three years into the development of comprehensive, alternative information access supports for people with a print disability nationally. Round Table members and service provider dreams have come true. What would happen after the policy announcement? This paper  will explain some of the ways that policy implementation works and reveal several strategies that have been traditionally employed by those with vested interests to subvert policy implementation processes to their own ends. The information is of particular interest to members of advocacy and special interest groups and is aimed at aiding them to identify many of the unusual and clever manoeuvres in Government-community negotiation. The paper will be useful to agency CEO’s, managers and program planners wishing to anticipate policy implementation problems at an early stage so that they can design “game proof” responses.

For some 25 years the author has worked in Canada, the USA and Australia in a variety of positions having to do with the formulation and implementation of public disability policy. For example, he was for five exciting years Director of Special Education for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada. This was followed by some years as Director if the Victorian Government’s Educational Integration Unit, then was Principal Disability Policy Adviser for Community Services Victoria, followed by a number of years as Director of the NSW Office on Disability in the State Government’s Social Policy Directorate

From his lengthy experience in the musty heights of various provincial and state bureaucracies, at least three “truths” about policy implementation have been revealed to him. These are as follows:

  • It is very difficult to design public policies that look good on paper,
  • It is even harder to frame them in words and catch-phrases that sounded pleasing to his political masters; and
  • It is incredibly difficult to implement policies in ways that please almost anyone, including those targeted as the primary beneficiaries.

Government policies are likely to be as complex as the society upon which, and through which they have been designed to work. A single policy relating to people with vision impairments for example, may involve the complex and interrelated activities of several Commonwealth departments, several state government departments and a number of local governments.

In NSW alone at the state level, there are almost 150 government agencies, at least 130 of which are required under section 9 of the NSW Disability Services Act to produce formal disability plans (Physical Disability Council of NSW, 1999). Some of the major “Line Departments” of the NSW State Government, for example the Department of Education and Training are colossal in size with multi-billion dollar annual budgets. A recently adopted government policy might also involve private organisations, for example the Royal Blind Society, the Royal Institute for Deaf & Blind Children or the Guide Dogs Association. Such professional organisations as South Pacific Educators in Vision Impairment, the Australian Braille Authority, and such special interest groups as NSW Institute for Family Advocacy, the Round Table on Access for People with a Print Disability, or the Australian Blindness Forum (ABF) might all have a role to play or decide that they had something to contribute. As well as these, specific individuals might be involved as customers, or consumers.

The question of how best to control, or plan for these multiple interests in the policy implementation process is at the heart of the challenge that has become universally known in the private and public human service sectors as the “implementation problem”. This brief paper offers the reader an opportunity to reflect on the challenges and possibilities in an hypothesized Round Table-related policy implementation process.


Imagine a scenario in which the Commonwealth and State Government Ministers have been persuaded by Round TableI, the ABF and ACROD to allocate $100 million over three years into the development of comprehensive, alternative information access supports for people with a print disability nationally. The dream of everyone attending the 2003 Round Table Conference has come true. But what would happen after the policy announcement?

Essentially, someone to whom authority has been delegated will have to do some planning about how, where and when the money will be spent. The challenge will involve assembling and implementing some form of distributive program through an appropriate mechanism or process. What is needed at the initial stage of this new and exciting project will be analogous to an architect’s blueprint. The necessary plan can be assembled either from scratch or by overhauling and supplementing an existing mechanism. Implementation will mean aggregating and assembling elements and putting the implementation machine together, then making it run so that the allocated monies will flow to the beneficiaries. Hopefully, these will be students who are vision impaired and their families. For those whose responsibility it is to deliver the new program(s), the challenges will mostly be about exerting and maintaining control of the processes they have devised.

  • The parts of the implementation machine will consist of some or all of the following:
  • An administrative and financial control locus or loci,
  • Identification of presumptive beneficiaries
  • Private providers of related good and services, for example, housing, work, educational, health services,
  • Clearances by public regulatory authorities
  • Innovation in program and design
  • Other funding sources
  • Trouble shooters
  • Political support to protect and sustain the projects as they develop

Most of those involved in the numerous and diverse elements that together make up the print disability support implementation project will be relatively independent of one another. Their politics can generally be assumed to be initially highly defensive. They will each want “a cut of the benefits pie”. However, some will want to avoid scrutiny for a variety of reasons; some will want to avoid responsibility and all will seek to avoid blame should anything go wrong. It is essential, therefore, that whoever holds the authority for implementing the new policy should have a clear conception of the integration processes that are necessary, before specifying the problems that might result from them. And before speculating about what might have to be done about the hypothesised problems.


Viewed from this perspective, implementation of the exciting new print disability program might be conceived as a playing field on which numerous political and bureaucratic games are played (Hart, 2000). The implementation process, involving the assembly of a variety of elements, together required to produce some particularly desirable outcomes, involves therefore, playing out a number of loosely inter-related games whereby certain elements are withheld from, or delivered to the program assembly process on particular terms (Sawyer, 2002). Many of the policy implementation games mentioned later in this brief paper owe their initial identification and description to the work of Eugene Bardach, Associate Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, who proposed them over 25 years ago. However, they are still not widely known outside of his particular field of study, and to the author’s knowledge have not before been related to policies and programs affecting information access by individuals with a print disability.


The most successful participants involved in implementation will tend to see the process as a game, rather like chess, checkers or Japanese Go. Their motivation is to be winners (Bardach, 1977). The games are characterised by a need to manoeuvre large numbers of semi-autonomous actors or participants (Leigh, 1992). Each of these will be trying to gain access to certain desired program elements that are not under his or her control, while at the same time trying to extract better terms from other players who are seeking to access elements that s/he controls.

Further, most or all program assembly processes generally take much longer than their sponsors hope or expect they will. Delays can result from such management games as “stalling”, “thwarting” and “postponing”. Delay is perhaps endemic to program implementation (Leigh & Spindler, 1999). It occurs, for example through the extra time needed to find suitable service providers. This might particularly be the case with regard to vision impairment educational service provision. It might occur through the time it takes for potential providers to decide on the terms they require before committing to the project. Delays in project implementation most often occur from queuing problems, i.e. from the sheer number of transactions that are necessary.

Manoeuvres by several players in the implementation game can both express conflict and create it. Moreover, with every counter-move aimed at reducing conflict, there is a risk of actually making things worse. In fact, much of the implementation process for the vision impairment project will move along, out of control, driven by complex forces not of any party’s making. There will be delay from protracted and frustrating negotiation, from unplanned and accidental occurrences, blocking delays, adoption of alternative time priorities and the seemingly inevitable “illogicality” of collective action. The delays themselves will cause actors to renege on commitments.

Project managers who are held politically accountable for the success of the new policy initiative are obliged to cope. To do so they will have to play management games. Typical of these sorts of activities are “tokenism” and “monopoly” games.

  • The Tokenism Game involves attempting to appear to be contributing to the implementation process publicly, while conceding only a small contribution (Sax, 1994). The essential management tool is procrastination. Another ploy is to substitute an inferior quality contribution, for example; “we can’t arrange appropriately subsidised and trained carers, but we can easily and quickly arrange…(a less costly and far less effective alternative). However, tokenism often requires persistence and ingenuity, so that many managers seek to avoid it as a games strategy, since it is time and energy consuming.
  • The Monopoly Game. The tokenism game is often played by monopolies whose will is enforced either by political protection or by government agency protection (Coulson, 1996). Unions and certain large service provider institutions fall into this category of player, combining political protection with formidable political strength. In some ways, with regard to the implementation game, monopolies are rather like huge whirlpools that suck all opposition into their depths. They have the capacity to create enormous disruption in the policy and program implementation process.

A variety of other games will be identifiable in the new vision impairment support services  implementation process, some well-hidden (covert), some played on the open playing field (overt). These games will include some or all the following sorts:

  • Energy Dissipation games These result in substantial implementation delays as individuals, organisations and other stake-holders waste large amounts of energy in the following ways:
    • By trying to avoid responsibility
    • By defending themselves against the games of others
    • By trying to set up advantageous situations
  • The Tenacity game. This is a game that everyone can play. It involves stymieing the progress or completion of a particular program until your own terms are satisfied. Often as a result of player tenacity, project death or delay is the consequence. The message to those charged with information access project implementation is that the risks and costs of altering the potential benefits of the project from its generally accepted objectives will require careful consideration before engaging in these sorts of activities.
  • The Territory game. The acquisition of new territory is a game is played by all bureaucratic organisations and it can often have positive results as long as no one really wins and as long as the tensions that are created generate information leading to evaluation. Competition for territory can have adverse effects if it interferes with operational responsibilities that ought to be coordinated.
  • The “Not Our Problem” game. The desire for expanded territory and augmented budgets rapidly evaporates when organisations realise that a particular implementation problem will impose a heavy workload or launch them into the realms of controversy or blame, or that the required tasks are too difficult and they lack the capacity to successfully undertake them. The solution is to shift the problem. If nobody wants the problem area, the regulatory activities that arise from it are simply not performed and the users or customers start to get the “run around”.
  • The “Their Fault” game. This is a more aggressive form of the “not our problem” game in which blame for failure is deflected by finding a scapegoat. A particular feature of the game is that the numbers of players who can be drawn into it affects its outcomes. The more actors who can be persuaded to play the game the less likely is program completion. The greater the number of delays generated, the less likely is the project or program to succeed if completed.
  • The Odd Man Out game. This is a game played by relatively autonomous players once they have weighed-up the playing field and made decisions about their contribution to the implementation process. These organisational leaders or individuals are generally uncertain about the actions of the other players. As the policy initiative implementation process develops and expands, their uncertainty is either reduced or magnified and this creates or maintains options for some of them to “cut their losses” and withdraw. As the several actors continue to monitor what is going on, they simultaneously attempt to manoeuvre the other players into foregoing their options. If the uncertainties are large enough, none of the players will be willing to make the early moves and the program will not get off the ground.
  • The Resource Diversion game. Some of the implementation games that have adverse effects on the program assembly process include the following:
    • Diversion of money (resources) that ought to be used to obtain or create some of the program elements,
    • Deflection of the policy goals stipulated in the original mandate,
    • Resistance to all efforts to control behaviour administratively; and
    • Dissipation of personal and political energies in games playing that might otherwise be channelled into constructive program actions.
  • The Easy Money game. This is a game often played by parties in the private sector who wish to make off with Government monies in exchange for program elements of too little value. Their activities are not invariably illegal. Sometimes they arise from unclear agreements about what should happen. Sometimes Easy Money games take the form of bilateral monopoly games that have one round of play. Sometimes, a great deal of time and effort is wasted in games that involve continued liaison with all the affected public agencies and political authorities. The Americans call these behaviours “boondoggles” (Williams, 2000). On the darker side of these games one can find abuses of public trust, graft, kickbacks, bribes and vertically integrated monopolies. A classic example of this sort of game might involve doctors who accept fees from private patients, who then place the patients in the nursing homes they (the doctors) own and receive pharmacy kickbacks from the monopolies they create.
  • The Goal Deflection game. Typically the goals in the original policy mandate’s implementation processes will change over time to accommodate changes in time, environment and player turnover. These shifts are particularly problematic when the original goals are ambiguous or when problems have been initially ill defined and understood, or in instances where there has been weak consensus among key players. Additionally, those with interests opposed to the project’s original goals might have stayed quiet during the initial phases of implementation, and have been waiting for an opportunity to have their way. A policy of renegotiating goals can lead to trimming them back, as well as distorting or preventing their attainment. As project goals become redundant, they are added to the unsupportable political burden of the project and become a danger to its continuance.
  • The Easy Life game. This is a game generally played by public servants who tailor the environment to suit themselves. This is a particularly easy end to accomplish when services involve rationing. Rationing leads to queuing which results in a relatively powerless, voiceless and disorganised public. The Easy Life game is best played with reorganisation, restructure and incessant transition as its strategies.
  • The Pork Barrel game. Because the political process expands the boundaries of eligibility for benefits from most projects, and because Government needs support from as many sources as possible, there is always an attempt at spreading resources. Pork barrelling is the process that ensures that ones friends, relatives and mates benefit from what is within one’s hands to give. For example, representatives of “the powerless poor” or the “disabled minority” concentrate on securing payments for themselves and positions of influence for their family and friends. This phenomenon generates as well as results in “patronage”.
  • The Piling-on game. This is a game in which the initial successes of a project or a new program provide the potential for longer-run debilitation. The new program is in fact seen primarily as a new political resource, and all the players “pile-on” to the band wagon, until the wheels collapse and the program founders, having run its course to the benefit of the few who jumped on early.
  • Budget games. These generally take the form of budget maximisation activities in which implementation success depends on shaping incentives for those who control the budgets. Some games take the form of “ready-to-go, must “move the money” strategies. Others involve inflating the costs of goal attainment by “padding” In others the designers provide few incentives for the resource donors to police spending. In others there are difficulties in specifying quantifiable indicators. In general terms, the older a money-moving agency grows, the less adventurous and ideological it becomes (Support Center of San Francisco, 1995).
  • The Up-for-Grabs game. Sometimes a new policy or program mandate provides elements, for example, for a piece of bureaucracy with a modest budget, without actually prescribing or envisioning its purpose or its connection to other elements of the system. These few unambiguous elements are “up-for-grabs” to be shaped to whatever ends generate the most gains for the “grabber”.
  • The Keeping the Peace game. Some social programs and policies originate from a desire to “do the right thing” and extirpate a real or imagined evil. (Haas, 1998). The arenas on which these games are played are generally replete with players who are hotheads, zealots or extremists. Actors are sometimes intent on sparking a counter-reformation, or on intense scrutiny, or on criticising or even terrorising. The goal for the senior manager or project executive in these circumstances is to “keep the lid on” the implementation process, while those with special agendas attempt to capture the program. This they do by, for example, offering to write the program guidelines or regulations. 



Policy and program implementation, with regard to the $100 million new information access development initiative that provides the “playing field” for some or all of the games outlined above, should the Round Table, ABF and ACROD dream come true, would almost certainly result in a display of pressure politics. Those involved in the process should expect to either observe or participate in an ongoing series of bargaining, manoeuvring and pulling and pushing as the policy adoption process spills over into actual implementation.

In all the “jockeying” the die-hards who believe they have in some way lost out, will seek, when the guidelines and regulations are being drafted, to continue their opposition. The entire project implementation process can be conceived as a system of pressures, with delay as an endemic characteristic.

With regard to the administrative processes that are essential to all forms of policy and project implementation, managers and advisers should expect to encounter a variety of forms of “authority leakage” because individual agency officials will have varying goals and use their discretion in translating orders.  Further, the dynamics of organisational recruitment often create conservative middle managers and often, the lower staff echelons within agencies have autonomous power bases.

Implementation of the new vision impairment policies and programs will be driven by inter-organisational transactions with government officials, clients, private contractors, professional groups and publicists, all articulating their own special fears and anxieties. Successful implementation depends to a large extent on the “massing of assent” from those who are key stakeholders. (American Academy of Pediatrics, 1995).

There are many issues arising from the various games described above, that touch upon the recurrent theme of the particularity of human service organisations. For example, such issues as rapidity of change and the large amount of external determination of change; the value dimension, for example, the issue of legitimacy, and aspects reflected by differing attitudes.

The reader can be quite sure that the creation and introduction of new forms of information access for people with a print disability will involve, for better or worse, compromise on most important issues. Therefore, it seems essential for all key players in such an undertaking to remain optimistic and retain the primacy of having goals that will ultimately benefit people with print disabilities. 

  • American Academy of Pediatrics. (1995). Informed consent, parental permission, and assent in pediatric practice. Pediatrics, 95(2), 314-317,
  • Bardach, E. (1977). The implementation game: What happens after a bill becomes law. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Coulson, A. (1996). Markets versus monopolies in education: The historical evidence. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 4(9), Retrieved 19 July, 2000 from:
  • Haas, A. (1998). Doing the right thing: Cultivating your moral intelligence. New York: Pocket Books
  • Hart, G. (2000). Readings and resources in global online education, Melbourne: Whirligig Press.
  • Leigh, E. (1992). Learning through play: simulations and games in adult teaching, In A. Gonczi (ed.).Teaching for the clever society: Using simulations and games in university settings. Sydney: University of Technology Sydney, Centre for Learning and Teaching, UTS.
  • Leigh, E. &  Spindler, L. (1999). Playing games (and simulations) with chaos theory. Sydney: Paper presented at annual CERG Conference
  • Physical Disability Council of NSW. (1999). Disability Services ActPosition paper.
  • Sawyer, B. (2002). Serious games: Improving public policy through game-based learning and simulation. Retrieved 18 July, 2002 from:
  • Sax, L. J. (1994). The dynamics of tokenism: How college students are affected by the proportion of women in their major. Los Angeles: AERA annual meeting paper. April.
  • Support Center of San Francisco. (1995). What is a strategic plan?  San Francisco, CA.
  • Williams, D. (2000). Are we building too many ICT boondoggles?: One guru’s view. Leader’s Net. Retrieved 19 July 2002. from: 2000/03/msg00060.html

Neurological Vision Loss: A Guide for People who have Homonymous Hemianopia

(Royal Society for the Blind)


Our ability to see and to understand what we see is a very complex process involving not just the eyes but many parts of the brain as well. It is estimated that over 40% of our brain is devoted to visual function. So it is not surprising that a large proportion of people who suffer a brain injury will have visual problems of one sort or another. Yet many people are unaware of the nature of vision loss associated with brain injury and what assistance can be provided to alleviate the problems that this significant vision loss can cause.

This booklet is designed to provide information about vision deficits associated with a brain injury. It describes how messages from our eyes are processed by the brain and how injury to parts of the brain can affect the vision. It will also explain how to identify signs and symptoms of neurological vision loss as well as treatment options and support services available.

Downloadable .pdf