For six-year-old Zavier Price and his mum Stacey Hampson, it’s the little things that are helping him make the most of school.
Thanks to a team of support workers including orthoptists at Vision Australia, Zavier has the confidence to go to school and match his classmates.
Zavier was born with Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis, a rare genetic eye condition that affects the development of cells in the retina, the portion of the eye that detects light and colour.
He is both legally blind and colour blind. He has 6/60 vision – he can see at 6m something that people with normal vision can see at 60m.
Stacey says Vision Australia has been involved with Zavier since he was a year old, and worked diligently on Zavier’s behalf to make his transition to classroom life at Eaglehawk North Primary School as smooth as possible.
Virginia McDonald is a Vision Australia orthoptist. Orthoptists are eye care professionals who specialise in the detection, diagnosis and treatment of vision and eye disorders and offer interventions to optimise a client’s visual potential.
“I remember my first home visit with Zavier and how I introduced Zavier to some ‘Super Spectacle Glasses Straps’ to help him wear his glasses full-time, which was a big challenge at the time,” she says.
Ensuring Zavier wears his glasses will prevent new eye conditions including amblyopia, a form of preventable blindness caused by failing to use corrective lenses, from developing through Zavier’s life.
“I can’t tell you how satisfying this makes me feel when my skills and knowledge impact the lifelong visual outcome for a kid and their development,” Virginia says.
Part of Virginia’s role was to provide a detailed assessment of the conditions Zavier would be working in at school – lighting, the positioning of furniture, his seating position in classrooms and the technology he’s likely to use.
Lighting in various parts of the school was upgraded with brighter fluorescent tubes, with some dimmer switches installed for finer adjustment.
He received a magnifying desk lamp for his classroom and the art room and a specialised lamp for computer work. The school has acted to put in curtains to reduce glare.
Vision Australia arranged for an iPad on loan through government education funding initiative Better Start.
He now has Magic computer magnification software, which can also adjust screen colour and contrast and speak as Zavier types, headphones for when he is using the Magic speaking function, a CCTV-based desktop magnifier for reading, a high-visibility keyboard, a large monitor for computer work.
Virginia also has coached Zavier to improve his social skills and coached his schoolmates and teachers about his condition and the social skills they need to interact with him. He is also connected to a braille teacher.
Virginia says many of the changes weren’t difficult or too costly but have made a big difference to Zavier’s ability to access the classroom like any other child.
“I visited his class at the end of last year and I was delighted to see all the changes I recommended had been implemented,” she says.
“His assistive technology, lighting and magnification, seating position and contrast strategies had all been set up as I had outlined. I went home with a big smile on my face and felt very valued as an eye care professional.”
Stacey says Zavier has grown remarkably since starting school.
“When he started school, Zavier was doing tests but he wasn’t able to complete them because he can’t see colours and he can’t see pencil lines,” she says.
“Vision Australia has also worked with specialist teachers who have brought in labels so that he can use his colours. Little things like that have been so helpful and let him do the same things the other kids do.”
Stacey says life for Zavier would have been much harder without a hand from Vision Australia.
“He wouldn’t be anywhere near where he is without Vision Australia,” she says.
“He wouldn’t be able to read without his technology. He’d come home with a lot more bumps and bruises, because Vision Australia helps with keeping the classes set up in a specific way so he doesn’t trip over.
“He’d be struggling so much more with social skills. That would be huge.”
Virginia says Vision Australia will work with Zavier right through his life.
“I feel privileged that I have played a part in getting Zavier off to a great start with his education. He’s such a fantastic kid”.
“It’s reassuring for his family that we are here every step of the way to help him throughout his school years, university, or when he wants to get a job - whatever he wants to do in his life.”