Step back in time: supporting students with vision impairments over the years

A look at the Statewide Vision Resource Centre's history and the stories of students they helped to thrive

This year has been a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the history and achievements of our education sector, as we commemorate 150 years of public education in Victoria.

Throughout this period, there have been many examples of powerful initiatives that have supported students with vision impairments to thrive.

One such example is the establishment of the Statewide Vision Resource Centre (SVRC) in 1983, to ensure inclusion and achievement for all learners who are blind or have low vision.

SVRC is located in Donvale and supports 530 students through specialised teaching, materials, technologies and the Visiting Teacher Service. It also gives school staff, visiting teachers and families personalised advice, training and resources to manage their specific circumstances.

Stories of support  

As we approach the SVRC's 40-year anniversary, we explore how support and education has changed for students with vision impairment throughout Victoria's history.

1950s – John's story

Before the SVRC, the department supported students with vision impairments through a unit and special school. The unit included students from 5 to 15 years old; students such as John Simpson who attended Princes Hills Primary School from 1953 to 1960.

John was in the 'Sight Saving Grade', which followed the belief of the time that using your low vision might damage it. In Sight Saving Grade, students like John minimised the use of their vision by using typed large print, blackboards and chalk, and desks with tiltable lids to raise work up to their eyes.

A proud advocate for the needs of people with low vision, John Simpson AM was president of Blind Citizens Australia for 6 years, until January 2022.

1980s – Brett's story

After SVRC was established in 1983, it helped students such as Brett Scarr, who attended Keilor Primary School, to integrate into their local primary schools.

Brett spoke about his Visiting Teacher, Annette Godfrey-Magee in the department's 'Comet' magazine, saying, 'My teacher makes me do the same work as the rest of the class. Every day my Visiting Teacher comes. She helps me with my braille. I use an abacus to count.'

Brett used a Perkins Brailler for his schoolwork and an abacus for counting and maths. SVRC and his visiting teacher translated his braille for his classroom teachers. SVRC also embossed his books in braille, so he could read with his classmates.

Brett now works for the National Disability Insurance Scheme as a digital accessibility consultant. He helps to make sure everyone in our community can access the portal.

2022 – Zoe's story

Zoe is in Grade 4 at Solway Primary School. She is blind and gets plenty of support from the SVRC to help her through school.

Zoe has a visiting teacher and uses technology and equipment borrowed from the SVRC Technology Library. The SVRC taught Zoe and her teachers how it all worked.

Zoe uses a braille writer to jot down notes and do maths. Braille technology means her teachers can access her work, as the braille can be translated on screen, by email or on paper.

Zoe reads content in a variety of formats through her iPad, which has an in-built voice-over function, and specialised apps such as an audio dictionary. Zoe is a keen reader, so SVRC produces many books in braille for her from her school library.

Zoe attends the Support Skills Program at SVRC twice a term. She learns the Expanded Core Curriculum to gain the extra skills needed by students with a vision impairment. Most of the program's teachers also have a vision impairment.

Teaching resources and support for students with a disability

Support for teachers working with students with vision impairment is available through the SVRC and the Visiting Teacher Service, including:

For information, teaching materials and programs available to support students with disability and additional needs, check out how to support students with additional learning needs.

For information about the department's Disability Inclusion reforms which will be introduced in schools between now and 2025, refer to Disability Inclusion.

Find out more

Photo of Zoe and an electronic tablet

Photo: Zoe uses her braille writer to jot notes and do maths, translated for teachers through braille technology.