Visually impaired parents struggle with distance learning

October 22, 2020
Kamika Braithwaite and her two children.
Kamika Braithwaite and her two children.

Kamika Braithwaite, a visually impaired mother of two, admits she has been having issues with virtual learning brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Though she uses a screen reader feature on her devices, challenges still arise.

"The teacher sends handouts and they are not readable by my screen reader, because she's taking a photo of it. So, I have to email it to myself and let my daughter read it from my laptop," she told THE STAR. She has to use another application to convert images to text, and that is not time-friendly.

"I'm capable of using my smartphone and a computer. We use screen readers with these devices. I have a bigger son and he deals with his thing himself. As it relates to my seven-year-old daughter, her teacher uses WhatsApp for general communication and then she uses Zoom for them to log on," she related.

Having to use the screen reader in WhatsApp group chats with teachers and other parents presents another challenge.

"I have to be swiping my finger across the screen for it to move from message to message. So, one thing that irritates me is when parents or other persons post things in the group that are not necessary, because to go through all those messages and listen is hard," she said, adding that it's much easier for a full-sighted person to manoeuvre this easily.

"Someone who isn't blind can glance and say 'okay, not for me'. I have to swipe and listen to everything. If somebody has the name 'winking face', my screen reader tells me all of that. It goes through all of that before I hear the message," Brathwaite said.

Shavane Dailey, a blind father, has also been struggling to help his five-year-old daughter.

He said that he has always been involved in her education despite his disability, but now, it's a challenge because of the lack of communication with the teachers.

"Sometimes I don't hear from them for a day or two. When it was regular school, I could go to the school and talk to the teachers when this happens. It was more active but now, it's frustrating," he said. "The way my daughter used to operate before COVID is not the way how she is operating now. I ask her something now and she tell me and I ask her later and she forget it. Before, it wasn't like that."

Dailey said he is able to use the necessary online platforms, but faulty Internet connectivity is also an issue.

"What the teachers have to be doing right now is using WhatsApp to send voice notes or videos of themselves with the lessons. I can use them effectively ... I just don't have the network to use them," Dailey told THE STAR. "I'm in North West Clarendon and the network connectivity here is very poor. We have to go to different locations to get a good connection. It is not really stable. By the time Internet go weh and come back, class done. Sometimes we not even connect back for two to three days and we are way behind."

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