Ausnew Home Care | No obstacle too much as vision impaired Christopher

No obstacle too much as vision impaired Christopher McLeod-Barrett, 12, tackles first day of high school in rural Queensland

disability Disability Employment Services disability law disability stereotypes intellectual disability Living With a Disability NDIS NDIS Aged Care Approved no ‘dis’ in disability. Seeing the ability in disability umbrella of disability

  • Making friends and fitting in dwell heavy on the minds of new high school students.
  • But for legally blind Christopher McLeod-Barrett, there's a whole lot more to navigate on his first day of year 7, starting with the countless flights of stairs and a minefield of poles around the playground.

"What's probably been most challenging is that there's like 30 different levels here," the 12-year-old said of his new school, Spinifex State College, in the rural Queensland city of Mount Isa.

Young boy with white cane stands at the bottom of a flight of stairs
The idea of many flights of stairs at his new school was at first daunting for Christopher.(ABC North West Queensland: Larissa Waterson)

But should the bright, young lad trip up, he's got a community of supporters cheering him on and the school's head of special education, Helen Little, by his side.

It takes a village

A modern-day Miss Honey, Helen devoted the past 18 months to ensuring Christopher hit the ground running come the chime of first school bell for 2022.

As the first vision imp[aired student at the school, significant preparations were needed to accommodate Christopher.

Woman with grey hair and glasses wearing purple shirt smiles at camera
Head of special education services at Spinifex State College.(ABC North West Queensland: Larissa Waterson)

"The journey started about 18 months ago when we did a transition meeting looking at our campus and the facilities we had and what we needed to do to get ready," Ms Little said.

Since then, she has led the charge, ensuring facilities are modified, equipment is acquired, and staff are trained.

"So far, I've prepared my staff; we've been doing workshops.

A teacher in a green dress helps Christopher with a science experiment at a classroom table
Teaching staff at the school have been trained to support Christopher.

Ms Little visited the Narbethong Special School, Brisbane, where statewide vision impairment services are based, to look at an alternate format library.

"Narbethong staff also came up to Townsville to meet two of our staff to learn about tactile learning and get that ready for the classroom.

"I have two teachers' aides that have started an online course on braille," Ms Little said.

Funding an equal education

Planning for Christopher's start at the school hasn't been cheap and he is still waiting on the NDIS to approve funding for a braille machine.

"I did a costing at one stage and it was going to cost our school about $22,000 to get ready to have him," Ms Little said.

Close up image of young boy bent over a sheet of different colours on a classroom table
Christopher is legally blind and has some minor vision in his left eye.(ABC North West Queensland: Larissa Waterson)

Funding for school students with disabilities is through the federal government.

It works on a tiered model, and although advocates say it has improved since the Disability Royal Commission, they believe there's still work to do.

Mary Sayers is the CEO at Children and Young People with Disabilities Australia. She said more work was required to eradicate barriers to much-needed funding for students with disabilities.

"We need needs-based funding that actually follows the student, so that if they do require accommodations they're made without questions and families are not made to feel as if they're begging for inclusion," she said.

'A friend you can trust'

Christopher with his white cane walks down a school hallway
Christopher attended several transition days to help him get the lay of the land.(ABC North West Queensland: Larissa Waterson)

Over the past school holidays, Christopher attended transition days to meet new students and get the lay of the land.

He said the warmth from the people surrounding him had bolstered his confidence.

"I've already made a few new friends over the transition days," he said.

"But the number of friends you have doesn't matter. All you need is a friend you can truly trust. And I'm lucky enough to have that friend who's stuck with me for our entire schooling and now here.

Young boy carries white cane walking on school pavement at bottom of stairs
Christopher is excited to make new friends at his new school.(ABC North West Queensland: Larissa Waterson)

Gifted with a keen intellect and a cheeky wit, Christopher's vision for the future couldn't be clearer.

"I want to be on radio as a football presenter," he said.

The 12-year-old has already racked up a few years' work experience as a sports caller on ABC Grandstand.

Those around him believe the sky is the limit for Christopher and can't wait to see him succeed.

"He can do anything," said Christopher's former principal at Sunset primary school, Bryon Burke.

"He's immensely competent in achieving whatever he wants to

Ms Little says she'll be there to prop him up with whatever he needs.

"I'm excited," she said. "He has a vision that will propel him into a very bright future."


Source: ABC

Older Post Newer Post