In August, SALIN visited the South Australian School for Vision Impaired (SASVI) to tour their Resource Centre. Lauren Fountain, the Resource Centre Manager gave an excellent tour of this unique library.
The SASVI is the only Government-run vision impaired school in Australia. It supports students from Kindy to Year 12. There are 28 students on site – 24 full time and 4 part time at SASVI and part time at other schools. An additional 200 students are supported in mainstream schools. Students learn the National Curriculum, supplemented to support vision impairments (e.g. learning Braille and assistive technologies).
Lauren was a teacher at the school and then retrained to become a librarian. She currently works 3 days a week, generally one day with students, one day with library admin and one day on services for students in mainstream schools. Students have one 45 minute class in the library each week. All the staff at SASVI have to learn Braille proficiency at University as a condition of employment.
The goal of the Resource Centre is to give students with vision impairments the same access to resources as other students. The resource centre has an accessible format production department which produces braille and large print resources, staffed by five School Services Officers. It is a slow and laborious process to produce the resources, sometimes taking up to a whole term, so teachers and students need to plan ahead. Sometimes resources are produced by chapter so a student can get started with their studies without waiting for the whole book to be done.
The Resource Centre has to liaise with publishers to get files to convert to Braille format or to make suitable for use with screen reading software. It can be difficult to get understanding and support from publishers. The Resource Centre now has a relationship with Copyright Australia, which helps them work with publishers.
The special Thermoform paper used to print braille books is expensive: the paper for one textbook can cost $1800. The books are much larger than traditional books. The first Harry Potter book (the smallest in the series) equals 10 volumes of Braille.
The collection includes material in Braille, material in large print, audio visual material and some mainstream material. The majority of these items are purchased internationally. Minimal material for people with vision impairments is produced in Australia.
One of the most unusual types of material in the collection is Sense Sacks. These contain both a print and braille version of a book (for side-by-side reading) along with other fun things to help you sense a book, such as sand, feathers, or musical instruments. There are 80 different Sense Sacks in the collection.
The school has a range of hardware and technology to facilitate learning, including raised line drawing kits which help students learn to sign their names and draw, Optelec screen cameras, and Perkins Braillers (which look a bit like a typewriter). These cost $6000 each and come from the USA. Only one person in South Australia can fix them, so he is kept quite busy! The school also has the Braille Note, an electronic braille writer costing $10000 which can hook up to a computer or screen for teaching and learning.
This was a fascinating tour which was thoroughly enjoyed by the attendees!