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Born blind, little Sala-Joy is now forging the way for others like her in a mainstream primary school

By Rebecca Black

Published 06/05/2016

Alison Gilmore, a teacher for the visually impaired, at work with Sala-Joy
Alison Gilmore, a teacher for the visually impaired, at work with Sala-Joy

Meet the determined seven-year-old who is thriving in a mainstream school despite having no sight.

Little Sala-Joy moved to Northern Ireland from England last year and now attends Lisnasharragh Primary school in south Belfast.

She was born without vision due to the condition retinitis pigmentosa, which affects the retina.

While her classmates use exercise books, Sala-Joy utilises a Perkins brailler for writing Braille, and embossing machines for producing Braille text and tactile images.

The school says Sala-Joy is making good academic progress and that all of the children are benefiting from some of the new techniques teachers are utilising to deliver the Key Stage 1 curriculum.

Her former school in Southampton was particularly designed to integrate visually impaired children in mainstream education, so her mum Ruth Storbeck was concerned about securing the same level of provision here.

Angel Eyes NI, a sight impairment charity for children, initially helped the family by putting them in contact with the mother of a another girl with severe sight loss who also attends a mainstream school.

With additional support from Blind Children UK and the Northern Ireland branch of the Royal National Institute of Blind People, Sala-Joy was able to attend Lisnasharragh. Ms Storbeck said no child should be restricted when it comes to their choice of school.

"It hasn't been without its challenges," she explained.

"In England everything was in place, but we've had to build the support network here.

"It's been a learning process for all involved. There are still gaps in mainstream provision for children with sight loss, but thanks to a great team being set up, Sala-Joy is thoroughly enjoying her education and doing really well, effectively forging the way for other blind children in mainstream."

Lisnasharragh principal Philip Monks paid tribute to a support team of teachers and classroom assistants for making Sala-Joy's arrival at the school so successful.

"Sala-Joy is a great girl," he said.

"She is articulate and very comfortable speaking to people of all ages.

"She is very much a tactile and auditory learner, and therefore all lessons are adapted to suit this kind of learning."

  • For further information on how the Family Insight project could support you and your family visit rnib.org.uk/familyinsight or contact RNIB NI on 028 9032 9373.

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