Seeing the light
Special needs money needed

Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

NNSL (Sep 24/99) - The Department of Education, Culture and Employment is under renewed attack for not providing enough for special-needs students.

According to Yellowknife Catholic Schools' student support consultant, Liz Baile, even fiscally- conservative Alberta is way ahead of the NWT in recognizing special-needs children.

"In Alberta, the ministry of Education recognizes the sophistication and the cost of educating a blind child," she said.

"In the NWT, special- needs children, whether they're blind, deaf or have learning difficulties, are really under-resourced in terms of tools to use."

Baile estimates the cost of educating a blind child as being about $65,000 before the cost of transliterating text books into braille at a cost of $2,000 each.

Currently, that money comes out of the budget for all the school's needs as there is no specific fund earmarked for special-needs students.

Most students cost the school system about $7,000 per year, Baile said.

As Baile makes her critique of GNWT special- needs funding, she is set to head to a conference Sept. 22-25 in Calgary, called Here's Looking At You Kid 2.

Also going to the international interdisciplinary conference on blind and visually-impaired children are Canadian National Institute of the Blind regional director Christina Vernon, six educators from Weledeh school and three blind children with one parent each.

"I think the families (of blind children) feel very isolated here," said Vernon.

"They don't have a lot of people to connect with or to network with and there's not a lot of support for them as parents of children who are blind."

She said the children who are blind have no idea how many other children are also blind, so the conference will give them more confidence through association with the other blind kids.

Vernon said the cost to attend the conference would be about $1,500 per person and community groups such as the Elks, the Lions and the Yellowknife Community Foundation have donated funds to the CNIB to help subsidize those who are going.

Baile said part of the focus at the conference will be teaching methods.

"We have to do a very different approach to get that child to understand how an apple grows or how to divide," she said.

"It's just a totally different way of approaching how to teach the concepts."

She said when blind children are young it is important to communicate verbally a lot and to get them to hone their skills of being able to describe things.

"You get them to use other senses such as their sense of touch. You also get them to really listen to sounds and people's voices."