Narrabri High School is providing vision-impaired students with a new lease of life.

Narrabri’s Jye Cuell (see Jye’s story below) and Eric Knox are being taught the basics of braille by itinerant support teacher for vision Steve McCauley.

Mr McCauley was an English and History focused casual teacher for six years before retraining as an itinerant support teacher for vision in 2012.

His journey to becoming a support teacher was born from his passion for music.

Mr McCauley, who remains heavily involved in music, was invited to perform as a musician at a camp for visually-impaired children.

Support teachers who ran the camp talked Mr McCauley into retraining to become a support teacher for vision.

“They had a camp out at Lake Keepit and they needed someone to put a concert on,” said Mr McCauley.

“The people there told me there was an opportunity to retrain and I really enjoyed it.

“I had the option of retraining as a hearing teacher where I can specialise in sign language or vision teacher where I could specialise in braille and teaching students to use a cane.

“Braille is a pretty good career option, I’m not deaf or blind and I got a pretty great job from it.”

As well as Mr McCauley’s two Narrabri students, he teaches four other students across Boggabri and Gunnedah.

Mr McCauley, who lives in Gunnedah, is one of only four itinerant support teachers specialising in vision across the New England region with two teachers based in Tamworth and the other in Inverell.

That means that four support teachers could cover an area of 168,000 square kilometres to reach their students.

“There are four of us serving the New England region,” said Mr McCauley.

“So if we had a student at Moree, which we have had in the past, it’s not very economical for us to travel out there.

“We would most likely have to employ a casual and have one of our four support teachers write a program for the student.

“And then we would have to go out probably once a fortnight to supervise.”

Mr McCauley said his role at schools differs depending on his students’ needs.

“You’re one on one so you really get to know the students you teach and that’s great,” he said.

“I think that teaching braille helps increase any literacy skills.

“But braille is only one part of the job.

“One of my students in Gunnedah has cerebral palsy, so we work on communication, orientation and movement.

“Even with Jye most of it is in the classroom, I work with the teachers and Jye.

“We set up a drive for Jye so the teacher can put anything that goes on the board into the drive, Jye can then use the touch screen to grab it and enlarge it.

“Our job is to support teachers as much as it is to support students.

“Because often the distances of teaching visually-impaired students are so vast and teachers are not with them all the time, so you have to leave strategies in place for the classroom teacher.

“There’s no such thing as a school for the blind so students have to go through the mainstream system.”


Jye’s journey to learning braille


Jye Cuell, 15, is diagnosed with a condition called retinitis pigmentosa, commonly referred to as tunnel vision, where a person’s peripheral vision is affected.

Currently Jye’s eyesight is still strong but he said, “At night time it becomes much worse.”

“Sometimes I’ll need help getting from place to place.”

Jye, who is studying year 11 at Narrabri High School, began working with his current vision teacher Steve McCauley about five years ago.

Mr McCauley’s role is to help Jye’s orientation and mobility which helps Jye’s awareness in life situations.

Earlier in the course Jye would leave class five minutes early to safely make it to the next class and thanks to Mr McCauley’s teaching and planning Jye now leaves class at the same time as his classmates – highlighting his rapid improvement.

“Jye is well ahead of where he is meant to be in the course,” said Mr McCauley.

“Jye can read braille better than I can.

“We’re working on getting his reading speed up at the moment.

“At this stage it is more about reading environmental braille, which you see around at clubs and McDonald’s on doors, rather than reading whole books.

“I’m really happy with the course so far.”

When asked how Jye felt he was going he said he was “going great.”

At the conclusion of the interview, Mr McCauley asked Jye to read a braille sentence to showcase the skills that he had learnt throughout the course.

The braille read “The guys from The Courier are here,” which Jye swiftly and accurately interpreted.

To read a sentence like the one Jye read is no easy feat.

The braille system is written using a combination of six raised dots with each combination representing a different letter.

Which means a simple sentence can be easily misinterpreted if one raised dot is missed or a single letter is not read correctly.

Jye’s second language is one of the most complicated to learn and at only 15 years Jye is capable of reading and understanding a complicated world language.

Sadly for Jye this year’s course will most likely be the last time he is taught braille in a formal school setting.

Despite the course being offered in year 11, the class will not continue in year 12 as it is not a supported HSC subject.

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