Disability no barrier to teaching English

News News & events

22 Oct 2019

Teaching can be a challenging profession at the best of times. Teri McElroy, who has been blind since birth, has taken on an additional challenge in training to teach English as a second language.

McElroy has a can-do attitude and an impressive determination to reach her goals. In September, she completed the Cambridge Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CELTA) at Ara.

Although she’s aware that her situation and consequently her teaching style is unique, McElroy doesn’t view it as a disadvantage.

“It’s just about finding different ways around what sighted students might do, which allows me to achieve the same result.”

“I think one of the things that made this a big success was the help of the tutors. It’s been a team effort and without their help and support I don’t think I would have got as far as what I have.”

McElroy’s tutor Tricia Lewis describes her achievement as ‘amazing.’
“She worked really hard and taught me so much! She is brave and determined. The students really enjoyed working with her too and they adapted easily to having a blind teacher. She has strengths that sighted people do not. She has great hearing and a powerful memory.”

Before starting the course, McElroy says she prepared herself by creating specialised resources to aid her teaching.

“I was able to prepare things like phonemic symbols. So when I want to show people how to pronounce a word I have special symbols which represent the sounds in the language and I have a braille chart with raised print symbols which means I can work with a sighted teaching assistant to get them to put the symbols on the whiteboard.”

This is just one way in which McElroy has thought outside the box to support her teaching. She also researched accessible websites, sent away resources for reformatting for her electronic braille reader and learnt how to use PowerPoint to produce visual elements for her lessons.

“Because I can’t check the students work when they handwrite it on paper, PowerPoint was a good way for me to do things like putting the answers up so the students could self-mark their work.”

McElroy’s note taker and laptop are both braille compatible devices and act as key aids for her in class. The note taker, which is strapped around her waist, contains her lesson plans and other key information.

However, creating strategies to work around her lack of sight hasn’t been just based on technology, but whiteboard based learning too.

“When the students are learning tenses we have a timeline for sentences on the board, and we’ve cut out physical cardboard shapes which I’ve put braille on so that I can physically check and get the students to explain what they’d done.”

Now that she’s completed her qualification McElroy can’t wait to put it into practise.

“I’d really like to get a job face-to-face teaching, part time, so I can use what I’ve learned. I’ll possibly start out doing some voluntary work and then look for some paid work.”