A world of possibilities

Paul Keenan visits an inspiring campus for visually impaired children

The photograph in the lobby of Childvision appears somehow incongruous.

Framedagainst a clear blue sky, a boy, arms wide in balance, stands atop a vertical post; the hard-hat and safety wire locate the scene at some activity centre so loved by adventurous boys and girls everywhere.

Far more in keeping with expectations of this, Ireland’s only dedicated facility for blind and visually impaired children, are the neighbouring pictures, of a child of limited vision, in colourful glasses, overjoyed at the feel of potted flowers, and another, of a girl gently tracing a story across a panel of braille. Only a second examination of the balancing boy reveals that he too is of limited vision, though obviously not limited by that.

20-acre ‘oasis’

The explanation for the image comes quickly from Childvision’s CEO, Brian Allen as he leads The Irish Catholic on a tour of the facility, a 20-acre ‘oasis’ nestling between the busy traffic routes of the Dublin suburb of Drumcondra. As he leads the way, Brian insists that Childvision will not tolerate limits for the hundreds of children attending the campus (and at least 800 more nationwide catered for by Childvision’s multiple outreach programmes).

“We operate from the belief that education is not merely about the academic, but it should be about the physical and the spiritual,” Brian says. “We follow that code and allow children to realise those dimensions to the full.”

The use of the term ‘spiritual’ strikes a chord and Brian explains that, in addition to Childvision’s physical make-up being based on lands owned by the Rosminian congregation, the guiding principle, too, comes from the order, which in 1955 took responsibility for running a school for the blind originally established by the Carmelite order in the mid-1800s  – St Joseph’s – on the site. (St Joseph’s changed its name to Childvision in 2012)

Sense of pride

Those earliest days saw blind residents ‘gainfully employed’ (during an era of grinding poverty) in basket weaving and cane-making not only towards raising funds but also to inculcate a sense of pride in the residents through their own abilities and efforts.

Over 100 years later, and the campus that Brian Allen walks reveals a progression that is singularly impressive in scope.

From the green spaces available for horse riding as part of equine therapy sessions available to students, past residential houses where the visually impaired learn independent living skills, classrooms offering vocational training alongside the fully-integrated pre-school (the Learning Tree), through the petting enclosure with its array of birds, rabbits, goats and a pair of sheep (Elvis and Seamus!), through the horticulture area, home to the Sense & Grow project, and on via therapy rooms – occupational, speech and mobility among others – the array of facilities is truly dizzying.

The braille production centre alone sums up enough detail in itself to impress: from its beginnings 12 years ago when four staff produced 52 transcriptions and large-print publications, the centre today nears 3,000 annual transcriptions, and made available to students nationwide through an online bookshelf offering texts via braille and other formats appropriate to a reader’s needs.

New frontiers

“It’s a real campus,” Brian says, and it’s a claim hard to argue with as he reveals that Childvision is now exploring entirely new frontiers in education with the neighbouring All Hallows College and Dublin City University. Said institutions already offer a number of professional qualifications for Childvision’s staff.

“About 80% of our staff are engaged in study to increase their skills in various areas of special needs provision,” Brian reveals.

Clearly a staff dedicated to their roles.


It is a subject Brian is proud to expand on, those 180 people who keep all facets of the Childvision project on track through tireless efforts. He illustrates this in revealing that, as austerity has continued to affect this microcosm of Irish society, “the whole staff, from teachers, therapists and catering opted to take a pay cut rather than lose a single therapy or facility for the kids”.

While pointing towards the selflessness of Childvision’s people, the anecdote, too, starkly attests to the increasing pressure the charity has faced in recent years.

“Ongoing cuts are not helping,” Brian states simply, adding his praise for the local community which has responded to Childvision’s fundraising initiatives, for example, through its open-access coffee dock and garden centre. “We have ‘developed through recession’,” Brian explains of such projects which seek to build on traditional forms of charity fundraising and counter the annual shortfall, as needed funds are moved elsewhere by the Government.

Returning then to our starting point, where Brian takes his leave to coordinate campus events for the rapidly approaching Christmas season, that picture in the Childvision lobby is available for renewed scrutiny following what has been a tour both informative and inspiring.

It is suddenly clear that beyond the framed edges of the balancing boy, there is far, far more to his story and countless others which begin at Childvision.

For more information see www.childvision.ie