Dr Frances Gentle AO was made an Officer in the Order of Australia (AO) for her service to those with vision loss in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
Dr Gentle works as a lecturer in vision impairment at Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC) Renwick Centre, a leading centre for research and professional studies in the field of education for children with sensory disabilities.
“I have been fortunate to work with children with disabilities and their families in Australia and overseas. Education is such an important gateway to employment and full participation in society,” said Dr Gentle, who is known nationally and internationally for her work in braille literacy and education of blind and vision impaired students.
Dr Gentle received her AO for her distinguished service to people who are blind or have low vision, particularly in the area of special education, and in policy development and practice on inclusiveness and standards.
“In many developing countries that I have visited, children who are blind are unable to attend school as the teachers do not know how to adjust the curriculum or teach braille,” said Dr Gentle.
“It is inspiring to witness the positive impact of providing teacher training on the lives of blind children. I have spent a lot of time in Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste, where 90% of all children with a disability aren’t in school. For my PhD, I created a national model for education of children with disabilities in Timor-Leste.
“It’s the most satisfying career imaginable knowing that you are opening the doors of language and literacy to children with a sensory impairment.”
Dr Gentle was the project leader for the very successful RIDBC UEB Online project, the world’s first eLearning braille course. The important contribution made by RIDBC in developing UEB Online was recently recognised by the World Braille Council and UNICEF.
“UEB Online is the only free, internet-based training program in braille,” said Dr Gentle. “We have people using the program from 186 countries, which is quite amazing. The World Braille Council and UNICEF have committed to promoting RIDBC’s UEB Online program worldwide.
“Research shows that children who are blind and learning braille have better employment outcomes as adults.”
Dr Gentle is President of the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment (ICEVI), Co-President of the South Pacific Educators in Vision Impairment (SPEVI), and an Executive Member of the World Blind Union.
RIDBC is a charity and Australia’s largest non-government provider of therapy, education and cochlear implant services for people with vision or hearing loss, supporting thousands of adults, children and their families, each year.
RIDBC Renwick Centre works in affiliation with Macquarie University, with RIDBC staff delivering the Macquarie Master of Disability Studies program. The centre works to develop the professional expertise that is required to deliver critical disability services to children and adults with vision or hearing loss across Australia, and beyond.
RIDBC relies heavily on fundraising and community support to be able to continue to make a difference in people's lives.