As the year 2007 comes to an end, three of the foremost experts of the field of visual impairment and blindness, and frequent contributors to JVIB, are departing from center stage as two retire and one goes on leave. Given this unprecedented loss, JVIB seized the opportunity to grant these esteemed individuals a platform from which to offer their perspectives on the many changes they have witnessed in the field over the course of their careers and to imagine the future of the field to which they have dedicated their lives. Here, in alphabetic order, are the observations of Anne L. Corn, Phil Hatlen, and Paul E. Ponchillia. We hope to continue to benefit from their wisdom and experience in the future.
On the Future of the Field of Education of Students with Visual Impairments
Print edition page number(s) 741-743
Just as the stock market seems to be having greater highs and lows lately, the field of education for students with visual disabilities seems to be moving in some very positive directions as well as experiencing some setbacks that are worthy of our attention. If the history of the stock market is an appropriate metaphor, then the overall trend for our field is the improvement of services. I am confident about the stock market (you may disagree); likewise, I am optimistic about advancements in our work toward better outcomes for students with low vision, blindness, deaf-blindness, and multiple disabilities. I am also confident that as we improve direct services for this population, we will also improve the professional lives of service providers and vice versa. What follows are my perspectives on selected "highs" and "lows" that may affect the future of the field of visual impairment and blindness.
There are numerous positive trends. The current generation of professionals in the field is collaborating in ways that previous generations did not. Because of the efforts of our predecessors, such as their establishment of professional organizations, we have more freedom to "think outside the box." We are finding ways to address multistate challenges, for example with the National Agenda for Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities (Corn, Hatlen, Huebner, Ryan, & Siller, 1995) and there is a renewed energy devoted to the adoption of the expanded core curriculum (ECC, Hatlen, 1996).
Services that increase links between schools for students who are blind and visually impaired and local schools are being created through the outreach efforts of schools for blind students. New technologies are increasing equal access to printed and electronic media as well as affording new freedoms for people with visual impairments and blindness. For example, Global Positioning Systems (GPS) aid in orientation and wayfinding, while bioptic telescopic lenses and new state laws allow a portion of the population of individuals with low vision to receive driver's licenses.
We are increasing collaborative research. For example, the Alphabetic Braille, Contracted Braille (ABC) study, a longitudinal study, is the effort of multiple universities and organizations and includes subjects from across the United States and Canada. Research efforts are also underway that reach across disciplines. For example, the Seeing in the Periphery of Youth (SPY) project involves the combined work of experimental vision scientists and researchers in the education of students with visual impairments.
Multidisciplinary efforts are also beginning to take hold in direct services to children and youths. Several states--for example, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Georgia--are offering multidisciplinary pediatric low vision services in which clinical low vision specialists, teachers of students with visual impairments, and certified orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists are working together in new ways.
After years of having too few graduates of doctoral programs to fill leadership positions, university faculty and other key individuals and organizations developed a national consortium, the National Center for Leadership in Visual Impairments (NCLVI), which is housed at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry. In a few years, we can look forward to the NCLVI graduates providing new leadership in personnel preparation, administration, research, and public policy.
We are also experiencing several trends that I consider "cautionary" at this time. The field seems to be embracing distance education as the primary means by which teachers of students who are visually impaired are prepared. Although the advantages of distance education have been found in other fields of education, we need to seek data that supports or rejects the use of this approach related to such variables as the quality of teachers and longevity of these graduates in teaching or leadership positions. We need to consider the use of distance education in comparison to other models of personnel preparation and ensure that programs meet our professional standards, that is, the standards of the Personnel Preparation Division (Division 17) of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired. Increasing the number of undergraduate programs in personnel preparation should receive serious consideration by the field, and the outcomes of such programs should be compared with the other models for teacher certification.
The field must also be cognizant of practices that are placing children with visual impairments at risk for failure. For example, too many children with low vision are receiving cursory special education services or no services at all. A teacher of students with visual impairments may place a student on "consultation," visiting with the student's general education teachers only a few times each year; or the teacher may not assess or address the student's needs in the ECC because of beliefs that needed services cannot--or will not--be provided by the local education agency. The apparent apathy of many administrators in school districts--who order large print texts and believe these accommodations, without special education services or access to standard print texts and work on boards, are sufficient--is appalling. Smith, Geruschat, and Huebner (2004) exposed educational malpractices that affect children with low vision. The results of their study must be addressed. As the number of state vision consultants in departments of education diminishes, I wonder who is overseeing programs for these children.
Another "low point" is the dearth of needed research. On many topics we have minimal or only older literature and very few intervention studies or replications of studies; meta-analyses cannot be completed with the existing literature. Although samples of children with visual impairments may not meet scientific standards for evidence-based research, without sufficient research there may be an overuse of practices that could be ineffective or unresponsive to new teaching challenges. For example, extremely slow reading rates among children who read braille, dual media, and large print should compel the field to develop and implement specific strategies to target poor reading fluency. It is imperative that we maintain a portion of personnel preparation programs at research-extensive universities and support researchers in securing funding and meeting other needs related to research that will, for example, offset the costs of conducting group designs with this low-incidence population.
Finally, I am concerned about our sense of identity and our "collective ego." Do we see ourselves and our organizations as faltering, as striving to maintain a status quo, or as a field that is small in numbers and yet effective, dynamic, creative, and resourceful? It is time to pay attention to the nontangible aspects of our field and appreciate our common beliefs and missions, directions, and capabilities, as well as our contributions and standings among our colleagues in general and special education.
Future upward trends
Likening the field of visual impairment and blindness to the stock market may be a reach outside our comfort zone. Nonetheless, such a comparison requires us to consider why we flourish in some areas, have setbacks in others, and whether we inadvertently place the education of those we serve directly or indirectly at risk. Over the past 33-plus years, I have been privileged to participate in many of the initiatives I used as examples. Despite our setbacks, I feel confident that the current and incoming generations of direct service providers and leaders in the field will be seeing new upward trends. I recommend that we continue to "hold stock" in our field.
Corn, A., Hatlen, P., Huebner, K. M., Ryan, F., & Siller, M. (1995). National agenda for children and youths with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities. New York: AFB Press.
Hatlen, P. (1996). The expanded core curriculum for students with visual impairments, including those with additional disabilities. RE:view, 28(1), 25-32.
Smith, A. J., Geruschat, D., and Huebner, K. M. (2004). Policy to practice: Teachers' and administrators' views on curricular access by students with low vision. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 98, 612-628.
Anne L. Corn, Ed.D., professor of special education, ophthalmology and visual sciences, Vanderbilt University (on leave); Box 328 GPC, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37203; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
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