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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

U.S. Students Must Not Be Left Behind

IDEA Provides Adequate Education for All

For Immediate Release

Contact:
Carrie Fernandez
AFB Communications
(212) 502-7674
cfernandez@afb.net

Heather Rasmussen, in Tennessee, did not receive her elementary school textbooks on time. She also received only three 15-minute reading lessons each week.

Jacob Van Buren, in Ohio, receives no instruction by a trained teacher or instructional materials. His parents are suing the school system.

Teresa Nold's son, in South Dakota, was refused acceptance to a state school. She is considering filing a suit against the school system.

All these children, and many others like them across the country, have one characteristic in common: they are blind or have low vision. The U.S. Congress is currently reauthorizing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a special education law that addresses these issues. Versions in the House and Senate require textbooks for children with vision problems to arrive in a timely manner, as well as increase the qualifications of the teachers for those students, though the Senate language on those provisions is much stronger and clearer. Its main purpose: to provide a free and appropriate education for students under law.

Katherine Rader, a vision instructor for children who are blind or visually impaired in the Tennessee school system, drives 100 miles, through three counties, to help 20 students—every day. "Consequently, I don't see the students as much as I'd like to. Plus, because of the shortage of instructors, when I retire, I don't know who they will find for to educate these children," she said.

"Schools simply don't employ enough of these professionals," says Dr. Anne Corn, Professor of Special Education and Coordinator of Programs in Visual Disabilities at Vanderbilt University. "They don't accept their responsibilities for ensuring that children with vision disabilities have teachers to meet their unique learning needs."

"Things would change if a congressperson had to access these services for their children. It's not my son who has failed here; it is the school that has failed him," says Teresa Nold.

"A free and appropriate education is required by law, but our school system didn't pay any attention to that. There are no resources for my son to learn. I am being forced to make sure they follow the law by filing a complaint. I want my son to have an education, so that when he is out of school he'll be able to live on his own," Tina Van Buren of Ohio, Jacob's mother, explained.

Congress is in the process of reauthorizing IDEA, and it's likely to be finished this fall. However, the American Foundation for the Blind is advocating for specific changes to the current version: 1) provisions for increasing the number instructors who are qualified to teach children who are visually impaired; and 2) language strong enough to ensure materials are available to blind or low—vision students at the same time as their sighted peers. States have misinterpreted previous IDEA legislation too often because the language was not specific.

School systems across the country are not providing the required appropriate education for children with vision problems, and these children are being left behind. "We are trying to convince Congress to ensure IDEA corrects the wrongs that have been occurring," says Paul Schroeder, vice president, Governmental Relations, American Foundation for the Blind (AFB).

***

The American Foundation for the Blind—the organization to which Helen Keller devoted her life—is a national nonprofit whose mission is to eliminate the inequities faced by the 10 million Americans who are blind or visually impaired.

September 2003

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