What the National Agenda Means for Visually Impaired Children
Visually impaired students are infants, toddlers, children, and youths who experience impairments of the eye and visual system that affect their ability to learn. They may be totally blind or they may have visual difficulties in such activities as seeing the print in textbooks or on the board, seeing all areas of the typical visual field, or seeing enough detail to interpret the objects or actions in their environment.
Visually impaired students have unique educational needs. Through the sense of sight, much of what is generally referred to as knowledge is received and processed. Children who are visually impaired, therefore, need to learn to acquire knowledge in alternative ways. Learning the necessary compensatory skills and adaptive techniques—such as using braille or optical devices for written communication—requires specialized instruction from teachers and parents who have expertise in addressing disability-specific needs. Some of the other areas uniquely affected by impaired vision are concept development, or the ability to understand the relationships between and functions of objects and abstract ideas; sensory-motor activities, or the ability to coordinate vision, hearing, and other senses with physical actions; socialization; and career or vocational preparation.
Although many school programs are providing the specialized instruction that visually impaired students need in addition to their academic instruction, there is much room for improvement. Too many visually impaired high school students graduate without having mastered the skills needed for higher education or economic survival. Others, for whom a standard high school diploma may not be achievable, lack the functional skills essential for meaningful participation in adult society. To address the components of education for visually impaired children that are most in need of improvement and to provide goals and strategies for effecting the needed changes, The National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities was created.
This National Agenda represents a broad consensus of how educational programs must change to meet the needs of students with visual impairments. Commitment to achieve the National Agenda goals has come from the full range of individuals involved in the educational service delivery system, including individuals with visual impairments, parents, educators, and professionals responsible for program administration and personnel preparation. Once achieved, it is anticipated the National Agenda will improve overall educational services so that teachers and students will have the tools they need to improve teaching and learning. Partnerships will be strengthened among university training programs, school administrators, educators and parents. Referral and assessment procedures will be enhanced to ensure that all students with visual impairments are learning what they need to know to succeed.
The goals in this document are meant to be realistic. They are achievable and must be achieved if visually impaired students are to meet the challenges of the 21st century and lead satisfying, productive lives.