Skip to Content

AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

IDEA97: Important Changes for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

This document is no longer timely and may be only of historical value.

For information on current issues go to the Education Issues section.

Made by the IDEA Amendments of 1997

This fact sheet highlights some of the changes made to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that are particularly important to students who are blind or visually impaired and to their parents, teachers, and advocates. Enacted as part of IDEA's "reauthorization," these amendments were signed into law by President Clinton on June 4, 1997. For more comprehensive information about these and other changes, contact American Foundation for the Blind, Governmental Relations Group, 820 First Street, N.E., Suite 400, Washington, DC 20002, Phone 202-408-0200; e-mail:


New IDEA—The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for a child who is blind or visually impaired must provide for instruction in braille unless, after an evaluation of the child's reading and writing skills, needs, and appropriate reading and writing media, the IEP team decides that such instruction is not appropriate for the child. [Sec. 614(d)(3)(B)(ii)]

Notes—Until now, parents and advocates have had to persuade often reluctant IEP teams to include Braille instruction in a student's individualized education plan. However, for a number of reasons, Braille instruction is frequently omitted. To address this problem, this new provision establishes inclusion of Braille instruction as the default for the IEPs of blind or visually impaired students. Thus, the IEP team must now affirmatively act to exclude instruction in Braille.

Orientation & Mobility

New IDEA—"Orientation and mobility services" (O&M) was added to the statutory list of examples in the definition of "related services". [Sec. 602 (22)]

Notes—Although O&M has been generally understood to be a service related to the provision of special education for blind or visually impaired students, IEPs frequently fail to provide for O&M to students who clearly need it (e.g., training in use of the white cane). By expressly including O&M in the list of related services, parents and advocates have an even clearer statutory basis to assert a student's right to receive the service.


New IDEA—The parents of the child must be members of any group that makes placement decisions. [Sec. 614(f)]

Notes—This provision unequivocally guarantees the right of parents to participate in the process that determines where their child will receive special education and related services (e.g., a school for the blind or a neighborhood school). The IDEA requires that special education and related services be provided in the "least restrictive environment" (LRE). The definition of LRE in the law has not changed. However, the legislative history of the new law specifically supports "the longstanding policy of a continuum of alternative placements designed to meet the unique needs of each child with a disability. Placement options available include instruction in regular classes, special classes, special schools, home instruction and instruction in hospitals and institutions. For disabled children placed in regular classes, supplementary aids and services and resource room services or itinerant instruction must also be offered as needed." (Senate Report 105-17, page 11; House Report 105-95, page 91)

Assistive Technology

New IDEA—In developing the IEP, the IEP team must consider whether the child requires assistive technology devices and services. [Sec. 614(d)(3)(B)(v)]

Notes—Students may need computers adapted with speech output, closed circuit television magnification systems to enlarge handouts or read the chalkboard, and portable Braille notetakers to complete class work and keep up with their peers. Students may also need training to use these tools effectively. This new provision clarifies that a student's need for these and other devices and services must be assessed.

Education with Non-Disabled Peers

New IDEA—The IEP must include an explanation of the extent, if any, to which a child will not participate with non-disabled peers in the regular classroom or in extracurricular and nonacademic activities. [Sec. 614(d)(1)(A)(iv)]

Notes—Often, the needs and interests of blind or visually impaired students to take part in elective school activities outside the classroom are neglected. This provision furthers the general interest in the integration of students with disabilities in all aspects of school life. It also asks the IEP team to acknowledge and account for the important role of extracurricular activities in the lives of students with disabilities.

IEP Team Expansion

New IDEA—The IEP team has been expanded to include: the parents; a regular education teacher (if the child is, or may be, in regular ed); a special education teacher; a representative of the Local Education Agency (LEA) who is qualified to provide special education, is knowledgeable about the general curriculum, and is knowledgeable about the resources of the LEA; a person who can interpret evaluation results; and, at the discretion of the parent or the agency, other individuals, including related services personnel, with knowledge or special expertise regarding the child. [Sec. 614(d)(1)(B)]

Notes—This provision clarifies the right of parents to be accompanied by advocates and others with relevant expertise during the IEP process. Parents need not obtain permission from the rest of the IEP team to be assisted by an advocate or specialist of the parents' choice. Additionally, by firmly establishing participation in the IEP team by regular education teachers, the provision is also aimed at ensuring that the IEP is not prepared in a vacuum.

The above information does not constitute legal advice or opinion and is furnished for discussion purposes only. Laws and regulations vary in each state or jurisdiction, and you should not rely upon the information provided herein without first discussing the information with your own attorney. Your own attorney has the professional obligation to advise you based upon all pertinent laws and regulations in light of the particular facts and circumstances of your case. Although we believe our information to be accurate, we are not liable for the accuracy or completeness of our information or its relevance or applicability to your particular case or controversy.

services icon Directory of Services

featured icon Featured Items

book icon Featured Book

New! Orientation and Mobility Techniques, Second EditionNew! Orientation and Mobility Techniques, Second Edition

New! Orientation and Mobility Techniques, Second Edition

Help Make Drug Labels Safer

Help make prescription drugs safe for people with low vision. Support our Rx Label Enable Campaign today.