Specialized Education Services for Students with Vision Loss
What Skills Do Children with Visual Impairments Need to Learn?
Visual impairments change the way children obtain information about the world around them and limit opportunities to learn through observation of visual elements in the school curriculum and elsewhere. This means that, in addition to regular classroom studies, children who are blind or visually impaired need to learn specialized skills (frequently referred to as the Expanded Core Curriculum) from teachers and others who are properly trained to teach such skills, such as certified teachers of visually impaired children and orientation and mobility specialists. The specialized skills children who are visually impaired must learn include:
- Technology and computer proficiency—using computer equipment, such as a screen reader, to read information on monitors or in print
- Literacy—reading and writing with braille, large print, optical devices, or training in effective use of available vision
- Age-appropriate career education—exploring career preferences, participating in job experiences using nonvisual methods
- Safe and independent mobility—using specific orientation and mobility techniques, long canes, or other mobility tools
- Social interaction—understanding body language and other visual concepts
- Independent living skills—learning specialized techniques for personal grooming, food preparation, money management, and other tasks
Where Do Children Who Are Visually Impaired Receive Their Education?
Children with visual impairments receive educational services from residential and special schools specifically designed for children who are blind and multiply disabled, special classes, resource rooms, and itinerant teaching services in regular education classrooms within the child's community. Based on the individual needs of the child as well as input from parents and educators, specialized schools or classes are appropriate—or necessary—educational options for certain students. Specialized schools also frequently provide outreach support and technical assistance to public schools in their respective states.
What Are the Challenges Facing Children with Visual Impairments?
Although some school programs provide the specialized instruction needed by students who are visually impaired, there is massive room for improvement. Too many students with vision loss leave school without having mastered the skills or knowledge essential for further education, gainful employment, and independent living at home and in their communities.
There is a severe shortage of orientation and mobility specialists and qualified teachers of visually impaired students, which restricts access to the specialized skills these children need. As a result, students with visual impairments frequently receive instruction from personnel who are not qualified to teach critical skills such as braille, cane and other orientation and mobility skills, and effective use of available vision. This problem is amplified in rural communities, where shortages of qualified personnel are most acute.
Further, the perception still exists that residential and special schools for blind and visually impaired students are too costly, or worse, unnecessary. This fallacy persists despite education experts agreeing that special schools are the best environment for some children, and that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act passed by the U.S. Congress makes access to appropriate educational environments—including schools for the blind—every child's right.
Whereas a child's neighborhood school may be the most integrated, mainstream environment, frequently such schools cannot or will not provide the full array of services and skills training that the child who is blind will likely need. That is why specialized schools for children with vision loss may be the best choice for a child to both receive all necessary educational services, and to interact regularly with student peers on terms of genuine equality.
What Can You Do to Help Children with Visual Impairments Reach Their Highest Potential?
- Support a full array of options in each state to ensure appropriate placement for all students. These options must include residential and special schools, as well as special classes, resource rooms, and itinerant teaching services in regular education classes.
- Provide sufficient funding to prepare an adequate number of teachers in all educational settings who are qualified to provide the specialized communication, literacy, academic, mobility, daily living, social, and career education skills that visually impaired children need.
- Provide access to the latest technology so every blind or visually impaired student benefits from computer-based educational programs, such as those delivered via the Internet or multimedia educational software.
- Ensure that parents and families of children who are blind or visually impaired are provided with the information they need to determine the best educational option(s) for their child.
- Find out how you can support the Anne Sullivan Macy Act
- Sign up for AFB's DirectConnect newsletter to stay informed about public policy issues relating to blindness and visual impairment
- Use AFB's Directory of Services to find local providers of services for children who are blind or visually impaired
- Learn more about Education options for children who are blind or visually impaired
- Join the FamilyConnect community for tips, resources, product information, and emotional support