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This Mattered to Me

"A Survey of the Current Status of Visually Impaired Students in Secondary Mathematics," by Donald W. Rapp and Audrey J. Rapp, originally published in the February 1992 issue of the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, Volume 86, pp. 115-117.

Recommended by Derrick Smith

Print edition page number(s) 440-443

The series editor of "This Mattered to Me" is Stuart H. Wittenstein, Ed.D., superintendent of the California School for the Blind.

When I was asked to take on this project and pick one single article that "mattered" to me, I found it to be very difficult. I have read hundreds of articles from the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness (JVIB) that have had an impact on my professional career. Like many in the field of visual impairment, I have an array of professional teaching and research interests. Thus, picking just one article on one area of interest was quite difficult. After much thought, I decided to go back to my roots as an educator: secondary mathematics. My first job was at the Alabama School for the Blind as its secondary mathematics teacher, and it was during my time there that I began a never-ending search for any and all information related to teaching mathematics to students with visual impairments. During this search, I discovered the JVIB article, "A Survey of the Current Status of Visually Impaired Students in Secondary Mathematics," by Donald W. Rapp and Audrey J. Rapp, which included the findings of a questionnaire that was answered by teachers of students with visual impairments.

Timeless research

When I first read the Rapp and Rapp article, it was already eight years old, but it was the only data that existed at that time that discussed the types of mathematics that were being taught to secondary students with visual impairments. The authors conducted a simple survey of teachers of students with visual impairments in six New England states. The survey included questions on which secondary mathematics courses the teachers' students were taking, how the students were aided in their general education mathematics courses, and what tools they utilized.

The most profound aspect of the article was the finding that of the 40 students who were reported as using braille as their primary literacy medium, only 19 (over half) were not enrolled in typical secondary mathematics courses. From this finding, one can surmise that either a large proportion of the students studied had cognitive disabilities in addition to their visual impairment that inhibited their abilities to take secondary mathematics courses or that their IEP (Individualized Education Program) teams did not push them to enroll in higher mathematics courses. Although cognitive disabilities may have ruled out higher mathematics for a number of these students, I suspect the latter is true. In my experience in the field of visual impairment, unfortunately, I do not believe that conditions have improved since this article was published. Let this study serve as a reminder that students who are blind need to be encouraged to enroll in higher mathematics courses.

The article also highlighted the need for increased teacher training in braille. I was moved by the fact that 73% of the teachers who responded to the survey expressed "interest in a workshop to review concepts of algebra, geometry and algebra II, with application of the Nemeth Code" (p. 116). This finding is interesting, as it supports the idea that many, if not most, teachers of students who are visually impaired are not confident that they have adequate knowledge to work with students in secondary mathematics. It also shows a lack of preparedness in the use and application of the Nemeth Code for Braille Mathematics in higher mathematics courses. These are pervasive issues that can have a negative impact on academic potential of students with visual impairments who have the ability to participate in secondary mathematics courses.

Lasting impact

Although the article had an initial impact on me at the beginning of my professional career as a mathematics educator, the reason I chose to highlight this article in this essay is because I am reminded of it often in my professional reading. Literally every article on secondary mathematics education for students with visual impairments cites this article, as it represents one of the only datasets on the topic within the field of visual impairment and blindness. Initially, the article encouraged me to be an outstanding mathematics teacher and to challenge all of my students (including those who used braille) to master their mathematics studies.

Since my role has changed from secondary mathematics teacher to higher education faculty and researcher, this article continues to challenge me. It is my personal and professional opinion that teachers of students with visual impairments, both itinerant and residential, still hunger for evidenced-based practices, strategies, and tools to use to teach mathematics to students with visual impairments. Because I work in the area of mathematics education for students with visual impairments, I continually think of the students with visual impairments from the Rapp and Rapp article who were never given the opportunity to take advanced mathematics coursework. Could one of the students have become the next Einstein had he or she been given the chance to pursue trigonometry and calculus?

Plotting a course for the future

To avoid providing our students with second-class educations, we in the field of special education for students with visual impairments need to be diligent in our efforts to create new strategies and tools to ensure that our students are provided equal educations to their sighted peers. This article is a persistent reminder that we must continue to move forward toward the goal of achieving equality of instruction for students with visual impairments in all academic areas, including science, engineering, mathematics, and technology. We need to live up to the goal shared by blindness educators and administrators alike to provide students with visual impairments the greatest number of opportunities to succeed in academics and in life.

On the web
The article relating to this commentary is available free to subscribers at JVIB Online at <>.

Derrick Smith, Ed.D., COMS, assistant professor, Department of Education, University of Alabama in Huntsville, 12878 Quartz Circle, Madison, AL 35756; e-mail: <>.

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The Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness (JVIB)--the international, interdisciplinary journal of record on blindness and visual impairment that publishes research and practice
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