National Agenda for Education

The National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities, Revised

The National Agenda is a groundbreaking, historical statement of consensus in the field about how educational programs must change to meet the needs of students who are blind or visually impaired, including those with multiple disabilities. The tenth anniversary of the National Agenda was in 2003. At that time, the members of the National Agenda Steering Committee reevaluated the goals and strategies and the progress towards them and added two new goals, as well as strategies for organized groups to achieve them.

Authors of the Revised 2004 National Agenda for Education

Kathleen M. Huebner
Brunhilde Merk-Adam
Donna Stryker
Karen Wolffe

Authors of the Original National Agenda for Education

Anne L. Corn
Phil Hatlen
Kathleen M. Huebner
Frank Ryan
Mary Ann Siller

Foreword to the National Agenda

This year, 2004, marks the 10th anniversary of the birth of the National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities. The impact that the National Agenda has had on services for children and youths who are visually impaired, including those with multiple disabilities, in this country within a single decade has been profound and constitutes a significant achievement in the area of special education. The National Agenda has revolutionized thinking on how students with visual impairments are educated. And, by identifying and pursuing specific goals, the National Agenda continues to provide definite direction that will lead to a higher quality of educational services for visually impaired students.

From the beginning, those involved in the creation of the National Agenda recognized that a structure that partnered professionals and parents as leaders of the effort would be most effective. These founders knew that success depended on a plan that honored and respected the skills and knowledge of parents and professionals alike. Because of this commitment, the National Agenda has become a powerful movement, influencing the lives of countless students, parents, and professionals. The National Agenda has changed the face of education for children and youths with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities, because it has embodied a strong partnership between parents and professionals as the leaders of a vital grassroots movement.

As the original co-chairs of the National Agenda, we join you in celebrating this 10th anniversary of the National Agenda with a revised version of the original groundbreaking document first published in 1995. Let us move forward toward improved educational services with a continued commitment to powerful and proactive parent-professional partnerships!

Phil Hatlen, Ph.D.
Former National Agenda Co-Chair
Austin, TX

Donna Stryker
Current National Agenda Co-Chair
Las Cruces, NM

Foreword to the Original Edition

The National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities sets forth in clear and concise terms a vision and plan of action for the future of the education of children who are blind or visually impaired, as well as those who have additional disabilities. In these tumultuous times, in which opinions abound concerning the best ways of implementing reform throughout all levels of our educational system, a document such as this shines forth like a beacon, establishing clear-cut, timely, and attainable goals toward which we all should strive.

The eight goals, which comprise the heart of this Agenda and are set forth in this document, reiterate in a simple yet thorough manner the very same concepts that are at the core of our efforts to bring about lasting and effective education reform at the U.S. Department of Education—ensuring that each individual student receives the free and appropriate education to which he or she is entitled under the law.

Along with our efforts, school districts and states around the nation are actively engaged in education reform. Using our Goals 2000 and the School to Work initiatives in concert with the tenets of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as a framework for change, educators throughout the country are promoting comprehensive strategies for education reform based on high academic and occupational standards, improving teaching, and strengthening family involvement. To ensure that children with disabilities benefit from these reform efforts, our experience has taught us that we should strive for a system of education that helps all children, including children with visual impairments, to learn to high standards.

We have learned that our reform efforts should include

  1. challenging standards and aligned assessments for all children;
  2. comprehensive state and local reform plans;
  3. high-quality professional development aligned to the standards; 4, comprehensive technical assistance; and
  4. whole school, rather than categorical, reform efforts.

We envision an education system that would set higher expectations for all students, give all students the opportunity to learn to challenging standards, and take responsibility and be accountable for the success of all children. To the extent appropriate, students with disabilities would have access to the same curricula aligned with the state's content standards that other students are receiving and, with reasonable accommodations, be included in state and local assessments. The needs of students with disabilities would be considered as part of state and local planning for regular education and not regarded solely as special education's responsibility. All teachers (both regular and special) would be trained to teach to high standards.

The goals set forth in this publication—which call for assessments by trained and competent professionals, quick referrals to a full array of appropriate services, appropriate pre-service and in-service training for professionals, parental involvement, and individualized programming—will help fuel this reform movement for visually impaired individuals in positive and meaningful ways.

These goals bring together the combined knowledge and best thinking of hundreds of parents, service providers, individuals with visual impairments, and family members. This combined effort from such a diverse and expert group of individuals will help all of us measure ourselves and our progress over the next five years. It is critical that we continually evaluate our efforts with as much objectivity as possible, because we must do our best to ensure that blind and visually impaired children are given every opportunity afforded to nondisabled children. These goals will help make that evaluation happen in real and concrete ways across the country.

As we move toward the 21st century, our society is changing and growing at an ever-increasing rate. We must ensure that our children can change and grow with it so that they are not left behind, but instead fully participate in every aspect of mainstream societal life. If the children of today and tomorrow are to succeed in this way, then we must set high standards for them, for ourselves, and for our programs. We must expect children to learn to a high level of competency, so they can compete successfully and confidently in the global 21st century society that is fast approaching.

For our part, we will continue to work with all of you—parents, visually impaired persons, educators, school administrators, and legislators—to bring about equality of opportunity in education, employment, and community living. We too share your commitment and your desire for the greatest level of success our children can achieve. Each of these eight goals, these eight signposts and watchwords of wisdom, is a broad brush stroke that will form for us a picture of equality and opportunity. Taken together, they paint a picture of the future, a future based on increased positive outcomes. These goals paint a picture of the future in which all children, regardless of their disability, can achieve to their highest potential, because they have been given every opportunity and aid we can bring to bear and a future in which professionals are held accountable for doing the job the law intends for them to do. These goals stand as a hallmark of what we want for our children, because they are the same things we want for ourselves. We can expect no less.

Judith E. Heumann
Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Education
Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services

Introduction to the National Agenda

The foreword introducing the National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities in 1995 by then-Assistant Secretary of Education, Judith E. Heumann of the federal Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, expressed her vision that children with disabilities can and should achieve educational goals commensurate with the goals being achieved by their nondisabled counterparts in preparation for life and work in the 21st century. Well, the 21st century has arrived, and although it is only a few years old, it is time to reprise our commitment to the achievement of the goals of the National Agenda. We may not have fully achieved all the original goals, but we have seen considerable progress and a determination on the part of professionals and parents concerned about the education of children and youths with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities, to work toward success.

In this revision of the National Agenda, readers will find the most recent changes to the original eight goals and the addition of two new ones. The National Agenda is a grassroots effort, and its principles and activities can be applied on behalf of an individual child as well as in advocacy at the local school district, regional collaborative, state and national level. Readers interested in further information and in joining our efforts can visit the National Agenda web site (www.tsbvi.edu/agenda) and find examples of state plans, as well as products and publications, that can be downloaded and used by parents, teachers, and administrators. Although much has been accomplished, much remains to be done. Please join us, the National Agenda Co-Chairs and Steering Committee, as we work to implement the National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities.

Kathleen M. Huebner
Brunhilde Merk-Adam
Donna Stryker
Karen Wolffe
National Agenda Co-Chairs

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.

Development of the National Agenda

Following informal discussions regarding the need for changes in educational services for visually impaired students, a small group of professionals volunteered to initiate the project of creating a National Agenda. From that small beginning, The National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities grew into a collaborative, national effort. The agenda-development steering committee first assembled subcommittees led by representatives from parents' groups, specialized schools for children with visual impairments, private agencies serving visually impaired children and their families, university programs for training teachers of visually impaired students, and state departments of education. The subcommittees developed 19 goal statements, which were then mailed to thousands of teachers of visually impaired students and other related professionals, parents of children with visual impairments, and individuals who are visually impaired. Recipients were asked to duplicate and distribute copies to other interested persons. Each person was asked to rate the likelihood of a goal statement's being achieved by the year 2000 and its impact on the education of children with potential for visual impairments. The agenda-development steering committee used these responses to create the likelihood-impact database. After much discussion, further dissemination, and intense evaluation, the committeecondensed these items into the eight goal statements that comprise the National Agenda.

The next step was to identify strategies and sources of support for achieving the goals. To obtain support, organizations throughout the United States were sent copies of the goal statements. A list of the organizations that have endorsed the National Agenda is printed at the end of this document. To carry out the five-year project of achieving the goals, an Advisory Board was developed and eight (now ten) goals and National Goal Leaders (NGLs) were identified. Each national goal leader is a major organization in the field of visual disability that has committed itself to helping the nation achieve one of the goals or an organized group of individuals working toward common goals that complement the National Agenda. Each year the National Goal Leaders report to the National Agenda state representatives on progress toward reaching their goals. At the 1995 Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Institute, about 100 educators, parents and others met to recommend strategies by which the National Goal Leaders and the nation's educators and parents could achieve the Agenda's goals.

National Agenda Goal Statements

In June 2003, the National Agenda Steering Committee approved revisions to the original eight goals and added two new goals. The complete list of revised and additional goals is as follows:

National Agenda Goal Statements All the following goal statements apply to infants, toddlers, children, and youths who are visually impaired, including those with multiple disabilities:

Goal 1—Students and their families will be referred to an appropriate education program within 30 days of identification of a suspected visual impairment. Teachers of students with visual impairments and orientation and mobility (O&M) instructors will provide appropriate quality services.

Goal 2—Policies and procedures will be implemented to ensure the right of all parents to full participation and equal partnership in the education process.

Goal 3—Universities with a minimum of one full-time faculty member in the area of visual impairment will prepare a sufficient number of teachers and orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists for students with visual impairments to meet personnel needs throughout the country.

Goal 4—Caseloads will be determined based on the assessed needs of students.

Goal 5—Local education programs will ensure that all students have access to a full array of service delivery options.

Goal 6—All assessments and evaluations of students will be conducted by or in partnership with personnel having expertise in the education of students with visual impairments and their parents.

Goal 7—Access to developmental and educational services will include an assurance that textbooks and instructional materials are available to students in the appropriate media and at the same time as their sighted peers.

Goal 8—All educational goals and instruction will address the academic and expanded core curricula based on the assessed needs of each student with visual impairments.

Goal 9—Transition services will address developmental and educational needs (birth through high school) to assist students and their families in setting goals and implementing strategies through the life continuum commensurate with the students' aptitudes, interests, and abilities.

Goal 10—To improve students' learning, service providers will engage in ongoing local, state, and national professional development.

Importance of the Goal Statements

The profession of education of students with visual impairments has experienced some chronic problems that require concerted, immediate attention. These problems are the driving force behind the need for a National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities. The following section, by offering evidence and examples of the extent of the problems that need to be addressed, explains why each of the Agenda's goals are so critical.

Goal 1: Referral

Students and their families will be referred to an appropriate education program within 30 days of identification of a suspected visual impairment. Teachers of students with visual impairments and orientation and mobility (O&M) instructors will provide appropriate quality services.

Developmental and educational services for children with visual impairments and their families are most effective when they can be made available shortly after diagnosis of a suspected visual impairment. Even though better informed parents and medical professionals and efforts from the teachers of visually impaired students have dramatically decreased the amount of time between diagnosis and educational referral for many children, there are still far too many exceptions to timely referral. Some members of the medical profession believe that, until the government requires them to report disability in infants and preschoolers to a central agency, there will continue to be a delay in referral. However, many professionals in the medical and educational communities as well as many parents believe that mandatory reporting is an invasion of privacy.

Although there seem to be no clear answers to the issue of timely referral, the needs of children—particularly infants and preschoolers—and their families, demand that the educational and medical communities develop a system that ensures children and their families access to information about educational services in a timely manner. Because the medical diagnosis of a visual impairment will have an impact on learning, early referrals for special education services are imperative for the overall development of young children.

Goal 2: Parent Participation

Policies and procedures will be implemented to ensure the right of all parents to full participation and equal partnership in the education process.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its predecessor, Public Law 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, guarantee parents the right to full and equal participation in the education of their children. Many professionals involved in the education of students with visual impairments had recognized the necessity of forming partnerships with parents long before the passage of Public Law 94-142. The fact that no one knows a child better than that child's family has guided the educational plans for students with visual impairments for many years. The law now requires full participation and equal partnership in educational services for parents.

The issue of parent participation and partnership is not only a matter of action; it is perhaps even more a matter of attitude. Old concepts of parental involvement in educational endeavors are difficult to put aside. There are educators who still may believe they lose some status by acknowledging the expertise and investment of parents regarding the education of their children.

It is time for parents and educators to join in a common purpose, namely, the jointly shared responsibility for achieving educational excellence in our schools. When educators appreciate and acknowledge the vital role and input of parents, and when parents are assured equal participation with teachers in educational planning, then, and only then, will students receive the greatest benefits that learning has to offer.

Goal 3: Personnel Preparation

Universities with a minimum of one full-time faculty member in the area of visual impairment will prepare a sufficient number of teachers and orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists for students with visual impairments to meet personnel needs throughout the country.

There has never been a time in the recent history of the education of visually impaired students when there were enough specialized teachers to meet students' needs. Universities have, since the 1950s, been urged to prepare more teachers and seek new and innovative ways of recruiting students and delivering courses. From the early 1960s until the early l980s, federal funds provided opportunities to begin many new university personnel preparation programs and to offer financial assistance to students. As federal funds became more competitive and less available, however, some universities dismantled personnel preparation programs in the area of visual impairment. In some instances, faculty were employed with federal grant money, but when the funds were no longer available, the university eliminated the faculty position. In other cases, recruitment became increasingly difficult when financial support for students was no longer available, and university programs closed because of low student enrollment.

Several important lessons have been learned about university programs in recent years. First, at least one full-time faculty member with experience and expertise in the education of children with visual impairments, or orientation and mobility, or both, is needed if a university is to offer a comprehensive program of teacher preparation. Second, this faculty member must be in a tenure-track position. Third, the program must be given the flexibility to provide learning opportunities in creative ways. Fourth, the university must support low prevalence programs and recognize that size of enrollment cannot be the determining factor as to whether or not a class is offered.

Because of the many requirements just described, bold and creative efforts must be forthcoming with regard to the manner in which teachers are prepared. The challenge is to prepare a sufficient number of educators so that all children who are visually impaired, including those with multiple disabilities, will have the educational services they need. Meeting this challenge will require that skilled and knowledgeable teachers must be available to work in rural areas as well as in the inner cities, and that these teachers must have the skills to provide instruction for an ethnically and culturally diverse group of children. It also means that teachers must learn to successfully cooperate with other team members so that the visually impaired children who confront the most educational challenges receive appropriate instruction. And, it means that existing personnel preparation programs in universities must at least double the number of teachers trained within the next five years.

Goal 4: Provision of Educational Services

Caseloads will be determined based on the assessed needs of students.

In recent years, there has been a movement toward merging programs for educating children with a wide variety of disabilities. In such programs, visually impaired students are not provided with teachers who have the disability-specific expertise to teach the adaptive and compensatory skills that visually impaired children need to succeed in school. Reference to specific disabilities has begun to be taken out of state legislation, leaving no means by which distinctions could be made regarding the necessary frequency and duration of specialized services.

As a result of reallocations of special education funding, in some situations, this provided local school districts with the opportunity to increase substantially the caseloads of teachers of students with visual impairments. Many visually impaired students are integrated into regular classrooms, and a large number of these students receive their disability-specific instruction from itinerant teachers who visit children in their home schools. These teachers are often responsible for providing individual instruction to visually impaired children across an extremely large geographic area. In some sections of the country, itinerant teachers have caseloads of 50 or more, which means that many students receive insufficient instruction.

For students to graduate with the skills they need, caseloads must be determined by needs of students, not by economic constraints or a lack of understanding on the part of administrators regarding the time needed for specific instruction. Most educators would agree that a caseload of more than 15 is not appropriate, because at least some of those students will have intensive needs. Of course, the geographic spread of the students will also affect the size of an appropriate caseload.

National Agenda Goal Statement #8 addresses the need for an expanded core curriculum for visually impaired students including those with multiple disabilities which does not ignore academic content areas but focuses on compensatory skills related to visual impairment. As the profession of the education of visually impaired children becomes more committed to providing instruction in all areas of the expanded core curriculum, teachers will discover they need to spend more time with their students to meet all their needs. In addition, as the profession becomes more knowledgeable of the educational needs of students with low vision, it becomes clear that it is not accurate to make decisions regarding caseloads solely on the basis of the severity of visual impairment. Many children with low vision have intensive instructional needs which are the responsibility of the teacher for students with visual impairments. Informed school administrators will respond to the needs of children who are visually impaired by providing specialized instruction on the basis of the individual needs of children.

The knowledge base regarding educational programming for students with visual impairments continually grows and expands. Unless professional development is encouraged, or even required, the teacher who was university prepared five years ago is in need of additional knowledge and skills today. Skills in areas such as functional low vision assessment, learning media assessment, utilization of low vision devices, instruction in reading and writing braille, use of technology, and instruction in using graphic designs have all gone through recent innovations. Local districts, specialized schools, and state departments of education have a professional responsibility to require and support teachers in remaining up to date in their skills and knowledge and to facilitate in-service training opportunities.

Goal 5: Array of Services

Local education programs will ensure that all students have access to a full array of service delivery options.

Educators of visually impaired children serve an extremely heterogeneous population of students. Wide variations exist regarding such factors as the type and degree of visual impairment, the presence of additional disabilities, the time at which the visual impairment occurred, the urban or rural environment in which the child lives, and the resources of the child's school district.

School districts cannot meet the educational needs of this heterogeneous population with only one or two placement options. Educators of students with visual impairments pioneered inclusive education, placing children with visual impairments in regular classrooms a century before our colleagues in special education began the current "full inclusion" movement, which calls for children with disabilities to be educated in regular classrooms; some educators who advocate for full inclusion want to eliminate all other placement options. Pioneering efforts in the education of visually impaired students resulted in some important lessons, among them the realization that a full array of placement options is necessary to meet the individual educational needs of all students with visual impairments. This array includes, but is not limited to, such options as specialized schools, resource room programs, and regular education placement with itinerant services.

Federal law requires an array of placement options for students with disabilities. But even more important than this requirement are the conclusions, based on experience and educational expertise, that the changing and diverse needs of students with visual impairments require an array of placement options.

Goal 6: Assessment

All assessments and evaluations of students will be conducted by or in partnership with personnel having expertise in the education of students with visual impairments and their parents. Careful and comprehensive assessments of students with visual impairments are essential if instructional programs are to meet individual needs. Historically, school psychologists or educational diagnosticians were assigned the task of assessing all students with disabilities. This approach has often resulted in incomplete or inaccurate assessments.

Of particular importance is that assessments be comprehensive. Because students with visual impairments have unique extra-academic needs to learn adaptive skills to compensate for their visual impairment, assessments that measure only academic skills are not appropriate for these students. The assessment that consists of only academics and functional low vision is likewise not acceptable, because other factors, such as emotional readiness, independence, alternative communication modes and adaptive skills, must also be considered. All areas of the expanded core curriculum for students with visual impairments must be assessed. Only when information concerning all areas of the expanded core curriculum is available can responsible, knowledgeable decisions regarding a child's educational program take place.

Quality assessments require that the professional conducting or orchestrating the assessment be someone with a high level of expertise in the effects of visual impairment on learning. This professional will most often be the teacher of students with visual impairments or the orientation and mobility instructor.

Goal 7: Access to Instructional Materials

Access to developmental and educational services will include an assurance that textbooks and instructional materials are available to students in the appropriate media and at the same time as their sighted peers.

In the early years of placing students with visual impairments in regular classrooms, one of the phrases often heard was "the right book in the right media at the right time." This statement is true today. Receiving braille texts several months late can make a potentially appropriate placement into an inappropriate one. Even before the advent of computer-generated braille, optical devices, and advanced techniques for producing large print, timely delivery of appropriate texts was achievable with concerted effort. When new technologies for producing braille and large print became available, it seemed that timely delivery of instructional materials would no longer be a problem. However, this is not the case. Many students still do not receive the appropriate instructional materials at the same time as their sighted classmates. With the technology available today, there is no valid excuse for this delay.

Through a national collaborative effort of stakeholders, systems must be developed to eliminate delays in delivery of textbooks and instructional materials needed for children to access the same learning opportunities as sighted peers. Access to the general education curriculum, as mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), must include immediate and equal access to appropriate instructional materials for learning.

Goal 8: Expanded Core Curriculum

All educational goals and instruction will address the academic and expanded core curricula based on the assessed needs of each student with visual impairments.

Much is known about the disability-specific needs of students with visual impairments. Beginning with anecdotal data gathered on high school graduates, it became apparent that the educational needs of students extend far beyond academic learning. The first disability-specific need to be isolated, described, and offered as a school subject in public schools was instruction in orientation and mobility (concepts and skills needed to travel safely and independently). It was recognized that for most children with normal vision, the ability to travel safely and with ease in the environment was learned in a casual, unconscious, and natural manner. Visually impaired children could also travel safely and with ease, but they needed careful, systematic instruction to accomplish this.

Other disability-specific areas of need have been identified. There are a variety of lists that describe them. Although the number of needs and the words used to define them may vary, there is general agreement regarding the content of those needs. In many cases, the term "disability-specific needs" has been changed. In many states, "core curriculum" refers to the body of knowledge that a student is required to master before high school graduation.

For several years professionals have discussed the concept of an "expanded core curriculum" for students with visual impairments. Local school districts and specialized schools which have demonstrated models of "best practice" have included such an expanded core curriculum in their programs. They have realized that to be successful as visually impaired children and later as adults, a specific body of knowledge and skills must be learned. Presently, we can articulate what the expanded core curriculum contains. As we further our understanding of how visual impairments impact on learning, we also know that the curriculum will evolve and change.

The curriculum for students with visual impairments consists of two parts. The first parallels that which is provided to sighted peers. Pre-learning, such as developing an understanding of visual concepts involved in a given lesson, and adaptations, such as altering the lesson to provide access by the visually impaired student, are often necessary when presenting academic instruction required of all students. Much of the pre-learning and adaptations can and should occur in the regular classroom. In such a way, the student with a visual impairment receiving education at a local school can experience success in an inclusive setting. For students in specialized schools, these parts of the curriculum may take place at the specialized school or through a cooperative arrangement with a local school in the community.

The second part of the curriculum, known as the expanded core curriculum, addresses the unique, specialized needs of visually impaired learners. These needs are directly related to the visual impairment and, therefore, are not shared by sighted peers. This part of the curriculum is expected to be taught by a teacher of students with visual impairments. This specialized part of the core includes, but may not be limited to, the following:

  • Compensatory Skills, such as Communication Modes,
  • Orientation and Mobility,
  • Social Interaction Skills,
  • Independent Living Skills,
  • Recreation and Leisure Skills,
  • Career Education,
  • Use of Assistive Technology,
  • Visual Efficiency Skills,
  • Self-Determination.

The student with a visual impairment will need to be assessed in all areas of the curriculum, including the expanded core curriculum, and decisions will have to be made regarding the need for instruction in each area. For instruction in the expanded core curriculum areas determined to be needed by an individual student, time must be allocated, and frequency and duration of instruction must be determined.

Only when the goals and instruction fully reflect the assessed needs in all areas of the curriculum for each student will educators of visually impaired children be able to meet their instructional obligations to all children with visual impairments.

Goal 9: Transition Services

Transition services will address developmental and educational needs (birth through high school) to assist students and their families in setting goals and implementing strategies through the life continuum commensurate with students' aptitudes, interests, and abilities.

Every move from one service or one placement to another is a transition. Every changing environment, age, and level of maturity is a transition. Moving from in-home infant services to preschool, elementary school, middle school, and senior high school are all major transitions. IDEA requires IEP-driven transition services only at age 14 (or younger if determined necessary by the IEP team). Promising practices would require transition services to be implemented at the early childhood/preschool level as reflected in the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) or Individualized Education Program (IEP). Transition services are an integral part of all educational aspects of the child's learning.

Families, students, and professionals working together must plan for the most appropriate next environment for each student and develop plans to achieve the competencies necessary for success in the identified environment. Collaboration with community-based adult agencies and employers is also encouraged when developing and implementing transition plans. Successful transition from school to adult life requires assessment and instruction in all areas of the expanded core curriculum content areas as well as an understanding of the vision of both students and families for the students' futures.

Goal 10: Ongoing Professional Development

To improve students' learning, service providers will engage in ongoing local, state, and national professional development.

The knowledge and skills required to educate students with visual impairments is very broad in scope and continually grows and expands. It is widely accepted in all fields of education that preservice teacher preparation and induction provides the beginning base of knowledge required to effectively teach students. Teachers and orientation and mobility specialists who provide services to students with visual impairments need in-depth knowledge in many unique areas of teaching and learning such as braille literacy, learning media assessment, low vision, assistive technology, and concept development. In order for service providers to deliver effective services and quality instruction in these unique areas, they need to engage in ongoing professional development that provides a knowledge base beyond the beginning knowledge and skills required to teach students.

It is essential that service providers have access to professional development in vision-specific areas at the local, state, and national levels. Local education agencies, specialized schools, and state departments of education have a critical role in supporting teachers and orientation and mobility specialists in ongoing professional development to meet the unique needs of students with visual impairments.

Strategies for Achieving the Goal Statements

Goal 1: Referral

Students and their families will be referred to an appropriate education program within 30 days of identification of a suspected visual impairment. Teachers of students with visual impairments and orientation and mobility (O&M) instructors will provide appropriate quality services.

Recommended NATIONAL Strategies

  1. Identify existing fact sheets and other materials describing visual impairments in children and youths and incorporate them into a single document, which addresses:

* Observable signs of visual impairments in children, * Recommended procedures for referral to appropriate services, * Guidelines for developing working relationships among families, educators, related service providers, and medical and health care professionals, * Suggestions for encouraging health care management organizations to include these materials in their public education materials.

  1. Identify members of the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI) and other parent organizations within each state able to serve as contact persons and to provide referral information such as is delineated in National Strategy #1, above.

  2. Work with professional organizations to ensure that their members have the necessary knowledge to serve as advocates for early referral of children with visual impairments including those with multiple disabilities. Organizations should include but not be limited to those whose members include:

* Eye care specialists, * Neonatologists, * Regular education as well as special education personnel.

Recommended REGIONAL, STATE, and/or LOCAL Strategies

  1. Work with Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs), day care and Head Start centers, public service organizations, and others to:
  • Disseminate materials regarding visual impairments and referral procedures, including resources for state and local contacts,
  • Provide eye care professionals and related service providers with public education materials regarding identification and referral of children with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities.
  1. Work with early childhood education intervention coordinators within each state to develop effective referral systems.

Goal 2: Parent Participation

Policies and procedures will be implemented to ensure the right of all parents to full participation and equal partnership in the education process.

Recommended NATIONAL Strategies

  1. Establish within the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI) an advisory committee, specific to the unique needs of students with visual impairments including those with multiple disabilities, to promote increased collaboration among parents, professionals, and government agencies.

  2. Establish parent/teacher training centers with emphasis on parent-to-parent mentoring, parent-professional dialogue, and resource development.

  3. Create and disseminate an array of educational resources for parents which includes among others the following:

  • Information on the full array of educational options,
  • National Outcome Standards,
  • Explanation of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process, including sample IEPs for students with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities.
  1. Develop partnerships among students, parents, educators, and administrators that ensure communication, mutual respect, and the provision of educational services within a child-centered climate.

  2. Encourage all personnel preparation programs and the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP) to adopt competencies and standards relating to parents of students with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities.

Recommended REGIONAL, STATE, and/or LOCAL Strategies

  1. Establish parent advisory boards at state and local levels specific to the needs of students with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities.

  2. Disseminate the array of educational resources for parents developed through National Strategy #3 above at regional, state, and local levels.

  3. Develop state and local mentoring programs that link experienced parents with families of newly diagnosed children who have visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities.

  4. Conduct family-centered conferences, involving medical as well as education professionals, that focus on advocacy related to developmental and educational needs of students with visual impairments including those with multiple disabilities.

  5. Draft and facilitate passage of legislation that would require Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to collect, document, and publish data reflecting parents' satisfaction levels with the IEP process and educational services that impact upon the LEAs' compliance with state and federal laws.

Goal 3: Personnel Preparation

Universities with a minimum of one full-time faculty member in the area of visual impairment will prepare a sufficient number of teachers and orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists for students with visual impairments to meet personnel needs throughout the country.

Recommended NATIONAL Strategies

  1. Develop a model of excellence for personnel preparation.

  2. Encourage establishment of a national research center on the education of students with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities.

  3. Develop a collaborative national recruitment program in conjunction with the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER).

  4. Encourage all university personnel preparation programs in the area of education of students with visual impairments to implement national standards.

  5. Determine the number of teachers of students with visual impairments, as well as orientation and mobility specialists, who graduate from university preparation programs annually. Ensure that the number who will graduate each year is the same or greater than the number for the preceding year.

Recommended REGIONAL, STATE, and/or LOCAL Strategies

  1. Encourage collaborative planning among special education administrators and personnel preparation programs to establish and provide professional development programs.

  2. Develop, in conjunction with state departments of education, accurate counts of the number of students with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities, served in each state.

  3. Establish systems of career leadership options that incorporate, among other categories, mentors, master teachers, master orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists, and teachers-as-researchers.

  4. Facilitate a means for achieving reciprocity of teacher credentialing among all states.

  5. Identify incentives by which school districts can be encouraged to ensure that teachers with "emergency credentials" become appropriately credentialed in the area of education for students with visual impairments including those with multiple disabilities.

Goal 4: Provision of Educational Services

Caseloads will be determined based on the assessed needs of students.

Recommended NATIONAL Strategies

  1. Develop and disseminate a position paper that makes a clear and unequivocal statement about appropriate caseloads for teachers of visually impaired students and orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists and that is endorsed by parent, consumer, and professional organizations.

  2. Identify and publicize approaches to service delivery options that are both innovative and meet the educational needs of students who have visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities.

  3. Develop a system for child-centered caseload analysis, population analysis, and job descriptions for teachers of students with visual impairments and O&M specialists in various service delivery models.

Recommended REGIONAL, STATE, and/or LOCAL Strategies

  1. Promote the use of data obtained through implementation of National Strategy #3 above to assist Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to establish guidelines for determining appropriate size and composition of student caseloads.

  2. Encourage state departments of education to include guidelines for determining appropriate caseload size and composition in state special education plans.

  3. Provide data on various service delivery models that will assist LEAs in developing and implementing appropriate program options.

Goal 5: Array of Services

Local education programs will ensure that all students have access to a full array of service delivery options.

Recommended NATIONAL Strategies

  1. Encourage the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEPS) to both adopt the policy statement entitled "Policy Guidance on the Education of Blind or Visually Impaired Students" and promote its implementation nationally among the following:
  • State departments of education,
  • Professional organizations,
  • Parent organizations,
  • Consumer organizations,
  • Other related service organizations such as Easter Seals and Lions Clubs.
  1. Develop ongoing relationships with the above organizations and others as appropriate for the purpose of promoting advocacy for a full array of placement options.

  2. Conduct public education campaigns that illustrate personal success stories across all components of the educational placement array.

  3. Develop an information package addressed to administrators of regular and special education programs and parents that includes, but is not limited to:

  • All relevant OSEPS policy statements,
  • All relevant position papers on full array of placement options,
  • Descriptions of each placement option within the array,
  • Comprehensive legal briefs targeted to IEP teams and parents addressing placement in the least restrictive environment (LRE),
  • Descriptions of parents' rights and due process.

Recommended REGIONAL, STATE, and/or LOCAL Strategies

  1. Disseminate all relevant OSEPS policy statements to state and local organizations and individuals concerned with the education of students with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities.

  2. Provide in-service training for individuals involved in making program and placement decisions regarding students with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities. This should include, but not be limited to, the following:

*Information about each of the service delivery models included in a full array of placement options, *Strategies for application of this knowledge as it relates to decisions regarding placements.

Goal 6: Assessment

All assessments and evaluations of students will be conducted by or in partnership with personnel having expertise in the education of students with visual impairments and their parents.

Recommended NATIONAL Strategies

  1. Using the expanded core curriculum for students with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities (refer to Goal Statement #8), develop and distribute guidelines for selection and administration of assessment instruments and interpretation of their results.

  2. Establish a national resource bank on assessment of students with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities, that would:

  • Compile a bibliography of resources, articles, books, and tools addressing assessment issues,
  • Identify exemplary assessment models and components and disseminate information describing them,
  • Establish a national listing of professionals and parents with expertise in assessment who are available to provide consultation and training.
  1. Develop assessment team training curricula for educators and related service providers who assess children and youths with visual impairments including those with multiple disabilities and disseminate by:
  • Conducting workshops using the curricula at conferences of the appropriate professionals and related service providers,
  • Producing training videos for targeted audiences demonstrating an outcome-based comprehensive assessment.
  1. Provide resources and information to personnel preparation programs in related service areas designed to facilitate and encourage the use of transdisciplinary assessments.

  2. Encourage the widespread dissemination and application of the Council for Exceptional Children/Division for Visually Handicapped (CEC/DVH) position paper on assessment of children and youths with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities.

Recommended REGIONAL, STATE, and/or LOCAL Strategies

  1. Work through state education agencies to develop policies to ensure participation of a teacher of students with visual impairments and, as warranted, an orientation and mobility specialist in assessments of all students with diagnosed or suspected visual impairments.

  2. Apply the assessment team training curricula developed through National Strategy #3 above at regional, state, and local conferences of educators and providers of related services.

  3. Write and distribute guidelines for addressing the needs of students with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities, to developers of standardized state-adopted testing programs.

Goal 7: Access to Instructional Materials

Access to developmental and educational services will include an assurance that textbooks and instructional materials are available to students in the appropriate media and at the same time as their sighted peers.

Recommended NATIONAL Strategies

  1. Report to the field the current status of production and acquisition of materials in specialized formats and media appropriate for meeting developmental and educational needs of students with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities.

  2. Work toward establishment of a national repository of publisher electronic files for production of textbooks in braille and other specialized formats.

  3. Gain passage of legislation at all levels that ensures timely access to educational materials in appropriate formats for all students with visual impairments.

  4. Secure timely copyright permission for production of large type and braille materials through such efforts as:

  • Advocating for revisions as appropriate of the National Copyright Act,
  • Encouraging stipulations regarding copyright permission in author-publisher contracts,
  • Negotiating with publishers to ensure that accessibility needs of visually impaired students are provided for when producing multimedia educational materials.
  1. Develop and disseminate comprehensive guidelines to ensure quality control in the production of educational materials in specialized formats, including meaningful tactile graphics.

  2. Work with teachers and other direct service providers to ensure that access to print, using optical devices as appropriate, is included in all considerations of appropriate media for students with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities.

  3. Support full implementation of a national instructional materials accessibility standard (NIMAS).

  4. Support a professionally based, accredited college curriculum for braille textbook transcribers.

Recommended REGIONAL, STATE, and/or LOCAL Strategies

  1. Assist state and local education agencies to increase production and timely distribution of educational materials in specialized formats such as braille, recorded, large print, and electronic.

  2. Encourage state and local education agencies to ensure that vision-specific needs are addressed in the selection and adoption processes for textbooks and other educational materials.

  3. Decrease the reliance on scanning and direct entry in the production of textbooks in favor of the use of publishers' electronic files.

  4. Provide information and materials to assist with training or professional development of service providers who must identify and/or modify educational materials to meet needs of visually impaired students, including those with multiple disabilities.

  5. Work with state departments of education and other agencies as appropriate to ensure that computer hardware and software procured for instructional use are accessible to visually impaired students.

Goal 8: Expanded Core Curriculum

All educational goals and instruction will address the academic and expanded core curricula based on the assessed needs of each student with visual impairments.

Recommended NATIONAL Strategies

  1. Clearly define, develop, and disseminate the expanded core curriculum areas for students with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities.

  2. Evaluate and catalog curricular guides and make them available for dissemination along with model goals that are disability-specific and appropriately written for inclusion in Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).

  3. Write curricular content for expanded core curriculum areas as needed.

  4. Make annotated bibliographies available either in hard copy or through electronic means to professionals and parents.

  5. Work to obtain formal adoption of the expanded core curriculum by national organizations of professionals and others.

  6. Work to ensure that personnel preparation and professional development programs adopt and teach the use of the expanded core curriculum.

Recommended REGIONAL, STATE, and/or LOCAL Strategies

  1. Identify and present to target audiencesÑstudents, parents, local education agencies, and othersÑknowledge of the expanded core curriculum.

  2. Condense and rewrite one-page descriptions of the expanded core curriculum for each constituent audience.

  3. Organize awareness materials to be used at meetings of each constituent audience.

  4. Educate those responsible for writing IEP goals to ensure that goals and objectives are based on assessment data related to the expanded core curriculum.

  5. Collaborate with universities and adult service agencies to ensure that programs serving students with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities, are appropriately preparing them for their futures.

Goal 9: Transition

Transition services will address developmental and educational needs (birth through high school) to assist students and their families in setting goals and implementing strategies through the life continuum commensurate with the students' aptitudes, interests, and abilities.

Recommended NATIONAL Strategies

  1. Identify existing materials that are available to facilitate the transition process for children and youths with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities.

  2. Identify members of the National Transition Network and other organized groups of transition service providers within each state who are able to serve as contact persons and to provide information or referral to appropriate transition services.

  3. Disseminate information about successful transition programs and resources throughout the United States.

Recommended REGIONAL, STATE, and/or LOCAL Strategies

  1. Present workshops and in-service training to parents and personnel working with children and adolescents with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities, on the importance of teaching career education content throughout the children's early years and their academic careers.

  2. Encourage the inclusion of career education and transition content in the personnel preparation programs.

  3. Encourage the active participation of young people with visual impairments and their families in the planning and implementation of local transition services.

  4. Involve community-based adult service providers to participate in the planning and implementation of local transition services.

Goal 10: Professional Development

To improve students' learning, service providers will engage in ongoing local, state, and national professional development.

Recommended NATIONAL Strategies

  1. Promote "standards of effective practice" that clearly articulate the knowledge and skills required to deliver quality instruction to students with visual impairments (This will validate the need to provide ongoing professional development).

  2. Develop and disseminate a position paper on the need for ongoing professional development based on standards and the unique needs of service providers who teach students with visual impairments.

  3. Integrate the National Staff Development Council's (NSDC) revised "Standards for Staff Development" into recommended staff development activities for service providers of students with visual impairments.

  4. Focus staff development on student learning outcomes.

Recommended REGIONAL, STATE, and/or LOCAL Strategies

  1. Encourage teachers to engage in reflective practices that include a yearly review of their teaching activities and the development of a professional development plan with goals and activities.

  2. Encourage a variety of designs in staff development activities that go beyond a one-day workshop and promote job-embedded learning, such as professional learning groups, mentorships, action research, journaling, and observing others.

  3. Encourage training activities that include parents and teachers teaching and learning together in subjects such as braille and use of low vision devices.

  4. Align and integrate the staff development goals for service providers of students with visual impairments with local, state, and regional staff development goals.