WASHINGTON, DC (October 29, 2020)—The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) today announced the release of the Access and Engagement research report, based on the Spring 2020 survey that investigated the early impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the education of 455 students with visual impairments, including those with additional disabilities and deafblindness, and their families. The study also examined the experiences of 1,028 teachers of students with visual impairments (TVIs), orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists, and dually certified professionals.

Data were collected from families and guardians whether or not their child was receiving educational services, as during the spring, education had quickly shifted from in-person to remote instruction. Professionals provided input even if they were not serving students due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey also explored the non-traditional delivery of educational services by TVIs and O&M instructors, as much of the instruction they typically provide is 1:1 and hands-on.

“Our hope is that this data will be used to allow educators, administrators, policymakers, and families to better understand the challenges and successes students with visual impairments, including those with additional disabilities and deafblindness, were experiencing when educational services were first being delivered in unique ways,” said Dr. L. Penny Rosenblum, AFB Director of Research, and the report’s lead author. “We identified ways families and educators were working together to provide instruction in the expanded core curriculum. We also documented how TVIs and O&M specialists who didn’t have access to all of their materials and resources were providing instruction to their students.”

“Many of the challenges in the spring have persisted into the 2020-2021 school year thus putting students with visual impairments at increased risk for not progressing in their education at the same rate as their sighted peers,” Rosenblum added. “We’re actually collecting data through November 22 for a second survey that looks more deeply at the systemic and COVID-19 related challenges for our students.”

Key Findings

The family members of the 455 children in the survey included those of 62 children receiving early intervention, 60 receiving preschool services, and 333 in K-12 or transition. The 1,028 professionals included 710 TVIs, 138 O&M specialists, and 180 dually certified professionals. The report includes an in-depth examination of the survey findings as well as recommendations by the study’s authors to address the issues highlighted by survey participants.

A brief sampling of findings for students includes:

• 13% of students did not receive educational services in the spring during the COVID-19 pandemic, 61% attended school online, and 43% of students attending online had difficulty or were unable to access online programs because of their visual impairment.
• Students had tools at school they did not have access to at home: 17% did not have a tablet, 21% did not have a laptop, 18% did not have a Perkins brailler, 55% did not have large print books, 50% did not have screen reader software, and 28% did not have recreational braille books.

A brief sampling of findings for education professionals includes:

• 81% of professionals were given less than one week to prepare for the shift to online or remote education due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
• 85% of TVIs who had students in a general or special education online class described having at least one student with an accessibility issue.
• O&M specialists reported they were only able to continue working with 45% of their students in early intervention, preschool, and/or those with additional disabilities.

The survey was made possible thanks to the collaboration among 20 organizations, companies, and universities invested in the education of children with visual impairments, including those with additional disabilities and deafblindness. The survey opened on April 22 and closed May 13.

In September, AFB also published the Flatten Inaccessibility report, which examined how 1,921 adults with visual impairments in the U.S. were affected by COVID-19 in the beginning of the pandemic.

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About the American Foundation for the Blind
Founded in 1921, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is a national nonprofit that creates a world of no limits for people who are blind or visually impaired. AFB mobilizes leaders, advances understanding, and champions impactful policies and practices using research and data. AFB is proud to steward the Helen Keller Archive, maintain and expand the digital collection, and honor the more than 40 years that Helen Keller worked tirelessly with AFB. Visit: www.afb.org

John Mackin, Manager, Public Relations
(212) 502-7627