WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 18, 2021)—The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) today announced the release of the second Access and Engagement research report, based on the November 2020 survey that delved into the continued impact of COVID-19 on the education of students with visual impairments, their families, and the professionals who serve them. The report is a detailed and expanded follow-up to the first Access and Engagement study, published in October 2020 based on data from 1,432 participants collected in spring 2020 during the early days of the pandemic.

Access and Engagement II: An Examination of How the COVID-19 Pandemic Continued to Impact Students with Visual Impairments, Their Families, and Professionals Nine Months Later investigates how the education of students with visual impairments in the United States and Canada continued to be affected nine months into the pandemic. Research staff documented the systemic and pandemic-related ways in which children (birth to age 21), their families, teachers of students with visual impairments (TVIs), orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists, and dually certified professionals have been affected. The 662 participants represented 206 children with visual impairments, including those with additional disabilities and deafblindness, and the specialized professionals skilled in providing educational services to meet those students’ diverse needs.

“We do not yet know the short-term and long-term impacts of the pandemic on individual children nor do we know how to provide all children with visual impairments with an individualized and appropriate education while also ensuring students’ social-emotional well-being during a disruptive event such as this pandemic,” said Dr. L. Penny Rosenblum, AFB Director of Research, and the report’s lead author. “We do, however, know that until students have fully accessible, inclusive learning opportunities with the necessary support, their ability to learn and maximize their full potential is at risk. Together, policymakers, administrators, educators, family members, and students have the opportunity to take lessons learned during the first nine months of the pandemic to shape the future of education for students with visual impairments.”

Key findings include:

  • Regardless of where early intervention services were delivered, most family members reported feeling overwhelmed, especially as they needed to juggle multiple roles.
  • Some family members of preschool-aged children found that changes from online to hybrid to in-person made it difficult for their child to learn, but others found that during the pandemic, their child’s skills were increasing.
  • As of November 2020, 58% of professionals were able to reach between 90% and 100% of their students’ families; with 42% of professionals reaching less than 90% of students’ families.
  • Four out of 10 professionals reported that up to 25% of their students were on the low end of the digital divide.
  • Family members and professionals reported that many educational apps and websites were inaccessible or not fully usable for students who were blind or had low vision. Chromebooks especially presented accessibility challenges.
  • During the pandemic, many TVIs reported it was challenging, if not impossible, to coordinate with the classroom teacher in order to prepare and/or get materials to students attending school virtually in time for the lesson.

The report also includes a series of recommendations, categorized by the importance of teamwork, ensuring full participation in education, full access to digital learning, and mental health support, to name just a few.

The survey was made possible thanks to funding provided by the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, Braille Institute, American Thermoform, and Objective Ed, as well as the collaboration among 22 organizations, companies, and universities invested in the education of children with visual impairments, including those with additional disabilities and deafblindness. The survey opened on October 28, 2020, and closed November 30, 2020.

A study, Reflections About the Education of Students with Visual Impairments Across the Year-Long COVID-19 Pandemic, is currently underway, with researchers from AFB, the University of South Carolina Upstate, and The Ohio State University conducting a series of focus groups and short surveys to gather information from a broad section of individuals including families, administrators, teenagers and young adults with visual impairments, as well as educators.

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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