At first it was chaotic and awful and a lot of time was lost as states, districts, and teachers tried to figure out what to do. This isn’t a criticism; everyone just needed to figure out a whole new way. Now that things are up and running a little more, it is rewarding to do some work with students. However, it is clear that the impact of so much missed school will be significant. I do also feel like this situation has sparked creativity in our field and good things will come out of it, including possibly more connection and enjoyment with families. —White female TVI

There were 710 TVIs, 138 O&M specialists, and 180 dually certified professionals who reported that for the 2019-2020 school year they were employed. Table 8 provides data regarding employment type of the professionals. Most professionals (n=932) selected a single employer, but 93 professionals had multiple employers. Additionally, 120 professionals selected “other” as one of their employers, which included: government division employee, private school employee, and adult-service agency employee. Most professionals were employed full time; fewer than 10% of professionals were either part-time or contract employees. Table 9 reports the professionals’ mode of service delivery. Most professionals selected one option for mode of service delivery (n=744), but 277 professionals provided services in multiple modes of service delivery. Seventy-seven percent of the professionals worked as itinerants and 14% worked on the campuses of specialized schools. Not surprisingly, more professionals were employed by school districts in itinerant positions. In both Tables 8 and 9, the total number of employees per category is larger than the sample size.

A man wears a mask that says "Teacher" in print and braille. It also has a figure walking with a cane. The man also wears a hat with sunglasses resting on top.

The number of school districts served by professionals varied with a mean of 2.53 (SD=2.19) for TVIs, a mean of 3.31 (SD=2.48) for O&M specialists, and a mean of 3.16 (SD=2.33) for dually certified professionals. The number of school buildings where professionals served varied with a mean of 6.85 (SD=4.70) for TVIs, a mean of 8.39 (SD=5.33) for O&M specialists, and a mean of 8.99 (SD=4.17) for dually certified professionals.

Table 8: Frequency of Professional Setting by Professional Type

Total TVIs (n=708) O&M Specialists (n=137) Dually Certified Professionals (n=180)
Employer (n=1025) 43 6 12 4
Public School District 506 364 43 99
Cooperative 140 92 13 35
Specialized School—Campus 116 92 18 6
Specialized School—Outreach 59 43 5 11
Contractor Through Company 83 43 20 20
Self-Employed 105 45 29 31
Other 120 77 28 15

Although the researchers recognized that students with visual impairments are a heterogenous group, for the purposes of collecting and reporting the data, the professionals were asked to think about their students in three broad categories.

  • Academic blind students. These are students who are primarily included in the general education classroom, whose primary literacy medium is braille, and who are able to read on or close to grade level.
  • Academic low vision students. These are students who are primarily included in the general education classroom whose primary literacy medium is print, and who are able to read on or close to grade level.
  • Students with additional disabilities. These are students who may spend part, if not most, of their day, in special education classrooms. They typically are two or more grade levels below nondisabled peers. Their educational programs are very individualized.

Using the provided definitions, professionals were also asked to think about the way in which they delivered services to each of their students.

  • Direct service students refer to students who professionals meet with regularly to provide instruction in the ECC. TVIs likely adapt materials for these students as well as ensure they have what they need in their classrooms to succeed. O&M specialists provide service to address specific travel-related goals.
  • Consultative students refer to students who professionals monitor or check in with periodically. Professionals may consult with the student and/or other members of the educational team.

Table 9: Frequency of Mode of Delivery by Professional Type

Mode of Delivery (n=1021) Total TVIs (n=705) O&M Specialists (n=137) Dually Certified Professionals (n=179)
Itinerant 794 516 112 116
Resource Room 116 89 8 19
Early Intervention/ Preschool 224 138 28 58
Specialized School 145 105 25 15
Other Including Private School 224 138 28 6

Table 10 reports mean and standard deviation for the number of students on the caseloads of itinerant professionals. As some professionals reported, they delivered services in more than one mode (e.g., itinerant and resource room), all professionals who selected “itinerant” are included in Table 10. Although professionals had more direct service students than consultative service students on their caseloads, there was considerable variability in the range of students on the caseloads of professionals.

Table 10: Frequency of Students Receiving Direct and Consultative Services from Itinerant Professionals

TVIs (n=489) O&M Specialists (n=95) Dually Certified Professionals (n=159)
Direct Service 10.43 7.62 15.21 11.55 11.97 6.69
n=472 n=90 n=154
Consultative 8.44 10.89 4.10 4.60 7.88 10.89

Table 11 reports the percentage of students on professionals’ caseloads for each of the student groups by student descriptive characteristic. Less than 10% of professionals’ caseloads included children in early intervention while more than 75% of professionals’ caseloads included school-age students. There was little variation in caseload composition across the three groups of professionals and in the student descriptive characteristics.

Table 11: Percentage of Students on Professionals’ Caseloads by Student Group

TVIs (n=665) O&M Specialists (n=119) Dually Certified Professionals (n=171)
Blind 6 11 83 5 11 84 9 13 78
LV 6 13 81 4 13 83 6 13 81
AD 8 16 77 4 15 81 7 16 77

Professionals were asked if the number of direct service students on their caseloads had changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. For 203 of 643 TVIs, 40 of 106 O&M specialists, and 66 of 161 dually certified professionals, there was a change in the number of direct service students on their caseloads. Some professionals reported they had offered to work with students or family members and the family members had declined because they were overwhelmed; they did not have access to technology; or since no grades were associated with instruction, they wanted to opt out.

Some professionals also noted challenges with contacting students and family members and the shift to working with family members as they carried out the instruction for their child. Professionals reported delays in starting online instruction as schools and teachers shifted to remote-learning platforms. Some professionals were told by their administrators that they would no longer be able to provide direct service to their students.

I am not providing direct support to any [students] except those with the most significant vision needs (blind, academic braille-using students) during learn[ing] at home. For all others, I have checked in with family and/or staff, and I am available for troubleshooting issues as they arise or [to] disseminate information, suggestions, [and] videos for some. —White female TVI

Professionals were asked if the number of consultative students on their caseloads had changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For 105 of 634 TVIs, 17 of 106 O&M specialists, and 38 of 159 dually certified professionals, there was a change in the number of consultative students on their caseloads. The professionals reported ways in which services to their consultative students had changed, including for some students, who professionals had stopped seeing either because of the request of family members or a district directive. TVIs described how they provided consultative services including sharing information with family members and case managers or advocating with the administration to get students access to materials or equipment.

Our classrooms [for students with additional disabilities] are operating on a schedule of 9 am-12 pm Monday through Friday. Some of the students that have complex needs are not attending due to [the fact that the] parents [are] working and [there is] no facilitator that knows how to work with the child or the student just has behaviors and [the] parents choose to not attend classroom sessions. My role with some of these students is on a consultative basis. I help support tactile communication and pictorial communication in formats that the student needs. I work very closely with the speech teachers in these classrooms. Some of the students do not have the appropriate communication platform in their home due to COVID and school closures. —White female TVI

Transition from Delivering Services Prior to COVID-19 to Delivering Services During COVID-19

There was a short time frame during which schools and agencies were forced to make the switch from their traditional way of delivering face-to-face educational services to remote service delivery. Professionals were asked how much notice they were given by their administration of the switch. The shift came quickly with 81.57% of professionals given less than a week to prepare for the shift.

The professionals were provided a list of options their administration might have re- quested of them during the service delivery shift. They could select more than one option including:

  • Preparing packets of materials for students, getting technology training, securing materials, etc., with less than 1-week notice (n=411)
  • Finding they were no longer permitted to go on site (n=410)
  • Preparing packets of materials for students, getting technology training, securing materials, etc., with 1-2 weeks’ notice (n=349)
  • Being allowed to go on site on an as-needed or limited basis (n=165)
  • Being required to continue to go to their office or school site even though the schools had closed (n=8)

Many of the professionals shared comments about how the change in service delivery was affecting both them and their students. A problematic issue raised by many professionals who served multiple school districts and/or buildings was the conflicting demands placed on them by administrators and the number of online tools they were required to use. Some administrators were not allowing professionals to communicate with family members, provide materials to students, or access materials needed in school buildings that had been closed. Other administrators were requiring educators to use specific platforms for online instruction that were not accessible to students with visual impairments. Professionals reported that some administrators were requiring a certain number of communication contacts with family members each week while others were requiring that only one professional from the educational team be in contact with the family. Consequently, TVIs and O&M specialists who wished to initiate communication with family members were not allowed to do so.

A Multiracial school-age boy points to a white button on a black screen showing four buttons and the words "four groovy buttons". The word "four" is written as a bubble word.

Some districts do not have clear policies in place, while other agencies already had policies in place and were committed to keeping teachers aware. It is very much up to the itinerant to advocate for themselves within each school district.…Some district teachers have joined my online teaching to see how I teach since they have not had training due to the short notice of their school ‘soft closure.’ Different school districts are using different Internet platforms, therefore, needing me to learn the different platforms in addition to providing materials to students and families and planning lessons or coaching strategies. —White female TVI

There was no guidebook for professionals to consult as they made the quick transition to delivering services during the COVID-19 pandemic. By nature, special educators are problem-solvers and resource users, so it is not surprising that the professionals who completed the survey used multiple ways to prepare themselves to continue educating their students. When given a list of eight possible options, 872 professionals on average reported they were doing 3.59 (SD=2.07) of the options. The ways in which professionals prepared for the transition included:

  • Seeking out online resources to share with students and family members (n=749)
  • Reaching out to other professionals (e.g., online meetings, Facebook groups) to find out how they were meeting the needs of their students (n=635)
  • Seeking out free resources to share with students and family members (e.g., ObjectiveEd17, Vispero offering JAWS and ZoomText for home use18) (n=625)
  • Being required to contact family members to find out what technology they had at home (n=411)
  • Choosing to participate in an offered training on how to teach online (n=376)
  • Choosing to contact family members to find out what technology they had at home (n=372)
  • Signing up for the Virtual ExCEL Academy19 for themselves, their students, and/or their students’ family members (n=198)
  • Being required to attend training on how to teach online (n=146)

Since we were given so little notice and because the rules keep changing about what we need to do/are allowed to do, this has been extremely frustrating. I’m concerned that my students are not getting what they need from this time and in some cases will not recoup those lost skills. —White female TVI

In open-ended responses, professionals described their efforts to reach out to family members to provide support, collaborate with other educational team members, prepare materials and resources for students to use at home, and put in place mechanisms to support their students’ online education (e.g., setting up Google Classroom, learning to use Zoom).

District Policies Impacting Professionals’ Ability to Serve their Students

Professionals were asked to explain how, if at all, district policies impacted their ability to serve their students. With so many districts throughout the United States and Canada, it was not at all surprising to have professionals share a wide array of responses to this question.

Of 943 professionals, 31 reported that they were not serving students when they took the survey (TVIs=12, O&M specialists=12, dually certified professionals=7). The reasons they gave for not serving students varied and included the fact that districts and/or teachers were in the process of transitioning to remote learning for all students/family members. Students were hard to reach to schedule instruction and because states classified teachers as nonessential employees, they were not able to work.

We were deemed nonessential employees. I am not happy with the students not receiving services because many of the students are on the autism spectrum, and there is a high chance that they are traumatized by the change. I am also concerned that the students will regress because they are not receiving services in home. —Female, dually certified professional

Students and Families Who Could Not Be Reached

Although 332 professionals were able to contact all their students or students’ family members, unfortunately, there were professionals who reported that there were students and family members who could not be reached. Three hundred sixty TVIs, 73 O&M specialists, and 99 dually certified professionals could not contact at least one student or student’s family member on their caseloads. Four hundred eighty-seven professionals reported that they were continuing to try and contact their students, 27 reported that they had tried without success and had ceased trying, and 18 professionals were told by administrators to stop trying to contact their students. The professionals had concerns about not being able to contact their students and their family members.

The concern is that the families are overwhelmed. Perhaps they have not been responding to teachers because they are embarrassed that they have not been able to do the work. Families are currently being bombarded with communications from dozens of school professionals at a time.…While I would love to be able to connect with families right now, I have chosen to limit adding to the bombardment of communications at this time for families who are unresponsive. —White female TVI

Student Progress and Preparedness for the 2020–2021 School Year

Thinking about the students on their caseloads, professionals were asked to provide their level of agreement with a statement about student progress. Table 12 reports their ratings. Note that the “n” in the table refers to the number of professionals providing the rating and not the number of students. Many of the ratings provided by professionals fell between 2.00 and 3.00, indicating that responses fell between “Disagree” and “Neither agree nor disagree.” Professionals believed that their students with additional disabilities were making less progress than their academic students. Table 13 reports the level of agreement professionals had with a statement about how ready students will be for the 2020–2021 school year. As with Table 12, the “n” represents the number of professionals rating the statement. Professionals believed that most of their students would not be ready for the 2020–2021 school year, though their students who were academic learners would be slightly better positioned for the start of the new school year than students with additional disabilities.

Table 12: Professionals’ Ratings of Statements About Their Students’ Progress for the 2020–2021 School Year

Student Category n M SD
My students are continuing to make progress in the same way they would if there had not ben a change in where and how my students attend school.
Direct Service Student, Academic 602 2.68 1.20
Direct Service Student with Additional Disabilities 603 2.29 1.03
Consultative Service Student, Academic 559 3.19 0.96
Consultative Service Student with Additional Disabilities 548 3.62 0.95

A White school-age girl examines a tactile model of COVID-19 made from push-pins on an orange. She compares the tactual model to an enlarged image of COVID-19 on her iPad screen.

Table 13: Professionals’ Ratings of Statements About Their Students’ Preparation for the 2020–2021 School Year

Student Category n M SD
Because of the way services are being delivered, I believe the majority of my students will be ready for the next school year.
Direct Service Student, Academic 599 3.03 1.04
Direct Service Student with Additional Disabilities 605 2.71 0.98
Consultative Service Student, Academic 553 3.27 0.86
Consultative Service Student with Additional Disabilities 551 2.87 0.91

Balancing One’s Professional and Personal Life

Although much of this report focuses on the education of children with visual impairments from early intervention through transition, the effect on the TVIs, O&M specialists, and dually certified professionals who serve them cannot be overlooked. Of 633 professionals, 232 (169 TVIs, 21 O&M specialists, and 42 dually certified professionals) reported that they were responsible for the education of their own children or grandchildren during the COVID-19 pandemic. Balancing education of children in the home and work responsibilities was challenging for participants. Many professionals believed they were putting their students’ education before the education of children in their home.

[Educating my own children and my students] is near impossible! I am trying to set specific hours I support my children’s learning and hours I support my students. However, it is not always feasible. I am spending a lot of time working from 8-12 at night to create lesson plans, materials, etc. for students [in order] to provide for more time working with my children during the day. —White female TVI

There were professionals who spoke of perseverance and hope. Some participants felt they were getting a handle on working from home as they developed time management strategies and established routines for themselves and their own children.

[Things I am doing include] keeping good time management (developed a schedule after a very unsuccessful first week), setting realistic expectations for everyone, enlisting and sharing responsibilities with other family members and colleagues, allowing room for mistakes (both personally and professionally), educating myself and others in order to adapt to this change, strong faith, and positive thinking. —Hispanic or Latina female TVI