I am concerned about [student] regression and how it will be dealt with. There has definitely been regression, but it seems like some districts are going to wait until 3-year evaluations to determine what they are and what to do. I do not know how you manage regression when there [are] only so many hours in the day and so many weeks and hours in the summer for summer programing. I am also concerned about students age 3 going into districts where they are not doing any in-person assessments or education. —White female TVI
Nine months into the pandemic, is the education being provided to students meeting their educational needs? Are there appropriate plans in place, or will appropriate plans be developed, to address educational gaps for students who are not progressing in their education, especially younger students, those with additional disabilities, and those who are deafblind?
How are students impacted when they do not have the necessary technology and knowledge to access education in an online or hybrid education delivery model? What occurs when there is no one in the home who can provide the student support with their education or the student does not respond well, if at all, to instruction delivered through a computer screen or other device? When a student requires hands-on instruction or support during in-person education, how is this achieved while maintaining COVID-19 safety protocols? The list of questions goes on as we consider both the short-term and long-term impacts of the pandemic.
Actually, students seem to be handling it much better than their parents or teachers. Children are resilient and I have many students thriving and excited about all they are accomplishing. —White male dually certified professional*
We have also seen the resiliency of many students with visual impairments and their ability to learn and thrive during the pandemic. How do we harness the positives for certain students, such as being able to more easily access curricular materials during online classes compared to in-person ones? After working collaboratively with vision professionals during the pandemic, many family members have gained a more thorough understanding of how to support their child’s education. How do we continue to build on these relationships and increased knowledge? For students who have increased their problem-solving skills, technology skills, and independent living skills and had the opportunity to use these skills in their home, how can we support their continued growth and the integration of skills between home and school? And again, the list goes on as we recognize that there have been positive shifts in education as a result of the pandemic.
In the first Access and Engagement report that examined the impact of COVID-19 on the education of students with visual impairments in the early months of the pandemic, the authors provided recommendations for family members, vision professionals, other educators, administrators, and policymakers. Most of those recommendations are still applicable as we examine the findings from the 662 individuals who participated in Access and Engagement II during the ninth month of the pandemic.
In the following pages the authors have organized the recommendations around key topics that emerged from the study findings:
The importance of teamwork
Full access to digital learning
Providing students access to the curriculum
Meeting the needs of students with additional disabilities, including those with deafblindness
Changes to IFSPs and IEPs as a result of the pandemic
Provision of orientation and mobility instruction
Continuing to build on successes that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic
Supporting the mental health and safety of students, families, and professionals
The Importance of Teamwork
Education teams are the foundation on which a child’s education rests. Effective educational teams must be given time by administrators to build relationships, work together to plan, and make decisions based on the needs of the child.
Clear, Consistent, and Accessible Communication
Communication between students, family members, vision professional, other educators, and administrators must be ongoing, clear, and individualized to the needs of the student and family members.
During the IEP meeting, nothing that I requested was granted.…[My child] needs face-to-face instruction for the general education class which is history. He also is not having access to his paraeducator in person which is detrimental for [online instruction] because I have to stay with him all day while he’s doing his lessons because he can’t operate the computer by himself or log on. I requested face-to-face for the whole day and it was totally denied. Only ‘the Team’ got what they wanted and what I requested was denied. I do not feel like I am an equal member of the IEP team. That’s why I am leaving the school district for another state. —Asian female family member of a child who is blind, 13 to 15 years old
Family members need clear information about the impact of changes being made in education delivery models to make decisions on behalf of their children. School districts, specialized school, and other educational agencies should provide clear information not only about what changes to the school environment or teaching practices will occur, but also how those changes will affect educational delivery models. In addition, family members need to know which educational delivery models are available for their child.
All educational team members and administrators should ensure that family members and students are treated as equal members of the educational team. When a team is not working together, it is the student who loses out.
Family members and students who do not speak English as their primary language need access to interpreters. The move to online platforms and stretched budgets are not appropriate reasons not to provide family members and students access to interpreters.
Students who are in the process of building their English proficiency skills should receive coordinated services from staff members who are knowledgeable about providing instruction to English learners. Their instruction should be coordinated with vision professionals to ensure the methods and materials being used are accessible to the learner.
A big challenge I have had with connecting with families is language barriers. In a typical school year, we would be able to schedule an interpreter or get someone at the school to translate for us. However, being itinerant and having a lot of people working virtually now, it is hard to find someone regularly who can translate and help me have good communication with families. —White female TVI
Ensuring Full Participation in Education
Vision professionals who are experts in their fields must be acknowledged and have the time and resources to meet their students’ diverse needs.
I had a student with a progressive vision loss who needed a re-evaluation in March, but due to COVID, I was unable to travel to conduct assessments. I will hopefully travel this month to conduct those assessments, but I have been limited by both school closure and school bureaucracy. —White female dually certified professional
Administrators must be willing to work with educators to designate funding and resources, so that all students who need services are provided these in a timely manner. Vision professionals and other educators may require flexible schedules and additional personnel may need to be hired as necessary.
Funding must be made available for accessible technology tailored to the individual student’s needs, and made available to families in addition to training and troubleshooting support.
Vision professionals have expertise that others do not. They must be consulted and their opinion valued when administrators and policymakers are making decisions on which technology to purchase or implement.
Policymakers and administrators should examine the caseload sizes of vision professionals and plan for hiring new staff to adjust caseload sizes while main- taining service levels. When caseload numbers are high, it is impossible for vision professionals to effectively meet the varied needs of the full range of students on their caseloads.
Administrators must ensure that assessments continue to occur as required by the IDEA and individual student needs.
Ensuring Basic Needs of Students and Their Families are Met
Student success requires the family’s basic needs be met for there to be investment in the child’s education.
Policymakers and administrators must recognize that for some students, education will not occur if their family members have more pressing issues to reconcile such as food, housing, or employment insecurity. Policymakers, administrators, vision professionals, and other educators must take a holistic approach to the education of students with visual impairments, and all students.
School districts, specialized schools, and other educational agencies can partner with community agencies to ensure materials are available in the native language of family members or interpreters can translate so family members and educators can engage in meaningful dialog.
School administrators, policymakers, and community leaders should work together to provide free or inexpensive childcare for younger siblings, ultimately allowing family members to have uninterrupted time to engage in their child’s education.
Policymakers and community agency partners should continue to work together to provide free or reduced meals to families experiencing food insecurity. Congress should ensure that the 15% increase in SNAP benefits provided in COVID-19 relief legislation and expansions of the Pandemic EBT program and WIC program continue for the length of the public health emergency. At the end of the emergency period, congressional leaders should continue evaluating and providing solutions to address ongoing needs for student well-being and food security.
Full Access to Digital Learning
Digital learning was part of education before the pandemic and will continue to be part of education going forward. However, the quick shift to online learning in spring 2020 highlighted challenges with digital learning for students with visual impairments and their families. Though many vision professionals reported technology and Internet access had improved for their students in the 2020-2021 school year compared to late spring of the 2019-2020 school year, there continued to be issues with online instruction for some students and family members. Both family members and vision professionals reported that many digital learning tools were not fully accessible to students with visual impairments or that even when they were accessible, they were not usable by many students or family members. Usability is dependent not only on the accessibility of the learning tool, but the knowledge and skill of the user. Thus, students were negatively impacted regardless in which education delivery setting (e.g., online, in-person) instruction occurred. Students must have the same access to assistive technology in the home that they do in the brick-and-mortar classroom.
I still need assistance in getting the students proficient with their devices. By not having an item, I adapt, until I bother folks enough to order a better device. Sometimes our administrators hear about a tool or device and order it without thinking if it would be the best one [for the] student. —White female dually certified professional
The Need for Internet and Technology in the Home
We cannot expect our students with visual impairments to participate in online education without adequate Internet availability.
Students with visual impairments, like all students, must have access to technology that allows them to connect with all educators and take part in all components of education. This technology includes devices needed by all students, such as hotspots and laptops, as well as assistive technology such as screen readers and braille notetakers.
Policymakers, administrators, all educators, community businesses, and family members should invest in Internet infrastructure and technology tools that are up to date and efficient for tasks students are required to do as part of their education. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should implement the Emergency Broadband Benefit with a focus on device accessibility and outreach to people with disabilities and their families. The Benefit, or a similar program, should be made permanent after the public health emergency ends. Additionally, Congress and the FCC should consider a permanent expansion of the E-rate17 program to afford schools and libraries the flexibility to serve students learning from home.
Information on device accessibility should be made available to benefit recipients who receive devices through FCC-subsidized programs.
School districts, specialized schools, and other educational agencies should provide opportunities to ensure family members and/or students know-how to use the device effectively. Such mechanisms may include basic literacy course offerings for families as well as adding assistive technology training to the student’s IEP.
[Participation in online education] was much more of a problem last school year. One improvement this year is that [students] have all received devices and all have access to Internet (which is a major win in [rural state]). That being said, last week, I had a student go on quarantine. I was the first (as her O&M) to contact the family and meet virtually. My student and her parent had not yet been taught how to access the platform needed for virtual education visits, so in November, I was the first to address this with that particular family. She had the device but had not been trained how to use it. —White female O&M specialist
The Need for Assistive Technology, Accommodations, Instruction, and Ongoing Support
Mechanisms are needed to provide students, family members, and vision professionals instruction and ongoing support with technology, including replacing and/or repairing technology in a timely manner.
Students must have the same assistive technology (e.g., a screen reader such as JAWS, a braille notetaker) and accommodations (e.g., a large monitor, high-contrast keyboard) at home that they have at school.
Vision professionals who are teaching students how to use their assistive technology often need access to the same tools so they can develop their own skills with the device and use it as they plan lessons and/or work in parallel with the student during the lesson.
Administrators should allocate resources that will enable students, family members, vision professionals, and other educational team members who use assistive technology to receive ongoing training to learn new skills and support to troubleshoot issues when they arise.
School districts should consider establishing an IT help desk for families and students that provides support for mainstream and assistive technologies used during instruction.
It is imperative that administrators and vision professionals work together to establish policies and steps to be taken when a student’s assistive technology is broken and must be sent out for repair or be replaced.
All students in the school district that I work in were given Chromebooks as their point-of-school access this year. The battle is to convince and prove to the district [administration] that this is not the appropriate option for JAWS [users]. Braille Notetakers, really any accessible technology…has been very tough [to acquire for students]. —White female TVI
Accessible Digital Learning Tools
Students with visual impairments are entitled to an equitable education under IDEA, but when digital learning tools are not fully accessible, achieving equity is near impossible.
My student does not have a refreshable braille display and is accessing all of her hybrid online materials audibly via screen readers (VoiceOver on her iPad and JAWS on her laptop). Additionally, nearly every class is posting assignments that are not accessible to her. Khan Academy is assigned in math, and none of the videos are described.…I manually pull quiz questions from Khan Academy and place them in a Google form for her to access independently. But she is missing out on the instruction in the videos and missing any diagrams.…We have found limitations within the Google Classroom platform (using VoiceOver on the iPad), which is where all of her materials are posted. The platform glitches with VoiceOver turned on, and she is unable to look back on past ‘topics’ to access old material. Google Classroom often registers radio buttons as ‘dimmed’ when they use the ‘question’ feature and offer multiple choice radio button answers. I’ve called Google and Apple three or four times this year to report these issues. There has been no resolution; they either work or they don’t. Sometimes we troubleshoot by switching to her laptop which she is not yet efficient in using. The list goes on. —White female dually certified professional
School districts, specialized schools, and other educational agencies in coordination with state or provincial governments should coordinate outreach to technology companies producing inaccessible digital learning tools to mitigate the burden on educators and students.
Policymakers, administrators, technology companies, vision professionals, other educational team members, and students must work together to ensure that the digital learning tools, including websites, learning management system, and apps used in the classroom, in person or online, are accessible.
School districts, specialized schools, and other educational agencies must only purchase or use digital learning tools that are fully vetted for accessibility. As part of the vetting process TVIs, O&M specialists, and/or assistive technology specialists must be included and their expertise taken into consideration in the de- cision-making process.
IT coordinators within school districts should develop expertise in the assistive technology needs of students with disabilities.
Technology companies must use inclusive design principles from the beginning of conception through production of a digital learning tool. Organizations such as the American Foundation for the Blind have consultants who can work with companies to provide them information to guide them in their work.
Recognizing that currently there are many digital learning tools that are not fully accessible, administrators, vision professionals, and other educational team members should work together to develop plans so that students learn the same content as classmates and all educators have adequate time to adapt or develop parallel content to what is in the digital learning tools.
The Department of Justice should finalize a rulemaking requiring accessible websites and mobile applications under Title II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Department of Education should emphasize the need for native accessibility in digital learning tools and the devices used for instruction. They should coordinate with the Department of Justice and FCC to explore opportunities to elevate accessible educational technology development beyond individual complaint processes.
Providing Students Access to the Curriculum
Whether a student with a visual impairment is in a general education program or a program tailored to their individual needs, access to the curriculum is essential to their participation and learning. Vision professionals cannot support students in accessing the curriculum if they do not have the resources they need to conduct assessments, prepare materials, coordinate with other members of the educational team, and provide instruction in ECC skills.
Effective Communication for Educational Team Members
The educational team must coordinate and communicate with each other to meet the unique needs of students with visual impairments.
As professionals, we are not present 100% in a student’s life and we need to realize this even before COVID, so it is crucial to use role release and have confidence in others. Communication is crucial right now, so everyone is on the same page as to what the student is able to do independently versus what they need support [in] or what’s not safe or reasonable to expect from the student. —White female O&M specialist
Administrators must provide support to allow vision professionals and other educational team members to routinely meet to review curricula, student learning preferences, and materials the student needs for learning. When time is provided, vision professionals are often able to produce or secure necessary materials that allow students to access the curriculum.
Vision professionals often need the support of administrators to mitigate bureaucratic requirements. For example, every day that goes by without a student having a monitor to connect to a Chromebook to provide visual access means the student misses out on learning. When an administrator is able to step in and direct IT staff to release a monitor from a closed computer lab, the vision professional is then able to take the monitor to the student.
Vision professionals and educational team members need time to meet to determine the specific accommodations a student will use in the classroom, put in place problem-solving strategies when the accommodations do not meet the student’s needs, and establish timelines for classroom teachers to get materials to vision professionals so they can pre-teach the student and adapt materials for in-class learning.
Vision professionals and often other educational team members need access to the same digital learning tools as the students. Not having the option to preview and review material with the student prevents the vision professionals from identifying and pre-teaching concepts, adapting materials, and determining necessary changes in how to present content to the student.
Providing Access To Classroom Materials For Students
Access to instructional materials at the same time as peers is a cornerstone of inclusive education for students with visual impairments.
Paper [packet] activities [provided by classroom teachers] must be adapted and sent [to the student]. I am creating all the hands-on worksheets to be presented via screen/slide deck for virtual students. I am creating activity boxes, finding more and more items so each student has an individual set. I am recreating everything from scratch or begging or borrowing from others even though the district policy is if [students] are virtual they need to find their supplies at home. That doesn’t always apply to our students. We are still responsible for providing accessible materials. —White female dually certified professional
Students, family members, vision professionals, and other educational team members must be empowered and have clear information about whom to contact if there are issues with access to the curriculum or needed materials, including braille.
For students who are braille readers, administrators, vision professionals, other educational team members, students, and family members should work together to develop policies and procedures that ensure the students have hard-copy braille (braille produced on paper) and tactile graphics (raised-line drawings) at the same time the content is being covered in the classroom.
Under the IDEA, students with disabilities are entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Administrators should institute appropriate processes and allocate sufficient funding to allow for accommodating students with the appropriate supplies, including using federal COVID-19 relief funding when available.
Some families love it because their child is more confident using their low vision devices at home without getting teased and it’s self-paced and more targeted than in a general education room. They can actually see what is written on the board.… —Multiracial Hispanic female TVI
Students who have low vision and use large print or low vision devices must have access to these during online instruction. Vision professionals, other educational team members, family members, and administrators should work together to provide low vision tools to the student and, when necessary, training to family members on how to use these tools effectively.
Funding should be allocated to purchase needed accommodations for students with low vision to minimize visual fatigue and allow them to access online learning.
Many school districts provide students Chromebooks that have small screens and are difficult for many students with low vision to see. In many cases students need large monitors to connect to the Chromebooks or alternative devices to maximize student access. Students, family members, and vision professionals should have the appropriate permission and access to load screen access software on to devices and to change accessibility settings as necessary.
Administrators should work with vision professionals to develop policies that will allow vision professionals and their support staff to access materials located within school buildings or offices when students and staff are not allowed on campus.
Funding should be allocated to purchase multiple sets of materials that are typically shared between students in a classroom to allow each student to have individual access to necessary materials to engage in online learning.
Administrators, vision professionals, and family members should explore alternatives for storage and use of materials to safeguard materials from being broken or stolen when in the home.
Science experiments, for example, must be described verbally. As much as possible and when appropriate, the student is provided tactile models. It is impossible to completely replicate experiments, lessons, etc., that are provided in this particular class in an accessible format to a remote student who is completely blind. —White female TVI
Vision professionals and family members should not be expected to spend their own funds to purchase materials students need for education when online. Purchasing in bulk, having a district-wide way to share materials, and seeking donations are ways administrators can help to ease the financial burden on vision professionals and families.
Congressionally appropriated COVID-19 relief funds may be used to provide services under the IDEA. Administrators should ensure some of these funds are available to provide students with the appropriate materials and accommodations needed to provide a free appropriate public education.
Administrators and vision professionals should craft reasonable policies to address who is responsible if equipment or materials become lost or damaged when in a student’s home. In addition, procedures are needed to determine how the student will participate in education if they do not have access to the necessary equipment or materials. Students, particularly those from low-income and unhoused households, should not be excluded from their education because of a real or perceived risk of material loss, damage, or theft.
Meeting the Needs of Students with Additional Disabilities, Including Those with Deafblindness
For students with visual impairments and additional disabilities including deafblindness, the need for augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices, positioning equipment, adapted storybooks, high-contrast learning materials, etc., is individualized. Within a classroom setting, materials are often shared between students. Students who have additional disabilities may not tolerate or engage in online lessons without significant support from someone in the home. Vision professionals in Access and Engagement II perceived that for some students, support in the home was not available for reasons which included lack of family interest, family members having other responsibilities such as working from home, lack of Internet access, or family members not knowing how to use equipment and necessary teaching strategies.
For students with very complex needs, the virtual classroom is not beneficial to them. We have provided materials for home use, but it certainly does not replicate what they would have access to in the special education classroom at school. This is particularly true for our [multiply sensory disabled] high school students who would have work placements and community activities in a typical school year. —White female TVI
It is a far cry from the regular school day, familiar routine to the current situation. [Online education] has had an extremely negative impact on special ed students with multiple disabilities who are unable to access the physical classroom. Many of them are only able to tolerate an hour or two (sometimes less) of virtual instruction on any given day. Still, it says on their IEP they are receiving the usual amount of hours of service. This is ridiculous. —White female O&M specialist
Mechanisms to monitor the impact of changes to IFSPs and IEPs are needed to ensure that students are not losing out on education as a result of changes. Both short-term and long-term plans must be developed that allow students to make up for lost progress and continue to build their skill set.
Administrators and policymakers should recognize that service minutes do not equate to high-quality education delivery, especially when a student must have hands-on instruction to make learning gains.
Policymakers and administrators must allocate financial resources and develop comprehensive guidelines that will enable school districts, specialized schools, and other educational agencies to provide services to students.
Orientation and mobility instruction for students with additional disabilities or deafblindness necessitates hands-on learning. Clear guidance for O&M specialists, in addition to PPE, must be provided so that in-person O&M services can be delivered safely and effectively.
Vision professionals must have access to the same PPE, testing, vaccine, and other COVID-19 mitigation resources as other educational professionals. Additionally, if vision professionals are providing in-person services to children in home- and community-based settings, these professionals may require these resources earlier and more often than professionals working from home.
Funding should be available to ensure that educational team members, including paraprofessionals and intervenors, are able to work with students in person once it becomes safe to do so. This may require after-school or summer programming or an additional year in school to make up time for lost instruction when services were delivered online or not at all.
PPE and other COVID-19 mitigation strategies (e.g., plexiglass barriers, cleaning procedures) must be put in place for in-person assessment and learning. COVID-19 safety procedures are even more essential when students are not able to understand or tolerate a mask.
Administrators must provide sufficient time for vision professionals to re-evaluate or update assessments once in-person learning has fully resumed so that any changes or regression in students’ skills can be documented and addressed. In many cases, students will need updated assessments ahead of the typical schedule.
Any school re-opening guidance must include the needs of students who are blind or have low vision, including those with additional disabilities and deafblindness.
Changes to IFSPs And IEPs as a Result of the Pandemic
We have been discouraged from making many changes [to IEPs], and we have been asked to make do with what we can as best as we can. Students that have not been able to access their curriculum are not making gains. Restrictions to students on campus due to the pandemic are adversely affecting their programming in a very profound way. —White female TVI
According to participants in the Access and Engagement II study, many students had changes made to their IFSPs or IEPs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though the move to online education delivery models necessitated changes to IFSPs and IEPs in many cases, the long-term impact of these changes and their effectiveness must be examined carefully. Some changes to IFSPs and IEPs were not made based on student needs as determined through comprehensive assessments and a meeting of the full educational team. For some students, reduction in service time or change in delivery model was reported to have a negative impact on the student.
Administrators must ensure that assessments necessary to develop or review IFSPs and IEPs occur in a timely manner even when school buildings are closed.
Administrators should plan time to allow all educational team members to complete comprehensive assessments for students when they return to in-person learning.
Assessment data collected online may not be comprehensive, and educational teams that made changes to IFSPs or IEPs using these data should consider reconvening to review updated assessment data and make any necessary changes.
Students who are preparing for transition for the 2021-2022 school year (for example from early intervention to preschool or exiting school-age education) may require an additional year in their current placement. Administrators and educational team members should evaluate each student’s circumstances individually to determine what is best for the student.
Extended School Year (ESY) services may be necessary for some students who would not typically qualify for these services. Administrators and policymakers should evaluate their ESY criteria and make necessary adjustments based on the changes the pandemic has caused in education delivery during the 2020-2021 school year.
Administrators should work with community partners to develop plans to have adequately trained personnel available to provide ESY services. In some instances, partnering with university programs that prepare education professionals may allow for university students to participate in practice or student teaching while providing extra staff to deliver ESY services.
Policymakers and administrators must allocate additional funding to cover the expenses of providing ESY services to more students than are typically served in a school year.
Provision of Orientation and Mobility Instruction
I have had great success with working on the ECC virtually and relating those skills to O&M. Also, great success with using screen shares and Google Maps, looking up transportation info, etc. It is challenging in that I haven’t been able to get all of my students physically to intersections and crossings that they need the hands-on practice on. —White female O&M specialist
The profession of O&M is a very hands-on service and the shift to providing O&M services online has been difficult both on professionals and students.
As many students have been limited in their ability to travel outside of their homes during the pandemic, the short-term and long-term impact on their travel skills must be assessed, documented and, when necessary, new goals developed.
Administrators and policymakers must allocate additional funding and time to allow O&M specialists to work in person with students once it is safe to do so.
O&M specialists need sufficient additional time to conduct assessments with all students to evaluate changes in their O&M skills as a result of less time in the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For students who have experienced regression or have not progressed to the extent they would have during a typical school year, additional funding for O&M services must be allocated by administrators and policymakers to provide needed hands-on instruction in the community. School districts, specialized schools, and other educational agencies that limit instruction to the school day and campus environment may consider allowing instruction to occur off campus and outside the typical school day to make up necessary instruction.
Some O&M specialists have developed ways to address foundational O&M skills through online instruction. Administrators and O&M specialists should collaborate to determine which of these methods can continue to be effective and safe even when in-person instruction is fully restored.
During the pandemic, some family members and O&M specialists have developed strong relationships resulting in family members having a deeper understanding of the practice of O&M and how they can support their child’s travel skills. Effective strategies developed during the pandemic should be maintained and shared with other families in the future.
For students who will transition into a new school building when in-person instruction begins or at the start of the 2021-2022 school year, adequate time must be allocated for O&M specialists to orient students to the new environment.
For students who are graduating or aging out of special education services, policymakers and administrators should consider providing additional O&M services, and other services as needed, to allow the student to achieve the same level of skills they would have had achieved had the pandemic not disrupted education so significantly.
Continuing to Build On Successes That Have Resulted from the COVID-19 Pandemic
She has been getting specialized technology training 2–4 times a week for 5 years. Although her skills have improved greatly over that time, I feel like during this time of learning from home that finally all the skills are starting to come together in a way that she is better able to problem-solve solutions, know how to make more documents accessible on her own and digitally organize and manage her things independently. Because of the rush of the school days previously, it seemed that not all of this was clicking together in the past.” —White female family member of a child who is blind with additional disabilities, 16 to 18 years old
Though it is easy to focus on the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has created, there also have been successes that should be acknowledged and built upon.
Many students have had to quickly learn new technology skills during the pandemic. Policymakers and administrators must allocate time and funding to ensure that students continue to develop technology and associated skills that will allow them to succeed in school and post-secondary education and employment.
Vision professionals must be provided opportunities to build their own technology skills and to continually update these skills as new technology tools become available.
During the pandemic, opportunities were created for students engaged in online learning, to develop their ECC skills, especially in the area of independent living. Vision professionals and other educational team members must explore how they can increase students’ independent living skills within the physical school environment and community.
Some vision professionals shared that national, state, or regional groups provided them support during the pandemic. Groups such as the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Coffee Hour and webinars from the American Printing House for the Blind’s Access Academy have helped professionals connect with others and learn new information. These types of professional development and team building opportunities should be supported by administrators and financial resources provided to continue them post-pandemic.
School districts, specialized schools, and other educational agencies should develop mechanisms to leverage strategies developed during the pandemic that have enabled educational team members and family members to better understand the educational needs of students and how these can be addressed to ensure student growth and learning.
Lessons vision professionals have developed and ways in which they have coached family members should continue post-pandemic.
I have noticed my son striving to be more independent at home. He’ll attempt to make his own food or retrieve things for himself. He’s even learned to use his phone to zoom in on the environment when he is trying to find something that is not in its obvious typical location. —White female family member of a child with low vision and additional disabilities, 13 to 15 years old
- Vision professionals and family members reported they found benefits in getting to know each other better. Administrators, vision professionals, and other educational team members should seek out ways to strengthen home-school partnerships moving forward.
Supporting the Mental Health and Safety of Students, Families, and Professionals
Acknowledging the stresses and ensuring we are all working together to provide holistic support to everyone is imperative now and as we move forward into delivering education post-pandemic.
As a professional, COVID-19 has blurred the lines of work and personal life. It has been very easy to become overwhelmed with all of the online work, technology issues, and having to quickly teach student[s] new technology and programs that the district is trying to use that isn’t accessible. It has also made the job of an itinerant increasingly isolating with online learning. —Female TVI
Vision professionals and other educators need support from administrators to maintain a healthy work-home balance, maintain their productivity, and not burn out and leave the profession. Resources must be allocated to allow this to occur.
Administrators should set the tone for all staff when it comes to mental health. Encourage staff members to check in with each other, make counseling available, and take time to acknowledge the stress most individuals are feeling.
Policymakers, administrators, and community service providers must work together to address food insecurity, housing insecurity, and/or employment insecurity experienced by families. Without addressing these basic needs, families will not be able to focus on their child’s education.
Additional staff, including guidance counselors, psychologists, and social workers, must be available to students, families, and all educators both on a short-term and long-term basis as necessary.
Administrators must allow vision professionals and other educational team members the flexibility to work remotely if they do not feel safe providing in-person instruction during the pandemic. At the same time, they need to provide as many mitigation efforts as possible to promote safe in-person instruction as educators need.
Vision professionals and other educational team members should be supported in making efforts to bring students together to provide mutual support to each other and serve as roles models. Families may also appreciate the opportunity to meet with other families similar to their own or adult role models.
Administrators and vision professionals may find opportunities to collaborate with consumer organizations such as the American Council of the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind beneficial. The members of these organizations can serve as role models, tutors, or in other capacities to support the education of students with visual impairments.