Meeting the Unique Educational Needs of Visually Impaired Pupils Through Appropriate Placement

S.A. Curry; P.H. Hatlen

Abstract: A preoccupation with educating visually impaired students in the “least restrictive environment” often overshadows the need to place these students in environments where all their educational needs will be met. Appropriate placement of a visually impaired student is dependent on a thorough assessment of the student in all areas of potential need, a determination of that student's instructional needs, and the preparation of goals and objectives to meet those needs. The amount of specialist intervention necessary to meet the many unique needs of visually impaired students in preparation for adult living is graphically depicted.

One of the major thrusts of the Education of All Handicapped Children Act, P.L. 94-142, is the requirement that handicapped students, "to the maximum extent appropriate," be educated with children who are not handicapped. The basis for the inclusion of this principle of the least restrictive alternative was the widespread practice of educating students with developmental and physical disabilities in isolation from their nonhandicapped peers (Knoblock, 1987). In many instances, this isolation was profound; disabled students were provided educational programs in institutions, at separate day schools, or in physically isolated building areas within local schools. For disabled pupils, there was little or no opportunity to interact with nonhandicapped peers. Integration with nonhandicapped students did not occur on the buses, during lunchtime, on the playground, at school assemblies, or in regular classes.

For at least one group of disabled children, this isolation was not as prevalent. Educators of blind and visually impaired children have believed since the turn of the century that there is a place in the public schools for their students. In 1960, 53 percent of all blind children were enrolled in public school programs. By 1972, the percentage of legally blind students in the public schools had risen to 68 percent (Lowenfeld, 1975); today, the figure approaches 72 percent (Kirchner & Stephen, 1986). These students usually have been enrolled in an age-appropriate regular classroom and have received special education services either in a resource room or from an itinerant teacher.

Historical perspective

During the 1950s and 1960s, the prevailing theory of education for visually impaired students was that, with certain basic skills and adequate support of the regular teacher in the adaptation of curriculum, blind and visually impaired students could (and would) meet the same academic standards expected of sighted students. The basic skills that required direct intervention by the specialist teacher were braille reading, use of the braillewriter and the slate and stylus, and typing (Hatlen, 1981). To remove visually impaired students from the regular class for other instruction was not considered to be in their best long-term interest.

Based on this belief, highly integrated programs increasingly were favored as superior systems for delivering services to visually impaired students. The reasoning was that students who spent most of the school day in the regular classroom would be better able to live and work as adults within the sighted world, having shared the common academic experience of public school education and the social benefits of integration with seeing peers. With the adoption of P.L. 94-142, highly integrated programs were perceived by many as offering the “least restrictive alternative” for blind and visually impaired students.

Experience, however, has not supported the philosophical basis for highly integrated programs. By the early 1970s, evidence was beginning to accumulate that many blind and visually impaired students from integrated programs were not adequately prepared for adult living (Morrison, 1974; Hatlen, LeDuc, & Canter, 1975). Some professional educators informally observed that large gaps existed in the preparation of these students in many areas, including daily living skills, orientation and mobility, and career/vocational training.

Interestingly, many regular classroom graduates were weak in the two primary areas that integrated programs were intended to remedy: social and emotional functioning and academic skills. It appeared as though a large number of young adults had not benefitted sufficiently from the academic programs of which they had been a part (Martin & Hoben, 1977). Many young adults who went on to higher education or became clients of rehabilitation agencies experienced serious problems in academic subjects such as reading and mathematics, despite a long history of high grades in these subjects from regular classroom teachers. Many “good braille readers” could not put their reading skills to practical use, as in following a recipe or completing a job application.

Some students who were high achievers in advanced mathematics had difficulty with practical math such as making change or balancing a checkbook. Socially, many visually impaired young adults did not have the skills to initiate conversations, dress appropriately for interviews or work, ask for or refuse assistance, etc. For a large number of students, placement in programs with sighted peers did not result in the automatic development of proficiency in these academic and social/emotional areas.

A preoccupation with the environment in which blind and visually impaired students received their educational services had precluded close examination of—and instruction in—the skills they would need to function as blind adults. Although educated in “unrestricted” environments, adult life for many of these individuals was restricted by their lack of skills and competencies.

The dual curriculum

During the last decade, educators of visually impaired pupils (Alonzo, 1986; Curry & Hatlen, 1987) have come to recognize that the educational curriculum for their students has two major components:

  • instruction in traditional academic areas; and
  • instruction in disability-specific skills.

Visually impaired students deserve the same instruction in reading, mathematics, social studies, science, language arts, etc. that seeing peers receive. In addition, all blind and visually impaired pupils deserve chronological-age and developmentally appropriate instruction in the skill areas required to meet their needs as visually impaired individuals: special academic, communication, social/emotional, sensory/motor, activities of daily living, career/vocational, and orientation and mobility (California State Department of Education, 1987). In order to be prepared for adult living, visually impaired students must participate in an educational program which encompasses this dual curriculum. Stated another way, the “disability specific curriculum” is that course of study which is not shared with nonhandicapped peers.

The first component of the dual curriculum, the regular academic component, is determined by state and local policy. Although some allowance for personal difference is granted, academic requirements are based on their benefit to the community as a whole. Every student enrolled in a local education agency must complete certain required courses and demonstrate minimum competencies before advancing to the next grade level or to graduation. The intensity of the classroom teacher's involvement in educational programs of students never varies; what varies is the subject matter of study.

It is expected that, as students master one area of the academic curriculum, they will either concentrate on a more complex aspect of that subject or study another area. It should be emphasized that, for visually impaired students who are mainstreamed, the responsibility for this component rests primarily with the classroom teacher.

The second component of the dual curriculum is determined by individual student need. Because the disability-specific needs of individuals vary, the intensity of direct instruction by the specialist teacher also varies. However, general trends can be described. Figure 1 represents a theoretical model of the levels of intensity of instructional time associated with each of the seven areas identified as critical in the development of visually impaired youngsters. Although not documented by research, a common-sense and experience-based rationale for the shape of these graphs exists, as described in the following paragraphs.

Traditionally, the degree of specialist teacher involvement with visually impaired students has been based on the philosophy that these students must be educated in the regular classroom. Therefore, the teachers' efforts have concentrated on instruction in special academic and communication skill need, the basic requirements of integration. Special educators of visually impaired children generally agree that special academic and communication skill needs of most students should require diminished efforts on the part of the specialist teacher (Tuttle, 1986). Pupils in regular first grade classrooms may need considerable amounts of intervention services such as intensive instruction in specialized reading and writing methods, concept development, utilization of adaptive equipment, and sound discrimination.

As students progress through school instruction in typing, note-taking, study skills, listening, and specialized computer access might be within the purview of the teacher of visually impaired students. However, a well prepared high school student might require the specialist's assistance only in the acquisition of books and reading materials required by his regular classroom teachers. It is generally accepted that the high school student with a solid foundation of special academic and communication skills should be able to handle an integrated placement with little or no direct specialized support.

Graphs depicting the degree of direct specialized instruction required to meet the specialized needs of visually impaired students in the areas of special academic and communication skills show a declining degree of teacher involvement over time ( Figures 1a and 1b).

Figure 1c is a graphic representation of the intensity of specialized teacher involvement required to address sensory/motor needs. These needs are most intense in the early years, when the focus is on reflexive development, proprioceptive awareness, gross and fine motor development, etc. By adolescence, most of the educational needs of the visually impaired student in the sensory/motor area have been met. Attention is given to the refinement of previously learned skills, hence the rapid drop in intensity of instruction depicted in Figure 1c.

While sensory/motor needs decrease there is a dramatic increase in intensity of specialized teacher involvement to meet the orientation and mobility needs of visually impaired students ( Figure 1d). The development of sensory/motor skills in the early years provides the necessary foundation for the later acquisition of orientation and mobility skills. Because independent travel is not only a function of skill mastery, but also of maturity, autonomy, and the need or desire to go somewhere, many of the advanced, complex skills of orientation and mobility are not taught until adolescence and young adulthood. The intensity of instruction needed to address this skill area, as depicted in Figure 1d, continues to increase until the educational program is complete. In many instances, advanced instruction in orientation and mobility, even for the most adept student, must continue after high school graduation.

Figure 1e depicts the need for a gradual increase in the intensity of instruction in daily living skills for visually impaired students. While independent living skills instruction begins at a relatively high level in early childhood, the need to learn more complex tasks in order to enjoy a satisfying and productive adult life requires the acquisition of an increasing multitude of skills. These skills are casually learned by sighted persons, but often require intensive instruction for visually impaired students. Personal management is one of the most needed areas of specialized instruction, and one of the most difficult to implement in public school programs.

Career education, as illustrated in Figure 1f, begins in early childhood with the development of personal autonomy, independent decision-making and task responsibility, and an appreciation of adult life-styles. Students with visual impairments require specialized instruction during early childhood because the inability to observe people at work affects their knowledge of how adults live in society. The visually impaired youngster will need to leave the school campus and directly observe adults, including some who are visually impaired, at work in a variety of settings. Only in this manner will visually impaired children be able to understand the world of work, the responsibilities of workers, and the employment options available to them.

Visually impaired youth must experience work. Work experience programs must be a part of the curriculum of all visually impaired high school students, for to have experienced employment during this period increases awareness of the rewards and satisfactions of work and enhances opportunities for later employment. Many of the career education needs of visually impaired students are unique to this population and it is essential that the specialist teacher, together with the orientation and mobility instructor, and the parent, be involved in planning and implementing a career education curriculum for every visually impaired student.

The social/emotional needs of visually impaired students remain relatively stable over time, as depicted in Figure 1g. In early childhood, these social/emotional needs are indirectly met, primarily through intervention with parents. Specialized instruction is focused on providing guidance and direction to parents and primary caretakers in order to support their efforts to facilitate the visually impaired child's development of a positive sense of self. Needs of young school-age students and adolescents are equally demanding of the instructional efforts of the specialist teacher, who must constantly be available to students as they address such issues as socializing and recreating in society, dealing with a visually oriented world, accepting their visual impairment, and defining oneself in terms of both the assets of the individual and the liabilities of the visual impairment. The social/emotional needs of visually impaired students are often resolved at one age level only to re-emerge as the student matures. They generally require the ongoing attention of the specialist teacher and/or the orientation and mobility instructor until the completion of high school.

Note that while some of these unique skill areas (sensory/motor, special academic, and communication) can be mastered at an early age, others (career/vocational, orientation and mobility, and daily living) cannot be completely addressed until the student is chronologically and developmentally ready, and they require increasing amounts of intervention. The critical area of social and emotional needs contains elements that constantly require the intervention services of specialists trained in the education of blind and visually impaired children.

The individual graphs within Figure 1 can be combined to reveal the potential degree of intervention required to meet the disability-specific needs of a visually impaired pupil ( Figure 2). Based on this composite, it can be proposed that for many, if not most, visually impaired youngsters, the specialist services required to meet a pupil's unique needs remain somewhat constant throughout the educational program.

Two comments must be made concerning this representation. First, it illustrates the wide range and intensity of needs of preschool-age children with visual impairments, a population that until recently did not receive many services and for which services still are spotty and inadequate. These children are often placed in integrated preschool programs with little specialized support.

Second, it seems clear that the intensity of specialized instruction cannot be reduced significantly for high school students. Throughout their years in the educational system, visually impaired students must be placed in programs in which they can receive the intense instructional services of both areas of the dual curriculum that are necessary to prepare them for adult living.

Program placement

Theoretically, placement of a student identified as having a visual impairment in an educational program involves a three-step process:

  • assessment;
  • identification of instructional needs and preparation of goals and objectives; and
  • consideration of placement alternatives.

This process is generally conducted by members of a student's Individualized Education Program (IEP) team. By law, when program options are being considered and two placement alternatives appear to be equally appropriate to meet student needs, the IEP team must select that program which provides the greatest degree of interaction with nonhandicapped peers (Silverstein, 1985), or the environment which is least restrictive.

In practice, “education of handicapped youngsters with nonhandicapped peers has come to be called ‘mainstreaming,’ a term frequently used interchangeably with the term ‘least restrictive environment,’ or LRE” (Edmister & Ekstrand, 1987). Increasingly, in federal and state policy the least restrictive environment as defined above is given priority over all other placement alternatives (California State Department of Education, 1986; Will, 1986). This emphasis on the least restrictive environment is of concern to educators of visually impaired students who have experience in serving students in highly integrated settings, and who have learned the shortcomings of concentrating on an educational environment rather than on the specific unique needs of blind students. IEP teams should attend to the most appropriate placement (MAP) for each student rather than the least restrictive environment in which that student can be educated (see box).

Determination of the MAP for a visually impaired pupil considers the student's needs in each of the unique skill areas as well as the regular academic needs of the youngster. The MAP is the environment in which all the needs of the student are best met, and where the student acquires the greatest benefits from the entire program. The MAP differs from the least restrictive environment primarily in the amount of attention that is directed by the IEP team to the total educational needs of the student.

Placement teams looking for the least restrictive environment often try to fit each student into a program which provides the greatest interaction with non-handicapped peers. In essence, least restrictive environment becomes the primary educational goal of the IEP. Placement teams looking for the MAP try to develop a program that addresses as many of the unique needs of the individual pupil as possible. For all students, one of those needs will be a degree of interaction with nonhandicapped peers. The amount of this interaction, however, is inherently of no greater priority than any other need determined for that student.


Determination of the MAP for any visually impaired student is dependent on the completion of a thorough and comprehensive assessment of the youngster's current functioning level in each area of potential need. Areas of potential need are detailed in the Program Guidelines for Visually Impaired Individuals (California State Department of Education, 1987) and include:

  • vision/low vision;
  • concept development and unique academic needs;
  • communication;
  • social and emotional;
  • sensory/motor;
  • orientation and mobility;
  • daily living skills; and
  • career and vocational.

Reviews of the assessment plans of a large number of visually impaired students in California reveal that these plans rarely include assessments in all areas of the dual curriculum. Typically, a student is assessed in reading speed and comprehension, arithmetic concepts, spelling, and typing. Under California state law, every student with some degree of usable vision must be assessed as to functional visual ability. Unfortunately, perhaps tragically, many assessment plans are inadequate.

It is often argued that valid assessment instruments are not available in each of the areas of the dual curriculum. While there are few formal, standardized, norm-referenced tests appropriate for use with visually impaired students, there are other means through which students' abilities and instructional needs can be assessed. Criterion-referenced assessment techniques are quite acceptable if the selection, modification, and interpretation of results are based on a thorough understanding of the effects of vision loss on development and learning.

Equally appropriate is the use of informal assessment practices including checklists, interviews, observations, and curriculum-based procedures (Hall, Scholl, & Swallow, 1986). Crucial to the assessment process are separate and identifiable assessments of each area of potential need. As surely as an academic assessment would not combine reading and mathematics, an assessment of the components of the disability-specific curriculum should not combine living skills and social skills. An excellent source of information on assessment instruments in all areas of the dual curriculum is Chapter 11, “Psychoeducational Assessment,” of Scholl's 1986 text, Foundations of Education for Blind and Visually Handicapped Children and Youth: Theory and Practice.

Identification of instructional needs

Identification of instructional needs is based on assessment results. Ideally, before any placement alternatives are discussed, instructional needs should be itemized and restated as educational goals by the IEP team. It is possible and even likely that a pupil will have several needs within each area of the dual curriculum and that there will be numerous goals incorporated into the IEP. The needs of the student, and the educational goals established to meet those needs, should be determined without consideration of the environment in which those needs will be met. After all, a student is the same person and has the same attributes no matter where instruction occurs.

However, the ideal situation is not typical. It is common for educational goals and objectives to be determined based on considerations of: 1) the placements that are available locally, 2) the amount of time the specialist teacher has available, and/or 3) the specialist teacher's areas of teaching competence. If the local education agency (LEA) does not have an established resource room, placement in this kind of setting is not generally considered. If the specialist teacher has not been trained to address the disability-specific needs of the visually impaired pupil, it is less likely that the goals related to complicated living skills tasks, recreation, and career education will be included on the IEP. If the LEA assigns the specialist teacher to a large caseload or requires that he or she travel long distances between students, it usually becomes necessary to prioritize the students' educational needs.

When prioritizing the educational needs of visually impaired students, emphasis is usually placed on those needs which enhance the immediate integration of the students into the regular school program. When specialist teacher time is limited, it is considered more important to teach a student an academic skill which will maintain grade level proficiency than it is to teach a disability-specific skill that seems easy to postpone.

Most disability-specific goals appear postponable because there seems to be no immediately compelling reason to use those skills. A student must pass social studies to get from second to third grade—it is not required that the same student know how to appropriately contribute to a social conversation, to make a bed, or to order from a menu. The tragic outcome of continually emphasizing academic skills over the entire range of skill areas within the dual curriculum is that many visually impaired students are not fully prepared to function as adults.

When teachers, administrators, and parents involved in IEP development prioritize the needs of visually impaired students, they take on a powerful responsibility. They are deciding for someone else what is important to know right now and what can be delayed for later instruction. Often, instruction in non-academic areas is continually delayed with the unexpressed hope that the individual will later acquire the skill independently. Unfortunately, there are instances in the development of certain skills for which delays cannot be adequately overcome, as when the 18-year-old student is asked to make a knowledgeable vocational decision even though there was never enough time to address vocational awareness in his educational program, or when the 25-year-old woman who never was instructed in the use of contraceptives becomes unintentionally pregnant.

It is imperative that when the needs of students are prioritized the members of the IEP team clearly state their intention and their rationale. For example, consider the student for whom it has been determined that a priority goal is to complete the academic requirements of fourth grade, and completion of this goal is dependent on supplemental instruction in mathematics by the specialist teacher during the one hour per week available to work with this student. Everyone who agrees to this arrangement should recognize that their decision is to devote 100 percent of the specialist teacher's time on one skill area. They should be prepared to defend their decision in terms of the ultimate functioning of that student; when the student has reached adulthood, will such a concentration of limited resources and time have made a significant impact on the quality of the individual's life?

Placement alternatives

Only after a visually impaired student has been thoroughly assessed, all of the educational needs have been identified, and the instructional goals have been written, should the IEP team begin to address the question of placement. Members of a placement team must ask themselves the question: “Where can all the goals identified for this youngster be met?” If existing programs can meet most, but not all, of the student's needs, then alternative placements or the availability of supplementary services need to be explored.

Consider the student for whom all needs in all areas can be met by placement in an existing resource room program, with two exceptions: house cleaning and the opportunity to meet adult visually impaired role models. In a rural area, it might be possible to locate a capable visually impaired adult who would be willing to teach cleaning techniques (as a volunteer or as a part-time job) to the student once a week after school or on Saturdays. It might be possible for the teacher with flexible work hours to rearrange his or her schedule in order to work with the student on house cleaning before or after school and also help the student establish a pen pal relationship with a visually impaired adult from another locale. In an urban area, a local agency for the blind might be willing to be contracted to instruct the student in the necessary living skills, and would be a good referral for potential adult role models. In either geographic location, if all of this student's needs cannot be met then the available placement is not appropriate and another placement must be considered. Options might include a residential school placement, an intensive summer school program, or a foster-home placement in an area where the LEA can meet all of the student's needs.

An option that is frequently adopted is to assign parents certain teaching responsibilities. The assumption is that parents of sighted youngsters teach their children the skills of daily living, introduce them to recreational activities, and instruct them in socially appropriate behaviors, and the same tasks should be expected of parents of visually impaired youngsters. For various reasons (see Hatlen & Curry, 1987), parents of visually impaired children are not always the most effective teachers of their own children. Assignment of direct teaching responsibilities to parents is often a “cop-out” on the part of LEA.

It is, however, appropriate to expect that parents of visually impaired youngsters, like parents of sighted youngsters, will provide an environment for practicing newly introduced skills and reinforce previously learned skills through high expectations for performance. If it is absolutely necessary to require direct teaching instruction from parents in any area of the dual curriculum, it is imperative that the parents first receive training in teaching the desired skills from a person knowledgeable of the effects of vision loss on learning. As a placement option, however, in most cases this arrangement is less than satisfactory.

Integrated and segregated environments

For all visually impaired students, some degree of interaction with nonhandicapped peers will be an identified need when determining the MAP. It is essential that visually impaired youngsters of all ages learn about their sighted contemporaries and how to work and play with them. However, it does not necessarily follow that because a youngster needs continuing contact with nonhandicapped children the best place to be educated is in an integrated classroom. What is important is that the contact with nonhandicapped peers be meaningful for the visually impaired child.

Integrated activities are of value when the visually impaired youngster can fully and meaningfully participate in the activity. Meaningful participation implies that the student has a foundation of academic and social skills that will provide an opportunity for success. For many visually impaired students, this foundation of academic skills can best be acquired in segregated environments where all instruction concentrates on the specific needs of the visually impaired pupil. A segregated environment provides an emotionally safe arena in which to receive instruction and practice the social skills that sighted children learn through observation.

Planned opportunities for successful integrated experiences can be of more benefit than constant peer contact with limited or no direction. For example, a blind second grade student who has mastered beginning braille writing skills and who has an adequate attention span might be appropriately integrated into a spelling lesson in the regular classroom. While receiving instruction in spelling, this student could also be developing and improving an ability to work with a group of sighted students: waiting one's turn, raising one's hand to ask a question, listening to a directed discussion, requesting other students to take notes, working with the teacher to get accurate assignments, etc.

This same student might have been inappropriately placed in the regular classroom for spelling instruction during the first grade due to an inability to read or write braille with ease or to attend to a group lesson. Similarly, this same second grade student, even though integrated for spelling, might be more appropriately placed in a segregated environment for instruction in another academic area, say arithmetic, and for instruction in other areas of the dual curriculum.

The MAP for any visually impaired student is a placement which allows for flexibility. Students enrolled at schools for the blind need to have the option of attending integrated schools to receive instruction in those areas where there is a reasonable expectation that they will experience academic success and social development. Also, continual opportunities to interact with and recreate in the community must be made available to these children. Similarly, students enrolled in public school programs need to have the option of instruction and training in a segregated environment for those areas of the dual curriculum that sighted children learn visually or which are unique to a person with a visual impairment. Especially important for these children (and often missing from their educational programs) are opportunities to meet with, and learn from other visually impaired children and adults (Martin & Hoben, 1977).

Models of service delivery

Traditional educational placement options are often viewed as hierarchical, with those placements in which students are integrated being more desirable than placements in which students are segregated (Reynolds & Birch, 1982). It is important for educators of visually impaired students, their parents, and school administrators to move away from this thinking and accept that all placement options are equally desirable. The environment in which a student is educated is of less importance than the fact that the student is being thoroughly prepared for adult living. It is educationally and professionally unsound to place values on service delivery systems without considering the student needing the service. Vital to preparation for adult living is instruction in all areas of the dual curriculum. No area should be ignored, for to do so is to inhibit the growth of the visually impaired student. Students must be placed in environments that are appropriate for meeting all of their needs.

The task of thoroughly educating visually impaired students is enormous. These students are expected to master curricula in two areas. As Figure 2 demonstrates so vividly, the amount of intervention by a teacher trained in the instruction of visually impaired students cannot be expected to significantly decrease over time. Yet, models of service delivery developed before the complexity of these students' needs was recognized continue to thrive. Efforts should be directed toward the development of new models, models that emphasize meeting student needs rather than the number of minutes of integration with nonhandicapped peers.

Barriers to change

Changes in the delivery of services that promote MAPs for blind and visually impaired schoolchildren will be difficult to effect. Among the barriers to change are:

  • Structural—At local levels, special education programs are generally bound to the traditional school day. Visually impaired students who are in itinerant or resource programs usually do not receive more hours of instruction than do their sighted peers. Such arrangements decrease the likelihood that all components of the dual curriculum will be addressed.
  • Contractual—In many LEAs, teachers have negotiated contracts that specify their work hours. These contracts often limit the abilities of the specialist teachers to provide instruction after school, in the evenings, or on Saturdays.
  • Philosophical—The current federal emphasis on providing special education services in the regular education classroom is gaining acceptance at state and local levels. Adoption of this philosophy may increase the difficulty parents and teachers have in securing direct specialized instruction in the unique educational needs of visually impaired students.
  • Financial—Direct instruction by teachers trained in the effects of visual impairment on learning is extremely expensive to the LEAs. To adequately meet all the needs of visually impaired students may require that itinerant and resource teachers have lower caseloads and smaller class sizes. While it can be argued that well-prepared visually impaired adults provide long-term cost benefits to society, school districts, already spending enormous amounts on special education, are understandably reluctant to develop programs that increase their financial responsibilities.
  • Attitudinal—Most parents want their visually impaired children to have the opportunity to participate in all the educational and recreational activities that their sighted peers are enjoying. Many parents consider education in the regular classroom as a means by which their child can be assimilated from an early age into the sighted community.
    It is often difficult to convince parents that the many unique needs of their children cannot be met entirely in regular education programs and that additional services, provided outside the regular classroom, are often necessary for visually impaired children to develop skills.
  • Progammatical—Many teachers of visually impaired students are comfortable with the roles that they have established for themselves in the lives of their students. They excel at providing instruction in the special academic and communication needs of the pupils they serve and at supporting visually impaired students in the regular classroom.

Changing the service delivery model requires that these educators learn new skills in teaching different subject areas, such as career education or living skills. Many established teachers are reluctant to engage in such a learning task, which demands much time, effort, and commitment.

Overcoming the barriers

These barriers to change must be overcome if adequate and quality services to visually impaired students are to be realized.

  • Educators and parents of visually impaired pupils must assume leadership roles in promoting the concept that all placement options are of equal value and not on a continuum of desirability.
  • Teachers and parents must commit themselves to defending a child's right to a MAP. A most useful tool for this endeavor is the IEP. Listing all the goals for each area of need (identified by an assessment of each potential area of need) will demonstrate the intensity of the effects of vision loss on learning to those not knowledgeable of the unique needs of these students. It would not be unusual, then, to prepare an IEP for a student with 20 or 30 goals for a single school year. Confronted with such a document, the IEP team may be more creative in determining the MAP. Including all the goals in the IEP helps the specialist teacher to defend the need for additional direct-service hours with the student, and subsequently, a reduced caseload. A useful technique which may assure appropriate teacher time with the student is to include in the IEP the frequency and duration of specialist teacher time needed to address every goal.
  • Teachers and parents must include as an integral part of each IEP meeting a review and revision of a long-term IEP. This long-term IEP would be developed early in the child's educational program and would include those competencies which can reasonably be expected of the student as an adult. This document would serve as a reminder to the parent, the student, and each specialist teacher of the ultimate goals for the student, and might prevent concentration on the shorter-term goal of getting a student from one grade level to the next.
  • Teachers and parents must avoid overlooking the unique needs of students by including in each child's cumulative file a detailed list of what was addressed and what was mastered in each area of unique curriculum during a school term. This form would be invaluable in assisting IEP teams in their determination of the MAP for a student in that it would indicate potential areas of instructional need.
  • University programs that prepare teachers of visually impaired students must reevaluate their course offerings. Currently, the majority of preservice teachers' time is directed to developing competencies in the support of visually impaired students in regular classrooms. The programs need to be redesigned to more accurately reflect the needs of the student population. Pre-service programs must include detailed information about instructing visually impaired youngsters in each of the areas of unique need. If it is expected, for example, that specialist teachers will include career education as part of the programs of their students from preschool until graduation, then it is not sufficient to devote only one preservice class period on this subject.
  • Additional research on visually impaired students must be completed. Basic to this need is research devoted to exploring the learning processes of visually impaired children. It is vital to know the characteristics and competencies of students leaving existing educational programs. Reliable information on the instructional activities of teachers of visually impaired students is necessary. The role of technology in the education of visually impaired children must be investigated, particularly with regard to how computers may be utilized in unique ways by this population.
  • Teaching materials in the areas of the unique curriculum of blind and visually impaired students must be developed and widely disseminated to practicing teachers and university preparation programs.
  • Pilot studies must be completed to demonstrate that visually impaired students who are provided with intensive intervention in each of their unique needs as they progress through school develop the confidence and competence necessary for successful integration.


Visually impaired students deserve to be educated in a placement that meets all their educational needs. Educators of blind and visually impaired children must place educational integration in its proper perspective and adopt as the overriding goal the development of skills that enhance integration in adult society. Yearly determination of an MAP by a student's IEP team and the accomplishment of long- and short-term objectives based on the student's assessed needs will increase the probability that that student will be prepared for full participation as an adult in our society.


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Sandra Adams Curry, M.A., doctoral student, Special Education Department, University of California at Berkeley and San Francisco State University, #10, 215 East O'Keefe Street, Palo Alto, CA 94303; Philip H. Hatlen, Ed.D., professor, Special Education Department, San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94132

Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, April 2007, © American Foundation for the Blind, All Rights Reserved