The Role and Function of the Teacher of
Students with Visual Impairments
[position paper developed for the Division
of Visual Impairment -- Council for Exceptional Children]
Susan Jay Spungin
American Foundation for the Blind
Kay Alicyn Ferrell
The University of Northern Colorado

Infants, children, and youth with visual impairments receive special education and relate services in a variety of settings that bring them into contact with a range of personnel. Perhaps the most important member of this team of professionals is the teacher of students with visual impairments, whose specialized training and experience often establish him or her as the individual best qualified to address the unique learning needs created by a visual impairment Because of the
variety of placement options available, however, there is often confusion about the role, function and mandate of the teacher of students with visual impairments.

The role of the teacher of students with visual impairments is multifaceted and require
recognition by administrators that responsibilities and time commitments are unpredictable and may increase geometrically with each addition to the caseload. The amount of instruction an( consultation required will vary according to individual student needs and will even vary for an individual student from one week to the next.  In some cases, the teacher of students with visual impairments will be the primary instructor of the infant, child, or youth with a visual impairment while in other cases the teacher of students with visual impairments will collaborate with and act as
a consultant to other members of the team. In all cases, it is the responsibility of the teacher of students with visual impairments to carry out the following specialized activities:

I.    Assessment  and  Evaluation

A. Participate in the multidisciplinary assessment of infants, children, and youth with visual impairments, assuming the primary responsibility to:
I. Conduct and interpret functional vision assessments.
2. Obtain and interpret all ophthalmological, optometric, and functional vision reports and the implications thereof for educational and home environments, to families, classroom teachers, and other team members.
3. Conduct and interpret communication skills assessments  in  reading and writing readiness and performance, and listening.
4. Recommend and collaborate in appropriate specialized evaluations as needed, such as low vision, orientation and mobility, physical therapy, occupational therapy, psychological, adaptive physical education,  speech and  language,  augmentative communication, and vocational.
5. Assist families to assess their own strengths and needs regarding their children's visual, academic, and functional development.
B. Participate in the multidisciplinary team to develop Individualized Family Service Plans

(IFSPs), Individualized Education Programs IEPs), and other similar documents, for infants, children, and youth with visual impairments, assuming the primary responsibility to:

1.   Contribute to statements of present  levels of performance by discussing  how performance is affected by the visual impairment and by providing information on students' learning style, utilization of visual information, and other strengths unique to individual infants, children, and youth with visual impairments.
2. Identify goals and objectives in specialized areas related to the visual needs of the student.
3.  Identify instructional methods and materials for meeting goals and objectives.
4.  Recommend appropriate service delivery options, including class placement, physical education, related services, specialized equipment, adaptations in testing procedures, and time frames for implementation.
C.  Recommend as early as possible appropriate reading and writing media for the child with visual  impairments.

Teachers  of students  with  visual  impairments  base  such
recommendations on the specific needs of individual students, as demonstrated by accuracy, portability of reading skills, visual fatigue, and tactual sensitivity.

II. Educational and Instructional Strategies:  Learning Environment

The teacher of students with visual impairments usually acts as the primary mediator of the learning environment for children with visual impairments and implements various strategies to facilitate students' assimilation into the classroom and school environment. In order to accomplish this, the teacher of students with visual impairments takes steps to:

A. Assure that the student has all educational materials in the appropriate media.
B. Assure that the student is trained in the use of, and has available, all devices and technological apparatus necessary for learning.
C. Instruct the student in academic subjects and activities and developmental skills requiring adaptation and reinforcement as a direct result of the visual impairment.
D. Recommend seating and other environmental modifications that maximize students' utilization of visual information and facilitate movement of the  student  with  visual impairments within the class.
E.  Assure that the teacher or other professionals providing direct instruction fully understands the unique needs of infants, children, and youth with visual impairments.
F.  Suggest modifications needed in assignments or testing procedures.
G. Collaborate with teachers and other professionals regarding various methods for including students with visual impairments in routine learning experiences.
H. Act as a catalyst in developing understanding of visual loss by children without disabilities.
III. Educational and Instructional Strategies:  Adapting the Curriculum

Children with visual impairments have the same curriculum needs as all children, but their visual impairment itself often imposes restrictions on their ability to access any curriculum presented in be usual method of learning and teaching. In order to assure access, the teacher of students with visual impairments is responsible for providing direct or collaborative instruction in the following areas:

A. Braille Reading and Writing including braille readiness, braille reading instruction, and writing skills.  These skills usually require introduction to the mechanical aspects of reading and writing, including spatial orientation to the page and use of the braille writer and the  slate and  stylus, and include application  and  reinforcement of decoding,
comprehension, and encoding strategies (introduced by the classroom teacher) to braille materials.  The teacher of students with visual impairments also provides instruction in braille mathematics, braille music, the computer braille code, and foreign language braille
codes.

B.  Visual Efficiency For the student with low vision, the utilization of visual information underscores achievement in every skill area: academic, psychomotor, self-help, vocational and social skills.  The teacher of students with visual impairments instructs infants, children, and youth in the utilization and interpretation of visual information under a variety
of conditions.

C.  Print Adaptations and Learning Devices The teacher of students with visual impairments instructs students with visual impairments in the utilization of reading adaptations (e.g. use of print, acetate sheets, reading stands, magnifiers, and telescopes) and learning devices
(e.g. abacus, tape recordings, calculator) in order to participate independently in regular classroom activities.

D. Orientation and Mobility Many of the orientation and mobility needs of students with visual impairments are the responsibility of qualified orientation and mobility instructors. (In some cases, the teacher of students with visual impairments is dually certified both as a
teacher and an orientation and mobility instructor.)  The responsibilities of and the relationship between the teacher of students with visual impairments and the orientation and mobility instructor must be clearly defined. It is possible that the teacher of students with visual impairments will assume responsibility for assuring that students develop in sensory
motor, gross, and fine motor domains, while the orientation and mobility specialist assumes responsibility for instruction in environmental orientation and travel within the community. Children with visual impairments must be taught to move in space and to be
aware of the environment around them. They must learn to use tactual and auditory cues to identify their position in space and the relative position of other persons and objects around them.

E.  Handwriting - For the students with low vision, certain aspects of both manuscript and cursive handwriting (e.g., size, configuration, place-keeping, review) are often the responsibility of the teacher of students with visual impairments.  The teacher of students with visual impairments also teaches signature writing, and if appropriate, additional
handwriting skills to students who are blind.

F. Typewriting For most students with visual impairments, typing may be the major means of communication between the child and his or her peers, family members, and teachers. Typing and keyboanting skills are carefully and thoroughly taught by the teacher of students with visual impairments as soon as the student has sufficient fine motor skills.

G. Use of Technology - The teacher of students with visual impairments is responsible for collaborating with the teacher of computer technology to assist the student with visual impairments in computer access through software and hardware applications that produce screen and print enhancements, speech access, and braille output.

H. Listening Skills Instruction to develop listening skills is important to students with visual impairments as a foundation for aural learning and reading, as well as for mobility clues, social conversation, and interpretation of a variety of auditory signals received from the
environment.  Listening becomes particularly important in the secondary grades, when print reading assignments become long and laborious.  Students with visual impairments begin to develop listening skills in infancy, and these skills are sequentially and deliberately expanded during the school years.

I.   Study Skills Skimming braille or large print materials, outlining in braille or large print, searching for significant information in recorded materials, and other note taking and report-writing skills are fundamental study skills which require instruction by the teacher of students with visual impairments because of the unfamiliarity of the media to most classroom teachers.

J.  Motor Development - The teacher of students with visual impairments is knowledgeable about potential problem areas in motor development for infants, children, and youth with visual impairments  (such  as body image,  body  in  space  concepts,  visual  motor coordination, abnormal reflex patterns, locomotion, rotation,  weight transfer,  gait, posture). The teacher of students with visual impairments works collaboratively with early interventionists, physical education teachers, orientation and mobility specialists, and occupational or physical therapists to develop and enhance motor skills in infants, children, and youth with visual impairments.

K. Concept Development The teacher of students with visual impairments shares with other professionals the responsibility for the development of basic concepts, which is often at risk without vision to mediate and integrate other sensory information.  Future learning is
dependent upon the student's thorough understanding of basic spatial, environmental, social, and mathematical concepts.

L.  Reasoning - The ability to reason, especially in the abstract, may require specific instruction from the teacher of students with visual impairments.   Students may need assistance in the development of decision-making skills, problem solving, and learning to live with occasional frustration and failure.

M. Tactual Skills - The development of tactual skills is not confined to the reading of braille. The teacher of students with visual impairments provides instruction in tactual skills in a variety of environments and functional applications, assisting children with visual impairments from infancy to use their fingers and hands well in order to explore, identify,
discriminate, and appreciate all tangible materials in the environment.

N. Communication Development Infants, children, and youth with visual impairments may experience difficulties in language acquisition and application. Teachers of students with visual impairments are knowledgeable about the ways in which a visual impairment can
affect receptive and expressive communication and employ specific strategies to encourage use of functional, reality-based language.  In addition, teachers of students with visual impairments collaborate with other team members in instructing students with multiple disabilities in the use of manual communication,  communication  boards,  and other
argumentative communication techniques. Visual impairments impose restrictions on the use of these procedures, and the teacher of students with visual impairments helps to devise alternative methods to make them accessible to infants, children, and youth with visual impairments.

0. Activities of Daily Living Thorough knowledge of the activities and techniques of daily living or personal management skills is needed to create independence so that students with visual impairments may integrate more easily into their culture and society.  Teachers of
students with visual impairments share responsibility with family members and other professionals for instruction in such areas as personal hygiene, eating habits, manners, dressing, grooming, verbal and nonverbal communications, and developing a positive self image.
P.  Physical Education - Teachers of students with visual impairments assist physical education teachers in integrating the child with visual impairments into the regular physical education curriculum by suggesting strategies for participation in team and individual sports.  Visual impairments often unnecessarily restrict movement and may result in poor physical fitness, unless systematic efforts are made to include children with visual impairments in physical education and recreational activities.

Q. Human Sexuality - Teachers of students with visual impairments, parents and others share the responsibility for gradual, sequential instruction in human sexuality for students with visual impairments. Because programs in sex education for students without disabilities
assume that much visual information has been previously attained, the student with visual impairments may need a specific hands-on curriculum taught by appropriate, well-prepared professionals.

R.  Career Education - Career education curricula that are developed for children without visual impairments may need supplementary instruction from a teacher of students with visual impairments. This instruction may include field trips into the community to explore world opportunities and job requirements, interviews with adults with visual impairments
about their various occupations, and assessment of individual abilities.

S.  Vocational Counseling - Vocational counseling and transition to vocational opportunities are integral parts of programs designed for students with visual impairments; and the teacher of students with visual impairments, in conjunction with the vocational counselor or teacher, involves students with visual impairments and their parents in this counseling process.  The teacher of students with visual impairments assists in the assessment of vocational strengths and weaknesses and facilitates students' participation in work-study, vocational training, and other appropriate experiences.

T.  Leisure and Recreation - The teacher of students with visual impairments, parents, and community agencies share a responsibility to expose the student to, and provide learning opportunities in, a wide variety of leisure time activities which have carry-over value to adult life.

U. Transition - The teacher of students with visual impairments assists in the smooth transition of infants, children, and youth with visual impairments from one placement to another, by working with other team members, including parents, to identify appropriate options, preparing new teachers to accept the students with visual impairments, and
providing ongoing consultation. Such services regularly occur at the transition from early intervention to preschool programs, from preschool to school-age programs, and from secondary to adult services, but may also be necessary when a major change in placement occurs (e.g. from regular class to special class, or from residential school to regular class
placement), or even in the regular grade level progression within the same educational facility.

IV. Guidance and Counseling

Teachers of students with visual impairments provide guidance and counseling to infants, children, and youth with visual impairments and their families to:

A. Interpret implications of visual impairment for overall development.

B. Facilitate understanding of society's attitudes concerning visual impairment and to assist students and families to formulate their responses to misconceptions, lowered expectations, and prejudice.

C. Explore similarities and differences in relation to all children.

D. Develop social awareness of self, others, and the community at large.

E. Encourage social interactions with peer groups.

F.  Identify functional, academic, and vocational potential.

G. Encourage home involvement in program objectives.

H. Promote independence in infants, children, and youth with visual impairments.

I.   Plan for adult life by exploring options for college, technical or trade school, job coaching programs, industrial enclaves, and other post-secondary placements, as well as identifying independent living arrangements in the community.

J.  Refer to other sources for additional guidance and counseling services.

V. Administration and Supervision

The teacher of students with visual impairments, depending on the model(s) of service being utilized (residential school, special class, resource room, itinerant, or teacher consultant) has a variety of administrative roles. In a large program, this may include supervision of other teachers of students with visual impairments, in addition to working with Directors of Special Education, principals, regular classroom teachers, and other educational and related services personnel.  Some of the most common activities in this area may include:

A. Communication with Administrators -- Teachers of students with visual impairments keep administrators informed concerning:
1.  Student information (e.g., visual status, grade level, prototype).
2.  Program goals and activities.
3.  Program evaluation.
4.  Screening and referral procedures.
5.  Relationships between the program for students with visual impairments and regular and special education programs and support services.
6.  Funding  requirements  for  consultation,  instruction,  salaries,  travel  time,  travel expenses, instructional materials, preparation time, conferences, and benefits.
7.  In-service needs for teachers and consultants of students with visual impairments, as well as for other regular and special education personnel.
8.  Staff scheduling requirements, including adequate time for planning, preparation, report writing, travel, direct instruction, team meetings, and staff conferences.
9.  Physical facilities, including design and selection of classroom environments and office space, as well as adequate storage space for instructional materials and equipment.
10. Student scheduling, including preparation of a master schedule to be given to the supervisor and principal(s) of the building(s) in which students are served.
11.  Equipment needs, particularly in the area of technology, but also including materials and technological devices.
B. Record Keeping
1. Maintain records of student assessments, lEPs, IFSPs (and other planning documents), periodic reviews, progress reports, and signed parental release forms.

2. Maintain material and equipment requests.

3. Exchange information about  students with visual  impairments  with  appropriate personnel following school district or agency policies regarding confidentiality.

4. Maintain program-wide student census information for purposes of annual count and eligibility for federal quota funds through the American Printing House for the Blind.

C. Case Finding and Student Referral Procedures
1.  Act  as a vision  consultant  for system-wide screening,  materials,  follow-up  and recommendations.
2.  Participate in school district's annual Child Find program.
3. Maintain a referral/communication system with nurses and other school staff.
VI. School Community Relations

School and community involvement requires the teacher of students with visual impairments to be prepared to interpret the program to school personnel, boards of education, and other groups within the community. Activities include:

A. Acting as a liaison for the program for students with visual impairments with:
1.  Private and public agencies and schools, including those serving individuals with visual impairments.
2.  Other public and private resources within the community.
3.  Parents and families (including extended family members).
4.  Medical specialists and hospitals, particularly neonatal intensive care units.
5.  Related services personnel.
6.  Early interventionists.
7.  Recreation resources.
8.  Transition specialists.
9.  Parent and advocacy groups.
10. Child Find.
11. Child study teams.
12. Volunteer groups.
B. Services Development
1.   Coordinate ancillary groups and individuals, such as classroom aides, transcribers, recordists, readers for students with visual impairments, counselors, orientation and
mobility instructors, and rehabilitation teachers.
2. Assist in the initiation of new services as well as coordinating existing ones to bring the varied and necessary related services to the educational program.
3. Maintain on-going contact with parents to facilitate understanding of their child's abilities, progress, future goals, community resources, etc.
4. Attend professional meetings (in and out of the district) concerned with the education of students with visual impairments.
5. Keep abreast of new developments in the education of infants, children, and youth with visual impairments.
6. Prepare grants for curriculum expansion and acquisition of materials and equipment.
 
Position
It is the position of the Division on Visual Impairments that every infant, child, and youth with a visual impairment is entitled to the services of a teacher of students with visual impairments, regardless of the severity of the disability or the presence of additional conditions.   Both administrators and teachers must approach their roles with flexibility and creativity in order to meet the dynamic, complex needs of infants, children, and youth with visual impairments and their families within a rapidly changing service  delivery system.