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table of contents
The purpose of this document is to:
The essential components of programming for students who are blind or visually impaired are guided by the following principles.
The Students and Their Unique Educational Needs
Students described as blind or visually impaired have diverse needs even though they share a common trait of some degree of vision loss. Any student who has limited access to visual information will experience difficulties in any number of daily activities. From an educational perspective, the degree of vision loss is only one of several aspects for consideration in assessment and program planning. These students display varying cognitive abilities, levels of independence and physical agility, and may or may not have additional disabilities.
Because visual impairment and blindness are low-incidence disabilities, a student with vision loss may be the only student with this disability in his or her school or community. Intervention for students who are blind or visually impaired is based on the degree to which they can access, incorporate and respond to sensory information.
Without vision, students cannot access information beyond those things that they can touch or hear. Without this information, students are unable to organize their environment or develop concepts that are important in understanding connections in their world. Students who are blind or visually impaired need to access information through direct experiences and hands-on, tactile exploration facilitated by qualified professionals who can address these unique needs.
Accessing the program of studies is often challenging for students with visual impairment or blindness. In order to participate fully within the educational environment, these students require instruction from a trained professional in such disability-specific skills as braille literacy and numeracy, assistive technology skills, use of low-vision devices, career and life management skills, social interaction skills, independent living and personal management skills, and orientation and mobility skills.
Incorporating the teaching of these skills into a student’s program expands the concept of core curriculum. These disability-specific skills incorporated into program planning are referred to as the expanded core curriculum, which is described in Appendix A.
1. Learning Team
All students who are blind or visually impaired should have learning teams who work together to plan, implement, monitor and evaluate programming and services. A certificated teacher must direct and lead the learning team in developing goals and objectives that are educationally relevant.
Parents are valued and contributing members of the learning team and their input influences all aspects of their child’s education.
Students with visual impairments should receive instruction in disability-specific skills. With disability-specific skills, they can be expected to achieve learning outcomes consistent with their peers.
• Specialized teachers identify programming needs through assessment, educate learning teams about the impact of visual impairment or blindness on learning and development, set appropriate expectations for progress and performance, provide strategies to address assessed learning needs, and provide direct instruction in disability-specific skill areas, also known as the expanded core curriculum (See Appendix A).
• Orientation and mobility (O&M) instruction is an integral part of the expanded core curriculum. Students should receive O&M training from qualified professionals (specialized teachers or qualified O&M instructors) who work with the teacher to integrate their instruction into the educational environment. O&M instruction teaches students concepts about how the environment is structured and organized (e.g., where room numbers are typically located) and how to move safely from one place to another both in and out of school. Together, the O&M instructor and the teacher incorporate this information into the student’s IPP, taking into account daily routines in the home, school and community environments.
• Students who use braille receive regular braille literacy and numeracy instruction from specialized teachers, particularly in the first four years of school. In those areas where a braille teacher is not available, the school should look at other ways to access this service, such as video-conferencing.
• Staff working with students who are blind or visually impaired have opportunities to access professional development to ensure they stay abreast of new programming and research information.
• The level of service that a student receives from a specialized teacher is directly related to student needs and direct instruction required for each student.
Programming and services should be determined through assessments conducted by a specialized teacher and other professionals identified by the learning team.
An IPP is required for each student coded for special education needs. The IPP includes essential information for planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating the student’s educational program. IPPs are working documents for learning teams to use throughout the year.
• The IPP is a collaborative effort of all members of the learning team.
• The learning team gathers information from assessment pertinent to the development of the student’s IPP. The learning team uses this information to develop an IPP that meets the needs of the student.
• Essential information in the IPP includes:
• The IPP includes goals and objectives specific to the student’s unique learning needs, the expanded core curriculum, modifications or accommodations necessary to ensure access to the regular curriculum, and/or individualized programming necessary to address other disability-specific needs.
All students who are blind or visually impaired, regardless of the presence and severity of additional disabilities, should have access to the programming and services provided by specialized teachers and orientation and mobility instructors.
• Student goals and objectives addressing areas of the expanded core curriculum are integrated within the student’s individualized program and daily routines.
• When deemed appropriate by members of the learning team, specialized teachers provide consultation to parents and educators as well as direct instruction in areas of the expanded core curriculum.
Members of the learning team should identify alternative-format materials for students.
These materials must be provided at the same time as print materials are made available to sighted peers. Students should have the opportunity to request materials in the format of their choice.
• Students receive library books, Alberta Education-approved curriculum materials, teacher-prepared materials, leisure reading, school notices/announcements and report cards in their required alternative format.
• The production and distribution of materials in alternative format are coordinated by Alberta Education’s Materials Resource Unit to ensure efficient access.
• Students receive materials in alternative format at the same time as classmates receive standard materials.
Assistive technology, such as braille note-taking devices or computerized dictionaries, should be made available for use in school, with an appropriate level of technical support for students to use the technology in everyday activities.
• Comprehensive assistive technology assessments are completed to determine the needs of students.
• Specialized teachers, classroom teachers and parents receive information and training in the use of assigned assistive technology to ensure students have support to master its use.
• Students receive the appropriate version of assigned assistive technology to ensure the maximum level of access.
• Students are using assistive technology to move them toward independence in the school and community environments.
Students should have a full array of programming options, including short-term intensive training opportunities to address areas of the expanded core curriculum.
• Students have opportunities to access short-term intensive training options, particularly in areas of the expanded core curriculum (e.g., learning how to use the internet, using voice-access technology, applying their orientation and mobility skills to navigate their community).
• Program placement decisions are based on the assessed needs of students, the recommendations of school-based planning teams and input from parents.
Comprehensive transition planning should occur on an ongoing basis and should identify skills that students require as they move to different learning environments.
• Transition-planning teams comprising parents, specialized teachers, orientation and mobility instructors, educators, representatives from other organizations involved with students (e.g., Canadian National Institute for the Blind), and students, where appropriate, meet to plan students’ new placements.
• Students’ transition plans include information pertinent to the skills necessary to succeed in new environments (e.g., orientation and mobility, independent living skills, scholarships).
• Students are prepared for transitions to new environments.
• Transition-planning goals are identified early in the program planning process. They are proactive and flexible.
In order to participate fully within the educational environment, students who are blind or visually impaired require instruction in disability-specific skills. These disability-specific skills are known as the expanded core curriculum when they are incorporated into program planning.
Reprinted with permission from Canadian National Standards for Children and Youth Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired, Including Those with Additional Disabilities (National Coalition for Vision Health, 2003)
These are skills needed to access the regular curriculum presented in the regular classroom (i.e., compensatory skills), skills needed by students with multiple disabilities to enhance their ability to participate in home (i.e., functional skills), school and community, and an array of communication skills.
“Communication needs of students with visual impairments will vary depending on the degree of functional vision, the effects of additional disabilities and the task to be done. Students may communicate through braille, large print, print with the use of optical aids, regular print, tactile books, a calendar system, sign language, recorded materials or combinations of these means.” (Hatlen, 1996)
Examples of other compensatory or functional academic skill areas might include concept development, spatial awareness, keyboarding skills, listening skills, organizational skills, use of the abacus, or tactile discrimination skills.
The acquisition of everyday concepts and practical knowledge usually acquired through incidental learning by students who are sighted requires specific instruction for students who are blind or visually impaired to ensure they are building their knowledge base on accurate information.
This is an area of instruction focusing on students’ ability to know where they are in relation to their environment and to travel safely, efficiently, purposefully and independently throughout this environment. Good orientation and mobility skills are highly correlated with the degree of independence achieved by students later in life. Developing body awareness, directionality, spatial awareness and practical knowledge associated with the characteristics of a given environment increases the probability that students will be actively involved in age-appropriate activities with peers. Problem-solving strategies essential to travel in both familiar and unfamiliar environments, urban and rural areas and in various kinds of weather are essential to the development of independence and self-esteem. Students who have low vision need to learn to interpret both visual and auditory information, and may require optical devices to access information. The use of a white cane is essential for some students who cannot rely upon the accuracy of the visual information they receive or for those who are blind. Students who are blind or visually impaired with additional disabilities need to have orientation and mobility instruction that addresses the specific needs of their daily routines. Orientation and mobility is taught by professionals who have completed certified programs in this very specialized area.
These skills are essential if students are to develop friendships with their classmates and participate in activities typically associated with school-age students, whether educational or extracurricular. Having effective interpersonal communication skills is also highly correlated with employability in adults. For students who are sighted, social skills are primarily learned incidentally through interaction with family members and peers. Most of this learning occurs through observation, imitation and incidental experiences that are part of everyday routines.
For students who are blind or visually impaired, this information must be provided through timely, insightful, and sequential instruction. Information associated with non-verbal communication (e.g., gestures, body language, facial expressions) or cultural practices (e.g., how close to stand to the person with whom you are speaking) must be made available to students who are blind or visually impaired. Furthermore, peers of students who are blind or visually impaired require specific instruction to increase their awareness of the implications of vision loss on social interaction if they are to become both comfortable in their interactions with their classmate who is blind or visually impaired and knowledgeable about how to include this student.
These skills are highly correlated with the achievement of lifelong goals for students who are blind or visually impaired. “This area encompasses all the tasks and functions people perform, according to their abilities, in order to live as independently as possible.” (Hatlen, 1996)
Curriculum designed to address the development of independent living skills includes instruction in such areas as personal hygiene, food preparation, money and time management, home management, and organization of personal belongings and space to accommodate the lack of visual input. While similar skills may be taught within the public school curriculum, they do not provide sufficient opportunity for the meaningful and frequent practice required for students who are blind or visually impaired. The content of the regular curriculum is often based on the assumption of the presence of a basic level of knowledge acquired incidentally through vision.
As with the skills of social interaction, students who are blind or visually impaired cannot learn these skills without direct, sequential instruction by knowledgeable people.
These skills and experiences provide the same benefits for students who are blind or visually impaired as they do for their peers who are sighted (e.g., healthy lifestyle, fitness, shared peer interests). However, without modifications and/or specific instruction to master prerequisite skills, students who are blind or visually impaired are frequently excluded from such activities.
Many of the motor skills learned during the rough and tumble play of childhood activities do not develop naturally in students who are blind or visually impaired. As well, if initial exposure to specific activities is cumbersome or their level of participation or success below that of their peers, students who are blind or visually impaired may become easily discouraged. The provision of specific, timely instruction and opportunities to practice newly acquired skills will ensure students derive pleasure from participation in an array of recreational and leisure activities.
These skills provide students with information about the world of work, career options, and an overview of the skills necessary to be successfully employed. For students who are blind or visually impaired, there are many additional program components which need to be addressed (e.g., accommodations required to complete specific jobs, access to appropriate assistive technology, self-advocacy skills, and those to deal effectively with negative attitudes toward individuals with disabilities). Frequently, students who are blind or visually impaired are unaware of the array of career options because they do not see the variety of workers in their environment or because adults around them are uninformed. Employment statistics from both Canada and the United States show that individuals who are blind or visually impaired are both underemployed and have unacceptably high rates of unemployment. Without specific and timely intervention to address career development issues, students who are blind or visually impaired encounter significant barriers to successful employment.
This technology enables students to access information, participate in age-appropriate activities, or complete a task independently or with minimal assistance. The term “assistive technology” refers to a broad range of devices, such as video magnifiers (i.e., closed circuit televisions), low vision devices, computers with Braille input/output, Braille embossers, software used to vary print size, large screen monitors, talking calculators, etc. Instruction in the use of assistive technology begins in the preschool years and evolves as the needs of students change.
Mastery of assistive technology contributes to the development of literacy and academic success, social interaction among peers, independence and the potential of future employment.
These skills are used to accurately interpret visual information and complete visual tasks as efficiently and effectively as possible. Students’ ability to interpret visual information is affected by many variables (e.g., the type and severity of vision loss, cognitive ability, experiential knowledge and environmental factors, such as lighting). However, with comprehensive, systematic training and practice, most students can learn to use their remaining vision more effectively and efficiently. Visual efficiency training may include blur interpretation, scanning and location skills, strategies to improve visual efficiency (e.g., use of appropriate lighting or wearing tinted lenses to reduce glare), and strategies which enhance a given student’s access to visual information. Students learn about their particular eye condition, its implications on access to visual information, and how to explain their visual needs to others.
For more information and sample strategies, refer to the following Alberta Education
resources. Unless otherwise indicated, you may download resources at no cost from
Access – Students with special needs are entitled to have access in a school year to an education program in accordance with the School Act. Students with special needs receive adapted/modified programs that enable and improve learning.
Adapted program retains the learning outcomes of the prescribed curriculum and adjustments to the instructional process are made to address the special needs of the student.
Braille is a code that presents written information. It is equivalent to print. The alphabet, numbers, music notation, and any other symbol that appears in print can be replicated in braille by arranging combinations of the six dots of the braille “cell”. Braille is read by touch, usually using the first finger on one or both hands.
Compensatory academic skills are skills needed to access the regular curriculum presented in the regular classroom. They include skills in the areas of communication, concept development, spatial awareness, keyboarding, listening, organization, use of the abacus and tactile discrimination.
Expanded core curriculum is a disability-specific curriculum that identifies skills in the following areas: braille literacy, assistive technology, career and life management, social interaction, independent living, orientation and mobility, recreation and leisure, visual efficiency, and personal management.
Functional skills are skills needed by students to participate in the home, school and community. While some skills, such as those related to communication, are almost always functional, the functionality of others, such as vocational and independent-play skills, will vary depending on the age of the individual and the setting.
Learning team refers to a team that consults and shares information relevant to the individual student’s education, and plans special education programming and services as required. Under the direction of a certificated teacher, the team may consist of parents, the student (where appropriate), other school jurisdiction or program staff, and others as required.
Modified program has learning outcomes that are significantly different from the provincial curriculum and are specifically selected to meet the student’s special needs.
Orientation and mobility (O&M) is an area of instruction that focuses on students’ ability to know where they are in relation to their environment and to travel safely, efficiently, purposefully and independently throughout this environment. Developing body awareness, directionality, spatial awareness and practical knowledge associated with the characteristics of a given environment are examples of orientation and mobility skills.
Specialized teacher is a qualified teacher who has additional training in the area of teaching students with a specific disability.
Visually impaired describes any degree of vision loss that interferes with accessing visual information.
Essential components of educational programming for students who are blind or