Blind and Visual Impairments

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Federal Definition *

Visual impairment including
blindness means an impairment in
vision that, even with correction,
adversely affects a child’s educational
performance. The term includes both
partial sight and blindness.  Part B 2006 Final Regulations (34 CFR 300.8)

Recommended References on Test Blind and Visually Impaired children (added by John Willis 12/28 and 12/29/2017) *

Psychoeducational Assessment of Students Who Have Visual Impairment: Perspectives of Teachers of Students Who Are Blind or Who Have Low Vision and School Psychologists

Doctoral Dissertation, Department of Educational Psychology, The University of Utah, May 2007

Carol Anne Evans

This dissertation is essential reading for anyone intending to undertake an assessment of a student with a visual impairment or reviewing such an assessment.  In addition to the survey that is the purpose of the study, the paper provides valuable information on visual impairments and on assessment of students with visual impairments as well as implications for practice.  The collaboration between the evaluator and the teacher of blind or visually impaired students is a necessary and far-too-often-neglected component of a competent assessment.   To view Carol’s 121 page dissertation, click on the link or image below.

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Psychoeducational Assessment of Students Who Have Visual Impairment Carol Anne Evans

Intelligence Testing of Individuals Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Stephen A. Goodman, Carol Anne Evans, and Marnee Loftin

American Printing House for the Blind Full Position Paper, 2011  (Click on link below for full position paper.)

APH:  Full Position Paper:  Intelligence Testing of Individuals Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired.

This paper is essential reading for anyone planning (or reading) an assessment with someone with any degree of visual impairment. It provides specific guidelines for ten key points as well as a discussion of Etiologies of Vision Loss, Examples of Qualitative Interpretation of Performance on Visual-Spatial Tasks, and a list of Resources.

  1. Administering Intelligence Tests
  2. Specialized Training
  3. Reasons for Evaluation
  4. Collaboration
  5. Eye Condition and Developmental History
  6. Adaptations
  7. Tactile and Symbolic Representations
  8. Direct Observation
  9. Qualitative Interpretation
  10. Reporting Results

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Updated OSEP advice regarding the Identification of visually impaired children *

In May 2017 OSEP issued updated advice regarding the identification of children with visual impairments.  Unlike other federal definitions that use modifiers like “severe,” the federal definition above includes no such modifiers — so states may not impose regulations restricting LEAs from identifying a child with any visual impairment (including convergence insufficiency) that adversely impacts the child educationally from services.

Letter on Visual Impairment 5-22-17

The above letter also includes a link to OSEP’s earlier guidance on braille instruction issued on June 19, 2013.

Organizations devoted to the support of children with disabilities falling under the above category were warmly in support of that letter.  For example, a group of organizations wrote a thank you letter (Response from the Field to OSEP Memo on Eligibility) that included the following:

The guidance provided by this memo asserts what professionals in the field of blindness and visual impairments know and have always advocated for – that the federal definition of “students with visual impairment including blindness” in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is inclusive of all students with impairments in vision that, even with correction, impact their access and participation in school, including children who need supports related to progressive visual conditions. We are pleased to have access to this memorandum to share its important message with state and local school districts and school administrators. Hopefully, this will lead to greater consistency in eligibility determinations among and between states and school districts.

In reading the memorandum, we are reminded of two basic principles of IDEA:

  1. Eligibility for special education is individualized and based on evaluation of educational need, not diagnoses or medical conditions.
  2. Services and supports for students in special education are individualized and based on evaluation and assessment, not diagnoses or medical conditions nor the categories or labels used to determine eligibility.

As recommended in this memo, we will continue to support the individualized provision of a range of special education services for children with all types of educationally significant visual conditions, regardless of diagnoses, including children with neurological, cortical, and/or cerebral visual impairments, as well as children with issues of binocularity and convergence, which, even after correction, adversely impact their access to education.  (emphasis added)

Earlier OSEP Letters regarding the visually impaired *

As noted above, OSEP issued  a six page letter to Colleague regarding schools’ obligations with respect to braille instruction in 2013 (excerpt below).

For decades, Braille has been a key tool for literacy for many blind and visually impaired
individuals. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA or Act),1
in section 614(d)(3)(B)(iii), specifically addresses a public agency’s responsibility to make provisions
for Braille instruction in educating blind and visually impaired students. This requirement
states that, “in the case of a child who is blind or visually impaired, [the Individualized
Education Program (IEP) Team must] provide for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille
unless the IEP Team determines, after an evaluation of the child’s reading and writing skills,
needs, and appropriate reading and writing media (including an evaluation of the child’s
future needs for instruction in Braille or the use of Braille), that instruction in Braille or the
use of Braille is not appropriate for the child.”

Dear Colleague, June 19, 2013

The letter above was preceded by a July 13, 2012 Letter to Patty Murray (US Senate)  The letter above is an expansion of the contents of that letter and also builds upon a 2000 guidance issued by ED entitled Educating Blind and Visually Impaired Students.  Although issued before the IDEIA was passed or the 2006 Final Part B regulations were approved, the basic principles are still applicable, e.g.

The IDEA Amendments of 1997 require that a variety of assessment tools and strategies must be used in the evaluation process to gather relevant functional and developmental information about the child. This includes information provided by the parents, to assist in determining (1) whether the child is a child with a disability, and (2) the content of the child’s IEP, including the extent to which the child can be involved and progress in the general curriculum, and for a child of preschool age, to participate in appropriate activities.5 Through the evaluation process, determinations also can be made about the range of accommodations and modifications necessary for a blind or visually impaired child to be involved and progress in the general curriculum, the same curriculum as for nondisabled children.

Also see Our Resources/Blindness and Visual Impairment for additional information.