A National Profile of Students with Visual Impairments in Elementary and Middle Schools

This special topic report shows that many students receiving special education services for a visual impairment (VI students) receive accommodations and disability-related services from their schools or districts. Academically and socially, many of them appear to be quite successful; however, a substantial minority are doing less well. The considerable heterogeneity among students classified as "visually impaired" highlights the need for educators to look beyond "the label" and tailor instruction, accommodations, services, and supports to students' individual needs.

Students with low vision tend to access the curriculum using large-print and/or optical devices; have IEP goals focusing on improving academic skills, rather than on functional skills; and have relatively few or no problems with orientation and mobility. In contrast, blind students tend to access the curriculum using braille, braille notetakers or writers, books on tape, and/or specialized computer software; have IEP goals focusing on increasing functional skills as well as improving academic skills; receive orientation and mobility services; and have developed good orientation and mobility indoors or to areas with which they are familiar, although approximately half have difficulty executing a route to an unfamiliar location.

The coexistence of cognitive impairments, such as mental retardation or some developmental delay (MR/DD), also presents a very striking distinction with respect to the functional capabilities of students with a visual impairment. VI students without MR/DD tend to be in general education classes in regular schools, to receive a variety of accommodations, and to receive good grades. Their performance on a standardized test of calculation does not differ greatly from that of students in the general population, although their passage comprehension performance tends to be poorer. In contrast, approximately half of VI students with MR/DD attend special schools, and many of those in regular schools are in special education classes. The IEPs of many of these students include goals of building functional and social skills, and many receive occupational therapy/life skills training. They are more likely to than VI students without MR/DD to receive a variety of accommodations, and teachers are more likely to use modified standards when grading these students. Half of them receive grades characterized as "mostly Cs and Ds" or "mostly Ds and Fs," and the vast majority score in the lowest quartile on standardized tests of calculation and passage comprehension or on a proxy for such tests.

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last update: 7/10
2003 SRI International