What kinds of blind/low vision student services CAN be provided via distance technology?
Many, many services can be provided this way. Distance instruction in each of the following has been done successfully during the COVID-19 emergency and for many years before the emergency began:
- Academic core content
- Language Arts (reading, writing, spelling)
- Social Studies
- Foreign Language
- Regular education enrichment content
- Physical Education
- Braille instruction
- Accessible assistive technology instruction
- Cane travel and orientation and mobility instruction
- Related services:
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Speech therapy
- Behavioral therapy
Just because we have traditionally taught these subject in person doesn’t mean that we must always do so.
When I taught students, I did not touch them a lot. I gave hugs when requested, and I gave a lot of high-fives. However, for most instruction, body-to-body contact was not necessary. Instead, I engaged in a great deal of verbal description and allowed my students to actively participate in their own learning by encouraging them to explore their environments and educational materials as independently as possible.
There were instances where body-to-body contact was necessary. These involved mainly physical modeling for blind/low vision students and physical support for students with orthopedic disabilities. In a distance setting, I cannot provide those physical supports, but there are usually adults available who can. In school settings, I showed paraprofessionals and classroom teachers how to assist students using hand-under-hand and similar instructional strategies to help students understand new concepts and to provide students physical support to access materials. In the home, parents or other caregivers can receive the same kind of training.
Will changes be necessary? Probably. Many parents are working from home and do not have the flexibility to shift their work hours to fit the school schedule. In these cases, schools should allow teachers to modify their schedules to accommodate parental time restrictions. Given that no one is tied to a school building anymore, there are no good reasons to be tied to certain hours. So long as we work together and focus on our students, we can all be successful, and our students can be well-served.
What changes are really necessitated by distance technology for blind/low vision students?
For blind/low vision students, most, if not all, special education services, accommodations, and modifications (SAMs) should remain in place during school closures.
- Textbooks should have been in place for months, and they should remain available. I’ve not heard of any school districts getting new textbooks due to the closure (and, if they did, they would presumably get accessible versions as well).
- Worksheets and other instructional materials should have been made accessible throughout the school year. The production of accessible instructional materials should not be interrupted due to school closures, and home delivery of hard copy materials can be made.
- Accessible assistive technology should have long been in place—in the school and in the home. For schools that have been meeting the needs of students with blindness/low vision before school closure, the transition to online education should be very easy.
In some cases, schools will not have had these SAMs in place before school closure. This is unfortunate, but it is not an excuse for schools continuing to withhold FAPE and accessible instructional materials from students with blindness/low vision. These schools must step up and remediate their past failures; they must not use school closures as an excuse to continue their pre-closure mistakes. Instead of avoiding these responsibilities, I encourage school officials to reach out for help.