The Role and Value of the Teacher of the Visually Impaired
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The Role and Value of the Teacher of the Visually Impaired


NARRATOR: The name “Perkins”
carved in stone. Below a gothic tower,
a boy navigates with a cane. A title: When I turned nine years old
and the first day of school in the fourth grade
I went into my classroom and sat down at my desk, and the teacher started writing
on the chalkboard, and I looked up and I couldn’t
see what she was writing. In fact it didn’t look
like there was anything there or it was like a couple
of dashed lines. And I thought,
“What’s wrong with her chalk?” And it never occurred to me
that there was something wrong with my vision. The deterioration in my retinas
occurred very slowly over the summer,
and I was pretty active outside and so I wasn’t doing a lot
of reading or detailed tasks. That was the first time
I began to experience having a vision impairment. What I didn’t know is that
my acuity had already fallen to 20/200, which is the level
of legal blindness. And it wasn’t very long
after that first day of school that I could no longer see
my textbooks in school or worksheets, chalkboard,
overhead projectors, all that stuff. Basically almost all print
became unaccessible at that point. NARRATOR: A school photograph
of Marla Runyan at about age nine is shown. She wears a purple shirt with
a line of embroidered flowers down the front. Initially, in my home school
district there were no services. And this is going back
to the late ’70s. The laws were brand new in terms
of least restrictive environment and I ended up
changing districts. And by the time
I was middle school, and that was the first time… by the time I reached
sixth grade, that was the very first time
in my life I actually had a teacher for the
visually impaired supporting me in my academics. I had a… I was in a mainstream
sixth grade classroom, and for one hour a day I would
go to the VI resource room where my TVI made sure that I had all
of my materials accessible, would help me get caught up
on schoolwork because I was very slow. What was really important for me
was that that I had a person, I had a teacher in my life
who understood what it was like to be visually impaired. And that in itself
was so personally significant that it was like when you
are the only student in a school of hundreds
or even thousands, where you were the only one
who is visually impaired, or there’s only a few other
students who are, you feel that
you are misunderstood or that no one understands
what it’s like. And then to have this teacher
in your life who not only is there to help
support you academically, but is someone who understands
what you’re going through, and, in a way, it’s a comfort
and it’s that time to just be myself
and not feel like I have to pretend I can see,
I can just be myself. And that was really–
the role that that teacher played in my life for the
three years in middle school, he had a very significant role
in my life. NARRATOR:
Fade to black. What people don’t realize
is how much knowledge about the world that a child…
a fully sighted child brings to the kindergarten grade level
when they first enter school– what they’ve learned
just through visual observation of their world. They’ve watched their mom or dad
make dinner. They’ve watched the routines
of the day in their home. They’ve traveled, they’ve
seen… they’ve witnessed and learned through that visual observation
so many things, including social skills,
including communication skills and language skills,
and it goes on and on. NARRATOR: In a photograph,
a young boy who is blind is being taught how to set
the table for lunch. A teacher watches as the boy
places a green plastic plate on the table. This is an example of a task
that a child who is sighted would encounter
through incidental learning, something that must be
specifically taught to a child who is blind
or visually impaired. Then you have to think about how
that information plays a role or how it impacts
their participation and success level in academics. So if you don’t have
a concept for something, you don’t have that
as a reference point for the vocabulary word
that just came up in class, or how many times I can think of a student had a list
of vocabulary words, fourth grade level,
and she says, “What is that? I don’t know what that is.” Because it wasn’t that
it was never taught to her, and it wasn’t something
she could ever see. So there’s all these little
pieces of missing information that the TVI understands
that that’s going to impact that child’s learning. And so that’s why
that TVI is so crucial is coming in and being able
to spend direct service time with that student
and figuring out does this student have all the
conceptual background knowledge to understand this list
of spelling words? Does this student have
all the background knowledge to understand this story that’s
taking place in another country when she’s never seen a map? She doesn’t know
the shape of the country or what the world looks like. So we come in and we say,
as a TVI, you’re looking at what knowledge
and what foundational concepts might be missing or lacking
for this student that’s going to impact
her success in the classroom. And that’s such a significant
role that I think many other educators
or administrators overlook that it’s not just
teaching Braille, it’s not just making
the literacy accessible, it’s not…
or let me rephrase that. It’s not just making
the curriculum accessible, it’s not about just putting
things into Braille or large print to access
the education, it’s about filling in
the conceptual framework, the conceptual background that is going to help
that child learn. NARRATOR: We see in a photograph
Marla working with a teenaged boy who is blind
on some concepts in science. On the desk between them
is a device that holds two plastic cups
on either side of a fulcrum, much like a small seesaw. The device can be used
to determine the relative weight of liquid or dry measures
that are placed in the cups. In order for the student
who is visually impaired in the general education setting
to really have access to her education,
have meaningful instruction, it’s the TVI’s role
to also educate and inform the general ed teacher, as well as every member
on that IEP team about how this vision impairment
is really impacting that student’s ability to learn. So not only are we working
directly with students, not only are we consulting, we’re part
of the collaborative team, and it’s a team effort that
requires a lot of teaching of other teachers. NARRATOR:
Fade to black. From my experience
I think we focus a lot on the accessible curriculum
part for a student who is visually impaired. So we think immediately
do we have it in large print? Can they use
their globe magnifier or their close circuit
television, or if it’s a Braille reader
do we have that in Braille? Are they going to use
technology? Are we going to do it audio? So we’re thinking formatting,
we’re thinking format, we’re thinking accessing
material, we’re accessing the actual
books, and worksheets, and posters, and all
of the concrete curriculum that exists in the classroom. That’s where we kind of
think about that first. NARRATOR: In a photograph, three
high school-aged students– two boys and a girl–
are gathered around a table on which iPads and other
tablet devices are displayed. In this lesson about money,
students who are blind are using some of the
accessibility features of the iPads to access
information online. The girl wears headphones
that are plugged into one of the devices. On the table are scattered bills
of various denominations. But what we also
have to think about, which is equally,
if not more, important, is the instruction meaningful
to the student? So if we’re going to teach
the class a lesson on the metric system,
and you have sighted children and one blind student
in your class, well, what’s a meter? What’s a centimeter? What are these concepts? What do we need to bring
to that lesson to make it meaningful
to the student who’s blind? We’ve got to bring
the real thing, we’ve got to bring objects. We can’t learn through pictures,
and videos, and PowerPoint presentations,
and document cameras. We have to bring real objects
that that student can put her hands on,
and learn, and develop. I’m going to hold this bottle,
and this bottle holds one liter of fluid. Okay, now I have a concept
for what this amount is. You know, and so that is a huge
part of teaching our students and ensuring that
they understand the concepts in the classroom
because just reading it, we’ve made the books accessible
and they can read it, great. But now we’ve got to make sure
that instruction for that content is meaningful. And that is a big part
of what the TVI can support. NARRATOR: In a photograph,
a young boy who is visually impaired
and wears glasses is sitting at a table
with his TVI. They are in a greenhouse
surrounded by plants. As part of a classroom
curriculum involving plants and plant growth,
they are working with soil, seeds, and pots that will
eventually produce seedlings. For a student
who’s visually impaired, whether a student
with low vision or a student who’s
totally blind, they need time. They need time to learn the
information in a meaningful way, and they need time
to process that information and apply the knowledge
and skills that they’ve learned. And in general education,
it’s a race. It’s like the gun has gone off
and off those kids go. I’ve had students, you know,
a 20-problem math worksheet every sighted child
in the classroom is finished and my student’s on number two. It’s not that she can’t do it, and it’s not that
she can’t access it, it’s that she doesn’t
have the time to do it. And so our students
need that time, they need time to learn, they need time to apply
their skills. I’ve gone so many meetings
and tried to educate other educators
on tactile learning, tactual learning
versus visual learning. And that as…
if you are fully sighted you are seeing the
whole picture, the whole thing, and then you can zero in
on the parts. For a tactile learner,
they see the parts, they see only what their fingers
can touch, and they have to keep
moving their hand, and moving their hand, and then they construct a whole
based on those parts. Which process do you think
is faster? Obviously being able
to see the whole picture first is much faster. So a tactile learner
in particular needs that time. It’s not that she can’t do it, it’s not that
she can’t learn it, but she needs the time
to process and apply her skills, and practice those skills. NARRATOR:
Fade to black. There’s more to learning
than the fact that we got your book in Braille
for you. (chuckles) Can we understand the concepts
in that book? Is there an experience
that student can fall back on, or is that content reliant
on having visual observations of your world? And so the parent can really
advocate for having the TVI, maybe in some cases,
have a more active and direct service role
for their child to help them build
those foundational concepts that support them
not only academically, but then branching into domains
of the expanded core curriculum and supporting social skills,
technology use, recreation leisure, all of those
components of the ECC is the role of the TVI
to support. The emphasis or the focus
is often on the hard concrete curriculum being books, worksheets,
and materials. And what is often forgotten
or neglected is… is the meaning…
is the instruction meaningful and also supporting instruction
in the expanded core curriculum? So that is where the TVI plays
a major and significant role. NARRATOR: We see in a photograph
a young boy who is blind holding a Wiffle bat
and taking a swing at a multi-colored piñata
that hangs from a rope in front of him. Behind the boy,
his TVI positions him by gently holding his shoulders
and orienting him towards the target. If you think about it, what is
the purpose of education? And if you think about it…
for everybody. And the purpose of education
is to prepare our children for their future as adults. And so if you think about
a student who’s blind, and all we’ve done is make sure
that worksheet was in Braille, and we’ve made sure their books
were in Braille, and that’s all we do, have we prepared that child
for his future? And does that child
have knowledge about mobility? Can he get where he wants to go? NARRATOR: In a photograph,
we see an adolescent boy who is blind navigating
the hallway of his public school on the way to his locker. The boy holds his mobility cane
in his left hand as he passes a wall
of green lockers. The next photo shows
the boy smiling as he stands next to his own locker. Does he have the… does he have
independent living skills? Does he have…
can he make his own lunch? Can he go to the store? Can he ride the bus? Can he make a phone call? Could he use a computer? So when you get
right down to it, by the time you’re 18 years old,
what’s most important? What is the most important
skills you need to have to be an independent,
successful adult? NARRATOR: A photograph shows
a young man who is blind loading the dishwasher
in his apartment. And so many of those skills
fall within the ECC. And that’s why
we can’t neglect it, we can’t neglect it. Because it’s great that
that fifth grader did his math worksheet
in Braille, that’s great, but, again,
could he get his lunch? Could he carry his tray
in the cafeteria? Could he sit… does he have
a friend to talk to? Does he have an after school
activity to participate in? These are the big pieces of our
education that we can’t forget. NARRATOR:
Fade to black. Your challenge is your time,
your time is limited. That’s all it comes down to. As an itinerant
you are traveling school to school to school. You’re not based
in any one location. And so the time you have for
each student is very limited. And there might be days
when that student needs your service more. But you have six more students
to see that day. And so you have to make these
decisions like, “Okay, off I go. “I’ve got to go to another… I’ve got to go
to another school.” NARRATOR:
In a photograph, we see an adolescent boy who
is blind and hearing impaired sitting at his desk
in a mainstream classroom among his sighted peers. The teacher stands at the front
of the room to the boy’s right in front of a board with notes
and assignments written on it. The teacher wears a microphone
on her collar, and the boy is using
his Braille note taker to record the instructions
for an assignment that she is about to hand out. And when your caseload
is larger than it should be, maybe because, again,
the policymakers above you or your administrators above you
aren’t fully understanding the significance of your role,
then it makes it really difficult
to really provide the service the students need. It becomes very frustrating
because as an educator, you want to provide
that service. But you’ve got five hours
in a school day to do it. And you’ve got 12, 15 kids
you’ve got to get to. So you feel
like there are compromises that shouldn’t happen. So part of what parents can do
is truly advocate that their child is receiving the level and frequency of
service that their child needs. And understanding
and communicating that to their district. And so that they’re ensuring
that the TVI is providing that level of service. NARRATOR: A photograph shows
a young girl who is visually impaired
and wearing glasses working one-on-one with her TVI. They work together at a desk
to create a calendar with all of the dates positioned under the correct day
of the week. Another photograph shows
a boy who is visually impaired peering closely at the screen
of his Perkins Smart Brailler. The boy wears glasses
and we can see his hearing aid. His TVI is visible
in the background of the photo, sitting beside him at the desk. Parents need to know
as advocates for their children that the services
their child receives should be based
on their child’s needs. That’s what it comes down to. And a lot of people
will have different opinions as to what that child needs. So sometimes deciding
whether the service is direct service,
or consulting service, or whether it’s once a week
or daily, is… I don’t want to say
it’s an arbitrary decision, but sometimes
it’s a subjective decision. And that’s why, you know,
parents can advocate for the level, type,
and frequency of service for their child should be based
on their child’s needs. And certain children need more
support than others based on their individual needs. It’s not a standardized formula for the amount
of service delivery or type of service delivery. It can’t be standardized. It’s individualized
for each specific student. And that’s what parents
need to know and advocate for the appropriate service
for their child. NARRATOR:
Fade to black.

About James Carlton

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9 thoughts on “The Role and Value of the Teacher of the Visually Impaired

  1. « The adolescent boy who is blind and hearing impaired » is not blind and hearing impaired. He is an adolescent boy who has deafblindness and needs specific services to his unique and separate disability.

  2. I am a legally Blind individual From birth, how do I become certified as a VI Teacher? I reside in the state of Texas.

  3. Awesome..
    I'm requesting anyone interested in special education particularly visually impaired that we can share experience. I'm expecting to conduct my research in the field. I even got my primary school to high School via Braille. Currently i am Studying MA and at the same time i am teaching in special high school. We can share experience via [email protected]

  4. The audio description for this video is weird. Pictures aren't described in complete detail, but this audio description take things one step further and also features exposition which would not normally be provided in audio descriptions. I think it's better to refer to this particular audio description as narration. It's almost like this was done as a way of saying that the sighted are more blind than the blind. Honestly, as a sighted person, I'm upset that the audio description added to this video can't be turned off, and it's getting in my way.

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