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The population of students who have a visual impairment is small and the needs are diverse so an administrator may have limited experience guiding a team to develop an overall assessment and educational plan for a student. As a result, questions can range from appropriate assessment, modifications for the environment, obtaining training for staff, finding a service provider, and locating resources or technology to address the student’s needs.

Accessibility Terms to Know (click to expand)

A question about accessibility that is often asked and has a complicated answer.

Question – If instructional materials or educational programs are created or purchased in a digital format, will access be an issue for the student who has a visual impairment?

Answer – It depends on a variety of factors that include but is not limited to these categories:

  • The individual student needs based on assessment.
  • How the educational program/instructional materials were designed?
  • How the information is delivered to the student?

The following terms can help the educational team understand the complexity of access.

Accessible Design

A definition from DO-IT at Washington State University states “… products, services, and facilities can be independently used by people with a variety of disabilities.”  Example: An online program provides defined headings and descriptions for images on the page.

Universal Design

According to CAST, Universal Design for Learning is defined as “a research-based set of principles to guide the design of learning environments that are accessible and effective for all.”  Example: Universal Tool built into an online textbook to read aloud when the icon is selected.

While the availability of universal and accessible tools has significantly improved, barriers to the curriculum can still occur.  Example: A coordinated grid requires the student to use a computer mouse to select the intersecting points on the graph to enter the correct answer. Or the read-aloud icon is small and if someone else clicks on the icon for the student the text does not allow for navigation by the keyboard.

Usable Design

According to W3C, usable design is products that are “effective, efficient and satisfying”.  Built within this design process is usability testing by individuals who have disabilities to gather information and make adjustments as needed.

Acronyms, Standards, and Organizations (click to expand)

  • ACVREP for professionals – Accreditation for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals
  • AERBVI – Association for Education and Rehabilitation for the Blind and Visually Impaired
  • APH – American Printing House for the Blind develops educational materials designed, to support instruction, for students who are legally blind. The materials are available to schools through KIRC using Federal Quota Funds to support instruction. To obtain access to the materials, schools must register eligible students. For more information – contact Toni Harrell.
    • KIRC – Kansas Instructional Resource Center – KS Trustee for APH Federal Quota Funds.
    • Federal Quota Funds: An allocation of federal funds for each student who is legally blind used to obtain APH products.
  • BANA – Braille Authority of North America – Braille Standards
  • CEC-DVIDB – Council for Exceptional Children, Division of Visual Impaimrents and Deaf-Blindness
  • EA Rubric – Rubric is a self-assessment tool used to measure a professional’s work.
  • QIAT – Quality Indicators of Assistive Technology
  • United State Access Board – Federal agency which develops accessibility guidelines and standards.

Assessment (click to expand)

Vision Screening

KSDE 2019 Vision Screening & 2014 Hearing Screening Guidelines

Functional Vision Assessment

To determine the student’s ability to use his or her vision in a variety of settings and describe the impact of vision loss on learning. Included in the FVA is instructional and environmental modifications, accommodations and suggestions related to specialized instruction. In order to conduct a Functional Vision Assessment, the TSVI will need supplies such as visual acuity charts, color vision, contrast and depth perceptions testing, as well as objects in various sizes and typical classroom materials.

Learning Media Assessment

To determine the most effective learning medium for literacy and communication.  Recommendations include appropriate formats for instruction such as print, auditory, tactual, digital or a combination.  The LMA can be used to address IDEA requirements related to Braille as discussed in a 2013 OSEP Dear Colleague Letter.  The first textbook to establish the Learning Media Assessment process was published by the Texas School for the Blind in 1995.

Orientation & Mobility Assessment

Evaluates the ability to travel safely in the student’s home, school & community environments. Orientation and Mobility skills are typically assessed in both familiar and unfamiliar natural environments. A good read related to O&M within Natural Environments can be viewed in the AER Position Paper #1  on their website.

Assistive Technology Assessment

Completed to determine the accessibility of provided instructional materials and the most effective mainstream or assistive technology needed to access the educational curriculum. See the Assistive Technology Page on this website.

Caseload Analysis (click to expand)

A Teacher of Students with a Visual Impairment is most likely employed as an itinerant teacher. The Itinerant teacher does not stay in one building or follow a typical schedule with classes, prep-time, team collaboration, lunch, and duties. The schedule includes specialized instruction, assessment, drive time, assistive technology, converting instructional materials into accessible formats, collaboration with team members, interpreting eye reports, etc. As a result, there are often questions about what constitutes an appropriate caseload.

Resources – Caseload Analysis:

Eligibility Indicators (click to expand)


  • a visual impairment that requires dependence on tactile and auditory media for learning
  • a chronic condition exists which interferes with the visual learning mode
  • ocular motor deficit (e.g., muscle imbalance)
  • any other vision condition that, even with correction, adversely affects a child’s educational performance

Visual Impairment

  • a chronic or progressive condition exists which interferes with the visual learning mode
  • ocular motor deficit (e.g., muscle imbalance)
  • anophthalmia (absence of actual eyeball in one eye)
  • any other vision condition that, even with correction, adversely affects a child’s educational performance

Adverse Educational Impact

  • Evidence shows that the child’s impairment adversely impacts his/her educational performance.

OSEP Dear Colleague Letter provides guidance on eligibility for students who have visual impairments. To view the pdf document follow this link OSEP Eligibility – May 2017

Extended School Year (click to expand)

IEP teams annually consider the student’s need for extended school year instruction when school is not in session. To achieve success beyond high school, students who have a visual impairments often require specialized instruction in the core and expanded core curriculum.  As a result, determining eligibility for an extended school year is a critical component of the IEP process.

The KSDE Special Education Process Handbook (pg. 104) provides guidance on the factors to consider when determining the need for ESY. The factors include:

  1. The degree of impairment,
  2. The degree of regression suffered by the child,
  3. The recovery time from this regression,
  4. The ability of the child’s parents to provide the educational structure at home,
  5. The child’s rate of progress,
  6. The child’s behavioral and physical problems,
  7. The availability of alternative resources,
  8. The ability of the child to interact with [nondisabled] children,
  9. The areas of the child’s curriculum which need continuous attention,
  10. The child’s vocational needs, and
  11. Whether the requested service is extraordinary for the child’s condition, as opposed to an integral part of a program for those with the child’s condition.”

If you have any questions about how KSSB can support the implementation of the expanded core curriculum through ESY, use this link to view the KSSB extended school year options or contact Aundrayah Shermer for questions.

Intensity of Service (click to expand)

When determining the overall needs of students, the IEP Team will consider the medical condition, visual needs, learning media needs, the expanded core curriculum, team collaboration, and converting core curriculum instructional materials into accessible formats. Two documents an administrator may like to review are VISSIT and the Michigan Severity Rating Scales. Both are valuable resources for your IEP team.

Resources – Intensity of Service

  • VISSIT: Visual Impairment Scale of Service Intensity of Texas gathers information related to the ECC service needs and team collaborative consultation.  Other factors mentioned above are not included. To learn more see TSBVI VISSIT.
  • Michigan Severity Rating Scales gathers information on medical, vision, learning media, technology, material prep, compensatory skills (braille, abacus, etc.), and consultation.  Follow this link to view information about the Rating Scales.

Service Providers (click to expand)

A visual impairment is considered a low incidence disability and finding a service provider can be challenging.  If your district needs a service provider, contact the Director of Field Services at KSSB for information about the TASN TSVI/COMS Personnel Prep funding source.

Certified Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TSVI)

A TSVI is specifically trained to interpret the eye report, determine the impact of vision loss on learning and evaluation as well as provided instruction in the expanded core curriculum areas designed for students who have a visual impairment. The Council of Exceptional Children, Division of Visual Impairment (CEC-DVI) created two documents to outline the Role of the TSVI.

Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS)

A COMS is a specialist who is certified to teach safe, efficient, and effective travel skills. A COMS is certified through the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation & Education Professionals (ACVREP). This organization maintains a list of certificants. The CEC-DVI wrote a document to describe the role of the Certified O&M specialist.

To review the description of the roles of the TSVI and COMS go to the CEC-DVI website.

Braille Transcriber

A school district may require the services of a braille transcriber. Smaller school districts often hire an individual to serve as a para-professional and a braille transcriber. Larger districts may have enough students who use braille as their primary learning medium to employ a full-time braille transcriber. Individuals can pursue certification as a braille transcriber through the NFB Braille Training Program.

Specialized Instruction & Monitoring Progress (click to expand)

Specialized Instruction

A challenge in the field of visual impairments is that students graduate without mastering essential skills needed for college/tech school, employment or living independently. This may be attributed to shortages of qualified service providers, lack of understanding in the unique needs of students or emphasis on progress in the core academic areas over progress in the 9 areas of the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC). To address this challenge, the IEP team can use the ECC as a framework for assessment, educational planning and identifying specialized instructional needs.

The TSVI may provide support for the core content area curriculum but try not to act as a tutor or replace the content area teacher (unless certified in that content area).  A question to ask is – “Does the student need help because the visual impairment impedes learning?”. If yes, provide support and instruction. Examples:

Students are learning to plot points on a coordinated grid.  The student needs instruction in how to use the tactual graph or use accessible software to complete the task.

Students are learning to identify the different types of geographical biomes. The student may need instruction to effectively describe the differences between the biomes that students without a visual impairment obtain by looking at each image.

Students are learning about the solar system. Sometimes the only service needed is to create an accessible version of the instructional materials.  Such as a tactual diagram of the solar system labeled in braille and used during science lessons. However, a student may need more than the adaption of materials. In this example, the student may need to learn how to effectively gather and interpret information from the tactual diagram.

For more information and guidance on specialized instruction, you can review the Kansas eligibility indicators for specially designed instruction and related services in the KSDE SPED Handbook.

Monitoring Progress

Monitoring progress is a valuable part of the instruction process to make about the quality or rate of student progress to make decisions about the effectiveness of the curriculum, methodology, materials, etc. The links below provide options to collect data.

Teacher Evaluation (click to expand)

The LEA typically have procedures in place to review teacher effectiveness. However, if you are searching for a teacher evaluation tool designed specifically for Teachers of Students who have a Visual Impairment.

One resource is the VASE – Vermillion Teacher of the Visually Impaired Evaluation.

A second resource is The Administrator Crosswalk for Evaluating Low Incidence Service Providers from Michigan Department of Education – Low Incidence Outreach (MDE-LIO)

TSVI/COMS Personnel Prep (click to expand)

Due to shortages nationwide, finding a service provider for students who have visual impairments can be challenging. A lack of awareness that this certification area is an option and limited colleges or universities offering training programs are a couple of reasons for this shortage. To address this need KSDE and Title Services provide funding to offset the costs individuals encounter when pursuing a certification as a TSVI/COMS. KSSB provides mentoring for students pursuing coursework and administers the overall program. To learn more about obtaining a certification as a TSVI/COMS, contact Kylie Kilmer or visit the TASN website. 

Kylie Kilmer wearing a maroon shirt.

What is Accessibility? (click to expand)

IDEA 2004 requires that students with disabilities who need Accessible Educational Materials should be provided the materials they need, in formats they need (braille, large print, digital or audio), at the same time as other children receive instructional materials. IDEA: Sec. 300.172 (b)

Obtaining “accessible instructional materials” in “real-time” is crucial for a student who has a visual impairment. During instruction, teachers demonstrate how to edit an essay, compute mathematical formulas, diagram a life cycle of a caterpillar, etc. When the student does not have accessible materials in real time, they will have difficulty attaching meaning to the content being discussed.

IDEA 2004 established the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC) and created the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standards (NIMAS). The purpose is to help schools obtain accessible instructional materials.  The basic process to increase the likelihood accessible educational textbooks are available to the LEA is:

  1. LEA’s require NIMAS in their book purchase agreements.
  2. Publishers create and submit NIMAS files to the NIMAC repository.
  3. Authorized users & Accessible Media Producers, such as APH, Bookshare or Learning Ally, download, produce & distribute the accessible instructional materials.
  4. The LEA can request accessible textbooks from authorized users or Accessible Media Producers.

AEM Navigator: A free online interactive tool to guide teams through the a discussion regarding the need for accessible instructional materials.

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