Future Reflections October 1981, Vol. 1 No. 1

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By Doris M. Willoughby

The school should follow the law, both literally and in spirit, and provide the "least restrictive environment" appropriate for your child. Several laws protect your child today from arbitrary exclusion and unfair treatment in the public schools. Since these laws may be modified at any time, and are affected by local regulations, we urge you to keep well-informed. Insist that the school follow the law in every respect. It also is your right to urge your Senators and Representatives to support legislation which you favor. Below is a very brief summary of the major provisions of Public Law 94-142, which has a very broad effect on the education of handicapped children.

(Editor's note: The following summary is from A Resource Guide for Parents and Educators of Blind Children, also by Doris M. Willoughby. This book, which is extremely helpful on a wide variety of topics, is described in a flier enclosed with this newsletter.)

A. A free, appropriate public education must be provided to all handicapped children. This applies to ages 3-18 as of September, 1978, and to ages 3-21 as of September, 1980.

B. Handicapped children are to be educated in the "least restrictive environment." This important phrase means that, to the maximum
extent possible and desirable, they must be in a normal setting with non-handicapped children. Students should be placed in separate classes or schools only when good placement cannot be worked out in a regular class.

C. The school must notify you if they plan to test your child for possible special services, if they are considering special placement, or if they are considering a change in special placement. You have the right to ask questions, participate in all decisions, see all records, and have an outside expert examine your child if you wish. If you and the school cannot agree, you have the right to an appeal procedure.

D. If your child is given special services or placement, an Individualized Education Program (IEP), must be prepared. Short and long-term goals must be written, and the plan must be updated at least annually. Again, you have the right to full participation in this procedure.

E. If the public school, with your agreement, places your child in a private school because that school has the only appropriate program for your child, this must be done at no cost to you. (If you choose a private or parochial school of your own accord, however, it is not necessarily free, and some of the provisions of the above laws may not apply.)

In meetings to plan your child's educational program under the law, and in all other respects, the school staff should treat you as an equal.
They should not act as though you are ignorant or uncaring. This is true even if you disagree with a school policy or suggestion--in fact, especially in that case.

It is often a complicated job to decide exactly what is the optimum, "least restrictive" environment for your child. Public Law 94-142 provides that the decision must be made jointly with your full participation, and that the decision can be reviewed at any time. As you participate in these decisions, watch for two opposite extremes of error: too much individual help vs. too little of it. Consider, for example, a totally blind first grader who has no other significant disabilities. On the one hand, it would be inappropriate to send him far from home to a residential school solely on the grounds of blindness - there are many options available today for providing suitable schooling close to home. On the other hand, it would be just as inappropriate to place him with no provision for teaching him Braille and cane travel--without any such services he would not learn the specialized skills essential to him as a blind student.

The school should recognize that a good education for all children is a good education for blind children. Although some things may be individually modified for your child, any modifications should be against a background of the same educational structure that is appropriate for others. In a regular school this is relatively easy if the appropriate procedure is followed: each aspect of the regular curriculum should be modified only as much or as little as is desirable for this particular student. In a special school where all students have disabilities, this is much more difficult, but it can be done. Make comparisons between your child's curriculum and that of a regular school--your own local school, the public school nearest the special school, a model curriculum from the state education department, etc.

Consider quantity of work as well as quality. For example, suppose your child spends his early years in a special school which expects a
student only to demonstrate his correct knowledge of a particular principle, rather than to work a set number of problems--and your child
usually catches on quickly. If later he transfers to a class where the teacher regularly assigns a set number of problems for everyone, your
youngster may have great difficulty. Insist that the school prepare your child for situations tfhich are typical in the "real world." (There are
some who say a blind child never, in any setting, should be expected to do more work than is required for demonstrating that he or she has mastered the principle being taught. We emphatically disagree. If a given quantity is required of students in general, the blind student has not really accomplished the same task if he does a lesser amount. Furthermore, what employer would hire an applicant who says, "I can only do half as many reports as the others, because I'm blind?'") If a reduced quantity is really necessary for a particular child at a given time, the normal quantity should still be worked toward as a goal.

The school should believe in the ability and equality of blind people in general, and of your child in particular. Look for this in both word
and deed. For example, blind students should be expected to learn to travel around the school alone, even if it is large and complex, on the same basis as others. If the school staff say that blind students are expected to do this, but routinely give them five extra minutes for passing classes, they are not doing as they say.

If your child is not yet accomplishing something which is typical of others, you and the school should analyze the reasons and help him or her work toward the goal.

When your child first enters a school with non-disabled children, most of the staff may have very little knowledge of what to expect; and it is reasonable to have to do some educating and explaining about the abilities of your child. However, it is also reasonable for you to expect that at least one staff member (itinerant teacher, counselor, etc.) will join you in this explanatory process, and that the rest of the staff will seek to learn about your child, rather than showing hostility toward him and his disability.

The school should teach the techniques which are the most efficient and helpful, and avoid prejudice against valuable alternatives. Especially if your child has some vision, you may encounter an unfortunate reluctance to teach your child the methods which could be most helpful to him or her in the long run. This is particularly true of Braille and cane travel when these methods could be faster and easier for the student than straining to use inadequate vision. (In the case of cane travel, it is also much safer.)

If your child cannot see regular-sized print well enough to read it quickly and easily for lengthy periods, it is probably beneficial for him or her to learn Braille as well. Although large print can be very helpful at times, and seems on the surface to be a better and simpler solution, there are many disadvantages to the extensive use of large print. If an individual really cannot use small print satisfactorily, probably even large print is read slowly and with effort. Braille is likely to be faster and to leave more energy available for comprehending the material.
Similarly, although oral reading and recordings are valuable, they are no substitute for a quick, efficient means of reading directly from the paper.

If your child cannot easily see the details of traffic, he will be much safer and more confident when using a white cane. Even if he does
not trip over objects in his way, the cane will identify him to motorists and other pedestrians. With a cane, he avoids danger and misunderstanding when he cannot read signs, analyze the speed and direction of vehicles, etc.

If your child has considerable useful vision and does not run into things, you may decide to delay the study of cane travel until he is old
enough to cross streets alone. For the child with little or no vision, however, there are enormous benefits to starting cane travel during the
preschool years--an approach which is relatively new but extremely successful. Starting this early helps greatly to prevent such problems
as turning the feet outward, shuffling the feet, and moving slowly and unnaturally. Also, while the young child will welcome the cane as interesting and helpful, and will continue to use it after he is accustomed to it, the older youngster often will resist instruction because he
fears social disapproval or hesitates to learn new habits.

The specialized teacher of the blind should be competent, conscientious, and knowledgeable about methods for schoolwork and daily living. The itinerant teacher, resource teacher, or other specialized teacher of blind children should offer competent help and information about every aspect of classwork and out-of-school life. It is not necessary, of course, that any one individual have complete knowledge on all subjects; but the teacher or teachers working with your child should be able at least to locate a source for any information or instruction which is needed.

For the young or newly blinded student, it is essential that someone be available regularly to teach new techniques, particularly Braille and cane travel. Although, as indicated above, a teacher should not dictate educational plans without your participation, it jls desirable that he or she make suggestions and explanations clearly and assertively. A competent teacher of the blind should be expected to outline a sensible and practical plan for teaching your child, and to discuss it with you in detail.


The National Federation of the Blind Committee on Parental Concerns would consider it a privilege to work with you in solving problems in your child's education. We look forward to hearing your suggestions for this newsletter, and to hearing of your experience. If you have an unsolved problem, we would like to try to help.

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