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The Differences Between Us

by Linda Zani Thomas


Dear Barbara:

Enclosed is the latest article I've written. This will be interesting to many people. It gives a breakdown of visually impaired children who are just blind and those with other handicaps. I'd welcome your comments after reading this. As you know, I have long been an advocate for including information specific to the multiply handicapped in all matters relating to the visually impaired, which prompted me to write these articles in the first place! There is a whole other world out there from which we can all learnand percentage wise, it's a large group! Being visually impaired is not just about Braille and cane travel!

Thanks so much for publishing these. I especially liked the last issue of Future Reflections. I noticed you picked up a lot of Dr. Lilli Nielsen material. Her studies touch everybody with visual impairment.




Every parent reading this article is linked by visual impairment as the common denominator. And, as most of us have come to find out, no two of our children are the same or face the same future. According to a recent parent survey in New Jersey there are important differences in what visually impaired children need in order to develop to their fullest potential and those needs vary by the severity of the impairment(s).

There are three distinct groups of children aged 0-9: those with a visual impairment only (VO), visual impairment plus another handicap (MH1), and multiply handicapped visually impaired children whose conditions significantly delay development (MH2).

Statewide, percentages are as follows:

Visually Impaired Only (VO) 34%

Multiply Handicapped/No Significant Developmental Delay (MH1) 20%

Multiply Handicapped/Significant Developmental Delay (MH2) 46%

The largest group of children aged 0-9 (66%) are multiply handicapped to one degree or another.

Parent Mindset

There are striking differences in the concerns of parents in each of these groups. The top three concerns are shown below:


1. Independence/Mobility

2. Self-esteem/Social acceptance

3. Education/Career


1. Independence/Mobility

2. Skills: Reading/Speech Cognition

3. Education/Trade


1. Health

2. Developmental Progress

3. Long-term Care/Finance/Insurance

The MH2 group has unique concerns, primarily immediate health and medical issues and developmental progress. Once parents have their childrens health stabilized, they concentrate on isolating the visual component affecting development and on helping their children progress.

The VO and MH1 groups are very similar and their concerns really mirror those of parents of unimpaired children.


The size of the multiply handicapped population may be a surprise to some because the stereotype of the child who is visually impaired only is pervasive. For almost half the parents, cane travel and Braille are not the burning issues. Most of them are working very hard to understand how lack of vision in combination with other handicaps is affecting their childrens development.

From the Editor: Linda Zani Thomas is the director of a private marketing agency. She conducted this survey in 1995 with the cooperation of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind. Eight hundred surveys were mailed out to parents of children receiving services from the commission. One hundred sixty-six surveys (21% of the total) were completed and returned.

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