Future Reflections                                                                                       Volume 20, Number 1

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NFB Policy and the Education of Blind Children
Resolutions from the 2000 NFB Convention

Editor’s Note: The complete text of all resolutions is available in the August/September, 2000, issue of the Braille Monitor. This  issue is available on the NFB website at <www.nfb.org> or in print, Braille, or cassette tape from the NFB Materials Center, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; (410) 659-9314. Copies of resolutions adopted at every NFB Convention throughout its history are also available in various formats from the Materials Center upon request.

The National Federation of the Blind adopted 34 resolutions at the 2000 convention in Atlanta, Georgia. Six of those resolutions concerned education. The trend in kindergarten-through-twelfth-grade education is to measure progress in education by proficiency testing in subject areas and school-accountability testing. Three resolutions address problems with these tests experienced by blind students across the country.

Resolution 2000‑02 concerns the provision  of electronic versions of textbooks to school districts serving blind children. This topic was discussed in the last issue (Volume 19, Number 4) of Future Reflections.

In resolution 2000‑09, introduced by Pam Dubel, Director of Youth Services at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, we urge state departments of education to adopt policies to insure that blind students have the opportunity to participate in all testing programs and to obtain standard high school diplomas.

Kim Aguillard, a 2000 national scholarship winner who just graduated from high school, proposed resolution 2000‑13. In this resolution we urge state departments of education to adopt policies compelling all developers of standardized educational tests to consult with professionals in the blindness field and blind people as they develop proficiency and accountability tests so that these tests can be readily and appropriately adapted in nonvisual formats for blind and visually impaired students.

Resolution 2000‑22 was also introduced by a student, Allison Hilliker, from Michigan. This resolution affirms the authority of the student’s Individualized Education Program team to determine appropriate accommodations for the student to use when taking these standardized tests.

Another area of testing in which problems with accommodations have developed is the General Educational Development (GED) test, the alternative path to completion of high school. Doris Willoughby, a renowned author of books and articles on the education of blind children, addressed this issue in resolution 2000‑25. The GED test regulations illegally prohibit the use of a live reader to read test questions. A second problem is that there is some indication that the test will not be available in Braille when it is revised. In resolution 2000‑25 we call upon the American Council on Education to administer the GED test in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The last education issue that the convention dealt with by resolution was the role of disabled student services offices on university campuses. The two sponsors of this resolution, 2000‑31, have direct knowledge of the problems: Shawn Mayo is President of the National Association of Blind Students, and Jim Marks directs a disabled student services program in Montana. The resolution states that: “This organization urges the Association on Higher Education and Disability and the U. S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to join with it in developing and publishing a guideline and best-practice model for accommodating blind students in higher education to maximize learning and eliminate the unnecessary, unintentional, and widespread fostering of dependency now occurring on America’s college campuses.”

Although not directly an education issue in that it impacts both blind adults and blind children, resolution 2000-36, proposed by Kristen Cox, NFB Associate Director of Governmental Affairs, concerns orientation and mobility services. In this resolution we call upon all state and local education agencies to refrain from recognizing certification by AER or by the Academy for the Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals in determining qualifications for orientation and mobility instructors.

Here are the full texts of these  resolutions:

Blind Students and Standardized,
Accountability, and/or
Proficiency Testing:

Resolution 2000-02

WHEREAS, a high-quality education is essential in order to compete for jobs, participate in community life, and sustain economic independence; and

WHEREAS, Congress recognized the right of individuals with disabilities to receive a free, appropriate public education by enacting the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which requires individualized plans of instruction to meet the particular needs of each disabled student but does not always put in place efficient systems to meet those needs; and

WHEREAS, despite IDEA, the lack of accessible instructional materials is still a barrier to a high-quality education for blind students, largely due to the labor-intensive and costly process of converting texts and other materials into accessible formats such as Braille when the conversion must be done by hand; and

WHEREAS, this conversion process could be streamlined significantly to reduce the burdens of both time and cost currently placed on local school districts if publishers of textbooks would promptly furnish an electronic version of each textbook that could then be converted into specialized formats for blind children; and

WHEREAS, some states have enacted legislation to address this need by requiring publishers to provide an electronic version of materials to education agencies when such agencies purchase print editions for sighted students, but this state-by-state approach does not address the needs of all blind children covered by IDEA since publishers do not often furnish electronic texts in states not requiring them to do so; and

WHEREAS, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) acknowledges that providing electronic text to support conversion of instructional materials into specialized formats for the blind is part of the responsibility of publishers; however, in spite of expressed good intentions, this responsibility is not being met voluntarily: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2000, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon Congress to turn the promise of IDEA into the reality of books for our nation’s blind children by enacting legislation to compel publishers to provide usable electronic versions of textbooks purchased for sighted children to school districts serving blind children.

Resolution 2000-09

WHEREAS, standards-based reform has dramatically increased the prevalence of high-stakes proficiency and accountability tests in school systems across the country; and

WHEREAS, preparation for these tests consumes a significant portion of classroom instructional time; and

WHEREAS, results of these tests may determine the type of diploma a student receives upon graduation; and

WHEREAS, the loss of vision alone in no way impairs the capacity of a student to meet or exceed the academic standards set for his or her non-disabled peers; and

WHEREAS, if students who are blind or visually impaired are not present during test-preparation instructional time, they will not benefit from the knowledge gained during these instructional periods, an all-too-common practice since teachers send the blind student out for Braille or mobility lessons while other students study for the test; and

WHEREAS, equally unfortunate is the common failure to provide blind and visually impaired students with study materials, survey tests, and practice tests in the appropriate alternative medium so that these students can prepare for high-stakes tests on an equal basis with non-disabled peers; and

WHEREAS, without the educational or credentialed background that proper instruction and testing with appropriate alternative media and IEP-based accommodations could have provided for them, these students will transition into the workplace with enormous, if not insurmountable, disadvantages; and

WHEREAS, IDEA requires that students with disabilities must be included in all district and statewide assessments; and

WHEREAS, IDEA further requires that students with disabilities have access to the regular education curriculum; and

WHEREAS, state departments of education bear a significant responsibility for implementing policies in their states to assure that blind and visually impaired students receive a free and appropriate education under the provisions of IDEA; Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2000, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization strongly urge state departments of education to adopt and implement statewide policies that will require blind and visually impaired students to receive the full range of instruction, support, and materials available to their sighted peers in the process of preparing for state-required, high-stakes proficiency or accountability tests; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly urge state departments of education to adopt policies which insure the right of blind and visually impaired students to pursue and earn a standard high school diploma, to the extent to which their abilities enable them.

Resolution 2000-13

WHEREAS, performance on proficiency and accountability tests is often used to determine student placement and advancement, and the use and reliance on such tests for students in grades one through twelve is growing year by year around the country; and

WHEREAS, many students who are legally blind must by law participate in these examinations; and

WHEREAS, too often the materials on these tests, particularly the tests for students in lower grades, is highly visually oriented and extremely difficult, or sometimes impossible, to adapt to a nonvisual format for students who are legally blind; and

WHEREAS, the education, placement, and advancement of blind and visually impaired students is negatively affected when the test items on proficiency and accountability examinations are not susceptible of being properly adapted; and

WHEREAS, this problem could be avoided and test items perfected which are easily adapted to alternative formats if the tests were developed from the ground up with the idea that they will necessarily be administered in nonvisual formats to students without vision; and

WHEREAS, the lack of standards for production of visual graphs and charts in alternative, nonvisual formats can also negatively affect the performance of blind and visually impaired students on such exams; and

WHEREAS, state departments of education bear a significant responsibility for implementing policies in their states to assure that blind and visually impaired students receive a free and appropriate education under the provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA); Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2000, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization strongly urge state departments of education to adopt policies compelling all developers of standardized educational tests within their borders to consult with professionals in the field of blindness and persons who are blind in the development of proficiency and accountability tests so that any tests which are adopted for use by the state can be readily and appropriately adapted in nonvisual formats for blind and visually impaired students; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge state departments of education to consult with professionals and persons who are blind to establish standards for production of graphical material in alternative formats.

Resolution 2000-22

WHEREAS, The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) establishes as the fundamental tool for guiding the education of a student receiving special services the IEP (Individualized Education Program), a document periodically prepared and updated by all those most familiar with and responsible for the education of the student (parents, teachers, administrators, and the student); and

WHEREAS, no special education or related services can be provided to such a student without a valid IEP in effect nor can any such services not specified in the IEP be provided to the student; and

WHEREAS, the accommodations and methods specified on the IEP have been determined to be the most appropriate for that particular blind or visually impaired student, a determination having the force of federal law since all special education and related services must be defined and delivered through the IEP process; and

WHEREAS, state-required proficiency or accountability tests are becoming increasingly common in school systems across the country; and

WHEREAS, these tests are often the deciding factor in determining whether a student may graduate and get a high school diploma or pass on to the next grade or educational level; and

WHEREAS, in some instances problems have arisen concerning the medium in which a test should be administered to a blind or visually impaired student when policies by state departments of education conflict with the IEP team’s authority to determine appropriate test-taking methods and accommodations for that student; and

WHEREAS, instances have arisen in which a blind or visually impaired student is required to take a proficiency test in a medium (such as Braille) in which the student is not yet fluent due to recent sight loss—a situation which forces the student to take a high-stakes test without proper skills due to no fault of his or her own and contrary to the dictates of the student’s IEP in effect at the time; and

WHEREAS, other instances have arisen in which state officials refuse to produce a test in Braille when the IEP team has provided for all instruction and testing in Braille, a situation in which the student is unfairly subjected to high-stakes testing in a medium contrary to the IEP and in which the student is not fluent; and

WHEREAS, state departments of education bear a significant responsibility for implementing policies in their states to assure that blind and visually impaired students receive a free and appropriate education under the provisions of IDEA: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2000, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization demand that state departments of education establish policies which acknowledge and defer to the authority of the blind or visually impaired student’s IEP team in the selection of appropriate accommodations and methods for all tests, including all state-required proficiency and accountability examinations.

The General Educational
Development  (GED) Test
and Blind Individuals

Resolution 2000-25

WHEREAS, the certificate of General Educational Development (GED) is offered in all fifty states as the alternative path to high school completion, essential for vocational preparation and success; and

WHEREAS, one-half million people per year achieve this important goal by passing a five-part standardized test; and

WHEREAS, among these test-takers are blind men and women seeking a high school equivalency certificate along their personal path to growth and development; and

WHEREAS, the GED Testing Service of the American Council on Education produces this test and issues the regulations for its administration, including regulations that provide for use of large print, Braille, and taped versions of the test and for use of a live scribe to write down answers during administration of the test to blind test-takers; and

WHEREAS, the GED regulations puzzlingly and illegally prohibit the use of a live reader to read the questions even though this is a standard method for taking tests by the blind, used in the administration of every other standardized test in this country; and

WHEREAS, this prohibition is totally unacceptable, placing an unnecessary and unlawful stumbling block in the path of blind persons taking the personal responsibility of doing their best to better their condition and is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and its implementing regulations; and

WHEREAS, the next revision of the test (projected for the year 2001) is expected to rely much more on graphics than the current version does, making it more likely that more blind test-takers will wish to choose live readers since providing effective graphics in Braille and on tape is an inexact science; and

WHEREAS, despite the fact that modern technology has made Braille easy to produce, there is some indication that the test will not continue to be provided in Braille: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2000, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon the American Council on Education to administer the GED in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, including the amendment of its regulations where necessary, to ensure that all blind test-takers have and continue to have their choice among all of the four standard media routinely used by blind persons to access standardized tests: large print, Braille, tape, and live reader.

Blind College Students

Resolution 2000-31

WHEREAS, history demonstrates that blind students in higher education achieve success through self-reliance and mastery of the alternative skills and techniques of blindness; and

WHEREAS, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, has been misinterpreted to overemphasize the universally accessible learning environment and institutional management of legal liabilities, causing colleges to do for blind students what they are perfectly capable of doing for themselves; and

WHEREAS, in yet another misinterpretation of the ADA, state rehabilitation agencies for the blind dump many of their rehabilitative responsibilities on colleges in the mistaken assumption that the law requires colleges to be fully responsible for blind students, thus taking on aspects of rehabilitation; and

WHEREAS, the purpose of higher education is to provide an education and the purpose of rehabilitation agencies is to provide rehabilitation, which includes training as well as auxiliary aids and services such as funding for readers, purchasing adaptive equipment, and providing training in the alternative techniques of blindness; and

WHEREAS, no comprehensive guideline or best-practices model for accommodating blind students in higher education is available as a reference for colleges, rehabilitation agencies for the blind, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, and blind students, leading to overaccommodation and college imposition of unnecessary and unwanted custodial restrictions on blind students simply because the disability service staff are untrained and unaware of the capabilities of the blind, including their need to learn independence; and

WHEREAS, the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD), an organization of disability service providers in post-secondary education, has the ability and duty to participate in the publication and distribution of guidelines and best-practice models on how to accommodate blind college students: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2000, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call on state rehabilitation agencies for the blind to perform their duties of preparing blind students for college study and providing the necessary services for study in college; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge colleges to refrain from doing for blind students what blind students are capable of doing for themselves and to refrain from assuming responsibilities correctly borne by state rehabilitation agencies for the blind; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge the Association on Higher Education and Disability and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to join with it in developing and publishing a guideline and best-practice model for accommodating blind students in higher education to maximize learning and eliminate the unnecessary, unintentional, and widespread fostering of dependency now occurring on America’s college campuses.

Orientation and Mobility

Resolution 2000-36

WHEREAS, the 1997 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) added orientation and mobility to the list of related services available to students with disabilities; and

WHEREAS, orientation and mobility services must be provided by qualified personnel as determined by state and local education agencies; and

WHEREAS, the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) is actively encouraging state education agencies to include AER certification in its definition of who is qualified to provide orientation and mobility services and has been successful to this end in some states; and

WHEREAS, the AER certification process may provide instructors with the functional knowledge of cane travel techniques, but it does not provide either a constructive or an enlightened view of the capacity of the blind, which is the essential ingredient to successful and independent travel for the blind; and

WHEREAS, without a deep and firm understanding of the capacities of blind individuals, AER-certified instructors often convey a negative and limiting attitude about blindness to young blind students receiving orientation and mobility instruction under IDEA at a time when the child’s beliefs are being formed that will have lifelong consequences; and

WHEREAS, methods and standards are available to determine qualified orientation and mobility instructors other than AER certification which contain not only the functional knowledge of cane travel technique, but the important positive attitude about blindness: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2000, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon all state and local education agencies to refrain from recognizing certification by AER or that of its successor organization—the Academy for the Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals—in determining qualifications for orientation and mobility instructors; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon state education agencies to consult with the National Federation of the Blind when developing and implementing standards and requirements that will be applied to orientation and mobility instructors.

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