Braille and Visually Impaired Students
What does the law require?
Passing a law is one thing. Getting it enforced and, more to the point, accepted, is quite another. Laws tend to be a reflection of public opinion, not a creator of it. They give a final nudge to new reality. With respect to Braille, there can be no doubt that the climate of public opinion has changed dramatically during the past decade. Once again, Braille is becoming the centerpiece in the education of blind people, just as print is for sighted people.
-- Kenneth Jernigan, Braille Into the Next Millennium
Braille and Visually Impaired Students
What does the law require?
Q: How does a child who is blind/visually impaired get an IEP (Individual Education Plan)?
A: Federal law mandates that a child will qualify for special education services if s/he has "an impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a child's educational performance. The term includes both partial sight and blindness," Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) section 601(3)(A)(i) and 34 C.F.R. section 300.8. In other words, if a child's visual impairment (even when using glasses) is determined to hurt his or her educational performance, that child qualifies for special education services for visual impairment.
Please note that there is no minimum level of visual acuity, etc., to qualify for services. Also, please note that a child is NOT required to fail before receiving services.
Q: Is there a specific provision in the law about Braille instruction for visually impaired students?
A: Yes, there is. The "Braille provision," as it is sometimes called, was added when IDEA was reauthorized in 1997 and was continued in the most recent reauthorization.
Q: What does it say?
A: Here is the pertinent section from the IDEA reauthorization of 2004:
Section 614 (d)(3)(B)(iii)
(B) Consideration of Special Factors."The IEP team shall"
(iii) in the case of a child who is blind or visually impaired, provide for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille unless the IEP team determines, after an evaluation of the child's reading and writing skills, needs, and appropriate reading and writing media (including an evaluation of the child's future needs for instruction in Braille or the use of Braille), that instruction in Braille or the use of Braille is not appropriate for the child.
Q: Is it significant that this provision uses the word "provide" rather than "consider the need for" Braille instruction?
A: Good observation. Yes, it is significant. It means that the IEP team is obligated to assume that Braille instruction will be a necessary service for the blind or visually impaired child. This is an important shift from past educational practices when it was routinely assumed that children with some usable vision would read print and only be provided with Braille instruction as the last resort.
Q: Does this provision apply to every blind or visually impaired child with an IEP?
Q: Does this mean that visually impaired children who might have sufficient vision to read enlarged print or regular print with magnification shall also be provided with Braille instruction and the opportunity to use Braille?
A: That's right. Unless, of course (as the provision states), an evaluation that takes into consideration the child's future need for Braille literacy demonstrates that Braille is not appropriate.
Q: Is it necessary to conduct an evaluation in order to begin Braille instruction or to demonstrate that the child DOES need Braille?
Q: So, this evaluation is only required if the team does NOT think the student needs Braille?
A: In all instances where Braille instruction is not provided for children covered under this provision, documentation (such as an evaluation) is required. Furthermore, it is critical that a qualified person conduct the assessment. The National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, including those with Multiple Disabilities, recommends that "All assessments and evaluations of students will be conducted by and/or in partnership with personnel having expertise in the education of students with visual impairments and their parents."1
Q: What must the evaluation include?
A: The Braille provision specifically requires that the following be addressed: skills in reading and writing, reading and writing needs, and future need for Braille or Braille instruction. The assessment of future needs is important because a number of congenital eye diseases or disorders are degenerative. As we know, the educational system is charged with the responsibility of preparing students for a lifetime of literacy. This provision protects the right of children with visual impairments to be provided with skills in a literacy mode that will also last a lifetime, whatever the prognosis might be for their vision.
Q: Some children who are blind or visually impaired also have additional disabilities'such as autism, learning disabilities, developmental delays, cerebral palsy, and so forth. Might these children require Braille instruction?
A: Yes. Literacy is the pathway to maximum independence and life satisfaction, including for children who will read at the functional level. It may take such children longer to learn to read, and they may require additional supports or individualized strategies, but this only highlights the importance of an individualized education plan.
Q: Once the IEP team has conducted an assessment and made a determination about the appropriateness of print and Braille instruction, does the team need to review or reconsider that decision during the annual IEP review?
A: That depends. If the child is receiving regular and adequate Braille instruction, probably not. However, if the child is not receiving Braille instruction, then it would be appropriate and in keeping with the intent of the Braille provision for the IEP team to discuss and/or reassess the decision annually.
1 Huebner, Kathleen, Brunhilde Merk-Adams, Donna Stryker, Karen Wolffe. The National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities, revised. New York: AFB Press, 2004.
SOURCES FOR BRAILLE BOOKS
American Action Fund's Free Braille Books Program
American Printing House for the Blind (APH)
Braille Institute-Special Collection Program
Exceptional Teaching, Inc.
National Braille Press
Seedlings Braille Books for Children
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT BRAILLE
The Bridge to Braille: Reading and School Success for the Young Blind Child
Making It Work: Educating the Blind/VI Child in the Regular Classroom
The World Under My Fingers: Personal Reflections on Braille
a division of the National Federation of the Blind
LSW06P Rev. 5/10