Overview of the Service System for Children Who Are Blind or Have Low Vision
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Services for children who are blind or have low vision span a broad spectrum, offered by various agencies and organizations at community, state, and national levels. However, it’s important to note that these services and the agencies providing them can differ significantly from one state to another, particularly regarding services for infants and toddlers.
Early Intervention Services
Central to these services is the Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities (Part C of the Individualized with Disabilities Education Act). This federal grant program aids states in providing specialized education services for children under three. State early intervention agencies, often part of state departments of education, health, human services, or rehabilitation, play a pivotal role. They typically offer referrals to local programs, schools, and agencies specializing in blindness or low vision, including national or local organizations and special schools for blind students.
These agencies focus on assessing the child’s needs, providing developmental enrichment, coordinating health and social services, and creating an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). Services to infants and toddlers are primarily home-based, delivered by itinerant professionals, although some are available in specialized centers.
Furthermore, these early intervention services, including those from teachers of students with visual impairments and orientation and mobility specialists, aim to empower parents or caregivers with the necessary information to support their children’s needs. Importantly, these services are provided with the voluntary consent of parents or guardians.
As children grow, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part B ensures their right to a “free, appropriate, public education” until their 22nd birthday, regardless of disability. This education should be in the least restrictive environment and involve family in planning and implementation. Additionally, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 mandates classroom accommodations, like materials in accessible formats.
Most children with visual impairments attend local public schools, receiving specialized instruction from Teachers of the Visually Impaired (TVIs) and orientation and mobility specialists. This instruction is part of the expanded core curriculum, which includes skills unique to blindness or low vision, such as braille literacy and orientation and mobility techniques.
Children may receive instruction from an itinerant teacher or in a resource room setting. Some may attend specialized schools, which vary in focus from academic programs to functional lifelong learning for those with multiple disabilities. It’s crucial for parents to explore the full range of educational services and settings before making decisions for their child.
The law also requires the development of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each student, involving a team of educators, specialists, family members, and sometimes the student. This team assesses the student’s abilities and needs, sets educational goals, and specifies necessary services and aids, such as braille materials or low vision devices.
IDEA requires transition services starting no later than age 14, preparing students for life after high school. The IEP will include goals and activities for this transition, encompassing independent living, vocational or college enrollment, and career planning. Connections to post-school services, like vocational rehabilitation, are also crucial. For more resources, visit the APH ConnectCenter For Job Seekers and Employers website.
Low Vision Services
Low vision services are designed to help individuals of all ages make the best use of their vision, with or without special optical devices. These services include comprehensive low vision evaluations, prescription of devices, and training in adaptive techniques. They are available in various settings, including hospitals, private clinics, and universities.
Low vision services may be located in agencies of and for people who are blind or visually impaired, hospitals, private rehabilitation agencies, university settings, and private ophthalmological and optometric clinics or practices. In addition, referrals may be obtained from national blindness organizations, state rehabilitation services, agencies or professionals that provide other visual impairment services, state or national ophthalmological and optometric associations, and nearby universities that train professionals in the field of blindness and visual impairment.
Agencies providing social and recreational opportunities for children with visual impairments and their families are also vital. These services offer both peer and mentor support, often through summer programs and camps. To discover upcoming activities, check out community or national event calendars.
Services for Families
It is also important to recognize the needs of other family members. There are some programs available for siblings, grandparents, and other family members to provide for the specific needs. Families may come together through groups such as the American Council of the Blind (ACB), the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the use of the message boards, and other parent-focused groups. In addition, each state will have a parent training and information center that will have parent-to-parent groups that provide information and support for parents. These groups are often run by and for parents of children with disabilities and can be helpful in assisting you in understanding your rights and how to work with your providers to obtain the services you need.
Agencies that provide services for young children who are blind or low vision also provide assistance to families. For example, they may have counseling or support groups and social work services in addition to providing information about adapted communication techniques and developmental stimulation.
Find resources by category or state in the APH Directory of Services.