"Did you go to a regular school?" I remember the first time I was asked that question. I was in my second year of college and went to an eye doctor recommended by a friend because I was struggling to read. I thought I needed a new contact lens prescription but it grew into something far larger than I anticipated. It took a few moments for his question to sink in.
I did attend a public school and regular classes and I thought nothing about it. I never read a blackboard or a film strip but I thought it was just because I was nearsighted. Educators did not know what they know today or how to assess those with visual problems. I am one of the lucky ones who did not have too many obstacles to overcome to get a quality education.
Although special schools for the blind do exist, many children who are blind or visually impaired in the United States now attend public schools, just like any other child. There are children that might benefit best from attending specialized schools for part or all of their education. This article is not meant to persuade readers on which school setting is best for their child. Its intent is to provide you with the information needed to make the choices that are right for you and your child.
Regular Public School
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1975 guarantees an education in "the least restrictive environment." This means that children with disabilities are entitled to a free education in the public school system, just like their non-disabled peers. This act was revised in 2004. This means that a student who is visually impaired or blind can attend a local public school with their peers. The child should be provided with the tools and support necessary to learn in the classroom setting.
Some districts provide a special classroom staffed by a teacher of the visually impaired. A student's time in this class is dependent on several factors based on the student's need. This is often where the child learns about independent travel, Braille and assistive technology as well as academics.
Many visually impaired students attend classes with their sighted peers but receive specialized instruction related to their visual impairment from an itinerant teacher of the visually impaired. These instructors work one-on-one with each student. They may teach students how to read and write Braille or use specialized technology for completing school assignments.
Specialized and residential schools for the blind
Specialized and residential schools for the blind are available in almost every state. Although the majority of blind and visually impaired children attended these schools in the past, today, they primarily serve students who have additional disabilities. Many schools for the blind are residential and serve students from throughout the state in which they are located. The schools provide many specialized services. Services and training can include Braille, lessons with assistive technology, mobility and orientation as well as occupational and physical therapy.
Where to go?
Deciding where a blind or visually impaired child goes to school depends on many factors. There are advantages and disadvantages with all types of settings. It is up to the child's parents and teachers to select which setting is the best placement for the visually impaired student. There are many things to consider when making these choices. What are the child's goals? What services and training is available in their school district? What services does this child need most? Many of these decisions are tough for parents to make but with the proper research they will be armed to make the best decision for their child.