Helping To Integrate Visually Impaired Students Into The Public School System

Visually impaired students need intervention beyond what their sighted peers require. There are laws designated to represent children with disabilities in the public school system

It is evident that children with some disabilities can be taught along side their peers who are not disabled and benefit greatly from the situation. However, there are some children who require special strategies to be employed, and the other areas beyond the traditional curriculum to be covered when teaching them. Visually impaired children need intervention beyond what their sighted peers require. There are laws designated to represent children with disabilities in the public school system. These laws require equal education for handicapped students. If visually impaired children are properly assessed and assigned appropriate intervention then integration into a general education classroom can be successful and an even highly beneficial procedure.

Before any intervention can be thought of, an entire assessment procedure needs to take place. The medical procedure for assessing visual impairments initially focuses on visual acuity. Visual acuity can be measured by the Snellen test. This test may be more commonly referred to as an eye chart exam. The individual being tested must stand twenty feet from the eye chart and try to distinguish what the symbols on the chart are. However, this test only measures visual acuity, and it is impossible to administer it to an infant or small child. Thus, it is necessary to use other measures of assessment as well. These other methods of assessment may include an opthamological exam and/or observation of the child. There are even measures used in the medical profession to test for visual impairment before birth, such as genetic counseling. This type of procedure can determine if a gene causes visual impairment is present in a fetus, or individual who is thinking of having children. having these types of assessments can help people decide about their future and the future of their child.

Traditionally labeling a person with a disability has been viewed in a negative light because some experts believe that labels can bring with them negative consequences. However, labeling can also be viewed as a positive process which can help ensure individuals receive the intervention and services they are entitled to. from the very beginning of their lives, people with visual impairments, need to be taught the basics of every day functioning. What sighted individuals note as every day tasks need to be learned and practiced by the visually imapired. Research indicates that children with visual impairments "differ from their sighted peers in some areas of intelligence, ranging from understanding spatial concepts to a general knowledge of the world" (Hardman, 1993). Other areas children with visual impairments differ from their sighted peers are speech and language development, educational and social development, and orientation and mobility. It is indicated in research that children with visual impairments "are at a distinct disadvantage developing speech and language skills because they are unable to visually associate words with objects" (hardman, 1993). In some instances these children may develop vocabulary words and use them out of context because they have no way of connecting them with any concrete meaning. Children need special training when acquiring vocabulary and speech and langauage skills. Also special training in orientation and mobility and the basic life skills is needed. Students need to learn strategies to help them move about efficiently and safely. Visually impaired children also need a lot of practice with skills such as eating, drinking, and bathing. These special needs may bring issues of mastery and competence into view. Thus, not only special educational intervention is necessary but social intervention as well. Thus, visually impaired students need intervention and assistance beyond what their sighted peers need.

These special needs can be met with certain interventions especially created for visually impaired students. Young children in general need specific instruction in order to function in and out of school. Visually impaired children are at a distinct disadvantage because vision is the primary means of learning new information. Educational procedures focus on using the other remaining senses; hearing, touching, and mselling. Strengthening hearing can be done by using recordings of stories or particular sounds and asking the children to answer questions about what they heard. A simple knowledge of sounds, and the direction and distance of sounds, made in the streets (i.e. horn sounds), in the kitchen (i.e. running water), or going home from school sounds (i.e. school bells) may help visually impaired students become more independent. Other special areas of training for the visually impaired student include touch, taste, and smell. Tactical devices can be used to heighten a child's sensitivity. For example, this can be accoplished by helping a child differentiate between textures. Also helping a child experiment with different temperatures, tastes, and smells can work to build mastery and a feeling of self worth. Sighted children do not need this extensive type of training. Thus. this is a special dimension in the education of visually impaired students.

There are special devices that have been created to help visually impaired children learn these specific skills while being integrated into general education classroom in the public school system. A sighted adult is surely the most common form of assistance with mobility and orientation for a young visually impaired child. As a child matures they may use a cane or a seeing eye dog. Also Mowat Sensors, sonicguides, and laser canes have been created to assist visually impaired persons with independent travel. A Mowat Sensor is a "hand held ultrasound travel aid that vibrates at different levels to warn of obstancles" (Hardman, 1993). A Sonicguide "emits ultrasound and is able to convert reflections from objects into audible noise. The individual is the able to learn about the structure of an object through the characteristics of the sound that is echoed back to the Sonicguide" (Hardman, 1993). Lastly, a laser cane is similar to the Sonicguide, wheer as it creates sound to introduce objects in a person's path but it uses ultra light to so do. These devices can be an amazing assistance to individuals with visual impairments to accomplish independent travel. Further it is alos helpful to consider architectural structure of the school. Special resource rooms and labs should exist. In addition to these facilities, there should be a place available for seeing eye dogs. "The room's function and number should be labeled with raised numbers and latters as a height of fifty four to sixty six inches on the wall" (shwartz, 1977). If every room could be labeled this way it would make it easier for the visually impaired student to identify where they are. Safety precautions should be taken as well. "Doors to dangerous areas should be locked" and "electrical outlets should be available in each classroom or lab for plugging in tape recorders" (Shwartz, 1977). These are some fo the specific devices and structural considerations that will help visually impaired students address issues of mobility and orientation, develop mastery and a sense of independence at school, and to integrate more easily into a general education clasroom.

There are other specific sdeviuces that can help visually impaired students experience a smooth integration process into a general education classroom in the public school system. Particularilty there are devices that help visually impaured students with mathematics and reading skills. Partially sighted individuals may need systems to magnify printed text. Also, large print books are needed to assist in making reading easier. In addition to these devices, optical aids such as corrective glasses may be used. Completely visually impaired students may need to use Braille reading material. "Most blind children are introduced to braille around first grade, and children with low vision begin to use large print and/or optical aids" (Orlansky, 1980). Braille is made up of two hundred and sixty three different configurations. In order for a student to write braille a special slate and stylus is nmeeded. A student "writes a mirror image of a reading code, moving from right to left" (Hardman, 1993). As children grow older and reading becomes more extensive, tape recordings, records, and even sighted readers are employed. Also talking calculators and computers may be used to help the student with complex mathematical concepts. These devices, programs and architectural changes help visually impaired students get their special needs met and provide a smooth structure for integration into a general education clasroom.

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