IDEA and Vision Impairments
by Carmen Willings
June 4, 2019
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law that makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children identified to have disabilities throughout the United States and ensures special education and related services to those children.
The IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to eligible infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities.
Under Part B of the IDEA, a child identified as having a disability is one that has been evaluated and found to have a disability and needs special education and related services. Visual Impairment, including blindness, means an impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a child's educational performance. The term includes both partial sight and blindness. A Memorandum by the US DOE Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services on May 22, 2017, clarified that the definition of "visual impairment including blindness" does not contain a modifier. This means that ANY impairment of vision, regardless of severity (e.g. acuity), must be included in a State's definition. Even so, the visual impairment must, even with correction, adversely affect a child's educational performance.
Before eligibility determination, each public agency must conduct a full and individual evaluation before providing services. The evaluation is conducted to determine eligibility AND determine the extent of the educational needs of the child. No single assessment may be used as the sole criterion for determining whether the child has a visual impairment. For visual impairment/blindness, this means an eye report as it is critical to know medical findings along with a functional vision evaluation and a learning media assessment. The team may decide that additional evaluations be conducted.
Part of eligibility includes educational needs. For students with visual impairments, this means needs in the area of the Expanded Core Curriculum. While every child needs to learn many of the areas within the ECC (e.g. independent living, social skills, etc.), the child requires instruction from a Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments in the areas of the ECC when the child needs instruction differently, due to reduced vision.
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