Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments
By: Carmen Willings
Updated April 9, 2020
A Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (also called a Teacher of the Visually Impaired, a vision specialist, VI teacher, vision itinerant teacher, etc.) is typically a licensed special education teacher who has received certification and specialized training, in meeting the educational needs of students who are blind or have visual impairments ages birth through 21 (states vary on the criteria for certification as a Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments). This is an instructional position, as opposed to a related service or vision therapy.
The role of the Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TVI) is to provide direct and/or consultative special education services specific to vision loss. The TVI provides support to students, teachers, and parents and acts as a liaison with community services. The TVI works with the educational team by advising the team about ways of enhancing the student’s learning by adapting activities and materials to the student’s abilities. Although the TVI is not an academic tutor, they may spend some time ensuring that the student understands concepts introduced in academic courses.
The TVI may help choose appropriate educational materials, and may brainstorm with teachers and therapists about effective adaptations. By working together, classroom teachers, therapists, and the TVI can create a classroom environment that encourages independence, academic success, and prepare the student to be the most productive member of society they can be. The following is a list of what to expect from the Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments.
Interpret Medical Reports
As part of determining a student's eligibility and the impact of the visual impairment, the Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments will need to have the skills and training to read and interpret medical eye reports. The TVI will determine the implications thereof for educational and home environments.
Conduct Specialized Assessments and Make Recommendations
The TVI will conduct Functional Vision Assessments to determine how much usable vision a student has to perform visual tasks. This assessment is initially conducted to determine the need for services from a teacher of students with visual impairments and to determine appropriate goals and level of support needed. This evaluation is updated at a minimum, every three years to determine ongoing eligibility and need for school based vision services. The TVI may also recommend appropriate specialized evaluations as needed, particularly in low vision, orientation and mobility, and adaptive physical education. This evaluation is conducted even if the student has no usable vision.
Actively Participate in the Individualized Education Program (IEP)
The TVI will need to communicate with the team members on how the student's performance may affect their school performance by providing information on the student's learning style, utilization of visual information, and other strengths unique to individual students who are visually impaired. The TVI will identify any goals and objectives in specialized areas related to the visual needs of the student. The TVI will also identify instructional methods and materials for meeting goals and objectives. Finally, the TVI will recommend appropriate service delivery options, including class placement, physical education, related services, specialized equipment, adaptations in testing procedures, and time frames for implementation. Consideration will be taken as to the current and future reading and writing media for the student with a visual impairment based on reading distance, reading rates and accuracy, portability of reading skills, visual fatigue, and tactual sensitivity.
Recommend Educational & Instructional Strategies
The TVI will assist in determining and procuring classroom equipment and materials necessary for the student with visual impairments to learn (brailler, low vision devices, assistive technology, computer) including ensuring necessary room modifications and lighting changes. The TVI will provide the classroom teacher with information regarding the specialized strategies needed to teach a student who is blind or visually impaired. The TVI will also assist in obtaining specialized materials, including procuring materials from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), providing braille, recorded/enlarged materials, and other needed materials.
The TVI conducts ongoing observations of the student in a variety of familiar situations performing routine tasks or activities to assess how the student is using their vision. In doing this, the TVI can find out what motivates the student to look. The TVI will then use objects and activities similar to those that have been motivating in the past. It is also beneficial to get an understanding of how the student spends their time. What does the student do? How does the student play and with what? Where do they go? Who do they play or interact with? This is a process to identify the student’s existing (and desired) activity setting. These observations will assist the TVI in ensuring the goals and accommodations as well as level of service continue to be appropriate.
Use of Natural Environments to Address Goals
Teaching techniques to enhance vision should not be taught in isolation. It is important to look at what the needs and activities of the student are in school and in their everyday life that are affected by their visual performance, and teach to those tasks. If the family/teachers are interested in obtaining other objects for the student to play with, then the TVI can assist the family and/or teacher in obtaining such items.
The responsibility of the TVI is to support the student with what he/she has everyday access to, where he/she is, and sharing information that matches the student’s/families/classroom priorities (watching television, playing on the computer, playing with toys or games). These activities provide multiple learning opportunities. It is easy to take in a bag of toys, but more challenging and appropriate to explore existing toys that the student will have daily access to, for continued exposure/practice. Learning takes place at all times, so it is best to use what is available/accessible to give the student more practice in using existing skills and developing new abilities. “Toy bag treatment sessions” typically do not promote functional skill use and learning in natural settings.
Some skills are best addressed outside of the regular classroom to avoid visual and auditory distractions. The goal should be to learn the skills and then begin to transfer those skills during classroom activities.
Communication with Caregivers and Classroom Teachers
The TVI will want to have ongoing communication with the caregivers and classroom teachers in order to try to develop a better understanding of the student. An itinerant teacher will not have the same rapport with the student as they do not spend as much time with them. For that reason, it is helpful to talk with parents and classroom teachers who do have this rapport about how they feel the student is doing, if they are addressing the goals and how the student is functioning. The TVI may ask to observe the teacher working with the student to observe how the student is functioning within the normal routine and with familiar adults.
Direct Instruction in the Expanded Core Curriculum
The TVI will determine which areas of the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC), a unique curriculum that addresses needs a student who is blind or visually impaired may have that are not addressed within the standard curriculum. Although not all students will have needs in all areas of the ECC, the areas of the ECC include: Compensatory, Functional and Communication Skills; Sensory Efficiency; Orientation & Mobility; Social; Independent Living; Recreation & Leisure; Use of Technology; Career & vocational; and Self Determination.
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Itinerant teaching is very rewarding, but it can present many challenges as well. TVI’s must be able to work well with a variety of personalities to best support students and their teams. It is just as essential to be organized, flexible, reliable, and a team player as it is to be knowledgeable in your field. This hour-long presentation is packed full of tips and strategies from Carmen Willings who has been a full time Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments for over 20 years. This webinar is perfect for TVI's just entering the field and for all TVI's as they start the new school year!
Sign up for free membership to access the FREE downloadable handbooks and handouts on the Free Printables page along with access to the Goal Bank pages. Simply click on the Log In | Register link in the navigation bar. If you haven't joined yet, you will be prompted to create a password.
Purchase the TVI's Guide to Teaching the ECC Complete Set and immediately unlock the pages within the ECC Complete Set Bonus including bonus printables, interactive sensory stories, interactive matching activities, interactive choice making activities, job task box activities and MORE! This is my way of continuing to support you and say "Thank you!" for choosing to purchase the Complete Set.
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