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A Successful Implementation Model of Inclusionary Practices for

Children with Sensory Impairments

Gillian M. Meieran, Ph.D.

INTRODUCTION:

Students with vision loss and hearing loss have inclusionary needs that differ from those of students with other impairing conditions. The Office of Special Education Programs of the USA Department of Education has confirmed those needs in the Policy Guidance on Educating Blind and Visually Impaired Students. Only by addressing the individual and unique needs of students who are blind or visually impaired, through cooperation and collaboration of the team members who are responsible for a student's program, can there be successful outcomes. Team members include: school administrators, regular classroom teachers, special teachers, physical and occupational therapists, speech therapists, families, the student, and other persons who need to have information or training in working with the special needs that the student demonstrates.

How to ensure that a student in an inclusionary setting will reach his/her potential is dependent upon the degree of independence achieved and the academic and social outcomes realized. Seven fundamentals are interrelated in the process of educating a sensory impaired child in his/her regular "home" school. These are: 1) the student needs, 2) understanding, 3) collaboration, 4) creativity, 5) expectations, 6) standards, and 7) sensitivity. If each of these areas is addressed through ongoing communication, and with professional respect and knowledge, the student will have the advantage of becoming a confident and independent contributing member of society with a valued self worth.

This model for inclusionary practices will review the meaning of "inclusion" and seven fundamentals that are essential to successful outcomes for sensory impaired children. Although the application of the seven fundamentals is relevant to both deaf/hard of hearing students as well as blind/ visually impaired students, the discussion, examples, and references will pertain to children with vision loss.

INCLUSION:

Although there are several controversies regarding the interpretation of inclusion, for children with visual impairments a full inclusion position statement from leading organizations* has clearly delineated the approach recommended for providing an appropriate education. This approach supports the philosphy of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, which states that "to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disablilites should be educated with children who are not disabled."
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*American Council of the Blind, American Foundation for the Blind, Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, Blinded Veterans Association, Canadian Council of the Blind, Canadian National Institute for the Blind, National Federation of the Blind, and the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
 

If the needs of a student can be met appropriately in the regular classroom setting, if the student has sufficient readiness and survival skills, if there are adequate supports and services available and provided, then the inclusionary setting will be appropriate for that child. However, if there are needs that require "pull out" sessions in order to teach and develop specific skills needed to accomodate for a sensory impairment, then a full inclusion setting will require some adjustment. Full inclusion which results in social isolation, poor self-esteem, poor academic performance, or lack of sufficient support sevices does not achieve the goal of IDEA. Instead of receiving an educational program in the "least restrictive environment" the student will be subjected to a restrictive educational and social environment which would result in lack of success or independence.

The following contributing factors for success provide a model for the provision of services within an inclusionary setting that may be considered the "least restrictive environment". This model is one that incorporates seven major areas that are crucial to student outcomes of independence and success.

I. STUDENT:

The driving force to address the programming for a blind/visually impaired student will be a valued and reliable assessment of the student's needs. This is what is basic to the devlopment of the program and services that will be provided. These needs are both academic and nonacademic.

Academic needs focus on the basic skills that s/he will need to maintain competence in the regular classroom setting. These academic needs include, but may not be limited to, communication (i.e. literacy ), internalization and application of gained knowledge, computer skills, mathematical abilities, and critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Communication:
basic reading and writing skills for children who are visually impaired has been the topic of numerous position papers and articles for the past several years. Questions arise such as, what is the best media of learning for the child, visual, auditory, or tactile; how well trained are teachers of the visually impaired to teach braille; and the most complexing question of all, how can my child attain better reading skills and comprehension?

A comprehensive learning media assessment and a functional vision evaluation are necessary to target and develop the skills needed for a successful visually impaired reader. Teachers who have received intensive training and are highly skilled in the use of braille and nemeth code must be provided to that child. Good habits in decoding and processing the braille will ensure basic reading ability. Strong concept development and language skills will assist in increased comprehension. Auditory skills, as a secondary media, should be considered by the educational team. Learning to increase and improve listening skills and to become adept at using compressed speech are important goals to also be included in the individualized program.

Internalization and application of gained knowledge:
experiences that are available to sighted children need to be provided both experientially and verbally to visually impaired students. How they internalize the experiences and concepts is individualized. How they apply this knowledge is dependent upon the instruction and direction provided by family, teachers, and community members.

Computer skills:
once basic skills have been attained the opportunities need to be available for students to have access to the technologies that will assist them in making accomodations to the regular school curriculum. The key to successful implementation of technological devices, or assistive devices, is twofold. One, there must be the resources available to provide the information of the most appropriate technologies, and two, the student must possess the necessary language, organization, and sequencing skills to be applied in using that equipment.

Mathematical ability:
without the basic math skills to apply to daily academic and functional activities, the student will be unable to keep pace with his/her sighted peers. Abstract concepts need to be offered by the instructors through manipulatives and hands on examples to aid in the acquisition of skills. Clarity of printed material for low vision students and well organized worksheets for blind students will help to simplify the math problems presented. A reduced number of assignments, well spaced per page with little distracting print information or illustrations will also be helpful. Incorporating math concepts into daily tasks will also reinforce the meaning of mathematical order and processes.

Critical thinking:
sequencing and consequences are areas that frequently present difficulty for blind children. Helping them to develop a sense of order and an understanding of the outcomes of certain events will enable them to perceive a more organized and manageable world. Through listening skills and questions and comments following that task, a student can be lead to a better understanding of how to have some control of his/her environment. "Why" and "how" questions are particularly important to offer throughout the course of daily instruction.

Nonacademic considerations are the psychological, physical and social needs that are essential for a healthy self-esteem and life style.

Psychological:
needs encompass the emotional growth and nurturing needs of a student. Both are very specific to the etiology of the eye condition and the life experiences of the child. Emotional growth is difficult since children with vision loss typically experience more stress than their peers. Using four senses instead of five means that extra energy is required resulting in more fatigue from orientation and mobility, more demands on memory and concentration and more continuous concentration to complete simple, daily tasks. Nurturing needs may be forthcoming but not met. Providing reassuring family surroundings for a growing child who is visually impaired can be difficult when parents are unaccepting of that impairment or harboring residual angers either towards themselves or the child. An atmosphere of support and one that increases the child's self-esteem without using overprotective techniques is the ideal. Participation in the whole family life style and being provided with increasing responsiblities will help the child and the family to produce an accepting and nurturing environment. Music, sports, outings, etc. should be included so that the visually impaired member of the family may gain exposure to the same things as a sighted family member or sibling and thus not become too engrossed in his/her own private world.

Physical:
needs include good nutrition and physical activity. Eating the proper foods is often a dilemma for sighted children. Blind and visually impaired children have the additional dilemma of not being able to observe and imitate the eating behaviors and understanding of certain foods. Additional information needs to be provided to them. For example, if a blind child has never been shown how to peel a banana or the difference between an unpeeled piece of fruit and a peeled piece of fruit, how can s/he be expected to take the initiative to select healthy foods. Thus healthy foods that are difficult to handle, i.e. to cut or to spoon, may be left uneaten. Physical activities often present a problem since difficulties with spatial and body awareness inhibit the participation of visually impaired children in games and activities in school, as well as in family activities that involve physical endurance. School staff and family members need to include the blind/visually impaired child in games in which s/he can be a player.

Social:
skills are frequently an area of teaching that is neglected in the inclusive setting. Like other components of the curriculum for a blind/visually impaired student this is unique to regular instruction. The subtleties that are observed by sighted children throughout the course of the school day are not perceived by the boy or girl without vision. Appropriate responses and appropriate social behaviors must be addressed in the context of the daily school activities. Learning to approach other students and being proactive in forming peer relationships must be taught. Role play is an excellent way to introduce the blind child to meaningful interactions with his/her classmates.

II. UNDERSTANDING:

In the provision of an inclusive program for a student with vision loss, understanding is multi-faceted. It encompasses the entire program being offered and is an ongoing foundation for its success. An understanding and knowledge of the eye condition, its impact on academic and nonacademic learning and daily tasks, is frequently not included in the information sharing. This knowledge is fundamental to the understanding of the child's needs. It is also important to know at what stage of the student's development the vision loss occurred. Understanding the parent's emotional response (as well as their child's) to the vision loss is needed by professional and nonprofessional staff alike. Are they able to work with an angry or depressed parent or student? Have they acquired the interpersonal and professional skills to work under stress and with the stress of the involved parties? Parents need to be reassured that most blind and visually impaired children grow up to be happy productive adults. Has the sixteen year old student known that s/he will not be able to get a driving license or has s/he just been told? Can the staff who work with him/her really be able to empathize and do they have the time to address it with the student? How will this affect the social life of a visually impaired adolescent? Many of these issues can be helped by an understanding and considerate teacher of the visually impaired and through the coordination of that teacher's services and those of a guidance counselor or social worker in the educational system. Providing the regular teaching staff with ongoing inservices to increase this understanding is necessary to create an atmosphere and climate of support for the student.

III. COLLABORATION:

Collaboration is a process. Nowhere has its urgency been more apparent than in the inclusionary practices of educators of the blind/visually impaired. Demands are made on the regular teaching staff that have not occurred previously. There are at least two components to be considered in the collaborative process of placing a child with a vision loss in the mainstream, or inclusive, setting. These are: teaming skills with maintenance of professional attitudes and objectivity, and the constraints of budget cuts.

Teaming skills:
involve the use of active listening, acts of compromise, and the ability to negotiate for the student. Members of the team need to overlook the political and/or hidden agendas that may so often color the outcomes for a particular student. Listening to the parent and listening to the regular teachers is the important role of team members who are professionals with experience in visual impairment and blindness. Making sure that the appropriate members are present in the team meeting is the role of the school principal or special education director. The chairperson of the team needs to ensure that all participants have an opportunity to share their knowledge and expertise and to clarify what they believe is in the best interest of the student. Successful collaboration between regular education staff and special education staff in the school will minimize the frustrations of the students and at the same time maximize their successes.

budget cuts constraints:
are frequently the cause of dissention and nervousness on the part of the parents and team members. There must be trust and credibility among professionals when reviewing the needs of the student and the most reasonable method of providing support for those needs. Some skill practice may be offered to the student through a paraprofessional under the guidance of the professional. Fine motor skill practice and braille skill practice are two such examples. However, in no way can the responsibilities specific to aspecial education teacher of the visually impaired be delegated to the paraprofessional. Teaching braille, for example, can only be taught by a teacher with the training and understanding of the braille process. If braille or large print texts or materials are to be supplied then the timelines must be considered and the available resources shared with the team. If assistive devices are considered then the assessment, appropriateness of the equipment, and the source of funding must be discussed at the meeting and the follow-up outlined and documented.

IV. CREATIVITY:

Creativity is the key to helping a blind or visually impaired student understand the world about him/her. Both the classroom teacher and the teacher of the blind/visually impaired must look at the presentation of concepts and content differently from their usual manner of presentation to sighted students.

Math:
can be introduced through manipulatives and concrete examples which are tactile and meaningful to the thinking of a blind student. Creating new ways for the child to perceive him or herself in space helps to introduce him/her to the concept of size and number.
Vocabulary:
and concept building may be learned with the addition of small outings (with the teacher of the visually impaired or orientation and mobility instructor) to clarify meaning and to expand the child's knowledge experientially.

Reading and Sharing:
what others have been able to do in other special education settings is helpful. Putting on a blindfold and going about your daily tasks can be very helpful for inventing new ways to carry out those tasks and to understand how the world appears to a child who has a vision loss.

Daily Living Skills:
offer a variety of ways to be creative. Teaching a blind child to tie his/her shoes, to zip up a jacket, and a myriad of other activities that are typically not included in the regular school curriculum, all present challenges and opportunities to think creatively.

V. EXPECTATIONS:

This is the "fundamental of all fundamentals" to bring about success in implementing an inclusion program for a blind student. It is only by knowing what are the expectations of parents that a relationship of trust can be developed. Both short term and long range goals must be discussed. Teachers of children who are visually impaired have an understanding of the demands of the school and its curriculum and thus can determine where the blind or visually impaired student may encounter difficulty. The program goals and objectives need to be revised as the child's strengths and weaknesses become more apparent.

Trust:
is only established when the professional makes the overtures to the parent to become involved in their child's education. By sharing information, teachers and other professionals open up the avenues of communication and trust which can bring the parent to realistic expectations for the programming and future goals of the student. Teachers must share with the parent what the child can do rather than what s/he cannot do. Parents need to be comfortable enough to indicate to the team what they would like to see their child gain from being in a program with their neighborhood peers. The unrealistic expectations of parents are often based on misinformation and a lack of understanding of their child's true abilities.

The school curriculum:
can be very demanding and is to be followed as closely as possible if a visually impaired student is to feel a part of the regular classroom and to be ensured a successful inclusive experience. The teacher of the visually impaired may make adaptations and have ongoing contacts with the regular education teachers in order to determine what best meets the individual needs of the student.

Strengths and weaknesses:
will dictate the expectations as the child moves up through the grades. Realistic expectations will grow out of the child's performance in school both academically and nonacademically. Greater independence will help to reduce the overprotective attitude of the parents and will build better self-esteem in the student. With increased independence the expectations for the student's success will also increase.

VI. STANDARDS:

In this model for successful inclusion, standards is referring to the comparison of outcomes that are expected of the blind/visually impaired child, versus his/her sighted peers, in an inclusive setting. There are two basic guidelines to follow when addressing standards for the student.

First:
there should be no relaxation of quality of work or assignments just because the student is blind/ visually impaired. Providing adaptations and modifications does not mean setting lower standards. Assignments must be turned in on time. Homework must be noted in a planning book. And correct spelling and grammar should be present in all written work. Extra time will be needed for the student to complete his/her work but the teacher of the visually impaired will act as the liaison with the regular education teaching staff to see that reasonable timelines are established.

Second:
parents need to be knowledgeable about the level of academic performance expected in their son or daughter's grade. Outcomes may be based on what has been researched with other blind/visually impaired children. However, at the same time, if the student needs to be able to do multiplication and addition, s/he will have to make every attempt to attain the same level of competence as his/her peers.

VII. SENSITIVITY:

Sensitivity is awareness, perception, insight, and caring. All of which are applicable to parents, students, peers, teachers, and administration.

Parents:
are sometimes unaware of the needs of a blind/visually impaired child. Overprotection is frequently offered to the child for reasons of parental anxiety, guilt, or simply ignorance. If there are no other siblings in the family parents sometimes do not have insight into what is normal behavior and what is inappropriate. Professionals knowledgeable in the field of education and rehabilitation of the visually impaired can be instrumental in educating and guiding the parent.

Students:
who have a visual impairment, not unlike children with other disabilities, frequently suffer from periods of anxiety. Parents and teachers must be prepared to address these anxieties. Feelings of being "unlike" their peers (especially in adolescence), thinking that people are looking at them, worrying about their own physical safety, and being teased; all of these are legitimate fears that may be the result of not being able to witness the environment around them. Thus, insight and caring are important qualities that need to be demonstrated by both parents and professionals.
Peers:
in the early grades frequently show a willingness to care for the blind student and to hamper the little independence s/he may have. Presentations to the class by the "vision" teacher will help them to understand that there are times to offer assistance and times to encourage their blind friend to do things on his/her own. Explaining how the world is experienced and handled by the child with a vision loss will help the younger children to be sensitive to the situation. Older peers of blind children are sometimes uncomfortable around them and so the blind youngster may feel excluded, or may not have the conceptual framework to socialize appropriately. Being the only visually impaired student in the school may evoke feelings of isolation and being "left out". Contact periodically with other young people with visual impairments will be helpful to afford them an opportunity to share and to understand that they are not alone.

Teachers:
need to be sensitive to a parent's anger and frustration. They must be able to have sensitivity to the parent's "sense of loss". Teachers also need to be aware of the family dynamics when addressing the child's weaknesses. Arranging for a blind adult role model is sometimes helpful for an older student and enables him/her to accept the fact that a blind person is able to develop a productive and enriching lifestyle. Teachers need to be able to communicate to a student that they care. They need to actively listen to that student.

Administrators:
must wrestle with the conflict of providing quality services and at the same time staying within budgetary constraints. They need to be sensitive to the fact that a parent can be very demanding to the point of being unreasonable at times. So great care and insight must be offered to reassure the parents that their child's needs are being given every consideration possible. Like teachers, administrators need to be cognizant of the family dynamics and the interaction of parent and child. For the teachers of the visually impaired, administrators need to provide staff development in such topics as Child Development, Parenting Skills for Parents of Children with Sensory Impairments, and Assistive Technologies and Appropriate Use.

SUMMARY:

As discussed, implementation of these seven fundamentals will provide a framework for a successful inclusionary experience for a student with a visual impairment. Addressing the student (S) need in an open and honest manner; understanding (U) the ramifications of a specific eye condition and the concerns of team members; collaboration (C) among all team members; creative (C) presentation of learning tasks; expectations (E) that are realistic and reasonable; standards (S) that can be met by the student and that are on an equal footing with his/her peers; and finally, sensitivity (S) to the feelings, ambitions, conflicts of everyone participating in the program, all of these spell " SUCCESS". Without the perseverence to implement these strategies, inclusion cannot be in the best interest of the blind/visually impaired students. For them to pursue a ‘dual' curriculum of academics as well as nonacademics it necessitates more school hours than the curriculum for sighted children. Teaming with both parents, special educators, regular educators, and administrators is essential to make the decisions necessary for preparing short term and long term goals that will include all the areas of instruction needed. Opposition to providing daily living skills, orientation and mobility, and social skills within the regular school day may often occur from parents and regular educators. It is up to those team members with expertise in the field of visual impairment to provide the necessary support for the student program needs. Without instruction in the nonacademic skills a blind or visually impaired child will be even further disabled in terms of independence and self sufficiency in the community setting. These areas make a significant contribution to SUCCESS for the students who are fortunate enough to be educated along with their peers and neighbors.

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illian M.Meieran, Ph.D.
Program Administrator,
Blind/Visually Impaired Support Program
Allegheny Intermediate Unit
4 Station Square, Floor 2
Pittsburgh 15219 PA
U.S.A.
(412) 394-5714 Work
(412) 363-7957 Home 

e-mail meieranG@AOL.com
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