School Closures: Emerging Patterns for Students with Visual Impairments

The first two or three weeks after schools closed due to COVID-19 have been chaotic to say the least! Resilient TVIs and COMS worked through the initial "how are we going to make this work?" with sweat, tears and sheer determination. Our amazing VI community has pulled together by reaching out to one another and sharing ideas - we are all in this together! The first couple of weeks focused on HOW to make remote learning happen. TVIs dealt with:

  • Making sure that the student had access to materials (brailled/print packets, tech, manipulatives, etc.)
  • Tech was connected to Internet and working properly at home
  • Teaching students/parents how to access platforms (such as video conferencing platforms such as Zoom and learning management systems such as Blackboard)
  • Working with general education teachers to provide accessible materials
  • Creating remote learning lessons (especially challenging for O&Ms!)
  • Scheduling individualized remote learning sessions (working with family schedules, especially for students who need family support)

For many, the first several weeks of remote instruction were full of trial and error! Currently, many K-12 school districts are headed towards spring break - which will give everyone a chance to breath and regroup. Now is the time to take a deep breath and think about what worked, what did not work, why, and to make adjustments. We are all learning how to adjust during this unprecedented time!

Techie TVI Virtual Meetups

So many virtual meetings and opportunities have popped up that TVIs, COMS, families and students are taking advantage of! Last Friday night, I had the opportunity of joining a "Techie TVI Meetup" video conference. The Techie TVI Meetups are a fun, informal chance to talk about tech, share, and chat about current tech-related topics. This particular meetup focused on how we've been carrying out remote instruction. This group of Techie TVIs previously met in person limiting the group to locals; however, with the current social distancing, the meetup was virtual and expanded to include TVIs from the west coast to the east coast and as far north as Canada.

Reflections Remote Instruction for Students with Visual Impairments

Our students with VIB run the gamut of abilities, ages, visual acuities and tech skills, making each student and situation different. However, as this Techie TVI group chatted, these educators discussed patterns that they have observed. While there are always exceptions, it is helpful to identify and analyze patterns. Below are the emerging patterns after the initial first weeks of remote instruction for K-12 students with visual impairments.

Students Who Use Screen Readers

As a group, students who have age-appropriate screen reader skills (and have access to their preferred device) have access to assignments and have the required skills to complete assignments remotely. Actually, many of the students have surpassed expectations! For many of the students who have 1:1 assistants or who tend rely on others in the school setting, working remotely has nudged these students to take responsibility. These students have stepped up their independence and are showing just how capable they truly are! These students rock!

Students with Low Vision: Caseload Flipped

The most surprising and unanticipated emerging pattern has to do with low vision students. Remote instruction has revealed many critical needs with this population! The Techie TVIs all shared about the complete "flip" in their caseloads, as the students who use screen readers efficiently are requiring less TVI time to access and complete general education assignments and the students with low vision are requiring an INCREASE in TVI support. With remote learning, students with low vision are spending an increased amount of "screen time" due to virtual instruction and the increase in online materials. Many general education teachers are assigning online materials, YouTube videos, and other "flip the classroom" teaching methods. This increased screen time is causing eye fatigue for students with low vision. For some students, this has become a critical issue! The eye fatigue is exacerbated for those students who lack equivalent AT at home. At school, the student may use a large monitor or video magnifier which may not be available at home.

The Techie TVIs concluded that many of these low vision students would benefit from learning to use read aloud options and/or a screen reader. Some of these students have been exposed to auditory, but have previously resisted using these options or have not yet developed efficient listening skills and/or screen reader skills. While the quick change to remote instruction has negatively impacted this group of low vision students, the take away is that these students will benefit from additional tools in their tool box now and in the future as their school work becomes more demanding in higher grades and college, and to be successful in competitive professional careers.

Family Members Perspective

Many parents are taking a more active role in their child's education during this time of remote learning. For some students - especially students who are very young or who have additional disabilities - parents are needed to actively participate during virtual instruction or to follow through and assist with hands-on assignments. For some students who are new to using a virtual learning platform, the parental assistance might be to initially help the student to access the new application. Many parents have been involved in helping to establish a home routine and a quiet place to do school work. Remote instruction has also given parents the opportunity to observe their child using his/her AT and to learn more about AT. Other parents have commented to the TVI that they had no idea how their child uses technology and how independent the child is with their technology. One parent had an epiphany, "You can use a computer without a mouse?!?" This has also been an informative time for parents to see first hand what mainstream apps and online resources are NOT accessible for students with visual impairments.

Final Thoughts

Take a minute to breath! We have learned the initial ins and outs of remote instruction and are now settling into our "new normal" routine. It is now anticipated that schools will not resume the traditional face-to-face classroom style this semester. COVID-19 school closures hit hard and fast; but we now have our feet back underneath us and are striding forward with remote instruction. While our K-12 schools have been embracing the digital revolution for the past decade or so, the long term school closures across the nation - and world - have forced us to make a huge leap forward. This new world has revealed many things - while we may be practicing social distancing, we are making connections with VI communities across the nation and across the globe. Without a teacher guiding every step throughout the school day, students are stepping up and working with more independence. Students with low vision who are experiencing eye fatigue, are open to seeking additional tools. Without immediate access to print materials and manipulatives, accessibility of mainstream materials is in the spotlight. Education, as we know it, is changing!

School Closures: Emerging Patterns Pinterest Pin

Comments

Posted by Kate Under GLASApr 16, 2020

This was a great post.  Thanks for shining a spotlight on what is currently being done online and at home.