When I visited Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) to talk about assistive technology, I admit that I wasn't sure what to expect from a school for the blind. This is a completely natural response, given I had never been inside a school for the blind during normal hours. It turns out, lots of people have interesting preconceived notions about what a school for the blind does and how it supports students. So today, I will be sharing seven myths about schools for the blind, and showing how the schools support students with vision impairments.
Myth 1- Students with low vision do not attend schools for the blind, it's just blind students
Who attends a school for the blind? When we were researching state resources, my family and I assumed that only totally blind students attended the school for the blind. While it's true that people who experience total blindness attend the school, they aren't the only students there. Some of the other types of students include:
- Legally blind students
- Students with low vision (that may not fit the exact criteria for legal blindness)
- Students with degenerative or progressive eye conditions/vision loss
- Deafblind students (dual hearing and vision loss)
- Students with multiple disabilities
In order for students to attend a school for the blind, they must receive a referral from their school district that says they cannot adequately provide for the student or provide a free and appropriate public education. From there, the school determines if the student is eligible and works with the school district to collect documentation. Sometimes, they will also visit the student's school for observation. If a decision is made for the student to attend the school for the blind, admissions works with the family and school district to place the student in appropriate classes.
Myth 2- Students attend a school for the blind for their entire academic career
Do students attend a school for the blind their entire life? Just like how a public school system supports students in grades K-12, with some exceptions for special education, a student at a school for the blind can attend the school until they graduate. However, this is becoming less common.
When I visited TSBVI, many of the students talked about how they would be returning to their home school district in the future. For many of the students I met, they were going to attend TSBVI for a year or two and then transition back into the general education classroom. The exact timeline would vary depending on the student's individual needs and circumstances.
Every year, the school for the blind and the school district meet with families to assess the student's placement. If the school district can provide a free and appropriate public education for the student, then the student returns to their home school district. Otherwise, the student remains at the school for the blind.
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Myth 3- Every student identified with blindness or low vision goes to a school for the blind
Do all blind kids go to a school for the blind? No, many of them are able to receive services in their home school district. Even though I was a student identified with low vision, I attended the same public school as everyone else. I have several friends who are totally blind who also attend/attended public school. Students with vision impairments in the public school system often receive services from a teacher of the vision impaired (TVI) that can provide educational supports for the teachers. Students also have an IEP or 504 plan that allows them to receive accommodations in the classroom.
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- Dear Elementary School Teacher
- Dysgraphia Accommodations in the Classroom
Myth 4- There are no programs for students that need short-term services, you have to be a student to receive resources
How can a school for the blind help me? Even if you're not a student enrolled at the school for the blind, many schools provide resources for students with vision impairments across the state. This is done through short-term programs, events, and online resources. Here are examples of programs from schools for the blind across the country:
Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired has short-term programs for families across Texas. This includes assistive technology trainings, summer programs, and other year-round classes. Learn more on the TSBVI website here.
I spoke at an event that took place at Maryland School for the Blind about preparing to attend college. While there were students from the school at the weekend event, there were also students and families from neighboring schools. I recommend following your state school for the blind on social media to find out about events like this.
Perkins School for the Blind has lots of great online resources. My personal favorite is the Paths to Technology blog, which features posts by students, TVIs, and other professionals about technology and various other topics. I also write for Paths to Technology. Check out the Paths to Technology website here.
Another great resource is Paths to Literacy, which is a partnership between Perkins School for the Blind and Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. They have many resources on reading and other important skills. Check out the Paths to Literacy website here.
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Myth 5- Schools for the blind don't have libraries, because no one can read standard books anyway
How do blind people read? When I first walked into the library at a school for the blind, I imagined there would be beige Braille books stacked everywhere. Maybe there would be a NLS talking book player lying around somewhere too.
Man, was I wrong.
The libraries at the schools for the blind that I have visited have been filled with lots of different accessible print materials. Large print books sat on the shelves, many with Braille stickers inside for students that are dual media learners. Braille books with tactile illustrations were open on tables for students to read. Audiobooks were organized on shelves so that eager readers could use a NLS talking book player or other device to listen to their favorite book. And there were also iPads and other electronic devices if users wanted to read a digital book through Bookshare.
You don't need to have perfect vision to enjoy a good book!
Myth 6- Every student uses a blindness cane to get around
Do all blind people use canes? I admit that I expected everyone at the school for the blind to be using a blindness cane to get around. Either that, or they would use a guide dog. This is an especially silly thing for me to believe, especially since I didn't start using a cane until college.
While a lot of students do use blindness canes, I saw a lot of students walking around without canes or other mobility aids. The same goes for faculty member with low vision. A blindness cane isn't surgically attached to someone's hand, they can use it as needed and put it away when they don't. Since everything was laid out so well, I found that I didn't need to use my blindness cane too much either.
Many students actually take a class called orientation and mobility in order to learn how to use mobility aids and to learn essential navigation skills. Examples of orientation and mobility skills include learning public transportation, learning how to cross the street safely, and how to maintain a blindness cane.
- Decoding Tips of Blindness Canes
- Using the Bus System With Vision Impairment
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Myth 7- Students that attend a school for the blind never go to college or pursue higher education
Can blind people go to college? Yes!
If you learn anything from visiting my website, please let it be that!
Students that graduate from a school for the blind receive a high school diploma, just like their friends in public and private school. They are also entitled to the same educational opportunities. A student with blindness or low vision can attend a two-year or four-year college and get their undergraduate degree. They can also get a master's or doctoral degree if they want to. Students with blindness and low vision can also choose to go to a trade school, vocational program, or apprenticeship. After graduating from a school for the blind, they will have the skills to succeed in higher education.
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I learned a lot from visiting Texas School for the Blind, and would like to give a special thanks to Cindy and John for showing me around and teaching me about so many interesting things. Even though it might seem that way, a school for the blind isn't too different from any other school. Students are given the tools and confidence they need to succeed, and the ability to thrive in a visual world.