On the Future of the Field of Education of Students with Visual Impairments

Article excerpt

Just as the stock market seems to be having greater highs and lows lately, the field of education for students with visual disabilities seems to be moving in some very positive directions as well as experiencing some setbacks that are worthy of our attention. If the history of the stock market is an appropriate metaphor, then the overall trend for our field is the improvement of services. I am confident about the stock market (you may disagree); likewise, I am optimistic about advancements in our work toward better outcomes for students with low vision, blindness, deaf-blindness, and multiple disabilities. I am also confident that as we improve direct services for this population, we will also improve the professional lives of service providers and vice versa. What follows are my perspectives on selected "highs" and "lows" that may affect the future of the field of visual impairment and blindness.

POSITIVE GROWTH

There are numerous positive trends. The current generation of professionals in the field is collaborating in ways that previous generations did not. Because of the efforts of our predecessors, such as their establishment of professional organizations, we have more freedom to "think outside the box." We are finding ways to address multistate challenges, for example with the National Agenda for Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities (Corn, Hatlen, Huebner, Ryan, & Siller, 1995) and there is a renewed energy devoted to the adoption of the expanded core curriculum (ECC, Hatlen, 1996).

Services that increase links between schools for students who are blind and visually impaired and local schools are being created through the outreach efforts of schools for blind students. New technologies are increasing equal access to printed and electronic media as well as affording new freedoms for people with visual impairments and blindness. For example, Global Positioning Systems (GPS) aid in orientation and way-finding, while bioptic telescopic lenses and new state laws allow a portion of the population of individuals with low vision to receive driver's licenses.

We are increasing collaborative research. For example, the Alphabetic Braille, Contracted Braille (ABC) study, a longitudinal study, is the effort of multiple universities and organizations and includes subjects from across the United States and Canada. Research efforts are also underway that reach across disciplines. For example, the Seeing in the Periphery of Youth (SPY) project involves the combined work of experimental vision scientists and researchers in the education of students with visual impairments.

Multidisciplinary efforts are also beginning to take hold in direct services to children and youths. Several states--for example, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Georgia--are offering multidisciplinary pediatric low vision services in which clinical low vision specialists, teachers of students with visual impairments, and certified orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists are working together in new ways.

After years of having too few graduates of doctoral programs to fill leadership positions, university faculty and other key individuals and organizations developed a national consortium, the National Center for Leadership in Visual Impairments (NCLVI), which is housed at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry. In a few years, we can look forward to the NCLVI graduates providing new leadership in personnel preparation, administration, research, and public policy.

DOWNWARD TRENDS

We are also experiencing several trends that I consider "cautionary" at this time. The field seems to be embracing distance education as the primary means by which teachers of students who are visually impaired are prepared. Although the advantages of distance education have been found in other fields of education, we need to seek data that supports or rejects the use of this approach related to such variables as the quality of teachers and longevity of these graduates in teaching or leadership positions. …