Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Effects of the Proximity of Paraeducators on the Interactions of Braille Readers in Inclusive Settings

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Effects of the Proximity of Paraeducators on the Interactions of Braille Readers in Inclusive Settings

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article reports on a multiple--case study that found a relationship between the proximity of paraeducators and the interactions of students with visual impairments with teachers and sighted students in general education classrooms. More interactions were found with teachers and peers in the classrooms when paraeducators were physically distant from the students. The findings have implications for addressing the roles of and training for paraeducators.


Paraeducators have long been an integral part of the support of students in education. Prior to the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142), paraeducators were employed to support clerical and other nonteaching activities in schools. However, after the passage of P.L. 94-142, school districts were scrambling to meet the needs of children with disabilities using qualified personnel. As a result, paraeducators often became a solution for the support of children with disabilities who were being integrated into general education classroom (Marks, Schrader, & Levine, 1999; Werts, Wolery, Snyder, & Caldwell, 1996). However, even with this increased reliance on paraeducators, there are little empirical data to demonstrate the effectiveness of this practice.

In response to the need to understand the effect that the use of paraeducators has on students with disabilities, researchers began to explore which issues might exist in relation to this practice. Topics of concern that emerged included defining roles and responsibilities, supervision, training, and the proximity of paraeducators to the students (Downing, Ryndak, & Clark, 2000; French, 2001; Giangreco & Broer, 2005; Giangreco & Doyle, 2002; Giangreco, Edelman, Broer, & Doyle, 2001; Giangreco, Edelman, Luiselli, & MacFarland, 1997; Marks et al., 1999; Minondo, Meyer, & Xin, 2001; Riggs & Mueller, 2001; Wefts, Zigmond, & Leeper, 2001). Research on the use of paraeducators with students who have visual impairments is more limited; however, the same topics of concern that were found within the general special education population were also found for paraeducators who were working with students with visual impairments (Giangreco et al., 1997; Griffin-Shirley & Matlock, 2004; Lewis & McKenzie, 2009; McKenzie & Lewis, 2008).

Within the field of visual impairment, five studies explored these topics of concern. Griffin-Shirley and Matlock (2004), McKenzie and Lewis (2008) and Lewis and McKenzie (2010) conducted surveys that examined the roles and responsibilities of paraeducators in both public and residential schools who work with students with visual impairments and the training the paraeducators received and desired. Lewis and McKenzie (2009) added to the research by exploring the abilities of teachers of students with visual impairments to supervise paraeducators. The fifth study, by Giangreco et al. (1997), raised concerns that the proximity of a paraeducator to a student may affect the student's ability to function appropriately in the general education classroom.

Giangreco et al. (1997) conducted a qualitative study that investigated what key issues exist within general education when a paraeducator is present. The subjects were students who were identified as deaf-blind and had additional disabilities, including cognitive delays and other health impairments. Giangreco et al. used observations of the paraeducators and students in typical activities during the school day, including group activities with peers. In addition, they conducted interviews with adult members of the students' educational teams to help interpret the observational data. They found that the paraeducators tended to be in close proximity to the students on an ongoing basis. Eight subthemes emerged as being influenced by the proximity of the paraeducator: (1) interference with the ownership and responsibility of general educators, (2) separation of the student from his or her classmates, (3) the student's dependence on adults, (4) impact on peer interactions, (5) limitations on receiving competent instruction, (6) the student's loss of personal control, (7) the student's loss of gender identity, and (8) interference with the instruction of other students. …

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