Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Quality, Importance, and Instruction: The Perspectives of Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments on Graphics Use by Students

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Quality, Importance, and Instruction: The Perspectives of Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments on Graphics Use by Students

Article excerpt

More students with disabilities in North America are pursuing postsecondary degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM; National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics, 2011). The visual representation of quantitative data or technical schemata in these fields poses a unique challenge to students with visual impairments pursuing these degrees (Beck-Winchatz & Riccobono, 2008). Some students with low vision may access this information using vision (for example, with a low vision device or enlargement), whereas other students will need alternative formats that they can access primarily through nonvisual means (for example, tactile graphics). Teachers of students with visual impairments provide these specialized materials and instruction to visually impaired students, with the goal of preparing students to effectively manage the representational demands in STEM content areas (Rosenblum & Smith, 2012).

A well-established body of research exists that spans the last three decades regarding diverse techniques and innovations in the construction of graphics in tactile formats (see, for example, Bentzen & Peck, 1979; Brule, 1992; Jehoel, McCalllum, Rowell, & Ungar, 2006). Comparatively few studies examined the production and instructional value of graphics in adapted or alternative formats in the K-12 educational system. In a survey of teachers of students with visual impairments in the United States regarding production of materials in the Nemeth Code for Mathematics and Science Notation, Rosenblum and Herzberg (2011) noted that these professionals face a number of important challenges when producing materials in alternate formats to support instruction in STEM content areas. Rosenblum and Herzberg (2011) surveyed 166 professionals who were responsible for creating mathematics learning materials (for example, worksheets) for students accessing information through nonvisual means, 80 of whom identified themselves as teachers of students with visual impairments. A significant proportion (44.5%) of professionals surveyed reported that they received materials that needed to be transcribed into tactile formats two or fewer days in advance of when the student would require the materials. In terms of material preparation, most respondents indicated that they had received some form of training through university courses, conference presentations, workshops, or in-service (that is, "on-the-job") opportunities.

For longer, more complex texts in alternate formats (for example, textbooks transcribed into braille), teachers often rely on materials transcribed and produced at instructional resource centers, state or provincial agencies, or federally funded organizations such as the American Printing House for the Blind (Wall & Corn, 2002). Smith and Smothers (2012) conducted a content analysis of 10 mathematics and science textbooks, amounting to a review of a total of 598 tactile graphics. When each tactile graphic was compared with its print counterpart, 12.5% of the graphics had at least one major difference from the equivalent print graphic, and 6.7% of print graphics did not have tactile equivalents. Therefore, although the majority of print graphics were adequately transcribed into tactile format, teachers need to be aware that a degree of "creative license" exists in the production of tactile graphics (Smith & Smothers, 2012, p. 551). This may result in significant discrepancies between the tactile graphics used by students with visual impairments and the equivalent print graphics used by their sighted peers, as well as graphics produced for different purposes (for example, in-class tests and quizzes, large-scale assessments).

In addition to the production and quality of tactile materials available to students, researchers have examined teachers' perceptions of the utility of tactile graphics as tools for instruction. Sheppard and Aldrich (2001) surveyed 24 teachers of students with visual impairments working in both integrated and specialized settings in the United Kingdom, and reported the qualitative themes drawn from the questionnaires. …

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