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Support in the Regular Ed Classroom
If you're a teacher faced with helping to make the decision for or against placing a student with visual impairment in a regular education classroom, it goes without saying that your goal is to place the child in the best possible learning environment. The question is, where exactly is that? Many argue the case for inclusion. Visually impaired students have many challenges. Those challenges should be considered before making this important decision.
The first question teachers ask is what sort of support will be in place for the student whose sight is not optimal? Most regular ed teachers have no idea how to deal with a student who uses braille. Therefore, a teacher skilled in teaching braille should be available to directly teach the student with this type of disability, as well as assist the regular ed teacher. This means both teachers must work closely together in order to make this situation work well. This can happen, but it requires a lot of hard work. Most school systems do not allow for a VI teacher to be available all day, so the schedule should be worked out in a way that meets the student's needs within the limits of the VI teacher.
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Challenges of Learning in a Regular Ed Classroom
Visually impaired students may or may not exhibit cognitive delays, but there are some learning considerations that may not be obvious. Young blind or low vision children are functioning in a limited world, where the sense of sight is either severely limited or totally removed. Learning challenges exist simply because the visually impaired child is not able to learn from what he sees. This carries over to the classroom. If placed in a regular ed classroom, will the child be able to make academic and environmental gains as well as he would in a school where teachers are trained to bridge these gaps? This should be considered when making the decision of best placement.
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Does a regular ed placement help the visually impaired child to adapt better on a social level? Many children with visual impairments have significant problems adapting socially in the regular classroom. Children may not easily accept a blind or low vision child without some direct support from teachers. Even then, social adaptation is unfortunately not easily accomplished. The ability of a child to socially adapt depends on the individual. Some children may make the adjustment easier than others. In other cases, a school for the blind may be the best place for a visually impaired child to feel accepted.
In this day and age, we hear a lot about the importance of inclusion. Visually impaired students can be served well in a regular education classroom setting, but the best placement for these children cannot be determined across the board. Each child's needs must be carefully considered in order to determine the placement that will best benefit the child and provide a stimulating learning environment for that particular student.
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Responsible Inclusion Belongs in an Array of Placement Options, by Phil Hatlen, Superintendent of Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired