by Mark Richert
A Campaign to Improve Results for Kids with Vision Loss
Since 1975, Public Law 94-142, now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), has revolutionized educational opportunity for all children and youth with disabilities. However, without key improvements, our national special education system cannot fully keep IDEA's promise of a truly appropriate education for students with vision loss. The Anne Sullivan Macy Act is intended to do just that, to improve the delivery of appropriate special education and related services to all students with vision loss, including students who may have additional, and potentially even more profound, disabilities. This comprehensive model legislation, drafted by the American Foundation for the Blind and endorsed by ACB and a growing coalition of leading organizations and individuals, is published at www.AFB.org/MacyAct. Once enacted, the legislation will ensure that properly designed and individually tailored services are in fact provided, meeting the unique learning needs of students with vision loss, and that the educators who serve these students are prepared and supported to do their jobs well, based on evidence-driven best practice.
The process for making this critical legislation the law of the land will begin early in 2013 with the bill's formal introduction in Congress. Over the next two years, the 113th U.S. Congress is expected to review and amend IDEA as part of Congress' periodic reauthorization of that law. The Anne Sullivan Macy Act can be passed by Congress at any time in advance of IDEA reauthorization, or it can be incorporated, in whole or in part, into reauthorization itself. In either case, the Macy Act represents our community's unified voice in support of much-needed improvements to IDEA. By calling on Congress to promptly pass the Macy Act now, we communicate our sense of urgency and that the changes we seek are long overdue. Even if Congress fails to act on the Macy bill itself as a stand-alone piece of legislation, it will nevertheless continue to be the source from which Congress will draw the specific proposals for change we are advocating.
What the Macy Bill Will Do
Named for Helen Keller's beloved teacher, the Anne Sullivan Macy Act would strengthen the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and improve results for the more than 100,000 children and youth with significant vision loss, including those who also have additional disabilities. Key provisions of the legislation include:
- Clarify that proper evaluation of students with vision loss includes evaluation for students' needs for instruction in communication and productivity (including braille instruction, and assistive technology proficiency inclusive of low-vision devices); self-sufficiency and interaction (including orientation and mobility, self-determination, sensory efficiency, socialization, recreation and fitness, and independent living skills); and age-appropriate career education. Such instruction and services constitute the Expanded Core Curriculum, the body of services which teachers of students with visual impairments and related professions are expertly trained to provide.
- Establish a national collaborative organizational resource, the Anne Sullivan Macy Center on Visual Disability and Educational Excellence, to proliferate evidence-based practices in the education of students with vision loss, to keep special educators current with the latest instructional methods, and to supplement state and local educational agency provision of the instruction and services constituting the Expanded Core Curriculum.
- Expect states to conduct strategic planning, and commit such planning to writing, to guarantee that all students with vision loss within each state receive all needed specialized instruction and services from properly trained personnel.
- Ensure that every student with vision loss is properly identified regardless of formal disability category or classification (e.g., multiple disabilities) so that all students with vision loss, including those with additional disabilities, are counted and properly served.
- Ramp up U.S. Department of Education responsibilities to monitor and report on states' compliance with their obligations with respect to instruction and services specifically provided to students with vision loss.
- Assist parents and educators of students with vision loss through regular and up-to-date written policy guidance from the U.S. Department of Education.
- Expand knowledge about the scope and quality of special education and related services provided to students with vision loss through refined data collection that tracks all students with vision loss, regardless of formal disability category or classification.
Why the Macy Bill Is Needed
We know that students with vision loss are among the most academically successful students with disabilities, and yet they are among the least employed. The situation for students with vision loss who also have other disabilities is even more disappointing. Far too many students do not benefit from instruction provided by a properly prepared teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) or orientation and mobility (O&M) specialist. Most students who do get to work with these highly trained instructors do not get to spend as much time with them as is needed. Instructors are frequently carrying enormous caseloads and are working with a tremendously diverse student population with widely varying educational needs and capabilities. By and large, states and schools make the erroneous assumption that all that kids with vision loss need is a braille book or a low-vision device (assuming that these critical services are even provided at all) and then the kid is good to go. This ignores the reality that students with vision loss can only receive the free and appropriate public education that IDEA mandates when they are evaluated and served in each of the areas of the so-called Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC). At the federal level, there is little currently being done to hold states and schools accountable for the provision of the full array of instruction and services, from braille to low-vision devices to independent living and other critical skills, that all kids with vision loss, including those with additional disabilities, have a right to receive.
The Macy Act is aimed at addressing all of these current and persistent obstacles to the provision of a truly appropriate education for children and youth with vision loss. In addition, teachers need to keep current with the latest developments in educational methods, and these methods need to be based on a significantly richer body of quantitative and qualitative research than is available today. In order to do their jobs well, professionals must also have up-to-date continuing education opportunities. The Macy bill would dramatically expand both the scope and quality of vision loss-related educational research and the availability of continuing education for professionals in our field. With the legislation's establishment of the Anne Sullivan Macy Center on Visual Disability and Educational Excellence, these objectives will be achieved while also making a wealth of additional direct instructional opportunities available to students who need instruction in the ECC through short course and other means not readily or widely available to most neighborhood schools across the country.
What You Can Do
Support the Anne Sullivan Macy Act today, and dramatically improve results for students with vision loss tomorrow. Join the more than 1,500 individual consumers, parents and educators from across America who have already done so and sign the online petition at www.AFB.org/MacyAct. Spread the word about the petition and this critical legislation, and ask family, friends and colleagues to join you in urging Congress to promptly enact the bill. Contact your two U.S. senators and your Congressional representative and urge them to sponsor the bill and work for its prompt enactment. Only by working together can we ensure that America's special-education system provides our kids an education worthy of their potential.