|for Your Blind Child
State-sponsored services for visually impaired children are mandated through strict federal laws in the United States. But each state interprets those laws in different ways and in many places it can be very hard to find the help you may desperately need.
Why is it so hard to find good help? A big part of the problem is there just aren't enough vision specialists (also called Teachers of the Visually Impaired, or TVIs) to go around. Moreover, lack of adequate pay and heavy workloads turn many qualified TVIs away from the job. What can we, as parents, do to help?
First of all, know your rights. Read A Parent's Guide to the Americans with Disabilities Act and Chapter Nine: Legal Issues in Children with Visual Impairments. This will get you started.
Next, figure out exactly what your child needs from the state - you don't want to spin your wheels needlessly in search of services that aren't really useful. Once you know what you need, decide how you can gather the resources and money necessary to get it. Here are some suggestions:
- Will your public schools develop a program to test children and detect vision problems as early as possible? Children need to be recognized as "Visually Impaired" by the state school system in order to qualify both the students and the district for services.
- Do you have enough vision specialists and orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists to work with your child? You need to keep the specialist-to-student ratio as low as possible so your specialists aren't over-worked and your child receives the attention he deserves.
- Schools need to be able to provide students with necessary equipment, like large print or braille books, braillers, computer screen readers, or other assistive technology.
- All of this, of course, costs money and money in government can be hard to come by without someone out there fighting for it. Parents can get involved by organizing fundraising events, but it's also a good idea to know your politicians and find someone who can help you put together an adequate state budget for blind services. Organizing your own chapter of the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairment (or NAPVI) can help accomplish this.
The Hawai'i Association for the Blind (HAB) has suggested creating a political position in Hawai'i who will oversee political budgeting for blind services and work to bridge the gaps between Department of Health and Department of Education services. We'll see if this helps the situation in Hawai'i, which, currently, is pretty abysmal.
- Try being creative. If your local district has extra funds or if you can organize a group of concerned parents to raise extra funds, you can have your local school district hire specialists and purchase equipment without having to wait for the money to be allocated by the state government.
- When desperate, find your own specialist! Contact schools around the country and ask them if anyone is looking for a job (The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired keeps an updated list of colleges around the country that train TVIs), place ads on the internet, or contact organizations like The Association for Education & Rehabilitation of the Blind & Visually Impaired (AER). Once you have interested applicants, send them to the proper administrator. If you still don't get the specialists you need, it may be time to look into filing for a due process hearing.
- Write letters to your governor and representatives. Contact your local newspaper. Spread the word and get as many people involved as possible! A nice exposť in the local paper may be all you need to convince the state to allocate funds for blind services.
Don't give up! If you're persistent and contact the right people you will receive the services your child needs. And it's a wonderful feeling when you accomplish that goal!