Although the law (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)) requires that your child is served by a qualified professional, sometimes the reality is that your local school district has no teacher of students with visual impairments or orientation and mobility (O&M) specialist assigned to work with your child. In fact, there is a national shortage of both teachers of students with visual impairments and O&M specialists.

If the educational team for your child who is visually impaired doesn’t include a teacher certified in the education of students with visual impairments, you can request the services of such a teacher. If you are told that no such teacher is available, you can contact your local school district and its director of special education as well as the state department of education with your request.

If your child is in this situation and the school district has been unsuccessful in recruiting a teacher of students with visual impairments, there are still several options:

  • Your school district may contract with a teacher of students with visual impairments or O&M specialist from another district or agency. However, a professional in this situation may be assigned to work with your child less frequently then he actually needs. It is important, therefore, to make sure that goals are not being left out of your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) because the school district is concerned that there is not a qualified professional to teach the goals. Ask that your child be evaluated in all areas of the expanded core curriculum and that goals be established for any deficits in skills. The district may need to increase the time they contract for services for your child as a result of the IEP goals. Services may need to be provided after school hours, on weekends, or over the summer.
  • A teacher of students with visual impairments or O&M specialist may provide instruction to other members of your child’s educational team, such as a special education teacher or a paraeducator, who will then work directly with your child. This method can be effective if all the professionals involved have strong skills and are effective communicators. It is important that the teacher of students with visual impairments or O&M instructor continue to closely monitor your child’s progress, however, so that changes in his instruction can be made as needed.
  • Your child’s educational team may determine that your child’s educational needs may be better met at a residential or specialized school for students with visual impairments, often called a school for the blind (see “Exploring the Options for Your Child’s Education”). Ultimately, it is your decision as to whether your child attends such a school. It is usually best to respond with an open mind and to visit the school with your child so that you both have an opportunity to meet staff and students and evaluate the program.
  • Though not always feasible, you might want to consider moving so that your child is eligible to attend school in another district where there are more services or a school for the blind. If a move may be an option, research the special education services in the new district. Ask to meet with the special education director or a teacher of students with visual impairments to find out information such as how a child is determined to be eligible for services, caseload sizes, how a child who has needs similar to your child is typically served in the district, and how information is shared between home and school. Ask for contact information for other families and speak with them about their experiences.

Your state’s special school for visually impaired students (or one in a neighboring state, if your state doesn’t have one), your state vision consultant in the state department of education, and parents’ groups such as the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI) can offer suggestions and advice on making sure that your child receives the services of an appropriate teacher.