What makes the job of teaching the visually impaired so difficult? (and making it easier) 

Photo of Stressed TVI

For both students and teachers, the start of a new school year brings with it challenges – some new and some recurring.  

In our previous post, “Overcoming Barriers: preparing a university for differently abled students”, we identified some of the difficulties facing new students with physical disabilities. But what about the Teachers of the Visually Impaired (TVIs) and other staff assigned to instruct those differently abled students? What challenges face those front-line educators?  

Based on ViewPlus® continuous engagement with students, parents, educators, administrators, and support staff of educational institutions at all levels, we have identified some common situations and challenges which these dedicated teams frequently encounter.  

High Turnover 

Low pay, long hours, and the frustration of continual communication challenges, contribute to high turnover in staff. Turnover makes it difficult for teachers, administrators, and staff, to build and reinforce productive and efficient teaching approaches, based on decades of collective experience and collaboration.  

Driven by the pace at which new subject matter must be introduced, the workload for special education teachers is extremely heavy and the pressure for measurable results is intense. Creating, accessing, or finding readily available teaching material is part of that ever-growing workload, especially when STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) subjects come into play.  

Expectations for Social Integration  

In addition to academic progress, current educational objectives recognize the need and importance, of social peer-integration of differently abled students – for both its impact on learning (through social/peer reinforcement and interaction) and the student’s emotional health.  

Special education programs also encourage and expect both participation in sports and independent socialization during break times. In many cases, the teacher must lead, engage in, accompany, and support these “independent” activities, adding to their already intense workload. 

Physical and Mental Exhaustion 

The combination of these ever-increasing expectations (instruction, socialization, emotional support, preparation, education, and testing) can lead to fatigue, frustration, despair, and finally physical and emotional exhaustion.  

Consistency: Chasing a Moving Target 

Another challenge impacting both learning efficiency and stress reduction, is how to achieve consistency.  

Improvements in learning efficiency, effectiveness, and consistency, reduce stress on the educator. 

Consistency of Educational Approach: Depending on the specific education and training of the TVI, and where they may have been previously employed, differences might exist between the new TVIs approach to instructing blind and visually impaired students, and the expectations and approaches of the current educational institution. These approaches might require TVIs to quickly revise their approach and materials – adding to their already high stress levels. The long lead-time common in accessing and producing printed Braille teaching materials exacerbates both the challenge and stress.  

Consistency of Standards: Differences exist in the use of available Braille standards. Such differences significantly impact the entry and printing of mathematical expressions and formulas – whether in black ink or tactile format.  

Consistency of Learning Tools: Based on how often a new student with a visual impairment begins to attend a school or university, the assistive learning equipment on-site might be of a current or older model. Before the student arrives, IT and educational staff must collaborate and decide what equipment will be available for each individual student and how it should be configured to support that student’s unique needs and learning objectives.  

In some educational institutions, assistive learning equipment may be up to date, and in other institutions it may be 15 or more years old. When, for example, a new braille literate student arrives, staff will need to retrieve the required equipment, and test its functionality and compatibility with current computer lab and personal equipment of the student. 

Achieving Mastery  

High TVI turnover does not enable either teachers or students to achieve true mastery. In the longer term, turnover leads to discontinuity and shortcomings in the student learning process, especially for students who benefit from additional support and the emotional reinforcement provided by the trust built from consistency and personal familiarity with the instructor.  

Extended TVI tenure, uninterrupted by premature resignation or transfer, would result in improvement in overall teaching effectiveness and efficiency, as well as student learning achievement. Sadly, research reveals that, on average, a sizable proportion of TVI’s stay on their job for only one to two years. (Reference https://www.zippia.com/visually-impaired-teacher-jobs/demographics/

Making both Teaching & Student Learning Easier and More Effective 

How can some of the hurdles mentioned above be overcome? Given our years of background in creating assistive technology to help educators and individuals achieve their full educational and profession potential, here are the few things that we believe can have positive impact: 

  1. Think Big: Start with Big Goals in Mind 

Braille Literacy: Only 10% of blind and visually impaired students can read braille proficiently. It may be difficult, but this fundamental skill underpins and opens up the path to learning, better than anything else. Consider this statistic. Research reveals that over 79% of TVI’s are braille literate, meaning that they are an under-tapped resource to bring this skill to their students. Of course, finding a way to tap into this invaluable resource without adding stress to the TVI role remains a challenge. But splitting this role out from the TVI classroom instructor, may ease the burden. 

Gainful Employment: Currently, only 30% of blind and visually impaired adults are fully employed. We encourage and support educational programs for the blind and visually impaired that extend beyond high school – as a first step, through Community College programs.  

  1. Introduce tactile graphics:  

Integrate tactile graphics and STEAM objectives into educational curricula at all levels from K-12 through community college, university, and adult independent learning. Tactile graphics opens the world of education to the visually impaired, expanding the range of possibilities for their future.  

  1. Simplify Equipment Burden

Make “ease-to-use” a primary consideration in selecting assistive technology.  

Ease-of-use facilitates the creation of curriculum that can be used across all learning opportunities – by students, parents, and teaching staff independently. Standard braille translation software is just one example.  

Ease-of-use also means selecting equipment which is well-supported by its manufacturer and with live and on-demand quick-response support when needed.  

A solid base in braille literacy, tactile graphics, and STEAM education builds the solid foundation for learning achievement of the Visually Impaired.  

Availing TVIs, parents, and students of the newest equipment and easy access to learning materials will lead to higher learning achievement, more meaningful job opportunities, independence, and more rewarding lives for the visually impaired – and less pressure on the TVI. 

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