Why is it so hard to find good help? In many states, services for visually impaired children, though mandated through strict federal laws, are very hard to come by. Many parents find themselves battling with their state in order to receive the simplest services, such as the opportunity to meet with a vision specialist once a month.
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. However, lack of adequate pay and heavy workloads turn many TVIs away from the job. What can we, as parents, do to help?
First of all, know your rights. Here are some books that will get you sarted:
- Children with Visual Impairments: A Parents’ Guide (specifically Chapter Nine: Legal Issues)
- Special Education Law
- From Emotions to Advocacy: The Special Education Survival Guide
Next, figure out what it is you’re fighting for and how you can accomplish your goals. Here are some suggestions:
- Will your state implement a program to test children and detect vision problems as early as possible? Children need to be recognized as Visually Impaired by the school system in order to qualify both the students and the district for services.
- Do you have vision specialists and orientation and mobility specialists who can work with your children and who aren’t overloaded with too many cases? You need to keep the specialist-to-student ratio as low as possible so that our specialists aren’t over worked and our children receive the attention they deserve.
- 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 heading 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.
The Hawai’i Association for the Blind (HAB) has suggested creating a political position in this state who will oversee blind budgeting and work to bridge the gaps between Department of Health and Department of Education services, a sort of buck-stops-here type of person. 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 vision specialist! Contact schools around the country and ask them if anyone is looking for a job, place ads on the internet, or contact organizations like 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. Get as many people involved as possible!