DEFINITION OF EXCEPTIONALITY
An exceptionality is defined as any condition or situation that may significantly interfere with a child's ability to learn in school. In some cases of Visual exceptionalities, the student may only need a related service and not special education. It is important to remember that the inability to see does not mean an inability to learn! In most cases, Blindness and Visual Impairment can be grouped together in both characteristics and definition:
- visual impairment and blindness are low-incidence disabilities, a student with vision loss may be the only student with this disability in his or her school or community
- students cannot access information beyond those things that they can touch or hear
- students are unable to organize their environment or develop concepts that are important in understanding connections in their world
- need to access information through direct experiences and hands-on, tactile exploration
- require instruction from a trained professional in such disability-specific skills as Braille literacy and numeracy, assistive technology skills, use of low-vision devices, career and life management skills, social interaction skills, independent living and personal management skills, and orientation and mobility skills
The following definitions and explanations are taken from the Alberta Education Special Education Coding Criteria 2012/2013
(ECS: Code 30; Grades 1–12: Code 56)
A student/ECS child identified with a mild to moderate visual disability is one whose vision is so limited that it interferes with the ability to learn and requires modification of the learning environment. A student/child who is designated as having limited vision should have a visual acuity of less than 20/70 (6/21 metric) in the better eye after correction and/or a reduced field of vision.
EXPLANATION OF VISUAL DISABILITY
The term visual impairment has varying definitions across North America. Partially sighted, low vision, and legally blind are other terms often associated with those with a visual disability. From an educational perspective, students described as having visual impairments or low vision are generally those who are able to use their remaining vision for learning but need to use a combination of compensatory visual strategies, low vision devices, and environmental modifications to access and respond to visual information.
Visual impairment can involve a loss of visual clarity (visual acuity), peripheral vision (visual field), or both. Some visual conditions also may result in reduced or complete loss of colour vision, sensitivity to even normal levels of light (photophobia), or rapid, involuntary eye movements (nystagmus). All of these factors affect the student's degree of visual efficiency or how well the student is able to use vision for learning. It is critical that students receive specific instruction and practice in the effective use of their vision to develop an optimal level of visual efficiency and functioning in various environmental settings.
Visual acuity is measured by comparing one's ability to identify symbols of various sizes viewed at a given distance (6 metres/20 feet). A normal visual acuity is 6/6 or 20/20. Near vision is measured in a similar manner using a test distance of 40 centimetres or 16 inches. Visual field is measured in degrees. Low vision is denoted as having a visual acuity of less than 6/18 (20/70) or less with corrective lenses, or a field of view restricted to 20 degrees or less.
Vision is a dynamic process that integrates sensory and motor information to derive meaning. A student's ability to use vision for learning is dependent upon many factors, such as the severity and age of vision loss, the timeliness and type of intervention, and the presence of additional disabilities. Therefore, student programs and services must be based on the assessed needs of each student.
A student/child with severe vision impairment is one who:
a) has corrected vision so limited that it is inadequate for most or all instructional situations, and information must be presented through other means; and
b) has a visual acuity ranging from 6/60 (20/200) in the better eye after correction, to having no usable vision or a field of vision reduced to an angle of 20 degrees.
For those students/ECS children who may be difficult to assess (e.g., cortical blindness– developmentally delayed), a functional visual assessment by a qualified specialist in the field of vision or a medical professional may be sufficient to support eligibility.
EXPLANATION OF BLINDNESS
Students with little or no functional vision for learning are considered educationally blind and primarily use Braille, tactile (e.g., raised maps) and audio resources to access instructional materials. Many of these students may have some residual vision, which can provide cues to enhance tactile learning or access to information. This can be an advantage in such tasks as learning to travel independently around the school. Students who have residual vision should receive specific instruction and practice in the effective use of this vision to help them develop an optimal level of visual efficiency.
Visual acuity is measured by comparing one's ability to identify symbols of various sizes viewed at a given distance (6 metres/20 feet). A normal visual acuity is 6/6 or 20/20. Near vision is measured in a similar manner using a test distance of 16 inches or 40 centimetres. Visual field is measured in degrees. The term legally blind is sometimes used to identify people with a severe vision loss. An individual is considered legally blind if central visual acuity is 6/60 (20/200) or less in the better eye, even with corrective lenses or if the visual field is restricted to a diameter of 20 degrees or less. Only 1 in 10 people, who are legally blind, see nothing at all.