As the parent of a young child who has cortical visual impairment (CVI), I have explained my son’s diagnosis to countless providers. When I say providers, we are talking about early childhood educators and interventionists, neurologists, occupational therapists (OT), ophthalmologists, optometrists, orientation and mobility specialists (O&M), pediatricians, physical therapists, special educators, speech language pathologists, and especially teachers of the visually impaired (TVI). Because of the lack of awareness, education, and knowledge of CVI across the board, it has fallen to this CVI mom to educate everybody who works with my son. When you are a parent of a child with CVI, you spend every single day fighting for your child to receive appropriate services, an appropriate education, and access to the curriculum and the world.
American Printing House the Blind (APH) is “the world’s largest nonprofit organization creating educational, workplace, and independent living products and services for people who are visually impaired.” Visually impaired is a term that makes me cringe because it rarely includes my son who has CVI. APH recently announced its plan for Making Big Things Happen for people who are visually impaired. Take a moment to read it. Do you notice what is missing? Our kids with cortical visual impairment are missing. There is no mention of CVI. There is no mention of how APH will step up for students who have CVI – the leading cause of visual impairment in our kids. APH’s announcement is another slap in the face for CVI families.
Parents, providers, TVIs, read the response to APH, below, by MaryAnne Roberto. MaryAnne is both a CVI Endorsed TVI, and a parent to two children who are blind, and she perfectly describes the imbalance of awareness, education, and services for our kids with CVI.
Read this letter. Write your own. It is time for APH, and others, to Start Seeing CVI.
Envision CVI Consulting, LLC, firstname.lastname@example.org
Craig Meador, President
American Printing House for the Blind, email@example.com
January 10, 2018
Dear Mr. Meador
I read your letter on the APH Facebook page about all the exciting things APH is doing in 2018 to “Make Big Things Happen”. As the mother of two boys who are blind, the information about advances in technology that will be highlighted and promoted in the new year was exciting. One of my sons is totally blind and gifted. He will benefit from the innovative technology that brings the written and graphic world quite literally to his fingertips so that he can access the same information as his peers.
Both of my sons are adopted, and spent their early years in orphanages in China where they were left to exist with no interventions, no education, no access to the world around them. The nannies in their orphanages loved them, I am sure, but had no ability to ‘break down the barriers of accessibility’ for them. They lived in a country where children who are blind are not educated, and are thought to be ‘less than’ the typical population of children.
People did not understand them, and gave them less than adequate tools to prepare them for learning and thriving. They were left out of most of what went on around them. And then, they were adopted, came home to a family with a mother who is a Teacher of the Visually Impaired, and father who is a former Health and Phys Ed teacher at a school for the blind. Their lives changed, and they are now thriving, learning, and in have great potential for success in their lives. Sounds like a fairy tale with a happy ending, right?
For the children with Cortical Visual Impairment in our country, there is no “happy ending.”
Like my sons’ experiences in China they are often left to exist in classrooms and programs where there is little to no appropriate education and have no visual access to the world around them.
They are taught by teachers who have had inadequate instruction in their diagnosis, and treated by medical professionals who often do not understand this complex condition.
Their true potential cannot be known when they are not given a chance to experience it themselves.
‘Band aid’ programming is thrown at them, IEPs and strategies are guessed at and implemented, and team members are satisfied that they are ‘doing the best they can’ to serve the needs of the largest population of children with visual impairments in our country.
And so, when I read your post as a mother of two blind sons, I was of course excited about all APH had to offer for the future. But, to be honest with you, my sons’ needs are well-known to their teachers. They are registered for the Federal Quota, receive all the adaptive equipment they need, and are given appropriate services. Their needs are handled by professionals who write accurate goals, collect specific data, and order necessary materials for them.
At the same time, I read your post as a Teacher for the Visually Impaired, and a Perkins-Roman CVI Endorsed specialist, and I was quite disappointed. Nowhere in your post did you even mention the diagnosis that accounts for more than half of the children with visual impairments in our country. There was not a whisper of new advances in research and evaluations, no talk of new technology such as CVI Connect, no discussion of the growing need to reach the children who are learning to read in new and innovative ways.
Your post screamed of Braille access and instruction and was deafeningly silent on the children who are not taught to use their vision to learn, but are treated as if they have no vision at all.
I am privileged to work closely with many parents who are rallying to fight for appropriate services for their children with CVI. Much like Helen Keller’s parents, these parents are not willing to sit back and let the ‘powers that be’ provide inadequate services for their children. They fight long and hard and are met with resistance at every turn, and mostly from the world of educators of the visually impaired. Their voices are getting louder, and their cries are beginning to be heard. Unlike the Kellers, however, many of these families do not have the money or connections to affect real change, but slowly, surely, they are making changes in their children’s lives. Yet, like Helen Keller and her family, who waited years to find an Annie Sullivan, these families are waiting as well. They are waiting for appropriate university programs that will educate future teachers on their children’s visual impairment, waiting for schools and programs to recognize the need for adequate services, and waiting for organizations like yours to put their children at the top of their priority list to ‘Make Big Things Happen’.
I write this letter to you as both an Annie Sullivan and a Kate Keller. As a mother of blind sons and a teacher of the visually impaired I know well the roads that both Annie and Kate walked. The road that Annie walked was paved with determination and fortitude. The road Kate walked was paved with tears and desperation for the little girl she loved so deeply. In our country today, there are far too many Kate Kellers whose roads are paved with tears and desperation, as they beg for appropriate services and materials for their children with CVI. The Annie Sullivans are ill-prepared to support those children or are not interested in learning new techniques. And organizations like yours with national and international notability and resources have added to their frustrations and desperation by completely ignoring their children.
As Annie and Kate, I am writing to petition your organization to provide more comprehensive education and materials that will support children with CVI in our country. CVI Connect is one product that can be added to the Federal Quota program to give access to activities and much-needed data to support the students in programs to develop their visual potential. By promoting resources and education in CVI, you will quite literally ‘Make Big Things Happen’ for children, who like my own sons when they sat in orphanages half a world away, have little access to the world. We can do better for our CVI kids, and we can give hope to the thousands of Kate Kellers who cry in desperation for appropriate programming for their children.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I would be more than happy to speak with you regarding your commitment to improve the lives of children with CVI through the American Printing House for the Blind’s resources and education.
Teacher of the Blind and Visually Impaired
Perkins-Roman CVI Endorsed Specialist