What if higher education was made more accessible for visually impaired students in Virginia through online resources?
Earlier this year, I entered the 10 Ideas policy writing competition. The yearly competition is by the Roosevelt Network, the largest student-run think tank in the nation. Policy ideas and solutions can be for the local, state, and federal levels. Categories include healthcare, human rights, energy and the environment, foreign policy, economy, democratic access, and education.
About my policy idea
My policy idea was on how to help students with vision impairments prepare for the transition to post-secondary education. My school district didn’t have a transition specialist or any additional staff to assist me in preparing for college with a disability. I didn’t know of any programs that could assist me after graduation. I spent many hours trying to figure out how to get services in college, what Disability Services could do for me, and what services I would need.
My policy solution involves a collaboration with the state Department of the Blind and Visually Impaired and the state Department of Education. They will create a website on transition resources for students with vision impairment. It will be for students, families, and teachers to access anytime, from anywhere.
I am so happy to learn that other people are on board with this idea. “Seeing the Future” is one of two education ideas to win the competition. It is also one of ten ideas overall for publication in the Roosevelt Institute’s 10 Ideas journal. Below, I have copied their summary of my 10 Ideas piece:
“The support and accommodations that students with disabilities receive end as soon as they graduate high school, leaving them no transition assistance for higher education. In 10 Ideas, Veronica Lewis from George Mason University proposes a partnership between the Virginia Department of Education and Virginia Department of Blind and Visually Impaired to create a website that helps visually impaired students learn about resources for them to pursue post-secondary education.”
Full text of the policy
Seeing the Future: Establishing Transition Services for the Visually Impaired
Written by Veronica Lewis from Roosevelt @ George Mason University
By creating an interactive website detailing transition services for visually impaired students through the Virginia Department of Education and the Virginia Department of the Blind and Vision Impaired, high school students with vision impairments can learn about the resources available to them in the pursuit of higher education.
BACKGROUND AND ANALYSIS
More than 8 million Americans report having some type of vision impairment, defined as vision loss not corrected by glasses; 62,528 of these people are primary and secondary school students. This number is likely higher, as students
with multiple disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, learning disabilities, and other health issues may also have vision impairments that are not reflected in these statistics. As early identification of vision impairment increases, the number of visually impaired students is expected to grow.
While in school, students identified with disabilities receive services and accommodations through a federal document called an individualized education plan (IEP). Accommodations may include large print, Braille, extended time, test
accommodations, and the use of assistive technology. Assistive technology is defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified,
or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities.” Examples of assistive technology include blindness canes, screen readers, video magnifiers, and high-contrast markers.
When preparing to begin post-secondary education, students are often unaware of the auxiliary resources they receive in high school or what resources may be available to them after high school. Some visually impaired students believe they cannot obtain any resources and thus drop out of school or do not pursue higher education at all. For working adults ages 21 to 64, the national unemployment rate for people with significant vision impairment is approximately 58 percent.
• Because of a lack of services available to them, or the perception of such, students with vision impairments are at a high risk of dropping out of high school.
• Nationally, less than 0.5 percent of IEPs are issued to students identified with vision impairments, so there are few students who receive accommodations for vision impairment compared to other disability areas.
• If students with disabilities, including vision impairment, are not provided with transition services, they may not know about or understand the resources available to them. Therefore, they may not pursue higher education at all.
• An online resource will allow students from any location to access information about post-secondary education, which they can also show to their parents, case managers, etc., to plan for their future.
THE POLICY IDEA
Creating a website, that is accessible anywhere and anytime, with information specific to post-secondary education, would be extremely beneficial. Because there may be only one student in an entire school district who needs transition services, a website is a more cost-effective way to reach students from various geographic areas- rather than relying on assistive staff to visit students or schools individually, possibly interrupting class time.
By collaborating with the Virginia Department of Education to build a website that outlines transition services for students with vision impairments, these students can learn more about the services available to them post-graduation and document what services they will need. An online resource will also show students that higher education is accessible to them, despite vision impairment, which may help to reduce the high school dropout rate in Virginia.
Because students may rely on assistive technology to access information on the internet, ensuring that the website is responsive to devices like refreshable Braille displays and screen readers is crucial. Enabling students to use their own devices will provide a sense of familiarity and encourage the use of the online resource.
School districts with a low number of students who identify as visually impaired will benefit the most in Virginia, as these districts tend to have fewer resources available to students, especially for transition services. With an online resource, students can learn about what they can do after graduating from high school and make plans to pursue higher education. With 29 percent of people with vision impairments living below the poverty line nationwide, and 54.5 percent having a high school education or less, increasing resources for transition services will help students not only graduate, but plan for their future. Increased access to resources will better prepare visually impaired students to enter the workforce, pay taxes, and earn a living.
The Virginia Department of Education, in conjunction with the Virginia Department of
the Blind and Vision Impaired, should create an interactive website that allows students to explore transition services available to them leading up to and through post-secondary education. This can include information about government agencies, disability services, and assistive technology. Most notably, the proposed website would give students the opportunity to document the services they receive in high school and create a printout that they can bring to disability intake meetings, assistive technology assessments, and other crucial appointments that may occur during
the admissions process.
• IEPs expire the moment a student graduates from high school. Because visually impaired students cannot bring an IEP with them to college, a disability services file or other document is necessary to continue services.
• 44 percent of visually impaired individuals between the ages of 21 and 64 have at least some college or a bachelor’s degree.
• Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act requires colleges to be accessible to students with disabilities.
• The Virginia Department of the Blind and Vision Impaired serves 5,800 people a year.
- Seeing The Future: A Proposed Resource For Students With Vision Impairments
- How To Create A Disability Services File
- Eight Things You Need To Know About Your Disability Accommodations
- Ten Things I Wish My TVI Taught Me About Transition
- AIM For College With Low Vision: A Free Webinar On Transition
It is an honor to have my policy idea published by the Roosevelt Institute in their 10 Ideas journal, and my current goal is to have a version of Seeing The Future in every state in the US, including my home state of Virginia. If you want to see a version of Seeing The Future in your state, please contact me and I will be happy to pass along free resources I’ve created to help make that a reality!