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Self Determination for Students with Visual Impairment
By Beth Ramella, M.Ed., TVI/COMS

Equally important as the academics we teach our children with visual impairments or blindness, we want to teach our children a set of skills that makes them successful members of the community.  Every child with visual impairments, regardless of their cognitive abilities, should be taught self-determination and self-advocacy skills.  Self-determination means understanding one's abilities and making one's own choices, and is one of the foundations of independence and adulthood. For some, that may mean making simple choices or stating preferences.  For others, it may be determining life choices. 

Every parent wants their child to lead a happy life that fulfills them.  We want our children to set goals and succeed - every child- regardless of their ability level. Obstacles must be overcome to learn resilience.  Research has shown that people who are self-determined create environments of success in their lives. 

In order to encourage self-determination in students with visual impairments, educators and parents must provide them skills in the following areas:

  • Personal management
  • Problem solving
  • Decision making
  • Effective communication
  • Self-advocacy
  • Goal setting

At the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children, self-determination is one of the areas addressed in the Expanded Core Curriculum. The Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) provides a framework for instruction in a specialized set of vision-related skills for students who are blind or visually impaired. While students who are blind or visually impaired are expected to follow the same core curriculum as their sighted peers, there are certain areas in which they need specific instruction because of their vision loss.

As a parent, encourage your child to make structured choices.  Even as a young preschooler, you can decide things such as which kind of cereal you might like to eat for breakfast.  Give your child chores and responsibilities around the house.  Allow them to experience tasks from beginning to end (i.e. Laundry; reading or creating a print or Braille grocery list; locating items in the store and making the purchase).  There are countless opportunities to teach these skills in everyday life.  Encourage your child to "happen to the world" and not to "have the world happen to them". 

Beth Ramella, M.Ed., TVI/COMS, is Director of Outreach/CVI Project Leader, at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children. For more information, please contact the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children at 412-621-0100.

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