Currently, there are no AODA education standards. However, two AODA standards development committees have drafted recommendations of guidelines that AODA education standards should include. One committee has recommended guidelines for the kindergarten to grade twelve (K-12) education system. In this article, we outline recommended qualifications for teachers of visually impaired students.
The committee’s mandate from the Ontario government requires recommendations focused on the publicly-funded K-12 school system. However, students and educators with disabilities also face barriers in other school settings, including:
- Private schools
- Pre-school programs, such as early literacy programs
Therefore, all these settings should comply with the forthcoming K-12 education standards.
Qualifications for Teachers of Visually Impaired Students
Teachers of visually impaired students, often called teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs), support students who are:
- Visually impaired
Some of these students have other disabilities in addition to blindness or visual impairment. While students who are visually impaired attend class with non-disabled peers, they also have frequent lessons from TVIs, such as:
- Reading and writing in Braille
- Using assistive technology, such as screen readers and screen magnification software
Moreover, TVIs provide support to classroom teachers and educational assistants who lack training on how to present information to students in non-visual ways. For example, TVIs and other teaching staff should work together when instructing students who are visually impaired in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). TVIs travel from school to school to teach students in various locations.
The Committee reports that TVIs in Ontario do not receive enough training to provide their students with a high-quality education. TVI training consists of three (3) summer courses. However, in practice, many TVIs take only one (1) of these courses. Furthermore, the courses do not include a practicum component that would give TVI trainees supervised experience working with students.
In contrast, post-graduate training programs for TVIs, including practicum components, exist in other provinces, as well as in the United States, Britain, and New Zealand. Similarly, teachers of the deaf in Ontario receive one (1) year of post-graduate training to qualify in their field.
Therefore, the Committee recommends that Ontario should offer TVI training comparable to these more advanced qualifications in other regions.
Training for Teachers of Visually Impaired Students
A university’s faculty of education should offer a fully-funded Master’s program for TVIs, which should:
- Last at least one (1) year
- Include a practicum component
AODA education standards should require all new TVIs to enroll in this graduate program before they can qualify to teach. Likewise, current TVIs should receive professional development to gain the skills their new colleagues are learning in graduate school.
Moreover, there are not enough TVIs in Ontario to teach all students with visual impairments. Therefore, the government should provide incentives and funding for current teachers to become TVIs.
Finally, the Ministry of Education and the Ontario College of Teachers should consider the training requirements of teachers who support students with other disabilities. If a review of current Ontario requirements finds that training for these teachers is not adequate in comparison to training for teachers in other regions, the Ministry should make similar updates to Ontario training. Teachers of visually impaired students, and of students with other disabilities, should have the knowledge and practical experience to impart the vital skills their students will need throughout their lives.