The educational definition of visual impairment, as outlined by IDEA, determines eligibility for special education services and the need for specially designed instruction to access the educational curriculum across multiple settings. Unlike medical definitions of visual impairment, the educational definition does not stipulate any diagnostic criteria measurements (e.g., visual acuity such as 20/70, a visual field such as less than 20%) nor diagnosed eye condition. While it is best practice to ask for an eye report during the assessment for eligibility and reevaluation process, one cannot be required, nor can a visual acuity and/or visual field range be stipulated.
While medical treatments such as vision therapy are not provided in the school setting, associated supportive accommodations to facilitate learning may be implemented.
According to the May 2017 Office of Special Education Programs Memorandum “Eligibility Determinations for Children Suspected of Having a Visual Impairment Including Blindness under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,” students whose vision is suspected of “adversely affecting their educational performance (e.g., ability to read and write)” may not be excluded from being evaluated for a visual impairment. This includes students with visual conditions that traditionally have fallen under the practice of vision therapy, such as convergence insufficiency. However, the May 2017 memorandum does not require that all students that are evaluated for a suspected visual impairment qualify for services, nor does it state the nature and extent of the educational accommodations and/or services to be provided. In addition, it does not state that treatment and remediation of the disorder must be provided by the school. It is up to the LEAs to determine whether the students’ visual impairments may be adversely impacting their education and thereby need to be referred for a visual impairment evaluation by a TVI.
It is important to be aware that:
- Common conditions treated through vision therapy have the potential to impact a student’s educational performance. Students undergoing vision therapy may exhibit symptoms such as poor reading comprehension, inability to read for long periods of time, loss of place and skipping lines when reading, seeing double images, and headaches associated with reading.
- Students receiving vision therapy through a medical professional and also found to be eligible for special education based on visual impairment would not receive vision therapy services from a TVI. Rather, the TVI would provide visual impairment services that are determined by educational vision-based assessments (e.g., FVA, LMA, ECC) and IEP/IFSP/504 team decisions.
For More information on this topic please refer to the following resources:
OSEP 17-05 Memorandum: Eligibility Determinations for Children Suspected of Having a Visual Impairment Including Blindness under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
PaTTAN Recording: Educational Visual Impairment Eligibility – OSEP Memo 17-05
- This recording is just over 12 minutes.
- It reviews the salient points in Memo 17-05 on Visual Impairment Eligibility from the US. Office of Special Education Programs
- Viewers are encouraged to download the OSEP 17-05 memo (resource listed above).
“Vision Therapy and Educational Visual Impairment Services “What’s The Difference Between the Scope of Practice of a TVI and a Vision Therapist
PaTTAN Publication: Teacher Desk Reference: Visual Impairment
- This publication answers the following questions:
- What is Vision Therapy?
- Who are Vision Therapy Professionals?
- What is Visual Impairment?
- What Is an Educational Visual Impairment According to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)?
- Who are Teachers of Students With Visual Impairments (TVIs)?
- How Is Vision Therapy Different From Educational Visual Impairment Services?
PaTTAN BVI Webpage: Topics of Interest: Assessments
- Refer to the sections What is a Visual Impairment (p. 1-2) and Unique Needs of Students With Visual Impairments: Assessments (p.2)