Teachers for the Visually Impaired are the creators of a child's world


Meghan Krein

Globally, it’s estimated that 1.3 billion people live with some form of vision impairment — that’s the equivalent of the total population of Europe, Russia, Japan, Indonesia and Australia. Today, Oct. 10, is World Sight Day, an international day of awareness held annually to focus attention on blindness and visual impairment. One way Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College is doing that is with a new bachelor’s degree program that trains teachers to meet the unique needs of students with visual impairments: Special Education with a concentration in Visual Impairment

This program graduates Teachers for the Visually Impaired who go on to work with blind and partially sighted students across educational settings. It also leads to dual-certification in visual impairment and mild-moderate special education. 

The opportunities for a TVI are unique and diverse. Marc Ashton, CEO of the Foundation for Blind Children, says, “Everybody knows that a picture is worth a thousand words, but if you are blind and can’t see the picture, you need the thousand words.” 

“Teachers of the Visually Impaired are the thousand words. TVIs bring the world to a blind child’s fingertips by describing the stars, the clouds, how a bird flies, the size of the Louisiana Purchase and Mona Lisa’s smile. They teach in homes, classrooms, one-on-one and even teach adults who lose their vision later in life. TVIs at the Foundation for Blind Children go even further. They’ve taught blind students to climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, swim Alcatraz and score touchdowns on the varsity football team,” says Ashton.  

The goal of a TVI

A TVI provides direct and indirect instruction to students, birth through grade 12. They perform assessments to gauge a student’s visual ability and teach visual and compensatory skills, such as concept development and organizational skills; as well as communication skills, including sign language, tactile symbols and braille. TVIs provide instruction in the Expanded Core Curriculum, which was designed specifically for students with visual impairments. 

While the goal of all TVIs is the same — helping the student to live independently — there are many career paths from which to choose. TVIs have the option to work with babies, children, teens or adults, and can decide to work in a classroom, facility or home setting.

Early interventionist 

This person is the first call a parent makes after their child is diagnosed with a visual impairment. The TVI will visit the child and family in their home to answer questions and provide emotional support. These are the people who help create the child’s world: from helping a child understand where he is in space and how to move safely to the concept of night and day to peeling a banana. A TVI in this intimate setting becomes close with the child and family, often attending ophthalmology appointments and helping with the transition to preschool. 

Classroom TVIs 

In a school-based setting, the TVI is the classroom teacher — with two paraprofessionals — providing instruction on a daily basis to about seven students. They conduct vision assessments and implement visual teaching strategies while working closely with therapists and the student’s Individualized Education Plan, which includes goals to develop visual and compensatory skills. 

Itinerant teachers

These TVIs travel from school to school within a particular area or school district to work with the students on their caseload. This might look different in different schools. For example, a TVI may work together in a student’s regular classroom to help with the ongoing lesson, in an empty classroom, alone or with a group of students. The TVI might also meet with a student before or after school, depending on the schedule. Or the TVI might only observe a student occasionally in order to consult with the classroom teacher regarding progress.

Why we need TVIs

  • 36 million people are blind

  • 253 million people are blind or vision impaired 

  • 65 million people have diagnosed cataracts

  • 124 million people have uncorrected refractive errors

  • 217 million people suffer with moderate or severe distance vision impairment

Find out more about our Special Education (Visual Impairment) degree

Tour the Foundation for Blind Children and see a TVI in action.