What is Visual Impairment?

Careers in Blindness and Low VisionAccording to the National Eye Institute, low vision is “. . .any chronic visual deficit impairing everyday functioning that is not correctable by ordinary eyeglasses, contact lenses, medicine or surgery, and which interferes with the ability to perform everyday activities. . .”

Blindness and visual impairments impact all aspects of life: occupational, educational and recreational. Children with low vision may suffer developmental and educational delays. Adults with low vision commonly face losing their jobs due to their impairment. Senior citizens, who are the largest segment of the visually impaired, are subjected simultaneously to other health and social problems associated with aging, all of which impact their independence.

The many different types of visual impairments experienced by patients has necessitated additional and different interventions, education curricula and rehabilitation strategies and techniques, leading to an emergence of skilled rehabilitation and education professionals.

What do Low Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals do?

Vision Rehabilitation Therapists (formerly rehabilitation teachers) instruct persons with vision impairment in the use of compensatory skills and assistive technology that will enable them to live safe, productive, and independent lives.

Specific responsibilities include:

  • assessing and evaluating learners’ needs in home, work, and community environments
  • teaching compensatory skills and techniques to enable completion of all daily living skills, home and financial management, communication and leisure activities
  • developing and implementing instructional programs, case management, and record keeping
  • helping persons with visual impairment identify and use local and national resources, and facilitate psychosocial adjustment to blindness and vision loss

Vision rehabilitation therapists work in organizations that enhance vocational opportunities, independent living, and educational development of persons with vision loss. This may include working in center-based or itinerant settings, including clients’ homes and workplaces. Vision rehabilitation therapists provide individualized programs of instruction that accommodate the unique needs of specialized groups, including persons who are aging, deaf-blind, or disabled.

Orientation and Mobility Instruction is a sequential process in which visually impaired individuals are taught to utilize their remaining senses to determine their position within their environment and to negotiate safe movement from one place to another.

A sampling of the skills involved in this process might include:

  • concept development, which includes body image, spatial, temporal, positional, directional and environmental concepts
  • motor development, including motor skills needed for balance, posture and gait, as well as the use of adaptive devices and techniques to assist those with multiple disabilities
  • sensory development, which includes visual, auditory, vestibular, kinesthetic, tactile, olfactory and proprioceptive senses
  • residual vision stimulation and training
  • human guide technique; orientation skills, including the use of GPS systems
  • indoor and outdoor cane travel; travel in residential, small, medium, large business areas, metropolitan and rural areas
  • public transportation systems: buses, trains, paratransit and subways
  • crossing all types and shapes of intersections: stop-sign, non-controlled, light controlled, actuated, roundabouts
  • self-orientation and self-discovery strategies

Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TVIs) are specialized educators with unique competencies to meet the diverse needs of the visually impaired. These professionals work within the special education system to address the unique needs of children with visual impairments. In addition to working with the children (usually in a one-to-one relationship), these teachers work closely with other teachers, parents, and other people and organizations in the community.

TVIs are specialists in:

  • translating basic diagnostic information about vision and visual impairments
  • applying information from a student’s visual diagnosis to a functional visual evaluation
  • providing a learning media assessment

Based on these sources of information, TVIs develop a plan to best teach the student and work with others to address instructional needs, including basic core curriculum and student-specific needs.

Specific duties of a TVI might include:

  • teaching children of all ages from infants to high school who are blind or visually impaired, including those with multiple disabilities
  • teaching to the nine areas of the expanded core curriculum: compensatory or functional academic skills (communication modes Braille, high and low tech devices); orientation and mobility (sighted guide, orientation and indoor travel skills only); social interaction skills; independent living skills; recreation and leisure skills; career education; assistive technology; sensory efficiency skills; self-determination
  • working with other educations and paraprofessionals to modify materials to address the impact of the visual impairment

Possible careers for TVIs:

  • Early Intervention (newborns to age three)
  • Inclusive school or district based service (ages 3-21)
  • Specialized schools (state schools and vision impairment based schools)
  • Itinerant service
  • Self-employment options
  • Work one on one or in a classroom setting with individuals with a wide range of abilities (including but not limited to academically gifted braille users and those with medical fragility)

Low Vision Rehabilitation programs prepare professionals in rehabilitation, eye care, education and other related fields to work more effectively with people who have low vision. Emphasis is placed on an interdisciplinary team approach to service delivery.

More About a Career in Blindness & Low Vision