Evidence Based Practices For Students With Visual Disabilities

Victoria Brown

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, a comprehensive education reform bill that required states to implement statewide accountability systems covering all students, calls for instruction based on scientifically based research, a term mentioned 111 times in the statute. Educators are thus required to utilize best practices with foundations in scientifically based research in their teaching.
Yet, for students with visual impairments, best practices are more often than not based on tradition, superstition, anecdote, and common sense, rather than science. This post will examine the literature on visual impairments to determine which practices are based on the hard evidence of scientifically based research, and thus in compliance with NCLB mandates.
NCLB defines the term “scientifically based research” as “research that involves the application of rigorous, systematic, and objective procedures to obtain reliable and valid knowledge relevant to education activities and programs.”
Research that meets this definition must (a) utilize the scientific method, (b) be replicated in more than one setting by more than one investigator, and (c) result in findings that converge to a clear conclusion.
Studies have shown that the following practices may be effective in teaching students with visual impairments in regard to literacy and math instruction. The individuals whose names appear in the parenthesis following each best practice authored the studies.

Literacy
1. Braille readers may be better able to process oral information than large-type readers (Brothers, 1971).
2. Haptic perception is sustained over time (Anater, 1980), suggesting that concrete hands-on experiences might enhance learning.
3. Reading Braille with the left hand may be more effective than reading it with the right hand (Hermelin & O'Connor, 1971).
4. Reducing the number of words in a Braille reading passage may not result in increased speed or comprehension (Martin & Bassin, 1977).
5. Poor Braille quality can slow down reading rate and accuracy (Millar, 1977,1987).
6. Drill-and-practice in Braille can lead to increased reading achievement, faster silent and oral reading rates, fewer reading errors, and greater comprehension (Flanagan, 1966; Flanagan & Joslin, 1969; Kederis, Nolan, & Morris, 1967; Layton & Koenig, 1998; Mangold, 1978; Umsted, 1972).
7. Braille reading comprehension decreases when other stimuli compete for the student’s attention (Millar, 1988,1990).
8. Leaving out words might decrease the amount of time it takes to read, but it does not increase comprehension, although it has a greater impact on news passages than it does on science or fiction passages (Martin & Bassin, 1977).
9. Training in and use of low-vision devices increases oral comprehension, reading speed (oral and silent), and the amount of reading accomplished (Corn, Wall, & Bell, 2001; Lackey, Efron, & Rowls, 1982; LaGrow, 1981; Smith & Erin, 2002).

Mathematics
1. Use of concrete mathematics aids can increase computation accuracy (Beicastro, 1993; Champion, 1976/77; Hatlen, 1975).
2. Comprehension of mathematics concepts can be increased with use of the Talking Calculator (Champion, 1976/77).
3. The English Language Grammar Method (a method of teaching mathematics by comparing it to English sentence structures, based on the work of Thorndike [ 1924] ), may improve computation (Sharpton, 1977).
4. Instruction in finger-math (using the fingers for computation) may increase computation accuracy (Maddux, Gates, & Sowell, 1984).
5. There is conflicting evidence concerning the effectiveness of the abacus (Kapperman, 1974, Nolan & Morris, 1964).
6. Computation using the Braille writer may be more accurate than either mental calculation or use of the abacus (Kapperman, 1974).

Development of only 16 promising practices in 50 years suggests that the field of visual impairment has a weak research foundation for its pedagogy. Consequently, much more research needs to be conducted. Existing literature is awash with articles about the impact of blindness on child development, yet studies of young children suggested that blindness in the absence of additional disabilities may have little impact on development. In the field of visual impairment, educators and other professionals have frequently espoused the use of techniques, procedures, curricula, and service delivery options based on little or no evidence. This field MUST challenge its assumptions and examine its procedures, as visually impaired children deserve the best that current research and pedagogy have to offer.

Kay Alicyn Ferrell. “Evidence-Based Practices for Students With Visual Disabilities.” Communication Disorders Quarterly. Austin: Fall 2006. Vol. 28, Iss. 1; pg