Info & Tips

Navigating the Classroom: A Guide for Blind Parents

Most, if not all, K-12 school districts now use web-based apps and tools in addition to paper materials, from daily assignments to signing permission slips. One might think the apps would provide blind parents more access and bridge the accessibility gap, but not all apps are accessible for people with vision loss.

Web-based learning platforms aren’t new to educational entities. However, the pandemic changed how school districts manage and maintain successful and enriching curricula. Accessibility for people with visual impairments is often overlooked, not only by the app developers but also by the school districts. For the purposes of this article, the term assistive technology (AT) for the visually impaired is a product, equipment, or system that enhances learning, working, and daily living for persons with disabilities.

When to Ask for Accommodations

Classroom apps are great for teachers. Teachers use these apps to send homework, test results, grades, and calendar events like class trips. Teachers still rely on paper materials for students, but many are moving away from them to help the environment. However, when a parent with a visual impairment can’t access a printed notice or an app to access the information on an upcoming class trip, these methods become a serious barrier.

Educating those who are educating children sounds redundant, but it is all about communicating with one another. The one common thread parents and educators stressed is establishing a relationship and staying connected. Don’t be afraid to be the one to reach out. Waiting until the teacher asks for a conference might be too late. Explain your needs right away when you meet with your child’s teacher.

Remember, you have a right to ask for a reasonable accommodation. A straightforward and uncomplicated conversation is an excellent place to begin, followed by a written statement sent via email, which helps parents and teachers work as a team on behalf of a student. Parents like Rebecca Bridges, a blind mother of two sighted boys, ages seven and two, said daily communication via email or text messaging with her son’s kindergarten teacher kept everyone in the loop. She and the teacher found the best time to exchange information and kept to a routine. “Don’t be reluctant to remind your child’s teacher of your needs,” adds Rebecca, “more often than not, a teacher will appreciate it.”

What if this does not work?

If a teacher isn’t acknowledging or collaborating with you to find strategies to help, it’s time for you to do homework. The first step is research. Know your rights.

Acknowledging Resources for Additional Support

The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities and guarantee the right to communication in accessible formats.

Consult experts, such as the National Federation of the Blind, the American Council of the Blind, or the Blind Parent Alliance Facebook group.

Next, follow the chain of command and document everything from phone calls to email.

The steps mentioned here are basic and could be applied to most circumstances related to asking for equal access for yourself or a family member. 

First, identify the barrier. For example, is the teacher not emailing assignments in a format your text-to-speech program can read?  Is there a permission slip or contact card requiring handwriting?  What about a virtual learning platform that isn’t configured for assistive technology for the visually impaired?

Next, find the right person to approach. Begin with the teacher. If this does not result in anything useful, contact the school principal. If this doesn’t result in an action, go to your school district’s office and ask to speak to the commissioner. Finally, if you are blocked or ignored over a period of time and your documentation reflects a lack of attention to your attempts to connect, you may wish to consult with an attorney or organization affiliated with experience in working with a civil rights attorney. 

Remember, you are in charge of your child’s success in the classroom. When it becomes a challenge, advocating for your rights to help your child is the key.  Whenever it is better to work around the barriers and when it makes sense to push through them, find the support and don’t give up. 

“Be kind, be courteous, but be persistent,” says Rebecca.

Outlook Enrichment is a local nonprofit organization with experience helping people with vision loss request accommodations. If you need help asking your child’s school for accommodations to support their education properly or more information about assistive technology for the visually impaired, contact us today to get your questions answered.

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