There are approximately 10 to 11 million blind and visually impaired people in North America, and their visual abilities vary almost as much as their ethnic, racial, and personal characteristics do. The term "visual impairment" covers a wide range and variety of vision, from blindness and lack of usable sight; to low vision, which cannot be corrected to normal vision with standard eyeglasses or contact lenses; to moderate visual impairment and an inability to read the fine print in a daily newspaper.
People who are visually impaired, like everyone else, pursue a great range of interests and careers and participate in the full range of daily activities. They may need to receive training in various adaptive techniques in order to do so, and educational and other services and products are designed and available for this purpose.
Federal and state estimates used for planning educational services do not adequately account for the number of children in the United States who are blind or visually impaired. In some cases, only students who are legally blind are reported, ignoring those who have difficulty seeing but do not qualify as "legally" blind. In other instances, children who are visually impaired and have other disabilities such as mental retardation are not counted as visually impaired because they are reported in other federally defined categories, such as multiple disabilities. Tragically, because many 3 professionals lack the specialized skills necessary to recognize and address vision loss, there are also children with visual and multiple impairments whose vision loss remains undiagnosed throughout their school experience. The inadequate count of visually impaired children means that our nation lacks critical information about the need for specialized services for these children, and cannot correctly allocate the specialized resources and personnel required. Consequently, many children do not receive the appropriate specialized educational services they need.
Technology has revolutionized daily life for all of us, but it has had particularly dramatic benefits for people who are blind or visually impaired. Until only recently, the world of print was largely closed off to people with little or no sight. But the power of computers has now brought this world within reach for those unable to see. Computer technology, including specialized hardware or software that simulates the human voice reading the computer screen or renders hard copy output into Braille, designed to help persons with disabilities perform daily tasks, has changed the lives of countless individuals with visual impairments. Assistive technology has exploded many barriers to education and employment for visually impaired individuals. Students with visual impairments can complete homework, do research, take tests, and read books along with their sighted classmates thanks to advances in technology. Adults with visual impairments can continue to work and pursue a tremendous range of careers in mainstream society because of the use of computers and other devices.
The most common forms of assistive technology are the use of Braille, speech systems, screen magnifiers, and video magnifiers. Braille is a type of print that is raised 4 so that blind or visually impaired people can read by feeling the words with their...