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Winter 2001 Table of Contents
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What is the Expanded Core Curriculum for Blind and Visually Impaired Students?

By Cyral Miller, Director of Outreach, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

At this time of year, many families and professionals are beginning to prepare for their annual IEP meetings. As you know, team members gather to review assessment on the current progress of each student enrolled in special education, and jointly determine future priorities and programming. Often parents are unsure whether the programs offered to their children are truly appropriate. They may not feel confident that they know what to advocate for, especially beyond typical academic coursework. Each family knows that a visual impairment affects multiple aspects of their child's life, but some families may not be able to articulate how those differences can or should be addressed by the school.

The National Agenda for Blind and Visually Impaired Children and Youths, Including Those with Additional Disabilities, is a national project aimed at achieving eight priority goals for improving the quality of educational services for students with visual impairments. (More information on the National Agenda and a full copy of the article excerpted below can be found at http://www.tsbvi.edu/agenda/.) For parents to be full partners in the educational process, they must be knowledgeable about the kinds of programming that is appropriate for their children. Goal 8 states that instruction should reflect the assessed needs of each student in all areas of academic and disability-specific core curriculum. These areas of emphasis have also been called the expanded core curriculum, and reflect an agreement within the educational field that areas beyond academics must be addressed within a comprehensive educational program. Assessments in all areas that determine each child's strengths and weaknesses can be used to help families and educational staff build a program together that truly addresses life-long competencies.

In 1996, Dr. Phil Hatlen wrote a description of the core curriculum for the National Agenda. Excerpts of his article are included below (full text is found at http://www.tsbvi.edu/agenda/ ).

Educators define "core curriculum" as the knowledge and skills expected to be learned by a student by high school graduation. Generally, the core curriculum consists of knowledge and skills related to academic subjects. Mastery of the core curriculum is what both parents and teachers stress as essential for academic success in school, and later in life. . . This core curriculum becomes the foundation for almost all learning, from kindergarten through high school. With respect to blind and visually impaired students, the existing core curriculum, as developed for sighted students, is entirely appropriate and generally available. Because educators of visually impaired students have developed expertise in curriculum adaptation, it should be possible to take any curriculum that has been developed and make it readily available for visually impaired learners.

But most professionals hold a strong position that there is an expanded core curriculum for visually impaired students that requires additional areas of learning.

There are experiences and concepts casually and incidentally learned by sighted students that must be systematically and sequentially taught to the visually impaired student. The core curriculum for visually impaired students is not the same as for sighted students. Indeed, it is much larger and more complex.

The existence of special needs, or a unique core curriculum for blind and visually impaired students, has been known for years. References to the subject of grooming skills date back as far as 1891. . .

Although states determine the content of the core curriculum individually, most states demand that competencies in basic subjects be mastered. The following example incorporates these basic subjects and adds the expanded core curriculum for visually impaired students:

The Core Curriculum for Blind and Visually Impaired Children and Youths


The Existing Core Curriculum

The Expanded Core Curriculum

A short description for each of these areas of expanded core curriculum follow:

Compensatory or Functional Academic Skills, Including Communication Modes

(Note: for this area of the expanded core curriculum for blind and visually impaired students, a distinction must be made between compensatory skills and functional skills. Compensatory skills are those needed by blind and visually impaired students in order to access all areas of core curriculum. Mastery of compensatory skills will usually mean that the visually impaired student has access to learning in a manner equal to that of sighted peers. Functional skills refers to the skills that students with multiple disabilities learn that provide them with the opportunity to work, play, socialize, and take care of personal needs to the highest level possible.)

Compensatory and functional skills include such learning experiences as concept development, spatial understanding, study and organizational skills, speaking and listening skills, and adaptations necessary for accessing all areas of the existing core curriculum. Communication needs will vary, depending on degree of functional vision, effects of additional disabilities, and the task to be done. Children may use braille, large print, print with the use of optical devices, regular print, tactile symbols, a calendar system, sign language, and/or recorded materials to communicate. Regardless, each student will need instruction from a teacher with professional preparation to instruct students with visual impairments in each of the compensatory and functional skills they need to master. . .

Orientation and Mobility

As a part of the expanded core curriculum, orientation and mobility is a vital area of learning. Specialists who have been specifically prepared to teach orientation and mobility to blind and visually impaired learners are necessary in the delivery of this curriculum. Students will need to learn about themselves and the environment in which they move - from basic body image to independent travel in rural areas and busy cities. . . The expanded core curriculum must include emphasis on the fundamental need and basic right of visually impaired persons to travel as independently as possible, enjoying and learning from the environment through which they are passing to the greatest extent possible.

Social Interaction Skills

Almost all social skills used by sighted children and adults have been learned by visually observing the environment and other persons, and behaving in socially appropriate ways based on that information. Social interaction skills are not learned casually and incidentally by blind and visually impaired individuals as they are by sighted persons. Social skills must be carefully, consciously, and sequentially taught to blind and visually impaired students. . .

Independent Living Skills

This area of the expanded core curriculum is often referred to as "daily living skills." It consists of all the tasks and functions persons perform, in accordance with their abilities, in order to lead lives as independently as possible. These curricular needs are varied, as they include skills in personal hygiene, food preparation, money management, time monitoring, organization, etc. . . The skills and knowledge that sighted students acquire by casually and incidentally observing and interacting with their environment are often difficult, if not impossible, for blind and visually impaired students to learn without direct, sequential instruction by knowledgeable persons.

Recreation and Leisure Skills

Skills in recreation and leisure are seldom offered as a part of the existing core curriculum. Rather, physical education in the form of team games and athletics are the usual way in which physical fitness needs are met for sighted students. Many of the activities in physical education are excellent and appropriate for visually impaired students. In addition, however, these students need to develop activities in recreation and leisure that they can enjoy throughout their adult lives. . . The teaching of recreation and leisure skills to blind and visually impaired students must be planned and deliberately taught, and should focus on the development of life-long skills.

Career Education

There is a need for general vocational education, as offered in the traditional core curriculum, as well as the need for career education offered specifically for blind and visually impaired students. Many of the skills and knowledge offered to all students through vocational education can be of value to blind and visually impaired students. They will not be sufficient, however, to prepare students for adult life, since such instruction assumes a basic knowledge of the world of work based on prior visual experiences. . . Because unemployment and underemployment have been the leading problems facing adult visually impaired persons in the United States, this portion of the expanded core curriculum is vital to students, and should be part of the expanded curriculum for even the youngest of these individuals.


Technology is a tool to unlock learning and expand the horizons of students. It is not, in reality, a curriculum area. However, it is added to the expanded core curriculum because technology occupies a special place in the education of blind and visually impaired students. Technology can be a great equalizer. For the braille user, it allows the student to provide feedback to teachers by first producing material in braille for personal use, and then in print for the teacher, classmates, and parents. It gives blind persons the capability of storing and retrieving information. It brings the gift of a library under the fingertips of the visually impaired person. Technology enhances communication and learning, as well as expands the world of blind and visually impaired persons in many significant ways. Thus, technology is a tool to master, and is essential as a part of the expanded core curriculum.

Visual Efficiency Skills

The visual acuity of children diagnosed as being visually impaired varies greatly. Through the use of thorough, systematic training, most students with remaining functional vision can be taught to better and more efficiently utilize their remaining vision. The responsibility for performing a functional vision assessment, planning appropriate learning activities for effective visual utilization, and instructing students in using their functional vision in effective and efficient ways is clearly an area of the expanded core curriculum. Educational responsibility for teaching visual efficiency skills falls to the professionally prepared teacher of visually impaired learners.

As teams prepare for the ARD process, a thorough look at each visually impaired child's level of performance in each of the areas of the core and expanded core curriculum can yield valuable information on which to base recommendations for the next year's programming. Not all areas will have equal urgency each year, but to make informed decisions on where to focus, it is essential to measure progress and functioning across all areas. Families and professionals working together can and should prioritize needs in order to develop an appropriate and comprehensive educational program for the visually impaired student.

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Last Revision: September 3, 2003