Main content

Alert message

KC Dignan, PhD

Introduction

The term VI professional includes both teachers certified in visual impairments (TVIs) and certified orientation and mobility specialists (O&M specialists or COMS).

O&M specialists or COMS teach independent travel skills to people who are blind and visually impaired.  O&M service will help students with and without additional disabilities achieve increased independence and confidence.  These skills empower the person to travel safely and efficiently in a variety of environments.  Students who have had O&M services are more likely to be prepared for transitioning into their postsecondary environment.  A critical part of O&M service is training in functional settings, including the home school and community, as require by IDEA. O&M specialists hold certification from either the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (www.ACVREP.org) or National Blindness Professional Certification Board (www.NBPCB.org).

VI teachers or TVIs are teachers who certified in vision-specific needs of students with visual impairments.  TVIs are specialists in the expanded core curriculum (ECC).   A sample of these skills includes braille, social skills, use of assistive technology, and self-determination.  Teachers certified to teach students with visual impairments are certified by a state’s educator certification body.  (More information about the ECC will be available in the Expanded Core Curriculum chapter, which will be published in the coming months.)

Because of the limited number of VI professionals in a state, pre-service training and professional development can be a challenge.  This chapter provides information and resources to address those challenges.

Assumptions

  • Each state has a certifying agency that certifies teachers.
  • Administrators have access to the requirement for VI certification within their state. 
  • Administrators in mid-sized and larger districts may have access to a certification specialist in their district.  This service may also be available from education service centers or intermediate school districts.
  • Administrators may be less familiar with the organizations that certify O&M specialists.
  • States may use different terms to refer to the document(s) verifying that the VI professional is qualified to complete his or her duties.  For the purposes of this Toolbox, such document(s) will be referred to as the “certificate” or “certification.”
  • Pre-service or professional training refers to training prior to and during certification, usually by a university program or other qualified entity.  Professional development refers to training that takes place following certification and is usually provided by the district or regional service provider.

What are the training options for certification?

Although not commonly available at most universities, or even in every state, there are a variety of ways to access VI training programs.  The University Directory of Programs in Visual Impairments is one option.  It includes contact information, program offerings, financial aid information, and other basic information.  While the TSBVI university and college directory is updated periodically, information is constantly changing at these institutions.  Programs should be contacted directly for the most current information.  

Distance learning

For more information about training programs visit the University Directory on the TSBVI website: www.tsbvi.edu/pds/498-college-and-university-programs

With the advent of distance learning, people in states without a VI-training program are still able to access quality training programs.  The programs are delivered in an array of venues.  Some programs will be accessible entirely via Internet-based learning. Others will use a blend of interactive TV (or compressed video) systems, Internet, and face-to-face instruction.  Review the University Directory of Programs in Visual Impairments for basic information and then contact the specific programs for detailed information.

On campus

On-campus programs deliver instruction in a traditional classroom setting.  Students may attend courses during the academic year, or only during the summers. Undergraduate programs are often on-campus programs. Post-baccalaureate O&M programs often require some time spent at the university.

Outreach

An outreach program is when the university staff travels to another location to provide face-to-face training in that geographical area. These courses may be provided on weekends or during the summer.

Alternative routes to certification

With the increase in distance learning options, professional preparation is available in every state, even those without a training program.

More than half the states have some type of alternative or nontraditional type of certification programs.  These programs vary widely from state to state and from program to program.  According to the U.S. Department of Education (2004), alternative programs may provide instruction in a nontraditional way and/or emphasize recruiting nontraditional candidates (including those who may be a bit older, or have an existing college degree in a non-educational area) .  Although these programs vary widely, such programs typically include a period of intense instruction followed by a supervised and mentored internship with continuing professional development.  Many states have some type of alternative VI certification.  Contact your state’s certifying agency for specifics in your state. Note that no alternative route is available for an O&M certificate.

What are the requirements for becoming a VI professional?

VI teachers (TVIs)

VI teachers must complete those requirements set by their certifying body. Various options exist.   The most common approaches include:

  • a “stand-alone” VI certificate, not requiring any other certificate,
  • an existing certificate in another area (with or without a Master’s degree) plus a certificate in visual impairments,
  • a Master’s degree that includes certification in visual impairments
  • generic special education certificate, relying on professional development options for disability-specific training, and/or
  • successful completion of one or more certification examinations.

Contact your state’s certifying agency for state-specific information. 

O&M specialist (COMS)

O&M specialists hold a certificate from one of the following certifying bodies: Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP: www.acvrep.org) or the National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB: www.nbpcb.org).  Each organization has established training requirements for certification. It is rare for a state to certify O&M specialists.  Unlike TVIs, O&M specialists are not required to have educational certification nor experience in education.

What types of financial support are available?

Many training programs offer some type of financial support.  Those programs that have received federal grants are open to all residents, regardless of state.  State-based grants will be limited to that state’s residents.  Please note that specifics about financial support for students will vary from year to year. 

Some regional service centers, districts, and/or state education agencies provide a level of financial support to students in VI certification courses.  This can be an excellent recruitment tool.  The types of support offered may include tuition reimbursement, purchasing or loaning textbooks, travel assistance as needed, and/or release time so the candidate can attend VI-related courses or functions.

The University Directory of Programs in Visual Impairments provides basic information about financial support.  However, availability changes with every grant cycle and the Directory may be out of date.  Please check directly with the university.

What is the importance of “succession planning”?

Existing educators or paraprofessionals are often the best candidates to become VI professionals.

It is well known in the field that there is a large bubble of educators who are on the cusp of retirement. Between 2010 and 2012 the number of VI teachers in Texas who retired more than tripled.  Many state administrators are concerned about both replacing those retiring educators and providing an adequate supply of new educators for future growth—i.e., succession planning.  These proactive states provide some type of support for those individuals who want to be VI professionals but may not yet have a Bachelor’s degree. 

Succession-type programs are desirable for braillists, interveners, and other related paraeducators.  These special staff members are already familiar with the students and committed to their success.  Some paraprofessionals will have a Bachelor’s, and just need to seek teacher certification, perhaps via an alternative certification program.  Others may need to get their Bachelor’s first.  They may just need a bit of a ‘nudge’ to seek full certification. 

Frequently, the diversity of the paraprofessionals/support staff are often more representative of the community than the instructional staff.  Everyone benefits when the instructional staff is representative of the community.

The most important characteristic in an effective succession plan is offering information about future career options in a coordinated and systematic manner that is meaningful to the target group.  Simply referencing the availability of a program and offering a brochure found in your district’s human resources office is not likely to yield results.  The fact that an administrator has noticed their potential is powerful.  Having a conversation, even a brief one and then referencing the VI professionals in the district, is a dynamic recruitment technique.

How do we ensure adequate professional skills development following certification?

Pre-service training is only the tip of the iceberg.  It is impossible for any pre-service program to address the needs of all VI professionals.  The scope of student ages, functional impact of the disability and additional disabilities is just too broad.

Adequate and appropriate continuing education/professional development for all educators is a significant issue. For VI professionals is a serious issue.  VI teachers report being required to attend team meetings that do not have relevance to them, like the 4th grade social studies team or textbook selection committees.  They also report not having access to professional development in areas of acute need, such as cortical visual impairments. 

The focus for educators is now moving from “highly qualified” to “highly effective,” with the education field’s increased emphasis on testing and performance evaluation.  As a result, appropriate professional development is even more important than before.

Access to relevant professional development is not only important for developing and maintaining highly effective VI professionals, it is also a major factor in retention. Retaining existing VI professionals is becoming more important as the rate of retirement for VI professionals increases.

Critical professional development areas for VI professionals include the following assessment and instructional in all areas of the expanded core curriculum (ECC) domains including:

  • Addressing vision aspects of the core curriculum
  • Career and vocational education and transition
  • Independent living skills
  • Orientation and mobility
  • Recreation and leisure
  • Self determination
  • Sensory systems
  • Social interaction skills
  • Sensory efficiency skills
  • Technology, assistive and general
  • Visual efficiency skills
  • Related domains that apply to multiple students, such as
    • Deafblindness
    • Early childhood
    • Professional skills and resources, including itinerant management skills
    • Visual and multiple disabilities

Determining appropriate professional development

No professional preparation program can prepare a VI professional for all of the unique needs needed. Professional development that is tied to caseload needs is key to increasing student independence.

Administrators face challenges in helping the VI professionals on staff gain and maintain the skills needed to adequately perform their jobs.  Those districts with VI professionals usually have only one or two on staff.  Those that employ VI professionals on a contractual basis may not have any control over the nature of the professional development sought by the contractor.  Many states do not have internal, robust professional development systems in low-incidence areas, or systems that are responsive to the specific needs of the O&M specialist or the VI teacher. 

With the advent of numerous distance-learning options, many individuals are able to access ‘just in time’ professional development.  Professional development tools are available via Web sites, professional organizations, and/or private contractors. 

The first step is to determine what VI professionals’ need, where weaknesses exist, and what skills will be needed in the near future.  To assist both administrators and VI professionals in assessing and planning for professional development, TSBVI developed a Professional Development Log (PDF) or Professional Development Log (DOC)

Using the Professional Development Log

This tool provides a framework for administrators and VI professionals to review caseloads and plan for appropriate professional development topics.  It can also be used as a needs-assessment tool. 

When printed on 11” x 17” cover-stock paper and folded in half, the Professional Development Log acts as a folder to collect documentation from one’s professional development activity.  This will be useful for the VI professional when it is time to renew his or her certification and for the administrator to verify participation.

Regardless of the route taken to assess professional development needs, or the method used to access necessary training, the wise administrator recognizes that access to appropriate professional development is a powerful factor in retaining the highly skilled VI professional.

The Professional Development Log is a convenient way to plan for and record professional development activities.

The front page (or first page) of the Professional Development Log contains general information about the VI professional. This includes various common methods of professional development and a place for VI professionals to specify any requirements or limitations that may apply. Download the Professional Development Log (PDF) or Professional Development Log (DOC)

What is inside?

The inside (or next 2 pages) includes an extensive listing of appropriate professional development topics. These topics are organized according to the domains in the expanded core curriculum (ECC).  Additionally, there are topics that are organized by either professional areas or population, such as early childhood or students who are deafblind. 

Preceding each topic are two blank lines. The first line is to indicate needed areas. This can define the topical framework for upcoming professional development.  Users could either check off target areas, or use an initial to indicate the type of professional development, whether it was a workshop or independent study, for example.  The second space is to indicate the number of hours completed.

The last page is intentionally left blank. This is for making notes or other information to document.  For example, if the state has a form required for re-certification, it could be reproduced here.

Professional Development Log for TVIs

References

U.S. Department of Education. (2004). Innovations in education: Alternative routes to teacher certification.  http://www2.ed.gov/admins/tchrqual/recruit/altroutes/index.html

Reynolds, A; & Wang, L.  Teacher Retention: What Role Does Professional Development School Preparation Play?.(2005).  New Educator, v1 n3 p205-229.

Dignan, KC. (2003).  Analyzing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to VI professionals. (Unpublished internal report developed for the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired). Austin, Texas: Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.