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Presented to the AFB Textbooks and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum 

Louisville, Kentucky

October 11, 2000 

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Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. Survey Information

A. Development and Distribution of the Survey 

B. Definitions

C. Acronyms

III.  Major Impressions

A. Respondents


Recognizing that timely provision of textbooks and instructional materials in the appropriate accessible media continues to be a major problem confronting students who are blind or visually impaired in America’s classrooms, the American Foundation for the Blind formed the Textbooks and production and distribution of textbooks and instructional materials and has as its goal the development of a coordinated action plan for assuring equality of access to instructional materials for students who are blind or visually impaired.

The AFB Solutions Forum is directly related to Goal #7 of the National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities (Corn, Hatlen, Huebner, Ryan, & Siller, 1995). This goal is one of eight goals that is being addressed at national, state and local levels. Goal 7 reads:

Access to developmental and educational services will include an assurance  that instructional materials are available to students in the appropriate media  and at the same time as their sighted peers.

The Electronic Files and Research and Development Work Group is one of five work groups of the AFB Textbook and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum that addresses different issues related to Goal 7. The other work groups include Legislative and Policy Making; Production; Training and Other Needs; and Communication and Collaboration.

The Electronic Files and Research and Development Work Group investigates the issue of how students with visual impairments currently access multimedia information and how this process can be facilitated.

The Electronic Files and Research and Development Work Group developed the Multimedia Presentations Survey described in this document. This survey has the following purposes:

  1. to learn about the current use of Textbooks using multimedia presentations (e.g., on CD-ROM) and the internet at schools,
  2. to gather examples of titles used in general and special education classes,
  3. to learn how teachers adapt or provide access to Textbooks that use multimedia presentations,
  4. to determine what attributes of multimedia presentations are adaptable and accessible and which are not,
  5. to identify the barriers and facilitators to accessing multimedia presentations by students with visual disabilities,
  6. to identify needs for training teachers in the use and adaptation of multimedia presentations for students with visual disabilities,
  7. to identify teachers’ current use of technical assistance resources in multimedia presentations, and
  8. to identify supports and initiatives at the national level that may increase students’ access to multimedia presentations.

The survey has several sections: major impressions; demographics; teacher knowledge; Access and Use of Multimedia Presentations and Access Technologies; barriers and solutions to the use of multimedia presentations and access technologies; useful and difficult features and adaptations of multimedia presentations; Current Practices Regarding Assessment and Access to Multimedia Presentations; and technical assistance for teachers of students with visual impairments.

Data are provided based on the researchers’ judgement about whether the number or percentage of respondents, or other information would be most useful for readers. When percentages are given, they are given for those respondents who answered the specific question. When the number of responses to a particular question is very small or when the number responding is of interest, the exact number is given (e.g., n=5).

This is an executive summary, emphasizing the findings and bringing together data from different questions in this and other surveys of the AFB Solutions Forum. It is anticipated that the AFB Textbooks and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum committees will review this report in light of the committee’s work and the work of the full Solutions Forum. As time and resources are available, the researchers welcome requests for additional data or presentation of data in different formats.

Within the next few months, manuscripts will be developed for submission to professional journals. At that time, a more thorough discussion of the findings will be available.

Survey Information

Development and Distribution of the Survey

Although the AFB Textbooks and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum stakeholders had heard of many alarming anecdotes about the lack of equal access to multimedia presentations, a national in-depth study of the nature of the issue had never been completed.  In October 1999 The AFB Solutions Forum decided that a national survey should be initiated.  The following timeline shows the processes followed:

October 1999  

The Electronic Files and Research and Development Work Group was the appropriate body to initiate the survey.  Dr. Jim Allan (workgroup facilitator) and Madeleine Rothberg, project director, National Center for Accessible Media, WGBH in Boston and a member of the committee, drafted the fist set of questions with Mary Ann Siller, AFB Solutions Forum Project Coordinator.  

The AFB Solutions Forum stakeholders met in Kentucky on October 21, 1999. This group consisted of textbook publishers, producers of specialized media, assistive technology specialists, policy makers, educators, representatives of Instructional Materials Resource Centers, parents, consumers, and representatives of agencies and organizations involved in the production and distribution of textbooks and instructional materials. The work group requested attendees give suggestions to improve the draft of the survey. The survey was also placed on the AFB Solutions Forum web page with the purpose of obtaining additional comments.  

December 1999

Drs Anne Corn and Robert Wall of Vanderbilt University received a contract to assist with further development of the survey, to conduct the statistical analyses, and to prepare the executive summary. Their work was to begin following the distribution of a pilot survey in March 2000.

February 2000

State coordinators of the National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities were contacted for assistance in survey distribution. They were how many teachers of students with visually impaired were teaching in their states and if they would be able to provide address labels. 15 state coordinators were not able to do so due to confidentiality and offered to send prepared packets to teachers in their states. Labels were purchased from the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) and the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER). In addition, lists of teachers held by AFB regional offices were placed in the total database.

March 2000

A pilot survey was distributed to 15 teachers who were geographically disbursed throughout the U.S. This survey was compiled using the committee’s draft along with input from stakeholders and those who responded via the on-line survey.

The completed surveys from the pilot were shared with Dr. Corn and Dr. Wall. They further developed the survey and returned it to the work group. The work group then reviewed the new version and provided input regarding such components as wording, additions and deletions, length, and format.

The work group determined that 2500 teachers of students with visual impairments should receive the final version of the national survey.  

April 2000  

State National Agenda coordinators provided an approximate number of teachers to whom the surveys could be sent. This number along with the labels received from CEC and AER, and the AFB regional offices totaled approximately 4,000.

In order to reduce the total number of teachers, an effort was made to first reduce duplications, i.e., names that were found on more than one list. Then, based on approximate numbers of teachers in respective states, a proportional number of surveys were assigned to each state.

During the week of April 10, 2000 the survey was mailed to 2,500 teachers of students with visual impairments.

May 2000

Although the due date was set for May 4, 2000, all surveys that were received by June 1, 2000 were considered for data analysis.


Multimedia presentations
refers to any textual material presented via a mode other than hard copy print or Braille. Examples include video, computer, internet, CD-ROM, and laserdisk. Multimedia software and websites can include movies, animations, simulations, audio, and graphics. Some software may take the form of a Textbooks while other software may be supplemental material that you provide. This survey was not asking about the use of videotapes or television, only about use of computer software or the internet.
Access technology
any device that allows a student to comprehend or understand the same information presented to a sighted student (e.g., screen reader, screen magnification software)
when the presentation of material is altered (e.g., providing a verbal description of an animated presentation on a CD-ROM)


AER       Association  for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired

TVI       Teacher of students with visual impairments

Major Impressions

  1. Respondents felt more comfortable with general technology than with technology designed specifically for students with visual impairments. This finding raises the question of the level of expertise we expect of a TVI for a given piece of assistive technology. 
  2. The general pattern of technology use for blind and low vision students is similar, except that low vision students seem to be more facile with a wider range of technologies. Blind students prefer the PC platform. Low vision students, while they use the PC platform as often as blind students, are more likely to also use the Mac platform. This might indicate that the PC platform is more friendly to users who have no vision. Or that the PC platform is better able to run the specialized programs that a person without vision is apt to use. 
  3. As one would expect, there were very different patterns in the use of access technology between blind and low vision students. Blind students are more apt to use Braille based systems while low vision students are more apt to use optical devices or a system that enhances the visual presentation of material. Nonetheless, it is interesting to note that a moderate percentage  of each group (blind, low vision) would use technology primarily aimed at the other group. This might reflect students with low vision who read in both print and Braille and, based on their acuity, were classed by their teachers as being "blind" or "low vision" for the purposes of this survey. 
  4. By and large, general technologies are being used by blind and low vision students similarly in public schools, schools for the blind, and by itinerant teachers. The exceptions are that PC computers are used more often in special schools. While teachers in special schools might use PC computers more often for both groups of students, they seem to be using them to access a wider variety of informational venues for blind students as opposed to low vision  students.
  5. Access technology use by blind students was not different across the job categories of their teachers, except that blind students were more likely to use Braille output devices for computers if they were in a special school. However, low vision students used several pieces of access technology less in all situations than probability would expect. For the Braille based technologies, this is understandable. However, it is surprising for screen readers and speech synthesizers. These are two technologies one would expect low vision students to be using in all educational placements. It also appears that of the three educational situations, a public school classroom is the placement in which a low vision student is least likely to be using these particular access technologies. 
  6. When blind students accessed multimedia presentations, they used verbal description as often as any specific piece of technology. Low vision students were slightly less likely to rely on verbal description but not by much. There was a generally wide range of technologies used by both groups. 
  7. The pattern of technology use by blind and low vision students is similar for districts that have and have not adopted texts with multimedia formats. However, the percent of technology use is higher for most technologies in those districts that have adopted at least one text with a multimedia format. This might reflect school divisions with a more aggressive technology development policy, teachers with a greater investment in the use of technology with their students, or states with more funds allocated for technology dissemination and training. It is impossible to tell what factors underlie these results.
  8. Teachers saw their own lack of knowledge and training as one of the largest barriers to students using technology more effectively. 
  9. Teachers note that slightly less than 1/3 of their students have, to date, received an assistive technology assessment.
  10. When presented with scenarios that might require the use of multimedia in regular education classes, teachers tended to rely on one of two responses: enlarging software (e.g., Zoomtext) or speech software (e.g., JAWS). When faced with a scenario that did not have an obvious access solution, a majority of teachers relied on verbal description.

Demographics Respondents

A total of 410 viable surveys were returned. This indicates a useful return rate of 15.89%. 65 non-usable surveys were returned. Responses were received from 44 states and 4 Canadian provinces. No responses were received from Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, or Washington, DC.

377/405 of the respondents (93.1%) indicated they were certified TVIs. 233/407 (57.2%) were members of AER.

Grouping job roles into itinerant, public schools (not itinerant), and special schools; 325 respondents worked as itinerant instructors (79.67%), 62 worked in public schools (not as itinerant teachers) (15.12%), and 20 worked in special schools (4.88%). This grouping of identified job categories will be used in several later analyses.

An average of 6.24 (SD = 17.42) teachers of students with visual impairments were reportedly employed in a district, co-op, etc. However, 29.8% reported one or fewer position per unit, 50.1% reported 2.75 or fewer positions and 75.7% reported 7 or fewer positions. This shows that for 1/4 of the respondents, they are functioning alone in their area.