2001 Conference Proceedings

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Alysa Chadow
California School for the Blind
Fremont, California
September 2000


Children who are both blind or visually impaired as well as multiply handicapped present a unique challenge to the Special Education personnel working with them. The tools and techniques that are used with a “normal” blind or visually impaired child may no longer be appropriate for a blind child who also happens to have other physical and/or cognitive involvements, either for pedagogical or even health reasons.

These children, however, are not different from any other special Ed population in their ability to benefit from the integration of assistive computer technology into their curricula.

The purpose of this paper is to provide a strategy for assessing blind or visually impaired multiply handicapped children for assistive computer technology in the school setting. It is a tool that should be used not only by classroom and vision teachers, but as well by occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, and even psychologists in providing the best education possible for the special needs child.


When a student is being assessed for assistive computer technology, he must not be viewed merely in terms of a single disability, but holistically. For example, all the students at the California School for the Blind are either blind or visually impaired and have other impairments as well. Many are unable to perform certain tasks either because they do not possess the visual ability to do so, or because they are otherwise physically or developmentally unable to do them. However, professionals working with such students must never make the assumption that failure to complete a task is due to only one of the above-mentioned factors. A complete assessment must be made by every member of the child’s IEP team in order to determine as accurately as possible just what is prohibiting a student from functioning in the school setting.

Conversely, many schools and programs do not necessarily serve students who are blind or visually impaired, but who in fact are multiply handicapped. One day the school or program is asked to assess a child who is not focusing on or tracking objects or responding visually to material being presented to him. He has significant motor delays and poor head control. It had been assumed that the student was not using his eyesight because he did not have the fine motor control or developmental capacity for it. On the other hand, he may have a visual impairment that has been previously undetected. Finding the cause of the child’s inability has tremendous implications for his educational progress.

When a child who is multiply handicapped is being assessed for computer technology, he should therefore be screened by a vision specialist regardless of previous medical history. If a visual impairment is ruled out, then the rest of the team can proceed accordingly.


The team being used to assess the child should be a multi-disciplinary one, and while it should include an Assistive Technology Specialist, that particular person must be the last person to see the child. This is because she can best evaluate the student after the findings of the either team members, and make the appropriate adjustments prior to the evaluation.

As to the rest of the team, it should consist of :
  1. A classroom teacher (if this is not an initial IEP)

  2. An occupational therapist

  3. A physical therapist

  4. A psychologist

  5. A speech/language pathologist
The reason for these individual team members is to provide the Assistive Technologist with as complete a picture of the student as possible. I have designed this team approach model as a series of three steps: The classroom teacher can provide documentation on the student’s in-class progress, while the vision teacher can screen for any visual anomalies that can affect the child’s performance. The Occupational and physical therapists’ evaluations can provide valuable information on the child’s fine and gross motor skills, respectively, so that proper seating, head supports, or other equipment can be written into the IEP if needed. The speech/language pathologist can screen for speech and language impairments that can determine what kind of output will be used.


(NOTE: The following case histories are loosely based on two students in my classroom) Penny is a 14-and-a-half-year old girl who has been diagnosed with severe brain damage due to prematurity. In addition to being totally blind, she has cerebral palsy (most noticeably in her fine motor coordination) and profound cognitive delays. Penny was placed in an SDC class in her home district before coming to CSB.

Since it was determined that Penny was not able to use a standard keyboard because of her physical and cognitive involvements, and because her blindness prevented her from accessing the screen without some sort of speech output, an IntelliTalk installed on a Mac was recommended for her. The inlays were embossed in both Braille and with raised line drawings, which the Speech/Language Pathologist designed for Penny. The touch format allows her to access the keyboard independently in order to select words for sentences, and the speech output allows her to hear what it is she is typing. A variety of inlays can be created based on the lessons Penny is receiving at school.

Carrie, who is also 14 and a half, has partial vision and some delays, although they are not as severe as Penny’s. She is also a Braille user. Carrie is high functioning enough to use a Braille n’ Speak, and she can also use a CCTV because she has enough vision to do so. In addition, she is learning to use a standard keyboard, and will be able to use a PC equipped with ZoomText. She can manipulate all these technologies easily because she does not have any fine motor coordination problems.


Using a multi-step team approach, Special Education personnel will be able to perform an effective evaluation of a blind or visually impaired student for assistive computer technology. While the role of the Assistive Technologist is obviously a vital one that particular individual does not need to be involved in the evaluation process ntil all other team members have assessed the child. Despite the time it takes to evaluate the student, this process is a thorough one and will yield more accurate results.

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