Visual Impairment and Blindness

American Foundation for the Blind wrote:

Why We Need the Cogswell-Macy Act

Today’s schools are not prepared to help children who are deafblind, deaf or hard of hearing, blind, or visually impaired develop to their full potential.

The Cogswell-Macy Act is the most comprehensive special education legislation for students with sensory disabilities to date. This act seeks to expand the resources available to these students, and their parents and educators, through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).


A young girl reads braille with her teacher’s help

An Even Better IDEA

Originally enacted by Congress in 1975, and most recently reauthorized in 2004, IDEA ensures that children with disabilities receive to educational opportunities in the public school system at no additional cost to parents.

IDEA is expected to come up for reauthorization soon, giving us an opportunity to strengthen current law. While IDEA has been successful at mainstreaming students with disabilities in America’s public schools, the law must be significantly enhanced so that students who are deaf or hard of hearing, deafblind, blind, or visually impaired can receive the public education that meets their unique learning needs and maximizes their potential. If enacted, the Cogswell-Macy Act would vastly improve educational and lifelong employment and independence outcomes for these students.

Toward Improved Education for All Students

Named for the first deaf student to be formally educated in the U.S. and for Helen Keller’s beloved teacher, respectively, the Cogswell-Macy Act will:

Ensure that students who are deafblind, blind, visually impaired, or deaf or hard of hearing receive the expert instruction and services they need to succeed in school and beyond. Children who are blind or visually impaired need to study the same basic academic subjects that sighted children do, but in order to master these subjects (often known as the “core curriculum”) and complete their schoolwork—as well as to eventually live and work independently—children who are visually impaired usually need to learn an additional set of skills known as the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC). The ECC is most frequently taught in specialized schools for students who are blind, and is not yet fully incorporated into the curriculum of mainstream schools. Specialized educational areas needed by students with visual disabilities include communication and productivity (including braille instruction, and assistive technology proficiency inclusive of low vision devices where appropriate); self-sufficiency and social interaction (including orientation and mobility, self determination, sensory efficiency, socialization, recreation and fitness, and independent living skills); and age-appropriate career education. Similarly, children who are deaf or hard of hearing have unique language and communication needs that, if left unaddressed, interfere with their educational performance and social interaction with classmates.

The Cogswell-Macy Act would ensure that all students who are blind or visually impaired receive the state-of-the-art services and skills—provided by trained teachers—that make up the ECC. Likewise, it would ensure that students who are deafblind or deaf or hard of hearing are served by qualified personnel who can meet their distinct learning needs.

Require states to identify, locate, and evaluate children who are blind, visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing, or deafblind, regardless of whether they have additional disabilities. While it may seem surprising, children with sensory disabilities are not always identified properly, especially if they have additional disabilities. This means that these students may not have their learning needs fully evaluated, which impacts the resources that are allocated to addressing their needs. The Cogswell-Macy Act would require states to provide meaningful data about students who are deafblind, blind, visually impaired, or deaf or hard of hearing, regardless of whether they may have additional disabilities, which will expand knowledge about the quality of special education and related services they receive. Having such data will also allow for ongoing improvement of programs for students with sensory disabilities.

Enhance accountability at the state and federal levels. Under the Cogswell-Macy Act, states would be expected to conduct strategic planning—and commit to such planning in writing—to ensure all students receive the specialized instruction and services they require, provided by properly trained personnel. The Act would also increase the U.S. Department of Education’s responsibility to monitor and report on states’ compliance with their obligations. In addition, the U.S. Department of Education would provide regular and up-to-date written policy guidance to states to help them implement the law—putting the weight of federal support behind students who are deaf or hard of hearing, blind, visually impaired, or deafblind, and their parents and educators.

Establish a national collaborative resource center: the Anne Sullivan Macy Center on Visual Disability and Educational Excellence. This resource center would support the ongoing professional development of instructors who work with students who are blind or visually impaired. In addition, it would foster research on teaching students with visual impairments, and encourage the development and dissemination of best practices for meeting these students’ needs.