Obtaining Services for Your Visually Impaired Child in Connecticut

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal law enacted by Congress in 1975 and reauthorized in 2004, ensures that children with disabilities throughout the nation have special education services available to them. Part C of IDEA mandates programs for infants and toddlers with disabilities (birth to age two) and their families. Part B of IDEA mandates a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.

Because IDEA allows states some discretion on how to implement the law, the way in which these services are provided and the terminology used may vary in each state. This section is designed to provide parents of children with visual impairments an overview of the way services are offered in Connecticut and help them identify the appropriate agencies for the services they need and resources where they can obtain more comprehensive information.

The way services are offered in each state may change periodically based on amendments to existing federal and state laws. If you are aware of any recent changes in your state based on your experience as a parent or as a service provider, please let us know of those changes by sending an e-mail to afbdirectory@afb.net so we can keep the information on this page current and accurate.

For in-depth information about the provisions of IDEA 2004 and the full wording of the law and its regulations, see https://sites.ed.gov/idea/.


I suspect that my child has a visual impairment (or has been diagnosed with a visual impairment). What should I do?

If you suspect that your child is visually impaired, it is important that you take him or her to an eye care specialist for an evaluation. Make a list of the behaviors your child exhibits which led you to suspect that he or she is visually impaired and share this list with the specialist. Once a diagnosis has been made, and your child has been determined to be legally blind, state law requires that your eye care specialist refer your child to the Bureau of Rehabilitative Services-Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BRS-BESB), the state agency that provides services for children, from birth to age 18 or age 21 if the child is still in school, who are legally blind. Legal blindness is defined as having 20/200 vision, which means that a person sees at 20 feet what a normally sighted person would see at 200 feet.

Because a visual impairment or any other impairment may result in your child being developmentally delayed (i.e., he or she is performing below the level that is expected for a given age, as in cognitive, communication, motor, sensory, and social abilities), your child may also be referred to the Connecticut Birth-to-Three System in the Connecticut State Department of Developmental Services as mandated by Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal law that safeguards a free, appropriate public education for all eligible children with disabilities in the United States. The Connecticut Birth-to-Three System is the state agency that provides services for Connecticut families whose children under three years of age have a significant developmental delay or have a diagnosed physical or mental condition that has a high probability of resulting in a developmental delay. The Birth-to-Three System may refer you to BRS-BESB, if your child meets BRS-BESB's eligibility requirements, or to a Birth-to-Three program in or near your town. There are over 40 state-approved programs throughout Connecticut. Full contact information for BRS-BESB and the Birth-to-Three System may be found by doing a search in the "Find Services" section on this website.

If you do not have a specialist to go to and your child is under three years of age, you may make a self-referral to BRS-BESB in writing, or you may call the Child Development Infoline of the Connecticut Birth-to-Three System at (800) 505-7000 or fill out the referral form.

Your child may also be referred for early intervention services by other professionals if they think it is possible that your child may have a developmental delay. States receiving federal dollars under IDEA are required to develop a statewide system for identifying, locating, and evaluating all children with disabilities, ages birth through 21, who are in need of early intervention and special education and related services. Thus, parents or guardians, educators, physicians, and individuals who work with children who believe that a child may have a disability, may refer the child to the Birth-to-Three System, if the child is less than less than three years old, or to a local educational agency (LEA), if the child is of school-age. They may also call the Child Find Project at the Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center (CPAC). A consultant at Child Find can explain the identification process and help the family connect with the appropriate agencies. Full contact information for CPAC may be found by doing a search in the "Find Services" section on this website.

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What will I need to refer myself to BRS-BESB or the Birth-to-Three System?

To refer yourself or be referred to the Bureau of Rehabilitative Services-Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BRS-BESB) or the Birth-to-Three System, you will need a written explanation of your child's condition with as much detail as possible and preferably the diagnosis, or the child's eye report, which will include a description of the eye condition and visual acuity, visual behaviors, and any other description of how a child sees, from your ophthalmologist, optometrist, family doctor, pediatrician, neurologist, or other appropriate medical professional.

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What happens after the referral?

When your child is referred to the Bureau of Rehabilitative Services-Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BRS-BESB) or to the Birth-to-Three system by someone other than you, you will be notified of the referral in writing, and a written consent must be obtained from you before your child is evaluated and provided early intervention services.

If your child is found eligible for early intervention services at BRS-BESB, based on the visual impairment, you will be sent an application to fill out and return. Upon signed approval of the Director of Education at BRS-BESB, a teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) will be assigned to your child. The teacher of students with visual impairments will contact you for an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) meeting. If your child is eligible for more comprehensive services from a local Birth-to-Three provider, the teacher of students with visual impairments will assist you in making a referral to the statewide Birth-to-Three System where a service coordinator will be assigned to work with you and your child.

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What are early intervention services?

Early intervention services are services provided to children with disabilities from birth to age three as well as their families. These services focus on the basic skills that babies typically develop during the first three years of life, which include physical skills, such as reaching, rolling, crawling, and walking; cognitive skills, such as thinking, learning, and solving problems; communication skills, such as talking, listening, and understanding; social/emotional skills, such as playing, feeling secure and happy; or self-help skills, such as eating and dressing. Early intervention services are designed not only to help the child but also to assist the family as they raise the child. Therefore, it is important for parents and families to be involved in all the services a child receives.

Before your child receives any kind of services, he or she will have to undergo several assessments by qualified professionals. The types of services he or she will need and be provided will be determined by the outcome of these assessments. You will need to provide written consent before your child is evaluated. Once your child's eligibility for early intervention services has been determined, a service coordinator will work closely with you and other service providers to plan for and monitor the delivery of these services.

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Who provides early intervention services?

Only qualified professionals may offer early intervention services. These professionals have to be licensed, certified, and registered in their discipline and must be approved by the state.

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Who pays for these services?

By federal law, many of the services you will receive are covered by state and federal dollars. These services include referral to the Birth-to-Three System, evaluation and assessment of your child to determine eligibility, development of your child's IFSP, the availability of a process to settle disagreements, and service coordination. However, Connecticut state law requires that both health insurance plans and parents contribute to the cost of additional services on a sliding fee scale. To find out more about what costs you may be responsible for, go to the "Especially for Families" section of the Birth-to-Three website and select "Family Cost Participation." Services provided by the Bureau of Rehabilitative Services-Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BRS-BESB) are provided at no cost to eligible families.

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What are the eligibility requirements to receive early intervention services?

As mandated by Part C of the IDEA, a child is eligible for early intervention services if he or she has a developmental delay identified during a multidisciplinary evaluation of the child's abilities and needs in the areas of thinking, moving, communication, relating to others, seeing or hearing, and/or if he or she has been diagnosed with a medical condition that has a likelihood of affecting his or her development. To receive early intervention services in Connecticut, a child has to be younger than three years old and show significant delay in one or more of the following areas of development: cognition, communication, adaptive, social-emotional, and physical (including motor and sensory), or have a diagnosed medical condition that has a high probability of resulting in developmental delay.

To receive services from the Bureau of Rehabilitative Services-Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BRS-BESB), an individual must be legally blind and have at least one parent or legal guardian who is a bona fide resident of the State of Connecticut. Legal blindness is defined as having 20/200 vision, which means that a person sees at 20 feet what a normally sighted person would see at 200 feet.

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What is a service coordinator?

A service coordinator is a person from the Birth-to-Three program who will work closely with you through the process of obtaining services and is responsible for coordinating the delivery of those services. He or she is also responsible for putting together a team of professionals, including doctors, therapists, and teachers, with whom you will work to develop an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). If you begin to receive services from any of the Connecticut Birth-to-Three programs due to a visual impairment, the service coordinator of the Birth-to-Three program will help you to obtain services from BRS-BESB for a child with a visual impairment.

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What should or can I do if my child is found to be ineligible for early intervention services or if I feel that my child is not receiving the appropriate services?

You may request to have your child reevaluated if he or she is found ineligible for early intervention services. You may do so by writing to the Part C Coordinator at the Birth-to-Three System to request that your child be reevaluated.

If you feel that your child is not receiving the appropriate services, you may discuss your concerns with your service coordinator. If you are not comfortable doing this, you may contact the Family Liaison or file a complaint with the Part C Coordinator at the Birth-to-Three office.

Full contact information for the Birth-to-Three office may be found by doing a search in the "Find Services" section on this website.

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Who provides early intervention services?

Only qualified professionals may offer early intervention services. These professionals have to be licensed, certified, and registered in their discipline and must be approved by the state.

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Where are early intervention services provided?

The law requires that early intervention services be provided in what are considered least restrictive environments (LRE) or natural environments. These are places where children without disabilities would normally be found, such as your home, a child care or day care center, or a preschool, Head Start programs, and hospitals or clinics.

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What is an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)?

An Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) is a written agreement between you and the program providing early intervention services. The plan will be developed with you and the professionals who work with your child, including your family physician, at an IFSP meeting, which will be coordinated by a teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) or your service coordinator. The plan will include reviewing your priorities and concerns as parents, establishing functional/measurable outcomes, identifying strategies, and identifying necessary services and timelines for initiating services.

The IFSP will provide details on why your child needs services, what kind of services will be provided, who will provide them and how often, and where the services will be provided. You and your teacher of students with visual impairments or service coordinator will have to check the IFSP every six months to see if changes need to be made to the plan and to ensure that it still fits the needs of your child.

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What will happen if I move out of town or to another state?

If you are moving to another state, your service coordinator can help you contact the early intervention system of the state you are moving to. If you are moving to another town in Connecticut, your service coordinator can put you in touch with a program that provides early intervention services in the town to which you are moving.

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What happens when my child turns three?

Because Birth-to-Three services end when your child turns three, you will need to plan to transition to your local educational agency (LEA) or local school district. You will be provided a transition handbook by your service coordinator, or you may borrow the Birth-to-Three movie, "Transition to School Services," both of which offer information on how to transition from early intervention services to preschool special education.

Ninety days before your child's third birthday or as early as nine months before, a transition planning conference should be convened by your service coordinator. The aim of this conference is to plan the next steps for your child. It is important for you to be present at this conference as well as your service coordinator and a representative from your LEA.

The Birth-to-Three System is required by law to provide school districts with information about children receiving early intervention services shortly before their third birthdays. Your service coordinator will notify your LEA about your child, but you must first provide a written consent. You may also contact your LEA yourself. It is recommended that a child be referred formally to the school district when the child turns two or no later than six months before the child's third birthday.

Note that eligibility for early intervention services does not guarantee eligibility for preschool special education and related services. If you leave the early intervention system before your child turns three, or if your child will not be receiving preschool special education for some reason or another, your service coordinator will work with you to identify other options in your community.

If you are already receiving services from the Bureau of Rehabilitative Services-Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BRS-BESB), you may transition to receive services from the BRS-BESB Preschool Program.

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What kinds of services are available in the BRS-BESB Preschool Program?

Teachers in the Bureau of Rehabilitative Services-Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BRS-BESB) preschool program provide direct instruction and consultative services for children from birth to five years of age. They work with family members and early intervention teams to help them understand medical eye information, how the child is using his or her vision, and how best to teach or facilitate learning and development. BRS-BESB offers low vision services through approved low vision service providers. These services include evaluation of a child's functional vision and prescription and provision of low vision devices once every two years or more often if the child's vision changes. The services provided by the low vision specialist through BRS-BESB do not take the place of the services of the child's primary eye care specialist. BRS-BESB also provides educational materials that your child will need to access the regular educational core curriculum and various areas of the expanded core curriculum.

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Who will participate in the transition conference?

You, your service coordinator, early intervention service providers, community representatives, and a representative from your school district's child study team will participate at this conference. You also have the right to bring anyone to the conference, such as an attorney. A child study team usually consists of personnel from your local school district, such as a school psychologist, a learning disabilities teacher/consultant, a social worker, and a speech-language therapist, who will work with you during your child's transition to special education services.

If you choose not to refer your child for special education services, you may also discuss other options such as alternatives to special education or the possibility of continuing to receive services from your county Special Child Health Services Case Management Unit at the conference.

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What are special education and related services?

Special education programs and services are federally mandated by Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Unlike early intervention services, which is mandated by Part C of IDEA and which sometimes requires families to share in the cost of additional services based on a sliding fee scale, special education is specially designed instruction, provided at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability to receive a free and appropriate public education. This includes the expanded core curriculum, which includes subjects and skills such as reading and writing braille and using assistive technology that students with visual impairments are taught to enable them to study the basic educational curriculum along with their sighted classmates.

Related services are services provided to a child so that he or she may benefit from special education. These services include psychological and counseling services, social work, physical and occupational therapy, and other services.

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What are the eligibility requirements for special education and related services?

To be eligible for special education and related services, a child must be between three and 21 years of age, must have one or more disability determined by IDEA that must adversely affect a child's educational performance, and must need specially designed instruction to address his or her unique needs.

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What should I do if my child is determined ineligible to receive special education services or if I feel that my child is not receiving the special education services he or she needs?

Connecticut's special education state resolution process gives parents the right to appeal and file complaints. If your child is determined ineligible for special education services, you may appeal the finding by writing to the Bureau of Special Education of the Connecticut State Department of Education to request another evaluation.

If your child has been determined to be eligible for special education services, but you believe that he or she is not receiving the services that he or she needs or deserves, you may file a written complaint with the Bureau of Special Education. The complaint should outline the facts on which the complaint is based and should be filed within a year of the time you believe the school district failed to provide the appropriate services.

Full contact information for the Due Process Unit of the Bureau of Special Education of the Connecticut State Department of Education may be found by doing a search in the "Find Services" section on this website.

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What is the procedure for obtaining special education services in Connecticut?

If your child has been receiving early intervention services from the Birth-to-Three System, your early intervention coordinator will convene a transition planning conference before your child turns three. The purpose of this conference is to plan the next steps for your child. You must attend this conference with your service coordinator and a representative from your local educational agency (LEA) or local school district.

If your child is over three years of age and was not receiving early intervention services, but you suspect that he or she may have a visual impairment or other disability that requires him or her to receive special education services, you may refer your child for an evaluation by writing to the director of special education in your school district.

If your child was not receiving early intervention services because he was found ineligible for those services, Birth-to-Three programs may assist you in referring yourself to the school district, but the referral will not be from the Birth-to-Three System; it will be coming from you. Once you sign a release, information from your child's record can be shared with the local school district; however, updated evaluation, assessment, or progress information will not be available. Only the initial evaluation report, which determined ineligibility for early intervention services would be available, and perhaps, reports of subsequent reevaluations. Eligibility determination for special education and related services will be the responsibility of the school district.

Someone other than you may also refer your child for special education services. If so, you will receive a written notice of this referral. Your written consent is required before the school district can move forward with providing special education services.

Once your child has been referred for special education services, you will be asked to participate as part of the school's planning and placement team (PPT). This team reviews the referrals and determines which evaluations your child will undergo to determine eligibility for preschool special education services.

Once eligibility for preschool special education has been determined, the planning and placement team will have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) team meeting to develop, review, or revise your child's IEP.

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What is an Individualized Education Program (IEP)?

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a written plan of instruction by an educational team, which includes a student's present levels of educational performance, annual goals, short-term objectives, specific services needed, duration of services, evaluation, and related information. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), each student receiving special education services must have such a plan. The IEP should be reviewed and revised based on a reevaluation of the child, which should occur at least at least every three years or more often as needed unless the parents and the school system agree that a reevaluation is not necessary. The purpose of the reevaluation is to find out if the child continues to be a "child with a disability," as defined by IDEA and what the child's educational needs are. Parents must give their consent for their child's reevaluation.

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Where will special education services be provided?

As much as possible, special education services must be provided in the least restrictive environment (LRE), an environment that is adapted only to the extent necessary to maximize learning for a student who is disabled and a setting in which a child with disabilities can be provided with an appropriate education and maximum contact with nondisabled students. Providing services in a special class or separate school is only recommended when the nature or severity of the disability makes it difficult to educate the child satisfactorily with supplementary aids and services in the general educational environment.

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Who will provide special education services?

Your local educational agency or school district is responsible for providing a teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI), who will provide instruction in the expanded core curriculum, at no cost to you. The school district may either request a teacher of students with visual impairments from the Bureau of Rehabilitative Services-Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BRS-BESB), which initiates, coordinates, and provides education and training of Connecticut's blind and visually impaired children or hire independent teachers of students with visual impairments. The teacher of students with visual impairments should be listed on the Individual Education Plan. Full contact information for BRS-BESB may be found by doing a search in the "Find Services" section on this website.

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What is the expanded core curriculum?

The expanded core curriculum (ECC) is a curriculum that covers the unique, disability-specific skills that students with visual impairments need to acquire and master to compensate for vision loss and live independently and productively. This curriculum includes compensatory or functional academic skills, orientation and mobility skills, social interaction skills, independent living skills, recreation and leisure skills, career education, use of assistive technology, sensory efficiency skills, and self-determination.

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What are supplementary aids and services?

Supplementary aids and services are supports, including extracurricular activities, provided in the regular education class and other education-related settings to enable children with disabilities to be educated with non-disabled children to the maximum extent appropriate. These may include books transcribed into braille or assistive technology such as a magnifier or a closed-circuit television (CCTV) that a student with low vision may need to complete his or her schoolwork.

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Where can I obtain textbooks and classroom materials in accessible formats?

The 2004 amendments to the IDEA ensure that children who are visually impaired are provided with textbooks and classroom materials on time and in the accessible format they need. A system was established in which textbook publishers provide electronic files of textbooks in a standardized electronic format, known as the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS), to a central repository known as the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC). NIMAC, which is based in the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) in Louisville, Kentucky, is responsible for receiving, maintaining, and distributing electronic copies of the instructional materials it receives. Although you may not go directly to NIMAC to request these materials, your child's teacher or school district may obtain these electronic files that will allow them to generate materials in accessible formats. The Bureau of Rehabilitative Services-Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BRS-BESB) is able to provide educational materials in accessible formats to all children who are eligible for services at the agency at no cost to the family or school district.

Other sources of materials in accessible formats in Connecticut may be found by doing a search in the "Find Services" section on this website.

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When do special education services end?

By law, special education ends when a child graduates from high school or turns 21.

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What happens after special education services end?

When your child turns 15, or earlier, if deemed appropriate, the school's planning and placement team (PPT) will begin discussions to plan the transition process from school to adult life. At this point, your child will be invited to participate in the planning and will be included in all meetings until he turns 21.

Your child's Individualized Education Program (IEP) will begin to include goals and services based upon age-appropriate assessments related to training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills.

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What is the transition process and what does it involve?

The transition process is the process by which your child, with the rest of the educational team, prepares for life after leaving the public school system by determining the types of services needed to be successful in the environment he or she intends to move into following public school. This includes preparation for independent living, enrollment in a vocational program or college, career and vocational planning, and the like.

When your child graduates from high school or reaches age 21, he or she may transition to receive adult services to receive vocational rehabilitation services, which will include training in skills that will help him or her gain employment.

The Bureau of Rehabilitative Services-Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BRS-BESB) offers transition services to eligible students between the ages of 14 and 18 or until they graduate from high school, after which they will transition to adult services, which is also offered by BRS-BESB. Full contact information for BRS-BESB may be found by doing a search in the "Find Services" section on this website.

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Are there agencies in Connecticut other than state agencies that I can turn to for additional support and information?

The Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center (CPAC) is a statewide source of training, information, and support for parents of children with disabilities and the professionals who work with them. Funded since 1984 by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, CPAC is part of a national network of more than 100 centers. Its goal is to educate parents and professionals about special education law, assist in the resolution of disputes between parents and schools or other agencies, and connect families to community resources and provide current information about best practices and school improvement activities. CPAC provides free training to parents, and its staff and governing board include experienced parents and educators. Full contact information for CPAC may be found by doing a search in the "Find Services" section on this website.

In addition, the AFB Directory of Services lists agencies in Connecticut as well as national agencies that offer services for children who are blind or visually impaired. A full listing of these agencies may be found by doing a search in the "Find Services" section on this website.

AFB Press also publishes materials that you may find helpful. These publications are listed below.

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Resources

AFB Press Publications

The Braille Trail: An Activity Book
By Frances Mary D'Andrea M.Ed., Anna M. Swenson

College Bound: A Guide for Students with Visual Impairments
By Ellen Trief Ed.D., Raquel Feeney M.A.

Everyday Activities to Promote Visual Efficiency: A Handbook for Working with Young Children with Visual Impairments
By Rona Shaw, Ellen Trief

Focused On: Teaching Social Skills to Visually Impaired Preschoolers Study Guides
By Linda S. Kekelis, Sharon Z. Sacks, Ph.D., Karen E. Wolffe, Ph.D.

An Orientation and Mobility Primer for Families and Young Children
By Bonnie Dodson-Burk

A Parents' Guide to Special Education for Children with Visual Impairments
Edited by Susan LaVenture

Reach Out and Teach: Helping Your Child Who Is Visually Impaired Learn and Grow
By Kay Alicyn Ferrell

Skills for Success: A Career Education Handbook for Children and Adolescents with Visual Impairments
Edited by Karen E. Wolffe Ph.D.

Tactile Strategies for Children Who Have Visual Impairments and Multiple Disabilities: Promoting Communication and Learning Skills
By Deborah Chen Ph.D., June E. Downing Ph.D.

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