Obtaining Services for Your Visually Impaired Child in New Jersey

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 New York state 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 has a visual impairment that is causing a developmental delay (i.e., he or she is performing below the level that is expected for a given age, in areas such as cognitive, communication, motor, sensory, and social abilities), it is important that you take your child to an eye care specialist for an evaluation. Make a list of the behaviors that you have observed in your child that led you to suspect a visual impairment, and share this list with the specialist. Once a diagnosis has been made, the specialist may refer your child to receive early intervention services or special education and related services.

If you do not know what specialist to go to and your child is under three years of age, contact the New Jersey Early Intervention System (NJEIS), under the Department of Health & Senior Services. NJEIS is the lead agency that implements New Jersey's statewide system of early intervention services for infants and toddlers, birth to age three, with developmental delays or disabilities, and their families 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. NJEIS’s regional system point of entry (SPOE) will connect you to the Special Child Health Case Management Unit in your county that will provide the early intervention services. If your child is visually impaired, you may also be referred to the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CBVI) of the New Jersey Department Human Services. CBVI provides a wide range of services, including early intervention and educational services, for people of all ages who are blind or visually impaired in New Jersey. Full contact information for NJEIS and CBVI may be found by doing a search in the "Find Services" section on this website.

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 NJEIS, if the child is less than less than three years old, or to a local educational agency (LEA), also known as a local education authority, if the child is of school-age. Your child may also be referred to Project Child Find, which develops and distributes information to the public about early intervention services and special education programs throughout New Jersey. Full contact information for New Jersey’s Project Child Find may be found by doing a search in the "Find Services" section on this website.

When a child is referred to NJEIS by someone other than you, you will be notified of the referral in writing, and you must provide written consent before your child is evaluated and before early intervention services are provided. With your consent, your child will be evaluated to see if he or she is eligible to receive services. Once eligibility or ineligibility is determined, you will be notified in writing of the results of the evaluation. If your child is eligible for services, you will be referred to an approved program near you, and a service coordinator will be assigned to work with you and your family.

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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?

Early intervention services are provided by state-approved private or public agencies, also known as Early Intervention Program (EIP) provider agencies. For a complete list of EIP provider agencies, go to http://www.nreic.org. In New Jersey, the main provider of services for children who are visually impaired is the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CBVI) of the New Jersey Department of Human Services. Full contact information for CBVI may be found by doing a search in the "Find Services" section on this website.

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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 child find/referral, evaluation/assessment, service coordination, Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) development and review, and the services that ensure the rights of the family. However, families are expected to share in the cost of additional services based on a sliding fee scale. That is, the family's monthly share of the cost of services is determined by income and family size minus any documented adjustments to income that were submitted and approved by the state. Therefore, it is essential for families receiving early intervention services to provide income documentation for review and calculation of determined income. For more information on families' costs, contact your service coordinator or go to www.nj.gov/health/fhs/eis/index.shtml.

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What are the eligibility requirements to receive early intervention services?

As mandated by Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a child is eligible for early intervention services if he or 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 be eligible for early intervention services in New Jersey, a child must be three years old or younger and must have a 33 percent delay in one area or a 25 percent delay in two or more of the following areas: physical, cognitive, communication, social/emotional, and adaptive skills.

To obtain services from the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CBVI), a child must have 20/70 or less in the better eye with proper corrections, be legally blind, or must be multiply handicapped. Having 20/70 vision means that the person sees at 20 feet what a normally sighted person would see at 70 feet. Legal blindness is defined as having 20/200 vision or less in the better eye with proper corrections or if there is a field restriction of vision limited to 20 degrees or less. Having 20/200 vision means that the person sees at 20 feet what a normally sighted person would see at 200 feet. A multiply handicapped person is a person who has at least one handicapping condition in addition to being blind or visually impaired that makes him or her unable to live independently.

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What is a service coordinator?

A service coordinator is a person from the New Jersey Early Intervention System (NJEIS) system point of entry who will work closely with you through the process of obtaining services. He or she is responsible for convening a team of professionals who will put together an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) based on a comprehensive assessment of your child. The IFSP outlines the services your child will need and a schedule on when and how these services will be provided.

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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?

If your child is found to be ineligible for early intervention services, you may request that he or she be reevaluated, or you may request mediation. If the issues are not resolved through mediation, you may request a due process hearing in which arguments from all parties involved are presented in a formal legal setting, using witnesses, testimony, documents, and legal arguments that each party believes are important for the hearing officer to consider in order to decide the issues.

If your child has been determined to be eligible for services, but you feel that he or she is not receiving the appropriate services, you have a right as a parent to discuss your concerns with the early intervention program (EIP) provider agency. It is the responsibility of your service coordinator from the start of the process to provide you with information on how to file a complaint. Information about how to file a complaint is also available at http://nj.gov/health/fhs/eis/for-families/safeguards-familyrights/ or by contacting the New Jersey Early Intervention System (NJEIS) Procedural Safeguards Office. Full contact information for NJEIS may be found by doing a search in the "Find Services" section on this website.

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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)?

The Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) is both a plan and a process. It is the process in which your child is evaluated to determine if he or she is eligible for services, and the services he or she needs are identified and delivered. It is also a written document developed by a team of professionals who have worked with your child and the family, which includes a statement describing your child's levels of development, the goals for your child and your family, identification of what services are needed or required, and a plan for the delivery of these services. Parents must provide written consent to the plan before services begin to be provided. The IFSP is reviewed every six months, or more if needed, to ensure that the services outlined in the plan are still relevant to the needs of the 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. To look for agencies that offer early intervention and educational services in other states, go to the "Find Services" tool on this website. If you are moving to another county in New Jersey, go to http://www.nreic.org for a complete list of agencies that provide early intervention services throughout the state. Your service coordinator can also put you in touch with a program that provides early intervention services in the county to which you are moving.

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What happens when my child turns three?

Because, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), early intervention services will stop when your child turns three, it is essential that you begin the process of transitioning to the next step early on. As early as when your child is two years old, your service coordinator should provide you a "Transition at Age Three" information packet, which will include information such as available options for community transitions or school district placements, a written notice informing your school district that your child may be eligible for special education and related services, and a review of your child's records. The service coordinator is responsible for helping with transition from early intervention to a preschool program and other services that the family will need.

Prior to 120 days before your child's third birthday, with your consent, the early intervention program provider will inform your school district that your child is approaching preschool age. A transition planning conference will be convened in which your child's future needs and school or community options will be discussed, including referrals to other agencies.

In New Jersey, all blind or visually impaired children are referred to the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CBVI) of the New Jersey Department of Human Services. CBVI coordinates the provision of educational services from birth through age 21 to eligible children and their families. Full contact information for CBVI may be found by doing a search in the "Find Services" section on this website.

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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 are mandated by Part C of IDEA and which sometimes require 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 for pre-school and beyond?

To be eligible for special education and related services, your child must be three to 21 years of age, must have one or more disability determined by Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the New Jersey Special Education Code that must adversely affect a child's educational performance, and must need specially designed instruction to address his or her unique needs.

To obtain services from the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CBVI), a child must have 20/70 or less in the better eye with proper corrections, be legally blind, or must be multiply handicapped. Having 20/70 vision means that the person sees at 20 feet what a normally sighted person would see at 70 feet. Legal blindness is defined as having 20/200 vision or less in the better eye with proper corrections or if there is a field restriction of vision limited to 20 degrees or less. Having 20/200 vision means that the person sees at 20 feet what a normally sighted person would see at 200 feet. A multiply handicapped person is a person who has at least one handicapping condition in addition to being blind or visually impaired that makes him or her unable to live independently.

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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?

If you disagree with the determination of ineligibility, you may appeal and request to have your child undergo an independent evaluation at no cost to you unless your school district requests a hearing to prove that their evaluations are appropriate. You may also request a due process hearing, in which arguments from all parties involved are presented in front of an impartial judge, through the New Jersey Department of Education. You must submit your request in writing to the school district, and the district must respond within 20 days. If the district denies a request for an independent evaluation, a due process hearing must be filed by the district to justify their findings to a judge. Full contact information for the New Jersey 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 New Jersey?

The first step in receiving special education and related services is the referral. If your child has been receiving early intervention services from the New Jersey Early Intervention System (NJEIS), a transition planning conference will be convened in which the next steps for your child will be discussed and planned. During this conference, you will be assisted in completing a referral to the local school district, which you can do by sending a written request to your school district asking that your child be evaluated for eligibility.

If your child is over three years of age and was not receiving early intervention services from NJEIS, but you suspect that he or she may have a disability that requires him or her to receive special education services, you can call your public school district or the county supervisor of child study to find out who the appropriate person is to contact regarding obtaining special education services for your child. You may also send your school district a written request for an evaluation.

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 the evaluation and with providing special education services.

Within 20 days after receiving your request or after your child has been referred for special education services, the school district will contact you to convene an evaluation plan meeting in which you, a general education teacher, and a member of the child study team will determine if an evaluation of your child is warranted and if so, what type of evaluation will be performed. You will need to provide written consent before an evaluation is performed. You will also be provided a copy of the Parental Rights in Special Education (PRISE), which describes your rights and responsibilities as a parent. You will also be informed of the necessary documents that you will need to provide.

After the evaluation, you will be presented with the results of the evaluation and invited to an eligibility meeting to determine if your child is eligible for special education services. Once eligibility has been determined, the planning and placement team will hold an Individualized Education Program (IEP) team meeting within 30 days 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.

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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.

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Who will provide special education services?

Your local educational agency (LEA) or school district is responsible for the education of your child. If your child is visually impaired, you or your school district may apply to the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CBVI) of the New Jersey Department Human Services for additional educational services, such as instruction in the expanded core curriculum. If your child is found eligible, CBVI will make education recommendations to the district for your child's education. The school district has the option of providing the recommended services or contracting with CBVI to provide the services. These services will be provided at no cost to you.

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Do I have options other than sending my child to the public school in my district?

You have the option to send your child to a private or specialized school. However, the cost may not be covered under Part B of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). If you opt to send your child to a private or specialized school because you feel that your child is not benefiting educationally from the public school, you must give the school written notice of your intent at least 10 business days before removing the child from the public school. Failing to do this may result in your losing your right to be reimbursed for an appropriate private placement even if the public school placement was inappropriate. If the school district disagrees with you, a due process hearing may be requested by you or the school district, so both parties may present arguments to be considered by an impartial judge in deciding on whether you should be reimbursed by the school district for the cost of sending your child to a private school.

Across the United States, there are many schools that specialize in the education of children who are blind or visually impaired or children with other disabilities. The "Find Services" tool on this website lists special schools for blind and visually impaired children in the United States. Some of these schools are state-run schools, while others are private schools.

In New Jersey, the only private school for the blind is the Concordia Learning Center at St. Joseph's School for the Blind, located in Jersey City. The Concordia Learning Center provides comprehensive services to students with visual impairments and/or multiple disabilities from birth to 21 years of age and is a state-approved private school. Full contact information for the Concordia Learning Center may be found by doing a search in the "Find Services" section on this website.

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Can I be reimbursed for the cost of sending my child to a private school or facility?

If your school district has made a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) available for your child, it is not required to reimburse you for the cost of educating your child at a private school or facility. You can only be reimbursed for these costs if you can prove that an appropriate program has not been provided by the school district. You must inform your district's Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE) or Committee on Special Education (CSE) of your decision to send your child to a private school or facility and prove during an impartial hearing that the private placement is more appropriate and is providing the appropriate services for your child.

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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 nondisabled 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 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (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.

In New Jersey, the George F. Meyer Instructional Resource Center is the state-designated instructional materials center. It provides adapted materials, such as braille textbooks, large print, and audio texts, for visually impaired students, usually through either grade 12 or age 21. However, the student must be receiving educational services from the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CBVI) in order to obtain materials from the George F. Meyer Instructional Resource Center. Full contact information for the George F. Meyer Instructional Resource Center and other sources of materials in accessible formats in New Jersey 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 student graduates from high school or turns 21 by July 1st of the upcoming school year. If a student turns 21 any time during the school year, he or she may complete that school year.

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What happens after special education services end?

Before your child turns 14, your child's Individualized Education Program (IEP) team will begin discussions to plan the transition process from school to adult life.

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?

Transition 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 Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CBVI) 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 CBVI. CBVI also offers financial support to eligible students going to college. These support services include tuition, room and board, books, orientation and mobility training, and assistive technology. Full contact information for may be found by doing a search in the "Find Services" section on this website.

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

There are several nonprofit agencies and consumer membership groups that offer information and support for families of children who are blind or visually impaired. The AFB Directory of Services lists agencies in New Jersey as well as national agencies that offer services for children who are blind or visually impaired. A full listing of these agencies is provided below.

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

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Resources

There are several nonprofit agencies and consumer membership groups that offer information and support for families of children who are blind or visually impaired. The AFB Directory of Services lists agencies in New Jersey as well as national agencies that offer services for children who are blind or visually impaired. A full listing of these agencies is provided below.

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

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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