George Mason University

News at Mason

Mason heads effort to recruit more teachers for the visually impaired and blind

February 14, 2020   /   by Anna Stolley Persky

Julie Conner, a teacher at the Virginia School for the Visually Impaired, works with a female student with vision impairment. Photo provided.

The United States is in desperate need of educators who can read and teach braille, according to the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). Less than 10 percent of the 1.3 million people who are legally blind in the U.S. are able to read braille, according to a 2009 report by the NFB.

But few U.S. colleges offer programs that prepare teachers to educate students who are visually impaired, according to Kimberly Avila, professor-in-charge of the teacher preparation program in blindness and vision impairment within the College of Education and Human Development. Avila is also the coordinator for the Virginia Consortium for Teacher Preparation in Vision Impairment.

Recognizing the growing need for educators who can teach braille, Mason has increased its recruitment of teachers for the visually impaired and widened the school’s options for remote learning.

“Being able to read and teach braille is a critical skill for working with students who are blind and visually impaired. It is in high demand and is very specialized,” Avila said.

Kimberly Avila

Individuals who are visually impaired who can read braille are more likely to gain employment, Avila said. As of 2009, more than 70 percent of blind adults were unemployed. The numbers haven’t gotten any better since then, according to Avila.

“There aren’t enough teachers for these children, and if they don’t have equal access to education, it can later impact employment.” said Avila.

Mason offers four different graduate and undergraduate programs to prepare teachers to work with visually impaired students, said Avila, including a program that allows teachers to get the additional certification they need. Mason is also the only university in Virginia to offer an undergraduate degree in special education with a concentration in blindness and visual impairment. In addition, some students training to be teachers are visually impaired themselves. At present, there are 45 Mason students learning how to teach to students who are visually impaired. Avila hopes to significantly increase enrollment in the next few years.

Avila said Mason students in the programs are learning remotely from all parts of Virginia and beyond. Michelle Hicks, a teacher for the visually impaired in Newport News, Virginia, said Mason’s online program enabled her to get the additional certification she needed.

“The program through Mason is wonderful,” said Hicks. “Because it is online, it allows people in rural parts of Virginia to get the certification to teach the visually impaired that they might not otherwise be able to get.”

Primary education schools throughout the country are clamoring for qualified educators knowledgeable in braille and technological developments related to teaching students who are visually impaired, said Avila. 

“There will certainly be jobs available for anyone who dedicates their education to teaching students who are blind” said Avila.

But, Avila warned, teaching the visually impaired is not for everyone.