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Students with Sensory Impairments in Rural Schools

Children with sensory impairments, (those who are blind or have low vision and those who are Deaf or hard of hearing), face unique challenges within rural contexts. These students are categorized as having “low incidence” disabilities (i.e., there are fewer students with sensory impairments than with other types of disabilities).

While rural communities may embrace their members more closely than larger, more urban communities, one of the challenges is that they often have little or no experience addressing the needs of children with sensory impairments. The educational, social, and vocational systems necessary to support children with these unique needs may not be in place. These challenges are well recognized and respected, however solutions to address the challenges are not well established nor communicated freely between rural communities.

For example, children with sensory impairments have the right to receive educational support and instruction from professionals qualified and knowledgeable in meeting their unique learning needs. It can be difficult and expensive for local school boards in rural communities to find and employ these qualified specialists. Many school districts have found ways to meet these needs by joining co-ops and sharing the expertise of one or two qualified teachers, or by supporting local teachers to seek specialized training in the areas of Deaf/hard of hearing or Blindness and Visual Impairment. While searching for a permanent solution, one creative school administrator contracted with a specialized teacher to provide short-term consultation with a student using Skype.

Faculty and graduate students at The University of British Columbia have embraced this issue and are working to more fully understand the challenges and solutions available in British Columbia. To that end, we are beginning two research studies (one focusing on children with visual impairments and one on children who are Deaf or hard of hearing) with the goal of better understanding the education of children with sensory impairments in rural schools. There are three components to these research studies:

1. Review the available research related to this topic in the professional literature for each of the sensory impairment areas.

2. Interview key professionals regarding the status of students with sensory impairments in British Columbia (what percentage of students are located within rural communities and what professional supports are in place).

3. Identify and interview school district administrators in selected rural communities to highlight a variety of solutions to the challenges of providing high quality educational service to these populations

The research related to the education of students who are Deaf or hard of hearing will be conducted by UBC faculty member Janet Jamieson and Nancy Norman who is a doctoral student in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing program. Nancy has had experience as an itinerant teacher and worked closely with outreach support services throughout British Columbia. She is interested in preparation of specialist teachers to work in diverse communities.

The research related to the education of students who are blind or visually impaired will be conducted by UBC faculty member Cay Holbrook and Adam Wilton who is a doctoral student in the Visual Impairment program. Adam has had experience working in a variety of service delivery settings and is interested in policy and decision-making that relate to provision of appropriate instruction in areas of the core and expanded core curriculum.

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