Read OPVIC’s January 29, 2023 letter to Ontario’s Minister of Education, seeking a meeting to kick-start improvements for students with vision loss in Ontario schools.
Ontario Parents of Visually Impaired Children (OPVIC)
Previously known as Views for The Visually Impaired
Twitter: @_OPVIC Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OPVICCanada
January 30, 2023
We hope all OPVIC members and your families have had a great start to 2023. We want to send you a quick update on our recent advocacy efforts on behalf of students with vision loss in Ontario. We have been advocating for at least half a decade to get the Ontario Government to improve and expand the supports for students with vision loss in Ontario schools. Teachers of the visually impaired do the best they can for our children but there is a shortage of them. Moreover, in Ontario, the training for teachers of the visually impaired is not what it should be.
You can learn more about this by visiting the OPVIC’s website’s teachers of the visually impaired page.
So here is our latest news. Yesterday, we wrote Ontario’s Minister of Education Stephen Lecce. We again explained the problem to him. We ask for his help to fix this situation. Below you can read our letter. It explains the problem and calls for immediate action.
Please share this letter with your school board, your family and your friends. We need as many people as possible to know about this problem, and about the frustration we feel after five years of trying to get it fixed.
We welcome your feedback. Write us at Email: email@example.com
January 29, 2023 Letter from Ontario Parents of Visually Impaired Children to Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce
Ontario Parents of Visually Impaired Children (OPVIC)
January 29, 2023
To: the Hon Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education for Ontario
Re: A Chronic Inequity and Injustice Facing Blind, Low Vision and Deafblind Students in Ontario Schools
Minister, we urgently seek a meeting with you. Across Ontario, students with vision loss (blind, low vision or deafblind) in Ontario schools suffer from a chronic, protracted unfairness in our school system. We are Ontario’s officially recognized volunteer organization of parents of children who are blind, low vision or deafblind. We advocate for the needs of those children.
Students with vision loss are a vulnerable and substantially underserved minority. Your Ministry and Ontario’s school system has chronically underserved their most basic learning needs. It typifies how the Ministry of Education can marginalize students with low-incidence disabilities.
For half a decade, we have tried without success to get Ministry of Education officials to fix this. Our efforts are documented on the OPVIC website’s TVI page. After our repeated requests, the Ministry finally convened a roundtable to discuss this back on July 15, 2021. Over the year and a half since then, we have heard nothing further. Time and again, we get smiles, kind words, no action and then radio silence. This inaction carries on even though no one disputes the existence of the problem facing our children.
Only your intervention can correct this. Please protect the rights of students with vision loss to a full and proper education. This is a problem that is serious in scope, but eminently fixable, if only the Government would pick up the ball.
In Ontario-funded schools, the indispensable specialist who is essential to students with vision loss acquiring literacy and other key skills is the expert “Teacher of the Visually Impaired “ (TVI). At school boards, TVIs are itinerant teachers. The TVI goes from school to school, providing hands-on direct training to individual students with vision loss, one at a time, in specialized areas like Braille. They also teach students with vision loss to use rapidly evolving adaptive technology, such as a computer’s screen-reading and print-enlarging programs. These are vital for students with vision loss to learn using a computer, tablet or smart phone.
The majority of the time that students with vision loss spend in school is with classroom teachers who were never trained to teach students with vision loss. Where a TVI is involved, the TVI typically spends only a small part of the student’s in-school time with a specific student with vision loss. The itinerant TVI is the indispensable expert who educates and supports a student’s classroom teacher, special needs and educational assistant, and other teaching staff on how to effectively teach their student with vision loss when the TVI is not there.
The Government has announced no plans for remedying any of the following serious problems:
- Ontario has a serious and growing shortage of TVIs. Your Government has no plan to increase the supply of qualified TVIs. It does not even centrally track and monitor how many TVIs work in each school board. There is no established pool of supply TVIs to cover for vacancies due to illness or injury.
One example is the Toronto District School Board. TDSB is Canada’s largest school board and the board that has, by far, the largest number of students with vision loss in Canada (more than double those studying at the residential W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind) Last September, TDSB began the school year with at least one quarter of its complement of TVI positions unfilled.
- The vast majority of TVIs in Ontario, though dedicated and hard-working, are inadequately trained. Ontario’s training requirements to qualify as a TVI are substantially and unjustifiably much lower than in several other provinces and countries. To start working as a TVI in Ontario, a teacher only needs to complete a grossly insufficient 125-hour course that is not taught by a qualified university Faculty of Education. In that course, they need not work with a blind student or see a blind student taught to read Braille.
In contrast, to become a TVI in at least five Canadian provinces, in much of the US as well as in the UK and New Zealand, a teacher must complete a far more extensive and appropriate one-year, university-taught graduate degree on teaching students with vision loss that includes a properly supervised practicum.
The requirements in Ontario to qualify as a Teacher of the Deaf are much higher than those required for a Teacher of the Blind. A teacher must complete a one-year graduate-level program to train as a Teacher of the Deaf at York University’s Faculty of Education. It commendably includes a practicum requirement.
- Ontario lacks a proper and sufficient graduate-level training program, delivered by the professors of a university’s Faculty of Education, to train TVIs. Unlike its abdication of its responsibility for training teachers essential to students with vision loss, the Ontario Government commendably fully funds the York University Faculty of Education “Teachers of the Deaf” program. A candidate pays no tuition to take that course.
- Around Ontario, the levels of TVI support delivered to similarly situated students with vision loss vary wildly from school board to school board. A totally blind student at TSDB who is working towards Braille literacy can receive as little as half of the TVI hours per week that the same student would receive at the neighbouring York Region District School Board.
The Ministry does not monitor the number of TVIs or TVI hours per student with vision loss at each school board. It sets no standards for the level of TVI staffing or hours of direct per-student TVI support that a school board should provide. Each of Ontario’s 72 school boards is left free to deliver as much or as little TVI support to their students with vision loss as they wish, with no real accountability. The Ministry provides no meaningful oversight.
- Similar problems persist regarding the other key educational staff for students with vision loss, the Orientation and Mobility (O&M) instructor. These specialists provide one-on-one training to students with vision loss on how to get around safely, such as by using a white cane where needed, or other adaptive technology. Ontario similarly has an O&M shortage, no plans to rectify this, no meaningful Ministry oversight and no provincial benchmarks of how much O&M support students with vision loss should receive.
Beleaguered parents of students with vision loss, isolated and struggling around Ontario, should not have to continue to battle one school board at a time for the same basic and essential educational supports for their child. This is an important issue of equity in education. Its victims are a small, highly vulnerable and chronically underserved population in Ontario’s school system. We have heard estimates that there may be around 2,000 to 2,500 students with vision loss in Ontario-funded schools. The Ministry keeps no reliable data on this.
We wrote you about these issues on April 6, 2021. You did not answer. Over the past half decade, in our efforts to try to get solutions, we have spoken to a parade of revolving door assistant deputy ministers and directors in your Ministry and to officials at the Ontario College of Teachers. We have briefed them all. We have offered constructive solutions, and connected them, where they are willing, to experts in the field.
In the absence of proper Ministry oversight of school boards, we took it upon ourselves, acting as volunteers, to try to get school boards to provide us with their levels of TVI staffing and support for students with vision loss. The vast majority did not do so.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, things only got worse for students with vision loss. We alerted your Government to those concerns in our June 18, 2020 brief to your Ministry. Since then, your Government’s announced actions for students to “catch up” did not include any measures to address the urgent needs of students with vision loss.
Our concerns have been independently verified. One year ago, your Government received the final report of the Government-appointed K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. It provides a roadmap for removing the barriers impeding students with vision loss in Ontario-funded schools. That report corroborates the problems facing students with vision loss that we have been trying to raise with your Government without success.
Minister, can we please meet as soon as possible? Your Ministry officials will not take the needed action without clear and strong directions from you as Minister. In advance, can you direct your Deputy Minister and officials to prepare a plan of action to tackle these festering problems? We are here to help!
Sincerely, David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont
Member, OPVIC Board of Directors
Premier Doug Ford, firstname.lastname@example.org
Raymond Cho, Minister of Seniors and Accessibility, Raymond.email@example.com
Nancy Matthews, Deputy Minister for seniors and Accessibility firstname.lastname@example.org
Nancy Naylor, Deputy Minister of Education, email@example.com
Yael Ginsler, Assistant Deputy Minister of Education (Acting) for the Student Achievement Division, firstname.lastname@example.org
Claudine Munroe, Acting Assistant Deputy Minister of the Student Support and Field Services Division, Claudine.Munroe@ontario.ca
Patrick Case, Assistant Deputy Minister, Education Equity Secretariat, Patrick.email@example.com
Rachel Ryerson, Director of the Professionalism, Teaching Policy and Standards Branch, firstname.lastname@example.org
John Rafferty, President, CNIB, email@example.com
Suzanne Decary-van den-Broek, CNIB Vice-President, Central Canada Suzanne.Decary@cnib.ca