OPVIC’s Ongoing Campaign to Get Ontario to Require Better Training for Teachers of the Visually Impaired (TVIs) and to Increase the Number of TVIs Working in Ontario Schools

We want to  ensure that Ontario starts to provide proper training for teachers of the visually impaired, and to ensure that Ontario provides students with vision loss with the hours of time with a qualified TVI per week that each needs. We also want Ontario to address the chronic shortage in the number of orientation and mobility specialists, who teach students with vision loss to get around independently and safely.

Ontario lags behind many other Canadian provinces, and other countries, when it comes to providing good educational opportunities for students with vision loss. This is because Ontario does not provide proper training for the critical school teacher in the lives of students with vision loss, the Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI). Making this worse, Ontario has a worrisome shortage of TVIs, but has no plan in place to fix these problems.

OPVIC has been advocating for years to fix this. It has been a tough uphill battle, due to neglect and inaction in the halls of power. Read on to learn about the problem and to see what we have done to get it fixed!

What is a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI)?

When students with vision loss reach school, the indispensable school board employee who is vital to their acquiring literacy and other key learning skills is the expert TVI. At school boards, they 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 reading and writing, where needed. They are needed to teach blind, low vision and deafblind children how to use rapidly evolving adaptive technology, such as screen-reading and print-enlarging programs. These apps enable them to use a computer, tablet or smartphone, which is essential to their learning.

The itinerant TVI goes from school to school, to serve as also the indispensable expert who educates and supports a student’s classroom teacher, educational assistant, and other teaching staff on how to effectively teach that student with vision loss. Most of the time that students with vision loss spend in school is with general education or special education teaching staff who have no training in how to teach students with vision loss. Where a TVI is involved, the TVI typically only spends a small proportion of the student’s in-school time with a specific student who has vision loss.

What is the serious problem in Ontario with the training and availability of teachers of the visually impaired?

Ontario has a growing shortage of TVIs. Even where a properly-trained new TVI is available, they can face unfair roadblocks that impede them from being hired at a school board that needs them.

Ontario’s training requirements to qualify as a TVI are grossly inadequate. They are unjustifiably much lower than in many other jurisdictions, including in much if not most of the rest of Canada. No one has tried to justify Ontario’s inferior treatment of students with vision loss.

As of May 2022, no Ontario university offers a proper post-graduate degree training program to train to work as a TVI, unlike in BC and Nova Scotia. To qualify to start working as a TVI in Ontario, a teacher only needs to complete a grossly-insufficient 125 hour course. It is not taught by instructors with graduate training in the TVI field, at a qualified university Faculty of Education. In that inadequate Ontario course, candidates will not work with a blind student or see a blind student taught to read braille. In sharp contrast, to become a TVI in at least five other 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 far more appropriate university-taught graduate degree on teaching students with vision loss, that includes a properly-supervised practicum.

Contrast Ontario’s lack of such a program, with the graduate university TVI programs offered at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and at Mount St. Vincent University in Nova Scotia.

Government after Government in Ontario has professed a strong commitment to equity in Ontario’s Education system. The issue we here raise is a fundamental issue of equity in education. Its victims are students with vision loss. They are a small, highly vulnerable and chronically underserved population in Ontario’s school system, estimated as numbering around 2,000-2,500.

The solution is known. It is affordable and doable, but needs effective Ontario Government leadership. It is a discrete issue you can hive off and readily tackle. Yet despite our pressing for reform for almost four years, Ontario has announced no plan or commitment to effectively address this. The Ministry of Education and the Ontario College of Teachers have left this problem with no solution, or with solutions known to be doomed to fail. It took us over three years just to get a virtual meeting last summer with the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Colleges and Universities and the Ontario College of Teachers to discuss this problem. Since then, no new action has been announced. Our follow-up emails have gone unanswered.

Vision loss is a “low incidence” disability among school-age children. Ontario’s Ministry of Education has a longstanding, entrenched legacy of giving these children far less attention than children with high-incidence disabilities. The Government’s inadequate treatment of OPVIC’s requests and its officials over several years illustrates this.

Starting in January 2018, OPVIC, then operating under the name Views for the Visually Impaired, began a fresh round of raising these issues with the Ontario Government. TVI’s themselves had been raising similar concerns with the Government years before that.

To whom has OPVIC been advocating?

We have directed our advocacy efforts at the Ontario Government, including the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Colleges and Universities. We have also directed our advocacy efforts at the Ontario College of Teachers, the regulatory body that takes part in setting standards for qualifying as a teacher in Ontario.

First compiled in May 2022, this web page shows you some of OPVIC’s major efforts on this issue. We will endeavor to update it when there are any new developments.

Here is what’s new since the start of 2022:

Read the January 6, 2022 Letter from OPVIC to the leaders of Ontario’s major political parties. In this non-partisan letter, OPVIC explained the need for Ontario’s Government to strengthen the training requirements for TVIs in Ontario, and to increase the number of TVIs in Ontario’s schools. OPVIC asked each party leader to make specific election commitments to improve this situation in the rapidly-approaching June 2, 2022 Ontario general election.

Read the February 28, 2022 letter from the Ontario New Democratic Party to OPVIC. In this letter, the NDP makes commitments to address the problem with TVI training and supply in Ontario.

Check out the May 1, 2022 letter to OPVIC from the Ontario Liberal Party. In this letter, the Ontario Liberal Party made election commitments to address the problems we have identified with the training of and supply of TVIs in Ontario.

Note: Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party and Green Party did not answer our request for election commitments in the June 2022 Ontario election.

Read a summary of our efforts from January 2018 to early 2022 to raise our concerns with the Ontario Government and the Ontario College of Teachers, and 16 major documents that show what we’ve tried.

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