Preparing for an IEP Season that Yields a Refund (or Return) for Future Job Seekers

As a tax payer, I’m feeling the crunch of tax filing season. If you’re receiving a refund from the IRS, perhaps you are looking forward to the tax filing deadline on April 18th. However, if you owe the IRS more money, a sense of dread may best describe your feelings about the annual season and imminent deadline.

As a Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI), I’m also feeling the crunch of IEP (or Individualized Education Program) season. While I prepare to update student IEP’s for next school year, I find myself pausing to consider how IEP season is similar to tax season. In addition to meeting deadlines and the paperwork involved, some students who are blind or visually impaired and their parents look forward to the annual process while others (albeit the unfortunate reality) may dread it.

What Teachers Can Do to Support Their Students

White beads with the acronym IEP for individualized education program

I recently took time to reflect on what I can do as a TVI to make this IEP season one that yields a hefty return (or refund) for the students and families I serve (and eliminate the dread). In doing so, I came across some notes I took while attending a presentation at the recent AFB Leadership Conference given by Valerie Alvarez, Blindness Trainer Coordinator for the Texas Workforce Commission. Valerie, who is visually impaired, spoke about the importance of teaching (and expecting) students who are blind or visually impaired to be active participants in their annual IEP meetings at an early age. Students who have this responsibility will be prepared as future job seekers to successfully access vocational rehabilitation services as they transition into college, career school, and/or the workforce.

This IEP season, I plan to incorporate Valerie’s instructional ideas with some resources available from AFB. My hope is students (and their parents) have a positive IEP meeting experience; one which results in them getting a “return” on the time they invested to prepare for and participate in the meeting. Will you do the same for your students who are blind or visually impaired? As future job seekers, they need you to:

  • Develop a “can-do list” and a “learning-to-do list” with your students of all ages (pre-k through high school). Ask students to share the lists at the beginning of their IEP Team Meeting.

Often times students who are blind or visually impaired and their parents leave an IEP meeting feeling as if the conversation focused mostly on what the student cannot do. Use the “can-do list” and the “learning-to-do list” as a tool for teaching students to identify and to discuss their abilities and learning needs with others. What’s one of the many returns this activity offers? Your student will be prepared to tell a future employer what he can do, despite his vision loss, to fully contribute to a company during a job interview.

  • Before the IEP meeting, ask the parents of your students to create a list of career skills their child currently has (strengths) and a list of career skills they would like their child to have as a middle school student, a high school student, and as an employed adult.

The return? Again, there are many, especially when you request and value the input your student’s parents have to offer about their children. Utilize the Qualities of an Employee Activity as well as the Employability Skills Activity to facilitate the development of a career skills list. Use the Lesson on Chores to remind parents it’s never too soon to begin teaching their child with vision loss work-related concepts and skills.

The return? Perhaps the most valuable…
Students who are blind or visually impaired grow up with an entourage of service providers who assess and identify their learning needs as well as make recommendations regarding the support and services they need to reach their annual IEP goals. Fast forward to the day after high school graduation where students are automatically responsible for identifying their own needs in addition to locating and advocating for services and support. Valerie explained she has many clients who aren’t prepared for assuming these responsibilities. This lack of preparation can negatively impact an adult’s success in the working world. We need to give students who are blind or visually impaired the opportunity to identify their learning needs as well as advocate for services and accommodations at their IEP meetings. As a result, students will be prepared for the transition into adulthood with the skills needed to successfully locate and advocate for vocational rehabilitation services, job accommodations, college or career school accommodations, etc.

Help me expand the list of suggestions by posting your instructional ideas for making this and future IEP seasons an annual season our students and their parents look forward to!