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CVI and the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC)

Learn about the Expanded Core Curriculum and why it's essential for individuals with CVI

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The Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC)

The ECC levels the playing field for students who are blind and visually impaired. The ECC is a nine-area curriculum to help bridge the gap between a standard school curriculum and what an individual who is blind or visually impaired would miss due to lack of visual access—to instruction, the environment, activities, social interactions, and incidental learning. It is an essential curriculum to teach skills that support academic success, independent living, and work skills. CVI is on the blindness spectrum and students with CVI require the ECC for life-changing access.

Nine areas of the ECC:

All nine Expanded Core Curriculum Areas are appropriate for consideration for all individuals regardless of abilities and age.

The expanded core curriculum provides opportunities for equality for the blind and visually impaired; to NOT teach it is to deny this basic human right.

Phil Hatlen, See/Hear: An Amazing Movement, quote from Expanded Core Curriculum TSBVI.edu

ECC and the law 

The legal requirement to include the assessment and instruction of the ECC stems from the interpretation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA identifies the need for an evaluation that includes the functional skills of blind or visually impaired individuals. The ECC assesses just that—the individuals’ functional skills. American Printing House for the Blind (APH) breaks down the educational and legal requirements related to the ECC. There is an ongoing push to include Expanded Core Curriculum into the laws of the education of the blind and visually impaired, and two states, Texas and California, have already done just that.

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Boy walking in the grocery store using his white cane

ECC for individuals with CVI 

CVI is the leading cause of childhood blindness. A recent study from the United Kingdom found that 1 in 30 children have CVI-related vision problems. Individuals with CVI require the ECC to live a full life, one where they define their own success.

CVI manifests in a myriad of ways. While there are common CVI visual behaviors, each can have various impacts on access for individuals with CVI. For example, how the individual is impacted by visual clutter, light, and movement will affect the strategies used to teach independent living skills. Or the unique ways form accessibility and access to people play a role in social interaction skills. 

Individuals with CVI need explicit instruction in each ECC area. Without access to incidental learning, concepts that are learned through observation by sighted peers must be directly taught to individuals with CVI.

Each of the ECC’s nine areas must be individualized to the unique needs of an individual with CVI. Results from CVI assessments and the Learning Media Assessment (LMA) inform the evaluation and instruction of the ECC nine areas. It’s important that the school team always keeps in mind the primary and secondary learning media (visual, tactile, auditory). Both internal and external factors can affect vision use (fatigue, the environment, task, materials, temperature, noise) and we can’t teach skills in a one-size-fits-all manner. The impact of CVI on an individual’s functional vision varies from individual to individual and from environment to environment. 

For an individual with CVI, their visual behaviors require additional considerations for how to teach the skills in each of the nine areas. The focus on ECC skills also helps build those brain connections, developing their visual library and access through the sensory channels that work best for them. As stated by Dr. Lotfi Merabet, the brain needs experiences to make connections. 

The nine ECC areas are not taught in isolation. For example, thinking of Assistive Technology includes communication, access to reading, writing, and pictures. Those also include Compensatory Skills (access to reading and symbols), Social Interaction (communication), Self-determination (stating that technology is not accessible), and so on. For an individual with CVI, additional layers could include the impact of movement, lighting, and form accessibility while accessing the assistive technology. It is important for us to remember, similar to how the impact of visual behaviors is not singular, each area of the ECC is not singular either. The areas of the ECC build on one another to develop a robust skill-set for learning and independent living.

An individualized approach is essential 

The most important thing to remember as an educator, parent, and team member is individuality! Trial, error, and data collection are essential for learning the best ways to instruct and execute a skill that is right for the individual. For example, not every sighted individual identifies clothes or organizes their closets in the same way, so we should not put that expectation on an individual with a visual impairment. By keeping data and trying different methods of instruction, we are able to see what is the best way to identify clothes; by sight, labels, touch, or smell. We can not expect the first way of instruction to match the individual’s style perfectly, just as we can not expect them to have a singular way of executing the skill. By instructing a skill in different ways and keeping data, we can see what works best. 

Trial, error, and data collection are essential for learning the best ways to instruct and execute a skill that is right for the individual.

With the ECC, there are many checklists, charts, and evaluation methods to help determine an individual’s areas of strength and areas to focus instruction. It is important to remember that these checklists are just that—a tool to guide instruction, not to dictate the form and strategy for instruction. It is the responsibility of an individual’s educational team to collaborate on the strategy to best incorporate the ECC to match the individual’s needs and abilities. 

ECC Checklists

Individualized Education Program (IEP) and the ECC

The Individualized Education Program (IEP) is the plan developed by a student’s education team to reflect the students’ needed supports to access the curriculum. During the IEP evaluation process, the student should have an ECC screening and evaluation. This is in addition to the Functional Vision Assessment, Learning Media Assessment, and CVI assessments. The ECC screening will help determine the areas of strength and areas for instruction while keeping the student-specific CVI needs. Not every area of need for instruction is worked on every year.

The integration of the ECC into the IEP is not yet smooth. The ECC supports the students development of necessary skills to access their educational materials and beyond. This is determined by the team and what is thought of as the most critical skills at that time. Many of the areas of the ECC blend in with each other as well, so the team can integrate them. Not every area is instructed with direct service. Some areas are best addressed in consultation. For example, in preschool addressing career education, the class works on community helpers (mail person, fireman, hospital workers, etc.) and ensures that instructional materials are individually accessible while integrating career education. 

The Individual’s IEP team should:

Just as the impact of CVI visual behaviors is embedded throughout the IEP, so should the ECC. Examples of areas in the IEP to embed the ECC:

The ECC in the home

The ECC is not a set of skills that stop at the school door. Instead, it is the foundational skill set to fill the gaps in instruction for visually impaired individuals, including aspects of adulthood. Thinking of that 6-year-old individual at 26 is scary, but not thinking of the future may limit the learning opportunities at the present time. The ECC can seem huge, including everything from picking out clothes, crossing the road, and signing a check. But it’s including your child in the little moments that make the impact. It’s well known that the brain develops from experiences. Without providing those opportunities, individuals with CVI can not build brain connections, grow their visual library, and foster sensory efficiency skills. Having the individual pick from two shirts or feeling all the spoons in the kitchen are little experiences that add up, helping to build foundational skills. 

APH has a book of quick at-home activity ideas to integrate the ECC into everyday life. Michigan’s Department of Education, Low Incidence Outreach program developed ECC Calendars for Early Childhood, Elementary, Middle, and High schools. The calendars have a quick activity idea for each day and are separated into levels from early childhood through high school. Know that these are just ideas and are not individualized, so adaptations are needed to match individualized accessibility needs and levels. 

More ECC resources:


Emily Cantillon is a certified Teacher of the Visually Impaired for Perkins School for the Blind and is the CVI Lead Teacher for Community Programs at Perkins.  Emily is currently a Doctoral student at the University of Northern Colorado. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in Special Education with an emphasis on CVI. She received her MA from the University of Northern Colorado in special education for the visually impaired. Emily completed the University of Massachusetts, Boston’s CVI Certification as well.

References: 

Allan, J. (2016, August 3). What is the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC)? https://www.tsbvi.edu/what-is-the-expanded-core-curriculum-ecc

‌Mazel, E. (2017). The Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) for Students with CVI. CVI Teacher. https://cviteacher.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/the-expanded-core-curriculum-ecc-for-students-with-cvi/

Expanded Core Curriculum. (2021). Pathstoliteracy.org. https://www.pathstoliteracy.org/expanded-core-curriculum

The Expanded Core Curriculum Incorporating the best learning approaches for your child with blindness or vision impairment. (n.d.). https://www.perkins.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/ECC_Brochure_2021_digital.pdf

Boonstra, N. et al. Changes in causes of low vision between 1988 and 2009 in a Dutch population of children. Acta Ophthalmologica 90, 277-286, doi:10.1111/j.1755-3768.2011.02205.x (2012).

Durnian JM, Cheeseman R, Kumar A, Raja V, Newman W, Chandna A. Childhood sight impairment: a 10-year picture. Eye (Lond) 2010;24:112–117.

Hatton, D., Ivy, S., & Boyer, C. (2013). Severe visual impairments in infants and toddlers in the United States. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 107, 325-336

Kong, L., Fry, M., Al-Samarraie, M., Gilbert, C., & Steinkuller, P. G. (2012). An update on progress and the changing epidemiology of causes of childhood blindness worldwide. Journal of American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, 16(6), 501–507. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaapos.2012.09.004 

Martín, M. B. C., Santos-Lozano, A., Martín-Hernández, J., López-Miguel, A., Maldonado, M., Baladrón, C., Bauer, C. M., & Merabet, L. B. (2016). Cerebral versus Ocular Visual Impairment: The Impact on Developmental Neuroplasticity. Frontiers in Psychology, 7. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01958

Huo, R., Burden, S. K., Hoyt, C. S., & Good, W. V. (1999). Chronic cortical visual impairment in children: aetiology, prognosis, and associated neurological deficits. The British Journal of Ophthalmology, 83(6), 670–675. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjo.83.6.670

Rahi, J., & Dezateux, C. (1998). Epidemiology of Visual Impairment in Britain. Arch dis Child Retrieved 4 November 2021, from https://adc.bmj.com/content/archdischild/78/4/381.full.pdf.

Huo, R., Burden, S. K., Hoyt, C. S., & Good, W. V. (1999). Chronic cortical visual impairment in children: aetiology, prognosis, and associated neurological deficits. The British Journal of Ophthalmology, 83(6), 670–675. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjo.83.6.670

Hatton, D. D., Schwietz, E., Boyer, B. & Rychwalski, P. Babies Count: The national registry for children with visual impairments, birth to 3 years. Journal of American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus 11, 351-355, doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaapos.2007.01.107 (2007).

NEI unveils “Vision for the Future” | National Eye Institute. (2021). Nih.gov. https://www.nei.nih.gov/about/news-and-events/news/nei-unveils-vision-future

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