The ECC or Expanded Core Curriculum consists of the knowledge and skills needed by a student with a visual disability to access core content areas. Everyone involved in the life of a student with a visual disability should seek to learn as much as possible about the ECC which is organized into the nine areas listed below:
Low vision and blindness are low-incidence disabilities. A classroom teacher may, over the course of a 30-year career, encounter only one or two students with a visual disability–or perhaps none at all. Classroom teachers who are experts in the core curriculum or who may have previous experience with blind or low vision students will still benefit from revisiting the ECC framework.
Just as each learner is unique, every learning environment poses its own set of challenges which can and do change from year-to-year. Teams do their best to anticipate as many of these obstacles to access and learning as possible. Even the most comprehensive education or accommodation plan will need to be amended or revised as issues of accessibility come to light. Obstacles such as these are in fact opportunities for growth in teaching and learning. When viewed through the lens of a growth mindset: the obstacle becomes the way. As students, families and educators tackle issues of accessibility, trust is formed and relationships are strengthened.
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” – Marcus Aurelius
Each year for as long as anyone can remember, educators employed by the State of Connecticut Department of Aging and Disability Services have met to plan full day workshops for special guests: teachers, paraprofessionals, parents, and other care-team members. These learning days offer critical opportunities to increase the skills and knowledge of educators who support children aged 0-21 living with low vision or blindness. Participants in these workshops are provided with multiple opportunities to experience what it may be like to exist as a child or student with a visual disability.
In Connecticut, most children with visual disabilities are served by one or more of the professionals from the pre-school, school age, and special services units employed by the Bureau of Education and Services for the Blind (BESB). Some school-age children receive services from providers in cities and towns in CT who employ a district-based (here called itinerant) teacher of the visually impaired (TVI). Regardless of who provides vision services, in-services are offered to all teachers of students who read large print, teachers of students who read braille, pre-school providers and paraprofessionals. There are in-service days for those who work with students with multiple impairments including visual impairments as well.
Each new school year brings with it an opportunity to revise and update each of these in-service days. In preparation for the school year 2019-20, the Teachers of Large Print Readers Day Committee met and there was a discussion of the following: those attending the workshop would continue to benefit from an introduction and overview to support their understanding of each of the nine areas of the Expanded Common Core (or ECC). Committee Chairperson, Faith Horter listened to ideas which included the possibility of inviting a student – a high school student – to attend as a guest speaker and to have him or her answer questions about the importance of the ECC. Three Education Consultants: Adrienne Brown, Nancy Moskowicz and Hope Pardee agreed to record the video and combine each “vignette” with an existing slideshow authored by Education Consultants Patti Fahle and Patty Leonard.
The next step was to identify a student willing to be interviewed on-camera. Children’s Services Supervisor, Catherine Summ introduced us to a student who had been identified by Education Consultant Patty Leonard—as having both a gift for public speaking and an interest in advocating for other students. Emma was that student. On the day she arrived at the office in Windsor, Connecticut with her mother, Beth, it became clear to the team: Emma was not at all new to work like this. In fact, Emma’s mother, Beth let us know Emma had previously been recorded on video telling audiences about early experiences of growing up with a visual impairment.
The video below is a True Life Take by Emma, ‘Jumping Off a Cliff’.
Our student was giving up part of her summer vacation to record this interview. Everyone was conscious of the sacrifice her part. As a team, we were determined to be efficient with the time she was able to give us: two days in August. We had planned to record Emma’s introduction and her thoughts on four ECC areas the first day, followed by five ECC areas and Emma’s final thoughts on the second day. Remarkably, Emma’s part of the work was accomplished in a single day! Just prior to each recording, Adrienne or Nancy would read from a brief description of one ECC area pose a question (or two) for Emma to address. Emma did this extemporaneously (I.e. with no script!) and often in a single, perfect take.
Emma was able to offer multiple anecdotes, each of which perfectly illustrated the take-home message: Early instruction and ongoing support in each of the nine common core areas were important. Emma could not have been a better spokesperson or advocate. Not only was she a powerful speaker, Emma seemed–then and now–to be a living example of how, equipped with a supportive family and team together with skills from the ECC, a student could meet every challenge with knowledge and with grace.
Teachers and staff who participated in the ‘Large Print In-Service’ expressed to us how impactful it was for them to view the ECC video and hear Emma’s stories. This was evidenced in the comments shared by those who participated in the post-in-service survey. During the premiere of the video on October 10, 2019, those of us on the team were gratified to see the way some participants looked meaningfully at one another and nodded in agreement as Emma spoke. This was especially true during the part of the video when Emma made reference to the way in which her classroom teachers and team members “got very quiet” as they had the opportunity to look through the goggles designed to provide a simulation to how the world might look through Emma’s eyes. The low-vision simulation was something participants in Large Print Readers Day could relate to. Early on in the day, many of them had donned goggles designed to simulate a visual disability. This is done in hopes of helping everyone appreciate the significant challenges which some everyday activities can pose for a person with a visual disability.
In her closing remarks to teachers, Emma re-iterates several important messages for stakeholders: students, families and members of the education team.
In this interview with Emma, a high school student from Connecticut who is visually impaired, you will learn about the importance of The Expanded Core Curriculum. Listen as Emma explains some of the challenges she faces while living and learning with a visual impairment. Watch as Emma demonstrates some of the ways she has been supported by her family, TVIs (Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments) and COMS (Orientation and Mobility Instructors) learning skills and strategies to access her learning environment and the community to live her best life.
By Hope Pardee