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Understanding the Expanded Core Curriculum

The Expanded Core Curriculum empowers students with disabilities to access their education and make their own choices throughout life.

Eliz sits against a tree and reads a book in braille.

During a typical school day, Eliz, 12, takes a full academic course load, which includes math, science and social studies. Her favorite class is definitely English Language Arts — fitting, given her love of books. 

“I have gazillions of favorite books,” she says. “On my last phone, I had 150 books or something on it. I’m kind of surprised it didn’t explode!”

As a student with a visual impairment though, her school day differs a bit than that of a public school student. On top of academics, Eliz’s day is also full of classes for building life skills — things like learning to use a white cane to get around with limited vision, how to perform household chores and other tasks for living independently, career education and assistive technology.  

This emphasis on life skill building is what’s known as the Expanded Core Curriculum. Tailored to the needs of every individual student, this curriculum is vital for setting children with visual impairments, including those with deafblindness and multiple disabilities, up for success after graduation. 

Here’s what you need to know about the Expanded Core Curriculum, why it’s so important and how you can advocate for a child in need — your own, or one in your community. 

What is the Expanded Core Curriculum?

The Expanded Core Curriculum is built around nine core components. Students take classes dedicated to building these skills, and teachers also build these skills into academic lessons. 

Here are the nine key pieces at a glance:

  1. Compensatory and functional academic skills, including communication modes

Compensatory skills are the skills students need to have in order to learn academic skills—students who are blind must learn braille, for example, in order to learn how to read. Other examples of compensatory skills include tactile symbols and sign language.

  1. Orientation and Mobility

These classes help to orient children who are visually impaired to their surroundings, and give them travel skills they need to move independently and safely in their environment. Navigating with a white cane, trusting a sighted guide, and occasionally working with a guide dog all fall into the Orientation and Mobility category. 

  1. Social Interaction Skills

Since sighted children learn nearly all social skills through observation of their environment and people, this is an area where students with vision loss need careful, conscious and explicit instruction. For young kids, things like circle time, where students learn concepts like sharing are helpful. For teenagers, giving them the opportunity to just hang out with one another is vital.

  1. Independent Living Skills

People who are visually impaired need to organize their daily lives in specific ways in order to live independently. This area includes the tasks and functions people perform in daily life to optimize their independence — skills such as personal hygiene, food preparation, money management and household chores.

  1. Recreation & Leisure

Skills to ensure students’ enjoyment of physical and leisure-time activities, including making choices about how to spend leisure time. This area includes keeping physically fit as well.

  1. Career Education

Students with vision loss benefit most from an experiential learning approach. Structured visits to community sites and discussions with people who perform various jobs, enable them to understand concepts and specific skills that are needed to be successful in those jobs. Considering the national rate of unemployment or underemployment of working-age adults who are blind is disproportionately high, this area needs attention throughout the school years to help students with vision loss develop marketable job skills.

  1. Assistive Technology

Assistive technology is a powerful tool that can empower students with vision loss to overcome some traditional barriers to independence and employment. Things like screen readers, for example, enable children who are visually impaired to access information online.

  1. Sensory Efficiency Skills

These skills help students use the senses, including any functional vision, hearing, touch, smell and taste, to access skills related to literacy and concept development.

  1. Self-Determination

Becoming an effective advocate for themselves is critical for students with visual impairments and complex disabilities. Self-determination skills are developed based on an individual student’s  own needs and goals.

Why is the Expanded Core Curriculum so important?

The foundational skills children with disabilities need for daily life in school, at home and in the community must be strategically taught and integrated into all aspects of their education. The reason is simple: The payoff for this work lasts a lifetime. 

Think of a student with disabilities who could grow up and be able to live truly independently. What do they need to succeed?

  • A job
  • The ability to advocate for any workplace accommodations 
  • The skills to get to and from work independently
  • The skills to navigate the grocery store
  • The ability to write a check, or pay bills online

The Expanded Core Curriculum covers all that. And the curriculum’s focus is just as important for kids who need more intensive, lifelong support. They just manifest differently. 

For example, for someone who might graduate and go on to an assisted living facility, they’ll still need to know how to advocate and speak up for themselves, in whatever manner best suits their abilities. A self-advocacy skill in this case might be picking up a spoon to signal that they’re hungry. 

No matter a child’s disability, building life skills as part of their formal education is all about setting students up to lead the fullest life possible after they graduate. That’s critical for creating a truly inclusive world. 

How to advocate for the Expanded Core Curriculum

Every child we serve, on campus, throughout the country and around the world, benefits from the Expanded Core Curriculum. However, there are many visually impaired students in public school systems who are only receiving academic instruction. They need more than that.

For parents: If your child isn’t receiving Expanded Core Curriculum instruction, here’s how you can advocate for your child:

  • Meet with your educational team and request a documented assessment of your child’s skills in each of the nine components of the Expanded Core Curriculum. 
  • This assessment should include their strengths and areas of weakness. 
  • Insist your team updates your child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team to create new goals in accordance with that assessment.

As a parent, you’re your child’s best advocate, and it’s your right and your child’s right to start the conversation!

For other advocates, the best way to ensure more children receive instruction in the Expanded Core Curriculum is to get involved with our work. We bring the Expanded Core Curriculum to millions of children everyday, an effort made possible only by our community of friends and supporters.

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Slater, who is deafblind, types an email to her Aunt Lori. Photo Credit: Anna Miller
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