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American Foundation for the Blind Announces Third Report on Access and Engagement, Observing the Impact of COVID-19 as Students with Visual Impairments Return to In-Person Education

Qualitative research highlights experiences with technology, learning advancements and socio-emotional effects of the pandemic

WASHINGTON, June 23, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) today announced the release of the third Access and Engagement Research Report, which examines the continued negative impact of systemic and COVID-specific issues -19 on the education of students who are blind or have low vision. The report is based on focus groups and short surveys with the families of these students and the professionals who serve them at the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

Access and Engagement III: Reflecting on the Educational Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic serves as a follow-up to two previous studies conducted earlier in the pandemic. The first oneaccess and engagement Istudied the impacts of the rapid transition from in-person to remote learning at the start of the pandemic. Access and Engagement II collected data in November 2020documenting the experiences of children, families and educators through a mosaic of different models of educational service delivery.

Access and Engagement III adds to these earlier findings and continues the story as schools gradually return to in-person instruction. In addition to survey data from educators, this study presents qualitative findings, obtained through focus groups and interviews, sharing personal accounts of challenges, successes, and thoughts on the potential long-term impacts of the pandemic. These findings highlight systemic and COVID-specific issues limiting educational achievement for children who are blind or visually impaired. The study also highlights perspectives that were not specifically included in the first two studies – information shared by administrators of schools for blind students, families of children with multiple disabilities, and Spanish-speaking families of blind children and visually impaired.

“While it has become clear that the pandemic will have a lasting impact on students, families, and educators, it has also provided us with important lessons that can guide the future education of students who are blind or visually impaired, including those who have additional disabilities,” said Arielle SilvermanPh.D., AFB Research Director.

The Access and Engagement III The study focuses on three areas of concern that have emerged from previous studies: access to technology, impacts on educational progress, and the socio-emotional impacts of the pandemic on blind and visually impaired children, their families and educators. Key findings include:

  • Inaccessibility of educational technologies: Parents and educators reported that many digital learning platforms used during the pandemic were not fully accessible or usable. As a result, students often needed support to access their courses and they couldn’t access everything their peers could. As one parent said, “I developed a lot of anger, I just finished. The ADA has been in effect for 30 years and some people don’t care.”

  • Lack of reliable internet access: Among educators surveyed, 43% ranked internet connection difficulties as one of the top three technology challenges they faced during the pandemic. Students living in homes with uneven internet access could not always gain full access to distance learning.

  • Learning loss: Parents and educators reported that some subjects, such as orientation and mobility (O&M), were difficult to teach online. Students approaching high school graduation sometimes missed opportunities to gain work experience or learn skills in the community before graduation, while very young children sometimes missed key services to help them in their early development.

  • Socio-emotional effects: 90% of educators surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that the 2020-2021 school year has been more emotionally challenging than a typical school year. Some of the emotional challenges described by parents included that their children felt lonely, feared COVID, or preferred not to socialize. Some parents also felt overwhelmed by all the changes in routines and the need to provide more support for their children at home.

  • Location changes: During the pandemic, some parents decided to homeschool their children or enroll them in a school for the blind because they discovered gaps in the services their children were receiving. One parent, who decided to homeschool, shared, “I saw how quickly my daughter’s education fell to very low priority for the district when things came to a halt. When things get tough, my children will be among the first whose education will be abandoned. Once you know that, it’s hard to go back.”

  • Linguistic challenges: Spanish-speaking parents reported that most school communication was in English only. Bilingual educators have been instrumental in helping them fully support their children, especially during the pandemic.

As for the previous Access and Engagement studies, the report also includes a series of recommendations, such as emphasizing the importance of thorough communication between school staff and families (including bilingual families), ensuring full accessibility to all software and hardware learning, and legislative measures, to name a few.

The American Foundation for the Blind is grateful to the Lavelle Fund for the Blind for funding the research report. The full report is available online at

About the American Foundation for the Blind

The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) engages leaders, advances understanding, and champions impactful policies and practices using research and data. Editor of the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness For more than a century, the AFB has also been proud to maintain the accessible Helen Keller Archive, honoring the legacy of our most famous ambassador. AFB’s mission is to expand pathways to leadership, education, inclusive technology and career opportunities to create a world without limits for people who are blind, deafblind or visually impaired. To learn more, visit


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SOURCE American Foundation for the Blind