The US Department of Education (ED) is required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to report to Congress annually on the number of children receiving special education, by disability category, for ages 3-21 years. The count must be unduplicated - that is, children can only be counted in one category, regardless of the number of disabilities they experience. This has led to an underestimate of the number of children with visual impairment in this country.
Table 1. Comparison of Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and American Printing House for the Blind (APH) Annual Counts compares ED's IDEA count to the federal registry maintained by the American Printing House for the Blind (APH). Because the IDEA count does not include children with visual impairments who are counted in another category (primarily "multiple disabilities"), the number of children with visual impairments served by IDEA has steadily declined. Where IDEA defines visual impairment as "an impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a child's educational performance," the APH federal registry requires a diagnosis of legal blindness, a much stricter criterion, and includes students whether or not they have other disabilities. The APH federal registry count has steadily increased over the same time period.
Table 2. Range of Estimates of Severely Visually Impaired Children was prepared for a February 9, 2007 meeting with Alexa Posny, Director, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), U.S. Department of Education. The table compares the range of estimates of severely visually impaired children from the U.S. Department of Education (school year 2001-2002), Digest of Education Statistics (Snyder, Tan, & Hoffman, 2006) (school year 2003-2004), American Printing House for the Blind, National Deaf-Blind Child Count, the National Plan to Train Personnel in Blindness and Low Vision (2000), and then computes the number of visually impaired children by multiplying the current population <18 years (US Census Bureau, 2007) by three estimates of the prevalence of visual impairment in children.
Prepared February 2007 and updated May 2009
|Table 1. Comparison of Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and American Printing House for the Blind (APH) Annual Counts
(1) Deaf-blind and Multiple Disabilities added to count.
(2) Rounded numbers are taken from the Digest of Educational Statistics.
(3) No longer required to report 0-5 yrs by disability category.
|Table 2. Range of Estimates of Severely Visually Impaired Children
|25th Annual Report to Congress (2005)|
|U.S. Department of Education (school year 2001-2002)||6-21||Visually Impaired||28,845|
|Digest of Education Statistics (Snyder, Tan, & Hoffman, 2006)|
|School year 2003-2004||3-21||Visual Impairment (.1% of school enrollment; .4% of all children with disabilities)||28,000|
|Other Census Data|
|American Printing House for the Blind (2206) (January 5, 2004 census)||B-21||Legally Blind||49,270|
|National Deaf-Blind Child Count (December 1, 2003 census) (NTAC, 2004)||B-21||Deaf-Blind||9,853|
|National Plan to Train Personnel in Blindness and Low Vision (2000) based on Kirchner & Diament (1999)||B-21||Visually Impaired and Deaf-Blind||93,600|
|Estimated, based on population <18 years (US Census Bureau, 2007)|
|Jones & Collins (1966) (.1%)||B-19||Visually Impaired||73,510|
|Wenger, Kay, & LaPlante (1996) (.2%)||B-19||Visually Impaired||147,020|
|National Health Interview Survey-Disability (1998) (.3%)||<18 years||Serious difficulty seeing (includes legally blind)||93,600|
American Printing House for the Blind. (2006). Distribution of eligible students based on the federal quota census of January 4, 2004 (Fiscal Year 2005). Louisville, KY: Author. Retrieved February 7, 2007 at http://www.aph.org/fedquotpgm/dist05.html.
Jones, J. W., & Collins, A. P. (1966). Educational programs for visually handicapped children. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Kirchner, C., & Diament, S. (1999). Estimates of the number of visually impaired students, their teachers, and orientation and mobility specialists: Part 2. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 93, 738-744.
Mason, C., Davidson, R., & McNerney, C. (2000). The national plan to train personnel in blindness and low vision. Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.
National Center for Health Statistics. (1998). National Health Interview Survey on Disabilities, Phases I & II: 1994. (ASCII version). [CD-ROM]. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics [Producer and Distributor].
National Technical Assistance Center. (2004). National deaf-blind child count summary: December 1, 2003. Retrieved February 7, 2007 at
Snyder, T. D., Dillow, S.A., & Hoffman, C.M. (2007). Digest of education statistics [Table 48]. Retrieved May 11, 2009 at http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d06/tables/dt06_048.asp.
United States Census Bureau. (2007, January 12). State and country quick facts (USA). Retrieved February 7, 2007 at http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html.
United States Department of Education, (2005). 25th annual (2003) report to Congress on the implementation of the individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Office of Special Education Programs.
Wenger, B. L., Kaye, H. S., & LaPlante, M. P. (1996). Disabilities statistics abstract No. 15: Disabilities among children. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.