Views Letter to Jeff Butler Ministry of Education
Ontario Parents of Visually Impaired Children (OPVI)
Also known as Views for The Visually Impaired
May 1, 2020
To: Jeff Butler, Acting Assistant Deputy Minister of the Student Support and Field Services Division
Re: The Pressing Need to Substantially Improve the Training of and Qualifications for Teachers of the Visually Impaired in Ontario
Thank you for meeting by phone on April 22, 2020 to discuss the protracted problem in Ontario with the provincially-required qualifications to train as a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI). As we discussed, I am a member of the board of directors of Ontario’s officially-recognized organization of parents of children who are blind, deafblind, or low vision. We are moving towards using the operating name of Ontario Parents of Visually Impaired children (OPVI), although our corporate name remains Views for the Visually Impaired.
As we discussed, TVI’s play an absolutely critical and irreplaceable role in the education of students with vision loss. Ontario has a serious problem of both a growing shortage of TVIs, and substantially inadequate Ontario-based training and qualifications for TVIs. We have been bringing this problem to the attention of the Ontario Government for over two years. Yet nothing has improved. We need a surge of concerted Government leadership and action on this situation before it gets even worse.
We recognize that the COVID-19 crisis is a top priority now. However, the Government is now working on plans for the new world in Ontario’s education system after the COVID-19 crisis lifts. Addressing this issue should be part of that plan.
As we discussed on this call, and as we have explained to Ministry officials multiple times over the past two and a quarter years, Ontario’s required qualifications to serve as a TVI are very inadequate. These are considerably lower than in any number of other jurisdictions inside Canada and in several other developed countries. Making this worse, Ontario also has a growing shortage of TVIs. Where new TVIs are available, they can face roadblocks that can impede qualified TVIs from being hired at a school board where their services are needed.
There is a strong consensus that reform is needed. No one disputes our concerns about the training and qualifications to work as a TVI in Ontario. They are shared by parents of children with vision loss and by professionals in the blindness rehabilitation field. The CNIB has endorsed our brief to your Ministry as has the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER). AER is the major international organization of experts doing rehabilitation work in the blindness/low vision field. No one at the Ministry or the Ontario College of Teachers has tried to suggest that this long term and festering status quo is justified, or that students with vision loss in Ontario deserve nothing better.
As we have explained several times since 2018 to your Ministry officials, the solution to this problem includes several measures. these must be put in place at the same time and in a coordinated way. We need the Ontario Government to show leadership by coordinating and leading the implementation of these measures:
- The requirements to be qualified to serve in Ontario as a teacher of the visually impaired should be substantially increased. A qualified teacher should be required to successfully complete a one-year graduate program delivered by a Faculty of Education that focuses on training to work as a TVI, and that includes a substantial practicum requirement.
- A graduate-level university program should be established in Ontario, and provincially funded. To save money and time, it could be operated as a satellite of the recognized graduate program offered at UBC.
- The Ontario Government should incentivize and finance the training of a surge of teachers to undertake this new TVI training, in order to increase the pool of available TVIs in Ontario. After that, a regular flow of new TVIs should be funded through this training to ensure a long-term sufficient supply of qualified TVIs in Ontario.
- As well, a program should be established and provincially funded to “retrofit” or increase the skills and training of those who are already working as TVIs in Ontario and who did not undertake a comparable graduate-level program in teaching students with vision loss. This should include, for example, effective training in the adaptive technology that students with vision loss can use as part of their education and activities of daily living.
As we discussed, we are extremely and justifiably frustrated with the Ontario Government’s protracted and ongoing inaction on this issue. We first presented it to the Ontario Government over two and a quarter years ago, in our detailed January 25, 2018 brief to your Ministry. As noted earlier, we have seen no Government action to improve the situation for students with vision loss in the ensuing two and a quarter years. We further elaborated on these concerns in our February14, 2020 brief to the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s “Right to Read” inquiry, now underway. We shared that brief with your Ministry’s officials when we submitted it to the Ontario Human Rights Commission. It is very important for you to read both of those briefs on this issue, if you have not already done so.
We have subsequently had some meetings, phone calls and email exchanges with your Ministry’s officials at or below the level of Assistant Deputy Minister. Our last face-to-face meeting and substantive discussion of this issue with Ministry of Education officials took place over three quarters of a year ago, on June 17, 2019. From within the Ministry of Education, no progress whatsoever was reported to us, nor was there any commitment to implement specific reforms to the training or qualifications for TVIs in Ontario. At that time, your Assistant Deputy Minister Martyn Beckett (who had been fully briefed on this issue in discussions over a year earlier) said that from that point on, he would be the lead contact for us. He committed to us that he would let us know by mid-July 2019 what is happening within the Government on our requests.
Since then, we never again heard from him. We made efforts to speak to him. These were never answered.
The only reason we swiftly secured a meeting over the phone with you last week is because our president was able to secure a call with the Minister of Education. It was he who directed a swift call with us, for which we are appreciative. We should not have to go to the extraordinary lengths of getting a call with your Minister just to get an call back or response.
While we were in contact with your assistant to book our April 22 call with you, I asked that the lead Assistant Deputy Minister, Martyn Beckett, be included in the phone call. Your assistant then shared with me the news that Mr. Beckett had retired. We were then told that his successor, also only in a temporary acting role, is Ms. Yael Ginsler. We have seen no indication that on his retirement, Mr. Beckett’s lead responsibility for our issue was passed on to his successor, Yael Ginsler. She has made no effort to identify herself to us or to reach out to us. She was not available to take part in our April 22 call with you.
Beyond the foregoing efforts, over the past two years, we have also presented our concerns to the Ontario College of Teachers. It is the self-governing organization that regulates teachers in Ontario.
The response to date from the Ontario College of Teachers has been insufficient. We learned within the past two months from officials at the Ontario College of Teachers that some time ago, there was a meeting or discussion between the College of Teachers and your Ministry regarding the TVI training/qualifications issue we are raising. We were not included in that meeting or discussion. This is so even though we have repeatedly asked both your Ministry and the College of Teachers to convene a joint meeting with us, the Ministry, the College of Teachers, the Ministry of Colleges and Universities and either York University’s Faculty of Education or another education faculty with whom this topic can be productively discussed. To date, we have seen no action on that simple request from either the Ministry or the Ontario College of Teachers.
We regret that to date, the solution pursued by the Ontario College of Teachers is woefully inadequate. The College has decided to simply improve the curriculum in the “Additional Qualification” or AQ courses now required to qualify to serve as a TVI. As we have told your officials and those working at the Ontario College of Teachers, that is a cosmetic action that will not effectively solve this problem. It may lead the College to claim that they have fixed this problem, without in fact properly solving it. It is akin to simply deciding to use nicer plates and cutlery in the dining room of the Titanic.
As noted above, what is needed in Ontario, as our briefs have detailed, is for TVIs to secure one year of graduate-level training in a faculty of education program addressing the teaching of children with vision loss, including a good hands-on practicum requirement. If that is required for those teaching children with vision loss in so many other jurisdictions inside and outside Canada, students with vision loss in Ontario deserve nothing less.
We understand that teachers of the deaf in Ontario have a similar requirement to that which we seek. A graduate level program to become a teacher of the deaf is offered at the Faculty of Education at York University. If that is required and provided for teachers of the deaf, it should be required for teachers of the visually impaired.
Vision loss is a “low incidence” disability among school-age children. We have found that your Ministry has a regrettable longstanding legacy of giving these children far less attention than children with high-incidence disabilities. Your Ministry’s inadequate treatment of our request and its officials over the past two years is an example of this.
Please promptly take a fresh look at this issue, and address the following arising from our meeting:
- Can you let us know which official in your Ministry has lead responsibility for this issue and with whom we should deal. Is it Yael Ginsler, in place of Martyn Beckett? Is Mr. Beckett still doing work for the Ministry since his retirement?
- Could you please commit to us that the Ministry will take swift action to effectively address the issues we are raising.
- Could you please convene a meeting with us and our supporters (such as CNIB), your Ministry’s key officials on this issue, the Ontario College of Teachers, and the Ministry of Colleges and Universities. Could you also include one or more Ontario-based faculties of education that could take part in the solution to this problem? Each have a part to play in solving this problem. Progress can only be made if we are all at the table at the same time, working together.
- Please confirm if the Ontario Government funds the program at the York University Faculty of Education to train teachers of the deaf, and if so, the amount of this funding per year?
- Please tell us what your plan of action on this issue is going to be.
The Ontario Government has publicly committed to leading by example on the issue of accessibility for people with disabilities and that it will take an “all of Government approach” to that important issue. Students with vision loss in Ontario need the Government to lead by example on this issue, rather than continuing to lag so far behind so many other jurisdictions inside and outside Canada.
We welcome the opportunity to kick-start action on this important issue and look forward to hearing back from you.
David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont
Member and Director of Government Relations, Board of Directors of OPVI/Views
Premier Doug Ford
Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education,
Raymond Cho, Minister of Seniors and Accessibility
Nancy Naylor, Deputy Minister of Education
Yael Ginsler, Assistant Deputy Minister of Education (Acting) for the Student Achievement Division
Claudine Munroe, Director of the Special Education/Success for All Branc
Demetra Saldaris, Director of the Professionalism, Teaching Policy and Standards Branch
Denise Cole, Deputy Minister for Seniors and Accessibility
Susan Picarello, Assistant Deputy Minister, Accessibility Directorate of Ontario
John Rafferty, President, CNIB
Suzanne Decary CNIB Executive Director, Toronto
Renu Mandhane, Chief Commissioner, Ontario Human Rights Commission