Dr. Kathy Heller: The
Role of the OI Teacher
What makes an OI teacher different than other teachers?
How are our students different than other teachers?
CEC Division Position Statement: Started in 1996. Dr. Heller
has written an article describing the critical role of the OI Teacher, as well as discussing the history of OI certification.
Dr. Heller’s article delineates the Specialized Skills in
Physical/Health Disabilities such as Legal Foundations, Characteristics,
Assessment, Instruction, Curriculum, and Learning Environment. Students with physical and health disabilities are the most at risk of all the groups of students with disabilities if the teacher does not have the required knowledge and
skills. They are not only at risk of not having an appropriate education with the needed modifications and adaptations, but the student’s well being may be at risk.
The student’s well being may hinge on the teachers’ knowledge and
ability to: provide a safe environment to accommodate the student’s unique medical and health needs; recognize and report critical observations concerning changes in health status; recognize and respond quickly to emergency situations.
Study in 2001: It is frightening what teachers of students with Orthopedic Impairments did NOT know regarding their students’ needs. When a specialized certification is required, there is a demand for a specialized certification program at the university level.
However, when the certification is no longer required by the state agency, then there is no delivery of knowledge and specialized skills instruction for OI teachers. This knowledge is critical for students with physical disabilities.
2009: A National Panel was formed to determine what an OI Teacher does differently from other educators, and what unique skills are required to provide appropriate service to students with physical/health disabilities. These skills are outlined in
“What Every Special Educator Must Know: The International Standards for thePreparation and Certification of Special Education Teachers” (The Council for Exceptional Children, 1996). Dr. Heller provided handouts and review.
The initial certification in GA for OI is either an add-on
certification program, or a masters in OI.
Dr. Heller reviews the Standards for Teachers of Students
with Physical and Health Disabilities.
Standard 1: There are key differences in the skills and
knowledge that are specific to OI teachers, i.e. medical procedures (tube
feeding, CIC, etc.) as well as having the knowledge base regarding the
different disabilities (etiology, characteristics, impact on learning,
instructional strategies for specific disabilities); for example: How Spina Bifida effects abstract reasoning skills in Math, inferential comprehension, etc.)
Standard 2: Secondary conditions are also highly possible in
students with orthopedic impairments, such as asthma, seizure disorders and
shunt malfunctioning. It is important to know how these conditions interact with the primary orthopedic impairment and how these conditions further impact the student’s learning.
Standard 3: Individual Learning Differences- As OI teachers,
we must effectively determine how the orthopedic impairment affects our
students’ ability to learn and respond (communicate) with others. Students with
orthopedic impairments have varying means of response (eye gaze, foot
movements, etc.) that may not be traditionally looked upon as a reliable means
of response. However, for our OI students it is necessary to systematically determine the most efficient means of response for the student so that the student may be able to interact effectively with their learning environment, teachers, peers, etc. Also, students with degenerative diseases have further psychosocial effects and emotional effects. It may be good to have a discussion regarding how to handle the emotional component of degenerative disorders with staff members, and how we can best support our students during this time. Additionally, students with medical conditions (seizures, ADHD) and post-surgery will have interactive affects from medication and pain management. Students who are nonverbal have to have specialized interventions regarding reading instruction, i.e. additional rehearsal for decoding using the Non-Verbal Reading Approach. Experiential deficits and processing issues are also a huge concern for our students.
Overall, we have to explore the interactive effects of all
factors that students must deal with (functional effects, health effects,
psychosocial, developmental, etc.) and how these factors impact the student’s
learning in all realms.
We have to separate the motor from the cognitive in our
approach to working with students with Orthopedic Impairments. Specialized
instructional strategies will alleviate motor errors and frustration for
students with severe physical disabilities.
It is also necessary for students with physical disabilities
to be involved and knowledgeable about their health care procedures in order
for them to be as independent as possible.
Students should also benefit from adapted curriculums and
assistive technology that will maximize their educational performance according
to their unique needs.
Standard 5: Learning Environments/Social Interactions
It is necessary for teachers to accommodate their student’s
needs within the classroom environment so that the student can more fully
access their instructional materials.
OI teachers should walk the emergency evacuation route to
make sure that students with physical disabilities are able to quickly and
safely leave the building. If the suggested route is not appropriate, then it
may be necessary to create alternative plans and procedures.
Positioning techniques are also necessary to ensure the most
functional use of the students’ limbs that are functional. Correct
re-positioning and movement in and out of the wheelchair are also extremely
important in order to prevent pressure sores that may become infected, thus
leading to other possible conditions, some of which can be fatal.
Mrs. Seals (DeKalb) asked about recommendations for physical
therapists regarding older students who are often dismissed from services
regarding decreased range of motion issues over time. Recommendation: “Are
there strategies that I can use as a teacher during the extra time that we have
during the day to assist with increasing range of motion that may be impacted
Also, in order to prevent teacher injury, proper lifting and
handling techniques are important to know when lifting and handling students.
Spread: Sometimes when people see a student with physical disabilities they assume there are other disabilities as well, i.e. a student with CP is intellectually disabled.
Making sure that paraprofessionals are not over stepping their boundaries which further enables learned helplessness.
Standard 6: Language
Making sure that students with disabilities are able to
communicate effectively through the use of an AT device or other assistive
technologies or strategies, always having a secondary form of communication
available when the primary system is inoperable.
Standard 7: Scheduling and Programming
OI students will often require an individualized approach
when determining what activities and classes may require accommodations and
OI teachers will often be called upon when a student is
being initially assessed for special education services.
Standard 8: Assessment
Assessment is a continuing and frustrating issue.
Standard 9: Professional and Ethical Practice
Attending consortium meetings are a wonderful example of
professional and ethical practice.
The physical and health and multiple disabilities division
is our CEC division for OI.
Standard 10: Collaboration
OI teachers must collaborate with an array of professionals
in order to most effectively serve the needs of our students with physical