Illuminating the IEP, Part One: The Purpose of an Individualized Education Program

A mother and her son at an IEP meeting meeting with the teacher who is holding a paper.
A mother and her son are at an IEP meeting with the teacher who is holding a paper.

by Carlton Anne Cook Walker

If you are the parent or family member of a child or teen who is blind or has a visual impairment, you have (hopefully) heard the term IEP. Three letters: I, E, and P can engender a wide range of emotions – in parents, in teachers, in administrators, and even in children. Before diving into the ins and outs of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process, it is helpful to review the purpose.  

Federal law requires public schools to develop and implement IEPs for eligible children with one or more disabilities. These IEPs have multiple purposes: 


  • IEPs are designed to provide a disabled child with a FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education).  
  • FAPE starts with the regular education provided to nondisabled children. 
  • All elements of regular education should be included unless the IEP team determines that some portion of regular education is inappropriate/irrelevant/not timely for the disabled child. 
  • Disability-related needs are added onto regular education services; they do not replace it. 
  • In general, IEPs should provide both regular education and the disability-related services the child needs. 
  • Children with IEPs must receive instruction in the least restrictive environment (LRE). For example, it is less restrictive to provide IEP services in the regular education classroom than to the child out to a resource room. Of course, if a more restrictive environment is needed (such as one-on-one instruction or attendance at a school for the blind), that is what the child should get. 

Disability-Related Instruction:  

  • Disability-related instruction includes instruction needed to allow the child to be involved in and progress in the regular education curriculum, such as: 
  • Developing fine motor skills with an occupational therapist, such as typing on a computer keyboard, using finger gestures on a tablet, etc.  
  • Developing gross motor skills with a physical therapist, such as developing core strength for balance and posture or coordination for climbing stairs, running, etc.  
  • Instruction The Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC).  
  • Instruction in braille, both reading and writing.   
  • Note: the need to read and write letters and numbers is a regular education need, but regular education print may not be an efficient, effective, and/or sustainable tool for a child with blindness or low vision, so this child needs disability-related instruction in braille to ACCESS regular instruction in reading, writing, math, etc.  
  • Instruction in cane travel, orientation, and mobility so that the child may maintain or develop age-appropriate awareness of self in relation to the environment and to move oneself as independently as is possible. 
  • Instruction in accessible assistive technology so that the child may perform age-appropriate tasks efficiently, effectively, and for an age-appropriate sustainable length of time. 

Disability-Related Tools and Equipment:  

  • Regular education relies on many tools that are not disability-friendly. Through IEPs, schools must provide children with disabilities with tools and equipment they need: 
  • To access educational content 
  • To meet disability-related individual needs 
  • Note: this does NOT include surgically-implanted medical devices. 

Preparation For Life After High School: 

  • The overarching purpose of the law that provides for IEPs is to prepare eligible children with disabilities for post-secondary (after high school graduation): 
  • Education (all kinds, from trade schools to universities) 
  • Employment (full- or part-time, independent contracting starting a business, etc.) 
  • Independent Living (everything else and, to the extent the individual cannot be fully independent, the IEP should prepare the individual for as independent a life as possible.) 

In sum, a disabled child’s “IEP” is designed to set forth the way a school will meet the educational and disability-related needs of the child. 

Your IEP team, which includes parents (you), teachers, school administration, and even your child, works together to develop the IEP. The team considers information (“present levels”) provided by ALL members. From these present levels, the team determines your child’s strengths, abilities, and needs.  

Once these needs have been identified, your team develops the IEP to provide the accommodations for and/or modifications to the regular education program that are appropriate and least restrictive for your child. Your IEP team also develops “goals,” measures of annual progress individualized to your child. These goals should be robust, meaningful, and measurable.  

In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has found that the IEP should be “reasonably calculated to enable the child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances [such as the child’s disability/disabilities and individual needs]. Endrew F. v. Douglas Co. Sch. Dist., 137 S. Ct. 988 (2017). 

As a parent, you are an essential and integral member of the IEP. You know your own child well, including your child’s strengths and areas of need. By working as a team, you and school staff members can develop an IEP that provides a FAPE, meets your child’s disability-related needs, and supports your child’s development of essential post-secondary skills for education, employment, and independent living.  

Additional Resources: 

About the Author:  

In this blog, guest author, Carlton Anne Cook Walker, BEAR-Blindness Education and Advocacy Resources, Teacher of Students with Blindness/Low Vision, President of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, and parent of a child who is blind; shares the purpose of an Individualized Education Program (IEP).  

Learn More: 

If you are looking for more information on navigating the IEP process for your child who has a visual impairment, please join our blog author, Carlton Anne Cook Walker, and parent Lisa Lloyd on Saturday, February 12th at 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM (Eastern) for “Navigating the Individualized Education Program (IEP) Process”  Register HERE