Braille Monitor May 2008
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by Daniel B. Frye and Barbara Pierce
In 1997 Joanne Wilson, former executive director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB), entered into a new and ambitious partnership with Louisiana Tech University to establish a master’s-level program for training orientation and mobility (O&M) instructors. Different from conventional university programs, this degree was established and designed to train O&M instructors using consumer-developed theories of structured discovery and immersion in nonvisual techniques. The presence of one of America’s finest orientation and adjustment centers for blind adults and a receptive university in the same small town, Ruston, Louisiana, has proven a fortunate coincidence, one which has benefited hundreds of blind people across the country for the last eleven years.
During our March visit to Ruston, Dr. Edward Bell, director of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness (PDRIB, also known as the Institute on Blindness) at Louisiana Tech, described the three primary motivations for originally creating a university program dedicated to consumer-developed methodologies. He explained that the Federation has always known how to teach travel effectively, but our effort to persuade the staff of existing university programs to incorporate our practices was unsuccessful. Moreover, conventional O&M professionals tended to trivialize the NFB approach to teaching travel. Finally, the growing trend of education and rehabilitation providers to require master’s-level credentials for employment made it necessary that such a pioneering program be started in order to guarantee that O&M professionals espousing a consumer-oriented philosophy could work in the field competitively.
So, motivated by a compelling need and financed by funds from several establishment grants, the first O&M master’s students commenced their studies at Louisiana Tech University in 1997. The collaborative relationship between the LCB and the Louisiana Tech O&M program in particular is clearly enriching for both entities. From the program’s inception, Louisiana Tech students have received academic instruction at the university while getting practical travel instruction and hands-on acquisition of blindness skills at the LCB. Students earning their master of arts in educational psychology with a concentration in orientation and mobility at Louisiana Tech are required to undergo four-hundred hours of immersion blindness training as a prerequisite to beginning their academic coursework. This instruction is usually delivered at the LCB; in fact many master’s students actually complete the comprehensive six-to-nine-month adult program at LCB before beginning their academic studies. The Louisiana Tech program, in turn, supplements the teaching cadre and other cutting-edge resources from which students at the LCB regularly benefit.
In 2001 the blindness-specific program at Louisiana Tech was expanded with the inauguration of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness that continues to offer an innovative graduate O&M curriculum but also broadens its focus to include a course of study for teachers of blind students and conducts meaningful research in the blindness arena. Today the PDRIB is a collaborative effort between Louisiana Tech and the LCB to fulfill two primary missions: preparing professionals to work in rehabilitation and education (equipped with innovative knowledge about blindness) and conducting research that clarifies and deepens understanding about blindness and the best practices for promoting education, employment, and independence for blind people. In carrying out these missions, the Institute on Blindness engages in three primary activities: administration of graduate programs, continuing education and service to the university and community, and research and publication of scholarly works on blindness rehabilitation and education.
Five people staff the PDRIB. Dr. Edward Bell directs the Institute on Blindness and is primarily responsible for teaching the O&M master’s students. Darick Williamson is an O&M instructor with primary responsibility for hands-on travel instruction to the master’s-level cane travel students. Dr. Ruby Ryles is the principal professor for students enrolled in the two master’s programs for teaching blind students. Amber Holladay, technical research assistant, and Regina Eddy, administrative assistant, round out the PDRIB team. The Institute on Blindness operates on an annual budget of approximately five hundred thousand dollars.
The Institute administers three graduate degree programs: a master of arts in educational psychology with a concentration in orientation and mobility, a master of arts in teaching with a certification in teaching blind students, and a master of science in curriculum and instruction with a cognate in teaching blind students. These programs prepare professionals to educate and rehabilitate blind children and adults. Since the Institute on Blindness was established, forty-seven students have enrolled in its degree programs. Thirty-eight have successfully graduated, a success rate of 80 percent.
Of the thirty-eight successful graduates from the O&M and teacher training programs, thirty have finished with a graduate degree in teaching orientation and mobility. Twenty-eight of these have received National Orientation and Mobility Certification (NOMC) through the National Blindness Professional Certification Board. Today all but one of these certified instructors is employed in the O&M field. Two of them have obtained doctoral degrees, and two others are currently enrolled in post-graduate studies. To date eight students have graduated from the teacher of blind students graduate degree programs. These four-year-old education programs have recently undergone a significant redesign to meet higher standards adopted in Louisiana and to promote further nationwide certification and acceptance of these credentials.
The master of arts in educational psychology with a concentration in orientation and mobility is a forty-five credit-hour degree program. During our visit to Ruston we sat in on the first class of the quarter, in which students were beginning a course in advanced O&M. While the class was intimate and informal, the syllabus (provided in Braille to those who wanted it) suggested that the students faced a rigorous and concentrated ten-week quarter filled with hands-on teaching opportunities, lectures, seminar discussions, writing assignments, speaking engagements, and academic research.
The two masters’ programs for teachers of blind students offered through the PDRIB are designed to accommodate the wide range of experience that candidates for these programs bring with them. The master of science in curriculum and instruction requires that candidates have an undergraduate degree in education. The master of arts in teaching degree is an initial certification track that welcomes students with diverse undergraduate backgrounds. Both are forty-eight credit-hour degree programs with an intense focus on Braille reading and Braille literacy. Each degree requires that successful graduates fluently read Braille at a minimum rate of seventy words per minute. Both degrees offer nationwide certification in teaching blind students.
The PDRIB has just entered into a statewide consortium to deliver
educational opportunities in the areas of low-incidence disabilities. Specifically
the University of New Orleans, the Human Development Center at LSU, and the
PDRIB at Louisiana Tech University are forming a partnership to deliver certification
to teachers in the areas of visual impairments, deaf education, significant
disabilities, and autism.
Under contract with the Louisiana Department of Education, the consortium will deliver high-quality professional development to teacher candidates across the state and region. Through this three million dollar venture, the PDRIB is poised to become the leader in the delivery of professional development and training to teachers of the blind across the state and region.
In continuing education and community service, PDRIB leaders are preparing to unveil a new paraprofessional certificate in cane travel for interested paraprofessionals, advocates, and parents of blind children. This certificate curriculum, to be offered through the good offices of Louisiana Tech University’s continuing education program, will equip participants with enough knowledge about cane travel that they can informally teach some O&M skills to their students or children and gain enhanced credibility because of their familiarity with orientation and mobility in the Individual Education Program (IEP) process. The short certificate program will consist of four modules: lectures on cane travel basics, twenty-five hours of cane travel instruction using nonvisual techniques, a fifteen-hour observation apprenticeship under the direct supervision of an NOMC-endorsed travel instructor, and a fifteen-hour instructional internship under the direct supervision of an NOMC-endorsed travel teacher. This initiative, coupled with educational conferences and seminars at which Institute on Blindness staff participate and present, represents just a sample of the community education efforts undertaken by PDRIB staff.
The Critical Concerns in Blindness book series is probably the best known component of the research and publication work of the PDRIB. This eight-book collection reduces to writing a consumer-influenced perspective for professionals and others. Additional books for this series are slated for release soon. The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped will eventually produce all of the books in this series. The titles of the eight books currently published in the Critical Concerns in Blindness series follow:
• Ferguson, R. (2001). We Know Who We Are: A History of the
Blind in Challenging Educational and Socially Constructed Policies. A Study
in Policy Archaeology. San Francisco: Caddo Gap Press.
• Omvig, J. H. (2002). Freedom for the Blind: The Secret Is Empowerment. Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press.
• Castellano, C. (2005). Making It Work: Educating the Blind/Visually Impaired Student in the Regular School. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
• Omvig, J. H. (2005). The Blindness Revolution: Jernigan in His Own Words. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
• Vaughan, C. E., and J. H. Omvig (2005). Education and Rehabilitation for Empowerment. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
• Kinash, S. (2006). Seeing Beyond Blindness. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
• Cutter, J. (2007). Independent Movement and Travel in Blind Children: A Promotion Model. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
• Ferguson, R. (2007). The Blind Need Not Apply: A History of Overcoming Prejudice in the Orientation and Mobility Profession. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
Staff of the PDRIB are also engaged in several research projects to improve opportunities for and gather information about blindness. Prominent among these is a project evaluating the impact of mentoring on blind youth across the country and a data analysis of the benefits to program participants stemming from the 2007 NFB Youth Slam. Additionally PDRIB researchers are helping to coordinate a comprehensive shift in the program model at the Ho`opono rehabilitation training center in Hawaii.
In addition to these accomplishments, the PDRIB is beginning discussions
with the Social Sciences Research Laboratory at the University of Louisiana
at Monroe to develop a research and development corridor across the northern
portion of the state. The proposed research park at Louisiana Tech University
will serve as the nucleus for this project, which will bring a multidisciplinary
approach to addressing challenges in the state of Louisiana. The PDRIB will
play a role in directing education and rehabilitation programs, increasing the
employability of disabled people in the state, and promoting a universal design
approach to research and development activities across the state.
The future directions of the PDRIB are as unlimited as the imaginations of its leadership. Dialogue about creating blindness adaptations to supplement graduate programs at other universities throughout the country, adding new blindness-related graduate programs at Louisiana Tech itself, and delving into other blindness-oriented research projects are just a few of the ideas that the staff may pursue in the months and years to come. The foregoing demonstrates, however, that the PDRIB already is a dynamic and professionally respected entity both in Louisiana and across the nation. Without question the work of the PDRIB and its relationship with the LCB add an innovative and intellectually stimulating dimension to the uniquely Ruston rehabilitation experience fashioned by LCB leaders. For further information about the Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University, its graduate programs, and admission criteria, call (318) 257-4554 or visit its newly designed Website at <www.pdrib.com>.
Consider a Charitable Gift
Making a charitable gift can be one of the most satisfying experiences in life. Each year millions of people contribute their time, talent, and treasure to charitable organizations. When you plan for a gift to the National Federation of the Blind, you are not just making a donation; you are leaving a legacy that insures a future for blind people throughout the country. Special giving programs are available through the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).
Points to Consider When Making a Gift to the National Federation of the Blind
• Will my gift serve to advance the mission of the NFB?
• Am I giving the most appropriate asset?
• Have I selected the best way to make my gift?
• Have I considered the tax consequences of my gift?
• Have I sought counsel from a competent advisor?
• Have I talked to the planned giving officer about my gift?
Benefits of Making a Gift to the NFB
• Helping the NFB fulfill its mission
• Receiving income tax savings through a charitable deduction
• Making capital gain tax savings on contribution of some appreciated gifts
• Providing retained payments for the life of a donor or other beneficiaries
• Eliminating federal estate tax in certain situations
• Reducing estate settlement cost
Your Gift Will Help Us
• Make the study of science and math a real possibility for blind children
• Provide hope for seniors losing vision
• Promote state and chapter programs and provide information that will educate blind people
• Advance technology helpful to the blind
• Create a state-of-the-art library on blindness
• Train and inspire professionals working with the blind
• Provide critical information to parents of blind children
• Mentor blind people trying to find jobs
Your gift makes you a part of the NFB dream!