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By: Barbara J. Madrigal, Assistant Commissioner, DARS-Division for Blind Services (DBS)

Abstract: In this article Assistant Commissioner Madrigal discuss how the Division for Blind Services, TSBVI and Educational Services Centers work together to provide quality training to help family members become well-informed competent leaders.

Key Words: Division for Blind Services, TSVBI, Family Leadership Training Series, independence, self-sufficiency

Editor note: Assistant Commissioner Barbara J. Madrigal submitted this article before her retirement in September 2014.


Many of you are familiar with the proverb, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for the day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." No saying or proverb could better represent DBS' approach and belief in training. Training is the cornerstone to independence and self-sufficiency. Training at DBS comes in a variety of forms. It may be as simple as showing a parent the many ways to use a developmental toy with their infant, to the comprehensive training an adult receives from a DBS specialist. DBS focuses on the needs of the consumers to be successful and to help them reach their goals. We provide training in individual and group settings. In the Blind Children's and Transition programs, we not only provide training to consumers, we often include the whole family in training sessions depending on the information and skills being taught.

Providing this training leads consumers to be empowered, to be their own advocate, determine the course they want to follow, reach their goals, set even bigger goals and be an excellent role model for their friends, family and community. We see amazing successes and incredible potential daily. We know that within our consumers lie new leaders in the area of blindness and visual impairment.

For a number of years the Blind Children's and Transition programs have been involved with the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) Family Leadership Series. TSBVI, DBS and various Education Service Centers work together to help family members become well-informed competent leaders. Parents have the opportunity to attend the following workshops/training sessions:

  • Eye Play – designed for parents with younger children (birth to five years). This training is an overview of the special education system and how to become an effective partner. It is full of basic information, giving parents an opportunity to meet other parents of children with visual impairments; it also encourages families to envision the possibilities for their children. Family members become knowledgeable about active learning techniques and materials that teach concepts leading to communication and literacy for children with vision and/or hearing loss, including those with other disabilities.
  • IDEAL Partners – Quality Education for your Child with Sensory Impairments - This training in an in-depth workshop on the special education process, how to read and understand their child's Individualized Education Program (IEP), discover strategies that leads to positive outcomes for their child's education and to build their confidence in their role as a member of their educational team.
  • Personal Family Leadership Series – This four weekend training is designed not only to help parents and other adult family members (siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles) in becoming more knowledgeable and stronger advocates for their children, but also how to step outside their comfort zone to be leaders in the community. The theme of the training is Know Yourself, Know Your Child, and Know Your Community. It provides training in the areas of peer mentoring, raising a child with a visual impairment and deafblindness, quality educational programming and utilizing community resources. The goal is for family members to join with others to improve and shape services not only for their child, but other children across the state.
  • Family Leadership within Different Systems Series – this is the advanced level of the family leadership training. Over the course of three weekends participants meet leaders in the areas of legislative, medical, state agency, community, and educational systems; learn about various leadership opportunities within existing systems; and, broaden their understanding of the issues surrounding visual impairments and blindness beyond their own child. In this training the participants design, develop and complete a personal project that will impact services and support for children with visual impairments.

The Family Leadership training began at TSBVI in 2004 as part of the Texas Deafblind Project grant initiative. Over the years the training grew and included families of children who were blind and visually impaired. In the past ten years more than 160 parents have participated in the training. Family Leadership is not just about educating; it is much more. Parents learn to match their passions and talents to leadership opportunities so they can effectively partner with others in accomplishing their goals. Some of the powerful and exciting things that have come from the Leadership training include:

  • Developed the Texas CHARGERS, a statewide organization for families who have children with CHARGE Syndrome, which hosts an annual family conference and is active in both state and national efforts to improve the lives of people living with CHARGE Syndrome.
  • Established non-profit organizations that provide services to children with visual impairments
  • Assumed leadership roles within the Texas legislative process that lead to the passage of numerous bills that improve services for Texans who are blind, such as the deafblind/multiple disabilities waiver and the new orientation and mobility law requiring an evaluation on all students receiving vision services.
  • Served as board members for many community and state organizations such as the Deafblind Multihandicapped Association of Texas (DBMAT), the Texas Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (TAPVI), the TSBVI Board of Directors and the Texas Parent to Parent Board of Directors.
  • Designed and presented breakout sessions at multiple training events and conferences such as the Texas Parent to Parent Annual Conference, Texas Focus and the International AERBVI Conference.
  • Served within their local school districts on boards and advisory committees.

People across the nation have been watching Texas and have borrowed from our success. Family leadership trainings similar to the TSBVI/DARS leadership training have been developed in many states including New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington. It is exciting to know that across this great nation more and more consumers and family members are making the world a better place for people who are blind and visually impaired.