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Blind students with white canes waiting to cross Congress Avenue, a busy six lane road.



Access to Academic Skills

“Access to Academics” classes have the potential to improve academic success because they address skills that help students access the regular curriculum (TEKS) and consequently increase their learning and achievement scores. Students attend TSBVI for 3-5 days of intensive instruction to learn tools and strategies that support curricular success. They are taught in small groups of 2:1 or 3:2. “Access” classes typically address various aspects of technology (to access all aspects of the curriculum) and math tools and concepts. “Access to Academic” classes are designed to meet the needs of both print and Braille readers.

Despite understandable concern about missing several days of school, students frequently say that instruction at TSBVI was the first time they ever really understood what the teacher was trying to explain. They report being able to catch up when they return, and say that the short-term loss is worth the long-term benefit of finally understanding the content. (To help with this, students are provided at least two hours a day to work on assignments they bring from home.) While students are attending a program at TSBVI, they also benefit from informal instruction in independent living skills (domestic and recreational) and social skills, especially during the residential instruction period each day between 3:00 and bedtime.

Following the class, teachers and families receive a detailed report with recommendations, including a pre- and post-assessment that can function as a useful guide for skills that local TVIs can reinforce and target in future lessons. Our staff is available to collaborate with local teachers in order to continue progress, and students are encouraged to return to advance their skills even further. While the following list is not comprehensive, it describes the types of skills that are often addressed during these classes:

  • Technology Concepts, Tools, and Skills for Visual and Nonvisual Learners(1) Using computers (basic concepts; navigating the Windows or Macintosh OS environment; using software to create, edit, organize, and print word documents and spreadsheets; accessing the Internet for research or recreation); (2) Using a screen reader or screen enlargement software; (3) Using Braille notetakers; (4) Using iDevices nonvisually; (5)Using available assistive technology to access print (e.g., refreshable Braille display, Bookshare, scan-read technologies).

  • Math Concepts, Tools, and Skills: (1) Practicing practical, real-life applications; (2) Reviewing basic math concepts such as place value or fractions; (3) Performing computations of whole numbers, fractions, or decimals, on the braillewriter, abacus, or print; (4) Reading and writing Nemeth Code; (5) Writing and solving algebraic equations in Nemeth Code or large print; (6) Graphing on the coordinate plane; (7) Creating and reading tactile graphics; (8) Using adapted measurement devices; (9) Reviewing concepts and tools for geometry; (10) Using math hardware and software (e.g., the Orion Talking Scientific Calculator and the Audio Graphing Calculator). These are foundational math concepts that are typically taught in the regular classroom using visual learning media.

  • Literacy Concepts, Tools, and Skills: Literacy can be difficult to isolate and specifically teach in a Short-Term Program class. Braille must be taught daily over an extended time period that exceeds the capacity of a School Year Short-Term Programs class. Learning to use optical devices for efficient reading also requires routine practice over time. Aspects of literacy are included when we teach technology skills (e.g., when students learn to create and edit documents and when students access digital books and read with a refreshable Braille display). Creative writing is addressed in our longer secondary summer class called “Writers Workshop”. We are available to assist with specific literacy needs that arise, such as a week-long boost in Braille skills or strategies for increasing fluency. We do not teach aspects of the regular core curriculum, such as spelling, grammar, sentence or paragraph construction, etc.
List of Access to Academic Skills classes:
    • Elementary Access to Academic Skills
    • Junior Access to Academic Skills
    • High School Access to Academic Skills
    • Accessible Math Tools and Strategies

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Independence Weekends

Independence Weekend classes are usually taught over an extended weekend so students only miss one day of school. While participating in high interest, enjoyable activities, students are challenged to practice skills from the Expanded Core Curriculum, such as social interaction and self-determination skills, assistive technology, self-advocacy, organization, compensatory academic skills, spatial-motor skills, orientation and mobility in the community, visual efficiency, career education, recreation and leisure, and skills of independent living. Most importantly, the weekend classes provide an opportunity for students to interact, learn and share their unique experiences as individuals with vision impairment, with their peers.

Different class themes target different age groups and relate to their specific interests and needs. Some of the class topics vary from year to year, to keep them fresh and interesting. However the essential part of the instruction (i.e., the infused ECC skills) is included in every class, with certain classes emphasizing some skills more than others.

List of Independence Weekend classes (not all are offered every year):

    • Elementary School Independence Weekends (topics vary)
    • Junior Independence Weekend: Iron Chef
    • High School Independence Weekend: Outdoor Challenge
    • High School Independence Weekend: Prom
    • Looking Good: How to Develop Personal Presentation and Style
    • Astronomy
    • Austin City Limits: Music & Songwriting
    • City Travel for COMS and Their Students
    • Game of Life

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Classes Specifically for Students with Low Vision

Approximately 90% of students who are visually impaired have some usable vision. Many would benefit from services, but heavy caseloads can reduce their access to the time and attention they need. Learning to maximize one’s use of vision is an important way to increase access to the curriculum and extra-curricular interests. Ease of viewing allows the student to place primary attention on the content of instruction, and expend less energy on accessing the information. Whether reading print, seeing signs in the distance, or watching a ball game, students can use tools and strategies to enhance their visual awareness and participate alongside peers in academic and social settings.

These Short-Term Programs classes help students maximize visual efficiency and facilitate access to learning by promoting the use of visual skills, practicing self-advocacy, using optical and electronic devices for reading and for completing other near and distance tasks independently, and teaching students to select and use environmental modifications. Having the chance to use devices in a comfortable setting alongside peers with low vision provides a safe space to practice skills and build confidence.

List of Low Vision Classes: