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Fall 2001 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

When Need and Opportunity Meet

By Phil Hatlen, Superintendent, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

So many times in our lives, a need exists, but there is little or no opportunity to meet that need. At other times, the opportunity to do something is there, but there is no apparent need. These are, at best, frustrating experiences!

We now have a situation in which a need has been identified, and the opportunity to do something about it exists. Pretty exciting, isn't it? The Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) (TCB) and the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) have begun serious discussions regarding the initiation of a post-secondary program for blind young adults. These young people, between the ages of 18 and 22, are often ill-prepared to move from school and family to community, independence, and employment. Often they are in need of remedial academic education, of additional orientation and mobility instruction, of independent living skills, of social skills, and of vocational preparation. A unique marriage of the skills available from TCB and TSBVI seems a perfect match for the potential needs of these young adults.

This is a dream that I have carried from California to Austin. Many years ago, my colleagues and I in California noted that many blind and visually impaired young people who were graduating from high school did not seem to be able to make the move from parent's home into the community. Further, they seemed to lack skills in daily living and social interaction that were basic to assimilation into the community. I'll never forget sitting at a table in a restaurant in Berkeley, California, in 1969, with two colleagues. We were all wondering why the bright and capable blind students, graduating from local high schools in record numbers, were not moving out into the community, making social contacts, becoming employed. It didn't take us long to figure out that the early local school programs did a good job in most academic learning, but generally neglected the disability-specific needs of these young people. They were not capable of living independently, they had no job knowledge, nor skills, and while their academic skills were sometimes good, they didn't know how to apply academic learning to real life. So, they sat at home, waiting for the next agency to save them.

In 1972 the Living Skills Center for the Visually Impaired opened in San Pablo, a suburb of the San Francisco Bay Area. Recent high school graduates who were blind moved into apartments and began a transition program before the word "transition" was heard in special education. They received academic instruction when needed, living skills, orientation and mobility, social skills, and vocational instruction in a real-life setting. Suffice it to say that this program has been a tremendous success over the years, and is still offering one of the most effective, unique post-secondary programs in the country.

At last we have an opportunity to bring a similar program to Texas. Funds from TCB and from TSBVI are being used to build a four-unit apartment building at the back of the TSBVI property. A committee with representatives from both organizations is currently meeting to develop program and curriculum. The Boards of both organizations have enthusiastically endorsed this new endeavor. At last the newly graduated blind young person will have someplace to go that will address her/his unique needs as a congenitally blind person. At last this young person will have the skills and confidence to move into the community, and the self-esteem to become a part of the social and economic structure where she/he lives.

There is much work to be done on the program and on a funding pattern. We expect ground-breaking on the apartment building in early October, with a completion date in the Spring. We may be ready for the first participants in late Spring or Summer. It finally looks like opportunity and need are meeting, and blind young people will be the beneficiaries.

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Last Revision: July 30, 2002