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Fall 2004 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

We're Not an Island

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

Abstract: Dr. Phil Hatlen discusses the issues facing our state and the nation related to individuals with visual impairments and the importance of keeping existing VI systems intact.

Key Words: News & Views, blind, deafblind, education, rehabilitation, systems, visually impaired professionals

We should be forever thankful that blindness and low vision are low prevalence disabilities. However, when a child becomes blind or low vision, we must be prepared to offer the family and the child the very best developmental and educational services possible. A lesson we at TSBVI continue to learn is that what we do has potential to impact children throughout the U.S. And what a teacher in Montana, for example, does, may well effect how we teach children at TSBVI. We are a small profession serving a small number of children and families.

When it comes to serving blind and visually impaired students, there should be no city, region, or state boundaries. I care very deeply about the education being offered to children in Oklahoma, in Maine, in Oregon. We mutually benefit from one another if are always open to sharing and communicating. We also often face the same issues.

Challenges in the education of blind and visually impaired students exist everywhere, and I want to share some of these with you—we are not an island, but a part of a state and national system of education.

At the national level, our country continues to suffer from a chronic shortage of teachers and orientation and mobility specialists. This is not a mild shortage—it is massive, and those charged with attempting to minimize the shortage have not yet found a solution. Imagine if you were a parent of a blind child and were told by your local district that no teacher was available for your child! This happens in some form countless times in this country where we place such a high value on equal opportunity for all of our citizens.

Nationally, there are issues regarding who is blind and who is low vision, issues around appropriate placement, issues related to delivery of the expanded core curriculum, issues about vocational preparation, issues about quality services to blind and visually impaired infants and preschool children. I'm sure some of you could name many more vexing issues, but the situation is clear—we still do not have all the answers we need in order to provide the services we should to blind and visually impaired students. The National Agenda is an excellent, positive step forward, and all of us need to be active in its progress.

At the state level, issues of children living in rural areas continue to defy solutions. While we have made significant progress toward minimizing the teacher shortage, thanks to the collaborative efforts of Texas Tech University, Stephen F. Austin University, and TSBVI, we have not closed the gap enough, and there is soon to be a mass exodus of a very large graying population of teachers and O&M specialists.

One of the critical keys to the success of a continuum of service model in Texas is the Education Service Centers (ESC). The presence of expertise in both education and O&M in these regional offices makes a tremendous difference in the quality of services in local school districts. Since I've been in Texas, there has been a precarious feeling about the continuation of this expertise at the ESC level. Also, Texas is very fortunate to be one of the only remaining states that has a consultant at the state level who is an expert in visual impairment. However, it seems that every year this person is given more responsibilities that have nothing to do with her expertise.

Both national and statewide issues involving the education of blind and visually impaired students impact TSBVI every day. We are part of a national and a statewide system, and we do our job well in large part because the rest of the system works well. If one part of the system were to disappear or be severely damaged, it will affect the entire system, including TSBVI. This why we must be vigilant and persistent in communicating to policy-makers and legislators about how vital it is that at the national, state, and ESC level, there be expertise in education and O&M for blind and visually impaired students.


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Last Revision: September 1, 2010