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Summer 2002 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

The Challenge of Transitions

By Terry Murphy, Executive Director,
Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind)

When told that the theme of this issue of See/Hear was to be about transitions, my first reaction was personal.  I just recently made the transition from father to grandfather.  What a journey.  It seems only yesterday my daughter was the same age as the pink bundle now framed in living color on my desktop and refrigerator door.  Not yet three months old, my granddaughter has already put her indelible mark on the whole family. 

From experience, I know that some of life’s transitions don’t go so smoothly.  Sometimes the unknown ahead makes us want to avoid moving forward, especially if we are leaving something behind.  Helen Keller, one of my favorite inspirational authors, had a great way of expressing the reason some people get stuck where they are:  “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”

Each year, the Commission works with thousands of people who are going through major transitions in their lives.  Our Vocational Rehabilitation Program helps adults make the transition from unemployment to employment.  Our Independent Living Program helps individuals make the transition from escalating hesitation and dependence to increased self-confidence and independent functioning.  Our Blind Children’s Discovery and Development Program helps parents make the transition from living in doubt and fear to living with accurate knowledge about blindness and possibilities.  It helps young children make the transition from being totally dependent on their parents to exercising their growing independence and building a strong belief in their own abilities.

Rising hormones and parents reluctant to let go create a challenging combination in the transition from adolescence to adulthood.   TCB is in the middle of this challenge every day in its Transition Program.  We provided services to 1,158 students last year, to reduce their risk of dropping out of post-secondary education  and  training.   Our  fifteen transition  counselors have a special blend of knowledge.  They are youth-savvy, yet focused on key issues necessary for successful adult living.  It’s like straddling two worlds.  You need expert balancing techniques!

In vocational rehabilitation vernacular, transition services are activities for a student designed within an outcome-oriented process that promotes movement from school to post-school activities.  In other words, we have the specialized knowledge to help blind students plan, focus, and set goals.  Activities are based upon their individual needs, preferences, and interests.  But we are always challenging the status quo in their lives, encouraging them to reach beyond their comfort zone.  Ultimately everything we do is to develop their self-determination skills and self-confidence so they learn to drive decisions for their own lives. 

During the summer, transition youths are provided with opportunities to explore occupations through a wide range of summer work experiences.  A couple of years ago one student expressed interest in law and politics, so he spent the summer interning in U. S. Representative Doggett’s office.  The experience motivated and better prepared him to go after his dream. 

He’s in college now, majoring in pre-law, and when Representative Doggett’s office found out he was back in town for summer, they eagerly offered him a paid position.  Transition services are not aimed solely at college-bound students, however.  We believe all Transition Program students have the capacity to work in a meaningful job with or without a degree.  A person’s vocational success is, however, directly related to their level of independent living skills.  Too often young people leave primary school and get thrown into the deep end of adult life without knowing how to swim.  Without the right survival skills and training, they usually sink - fast. 

The post-secondary collaborative program with TSBVI, which I mentioned in a previous See/Hear article, is just about ready to provide such survival training.  The apartments are finished.  The curriculum has been developed, and the program will start this September.  We are currently preparing information about this program to be put on our website.  The program will focus each year on empowering participants to develop and master core blindness skills as well as academic skills.   Part of their time will be spent at Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center, where TCB concentrates on providing training in what we call the “big six” blindness skills, which we know are essential if one is to live successfully as a blind person in today’s society:  (1) adjustment to blindness; (2) independent living skills; (3) travel skills; (4) communication skills; (5) support systems; and (6) vocational skills.

We are very excited about the program’s potential to bridge the gap between dreams and outcomes.  Geared for students who need remediation in academics and independent living skills, the program will challenge participants to do things they’ve never done before.  The message we want them to hear and learn is that adulthood comes with responsibilities.  Students need to make the difficult transition from making demands to meeting the demands they will experience in higher education or on a job.  They must also make the transition from being “helped” so much.  Help can sometimes be detrimental if it prevents a person’s transition from needing to be told what to do to independent thinking.  When students are in primary education they have VI teachers that serve them well.  The time comes, however, when intermediaries are no longer appropriate.  In college and the work world there will be no intermediary to intervene with professors and bosses and to insure they have what they need to succeed.

When talking recently to Diane Yoder, our statewide transition specialist who is working closely on the project, she said her own vision for the program echoes the enthusiastic attitude of Barbara J. Madrigal, the agency’s Deputy Director of Programs, who has been crisscrossing the state telling staff we want consumers to get HIGH.  Before you parents get concerned about the phrase, it means we want consumers to have High Expectations, High Visibility and High Hopes.  From Diane’s personal experience as a successful person who’s blind, she knows this is what it takes.

I think Helen Keller would have approved of this new program’s dedication to high expectations and tough love, considering her wise observation years ago:   “A child … must feel the flush of victory and the heart-sinking of disappointment before he takes with a will to the tasks distasteful to him and resolves to dance his way through a dull routine of textbooks.”  This little bit of wisdom applies to most all of life’s transitions, doesn’t it?

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Last Revision: August 27, 2003