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Texas Sense Abilities Newsletter

Spring 2014

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Abstract: A committee of professionals from several departments of TSBVI collaborated to develop this set of guidelines for determining the appropriate literacy media for students with visual impairment.

Keywords: braille, large print, literacy medium, learning media evaluation

TSBVI is committed to helping ensure that all students are instructed in their appropriate literacy media.  Literacy instruction needs to be based on reliable data, consistent with IDEA-B regulations.  Here are guiding principles that we believe should be considered in the evaluation of literacy medium for each student:

1. To be an efficient reader and to prepare for a competitive work force, individuals with low vision or blindness must acquire a combination of literacy tools to use in a wide variety of settings and situations. These tools might include hard-copy print, text that can be manipulated on electronic devices as print, braille or audio, braille (paper or electronic), audible materials, and any combination of these.  Students should receive explicit instruction and adequate practice with all relevant literacy tools.

2. Literacy involves a complex interaction among multiple skill sets, including visual skills for print and tactile skills for braille.  For students with visual impairment who struggle with literacy, it can be difficult to determine whether the cause is primarily related to visual or tactile issues, or reading problems related to word identification, comprehension, or fluency.  Evaluation of literacy skills and decisions regarding literacy media should be a collaborative process involving a certified teacher of students with visual impairments, a qualified reading teacher, and sometimes, a certified reading specialist.  

3. According to IDEA (300.304(b)(1)), local districts must use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information needed to develop an individualized educational program.  IDEA (300.304(b)(2)) specifies that no one evaluation tool should be used as the entire basis for educational programming considerations.  

4.  For students with visual impairments, many factors must be considered in evaluating the most efficient tools for literacy.  Factors include:

  • Visual diagnosis and prognosis
  • Functional use of vision, including fatigue and stamina during visual tasks
  • Evaluation in the use of assistive technology
  • Documentation of reading instruction using braille or print and including use of prescribed optical vision devices where indicated
  • Adjustment of environmental factors such as lighting and ergonomics
  • Documented progress in literacy skills, including reading fluency

5.  Once effective accommodations are identified, they must be provided in both learning and testing environments (300.323(d)(II)(ii)).  They should be based on evaluation of the student's disability, and documented in the individualized education program.  The Texas Education Agency states  that "...accommodation needs related to a disability or disabling condition ... are intended to provide students effective and equitable access to grade-level or course curriculum and assessments" 1 Therefore, use of documented accommodations in literacy activities should be included in an evaluation of a student's literacy skills.

References

Texas Education Agency, Accommodation Resources   (http://tea.texas.gov/student.assessment/accommodations)

Texas Sense Abilities Newsletter

Sprng 2014

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Holly Cooper, Ph.D. Outreach Deafblind Educational Consultant, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Abstract: The game of geocaching is discussed, with special adaptations for children and youth with visual impairment.

Keywords: geocaching, visually impaired, physical activity

Are you looking for an activity to do with your students or your family to get everyone outdoors and actively moving?  Many people are looking for ways to get more exercise and be more physically active. Childhood obesity is an area of increasing concern. It can be especially challenging for young people with vision impairment to get adequate exercise since it may be difficult for them to participate in some sports. Geocaching is a fun way to get motivated to get up and go for a walk, both for children and adults.

What is geocaching? People who go geocaching are looking for hidden, secret containers. These containers might be hidden in any public place: in parks, in the city or suburbs. These containers are called geocaches and have small toys or handy items inside along with a logbook to sign. When the seeker, or geocacher finds a geocache, he or she signs the log in the cache, and can leave an item and take something. How do you know where geocaches are? You go to a special geocaching website.

Girl with a cane, bending over by a chain link fence.
A teen-aged girl with a cane opens a geocache.

A geocache begins its life when someone hides a container in a location where it won’t likely be found by a causal passerby. Then the hider takes a global positioning system (GPS) receiver and records the longitude and latitude coordinates.  The hider then goes to a geocaching website, usually Geocaching.com and creates a listing for this geocache. The listing will have its own page. The hider is the cache owner and gives the cache a name and checks the cache to be sure it is still there. The cache owner writes an interesting description of the cache location.

The game of Geocaching first began in 2001 when high resolution GPS signals were opened to the general public, making navigation by global positioning system signals more accurate.  Prior to that time, precise GPS signals were accessible only for government and military purposes.  Very soon after the GPS signals became public, a young man who enjoyed hiking hid a container in the woods outside of Portland, Oregon and posted the coordinates in an on-line forum.  Within a few days forum users had located the cache. Soon there were many hidden containers and some ambitious entrepreneurs started the Geocaching.com website. Now there are over two million geocaches hidden around the world on every continent including Antarctica. 

Geocaching is a good activity for anyone, but it’s especially a fun thing to do with kids. It is non-competitive, (more or less), it gives participants a goal to walk or hike to, and you get a fun reward at the end. If you’re a kid, there are interesting little toys to find; if you’re an adult, you might like to read what other people are writing in the log, and you might recognize familiar names that you see repeatedly. The geocache may be in an area such as a small park that you didn’t know about, or tell you about some local history that is interesting. Kids may enjoy it because they get to go outdoors and run off some energy, explore plants and see animals and visit new places. Many people who are retired like to do it as a way to get out and exercise. Some geocachers are veterans or geeks who like to play with the technology and see what it can do. For kids it can be fun just because of the adult they are going with; they might be going geocaching with grandpa or an adult sibling.

Some geocachers like to leave what is called a signature item. These are items that identify the geocacher and may be personal “business” cards, bottle caps or poker chips, wooden “nickels”, or custom made tags or coins. These items are usually personalized with the geocacher's name and some graphics. Some geocachers make a point to collect these personalized items and may spend considerable time, money and effort creating and designing their own.

see caption
Some geocache containers: a bison tube (pill holder), pill bottle, fake rock with hidden compartment, magnetic key hider, fake sprinkler head key hider, food container.

To go geocaching, you will need a GPS receiver that can accept input of longitude and latitude coordinates though a computer USB connection. If you’re buying a new unit, be sure to shop smart and check to see that the unit is geocaching capable. Another way to get started is with the use of an Android phone or iPhone which has a GPS receiver. You can purchase a geocaching app for a small fee, and start to geocache without having to pay for special equipment. Geocaching with a phone doesn’t give you access in all situations, however. The GPS receiver on a phone is usually not as accurate as with a special unit, and there are many places in Texas where you might want to geocache but not be able to get a cell phone signal. (If you use a phone, you will need both a GPS signal to navigate and a cell signal to access the internet-based map and make it interactive with the GPS.) Also, using the GPS and data access drains the phone’s battery after a few hours, and phones are not very water proof or shock proof when dropped. Many geocachers have lost or broken their GPS or smart phone on the trail. However, for beginners, cell phone caching is great for exploring around the city and local parks.

To get ready, go to www.geocaching.com and take a look around. To get better access create a username and password for yourself or your family. Purchasing a paid membership gives you access to even more features of the website. Probably the easiest way to search for caches is by writing the zip code into the search window, then when a list loads, click the link that says “map this location” that is near the longitude and latitude coordinates. This allows the user to look at an area on the map, and see where all the geocaches are. The phone apps will let you see the cache location on the map, but currently they won’t let you see other caches on the screen. If you are planning a caching outing, look around on the map for a nearby city park or area of the city where you would like to go and get a list of caches. Although you can cache in the city, you must be discreet and not allow others to observe you poking around or the cache may be located by others and vandalized or discarded. This can be challenging when you’re caching with kids or a group. For this reason city parks or other public areas can be a good place to take kids. Parks also allow for more walking, running, and noise making, and less time in the car driving from one place to another. In addition, geocaches in parks tend to be larger and easier to find, and have space for trade items. Be aware that GPS units need a line-of-sight contact with the satellites, so overhead tree foliage can impair the accuracy of the signal.

Be Prepared

When geocaching, be prepared for the outdoors by dressing appropriately, wearing closed toed shoes, wearing a hat, bringing bug spray, sun screen and bandages. Carrying a backpack with water and some snacks is also a good idea. If you are using a GPS receiver, you will need to scope out the area, read about the caches in advance and load the coordinates into your unit. You may want to have a print out or a list of the caches you are seeking, and having extra batteries is a must. You will also need to bring a pen or pencil and some items to trade in the geocaches. Children and teenagers should always be accompanied by an adult when geocaching, and it’s best if someone has a cell phone in case of an emergency.

Black lab looking at an ammo box under some rocks.
A black Labrador Retriever guards a geocache made from an army surplus ammunition can

It’s also more fun to geocache with friends or family, because you can help each other with navigation and searching. Geocachers who are visually impaired can participate using accessible GPS devices, a braille compass, or just by following along, as many geocachers do.

Accessible Technology

Accessible GPS technology is relatively new, but rapidly becoming more accurate and easier to use. Individuals who are visually impaired and use large print can navigate using a geocaching app available from Geocaching.com or other developers along with an iPad (with an active data plan), or Android tablet with an active data plan. Users who are blind can use talking GPS devices such as the Trekker Breeze by Sendero or The Kapten, which are stand-alone devices. GPS receivers are available on the BrailleNote, powered by add-on software. The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) has also developed GPS software called Nearby Explorer which runs on their note taking device the Braille Plus 18 or an Android device with a cell signal or data plan. 

Geocaching can be educational as well as entertaining and physical. Scouting merit badges are available for geocaching for both Girl Scouts as well as Boy Scouts. Educational activities may revolve around geography, geology, ecology, and using mathematics skills to determine distance and time to travel. Many geocaches are located in places the cache owner wishes to draw attention to, historically significant locations such as train stations, pioneer’s homesteads, cemeteries and old schools. Some geocache owners post a series of caches to guide seekers to points of interest they feel are important. Some of the historic trivia geocaches describe may be difficult to find any place else.

A similar hide-and-seek activity which pre-dates geocaching is called letterboxing. Originating in England where recreational walking (even across private land) is widely practiced, letter boxes are concealed containers placed by an owner. These boxes don’t require a GPS to locate, instead a description of the box location is posted on a website, or in earlier times, listed in a catalog or passed on my word of mouth. People who go Letterboxing in the US typically use a rubber stamp, often handmade, to log their visit, and keep a book of stamped images (similar to an old-style passport) from each stamp that stays in the letterbox.

We hope you are intrigued by the idea of geocaching and letter boxing. So go on-line and read, create a username and password and discover the little containers hidden all around you.

Resources

Get Inspired

Videos about Geocaching from Texas Parks and Wildlife

An Introduction to Geocaching
www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKCkNciB7dk

Asperger Syndrome and Geocaching
www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3E-ehjqwho

Geocaching
www.geocaching.com

Letterboxing
http://www.atlasquest.com

Podcacher, an audio podcast, posted once a week with an hour of talk about geocaching
http://www.podcacher.com/

Learn About Accessible Equipment

Trekker Breeze (HumanWare)
http://www.humanware.com/en-usa/products/blindness/talking_gps/trekker_breeze/_details/id_101/trekker_breeze_handheld_talking_gps.html

BrailleNote GPS (Software Only available as and additional feature, HumanWare)
http://www.humanware.com/en-usa/products/blindness/talking_gps/braillenote_gps/_details/id_55/braillenote_gps_software_only.html

Kapten (Available from Leader Dogs for the Blind)
https://www.leaderdog.org/gps/

Nearby Explorer (American Printing House for the Blind)
http://louis.aph.org/product/Nearby-Explorer,142793.aspx?FormatFilter=8

Braille Plus 18 (American Printing House for the Blind)
https://shop.aph.org/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Product_Braille%20Plus%2018_1-07466-00P_10001_11051

Texas Sense Abilities Newsletter

Spring 2014

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Sharon Stewart, CTVI, Birdville Independent School District

Abstract: The student in this article has multiple disabilities. He was born with Cerebral Palsy and uses a wheel chair. He is visually impaired with limited communication skills.

Keywords: Visually impaired, routines, bonding, cooking

I am an itinerant teacher of students with visual impairment in the Birdville ISD outside of Fort Worth, Texas. As itinerant teachers, we never know what experiences we will encounter each day as we travel from school to school. On some days, we are fortunate when we suddenly experience those “Aha” moments. On this day, several special moments would occur for my student, Jacob, and me.

The Birdville ISD VI team, including myself, recognizes the importance of modifying the traditional routines. We acknowledge that carefully structured routines allow consistency and repetition, which are essential for students with multiple disabilities. More important than our carefully planned lessons, we should first develop relationships with our students and allow our routines to develop over time. Allowing bonding and communication to become part of our lessons is a valid teaching approach and just as important as the carefully planned steps in our routines. Using this approach, Jacob and I were about to experience our “Aha” moments.

My day began as I arrived at the high school. Jacob is in a self-contained special education class in which students are challenged each day with supportive teachers. Jacob arrived new to our district at the end of last year. On my previous visit with Jacob, I introduced myself to him and we engaged in vocal and hand-play interactions. Bonding and communication was still my challenge, but I knew that it was a necessary action that needed to happen.

Beginning our routine, I placed Jacob close to the cooking area of the classroom. Our materials consisted of a large container that held a mixing bowl, a whisk, and a measuring cup. All of these were necessary for making pancakes.  I greeted Jacob and told him we could make pancakes. Then we clapped our hands and exchanged hugs. We had communicated enough that I felt he was comfortable with his setting and me. I slowly assisted him using hand under hand technique and encouraged him to explore our materials. Surprisingly, before I knew it, he had grasped the mixing bowl and it was suddenly on my head! With the bowl on my head, Jacob instantly extended his arm and used his hand to sweep across my back. He was searching for my head.  He communicated to me that he wasn’t sure where my head gone!  I took the bowl from my head and offered it to him by placing it on his head. In a playful manner, I would say the words “My bowl” and then say “Your bowl!” As we imitated each other, I realized we had bonded and an “Aha” moment had just occurred.

Next, with the bowl still on my head, Jacob began to explore and pat the bowl. His curious little fingers probed and investigated under the bowl and “Aha for him”! He had found my head. It was a very special moment. He continued exploring for a long time and he did not become tired of the interaction. We had bonded and now I felt that we were friends! What an accomplishment for Jacob and a realization for me. Jacob had demonstrated mastery of Piaget’s milestone of Object Permanence. This action allowed me to recognize that Jacob was demonstrating Secondary Circular Reactions, well into the cognitive development of the Sensorimotor stage. Jacob’s ability to tactually explore objects allowed him to exhibit this essential developmental stage and allowed me more knowledge about my student. 

Was my pancake routine completed? Absolutely not! Was this interaction the better lesson for my student? Absolutely yes! Will I eventually get to make pancakes with Jacob? On the next visit we repeated our pancake routine. Using the same materials, I offered him the mixing bowl with the whisk inside. He explored the bowl, but on this day he grabbed the whisk. With the whisk in his hand, he made a stirring motion inside the mixing bowl. I felt he was making progress and the carefully structured routine allowed this progress, which is a necessary step for students with multiple disabilities.

As itinerant teachers, we truly never know what our day will bring. In order to get anywhere with our students, bonding is necessary.  Without these bonding experiences, our students may reject the routines we are trying to initiate. Creating a fun way to get to know the student and his skill level is necessary to meaningful learning!  I know by allowing a bonding experience to take place, I was part of a special moment with a very special student. I was acknowledging the opportunity to let my student tell me more about himself!

Texas Sense Abilities Newsletter

Spring 2014

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By Tricia Lee Marsh, Education Specialist, Region 9 Education Service Center, Wichita Falls; Brenda Lee, Education Specialist, Region 14 Education Service Center, Abilene; Laynette Phillips, Transition Counselor, DARS – Division for Blind Services, Abilene; Laurie Adams, Transition Counselor, DARS – Division for Blind Services, Amarillo; and Ann Adkins, Education Specialist, TSBVI Outreach Program

Abstract: This article describes the unique collaboration between a number of the education service centers (ESCs) and the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services - Division of Blind Services
(DARS-DBS) in providing training activities for parents and students with visual impairments in the Panhandle and West Texas regions of the state. It is a revision of an article on the West Texas Cluster written in 2005.

Key Words: Family, blind, deafblind, visually impaired, camps, workshops, trainings, collaboration, teaming, Cluster, West Texas.

The year 2013 marks the 16-year anniversary of an amazing collaboration among a group of partners that serve students with visual impairments in West Texas. The Cluster, as we named ourselves, was formed out of the simple recognition that what may seem undoable alone was achievable together.  We now encompass a sprawling “village” consisting of 109 counties in the Panhandle and West Texas. We discovered a common mission in our desire to better serve the diverse needs of our students with visual impairments, including those with additional disabilities, and their families, in our combined regions. While the individual members of the West Texas Cluster have changed since the Cluster was created in 1998, the common goal and commitment to the students and families of West Texas have never wavered. Current members include the ESC VI Consultants and O&M Specialists from Regions 9, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18, as well as the Children’s Caseworkers and Transition Specialists from DARS-DBS in all of those regions. The TSBVI Outreach Program and the Virginia Sowell Center at Texas Tech University are also important members of the West Texas Cluster, as are all the support staff of the involved agencies. 

Uniting the Village

This article is in response to the multiple requests we have received from others wanting to "unite their villages." At the 2012 TAER Conference, the West Texas Cluster received the Natalie Barraga Award; individual leaders within the Cluster also received awards for their achievements related to Cluster activities.  We hope that the information in this article will help others unite to form collaborative “clusters”, combining their efforts and resources as a way to meet the needs of their students with visual impairments. The process that we recommend involves three steps and a number of key components.

Step One:  Identify who is in your “cluster."

The Cluster is comprised of families and service providers in a 109-county area of North and West Texas that includes the cities and areas surrounding Abilene, Amarillo, Lubbock, Midland/Odessa, San Angelo, and Wichita Falls. The service providers include the Division for Blind Services (formerly Texas Commission for the Blind), Education Service Centers in Regions 9, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18, Outreach Programs of Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and the Sowell Center at Texas Tech University.

Step Two:  Meet and establish your common goals and objectives.

Each partner in our “village” brings a different and unique set of resources, experiences, and expertise to the table, but it is the combining of these differences that allows us to create a cohesive group, one that derives its strength from its diversity.

Step Three:  Determine the activities that will most effectively meet your combined needs.

The West Texas Cluster currently offers a wide range of educational, confidence-building, and group skills training opportunities each year.  These include annual activities such as a Parent or Family Conference (alternated each year), Project SWEEP, Camp VILLA, and Camp Experience/EXCELS .  Information on these specific annual events is described below.  Individual DBS offices and Education Service Centers also schedule one-day events throughout the year and invite members from other areas to participate.  In the spring of 2013, the Cluster added a Sports Extravaganza event which was held in Abilene for students and siblings from all Cluster regions.

Key Components of Our Collaboration

After uniting our village and identifying our common goals, we discovered several key components that have helped us develop, and maintain, a strong and powerful group that is able to deliver world-class services to children who are blind and visually impaired and their families. The core group of individuals has changed over time, but a common commitment and recognition of individual strengths and contributions has enabled the West Texas Cluster to thrive. We feel that adherence to the following key components has been vital to our success and that of our students. 

Recognize that each partner will have differing resources at different times.

Don't allow your cluster members to get bogged down by a perception that "each partner's contribution has got to be equal for each event." Value each member's contribution and realize that each member's resources will vary from event to event and from year to year.

Make sure that what your group offers to children and families is driven by assessment, feedback, and evaluations of those you serve.

Your activities mustbe determined by these expressed needs, not what you or individual members "think” is needed.  Planning for each event should be driven by the regional needs assessments and feedback received through evaluations of each event.  We value and respond to input from the families and students we serve.  

Leave your individual identities (agendas, territorial concerns, conflicts, turf issues, politics, etc.) at home.

Partners must come together as a group with the intent and purpose of creating something new. Each partner must have an equal, valued, and valid voice. Disagreement is part of the creative process. It must be done in an accepting atmosphere through a proactive, open process. Ultimately, all must come to consensus; discard individual differences and support fully the group decisions.

Allow the time to meet and work as a group.

The success of the West Texas Cluster is the result of all members committing 100%. As in any village, members must get to know one another, identify individual strengths, develop trust, and be committed to the combined efforts and outcomes of the group.  Having regular times to meet and discuss goals and issues without distractions is critical to this type of collaboration.

Specific Events Sponsored by The Cluster

Family or Parent Conference

Every year, the West Texas Cluster offers a weekend-long conference to provide training for the parents and caregivers of children with visual impairments and multiple disabilities, as well as the professionals who work with them. The conference, usually held in the spring, rotates annually between a Parent Conference that focuses specifically on the needs and interests of parents and a Family Conference which includes all members of a student’s family.  DARS-DBS offices, ESC members, the TSBVI Outreach Program, and Texas Tech University provide financial support so families can attend the conferences, as well as the speakers, presenters, and materials needed to coordinate such an event.  427 people participated in the Family Conference held in Lubbock, Texas on April 5-7, 2013. Entitled “Life:  A Balancing Act”, the conference included sessions for students with visual impairments, their parents and guardians, a sibling camp – and a carnival!  In 2014, a Parent Conference will be held in Lubbock on April 11-13. 

Camp VILLA

VILLA = Vocational, Independent Living, Leisure/Recreation Activities. 2013 marked the 28th anniversary of the week-long camp held at Ceta Canyon near Happy, Texas. The 8 to 15 year old campers (students should have completed the second grade) participated in a variety of typical camp activities, such as swimming, fishing, hiking, crafts, and outdoor games. They also enjoyed opportunities for confidence and skill-building activities related to the Expanded Core Curriculum for Students with Visual Impairments (ECC), including group interactions and social skills, self-determination, O&M skills outdoors, rec/leisure skills, and independent living skills. Camp VILLA will be held June 2-6, 2014.

Camp Experience/EXCELS

Camp Experience/EXCELS was designed to introduce the camping experience to families with younger children as well as children whose needs might limit them in other camps. This camp is open to children who are not attendees of Camp VILLA or Project SWEEP. It was designed to be a family camp where all members of the families benefit from a variety of confidence, skill-building activities. These include swimming, a ropes course, and wall climbing, as well as nature hikes, crafts, and an evening by a campfire. Specialists are on hand to provide assistance with education, therapy, networking, and skills training. Camp Experience/EXCELS will be held from August 4-7, 2014 at Camp Butman, near Merkel, Texas.

Project SWEEP

SWEEP (Summer Work Experience and Empowerment Program) is a five-week program for teenagers with visual impairments. The first week of the program focuses on job-readiness training, followed by four weeks of real work experience. Students are housed at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. The program covers daily living skills, orientation and mobility skills, job-seeking skills, on-the-job training, and social/recreation skills. Students will participate in Project SWEEP from June 23 to July 25, 2014.  

Sports Extravaganza

New in 2013, the West Texas Cluster hosted its first annual Sports Extravaganza to encourage physical fitness among student with disabilities.  The event provided opportunities for students to participate in a variety of activities that encouraged students and families to lead more active lifestyles and develop life-long leisure skills.  Students with visual impairments, including those with additional disabilities, were able to choose from both group and individual events, including goalball, basketball skills, bocce, races, frisbee throw, beach ball soccer, and an obstacle course. Their siblings were also invited to participate. The First West Texas Sports Extravaganza was held in Abilene on April 20, 2013.  Next year’s Sports Extravaganza will be September 26-27, 2014. 

Comments from the Families

We feel that the powerful and effective nature of these collaborative events is best illustrated by the following quotes from families who have benefited from the services and activities of the West Texas Cluster:

“This conference had information on (a) therapy method by Lilli Nielsen that will be very useful to help improve the quality of my child's life. Networking with other families about doctors and therapists and equipment not available in my town. In addition to this, this conference gives families coping with children's disabilities the opportunity to walk into a room full of people and not feel outcast. We experience compassion and understanding at this event that nothing else we take part in provides, not even church or family. We are empowered to prevail by each other's struggle and success. This is so important for new, young parents and old war horses (like me). We draw strength from each other. Can anyone not living this life understand how closed out we feel sometimes?”

“Learning new things to help my child succeed at whatever she wants to do in life.”

“Opportunity to share and learn with and from others.”

“To see the families mingle on Saturday night is a pure joy. The children and adults dance, hop, follow, lead and visit like nothing else I have ever witnessed; there is a peace and an almost abandon about it. The joy of acceptance, I guess.”

“Good networking opportunity finding other families in my area.”

“Meeting other families dealing with the same type struggles and listening to their stories.”

“We have received valuable information to help us understand the ARD process and how to help the committee understand our child's needs. We also gained knowledge on how to get our daughter to explore her environment and items around her. We are from a rural area and do not always get to meet families with needs and disabilities like ours. The information and relationships formed at this conference have been the most valuable.”

“Learned new ways to let my child explore her world and interact with others. How to use play for teaching which has been a real problem with her multiple impairments. I also learned about new tools that are available or that we can make ourselves. Networking and talking with other families who are in similar circumstances or have dealt with similar problems already is very useful and provides needed emotional support.”

“This is one of the best conferences ever!”

While the West Texas Cluster was “born" many years ago, we continue to look for ways to effectively "raise" our village.  We encourage you to unite the members of your village as well.  Do not veer in your commitment - we KNOW that the rewards will far exceed those efforts.  Please contact your DARS-DBS caseworker or ESC VI or O&M Consultant for information on next year’s Cluster activities!

William Daugherty, Superintendent TSBVI

Abstract:  In this article Superintendent Daugherty shares information on recently passed and new legislation that will impact the education of students with visual impairments.

Key words: Blind, Visual Impairment, Anne Sullivan Macy Act of 2013, Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC), Orientation and Mobility (O&M), IDEA

Several developments with the potential to have great influence on the educational lives of students with visual impairments have taken place recently, and two more appear to be on the horizon.  HB 590 by Representative Naishtat of Austin, also known as the Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Bill, ensures that all students with visual impairments will receive an O&M evaluation. If you were under the impression that this was already happening for all students, you were mistaken. SB 39 by Senator Zaffirini of Laredo, also known as the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) Bill, ensures that all students with visual impairments will receive instruction in the ECC in areas of learning such as career education, sensory efficiency and social skills among others. SB 39 strengthens related law in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. 

I refer to these as being recent developments because, although passed in the last legislative session, our state is still largely in the process of implementation.  Thankfully, we already have good examples in some Texas school districts where Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments (TVI) and Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists (COMS) have developed promising systems to ensure that all of this evaluation and instruction occurs. The how-to on this big task is being shared across the state wherever groups of TVIs and COMS are gathered. 

On the horizon is the federal Anne Sullivan Macy Act of 2013, still making its way through Congress. This is another example of a bill that essentially strengthens and adds to existing law (IDEA) because of the wide-spread perception that current law was not getting the job done. The following is taken from the bill language:

To promote and ensure delivery of high quality special education and related services to students with visual disabilities through instructional methodologies meeting their unique learning needs; to enhance accountability for the provision of such services; to establish a national collaborative resource on visual disabilities and educational excellence to supplement the current availability of such services; to support the ongoing professional development of instructors of students with visual disabilities; to foster the proliferation of research supporting the development and evaluation of effective and innovative assessments and instructional methodologies; and for other purposes.

Given that students with visual disabilities require more support than they are currently receiving nationally to acquire services and skills comprising the expanded core curriculum, and given that provision of currently required instruction for such students, such as braille, cannot be adequately assured, IDEA must be strengthened and supplemented to ensure that students with visual disabilities truly receive a free and appropriate public education.

There are some very powerful elements in this law that should be gratifying to all of us who have been concerned about the types and levels of service and supports being delivered to students with visual impairments. To read the text of the bill (http://www.afb.org/info/programs-and-services/public-policy-center/education-policy/complete-text-of-macy-act/1235). The American Foundation for the Blind website does a nice job of organizing it, and it only takes about 10 minutes to read. In it you will find references to many of the common worries we hear in our field about students being underserved relative to all of their educational needs.  I think that the Macy Act will provide an excellent foundation for the type of advocacy and action required for any law to truly be effective.

Also on the horizon is something that I hope will be a welcomed development by students in the hunt for high school credits. TSBVI has submitted a proposal to TEA for consideration of approval for three “Innovative Courses”.  These are Braille, Orientation and Mobility and General Employability Skills. Initial feedback from TEA is very promising.  When accepted, any school in the state will be able to give elective credit if they generally follow the course requirements. More on this later, but there is a very good chance these will be available during the 2014-2015 school year. A good source of information on these courses is Debra Sewell, Curriculum Coordinator at TSBVI ().

Texas Sense Abilities Newsletter

Spring 2014

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Barbara J. Madrigal, Assistant Commissioner, DARS, Division for Blind Services

Abstract: In this article Assistant Commissioner Madrigal looks back on the past 10 years of changes in the Transition Program.

Key Words: Division for Blind Services, Transition, visual impairment, career exploration

For more than 20 years, DARS / Division for Blind Services (DBS) has maintained strong and innovative Transition Services, which endeavors to partner with eligible students and their families in order to assist with the transition from school to post-school life and employment.  A little more than 10 years ago, DBS made the decision to lower its minimum age for the services from 14 to 10 years of age.

The rationale for this decision can be attributed to two factors. First, it is our agency’s philosophy that it’s never too early to start thinking about and planning for life after high school.  It’s vital to begin asking questions and exploring options for possibilities in the areas of independent living, post-secondary training, employment, and additional supports if needed.   Additionally, it’s also important to explore these options in light of the young person’s hopes, dreams, motivations, interests, and capabilities.  This multi-year process is intended to be student led, and DBS Transition Counselors strive to partner with the student (and parent or guardian) to provide and coordinate appropriate services that will facilitate effective transitioning from school toward an employment outcome.  For example, below are some areas of focus for DBS Transition Counselors working with students in a multi-year process.

Elementary School

  • Assist students with their development of self-awareness and work awareness.
  • Begin vocational assessment to assist the student in developing interpersonal skills and decision-making skills.
  • Provide opportunities for learning about vocations and careers.
  • Provide training and opportunities for development of independent living skills.

Middle School

  • Assess interests, aptitudes, work habits, and career maturity.
  • Begin occupational exploration and encourage participation in World of Work activities.
  • Increase personal responsibility and independent living responsibilities.

High School

  • Continue to focus on career exploration via World of Work activities and practical work experiences.
  • Increase the student’s job seeking skills such as interviewing, personal data sheet, etc.
  • Evaluate student performance at the work site or through work sample.
  • Increase the student's involvement in the community each year working toward the objective of having their living arrangements, post-secondary training options, and employment goal clearly identified by graduation from high school and / or dismissal from special education services.  

Second, the decision to lower the minimum age for Transition services to age 10 allows for greater resources and expanded services to reach more students and families.  The DBS Transition Services is a subset of the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Program, which has a majority of its funding provided by the federal government.  On the other hand, the DBS Children’s Program has budgets that are more limited due to the fact that it is primarily funded via state general revenue funds.  Access to these federal VR funds facilitates an expansion of services as our Transition Services has the means to assist with providing and purchasing low vision devices / physical restoration services, pre-teen vocational assessments, specialized group skills activities and trainings, additional World of Work experiences, and other services that address the development of prevocational and daily living skills.

As we look back over the past decade, we can recognize that the decision to lower the age for Transition Services was a good one.  The first students who started in the services at age 10 are now in their early twenties.  There are some who are currently in the process of completing secondary education and being dismissed from special education services with a coordinated plan to begin supported employment services.   There are others who are currently engaged in a myriad of post-secondary training programs, including college, vocational or technical school, and other certificate programs.  Others have found meaningful work after high school or continue to work with one of our adult VR counselors in pursuit of a successful employment outcome. 

The DBS Transition Services remains committed to partnering with young people from age 10 to 23.  Without exception, the needs and barriers of students who are blind or visually impaired are unique and may require a multi-year plan of services to address issues related to adjustment to vision loss, independent living, communication skills, independent travel skills, support systems, and vocational skills.  DBS was the first and is still one of the very few state VR agencies in the country that serve transition-age students at such a young age, and this effort will continue to assist and facilitate effective transitioning for students who are blind / visually impaired in Texas.

Texas Sense Abilities Newsletter

Spring 2014

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Sowell Center in Research and Education in Sensory Disabilities Distinguished Lecture Series 16th Annual Lecture

Rona Pogrund, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Texas Tech University

Abstract: Dr. Pogrund provides information on the upcoming 2014 Sowell Center Distinguished Lecture Series “Braille Boost”.

Key Words: Sowell Center Distinguished Lecture Series, BANA, Unified English Braille (UEB) Code Translation, Braille, Blind, Visually Impaired, Literacy

The 2014 Sowell Center Distinguished Lecture Series will be held on the Texas Tech University Campus in the Human Sciences Auditorium in Lubbock, Texas on Saturday, September 27, 2014. This year’s lecture is entitled: BRAILLE BOOST: Evidence-Based Instructional Strategies, Teaching Braille in a Team, and Unified English Braille (UEB) Code Transition. The distinguished lecturer is Frances Mary D’Andrea, Ph.D.  Dr. D’Andrea is an instructor at the University of Pittsburgh and an educational consultant specializing in literacy issues related to students with visual impairments. She is the current Chair of the Braille Authority of North America (BANA), the organization that endorsed the use of UEB in North America. Dr. D’Andrea worked at the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) for 10 years and helped establish the National Literacy Center and has co-authored a wide range of books including Looking to Learn: Promoting Literacy for Students with Low VisionAssistive Technology for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired: A Guide to Assessment, and Instructional Strategies for Braille Literacy.

This all-day lecture (9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.) by one of the leaders in braille literacy will provide the “boost” needed to more effectively improve the reading and writing skills of students who use braille. New and innovative strategies to use with braille readers will be offered as well as ideas on how to work in collaboration with a braille reader’s team in an inclusive setting. The workshop will also include accurate and up-to-date information on UEB. With the Unified English Braille Code transition approaching in 2015, the changes to the braille code that will be coming and how this transition will occur will be addressed by Dr. D’Andrea. The lecture is appropriate for all teachers of students with visual impairments, families, individuals who are blind, related service personnel, rehabilitation therapists, and anyone else interested in braille literacy.

Early registration by September 10, 2014 is $75 (including lunch) and after September 10 is $90. Student rates are $25 by September 10 and $50 after September 10. Payment by check, money order, or purchase order payable to “Sowell Center” is acceptable. Lecture attendees will receive a certificate for 6 hours of professional development. Registration can be mailed to Robin Rekieta, Sowell Center for Research and Education in Sensory Disabilities, College of Education, Texas Tech University, Box 41071, Lubbock, TX 79409. Please note any accommodations needed along with your registration. Sowell Center website: //www.educ.ttu.edu/research/sowell 

For more information about the lecture, contact Robin Rekieta at or at 806-834-1322 or Dr. Rona Pogrund at or at 512-206-9213.

Texas Sense Abilities

Spring 2014

Announcement

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Abstract: This article shares information about Sports Extravaganza, a two day event which encourages physical activities for students who are blind and visually impaired. 

Key Words: Blind, visually impaired, Region 10 Education Service Center, Lions Club International, physical fitness, recreation

Region 10 Education Service Center staff and the Lions Club International 2-X1 started the Sports Extravaganza in 1991 in response to the need for an increased emphasis on recreation and lifetime leisure skill development for children who are blind and visually impaired.  Students from all over the state of Texas and the United States are welcome to compete.  More than 300 students from 55 school districts in Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Alabama participate in Sports Extravaganza each October.

Sports Extravaganza provides opportunities for students with visual impairments to experience a variety of activities that encourage a more active lifestyle and lead to participation in life-long leisure, recreation, and competitive sports.  Students with visual impairments participate in Paralympic type and national sports such as Track and Field, Goalball, and Beep Baseball.  Sports Extravaganza encourages physical fitness among children with visual impairments from infants to 22 year olds.

The 16th Annual Sports Extravaganza will be held on October 17-18, 2014 at Nimitz High School in Irving Texas.

Texas Sense Abilities Newsletter

Spring 2014

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EveryWare Technologies

Abstract: Math Melodies is an app developed in Europe, especially for children with visual impairment or blindness. It is accessible with Voice Over or a refreshable braille display. It also has colorful pictures and animation.

Keywords: Math Melodies is an app developed in Europe, especially for children with visual impairment or blindness. It is accessible with Voice Over or a refreshable braille display. It also has colorful pictures and animation.

Math Melodies is a free accessible app for the iPad, specifically designed to help visually impaired children learn mathematics. The app is downloadable from the App Store at the following link: https://itunes.apple.com/en/app/math-melodies/id713705958?mt=8 and is available both in Italian and English language (German version will be available soon).

screen shot: scroll with treble cleff and the words Math Melodies
Math Melodies is an app fully accessible to blind or visually impaired children

This first release is designed to support children from the 1st to the 3rd grade of primary school, and includes 6 chapters with 12 different types of exercise, each with a different level of complexity.

Math Melodies has been designed to overcome some of the challenges that blind and visually impaired children have to face in learning math: the app uses the audio feedback integrated in all iOS devices (called Voice Over) to assist the child in practicing arithmetic exercises while sliding the finger over the tablet.

The app can be used with a refreshable braille display, but it can also be enjoyed just by exploring the screen: this way the kids will also be able to perceive the bi-dimensional structure of the exercises, otherwise hard to figure out while using math software on traditional computers.

3 digit addition, color coded columns, grid layout, number buttons across the bottom
A screen shot of Math Melodies display showing 3 digit addition

Examples of exercises can be the “counting animals exercises” (with the call of the animals reproduced with a funny sound) and the “animal position exercises”, but also tables with arithmetic operations, such as “operations in column” exercises, “operation charts” and the “hundreds square with missing numbers”.

Math Melodies is not only useful, but it’s extremely fun and entertaining while retaining its educational purposes! The exercises are immersed in a narrative context that guides the student through the learning process: there is a tale that is read to the children, enriched with music and lots of motivating sounds.

Even if the app is specifically designed for children with visual disabilities, it is also enjoyable by all kids (that’s why there are colorful and funny landscapes), thereby enhancing inclusion between visually impaired and sighted children.

screen shot: words - which animal appears more times. picture of 4 dogs with bones, and 3 cats licking paws

A screen shot showing pictures of cats and dogs, saying "Which animal appears more times?"

MathMelodies has been developed thanks to the funds collected through a crowdfunding campaign (http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/math-melodies), that allowed the team to raise 15.000€ (Euros, or about $20,000 U.S. dollars) and to distribute the app for free.

Now the team wants to extend the app to make it available to many more children; so they started a new crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to extend Math Melodies to the 4th and 5th grade of primary school.

The 4th grade objective (7.500€) has already been reached and now they are just missing the last step for the 5th grade. For more information and to contribute to their campaign you can visit http://schoolmelodies.ew-tech.it/index_en.html.

But the developers’ work hasn’t ended yet: their objective for the future is to extend Math Melodies to middle and high school, and why not to university as well, including graphs, functions and many more features and making this app a benchmark for math learners with visual disabilities!

THE TEAM

The app has been developed by EveryWare Technologies, a spin-off of the University of Milan that develops applications for smartphone and tablet to support visually impaired people in everyday activities.

The team is composed of Sergio Mascetti (Project Manager), Cristian Bernareggi (Accessibility Designer), Andrea Gerino (Chief Developer) and Ginevra Are (Communication Specialist).

EveryWare Technologies started to develop iPhone and iPad apps in early 2012.

Among their apps there are Light Detector (that was the first iPhone app to detect light and transform it into sound) and iMove, which supports the orientation of visually impaired people and that has been downloaded almost 35,000 times worldwide.

The idea behind Math Melodies was born thanks to the experience of Cristian who, being congenitally blind, had to face some difficulties while learning math (even if afterwards he gained a PhD in Computer Science).

Some time ago, together with Sergio, they realized there was the need of an app that could teach math to visually impaired children in a fun, engaging and entertaining way. So they decided to develop it!

Sergio and his colleagues are always happy to receive feedbacks and comment about their apps, and at the moment they are looking for suggestions to improve Math Melodies, also to meet the needs of students with visual impairments in the US.

They invite you to try the app and, if you want any more information, please write to them at .

Also visit their website: Everywhere Technologies (http://www.everywaretechnologies.com)

Texas Sense Abilities Newsletter

Spring 2014

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The purpose of this study is to describe the social experiences of teens with visual impairment. This study will provide information about what these teens and their parents experience as they transition into life after high school.

Anyone with visual impairment, including blindness, who is between 14 and 18 years old may be in the study as long as that person can speak English, understand what the study is about and make a decision to participate, and has no physical or hearing impairment. Parent permission is required. Any interested parent of a participating teen may be in the study as long as they speak English.

If you agree to be in this study, you will be asked personal questions in 2-3 private interviews with an experienced occupational therapist/orientation and mobility specialist.

Are you willing to share your story?

For more information, please contact the principal investigator, Jessica Lampert, OTR, COMS, CLVT at (214) 205-9023 or , or fill out the attached contact form and give it to your service provider. This study is part of Jessica Lampert’s PhD requirements at Texas Woman’s University, Dallas.

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Social Participation Study

Contact  Request

_______ I would like to be called about participating in this research study.

My name is: ______________________________________________________________________

My Phone Number is: ______________________________________________________________

The best time to reach me is: ________________________________________________________