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Winter 99 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By Ruth Ann Marsh, Statewide Mentor Coordinator, and KC Dignan, Personnel Preparation Coordinator, TSBVI, Outreach

What is a VI professional?

VI professional is a term which includes both O&M specialist and VI teacher. O&M specialists teach independent travel skills to people who are blind and visually impaired. These skills emphasize the use of techniques which enable the person to travel safely, efficiently and gracefully. O&M specialists hold a national certification from the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, and a degree from an approved university.

Teachers certified to teach students with visual impairments are certified in visual handicaps by the State Board of Educator Certification. They specialize in the disability-specific needs of students with visual impairments. A sample of these skills include braille, social skills, use of adaptive equipment, and self-advocacy.

Training Options

A variety of training options are available for individuals wishing to become VI teachers or O&M specialists. They include:  

  • Alternative Certification Program (ACP) These programs in visual impairments are managed by an education service center (ESC) and approved by the State Board of Educator Certification. The training is designed to meet the needs of the region. Training is conducted at the ESC. No ACP training is available for O&M specialists. ESC Region II (Corpus Christi) will begin an ACP Program in June, 1999.
  • On campus On-campus training is available at both Stephen F. Austin (SFA) and Texas Tech University (TTU). Both offer programs at the graduate or certification levels. SFA also has undergraduate programs.
  • Outreach In an outreach program, the university staff travels to a service center or district to provide training to participants in that geographical area. Both SFA and TTU provide outreach programs.
  • Professional Development School (PDS) Participants in the PDS attend training at TSBVI for three summers. This program started in the Summer of 1998 and is not taking new applicants.
  • Distance Education With distance education, the university professor is in a different location than the students. Professor and students may use interactive video, Internet options, telephone conferences and other types of distance education strategies.


The Visually Impaired Preparation Program (VIP) contract is limited to those individuals who are willing to commit to work as a VI teacher or O&M specialist in Texas. Prerequisites for this program include:

  • VI teacher Undergraduates must be enrolled in the four year undergraduate VI program at SFA to participate in the VIP Program. All others must have earned a bachelor's degree and hold a valid teaching certificate in any area, preferably in special education.
  • O&M specialist Undergraduates must be enrolled in the four year undergraduate O&M program at SFA to participate in the VIP Program. All others must have completed a bachelor's degree to earn an O&M endorsement. No educational certification (in any field) is required for O&M specialist.

Application Process

There are three steps in the VIP Program application process. The ACP application process is similar, but will have slightly different requirements and deadlines. For more information about the ACP application process, contact Joyce West at (512) 883-9288, ext. 2246. The step for the VIP Program are as follows:

  1. Complete and send the VIP Program application and all requested documentation. You can get a copy of the application packet by contacting KC Dignan or any VI consultant at the nearest education service center.
  2. Complete and send a university application along with official transcripts. Once you have sent the VIP Program application, a university application will be sent to you. You will be given the opportunity to choose either SFA or TTU.
  3. A committee will review your application and may contact you for an interview.

Mentor Component of the VIP Program

Mentors in this program are intended to provide support to new VI professionals. Mentors are assigned to students within their first year of training and will continue this relationship through the first year of employment. Mentors provide support and assistance, but are not a part of the formal evaluation process.

Training as a VI professional is very intense and includes learning a lot of new materials and skills. New VI teachers may be emergency certified after completing part of their training and may work in a district as the only VI teacher. O&M specialists cannot be emergency certified, but there are fewer O&M specialists than VI teachers, and they are more widely distributed across the state. As a result, new VI professionals may feel isolated and/or overwhelmed.

Additionally, since most of the training is offered through distance education, students studying to become VI professionals may not feel as connected to their peers as in a more traditional classroom model. A mentor can help a new VI professional network within the profession and also provide expert guidance, technical support, resources and encouragement.

VI teachers need 4 years of experience as VI teacher, must have permission from their supervisor, and be willing to provide letters of recommendation from their ESC and a co-worker. O&M specialists need 3 years of experience as an O&M specialist working with children, and be willing to provide a resume and letters of recommendation from their supervisor and two co-workers.

As a mentor you will contributing to the positive growth of a new VI professional. This can be a rewarding and renewing experience. Mentoring is an accepted activity for the state teacher evaluation process and applies towards recertification as an O&M specialist. As a mentor you will be provided with two days of high quality training, a resource kit of materials, support from the mentor coordinator (Ruth Ann Marsh), reimbursement for your expenses, and a small yearly stipend. Currently, the VIP program needs 100 new VI teacher mentors and 50 O&M mentors.

If you have questions about the training options, deadlines, or about VI professions in general, contact KC Dignan at (512) 206-9156 or . If you have questions about mentoring, or are interested in becoming a mentor, contact Ruth Ann Marsh at (512) 206-9203 or .

You can also get information about preservice training and mentoring on the TSBVI website under "Professional Preparation and Mentoring" at