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Stuart Wittenstein, Ed.D. Superintendent,
California School for the Blind
Fremont, California

Sheila Amato, Ed.D. Teacher of the Visually Impaired
Eastport South Manor School District, New York

Presented at the 2002 AER International Conference
July 17-21, 2002Toronto, Canada

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Rationale for Study

"Blind children are not being taught braille because the teachers who are supposedly trained to do so themselves do not know the braille codes sufficiently, much less the teaching methodology." Spungin, 1989, in the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

"A little honest reflection about this situation (decline in braille literacy) suggests that the real culprit here is the inadequate and inappropriate education of the special education teachers who are not competent or confident themselves in using Braille and who also believe that their students should not be expected to compete successfully in school or in life." Ianuzzi, 1992 in Braille Monitor

Braille Training Groups
(as selected by respondents)

Group 1 — transcription, rule knowledge, formatting, proofreading

Group 2 — same as above plus some (10% of class time) methodology in the teaching of braille reading

Group 3 — same as above plus an emphasis (more than 10%) on methodology in the teaching of braille reading

Figure 1: Braille Training Groups 1991

Group 1 — transcription, rule knowledge, formatting, proofreading; 42.9%

Group 2 — same as above plus some (10% of class time) methodology in the teaching of braille reading; 35.9%

Group 3 — same as above plus an emphasis (more than 10%) on methodology in the teaching of braille reading; 21.2%

Figure 2: Attitudes After Training
Braille Skills V. Teaching Ability

Group 1 Braille Skills 67.7%; Teaching Ability 28.6%

Group 2 Braille Skills 80.6%; Teaching Ability 50.1%

Group 3 Braille Skills 86.4%; Teaching Ability 74.5%

Figure 3: Current Attitudes
Braille Skills V. Teaching Ability

Group 1 Braille Skills 61.7%; Teaching Ability 50.1%

Group 2 Braille Skills 71.2%; Teaching Ability 69.3%

Group 3 Braille Skills 73.9%; Teaching Ability 79.0%

Figure 4: Confidence in Braille Skills
After Training V. Current

Group 1 Confidence After Training 67.7%; Current 61.7%

Group 2 Confidence After Training 80.6%; Current 71.2%

Group 3 Confidence After Training 86.4%; Current 73.9%

Figure 5: Confidence — Teaching Ability
After Training V. Current

Group 1 Confidence After Training 28.6%; Current 50.1%

Group 2 Confidence After Training 50.1%; Current 69.3%

Group 3 Confidence After Training 74.5%; Current 79.0%

Figure 6: Teacher Attitudes Towards Braille

Enjoy teaching braille 73.7% yes; 4.9% no

Technology should not replace braille 89.4% yes; 2.6% no

Braille is not important 1.1% yes; 96.8% no

Technology makes braille unnecessary 2.7% yes; 91.3% no

Figure 7. Most Likely Decline for Braille Literacy

Increase in Multiply-handicapped population 54.1%;

Reliance on technology 40.1%;

Caseloads/itinerant model 27.7%;

Emphasis on vision utilization 21.0%;

Inadequate teacher preparation 18.5%;

Teacher attitude 14.4%;

Teacher incompetence 8.6%;

Complexity of braille 8.3%

Figure 8. Braille Training Groups 2001

Group 1 — transcription, rule knowledge, formatting, proofreading 33.0%

Group 2 — same as above plus some (10% of class time) methodology in the teaching of braille reading 40.4%

Group 3 — same as above plus an emphasis (more than 10%) on methodology in the teaching of braille reading 26.6%

Figure 9. A Comparison of Groups by Year

1991 Group 1 42.9%; Group 2 35.9%; Group 3 21.2%

2001 Group 1 33.0%; Group 2 40.4%; Group 3 26.6%

Figure 10. Received Braille Training

1991 undergraduate 34.1%; graduate 61.6%

2001 undergraduate 19.9%; graduate 82.1%

Figure 11. Braille Training as Part of Degree Program

1991 part of degree 69.5%

2001 part of degree 42.8%

Requirements Which Were Included in Braille Training

Proficiency with braillewriter

Ability to read braille

Knowledge of braille reading methodology

Proficiency with slate and stylus

Proficiency in Nemeth Code

Development of teacher made materials

Write lesson plans

Present sample lessons

Evaluate curricula

Review journal articles

Figure 12. Observed Changes in Requirements for Braille Training

Proficiency with slate and stylus 1991 39.6%; 2001 65.8%

Proficiency in Nemeth Code 1991 50.2% 2001 67.7%

Development of teacher made materials 1991 53.9%; 2001 65.3%

Knowledge of braille reading methodology 1991 50.4%; 2001 56.0%


Figure 13. Teacher of the Blind Certification

1991 93.8% yes; 6.2% no

2001 89.2% yes; 10.8% no

Figure 14. Respondent's Selection of Teaching Assignments

residential schools 1991 26.3%; 2001 28.0%

self contained classroom 1991 5.2%; 2001 9.8%

resource room 1991 9.7%; 2001 7.2%

itinerant 1991 42.5%; 2001 43.3%

consultant 1991 10.3%; 2001 10.3%

early intervention 1991 2.4%; 2001 8.1%

other 1991 3.7%; 2001 13.4%

Figure 15. Total Number of Students on Caseload

1-10 students 1991 39.7%; 2001 42.1%

11-20 students 1991 34.4%; 2001 28.9%

21-30 students 1991 14.6%; 2001 11.7%

31-40 students 1991 6.4%; 2001 3.8%

more than 40 students 1991 4.9%; 2001 4.8%

Figure 16. Number of Students on Caseload Who Use Braille

1-5 students 1991 81.7%; 2001 58.7%

6-10 students 1991 11.7%; 2001 6.3%

11-15 students 1991 4.3%; 2001 2.3%

16-20 students 1991 1.4%; 2002 1.0%

more than 20 students 1991 1.0%; 2001 1.8%

Figure 17. Total Number of Years Teaching Experience

1-10 years 1991 32.7%; 2001 67.6%

11-20 years 1991 47.7%; 2001 22.6%

21-30 years 1991 15.9%; 2001 9.0%

more than 30 years 1991 3.7%; 2001 .05%

Figure 18. Primary Reading Mode

Braille 1991 2.4%; 2001 1.2%

Print 1991 96.9%; 2001 98.1%

Tape 1991 1.2%; 2001 .7%

Figure 19. Attitudes After Training Braille Skills V. Teaching Ability

Braille skills satisfactory 1991 76.3%; 2001 74.9%

Ability to teach satisfactory 1991 46.1%; 2001 44.5%

Figure 20. Current Attitudes Braille Skills V. Teaching Ability

Braille skills satisfactory 1991 67.7%; 2001 59.6%

Ability to teach satisfactory 1991 63.1%; 2001 52.2%

Figure 21. Confidence in Braille Skills After Training V. Current

Braille skills satisfactory 1991 76.3%; 2001 74.9%

Current skills satisfactory 1991 67.7%; 2001 59.6%

Figure 22. Confidence - Teaching Ability After Training V. Current

Ability to teach satisfactory 1991 46.1%; 2001 44.5%

Current ability satisfactory 1991 63.1%; 2001 52.5%

Figure 23. Agreement with Statements Regarding Braille Competency

Knowledge of Nemeth Code is satisfactory 1991 35.8%; 2001 40.7%

Slate and Stylus should be taught 1991 70.4%; 2001 63.2%

Figure 24. Legislation Requiring the Teaching of Braille

Agree 1991 21.9%; 2001 35.9%

Neutral 1991 19.3%; 2001 30.4%

Disagree 1991 58.7%; 2001 33.5%

Figure 25. Most Likely Cause of a Decline in Braille Literacy

Increase in multiply handicapped population 1991 54.1%; 2001 45.9%

Vision utilization 1991 21.0%; 2001 10.8%

Large caseloads 1991 27.7%; 2001 38.4%

Inadequate teacher preparation 1991 18.5%; 2001 25.8%


Amato, S.S. (2002) Standards and Criteria for Competence in Braille Literacy Within Teacher Preparation Programs in the United States and Canada. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness.

Spungin, S.J. (1989). Braille literacy: Issues for blind persons, families, professionals, and producers of braille. New York: American Foundation for the Blind.

Wittenstein, S.H. (1993). Braille training and teacher attitudes: Implications for personnel preparation. RE:view, 25, (3). 103-111.

Wittenstein, S.H. (1994). Braille literacy: Preservice training and teachers' attitudes. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 88 (6). 516-524.

Wittenstein, S.H., & Pardee, M.L. (1996). Teachers' voices: Comments on braille and literacy from the field. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness — Special Issue on Literacy 90 (3). 201-209.

See also "Braille literacy" Spungin, S.J. & D'Andrea, F.M. (2001) in Library of Congress, Braille into the next millennium, pp. 444-446.

See also June, 1989 special issue on literacy of the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness.

Updated Feb. 2020

Why Become a VI Professional? - Fact Sheets

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Professional Preparation

Texas Fellows

  • Texas Fellows are recruiters!  Texas Fellows have helped people find out about the field of visual impairments and become a VI professional. Texas Fellows and their candidates are recognized for a year.  Becoming a Texas Fellow is easy.
    • Texas SenseAbilities newsletter (formerly See/Hear),
    • At all statewide TSBVI functions
    • and receive either one of TSBVI's most popular publications or free registration to a TSBVI sponsored training event.
  • Texas Fellows Application (Word or PDF)
  • Get additional information about Texas Fellows


Individuals are assigned a mentor when they are hired by a school district as a TVI or COMS. The mentor relationship continues through the protégé’s practicum/internship period and extends one year beyond certification as a VI professional in Texas schools.

PPAG Materials (Professional Preparation Advisory Group)

For more information about any of these programs

Chrissy Cowan, TSBVI Outreach Programs
Mentor Coordinator
1100 W. 45 th Street
Austin, Texas 78756
(512) 206-9367
FAX: 512-206-9320

Mary Shore, TSBVI Outreach Programs
Professional Preparation Coordinator
1100 W. 45 th Street
Austin, Texas 78756
(512) 206-9156
FAX: 512-206-9320

Quick Links

  • Financial Aid Information Page
  • Becoming a Teacher in Texas
  • VIP Home Page - SFA - Visually Impaired Program Information from Stephen F. Austin State University
  • Reach Across Texas Home Page - TTU  - Visually Impaired Program Information from Texas Tech University.
  • Virginia Sowell Center Home Page - The Virginia Murray Sowell Center for Research and Education in Visual Impairment is an opportunity to continue the work begun by Dr. Virginia Sowell at Texas Tech University in Visual Impairment. It is designed to include an annual Distinguished Lecturer Series on the topic of visual impairment. The Center will eventually offer scholarships to students participating in the Visual Impairment, Orientation and Mobility, and Dual Sensory degree and certification programs. The Center is also designed to support faculty research and public service. Still in its infancy, the Center is evolving on a daily basis.

The TSBVI mentor program matches novice teachers of students with visual impairments (TVI) and certified orientation and mobility specialists (COMS) with experienced VI professionals in Texas schools. This program strives to provide a mentor through the first year of employment and for one entire school year beyond when all training and certification requirements are completed.

Picture of mentor and protege observe an O and M lesson during a Mentor Center

Information for Mentors

Mentor Training

Information for Protégés

Mentor Centers 

What is a Mentor?

In the field meetings that representatives of TSBVI's Outreach Program held in 1997 with all of the ESC-VI and O&M specialists, the following definition for mentoring was developed.  Mentoring is a practical skill-oriented, helping relationship between experienced and inexperienced practitioners.  It includes activities which are both planned and spontaneous.  This is a separate process from university supervision, internship and/or practicum. A mentor is a special partner in the professional growth process.

How was the statewide mentoring program developed?

The statewide mentoring program for all new VI teachers and O&M specialists in Texas was initially part of the Visually Impaired Preparation (VIP) Program, a collaborative project which links consumers, all twenty Education Service Centers (ESCs), two Texas universities (Texas Tech University and Stephen F. Austin State University), the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI), the Texas Education Agency (TEA), and the Texas Commission for the Blind (TCB).  The overall goal was to provide more quality VI professionals (VI teachers and O&M specialists) for the visually impaired children of Texas.  The VIP Program focused on recruitment, mentoring, instruction, and advocacy, and was initially funded by TEA.  The mentor program along with the university professional preparation programs has continued to be funded by the Texas State Legislature.

During 1997 & 1998, the Professional Preparation Advisory Group (PPAG), composed of members from all the above-described entities as well as advocacy groups for blind and visually impaired individuals, reviewed the professional preparation options for VI professionals and proposed an action plan.  Emphasis was on expanding collaboration between universities and regional Education Service Centers, developing collaborative curricula, increasing the training options, expanding recruitment strategies, and establishing a mentor program.

In January 1998, ESC-Region XI received a three-year contract from TEA as part of the decentralized process to train, support and employ 50 new O&M specialists and 100 new VI teachers in Texas.  Organizing and coordinating a mentor program for all new VI teachers and O&M specialists trained in Texas was part of this initiative, and the task of establishing the mentor program was sub-contracted to TSBVI.  The goal of the mentor program is that each pre-service VI teacher or O&M specialist attending any of the training options will be provided a mentor during his/her second year of training and will continue to have a mentor through the first year of employment as a VI professional or for one entire school year beyond when all training and certification requirements are completed.

What are the training options available?

Beginning in 1998-1999, the VIP Program established five training options for earning certification as a teacher of students with visual impairments and four training options were available for students seeking certification as an O&M specialist.

The four training options for O&M specialists are:

  • On-campus: Students travel to a college campus to attend regularly scheduled classes
  • Outreach: College faculty travel to ESCs or local school districts to provide training
  • Professional Development School: Students and faculty traveled to TSBVI for training during three consecutive summers beginning summer 1998 through summer 2000.  This option is no longer available.
  • TETN and Internet: Students take university-led training for all lecture classes either by attending compressed video classes (TETN) at their regional ESC, or by using a computer to connect to the internet for web-based courses.  Cane travel training is conducted in person under the supervision of certified O&M specialists who meet A.C.V.R.E.P. criteria for instructor status.  Students travel to a college campus to attend regularly scheduled classes.

All O&M students are required to meet the same ACVREP certification requirements regardless of the training option that they choose.

How important is mentoring?

Teaching students who have visual impairments is a challenging job.  It requires extensive knowledge of a unique set of adaptive techniques as well as an ability to work effectively with other education professionals.  Often the VI teacher and the O&M specialist are the only professionals on a visually impaired student's educational team who have knowledge about the specialized resources, equipment, and skills that are essential for the student's success.

Being a VI teacher or O&M specialist is also a challenge in personal terms.   Critical personal skills such as mastering working without a campus peer group, dealing with the pressures of the intense needs of parents as well as students, and maintaining a high level of self confidence in new and uncharted educational territory are essential for success.  All of these considerations make mentor support even more important for beginning VI professionals than for their fellow entry-level educators.  In addition:

Research shows that beginning teachers who have had the continuous support of a skilled mentor are much more likely to stay in the profession and much more likely to get beyond classroom arrangement concerns to focus on student learning.  All beginning teachers should be assigned a skilled mentor.  (What Matters Most:  Teaching for America's Future, 1996).

VI professionals know the variety of abilities and needs manifested by blind and visually impaired students.  It is impossible for universities or alternative programs to cover all of the needed adaptations necessary for each student to succeed.  In addition, many future VI teachers get emergency certification prior to completion of their university training. (Emergency certification is NOT available for O&M specialists.) In light of these facts, the PPAG has agreed that mentoring is so important that it will be an integral part of every pre-service VI professional's plan and will extend at least through the first year of employment.

Why would a VI professional want to be a mentor?

  • Mentoring offers individuals a unique opportunity for professional development and is a recognized activity for the PDAS teacher review process and for O&M re-certification.
  • It can provide a profound sense of satisfaction and growth.
  • Mentoring a new VI teacher or O&M specialist can provide an excellent contribution to the field and help to ensure the continued quality of VI professionals.
  • Mentoring can facilitate the formation of new bonds and connections between professionals at various levels of professional development.
  • Other mentors have stated that it has been an important part of their own professional renewal process.

Who is qualified to be a VI and/or O&M mentor?

VI teachers (TVIs) are qualified to be mentors if they have the following:

  • commitment to serve as a VI mentor for two years
  • four years of experience as a VI professional
  • good communication skills
  • solid understanding of the professional field
  • written administrative approval and support

Certified O&M specialists (COMS) are qualified to be mentors if they meet the following criteria:

  • commitment to serve as an O&M mentor for two years
  • have a minimum of three years of experience as an O&M specialist.  Three years must have been spent in an education setting in which the prospective mentor served a diverse (blind, low vision, multiply disabled) student population as an O&M specialist
  • have current A.C.V.R.E.P. O&M certification
  • completed the O&M Mentor application process

Personal qualifications for both VI and O&M mentors may include:

  • has high standards for self and others
  • is confident, secure, and current in professional knowledge
  • shows interest in professional development
  • has ability to help others without  "smothering" or "taking charge"

What is the process for becoming a mentor?

Mentors may be self-nominated or nominated by either their school district or the VI staff of their local ESC.  All applicants must complete and submit the following documentation:

  • application for VI/O&M mentorship
  • recommendation form from someone with whom they have had a consulting relationship (regular education teacher, special education teacher, related service personnel, parent, O&M specialist, etc.)
  • Supervisor Recommendation form (If self-employed, this requirement is waived.)

Applicants to become VI mentors need this additional documentation:

  • a letter of support from the ESC-VI consultant in their Region (unless they are an ESC-VI consultant)

Applicants to become O&M mentors need these additional documents:

  • a brief resume outlining past professional experience
  • an additional recommendation from one of the following
    • an ESC-VI or O&M specialist in their region
    • a professional co-worker (regular or special educator)
    • another O&M specialist
    • a VI teacher

Blank applications for the mentor application process in Microsoft Word:

Potential mentors may not have a clear picture of the administrative support available to them or may not have such support but would like to be a mentor.  TSBVI is committed to helping this process be a success.  The Mentor Coordinator will be glad to talk with district administrators, either in groups or singly, to explain the mentor program and answer questions.

How will mentors be selected?

Potential mentors are recruited by the mentor coordinator based on recommendations made by regional education service center consultants for students with visual impairments, with input from experienced TVIs and certified orientation and mobility specialists.

What will a VI/O&M mentor do?


Each mentor/protégé team will be issued a contact log which lists activities or topics that should be covered over the course of the mentor assignment.  The contact log for the protégé who is the TVI/COMS of record for a VI caseload will be different from the log that is used with a protégé who is not yet employed as a TVI/COMS.  Early on in the mentoring process, the mentor-protégé team should review these activities and prioritize them according to the needs and desires of the protégé.

The appropriate contact log is disseminated to each mentor/protégé team when they receive an email letter confirming their team assignment.  It is a tool for the mentor/protégé team to use when planning content for team interactions.  It is the responsibility of the mentor to maintain this record.   The contact log is to be turned in to the mentor coordinator on April 15th.  Contact logs are not used to evaluate individual teams, but will be looked at to get a global view of what is being worked on by the mentor/protégé teams.

Mentors will not be asked to provide grades or evaluations.  Mentoring provides a supportive relationship to the protégé, not an evaluative one.

What time commitment is involved in being a mentor?

Length of the Program:

In general, mentors will be teamed with their protégés throughout the training period and for one entire school year beyond when all training and certification requirements have been completed, assuming that the protégé is employed in the educational sector as a VI professional.  The actual length of time will vary depending on the training model.  Mentors are asked to make a two-year commitment to their protégé and will be given the opportunity to continue as a mentor if the protégé's training and first full year of employment takes longer than two years.  Hopefully, this will provide the mentor and the protégé with an opportunity to develop a relationship that will become a professional resource for both of them.  Of course, adjustments will be made if conditions change for either mentor or protégé.

Time and Contact Requirements:

For each mentor-protégé team, the specific time will vary and will be tailored for the needs of the team members.  Mentors can expect their duties to take from ten minutes to two hours per week, depending on the needs of the protégé. With a protégé who has an excellent background in education, the mentor should anticipate the following minimum contacts:

  • One introductory face-to-face meeting at the beginning of the relationship
  • A minimum of one informal observation of the protégé doing a lesson during the induction year
  • One additional face-to-face meeting (e.g., at a conference), and
  • A minimum of two routine contacts per month

Either mentor or protégé may initiate contacts. Whenever possible, a regular schedule of contacts should be established by the team members.   It is the responsibility of the protégé to document all contacts on the Activities Checklist.

Interaction Formats:

Contact does not always need to be in person.  The mentor and the protégé may choose to interact through a variety of different methods including (but not limited to):

  • personal, face-to-face meetings
  • telephone conversations or conference calls
  • videotaped demonstrations or observations
  • interactive television
  • e-mail
  • sending each other products/resources (articles, materials, kits, books, etc.)
  • "shadowing" of the mentor by the protégé

Whenever possible, during the first year of working as a VI professional, the mentor should expect to spend two days (one each semester) with the protégé in his/her school district.  Additionally, it is recommended that the protégé spend at least two days observing the mentor in his/her school district and participating in such activities as performing a functional vision exam or orientation and mobility evaluation.  Whenever possible, it is recommended that the extended sessions occur when either the protégé or mentor has a professional development day as districts often do not have VI-related workshops available for VI teachers and O&M specialists.  Since mentoring is a recognized activity for the PDAS teacher review process, the time spent mentoring can provide for professional growth and meet the criteria for the PDAS system.  Mentoring is also recognized by A.C.V.R.E.P. as an activity that can be used towards O&M re-certification.  Upon request, the mentor coordinator can provide COMS with a letter documenting mentoring contacts for re-certification purposes.

Impact of Emergency Permit:

It is possible for VI protégés to get an emergency permit and hired as VI teachers after taking only two courses.  Emergency permits are NOT available for O&M specialists.  For VI protégés, those protégés who have an emergency permit and are functioning as VI teachers will likely need frequent support from their mentors for at least the first year.  Protégés who do not have a VI caseload (some VI protégés and all O&M protégés) may need less contact with their mentors during their preservice training but will need increased contact during their first year of employment as a VI teacher or O&M specialist.  Mentors will be required to invite protégés without caseloads to job shadow at least once per semester.

New VI professional support available from TSBVI Outreach Services:

Sometimes it is not possible for a mentor to spend direct contact time with the protégé in the protégé's district, especially when the mentor and protégé are employed in different districts.  When this is the case, the mentor and protégé team can request that additional support be provided from a VI or O&M consultant from TSBVI Outreach Services.  The Outreach consultant will tailor the on-site support according to the needs identified by the mentor/protégé team.  Possible subjects may include (but not be restricted to) the following topics:

  • assessment including functional vision evaluation, learning media assessments, O&M evaluations
  • roles and responsibilities of VI professionals
  • infant services
  • Services for students with multiple sensory impairments:  active learning, routines
  • Consult vs. direct services
  • Caseload management

How many mentors are needed?

Each student seeking certification as either a teacher of students with visual impairments or an O&M specialist will need a mentor  In some regions of Texas, VI children receive only minimal service because there is not an adequate number of VI certified personnel available.  The VIP Program was created to assure quality service for all VI children in Texas regardless of where they live.

Because of the size of our state and the shortage of VI personnel, it is not always possible to match a protégé with a mentor who works nearby.  To deal with this problem, the Mentor Program has hired experienced VI teachers to serve as statewide mentors.  The statewide mentors work on a contractual basis for school districts, either because they are semi-retired or choose to be self-employed.  Therefore, they are free to travel around the state to support protégés in outlying areas that have few, if any, other VI professionals who qualify as mentors. Statewide mentors are assigned in situations in which the protégé is the TVI or COMS of record for a VI caseload.

Can someone mentor more than one protégé?

If mentoring is a part of someone's job description, it is certainly possible.  This is more likely to be true for ESC consultants or persons who are retired or work part-time.  However, it is less likely that district staff will be able to mentor more than one protégé.  Since district administrative support is an essential prerequisite to become a mentor, we do not expect administrators to allow their employees extensive time away from their own caseloads.

How will mentors be supported?

Each mentor will be required to attend one-and-a-half day of training.   Prior to the training, they are required to complete the on-line mentor training available on the TSBVI website.  This on-line training and the first half-day at TSBVI is devoted to the general principles of mentoring.  The second day, the participants learn more about the unique mentoring role for VI teachers and itinerant personnel.  The mentor program will pay for all expenses for the mentors to participate in the training.

Topics for the training sessions will include the following:

  • The Mentor Program and how it works
  • Sound practices and strategies in mentoring, and
  • Best practices in working as a teacher and/or as an orientation and mobility specialist for students with visual impairments

Training sessions are conducted yearly, and are usually held in January or February.  Please call Chrissy Cowan, the Mentor Coordinator, if you are interested in attending.

In addition, mentors are often brought together during conferences (e.g., Texas Focus, TAER, etc.) each year for networking and support sessions when they are provided with additional training in areas of perceived need.

How will TSBVI Outreach be involved in this process?

  • Chrissy Cowan, the Mentor Coordinator, facilitates and supports the mentor-protégé teams and provides information about the mentor program to their respective school districts and/or ESCs.  She oversees the training of mentors and the matching of proteges and mentors with input from district and ESC personnel.  She is available for phone or face-to-face conversations with administrators in order to supply information and respond to individual needs for support.
  • Emily Coleman, Outreach Director, is also available to provide information or answer questions (512-206-9242)
  • Other TSBVI Outreach staff will be available as needed.  For instance, Mary Shore, as Statewide Coordinator of Professional Preparation, answers questions on the five training models for prospective VI professionals.  The Outreach VI and Deafblind Consultants are available for training and support.

Who should you contact first?

Chrissy Cowan, TSBVI Outreach Services
Mentor Coordinator
1100 W. 45th Street
Austin, Texas 78756
(512) 206-9367

End of FAQ

  1. It's okay to say "look" and "see." Even fully sighted people use their other senses in the context of looking at something. Visually impaired people might look at things in a different way, but "seeing" is in the perception (rather than the eye) of the beholder.
  2. Audiovisual presentations and demonstrations are made accessible to severely visually impaired students by providing verbal explanations. Read what is being written on the board and/or describe what is pictured in the presentation. Allow the student time to handle tactually adapted materials.
    Saying "over there" and pointing to something the student can't see are not useful with a blind student. Instead, spatial directions must be given from the STUDENT'S perspective. Remember that the student's left and right are opposite yours when you are facing the student.
  3. Seat or encourage the visually impaired student to come to the front of the classroom or presentation area in order to be certain that s/he hears all instruction/explanation correctly.
  4. Braille materials take an exceptionally long time to order and/or prepare. Textbook committee members should be aware of this and be certain that braille textbooks can be ordered in January for the following fall so that they can be transcribed in time. Extra time may be required for math and technical books, as Braille mathematical notation requires a unique certification that many literary braille transcribers do not possess.
  5. Classroom handouts, especially those with pictures or diagrams, also require a great deal of time to transcribe into braille and tactile formats or verbal descriptions. Classroom teachers are wise to provide materials to be transcribed at least two weeks ahead of time, preferably on disk, as some text can be transcribed using computer translation software.
  6. Expect the visually impaired student to complete the same assignments as the rest of the class. Due to alternative media, assignments may take a visually impaired student longer to complete. An average of double time for Braille or tape is a good rule of thumb. Due to time constraints it may occasionally be necessary to reduce the number of examples to be completed for classwork or homework (such as in math problems), as long as the student is able to demonstrate that s/he understands the concepts and/or skills exhibited within each example.
  7. Independence is of primary importance! Be patient. Observe the student, silently encouraging independent problem-solving skills. Wait until the student asks for help and provide minimal assistance only as needed to build self-confidence and independence.
  8. Avoid leaving doors and drawers ajar or chairs out from under tables and desks. Either keep furniture consistent or inform and/or involve the student in rearranging.
  9. Address all students by name so that the visually impaired student can learn to associate names with voices of classmates. Address the visually impaired student by name as well, so he or she knows when he or she is being spoken to.
  10. Encourage the student's use of proper posture, eye contact as much as possible and proper social etiquette. Discourage any inappropriate mannerisms to maximize the student's physical and emotional health, as well s the student's social, educational and career potential.
  11. Always treat the visually impaired student equally with other students. This includes discipline and special privileges as well as involvement in extracurricular and leadership opportunities.
  12. Give the visually impaired student as many opportunities to help others as to be helped by others.
  13. Please don't presume that just because the student can't see and is using other learning mediums that the student is incapable. Try to allow the student to use their strengths in the areas they have to learn.
  14. All students, including those with visual impairments, learn at individual rates.

Summary: As much as possible, treat the student the same as any other student and your example will encourage classmates to do the same.


The book Classroom Collaboration which is available from Perkins School for the Blind, 175 N. Beacon St., Watertown, Massachusetts 02172, (617) 924-3434, has some good teaching strategies for teachers and also for aides working with VI kids.  It is also a good resource for inservicing staff and for answering questions regarding the roles of various support persons working with VI kids.

Strategies for teaching students with vision impairments - more tips and ideas

Tips for Teachers - great tips from Australia!

Thanks to the professionals on the AERnet listserve who provided information, and to

Judi Piscitello, TVI, COMS
Assistant, Training of Special Educators
NYS Resource Center for Visually Impaired
2A Richmond Avenue
Batavia, NY 14020
(716) 343-8100 ext. 427
FAX (716) 343-3711

Information on how to become certified in visual impairments or orientation and mobility.

Updated Feb. 2020

Download this information in a Word or PDF file.

What is VI Preparation in Texas?

Certification to work with students with visual impairments is available, regardless of where you live in Texas.  Training is provided through Texas Tech University and Stephen F. Austin State University.

For more information about VI and O&M Preparation in Texas, you can contact:



Mary Shore, COMS
Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

1100 W. 45th St.
Austin, TX 78756
Phone: 512-206-9156



Stephen F. Austin State


Shannon Darst, PhD (TVI)
(512) 206 – 9463 (TSBVI)

(936) 468 - 1173

DJ Dean (O&M)




Visual Impairment:

Orientation and Mobility:

Texas Tech


Rona Pogrund, Ph.D. (VI)
Texas Tech University
(512) 206-9213 (TSBVI)

(806) 252-8026

Nora Griffin-Shirley, PhD (O&M)

Phoebe Okungu, Ph.D. (DeafBlindness)



Who should read this?

  • Have you been thinking about a career change? Are you interested in teaching, but want a non-traditional setting and job assignment? 
  • Do you have an interest in working with children with visual impairments (VI)? 
  • Have you considered being a teacher of students with visual impairments or an orientation and mobility (O&M) specialist, but don’t know how to get certified or get training? 
  • Are you an independent worker who is active in teams, a good problem-solver, and eternally curious?

Then a career working with students with visual impairments might be for YOU!

What is in this packet?

Beginning your career as a teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) or O&M specialist through a university program has at least two steps: being accepted in a participating university and being accepted by the certification program. Reviewing the following information prior to submitting the university application will assist in this process:

What are my career or training options?

There are two types of VI professional preparation at the university level:

  • teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI)
  • certified orientation and mobility specialist (COMS)

To learn more about these professions, please read Typical Roles and Responsibilities of VI Professionals.

 What are the training prerequisites for a TVI and a COMS?

You may seek certification as either a teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) or as an orientation and mobility (O&M) specialist.  Although a VI professional may choose to become dually certified as both a TVI and an O&M specialist, each is a separate profession with separate professional standards.  The prerequisites will vary depending on the training option you choose.

Teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) prerequisites

  • Initial teaching certificate, preferably in special education, elementary, or secondary education,


  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university

For information on how to obtain a Texas Teaching Certificate you can follow this link:

Orientation and mobility specialist (COMS) prerequisite Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university.  SFASU also offers an undergraduate degree in Rehabilitation Services with an Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation & Educational Professionals (ACVREP) O&M certification.

What will I be studying?

The specific program of study will depend on the training option (VI or O&M) and on other additional factors.  Below is a basic listing of course topics.  Exact course titles will vary by university and training option.

Common Courses (for all VI professionals)

  • All students will take the following courses:
      • Foundations in Visual Impairments+
      • Structure and Function of the Visual System (Anatomy)
      • Methods for Students with Multiple Impairments
      • Basic Orientation and Mobility

Teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI)

  • In addition to the common courses, the VI certificate program includes:
      • Braille
      • Academic Methods, and
      • Internship/Practicum.

All teachers of students with visual impairments must learn braille in order to be fully certified and to have access to an emergency permit.  You will be required to take the TExES Braille exam.  You must take and pass the Braille TExES exam prior to being certified.  The Braille TExES exam is offered four times a year, and you will be able to take the exam following the completion of the course.

If you have not taken an overview course in special education, you must also complete a survey of exceptionalities course to become a teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI).  You will need to coordinate your specific needs with your university advisor. 

O&M Specialist

In addition to the common courses, the O&M program of study requires additional coursework.  SFASU and TTU address the same competencies; however, they arrange their courses a bit differently.



O&M Seminars (6 credit hours)

·       ‘Blindfold’ or ‘Cane’ (6 credit hours)

·       O&M Internship (3 credit hours, 350 supervised hours)

·       ‘Blindfold’ or ‘Cane’/Beginning Clinical Practicum (two 3 credit hour courses)

·       Intermediate Clinical Practicum (3 credit hours)

·       Advanced Clinical Practicum (3 credit hours) Internship (6 credits, 350 supervised hours)

If you already hold a VI certificate and were trained at a university, have already taken the common courses, and have worked in the field since you completed your training, you will not need to take them again.  Most districts do not require O&M specialists to hold an educational certificate. 

How much will the program cost? Is financial assistance available?

Both SFASU and TTU have funds to assist with the cost of tuition.  Each university distributes funds according to university program guidelines. The specific method used and amount of stipends vary by university.  This is a competitive process.  You should discuss it with the faculty advisors at the university of your choice.

TTU students will be required to travel to Lubbock and Austin as part of some courses.  Students are responsible for these required travel costs.  For O&M students who receive grant funding, tuition, room and board for summer courses may be covered, pending funding.  O&M students are required to come to Lubbock for 4 1/2 weeks of training in the summer.


SFASU O&M candidates will be required to come to the Nacogdoches campus for 6 weeks of training in the summer. Room and board are the financial responsibility of the candidate.  Candidates are also responsible for any required travel costs to and from summer training.  Contact the program facilitator for more information about room and board/lodging options for SFASU O&M cane classes.

Candidates will be responsible for ordering and paying for their books.  However, some ESCs have either books to loan or funds to help defray the cost of the books.  Contact your regional education service center for more information. Go to for ESC contact information.

How are courses offered?

Courses are offered through a blend of distance learning strategies, such as via the internet, TETN, and/or face-to-face activities.  The exact blend will depend on your location, the university, and the specific course.  For more information, you should contact the universities listed on the first and last pages of this newsletter. One face-to-face course is offered by Texas Tech University each semester during the academic year.  This course meets on seven Saturdays at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Austin.  For this schedule, please check with the faculty at TTU.

Undergraduate O&M courses at SFASU are offered in a face-to-face delivery model on campus in Nacogdoches. 

Is coursework available in the area of DeafBlindness?

Texas Tech University offers a DeafBlind Graduate Certificate.  The coursework is available as a stand-alone certificate or an area of emphasis with the Master of Education in Special Education.  For additional information go to:

Should I contact my regional education service center (ESC)?

Each regional service center has at least one VI contact. You are strongly encouraged to contact the VI consultant at your regional service center (ESC) for various reasons. 

  • The VI person or team at your ESC will be a source of support and resources for you in the future.  Why not start the relationship early?
  • If you take courses that have an ITV component (SFASU summer courses), youmust make sure that your region is participating.
  • VI programs at your regional service centers have resources that may be helpful.  These may include reference materials, journals and specialized equipment.  Some ESCs provide assistance with textbooks.
  • VI programs sponsor workshops at the service center.  They also help support professional development for VI professionals in their region.  “Support” may include travel assistance to attend statewide conferences.
  • ESC personnel tend to know about TVI and O&M positions open in their region.

If you would like to find out more about regional VI services, the VI staff or other information, go to the TSBVI website and click on your region.  See a map and a link to the list of VI professionals at the regions.

Who should apply?

Of course, you must have an interest in and a commitment to working with children with visual impairments.  Most VI professionals work as itinerant professionals.  Therefore, as a teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) or an O&M specialist, you must be prepared for on-the-job travel

In addition, you must realize that this is an intense program.  The instructional content is exactly the same as traditional courses on campus.  While the length of instruction is the same, ITV and interactive courses will have fewer meetings (but for more hours each time).  Internet courses also require a substantial time commitment.

How do I apply? 

Each university has specific requirements and procedures. You must contact the faculty at the university or visit their web site for information. You can find more information at the following sites.



     Use the Texas Common Application found at

 There is a $75 application fee

  1. SFASU accepts candidates into the VI and O&M preparation (VIP) program in the spring of each year, and all accepted candidates will be considered for grant awards (Project Vision) that are used to cover tuition. Grant awards are competitive, and awards are not guaranteed. New students typically take all of their courses as a group, starting in the summer of 2020 and are referred to as a “cohort”. The deadline for application for each year’s cohort is March 1. 
  2.  Students who want to join the program at other times will be considered, but may not be eligible for grant monies.  For more information on the TSVI/O&M program and how to apply for the competitive grant funding, visit the following website:



     Go to TTU Graduate School

     and click the “Apply Now” link.  Follow the instructions to apply to the Graduate School. 

     There is a $65 application fee, and it can be completed online. You do not need GRE scores for certification or Master’s Programs any longer. 


Under “Select Your Major” choose “Teaching Certificate in College of Educationeven if you already have your teacher’s certification. Under “Major Area of Interest” choose “Visual Impairment” or “Orientation & Mobility”.

You can check your admission status online.  For assistance, the Graduate School Admissions phone number is 806-742-2787.  If you are having application problems, please contact Anita Page at 806-834-1515 in the College of Education for help.


You need to also go to: and choose the Degree option and then Master’s Degree (M.Ed.) in Special Education with a concentration in either Visual Impairment, Orientation & Mobility, or DeafBlindness.


     You can complete the online application here:

The application for a competitive stipend award for tuition assistance for certification courses only needs to be completed, scanned, and submitted to: . If you are having application problems, please contact Gabriella Davis at (806) 834- 1725 for help. The deadlines for Reach Across Texas applications are: fall- June 1, spring- November 1, and summer- May 1.


Note: Both universities require official transcripts from all previous universities you attended (including community colleges).  You should order an official copy of your university transcript(s) to be sent directly to the university (for TTU, make sure transcripts are sent to the TTU Graduate School) as soon as possible – even if you have not completed your university or program application.  Sometimes it takes time to have your request processed and sent. Don’t let this hold up your application. Most universities now have electronic transmission of official transcripts that can be ordered online. Keep the receipt of proof you paid to have transcripts sent.

Can I get a master’s degree?

Both Stephen F. Austin and Texas Tech universities offer master’s degrees in education (M.Ed.).

The courses described here will contribute to certification as a VI professional either as a teacher of students with visual impairments (TSVI) or an orientation and mobility (O&M) specialist. The courses will not provide all of the requirements for a master’s degree in either of those areas, but those at the graduate level can apply towards a master’s degree.

If you are considering a master’s degree, even if you are not sure, you should talk to the advisor at the university of your choice as soon as possible. This information may affect how you complete the application procedures.

Please note the grant provides support for certification courses. Students seeking a master’s degree will need to self-pay or seek funding elsewhere for the additional courses required beyond those for the certification.

What are the acceptance criteria?

The goal of this program is to train and employ VI professionals to work with students with visual impairments.  Therefore, in order to be accepted, you will have to make a commitment to work with children with visual impairments in Texas if you accept any scholarships from the program.   

Each university has specific acceptance criteria and procedures.  These are also affected by whether you want certification-only or want a master’s degree.  Also, each university has timelines for submitting documentation.  You must contact the university of your choice for requirements and timeline information.  Contact information is on the first and last pages of this newsletter.

Can I get an emergency permit?

Teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI):

It is possible to get an emergency permit to work as a TSVI. In order to serve as a TSVI in a district before completing the TSVI program, a district can apply to TEA for an emergency permit for an individual with the agreement that he or she will then complete the remainder of the courses required for full certification as a TSVI. To be eligible for the emergency permit in order to teach students with visual impairments in Texas, you must be currently certified in elementary, secondary, or special education and have satisfied the following requirements: (a) completed six semester credit hours directly related to teaching students with visual impairments (braille + one other vision course) and (b) have one creditable year of classroom teaching experience. In addition, you must have demonstrated competency in literary braille and basic Nemeth Code by passing the TExES Braille exam, holding certification as a literary braille transcriber by the Library of Congress, or passing one university course in braille. The University Program will provide the hiring district a Deficiency Plan noting the remaining courses needed by the person being hired. Both the Braille and VI TExES exams must also be passed before becoming fully certified.

Contact SFASU or TTU for information about how to obtain a VI Emergency Permit.
There are no emergency permits available for O&M specialists.

How will the lecture portions of the courses be taught?

The courses are a blend of lecture and skill-based learning. The lecture portion will be taught through a blend of the following methods: Internet, TETN and/or face-to-face meetings. More information about the skill-based training follows:


The SFASU braille course is offered in both online and TETN delivery methods.  If you choose to attend the SFASU braille course via TETN, sessions will require you to travel to a participating ESC for your braille summer class only.  You should contact your service center prior to sending your application to SFASU if you are interested in taking braille via TETN.  For the TETN portion of braille instruction, you will sit in a room with other students in your cohort and participate in discussions via an interactive audio-visual device that looks like a TV.  You will be able to speak directly to the instructor and students at other sites.  All other courses in the SFA VIP program (other than undergraduate O&M and cane classes) will be delivered via the internet.


The Internet is used throughout the programs, either for part or all of courses.  The instructor will be available via phone, discussion board, and/or email.

You will be able to participate in the Internet-based courses and activities at your convenience.  Specific deadlines will be set for each module or unit.  You must meet the deadlines; this is not an independent study course.  It will be very important for you to develop and stick to a schedule. 

SFASU uses Internet-based interactive platforms, ZOOM and Brightspace/D2L, as the method of delivering the VIP preparation program courses.  These platforms  will be used to provide instruction during the fall, spring, and summer semesters.  These classes are held in the evenings, usually for two hour sessions every other week.  Graduate-level TSVI and O&M courses (other than required face-to-face O&M courses) are offered in an internet-based delivery model.


TTU offers 1 face-to-face course each long semester during the year on 7 Saturdays at TSBVI in Austin.  Additionally, TTU requires skill-based weekend instruction at Texas Tech in Lubbock or Austin for specific modules in some of the courses.

 How will the skill-based portions of the training be taught?

Several courses have skill-based components that are taught face-to-face.

Basic O&M

During Basic O&M, students will meet with a facilitator for approximately 20+ hours of instruction. Scheduling will vary by university. The skill-based training will be conducted at a university or an outreach site.

Cane Courses

O&M specialists take a total of 6 credit hours of instruction on how to use the cane while under blindfold.  TTU offers two separate 3-credit courses.  Both are taken in a single summer.  SFASU’s summer blindfold course is offered as one summer semester  enrollment of 6 credit hours expanding across both summer semesters.

The cane courses must be conducted on a face-to-face basis. These courses will be offered at the TTU and SFASU campuses.  Pending availability of funds,  students who attend these courses on-campus may be provided with a stipend to cover some or all of their tuition, housing and/or assistance for travel.

Anatomy of the Eye

At TTU, the eye course requires a weekend in Lubbock for hands-on and interactive training such as dissecting a cow’s eye, learning how to do a functional vision evaluation and a learning media assessment, using optical devices, etc.

Academic Methods

At TTU, the academic methods course for teachers of students with visual impairments (TSVI) requires a weekend in Austin for the Assistive Technology component of the course which includes hands-on learning about the latest technological advances used with students with visual impairments.

Practicum or Internship

The VI and O&M training options both require field experiences, known as either a practicum or internship.  These will be arranged on an individual basis.  Typically, the practicum/internship will be in the local area.  However, each practicum/internship experience must meet certain basic requirements. As a result, it may be necessary to travel from your existing job location for a portion or all of the practicum/internship.  It is possible that O&M specialists will need to go out of their area or even out of Texas.


O&M internship

In O&M, the field experiences (internship and practicum) are completed under the supervision of an Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP) certified O&M specialist who meets the criteria for internship supervisors and who has been selected by the university to do so.  Internship involves providing orientation and mobility services on a full-time basis.  This important experience usually happens away from your home community.  Faculty will make all arrangements.

VI practicum/internship

Teachers of students with visual impairments (TSVIs) complete a practicum/internship.  It will be supervised by university faculty or by a university designee.  During that period, you will need to work as a TSVI, completing a series of professional experiences.  It is possible that you will need to travel beyond your district for a limited period of time in order to complete those experiences. For those students already working as a TSVI with an emergency permit, their internship can be done with their existing caseload of students.

Does it make a difference which university I attend?

No. Both university programs address the same set of professional competencies, respond to the same set of accountability measures, and offer training which will enable you to be certified as either a teacher of students with visual impairments (TSVI) or an orientation and mobility (O&M) specialist.

There are differences.  You must evaluate both programs and determine which best meets your needs.  Stephen F. Austin State University admits new students and groups them into cohorts that begin taking classes in summer semesters. Other students may be admitted on a case-by-case basis This block of students, known as a cohort, take classes together via the Internet.  Certification can be completed in three consecutive semesters (summer, fall, and spring).  Texas Tech University accepts new students year round and offers courses predominately via the Internet.

IMPORTANT: Additional information is available from both universities. You should contact both universities to determine which is best for your situation.  You can find information on their websites.  The addresses are:


NOTE: If you have any difficulties or questions, please contact Donna Wood –Program Specialist at 936-468-1145 or .


NOTE: If you have trouble with the website, please contact Anita Page at 806-834-1515 or .  TSVI specific info:  and O&M specific info:

Master’s degree students

If you are interested in getting a master’s degree as a TSVI and/or an O&M specialist, you must discuss this with the faculty at SFASU and TTU.  Each university has different requirements. You will be able to complete the extra coursework required for the master’s via on-line courses.

In order to help you make that decision, you should contact each university to discuss its application and acceptance policies.  If possible, it is preferred that you declare whether or not you are seeking a degree during the first semester.

What are the deadlines for enrollment?

Remember, there are at least TWO steps you must complete:

  1. Applying and being accepted by the university


  1. Being accepted to theReach Across TexasProgram at TTU or Project Vision at SFASU, if

you are interested in applying for a competitive stipend award.      

These are separate procedures. You MUST complete all of the steps according to the chosen university’s procedures. To learn more about the steps for enrolling in the university, visit the websites for the VI programs at SFASU and TTU.

Texas Tech University (TTU)

Texas Tech accepts students throughout the year, although the majority of TTU students begin the program in the fall semester.  You must apply to the university and to Reach Across Texas no later than May 1, 2020 for the Summer semester and June 1, 2020 for the Fall 2020 semester and November 1, 2020 for the Spring 2021 semester.  Many students start the TSVI program in the summer, taking braille and the foundation course so that they can start a job as a TSVI in the fall with an emergency permit. Once accepted, you must register for the designated courses.   For more information visit: or

Stephen F. Austin State University (SFASU)

At SFA, VI and O&M professionals typically take their courses as a group, or cohort.  This means that most students start together (in the summer) and take their classes in a set sequence. Other students can join the program in other semesters on a limited basis based on prerequisites.  The cohort applications are accepted in the spring of 2020 and courses start the first summer session.  You must apply no later than March 1, 2020. Once you have applied to the SFASU graduate school using the Apply Texas common application found at, you can then apply for funding from Project Vision.

For more information visit:


  • SFASU – Deadline for admission to the 2020 VI & O&M Cohorts -- March 1, 2020
  • SFASU – Deadlines for limited admission other semesters –please contact the program
  • TTU – Deadline for admission for SUMMER 2020– MAY 1, 2020
  • TTU – Deadline for admission for FALL 2020 –JUNE 1, 2020
  • TTU – Deadline for admission for SPRING 2021 – NOVEMBER 1, 2020

Will I need to get my transcripts?

Yes. You will need to arrange for an official copy of all of your transcripts to be sent to the Graduate School at the university of your choice.   The holder of your transcripts (all previously attended universities, including community colleges) will send them directly to SFASU or TTU (most universities can send transcripts electronically now).  Since it may take time for your request to be processed, you are strongly advised to start this process as soon as possible.  Do not wait!  You might miss a deadline! 

Will I have a mentor?

In Texas, all participants are paired with a trained, experienced professional.  Mentors are assigned when you have a caseload either when you start working as a TSVI or COMS or during the internship phase of your program.  Any TSVI working on an emergency permit is assigned a mentor right away. To the degree possible, the mentor will be from your home region. 

All participants in either the TTU or SFASU VI programs are invited to attend a Mentor Center during their training and up to a year after completion. Mentor Centers are hosted at TSBVI where you are able to observe TSVIs and COMS working with students at TSBVI. Reach Across Texas recipients are required to attend at least one Mentor Center while in the program.

This is a non-evaluative mentor program.  This means that your mentor will not be called upon to provide an evaluation of your skills, either by the university or your district.  This is a person to whom you can turn when you have questions and/or concerns about content or skills.

When will courses be offered?

Texas Tech University

Summer I

Cane I & II (TTU campus in Lubbock)

Braille (6 weeks) (Internet)

Basic O&M (internet + on-campus weekend)

O&M Internship (off campus; sites vary)


Summer II

Foundations (internet)



Eye Anatomy (Internet + on-campus weekend)

Foundations (Internet )

Braille (Internet)

Basic O&M (face-to-face at TSBVI in Austin on 7 Saturdays)

Basic O&M  (Internet + on-campus weekend)

Visual and Multiple Impairments Methods (Internet)

Intermediate O&M Seminar (Internet)

O&M Internship (Off campus; sites vary)

VI Internship (Off campus; sites vary)


Braille (Internet)

Academic Methods (face-to-face at TSBVI in Austin on 6 Saturdays + AT weekend and via distance education with AT weekend in Austin)

Eye Anatomy (Internet + on-campus weekend)

Visual and Multiple Impairments Methods (Internet)

Advanced O&M Seminar (Internet)

VI Internship (Off campus; sites vary)

O&M Internship (Off campus; sites vary)

Stephen F. Austin State University


Anatomy (Internet)

Braille (Internet, TETN)

Clinical Practicum in O&M/Blindfold (6 hours) (on campus)

Internship in O&M (3 to 6 hours) (off campus; sites vary)



Foundations in VI (Internet)

Methods in Visual and Multiple Impairments (Internet)

Practicum in VI (Internet)

Intermediate Practicum in O&M (3 hours) (Internet + various sites)



Basic O&M (Internet)

Academic Methods (Internet)

Practicum in VI (Internet + various sites)

Advanced Clinical Practicum in O&M (3 hours) (Internet + various sites)

Low Vision (Internet)

the Typical Roles and Responsibilities of VI Professionals.Let’s review your action steps:

  • Determine which university program fits best with your lifestyle and learning style, and other factors. Contact each university for more information.
  • Order an OFFICIAL copy of your transcript(s) to be sent to the Graduate School at the university of your choice.  You may choose to have the transcripts sent directly to the university (most universities now can send official transcripts electronically).
  • Apply to the university of your choice.  You will find links so that you can apply online at:                     
  • SFASU:
  • TTU: and click the “Apply Now” link.  Follow the instructions to apply to the Graduate School. 
  • Talk to your advisor at the university.
    This is likely to be one of the university faculty listed below.
  • Register for the first course(s).
  • TTU students: Your advisor will help you understand what course(s) to take and the procedures for completing this step on-line.
  • SFASU students: Do not register until you receive an e-mail telling you which class, section and CRN # to use in registration.
  • Complete all of the scheduled activities.

How can I get more information?

If you want more information, or have a special circumstance, please do not hesitate to contact:


General Information:

Mary Shore, COMS

TSBVI Outreach


Texas Tech University Program:

Nora Griffin-Shirley, Ph.D. (O&M)
Texas Tech University


Rona Pogrund, Ph.D. (TSVI)
Texas Tech University (Housed at TSBVI in Austin)
512-206-9213 or 806-252-8026 


Phoebe Okungu, Ph.D. (DeafBlindness)

Texas Tech University



Gabriella Davis

Texas Tech University

Sowell Center

Program Coordinator



Anita Page

Texas Tech University

Sowell Center

Research Associate




Stephen F. Austin State University Program:

Shannon Darst, Ph.D.  (TSVI)

Stephen F. Austin State University




SFASU continued:

Donna Wood

Stephen F. Austin State University

Program Specialist




Stephen F. Austin State University



Heather Munro (TSVI/COMS)
Stephen F. Austin State University


Debbie (Cricket) Cady (TSVI/COMS)
Stephen F. Austin State University


Jennifer Perry ( COMS, CVRT)

Stephen F. Austin State University


Taken from Quality Programs for the Visually Impaired, developed by Nancy Toelle.

The Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TVI) has the following roles and responsibilities:

  • Has primary responsibility for specialized instruction and services required to meet the unique educational needs of her visually impaired students.
  • Possesses the skills and abilities necessary to provide and coordinate this specialized instruction.
  • Assists the student, parents, special and regular education personnel, and the student's sighted peers in
    • understanding the unique educational needs and learning characteristics of visually impaired students,
    • becoming aware of services and support available from local programs for visually impaired students,
    • acquiring information regarding local, state, and national resources for the education of visually impaired students, and
    • interpreting the visually impaired student's specific eye condition, the educational implications of the visual impairment, and the results of functional vision and learning media assessments.
  • Consults regularly with the classroom teacher, other regular and special education personnel, parents, and others to coordinate programs and services for the visually impaired student.
  • Assists the site administrator and teachers in making environmental adjustments for the student in the school.
  • Shares responsibility with classroom teachers in the identification of instructional areas in which the student requires assistance.
  • Assures that large-type or braille texts, supplementary materials, educational, aids, and equipment needed by the visually impaired student, and the classroom teacher, are provided in a timely manner to ensure the student's maximum participation in all classroom activities (appropriate educational materials may be prepared or adapted by the VI teacher, or they may be obtained from educational, clerical, or transcriber services.)
  • Provides instruction in the development and maintenance of skills to meet the student's unique educational needs in the following areas, as indicated in the IEP:
    • low vision & visual efficiency skills,
    • concept development & academic skills,
    • daily living skills,
    • career & vocational education skills,
    • communication skills (these skills include braille reading and writing as appropriate),
    •  social/emotional skills and abilities, & sensory motor skills.
  • Prepares sequential and meaningful instruction geared to the student's assessed needs, IEP goals and objectives, functioning, and motivational levels.  This instruction should be reflected in weekly or monthly lesson plans, as appropriate.
  • Provides assistance to the classroom teacher in academic subjects and activities of the classroom that, as a direct result of the student's visual impairment, require adaptation for the student.
  • Provides initial and ongoing assessment:
    • consults with assessment team to determine appropriate testing materials and modifications needed,
    • assists with assessments when needed,
    • interprets assessment results when needed.
  • Conducts functional vision/learning media assessments and produces written reports.
  • Attends ARD and IEP meetings for students with visual impairments.
  • Schedules time efficiently for assessment, instruction, planning, preparation of materials, travel, and conferences with relevant school and other key individuals.
  • Maintains ongoing contact with parents to assist them in the development of a realistic understanding of their child's abilities, progress, and future goals.
  • Provides in-service training programs for school personnel and students and education for parents regarding the needs of visually impaired students and adaptations, programs, and services for these students.
  • Makes available pamphlets, films, and other public information materials that may be useful in developing realistic and unprejudiced attitudes toward visually impaired students.
  • Coordinates with other personnel, such as transcribers, readers, counselors, O&M specialists, career/vocational education staff, and rehabilitation counselors.
  • Maintains a current reference library of professional materials and resources.
  • Acquires information and training about current research, development, and technology.
  • The Classroom Teacher (regular, special class, or resource specialist has the following roles and responsibilities:
  • Provides instruction in appropriate academic and non-academic content areas to the visually impaired student in the classroom.
  • Works cooperatively with the teacher of students with visual impairments to
    • identify the student's areas of educational need, including unique education needs,
    • coordinate instruction and services to meet these needs,
    • provide, in a timely manner, classroom materials that need to be reproduced in another medium,
    • determine mutually convenient times during the school day for scheduling the teacher of students with visual impairments to work with the student,
    • modify classroom procedures and environment to meet the specific needs of the visually impaired student for participation in classroom activities, and
    • exchange information concerning the visually impaired student with parents and other individuals on a regular basis.

The Orientation and Mobility Specialist has the following roles and responsibilities

  • Instructs the visually impaired student in the development of skills and knowledge that enables him or her to travel independently, based on assessed needs and ability.
  • Teaches the visually impaired student to travel with proficiency, safety, and confidence in familiar and unfamiliar environments.
  • Consults regularly with sighted peers, parents, classroom teachers, physical education teachers, and/or other special education personnel to assist in home and classroom environmental modifications, adaptations, and considerations and to ensure reinforcement of appropriate O&M skills that will encourage the visually impaired student to travel independently in these settings.
  • Works with the teacher of students with visual impairments to conduct the functional vision assessment as it relates to independent travel.
  • Conducts assessments that focus on both long and short-term needs of the student.
  • Includes in the assessment report the needs and strengths of the student and an estimate of the length and frequency of service necessary to meet identified needs.
  • Prepares sequential and meaningful instruction geared to the student's assessed needs, IEP goals and objectives, functioning, and motivational levels.  This instruction should be reflected in weekly or monthly lesson plans, as appropriate.
  • Prepares and uses equipment and materials, for example, tactile maps, models, distance low vision devices, and long canes, for the development of O&M skills.
  • Transports the student with parent permission to various community locations, as necessary, to provide meaningful instruction in realistic learning environments.
  • Is responsible for the student's safety at all times and in all teaching environments while fostering maximum independence. 
  • Evaluates the student's progress on an ongoing basis with progress reports each 6/9 weeks as required.
  • Keeps progress notes on each student.
  • Participates in necessary parent conferences and meetings.
  • Provides inservice training to regular and special education personnel, sighted peers, and parents concerning the O&M needs of the student and
    • appropriate methods and procedures for interacting with the visually
    • impaired person that will foster maximum independence and safety.
  • Provide O&M instruction, where appropriate, in a number of specific areas:
    • body imagery,
    • laterality,
    • environmental concepts,
    • gross and fine motor skills related to independent travel,
    • sensory awareness, stimulation, and training,
    • spatial concepts,
    • compass direction concepts,
    • sighted guide procedures
    • basic protective and information-gathering techniques
    • orientation skills
    • map skills
    • cane skills,
    • use of residual vision
    • low vision devices related to travel skills
    • urban, suburban, and rural travel,
    • travel in business districts,
    • procedures for crossing streets including how to deal with traffic control signals,
    • use of public transportation systems,
    • procedures for use of the telephone for information gathering and for emergencies,
    • procedures for interacting with the public
    • knowledge and application of community address systems,
    • procedures for travel and independent functioning in places of public accommodation,
    • skills of daily living,
    • sensory/motor skills in coordination with the physical or occupational therapist and teacher of students with visual impairments, and
    • skills for independent living.

KC Dignan, Ph.D., Project Coordinator, TSBVI Outreach (from See\Hear Spring 1997)

When I worked at TEA one of the most common complaints I heard was about the availability of VI teachers and O & M instructors. Comparisons to "hen's teeth" were not uncommon. However, the issue of having enough adequately trained and supported professionals is complex. Recently, Texas has started a proactive project to train enough VI professionals (VI teachers and O & M Instructors) to meet the needs of the children and school districts.


In March, 1996, TSBVI, in collaboration with TEA, universities, education service centers, school districts, and parents began to formalize a collaborative personnel preparation project. This project is supported by funds from TEA's decentralization efforts to Education Service Center XI, who then subcontracted with TSBVI to coordinate the project.

In May of 1996 an advisory board was established. It is called the Personnel Preparation Advisory Group, or "PPAG" for short. During this development phase, it is the heart of the project. It consists of representatives from universities, TEA, ESCs, school districts, the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) , parents, and consumers. The work of this visionary group is built on a series of meetings which began in 1991.

VI professionals in Texas receive training from either universities or non-university-based programs. Some individuals go to a university to attend classes, either during the summer or the traditional academic year. Others receive university-based instruction at a site which is closer to home, such as an education service center. Still others prefer to use the field-based training programs known as "teacher preparation certification programs" (TPCP). These programs were formerly known as "alternative certification programs".

This project believes that all of the above options have value to professionals, and this project will continue to support these options. It's goal is to help the preservice professionals have options which meet their needs and resources.


The Personnel Preparation Advisory Group adopted goals to insure that personnel preparation programs will:

1. prepare qualified teachers and O & M instructors so that professionals will be available to all students with visual impairments.

2. be accessible regionally and locally.

3. meet the standards delineated by the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) and Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and the Visually Impaired (AER).

4. include a theoretical base, skill development, and practical application experiences.

5. collaborate to utilize all available resources to the best of their ability. Resource options include (but are not limited to) instruction, personnel, funds, and technology.

6. be coordinated with professional development systems.

7. will include mentorship programs at both preservice and inservice levels.


This project has many unique features which makes it invaluable to students with visual impairments. To date no other state has the degree of collaboration, support and vision demonstrated by the participants of this project. Some of these features include competency based instruction, curriculum excellence packages, collaborative curriculum, collaborative partners, collaborative funding, mentorship program, and a coordinating office.

Competency Based

The PPAG is committed to providing training for preservice professionals which meets, or exceeds established professional standards for beginning VI professionals. For VI teachers these standards have been developed and adopted by the Council for Exceptional Children. For O & M instructors, the standards are set by the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER).

The competencies have been grouped into instructional "units". Each university and Teacher Preparation Certification Program have agreed to use these units as a foundation for building their instructional program. For university-based programs, units will be gathered into courses. Teams of university and field personnel, with the coordinator, will work to develop a Curriculum Excellence Package for each unit. As a result, students can be assured of uniformity of competencies across the state.

Curriculum Excellence Packages

The development and use of Curriculum Excellence Packages is one of the most exciting aspects of this project. University and field personnel, along with the project coordinator, will collaborate to develop a package with identified texts and materials, expert speakers from around the country, and other state-of-the-art instructional strategies and resources for each unit. The intent is for the packages to provide a "scaffold" for instruction without diminishing individual creativity or instructional style, while ensuring the highest quality of instruction.

Collaborative Curriculum

Instruction to preservice professionals is provided by either universities or education service centers through Teacher Preparation Certification Programs (TPCP). Three universities currently sponsor VI professional preparation (SFA, TTU, & UT). Education service centers may sponsor an alternative program for VI teachers (not for O & M instructors) upon approval from the State Board of Education. All of the programs have agreed to collaborate on the curriculum to be used. As a result, preservice VI teachers may take courses from any of the universities (or from the collaborative partners, explained below) or a TPCP, and be assured that they are getting the exposure to the same competencies. As a result, preservice professionals, and those who hire them, may be assured that they will be exposed to the same set of competencies and that there will be consistency of instruction across the state.

In addition, the universities have agreed to begin reviewing their course catalogs to determine if it is necessary to apply to the Higher Education Coordinating Board for changes, additions and/or deletions to their course catalogs. This is a very time-consuming process, which may take two years to complete and is just another example of the high degree of commitment shared by the partners in this project.

Collaborative Partners

For the past 15 years, enrollment in VI programs on university campuses has been small. Preservice professionals have had to leave their home and hearth to learn about orientation and mobility and/or VI instruction. With the advent of modern technologies, travel can be reduced or perhaps eliminated. This project will study the distance education options available to offer more flexibility to professionals. One exciting example is the use of distance education setup with our new partners, Prairie View University (near Houston) and University of Texas Pan American (in Edinburg). As a collaborative partner, these universities have agreed to act as telecommunication satellite "downlink" sites. This means that students who are attending either of these universities may attend VI courses at their home university. These courses will be taught by a university with a VI program via distance education methods. For example, a braille class may be taught by Stephen F. Austin faculty, and students will receive credit for that class while attending Prairie View. We are very excited about this aspect of the program. Distance education methodologies may also be used by education service centers around the state.

Texas is a state of diverse cultures and populations. Currently, the number of Hispanic and African-American students in VI training programs are low. The partnerships with Prairie View University and University of Texas Pan American will hopefully bring more professionals from these communities into the field of visual impairment.

TSBVI will also sponsor training, taught by university personnel, at TSBVI during the summer. Preservice professionals will attend courses here and may complete internships or practicums by working with students with visual impairments who are attending TSBVI Summer School. The preservice professionals will be supervised by TSBVI staff.

Collaborative Funding

Among the many exciting aspects of this project is the collaborative funding. Recently, two grant proposals were submitted to the Office of Special Education Programs in Washington D.C. If funded, these proposals will greatly expand training options in the area of visual impairments in Texas.

In addition, other funding sources will be explored. These may include corporate and foundation sources, state and federal sources. Currently, professional preparation is primarily supported by federal funds (professional preparation funds and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act - Part B) and the State Supplemental Visually Impaired funds.

Mentorship Program

For most of us, becoming a VI professional was a big change from what we were doing previously. If we had been a teacher, chances are we did not have to deal with issues related to being itinerant. We probably didn't have the kind of student diversity that is common for most VI teachers. Likewise, I am not aware of any educational position which is similar to being an orientation and mobility instructor. The mentor program will assist preservice professionals with this transition.

From the very beginning, new students will be connected with a mentor. The support options will vary but may include: phone calls, on-site visits, meeting with other mentors and protégées, and participating in an e-mail listserver for new VI professionals. Each of the mentors will receive training in the goals and activities involved in mentoring a young professional. The mentors and protégées will be supported by a mentor coordinator.

The mentoring relationship will continue throughout the program, and possibly well into the professional's career since it will be coordinated with a similar program for new teachers currently in existence. Dr. Dixie Mercer, Statewide Professional Development Coordinator at TSBVI Outreach oversees the new teacher mentorship program currently.

Coordinating Office

Tying all these diverse aspects of the project together is the Coordinating Office, which is located at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Currently the office is housed within the Outreach Department, and staffed by myself, KC Dignan, and a part-time support person, Gwen McDaniels. If recently submitted grant proposals are funded, a mentor coordinator will be joining us.

One of my functions is to assist in the coordination of the PPAG and the related project management board (for the grant proposals). In addition, I will be assisting ESCs and universities in recruiting individuals into the training programs and helping districts identify the need for, and recruitment of VI professionals.

This office will assist with the review, development and/or acquisition of various instructional products, and resources. We will be providing information and training on various aspects of professional preparation. Another of the diverse functions of this office is advocating for the needs of professional preparation programs and to pursue an array of funding options.


Consumers, family members, districts which hire and supervise professionals, and those institutions which provide professional development are all key players in the development of qualified professionals for school-aged children with visual impairments in Texas. Through their collaboration in this project we hope to provide a coordinated, pro-active approach to the issues involved in professional preparation. This is one of the most critical issues facing the state when it comes to meeting the needs of the visually impaired children in Texas.

For more information about training options or about this project, please do not hesitate to contact me at 512-206-9156 or via e-mail at .

Go to Top of Page

This is a listing of programs that provide training to professionals in visual impairments. This Directory includes colleges and universities in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand that offer courses in education and rehabilitation of people who are visually impaired, deafblind, or have multiple disabilities. To select a USA state or foreign country,  utilize the navigation menu to the right of this screen.

A directory containing all of this information is available as a Word or PDF document.

All of the programs listed here may not necessarily have met the university guidelines established by AER divisions.

The contents in this directory are subject to change at any time.








created by Cyral Miller

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Student name:
Visual etiology:
Date of last functional:
Field restrictions:
0&M assessment/services:
Vision related IEP goals and objectives:



  1. Is the classroom environment organized into specific areas for different activities? Examples:
  2. Are these areas accessible to your student?
  3. Are there modifications in the environment for your student's visual needs? (e.g. lighting, highlighting, tactual markers, etc.) Examples:
  4. Does the teacher's instructional style reflect an understanding of your student's sensory needs? Examples:

Classroom activities:

  1. Is there a schedule with planned activities for the day?
  2. How is the schedule communicated to your student?
  3. Does the schedule reflect activities that support your student's IEP goals and objectives?
  4. Is your student ACTIVELY participating in instructional activities? Examples observed:
  5. Do the activities reflect appropriate modifications for your student's sensory needs? Examples observed:
  6. Are activities teaching skills rather than just physical maintenance? Examples observed:
  7. Are there opportunities for choice making? Examples observed:
  8. Are activities meaningful for your student? Examples observed:
  9. How are upcoming transitions communicated to your student? Examples observed:
  10. How is your student communicating? Is it appropriate for his/her sensory abilities?
  11. Is your student initiating responses?
  12. Are paraprofessionals and related service professionals trained in the modifications and strategies needed by your student due to his/her sensory abilities?
  13. Are paraprofessionals involved in direct instruction given sufficient supervision and support to appropriately interact and instruct?
  14. What further could YOU do, as a VI professional, to further this student's education?

Texas Fellows Application (Word or PDF) - Applications will be submitted for approval beginning August 15, 2019.

Texas Fellows:

  • Recruit new VI professionals to the field because:
    • All students benefit from lower caseloads
    • Lower caseloads are achieved when more VI professionals are available

As a Texas Fellow you and your candidates will:

  • BE Recognized at all TSBVI sponsored statewide activities
  • BE Acknowledged in 3 editions of the Texas SensAbilities newsletter,
  • Receive one of TSBVI's most popular publications OR
    FREE registration for a TSBVI Conference (See the application for a specific list of conferences.)

How we grow as a field is directly related to YOUR individual effort.

Be one of the exceptional of the exceptional: Be a Texas Fellow!

Recruit a New VI Professional!

Good recruiters:

  • Know it can take 12 to 18 months for someone to apply.
  • Share stories of successes, not frustrations
  • Provide encouragement during the application process
  • Tell people the information they want to hear:

People want to know that:

  • Jobs are available,
  • Tuition will be paid, and
  • They will be able to take classes without leaving home.

And that VI Professionals enjoy:

  • Having a non-traditional job
  • Being student-need driven
  • Working with intriguing students
  • Respect from parents, students, and administrators
  • Working 1-to-1 with students, or in small groups
  • On-the-job diversity