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Winter 2009 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

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

Abstract:  this article discusses DBS services that are available to students preparing for or attending college.

Key Words:  blind, visually impaired, Division for Blind Services (DBS), college, university, post-secondary education, bachelor’s degree, training, career exploration, employment


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, people with a bachelor’s degree earn, on average, over 60% more than those with only a high school diploma.  Over a lifetime, the gap in earning potential between a high school graduate and someone with a bachelor’s degree or higher is more than one million dollars.  In addition, in an article in the Austin American Statesman, Denise Trauth, President of Texas State University, states that 90% of the fastest growing jobs in the country require some form of post-secondary education and two-thirds of the new job types created over the next decade will require a bachelor’s degree or higher.  Certainly, the decision to pursue higher education is a wise choice, and the Division for Blind Services offers many opportunities to support individuals who are preparing for or attending college.

Our support for individuals and families often begins in childhood, as a primary focus of our Blind Children’s Vocational Discovery and Development Program is to ensure that parents maintain high expectations when setting future goals for their children with visual impairments.  Specialists in our Blind Children’s Program recognize how important it is for children with visual impairments to develop foundation skills in the areas of independent living skills, communication skills, social skills, travel skills, and adjustment to blindness.

Vocational preparation becomes more directed in the Transition Program which serves youth ages 10 to 24.  At each stage of the student’s development, DBS provides vocational services that will prepare the student to become gainfully employed as an adult.

During elementary and early middle school, Transition services focus on providing opportunities to develop independent living skills and interpersonal skills.  Summer camp is an excellent way for students to develop independence and social skills, as is dance class, music lessons or martial arts classes. Students at this age are also provided opportunities for career exploration to build their knowledge of jobs and career expectations.  Children’s Specialists and Transition Counselors can assist consumers and families in locating events and activities that meet the unique needs of each child.

As youth reach later middle school and high school, they begin to increase their personal responsibilities and independent living responsibilities.  They begin to learn about themselves and develop their own personal way of thinking and accomplishing tasks.  At this time, DBS focuses on providing opportunities to experience an employment lifestyle.  Volunteer work experiences, part-time employment, and participation in the community allow the student to gain independent living skills and learn about his or her own strengths, preferences, and interests.  Transition Counselors work closely with parents, Teachers of the Visually Impaired, and community providers to develop opportunities that will assist the student in identifying his or her unique strengths, priorities, abilities, and interests.

The student and DBS Counselor work together to identify career options that are consistent with these strengths, abilities, and interests and to identify experiences that will further enhance the student’s knowledge of their selected career, such as informational interviews or job shadowing.  The student may also participate in evaluations and assessments to help determine the nature and scope of services required to meet an identified career goal.  As a result of this collaboration, the student and counselor may jointly determine that academic training would be the most appropriate service to help achieve the chosen goal.

In most cases, academic training is provided through Texas public tax-supported colleges and universities.  State legislation provides free tuition for individuals who are legally blind to attend any public college or university.  Before registration, DBS will provide a Certificate of Blindness which excludes the individual from registration fees and other fees.

Other academic services include provision of books and supplies, reader services, Recording for the Blind services, tutorial services, and appropriate equipment and technology.  As with all DBS services, both counselors and consumers have responsibilities in this process.  Consumers are expected to utilize any and all benefits available toward the provision and cost of planned services, such as PELL Grants and disability service offices on college campuses.  It is very important early in the process for consumers who have been accepted into a university to apply for available PELL Grants, as these grants can be used to pay for books and other academic-related costs.  Consumers would also be encouraged to apply for scholarships, and DBS would provide information regarding available scholarships, such as those available through the American Council of the Blind, National Federation of the Blind, the Lion’s Club, and others.

Consumers are expected to maintain a full course load, as defined by their specific college or university, although there are some minor exceptions.  An incoming freshman may choose to take a reduced load for the first two regular semesters.  A graduating senior, as well as individuals attending summer school, may also maintain less than a full course load.  Students are expected to show continual progress toward completing their degree program, so they are expected to maintain a 2.0 GPA (on a 4.0 scale) for each semester.

The academic journey can be fun, exciting, challenging, and demanding.  Students have the opportunity to learn more about themselves and the world and to meet interesting people from different places and cultures.  They have the opportunity to explore their chosen field of learning and to learn about unfamiliar areas of study.  They will be exposed to events and situations that will test their coping skills and (if their parents find out) the coping skills of their parents.  It is no ordinary time in the life of an individual, and DBS is proud to be a part of it.