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Fall 2017

TX SenseAbilities - Fall 2017

Excerpts from TSBVI website

Abstract:  This article provides information about TSBVI Summer Programs

Key Words:  Blind, Visually Impaired, TSBVI, summer programs.

TSBVI Summer Programs (June - July) include a variety of enrichment classes for VI students of all ability levels. Classes vary in length from 4 days to 5 weeks. The Summer Programs schedule changes each year. The deadline for Summer Program applications is February 14 and should be submitted by the local TVI as early as possible.

For additional information regarding TSBVI Summer Programs please refer to the TSBVI website or contact the Summer Programs Administration Team Phoebe Williams at 512-206-9241, or Wendy Erickson at 512-206-9332.

Elementary Summer Enrichment

Students in this program practice and apply skills they have learned at home and at school, within the context of fun activities. In past summers, students have enjoyed activities such as touring a farm, doing a scavenger hunt in a Chinese market, visiting museums, and exploring a steam engine. Each class is built around a high-interest theme for this age level such as “Project STEM”, “Lost in Space!”, “Time Travellers”, “Cook & Create”, “Transition to Middle School” and “Nature Detectives".

Students have opportunities to practice Expanded Core Curriculum skills as they make and follow schedules, create shopping lists, manage a simple budget, keep up with belongings, organize materials, measure ingredients, write thank-you letters, and Interact with others. An invaluable part of the program is the opportunity to interact with other students with visual impairments. Sharing experiences about challenges they face at home and school can alleviate feelings of isolation and increase confidence. Students begin early friendships that may continue for years.

Secondary Enrichment (SE)

Secondary Enrichment (SE) offers countless opportunities for fun and learning for middle or high school students with visual impairments. The topics offered vary, but classes may include beginning food preparation, running a catering business, general physical fitness to PE for SBOE credit, art, theater arts, career education, technology, and travel in the community. Classes give students opportunities to develop their academic and technology skills, practice orientation and mobility, and enhance their social, independent living, and self-determination skills, both on and off campus.

SE classes are for middle- or high-school students with visual impairments who meet these criteria:

  • 12 years of age or older, up through the summer after their high school graduation.
  • Able to participate well in group activities, with limited one-on-one assistance.
  • Moderately to largely independent in areas such as eating, dressing, personal hygiene, communication, and mobility.
  • Have no challenging behaviors that interfere with the instruction of self or others.
  • Can complete the full length of the class to which they are admitted.
  • Secondary students who function four or more grade levels below their age expectation should apply for the Practical Experiences in Expanded Core (PEEC).

Practical Experiences in Expanded Core (PEEC)

Practical Experiences in Expanded Core (PEEC) offers a fun, dynamic, learning experience for your student who:

  • Is age 6-22
  • Currently receives some or all instruction in an alternative academic setting (e.g., resource, life skills classroom)
  • May benefit from supports with communication, social, and independent living skills
  • Is able to be away from home for 1 to 2 weeks
  • Can participate safely in small group activities with moderate support

In the PEEC Program, students are grouped into self-contained classes of about 5 students of similar age and ability. Students will participate in a variety of activities and projects, both on and off campus, that address such skills as:

  • Shopping
  • Working in the kitchen
  • Personal care
  • Vocational skills
  • Community transportation
  • Practical academics (math, literacy, etc.)
  • Concept development
  • Physical fitness
  • Peer and adult interactions
  • Problem solving
  • Choice making and self-advocacy
  • Recreation and leisure

Summer Work Experience in Austin, Texas (SWEAT) Ages 17-22

June 11 - July 13

The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired is excited to collaborate with the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) to host Summer Work Experience in Austin, Texas (SWEAT). SWEAT is a five-week experiential learning program designed to prepare students for independence and success after high school. This program will provide:

  • Intensive training in Expanded Core Curricular skills with a particular focus on independent living skills, orientation and mobility skills, and social skills
  • Lessons on relevant employability skills
  • An individual, paid job opportunity in the Austin community supported by a job coach

Requirements to Apply

  • Students should function within approximately 3 years of grade level
  • Students should be able to work alone at a job placement
  • Students must be on the VR services caseload of TWC. It is not sufficient to be on their children’s caseload. If you are uncertain about your status, contact your TWC Transition Counselor as soon as possible.
  • In order to determine learning goals for SWEAT, students are required to participate in Pre-SWEAT. 

Student Expectations

  • Students are expected to complete in-class assignments and homework assignments related to employability and independent living skills.
  • Students are expected to use a cane for mobility at all appropriate times.
  • Students are expected to spend weekends on campus during SWEAT. Students will be given permission for one off-campus weekend during the program.
  • Students will earn a training fee approximately equivalent to the minimum wage after deductions. From this fee, students will be expected to pay a minimal amount for living expenses. The purpose of this activity is to help students learn to budget and pay bills. Beyond these expenses, students may use their earnings as they wish.

Pre-SWEAT April 21-23

Pre-SWEAT is designed to help students develop an awareness of their strengths and needs in key areas of the Expanded Core Curriculum prior to beginning SWEAT. It also provides the opportunity for SWEAT staff to begin developing relationships with students. Students will collaborate with a job coach and and O&M instructor to complete assessment activities in the following areas: 

  • Assistive Technology
  • Independent Living Skills
  • Social Skills
  • Orientation and Mobility

Afterward, students will meet with their job coaches to develop goals to guide their learning for the duration of the five week SWEAT program.

Working and Living in the Community (WALIC) Ages 16-22

June 18 - July 13

The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired is excited to provide students with vocational and independent living experiences this summer through WALIC. In WALIC, emphasis is placed on developing independent living and community access skills, as well as promoting personal responsibility and initiative, during work and throughout all other activities.


WALIC will provide opportunities for students to:

  • Learn a variety of work routines with the support of a job coach
  • Practice social skills necessary to interact with a supervisor and co-workers
  • Manage a $30 weekly stipend received for their work by budgeting, shopping, and choosing recreational activities
  • Learn about typical household bills, writing and cashing checks, and the cost of apartments
  • Live in dorms with 24-hour supervision and practice independent living skills such as cooking, cleaning, dressing, and personal hygiene

Requirements to Apply

  • Students must be 16-22 years of age.
  • Students must be able to work for 5 hours in a given day with moderate support from a job coach. Students work a total of approximately 16 hours per week.
  • Students should be fairly independent in their dressing, eating, toileting, hygiene, and communication abilities.
  • Students should not have challenging behaviors that interfere with the instruction of self or others. If you are unsure about your student’s behavior support needs regarding the WALIC program, please contact us to discuss appropriate placement.

Student Expectations

Students need to participate for the full four weeks of the summer program. If you have questions or concerns about a student’s ability to do this, please contact Sara Merritt, Summer Program Principal.

TX SenseAbilities - Fall 2017

Abstract:  This article provides information on grants available to assist children in obtaining health related services not covered or not fully covered by their family’s health insurance plan.

Key words:  Blind, visually impaired, medical grants, United Health Care Children’s Foundation

Families in need of financial assistance for child medical care costs are encouraged to apply today for a United Healthcare Children's Foundation (UHCCF) grant. Qualifying families can receive up to $5,000 per grant, with a lifetime maximum of $10,000 per child, to help pay for their child's health care treatments, services, or equipment not covered, or not fully covered, by their commercial health insurance plan.

Families frequently use UHCCF grants to help pay for treatments associated with medical conditions such as cancer, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, diabetes, hearing loss, autism, cystic fibrosis, Down syndrome, ADHD and cerebral palsy. For example, families have used grants for physical, occupational and speech therapy, counseling services, surgeries, prescriptions, wheelchairs, orthotics, eyeglasses and hearing aids. To be eligible for a grant, a child must be 16 years of age or younger.

Families must meet economic guidelines, reside in the United States and have a commercial health insurance plan. Grants are available for medical expenses families have incurred 60 days prior to the date of application as well as for ongoing and future medical needs. Families do not need to have insurance through United Healthcare to be eligible. Parents or legal guardians are encouraged to apply today.

Reprinted from Parent to Parent Newsletter

TX SenseAbilities - 2017

By Keisha Rowe, Director, Office of Independence Services, Health and Human Services Commission\

Abstract: This article gives a summary of services offered by the Blind Children's Program

Keywords: blind, visually impaired, children

The Blind Children’s Program (GCP) gives families the chance to plan for their child’s growth and skills development with trained specialists. Since the program moved from the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitation Services to HHSC in September 2016, BCP staff have been able to work closely with other HHS programs to ensure Texans have access to the services they need in order to reach their fullest potential.

While our office locations and phone numbers have changed, our services remain the same.

BCP is part of the Office of Independence Services, along with the Blindness Education, Screening and Treatment program, the Comprehensive Rehabilitation Services program and the Independent Living Services program.

The Parent’s Role

Parent and BCP staff work in partnership, using a team approach to build the best plan for the child. When families take an active role in designing services for their children, children succeed. Blind children’s specialists and rehabilitation assistants rely on families to share any concerns and barriers that may be preventing their children from obtaining the skills needed to master their goals. By providing current medical and education information, discussing their children’s challenges and needs, and sharing joys and successes, parents help tailor services to fit their child’s unique needs, growth and development.

Our Specialists

Blind children’s specialists:

  • Help children develop confidence and skills.
  • Provide training to increase independence and participation in vocational activities.
  • Provide support and training to parents and caretakers.
  • Help families in the vocational discovery and development process.
  • Provide information about additional resources.

BCP also has a DeafBlind specialist who:

  • Develops strategies to support children with combined vision and hearing loss.
  • Helps families find and access local, state and national resources.
  • Provides training and webinars for families, service providers and education interveners.
  • Works with community and resource agencies to provide services.

The BCP team is eager to work with you to ensure your child has the tools and training they need to reach their fullest potential and be successful.    

BCP is committed to providing high-quality services. To learn more, call 512-438-2404, or e-mail

TX SenseAbilities - Fall 2017

By Cheryl Fuller, Director Vocational Rehabilitation Division, Texas Workforce Commission

Abstract: The author describes a few recent changes in the Vocational Rehabilitation program and the new summer work experience program for students with disabilities.

Key words: disability, blind, visually impaired, Vocational Rehabilitation, Blind Children’s Vocational Discovery and Development Program, Summer Earn and Learn, Texas Workforce Commission, Health and Human Services Commission

It’s been an exciting year in the Texas Workforce Commission’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) programs. Just over one year ago, the VR program and staff were transferred to the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), as mandated in Senate Bill (SB) 208, 84th Texas Legislature. TWC welcomed VR staff and worked diligently to ensure a smooth transition for staff and customers. On October 1, 2017, TWC completed another SB 208 requirement: combining Blind Services and Rehabilitation Services divisions into one Vocational Rehabilitation Division. The new division features a streamlined structure that retains specialization in serving individuals who are blind or visually impaired at the state, regional and local level. VR counselors from the legacy Blind Services division will continue to serve customers with visual impairments. VR counselors will continue to specialize in serving students and those with needs in other areas of disability such as deaf and hard of hearing, and neurodevelopmental disorders. The newly combined VR Division will continue its high standards of service by providing qualified staff to serve all customers, while also seeking opportunities for efficiency, consistency and improved customer service.

TWC-VRS is also continuing to implement the many changes to the VR program that were enacted by Congress in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and by the Rehabilitation Services Administration in its final implementing regulations, released in the fall of 2016. One of the required changes is that each state must establish a single starting age for students with disabilities who are interested in applying for VR services. Previously, Blind Services and Rehabilitation Services divisions had different starting ages for students. Earlier this year, TWC held public meetings around the state to seek feedback on the proposed change to establish age 14 as the standard starting age to begin receiving VR services. This is an earlier starting age than the VR programs in most states, but it aligns the Texas VR program with the age by which students in special education programs in Texas schools must begin transition planning. This change became effective on October 1, 2017. TWC- VRS has been working with the Blind Children’s Vocational Discovery and Development Program (Blind Children’s Program) at the Health and Human Services Commission to ensure that this change was communicated to students and families participating in the Blind Children’s Program. We wamted to ensure that families with children aged 10-14 interested in VR Services were referred to TWC-VRS for a determination of eligibility before the change in starting age. In addition to coordinating referrals between Blind Children’s Program and TWC-VRS, both programs are working to discuss opportunities for joint activities, such as group skills trainings.

One of the most exciting programs launched by TWC this year is the Summer Earn and Learn (SEAL) program for students with disabilities who want the opportunity to gain work experience. In collaboration with the 28 local workforce development boards, over 1,500 Texas students with disabilities participated in a paid work experience with a local employer between June and August. Staff members have received numerous stories from students, parents and employers about the powerful impact of this program. Some students did such a great job that they were hired by their host employers and continue to have a part-time job during the school year. Here are their stories:

Through participation in Summer Earn and Learn, one young man completed a weeklong Job Readiness Boot Camp led by WIOA youth contractor, Goodwill Industries of Central Texas. He is quiet and shy, but demonstrated remarkable progress including leading group discussions. Over the summer, he received work experience through a job internship at an HEB grocery store in south Austin where he has continued to develop skills that compliment his strong work ethic and customer-focused mindset. His hard work and dedication impressed his supervisors so much that they want to hire him full time. “I wanted to do it to experience what a job is”, says this VR client, “so when I am ready to have a job, I will know what to do and am able to work. The other employees were so nice to me, it touched my heart.”

There is this note from a mother whose daughter participated in Summer Earn and Learn: “Thank you for telling us about the Summer Earn and Learn program! From the time she found out about it, my daughter was so excited about being in a supported job situation where she could learn job skills, gain work experience, and get paid. She was especially excited when she found she would be placed at CVS Pharmacy. It complemented her education of an Associate’s Degree of Science, as she is interested in a career as a pharmacy technician. Because of her participation in the program, her family and friends have seen her blossom with self-confidence and a sense of belonging. Thank you for helping her gain the skills that she needs to find a job that she loves.”

TWC plans to repeat this program in future years, so stay tuned for an upcoming issue of TX SenseAbilities when we will share more information about Summer Earn and Learn 2018! To find the VR office nearest you, please go to

TX SenseAbilities - Fall 2017

By William Daugherty, Superintendent, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Abstract: In this article Superintendent Daugherty shares a number of changes that have occurred at TSBvI in the past 100 years.

Key Words: TSBVI, DeafBlind, blind, visually impaired

Founded by the Texas Legislature in 1856 as the Blind Asylum, The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) has had several names and several locations over the past 161 years. The current 45th Street location in Austin was constructed in 1916, and the first classes were held in November of 1917. In conjunction with the school’s annual Parent Weekend event, TSBVI will have a small celebration in honor of this milestone on Saturday, November 11 at 2:00 PM in the school’s auditorium. The public is invited.

Records and reports from the TSBVI’s early years on 45th Street tell us that the school grew much of its own food on the campus’s 73 acres (now 40 acres). The curriculum focused heavily on music, domestic skills, and trades such as broom making and chair caning. Over time the curriculum grew to be more academic in nature. In the 1950’s many students began coming to TSBVI as a result of being administered too much oxygen as newborns in incubators. Later, an epidemic of rubella caused a large spike in the number of children with DeafBlindness. The epidemic led the school to develop curriculum and instruction related to communication skills, behavior intervention, and multiple disabilities. In the mid 1970’s the passage of federal special education law led to more and more students being educated in their local schools. During the next two decades or so, TSBVI began to develop new areas of service such as curricular publications, statewide outreach service, and short term programs, in order to support the majority of students who were in the independent school districts across the state.

The school changed its name from the Texas School for the Blind to the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in the 1980’s in recognition that many of TSBVI’s students had low vision. Soon after, the separate program for students with DeafBlindness and multiple disabilities combined with the regular elementary, middle and high school to form what we refer to today as Comprehensive Programs. Comprehensive Programs, Short Term Programs (ISD students only), and Statewide Outreach now compose the three main service delivery arms of TSBVI, and each are among the highest quality programs of their type in the nation. The school’s curricular publications and website have grown to be highly valued resources at the state, national, and international levels.

Over the past ten years, the 1917 campus has been totally rebuilt into the modern and beautiful school we have today. An attractive campus and an outstanding mission align well at TSBVI. In practice, our mission is to look for opportunities to serve every student with a visual impairment in the state, regardless of where they attend school. This diversified service delivery model that extends well beyond the TSBVI campus has led to ever higher levels of collaboration with parents, schools, education service centers, universities and other organizations concerned with blindness and visual impairment. The continued support of the school and its mission by the Texas Legislature over the past 100 years has been an essential ingredient in TSBVI’s success, and not all schools for the blind in the U.S. have had such support from the state level. It is this support that has allowed TSBVI to develop into a center of expertise worthy of a celebration on November 11, 2017. You are welcome to join us.

Photo of the main entrance of TSBVI