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Spring 2018

TX SenseAbilities - Spring 2018

American Council of the Blind (ACB) Special Education Presentation

Attention Parents, teachers, and student advocates! ACB’s Special Education Committee has put together a useful two-part podcast on advocating for children inside and outside the classroom. This web series provides an overview of existing laws, regulations, procedures and best practices. ACB believes this will be a helpful tool for parents and teachers as they prepare for IEPs.

Western Oregon University’s Regional Resource Center on Deafness

We are pleased to announce WOU has received funding to establish a national center on DeafBlind interpreting. Within a framework of evidence based practice, the DeafBlind Interpreting National Training and Resource Center (DBI) will enhance communication access for persons who are DeafBlind by increasing the number of interpreters able to effectively interpret utilizing tactile communication and other strategies.

Uber App Offers Basic Sign Language Tips to Chat With Deaf or Hard of Hearing
Drivers: Mac Rumors

Uber app sign language

New tool allows DeafBlind people to independently 'watch' TV

DeafBlind Television app

Spanish speakers looking for iPad games?

Here’s a recording of a 4 minute audio demonstration of the game Blindfold Gesture Bop, in Spanish:

You can get Blindfold Gesture Bop here

American Foundation for the Blind

Have students transitioning to college this year? Check out this new info @ AFB

TX SenseAbilities - Spring 2018

Article reprinted from Elsevier

Abstract:  This article shares information from two studies confirming that 100% of Brazilian infants with confirmed and suspected Zika were born with visual impairments. 

Key Words:  blind, visual impairments, Zika, pediatric ophthalmology, cortical visual impairment

San Francisco, CA, September 13, 2017

Although one of the most serious consequences of the Zika virus (ZIKV) in infants is microcephaly, there is a broad collection of anomalies now known as congenital Zika syndrome (CZS). Some of the most serious are ophthalmologic, including macular scarring, retinal defects, low visual acuity, strabismus, and nystagmus. Two papers published in the Journal of the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus (AAPOS) evaluated visual function among infants with suspected and confirmed CZS. Both studies found that while about 40% of patients had ocular abnormalities, 100% of children tested had visual impairment. Thus, cortical visual impairment might be the most common cause of blindness among children with CZS.  

In a study conducted in Brazil, 70 infants with microcephaly were examined at CAVIVER, a nongovernmental organization clinic and referral center dedicated to visually disabled children in Fortaleza. A team of ophthalmologists, neurologists, geneticists, and pediatricians, led by Marcia B. Tartarella, MD, PhD, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science, Federal University of Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil, evaluated the infants from January to May 2016. Twenty-five had ophthalmologic changes: 18 with intraocular abnormalities, including macular chorioretinal atrophy, mottled retinal pigment epithelium, and optic nerve pallor; seven with strabismus or nystagmus without intraocular abnormalities. Eleven infants who could be tested for visual acuity, were all below normal range. Investigators noted that although they could not obtain specific serological tests that would confirm ZIKV infection in these patients, all were screened for other infectious conditions that could cause microcephaly.

According to Dr. Tartarella, “All systemic and ocular characteristics of CZS do not necessarily occur in the same patient. The ophthalmic features with unique anatomical characteristics may help to identify CZS in patients born without microcephaly.” 

Another study, which included 32 infants born in Pernambuco, Brazil from May to December 2015 with confirmed ZIKV infection, found visual impairment in all patients. Fourteen patients exhibited retinal and/or optic nerve damage and had neuroimaging or neurological abnormalities detected at birth. Twenty-six mothers reported symptoms or signs compatible with ZIKV infection during their pregnancies, 13 during the first trimester, 9 during the second, and 3 in the third. Twenty-six infants were born full-term while six were pre-term.

Wide-angle fundus image (RetCam) of the left eye of a child with congenital Zika syndrome showing large chorioretinal scar in the macular region.
Wide-angle fundus image (RetCam) of the left eye of a child with congenital Zika syndrome showing large chorioretinal scar in the macular region.


However, according to lead investigator Liana O. Ventura, MD, PhD, of the Altino Ventura Foundation (FAV), and the Department of Ophthalmology, HOPE Eye Hospital, Recife, Brazil, such retinal involvement is not always present. “Surprisingly, the present study revealed that, regardless of fundus involvement, all infants presented with visual impairment, suggesting that the visual impairment is most likely related to the extensive damage to the central nervous system. These findings reinforce our supposition that brain damage is the main etiology for visual impairment in CZS.”

In an accompanying editorial,  (available at Sonja A. Rasmussen, MD, MS, and co-authors suggest that as our knowledge of the effects of Zika virus infection evolves, we can learn from the experience with rubella infection during pregnancy. Beginning with an astute observation in 1941 by ophthalmologist Norman Gregg, followed by descriptions of a wide array of manifestations, the full effects of congenital rubella infection became understood. 

Dr. Rasmussen explains, “Limited data are available regarding the rate of ophthalmologic findings in infants born to women with ZIKV infection during pregnancy. As most studies have only carefully examined infants with presumed or confirmed congenital ZIKV infection who have microcephaly, more studies are needed to understand ocular findings in those infants with congenital ZIKV infection without microcephaly. In addition, it is unknown how often infants born without recognizable abnormalities of ZIKV infection will later develop problems (e.g., cognitive impairment, hearing loss, ocular findings), as has been seen with other congenital infections, for example, rubella.”

TX SenseAbilities - 2018

By Tammy Winkenwerder, VR Transition Program Specialist, Texas Workforce Commission

Abstract:  In this article, Ms. Winkenwerder describes the impact of Vocational Rehabilitation in her life and the federal changes that will create new opportunities for students with disabilities.

Key words:  Vocational Rehabilitation, disability, Texas Workforce Commission, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, pre-employment transition services. 

Think back to the events that made the most impression on you as a child or adolescent. We know the experiences in the early years of life shape our lives as adults. I have a physical disability, and one of my memories is of the time when I was about 14 and the school district arranged for a vocational rehabilitation (VR) counselor to visit my parents and me. She told us about opportunities and ways that I could do things to be independent, like drive a car! After this meeting, my parents were still apprehensive about letting go, but I remember feeling motivated to pursue more of life. Like most of my peers, I wanted to be a part of society and live a life of independence, but there were many skills to learn before I could get there. Everyone must learn those skills before transitioning from high school to adult life. However, those of us who have a disability need extra support and training from people who are passionate about helping us succeed and who recognize innovation and opportunity.

The people who support young people with disabilities can be parents, family, friends, teachers, and institutions that comprise school administrators and government programs such as the Texas Workforce Commission’s (TWC) VR program. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 went into effect the year I was born, and it is the reason I am an independent adult. The Act was amended when on July 22, 2014, President Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) into law. WIOA is designed to help job seekers get access to employment, training, education, and support services so they can succeed in the labor market by providing skilled workers for employers. WIOA also oversees state VR programs; it made some substantial changes to focus more services and funding on the beginning of the VR continuum, when students with disabilities are thinking of possible careers and transitioning to life outside of high school. Our government leaders have realized the importance of providing opportunity and innovation early in a person’s life.

WIOA focuses on the importance of preparing young people with disabilities for employment not only by having VR programs invest more funding into transition services but also by encouraging VR programs to develop partnerships with education agencies, school districts, workforce boards, employers, colleges, and universities. Through these partnerships and services, young people with disabilities can receive five areas of training: job exploration counseling, work-based learning experiences, counseling on opportunities for enrollment in comprehensive transition or postsecondary educational programs, workplace readiness training, and self-advocacy. These areas of training are known as pre-employment transition services (Pre-ETS).

Pre-ETS activities are for students with disabilities who are between the ages of 14 to 22 and who are eligible for or receiving special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. WIOA also allows VR programs to provide Pre-ETS to students who meet IDEA and Section 504 criteria but have not been determined eligible for or even applied for VR services, which is something new to VR state programs. If the student will need disability-related services that are outside of Pre-ETS, then he or she will have to apply to the VR program. However, the most important factor regarding Pre-ETS is that the five areas of training mentioned above must occur before the student leaves the school system so that he or she will have an optimal transition to postsecondary life.

The upcoming issues of the Tx SenseAbilities newsletter will include articles that focus on each Pre-ETS area, but an overview of each Pre-ETS activity might be helpful. The five required Pre-ETS activities are described below:

  • Job exploration counseling—Helps students explore job opportunities to foster motivation and promote informed decision making about career goals.
  • Work-based learning experiences—Provides students with actual work situations to give them the knowledge and skills that will help them connect school experiences to real-life work activities and future career opportunities.
  • Counseling on opportunities for postsecondary educational programs—Informs students of postsecondary education programs and requirements and assists students in deciding which path is most appropriate for them to facilitate success.
  • Workplace readiness training—Helps students develop work readiness skills, sometimes known as soft skills, which are a set of skills and behaviors that are necessary for any job. This will help the student identify skills he or she has as well as those that need some additional work so that the student may succeed in employment.
  • Self-advocacy—Trains students with disabilities to advocate for themselves, including discussing disabilities and accommodations that are needed. Students with disabilities also learn to express their strengths and the contributions that they can make to the community.

I think that what is most important about WIOA is its ability to create opportunity for students with disabilities before they leave the school system. Parents, teachers, VR professionals, and the students themselves can seek out Pre-ETS activities that can be significant no matter how large or small the scale. As I said at the beginning of this article, that first meeting with a VR counselor made an impression on me that is still with me today. Sometimes it takes a team of supporters and organizations to make success happen. The result is a person who has the same opportunities as those without disabilities and a life that he or she envisioned, despite disabilities. I encourage you, if you are a student with disability, to call a VR office and see what doors will open for you.

TX SenseAbilities - Spring 2018

Vicki DePountis, Texas Education Agency,
Program Specialist for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Abstract: In this article, Dr. DePountis discusses how TEA has improved identification, evaluation and services for students and their work with individuals both within and outside the agency to support the unique needs of students who are blind and visually impaired. 

Key Words: TEA, blind, visually impaired, Deafblind, special education 

Exciting things are happening at the Texas Education Agency (TEA)! Over the past year and a half, the agency has completed numerous activities to improve identification, evaluation, and services for students, as well as communication with families. Perhaps most exciting, TEA has increased its capacity to provide technical support by hiring individuals who possess a great deal of expertise in various functional areas related to special education. These program specialists focus on areas including behavior, response to intervention (RTI), educator support, deaf and hard of hearing (DHH), the child centered process, child find and evaluation, low incidence disabilities, high incidence disabilities, family support, post-secondary transition, residential placement, preschool, visual impairment, and state performance plan data. Their primary function is to provide expertise and leadership as it relates to the provision of technical assistance to local education agencies (LEAs) directly, through the educational service centers (ESCs), and through improvements to the existing statewide leadership grant networks and projects.

The program specialist for the blind and visually impaired collaborates with individuals both within and outside the agency to support the unique needs of students who are blind or visually impaired, including students who are DeafBlind (DB). The agency continues to support the Texas Deafblind Project by contracting with the DeafBlind Outreach Team at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) to provide training to those working with students who are DeafBlind throughout the state. The new State VI Plan and State DB Plan which set priorities and guide service development and provision for students with visual impairments and DeafBlindness respectively, have been completed. Working with professionals at TSBVI, the Health and Human Services Commission, the Texas Workforce Commission, advocacy groups, and university professional preparation programs will ensure sharing of information and resources.

TEA has also hired twenty-eight liaisons who spend 75% of their time at the regional service centers and 25% of their time at TEA. The liaisons work closely with districts to develop innovative ways to address challenges in special education and improve professional development practices. The liaisons support implementing best practices to address issues such as significant disproportionality. They have technical assistance related to all focus areas, including visual impairment, immediately available. Program specialists and liaisons share information about successful and innovative instructional approaches in order to build capacity throughout the state.

In November of 2016, the agency provided a letter to all school districts that clarified child find obligations, the use of response to intervention strategies, and policies and procedures designed to prevent misidentification and disproportionate representation of students for special education services. The Parent’s Guide to the Admission, Review, and Dismissal Process has been revised to provide additional information for parents. The agency has also developed a corrective action plan to address the three areas of noncompliance identified in the January 10, 2018 letter from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). TEA leaders facilitated focus group engagement sessions with various stakeholders in each of the twenty regional education service centers. Separate sessions were hosted for educators, administrators, families, and students, and all attendees were encouraged to provide input about the draft plan. In addition to the face-to-face visits, an online survey was available on the TEA website to gather input from a wide range of perspectives across Texas. TEA leadership also met on a bi-weekly basis with representatives from the special education advocacy community. Additionally, TEA staff interacted at multiple meetings and conferences at which input and feedback was sought throughout the progression of the plan’s development. While waiting for feedback from OSEP, TEA continues to identify and engage in activities that clarify the differences between RTI, the state dyslexia program, Section 504, and IDEA. The TEA continues its commitment to working toward the vision that every child in Texas is an independent thinker and will graduate prepared for success in college, a career, or the military, and as an engaged and productive citizen.

TX SenseAbilities - 2018

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

Abstract: The Blind Children’s Program remains committed to providing quality services to meet the needs of children and families while adapting to new managerial changes.

Key Words: Blind Children’s Program, blind, visually impaired, quality services

It is my pleasure to announce the selection of Lauren Cox as the Blind Children’s Program (BCP) Manager with the Blind Children’s Vocational Discovery and Development Program. Cox, a graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University, has extensive knowledge of the program, having worked in various positions with BCP throughout the state. Prior to her tenure with BCP, she worked as a preschool teacher and as a vocational rehabilitation transition counselor. Cox’s breadth of experience makes her uniquely qualified to lead the BCP program into the future. 

Cox believes in the potential and abilities of the children and families in our program. She is committed to ensuring each child receives high quality, individualized services to help them meet their needs, overcome barriers and reach their goals. 

The BCP management team will continue working together to ensure that the children we serve receive the same high quality services that they have grown accustomed to over the years. While the program may undergo organizational changes, our commitment to the children we serve is unwavering. Our steadfast goal is to build upon the historical excellence of the program.

While we welcome new team leadership, we also say goodbye to a dear friend. After 21 years of doing what she calls "The best job on the planet," Al'An Kesler retired from BCP on March 31, 2018. She requested that the following message be shared with our readers:

"To all of the children, families and professionals with whom I have had the honor of knowing and working, thank you for the most amazing and wonderful journey of my life. It has been a privilege and a gift to have traveled this road with you. You will continue to be in my heart and prayers forever."

BCP continues to adapt to changing times and strives to consistently meet the needs of the children and families we serve. As we modify our program to meet demand and streamline services, the fundamental values and goals of BCP remain unchanged. We are committed to helping your child reach his or her maximum potential and become a gainfully employed adult. We will continue to assess any and all barriers your child may encounter along the way and will work with you to plan, develop and deliver services that will provide your child with the tools and skills he or she needs to overcome obstacles.

If you are interested in learning more about BCP or need help accessing services, please contact us: