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A Publication about Visual Impairments and Deafblindness for Families and Professionals

Upcoming Conferences and Events

Training Opportunities Sponsored by TSBVI Outreach:  (

  • December 11, 2018  

“Studies in DeafBlindness for the Advanced Practitioner: with Barbara Miles”

James C. Durkel Conference Center, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI), Austin, Texas

  • January 8-11, 2019

“January Braille Boot Camp: Braille Document, Tactile Graphic, and Music Production” James C. Durkel Conference Center, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI), Austin, Texas

  • February 21-23, 2019

“2019 Texas Symposium on DeafBlindness Symposium, Preconference and Conference

Austin Marriott North, 2600 La Frontera Boulevard, Round Rock, Texas

  • May 3, 2018

“Low Vision Conference: Literacy for Students Who Rely on Print”

James C. Durkel Conference Center, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI), Austin, Texas

  • June 10th-11th 2019

“Active Learning Conference”

Hosted by Region 10 ESC in the Dallas area (details to be announced).

2018-2019 Webinars from TSBVI Outreach
(all webinars are from 3:00-4:00 Central Time):

  • January 10, 2019: Accessible Instructional Materials: What TVIs Need to Know
  • January 29, 2019 and March 26, 2019: Designing Routines
  • February 26, 2019: Art for Students with Multiple Impairments
  • March 7, 2019: Self-Determination: Be the Boss of Your Assistive Technology

TSBVI Outreach Study Groups:

  • Active Learning - January 24, 2019 and April 18, 2019
  • CVI - December 10, 2018, February 11, 2019 and April 15, 20


  • January 31-February 1, 2019

International Online Orientation and Mobility Symposium, a three-day online conference.; contact Kassy Maloney <> for more information


Podcasts from TSBVI Outreach Director Emily Coleman: A Sense of Texas:

Join new TSBVI Outreach Director Emily coleman in a new podcast as she gets... A Sense of Texas. Available in the iTunes Store and on Google Play


See Paths to Literacy for information on how your child can receive a letter from Santa in braille or large print

The deadline for requests is December 15, 2018 for most of the organizations that provide this service. Also see

Text displays "Braille Letters from Santa" over a open bag of toys in a frame made from candy canes.

By Matt Schultz, DeafBlind Outreach Consultant, TSBVI

Abstract: In this article, Matt Schultz explores the journey of one student who, as a result of her instructional team’s use of of a relationship-based educational approach, had a life-changing breakthrough. This approach is an example of the work of Dr. Suzanne Zeedyk, a Developmental Psychologist who presented at the December 2017 Studies in DeafBlindness for the Advanced Practitioner. For this year’s Advanced Practitioner Day, TSBVI will host Barbara Miles on December 11, 2018. Please see the News and Views section of this newsletter for more information.

Keywords: Zeedyk, routine, social script, peer, interaction, behavior, social development, emotional development, stress, DeafBlind, DB, calendar, relationship-based

Dr. Zeedyk’s Work

In December 2017, a community of practitioners and families hosted a weekend at TSBVI for families and a day of training for educators with Dr. Suzanne Zeedyk. Dr. Zeedyk is a Developmental Psychologist and founder of Connected Baby, an initiative and website formed in response to the last two decades of scientific study on how human brains develop and function. Dr. Zeedyk’s research and work provide insight into how crucial relationships are for human health, happiness, and well-being.

Dr. Zeedyk traveled to TSBVI from Dundee, Scotland for the Annual Event Series: Studies in DeafBlindness for the Advanced Practitioner. Her one day presentation was titled The Biology of Connection: How Relationship-led Teaching Changes Brains, Bodies and Behavior. The themes of her presentation centered around the critical roles that positive relationships play in supporting our students’ emotional growth and general well-being. Dr. Zeedyk helped the audience understand how early experiences shape a child's biology and their ability to self-regulate. She encouraged participants to make a shift in thinking. This shift is from characterizing moments when our students are “displaying challenging behavior” to framing events with biologically accurate language, such as “experiencing moments of distress”. In other words, the focus moves to the perspective of the student, who is having a rough time (the cause), instead of the perspective of those who are inconvenienced by the manner in which the student expresses their distress (the symptom).  

How Does This Apply?  

Sitting in the audience, I found my thoughts drifting to a former student. Her name was Kersten and when I met her, she was most certainly a person in distress. In fact, the people closest to Kersten, those who loved and adored her, would sometimes describe her in true southern vernacular, as “a hot mess”. During a typical school day, Kersten could be observed kicking chairs, throwing calendar boxes and classroom materials across the room, hitting staff members and attempting to pull their hair, head butt them, or bite them. Kersten also engaged in self-injurious behavior: banging her head on desks and tables, hitting herself in the face, legs and head, and scratching her face and nose, causing bleeding and scarring. Transitions from one classroom to another would often take 45 minutes and require the support of 3 adults to keep Kersten and near-by students safe.

Changes In Kersten’s Behavior

Fast forward several years later. After not working with Kersten for a few years, I stopped by her classroom to say hello. I was astounded to see this young girl who, just a few years prior, was hurting herself and others in ways that not only interfered with learning but demonstrated intense moments of distress. I saw no kicking, no hitting, no throwing or scratching. Kersten was happily going about her classroom routines. She was communicating easily and proficiently with her teachers. She was completing steps within her routines with very little adult support and a noticeable sense of confidence. She was participating in long, in-depth conversations about enjoyable activities that she had done earlier in the week. She discussed details about what she was scheduled to do that day, asking specific questions about who she would be doing them with and where they would occur. She was delighted to talk about an upcoming farmer’s market at which she and her classmates would be working. Kersten was also deeply engaged in a discussion about an upcoming doctor’s appointment. This topic seemed to be causing a mild amount of stress. She would occasionally halt the conversation by taking her gaze away from her conversation partner, rocking back and forth while placing her hands in front of her face. However, after a brief pause, she was able to work through it.  She asked for confirmation about the date of the appointment, whom she would be traveling with, and what specific steps the appointment would entail. She looked like a totally different kid. I turned to her teacher and with raised eyebrows and mouth agape asked, “What happened?” Her response was simple. “Kersten has become a mature young lady”. She went from a “hot mess” to a “mature young lady”. Wow.

Two smiling students are seated at a classroom table and eating cookies

Caption: Kersten, left, enjoys the company of her friend, Becka, during a snack.

What Happened to Cause the Change?

This tale of transformation and growth begs an explanation. That explanation is rooted in (1) her team’s understanding of the impact of DeafBlindness on Kersten’s social, emotional and communicative development, and (2) their quest to better understand challenging behavior as an expression of emotional distress. The team’s ability to comprehend the value of relationship-based and child-led educational programing was crucial to this transformation.

Additional Background

I left out a few important details in my introduction of Kersten. When I first met her, she was a new student at TSBVI. TSBVI is a residential school. Kersten had left the community in which she grew up.  She was away from her family and friends for the first time in her life. She found herself in a new school, in a strange city surrounded by people she did not know, who could not anticipate her thoughts or immediately provide her with a sense of safety and connection. Unfamiliar surroundings and faces were everywhere. Kersten was legally blind with poor acuities and distance vision as a result of bilateral corneal transplants. The transplants took place at a young age and did not heal well, resulting in corneal scarring and chronic dry eyes. Kersten had a profound sensorineural hearing loss that prevented her from gathering environmental and speech sounds. To expressively communicate, Kersten used a combination of facial expressions, gestures, pictures and sign language.

New environments and unfamiliar people can be a source of stress for any of us. Imagine how stressful these circumstances might have been for a 15-year-old girl with limited vision, hearing and conceptual understanding of the world!      

Trust and Accurate Information

In addition to feeling homesick, Kersten experienced a great deal of stress for another reason. As an individual with DeafBlindness, Kersten had difficulty gathering trustworthy and accurate information that was critical in allowing her to feel safe and secure. Any person would want to know when finding himself or herself suddenly in a new place:

  • Who are these people?
  • Where am I going?
  • What is happening around me?
  • What do these people want from me?
  • How can I make sense of all this?
  • Why am I here?

These are all questions Kersten may have been asking herself. Her ability to gather and receive information that would help answer these questions was compromised by her partial vision, hearing loss, and incomplete conceptual understanding. Without answers to these questions, how could she feel safe?  How could she feel connected?


After a few months in her new surroundings, Kersten began to develop positive relationships with her teachers and some of her peers, and to settle into her new routines in the classroom and in her dorm. Within the support provided by her daily calendar, Kersten was able to participate in conversations that allowed her to anticipate activities throughout each day. She learned to use a weekly calendar to have back and forth conversations with trusted adults. During these meaningful conversations, she began to get answers to the questions that were of vital importance to her.

  • Do I have to go to the health center today?
  • With whom will I be painting my nails?
  • On what day?
  • When do I get to talk about my experience books?

Kersten was able to take the conversational lead by simply looking at a picture of interest. Her teacher would follow her lead by adding information about the picture and topic of Kersten’s choice. Slowly, through these reciprocal and child-led conversations, Kersten’s world became more predictable and a little less scary.

New Concerns

However, a new and concerning pattern emerged in her interactions with peers. During transitions to classes, Kersten would travel in hallways and sidewalks alongside her schoolmates. On occasion, and seemingly without warning, Kersten would toss her walker aside, lunge toward another student, raise her arms over her head, and attempt to strike the other students.

Team Efforts to Observe and Plan

Kersten’s team gathered to discuss a plan to better support her, a plan based on understanding the root cause of her distress in relation to this behavior with her peers. They considered the impact of DeafBlindness on her ability to connect to the people in her environment. One team member mentioned that Kersten had very few social interactions with peers, that she really only conversed with adults. Another pointed out that when she had observed Kersten in these distressed interactions, she did not seem angry at all. Instead, she seemed excited to have an opportunity to connect with a peer. She recounted that Kersten would smile widely when moving toward the other student and that it wasn’t until she was very near that she appeared frustrated and lashed out. The team began to wonder what this could mean. They began to re-evaluate their previous hypothesis: did she intend to hurt her peers, or was this entirely something else?

As the team reviewed documentation of these distressed moments, gathered during a Functional Behavior Analysis, it was revealed that Kersten was having difficulty regulating her emotions when she came into contact with other students using walkers or wheelchairs. Could it be that the true function of her aggressive actions was that she wanted to talk with them about their shared topic of walkers and wheels? That she wanted to say “Hey, I have a walker too. Mine is blue!”. Despite her desire to say these things, she found herself unable to do so. Could it be that these feelings of inability and disconnection were the cause of her frustration and aggression?   

A Shift in Perspective

As consensus was built around this root cause of the behavior, her team began to view her not as a child that displayed bad behavior or was unable to follow the rules but instead as a child that was in need of various kinds of help, including:

  • Help from her teachers in the form of information and instruction
  • Help to experience success in her attempts to make connections with other people, and  
  • Help to practice and develop the communication skills needed to make friends

Creating a Behavioral Intervention Plan

Kersten’s team made a plan to better support her desire for social connection. They set out to create an instructional routine that would allow her to successfully practice her conversation skills.

Kersten already had a daily living skills routine that involved making breakfast tacos on Friday morning. The team wondered if she would enjoy making a few extra tacos to sell to her peers. They set up a table in her classroom and placed it just inside of the entryway. The table would provide a natural barrier between Kersten and her customers for extra support, “just in case”. Kersten’s teacher created a script made of three blank index cards with drawings of sign language hand shapes for “Hello”, “One dollar, please”, and “thank you”.  The script was designed to help Kersten have a successful interaction even when she felt excited, anxious or unsure.

When the first customer came, Kersten’s teacher modeled how to use the script to greet and ask the customer for the correct amount of money. After the money was handed over, the teacher handed the customer a taco before signing “goodbye”. When the second customer arrived, it was Kersten’s turn to act!

She smiled widely as the customer approached the table. Her teacher directed her attention to the first part of the script by pointing. Kersten closely looked at the sign drawing for “Hello”. She began to laugh as she slowly raised her hand in the air to sign “Hello”. When the customer signed “hello” back, she let out a shriek of delight. Her eyes lit up as she looked back at her teacher, seemingly in disbelief at what had just occurred.

Her teacher, trying not to act like this was anything out of the ordinary, directed her attention with a little smile to the next card in her conversation script. Kersten’s facial expression turned serious as she focused her vision on the card. She brought her gaze back up to the customer and slowly began to sign “One dollar, please”.  She was hesitant and looked to her teacher for support. Her teacher calmly shook her head up and down, indicating an encouraging “yes”. The teacher modeled the sign language and Kersten mimicked the signs. The customer, after receiving some coaching of his own, slowly reached out, offering a dollar bill. The two students looked at each other as their hands met and the dollar bill moved from his hand to hers. Kersten placed the dollar in a cash box, grabbed a foil wrapped breakfast taco and handed it to her young customer.

With a look of slight concern, Kersten quickly looked to her teacher for the next step.  Her teacher calmly responded by looking at the next card in the script sequence and signed “Thank you”. Kersten brought her attention back to her customer and signed “Thank you”.  As her customer walked away, Kersten looked again at her teacher, the palms of her hands gently resting on her cheeks. Her face lit up in a wide smile and her body began to shake with excitement. For a second time, she let out a loud shriek of joy.  Her teacher reflected the excitement back to Kersten with her laugh and smile. Moving closer to Kersten while reaching out her hand, she touched the side of Kersten’s arm and moved it quickly back and forth in a rhythm that mimicked the excitement that they both felt over this transformative moment:

  • The moment when Kersten was able to experience the feeling of success in having a conversation with a friend.
  • The moment when Kersten was able to regulate the strong emotions she feels in social situations and become flush with pure excitement in the success of learning how to feel connected to the people around her.

Impact of Systematic Support

This very moment led to thousands of similar moments when Kersten was able to experience the type of social and emotional growth that many of her peers who are hearing and sighted experience without direct instruction and practice. As a result of that growth, Kersten’s moments of distress involving peers in the hallways declined and eventually became a thing of the past. Kersten was provided with opportunities for this growth by a team who took the time to create an individualized program and an Individual Education Plan that considered the impact DeafBlindness has on a person’s social, emotional and communicative development.

The team considered the possibility that her actions were not those of a misbehaving child but instead the actions of a child experiencing deep distress, that she was not a child giving them trouble, but a child having trouble. Their ability to focus their time and attention on a relationship-based and child-led educational program created an environment where Kersten was able to experience regular and consistent feelings of success, independence and connectedness - joy, the essence of a happy life. These are feelings that each and every young girl must feel to become that “mature, young lady” that her teacher described.

Please tune into the next issue of Texas SenseAbilities to read Part II of this story, a deep dive into why relationship-based intervention works! Also see the News and Views section of this newsletter for information on this year’s Studies in DeafBlindness for the Advanced Practitioner on December 11, 2018 when TSBVI will host Barbara Miles for Genuine Conversations: A Path to Lifelong Learning for Both Partners

The author would like to recognize and thank the following people for their invaluable roles in the events described above. Kersten Harmon, student; Becky Harmon and Brad Harmon, parents; Pamela Henkel,TVI and classroom teacher; Fran LaWare, Behavior Specialist; Kim Conlin, SLP; Summer Shuckahosee, Residential Instructor; and Garner Vogt, Residential Director.

COMING SOON! Two new publications from the TSBVI Curriculum Department -  watch the TSBVI website for an announcement!

Texas 2 STEPS: Successfully Teaching Early Purposeful Skills

Authors: Jill Brown, Tracy Hallak, Michelle Garrett, Gema Nelson, Debra Sewell, Olga Uriegas, Shay Utley, Stephanie Walker, Marjie Wood, Dawn Adams, Melba Bunch, Steffani Oaks, Susan Phillips, Gwynne Reeves

Texas 2 STEPS is an early intervention orientation and mobility evaluation tool and a curriculum of supporting activities and routines. It is specifically designed to determine and address the orientation and mobility needs for students with visual impairments from birth through five years of age. Both the evaluation and curriculum are also appropriate for students who have additional disabilities and can be implemented in all settings including home, daycare, school and community.

Essential Tools of the Trade: A “How To” Guide for Completing Functional Vision, Learning Media, and ECC Evaluations

Authors: Jeri Cleveland, Eric Grimmett, Laura Lindsey-Ramirez, Jennifer McGrath, Debra Sewell

Essential Tools of the Trade: A “How To” Guide for Completing Functional Vision, Learning Media, and ECC Evaluations is a comprehensive, user-friendly guide to assist Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments (TVIs) and Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists (COMS) in performing legally mandated evaluations for students with visual impairments. This publication will support TVIs and COMS in making informed and deliberate decisions, guiding instruction and identifying strategies for intervention.

By Kate Hurst, Online Education Consultant, TSBVI Outreach Program

Abstract: This article provides information on Active Learning Space, a website with information on Lilli Nielsen’s Active Learning approach to education for students who are blind and visually impaired with additional disabilities, including students with DeafBlindness ( This website is also mentioned in “What’s Happening with Active Learning?”, an article in the Effective Practices section of this newsletter. Additional information on Active Learning will be provided in each issue of TX SenseAbilities this year.

Keywords: Active Learning, Active Learning Space, Lilli Nielsen, DeafBlind, DB, Penrickton Center, Perkins School for the Blind, TSBVI, Functional Scheme Assessment, FIELA Curriculum, online learning, Continuing Education Unit, CEU

Active Learning Space is a website devoted to the Active Learning approach developed by Dr. Lilli Nielsen of Denmark. This approach can be used with many individuals, but is especially beneficial for learners who are blind and visually impaired or DeafBlind and have additional disabilities. These individuals often experience global delays in physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development. Most of these individuals function below 48 months developmentally due to the significant challenges they face in accessing learning because of their disabilities. This approach can be used with individuals of all ages, but is especially beneficial for our youngest learners.

Penrickton Center for Blind Children, Perkins School for the Blind, and Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired have developed this website in collaboration and with support from the Narbethong State Special School in Queensland, Australia.  

A boy leans over a bench and explores objects on the floor in front of him.
Caption: Young boy exploring objects while prone on a Support Bench

On the website you can:

  • Get information about how to implement the Active Learning Approach;
  • Find tips on how to advocate for this approach with your IEP team;
  • Learn how to select and use various pieces of equipment and materials to create specialized learning environments;
  • Download plans for making many pieces of equipment: and
  • See videos of this approach being used with individuals of various ages.

You can also find resources for making and buying equipment, getting additional training on Active Learning, and folks sharing ideas from the field.Parents and educators all over the world are learning more about Active Learning and creating learning environments for children. Our newest addition to Active Learning Space is a section just for family members.

In addition to the information on the website, we are currently developing a series of seven self-paced online courses related to Active Learning. The first two of these courses are available now and may be taken for credit if you choose:

  1. Active Learning Principles (12 hour course with ACVREP and SBEC credit)
  2. Functional Scheme (6 hour course with ACVREP and SBEC credit)

By mid-January we hope to have 5 additional courses ready and these include:

  1. Program Planning: how to develop the IEP so the Active Learning approach is integrated into instruction.
  2. Implementation: how to utilize the FIELA curriculum and Active Learning approach to teach both standard and expanded core content.
  3. Equipment: how to select, build and use a variety of “perceptualizing aids” or equipment specifically designed for the Active Learning approach.
  4. Materials: how to select appropriate materials based on the individual learner’s preferences and disabilities to enhance learning.
  5. Documenting Progress; how to collect data on Active Learning instruction to document progress related to the learner’s IEP goals.

If an online course is not your thing, you may want to check out the live and archived webinars of the Active Learning Study Group. This year’s webinars are being presented by Patty Obrzut and Jessica McCavit from Penrickton Center for Blind Children and focus on the topics of hand development, oral motor activities, and constructive play. 

The cover of a book titled: " Five Phases of Educational Treatment for students with significant multiple disabilities

Caption: Photo about the Five Phases of Education Treatment found on Pinterest

Maybe Pinterest is your way of gathering information or perhaps an online newsletter. Both of these are available from Active Learning Space. Go to The Active Learning Space homepage to request either of these options.

Prefer live, face-to-face learning?  Consider attending the Active Learning Conference scheduled for June 2019 in the Dallas area. More details and registration information can be found at http://www. as they become available.

We hope that you will explore all of these resources for learning about Active Learning and become a part of this growing community of practice. Get active at the Active Learning Space!

Caption: Logo for the Active Learning Space website. Text displays “Dr. Lilli Nielsen’s techniques that emphasize simple ways to change the environment so that a child becomes an 'active learner.'"

Recognizing VI Professionals in their Role as Recruiters

The Texas Fellows program acknowledges the individual recruiters (Texas Fellow) and welcomes the new VI professional (Candidate) to the field. You are eligible to be a Texas Fellow if you were a significant person in the candidate’s recruitment. Candidates must have started training after May 15, 2018.


Texas Fellow Candidate
Karen Abney-Marsh Shana Dilldine
Evangelina Rodriguez Ruby Diaz
Polly Goodier Alexandra Driver
Marina DeLeon Gabina Salinas
Misty LeFlore Kristy Blackshear
Edgenie Bellah Ruthanne Garcia
Charlene Stevens Teresa Pilgrim
Lu Cleere Jaci McCarty
Lee Hise Sherry Hurley
Jerry Mullins Ana Rodriguez
Pam Yarbrough Jeanette Brewer
Pam Yarbrough Jana Pearl
Pam Yarbrough Angela Robertson

Texas Fellows and Candidates receive the following recognitions:

•  The names of the Texas Fellows and the candidates are published in the Texas SenseAbilities newsletter.

•  Texas Fellows and the candidates receive special acknowledgement at all statewide TSBVI-sponsored activities.


•  One of TSBVI’s most popular publications


•  Registration assistance for an upcoming TSBVI sponsored conference.

For more information about the Texas Fellows Program or working as a VI professional contact:  Mary Shore at ; 512-206-9156.


Two teachers sit at a table and talk to each other and take notes in notebooks.  They are seated in the TSBVI Outreach conference room.

Caption: TVI Gabriella Ortuno-Haywood, on the left, is a mentor to protege Emma Reese, seated on the right.

By Cassondra Glausier, DeafBlind Program Specialist, Health and Human Services Commission               

Abstract: Preparing for an emergency or disaster is important. This article provides specific information for families of children with special needs in order to know how to be ready for emergencies.

Keywords: emergency preparedness, safety, family, resource, planning, disaster, support system, emergency plan, “go bag”, “shelter in-place box”              

Why should you prepare an emergency plan for your family? Life happens and we get busy. We’ve all probably thought about what to do in an emergency. Most, if not all of us, have good intentions but don’t follow through with them. This article will touch on the highlights of creating a plan, how you need to prepare for an emergency, and what resources are available.

Emergencies are stressful, and what is usually familiar to you can quickly become unfamiliar. Families of children with special needs require additional emergency planning. Ensuring you have a solid game plan is key to keeping you and your family safe.

When we describe an emergency, many things might come to mind. You might think of a natural disaster such as a flood, tornado, extreme heat or hurricane — all things Texas residents have been faced with. For others, an emergency can be someone having a heart attack, injuring themselves, or an intruder entering a home, school or business with intent to harm. These are all examples of emergencies we might encounter.   

Did you know there are two types of situations we need to consider when getting our game plan together? There is an emergency and then there is a disaster. An emergency is when you must get out fast. There’s no time to think about anything but getting out of the situation, such as a fire. A disaster is when you can stay at home unless you’re told to evacuate, for example a flood or hurricane.

There are things we need to include in our planning process in an emergency or disaster. The first thing is to identify your local resources. Stay informed and follow your local emergency management service alerts and other resources such as Red Cross, Salvation Army, local churches and stay connected with your neighbors. Locate your area shelters and know the evacuation routes for your home, school, business and city.  

Second, have an emergency support system in place. Choose at least three people in your local area, and if you have an out-of-state contact, choose at least one. Your support system could be a neighbor, coworker, family member, teacher or friend. Make sure you, your family and your support system have good communication and clearly understand where to meet, who to call and what to do. The people you choose should have a high level of commitment to your family and be involved in every aspect of the planning. Ensure you discuss and practice your emergency plan every three to six months. It’s a good idea to contact your support system members periodically to see if they’re still available to be part of your support system.

When working with your support system to create your emergency plan, make a simple emergency instruction sheet for your home. Include information about exits, fire extinguishers and power shut-offs. Put the emergency sheets where they can be easily seen.  Also complete an emergency information card.

English Version:

Spanish Version:

Keep this card in your child’s backpack, your family’s go bags, your car and other places you might be. Try to keep electronic copies and email it to your support system.

Third, have a “go bag” ready to leave your house immediately. A go bag is a place to secure your important information in one place. Ensure you put the go bag where you spend most of your time, make it easily accessible, create a go bag for each member of your family, personalize it to fit each family member’s needs, and create a care notebook for your child with special needs.

Items to put in the go bag may include:

  • Medications
  • Insurance information
  • ID (if no ID, place a current photo of the family member with name and phone number on the back)
  • Copy of birth certificate
  • Banking information
  • Copy of Social Security cards
  • Cell phone charger
  • Reunification location
  • Household pet information
  • Emergency contact information
  • Bottled water
  • An extra change of clothes and shoes
  • Child’s favorite toy(s)
  • Snacks
  • Spare cane, eyeglasses and hearing aid batteries
  • Spare car keys
  • Cash

Be sure to place paper documents in a plastic or waterproof bag. Copies of any banking information, Social Security information, identification cards, etc. could also be given to your trusted support system.

Next, if you have to shelter in place and choose to stay in your home instead of evacuating, you must plan on having enough rations for three days for each family member in your home.

Items to place in your “shelter in-place box” could include:

  • First aid kit
  • Non-perishable food and bottled water
  • Medications
  • Blankets and pillows
  • Extra clothes
  • Copy of important documents in a waterproof bag
  • Flashlight
  • Hygiene supplies
  • Work gloves
  • Tools (for example, hammer, screwdriver and small saw)
  • Battery-operated radio
  • Household pet information
  • Emergency contact information

Include a copy of your family’s emergency plan and care notebook in your shelter in-place box, as well as your go bag.

Finally, there are several helpful resources you can use to help you create an emergency plan.

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Texas Department of State Health Services Emergency Preparedness

Navigate Life Texas

Emergency preparedness video:

Care notebook:

American Red Cross

The Emergency Email and Wireless Network

A Learning Opportunity for Children and Their Families

By Lauren Cox, Program Manager, Blind Children’s Program, Health and Human Services Commission

Abstract:  The Blind Children’s Program provides quality services for families and their children and opportunities to network. This article describes a statewide conference they sponsored in Bastrop, TX in August 2018.

Keywords:  Blind Children's Program, BCP, conference, family, networking

The Texas Health and Human Services’ Blind Children’s Vocational Discovery and Development Program held a statewide family conference, themed “Your Vision, Your Path” to help families and children plan and prepare a path for their future. More than 150 children ages 10-14 with blindness or low vision and their families from around the state attended the event in Bastrop, TX.

The first afternoon started with an ice-breaker to get to know each other.  The following day featured workshops and learning sessions on accessibility, equal access in college settings, orientation and mobility, and The Game of Life to prepare children about decisions they might have to make and situations they will have to prepare for as adults.

The conference concluded with a day of exploration. Families visited with vendors and resources related to therapy, recreation, camps and assistive technology. Children in  the BCP enjoyed skill building activities and learned money and home management techniques, literacy, career preparation and job skills. Children experienced various recreational and explorative activities such as a rock wall, nature sounds activities, sensory activities, beep baseball, and Topsoccer.

If you are interested in learning more about BCP or need help accessing services, please contact us at 512-438-2404.



Caption: BCP Specialist Lou Thomas and conference attendee Nash Chessborough enjoy the aloha dance.

Image of a child and hulu dancer at the BCP Conference event.

By Chris Tabb, Statewide Orientation and Mobility Specialist, TSBVI Outreach Program

Abstract: Chris Tabb provides an update on recent apps that provide access for users with visual
impairment and blindness. 

Keywords: Artificial Intelligence, AI, App, Microsoft, Independent Living Skill, ILS, Assistive Technology, AT, Accessibility, VoiceOver, iOS


A group of apps are now available that use “Artificial Intelligence”, or AI, to provide information for users who are blind or have vision loss. These apps do not replace basic skills and strategies, though they can help make life a bit easier and more efficient.

One popular app is Seeing AI, from Microsoft Their website describes the app as a “free app that narrates the world around you. Designed for the low vision community, this research project harnesses the power of AI to describe people, text and objects”. At the present time, this app is only available on the iOS platform. For more information on the product and its development, go to

Another free and very useful app is Envision AI, described as “a tool that uses artificial intelligence to make visual information accessible to visually impaired. With Envision AI, “visually impaired users can shop in supermarkets, use public transport, read menu cards in restaurants, recognisze their friends, find their belongings and so much more, all on their own.” ( Envision AI is available on the iOS platform as well as for Android devices.

Finally, TapTapSee ( supports both platforms and is free as well. Here is a description from their website: “TapTapSee is a mobile camera application designed specifically for blind and visually impaired users, powered by the CloudSight Image Recognition API. TapTapSee utilizes your device’s camera and VoiceOver functions to take a picture or video of anything and identify it out loud for you.”

In addition to apps that use AI, there are other apps that use people to help describe what the camera of the smartphone or smart device sees; these apps are considered “Crowd Sourced”. Be My Eyes ( is one such app and is available for both Android and iOS devices. The website for Be My Eyes describes it as a free app that connects people who are blind or have low vision with sighted volunteers and company representatives through a live video call. BeSpecular ( is a similar app, though instead of a video connection, the user sends a photo with questions about specific information that is needed. BeSpecular is free and available for both device platforms.

So whether you are looking for a way to identify print and have it read aloud, trying to match clothing, or want assistance in finding the expiration date on a product, there are apps that can help. All of the apps mentioned here are free, which makes them perfect for trying to see if they match your needs.

Until next time…

By Scott Baltisberger and Sara Kitchen, VI Education Specialists, TSBVI Outreach Program

Abstract: Ongoing efforts by TSBVI, Perkins School for the Blind and the Penrickton Center to connect with other advanced practitioners or trainers in Active Learning have resulted in connecting a group of professionals from around the globe. Texas has also been continuing to support Active Learning with support from online learning, regional education service centers (ESCs), and TSBVI’s Outreach Program.  

Keywords: Active Learning, international, assessment, Education Service Center, ESC, TSBVI, Penrickton Center, Perkins School for the Blind, Low Incidence Disability, LID, Functional Scheme Assessment, resonance board, Lilli Nielsen, online learning, Continuing Education Unit, CEU

Notes from the International Active Learning Forum

Finding a way to address the educational needs of students functioning at early developmental levels has long been a challenge. Many of us within the VI education community are familiar with the Active Learning approach, originally developed by the late Danish preschool teacher and developmental psychologist, Lilli Nielsen, in the 1970’s, which has had promising results when staff have received proper training.

However, popularizing the approach has been a challenge. Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that these students make up a very small part of the student population: they are referred to as having “low incidence disabilities.” Another part is that the professional community serving them is widely dispersed. They have few opportunities to engage with a community of teachers and therapists whose students have similar needs and connect with experienced staff who are available to model and mentor those new to the field.  This creates challenges in conducting research and developing effective techniques for teacher training modules.

To address this issue, an international group has begun to hold regular meetings with the goals of sharing information and coordinating actions. Among the members of this group are representatives from Australia, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and the USA. Of course one challenge in holding meetings of such scope is finding a time that works for everyone. For example, at our most recent meeting, on September 10, participants in Europe attended at the reasonable hour of 4:00 PM while those in the USA had to be there at 7:30 in the morning and those in Australia at 10 PM!  

Here are a few of the discussion items/actions that were suggested and/or undertaken at the meeting:

Updating and modifying the Functional Scheme Assessment. Ms. Nielsen envisioned the assessment instrument of active learning as a living document that would, of necessity, be updated and modified over time as new information and ideas became available. With nineteen fields and eleven levels of function, this presents quite a daunting undertaking. We discussed the possibility of dividing the task among various participants, with each one taking a field. The group from TSBVI offered to look into updating the communication section, perhaps incorporating information from Dr. Charity Rowland’s Communication Matrix which examines the earliest types of communication in youngsters.

The group from Denmark shared that they are in the process of creating an “app” that would incorporate the Functional Scheme Assessment and the FIELA Curriculum, as well as some form of lesson planning and data collection. They have a mock-up available but have encountered difficulties with funding. One solution they offered was to develop the app in English as this would have wider world-wide interest and application than a version in Danish.

We also discussed the current state of research into the efficacy of active learning. Having hard data might greatly raise the profile and respectability of the approach. In Texas this past year, Holly Cooper of TSBVI Outreach undertook one such research project, the results of which were submitted to JVIB for possible publication. Unfortunately, the article was not accepted, due in part to design difficulties resulting from the low incidence population and transitory nature of classrooms in public schools. That is, students move away, teacher assignments change, and staff are not trained in a uniform manner. There are too many variables and inconsistencies. One solution suggested was to involve centers such as Narbethong in Australia, Visio in Denmark, and Penrickton in the USA because they have student and teacher populations that are more stable and long-term. Another key is the engagement of university personnel to develop and design the research study. We are excited that two persons affiliated with Stephen F. Austin University (SFASU) in Nacogdoches, TX- Dr. Shannon Darst, professor, and Cheryl Schulik, doctoral student have offered their time and expertise in this area.

The next meeting of the international active learning forum will be on November 8th, and we are all excited to see what additional developments may occur.

Texas Active Learning News:

In more local news, TSBVI Outreach continues to develop online courses which offer a guided way of approaching the information contained on the Active Learning Space (, a collaboration between the Perkins School for the Blind, TSBVI, and the Penrickton Center. The course offers CEU’s and possibly micro-credentialing in this area of study. More information and a link to sign up can be found at and in the News and Views section of this newsletter.

Ongoing multi-layered training and support is being offered for those schools and districts wishing to develop their own capacity in using Active Learning to serve their students. Layers include the online Active Learning courses as they are developed, participating Regional Education Service Centers, and TSBVI Outreach. Areas known to be currently using these resources include Regions 7, 11, 13, 14, and 20.

Region 10 Education Service Center is hosting the annual Active Learning Conference on June 10-11, 2019, in the Dallas area. Details will be coming soon.

A Texas-based supplier, Donkey Kraft, is now producing high-quality "vibration boards" based on the specifications provided by Lilli Nielsen for her resonance boards. Both full-size and folding versions (great for storage and transport) of the boards are available. Contact for pricing and ordering. Also consider borrowing a vibration board or a resonance board for up to three months to determine if it would benefit your student for long term use. They may be available through your Education Service Center and/or through the TSBVI Technology Loan Program.

Contact Sara Kitchen at  to find out about them and other Active Learning equipment that is available through TSBVI’s Tech Loan program. To make a TSBVI Tech Loan request, please go to, download the application, fill it out, and return it as directed along with the requested assessment information.

Student smiles as he plays with a metal ball on a tray.

Caption: Photograph of smiling student looking at a silver ball rolling in a shallow bowl.  Both his arms extended and his hands are pressing the bowl on both sides of the ball.

A Student Day of Activities Focusing on Visual Access and Independence

By Cindy Bachofer, Ph.D., CLVT,  TSBVI Low Vision Consultant

Abstract: “Low Vision on the Road” is a program offered through the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and coordinated by Cindy Bachofer. In this article, Dr. Bachofer explains the rationale for the program and its benefits to students. This example illustrates a sample of activities that might be provided during the program.

Keywords: Low vision, optical device, low vision device, accessibility, self-advocacy, community based instruction, CBI, monocular, telescope, magnifier.

“I can’t stop spinning I’m so excited!” Lyra and three peers who also have low vision in elementary grades were gathering for a full day of activities that had been planned by their TVI/COMS staff and TSBVI Outreach staff members. A primary goal of the day was to create excitement for children to see things on their own—and to feel good about using tools and strategies that are different from their peers. Program models are available for both elementary and secondary age groups, and activities are customized to student interests and sites to explore in the community.

The “Low Vision on the Road” program discussed in this article took place in the fall of 2016 at the Region 9 Service Center in Wichita Falls and was led by members from TSBVI Outreach, Cindy Bachofer, Low Vision Consultant, and Lynne McAlister, Education Specialist. Planning meetings took place earlier in the semester as staff selected activities for the elementary students’ day that focused on using vision (with and without optical devices) to see interesting things all around them. Students with low vision frequently are not aware of the important visual information that their peers are noticing in the classroom and beyond, such as on the playground, at the hardware store, in the science museum, etc. Adult support and instruction are essential for them to first build their visual curiosity and then to develop visual strategies and skills with tools to see more throughout their day. Each activity in the schedule emphasizes exploration and self-awareness of one’s visual abilities.

Even at a young age, students are used to hearing comments about their eyes and their vision being different. They are likely to hear questions such as “why do your eyes shake like that?” or “why do you hold things so close to your eye?” We started the day with a group activity to learn about eye anatomy and to practice the language needed to respond to such questions. The group worked together to build a life-sized eyeball with objects commonly found around the house. Each student became a “part” of the eyeball by holding up a representative object and giving a brief definition. For example, a large clear plastic salad serving bowl represented the cornea and the student read from the label card, “I’m the cornea and like a windshield, I protect the eye and stop things from getting in it.” Another student further down the line held up a plush bath mat and said, “I’m the retina or the back wall of the eye where cells take the light signal and send it to the brain” . This had students up on their feet while learning and set an interactive tone for the day.

The students were eager to show what optical devices (magnifiers, monoculars and telescopes) they currently used and to compare these with different styles in the same power or updated models. We did a few quick spotting activities such as reading small print on a food package or identifying the picture at the end of the hallway to make sure everyone was ready to take it outside!  Our first stop was the River Bend Nature Center in Wichita Falls where everyone was able to examine (either at near or distance) critters that crawled or flew, and a few that walked. We used scavenger hunt questions to guide students as they moved from one nature center area to the next. Sometimes it seemed that the nature center residents (e.g., insects, amphibians) wanted to be examined as they “posed” against the aquarium glass, giving time for a student with a magnifier to check out scales on a snake’s skin or spots on an arachnid’s shell.

 Five young students stand against a railing on a deck outside. They are all holding monoculars to their eyes.

Caption: Students using monoculars to spot landmarks in the distance that they had visited that morning at the River Bend Nature Center

Using a monocular or telescope to find butterflies with bright markings poised on bushes in the conservatory was an especially motivating spotting game. As we moved outside to the wider space of the grounds, students used the monocular to search for birds and animals, both in and out of enclosures, and to identify landmarks shown on the map in the distance. A picnic lunch on the breezy pavilion had everyone recharged for the next scavenger hunt activity--more exploring with their eyes and tools.

Following lunch, we traveled to a popular grocery store and students were able to find out how many decisions their parents must make when they are shopping. Grocery stores are a visually rich place, and with their devices, every aisle held exciting things for students to explore. Using a monocular, the overhead aisle directories let students know if this aisle had cereal or soap. Rather than walk all around the produce section in search of bananas, for example, this group of young shoppers figured out that the monocular let them “scope the scene” and know which direction to go. Next it was down to details and examining the print on food packages--so much information! We read the store ad for the not-to-miss sales, we compared the nutritional information on brands of favorite snacks to find the lowest fat grams and sugar, and we checked price against weight and number of servings for the best deal. We read labels on baked goods and cakes through the pastry case glass (a motivating mid-range viewing task with the monocular) and checked out smelly fish (a safe distance with monocular viewing) in the fish market. The places visited today had so much to see—and these devices let everyone see more!

We returned to the Education Service Center with just enough time for students to share a favorite highlight of the day and set a new goal:

1. what was the most interesting thing they had seen that day?  

2. What was something they wanted to see with their device at school or at home?

The day had been all about “I want to see it” and “I know how to use my eyes and my tools to see it”. Along the way, we also had a lot of fun.

Contact Cindy Bachofer,  or 512-206-9434, at TSBVI Outreach Programs to request a Low Vision on the Road for your region!

Caption: Students using monoculars to spot landmarks in the distance that they had visited that morning at the River Bend Nature Center