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Winter 2010 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

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

Abstract: This article helps parents understand the power of high expectations for their child who is blind or visually impaired, and the important role that high expectations play in preparing their child to live and work independently as an adult

Key Words: blind, visually impaired, DARS-Division for Blind Services, DBS, high expectations, self-determination, job candidate, job applicant, employer, business

DARS-Division for Blind Services (DBS) provides services that help our youngest consumers achieve positive self-determination, because we know that a strong sense of self-determination leads to personal independence as an adult. Self-determination in a child is an ongoing process because her world changes as she grows. At first, a child’s daily experiences revolve around herself. Then she starts exploring the world around her. And, finally, she sees her world in terms of her relationships with different people, events, and things.

Have you ever heard that old question that asks which came first, the chicken or the egg? Well, when we look at children, we have to ask if their world shapes their self-determination or if their self-determination shapes their world. Ultimately, we have to realize that the answer to both our questions is “yes.”

If a child who is blind or visually impaired is excused from participating in the events around him, he will see the world as a series of events that excludes him and he will probably grow up feeling the world determines who and what he can become. But, if the same child acquires strong adaptive skills and a curiosity about his world that drives him to participate in new experiences, he quickly learns that his eye condition doesn’t have to limit what he experiences and it doesn’t have to control the experiences in which he can participate. In other words, he learns that he is in charge of his own self-determination and he acknowledges that the only things that can limit his future are the boundaries of his own imagination.

Is there a key element that promotes the development of strong adaptive skills and leads to a positive sense of self-determination? Yes, and that key element is high expectations. But where do high expectations come from?

Because parents are the center of a child’s world, high expectations must start in the home. Family activities should support the child’s participation. Assign household chores and positively reinforce the child for completing those chores. Stress the importance of school and academic pursuits. Promote opportunities for your child to explore real-life experiences through sports, hobbies, and other areas in which they show interest.

As your child grows, talk to her about her interests and help her learn more about different choices. Encourage her to participate in school, community, and volunteer activities. Promote opportunities to explore different occupational choices by talking to people in various work environments.

Help your child learn to make independent decisions -- the good decisions will promote self-confidence and even the not-so-wonderful decisions will often provide important lessons about adversity and resilience.

The services available through the DBS Blind Children’s Program are designed to build a foundation of high expectations and a strong sense of self-determination in each child we serve. Transition services for older children and teenagers will build on these values and concepts. Group skills training and opportunities to participate in learning activities with peers strengthen the young person’s internal sense of high expectations and expand his or her view of the world. These experiences stress the value of self-exploration (what do I want to be when I grow up?) and the self-confidence to make good personal decisions (what skills and educational requirements do I need to be well prepared for the future I want?).

In summary, continuous reinforcement of high expectations throughout a child’s growing years supports development of a strong and very individualized sense of self-determination. Young adults who understand the importance (and rewards!) of work are in a position to seek out the employment option that is best suited to them. Equally important, an employer who is looking for a well-qualified job candidate will easily see the strengths a skilled, motivated job applicant will bring to the business goals the employer needs to achieve.

At DBS, the summer of 2010 will offer a number of exciting learning experiences for our younger consumers. In Lubbock, the annual Project SWEEP (Summer Work Experience and Empowerment Program) will serve 20-2 youth from the Great Plains region, and in Austin the SWEAT (Summer Work Experience in Austin Texas) Program serves youth in the Austin area. During these five-week vocational programs, participants reside in the dorms at Texas Tech University or at TSBVI and gain practical work experience in a paying job in the community. The first week of both programs is devoted to developing job readiness skills, such as completing applications, interviewing skills, appropriate attire, and career exploration. During the last four weeks, participants work at paying jobs in the community. Residential staff is available in the afternoons and overnight, and many independent living skills activities are offered in the evenings.

Other areas in Texas also have summer work experience or career exploration programs, both residential and non-residential. For example:

  • Camp Dream in Dallas, an overnight summer camp that provides career exploration, portfolio and resume development, mentor-ship and job shadowing opportunities, and training in independent living skills.
  • El Paso Summer Youth Employment Program, a joint project with DRS, Upper Rio Grande Work Force Solutions and Volar Independent Living Center, provides job readiness training, paid work experience, and job coaches as needed.
  • Bay Area Opportunity Center Summer Work in conjunction with DBS provides training in completing applications, developing a resume, interviewing skills, and work experience in a chosen field of interest.
  • Austin Application Required, a joint project between DBS Transition and Region 1 ESC, provides job readiness training as well as paid work experience.

These are just a few of the work experience and career exploration programs available this summer. DBS also offers a variety of camp experiences where students can develop confidence and independent living skills. Contact your DBS Transition Counselor or Children’s Specialist for more information about summer opportunities available in your region.

These activities will promote all the critical factors discussed in this article and help our consumers acquire new skills and new information that will increase their knowledge of how their world works and how they can achieve their own personal success now and in the future!