Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center Prepares Young Adults with Lifelong Skills to Navigate Life with Blindness

Authors: Jamie Sibson, Manager of Training Services, Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center

Keywords: Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center, Texas Workforce Commission, VR counselor, transition, independent living, vocational training, Post-Secondary Program, College Prep Program, adjustment to blindness, employment

Abstract: This article introduces readers to the Texas Workforce Commission’s Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center and the services that are available to young adults.

Located in Austin, Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center (CCRC) is a residential facility that provides intensive, comprehensive vocational and independent living training for adults aged 18 to 24 who are blind, a majority of whom are newly blinded. CCRC was named in honor of Judge Criss Cole who grew up as one of ten children of sharecroppers in Oklahoma without much formal education. He lost his sight while serving as a Marine during World War II and was awarded the Purple Heart. He moved to Texas after the war, completed high school work, and took pre-law courses at the University of Saint Thomas. He received his law degree in 1954 from the University of Houston Law School and served as a member of the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate from 1955 to 1970 where he was instrumental in improving services for all people with disabilities. In 1972 he was appointed to preside over the 315th District Court handling juvenile justice cases in Harris County.

A black and white photo of Criss Cole

Photo of Judge Criss Cole for whom the Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center (CCRC) is named

CCRC was built, staffed, and opened in two stages during the 1970-1972 and 1973-1974 legislative bienniums as the first residential rehabilitation program owned by the Texas State Commission for the Blind. The Center was developed to assist individuals who lose their vision to gain adjustment to blindness and alternative skills needed to be successful in employment.

A tree-shaded walkway to the entrance of the Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center passes near a commemorative bronze statue of two people with a seeing-eye dog.

Entrance to Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center in Austin, TX

Students are referred to CCRC by a Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Counselor. Over a three-to-six-month period, they receive training in Orientation and Mobility, braille, communication skills, home and personal management, technology, and career guidance. Other services include social, psychological, and vocational evaluations.

CCRC offers several programs in which transition students may participate. These programs include the Post-Secondary Program (PSP) and the annual summer College Prep Program.

Post-Secondary Program (PSP)

PSP students live independently in an apartment during the program, giving them an opportunity to gain skills needed to be successful in all aspects of independent living. Beyond participating in the Center’s comprehensive training, these students work in partnership with PSP instructors to develop weekly goals which include independent living goals, educational goals, and career goals. Students may take a college course through Austin Community College (ACC) and are provided with the opportunity to gain employment. Collectively, the opportunities that students can take advantage of through the PSP program help them develop knowledge and skills needed to be successful in independent living and in the financial responsibility regarding living on their own.

The Post-Secondary Program (PSP) is administered in partnership between CCRC and Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) where students are housed on the TSBVI campus in the PSP apartments. Students interested in PSP must receive recommendations from their CCRC counselor.

College Prep Program

The College Prep Program occurs once a year for two weeks during the summer, typically in June at Texas State University in San Marcos. Students reside on campus in one of the campus dorms for the duration of the training. The purpose of the College Prep program is for students to learn valuable college readiness tips and strategies, learn about financial aid, the tuition waiver system, accommodations, services and how to obtain them, as well as the college application and enrollment process. Students can choose to participate in rigorous classes, practice organization and time management skills, budgeting skills, simple meal preparation skills, note-taking and study strategies, as well as get some hands-on experience with technology software and devices. Students explore Orientation and Mobility as they navigate a college campus and surrounding areas and participate in recreational activities.

During the College Prep Program, students can choose to attend a college level Introduction to Communications class at Texas State, as well as participate in a group research project and presentation. Each student has the chance to tour and use the campus library, participate in a presentation on math and science accommodations, and a Healthy Choices class, a low vision blindness seminar, and the opportunity to tour the Office of Disability Services and Financial Aid, and meet with an academic student advisory panel.

Recreation activities during College Prep include a ropes course and trips to the campus recreation center, the river, the movies, and a local mall. Students also spend a day at a nearby water park and have a celebration at the end of the program. Participating in this two-week College Prep Program gives students a holistic view of what to expect as they begin their college journey.

The College Prep Program is designed to serve high school juniors through age 22. To be eligible for this program, students must be blind or visually impaired and be served by the TWC vocational rehabilitation program. All students participating in this program must be independent in their medical needs. The College Prep Program serves approximately 24 students each summer.

For anyone interested in gaining admissions to CCRC’s general program or to any of the programs provided through CCRC, please contact the Admissions Coordinator at 512-377-0349.

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