A Celebration of Phil’s Life (Service- February 6, 2016)

Authors: Rona Pogrund, Ph.D., Professor, Texas Tech University

Keywords: Phil Hatlen, AVIT, Expanded Core Curriculum, "the opportunity to be equal and the right to be different"

Abstract: Dr. Pogrund read this tribute to Phil Hatlen at his memorial service. She tells of her long-time friendship, professional collaboration, and deep admiration she has of him.

A Celebration of Phil’s Life (Service- February 6, 2016)

I wanted to start off today with words used to describe Phil Hatlen by those who knew him: gentle, kind, calm, dedicated, inspirational, compassionate, gifted, visionary, focused, brilliant, in tune with parents and students, sense of humor, honest, passionate, mentor, true friend, had a big heart, advocate, hero, teacher, articulate, encouraging, available, peaceful spirit, leader, humble, and one of a kind. A lot of people loved and admired Phil.

Phil was my mentor, my colleague, my “big brother,” my fellow “warrior,” and most importantly, my dear friend for over 35 years since I first met him in 1980 at a professional visual impairment conference in California. I remember vividly seeing him across the room, and being fairly new in the visual impairment field, wanting nothing more than to meet the esteemed and famous Phil Hatlen who was revered by so many in our field. From that moment on, after hearing his kind voice and seeing that warm smile and twinkle in his eye, I knew we were of a kindred spirit. We worked tirelessly together in California advocating for the rights of people who were blind or visually impaired. We started the Joint Action Committee, the first coalition of blindness organizations joining together to advance causes that improved lives of those with visual impairment. We walked the halls of the Capitol in Sacramento and in Washington D.C. trying to make a difference. And, as our friendship grew, we spent many late nights in California dreaming and scheming of how to make things better. Even though we lived at different ends of the state, we always stayed connected, sharing both work-related successes and personal and family life-cycle events. Through Phil, I got to know Toni and then Lucas, as our families shared good memories of the times we spent together in those early years. Phil was always watching out for me, so when I met my husband-to-be, Rich, Phil took him aside and wanted to make sure he would take good care of me. He was my protector in many ways. That was the way Phil cared for his friends.

The irony that Phil moved to Austin in 1990, a year before we moved here, was more than a dream come true, and when I started working for Texas Tech University (Phil also played a role in me getting that faculty position and being able to stay in Austin by offering my dean free office space for me at TSBVI), even more wonderful was the fact that for several years up until the time Phil retired as Superintendent of TSBVI, my office was right down the hall from Phil. I could have never asked for more than to be able to see my wonderful friend and colleague on a regular basis. We continued being fellow warriors fighting for the rights of persons with visual impairments in Texas and helped with the formation of the Texas coalition, the Alliance of and for Visually Impaired Texans (AVIT). And our longtime friendship continued to grow.

Phil taught me many lessons through who he was and what he believed. His deep convictions for what he believed was right for children have led me to always want to do what is in the best interest of the students we serve rather than what is politically correct or most popular or most expedient at the time. Many times our convictions were not received well by others, but that never stopped us from moving ahead with persistence. But Phil also taught me to listen to what others had to contribute (even when we thought we were right!). He was really great at doing that if a good case was made, but on some things, Phil would not compromise, and that is what made him such a great leader and made him so effective in making changes and moving things forward in our field. Phil spoke often of his “fundamental truths” and his “personal convictions,” and he taught me to fight hard for what you believe are your fundamental truths, but to be open to listening to others about those things that are your personal convictions. That is how Phil tried to live his life, particularly in more recent years as he grew older.

The significant impact that Phil had on the lives of those who are blind or visually impaired is immeasurable. His basic belief in the dignity and worth of every child was how he treated everyone he encountered. His words that people who are blind need the “opportunity to be equal and the right to be different” were what he always stood by. Phil often said how lucky he was that he loved going to work every day in all of his different jobs, as his passion for the many phases of his career showed. His many awards are a testament to his contributions to our field. There are so many things he made happen that people often take for granted or forget that it was Phil’s drive and effort that made the difference—from the Hatlen Center for the Blind transition program, his work for the Blind Babies Foundation, personnel preparation funds for the two Texas visual impairment University programs that continue to train teachers today, the Expanded Core Curriculum that guides services to children with visual impairments across the nation and world, to the bond funds for the reconstruction of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. The list goes on and on—Phil’s contributions to the profession and field he loved are endless! So many of his colleagues and former students have shared the profound impact Phil has had on their lives, so the ripples of who Phil was will continue long after he is gone. I miss my dear friend and his warm hugs and am having trouble imagining life without him. May his memory continue to be a blessing to his family, whom he loved deeply, and to all who knew him and all who were touched by Phil’s time in this world.

Fundamental Truths in the Education of Blind and Visually Impaired Students

Excerpts from a Keynote speech by Phil Hatlen, AER Conference 2000

Fundamental Truths

  • All blind and visually impaired students have the capability for inclusion into society, at a time and to a degree that is appropriate for each individual, and is chosen by that individual.
  • Assessment, educational planning, and placement decisions must be driven by the individual needs of each student.
  • Every blind and visually impaired student must have the services of a qualified teacher of students with visual impairments and an orientation and mobility instructor for sufficient time to meet identified needs.
  • Parents and educators form a special, vital, and necessary partnership.
  • All blind and visually impaired persons must have the opportunity to be equal, and the right to be different.

Personal Convictions

  • I believe that schools for the blind are essential in order to meet the individual needs of all students.
  • I believe that low vision students have needs that are just as intensive as blind students.
  • I believe that no teacher of students with visual impairments, and no orientation and mobility instructor can meet the needs of students if she/he has a caseload of over eight students.
  • I believe that we are a profession, with history, research, literature, methodologies, skills, and knowledge to justify the title of “profession”.
  • I believe that the expanded core curriculum is just as important for blind and visually impaired students as is academic curriculum.
  • I believe that it is possible for every human being to have a joyful, satisfying, and productive life.
  • I believe the zealot inclusionists are wrong.
  • I believe that the school for the blind should be the center of services for all blind and visually impaired students in a state.
  • I believe that heroic, high-risk efforts must be made to solve the 50-year-old teacher shortage crisis.
  • I believe that every child has a right to literacy.
  • I believe that blindness and visual impairment cause significant differences in the manner and style by which students learn. It is more than an inconvenience.
  • I believe that children with severe multiple disabilities are precious children, deserving of the very best that education has to offer.
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