TSU holds event to help visually impaired students

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 22, 2001

Staff Writer

High school students with visual impairments have spent the weekend creating a "road map" for the future.

The first Transition Weekend for visually impaired students has been held this weekend on the Troy State University campus. The seminar is a collaborative effort among the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, Troy State University, Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Alabama Department of Education.

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A dozen teens and their families have participated in the event designed to assist Alabama students who are blind or visually impaired in making the transition from high school to college, said Don Sims, co-chairman of the Transition Weekend task force and a rehabilitation specialist with Rehabilitation Services.

He said the weekend event has offered students and parents a "road map" for the move to college.

The theme for the weekend has been "Vision for the Future."

"We want the students and their families to know there are resources to help them face the challenges of life after high school," Sims said.

Participants have received information on programs, technology, resources and services geared specifically for young people with visual impairments who are entering college. Each family has been given an extensive resource manual with information on a range of topics, including guide dog schools, legal assistance, Braille greeting cards and gifts for the blind.

The adaptive technology presentation will be especially helpful, Sims said. During that Saturday afternoon session, students were able to try out low- and high-tech devices designed for the visually impaired.

"Technology is second only to transportation in terms of what people, who are blind, need to work," Sims said.

That portion of the weekend, he said, was tailors to meet the individuals’ needs.

Students have also had the opportunity to meet professionals with visual impairments, who shared insights on seeking employment, approaching employers, barriers to employment, transportation and mobility.

"Many of our blind youngsters don’t have role models," Sims said. "It’s important for them to know there are blind people out there working in a variety of jobs. And, it’s important to give them access to the knowledge and experience these professionals have."

With the assistance of a facilitators, students and parents will separately complete a "functional assessment checklist," which will evaluate each student’s abilities in a variety of areas, including social/emotional skills, health skills, school or work-related grooming skills and independent living skills. Student and family will, then, compare responses and the facilitator will lead a family discussion. The result, Sims said, will be an honest appraisal of the student’s skills.

Sims said he believes Transition Weekend will create a strong sense of community among the participants.

"Most people who are blind feel isolated, like they have no one to turn to," Sims said. "It’s valuable to know that there are people there. We want them to walk away knowing they’re not alone."