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Improved transition outcomes for students with visual impairments through interagency collaboration.

In the course of a busy day, it is not uncommon to think, "If only 'someone else' would do this, and this, and that, then it would be easier to accomplish what I need to do today." Looking to "someone else" leads to no one getting anything done. Every teacher of students with visual impairments (that is, those who are blind or have low vision) and every service provider who works with these students--whether as an orientation and mobility (O&M) practitioner, certified vision rehabilitation therapist, general educator, or even parent--has obstacles and uncontrollable variables to overcome. Often, it takes creative solutions to overcome these roadblocks or to work around them.

Who is that "someone else" in the field of visual impairment? To teachers of students with visual impairments in school districts and residential schools, "someone else" may be adult service agencies or community rehabilitation providers. To adult service agencies, it may be school districts. To community rehabilitation providers, it may be both the school districts and adult service agencies.

It is common for attendees at professional gatherings to make similar comments, but from different perspectives: If only the schools would do such and such, then we could do more; if only adult service agencies would do such and such, then the schools could do more. Community rehabilitation providers may comment that graduating students who are entering adult service agencies cannot read, cannot write, and cannot live independently. Schools have much to do to prepare children with visual impairments for adulthood: academics, functional life skills, expanded core curriculum, and the list continues. School personnel may wonder if those who provide services to adults with visual impairments have an understanding of the realities faced by teachers in schools today.

The field of visual impairment is privileged that specialized support services exist for people with visual impairments. The various professionals who provide these services receive specific training that address the continuum of life-span needs of visually impaired students from prekindergarten to school age to the transition to adult services. When all such professionals work together, the result can be a positive force for change in services for students and clients, regardless of who spends the most time with them, who is "responsible" for what, or who has more resources.

NEEDS

Many years ago, the reality of poorly prepared high school graduates entering community rehabilitation training programs in our community (Hillsborough County, Florida) was openly discussed by all providers responsible for the success of these students--teachers of students with visual impairments, adult service agency staff members, and community rehabilitation providers. The three groups acknowledged that high school graduates with visual impairments were leaving school with appropriate completion of required coursework, but without many of the skill levels they needed to propel them into postsecondary training to enter the workforce, attend vocational school, enroll in college, or live independently. So we came together to make a plan.

All the staff members from the state agency, community rehabilitation provider, and school district convened a meeting with a trained PATH (Planning Alternative Futures with Hope) facilitator. This process helped us establish interagency goals. We identified existing opportunities within the organization of each agency that would allow all parties to be included and better collaborate in the transition of students, such as at combined training sessions and by participation in staff meetings and Individualized Education Program meetings. Now, organizations that used to work in isolation call on each other regularly for assistance in achieving common goals for students and clients.

RESULTS

Intended and unintended consequences followed our collaboration efforts, which included a summer transition program. Some of our intentions were to create seamless services, better prepare high school graduates for the transition from high school to work or higher learning, and foster better communication between agencies.

All of our intentions were realized in various ways. Several students with visual impairments in the Hillsborough district who, at one point, were headed down the road to failure came to recognize that earning money and their potential to earn money was linked to their own academic successes, and they refocused on their academic skills at school. Those who participated in the summer transition program gained increased self-confidence, technology skills, and O&M skills, which propelled more students than ever to attend college after high school graduation. In addition, those students who chose to work after graduation were better prepared when they made the transition to community rehabilitation providers for job placement.

One of the goals of our collaboration and the resulting transition program was and continues to be to include families and encourage their participation with their students who are visually impaired. Happily, relationships and communication greatly improved between families and all agencies as a result. The transition program includes several opportunities throughout the year for families to come together to recognize and celebrate their students. These gatherings allow families to share stories and resources with each other and provide an informal parent-support network.

Because all three agencies were working together, more opportunities arose for transition students to give back to their communities. Students who volunteered at early intervention events (also a result of the collaboration) played with the young visually impaired participants and their siblings and also had heart-to-heart conversations with the parents of these children. After a summer of work experiences, transition students returned to school and contributed to typical teenage conversations about working in hot, busy restaurant kitchens; chasing energetic toddlers in childcare centers; or bagging groceries at a local supermarket. Some of the transition students have indicated that their friends do not do anything over the summer, and they cannot believe it.

SUGGESTIONS

By finding a way for state adult service agencies, local school districts, and community rehabilitation providers to all work together (with parents, as well), positive outcomes for students and their families will result. We have a few suggestions for fostering collaboration to improve transitions for students with visual impairments.

Start small

Holding an initial meeting at which all stakeholders can learn about each other is a great way to start. Networking at the beginning of the school year during teacher planning days and on other occasions throughout the school year is a method to discuss what is working and what can be improved upon. Community rehabilitation provider offices can be used as venues for teacher training days that can easily accommodate community rehabilitation staff members and state adult service agency counselors and staff members.

Share resources

Each agency should not have to reinvent the wheel. Working together, instead of in isolation, will provide better services in the long-run and prevent duplication. The National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities (Huebner, Merk-Adams, Stryker, & Wolffe, 2004) provides a strong framework for collaboration. We encourage you to make The National Agenda your local community agenda. Collaborate with each other and share valuable resources; for example, adult agencies can offer a valuable resource that some school districts may have trouble locating: positive role models. Introducing positive adult role models into the lives of students and their families is a powerful teaching tool.

Talk to each other and listen to each other

It is likely that one agency is not entirely clear on the duties and responsibilities of the other. For instance, staff members at adult service agencies and community rehabilitation providers may not be familiar with the intensive functional vision and learning media assessments that teachers of students with visual impairments conduct. Teachers may not know of all the valuable services that are available through adult service agencies and community rehabilitation providers, and they may not be aware of how the referral and lengthy intake process for such services works.

When we took our first steps on the journey to improve outcomes for students and clients with visual impairments, we had no idea that the process would endear us to each other both professionally and personally as we shared struggles and triumphs. Those of us who work in Hillsborough are completely convinced that there is nothing that we cannot face together to bring about positive change for our students with visual impairments.

REFERENCE

Huebner, K. M., Merk-Adams, B., Stryker, D., & Wolffe, K. E. (2004). The national agenda for the education of children and youths with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities--Revised. New York: AFB Press.

Laura Brown, M.Ed., coordinator, Visually Impaired and Deaf-Blind Programs, Hillsborough County Public Schools, 4210 West Bay Villa Avenue, Tampa, FL 33611; e-mail: <LauraC. Brown@sdhc.k12.fl.us>. Sheryl Brown, M.S., executive director, Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind, Florida, and satellite program coordinator, Program in Visual Disabilities, Florida State University; mailing address: 1106 West Platt Street, Tampa, FL, 33606; e-mail: <Sheryl.Brown@ tampalighthouse.org>. Sue Glaser, M.S., transition coordinator, Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind, 1106 West Platt Street, Tampa, FL 33606; e-mail: <transition@tampalighthouse.org>.
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Title Annotation:Comments
Author:Brown, Laura; Brown, Sheryl; Glaser, Sue
Publication:Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness
Article Type:Report
Date:Nov 1, 2013
Words:1477
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