CVI for the TVI Bios

The project began after a few of us had participated in the Lighthouse CVI call for parents.  We wanted to offer something comparable for TVI's (and other professionals). Our goal was to create a site where TVI's could learn about CVI, ask questions, and support each other in a judgement free zone. We wanted to keep it free, practical, and readily available, knowing how much work everyone has to do. Perkins stepped in and graciously offered us a platform.  CVI for the TVI was born. 
 
There are currently nine of us who are producing this monthly webinar series. This is who we are:

 
Catherine Smyth, Ph.D:
 
Director of Research
 
Anchor Center for Blind Children
 
Denver, CO
 
I have been a TVI for 35 years, specializing in very young children (Birth to age 5) for the last 20 years. In my early teaching days, I think I always advocated for children without the benefit of an ocular visual diagnosis, but I recognized that children with Cerebral Palsy, or a Traumatic Brain Injury had affected vision, and fought for them to receive vision services. Although I was never sure how to address the educational needs of these children, I did my best to “think out of the box.” In the year 2000, I began to hear about CVI from leaders in the field, and everything began to make more sense. Since then, I have sought out additional information and strategies to help parents and children with CVI.
 
In 2019, Anchor Center for Blind Children asked me to return as their new Director of Research. They were about to begin a collaboration with a local NICU to identify visual function concerns of pre-term infants and follow through with ophthalmological services to families and provide early intervention. Using the Neonatal Assessment Visual European Grid (NAVEG) which indicates neurological risk, Anchor Center has continued to collect data under my direction, and has learned much about early visual functioning in pre-term and very young infants to identify early CVI. In addition, this year Dr. Christine Roman-Lantzy will be working with four CVI Range endorsed TVIs at Anchor Center and our pediatric ophthalmologist to collect additional data for her CVI Infant Screening.
 
These research projects have allowed the early intervention professionals and caregivers at Anchor Center to work together to develop targeted parent education and strategies through routine-based environmental adaptations in natural environments. Research-based protocols and collaborative strategies using assessments and interventions are being collected to provide evidence of the caregiver’s interactions with the infant to (a) build functional visual behaviors, and (b) explore specific CVI characteristics.
 
I am excited to be a part of the CVI for TVI team, as we use research to confirm appropriate assessments and educational strategies to make use of early brain plasticity to help families and their young infants with CVI.

Mindy Ely, Ph.D

 
I began as a TVI in the early 1990’s. At that time, I had students on my caseload that I did not know how to serve. I distinctly remember attending a conference session in which a colleague began describing strategies that she was using with students that were similar to my students. I was intrigued and hooked all at the same time. Over the next 10 years my learning exploded as I studied CVI, experimented with various teaching approaches, and observed the usefulness of new strategies with students. Then, in 2001 I attended a session hosted by APH with Dr. Christine Roman. This experience was a major turning point in my career as her strategies resulted in immediate and sustained improvement with my students.
 
At that time, I was also in a position in which I was responsible for providing professional development to early intervention educators and therapists throughout Illinois. While I shared what I learned with all disciplines, my training with vision colleagues became more of a community-of-practice. If fact, it was the collaborative exploration with this statewide professional network of TVIs and O&M Specialists that has propelled my interest and learning since 2001. In that learning community, we have pulled from the research and writing of experts from around the world to develop and shift our practices.
 
I eventually pursued a Ph.D. with a desire to impact our field related to CVI. Specifically, I am interested in strengthening our workforce through policy development and pre-service and in-service training. In addition, my research agenda focuses on development of an evidence-base for teaching practices when learners have CVI.
 
Toward that end, I co-founded the Neurological Visual Impairment Division (NVID) of AER along with Susan Sullivan and Melody Furze in 2016 and co-authored the NVID position paper called Roles and Responsibilities of Vision Educators when Learners have CVI (Mazel, Morse, Ely, & Zatta, 2020). I continue to engage with parents and teachers across several research initiatives related to CVI. Our team at Illinois State University has integrated significantly more CVI content throughout our curriculum including a course on CVI within our graduate program.  In 2020, I partnered with Easterseals of Central Illinois in the launch of a new project called The Alex Program for Children with CVI, to provide local support to children, families, and educational teams through multidisciplinary evaluations, individualized tele-support to school teams, and statewide professional development.
 
 I am excited to see growth in our field as our knowledge grows and we shift our practice. I feel blessed to be part of the good work that CVI for the TVI is providing to families and professionals around the country.

Elizabeth (Bess) Dennison, M.Ed:

 
I have been working in the field of early childhood vision impairment for over 40 years. I have my Masters in Education of the blind and visually impaired from the University of Northern Colorado.  I have worked for most of those years, splittng my time between the Utah School for the Blind and the VIISA and INSITE Outreach training projects at Utah State University.
 
I have kept one foot in direct service to families of young children who are visually impaired and the other foot in developing training materials as well as conducting training in the field of preschool vision across the country. My interest in CVI started many years ago through the young children I was serving.  Dr. Lea Hyvarinen sparked this interest further when I brought her to Utah to film a series of lectures on CVI.  This was broadcasted nationwide and to other countries around the world.  It led to the first summit on CVI in San Francisco where experts from around the world came together in person and by distance to discuss their various perspectives on CVI. A couple years later I worked with AER to bring Dr. Gordon Dutton to present on CVI at the national conference held in Utah over the summer.  I have continued to learn from experts in the field, applied what I have learned with the children I serve, and share information on CVI through the VIISA and INSITE trainings that take place every year.  This year is a new challenge training via ZOOM due to COVID in states such as IN, MO, and VA.  The need for information and training on CVI in the field continues to grow.

 

Ellen Cadigan Mazel, M.Ed., CTVI

 
Director of the CVI Project
 
Perkins School for the Blind
 
I have been a TVI for 40 years. When I began working, the students on my caseload had visual impairments due to ocular conditions such as ROP, coloboma, albinism, retinal issues or optic nerve issues. I only remember 2-3 children that were classified as “cortically blind”. When working with those students diagnosed as having cortical blindness, I do remember feeling as if my ocular assessment tools and my ocular strategies just didn’t seem appropriate or effective. I thought these students might just be too cognitively involved to use their vision. I often placed these students on “consult” but never really felt I was giving the team much direction.
 
Around 2002, my caseload exploded with more that 50% of my students diagnosed with “cortical” or “cerebral” visual impairment. I attended a lecture at Perkins School for the Blind by Dr. Roman and learned about the capacity for the visual brain to improve its function.
 
What a huge responsibility for me as a TVI! I was no longer working around the eye issue but building visual attention and visual recognition through the brain’s visual pathways. I knew I needed to understand CVI better and needed to understand what other theorists were saying about CVI. I needed to understand how the visual brain works as well as I understood how the eye worked.
 
I attended lectures and took classes by Dr. Gordon Dutton, Dr. Carey Matuba, Dr. Christine Roman, Dr. William Good, Dr. Lea Hyvärinen, and Dr. Mary Morse in an effort to learn more about how to assess, provide strategies and provide the appropriate environments for learning. This professional journey has given me a new way to look at my student’s visual skills and a new way to assess my students based on the visual characteristics that impact students with CVI. With assessments and tools based on the CVI issues, I get an accurate assessment and can plan the best service to my students with CVI.
 
 
Yvonne Locke, M.S. Ed., CTVI
 
Preschool: Birth – five years
Department of Rehabilitation Services
Board of Education and Services for the Blind
Connecticut
 
My journey to deepening my understanding of CVI began with an optional textbook from my Multiple Disabilities and Vision Impairment course while obtaining my Master’s degree from UMass Boston. Although I was an elementary school teacher and had years of experience with young children, I had limited experience with learners with multiple disabilities. In addition, like most TVI programs, my studies were primarily for learners with ocular visual impairments and total blindness, so I bought all the books.
 
When I entered the field and had my first caseload, one-third of it was children with a visual diagnosis of CVI. What!? Where was that book? My next step was reaching out to one of my colleagues, Peg Palmer, and asked if she would mentor me so I could better serve these children. And so began my search for knowledge and understanding.
 
I began attending lectures from experts in the field such as Dr. Christine Roman-Lantzy, Dr. Mary Morse, Dr. Merabet, and TVI’s. I watched YouTube videos of Dr. Dutton, as well as webinars from Perkins and West Virginia Department of Education. I attended 3 and 5-day intensive workshops, completed the NEC CVI Leadership Project and joined and attended the Pediatric Cortical Visual Impairment Society Conferences. In addition, I continued, and continue to, read, read, and read! I searched for, and participated in, whatever I could on the topic of CVI, particularly in the area of neuro-plasticity and brain functioning.  All for the sole purpose of trying to learn how to best assess, provide appropriate instruction, and support to the learners on my caseload, and their families and teams.
 
I am also very fortunate in that I work for a state agency with a group of dedicated professionals who are on this journey with me. Together we are able to share ideas, discuss challenges, deepen our understanding and grow as professionals so that we can learn as much as possible from each other and better serve our learners with CVI. 
 
CVI for the TVI and other Professionals is the next step on this wonderful journey. I am looking forward to learning and growing with you and from you. Welcome.
 

Peggy Palmer, M.A. CTVI

 
Preschool: birth – five years
Board of Education and Services for the Blind (ret)
Connecticut
 
My combined interests in young children, child development and vision loss led me to become a TVI. Without realizing how helpful it would be, I had also majored in cultural studies as an undergrad. These studies were very helpful in encountering families from various cultures, especially when home visiting.
 
As a TVI for over 30 years, I have seen the makeup of my caseload change during the course of my career. The program where I trained to become a TVI focused exclusively on children with ocular vision loss or total blindness. I came into the field feeling prepared and ready for the challenges!
 
It didn’t take long for me to question that feeling! Children without ocular issues, but very low vision were puzzling to me. Teams and parents looked to me for ideas, strategies and answers but I had nothing to offer. As much as I loved being around these children, I felt unable to help them. Many of my colleagues in Connecticut felt the same way and we began our search for more information. We attended lectures by Dr. Gordon Dutton, Dr. Mary Morse, Robbie Blaha to name a few. Dr. Merabet introduced us to the idea of neuro-plasticity and our discussions with him led him to become interested in Cortical “Blindness” or CVI.
 
One day, two of my colleagues brought a speaker to Connecticut named Dr. Christine Roman. (kudos to BESB administration, who always took our efforts to learn more seriously and found ways to bring in speakers!). We were stunned by what she presented. The “Ten Characteristics” made our heads spin. I remember leaving her workshop terrified by the idea of getting a slinky and a flashlight to try on some of my students who didn’t use their vision at all.
 
From those initial lectures, four other TVI’s at BESB  and I were selected to study CVI with Dr. Roman (through a Perkins / New England Deaf-Blind Consortium grant) for four years, spending several days with colleagues from all over New England several times each year. Here, we learned about these children in a way we had never dreamed possible: not just getting children with CVI to USE their vision but to help them IMPROVE their vision!
 
My hope for this webinar series for TVI’s and other professionals working with children with CVI is to share ideas, problem solve, challenge each other and learn more about CVI.  I hope each webinar will put  more tools in our “CVI toolkit” so that our students can progress and learn.

 

Mary Zatta, Ph.D.

 
Director of Professional Development
Perkins School for the Blind
 
I first became aware of CVI when I was an administrator in the Deafblind Program at Perkins in 2000.  I have to admit that at the time I really did not understand the significant impact of CVI and/or the potential for improvement.  Dr. Roman-Lantzy did provide some trainings at that time with the support of the New England Consortium of Deafblind Projects under the leadership of Dr. Tracy Evans-Luiselli for the staff in the DB program and, at the time, I thought we had all the information we needed!
 
Well…..now I know better!  Since moving into my current position as Director of Perkins eLearning and the Perkins Training Center in 2010 I have seen first hand the desperate need for training that teachers and related service providers have in this area.  It has become clear to me that the development of expertise in CVI is ongoing, multi-faceted, and challenging.
 
Since 2010 Perkins eLearning has held many webinars and webcasts on CVI which include experts such as Dr. Roman-Lantzy, Dr. Dutton, Dr. Lueck, Ellen Mazel, and Matt Tietjen.  We also developed the Perkins-Roman CVI Range Endorsement as a way to ensure that professionals who are using that tool are doing so with fidelity.  We also offer numerous online moderated and self-paced classes and tutorials on CVI as well as onsite and customized training and we still are not able to keep up with the demand from the field for training.
 
I hope that the opportunity to engage monthly with professionals in the field will serve to continue to inform us as we continue to develop content as well as be a resource for everyone.
 

Robin Sitten:

 
I serve Perkins School for the Blind as the Program Manager for the Professional Development Program. A graduate of Hollins University and Emerson College, I have also studied Orientation & Mobility at University of Massachusetts-Boston. I have provided media access to the blindness community through audio description and voice narration since 1995.
 
We look forward to hearing from you with input, suggestions and comments.