TVI and O&M Professional New Year's Resolutions

The crazy and joyful holiday rush is past and hopefully everyone has time to relax. As I reflect on 2019 (how has another year already flown by?) and ponder about 2020, my mind turns towards personal and professional New Year's Resolutions. Let's kick off the new year with a KISS (Keep It Simple!) as my students often chant! 

The experts state that in order to be successful with New Year's Resolutions, you have to start by defining your resolution with a specific goal broken down into bite-size chunks, which are monitored for progress - sounds a bit like an IEP, doesn't it? So teachers, think of your New Year Resolution as YOUR personal IEP!

Choosing Professional Goals

Some years it is fairly obvious what areas TVIs may want to concentrate on - such as learning a new braille code when EUB was adopted or learning ___ (screen reader) on a ____ (device) when your school adopted said device. (Fill in the blanks - for me, it was learning VoiceOver on an iPad when my school adopted iPads.) Technology constantly changes - maybe you are up-to-date on the devices used in your schools and the devices and applications that your students need; however, are you current with the accessibility of the all of the current necessary applications and are you thinking ahead about the future applications your students will need as they progress through K-12 and transition beyond?

In numerous discussions with wonderful colleagues in our amazing field, here are our top four areas for professional New Year's Resolutions. Note: While these are fall into various topics, they are all entwined!

  1. Personal Assistive Technology Skills
  2. Joining Professional Groups and Participating
  3. Collaborating to Improve Our Field 
  4. Step Back (provide opportunities for students to develop independence and self-advocacy!

Personal Assistive Technology Skills

Let's face it, technology changes and we have to work to keep up! Sometimes it is a big leap (like learning a new device) while other times it is simply adapting to another update. As educators, we do need to be familiar with the device and/or software before introducing the device to a student. Many of our academic students will quickly surpass us by with their tech skills; these students will be using the screen reader or magnification tool on a daily basis. Our job, however, includes thinking ahead to the next level of tech skills that the student will need to master. This might be an application such as learning how to create PowerPoint presentations or might be more complex such as learning LaTex, Desmos, and/or SAS Graphics Accelerator for higher math. For most of us, every year will include a tech-related goal - just like most of our students will have tech goals every year! 

Here is a great post about assistive tech-related New Year's Resolution goals.

Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists (COMS): There are numerous tech-related apps and activities that have O&M-related goals. Check out the O&M section on Paths to Technology here.

Joining Professional Groups and Participating

When I first started teaching, I was the only O&M covering four school districts and each district had one TVI. I thought that I was lucky to have access to four terrific TVIs who supported and mentored me in the VI field. The only interaction with other O&Ms took place at conferences/workshops. Now, we have social media and online resources - and support is just a quick click or text away! Are you apart of ACVREP, our professional group (Academy of Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals)? There are numerous FaceBook pages for TVIs and COMS such as Teachers of the Blind and Visually Impaired/O&M Specialists and Paths to Literacy, along with just about any topic you can think of! (JAWS, Assistive Tech, blind musicians, iPhone and iPad Accessibility, etc. are a few examples.) Pinterest is a wealth of information for TVIs and O&Ms. Most states have a state-wide VI list serve (email group) for Q&As and sharing information pertinent to professionals in that state.

The first step is to find and join these professional groups. The second step is to actively participate! Just like our pesky students who can sit in class and zone out, YOU need to be actively engaged with the group in order to fully connect with others in the group and to take advantage of the learning opportunities. So, answer that braille question that popped up on your FaceBook feed or share a creative activity. Read a post on Paths to Technology and make a comment or ask a question in the comment section below the post. (Note: You need to sign in on Paths to Technology - and most other websites - in order to post a comment; this helps to eliminate spam comments!) Share your creative activity or teacher-made material as a post on Paths to Technology.

Take full advantage of VI conferences and workshops! Your state conference(s) is a wonderful place to refresh your professional knowledge and to meet colleagues. The mingling time with other professionals is priceless!

COMS: Yes, there are O&M groups on social media, etc. too!

Collaborating to Improve Our VI Field

Years ago, it was almost impossible for TVIs/COMS to connect with textbook publishers, assessment groups, and software developers.   However, now it is so much easier. Here are some ways you can make a difference in the big scheme of things:

Bite-size chunk: Quickly rate an app review on a specific app in the App Store or Google Play (1-5 stars) or write a quick review. When was the last time you thanked an app developer for making their app accessible with a screen reader or for a low vision student? Developers need to hear from happy users - we want developers to KNOW that students with VIB are successfully using their application/websist/device. We also need to make developers aware when their application is NOT fully accessible.

Click on the developers website and send an email directly to the app developer - this is a great way to let the developer know about specific accessibility bugs! The big developers like Apple, Microsoft, JAWS, etc. have email addresses to connect you with their accessibility teams - they want and need your input! Note: It often takes time for bugs to be resolved and tested before they are incorporated into an update; you do not want the "fix" to break something else! So, have patience!

Developers often ask for input in the form of surveys of need (before development), field testing beta versions (during development) and bugs (after releases). Some developers will ask for survey after the application/device has been released. It is challenging for developers to connect with the number of TVIs/COMS and students to gather data about the success/needs of their device/application. Please take the time to fill out these surveys and to be a part of the field testing!

Example: APH is currently field testing CodeQuest, a simple iOS app that teaches coding concepts to young students with visual impairments - this app also teaches a number of tech skills! Learn more about field testing and to sign up to field test CodeQuest here. NOTE: CodeQuest app will be sent to field testers next week (week of January 6th; field testing is open until the end of February). You can still sign up to field test!

Here is a post about how to provide feedback and the process of field testing iOS devices.

Remember: YOU have to be familiar with the device/software/practice before introducing your student! As part of your student's self-advocacy skills, your student should also be connecting with developers!

Join in local and national discussions (and actions) on VI-related topics. Currently, there are several "hot topics" where standards have not yet been developed for our students. There are numerous discussions happening all around the country; my personal favorites are the discussions about:

  1. Transition to College: including when and what tech skills students should master at various K-12 grades.
  2. Accessible Digital Math: Everything from how to make digital number lines accessible to what applications students should know in K-12 before transitioning to college. 
  3. ECC (Expanded Core Curriculum): 
  4. Coding/Computer Science Skills: The job market is wide-open for computer science graduates! General education K-12 students are being introduced to coding concepts/logic in preschool and kindergarten. More accessible coding-related activities are needed!

All four of these discussion/action topics span the entire K-12 classes. If you have thoughts on any of these topics or want to join the discussions, please contact me or add a comment in the comment section below this post.

Note: Gap year programs, such as Perkins College Success Program, share that many students have not mastered the tech skills required for success in college. Many students have had few opportunities to embed independent ECC skills into their daily routines before college and are overwhelmed by the ECC skills in college. The ability to complete math assignments (especially in a digital format) is a huge obstacle for many college freshman.

Step Back 

TVIs, COMS and parents need to provide opportunities for students to develop independence and self-advocacy. We know that ECC is critical for our students to be successful beyond K-12; do YOU have a personal IEP goal with specific objectives on how to accomplish this? Depending on your student, it may be as simple as the student will complete a math assignment independently (a progression of stepping back until the student requires no help from you - might include incorporating appropriate ways for the student to self-advocate for a peer/teacher to provide a quick model with manipulatives or raised line drawing if needed), it might be that the student is responsible for interacting with the general education teacher (TVI is not the middle man) or the student is responsible for converting paper materials into accessible materials using an OCR application, etc. As a TVI, it is challenging to balance how to support your student as he prepares for the next math assessment while encouraging your student to self-advocate in that math class. (This is a big struggle for TVIs as we see our role as supporting the student academically; just keep in mind that the student has to also be successful in college and in a career without the support of a TVI!)

Note: The goal might be for the student to independently complete ___ (number) of math assignments; the objectives might include self-advocacy skills to ask for specific assistance from peer or teacher, learn to use an OCR application with his preferred device, etc.) In order to be successful with this resolution/goal, specific steps should be identified, written down, and taught. A plan needs to be in place, the general education teacher needs to know about the plan, and the student should be systematically 'weaned' from direct support.

COMS: 'Step back' is a critical piece of O&M and it is challenging if the family does not embrace independent community travel outside of O&M lessons. Keep in mind the low vision student who appears to be fine in a very familiar school setting during daylight, but may be afraid to travel at night in the college environment. Students with RP may be independent in high school (even driving) but may experience progressive vision loss - especially at night - in college. Do YOUR students have college-level mobility?

Summary

What does your personal IEP/New Year's Resolutions look like? Write down your goal, objectives and be sure to monitor your success throughout the year. Be sure to involve others - including the student involved - in your plan - this will help keep you accountable, the student will 'buy-in' to the goals, and otherteam members who will help support (and benefit from) these goals.

Don't forget to add a comment below - share your goal(s) and/or how you are doing! (Feel a sense of accomplishment - you can already check off that you have participated in the Paths to Technology community by writing a comment!)

Collage of New Year's Resolutions for TVIs and COMS