Preparing for Transition Using an Activity-Based Self-Determination Curriculum

By Denise Fitzgerald on Oct 03, 2015


Denise Fitzgerald

Jeff Migliozzi

Perkins School for the Blind

Many Thanks to the TSBVI and the authors of the Empowerment Curriculum.

Empowered logo from TSBVI

Goal 9 - National Agenda:  Transition services will address developmental and educational needs (birth through high school) to assist students and their families, in setting goals and implementing strategies through the life continuum commensurate with the student’s aptitudes, interests, and abilities.

Expanded Core Curriculum: “New” area of the Expanded Core Curriculum emphasizes Self-Determination

What is Self-Determination?

  • Ward (1988) defines self-determination as attitudes that lead people to define goals for themselves and their ability to achieve those goals. 

  • Field and Hoffman (1994) define self-determination as the ability to define and achieve goals based on a foundation of knowing and valuing oneself.

Why is Self-Determination Important?

  • Wehmeyer and Schwartz (1997) found that self-determined students were more likely to have achieved positive adult outcomes than peers who were not self-determined.

  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that students’ Individual Education Plan (IEP) activities must be based upon student preferences and interests.

Are Self-Determination and Quality of Life Related?

A common goal we all share for our students with visual impairments is for them to lead the highest possible quality of life. In order to achieve that goal, we must equip them with the self-determination knowledge and skills they need to be empowered to achieve their chosen goals.

People who are self-determined make or cause things to happen in their lives

Quality of Life Indicators

  • Emotional well-being
  • Satisfying interpersonal relationships
  • Material well-being
  • Personal development
  • Physical well-being
  • Self-determination
  • Meaningful work
  • Social inclusion
  • Peer group with lasting friendships
  • Knowledge of rights

Also Essential Are:

  • An understanding of one’s strengths and limitations
  • Belief in oneself as capable and effective
  • The ability to take control of one’s life

(Field et al, 1998)


This includes:

Control over day to day decisions

  • What to wear
  • What to eat
  • What activities to participate it
  • How to spend your spare time
  • How to go about getting your needs met while respecting the rights, values and beliefs of others

Control over the long-term decisions

  • Where to live
  • Who to live with
  • Where to work
  • How to spend your money
  • What to do in your spare time

Recognize a Continuum of Supports...

“Individuals with significant cognitive disabilities must choose, to the extent that they are able (with support) the trusted allies with whom to collaborate.” - Turnbull & Turnbull

Conceptual Framework of Self-Advocacy  (Test, el al. 2005)

  • Knowledge of self - interests, preferences, strengths, needs, learning style, disability
  • Knowledge of rights - as a citizen, as a person with a disability (IDEIA)
  • Communication - negotiation, persuasion, compromise
  • Leadership - how to function in a group, understanding one’s role, standing up for the rights of a group

Here's the Problem!

  • Self-esteem issues
  • Apparent lack of initiative
  • Skill deficits in self-advocacy
  • Passive and passive-aggressive communication behaviors
  • Unrealistic goals of our students 
  • Unchallenged goals
  • Learned helplessness
  • Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation
  • Difficulties with adjustment to disability, especially in teenagers
  • How student’s are perceived by others

Recognizing Cultural Differences

“Planning must respect and honor family cultural values including values pertaining to parental authority over child choice…..” - Turnbull & Turnbull


Developing a Shared Vision for the Future

  • The student, to the best of their ability will take an active role in planning for their transition. 
  • The student will be allowed to take risks and to experience failures.



Think About This....

  • Do people with disabilities have fewer opportunities to practice skills that lead to self-determination?
  • Do people with multiple impairments need additional experiential activities, over time, to support the development of Self- Determination Skills? 
  • Do people with disabilities feel they have less personal control in their lives than others do?
  • Are self-determination skills linked with the low percentage of people with visual impairment who acquire and maintain employment?

Desired Outcomes of Self-Determination Instruction

  • To equip our students with the knowledge and skills they need to be empowered to achieve their chosen goals
  • To provide students with the tools to make mid-course corrections as they move toward their goals
  • To give students many opportunities to practice these skills

Research Says:

  • Most students are not receiving instruction in these skills - (Mason, Field, Sawilowsky; 2004)
  • There is an absence of Self-Advocacy goals in transition plans - (Wehmeyer, Schwartz; 1998)

Who Needs Explicit Instruction in Self-Determination?

  • All students at all functioning levels
  • Teach and re-teach from pre-school to high school
  • Incorporate into daily activities
  • Start early with choice making and experiential activities

Activity-Based Curriculum was Designed for Blind / VI Students

  • Hands-on activities
  • Promote team Building 
  • Promote trust development
  • Comic relief/fun encouraged
  • Carryover from unit to unit

Sample Activity from Unit 1

  • All My Friends Game 
  • To find out the likes and dislikes of the participants

Sample Activity from Unit 6

  • Things I Can Do To Take Care of Myself 
  • To help students understand that part of self-management is knowing how to take care of yourself

Sample Activity from Unit 16

  • Importance of the steps in an Action Plan
  • To emphasize the importance of steps in an Action Plan, and help students understand the importance of not leaving steps out

Implementation Ideas

  • Create “All about Me” books that grow and travel with the student
  • Implement a “skill of the week” program
  • Infuse instruction into daily activities
  • Implement specific training modules
  • Think outside the box

Using the Curriculum: Where and How?

  • At home and in the community
  • Resource/content mastery rooms
  • One-on-one with the TVI
  • General education classrooms
  • Summer programs
  • Week-end programs
  • Evening programs
  • Meeting only once a month will not provide sufficient continuity
  • Having training once a week is effective
  • Having an intensive 1-2 week program would be ideal

And Finally, When Self Determined...

People experience a sense of freedom to do what is interesting, personal important and vitalizing. - (Deci & Ryan, professors in Dep. of Clinical & Social Sciences at University of Rochester)

Organization of the units in Empowered

  • General information
  • Introduction to students
  • Unit Objectives
  • Key Words
  • Materials (worksheets included at end of unit)
  • Activities
  • Empowerment cheer
  • Core activities
  • One thing I learned today

Unit 1 Getting to Know Each Other -  Sample Activities

  • Empowerment Cheer
  • All My Friends game
  • What I Like Best activity
  • All About Me Questionnaire

Unit 2 Self Awareness

Sample Activities

  • Compound Word Game
  • Multiple Intelligences Survey
  • Who Am I Questionnaire

Unit 3 Identifying Strengths and Challenges

Sample Activities

  • Strengths and Challenges Worksheet
  • Toot Your Own Horn
  • Coping or Compensatory Strategies Raffle

Unit 4 Self Acceptance, Coping and Compensatory Strategies

Sample Activities

  • How I See Myself worksheet
  • Self-Acceptance worksheet
  • Burning Bowl activity

Unit 5 Self-Management: Stress Management

Sample Activities

  • Stress Monitor - Balloon Activity
  • Stress-O-Meter
  • One Thing I Learned Today (Take a Deep Breath)

Unit 6 Self-Management: Self Assessment Process

Sample Activities

  • Checking-in (role play)
  • Anti Brain Drain 
  • Things I Can Do To Take Care of Myself

Unit 7 Personal Control

Sample Activities

  • Looking at My Many Roles
  • Do you Have Control? (Personal Control Scale)
  • Enhancing Personal Control
  • Ways to Gain Control

Unit 8 Basics of Communication

Sample Activities

  • Active Listening
  • Describe It, Guess It (listening for detail)

Unit 9 Passive, Aggressive, Passive/Aggressive and Assertive Communication

Sample Activities

  • Identifying Communication Styles (role play)
  • Assertive Communication
  • I vs. You Statements
  • One Thing I Learned Today (Pass the Pat)

Unit 10 Personal Advocacy

Sample Activities

  • How Do You Get What You Want?
  • Ways to Be a Good Advocate -  worksheet
  • Thumbs-up,  thumbs-down (role-play getting needs and wants met)
  • Four Basic Steps to Self Advocacy

Unit 11 Decision Making

Sample Activities

  • Identifying the Differences
  • Using the Decision Making Process
  • Decision Making Bowl

Unit 12 Values

Sample Activities

  • Values Collage
  • My Values worksheet
  • Everybody Who Shares game

Unit 13 Dreaming About Your Future

Sample Activities

  • Pulls
  • Dream, dream, dream
  • Roadblocks

Unit 14 Setting Long-Term Goals

Sample Activities

  • Turning a Dream into a Goal
  • Building Blocks for Success
  • Considering the Options for Long-Term Goals
  • One Thing I Learned Today (Hula Hoop)

Unit 15 Setting Short-Term Objectives

Sample Activities

  • Stairway to Success
  • Creating Short-Term Objectives

Unit 16 Making Action Plans

Sample Activities

  • Movin’ Forward
  • Importance of Steps in an Action Plan (s’mores)
  • Action Plan Guideline

Unit 17 Problem Solving

Sample Activities

  • Is It a Problem??
  • Sticky Wicket
  • Letting Go
  • Problem Solving Strategies 

Unit 18 Problem Solving II - Goal Assessment and Revision

Sample Activities

  • ABC order
  • Triggers/Trigger Happy
  • Hold the Line

Unit 19 Conflict Resolution

Sample Activities

  • Steps in Conflict Resolution
  • Thinking Blockers and Unlockers
  • Station to Station
  • One Thing I Learned Today (Tug of War)

Unit 20 Rights and Responsibilities

Sample Activities

  • I Know My Rights
  • Identifying Rights and Associated Responsibilities
  • Personal Bill of Rights

Unit 21 Knowledge of Resources

Sample Activities

  • Matching a goal to the resources
  • Do’s and Don’ts of asking for help

Unit 22 Advocacy within Systems

Sample Activities

  • Chain of Command
  • Phone-a-thon
  • Knotty Problem

Unit 23 Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Sample Activities

  • Treasure Box
  • Don’t Weave Home Without It
  • Who Ya Gonna Call? (resource book)

Units of Empowered

  • Introduction and Orientation
  • Unit 1 - Getting to know each other (likes and dislikes)
  • Unit 2 - Self-Awareness 
  • Unit 3 - Identifying Strengths and Challenges
  • Unit 4 - Self-Acceptance, Coping and Compensatory Strategies 
  • Unit 5 - Self-Management: Stress Management
  • Unit 6 - Self-Management: Self-Assessment Process
  • Unit 7 - Personal Control
  • Unit 8 - Basics of Communication, Including Active Listening
  • Unit 9 - Passive, Aggressive and Assertive Communication
  • Unit 10 - Personal Advocacy
  • Unit 11 - Decision Making Process
  • Unit 12 - Personal Values, Shared Values and Respecting Others’ Values
  • Unit 13 - Dreaming about the Future
  • Unit 14 - Setting Long-Term Goals
  • Unit 15 - Setting Short-Term Goals (objectives)
  • Unit 16 - Making Action Plans
  • Unit 17 - Problem Solving
  • Unit 18 - Problem Solving II
  • Unit 19 - Conflict Resolution/Negotiation
  • Unit 20 - Rights and Responsibilities
  • Unit 21 - Knowledge of Resources
  • Unit 22 - Advocacy within Systems
  • Unit 23 - Where the Rubber meets the Road



Read more about: Transition

Total Life Learning by Wendy Bridgeo,‎ Beth Caruso,‎ & Mary Zatta

Cover of Total Life Learning

The Total Life Learning curriculum was developed for students ages 3 to 22 who are blind, visually impaired including those students who have additional disabilities or are deafblind. The focus is on the development of life and career goals that enable student to maximize independence, self-determination, employability, and participation in the community.