On Quality Education for Blind Students in Minnesota

On Quality Education for Blind Students in Minnesota

By Kristin Oien, Blind/Visually-Impaired Specialist, Minnesota Department of Education

(Editor’s Note:  This presentation was read by Kathy McGillivray on behalf of Ms. Oien at the Annual Convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota on October 8, 2011.)

Greetings Minnesota Federationists,

My apologies for not being able to join you in person today.  We’ve been busy this week with hosting Low Vision Clinics in the Metro and St. Cloud, as well as holding the first of four Minnesota Orientation & Mobility Specialists (MOMS) and State Vision Network (SVN) meetings at the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE).  Having been the MDE specialist for students who are blind or visually impaired (BVI) for just over a year, I have a much better understanding of how educational services are delivered in Minnesota.  As the MDE BVI Specialist, I am responsible for providing support, training and technical assistance to teachers of the visually impaired, orientation and mobility specialists, and other stakeholders who provide services to students with disabilities and their families.  Along with being the manager of the BVI Resource Center in Faribault, I am also the American Printing House (APH) for the Blind Ex Officio Trustee for the State of Minnesota Department of Education.

Our vision at MDE is that all children get necessary support for healthy development and lifelong learning.  The special education policy division’s mission is to provide leadership to ensure a high quality education for all Minnesota’s children and youth with disabilities.

Last year I visited every region of the state and spent time with each regional low incidence facilitator discussing regional specific concerns, successes, and needs.  I also attended many regional meetings and conferences throughout the year, gaining insight into specific areas and the programs they provide.  MDE also developed and provided the BVI field with a strengths-and-needs survey in order to plan professional development, training, and mentoring opportunities throughout the state.  The results of the TBVI & COMS strengths and needs survey from the Daves and Associates Research Company were clear.  The three main recommendations were to implement a mentorship program, provide more training options for assistive technology needs, and build awareness of and strengthen the community of practice groups.  My main focus this year will be to address these three recommendations, along with other BVI initiatives and trainings.

The following is a list of workshops, trainings and meeting dates for this school year that have been offered to Teachers of the Blind and Visually Impaired and Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists.

  • 09/20/11 Communication Matrix Training with Dr. Charity Rolland
  • 10/04-05/11 Low Vision Clinics: Metro & St. Cloud
  • 10/07/11 SVN at MDE
  • 10/14/11 White Cane Safety Awareness Day at MSAB
  • 10/27-28/11 MDVI Statewide COMS and Vision Conference
  • 12/02/11 SVN at MDE
  • 01/20/12 SVN at MDE
  • 03/23/12 SVN at MDE
  • 04/22-24/12 Charting the C’s Cross Categorical Conference

I am also excited to announce that the Minnesota Resource Center: BVI Advisory Committee has been reconvened, and a special thank you goes out to both George Wurtzel and Charlene Guggisberg for volunteering to be members of the committee. 

Now for an update of current data regarding school age students who are BVI in the state of Minnesota.  The 2010 MDE Unduplicated Child Count indicates there are 415 students from birth to 21 who are blind and visually impaired in Minnesota.  However, the American Printing House for the Blind 2011 Federal Census data indicates there are 779 students from birth to 21 who meet the definition of blindness.  The disparity in these numbers comes from the MDE child count only indicating the primary eligibility category as BVI, while the APH census takes into account students with multiple impairments who are also blind.  IEP teams strive to provide each of these students with the supports and strategies necessary to meet their individualized educational needs.

It is my overall goal that youth who are blind and visually impaired in Minnesota receive quality instruction that will lead to their independence and success.  Thank you so much for sharing this information from me today.  I want you to know that I welcome suggestions for effective change.  Please feel free to contact me with concerns or ideas for the future.  My email address is Kristin.Oien@state.mn.us and my phone number is 651-582-8843.