NRTC Spring 2015

Quarterly Connections: News from the NRTC

Linking Blindness and Low Vision Research to Practice

Current RRTC Research Highlights: Update on the Best Practices in the Randolph-Sheppard Business Enterprise Program Project

The Randolph-Sheppard Business Enterprise Program (BEP) has employed over 30,000 individuals with blindness and low vision since its creation in 1936. Today, the BEP, which allows individuals with blindness and low vision to operate food service and vending facilities on government property, employs around 2,500 entrepreneurs across the nation. However, the future of the BEP is clouded by a decline in the number of facilities and entrepreneurs over the last 20 years.

In order to assist the BEP with its training and recruitment efforts, the NRTC has undertaken a multi-part research project as part of our current NIDRR RRTC grant. This project is focused on exploring current needs of the program and creating materials to improve BEP training and marketing, including:

  • A marketing brochure detailing job opportunities available through the BEP program
  • A national online training curriculum for BEP staff
  • Marketing materials aimed at transition-age youth
  • A guide for working with deaf-blind individuals in the BEP
  • A resource guide outlining minimum and preferred qualifications for BEP entrepreneurs

Much of the work on this project in the last year has focused on the creation of a national training curriculum for BEP staff. Currently, each state runs its own BEP staff training, which can result in inefficiencies as staff in different states receive instruction that covers different topics and uses different methods. By creating a standardized curriculum that can be used by all state BEP programs, the NRTC hopes to facilitate greater efficiency and efficacy in staff training, which in turn could help improve the training and support BEP staff members are able to provide to the BEP entrepreneurs they serve.

In order to gain practitioner insight on curriculum development, NRTC researchers surveyed 54 state BEP directors to discover what they perceive to be the most pressing training needs for BEP staff. Results from this survey were published in 2014 in the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness. The BEP state directors reported that the most important training topics for staff were business management skills (in particular, marketing and customer service) and interpersonal skills, such as communication. In addition, the directors felt that online distance learning would be the most effective method for providing such training.

Responding to this feedback from the BEP state directors, work is now underway to craft the content for a national online training curriculum for BEP staff. NRTC staff and partners are writing training modules that cover a wide range of topics, including assistive technology, human resources, branding, and healthy food options. The curriculum is targeted for a July 2015 completion date and will be made available free of charge on the NRTC website.

Work is also underway on the marketing materials for transition-age youth and the minimum/preferred qualifications resource guide. Both of these products are also expected to be completed by Summer 2015. For more information on the Best Practices in the Randolph-Sheppard Business Enterprise Program Project, contact Jacqui Bybee at

In the Works: Training and Technical Assistance

Recent Training Activities

BJ LeJeune and Kendra Farrow, NRTC training staff, recently spent time with Mississippi State University students who are studying the use of assistive technology in education. On March 30th, BJ and Kendra spoke to a class of education students on classroom technology for students who are blind or visually impaired. BJ and Kendra were back in the classroom the next day, sharing strategies with kinesiology students for using assistive technology in P.E. instruction.

Coming up on April 8th and 9th, BJ and Kendra will travel to Florida to conduct a multi-day workshop for the Florida Division of Blind Services. The workshop will be co-led by Bobby Druesedow from the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitation Services (DARS). The workshop will cover a wide range of topics, from vision loss and adjustment to special populations and job development. If you are interested in having NRTC staff conduct similar professional development workshops for your organization, contact BJ LeJeune.

2015 Vision Specialist Class on Campus

The 2015 class of Vision Specialist Program students will take up residence on the Mississippi State University campus from April 26th-May 15th. During this time, NRTC training staff will lead students in discussions, field trips, and classroom learning experiences that touch on topics such as assistive technology, adjustment to blindness, and barriers to employment for individuals who are blind or visually impaired. In addition, the students will hear from NRTC researchers about how to translate the latest research findings into practice. To learn more about the Vision Specialist program, visit

Other NRTC News

Welcome Karla!

The NRTC is growing! Karla Antonelli joined the team in January 2015 as a post-doctoral associate. Karla completed her PhD in Cognitive Science at Mississippi State University in December 2014. Her research focused on visual cognition and visual memory, and her professional background is in social services and case management for consumers of mental health services. Prior to officially joining the team, Karla worked with NRTC researchers to assist with data analysis and data management; her job duties now will focus on data analysis and reporting, wrapping up the Mentoring Project, and planning for upcoming research projects. Karla lives in Columbus, MS, with her husband Ralph. Welcome aboard Karla!

Join us on Twitter

Our new Twitter account is up and running! Featuring daily tweets about the NRTC's latest research and products, as well as thought-provoking news stories and resources from partner organizations, our Twitter account is a must-follow for all those interested in employment for individuals with blindness and low vision. Find us on Twitter at or by searching for MSU NRTC. And don't forget to friend us on Facebook too!

Mentoring Project Entering Final Stages

The fifth and final year of the NRTC's NIDRR RRTC grant is upon us, and the employment mentoring intervention for college students who are legally blind is nearing completion. Data for all four mentor/mentee cohorts has been collected, and data analysis is underway. Researchers are working to create a mentoring manual that walks readers through the process of creating a successful career mentoring program for students who are legally blind. A free webinar detailing key findings from the project is also planned. For more information on the mentoring intervention, visit

Be Part of our Research

The NRTC maintains a registry of individuals who are blind or visually impaired and interested in participating in research projects. NRTC researchers use this list to recruit participants for current and future research projects, as well as to keep individuals in the loop about projects that may be of particular interest to them. Signing up for the registry does not obligate you to participate in research. For more information, and to sign up for the registry, visit

Publications, Presentations, and Miscellaneous


  • McDonnall, M. C., Crudden, A., & O'Mally, J. (2015). Predictors of employer attitudes toward people who are blind or visually impaired as employees. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 42(1), 41-50. doi: 10.3233/JVR-140722

Upcoming Presentations:

  • Crudden, A. (2015, April). What we have learned about barriers to employment. American Foundation for the Blind Leadership Conference. Phoenix, AZ.
  • Farrow, K. (2015, April). Journal article to best practice: Finding and incorporating new ideas. Pennsylvania-Delaware Chapter of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired Conference. Harrisburg, PA.
  • Farrow, K. (2015, April). Proving our worth: Vision Rehabilitation Therapy. Pennsylvania-Delaware Chapter of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired Conference. Harrisburg, PA.
  • McDonnall, M. C. (2015, April). Working with employers: What successful agencies are doing. National Council of State Agencies for the Blind Spring Conference. Bethesda, MD.

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This newsletter was supported in part by grant #H133B10022 from the U.S. Department of Education, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). Newsletter contents do not represent policies of NIDRR or the Department of Education and viewers should not assume endorsement by the federal government. Please feel free to forward this newsletter to interested parties.

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