RRTC Advisory Council Assembles
The NRTC held the first Advisory Council meeting for the new 2015-2020 Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Employment for Individuals with Blindness or Other Visual Impairments grant on February 11-12 in Starkville, Miss. The nine-member Advisory Council includes national blindness and low vision professionals, consumers representing major blindness organizations, and an international corporation: Ron Brown (National Federation of the Blind - NFB), Melanie Brunson (Blinded Veterans Association - BVA), Tony Candela (Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired - AER), Ray Hopkins (National Council of State Agencies for the Blind - NCSAB), Roxann Mayros (VisionServe Alliance - VSA), Mitch Pomerantz, Sue Ruzenski (Helen Keller National Center – HKNC), Matt Wieseler (National Industries for the Blind - NIB), and Peter Fay (IBM) as employer representative. External evaluator John Crews (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - CDC) and guest Dorothy Young (Vocational Rehabilitation for the Blind, Mississippi) also attended, and app development project consultant William Reuschel (American Foundation for the Blind - AFB) participated via conference call.
During the two-day meeting, NRTC research and training staff presented overviews of the six new projects associated with the recently-awarded, five-year National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) funded grant (#90RT5040-01-00). The NIDILRR grant supports the establishment of an RRTC that includes research projects and training, technical assistance, and dissemination activities. The purpose of this RRTC is to conduct research to generate new knowledge about the efficacy of rehabilitation services and technology used to support improved employment for individuals with blindness or other visual impairments, including youth who are blind or visually impaired (B/VI), people who are deaf-blind, and people with combined traumatic brain injury and B/VI as specific subpopulations.
During the meeting, the Advisory Council provided input and guidance to Center research and training staff through large and small group discussions and Q & A sessions. The two-day meeting also included review of related activities, as well as a business meeting for the election of officers and discussion of ongoing Council contributions. Council members also identified two or three research projects in which they will remain involved and contribute their expertise.
The NIDILRR grant advisory council will collaborate throughout the five-year term of the RRTC grant and will meet annually, alternating in-person and conference call communications. For more information regarding current research activities, please visit the NRTC website.
Current RRTC Research Highlights: App Development Begins
For many youth who are B/VI or deafblind (DB), the transition from school to career can be quite challenging. Vital to youth’s success, parents can play a significant role, beginning in youth’s early years, in supporting and encouraging development and preparation for this school to career transition. This NIDILRR grant project involves the development of an app to help parents of youth who are B/VI or DB, ages four to 24, and youth who are B/VI, focus on the necessary steps in preparing for and obtaining employment following the completion of their education. The project will utilize and significantly expand upon the existing Transition Activity Calendar (TAC) (LeJeune & Orr, 2012). The TAC currently lists age-appropriate college preparation tasks for youth in late middle school through high school. The app will expand upon this existing TAC structure to include information to assist parents in supporting their child’s academic and employment preparation success beginning at a younger age, and continuing throughout their education.
With two versions of the app being developed, one designed for youth with B/VI and their parents and one for parents of youth who are DB with multiple impairments, the app will provide a personalized experience based on the user’s profile information, such as the role of the user (parent/youth); disability of youth (B/VI or DB); birthdate and school year of youth; academic progress in school; and future college/career goals. The profile will control the automated dissemination of information and active (“push”) notifications to each user throughout their transition process. App users will receive suggested activities, information and resources, reminders to complete these activities, and a checklist to track and support their unique schedule and progress.
The NRTC staff, working in conjunction with a team of external B/VI and DB experts, will develop the content, organization, and age-appropriate benchmarking. The app framework will be developed by AFB Tech to be compatible with iOS, Android, and web platforms. Following content development, an advisory board of four experts for each of the populations will assist in content validation. These experts will independently evaluate the content that has been developed and provide their expert opinion about its appropriateness. Input will also be received from the three target end users through focus groups, usability testing, and a field test of the app. The focus groups will occur during content development and will provide input on content and desired app functionality. The usability testing will occur during the development process to test the app’s functionality and will help ensure that the app is user-friendly and fully accessible. A six-month field test will occur after app development is complete, prior to releasing the app for general use, to help ensure that the app functions as intended, is appealing to users, and is viable for use in the community by typical end users. Any problems identified with app content or how it functions will be addressed prior to public release, which is set for early 2020.
Training and Technical Assistance
Career Advantage for V.I.P.s
The NRTC has developed many products and resources to support improved employment for B/VI individuals. Career Advantage for V.I.P.s: An Employment Preparation Primer for Individuals who are blind or Visually Impaired is a self-guided program that is appropriate for a range of individuals, from college students transitioning to their careers to adults considering employment or a change in career.
Career Advantage is composed of eight self-paced, step-by-step instructional modules that provide the individual with tools and information to support their success in seeking and securing employment that matches their desires and abilities. Career Advantage for V.I.P.s was developed by the NRTC through a grant from the Department of Education: NIDRR grant number H133A070001-09.
For more information about this V.I.P. program, please visit the Career Advantage webpage.
Vision Specialist in Vocational Rehabilitation Certificate
As the 2015 Vision Specialist class is putting their new knowledge to work, the 2016 participants are ready to begin the intensive, three-week residency component of their training at Mississippi State University, beginning April 25. Applications are accepted annually from June 1 through October 1, with the program beginning in January. Interested applicants can find more information from the NRTC website, the Center for Distance Education website, or by emailing BJ LeJeune.
Join the Conversation and Stay Connected
The NRTC wants you to join the conversation as we share the latest research, training, and technical assistance highlights, industry news, event information, and more. Like us on Facebook @MSU.NRTC or follow us on Twitter @MSU_NRTC to stay connected!
We would like to welcome Bill Tomlin, Jennifer Cmar, and Sophie Kershaw to the NRTC staff!
Bill Tomlin joined the NRTC team in January as the Project Manager for activities under our new RSA-funded OIB Training and Technical Assistance Center. Bill brings a broad service and project management background, having served 25 years in the United States Army.
Jennifer Cmar also joined the NRTC team in January as an Assistant Research Professor. Jennifer has been a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist for over 9 years and brings extensive experience teaching orientation and mobility and assistive technology to individuals with visual impairments and blindness.
Sophie Kershaw joined the NRTC team in February as our Communications Specialist. Sophie brings a diverse background of leadership and coordination experience and accomplishments in communications, account management, education, and community-based projects and activities.
As the NRTC continues to grow, more employment opportunities are available on our research and training team. Join our team and help the NRTC accomplish its mission! For more information about these available positions, please visit our Employment Opportunities webpage.
- Older Blind Specialist
- Rehabilitation Counselor/Training Specialist
- Ph.D./Postdoctoral Research Training Position
Research and Training Utilization Award
Put what you have learned to work for you! If you have participated in any NRTC research or training and found it particularly useful, consider applying for the NRTC Research and Training Utilization Award. Awards of up to $500 are granted annually to individuals who have used the NRTC’s research, training products and activities, or information to provide new or improved services to people who are blind or visually impaired.
Publications, Presentations, and Miscellanies
McDonnall, M. C., Crudden, A., LeJeune, B. J., & Steverson, A. (in press). Needs and challenges of seniors with dual sensory loss. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness.
McDonnall, M. C. (in press). Additional evidence for the validity of the Employer Attitudes toward Blind Employees Scale. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin.
McDonnall, M. C., Crudden, A., LeJeune, B. J., & Steverson, A. (in press). Availability of mental health services for individuals who are deaf or deaf-blind. Journal of Social Work in Disability & Rehabilitation.
McDonnall, M. C. (2016, April). Employment-focused research and products from the NRTC. Presentation at the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind’s Spring Conference, Bethesda, MD.
LeJeune, B. J. (2016, April). Collaborative Training and Technical Assistance Opportunities for Staff of the Older Blind Program. Invited presentation at the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind’s Spring Conference, Bethesda, MD.