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Reaching Out Newsletter #80
February 2014

We Are All About Outreach!

Services for students with visual impairment have changed and evolved so much since the founding of the North Dakota School for the Blind in 1908. First, expectations are different than they were years ago. Academic achievement is still important, but high quality employment, quality of life and independence are the ultimate goals. This also comes at a time when most families choose to educate their children in their home community. Residential schools continue to provide a vital role nationwide, but the North Dakota model changed dramatically in 1995 when our full-year residential program was eliminated.

North Dakota Vision Services/School for the Blind attempts to provide a high quality, hybrid model of service delivery. Our short-term program weeks that run all year long are an extremely important part of that model, but the outreach services that are delivered in dozens of schools and every special education unit statewide are equally important.

In this issue of Reaching Out, you will learn a little more about our Re-gional Coordinators (who are all Teachers of the Visually Impaired) and the variety of outreach services that are provided.

Paul H. Olson--Superintendent

NDVS/SB Regional Coordinators Outreach Services

By Cindy Williams, NDVS/SB Vision Outreach Coordinator, Region 4

North Dakota Vision Services/School for the Blind provides outreach services including evaluations to infants and their families and students with visual impairments. A child/student’s sight limitations may relate to eye problems that affect central, peripheral, binocular near/distant or color vision. Conditions which limit effective use of vision may be partial or total, temporary, reversible, progressive or permanent in nature. Often, infants may need assistance in learning to use their vision efficiently, thus the teacher of the visual impaired will work with the infant on visual efficiency skills.

NDVS/SB’s Outreach program is dedicated to help parents and educators improve the quality of education for child(ren)/students with visual impairments throughout North Dakota. Referrals for services/evaluations can come from parents, local school personnel, early intervention services, medical personnel or other related agencies.

NDVS/SB Outreach offers a variety of services including:

  • Direct services for infants/students in their home or local school setting
  • Functional Vision Evaluation or CVI Range Assess-ment
  • Consultative services for planning appropriate programming (with local IEP teams and TVI’s)
  • IEP Recommendations including accommodations
  • Multi-disciplinary evaluations
  • Vision Resource Center/Library including APH products (lending materials)
  • Orientation and Mobility services
  • Transition services
  • In-services/Presentations/Workshops

Contact the Regional Coordinator/Service Provider in your area (see map) with your interest in receiving services and they will guide you in filling out the necessary paperwork to receive an initial consultation. A "Plan of Action" will be discussed with parents, teachers, and other team members to best meet the needs of the child/student.

Home Visits

By Kathy Grzadzielewski, NDVS/SB Vision Outreach Coordinator, Region 3

When a child is born or develops a vision impairment before the age of three, home visits are offered to families. A teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) comes to the home to assist the family in learning about their child’s vision difficulties and present them with varying ways to promote learning and achieving important early childhood milestones through the child’s other senses. Typically, 80% or more of learning is visual; watching others and making sense of the world by observing what is taking place. The TVI can assist the family to find different ways to ‘play’ with the child so that the child can make sense of the world around them. The TVI can also assist the family in finding resources in their community or provide connections with other families for support and important information.

Depending on the individual, child and family home visits usually occur 1 time per month. More frequent visits can occur if the family chooses. Home visits don’t always happen in the home. Visits can take place wherever the family chooses. Sometimes visits take place in the daycare setting or at extended family homes, such as grandparents, aunts or cousins. It is important through the home visits that the TVI build a trusting relationship with the family members and especially the child. Confidentiality is of the utmost importance with all families and no information regarding the family or child is shared unless authorization to do so is received.

It is important that the child learn to use their hands to ‘see’ and learn through touch. Reaching out to explore can be difficult and frightening for the child who cannot see what lies in front of them. Making the child’s immediate surroundings fun and inviting can invite the child to explore and learn.

When the child approaches three years of age, the TVI can assist the family in transition to other programs such as preschool. The TVI can stay with the child throughout the child’s school years, assisting with adaptations needed for the child to become a successful student.

NDVD/SB Regional Coordinators in the Community

By Lori Mattick, NDVS/SB Vision Outreach Coordinator, Regions 1 & 2

Blindness or visual im-pairment is a low incidence disability. There just aren’t very many white cane users, guide dog owners and braille readers in North Dakota! However, the general public all have various levels of information regarding blindness. Many individuals may recognize that a white cane is an international symbol to indicate blindness or know that braille is the bumps that people who are blind read. But, when it comes down to it, many of these people are ult-mately very curious and interested about the lives of people who are blind.

NDVS/SB Regional Co-ordinators are very excited and enthusiastic to share infor-mation regarding the services that NDVS/SB has to offer to individuals, families, teachers who are involved with friends or loved ones that have been affected with visual impairment. Regional Coordinators are also ready and willing to share in-formation about blindness or visual impairments with groups or organizations that have a desire to learn more about this low incidence disability. Re-gional Coordinators have led many workshops or conferences to educate adults or children about people with vision loss. A main focus of these work-shops is to provide the partici-pants the opportunity to learn that blindness does not have to be a devastating life sentence of doom. As participants have an opportunity to actually see some of many adaptive tech-niques and devices that blind people use in daily life, they begin to see and understand that people who are blind can do the very same things that sighted people do. Through demonstration, discussion and answering questions about blindness, NDVS/SB Regional Coordinators share their knowledge about individuals living with blindness.

f you see your Region-al Coordinator loaded down with white canes, beeping balls, talking clocks, braille books, large print calendars , or interesting magnifiers, she may be headed out into your community to host such a work-shop or conference! NDVS/SB Coordinators have enjoyed spending time working with a large variety of elementary and high school classrooms, service clubs, college or uni-versity classes, elderly care facilities, occupational thera-pist groups, early intervention providers, and various health care organizations. Raising awareness and sharing infor-mation about the people with visual impairments and the services and resources availa-ble is one of the many focuses that a Regional Coordinator can bring to your community!

Family Weekend — It’s Just Around the Corner!

By Linda Kraft, NDVS/SB Outreach Coordinator, Region 5

Are you the parent of a child with a visual impairment? Then Family Weekend is for you! The focus of this yearly event is to provide parents of children with visual impairments an opportunity to meet together to learn about topics relating to child rearing and vision loss. Most importantly, the mission of Family Weekend is to encourage parent empowerment.

One time per year, families gather for a weekend jam packed with learning opportunities and FUN! Parents are treated to presentations by expert speakers in a wide array of topics dealing with vision loss and more importantly have an opportunity to share with other parents their fears, hopes, joys and practical strategies that have worked for them. Children also benefit from their participation in Family Weekend. Siblings are encouraged to attend, giving them the opportunity to watch their brother or sister participate fully in activities that have been modified to meet their needs. One very special Family Weekend was used to provide young learners with a chance to play on inflatable games, while in a safe, controlled environment. On another occasion, a sister of one of our youngest participants reported to her mom about children using “white sticks” to move around the room. She did not realize that these very capable children were using their “white sticks” because of reduced vision! This past year, participants were treated to a visit by several animals from the Red River Zoo. For many of our young learners, it was their first “hands on” experience with animals that they might not otherwise have been exposed to.

In order to keep travel as equitable as possible, the location of this yearly event rotates around the state. This year’s event, entitled “Achieving Dreams in 2014”, will be held at the Comfort Inn in Bismarck on April 4 and 5. Friday night starts with a pizza social and swim. Saturday will be a day filled with fun activities for both adults and children.

There is a $10 charge for each adult registrant; however, there are scholarships available for any family needing financial assistance for gas and hotel. This opportunity is open to all interested individuals, including parents, grandparents, and siblings. If you would like more information about Family Weekend, please e-mail Linda Kraft (

Why a Functional Vision Evaluation?

By Mary Verlinde, NDVS/SB Vision Outreach Coordinator, Regions 7 & 8

Functional Vision Evaluations (or FVE) are important to conduct in order to help parents, teachers, and caregivers gain an understanding of how an individual is able to use their vision within their natural everyday environment. These evaluations, often conducted in the home or school, can give a different picture of a student’s functional vision versus vision that is tested in a doctor’s office due to a different setting. It is, however, always important to start with a formal vision examination by a licensed optometrist or ophthalmologist in order to gain a diagnosis of a visual condition and visual acuity and any recommendations or treatments that are needed.

There are several areas that are assessed in a functional vision evaluation. Among these areas are:

  • Defensive Blink Reflex - An involuntary blinking of the eyelids when a stimulus such as a hand or object is suddenly presented. Another reflex that is checked in this area, especially when the defensive blink has not fully developed, such as in infants, is to touch the nose (nasopalpebral reflex) and eyebrow (McCarthy’s reflex). When these points are touched, the child should display a normal blink. If these reflexes are not displayed it may be a sign of a neurological concern.
  • Eye Preference - Assesses to see if the individual has one eye that they prefer to use over another. This is tested by having the person look through a tube or even a kaleidoscope and note which eye they bring it to.
  • Corneal Reflection - A reflection of light when shown into the eyes. This can help determine the alignment of the eye and to rule out any eye turns.
  • Tracking - Development of eye pursuit movements and eye-motor skills which gives the ability of eyes to move in all of the visual fields. This it tested by presenting an object at midline and slowly moving it in a horizontal, vertical, circular, and diagonal direction while the student is instructed to follow it using only the eyes and not turning the head to follow. Good tracking is important in the reading process as the eyes need to track from left to right in a smooth fluent motion as they move across a page.
  • Fixation - The ability to establish and maintain visual gaze on an object. This is also important for reading as it helps the student to aim the eyes accurately on a page and to keep ones place when reading across a page.
  • Scanning - The ability to use ocular motor skills to visually search for things. This is an important skill for a number of areas in doing classroom tasks such as reading and writing, copying work from the board, mobility, etc.
  • Shift of Gaze - The ability to shift visual attention from one object to another. This is done by presenting two objects at midline horizontally, vertically, and from near to far. This is an important skill, especially in infants and/or multi-handicapped students, who may need to communicate by using switches and making choices nonverbally.
  • Convergence/Divergence -The simultaneous inward and outward turning of the eyes to maintain a single binocular image. This is tested by presenting an object such as a pencil at midline and slowly moving it in toward the nose. The student should be able to follow it inward to within 1 inch or even to the tip of the nose. The pencil then is moved outward and the student again should be able to move eyes outward when following it. This is another important skill in the reading process as the eyes are converged on a page when reading.
  • Peripheral Field - The ability to detect objects entering the side vision in a 180 degree arc. This is tested by presenting an item from behind the student on the right and left sides and assessing the amount in degrees the student detected the item. This is an important component in the area of mobility.
  • Acuity - The clarity of vision usually written in terms of 20/20. This number or visual acuity, allows us to make predictions about one’s visual functioning. Low vision is defined as having a visual acuity measured between 20/70 and 20/200. Legally blind is when the best corrected visual acuity is 20/200 or less or the person's visual field is 20 degrees or less.

These are just a few of the common areas assessed in a functional vision evaluation. Other additional areas may be appropriate to assess according to the students visual condition and needs. Recommendations and suggestions are given and presented by the evaluator to the students’ parents and/or team and any ad-aptations are discussed and implemented.

Learning Media Assessment

By Lana Slaby, NDVS/SB Vision Outreach Coordinator, Region 6

The Functional Vision Evaluation is completed and you’re thinking, “no more” assessments. Well your child might need one more to determine their best learning media. This Learning Media Assessment or LMA is in part due to the “braille provision” on the IEP. If the IEP team has determined that your child’s visual impairment meets the definition of visually impaired, they are required to address the “braille provision” that appears in the Consideration of Special Factors on the IEP.

"(iii) in the case of a child who is blind or visually impaired, provide for instruction in braille and the use of braille unless the IEP Team determines, after an evaluation of the child's reading and writing skills, needs, and appropriate reading and writing media (including an evaluation of the child's future needs for instruction in braille or the use of braille), that instruction in braille or the use of braille is not appropriate for the child; OSEP or the Office of Special Education Programs doesn’t identify this evaluation as the LMA but instead states that “determinations regarding the components of evaluations for particular children are matters within the purview of State and local officials.”

Sometimes the Functional Vision Evaluation will serve a dual purpose and be used to determine your child’s best learning media. TVI’s will use a child’s acuity level as a guide to help determine which learning media is the most appropriate.

Sometimes it’s pretty obvious that if a child is totally blind or only has light perception, these children will need instruction in braille. Low vision students, (20/70 to 20/200) typically have sufficient vision that allows them to quickly and accurately access regular print, large print, or with the use of an optical device access the print. A third group that a TVI might encounter are students who appear as visual learners but based upon the recommended print size or lack of academic progress using print, braille might be the most appropriate media. Sometimes when print is too large, it becomes an inefficient way to access the curriculum. It can be slow and visually fatiguing for the student. It might be determined that your child is a dual media learner too. They might access math problems with a video maginfier but read using braille. For some children who have additional disabilities, auditory and tactual learning might be their best way to access curriculum. The TVI is always assessing your child's progress so the learning media identified at one point in their academic career might actually change over the course of time.

If you have any questions about learning media assessment don’t hesitate to contact your NDVS/SB Regional Coordinator. Finding the best media for learning is essential to the success of students with visual impairment.

Upcoming Events

February 9-14 - Student Short Term Programming

February 17 - President's Day, Office Closed

February 23-28 - Student Short Term Programming

March 9-14 - Student Short Term Programming

March 18-20 - Staff Development Days

April 4-5 - Family Weekend

April 6-11 - Adult Week

Reaching Out is published by the ND Vision Services/School for the Blind, an agency funded by the state of North Dakota for the benefit of people with visual impairments. ND Vision Services/School for the Blind is a division of the ND Department of Public Instruction. NDVS/SB does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in employment or provision of services Reaching Out is available in alternative formats upon request. Please send comments to:

REACHING OUT ND Vision Services/
School for the Blind
500 Stanford Road
Grand Forks, ND 58203-2799

Superintendent of Public Instruction: Kirsten Baesler

Superintendent, ND Vision Services/School for the Blind: Paul Olson -

Reaching Out Editors: Nicole Evenson ( and Leslie Pedersen (

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