Ensuring Quality Education for Our Children

Ensuring Quality Education for Our Children

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

(Editor’s Note:  Ms. Oien presented this item to our Annual Convention on November 1, 2014)

Good Morning Minnesota Federationists,

Thank you for inviting me here to share with you today.  My name is Kristin Oien, and I am the specialist for the blind & visually impaired at the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE).  My responsibilities at MDE include providing support, training, and technical assistance to teachers of the visually impaired, orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists, and other stakeholders providing service to students with disabilities and their families.  During the past few months MDE has organized, funded, and carried out several initiatives to support professionals in the field and the children they serve.

During the last two weeks of July, a brailler-repair training class was held at the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind (MSAB) with Peter Avery, the Perkins Repair Trainer from Massachusetts.  Five individuals were certified as brailler-repair technicians, and we hope to establish a brailler-repair program at MSAB in the near future.

In August, MDE hosted a BVI Specific Mentor Training day where we introduced 10 mentors to 14 protégés who will be working together through the 2014-2015 school year.  The 10 mentor teams will be meeting face to face, have opportunities to observe instructional lessons and assessments, and attend the Charting the Cs Cross-Categorical Conference together in the spring of next year.  They are focusing on targeted areas of the expanded core curriculum that may include specific skills in assistive technology, Career Education, Compensatory/Access Skills, Independent Living, Orientation & Mobility, Recreation & Leisure, Self-Determination, Sensory Efficiency and Social Interaction.

On September 26th we held our first Statewide Vision Network meeting which focused on recent mandates for ACT testing, Unified English Braille Implementation, organizing statewide activities for our students and developing an early childhood vision screening tool to be used across the state.

This month the 50th Anniversary of White Cane Safety Awareness was celebrated at MSAB on October 15, and two representatives from the Minnesota Department of Corrections attended the National Prison Braille Forum with me in Kentucky to learn about the possibility of establishing a prison braille program in Minnesota.  Just last week the Minnesota Division on Vision Impairments Fall Conference was held and focused on BVI specific assistive technology and accessibility.

This coming week we will be hosting three low-vision clinics at MDE, District 287, and Fergus Falls.  We have 76 students scheduled to receive at no cost, a quality low-vision exam, prescribed hand-held low-vision aids and devices, an opportunity to try a wide array of low-vision assistive technology, and meet with a representative from State Services for the Blind to learn about transition and post high school supports.  These low-vision clinics provide valuable information to students, families, and IEP team members regarding increased visual access that carries into every aspect of the students' lives.

Current challenges that we are facing in the field include equal access to on-line adaptable tests, addressing the looming teacher shortage, and ensuring that Minnesotans who read and teach braille are prepared for the transition to Unified English Braille (UEB).

Our Minnesota Resource Center Advisory Committee members have chosen test accessibility and teacher shortage issues as their main focus this year, and we are working toward creating and sharing collaborative and useful supports in these areas for the field.  We are also exploring the opportunities and challenges of developing a much-needed Minnesota based university program for teacher development.  We are identifying stakeholders, champions, and needed resources to determine how best to move forward.  While this will take significant time and energy to develop, we know that it is important to support students in our schools.  The Statewide Vision Network members have also created a UEB Community of Practice group that is focusing on creating supports for the current implementation plan that Jennifer Dunnam and other key players in the state helped create.  Thank you Jennifer!

With that being said, I’d like to borrow a version of a quote that was shared by Dan Parker at your NFB Convention.  “We do have problems to solve, but rest assured, know that we are in the game!”

My overall goal continues to be that children and youth in Minnesota who are blind and visually impaired receive quality instruction and supports that will lead to their highest level of independence and success.  Thank you so much for inviting me to share this information with you today.  Please know that I welcome suggestions for effective change.  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.