Careers Working with the Blind, Deaf-Blind, and Visually Impaired

helen keller“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”
—Helen Keller (left), We Bereaved (1929)

As someone who became deaf and blind at 19 months of age, the legendary Helen Keller just wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

Perhaps not as renowned, but also worthy of recognition in her own right is Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan Macy.

Macy’s work with Keller ultimately became the foundation for teaching blind, deaf-blind, and visually impaired children. As steadfast and untiring partners in their crusade to generate skills, independence, and happiness in a world defined by silence and darkness, both women are true heroines.

Like Keller and Macy, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) continues as its mission “to remove barriers, create solutions, and expand possibilities so people with vision loss can achieve their full potential.”

Does this notable mission inspire you? If yes, you’ll need dedication and a tenacious approach to challenging situations to make it your life’s work. There are many challenges to tackle in this arena: and you could make a difference.

The National Federation of the Blind reports that blind students have a 45% high school graduation rate, 90% of blind children do not receive Braille instruction, and the unemployment rate among working-age blind adults is 70%. This article provides a review of various careers which allow you to work with the blind, deaf-blind, and visually impaired.

People interested in working with the blind, deaf-blind, and visually impaired have a variety of career areas to choose from. Special education teachers of the blind and visually impaired work in either public or private schools; other teachers work with the child and parents in their home.

School-based environments vary. Some teachers work individually with a child in a classroom, while others teach children who are blind or visually impaired in mainstreamed classes alongside other teachers.

Such teachers generally work typical school hours when students are present, but—like other teachers—they also use nights and weekends to prepare lessons, do paperwork, and grade papers. Some special education teachers also work during the summer.

blind childTeachers of visually impaired and blind students require more specialized training compared to a general education teacher. Educators in this field teach body awareness, balance, sensory/spatial awareness, and the use of canes and guide dogs. Teachers of the blind and visually impaired also counsel students and their families in life skills and teach students how to read and write in Braille.

Licensing and certification ensure that individuals working with blind and impaired people meet professional standards. All states require special education teachers, including those who teach the blind and visually impaired, to have a license to teach children with disabilities. Check into the requirements of the state in which you choose to work.

If you have a degree in an area other than special education, you can take additional coursework to qualify for a state license in special education. You can also earn professional certificates for working with visually impaired and blind students.

Besides teaching and tutoring, people with vision problems may need social work support or physical rehabilitation/therapy, or they may need to learn basic skills for independent living.

People born blind need different resources and skills from people who lose their sight later in life; those who are both blind and deaf need still other specific needs.

Whatever area of work you decide to do with the blind and visually impaired, you can make a significant difference in a child’s or an adult’s life.

Technological advances in the diagnosis and treatment of blindness and visual impairments have gradually increased the numbers of students enrolled in highly specialized, special education programs. Moreover, specialized equipment, interactive software programs, and experimental surgeries expand resources to help the blind and visually impaired and to bring them greater opportunities for living a full life.

Today, more than 65% of blind people are over 55 years of age. The aging population increases the demand for professionals working with the blind and visually impaired.

This compilation of career descriptions gives you a sense of the wide range of career choices available to people interested in working with the blind and people with vision loss.

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certified vision rehabilitation specialistCertified Orientation Mobility Specialists
Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapists

What They Do: In general, vision rehabilitation therapists instruct people with vision impairments in the use of compensatory skills and assistive technologies which enable them to live safe, productive, and independent lives. Vision rehabilitation therapists enhance the vocational opportunities, independent living, and educational development of people with vision loss, and may include working in center-based or itinerant settings.

Jobs titles in this line of work include rehabilitation counselor, rehabilitation teacher, and mobility specialist. Responsibilities might include diagnosis and evaluation of patients, daily living instructions, vocational assistance, teaching Braille, travel training, and the use of specialized tools and assistive technologies.

Social service agencies at the state, local, and national levels and sometimes through private vocational training agencies provide professional counseling work with patients on a daily basis. A lot of people with vision loss find this a rewarding career area.

There is a demand for certified vision rehabilitation therapists, especially in supervisory positions. Both a professional and honorary distinction exists for vision rehabilitation therapists. After vision rehabilitation therapists become certified, they can use the initials CVRT (Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapist) with their signature.

Typically, certified low-vision therapists (CLVTs) work with individuals with vision affected by conditions such as macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataract, albinism, retinitis pigmentosa, brain injury, syndromes that include vision loss, and other causes of vision impairment.

Visual conditions addressed by the CLVTs include reduced visual acuity, impaired contrast sensitivity function, impaired central and/or peripheral vision, eye movement dysfunction, loss of depth perception, loss of color vision, and combinations of these.

CLVTs work with the family and significant others to assist them in understanding the functional implications of vision changes, how the person with low vision is expected to progress through habilitation/rehabilitation, environmental modifications helpful for enhanced function, coaching for home/work/school/leisure exercises, and adaptation to change.

Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists (COMS) provide instruction to individuals with visual impairment in the use of their remaining senses to determine their position within the environment and in techniques for safe movement from one place to another. Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists usually provided one-on-one instruction, which can include skills such as how to use a long cane, the operation of low-vision devices and electronic travel aids when appropriate, how to orient oneself to new environments, how to navigate public transportation systems, how to cross streets safely, and traveling by using hearing, remaining vision, and other senses.

Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists help children develop fundamental skills such as fine and gross motor skills, concept development, and problem-solving skills. Adult clients can also benefit from consultation with a COMS who evaluates their current travel-related skills, discusses their future goals, and helps them select a program of instruction which will allow them to reach their greatest travel potential. Many COMSes train patients in activities such as computer use, communication skills, or home management skills. Some Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists choose to work on their own as independent contractors for schools and agencies.

Requirements: These jobs require, at a minimum, a bachelor’s degree. However, many of these jobs also require a graduate school degree such as a master’s, Ph.D., M.D., or J.D. Individuals graduating from these programs meet a small percentage of the need, thus many current vision rehabilitation therapists originally majored in related professions, such as education, teaching students with impaired vision, deaf education, orientation and mobility, rehabilitation counseling, rehabilitation, occupational therapy, psychology, or social work.

The Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP) offers certification in three disciplines: Low Vision Therapy, Orientation & Mobility, and Vision Rehabilitation Therapy.

Salary & Advancement: In the U.S., salaries for CVRTs and COMSes generally range from $55,090 to $81,290, with a mean average of $64,920. Geography, work setting, and experience all impact salary.

Employment Growth: CVRTs and COMSes are certified professionals in high demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts an employment growth of 33% for occupational therapists between 2010 and 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations.

The increasing elderly population powers growth in the demand for occupational therapy services. The demand for occupational therapists should continue to rise as a result of the increasing number of individuals who require therapy services. Hospitals need occupational therapists to staff their outpatient rehabilitation programs.

Employment growth in schools results from the expansion of the school-age population and federally funded services for disabled students. Children with disabilities need therapists to help prepare them to enter special education programs.

Job opportunities should be good for licensed occupational therapists in all settings, particularly in acute hospital, rehabilitation, and orthopedic settings, because the elderly receive most of their treatment in these settings. Occupational therapists with specialized knowledge in a specific treatment area such as working with the blind and visually impaired have increased job prospects.

director residential program visually impairedDirectors of Learning and Residential Programs for the Blind and Visually Impaired

What They Do: A handful of day institutions and residential programs located focus on the blind, deaf-blind, and visually impaired; however, other institutions accommodate children and adults with varying disabilities. Clients of these facilities may receive personal care, learning, social activities, and, in some cases, room and board.

Here are several examples of longstanding learning and residential programs for the blind, deaf-blind, and visually impaired:

  • Since 1860, the California School for the Blind (Fremont, CA) has provided intensive, disability-specific educational services for enrolled students ages 6–22 who are blind, visually impaired, deaf-blind, or visually impaired/multi-disabled. Students over 18 may participate in an on-campus apartment living program.
  • Since 1868, New York State School for the Blind/NYSSB (Batavia, NY) has worked with students 5–21 years of age to assist them in skills of independence and to reach their personal and professional goals. NYSSB offers a Day Student program and a Five-Day Residential program (with students going home on the weekends).
  • Established in 1936, the Carroll Center (Newton, MA) is a comprehensive agency committed to the independence of blind and visually impaired children and adults through a variety of programs and services. They have an 8–12 week independent living program, a 24-week vocational transition program, an essential skills program for seniors with vision loss and a residential living for adults.
  • Friedman Place: A residence for blind and visually impaired adults (Chicago, IL), is a 24/7, safe, supportive, and vibrant community where seniors and other adults with visual impairment can live independently and hassle-free. The community operates under the auspices of the American Foundation for the Blind.

Requirements: For example, this is an actual online job listing: bachelor’s degree in psychology, social work, child development, special education, or related field from an accredited college or university; minimum of three years’ work experience in related field working with adolescents, preferably in a residential setting; minimum of one year managing department or supervising staff; knowledge of Federal, state, county, and local regulations, including Title 22, Title 17, and Patient Rights; must possess and maintain a valid California Class “C” driver’s license and eligibility to drive agency vehicles; must be at least 21 years of age.

Salary & Advancement: The average salary for a residential director is $43,159–$57,460 as the primary director and $32,460–$36,995 as the director reporting to a top administrator. Salaries vary by geography, work setting, and experience. Residential directors’ salaries tend to increase along with notable achievements of the students served at the facility.

Employment Growth: Not great. Full-time residential facilities have become harder to support and sustain. Some of the historical facilities will go on, but fewer new facilities are forecast due to funding and governmental support shifting to mainstreaming and individualized independent living.

vocational-rehabilitation-blindEmployment/Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors for the Blind and Visually Impaired

What They Do: The road to successful employment has added obstacles for those with visual impairment or blindness. Vocational rehabilitation counselors assist people with disabilities as they explore their vocational options and help their clients decrease or eliminate obstacles to gainful employment.

Vocational rehabilitation counselors (also known as employment counselors) help their clients determine their abilities through interviews, testing, references, etc. They help their clients find a job or help them choose a career path. Vocational rehabilitation counselors may provide additional training and coaching to prepare the client for employability.

Employment counselors must know the most in-demand job skills at a given time, and they must know each client’s skill level. They act as the link between blind/visually impaired clients and potential employers. They both help their client adapt to the unique needs of the workplace and help the employer adapt to the unique needs of blind/visually impaired employees.

Most vocational counselors work for elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, vocational rehabilitation agencies, individual and family service agencies, and residential facilities.

Vocational rehabilitation counselors work in a variety of industries, including nonprofit organizations, rehabilitation services, counseling, and community health programs, as well as job training and disability social service programs.

Requirements: Many states require vocational counselors to have a master’s degree to obtain a license. Licensing, however, is not required for all vocational rehabilitation counselor positions. Licensing in many government offices comes after 3,000 hours of training in clinical settings. In order to maintain certification, a counselor must complete a minimum number of continuing education hours.

Some employers prefer rehabilitation counselors who have certification as a Certified Disability Management Specialist or a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor. The Certification of Disability Management Specialists Commission provides the Certified Disability Management Specialist designation, which requires a minimum of 12 months of experience. The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification provides the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor credential. Both organizations provide additional education for rehabilitation counselors and require a written exam.

Salary & Advancement: The BLS shows the median annual salary for vocational rehabilitation counselors at $51,050. Rehabilitation counselor earnings vary between state and local government positions, with states paying a median $45,350 and local jobs paying $38,800. Rehabilitation centers pay less than $30,000. The lowest-paid counselors make less than $29,360, while the highest-paid earn upwards of $82,330.

Career counselors may advance in their institutions into director or supervisor of counseling positions, or they may opt to become counselor educators, counseling psychologists, or school administrators.

Career counselors may seek higher wages in other industries; for example, the industry of home health care services offers a salary average higher than the national average at $59,080, and career counselors employed by the federal executive branch earn the highest salary average of all, at $69,770 annually.

Employment Growth: The BLS forecasts a 14% employment growth for vocational counselors between 2008 and 2018. Rehabilitation counseling jobs are projected to increase by 19% between now and the end of 2018. The growing senior citizen population increases the demand for services such as rehabilitative counseling.

guide-dog-trainerGuide Dog Trainers

What They Do: Guide Dog Trainers work for a specific guide dog school. Formal training takes four to six months, with a professional trainer and then another four weeks with the dog’s blind master. Major responsibilities include evaluation, care, and training of dogs for guide work, training with the blind master and their guide dogs, and graduate follow-up services, as needed.

Requirements: Minimal criteria for Guide Dogs of America’s three-year apprenticeship program include a high school diploma, a valid California driver’s license, and at least one year of experience working with dogs. Knowledge of dogs and/or veterinary experience is desired.

Salary & Advancement: Licensed trainers begin their salaries at levels comparable to an average public school teacher’s salary. Salary increases come with increasing experience. Salary ranges differ at each Guide Dog School. Advancement opportunities for Guide Dog Trainers can include Senior Guide Dog Instructor, Training Manager, and Director of Training.

Employment Growth: Job opportunities are somewhat limited due to the unique targeted group.

early-childhood-specialists-blindInfant/Early Childhood Specialists Who Work with Infants/Children with Visual Impairments

What They Do: Preschool special education teachers, including those who work with blind and visually impaired children, conduct lessons and give instruction to children with special needs. Early childhood specialists may teach blind and visually impaired children from birth until they reach kindergarten age.

Requirements: People interested in teaching blind and visually impaired children typically need a bachelor’s degree. Specific jobs and specific states require a master’s degree in special education or an additional certificate in visual impairment or mobility. Some states require a special education license to teach infants and preschool children with visual impairment; find out the licensing requirements for your state of destination.

Salary & Advancement: According to the BLS as of May 2009, preschool special education teachers earned an average of $53,770 per year. Preschool teachers of the blind and visually impaired with one year or less of experience earn an average of $29,639–$40,562 annually. Those with one to four years of experience earned a yearly average of $31,407–$43,164, while those with five–nine years’ experience averaged $36,418–$50,290. Special education in private schools and other instructional settings offer average salaries of $57,860 annually, while preschool special education teachers who worked for outpatient medical care centers earned an average of $51,250 per year.

According to Payscale, Inc., salaries for preschool special education teachers may vary with the level of education professionals hold. For example, teachers with a bachelor’s degree in special education earned an annual average of $33,895–$46,651; teachers with a bachelor’s in elementary education degree earned an average of $33,895–$46,651 yearly; and preschool special education teachers with a master’s degree in education made an average of $38,693–$52,064 annually.

Employment Growth: The BLS forecasts a 20% employment growth for preschool special education teachers from 2008 through 2018.

social-workers-blindSocial Workers Who Work with the Blind and Visually Impaired

What They Do: People working in the field of social work are looking to help improve people’s lives; some social workers provide professional support for the blind and visually impaired. Social work with blind and visually impaired people and their families may involve finding resources to help with the client’s daily living needs, psychological support to individuals and families, counseling patients on living arrangements and options, and identifying safe and adequate living conditions, as well as travel, dietary, and hygiene needs.

A social worker may have an assignment to help a visually impaired client locate vocational training or attain a seeing-eye dog. Social workers for the blind and people with vision loss might work for public health, hospitals, nursing facilities, and local, state, or national social services agencies.

Requirements: People interested in a social worker career must have a degree in social work from a college or university program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Many colleges and universities provide a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree. Many more colleges and universities offer a Master of Social Work (MSW) or a Doctorate in Social Work (DSW or PhD). People interested in providing therapy need a MSW degree. Degree programs involve classroom study, as well as practical field experience.

Most states require practicing social workers to have a license or certification, or to become registered, although standards vary. Contact the state regulatory board directly or the American Association of State Social Work Boards.

Salary & Advancement: According to the BLS, the average salary for social workers in this arena ranges from the low $30,000s to the high $50,000s. People just starting out with a BSW and no experience can expect an annual salary ranging up to $30,000, depending on type of work, experience, and geographic factors. A social worker with an MSW degree can expect an annual income ranging to about $40,000; a DSW can anticipate an annual income of more than $40,000. Some experienced private practitioners and senior administrators earn as much as $100,000.

Employment Growth: The increase in demand for professional services for the blind, deaf-blind, and visually impaired children and adults increases the demand for social workers in this field.

paraprofessionals-blind-visually-impairedTeacher Aides/Paraprofessionals Who Work with the Blind, Deaf-Blind, & Visually Impaired

What They Do: Some teacher aides and paraprofessionals assist with educational programs for blind, deaf-blind, and visually impaired students. While the primary teaching responsibility lies with the teacher, the teacher aide can play a significant role in following through with and reinforcing the learning curriculum.

Good communication among the lead teacher, the student, the student’s family, and the teacher aide is critical to information-sharing, program consistency, and celebrating achievements.

Most often, the classroom teacher determines a paraprofessional’s daily job assignments, which could include tasks such as providing instructional and clerical support for classroom teachers, assisting and supervising students in the classroom, cafeteria, schoolyard, or on field trips, recording grades, setting up equipment, or helping prepare materials for instruction.

Specific job requirements vary from district to district and state to state. A paraprofessional is an ideal job for someone who wants to work with special needs students in a classroom, but does not have teacher certification.

Requirements: Most special education teacher aide positions require a minimum of a high school diploma; some require at least a year of college courses and a state certificate, if issued. Aides with teaching responsibilities usually require more training than those who don’t perform teaching tasks.

Increasingly, employers prefer aides who have some college training. Although an entry-level position, a teacher’s aide often calls for one to two years of experience working with children to ensure that the person has the right aptitude for working with children, especially the blind and visually impaired.

Some teacher aides are aspiring teachers who are working towards their degree while gaining experience. A number of two-year and community colleges offer associate’s degree programs which prepare graduates to work as teacher aides.

Some states have established certification and training requirements for teacher aides. Some jobs and certain states require applicants to pass a background check, present a valid driver’s license, and obtain certification in CPR and first-aid. Extra qualifications may be necessary for teaching assistants working in more challenging settings involving the blind, deaf-blind, and visually impaired.

Salary & Advancement: According to Payscale as of 2010, if you have a high school diploma you can work as a teaching assistant and expect to earn approximately $9 to $11 per hour. If you have an associate’s or bachelors degree, the rate increases to a maximum of $15 per hour.

Earnings for aides vary by region, work experience, and academic qualifications. Many aides covered by collective bargaining agreements have benefits similar to those of the teachers in their schools.

Advancement for teacher aides, usually in the form of higher earnings or increased responsibility, comes primarily with experience or additional education. Aides who earn bachelor’s degrees may become licensed teachers.

Some school districts allow time away from the job so aides can take college courses; others provide their teaching assistants with tuition reimbursement or scholarships in order to help them obtain degrees in various specialties of child development and visual impairments, as well as state teacher certification. Schools usually require employees to remain on board for a set period of time after completing their supplemental education in exchange for tuition reimbursement and other such benefits.

Employment Growth: The BLS projects teaching assistant jobs to grow roughly 10% between 2008 and 2018, which is around the average for all occupations.

The population of students with blindness and visually impairment is growing. The number of special education programs is rising in response to Federal legislation mandating appropriate education for all children with disabilities, and the emphasis on transitioning children with special needs into regular school settings increases the number of special education programs. In addition, school reforms calling for more individual instruction further enhance employment opportunities for teacher aides.

Most students benefit from the additional attention, individual instruction, and positive feedback that teacher aides provide, which is why more paraprofessionals are being employed to provide students with personal instruction and remedial education.

teachers-blind-visually-impairedTeachers of the Blind, Deaf-Blind, & Visually Impaired

What They Do: Teachers of the blind and visually impaired (also known as TVIs) offer individualized help, coordinate group activities, and adapt activities and accommodations, as needed. Successful special education teachers must be able to communicate, listen to, and motivate students.

Outstanding teachers of the blind and visually impaired know how to balance their empathy and compassion for children along with an ability to sensitively work with parents and other teachers and administrators.

Top teachers of the blind and visually impaired have an intuitive and learned ability to assess the strengths and weaknesses of an individual child and draw on strategies which yield the greatest progress. Patience is the hallmark of a teacher of blind and visually impaired children: They must deal with student tantrums and other uncontrollable behavior; and they must motivate frustrated students struggling academically or rebelling against their disabilities.

Requirements: To teach the blind and visually impaired a full school curriculum, teachers need at least a bachelor’s degree in special education; often employers prefer candidates with a master’s degree in special education with focused coursework on visual impairment, mobility, or blindness.

Many bachelor’s degree programs in special education take four to five years to complete. The best special education programs introduce you to the entire field of special education by providing you with a broad overview and training in teaching students with all types of disabilities. At some point in your studies, you can focus your coursework and practicum in specific areas, such as working with the blind and visually impaired.

For certain jobs, certain states require a master’s degree in special education or an additional certificate in visual impairment or mobility. Every state and the District of Columbia require a special education state license to teach grade-school children with a visual impairment. Before you begin an academic program in special education for working with blind and visually impaired students, check out the licensing requirements for your state of destination, as they vary greatly.

Salary & Advancement: According to the BLS, the average annual salary for a special education teacher (including those who work with the blind and visually impaired) in 2010 was $53,220. Geographic location impacts the salaries of elementary school special education teachers.

Employment Growth: Recent labor reports have pointed to a critical shortage in qualified special education teachers. The BLS projects excellent future job prospects for special education teachers, including a 17% increase in job openings from 2008 to 2018. This increase is higher than the projected growth for all other teachers at the elementary and secondary levels.

teachers-brailleTeachers/Tutors of Braille

What They Do: The elementary curriculum for visually impaired and blind students generally includes Braille lessons. Teachers of Braille are usually special education teachers with state certification who have special training for the instruction of disabled students. Some states even require special education teachers to have an extra year of special education training or a master’s degree.

Requirements: All states require certified teachers to have a license to teach; a teaching license normally requires a four-year education degree or passing a special teaching exam. Many states require extra certification for teaching special education, and some states require specific certificates for teaching students with certain types of disabilities.

If you take special education training courses for teaching visually impaired students, be sure to learn the methods for teaching Braille. If necessary, earn a master’s degree in special education, if you plan to teach in a state which requires the advanced degree.

Braille tutors not certified to teach a full curriculum can work as a language tutor on a freelance basis,  to teach someone to read Braille or to refresh a person’s Braille skills.

Salary & Advancement: Besides the intrinsic rewards for teaching blind and visually impaired students, special education teachers and teachers of Braille often receive accelerated pay scales. Tutors of Braille may command above minimum hourly wage for their in-demand skills.

Employment Growth: Opportunities for teachers of Braille are plentiful due to the ongoing shortage of special education teachers, including those who can read and teach Braille.

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More and more colleges offer specialized, special education undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificates in the area of blindness, blind-deafness, and visual impairment.

Below is a sampling of on-campus and online programs targeted to this area of professional work.

Colleges with Leading Programs for Working with the Blind and Visually Impaired

college-new-jerseyCollege of New Jersey: Offers a program specifically designed for teaching the blind and people who are visually impaired. It’s the only such program available at a New Jersey college or university. New college students already certified in another discipline and college graduates wishing to become a teacher have several certification options. Students learn Braille literacy, assertive technology, collaboration and teaming, and approaches to help blind/visually impaired people function independently.

hunter-college-cunyHunter College,  City University of New York: One of the oldest public colleges in the country, Hunter College is the largest college in the CUNY system. Hunter College offers several graduate programs for students who want to teach blind or visually impaired children and adults. Students can obtain a master’s degree and a New York State certificate as a teacher of the visually impaired. Those who already have a master’s degree in special education can take an advanced certificate program. Both programs allow students to attend full-time or part-time.

missouri-state-universityMissouri State University: Two special masters degree programs: one program specializing in “Blindness and Low Vision” is approved by the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER); the other program specializing in “Orientation and Mobility” is aligned to the standards set by the Association of Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) and the Academy of Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP).

peabody-college-vanderbiltPeabody College, Vanderbilt University: Ranked a top-tier special education program in the nation for more than a decade by U.S. News & World Report. The special education department ranks first in scholarly production among other departments at research universities in the U.S., according to a report by Academic Analytics. The school offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees with a focus on visual impairment. Because of the shortage of qualified special education professionals, most graduate students are fully funded through Department of Education grants.

teachers-collegeTeachers College, Columbia University: The largest and oldest graduate school of education in the U.S. offers M.Ed and M.A. degrees in blindness and visual impairment. Students work with a faculty adviser to design a program which meets their personal interests and certification needs. A teacher’s certificate in blindness and visual impairment has several different concentrations: early childhood education, childhood education, and adolescence education. Students are required to complete a supervised practice and a comprehensive final examination.

Colleges with Online Programs for Working with the Blind and Visually Impaired

hunter-college-cunyHunter College: Offers an online certificate in orientation and mobility and an online master’s program focusing on rehabilitation teaching. Students of both programs must possess a bachelor’s or master’s degree prior to admission; both programs are mainly taught online with two weeks of on-campus instruction in the summer. Students must also participate in a student-teaching experience or an internship working with people with visual impairments.

indiana-state-universityIndiana State University: Offers the Exceptional Needs/Visual Impairment Licensure Program through online classes and on-campus instruction. Applicants must have at least a bachelor’s degree and possess an Indiana teaching license in general education or special education. Those without a current teaching license may apply if they’re eligible for a license; applicants with a general education license may need to complete additional coursework. Candidates currently working with students with visual impairments have priority.

missouri-state-universityMissouri State University: The university’s vision impairment program offers an alternative online certification program for certified teachers and for those with a bachelor’s degree but without a current teaching certificate. Students complete 18 credit hours of coursework online, as well as a student teaching experience. Applicants without a teaching certificate must complete 12 credit hours of additional coursework. Graduates can apply the certificate in visual impairments towards the special education master’s degree program.

texas-techTexas Tech University: Offers a visual impairment supplemental certificate and a master’s program in special education with emphasis in visual impairments. Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate prior to applying for either program. Most courses take place online; on-campus instruction is required for two short courses during the summer.

university-nebraskaUniversity of Nebraska: Offers a master’s degree and a teaching endorsement in visual impairments. Students take courses online, with periodic conference phone calls. Summer classes require on-campus instruction. Participating students must have a teaching certificate to be considered; applicants with a special education teaching certificate have acceptance priority.

university-northern-coloradoUniversity of Northern Colorado: Offers a program in visual impairments, which requires 42 credit hours of instruction, and a program in orientation and mobility, which requires 15 credit hours. Both programs are offered online; however, the orientation and mobility program requires four weeks of on-campus instruction during a summer. Applicants must have a current teaching license or must take prerequisite courses before participating in either program.

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In addition to this sampling of programs, the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) provides a list of colleges approved by their University Review Committee.

Once you’ve attained the academic training and on-the-job experience for a career working with the blind, deaf-blind, and people who are visually impaired, other career opportunities may open for you, such as creating and testing new technology for people with vision challenges, teaching special education students, and writing about issues in the field, etc.

So, what kind of personal qualities does a skilled teacher of the blind and visually impaired have? As you might imagine, teaching students with life-defining disabilities can be frustrating and stressful. People who get satisfaction from helping others and who can relate to and inspire children are ideal for this profession.

Some key characteristics of a great special education teacher, including those who work with the blind and visually impaired, are compassion, patience, tolerance, creativity, diligence, and a strong appreciation of human differences. Teachers of the visually impaired instill self-worth and independence and act as strong advocates for blind and visually impaired people in the world.

If you are interested in a career working with the blind, deaf-blind, and people who are visually impaired, then consider volunteering to work with visually impaired children to gain knowledge and experience before you invest in certificate-required courses.

According to the National Federation of the Blind: “The real problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight. The real problem is the misunderstanding and lack of information that exist. If a blind person has proper training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to a physical nuisance.”

Now, close your eyes and consider this: You could become a major catalyst in addressing misunderstanding around the blind, deaf-blind, and visually impaired, or you could become an exceptional teacher-mentor to people with these challenges.

Open your eyes. Can you see what others cannot? If so, are you ready to make a difference?

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