Experience Drives Inspiration for the Future: Reflecting Back on My Inspiration from the FSU Visual Disabilities Program

As I prepare for the Florida Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired Conference in Tallahassee, Florida, I started thinking about the inspiration that brought me to APH CareerConnect. I did my graduate work at Florida State University, and the conference is combined with a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Visual Disabilities Program at FSU. Attending the FSU program has impacted my life tremendously. While involved in the program, I was able to experience many aspects of the field. I was the student president of the campus AER chapter. I tried my best to get involved in activities that would provide practical experiences. I volunteered with a teacher of the visually impaired in the area one day a week. This was for practicum experience, but I went for more hours than required. I spent my Fridays during the first year volunteering at the Early Education Center on the campus, which allowed me to continue working with children (I had previsously been a teacher’s assistant in an emotional and behavioral special education school in New Jersey, The Calais School).

My first full summer at FSU, I volunteered to oversee the recreation and leisure aspects of a college preparation program at the university. This was a transitional program for adults and high school graduates preparing for post-secondary around Florida. During this time, I found my inspiration and passion for working with youth and adults transitioning to post-secondary and employment. The goal of post-secondary is preparation for employment, and employment is the ultimate goal for transition. I noticed some gaps in the program, and I decided with a friend that we needed to attempt to fill those gaps. I enrolled in transition classes at FSU, to add to my teaching children who are blind or visually impaired focus.

The University Experience at FSU provided preparation for youth and adults who are blind or visually impaired, but it also provided practical experience in orientation and mobility and rehabilitation teaching for graduate student interns. I was one of those gathering experience, and I learned a ton. In preparation for the following year, a friend, Tiffany Conrad, and I worked to design a curriculum specific to filling some of those gaps for the students. We worked with Dr. Bruce Menchetti, and we received input and guidance from Dr. Sandra Lewis and others. I taught the class during the program with Tiffany during the following summer. And I returned the summer after that to oversee the class again. During this process, I developed an interest in orientation and mobility. I took the courses and did the internship specific to it. All of these areas truly have an impact on the transition process.

I utilized the content that we developed for the college preparation program in Brooklyn at a high school with 35 students who were blind or visually impaired. I also used the basis of these materials with adults in New Jersey, while I was an orientation and mobility instructor for the state. I took opportunities to offer assistance for a Job Seeking Skills class and an adjustment to vision loss sessions. During all of these experiences, I pushed the limits of the impact I could make, and I got involved in areas outside my own direct responsibilities. I believed that if I could make a difference, I should.

I was very inspired by the professors at FSU, Dr. Sandra Lewis, Purvis Ponder, Lynda Jones, Catherine O’Farrell, Dr. Silvia Correa-Torres, and others to push for the best for our students. This has echoed throughout my career and my fellow classmates’ careers. All of these professors and classmates have impacted my career and life. Catherine O’Farrell got me involved with the technology lab and the transition program. Lynda Jones encouraged my love for transition, recreation and the adjustment process. Purvis Ponder and Dr. Silvia Correa-Toress influenced my views on orientation and mobility. And, of course, Dr. Sandra Lewis impacted all of our views, she was the guiding light for the program, and she set the standards for us all.

Going back to Tallahassee for the September 17-21, Florida AER and program celebration means a lot to me. I am also doing a teen employment workshop in the area during that time, at an organization called the Lighthouse of the Big Bend. This organization had an impact on my career too. They provided me the opportunity to serve as a part-time itinerant rehabilitation teacher over 12 counties in the area. I enjoyed working with the staff there; they all had a great passion for their work. Staff from the organization saw my work with the college preparation program, and they felt I could be providing short-term assistance for them. This was a great learning experience for me.

Inspiration comes from many varied experiences. We need to push our youth to try things. Push their limits. Truthfully, this is not just for youth, but we all need those experiences. I was in my mid-20s during most of these experiences. We all find inspiration at different points. I went to FSU knowing I wanted to work with youth who are blind or visually impaired, and later found that I wanted to impact the employment and success of youth and adults who are blind or visually impaired. Throughout our lives, we will find inspiration and revitalized passion through different experiences and moments. Get out there and try things!

I will be doing a presentation at the Florida AER Conference in Tallahassee, Florida, on Thursday, September 19th. I hope to see you all there! Thank you all for the inspiration and love. No one would say I was the best student, but I don’t think they can deny my love for our field and making a difference. Thank you to the Florida State University Visual Disabilities Program for 50 years of inspiring and impacting the lives of children and adults who are blind or visually impaired in Florida, around the United States, and abroad!

For information on the Florida AER Conference and Preconference, visit the conference page today! Check out the page to find out about the all-star cast of presenters and sessions that will be featured. I feel lucky to have been included in the event. I will be seeing AFB’sIke Presley and Pris Rogers at the conference and events.

If you know someone looking for enriching and interesting field of study, I strongly suggest connecting the Florida State University Visual Disabilities Program. This profession offers the perfect way to make in impact on persons’ lives!

Find out about successful persons who are blind or visually impaired through the APH CareerConnect “Our Stories” section. What experiences inspired your career and life? Please comment and share with us!