What We’ve Been Doing Together

14 May
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Edward Bell, Ph.D., CRC, NOMC

Edward Bell, Ph.D., CRC, NOMC

Dr. Bell is the Director of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University.
Dr. Edward Bell, who directs the Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech, delivered the following remarks at the 2015 National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana convention. Beyond finding the news he shares interesting, we hope that you will join our team, whether as a student or as one of our colleagues in the field.

When people ask what we do at the Institute on Blindness, it’s difficult to encapsulate it into one phrase. If you’ve ever been to the Louisiana Center for the Blind and seen the magic that happens there—all of the high expectations and good skills training that leads to tremendous outcomes for blind people—what we try to do is bottle that up and pour it into as many professionals as we can.

We then send those professionals off around the country and the world to help spread the positive message about the blind that we have here in Louisiana. One of our graduates from Kyrgyzstan, Elnura Emilkanova, has a blindness training center up and running there and is currently working to send blind students to the U.S. for leadership development. This is an example of how we bring people in, give them the professional training, put them at the Center, give them that love and inspiration for the profession, instill those high expectations for the blind, and they go to all parts of the world to change what it means to be blind.

Professional Development

In the area of professional development, our Teaching Blind Students Program remains strong and vibrant. As of last year, all of our TBS certification classes are available through an online forum. We have live video and also asynchronous format, along with a couple of on-site trainings here in Ruston throughout the year. This has been a very effective way to bring students into the program from all over the state, and even other states. It is a very effective way to reach out to help teachers who are already working.

I’m excited to announce developments in our Orientation and Mobility Program. About nine months ago, we again competed for and were awarded scholarship funding to do two things. One is to fund tuition and fees for individuals interested in coming into the master’s degree in Orientation and Mobility. If you have finished your undergraduate degree and are beginning to think about going to graduate school, we have some funding to help you.

The second task funded by the scholarship award was to launch a brand-new concentration through our Counseling and Guidance degree program in Rehabilitation Teaching for the Blind. People ask, “Well, what is a rehabilitation teacher for the blind?” Rehab teaching is going out to work with people in their homes to teach them to regain independence. It is also working in a training center teaching someone to travel with a long white cane, read braille, and confidently live independently in their homes. We’re still in the process of developing the curriculum and avenues through which individuals can become trained as rehabilitation teachers for the blind, but we have the scholarship funding to help support you through that program. The first students of our Rehabilitation Teaching Program are beginning to work through their internships this summer and into the fall.

Professional Certification Standards

One of the things that we work on a great deal is professional certification standards. For the last eight years, through the National Blindness Professional Certification Board, we have administered the National Certification in Literary Braille, as well as other certifications. We began the development of the National Certification in Unified English Braille over a year ago. Anybody who hasn’t heard of UEB must have been living under a rock for the last couple years…but I suppose it’s never to late to learn!

Since there’s such confusion with UEB, the NBPCB and all of us here at the Institute on Blindness have worked hard to be on the cutting edge and the forefront of that movement. We have worked in the development of the NCUEB and are beginning to run validation test studies in several states. In early February, we administered the inaugural offering of the NCUEB, right here in Ruston. We’re excited about this new certification and the opportunities it holds.

Outreach

Another focus of the Institute on Blindness is outreach. We’ve worked with the youth in Northern Louisiana, assisted with the Saturday Clubs, the Louisiana NFB-BELL Program and other activities.

We also host professional development conferences for the continuing education of our teachers and professionals. We are holding our 14th annual Rehabilitation and Orientation and Mobility Conference at the 2015 NFB National Convention in Orlando, Florida on July 5. This conference is intended for orientation and mobility specialists, rehab teachers and other professionals who work in the area of blindness education and rehabilitation. The conference is a good opportunity to learn and network. Our Third Biennial Louisiana Teacher Training Conference on Blindness and Low Vision will take place Sep. 25-26 at the Louisiana Center. Registration information will be available this summer. Look for information to be coming soon.

Research

The Institute has done much in the area of research. I’ve spoken for several years about the National Reading Media Assessment, a tool that we designed to determine whether or not blind youth need braille, which has been validated. The NRMA has even been written into Mississippi state law for the assessment of blind kids. The National Orientation and Mobility Assessment, an instrument designed to determine if blind youth need instruction in cane travel, is also almost fully developed and is beginning to be used across the country.

Now, I have another area of important research regarding quiet cars, the hybrid electric cars that make virtually no sound. We now know that they don’t make enough noise while in motion, and they are, in fact, a danger to all pedestrians, especially those of us who are blind. That’s no secret; everybody already knows that, and, consequently, regulations have been proposed to require all hybrid and electric vehicles be equipped with noise-making devices. There are standards that have been implemented here in this country, and there are currently international standards being considered that will affect all electronic vehicles in the future all around the world.

The International Standards Organization is essentially proposing that electric vehicles emit sounds in the decibel range of about 50 to 56 decibels. Now, if you’re like me, about three weeks ago that sounded like Greek to me, too. What I’ve learned in the last couple weeks is that 50 to 56 dB is about the same volume as a quiet conversation. I can tell you that you can’t even walk through a hallway without it ranging in the 60, 65, 70 dB level. So, if just the regular ambient noise is that loud, how on earth are you going to hear a vehicle that’s traveling toward you making only that amount a noise?

Nevertheless, these engineers are looking at the sound level from a scientific standpoint, not from a human interaction standpoint. These regulations will be considered on May 11 and 12, and could potentially impact all future quiet car manufacturers. We at the Institute were asked to conduct trials to see if this proposed sound standard makes sense and is usable by blind people.

As I think about all the work we’re doing at the Institute on Blindness and its importance for blind children and adults, I reflect on the fact that this truly is a team effort. All of us work to make it happen and all do our part. Everybody pitches in, whether the task is big or small. We are all working every day to change lives through our research, teaching, and the preparation of our professionals. I hope you will consider what you can do to be a part of this effort, whether as a student, research participant or colleague in the field.

The following two tabs change content below.
Edward Bell, Ph.D., CRC, NOMC

Edward Bell, Ph.D., CRC, NOMC

Dr. Bell is the Director of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University.

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