The coordination of services between NCBVI and schools ensures that students who are blind and visually impaired make a smooth transition from high school to adult life.
NCBVI prides itself on being a leader for the last three decades in providing meaningful work experiences, job exploration counseling, work readiness skills, post-secondary education exploration, training in independent living skills, and self-advocacy and peer mentoring opportunities to blind and visually impaired youth to ensure a successful integration into society.
With the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the most current revision of the Rehabilitation Act, an emphasis has been placed on Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS). NCBVI is mandated to invest fifteen (15) percent of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) funds on Pre-ETS direct services. WIOA promotes a smoother transition for Pre-ETS students from school to work through a greater focus on job exploration, work readiness skills, post-secondary exploration, work-based learning experiences, and self-advocacy skill development for blind and visually impaired students ages 14-21.
NCBVI has a Transition Coordinator as well as other agency staff who provide services on a statewide basis in order to strengthen the relationships with schools, families, and local employers to ensure short-term and long-term success for blind and visually impaired youth. Below are highlights from some of the programs NCBVI provided to increase independence and confidence in the youth we serve.
NFB Career Mentoring Program
NCBVI’s ongoing partnership with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), continued to serve transition age Nebraskans who are blind or have low vision by providing mentorship, advocacy, and empowerment by connecting blind and visually impaired adults in various occupations with our youth to help them navigate the transition years. In addition to supporting the assertion of the normality of blindness through the self-actualizing concept that it is ok to be blind, the mentees were motivated to master alternative ways to perform tasks that do not involve vision. Through skill acquisition and increased confidence based on high expectations, they learn how to positively interact with the sighted public. They were expected to be able to integrate themselves into the broader society by competing on terms of equality, both by advocating for appropriate accommodations as well as accepting equal responsibilities. IN this way, transition youth who are blind or have low vision experienced the freedom of giving back by standing out for their unique contributions rather than being perceived as recipients of charity.
The mentoring program is engaging work-based experiential learning opportunities led by successful blind adult role models in the community. Mentees engaged in projects ranging from automobile repair, facility management, Business Enterprise Program, tandem, and bicycle assembly and maintenance. The mentors and mentees interacted weekly through face-to-face, social media, and video conferencing. Mentees and mentors participate separately on monthly conference calls to provide ongoing review and evaluation of the program. Several mentees in the program attend the life changing experience at the annual NFB convention in July. In addition to becoming equipped with the tools for career success, these young people developed leadership skills to complete the circle of learning by becoming mentors, themselves.
The WAGES (Work and Gain Experience in the Summer) program, is a six-week
work based learning experience program held annually in Lincoln for blind and visually impaired youth in Nebraska. The WAGES program provides work opportunities, blindness skills training, and life experiences for twelve-twenty (12-20) blind and visually impaired youth ages 16 to 21. The youth engage in a wide variety of enrichment activities, live on the UNL campus, utilize public transportation to and from work, and participate in many recreational activities beyond work that enhanced their independent and advocacy skills.
The main purpose of the WAGES program is to provide meaningful work experiences to blind and visually impaired youth who may not be able to obtain them otherwise. Through continuous local business partnerships, the youth work fulltime jobs ranging between 30 and 40 hours per week at a variety of jobs like: Nebraska Games and Parks; Antonio’s Tastes of Lincoln; State Capitol Tours; Lincoln Southeast High School custodial department; Latino American Commission; UNL Children’s Center; Bennett Martin Library; Willa Cather Dining; Lancaster County Records Department and Information Management; Holiday Inn Lincoln Southwest; Canine Design; and Lincoln Children’s Museum.
In conjunction with WAGES, (when there is enough funds) NCBVI collaborates with the International School of Protocol to provide a workshop called Blind and Socially Savvy Strengths Series: Social Integration for Career and College Success. Over two separate weekends the WAGES participants engage in social and professional skills training in communication, dining etiquette, and integration into the workplace and academic environments. The purpose of the workshop is to encourage youth to broaden their horizons and to step outside their comfort zones through applying strategies to meet new people, finding groups who support their interests, and expanding their social and professional networking circles.
The youth practice newly acquired networking skills with professionals in the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professionals Group through demonstrating how to appropriately use technology within social and work contexts as well as how to appropriately behave during work and social situations. In addition, the youth plann and organize a networking event for their co-workers from their work sites at Niehardt Hall to gain knowledge and feedback on their skills related to appropriate dress, nonverbal communication, and proper conversation. They also participate in informational interviews on social integration as well as learned about the importance of following up, self-advocating, and asking for help. Throughout the program, participants also acquire the skills of locating new venues, taking the “next steps” to join groups, using public transportation, walking using orientation and mobility skills, and interacting with vendors at a public event and concert.
Project Independence (PI) is a summer camp for youth ages 8 and 13 to immerse themselves in blindness skills training and enrichment activities. Youth participate in completing daily tasks with blindness alternative techniques, attend presentations by blind adult role model, participate on regular games with few adaptation, learn some basic cooking skills and serve their families, learne orientation and mobility through a sensory exploration scavenger hunt, and enjoy a wide variety of other opportunities that enhance their independence and avocacy skills.
Outreach and Collaboration
NCBVI continues to make efforts to strengthen our relationships with teachers of the visually impaired (TVI’s) and other education providers by visiting Local Education Agencies (LEAs) in order to reach out to as many youth as possible. We continue to reach out and visit schools introducing ourselves and reminding staff that we are the vocational rehabilitation agency for blind and visually impaired youth in Nebraska. In addition, NCBVI has entered into a MOU with NDE to define our roles and outline the Pre-ETS services we may provide to blind and visually impaired youth during their school transition years.
NCBVI also continues to collaborate and partner with the Nebraska Center for the Education for Children Who are Blind or Visually Impaired (NCECBVI). NCECBVI is a statewide program and facility for blind school-aged youth based out of ESU4. The Commission for the Blind participates as a stakeholder in NCECBVI’s annual advisory Meeting as well as partnered to develop joint programming opportunities and establish collaborative agreements. The Commission for the Blind staff also conduct monthly group training sessions in their facility, which are designed to help severely disabled students strengthen their social and work skill abilities.
Recently, The Commission for the Blind partnered with NCECBVI to host a camp for blind and visually impaired students where the Commission for the Blind paid tuition for mutual students in order for the students to attend the camp as well as had agency staff work during the camp. This allowed mutual students to have the opportunity to develop skills and prepare for transition to adulthood. In addition, the Commission for the Blind also partnered with NCECBVI to arrange Summer Work Based Learning Experiences for our mutual students through approaching businesses and hiring and training Workplace Readiness Trainers. This project and partnership allows valuable data to be collected as well as taught the students more about the world of work.
The Commission for the Blind staff continue to help plan and present at various ESU Transition Conferences. Our staff sit on various regional committees of special education directors and transition professionals, which includes the transition practitioner’s advisory committee. This committee was formed through the Mid-Plains Professional Upgrade Partnership – Sensory Disabilities grant given to teachers of the deaf and blind preparation programs by the OSEP office. Furthermore, the Commission for the Blind staff provides presentations at various colleges and universities about blindness, which includes courses for the special education teacher preparation program at UNL conducted by the director of the teachers of the visually impaired endorsement program and other UNL faculty.
Shane Buresh, Transition Coordinator
Nebraska Commission for the Blind & Visually Impaired
4600 Valley Road
Lincoln NE 68510-4844