One-of-a-kind NCCU program prepares educators to teach the blind

— The Visual Impairment Training Program at North Carolina Central University is one of the few programs in the United States that prepares educators to teach blind children.

Samantha Ponsolle, a recent graduate of N.C. Central’s Visual Impairment Training Program, uses a blindfold and a cane to sense what life might be like without sight.

“Being outdoors is the scariest part, because there are environmental factors,” Ponsolle said. “There are cars, there are stairs.”

The program is the only one of its kind in the state and the only one in the U.S. in a historically black college or university.

One-of-a-kind NCCU program prepares educators to teach the blind

With a national teacher shortage in the field, graduates can quickly find a job.

“Our graduates have to actually demonstrate that they know the skills that they are going to be teaching blind children,” said Bill Wiener, Ph.D.

Students and teachers said new techniques and technologies can help the visually impaired live a better life.

Clinical assistant professor Jennifer Thurman specializes in training guide dogs and introduces her students to a wider variety of high-tech tools for the blind.

GPS functions on smartphones, for example, can be specially programed for the visually impaired whether they are traveling on foot or using public transit.

“It will tell them the street they are coming to — and it will tell them how far away they are from it,” Wiener said.

Another tool, a high-tech cane that prevents ground-level trip hazards, hails from Turkey.

“This provides obstacle detection from the waist up,” Ponsolle said.

Those who work in the field believe the technology will change lives.

“People will go through a time period of real depression because they don’t see how their lives are ever going to be — or look — what they would consider to be a normal life again,” Thurman said. “You really get to see how your work impacts their lives.”

The U.S. Department of Education recently provided N.C. Central University with a $1.25 million grant to help reverse the national shortage of teachers for blind and visually impaired students. Learn more online.

Published at Mon, 30 Dec 2019 11:49:51 +0000