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VRT WEEK is April 12-18, 2015!


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Members of the AER Vision Rehabilitation Therapy Division (11) are gearing up for the fourth annual Vision Rehabilitation Therapist (VRT) Appreciation Week. The event will run April 12-18, 2015.


VRT Appreciation Week began in 2012 as a way to increase awareness of the field, recruit people to the profession and recognize current practitioners for their dedication. Committee members are already planning celebrations in their home states of Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York. For example, in Alabama, committee member Cardelia Cunningham, CVRT, is planning an event in Tuscumbia, Ala., where Helen Keller’s home—including the famous pump at which Anne Sullivan taught Keller the sign for “water”—still stands. For VRT Appreciation Week, Cunningham has invited the Tuscumbia mayor to speak at the Helen Keller home on VRTs and their importance to the community.


This year marks the first time VRT Appreciation Week will occur in April to coincide with Sullivan’s birthday, April 14. Previously, the event was held in late June to honor Keller’s birthday. By moving the event to April, VRTs can reach out to students through campus visits and career day presentations. “We want to recruit new people to the profession,” said Lenore Dillon, CVRT, co-chair, VRT Division’s Recruitment and Retention Committee. “When we talk to students, we need to tell them how exciting the profession is. This is the kind of work that makes a real difference in people’s lives and that really resonates with students searching for meaningful careers.” Dillon noted that VRTs can also reach students through visits to high schools and even elementary and middle schools. “It’s very important to get people interested. We don’t hear kids say, ‘I want to be a vision rehabilitation therapist when I grow up,’ but I think it’s possible! We can make that happen.”


Most individuals in the blindness field are familiar with the name Anne Sullivan. They know her as the teacher who worked closely with Helen Keller, a nationally renowned advocate for the deaf-blind population. What most don’t know is that Anne Sullivan was trained as a “Home Teacher,” the predecessor of the VRT. It is only fitting that VRT Awareness Week falls the week of April 14, Anne Sullivan’s birthday.


Although VRT Appreciation Week is only in its fourth year, Dillon has already seen some small, positive changes in the field. “When I visit universities now, more and more people seem to know about the field. I’ve also had people tell me that after they found out about the profession, they wished they had learned about it earlier. Those are some promising signs that VRT Appreciation Week is making a difference.”


While one component of VRT Appreciation Week is to recruit new people to the field, another focuses on current practitioners and acknowledges their dedication to the profession. Last year, Dillon presented certificates of appreciation to all the VRTs in her state. “It’s important to recognize our VRTs,” she said. “The work they do is life-changing, and we need to take time to honor them for their commitment.” The committee also plans to recognize veteran VRTs who helped to shape the field. “Recently, many outstanding VRTs have passed away,” said Dillon. “We want to interview the ones who are still here and learn about their techniques from the early to mid-1900s.” The committee plans to release the first interview via the VRT Division newsletter in the near future.


Leading up to VRT Appreciation Week, the committee will be posting announcements on the VRT Division’s Listserv. They began with a letter in January 2015, inviting members to host VRT Appreciation Week events in their areas and to exchange ideas on how to celebrate the profession. Submitting articles to local papers about VRTs in the community, making posters of equipment and supplies that VRTs use and preparing podcasts about the profession are just a few examples of what people can do.


To help promote the event, VisionAware, a joint effort of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation, will publish articles on its free informational website for adults with vision loss (http://www.visionaware.org/). “In addition to recruiting people to the profession, we also want to reach those people who might have vision loss or have family or friends with vision loss. We’re the best kept secret,” laughed Dillon. “But we really do need to reach those people who need VRT services, so they can learn the skills they need to live productive, fulfilling and independent lives.”


Dillon continued, “The work we do is thrilling. When we work with a consumer who thought life was over and empty, and then all the sudden, their lives are filled with new adventures and opportunities that they thought weren’t possible…that’s what makes this job so exciting.”


The committee invites all AER members, whether they are VRTs or not, to find ways to participate in VRT Appreciation Week. For more information about bringing VRT Appreciation Week to your area, please contact Lenore Dillon at lenore.dillon@rehab.alabama.gov.


"What is a Vision Rehabilitation Therapist?"

A Vision Rehabilitation Therapist works primarily with blind and visually impaired adults. This highly specialized career requires university preparation and adherence to a Code of Ethics and certification standards. Certification is administered through The Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP) at http://www.acvrep.org/. The Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER), Division 11, Vision Rehabilitation Therapy at http://www.aerbvi.org/ provides membership benefits as well as university certification standards.

Consider this definition from the Rehabilitation Teaching University Personnel Preparation Guidelines:

Vision Rehabilitation Therapists provide instruction and guidance in adaptive independent living skills, enabling adults who are blind and visually impaired to confidently carry out their daily activities. Vision Rehabilitation Therapists are active members of multidisciplinary service teams, providing consultation and referrals utilizing community resources.

"Vision Rehabilitation Therapists constitute a cadre of university-trained professionals who address the broad array of skills needed by individuals who are blind and visually impaired to live independently at home, to obtain employment, and to participate in community life. As a discipline, Vision Rehabilitation Therapy combines and applies the best principles of adaptive rehabilitation, adult education, and social work to the following broad areas: home management, personal management, communication and education, activities of daily living, leisure activities, and indoor orientation skills." (Crews & Luxton, 1992)
The job description of the Vision Rehabilitation Therapist may include the following:
  1. Assessment and evaluation of clients'/consumers' needs in home, community, educational, and vocational environments;
  2. Teaching adaptive independent living skills;
  3. Case management and record keeping;
  4. Identification and utilization of community and national resources;
  5. Utilization of community support services;
  6. Facilitation of psychosocial adjustment to vision loss.
Specific Responsibilities:
  1. Assessing and evaluating the independent living needs and abilities of individuals with impaired vision for meeting immediate and lifelong goals;
  2. Developing individualized Vision Rehabilitation Therapy plans in conjunction with the learner;
  3. Teaching adaptive skills needed for independent living in areas of personal management, household management, communication, education, leisure activities, orientation and movement in the indoor environment, and use of low vision devices and training techniques;
  4. Coordinating the implementation of the Vision Rehabilitation Therapy service plan;
  5. Teaching problem solving and resource utilization, including the acquisition of adaptive equipment;
  6. Facilitating the individual's and family's psychosocial adjustment to impaired vision;
  7. Case management and case recording;
  8. Providing consultation, public education, and in-service training.

Through the teaching of new skills and adaptive methods to reinstate old skills, the Vision Rehabilitation Therapist seeks:
  • To restore the adult who is newly visually impaired to his/her accustomed lifestyle
  • To assist the person who is developmentally disabled or multiply impaired and visually impaired in reaching his/her highest potential for independent living
  • To demonstrate to other professionals the knowledge, skills and attitudes which make services for persons who are blind and visually impaired more effective
  • To provide instruction to persons who are blind and visually impaired in such areas as home and personal management; adaptive communications skills including braille, typing and computer access; orientation in the home; home mechanics; diabetic and health management; and community resources.

Vision Rehabilitation Therapists provide services in a variety of settings to persons who are blind and visually impaired:
  • Agencies serving people who are blind and visually impaired
  • Residential schools for children who are blind and visually impaired
  • Local school districts providing services to children who are blind and visually impaired
  • Centers for people with developmental disabilities
  • Centers for Independent Living (CILs)
  • State Vocational Rehabilitation Services
  • Hospital and clinic rehabilitation teams
  • Community-based vision rehabilitation therapy services

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