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Teachers and Devices Needed for Visually Impaired Students

The New Hampshire-based nonprofit Future in Sight has partnered with the University of Massachusetts Boston to recruit more teachers who can work with reading devices and other needs of visually impaired students.

by The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester, N.H. / March 31, 2021

(TNS) — Erika Teal was a paraprofessional aiding a student with limited vision at Pinkerton Academy in Derry when she decided to get her master's degree and become a full-time teacher.

Now, the 32-year-old from Hudson is working with children across the state as they use Braille, technology, and reading devices to learn.

"It's all very serendipitous," Teal said. "I never thought that I could have a job teaching children with visual impairments. Now, I know how rewarding it really is."

Teal had her graduate degree paid for as part of a statewide partnership with the New Hampshire-based nonprofit Future In Sight (FIS) and the University of Massachusetts Boston.

In New Hampshire, children who are blind and visually impaired need more teachers like Teal, FIS President and CEO David Morgan said in a news release.

"Children are just not getting their needs met," Morgan said, pointing to a statewide — and national — shortage of skilled teachers for students with visual impairments.

He said FIS serves the state's blind and visually impaired adults and children, working with students one-on-one each week for an hour or more.

Morgan said FIS teamed up with the UMass Boston Visual Studies Program to offer graduate fellowship opportunities, stipends, and other financial incentives to encourage aspiring teachers to learn the skills to work with these students. FIS is planning other incentives, such as covering relocation costs and other educational stipends to motivate more to move to the state and help fill the gap.

Callie Brusegaard, PhD, director of the Northeast Resource Center for the UMass Vision Studies program, said she understands why her students are in demand.

"We need the education community to know how much teachers with specialized skills are needed for children with special needs, particularly visual impairments. It's not an area where we have adequately emphasized the demand," Brusegaard said in the news release.

HuyenTran Vo is a UMass doctoral student taking part in the FIS program. She assists teachers with classroom materials, adapting them into Braille or other means.

"Before starting in the field, I never knew anyone blind or visually impaired, but I love the hands-on teaching and working in smaller settings," said Vo, who also assists with research projects at UMass. "Every day is so different, and there's always something to learn. The field is still developing."

According to the news release, UMass works with 10 other agencies in New England, but the partnership with FIS is the first to offer financial incentives to students.

"The biggest hindrance is that people just don't know about this field," said Teal, who works with Salem schools and in nearby school districts as students use Braille readers and other devices to narrate books, websites and other materials.

(c)2021 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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