State agency and university collaborate to help students with visual impairments make the transition to higher education
With the purpose of strengthening the independence and self-advocacy skills of high school students with visual impairments to help them succeed at university, in vocational schools, or at technical colleges, Summer Academy is taking place July 13 through August 1, 2014, at Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), in State College. Created and operated by the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services, Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, the program simulates the experience of participating in higher education by allowing student participants to live in Penn State dormitories, and also includes workshops that present an array of assistive technologies; introduce team-building exercises; and allow practice in daily living skills such as navigating with a cane on and off campus, using a laundromat, cooking meals at the university's food labs, and balancing a checkbook. Available free of charge to qualifying students, participants will also take part in canoeing, climbing rock walls, and crossing the high-ropes course at the university's Shaver's Creek Environmental Center in nearby Petersburg, Pennsylvania.
In addition, participants will receive iPads or mini iPads with applications (apps) that are designed specifically for individuals who are visually impaired. The year 2014 marks the first time the Summer Academy will be held at a university, and after learning about how to use various assistive technologies, participants will be given the chance to test their new skills while auditing actual Penn State summer school classes. Previous academies were held at the state's Hiram G. Andrews vocational rehabilitation center in Johnstown.
Speaking about the meaningfulness of students being allowed to sleep in college dormitories, audit classes, learn about careers, and participate in unique physical activities, David De Notaris, director of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services, said:
A lot of these kids have been told, "You can't participate in gym. You can't participate in chemistry. You can't, you can't, you can't." This [experience] is a life-changing event. We want to prepare them so they can go to college and go to work.
Briana Magistro, a former Summer Academy student who is now a resident assistant for the program, said participants will master challenges like carrying cafeteria trays and canes at the same time. In high school, assistants can carry your lunch tray and books, said Ms. Magistro, a senior at East Stroudsburg University. "But once you get to college there's nobody there doing that for you. It's the start of your adult life." For more information, contact: Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services, Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, 1521 North 6th Street, Harrisburg, PA 17102; phone: 717-787-6176; website: http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/blindness_and_visual_services/10367.