Although the delivery methods for the WDE Deaf-Blind Project have progressed to meet evolving needs, dedication to the objective remains the same.
WDE Special Programs Education Consultant Joanne Whitson began her professional career as a rehabilitation therapist for the blind, gaining a Masters Degree. Over time, she came to the realization that changing the outcome started with changing the approach in education.
Joanne Whitson, program manager of the Wyoming Deaf-Blind Project, helps a student recently.
"When I first began working with multi-disabled and deaf-blind students I felt we needed to raise the bar," Whitson said. "I started exploring research and evidence based strategies to improve outcomes for students who are deaf-blind and/or multi-disabled."
For more than two decades, Whitson has been an advocate for Wyoming's visually impaired students, and later, hearing impaired students, serving first as Coordinator, then Project Manager, for the Deaf-Blind Project.
"I have always believed in raising expectations for students and individuals who are visually impaired/blind so they can meet their full potential as adults and members of their communities," said Whitson. "We do that through proper training, early intervention, and assistance to districts, individuals and families."
Whitson said assuming a student is totally deaf-totally blind is a common public misperception. Instead, disabilities range along the spectrum, which offer unique challenges to educators.
Over the years, the WDE has provided thousands of seminars and workshops to educators, therapists and service providers to address those challenges.
Four workshops are scheduled for summer 2013. They are: Orientation and Mobility on May 11-13; Strategies for Assessing, Stimulating, and Enhancing Functional Vision on June 3-6; WREIC Conference on June 20-21; Low Visions Assessment and Intervention on August 6-9.
Whitson concentrates her efforts on conducting carefully crafted, customized training, professional development and technical assistance in small groups.
She has incorporated that same approach in per-request webinars to reach more distant groups of therapists, educators, and service providers. A lending library offers an extensive selection of materials and resources that include evidence and research based strategies to improve outcomes for students who are visually impaired / blind, hard of hearing / deaf, deaf-blind or multi-disabled.
Heather Lyman is a pediatric Occupational Therapist at the Sweetwater County Child Developmental Center. She's an informed consumer of professional development in the state, and is an enthusiastic attendee to multiple WDE sponsored trainings, workshops and webinars.
"I've worked with Joanne and have become more aware of professional development or continuing education opportunities through the WDE. The continuing education opportunities that I have attended are top notch," she said.
"I prefer attending the more local trainings. They are very cost effective, smaller in overall numbers or personalized to our region, and I get to network and collaborate with other therapists and specialists within the state. They are more relevant to how programs in our state are structured."
Whitson and Lyman seem to share what is a common philosophy among educators and service providers in the deaf-blind field.
"The thing I like most about my job is working with the children and seeing what a difference early intervention and a well educated team can make within a few years. I also enjoy empowering parents to become advocates for their children so that the kids can get what is truly in their best interest," said Lyman.
"Helping each student realize his or her potential and become contributing members of his or her communities as adults is what it's all about," added Whitson.
For more information, visit http://edu.wyoming.gov/programs/deaf_blind_project.aspx.