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The PDRIB POST - Winter 2010

The PDRIB Post, the Official Newsletter of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness

The mission of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness is to provide leadership in creating programs, preparing professionals and conducting research that empower blind individuals not only to live independently, but also to participate fully in society.


Winter 2010


The Director’s Dish
Eddie.jpgI wanted to welcome all of you to the first installment in what is planned to be an ongoing contribution of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness. This, the inaugural edition of The PDRIB Post, is planned to be a quarterly newsletter on the academic, professional, and research activities of the Institute. Beyond mere academics, however, we plan for this newsletter to be a place to share some personal information, important dates, and upcoming events that are relevant to our alumni, colleagues, and those with whom we work closely.


Throughout the majority of the last century, the profession of work for the blind has been dominated by conventionally trained, medically minded, and sometimes custodial members of the profession. The hope-filled, empowering, and inspirational message of independence that was espoused by the organized blind was often viewed as militant dogmatism, and was not excepted in most realms of education, rehabilitation, or academia. With the advent of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University in 1997, we began to shift the tide in the world of professional preparation, certification standards, training, and research. It was a long and difficult struggle, replete with naysayers, critics, and detractors who sought to stop our progress, or at a minimum to discount our contributions. Yet, we persevered.


Today, in the year 2010, we have more accomplishments and ongoing activities than we can hope to share with you all in one newsletter. Our Professional Development continues to grow through the O&M and TBS programs. Our graduates are expanding across this nation in all walks of the profession. The certification standards set forth through the National Orientation and Mobility Certification (NOMC) and National Certification in Literary Braille (NCLB) are increasingly becoming accepted as equal or greater credentials by agencies and schools. The conferences and trainings we sponsor continue to grow and expand, bringing our alumni, colleagues, and fresh faces together in professional discourse. Our Critical Concerns in Blindness Book Series remains strong, with the eighth book brand new this year. Our research efforts are finally being realized in peer-reviewed publications, and are being implemented into mainstream use. In short, we, with the help of all of our graduates, colleagues, friends, and supporters, are continuing to grow, expand, and make a significant impact in the field of education and rehabilitation of children and adults who are blind. What follows here are some of these topics in greater detail.


We, at the Institute on Blindness, pledge our commitment to continue helping you with your professional development and research needs. On a personal note, I want to thank you for your continued encouragement, support, dedication, and energy in helping us to truly change what it means to be blind.


Certification Central
This section is dedicated to updates on The National Certification in Literary Braille (NCLB) & The National Orientation and Mobility Certification (NOMC), both of which are awarded by the National Blindness Professional Certification Board


Certification Update:
We continue to work on recruiting and encouraging professionals in the blindness field to gain certification. More rigorous standards, across the country, are being put into place to make certification mandatory. If you are interested in certification or recertification as an NOMC or NCLB please visit our website or contact our office for further details.


Upcoming NCLB Test Dates
Friday January 21, 2011 in Ruston, LA
Saturday February 19, 2011 in Ruston, LA
Saturday March 19, 2011 in Ruston, LA

*To register for any of these tests, please go to our website, and sign up! Also check there frequently for new test dates in various areas of the country.


The NCLB Limelight: James Konechne, NCLB
Hello everyone,
Thanks for reading my bio.  My name is James Konechne.  I teach Braille reading and writing for Blind Industries and Services of Maryland’s CORE blindness training program in Baltimore and have been teaching for four years now.  I work with blind adults from ages 18 to their mid-60s.  Each student has an hour of Braille instruction each weekday and I ask for an hour’s worth of studying outside of class and five hours per weekend. 


I was born blind and grew up on a farm the oldest of seven children in central South Dakota.  My parents had high expectations for me and definitely encouraged me to learn and use Braille from the beginning of school.  They knew it was one of the things which would make me successful in life.


After high school graduation, I attended college and graduated with a Business Administration degree and minors in Agriculture Management and Economics.  I had plans of going in to Accounting, but decided it wasn’t for me.

After graduating from college, I attended blindness training at BLIND, Inc, the Federation’s training center in Minneapolis. I gained a lot from it, including contacts that brought me to my present job. As an aside, anyone that hasn’t attended a quality training center based on structured discovery teaching methods and Federation philosophy should enroll ASAP. There’s never a right time to go to training, but it’s always the right time. Call me if you’ve got any questions and I’ll make your mind up for you, smiles.


After deciding that being an accountant wasn’t for me, I studied for and received my life insurance and securities licenses and sold both of those products for about two years.  I wasn’t happy with that line of work, either, and as I was in the process of figuring out what else I wanted to do with my life, Dick Davis, the Careers instructor from BLIND Inc, sent me an e-mail about a Braille teaching position at BISM.  I thought “Me, a Braille teacher!”  A guy from a farm in South Dakota teaching Braille in Baltimore.  Sounds like fun!”  After praying about it and talking it over with my family, I decided to check in to it. 


I had no educational background, no education degree of any type, and not a day’s worth of teaching experience.  God works everything out for the best, though.  I called the director of BISM, Rosemary, Lerdahl, and talked with her.  She asked me to come to Baltimore for an interview and it just so happened the NFB invited me to their headquarters for a leadership conference at our national center.  While I was there, Rosemary came and met me and I had my first interview.  The details worked themselves out and I’ve been teaching at BISM now for four years and love every day of it.


So, the question is, how has the NCLB helped me in my job?  I feel like by acquiring the certification that you prove to others that you have mastered the fundamental skills necessary to be a competent Braille teacher.  As teachers, we can’t ask our students to do anything we can’t or won’t do.  By gaining the NCLB certification you demonstrate to employers, your students, and others that you are a competent slate user, a competent Braillewriter user, and know the contracted Braille code.  As teachers, I believe all of us need to obtain the certification.’ve learned a lot from many people throughout my teaching career, but I’ve got to give special thanks to Pam Allen and Jerry Whittle at the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston.  Last year, I was given the opportunity to learn from the master of Braille teachers, Mr. Whittle.  I got to spend a month watching him teach and then having him watch me teach and critiquing me.  It wasn’t the mechanics or the code I needed work on, that’s a small but important aspect of teaching.  The real knack to teaching is how you handle your classes and how you convey your love of and knowledge of Braille to your students to encourage them to read and that’s what Jerry demonstrated to me every minute of every day.  I can’t thank him enough.


I love a new challenge and am always looking for them.  I’d love to talk to anyone about Braille reading techniques, slate writing (a particular favorite of mine, I’ll make it easier than you can imagine), or teaching in general.  Please feel free to call or e-mail me anytime.


Thanks again for reading and I look forward to hearing from you.


The NOMC Limelight: Amy Phelps, NOMC

My name is Amy Phelps and I am the Director of Rehabilitation at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM). I graduated from Tech in November 2004 which led me to the awesome opportunity to work at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute as the Coordinator of Mentoring. Working at our National Center provided me the opportunity to learn and grow in my philosophy and belief in proper training.  I was able to witness first-hand the importance of mentoring and watch it have a positive impact on the young people as well as those who gave of their time to be mentors. In 2008, I took the job at BISM, working with a great staff of fellow federationist and am now pleased to say we have two NOMC’s, two NOMCT’s, and one NCLB on staff. We are putting in practice all that we have learned through our training.


In addition to having my NOMC, I also have a MS in Rehabilitation Counseling and have my CRCC.


I was asked, what is the most important lesson I learned while at Louisiana Tech?  I learned so much while at Tech and my time spent at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. It is hard for me to narrow it down to one defining lesson.  There are a couple of things that stick out. One is that as a professional make sure your students are connected with the organized blind.  This does not mean just telling them about chapter meetings but making certain that they are connected with someone in the chapter who will follow up with them and help them to feel a part of the larger whole. We often tell our students that being in training is the easy part that the real training begins once they return home. When what they have heard and learned becomes a reality. Being active in the local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind will help your students stay strong in who they are and what they believe about themselves. The same is true for us as professionals. Stay connected become active in our chapter and affiliate.


Secondly, never lose sight of the opportunity to learn from others. No matter how much we already know, no matter what letters appear behind our names, we still have a lot to learn and that learning can take on many shapes and forms. Yes, even from the blind person who has not taken advantage of training or has not had the opportunity to receive quality training. That person is of value and can teach us something. We often leave our training with an elitist attitude about those who have not been through our approach to training. We must remember that as professionals, we are about blind people, no matter who they are, no matter where they are, there is value and something to be learned from each and every one of the people we come into contact with.


Once while working at the NCB Dr. Maurer asked me a question that he has asked many people and the question was often posed by Dr. Jernigan, “What have you learned today and what have you taught?” We often get so wrapped up in teaching that we forget the importance of learning and realizing that there is not one source of learning. As long as we stay true to what we believe the opportunity to learn from others will allow us to be better as professionals and as people.


I have learned so much from the first moment I walked through the doors of the LCB in 2003. What I want to convey more than anything is that we want the people we work with to come to love us and the movement. Whether they go through training or not, whether they walk with a cane, a dog, or on someone’s elbow or stand in the middle of the foyer in Dallas at National Convention totally blind without a cane asking for someone to take you to general session. We have something to learn. I learned something from that woman standing in the foyer. Without even knowing it, she taught me that no matter what you want to do, it may not be pretty, it may not be perfect, and you may not do it in a timely fashion but you are never going to make it, it you don’t at least try.


Inside the Institute

News & Updates

  • IMG_0304.JPGThe institute welcomed a new staff member in April of 2010. Deja Powell, who is the new Programs Manager and is a Louisiana Tech Graduate in Orientation & Mobility.
  • The PDRIB, along with the NFB have created a new

peer reviewed journal, The Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research (JBIR) is the first international, interdisciplinary open access journal created by blind people, parents, teachers, administrators, and academic researchers designed to further efforts to address the real problems of blindness.


JBIR is a multidisciplinary publication presenting primary research, scholarly reviews, and reports of innovative information and research related to the blind. JBIR strives to publish research and professional discourse that broadens and deepens our understanding about blindness and the best practices for increasing the independence, self-respect, self-determination, and potential of individuals who are blind.


 JBIR is not a medical journal and does not intend to publish information related to the medical aspects of blindness. Relevant topics may include but are not limited to: the education/rehabilitation of the blind, innovations related to Braille and the use of Braille, techniques and tools for independent movement and travel by the blind, development of innovative technological approaches, findings that can effect advocacy related efforts, analysis of data sets providing descriptive information about the blind, and innovative practices in preparing professionals and paraprofessionals to work with the blind.


The journal can be found at ALL are encouraged to subscribe to this new journal, submit articles and also apply to be peer reviewers.


  • In an effort to become a little more hip, the PDRIB can now be found on Facebook! Find us at:

2010 Louisiana Tech University Graduates
We would like to congratulate our 2010 Louisiana Tech Grads both from the O&M and TBS programs. We know you worked hard and we’re proud you’re OUR grads!

Jackie Anderson, Summer 2010 (TBS)
Lexie Albritton, Fall 2010 (TBS)
Dezman Jackson, Fall 2010 (O&M)
Jerry Nealey, Fall 2010 (O&M)



Revitalizing Research
Published Research from the PDRIB:
Bell, E. C. (2010). Competitive employment for consumers who are legally blind: A 10-year retrospective study. Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development, 47(2), 109-116.

Vocational Rehabilitation consumers who are legally blind are one subgroup that has suffered high rates of unemployment, yet, the Evaluation Standards and Performance Indicators of the Rehabilitation Services Administration indicate that agencies are making improvements each year. The question under investigation is: has the employment rate similarly increased for this group of consumers? Using RSA-911 data, this study investigated the competitive employment rates for legally blind consumers over a ten year period spanning fiscal years 1997—2007. Data also compare differences between consumers who were employed at application, and weekly wages at closure for this group. Results show that rates of employment and wages have steadily increased for legally blind consumers over the period of analysis.

Bell, E. C. (2010). Mentoring transition-age youth with blindness. The Journal of Special Education, 20(10), 1-11.


This article reports on a mentoring project designed for transition-age youth (ages 16-26) who are persons with legal blindness . Youth were matched with adult mentors who were also persons with blindness , but who have achieved academic and career success. Results demonstrate that youth who participated in the project for two years had significant increases in career decision making efficacy, positive personal hope for the future, and positive attitudes about blindness. Implications for practitioners suggest that mentoring is a valuable tool to assist youth with blindness as they prepare for the academic and work world.

Bell, E. C. (2010). Measuring attitudes about blindness: Social Responsibility about Blindness Scale (SRBS). Unpublished manuscript.


This study reports on the development and initial testing of a scale to measure attitudes about blindness. The instrument was tested on 67 legally blind youth who participated in a mentoring program in 2007. Instrument development and psychometric testing are reported. Results provide support for the scale and the relationship between positive attitudes and hope.


Bell, E. C. (2010).U.S. National Certification  in  Literary  Braille: History and current administration. (2010). Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 104(8), 489-498.

This article reports on a certification examination for teachers of students with visual impairments—the National Literary Braille Competency Test (NLBCT). It discusses the history, development, pilot testing, and validation of NLBCT and the creation of the National Certification in Literary Braille. Data on the current administration of the test and directions for future development are presented.


Ryles, R., & Bell, E. (2009). Participation of parents in the early exploration of tactile graphics by children who are visually impaired. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 103(10), 625-634.


Seventy-three children with visual impairments aged 2-10 and their parents participated in a project that examined the children's interest in and exploration of tactile graphics. The parents reported that the children's interest in and conceptual understanding of the project's tactile workbook were high and that the children explored the workbook's raised-line drawings using both hands without a consistent preference.


Ongoing Research Projects of the PDRIB:

  • National Reading Media Assessment (NRMA). This instrument consists of six sections and has been designed to assess the extent to which youth with visual impairments effectively access print and/or should be provided instruction in Braille. Developed as an alternative to existing assessments, the NRMA is slated to become a national model for the assessment of reading needs for youth who are blind or visually impaired. The instrument is currently undergoing pilot testing and should be available for public use in 2010 (Bell, Bachicha, & Ryles, 2009).

  • Survey of National Orientation and Mobility Instructors. In an attempt to better understand the demographic characteristics, employment trends, and caseload/workload of individuals who are teaching orientation and mobility skills, the NOMC survey was created. It was used in the fall of 2009 with practicing mobility instructors across the country and the data from that study are currently under analysis and slated for publication (Bell, 2009).

  • Social Responsibility about Blindness Scale (SRBS). The Social Responsibility about Blindness Scale (SRBS) is a 20 item, multidimensional measure of attitudes about blindness. The scale is conceptualized to consist of the two dimensions of attitudes (1) attitudes, which are context-free generalized value statements; and (2) expectations, which are context-specific prediction of behavioral outcomes (Millington, Leierer, and Abadie, 2000). Items reflect attitudinal statements (e.g., Being totally blind is worse than being visually impaired) as well as specific expectations (e.g., I believe that someone who is blind could be a good elementary school teacher). The SRBS has been used in several studies with youth who are blind/visually impaired, and was demonstrated to have good internal consistency. The scale is currently under consideration for publication (Bell, 2008).

For more information on ongoing or published research, please e-mail Dr. Edward Bell at


Talking TBS
Congratulations to our Fall 2010 TBS graduates Lexi Albritton and Kathy King. Both teachers have successfully completed all program requirements along with requisite internships and both plan to remain in Louisiana to teach blind/visually impaired children. Twelve teacher candidates enrolled in coursework in the Fall ’10 quarter, and three new students will join us for winter coursework.

The schedule for the National Certification in Literary Braille (NCLB) exam has been announced and teachers who are not NCLB certified are strongly urged to register for this professional certification. TBS students who have taken the Literary Braille course (Braille I,) may contact Dr. Ryles (257 4554) to borrow study materials for sections of the exam.

A reminder: Braille skills rust quickly.  Keep your skills sharp by read, read, reading! If you would like braille 4th – 6th grade chapter books to read, call PDRIB (257 4554). Use your slate often and keep your Ashcroft book close by! 

A special tip ‘o the hat to two TBS who are now teaching in suburban Atlanta, Cobb County. Jackie Anderson (’10) and Geneva Ellingson (’11) are quickly developing a reputation for providing blind children in Smyrna with unequaled skills. You go, ladies! Changing the future of blind children, one child at a time.


Looks at Books

Each quarterly newsletter will feature a book that is featured in the Critical Concerns in Blindness Series. This month’s featured book is, Getting Ready for College Begins in Third Grade: Working Toward an Independent Future for Your Blind/VI Child,by Carol Castellano.


Through years of advocacy for families, author Carol Castellano began to notice that the education of many blind/visually impaired children went off track in third or fourth grade.  She also observed that as the children began to fall further and further behind, no one was thinking about a plan to get the child caught up.  If a child couldn’t do grade-level math and reading when in third grade, and he or she kept falling behind, how would that child ever to be able to handle algebra and college-prep English? 


Instead of accepting a lower standard of education for blind/VI children, Getting Ready for College Begins in Third Grade empowers parents with a plan for getting and keeping the child’s education on track and for teaching the additional life skills necessary for an independent future.


Written for parents of pre-K through middle school students, the book includes chapters on High Expectations, Academics, Independent Living Skills, Independent Movement and Travel, Social Awareness and Social Skills, and Developing Self-Advocacy Skills: the Pursuit of a Normal Life.


Highlights of Getting Ready for College Begins in Third Grade include:

  • A unique method for analyzing academic problems and creating a practical, detailed remediation plan based on the expectation of catching the child up.  Helpful, clear diagrams bring into focus the array of issues involved.


  • Independent movement and travel ideas for developing basic concepts, spatial awareness, and the child’s store of knowledge.  How to use the guided discovery method.  Activities for very young children and children having a difficult time learning mobility concepts.  Ideas for developing independent mobility in school. 

  • A powerful chapter on social awareness and social skills that includes ideas for developing the child’s personality and teaching conversation skills.


A common sense, easy-to-use approach for teaching independent living skills, including a section on how to develop time awareness and time management in your child.

You can purchase this book by going to If you would like this book in electronic format you must first purchase the book then email us at and an electronic copy will be sent to you.

Alumni Announcements
What important life events are going on in your lives now? Please email me,, with BIG news happening in your life. Engagement, marriage, baby, graduation, new job? Let us know, we want to hear all about it!

Mark Your Calendar

  • November 1, 1010 - January 4, 2011: Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest.

There are categories for both adults and children. Go to:

  • December 10, 2010: NCLB Test Administration, Ruston
  • January 21, 2011: NCLB Test Administration, Ruston
  • February 1, 2011: NFB Washington Seminar Begins
  • April 7-9, 2011: ABC Conference, Shreveport, LA.
  • April 8-10, 2011: NFB of Louisiana State Convention, Shreveport, LA.


Contact Us
We would love to hear from you, please feel free to contact us at any time!
Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness
PO Box 3158
100 Wisteria
210 Woodard Hall
Ruston, LA 71272
Phone: (318) 257-4554
Fax: (318) 257-2259
Editor email:

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Happy Holidays from the Staff of the PDRIB!
Wish you peace and success in the coming year!