Faculty and Students Participate in a Summer Academy for High School Students with Visual Impairments

Try not to wake your roommate as you make your way to the dorm bathroom to brush your teeth. Head to the dining hall to grab something quick to eat as you proceed to your first class of the day and make sure you don’t forget to print out your paper for your afternoon class. This sounds like a typical college student’s day, but now imagine having to accomplish all of those tasks with a severe vision loss or blindness. This is exactly what the Summer Academy aims to do — prepare visually impaired or blind young adults for life as a future college student.

For four weeks throughout the summer, Emily Vasile, MAT, TVI, MS, CLVT, Blindness and Low Vision Studies (BLVS) instructor, packed her bags and moved into the dorms at Penn State’s main campus, along with 23 Pennsylvania high school students who have visual impairments. Each week, a different group of Salus Low Vision Rehabilitation (LVR) students arrived to work with the young adults on a variety of low vision rehabilitation skills.

“Summer Academy’s goal is to foster independence as the students prepare to attend college,” Vasile said. “We show the high school students strategies on how they can maximize their remaining functional vision to the best of their abilities, especially within the context of campus living.”

In addition to taking college courses and living as a college student on campus, Summer Academy high schoolers also participated in a wide range of activities during their stay. They learned how to travel safely throughout the vast 8,500-acre campus and the surrounding community, using assistive devices as well as navigate public transportation.

They learned about financial management strategies and how to use an ATM. They cooked meals and did their own laundry in the dorms. They explored potential career paths through vocational development seminars. Additionally, team-building activities such as rock climbing and participating in an aerial ropes course allowed the students to build relationships with one another and build confidence at the same time.

Salus BLVS TeamThe Salus team was responsible for the low vision section of the Summer Academy, but assisted with lessons conducted by volunteers from other Pennsylvania colleges, as vision pervades all areas of learning and daily living, Vasile explained.

Vasile was joined by BLVS assistant professor Kerry Lueders, MS, COMS, TVI, CLVT. They worked jointly with the LVR students to evaluate each high schooler’s level of functional vision, which provided meaningful hands-on learning experiences for the Salus students.

“Most of the LVR students were coming off of their summer coursework at Salus,” Lueders said. “On campus, Salus LVR students learn all about low vision assessments and interventions, and then we go right to Summer Academy and put their new skills into practice.”

The team performed a variety of assessments and provided recommendations for the Summer Academy high schoolers, who were exposed to a wide range of optical, non-optical and electronic devices, some of which they had never before experienced. The Salus team arranged engaging activities for exploring the devices, including a bingo game requiring students to use their magnifiers to identify small movie posters on a bingo sheet and a nighttime class that introduced the students to lighting sources and how they can impact their vision. The team also lectured on “How to Manage Your Doctor Appointments,” which focused on the practical nature of medical appointments and on what accommodations may be requested, such as asking for a large-print summary of the visit or asking for a staff member to read printed information aloud.

Amy Ingebretson ’18BLVS said the Summer Academy was an incredible hands-on learning experience.

“I further developed my skills related to low vision assessment and intervention, and I developed an even greater appreciation for the interdisciplinary approach,” she said. “I also gained a lot by just listening to the students, which is absolutely essential in what we do as low vision rehabilitation professionals.”

According to Vasile, who has participated in the Summer Academy since 2015, each year brings new learning experiences for everyone involved.

“Every year I learn something new about myself as an instructor, teacher, and low vision therapist,” she said. “This experience is one of a kind. I love to see how the Salus students have grown after their week at Summer Academy, and how the high school students have made an impact on the Salus students in such a short amount of time.”