Photo: Julie Durando, NCLVI Fellow

Julie Durando- University of Northern Colorado

My experiences with special education began in Broward County, Florida during my senior year of high school. I participated daily for two hours in a practicum in a self-contained class for students with multiple disabilities. I spent most of that time working individually with a student who had profound mental handicaps. Throughout the year, I discovered the dramatic change that can slowly occur with intense and careful instruction. I decided to attend Florida State University so that I could pursue special education further.

After completing my coursework for a double major in what was then called “Mental Retardation” and Visual Impairments, I received an internship placement in a classroom for students who had visual impairments and multiple disabilities including deaf-blindness. My supervising teacher demonstrated how to effectively embed best practice techniques for total communication, object calendars, authentic activities, and community based instruction in a smooth, enjoyable curriculum. In the summer of 2001, I attended the Summer Learning Institute in Deaf-blindness through the University of Alabama Birmingham at the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind. I then went on to complete a Master’s of Education in Exceptional Education at the University of Central Florida.

I taught for eight years in the Volusia County, Florida. For the first four years, I taught classroom for students with multiple disabilities. Then, I became an itinerant teacher for the visually impaired. During those years my students taught me that it is impossible to predict how much one can learn when given access to meaningful and motivating opportunities. After seeing how successful strategies such as the calendar box were with my students, my department chair asked me to collaborate with other teachers to assist them in developing calendar systems in their classrooms. I also began to give workshops and discovered I had a passion for personnel preparation.

In 2004, I began providing technical assistance to families and educators throughout the state of Florida through the Florida Outreach Project for Children and Young Adults who are Deaf-Blind. This position opened my eyes to the tremendous needs in the fields of Visual Impairment and Deaf-Blindness. Unfortunately, I also realized how often students with sensory impairments and severe cognitive impairments are not provided with the educational environment they require to have that opportunity. I believe parents and educators want to see their students succeed to their fullest potential, but often do not have the training or resources to make it happen. Leaders in the field work tirelessly to improve the services available. They may be few in numbers, but share a passion for training parents, educators, and consumers while advocating for funding and needed services. I look forward to taking this opportunity to expand my personal knowledge while earning a doctorate at the University of Northern Colorado so that I may join them in addressing these great needs.

Completed her Doctor of Education from The University of Northern Colorado - see completed doctrate