Faculty Focus: Betsy O’Donnell, MS ‘86, COMS, CLVT, TVI
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Faculty Focus: Betsy O’Donnell, MS ‘86, COMS, CLVT, TVI

Betsy O’Donnell, MS ‘86, COMS, CLVT, TVI, is back.

After a career of teaching Orientation and Mobility, which included a 20-year stint in the Blindness and Low Vision Studies (BLVS) department at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) at Salus University, O’Donnell had retired. But a teaching opportunity in the BLVS program recently presented itself and it was an offer she couldn’t refuse.

Betsy O'Donnell HeadshotThe University’s Orientation and Mobility (O&M) program received a grant from the Reader's Digest Partners for Sight Foundation to support its internship programs. Not only is it the first time the program has received this grant, but it’s the first time the program has had full-time O&M services at the William Feinbloom Vision Rehabilitation Center housed at The Eye Institute (TEI) and the first time the program has supported full-time O&M interns at Salus.

“It’s interesting to be back. I see some of the same faces as I did more than 20 years ago when I worked at Feinbloom,” said O’Donnell, who is the clinical educator for the interns. “Things are different, but the basics are still the same. I don’t have all the interns at the same time. Some students are in what is called their fieldwork placement. One day a week, they are supervised 100 percent of the time.”

The one-year grant is for $84,680. The program kicked off earlier this summer and is currently supporting six interns. 

According to the University’s grant application, the program will improve the O&M instructor pipeline, help address a national shortage of O&M instructors and significantly reduce a growing list of adults and older adults with visual impairments who are waiting for O&M skills training at the Feinbloom Center and referring regional organizations.

O’Donnell said the grant expands the internships a great deal, so the program can have more interns for just a half a day or one day a week.

“The goal is to give them adequate supervision and allow them to acquire the skills where they have a good, functional understanding of their mission and can apply that information appropriately,” she said. “It’s a unique field placement in that the O&M masters/certificate programs have always been strong in low vision from a curricula standpoint, but now the students get to apply it in this setting more directly.”

O’Donnell herself came through the internship program in the early 1980s. At that time, she worked two days a week at the Feinbloom Center teaching individuals how to make best use of their vision with optical devices; and worked two days a week teaching O&M in the community.

“It was a full-time job, that internship. What I got to do, though, I had the opportunity to experience different populations, which was really valuable,” she said.

After spending about 20 years at PCO, O’Donnell left and took a job in an intermediate unit working with children in Delaware County, before eventually retiring.

For the Internships now, if students go through the Feinbloom Center and work with O’Donnell, it includes four days a week teaching mobility, possibly working with some clients on site at TEI, or going into clients’ home neighborhoods depending on what their needs are. In that situation, O’Donnell works with the interns part-time, because it’s their last phase of training. 

But she likes being back in a teaching role. “It’s fun and I feel like I’m making a difference,” she said.