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Visual Disabilities Program launches new grad certification

November 23, 2016

For five college graduates interested in new careers with guaranteed employment and emotional rewards, the future is now at NIU.

Thanks to a five-year $1.25 million grant recently awarded to NIU by the U.S. Department of Education, the Visual Disabilities Program of the College of Education’s Department of Special and Early Education (SEED) has launched a new master’s degree. Beginning this fall – and in another format next summer – the program provides specialized training in assistive technology used by people with visual impairments.

Most of the federal dollars go directly to recruiting students to NIU for this high-need area of specialization. Graduates will receive the Certified Assistive Technology Instructional Specialist designation (CATIS) – the new national standard – from the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals.

NIU’s program also offers a unique opportunity to professionals already working in the field of visual disabilities who want an additional credential. Two options for the program are available. The first, Project VITALL (Visually Impaired and Assistive Technology for All), will be taught over two years during fall and spring semesters to people with bachelor’s degrees in any field. The second, Camp VITALL, will be taught over two summers for currently licensed professionals in vision. This includes teachers of students with visual impairments (TVI), certified orientation and mobility specialists, and certified vision rehabilitation therapists.

“NIU is the first university offering a course of study toward this,” said Stacy Kelly, an associate professor in SEED and alumna of the program. “Individuals who choose this career path experience a sense of fulfillment not commonly found in other careers. These teachers play a significant role in the lives of children who are visually impaired and their families.”

And they are desperately needed as the U.S. continues to experience a critical, national shortage of teachers for students who are blind and, unfortunately, the number of those entering the profession will never catch up to the number of those who need services.

Project VITALL encourages students in its cohorts to complete both licensure for teaching children who are visually impaired, which takes 16 months, and to also obtain dual certification in CATIS.

Classes are taught face-to-face on the NIU campus in DeKalb. Generous financial aid – all tuition and fees as well as health insurance and a stipend of $5,520 per calendar year – is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis to qualified applicants.

Camp VITALL, which provides the CATIS credential without interrupting the August-through-June employment of teachers, includes full tuition, fees and a $920-per-summer stipend for two consecutive summer sessions.

On-campus courses take place over eight weeks in the summer of 2017; the 12-week internship is completed in the summer of 2018.

For more information on either program, contact Kelly at 815-753-4301 or [email protected]