The Visually Impaired Learner (VIL) program at Portland State University (PSU) has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to train 35 teachers to work with students who are blind or visually impaired. The grant, called VIsion Professionals for Under Served Areas (VIPs-USA), is for $1.25 million over five years, June 2015–June 2020. The VIL program in the Special Education Department at PSU is a two-year part-time graduate program delivered predominantly online with one summer campus intensive. Students can choose a master’s degree or an endorsement.
During the course of the project, faculty will enhance training content related to learners from diverse backgrounds and additional disabilities, including those who are deaf-blind. During the summer session, students learn emerging technology in an assistive technology lab at the Washington School for the Blind. Two classes in braille are required, and PSU is the first university in the country to use the new Unified English Braille program. Like students in all teaching programs within the Graduate School of Education (GSE), VIPs-USA students get over 600 hours of supervision and evaluation in practicums at sites in their communities.
The community of professionals in the field of visual impairment nationwide is small but in critical need of certified teachers. Only 28 universities throughout the country produce teachers and PSU’s distance education VIL program is an innovative model that serves urban and rural areas. The PSU VIL program hosts the Pacific & Northwest Consortium for Vision Education (PNWCVE), which offers students from Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Idaho, and Montana to qualify for in-state tuition at PSU. The PSU VIL program has successfully trained numerous students who are blind or visually impaired to be teachers of the blind or visually impaired.
The VIL program at PSU is one of the longest-serving programs in the GSE, having just celebrated 50 years of preparing graduates to address the critical shortage of teachers of students with visual impairments.