Program That Prepares Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired for College Highlights Opportunity, Teaches Independence

AUGUSTA - Maine Department of Labor's Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired, part of the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services, is running a second year of its College Vision Quest program this summer. CVQ allows students who are blind or have a visual impairment to try college life for a month.

Three students attended the 2013 pilot program and took an introductory, college-English course while participating in several seminars. Six students are attending this year, taking English 101 and participating in 48 learning labs in addition to morning seminars. Held at the University of Maine's Orono campus, it runs from July 6 to August 8. The program will conclude with a celebration of completion on the final day. Upon completion, the students will receive three university credits.

The eight students attending this year are SkyeLynn Patten, Jacob Hunter, Jazmine Barnett, Alisa Facer, Sudeep Stauble and Dan Thompson. There are also four individuals working as Residential Assistants who are visually impaired. Those individuals are Britany Douglass, Lindsay Ball, Tim Allen and Andrew Seigler.

"These students are having a wonderful time learning about the opportunities available to them," said Governor Paul R. LePage. "Our students with disabilities should not let anything hold them back from achieving their dreams. All Mainers should have access to the training and education they need for their career. These students are excellent role models for all of us who may hesitate to try something new that can better our lives."

Already, DBVI staff who are supporting Vision Quest have noticed the growth in participating students, many of whom are developing friendships with other peers who are blind or visually impaired for the first time. The staff says students are really enjoying the first-hand glimpse of college life coupled with informative sessions.

Students have expressed their excitement about their participation this year. One remarked, "For once, I fit in and am having a great time"; another is "really enjoying the group of people and have met lots of friends!"

As part of the program, CVQ students have had an opportunity to meet with Dr. Nicholas Giudice, director of the Virtual Environment and Multimodal Interaction (VEMI) Laboratory. The VEMI Laboratory, part of the Spatial Informatics program in the School of Computing and Information Science at the University of Maine, houses the university's first, and Maine's only, research facility combining virtual reality (VR) installation with augmented reality (AR) technologies.

Students have been able to talk with Giudice about his experiences as a professor with a visual disability, and he gave them a chance to try out some of the virtual reality simulations. In particular, real-time navigation of indoor and outdoor spaces, cognitive mapping and wayfinding in new environments are of special interest to DBVI's participants because those skills are necessary for successful completion of college and obtaining meaningful employment. Several of the students will also be participating in paid work with the VEMI lab in some of their ongoing research projects.

The students are learning how to navigate new experiences off campus as well. Maine Adaptive will conduct a kayaking outreach event with the students during the weekend of August 2, 2014, in Glenburn. Students volunteer in the community as part of the program; they can use these experiences to meet high school service hours requirements or to include on their college or scholarship applications.

Most important, the service experiences will help encourage the students to incorporate volunteering in the community as part of their lives going forward. The students have enjoyed volunteering at the Old Town YMCA, the Bangor Humane Society, and the UMaine Bodwell Center food bank. They plan to volunteer at the Ronald McDonald house during the last week of the CQV.

The Maine Department of Labor's Bureau of Rehabilitation Services (BRS) works to bring about full access to employment, independence and community integration for people with disabilities. The Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired, part of BRS, provides vocational rehabilitation, education, skill training, paths to employment and independent living skills to people who are blind or have a visual impairment.


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