By Blake Schnitker
The Illinois School for the Visually Impaired recently held their Opening Doors conference, an annual introduction meeting for Illinois parents and guardians of children with visual impairments and additional disabilities ages birth to 5. For three days between Tuesday, June 7 and Thursday, June 9, ISVI welcomed visually impaired children and their parents or guardians from throughout the state to learn more about the services in which the school provides as well as information and resources related to young children with visual impairments.
Officially titled “Opening Doors to Parents and Their Young Children with Vision Loss,” this program has taken place at ISVI for the past 33 years and was formerly known as the “Parent Infant Institute.” Jane Breen, co-director of ISVI’s Opening Doors, stated that the mission of the program is “to provide support to families of infants and toddlers who are blind or visually impaired, to assist them in making informed decisions on behalf of their children, and to provide information on their child based on observation and assessment.”
Opening Doors is included as one of the school’s many summer outreach programs, which Breen said “focus solely on vision related needs and topics specific to children diagnosed with a visual impairment.”
What makes ISVI and its faculty so unique is that they provide so much more than just everyday classroom education. While education is still a primary function of ISVI, the school also helps its blind or visually impaired students become socially acclimated to the world around them. In fact, much of the Opening Doors program included presentations and discussions regarding socialization and the school’s role in developing socially adept students.
Speaking to this point, Breen said that the mission of ISVI as a whole is “to provide a quality comprehensive education and serve as a statewide resource to students in Illinois with visual impairments, assisting them in becoming personally productive and self-sufficient citizens.”
Since many of the families that attend Opening Doors travel from considerable distances throughout the state, ISVI recognizes the importance of those 3 to 4 days in which the program takes place.
“Families travel from many areas in the State of Illinois and each year parents express how welcoming the Jacksonville community is when they explore the area,” said Breen. “ISVI really appreciates the positive support the Jacksonville community offers to the school and especially to the students it serves throughout the year.”
“One of the most important aspects of the program is that it’s a wonderful opportunity to provide parents with the opportunity to interact with other parents raising children with visual impairments,” said Breen. “The program also provides children an opportunity to interact with peers. The families network and often make life long connections. In short … It’s awesome.”
This year’s Opening Doors was Lego-themed and focused on the building processes – both academically and socially – of ISVI students. Over the 3-day conference, ISVI organizes a number of sessions based on topics such as: orientation and mobility; early literacy including Braille; medical eye conditions; cortical visual impairment; expanded core curriculum; transition from early intervention; speech and language; sensory processing; tips for tactual awareness; independent living skills and developing individualized education plans.
Established in 1849, Illinois School for the Visually Impaired is a residential/day school providing accredited educational and related services for blind or visually impaired children between birth and 22 years of age through pre-school, elementary and high school. For further information regarding ISVI and/or the Opening Doors program, please visit www.isvi.net.