Everywhere you look at Perkins School for the Blind, students are busy preparing for the future. Lessons in independent living cover practical tasks like cooking meals and doing laundry. Assistive technology classes teach students how to navigate the web and become effective communicators. Orientation and mobility sessions 8 provide the navigation skills they need to travel safely in their communities.
But challenges after graduation persist. Even the most prepared student must enter a world where 60 percent of visually impaired young adults who enter college drop out, and only 42 percent of working-age individuals with a visual disability are employed.
To combat these statistics, Perkins is taking its transition programming to the next level, launching innovative new programs to prepare students for the challenges of adulthood, and partnering with foundations to create a state-of-the-art Transition Center to house them.
“We know that transition – whether you’re talking about college, a job or living independently – is one of the single biggest challenges for students who are visually impaired,” said Perkins President and CEO Dave Power. “It makes sense for Perkins to be leading the way in building programs and services that address this real need.”
The first, College Success@Perkins, is a nine-month residential program designed to equip visually impaired high school graduates and current college students with the skills they need to earn a degree. Starting this fall, participants will be immersed in a higher education setting focused on assistive technology, orientation and mobility and independent living skills. Students will learn transition skills like financial planning from Perkins instructors while also enrolling in college courses at a local university.
“One of the strengths of this program is that it combines classroom learning with real experiences,” said program director Leslie Thatcher. “Students will have a chance to really challenge themselves and practice being independent, knowing that our staff is there to support them.”
Participants in College Success, which was developed with generous funding from the William M. Wood Foundation (Bank of America, N.A., Trustee), will also begin thinking about life after college. They’ll learn how to identify, apply and interview for jobs that interest them, while shadowing professionals to learn more about potential careers.
In February, Perkins broke ground on a major renovation to transform the historic Tompkins and Bridgman cottages into a multi-use Transition Center for College Success and other initiatives. By the end of this month, Tompkins Cottage will house a brand-new teaching kitchen, a technology center and fully accessible dorm-style bedrooms for College Success students to use.
The project was made possible with generous support from the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation and the A.W. Baldwin Charitable Foundation, Inc.
“The A.W. Baldwin Charitable Foundation is honored to be part of College Success,” said Treasurer and Trustee Lee Graham. “This gap year will prepare students for a safe and successful college experience. We are proud to provide capital funding to support this groundbreaking initiative as part of the Transition Center.”
When construction is completed in December, the Transition Center will become a vibrant hub for programs and services related to transition, including future job training and placement programs as well as classes and workshops for educators and parents.
“We’re seeking to make bold changes to the status quo when it comes to how individuals with visual impairment are represented in higher education and in the workplace,” said Power. “It all starts here.”