Services for visually handicapped or hearing impaired Austinites

[Ed. note: Another post from my guest-blogging dad]

Much is made of Austin’s music scene, and the scenic Hill Country area. But suppose that someone you love is visually handicapped or hearing impaired. What then? Well... turns out that a move to Austin could be in your future. There’s much to offer, including help. Below are two fine institutions which help deaf and blind children.

Many of the state's resources geared toward adults are also based here in Austin. For links to some of them, see the end of this blog. South Austin is home to the 67-acre Texas School for the Deaf, 1102 South Congress, founded in 1857. Students from age zero through 21 with documented hearing loss who live in Texas may apply. There is a residential program for students five years old and older. Borrowing a quote from their website, “...we have spent over a century leading the cause of deaf education, deaf rights and deaf issues, all in order to create an optimal environment for education, a community of respect and a home for deaf culture.” In other words, this isn’t a place where the handicapped are warehoused, it’s an educational institution with social institution added on that prepares hearing impaired people to cope with life in the “real world.”

There is a Career and Technology Education Department which teaches job skills. The school’s Visual Studio features instruction in the fine arts as well as the latest in digital art, animation, and multimedia. ...and help is given in Spanish, as well. Of course, there are also interpreter services and sign language services. Fumbling around on their website, I found the fascinating Texas Math Sign Language Dictionary, which allows you to specify a written mathematical term or phrase, then shows a person signing the phrase. Obviously the school serves both those who deal with hearing impaired and the hearing impaired themselves.

The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (the new, politically correct name) is across the river and north a bit, 1100 West 45th. Their website states their mission well: “...a special public school... for students who have a visual impairment. ...also a statewide resource to parents of these children and professionals who serve them. Students, ages 6 through 21, who are blind, deafblind, or visually impaired, including those with additional disabilities, are eligible for consideration for services...” The School started in 1856. In 1917, they moved to a donated 73-acre site between Lamar and Burnet Road.

In addition to the basic elementary and secondary school subjects, the School also teaches a so-called EXIT program (Experiences in Transition) for students age 18 to 24 which (their website, again) “focuses on these areas of transition: personal management; housing/household management; adult leisure, recreation and fitness; physical and mental health needs; transportation; employment; post secondary education; and age of majority. Also included will be instruction in social skills and self determination skills.”

These people often need help dealing with the so-called “real world,” and here’s a place to get it. An outreach program also “serves as a statewide resource... on blindness and/or deafblindness.” As for the older deaf and the blind, many stay on in Austin. Employers find them to be hard-working and conscientious. Austinites find them to be good neighbors. When I was a college student living in South Austin, I knew several couples who were profoundly deaf. They were, without exception, nice people coping in a world that was not always kind to them. The deaf sometimes have trouble speaking clearly to the rest of us, and the blind sometimes unintentionally endanger themselves and others. People want to help them, but often misunderstand. …for example, those brilliant people who installed Braille buttons on the drive-up Automatic Teller Machines. The deaf and the blind are just as human as the rest of us, and often share our foibles in uncomfortable ways. The blind occasionally “pick” or “scratch,” not knowing if anyone is looking. Occasionally the deaf also feel the need to belch or “pass gas,” and they sometimes forget to close the windows in the bedroom on a warm spring night when, in the heat of passion… Well, you know. But the next time you’re cutting across town on 45th Street, pay just a bit more attention to people with white canes. And the next time that you hear the chirping sounds of crosswalk signals warning that time is almost up, or see the attention-getting strobe flash on a red stoplight, think of those whose world is a little bit better, louder, brighter, here in Austin.

Learn more about the Texas School for the Deaf, at http://www.tsd.state.tx.us/
See the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired website at http://www.tsbvi.edu/
Check the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services at http://www.dars.state.tx.us/ which handles both of these schools, plus support services for all disabilities, plus early childhood intervention.
Texas Education Agency is also active: see http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/deaf/directory.html for a look at services for the deaf.

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