New transition project focuses on empowering youth with visual impairments in rural communities

Empowering Youth with Visual Impairment logo; circle with TN shape and braille

The U.S. Department of Education has funded a new project to equip transition-aged students with visual impairment (VI) living in rural communities, their families, and the transition professionals who serve them with virtual supports to improve postsecondary education and employment outcomes.

EMPOWERing Youth with Visual Impairment (Equipping More Professionals on Work and Education in Rural Communities) is one of several transition-focused projects with support from the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (VKC UCEDD). The EMPOWER project is led by Hilary Travers, Ph.D., research assistant professor of Special Education and principal investigator of Transition Tennessee. Additional collaborators outside of Vanderbilt, but with VKC connections, include former VKC UCEDD trainee Michele Schutz, Ph.D., (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) and former VKC UCEDD co-director Erik Carter, Ph.D. (Baylor University).

Activities of EMPOWER include the development of an accessible website to host transition resources, interactive lessons for students with VI, and courses for adults to deepen their knowledge of how best to support transition-aged youth with VI. Additionally, virtual communities of practice will be established for families and teachers to learn about evidence-based practices and to brainstorm solutions to specific challenges. Mentorship opportunities will connect current transition-aged students with adults with VI who either are employed or are attending a postsecondary education program.

Hilary Travers headshot

Hilary Travers, Ph.D.

“Despite collective legislation at the federal and state level, large disparities in post-school outcomes persist between students with and without VI in Tennessee and beyond, “said Travers. “Further, inequities in the transition services delivered by school and agency providers are particularly pervasive for students in rural communities. Through this work, we hope to better prepare students with VI through online virtual content that can be accessed at any place and time to supplement instruction received in school. As well, our deliverables will allow families and transition professionals to learn more about what transition practices work best for students with VI.”

By leveraging partnerships of Vanderbilt University and the VKC at the state and local level, Travers says EMPOWER is well-positioned to serve all transition-aged students with VI, their families, and their professionals across the state.

“Our hope is to build sustainability,” said Travers. “We envision a future where teachers share new information they have learned within their professional communities, families spread information across their parent networks, and students take what they have learned and apply it to their lives so that they have better post-school outcomes.

Visit to learn more about the project and to sign up for a monthly newsletter that includes a specific transition practice of the month for students, families, and teachers to work on at school, at home, and/or in the community.

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