Julene Fitch, Visual Impairment Consultant
For Julene Fitch, becoming a teacher who works with students with blindness and low vision was more than a career goal – it became her personal passion, as the mother of a son who was blind. When her son was in second grade, Julene returned to college, earning a bachelor’s degree in minor disabilities, and master’s degrees for teaching visually impaired students, and orientation and mobility for children. She began her career at Elkhart Community Schools teaching intense interventions, including teaching nine years at Mary Beck, and for the last four years, has been the district’s visual impairment consultant.
Julene’s responsibilities include traveling around the district and working in an instructional capacity with students who are blind, have low vision or have multiple disabilities including blindness or low vision. In addition to working directly with students, she also serves as a consultant for teachers.
For students who are blind or have low vision, the key to a successful education is accessibility. Julene works with students and teachers to ensure students have access to the material and support – with accommodations like special lighting, large print, sitting closer to the front of the room, providing them with typed notes, using digital textbooks, and teaching Braille.
Teaching Braille is one thing that Julene is passionate about – she believes true literacy is gained through reading with Braille versus audio delivery. Another area that Julene is passionate about is advocacy.
“The advice I would give to parents of students who are blind or low vision would be two-fold,” says Julene. “One – educate yourself on what your child will need and be prepared to advocate for it. The second is to recognize we’re all on this team, we all have something valuable to add to your child’s life and education. A lot of times, the parents can help educate the teacher and be the child’s voice.”
Her passion for self-advocacy is something that’s woven into instruction for students at Elkhart Community Schools. “When they leave here and go to college, students need to learn where to go for help and how to ask for help,” she says. “We teach them along the way that it’s okay to ask for help, that someday they are going to need to advocate for themselves. If our students are given access to the things they need, everything becomes possible for them.”
Blind and visually impaired students at Elkhart Community Schools are instructed with the Expanded Core Curriculum, a program specifically designed for blind and visually impaired students. Expanded Core Curriculum includes the traditional core curriculum (English language arts, mathematics, science, health, physical education, fine arts, social studies, economics, business education, and vocational education history), as well nine additional special areas of focus: compensatory or functional academic skills, orientation and mobility, social interaction skills, independent living skills, recreation and leisure skills, career education, use of assistive technology, sensory efficiency skills, and self-determination.