For Stacy Kelly, a trip to Scotland to share best practices on the training of pre-service professionals in the field of visual impairments proved an eye-opening experience.
During her well-received conference presentations at Scotland’s Royal National Institute for the Blind and her opportunities to observe her United Kingdom colleagues at work, Kelly glimpsed something she can’t see back home.
“In the United States, we have a totally different system to protect our privacy – it’s very much individual, little blocks of information, but you can’t break into the blocks. We have HIPPA, FERPA and all these layers of privacy protection,” says Kelly, an associate professor in the Department of Special and Early Education.
“So much research in our profession is single-subject research design because of the infrastructure of privacy protection,” she adds. “National data sets are hard to come by, and that’s a real struggle for us in the United States.”
Researchers aren’t alone in the dearth of information: Even parents of people with visual impairments lose access to the health records of their children when those children reach adulthood.
Laws is Scotland, however, are far more open – and the colleagues Kelly met there “were just fascinated by the fact that we’re so obsessed with privacy, because they’re not.”
The country’s national registry of blind and partially sighted persons, while not compulsory, provides a wealth of statistics for researchers and practitioners.
“We’re so jealous,” Kelly says. “With the registry, people are identifiable. You can do research on intervention. You can look and see the impact. They have a much more direct route to information than we do here. We told them, ‘That’s a huge strength. Don’t forget that.’ And they said, ‘Wow, we can’t imagine it not being that way.’ ”
Kelly visited Scotland during the last week of October.
Her conference presentation focused on how preservice professionals in the visual impairment field are trained in the United States as well as U.S. innovations in delivering services to people with visual impairments.
Observation of the practitioners of the Royal Blind School for Visually Impaired and Blind Children provided another contrast.
“U.S. teachers cover braille, adapted living skills, social skills, assistive technology – teachers of the visually impaired provide that support and knowledge to their students,” Kelly says.
“Their model is that the teacher just does the braille instruction. The rest falls under a ‘habilitation’ specialist, who does a lot of what our teachers of the visually impaired do in the schools,” she adds. “We have very different caseloads.”
Moving forward, Kelly expects to stay in touch and assist her new colleagues in assessing the outcomes of their work.
“This was the opportunity of a lifetime,” she says. “You can read about it; you can have good Skype conversations with people overseas; you can have an exchange of ideas; but the opportunity to actually be there and to learn from them face-to-face was just awesome.”