‘Book of record’: NIU faculty, alums help write new ‘bible’ on vision rehab therapy

Sue Dalton
Sue Dalton

Sue Dalton, a longtime instructor in the Department of Special and Early Education’s Visual Impairments program, is the author of two chapters in the newly published “Foundations of Vision Rehabilitation Therapy.”

Its publication is heralded as a landmark moment by practitioners in the field, who for 25 years have considered 1996’s “Foundations of Rehabilitation Teaching with Persons Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired” as “the book of record.”

Yet life has changed dramatically in that quarter-century, obviously, and nothing has replaced it.

Until now.

“The last book was published in 1996, and as I’d be teaching classes with my students, I’d have to apologize: ‘There’s some good information in this book, but I know it’s dated,’ ” says Dalton, who joined the department in 1998 and is also a two-time NIU alumna. “At our professional conferences, we were constantly saying, ‘We need a new textbook.’ ”

Published by the American Printing House for the Blind, the book offers a “humanistic approach to service delivery and provides the reader with instructional strategies and the logic behind them.” It also “draws from literature and research-based findings and combines this with current best practices from the field.”

Meanwhile, according to the publisher, the new book sets itself apart from the “seminal” original by Paul Ponchillia and Sue Ponchillia that “quickly established itself as an essential reference for vision rehabilitation professionals.”

Among the changes are the diverse perspectives of multiple subject matter experts, including several with connections to the NIU College of Education, and relevant content on developing instructional strategies related to assistive technology, digital literacy and artificial intelligence.

Stacy Kelly
Stacy Kelly

NIU Professor Stacy Kelly calls the book “incredibly important because the world is in a totally different place 25 years later.”

“This book has needed to come out for 20 years, and the field is really excited because it’s a current piece on blind rehabilitation,” Kelly says. “We were adding on to our curriculum for so long, with additional resources outside the 1996 text, and now it’s all in one place. It will make all the difference.”

Beyond that, she adds, it will enable practitioners to better align their instruction with modern life and to gain a clearer idea of how their clients are progressing.

“In order to have certification, you need to have a body of knowledge from which the certification, and the professionals, base their expertise. It has to be something credible, that is published by the field and that is a reliable source of information,” Kelly says. “It cannot be hearsay, or word-of-mouth that, ‘This works well,’ or, ‘I think it’s changed.’ We cannot base a profession on that. We need a sound basis on literature.”

Kelly also regards the book as “a point of pride” for NIU, the College of Education and the Department of Special and Early Education.

Jennifer Ottowitz, one of the co-editors who also wrote the chapter on “The Assessment and Planning Processes,” earned her M.S.Ed. in Visual Disabilities in 1992.

George Abbott, senior vice president for the Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc., and who wrote the foreword, holds a M.S.Ed. in Rehabilitation of Adult Blindness (’93) and an NIU bachelor’s degree in Finance (’92).

Barbara Hunt, who authored the chapter on “Managing a Caseload,” was an NIU doctoral student in Adult Continuing Education and a longtime instructor, beginning in 1985.

And then there’s Dalton, who was invited by Ottowitz to contribute chapters covering “Leisure-Time Pursuits” and “Handwriting and Tactile Drawing.”

“Jennifer and I were classmates at Northern. When I met her – she’s visually impaired – she was still able to see somewhat, and I was her note-taker in class,” Dalton says. “We maintain a friendship. We’ve been in a lot of organizations together. We do conference presentations together. We’ve worked enough together that she knew I’d be committed to it.”

Dalton’s road to Gabel Hall, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the Visual Impairments program in 1991 and 1996, was personal.

Two of her three children were born with albinism, a genetic condition that causes significant visual impairments. Daughter Kelsey Thompson, 40, works as a vocational rehabilitation counselor for the Edward Hines, Jr. Veterans Affairs Hospital. Ed, 39, is a biomedical engineer with the U.S. Department of Defense.

“I went back to school when the kids got to school,” Dalton says. “I’ve been active because of them.”

She is proud of her contributions to “Foundations of Vision Rehabilitation Therapy.”

Maybe her words will spur people with visual impairments to become stay healthy and active through physical fitness, to relax with music or to become involved in their communities by interacting with neighbors both sighted and non-sighted, she says.

Or maybe, she says, people with visual impairment will develop the fine motor skills to write their signatures and to sign birthday cards, and to navigate their worlds by using tactile drawings that assist with map-reading or even TV remote controls.

Her students in the Department of Special and Early Education already appreciate the updated foundation of new knowledge, she says, not to mention the cost-effectiveness.

Jennifer Ottowitz
Jennifer Ottowitz

“I use this textbook in three different classes, so my students like that. I say, ‘You need one textbook, and this is it. It’s like a bible. It’s got everything in it,’ ” Dalton says. “There have been so many changes, especially in the area of technology, that needed to be put in there, and just to incorporate that into all aspects of the book was important.”

For her part, as both a teacher and a mother, Dalton is grateful for the assortment of experiences brought by the authors in making the new book relevant to students with – and without – visual impairments.

“As a teacher at Northern, I’ve had students who were visually impaired, and it’s one thing to show a sighted person how to teach someone who is blind how to do things, but the techniques need to be changed or adapted if you yourself cannot see,” she says.

“This textbook went into that and addressed that,” she adds, “which is good because I’ve always felt it was hard for me because I am sighted. I can share information – but I don’t live it.”

Sue Dalton (front, right) gathers for Christmas with her extended family, including daughter Kelsey (front left) and son Ed (back, red shirt), along with her daughter-in-law and grandson, Arthur (front, center), both of whom also have albinism.
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