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2024 DBCentral Pre-conference Schedule

Deafblind Central is hosting a half-day pre-conference on Wednesday, April 24, 2024 from 2:00 PM – 5:00 PM.

Cost for the pre-conference is $40 per participant.

Topics for Pre-Conference:

  • Understanding DeafBlindness – Children with Combined Hearing & Vision Loss
  • The Importance of Touch for Young Learners
  • Protactile Language Principles to Enhance Connection & Concept Development

Speaker for Pre-Conference:

Susanne Morgan Morrow, MA, CI, CT is the Project Director of the New York DeafBlind Collaborative (NYDBC), where she provides training and support for individuals with combined hearing and vision loss, their families, and educators throughout New York.  She has a master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling for the Deaf from Gallaudet University and began her career working with individuals who are DeafBlind at Helen Keller National Center, almost 30 years ago. Susanne is also a nationally certified sign language interpreter and interpreter educator. She credits her learning to the countless and extremely rich experiences she has had in the Deaf and DeafBlind communities, specifically while acting as a designated interpreter at global-level DeafBlind events. She has coordinated interpreters for small- and large-scale events, including DeafBlind International – Network of the Americas and the International CHARGE Syndrome Conferences. Susie is a national trainer on a multitude of topics related to access and education of individuals who are DeafBlind and interpreting.


2024 MAER Conference Schedule

Celebrating 40 MAERvelous Years!


Thursday, April 25, 2024

7:30-8:00 Gallery and Grandview I Registration and Light Breakfast 

8:00-8:30 Grandview I – Welcome/Housekeeping – Beth Brabbs, MAER President 

8:30-9:30 Grandview I – Keynote Presentation: Reaching Our Peak Potential, A Celebration of Achievement, Connection and the Trail Ahead by Dr. Randy Pierce. Celebrating 40 years of meaningful work in the Blind and Low Vision services is a marvelous summit. It represents an appropriate opportunity to evaluate how best we can and should rest and recharge. As with a mountain peak, our work is not complete. It is a significant foundational summit to convert accomplishment into empowerment. 

As a totally blind hiker and organizational leader in vision services, I will share anecdotes and practical tools for connection, communication, and collaboration. As a two-time National Marathon Champion, we’ll similarly explore experiences and methods for managing adversity, enhancing resilience and achieving a vision beyond our sight personally and professionally.


Our time shared in this virtual keynote session will be a journey with laughter, thought provoking perspectives and some powerful emotional intensity. You should anticipate gaining insight on the essential psychological and physiological benefits of celebrating accomplishments. Secondly, you will learn and explore tools for communication and collaboration essential to enhance all your relationship building and team sustaining benefits. Additionally, you’ll have an expanded vision on how to grow the ability to reframe situations and experiences into the critical positive forward focus necessary for reaching your peak potential.


9:30-9:45 Break 

9:45-10:45 Breakout Sessions

State – Basics and Beyond: Labeling and Identification by Jamie Case, Jenny Doane, and Leanne Ford. This presentation will demonstrate some high tech and low-tech ways of labeling. Devices, applications, and a discussion of organization systems for various tasks around the home will be covered.

Front – O&M Skills for Guide Dog Travel by Meredith Bryde, Hanna Jones, Garret Waldie and Brad Welling.  Successful guide dog travel requires a particular set of O&M skills. Not all independent travelers meet this criterion. Participants will learn what O&M skills are essential for guide dog travel, how to assist interested guide dog applicants, what steps to take, and how to support guide dog partnerships.

Grandview I – Left Without Literacy: Steps to Establish a Plan for Students Who Experience Sudden Vision Loss by Johanna Brutvan and Amanda English. After an initial contact regarding a student who has suddenly lost vision, where do you begin? Teachers for the visually impaired and orientation and mobility specialists will be given purposeful planning tips, practical steps, and resources to help reengage the student in their general education curriculum.

10:45-11:00 Break 

11:00-11:45 Grandview I – Vendor Highlights: Meet our conference vendors and get ACVREP and/or SCECH credits as they introduce themselves to the group, highlighting what their organizations do, and how you might benefit from visiting them in the vendor room.

11:45-12:00 Break 

12:00-1:00 Plated Lunch and Annual MAER Business Meeting

1:00-1:15 Break

1:15-2:15 Breakout Sessions

State – Is a Mac for You? By Scott Ford. This presentation will examine the practical and financial considerations to consider a Mac as a viable computer. The Mac and PC have been compared to determine which one makes the most sense. The Mac may have some compelling reasons to be considered for a PC for someone with vision loss.

Front – PROWAG and What it Might Mean for You by Robert Wall Emerson. This presentation will explain major components of the recently adopted Public Rights of Way Accessibility Guidelines (PROWAG) and explore what adoption means for environmental accessibility.

Grandview I – CVI Make and Take Part 1 by Sara Cruchelow and Amy Shepherd. You have had the introductions to CVI, and you know what you need for your students. Join us in creating CVI friendly books. This session will use a combination of APH CVI Book Builder Kits, your personal electronic device and content from CVI Book Nook, to create books for your students with CVI. This session is also combined with a concurrent session immediately following it called “Part 2,” in which you will continue to have an opportunity to “Make and Take” your CVI friendly books.

2:15-2:30 Break

2:30-3:30 Breakout Sessions

State – Breaking my Neck for Education: A Look at Educator Well-being in an Inequitable System by Kat Naish, Ph.D. and Jessica King. Special education practitioners contend with difficult roles while navigating the field of education. This well-being workshop is an opportunity for educators to slow down, reflect, and connect with their professional communities. This workshop provides a space for validation, reflection, and gratitude in order to support educators in their continued advocacy.

Front – Grow Your Own Vegetables – Adaptive Gardening Techniques that Work by Gwen Botting.  Successful gardening is rewarding! Gardening improves choice making and self-concepts, enforces principles of work, addresses food insecurity, diversifies dietary preferences, encourages understanding of biodiversity, uses STEM, is fully culturally inclusive, engages motor skills, connects us with nature and circadian rhythms. Simple adaptations equal accessible, healthy fun for clients, and students!

Grandview I – CVI Make and Take Part 2 by Sara Cruchelow and Amy Shepherd. You have had the introductions to CVI, and you know what you need for your students. Join us in creating CVI friendly books. This session will use a combination of APH CVI Book Builder Kits, your personal electronic device and content from CVI Book Nook, to create books for your students with CVI. This session is also combined with a concurrent session immediately preceding this one called “CVI Make and Take Part 1,” in which you began to have an opportunity to “Make and Take” CVI friendly books.

3:30-3:45 Break

3:45-4:45 Breakout Sessions

State – Magnifiers, Lighting, and Filters – Better Outcomes for Adults with Low Vision by Pat Duyck. Discuss the basics of using tools for low vision. Help your customers/clients/students get the most from their devices by teaching how to use them most effectively and efficiently. Opportunities to share successful techniques will be provided.

Front – Surface Roughness Discrimination with the Long Cane: Effects of Cane Tips, Handle, Shaft Rigidity, and Swinging Speed by Dae Kim. The study examined the effects of cane tip type, cane tip size, cane shaft rigidity, cane handle material, and cane swing speed on the cane user’s ability to discriminate surfaces of different roughness. Given these findings, a cane user may want to use a smaller and/or cylindrical cane tip as opposed to larger and/or spherical cane tip for better surface texture change detection.

Grandview I – A Conversation with OEAA: Updates and More by John Jaquith and Jennifer Paul. Please join the Office of Educational Assessment & Accountability (OEAA) from the Michigan Department of Education for updates related to accessibility and accommodations on statewide assessments. Participants should come prepared with questions and to have an open conversation with OEAA about what’s working well and what’s not working well for students on the assessments.

4:45-5:30 Break

5:30-7:30 Top of the Park – Join the MAER Board for a hospitality event on the top floor of the hotel at which we will have light refreshments and a cash bar, along with a fun contest that revolves around bags from past conferences.

Friday, April 26, 2024

7:30-8:00 Grandview I – Breakfast

8:00-8:15 Grandview I – Housekeeping

8:15-9:15 Grandview I – General Session: State of the Association. Lee Sonnenberg, Executive Director of AERBVI, will share an update on the AER 2023-2026 Strategic Plan, including information on programs and services of AER at the international level, opportunities for professional and leadership development of individual members, as well as partnerships and collaborations with chapters, divisions, and other organizations.

9:15-9:30 Break

9:30-10:30 Breakout Sessions

State – A Journey of Discovery – Four Free and Simple Apps that Enhance Independence by Osman Koroma. Here we dive into four free and simple apps that give your clients and students the opportunity to enter a journey of discovery within their community. Discover how you can use these four apps to develop and build the ECC areas of independent living skills, recreation and leisure, assistive technology, social interaction, orientation and mobility, sensory efficiency, and career education. These simple yet powerful apps not only enhance independence but also enhance accessibility.

Front – Private Contracting – Is It for You? By Rikilynn Layher, Kristen Lavergne, and Amanda Thompson. Are you considering private contracting? If you’ve never contracted before and you’re not sure it’s right for you, we’ve got you covered. Our panelists work in schools, for state agencies, and at private companies. You’ll hear how we got started and learn the ins and outs of private contracting.

Grandview I – Transition Resources to Add to Your Toolkit from APH ConnectCenter by Melisa Matthews. In this virtual session, discover APH ConnectCenter’s online tools to offer guidance for students, families and professionals preparing young adults for their future. These activities support students with their interests and skills by also providing activities for families to incorporate at home. Our resources offer support to students at various stages of their journey.

10:30-10:45 Break

10:45-11:45 Breakout Sessions

State – Eyes on Health by Steve Sroka. Foundation Fighting Blindness is the world’s largest funder of research for retinal degenerative diseases, including RP, AMD, Stargardt, LCA and Usher syndrome. You will learn background on FFB and IRD research, free educational programs and resources, research successes, and opportunities for your members to connect with thousands of others with vision loss.

Front – Consideration of Intersectionality in Educational Decision Making by Jessica Kusku. The world and our students are changing faster than ever. When making educational decisions, we must understand all aspects of a student’s identity: gender, race, language background, socio-economic status. In this session you will learn a little about why these identities are important and how they intersect with blindness and low vision.

Park– Self Advocacy and the ECC from the Beginning by Melisa Matthews. In this virtual session, explore integrating self-advocacy into daily routines. Learn how self-advocacy can be at the center of the ECC skills. Discover how this will empower young children to make choices, sparking the journey of self-advocacy. Join us, parents, and teachers, for practical examples and insights supporting your child’s self-advocacy journey.

11:45-12:00 Break

12:00-1:00 Grandview I – Lunch and Awards Ceremony and Door Prizes/Vendor Mania Giveaways

1:00-1:15 Break

1:15-2:15 Breakout Sessions

State: Escape with APH by Jennifer Brooks and Sarah Cruchelow. Join us for learning about STEAM products available through quota funds in an interactive, hands-on experience. This activity could be duplicated in any environment shared with K-12 classrooms, transition aged programs and in extracurricular events.

Front: Aligning Your AT with Your Functional Vision Evaluation by Sarah Stargardt. Are you overwhelmed or confused when thinking about assistive technology (AT) evaluation? Then this presentation is for you! Learn to use the data from your functional vision evaluation (FVA) to drive your assistive technology consideration. We will look at each section of the FVA and how to consider AT for each. We will also discuss ways to incorporate AT into the FVA report and document AT in the IEP.

Grandview I – Active Learning: Promoting Independence in Children with Multiple Special Needs by Kirstyn Martino, CTRS. Given the opportunity, any child can learn! Active learning, an innovative approach developed by Dr. Lilli Nielsen, has reshaped educational programming – motivating and empowering those with multiple special needs to be engaged by their environment, instead of being controlled by it. This session will feature lecture and video demonstrations.

2:15-2:30 Break

2:30-3:30 State – Helping Children to Expand Their World: Let’s Get Moving by Karen M. L. Barsy, M.A., R-DMT. This workshop will introduce Dance Therapy techniques to be integrated into different settings for visually impaired: care facilities, therapeutic and classrooms, etc. Participants will be given the opportunity to ‘test-out’ DMT intervention tools during experiential sections. There will be opportunities to move, and we will have fun!

Front – Going to the Eye Doctor’s: Supporting Children and Their Families in Getting Medical Eyecare by Abby Koroma and Mimi Rassi. Join us to learn about supporting your students and their families in making the eye doctor’s a more positive experience, incorporate Expanded Core Curriculum skills into students’ preparation for their eye exams, and ultimately equip your students with the confidence and skills to prioritize their medical eyecare as adults.

Grandview I – Oregon Project Go Bags by Amy Bayes. Do you use the Oregon Project Skills Inventory Vision checklist? Do you wish you could use it in a more streamlined manner? Do you wish there were supply kits? Well, I made my own, and I am going to share my resources with you. Some created materials will be provided, and I will share sources to purchase the rest. When you complete this session, you will be on your way to being able to grab your age range bag and get out the door with all the tools you need!

3:30-3:45 Break

3:45-4:15 Breakout Sessions

State – What’s New in Rehabilitation? Facilitated by Roberta McCall and Leanne Ford. Join VRTs from around the state to discuss current issues in the field. Come prepared to share ideas, devices, and strategies that have worked for you.

Front – What’s New in O&M? Facilitated by Rikilynn Layher and Anne Zanger. Join O&Ms from around the state to discuss current issues in the field. Come prepared to share ideas, devices, and strategies that have worked for you.

Grandview I – What’s New in Education? Facilitated by Jessicia Klenk and Beth Brabbs.  Join Johanna Brutvan as she discusses the newly released Michigan Mandatory Special Education (MMSE) guidance documents for infants and toddlers, birth to age three, for VI.  Come prepared to learn about this important area of special education provision. Questions will be answered about the process for creating the guidance document and the plan for implementation. Meet Michigan vision professionals directly involved in this process.

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