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Meet APH Scholar Barbara Peterson

a photo of Barbara Peterson pinned to a cork board

APH is proud to recognize Barbara Peterson, nominated by Montana Ex Officio Trustee (EOT), Carol Clayton-Bye, as one of our 2020-2021 APH Scholars.

A graduate of the University of Montana and elementary education teacher, Barb was introduced to the field of blindness in 1984 when her daughter Katie was born with retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). Filled with the desire to know how to help her daughter in school, Barb decided to become a Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI) and Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS). In 1997, Barb graduated with her degree from the University of Northern Colorado and in 2013, became certified as a Deafblind Specialist through Texas Tech University. She student taught at the Montana School for the Deaf and the Blind (MSDB) and completed her practicum for Orientation and Mobility (O&M) in Eastern Washington. Afterwards, Barb accepted a job as an outreach vision consultant for MSDB, where she has worked for the past 23 years.

Traveling Across the Country

As an outreach vision consultant, Barb is responsible for representing MSDB in western Montana by supporting students with visual impairments. Each day, she leaves her home office in Missoula and goes to different homes, schools, and agencies to present APH products. “Barb takes the time to show people how to use the materials, follows up with users, and assures success, which builds confidence in these children,” said EOT, Carol Clayton-Bye.

Covering 18,000 square miles in west central Montana, Barb can drive in any direction 100 miles from her home and still be in her caseload area. She serves 70 plus students across 45 school districts and 126 schools along with two early childhood development agencies.

Utilizing APH Products

“In the course of any given day, APH products are literally in and out of their boxes and in and out of my state issued Ford Escape,” said Barb. “APH products have been instrumental in enhancing the lives of thousands of our students over the last 23 years of my career.”

Every child is unique, and Barb works to locate the best products to suit their needs. One tool she uses frequently is the LED Light Box and Light Box Materials: Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 as they work with a wide range of visual impairments including Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI). “When working with the Light Box,” said Barb “I have encouraged and modeled for parents and teachers how to create specified learning spaces conducive to providing a quiet and undistracted time for visual learning.” She also recommends the Peg Kit and Reach and Match as well as the Building on Patterns products for beginning braille readers.

It’s rewarding for Barb to see a child’s face when they understand a concept and to find educators who are motivated to assist their students. She explained, “Montana is a vast state,

and many times, our teachers work alone. They don’t have close collaboration with other teachers, and then you get a child in your classroom who can’t see. For a teacher to spend time with you and respect what you bring to the table and say that they want to help you help a child allows the fear to dissipate as they’re ready to get to work.”

Teaching is also a two-way street as both student and teacher learn from one another. From her students, Barb was taught tenacity, humor, and the mentality to embrace who you are. She said, “The ability to press on and move forward is what I’ve learned from my kids and to do it with a light heart.”

Outside of her caseload, Barb shares her knowledge with Montana’s Outreach Team and is a mentor teacher for other TVI’s, COMS, and deafblind specialists, including supporting a grassroots training program through a grant from Texas Tech University. She collaborates to host regional and statewide events, demonstrating APH products to families. “Barb has used the Quick and Easy Expanded Core Curriculum to engage parents in a natural approach to including their children in activities of daily living,” said Carol. “She has sat at tables in the cottages on our campus with students, siblings, and parents where they engaged in games of Web Chase to draw both sighted and blind children into the social interaction and make these relationships naturally happen.”

Praise for Barb

Carol applauds Barb’s dedication and the positive impact she has had on others. She said, “Parents have reported to me that Barb has made them realize their child can grow like any child when you present play and learning in an accessible way by using a Light Box, tactile storybook, or a RIB-IT-Ball. Students have admitted that Barb brought items into their schools and they were nervous about using them; however, ‘Barb made the items seem cool and all my friends felt I was lucky.’ The passion Barb presents for children who access their world in these unique ways shines through each day that I spend with her, and I know she will continue to share this passion with the families in Montana.”

Looking Toward the Future

When asked about the future of the field, Barb said she hopes the employment statistics for people who are visually impaired will improve. “With the progression of technology,” she said “hopefully, more and more of our students who are blind and visually impaired are employed. I want my students to have jobs and a secure place to live.”

More About the Program

Each year, EOTs are asked to nominate someone they feel provides outstanding service in their region. Through a scholarship, awardees attend the APH Annual Meeting in Louisville, KY as a guest of APH. APH pays for all expenses in attending the conference, including transportation to

the meeting, conference registration, and hotel accommodations. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020-2021 APH Scholars were unable to be with us in person this year; they attended APH’s 152nd Annual Meeting virtually. Next year, the scholars will come to Louisville for Annual Meeting.

Stay tuned to our website to learn about another scholar each month, and watch out for information about webinars that our scholars will be hosting.

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