At the annual SASED Orientation Day employees gather to reconnect and refocus after the summer break. The day is organized around professional development opportunities but we also take time to recognize the employees who have served SASED districts, students and families for five years or more. Thirty-seven staff members received pins recognizing five years of service. Fourteen received pins for ten years of service. Ten people received an engraved pen set for fifteen years of service. There were also five staff members who received an engraved paperweight and well deserved applause for their twenty years of service. Finally, there was one employee who reached the twenty-five year benchmark.
However, this year's awards included recognition of an exceptional milestone. Joan Allison, Program Administrator for SASED's Visually Impaired Program, was honored for 40 years of service. Joan began
with SASED in 1973 as a teacher when she started the first preschool class for students with visual impairments. Joan taught students who were deaf-blind or had other disabilities in addition to their visual impairment. She was named program coordinator in 1978. It is estimated that throughout Joan's 40 years, she has touched the lives of over 1,000 students. Joan Allison's vast knowledge of serving this population of students was greatly enhanced by her working with Dr. Jan van Dijk of the Netherlands, a leading researcher, author and consultant in the field of deaf-blindness. For two consecutive summers, through Florida State University, Joan studied with him as she learned additional techniques for working with students who are deaf and blind with the ultimate goal being to foster the children's development and to help them acquire sufficient social and economic skills to live in relative independence.
This independence is now far easier to attain for students given the technology explosion that Joan and this field have seen. She watched devices like the Optacon disappear and be replaced with amazing technology that provides access at a level and speed she could not have imagined when she began her career. When Joan first started in the field, students with visual impairments were mostly limited to a Perkins Braillewriter with noise that was distracting to their mainstream peers. The students had to produce the document then bring the Brailled paper back to their vision teacher to be ink printed so their sighted teachers could read it. Today students can produce documents (using either a Braille or QWERTY keyboard) on a variety of note taking devices and then simply plug the device into an embosser to print a Braille copy or into an ink printer to produce a print copy for their teachers. Even the access to Braille is now possible through downloading a book onto an iPad or computer and reading it with a refreshable Braille display. When Joan started, the teacher had to physically Braille the materials that weren't available for example, a history textbook could be 30+ volumes of Braille pages. Now there are translation programs allowing someone who does not know Braille to type and have the document instantly translated into Braille. As Joan stated, "It is so exciting to be part of the technology explosion and to learn from my students--they find easier access and additional applications that elude their teachers!"
As Joan was reflecting on her recognition and 40 years of service she commented, "The best part of my job is always the kids, families, and staff. I have been so fortunate to have had so many positive experiences with families, students, and staff. I had one of my high school students work with a fifth grader during Extended School Year and he helped that student double his Braille reading speed in four weeks! That's the kind of great stuff that makes my job the best one ever!"
Dr. Michael Volpe, SASED Executive Director commented, "Joan has unparalleled knowledge and skills regarding the students with visually impairments. She has created the successful program that we have today and her 40 years of service are evidence of her boundless commitment to SASED's children, our families and our member districts."