Beginning at birth, a child with visual impairments will find support, education and love from Hillsborough County Public Schools. Did you know we are the only local district that offers families support for their child starting at birth?
This is so important. A TVI (Teacher of Visual Impairments) will come to the family’s home and start working with that child. Perhaps they’ll bring a toddler hard play-doh… Or lines of pipe-cleaners to run their fingers across.
This “play” is very intentional. The play-doh strengthens their little fingers to prepare them for reading braille. Same with the pipe cleaners. Teaching them to run their hands across the pipe cleaners prepares them with the motions they’ll need to read braille.
There’s another benefit to this early vision education program, as well.
“I think it develops a wonderful trust with the district,” said Emily Cimino, Hillsborough County Public Schools Supervisor of Sensory Programs. “We’ve been in your home for 3 years, so you listen to us. And then when it’s time to have a hard conversation at age 5, and we’re telling you something potentially hard to hear, you trust us then too.”
And buried deep inside the brick hallways of the Manhattan Center in South Tampa, lies another secret benefit for every visually impaired student in our district…
FIMC-VI is located right in Hillsborough County Public Schools… Right inside one of our buildings!
What is FIMC-VI? It stands for Florida Instructional Materials Center… To put it simply, it’s the hub of all vision supplies and technology for the state! And it shares a building with the district’s vision department!
This is a fantastic asset to the hundreds of visually impaired students in Hillsborough County. Here are a few of the perks our district can take advantage of by having FIMC-VI so close:
We get day-to-day collaboration and problem solving on student’s cases more quickly;
Our students with visual impairments and their teachers don’t have to wait to receive critical technology to help them learn;
FIMC provides incredible professional development for teachers and HCPS teachers are the first to take advantage and know about changes happening at the state level. For example, the first week back to school, FIMC provided TVI’s professional development on how to teach visually impaired students virtually.
Kay Ratzlaff is the Supervisor of FIMC-VI and has been in the position for 20 years. Her operation is very organized and tightly run. It has to be. Students with visual impairments all over the state are depending on her, and her staff, to get them their supplies. It’s fascinating
to see the rows and rows of braille and large print textbooks that line the shelves. One textbook in braille, on average, costs $800 dollars to create. They not only have to create the words, but imagine all the charts and graphs and numbers that must be translated to braille.
It may sound unbelievable to spend that much money on one textbook, for one student, but Ratzlaff puts it very simply, “If we want them to be successful, we have to give them what they need to succeed.”
Ratzlaff is very complimentary of the teachers and staff of Hillsborough County’s vision department. She sees it in action every day. Hillsborough County and Miami-Dade County have the largest number of students with visual impairments in the state and our teachers and staff are dedicated to making sure these students excel academically, and in life.
For example, during the school closure because of COVID-19, many braille manufactures shut down temporarily. However, TVI’s in Hillsborough County never stopped. They would make large print documents in their homes, or get things translated to braille themselves, and deliver it to the homes of their students.
Cimino is proud of her department, her staff and everything they can offer our Hillsborough County Public Schools students. “I’m very proud of the continuity of services I can offer families in this district,” she said. “If a student is completely blind, I can offer them a hub site at one of our schools where they’re immersed in visually impaired services and surrounded by other kids with visual impairments. I’m also very proud of our teachers and our staff. They always have students’ best interests at heart.”