Disability and Elderly Issues

ENABLING STUDENTS WHO ARE BLIND OR VISUALLY IMPAIRED TO SUCCEED AT SCIENCE CAREERS A Master’s Paper in Counselor Education By Joel Solkoff Submitted in Partial Fulfillment Of the Requirements For the Degree of Master of Education



Students who are blind and otherwise visually impaired require additional assistance from vocational counselors, educators, and other professionals working together to prepare students for long term careers such as in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

A 2005 U.S. Department of Census report regarding individuals with visual impairment found:

(a) only 47.2% are employed;

(b) 72.4% have no bachelor’s degree and are not enrolled in college; and

(c) have a poverty rate of 18.7 %.

Good jobs that pay well require years of education. The considerable demands placed on the vocational counselors and educators often require them to focus on day-to-day problems, and execution of a long term strategy may receive second priority status.

The primarily youth-based focus of this study relies on a thorough literature review which supplements scholarly articles with specialized books, web-based government reports and other information, and personal interviews for clarification. Scholarly journals need to focus on the disabled, where much new has taken place; develop nationwide empirical studies; and perform them in a timely way.

Empirical studies would help develop accurate research and evaluation tools at a time when the National Federation of the Blind and others have come to regard STEM careers for the visually impaired as a movement worthy of the resources at their disposal.


Note to the reader: In 2007, I submitted a paper entitled  ENABLING STUDENTS WHO ARE BLIND OR VISUALLY IMPAIRED TO SUCCEED AT SCIENCE CAREERS. I submitted this document in the form of a master’s degree dissertation. My chairman provided I execute a second draft. Revision required research, substantive changes. I was too sick to do the rewrite. This document has been in my filing cabinet since then. After reading it with the surprise of a Martian reading an alien document. With the exception of not yet providing you with the most recent Census Figures, the document is sadly up to date.

The reality today is that to be blind means that 90 percent of the blind population is poor. Give our take. During the first Obama Administration I worked at a for-the blind organization in Altoona.

Joseph Fagnani and me

Photo by J.D. Cavrich 4/30/10
Photo by J.D. Cavrich

Profile  of Joseph

My interview reported in The Altoona Mirror on what it was like to work for Joseph:

*The employment rate for those who are visually impaired is 75 percent, he said, whereas the rate for an average person is about 9.6 percent.

“*We want to bring the employment rate for visually impaired people and disabled people up to the highest potential,” he said. “For the ones that do [want to work], we want to have a job available for them. That’s my main goal.”

One of his employees, Joel Solkoff, an employment specialist, thinks highly of Fagnani.

“I think he’s modest,” Solkoff said.

Solkoff was hired recently with help from federal economic stimulus money. He is mobility disabled.

“We communicate very well,” he said of Fagnani. “He has a tremendous sense of humor, and he’s very smart.”

Solkoff said those who are blind that he has come in contact with tend to have a high level of concentration and good humor and said Fagnani is no different.

“*His looking at the world is different from how I look at the world,* he said.

**Being blind does not hinder Fagnani in his work with the association, but rather the challenge is the size of the workload.

“**There’s so much that needs to be done,* he said.

*He has a screen reader program on his computer called JAWS, or Job Access for Windows Systems, which reads aloud words that appear on his computer screen. Fagnani has it set to read it at 2 times the normal speed of speech. To one not accustomed to it, the screen reader sounds like a foreign language or almost gibberish.

“I’ve been using it for years, so I’m used to it,” he said. “I would get bored if it were at a normal speed/

I will be publishing installments of the paper.

The installments will consist of:


PS: I am looking forward to working with Joesph again.


I look forward to greeting you readers at the next Installment.


— Just call me Joel.

Copyright 2016 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.

Special 3-D Construction Session to Reduce Health Care Costs and Improve Quality, PARF Conference

University Park, PA – On Thursday, September 22, at 9:30 a.m. Penn State’s Department of Architectural Engineering  hosted a session entitled “Using Virtual Reality to Construct/Remodel Health Care Facilities & Independent Housing” in the Alumni Suite at the Nittany Lion Inn. [Listen to the entire session at the end of this posting.]

The session is part of the Pennsylvania Association of Rehabilitation Facilities’ (PARF) annual conference which defines the agenda for the Commonwealth’s disability community. PARF is a statewide organization of facilities serving individuals with physical, mental, social and/or emotional disabilities.  This year, for the first time since PARF was established in 1969, the organization has reached out to Penn State’s Architectural Engineering Department for its expertise in virtual technology. Gene Bianco, PARF’s CEO and President explains, “I was impressed by the ability of 3-D and 4-D technology to help our membership cut costs while increasing quality.” [3-D provides images that appear life-life in three dimensions; 4-D adds time as a dimension, and so, when building a home for the elderly, provides the viewer with the ability to see the construction of the building during intervals, for example, of 3, 6, and 12 months.]


Panelists for the virtual reality session include architectural engineering professors Richard Behr and John Messner. Behr, as director of the Smart Spaces Center for adaptive aging in the community, has been called one of the country’s early prophets of the concept of “aging in place” as a way of preserving individual dignity and saving the considerable costs involved in institutionalization in assistive living facilities.

Messner, who as director of the Computer Integrated Construction (CIC) Research Program, has been using virtual reality to involve end users in the design to create hospitals, health care facilities, and housing for the elderly and disabled.

Panelist Sonali Kumar, a graduate research assistant to Messner,  demonstrated two aspects of virtual reality directly related to the members of the audience who have signed up for this session. The first aspect is the work she has done in creating an animated 3-D model of a residence designed for an elderly family whose members may have a disability or may develop one over the course of the aging process.

The second aspect Kumar demonstrated is experience-based design, a generic description of a body of academic literature that focuses on the importance of consulting with users in the design process. There are a number of users and end users affected by the way health care and facilities for the aging are designed. They include, for example, residents of the facility, health care providers, maintenance personnel, and people involved with the construction. Kumar’s final model will reflect observations from elderly residents of Addison Court, a State College residence for the elderly, planned critiques from a member of the deaf community, and comments from the mobility disabled community. Kumar changed the model to reflect changes from a wheel chair-based observer who suggested replacing an additional bathtub with a roll-in shower.

The fifth and final panelist Joseph Fagnani provided the prospective of a likely resident of an independent living facility for the aged. Fagnani is an Altoona, Pa based visual disabilities advocate who has been legally blind since childhood. Fagnani has the understanding and skill to provide design suggestions to a model intended to visualize how construction takes place even though he is blind. One of Fagnani suggestions is that controls for the stove use voice synthesis to inform residents when burners are turned on and whether the heat is low, medium, or high.

Audience participation

The following  organizations were represented by audience members who signed up for the session:

Transitional Services, based in the Pittsburgh area,  provides up to 240 units of permanent housing in addition to temporary housing and services for individuals with mental disabilities leaving state mental facilities. The organization has $7.5 million in operating expenses and serves 390 individuals.

Clearfield-Jefferson Mental Health/Mental Retardation Program. With an annual budget of $4 million from federal and state sources, this organization provides a wide range of mental health services including housing. Participant Susan Hartzfeld, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) Director points out that her organization’s name will soon change to reflect legal and other requirements that the “r word is an inappropriate and insensitive designation.”

JEVS Human Services, based in the Philadelphia area,  serves more than 20,000 individuals each year. According to participant and JEVS Director Jill Rogers, the organization plans new housing construction for the up to 25 elderly and disabled residents and is looking forward to learning how virtual reality “can be a useful tool.”

Spectrum Community Services, based in Berks and Carbon counties, was originally founded in 1979 by a group of parents who were looking for living arrangements for their grown children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In addition to a variety of housing options, SCS also provides support services.

Allied Services, serving the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area, provides rehabilitation medicine, senior care, home health care, and vocational and residential services. The organization, which serves nearly 5,000 people a day, is the largest employer in northeastern Pennsylvania.


Special thanks to Joseph Fagnani for not only participating, but for recording the session and making it available. Of course, thanks to BCC without whom this would not be here.