Tag: Stacy Kelly

People with visual impairments might score romance on Tinder, SEED researchers discover

jvib-coverMen with visual disabilities are more likely to find dates on Tinder than are women with visual disabilities, according to a study by professors and their graduate research assistants in the NIU Department of Special and Early Education.

Published in the July-August issue of the Journal of Visual Impairments and Blindness, NIU’s research explores questions of whether sighted individuals are opposed to dating persons who are blind, and whether Tinder is a good vehicle to facilitate such interactions.

Researchers at NIU created eight individual Tinder profiles featuring four NIU College of Education graduate students – two men and two women, all in their early- to mid-20s – and then posted two photos of each during four separate test periods.

Half of the photos depict the students as they appear normally. In the others pictures, however, they are wearing sunglasses and holding white canes. Their clothing is the same in both photos.

Only one photo of each student was posted at any one time; “blind” and “sighted” photos were not posted simultaneously.

No written descriptions that would include personal interests, favorite things or other information were provided. Because Tinder allows users to choose a distance within which they are willing to travel for dates, NIU researchers established a radius of 50 miles from DeKalb.

When the first group of profiles were “live” on the popular dating app in the spring of 2015, the profile of the man with visual disabilities received five more “likes” than did the same man without sunglasses or cane. However, the sighted woman in that same round of testing received 14 more “likes” when she wasn’t pictured with sunglasses and cane.

Stacy Kelly

Stacy Kelly

During the second round, in the fall of 2015, those numbers respectively rose to nine and 58.

The percentage of “likes” for the male profiles are quite low – from 2 to 4 percent of the total 700 swipes – while the same percentages for the women range from 39 to 68 percent. Researchers attribute this to “cultural norms which dictate that men are to approach women.”

Stacy Kelly, as associate professor in the Vision Program of the NIU Department of Special and Early Education, says the study shows how sighted people view people with visual impairments as potential romantic partners.

The research also demonstrates the power of the Internet to connect people and to open personal and professional doors, she says.

“It makes you a whole person. It makes your life full,” Kelly says. “We want people who are blind to have a level playing field with their counterparts who are sighted. So much of social networking is visual in nature.”

And despite Tinder’s emphasis on photos, she says, people with visual impairments do use the app to seek romantic partners.

“They’re human,” she says, “and we know that they can be socially isolated. We know that they can struggle later in life financially, or become unemployed. And Tinder is free to use.”

Gaylen Kapperman

Gaylen Kapperman

Co-authors on the study are Gaylen Kapperman, professor emeritus in the NIU Vision Program; Tom Smith, an associate professor in the NIU Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment; and Kylie Kilmer, a graduate student in the Vision Program.

Kapperman, who is visually impaired, knows from a lifetime of conversations with others with visual impairments that they find the dating scene difficult – something that hasn’t changed following the advent of social media.

“Girls who are blind, when they have tried to initiate some kind of relationship with guys, and when they are honest in their profiles, get no takers,” Kapperman says.

One woman with visual impairments told Kapperman that she hid her blindness from a potential suitor, who discovered the truth when he came to her front door to pick her up for a date. He did not take the surprise well, the professor says, and left alone.

“I always advise people to be upfront about it,” Kapperman says.

The research project reinforces NIU’s standing as a global leader in promoting and leveraging assistive technology for people with visual impairments, she adds.

A five-year, $1.25 million U.S. Department of Education grant awarded last year to NIU will fund the preparation of students to receive the Certified Assistive Technology Instructional Specialist designation – the new national standard – from the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals.

Stacy Kelly and studentsNIU is the first university to offer a course of study toward the CATIS designation, something that leads to greater empowerment of people with visual disabilities as they are taught how to use the latest innovations.

“For people who have access to assistive technology, their whole, entire world opens up,” Kelly says. “Assistive technology gets them through the workday. It gets them through the weekend. People really can be limited if they can’t connect to the technology.”

Kelly and her cohorts plan to repeat their research to create a larger sample from which to draw data. “We see this study and the findings as just the beginning,” she says. “We are now developing a line of research that no one else has considered.”



Visual Impairments grad student hopes to improve lives, system

Lizzy Koster

Lizzy Koster

When Lizzy Koster graduated from Hendrix College in Arkansas, she took a job as an assistant at a political consulting firm. It didn’t last long.

“Politics wasn’t what I imagined it would be,” says Koster, an NIU College of Education graduate student with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and anthropology.

Because she had always nurtured an interest in health care, she soon found herself working at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Her skillset quickly grew to include the processing of medical paperwork, knowledge she deemed valuable for future endeavors.

Yet another career – one woven into her DNA – beckoned.

“Education is a family business of ours,” says Koster, a native of Elmhurst, Ill. “My aunt went through the NIU Vision Program, and she went on to work in the Chicago Public Schools. She called me and said it would be a great fit for me. Kapperman actually called me, too.”

Kapperman is Gaylen Kapperman, who joined NIU’s program in visual impairments in 1974 and remains active in the Department of Special and Early Education as a Professor Emeritus. He and colleague Stacy Kelly are relentless recruiters for the graduate programs, which offer free tuition, fees and health insurance along with stipends to woo more professionals into a critically understaffed field.

Gaylen Kapperman

Gaylen Kapperman

Now Koster is on her way to a career as a teacher of the visually impaired and as a specialist in assistive technology as well as orientation and mobility. She also has joined Kapperman in conducting research and writing several manuscripts, one of which has been accepted for publication in a referred journal.

“Vision is a good fit for me,” says Koster, 27. “I love working with people and with different cultures, and when you work in special education, it’s kind of inevitable. You come in contact with kids from different backgrounds, and you have to come at them with an understanding approach.”

Gaining early experience through substitute-teaching at the School Association for Special Education in DuPage County has provided confirmation of her new direction.

“I feel like educators, in public schools specifically, are so pressed to get the right test scores,” she says.

“But with vision, although our students might participate in that statewide or national testing, their benchmarks are so different. Vision is not so much about grades but in giving them life skills and even social skills. Seeing them make a friend is such a big deal,” she adds. “Their goals might not translate to academic grades but to really improving their quality of life, and being able to watch them achieve their personal goals is so exciting.”

She also is eager to exercise her love of languages.

Her interest in learning Spanish began at age 3, when her grandfather gave her a book about Mexico. Her fluency blossomed as she studied Spanish from second-grade through high school.

koster-lizzy-3As an undergrad at Hendrix, she enrolled in a course on social justice and human rights in Argentina, traveled throughout the region and spent her junior year as a study abroad student in Brazil. Before embarking, of course, she taught herself Portuguese.

During the summer after her junior year of high school, she studied in Spain.

One summer later after her graduation, she volunteered in Paraguay, where she learned the indigenous language of Guarani.

True to form, she also learned Braille on her own before coming to NIU in August 2016.

Language, naturally, is the focus of research Koster has conducted and presented with Kapperman at the conference of the Illinois Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired.

“Kapperman is interested in a research project using a screen-reading technology for those who are completely blind or who need that vocal feedback,” she says. “We’re also working on figuring out Google Translate and other means of using screen-readers for those who are learning a foreign language or for whom English is not a first language.”

Following her graduation in August 2018, Koster won’t close the book on college just yet.

koster-lizzy-2She plans to earn a doctoral degree that will prepare her for administrative roles in special education – that’s where her experience in processing medical paperwork will come in handy – or to serve as an advocate for teachers.

“My biggest interest is in benefiting the system, helping all of the working parts – students, teachers, aides and assistants, families – to operate a bit more smoothly,” she says.

But the advocacy role might tackle an even greater concern, she says: teacher burnout.

“If there’s a way to make people stay in the field, that’s ultimately helping the students, too. They need that longevity and consistency,” Koster says. “If I could help people to achieve that, then that would be great.”



A celebration of excellence

excllence-2College of Education Dean Laurie Elish-Piper, along with associate deans Bill Pitney and David Walker, rolled out the red carpet May 5 for the college’s annual Celebration of Excellence.

The event in Anderson Hall recognized winners of the College of Education awards.

  • Excellence in Teaching Award by Faculty/Clinical Faculty: Katy Jaekel, CAHE
  • Excellence in Research and Artistry Award by Faculty: Jim Ressler, KNPE
  • Excellence in Service Award by Faculty: Myoung Jung, SEED (not pictured)
  • Exceptional Contributions by Instructors: Jan Hart, SEED
  • Exceptional Contributions by Civil Service Staff: David Snow, LEPF
  • Exceptional Contributions by Supportive Professional Staff: Susan Schwartz, KNPE
  • Outreach/Community Service Award: Stacy Kelly, SEED
  • Exceptional Contributions in Diversity/Social Justice Award: James Cohen, CI, and Lauriece Zittel, KNPE

Also stepping into the spotlight:

  • Tom Smith, a newly named NIU Presidential Teaching Professor from the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment;
  • soon-to-retire Toni Tollerud (COE personnel consultant) and Susan Schwartz (academic advisor, KNPE); and
  • Rachel Bicksler, Lauren Leifheit and Jacinda Starr, three of the freshmen who were among 2016-17’s inaugural group of Dean’s Achievement Scholarship recipients.

Congratulations to all!



Stacy Kelly presents, collaborates in Scotland

Stacy Kelly visits Scotland’s Royal National Institute for the Blind.

Stacy Kelly visits Scotland’s
Royal National Institute for the Blind.

For Stacy Kelly, a trip to Scotland to share best practices on the training of pre-service professionals in the field of visual impairments proved an eye-opening experience.

During her well-received conference presentations at Scotland’s Royal National Institute for the Blind and her opportunities to observe her United Kingdom colleagues at work, Kelly glimpsed something she can’t see back home.

“In the United States, we have a totally different system to protect our privacy – it’s very much individual, little blocks of information, but you can’t break into the blocks. We have HIPPA, FERPA and all these layers of privacy protection,” says Kelly, an associate professor in the Department of Special and Early Education.

“So much research in our profession is single-subject research design because of the infrastructure of privacy protection,” she adds. “National data sets are hard to come by, and that’s a real struggle for us in the United States.”

Researchers aren’t alone in the dearth of information: Even parents of people with visual impairments lose access to the health records of their children when those children reach adulthood.

Laws is Scotland, however, are far more open – and the colleagues Kelly met there “were just fascinated by the fact that we’re so obsessed with privacy, because they’re not.”

The country’s national registry of blind and partially sighted persons, while not compulsory, provides a wealth of statistics for researchers and practitioners.

“We’re so jealous,” Kelly says. “With the registry, people are identifiable. You can do research on intervention. You can look and see the impact. They have a much more direct route to information than we do here. We told them, ‘That’s a huge strength. Don’t forget that.’ And they said, ‘Wow, we can’t imagine it not being that way.’ ”

Kelly visited Scotland during the last week of October.

Stacy Kelly

Stacy Kelly

Her conference presentation focused on how preservice professionals in the visual impairment field are trained in the United States as well as U.S. innovations in delivering services to people with visual impairments.

Observation of the practitioners of the Royal Blind School for Visually Impaired and Blind Children provided another contrast.

“U.S. teachers cover braille, adapted living skills, social skills, assistive technology – teachers of the visually impaired provide that support and knowledge to their students,” Kelly says.

“Their model is that the teacher just does the braille instruction. The rest falls under a ‘habilitation’ specialist, who does a lot of what our teachers of the visually impaired do in the schools,” she adds. “We have very different caseloads.”

Moving forward, Kelly expects to stay in touch and assist her new colleagues in assessing the outcomes of their work.

“This was the opportunity of a lifetime,” she says. “You can read about it; you can have good Skype conversations with people overseas; you can have an exchange of ideas; but the opportunity to actually be there and to learn from them face-to-face was just awesome.”



Silicon Valley social entrepreneur to receive honorary NIU doctorate

Jim Fruchterman

Jim Fruchterman

NIU will confer an honorary doctorate degree this fall to James Fruchterman, who has devoted his career to bringing “Silicon Valley’s technology innovations to all of humanity, not just the richest 5 percent.”

The CEO and founder of Benetech will receive his distinction during the Graduate School commencement, scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, in the NIU Convocation Center.

A former rocket engineer who also founded two successful for-profit, high-tech companies, Fruchterman grew up in Arlington Heights, Ill.

He is also a MacArthur Fellow, recipient of the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship and winner of the 2013 Migel Medal from the American Foundation for the Blind, the highest honor in the United States for service to the field of blindness.

“We are privileged to recognize Jim Fruchterman,” NIU President Doug Baker says. “He applies his skills in engineering and physics to discover, develop and deliver technology that helps people around the world to lead better and more-productive lives, and he has accomplished this in a selfless way.”

“Mr. Fruchterman is truly a model of innovation, social justice and interdisciplinary problem-solving,” adds Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of the NIU College of Education, which houses the Visual Disabilities Program. “What a wonderful model for our NIU students, faculty, staff and alumni to see that such a gifted individual has used his immense talents for the greater good.”

Called Arkenstone from 1989 to 2000, Benetech “combines the power of the human mind with a deep passion for social improvement, creating new technology applications that address unmet human needs.”

  • Global Literacy. People with visual and other disabilities have access to technology-based literacy solutions. Benetech also promotes systemic change to make its tools unnecessary in the future.
  • Human Rights. Benetech software, services and training keep human rights defenders safe. Its software also has become critically important in larger efforts to pursue reform, seek justice and begin the process of reconciliation.
  • Environment. Ecologists and conservationists are given tools to plan and manage their global efforts to protect natural resources.

braille-3Gaylen Kapperman, who led NIU’s Visual Disabilities Program for decades and nominated Fruchterman, is a grateful beneficiary of Fruchterman’s legacy.

“Jim established Benetech, a groundbreaking, nonprofit company, to provide the software which people who are blind could use to convert printed material into a form that they could read without the help of sighted individuals,” says Kapperman, now a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Special and Early Education.

Kapperman subscribes to Benetech’s Bookshare, which serves 425,000 members with an online library of more than 490,000 accessible books and periodicals – available free of charge for all U.S. students with qualified disabilities including blindness, vision impairment or another disability that interferes with reading, such as dyslexia.

“As a blind person,” Kapperman says, “I use that source of information on nearly a daily basis.”

Stacy Kelly, associate professor in NIU’s Visual Disabilities Program, calls Fruchterman’s honor “richly deserved.”

“Jim is a person whose efforts have resulted in the provision of social good on a large scale,” Kelly says. “This is an opportunity for NIU embrace the remarkable work of one of ‘our own’ Illinois natives.”



NIU Visual Disabilities Program awarded $1.25 million federal grant

(This story originally appeared on NIU Today)Stacy Kelly and students

Want a challenging and rewarding career with guaranteed employment and free tuition?

Thanks to a five-year $1.25 million grant recently awarded to NIU by the U.S. Department of Education, the Visual Disabilities Program of the College of Education’s Department of Special and Early Education (SEED) will enable the launch of a new master’s degree.

Beginning this fall – and in another format next summer – the program provides specialized training in assistive technology used by people with visual impairments.

Most of the federal dollars go directly to recruiting students to NIU for this high-need area of specialization: Graduates will receive the Certified Assistive Technology Instructional Specialist designation from the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals.

Two options are provided:

  • Project VITALL (Visually Impaired and Assistive Technology for All), taught two years during fall and spring semesters to people with bachelor’s degrees in any field; and
  • Camp VITALL, taught over two summers for currently licensed professionals in vision. This includes teachers of students with visual impairments (TVI), certified orientation and mobility specialists and certified vision rehabilitation therapists.

“NIU is the first university offering a course of study toward this,” said Stacy Kelly, associate professor in SEED and alumna of the program. “Individuals who choose this career path experience a sense of fulfillment not commonly found in other careers. These teachers play a significant role in the lives of children who are visually impaired and their families.”

And they are desperately needed.

“We have a critical, national shortage. It’s crazy how many blind students there are who don’t have teachers,” added Sean Tikkun, who is a SEED graduate staff and also an alum. “It’s a crisis. It always has been and it always will be. We will never catch up.”

Project VITALL encourages students in its cohorts to complete both licensure for teaching children who are visually impaired, which takes 16 months, and to also obtain dual certification in CATIS.

Classes are taught face-to-face on the NIU campus in DeKalb.

The deadline to apply is June 15; each cohort begins in the fall. The financial aid – all tuition and fees as well as health insurance and a stipend of $5,520 per calendar year – is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis to qualified applicants.

Camp VITALL, which provides the CATIS credential without interrupting the August-through-June employment of teachers includes full tuition, fees and a $920-per-summer stipend for two consecutive summer sessions.

On-campus courses take place over eight weeks in the summer of 2017; the 12-week internship is completed in the summer of 2018.

For more information on either program, contact Kelly at (815) 753-4301 or skelly@niu.edu.