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MSU center gets grant to assist vision-impaired

STARKVILLE — A five-year, $4.25-million federal grant will allow a Mississippi State University center to initiate and expand research into systems change, education, training and outreach activities that foster employment of people who are blind or visually impaired.

As the winner of the highly competitive grant, the university’s Rehabilitation, Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision will receive $850,000 this year and annually through 2015 from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). The funding will support the center’s efforts to increase competitive opportunities and outcomes for blind or visually impaired individuals in the job market.

The MSU RRTC/BLV is the nation’s only NIDRR-funded center focused on employment-related issues faced by people who are blind or visually impaired, according to research professor and interim director Brenda Cavenaugh. The center’s successful grant application includes projects that will identify and evaluate current employment practices and outcomes; design and field-test innovative interventions to improve outcomes; assess and make recommendations for updating and improving aspects of a longstanding federal business entrepreneur program; and, perform usability studies and consumer/user evaluation of accessibility of office equipment to the blind or visually impaired.

The center has been housed within the College of Education at MSU since 1981, where it has been awarded approximately $20 million from NIDRR and other agencies to support research into a range of areas related to blind or visually impaired employment, including barriers to employment; the unique challenges and needs experienced by transition-aged youth and persons who are deaf-blind (deaf-blind elders, in particular); and, the impact gender and race/ethnicity have upon employment outcomes for persons who are blind or visually impaired.

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