March 28, 2013
To the Members of the New York State Legislature:
The National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB) is an organization that provides professional credentialing to individuals who teach Orientation and Mobility (O&M) to children and adults who are blind or visually impaired. We have several concerns with respect to proposed legislation that would limit access to O&M instruction through the implementation of licensure requirements in the state.
The NBPCB is one of two nationally recognized bodies that offer certification to individuals who teach O&M. In order to seek certification, an individual must first provide proof of professional training in the area of orientation and mobility. Before an individual can apply for certification, verification of that individual’s competence in teaching must be obtained by a qualified person. Only once all of these requirements are met can an individual apply for NBPCB certification. The certification process itself then takes the applicant through adherence to a code of professional ethics and a rigorous written and performance evaluation that is graded by a minimum of three (3) National Orientation and Mobility Certified Trainers.
No level of certification or licensure can guarantee continued competence or ethical conduct, but we work continuously to insure that the highest standards are met and upheld. The proposed licensure cannot come close to this level of scrutiny, and has several additional problems that go against its adoption, not the least of which is the fact that licensure will reduce the number of qualified O&M instructors in New York. We are specifically voicing our opposition to:
NY S.3880 (Griffo) - AN ACT to amend the education law, in relation to the licensing of licensed orientation and mobility specialists and licensed rehabilitation teachers.
We are concerned by the requirement that, as a condition of licensure, the individual must hold at least a baccalaureate degree (or an academic certificate equivalent to a baccalaureate degree). While most O&M professionals hold a baccalaureate or master’s degree, neither national O&M certifying body requires that an individual hold a baccalaureate degree as a condition of certification. To do so would limit the number of trained and experienced individuals who will be able to provide O&M instruction in New York.
The NBPCB offers two paths to certification: (Category A) the Successful completion of a master’s degree in O&M; or (Category B) the successful completion of a supervised apprenticeship program. Individuals certified under the approved apprenticeship program may or may not hold a baccalaureate degree; however they have undergone rigorous training and have completed 800 hours of supervised instruction. Both tracks (Category A and Category B) require the individual to have successfully completed 480 hours of prerequisite immersion training (instruction while blindfolded). In all respects the ability of NOMC certified individuals to provide O&M instruction meets the highest standards in the profession.
We are concerned that Section 8804(B) (I) gives no indication of the criteria or standard the Board will use to base its approval or disapproval of a university’s O&M curriculum. At best the approval process will be burdensome on the state and will do nothing to insure that New York licensed O&M instructors are any more qualified to practice their profession than are individuals who presently hold national certification. The curriculum of a university program may change from time to time. That means that an individual university may be approved one year but not approved in subsequent years and yet approved again in later years. For this reason, in deciding whether an individual is eligible for New York licensure, the Board will need to determine not only whether the applicant graduated from an approved program but whether the specific years when the individual matriculated were years during which the university program was approved.
An advantage of national certification is that individuals are deemed qualified to teach O&M according to the accepted standard within the profession without regard to state boundaries. Under the proposed licensure bill, nationally certified individuals may find themselves able to teach in any state except for New York. At the same time licensed individuals in New York may find themselves unable to teach O&M anywhere outside the state. Presumably, the imposition of state licensure must serve an important purpose if it is to be undertaken. The benefit of licensure should be greater than the administrative and other burdens imposed by the licensure process. Yet we see no compelling justification for state licensure given the availability of national certification.
Our third area of major concern relates to the examination requirement. The examination requirement is unclear. It appears that the Board is charged with developing and administering an examination to determine the ability of the applicant to teach O&M. Developing and validating such an examination is an expensive and complex process and should not be taken lightly. In addition subsection (C)states that the examination “…may be based on an exam utilized by any nationally recognized accrediting or certification body …” The examinations used by the NBPCB and the ACVREP are proprietary and may not be used in whole or in part without the express permission of the entity holding the examination copyright.
In short the Board will need to develop its own examination or alternatively accept evidence of an individual’s successful completion of one of the national certification examinations as satisfying the Board’s examination requirement. In any event this further speaks to the lack of justification for state licensure. Why would the state spend time and money developing an examination when two nationally recognized examinations already exist? Yet, if the State decides to accept national certification examinations as satisfying the state examination requirement, why is licensure needed at all? It appears that New York will either engage in a lengthy, expensive, duplicative process for determining the ability of an individual to teach O&M or it will adopt a process that does nothing more than mirror the certification examinations that already exist.
We of the National Blindness Professional Certification Board have a single mission—to increase the supply of highly trained professionals to teach independence skills to individuals who are blind or visually impaired. We have achieved this through rigorous certification standards. Licensure in one state is fraught with logistical and political problems and will not adequately replace the rigor of national certification. We need to work to increase recruitment, training, and credentialing of caring professionals, not increase the road blocks and barriers to access. We want O&M professionals to make a good living at their job, but raising the stature of the credential from certification to licensure is not the appropriate way to seek pay raises.
I hope that you take these concerns seriously. We would be glad to provide further materials, testimonials, and/or other documentation to further expand and explain these complicated issues. I trust that you will make the wise decision, and we look forward to serving the professionals of New York who have a duty of honesty, fidelity, integrity, and justice to the consumers they serve.
Fredric K. Schroeder, President
National Blindness Professional Certification Board