Concordia University Wisconsin will soon launch the sole visually impaired teaching licensure program in the state of Wisconsin.

With approval received late last month from the Department of Public Instruction, the Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI) program is expected to officially start in January 2020.

Interested educators may apply for only the TVI licensure, or may obtain their Master of Science in Education—Special Education with a specialization in visual impairment. The master’s in special education-visual impairment program may be completed in 2 ½ years. Students only have to take seven additional credits to obtain cross-categorical special education licensure along with the TVI license.

Concordia’s TVI offering is an online accelerated program with courses running every 12 weeks. It certifies educators to teach students age birth through 21 who are visually impaired. The program consists of graduate-level coursework, a face-to-face summer residency to apply skills, and a graduate student teaching practicum.

Learners who enroll in the TVI program will learn Braille, orientation and mobility, and teaching strategies for students with vision loss.

A lack of educators

According to state educational data, about 4 percent of Wisconsin’s school-aged children are visually impaired. Even with the low incidence, Wisconsin lacks qualified teachers and, by federal directive, was in need of a program to provide a pipeline of teacher candidates for the state’s K-12 schools.

For years, Silver Lake College offered the lone visually impaired teaching program in the state. UW-Platteville briefly picked it up but discontinued it in June 2018.

Nissan Bar-Lev, chair of the State Superintendent’s Blind and Visual Impairment Education Advisory Council, identified Concordia as an ideal higher education partner to reinvigorate the program. Bar-Lev is also one of three partners administering the Wisconsin Special Education Mediation System and serves on the Governor’s Council on Autism. He is a member of the nation Council of Administrators of Special Education Board of Directors and is director of special education for Cooperative Educational Service Agency #7 (CESA 7), a consortium of 38 school districts in Northeast Wisconsin.

“We have seen incredible shortages throughout the state for teachers of the visually impaired,” said Bar-Lev. “The council members and I felt that Concordia would be a perfect fit to pick up the program given the fact that it’s in metropolitan area and that it has an excellent reputation around the state. Concordia has generated a number of excellent teacher candidates not only in the special education fields, but through its physical therapy, occupational therapy, and now, speech-language pathology programs.”

Bar-Lev said the council is invested in the success of the new Concordia program. To that end, the council encouraged multiple seasoned teachers from around the state (individuals with 10 or more years of experience) to meet with Wanda Routier, the director and designer of the program at Concordia, to share some of their unique insights on what is needed in the program.

The Concordia solution

Wanda Routier, director of special education at Concordia

Routier, EdD, serves as Concordia’s director of graduate special education programs. She has 35 years of experience in the special education field, either as a teacher for students with special needs or as a teacher of those learning to teach individuals with special needs. Routier was instrumental in piloting Bethesda College of Applied Learning, a unique, two-year program designed specifically for students with developmental disabilities. Bethesda College is a result of a partnership between Concordia and Bethesda Lutheran Communities and allows individuals with disabilities to live on Concordia’s campus and take part in many of the benefits of a typical college experience.

Routier has helped to bring Concordia’s special education program from a face-to-face format to an online offering—a more suitable option for Wisconsin’s largely rural population. The program received national recognition in 2016 when Affordable Colleges Online ranked it the No. 1 “Best Online Master’s Degrees in Special Education” program in Wisconsin.

The decision to add the Teacher of the Visually Impaired program upholds Concordia’s mission as a Lutheran university which strives to prepare its learners for “service to Christ in the Church and world.”

“Those who are visually impaired are a pretty underserved population,” says Routier. “While the numbers are not large, it still is a value-add for Concordia and it fits greatly with our mission.”

In addition to the TVI specialization, Concordia’s Master of Science in special education program offers specializations in:

  • Cross categorical special education
  • Director of special education and pupil services
  • Early childhood special education

Learn more about the master’s program here.

Those interested in enrolling in the TVI program should contact Michelle Kassbam in Concordia’s Admission department: or 262-243-4411. General inquiries about the TVI program can be directed to Wanda Routier: or 262-243-4304.

— This story is written by Kali Thiel, director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at or 262-243-2149.

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