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Data on disability is hard to collect and understand. Over the past few years, many researchers and advocates have promoted the use of data-based problem-solving methods as a means to improve support for disabled populations. However, the level of data collection about all of the relevant issues remains rudimentary, limiting many opportunities for improvements.

Due to the often hidden nature of visual impairment data, Fox Family has been investing in the development of Polaris, a modern census for BVI which can lead social entrepreneurs to create new programs, legislators to craft tailored policies for their local communities, and service providers to direct their efforts to underserved areas.

Polaris will be an easily accessible, representative, complete, and up-to-date dataset on BVI, so that social entrepreneurs, advocacy groups, and policymakers will be able to:

  • continuously identify gaps in BVI youths' evolving needs (as it relates to employment and wellbeing)

  • match needs to capacity by improving/tailoring programs as well as by creating new programs to fill gaps.

Within the development of the Polaris platform, our grantee, Future Communities Institute, is working with another grantee, Wayfinder Family Services, to improve their ability to deliver workforce readiness services that prepare the whole person for employment. This is achieved by collecting longitudinal data on the assessment of soft skills, mental health and trauma, and to determine how needs are affecting the employment prospects of BVI working age populations. As service providers lack real time and longitudinal evidence of student’s needs and progress, they have difficulty (i) providing early intervention to optimize the students’ program and experience and (ii) supporting the case for innovative programs to meet student and employer needs.

FCI is also working with CSB Alliance (California School for the Blind, San Francisco State University and California State University, Los Angeles) to improve TVIs ability to standardize BVI student assessments and gain insight into the efficacy of recommendation in relation to education outcomes over time. Polaris will be able to (i) support quality assessments and recommendations; (ii) disseminate new practices; (iii) advocate for resources where they are needed; (iv) Assess efficacy of programs.

We believe outcomes and effectiveness research hold considerable promise for better meeting the needs of persons with disabilities. Existing datasets show a wide range of outcome measures currently in use within the broad visual impairment field. As governments and philanthropists require data on the effectiveness of disability service programs to continue to fund them, there is a pressing need to ensure service providers and other stakeholders are able to draw on a more robust evidence base as they report the impact of their work.

To accurately examine disparities in STEM-career access states and national organizations must begin to collect broader data that reflects all stages of K-12, Fox Family Foundation is specifically interested in data sources on STEM courses and enrollment that includes data on students with disabilities (including students who receive services under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, as none presently exists.

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