The National Federation of the Blind Magazine for Parents and Teachers of Blind Cjildren
Vol. 24, No. 4 Convention Report 2005
Barbara Cheadle, Editor
“Wow. So this is what the world looks like!” Three-year-old Kayla Harris of Maryland examines a tactile globe at a breakout session for parents and kids during the 2005 annual parents seminar sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). The seminar was one of many activities sponsored by the NOPBC during the week-long convention of the National Federation of the Blind held in Louisville, Kentucky, from July 2 though July 8, 2005.
Table of Contents
Vol. 24, No. 4 Convention Report 2005
In this Issue
by Lucie Kiwimagi
NFB Conventions are Cool
by Anne Naber
In the Driver’s Seat
by Heather Field
Emergency Preparedness for Blind Children
by Maria T. Garcia
Dr. Doolittle Comes to Louisville
by Jill Weatherd
2005 Parent Power Workshop
by Barbara Mathews
NOPBC Exhibit Table—Come One, Come All!
by Debby Brackett
Art and Emotions: A Tactile Art Activity
by Ann Cunningham
Artistically Expressing Emotions
Art Materials and Techniques for a Tactile Arts Class
by Ann Cunningham
“Hanging Out”—A Report on the Teen Hospitality Room
by Brigid Doherty
Rocket On!: Excitement, Challenge, and Growth
by Matt Maurer
NFB 2006 Science Camp
Of Stars and Sharks: The Circle of Life
by Ronit Ovadia
The ABC’s of Braille
by Carol Castellano
2005 Braille Book Flea Market
by Peggy Chong
Saturday School: A Holistic Approach To Educating
Children with Visual Impairments
by Merry-Noel Chamberlain
Braille, Motivation, and Useless Trivia: How I Got on Jeopardy
by Kerri Regan
The 2005 Scholarship Winners
Braille Slate Pals
Your Guide to Planned Giving
Best Buy of the Year: New Book by Carol Castellano Now Available
Control. Power. Choices. Independence. These words naturally float to the consciousness when one thinks of the phrase, “In the Driver’s Seat:” the theme of the 2005 annual parents seminar sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. This seminar, and numerous other workshops and recreational activities for blind kids and their families, occurred this past July in conjunction with the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). As always, the 2005 program was an outstanding success.
Over 100 blind children and youth came to Louisville to explore how these words could become a reality in their lives. And what better place to do that than at an event attended by over 2,000 blind people? Especially since this event is also organized and run by the blind themselves (hence the word convention as opposed to conference). It is one thing to read about what blind people can do, but quite another to spend a week watching 2,000 blind people as they do all the things that any group of people do at a large convention: ride escalators, find seats and friends in halls that seat 2,000, eat and pay their bills in restaurants, supervise children, give speeches, rush to meetings, conduct meetings, make new friends, debate, laugh, play hard, and work hard.
This issue is a compilation of speeches, reports, photographs, and articles about the 2005 convention, and most especially those programs sponsored by the NOPBC. In addition to the convention report, we also have an inspiring report from the second year of the Science Academy. This initiative of the NFB Jernigan Institute provided twenty-three blind students the chance of a lifetime to experience fully accessible, yet challenging, science programs.
As you read this issue, we encourage you to consider whether 2006 is the year for your family to attend the NFB Convention. It is more affordable than you think! Room rates are around $60, convention registration fees are $15 per person (including children in the room with you), and NOPBC parent workshop fees are also reasonable. The convention will be at the Wynham Anatole hotel in Dallas, Texas, during the week of Saturday, July 1, through Friday, July 7, 2006. Look for more information in the next issue of Future Reflections. Also, check the NFB Web site at <www.nfb.org> for details about when, where, and how to reserve rooms and preregister. Information will also be available in the December issue of the Braille Monitor.
by Lucie Kiwimagi
Boulder, Colorado, [email protected]
“Vision happens in the mind, not in the eyes.”
— Marc Maurer
Editor’s Note: Kiwimagi attended her first convention of the National Federation of the Blind this past July, less than one year after her introduction to the organization. In the text below, she shares how she came to know the NFB, and describes the profound impact its members, and the convention experience in particular, have had upon her and her family. This article is based upon the remarks she made at the recent state convention of the NFB of Colorado. It is noteworthy that at that same convention Lucie Kiwimagi was elected president of the Colorado Parents of Blind Children, a division of the NFB of Colorado. Here is what she says:
When my husband and I learned two weeks following Anton’s birth that he was totally blind, we were overcome with shock. As the weeks and months passed, we began to realize that the only way to meet the challenges ahead would be to do our best to accept Anton’s blindness, viewing it merely as a part of who he is. Although we initially felt a lot of sadness, we began to think that we were still entitled to our original dreams for our son and for ourselves as a family.
Inwardly, however, I grappled with nagging questions. By training, I am an art therapist. But even more than that, I am an artist at heart with a passion for things of visual beauty. In Anton’s first year, I asked myself again and again, “How could it be that a visual artist could have a child who is blind?” Friends and colleagues commented on the irony of the situation. Some people offered me expressions of sympathy. Others assured me that eventually I would find answers to my questions, that Anton’s coming into our lives would one day make sense.
In an effort to find some direction, I began researching resources available to blind people. I had a special interest in the ways in which the blind are able to access the visual arts. Little did I know that I would find much more than I was looking for. Through my research, I found the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).
When Anton and I paid our first visit to the NFB’s training
center here in Colorado, the Colorado Center for the Blind, I was
welcomed warmly by its director, Julie Deden, and her staff. Erik Woods, the orientation and mobility teacher, gave Anton and me a guided tour of the facility; Julie Hunter offered to teach me Braille; and Ann Cunningham invited us to sit in on her dynamic art classes. From the start, we were made to feel right at home. With repeated visits to the Center, my outlook toward Anton and his blindness became infused with new hope. Maybe he really could achieve more than we were able to imagine.
Several months later, we were invited to travel to our first national convention of the NFB in Louisville, Kentucky.
On our way to Louisville in late June, our plane stopped over in Houston. It was a one hundred and four degree day, and as we sat in a swelteringly hot airport, a friendly-looking person holding a long white cane caught my eye. Suspecting that he too was on his way to Louisville, I ventured over and introduced myself. With great enthusiasm, he welcomed us in advance to our first convention, and proudly explained that he had not missed one in years. When we arrived in Louisville, the congenial fellow, (who I later learned was none other than Tommy Craig, the NFB delegate from Texas), insisted upon sharing a cab with us to the Galt House hotel, and paid the bill as a way to honor our “virgin” status as NFB convention goers.
Tommy had warned us about the elevators at the hotel. With over 2,500 attendees circulating around the Galt House, one can imagine that the elevators might become congested. These crowded elevators came to be a source of entertainment and learning for Anton and me over the course of the week. Anton soon learned that following the sharp “ding” of the elevator, the doors would open and beyond them was the potential for experimentation and fun. Almost immediately, he took to screaming at full volume inside the moving vault, much to the mixed reactions of the other passengers. Mostly, people seemed to delight in his screeches. I, on the other hand, was mortified by his piercing yells, especially since I didn’t seem to be able to do anything to stop them.
On the second day, I met Heather Field at the seminar for parents. She was to become my confidant at the convention with respect to Anton’s elevator demonstrations and other unconventional behaviors. At the seminar, Heather, an NFB leader from Tennessee, shared the story of her upbringing. A storyteller extraordinaire, she imparted her experiences as a blind child, including her need to frolic just like her sighted siblings. Her fearless spirit came alive as she recalled rolling down a hill on a barrel and crashing into a fence at the foot of a hill. As she spoke, I became aware of my biases with respect to what I thought blind children are physically capable of doing. She opened my eyes to new possibilities. She urged me to consider how my tendency to overprotect Anton could possibly deprive him of much of what life has to offer.
In the ensuing days, Heather took Anton and me under her wing. In response to his elevator antics, she commented matter-of-factly, “When he does that, he’s looking around with his ears.” Only a blind person could have such insight, I thought. We talked about times when such behavior was highly appropriate; after all, the blind child needs to size-up his surroundings, too. Further, when I shared my concern over his tendency to fuss and grunt (which I secretly thought was an expression of his frustration over not being able to see), Heather cried, “He’s bored! Congratulations! You have a normal toddler on your hands!” When I explained to her the delays in his development, she combated my comments with her own observations of his natural intelligence. “Clever boy!” she would constantly say to him. With each of our conversations, I felt new enthusiasm for Anton’s continuing growth and ultimate potential.
Up until now, my husband and I had been showered with people’s
expressions of sympathy. Many said they were praying for us,
praying that Anton be granted sight. One relative had even suggested we take Anton to a so-called miracle healer. Now, at a convention of thousands of blind people, I was feeling more supported and understood than ever before. Rather than grieving the loss of the idea of a normal child—as others had encouraged me to do—I was now asking myself, “Why should I view myself as a person in the midst of grief (a process associated with death)? Am I not the parent of a beautiful, young blind person just beginning to step into a whole new world of possibilities?”
As the week proceeded, I forged ahead to learn more. In a workshop on early childhood exploration, Joe Cutter discussed concepts I had never heard with respect to blindness. Despite all of the services Anton had been lucky to have since he was eight weeks old, some ideas had clearly been missing from our training; ideas that are central to the NFB philosophy.
Cutter proclaimed, “For the blind child, being blind is the most natural thing there is.” What a revelation! For Anton, using his hands, his ears, his nose, and his tongue was seeing. Joe also spoke about alternative techniques of blindness, something no visual impairment specialist we had met had ever mentioned. He urged the participants in his workshop to always question what we read about blindness, and cautioned that early intervention can sometimes really mean early interference. Lastly, he emphasized that the NFB is a skill-based and a confidence-based organization. As I learn more about this approach, I realize that our ongoing participation in the NFB will be a key factor in Anton’s ability to thrive.
At the Parent Power workshop later that day, an array of other new ideas was shared. One parent commented that our children deserve to be raised with the belief that it is OK to be blind. I had to ask myself, “Do I hold this belief myself? Am I doing all I can to instill this belief in my child?”
Additionally, representatives from Parents of Blind Children affiliates made reports of the activities going on in their respective states, and shared ideas for chapters wishing to be more vital. My mind reeled with possibilities! Parents of blind children, I learned, could band together to do any number of the following: plan an Easter egg hunt; organize a tandem bike program for families with blind kids; start a summer reading program for blind students; form a dance class for visually impaired children; establish an email list (listserv) for families; increase awareness about blindness by inviting an NFB speaker to a child’s school; and educate extended family members, doctors, and (yes!) vision teachers about blindness.
In the remaining four days of our stay, Anton participated in the NFB Camp (childcare) while I attended segments of the general assembly of the NFB and sat in on several other workshops geared toward parents and teachers. With concerns about Anton’s motor progress and speech development still on my mind (at 20 months, he has not started crawling or walking and his talking is minimal), I soaked in all there was to hear from specialists and parents alike. Joe Cutter suggested Anton work on transitions between movements (sitting to crawling, for example), insisting that these components of movement are central to motor development, but are often challenging to blind children. Heather Field urged me to let Anton initiate movements—playing and talking all on his own—lest he come to rely on me as an external source of motivation. She even sat down with me and talked through appropriate goals to set in Anton’s next IFSP meeting and followed up after convention by sending me an electronic copy of these goals.
At another point, I heard Carrie Gilmer, a parent from Minnesota, refer to the white cane as one’s third eye on the ground. And Anton received his first cane at a special segment on cane travel. The common thread among all this information and new ideas, was that the blind child should be afforded just as many opportunities as the sighted child to be self-motivated and independent.
As the week came to a close, I felt as if the NFB’s philosophy
was running through my blood! I resolved within myself to become involved at
the local level for the good of our son and our family, and as a way to repay
those in the organization who had been so
generous throughout my convention stay with their time and knowledge. Most importantly, I now see my little boy through new eyes. With the help of people in the NFB, I have reclaimed my vision for him as a human being: that he will live a fun and fulfilling life
complete with the opportunities, challenges, and beauty that the world presents to us all.
by Anne Naber
Editor’s Note: Thirteen-year-old Anne Naber attends Twin Cities Academy, a school in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is an avid reader and a former winner in the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. Her favorite subject in school is Spanish and she enjoys singing, downhill skiing, running with her aunt, and attending conventions of the National Federation of the Blind. The 2005 convention was her second national convention, but from her enthusiastic report below, you might think it was her first. Here is what she says:
My convention experience started in the airport when we landed in Louisville. My mom and I were surrounded by blind people traveling by themselves with canes. I thought it was really cool. They walked fast and knew where they were going. Then when we got to the hotel, there were even more people and they were amazing: they could go wherever they wanted with practically no help. There were a bunch of teenagers just walking through the exhibits by themselves. There were always canes tapping and people talking to each other. It was so cool.
I went to a Girl Talk session and the Teen Hospitality room where teens could just hang out, which was really fun. I got to meet lots of other teens and talk about stuff that we wanted to talk about. At the convention, there was also a Braille book flea market. It was really fun to see so many Braille books. There was a big room with lots of different exhibits, too. I got to learn about lots of new technology and different things to help blind people. It was really cool. There were many different activities for everyone—little kids, teens, adults, and parents. It was great to see so many successful blind people and learn about what could happen in the future. It was really motivating. Everyone was so enthusiastic and friendly. I would encourage everyone to go at any age. It is a really fun and moving experience.
by Heather Field
Reprinted from the December, 2005, issue of the Braille Monitor.
Editor’s Note: The theme of the annual seminar for parents of blind children conducted by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children at the 2005 NFB convention was “in the driver’s seat.” The idea was to encourage families and teachers to step out in faith and confidence to encourage their blind children to embrace independence and the alternative skills of blindness. The keynote speaker was Heather Field, a blind woman from Australia who discovered the National Federation of the Blind on a trip to the United States and decided to move to Nashville to follow her own dream of writing country music. She is also a trained and obviously gifted early childhood educator and an energetic and dedicated Federationist. Her remarks were aimed largely at the blind youngsters in her audience, but her message was also directed at parents and teachers. This is what she said:
Part of the fun of being in the driver’s seat is that joyful experience of being able to blow the horn. It makes an announcement to the other drivers on the road. It says, “I’m driving my car, and I want you to take note of what my car is doing!” Sometimes it says that you aren’t happy with what another driver is doing. But, more often than not, it says, “Look out! Pay attention. I’m coming through!” From the driver’s seat of our lives we have to make those kinds of announcements. Even though we’re not in our cars right now, we all have a life, and we have the choice to be in the driver’s seat of that life and to blow our horn when we choose to.
They say, “Practice makes perfect,” so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity for you to get a little practice at saying, “Look out! Pay attention. I’m coming through!” During this presentation we’re going to have the opportunity to blow our horns. Whenever I raise my hand like this and say, “Horn,” you get to go, “Beep, beep, or bawp bawp,” or whatever noise your horn makes. So let’s practice. Are you ready? Horn! Oh dear, that’s not a very convincing group of horns! I wouldn’t be getting out of your way if I heard that. Let’s try that again, ready kids? “Horn!” (Loudly from the audience, “Beep, beep.”) Oh, that’s much better. All right, let’s get started and be ready for me to say “horn” because it might come at any moment.
“It’s going too fast. We’ll have to jump off or we’ll fall off. Quick, jump!” My sister Lynda shouted, and we jumped off the rolling forty-four-gallon drum, tumbling into the long spring grass in the paddock being spelled this year from growing small crops.
“I don’t think it was a very good idea to run to get us started,” I said crossly, standing up and, my sister still laughing, we set out down the hill where the drum had banged into the fence at the bottom of the paddock.
“I didn’t know it would roll so fast, did I?” she replied, evading the blame.
“Well you shouldn’t have said to run,” I said peevishly, remembering how many of her daredevil escapades went wrong and frustrated with myself that I so often still went along with the new ones—like the time when she suggested we climb up the tree and sit on the platform our elder brother and his friend had made over ten years before. Of course the wood had rotted, and the platform collapsed. Being the oldest, she had climbed up first, so I was on the lower end of the platform. Naturally she half fell on top of me when we hit the ground in a tangle of branches and old rope.
“Well I am not going on with you this time; I’m going to go on the drum by myself, or I’m not going. And it’s my turn because you made us crash last time,” I declared as we began the long trek pushing the drum back up the hill. When we reached the top, I climbed up on the drum, stood up, and began to walk, making the drum roll forward with my weight.
Slowly, slowly and then, suddenly, I was off down the hill. When it started going too fast, I leaned back and went slower, and I was in control. “Horn!” (Audience loudly, “Beep, beep.”) But it was no fun going slow, so I started to speed up. Oh, it was exhilarating, and I began to run, whooping as I went. Then I hit the patch of weeds, and I heard the scratchy sound that told me I was coming to the fence, so I jumped backwards off the drum as it banged into the fence. I had done it all by myself! I was the driver, and I hadn’t had an accident because I couldn’t see the fence coming. My sister cheered and ran down to help me push the drum back to the top so she could take her turn.
Many blind people, and by “blind” I mean people with varying
amounts and degrees of vision loss, but especially blind children, never get
to know the joy of being in charge of their own movement through the environment—certainly
not on a vehicle like our rolling drum or a skateboard or a scooter or a bike,
not even walking independently on their own two legs, making the driving decisions
for their own bodies. Do I go fast or walk slow? Turn left or stop because of
the weeds telling me there’s a fence coming? Have I gone too far now that I
have come to this driveway? No! Unlike their sighted peers, who get to make
thousands of these decisions even before the age of three, many blind children
never get to make even such simple decisions. Instead they are taught to walk
sighted guide, to hold onto someone and let that someone who can see be the driver, towing them along like a trailer, nice and safe, just mindlessly hooked on with nothing to think about and no decisions to make. Easy for the sighted adults, disastrous for the blind children!
This happens for many reasons, most of them stemming from the belief, on the part of those who can see, that, because these children can’t see well enough to gather information about their environment visually, they simply cannot travel safely to a destination and will get hurt or lost or both. This belief is of course nonsense and absolutely false because information about the environment can be gathered nonvisually, and safe and direct travel by blind people occurs all the time, as demonstrated by thousands of competent blind people every day all over the world. Yet this belief persists, fueled by stereotypes of the helpless blind person portrayed by the print media, literature, and television. Even worse, it is reinforced by the experiences of people who lose their sight later in life and who aren’t taught the skills of blindness using nonvisual, alternative techniques that can reduce blindness to simply another of life’s many inconveniences. These poor souls and their families and friends languish in the perceived tragedy of blindness when in reality blindness need be nothing more than a nuisance. Sadly for all concerned, they believe that blind people, far from being in the driver’s seat of their lives, can be nothing more than a cumbersome trailer, grateful for being taken for a tow now and then.
I was fortunate because my parents already had three children before I was born, so they knew what children could be expected to do at various ages. By the time I had lost my vision at about eighteen months of age, another brother had been born, and Mother simply didn’t have time to run around after one child. Pregnant again, she had to keep house as well as do work around the farm because Daddy was away at work all day. So I was expected to do as much as possible for myself, and, just as important, I was not stopped from trying new things.
I pulled everything out of the shoe cupboard and crawled inside. I snuck under the rainwater tank on its low stand and lay with the new puppies. I danced on the picnic table, and I climbed on the couch and jumped up and down and then jumped off, and Mother never knew. She did know when I climbed up on the new wardrobe from Auntie May, however, because she got a terrible scare when I shouted “boo!” from the top as she walked past where it stood in the hall.
Life was an adventure, and I loved it. I longed to know and to move and to learn, and Mother encouraged me. She always seemed to know that being blind didn’t automatically mean that I would be incompetent or have accidents. When it rained and rained for days at a time, Mother would relent and let us children ride our little bikes around the circuit of the house hallway, and, I’m proud to report, it wasn’t me who scratched the fridge when a bike crashed. It was my little brother Robert. “Horn!” (Audience loudly, “Beep, beep.”) Even at age three and four I was allowed to be age-appropriately in the driver’s seat of my life, getting practice at making my own decisions and gathering my own information about my environment using nonvisual cues—sound cues and texture cues, smells and distances, slopes and context. I was choosing my speed and my direction, and I was choosing my destination. Most important, I was deciding when I would stay in one place and when I would go. I wasn’t waiting around for some adult to hook me up and tow me like a trailer to the next place he or she wanted me to go.
Now, mind you, Auntie Emily didn’t think much of that independent driving my parents fostered, and she was especially unimpressed by the way they let me be in the driver’s seat of my own life when I would climb. “You get down; you’ll fall,” she would cry when she spotted me sitting up on the crossbar of the swing set or balancing as I practiced walking along the top rail of the fence or scrambling among the branches of the big mulberry tree. I spent many joyful hours during long summer days climbing in that mulberry tree. Climbing way up high, hiding among the leaves, playing at being a naughty monkey, and learning to trust my own judgment and to be brave and confident. Checking the strength of each branch with my feet before I decided whether it would take me higher up and whether it would take my weight, feeling the direction of the branches, deciding whether it went down or up or had lots of leaves so I could hide. Sitting so still that the sighted people couldn’t even see where a naughty monkey was hiding. I loved that mulberry tree.
On one of those summer days some relations came to visit. Now it was no use calling oneself a naughty monkey if one in fact never did anything naughty. So, when unsuspecting Auntie Emily walked underneath the berry-laden mulberry tree, I decided that a truly naughty monkey’s moment had come. Quickly I used those seven-year-old problem-solving skills, nonvisual techniques, and decision-making skills and put a plan into action. I gathered some over-ripe, squishy, juicy, very purple mulberries, and when Auntie Emily was almost under me, I opened my hands and dropped them all down where my ears told me she was. “Ahh, aahh,” went the monkey.
“Ohhhh,” shrieked Auntie Emily in surprise and, “Ooo dear,”
she wailed in displeasure as she looked at the stains on her dress, where the
purple juice had slopped. “Oh, look at this stain!” said her angry voice as
she peered vainly up into the tree to see the identity of the naughty monkey.
Immediately another of my nonvisual techniques, ascertaining mood by tone of
voice, told me that perhaps this was not the best decision this monkey had ever
made. Not surprisingly, Mother was unconvinced by my claims that I couldn’t
see where Auntie was and that it was an accident. Declaring that I had known
perfectly well where she was, she sent the naughty monkey off to its punishment.
I spent the next hour and a half up the mulberry tree using those nonvisual
techniques and decision-making skills to fill a bucket with
mulberries at the right stage of firmness for a pie she wanted to bake that night.
Come to think of it, Auntie Mary wasn’t sure about my parents allowing me to do so much driving and deciding for myself either. Although she was prepared to watch with warnings—”Be careful, be careful,” she’d say—I never knew quite what I needed to do to be careful or, for that matter, what it was that I should be careful of, so it wasn’t much help. But anyway, at least she didn’t harass me with demands to stop.
Auntie Mary used to come to visit us on the island where we spent our vacations. The only way to get to the island was on a little passenger ferry. You boarded it from a jetty on the mainland, and you got off onto another jetty on the island. For those who may not know, a jetty is a long thin construction, rather like a bridge, that goes out over the beach and the water until the water is deep enough that ferries can come alongside and tie up. People can then use the jetty steps to board the ferry. I had been playing on the jetties and getting on and off the ferry since I was six years old, so I spent many happy times terrifying the bystanders. They simply could not understand what was wrong with my parents, letting a blind child roam freely about the jetty, playing in such an obviously dangerous environment without assistance, let alone allowing me to board the ferry by myself.
Anyway, after one of Auntie Mary’s visits when I was about nine,
we decided to walk over and see her off. They had just built a brand new, much
longer jetty for the island, and it was still exciting to me to go out on it.
This was because, while one side of the jetty had railings all the way along
and down around the end—the sort of railings of which the terrified bystanders
would approve for a blind child—the other side had railings only half way out.
Then it just had big posts, where fishing boats could tie up every twenty feet
or so all the way along to the steps at the end, where the ferry docked. These
steps went down to the water, and only one side had a railing. The other side
had to be open to allow access to the ferry. Since the water level went up and
down with the tides, the ferry would
pull in next to whichever wide concrete step it was level with.
There was something thrilling about walking out along that jetty with no rails between me and the water and having to keep myself away from the edge. When my brothers and sisters and I and Auntie Mary started walking out along the big new jetty, Auntie Mary made it clear that she didn’t want me walking near the edge without rails, and she certainly didn’t want me walking down the steps without holding onto someone.
Then she didn’t want me stepping out over the water across the two feet or so of space between the rocking ferry and the jetty without holding on to anyone or anything. She wanted me to let the ferryman lift me on. But that was never going to happen. “You’re such a stubborn little piece of work! Why don’t you let someone help you?” she’d say exasperatedly as I’d say, “I’m okay; don’t worry, Auntie.”
“Oh, crumbs, be careful!” she’d say. “I can’t watch.” Poor Auntie Mary! I’m sure she had visions of me plummeting down into the water from the moment we set foot on that jetty. But, to her credit, she never let her fears stop me from being in the driver’s seat of my life. What she didn’t understand, however, was my belief that I was like all the other kids my age. They walked on the jetty unguided, and they walked down the steps unaided, and they boarded the ferry without help, and so, I knew, could I.
I’m sure she would have felt better if I’d used a long white cane, but I didn’t use a cane because I didn’t want to look blind, and my daddy didn’t want me to look blind either. Ridiculously, the school for the blind didn’t teach any orientation and mobility skills to me, so I didn’t know what a cane would do for me beyond advertising to the world that I was blind. Since it wasn’t respectable to be blind, who’d want that? I had to wait until I found the National Federation of the Blind to learn the value of a cane and the respectability of blindness. Nevertheless, looking back I realize how frightening it must have been for poor Auntie Mary and the other passengers, having the stereotypical view of the helpless blind person in their minds, and being forced to watch a blind child refusing to be guided, withdrawing her arms from the grabbing hands, driving herself right past those gaps in between the jetty posts and down the steps—holding their collective breath while she felt with her feet to find the edge of the wet step, and then reaching out into nothingness with left hand and right foot for the moving target of the ferry steps.
But I loved it when I was like all the other kids and I got on the ferry by myself and achieved it without letting anyone help me. No one was going to take that feeling of independence and achievement away from me. “Horn!” (Audience loudly, “Beep, beep.”) That feeling was so important to me as a child, even when I was very small. I remember it: so sweet, so affirming, laying down strength of character, building belief in oneself, confidence that perseverance would bring mastery and triumph. How sad that over the years so many people tried to take it from me, wanting me to sit down and stay safe and scared of the unknown or be passively towed along through my life by whatever sighted guide took pity on me that day.
But it was not so with my beloved mother. She expected me to
live the life I had to the full. I remember feeling very grown up when she sent
me on messages. Mother would say, “Run down to Auntie Pearl’s and tell Lynda
it’s time to come home for lunch.” Now
Auntie Pearl’s land joined ours at the bottom of the small crop paddock, and it was her fence that the drum banged into at the bottom of the hill. But actually going to her house was not as easy as it sounds. You see, the gate into her yard was right in the middle of the fence. You walked out of the side door of our house to where the grass was warm from the sun, turned right, and headed downhill towards the gate.
After a little walk, if you were lucky, you would come onto a little track worn by the feet of children running through the grass and weeds that grew in the paddock. If you didn’t pay attention to the track under your bare feet or if they had mowed it and all the tall weeds on either side of the track were gone, you would veer off to the right or left. And when you came to the fence at the bottom of the hill, you wouldn’t know whether you were to the left or to the right of the stupid gate. Then you’d have to decide which way it might be and follow the fence along till you came either to the gate or to the corner. This was very annoying and time-consuming, and it took much too long for an impatient girl. But no matter how long it took, Mother would always send me.
One day when the weeds had been mowed and the track was hard to follow, I decided that there must be a better way. Out of complete frustration I decided to think of a new way to find the gate. I stood still in the silence of a hazy, hot summer midday and thought. Suddenly I heard a crow caw, and I heard the echo bounce off the house way over across the paddock, and I had it. I knew what to do. I’d clap my hands periodically and try listening to the echoes that would bounce back from the wooden fence off to the far left of the gate. If I heard it getting too close, I’d know to go right. Yes. I would not make a mistake this time. Oh, joy of joys when I straightened myself up three times: once by detecting the less trodden grass when I had veered off the track and twice from the fence echoes. And I found the gate really quickly.
It was thrilling, I remember the smells and sounds and the very feel of the hot day when I bring it back to mind. I had solved my own problem, and, I thought proudly, I was only ten. I leapt over the locked gate (it had to be locked to keep our cows from eating Auntie Pearl’s garden), and I went galloping over the yard to Auntie Pearl’s house yelling, “Lynda!” in, as Auntie Pearl informed me, a most unladylike manner.
Years later I asked my mother if she had known how much trouble I had finding the gate when she sent me on those trips. She said, “No, I never really thought about it.” She just expected that, if I had a problem, I’d figure it out and go and do the job I was sent to do. She didn’t know the nonvisual techniques I would need to get myself from point A to point B, but she knew that I needed them and that I needed opportunity and the motivation to develop them for myself. She knew that, if I got lost, I would need to figure out a way to get myself unlost. I was safe in the confines of the farm and the neighborhood, and there I learned the lessons that only experience can teach.
Her expectation that I should walk up and close the henhouse for the night or go down to the shop and get a loaf of bread just around the corner at the bottom of our street or collect the kindling for our stove or pack my own overnight bag for a sleepover, just as she expected the other children to do, sent me the message, “Of course you can do it. Blindness has nothing whatsoever to do with your ability to do what everybody else does.” The attitude that she fostered made my brothers and sisters and me think that it was natural that I would be in the driver’s seat of my own life. “Horn!” (Audience loudly, “Beep, beep.”)
Yes, thankfully, I learned that it was my life and that, when I grew up, it would be me controlling it—controlling it as a high school student choosing my own courses, controlling it as a university student choosing my readers, moving out and sharing a house with other people, making my choices to become a teacher, choosing to join the National Federation of the Blind, and getting my own, very blind-looking cane, and even moving to America to risk all as a songwriter competing alongside my sighted peers.
It is very likely that within our lifetime, certainly within the lifetime of the children here today, there will be a car that blind people can drive. Are you parents and teachers teaching these children to expect that they will, that they must, as competent adults and responsible citizens, be in the driver’s seat of their own lives and maybe even of their own cars? Are you giving them opportunities to acquire the knowledge and skills they will need to travel independently? Do you dream big? Are you excited about the prospect of a blind son or daughter going down to the hardware store to get the gas bottle filled so he or she can grill the steaks while you make the salads for the cookout? Are you excited about the prospect of your blind son or daughter coming in the car to take you out for a day’s drive to give you a break from the nursing home?
Or do you think of yourself as the driver? Are you imagining that in thirty years your child, though an adult, will still be a trailer being towed along by a sighted guide? Are you imagining your child, with all this potential, sitting, a passive blind adult, rocking on the sidelines of life without a real say in what happens to him or her, all the choices being made by somebody else? In your imaginings do you secretly think that someone will always need to be there, if not you, then perhaps another person, but always someone who can see to take care of your adult child? Or do you daydream about a competent man or woman who just happens to be blind, achieving and living alongside other adults who happen not to be blind? Are you giving your child or your students the opportunity to get lost and the time to develop the courage and self-confidence to know that they’re not going to be rescued, so they better get unlost by themselves?
Do you imagine a future filled with possibilities in which blind drivers understand yield signs and five-way intersections and use them and count freeway exits as they speed home from college for Thanksgiving, driving themselves? You know, a dream costs nothing, and imagining is free, but they both pay enormous dividends when you teach your blind children that they can be as much in the driver’s seat of their lives as their same-aged sighted peers. And it’s never too young to begin. It’s up to you to let them know that it’s up to them. “Horn!” (Audience loudly, “Beep, beep.”) Let’s get our young people into the driver’s seats of their lives and get those horns honking, “Look out, pay attention, I’m coming through!”
by Maria T. Garcia
Editor’s Note: Maria Garcia is the energetic and creative president of the Parents of Blind Children of New York (POBC/NY) and national board member of NOPBC. For the past couple of years, she has been conducting outstanding workshops for parents, children, and teachers in her state. This year, we were fortunate to have her apply her energy and talents to organizing a unique program for blind children at the national convention. Here is her report:
Through the generosity of the National Organization of Parents
of Blind Children, the POBC/NY was afforded the opportunity to premiere its
new seminar “Emergency Preparedness for Blind Children” at the NFB convention
in Louisville, Kentucky, this summer. Thanks to Dave
Gill, Paramedic Instructor at the New York City Fire Department, Emergency Medical
Services (FDNY-EMS) Academy and special consultant to our parents group, we were able to create a unique collaboration with the Louisville Metro Emergency Medical Service. The objective of the seminar was to provide the children with the basic knowledge and skill to recognize a medical emergency and to act appropriately in the face of an emergency.
The seminar was presented in two parts, the first for younger children ranging in ages from four to eight years old, and the second for children from age eight to adolescents. We began each seminar with audio recordings of heart and lung sounds. The children then practiced listening to their own and each other’s heart and lung sounds through the use of stethoscopes. This was followed by an explanation of the correlation between heart sounds and pulse beats and instruction in finding and taking a pulse.
Next the children were taught how to assess an unconscious patient and determine if breathing and a heart rate were present. We then focused on accessing help. We talked about the emergency response system, including mock 911 calls. The next segment of the seminar incorporated basic first aid. We presented a demonstration of wound care, bleeding control, and bandaging. The children then practiced the techniques they had learned on each other.
The seminar for the older children also included an overview of basic Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). In addition, the children had an opportunity to explore a cardiac defibrillator (with the batteries removed of course) as well as other life-saving equipment.
We were truly fortunate to have skilled personnel on hand to assist the children throughout the seminars. Louisville Metro EMS provided two emergency medical technicians (EMTs), Karen Evans and Cory Bowman, and one paramedic, Chris Seeley. As a senior paramedic for the FDNY-EMS I was able to participate, too, along with my colleague, Dave Gill. We were also fortunate to have the assistance of Heather Fritz, EMT and professional educator, and our newest NOPBC Board Member, Kevin Harris, a fire fighter/paramedic student from Maryland.
There were many memorable moments for the children, their parents, and the professionals throughout the evening. One example was a mother who seemed tentative and unsure of her daughter’s ability to fully participate in the seminar at the onset. Later the daughter bandaged her mother’s arm and performed a fluid assessment of a mock unconscious patient. Both seemed genuinely affected by the child’s growing sense of self assurance in her own accomplishment. Many of the children expressed a feeling of confidence in the knowledge they gained from the experience.
In a culture that treats children and the blind as if they were invisible it was a rare privilege to have the opportunity to present a seminar that empowered and affirmed blind children. I am grateful to everyone who participated.
by Jill Weatherd
Editor’s Note: The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, NOPBC, has a talented and diverse board. Brad Weatherd, the second vice-president, and his wife Jill are Range Managers (they live in Wyoming) with extensive experience in working with farm animals. The NOPBC treasurer, Sandy Taboada (Dr. Merchant), and her husband, Joe (Dr. Taboada), are teaching veterinarians at the Louisiana State University, School of Veterinary Medicine in Baton Rouge. Needless to say, the kids in the Weathered and Taboada households have lots of experience in raising and caring for animals. However, many blind kids are not so fortunate. So, the Taboadas and the Weatherds pooled their knowledge and expertise about animals and put together a fantastic animal event for families on tour afternoon of the NFB convention. Here is their report:
Gobble, gobble! Maaa, maaa! Moo! Neigh! Squish, (oops!). The
sounds coming from the Kentucky School for the Blind on that July 6th afternoon
were pure country! With the generous help of the Kentucky Jefferson County Farm
Bureau under the supervision of Matt Michaud,
we were able to get over seventy-five children and adults up-close-and-personal with chickens, turkeys, ducks, rabbits, horses, cows and goats.
We arranged this event to expose our blind kids to a variety
of animals they might not otherwise get to investigate. We wanted the kids to
come away knowing what each animal feels like from head to hoof, and to be able
to find the various body parts of each animal. Our goal was for the kids to
come away with an accurate picture of each entire animal—not just its disconnected
parts. The volunteers did a great job of
handling the animals and answering questions.
Many of the kids had never had the opportunity to touch some of these farm animals before. One child, after holding a baby duck for several minutes, said she had just found out that the noise ducks really make isn’t the word “quack”. A little boy felt part of a rabbit and declared that he was holding a cat—until he felt those long ears and said “Hey, wait a minute, that’s not a cat, it’s a rabbit!”
Several of the kids were surprised, and frankly “grossed out,” at all of the fleshy parts a turkey has on its head, neck, and beak. The mother goat went way above and beyond the call of duty as lots of little hands checked out her udder. I even saw the cow’s height being measured with a long, white cane!
The kids also got to hang out with many beautiful and friendly dogs from W.A.G.S. (Wonderful Animals Giving Support) of Louisville, Kentucky. The kids were impressed with all of the different breeds of dogs they got to visit. For one child who was afraid of the farm animals, these dogs were a real hit!
The California guide dog user group also came and gave the kids a demonstration of what it feels like to use a guide dog. Some of the kids said they were surprised by how fast they walked in this demonstration.
As an extra bonus, volunteers even brought around twenty interesting plants for the kids to examine. They got to experience the various scents from the plants, like mint, vanilla, and lemon. They even brought plants with a wide variety of textures, from the soft and “wooly” lamb’s ear plant to a prickly cactus.
Using a borrowed rabbit and lots of verbal description, twelve-year-old Hannah Weatherd—an award-winning 4-H club member from Wyoming—demonstrated how to exhibit the animal at a 4-H county fair.
At the end of the afternoon, there were several tired volunteers, a herd of dazed animals, and lots of happy kids who were eager to get to their next exciting NFB activity.
Editor’s Note: In preparation for this event, Jill and Brad
composed a letter to the volunteers who brought their animals for this
activity. The letter gave some tips and suggestion on what the volunteer could do to make this the most meaningful experience possible for blind kids. In the chance that any of our readers might want to duplicate this activity, we’ve included the letter below. Also, Brad and Jill Weatherd are willing to answer questions or provide information about organizing events with animals, and/or how blind kids can participate actively in 4-H. Contact them at <[email protected]>.
Dr. Doolittle Comes to Louisville—Letter to Volunteer Helpers
First, we’d like to thank you for donating your time, animals, and skills for our “Dr. Doolittle Comes to Louisville” afternoon activity. We hope this will be a fun and informative event for the kids. You may learn something, too!
We’ve written some suggestions that we’d like you to follow in working with the blind kids. Our goal is for these kids to get some good hands-on exploration of your animals, so we’ve put this list together to help us all achieve that goal.
Respecting Personal Space and Independence
Probably the most important point for you to know is that most blind people, like most sighted people, do not want others to touch or move their hands or bodies for them. It will be easy for you to understand this if you imagine how you’d feel if someone grabbed your head and turned it for you when they wanted you to look at something. You would be very annoyed and ask them why they just couldn’t draw your attention to it by saying “look over here.” Blind people don’t enjoy being grabbed any more than you would, and they deserve the same respect for their personal space. Just tell the kids where they can put their hands to begin their own independent exploration. You could say “If you reach out in front of you you’ll touch his back, neck etc.”
Getting the Picture
We want the kids to come away with an accurate “picture” of the entire animal—not just disconnected parts. This means that the kids need to do their own exploring of the animal, from head to tail to foot. We want you to encourage the kids to explore the whole animal. Many of these children may never have had the opportunity to touch animals before (other than cats and dogs) so they will probably be experiencing your animal breed for the first time. As the blind child must make up the picture in his head by putting together all the parts touched, it is very important that you let each child take as long as he likes to touch the animal all over. The child may want to find and re-find the same part several times to verify that the picture he is making in his head is correct. Some kids may come back to visit your animal several times. The children may ask you “Is this the ear?” Before answering, ask them “What do you think? Is it on her head? Is there another one just like it?” This encourages the children to make their own picture by locating parts for themselves.
It’s good, especially with the younger children, for you to point out which part of your animal the child is exploring as he does it. You might say, “Now you’re going from her neck to her shoulder.” If you are giving direction, use verbal descriptions instead of pointing or saying “The ear is over there.” You might say something like, “The goat’s horn is about eight inches to the left of your left hand.” or “If you slide your hand more to the right you’ll touch her tail.” Don’t insist that the child touch things when you first mention them since they may want to explore in their own way and time. You can, however, remind them to check out something a couple of minutes later e.g., “Now, do you want to look at his funny curly tail, long mane, etc?”
If possible, try to make sure each kid explores the animal’s back, rump, tail, back and front legs, belly, chest, neck, head, eyes, ears, mouth, nose/beak, feet, and especially those parts of your animal that make it unique (duck’s webbed feet, cow’s udder, pig’s snout and curly tail).
Encouraging Reluctant Touchers
If a kid seems really reluctant to touch the animal, tell them a little about your animal. For example, “This is only a baby calf so he’s not very tall. He comes up to your chest. He has lovely soft hair and a very soft warm nose. And, he’s got lovely big brown eyes and he’s looking right at you now hoping for a pat. If you reach out your hand you could pat his back”
Remember, children who can see get information about things before they are expected to touch them. They see that the feathers or fur looks soft, that the animal is reaching its head toward them for a pat, etc. This information tempts children to reach out and touch. If the child is still reluctant, it’s sometimes helpful to ask if he wants to put his hands on top of yours as you move your hands to an area. Then you can say something like, “Oh, this is so soft, prickly, fuzzy etc. do you want to feel it?” and the child will most likely take his hands off yours and touch the animal. You can then remove your hands and encourage him to explore the animal.
Use Your Own Judgment
Remember, you are there to keep good control of your animal and also to encourage the kids to explore the animal. You know your animal and how it will respond, so, please use your own judgment when supervising the interaction between each child and your animal. We want the kids to experience each animal safely.
When it’s all over, it would be great if you could help clean up after your animal. We’d really like to leave the school grounds as much like we found them as possible. We’ll be there to help, too, and we’ll have trash bags on the site.
Again, thank you so much for your willingness to help with this event. We truly appreciate it, and so will these kids!
by Barbara Mathews
The 2005 Parent Power Workshop was designed as an opportunity for parents to share experiences and ideas on expanding and strengthening state and local parent groups, fundraising, developing programs, networking, and recruiting members. It was also an opportunity for parents to connect with each other. Parents exchanged phone numbers and email addresses so that they could stay in touch over the course of the year.
We were privileged to hear from panelists Carrie Gilmer of Minnesota and Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway of Georgia. Carrie is well-known to many of us. Her speech to the full convention on her experiences with her son Jordan brought the audience to its feet with a standing ovation and brought many of us to tears. Carrie is president of the Minnesota Parents of Blind Children and, at the Workshop, she described starting from scratch and building an active parent organization. Most notably, they have started a “Saturday School” where children learn skills and parents come together to learn and support each other.
Stephanie was also familiar to parents, as she was a panelist during Saturday’s “In the Driver’s Seat” session for parents. At the Workshop, Stephanie spoke about what she has done to get the Georgia Organization of Parents of Blind Children up and running. They have created a Web site and provided free canes to six Georgia children. One very special effort is that Stephanie has worked with a dance studio to offer dance classes to young blind children.
I spoke about the leadership transition in the Parents of Blind Children chapter in California, including the challenges of becoming president of the organization. I talked about the incredibly valuable help that has been provided by NFB state affiliate president Nancy Burns and by my wonderful friend, Annee Hartzell, who is a teacher of the visually impaired, a parent, and a great role model for our children.
Representatives of other state organizations reported on their
activities. There was a recurring theme: A mom or dad or both found that the
parent organization in their state non-existent or close to it. Undaunted, they
started out as the sole officers and members, then built from there. Several
have developed Web sites and newsletters. A clear message was the power of just
a few energetic,
committed parents. Through their efforts and creativity, it is possible to reach out and change the lives of many families. Another message was that the personal rewards, satisfaction, and camaraderie that come from their efforts make it all worthwhile.
by Debby Brackett
Editor’s Note: Are you planning to attend the 2006 NFB convention? Whether this is your first convention or your sixth, whether you are coming alone or bringing the entire family, you are invited to volunteer at the NOBPC exhibit table. Debby Brackett, NOPBC board member from Florida, coordinates the exhibit table, and she would love to hear from you. She can be reached at <bwbddl@ yahoo.com>. Here is what she has to say about the joys of working the NOPBC exhibit table:
Do you enjoy the hustle and bustle of the sale floor? Meeting new friends and greeting old friends? Having the opportunity to check out and play with new merchandise? Then the NOPBC exhibit hall table is the place to be!!
Each year the NOPBC sponsors a table in the exhibit hall at the National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind. In 2005, the NOPBC was one of about ninety exhibitors. Those exhibitors included government agencies, such as the Library of Congress, National Library Services, Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS); private, non-profit organizations, such as Benetech Bookshare.org; blindness technology companies, such as HumanWare and Freedom Scientific; and around thirty state affiliates and national divisions of the NFB. Like the other NFB affiliates, the NOPBC uses the exhibit space to raise money for programs.
In the NOPBC, we use the funds from our sales to help blind children receive training, access technology, and attend conferences and conventions. Items are donated or purchased at a discount so that we can raise funds for the kids. We have everything from toys, games, and books to products that appeal to adults.
Old or young, blind, visually impaired or “light dependent,” everyone can participate. In two-hour shifts, two people work together to entice others to stop by and purchase treasures from the NOPBC table. Without a doubt, Rose Marie Bowman of Michigan is a champion for the kids. She and her son Brickie are always willing to help out at the table and talk to other parents. Things really get hopping when Rose Marie works the table. “Get your travel bags here! Five dollars each or two for ten dollars, ladies’ or men’s! Check out the products inside!” Those travel bags flew off the table! We sold almost 500 of them in two days at the 2005 convention in Louisville.
The kids always enjoy playing with the toys, especially the noisy ones! Clackers, whistles, and cow bells are all favorites. When kids like Winona Brackett, Daniel Brackett, Kyra Sweeney, and Megan Bening help at the table, who can say “No”?
Come one, come all! Bring your time, your talents, and your donations to the NOPBC table during national convention. Get your NOPBC 50/50 raffle ticket! Stop by and purchase some treasures to take home! NOPBC and the kids need you.
by Ann Cunningham
Editor’s Note: Here is a report on one of the NOPBC-sponsored workshop activities offered to blind and sighted youth at the 2005 convention. The report is written by the artist who also conducted the workshop. For teachers who would like to duplicate this workshop, Cunningham provides a materials and techniques guide elsewhere in this issue. Here is what Cunningham says:
A lively bunch of students were happy to jump in and get their hands dirty in our 2005 Artistically Expressing Emotions workshop at the Galt House in Louisville. By making expressive art of their own, blind and sighted youngsters had the chance to explore one of the ways artists communicate artistically.
Artistically Expressing Emotions is a perfect art class activity for students with a wide variety of abilities. It is to everyone’s advantage to conduct this class under sleepshades since it is important to focus on internal feelings. By using sleepshades, all students are released from the pressure of making their work “look right.”
At the Colorado Center for the Blind, this course is taught
in fifteen hours of class time and explores eight different emotions. We
follow that up with the creation of an original work of art of the students’ choosing. The last class is a field trip to a museum or park with access to art work.
In the Louisville 2005 workshop we modified this program and focused on learning the skills to work in water-based clay with hands and tools in a manner that allowed the students to first express “anger,” followed by a second piece exploring “joy.” Once the students were finished working in the clay, we used the clay as a mold to create a finished piece of artwork in plaster. After the plaster piece was freed from the clay mold, we lined up all the “angers” side by side on the table and talked about similarities and differences between each other’s work. We then did the same with “joy.”
Students gained insight into themselves through talking about how they expressed emotions in their art; and by comparing their work with other students, they learned more about their classmates. Finally, by applying this insight to artwork they experience in school or accessible collections, they can converse with artists and the world of art.
About Ann Cunningham
Ann Cunningham has been carving stone since she was fifteen years old, but it wasn’t until 1990 that she wondered if the slate low-relief sculptures she was making could be interpreted by touch as well as sight.
This question led Ann to explore how the sense of touch might be trained through art to gather more pictorial information. The bas-relief stories and exhibits that she has developed out of this exploration includes a commission for the National Federation of the Blind. It depicts Erik Weihenmayer’s ascent of Mount Everest as the first blind climber to reach the summit. Since 1998, Ann has been teaching art classes to develop self-expression through the sense of touch at the Colorado Center for the Blind. She has also started teaching a class on Picture Interpretation and Creation at the Anchor Center which serves children who are blind or visually impaired.
Cunningham is currently launching Sensational Books!, a series of original, visually and tactually accessible books. These multi-sensory books are designed to create an engaging experience and provide meaningful information for people of all abilities and ages. Sadie Can Count is the first book in a series which teaches basic picture recognition of common objects. Each subsequent book will expand the scope of the information provided by the pictures.
Ann’s sculptures can be viewed at <http://www. acunningham.com> and the books can be purchased at <www.SensationalBooks.com>.
Insights Art Competition
InSights 2006, is an international competition of artwork by artists who are blind or visually impaired. Artists must be visually impaired to enter. Sponsored by the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), this will be the fifteenth year for the competition.
Participants range from preschool children to senior citizens, and include professional artists as well as hobbyists and school art classes. Artists must meet this definition of vision impairment: corrected vision of 20/200 in the better eye, or a field of vision of 20 degrees or less.
Deadline for entry for 2006 for preschool through high school is April 1, 2006. The deadline for adult artists is April 15. Rules and entry forms will be posted on the APH Web site by mid-February of 2006. For more information contact:
Roberta L. Williams
Public Relations and Special Projects Manager
American Printing House for the Blind
1839 Frankfort Avenue
Louisville, KY 40206
telephone: (800) 223-1839, extension 357
email: [email protected]
by Ann Cunningham
This class was originally inspired by the drawing exercise outlined in the book Drawing on the Artist Within, by Dr. Betty Edwards. Fireside edition (April 6, 1987) ISBN: 067163514X
Class size: Ten students
Art Product: one experimental piece and three emotion pieces per student
Time: 4 hours
50 pounds of water-based clay, premixed (This can be found at ceramic supply or art supply stores.)
100 pounds of casting plaster (This can be found at building supply or ceramic supply stores in large quantities and less expense, or in smaller quantities at much higher prices at art/hobby shops.)
16 Sentra boards, 8” x 11”, or other flat, flexible waterproof material
(Sentra is a plastic product frequently found in signage shops. Lightweight cardboard, such as the cardboard used for packing dress shirts, will work, too.)
20 one-gallon Ziploc plastic bags
80 cardboard strips, 2” x 11”
2 five-gallon water buckets
2 plastic cups
1 wire or string (to cut the clay)
A variety of tools (for shaping or marking the clay)
Rolling pins (one for each one or two students, or you can substitute wooden dowels cut to 15” lengths), ceramic wire loops, hairpins, wooden tools, butter knives, putty knives, old toothbrushes or combs, jar lids, wooden blocks—you can use anything that will create texture or shape. Ask students to bring tools in, too.
Sleepshades or blindfolds, 1 per student
( The NFB Materials Center sells sleepshades. See <www.nfb.org>.)
Protect your workspace appropriately from possible water or wet plaster spills. The amount of time and the abilities of the
student will determine the tasks that the students will be required to perform.
Test plaster-mix proportions. I usually
use an 8 oz plastic cup in the water bucket and a 10 oz paper cup in the plaster
bag, we then mix one-cup water to two-cups plaster. You mix plaster by first
putting the water into the plastic bag and then sprinkling the plaster into
the water. There should be a plaster island in the middle of the water. If there
isn’t an island, add more plaster. Don’t mix until the plaster is all sprinkled
in and it has had a chance to soak for a moment. Then close the bag and mix
until all the lumps are gone. You can place the bag on the table and use one
hand to hold the top up, and use the other hand to push out the lumps. The mixed
plaster should be of a consistency a little thicker than heavy cream but not as thick as toothpaste. Take note of the proportions. Each brand of plaster will mix with different proportions.
You can add more plaster to a plaster-mix that is too thin, or more water to plaster that is too thick, but use very small amounts because it takes very little to change the consistency. It is far easier and less messy to mix it correctly the first time. If a student’s plaster starts to set up before they have a chance to pour, throw the mix away; don’t try to force it into the mold.
Begin: Take some time to name and then hand around the different tools. The tools are kept in a box in the middle of the table once they have gone around the table. Students only have to ask for the box to find the tool they want.
Hand out the Sentra (or cardboard) boards, one to each student.
Open a 25 pound bag of clay and cut into ten slabs with the wire cutter or the cord.
Hand out the cardboard strips, 2 per student, to make a frame. Score and fold each strip in half to form a right angle. Tape the strips together end to end with the duct tape to form a square frame about 5 ½” x 5 ½” .
Form the clay mold: Ask the students to roll out the clay onto the board. Make it a little bigger than the cardboard frame. The smoother the better, but it is not critical that it is even. Point out that the only part of their work that is going to come out in the plaster is that part contained within the cardboard frame.
Ask the students to explore with some tools by making marks into the clay. Instruct them not to use symbols, either pictures or words. After they have had some time to experiment with different tools, instruct them to push one of their thumbs into the clay. Then, tell them to make a clay cube and secure it onto the clay slab near, but not on, the thumbprint.
When students are finished with their work, have each student
push the cardboard frame into the clay. Push the clay on the
outside of the box up to the cardboard to create a seal. If there isn’t any clay in some spots around the perimeter, just add a roll of clay and push it into place.
Mix plaster, create the first piece, examine and discuss pieces: Give the students the proportions of water and plaster for the mix and explain the proper way to combine them. When it is time to pour, the students can accomplish this by aiming the lip of the bag into the middle of the boxed area and tipping it in with the other hand. Once all the plaster is in the box, pound the table to level the plaster and release any air bubbles.
While the first experimental piece is getting hard, students can prepare their next piece. Distribute clay and plastic boards and roll the clay out. Fit the box onto the slab to make sure it is big enough. Start to talk about emotions in general and the particular emotion you want to explore next. Ask students how they would sing, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” if they were happy and how would it sound if they were mad?
After the plaster is hard, the students can unmold their first project. Gently tear the cardboard from the plaster. Pick the plastic board up and gently peel it away from the plaster. Try not to twist or apply pressure to the fresh plaster or it might crack. (It will become quite sturdy over the next few days.)
Now find the thumbprint that was pushed into the clay. How does it appear now? Where is the cube? It was on the clay, where is it in the plaster?
Take note of the other marks and effects various tools created in the plaster relief. Make sure students share what they did and discuss techniques and tools they used.
The emotion piece: Next, have the students prepare to work on expressing a specific emotion in their second piece. Get quiet for a moment; remind them that only what is in the box will be in the finished plaster. Also, remember no symbols—pictures or words—can be used.
Now, ask them to go inside themselves. Ask them to feel the
emotion they will portray in this work; for example, “Feel joy. Feel it in your
stomach, let it flow up to your shoulders and come out of your hands and right
into the clay. Do not think about it, feel it.”
As soon as a student is finished have the student prepare and pour the plaster. Do not wait, many times work will be lost if students have too much time to think about what they did. Mark the work with the student’s name and the emotion as soon as possible.
Create the final piece(s), examine pieces, and discuss emotions: Reclaim the clay used in the first project and roll it out again. Once everyone is ready, go on to the second emotion and then, if you have time, the third (depending on how much time you have). Make sure there is plenty of time to unmold all of the plaster pieces and for each student to examine his or her own work, and all the pieces by the other students, too. We always take the time to examine each set of emotions as the pieces are unmolded. It is also beneficial to review each emotion at a later date. Once students start thinking about these emotions, more information will come into their conscious mind.
Do not shortchange this part of the process. By talking about how they expressed their emotions, students gain insight into themselves. By comparing with other students, they learn more about their classmates. They can also apply this information as they examine artwork in accessible collections.
Note: This is a modified class. I typically run this
class for 15 hours over a period of weeks. We examine about eight emotions.
We then have time to do a larger picture using two plastic boards taped side
by side. In this final picture, students are allowed to
use any and all devices to express themselves. I still discourage the use of symbols or words in the final piece. The last class is a fieldtrip to a museum where we can get in touch with art. Docents are always impressed that these museum patrons have so much to say about the art. If possible, I suggest that you add the fieldtrip as a follow-up activity to your class.
by Brigid Doherty
Editor’s Note: Anyone who has ever shopped the malls knows how important it is for teens to have a place to just “hang out.” The NOPBC provides such a place for teens at convention—we call it the Teen Hospitality Room. It is relaxed and casual enough to please the teens, but safe and supervised so it also pleases parents. The 2005 Teen Hospitality Room was coordinated by Brigid Doughty and her cadre of volunteers. In her “paid” job, Brigid coordinates services for blind students for the Fairfax Regional office of the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired. NOPBC was fortunate to get her as a volunteer and, because she is blind herself, Doughty is also a great role model for the teens. Here is her report:
The Teen Hospitality Room was a gathering place for teenagers both blind and sighted during our 2005 NFB Convention. We set aside a place for teens to meet for a few reasons. One, we want our teenagers to have a place to call their own during the convention—their own home away from home with one major difference: no parents allowed! Two, this setting provided them with the opportunity to get to know other teenagers at the convention and to speak freely about how they get along at home, in school, and in life generally. The discussions of blindness were not formal; the topic permeated other discussions, giving the teens a chance to learn, compare notes, make friends, and know that they are not alone. The room—a hotel suite rented by the NOPBC just for this purpose—was staffed with wonderful volunteers from across the country making sure things ran smoothly and spending time getting to know the teens. The volunteers were able to share some of their experiences in dealing with school, college, and life. The room was usually pretty noisy!
When parents are moving from meeting to meeting, scheduling every possible moment to connect with other NFB members, the Teen Room gives the teenagers a place to go, meet other teens, make some friends, and learn about the philosophy of the organization in a less formal way—through casual conversation, playing cards, hanging out with other teens both blind and sighted.
If you were a fly on the wall in the teen room, what would you have seen and heard?
The teens set the agenda—and the resounding feedback from them was “let us just hang out”—so that’s what they did. They are excellent at hanging out! And, in that hanging out time, they made some new friends, had some serious and ridiculous talks, learned a little more about the NFB, and had a place in that sprawling convention hotel that was their own.
by Matt Maurer
Reprinted from the October, 2005, issue of the Braille Monitor.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Matt Maurer is the brother of NFB President Marc Maurer. He is on sabbatical from his teaching job at Butler University in Indiana. Here is his report on the Rocket On! Science Academy camp last summer:
In July I was privileged to be part of the facilitation team for the Rocket On! Session of the 2005 Science Academy, which was conducted by the NFB in partnership with NASA. The Academy was open to blind high school students from around the country who have an interest in science. It was the second year for this project, which coupled instruction from NASA scientists with facilitation and mentoring from NFB members. Additional instruction was delivered by other selected presenters.
The eleven students assembled in 2005 comprised an exceptionally talented group from around the country. In my work as a professor of education, I have had the opportunity to work with many varied groups of students. This group was as talented as any I have met. Yet each member of the group came with his or her individual challenges.
By the end of the program it was clear that the Academy had been wildly successful, not because the launch was successful, but because a tremendous amount of learning and growth had occurred. That growth was not simply about science; it included personal growth on the part of each individual student—growth in self-confidence, self-awareness, travel skills, attitude about blindness, teamwork, and myriad other areas.
In science they learned about electrical circuits, rocket motors, parachutes, stars, and materials science, to name a few of the topics they studied. Given that blind learners often have a relatively weak experience in science, that learning was important. That importance notwithstanding, the personal growth was even more important, because the odds are that few of these students will choose to become rocket scientists. For those who do not, the science learning that occurred becomes interesting and broadly useful background knowledge. I trust that each of these students will go on to do something important in the world, and their personal growth will serve all of the students intimately and powerfully.
Yet another area of growth was the development of their philosophy of blindness. These students each came from different circumstances, they had amassed vastly different experience sets, and they have had different kinds of mentoring in their lives. Only a few of the students had already had much in the way of blind role models. Some students had done little thinking about blindness, while others had done more but without much expert guidance. Some students had even developed significant misconceptions about the general capabilities of blind people. The thinking they did during the Academy coupled with the guidance they received while doing that thinking produced some noticeable results. I could see a cohesive, positive philosophy developing in most of the students, and in a few I could see an existing philosophy being reinforced or sometimes challenged.
In addition to the learning and personal growth, another important outcome was the development of personal relationships. Many connections were formed among the students, the facilitators, the presenters, and the NASA staff, some of which will last. In addition, the relationships that were formed could potentially become an entree for the students into an important community. The Academy certainly introduced the students to the NFB, and it gave each student several people as primary contacts within the NFB. It also gave the students a few NASA contacts that could allow access to that scientific community. In addition, the NFB established an email list for this year’s and last year’s students. The participants themselves are and could continue to be the core of an interesting and potentially useful community.
With all the emphasis I place on the personal development that occurred, one might wonder if the science element of the Academy was all that important. It was tremendously important because every student left the Academy with the idea that, “If I wish, I can become a scientist.” That idea alone is worthy of all the time, effort, and expense invested in this project.
Given the great success of this Academy, one might ask what made it so successful? The key elements of its success include:
• The small number of students
• The number of blind people involved
• The high credibility of instructors and presenters
• The close contact with NASA scientists
• The instructional design
• The personalities of instructors and facilitators
• The high expectations for the learners
• The student mentors
• The students
One of the most important choices in the design of the Academy was to keep it small. It was designed for about twelve students, and this year eleven attended. That small number allowed the facilitators and presenters to make intimate connections with each student. No student could hide, and no one got lost in the shuffle.
Another important issue was the high number of blind people involved in the project. All but one of the facilitators was blind (which meant I was a minority of one on the team). Some of the presenters were blind, and the students had an opportunity to meet with a group of blind NASA employees. The high ratio of blind to sighted adult participants coupled with the relatively small student group gave the students ample opportunity to connect intimately with a blind person and receive a wide range of modeling and mentoring. Many of the students had previously had little or no opportunity to have that sort of relationship with a blind adult. So many blind individuals were involved that several times the visual acuity of the adults was not explicitly defined, and the students sometimes got it wrong. That was gratifying because it illustrated to them that being blind versus being sighted is not the great distinction that is often assumed.
The fact that the presenters all had very high qualifications to teach their subjects helped with the student engagement at the time of instruction, and it helped add enthusiasm for the entire project. Working with a university physicist, for example, got the students’ attention, and it made them more excited about the entire program. Working with the NASA scientists was particularly powerful in this regard. When each student was partnered with a NASA scientist for the launch, not a sleepyhead appeared in the room, even though the students were in fact operating on very little sleep due to the 3:00 a.m. wake-up call.
The design of the instruction was an important element of the success of Rocket On! The goal of launching a rocket was probably the single most important element of the design, which kept the students focused individually and helped them pull together as a group. The flow of the instruction from morning until night and from day to day also contributed. The days were very intense, filled with a wide range of activities. This maintained the students’ attention. There was little time for minds to wander; and, although there were a few nodding heads from time to time, that problem was minimal. Even though the time we spent together was packed with activity, the facilitators took time for issues as they arose in the group. For example, more than once issues related to blindness arose. We made time in the schedule to discuss these issues and to come to some resolution.
The choice of instructors and facilitators was also important. The group of adults who worked with these students was uncommonly flexible. Changes were made on the fly, people jumped in when needed, and above all the adults were all sincerely interested in working with the students, talking with them, explaining, and clarifying. If a gap developed, somebody figured out a way to fill it. In addition, very little in the way of overblown egos surfaced among the adults. They were all highly credentialed, and in a group like this egos are often a problem. Each adult involved seemed truly committed to the growth of the students. Many intimate connections were made between students and adults. Along with the learning a lot of banter, teasing, and jibing permeated the session. This set a tone that was at the same time serious and playful. That combination is powerful for learning—too playful and little gets accomplished, too serious and students disengage from the learning. The personalities of the adults made the tone and flow of the Academy particularly effective for student learning.
All of the adults clearly had high expectations for the students. In many programs the words “high expectations” are prominent, yet during this Academy little was said on the subject. Instead we all lived those expectations. They were implicit in the way the Academy was structured, they were implicit in the way adults interacted with students, and they were implicit in the requirements of student behavior and performance. As is so often the case, the students rose to the expectations of the facilitators and instructors, and in some cases they exceeded those expectations.
Two students from the previous year were selected to act as student mentors. This was helpful in creating an ongoing culture of this Academy. Even though some of the activities were refined from last year, it was important to establish a mode of operation for the Academy. The students from 2004 helped create that thread of continuity. They also provided some important maturity and peer mentoring for the 2005 group. The student mentors were living examples of what is expected of a Rocket On! participant.
The most important element making this Academy successful was the students themselves. Each time I enter into a learning situation like this I am reminded of the old saw—“you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” All we could do was to provide the learning opportunities; the students had to choose to participate. These students drank—they drank deeply.
I would be remiss if I closed without some mention of the feelings that were created by this experience. The students were challenged, and not just academically, but also personally. These challenges produced a significant level of stress on many of the students. Yet within this challenging environment substantial joy was generated. I experienced a tremendous level of joy while working with these students, and I believe most of them felt the same. We worked hard, but while we were at it, we enjoyed each other’s company. As I remember these intense few days, I can’t help smiling. This was a bright, powerful, and fun group of young men and women, and we can look forward to hearing more from them as they mature.
Astronomy and analyzing star patterns is not an activity that most people would even consider adapting for a blind student. In fact, before I was a facilitator for the Circle of Life 2005 Science Academy, a program operated by the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, I hadn’t even thought about how it could be done—and I’m a blind chemistry major!
For the last two years, the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, in partnership with NASA, has conducted a science academy for blind middle school and high school students. The goal of the academies is, in part, to instill a love of science in the students and to encourage them to pursue careers in science. But the overarching purpose is to develop and disseminate nonvisual techniques for learning and “doing” science.
There were two sessions of the academy in 2005, one for high school students called Rocket On! and one for middle school students called Circle of Life. In these two programs, the students learned about science, about how they could participate as a blind person in science, and they observed—twenty-four hours a day for seven days straight—blind adults living full productive lives. You see, the academies are planned and run by blind people, and all but one of the facilitators for the two academies were blind. I was one of ten blind facilitators who served as teachers, counselors, and role models for twenty-three blind students from all over the country as they learned techniques that would enable them to become fully included in science endeavors.
Some of the activities in our Circle of Life curriculum included learning about stargazing, astronomy, and the moon; analyzing the health of a river; and dissecting a dogfish shark. You may be thinking that these activities would be impossible for a blind student to do. However, this is definitely not the case. There are specific ways of presenting information to a blind student that helps them understand the material, and there are specific techniques that a teacher can utilize to include the blind student in lab work.
Here’s what we did. We took the students to a planetarium and each student received a tactile diagram that showed the shapes of different star patterns and where the planets were located in relation to each other. This diagram reinforced and followed an even more graphic and dynamic activity. They had just completed forming a human solar system by using a scale to figure out how many inches would be between each planet if each inch represented 80 million miles. Then one student represented a planet, and they spaced themselves out according to how many miles separated each planet. Once they received their tactile diagrams of the star patterns and planets, it made a lot more sense to them.
The students also received a tactile star wheel that allowed them to figure out which stars and constellations are visible on any given date and time. For example, they could locate a date in the middle of August on a Sunday at 10:00 p.m., and by “looking” (touching, of course) at their tactile wheel and “looking” at which part of it was visible (to their fingers), they could tell which constellations would be visible in the sky that particular night. This simple adaptation allowed the students to be fully included in an activity that they had previously thought was impossible because it was supposedly so “visual.”
The students were also given tactile pictures of the phases of the moon and told to put them in the order they believed they would occur. Putting the tactile images in order made the concept much more understandable to them. These tactile diagrams were made using plastic paper and a thermoform machine, which heats up the parts of the paper with more ink and makes those areas more tactile than areas with less ink. Without these diagrams and with only verbal descriptions, I don’t think the students would have gotten much out of this activity.
Doing lab work is a huge part of science classes in middle school, high school, and college. Many people believe that this is the toughest part about doing science as a blind person. However, we showed these students that it’s very possible to participate in lab work. One of the activities they participated in was analyzing the health of a river. They threw fish nets out into the water, caught as many fish as they could, and then counted the number of species they caught. Of course, they did this tactually. They reached in and picked up a fish and one of the instructors helped them identify the species. When they found another fish of the same species, they were able to identify it and add it to their list. The more species they were able to identify, the healthier the river.
Usually, in science classes when river or creek analysis is done, the blind student just stands around and sometimes takes down information that the other students report, but is never allowed to physically participate in any data collection. This simple method of touching the fish they pulled from the river allowed the students to be more involved in the entire process. The students in the Science Academy also felt the water and the surrounding soil and drew conclusions about the environment based upon what they were feeling.
The highlight of the week for most of the kids—and, I confess, for me as a facilitator, too—was the dogfish shark dissection. Students were paired up, and each pair of students was given a shark to dissect. Each of the six teams was supervised and guided by a facilitator; however, all the dissecting was done by the students. They used a scalpel to cut open the shark, then they examined the organs inside and the inside of the intestinal tract. They identified whether the shark was male or female, and they learned about other systems like the excretory system, and the respiratory system.
The students were instructed in how to hold the scalpel, and how to cut straight down the belly of the shark, from the mouth down to the tail. They were taught how to hold the flat side of the scalpel against the knuckles of their opposing hand so that they wouldn’t cut their fingers. One student held the shark while the other cut. They also were taught how to use the scalpel like a saw to make sure that they cut through the thick skin. All of the students were astonished at how hard they had to saw in order to break the skin. We told them that it was equivalent to cutting through a thick piece of steak or chicken.
Once one student had made a cut, the other student took a turn in cutting as well. Once they did that, they were able to reach inside the shark and identify organs which were also verbally described to them. Often times, sighted students use pictures in textbooks to find what organ they are supposed to examine by comparing the picture to the real item. The students in the Science Academy were able to locate and identify organs just by verbal descriptions. They sometimes needed confirmation that they were looking at the right organ, but they did everything on their own. They cut open the stomach and intestines and determined whether there was any digested food in the system, all by touch. They found the liver, which felt very large and oily, and slid it aside while they searched for the tiny heart of the shark. Of course, not all of them enjoyed getting their hands into the insides of the shark, but after it was all over, they had a much better understanding of the anatomy of animals, and they expanded their knowledge about how a dissection actually works.
I know that I never enjoyed dissections when I was in school because I was never allowed to hold the scalpel or participate in the cutting or examining. Looking at something isn’t the only way to learn about it. Touching it and getting verbal descriptions works just as well for most things. As long as the student knows how to use the scalpel properly, he or she will not get hurt. Dissecting a larger animal, like a shark can also be an alternative activity for another dissection, like dissecting an earth worm. Several classes in middle school dissect different types of worms, but this is not as helpful for the blind student because the organs are so much smaller. The dogfish shark is a wonderful model system to use because the animal and organs inside are large enough for the blind student to touch and identify. Dogfish sharks for dissections are also easy to obtain and affordable.
In addition to making sure the blind student is included, it is also important to make sure that the student is touching the right things and examining them fully with their hands. One technique that we found to be very successful in the science academy is for the instructor or facilitator to slide his or her hand underneath the student’s hand and then guiding the student to touch something. It’s a lot less threatening than grabbing the student’s hand and pulling their hand toward something they should be touching. This way, the students can be guided but still remain in control and able to focus on what they are touching.
It is also important to keep in mind that sometimes blind students don’t know how to fully “look” at an object. They sometimes need to be reminded to use both hands, especially if the object is large and it’s hard to get the full picture. This was evident when the students visited the Maryland Science Center and they were looking at life-size models of dinosaurs. If the student is reminded to use both hands and thoroughly explore the objects or environments they are studying, they will learn more and be able to develop complete concepts.
Finally, it is imperative that the student is not discouraged from participating and asking questions. If the student’s teachers and parents don’t believe in the student’s capabilities as a blind person, the student certainly won’t and will be much less likely to pursue a career in science, even if that is what he or she is interested in.
This year’s Science Academy was very successful. It is our hope that the participating youth took the techniques they learned back to their schools and employed them in their science classes this year. In addition, it is our hope that this article has been helpful to you in thinking about how you can expand your child’s opportunities in science and in science classes. It is very important to remember that nothing is impossible for our blind students, and the more we help them to be included and to compete equally with their sighted peers, the more likely they will grow up to become successful blind adults.
by Carol Castellano
Participants in the ABCs of Braille workshop at the NOPBC 2005 Seminar found out that Braille is important, useful, simple, and fun! After Patricia Maurer and special drop-in visitor Dr. Marc Maurer explained the many ways they use Braille in their lives, Mrs. Maurer demonstrated Braille-reading technique. Then we got down to learning about the Braille cell, contractions, numbers, and punctuation.
Participants enjoyed doing several worksheets and were surprised to discover that they could easily read simple words in Braille. Before long they were writing letters with their slates and styli and learning how to make print-Braille flashcards. They seemed to appreciate going home with their slates, an embossed alphabet card, a Braille “cheat sheet,” and lots of resource information.
by Peggy Chong
On July 4, 2005, the Braille Readers Are Leaders Reunion and Braille Book Flea Market took place at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Long before the doors opened at 5:00 p.m., a line had already formed. Parents, teachers, and children were competing for the first look at the offerings.
Inside, many volunteers had been working for hours to unpack and sort the six pallets of boxes containing a little bit of everything. NFB members who were old hat at this—Barbara Loos, Nadine Jacobson, Sandy Halverson, Judy Rasmussen, and several others—instructed the newcomers in how to get the job done quickly. Some of the new hands this year were staff members from the Iowa Department for the Blind: Julie Auftenkamp, Jodi George, Kim Ray Barber, and Terry Osterhaus. The team worked tirelessly to get the books unboxed and out on the display tables.
At 5:00 p.m., the doors were flung open and the mad rush began. Volunteers were directing people to the tables containing the types of books they wanted most to see. As soon as a copy of a book disappeared from the table, a volunteer put another book in its place. For almost two hours, the noise level rose as volunteers and guests yelled across the room while the browsers sought to find that perfect book-treasure.
This year, Federationists and friends were very generous in their contributions to the Flea Market. We had Harry Potter novels, classics such as Huckleberry Finn, cookbooks, and “how to” books. But our most popular were the Twin Vision (print-Braille) children’s storybooks. Well over one hundred Twin Vision books were donated, but within fifteen minutes, they were all gone.
Almost all of the children walked out with an armful of books. Behind them were Mom and Dad, often laden down as well. But many people opted to send books back home. Some parents brought pre-addressed labels, making the boxing and shipping of books much easier.
I also need to mention the terrific support of the UPS volunteers in Louisville. They collected the books before the event and then brought them to the hotel. Three volunteers were on deck to help with the unpacking, sorting, and setting up. They stayed through the event and long after to box, label, and ship the books back home for many of the families. Almost ninety cartons of books were shipped to homes around the country.
This is always an exciting event for all of us volunteers, and everyone looks forward to working on this event in 2006. But we would like to ask everyone a favor: this year, when thinking of books to donate to the flea market, PLEASE send as many print-Braille children’s storybooks as you can find. We’ll see you in Dallas!
by Merry-Noel Chamberlain, 2005 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children
Editor’s Note: The Distinguished Educator of
Blind Children Award bestows both honor and responsibilities upon the deserving
recipient. In addition to the $1,000 check, beautiful plaque, and all-expenses
paid trip to the NFB convention, the award winner is asked to make a major
presentation before the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children Annual Meeting. This year, NOPBC members had the pleasure of hearing from the dynamic and innovative 2005 award winner—a teacher from the Corn State—Merry-Noel Chamberlain. Here is an edited and expanded version of Chamberlain’s address in which she describes her philosophy and a special program, Saturday School, that embodies her approach to the education of blind children:
Several years ago, I encountered my first blind person. (It wasn’t me. At that time in my life, I still had what I thought was pretty good vision.) I was a waitress at a popular restaurant that offered live entertainment by an organist who happened to be blind. Each evening that the organist worked, her mother brought her to the restaurant and walked her over to the organ. When it was her break time, one of the waitresses walked her to an empty table where she had her dinner. When she was done, someone walked her back to the organ where she completed her shift, and than she waited for her mother to return and take her home.
Eight years passed before our lives crossed paths again. By
that time, I had completed my bachelor’s degree and was teaching independent
living skills in a rehabilitation program for the blind. I met her again because
her mother had passed away and she was forced, at the age of forty-something,
to finally learn how to live on her own. Because this woman had been totally
dependent on her mother, she didn’t know how to go to the mall, purchase a pair
of socks, eat at the food court, or mark her own clothes. She didn’t know how
to go grocery shopping, cook, use a microwave, or wash her own hair. In doing
all these things for her, the mother probably thought she was helping her daughter,
but in the end she only hindered her independence.
I tell you this story because I know that you are here today because you want your child to grow up to be independent and not like this woman. It also reminds me each day of what I want my students to avoid. This is why I have such high expectations for my
students, and it is why I try to educate my students’ parents of their rights and responsibilities as parents of blind children. Parents have the right to be educated about blindness and the alternative skills necessary for independence. Parents have the right to ask questions. Parents have the right to demand that instruction in specific blindness skills be provided to their child, and that such instruction be sufficient for success. Parents also have the responsibility to learn Braille.
Let me repeat that. Parents have the responsibility to learn Braille. You see, ladies and gentlemen, parents are children’s first role models and if a parent is not learning Braille, the child is not going to see the significance of learning Braille either. When parents know Braille, they are able to assist their children with their homework, write a list of chores, transcribe birthday cards, and leave telephone messages. In addition, the parent understands and relates when a child makes a Braille comment. For example, one mother told me that when her child was helping her cook breakfast, the daughter felt four eggs together in the egg carton and said, “Look mom, I found a g!” Another student touched a few mosquito bites on the side of his temple and said he felt the letter l. And later, when asked if the l was still there, the child shook his head and said, “Nope, now it’s a b.”
Four years ago, when I was first employed with Des Moines public schools, I felt that it was imperative to find a way for the parents of my students to learn these skills of blindness and to have an opportunity to share and learn from each other. I also wanted my students to be able to interact with their blind peers, to receive extra tutoring in Braille, and to get instruction in the independent living skills that I could not cover during regular school hours. Social interaction among students who are blind is invaluable, but it is not available to my students because, in my school district, teachers of blind students are not allowed to transport students outside the school grounds.
When I brought this problem to Mr. Allen Harris, Director of the Iowa Department for the Blind, he told me about Saturday School, a program he and his wife Joy Harris had established in Michigan before they moved to Iowa. Mr. Harris gave me permission to use space at the Iowa Department for the Blind to hold Saturday School once a month for my students’ families. Joy Harris and I, along with several other blind members of the Federation in the area, volunteer once a month to educate parents and their children about blindness. Sometimes teachers, paraprofessionals, and other interested individuals attend as well.
Saturday School offers a holistic approach to the education of children who are blind. You may have heard the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In the case of a child with visual impairments, it is critical that the village has expertise in the alternative skills of blindness. As a teacher, I know that if I provide the proper guidance about blindness skills to parents, they will, in turn, be able to provide guidance to their child, the classroom teachers, and others in the child’s life. With the parent’s assistance at home, success for the student at school is greater.
Typically, the Des Moines Saturday School consists of parents meeting in one room while the children with visual impairments (and their sighted siblings) meet in another room. The parents receive lessons in Braille, cane travel, creating tactual graphics, adapting games, etc. We also invite speakers to the meetings. The children interact with positive blind role models while they work on techniques of daily living skills (such as tying shoes), get extra lessons in Braille, do crafts, listen to stories read by volunteers who are blind, or play typical childhood games such as Red Light-Green Light (with modifications as needed, of course). One highlight of Saturday School is our annual Christmas party. We have a visit from a blind Santa. He reads the gift tags in Braille, and calls each child up individually to receive his or her gift.
Other special activities at Saturday School have included visits
to the zoo, picnics with the local NFB chapter, and participation in the annual
Fishing Social sponsored by the Lions Club of St. Charles, Iowa. At least two
families have also attended the national
convention of the NFB.
It is important to note that the parents of Saturday School met with the Lions Club members prior to the first Fishing Social four years ago to educate them about blindness. All too often individuals who are new to working with blind children have the pity-the-poor-little-blind-kid syndrome, and the parents didn’t want this experience to be an example of that syndrome. The training was a success, and the Lions Club has become a part of our “village.” The children look forward to the Fishing Social each year, and so do the Lions Club members. They enjoy returning as volunteers year after year to watch the children grow in independence. This past year, we had thirty-five Saturday School participants attend the Fishing Social. The children are so excited when they catch their first fish and explore it tactually. Actually, I can’t tell you who is more excited, the child or the Lions Club member!
Saturday School also provides parents a chance to find out more about me. I am frequently asked about my personal and professional experience. On average, I have about twenty-three students with visual impairments from ages six to eighteen. Some of these students also have additional physical and/or mental disabilities. When I receive a new referral, I assess the child’s visual impairment and immediate academic needs. I particularly look at the long-term visual prognosis because of the importance of Braille instruction for students who have a degenerative visual condition.
For a very young child, I begin instruction in alphabet or uncontracted Braille. As the child’s finger dexterity improves, I introduce the Perkins Brailler. Once this is mastered, and if the child has the physical ability to do so, I focus on writing Braille with the slate and stylus. As the child progresses in Braille reading, I begin to introduce Braille contractions. And all the while they are building their knowledge in Braille reading and writing, I am also following the regular classroom agenda.
I follow the same procedure for older students who are new to my roster, but at a faster pace. In the beginning, Braille instruction is provided to the student daily—regardless of age. I use a variety of “tools” (muffin pans, key chains, small containers: anything I can find to represent a cell, even a Christmas ornament that a parent discovered one year) to represent the Braille cell. I collect a variety of fun items to place in the cell to create the Braille letters, such as finger puppets, pencil top erasers, barrettes, pom-poms, marbles, small game pieces, etc. I always bring new items with different textures and weights each week and I let the student choose which ones he or she wants to use for that lesson. This helps maintain the student’s interest in the lesson. I start with a large tactual cell and decrease the size periodically as the child’s Braille skills increase. Eventually, we move to actual Braille on paper.
There has been a time or two when I’ve suggested large print, tape recorders, or magnification devices for my students. In such cases, it was when the student was either in a temporary condition such as undergoing the occlusion treatment for Amblyopia, or it was an older student with some remaining vision, who was new to the district and was in need of learning Braille. In the latter, the student used these accommodations to keep up in school work as he increased his Braille skills.
I have learned never to underestimate the abilities of my students. One of my students was placed in a preschool classroom for children with severe and profound disabilities. This student has had many illnesses and his many physical limitations include very limited mobility in his left hand. Fourteen months ago, I introduced him to Braille. I learned almost from the beginning that this little guy was more in tune than people gave him credit for. For the first two weeks of his instruction, he was introduced to the term cell, the letters a, b, and c. Then, I was unable to see him for over a month due to winter break, illness, and a family move. I thought I would need to go back to the beginning and start all over again when classes resumed, but he surprised me because he remembered everything! Now, this little seven-year-old has mastered the entire Braille alphabet, the capital sign, the number sign, and he understands those concepts. He is able to write the alphabet, numbers, his full name, and the word “mom” with a Perkins Unibraller (a device for individuals who only have the use of one hand). At his last Individual Education Plan (IEP), he was transferred into a regular kindergarten classroom; something that, I believe, would not have happened had he not been introduced to Braille. Now, he automatically strives to use his weaker left hand on the UniBrailler, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he will be using a regular Perkins Brailler soon. This student was one of our Saturday School speakers. My goal was to inspire parents to learn Braille. Once they saw all that this little boy had accomplished, they would realize that they, too, could learn Braille.
Very young students who may be dual readers need to have the
opportunity to learn both print and Braille. Such Braille instruction needs
be provided as soon as possible and daily. Students who have physical limitations
may find print writing frustrating and therefore academic growth may be delayed.
However, with the young student I just mentioned, his love for Braille and the
ease he has in
creating it, has enhanced his academic growth. Currently, this student struggles to write his first name in print but he can create words on the Perkins UniBrailler with ease. Actually, given the spelling, this young boy can write anything in uncontracted Braille. When he gets older and print becomes smaller, Braille might be his only efficient option. Should this be the case, he will be ahead of the game, so to speak, because he will not need to go back to pick up Braille skills. His actions indicate that he may have already decided that Braille is his medium of choice. Just the other day, his mother told me that when they were in the elevator, he asked people to move aside so that he could “get to his Braille.” In addition, by his choice, he brings his own personal storybooks to school to be transcribed into Braille. By learning it early, Braille has become a part of him and he now has a better opportunity to master the skill completely. Because he learned Braille quickly, he was able to prove to everyone that he has a higher cognitive ability that surpasses his physical limitations.
The use of the slate and stylus: I can’t express how vital it is to maintain skills with the slate and stylus throughout one’s educational experience and beyond. One can not depend on computer technology 100 percent of the time. More importantly, there are several tasks that are better done with the slate and stylus. One of my students, who graduated this year, gave me great joy as I watched her emerge and grow in her independence, acceptance of her blindness, and in her use of the slate and stylus. She became my student four years ago when she was a freshman. When I first met her, I asked her to jot down my name and phone number so she could get in touch with me later. However, she did not have a slate and stylus with her, and when I tried to lend her mine, I discovered that she did not have the skill to use it. So, in the past four years, I’ve worked with her to build her slate and stylus skills. We have races with the sentences provided in “The Slate Book: A Guide to the Slate and Stylus,” written by Jennifer Dunnam and published by the National Federation of the Blind. Last year, I gave her an APH Braille date planner, and I can’t tell you how pleased I was to see her reach in her backpack and pull out her slate and stylus to jot down names and phone numbers. I was even more impressed when she reached back in her backpack and pulled out some dymo tape to make plastic stick-on labels for the planner. Last semester she assisted me in doing a full-day presentation to middle school students, and she used her slate and stylus to write the students’ names on cards for them to take home. I am full of pride and joy at her progress, and sad at losing her as a student.
Sometimes, I am asked for my opinion about the use of live readers
(people who read aloud to the blind student). At the middle school level, I
provide an opportunity for my students to experience using live readers but
not as their everyday primary medium. I also have my students read the article,
“Care and Feeding of Readers,” by Peggy Pinder Elliott (Braille Monitor,
Volume 36, Number 5, May 1993). When my students reach high school, I provide
opportunities for them to experience using live readers more often. In addition,
when they are seniors, I order each one a textbook in cassette format in the
subject area in which the student is most comfortable. By doing so, the student
can begin to develop skills in reading and taking notes from a cassette. (This
will enhance college preparations as textbooks are normally not provided in
Braille in college.) This is also when I revisit my student’s handwriting skills.
We work on handwriting as an independent living skill for check writing; leaving
print notes for roommates, parents, or friends; signatures;
or jotting down those last minute pop-quiz multiple choice answers.
Technology: I encourage parents to learn about the technology that is necessary for their child’s academic success. I begin teaching my students the computer key-stroke commands with Job Access With Speech (JAWS) as soon as possible—at least by second grade. In addition, students need to be introduced to an electronic notetaker soon after uncontracted Braille is introduced.
Electronic notetakers need to include a refreshable Braille display. Electronic notetakers without refreshable Braille requires students to handle a double intake of auditory information: the instructor and the synthesized voice from the notetaking device. This can hinder the student in receiving important classroom instruction. Refreshable Braille allows the student to focus on the instructor and maintain his or her personal class notes at the same time. Refreshable Braille also offers instant editing feedback, which is essential for beginning Braille readers.
In addition to the early introduction of Braille, I believe the long white cane needs to be introduced to the child as soon as possible and the younger, the better. That way, the cane has a better chance of becoming a part of the child’s everyday life. I hold National Orientation and Mobility Certification (NOMC) and I am a graduate of the Louisiana Tech orientation and mobility master’s degree program. So, I encourage independence and the use of the cane.
Expectations: I encourage parents to place the same high expectations
on their children who are blind as they do their children who are sighted. I
also do the same, and my students meet those expectations. For example, another
student who presented at Saturday School, that I am particularly proud of, is
a young man who just finished his Freshman year of high school. He is in a wheelchair
and has limited physical abilities with his right hand and functions below grade
level. Three years ago when he became my student, he was barely reading one-sided
double-spaced Braille. Now the young man reads interpoint Braille, uses Nemeth,
and is able to complete pre-algebra equations on the Perkins. He knows his way
around the BrailleNote with ease and wants to become a computer technologist
when he graduates from high school. He has read all the Harry Potter books in
Braille whereas before he was reading primarily with the cassette. His mother
informed me that she has had to set her alarm clock to midnight to make sure
that her son isn’t
reading Braille well into the night.
Nemeth—a Braille code for math symbols—is an instruction area that is often overlooked and underutilized. Introduction of Nemeth needs to coincide with the introduction of the print math symbols. For example, when younger students are learning addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, then the same math symbols in Braille (the Nemeth code symbols) need to be introduced to the blind student as well. When the older student is introduced to fractions in the classroom, the Nemeth fraction code needs to be introduced slightly in advance. Nemeth skills will increase as the student’s mathematical skills increase.
Observing growth in my students has truly been one of the many, many reasons I became a teacher. Throughout my experience, I have learned that I need to fight for the rights of my students so they are not left behind. Aside from teaching the expanded core curriculum to my students, I strive to educate those who work with my students to have and hold high expectations. I teach by example, and sometimes it takes time and patience to cure “pity-the-poor-little-blind-kid” syndrome, while other times I have to be blunt and aggressive because above all, the student always comes first. It helps when the parents are on the same page in their expertise in the alternative skills of blindness.
Today I would like to encourage you, the parents of blind children, to create a Saturday School in your neighborhood. It enables you, the parent or guardian, to be aware of your rights and responsibilities as parents of blind children. It allows you to pass on your knowledge to new parents who are desperately seeking that which you have learned. Because, ladies and gentlemen, education is something that can never be taken away from you or your child. You have the power to create the village to help raise your child. Together, you and your village can help insure that your child has a successful future.
As a blind individual, I am proud to be a teacher of blind children because I feel I am a positive role model for my students. It is such a wonderful honor for me to receive this award today. To be able to touch the lives of my students; to enhance their abilities in the skills of blindness, such as Braille and computer technology; and to enrich their lives through instruction and shared experiences makes this the best career in the world for me.
Thank you so very much.
by Kerri Regan
Editor’s Note: Kerri Regan gave this lively address to a packed house on Monday, July 4, 2005, at the Galt House in Louisville, Kentucky. The occasion was the 2005 Annual Meeting of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Like the other NFB affiliated divisions, the NOPBC meets during the week of the NFB Convention. The NOPBC meeting has gained a reputation for being fast-paced, informative, and charged with energy. We have an unbeatable formula for this well-deserved reputation: we keep our business meeting short and to the point, and we have two standard program items that never fail to please, delight, and inspire the audience. Those program items are an address from that year’s Distinguished Educator of Blind Children award winner, and a presentation from a blind child or youth. As you may have guessed, Kerri was the 2005 youth speaker, and this is what she said:
Good afternoon everyone. My name is Kerri Regan. I’m from New
York, and have recently graduated high school, with plans to attend Manhattanville
College in the fall. However, I’m not here this afternoon to talk to you about
that. I’m here to speak about a very exciting recent experience. In October
of last year, I participated in the Jeopardy Teen Tournament. I answered questions
from various categories, some of them rather difficult, in front of a live studio
audience. The program was recorded and later broadcast on national television.
You might ask, “How’d you get on Jeopardy? Don’t you have to be a complete genius to be on that show?” Well, I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m no genius. My math skills are pretty poor to say the least and I don’t know anything about great scientists or opera. As for getting on Jeopardy, I used the skills that have made me a successful blind person: Braille and motivation. Just add in useless trivia, mix well, and you have a Jeopardy contestant.
I credit most of my Jeopardy success to my parents. From the beginning, they’ve always motivated me to do my best and reach for the sky, to follow my dreams; they were convinced that I could do anything I set my mind to do. I was their first child, and was born totally blind, but they decided not to let my blindness get in the way of me leading a normal life. My blindness was similar to my brother’s freckles or Dad’s being tall, a characteristic that made me unique but wasn’t really a big deal. They told me I was just like everyone else, and that was probably the greatest motivation I ever received. I was never treated differently, but was expected to do everything kids my age did, from taking tap dancing classes to joining Girl Scouts to making the bed and clearing out the dishwasher. I grew up with this attitude and it really made a difference in my life. It was one of the factors that led me to Jeopardy.
I’d always been a Jeopardy fan. I loved to watch the show with my family and answer the questions before the contestants did, then yell at the TV if one of them got an easy one wrong. One day, while I watched the show with my aunt and grandmother, they told me “Kerri, you’re getting a lot of these questions right. You should be on Jeopardy.”
About two years later, my dad said the same thing. “You should be on Jeopardy,” he told me as we watched the show and I answered the questions.
“I don’t know,” I said, “I don’t even know how you get on the program. And besides, do you really think they’d pick me?”
“Well you could give it a try and see what happens.” Dad replied. We then saw an advertisement about Jeopardy people coming to New York to search out contestants for their kid and teen tournaments. Dad signed me up, and a few weeks later we received an email asking me to come to New York City in the middle of June to be tested for Jeopardy. In order to be considered for a contestant slot on the show, you have to take a fifty-question test on all sorts of random stuff, from technology to world history. I was one of the top nine candidates from the New York tryouts, and a few months later I received a phone call.
It was the Jeopardy people. I had been selected to be a contestant in the 2005 Teen Tournament.
It was a very exciting month leading up to the filming of the show. We planned our trip to Los Angeles, and I prepared by watching Jeopardy every night and doing a lot of reading. I don’t think I ever would have made it on Jeopardy if it were not for my knowledge of Braille. I learned Braille when I was three, and for most of my life, I’ve read anything I could get my fingers on. There is nothing like sitting in the backyard on a beautiful day with a huge Braille book in your lap for you to enjoy. Moving your fingers speedily across a Brailled page in a textbook is so much easier than rewinding and fast-forwarding a tape to find the chapter or pages you’ve been assigned. Of course, sometimes you can’t get your textbooks in Braille and have to rely on tapes and readers to get your work done. There is nothing wrong with that, a person can be more independent this way. But when it comes to convenience and pleasure, I prefer Braille. It’s more portable than a tape player, and you can mark your place or turn right to the page you want.
Braille has proved to be an important asset in my education and my life. It also came in handy on Jeopardy. When the Jeopardy people asked if I needed accommodations because of my blindness, I told them that I really only needed a Braille card with the names of the categories on it. I also received my final Jeopardy question in Braille and typed my answer out with a BrailleNote. So, Braille proved helpful there as well.
I’ve already discussed how Braille and motivation played a major role in my becoming a Jeopardy contestant, but there is one more ingredient I can’t overlook: useless trivia. According to Jeopardy champion and record-holder Ken Jennings, there’s no such thing as useless trivia. Any fact or figure, no matter how random, can be helpful when you least expect it. I agree with him. As an example, I credit my years of listening to New York traffic reports with helping me answer the one Daily Double question I managed to find. The answer was “A traffic term that also means a cutting utensil.” As I quickly tried to think of an answer, it hit me: jackknife. I’d heard all my life about a tractor-trailer being jackknifed on the West Side Highway, causing delays galore for busy commuters. “What is jackknife?” I asked, and Alex Trebek said I was right.
See what I’m getting at? The most random and seemingly useless facts could help you one day. Listen well to everything going on around you, read any book you can find, and soak up information like a sponge. Who knows when you might need to know who the president of Pakistan is, or the capitals of Caribbean countries. All the little tidbits you pick up in class or on the back of a Snapple cap could come in handy one day. And when a traffic report comes on the radio, don’t change the station.
As parents, you might be sitting there thinking, “Wow! She was on Jeopardy. That’s so cool. I wonder if my child could do something like that.” My answer to that is a resounding yes. Your child can do anything he or she puts his or her mind to do. You probably know already that blindness is no obstacle to achieving one’s goals and dreams. What is my advice to you? Encourage your children. Let them know that you love them and will support them in any endeavor. Tell them that they can succeed in anything if they just give it a try. Whether your child is totally blind or still has some vision, consider having them learn Braille. Yes, learning which dots go where and pressing down on the keys of an old Perkins Brailler may be frustrating sometimes, but encourage them to keep on going. Instill a love of reading in your child. Sharing a story together could be a very enjoyable activity for both of you. And finally, encourage your child to listen and learn. And not just in the classroom, either. A child can learn so much just by helping you around the house, by going to the grocery store to help pick out fruits and vegetables, or climbing a ladder onto the roof to remove pinecones from the gutters. Any scrap of information, no matter how small, could prove useful someday later in life. And who knows? Maybe one day your son or daughter will be standing up on that stage in L.A. telling Alex Trebeque that they’ll take Teens in History for $800.
For more information about Kerri’s experience on Jeopardy, google “Kerri Regan” and select OPAL Podcast, May 2005.
Whether a student is bound for an Ivy League school, a state university, or a small private college, a few thousand dollars here or there in scholarship money is always welcome. That’s one very big reason why parents and teachers should be more than a little curious about the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) scholarship program. The NFB scholarship program is one of the largest award programs in the world for blind students.
In 2005, thirty blind students received a total of $122,000 in cash awards, an all-expenses paid trip to the week-long NFB convention, a beautiful plaque, and, from the foundation established by Dr. Raymond Kurzweil, an extra bonus of $1,000 per winner ($30,000 total) and the latest version of the Kurzweil 1000 reading software, which is now DAISY-enabled. In addition each winner received a certificate from Bookshare.org for one year’s access to its 23,000-book online collection and NFB-NEWSLINE® publications, a $50 value. IBM presented each of the thirty students with its Homepage Reader, version 3.04, talking and magnifying Web browser, worth $200. Finally, three NFB scholarship recipients also received summer internships and partial scholarships from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Contractors Association. This is clearly a program every academically competitive blind student should consider carefully.
But there is another reason parents and teachers ought to be interested in the NFB scholarship program. These blind students, who had the capacity and character to win highly competitive scholarships, are inspiring role models to younger blind students.
Parents, students, and teachers who attend the convention get
the opportunity to observe and meet current and past scholarship
winners; to find out what they have accomplished, how they did it, and what they plan for their futures. Many of the past winners (over a hundred to date) have gone on to distinguished careers, and they return to the conventions eager to mentor other students.
Every year, the current class of scholarship winners is introduced at the NFB board of directors meeting, which is the first large, public meeting of the convention. Peggy Elliott, chairman of the scholarship committee, announces first the student’s name and then both the home and school states. Each winner then comes to the microphone and speaks directly to the Federation. Below, in alphabetical order, are the portraits, names, home state, school state, the student’s transcribed remarks from the board meeting, and the name and amount of the award that the student received later in the week at the NFB Annual Banquet:
Greg Beaulieu, New Hampshire, Texas: Thank you, and I thank everyone here today for giving me the marvelous opportunity to become a part of the NFB. I wanted to tell everyone, not how I found the NFB, but actually how the NFB found me one evening in Austin, Texas. I currently live in Austin, and I was walking to a café to meet some friends, and I had my National Library Service playback machine with me. A sighted person who was with this group of five marvelous blind people saw a person walking by with a recorder and said, “Hey, there’s a blind guy over there.”
Two of them came over and introduced themselves to me and said, “Hey, are you the blind guy?” And I said, “Yah.” [laughter] I went and sat with them, and as we began to converse, we discovered that we had many of the same feelings. They said, “You should really think about getting into the NFB.” I thought that sounded sensible, and here I am today. I am very glad to be here, and I thank everyone for this marvelous opportunity. Thank you very much. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
Alan Bickell, Iowa, Iowa: Thank you, Peggy Elliott, Dr. Maurer, board of directors, fellow Federationists—good day to you all. I am a senior at Drake University, working on my bachelor’s in business administration. I will next be going for my MBA, and I plan to be the CEO of a large organization one day. I joined the NFB in 2002. My first convention was in this same hotel in 2003, and I am extremely happy to be back. The support and love that the NFB has shown me can only be paid back by action. And I will fulfill that obligation. I first learned the philosophy of the NFB when I attended the orientation center in Des Moines. I was happy and glad and lucky to learn the philosophy that Dr. Jernigan brought to Iowa years ago, and I was lucky to have Allen Harris to point me towards the NFB. Thank you very much. [$5,000 Hank LeBonne Scholarship]
Lori Brown, Illinois, Illinois: Good morning, Federationists. Thank you, Scholarship Committee, for giving me this opportunity to be here in Louisville. I am a wife and mother of two. I am a sophomore at Spoon River College in Canton, Illinois, where I am studying history and American government. I hope to transfer to Bradley University, where I will receive my bachelor’s degree in secondary education. I hope to teach history and government in the public schools. I have been a member of the Federation for ten months, and the experience I have had has totally exceeded my expectations. It’s like coming home, and I hope that I can give back to the Federation as much as it has given to me. [$3,000 NFB Educator of Tomorrow Award]
Rick Brown, Florida, Florida: Good morning, everyone. It’s an honor to stand up here as a tenBroek Fellow. I graduated this past December with my bachelor’s degree in social work. I am currently working on my master’s degree in social work. I plan to become a traumatologist. I want to work with war veterans, because I know there’s a big need in this area. I want to tell everyone, if you set your goals, achieve them. It is not hard to do; I have come a long way in achieving mine. I stand up here before you, and I thank you for having me. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship and tenBroek Fellow]
Mary Chappell, Virginia, Washington, D.C.: Good morning, Federationists. It’s wonderful to be here with you today. To whom much is given, much is expected. The Federation has given me so much. Four years ago I sustained traumatic neurological brain damage, and when I woke from the coma, I was unable to walk or talk, and I was cortically blind. I thought my life was over, but then I found the Federation, and you gave me my life back. You let me know that it was possible to accomplish, excel, and succeed as a blind woman, and for that I am so thankful. I am now a first-year graduate student in a doctoral program in clinical psychology. I plan to work in trauma with survivors of catastrophe, to show them the purposeful life they can have, how they can succeed based on Federation philosophy. So I thank all of you for giving me the initiative to make something happen. Thank you. [$5,000 Sally S. Jacobsen Scholarship]
Steve Decker, Iowa, Iowa: Good morning, fellow Federationists. This fall I will be starting my junior year at the University of Northern Iowa. I am pursuing a bachelor’s in communications and am still considering a second major or minor, possibly in the field of technology, looking at integrating the two. I am considering a career in advertising. Growing up—I’ve been blind all my life, and I thought that I knew just about everything there was to know about blindness. Boy, was I wrong! Since I became acquainted with the Federation (in 2002) and attended my first convention here in 2003, I’ve learned so much from all of you. Yet I still have so much to learn. But I’m looking forward to it. Thank you. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
Craig Eckhardt, Colorado, Florida: Good morning, everybody. My name is Craig Eckhardt, and I am from Denver. Currently I am working for the Colorado Center, and in August I will be moving to Florida, where I will study at the University of Miami, pursuing a graduate degree in music. Specifically the degree is jazz pedagogy, which is essentially music education and jazz studies, so that’s fun. Eventually I would like to teach at the college level. Thanks to the committee for selecting me and for listening. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
Christella Garcia, California, California: Good morning. I would like to thank the Federation for giving me this incredible honor and opportunity to be a scholarship winner. I have been part of the Federation since I was three years old, when I received my first not-so-long white cane from Dr. Schroeder. Being part of this proactive organization has taught me that a dream can become a goal when action is taken towards its achievement. When I receive my master’s degree from Louisiana Tech, I hope to teach my students through example that one gains strength, courage, and confidence when one challenges oneself to conquer one’s fears. I believe today’s experience is the first stepping-stone on the path that I will walk in order to make my dreams a reality. Thank you. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
Adnan Gutic, originally from Bosnia, now from Missouri, Missouri: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I am glad to be here for my first ever national convention. I was also at the Missouri state convention in March, so I am interested in the NFB, and I want to do some more things in the NFB, especially the international thing that the guy from China was talking about. I want to help people over there in Croatia and Bosnia—see if they can come to the national convention and see the great things you guys do here. I am going to start as a freshman at Lindenwood University. I am going to be studying athletic training. I am going to get a bachelor’s in that, and I may be going into physical therapy or massage therapy. My main goal is to become employed by a major sports team in hockey. And I will get that! [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
Amy Herstein, Maryland, Maryland: Good morning to everyone. I am glad to be here also. I want to thank the Scholarship Committee and everyone, the whole NFB, because basically that’s why any of us got to be here. I will be attending UMBC (the University of Maryland, Baltimore County) in the fall, where I will pursue a degree in English literature. This organization is the best organization for the blind, not only because of the philosophy, but because you are some of the most friendly people and the encouragement you give to everyone is what really does everything. It gives people a chance to try to be all they can be. I’m the secretary of a local Maryland chapter as well as my student division, and it wouldn’t have happened without any of you guys. Thank you. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
Angela Howard, Louisiana, Texas: When I was ten years old, I put my ear to the door and listened as my father and grandmother described what my life was going to be like as a blind person. “She will never be able to support herself. Her brother is going to have to take care of her. She’s never even going to be able to cross streets.” When I was thirteen years old, the National Federation of the Blind found me, and you told me that you have great dreams for my life. I decided that your dreams were much more compelling. In May I earned my master’s degree in public policy from the University of Texas at Austin. This fall I will be entering the Ph.D. program in sociology at the University of Texas. This summer I am working on a research project, looking at the successes and challenges in organizing to end domestic violence, through a grant from the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Participation. My life is the result of your work; it’s the result of the candy bars that you’ve sold, the ideas that you’ve dreamed, and the work you have put in. Thank you for dreaming, and let’s keep it up. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship and tenBroek Fellow]
Barry Hyde, North Carolina, Florida: Good morning to all. I hope everyone is doing well this morning. I’d like to thank all the Federation committee for allowing me to become part of this program. This is the first time that I’ve been here, and wow! It’s overwhelming, and I want to thank everyone again. My guide dog and I will begin this semester at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University at Daytona Beach, Florida, this fall. We will be the first blind graduate student to attend that university ever. That’s going to be a large success if we can pull it off, and I believe we can. We’ve made it this far. I’ve only been blind for seven years, a month, and three days, and here we are. I just want to thank God and the committee again. I look forward to meeting everyone and sharing this experience. Thank you so much. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
Mileah Jensen, Louisiana, Louisiana: Good morning, fellow Federationists. Thoreau once said, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to find only the essential facts and see if I could not learn what they had to teach.” It is only through my involvement in the Federation that I have truly learned what it means to live deliberately. In May I earned my bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University in elementary education. This fall I will be a first-year graduate student at Louisiana Tech, where I will be working towards a master’s in family and consumer sciences with a concentration in human and family development. Once I have completed my master’s, I hope to go on to become a certified child life specialist. I currently serve as president of the Louisiana Association of Blind Students, and as a member of the board of directors of the NFB of Louisiana, and I was recently elected to serve on the National Association of Blind Students board. I hope to continue with my service for many years to help other people to know what it’s like to live deliberately and suck out the marrow of life. Thank you. [$10,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship, and tenBroek Fellow]
Girmai Kahsai, originally from Eritrea now from Texas, Texas: Good morning fellow Federationists. This fall I am going to Texas Southern University, Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston. I am a victim of persecution, and I have seen the bad side of humanity. But now I am seeing the loving side of humanity through the Federation. I am very touched and deeply inspired by being elected to be a scholarship winner. I will work and not let down my friends. I am deeply inspired and deeply touched. Thank you. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
Kendrick Kennedy, Mississippi, Mississippi: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I attend Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. I’m the Mississippi Gulf Coast chapter president. I am also on the state board of Mississippi. I want to thank the Scholarship Committee for allowing me to be here today. I also want to thank the NFB state president, Sam Gleese, for believing in me throughout my college career. I am going to be obtaining my degree in business administration, information management systems from the University of Southern Mississippi, and I am planning to go to law school. Throughout that journey I will extinguish the views that sighted people have about blind people not being able to do anything. Through the NFB that’s what I have learned, and I will keep that fight up, no matter what. People say, “Kendrick, you don’t act like a blind person.” I always tell them, “Well, how is a blind person supposed to act?” Thank you. [$3,000 E. U. Parker Scholarship]
Jessica Kostiw, Virginia, Louisiana: Good morning, everyone. I am truly honored not only to be standing here today, but to be here. I would like to thank each and every one of you for giving me something that I never thought I would have after I lost my vision—confidence and self-respect. This is my second NFB convention, and I am already standing here. I would like to say to all of you that you can be here too. I believe that leadership is not only the person on the stage, but behind the scenes. I will do everything I can because I truly feel as though I am indebted to this organization. I am the vice president of the Louisiana Association of Blind Students and a very active member of my chapter. Thank you. [$3,000 Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship]
Lydia Markley, Florida, Florida: Good morning, fellow Federationists. It’s an honor to be here today. If it wasn’t for my local chapter members and my state affiliate, I wouldn’t be here today. You believed in me before I believed in myself. In May of 2002 I was declared legally blind. By the fall I was enrolled in Tallahassee Community College and met up with a bunch of people who wanted to start up a chapter for the NFB in Tallahassee. We got the chapter going the end of 2001 or summer of 2002. I was a state scholarship winner in 2003, and actually I am less scared today than I was then. The NFB has taken me a long way. I am presently a junior at Florida A and M University. My major is public relations. My minor is political science. I work part-time with the Division of Blind Services in Florida doing public relations, and, I hope, when I graduate I can start my own PR and lobbying firm to change what it means to be blind. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
Amanda Martins, New York, Massachusetts: Good morning. I would like to thank Peggy Elliott and the Scholarship Committee and Dr. Maurer and all of you. This is my first convention. I just want to thank all of you for being so welcoming and friendly. In the fall I will be a freshman at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. I will be majoring in visual and media arts; kind of ironic, I know. My concentration will be in audio radio. After college I want to pursue a career in the field of radio. Thank you all very much. [$3,000 Kuchler-Killian Memorial Scholarship]
Danielle Matthaes, Montana, Montana: Good morning, and thank you very much. Throughout the past two years I have been significantly blessed by the NFB. Less than two years ago my vision began decreasing due to brain cancer. Many people stopped believing in me, and many turned against me, but you as members of the NFB and members of my family believed in me and supported me. That is what anyone blind or sighted needs in order to pursue their dreams. That is why in the fall I will be pursuing my bachelor’s degree in nursing at Montana State University. I will not give up. I cannot wait till the day I get that badge that says, “Danielle Matthaes, R.N.” Thank you very much. [$3,000 Uthman A. Shibaro and Arlene Gilman Shibaro Memorial Scholarship]
Angie Moran, Maryland, Colorado: Good morning. First off, I would like to thank the Scholarship Committee for selecting me as an honored scholarship winner. I just graduated from one of our great, great NFB centers in May, and I am on the board of the Colorado Association of Blind Students. I will be attending the Metropolitan State College of Denver in the fall. Afterwards I will be getting my master’s at Louisiana Tech, and I will be teaching the blind how to be independent, like a lot of us in this room. Thank you. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
Bo Mullins, Kentucky, Kentucky: Thank y’all for having me here. Happy Fourth of July. I attend Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, Kentucky. I plan on getting my bachelor’s in middle school and high school special education and social studies. I plan on getting my master’s then my doctorate in teaching the blind and visually impaired. I was talking to a girl last night whom I’ve come to know as “Puddin’,” and she was telling me all the stuff that she has done in the NFB, and I realize that the stuff I’ve done is just a drop in the bucket, so I’ve got a lot of work to do to make up. I would just like to thank Momma Kathy and Kenny Jones and all the other people in my organization for getting me here. Thank you very much. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
William Nutt, Texas, Texas: Howdy, ladies and gentlemen. I am studying anthropology, history, and classics at Texas A and M University. I would like eventually tomake museums, or a good deal of museums, as well as artifacts more accessible to the blind. I was trying to figure out what I was going to say, walking up the stairs and listening to everyone, and I realized we’ve all done amazing things—everyone in this room, not just the scholarship winners—and that all the scholarship winners have amazing plans. I was thinking, “Dear Lord, what will the world be like when we all succeed?” Thank you very much. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
Ronit Ovadia, California, Illinois: Good morning, President Maurer, board of directors, and fellow Federationists. I am deeply honored to be here as a tenBroek Fellow this year. Four years ago I had a dream to complete college and enter my master’s program in genetic counseling and become the first totally blind genetic counselor. I wasn’t sure if I could accomplish these goals. Now, after being involved with our Federation for the last four years, I am definitely on my way to accomplishing my goals and dream. I know this would not have been possible without the confidence and skills the Federation has given to me. For this I am immensely grateful. I just graduated with my bachelor’s degree in human biology from Scripps College, and in the fall I will be a first-year graduate student at Northwestern University in Chicago. I currently serve as president of the California Association of Blind Students. I just recently got elected as secretary of the National Association of Blind Students, and I am an active member of my chapter. When I move to Chicago, I hope to help others and students realize that they can accomplish anything they put their minds to. Thank you so much. [$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Contractors Association Internship, and tenBroek Fellow]
Melanie Peskoe, Kentucky, Kentucky: Good morning, fellow Federationists. As the president of the Kentucky Association of Blind Students, I would also like to welcome you to my hometown again this year. I am currently pursuing a degree in English from the University of Louisville, after which I plan to go on to get my MBA and then pursue a career in consulting in the field of process improvement. It wasn’t so long ago that I couldn’t envision that kind of success for myself, but when the National Federation of the Blind came into my life, and the philosophy that we have took root inside of me, I feel as though I am growing toward normal independence each day. I have met and learned from a lot of really fine leaders, and the experiences that I have gained not only allowed me to open a new world for myself, but they’ve equipped me with tools that I can pass on to my daughter, who also happens to be blind. I have learned perhaps the most valuable lesson in my life is that independence really has nothing to do with whether or not you accept help from someone or live completely unassisted. Independence for me, and I believe for everyone here, is more about having the power and grasping it to choose when or if to use that help. I think that the students of today are going to be the leaders of tomorrow, and we are standing on the shoulders of all the leadership of today and the past leadership. For the paved ways you are giving us, I thank you deeply. [$5,000 Jennica Ferguson Memorial Scholarship]
Cora Robinson, Indiana, Indiana: Good morning. I would like to thank the committee. Thank you, Peggy Elliott; the president of my affiliate, Mr. Ron Brown; Dr. Maurer, and everyone. I really appreciate the opportunity of coming here. I was sitting there thinking how I can always give back. I feel like it’s my responsibility to give back. Growing up, I was a foster child for a time in my life, and I always wanted to be in a position to give back, so I asked God that when I got married, I wanted to marry someone with children, and I did. He had four beautiful children, and once we got married, we had seven, so we have a total of eleven children. I believe in giving back to the community. Right now we have a lot of problems in our community with troubled children, so I am working now to help provide services to children in our community who are troubled children as well as I am working in my local chapter. I am vice president of my local chapter and also vice president of our student division. Thank you very much. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
Craig Roisum, Minnesota, Minnesota: Thank you, Federationists. It’s great to be here. My name is Craig Roisum. There is a saying I’ve told my son, “You build your boat, and you float it.” What this means is that you take responsibility for your life. Life is like a boat; it takes good, sound framework to float. If it doesn’t have that, it will sink. I had a great boat once; it was sunk by blindness, but I had a great life preserver. That was the National Federation of the Blind. I finished adjustment-to-blindness training, and I am back in college at the University of Minnesota, seeking a degree in civil engineering. My boat is getting stronger with each passing day. I will be successful. Since joining the Federation, I’ve met some great kids who are Federationists too. They are building their boats and will be successful. However, the adults need to pave the way. Let’s continue our fight so the kids’ boats don’t sink. They are our future leaders. When my boat is finished, it will survive the stormiest seas. [$7,000 NFB Scholarship]
Paul Ruffner, Arizona, District of Columbia: Good morning. Thank you very much. I plan next year to attend American University in Washington, D.C., possibly majoring in political science or international relations, possibly even Latin American studies, to try and pursue a career either in constitutional law or international human rights procedures. I am genuinely inspired to be here today because this organization has shown itself ready and willing and able to give people their lives back. That’s my goal. There are 6.1 billion people on this planet. There are 1.7 billion people who don’t have daily access to fresh water. According to the most recent count, 1,730 of us are registered for convention. All of us need something in life. It’s different for all of us, and the thirty members of this scholarship class, including me, stand ready to help fulfill that need. Thank you. [$5,000 Michael and Marie Marucci Scholarship]
Quintina Singleton, New Jersey, New Jersey: Good morning. First I must start by thanking the committee for choosing me. It really is an honor to stand here. I’ve been a member of the National Federation of the Blind since 1999. I belong to two chapters—the central and the northern Jersey chapter, where I am legislative coordinator for the northern Jersey chapter. In May I will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in both psychology and English. I plan to go to law school to be a criminal defense attorney. I am looking forward to making the transition from the National Association of Blind Students to the blind lawyers division. Thank you. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
Andrea Travis, Idaho, Idaho: Thank you, Madam Chairman. One of my favorite quotes has always been, “Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. And respect more than others think is possible.” Only through my membership in the National Federation of the Blind have I realized the true importance of this quote. By continuing to risk, care, dream, and respect, we can accomplish our goals and continue moving forward. Since winning my first scholarship in 2002, I have gained so much confidence and independence. I’ve matured, and I am continually learning. I currently serve as the treasurer of the Idaho Association of Blind Students and chapter president and board member of the Idaho affiliate. I am also entering my senior year at the University of Idaho, majoring in public relations with an emphasis in Web design. [$7,000 NFB Scholarship and tenBroek Fellow]
Henry (Hoby) Wedler, California, California: Thank you, Madam Chairman, Scholarship Committee, and fellow Federationists. It is a genuine honor to be standing here today. In the fall I will be attending the University of California at Davis and pursuing a major in chemistry. I plan to become a high school or junior high chemistry instructor. That has been a lifelong dream of mine. Before 2004 in the Rocket On! science camp, I knew virtually nothing about the National Federation of the Blind. And you all are what brought me here today. What I have learned and what has driven me all this way is the fact that anyone can be a leader if they want. Never give up. Never deny an opportunity. Always take every challenge you can, and be the best blind person you can possibly be. [$3,000 Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Contractors Association Internship]
“I have a student who is transitioning from print to Braille. If he could exchange letters with another Braille reader I think that would greatly motivate him to learn.”
“My 12-year-old daughter is the only blind child in her school. She would very much like to correspond with another blind girl her age who may share some of her concerns about fitting in.”
“Ever since my son read about Louis Braille he has been fascinated with the Braille system. He wants to find a blind boy his age (ten) so they can write Braille letters back and forth. Can you help us?”
These are only a few examples of the Slate Pal requests we receive
throughout the year. Slate Pals is a program for children in grades K-12 that
matches students who want Braille pen pals. The program is sponsored by the
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) of the National Federation
of the Blind (NFB), and is available, free of charge, to children around the
Slate Pals enables children who are blind to correspond with one another in Braille. It also finds blind pen pals for sighted children who are interested in learning the Braille code.
Slate Pal requests have come to us from all fifty states and
most of the Canadian provinces. We have also received requests for Slate Pals
from many nations overseas, including Taiwan, South Africa, Denmark, Hungary,
Uganda, El Salvador, Germany,
Australia, and Great Britain. In matching Slate Pals the primary considerations are age range, gender, and interests. We also try to match each prospective Slate Pal with someone who lives in a distinctly different geographic locale.
If you have a child or student who would like one or more Slate Pals, please complete the enclosed form. Send the form in print or Braille or via email to:
Debbie Kent Stein
5817 North Nina Ave.
Chicago, Illinois 60631
Phone: 773-631-1093 * Fax: 773-792-8245 * Email: [email protected]
Giving through your Will
• Designate a percentage of your estate for the NFB.
• Designate a specific amount of your estate for the NFB.
• Designate the remainder of your estate for the NFB, after providing for loved ones.
• Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT)
• Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust (CRAT)
• Charitable Lead Trust (CLT)
• Charitable Gift Annuities
Gifts of Life Insurance
• Create a new life insurance policy with the NFB as a beneficiary.
• Life Insurance policy with cash value can be reduced to cash and exchanged for an income-generating gift.
• Transfer Ownership Rights to the NFB when:
• A policy is no longer needed.
• A policy is no longer needed for its original purpose.
• A policy does not produce income.
___ I have included the National Federation of the Blind in
___ Please send me/us information on your Planned Giving opportunities.
___ Please send me/us information on Income-Generating Gifts.
City ________________________________ State __________________ ZIP _________________
Telephone ___________________________ Email _______________________________________
Please return this completed form to:
National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230, fax to 410-659-5129, or contact Izzy Menchero at 410-659-9314, ext. 2408, or email <[email protected]>