The Braille Monitor                                                                                       November 2002

(back) (next) (contents)

Just Their Dad

by Chris Kuell

The Kuell family: (left to right) Nick; Mom, Christine DiMeglio; Grace; and Dad, Chris Kuell.
The Kuell family: (left to right) Nick; Mom, Christine DiMeglio; Grace; and Dad, Chris Kuell.

From the Editor: Chris Kuell is second vice president of the NFB of Connecticut. He also chairs the state's Braille Literacy Advisory Council. As is evident in the following story, he is making a remarkable adjustment to blindness and doing a great job with his kids as well. Now meet the Kuell family:

I received a great report from my daughter's kindergarten teacher this morning. Not that it was a surprise, but good to hear nonetheless. The teacher came over to me, as Grace was busy putting away her coat and backpack in her cubby, and said, "Grace is such a great kid. Her reading skills have just skyrocketed in the last month. She is really getting it. And all the kids love her. I'll be sad when she moves on to first grade."

Beaming with pride, I thanked her, made some small talk, and hugged Grace before walking my son to his third-grade class. There I was greeted by a rousing "Hello Mr. Kuell!" from his teacher. "Did Nick tell you he was the multiplication king?"

I informed her that indeed he had. Then I gave him a hug and was on my way. Heading down the long hallway towards the door, I heard a small voice to my side say, "What's that?"

Hearing no other response, I assumed the kid was talking to me. "This thing?" I responded. "This is my cane."

"What's it for?" asked the inquisitive voice.

Knowing I had only a minute before reaching the exit, I gave the simple answer: "My eyes don't work. I use the cane to feel where I am going."

"You can't see anything?" came the astonished response.

"Nope, nothing," I answered.

"Oh," said the child. A few steps later the kid gave me a cheery "Bye." I bid him good-bye and then headed out of the school into the fresh air.

When I lost my sight four years ago, I never could have envisioned such a pleasant drop-off. Amid the anxiety of losing my sight, my job, and my career, I felt helpless in raising my children. When my daughter was born, I was blind in one eye, but the other could see what a beauty she was. By Christmas that year everything was a blur for me; I couldn't really make out which gifts were which. For the first time I couldn't see the joy on my kids' faces as they opened their loot. My vision was really going downhill.

I needed surgery on my good eye a few months later, and, while I was hopeful, there was still lingering doubt. On the day before the operation I tried to hold my daughter still. I got about four inches from her face to try to see her as best I could. Being a kid, she thought I was playing, so she squirmed and rolled, and I never did get a good look at her. My son had just turned five at the time, and he was a little more cooperative. That was the last time I ever perceived my children visually.

 So how does one move from this heart-wrenching melodrama to the nice morning I had today? How can a blind parent help to educate his children and give a positive impression to others? It is not particularly hard. The answer is through persistence, creativity, and a positive attitude.

You have to believe you can do it. This is fairly logical-–thousands of other people do it every day. You have to work at the essential blindness skills. They are necessary to do what you want to in life. Besides, mastering them will build your confidence for tackling new stuff. And you have to be creative. Unless you have a blind friend at your side twenty-four/seven, you will have to figure stuff out on your own. Remember, necessity is the mother of invention.

My wife and I both worked with our son to teach him the alphabet and basic phonics, and at age four he was beginning to read simple things. Now he excels at all his schoolwork, which we attribute to his early reading. So when Grace turned three, I tried to figure out a way that we could give her the same head start. I took some old business cards (I was now unemployed and didn't really need them anymore) and wrote a letter in bold marker on the back of each card. I used my slate and stylus to make the letter in Braille, so in effect I made blind-friendly flash cards. We used to play games in which she would memorize the letters. After she mastered the upper-case letters, we did the lower-case ones and started working on sounds. This took a while longer, but soon she caught on.

A year or so ago I started making word cards, emphasizing families of sounds. For example, at, cat, bat, rat, and sat are the at family. We would also work on the basic, much-encountered words like the, and, I, you, etc. A lot of these she just memorized, but in time she developed a good sight vocabulary. My wife and son would read with her often, and together we listened to books on tape. As her teacher said, in the last month everything is really starting to click, and she is reading.

I taught my son and daughter basic addition and subtraction at the kitchen table and in the bathtub. I started by having them learn to count fingers and toes, crackers, whatever. Then in the kitchen I'd give them a few grapes, have them count them, then give them some more and count again. This quickly evolved into an addition game. After that came subtraction. If I gave them twelve cheese doodles and they had eaten eight, how many were left? This stuff was reinforced during bath time, when I quizzed them with problems, and they tried to answer both correctly and quickly.

My son is very good at doing math in his head, while Grace still relies on her fingers a lot. But that is okay; she understands the concept and can do problems more and more without manipulatives. By a combination of a lot of innate intelligence and bathtub grilling, Nicholas has memorized the multiplication table and now reigns king of the third grade.

Finding games to play with kids takes a bit of imagination and a lot of patience. Playing with cars and trucks, setting up blocks and bowling them over with a tennis ball just came naturally for me. Doing arts and crafts is a little trickier, but I have a sighted memory of most things, so with a pad of colored construction paper, scissors, and white glue we can create just about anything. Both of my kids and I love playing cards, which is possible using Braille playing cards. I don't know too many card games, and I soon became weary of Go Fish. So at a very young age my kids learned how to play poker, which provided a natural opportunity to work on their math skills once again.

The possibilities for learning and having fun with kids as a blind or visually impaired adult are limited only by your desire and imagination. My kids are well adjusted, smart, and overall great people. They bring me a great deal of pride and have helped me in many ways to become a better person. I honestly believe I would not have come as far as I have if not for the challenge of being a good dad to Nick and Grace. To them I'm not a blind guy or the man with the long white stick; I'm just their dad, and a very lucky one at that.

(back) (next) (contents)