The Braille Monitor                                                                                                  June 2005

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BPS' Diane Ditmars is Honored for Her Work

by Bill Hafer

From the Editor: In a national education system in which so many blind students are shortchanged day in and day out, it is sometimes hard to remember that in some lucky districts truly excellent teachers willing to challenge their students and fight for their right to learn are working every day with quiet dedication to enable blind students to reach their full potential. All too often they are quite literally the unsung heroes of our neck of the special education woods.

It is certainly our duty to call attention to situations in which blind children face poor teaching, discrimination, and injustice. But we have an equal responsibility to cheer on excellent, dedicated teachers and make sure that they realize how deeply we appreciate their commitment and skill.

At the 2004 NFB of Nebraska convention the Nebraska Association of Blind Students honored two outstanding teachers of blind students. Diane Ditmars and Meg Bradford both received Nebraska Educator of the Blind Excellence Awards. On December 8, 2004, the Beatrice, Nebraska, Daily Sun carried a story about Diane Ditmars. We are reprinting it here because in her comments Ms. Ditmars demonstrates with great clarity the attitudes and commitment to her students that make her an exemplary teacher of blind students. Here is the story:

Imagine being in math class, and the teacher goes to the board to lead the class through a problem. The teacher is blocking the illustration on the board so all the class gets is this description: "Draw a box. Now draw lines here, and there. Place letters at this point and that point, and there it is."

For most students the teacher using the pronouns "this," "that," "here," and "there," among others, wouldn't be a problem because they could simply look at the illustration when the teacher moved out of the way, but that wouldn't be the case for a blind student.

"In the classroom, pronouns and anything at a distance blind students miss," said Diane Ditmars, Beatrice Public Schools vision resource teacher. That is where she comes in. "It's daily problem-solving," she said of her job.

In recognition of the job she does, Ditmars was awarded the Nebraska Educator of the Blind Excellence Award. The award was presented in October at the tenth annual luncheon meeting of the Nebraska Association of Blind Students, part of the state convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Nebraska.

Ditmars said she has worked with BPS since 1980, as a consultant for many years and now as a half‑time employee of the district. "Many people do not realize the work that goes on behind the scenes," she said. In addition to Ditmars, BPS also has Braillist Karen Meints on staff to provide support for blind and low-vision students.

Ditmars said one of the key challenges of her job is helping other people understand blindness. "People understand it to be an incredible disability. It's an emotional thing for them to think of being without their eyes," she said.

The reality is that there are blind people in every field imaginable, Ditmars said, and as an educator she looks for how it is possible for students to reach that level of independence. "A blind student needs all the same information," Ditmars said. "If you have all the information you need, you don't have a disability. For some kids the only reason they miss information is because they can't see the board."

For younger students she said she works more intensively, one on one, to help them learn and develop the skills to adapt on their own. As the students get older, the job becomes about providing support for both the students and their teachers, Ditmars said. Support means finding ways to make sure blind students get the same information that other students do, whether that is through printouts of what a teacher might put on an overhead projector, getting Braille versions of worksheets and tests made, or whatever else the situation requires.

She said each situation has to take into account that student's need because most of the students have some vision. "Most can see some light," Ditmars said, which can lead to confusion because in some lighting situations a student may be able to read visually like other students, but in others they can't. She said 20/200 vision is legally blind, but that's not the same as totally blind.

Ditmars works with eight students in Beatrice and students in Hebron and Marysville, as well as testing other students to see if they are having vision problems. She said she considers herself a vision resource teacher because she is a resource to blind students and their parents and teachers.

"I love the students I have. I wish I had more time for each one of them," Ditmars said. She said she's been asked if it makes sense to have two educators working specifically with such a small number of students. "It's a drop in the bucket compared to what it would cost if that student went onto welfare for the rest of their life because they don't have any skills," Ditmars said.

That's because, in the end, her job is about providing the support blind and low‑vision students need to learn to adapt in the classroom so that they will be able to adapt independently when they move on into the world.

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You can create a gift annuity by transferring money or property to the National Federation of the Blind. In turn, the NFB contracts to pay income for life to you or your spouse or loved ones after your death. How much you and your heirs receive as income depends on the amount of the gift and your age when payments begin. You will receive a tax deduction for the full amount of your contribution, less the value of the income the NFB pays to you or your heirs.

You would be wise to consult an attorney or accountant when making such arrangements so that he or she can assist you to calculate current IRS regulations and the earning potential of your funds. The following example illustrates how a charitable gift annuity can work to your advantage.

Mary Jones, age sixty-five, decides to set up a charitable gift annuity by transferring $10,000 to the NFB. In return, the NFB agrees to pay Mary a lifetime annuity of $750 per year, of which $299 is tax-free. Mary is also allowed to claim a tax deduction of $4,044 in the year the NFB receives the $10,000 contribution.

For more information about charitable gift annuities, contact the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.

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