Braille Monitor                                                                                March 1986

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A Parent Speaks About the Education of Blind Children in Maine

Michelle Swift is a sighted woman. She has two daughters--one sighted, the other blind. She is sensitive and caring.

Recently she became a member of the National Federation of the Blind. Naturally it made a difference in her life and helDed focus her outlook. To some this would mean that she has been corrupted--that she has become unreasonably, "pushy," militant, and overly aggressive. To those who believe that the blind are normal people with the same capabilities and rights as others, it would mean something else.

Michelle Swift knows that if her blind child is to lead a full and successful life, she must have the right kind of training and opportunity not some day but now. The National Federation of the Blind is the vehicle to get it done. Here is a letter which she recently wrote to the head of Maine's education system:

Lewiston, Maine
December 17, 1985

Dear Joyce:

I am writing you in regard to the proposed standards for teachers of the blind and visually impaired. As a parent of a pre-schooler who is blind and who will be going into the school system in the very near future, I have gone over the provisional certification requirements with much interest and concern--one being the Grade II Braille and special Braille notation. I cannot stress enough how strongly I feel that my daughter be taught properly how to read and write Braille.

As she writes Braille, I do want her to be taught the proper use of a slate and stylus. Since my daughter's birth I have had the opportunity to meet a number of blind children and adults. Many of them have gone, or are going, through the Maine school system and have never been taught to use the slate and stylus. Somehow through our educational system, children and adults who are blind have been told, perhaps not in words but by attitudes, that learning to read or rather write with a slate and stylus is a difficult and ineffective means of doing Braille. It seems to me that we are doing a great disservice to our blind hcildren if they are in fact coming out of our school system illiterate.

If we look at this problem in a practical way, we would see that going from a Braille writer to a slate and stylus for a blind child is no more difficult than a sighted child's going from print to cursive, or simple math to algebra. Without this skill how will our children take notes in class, make grocery lists, take down phone numbers--things that we as sighted people take for granted? A slate and stylus to a blind person is like a pad and pencil is to us. How heavily we rely on jotting things down.

My six-year-old daughter, with great pride and joy in her ability to sound out words, is learning to read, and with this new skill and knowledge a whole new world is opening up to her. There is no limit to where this world can take her--while my four-year-old blind daughter talks about going to school and learning to read Braille with her fingers. Like her sister, her world should have no unnecessary and artificial limits. The joy and pride I feel as her mother watching my children grow and learn is hard to put into words. Needless to say, I hold the highest expectations for both my children as I teach them to have for themselves.

I do not want to see my daughter leave Maine school system only to learn that she wasn't taught the basic skills every blind person needs to be equal in a

sighted world. I say with great sadness that many of our blind people were never taught that it is respectable to be blind or encouraged to read and write Braille, and so they grew up with poor self-esteem. We must properly educate our blind children and give them the opportunities and skills they need so they can grow up to be productive, responsible adults.

I think we should look at the whole Eye Care educational system for our blind children and ask ourselves is a blind child living in rural Maine, seeing an itinerant teacher two or three times a week for a few hours, being properly taught needed skills? If not, how are these children keeping up in the classroom? If Maine has only two resource rooms for blind children, how is a conditionally certified teacher going to complete their nine-month supervised experience training? Where we do not have certification standards to date, do we have a certified teacher in our school system? These are among many of the concerns I have as a parent and a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Maine.

We must work together to be assured that Maine's blind people look at themselves with respect and pride for all that they can achieve.

Sincerely,
Michelle Swift

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