Future Reflections                                                                       Spring/Summer 2003

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Thought Provoker
Of Blind Kids and Tree Houses

by Robert L. Newman

Robert L. Newman
Robert L. Newman

Editor’s Note: Robert Newman is a sincere, creative, and thoughtful person who has found a way to use his talents to help others explore the diverse and often thorny issues which surround the adjustment to blindness process. The work he does in creating and maintaining THOUGHT PROVOKER is, by the way, a hobby for Robert. He is a professional vocational rehabilitation counselor, and for the past twenty-nine years he has been with the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Here is Robert’s introduction, followed by one of his THOUGHT PROVOKERs:

Hi, I am Robert Leslie Newman, the author and moderator of the Web-based discussion forum about blindness called THOUGHT PROVOKER. Some of you may have either visited my Web site or seen my posts on various blindness-related listservs (my URL is whitsacre.info/vip and the site name is Adjustment To Blindness And Visual Impairment). I am very happy to have this opportunity to present information about my forum and Web site to the readers of Future Reflections.

Here’s the “what” and “why” of THOUGHT PROVOKER.

First, the “What”: THOUGHT PROVOKER is an e-mail/Web site discussion forum. Each Provoker presents a short scenario encapsulating a specific issue of blindness. I send the scenario out to a forum list and over the following week people respond. I compile the responses into a single message and send them back out to the list the next week. This goes on for four updates/weeks. On the date of the fourth update, I also send out a new Provoker. All Provokers, including the weekly update are available upon my Web site.

Now, here’s the “Why.” THOUGHT PROVOKER is a blend of three of my most favorite things to do. Number one: I like educating people about blindness. The fact of the matter is, being blind isn’t as hard as most people think it is. We humans are smart, adaptive, and can adjust to vision loss in good style and grace. But most people don’t know this! And stories—fiction or non-fiction—are one of the ways to educate people to this reality.

Which brings me to reason number two: I love stories! I love reading them and I very much enjoy writing and telling them, too. I have discovered that what I write best is fictional accounts of people in situations where blindness is an issue. The license I have as an author allows me to set the scene and move the characters through it; showing not only the action but, more importantly, what the characters are thinking and feeling.

Number three: I am fascinated by the computer and the Internet. With the advent of the computer, writing has been made so easy for all of us and with the capabilities of speech output, well, need I say more about the potential of this tool? Furthermore, with a refreshable Braille display and the Internet, all the world is available in Braille.

When I became comfortable surfing the net, I searched for blindness-related sites and came to the conclusion that there was a nitch for my type of creativity. In September of 1998 with the help of a blind computer programmer at Creighton University, I learned HTML and put up my first Web page. I am responsible for creating and maintaining all aspects of the site. There are two sections on the site: a section for THOUGHT PROVOKERs (scenarios with responses from forum members) and a short story section. The stories have main characters who are blind and are dealing with adjustment to blindness and life. I and other guest authors write the stories. (Note: I am always looking for additional pieces by other guest authors).

There are presently 67 PROVOKERs available upon my site that people may read and respond to. The forum presently has over 490 members from five continents. Forum members are people who are blind, family members, professionals in the field of blindness, and other interested sighted persons (such as employers, etc.). Anyone can join; just e-mail me at newmanrl@cox.net and ask to be added to the THOUGHT PROVOKER forum list.

Editor’s Note: The following THOUGHT PROVOKER is an example of Robert’s work. The responses we have published are an edited selection from the considerably longer list from Mr. Newman’s Web site. Since we are approaching the summer season, it seemed appropriate to select a story about a blind child and a tree house. Here it is:

THOUGHT PROVOKER 66
Because I Love Her

Last Updated 04-06-2003
To Provoke Thought Is The First Step To Beyond

“I’m Miss Grant. I called you to make a home visit from the office of Adult and Family Services. Are you Mary Wilson?” she inquired pleasantly of the woman that opened the door. The social worker was following up on a report of possible child abuse.

“Yes, please come in,” responded the woman turning to lead the way down a narrow hall to a small neat kitchen. “Would you like a cup of coffee?”

“Thank you, but, no. Is your daughter here?”

“Oh, of course. Heidi, come in here, sweetheart.”

A quick step was heard moving almost in a run from the front of the house. A small girl skipped into the room. Her cherubic face was surrounded by a cloud of blond curls. Her wide gray eyes seemed to gaze through Miss Grant.

“Yes, mommy?” inquired the child with a smile.

The social worker noted that the girl’s right arm was in a cast, but there were no signs of neglect in the shining clean hair and rosy face. “Hello, Heidi. I am Miss Grant. Will you answer some questions for me?”

“It’s ok, honey, tell the lady anything she wants to know,” instructed the mother.

“Heidi, how did you hurt your arm?”

A look of embarrassment crossed the little girl’s face. “I fell out of my tree house. I was trying to touch a bird I could hear singing and he was too far away. I leaned out and fell down.”

“You climb up in trees!”

“Sure, my daddy built me a house in our big tree for my birthday before he went away to heaven,” answered the child. “He said I’m the best tree climber he ever saw.”

“Will you show me the tree house? I’d love to see it.”

“Okay, come on!” replied the child turning to dart out a back door.

The social worker followed and found herself in a small yard dominated by an ancient oak with broad thick branches. The child scampered ahead and clambered up a slanted ladder disappearing into the thick foliage more than ten feet overhead. Miss Grant had seen many things in her life, but what kind of mother allowed a blind child to climb trees?

“Come on,” called the cheerful voice from above.

Miss Grant slowly placed her foot on the bottom rung and climbed after the girl. The ladder ended at a platform surrounded by a three-foot high railing. A small bench and table were in one corner and a set of shelves with a cupboard below was in another. Battered plastic dishes and old empty butter tubs lined the shelves and a Braille book lay open on the table. “This is a lovely place, Heidi.”

“Yes, some of the other kids come and ask to play with me up here,” Heidi said. “They never did before daddy built it for me. I can’t play ball and stuff, but they like to play in my tree house,” she stated proudly.

Driving away, Miss Grant thought over what she had seen. This was going to be a hard report to write. How did you explain the differences between negligence and love that gave a disabled child the room for growth and normal child development?

RESPONSES

… I guess we were lucky no Social Worker was called on us. Our daughter, Allison (now 20 and in college), also fell out of her beloved (and father-built) tree house when she was young! Ironically, although she had climbed down from it many times before, she had a sighted friend teach her to climb down the steps a different way, and fell and broke her arm doing so! Darn sighted friends! …

    —Kathy

 

When I first started in this field, I was teaching young adults. Since I had no parents come to parent interview night, [I] was assigned to supervise in our mini-gym where one NLP kid was playing on the stall bars and giving me panic attacks. His mother slid beside me and whispered, “Just don’t watch. That’s what I do!” It was excellent advice...

    —Dana

 

Yes, yes, yes!!! This is WONDERFUL!!! My daughter (almost seven) went to a birthday party this weekend where there was a great tree house. The birthday kid took her up, showed her around, and left her to enjoy with the other kids. Now she’s begging for one. …

    —Debby

 

I think the mother and father in the story did the right thing. The tree house also brought sighted kids over to play with the little girl. This allowed for more “normalization.” It’s my opinion that the social worker needed to adjust her thinking. …

    —Janet

 

… I think there must be a balance. Blind children do have to do some things differently and do have some unique needs. Sometimes, safety must be considered as it relates to them. [When I was] learning to crawl … my dad would toss pillows into my path if I was about to crawl headfirst into a hard object. … I crawled off the edge of our porch and fell down the steps once. Accidents happen even with the most diligent parents, but a blind child has to be allowed to take risks and engage in normal behaviors within reason. Parents should not treat their kids like fragile flowers …. Sometimes, I think parents think too much about their own needs and discomforts than about what is good for their child. This is unfortunate.

    —Carmella

 

The whole issue around helping is an extremely confusing one. If parents don’t figure out when help is necessary and when it isn’t, and choose either extreme, never helping or always helping, there can be problems. …

    —Lauren

 

I wish that my parents had been a little more positive when I was a kid. I wouldn’t have grown up to be the useless burden on society that I have become.

    —Dick

 

This is a tough one! Tough because most parents of a blind child will not have had an opportunity to learn about blindness, so they will naturally want to protect their child. …

    —Marge

 

As a teacher of blind and visually impaired students I … applaud the efforts of these parents. … Providing these types of opportunities allows [blind children] the opportunity to experience things that their peers are also interested in, [and thereby] fosters friendships. As for the social worker—she just received a lesson of a lifetime!

    —Jennifer

 

I am totally blind. I never had a tree house, but I can truthfully say that my parents encouraged my independence. … I am convinced that it is because of things just like this story describes that I am successful within the sighted community. I am fifty-three years old, and minister of a church ….

    —Daniel

 

I think my mother and father would have been horrified if they had been investigated by social workers …. I played ball …, climbed trees, … jumped into streams and rivers… Sure, there were cuts and bruises, but no major or permanent injuries. I cleaned house, fed … farm animals, cleaned out chicken coops and rabbit pens, … did the dishes, and learned to cook the same as my sisters did. Did it hurt me? Certainly not! What it did was make me the self-sufficient, confident, productive person I am today. At thirty-nine, I am employed and have been since I was fourteen. … Blind children are children, not special little breakable toys that need to be put on a shelf somewhere until someone carefully brings them out.

    —Jessie

 

I had a tree house growing up. …. My parent’s favorite answer, to the question, “Mom and dad can I do this?” was “Your insurance is paid up. Go ahead, just don’t kill yourself.” … When I was younger my legs would be black and blue all summer from all the spills and things I ran into, or the games my brother and I would play…

    —Shelley

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