Future Reflections Summer 1992, Vol. 11 No. 3

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CONNECTICUT PARENTS SEMINAR:
"Growing Up With Blindness"
by Sandy Killion

     On March 14 the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut sponsored a seminar for parents of blind children entitled "Growing Up With Blindness."

     Right at the door, a Braille 'n' Speak machine caught parents' attention as they registered. Cherie Heppe, the nice lady working the machine, patiently and enthusiastically explained its uses to us and extolled its virtues. After you got in the door, you came to a table Betty Woodward had set up with a wealth of information-- pamphlets, books, lists, articles, supply lists, and legislative notes. With that propitious beginning, the afternoon got off to an informative format of sharing ideas, experiences, and suggestions.

Throughout the afternoon, the importance of Braille was hammered into us by each person who spoke. As the parent of a two-time winner of the state level Braille Readers Are Leaders contest, I can attest to the truth of their comments. Braille is silent, needs no batteries, is portable, and has no working parts to break down; and the books are free from the library (or inexpensive from Seedlings, etc.). Also, the superiority of the slate and stylus method of note-taking was emphasized (in spite of some people's initial resistance to learning it) as being quick, silent, needing no transcription, and being available for instant reference.

     The rights of parents were outlined by Barbara Cheadle, the editor of Future Reflections and a parent of a blind child. She also brought along a brochure of ways to deal with the IEP (individual education plan) process in planning for a child's educational needs. We as parents need to be educated and confident about our child's needs and abilities when we go into such meetings if we are to gain the necessary services our children need and deserve.

     The three blind panelists and two parents spoke eloquently of learning how being equal to sighted peers did not mean being able to do absolutely everything those peers could do. Mark Stracks, now a medical student, told humorously of trying, unsuccessfully, to play basketball and tennis. Barbara Cheadle used an anecdote about her son to point out how any physical characteristic can be a limitation--such as being short or tall--and that blindness is just another physical characteristic.

     Mark Tardiff, now a counselor at Marcy Housing and Shelter Corp., had gone to Perkins School for the Blind from the age of five, in spite of some well-meaning folks who advised his parents that a blind child had no need for school since his future would be so limited. Christopher Kuczynski, an attorney, shared his experience in a mainstream education setting, and spoke convincingly about the combined power of parents when they belong to organizations like the NFB.

     The main thrust of everyone's comments seemed to be that blind children need a wide variety of experiences and opportunities, and they need to believe that they are a capable person...which is what every child needs.

     Formation of a parent division of the NFB of Connecticut was discussed. The people present expressed a desire to start such a group. The time and place of the next meeting will be decided in the near future, and meanwhile word needs to be spread that a group is forming to meet the needs of parents of blind children in our state.

     As a parent, I enjoyed hearing from "survivors" of childhood and some of their suggestions for making our children's lives successful. The parents in the audience asked probing and insightful questions that indicated they had sought hard and long to give their children the future they are entitled to. I, for one am looking forward to the next meeting as an enriching experience.

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