The National Federation of the Blind Magazine for Parents and Teachers of Blind Children
Vol. 22, No. 3 Fall 2003
Barbara Cheadle, Editor
Construction on the 170,000-square-foot National Federation of the Blind Research and Training Institute has been moving steadily forward through this past summer and into the fall. Located in South Federal Hill, Baltimore, Maryland, this facility will be the nation's first center dedicated to the development of innovative technology, education, and training for the blind led by the blind. Join us on January 30, 2004, at 5:30 p.m. for the Grand Opening Celebration. Tour the new facility, and enjoy a wonderful evening of fun and entertainment. Individual tickets are $50. For more information contact Dr. Betsy Zaborowski, Director of Special Programs, (410) 659-9314 ext. 357, or email <email@example.com>.
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A Typical School Day in the Life of a Blind Fourth Grader
by Barbara Cheadle
Making the Tough Choice: The School for the Blind or Not?
by Crystal McClain
Textbooks on Time: A Progress Report on the
IMAA and the Reauthorization of IDEA
by James McCarthy
My Long Journey from Partially Sighted to Really Blind
by Michele Gittens
Why Megan is Learning Braille
by Marla Palmer
Building Dreams for Blind Children One Page at a Time:
A Report on the Braille Readers Are Leaders Program
by Aloma Bouma
Braille Readers Are Leaders Expands Program
by Barbara Cheadle
Receiving a High School Diploma in New Mexico
by Jennifer McClarin
Learning About the Stars
by Penny Leigh
Facts-on-Hand: IEP Goals and Objectives
Equal Access to a Black and White World
by Ryan Osentowski
Book Review: Finding a New Path: Guidance for Parents of Young
Children Who Are Visually Impaired or Blind
Review by Barbara Mathews
Child’s Play: Toys for Children with Disabilities
by Lynn Swanson
What’s Your Favorite Toy?
Chore Wars: Researcher Finds that Involving Young Children in Household Chores Pays off Later
by Liz Wolf
Why Blind Kids Need to do Chores
by Barbara Cheadle
A Firm Hold
by Lem Satterfield
Blind Students Give Advice
Books, Maps, and Other Touching Experiences
by Robert S. Jaquiss, Jr.
Tactile Educational Materials: Tips and Resources
by Robert S. Jaquiss, Jr.
[PHOTOS: Rachel uses the Braille Lite to write an essay.
[PHOTO: Rachel hangs up her coat; the school day begins.
[PHOTO: I know the answer! Rachel raises her arm while her homeroom teacher, Mrs. Birkholz, leads the class in a discussion.
[PHOTO: Mrs. Banks stays in the background as Rachel prints out an assignment.
[PHOTO: A Typical School Day in the Life of a Blind Fourth Grader
[PHOTO: Cane in hand, Rachel hustles down the corridor to her next class.
[PHOTO: Mr. “Bill” Van Buskirk and Rachel cross a street during a mobility lesson.
[PHOTO: Rachel completes a mobility assignment: she locates a post office box and mails a letter.
[PHOTO: Rachel boards the bus at the end of her school day.
[PHOTO: Instructional assistant, Lee Banks, at her desk in Rachel’s homeroom.]
A Typical School Day in the Life of a Blind Fourth Grader
by Barbara Cheadle
What if the whole world assumed that it is normal for blind kids to go to regular schools, do regular classwork, eat lunch in the cafeteria with other kids, play with friends at recess, and generally be held accountable for the same work and the same standards of behavior as their classmates? What if accommodations and services for blind kids with additional disabilities were planned for and provided as matter-of-factly as school lunches? What would a school day in the life of a blind kid look like if we lived in a world like that? I think it might look a lot like the day I spent shadowing Rachel Becker at the Orchard Elementary School in Frederick, Maryland, a couple of years ago.
But I get ahead of myself. Let’s begin with a little background. Rachel Becker is a bright and perky thirteen-year-old who lives in the bustling, thriving little city of Frederick about fifty miles northwest of Baltimore, Maryland. Rachel was a baby, newly diagnosed as blind, when I dropped by her home many years ago to deliver a slate and stylus and some NFB literature to her mom. Her parents, Dan and Danielle, are a solid middle-class family, typical in many ways, and not so typical in others. They grieved—a little bit—when they found out Rachel was blind, but they didn’t wallow in it. The Beckers quickly adopted the attitude that blindness is no excuse for lowered expectations. Although Rachel would do some things differently, mostly she was just like other kids.
From the beginning, the Beckers had critical supports in place. They had a strong National Federation of the Blind affiliate that provided blind role models/mentors, a parents group, resource information, and a practical philosophy about blindness. They had a caring community, a loyal extended family, and a school district that willingly adopted the Becker’s can-do attitude. Another important support was a visual impairment program that was staffed with teachers well-trained in Braille, orientation and mobility, and other skills of blindness. The program also included qualified support staff: a Braille transcriber and an instructional assistant trained to provide Braille support. The education of a blind or visually impaired student requires a lot of advance planning, special (and often expensive) materials and equipment, ongoing training for personnel, careful monitoring, coordination, and constant vigilance. From day one, the relationship between the Beckers, the school, and the blindness professionals, was one based on mutual respect for the distinct roles of each and a common belief that, if they all did their jobs right and maintained high expectations, blindness did not need to limit Rachel.
And that brings us to the topic of this article. When Rachel Becker was in the fourth grade, I contacted the Becker family and asked if they could arrange for me to spend a day with her in school. My kids were all in college, and I wanted to stay in touch with the typical school scene. Besides, I was curious about what a school day looked like for a blind kid that, from all that I had observed, was fully included in her school, and was getting an education equal to her peers. And, of course, the experience had the makings of a good article.
The Beckers and the school were pleased to have me come, and so the necessary arrangements were made. The day of the shadowing, I arrived at Danielle’s home and she drove me to the Orchard Elementary School. I checked into the office, then was escorted to Rachel’s homeroom. There I met Rachel’s instructional assistant, Mrs. Lee Banks, and her homeroom teacher, Mrs. Birkholz. Later in the day I met Mr. Van Buskirk (or Mr. “Bill” as he is fondly called by his students), the teacher of the visually impaired/orientation and mobility instructor (TVI/O&M).
When I told the teachers that I wanted to write an article about Rachel’s school day, I was delighted to discover that Mrs. Banks, Rachel’s instructional assistant, had already written a narrative about Rachel’s school day only two months earlier. She wrote it, she said, as a progress report for the parents and other members of the IEP team. With the permission of Rachel’s parents, a rewritten version of that narrative follows my observations about Rachel’s school day
Like many elementary schools around the country, children in the Orchard Elementary School do not stay in one room with one teacher the entire school year. Although Rachel had a homeroom teacher with whom she began the day and with whom she had her key subjects of math and language arts, she, along with her classmates, left the homeroom for other subjects, or specials, as they were called—art, music, gym, and computers. Even core subjects, such as science and social studies, were conducted in different classrooms by different teachers. The fourth grade had one or two recesses a day and ate lunch (option of hot or bag lunch from home) together in a large cafeteria. The day I shadowed Rachel she had reading and math classes in her homeroom with her primary teacher, Mrs. Birkholz, and left the homeroom for music, science, and an orientation and mobility lesson. (The class had social studies the first half of the year and science the second half. I happened to come on the day the subjects were switched, so I observed Rachel’s first day of science class with a new teacher).
Mrs. Banks, the instructional assistant, had a desk in the corner of the homeroom where she sat and did her work (interlining Rachel’s Braille work with print, transcribing materials from print to Braille, preparing tactile materials, and so forth), and from which she could observe Rachel and provide prompts and help when needed. Mrs. Banks was everything Danielle (Rachel’s mom) had said she was—friendly, efficient, and competent. But most importantly, she demonstrated excellent judgement in providing—or refraining from providing—assistance to Rachel. She knew just when to step in, and how to do it unobtrusively. It was obvious that Mrs. Banks was constantly assessing her actions against the goal of furthering Rachel’s independence. Also, there was never any doubt about who was in charge of Rachel’s education: it was the teacher in charge of that class, whatever class it happened to be.
Although Mrs. Banks went with Rachel when she made her class changes that day for music and science, Mrs. Banks never sat next to Rachel. If needed, she moved briefly next to or behind Rachel, gave the prompt, then moved back to her seat as soon as possible.
For example, in the music class, she moved forward and gave Rachel a quick tactile prompt on the correct way to hold her musical instrument, then moved back to her seat. In science class the teacher took total responsibility for providing verbal and tactile cues to Rachel. She also used Rachel as her assistant for the demonstrations and hands-on activities so that all aspects of the lesson were immediately accessible to Rachel. After the class, I talked briefly with the science teacher. She has never taught a blind student, but she had observed how other teachers had worked with Rachel and had, therefore, assumed that she was up to the task. And she was. Mrs. Banks gave Rachel only one prompt in this class. When the teacher told the students their homework assignment, Rachel needed a reminder to take out her electronic notetaker (a Braille Lite) and write it down.
At lunch, I walked with Rachel and the other kids to the cafeteria and picked up a sandwich. However, instead of staying with Rachel in the cafeteria, I chose to go to the teacher’s lounge with Mrs. Birkholz, Rachel’s homeroom teacher, and talk with her. I was astounded to learn about the amount of content covered in today’s elementary school curriculum, not to mention the brisk pace this requires. Among other consequences of the faster pace is that the children have less time and fewer opportunities within the school day to socialize.
Rachel’s lunch period was twenty minutes and the one recess she had on the day I shadowed her was about fifteen minutes (some days they have two recess periods)—far less time than children had when I was in school. I noticed that Rachel’s classmates tended to engage in a lot of eye contact and visual, non-verbal socializing during class time when the teacher was otherwise occupied. Smiles, frowns, gestures, mouthing words silently, passing notes—children have always engaged in these behaviors. However, I suspect that these activities make up a far larger percentage of the social time in school than ever before.
It’s no wonder that Rachel’s mother had expressed to me concerns about Rachel’s social opportunities at school. It wasn’t that Rachel was without friends, or that she wasn’t liked or accepted by her classmates, but there was an entire level of social communication of which she had limited knowledge and to which she had no access.
The desire for Rachel to make the most of her limited time for socialization at school required the Beckers to make a difficult choice: Rachel could take a sack lunch and be free to immediately sit down and chat with friends; she could buy a lunch and take time to learn to do it independently (which, since she is a slow eater, would eliminate any time for socializing); or she could buy a lunch, but have her instructional assistant pick up her food, carry the tray, and do everything for her.
Considering the Beckers expectations for Rachel, the last was not an option except for rare occasions. So, mostly Rachel took sack lunches.
Fortunately, through programs sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind, such as KIDS Camp and youth retreats, Rachel has opportunities to develop and practice cafeteria and other daily living skills. Nevertheless, it was sobering for me to contemplate the obstacles the structure and pace of the modern school places in the way of social opportunities for blind kids.
After lunch, it was recess time. No special consideration was given to Rachel at recess. Using her cane, she left in a group with the other kids. She would occasionally call out to be sure she knew where the line was, and so stayed with the group. Once on the playground, one of her friends from another fourth grade class spotted her and came over to play. They quickly hooked up with two other girls and began a pretend game. One was the father, one the mother, one the little kid, and Rachel was the family “kitty.” Rachel squatted down on the ground, meowed for attention, and purred when petted by her family. Rachel and the girls found a place to stash her cane while they played the pretend game, then one of the girls walked with her to retrieve it when the bell rang and it was time to go back to class. Mr. Bill, Rachel’s TVI/O&M instructor, was one of the adult playground monitors, but he did not single Rachel out for any special attention or supervision.
Math was Rachel’s most difficult subject. Again, however, the regular classroom teacher took responsibility for Rachel’s instruction. When Rachel asked the teacher a question about what to fill in, the teacher asked her a series of questions to be sure she was on the right problem and that her Braille copy was complete. Through this interaction they discovered that Rachel did not have the correct paper. Only at this point did the classroom teacher involve Mrs. Banks in the discussion. With Mrs. Banks’ assistance, the proper paper was located and Rachel continued with the lesson along with her classmates. Because Rachel was struggling with a particular word problem, the teacher worked with her one-on-one while the other children went ahead and worked on their problems. Rachel used a Braillewriter and an abacus in her math class.
In all classes, the classroom teacher directly addressed Rachel, called on her for class discussion, and/or provided her with personalized instruction as was appropriate. They only addressed Mrs. Banks when they needed to discuss the transcribing of materials or scheduling issues. Rachel always used her cane. I do not recall a single time the aide, a teacher, or a classmate inappropriately grabbed her or that Rachel tried to take an arm and go sighted guide. Clearly, everyone assumed she could walk the halls, open and go through doors, find her seat in the class, hang-up her coat, find the trash can in the cafeteria, go to the bathroom, and so forth—all on her own. Any assistance was always appropriate, polite, and minimal—occasional verbal directions, taps on a chair or table to provide a sound cue, or a light touch on the arm or shoulder.
Technology had already begun to play an important role in Rachel’s education. She had a Braillewriter in her homeroom on her desk and a computer printer was available at the back of the room for her use, too. When she arrived for the school day, she went to the printer, connected her electronic notetaker to it, and printed out an English assignment to turn in to the teacher. Later in the day, the language arts class sat on the floor around the teacher to read and analyze a piece of literature. Then, the class was given a short writing assignment to complete in class. Rachel chose to use her Braille Lite to compose her essay, and then independently went back to the printer and printed out a print copy to turn in to the teacher before the class ended. (There was one gap in the assistive technology available to Rachel. There had been delays in getting the appropriate talking software installed so Rachel could have independent access to a computer in school. Therefore, she was behind in getting the instruction she needed so she could independently use word processing to do assignments or learn how to access the Internet to do research and use email. I understand these needs were addressed in extended school year summer programming between her fourth and fifth grade years.)
Rachel was pulled out of part of the school day for an orientation and mobility lesson. We—Mr. Bill, Mrs. Banks, Rachel, and I —hopped in a car and drove to a residential area for the lesson. (Mrs. Banks typically observes her mobility lessons and then reinforces certain skills and concepts throughout the week.) Rachel practiced locating and identifying landmarks such as post office boxes and crossing streets at intersections with and without stop signs. Mr. Bill gave Rachel time to explore, problem-solve, and correct her own mistakes.
At the end of the day, Rachel reviewed her homework assignments with Mrs. Banks to be sure she had them all, and picked up any Braille materials (worksheets, etc.) that Mrs. Banks had transcribed for her. She cleared off her desk and picked up her chair and rested it upside-down on her desk just like the other kids. She packed up her backpack, got her jacket out of her cubby, picked up her cane, and headed out for the bus when her group was released. Mrs. Banks and I followed her from a distance as she went down the hall, down some steps, down another hall, and finally out the side exit door. She headed for the area where her bus usually loaded, and listened for her bus driver to call out her name. A couple of classmates gave her a verbal prompt when she angled slightly off course, then she climbed on the bus, found her seat, and off they went!
After Rachel left, I sat down with Mrs. Banks and compared my observations with the ones she had made two months earlier. I liked the way she had included a time schedule for the day and brief descriptions of some of the class content and curriculum. Her account provides tangible evidence of the pace and level of expectations of a typical school day. It also gives us a glimpse into the effective management of a critical transition year for a blind student. (In this context, transition year refers to a year in which a student is required, by the nature of the schoolwork and the structure and complexity of the school day, to make a quantum leap in independent functioning. As a general rule, key transition points are from kindergarten to first grade, from fifth grade to middle school or from sixth grade to Junior High, and from middle school/junior high to high school.)
It was rewarding to see how much more independent and confident Rachel appeared to have become in the short time between our two observations. With Mrs. Bank’s permission, I have revised and edited her report for this article. Here it is:
Observations from Lee
Banks, Special Education Instructor Assistant
At 8:40 a.m. Rachel gets off bus 290 and walks into the school independently with her peers. The bus may stop in different places along the bus loop. If Rachel veers off, a student moves right in to guide her. If there is inclement weather, I meet her at the bus in case she needs help. Mostly, I stay back and observe. Even with ice and snow, Rachel comes down the steps and negotiates curbs cautiously but independently. I am right there, but do not let her know unless she needs help.
8:45 a.m.—Rachel arrives in the classroom. She takes off her coat, hangs it up, puts her lunchbox away, brings her backpack to me and unloads it, takes down her chair, prints out her schoolwork on the printer in the room, and sits down to do the journal question for that day. (Journaling is the current morning work.)
9:00 a.m.—We have morning pledge to the flag, morning announcements, then back to work or silent reading. At 9:10 a.m., the children line up to go to “specials.” Monday is our double specials day. Currently, music special consists of beginning note-reading and playing simple songs on the recorder.
Art class is going fine. Rachel was recently selected Artist of the Month. One of her pieces is on display in the mail-hallway, near the office. There are adequate adaptive materials in art—clay, fabric, tissue paper, shapes, etc. Rachel does her artwork in a timely manner.
In gym class on Mondays and Fridays the kids are doing Magic Club—a variety of ball-bouncing and catching activities. We have adapted ways for Rachel to do the activities, but I am still there to aid her as needed. Rachel has the class only once a week, on Fridays, because she has a mobility lesson on Mondays. However, she still gets to participate in the gym class curriculum of volleyball, archery, floor hockey, football, doing laps (she does three to the class’s five), and so forth. Rachel also does fine with exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, etc. Overall, she is average in keeping up with the other kids.
9:55 a.m.—Rachel is in social studies with Mrs. Birkholz until 11:10 a.m. The class changes teachers every six weeks. Rachel has had Mrs. Stambaugh and Mrs. Kueberth previously for this class. She will go to Mrs. Wing next for relative motion. The class is presently studying the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. They review many details and do lots of formulating and writing. Rachel seems to be very interested in history.
Math class is from 11:15 a.m. to 12:25 p.m. This is an up and down subject for Rachel. She has had difficulties with lines and graphing, although she has ample adaptive materials (Brailled sheets, manipulatives, stickers, etc). The class is now working on multiplication, and Rachel is more comfortable with this. She knows her times tables up to twelve. Although she understands the multiplication process, her biggest need is to stay focused so she can accurately transfer from reading the Braille problem, to calculating the problem on the abacus, to correctly putting the answer down on paper.
12:25 p.m.—The class lines up to go to lunch. Rachel knows her way around the hallways and the cafeteria just fine. However, Rachel does travel more slowly and that impacts other kids in the line behind her. She often needs someone to prompt her to move more quickly and catch up. Rachel brings her lunch from home most days so it is easier for her to get to a table, eat, and get around in the allotted time. The class lines up in the cafeteria to go to recess at 12:50 p.m.
1:15 p.m.—Recess is over and we’re back in the building. Except for Thursdays, this is language arts time from 1:15 until 2:30 p.m. (On Thursday the class has computer lab from 1:15 until 1:55 p.m. Rachel will attend computer lab more frequently once the technology specialist loads the JAWS speech program so she can use the computer independently.)
Language arts is a very busy, heavily concentrated time of the day. It focuses extensively on writing skills. Rachel is learning about: person position defended, construct meaning, critical responses, friendly letter, factual reports, etc. Rachel is learning to follow specific instructions “specifically.” She needs to improve her capacity to focus, and to make better use of time (not argue or make excuses, combine trips within the room, etc.)
Rachel is treated fairly and the same as the rest of the students. Mrs. Birkholz does an excellent job of integrating Rachel into the class. She has the same expectations of her that she has for all the students. If Rachel legitimately needs more time, she gets it. (Plus, she can use study hall, extra recess, or work with Mr. Bill and myself.)
2:30 to 2:40 p.m.—The class packs up to be ready for the 3:00 p.m. afternoon recess, or for Reading Buddies on Fridays. (Packing up at 2:30-2:40 p.m. requires more prompts than usual. Rachel knows the day is ending.) In the spring and autumn, Rachel wants to get out, but in cold weather she likes to stay in and read. She also frequently stays in to do catch-up work.
3:25 p.m.—I review homework assignments one-on-one with Rachel. She still forgets one or two things daily. She is supposed to use her electronic notetaker (the Braille Lite) to write down her assignments, but she is resisting using it. She thinks she will remember. What she doesn’t realize is that other kids have to write down the assignments, too. Besides, her memory, as good as it is, can be inhibited by exceptionally busy days. We will just keep working on it. In between classes (recess, etc), she gets her pep talks from me. The Braille Lite with the refreshable Braille display has been a terrific boost to her independence in the classroom. She types on it throughout the day.
3:40 p.m.—I walk her to the bus for a final chat about the busy day. (Some days her backpack is too heavy for her to lift, and I help with that.) Occasionally, one of her classmates will walk with her. She lines up with the other bus 290 riders and gets on the bus with a final farewell.
The biggest challenge Rachel has faced in fourth grade has been adjusting to a faster pace—getting her work done and moving on to the next item on the teacher’s agenda along with the rest of the students. In the first couple of months of school this year, Rachel struggled. She needed many prompts and a good bit of help to get through the day. But we are making progress. I have been able to dramatically reduce the number of prompts (by one-third) that I give to Rachel. She is still adjusting to my backing away, and she takes advantage of it sometimes, but I feel she is just testing me. It’s hard when she knows that I am in the room just five feet away from her. She has had a lot of help over the years and it is naturally difficult for a child to want to end that.
Rachel has much less one-on-one time with Mr. Bill [her TVI/O&M instructor] this year. Rachel was used to going off to the planning room for individual sessions with him. However, in fourth grade, all of the work (except for mobility training) is done right in the classroom. Mr. Bill comes in the morning on Mondays and Thursdays for mobility lessons, and in the afternoon on Tuesdays and Fridays for direct service instruction and teacher consultations. My role has also shifted. Although I am always nearby, I am extremely busy Brailling and preparing materials for Rachel’s classes so she will have everything she needs along with the other kids. I have less time to give her prompts and help her with work. This is good, because she is ready for it. She only needs to accept independence in doing her classwork as a positive thing in her day and not fear it. Of course, assistance is always available to Rachel if she is making a true effort and needs help.
From my point of view, I would like to see Rachel develop a sense of community in school. I would like for her to reach out more, and to understand that the other students have the same teachers, the same work, and the same problems she has. She isn’t the only one struggling to become more independent.
Traveling throughout the school has gone well with Rachel this year. She is adamant about being treated the same as the other students. She gets to class, lunch, and back to her classroom or out to recess very well on her own. I have lunch and recess monitoring duty and often help take classes out to the playground. Sometimes I leave with a group while Rachel and her class are still eating. She doesn’t need me around and finds her way out when she is finished just fine.
Rachel is an intelligent child and her grades are very good. As always, it is a pleasure (and a challenge) working with Rachel.
By the time this issue is published and you read this article, Rachel will be several weeks into eighth grade—her last year in middle school. As she matures, she continues to grow in independence. Providing the supports she needs and withdrawing the supports she no longer needs continues to be a challenge that the school district and the Beckers face, but they tackle it gladly and with commitment knowing it is the only way for Rachel to achieve age-appropriate independence. There have been setbacks. Last year, the school district lost their Braille transcriber and could not fill the position for months. But the school and the Beckers worked cooperatively to minimize the impact on Rachel’s education.
And that’s the key word—cooperation. It is no accident that there is no mention of the IEP or the IEP process in this article. Rachel certainly has an IEP; and a well-written IEP is an extremely valuable educational tool. However, no matter how good the IEP is, it is no substitute for skilled teachers of the blind, appropriately trained support staff, or for good faith, high expectations, and mutual respect among those responsible for the education of blind and visually impaired students.
A pen pal program for blind, Braille reading students who want to write and receive Braille letters from other students.
Mail to: SLATE PALS, 5817 North Nina, Chicago, Illinois 60631 or <email@example.com>.
SLATE PAL PROFILE
Name__________________________ Age_____ Birth Date______ Grade______
(circle one) *male *female
Address________________________ City____________ State____ Zip________
email:____________________________ Phone __________________________
I would like (fill in the number) _______slate pal(s)
I would like my slate pal(s) to be ___________age (please specify a range)
I would like my slate pal(s) to be (circle one) *male *female *no preference
[PHOTO: Crystal and Macy McClain]
Making the Tough Choice: The School for the Blind or Not?
by Crystal McClain
Reprinted from the Fall, 2002, issue of the Buckeye Bulletin, a publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio.
Editor’s Note: The right supports are essential if blind students are to succeed in the regular public school setting. This is especially true in what we often call the “transition years.” It is generally conceded, for example, that the move from elementary school to middle school or junior high is a daunting transition for all students. It never occurred to me, however, that fourth grade might be troublesome. Yet, in this issue we have two articles about two blind girls, in two different states, who experienced the fourth grade as a challenging transition year. However, in Rachel’s school, as described in the article “A Typical School Day in the Life of a Blind Fourth Grader,” enough supports were in place so that Rachel could keep pace with her peers in academics and in personal independence. However, it was a different story for Macy. Here is how her mother tells the story, and describes the difficult decision their family had to make:
Macy started kindergarten in our neighborhood public school. We live in a small town, and Macy was the only blind student the school had ever had. Before she started school, I did everything possible to ensure her success in the public school system. The one statement that I am thankful that I didn’t make was “My child will never go to the Ohio State School for the Blind” (OSSB). I have heard parents make that statement, and I have heard horror stories about public school placements. I am very glad that I learned the lesson about never saying “never”!
As president of the Parents of Blind Children Division of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio, I saw and heard many stories, some good and some bad. A common story goes something like this. A child starts school in his or her local district, and by the time he or she gets to junior high the student is so far behind that the parents have no choice but send their child to the school for the blind. This is not the case with all parents I talk to, but I have found it true in many cases. I decided that was not what I wanted for Macy. I remember saying that, if and when Macy began to fall behind significantly in a school year, I would consider sending her to OSSB. I did not want her to fall into an academic pit.
The time came for Macy and our family when she was in the fourth grade. Those of you who have lived through the fourth grade with your child will testify that it is a significant academic year due to the pressures of the dreaded Fourth-Grade Proficiency Test.
Many factors contributed to the problems that we had in fourth grade. Here are a few I recognized. Macy is not the most intelligent kid in Ohio. That is hard to admit publicly. She struggles academically, and the fast-paced world of the fourth grade and the whole proficiency preparation turned into a nightmare. Macy’s Braille teacher did not have adequate time to spend with her in order for her to succeed in the fourth grade. This next item was a big one for me; Macy did not have all of her materials in correctly-written and formatted Braille in a timely manner. This was especially true in math. Another issue was technology; no one knew enough about the Braille Lite to teach her how to use it. These are the major problems I can identify; I am sure both the school and Macy could point to other things as well.
I want to stress that the problems were not one-sided. There were things that the school could have done better, but I felt that I couldn’t devote my time to attacking the school when Macy was part of the problem. I knew that the most important thing was to get her a quality education. I believe that, for the blind student, going to college is even more important than for a sighted child. A sighted child who doesn’t go to college is much more likely to get a decent job in a factory or business than is a blind child. This is why education is so important to me.
In the early part of the fourth-grade school year, I recognized we had problems. The first thing we did was to have a multi-factored evaluation done at OSSB. Our next step was to take an entire school day and sit in on the third/fourth-grade class at OSSB. We visited in October. We went to music, gym, and technology with the class. We sat through spelling, reading, and math. Macy seemed to be ahead of most of that class academically, and that scared me a little. She was a much more fluent reader than the other kids in the room. Here are some things that I liked:
* Small class sizes (approximately eight kids per class)
* A technology class each day with a knowledgeable blind teacher
* Good Braille everywhere
My concerns were these:
* The music program was not what I hoped it would be.
* Lots of students didn’t use canes regularly.
* I didn’t think the curriculum was at a level comparable with that of public schools.
* Macy would be a residential student.
Our next move was to visit the cottages. If Macy were going to go to school at OSSB, she would be staying in the cottages. Macy and I drove over after school one day and spent the entire evening. We saw how the house parents dealt with homework, bath time, and other daily routines. We really liked the two women who were in charge of D-1, where Macy would stay.
Since Macy would be going into fifth grade, we visited that class as well. The academic work was at a much higher level in this class. I really liked the teacher and discussed with her my concerns and hopes for Macy. After all of this we made the decision to send Macy to OSSB. We didn’t make a long-term commitment. Basically we said that Macy would go to school at OSSB in the fifth grade but that we would decide later about sixth grade. I can honestly say that I believe we made the right choice.
Fifth grade has gone all right for Macy. She had to adjust to her new school and to the fact that all of the kids there are blind. She loved living in the cottages. We worked out a different arrangement from that used by most families. Most kids went to the school on Sunday afternoon and stayed until Friday afternoon. My best friend lives in Bellefontaine, where we live, and works in Columbus. She took Macy to school on Monday morning in time for breakfast. Then on Wednesday I finished work at 2:00 p.m. and went straight to Columbus. I got there just as school ended. Her dad took her back on Thursday morning, and she then stayed and rode the bus home on Friday afternoon. This arrangement meant that she spent three nights in the cottage instead of the typical five. We liked getting to see her during the week. I have to admit that sometimes she didn’t want to come home. She was too busy having fun with all the evening activities.
I still have concerns for Macy; including the fact that I don’t think she has enough homework. I also noticed that she was really upset that she was totally blind while lots of kids at the school had varying amounts of vision. This was really troublesome for her. However, Macy has made improvements while at the school for the blind. We are all looking forward to a good sixth-grade year.
I hope that other parents of blind kids will be open-minded when they make placement choices. You have many options; choose what works best for your child in your situation right now. Recognize that you are not stuck permanently with one placement choice. You can change settings when you think your child’s needs require a different solution. Good luck, and have a great school year.
[PHOTO: James McCarthy]
Textbooks on Time: A Progress Report on the IMAA and the
Reauthorization of IDEA
by James McCarthy
Parents of blind children, educators of blind children, and the blind have advocated over the last several years for passage of the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act (IMAA). This legislation would vastly improve the process by which books are provided to blind children in the formats they need. Under the existing system, most blind children receive their books late in the school year, receive relevant textbook sections after they are no longer needed, and sometimes do not receive them at all. In the present session of Congress, the IMAA was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Petri of Wisconsin and cosponsored by 107 others. The IMAA was not introduced in the Senate, but both the House and Senate incorporated provisions of the IMAA in their versions of legislation to reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The prospects for passage of the IMAA are the best ever, but they are contingent on passage of legislation to reauthorize the IDEA. Due to this fact, an analysis of the IMAA, the IDEA, and the possibilities surrounding both is in order. The House and the Senate take vastly different approaches to both the IMAA and the IDEA, with the approach of the Senate preferable in both cases.
The bill passed by the House, H.R. 1350: “Improving Educational Results for Children with Disabilities Act of 2003,” incorporates the Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard found in the IMAA. Within two years of a file standard being published, states will need to adopt it. State and local education agencies must also include a requirement that publishers must provide electronic files consistent with the official standard. While the House bill could go much further toward recognizing the goals of the IMAA, the inclusion of this language in the IDEA is a significant step forward to improve the infrastructure necessary to ensure that blind children receive their books in a timely manner.
The Senate bill to reauthorize the IDEA, S. 1248: “Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2003,” takes the House bill one step further with respect to the IMAA. In contrast to the House bill, the Senate bill contains all of the critical provisions necessary to develop the infrastructure to provide books to blind children in a timely manner. The most significant provision in the Senate bill not included in the House bill would establish a national center within two years of enactment. The Center “shall coordinate the acquisition and distribution of print instructional materials prepared in the Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard.” Responsibilities of the center include:
* To receive and catalog print instructional materials available to state and local educational agencies;
* To provide access to these materials to authorized entities free of charge; and
* To establish procedures to protect against copyright infringement with respect to the instructional materials it receives and makes available.
The Senate bill furthers the goals in the IMAA in other key respects. It clearly permits authorized entities to provide instructional materials in large print, which is officially not permitted by law. It enumerates the alternate formats permitted for conversion of files using the Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard. It also more clearly defines the Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard.
S. 1248 has passed out of committee and awaits a vote of the full Senate, where it is expected to pass. Both Senate Republicans and Democrats have sought to work in a bipartisan manner to develop this legislation. This is a sharp contrast to the partisan process engaged in by House Republicans when crafting H.R. 1350. If the Senate provisions in support of the IMAA, found in Sections 612(a)(22), 613(a)(6) and 675, are adopted in their entirety, the infrastructure to facilitate blind children receiving books on time will vastly improve.
While neither approach to reauthorize the IDEA is entirely adequate, the Senate version is preferable. The House would make dispute resolution an extremely unattractive option for parents while permitting schools to reduce their contact with parents regarding student progress. The Senate’s approach would more closely maintain existing law with adjustments. It strives to parallel the No Child Left Behind Act, to address paper work reduction, and to establish some model forms for Individual Education Programs (IEPs) and procedural notices. Finally, when developing an IEP for a blind child, it also requires consideration of orientation and mobility and skills in the use of assistive technology devices, including low vision devices.
At this time it is difficult to know whether agreement of the IDEA reauthorization will occur this year, but there is a second year remaining in the 108th Congress. The Senate still must pass its legislation before the end of legislative business, probably in November, and the Senate agenda is quite full. Once it does so, there are substantial differences between the two bills to be reconciled by a conference committee of the two chambers. At the time of the conference, as supporters of the IMAA we must do all we can to ensure that all the provisions of the IMAA are included in the final legislation.
[PHOTO: Michele Gittens]
My Long Journey from Partially Sighted to Really Blind
by Michele Gittens
Reprinted from the Braille Monitor, June 2003 issue.
Editor’s Note: Michele Gittens is currently a student at BLIND, Incorporated. (Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions). She is also a member of the Metro Chapter of the NFB of Minnesota. She tells a painful personal story with a happy ending. That’s right, a happy ending, and yes, we got the title right. This is a good article to read in tandem with “Why Megan is Learning Braille,” printed elsewhere in this issue. Here is what Michele has to say:
I am grateful to be able to share with you my journey from the NFB national convention to Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND)—which is essentially my version of “partially sighted, really blind.”
Let me first give you a brief overview of my relationship to blindness in the past few years. The cause of my blindness is unknown. I just remember that one morning, when I was in the third grade, I could see the board clearly, but when I came back from recess later that day, I couldn’t see it anymore. My parents took me from our home in New York to many doctors in various countries; we traveled all over the place.
Finally somebody referred us to the local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. I remember my parents putting me on a train and schlepping me all the way down to Manhattan. We went into a room and sat around a rectangular table, and I was very upset because I was with all these old people (I was about twelve, and they must have been in their twenties, but to me that was very old). I didn’t say a word; I just sat there very still.
Afterward I made it clear to my parents that I didn’t want to have anything to do with these people. My father, being the wise man he is (I didn’t think so at the time), said, “How do you expect to live as a blind person if you don’t know any other blind people?”
I said, “Dad, these people are blind. I am legally blind. We are in two different worlds; they do not understand where I come from.” From then on the only relationship I had with the NFB was that every year I would get two flyers—one about the New York state convention and the other about the national. The little NFB logo was in dark print, so I could always see it, and as soon as I saw it, I would just tear it up and throw it in the trash before my parents saw it. I didn’t want to hear anything about the NFB.
I went through school, and as a teenager I no longer saw myself as legally blind; I became visually limited. I loved being visually limited because I never did understand the legal thing. High school was great; it was like going to school with your mom: I had readers, notetakers, and advocates. I didn’t have to deal with any of the blindness issues that came up; they just magically disappeared.
Then I went to college, where I got a dose of reality. Suddenly on the first day I was expected to manage my own readers, schedule my exams, and talk to my professors. Sometimes I went to professors who said, “Michele, how can we help you?”
I would get frustrated and angry, thinking, “Shouldn’t you be telling me what to do? Haven’t you had visually impaired students before?” (In college I was visually impaired.) I was so frustrated and stressed out that in my junior year, I left college and never returned. It really disappointed my parents, but nobody could tell me anything; I wasn’t going back.
I did have the sense to know I needed some training, so I enrolled at a service-delivery agency in New York. I was there for about four years, and I went through all the programs they offered (I’m a very thorough person). There I learned that I am now visually disabled. In one program in which I took part twenty people were enrolled, and only one used a white cane. We were taught to “maximize our residual vision.” We had computer class, and we used ZoomText, the screen-enlargement program—never JAWS or any other speech-access program. I also had travel class and was given a white cane, but I wasn’t encouraged to use it outside of class, and the class was certainly not a requirement. I remember being on the corner of Broadway and 42nd Street and saying to my instructor, “How do I know if this is the right corner?”
He said, “Use your common sense!” (That’s how people in New York talk). “Look up at the pole, and you see there’s a street sign. Broadway is a longer word, so it is a long white strip, whereas 42nd is two numbers, so it’s a short strip. So that’s how you know.”
I thought to myself, “But where’s the sign?” I graduated from that program with honors and decided to move on. It was time to work, so I auditioned and got a job in London as a background singer. When I moved there, my mother made me take my white cane (that was my parents being wise again).
As soon as I arrived in London, I made a discovery: I might really be blind. I had grown up in New York, so I didn’t realize how little I was actually seeing and how much I was relying on my mental picture of everything to get around. When I got to England, everything was totally different. For the first month I would not leave my apartment unless somebody came to get me, and, without exaggeration, I cried every single day.
My parents and family and friends called and pleaded with me to use my cane, but I refused. Somebody from the agency whose program I had attended called and said, “Michele, somebody from New York died because she crossed a street without using a white cane and got hit by a car.” Even that wasn’t enough for me.
I said, “Well, that’s nice; I’ll take my chances.” In England traffic moves on the left side of the street instead of the right. One of my cousins called me and said, “A lot of people from America go to England and get killed. If you don’t use your cane, you might get hit by a car, and we’re not kidding.”
I’m embarrassed to repeat this, but I said to him, “I’d rather die than use that stick.” As soon as those words came out of my mouth, I realized I had hit rock bottom.
I decided I had to do something, so I called the Royal National Institute for the Blind and made an appointment to meet with a counselor. I wanted to hire a travel instructor, but she said that would not be possible because I was a partial. I said, “Partially what?”
She said, “You’re partially sighted, like me.”
I asked, “What do you do about it?”
She said, “You just get used to it.”
Every day I had to go someplace different to work, and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to die, but I still wasn’t going to use that stick. I started coming up with my own alternative techniques—my blind-person-pretending-to-be-sighted tricks. It worked somewhat, but I decided to interview other blind people to find out what they did. That led to reading books and doing a lot of research; suddenly I had to go to every seminar on blindness I heard about.
One day my mom called and said that there was a letter for me from the NFB (of course I hadn’t had a chance to tear it up). She said that they were having a convention in Philadelphia, and I decided to go because I hadn’t yet figured out a good way to walk down a flight of steps. I was once doing a show in which, to get off the stage, I had to come downstairs from the stage into the audience. I fell down the stairs, got up, and fell down the stairs again. I was mortified, and I had a thing about stairs from then on. I used to tell people that I would have no problem if there were no stairs in the world—the problem was not my eyes; it was the stairs. So I flew to this convention to learn about going downstairs.
I got to the hotel with a friend, and we noticed all these people with white poles. I thought to myself, is this a try out for the summer Olympics? Then we went to registration, and I saw that everybody had them. I realized that of course they were canes, but I had never seen them used like this before. I got excited because I saw people walking by themselves without guides. I was beside myself. I talked to everybody (well, almost everybody, since there were three thousand people). I called my mom and said, “Mom, do you know blind people have jobs?” Almost every blind person I had met until then was on SSI (Supplemental Security Income). I said, “Mom, do you know they have houses and families?” I had assumed that I would never have a family.
My father got on the phone and said, “I told you: how do you expect to live as a blind person if you don’t know any?” At the convention there was a presentation about cane travel, and I talked to Joe Cutter from New Jersey and told him my sob story about stairs. I didn’t have a cane with me, so when I finished my tale, he said, “I have a present for you.” He offered me a cane; it was beautiful. I was now happy because I had a pole like everyone else.
Joe Cutter introduced me to Ron Burzese. Ron listened to my story, and he was both gracious and patient. We went to a staircase, and he told me to close my eyes; I’m from New York, so I was suspicious and made sure my friend was watching, but I did it. He showed me how to use the cane going down the stairs, and it was the safest feeling. When I got to the bottom of the stairs, Ron said in his deep, Barry White voice, “You have a decision to make. You can either live the rest of your life as a clumsy sighted person, or you can become a respectable blind person.” Those words hit me. Many people had pleaded with me, but when he said that, it was as if he knew me. Now I thank him every day, about twice a day.
After the convention I went back to London to finish up my jobs. Then I came back home. Three days later was 9-11 (September 11, 2001), and I thought to myself, I am never getting on a plane again! So much for my dreams of going anywhere. A few weeks later there was a big deal in the news about how Mike Hingson got out of the World Trade Center, and I said to my parents, “How much you wanna bet he’s from the NFB? Anyone who went to the training center I did would never have gotten out!” A while later I received the Braille Monitor with the article about him, and I went crazy. I thought, “This is another sign.”
I know many people in those towers did not have the opportunity to get out, but even if I had been there and had had the chance, I probably wouldn’t have taken it, because my fear of coming down a flight of stairs was so deep I would have sat there and perished. I realized then that getting good training wasn’t just about becoming respectable; it could be a life and death matter.
All my life I have said that there were two places I wanted to live: London and Minneapolis. I grew up watching Mary Tyler Moore, and I wanted an M like the one she had in her apartment. I did check out the other NFB training centers, but I already knew I was coming to Minneapolis. It was very challenging to get New York to pay for me to come to BLIND, Incorporated, but that story is for another time. I kept knocking on the agency’s door because I knew that eventually they would give me what I wanted just to shut me up, and they did. My thanks go to Shawn Mayo and a lot of other people.
I have been at BLIND, Incorporated, only since September 16, 2002, and I have already seen a huge change within myself. I knew I needed confidence but could never figure out why I couldn’t get it. I realize now that the key is the training. I’m walking around and not banging into things. As a singer I travel a lot, and I used to get someplace, cry for a week, and then get going. I have not cried yet in Minneapolis, and I am thrilled.
In closing, I’d like to thank the Federation on behalf of myself and my fellow BLIND, Incorporated, students. Thank you not only for challenging us to embrace our blindness (or aspects of our blindness) but for providing us the opportunity, the wisdom, the mentoring, and the tools that enable people like me to stand now as a respectable, independent, sky’s the limit blind person.
PHOTO: Marla and Mike Palmer and children: Adam, baby Lauren, and Megan.
Why Megan is Learning Braille
by Marla Palmer
The IEP Team shall—in the case of a child who is blind or visually impaired, provide for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille unless the IEP Team determines, after an evaluation of the child’s reading and writing skills, needs, and appropriate reading and writing media (including an evaluation of the child’s future needs for instruction in Braille or the use of Braille), that instruction in Braille or the use of Braille is not appropriate for the child.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Public Law 105-17
Editor’s Note: It’s been six years since the Braille provision (above) was added to the IDEA—the federal law which mandates that public schools that accept federal funds must provide a “free and appropriate education” to children with disabilities. Nevertheless, many parents and teachers still contact the NFB office to ask why and/or how partially sighted children can be effectively taught Braille. The following article provides some insight into this process from the prospective of a mom. Marla Palmer, a resident of Utah, is a member of the board of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. She and her husband, Mike, have three children: Lauren, nine-months-old; Adam, age four; and six-year-old Megan. Here’s what Marla has to say about why and how her daughter is learning Braille:
A few days ago I peeked in on a Braille party that my daughter was attending. The students were putting on a puppet show that was entitled, “Why I am learning Braille.” I heard the innocent but profound answers, “I am learning Braille because I am blind.” Another response was, “…so I can read.” When the spotlight hit my daughter she said,
“I am learning Braille so I don’t have to learn it when I am big.” I couldn’t help but chuckle. I am sure there have been numerous times when Megan has overheard her blind adult mentors, including her mom’s cousin, exclaim how they wished they had learned Braille when they were younger!
When Megan was born and we received the news that she was “visually impaired,” “legally blind,” partially sighted”—we weren’t sure what to expect for her future. Doctors and educators were positive that she would have a “normal” life with fewadaptations. I vividly remember when Megan’s eye doctor exclaimed, “Megan will be just fine, and she won’t need many services like Braille.”
With that in mind I couldn’t understand why my cousin, Kris Cox repeatedly called me to share her personal experiences with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). She kept asking that annoying question, “So Marla, are you going to have Megan learn Braille?” I thought I was doing a good job at explaining why I didn’t feel it was necessary, but for some reason (which I now understand) Kris would politely disagree. Kris grew up as a child with low-vision and was not given the opportunity to learn Braille. She expressed how much easier it would have been to learn Braille then (instead of now, as an adult) and gave examples of how Braille can be an effective literacy tool.
Kris invited us to our first National Convention of the NFB held in Dallas, Texas. Frankly we weren’t sure why we were attending a convention for “the blind” when our child was “visually impaired,” “legally blind,” “partially sighted.” The convention and those we met there created some defining moments for us. My husband and I discovered that Megan has been blind all along (smile) and most importantly that it’s okay to be blind. Our daughter could become a successful, contributing member to society if she could get the proper training and tools. And one of those tools was Braille. At that time, Megan was only eighteen-months-old. It’s hard to believe that five years later she is six-years-old and approaching first grade. Here’s part of our story from that time to now:
Some parents that have children with partial vision oftentimes don’t take advantage of the early intervention programs that are available to them. Megan has received services since she was an infant. It was a great networking tool with professionals in the field and with other parents. Because it was a zero-to-three program, there were written individual and family goals. From day one, we had pre-Braille goals written into our plans.
This was actually suggested by our Parent Infant Program advisor. She said it serves several purposes:
1. It’s never too early to start pre-Braille skills.
2. When it came time to write your child’s first IEP, there should be no question from the team that you, as parents, want your low-vision child to learn Braille. It had been documented from day one.
Upon the transition from Early Intervention to Preschool we were given three educational options for Megan: enroll her in the Utah School for the Blind, choose the Davis County District Preschool, or select a private preschool of our choice. After careful consideration, we opted to mainstream Megan in the district preschool program. I would not consider Megan’s first year of preschool a huge success when it came to Braille services. The preschool teacher had wonderful talents and skills, but was very uncomfortable with having a low-vision child in her class. She would often forget how to make simple adaptations and seemed overwhelmed when given advice. Megan received consultant services from a teacher of the visually impaired two times a month (it would have been once a month if we had chosen a private preschool). However, the consultant had to spend all of her time concentrating on the preschool teacher rather than working on the IEP goals with Megan.
The next year we searched high and low in our district and found a wonderful teacher who truly understood the power of inclusion, was comfortable with working with children that needed adaptations, and was willing to be an integral part of the IEP team. We had overcome a huge hurdle. Now, the consultant for the visually impaired could come in and work one-on-one with Megan to help her achieve her Braille goals.
I had high expectations of the consultant that was visiting my child a whopping two times a month. I quickly learned that in order for Megan to effectively have a head start in Braille, we had to have daily Braille activities at home. I became good friends with Megan’s Braille consultant and we agreed to work together. The two concepts we concentrated on were having a good understanding of the Braille cell, and familiarity with the Braillewriter. After Megan was introduced to these concepts we were able to work on them approximately fifteen minutes per day at home. We concentrated on using the Braillewriter to build finger strength, to type the Braille letters she also knew how to write in print, and to pretend to write stories. (In other words, she “scribbled” pretend stories with the Braillewriter just as sighted children scribble stories with a pencil.) Megan is a visual learner and she liked to see the shape of the Braille letter as well as feel it. She memorized the Braille alphabet by sight and by touch. Megan had no problem wearing her “blinders” as she understood at a young age the importance of learning Braille tactually. I think it helped that everyone—her teacher of the visually impaired, her regular teacher, and her family—had a positive attitude about using the sleep shades (blindfolds).
We were able to find some wooden Braille tiles (about one-and-a-half inches wide, two-and-a-half inches high, and one-half inch thick) that had large Braille knobs on one side and large print on the other (Note: Mr. Arnold Dunn in Florida makes these and donates them to families or institutions). One afternoon we found a small box and Megan decorated it the way she wanted. We cut two holes in the side where her hands could fit in. After practicing learning several letters, we would mix the tiles up and put them in the box. Megan would slide her hands through the holes, feel for the different tiles, and tell me which letters they were. This is still a favorite game.
By the end of her third year in preschool Megan could read and type her name in Braille. She had memorized all the letters in Braille (tactually and visually) and could also tell which dot sequence formed which letter. During the summer before her kindergarten year, her preschool consultant for the visually impaired checked out a copy of The Mangold Developmental Program of Tactile Perception and Braille Letter Recognition (Exceptional Teaching Aids, California) for us to use at home with Megan. I feel Mangold was one of the best teaching tools available to us. The workbook was very easy for a parent with little Braille background to use and to follow.
When Megan entered kindergarten she was seventy percent finished with the Mangold curriculum. We felt that it was necessary to have Braille instruction every day for forty-five minutes, and the IEP team agreed. We had a great rapport with Megan’s itinerant Braille teacher with whom we communicated on a daily basis. Megan had a Braille homework folder in which the teacher recorded what Megan practiced that day and what she—the teacher—wanted Megan to practice for homework. Megan was responsible for helping me record her homework and report back to the teacher each day. The teacher had a reward system for homework turned in on time, for good work, etc. This was a great motivator for Megan.
Megan finished Mangold during her kindergarten school year and was introduced to the Patterns Braille Reading Series from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), which we are continuing with this summer. This series has helped her transition from uncontracted to contracted Braille. She is a dual-reader, learning and becoming efficient in both print and Braille literacy skills. Megan’s latest progress report states that she is on the same reading level in Braille as she is in print. I don’t know what her future holds for her visually, but I do know this: she will be prepared for it. She will never have to struggle to learn Braille as an adult like my cousin Kris.
In summary, never settle for less than your child needs. Have the attitude that each transition in a child’s life is important. Early intervention and preschool CAN and SHOULD be used to concentrate on preliteracy skills and Braille. Of course, each child is different. Be flexible and be aware of how they learn and use that to their advantage. Be involved and work with your child at home. Be part of the working team, not just a cheerleader. If you have high expectations for your child’s teacher, have high expectations for yourself, too, and be willing to do the necessary work at home. And, yes, a child with partial vision can be successful at learning both print and Braille.
[PHOTO: NFB President, Marc Maurer, stops by for a chat with busy Braille Readers Are Leaders volunteers. On the left (left to right) are NFB members Bernice Lowder and Mary Kuforiji, and on the right are Rolling Hills Federated Women’s Club members Katherine Carbonneau and (seated) Aline Norris.]
Building Dreams for Blind Children One Page at a Time: A Report on the Braille Readers Are Leaders Program
by Aloma Bouma
Editor’s Note: When the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest begins on November 1 this year, it will be the twentieth conducted jointly by the National Organization of
Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB). That seemed like a pretty good reason for a party, and that’s what the two groups threw, with the help and support of the United Parcel Service (UPS) Foundation, on the Monday afternoon of the 2003 convention in Louisville. During that event, division officials announced an expansion of the Braille Readers contest beginning this fall, again with considerable financial support from the UPS Foundation. In this issue you will find a one-page form for the use of those interested in participating in the 2004 contest and literacy program. Even if you are reading this notice or sending the form back after November 1, you still have time to ensure that the blind child in your life takes part in the contest or participates in the program for prereaders. But act today. Consult the tear-out form for exact details and complete and return it immediately.
This moment of looking forward to an expanded program also seemed a good time to look back over what we have accomplished during these last nineteen contests and to pay tribute to some of those who have made our success possible. Aloma Bouma, a former journalist and one-time member of the staff at the National Center for the Blind, did a review of our very successful Braille Readers Are Leaders Program. Here it is:
Nearly twenty years have passed since we first began our Braille reading contest for blind children. The Braille Readers Are Leaders program was born out of a commitment to design a national reading contest for blind children similar to reading programs for sighted kids. Sponsored jointly by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB), this contest has brought blind children the education and adventure they need to shape their dreams, a foundation of skills necessary to build those dreams, and the encouragement and self-confidence to make them come true.
Since 1984 thousands of blind children have participated in our Braille Readers Are Leaders contest. Hundreds have been winners, and hundreds of thousands of pages of Braille have been read. All contestants receive certificates and ribbons for participating, and the contest, which runs from November through January each year, awards cash prizes, certificates, and ribbons to the top five winners in each of five categories. These include the beginning (first year) Braille readers and four grade levels: K-1, 2-4, 5-8, and 9-12. In the Most Improved catagory, special ribbons are awarded to the top-ten most improved readers each year. Applicants can enter every year, and the winners are determined by the number of Braille pages read and verified by a designated parent, teacher, or librarian.
Keeping track of the applicants, winners, and pages read each year is a tremendous project. Accomplishing this job efficiently takes a lot of work—work that would not be done smoothly and consistently without a lot of help. Judges, parents, teachers, contest supervisors, and those who manage the computer files for the contest all play an important part. Since 1997, however, some of the most complex, time-consuming, and intensive parts of the work have been done by a remarkable group of volunteers from the Rolling Hills Women’s Club of Catonsville, Maryland.
In 1997, designated internationally as “The Year of The Child,” the wonderful partnership between the Catonsville Women’s Club and the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest began. “We have been incredibly fortunate to have the help of these women,” said NOPBC President Barbara Cheadle. “There is no way to estimate the tremendous value of their contribution to the Braille Readers contest. Their commitment to blind children and to this project has built friendships and respect among all of us,” she said.
Ruth Burgess, a club leader, now seventy-five, was looking for a project for the club that would benefit the blind—one of the suggested service projects by the National Federation of Women’s Clubs. Burgess thought that perhaps her club could donate toys or determine another project to benefit blind children, so she began to look through her local telephone book. And the rest, as they say, is history. She contacted the National Federation of the Blind and talked to Barbara Cheadle, and together they developed a plan.
“We were invited to tour the Federation office, and our eyes were opened to all that the NFB does,” Burgess explained. “We learned about blindness, and we quickly wanted to work with the Braille reading contest.” And worked they have. For seven years Burgess and other club members have helped to tabulate and record the number of pages read by every Braille Readers Are Leaders contestant—no small accomplishment. Every year, during the last two weeks of February and the first week of March, dedicated club members arrive at the National Center for the Blind to contribute their time and energy to help blind children, and they have come to look forward to it. “Those of us who have done it before are really anxious to come back,” Burgess exclaimed. “We really love to do it. It makes a difference to us. Sometimes, when you are doing something that you believe in, you think you are doing it to help someone else, but you are really doing it because it is something that has become important to you,” she said.
The work the women perform is certainly detailed. They begin by reviewing the application form submitted by each applicant. This form lists the child’s name, age, grade, and school and the author, title, and number of pages read in each book. These numbers, previously tabulated by the supervising parent or teacher, must be reviewed and double-checked for each applicant and every book. Once they verify the number of pages read, one of the women dictates the information from the form to a blind volunteer, who records this information in Braille. Both print and Braille copies are then filed together in the various contest categories.
The Rolling Hills Women’s Club participates in other areas of the contest as well. They help place all of the awards, certificates, and ribbons in the applicants’ award packets, and they share in the joy and excitement of the awards ceremony held for Maryland contest winners, where they provide and serve refreshments. “It is a wonderful experience to see the kids get their awards,” said Burgess. “We are always impressed with the way these young people conduct themselves; it is just a revelation to see how they do. All of us have learned so much about what the blind are doing. We are always impressed when a youngster has read three thousand pages. But someone who has read eight pages has worked just as hard as the one who read three thousand. For the person who read eight pages, it is just as much of an accomplishment,” Burgess said.
Volunteering with the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest is a team effort for the Rolling Hills Women’s Club. About a dozen women have participated over the years, and they are all proud of their work. The club has also been recognized for its efforts, winning a regional award for the project from the National Federation of Women’s Clubs. Mary France, who was club president from 1996 to 1997, tries to come every year. “Even though my husband graduated from the Maryland School for the Blind, I personally knew very little about Braille,” she said.
The club’s current president is Rae Warshaw, seventy-one, a retired schoolteacher. She likes to work with numbers, so she helps to tabulate all of the pages read by each contestant, although she is also eager to pitch in wherever needed. Rae feels very strongly about the importance of getting kids to want to read, and she supports incentive programs and competitions like Braille Readers Are Leaders. “If you can’t read, you are lost,” she said.
The contest has grown substantially over the years, increasing from approximately two hundred applicants each year to over four hundred. This means, in turn, that the number of pages read and tabulated each year has increased. For example, the total number of pages read by all contestants in the 2000-2001 contest year was 476,015. One enthusiastic Braille reader managed to read twenty thousand pages! While this is an outstanding achievement, we are proud to say it is a feat attainable by many blind children who have received instruction in reading and writing Braille.
Of course the growth of the contest means additional work for the Rolling Hills Women’s Club and all of the other volunteers who work on the project. Two volunteers in this second group are Bernice Lowder and Mary Kuforiji, both blind parents from the Baltimore area. It is up to these two women to copy into Braille all of the print contest information read to them by the Rolling Hills volunteers. This is no small task. Each year Kuforiji and Lowder have dedicated long hours to helping with the Braille Readers contest, and we couldn’t manage without them.
In addition to transcribing into Braille the information from each applicant, Kuforiji and Lowder tabulate the annual number of contestants and track each applicant’s contest category. Lowder emphasizes the value of a contest like this, saying, “These kids are given a chance to learn to love reading, and the challenge of the competition really helps them improve their Braille skills.” The importance of building better Braille literacy for blind children is an important component of the contest, agrees Kuforiji. “It is the only way to become a fast Braille reader, especially when you are young,” she said.
The contest judges also play a vital role in the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest. For many years the two judges were blind Braille instructors, Ellen Ringlein and Ruth Sager. Their job was to make sure the applicants met all of the contest requirements and to verify what type of Braille materials each read. Textbooks and homework, for example, cannot be counted as a part of the contest. Some schools and children have a difficult time acquiring enough Braille books and materials, so the contest allows students to read a book more than once. The judges, however, have to make sure that students did not read a book more than three times.
Ringlein said that another important job of the judges has been to select the ten most improved readers each year. This isn’t easy, because the winners are chosen based on the number of pages increased, not simply the number of pages read. Winners of the Most Improved category must not have won in any contest category in previous years. This special award, she said, motivates readers. “It is designed as an incentive to those who are not likely to be competitive in other categories, and it encourages them to keep working on their skills,” she said.
Sager has seen great improvement in the number of pages contestants have read over the years. You might expect that, as children grow older and have more ability and experience, they would increase their reading amounts. However, Sager is particularly impressed by the increases she has seen among young children. “The number of pages read by the kindergarten through fourth grade categories has increased substantially. At one time the top young winners would have read approximately one thousand pages, but today a young child has to read about three thousand pages to compete in the top three placements,” she noted.
In recent years the judges have also awarded special Honor Roll ribbons for readers who have not yet achieved top honors but who show remarkable ability. These color-coded ribbons are awarded in classifications based on the number of pages read by non-award-winners. “Many students read from five hundred to over eight thousand pages. We want to show them that they are making great progress, and we need to encourage them to keep improving,” she said.
Nadine Jacobsen, president of NAPUB, cannot say enough about the volunteer Braille transcribers, the judges, and the women of the Rolling Hills Women’s Club. “A national contest like ours takes a lot of effort, dedication, and love for the project. We have the very best group of volunteers anyone could ask for,” Jacobsen remarked. “The Braille Readers Are Leaders contest has proven to increase the interest and ability of blind children as they develop Braille reading skills. Developing these skills at an early age will be one of the best gifts we can give our children as they grow into independent, successful, and competent adults,” she said.
It isn’t just the volunteers who love the Braille Readers contest. The students, parents, teachers, and administrators share our feelings for the importance of this reading program. Following, you will find letters from a previous contest winner and a teacher. They express the overwhelming need, interest, and gratitude for this Braille reading competition. Here they are:
I liked when I got first place in the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest. I worked hard to achieve my goal. Your contest encourages kids like myself to read. I got a bike with the money I won. We went to Wal*Mart to get my bike. I picked out the pink one. My dad put training wheels on the bike. Thanks again.
Just wanted to mention that when I first started working with Paul, one and one-half years ago, he barely would read one page of Braille independently. Even though he probably won’t be a contest winner, I am very proud of what he has accomplished.
Mary Ellen Smith, teacher of the visually impaired
Not only has our Braille Readers Are Leaders contest increased blind children’s interest in reading, it is helping to lay the educational foundation these children need as they grow older. The Braille skills they develop will help them in many ways in the years to come. Preparation and review of class notes; using office and professional materials; and maintaining order in personal or financial records, files, videotapes, and other belongings are just a few of the hundreds of other uses they will find for Braille.
Blind people today have a myriad of devices and electronic systems that rely on Braille. Computers with Braille displays, portable notetakers, and computers with Braille keyboards and displays, Braille printers to produce documents, and many similar types of equipment are found at home, in school, and on the job. Without Braille skills blind people cannot take advantage of this technology. The following letter from a teacher of blind children illustrates this point:
I came to work with Nare just this year. She is a bright, motivated young lady. She had retinal detachment while in middle school and was taught grade 1 [uncontracted] Braille at that time. Prior to this year Nare was not familiar with grade 2 [contracted] Braille or technology for persons who are visually impaired and had been completing her high school education aurally. Nare knows she will need to continue to work hard (so much to learn) to be successful in college. This year she has finished grade 2 [contracted] Braille, and she has learned to use a BrailleNote [a portable Braille notetaker] and can now print her work in both Braille and print. She is also just beginning to use a computer with JAWS [a synthetic speech program]. I am so proud of her and thought you would be too! It pains me to think of how long ago she should have learned Braille. She did read much more than got documented and she chose to read some difficult stuff. I’m just proud of her for entering the contest.
The Braille Readers Are Leaders contest has played a vital role in the development of blind children in need of help beyond increasing literacy skills. For example, children who have emigrated from other countries have used our contest to learn both Braille and English. Children who are deaf-blind and children with multiple disabilities who rely on Braille often require additional educational support. These students, who often struggle to keep up with their classmates, have found our contest an exciting way to improve their reading skills and also share in the same reading experiences as their friends.
The Braille Readers Are Leaders contest is clearly a labor of love. The blind children who participate love the reading they do and love the competition. Their parents and teachers love the increased skills and reading ability the children gain. The women of the Rolling Hills Women’s Club love their work on this important project, and we love them and are grateful for their help. The contest volunteers and judges love the awards, prizes, and honors given to the contestants, and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille love sponsoring the contest. Most of all, though, we all love the children, and we love seeing the difference this contest makes in their lives.
We have an outstanding team working together to make our contest the successful program it has become. For twenty years now we have nurtured, educated, cared for, and watched our children as they have grown into successful blind adults. Thanks to everyone involved in the contest, we are looking forward to seeing future generations of blind children achieve the same success and accomplishment as their predecessors. When it comes to the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest, everyone is a winner.
Braille Readers Are Leaders Expands Program
by Barbara Cheadle
The Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest is a national contest for Braille students, kindergarten through twelfth grades. It is sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB); both organizations are affiliated divisions of the National Federation of the Blind. From November 1 to February 1, parents, teachers, or librarians help students keep track of the number of Braille pages they read of extracurricular material. At the end of the three months, thirty-five students from six different categories earn recognition and cash prizes as the top winners. Students who read five hundred or more Braille pages for the contest are also honored with special Braille ribbons, and all contestants receive recognition for participation.
Since 1984 the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest has inspired thousands of blind students to read more Braille. In 1994 a special award was instituted for participating schools for the blind, and in 1998 an outstanding teacher or librarian was first selected for public recognition of his or her support for the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest.
The dramatic increase in recent years in the number of students who participate and the letters and comments we receive from teachers and parents demonstrate that the program is a success. However, we are not content to rest on our laurels. As NOPBC and NAPUB laid plans to celebrate twenty years of promoting Braille through the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest, we also considered the next twenty years. What more could we do to promote Braille literacy?
We listened to teachers and parents and concluded that Braille Readers Are Leaders needed to be more than a contest; somehow it needed to include the kids who weren’t reading yet—the prereaders or emergent readers. It is common knowledge that the foundation for literacy skills and the motivation to learn to read are laid down years before a child begins formal reading instruction.
Thanks to a grant from the United Parcel Service (UPS), the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest has expanded. It is now the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest and Literacy Program for Braille Readers and Prereaders. Beginning November 1, 2003, Braille Readers Are Leaders will include the first annual BRL Reading Pals—a non-competitive Braille literacy program for blind infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and older students with reading delays.
The goal of this program is to encourage parents to read aloud to their children a minimum of fifteen minutes a day during the three-month period beginning November 1, 2003, and concluding February 1, 2004. Upon registering for BRL Reading Pals, parents will receive a three-month reading journal, a print/Braille children’s book, a Reading Pal (a small beanie-baby-style stuffed animal), instructions about how to complete the program, a resource list for children’s print/Braille books, and tips on how to promote a positive attitude about Braille and reading. At the conclusion of the program the parent and child will receive a certificate of completion and a special prize they can share together. Teachers or other adults, such as grandparents, may also register a child for this program. However, the adult must have regular and frequent opportunities to read aloud with the child.
To request contest entry forms or the BRL Reading Pals registration forms, please complete and send the following information to Braille Readers Are Leaders, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; email <firstname.lastname@example.org>; (410) 659-9314 ext. 361.
Braille Readers Are Leaders
November 1, 2003 - February 1, 2004
Mail to: Braille Readers Are Leaders, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; email <email@example.com>; (410) 659-9314 ext. 361.
[ ] I wish to request contest entry forms. I understand this is a contest for Braille-reading students, kindergarten through twelfth grades (including students in un-graded programs). Please send me ______ entry form(s)
[ ] I wish to request BRL Reading Pals registration forms. I understand this is a pre-Braille literacy program for blind and visually impaired prereaders (babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and older children who are not yet independent readers). Please send me ________ registration forms.
Please send them to my [ ] school/work address [ ] home address
[ ] Parent [ ] Teacher [ ] Librarian [ ]Other ______________________
City, State, Zip _____________________________________________________
The best way to contact me is by:
(PLEASE PRINT LEGIBLY)
Telephone: (H)_______________ (W)_______________ (C ) _______________
For more information about these and other programs sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) or the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB), contact Barbara Cheadle, President, NOPBC, (410) 659-9314 ext. 360; email <firstname.lastname@example.org>; or Nadine Jacobson, President, NAPUB, (952) 927-7694; email <Nadine.Jacobson@visi.com>.
Receiving a High School Diploma in New Mexico
by Jennifer McClarin
Reprinted from Volume 7, Number 4, of Howe’s Now, a publication of the Council of Schools for the Blind, COSB.
Editor’s Note: There are two things that I find noteworthy and newsworthy about the following article. First, it provides a peek into the complexities and changes occurring around something that once seemed rather straightforward—the high school diploma. I do not have a position, pro or con, on the diploma program adopted by New Mexico and as described below. My purpose in reprinting this article is merely to stimulate—maybe even jolt—readers into investigating what’s happening on the diploma front in their own states, and the implications of any changes for all blind students. The other item I find of great interest concerns a specific graduation requirement at the New Mexico School for the Visually Handicapped (NMSVH), and is contained in the last two sentences (feel free to skip ahead and read them if you like). Kudos to the NMSVH! Other schools for the blind would do well to emulate this forward-looking practice in the support of Braille literacy. Here is the article in full:
In January 2000, New Mexico instituted new standards for special education students to receive a diploma. The New Mexico State Department of Education (SDE), via an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) Graduation Task Force, addressed the issues of integrity, consistency, and accountability and developed new state regulations in regards to IEP graduations. Students receiving special education services are able to earn their high school diploma by following one of three clearly defined programs of study: Standard, Career Readiness, and Ability. These are called Pathways to the Diploma.
Based upon student needs and the impact of their disability, the IEP team determines the most appropriate program of study prior to the student entering high school. Rationale for the selection of the particular program is documented in the IEP and goals and objectives are written. A graduation program, including a four-year plan of courses, must be a part of an IEP prior to the student entering the ninth grade or reaching age fourteen.
Due to the core curriculum needs of students with a visual impairment, sometimes the four-year plan becomes a five-year plan. A longer high school program is best discussed as an option when a student is in middle school, so that when high school plans are being made, a five-year plan may be viewed as an opportunity rather than a failure.
The program that must always be considered as the first option is the Standard Program. In this program a student must complete all SDE high school graduation requirements, with or without accommodations. In New Mexico, graduation requirements consist of the completion of a minimum of twenty-three units in specified content areas and passing of the New Mexico State Competency Exam.
The Career Readiness Program takes into account a student’s needs as a result of the disability and allows for substitution of classes as appropriate. It may be chosen only after the Standard Program of Study was considered. The career readiness program is based on the New Mexico Career Readiness Standards with Benchmarks. The student’s IEP should document classes, courses, and/or experiences that will be utilized to assure that the student achieves the IEP standards and benchmarks.
The Ability Program is based upon a student’s needs with IEP goals, objectives, and benchmarks identified to provide the most appropriate program for the student. Under this graduation plan, the majority of the goals and objectives relate to life and community skills. The ability program is typically identified for students with severe cognitive, physical, and/or mental health challenges, and may be chosen only after the other two programs of study have been considered.
All IEPs should document the student’s progress toward completing the identified program of study. Students who do not take the New Mexico High School Competency Exam must take the New Mexico Alternative Assessment (developed and approved by the SDE). Successful completion of the program of study earns the student a high school diploma and the right to participate equally in all graduation activities. The receipt of a high school diploma terminates access to special education services, as does a GED.
If, at the time of planned completion of a program, the student has not completed all graduation requirements, the student may receive a certificate indicating the number of credits earned and the grade completed. If a certificate is awarded, a follow-up plan of action must be made and the student is still eligible for special education services until receipt of a diploma or until the end of the academic year in which the student turns twenty-two years old. A student receiving a certificate has the option of participating in graduation activities at the time they would normally have received their diploma (i.e. with their “class) or they may elect to participate in graduation at a later date when they can receive their upgraded diploma.
All pathways lead to the same diploma. The Standard New Mexico General Education Diploma will be awarded upon completion of any of the three programs of study. All diplomas awarded by a school district must be identical in appearance, content, and effect, except that symbols or notations may be added to individual student’s diplomas to reflect official school honors or awards earned by students.
In addition to courses stipulated by the state, the New Mexico School for the Visually Handicapped (NMSVH) requires the completion of two other classes unless it is determined by the IEP team to be inappropriate for a student. Seniors are required to take a Life Competencies course. This class focuses on survival skills after high school. Students research careers, practice applying and interviewing for jobs, complete resumes, open checking accounts, fill out rental agreements and tax forms, complete college applications and practice functional activities in many other life skill areas. The other requirement for graduation from NMSVH is completion of two semesters of Braille. For students who are already proficient Braille users (assessed annually), this requirement is waived.
Jennifer McClarin is a Teacher/Inclusion Coordinator at the New Mexico School for the Visually Handicapped.
It’s Perfectly Normal
Editor’s Note: We do not take paid advertisements in Future Reflections, but we do pass on information to readers about products or literature that we think will be of interest to them. The National Braille Press (NBP) publishes many useful books in Braille for adults, children, and youth. We thought you would like to know about the following items:
Book: It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health, by Robie H. Harris. Ages 10-14. In Braille (2 volumes) or PortaBook, $10.99.
In this caring, conscientious, and well-crafted book, author Robie Harris offers a candid, thorough, and reassuring introduction to human sexuality.
In forthright and detailed text, she provides accurate and objective answers to children’s questions about all the supposedly “age appropriate” issues—the structure of the reproductive system and puberty, for example—as well as a good deal more, from the terms we use when we talk about sex to intercourse, birth, birth control, sexual health, abuse, issues of responsibility and respect, and a sense of the emotional weight that accompanies sexuality.
NBP offers “It’s Perfectly Normal” in Braille and PortaBook only. The print version of the books is available through bookstores or <www.amazon.com>.
Read more about this book online at <www.nbp.org/normal.html>.
English Braille Symbols Chart. Available in print only, $5.
This poster shows the English Braille Symbols for letters, numbers, punctuation, and 189 contractions. Note: This is the same chart that is included in our book Just Enough to Know Better.
To order, send payment to: NBP, 88 St. Stephen Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02115-4302
Or, call and charge it: toll-free (800) 548-7323 or (617) 266-6160, ext. 20
Or email your order to <email@example.com>.
Learning About the Stars
by Penny Leigh
Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from the September 2001, Volume 6, Number 3, issue of Howe’s Now, Council of Schools for the Blind, newsletter. The article was titled, “NASA-SCSDB Program Makes it Easier For Children with Special Needs to Learn About the Stars.” Penny Leigh is the Public Information Officer for the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind:
It’s difficult to learn about the solar system when you can’t see the twinkle of a star or the glow of the moon. But a new program will make it easier for students who are blind or have other disabilities to understand astronomy.
South Carolina School of the Deaf and the Blind (SCSDB) staff members spent part of the summer working with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scientists on adapting learning materials for the needs of children who are blind or deaf. SCSDB is the only school in the country working with NASA on the pilot project to test and implement the Multisensory Space Science Kit.
The new kit will be in use this fall at the Spartanburg school. The kit provides tools designed to provide teachers with the background information and lesson material they need to teach a variety of activities on solar system exploration and planetary science. “NASA was developing materials on its findings for educational classroom use and wanted to adapt them for students who are blind or deaf and make sure they are accessible to all children,” said Lin Mackechnie, SCSDB’s special education director.
Mackechnie, SCSDB science teachers Vicki Banks and Barbara Barnhardt and retired SCSDB teacher Pat Moore, who specializes in developing tactile maps, attended a three-day workshop with several NASA scientists in June at the College of Charleston. Some teachers of the hearing impaired from Charleston and a teacher of the learning disabled from Virginia also attended. “It helped teachers open their minds to the possibilities of adapting material that is very visual into something tactical or material that is auditory into something visual,” Mackechnie said.
The SCSDB staff helped the NASA representatives and other workshop attendees understand what it’s like to learn with a disability. The scientists put on blindfolds and used canes to get around and then tried on earplugs simulating various degrees of deafness to experience what it is like to be hearing impaired in a classroom.
The NASA representatives gave the teachers a lesson on the latest research findings from solar system missions. “A lot has been discovered since most of us studied the solar system,” Mackechnie said. “For instance, we now know many planets have rings, not just Saturn, and that at least one moon has a thin atmosphere whereas we thought they used to have none at all.”
The teachers and scientists then put their heads together to refine educational exercises designed for children who aren’t disabled. An example is a hands-on lesson that shows the proximity between planets. Students, each representing a planet, stand on different parts of a baseball field to show how far away other planets are from earth. This lesson would not mean a lot to a child who is blind. So the team came up with the idea of having each student hold something that makes a noise, such as clickers, whistles and horns. Bigger planets would be represented by something making a louder noise than a smaller planet.
An Alphabet of Space, an ABC chart in which each letter represents something from space, could be made into tactile flash cards. For instance, A stands for astronaut on the chart. The letter could be put into Braille format, and a raised space helmet, which children could feel, would represent the astronaut. Each Multisensory Space Science Kit also contains a plastic model of a space shuttle and a tactile map on which visually impaired students can feel the shape of the planets and a comparison of their size in relation to everyday objects.
Pat Moore is helping NASA reproduce the maps so more school systems can reap the benefits. The Roebuck resident taught science for thirty-five years—thirty of those years at the School for the Blind at SCSDB. One of the talents she developed during her years of teaching was creating tactile maps and graphics to help her visually impaired students understand abstract materials.
The solar system was one of the hardest concepts for students who are blind to understand because it is not concrete,” Moore said. “There weren’t maps or materials available to help them better learn the material.” Moore hand-drew tactile maps in the early days and became a self-taught expert. Today, she has a Thermoform machine that uses a heat-centered vacuum to produce tactile maps. Moore is reproducing NASA’s master copy of a tactile map of the solar system for SCSDB and other schools in the Southeast and will be producing other learning materials in Braille for the NASA program as they are developed.
The kit contains another helpful learning tool for the visually impaired—a CD of songs about the planets and the stars written by a retired Broadway actress. Each song tells a different story about part of the solar system. Music also is an effective learning tool for
students who have learning disabilities, Mackechnie said. The group also worked on developing simpler, easier-to-read text for learning disabled students.
For students who are deaf, the team worked on adapting textbooks with more visuals. The team recommended all NASA educational videos are produced with closed captioning for the deaf and with descriptive text for the blind.
SCSDB got involved with the program at the invitation of Dr. Cass Runyon, a geology professor at the College of Charleston. Runyon also is the director of SERCH, Southeast Regional Clearinghouse, which is funded through NASA’s Office of Space Science.
The agency acts as a liaison between NASA and schools in the Southeast and works “to promote education and public outreach and bridge the gap between science and education,” Runyon said.
A couple of years ago, the creator of the Multisensory Space Science Kit, former NASA program manager Steve Dwornik, decided it was time to retire and handed the kit over to Runyon to finish his work. “I had no experience with this type of thing so I started looking for some expertise,” she said. ‘That’s when I started coming to the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind and asking for some assistance. The June workshop was the first step in bringing the teachers together with NASA to adapt the kit and make it better for exceptional children. “The teachers taught us so much about what they are facing and the flexibility required of the kit.”
Runyon hopes to put the Multisensory Space Science kit in as many schools across the country as possible. NASA is planning other educational kits on different topics in the future. SERCH and the South Carolina Space Grant Consortium will organize another meeting between NASA and SCSDB officials in four to six months to follow up and plan for future projects.
“We want to give every NASA scientist developing educational materials a set of guidelines to go by on how to make the material more usable for all children,” Mackechnie said.
For more information contact:
(864) 577-7508 (telephone)
IEP Goals and Objectives
This is a publication of the Families and Advocates Partnership for Education (FAPE) project. For more information about this and other FAPE publications please contact PACER Center, Inc., 8161 Normandale Blvd., Minneapolis, Minnesota 55437. (952) 838-9000 voice; (952) 838-0190 TTY; (952) 838-0199 fax; (888) 248-0822 toll-free; Web site <www.fape.org>; email: <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
“Facts-on-Hand” is an easy to read series on special education and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA is the nation’s special education law. Under the IDEA, if a child is found to be a child with a disability, he or she is eligible for special education and related services.
If your child has a disability and is eligible for special education and related services, a team of people will gather to talk about what special instruction and services your child needs. This team includes you, the parent.
The team reviews the information available about your child. This includes such information as classroom work, reports from teachers and from you, and achievement test results. It also includes the results of individual evaluations of your child, whether conducted by the school or private practitioners.
You and the other team members use this information to determine how your child is currently doing in school and what special needs he or she has. For example, your child may have trouble with reading, writing, paying attention, speaking, or behaving appropriately. Together, the team decides what your child needs to work on during the year.
Team decisions are written down in a document called the Individualized Education Program (IEP). An important part of your child’s IEP will be his or her annual goals and short-term objectives. [Please note: Sometimes major accomplishments called benchmarks are used in the IEP rather than objectives. Everything that applies to objectives applies to benchmarks in the same fashion.] This “Facts-on-Hand” explains more about annual goals and short-term objectives.
What are annual goals and short-term objectives?
Every child with an IEP has goals and objectives for the year. Goals and objectives are written statements in the IEP. They describe what the child will learn or focus on in the upcoming year in school.
Goals look at big steps. They state what the child is expected to learn during the year. For example, take Suzie. She’s six and only knows the names of a few objects. An annual goal for Suzie could be, “Suzie will correctly name 60 new objects”.
Objectives (or in other cases, benchmarks) are smaller steps. They break the annual goal down into smaller pieces. For example, Suzie has the goal of naming 60 new objects. This goal may be broken down into several objectives such as:
1. By December 31, Suzie will name 20 new objects in her environment.
2. By March 15, Suzie will name 20 additional new objects in her environment.
3. By June 15, Suzie will name 20 additional objects in her environment.
When Suzie meets all of these objectives, she also reaches her annual goal. Suzie’s IEP will have goals and objectives written just for her. There should be a connection between her individual needs and the goals and objectives in her IEP. The goals and objectives must also relate to how Suzie will be involved and make progress in the academic content that all other children are doing.
What does Suzie need to do to meet a goal or objective? How will the IEP team measure Suzie’s progress?
Suzie IEP must include information about how her progress toward the annual goals will be measured. This information may be in another part of the IEP or written directly into the goal and objective statements themselves. For example, one of Suzie’s objectives could read: Suzie will correctly name 20 new objects, nine out of ten times, based on teacher observation.
How will I know if my daughter is meeting her goals?
The IEP must include a statement of how the school will let you know how your daughter is doing at least as often as parents are informed of their non-disabled children’s progress. At this time, they will describe your daughter’s progress towards each of her goals and whether she is making enough progress to reach her goals by the end of the year. Be sure to review this information carefully.
What do I do if my son isn’t making good progress toward his goals?
If you don’t think that your son is making enough progress on his goals, there are several things that you can do. First, talk to his special education teacher or principal. You may need to ask for an IEP meeting. Your son’s IEP team (which includes you) can look at your son’s progress. Maybe he needs more services. Perhaps the goals and objectives need to be changed. Maybe more testing is needed. Together, your son’s IEP team can decide what needs to be done to help him make progress.
My son has an IEP with written goals and objectives. For most classes, he does not need extra help, just a special seating arrangement. Do we need to write goals and objectives for this accommodation?
No. If your son only needs special seating to be successful in the regular classroom, his IEP does not need to include goals and objectives for the special seating. Special seating is an accommodation that he needs to succeed. This needs to be recorded in his IEP. Accommodations and modifications are usually not written as goals and objectives, but put into another part of the IEP. Your son’s IEP will include a statement of any services and supports (including accommodations, program modifications, or interventions) the school will provide your son.
Real Life Example
Maria is in fourth grade. She has a learning disability. Tests show that Maria can read first grade books at a rate of 20-30 words per minute. The IEP team writes an annual goal for Maria to improve her reading.
Maria will read second grade material at a rate of 60 - 80 words a minute with no more than 0 - 2 errors.
By November 15, Maria will read first grade material at a rate of 60 - 100 words per minute with no more than 0 - 2 mistakes.
By April 15, Maria will read second grade material at a rate of 40 - 60 words per minute with no more than 3 - 5 mistakes.
By June 15, Maria will read second grade material at a rate of 60 - 80 words per minute with no more than 0 - 2 mistakes.
Maria’s teacher records Maria’s reading and error rates throughout the year in order to measure her progress.
For a look at what the law says:
See the IDEA regulations Section 300.347, and Appendix A. The regulations are available online at www.ed.gov/offices/ OSERS/IDE/regs.html
They are also available in hard copy at no charge from ED Pubs. Order online at www.edpwbs.org or by phone (877) 433-7827, TTY/TDD (877) 576-7734, or fax (301) 470-1244.For more information:
See “FAPE Facts-on-Hand - Modifications and Accommodations”
The National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY)
(800) 695-0285 <www.nichcy.org>
Funding for the FAPE Project comes from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (Cooperative Agreement No. H326A980004). This document was reviewed by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), the OSEP Project Office, and the FAPE Project Director for consistency with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997. The contents of this document do not necessarily reflect the view or policies of the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of other organizations imply endorsement by those organizations or the U.S. Government.
PHOTO: Ryan Osentwoski
Equal Access to a Black and White World
by Ryan Osentowski
Reprinted from the NFB monthly publication, the Braille Monitor, January 2003.
Editor’s Note: Ryan Osentowski is an energetic young leader in the NFB of Nebraska. In this article he explains why he works hard to strengthen National Federation of the Blind NEWSLINE® in his state. So, what’s NFB-NEWSLINE®, and how is it relevant to blind youth? If you are guessing it has something to do with access to newspapers, bingo! And here is Ryan to tell you all about it:
Dad, what does ‘arson’ mean?” I asked as I sat next to him on the couch, interrupting him midway through an article he was reading aloud to me from the Kearney Daily Hub.
“It’s when people set fires on purpose,” he answered.
“Like in a fireplace?” I asked.
“No, like in a building,” he patiently answered. “Sometimes people burn buildings because—” but I had already lost interest in what my dad was saying. Mention of the fireplace had caused me to reach up and feel the newspaper he was holding in front of his face. Until then I had assumed that newspaper was just something you stuffed into a fireplace to help the fire burn brighter. But here was my father reading to me from one.
“Dad, why are you reading that?” I asked.
“I like to know what’s going on around town,” he answered, putting down the paper. Evidently he had decided that he would never make it to the sports page with a curious four-year-old pestering him with questions. I immediately grabbed another page, putting it to my nose and smelling the ink. I ran my hands over the smooth surface of the paper, listening to the rustle as it gave way between my fingers. Then, after a few seconds of this exploration, I crushed it into a ball, fired the papery projectile across the room, and laughed. My dad sighed and commented that he hadn’t really wanted to read the sports page anyway.
Ten years later I began to realize how much more important a newspaper was than mere fire fuel. In my eighth-grade social studies class, our teacher, Mr. Henderson, began a weekly ritual of Friday morning current events trivia contests. He told our class that we were to read the Thursday evening paper, and he was going to test us on Friday morning to see how much we had absorbed. The person who answered the most questions correctly would win a free soft drink and candy bar from the teachers’ lounge. Soft drinks and candy bars might as well have been contraband at the time, since no vending machines were available to students at our school.
This prize was enough to jar the students out of the world of comic books and television for one night in order to acquaint themselves with the real world reflected in the Kearney Daily Hub. I realized that I would have to enlist my parents’ aid to help me win, so I began urging them to read the paper to me on Thursday nights. Unfortunately, raising three boys and working full time didn’t always afford them the necessary time to read the complete Kearney paper aloud. I soon discovered that I could bribe my friends to read the paper to me. This worked for about two weeks until my mother found out what I was doing and informed me in no uncertain terms that lunch money was to be used for lunch and nothing else. Somehow I couldn’t convince my mother that a soft drink and candy bar were as nourishing for lunch as the daily mystery meat and potatoes that faced us in the cafeteria.
I cursed motherly intuition and began searching for another option. Then I learned about our state radio reading service, but was disappointed to learn that they did not read the Kearney paper regularly. When they did read the Hub, they excerpted it. Eventually I resigned myself to the fact that I would never win a free soft drink and candy bar.
Six years after that Dr. Kenneth Jernigan and the National Federation of the Blind brought one of my fondest dreams to reality with the creation of NEWSLINE for the Blind. During high school and early college I began paying more attention to current events. I watched the evening news and listened to AM talk radio and political commentary. Many times I heard a journalist on TV or radio quote from an article in USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, or the Los Angeles Times. I found myself frustrated that they would never read the entire article. My curiosity was aroused, but I could never find out more about the subject being discussed. Mixed with my frustration, however, was a growing fascination that the media pundits on radio and television always quoted from the newspaper. This told me that, despite the thriving world of electronic media, the printed word in newspapers still had its place.
I always felt frustrated, convinced that I was shut out from a part of the world of current events into which my sighted classmates could freely dip. I had a computer but hadn’t yet logged onto the Internet. When I heard that the NFB had invented a service by which blind people could read the entire text of a newspaper by telephone, I became excited. My excitement was short-lived when I learned that it wasn’t available in Nebraska where I was attending college. I experienced that same old feeling of disappointment—no soft drink and candy bar for me. But this time it was worse. Instead of sugary treats, I was being denied equal access to a big part of the ever-changing face of our world. Newspaper articles were often discussed in political science, journalism, and philosophy classes that I took. I had better luck convincing classmates to read an occasional article to me if it grabbed my interest, but I still could not browse an entire newspaper at will.
Three years later I had the opportunity to see NEWSLINE in action. I was attending the Federation’s annual Washington Seminar, and Dr. Maurer demonstrated NEWSLINE by speaker phone during the great gathering in. I was impressed and excited when Dr. Maurer informed us that we could all use NEWSLINE while we visited Washington, thanks to a test number set up by the national office in Baltimore. I stayed up much too late those few nights, browsing the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun, soaking up the latest headlines. I couldn’t get enough, much to the annoyance of my roommates, who were more interested in getting sleep than the news. We all left Washington full of determination. I was determined to help fight to get NEWSLINE in Nebraska, while my two roommates were determined to find a different roommate the following year.
In June of 1999 my hopes were finally realized as the NFB of Nebraska officially launched NEWSLINE in Lincoln with a grand ribbon-cutting ceremony. I was like a kid in a candy store, getting my Coke and Snickers bar ten years late. I was always on the phone checking out national headlines as well as the Omaha World-Herald. By that time I enjoyed Internet access, but the idea of walking around my apartment with my cordless phone in hand, browsing the Washington Post, was very liberating.
It was a big step up from the days of readers and radio reading services, but I still felt limited. I had only four papers to choose from. Yet I loved the service and felt I had come full circle when I became the Nebraska NEWSLINE outreach coordinator in the fall of 2000. The work itself is easy and rewarding, demonstrating NEWSLINE for blind persons who are interested and helping them to sign up for the service. I take a great deal of pride in sharing the joy of equal access with others who can benefit from NEWSLINE.
Since I have been a part of NEWSLINE, I have seen it grow and touch the lives of more people. With the new national service that came to us courtesy of Congress in March of 2002, the limits have become even less constricting. Whereas before I was able to read only four newspapers, I am now able to choose among some fifty-five state and national papers. The benefits of this became starkly clear last semester when my criminal justice professor took up an issue of USA Today one morning and began reading an article about the Enron scandal. I realized that I had read that very article just a few hours before. I could finally recognize an article that my professor was quoting. I made it a point to approach him after class and discuss the article in depth. Later that semester I had the opportunity to debate my philosophy professor in his office regarding an article from the New York Times on cloning. He was impressed that I was so well read and asked, “Who reads your newspapers for you? Do you have to pay someone?”
“Not at all,” I said and pointed to the telephone on his desk. “I get everything from this.” Needless to say, my professor was impressed.
While the events I have described have all been beneficial to my education, I never fully realized how vital NEWSLINE could be as a part of my life until just last week. Nebraska is right in the middle of tornado season, and my hometown of Kearney was pummeled by a band of intense thunderstorms on June 12, 2002. No actual tornados were sighted in the city, but much of the area was pelted by hail the size of softballs. Lincoln is located about two hours east of Kearney, which meant that my hometown was outside the news coverage of local television and radio stations. Beyond a quick mentioning of “bad hail and thunderstorms near Kearney,” the people on the ten o’clock news said relatively little about the impact the storms had had on the city.
I had received a quick phone call from my parents, telling me of the damage done to our home, but I knew nothing about the destruction that the rest of the city had endured. It was disconcerting to be unaware of the damage that many of my friends who still live there had suffered in the wake of the storm. It was heartbreaking, yet comforting, to call NEWSLINE the following day and read more extensive coverage of the storm in the Omaha World-Herald. It also made me realize just how far we still have to go in our effort to make more newspapers accessible to the blind. The Kearney Daily Hub is not yet a part of NEWSLINE, and we have many other newspapers in the western portion of the state that haven’t signed on with our service. The incident with the storm has only strengthened my resolve to continue working to promote the benefits of NEWSLINE, not only to the blind, but to potential newspaper participants as well.
NFB-NEWSLINE® has made a strong impact on my life, and the results are nothing but positive. Along with my daily news headlines, I can read movie and book reviews, editorials, and human interest. I can keep up with the Nebraska Cornhuskers on the sports page or find out if it’s raining in Baltimore. The world of black and white denied me for so long is now at my fingertips, and it serves me well.
In reflecting upon the benefits that NFB-NEWSLINE® has offered to me, I find it difficult to understand how anyone could oppose NEWSLINE. We, the blind of this country, have taken a great leap forward in gaining access to a world that was largely denied to us for many years. NEWSLINE truly embodies Dr. Jernigan’s vision of independence, and any blind person can be a part of it. I hope those who have not yet signed up for this revolutionary service will do so and enjoy the world of black and white that I have come to love.
For more information about the service, or to request an application, contact the
NFB office and ask for NFB-NEWSLINE® at (410) 659-9314, fax: (410) 685-5653, or email <email@example.com>.
[PHOTO: Cover of the CNIB handbook for parents.]
Finding a New Path: Guidance for Parents of Young Children Who Are Visually Impaired or Blind
Review by Barbara Mathews
Finding a New Path: Guidance for Parents of Young Children Who Are Visually Impaired or Blind is a handbook published by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. The “Forward” explains that it was prepared as a result of a survey identifying parental concerns and needs, and that it is intended to provide parents information about blindness in general, how to help their children develop needed skills, and how to deal with medical professionals, schools, and others.
As the title indicates, the book is targeted to parents of babies and young children who have recently received a diagnosis of blindness or visual impairment. However, parents of early school-age children may also find several sections interesting. The book includes chapters on diagnosis, blindness in general, family life, early development and learning, education, and advocacy.
A generally positive attitude toward blindness and parenting a blind child is reflected in most of the book. For example, one section is entitled, “You Will Have All the Rewards of Parenting.” It reassures parents that, “You, too, will talk proudly about your child, his sense of humor, his intellect, his talents, and his accomplishments.” Similarly, the chapter on family life starts out, “While having a child who is blind can change a family, your family remains like any other in most fundamental ways.” I still remember when I wondered about such things, and I know that honest yet realistic encouragement can help families start down the right path.
There are several other valuable themes in the book. One is the promotion of the parents’ role as advocate for their child. I know some school administrators and program directors try to convince parents otherwise, so it is refreshing to see the encouragement in the chapter entitled, “You are Your Child’s Advocate.” It includes statements like, “You are in control,” “Try to be the captain of the team,” and “You may be the most important professional on your child’s team.” (Preferably, it would have said, “You are the most important professional…”)
Another excellent message is the encouragement of interaction with other parents. Because blindness is a low incidence disability, finding other similarly situated parents can be a challenge. I was pleased to see the book direct parents to the Internet as a valuable tool to communicate with other parents. I was also pleased, of course, to see references to the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and Future Reflections, in spite of the book’s difficulty in getting the names of both exactly right.
The book contains some important nuggets of information about social development. One is what the book calls “the power of the invitation.” Experienced parents of blind children know that they have to do most of the initiating of social interaction at first. The book has an excellent page devoted to suggestions for fostering friendships at different age levels, which is very helpful for parents trying to figure out how to do this.
On the other hand, some sections of the book appear to be written by someone who lacked much actual, everyday experience with a blind child. A prime example is the section on mannerisms. I laughed out loud at the suggestion for eye-poking, “You can trying saying, ‘poking your eye doesn’t look nice.’”
Some of the other suggestions are a bit silly, such as labeling drawers with pieces of cloth so the child knows which clothes go where. Children, of course, remember which drawer is for pajamas, etc., without labeling. The statement that a blind child won’t be interested in how toys “look” seems to come from someone who hasn’t been around a blind child with her siblings or peers. Many blind children care very much about how their toys look to others.
The section on toys generally falls into the common trap of assuming that complicated electronic toys that talk and make a lot of noise are best for blind kids. In truth, they use a lot of batteries and break down, and kids usually prefer simpler toys and their own imaginations.
The sections on financial hardships and emotional strain unfortunately overstate the difficulties. Under “Financial Hardships,” it states that some families “have to move,” and “some parents have to change jobs.” Parents should not be led to think it is typical to have to move or change jobs because a child is blind, especially soon after receiving a diagnosis.
The section entitled “Emotional Strain” states, “Having a child with a severe disability can put a strain on family relationships, significantly alter lifestyles, and limit a family’s ability to take part in group activities.” Perhaps it can, but in my experience and those of other parents I know, blindness alone does not have such an impact, and much of the rest of the book is devoted to making that point. Not surprisingly, according to the “Acknowledgements,” this section reflects the input of a psychotherapist, rather than the parent of a blind child.
There are other lapses that a critical reader will notice. For example, in describing how a blind child is different from a sighted child, it says, “He needs help getting around.” I wish the author had phrased this heading differently. The text following that statement—“He needs to learn how to move about safely and confidently”—is fine. The statement that note-takers are appropriate starting in “late elementary” school is misleading. Many children start using note-takers such as the BrailleNote much earlier.
Overall, the book’s positive tone, helpful information, and advice for parents substantially outweigh its negatives, and I would recommend it for the target audience. It is most useful to Canadian families because it includes descriptions of Canadian laws, school systems, and programs. However, American families will also find many parts of the book useful as long as they recognize that education laws, practices, and some resources are different in the United States.
Finding a New Path: Guidance for Parents of Young Children Who Are Visually Impaired or Blind. Edited by Deborah Gold, Ph.D., published by The Canadian National Institute, copyright 2002. 200 pages. Illustrated, black & white photos, bibliography, and appendices. ISBN 0-921122-38-1
To obtain copies, contact The Canadian National Institute for the Blind, 1929 Bayview Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4G 3E8. Phone: (416) 480-7295. Fax: (416) 480-7677. Web site: <www.cnib.ca>.
Barbara Mathews is a regular contributor to Future Reflections. She is a member of the national board of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, and the mother of two children, including seven-year-old Kyra, who is blind.
Adoptive Families Needed for Vision Impaired Waiting Children
The World Association for Children and Parents (WACAP) is seeking loving adoptive families for beautiful waiting children from around the world. Currently, there are fourteen children with various forms of vision impairment that range from mild to significant.
WACAP has been placing children in loving adoptive homes since 1976. WACAP has
adoption programs in six countries including China, Korea, India, Russia, Thailand, and the United States. Financial assistance is available for the adoption of waiting children.
Please contact WACAP’s Family Finders Program at (206) 575-4550 or by email at
<FamilyFinders@wacap.org> for more information.
[PHOTO: Shape sorter toys are always popular with little ones.]
Child’s Play: Toys for Children with Disabilities
by Lynn Swanson
The following article is reprinted with permission of the author from ABILITIES, Canada’s Lifestyle Magazine for People with Disabilities, Issue 45, Winter 2000.
Editor’s Note: Although this article was written a few years ago for a Canadian audience, I believe families in the United States will be able locate many of the toy resources referenced in this piece.
Is there anything more magical than the sparkle in a child’s eyes on Christmas morning? We at ABILITIES hope to help Santa and his elves bring that excitement to youngsters with disabilities.
A good rule of thumb when selecting toys for children with disabilities is to choose ones which utilize their abilities. This advice comes from Laurie Fowles, occupational therapist at Thames Valley Children’s Centre in London, Ontario. For example, for children who are blind, toys that “cater to the other senses” are best. Ones with sound or smell are ideal.
Instead of using age as a guide, Fowles recommends considering a child’s interest and capabilities. “What their interests are is a biggie. How can we work with that to have the toy promote development, but still be fun for the child?”
Like many ten-year-olds, Jordan Smith often races home from school to play Nintendo and other computer games. But, Jordan, who has cerebral palsy, does more than have fun with electronic games. He strengthens fine motor skills in his hands and improves his manual dexterity.
Jordan and his seven-year-old brother, Connor, who also has cerebral palsy, love building with Duplo. Their mother, Mary, says Lego pieces are too small for the boys to handle.
But Duplo helps them build hand strength and is great
for their imagination and for developing language skills as Jordan and Connor chat about their creations. Mary thinks “anything that promotes [development of physical capabilities], that isn’t work, is wonderful.”
Fowles says computers are a big hit with most kids and can be adapted for children with disabilities. Yet great gifts don’t have to be expensive. Fowles suggests simple bubbles “are a must-have” for children with a range of disabilities.
Marg Barlow, parent-infant therapist at Child and Parent Resource Institute in London, says that often parents, grandparents, and others selecting toys chose ones with “glitz and busy-ness” and sometimes high prices. She finds that’s frequently a mistake because it’s often “overwhelming” for youngsters. That’s when they “just shut down,” give up on the toys and instead play with boxes, bowls, and other familiar things.
“So many toys look neat, but how accessible is it to the child?” asks Barlow. She suggests trying to look at toys from the child’s perspective. If the toy has a mirror, make sure the child can see it from his or her position.
Like Fowles, Barlow thinks simple toys are sometimes the best. Barlow says people often don’t give building blocks as gifts with all the other choices in today’s market. But they’re almost always a hit with the wee ones.
In selecting items for kids with developmental disabilities, Barlow recommends considering the child’s level of function. When children are playing, Barlow says, parents may have one definition of success, while kids have another. She says with a toy like stacking rings, parents often judge a child’s achievement by rings being placed in the right order, For kids, especially those with developmental disabilities, fun and a sense of accomplishment are derived just from getting the rings on the stick.
Both Barlow and Fowles say cause-and-effect toys are great for promoting a child’s development. The child does something—like push a button—and that causes something else to happen. Barlow says Sing and Smile Pals by V-Tech is easily activated. When the child pushes animal pictures, the dog barks, the cat meows, and the duck quacks. The Sassy Sound Shape Sorter gives musical feedback. For kids who are blind, sound is a great motivator. For kids who are deaf, it may be light or other visual responses. Musical feedback is also good for children with autism.
Fowles says V-Tech toys are usually accessible for youngsters with special needs. Valarie Anderson, who is blind, purchased that line’s Little Smart Phonics A to Z for her sighted granddaughter, Amandah. (With Little Smart, children can learn the alphabet by letters, sounds, alone or in words.) A delightful surprise for Anderson was discovering the Braille alphabet next to letter keys. So, Amandah sees—and feels—how her Nanny reads. Little Smart is also a super way for youngsters who are blind to begin learning Braille early.
Pennie Jevnikar, who has two daughters with low vision, attached rattles to the girls’ ankles with Velcro when they were infants “so they would know they have feet. Sighted babies see they have feet. Blind babies don’t.” Rattle socks with animal characters on them are also widely available for babies.
Jevnikar recalls that when her daughter Sarah was younger, she could always tell when the girl had been using her Crayola smelly markers because Sarah’s nose was covered with vibrant colours. At a birthday party, Sarah received Tutti-Fruttie play putty in all the smells available from her pals.
For games, Jevnikar suggests Scenterville, which has players identify play fruits and other items by smell. She says traditional board games like Snakes and Ladders are made in tactile versions, but she had to order hers from Scotland. However, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) offers a selection of fun products for youngsters with vision disabilities. These include Braille and tactile Bingo, large print and Braille playing cards, checkers, tic-tac-toe, Braille Monopoly and Scrabble, and a bell ball.
For a child just learning to walk at age three, Fowles says “a walker is not motivating.” But the Little Tikes shopping cart is “wonderful” as a push toy while practicing walking, especially when weighted with juice cans or sand bags.
To help you and Santa choose toys best suited to your child’s abilities, Toys-R-Us publishes an annual Toy Guide for Differently Abled Kids. Toys in it are tested for ten developmental areas, such as language, tactile, and gross motor skills.
Mark Casey, a Toys-R-Us store director, says the guide is “definitely client based… People come looking for an updated version” each year. In his London store, he finds it is used more by folks seeking toys for youngsters with developmental or learning disabilities than for physical disabilities, although the guide clearly covers all needs.
Like Fowles and Barlow, Casey stresses that toys don’t have to be fancy or costly to make kids happy. “One thing that stands out” in persevering popularity is “just plain old rubber balls.” They always provide lots of fun.
Terry Smith, Jordan’s and Connor’s father, says that Connor relishes playing with soccer balls and basketballs. He explains that when Connor throws a ball against the house and catches it, he improves his hand-eye coordination and loosens up his muscles. “It’s a form of therapy… but don’t tell him that,” Terry adds, chuckling.
Barlow recommends choosing toys that will grow with your child. She says she can think of 200 ways the Fisher Price Barn can be played with as a child grows and interests change. She also suggests joining a toy lending library instead of rushing out and spending money on toys your son or daughter may not enjoy.
If you want your child’s image reflected in their toys, some great items are available. Barbie’s friend Becky, who uses a wheelchair, was a Toys-R-Us exclusive a few years ago. She materialized as a yearbook photographer and a Paralympic athlete. Then Mattel discontinued her, even though Casey says Becky was a “humongous success.”
This year, Becky triumphantly returned as a Paralympian champion, complete with flashy racing wheelchair and gold medal around her neck.
Sign Language Teacher Barbie has one hand in the “I love you” sign. She comes with a blackboard and re-useable stickers showing various common ASL signs. Both these dolls are available from Toys-R-Us.
The classic Fisher-Price Little People School Bus has been updated to be wheelchair accessible. It includes three passengers and a driver, plus a little wheelchair for any one of the passengers. It’s available at <www.fisher-pricestore.com> or by calling, toll-free, (800) 747-8697.
For a more diverse option, check out the Multicultural Kids Ethnic Dolls Web site at <www.multiculturalkids.com>. Its “Differently Abled Equipment” (wheel chair, walker, hearing aids, guide dog, forearm crutches and leg braces) fits its line of Ethnic Dolls—you can order a specific gender and ethnicity of doll along with the equipment you want it outfitted with.
Another fabulous Web site, this one based in Winnipeg, is <www.dragonflytoys.com>. Dragonfly Toys offers 1,250 products mainly for kids with disabilities.
Dragonfly Toy’s Web site creates a child profile based on auditory, gross-motor, vision and fine-motor functions, developmental age range and language abilities. The profile is then matched to appropriate toys. When a parent signs up for a Dragonfly membership, more detailed information is entered so that the best options possible can be selected.
The Dragonfly Toys Web site is also loaded with super tips. These include how blowing bubbles can help develop self-feeding skills; swimming-pool safety for kids with spina bifida; how to make a computer mouse accessible for a child with a physical disability or who is cognitively young; and how to help youngsters with low muscle tone or strength learn to crawl on a gently slanting board with a toy as a motivator.
Dragonfly Toys also sells books, aids for daily living, and adaptive computer technology. (A print catalogue is available for people who aren’t online.) Renate Bursten, company president who has a decade of experience as a developmental play therapist, says Dragonfly’s goal is to “build a longer progression beyond toys” and be involved in the child’s “straight progression” through school and eventually into work.
Through its “Playpen” articles written by Bursten, parents and professionals, Dragonfly is helping parents of kids with disabilities connect with and learn from each other. Dragonfly also has a toll-free help line, (800) 308-2208, “where parents can come and feel comfortable and not out of the ordinary.” By facilitating those linkages and understanding their consumer better, Dragonfly aims to “take the special out of special needs.”
While pondering your toy choices, one final Web site to log on to is <www.exceptionalparent.com>. It has an excellent section on toys for kids with disabilities that includes reviews of many toys by parents and professionals.
Whatever choice of toys parents make, Fowles stresses that “play is the most important thing you can do with your child. It’s really how kids learn about their world and how to interact with other people.”
Lynne Swanson is a freelance writer living in London, Ontario.
[PHOTO: Alicia Jones of Kentucky looks at a display of Discovery Toys at the NFB National Convention.]
What’s Your Favorite Toy?
Nominate your favorite toy for the NOPBC Good Toys for Blind Kids list
Several years ago, parents from the New Jersey affiliate of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) put together a list of their children’s favorite toys. It was such a good idea that NOPBC decided to go national with the list. We solicited ideas from other members around the country and developed a “Good Toys for Blind Kids” list. The list is on our Web page at <www.nfb.org/nopbc/nopbctoys.htm>. We also put copies of the list into the free literature packets for parents and teachers that are mailed out from the NFB headquarters in Baltimore. However, the toy market—as we all know—is dynamic and ever-changing. So the time has come to revise the list. This time around, we would like to give all Future Reflections readers—parents, teachers, and kids—a chance to nominate a favorite toy for the list. Please take a few moments to fill out the following toy nomination form on the reverse side:
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
Good Toys for Blind Kids
2003 Nomination Form
Mail to: Good Toys for Blind Kids, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230.
I wish to nominate the following toy for inclusion in the “Good Toys for Blind Kids” list:
1. Name and brief description of the toy: ____________________________________
[ ] This is exactly how the name appears on the toy, the toy package, or other marketing information about the toy
[ ] This is my best guess
2. Name of toy store or other location (Web site, catalog, etc.) from which the toy can be purchased: ______________________________________________________
[ ] I know, for a fact, that the toy can be purchased from this/these locations
[ ] This is my best guess
3. This is a nifty toy for blind kids because: _________________________________
The following information is optional. If you can provide it, great. If not, please skip to the bottom of this form, sign it, and send it in.
4. This toy is suitable for children at this age or developmental level: ______________
[ ] This is information from the toy manufacturer
[ ] This is my best guess
5. Other information about the toy I think you should know: _________________
Nominated by: ________________________________________________
I am a [ ] parent [ ] teacher [ ] blind student [ ] other
If you have questions about my toy nomination, you can contact me at:
Home _______________ Work __________________ Cell _________________
Researcher Finds that Involving Young Children in Household Chores Pays off Later
by Liz Wolf
Reprinted with permission of the author from the March 2003 issue of Minnesota Parent, the eclectic journal of family living. For more information see <www.parenthood.com>.
All parents want their children to be self-reliant and responsible as they grow into young adults. New research shows it can be as simple as having them set the table, help with laundry, pick up their toys, and take out the garbage.
Research by Marty Rossmann, associate professor of family education at the University of Minnesota, indicates that parents can have a major impact on their children’s future by encouraging them to help with tasks around the house.
Rossmann found that having children take an active role in the household, starting at age three or four influenced their ability to become well-adjusted young adults. “This is cool stuff,” says Kris Loubert, a parent educator at the Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) program for Minneapolis schools. Loubert has used Rossmann’s research in her teaching. “It seems there’s payoff to having children help out, beyond learning how to keep a home in order. Marty’s research shows that it contributes to their success, and all parents want their children to be successful as they grow into young adults.”
In her research, Rossmann used previously unexplored data collected by Diana Baumrind, a well-known researcher on parenting styles. Baumrind began her study in 1967 using a sample of families living in the San Francisco area. Rossmann’s own family had been part of that study. Baumrind collected the data over twenty-five years.
“She gathered a great deal of data that she didn’t use, and I saw the possibility of doing secondary analysis of it,” Rossmann says. “I looked at it and saw an enormous amount related to children’s involvement in household tasks.” Rossmann analyzed the outcomes for 84 young adults based on their parents’ style of interacting, their participation in family tasks at three periods of their lives-ages 3 to 4, 9 to 10, and 15 to 16—and brief phone interviews when they were in their mid-twenties.
She analyzed variables—including parenting styles, gender, types of household tasks, time spent on tasks, and attitudes and motivators associated with doing the tasks—to determine their impact on the children. She then measured each individual’s “successes.” “I looked at the outcomes when they were in their mid-twenties, focusing on what they were doing in regards to completing their education or being on a path to complete their education, getting started on some type of career path, their relationships with family and friends, and whether or not they were using drugs,” Rossmann explains. She also considered IQ’s when doing her analysis.
After examining these issues and studying all of the possibilities that could influence the outcomes, Rossmann’s research indicates that the best predictor for young adults’ success in their mid-twenties is that they participated in household tasks at age three or four.
“Being involved in household tasks at a young age is what made the difference for a positive outcome,” Rossmann says. “Through participating in household tasks, parents are teaching children responsibility, how to contribute to family life, a sense of empathy, and how to take care of themselves.”
Common wisdom holds that IQ and motivation have a strong bearing on success, but she found that these don’t matter as much as participating in household tasks. Even Rossmann was surprised at the results. “I didn’t expect the outcome,” she says. “I analyzed it and re-analyzed it. It seems like such a simple area, but it’s a huge area.”
However, Rossmann warns, don’t wait too long to get children involved around the house. “The key is to start early,” she says. “If you don’t, it backfires. The study showed that when a parent started their children in tasks at ages 9 to 10, or worse, 15 to 16, the children thought that the parent was asking them to do something they didn’t want to do. They didn’t get the concept of ‘we’re all in this together.’ They were far too self-centered.” The earlier parents encourage their children to take an active role in the household, the easier it will be to get them involved as teenagers, Rossmann concludes.
“Marty’s research is an incentive for parents to get their children involved at an early age,” ECFE’s Loubert says. “Now, there’s compelling reason to have children help out.” For very young children, Rossmann advises that parents keep tasks simple, model how to do the tasks, work with them and offer lots of encouragement. As children grow older, pay attention to their learning styles. “Some children need to be shown several times. Some you can show once, and they pick it up. Some children need to be told in words. Some need to have it written out,” she says. For example, a parent might write out what needs to be done to take care of a pet. “There is no way to say, ‘You have to do it this way.’”
Of course, it takes discipline on the parents’ part to involve children in daily chores. The number one reason parents give for not having their children help out is that it is easier to do it themselves. “One parent said, ‘I know my son likes to vacuum, but he rides on it and it takes longer,’” Rossmann says.
Rossmann does not believe in giving allowances for doing household chores. “For me, allowances are important, but they should be separate from household tasks,” she says. “Allowances help children manage money at a young age and learn the values connected with money, but it should not be attached to household chores. Learning about money and the value connected with money is far too important a lesson to attach it to household tasks. And household tasks are far too important to be put in a situation where you take away money as a punishment.”
The best rewards are love and affection, she says. “Give lots of encouragement for the little jobs your children do—bringing the dishes to the sink, picking up their toys.” As for other rewards, Rossmann says putting little stars on a chart for tasks completed is fine. “They are tangible reminders that we all helped out,” she says. “But Dad gets a star, too, for taking out the garbage.”
Rossmann hopes to replicate this initial study with a larger sample of the population and include families that represent greater diversity.
Jean Illsley Clarke, an author and director of J.I. Consultants in Plymouth, is using Rossmann’s research in her soon-to-be-published book on overindulgence, Indulge Them Less, Enjoy Them More: Finding a Balance Between Giving More and Saying No to Your Children. In her own research, Clarke found that adults who said they were overindulged as children cited not having to do household chores as the reason why. By not being expected to contribute to the family by doing household tasks, these adults missed out on learning basic skills, which caused distress and embarrassment.
“We conducted in-depth interviews with adults who said they were overindulged as children, and there were several big surprises for us,” Clarke says. “People’s impression of overindulgence is being given too many toys, but we found that the major way people said they were overindulged was not having to do chores. One person told us she went to college without ever having learned to do the laundry. She asked her roommate, ‘Which is the washer and which is the dryer?’ She was absolutely ridiculed and never asked any more questions, so she stumbled along.”
Parents who don’t ask children do chores may have good intentions, but the impact is negative, Clarke says. For example, a working mother rushes to get dinner on the table so she can spend “quality” time with her child, playing or reading. Allowing her child to help with dinner would slow her down.
This, in fact, is what the child needs, Clarke says. The child connects with her mother one way when playing, but she connects in another way when helping to prepare dinner. “She feels like a contributing member,” Clarke says, and the mother “anchors” that feeling with her praise and encouragement. Rossmann’s research offers important information on the role of chores, Clarke says. “We’re coming at it from two different directions, but coming up with the same picture,” she says. “Marty observed that those who did chores are competent, and we listened to people complain that because they didn’t do chores, they are not competent.”
Liz Wolf is an Eagan-based freelance journalist.
[PHOTO: Barbara Cheadle
PHOTO: Chaz Cheadle—who did his share of taking out the trash and other chores as a child—fixes his sister’s bike.]
Why Blind Kids Need to do Chores
by Barbara Cheadle
About a year ago I had an email exchange with the parent of a blind pre-schooler on the question of chores: Should blind kids be asked to do household chores, and if so, when should they start and what kind of chores can they do? I saved the exchange thinking that I might be able to turn it into an article someday. So, when Shawn Mayo, a Federation friend of mine from Minnesota, gave me a copy of the article, “Chore Wars,” (see elsewhere in this issue) I knew it was the perfect time to edit and print my email letter about chores. Below, beginning in reverse order, is the parent’s response to me, and then my letter to her answering her initial question about chores. But first, if you have not yet read “Chore Wars,” I urge you go back and read it. There is information in it about research that provides a context for my comments below:
K. to BC:
Thank you for writing, Barbara! This is valuable information. I think a lot of parents of blind children would be interested in this topic (or should be). This would be a good jumping-off place for a Future Reflections article or even a workshop at NFB Convention.
We are starting now with putting away bathtub toys, helping load the dishwasher, putting spoons away in the silverware drawer, making toast, and other cooking skills. Helping with laundry is the next step.
Gotta run and pick up A. from school! Thanks again for writing!
BC to K.:
It just so happens that L. and I were talking about chores within the context of her teenage daughter and our new NFB of Maryland transition club for families of middle school and high school blind kids. Several of our Maryland blind teens want jobs this summer and we parents are on the hot spot. What jobs for teens are out there? What skills do our teens have? Do those skills match the market? What skills are they missing? What skills need to be refined? Do they have the basic skills, but are too slow to be competitive in a job setting?
We concluded that many of the possible job opportunities for teens have a direct relationship to skills the kids can, and should, be learning and practicing at home by doing household chores. Working in a laundry is one example. Other examples include jobs in cafeterias, restaurants, or fast-food places —bussing tables, dishwashing, cooking, assembling orders, preparing salads, wiping tables, sweeping and moping floors, etc. Then there is bagging groceries in a grocery store, pulling weeds and potting plants in a greenhouse, babysitting, paper routes, and janitorial work. All of these jobs require skills that can be learned at home by doing household chores. Furthermore, since blind people are already employed in all these situations performing all these tasks, there is every reason to expect that, with the right skills, blind teens can do these jobs, too.
However, kids need lots of practice in order to build up competitive speed. They also need practice in figuring out efficient alternative techniques for a task. And they need to understand that figuring out how to do something as a blind person is their responsibility—not someone else’s. A sighted employer can’t tell them how to do a job that everyone else uses their vision to do. Blind kids can learn to seek out suggestions from others (especially other blind people), but ultimately they need to know that it is their responsibility to figure out how to get a job done. The earlier blind kids get experiences in this kind of problem-solving, and the more practice they have in doing it, the more competitive they will be. They will also have a lot more confidence in themselves and be more willing to try new things and take risks. This will give them an edge in the job market. Since blind youth who are out of school have about a seventy percent unemployment rate, they need all the edge they can get. And that edge can start now with household chores.
Even toddlers can do chores. When you give your young child a chore to do, I also suggest that, from time to time, you make casual comments that will help your daughter connect the task she is doing with her future as a worker. For example, you might say:
“Oh, you did such a nice job of putting away the dishes! By the time you are fifteen you’ll be good enough and fast enough to get a job at [name of her favorite restaurant]. I bet you could be the best dishwasher they ever had.”
From this she learns that:1. You expect her to work and have a job when she grows up; and not just in the distant future of adulthood, but in the near future as a teenager.
2. There are standards to meet in those jobs.
3. With hard work and practice, she can meet those standards.
I might add that, in my experience, academic achievement and capacity for college work is no substitute for these kinds of work-related experiences. I know several multiply disabled blind teens that are not “college material” but I would bet money on for getting good jobs and being independent long before some of their college-bound blind peers. These kids have been doing household chores and have been held to high standards for work performance by their parents since they were little. It’s been hard and often frustrating for the parents to maintain this standard, but all the hard work is beginning to pay off.
And it is hard work to make our kids do tasks that are easier and faster for us to do for them. It’s hard for a mom to go to the linen closet, pull out all the sloppy work her ten-year-old son just did, dump the towels and linens back in the laundry basket, and tell him to do it over—and this time, do it right. It’s hard for a dad to insist that his twelve-year-old daughter learn how to go into the local convenience store and pick up a loaf of bread and then pay for it while dad waits in the car. (It isn’t just hard, it’s time-consuming. Getting to that point can take many trips to the store: teaching your child where to find things, how to ask for help, how to locate the cash register, how to count out money, how to reach out so the clerk can hand back the change, and even how to cup the hand to gently grasp the bills and change—and stringing all these tasks together until the kid can solo it).
Clearly you are on the right track. I would like to say it will get easier, and it will—but not right away. It will get harder before it gets easier, but boy, is it worth it.
Take it from a mom whose twenty-five-year-old blind son was on his own, working, and making a good salary for two years before going back to college. It is a good feeling to know that my son has the work skills, the speed, the problem-solving experience, the social skills, and the work ethic to make his own way in the world; to get up in the morning and get himself off to work, to pay his own bills, to figure out his own transportation problems, and to do his own housework in his own apartment.
In fact, I am now confident that my blind son has as much capacity to help take care of me in my old-age as do his sighted siblings. All the hassles and tussles his father and I went through to teach him to be self-reliant through chores and responsibilities at home was worthwhile.
Keep it up! You are clearly on the right track.
[PHOTO: Nikos Daley]
A Firm Hold
by Lem Satterfield
Blind and nearly deaf, Loyola High’s Nikos Daley has been able to grasp a little glory and much satisfaction as a junior varsity wrestler.
Reprinted from the Baltimore Sun newspaper, February 2, 2003. Lem Satterfield is a Sun staff reporter.
Editor’s Note: Members of the NFB in Maryland were first introduced to Nikos about ten years ago when his parents brought him to an NFB Braille Storybook Hour program. Since then, we have watched Nikos grow up into a fine young man with much promise. His tenacity and character are testaments also to the quality of his home life, and the high expectations maintained by his parents. As we go to press with this issue, the Daley family is mourning the unexpected, tragic death of Peter Daley—Nikos’s father. The following article about Nikos was written and published many months before Peter’s death. We dedicate this reprinting of the article to Peter and to all fathers who challenge their blind kids to be, and do, their very best. Here is the story about Nikos and his very special father and family:
Preparing to take on his opponent from visiting McDonogh, Nikos Daley was unaware he was about to face Cory Haugh, the same wrestler who had pinned him in less than a minute during a previous match.
Loyola High School’s junior varsity coach, Steve Thompson, escorted Daley to the center of the mat for the neutral, standing start. The referee motioned the McDonogh wrestler forward and instructed both boys to touch palms, leaning closer to Daley so he was sure to understand what was said.
Daley didn’t recognize the other boy because he couldn’t see him. He heard the words only faintly because he is almost deaf, and his hearing aids won’t fit under his wrestling headgear.
Daley, sixteen, has been blind since birth. His hearing loss is believed to be linked to the same congenital condition. Despite his disabilities, the Loyola sophomore is an upbeat achiever, supported in a drive for independence by his family, friends, teachers, and teammates.
“That he has the ability to perform as he does is absolutely amazing,” said Dr. Theda Kontis, an otolaryngologist, or ear, nose and throat specialist, who became Daley’s physician in 1999. “He talks and acts like there’s nothing wrong. He handles his disabilities better than anyone ever could.”
Daley was born in Greece and spent his early years in an Athens orphanage. He is one of five children adopted by Peter and Alex Daley, and the youngest in their family of nine children. Older brothers Tom and Paul, both twenty-one, preceded him at Loyola, where they were wrestlers and football and lacrosse players.
Said Peter Daley of his youngest son’s wrestling career: “I’m impressed with his progress. It’ll take a lot more hard work than other people, but he’ll get his share of wins.”
On this afternoon against Haugh, Nikos Daley was not yet skilled enough to get a win. The pair was poised in the legal position for bouts involving blind wrestlers, “one palm down, one palm up, touching the other person’s [hand] up to your knuckles,” as referee Biff Davison described it.
Haugh, having wrestled Daley before, knew the drill. “You can do anything like in another match, except you have to maintain contact,” the 125-pound junior said. But this time, Haugh noticed, Daley had improved his defenses.
“Obviously, being blind, it’s going to be tough for him,” Haugh said. “But he’s going to get to wrestle every match the same way, but for a person who isn’t blind, it kind of takes you out of your element.”
Haugh, seventeen, pinned Daley in the second period, after gaining a new level of respect.
“I finally got the half-nelson in, but it was tough. This time, he was stronger.”
And wiser. “When I lost the first match, I went back, tried to figure out what went wrong,” Daley said.
Only afterward did Daley discover that he had been in a rematch. He said he hoped to meet Haugh once more that day to “get my revenge.” Instead, he faced sixteen-year-old Quin Pierson.
In their exhibition bout, Daley was on his back three times as he fought off Pierson, a junior, who got the pin with twenty-three seconds left in the match.
In contrast to opponents such as Haugh and Pierson, who have wrestled continuously for years, Daley most recently competed in a recreation council in eighth grade. This season, his first as a high school wrestler, he finished with four wins in twelve tries after going 2-2 in yesterday’s junior varsity tournament at Archbishop Curley.
Daley skipped competition as a ninth-grader to allow himself to get used to high school. Daley is the only blind student to ever attend Loyola, said Debbie Cotter, computer science chairwoman and director of educational technology, who meets with him daily to oversee his instruction.
Nationally, there are 56,000 blind or visually impaired children, according to the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes. In Maryland, the organization has seventeen members who compete in high school sports, said Nicole Jomantas, communications director. Daley’s mother said she is not aware of his belonging to the association.
A favorite of teachers
At Loyola, Daley earns mostly A’s, mastering academics with the help of a Braille note-taking device and a system that assists his hearing. His teachers wear a type of microphone that transmits signals directly to his hearing aids. Classrooms are marked in Braille so Daley can identify each room.
“But he has learned these things by direction. And he does use a cane,” Cotter said. “He’s come miles since he was first at Loyola. He was a timid little guy who needed someone else to get from class to class—but he needs no one now.”
Cotter, who describes her role as “almost like a mother-child relationship” with Daley, is but one of several professionals who have nurtured him. Another is Bronwyn Welsh, an employee of the Baltimore County schools who teaches Braille.
“I don’t really think I’ve told him,” said Welsh, who instructs Daley once a week, “but he’s the one who got me doing this.”
Ten years ago she was his first-grade teacher at Reisterstown Elementary. “That was the year they started inclusion, saying that all children, regardless of their disabilities, should be in a regular classroom,” she said. “I had never been around a blind person,” she recalled, but she improvised, coming up with various tactile teaching methods. She also tricked him into becoming more independent.
“I would make up bogus notes for him to take to the office, and I would call down ... to let them know that Nikos was coming,” Welsh said. “They would watch for him, and he would just be so proud of himself that he could go down to the office and come back on his own.”
Another fan is Daley’s mobility instructor, who said she has taught him use of a cane and related skills “off and on” since he was 6. “I look forward to seeing him every week,” said Pam Satterlee-Williams, who said the teen has asked about using the cane to help him ride a skateboard or perhaps a snowboard. “He has guts, an adventuresome spirit, and he’s certainly not timid.”
That outgoing outlook started at home. “Nikos’ family has always allowed him to do things, physically, that anybody else would do,” she said. “The Daleys would adapt bicycles, making them a tandem. They did all sorts of things.”
Peter Daley, fifty-eight, said his youngest son was encouraged to play outside the family’s eleven-bedroom house in Reisterstown much like the other eight children.
“Even now, there’s a series of posts and a chain-link fence that goes down the walk in front of our house,” said Peter Daley, a director of human resources for Home Depot in Westminster. “Nikos would hold on to that chain and know if he was at the end. Nikos would use his Big Wheel, drive down, turn around and come back.” Nowadays, he said, his son roller blades to the end of the block.
“He roughhoused with his older brothers,” said sister Gina Ruppert, twenty-eight. “He’s not been coddled. He was expected to pull his weight like everyone else in terms of chores and everything.”
Tough love at home
Alex and Peter Daley are devout Catholics who gather with their children to pray the rosary shortly after Sunday dinner. Around the house are sayings drawn from biblical lessons, such as one painted in red letters in the family room: “Don’t forget to be kind to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it.”
The saying, said Alex, fifty-six, “basically means everybody’s welcome into our house.”
That certainly applied to Nikos, a Greek toddler whose picture she spotted in an adoption magazine. But unlike their previous adoptions of four Korean children, the process of obtaining Nikos was lengthy.
When Peter Daley brought him from Greece in July 1991, he was a scared four-year-old who could neither see his surroundings nor have them described in a language he understood. A Greek-speaking friend came over several days later to interpret.
More than a decade later, Nikos still recalls his arrival. “We used to have this sink with a fountain to it that was really cool,” he said. “I’ve always liked water, and I kept turning it on and off. I remember just going through the house, touching everything to see what was there.”
“For about a month,” Alex Daley said, “we couldn’t get him to eat anything but cornflakes.”
Nikos wasn’t the first to join the Daley family under difficult circumstances. Alexis, adopted at two, endured a bone staph infection. Kara, who has cerebral palsy, could barely walk when she arrived at four.
The Daleys loved their children through their various problems, but it was tough love.
“My parents wouldn’t do everything for me, which was the best thing for me,” said Kara, twenty, who played soccer for Sacred Heart. She is especially close to her little brother, helping pick out his clothes and counseling him. “Nikos could have similar problems dealing with people as I did, people laughing and teasing. Since I’ve already gone through [it], I can give advice on what to do or say.”
Visualizing for fun
Around his house, Daley is rarely without his best friend and neighbor, Marcus Gillen-Davis, seventeen, a junior at Franklin High. “He’s really been a godsend,” Alex Daley said.
Playing video games in the Daleys’ basement is a favorite shared pastime. “I usually tell him [Nikos] if something is approaching or if someone’s getting really close and starts shooting at him—but he takes care of the rest,” said Gillen-Davis.
Daley, his fingers moving nimbly on the PlayStation controller, explains that he visualizes the objects on the screen based on the way his friend has described them before. “He tells me what’s going on, and I’m used to the sounds. But this one’s Final Fantasy 8; I’m really good at this!”
What else besides video games does Daley enjoy visualizing?
Extreme weather, he replied. “We were almost in a hurricane at the beach once. My mom was freaking out, but I just took it all in. I’ve seen hailstorms and tornadoes. I’ve seen blizzards. The sounds of the weather are very interesting,” he said, adding that he wants to become a meteorologist.
To help prepare him for the future, whatever the career, Daley and his parents belong to a club, Transition to Independence, sponsored by the National Foundation of The Blind. It conducts exercises and provides mentors for blind youngsters.
Meanwhile, in the afternoons at wrestling practice, Daley has a mentor in head coach Kenny Taylor, who is closing in on a degree in adaptive physical education.
“I have experience working with physically and mentally challenged kids, many of whom were in wheelchairs or had problems that inhibited them from being mainstreamed into a regular school,” Taylor said. “What amazed me was how these kids enjoyed life. It’s the same thing with Nikos.”
“I really like Coach Taylor,” Daley said. “He’s really glad when you win, not that uptight when you lose, and he’s always confident you can do it. He encourages you.”
For the more than two dozen boys on Loyola’s wrestling team, Daley’s decision to wrestle meant adjusting to a person who couldn’t get around on his own. After one early practice, an assistant coach was supposedly the last to leave, but realized Daley was still in the room behind him.
Taylor called a team meeting and asked all the wrestlers to help their teammate.
“They had seen him pick up his cane and find his way over to the door. They didn’t realize he really didn’t know where he was,”
Taylor said. “After that, the kids realized he needed some assistance and to make sure he was all right.
“Since then, everyone’s checking to see, ‘Where’s Nikos?’ or ‘Is Nikos on the bus?’ “
“When he gets into group drills,” Taylor said, “whoever is working with him that day is responsible for helping him.”
At a recent practice, one of Daley’s two partners took Daley’s outstretched hand and sat him down against a wall out of harm’s way. When Daley ran sprints, freshman Alex Keller ran beside him, shouting “left,” or “right,” to keep him on course.
At one point, however, it appeared Daley’s teammates had forgotten him as he took a break between drills. The momentum of two tumbling wrestlers brought them dangerously close to Nikos, one of their legs just missing his head.
After drills, “he’ll just stick out his hand and wait until he feels your hand before he does anything,” Taylor said. “I told him he can’t just sit down on the mat like that. He’s got to indicate that he needs help.”
Later, Taylor walked Daley through a drill, demonstrating moves and winding up the instruction with a sort of pirouette to face his student. “It’s a half-step, not a circle. It’s like doing the cha-cha,” he said. “Then you’re ready to attack.”
Taylor then critiqued Daley’s successful imitation.” That’s a nice standup. But get better hand control.”
Commenting on his progress, Taylor said, “He picks things up fairly quickly, but I like him to do it over and over again.”
Putting skills to the test
The next day, Daley was using his moves for real. Daley battled Calvert Hall’s Michael Gray, fourteen, through six minutes of regulation and a one-minute extra session.
At that point, Gray said he told himself: “Whoa, he’s pretty good.”
In the thirty-second double overtime, one wrestler wins by escaping before time runs out, the other by holding his opponent down for the duration. Daley’s arms had grown heavy, and his chest was on fire.
“I was counting the seconds in my head because I was getting tired and I wanted the match to end,” he said.
“I basically locked my knees around his knee, putting half-nelsons on him. He almost did get away, but time ran out.”
Daley’s hand was raised in victory, his first win in high school.
Gray was among those who congratulated him. “He was really good. He had skills,” Gray said. “Just because he’s blind doesn’t mean he doesn’t have strength.”
Blind Students Give Advice
Editor’s Note: Those of you who attended the 2002 or 2003 NFB Convention in Louisville may remember meeting the capable, friendly parent leaders of the Kentucky Parents of Blind Children (KY/POBC) affiliate who worked so hard behind the scenes to make the convention activities for parents a success. The affiliate also publishes a very lively and informative newsletter called Parents’ “Writes”. The following item is from a regular feature in the newsletter called “Problem Solving.” Each issue presents a problem from a parent with a request for readers to write in and offer suggestions. The problem and the best suggestions are published in the following issue. Reprinted below are the problem and the advice from blind students from the Winter 2002 issue of Parents’ “Writes”:
My three-year-old daughter is totally blind, with only a bit of light perception. She is very smart and very cute. But lately, she has been showing some bad behaviors that I want to control. She’s talking back to adults, doesn’t want to be told what to do, is stubborn, and starting to be aggressive. Since she’s so little, people think she’s cute, and because she’s blind they pity her. But I know that this behavior won’t be cute for very long and I don’t want her to use blindness as an excuse. I’m afraid people will start seeing her as a brat. Help!!
Stephanie, Chaplin, Kentucky
Thanks to English teacher, Judy Chaney, of the Kentucky School for the Blind (KSB), for putting this problem to her high school English students for possible solutions. Here are responses provided by her seniors:
Dear Mom in Chaplin,
As a visually impaired person, I understand what you are going through. I used to be very bossy when I was little. My father thought it was cute but my mother did not. So she would punish me and tell me that it was not nice to be bossy and that I would not have very many friends if I continued acting like this. I did not listen to her and found out the hard way. You should not treat your child any differently than you would a child that has full vision. You should punish her when she does things wrong and tell her that she should never use her vision as a crutch.
Sincerely, Stephanie Brown
Dear Mom in Chaplin,
When I was three, I tried the same thing. Since I was visually impaired I thought if I made people feel sorry for me that they would give me what I wanted. When they didn’t I acted up. One day my mother sat me down and told me that how I acted reflected on how I was raised. She explained to me that if people felt sorry for me they would lose respect for me. What she said wouldn’t have affected me as much, but she reinforced it. She took my allowance, all five dollars of it, and put it in a jar. Every time I was bad, she took a quarter out of it. Here’s the catch. My mom said you shouldn’t get rewarded for being good-it’s something you should do automatically-so when I was good she didn’t put any money in. Another thing my mother did was to raise me like I was not visually impaired. I had chores, I had to keep my room clean, and I did it all on my own. I hope this advice helps you.
Sincerely, Brian Mullins
Dear Mom in Chaplin,
One of the best things my parents ever did for me as a child was treat me just like my little sister who did have all of her vision. They taught me that I was just like all other children, but with a visual impairment. Everyone is different from everyone else, that’s what makes life interesting. Sure, I tripped and fell a few times, but I learned how to catch myself along the way. So my suggestion is that you treat your daughter like you would any child. Don’t be afraid to discipline her just because she’s visually impaired and cute as a button. It may take a little while, but it’s better to correct something now than later when she’s a teenager. I know people who have let their children use something as a crutch for when they didn’t want to do some thing and for a while it worked. But when that child got older, friends started disliking her laziness. That child had to learn the hard way that using something-anything-as a crutch isn’t cute one bit. So, good luck to you and your daughter in all you do.
Sincerely, Jamie Dunham
Dear Mom in Chaplin,
Your daughter is acting like any other three-year-old. She is just trying to find out what her limits are. My advice to you is to set limits of what you will and won’t take from her and stick by those limits. She needs to have rules and punishments as well. You should not treat her like she is a blind child. It will make her stronger and more independent if you treat her like you would any other child. If you don’t treat her differently, then chances of her acting differently or using the excuse that she is blind are slim. My parents treated me no differently from my brother and sister. If anything, they were harder on me. Do not be afraid of punishing her. She will thank you for it when she is older.
Sincerely, Kathy Garrett
Dear Mom in Chaplin,
Being visually impaired, there are a few words of advice that I can offer from my own childhood experience. First of all, don’t think of your child as blind. Treat her like you would any other kid. For example, when your daughter is defiant or stubborn, you should talk to her or put her in time-out. You also mentioned that your daughter was smart. I think you should harness this trait by keeping her mind occupied. You can do this by purchasing sound books and voice-activated learning games. I knew a guy in high school that used his visual impairment as an excuse to turn in late assignments. Currently, the same person is unemployed and collecting from the government. Don’t worry, some of this behavior expressed by your daughter is normal for her age and she’ll probably turn out to be a caring woman just like her mother.
Sincerely, Joseph Miller
Dear Mom in Chaplin,
Your daughter is no different from any other child her age; behavior wise, she is right on track. The talking back to adults is one thing most three-year-olds go through; but if it isn’t stopped, it could get worse. I’m not a parent, but I do have a three-year-old brother. Blindness is not a good excuse for acting this way, but it is the only excuse she has. Don’t let her get by with it. She needs discipline. When it comes to discipline, she should not be treated any differently from the other kids. Don’t let her feel different because she will act different and use blindness as her excuse for the rest of her life.
Sincerely, Ashley Courts
To the Concerned Mother in Chaplin,
One of your concerns is that your child talks back to adults. One solution is to send her to her room for a punishment and afterwards talk to her about why this disrespect is not appropriate. To deal with her unwillingness to respond when told to do something, try explaining to her the reasons you are giving her the task. Often children respond better to requests than to orders. You also expressed concern over your daughter’s aggressiveness. If it stems from her overwhelming amount of energy, then a possible means of release might be a physical activity where she can redirect and focus her energy in a positive way.
Sincerely, Tyler Young
Other KSB students in grades 9-11 offered additional helpful comments:
When I was five, I lost a race to my cousins and blamed it on my blindness. It got me a good scolding and gave my cousins a good laugh. Now I have run and won many races and I don’t use my blindness as an excuse. I use it to my advantage.
Lisa Kraushar, 9th grade
If you treat your child like she is different, she will grow up thinking she can get away with things because of her impairment.
Brice Howard, 10th grade
When my mom found out I was legally blind she still treated me like normal because she loves me.
Timmy Mills, 10th grade
She could just be going through a phase that kids tend to go through at that age. I hope this makes you feel better about your child and about being a good parent.
Jamie Weedman, 11th grade
Your daughter is just like every other child so you should treat her like every other kid.
Chris Dahmke, 10th grade
Over the years I have learned that people who fear getting in trouble stay out of trouble until good behavior becomes a habit.
Brian Moore, 11th grade
If you show your daughter that you are the boss, then more than likely she will do what you ask her to do.
Heath Hagan, 11th grade
Don’t worry if people start to see her as a brat-that will be good because it’s going to make her stop her bad behavior faster.
Jason Dowell, 11th grade
I think you should take one or two of her favorite toys until she decides to straighten up.
Brandy Morris, 11th grade
I suggest that you treat your child like any other kid her age and teach the people that she is around the most to treat her the same way.
Samantha Levering, 9th grade
Understand why your daughter is behaving like this (to get attention, a problem at home, etc.) and try and work out a way to get this to stop.
Zach Patton, 9th grade
I think you need to make sure your child knows who the boss is.
Joe Godsey, 10th grade
You could stop her by punishing her so she knows not to use blindness as an excuse.
Leslie Limp, 10th grade
[PHOTO: Robert Jaquiss examines one of his treasures—a home-made tactile map created by his father.
PHOTO: This little boy examines one of the many stuffed animals on display at the NFB Convention Sensory Safari exhibit.]
Books, Maps, and Other Touching Experiences
by Robert S. Jaquiss, Jr.
Editor’s Note: Robert Jaquiss, Jr., is one of several technology experts working in the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, located at the national headquarters of the NFB. Mr. Jaquiss is especially interested in technology that produces tactile maps and graphics, and has developed some special expertise in this area. In the following article, we discover the critical role his parents—especially his father—played in providing him with a foundation of experiences and skills in using tactile materials throughout his schooling. Despite the many changes in education since Robert Jaquiss entered school in the late 50’s (not the least of which was the 1975 enactment of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA, which mandates that public schools receiving federal funds provide a “free and appropriate education” to all children with disabilities), one thing has not changed: the central importance of the family in all aspects of a child’s education. Here is Mr. Jaquiss’s narrative about his early exposure to “Books, Maps, and Other Touching Experiences”:
In 1956, when I was three-and-a-half, my parents determined that I should attend public school just like my sighted peers. My parents did some research and found that it was legal for a blind child to attend public school in the state of Oregon. (In later years, we would find out that the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon had played a major role in having this law enacted.) So my father found a job in Oregon and our family packed up and moved from Oklahoma to Silverton, Oregon. Silverton was a small town (population, 4,500) about sixteen miles from Salem, the state capitol. The school superintendent, Milt Baum, was interested in the innovative idea of having a blind child attend the public school. I started kindergarten in the fall of 1958.
Father taught science, physics, chemistry, and mathematics in the local high school across the street from our house in Silverton. Mother had been a public school music teacher, but elected to take private students and work part-time at the church as an organist and choir director so she would have time to assist if the school needed her. Which was a wise decision, but more about that later.
Both my parents did their best to show me all kinds of things, and how those things worked. A family friend, Mrs. Wright, raised turkeys and ran a hatchery. I visited the turkey farm many times. One time, I got to feel a live turkey and see how a conveyor chain delivered turkey food. Another time, I felt a hen lay an egg right in my hand. Father took me to other farms, too, where I felt the chickens, rabbits, goats, cows, horses, pigs, sheep, and a donkey. I discovered that real horses ride differently than the toy spring horsey I enjoyed bouncing on at home.
Going to the fair was an exciting event to anticipate every year. The farmers showed off their finest animals and crops. There were artwork displays and garden displays. I especially liked the mercantile building where all sorts of fascinating things were on display to be touched and explained. Father also showed me how houses and buildings were built and the machinery and tools used in the building trade.
The year before I entered first grade, a wonderful lady, Mrs. Summers learned Braille so she could become my Braille teacher. She had to travel to the very large city of Portland in order to receive the training. My parents helped her by driving her to and from Portland part of the time.
When it came time for the reading class, I walked from my first grade classroom to the other end of the building where Mrs. Summers was waiting to teach me Braille. When I got good enough to read aloud in a circle, I joined my sighted peers and took my turn just like everyone else.
None of the schoolbooks I needed were in Braille, so Mother decided to Braille them herself. Although she did not know Braille, she figured that all she really had to know was more Braille than I knew. The state of Oregon supplied her with a Perkins Braillewriter, a ream of Braille paper, and two codebooks. My family bought the schoolbooks from the Silverton school district so Mom could adjust them for my reading. The school system was using a series called The Alice and Jerry Series. The first books were simple. On one page was a picture of Alice, and at the bottom of the page Mother glued a piece of paper with the word “Alice” Brailled on it. This way, my sighted peers could see that I was reading the same book they were. Thirty pages of “look” introduced Alice, Jerry, and Jip the dog. By the time we finished the book—Mom Brailling it, and me reading it—Mother and I knew how to spell “look.” I thought it was kind of dumb to have only one word on each page. The next book had more words to learn to read. Soon I saw sentences that read “Look Alice,” “Look Jerry,” and then “Look at Jip run.”
Time progressed and Mother had to add an additional Braille page for each printed page. To do this, she took apart the books, added the Braille pages so they faced the corresponding print pages, rebound the book with notebook rings, or (later) with plastic comb binders. This way my teachers could see I was on the same page as everyone else.
Soon we ran into problems. The Braille paper was lightweight and did not hold the Braille dots very well. The print pages were fragile and tore easily. In order to strengthen the pages, my Father decided they should be coated with plastic. To accomplish this, Father went to the hospital and got some used x-ray films the radiologist no longer needed. Father brought the film home and boiled it to remove the emulsion and get to the base plastic. To liquefy the plastic, he took acetone (fingernail polish remover) and dissolved the plastic in it. Father improvised a dipping trough on an old bench in the basement. After Mother had Brailled the pages, he would dip each page in the plastic solution in the dipping trough, and then hang it up with clothespins to dry on an improvised clothesline above the trough. My father let me “watch” and listen while he described the process to me. These plastic-coated Braille pages (bound in a book with the printed pages) now stayed readable, and I continued to read more and more books. Eventually, the state provided heavier paper and we could stop dipping the Braille pages.
(Note: I must explain that acetone is very flammable and having a large open container in a basement is dangerous. My Father, because of his science background, took the proper precautions.)
In observing the dedication of my parents in doing whatever was necessary to provide me with Braille books, I became very much aware of the importance of reading.
When I was in the second grade, my reading speed increased, and Mother had trouble keeping up with me. She Brailled for at least four hours every day, and I came home and read all her work in a few minutes. Eventually, I began to receive some Braille books from other sources, such as the National Library Services for the Blind and Volunteer Braille Services. Sometimes the books had to be ordered six months in advance, and Mother still had a lot of Brailling to do. But it was worth the trouble. Today, I am a good Braille reader due to my Parents’ hours of assistance.
In the third grade, my peers began using maps to learn about the rivers of the Pacific Northwest. Father understood I needed maps, so he invented a process for making tactile maps for me.
Making a map was a time consuming task. We didn’t have computers, plotters, and graphics software. All the work had to be done by hand. Father would start by making an enlarged copy of the map in the book with a pantograph. (A pantograph is a simple device that has a stylus on the tracing arm and a pen on the writing arm.) Father also placed carbon paper, face-up, under the paper onto which he was tracing the map. This way, when he was done tracing the map, he would have a large drawing on the front side of the paper and a reversed or mirror-image drawing on the back side of the paper. It was critical to have this carbon copy, mirror image because Father’s technique for making my tactile maps involved making negative molds in paraffin (wax). The reverse image of the map would be carved into the wax to make a mold. When the mold was ready, layers of liquid latex-rubber would be added. After a backing was added and the rubber was completely dried, the rubber map would be peeled off of the wax in a big sheet, turned over, and there would be my tactile map ready for my use. Here’s how we did it. (Yes, Father insisted that I help.)
Since the maps needed to be big, Father needed large sheets of wax to carve on. We did this by taking a half sheet of plywood and putting a frame of one- and one-half inches by one-fourth inch thick boards around it. My father taught me how to carefully melt the wax (about ten pounds per map) in a kettle on a hot plate in the basement. (I didn’t have a double boiler, just a single hot plate and a big kettle.) I was nine years old at the time. When the wax was melted, Father would pour it onto the framed plywood. (It always fascinated me that the hot wax sounded like water as it was poured.) When the wax cooled the surface would be almost flat, but still not smooth enough to carve. In order to smooth the surface, Father would take a propane torch and pass the flame near the surface of the wax. This process is called flame polishing. In a chemistry lab, flame polishing is used to smooth the cut edges of laboratory glassware. Flame polishing a three- by four-foot area of wax is difficult, and there was a risk that the wax would catch fire. I watched from a respectful distance and visited with Father as he did this.
Now, we were ready to trace the enlarged mirror-image map drawing onto the wax. My job was to make the Braille labels that were to be marked on the wax. Father would carve the lines and poke holes into the surface of the wax. This was an arduous task since mistakes were almost impossible to remove.
When all was ready, Father applied a thin coating of latex rubber to the wax. After the coat dried, Father would apply three more coats. The last coat was extra heavy because it would hold the backing. A rubber map had to have a backing otherwise the map would stretch. The best backing was muslin. When the muslin was laid on the last coat of fresh latex, the latex would soak into the muslin and bond it tightly. When the last coat with the backing dried, Father and I would peel the finished three- by four-foot rubber map off the wax mold.
Reading these homemade maps was interesting. At first, the maps were hard to read because my fingers would not slide on the rubber surface. The solution was to sprinkle and spread on baby powder. The rubber and baby powder combination had an interesting odor which remained a long time.
Father made several maps this way. Each map took at least three hundred hours to produce. The maps were great and I still have them. They are among my most cherished possessions. My schoolteachers liked the maps (I took them to school with me) and said it was interesting that my sighted classmates frequently used them, too.
Later on in high school, I made a giant vacuum-forming machine to copy the maps. This was for my senior physics project. Father helped me with the design, provided materials, sawed the wooden parts (which I put together), and helped me install a 220-volt circuit. The heater box was made of wood lined with some heavy aluminum foil. The box was heated with heating element wire taken from an old oven heating-element. The box would get about 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Since wood kindles at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, I had 100 degrees of safety margin. The finished vacuum-forming machine was about four-and-a-half feet by seven feet long so I couldn’t take it to school very easily. The teacher came to our house to inspect my project and watch it work. I received an “A” in physics. Better yet, the house was still standing. I made a number of plastic maps which I tried to sell under the name of the Fingertip Map Company. Unfortunately I did not know how to market them and apparently the people I contacted didn’t understand how important such maps were to the blind.
Although my tactile maps were educational, my parents never stopped showing me real objects in the world around me. When on trips we would stop at all the historical markers. We would look at the old forts, museums, and other things to see on the road. I even rang the replica of the Liberty Bell on the Capitol grounds in Boise, Idaho. (The office workers were surprised because the clapper was supposed to have been wired down.) One time while on vacation, I got to feel a recently dead porcupine, a jackrabbit, and a crane. Some readers will think it gross that I felt a few dead animals, but it is safer to feel a dead porcupine than a live one. (I also learned to always, always wash your hands thoroughly after touching a dead animal.) I have ridden a live elephant and a live camel, stroked a live baby cheetah, fed herring to a dolphin, and felt a baby pilot whale. Even after all these experiences, I still enjoy inspecting the excellent display of stuffed animals the Safari Club International provides at the National Federation of the Blind National Convention each year.
Throughout my life I have looked at a wide variety of things. Some experiences are worth repeating and some are not. In any event, each touching was educational. I wish all of you many touching experiences.
Tactile Educational Materials: Tips and Resources
by Robert S. Jaquiss, Jr.
I was very fortunate to have parents who took the time to show me things, and to make tactile materials for me to use in school. My parents understood that I needed to learn things that can only be conveyed with tactile maps, diagrams, and models. What was true in the early sixties is still true today. Blind children must be exposed to tactile materials and models. Schools use pictures, computerized animations, and videos as part of the educational process for sighted children. If blind children are to remain on an equal footing with their sighted peers, tactile materials must be made available for their use. Here are a few ideas and some pointers to get parents and teachers started.
Making It Yourself
Making tactile materials using the collage method is time-consuming, but can be inexpensive and even fun. Start with a piece of tag board or poster board as a base. Cut shapes out of more tag board, sandpaper, and textured cloth, then glue it all together. You can create Braille labels and glue these on as well. If you plan to Thermoform your creation, you must avoid using corrugated cardboard or other materials that will crush or melt. Transcribers who make collage models use just about anything imaginable. I have seen strings, wire, hardware cloth, polymer clay, and food items such as pasta and seeds. Once I even saw heart shaped crackers used. However, I recommend that food items be avoided as they will attract vermin.
Some transcribers use acrylic paint. You can fill a syringe and use it to draw lines. Art, craft, fabric, hardware, and hobby supply stores are good sources of materials. Both the American Printing House for the Blind and Howe Press sell equipment and supplies for making tactile materials. Please note the instructions when working with glues or other chemical-based materials. If you are getting started, you will need to experiment to see what techniques and materials you like best. When my father made a city map he used tag board for the base and craft aluminum for making the Braille labels. The result thermoformed quite well.
Depending on the situation, you might want to consider making a model with Legos, Erector Set, Mechano, Fishertechnik, or other construction sets you can buy in most toy stores. I like to see those things that are three-dimensional represented the same way, or at least as bas-relief. For example, a lion is best shown as a stuffed lion. My second choice is a model lion, a bas-relief image is my third choice, and a line drawing is my least favorite choice. Blind students need to see the various representations, but the more abstract the representation, the more difficult it is to understand. For mechanical items it is best to look at the real thing or at a working model.
Some technological advances have made it easier to produce tactile materials. Graphs, pie charts, bar charts, and outline maps can be nicely done with collage, thermal expansion paper, or on a Tiger printer. The advent of thermal expansion paper (see the article in the May 2003 Braille Monitor) and the family of Tiger embossers have made it easier to produce line drawings, outline maps, and charts. The two most common software packages used for making tactile materials on a computer are Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw. There is a lot of clip art available that can be used especially if it is in the form of line drawings. The advantage of computer-based solutions is that they are often faster and the file used to create the image can be shared.
Looking at the real thing is the best way to learn about it. If a child is learning about farm animals, take the child to a farm or a 4-H exhibit at a fair. Get help finding real animals to touch. Each year at our NFB national conventions, Safari Club International sets up a display of stuffed wild animals for the conventioneers. This is about the only way a blind person will ever get to feel what some wild animals are like.
A growing number of museums offer tactile exhibits. Among these are the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania; Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland; the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama; the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, Jacksonville, Florida; and the Smithsonian, Washington D.C. Check with museums and historical societies in your area. Keep an eye on calendars of events for your area for opportunities to have hands-on experiences. Lastly, I encourage parents and teachers to think of hands-on experiences as fun adventures. It doesn’t really matter if the experience isn’t clean. Hands and clothes will wash.
REFERENCES, PRODUCTS, AND OTHER RESOURCES
Inclusion in this list does not constitute an endorsement of the company or the product by the National Federation of the Blind.
Adapted Graphics for the Blind and
Visually Impaired (Adapted Graphics).
The purpose of this computer listserv is to discuss graphics designed for the blind and visually impaired and the development of tactile graphics in general. See the Web page for subscription instructions.
Web site: www.topica.com/lists/adaptedgraphics
Art Education for the Blind, Inc. (AEB) creates and sells courses on art history and art appreciation.
Art Education for the Blind, Inc.
160 Mercer Street,
New York, New York 11102
phone: (212) 334-3700
Web site: www.artseducation.info
American Printing House for the Blind (APH) sells the Tactile Graphics Drawing Kit. This kit allows transcribers and teachers to produce masters for thermoforming. APH also sells a number of tactile books and materials for children.
American Printing House for the Blind
1839 Frankfort Avenue,
P.O. Box 6085,
Louisville, Kentucky 40206-0085
phone: (502) 895-2405
toll free customer service: (800) 223-1839
fax: (502) 899-2274
Web site: www.aph.org
American Thermoform Corporation sells the Thermoform machine, Brailon, Swell-Form machine, Swell-Touch paper, and other items.
American Thermoform Corporation
1758 Brackett Street
La Verne, California 91750
phone: (909) 593-6711
toll free: (800) 331-3676
fax: (909) 593-8001
Web site: www.atcbrleqp.com
The Construction Site sells an enormous variety of construction sets. Sets are for all
ages and include Brio, Erector, K’NEX, Lego,
Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, and many more.
The Construction Site
200 Moody Street
Waltham, Massachusetts 02453
phone: (781) 899-7900
toll free: (866) 899-7900
fax: (781) 899-6485
Web site: www.constructiontoys.com
Creative Adaptations for Learning (CAL) serves children and adults who are blind, visually impaired, or have dyslexia, autism, cognitive learning disability, or other special needs. They sell tactile greeting cards, flashcards, shapes and rhymes books, raised shapes counting cards, and so forth.
38 Beverly Road
Great Neck, New York 11021-1330
phone: (516) 466-9143
Web site: www.cal-s.org
Fischer Scientific sells a wide variety of scientific equipment, supplies, and three-dimensional models.
Web site: http://www.fisherscientific.com
Fischertechnik produces a wide variety of construction sets. Some of these sets are very sophisticated, and include pneumatic, robotic, and computer interface components. Industrial designers use the advanced systems to model and simulate industrial processes. Fischertechnik has relationships with partners throughout the world. In the U.S. and Canada, Model A Technology serves as the official representative for sales and support.
Model A Technology
2420 Van Landen Way
Modesto, California 95356
phone: (209) 575-3445;
fax: (209) 575-2750
Web site: www.fischertechnik.com
gh, LLC, provides Braille translation, tactile graphics, and accessible HTML services.
Purdue Technology Center,
3000 Kent Avenue,
West Lafayette, Indiana 47906
phone: (765) 775-3776
toll free: (866) MY-3-DOTS (693-3687)
fax: (765) 775-2501
Web site: www.ghbraille.com
Howe Press sells tools for creating tactile graphics. The available items include: compasses, protractors, rulers, and raised-line drawing kits.
Perkins School for the Blind,
175 North Beacon Street,
Watertown, Massachusetts 02472
phone: (617) 924-3434;
fax: (617) 926-2027
Web site: www.perkins.org
Hubbard Scientific sells a variety of items including a large collection of raised relief maps. It should be noted, however, that these maps do not have Braille labels. They are useful for showing the actual shape of land areas and are a valuable adjunct to Braille maps.
401 West Hickory Street,
P.O. Box 2121,
Fort Collins, Colorado 80522
toll free: (800) 289-9299
phone: (970) 484-7445; fax: (970) 484-1198
Web site: www.shnta.com/about.aspx
Humanware Pulse Data sells a tactile graphic making device called Pictures In A Flash (P.I.A.F) and thermal expansion paper.
Humanware Pulse Data
175 Mason Circle
Concord, California 94520
toll free: (800) 722-3393
fax: (925) 681-4630
Web site: www.humanware.com
Independent Living Aids, Inc., sells a wide variety of items. Of particular interest are the Odyssey Talking Globe and various maps.
Independent Living Aids, Inc.
200 Robbins Lane,
Jericho, New York 11753
toll free sales: (800) 537-2118
fax: (516) 937-3906
Web site: www.independentliving.com
The Princeton Braillists produce a number of atlases, and anatomical illustrations. These are very well done, and are on Thermoform plastic.
76 Leabrook Lane
Princeton, New Jersey 08540
phone: (609) 924-5207
Web site: www.matr.org/PDFs/Princeton%20Braillists.pdf
Pro-Med Products sells a number of anatomical skeleton models. Some of the models available have removable muscles.
6445 Powers Ferry Road, #199
Atlanta, Georgia 30339
toll free: (800) 542-9297
fax: (770) 951-2786
Web site: www.promedproducts.com
Repro-Tronics, Inc., provides the Tactile Image Enhancer, Flexi-Paper, Tactile Graphics Designer, and other items.
75 Carver Avenue
Westwood, New Jersey 07675
phone: (201) 722-1880
toll free: (800) 948-8453
fax: (201) 722-1881
Web site: www.repro-tronics.com
The Smithsonian’s Hands on History Room offers children from five to one-hundred-and-five an opportunity to feel replicas of museum artifacts and to learn about how people lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. A variety of activities are available and encompass a wide variety of cultures.
National Museum of American History:
Hands on History Room:
phone: (202) 357-1481
Web site: http://americanhistory.si.edu/hohr
Teacher Resources Web site: http://americanhistory.si.edu/youmus/rsctour.htm
TAEVIS (Tactile Access to Education for Visually Impaired Students), a Division of the Office of the Dean of Students at Purdue University. This site contains information on producing tactile graphics, making math and scientific materials accessible, and a catalog from which drawing files can be purchased.
Office of the Dean of Students,
509 Harrison Street,
West Lafayette, Indiana 47907
phone: (765) 496-2856
Web site: www.taevisonline.purdue.edu
Timberdoodle Company sells a variety of materials targeted toward Christian homeschoolers. They are dealers for Fishertechnik, K’NEX, and Lego.
East 1510 Spencer Lake Road
Shelton, Washington 98584
phone: (360) 426-0672
toll free fax: (800) 478-0672
Web site: www.timberdoodle.com
Touch Graphics sells the Talking Tactile Tablet, authoring software, and offers consulting services. See their Web site for more details.
Ruth Haggen, Touch Graphics
330 West 38th Street, Suite 1204
New York, New York 10018
phone: (646) 515-3492
toll free: (800) 331-3676
fax: (212) 375-6341
Web site: http://www.touchgraphics.com
ViewPlus® Technologies sells the Tiger family of embossers capable of producing both tactile graphics and Braille.
Rob Sanders, Marketing Coordinator
ViewPlus® Technologies, Inc.
1853 SW Airport Avenue
Corvallis, Oregon 97330
toll free: (866) 836-2184
fax: (541) 738-6505
Web site: www.viewplustech.com
WisdomKing.com, Inc. sells a variety of anatomical models ranging from skeletons, to internal organs.
2410 Cades Way, Unit B
Vista, California 92081
toll free: (877) 931-9693
phone: (760) 727-6471
fax: (760) 727-6479
Web site: www.wisdomking.com