Future Reflections                                                                                                 Fall, 2003

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Why Blind Kids Need to do Chores

by Barbara Cheadle

Barbara Cheadle
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!

K.

BC to K.:

Hi 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.

Chaz Cheadle - who did his share of taking out the trash and other chores - fixes his sister's bike.
Chaz Cheadle—who did his share of taking out the trash and other chores as a child—fixes his sister’s bike.

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.

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