The National Federation of the Blind Magazine for Parents and Teachers of Blind Children
Vol. 22, No. 4 Convention Report 2003
Barbara Cheadle, Editor
[PHOTO/CAPTION: NFB President Maurer sits on the floor for a chat with the children, blind and sighted, prior to the convening of the 2003 NOPBC Parents Seminar. You can be sure he will be asked to do a repeat performance at the 2004 NFB Convention which will take place at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia, from June 29- July 5. The NOPBC events will begin on Tuesday, June 29. It will be a week full of informative (and fun) program items for parents, teachers, and kids. Join us!]
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Vol. 22, No. 4 Convention Report 2003
NFB 2004 Convention
The New and the Tried and True: Report on Parent
Activities at the 2003 Convention
The Essence of Education is Repetition
by Peggy Elliott
Transitions—Reflections of a Blind College Student
by Ryan Strunk
Hannah Joins the 4-H Club
by Jill Weatherd
Blind Youths Expand Horizons
Convention Offers Astronomy Lessons, Babysitting Class
by Nancy C. Rodriguez
Alabama Seminar for Parents, Teachers, and Children
Reaching Out for New Opportunities
The 2004 NFB Summer Science Experience
by Mark A. Riccobono
NFB Coordinator of Educational Programs
Braille Readers Are Leaders Celebrates Twenty Years of Success
Free Braille Books Program
The Most Important Transition of All
by Serena Cucco
The Hardest Little Thing I’ve Ever Done
by Ellen Bartlett, Kallie Smith, Anna Schuck,
Christopher Dahmke, and Chris Micelli
Resources and Training Materials for Parents and
Teachers of Visually Impaired Children with Additional Disabilities
by Linda Zani Thomas
The Many Roles that Braille Plays in My Life
by Sheila Amato
2003 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children
Getting the Words Down in Braille
by Bill Kaufman
Movers and Shakers
Biographies of NOPBC Parent Leaders
NFB Scholarship Class of 2003
Georgia on My Mind
by Anil Lewis
For more information about blindness and children contact
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, MD 21230-4998
(410) 659-9314, ext. 360
www.nfb.org/nopbc.htm * firstname.lastname@example.org * email@example.com
Copyright © 2003 National Federation of the Blind
NFB 2004 Convention
The 2004 convention will be the largest meeting of the blind (or of persons with any disabilities) to be held anywhere in the world in the year 2004. The convention is the supreme authority and policy-making body of the National Federation of the Blind and voice of the nation’s blind. Resolutions and policy statements will be considered in plenary sessions throughout the week. Decisions in the Federation are made by the blind themselves. NFB’s elected leaders at all levels (local, state, and national) are blind, as is the vast majority of the membership. NFB is thus the collective voice of the nation’s blind.
PLACE: The Atlanta Marriott Marquis
DATES: June 29 through July 5, 2004
Pre-convention seminars for parents of blind children and other groups—June 29, 2004
Division and national committee meetings—June 30 through July 1, 2004
Plenary sessions—July 2 through July 5, 2004
Plenary sessions will be held in the Grand Ballroom of the Atlanta Marriott Marquis beginning on Friday, July 2, and continuing through Monday, July 5. During these sessions, all attendees assemble in state delegations much like a political convention. About three thousand five hundred people, most of them blind, are expected to attend. About two hundred parents, blind children, and other family members will be there, too. All fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico will be represented. Many visitors from other nations will also be present.
NFB conventions give government representatives, agency administrators, and leaders in politics, business, and industry the opportunity to address and respond to a large nationwide audience composed primarily of individuals who are blind or visually impaired. The topics of interest include: relevant civil rights issues; current issues and trends in the education of blind children; rehabilitation of the blind for competitive employment; the operation of vending facilities by blind persons on public property; specialized library services for the blind; Social Security and Supplemental Security Income programs; advancements in technology; the organization and funding of federal programs; and other timely topics.
Legislative proposals, new laws, administrative policy, and program changes are all considered during the convention.
The convention includes a large, well-attended banquet to be held in the Grand
Ballroom at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis beginning at 7:00 p.m., Sunday, July 4. The program for the evening will feature an address by NFB President, Marc Maurer. The banquet program will also include the presentation of over $100,000 in scholarships to thirty outstanding blind students. Banquet tickets may be purchased at convention registration.
During convention week children between the ages of six weeks and twelve years are invited to join in the fun and festivities of NFB Camp. NFB Camp offers more than just childcare; it is an opportunity for our blind and sighted children to meet and develop lifelong friendships. Our activity schedule is filled with games, crafts, and special performances designed to entertain, educate, and delight. Preregistration is required. For more information about fees, hours, etc., contact Carla McQuillan, NFB Camp Coordinator, 5005 Main Street, Springfield, Oregon 97478.
Telephone (541) 726-6924.
The registration fee is $15, and convention registration will open on Wednesday, June 30, at 9:00 a.m. Please note that the various NFB divisions and committees may charge additional fees for the seminars, workshops, receptions, and other related activities which they sponsor before and after the convention plenary sessions. These workshop or seminar fees should not be confused with the convention registration fee.
Singles and doubles: $59
Triples and quads: $65
Tax: 14 percent
No charge for children fifteen and under
The Atlanta Marriott Marquis will accept reservations after January 1, 2004. Send your reservation request to Marriott Marquis, 265 Peachtree Center Avenue, Atlanta, Georgia 30303, or call (404) 521-0000. The hotel will want a deposit of $60 or a credit card number. If you use a credit card, the deposit will be charged against your card immediately, just as would be the case with a $60 check. If a reservation is cancelled prior to June 1, 2004, $30 of the $60 deposit will be returned. Otherwise, refunds will not be made. You may also go to the NFB Web site at <www.nfb.org> and click on the hotel image for more information about the hotel.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For additional information about meetings, schedules, hotel, etc., contact the National Federation of the Blind office at 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, telephone (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653, and email <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Information is also available on the NFB Web site at <www.nfb.org> and in upcoming issues of the Braille Monitor.
[PHOTO/CAPTIONS: Twelve teens sit poised with notetakers, Braillewriters, and/or slates to begin the NOPBC-sponsored “I Want to be a Writer” workshop. Conducted by three blind women—Debbie Kent Stein, a successful author of books for youth; Sheila Koenig, a middle school English teacher; and Robin House, a high school counselor—the workshop had a dual purpose: to introduce teens to writing techniques and strategies used by professional writers, and to give them an opportunity to interact with accomplished blind role models.
CAPTION: The Discovery Toys exhibit at the convention is a big hit. In this photo,
Ariana Heath and her grandmother, Anita Heath, try out one of the toys.
CAPTION: Kerri Regan and Megan Kelly of New York are delighted with their selections at the Braille book flea market event.
CAPTION: John Jell, national sales manager for the Nestlé Company; Dan Roach, Nestlé vending business manager; Barbara Cheadle, president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children; and Kevan Worley, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants, stand together holding a large check replica of the $5,000 donation Nestlé made to support the Braille Readers Are Leaders literacy program.]
The New and the Tried and True:
Report on Parent Activities at the 2003 Convention
Editor’s Note: For a full report of the 2003 convention, please see the report from the August/September 2003, Braille Monitor. Print, tape, and Braille copies may be ordered from the NFB Materials Center, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998; (410) 659-9314. The issue can also be viewed on the NFB Web site at <www.nfb.org>.
The 2003 National Federation of the Blind Convention was a wonderful blend of the new and the tried-and-true. To begin with, we returned to the familiar, gracious atmosphere of the Galt House Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, site of the 2002 convention. Even families attending the convention for the first time found it easy to locate meeting rooms and kid-friendly restaurants; all they had to do was follow the crowd or ask their Federation neighbors for directions or tips.
Activities sponsored at the convention by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), included the typical program: a full-day seminar for parents of blind children—a tradition of twenty plus years; the fifth annual Kenneth Jernigan Braille Carnival for children; Family Hospitality night; the Cane Walk; the annual IEP workshop; specialized workshops for parents; the annual NOPBC division meeting; and the many—now-routine—activities for teens: the get-acquainted party, the teen hospitality room, and blind teen discussion groups. Adding an exciting new element to this familiar line-up, the NOPBC joined with the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille to sponsor the Twentieth Anniversary Celebration of the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest and, in conjunction with the celebration, the first Annual Braille Book Flea Market (see the photo report elsewhere in this issue). Also new this year were the astronomy workshops for kids conducted by astronomers Bernhard Beck-Winchatz and Noreen Grice, but more about that later.
As usual, family activities sponsored by NOPBC filled the first day—Saturday, June 28—of pre-convention programming. After NOPBC registration, NFB President Marc Maurer kicked off the seminar by calling all the kids (blind and sighted) up front for a personal chat with them about blindness and learning to get things done as a blind person. Shortly thereafter, when the kids went off to the Braille carnival, the adults settled down to some straight talk about “Transition to Independence,” as blind youngsters move from stage to stage on their way to adulthood. At noon participants were invited to attend casual lunch gatherings by state or region to do networking. These lunches were a great success and jump-started a lot of helpful contacts.
This year during the afternoon the adults did not move from workshop to workshop as they have in the past. They stayed together and listened to a riveting group of speakers talk about effective strategies for stimulating blind children at various stages of their development. The older kids and teens, on the other hand, had to choose among a number of interesting and useful workshops: Note Taking with an
Electronic Notetaker; a babysitting clinic; I Want to Be a Writer; Fun with Braille; Impact!—Asteroids, Craters, and the Extinction of the Dinosaurs; and A Journey through Space. Noreen Grice and Bernhard Beck-Winchatz, the science education specialist and astronomer who developed the Braille book, Touch the Universe, published by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, came to Louisville to work with blind youngsters and their families on science and math.
That evening, families relaxed and continued their informal networking at the NOPBC-sponsored family hospitality. A hands-on display of Discovery Toys put together by early childhood specialist and Discovery Toy dealer, Heather Field, made the evening as enjoyable for the little ones as it was for mom and dad. Teens had the option of attending confidential, guided discussion groups about dating, grooming, etc., or another astronomy session. Interestingly enough, the astronomy workshop also attracted a number of blind adults interested in the subject. It is clear that the new relationship forged with NASA and professionals in astronomy resonates strongly with NFB members of all ages eager for exposure to science of all kinds.
The following morning, parents, teachers, and kids had the opportunity to take a “Cane Walk” under sleepshades, with NFB canes, and under the guidance of former and current students of the Louisiana Tech/Louisiana Center for the Blind O&M degree program as well as other competent blind cane travelers. Using the structured discovery method, instructors gently guided their blindfolded students out into the hallways, elevators, and escalators of the hotel. After the Cane Walk families had plenty of time to register for the convention and to browse through the extensive exhibits in the exhibit hall. Families with teens were delighted to discover that they could drop their teen off for the afternoon at the teen get-acquainted party co-sponsored by NOPBC and Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM). The NOPBC also sponsored a Teen Hospitality Room where teens could hang-out together throughout the week during lunch breaks or off-hours under the supervision of adult volunteer parents or teachers.
On division meeting day, the NOPBC and NAPUB coordinated their meeting schedules and location for a very special reason. NOPBC held its annual meeting in the early afternoon, then volunteers from UPS helped members of NOPBC and NAPUB set the same room up for the festive Twentieth Anniversary Reception and Reunion of the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. The reunion, funded by a grant from the UPS Foundation, featured the first-ever used Braille book flea market, free food, and blind mentors who shared and read Braille books together with the children. Participants were also inspired by an exhibit and presentation from two student representatives of an innovative high school program in Islip, New York, that offers Braille courses for credit to sighted high school students. The event ended with a brief program featuring speeches from former and current Braille Readers Are Leaders contestants and supporters. At the conclusion of the program, UPS volunteers hurriedly labeled and boxed up the last of the Braille books to be shipped to the homes of their happy new owners. Finally, Nadine Jacobson, President of NAPUB, gaveled the NAPUB meeting to order. Over one hundred adults and children attended the anniversary celebration and over $1,000 was raised in donations from the Braille book flea market—enough to fund the second annual Braille book flea market at the 2004 NFB Convention in Atlanta.
The week of NOPBC-sponsored events was beginning to wind-down, but the NFB convention program was just beginning!
The opening session of the convention began at 9:30 sharp Tuesday morning, July 1. The convention was treated to a warm southern welcome of music and song from the Blue Hollow Band. After the roll call of states and a break for lunch, the afternoon program began, as usual, with the Presidential Report. Following the inspiring review of the highlights of the NFB’s accomplishments of the past year was a speech, then an announcement of particular interest to parents of blind children. A.V. Diaz, director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Flight Center (NASA), described research that may have implications for blind people in the future. At the conclusion of Diaz’s speech, President Maurer announced that the NFB would conduct, in partnership with NASA, a science camp for blind children at our headquarters in Baltimore the summer of 2004 (please see the announcement about the science camp elsewhere in this issue).
As usual, NOPBC sponsored more workshops for parents on Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon. NOPBC vice president, Marty Greiser, organized and chaired the always-popular IEP workshop Tuesday night. On Wednesday afternoon, parents and teachers had the opportunity to hear about Braille for the Partially Sighted: Methods and Techniques from distinguished guests Stuart Wittenstein, Superintendent of the California School for the Blind, and Sheila Amato, the 2003 NFB Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award winner. Concurrent with the Braille workshop, NOPBC parent leaders Carol Castellano and Brunhilde Merk-Adam met with small groups of parents to discuss and trouble-shoot specific problems and concerns about their children’s education. Although Joe Cutter could not be at the 2003 convention to conduct his Kids and Canes drop-in session on Wednesday afternoon, Carol Castellano did a great job as his substitute. Although this completed the NOPBC activities for the week, the convention was far from over. The Thursday agenda was intense and packed. The day’s topics included international issues, technology, education (the now former Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Education, Robert Pasternack, made a less than stellar appearance), rehabilitation, certification, and orientation and mobility. The afternoon ended on an inspirational high with lively presentations from a blind chemist and a blind missionary. But the best was yet to come—the annual NFB banquet. The evening featured the annual banquet address delivered by President Maurer, presentation of special awards—including scholarship awards to thirty outstanding blind college students—good food, songs, laughter, and plenty of door prizes.
On Friday, the last day of the convention, there were a couple of special treats in store for parents. Traditionally, the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children award winner receives his or her award early in the week at the NFB Board meeting, then gives a major presentation to the NOPBC division meeting. However, our 2003 award winner, Sheila Amato, was busy greeting her newly returned son from military duty in Iraq and could not join the convention until later in the week. Needless to say, under such circumstances we were more than happy to accommodate her schedule. So, Amato received her award and gave her remarks to the convention on Friday. The other special treat came from the Nestlé Corporation in the form of a $5,000 check to the NOPBC to be used for our Braille Readers Are Leaders literacy program. On that sweet note, we wrapped up the 2003 convention. Exhausted physically, but renewed in spirit and armed with new information, families dispersed to their homes throughout the nation to take up the challenge of “changing what it means to be blind” in their individual communities.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Peggy Elliott]
The Essence of Education is Repetition
by Peggy Elliott
Editor’s Note: NOPBC was both unfortunate and fortunate in our keynote speaker for our June 28, Annual Parents Seminar at the 2003 NFB Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. Dr. Sally Mangold, our scheduled speaker, had a severe reaction to some medication and was too ill to join us. That was our misfortune. Our good fortune was that long-time Federation leader, Peggy Elliott, was available to fill in for Sally. The following article is an edited and slightly expanded version of the speech she gave that morning. It begins with my introduction:
NOPBC President, Barbara Cheadle: The nice thing about being a part of the National Federation of the Blind is that I have an almost endless resource of wonderful people who are talented, experienced, and articulate. These are people I can call at the last minute, even at midnight, and say, “Can you give a major presentation in the morning to a large group of people?” And they will say, “Well sure, I can do that.” And you know what, I know they can. We have such a woman with us today. The Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind, Peggy Elliott, is also president of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa. She has long been interested in the issues of parents and children. She is here to substitute for Sally Mangold who, because of illness, could not be with us today. Here is Peggy Elliott:
Barbara, I want to thank you for that. I’m not sure I can thank you for the call at midnight, but I’ll do my best to step into Sally’s shoes. I’ve known Sally for a long time and I’m sorry she’s not here also. I have been delegated to talk about a topic that I think is very important, but I’ll use different catch phrases from those Sally would use. So maybe next time you can get her catch phrases from her.
Today, the catch phrase I want to talk about is this: the essence of education is repetition. I think this is a fundamental concept and approach to looking at life—the essence of education is repetition.
Now, I assume that there are many people in this room who swim. Right? Do you know how to swim, everybody? How many people know how to do the butterfly stroke? Yeah. Good. Now, I am sure that no one who says they know how to do the butterfly stoke learned it because the instructor stood in front of them and said, “The way you do the butterfly stoke is that you move your arms rhythmically over your head, and then you kick rhythmically with your feet together. That’s how you do the butterfly stroke.”
Now, did anyone learn how to do the butterfly when I told you that? I don’t think so. I could have done a longer and more detailed description, but it wouldn’t have made much difference. The truth is, the single telling of how something is done does not convey the skill of doing it.
Here’s another way to learn how to swim using the butterfly stroke. I’ll give you a book about swimming the butterfly. You read the whole book and then you’ll know how to swim the butterfly. Anybody believe that? Nope, not going to work.
So telling somebody, one time, how to do something or telling him or her in detail by means of written communication how to do something, does not transfer the skill.
The essence of education is repetition. Not just repetition in telling someone, but also repetition in doing the skill.
Obviously, what I am talking about is the set of skills that I call life-coping skills. These are skills that are universal to all people. I’m not talking just about blind people. All of us as adults or potential adults in society need a set of life-coping skills in order to function in society. As with education, the essence of learning life-coping skills is repetition. You can’t convey the skill by telling somebody once and you can’t just read a book about it. You have to do it, and do it, and do it.
Let’s take the example of elevator buttons. You can tell a blind kid about elevator buttons and figure that you’ve done the job. Now they know about it and so that task is over. But it’s not—not even if you go into a full, detailed presentation about all the different possible locations of elevator buttons, how to find the button, or how to distinguish the up button from the down button while also explaining in detail the function of elevator buttons in the first place. If the kid has never touched the button, never actually handled the job of calling the elevator—and not just once, but repeatedly over and over and over on many trips through many different elevator lobbies—he or she may have the concept but he or she does not have the skill. And this goes for all kids, whether sighted or blind.
The essence of education is repetition. This means every time you go into an elevator lobby, your blind kid needs to help find the elevator button. Someday, your child will be the only person in an elevator lobby. Will he or she think nothing of it because of years of practice finding the button every time he or she went out with you? Or will your child be nervous and anxious because, although he or she knows the button is there—somewhere—the kid can’t remember exactly what you said about how to operate an elevator, and the memory of the three or four times he or she actually did it is a little fuzzy, too. The essence of education is repetition.
Here’s another one: standing in line. Lots of people ask me, “How do you stand in line if you can’t see?” So, how do you achieve the skill of moving forward when you can’t see the person in front of you? I walked into the post office yesterday in my little hometown and there was a great big long line. It was like Christmas. I don’t know why there were so many people in the post office. The way the post office is situated the entrance takes you right into the middle of any line that forms. So, I unknowingly walked into the middle and somebody says, “No, no, that’s okay,” and essentially gave me permission to line cut.
I said, “No, it’s not okay. I’ll go to the end of the line.” How many times do we as blind people end up being pushed to the head of the line because we’re not paying attention or are willing to take advantage of being blind? Everybody thinks we can’t wait in line, but we can. Waiting in line—simple skill—everybody does it every day. You can tell your kids how to do it, which really won’t help much, or you can assertively create or take advantage of situations in which he or she learns how to do it for him- or herself by practicing it over and over.
Opening packages—another very simple skill. If you don’t know when you pick up a milk carton that there’s going to be a little tab underneath the cap that you need to remove, and if you don’t know how to remove that tab, then the skill of opening a package is really not under your control. Now, I’d be fairly confident that anybody who has a blind kid knows that blind kids can open a CD package. I bet that’s not a problem. But what about other kinds of packages? How about bars of soap? How about ibuprofen jars? All kinds of opening skills, regular life-coping skills. Show me once, I don’t have it. Let me practice doing it daily in real-life situations and eventually I have a skill that will serve me well for a lifetime of independence. The essence of education is repetition.
In the National Federation of the Blind we teach the mental attitude, “I can do it.” (When I wrote that down in Braille I found out it was really cool because it’s all single word symbols: I C D X.) “I can do it” is an assertion of possibility, an assertion of potential. I can do it. I haven’t done it yet, but I’m sure that I can. The second part of this mental attitude is equally simple, equally profound: it’s up to me. When I walk into an elevator lobby I assume that I can find the button and operate the elevator. When I go into a public building and need to stand in line, I assume that I can do it gracefully. When I go to the drug store or the grocery store I assume I’ll be able to figure out how to open whatever packaged product I want to buy. All the simple life-coping skills that adults in America routinely exercise—I assume it’s up to me to exercise those same skills. Sometimes people tend to think they’ve got the essence of NFB philosophy if they have embraced the “I can do it” attitude, but that’s not true. “I can do it” is not complete without “It’s up to me” and “I do do it.” (In Braille “I do do it” is also made up of single cell words: I D D X.)
Now, I can describe the attitude of “It’s up to me” and “I do do it.” I can tell you about it just like I can tell you how to swim the butterfly, but I can’t give it to you, and you can’t give it to your kids. The only way it works is if you create opportunities for them to learn it for themselves. The essence of education is repetition. If your kid is going to grow up into a blind adult who has the skills and the confidence to be truly independent, then that kid must actively practice the “It’s up to me” and “I do do it” attitudes.
I want to suggest very strongly that you use the NFB convention this coming week as a place to emphasize life-coping skills and IDDX. I grew up as a kid with remaining vision. I remember the horror show of being constantly asked, “Can you see this?” That’s what your life is filled with when you are a low-vision kid and it conditions you that if you can see it’s okay and if you can’t, it’s not. You’re also conditioned “Don’t touch. Don’t touch. Don’t touch.” I suspect that most of us who grew up as partially sighted children missed a whole bunch because we were not encouraged to touch the world around us so we could understand how it fit together and how we could operate the stuff in it. I believe that “I can do it” and “It’s up to me” can only be instilled in my heart if I get my hands out there and touch it.
So, how does this operate? How can you make opportunities for your kids to practice at this convention? That’s not hard. There are lots of natural opportunities at a convention to practice operating elevators and standing in line. You can encourage your kids to touch stuff and let them talk to each other and the blind adults here at the convention about what they are learning by touching. This includes touching stuff with their canes. What’s in the back of this meeting room? A table with pitchers of water and water glasses. Don’t just tell them about the water then go and get water for them. Expect them to get the water for themselves. Let them go, encourage them to explore, and share their excitement as they discover things for themselves. For example, how about letting the kid say, “If I go this way, what will happen? Will my cane tell me what I need to know?” Make a pledge to yourself to take the time to let the kid go the wrong way and then figure it out for him- or herself with gentle patience, loving encouragement, and very little help from you. Make a pledge to do as little sighted guide this week as possible! Practice, practice, practice, and more practice of “It’s up to me” is the only way that your child can fulfill the promise of “I can do it.” It’s the only way to turn ICDX into IDDX.
The goal for our blind kids is not simply to teach skills, either by merely talking about the skill or by having the kid do the task once under your close supervision. Rather, the goal is to get the kid to figure out how to do stuff for him- or herself, to make decisions, and to take responsibility by believing that, whatever the task is, “it’s up to me.”
I hate to have to say how many times I talk to blind students who are struggling in college. Sadly, they want to blame their failure on the college. They say, “My college is not providing me with books.” Or “My college is not providing me with note takers.” And “My college is not providing me with people to take me from class to class.” “My college is not providing me with . . .” well, whatever it is the blind student thinks that he or she should have. But the real problem is that these students never adopted the mental attitudes “It’s up to me” and “I do do it.” They don’t know how to take charge and make things happen.
I hope that kids with families in this room don’t have this kind of failure when they reach college or exit high school. I think the key is to start using the IEP as a tool to promote the “It’s up to me” attitude. For example, put it in the IEP that by her junior year the student will independently order her own tape, Braille, or large print books. Pick one class in high school and prohibit Braille. Now, don’t get me wrong—I love Braille. I’m reading it right now. But your child won’t have Braille available to him or her at all times in college or the real world, and every student needs to learn how to use live people as readers. So, put in the IEP that your kid will use live readers for one class per year. Think proactively about transferring not just the “I can do it” attitude, but also the “It’s up to me” mentality. Use the IEP as a tool to achieve the goal that your kid will come out of high school saying, “I do do it,” whatever “it” is. IDDX!
So at home and at school, the essence of education is repetition. When your child becomes an adult you want them to believe “I can do it.” You also want your child to believe that, whatever the task is, “It’s up to me to get it done.” I hope none of you wants to raise a blind child who, as a blind adult, always finds someone else to blame or uses blindness as an excuse for failures. If we can end up with our blind kids believing and practicing “I can do it” and “It’s up to me” then you, the parents, and we in the National Federation of the Blind have done our job right. Remember, I can do it. It’s up to me. Or, to end with those single-word Braille signs: ICDX and, more importantly, IDDX!
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ryan Strunk]
Transitions—Reflections of a Blind College Student
by Ryan Strunk
From the Editor: Ryan Strunk, a college student from Lincoln, Nebraska, and a recent NFB scholarship winner, has been the beneficiary of the NFB philosophy from an early age. His mother, Carol, was president of the Nebraska Parents of Blind Children, a division of the NFB of Nebraska, for many years while he was growing up. At the 2003 NFB Convention, Ryan was one of four speakers on the student and parent panel at the NOPBC daylong seminar for parents and teachers. The following article is based upon the remarks he made that day. As you read it, you ought to know that he did not collaborate with Peggy Elliott, our keynote speaker (see Elliott’s speech elsewhere in this issue). Neither of them knew the other was even on the agenda. Nevertheless, if you had any doubts or questions about whether Elliott’s principles of “I can do it” and “It’s up to me,” can be applied in real life, read on. Although Ryan never once uses the phrase, “It’s up to me,” he clearly lives and breathes the principle. Here are Strunk’s reflections on transition from high school to college:
In a recent nationwide survey of blind high school students, participants were asked what three things scared them the most. The top three answers (in no particular order) were as follows: pop quizzes, mom’s meat loaf, and the high school to college transition process. Actually, that’s not true. I just made it up, but judging from the college students I have talked to, I don’t think I’m too far off the mark. If attempted improperly, transition between high school and the secondary education institution can be scarier than any history test or wedge of overdone meat loaf. But if done well, the transition between high school and college can be as painless a process for a blind student as it is for his or her sighted peers.
Over the past several years changes have been made which bring the blind closer to equality with the sighted. However, there is still much to do. Thus the transition process can be just a bit more difficult for the blind than for the sighted. For example, if a sighted individual wishes to buy a textbook for college he or she simply goes to the bookstore and picks up a copy. At the same time, the blind student calls up Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic only to discover that the particular textbook has not been recorded. What then does the blind student do? Well, if the student has received proper training prior to transition from high school to college, the question of what to do next won’t even come up.
So in the next few minutes I would like to reflect about my transition experience and offer a few suggestions for parents and teachers. However, before I start, let me review a basic principle. It is essential that parents and teachers hold blind students to the same standards and give them the same responsibilities as their sighted classmates. The student must be involved in the decisions and choices related to their education. Too often, the temptation to shirk responsibilities because of one’s blindness arises. It is easy for youngsters to succumb to these temptations and it’s too easy for parents and teachers to let it happen—especially in the younger years when good philosophy has not yet had a chance to take root. I even did it myself, more than once, I have to admit.
This principle is important, though. When a student is responsible for all his or her scholastic duties it gives the student a better outlook on blindness and simultaneously says to the world, “I’m blind, so what?” This principle lays the foundation for teaching self-advocacy and is at the core of a good philosophy about blindness and transition.
After this first and most important rule is established, the student can get down to the finer details of independence and self-advocacy. In my university in Lincoln, Nebraska, the disabled students services office recommends that it be the entity in charge of notifying professors that a blind person will soon be attending their classes. Of course, this is one of the suggestions that I don’t adhere to. I’m quite capable of doing the work myself and speaking for myself. It’s my job to explain my blindness and deal with questions and I don’t need or want someone else doing it. Even blind students in grade school are capable of learning to talk to teachers to explain their blindness and the adaptations they need.
When a college, or even high school, student approaches his or her teachers prior to class attendance, several things are accomplished. First, it shows a high degree of responsibility by the student, thereby lending him or her greater credibility in the teacher’s eyes. Second, the student can personally make sure that print materials, packets, syllabi, etc. needed on the first day of class are adapted ahead of time—whether they be given to a Braillist, scanned into a computer, enlarged, or made electronically accessible on a computer disk. Third, this demonstration of preparation and self-advocacy not only makes a student more popular with his or her teachers, but it also helps to insure that the student does not fall behind later in the school year.
When I began high school, I became responsible for ordering all of my own books and materials, much to my chagrin. However, in retrospect, this was a responsibility that benefited me greatly when I made the transition to college. Now, of course, if anyone tells this to my vision teacher I’m going to get a whole lot of I-told-you-so’s—so, if we can keep this our little secret, I’d really appreciate it. Anyway, through the responsibility of ordering my own books I learned how to deal with situations in which the preferred medium was not available. I also learned how to balance needs and preferences against cost. For example, when I was in high school I wanted a particular geometry book in Braille. However, I didn’t learn until after the book was purchased by the school system that the production of this forty-volume monstrosity cost the school more than $17,000—a sum, which, now that I’m in college, I can’t afford to duplicate. I learned that, in certain instances, it is necessary to order a book in a format other than the preferred one. I learned about the choices I had and I learned how to be flexible. A student can try to find a book on tape. A book might be scanned into a computer. In some instances, a student can even purchase the book from the publisher in electronic format and, of course, a reader (that is, another student or other individual) can always be hired.
People have reminded me on more than one occasion that the college disabled student services offices (DSS) can get my books for me. Such statements are usually followed by the question, “So why do you want to order your own books in the first place?” My answer is always the same. First, I have known of more than one student who has been forced to begin class without a book either because the DSS office forgot to order it or was unable to get it. Second, and more important, when a student goes out into the real world, he or she will no longer have DSS or someone else to ensure that all of his or her needs are met. Why not start the training now—while the student is young—and give that individual the necessary skills for success later in life (like on the job)?
Finally, I can think of little that helped me more than my parents’ insistence that I go out, get off my lazy tail, and socialize. If less than one percent of the country’s population is blind, one can pretty much draw the conclusion that interaction with the sighted is inevitable. Every blind student should be given the opportunity and the encouragement to get involved in the world around them as much as any other kid their age. Encourage your kids to try out for sports, join the school band or choir, or even—if they are ambitious enough—to run for student council. Through interaction and socialization, kids learn good communication skills, and statistics show that more than eighty percent of employers feel that good communication is essential in the ideal employee.
Is all of what I have just mentioned absolutely essential? If you ask me nothing could have been more helpful. The life-skills I have acquired because my parents and teachers made me practice them over and over have strengthened my philosophy about blindness, given me the means to take charge of my own destiny, and provided me with the confidence to succeed. Without the training and without the help of my dedicated and loving parents and teachers, I could never be where I am today. So push your kids. Keep them involved. Make them take responsibility for themselves, and tell them to be proud of who they are. If you do all this, the transition process will be so much simpler. Then all you’ll have to worry about is—dating!
It’s been a lot of fun talking to all of you, and maybe I’ll see you in one of my “future reflections.”
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Hannah, with a gentle but firm grip, demonstrates how to show a chicken at the state fair: bottoms up!]
Hannah Joins the 4-H Club
by Jill Weatherd
Editor’s Note: Hannah Weatherd, who is ten years old, has attended seven NFB National Conventions with her parents. If the name sounds familiar, it may be because you heard about how Hannah was in a national McDonald’s commercial four years ago. The Weatherds live in the small town of Lima (population 280) in Montana. Brad and Jill, both college graduates of the University of Wyoming, work as Rangeland Management Specialists. Jill grew up in Wyoming and Brad in Kansas and Wyoming. Small town life under the Big Sky of Montana is a way of life they know and love. Wherever Hannah may choose to live after she grows up, for now, the Weatherds are determined that she shall participate fully in the life of their community and do what all the other kids are doing. And for kids who grow up in rural Montana, this almost always means joining the 4-H Club when you turn nine. Jill did 4-H when she was a kid, and so did Brad. And so are Hannah and her younger (sighted) brother, Levi. When I asked Jill to give a presentation using the theme, “transitions,” she decided to talk about Hannah’s ongoing transition into full participation in the 4-H Club. After hearing Jill’s presentation, my only question is, “How can we sneak a chicken into the hotel for next year’s convention so Hannah can give us a demonstration of her showmanship skills?” While I ponder that problem, here is an expanded and edited version of what Jill had to say when she followed Ryan Strunk on the parents and student panel:
Thank you. It was so inspiring to hear Ryan talk. Every time I hear a successful kid—well, I guess he’s not a kid anymore—but it just inspires me because I think, “Oh, that could be Hannah someday.” When Mrs. Cheadle asked me to talk to you today, I decided to talk about our experiences with 4-H. Does everybody know what 4-H is? I don’t know how well-known it is across the country, but it’s a club where kids choose a project from an approved 4-H list, work on the project at home and under the guidance of the club leaders, and then enter the project for exhibit at the county fair. About a year before Hannah was old enough for 4-H we asked Mrs. Cheadle if she knew about anybody else—a blind person—in the NFB who had been in 4-H as a kid. She said that she couldn’t think of a name right away, but was sure she could help us locate someone if we needed help or advice. However, we decided to just jump right in. We always knew that the NFB was there if we needed any help or we ran into anything that we didn’t know how to handle. I was just thinking this morning that someday Hannah’s going to be a resource for other blind kids who want to do 4-H!
It’s always been really important to Brad and to me that Hannah do what all of the other kids her age are required to do in school, church, or whatever other activities she’s involved with. And we always keep pretty close tabs on things just to be sure that she isn’t being given special treatment. We know that there’s always a way for her to complete the requirements, but sometimes it takes a little extra thought and advance planning.
First of all, 4-H involves lots of meetings and lots of voting. I started to notice that Hannah would never vote. I asked her about this and she said, “I don’t know what they are talking about. I don’t know what they are voting about.” So we talked to her about sitting up and paying attention so that she could help her club make decisions. But she still wasn’t voting. Finally, we had to make it mandatory. We said, “You’re going to vote. We don’t care how you vote, but you’re going to vote.” So she started voting and now it’s not a problem.
Community service projects are another part of 4-H. Each kid is required to volunteer to do a part of each project. So again, I’m sitting in the meetings and looking at her and she’s not raising her hand to volunteer to do anything—and she’s getting away with it. So, Brad and I sit down with her and talk about how it’s important in life to be a giver and not a taker. “You need to volunteer and help,” we told her. “Every person in a club has to carry their own weight. At the next meeting,” we said, “You have to volunteer for something. When they ask for volunteers, you raise your hand.” So she volunteered our house for the next activity. (She’s kind of a vindictive little child.) But she also volunteered to make a dessert for the senior banquet, and she did a beautiful job.
Through the years we have found out that if we treat Hannah’s blindness in a matter-of-fact way, then other people are more comfortable about it. We always try to be approachable because we want people who are working with Hannah to feel free to ask us questions or to ask her questions and to tell us about their concerns. After the kids in 4-H choose their projects for the year, they meet with their project leaders to complete their lessons. I usually try to talk to the project leader before each meeting and find out what lesson they will be doing. For example, at the last project meeting the plan was to talk about choosing and building rabbit nesting boxes. So I knew that they would be doing measuring. Of course we had lost the fancy Braille measuring tape that we had special-ordered, so I took a regular measuring stick and put a little fabric paint on it. Hannah used it for the activity at the meeting and it worked well. As I said, with a little advance planning, almost anything can be made to work.
Hannah’s three projects last year were cats, poultry, and photography. For each project they have to have a project journal and a financial record. I wasn’t really sure how Hannah was going to manage because at the end of each meeting they write down what they did at that meeting. I knew Hannah would not, or could not, drag a Braillewriter or a computer to each meeting. She ended up taking her slate and stylus along to record what she did at the meeting. When she got home she transferred her hand-Brailled notes onto the computerized record form using her screen reading software. However, the record forms were full of tables and they were really hard to navigate. This year, I decided to make up a different form that was easier for her to work with on the computer. The 4-H office liked my form so well they asked me for copies so that they can pass them along to other club leaders. And Hannah won an award for her record book last year!
Hannah’s cat project went really well. Her leader, Jackie, is a good friend of mine. She’s known Hannah all her life. When it was time to show the 4-H group how to do the showman stuff for cats, Jackie had Hannah put her hands on top of hers and then led her through all the steps. Hannah did lots and lots of practicing for the cat showmanship. When we got to the fair and it was her turn to do the showmanship, Jackie went up and told the judge that Hannah is blind. There weren’t any adaptations that the judge needed to make for her; it was just a courtesy. Hannah had to show the cat’s teeth and the inside of its ears. She also had to make its claws come out and do all these bizarre little steps. Right before the showmanship started we showed Hannah where she would have to walk, where the judging table was, and which way to face. We talked about where she could put her cane while she showed the cat. She did a really good job. She got “Reserve Champion” for her showmanship. We’re really proud of her. I wish she were here to hear all this applause.
Hannah also showed her chicken at the fair. Brad and I were leaders of the Poultry
Project so it was easy for us to teach her the ten steps of showing a chicken. This includes holding the chicken upside down, demonstrating its wingspan, and showing how many finger widths go between its different personal private parts. (You have to tell the judge whether the chicken is a good layer or not based on this last information. Brad showed her that part—I didn’t want to have anything to do with it.) I think the judge of the chicken contest was a little bit nervous about Hannah’s blindness and let Hannah off the hook a little bit. Hannah only got a red ribbon, which is sort of medium. She has room for improvement this year.
I want to talk about the photography project because it didn’t go as well. The reason it didn’t go so well is because we didn’t do much advance planning. Hannah actually did fine with the actual photography and the project lessons, but when we got to the fair, we found out that she was going to have to do an interview with the judge and discuss the photos. We learned that no one is allowed in the room during the interview except the judge, the contestant, and the project they are showing. No parents or 4-H leaders are allowed, and no exception was made for Hannah. It was just she and the judge. So Hannah had to go in by herself. The first thing the kid is supposed to do is to escort the judge over to their photo display. Well, we had visited the display room the day before but we didn’t make a special effort to tell Hannah to pay attention to the location of her display. So when the judge said, “Take me to your project,” she said, “I don’t know where it is.” So somebody had to step in and find it for her. When they got to the photo display the judge had lots of questions about each picture. The judge would point to one and say, “What camera did you use to take this picture?” Then she would point to another one and say, “Why did you decide to take this picture?” Well, Hannah didn’t know what pictures the judge was pointing to and since
Hannah is also kind of shy, she didn’t say, “Could you describe the picture for me?” We talked about the interview with Hannah later. Brad and I said, “If you had labeled those pictures in Braille you would have been able to discuss them with the judge.” We said “Next time you have a project that’s new to you or to us, you need to call the 4-H office in advance and ask them what’s going to be expected of you at the fair exhibit.” So that’s what she’s going to do this coming year.
Another thing we don’t have figured out is how she is going to help run the 4-H concession stand. Each member is required to work an eight-hour shift selling hamburgers, drinks, and lunch items at the fairgrounds during the county fair. The concession stand is one of the club’s big fund-raisers, with the profits going toward the purchase of project manuals, community service projects, and fun activities. We know that she can help out in the concession stand; we just haven’t got it figured out yet. It’s very chaotic in the stand with supplies scattered all over the place, so we’re thinking about having her make the milk shakes. If she can have all her milkshake supplies in one place and she has control of it, I think she’ll be okay. But if anybody has any ideas about how she can take orders or handle the money, we’re really open to suggestions.
[At this point, several blind NFB members in the audience who own and operate concession stands and other food businesses spoke up and offered to talk with the Weathereds later in the convention. Their advice—which the Weathereds acted on—was against putting her in the corner doing only one thing. So, with a little help from mom, Hannah wrapped hamburgers, took orders, filled soda drink cups, made change, wiped counters, and goofed off with the friends working the concession stand with her. She needed more help with some things, but memorized the price list and was soon the expert on calculating change. Next year, Jill says, she anticipates that Hannah will need much less help, if any, when she works the concession stand with her club members.]
Here’s one more little tip. In 4-H there’s lots of traveling around in a van with other kids. Hannah’s shy so she sometimes has trouble getting involved in the action, especially on these trips. So I always encourage her to take along a little game like an electronic Simon or tic-tac-toe game that she can play with other kids. This has helped.
We always try to approach things from the angle of “How is she going to do this”—not, “Will she be able to do this?” The NFB is where we got this philosophy. She really is just like the other kids in our town. She does the same things they do, including joining 4-H, displaying at the county fair, and doing well at some things and having room for improvement in others—just like all the other kids at the fair. Hannah really enjoyed her first year of 4-H and, with a little advance planning, I think the coming year is going to go great, too. This year the three projects she has chosen are poultry, arts and crafts, and rabbits. So far, we’ve only had one unauthorized batch of baby rabbits, so we’re doing okay. Thank you.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Astronomer and DePaul University professor, Bernhard Beck-Winchatz, finds that blind people of all ages at the NFB convention are interested in astronomy. Above, he helps preschooler Mikaella Besson learn about planets.]
Blind Youths Expand Horizons
Convention Offers Astronomy Lessons, Babysitting Class
by Nancy C. Rodriguez
Reprinted from the Sunday, June 29, 2003, The Courier-Journal Metro, Louisville, Kentucky.
Taking her granddaughter’s right hand in her own, Beverly Martorana of Warren, Michigan, slowly ran it across a picture of Jupiter. “That’s Jupiter. Can you feel it? That’s what it looks like,” Martorana said as Rebecca Budney’s fingers moved cautiously across the picture’s bumpy surface, eventually finding the planet’s great red spot. Later, the 8-year-old held a scale cutout of Mars that allowed her to compare its size to the rest of the planets in the solar system. “That’s a teeny tiny one,” she said.
The astronomy lesson was among several activities organized yesterday at the Galt House by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, the parental division of the National Federation of the Blind, which is holding its annual convention in Louisville. The convention which began yesterday and continues through Friday is expected to attract more than 3,000 people.
Based in Baltimore, Maryland, the Federation represents more than 50,000 blind and visually impaired people, parents of blind children and others throughout the United States and Puerto Rico.
Mark Riccobono, the Federation’s Wisconsin representative, said the Parents of Blind Children is always looking to offer new experiences that society often thinks are beyond blind children’s capabilities. “That’s kind of my goal, to say, ‘No. These are really things that you can do, and don’t let the attitude that you can’t do it stop you from trying,’” he said.
Last year, the focus was on recreational activities, and youth had the opportunity to try origami paper art and cooking, and to take part in a tug or war and sack races. This year the organization turned its attention to space exploration, bringing in Noreen Grice from the Boston Science Museum and Bernard Beck-Winchatz, a DePaul University professor and astronomer, to run workshops covering topics from the solar system to asteroids to the extinction of the dinosaurs.
During both workshops, children used tactile images taken by the Hubble telescope. “The misconception is that you need to be able to look through a telescope to do astronomy. The truth is that most of the interesting things about space are viewed through telescopes that have electronic cameras hooked up to them that detect infrared light,” said Riccobono, who also is the Director of the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired. “Even sighted astronomers are not looking through the telescope and using their naked eye.”
Grice who has written two books with tactile pictures of the solar system for blind children, also used basketballs, soda cans, string and paper cutouts to help explain planet sizes and distances. Holding one of the larger cutouts close to her face, Catherine Jacobson from Minnesota excitedly announced, “Jupiter is bigger than my head.” A smaller cutout of Pluto prompted the 8-year-old to compare it to “a hole punch.” Later, Grice unfolded a cutout as big as the table and draped it over the children’s heads like a tent. “A million Earths can fit inside the sun,” she said.
Debra Baker, a teacher from Springfield, Ohio, who is blind said there has been a misconception that science was not something that can be taught to blind children. “When I was growing up I didn’t get to study that at all; that’s why it’s so wonderful. It’s wonderful that it’s here for the kids now,” Baker said. Barbara Pierce, the Federation’s director of public information, said that during the convention the children and other blind participants will have an opportunity to hear from scientists and engineers who are blind. “Most of us really like to know that someone else has done it or is doing it,” she said.
Yesterday’s convention schedule also allowed teenagers to learn babysitting skills. Participants learned about safety, food preparation, and craft projects they can do with children. Riccobono said blind teenagers often do not gain the experience that their sighted peers do of holding down jobs, like babysitting, that help build confidence and teach responsibility. Ultimately, he said, that contributes to a more than 70 percent unemployment rate among working-age blind people. “It hurts then in the long run because they don’t have work experience, no matter how small,” he said. “Those jobs are critical to opening the door to other jobs.”
Alabama Seminar for Parents,
Teachers, and Children
Games * Educational Materials * Technology
In conjunction with the state convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Alabama the Parents of Blind Children in Alabama (POBC-AL) is presenting an afternoon workshop for parents, teachers, and children.
Date/Time: Friday, March 5, 2004, 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.
Location: Holiday Inn Airport hotel, Birmingham, Alabama
Games—See samples of off-the-shelf games and adaptations, Internet games for the computer, and homemade games. Learn about techniques for children who have no vision or low vision so all may enjoy and play together. Presented by Mrs. Daphne Johnson, POBC-AL Chairperson.
Materials—Learn about educational materials: products for reading, writing, math, and
science; and adaptive P.E. equipment. Presented by Mrs. Teresa Lacy, Director of the Alabama Instructional Resource Center for the Blind.
Technology—See and learn about low-vision and blindness high-tech products. Listen to a
discussion of methods for selecting the right technology for individual purposes. Presented by Mr. Steven Sullivan, Technology Specialist for the Blind, Mobile Regional Center for the Blind.
Cost: The afternoon workshop is FREE. National Federation of the Blind of Alabama state
convention fee is $30. This includes all workshops, technology exhibit hall admission,
Friday evening reception, and Saturday afternoon luncheon.
For more information go to <http://www.nfbofalabama.org> or call Mrs. Daphne Johnson at (256) 287-1056.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Mark Riccobono]
Reaching Out for New Opportunities
The 2004 NFB Summer Science
by Mark A. Riccobono
NFB Coordinator of Educational Programs
Will a blind person land on the moon? Will a blind person make the next breakthrough in medicine? Will a blind person produce the next revolution in technology? These and many other questions will be determined by the types of opportunities and quality training we provide our blind youth. We will be limited only by our energy to pursue these goals. The one certainty is that the National Federation of the Blind is demonstrating the training and skills necessary to prepare blind youth to reach for opportunities, no matter how big, and is rocketing the blind to new heights.
On January 30, 2004, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) will celebrate the grand opening of the NFB Research and Training Institute. Many people have been asking what will the Institute do, and when will we see the results? Over the past five years Dr. Maurer has articulated the purposes of the NFBRTI and a vision of the potential it has for the future of the blind. In his banquet speech at the 2000 annual convention of the NFB, President Maurer said, “Much research is conducted involving blindness. . . . Almost no research is conducted in the realms that we find of interest. When the National Research and Training Institute has been built, we must put the facility to use. It will not be enough to expand what we are already doing; we must dream of programs that do not exist.” He went on to say, “What is it that we want to build which, in our wildest imaginings, could be constructed for the blind?”
As he continued to speak, Dr. Maurer posed a list of diverse questions that the Institute could address, such as: “How long will it take to devise a personal vehicle that we can operate?” and “What is the best way to give blind people access to the written word whether it is in print or in electronic form?” He concluded the list with this question: “How can education for blind children be stimulated?” He then summarized, “These questions arise from our dreams of a brighter tomorrow. We intend to use our Institute to answer not only these but dozens of others.”
Three years later, at the 2003 NFB Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, President Maurer made good on his word. In his presidential report he announced, “We are planning to develop a science camp for the blind as one of the elements of our newly developing Research and Training Institute for the Blind. The projected time for the first activities in the science camp is the summer of 2004.” Those who have been asking about the activities of the Institute have an answer: one of the first initiatives of the Institute will address the question of stimulating education for blind children.
And indeed in the summer of 2004 the NFB Research and Training Institute will host its first science experience for blind youth. The 2004 NFB Science Experience, which has been termed Fast Forward—Science for Tomorrow will offer two weeklong camps designed to expose blind youth to a variety of science activities. Blind youth are generally excluded from these crucial learning activities simply because regular public school science teachers are not aware of the way in which a blind student might participate.
Each week has a different focus, but the underlying goals are the same:
* To spark the interest of blind youth in science and inspire more of these youth to pursue careers in science;
* To allow blind youth to build confidence through opportunities to perform challenging science activities from which they are generally excluded in public schools; and
* To demonstrate the effectiveness of the Federation’s approach through the development of a centralized collection of resources related to blind youth in science that can be accessed by regular educators, blind youth, their parents, special educators, and others.
Some of the products will include resources for regular education teachers about how to integrate blind youth in science courses; multimedia information regarding the effective nonvisual techniques and adaptations used by the blind in science; model IEPs to demonstrate the appropriate integration and accommodation of blind youth in science courses; a core set of regular education teachers who have been trained in nonvisual science techniques who can act as models and network resources for other teachers across the country.
The knowledge and experience of the National Federation of the Blind will serve as a foundation for this program and will be augmented by important partners within the field of science. Partners include the talented staff from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) facilities in Maryland and the staff of the Maryland Science Center (MSC) in Baltimore. Through the strong leadership of the blind, the innovative programs of our Research and Training Institute, and partnerships with organizations like NASA and the MSC, blind youth will have more opportunities to succeed in the sciences and will be better equipped to reach for bigger and brighter achievements in all areas of life. Science is crucial to every student today, because we live increasingly technology-saturated lives. The 2004 NFB science experience is merely one step on the road to shaping a generation of blind innovators and—who knows?—maybe even inspiring the first blind astronaut. You imagine the opportunities.
NFB 2004 Summer Science
Camp Session 1: The Circle of Life
When: July 18-24, 2004
Where: NFB Research and Training Institute, Baltimore, Maryland
Who: Twelve blind youth, grades six through eight, will be invited to participate in the camp by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). Students who would like to be considered for the program should fill out and return the information requested in the interest form accompanying this announcement.
What: A weeklong camp that will expose blind youth to the excitement of science in real-life applications. Students will learn about the circle of life and the connections between life and ecosystems by looking at the past (the dinosaur age), the present (the Chesapeake Bay), and the future (using weather and environmental data to make predictions and projections). Activities will include behind-the-scenes, hands-on trips to the Goddard Space Flight Center and the nationally acclaimed Maryland Science Center.
Under the guidance of accomplished blind educators and mentors, students will interact with internationally known scientists who are working on solving the mysteries of life. Hands-on activities will include doing a dissection; performing measurements independently; making observations using nonvisual techniques; and learning how to collect data about weather conditions, soils, etc., through the international GLOBE project. In addition, when students return to their school districts for the 2004-05 school year, follow-up resources will ensure that the blind youth continue to participate fully in their local science programs.
This experience will, of course, be rooted in the high expectations of Federation philosophy and will expose participants to talented blind scientists eager to share their enthusiasm for science with the next generation of blind youth.
Cost: All aspects of the program, including transportation, room, and board, will be provided by the NFB at no cost to the participants.
Camp Session 2: Rocket On!
When: August 15-21, 2004
Where: NFB Research and Training Institute, Baltimore, Maryland, and Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia (about three hours from Baltimore)
Who: Twelve blind youth, grades ten through twelve (including high school graduates of 2004), will be selected from among those who apply for the camp. Students will be selected based on, but not limited to, the following: academic performance, previous training in the skills of blindness (e.g., Braille, cane travel, daily living skills, etc.), diversity (i.e., having characteristics typically underrepresented in the sciences), and interest and motivation. Applications are available from the National Federation of the Blind national office (see the accompanying interest form). Priority will be given to applications received on or before March 15, 2004.
What: A weeklong camp which will provide a unique experience for blind youth to experience science as a vehicle for adventure, exploration, and innovation, and as a career option in their future. This experience will shatter the myth that challenging and technical sciences are dangerous for blind youth. Participants will develop, build, and launch a twelve-foot rocket off the Eastern Shore of Virginia at the Wallops Flight Facility. Later, under the guidance of Wallop Facility scientists and blind mentors, the participants will analyze the results against their predictions. This experience will build skills in teamwork, leadership, electronics, physics, and advanced calculations.
Encountering the high expectations of Federation philosophy, students will gain confidence through challenging activities. Visits to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center will be incorporated into the program as an enhancement to their learning experiences at Wallops. In addition, participants will interact with blind and sighted NASA scientists and engineers to learn about the rewards of pursuing a career in science and what it takes to get there. Each participant will also be matched with a mentor from NASA in order to foster further interest in science and engineering following the program.
Cost: All aspects of the program, including transportation, room, and board, will be provided by the NFB at no cost to the participants.
Just the Beginning
The 2004 NFB Science Experience is not just about a week of fun and excitement; it is about a bright future of opportunities for all blind youth. Regular education science teachers will be brought into both the Circle of Life and the Rocket On! programs to experience firsthand the techniques and strategies that allow blind youth to fully participate in the science curriculum. These teachers will carry their training back to their home districts to provide reinforcement and act as a resource to others working with blind youth. Additionally, long-term goals for this multiyear program include:
1. Development of multimedia resources for those working with blind youth in science;
2. A Web site to provide further connections for blind youth, their parents, and science teachers across the country;
3. Model IEPs dealing with science adaptations, goals, and objectives; and
4. Development of other materials to enhance access to information about how to include blind youth in existing science programs and curricula.
This is only the start. The opportunities for blind youth in science are limitless when the energy and experience of the NFB are combined with partners in the science community who have come to understand the truth about blindness. The continued involvement and input of parents of blind children with the Federation regarding the needs of blind youth in science and in any other educational area are critical to helping guide the innovation of our Research and Training Institute.
All are welcome aboard the NFBRTI rocket as we give blind youth the opportunity to establish a new standard of excellence in science during the summer of 2004.
2004 NFB Summer Science Experience
Please complete the following form and submit it to Mrs. Barbara Cheadle, President, National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland, 21230. You may also submit this information by email to <email@example.com>, or by fax, attention Mrs. Cheadle, at: (410) 685-5653. Please note: this is a form to register interest, not an application. A confirmation letter with additional information and/or an application packet will be sent to you upon receipt of the interest form. Please print legibly.
I/we are interested in the [ ] Session I: Circle of Life [ ] Session II: Rocket On!
Student’s name: __________________________________________________________
Birth date: ___________________________ Grade: ____________________________
Parent/guardian name(s): ___________________________________________________
Home address: ___________________________________________________________
City, State, Zip: __________________________________________________________
Please indicate the best way(s) and time(s) to contact you:
Home phone: ( ) ________________________________________________________
Work phone: ( ) ________________________________________________________
Cell phone: ( ) _________________________________________________________
Email, home: ____________________________________________________________
Email, work: ____________________________________________________________
If you are someone other than the parent or the student listed above (such as a teacher), please print your name, your relationship to the student, and the way we may contact you: ________________________________________________________________________
For more information regarding the 2004 NFB Summer Science Experience, contact Mark A. Riccobono, Coordinator of Educational Programs, National Federation of the Blind, Research and Training Institute, (410) 659-9314, extension 368, <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
For questions regarding the application process contact Barbara Cheadle, President, National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, (410) 659-9314, extension 360, <email@example.com>.
Braille Readers Are Leaders
Celebrates Twenty Years of Success
A Photo Report
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Left: Lindsay Upschulte, a three-time contest winner from Illinois, was one of the numerous winners and contest participants who came with their families to participate in the UPS-sponsored twentieth anniversary celebration of the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest and first annual Braille book flea market held at the NFB convention on Monday, June 30, 2003.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Right: Nadine Jacobson, president of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB), reviews the Braille agenda before convening the anniversary program. NAPUB, in partnership with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) established the Braille Readers Are
Leaders contest in 1983.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Above: 2002 Most Improved winner, Elizabeth Davis of Tennessee, proudly wears her Braille Readers Are Leaders t-shirt as she browses for Braille books at the flea market.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: UPS employee volunteers Terri Foss, Bobbi Shunnarah, and Greg Worthington cheerfully and efficiently box up Braille books for shipment at the first annual Braille book flea market event. They, and several other UPS volunteers, packed and mailed eighty boxes to addresses all over the country. Months in advance of the convention, the volunteers collected and stored sixty-five boxes of Braille books, then transported them to the hotel for the event. The flea market generated over $1,000 in donations which will be used for the 2004 Braille book flea market at the NFB convention in Atlanta.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Left: During the celebration
program, Barbara Cheadle (left), President of the NOPBC, presents Cathy Hicks, the Kentucky School for the Blind librarian, with the 2003 Braille Readers Are Leaders “Excellence in Promoting Literacy Award.” For twenty years, Hicks has enthusiastically promoted the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest among the students and staff at the school.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Right: Lora Felty, one of the featured speakers on the program for the twentieth anniversary Braille Readers Are Leaders celebration, talks about how the contest helped her decide to pursue a career in Braille. Felty, a Braille teacher who works with blind children in Kentucky, was sixteen when she won third place in the Print-to-Braille category of the 1984-1985 contest.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Above: The celebration program convened with a panel titled “Braille Rules” in which three blind youngsters, including seven-year-old Bryce Gitzen from Washington State, entertained the audience with lively presentations which they read in Braille.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: James Omvig, Treasurer of the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults (AAF), looks at Braille books from the flea market with Dillon Lohr, a blind youngster from Indiana. Omvig was one of about twenty Braille mentors at the celebration. The AAF donated several boxes of Braille books to the flea market, and several of the AAF officers, such as Omvig, also donated their time at the event as mentors. Over two hundred people, at least fifty of whom were children, attended the anniversary celebration.]
The Bridge to Braille
Reading and School Success for the Young Blind Child
Illustrated by Lynne Cucco
The Bridge to Braille is a practical, step-by-step guide that shows parents and teachers how to help blind children progress from early literacy experiences all the way to full participation in the classroom. This book demystifies the education of blind children and enables parents and teachers to give ordinary help with spelling, homework, reports, and projects to children who happen to be blind. Topics included in the book:
Adapting Materials Beginning Braille Reading Doing Math in Braille
A Quick Braille Lesson Braille Writing in the Classroom Resources
Using Technology Independence in the Classroom About Braille Books
“Now I understand what to do to get my son off to a good start in school. Parents need this information right from the beginning, when their blind child is a baby.”
— Amy Kaiser
Parent of a blind child
“A much-needed adjunct to the information shared by a busy Braille teacher...The Bridge to Braille should be in the hands of every teacher who is going to have a blind student in class!”
— Debbie DeHaven
First grade teacher
The Bridge to Braille is available from:
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
Name Phone ( )
City State Zip
The Bridge to Braille Quantity @12.00 +$5.00 (S&H) = _______ (Total Due)
Make check or money order payable to NFB and mail with this form to:
Materials Center, National Center for the Blind
1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230-4998
Phone: (410) 659-9314 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web site:
Free Braille Books Program
Blind kids want the same things sighted kids do. They want to watch their favorite television shows, go roller-skating with the gang, buy the current fashionable shoes, and read the newest popular book. Children enjoy collecting their favorite books and reading them over and over. Many adults today continue to cherish their Nancy Drew® or The Hardy Boys® book collections. Experts in literacy say that this type of popular literature plays an important role in developing reading skills and a love of reading among children. We at the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults (AAF) believe blind children ought to have the opportunity to enjoy literature, develop literacy skills, and learn to love reading, just like their sighted peers. Through the Free Braille Books
Program we are working to make this possible.
In 1997 the AAF started this program to provide blind children a free Braille book every month from a popular children’s reading series. The books are for the children to keep and collect for as long as they want them.
The titles published every month are the same titles that are available in bookstores and public libraries everywhere. In the past six years over one hundred twenty-six titles from popular children’s reading series were distributed to thousands of blind children. These titles were from the following reading series: Goosebumps®, Goosebumps® Series 2000, Animorphs®, Baby-Sitters Club, Baby-Sitters Club—Friends Forever, The Nightmare
Room™, Little House chapter books, Nancy Drew®, The Hardy Boys®, A to Z MysTerieS®, and Junie B. Jones chapter books.
Because reading interests and trends change, the AAF periodically reviews and changes the titles offered. Beginning January 1, 2004, AAF w汩獩畳
ill issue six titles each from the A to Z MysTerieS® series (reading levels 2.6 and up), the ever-popular Junie B. Jones series written by Barbara Parks (reading level 2.0 and up), and the Matt Christopher Sports Bio Bookshelf (suitable for preteens). The books will be shipped in alternating months: two titles in January, one title in February, and so forth to the end of the year. Blind youngsters, blind parents, teachers of the blind, schools, and libraries serving the blind are eligible to participate in this program. Participants may enroll in or withdraw from the program at any time. They may also choose to receive one, two, or all three titles, as they like. And the books are free and theirs to keep.
No child should be left out because he or she is blind. Because of this program blind children can now discuss the newest book with their classmates and build their very own collection of books—just like their sighted friends.
Free Braille Books Program
To apply for the program, please send the information requested in the application below to:
AAF Free Braille Books Program
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
Telephone: (410) 659-9314, extension 361
Fax: (410) 685-5653
City, State, Zip ___________________________________________________________
(check one) [ ] student, [ ] teacher, [ ] library or other institution
If student, birth date __________________________
Name of parent(s) ________________________________________________________
[ ] Yes, send me the Junie B. Jones chapter books (RL 2.0). I understand six books will be issued in 2004.
[ ] Yes, send me the A to Z MysTerieS® chapter books (RL 2.6). I understand six books will be issued in 2004.
[ ] Yes, send me the sports biography books written by Matt Christopher for preteens.
I understand six books will be issued in 2004.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Serena Cucco]
The Most Important Transition of All
by Serena Cucco
Editor’s Note: When I asked Serena Cucco of New Jersey to be on the student and parent panel, I told her the theme was “transitions” but otherwise, pretty much left the content of her speech up to her. I’m glad I did. As I reflected on what she chose to talk about, I realized that Serena is a shining example of the power of the “It’s up to me” mentality which Elliott so eloquently described in her keynote speech earlier that day (see the article, “The Essence of Education is Repetition” elsewhere in this issue). What I learned from Serena’s speech is that children who adopt the “It’s up to me” approach not only learn to do for themselves, they learn to do for others. That, it seems to me, is the most important transition of all.
Serena, by the way, is the blind daughter of Carol Castellano, a frequent contributor over the years to Future Reflections, the co-author of the much-acclaimed book, The Bridge to Braille, and, well, you can read more about Carol in her biography elsewhere in this issue. A 2003 high school graduate, Serena has not let the fame of being the focus of many articles and speeches over the years spoil her. She has grown into a thoughtful, caring young woman with a passion for justice. Here are Serena’s remarks from the 2003 NFB parent’s seminar:
Imagine a blind twelve-year-old girl new to this country from Central America. She has never gone to school. Her parents couldn’t afford the school for the blind in their country. She doesn’t know how to read. She knows no English. Two years ago my Braille teacher introduced me to this girl and asked me if I would like to work with her. I was particularly suited to the job because I speak Spanish and can write both English and Spanish in Braille.
Once a week, Kency and her mother came to my house where I mentored her in reading, Braille, and speaking English. I introduced her to typical American snacks such as brownies and Goldfish. (I think she ate them just to be polite.) I translated for her and for our two mothers. She enjoyed practicing her letters on my Braille Lite, which I’m using right now to give my speech. I also wrote sentences for her to read in Spanish and English. It was challenging to think of sentences that were simple in both languages. During this school year, I went to Kency’s middle school where I mentored and tutored her under a program called Student Volunteers. I helped her with her homework, taught her how to set up math problems in Braille, and Brailled worksheets for her. I also put in several hours a week Brailling a novel for her.
[Editor’s note: Think about the time commitment involved here. Almost every week for over two years she meets to tutor this girl, then she gives up more time to Braille a book for her. Serena doesn’t say it, but I suspect that she had to customize the Braille as she transcribed the book.]
Kency has made much progress since she came to this country. Her reading and English have improved dramatically. I treasure my work with her because it highlights three of my most cherished values: education, equal opportunity for all people, and full inclusion in American culture for all who chose to make the United States their home. First, my efforts enabled her to receive an appropriate education and to enjoy equal opportunity. My tutoring gave her two more Braille lessons a week that she wouldn’t have had otherwise. Without an appropriate education Kency wouldn’t have an opportunity to attend college and enjoy a fulfilling career, and without equal opportunity, Kency wouldn’t be able to aspire to her dreams. I strongly believe that people of other cultures deserve the opportunity to enjoy the pleasures of American society. I believe through exposing her to our culture (like eating American foods) and helping her learn the language quickly, I have helped her to be included in all aspects of American life.
Throughout our lives we all make transitions in different areas. Kency, her teachers, and I made several key transitions. The first two transitions that Kency made were going to school, which she had never done before, and learning a new language. Throughout her three years at school Kency has gotten acquainted with new foods, an important transition for people from another culture. Now she loves potato chips and eats them all the time! More importantly, Kency learned how to use a white cane and how to read Braille. Last, but certainly not least, Kency learned that she can be independent and has gained the opportunity to do things that she would never have done without these blindness skills. Kency’s teachers made transitions too. First, they learned Braille while Kency learned it. Later, they learned how to use technology and equipment so they could Braille worksheets and other materials for her. Most importantly, they realized that Kency should be, and could be, independent.
When my mom tells people about my work with Kency she often says that she dropped off a high school student and picked up a teacher. I will also carry the lessons I learned from my work with Kency into my future. As I transition from high school to the next adventure in my life, college, I hope to continue to change the public’s attitude about blindness, as an activist in the National Federation of the Blind. I also hope to be an activist in helping give other disadvantaged people the opportunity to achieve their dreams. I hope I will be able to use my education and my talents to make the world a better place.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ellen Bartlett
CAPTION: Chris Dahmke
CAPTION: Kallie Smith
CAPTION: Anna Schuck
CAPTION: Chris Micelli]
The Hardest Little Thing I’ve Ever Done
by Ellen Bartlett, Kallie Smith, Anna Schuck, Christopher Dahmke, and Chris Micelli
Editor’s Note: Ellen Bartlett, a blind high school senior from the state of New York, was invited to speak on the youth panel at the 2003 NOPBC parents seminar. The topic for the panel was The Hardest Little Thing(s) I’ve Ever Done. However, circumstances conspired to prevent Ellen from being able to get to the convention early enough to participate. At my request, she sent me the speech she had prepared. It’s unfortunate that she could not deliver the speech in person, but I am doing the next best thing by publishing it for all our readers. Ellen, by the way, has been to many national NFB conventions with her parents over the years. You might say she grew up in the NFB. Her written remarks (see below) are followed by a photo report of the presentations made at the convention by panel members Anna Schuck, Kallie Smith, Christopher Dahmke, and Chris Micelli:
Ellen Bartlett: The hardest little thing I ever did was probably the first time I dove off the starting blocks at swim practice. I started swimming in the fall of sixth grade. I enjoyed it very much at the time and was looking forward to the first time I would swim in a Meet with the other kids. There was one hurdle in my way though: learning how to dive off the blocks. For the swimming illiterate, let me explain what this is like. At the pool where I swam, there is a wall at each end of the pool, about a foot high, one for each lane. This makes the top of the starting blocks about a couple feet above the water. At the time, I felt like I would lose my balance and fall into the water without preparing for it.
So it is probably very understandable at this point why I was so scared to do this the first time. When I got up on the blocks one night at practice, my coach and my dad were telling me to stand up on the block. When preparing to dive in, a swimmer stands with one or both feet at the front of the block. When I started doing this, I had both feet at the front. This is something I’ve never quite mastered, and I still mount the blocks at a bit of a crouch. Anyhow, they were telling me to stand up, and I felt so scared about falling in that I started wailing to let me get down. This must have gone on for about half an hour, but finally I went in. It was big and splashy, but I’d gone into the water.
As an epilogue, a couple months later, when I was at a swim meet, a concerned timer asked me, “Are you going to start in the water, little girl?”
I politely said, “No, I go off the blocks just like everybody else.”
Another swimming story I have is something that happened at about the same time, perhaps on the same night. Everyone in my lane had been told to cool down by swimming 100 yards. Not only did I swim the assigned one hundred yards, but I also tried swimming an individual medley for the first time. The individual medley, or IM as we swimmers like to call it, is an equal amount of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle, in that order. I did one length of each, equaling one hundred yards. I found it difficult, but I wanted to see if I could do it.
We all, blind or sighted, find ourselves challenged almost every day. I know there are many sighted people out there who think that living with blindness is the hardest thing anyone would ever have to do. I personally know that it is not. Fortunately my parents do not think so either. Thanks to the education and support of the NFB and my parents, I know that any “hard little thing” I may face in the future I can meet head on and succeed at it.
“Sometimes transition isn’t about big stuff. It’s about little things. In order to make the big things happen, you first have to do the little things.”
Kallie Smith, a high school senior from Iowa, cheerfully substituted for Ellen Bartlett on the youth panel. Kallie briefly talked about her experiences in a summer transition program operated by the Iowa Department for the Blind. The “hardest little thing” she had recently learned to do, she said, was to conquer a difficult travel route to a post office in downtown Des Moines. The route included, she said, “lots of skywalks … big buildings that echo … [and] long confusing hallways.” But, Kallie concluded, “I found it and did what I had to do.” In the process, she explained, she also found her independence.
Chris Dahmke, a high school junior from Louisville, Kentucky, followed Kallie on the panel. Chris, who has partial sight, described how hard it had been to move from a public school in Nebraska to the Kentucky School for the Blind. “I really didn’t know I was blind … [and] I never knew anybody that was blind … until we moved here,” he explained. He was eleven at the time. It was a hard move, but he feels he is a better, more confident person for it. “Another little thing that I had trouble getting used to,” he said, “was working.” Chris works part-time at a pizza place. He believes the transition from sitting at home to working was critical to his independence. He described how much persistence it took to convince a prospective employer to give him a job. The next hard part was meeting expectations. “It was kind of tough,” Chris said, “to get used to having to do what everybody else does.” Figuring out nonvisual techniques and convincing your boss that you can use them to do quality work is a challenge Chris believes all blind kids should experience before they graduate. He urged his peers in the audience to “Get a job as soon as you can!”
Ten-year-old Anna Schuck of Lansing, Michigan, adds a dramatic touch to her presentation on the youth panel: she demonstrates how to blow up a balloon. “One of the hardest little things I ever did,” she proclaimed, “was blowing up a balloon.” She explained that she had wanted to learn how to blow up balloons because, “they’re for parties and my mom uses them for piñatas.” Besides, she went on, “I want[ed] to [learn to] blow up a balloon by myself because it’s fun.” Anna went on, “My favorite TV show, Cyberchase, [has] this famous quote: ‘Nothing to do, but to do it.’” And so, to the delight of the audience, she did it—blow up a balloon, that is.
The final youth panelists, Chris Micelli from Washington State, confessed that the hardest thing he did this past year was taking responsibility for “fixing [a] problem I had created.” The problem? Homework: or, as Chris explained, “my lack of doing any of it, which … teachers don’t like.” He was, he said, failing his English, math, and history classes “because I was too stupid to realize [that] not doing your homework doesn’t help your grade.” Micelli went on to say, “In the past, when this had happened in the eighth grade (because I’ve never been one to believe in actually doing homework), I had always had somebody fix it for me.” That is, he explained, his instructional assistant, Miss Mack, talked to his teachers and worked out a solution for him. However, “This year,” Chris said, “I decided to [personally] … talk to all my teachers individually, you know, to find out what I could do to fix my grade.” He did just that: talked to his teachers, worked out a solution with them, and fixed the problem. “In the end,” Chris explained, “I managed to pass all my grades.” Furthermore, Chris concluded, “A couple of them were actually okay rather than barely passing.”
Resources and Training Materials for
Parents and Teachers of Visually Impaired Children with Additional Disabilities
by Linda Zani Thomas
Editor’s Note: The leaders of the Parents of Blind Children—New Jersey (POBC-NJ), a division of the NFB of New Jersey, have asked that I publish the following information and I am delighted to do it. I especially recommend the videos developed by Joe Cutter and offered by the POBC-NJ. The content of the videos is top quality. Parents and professionals will find them invaluable as training tools and as guides in developing meaningful educational programming for blind children with additional disabilities. Here’s the information:
The POBC-NJ Mission Regarding Visually Impaired Children with Additional Disabilities
For many children, visual impairment is just one more challenge they face. A recent survey showed that sixty-six percent of the visually impaired children in New Jersey had additional disabilities, most with conditions causing significant developmental delay. Parents of these children are most concerned with getting their children’s health stabilized, then concentrating on developmental progress and long-term care issues.
The POBC-NJ is dedicated to providing quality, cutting edge information for parents of children with additional disabilities. POBC-NJ is a proponent of Dr. Lilli Nielsen’s teachings and techniques. She is a pioneer in learning techniques for multiply disabled children and creator of the learning approach called Active Learning. Her techniques and materials, which are known in nations all over the world, have helped thousands of extremely challenged children recognize their true potential.
The premise of Active Learning is that all children learn through their own actions, on their own initiative. According to Dr. Nielsen, “…if given the opportunity to learn from his own active exploration and examination, the child will achieve skills that become part of his personality, and so are natural for him to use in interaction with others and for fulfillment of his own needs, and will gradually make him ready to develop to be as independent as possible.”
Getting started with Active Learning is easy, once you understand Dr. Nielsen’s philosophy. One of the most striking elements of Active Learning is that parents and teachers never engage in physically guiding the hands of the child who is blind or visually impaired. Instead, their role is to construct a personalized learning environment that leads the child to perform learning tasks on his or her own, with no physical intervention. With the right tools and materials—which Dr. Nielsen has developed—this is possible regardless of the extent of the child’s additional disabilities. In this manner, the multiply disabled blind or visually impaired child experiences genuine independence and his or her learning becomes meaningful and relevant.
The following is a list of Active Learning sources for general information, training materials, equipment, and the FIELA—Flexible, Individual, Enriched, Level, Appropriate—curriculum designed for classroom use.
POBC-NJ Resources and Services for Visually Impaired Children with Additional Disabilities
Our sincere gratitude to Joe Cutter for making his videotapes available to POBC-NJ for us to pass on his and others’ knowledge to parents, teachers, and therapists across the country.
Source: POBC-NJ Videos
To order any of the following five videos, please send your request and a check made payable to the POBC-NJ to Carol Castellano, President POBC-NJ, 23 Alexander Avenue Madison, NJ 07940. If you have questions or need more information, you may contact her by phone at (973) 377-0976 or by email at <email@example.com>.
Dr. Nielsen’s Active Learning Techniques VHS (1:30) $20 each, plus $3.50 shipping and handling
Dr. Nielsen’s Active Learning techniques have been used with great success in home, school, and residential settings. The POBC-NJ is happy to announce that we have an excellent instructional videotape for sale that reviews key Active Learning techniques, equipment, and resources. The ninety-minute videotape is moderated by Joe Cutter, a pediatric orientation and mobility teacher and nationally recognized expert in early childhood and educational programming for multiply disabled blind children. This videotape is perfect for home use as a guide to setting a child’s learning environment and as a training tool or reference for therapists and teachers. A Joe Cutter video.
Early Intervention, Not Early Interference VHS (1:25) $20 each, plus $3.50 shipping and handling
Understanding early movement and travel, and facilitating growth and development using a teamwork approach are the themes of this video. The video includes an in-depth discussion of early intervention programming and pre-school concerns. A Joe Cutter video.
Infant Development and Sensory Integration VHS (1:40) $20 each, plus $3.50 shipping and handling
This video addresses the impact of movement on development and understanding the movement needs of blind/visually impaired children through a thorough understanding of normal childhood development. A Joe Cutter video.
POBC-NJ Seminar for Teachers VHS (1:20). $20 each, plus $3.50 shipping and handling
This video of our highly successful teacher seminar addresses the following topics: what teachers should know about blind/VI students, classroom strategies, orientation and mobility, and physical education activities. A Joe Cutter video.
Angelo “Monty” Montagnino’s Physical Education for Blind and Visually Impaired Children VHS (1:40) $20 each, plus $3.50 shipping and handling
A must for all P.E. teachers of school-age children, this video is also valuable for parents wishing to incorporate exercise and sports into their children’s lives. A Joe Cutter video.
Joe Cutter, a recent retiree from the Commission is perhaps the most knowledgeable authority in New Jersey on Active Learning. He is available for consultations through POBC-NJ or by calling him directly at (732) 502-0610 or through his email address at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Information about how parents and professionals can collaborate to set up a school or home Active Learning program is available from POBC-NJ by contacting Linda Zani Thomas at <email@example.com> or (973) 962-9307.
Active Learning Classroom Site Visits
Please contact Linda Zani Thomas or Joe Cutter (see contact information above) to visit classrooms in New Jersey that feature Active Learning.
Source: Dr. Nielsen and Associates
Active Learning equipment and teaching tools may be purchased through the Lilliworks Active Learning Foundation. For more information call (510) 522-1340 or go to the Web site at <www.lilliworks.com>.
Classic articles, books, and the FIELA curriculum on Active Learning is available from Dr. Nielsen through the Lilliworks Active Learning Foundation (510) 522-1340, <www.lilliworks.com>; or from Vision Associates (407) 352-1200, <www.visionkits.com>.
Dr. Nielsen will provide educational consultation via review of videotapes of children. For more information about contents of the video, fees, etc., contact Dr. Nielsen at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. For a schedule of Dr. Nielsen’s workshops in the U.S.A. or other countries, please contact her at the email address above.
Source: National Organization of
Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC)
Future Reflections articles on Dr. Nielsen’s techniques, including The Lilli Nielsen FIELA Curriculum in Action, are available at no charge through the NOPBC at the National Federation of the Blind headquarters. Send your request for a packet of literature by mail, phone, or email to NOPBC Lilli Articles, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; (410) 659-9314, extension 360; <email@example.com>.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Sheila Amato (right) accepts her award from Sharon Maneki, chairman of the 2003 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award committee.]
The Many Roles that Braille
Plays in My Life
by Sheila Amato
2003 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children
Editor’s Note: It was with great warmth and enthusiasm that the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children welcomed Sheila Amato to the convention as the 2003 winner of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award. Amato’s promotion of Braille in the university teacher-training setting and her innovative development of a high school literary Braille transcription course have won for her the respect and high-regard of parents and professionals alike. Amato accepted her award from Sharon Maneki, chairman of the award committee, on Friday, July 4, the last day of the convention. The following article is an edited version of the letter Ms. Amato wrote to the committee in response to her nomination for the award. Amato also used the letter as the text for her remarks to the convention. Here is what she says:
Many thanks for the opportunity to share with you my beliefs on teaching blind children. Since I am both a teacher of students who are blind, as well as a university teacher-trainer, it is probable that my remarks will approach this task from a unique perspective.
My earliest memory of Braille as a reading/writing code for the blind happened when I was six years old. I remember swiping the cardboard inserts from my father’s freshly-cleaned shirts, taking a pencil, poking holes in the cardboard, flipping the cardboard over, “reading” it tactually, and decreeing that I had created Braille. In a similar manner, I created my own sign language hand configurations. I spent many delightful hours absorbed in this type of play.
Fast forward about a decade. My maternal aunt was a teacher of students who were blind. One day, when I was in my teens, she showed me her Perkins Braillewriter. I remember my fascination with this device, and asked her if I could borrow it. She agreed. Little did she know at that time that I would never give it back to her. Braille visited my life on occasions. Although temporarily inspirational, these visits were short.
Fast-forward another decade. I had been teaching in a school for the deaf, and had even reluctantly agreed to forgo my invented sign language code for one that was more universally accepted. I had married, bought a house, and had just given birth to our first son. I was home on a one-year maternity leave to bond and care for our son. The demands of motherhood were great, as we all know, yet I felt intellectually unchallenged and a tad bored with the homemaking scene. One day, I happened to read a small notice in a local newsletter: a Braille course was being offered by a Braille teacher associated with a local Jewish Temple. I immediately called the teacher and asked if I could enroll in this class; but, of course, my three-month old son would have to accompany me. She agreed, on the condition that my son not cause a disruption. Thus, armed with a three-month old, the required baby paraphernalia, my aunt’s Brailler, and a prayer, I set off to, finally, learn Braille.
Four women were in the room as I entered toting a blessedly quiet and complacent infant and the rest of my Braille baggage. We were here to learn Braille! By the third class, I was the lone student remaining. Lessons continued: I couldn’t wait to get home after class and do my homework. Months of lessons passed and my passion for those confusing configurations of dots blossomed. (By the way, to my Braille teacher’s eternal credit, she never told me that it was possible to erase a dot Brailled in error! If I made an error, I had to rebraille the entire page. It was years before I realized it was possible to erase a dot in correction.) Within nine months, I was working on my trial manuscript for literary Braille Transcriber certification through the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress.
Fast forward again, but just a few years. I’m back teaching. My teaching position in the school for the deaf was modified a bit, and I found myself teaching deaf children with multiple impairments. In fact, all six of my deaf students had varying types of visual impairments. I realized that I didn’t know how to provide the best educational practice for them, so I decided to learn. I enrolled in Teachers College, Columbia University, due to their outstanding reputation for preparing future teachers in blindness and visual impairment. After all, my aunt had gone there, so they had to be good! I enrolled in an eighteen-credit program designed to provide New York State Certification as a teacher of the blind. Talk about getting hooked! I’m still there at Teachers College today.
Oh, yes, I did get those eighteen credits under my belt to receive my teaching certification. But I didn’t stop at that. I continued in the program to earn a Master of Education and a doctorate in blindness and visual impairment. Following in the footsteps of one of my university professors, Dr. Stuart Wittenstein, (who is now the Superintendent of the California School for the Blind) I became an adjunct assistant professor of education at Teachers College. (I also teach at Dominican College as well; both institutions are in New York.) I have been teaching courses in literary Braille transcription during the fall semesters, and courses in Nemeth Code and technology in the spring semesters since 1996.
For the record, the title of my doctoral dissertation is, “A Descriptive Study of Standards and Criteria for Competence in Braille Literacy within Teacher Preparation Programs in the United States and Canada.” The majority of successful blind adults who read and write in Braille had a teacher who taught them the intricacies of this code. These teachers must possess a level of competence in both Braille transcription and teaching strategies. But, what about the teacher-trainers: the university personnel who taught these teachers? After all (at least in my opinion) we teacher-trainers have an awesome responsibility. We are, at least partly, responsible for starting this learning process. I wanted to know about their training, their philosophies, how they created their course, the standards they set for their future teachers, and how they evaluated them. What did they require their students-soon-to-be-teachers to know, and to what degree of competence? Two years and 173 pages later, this information is available to all interested parties and is being used today to effect changes in our teacher-training programs.
Fast-forward only a few more short years (gee, they seem to go faster as I get older). A shift has gradually occurred. I am now teaching blind children who have concomitant hearing impairments and, to my absolute delight, these students read and write Braille. I now find myself in a public high school working with a young man who is congenitally totally blind, has a hearing impairment, and is pursing a high school diploma by taking challenging academic courses. My job description includes facilitation communication and Brailling all of his course materials. He is a proficient reader and writer in the literary code, and his skills and knowledge of the Nemeth Code continue to develop. And, we are a team—a well-oiled twosome. Then the other students in the school started asking me, “What is he doing, and how does he do that?” to which I replied, “Ask him!”
Thus, it became evident that there was much interest in these six dots by sighted students in our high school. An idea was born! I designed a course in literary Braille transcription that is patterned after the NLS certification process and is almost identical in standards to my university graduate courses; after all, the Braille code is the Braille code, and either one knows it, or one doesn’t. I arranged for the loan of fifteen Perkins Braillers, the donation of Braille paper, and permission to copy instructional materials. Then I petitioned the school board for permission to conduct a new course for high school credit. With a vision for the unique (I told them we would be the only high school in the USA with such a curricular course) and the dream of future vocational and educational opportunities for the high school students, the course was approved on a pilot basis.
The first year course in Literary Braille at East Islip High School started with six students and ended with fifteen students in the class. Activities included a visit by a successful blind adult who uses Braille daily, the showing of videos such as “That the Blind May Read,” and discussions about the importance of Braille in fostering independent literacy. University teacher-trainers who prepare future teachers of the blind came to share information about their college programs and to recruit students. Organizations such as the Helen Keller National Center and the Helen Keller Braille Library sent representatives who offered employment opportunities. In fact, one of our high school Braille students is presently employed as a Braillist with the Helen Keller Braille Library and another student was recently interviewed and offered a job upon high school graduation in June. (She had to take a Braille proficiency test as part of the interview, with no advance notice.) Two of the students in the class are in the final proofreading stages of their trial manuscript and hope to become the first high school students at East Islip High School to achieve the coveted NLS transcriber certification. As a culmination to this year’s program, we spent two months Brailling children’s storybooks into uncontracted Braille. We set a goal of collectively Brailling one hundred storybooks. We celebrated book number one hundred and eight last Friday with a class pizza party! These books will be shipped to the school for the blind in Pohnpei, the Federated States of Micronesia, to be used to start a Braille library at their school. Last year, we shipped our one hundred plus Braille children’s storybooks to the Salvation Army School for the Blind in Jamaica, West Indies.
This year, for the first time, two East Islip High School Braille students will attend the NFB National Convention for the purpose of learning more about blindness-related issues, to present workshop sessions on their Braille-related achievements, and to work as volunteers with various branches of the organization. We thank the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children for this gracious invitation and for the financial support that makes this trip possible.
So, how does all this tie-in to my beliefs and approach to teaching blind students? We have a documented nationwide shortage of teachers of the blind and of Braille transcribers. This model—affectionately named “Braille Goes to High School,” is proving to be a viable system to share valuable educational and vocational opportunities with high schools students. High school students are at an impressionable age. They also have a strong desire to contribute to their world and to make a difference for others. This is a unique opportunity to share my passions with them, and to introduce them to Braille. I am honored and challenged daily to inspire my students (and I interpret students to mean all of my students—my blind student, my university graduate students who aspire to be teachers of the blind, and my sighted high school students who are curious about Braille) to gain proficiency in Braille transcription, and also to appreciate, respect, and value the Braille code as an indispensable tool for assuring independence in literacy and in life for blind people.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share the many roles that Braille plays in my life.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Sarah Hovestadt (left) and Erica Zampardi made presentations to the NOPBC and NAPUB meetings at the 2003 NFB Convention.]
Getting the Words Down in Braille
by Bill Kaufman
Reprinted from Newsday, Inc., November 17, 2002. See <www.newsday.com>.
Editor’s Note: We had the good fortune to have Sheila Amato and two of her sighted high school students from the program described below come to participate in the activities of the 2003 NFB National Convention in Louisville in July. Amato, winner of the 2003 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award was the guest of the NFB. Her two students, Sara Hovestadt and Erica Zampardi, were sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). Both students plan for careers in Braille transcription. Here is a description of the unique program that motivated these students to take this career path:
With the goal of providing the blind access to a wider scope of learning materials, students at East Islip High School are enrolled in a course in literary Braille transcription, believed to be the only such high school program in the nation.
Literary transcription refers to transcription of books versus other materials such as brochures or signs. The course, which is being taught by its originator, Sheila Amato, focuses not only on the long-used mechanical Braille-writing machine but on emerging technology using computers and special printers to transcribe material into the traditional system of touch-sensed symbols.
Amato explained that there’s a shortage of Braille transcribers to produce textbooks, and “many schools are not able to obtain the increasingly wide variety of new textbooks they need.”
“In addition to learning the Braille code, students in this course are being exposed to the college and vocational opportunities that are available to them upon high school graduation,” said Amato, who was brought in for the course and holds a doctorate in blindness and visual impairment education from Columbia University.
The elective full-credit high school course runs for a school year, with a follow-up year in advanced Braille transcription available. Currently fifteen students at the high school, all sighted except one, are enrolled in the course. Amato said she designed it not only to offer transcription training “but also the opportunity to learn about people who are blind and to develop a level of comfort with them and respect for their capabilities.”
Students who complete the advanced course can go on to receive certification from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, which will boost their chances of finding a job in the field.
Mary Ann Siller, co-chairwoman of national education programs of the nonprofit American Foundation for the Blind in Dallas, said the East Islip course is “as far as I know the only one being taught in a high school for credit.”
Siller added that her organization has teamed up with Verizon in a three-year campaign “that promotes the new career ‘Braille textbook transcriber’ at the federal and state levels and raises general awareness of the needs of blind and low-vision schoolchildren for timely access of textbooks and learning materials.”
The course has attracted national attention. Recently, Barbara MacNeil, program manager for students with vision impairments of San Diego’s public schools, visited East Islip to observe the training. She said that her school system plans to implement a similar program next year.
A transcribing student, Michael Conlon, nineteen, who is blind and hearing impaired, said in a typed note that he learned Braille when he was four-years-old, “just like the other children in my class who were learning print.” A junior, he said he enjoys reading books in Braille, “especially adventure stories or stories about animals,” adding, “I try to read a chapter in my book every night before I go to sleep.” Conlon does all his homework in Braille, “and I hardly make a mistake,” he noted. He’s attending the course to keep abreast of developments for the blind.
Another student, Erica Zampardi, sixteen, a junior, said via a typed message, “I took this class because I’m deaf and am friends with a boy who is blind. I want to learn about their culture.”
Some of the students take the class for sheer pleasure. “I love Braille,” said Shannon Brew, sixteen, a junior. “My favorite part of the day is Braille and sign language classes. I go home and show my family and they are so proud. It’s amazing and I’m so happy I’m learning it.”
Schools superintendent Michael Capozzi hailed the two-year curriculum developed by Amato. He said she has “created a wonderful environment for children to learn Braille transcription. This is a tremendous opportunity for our students to learn a world-class skill.”
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Barbara Cheadle
CAPTION: Carol Castellano
CAPTION: Marty Greiser
CAPTION: Sandy Merchant Taboada
CAPTION: Barbara Mathews
CAPTION: Debby Brackett
CAPTION: Marla Palmer]
Movers and Shakers
Biographies of NOPBC Parent Leaders:
Barbara Cheadle, President; Carol Castellona, First Vice President; Martin (Marty) Greiser, Second Vice President; Sandy Merchant Taboada, Secretary; and board members Barbara Mathews, Debby Brackett, and Marla Palmer
The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) is a national membership organization of parents and friends of blind children reaching out to each other to give vital parent-to-parent support, encouragement, and information. An affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the NOPBC sponsors an annual day-long national seminar and numerous other workshops for parents and activities for youth in late June, early July at the National Convention of the NFB. Five officers and six board members of the NOPBC are elected at the annual meeting, also conducted at the NFB Convention. These parent leaders volunteer their time and work tirelessly throughout the year and at the NFB Convention to help individual parents and to develop and expand resources available to parents and their children. Following are the biographies of seven of the eleven 2003-2004 NOPBC board members. The remaining four biographies will be published in the next issue of Future Reflections. The biographies of President Cheadle and First Vice President Castellano are reprints from other publications. Here are the seven biographies:
Barbara Cheadle—Featured Mentor
Reprinted from the “Mentor’s Corner” feature of the June 23, 2003, collegeboard.com Inc., Web publication, My Road.
Barbara Cheadle has vision—not the twenty-twenty kind, but insight and clarity of purpose. Take a look at her work with blind children and see it as she does, with a dream of equality and an eye toward the future.
Barbara Cheadle is the coordinator of programs for blind and visually impaired children at the National Federation of the Blind and serves as editor, writer, and publisher of the magazine Future Reflections. She is also the parent of a blind son and president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Backed by a bachelor’s degree in education and postbaccalaureate studies in rehabilitation and education of the visually impaired, Cheadle tackles issues of blindness in the home, the workplace, and the world beyond.
Q: What was the chain of events that led to your work with blind people?
I majored in education in college, at Southwest Missouri State University, and during my last year there, I realized that although I loved education, my place in life was not in the classroom. Luckily, a bachelor’s in education is a very versatile degree, and a lot of companies are interested in people with that background, so it’s not difficult to go into other areas with that kind of education. I accidentally fell into a job with a state agency serving the blind. I had a roommate who worked for Nebraska Services for the Visually Impaired, and I ended up getting a job as a counselor working with blind adults.
Q: It can’t be an accident that you remained in the same field all this time. What kept you there?
As a child of the Sixties being confronted with the issues of blindness for the first time, I came to my job with the assumption that blind people would be organized and know what they wanted, and I was right. It turned out that there was an active chapter of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) in Nebraska with lots of wonderful, creative things going on—a lot of politics and very exciting stuff. I discovered that work with the blind was not a case of charity but a civil rights movement. As a young person with ideals, being part of that was very exciting. I joined on as a member of the NFB to learn from blind people and to apply what I learned from my job as a rehabilitation counselor, and I have been a member now for about twenty-five years.
Q: Can you give a working definition of blindness and the range of impairment the term covers?
We use the word blind whenever we refer to those who have sufficient vision loss to significantly alter how they conduct the affairs of their lives. If you can’t drive a car, that’s pretty significant—in our culture especially. Most people who are blind are not totally without sight.
Q: How did you get exposed to the issues of blind children?
Through my associations with my job and the NFB, I met my husband to be, and we got married and started a family. We had one biological child, and then we decided to adopt a child. On the adoption form it asked if we would accept a child with a disability, and we said, “Sure—blind.” Right away, the agency said, “Oh, we have a child for you.” So you might say I became a parent of a blind child deliberately. That led to a whole new world of issues and challenges in both blindness and parenting.
Q: How did having a blind child help to redirect the focus of your professional work?
At the time, although there was a great deal of passion, interest, and support for the issues of blind children, my husband and I quickly came to terms with the fact that there really weren’t any formal resources available to parents. There were some professional journals and a few local newsletters, but there was no national publication for parents of blind children, and though there had been some attempts to get a parents’ organization going, they were very difficult to keep alive. They would spring up here and there, but then the kids they were serving would grow up, and the parents involved would move on to other issues, and the programs would die. So my husband and I were the charter members and officers of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), which is affiliated with the National Federation of the Blind, and we became involved in the development of the first national publication for parents of blind children, called Future Reflections. Once the NFB saw the first issue of the magazine, they decided to support it and fund it, because they saw that it was desperately needed.
Q: When did you become an official employee of the NFB?
In the early years I was either an unpaid volunteer or a volunteer with a stipend. A few years ago I started working full-time for the organization out of our national office in
Q: What are your responsibilities at the NFB now?
The primary focus of my job is producing the literature that we develop for the parents and teachers of blind children, with the core being Future Reflections magazine. Beyond that, I plan and organize workshops, seminars, and educational and fun activities for parents and children. I also develop model programs for our affiliates around the country. I do some advocacy, too—going with families to meetings with their schools to negotiate educational programs for their children. I assist families and do phone consultations with people from all over the nation who call me with issues and problems. I give them advice, referrals, encouragement, and information. Most of all I connect them with other people in the NFB and the NOPBC, because that’s crucial.
Q: What kinds of things can you teach blind people to make their lives easier?
There is a variety of what we call alternative techniques. That means that when a blind person is unlocking the door to his apartment, he must learn how to quickly and easily feel the keyhole with his fingers instead of looking at it. It can also mean using Braille, using a cane, and other things that are less obvious, like just listening and using common sense and senses like taste and touch and smell. Blind people have to get comfortable with the concept of blindness. They must wrestle with the attitude problems that they and other people have about blindness and come to the conclusion that it really is OK to be blind. Only then can they be free to use whatever techniques work and will make them efficient and effective and competitive in life. For some that may just mean letting people know that they can’t see the words on the blackboard, or asking someone to describe something for them, or asking for directions on the street.
Q: Do you find that kids generally have the optimism and flexibility to handle their disabilities pretty well?
Absolutely. If parents don’t overprotect them, they’re fine. I tell parents with blind babies, “Your kid won’t even know she is blind or what that means until she’s about four years old.” And they say, “Oh yeah, I guess you’re right.” Here they’ve been crying and thinking how awful their child’s loss of sight is, but she hasn’t lost anything she ever had. I’m empathetic with parents’ grief, but I try to help them move past that as quickly as possible, because children model their parents’ behavior and attitudes, so it’s crucial to be upbeat and matter-of-fact and say, “Yeah, this is the way it is, and this is how we do things.”
Q: Do you find that many parents are overprotective of their blind kids?
Yes, that’s typical. It’s instinctual in our species to be protective of our young. We bring these helpless little infants into the world, and our job is to keep them safe, but it’s also our job to teach them. Unfortunately, our society’s views about blindness are so deeply ingrained that those protective instincts crowd out the instinct to promote independence, which is crucial to our children’s survival. Most parents have the common sense to know they’re not going to live forever or be able to always take care of their kids. They don’t want to be washing their daughter’s hair when she’s twenty-seven, but they still don’t know how blind people do things. How do you peel an apple if you’re blind? What techniques are both safe and effective? The good news is that they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We provide them with the information and opportunities to learn and then teach their kids.
Q: What sort of help are you able to give parents?
We connect them with blind people who can be both mentors and models for their families—sources of inspiration and hope, but also sources of more mundane information. When they visit a blind person who cooks dinner for them and talks with them, they learn lessons they couldn’t get by reading a book. We also connect them with other parents and a supportive network and give them information on what to expect in the future and about laws and rights and responsibilities.
Q: Can you give an example of a family you’ve worked with that really needed guidance?
I met a young man years ago whose parents were still brushing his teeth, even though he was in high school. I couldn’t believe it. I thought, “What in the world are we going to do?” But although his parents got the message late, they finally got it. And the son, though he’d been overprotected, still had the desire and motivation to be independent. He went to a good rehabilitation-training center, and when he got out, he got his own apartment, got a job as a dishwasher, and made his own life for himself. And that’s what it’s all about. All work is respectable. He was the best dishwasher he could be, and it was a good job. He had his own place, his own income, his own life.
Q: What kinds of training programs are available to blind kids?
NFB has three training centers in the country. We operate a center in Minnesota called BLIND, Inc., the Colorado Center for the Blind, and the Louisiana Center for the Blind. These centers have all developed excellent summer programs for children. They are not camps but true skills programs where kids can go and stay in facilities and apartments with blind counselors. They have blind instructors who really focus on blindness skills: kids get trained in computers; learn about cane travel; get experience with public transportation, crossing streets, Braille, and social skills. They eat in restaurants, they have recreational opportunities—even things like mountain climbing, horseback riding, camping, and roller-skating—and for the older kids, there are part-time job experiences in the community. Kids employ the skills they learn in cooking class, as well as daily living skills like cleaning the bathtub, in their apartments. Other programs and seminars focus on a variety of skills. Blind adults come in to give kids experience taking cabs, for example, explaining how to give directions to drivers, how to stay in charge, how to tell by the twists and turns where they are, how to make sure they don’t get ripped off.
Q: What are the challenges for blind kids in regular schools?
Blind kids should and do learn the same things sighted kids do in school. The problem is not a matter of content as much as an issue of presentation. The information is there; the question is whether schools and teachers are providing the content in such a way that blind kids can access that information. If a teacher only writes material on the blackboard or an overhead projector, how can the blind child access that? There’s new technology that’s equipped with speech or that allows blind kids to download information into their own electronic notetaker and review it later. That’s wonderful stuff. But usually access is low-tech, which may simply mean that the teacher reads aloud what he writes or has Braille or enlarged copies available.
The biggest issue is whether the blind kid can get the Braille textbook on time. In Congress right now there is legislation being introduced called the Instructional Material Accessibility Act, which proposes the development of a national standard for an electronic file format for all publishers of instructional materials. It would require that every textbook file be sent to a national storehouse, so that books could move quickly and easily from publishers to the people who reproduce them in Braille or large type, then to the producer who makes them, and on to kids in schools. This is a major problem, and it’s been getting worse. There isn’t a single blind or low-vision child in this country who at least once hasn’t run into major problems getting materials for certain classes.
Q: I understand you’re involved in a project to teach sighted kids Braille. Why do you think that’s important?
Sighted people tend to characterize blindness with words like pathetic, and dependency, and sad—either negative things or very dull things. And it occurred to us that there are things that are very interesting and exciting about blindness. For example, kids are fascinated by Braille. First of all, there’s the aspect of a secret code, and they love that. And the hand method of producing Braille with a slate and stylus for young kids is fun. Kids like to be active, and physically punching holes into paper and hearing them pop and then feeling what they’ve done is very exciting to sighted kids. In our Braille is Beautiful program, we teach Braille to kids in schools in hopes of turning what society has traditionally thought of as sad or boring into something interesting and challenging. When kids are introduced to blindness via Braille, they see it in a different light. They see blind children who can read Braille with some respect and enthusiasm, and that changes their whole attitude about blindness. We think that if sighted children are introduced to Braille at a young age, we can change a whole generation’s perspective on blindness.
Q: You’ve fallen into a life’s work that you didn’t foresee or even intend. How do you find that you’ve grown into this career, and how do you feel it suits your need and desires now?
I have a passion for justice and a passion to see that people—all people—are given the opportunities to fulfill their potential. I never dreamed when I was in high school and college that I would be able to do what I’ve done. I’ve been able to do this not necessarily because of my own ability or talent but because I happened to be at the right place at the right time. The NFB provided me with the opportunity to work as hard as I could and to be guided by people who had wonderful minds. It’s so fulfilling to see the kids
I’ve worked with grow up and achieve their potential.
Editor’s Note: In addition to her son who is blind, Cheadle has two other children: John E. Cheadle, a third-year divinity student at the University of Chicago, and Anna K. Cheadle, a graduate of the University of Chicago Masters of Humanities program who is currently living and working in England. “All of my children,” states Barbara, “benefited from their association with the National Federation of the Blind, and they will tell you that.”
Teacher, Writer, Activist
Reprinted from The Sounding Board, a publication of the NFB of New Jersey, Fall/Winter 2001.
Carol Castellano, co-founder and President of Parents of Blind Children-New Jersey (POBC-NJ), was born and raised in northern New Jersey. After graduating with Highest Honors in English Literature from Douglass College, Rutgers University, Carol began a career in publishing. First hired as an editorial assistant at Little, Brown & Co. in New York City, she then accepted a position as production coordinator and later editor at Butterick Publishing, also in New York.
After several years, Carol was seeking a change and decided to try teaching. She was hired as the third grade teacher at the Barnard School, a small private school in upper Manhattan, where she also functioned as lower school coordinator. During this time she met and married her husband, Bill Cucco.
Bill and Carol had their first child, Serena, in 1984. Though Serena’s birth was anxiously awaited, she truly surprised her parents by appearing four months early. During Serena’s subsequent nearly eight-month hospitalization, Carol and Bill learned “more than we ever wanted to know” about premature babies and the difficulties that could befall them.
It was in a hospital room in North Carolina, while awaiting news of one of Serena’s surgeries, that Carol and Bill were introduced to the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). As Carol tells the story, “The hospital social worker brought us some books and literature to read, one of which was Doris Willoughby’s A Resource Guide for Parents and Educators of Blind Children. He warned us that this organization had some pretty good literature, but to stay away from them because they were radical and militant. My ears perked right up! I called the NFB as soon as we got back to New Jersey.” Carol continues, “I loved the NFB from the start because it was the first organization we encountered that said outright that our blind child had a right to a full, satisfying life and that we did not have to be grateful for crumbs thrown to us from the table.” Carol began to be in close touch with Barbara Cheadle, President of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), who gave her invaluable advice about Serena’s education. She also began attending meetings of the Northern Chapter of the NFB of New Jersey.
Serena’s birth proved to be a turning point in Carol’s career. She began writing articles on prematurity prevention and became deeply involved with a group of physicians, ethicists, and parents who came together to discuss the difficult issues of decision-making in the neonatal nursery. At the same time, Carol’s first piece on bringing up a blind baby appeared in the Future Reflections magazine.
As time went on Carol was asked to serve on the Statewide Consumer Advisory Board of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. As Carol tells it, “It was the very dark time of state budget cuts. I realized I was perhaps the only parent in the state who knew that cuts were planned to the education of blind children budget. Somehow, I had to let other parents know about the impending cuts so that we could work together to stop them.” Joe Cutter, at that time Serena’s orientation and mobility (O&M) instructor, had arranged for a small group of parents with blind children to meet each other. The families became friends and strong supporters of one another in the challenges they faced in getting their children a good education. In December 1991, Carol proposed that the group became an official NOPBC affiliate, and thus, Parents of Blind Children-NJ was born.
By this time Carol was attending NFB National Conventions every year and her talents were recognized by a wider circle. In 1991 she was elected Second Vice President of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and then in 1998, First Vice President, a position she holds today. In 1997, Carol was appointed to the Federation’s national Scholarship Committee. She was the first sighted person ever to serve on that committee.
Carol was also appointed to the State Human Services Advisory Council and the State Rehabilitation Council. She enjoys a good working relationship with the New Jersey Commission for the Blind staff and has collaborated on many projects with them. Carol’s efforts have been recognized. In October 1998 she received an award from the POBC-NJ Board, and in May 1999, SPAN, the Statewide Parents Advocacy Network, presented her with the Diana Cuthbertson Parent-Professional Collaboration Award. Carol felt very honored to receive the Mary O’Donnell Advocacy Award from the Commission for the Blind in November 2000 at their Believe and Achieve 90th Anniversary celebration.
Since 1988, Carol has written many articles and made countless presentations on the education and development of blind children. She organizes and conducts POBC-NJ’s Parents Seminars and Teacher Training and edits POBC-NJ’s newsletter In Touch, which goes out to over six hundred families. Carol is co-author of The Bridge to Braille: Reading and School Success for the Young Blind Child and author of Because Books Matter. She is working on her third book, tentatively entitled Making It Work: Educating the Blind Child in the Public School. Carol also works as a Job Coach and consults with and provides training for school districts regarding blind students.
Carol feels very fortunate to have found the NFB while Serena was still a baby. Federation philosophy enabled her and Bill to regard Serena as a normal person and to bring her up with high expectations. Most important, because of Federation philosophy, Serena has high expectations of herself. “Serena has become an independent young woman, determined to make her mark on the world because of the Federation. The Federation was our backbone as we battled to get Serena what she needed-and many times that was just getting the school to look at her as a normal student.” Carol continues, “So many times, when someone would say to us, ‘But she can’t do that, she’s blind,’ we could respond, ‘Oh yes she can. We know plenty of blind people who do that’ because we had met so many active people at NFB conventions.”
Carol’s family enjoys attending the kids’ sports and band activities, going to ball games, hiking, traveling, and vacations at the Jersey shore. Son John, who joined the family on New Year’s Eve in 1986, is a champion skim boarder, while Serena loves body surfing the waves. Bill enjoys bicycling and gardening and Carol loves music and is a jogger. Though Carol says being the only Yankees fan in a family of Mets lovers is difficult, she believes she will survive.
Carol says her life’s dream had always been to have a family and to write a book. “Who knew that having a baby would be so complicated for me and that the book I wrote would turn out not to be the Great American Novel, but instead books to help parents learn about Braille and educating their blind child?”
Noting that living with two teenagers is not nearly as bad as they say it is, Carol concludes, “I have a wonderful family, I have the opportunity to use my time and talents to help others, and I am part of the movement to help blind people achieve first class citizenship. I consider myself a very lucky person.” Carol adds that she hopes always to live by the words, “Don’t think limits; think possibilities.”
Martin (Marty) Greiser
Outdoor Enthusiast, Volunteer EMT, IEP Advocate
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children Second Vice President Marty Greiser grew up in southern Michigan. Born and raised on a farm, Marty did farm work during his school years. Later he became a student at the University of Toledo where he studied engineering and education. In his career, Marty has worked for the same company for twenty-six years in many capacities, from rock grinding to operating a mill to quality assurance lab technology to blasting. Currently he works as a heavy equipment operator in an open pit mine, a job he very much enjoys.
An outdoor enthusiast, Marty enjoys skiing, hunting, fishing, and hiking, activities he shares with his two children, twins Cody and Jessie who are seventeen. Marty is also an involved member of his community in Dillon, Montana. As a nationally certified Emergency Medical Technician, he has been a volunteer with the ambulance service for the past eleven years. Marty is also very active with the National Federation of the Blind of Montana and has made significant contributions to the state affiliate over the years.
Marty became involved with the Federation and NOPBC back in 1989, when he called the state affiliate looking for information to help his son who is blind. He was referred to the NFB headquarters in Baltimore where he spoke to Barbara Cheadle and was put in touch with Ruby Ryles and Doris Willoughby, writers, educators, and experts in the education of blind children. At his first NFB National Convention in Denver in 1989, Marty bought a cane for Cody who was then two years old. Cody states that he doesn’t remember a time when he did not have a cane; it has always been a part of his life. Three years later, Marty was elected to the board of NOPBC and he has served in various offices ever since. Marty also serves, through appointment by NFB President Maurer, on the national NFB Scholarship Committee. However, among the many contributions he has made to the NOPBC, Marty may be best known for the fine IEP workshops that he plans, organizes, and moderates at the NFB National Convention each year.
Marty came to be an IEP expert in part because of his personal experiences. His periodic struggles to make sure that Cody received an “appropriate” education have been documented in Future Reflections articles. The first problem the family encountered was finding a Braille teacher for their tiny, rural town during Cody’s early kindergarten and elementary years. Several years later, after Cody moved to a new school district with his mother and stepfather, a dispute about assistive technology and placement arose. After a complex, drawn-out due process hearing, Marty and Cody’s mother prevailed and jointly won that battle for Cody, too.
Marty’s hopes for the future include seeing Cody mature into an independent adult. “We’re almost there,” he says with a smile.
Sandy Merchant Taboada
Veterinary Dermatologist, Professor, Parent Advocate
Sandy Taboada, President of the Louisiana Parents of Blind Children and the Baton Rouge Chapter of Parents of Blind Children, is also the current Treasurer of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida, Taboada completed her Bachelor of Science in Biology at Florida State University, her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at The University of Florida, and her Residency in Veterinary Dermatology at The University of Florida. She is currently Professor of Veterinary Dermatology at Louisiana State University, School of Veterinary Medicine in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Her family includes her veterinarian husband Joe and their two children, Michael and Robert, as well as many pets! When her older son Michael was two and a half years of age, a tumor at the base of his brain was discovered and successfully removed. The next few years were quite a learning experience, trying to gather information on blindness in children as well as information on treatment for panhypopituitarism.
As things happen for a reason, a blind couple who were very active in the NFB and in the Guide Dog Division of the NFB came to Louisiana State University Veterinary School when Michael was three to talk to the students about treating guide dogs in their future veterinary careers. After meeting Toni and Ed, she learned that the National Federation of the Blind Annual Convention was to be held in a few months in New Orleans, Louisiana. What the Taboada family learned at that convention and beyond has changed their lives.
The philosophy of the National Federation for the Blind; the NFB goals of security, equality, and opportunity for the blind; and the knowledge gained from its members continue to give the Taboada family the ammunition they need to create a positive learning environment for Michael and to locally create opportunities and programs where none exist. Sandy explains that never has the phrase, “He can’t do it because he is blind” been acceptable. Never has Michael uttered the similar phrase, “I can’t do it because I am blind.” Sandy states, “The idea that blindness is a limitation is never considered.” Michael is currently a second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, an accomplished pianist, and a straight A student in the Gifted and Talented Academic Program in his local public school district.
Every day brings new challenges for both of her sons and her family. Sandy says, “‘Knowledge is power’ is a phrase often repeated in our household when we are confronting these new challenges.” With the appropriate attitude and armed with the appropriate information, these challenges are met and conquered. Sandy hopes that living the Federation philosophy is not only a benefit to her family but is also a benefit to others whom she and her family contact in their daily lives.
Attorney, Community Leader, Writer
Barbara E. Mathews was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. She received a B.A. in Political Science from The Colorado College and a J.D. from the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. She is an Associate General Counsel of Edison International and Southern California Edison. Previously, she was a partner at the law firm of Arnold & Porter. She started her law career as a law clerk for the Honorable Helen J. Frye, United States District Court for the District of Oregon.
Barbara lives in Santa Monica, California, with her husband, Rob Sweeney, who is an award-winning cinematographer, her two daughters, Kiko Sweeney (age eleven) and Kyra Sweeney (age nine), and two cats. Kyra has been blind since birth, with a diagnosis of Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis. Kyra attends her neighborhood public school in Santa Monica.
Barbara is a member of the Special Education District Advisory Committee for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. She served as a Girl Scout leader for several years. She has been active in fund-raising for the Western Law Center for Disability Rights in Los Angeles. She serves as a parent volunteer for the South Bay Children’s Choir, based in Torrance, California.
In addition to serving on the Board of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, Barbara is secretary of the Parents of Blind Children Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of California. Barbara discovered the NFB and the NOPBC initially through Future Reflections, then by attending a national convention in 1998 when Kyra was four years old. She has described attending that convention as “a life-changing experience.”
Barbara has written several articles for Future Reflections. Kyra is a regular participant in the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest. She met her best friend, Megan Bening of Arlington, Minnesota, through the Slate Pals program (a pen-pal program sponsored by the NOPBC). Kyra and Megan first met in person at the 2002 NFB National Convention.
Barbara is an avid runner. She and her family enjoy skiing and rock climbing. Her daughter Kiko is a member of the Mammoth Mountain Ski Team, and Kyra is an excellent skier. Non-skiing weekends are spent at the soccer field with Kiko, choir rehearsals with Kyra, or the beach. They enjoy annual vacations with extended family on the Oregon Coast and at the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon.
Teacher, Business Woman,
Debby Brackett was born in Mississippi and raised in Clemson, South Carolina. She and her husband, Bob, have three children: Luke (age thirteen), Daniel (age eight), and Winona, who will be seven on December 21, 2003. Winona has Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), and was adopted by the Brackett family from China at age three.
A graduate of Berry College and Georgia State University, Debby has an undergraduate degree in Elementary Education and Early Childhood and a MEd. in Early Childhood. A career teacher of twenty-plus years, Debby has taught in Atlanta, Georgia, and Miami, Florida, where she currently makes her home. She has taught children in grades preschool through fourth in public, private, and home-school settings. Her experience also includes directing a preschool program in Miami. In addition to her teaching career and being a full-time mom, Debby has been the secretary/bookkeeper for her husband’s landscaping business since 1987.
Debby enjoys reading, scrap booking, doing volunteer work for her church and local schools, and spending time with her children. When asked about her most important accomplishments, she unhesitatingly replies, “Making a difference in the lives of children.”
About their introduction to the NFB, Debby explains, “We met the NFB when we were contemplating the adoption of Winona. NFB jumped right in with answers to my questions and with lots of materials, resources, and information about blindness. Barbara Cheadle was instrumental in helping us feel this was something we could do.” Debby continues, “Our first national convention was in Philadelphia in July, 2000. What an eye-opening experience THAT was! We ‘knew’ that Winona was a capable child, but the convention helped us KNOW that she was truly going to go places. Blindness wasn’t going to stop her!”
Since her NFB convention experience, Debby has actively provided support and information to many other families of blind children in her region. However, she has a special interest in educating prospective adoptive families of blind children. She has already helped several adoptive families in the same way she and Bob were once helped. Debby points out that, “We did not have to go through the shock and mourning that birth parents experience, so I think we have something of an advantage. We can jump right in with, ‘This is how things are, what can we do to make it work?’ I encourage people to take on the challenge of adopting a blind child. It’s a blessing!”
Debby is very proud of Winona. “Winona has done much to change the perception that many people in our community have about the ‘limitations’ of blindness. She wants to try anything and everything-swimming, driving (Yes, she’s driven a convertible and a huge, two-level jeep!), rock climbing, cooking, etc. Her current challenge is learning to ride a two-wheel bike. She challenges us to treat her no differently than the other kids.” Ever the teacher, Debby also makes sure that literacy is a priority for Winona. “We are involved with the NFB Braille Readers are Leaders contest; it’s a real motivator for Winona to read!”
As Debby contemplates the future, she anticipates that she will, “Continue to work with Winona to help her reach her full potential, as well as continue to help other families as they travel this road.”
Marla Palmer, Utah
Recreation Specialist, Camp Volunteer, Early Intervention Advocate
Born in Salt Lake City, Marla Palmer was raised in nearby Bountiful, Utah. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a B.S. in Therapeutic Recreation. During college, Marla volunteered many hours in nursing homes, long-term care facilities for the developmentally disabled (DD/MR), and a rehabilitation division in a local hospital. She also chose to take a break during her college career to serve an eighteen-month service mission in Alabama for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The next high point in her life was meeting and marrying Michael S. Palmer, a Texan native. Michael is currently a successful pharmaceutical sales representative.
Marla’s first job out of college was as a licensed Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (TRS) for a long-term care facility with the responsibility of planning and implementing daily recreational activities for DD/MR adults. When Marla came on board, she felt the established program was not challenging the residents or getting them outdoors enough. She worked closely with local recreational organizations to provide funding and opportunities for residents to go cross-country skiing, river rafting, and on weeklong camps.
Later, Marla was hired as the program director for Camp Kostopulos, a non-profit organization nestled within the mountains of East Salt Lake City. This was her “dream job” as she was able to work and “play” with all ages of individuals with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities in a mountain setting. Her job (if you want to call it that) consisted of planning and implementing leisure education programs for adults and teens throughout the year and during special summer sessions. These activities—swimming, movies, dinners, parties, horseback riding, fishing, hiking, canoeing, camping out, cross country skiing, snowmobile riding, and so forth—provided social outlets, community integration/interaction, and good ol’ fun for the campers. She also planned and implemented an after-school program at the camp for elementary children. Marla worked with Camp Kostopulos up to the day before Megan was born and she has been a stay at home mom since—which she feels has been the best job so far. However, even though she no longer works for Camp Kostopulos, Marla and Michael stay in close contact with the camp and volunteer when needed. (Michael plays Santa every Christmas season at the popular camp Christmas party.)
Marla and Michael have three children: Megan (age seven), Adam (age four), and Lauren (age one), and a pet turtle, Claws. Megan and Adam inherited oculocutaneous albinism, type 2. Megan attends first grade and Adam is enrolled in a preschool in their neighborhood school. Both children are print and Braille readers (Adam, of course, is still in the pre-print/Braille stage). Although Marla enjoys being a stay-at-home mom, she is entertaining the idea of returning and working on a masters degree with a focus in the area of visual impairment and blindness.
Marla and Mike were first introduced to the National Federation of the Blind in 1996 by Marla’s cousin, Kris Cox, who at that time was the President of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah. “It honestly took some convincing to get us to attend our first National Convention in Dallas, Texas.” Marla said, “We weren’t sure we would ‘fit’ in a blind organization when our child was partially sighted/legally blind.” “However,” Marla continued, “Since we had family in Texas we felt we could at least escape the conference if we felt the need. But there was no need. From the first day of the convention, we knew this was the organization for us. The information, positive attitudes toward blindness, mentoring, and networking with parents and blind adult role models was an overwhelmingly positive and life-changing experience.”
Marla serves on the NOPBC board, as Vice President of the Parents of Blind Children of Utah, and as Secretary of the Utah, Davis/Weber Chapter of the NFB. She is also the immediate past President of the Parents of Blind Children of Utah. Within the past five years her accomplishments include getting a grant to conduct a weeklong summer camp program for blind/visually impaired children. Blind adults and college students from the NFB of Utah volunteered throughout the week at the camp, leading a variety of activities and generally acting as mentors and models for the kids. She also planned and conducted several statewide daylong parent and teacher seminars that provided information about IEPs, Braille literacy, and technology for the blind. Marla is currently working closely with the Parent and Infant Program of Utah to help educate parents with blind/visually impaired children and give support during vital transition times (early intervention to preschool, preschool to elementary). She hopes to start a positive trend in getting parents educated, empowered, and actively involved very early so that they can help their children become self-advocates in future transitions throughout school and into college and/or employment.
When her family isn’t busy with family, church, work, and school duties, Marla says that they find time to visit family in Texas, Florida, and California. Their favorite destinations include visiting Disneyland and retreating to a family cabin in Northern Utah. She explains that they love to take advantage of the ‘greatest snow on earth’ and ski and snowmobile during the winters. “Megan and Adam love to ski and are both better skiers than their mom,” says Marla. She continues, “At home we love to read, play board games together, jump on the trampoline, ride bikes, and you may catch a few wrestling matches in the family room when dad gets home from work.”
Since she met the National Federation of the Blind, Marla has a whole different perspective about the so-called obstacles and limitations imposed by blindness. Her attitude now, she explains, is that “Any limitation has the real potential to become a strength—provided our kids get the proper education, training, and skills.”
[PHOTO: Mr COOK: Pictures for all students attached!]
NFB Scholarship Class of 2003
Editor’s Note: The following article is adapted from the article that appeared in the August/September, 2003, Braille Monitor, the monthly publication of the NFB. The article begins with an introduction by Barbara Pierce, editor of the Braille Monitor. Her remarks have been edited slightly to reflect formatting changes.
With every passing year we recognize the increasing value of the NFB Scholarship Program to our national organization. Members of previous scholarship classes—eighty-eight past winners —stream back to take part in convention activities and assume responsibility, doing anything that they can see needs to be done. Everyone looks forward to meeting the new scholarship class and to hearing what its members are doing and planning to do with their lives.
On banquet evening, while we are still sky-high after listening to President Maurer’s address, Peggy Elliott comes to the podium, presents the year’s winners, giving an academic and personal sketch of each, and announces which scholarship the person has been awarded. This year each winner crossed the platform and shook hands with Dr. Maurer and Dr. Raymond Kurzweil, whose foundation presented each with an additional $1,000 scholarship and the latest version of the Kurzweil-1000 reading software.
The final scholarship awarded in this year’s scholarship extravaganza, which took place at the banquet on July 3, was the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship of $12,000, which was presented to Caroline Rounds, who then spoke briefly to the audience. Her remarks appear at the conclusion of this article.
But earlier in the week, at the meeting of the NFB board of directors, each 2003 scholarship winner came to the microphone and spoke directly to the Federation. Following are photographs of each 2003 winner. Next to each photo are the name, home state, and school state of the student; the transcribed text of the remarks he/her made at the board meeting; and the name and amount of the scholarship he/she received later in the week at the annual banquet.
Germán Benitez, New Mexico, New Mexico: Good morning. I’m Germán Benitez. I attend the University of New Mexico. I just finished my first year of graduate studies. I am going to major in math and science. Thank you. [$3,000 Michael and Marie Marucci Scholarship]
Kimie Beverly, Nevada, Nevada: Hello. I’m a student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where I am studying psychology. I am working on my degree right now. I hope to transfer to UCLA to go to a medical school so that I can get my doctorate and become a psychiatrist. Thank you. [$3,000 E.U. Parker Scholarship]
Peter Apgar, Vermont, Vermont: Good morning, everyone. I am currently attending the University of Vermont for engineering management, dealing with mechanical engineering as my concentration. I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for making me feel like such a member of the family and making me feel at home. If any of you are ever in Vermont, come up and join me. [$3,000 NFB Computer Science Scholarship]
Mika Bowers, Maryland, Maryland: Good morning. I currently attend Towson University, working on a masters in art and experimental psychology. I will begin my second year this fall. I plan to graduate in May of 2004 and in the fall attend a Ph.D. program in either behavioral science or neuropsychology. I’m also the president of the student division of Maryland. Thank you. [$5,000 Sally S. Jacobsen Scholarship]
Tonia Boyd, Kentucky, Kentucky: Good morning, Federationists. Welcome to Kentucky. I am currently working as a rehab instructor with the Kentucky Department for the Blind, and I will be returning to school this fall to finish my master’s in counseling psychology at the University of Louisville. Then I plan to get my master’s in rehab counseling and possibly a Ph.D. Regardless of what the future holds, I know with the Federation’s guidance and generosity that I can fly higher than an eagle with you as the wind beneath my wings. [$7,000 NFB Scholarship]
John Clower, Texas, Texas: Good morning, everyone. I want to thank you all for being here. This fall I will be a freshman at the University of North Texas in Denton. Once some of my required courses are out of the way, I plan to transfer to Oklahoma University in Norman and receive my master’s degree in meteorology in a mere six years. My goal is to work for the storm prediction center in Oklahoma or the National Weather Service affiliate in Fort Worth, Texas. If one doesn’t already exist, I will consider it a great honor to become the first TV weatherman who is blind in Texas. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
Josh Gibson, Oklahoma, Oklahoma: Let me just say it’s a pleasure to be here. I am honored to be a part of this. I am a junior at Oklahoma City University, seeking a degree in business and political science. I’d like to get my Ph.D. in either foreign affairs or domestic policy, then help our cause and help our country in national politics. Thank you. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
Harriet Go, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I am a student at Temple University in Philadelphia majoring in elementary education. I am a member of one of the local chapters in Philadelphia, the Keystone Chapter. I am also the vice president of the Pennsylvania Association of Blind Students. My goal is to be a teacher, and I am very honored to be here this week. Thank you. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
Gene Hermanson, Montana, Montana: Good morning. It’s good to be here. I will be a junior at the University of Montana. I’m majoring in finance and political science. I will likely be attending law school after that. I hope to have a career making good policy for our great nation. It’s my first convention, so it has been a great week so far, and I look forward to the rest of it. This summer I am working on Capitol Hill with Senator Max Baucus of Montana, and that has been a great experience as well. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
Holly Idler, Florida, Florida: Hi. I just graduated from Daytona Beach Community College with high honors in May. I am planning to attend Florida State University. I start in August. I am going to get my bachelor’s degree in visual disabilities. My goal is to get my master’s degree from Louisiana Tech and teach blind students. I am the vice president of the student division in Florida. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship] [Freedom Scientific $1,500 Technology Certificate]
Janice Jeang, Texas, Texas: Hello, everybody. I just graduated from high school, and I will be attending Texas A&M University this fall, majoring in psychology. When I became blind two years ago, I was very uncertain of myself, and, being the first blind student in my high school, my teachers told me that I should go see a counselor, so I walked in and she saw me and she looked like, “Oh, hon, I feel so sorry about your condition, your situation. I think you should probably go see a specialist.” Well, thanks to the National Federation of the Blind and people from the Texas Association of Blind Students, for which I am honored to sit as a board member (the secretary this year), I was able to walk back in and show that counselor and tell her, “Not only am I going to be that person that you described, I am going to be the best shrink you’ve ever seen.” Thank you. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
Meleah Jensen, Louisiana, Louisiana: Good morning. This fall I will be a senior at Louisiana State University, where I am majoring in elementary education with minors in history and sociology. Once I complete my bachelor’s I plan to pursue a master’s in either early childhood education or elementary counseling. I currently serve as the first vice president of the Louisiana Association of Blind Students and the president of the Baton Rouge chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana. [$3,000 NFB Educator of Tomorrow Award]
Jennifer Justice, Illinois, Illinois: Good morning. First of all I would like to thank the Federation for giving me this honor and this opportunity. Six years ago I moved from rural Alabama to Chicago to attend the Art Institute of Chicago. While I was there, I was selected to participate in the advanced studios division of the school, and I graduated with a bachelor’s in fine arts in painting. This fall I will be attending the University of Illinois in Chicago to receive a master’s of fine art in studio art. I plan to teach on the college level. I want to become a full professor of painting. I also want to be a professional writer and artist. This is my first convention, and I really want to thank you for the warm welcome. It’s been a great time. I am looking forward to many more conventions in the future. [$5,000 NFB Scholarship]
Jessie Kirchner, Connecticut, Virginia: Good morning. I will be a freshman this fall at the College of William and Mary, where I hope to study English and philosophy. Afterwards I would like to attend law school, become an ethics lawyer, and investigate a position as a judge or magistrate later on. This is my second national convention, and I deeply appreciate the opportunities I’ve had over the past year as a Federation member to increase my independence and self-assurance and to meet mentors whom I have been inspired to emulate. My goal is to benefit others as people in this organization have benefited me and to help the blind community become more involved in that area. I am deeply grateful for your generosity, and it is a pleasure to be here. Thank you. [$3,000 Kuchler-Killian Memorial Scholarship]
Katrilla Martin, Virginia, Virginia: Good morning, everyone. I am a senior at Mary Washington College, and in the fall of 2004 I will graduate with both an undergrad and a master’s degree. I have excellent ideas about education reformation, and I plan to share them with the world as I seek the position of the secretary of education of the United States of America. I’m almost out of time, but I’d like to leave you with a thought. Thomas Edison once said, and I quote, “Many miss opportunity because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” I’d like to assure you that the scholarship class of 2003 is ready and willing to work hard, to carry this movement far into the future. Thank you. God bless each of you. I’m out of time, and I love the Virginia affiliate. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
Nefertiti Matos, New York, New York: As of August 20 I will be attending the College of Mt. St. Vincent as a freshman. My major will be criminal justice and English. After those four years I will be attending law school. After that I don’t know—a lawyer. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. It is my first convention, and I wasn’t a member before, but believe me, I am a member now. It’s phenomenal. Thank you. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
Michael Mello, Idaho, Idaho: Good morning, everyone. This is my fourth convention, and I am honored to be a scholarship winner this year. I have learned that diligence pays off in these matters. I applied several times. I will be a senior at the University of Idaho in the fall, studying psychology, and I hope to then achieve a master’s degree sometime after graduation. I plan to work in the information technology industry doing consulting. I serve as the Idaho Association of Blind Students president. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
Timothy Paulding, Michigan, Michigan: I’m a junior at the University of Michigan, and I study psychology. I hope to be a child psychologist. My success at the University of Michigan and my admittance to this university was only fueled by a defeat that I had in my life. I was defeated by false ideas of what blindness was. I have some vision, so I was able to grow up thinking that I wasn’t blind, and I had to realize a few things and take some action for myself before I could become successful in life. I think these things had to occur before I could be invited to this convention and be able to understand what all of you had to say. I hope to bring back what I learn here to Michigan. I’m honored to be here. [$5,000 Hank LeBonne Scholarship]
David Paullin, California, Washington: Hello and good morning, fellow Federationists. This coming fall I will be a freshman at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. I am currently studying political science and history. This past spring I finished my first semester. Before that I went to one of the finest NFB training centers in the nation, the Colorado Center for the Blind. I graduated in December of 2002, and now I’m a member of the Spokane chapter in Washington and a first position board member. I joined in February. I’m looking forward to meeting more of you Washingtonians. I’m an Eagle Scout, and one unique thing about me is that I enjoy writing poetry and stories. So, if you share that interest, I’d like to share that with you. I’m from El Dorado Hills, California. If you don’t know where that is, it’s about twenty-five miles northeast of Sacramento. Thank you very much. This is such a great honor. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
Jason Perry, Ohio, Ohio: Good morning fellow Federationists. I can’t tell you what an impact attending this first day of activities and the short time I’ve been here has had on me. This isn’t my first convention, however. I was part of the Federation family in ’96, ’97, ’98, ’01, and again a scholarship winner this year. I can’t begin to tell you the impact that the Federation and the Federation philosophy has had on my life. I am truly living proof that the Federation philosophy is the way to go. As I have attended Ohio State and studied law, I’ve come to realize that law is the fabric that holds our society together. As I am working on my advanced degree in special education administration, I’ve come to realize that education is the means by which we shape and mold that fabric. I hope to some day work at the NFBRTI or as a special education administrator so that I can help people with the Federation vision and shape and mold that fabric. Thank you very much. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
Shelley Richards, New Jersey, New Jersey: Hello, everybody. I just graduated from high school about a week and a half ago. In the fall I will be attending Rider University, where I was just accepted into the honors program. I am going to major in political science and Spanish. I hope to go on to law school and eventually get into politics. This is my first convention, and it’s wonderful to see people who feel the same way about blindness that I have always felt my entire life. I’ve grown up in a household where my parents would not let me use blindness as an excuse for anything, and I was never allowed to get away with not doing my fair share of the work with my four siblings. It’s wonderful to be here, and I am looking forward to a great rest of the week. [$3,000 NFB Humanities Scholarship] [Freedom Scientific $1,500 Technology Certificate]
Caroline Rounds, California, California: Hello, Federation friends. Currently I am the second vice president for our state affiliate and the president of the High Desert chapter. I hold a California teaching credential and taught regular ed for five years. I now have the honor of teaching a classroom full of very capable and great blind children. After school I rush off to Cal State, Los Angeles, which is about 100 miles away. I am currently obtaining at the second year master’s level my credential in VI [visual impairment]. I forgot, I think, how conventions (this is my fourth one) tend to refine, define, and direct you until last night. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do after getting my credential, and now I think I know. I want to go into researching better methods for teaching blind children and putting them into practice. I hope to do that at Louisiana Tech. Thank you. [$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship]
Adam Rushforth, Nevada, Utah: I am from Las Vegas, Nevada, and am a senior at Brigham Young University, where I study and am pursuing a degree in business finance and a minor in Spanish. I have been a member of the board of the Nevada affiliate of the NFB and am currently the treasurer of the Utah Association of Blind Students. I served a two-year, full-time, completely voluntary-basis mission for my church in North Carolina, speaking Spanish. Aside from that, I was called to be president of an organization in my church where I was given the stewardship over two hundred people. I am here today because I know that a blind person is not a defective sighted person. [$5,000 Jennica Ferguson Memorial Scholarship] [2003 NFB tenBroek Fellow]
Arielle Silverman, Arizona, Arizona: Good morning, everyone. In the fall I am going to be attending Arizona State University with a major in biology and possibly adding psychology later on. Right now I am exploring different career possibilities. Some options that I’m thinking of include going to medical school, doing biomedical research, or pursuing a degree in biophysics. That seems like a lot of choices, but right now I am just scoping out the field and seeing what I’d like to do. However, no matter what career I choose, I am definitely going to become more active in the National Federation of the Blind. I am hoping to start a student division in my state, where we currently don’t have one. I’m also aspiring one day to be sitting on one of our NFB committees. Thank you. [$3,000 Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship]
Maria Smith, Alabama, Alabama: Good morning, everyone. I will be a freshman at Auburn University this fall, and I am planning to major in computer science, probably concentrating on assistive technology. Every year that I come to convention I find something new and wonderful to love about the Federation, so thank you for all the opportunities that you have given me, and I will definitely be around more often. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship] [Freedom Scientific $1,500 Technology Certificate]
Jim Solem, Idaho, Idaho: Buenos días, brothers and sisters. Is this an awesome family reunion, or what! If you can’t get excited about being here, you got to be half dead. It has been very difficult for me this past couple of days—I feel like I have to put ten-pound weights in my shoes just to kind of hold me down on the ground. I’m a student at the University of Idaho, a Ph.D. student with emphasis on education. I’m working towards a project in technology. What I want to be able to do with this is for blind students and students in the special ed field and students that have a difficult time in learning just to be able to put together programs in the field of math and sciences to enhance the learning in math and sciences. The reason why I am here today is that I made a phone call approximately a year ago to a lady that I am standing next to, who encouraged me on the phone and told me that I can do it; it’s up to me. Thank you and God bless you. [$10,000 Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship]
Randi Strope, Nebraska, Nebraska: Thank you, Mrs. Elliott. For the first eighteen years of my life I completely denied my blindness, and in 2001 I attended a college prep workshop in Nebraska, heard a speech by a well-known Federationist, and in a matter of hours my whole view on blindness changed. This summer I am working with the NFB Corps, and the one thing I’ve learned from this experience is never to stop sharing the Federation’s philosophy. I found the Federation when I was least expecting it, and this organization has given me more than I can ever give back to it, but I will do my best to try to strengthen and build this fine Federation. Thank you so much for this fine opportunity. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
Joy Thomas, Illinois, Illinois: Hello. I am going to be a second-year graduate student at Aurora University in the field of education. Upon graduation I plan to teach middle school in the areas of Spanish language arts or social science in the public schools. I also plan to pursue my Ph.D. in educational policy. This is only my third day here, and already the NFB has helped me to realize that for my students I don’t want to be just their nice teacher who can’t see, but I want to be a guide to help them learn that their accomplishments are not based on what one lacks, but on one’s determination and the use of one’s gifts. Thank you very much. [$3,000 Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship]
Louise Nicholson Walch, Utah, Utah: Good morning. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be here. I am Louise Walch, and I am from New Castle, Australia, but I come here from Utah. I am a second-semester junior at Brigham Young University studying linguistics and teaching English to students for whom English is their second language. Additionally I am currently making plans to attend the Louisiana Center for the Blind and to pursue a master’s at Louisiana Tech University. I am currently and have been for the last year and a half the secretary of the Utah Association of Blind Students. Just recently I was elected treasurer of the Utah Valley chapter. I am also a PAC Plan member. I just want to let you know that the reason I do these things is because I am committed to this organization. This is my first convention, but this last time, since I met with the NFB, has been one of the most rewarding times of my life, not because of this week, but because of how it changed my life. I know it has changed the lives of many. I believe in this cause, and I want to let you know that it really is a privilege to be here. I am willing to work. I recognize the efforts of those who have gone before me, and I plan to continue and to keep this Federation spirit alive. [$7,000 NFB Scholarship] [Freedom Scientific $1,500 Technology Certificate]
Zunaira Wasif, Florida, Rhode Island: Hi, everyone. I am just completing my first year at Brown University, and I am going to major in pre-med and cognitive neuroscience. The other day I was sitting in the audience, and I heard a wonderful speech by the director of Louisiana Tech University, and I’m thinking that maybe, if I want to do cognitive neuroscience, I could do some of it over there and help with research and get involved and give back to the Federation. I am really excited about doing that. You have a great day. I hope everything goes well, and I am very excited about this. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]
Thursday evening, July 3, Scholarship Committee Chairman Peggy Elliott announced the 2003 scholarship awards. As each winner crossed the platform, President Maurer offered congratulations, and Dr. Raymond Kurzweil presented each with a $1,000 check from the Kurzweil Educational Foundation, the latest version of the Kurzweil 1000 reading software, and a beautiful plaque. The winner of the 2003 Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship of $12,000 was Caroline Rounds of California. She spoke briefly to the banquet audience. This is what she said:
Thank you so much for this honor. Before I could march, I had to learn how to walk, and I did that at my first state convention, in 1989, when I saw other blind people who believed what I did, walking faster and working harder than I was. My next big stride came in reading an article by Dr. Jernigan in which I was exhorted that I was responsible for my own mobility. After that I walked confidently and proudly, carrying my cane everywhere I went.
My next big step came when I decided to become a public education teacher and knew it was going to be very difficult. My steps became much more directed and purposeful as I linked arms with two Federationists, who showed me how it was done.
Tonight, by honoring me with this scholarship, you have given me my marching orders, and I have heard them loud and clear. Dr. Maurer, I would like to thank you personally for showing me what good leadership is. You are not the kind of leader who gives directions and shouts orders. You are one who is willing to go into the trenches. Thank you.
By honoring me with this scholarship, you have given me your applause, your support, and your belief in me. But I also know, with that, you have invested in me. With that comes expectations. You expect me to follow through. You expect me to pass on what I learn, and you are expecting me to reach even higher than I already have. Thank you so much for this honor.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Anil Lewis]
Georgia on My Mind
by Anil Lewis
Editor’s Note: Anil Lewis is president of the NFB of Georgia and a newly elected member of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind. This is what he says about the 2004 NFB convention:
Atlanta, Georgia, is my home. I have always taken for granted the ability to travel from ocean, past countryside, through city, to mountain within a six-hour drive. I have been privileged to rub elbows with one of the most diverse populations in the country. Atlanta is a melting pot within the American melting pot. We have citizens from across the country and around the globe. Atlanta has something to offer regardless of where you are from. Those from little towns marvel at the tall buildings, shops, restaurants, and nightlife. Those from the big cities enjoy the laid-back, friendly comfort of a southern city experienced in offering hospitality.
I personally like to say that Atlanta is a little country town disguised as a big city. Indeed Atlanta is a lovely city with wonderful people, presenting tremendous possibilities. As the National Federation of the Blind prepares to hold our annual convention in the Possibility City of Atlanta, in the Peach State of Georgia, I am delighted to welcome you to my home.
This is the first of several opportunities I will take to encourage you to attend the 2004 NFB convention, which is destined to be one of our best yet. The following paragraphs are meant to whet your palate, as the members of the NFB of Georgia put the final touches on our plans as your hosts.
Of course the experienced staff of our national office will coordinate the lion’s share of the convention. Because of their efforts we are fortunate once again to be in the world-class facility of the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, with convention room rates that continue to be the envy of all. The program being developed will assure that we will hear speakers and presentations to educate and enlighten us. The exhibit hall will provide blind people from around the world the opportunity to check out the latest developments in technology and other products and services that allow the blind to be more independent and more productive. By this time Dr. Maurer is well into his preparation of an entertaining and insightful convention banquet speech that clearly defines our purpose and motivates us to reach our goals.
We are tapping the experienced members of the Georgia affiliate who helped to host the superb conventions of 1999 and 2000 to plan complementary events that will round out everyone’s convention experience. We are currently working on tours that should make the convention feel more like a vacation than a conference. Georgia is rich in Civil War history. One tour is specially designed for the Civil War buff. This will include a trip to Stone Mountain and perhaps the opportunity to attend an impressive laser show. Further, Atlanta is a city rich in civil rights history and the home of Martin Luther King, Jr. The conventioneer interested in civil rights history will not want to miss an opportunity to visit the King Center and other historic civil rights landmarks.
We are also working collaboratively with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) and Atlanta’s Fernbank Science Center to develop a Touch the Universe tour that takes the Touch the Universe experience of the 2003 convention to the next level. We will also have tours that are just plain fun. We are putting together trips to Zoo Atlanta, World of Coca-Cola, and maybe even a baseball game or a trip to the Six Flags over Georgia amusement park. In addition there will be other options like trips to special locations, visits to local entertainment spots, a dinner dance, and dinner theater.
The two parties being planned by the Georgia affiliate will give everyone time to relax and have fun. It will indeed be a challenge to surpass the musical entertainment of our 1999 and 2000 conventions of blues, swing, and rock and roll. We have gotten such wonderful feedback about all the previous performances that it will be difficult deciding what form the entertainment should take this year. We welcome this challenge, however, and remain certain that everyone will have a good time.
While you are here, be sure to stop by the Georgia affiliate suite for a little southern hospitality. There you will experience Georgia with your taste buds. Georgia peaches, peanuts, and sweet potato pie will be available to sample. If you desire more than a sample, these delicacies, along with other Georgia trinkets and memorabilia, will be on sale at the Georgia table in the exhibit hall.
We recognize it is our job as the host affiliate to make sure that all of you enjoy yourselves. We are busy putting the friendly touches on a national convention that we hope will be second to none. I hope all of you will be able to attend. Georgia is on my mind; I hope it is on yours as well.
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