Volume 16, Number 4
Barbara Cheadle, Editor
Why I am Choosing Blindness:
Personal Reflections on the Need for a Functional Definition 1
by Scott Feldman
I'm Partially Sighted, and I Use a White Cane 5
by Peggy Chong
I'm Albino, Legally Blind, and a Meteorologist 8
by Sam Herron
Normal Visual Development 10
by Lisa C. Verderber, MD
Vision Stimulation: Is the Tide Turning? 11
by Julie Hunter
Funding Closed Circuit Televisions (CCTVs)
Through Medical Insurance 13
by Greg Trapp
Can Braille Change the Future? 17
by Denise Staulter
The Cody Greiser Story: A Work in Progress 18
by Jim Marks (additional comments by Dan Burk)
Parents Win Fight with School Board in Virginia 23
Is Due Process in Your Future? 26
by Larry Larsen and Philip Guzman
My Cane is Great 30
by Susie D'Mello
Teacher Recognition 31
Sharing Creative Movement with Your Child 34
by Edwina Peterson Cross
Miss Idaho 1994: A Special Friend 37
by Ramona Walhof
Munchkin Mobility: Twelve to Twenty-Four Months 39
by Jane Bartley
Pediatric Physical Therapy: Focusing on the Whole Child 40
by Gail A. Hatch
Computer Games for Blind Children 42
by Greg Trapp
Helpful Hints for Parents of Blind Infants and Toddlers 47
by Christine Faltz
A Chance to Belong 49
by Crystal McClain
Reflections on the Importance of Socialization
for Blind Girls and Women 50
by Barbara Pierce
Never Laugh at the Teacher's Jokes 56
by Srikala Ashok
Hear Ye! Hear Ye! 61
Copyright National Federation of the Blind, 1997
Why I am Choosing Blindness:
Personal Reflections on the Need for a Functional Definition
by Scott Feldman
Reprinted from the February, 1997, issue of the Braille Monitor, the monthly publication of the National Federation of the Blind.
From the Braille Monitor Editor
One of the most annoying misconceptions about the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind is the notion that committed Federationists are proud of their blindness and, if given a chance, would choose it over returned vision. Those who have heard and believed such statements are enraged, I think, because they consider it needlessly cruel to encourage the development of neurotic and twisted ideas in people who are already facing vision loss. Federationists, on the other hand, are frustrated when we are accused of holding such notions because, in fact, we don't.
Learning to be unapologetic and to resist feelings of inferiority because of blindness is very different from being proud of the characteristic. It is as absurd to be proud of blindness as it is to take pride in being six feet four, having size five feet, or demonstrating an IQ of 145. One may be comfortable or not with any of these characteristics, but one can certainly claim no credit for possessing them.
A person might well take pride in developing his or her artistic ability, athletic skill, intellectual powers, or expertise in the alternative skills of blindness, but that is very different from claiming personal credit for a God-given characteristic. Of course, being only human (and therefore often a little ridiculous), people frequently take pride in their naturally wavy hair, quick reflexes, or green eyes. It isn't surprising, then, that, in the process of evolving a healthy identity as a competent blind person, some of us act for a while as though taking pride in blindness were the goal rather than achieving self-confidence and effectiveness as a blind person.
Debunking the second half of the misconception is more complex. I don't think I know a single blind person who would actually choose blindness above fully functioning sight, if the exchange were an actual option. In a world structured for and largely dependent on sight, it is obviously more efficient to use sight to get things done. But such a choice is virtually never an option. Most people with a little residual vision are faced with the dilemma of either depending on very restricted visual data for doing tasks or mastering alternative techniques for getting the job done. The pragmatic question these people face in situation after situation is which strategy would be more efficient. The emotional freight that such decisions carry can be heavy indeed. If one has never learned effective alternative techniques and if one has always depended on vision, then visioneven very poor or painful visionoften seems the easier choice. Family and friends reinforce this tendency every time they urge the person not to "act blind" because, after all, he or she can still see something.
Recognizing these pressures, experienced members of the Federation understand the importance of encouraging those with vision problems to get to know able blind people who are comfortable using the alternative skills of blindness. It isn't that we prefer blindness; we just prefer efficiency, confidence, comfort, and success. For almost everyone with less than 10 percent of normal vision, this means using some combination of blindness skills and remaining, genuinely usable vision. Working out the combination is time-consuming and often emotionally demanding. One man who has given this struggle a lot of thought in the past few months is Scott Feldman, a graduate student in clinical psychology and a member of the Chicago Chapter. This is what he has to say about his journey into self-understanding:
"But that's not youyou're only print-impaired." It was my best friend Amy speaking, and she was clearly concerned about me. Until recently I suppose that I thought of myself in this way as well. My visual problems first manifested themselves after extended periods of reading, and reading print was the first activity that I eventually had to relinquish, in my early twenties. Even today, several years later, I could force myself to read a small amount of print in an emergency, but I would pay the price with accommodative spasms. When I try to see things at near distance, my eyes lock, as in a muscle cramp, and later double vision and a throbbing headache set in as my eyes struggle to relax. I do not like pain, nor do I like setting myself up for failure. Since 1990 I have listened to my books instead, and I write with a speech-adapted computer.
Last year I began to learn Braille because in many situations speech is an inadequate substitute for print, such as when I have to give a lecture or presentation from notes. Braille is coming slowly, and materials in any accessible format are hard to come by. Only five percent of printed material published each year is converted to speech or Braille. So I most certainly do feel print-impaired.
This might have been the end of the story, except for one, well two little problems. To begin with, there are many other things besides print that can get too close for my comfort: people's faces, a kitchen counter or dining room table, or a Rembrandt, to name a few. I suppose that you could say that I am face-impaired, food-impaired, and art-impaired as well. Better, let's say that I am functionally blind at near distance and leave it at that. This is where I was several months ago, after much kicking and screamingnot to mention a year-long depression that nearly sapped my will to live.
Life is not fair, nor is it simple. At present I get around without the assistance of a cane or dog. Walking outside is one of the activities recommended to me by my visual therapists because it allows me to gaze into the distance and relax my focusing system. (A world-renowned neuro-ophthalmologist who first diagnosed my condition as severe accommodative and convergence insufficiency suggested that I become a forest ranger. When I said that I wanted to be a scholar, he asked me if I would mind if he prayed for me. I did not.)
If you are sighted, you may be aware of relaxing your eyes, particularly when you are walking along, lost in thought. Your eyes do not fixate on anything in particular but take in the general environment. You perceive gross forms, color, and most definitely movement. You do not crash into things. This is how I have gotten around for the past six years. It works, except for the fact that I cannot make out street signs or other such niceties of modern travel. To be precise, if I squint through the various overlapping images, I can sometimes make out street signs, but then I get back into that same painful cycle that I described earlier.
So traveling is the second little problem. I was not aware of it while in Los Angeles for graduate school, where my range of independent travel was effectively limited by my busy campus schedule and inability to drive. Nor was it a problem when I returned to Chicago on a leave of absence since I know the city very well, having spent the latter part of my childhood and my adolescence there.
But this past October I traveled with my family to London and Paris. It was a lovely trip, especially because of the English theater. During a side trip to Stratford on Avon, I scalped a ticket to the Royal Shakespeare Company's performance of Macbeth. I sat next to a delightful old woman who had been coming to Stratford for decades. She recalled the glorious days when the likes of Richard Burton were members of the company. The lights went out, and we fell silent, expectant. At the end of the performance, she asked me whether I had enjoyed it, not being able to make out the individual actors. As it turned out, I had enjoyed the performance more than she because I had been able to focus on the poetry, while she had difficulty getting beyond her aggravation at the inauthenticity of the costumes and stage set. (At one point, to her horror, the gate keeper lit a cigarette.)
It was walking around on my own in London that made me realize how compromised my ability to navigate new places visually has become. The first day I went out I squinted at the street signs painted on the sides of buildings to make out where I was. I did not enjoy the theater that evening or the following afternoon because my eyes reminded me, in no uncertain terms, that I had mistreated them. A couple of days later I wanted to venture north to visit the Folk Institute because I am very fond of Irish music. My parents said that it would be no trouble to go with me, but I felt that it was important to figure out how to travel there independently. The influence of the National Federation of the Blind was in full evidence here. With the help of an excellent mapand my parents' eyesI familiarized myself with the general layout of central London and with the specific route I planned to take. Then I set off for the Kensington underground station, our local base of operations. To make a long story short, after a few wrong turns and requests for directions from a couple of polite Londoners (they are so polite), I found the place. Happily, I returned to the subway with four new CD's in hand, the result of a thoughtful introduction to the institute's collection by another extremely polite Londoner.
My travels the following few days were much the same. Instead of asking my eyes what street I was on, I asked someone more reliable. As you might suspect, this strategy failed miserably after we took the newly constructed tunnel under the English Channel to Paris. Being a native English-speaker and a sometimes Spanish-speaker, I couldn't even begin to formulate the appropriate question, let alone understand the response. To the extent that I walked around on my own, such as when my parents indulged in a visit to a museum, I traced large circles around prominent landmarks.
As I sit here in my new apartment in Minneapolis, staring out into an impossibly early snowfall, the little question of how to navigate an unfamiliar city blossoms into a preoccupation. Besides the question of how to map out the city, pinpointing the places that hold special interest for me (such as a folk music club or dim-sum restaurant), I wonder how I will shop for necessities. Twice now my refrigerator has gone empty before I asked a neighbor with whom I am acquainted for assistance shopping. Of course, I could walk into the grocery store and ask for customer service, but I am not blind, right?
Actually, Amy, I suspect that you and I are wrong. It is true that I do not meet legal criteria for blindness, which are based on simple indices of acuity and field of vision. I am not a low-vision candidateI have plenty of it. It just doesn't seem to be working for me.
True, many people have strong negative stereotypes about blind people, into which they will try to lock me if I identify myself as blind in public by using a long white cane, for example. They will see me only as a blind person. But I have seen much more in many of the people I have met through the National Federation of the Blind. When I am in their company, rather than feeling ashamed of who I have become, I feel empowered to work to create a more positive image of blindness. I am starting here.
I'm Partially Sighted, and I Use a White Cane
by Peggy Chong
Editor's Note: Peggy Chong was, for many years, the president of the Minneapolis local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). She and her husband, Curtis Chong (who is totally blind), recently moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where Mr. Chong is employed at the NFB headquarters as Director of Technology.
As a very young child, I was aware that I did not see as well as the other kids in the neighborhood. It was well known that the family down the block was made up of a mother and several of her children who could not see too good. Congenital cataracts run in my family.
While I was growing up it was stressed that I should try to fit in, to be like everyone else. What I was being told was to "look sighted." A graphic example of this was in church. We were always told to sing along using the song book, even though my sisters and I could not read it. If I would try to read it by putting the book up to my face, a hand would come over and move the book down to the sighted reading distance. So, I pretended to read the song book, to be sighted.
In my teens I knew that this was not going to work if I wanted to get ahead in life and be happy. I had met blind adults who were working, buying their own homes, and raising families. I wanted to have the same happiness I saw in their lives.
A counselor from the state agency for the blind recommended shylyand outside of my Mother's earshotthat I get a folding cane just for identification purposes. She did not get me one or tell me how to use a cane, so the topic was just dropped.
In my late teens I bought a cane and started carrying it to places I did not know my way around. One of my sisters was about three at this time, and she asked my Mother, "Why does Peggy have a cane?" My Mother's reply was loud and meant for me to overhear. "She is pretending to be blind."
That hurt a lot. My Mother was blind. In fact, she had less vision than I did at the time. But she did not want to be blind or have any one think that she might have difficulty seeing. She always traveled on my Dad's arm. Mom would not go shopping without a sighted person. This was not what I wanted for myself. But her comment hurt so much that it was very difficult for me to take my cane from the corner where I parked it when I got home.
For the next ten years or more I would only take my cane when I was traveling alone, or to a place I did not know well, or where I was sure no one would see me who might tell my folks.
When I used my cane, people treated me better. They did not get mad when I asked them to show me where something was in a store. Bus drivers were friendlier when I asked what number route that bus was. I felt less frustrated after trips I made with my cane. But because I am a "high partial," there was this little voice inside of me that echoed my Mother's words: "You're just pretending to be blind."
I started to do some soul searching. Why did I resist taking my cane shopping when I knew it would be helpful? Sales clerks did not follow me around like I was going to steal the place when they saw me looking closely at things. I could get clerks or other customers to read the packages for me if I was carrying my cane. There was no need for lengthy explanations when trying to get a person behind the counter to read me what was on the menu that hung right behind them in a fast food restaurant.
I also took a look at what others might be thinking when they saw my cane. It became obvious to me that there were many conflicting emotions about blindness tied into the symbol of the cane. I found it fascinating to discover that the most negative feelings were held by blind people who did not use a cane, like my Mother and sisters. The blind people that did use a cane felt good about their cane. They felt good about themselves. But most importantly, they were the blind people out there doing something with their lives! They were the happy, successful blind people.
Then in 1992 I decided it was time to get some real training as a blind person. I went nine months at an NFB training center where I had classes in computers, Braille, and of course, cane travel.
After graduating from BLIND Inc., I wondered how people would treat me now that I had decided that I was going to use a white cane all the time when I went out. My daughter, who had just gotten into her teens, said that it was "weird" to see me with a cane all the time. But it didn't seem to make that much difference to her for very long. Now she finds my white cane helpful. Now, when she meets me at a restaurant or large room somewhere, to save time she just walks in and asks if there is a blind lady in there.
My blind friends thought the cane was great and gave me lots of encouragement. Most of my sighted friends took it with a grain of salt. The only sticky point left was my family.
My one sighted sister and her family got used to the idea in no time. I talked to her children about why I used a cane, and it was accepted with only a few questions.
The rest of the family were different. Some of my aunts did not understand. They felt that my Mother had gone this long without using a cane, surely I could go without one, too. They were embarrassed.
I have three other sisters who are also legally blind. They are uncomfortable around my cane as though it will give them some incurable disease. But when my cane can benefit them, well, that is another story.
We all attended a cousin's wedding a few years back. The wedding was held in an old church with long, narrow, and dark halls and many stairs. As I got there before many of my family, I was toward the front of the church, and they were near the back. As we all do at weddings, I stopped a minute or two to talk to relatives I hadn't seen in a while. When I got to the back of the church, at the top of the stairs, there were my sisters. I stopped and looked at them for a minute; there was a lengthy pause. I asked what we were waiting for. One of my sisters replied, "Well you got the cane. You go first."
My Mother was diagnosed with cancer not long after that. If she saw the cane she aways found a way to make some comment about me trying to focus people's sympathy on myself. I didn't need any more emotional upheaval in my life at that time and thought she didn't either, so I did not use my long, straight cane when I visited her. I took a folding cane and put it in my purse.
That is when I noticed just how much I had gotten to depend on the cane. Over the years my eyes have become more sensitive to light. Many times I will close my eyes when I walk outside in the bright light. It was difficult to walk with my eyes closed when my cane was parked in the car. I walked slower without my cane. Stairs made me nervous. During this time I carried a folding cane to avoid hurting my Mother. I also became convinced that a straight cane was a much better way to travel. Folding canes FOLD! Usually right in the middle of a six lane intersection, or when I am carrying many things and truly need it to find everything in my path. Now that I'm back to using a straight cane, a folding cane is still in my purse or suitcase just in case my straight cane breaks or if I am traveling on an airplane. But that is about all the use I have for a folding cane.
Mom's doctors all knew I was blind. I found that they gave me more thorough information than they gave my sisters. I have often wanted to ask the doctors why that was. My Mother was in denial of her cancer. Did the doctors assume that Mom's denial of her cancer was related to the denial of her blindness? Did they assume that my sisters, who are also blind but try to hide their blindness, also would not want to deal with Mom's cancer? When I went to the doctor appointments or to the hospital, I found the doctors and nurses eager to talk to someone in the family about her condition, test results, their suggestions, and recommendations. The rest of the family reported that no one talked to them. Looking back, I believe that my cane told the medical professionals that I could deal with life's frustrations successfully and move on.
Since it has been over five years now that I have used my cane almost everywhere, my family knows it is not a "phase." I know my cane still makes some people uncomfortable. But this is my life. I need to feel good about myself in order to lead a happy life. If, once in a while, someone is uncomfortable around my cane I figure they will either get used to it, or they are probably not going to be very important in my life for very long, anyway. My cane is here to stay.
I'm Albino, Legally Blind, and a Meteorologist
by Sam Herron
Reprinted from Insight a publication of the National Federation of the Blind of South Dakota.
My name is Sam Herron. I work as a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Rapid City, and I am legally blind. Before I tell you about my current job, I'll give some background information. My eye condition is the result of albinism, specifically oculocutaneous albinism. This is a genetic condition in which the body is unable to produce the usual amounts of melanin, or pigmentation. Albinism is typically linked to fair skin, very light hair, and poor vision. Due to the lack of pigmentation, the eyes do not develop normally before birth and during infancy. My vision is stable around 20/200 with glasses and I am very light sensitive. I also have a condition called Nystagmus, which is irregular eye movement.
While growing up I attended public school and used large type books when available. However, I was not happy dragging around the large books, and the pictures in the large print versions were not very good. Most of the time I used a magnifying glass to read books and papers. I would sit close to the board, but often had to borrow a classmate's notes or ask for the teacher's notes. I became a very good listener and was forced to memorize a lot of information to keep up with classroom activities.
When I was in 6th grade we studied weather. I knew at that time that I wanted to become a meteorologist. I had always loved weather as a childthe sound of a thunderstorm, the feeling of the wind, and even the simple beauty of a sunny day. I enjoyed using maps and making measurements.
After high school, I attended the University of North Carolina at Ashville. I continued to use regular texts with a magnifying glass. I graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in meteorology in the spring of 1993 and was immediately hired with the National Weather Service. After a few moves around the country, I came to Rapid City late in 1995.
My job is visually demanding. As a weather observer, I have had to observe cloud types, precipitation, and other elements; read various instruments, and use a computer to enter these reports. When reading instruments I am able to use a magnifying glass. Most computer programs that we use have some flexibility in the size and colors for display. This is important, because I spend about 90 percent of my work time in front of a computer!
I spend a lot of time collecting and processing data. We receive reports from many volunteer observers around western South Dakota and northeast Wyoming. I quality control these observations to ensure correct data and formats of the reports. Also, I monitor automated observing stations around the area, such as the Rapid City airport station, to make sure that the sensors are reporting properly.
A fun way in which we gather data is with weather balloons released twice each day. After preparing a battery-powered instrument which is about the size of a shoe box, I attach it to a large hydrogen-filled balloon and release it outside our office. The balloon is about 4 feet wide and 6 feet tall. As the balloon goes up through the atmosphere, reports of pressure, temperature, and humidity are relayed back to our computer. After the release, I quality control the data and make sure that the information is distributed. The data goes to Washington, D.C., where powerful super computers generate forecast information.
Another big part of the job is analyzing maps and computer output to make forecasts. Regardless of what may be heard from some television personalities, we all use the same computer information, and our performance is very much based on the performance of the computer predictions. Differences in forecasts can occur due to the various levels of forecaster experience and knowledge.
The main mission of the National Weather Service is to issue warnings of severe or life-threatening weather conditions. Severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings are often issued based on radar information. We often record severe events and then study them afterwards, so that we can better recognize the types of storms that produce severe weather. The radar displays that we use are very detailed. However, computer technology allows zooming in on areas of interest and use of high contrast colors to assist with interpretation.
My work involves some direct contact with people. I have given talks about weather safety, such as what to do during a thunderstorm. Also, I enjoy providing weather information for people with travel plans or to those who just want a more detailed explanation about weather conditions.
I have not requested or felt the need for major modifications in my office. I do ask for simple things like having computers set up so that I can sit close to the screens comfortably. I also request the cooperation of co-workers to have the lighting set to proper levels. I benefit from my ability to work well with others and ask for help when needed. I believe that my ability to memorize and having enthusiasm for what I do have been the biggest factors in my success and satisfaction with my job as a meteorologist.
Normal Visual Development
by Lisa C. Verderber, MD
Reprinted from VIPS News, 12/6, Nov./Dec. 1996, a publication of Visually Impaired Preschool Services, Louisville, Kentucky.
Editor's Note: Dr. Verderber is with Mahl and Associates Eye Care Center in Louisville. She completed her fellowship in pediatric ophthalmology at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, DC. Her residency in ophthalmology was done at Northwestern University.
At birth vision is quite poor. A normal baby can see only large objects moving in front of his face. This poor vision is due mainly to immature visual centers in the brain. These visual centers mature as the eye is stimulated with visual input. During the first three months of life there is a very rapid improvement in vision. These first few months are so important that they are known as the critical period of visual development. The development of good vision is dependent on well-focused images during this time. If there is an abnormality in the eye that precludes this focused image, these important visual centers in the brain will not develop. This is why it is so important to recognize correctable conditions that interfere with vision in this early period.
Addressing vision problems early may prevent a lifetime of poor vision. Some of these difficult problems can be corrected. For example, a congenital cataract can be removed. A severe corneal problem can generally be treated early in life. Unfortunately, all conditions that cause decreased vision are not reversible. Structural problems in the optic nerve, for example, can not generally be remedied. The optic nerve consists of over a million axons which extend from the retina to the visual centers in the brain. At the present time we do not have the technology to repair most problems associated with the optic nerve. Though some retinal problems such as retinal detachments may be treated, there are many conditions of the retina that cannot be treated. Severe structural problems such as these will result in permanent visual impairment. The degree of impairment depends on the degree of abnormality.
The visual system in children continues to be flexible throughout the first eight years of life. During these first eight years amblyopia can develop. Amblyopia is a decrease in vision caused by abnormal visual stimulation. Therefore, anything that interferes with a clear retinal image in the first eight years of life may lead to decreased vision. The earlier in life that the stimulation is abnormal, the greater the visual deficit. This helps explain why visual problems in children can be more devastating than a similar problem in an adult. A congenital cataract may lead to a lifetime of decreased vision if it is not removed within the first few weeks. A cataract that develops in an adult does not lead to permanent visual impairment. Since the visual system in an adult is mature, good vision will return when the cataract is removed, even if it has been present for years. As another example, a child who is extremely farsighted but does not receive glasses in the first eight years will have a permanent decrease in vision, even if the glasses are prescribed later in life. An adult who develops far-sightedness will have blurry vision without his glasses, but no permanent visual impairmentgood vision will return when he puts on his glasses. This stresses the importance of screening for and correcting visual problems in children as soon as possible.
Vision Stimulation: Is the Tide Turning?
by Julie Hunter
Editor's Note: The following editorial first appeared in the January, 1997, POBC News and Views, a publication of the Parents of Blind Children Division of Colorado. It was later reprinted in the June, 1997, issue of the Braille Monitor, the monthly publication of the National Federation of the Blind.
For many years the professionals in the field of visual impairment have held that visual skills could be taughtthat children with impaired vision could be trained through focusing and tracking activities to use better any residual vision they might have. For just as many years the National Federation of the Blind has argued against this philosophy, believing that the time spent trying to stimulate the use of vision through therapy involving darkened rooms and flashing lights is better spent enriching the child and guiding him in the use of alternative techniques in visually based activities. But more than just a waste of time, the NFB has suggested that underlying such programs is an insidious implication that the better you see, the more valuable you are as a person. In a 1986 article from Future Reflections, (Vol. 5 No. 2, 1986; page 25) entitled, "Learning to Look," Barbara Cheadle wrote:
"Putting aside for the time the question of how valuable vision stimulation programs are (or could be) for the blind or low-vision child, there is a greater concern. Like drugs or a common kitchen knife, even useful educational tools can be turned into dangerous weapons that destroy instead of nurture."
Meanwhile, as recently as 1995, the National Association for
the Parents of the Visually Impaired presented an article entitled, "Sensory Development, Vision, Focusing & Tracking." The article stated:
"Using his/her vision is a learned activity for the child who is visually impaired. It is not automatic, so you must teach your child that using his/her vision will be beneficial to him/her. For example, instead of handing your child a cookie, you should hold the cookie and ask the child to reach out and take it. That way, he/she is being rewarded for using his/her vision." (Awareness, Winter Issues, 1995, page 6)
What does such an approach teach the child? The child is
rewarded for seeing the cookie and made to feel inadequate for failing to see it. The child is set up for failure and diminished self-esteem. Instead of valuing and appreciating the usefulness of alternative techniques, the child is being taught that it is better to do your best with whatever vision you have and hide your inability to see than to use an alternative technique of blindness.
We all agree that enriching the environment with color and shape is extremely important for a visually impaired child (as it is for any child), but enriching the environment and trying to teach visual skills are very different matters. It is dangerous to try to teach vision, for you have then placed a value on seeing versus not seeing which can have damaging psychological implications.
Happily, there is evidence that the vision professionals may be reevaluating their stand on the value of visual stimulation. A recent article published in the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness (Vol. 90, No. 5, Sept-Oct, 1996) entitled "A Call to End Vision Stimulation Training" by Kay Ferrell, Ph.D. and D. William Muir, M.A., questions the efficacy of teaching visual perceptual skills.
"The cautions against using vision stimulation are significant. The main ones are 1) the research to support visual skills training is ambiguous at best; 2) the procedures violate the principle of normalization and diminish the self-esteem of children, families, and teachers; and 3) the training consumes time better devoted to instruction for real-life demands."
Ferrell and Muir also say:
"Children may think that they are not good enough and that visual impairment is indeed a loss, rather than a learning characteristic requiring adaptation."
Dr. Ferrell and Mr. Muir are highly respected professors in
the Division of Special Education at the University of Northern Colorado. However, it may take some time before their fellow professionals are willing to abandon what they have long considered best practice. At the very least one can hope that their students, future teachers of the blind and visually impaired, will be entering the professional ranks not as vision teachers, trying to teach vision, but as teachers of the blind and visually impaired.
Thank you, Dr. Ferrell and Mr. Muir, for seeing the light and providing a beginning to the end of visual skills training.
Funding Closed Circuit Televisions (CCTVs)
Through Medical Insurance
by Greg Trapp
Editor's Note: Greg Trapp has been a staff attorney with the Protection and Advocacy System of New Mexico since 1992. In 1993 he taught disability law as an adjunct professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law. Mr. Trapp submitted the following article simutaneously to the Braille Monitor, the monthly publication of the NFB, and to Future Reflections. Subsequently, it was published in the November, 1997, issue of the Monitor. The article has some helpful information about financing Closed Circuit Television Systems (CCTVs), equipment which some blind students and adults find useful. This is what Greg says:
In this era of decreasing state and federal budgets, it is increasingly necessary for blind people to explore alternative ways to fund assistive technology. An assistive technology device is defined as any item, piece of equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capability of a person with a disability. If the device serves a medical purpose, it may also meet the definition of "durable medical equipment" (DME). A closed circuit television can be included within the definitions of assistive technology and durable medical equipment.
A closed circuit television (CCTV) may enable some people who are legally blind or who have low vision to read printed materials. It uses a camera and television screen to create an enlarged image of printed text. It can also enhance contrast by placing white letters over a black background. If you could benefit from having a CCTV at home, you might be able to obtain one through your private medical insurance, Medicaid, or Medicare. These funding sources should be considered along with more traditional funding methods such as vocational rehabilitation or through an employer as a reasonable accommodation. Since a CCTV can cost over $3,000, medical insurance may be the only practical way for many people to obtain a home CCTV.
For some people a properly used CCTV can be a valuable tool which can enhance productivity and independence. However, it is necessary to understand the limitations of a CCTV. Keep in mind that a CCTV magnifies only a small portion of text at a time and that usually the reader must physically move the item being read beneath the camera. Prolonged reading with a CCTV may also cause eyestrain and headaches. For these reasons reading with a CCTV can be slow and inefficient. Accordingly, a CCTV is often more appropriate for elderly persons who have lost vision later in life and who have not developed more efficient alternative techniques.
Despite its limitations a CCTV can be an effective supplement to other reading methods such as using Braille, tapes, scanners, electronic text, and sighted readers. A CCTV can be especially useful for reading and filling out forms, reading small amounts of text, and writing checks. A CCTV can also be an effective alternative to the use of large print or hand-held magnifiers.
Some school-aged children may be able to benefit from a CCTV. However, children who improperly use a CCTV could actually have their educational development impaired. For instance, there is often a strong tendency to encourage blind children to read using partial vision instead of using more efficient methods such as Braille. Unfortunately some parents find it painful to recognize that their visually impaired child is actually legally blind and in need of Braille. In addition, some school districts are often reluctant to pay for teachers who have the expertise needed to teach Braille, arguing that a CCTV (or other adaptive equipment) makes teaching Braille unnecessary. A tragically common situation is a child with a degenerative eye condition whose teacher ignores Braille in favor of having the child use her remaining vision even though the vision is likely ultimately to be lost entirely. In such a case, improper reliance on a CCTV when Braille should be taught could limit the child's ultimate Braille proficiency.
Regardless of the age of the person seeking to obtain a CCTV, the individual should be evaluated by a qualified low-vision professional to determine if a CCTV would be appropriate. The evaluation should include consideration of factors such as whether the visual condition is degenerative, whether the condition is stable from day to day, whether eyestrain will be incurred as a result of using the equipment, and whether the person can use the CCTV efficiently. Most important, the evaluator must appreciate the benefits of Braille and speech devices in order to insure that the evaluation will be balanced.
In order to obtain medical insurance coverage for a CCTV, you must have a physician prescribe a CCTV to treat the visual condition. The first step in the process is to determine whether your medical insurance could classify a CCTV as a medical device within the scope of covered services. This process is similar for private health insurance, Medicaid, and Medicare. Accordingly, because the processes are similar and since Medicare operates much like a private insurance program, this article will focus on the process under Medicare.
Medicare is divided into two parts. Part A pays for hospital stays and home health care. The latter coverage can include payment for durable medical equipment (DME). Part B coverage can also include payment for DME, as well as coverage of prosthetic devices.
The Medicare description of DME includes devices such as iron lungs, hospital beds, and wheelchairs. In order for a device to be classified as DME, it must be able to withstand repeated use, be primarily and customarily used to serve a medical purpose, be generally not useful to an individual in the absence of an illness or injury, be appropriate for use in the home, and be necessary and reasonable for the treatment of an illness or injury or to improve the functioning of a malformed body member. A CCTV can meet all of these criteria. A physician must prescribe the CCTV, include it in a treatment plan, and supervise its use. If these requirements are met, Medicare can pay for a CCTV as an item of durable medical equipment.
Medicare may also cover a CCTV as a "prosthetic device." Medicare defines prosthetic devices as devices which replace all or part of the function of a permanently inoperative or malfunctioning external body member or internal body organ. For instance, Medicare covers pacemakers as prosthetic devices, even though a pacemaker does not replace the heart. Likewise a contact lens prescribed after cataract surgery is also covered as a prosthetic device since the contact replaces the function of the natural lens. Accordingly a CCTV may be covered as a prosthetic device since it replaces the functioning of the damaged portion of the eye.
Once you determine that a CCTV may fall within the scope of a covered service, you must next obtain a prescription from a physician. In order to obtain a prescription, the CCTV must be reasonable and necessary. A CCTV is already recognized as a treatment for certain types of visual impairments. For example, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recognizes the CCTV as a prosthetic device. In addition, the CCTV is not a comfort item. A comfort item is an item such as a tape recorder which does not contribute to the treatment of the visual condition. By contrast a CCTV is a treatment for the damaged portion of the eye. It does not matter if you will use the CCTV for recreational reading.
Medicare also functions like most private health insurance providers in the way claims are processed. You must normally first purchase the CCTV from an approved Medicare supplier, then file a claim for reimbursement. However, some Medicare suppliers will order medical equipment while awaiting payment from Medicare. Medicaid differs from this process in that you must first obtain prior approval before you can purchase a CCTV. Medicare will send the CCTV reimbursement claim (along with supporting documentation) to a Durable Medical Equipment Regional Carrier (DMERC). The DMERC will determine if the CCTV is covered and is reasonable and necessary. Reasonable means that it is the lowest priced item that will meet your medical need. Necessary refers to the medical need established by your physician. The DMERC will then determine the reasonable cost of the CCTV.
Unlike Medicaid, which pays in full, Medicare subjects you to a deductible of $100 and a 20 percent co-payment. From the cost determined by the DMERC, Medicare will pay you an 80 percent reimbursement after the $100 deductible. If the supplier has agreed to "accept assignment," the supplier will only charge the amount determined by the DMERC. However, suppliers who have not accepted assignment are allowed to charge above the amount determined by the DMERC, and you will be responsible for the additional charge. Suppliers who have agreed to accept assignment are listed in the Medicare Participating Physicians/Suppliers Directory (MEDPARD), which you can request from the DMERC. In some circumstances Medicare may allow or require rental of a CCTV.
Requests for CCTV's are often denied. However, you have the right to appeal, and Medicare appeals are often successful when pursued beyond the initial appeal levels. For instance, as long ago as 1980 a Medicare beneficiary successfully appealed the denial of a CCTV. (Medicare Fair Hearing Decision, HIC No. 062-44-0658-A, 1980.) If you receive a denial, the letter of denial will explain the appeal process, and you should carefully meet all deadlines and follow all procedures. The appeal procedure is different depending on whether the claim is under Part A or Part B. The first level of appeal under Part B is to request a review. The next level is to a hearing officer. Since a CCTV costs more than $500, claimants under Part B have the right to continue to appeal by requesting a hearing before a federal administrative law judge (ALJ). The ALJ level affords you the greatest chance of success. If the ALJ appeal is not successful, you may request a review by the Appeals Council. The final appeal level is to federal court. The appeal process under Part A is somewhat similar but begins with a request for reconsideration. If the denial of the CCTV is under Medicaid, you also have the right to appeal. In addition, most private insurers also have appeal procedures. Regardless of the funding source and appeal procedure, you should be persistent and not take "no" for an answer.
The CCTV can be a valuable tool and has a place in the arsenal of alternative techniques. By being persistent, you may be able to obtain medical insurance funding for a CCTV. The immediate goal is to expand the choices you have. The ultimate goal is to enhance your productivity and maximize your potential.
Can Braille Change the Future?
by Denise Staulter
Reprinted from the March, 1997, issue of Michigan Focus, a publication of the NFB of Michigan.
As an itinerant teacher of the visually impaired, I often teach my students for many years. More than four years ago I met a lovely little girl in her second year of school who had very little usable sight for reading. Before she came to me, she had the use of a CCTV and other magnifying equipment, but was not doing well in school because of her lack of sight and inefficient skills for being visually impaired. The first six months we worked together she constantly talked about quitting school as soon as she turned sixteen. She hated school so much because she couldn't do anything.
I started teaching her Braille as intensely as I thought she could handle. I knew that when she had something she could actually use in school, she would begin to enjoy academics like her classmates. After a year and a half and the acquisition of a great deal of Braille knowledge, she was able to read books like the rest of her peers. She finally began to enjoy school. She was still behind academically and struggled with school work, but insisted every time the class had a particular book that she also have it in Braille so she could "read it like them." She now delights in showing sighted peers how to read Braille in her books and write Braille words on her Braille writer. This has also become quite a self-esteem builder.
She is also a very accomplished typist for her age. Typing is a skill she needs right along with her Braille so she can produce work for her regular education teacher and turn it in along with her peers. When her regular education teacher asks her to write something, she does not hesitate to go to her computer and generate her work, knowing she can do the work as her sighted counterparts.
This student has progressed from constantly talking about quitting school to now chatting about going on to college, just because she knows she can get the material she needs and do the work like others. I often wonder how much more successful she and others like herwho did not begin Braille at a preschool age when their sighted peers learned letters at age three and fourmight have been? Would she have gone through the constant feeling of "hating" school, and struggling for two to three years because of the lack of essential skills needed by a visually impaired student? We cannot look back, though, and must look forward to help other pupils.
As teachers we must constantly look into the future of our students to make sure they will have the skills they need to be successful people. Our ultimate goal is the "success of all children through appropriate educational practices, equipment, and technology."
The Cody Greiser Story: A Work in Progress
by Jim Marks
From the Editor: The following article is reprinted from The Observer, Spring/Summer, 1997, a publication of the Montana Association for the Blind (MAB), an affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind.
Some of our long-time readers may remember an article about Cody which appeared in Future Reflections several years ago. At that time his parents were trying to get the services they needed in his local school district so he could start kindergarten with his peers and neighbors. With the help of the NFB, they found a qualified teacher and everything was greatfor a while.
But, as the saying goes, nothing stays the same. Changes in the family, a move to another town, a teacher retiresany one or more of these circumstances can change a blind child's services overnightfor better or worse. The only thing that remains constant is the need for vigilance, and the need for the ongoing support and information available from an organization such as the National Federation of the Blind. Here is the latest chapter in the saga of one blind child's precarious journey through the educational system:
Special Report from the Montana Association for the Blind
The following in-depth report is offered to members, parents of blind children, and other advocates. The struggle for blind children to receive decent educations in Montana in skills such as Braille literacy and orientation and mobility has, in a sense, just begun. Cody's story, and the commitment of his parents, Marty Greiser of Dillon and Nancy Taylor of Polson, may hold lessons and encouragement for other parents in Montana. It is an important story for us all, and surely no one but us, the organized blind of Montana, are likely to tell it.
What you are about to read was gathered from interviews with some of the parties involved, observations of legal proceedings, and reviews of relevant documents.
Cody Greiser, who is blind, lives in Polson, Montana, with his mom, step-dad, and sisters. His dad is Marty Greiser of Dillon, a long time member of the Montana Association for the Blind and Secretary of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, a Division of the National Federation of the Blind. Cody is ten years old and will be going into the fifth grade this fall at Polson's Cherry Valley Elementary School.
Recently, Cody found himself involved in a struggle for his literacy and his right to live with his family. It's hard to believe, but Cherry Valley School officials tried to take Cody away from his folks by forcing a placement in the Montana School for the Deaf and Blind (MSDB) in Great Falls. Although an administrative judge gave the family a favorable decision following the April 1, 1997, hearing in Polson, the struggle is far from over.
* THE FAMILY'S POSITION
Cody's parents, Nancy Taylor and Marty Greiser, want their son to learn how to read and write within his neighborhood school. They do not want to take Cody from his home and loved ones to be placed in a residential program.
The family knows blindness is a low-incidence disability and that ignorance on the part of the school system requires them to advocate fiercely for Cody's education. They carefully weighed what was best for Cody before reaching the conclusion that Cody was better off at home than he would be at MSDB.
Finding qualified Braille instructors or aides can be difficult, the family acknowledges this. So they proposed an option to Cherry Valley officials. They asked that Cody travel once a week to Thompson Falls, a town about 50 miles from Polson, in order to receive Braille instruction from Kim Bojkovsky. Bojkovsky is a certified teacher who reads and writes Braille fluently. She taught Cody when they both lived in Dillon. And it so happens that Bojkovsky is also blind.
* THE SCHOOL'S POSITION
"Some people in Polson, Montana, believe a sighted teacher can teach Braille better than a blind person," said Bob Long, Lake County Deputy Attorney and legal counsel for Cherry Valley School. He said this to one of the expert witnesses for the family during the April hearing. The witness was Joanne Wilson, President of the NFB of Louisiana and Director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston. Wilson had just testified via telephone about the importance of having a teacher of blind children know how to read and write in Braille.
Surprisingly, the school carried the burden of proof because it was the school which wanted Cody's education plan to change. According to Elaine Meeks, Cherry Valley principal, the school couldn't find a qualified teacher for Cody, therefore making an MSDB placement necessary.
It isn't a matter of money, Meeks said. She said the school tried but failed to find a competent Braille instructor following the resignation of Cody's former aide. Meeks said the school had advertised regionally, but later explained that "regionally" meant advertising in Polson, Kalispell, and Missoula. Meeks therefore said that the school could not provide Cody with a sound education, and that MSDB was the only alternative.
Meeks rejected the family proposal to have Cody taught Braille once a week by Bojkovsky in Thompson Falls. She said such a thing would force a public school's support of a home school, adding that Cherry Valley couldn't supervise Bojkovsky properly unless Bojkovsky was willing to travel to Polson. Due to her pregnancy and other responsibilities in Thompson Falls, Bojkovsky declined to travel.
Meeks denied the family's request to have Cherry Valley purchase Braille production equipment. The family wanted the school to acquire a computer Braille translation software program and a computer Braille embosser. Asserting the decision wasn't based on money, Meeks said the school's denial of technology purchases was due to the school's belief Cody's Braille skills had not advanced far enough to warrant the purchase.
* WHAT THE EXPERTS SAID
Testimony was also given by two groups of experts. Speaking on behalf of Cherry Valley Schools were the MSDB principal and two MSDB outreach staff members. Speaking for the family were three members of the National Federation of the Blind (the Montana Association for the Blind is the NFB affiliate of Montana).
The MSDB experts said, in Cody's case, their institution was a more appropriate placement than Cherry Valley School. They said the MSDB outreach services couldn't compensate for the lack of a qualified teacher or aide in Polson. So it was their opinion that MSDB's residential program would serve Cody the best. They dismissed the family's requests for Braille production equipment as well, saying that the equipment was expensive and no panacea.
MSDB Principal Bill Davis conceded the hardship of placing a child in a residential school. He said the parents had to consider the long-term benefits of a good education over the short-term benefits of keeping Cody at home.
During the hearing, the quality of education at MSDB wasn't fully discussed. Davis said most of the blind children at MSDB had multiple disabilities. Cody is only blind, and may not find as many peers in MSDB as he has in Polson.
Beyond the formalities of the administrative courts, the family expresses strong concerns about the quality of the MSDB education. They point out how MSDB had to be sued only a few short years ago when another family wanted their blind child taught Braille. Moreover, the Greiser family questions the credibility of the MSDB staff. They wonder aloud about the ability of MSDB staff to read and write Braille fluently, and about the abilities of staff in other blindness skills. Notably, one of the MSDB experts testifying against the family had never even met Cody. As time goes on, fewer and fewer blind children opt for a residential program. Instead, schools like MSDB become institutions for children with multiple disabilities, and blindness skills often take a back seat to other matters of disability.
Testifying for the family were Joanne Wilson of Louisiana, Denise Mackenstadt of Washington, and Kim Bojkovsky of Thompson Falls.
Wilson said Cherry Valley School hadn't tried hard enough to find a qualified Braille teacher. She testified about several options that Cherry Valley could have undertaken in order to get someone qualified involved in Cody's education. When she was asked about what was best for Cody, Cherry Valley or MSDB, she said it was a heavy decision which could only be made by the family. However, she said, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires education to take place in the least restrictive environment. She said she didn't know which school had the better educational program, but that placement at MSDB probably wouldn't be the least restrictive environment mandated by law.
Mackenstadt, a teacher's aide in a Bothell, Washington, public school, said it was her job to assist with Braille instruction and blindness skills in a mainstream school setting. She explained how well the education of blind children can work when the school possessed an inclusive, can-do attitude about teaching blind children. And she also reinforced the doubt about whether Cherry Valley School had done all it could. She added to Wilson's testimony regarding places to find or train qualified Braille instructors.
Bojkovsky talked about what she had done with Cody when she was his teacher in Dillon and about what she could do for him in the future. She said the once a week time would be adequate, but not ideal. And the adequate instruction which allows Cody to remain at home is far better than putting him in any residential program, she said.
* WHAT THE JUDGE DECIDED
Dennis Loveless, the Montana Hearings Officer for the Office of Public Instruction, decided mostly in favor of the family. He wrote: "Analysis of all the factors apparent in this case indicate that the continued education of Cody Greiser at Cherry Valley School under the program proposed by the parents would take advantage of appropriate available resources in the least restrictive setting." Besides endorsing the family's wishes to have Cody remain at Cherry Valley School with one day per week instruction with Bojkovsky, Loveless also decided that Cherry Valley should acquire Braille production technology. He decided not to reimburse the family for legal fees and not to order any additional evaluations of the competency of Cherry Valley or MSDB staff.
It is deeply ironic that Cherry Valley School incurs no legal expenses as they were represented by the Lake County Attorney's office. Even more ironic is the unspoken yet undeniable fact that only those who spoke on behalf of the family read and write Braille well.
* IT AIN'T OVER
Even though the Loveless decision is clear, Marty Greiser reports that Cherry Valley School refuses to send Cody to Bojkovsky because they have hired a Braille aide. The school claims the employment of the aide makes the Loveless decision largely irrelevant. The family asked to review the credentials of this aide, but no documents have been forthcoming. In addition, school officials denied the family's request to begin purchasing technology items until Cody's teachers come back to work this fall. In spite of the triumph in administrative court, it looks as though more court action is likely. It's a cinch more advocacy is imperative.
From the Editor: In the same issue was another article about Cody, called "Justice Takes a Baby Step," by Dan Burke. The article repeated much of the material given above, but some of the comments Dan made added new information and insight to the Cody Greiser story. Here are those comments:
DAN BURKI first met Cody last January when he attended the NFB Washington Seminar with his dad. Two things about Cody deeply impress me. First Cody has an extremely creative and active mind. He is about the same age as my own son Sean, who is also very creative and has been in Missoula's gifted program since second grade. The comparison was obvious to me. There is no doubt in my mind that Cody Greiser is a very intelligent young man. The second thing about Cody which impressed me is that he is very unhappy in school. He found numerous ways to tell the adults around him of his unhappiness while we were in Washington.
This simple fact cannot be ignored then. No child will be happy when his school is failing him. Cherry Valley School has failed to provide the education that Cody needs, deserves, and is entitled to receive. The school has been "spanked" but shows little sign of reforming their misguided ways. The struggles for Cody's parents have not been in vain but neither are they over.
As the blind of Montana, however, we must remember how crucial our role was and how crucial the role of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children has been. The community of Montana's blind and the parents of blind children across the country have been the key to informing and supporting Cody Greiser's parents in the continuing struggle for their child's very future. The Parents' Division of the NFB taught Cody's parents what he truly needed from his education and not simply to accept what school officials said they were willing to provide. The MAB provided $500 toward legal fees, and promised another $400 if they do not win their battle to force Polson schools to pay the nearly $4,000 in attorney's fees accumulated thus far.
So, let us continue to stand beside Cody and his parents. Let the MAB be known across this great state as an organization with the sword of justice in its hand and truth on its lips. Let us make it plain that we will not be satisfied with just any education for blind children, and that we expect qualified teachers for Montana kids who are blind.
Let us never forget the blind children of Montana, and let us be the ever-present reminder that blind Montanans expect far more than second-rate.
Parents Win Fight with School Board in Virginia
From the Editor: Readers may remember that in the Winter/Spring, 1997, issue of Future Reflections, we carried an article titled "Virginia Parents Battle Teacher Shortage." At that time parents were pressing the Hampton school district in Virginia to hire more teachers of the blind and visually impaired students. Parents, at that point, had won a partial victorythe board had agreed to hire a second teacher. That was in December, 1996. The following article was published in August, 1997--more than six months later. As this article makes clear, Hampton, Virginia, school officials now seem to understand that their past struggles to provide only the barest minimum of services to blind students enrolled in city schools have done incalculable harm to youngsters who were already facing heavy odds against their success.
Once again we see the damage done by imposing the failure model on the education of blind children. Waiting for the child to fail using one set of supports before permitting more useful ones to be tried virtually insures that the student's self-confidence will evaporate a little more with every poor grade or uncompleted assignment.
Hampton parents, with help from the parents division of the NFB of Virginia and its active President Vicki Messick, forced school officials to change things for the future and correct past mistakes as far as possible.
Here is the story by Sandra Tan as it appeared in the August 7, 1997, Daily Press.
Hampton to Hire Third Staffer for Blind
Schools to Offer Makeup Services
Theresa Brooks sat in her car as the rain turned the cold February night colder. She had just left a school board meeting to speak on behalf of her visually impaired daughter, but no one seemed to hear. Her husband had died several months earlier and could lend no comfort. So she prayed.
"Lord, I'm tired. I feel like I'm all alone. What I said, did it go into people's hearts? Is anybody listening?"
Someone finally listened. Brooks's daughter and other visually impaired students in Hampton City Schools will be getting more help.
"I don't know what did it," said Vicki Messick, president of Parents of Blind Children, a local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. "It could be God; a lot of people have been praying."
After more than nine months of complaints and lawsuit threats, Hampton City Schools' administrators agreed to make up for some incomplete and incorrect special education guidelines that parents say robbed their children of adequate instruction for years.
Since November, parents have complained that their children were illegally denied preschool instruction because of their age, that unqualified administrators were making decisions about their children's schooling, that the number of school vision specialists was grossly inadequate, and that the guidelines used to determine a student's right to services were too narrow.
Most of all, parents complained that school administrators didn't seem to care whether they were doing the right thing for a group of children that make up less than two-tenths percent of Hampton's overall student population. These complaints were finally addressed in meetings with parents and parent advocates over the last two weeks.
Given a pending suit filed with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights and more protests brought before the local school board, school officials have now promised to hire more specialists and offer make-up services to children whose parents have said were wrongly denied instruction.
"A lot of parents had threatened to go to due process hearings, basically take them to court," Messick said. "I have no desire to go to court. If we can make progress another way, so be it."
Superintendent Billy Cannaday conceded that the school system could have done a better job of addressing these parents' complaints from the start. Instead of wasting time arguing about who was technically correct according to state and federal regulations, the school system should have taken a closer look at the potential harm being done to visually impaired children, he said.
"We only looked at the letter of the regulations, not the intent of the regulations, which is to serve children," he said. "When it came down to doing what's best for students, it became a much easier issue to resolve."
As part of the solution, the Hampton City School Board voted Wednesday to hire a third vision impairment specialist to help work with about thirty-five children. Last year the school system had only one specialist working with more than twenty-five children. In December of 1996, the board approved another position, but the second specialist was not actually hired until last month. In addition to increasing staff size, the school system has agreed to offer more than 600 hours of make-up services* to children who received inadequate vision instruction in their earlier years.
Cannaday said some personnel changes will also be made to insure that such students are never overlooked or shortchanged again. Money will be reallocated to meet the agreements reached with parents, Cannaday said, but that the amount will not stress the existing budget approved by City Council.
Parents and advocates praised the school administrators and board members for their actions but still wondered at the time it took for those actions to come about.
"I'm very happy that they finally, finally are giving the services that Christina needed and deserved," said Brooks, in regard to her fifteen-year-old daughter, a tenth grader at Bethe High School, "I thank God, I really do." Christina, an albino with severely impaired vision, received no school vision assistance until she nearly failed the second grade, Brooks said.
Brooks's daughter will receive 345 hours of make-up tutorial and counseling services. "Even though they're the educators, we're both on the same team," Brooks said. "It's a partnership, raising a child."
*Editor's note: What the author calls "make-up services" is called "compensatory education services" by the courts. Children who were either denied appropriate special education services (services which they needed, but which were never put on an IEP), or who never received all or some of the special education services listed on their IEP's (this is often common with orientation and mobility services), may be able to negotiate for compensatory hours of services. In some rare cases, parents have negotiated to receive cash, technology equipment, or other goods and materials in lieu of hours of teaching services. For more information contact:
National Organization of Parents
of Blind Children
Barbara Cheadle, President
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
phone: (410) 659-9314.
Is Due Process in Your Future?
by Larry Larsen and Philip Guzman
Reprinted from ParenTalk, volume 3, issue 3, a publication of The Parents' Place of Maryland.
From the Editor: This article was written before the 1997 amendments to IDEA were enacted. Although the new law and the rules implementing it may make some changes to the process described below, the following information is, and will be, pertinent and valuable for some time to come.
Also, please note that this article is based upon how things are done in Maryland. Some variation in procedures is allowed for every state, so please check with your State Department of Education if you are not clear how something is done in your state (the process for mediation, for example).
About the authors: Larry Larsen is Co-Director of the Parents' Place of Maryland and Philip Guzman is an attorney in private practice who specializes in special education law. He is also the parent of a disabled child. Here, now, is what they say about due process:
Of all the challenging events that a parent might encounter in dealing with their child's school system, none is more intimidating and emotionally demanding and potentially painful than a due process hearing. Many parents, we have learned, arrive at their scheduled hearings woefully unprepared to present their side of the case and are, as a result, crushed by a process that was intended to give them equality in resolving disagreements concerning their child's education. Clearly, many parents enter the due process arena without fully understanding what is in store for them.
A due process hearing, it must be remembered, is very similar to a trialand, like a trial, each side is more interested in presenting the positive aspects of its case than it is in presenting a completely accurate portrait of the student who is the subject of the hearing. Put another way, if one party to the hearing possesses evidence that might be detrimental to its case and beneficial to its adversary, that evidence will most certainly not be presented.
A glance at some of the "hearing rights" granted to both parties by the regulations for Part B of IDEA (see 34 CFR 300.508) will highlight the adversarial nature of due process hearings.
According to the Part B regulations, each party has the right to:
1) Be accompanied and advised by counsel and by individuals with special knowledge or training with respect to the problems of children with disabilities.
2) Present evidence and confront, cross-examine, and compel the attendance of witnesses.
3) Prohibit the introduction of any evidence at the hearing that has not been disclosed to that party at least five days before hearing.
THE PROCESS OF DUE PROCESS
As for the hearing itself, at the outset the hearing officer will introduce him or herself and give a brief statement of his or her background. All participants in the hearing will identify themselves for the record and any preliminary issues that are raised will be discussed. The parent or advocate will be asked if the parents have been afforded their due process rights, i.e., whether the school system has told the parents about all their legal rights throughout the process. Oaths will be administered to all the witnesses. As in a trial, the two parties will then proceed with opening statements. One party will then present and question its witnesses with the other party having the opportunity to cross-examine each witness. The second party then presents and questions its witnesses with each subject to cross-examination. Finally, the two parties have an opportunity to make closing statements to conclude the hearing. The decision of the hearing officer is typically rendered within a week or so of the hearing and is mailed to both parties.
Herewith are some "Do's" and "Don'ts" that you should keep in mind if there is the possibility of a due process hearing in your future.
DO consider trying to resolve the disagreement you have with your child's school system through more benign and less stressful procedure.
In addition to due process, two other avenues are available to a parent who believes that the school system is not meeting its obligations to her child. First, if a parent believes that the school system is clearly violating any of the federal special education regulations found in 34 CFR 300, filing a complaint with the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) is a better choice than requesting a hearing. Under current federal regulations (see 34 CFR 300.660-662), a written complaint can be filed whenever it is believed that a local school system has violated any requirement of Part B of IDEAthe complainant should specify which regulation she believes has been violated and the facts on which the complaint is based. MSDE then has 60 days to investigate the complaint, obtain additional information as necessary, and issue a written decision. If MSDE does find that the local school system is violating a Part B requirement, it will order the school system to take corrective action and to refrain from repeating the violation in the future. The advantage of this option is that it places comparatively few demands on the parent's time, emotions, and pocketbook.
A second alternative for resolving disagreements is through mediation. Unlike due process in which a hearing officer issues a decision (i.e., arbitrates the dispute), in mediation the "mediator" is not empowered to make decisions. Instead, the role of the mediator is to promote discussion between the two parties and to assist them in arriving at a mutually agreeable resolution of their disagreement. Because mediation is a much gentler process, it is preferred when there is at least a possibility that both parties are willing to bend a bit and reach a mutually acceptable compromise. However, if the initial positions taken by the two parties are firm, mediation can turn out to be nothing more than a waste of time. It should also be noted that a parent who requests mediation does not give up her rights to a subsequent due process hearingif the mediation is unsuccessful, she can then proceed with her request for a hearing.
DO get a lawyer or someone who is experienced in due process proceedings to represent you and argue your case.
The old adage that the lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client is appropriate hereunless you are skilled and experienced in planning, preparing, and presenting a case, you should not represent yourself at a hearing.
Preparing for a due process hearing is a long and difficult process that usually involves the following steps:
1) Carefully and precisely list the points that you want to convince the hearing officer are true.
2) Review all of the student's educational records and select those documents that will help build your case. Arrange to review the student's entire school record which may be divided among several folders including the cumulative file, the confidential file, and discipline and attendance information. The selected documents must then be numbered, indexed, and duplicated for submission to the opposing party and the hearing officer at least five days before the hearing (as a matter of courtesy, this "five-day rule" is typically interpreted as meaning five working days). Remember that it is your obligation to submit your documents to the hearing officer; the school system will not do this for you (and frequently will not even tell you that this is your responsibility).
3) Determine if any additional evidence needs to be obtained in time for the hearing, for example, observations of the student in his/her classroom(s), additional assessments by independent examiners, medical records from the child's pediatrician, etc.
4) Select the witnesses that you plan to call and specify the nature of the testimony that you want to solicit from each to bolster your case. The names of your witnesses must be submitted to the opposing party at least five days before the hearing.
5) Write out a sequence of questions to ask each witness that you plan to call (unless you are quicker on your feet than the average person, you will not have time to think up questions to ask during the hearing itself). Your questions should be carefully chosen and phrased so that (a) you know what the answers will be, (b) the person being questioned can give relatively short answers, and © the answers bear directly on the major points you want to make to the hearing officer.
6) When you get the opposing party's witness list (which must be given to you at least five days before the hearing), write out potential questions for each witness listed.
7) Well in advance of the hearing date, meet with the witnesses you plan to call and prepare them for the testimony that they will give. While you should not rehearse them or tell them what to say, you do want to make sure that you are in general agreement as to their testimonyand also that you will not be "blind-sided" by their testimony.
8) Prepare an opening statement that you will present at the beginning of the hearing and at least sketch out the primary points that you will want to make in your closing statement.
While an experienced lawyer can perhaps prepare for a due process hearing in a matter of hours, a novice should expect to devote between two and four full days to the task. If you do obtain the services of a lawyer (which is highly recommended), you should not quibble when she asks for what seems like a king's ransom as a retainer. Lawyers in private practice have high overhead costs, and the time that they must devote to representing you well makes their fees understandable if not reasonable.
DO NOT file a request for a due process hearing and then look for a lawyer or experienced advocate to represent you.
All too often we have been contracted by parents who tell us that they recently filed for a due process hearing and who ask for our help in presenting their case. Given the preparation time that is required, we are rarely capable of doing a good job on such short notice.
Also, a request for a hearing should not be submitted until the issues of disagreement have been carefully framed and phrased in terms of alleged violations of federal and/or Maryland special education regulations. Hearing officers, it must be remembered, can base their decisions only on law and regulationthey cannot necessarily rule on what they believe to be the best interests of the student in question.
If you are contemplating a request for due process, do speak with an attorney or advocate first. Remember to proceed in a timely fashiondo not let a decision with which you do not agree linger in time or you may eventually face the argument that you waived your right to proceed on the issue of concern to you.
An experienced attorney or advocate can advise you as to whether or not you have a good chance of prevailing at the hearing or if you are fighting a lost cause. Remember as well that, if you are the prevailing party at a hearing, the losing side (the school system) will likely have to reimburse you for your attorney's fees.
DO remember that one of the nearly inescapable results of due process is hard feelings.
Due process hearings are confrontational. You can expect the opposing party to try to devastate your evidence and witnesses, and you can expect your representative to try to do the same to them. Like divorce, very few due process hearings result in two parties who have continuing cordial relationships. Given that hard feelings are nearly inevitable, and knowing that these residual effects can in themselves color the education your child receives, do not enter the due process arena unless your issue is of sufficient importance to you that the potential benefits outweigh these costs.
My Cane is Great
by Susie D'Mello
From the Editor: The following item was sent to me by Sue Drapinski, one of the hardest workers in the NFB of Michigan. This is the brief note Sue sent with the article: "Mrs. Cheadle: This was written by 12-year-old Susie D'Mello from Troy, Michigan. She and her family found the NFB about two years ago through our "Saturday School" tutoring program." (The tutoring program is run by the Michigan Parents of Blind Children Division of the NFB. Blind members of the NFB tutor children in whatever blindness skills they need. It's truly one of the best, most creative programs run by any of our parent divisions.)
It's difficult to edit material written by a child. Some clean-up is always helpful, but it's important not to do so much that the unique "voice" of the child is lost. So, with only a touch-up here and there, here is what Susie D'Mello has to say about her cane:
My cane can be like a best friend to me. My cane guides me when I walk or go places. It keeps me from running into things, and it lets me know if I am on grass or concrete. At night, especially when I have to walk by myself, then my cane really comes in handy. It helps me to go where I need to be, and it makes me feel a little bit braver.
My cane helps me get around. I know that I can always ask for help if I cannot find something because of my vision. Most people know that I cannot see when they notice my cane and will assist me in a way that I understand it. If I ask for something, and the person who is helping me for some reason does not know that I need more help and that I cannot see well, than I just tell that person politely to guide me, or whatever assistance that I need. My cane, as you can see, has helped make me more independent.
Whoever invented the cane was brilliant. It may look simple but I know that it has helped many people in many ways. Sometimes, when I am at a store, I see people staring at me. I do not care because my cane does not help them, and it is worth being stared at. I use my cane at school especially when there is a fire drill or tornado drill and everybody is rushing around. I just grab my cane and stick with my class, and I know that I will be just fine. Another good thing is that, at school, a lot of people know me even if I did not know who they are. They say "Hi" to me and know why I have the cane, and they do not play with it. When I go to my piano class it is dark when I leave, so my cane helps me to get to the car by myself. If I take a walk my cane will tell me when the street comes so I do not just walk off the curb.
Being the only person in school who carries a cane makes me feel kind of special and unique. I like to carry my cane with me. All this that I have been writing proves that my cane helps me a lot because it has covered most of the areas of my life. Maybe other people don't know it, but I sure know that my cane is like a best friend to me and I am proud to have one. My cane is great.
Mr. Scott Smith
Orientation and Mobility Instructor, California
September 10, 1997
To: Future Reflections
From: Mary Beth Phillips
Re: Teacher Recognition
In reading through the Future Reflections issue from Winter/Spring, 1997, I saw that there is a way to acknowledge the work of excellent teachers. I would like to submit this letter I sent to the Contra Costa County Office of Education regarding Scott Smith, my daughter's mobility instructor last year.
Scott taught my daughter, Elizabeth Phillips, age 14, last
year in Orientation and Mobility. Elizabeth was accepted to a new
high school for this fall. Scott worked with her at the end of last
year and also right before school started this year, to orient her
to the new campus. He worked with Elizabeth under the Moraga School
District and the Acalanes Unified School District during her eighth grade year and summer in-between respectively.
Scott has taught mobility in Africa and has worked for the County Office of Education. I hope our letter speaks for itself and that you will think about including it in your magazine. He is a fine teacher!
Mary Beth Phillips
September 10, 1997
Mr. Mike Hancock
Contra Costa County Office of Education
Santa Barbara Road
Pleasant Hill, California
Dear Mr. Hancock,
Thank you for your efforts to make the transition for Elizabeth from junior high to high school as smooth as possible. The school year has started out well, and Elizabeth seems to have adjusted to her new school already.
One of the main reasons why this seems to be the case is the preparation she had on-site at the new school by Scott Smith. Scott's tireless work with Elizabeth to orient her to the new campus and to provide the support necessary for her adjustment, made all the difference.
I am sure that you know what a fine mobility instructor you have in Scott. He is able to communicate technical orientation and mobility skills well to his students. But the art of what he does (which is less tangible and harder to define) is more impressive. It is the little things that make a difference. In the past for Elizabeth "little things" have added up in negative ways. Left unaddressed, they created undue and excessive stressors which made the difference between success and failure. I would like to highlight some of the things Scott did for Elizabeth that made things so much better for her this year.
1. Scott included Elizabeth in planning goals and objectives.
Elizabeth was able to help define priorities which ensured buy-in and focus for their lessons. Scott Brailled up the proposed goals and objectives so that Elizabeth could follow along with the discussion and be an active part of her own IEP goal development. This "little detail" spoke deeply about Scott's inclusive philosophy and respect for Elizabeth as a person, which did not go unnoticed by Elizabeth. It enriched her trust and respect for him.
2. Scott communicated clearly about when and where he was going to work with Elizabeth. Rain or shine, her time with Scott was predictable. He believed that she needed to work in rainy conditions or cold, foggy conditions, too, because all of us must get around in less than ideal weather, and the sound of things changes under certain climate conditions. This "detail" was important learning for Elizabeth, and we were grateful he did not use the weather as an excuse to cancel a lesson. The predictability also created a greater sense of trust between student and teacher.
3. Scott saw Orientation and Mobility as related to
Elizabeth's whole school experience, not a separate exercise to be done after school. Orientation and Mobility was inclusive of details like securing an accessible locker with an appropriate lock through the school that would take into consideration how much (or little) time Elizabeth had between classes, how easy the locker was to find using cues such as edges of locker rows, and the problems with combination locks for visually impaired people. He took it upon himself to facilitate the communication about this with Elizabeth and the school administrator. The locker was then put into the "route," and this made Elizabeth a more efficient student on the first day of school. But it also helped the school to see that "reasonable accommodation" is often a very do-able "little thing" that makes life much better. Scott's calm, matter of fact, undemanding approach puts everyone at ease. If the school had apprehensions about having a totally blind child included, they quickly learned from Scott that Elizabeth doesn't need big alterations, just thoughtful appreciation of how her visual impairment changes or impacts her experience of student life (which is sometimes different from a sighted student's).
4. Right before school started Scott was working with
Elizabeth on learning her new class schedule. They had basically covered all the routes when construction activities made a main staircase, key to many routes, unavailable. Scott's calm and even-handed communication about this change and subsequent work with Elizabeth to reorient her, helped Elizabeth take the change in stride. This was key to Elizabeth's confidence that she had the foundation necessary to make the shift, and that she would be fine when school started. And she was.
5. Scott provided casual "in-service" to teachers as he worked with Elizabeth on campus. He projected respect and confidence in Elizabeth that has helped to ensure others' respect and confidence. He was willing to speak with students and teachers and answer their questions. This approachability helped to break down barriers of anxiety others may have had; this was of great benefit to Elizabeth.
6. Scott has been able to assess Elizabeth's strengths and weaknesses and adjust his teaching style to fit her unique personality and needs. Some of Elizabeth's weaknesses are subtle; injuries she sustained as an infant have affected her in other ways than her "just being blind." These have rarely been addressed in all the years she has been in special education programs. Her weaknesses were never excuses on Scott's part for why she could not or would not learn. Her weaknesses were seen as just aspects of Elizabeth that needed to be accommodated, problem-solved, and addressed through skill-building in other areas, usually through an emphasis on her strengths. How lucky Elizabeth has been to have had this kind of teaching leadership!
Scott has a kind of integrity that he brings to his work which informs all that he does. Orientation and Mobility instructors spend a great deal of one-on-one time with a student, and the nature of the work requires trust between teacher and student. There is really no way to get this except for mutual respect. Of all Scott's gifts as a teacher, this inherent one is, in our opinion, his greatest strength. He is simply a fine person, and it shows in all he does.
Thank you for allowing Scott to work with Elizabeth this summer to get her ready for her new school. We have greatly appreciated the spirit and skill he brings to his students. For most of us, there are teachers we have had that influenced our lives, coming at key times, or reaching us in special ways that helped shape us. We are sure that Elizabeth will look back on the learning she has had with Scott in this way.
Mary Beth and Bob Phillips
Recognition for Teachers of the Blind and Visually Impaired
Has your son or daughter had an exceptional Braille teacher, Orientation and Mobility instructor, or other teacher of the visually impaired? Would you like for him or her to receive public recognition for the difference he or she is making in your child's education? Future Reflections will publish Teacher Recognition Letters from parents, or other caretakers, of blind children.
The letters should be one to three typewritten pages in length and include sufficient detail about the teacher and the circumstances to be of interest and inspiration to our readers. The Teacher Recognition Letter should be accompanied by a cover letter with the name and address of the sender, the teacher's name, the student's name, the name of the school district, and any other pertinent details. Photographs, color or black and white (no slides, please), would be helpful. If you want the photograph(s) returned, please include a self-addressed envelope and be prepared to wait up to a year for its return. Also, if you want multiple copies of the print issue should your letter be published, please indicate how many you want in your cover letter. We will send them to you free of charge.
Send cover letter and your Teacher Recognition Letter to:
Future Reflections, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230.
Sharing Creative Movement with Your Child
by Edwina Peterson Cross
Reprinted with permission of the author from Welcome Home, Volume 13, No. 12, December, 1996, a publication of the national nonprofit organization, Mothers At Home.
From the Editor: It's wonderful to be told, as parents of blind children, that our children are more like sighted children than not. And it's reassuring to hear that blind kids, given the opportunity and training, can participate in ordinary activities with little or no assistance and maybe a few adaptations here and there. But it's quite another thing to behave as if we really believe it. Especially when it comes to the most ordinary physical activities.
Parents are often stymied by the simplest thingsteaching a child to tie shoes, bounce a ball, skip rope, climb a tree, use a knife to cut meat or spread peanut butter, walk quickly, climb steps gracefully, and so the list goes. It isn't hard for blind children to do these thingsif given the opportunity to practice the basic body movements upon which these skills are based. And that practice should begin as soon as the child can move. It isn't work for the childit's play, and it's fun. But these playful movements are building a foundation for very important physical and social skills which the child will need later in life.
Several articles in this issue, including this one, deal with various aspects of encouraging normal body movement. You will notice that the following article was written for the general publicnot for blind children at all. But the information is basic to all children, and many of the suggested activities can be done with few if any adaptations for blind children. Here it is:
My mother says I began dancing before I was born. It certainly seems I have always known the joy of movementmovement that combines the physical body with the mind and spirit. It has often been my privilege to share that joy with children by teaching them creative dance.
Before birth, a child is constantly exposed to rhythmthe internal pattern created by its mother's heartbeat and its own. Very early in life, a baby will indicate a love of sound and movement in many ways. A two-year-old stops to listen to the stereo, and you can almost see her thinking, "The music is all very well, but it's not quite enough!" Her arms lift, something moves inside her, and she begins to dance.
My creative dance classes begin with three- and four-year-old children. At this age, children move instinctively, as they're still free of the inhibitions that can stifle movement in adults and older children. Dancing enhances their creativity and reinforces the idea that moving in their own way is right and good. Older children can experience the joy of movement and can go on to more and more advanced explorations, but sometimes they must shed inhibitions and shyness before they are able to let themselves move freely.
While a formal class in creative movement or creative dance can be a place for a child to experiment with different ways of moving, there are many activities a parent can do to nurture a child's instincts for creative movement.
Parents can help to develop that creative spirit by reinforcing a free, uninhibited style and movements that are unique and different. A child needs to understand that not all movement is competitive or goal-oriented. Like art, movement can be an expression of a child's inner self. Mom or Dad can even encourage while correcting in a time and place where movement isn't appropriate. "I see your beautiful butterfly wings. Right now you need to fold them up and be as quiet as a caterpillar. When we get home you can fly them all over the backyard, and I'll watch!"
Understanding the ten basic elements, or building blocks, of dance is helpful to parents, since all movement is based on these elements. The child uses them much as he uses different media for art (crayons, paint, clay). They are tools with which the body and mind work.
The building blocks are simple.
1. Size: Big movements, small movements, and everything in between.
2. Directions: Moving forward, backward, sideways, up and down.
3. Level: Movements close to the ground (low level), stretching, reaching, jumping (high level movements), and everything in between.
4. Shape: Body design in space.
5. Steps: Walk, run, hop, jump, leap, gallop, slide.
6. Body moves: Stretch, bend, twist, swing, sway, shake.
7. Body parts: head, shoulders, arms, hands, hips, back, feet, toes, etc.
8. Force: Sharp or smooth, tight or loose, strong or light.
9. Tempo: Fast or slow.
10. Pathway: The path in which the movement takes the dancer.
The atmosphere of movement should be one of exploration and experimentationdiscovery by doing. As children learn the elements they begin to translate each one into movement, using the elements separately and in combination to produce interesting and creative movement. There is no right or wrong.
Readily available objects help children to "see" movement. A rubber band for "stretch," pipe cleaners for "bend," jar lids for "twist," a weight on a string for "swing," a top for "spin," a broom against the wall for "lean," trees blown by a high wind for "sway." There is no better way to understand "shake" than to watch a wet dog! After they have watched and digested, children can translate each new word into movements of their own.
As they begin to incorporate the elements, they can try combining them in different ways. A suggestion could be, "Can you make a very tiny shape and still swing something?" or "See if you can move forward at a low level." Questions work well, too"What can your arms do while your feet are sliding?"as do reinforcing statements like, "You're moving very, very slowly as you turn!" Verbal directions and reinforcements are better than an adult's physical demonstrations, because children learn early to imitate, and at this stage, imitation is the antithesis of creative movement. Children need to experiment and discover the wonderful things their own bodies can do. By developing these concepts, the children's vocabulary and verbal abilities develop along with their movement skills.
There are other ways to make movement ideas more concrete for children. Some items they can observe and translate into their own movements are: pinwheels, crepe paper streamers, balloons, lightweight brightly colored scarves, loops of tricot, yarn balls, Chinese jump ropes, bells strung on elastic to go on wrists and ankles, garbage bags filled with air and tied shut. A hot-air popper set in the center of a large sheet and allowed to pop the corn without the lid provides a memorable experience in movement (when watched from a safe distance!) Watching food color slowly dissolve in water, studying the cat, blowing bubblesany movement that the child can analyze and transfer into her own movement vocabulary is valuable.
Language, music, literature, art, and poetry can be used as springboards to movement. A Rainbow of My Own by Don Freeman, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, The Bear Dance by Chris Riddel, Jamberry by Bruce Degan, Grandfather Twilight by Barbara Berger, and The Rainbow Giblins by Ulde Rico are picture books that can stimulate thought and feeling and help get movement ideas flowing. Children love to move to the poetry of Shel Silverstein, Christina Rossetti, and Myra Cohn Livingston, as well as Robert Louis Stevenson and William Shakespeare. Sing a Song of Popcorn, published by Scholastic, Inc. is a good collection of poems, many of which translate easily into movement.
Music is an invaluable companion of movement, and any kind of music works. Children respond well to a strong beat, but also love to move to all varieties of classical music, rock, and jazz. The flavor and the feeling of the music can be varied to provide different movement experiences. Children love to move to the beat of a drum or just the clapping of hands. Clapping out the syllables of their names or the name of foods: ap-ple, lem-on, ba-na-na, lime, is a good pre-reading exercise, too.
The more children move, the more they develop strength, flexibility, and awareness and control of their bodies. Movement as creative expression can be a pathway for building self-awareness, self-image, and self-directionand it's fun!
Miss Idaho 1994: A Special Friend
by Ramona Walhof
Reprinted from a 1995 issue of the Gem Stone Milestones, the newsletter of the NFB of Idaho.
Editor's Note: Can blind children learn to move gracefully? Can they learn to dance? The following article, which describes how one outstanding young woman shared her talent with underpriviledged blind children, seemed a good campanion to the preceding one about "Creative Movement." Here it is:
Tracy Yarbrough, Miss Idaho 1994, is ending her reign this month, but she will be remembered as caring, talented, and beautiful. She has been a dancer and a singer since early childhood, and the NFB of Idaho has been privileged to have her at two of our events. Last October Miss Yarbrough joined us for an art auction, and this spring she sang for our fashion show. Her voice reminds one of Patsy Kline, and she says that is what is intended.
Tracy Yarbrough grew up in Tennessee in a loving and supportive family. By the age of 12 she had so much success in gymnastics and ballet that she had to choose to specialize in one. She chose ballet. She practiced 3 hours a day, 7 days a week, and performed in the best shows. At age 6 she was the angel in the Nutcracker. By the age of 16 she was the lead. In addition to the Snow Queen, she danced numerous other solo parts. Also at 16 she began dance instruction.
Naturally, Miss Yarbrough knew most of the dancers in Memphis. A friend, Miss Farris, was teaching a dance class for young, blind, low-income children. Tracy was interested. She offered to help. Finding that she enjoyed this activity very much, she gradually took over most of the teaching.
The dance class came about because a supervisor of instruction of blind children in the Memphis school district (who also happened to be a member of the NFB) thought that a dance class might help underpriviledged blind children become better prepared for first grade. It did.
This class was important enough to Tracy that, for five years, she commuted every Wednesday morning from college in another city to Memphis to volunteer her time to teach the dance lessons.
Tracy told me why she loved it, and why the children loved it, too. Zachery was a five-year-old she will never forget. At first he was not cooperative at all. He would go into the corner and sit down, singing along with the music instead of trying to dance. Therefore, he was dropped from the dance class for awhile. When he returned it was on condition that he cooperate and work.
We who work with the blind know that too often expectations are not high for blind children, and this may have been the first time Zachery had to measure up. Miss Yarbrough and Miss Farriswho were not specially trained in blindnessdid keep expectations high, and found ways to stimulate these young blind children through dancesomething they did know well. Zachery responded and within a year became the top dancer in the group. He was ready to go on to the first grade and graduated out of the dance class. There is no doubt that it helped him meet the world.
Tracy describes her work with the children. She says it was easier for the children to learn the dance movements when she moved their arms, legs, and other parts of their bodies rather than when they felt hers. This is not surprising. Miss Yarbrough is a small woman, but to a five-year-old, it would be hard to reach as far as necessary. She also learned that it was good for the children to help one another. Both the strong and weak dancers benefited from this peer help.
Tracy found that the children enjoyed ballet and learned the same routines she taught to sighted children. But the rhythmic sounds of the tap dancing were even better. Music provided motivation to these children. A special privilege was to turn the tapes on and start the music. Not all blind people are musical, but sound is interesting to most blind persons.
Miss Farris resumed the instruction of the class in Memphis when Tracy moved to Boise to finish college at Boise State University. During her senior year she was urged to try for Miss Idaho, and she won. She has represented the State well and is passing on the crown. The blind of Idaho are among the many who have been enriched by getting to know her.
When I asked if she would like to teach dance to blind children again, Tracy's tone was of absolute certainty. "Of course," she said. Her common sense and caring have made an important difference for at least 20 small, blind, underprivileged children like Zachery.
Twelve to Twenty-Four Months
by Jane Bartley
Reprinted from VIP News 13/2, March/April 1997, a publication of the Visually Impaired Preschool Services of Louisville, Kentucky.
Editor's Note: If the name "Bartley" rings a bell, it's because you may remember reading items printed in Future Reflections by or about Dr. Ralph Bartley, Superintendent of the Kentucky School for the Blind. And yes, Jane is related. She is his wife, and she is a well-known and respected professional in her own field of orientation and mobility. Here is what she has to say about "Munchkin" mobility:
During the twelve months that a child is between one and two years of age, new skills are learned each day. Each child will develop at his or her own pace. As parents, care-givers, and interventionists, we must allow for individual differences, but we can encourage and teach skills that the child is ready for during our daily routine. Most of the necessary daily chores (for example, dressing, going out and about in the car, and picking up toys) can be fun-filled learning experiences for your little one.
Safety is always an issue with children, but once you have addressed safety issues in your child's environment, allow your child the freedom to learn about his world in a hands-on fashion. The days when your child will spend long awake periods of time in the crib or play pen are past. Your child's world has expanded, and he or she is ready to learn about it.
Now that your child is investigating (either scooting, crawling, or cruising your home), you will want to place familiar stationary items in his environment that help orient him and tell him where he is located. By creating ways to move from one place to another using familiar things, furniture, and sounds, your child will begin to develop some simple routes. Children tend to learn the most by doing things by themselves. Stand back and watch how your child problem-solves and travels through the environment.
Acquaint your child with the rooms in your house and make him aware of what is in each room. For example, in the kitchen we have the sink where we get water for a drink and the refrigerator that makes a noise and keeps our food cold. The texture of the carpet and the feel of the kitchen floor are noticeable to the bottom of his feet with and without shoes. His touching different surfaces (walls, furniture, floors, doors, windows) adds to the knowledge he is collecting about his environment. Allow your child to explore the stairs in your home. Let him sit on them, lie down on them, and feel how big they are. Tell him what the stairs are made of and why there is a hand rail. And then, in a supervised manner, let him explore the stairs.
Since "independence" is the long-term goal of orientation and mobility, don't forget to work on other areas where you can allow your child to experience age-appropriate skills and build confidence. Teach your child to hold and drink from a cup. Work on finger feeding and scooping with a spoon. Teach him to search for things he drops. Allow him to be involved in cleaning off his face and hands and washing and drying at bath time.
As your child learns new skills his world will just keep getting bigger and bigger. Get plastic wall plugs for the wall outlets and allow your child to explore from his room to the kitchen cupboards. The support and encouragement you provide in this second year of life will be a good investment in your child's future.
Pediatric Physical Therapy: Focusing on the Whole Child
by Gail A. Hatch
Editor's Note: Many blind children today have additional disabilities. It is not uncommon for a blind baby, toddler, preschooler, or older child to work with many different specialists, such as an occupational therapist, a speech therapist, and a physical therapist. The physical disabilities which create the need for these services may vary from mild and eventually correctable, to profound and life-long. The following article was submitted by Carol Castellano, a frequent contributer to this magazine and a national and state leader in the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Her daughter, who currently has no other disability besides blindness, needed physical therapy for several years. Carol found the following approach and information helpful and wanted to share it with other parents and professionals. Here it is:
As a pediatric physical therapist, my goal is to facilitate functional and efficient movement in a child and to promote motor development. During my training and education, however, I realized the need for a more holistic approach to physical therapy. A child is more than just a group of muscles. A child is an individual with a set of interacting emotions, physical and mental capabilities. In addition, a child is an integral part of a large system of relationships which strongly influence the child's development.
In order for a child to move, suggests Esther Thelen, psychologist and author of many research articles, the child's perception, motivation, and sense of well being interact with the system of bones and muscles. Since the child's relationships affect his or her motivation and self-esteem, the therapist must be sensitive to them. As a pediatric therapist, I interact with parents, siblings, and peers, as well as with the child. Families have different cultural and religious beliefs, structures, and expectations, all of which have an impact on the child and all of which must be respected.
I am a professional coming into the life of the family to help mold motor development. I need to gain the parents' trust. The reaction of parents is very important because it will be directly reflected to the child, who must also have a trusting relationship with me, in order for therapy to be effective.
As a professional working with children and parents, therefore, I must respect the family's needs, priorities, and goals. I can help parents focus on their child's abilities, not limitations, in an effort to support their bond with each other and to set expectations and goals. Depending on the needs of a parent or child during a particular session, motor goals may become secondary. Work on motor skills at a time of great stress for the family may not be of greatest benefit.
I have utmost respect for parents of children with special needs. I try to bolster their strength, support their efforts, and empathize in their moments of grief. Many parents have questions about their child's abilities which they need to have answered in order to set goals. Many times, I share a family's stress when they hear a diagnosis or when they have one more overwhelming doctor's appointments to attend. In the midst of all this, parents are trying to develop a bond with their child, a child who may not be able to respond easily. I have felt helpless during times of great difficulty for a family and have wished that I could predict success for the child. I wish that I always knew the right things to say and that I could do more than just listen and offer support.
Parents are the most competent people in their child's life. Much of the success the child demonstrates is attributable to the parents' work, since the parents are with the child so much of the time. The other part of success is attributable to the child's hard work. Every child has abilities and these need to be emphasized and built upon. Parents and children have their own needs, priorities, and goals, and as a professional dealing with the whole child, I must respect these. For it is only then that I can truly say that I have done the best I can for the child.
Computer Games for Blind Children
by Greg Trapp
Editor's Note: Greg Trapp has been a staff attorney with the Protection & Advocacy System of New Mexico since 1992. In 1993, he taught Disability Law as an adjunct professor at the UNM School of Law. He presently serves on the Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, serves on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, is Chair of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind Statewide Rehabilitation Advisory Council, and serves on the IDEA State Advisory Panel. Greg, who was blinded as a teen, is very interested in promoting opportunities for blind children.
A recent experience has opened my eyes to the remarkable ability of computer games to teach blind children. I was working with a special education client when it was decided that he needed a break from a lengthy diagnostic evaluation. I suggested he come to my office to see my speech adapted computer system. I loaded a computerized version of Monopoly and started to play it with my young client. Fascinated by the game, he quickly learned the locations of several new keys. He also showed an interest and excitement for learning more about the computer. Intrigued by this experience, I decided to look for additional computer games which might be played by blind children. This article describes some of the games I found during my search and, hopefully, does it in a way which will be useful to all parents, regardless of their computer knowledge.
My search was confined to NFBnet, the bulletin board system (bbs) of the National Federation of the Blind. NFBnet contains a large number of computer games which work well with speech synthesizers and which can be downloaded for free as freeware, shareware, or as a demo program. While freeware comes with no strings attached, the author of a shareware program hopes you will pay a modest fee to register the program to receive updates or additional features. A demo program is a sample version of a commercially available software program. Demo programs limit features or restrict usage to encourage the purchase of the program. You can telnet to NFBnet at [NFBnet.org], or access it by modem at 612-696-1975. However, if you do not have a clue what it means to "telnet," think a "modem" might be one of the Three Stooges, and think that an "unzip utility" should never be mentioned in polite circles, than I suggest you ask for help from a friend or relative who understands such things.
Before I begin to discuss the games I found it is necessary to first make some disclaimers. Of course, being a lawyer, disclaimers come naturally to me. My first disclaimer is that I approached the project with certain preconceived notions. Accordingly, I did not examine the several "sword and sorcerer" games which I found, nor did I do more than a cursory examination of a couple of the numerous war and adventure games which are on NFBnet. While these games may teach persistence and patience, I believe that there are other games which provide greater educational benefit. I downloaded about two dozen games which I thought had the greatest educational potential. The games I downloaded were those which I thought might help develop basic keyboarding, math, linguistic, and/or social skills. However, since I am not a trained educator my assessment of the educational value of these games is only my lay opinion.
The first two games I will describe will run on any PC-compatible computer and do not require the computer to have a speech synthesizer. The other games I describe require a speech synthesizer in order to be used by persons who are blind. For my review I used a 486 computer equipped with Vocal-eyes and an Accent synthesizer. The games I examined are for use with the DOS operating system. The games will work on Pentium, 486, 386, or 286 computers, and most will even work on older 8088 computers. By contrast, the latest video games being sold in computer stores require the newest Pentium computers running Windows® operating systems. Although blind computer users should be shifting to Windows®, these DOS games can still serve a useful purpose. The first game I want to describe is called "Piano." Piano is a very simple game which turns a computer keyboard into a piano. A significant benefit of Piano is that it does not require you to have a speech synthesizer on your computer. All you need is a PC-compatible computer. Piano can introduce very young children to the computer keyboard and teach some basic keyboarding skills. Piano might also help to develop your child's finger strength and dexterity. Piano would be most appropriate for pre-school and early elementary ages, though it might also benefit some older children. The disadvantage of Piano is that the tones it produces will probably annoy you long before your child tires of playing with it.
Like Piano, ABC-talk does not require you to have a computer equipped with a speech synthesizer. Instead, it contains a digitally reproduced human voice which is heard through the computers internal speaker or sound card. By selecting menu choices "B," "C," or "D," ABC-Talk will help a child to learn the alphabet and to learn where letters are located on the keyboard. For instance, by selecting menu item "D," ABC-Talk will voice the letter which is typed. ABC-Talk only voices letters, not any other keys on the computer. Because ABC-Talk and Piano do not require a speech synthesizer, they can be an affordable way to teach some basic computer skills to young children. For instance, you could probably purchase an old 286 computer for under $50, and use it to help your child develop some basic keyboarding skills.
The rest of the games I examined require a speech synthesizer and screen review program in order to be used by the blind. The best of these, in my opinion, is Monopoly. The game is based on the well-known Parker Brothers board game. However, because the computer does all of the banking and keeps track of the property, the computerized version moves with a faster and more exciting pace. Yet, the game retains all of the endearing qualities that have made the original such a lasting success. Monopoly blends elements of luck and strategy to make for an interesting and challenging contest. It requires frequent math and probability calculations, such as the choice of whether to pay a flat tax rate of two-hundred dollars or a calculated rate of 10 percent. In addition, good sound effects and the fun of rolling the dice make the game enjoyable for children who are too young to understand the rules and nuances of the game. Monopoly can be played by up to four players, allowing for development of your child's social skills. Though Monopoly 6.4 is on NFBnet, Monopoly 6.2 has a "listen to the status" option specifically designed for blind computer users. This option may help younger children to keep track of their property. However, Monopoly 6.4 works very well with speech, and I do not think the feature would add that much to the game. The only drawback to Monopoly 6.4 is that the counting of spaces seems a little bit slow.
Of the math games that I looked at, MOBIUS96 was the best. MOBIUS96 is designed specifically for blind computer users and works very well with speech. The game provides an entertaining trek up a mountain while the players are asked different math problems. MOBIUS96 has terrific sound effects and an amusing plot. Your computer must have a hard drive to run MOBIUS96. Though not necessary, a sound card would make the program even more enjoyable. The demo version limits the degree of difficulty to single and double digit math problems. Accordingly, the Demo version is best suited to younger students. However, the full version of MOBIUS96 offers additional skill levels and can be purchased for $20.
A less entertaining but more challenging math game is MATHWO1A. This game quizzes players on a wide range of math problems, with adjustments available for time and degree of difficulty. My primary concern with MATHWO1A is that it did not run especially well with Vocal-eyes, though this could probably be improved by adjusting speech settings. For instance, there are some conflicts with keys normally used by screen review programs, and the player will have to take some time to learn how to make the program work with speech. Both MOBIUS96 and MATHWO1A have tremendous potential to improve your child's ability to make math calculations.
One of the more absorbing games is DOSBJ, a computerized version of the traditional blackjack card game. The game begins with the player selecting the number of decks to be shuffled and the amount of money to be wagered. Unfortunately, the game does not allow for more than one player to play at a time. Instead, the player bets money against the computer. The primary educational benefit of DOSBJ is that it can teach mathematics and probability through game theory. If you are troubled by a gambling game, you might be comforted by knowing that the game can also teach the real life lesson that the house always wins in the end.
Another excellent game that works well with speech is Hangman. After selecting the educational option from the menu the player is offered a definition of a word and given a limited time to provide the answer. The difficulty can be adjusted by choosing either "amateur" or "expert," and by adjusting the time allowed to provide the answer. There is also an orchestra which plays music as the player is thinking, though the orchestra should be turned off in order for the program to work best with speech. Hangman is an entertaining program and is an excellent way to improve your child's vocabulary.
There are a number of other games which deserve mentioning. One of the most appealing is DOSLife, which is a computerized version of the board game Life. It works well with speech and may be entertaining for older elementary students. Another game that some children may enjoy is DOSFBALL. DOSFBALL is a computerized football game specifically designed for blind computer users. It allows the player to be the quarterback and choose his/her favorite professional team. Unfortunately, the game is seriously dated in that most of the team members are now retired. DOSFBALL also throws in some random and unnecessary comments which distract from the flow of the game. Another football game designed specifically for blind persons is FAN95. Though FAN95 is a demo which permits only 10 minutes of play, it provides greater realism and entertainment. The full version of FAN95 costs $30, and would be a good game for a parent who is a sports fan to play with his/her child.
If football is not your cup of tea there are several baseball games which may be selected. One of the better of these is DOSBASE2, which uses a variety of clever sound effects to make the game more interesting. However, DOSBASE2's sound effects place greater demands on your computer, making it necessary for your computer to at least have a hard drive. Like DOSFBALL, DOSBASE2 is specifically designed for blind computer users. For older baseball enthusiasts, there is BBTRIVIA and WSBB11. BBTRIVIA challenges the player with 250 trivia questions. For a registration fee of $15, the game can be upgraded to 1,500 questions. WSBB11 is another demo of a program specifically designed for blind computer users. WSBB11 is an elaborate game with wonderful sound effects. Accordingly, WSBB11 requires a computer with at least a hard drive and ideally a 486 or Pentium with a sound card. The demo version of WSBB11 is very impressive, though it limits play to five innings and interrupts each inning with a commercial. WSBB11 costs $35.
Another game which deserves mentioning is Geo. In Geo a player identifies a geographic entity such as a country or sea, and the computer answers with a response that begins with the last letter of the previous answer. The game continues until either the player or the computer runs out of possible answers. Unfortunately, the game is badly dated as it does not include the changes that have taken place since the collapse of Communism. Even more regrettably, Geo misspells Santa Fe (spelling it as "Sante Fe"). Nevertheless, despite its problems, Geo can make learning geography fun.
Many of the games are supplied as files which have been compressed using a program called PKZIP. Therefore, if you intend to run these games on your computer, you must obtain the PKZIP program or utility. PKZIP is available on a variety of bulletin boards, including NFB-net. If you haven't a clue how to begin, find a friend to help you. Also, there may be a blind NFB member in your area who would be able to help you get started and even demonstrate the games or play a few with your child.
Computer games can provide an excellent way for your child to become comfortable with the computer while gaining valuable skills and knowledge at the same time. They also provide blind children more of an equal opportunity to interact with sighted peers. The games which require more than one player can be a social outlet for interacting with sighted peers. Even the solitary games give the blind child a common experience which can be used as a starting point for making new friends.
Helpful Hints for Parents of Blind Infants and Toddlers
by Christine Faltz
Reprinted from the Summer, 1997, issue of SteppingStone, the newsletter of the Long Island Chapter of the Parents of Blind Children Division of the NFB.
Editor's Note: Blind herself, Christine is the mother of a beautiful little girl, Samantha, who is also legally blind. Christine is a former NFB scholarship winner, and an attorney who has chosen to stay home to be a full-time mom. Like so many full-time moms, Christine has taken on other volunteer jobs. She is the president of the NFB Long Island parent's chapter and editor of the chapter's very fine newsletter, SteppingStone. Here is an example of some of the excellent advice and information Christine shares with her chapter's members:
When a blind or visually impaired child is only a few months old, most parents are still trying to cope with the fears and uncertainties of having a disabled child. Conflicting information and advice is especially overwhelming at this time. This is often compounded by the unfortunate attitudes of many in the medical profession and, worse yet, by those who work with the blind. We have come a long way but, even today, an alarming number of professionals working with blind children and adults have low expectations for their clients and such negative attitudes that they act surprised when confronted with successful, self-sufficient visually impaired men and women.
Despite these attitudes we must remember that our attitudes are the ones which will affect our children the most. Even in the face of deeply entrenched stereotypes and professional misinformation and biases, we must hold fast to the idea that if we pay our dues now, our children will reap priceless benefits in self-esteem, self- advocacy, and the knowledge that we believe in their individual potential.
Positive attitudes and matter-of-fact adaptation of the world for our blind and visually impaired children starts at birth. As far as basic needsholding, feeding, dressing (assuming no medical complications)--there is nothing extra or special that must be done for the blind infant. There are, however, very simple techniques that can be employed to give your baby as much information as possible about his or her environment.
When a baby is only a few months old, her ability to hear you does not necessarily mean your location is known, and she has no way of knowing that you are, perhaps, about to pick him up or fix her blanket. Before you pick up the child or move something nearby, state what you are going to do, or at the very least say the child's name before touching her. There is no need to handle a blind child more carefully than you would a sighted child; she is not more fragile and is not predisposed to being extra anxious or fussy. Keep in mind that for the first few weeks of life, sighted babies are only able to see people and objects very close to their faces anyway.
When you take your child from room to room, outside to the car, or into the store, to the extent that you are able to do so under the circumstances (time, who's with you, etc.), you should state simply where you are going and what you are doing. Hearing everyday speech is good for all babies' language development, but the blind child will be able to use your verbal cues to begin distinguishing, with her other senses, a change in location. For example, my 20-month-old daughter was able, at about one year, to go to the kitchen or the bathroom when told to do so. I spent a lot of time telling her: "We're going to go into the kitchen so Mommy can clean up. We're going out of your room," (putting her hands on the door) "and we're going straight. Mommy and Daddy's bedroom, where we sleep in the bed at night, is on the right. The bathroom, where you have your bath, is on the left. After the bedroom are the steps going downstairs to outside. Now here's the living room, with the television and the stereo. We turn left, and here's the kitchen."
I tried to use the same descriptions as often as possible. When I had the time, I showed her the furniture in the room, spoke its name and its purpose. Even when very young, Samantha was very attentive when I spoke, and though she obviously didn't understand most of what I was saying in the beginning, repetition eventually led to absorption and understanding.
An older infant and toddler will often attempt to do what Mommy and Daddy are doing: fold laundry, clean the table, wash the dishes. When it is safe to do so, I show Samantha what I am doing and explain: "Mommy is giving the dirty dishes a bath. They have food on them. Then we'll dry them with a towel, just like you after your bath."
Don't take anything for granted. If your child is curious, show whatever it is safe to show him. Then, when your attention is desired at an inopportune moment, "One minute, sweetheart; Mommy's cleaning the table" will actually have a concrete meaning; it will not merely be a jumble of words that he has heard but doesn't understand because he cannot see what it is you are doing. Eventually, he will put together your location, the sound of the water on the rag, the sound of the rag on the table, and will know on his own what you are doing. But until you give meaning to the sounds and smells and textures in his world, your blind baby cannot learn the function of the objects in his environment. Do not feel foolish describing every little thing and activity to your baby. It can only help her.
I personally don't like playpens, especially for totally blind infants. Put your child on the floor with some toys; place a noisy toy out of his reach to entice him to move to find it. This way he can learn that his environment is far more than what he is readily aware of. When he begins to creep or crawl, show him the boundaries between rooms, the extent of rooms, how he can move around tables and chairs, but not around walls. Expose your child to everything: show him the steps, the trees in your yard, the grass. Take him to the beach and show him the sand, how the water moves, sea shells. Show him the inside and outside of the car his car seat is in. Show, show, and show some morehands on whenever possiblewith constant explanations using simple statements. Teach care providers to do the same. Place toys on accessible shelves and show him where they are in relation to other objects in the room. As he begins to show understanding of words and begins to use words to express needs and desires, you will see that these efforts have paid off. By the time he is walking, your child will know "right" and "left" and will have no trouble moving about familiar surroundings with ease.
A Chance to Belong by Crystal McClain]
Reprinted from Advocacy in Action, a publication of the Ohio NFB Parents Division.
The chance to belong. Isn't that one thing we want for our kids? Just because our kid is blind doesn't mean we erase that natural instinct of wanting them to be a part of something. As parents of blind children we may be tempted to let "belonging" slip away. Here is one example of how I helped to make sure my daughter Macy did belong.
SEA is a five week program offered to kids in grades K-8 in Logan County. This program is for two hours on Saturday morning and offers a variety of enrichment courses for the children. I eagerly signed up my twin kindergartners (Madison & Macy). You might like to know that Madison is sighted and Macy is blind. Madison chose an animal class and Macy chose a puppet class where you make puppets and then have a puppet show. Both of the girls were excited. We got back their admission slips after we sent in the twenty-five dollar course fee.
Things were going well until I received a phone call saying that because Macy was visually impaired she would not be permitted to participate unless I provided and paid for a private assistant. I was very upset. This program was sponsored by the very school system that Macy attends.
I started to investigate and after six phone calls (including one to Ohio Legal Rights and one to Eric Duffy, Ohio NFB director of field operations), I got to the source of the problem. One woman (the director of the program) was responsible for this. She had many misconceptions about blindness, and she wasn't about to let go of them. She used class size and dangerous equipment (glue guns) as an excuse. She said no visually impaired student would be allowed to participate in any SEA class. I asked her if the other kindergartners in the class would be using hot glue guns unassisted. (I hope not!) Finally, when push came to shove, she had me call the Special Education Director, Melinda.
The Special Education Director said that the other woman stated that I was requesting a paid assistant because I didn't want to pay for it. Once again I was shocked. I told Melinda (we're on a first name basis) that I did not want an assistant. I want Macy to continue to grow in her independence and that was impossible with a personal aide continuously at her side. Melinda knows me and said she understood, and that I was to take Macy to the class on Saturday.
SEA classes are over now and Macy enjoyed hers immensely. She got to be with her friends from school, make puppets (maybe not the prettiest ones), and perform a puppet show. The lesson here is that I could have accepted a refund of my twenty-five dollars, or paid for an aide, or accepted an aide that was paid for me, but I didn't. I stuck to my convictions and Macy was able to belong to something (SEA) without hurting her independence.
The result is worth the battle. How many kids lose out because someone said "No"they couldn't belongand their parents let it happen. Please don't let it happen to your child. Make sure your child participates in school activities, church, and activities within your community.
Reflections on the Importance of Socialization
for Blind Girls and Women
by Barbara Pierce
Editor's Note: Barbara Pierce, Editor of the NFB publication, the Braille Monitor, is also a member of the Committee on the Status of Blind Women, North America/Caribbean Region, World Blind Union. Mrs. Pierce developed the following document as a framework for focus group discussions sponsored by this committee, and conducted by Mrs. Pierce, at the 1997 NFB National Convention in July. You will discover that this article complements, and is in turn enriched by, both the article that precedes it ("A Chance to Belong") and the one that follows ("Never Laugh at the Teacher's Jokes"). Here is what Mrs. Pierce has to say on the topic of socializtion and women:
This paper has no pretensions to be a scholarly work or even an academic exercise. It is a jumping-off point for constructive discussions among blind women about the importance of healthy socialization, the pressures and problems in this area faced by blind girls and women, and the barriers we face in developing fulfilling relationships. Our hope is to increase our own understanding of the social and interpersonal skills we lack and our ability to develop them. We also trust that our insights will assist parents and teachers of blind girls and young women to help them do this work better than many of us had an opportunity to do.
We begin by acknowledging that healthy socialization is important to both men and women, and our exploration of this question from the feminine perspective should not be seen as denigration of men's concerns and problems. We are women, and we understand something of the manifestations of this complex of problems in women's lives. We leave to the experts and to blind men the masculine perspective and their own personal insights.
Gather together a group of women whose blindness began at birth or in youth, and you will find the conversation eventually making its way around to the complex of social problems: attractiveness to potential romantic partners, fashion sense, social skills, physical awkwardness, putting people at easethe list is almost endless. The ramifications of our dissatisfaction with our resolution of these questions extend into every aspect of social life: jobs, friendship, marriage, even managing the details of daily life.
The Committee on the Status of Blind Women invites blind women and, if these women choose, others with an interest in this subject to gather for informal and unstructured discussion of the issues raised here. We ask that you provide us with a rough summary in print or Braille of the concerns raised in your group's conversation and that you pass along any conclusions or insights the group comes to. We can't be sure what exact use we will make of these reports, but we will try to enhance general understanding in the field and improve the efforts made to help women and girls develop their own skills more effectively. We also hope that those who take part in these discussions will find their own understanding and capacity to deal constructively with the social aspect of their lives improved by this exercise.
Almost before adults are aware of the problem, young blind children are already being left out of social interactions. If you can't skip, you can't play skipping games. If you can't bounce a ball or skate or jump rope, you will be left out of those activities. But how often do older siblings or parents help the blind child master the skills at an appropriate age or figure out alternatives that will keep her in the group, taking part in the activity in some way? Using a larger ball, hopping rather than skipping, even (if necessary) being a permanent turner for jump rope: all these keep the blind child a part of the group. Another strategy is to invite a group of playmates to the blind child's yard to play and then offer refreshments whenever they gather there. One family installed a trampoline in the backyard as a neighborhood attraction. If the play equipment is fun, not only will other children want to play, but the blind child will be encouraged to learn to move and take part.
As girls grow older, the importance of peer interaction becomes more marked. Feedback from peers can have a powerful deterrent affect on socially unacceptable behavior. Left to themselves, playmates will ask about unusual eye movement or appearance, rocking, eye-pressing, failure to face the speaker, or poor management of food. A child can be helped to develop good explanations of lazy eye muscles or nystagmus. The social pressure of curiosity and implied criticism can serve as a powerful curb to poor habits, assuming that the blind child has intelligent support in training new and better ones.
But all this assumes that the blind child has peer interactions with sighted children or, even better, sighted friends. Sometimes parents don't notice that their mainstreamed blind children have no friends at school and are staying to themselves in class and on the playground. A father who was deeply worried about his eight-year-old daughter's compulsive and increasing eye-pressing complained to one of us that he and his wife and their daughter's friends fussed at her continually about this habit, but she was unwilling to exert herself to stop the behavior. Intrigued by the report that friends were part of this effort to modify the behavior, the blind woman questioned him closely about who the friends were and what they were saying. The friends turned out to be an older neighbor couple concerned about the child. When asked about friends at school, the father discovered, when he thought about it, that to his surprise his daughter had no friends of her own age. He had never noticed that she went to no birthday parties and no one ever came to her house to play. She didn't even speak about other kids and their activities at recess.
Such anecdotes suggest the importance of concentrated efforts to help young children form real friendships at an early age. It may well be even more important for blind children than for sighted to learn early the first rules of successful social intercourse: don't bite; share your toys; engage in appropriate conversation, do not echo or use imitative speech patterns; give other people a chance to talk; don't rock; look at the speaker; etc. Working on these and similar points of acceptable conduct will improve the chances that the child will make friends. And friends will reinforce the lessons teachers and parents are trying to teach.
As blind girls approach adolescence, the social problems they face multiply and become more complex, and a solid foundation of social skills established in childhood becomes ever more important. The girl who cannot flip through Seventeen or clothing catalogues, observe what girls her age are wearing, or take note of clothing in the stores is at a disadvantage in dressing so as to fit in with her peers. At this age the wrong socks or shoes, the shirt tucked or untucked inappropriately, the jeans too new or too full of holes can and do often lead to social ostracism. Flattering and up-to-date hair styles, appropriate and skillfully applied make-up when the time comes, and recognition of attractive body contours can be equally mysterious to a young blind girl who has no one to help her fill these important gaps in her knowledge. If they are part of the picture, friends can be more useful here than adults. If there are none, the gaps in the girl's information will only widen, and the schism between her and the girls she would like to make friends with will broaden.
In this case, immediate first aid is called for. In small-group or individual discussions with a knowledgeable and understanding adult, blind girls must learn the importance of the information they are lacking, and then the deficit must be made up. They must then learn to assume the responsibility for gathering such information for themselves in the future. A mother might take her blind daughter and a couple of other girls her age on a shopping expedition and to a movie they all want to see. Both mother and daughter can learn from the other girls what is in and out this year. Clerks in teen departments can sometimes point out what is popular. Young girls can be encouraged to investigate the clothes on store mannequins. This will teach them, not only what this year's fashions look like, but what the ideal teen body looks like as well.
Early on, someone must sit down with a blind teen and honestly discuss the grooming and cleanliness facts of life. Other students will notice very soon if an adolescent who should be bathing and washing her hair daily is not doing so. It will also spare her inevitable mortification if someone shows her proper and effective ways to prepare for and handle menstruation.
Most of us who attended regular high schools noticed early in our teens that boys were unlikely to be interested in anyone who was as different from their ideal as a blind girl necessarily is. The more physically attractive and socially skilled a blind young woman is, the more likely she is to gather experience with boys, though most blind women of our acquaintance say that they have always found difficulty in getting sighted men of any age to take them seriously as potential partners. Eager for normal relationships, blind women with little experience are frequently vulnerable to unscrupulous men. Afraid to say no and risk rejection, young blind women have often allowed themselves to be drawn into greater physical intimacy than they wanted. We know of no fool-proof way of protecting blind women from this danger. But discussing fears, uncertainties, and areas of ignorance provides a place to begin. Knowing blind women who have successfully dated and married should also be of some reassurance to teens who are feeling like the village outcast.
Important in their own right as the foregoing issues and problems are, the solutions individual women settle on for themselves also combine to form the matrix of their personal, social, and work lives as adults. The capacity easily and appropriately to make conversation, business contacts, friends, and intimate relationships is at the heart of existence as a member of a social community. For blind women as for everyone else, mastering these individual skills in youth makes using them easier in adulthood, but the skills can often be mastered in adulthood if the individual is serious about doing so and willing to work hard. The purpose of this paper is not to guide such an exploration but to point to important areas of social interaction with which our experience suggests that blind women sometimes have problems. Resolving individual difficulties in them must be a personal or small-group activity demanding honesty, compassion, and patience.
Listening attentively to others and drawing them out on subjects that they find interesting are skills that some blind women have had little practice in developing. Throughout their lives people have talked to them about blindness and how they do and perceive things. Unfortunately this usually happens because people assume that blind people have little else to contribute in any conversation, so they restrict talk to things they are sure the blind person knows something about. There is an art to making others believe that one finds their views and interests fascinating, and those who have mastered it are usually known as good conversationalists.
The problem of finding and keeping a good job is many-faceted, but there is a social component to it. One must have an accurate and unromanticized notion of what is required by an employer of any employee holding the job, and one must meet or preferably exceed those requirements. This is difficult when all one's life parents, teachers, and fellow students have been making allowances because of one's visual impairment. But employers need results, and charity will not and should not be part of the equation. We are not all geniuses, but we can exert ourselves and demonstrate willingness to work as hard as necessary to master the job and work competitively. If we can't achieve these goals, we should not be surprised or disappointed when we find it hard to get paid for our work.
Social interaction with work colleagues is another important
area of work life in which blind women sometimes have problems. Co-
workers almost always begin by assuming that they will have to look
out for the blind worker and make allowances for her. The best
defense against such assumptions is an aggressive offense: hard
work, clarity about where and when blindness is a factor, and
spirited and independent participation in the social component of
the job. Remembering birthdays, bringing coffee-break treats,
asking about sick relatives, doing favors for colleaguesthese and
a thousand other marks of thoughtfulness and social sensitivity can draw one into the group.
In order to develop a corps of friends beyond the workplace, blind women must find ways of meeting people in situations where there is a social component to the interactions: religious organizations, volunteer projects, adult classes, musical groups, etc. Doing so is not always easy because of physical or logistical barriers to getting there, but the simple fact is that one can't make friends without meeting people in circumstances in which friendship can grow.
To build healthy, mutually satisfying personal relationships of all kinds, one must invest time and genuine interest in the other person and in shared activities, and the other party must be willing to do the same. Because too often blind women have had little opportunity to form and grow in healthy friendships and physical relationships, they can be easy victims. If one devalues one's self and places disproportionate value on the affection and attention of a friend or lover, one is already a good way toward victim-hood. The best defense is a strong sense of self-worth and the conviction that the overly demanding person is not the only fish in the sea. Unfortunately, both of these attitudes are developed over a long period of making and keeping good friends. One can't graft such a personal history into one's adult personality, but one can begin nurturing such relationships. Sexual exploitation is not the only basis for intimate relationships. Real friendships cannot be made or kept by letting others walk all over one physically, psychologically, or spiritually. But learning to stand up for oneself after years of passivity is difficult without the support of friends, family, or therapist.
The intent of this paper has not been to solve problems but to enable blind women to explore them and move toward their own solutions. Understanding the terrain better may make it easier to plot a course through it. We can also hope that deeper understanding of the special social problems facing blind women will enable us all to assist blind girls and young women to form healthy and socially acceptable habits of body and mind so that they will be better equipped than many of us have been to meet the demands of adult life and to be nurtured and fulfilled in their social relationships at every level.
Never Laugh at the Teacher's Jokes
by Srikala Ashok
Editor's Note: Srikala Ashok, a teacher of blind children, was asked to do a presentation to the 1996 National Federation of the Blind of Illinois Convention Parents' Seminar on the topic of socialization of blind children. The presentation was so well done and so well received that Debbie Stein, a long leader of the NFB of Illinois, encouraged her to submit her remarks to Future Reflections for publication. She did, and here, preceded by an introducation by Debbie Stein, is what she submitted:
Introductory Remarks by
Kala Ashok is a teacher of blind children with the SEDOM Co-op program based in Woodstock, Illinois. She grew up in Madras, India, where she taught children with cerebral palsy for several years before coming to the United States. At Western Michigan University she earned a master's degree in teaching blind children. She has taught multiply-handicapped blind children in Louisiana, and since 1993 has been at SEDOM working with children from infancy through junior high level.
Kala got in touch with us about a year ago because she was looking for blind adults who could talk to some of her students about their careers. I said to her, "In the ten years that I've been involved with the Federation, this is the first time a teacher of blind kids has ever come to us and said, `I'd like my kids to get to know some blind adults.'" She was amazed. She said, "How come people aren't doing it more?" and I said, "That's a really good question." That began an ongoing dialogue about this and many other topics. I think she has some very important and interesting thoughts to share. Here is Kala:
KALA ASHOKWhen I was asked to come and speak to you I gave many reasons why I would be a bad choice. I was excited, but I felt unsure about my professional expertise. I was unsure whether I was the right person to do this, whether I know enough. I don't think I do know enough. I'm constantly learning. I don't have all the answersso if I say something off the wall you'll know who to throw your eggs at. (Laughter)
When we hear a child's behavior being addressed in school, it's usually because that behavior is negative in some way. It's mouthing behavior, acting-out behaviorsomething that has a negative impact on other kids. If it's not an obviously negative behavior it's less a cause for alarm. But what alarms me about my students who are blind is not so much negative behavior, as a need for positive social behaviors. Because this is not something that has a negative impact on other people, it fails to get the attention it deserves. Actually it is having a very strong negative impact on someone, and that person is my blind student.
When blind kids are placed in a regular school setting, you might think that they are constantly in a situation where they can pick up the social skills they need. That's a logical assumption to make, but it doesn't always happen. Just putting a kid into a situation does not assure that socialization will occur. It works well for some kids; they can make the system work for them. I'm more concerned with the kids who may be shy, who may not have the ability to initiate social interaction. For those kids we really need to intervene. We need to plan ways to assist them.
As an itinerant teacher I know there is very real academic pressure in school, especially in the middle and upper grades. All of usclassroom teachers, itinerants, parents, and studentsare concerned about assignments, tests, and making sure that all the necessary materials are in Braille. Everyone's caught up in this effort to make certain that the student's grades don't suffer for any reason. We're right to be concerned. But in the whole process something else gets bumped down on the priorities list, and that's social skills. That's why we all need to come together as a team sometimes. We have to provide these kids with experiences that will help them get the social skills they need.
It's very important for us to be tuned into the world of the sighted peers of our blind children. We need to know what makes them laugh, what interests them, what makes them angry, what kinds of things they jeer at. We need to know everything about their world. Only then can I, as a teacher, give appropriate feedback to my students about social skills.
I rely a great deal on classroom teachers. They see a lot of behaviors which, as an itinerant teacher, I may not pick up on. One junior high classroom teacher told me this: it's not considered cool to laugh at a teacher's jokes. After she pointed this out I observed and found it was really true. The kids would look at each other, or look away, or appear completely uninterested, but they would never laugh at the teacher's joke, no matter how funny it was!
My student, a charming young lady with impeccable manners, would laugh out loud. She thought that it was perfectly appropriate to laugh. But in the world of that classroom, she was setting herself further apart than she already was. It's not that she did anything wrong. But by laughing when the others did not, she heightened the difference that already existed between her and the rest of the class. That's why I think it's so important for us to be aware of the world of the sighted peers of our kids.
Sometimes simple arrangements in the classroom will seriously hamper a blind child's interactions. It amazes me how conditioned a lot of us are to think that the best seat for a student who is blind is right near the door. After all, she has her big heavy Brailler, and all these large books to pick out and put back, and she has to get in and out of the classroom quickly because there's only so much time for passing between periods. The other place which is considered appropriate for kids who are blind is near the shelves in the back of the room, where all those fifteen million volumes of every textbook can be stored. That way she has easy access to them and a way to store all her other equipment.
These are all very legitimate reasons which can't be disputed. But if you think about it, those are the worst places for social interaction. When you're seated near the door or in the far back, you tend to be away from the group. You're more easily left out of what's going on. When there are fewer people talking around you, there is less chance for you to be drawn into conversation.
I like to see my students right in the middle, in the thick of everything. There they have more people around them and have more opportunities to engage in conversations. There's more of a chance for teachers and other kids to call on them. Yes, those issues of time and storage are important. But if social skills are a priority, they need to be given status as such. We need to make socialization a priority and work around these other issues. It calls for additional time management and planning, but it can still be done within that context. Maybe you don't have to do it in every classroom. It may not work with every teacher. But if there are situations where it can work, it needs to be stressed as an important priority for the student.
I find social workers to be very helpful within the school. They come up with some great ideas on how to encourage social interaction in the classroom. Besides the inevitable group projects and work with partners, they have other suggestions too. One thing we have tried is the "circle of friends." A student identifies other kids in the building with whom he or she has had positive interaction. These kids can form a little club, a circle within the school where they do things for each other and look out for one another. They can do things outside of school too. It's so important to carry over the interaction from school to the outside.
Let me explain why I think this is so important. If you think about the pace of the school scheduleand this is especially true in the higher gradesthere is very little time for chit-chat with friends. Classroom teachers have told me directly that they're not there to encourage kids to talk to each other. They want them to come in, do their work, get out, and go to the next class. In fact, where you see most of the interaction is out in the hallways during passing periods. The hallway is noisy and bustling. It's where the latest gossip is all being shared. The kids are shouting over people's heads or from one end of the hallway to the other. They may just exchange a smile, they may thump somebody on the back, but that's where the interaction is taking placeduring that three- or four-minute passing time.
At that time, my student is busy gathering her stuff. She's putting her books into her bag, getting her Brailler, and maneuvering through those very crowded hallways to the next classroom, which could be way down at the other end. She's getting there, taking out her Brailler, and rolling in a piece of paper to be ready for the next teacher. Kids have a very rigorous schedule, and sometimes I think they don't even realize they're missing out on those friendship moments.
One of my students had never told me that she missed having friends, that she missed having someone to share things with. After a lot of prodding she finally said one day, "Mrs. Ashok, nobody talks to me on the school bus." The bus would be the perfect place for making friends. You're not worried about getting somewhere on time, you're not thinking about the teacher's directionsyou're sitting on the bus going home. What could be more relaxing? It's the kind of pressure-free time that we want to provide for our kids, where they can have a chance to get to know their sighted peers better. It's an opportunity for them to get to know their interests and to share their own interests too. But my student didn't know how to make use of this opportunity that she had every day.
You know your kids best. Some are less inhibited, are able to take risks and initiate social interaction. But other kids are not, and those are the ones that I'm really concerned about.
I want to digress a little bit and talk about something that makes this whole discussion so personal for me. I think perhaps it helps me understand the needs of my students a little better. In many ways I perceive people with visual disabilities as expressing a different kind of culture. There is a difference in the manner in which they do some things, and the unique perspective because of that difference represents another culture.
I grew up in a culture that is vastly different from the one I find myself in every day. There's one thing I've learned after many, many years. I've fought it, I have resented it, and finally learned to accept it. If I want to integrate socially in this dominant culture, the responsibility for doing so lies entirely with me and with nobody else. I have to push myself into this dominant world. I cannot wait to be pulled in. That for me is always the hardest challenge. I see it paralleled in the lives of my students. They need to push themselves into this dominant sighted world. They cannot wait to be drawn in. It will not happen unless they make it happen themselves. They have to initiate.
To initiate means participating in a discussion without being called on to do so. It means asking a question and not merely providing answers to questions that you are asked. It means offering opinions or suggestions. It means asking for assistance and offering assistance. All of that is social initiative. It's so important for us to provide opportunities for kids to take these steps when they're young. We can't wait until they're thirty-something and can start to figure it out on their own. We must facilitate experiences with their sighted peers at a very early age, and continue to do so as they grow up. By doing so you are in a sense creating and recreating the real world. That world is made up of both sighted and blind people. Learning to interact within that world must become a very normal process.
At my age, I constantly have to give myself reasons for pushing myself into the world. My job is on the line. I need to be perceived as competent. A big part of my job is consultingtalk about social skills there! Because my job is on the line, I must take the initiative. I push myself to do it.
When you make interaction a priority for your children at an early age, it becomes a natural way of dealing with the world. You don't have to list reasons for them as to why they should do it. It's just part of life.
Right along with this is the idea of networking with kids and adults who are blind. Our experiences as we go through childhood and adolescence will ultimately determine our self-image as adults. The fact that my blind student is considered atypical by this "typical" world is going to be a large part of her experience. Connecting to and maintaining connections with other people who are blind will strengthen her self-image in two ways. First, it will help her understand that being different, atypical, is an integral part of who she is. Secondly, it will allow her to see this difference not as a bad thing, but as something fruitful, productive, socially rewarding, and empowering. We need to give our kids the chance to develop a positive self-image.
I want to thank the Federation for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts. They are my thoughts, they're not anything else. I learn a lot from my students. They're my best teachers. (Applause)
Question From Cathy RandallHas your student found ways to interact between classes? Has she made friends on the bus? KalaIt would be easy for me to say yes, she has. But I think it's really an ongoing process. It's not going to happen in a month or even a year. I would like to think I started that process with her, that I've made her aware of what she needs and how much she could enjoy it. She's in high school now, and I'm hoping to continue the circle of friends we started. It opened up a world for her. It's too soon to say she took complete advantage of that opportunity. She needs more time. I think she needs input from all of us, from teachers and parents continuously. Has she found it? No, not yet, but I think she's working and trying, and her parents are still trying, too.
Hear Ye! Hear Ye!
Children's Literature on the Net
The following information comes from an October, 1997, information bulletin distributed by the Library of Congress, Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Washington, DC:
Among the ever-growing number of children's literature sites on the Internet, many contain full-text versions of children's classics. Below is a list of selected sites that offer a wide variety of text-based literary resources, both informational and primary documents.
General: The following sites contain a vast amount of information on children's literature. In addition to links to texts, they also include lists of award-winning books, recommended reading lists, bestseller lists, resources for teachers and parents, and much more.
Children's Literature Web Guide:
Electronic Resources for Youth Services: Children's Literature
Electronic Children's Books
This site contains the full text of many classic works of children's literature including The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Robinson Crusoe, The Call of the Wild, and many more.
The following sites contain text-based material by or about an author:
Louisa May Alcott
Saint-Exupery, Antoine de
New Catalog of Braille Books
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Seedlings Braille Books for Children announces its new 1998
catalog. This catalog contains over 300 low-cost Braille books for
children. Thirty-eight books have been added this year, including
pre-schoolers print, Braille, and picture books. For more
information check the Seedlings Web page at
[http://www.22cent.com/seedlings] or write to: Seedlings, P.O. Box
51924, Livonia, Michigan 48151-5924, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Active Learning Conference
From the Editor: About four years ago I attended an Active Learning Conference conducted by Dr. Lilli Nielsen. Active Learning is both a method and a philosophy about promoting learning in multi-disabled, blind children (it works for children who are "just" blind, too). It was among the most useful conferences I've ever attended as a professional or as a parent. I highly recommend it to parents, teachers, therapists, or any care giver or service provider of children who have visual, physical, or mental disabilities. Here is an announcement about an upcoming Active Learning Conference in March:
Penrickton Center for Blind Children Presents:
Dr. Lilli Nielsen
A Conference for Active Learning, March 2, 3, 4, 1998, Holiday Inn-Southgate, Southgate Michigan.
For registration information contact the Penrickton Center for Blind Children, telephone (313) 946-7500, fax (313) 946-6707. Registration fee is $150 if paid by February 6, 1998, and $175 after that date.
* MondayActive Learning vs. Passive Learning: Many children with multiple impairments wait for adults to provide stimulation. Therefore, they become passive. An overview of Active Learning techniques will be presented emphasizing simple ways to change the environment so that a child becomes an "active learner."
* TuesdayPerceptual Aides that Promote Active Learning: Dr.
Nielsen has developed specific equipment such as the Little Room, The Resonance Board, Support Bench, Essef Board, and more. The benefits of this equipment will be explained and demonstrated. Dr. Nielsen will demonstrate her Active Learning techniques with a blind multi-disabled child.
* WednesdayIdentifying Where To Begin: Discovering the emotional level of a child to develop a starting point in Active Learning. Dr. Nielsen will explain how to utilize Active Learning to promote the development of oral motor skills, which will further enhance a child's feeding and communication skills. The relationships of Active Learning to the development of a child's independence in self-care skills will also be discussed.
About the Presenter: Dr. Lilli Nielsen is employed as special education advisor at Refsnaesskolen, the National Institute for Blind and Partially Sighted Children and Youth in Denmark. Trained as a preschool teacher and as a psychologist, Dr. Nielsen has worked with handicapped children for over 37 years, the last 30 years with blind and visually impaired children (birth to 21 years of age) with and without other disabilities. Dr. Nielsen has written numerous books and lectures around the world regarding the Active Learning approach she developed. She also designed equipment to provide an optimal environment for active learning to take place.
The following information comes from the May, 1997, POBC News and Views, the newsletter of the Parents of Blind Children Division of the NFB of Colorado:
Wikki Stix are colorful waxy strings available at toy and crafts stores which have been a favorite creative toy for children for many years. A little like pipe cleaners in that they are bendable, Wikki Stix have the advantage of being able to stick to each other or to objects. Here is a recipe for making your own Wikki Stix-like product. (Attributed to Nancy Getten of the Montana School for the Blind.)
One large empty coffee can
Toilet Sealant (available at hardware stores)
Put equal amounts of paraffin wax and toilet sealant in the coffee can. Place can in a pot of warm water and heat until wax is melted. Stir in crayon shavings, if desired, to color. When all is melted and mixed, dip pieces of string in the mixture and lay out to dry on wax paper. Keep the wax warm as you work or it will harden. Once the strings have cooled, you can bend, shape and reuse as you would the commercial Wikki Stix.
Blind Runner Makes History
The following news article appeared in the May/June, 1997, issue of The Palmetto Blind, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina. The information came from a press release from SCSDB.
South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind's (SCSDB)
Sonya Bell Makes History in State Track Meet For the first time in U.S. history, a totally blind runner participated in a state track and field championship. The SCSDB girls' 1,600 relay team, led by star athlete Sonya Bell, finished sixth in the S.C. State Championships on May 15, 1997. For this accomplishment, Sonya and her teammates each received resolutions from the S.C. Senate and the S. C. House of Representatives in May.
Sonya Bell, 16, of Chester has won national medals in gymnastics, ice skating, and track and field. She received the 1994 national ARETE Award for Courage in Sports and has been featured by the CBS Evening News, ESPN, FX Network, SC-ETV, Sports Illustrated and Jet Magazine.
She set a national record for a totally blind runner in the 400 meter run with a time of 67.1 seconds at the Spartanburg County Track and Field Championship in April. In 1996, Sonya was chosen to be a member of the 1,600 meter relay team to demonstrate Paralympic events during the U.S. Olympic trials in Atlanta.
Braille Transcription Services
The following resource list is reprinted from the Slate and Stylus, Vol. 14, No. 3, a publication of the National Federation of Blind Writer's Division:
This is a partial list. We are simply listing, not giving, our endorsement to those included.
* MTS (Multimedia Transcription Service), 131 Maine Street, Suite 120, Hackensack, NJ 07601. (201) 996-9423 or fax (201) 996-9422. Will convert print, fax, or disk into Braille, large print, disk or cassette. Contact for cost.
* Housing and United Services, Inc.: Attn., Michael Marrazzo, 47 Center Ave., Leonardo, NJ 07737, (908) 872-1990, or (908) 291-7215. Will do large print, Braille, and audio cassette. Contact for fee.
* National Braille Association, Attn: Angela Coffaro, 3 Townline Circle, Rochester, NY 14623, (716) 427-8260. No rush orders! Braille or Thermoform produced on one-sided 11 by 11 ˝ paper.
Cost $.12 per page, $1.00 extra for binding. $5.00 minimum order.
Can do Nemeth or Music.
* Sun Sound, Attn: Dede Pearse, 3124 E. Roosevelt, Phoenix, AZ 85008, (602) 231-0500, fax (602)220-9335. Print materials converted to Braille, large print, disk, electronic bulletin board or cassette, materials can be sent via print, modem, or disk; binding services are also available; cost $.30 per letter-sized Braille page, less for quantity orders.
* Quik-Scribe, Attn: Ron and Sue Staley, 14144 Burbank Blvd, #4, Van Nuys, CA 91401, (818) 989-2137, fax: (818) 989-5602. Print, large print, Braille; will do computer manuals, textbooks, instruction brochures, Nemeth or music. Can transcribe from print, Apple, or MS-DOS disks. Send materials via mail, modem, or Internet:[Staley@netcom.com] Turn around time is three days to three weeks for small orders. Credit cards accepted. Call for fee schedules.
Speak to Me Catalog
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Give the gift that says something. The Fall/Winter 1997 Speak to Me catalog features plenty of children's items including talking dolls, singing and talking plush bears, singing toothbrushes, comb and brush sets, electronic talking teaching toys for kids of all ages, and kid-sized keyboards. We will always continue to offer those favorite unusual and wacky products such as talking key chains, unique music boxes, etc. Call Denise Russell at (800) 248-9965 for your free Speak to Me catalog. Request print, cassette, or disk.
National Federation of the Blind
Magazine for Parents of Blind Children
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
Please send me a FREE Parents Information Packet. This packet of literature includes a paperback size Future Reflections Introductory Issue and other booklets with resource, educational, and inspirational information about blindness and blind children.
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