Future Reflections                                                                                         Summer/Fall 2005

Future Reflections

The National Federation of the Blind Magazine for Parents and Teachers of Blind Cjildren

Vol. 24 No. 2                                                                                         Summer/Fall 2005

Barbara Cheadle, Editor



Table of Contents

Vol.24, No.2                                                                                                       Summer/Fall 2005

A Mother’s Fears, A Mother’s Hope
by Terry Wedler

Helping Your Child Become More Responsible
by Sue Sheridan and Lynn Springfield

Help Your Child Go FAR in Life Daily Living Skills Tips for Parents of Blind Children
by Jennifer Wenzel

Watertown Mom is Inspired by Her Children
by Renee Wahlen Tillema

How Do You Do That? -- Manicures And Pedicures
by Carrie Gilmer

Perspectives on Parenting: Playing Games
by Michael K. Meyerhoff, Ed. D.

Adapting Games for Blind Children
by Katrilla Martin

The Jacks Tournament, Turning Double-Dutch, and Other Excursions into Society
by Barbara Pierce

Swimming as a Totally Blind Athlete: What You Need to Know
by Donovan Tildesley

Independent Travel at the Swimming Pool or at the Beach

Giving Directions
by Kasondra L. Payne

Gardening for Young Visually Impaired or Multi-Impaired Children
by Didi Goodrich

Tips for the Blind Gardener
by Dana Ard

Two Nebraska Teachers Receive Award, Accolades

It Only Takes A Spark To Get The Fire Roaring
by Sandra Dunnam

Don’t Shoot the Piano Tuner: Should We Avoid the Blind Trades?
by John Bailey

Writing and Performance Art
by Nancy Scott

The Many Faces of Reading
by Deborah Kendrick

Braille Readers Making a Difference
by Barbara Pierce

2004-2005 Braille Readers Are Leaders Annual Contest Winners

A Boa in My Brailler
by Barbara Loos

Braille Readers Are Leaders--2005-2006


A Mother’s Fears, A Mother’s Hope

by Terry Wedler

Editor’s Note: Around the first of this year I had the pleasure of meeting the mother of one of our NFB 2004 Science Academy students, Henry (his friends call him Hoby) Wedler. We were both attending the same conference (she is also a teacher of blind children), and she told me what a wonderful experience the “Rocket On!” program had been for Hoby. It is always nice to hear good things about our programs, but it is even better if we have it in print, so I asked her to write me a letter. The letter she wrote moved me deeply. In simple eloquence, she expressed both the fears and the hopes that I think all of us mothers of blind kids feel. The letter is, ostensibly, about the “Rocket On!” Camp, but it is really about something much bigger: it is about the antidote for a mother’s fears, and the formula for turning her hope for her child into reality. Here is what she says:

Barbara Cheadle
National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230

February 26, 2005

Dear Barbara,

I really enjoyed meeting you at the Lilli Nielsen conference. I now, with pleasure, am responding to your [request for a] letter. My husband and I are so appreciative of the opportunity the National Federation of the Blind gave Hoby. The NFB camp (Science Academy) was a turning point in Hoby’s life.

I think that the most important aspect of the program was the infusion of self-confidence that the experience gave to the students. Hoby has met some wonderful, successful blind people, but being with the “Rocket On!” group for a week was different. I think it was different because Hoby had more time to find out how blind adults thought about things. He found out that they had challenges and how they dealt with those challenges. He found out about all the things that they enjoyed in their lives. He saw them as real
people who live normal lives; and he liked the science work in which many of them were involved. All of this has given him what he needed to really feel OK about himself.

When I think about it, he is facing life in a different way this year. Any problem he faces, he figures out how to solve it and then he goes on with gusto to solve it. He used to work at solving things--such as having more friends or being good on the rowing team or talking to his teachers--with strength, but not with total confidence that he could accomplish what he intended to accomplish. Now he does it with an attitude of knowing the problems can be fixed. He has more hope. I do think that a lot of this came from the “Rocket On!” Camp. He saw, by example, how it is to live with the hope that things will work out. I think spending a week with all the great [blind] students and mentors did this.

As a sighted parent, I think I have done a good job, but I still have fears that he must have picked up on. My fears are from lack of knowing what it really is like to be blind. If I were to express my fears they would sound like this: “I hope and pray your life will be good, but I cannot imagine how you are going to do it; it seems so huge and scary. Lack of sight may make it too difficult: Who will hire you? Will you meet someone who will want to be your wife?” I am embarrassed to say these fears. I have been working to combat them all of Hoby’s life. I have done a pretty good job because he does not have much doubt in himself, but he must still be picking up some of it.

That is why it is so good for Hoby to get away from me and find out for himself that, “Yes! This is possible; I can do it, I can live a good life.” It was being with all the [blind] people for a week and hearing their stories that was so important. Their energy and positive attitudes were passed on to Hoby. He realized that he, too, was going to make it in life. Again, thank you. Not only has he changed, but I, also, have changed by watching him this year. I can see now that everything will be OK.

You also asked for any suggestions. I think the NFB has already thought of this, but having a little more time to relax with the students, mentors, and facilitators would be helpful. Hoby said he got to talk to people as they were in transit or while they ate. I think more talking time would be good. That is my only idea. What a good program.

One other reason I (and Hoby) liked it is that it was so professionally done. Everything worked right. He felt very important because of all the careful planning that the NFB did to make it run smoothly. I also think that the facilitators expected a lot from the students. The students were not talked down to. They were challenged. As a teacher, I have recently realized how important it is to challenge our [blind] students. No more making it easy. The NFB and NASA people said: This is difficult, but we know you (students) can do it. The students rose to the challenge and ate up every bit of it. Actually this last thought may be right up there as one of the reasons this program worked so well: great role models, enough time to really get to know the great people, and high expectations of everyone. As I see it, these are the ingredients for the success of this program.

Here is a paragraph I took from Hoby’s letter that he wrote for his NFB Scholarship application. He said that I could send it to you.

“During the past summer, I was accepted by the National Federation of the Blind to attend the first annual, “Rocket On!” science camp. Throughout the weeklong program, I learned skills that I will never forget. Seeing other successful blind people thriving in their lives truly inspired me. I and eleven other participants prepared, launched, and mapped the path of a NASA rocket. I believe we learned as much from each other as we did from the science portion. I constantly use the skills that I learned from the blind facilitators and teachers. They taught us lessons that will guide us for the rest of our lives. Whether it be assembling an electrical sensor with our hands using adapted talking equipment or crossing a large busy street in Virginia, we all--including the facilitators--learned a great deal from each other.”

Thank you, Barbara. Please let me know if I can help you in any other way.

Terry Wedler



Helping Your Child Become More Responsible

by Sue Sheridan and Lynn Springfield

Editor’s Note: Are some children born more responsible than others? Can blind children be expected to learn responsibility? The answers to these questions can only come from one source--parents. Like all other behavior (mannerism, cleanliness, etc) children also learn responsibility from their parents. The message that a parent sends--or sometimes fails to send--concerning responsibility is a very important one. Sue Sheridan and Lynn Springfield recommend parents begin the process of molding carefree children into responsible adults early. Here is what they have to say on the matter:

All of us who are parents dream of that time in our children’s lives when they will take responsibility for their own behavior. Parents and teachers lament the fact that the children they are raising or teaching are so immature, lack responsibility, or just don’t think about what they are doing. How can we, as parents, facilitate this task of helping our children develop responsibility?

We think that responsibility, wise decision-making, and making appropriate choices are all related. They must be taught in small, meaningful steps which children practice and live with every day. An important part of this building of responsibility involves making choices and living with those choices.

Making choices has proven to be extremely important in school. Students who make choices are more motivated to carry through in the area chosen. Rate of learning has increased when students were given the option of making a choice regarding the learning. It has also been shown that students with disabilities stay with a task longer when they helped to decide some things about that task. Just the feeling of maturity, dignity, and enjoyment gained from having a part in controlling one’s own destiny through making choices is very positive. If education is a preparation for life, then choice making is an essential part of the preparation. Perhaps one of the essential elements should be…Makes appropriate choices and carries through with those choices. Choice making, however, cannot be limited to the school setting. In order to make appropriate choices and learn to live with the choices this skill must be practiced at home as well as at school. How then can this be done without disrupting the entire family?

Choosing is defined as “the act of an individual’s selection of a preferred alternative from among several familiar options.” To examine this definition a little further it involves: selection (finding an appropriate way to indicate the selection rather than “I hate that.”), by preference (knowing what one likes), from alternatives (two or more alternatives), familiar options (knowing what one is choosing and what is being discarded), and carrying through with the choice (being allowed to carry through with the choice even if parents or teachers feel it is the wrong choice).

How can parents teach this important skill? First, we as parents must realize that choices come in all sizes. During an average day there are literally hundreds of choices that our children make. Becoming aware of these choices helps us to use them to help our children develop responsibility. Some of these choices faced during an “average” day might be: what to have for breakfast, how to get to school (walk, bus, etc.), what to eat at lunch, who to eat with at lunch, what to do after school (TV, play with a friend, ride the bike or skate board, etc.), what to do first in homework, choices at dinner, choice of after dinner activities, choices of bedtime (8:30 or 9:00).

Other home choices may include what time to do certain things, what activity to do first, which chores to do, where to eat out, which shows to see, TV programs to watch, which friend to have over, and the choice of a family activity for the weekend. One weekend the daddy chooses the activity, the next the mother, then the brother, and then next the sister. They then begin the rotation again.

The activities are naturally limited because everyone participates, the expense must be reasonable, there is a limited amount of time, and the varying interests of the members of the family must be considered. This has been a great experience in seeing who has the most creative ideas and how much fun the family has together.

Even in very simple tasks, choices are involved. The child might have a choice among a number of activities, a choice of whether or not to engage in the activity, a choice as to when to terminate the activity, alternative means of accomplishing the activity and a choice of partner for the activity. If these sorts of choices are analyzed and increased responsibility given to the child, then there is a better chance of responsible choice making in later decisions. Some of the decisions many of us face are whether or not to continue with education, which friends to pursue, where to live, to marry or not, to attend church, to use drugs or alcohol, and all of the other terribly important decisions and choices that teenagers and adults make.

There are steps which might be followed in helping someone learn to make appropriate choices. First, the individual must be aware of the alternatives. This involves actually knowing what toast and cereal are if you are to make a choice of having toast or cereal for breakfast. It means having some prior experience with each of the alternatives. If one continually chooses to watch the same TV program but has never seen or heard about the others, then the choice is perhaps not a real choice. The second step is to decide what one likes and doesn’t like. Does one like comedies or programs which are more serious?

Next is deciding how to tell others of the choice. Does one tell someone or get up and turn the channel on the TV? If someone else is told of the choice, how is this done? One of the final steps in this choice-making continuum is to know that once the choice has been made, it is to be followed. This step is especially important for parents. There is a rather famous article called “The Dignity of Risk” which talks about people with disabilities making choices and being given the dignity of living with those choices. There is no dignity in having parents rush in and “rescue” a son or daughter from a choice. This is all taken in perspective, however. If the choice is especially harmful, it should not be permanent. Hopefully, children wouldn’t be allowed to choose a potentially harmful choice until they are absolutely ready to make the appropriate choice.

Finally children, just as all of us, must learn when we do not have a choice. It might be that for your son or daughter bedtime is not a choice making opportunity. Bedtime is set by you and not negotiable. This is an important distinction for you to make and your son/daughter to understand.

In order to avoid problems in this area, we suggest that you incorporate choosing early in your child’s life. If you haven’t done this, and now wish to, start slowly but with meaningful decisions to be made by your child. This may be the number made in a day or the number of decisions regarding an activity. Then increase the number of areas of choice making. Eventually increase the risk in the choices to be made. Finally, clearly teach those areas in which choice is not possible.

Although choice making is one small part of responsibility, we believe it is an important aspect. It can and should be taught and practiced in the home as well as at school. Hopefully, this is one more step on the road to a more independent, successful, and fulfilling life for you and your child.

From the Texas ACLD Key. Sue Sheridan, Consultant, Harris County Department of Education and TACLD PAC. Lynn Springfield, Professor, Mid-American Nazarene College.


Help Your Child Go FAR in Life Daily
Living Skills Tips for Parents of Blind Children

by Jennifer Wenzel

The following account is adapted from an article which appeared in the September 2003 issue of the SPOTLIGHT NFBW, a publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin.

Editor’s Note: Jennifer Wenzel, a blind parent and leader in the Wisconsin affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind, recalls encounters with blind children and adults who, for whatever reasons, had not had the opportunity to make responsible choices in their lives. Her account of a childhood filled with opportunities, responsibilities, and choices is done so with a greater appreciation and admiration for a mother who taught her blind daughter that cooking and completing chores was much more than housework. Here is Wenzil with some tips for parents:

When I was little, I loved to bake with my mom. I also enjoyed helping her with the housework, especially washing the windows. Now that I’m older and a parent myself, I realize how lucky I was to have a mom who gave me the opportunity to cook and complete chores. In my lifetime I have learned some helpful alternative techniques from professionals, but much of my knowledge comes from having the opportunity to cook and do everyday chores with my mom.

During the five years I spent teaching daily living skills to blind teenagers and adults, I was shocked to discover how seldom many of them had been allowed to cook or help around the house. This meant that many of them were unaware of how to make a peanut butter sandwich, how to make a bed, or even how much cleaning needs to be done in a house.

Parents may feel insecure about teaching their children to cook or to do chores around the house, fearing that since they are not professionals they may not teach the best methods. But, even if the methods are not the best, the parent, as in everything else, is the child’s most important teacher. Requiring a blind child to fully participate in household chores as an equal member of the family sends the message that she or he is no different from the rest of the family (all children like to feel normal!) and that she or he must become accountable and responsible. Finding ways to cook and clean that work for your child can be fun and rewarding. It’s never too early or too late to start!

The following passages contain several helpful tips I have compiled for working with your child on daily living skills. Since this seems to be the age of acronyms I have created an acronym of my own. When thinking about daily living skills, just remember F-A-R, as in wanting your child to go far in life, or perhaps far away when she or he or is older! FAR stands for fun, age-appropriate, and real.

Although it may take longer and be messier than cooking alone, cooking with a child can be very enjoyable. Bring a pinch of patience to the table and allow plenty of time for cleanup. There is no difference when the child is blind. Like their sighted peers, blind children will want to touch ingredients and the mixture they make. This is a good time to talk about such concepts as hygiene (hand washing) and safety (hot stove tops). In addition, this is also an ideal opportunity to discuss and describe aromas, textures, tastes, and sounds.

Touching is very important to the young blind chef, and should not be discouraged when it is safe. Of course, a curious child should not touch the dough while the mixer is running. However, explaining what the mixer is doing and stopping it several times so the child can feel the different stages of the butter and sugar being mixed together makes the process more interesting and gives the child a better understanding of what is going on. A child should not touch any part of a hot pan except the handle, but the food inside the pan is not as hot as the pan is, and some food, such as hamburger patties and other meats, can be lightly touched to test for doneness or when flipping them over in the pan. You may want to practice some of these touch techniques first so that you feel comfortable touching while cooking and thereby set a good example and model for your child.

All this touching while cooking with an inexperienced child can be messy, so if you are compulsively neat, take a deep breath and focus on the reward--for your child’s sake. I’ll never forget working all morning with a ten-year-old boy to make a chocolate cake. By the time we had finished, we were both covered in chocolate but he had a perfect chocolate cake that he had baked and removed from the oven himself! We cleaned the kitchen and ourselves as best we could, but were not able to remove all of the chocolate from either of our shirts. When his mom came to pick him up, he was bursting with pride as he showed her the cake.

“Oh, no!” his mother gasped. “Look at your shirt. Let’s get you home so we can clean that up. I hope it comes out!” And she hustled him out the door, not once mentioning his accomplishment. The moment was ruined by the mother’s distress over a shirt covered in chocolate smears and her inattention to a task completed independently--by her own child.

Finding fun ways to clean can be difficult; however, the time spent together while cleaning can be rewarding. For younger children, making up and singing songs while cleaning can help them remember to clean efficiently in a pattern. It may be tempting to praise a child for his or her effort and then clean the spots he or she has missed, but this is not a good idea. Children are very perceptive. The child will quickly realize what has happened and will feel inadequate. Instead, praise your child for what he or she did well, and then show him or her what was missed and work together to fix it. The next time, less will be missed because your child has learned to be more careful and thorough in cleaning and in checking his or her work. This is how a child learns to a job right and to do it well.

Blind children should have cooking skills appropriate to their chronological or developmental age. For example, if your child’s friends are making macaroni and cheese, then it is appropriate to teach your blind child the same task. This can be hard for parents to do since it is only natural for parents to worry about a child getting hurt, especially in more advanced cooking projects. Remember that all children get burns, bruises, and cuts and live to tell about them; accidents will happen. Of course parents should take all normal safety precautions, but also expect the normal number and kind of small accidents that can happen to any child in the process of learning to cook. Blind children should have the same opportunities that their siblings and friends have when it comes to cooking, chores, and life.

It’s also important to give blind children other age-appropriate responsibilities around the house. A blind child can take out the trash, load the dishwasher, or help take care of a younger sibling. Responsibilities can be increased as a child grows older and gains confidence.

Be sure to teach your child appropriate table manners. Your child may not see how others are eating, but others will see your child. It is important that your child act accordingly whether at the family dinner table or out to dinner with family or friends.

Behavior and appearance are also important for fitting in socially. Watch what other children your child’s age are wearing and select your child’s clothing accordingly. Mark clothing with sewn-in color tags, safety pins, or a unique marking system that your child can remember when considering clothing combinations for outfits. Teach your child to examine favorite pieces for holes, missing buttons, and wear. Talk about colors, textures, and ways to tell what items belong together. The goal is not to turn your blind child into a fashion slave, but to help him or her to fit in with peers.

The skills and knowledge that your child learns should be practiced until your child can master them with confidence and use them anywhere. For example, your child should be able to make his or her bed at a sleepover at a friend’s house as well as his or her bed at home. This is why it is important to be careful not to become overly concerned with expensive gadgets and gizmos, such as talking clocks, Braille timers, and talking thermometers. They can be very useful and have their place, and if something is helpful for your child you should by all means use it. However, too much dependency on special equipment will limit your child and send the message that he she can only cook in one place or when all batteries are functioning. The skills for cooking, cleaning, and so forth should be transferable to any situation.

When working on daily living skills with a blind child, remember that the ultimate goal is for the child to transfer the skills learned into adulthood so that she or he may live a full, productive life. You and your child can learn from professionals and blind adult role models, but don’t be afraid to experiment and add new ideas of your own. You know your child best, and your child knows what works for him or her. Offer your child choices and opportunities to solve for her-himself the problems of how to do a daily living task. There is no right or wrong way to do something; if the job is done safely and hygienically, that’s all that matters. Relax and enjoy the time spent with your child. Your reward could be a dinner made just for you, or breakfast in bed. Or perhaps your reward will come when that child has grown into a confident, competent adult who invites you into his or her home and thanks you for all those early lessons.


Watertown Mom is Inspired by Her Children

by Renee Wahlen Tillema

Reprinted from the December 2004 issue of InSpire Magazine.

Editor’s Note: The Wisconsin mom featured in this article--Judy Lehman--may be inspired by her children, but I think you will also agree that she is quite an inspiration and role model herself. Lehman’s two blind daughters--now young women--are both active leaders in the NFB.

Jennifer wrote the article preceding this one, and Melissa lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland, with her husband, Mark Riccobono, the Director of Education Programs for the NFB Jernigan Institute. The Riccobono’s did ask me to clear up one slight error in the article: Mark Riccobono did not meet Melissa as her ski guide, he was one of the blind skiers on the trip and they met over breakfast. Here is the story about Judy Lehman and her children:

Not much gets Judy Lehman down; she has been challenged with some unique situations as a mother to her four children, but she has met them all with humor and common sense. Judy is the accounts payable secretary for the Watertown Unified School District and her family is well known in the Watertown area. Judy and her husband Tom welcomed their first child, Jeff thirty-five years ago. Their daughter Jennifer, who will be thirty-three, followed soon after. Judy explained that Jennifer was born with crossed-eyes and she remembers that the baby would rub her eyes a lot.

“As a mom I always thought something was wrong,” Judy explained. “At six months old we went to a specialist in Madison and found out that she had been totally blind from birth. By that time she was sitting in a high chair and her communication skills were very advanced. She talked very, very early.”

Judy and her husband underwent genetic testing and it was determined that the blindness was a genetic disorder. Judy explained the odds were that if she had one hundred children, four of them would be blind and it could occur in either boys or girls. It just so happened that two out of their four children were born with this disorder and they both happened to be girls.

“By that time I was pregnant with Mark and the doctor wanted me to have an abortion because he thought this baby would be born blind, too,” Judy remembered. “I got up and walked out of the room. I didn’t think blindness was that horrible. I said this baby was created in love and it didn’t matter if he was blind.”

Mark, who is now thirty-one, was born without any vision problems, but Judy laughs that he didn’t talk until he was almost three-years old so they started to wonder if he was deaf. “I said, oh, Lord, a blind child and a deaf child, what else is next?”

But Mark had been relying on Jennifer to do his talking and he eventually started to talk on his own. Judy was learning to adapt things to help Jennifer learn and over the years has come up with some unique and creative ideas. Things were going smoothly at the Lehman household and five years after Mark was born, Melissa joined the family.

“Every night after her prayers when Jennifer was about six or seven she would say, ‘Jesus if you have any baby sisters up there that nobody wants, please send her down.’ We didn’t know Melissa was blind, she had more light perception and everyone said that she could see. At three months she went to the specialist and I said that I thought she was blind. He really wanted to prove me wrong, but Melissa had the same disease as Jennifer. Mark always had a hard time believing his sisters were blind because they were treated normal. I asked him if it was alright that she couldn’t see either and he just said, ‘Well, she smells the same.’ Jeff had a harder time accepting it.”

Judy said the number one goal was that they never considered the girls as handicapped; they were treated as equals and everyone had to pick up their toys. Judy learned to adapt what they had around the house and explained that for Christmas gifts she would line the images in coloring books with glue so the girls could feel where they needed to color.

“We had Braille cards which we did ourselves,” she explained. “We had a terrific neighborhood too; the kids loved to play games at our house because they were so different. They would bring things to Jennifer so she could feel them and they would explain what it was. There was one time we went to see the Circus Train. People in the neighborhood still talk about this. I always said we were like the Pied Piper; we did a lot of walking because the girls had a better sense of where they were when they walked. So we heard the Circus Train was coming and we started walking; other kids in the neighborhood joined in and by the time we got there, we had about twelve kids with us. The train came and the kids were trying to explain to Jennifer what they saw. One girl made the comment that although she had seen the train before, she really saw it by explaining it to someone who couldn’t see.”

Judy and her husband made the choice not to send the girls to Janesville where the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired is located. Instead, they attended school in Watertown.

“The Watertown School District is the best in the whole world.” Judy said. “Both the girls went through a regular classroom and the teachers would adapt. The girls were very good in school, their memories are fantastic. Both didn’t want to miss school because they enjoyed that interaction. They both are high achievers and did everything the class did. They had the technology and because of their intelligence and outgoingness those doors were opened. But they worked at it and never sat on their duffs. Tom and I never expected them to.”

Judy said that the girls were given encouragement that they could accomplish whatever they wanted to do. She remembers when Jennifer said she wanted to be a taxi driver and Judy told her she would be the best taxi driver ever. Melissa wanted to be an airline pilot and she was told to go for it.

“We never told them they couldn’t,” she said. “They bowled, swam, cross-country and downhill skied, and I know through stories that they have even driven a car and a boat.” Melissa went to Atlanta, Georgia, in 1996 to compete in the Paralympics as a runner and Judy said the whole city and school showed their support though letters and encouragement.

“I don’t think she went down there for a medal; I know she was there for other kids to see that you don’t need sight to be a winner.”

Melissa is now twenty-five years old and earned her master’s degree in psychology. She is a guidance counselor in Baltimore, Maryland. Melissa met her husband Mark Riccobono when he was her “eyes” as she cross-country skied. Mark is slowly losing his sight to glaucoma.

Jennifer graduated from college and moved to Colorado to work for the Federation of the Blind. Jennifer and her husband, Dan Wenzel, recently moved to Janesville with their three boys. Jennifer is a stay-at-home mom and takes care of her young children all on her own during the day. Dan works for the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Jennifer does some Braille work for the Oshkosh Correctional System.

“I’ve often thought of writing a book about me as a sighted mom raising two blind children and Jennifer as a blind mom raising sighted children,” Judy said.

Son Mark lives in Minnesota with his wife Lisa and their two-year-old son. Mark is a therapeutic recreation director for a long-term care facility. Jeff works for the Watertown School District as a vision teacher and the EBD program for learning disabilities. His wife Kathy is a teacher in the Beaver Dam United School District; they have three children.

“Yes, I love my children and deeply care about them,” Judy said. “Everything has a
reason and everything has a rhyme. My job was to raise these four and sort of let them go. Everything came from good old common sense; the girls have such a sense of humor and everyone has a story because the whole city of Watertown watched then grow up. People still come up and ask how the girls are. We were blessed and really do believe that. I tell parents who just found out their child is blind to just hold them, love them, and let them explore.”


How Do You Do That? -- Manicures And Pedicures

by Carrie Gilmer

Reprinted from the February, 2005, issue of EXPECTATIONS, a publication of the Minnesota Parents of Blind Children, a division of the NFB of Minnesota.

Editor’s Note: Carrie is the dynamic new leader of our parents’ organization in Minnesota. Like many parents of blind kids, she has questions and worries about a lot of things that she fears are insignificant to others, but are a big deal to her. How, for example, do blind people cut their nails? Embarrassment and/or the lack of knowing a blind person to ask often means that these little (but really not so insignificant) questions never get answered because they never get asked. Joining the Federation gave Carrie lots of opportunities to get to know blind people; she just had to get the nerve up to ask. Here’s her story, and the surprising answer to her question:


I’m a stickler for clean, healthy fingernails and toenails. I think it is something an interviewer, a peer, a prospective mate, or a colleague at work might notice; I certainly do. All four of my children have been taught that it is important as a good health and hygiene practice. At our house it is brush your teeth, brush your hair, and clean and clip those nails!

As soon as they were old enough to handle the clippers, my oldest two began doing their own nails. They were around nine or ten years old when they started. But when my third child neared that age--my blind child--I began to worry: How can he do it? I really thought you had to have eyesight to take GOOD care of your nails; especially toenails. It would be easy, I feared, to cut too much or at a wrong angle and thereby cause a painful ingrown toenail.

After I got to know some blind adults, and Jordan was at the self-nail-care age, I began to ask around. The first person I asked was a ‘legally’ blind, thirty-year-old man. With great embarrassment, he answered that his mother still did his nails. I had horrible visions of visiting Jordan at college every weekend, just to take care of his nails! I scoured all the NFB literature, but there was no 1-2-3, step-by-step guide on how to take care of your nails. Jordan had been independently shampooing and bathing for years already. I had never thought anything about how he was going to do those; he just did it. But when it came to the nails, I had a mental block. Meanwhile, I kept doing his nails and neither of us was too happy about it.

Finally, I got up the nerve to ask Joyce Scanlan, the president of the NFB of Minnesota, about it. She was very gracious. She understood that this ‘little’ thing was a real concern for me. The question wasn’t silly; to go on not asking was the silly thing. She told me to just give him the clippers and the file; he would figure it out by feel. I then realized I could also describe to him any movement he might not understand, but I never needed to. There was no complicated 1-2-3. He’s been doing his own nails ever since.

I’ve seen many sighted people with poorly cared for nails, hands, and feet; and I know many sighted people who take beautiful care of their nails. Some sighted people care for their own nails while others routinely get professional manicures and pedicures. It is the same for the hundreds of blind people I have now met. The blind women I know who keep their nails polished do have someone else do this part because one cannot tell if the wet coat is even by touch. But it wouldn’t surprise me if I met a blind woman who had, through practice, found a way to polish her own nails. I also know many sighted women who smear it up every time. What’s the message? Blindness alone is no barrier to good self-care of fingernails and toenails.

But what I learned goes beyond nail-care. I learned that self-discovery and practice are the keys to mastery of skills--not step-by-step guides. And I’m convinced that the same principle applies to blind children with additional disabilities, too. Finally, when in doubt, consider giving the problem to your kid to solve. You just might be surprised at the results.


Perspectives on Parenting: Playing Games

by Michael K. Meyerhoff, Ed. D.

Reprinted with permission of the author from Pediatrics for Parents, volume 19, number 10.

Editor’s Note: In Future Reflections, we focus almost exclusively on blindness-specific topics. We assume that our readers have an abundance of resources on the psychology of how children learn and parent tips for everything from how to discipline your children, when and how to commence toilet-training, how to talk to your kids about drugs, and so forth.

However, once in a while something “generic” comes to my attention that is a perfect fit for a particular issue. This article is a good example. Dr. Meyerhoff’s comments about playing games is an excellent companion to the piece in this issue by Barbara Pierce called “The Jacks Tournament, Turning Double Dutch, and Other Excursions into Society.” Here is Dr. Meyerhoff’s advice to parents about the value of playing games:

It sounds strange, but from the perspective of an educational psychologist, “playing games” is “serious business.” As young children figure out strategies and compete with their peers and their parents, they acquire, exercise, and refine a wide variety of critical skills and concepts in several areas of development. More importantly, the fun and excitement they experience inspires them to steady improvement and ultimately leads to optimal progress.

The trick is to make sure that the games are well matched to the interests and abilities of young children while simultaneously providing them with a significant challenge at different stages of development. Unfortunately, most commercial games on the market are either so sophisticated, involving purely abstract thinking, that they cause enormous frustration; or so simple, involving just pure luck, that they represent nothing more than a few moments of passive entertainment.

There are, however, a number of commercial products and many free-form activities that are right on target. Preschoolers are just beginning to “use their heads” to deal with the world and are still more comfortable with games directed primarily toward their physical talents. Therefore, something like dominoes or war with a deck of cards entice them to “think” about concepts like classification, numbers, and spatial relationships while allowing them to “strut their stuff” in terms of their sensory discrimination and fine motor skills.

Preschoolers are highly egocentric and tend to analyze everything strictly from their own point of view. The ample pleasure they get from beginner games like Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders encourages them to patiently take turns and carefully look at things through the eyes of others without inappropriately taxing their growing abilities to do this.

During the elementary school years, children become much more capable of complex problem solving that includes their own increasingly intricate thought processes and incorporates a much greater awareness and appreciation of the thought processes of
others. But new capacities for analysis, memory, focus, and innovation do not arrive in complete form or all at once.

Children need plenty of time and practice, both on their own and in conjunction with playmates. The abundant enjoyment they get from games like Go Fish, checkers, Battleship, Simon Says, etc. supplies them with a very effective continuing education in all sorts of complicated “intellectual” and “interpersonal” subjects.

But perhaps the most significant benefits are derived through family togetherness. When mothers and fathers play mutually challenging games like gin rummy, Hangman or Parcheesi with their children, or when everyone watches Wheel of Fortune or Who Wants to be a Millionaire? together, the kids have the chance to observe incredibly important behaviors and attitudes in the people who have the greatest influence over them. Restraint, tenacity, courtesy, cleverness, and determination do not evolve naturally--they are learned by imitating good models.

Similarly, employing both victory and defeat as inspiration to continued improvement, as opposed to wallowing in either unpleasant gloating or unproductive complaining, is something children learn best by watching how the adults they admire and adore handle such situations.

And it is not only the children who learn. When parents spend time playing games like Monopoly, Scrabble, I Spy, chess, or 20 Questions with their kids, the “fun for all” interactions give them a superb peek inside the hearts and minds of their offspring. The more they learn about their children’s strengths, weaknesses, inclinations, and preferences through such activities, the more competent they become to accurately monitor and guide their children’s development creatively and compassionately.

Michael K. Meyerhoff, Ed. D., is executive director of The Epicenter Inc., “The Education for Parenthood Information Center,” a family advisory and advocacy agency located in Lindenhurst, Illinois. His email address is <epicntrinc@aol.com>. He welcomes your thoughts and comments.


Adapting Games for Blind Children

by Katrilla Martin

Playing games has been proven to enhance the intellectual, interpersonal, and physical abilities of children. How then does a blind child, who may tend to shy away from playing games, develop those same abilities and what can parents do to help foster that development? The answer: Be resourceful. The world of card and board games, interactive computer games, or outdoor games does not need to be closed to blind children. Finding fun, inexpensive ways to adapt games for blind children may seem unrealistic, but truthfully most games can be adapted and made accessible at little or no cost to parents. The following article offers some guidelines to follow for making the experience of playing games an enjoyable one for blind children.

BOARD AND CARD GAMES: Making adaptations to card and board games involves simple, inexpensive modifications to cards, playing pieces, and game boards. Since the materials needed to adapt games in Braille--Dymo tape, a slate and stylus, and/or a Braille writer--may be already on hand, many parents and children opt to do the adaptations themselves. (I pause to mention that Braille dice are available at any of the specialty resources included in this article, but that most blind children have no difficulty in using regular playing dice). Players and persons making the modifications must have a working knowledge of Braille and be aware of how much space can be used without obscuring the pieces and board space of others. In other words, these adaptations should not make playing the game difficult. When adapting playing cards, the convention is to use an abbreviated two-digit system and to emboss the Braille numbers and/or suits in opposite corners. For example, “7g” indicates a green seven card in UNO and “xh” is a ten of hearts in a standard deck. (Note: In Braille usage, “x” can be used to connote the Roman numeral ten. Also, it is not necessary to use the number sign if you teach your child that numbers come first, followed by the letter.) Doing this not only allows a young child to practice and master learning the Braille alphabet and numbers, but can also be fun and informative to sighted family and friends.

However, adaptable card and board games can also be purchased by catalog or online from locations that specialize in adaptive appliances and equipment. Sites such as Beyond Sight at <http://www.beyondsight.com/catalog.asp> or Independent Living Aids, Inc at <http://www.independentliving .com/contact.asp> have games in stock and will mail them to your front door for an additional fee. Prices will vary depending on the game and modifications. Sample prices of common games include: $8 (Tactile Tic Tac Toe), $13 (Braille UNO Cards), and $70 (Braille Monopoly).

INTERACTIVE COMPUTER AND VIDEO GAMES: Computer and video games, the most popular type of game these days, are filled with visual graphics and commands that are inaccessible to the blind child. Some Web sites that do offer computer games to the blind, fail to make their games compatible or interesting. Despite these discouragements, there are some resources for exciting and accessible computer games for blind children.

The creators of the AllinPlay, a fun and friendly game site that encourages players of all abilities, but discourages inappropriate language and attitudes is one such fun resource for blind children. Games like Crazy Eights and Poker can be accessed for a small annual fee and a small amount of hard drive. This site is available at <http://allinplay.com/ indexNoFlash.html>. Growing tired of being left out of the gaming industry, Eddie Timanus, a blind sportswriter and former Jeopardy champion, learned to adapt, create, and modify computer games. He, along with some close friends, has adapted such games as Tank Commander, Solitaire, and interactive Wheel of Fortune. For more information, email Eddie Timanus at <editor@thegames journal.com>.

OUTDOOR GAMES AND SPORTS: Most children love to go outdoors to play, including, contrary to popular belief, blind children. Nevertheless, an outdoor experience, without proper planning, direction, and guidance can make even the most confident blind child decline a game of hide-and-seek, monkey-in-the-middle, or golf. Friends and siblings need to be aware of and respect the necessary adaptations; yet, parents need to allow fairness and freedom. There has to be a balance for all to enjoy the activity. Adaptations to outdoor games and sports are simple and inexpensive. Examples of modifications that accommodate blindness include balls that have bells or beepers inside them and bases that are audible and otherwise distinctive. Web sites mentioned earlier make the purchasing of adapted equipment easily accessible. For more information regarding team sports for blind children, visit <http://dmoz.org/Sports/Disabled/Blind/> or <http://www.discoveryblindsports.org/>.


The Jacks Tournament, Turning Double-Dutch,
and Other Excursions into Society

by Barbara Pierce

Editor’s Note: There is little that can sadden a parent’s heart more than a friendless child. No amount of parental love is a substitute for the lack of companionship or friendship of children their own age. Parents can’t “force” friendships, but neither are they powerless. Barbara Pierce, who grew up as a blind child in the fifties and is a prominent leader in the Federation, has become well known to Future Reflections readers for her gentle but frank advice to parents about social skills development. Here are the comments she recently delivered to a national audience of parents and teachers on that topic:

Barbara Cheadle has given you some of my credentials for talking today. The other thing you should know is that I am the mother of three children, so I’m aware that the role of parent is totally impossible. You are expected to keep your children from killing each other while helping them to survive. On top of that, you have to see that they get educated. And, if that were not enough, you have to civilize them. That series of tasks is daunting for every parent. We all do some parts of it better than others, but all of them are really important for you to accomplish.

Today we are talking about the last of those efforts--to civilize children and to equip them to function in a world with other people where they have to engage in give-and-take, where they have to learn how to sell themselves, communicate their interest in and concern for other people, and generally get along. We engage in a kind of balancing act when we try to help our children to achieve all this because on the one hand is the necessity for our children to master social skills of various kinds (and there are many), and on the other hand is the fact that kids are generally miserable when you want them to dress up or engage in activities they find difficult or complicated or boring. Somehow you have to discover the child’s interests and abilities and capitalize on those in order to enable him or her to grow and mature and learn and teach other people.

Let’s take music lessons for example. This is one of those things that provide a new dimension to a child’s life. We fought through music lessons for I can’t tell you how many years. If you added together all the years of instruction for my three kids, I probably suffered through about thirty-five years of pushing kids through music lessons. By and large they hated them, but all three are now grateful that they learned to play the piano and have music in their lives. So how do you decide when to force the music lessons?

Or take athletics. Some kids are natural athletes. My little grandson’s ambition in life from the time he could hold a ball was to have at least two balls in his possession at all times. I know this kid will end up being a ball player. His daddy loves baseball. His mom loves baseball. He’s already interested in athletics. I don’t know that he has any particular athletic ability, but he likes playing with balls. So athletics will be part of his life. What about the kid who is the last one chosen for the team and doesn’t care to perspire? That kid is miserable in gym class and preferably spends his time not engaged in athletic activities. The less engaged he or she is, the less he or she learns about athletics. So he or she doesn’t improve and is likely to spend less time at sports and usually goes off and takes up reading or chess or computer games or something else.

We try lots of different activities and interests with our kids, and they begin to show us what they like and don’t like. The dilemma is that people’s interests are shaped by the things we are exposed to, so in my athletics example the more you do it, the better you get at it. The more you play the piano, the better you get at it. The more you read books, the more comfortable you are reading. Parents have some responsibility, I think, to keep pushing a little further than that initial, “I don’t like that, I don’t want to,” because we can help to shape our kids’ capacities and interests by what we expose them to.

We live in a college town and when our kids were little we had friends in the college math department. My husband Bob was in the English department, and we discovered sort of by accident that, when we traveled with the kids, we played word games. We were word people. When our math department friends traveled with their kids, they played number games. They added up license plates and found the square roots of things--weird things I would never have thought to do. But it came naturally to the kids, and more than that, it came naturally to the parents, who communicated to the kids that playing with numbers was fun and easy.

So think about your responsibility to encourage your children to develop different social skills and interests. Encourage them to try things more than once or twice, to keep at them and give themselves a chance. Out of such experiences grow the interactions and interests they will share with other people as they grow up.

The social pendulum in child rearing swings from one extreme to the other. At one time children were seen and not heard, treated more or less like small adults. They were expected to be quiet and courteous and speak only when spoken to. We don’t treat kids like that today. In fact I think we are at the other end of the pendulum swing. We tend to give kids their head. You don’t want to take piano lessons? Okay, you don’t have to do piano lessons. You want to try T-ball? Okay, you can try T-ball--whatever you want.

Rational parental guidance lies somewhere between these two extremes. So I urge you parents to be clear with your blind kids about needing to stick for a while with the activities they start in order to learn whether or not they are interested, because often they can’t tell at first how well they will do. We all experience a learning curve in mastering new skills. Blind kids especially find that starting something new is tough. You’re at sea with the unfamiliar; it’s hard. You don’t know what you are doing or even which way is up. It takes awhile to settle in and figure out whether or not you like the activity. So don’t be too quick to say, “Oh well, things are already so hard for Johnny that I don’t want to make his life even harder.” Keep blind youngsters coming back to the activity.

I have seen parents trying to introduce two- and three-year-old blind toddlers to groups of other small children. They are disappointed when the child takes a toy into a corner, sits down alone, and doesn’t interact with the other kids. The parents conclude, “That didn’t work very well; I guess I will try it again next year.” It isn’t going to work very well until the parent engages in the play and helps the sighted kids get used to playing with the blind child and the blind youngster used to dealing with the sighted kids. In the midst of the play the adult can figure out what information the blind child needs in order to understand what’s going on.

To some degree all parents engage in this struggle toward socialization and civilization, trying to help their kids figure out what they want to do with their lives and what they are going to be interested in. Parents of blind children have a compound problem because, not only do you have to accomplish that goal for your children, you have to figure out what blind kids can actually do. Your blind child will never be the star of the Little League baseball team, but blind kids do and can do lots of things. And the NFB can help you learn what is possible. If you get to know competent blind adults, you will begin to find out. If you read the Braille Monitor and Future Reflections, you will meet kids who are in Scouting, 4-H, and marching band.

Angela Wolf, who made the announcement earlier about the student division, is an artist. Art was never something I thought I could do. I was certain in school that a blind kid could not be an artist. Now Angela has convinced me that my uninterest and inability in art result from the fact that I am not artistic. It isn’t blindness-related. So, if your child loves to draw, find out ways to work on coloring. The NFB is your repository of information, your source for expertise on how to do all kinds of things. This is available to you absolutely free of charge. Just put your questions out there on the grapevine, and you will find somebody who can tell you how to do whatever it is. And if you figure something out, pass the information along because we don’t know everything. We all trade information.

Count on the NFB to be a help in enabling you to encourage your child to try the things that are useful and interesting to him or her. But when it comes to the decisive moment, it’s you and your child. You get all the advice, you get all the information, you get all the encouragement, but in the end, when it comes down to helping your child to become integrated into social settings, it is up to you and your child.

So the earlier you start, the better off you are going to be. If you let Susie stay home playing with her three favorite toys, thanking your lucky stars that she’s pretty good and quiet, promising yourself that when she gets to nursery school or kindergarten we’ll start working on social interaction, you have lost valuable years, and you have also established some pretty unhealthy habits. Lots of blind kids are uneasy in social settings; big, unfamiliar spaces; unfamiliar voices; things that they’re not used to. All such uncertainties make things difficult, so it’s no wonder that a blind two-year-old may suddenly cling to you in an unfamiliar room.

That’s not a reason to quit for now and try again next week or next month. Instead it’s your cue to sit down on the floor with the child and describe the space and what’s going on and talk about the new toys around us. “Here’s Mary Ellen, who is playing with a doll, and Jennifer, who is playing house with Jason. There is a kitchen with a stove. Let’s go over and check this out.” Try to spend enough time breaking the ice so that your child begins to be confident in the setting. It might be helpful to put together a little play group of sighted kids for your blind child, kids who will be happy to play around in the same area. All two-year-olds wander around, interact with each other, and play together now and then. If you can build such a group, the other youngsters will get used to your blind child and he or she will get used to having different sighted children around and playing. That’s a good start.

So, as I say, the earlier you construct these social interactions, the better off your child will be. It is also fair to say that the youngster who reaches adolescence or even ten or eleven before becoming blind also has some advantages, because the foundation of interests and social skills is already established. As a parent of an older blind child, you will have to change some of the ways to structure social interactions that I have been describing, but you do have some real advantages if your child has already established some of the skills and interests I have been talking about.

If you are dealing with adjusting to blindness in the late elementary school years or middle school or high school, the important thing is to help your son or daughter develop a circle of kids that he or she feels comfortable with and who are willing to have a blind friend, not just a group project--the one they all feel sorry for and are nice to because they are good kids. At every age your job as the parent is to expect your child to be involved with peers and to help that happen.

My mother did this quite naturally. I can remember at the age of four working with her on how to jump rope. It was quite a mystery to me, holding the ends of the rope in both hands, throwing it over your head, and then jumping over it at the right moment. She taught me by sound what to do--how to move my hands and jump into the air when I heard the rope hit the ground. It took lots of time to teach me to coordinate all the actions. She did a lot of rope-jumping herself when I was four in order to help me master the skill. But in the fifties jumping rope was a rite of passage for elementary school girls. I don’t know if it still is, but when I was in grade school, we did a lot of jumping rope. My friends and I modified the game until I got pretty good at running in. At first I was what we called a “stand-in.” The two turners would stop turning the rope and let me stand beside it. Then they would begin turning again so that I didn’t have to time my running in.

This meant that jumping rope was an activity I could do, which in turn meant I was part of the group. Then in third or fourth grade we began doing double-Dutch. Now I have to tell you, I was a real flop at double-Dutch. I am sure that some blind kid somewhere can jump double-Dutch, but that kid is not here, at least not at the podium. What I could do was turn the ropes. I was a great double-Dutch turner. Nobody enjoys turning double-Dutch because it’s hard work. Everybody wants a chance to jump. But if the group has one steady turner, they only have to find one other girl dumb enough to agree to turn the rope. Signing on to be a steady turner might not have been a good decision for some kids, but for me being part of the group, serving a function that the group appreciated, and doing the job well were enough of a social attraction that I did a lot of double-Dutch turning. Because it made me part of the group, it was worth the effort.

What wasn’t worth the effort to me was the jacks tournament. I don’t know whether kids play jacks today. Do you remember jacks, the little ball and odd-shaped things to pick up? Well somewhere along the line, maybe in third or fourth grade, the girls had a jacks tournament in my elementary school. I don’t remember how it all worked, but we had to play games of jacks, and the more you won, the higher you moved on the pyramid chart. I was never very good at jacks. It requires eye-hand coordination. If you haven’t got the eye part, you are at a distinct disadvantage. But I wanted to be part of this recess activity, so I started playing. I hung in, mostly losing, until the day we were playing after a rain storm, and I scooped up four jacks and a dead worm. At that moment I decided the jacks tournament was not for me. That was the end of my jacks-playing career. I had never been good at it anyway, so I wasn’t heartbroken.

The Indian wrestling tournament was another matter altogether. I was a strong kid, and I drew a pretty high number to start with. I held off all female comers, except for Harveen. Harveen ended up as number one, and I ended as number two. But I was terrific in the Indian wrestling tournament. Those things in which you can participate put you on an even footing with everybody else, or at least on some footing. Those sorts of experiences are really helpful socially.

I want to say a word in favor of church groups, Scouting, clubs--all of these are kids’ activities outside of school. In school of course the main activity is education, and beyond that you have more or less unstructured social activity on the playground. Church groups, Scouts, clubs like 4-H are all structured social activities. An adult supervises these activities, and, if you can establish a good relationship with the leader so that he or she is not motivated by pity and inclined to spoon feed but will urge everybody to let Susie in, such a group is often a better way to integrate a blind child than games on the playground.

When I was in the third grade, I was chosen to be Mary in the church Christmas pageant. I assumed that Mary was the center of the whole program. After all, she was a big deal in the story. In our pageant Mary just sat holding the baby. The shepherds, the angels, the wise men all came and went, so of course the director made me Mary so she could plop me down and not worry about me any further. I didn’t have a clue about what was going on, so during the rehearsal I hung around under foot, impatiently waiting to be told what the star was to do. When they finally came at the end of the rehearsal, my instructions were simple: “Go sit on the stool and stay there.” When my family left the rehearsal and were in the car, my mother said, “I was so embarrassed for you. You were just hanging around, getting in everybody’s way without having anything to do.” I can still remember the mortification that I felt at having been clueless about what was really going on. It was a salutary experience, but for years the memory brought only mortification for having behaved that way.

On the other hand, when the girls in my Scout troop were in the fifth grade, we mounted a production of The Littlest Angel, a children’s Christmas story. Troop members created the mural backdrop, acted the story in mime, and sang various carols. The Scout leader went to my mother and said, “How about having Barbara memorize the book and sit on a stool to recite the story?” Everybody thought I had an extraordinary memory. You know, all blind children have wonderful powers of memory. My mother, bless her, worked with me for hours to memorize that book. On the big night I sat on my stool and recited the entire book while the rest of the troop acted it out. That time I really was the star, and everybody thought I was extraordinary. I had a part to play that was as important as anybody else’s. That experience happened because I was in Scouts. Looking back, I recognize that this experience at the age of ten was critical to my learning to do public speaking.

I will conclude by pointing out that blind boys and girls benefit greatly from learning skills like knitting or repairing bikes. Becoming an expert on any subject develops fields of interest that can be shared with others. The investment a parent or older friend makes helping a blind youngster learn to cook or sew or build bird houses provides quality time, opportunities to sharpen skills of many kinds, and the chance to share confidences and insights.

Learning statistics about sports teams or facts about indigenous birds or the details about the lives of the Greek gods and goddesses can all be interesting and useful activities for blind kids. But as a parent you need to monitor the way such learning is shared. Sometimes it is necessary to say quietly, “That’s enough about batting averages; your cousin Jane is not as interested in baseball as you are.” Your child cannot see Jane’s eyes roll in boredom, but he somehow has to learn restraint in the name of social acceptability.

The point I have been making all along is that you should encourage your blind youngster to learn and grow and interact with others. At the beginning you will have to help break the ice in creating social interactions. But the more your child knows and the more varied experiences he or she has, the more confident and able he or she will be to get along with others and find common ground.

Good luck. Yours is a big job, but nothing is more rewarding.



Swimming as a Totally Blind Athlete: What You Need to Know

by Donovan Tildesley

Reprinted from the Canadian Blind Monitor, Volume 11, Fall/Winter 2001.

Editor’s Note: At the time this article was published, Donovan Tildesley was a Grade 12 student from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I was intrigued by the blindness techniques the young man describes and impressed with his accomplishments. But I think I was most impressed with his concluding remark about how he anticipates meeting other, more experienced blind swimmers because “They can teach me a lot.” Here is Tildesley with his advice for young, competitive swimmers:

As an eight-year veteran of competitive swimming and a one-time bronze medallist at the Sydney 2000 Paralympics, I have a fair bit of knowledge of the intricacies and technicalities of being a totally blind swimmer. Unlike sighted swimmers and even other partially blind swimmers, the totally blind swimmer has many unique challenges to face. These include pool space, coaching methods, and availability of tappers. If these challenges aren’t addressed properly, problems may arise which may hinder the progress of the totally blind swimmer to reach his or her full potential. The suggestions that I put forth here are ones that have benefited me. It is important to note that every totally blind athlete is different, so what has worked for me may not work the same way for another.

In my swimming career, one of the biggest obstacles that I have had to overcome is pool space. Being totally blind, it is often incredibly difficult to be placed in a lane with up to four other sighted swimmers and be expected to perform well. Although coaches believe that the sighted swimmers should merely try to “be careful of the blind swimmer” in the lane, this is not always the case. Inevitably, accidents occur leaving the blind swimmer with a sense of apprehension, which does not help when it comes to swimming fast. There are several solutions to this problem which coaches and swimmers may consider. Firstly, coaches should always try to limit the number of swimmers in the blind person’s lane to no more than two or three. The swimmers in the lane should be competent swimmers who understand that they must be careful at all times. Whenever possible, the blind swimmer should be given his own lane so that he can focus more on the practice and not on avoiding people.

As you may know, swimming is an incredibly technical sport. Running into the lane ropes, a bad turn, or an error in the kick may mean the difference between third and fourth place in a race. Such was the case for me when I was two-tenths of a second from winning the bronze medal in my 100 meter backstroke in Sydney because I hadn’t been shown the proper technique for the backstroke flip-turn. Because of these technical issues, blind swimmers must be given different instructions than their sighted counterparts. This means, at many times, that the totally blind swimmer must be instructed on a one-to-one basis. When I started swimming at the age of nine, my parents both realized this fact and I have spent the majority of my swimming career training under a private coach. In this way, whenever there was a problem that needed to be corrected in my stroke, my coach could simply stop the practice and address the issue either verbally or by coming into the water and showing me hand-over-hand what to do. I believe that this one-to-one attention would be beneficial for any totally blind swimmer.

One of the most important aids to the totally blind swimmer is the tapper. For those who aren’t aware, the tapper is the person who indicates to the swimmer that they are coming into the wall by a single “tap” on the head. Without the tapper, totally blind swimmers lack the confidence to swim at their full speeds and may end up with some unwanted marks on their skulls. Believe me, I’ve got scars, which couldn’t illustrate this fact more clearly! The problem for many people is to find individuals to fulfill this role. If the immediate coach or parents/siblings of the swimmer cannot act as a tapper, totally blind swimmers can turn to the many high school and university students seeking part-time employment. An existing tapper must train these individuals and the athlete must feel comfortable with and trust these people. Usually, one person can run back and forth along the pool deck and tap the swimmer at each end but at some points (especially during swim meets), one tapper is required at each end of the pool. It is important to have several people trained as tappers so that people can be sent in to tap in order to ensure that there is always someone on hand when needed.

These are the main points that I feel must be addressed if you or someone you know who is totally blind would like to become a competitive swimmer. If you’re interested in giving this sport a try, you should contact your local swim club or B.C. Blind Sports. Participating in competitive swimming has given me a sense of self-worth, discipline, time-management skills, physical strength, endurance, and a healthy outlet for my energy. Through swimming, I have also met some very interesting people and gained long-lasting friendships; many of which endure over considerable distances. As I get older, I will look to other totally blind swimmers whom I have met internationally to provide me with ways and techniques of handling my swimming career. They can teach me a lot. I wish all prospective totally blind swimmers good luck in their endeavors. Just between you and me, I desperately need some more Canadian competition!


Independent Travel at the Swimming Pool or at the Beach

Editor’s Note: Engaging independently in sports or recreational activities is an appropriate and achievable goal for all blind kids. However, I am often baffled when I see kids being escorted by a sighted guide to and from such activities. I don’t get it: wouldn’t the freedom and joy of the sport be even further enhanced if blind kids also had the skills and confidence to walk to and from, or in and around, the sport environment by themselves? The following chapter from Doris Willoughby’s and Sharon Monthei’s book, Modular Instruction for Independent Travel for Student Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired: Preschool Through High School, addresses that very question. So, if you are getting all psyched about signing your kid up for swimming lessons this summer, don’t forget that true independence includes learning how to travel and move about in the locker room, the showers, the snack stand, the picnic area, and poolside as much as it does independently swimming in the pool! Here are the practical steps you can take to make that possible:

Module 85: Swimming Pool and Beach
Objective: The student will detect step-downs and drop-offs with the cane, and
proceed appropriately.

Objective: The student will walk on varied surfaces, including sand, pebbles, and grassy hills.

Objective: When planning to engage in a sport, the student will use the cane to a point as close as practical, and then stow it appropriately during the activity.

Age of Student: Preschool and up (This Module is presented as for the intermediate grades.)

Primary Skill Emphasis:
• Varied terrain
• Detecting step-downs or drop-offs
• Boundaries
• Landmarks
• Stowing cane
• Purchase or transaction

Additional Skill Emphasis:
• Emergency procedures
• Barefoot walking
• Sound direction and meaning
• Interpreting odors
• Air currents and echoes
• Weather and temperature
• Examining things tactually
• In a crowd or a line
• Hills and inclines
• Open space
• Meeting the public
• Careers

See Also (Other Modules):

Remarks: It may or may not be practical to get into the pool during a lesson. But it is easy to practice the associated skills around the pool, and to discuss actual swimming.

Caution: A teacher who is not a qualified swimming instructor should never take a student into the water (even shallow water) without a lifeguard present. Also, a teacher should not go alone with a student where help could not be found quickly if the
student fell in.

In all activities below, a young or inexperienced student should be accompanied closely at all times.


Example 1: Public Swimming Pool
(This description assumes the pool is with a large apartment complex. The general approach is the same for a beach, river, or public pool.)

Example 2: Swimming Classes at School

Example 3: The Beach


David Walker. “Hook, Line, and Golf Balls.” National Federation of the Blind.

Editor’s Note: Published by the National Federation of the Blind, Modular Instruction is available for $20 plus $9 shipping and handling. Readers may place a credit card order with the NFB Materials Center by fax at (410) 685-5653 or by phone at (410) 659-9314. Checks made payable to the NFB may be mailed with a request for Modular Instruction for Independent Travel for Students Who are Blind or Visually Impaired: Preschool Through High School (order number LSA01P) to NFB Materials Center, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230. This information applies to print orders within the continental USA only. For information about alternative formats or the cost for shipping to Alaska, Hawaii, USA territories, and to other countries, please contact the NFB Materials Center by mail, phone, fax, or by email at <materials@nfb.org>.


Giving Directions

by Kasondra L. Payne

Reprinted from the Spring 2003, issue of the Minnesota Bulletin, a publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota.

Editor’s Note: Is there a trick or knack to giving good directions to a blind person? Maybe, but that’s a topic for another issue. This article is about how blind people learn to give good directions to others. As you read it, I challenge you to ask yourself these questions: What am I doing to help my blind child (or student) learn how to give good directions to other people--especially people who are driving him or her someplace? Can my child give directions to and from his or her house--especially from frequently traveled places like school; mom’s place or dad’s place; church, synagogue, or mosque; grandma’s house; a nearby convenience store, etc.? Unlike other skills for which it is hard to find the time to practice, this is an easy one to incorporate into the daily routine: every time you get into the car you can practice it. And it’s easy to turn it into a fun game which all of your kids can play and enjoy. Here, now, is Kasondra to tell you how she learned and refined her skill in “Giving Directions:”


“Kasondra, how do you know what direction you are going?” My friend Jenny always has some new question about blindness for me, but this one startled me. We were socializing with several other women before a church meeting, and I had just given our friend, Sheila, directions to a store across town. Sheila had heard me give directions before, and she knew that I am usually very accurate.

I explained, “I have many techniques I use. For example, on a sunny day, I use the position of the sun as a cue to tell me what direction I am walking in. I also use landmarks, and I pay attention to where buses are going. I was trained in these skills when I went through Blindness: Learning In New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc.”

Another friend, Ann, pressed me further. “How do you know the freeways?”

“Well, I just had to learn where the freeways go and how to get from one to another.” I replied. “Did you know that I directed Shawn around town when he moved here before we got married?”

Ann seemed a little surprised, but she listened as I explained the techniques I used to teach my sighted husband, Shawn, where things are in the Twin Cities.

Shawn came from a small town in Idaho where everything is pretty close together. He had lived in a big city before, but Minneapolis, Minnesota, was a whole new ball of wax. Minneapolis and St. Paul are two fairly good-sized cities situated just across the river from each other. That wasn’t difficult for Shawn, but the freeway system in Minnesota can get quite confusing. There are so many freeways, and they often change direction. Shawn had a map, but he couldn’t read it while he was driving. That’s why he relied on me to give him accurate directions.

Shawn never thought it was weird to be getting directions from a blind person. He expected me to know where I was going and how to get there. I had given directions to sighted people before, but most of them were at least familiar with the area. Shawn had never been to Minnesota, and he had no clue where he was going. I promised him that I would teach him how to get around town. This turned out to be a learning experience for both of us.

The first night Shawn was in town we planned to go to a restaurant near my home. I was used to getting there by bus, and I didn’t always pay attention when I went there by car. I knew where the restaurant was, but I was sketchy on some of the details. I asked Shawn to read the street signs to me, so I could figure out where we were. It was a lot like a bus driver calling stops and transfer points. We got a little lost, but we eventually found the restaurant. I realized that some of the same techniques I used when traveling by bus also worked in a car.

Shawn had a month to learn how to get around town. I was going out of town for a week, and he needed to know where things were--like church, his new job, and shopping areas. This wasn’t too difficult, but I wanted him to feel confident about where he was going. We drove around finding the best routes to all these places. Of course, we got lost, but we always found our way out. I wasn’t perfect either. Sometimes I told him to make a wrong turn, but we always got ourselves out of it. Sometimes I forgot that cars couldn’t always go where buses go, or that some streets are one-way only. We ended up in a few bus lanes and turned around on a few deadend roads, but we always made it out. This helped me learn how to give better directions, and Shawn learned everything he needed to know to get around while I was gone.

This story may seem backwards, but it is true. Usually, sighted people are giving us the directions, and they don’t often expect us to know where we are going. Some sighted people don’t believe that blind people can give them directions to go anywhere. We are helpless and weak to these people. They believe they must take care of us and help us get on our way. That is why I am thankful for my training at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND). While I was there, I learned the travel skills I needed to get around independently. I learned how to use sound cues, the sun, and landmarks to find my way around. I also learned to pay attention to where I was going when I was on a bus, in a taxi, or in a car. More importantly, I learned that I could travel confidently, and that I was capable of giving good directions.

My friends may have been amazed that a blind person could give a sighted person accurate directions. I was able to explain how I give directions, and they saw that a blind person could do something so normal. As we do things like this, we change people’s perceptions of what blind people can do. That’s what we’re good at in the National Federation of the Blind. As we learn the skills of blindness, we have the power to change attitudes about blindness. Being able to give directions is just part of this. So I can say to my friends, “Yes, I do know what direction I am going, and I can help you as well!”


Gardening for Young Visually Impaired or Multi-Impaired Children

by Didi Goodrich

Reprinted from the VIP Newsletter, volume 17, number 1, under the title “Gardening for Young Visually Impaired and Blind Children.”

Gardening for the child who is visually impaired or blind encourages the exploration of the environment using the senses of touch, smell, hearing, and taste. Gardening enhances these young gardeners’ participation in their families and community and enriches their personal lives by helping them gain firsthand experiences through the use of their remaining senses and in the tending and nurturing of a living thing. They are able to establish a relationship with the plants and animals in their own garden or yard that, in turn, helps them to better understand their place in the world.

While engaged in digging, weeding, watering, trimming, and caring for plants young visually impaired, blind, or multi-impaired gardeners can improve their levels of cognitive development, expand their attention spans, and decrease the level of stress and anxiety in their lives. This helps to diminish aggressiveness.

My eighteen-year-old daughter, Samantha, is totally blind and multi-impaired. She is non-verbal and essentially non-ambulatory. Gardening is a recreational (and potential vocational) activity Sam has enjoyed since she was eight years old. Gardening utilizes her cognitive, spatial, and sensory abilities as Sam learns to care for and respond to changes in her garden. As her plants grow and mature to a crop, she can pick, eat, and share with those around her.

Samantha’s sensory garden is a small enclosed area roughly fifteen-by-twenty-five feet that has two raised beds, a small greenhouse, a fountain, bird baths, wind chimes, statuary, garden ornaments to tactually explore, bird houses and feeders, a bench, and many large cedar tubs and pots containing herbs, edible flowers, and vegetables.

Sam’s garden offers a variety of experiences that appeal to her senses of touch, smell, hearing, and taste. Lamb’s ears have soft, fuzzy, silver gray leaves and other soft wooly-leaved plants are mint-scented geranium, dusty miller, ‘Powis Castle,’ artemisia, dittany of Crete, an ornamental oregano, mulleins, pussy willow, and Spanish lavender. Some tickly plants are blue fescue, bulbous oat grass, esparto grass, fennel, and ‘Red Fountain’ grass. Some prickly plants are Eastern prickly pear cactus, Fuller’s teasel, Mexican grass tree, roses, globe thistle, purple coneflower, sea holly, and hens-and-chicks. Exploring the garden barefoot is a sensory delight--moss, wooly thyme, chamomile, bricks, stones, concrete--each alter our perception of the garden.

Smell is everywhere in the garden: flowers, herbs, ripening fruit, and vegetables. The sounds of the garden are varied, from the rustling of trees such as pines and willows to the whisper of ornamental grasses moving in the breeze, the musical sounds of birds, the soothing gurgle of a fountain, and the peaceful music of wind chimes.

The tastes of the garden are as varied as the crops you plant: vegetables, fruits, berries, and herbs. Some edible perennials to plant in the garden are artichoke, horseradish, rhubarb, Egyptian onion, asparagus, and Jerusalem artichoke.

Samantha’s garden also encourages her to use her tactile symbol system to communicate about her garden and to take part in the decision-making process about what to plant. We use both hand-over-hand and verbal instruction when presenting materials or activities to Sam and reinforce these with her tactile symbols. Her enjoyment of her garden has been a great motivation to use her communication skills both verbally and with symbols.

Sam uses a raised bed at the community Pea-Patch that is waist height. This allows her to stand upright while gardening and it is also accessible from her walker or wheelchair.

Raised bed gardens can be made from many different materials. Wood framing with pressure-treated timbers, four-by-eight cedar planks, palisade logs, concrete blocks, stones, and hay bales to name a few. If pressure-treated lumber is used, it should be noted that the chemicals used to pressure treat the wood are toxic. It is the belief at this time that the chemicals will not leach out of the wood in sufficient amounts to be toxic, but it is not recommended for vegetable gardens.

A small raised bed garden can be made out of old tires stacked on top of each other and bolted together using holes drilled through the sidewalls. The height of the tire bed depends on whether it will be used in a seated or standing position.

If a space is not large enough to allow raised beds, then container gardens work well, allowing even small decks or terraces to be used as a garden space. Large cedar barrel planters are ideal for young gardeners or for the individual using a wheelchair or walker as the planters allow easy access.

Young visually impaired or blind gardeners use many different pieces of equipment, some specially adapted, some not, to help them access the normal process of gardening. Planting templates of various configurations are used to make holes for seeds or seedlings. Small lightweight watering cans, small plastic squirt-bottles, or bulb sprayers can all be used for watering plants. A bulb planter can be used in place of a trowel to dig out a uniform size core of soil when planting a seedling. This is helpful for gardeners who are physically disabled as well as those who are visually impaired or blind. A one-handed pruner can be made by bolting a pruner or trimming shears onto a contoured block of wood. An ice cream scoop works nicely for filling a pot or planter with soil as it is both lightweight and easy to control. A wooden jig can be used to secure a pot so filling it is easier. A sugar shaker can be used to scatter seeds. There are no limits to what you can use to make
gardening fun for everyone. Use your imagination and watch your garden grow!


Bales, S., 1998. Fascinating foliage. Easy Gardening Winter/Spring.

Christopher, 2001. Raised beds: A guide to smart gardening above ground. Country Living Gardener, vol. 9 no. 2.

Davis, S., 1994. Therapy in the garden for people of all ages. American Horticulturist.

Eldred, M. 1998. Fuzzy, prickly and tickly to touch. Fine Gardening.

Greenstein, 1993. Backyard and butterflies: Ways to include children with disabilities in outdoor activities. Brookline Books.

Krause, D., Horticulture program handbook. Perkins School for the Blind.


Tips for the Blind Gardener

by Dana Ard

Reprinted from the Spring, 2003, issue of the Gem State Milestones, the newsletter of the NFB of Idaho.

Editor’s Note: Dana Ard is an active member and leader in the NFB affiliate in Idaho. She writes a regular feature in the Gem State Milestones called, “Bright Ideas” and this is one of them.

The month of May brings graduations, thoughts of school year’s end, and plans for summer vacations. For many, it also signals the time for planting those much-enjoyed vegetables that will yield a rich harvest in the summer and fall. Many blind people believe that gardening is no longer possible. Although I’m not a gardener--I’ve killed mint twice and that’s the truth--I know and have interviewed two very successful gardeners in order to get ideas to share in this column. Jim Near is a longtime Boise resident in his eighties. He has two large gardens that take up most of his back and side property. Helen Branson is a former resident of Boise, and was a longtime member of this organization before moving to Hawaii for health reasons. She and her husband Ralph planted a fifty-by-sixty foot garden that fed not only themselves but also the elderly patients that lived in their home in Boise.

Both Jim and Helen roto--till and rake the ground to prepare it for planting. Helen hires this done while Jim uses his side vision to accomplish the task himself. Jim makes forty-foot long rows by placing a stake in the ground at the head of the row and running a thirty-nine-foot piece of twine down to a second stake at the opposite end. He stretches the string taut before attaching it to the second stake. Jim follows this string when making the hills and trenches for the plants with his hoe. To measure distances between rows, Jim lays a stake flat on the ground and uses the length of the stake as the distance between rows.

To keep weeds from overtaking the small seedlings, Jim places a flat board on either side of the ridge and plants the starts between them. Helen and Ralph use a different system. In order to control weeds and hold in the moisture, they place sheets of three-millimeter-thick black plastic over the tilled ground. They then cut holes of the proper size for the vegetables they wished to plant. They kept a mental note of how many rows of each vegetable were planted in the garden.

To protect tiny plants from accidentally being stepped on, Helen and Ralph use tomato cages to cover the plants. Both Jim and Helen agree that using plants rather than seeds is preferable. Neither gardener uses commercial insecticide. Helen uses table salt on her broccoli to keep the budworms away. She also said that the crows eat the bugs on the tomatoes. She puts a cup of Miracle Grow in each hole before placing the plant in it. Jim suggests waiting until the plants have grown some before weeding. He learned this lesson the hard way a few years ago when he accidentally pulled out most of his carrots thinking they were weeds. Jim waters with a sprinkler system while Helen’s garden is irrigated with ditch water once a week.

I hope these tips and gardening experiences are of help. But, if you find you need more vegetables, contact Jim. By the looks of things in his garden, he’s going to have a bumper crop!


Two Nebraska Teachers Receive Award, Accolades

Editor’s Note: It is a long-standing practice of state affiliates of the National Federation of the Blind to give special recognition to individuals who have, in their respective states and communities, furthered the cause of equality and opportunity for blind people. Just a year ago, the Nebraska affiliate choose to recognize not one, but two, outstanding teachers of blind and deaf-blind children. Following the award, an article about one of those teachers appeared in her local community. Amy Buresh, president of the NFB of Nebraska, circulated that article along with other comments in an email to Federation members in that state. Here is that email followed by the article about one of these two outstanding teachers:

From: Amy Buresh
To: Nebraska Fellow Federationist
Sent: Tuesday, January 04, 2005
Subject: Celebrating award winners Diane Ditmars and Meg Bradford

Dear Fellow Federationist and Friends,

At the 2004 convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska, two very special educator awards were presented at the student luncheon.

I have received a warm and appreciative phone call from Meg Bradford, who wishes me to pass on her sincere gratitude for her award. She said she was humbled and quite surprised to be honored in this way and appreciates the fact that we appreciate her and the work she does. She is a friend and a supporter and we’re lucky to have folks like her working with deaf-blind children in Nebraska.

Below is a thank you from the other award recipient, Diane Ditmars, a teacher of the blind in Beatrice, Nebraska. Diane is a true asset to her students and is simply
AWESOME! What more can I say. She’s a true gem, a friend and supporter, and we’re fortunate to have her here in the Cornhusker state helping to empower blind children and youth.

An article featuring Diane recently appeared in the December 8, 2004, issue of the Beatrice Daily Sun. The article is pasted in this message along with a link to the article online.

First, here is the note from Diane:

“With heartfelt thanks to all of you, there is no other group of people whose opinion is as important to educating blind students as you who have already experienced the system. Thank you for your vote of confidence. It will keep me going this year. So many good things have happened as a result of the NFB award! Thanks again. Most sincerely, Diane”

BPS’ Diane Ditmars is honored for her work

by Bill Hafer
Daily Sun staff writer

Imagine being in math class, and the teacher goes to the board to lead the class through a problem.

The teacher is blocking the illustration on the board so all the class gets is this description: “Draw a box. Now draw lines here, and there. Place letters at this point and that point, and there it is.”

For most students, the teacher using the pronouns “this,” “that,” “here,” and “there” among others wouldn’t be a problem because they could simply look at the illustration when the teacher moved out of the way, but that wouldn’t be the case for a blind student.
“In the classroom, pronouns and anything at a distance blind students miss,” said Diane Ditmars, Beatrice Public Schools vision resource teacher. That is where she comes in. “It’s daily problem solving,” she said of her job.

In recognition of the job she does Ditmars was awarded the Nebraska Educator of the Blind Excellence Award. The award was presented in October at the tenth annual luncheon meeting of the Nebraska Association of Blind Students, part of the state convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Nebraska.

Ditmars said she has worked with BPS since 1980, as a consultant for many years and now as a half-time employee of the district. “Many people do not realize the work that goes on behind the scenes,” she said.

In addition to Ditmars, BPS also has Braillist Karen Meints on staff to provide support for blind and low vision students.

Ditmars said one of the key challenges of her job is helping other people understand blindness. “People understand it to be an incredible disability. It’s an emotional thing for them to think of being without their eyes,” she said.

The reality is that there are blind people in every field imaginable, Ditmars said, and as an educator she looks for how it is possible for students to reach that level of independence. “A blind student needs all the same information,” Ditmars said. “If you have all the information you need you don’t have a disability. For some kids, the only reason they miss information is because they can’t see the board.”

For younger students, she said she works more intensively, one on one, to help them learn and develop the skills to adapt on their own. As the students get older the job becomes about providing support for both the students and their teachers, Ditmars said. Support means finding ways to make sure blind students get the same information that other students do, whether that is through printouts of what a teacher might put on an overhead projector, getting Braille versions of worksheets and tests made, or whatever else the situation requires.

She said each situation has to take into account that student’s need because most of the students have some vision. “Most can see some light,” Ditmars said, which can lead to confusion because in some lighting situations a student may be able to read visually like other students, but in others they can’t. She said 20/200 vision is legally blind, but that’s not the same as totally blind.

Ditmars works with eight students in Beatrice and students in Hebron and Marysville, as well as testing other students to see if they are having vision problems. She said she considers herself a vision resource teacher because she is a resource to blind students, and their parents and teachers.

“I love the students I have. I wish I had more time for each one of them,” Ditmars said.

She said she’s been asked if it makes sense to have two educators working specifically with such a small number of students. “It’s a drop in the bucket compared to what it would cost if those students went onto welfare for the rest of their lives because they don’t have any skills,” Ditmars said.

That’s because, in the end, her job is about providing the support blind and low-vision students need to learn to adapt in the classroom, so that they will be able to adapt independently when they move on into the world.


It Only Takes A Spark To Get The Fire Roaring

by Sandra Dunnam

Editor’s Note: Sandra Dunnam is a professional in the area of blindness and a parent of a blind daughter. Dunnam’s daughter, Jennifer, is now grown, out on her own, and, as Sandra will proudly tell you, making more money than her mom does! Early this year, Sandra attended the North American National Active Learning Convention in California. Dr. Lilli Nielsen, inventor of the Little Room and developer of the Active Learning approach for blind and multiply impaired children, planned to make this her last workshop in the United States before retiring. I asked several people for their impression of the conference, and Sandra came through for me. Here is what she has to say about the conference, and about her experiences with the Active Learning approach:

My name is Sandra Dunnam, and I am an Early Interventionist for the Louisiana Center for the Blind Infant/Toddler Vision Service Program. There are five of us in the program and we cover the state of Louisiana, providing this service for Louisiana Early Steps.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a Dr. Lilli Nielsen workshop at a National Federation of the Blind Annual Convention in Atlanta. Later, in Future Reflections, I read more articles about her methods and materials. I was so inspired, I jumped at the chance in 2002 to attend a one-day workshop on Active Learning for Students with Significant

Disabilities held in Alexandria, Louisiana. This workshop was sponsored by the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and the presenters were itinerant teachers and Active Learning practitioners, Gigi Newton and Stacey Schafer.

These experiences allowed me to learn much about the Active Learning tools and techniques I could use with the infants and toddlers with whom I work. With support from my husband, Butch, I got my first resonance board (he made it). A resonance board vibrates with the slightest movement and provides instant tactile and auditory feedback to the child sitting or lying on it. We bought the resonance board plans for $5 from the LilliWorks Active Learning Foundation, and it has been worth every penny and much, much more! Those few valuable resources were the beginning of the ‘spark’ in my career.

Thanks to the sponsorship of the NFB Louisiana Center for the Blind, I was able to further my training by attending the North American Active Learning Convention in the San Francisco Bay area for three full days this past February. The theme for this, Dr. Nielsen’s final training session in the United States was “ Lighting the Fire.”

Dr. Lilli Nielsen developed the Active Learning approach based upon a lifetime of work and research in the education of visually impaired children with additional disabilities. The essential active learning principal is to create an environment that nurtures and supports the learner so that the learner can take action on his or her own initiative to learn.

There were so many memorable events throughout this convention. For me, the highlight was watching the live demonstrations in which a family member (one of the convention participants) would bring his or her child with significant disabilities on stage for an Active Learning session. One child was put in a Square Hammock with an Essef Board by her feet. The Essef Board is highly responsive to any pressure from the child’s feet, and thus engages the child in lower motor activities. Another child was put in a HOPSA Dress with the Essef Board under her feet. The HOPSA dress provides vertical orientation and support with the legs bearing weight. An easel made out of cork board with multiple items attached to it with elastic was put in front, near her hands and arms, so that even the slightest movement would put her in touch with something. Another child was put on a support bench. A support bench allows the child to lie prone with hands free, thus promoting midline hand activity. All of these children had a resonance board under them for added tactile and auditory feedback and all of them were surrounded by active learning toys or objects. Active learning objects are any household items or toys (homemade or commercial) that promote active exploration and engage the senses. They can be such things as bowls, pans, crinkly Mylar, beads, toys, and scratchboards.

During the live sessions, the room was filled with close to two hundred adults. We sat quietly and watched a trained, experienced Active Learning professional, who had never worked with this child, give opportunities for that learner to experience learning and independence through active, self-initiated movement. This professional did not interrupt, talk, or manipulate. She kept the toys at the child’s hands and feet, and constantly observed reactions in order to determine whether to add a new item; take one away; determine if a vocalization required a response or not; assess whether the child was bored, needed a break to rest, or had enough and was finished for the day. Active Learning as a philosophy means, among other things, that a child during their waking moments is hardly ever without a selection of toys or other interesting objects at their feet and hands.

In one meeting, Lilli stressed the importance of not altering her design of the resonance board or any of her equipment. She did extensive research and went through many prototypes to determine the optimal design for each piece of Active Learning apparatus. Since these children have so many sensory and motor deficits, they require the highest quality of equipment that gives the very best feedback possible. Even the amount of sanding and layers of paint is important. In other words, if you are making a piece (such as the resonance board) from plans you purchase, follow the directions exactly! If you buy equipment, make sure it is the authorized, original design. She also stressed that no ‘comfort,’ such as pillows or quilts, be added to equipment such as the support bench. These, too, detract from and diminish the effectiveness of the equipment. Because of the conference, I know that the resonance board my husband, Butch, made for me is the correct, original design.

During our evening tracks at the conference, I attended Rand Wrobel’s session, “Implementing Active Learning in the Home.” He talked about auditory and tactile primacy, stressed the importance of not interrupting while the child is engaged in active learning, of keeping your hands off the child’s hands, and he particularly emphasized the point that everyone can learn. I plan to read Lilli Nielsen books to increase my understanding of these important topics. Also, I attended Diane Montgomery and Lorana Enroth’s session, “Starting Active Learning.” They shared information encouraging the use of common household items as learning tools. Examples of such items include metal measuring spoons, wooden spoons, metal bowls, melamine plates and cups, magnetic items, brushes (whisks, lint brush, bottle brush, etc.), trays, and 18-ring binders, to name a few. We also learned how to make and use a buncher band. The purpose of the buncher band is to keep an object strapped to the palm of the child’s hand so that even when the child releases his or her grip, the object stays in place ready to be gripped when the child is ready or able to close his or her hand around it again. The band is made up of three straps of elastic with buttonholes and three buttons. One of the straps goes over the top of hand and the second and third wrap around the item, keeping the object close to the palm, always in place for the child to grasp and release as the child chooses, or as spastic movement will allow.

The last day was unforgettable. Dr. Lilli Nielsen did a one-on-one with each family that attended the conference with their children. Each child had the opportunity to have time on all of the Active Learning equipment. Dr. Lilli spoke with each family, observed the child, and gave ideas to encourage learning. To watch these children react to their new environment set my heart on ‘fire’ with the desire to spread the good news of the potential of the Active Learning experience I saw demonstrated so effectively at this conference.

I am home now, and have so many people to thank for a wonderful conference. The first is, obviously, Dr. Lilli Nielsen for sharing her forty-plus years of experience and the development of the Active Learning approach at the conference. She has nine books and two videos, which I will purchase, read or view, and then share with the families on my caseload. Others I wish to thank are Barbara Cheadle, Pam Allen, and my husband.

Thanks go to Barbara for disseminating information about Active Learning through Future Reflections and for her promotion of, endorsement of, and attendance at, the North American Learning Conference. I am especially grateful to Pam Allen, Director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, who is very supportive of our infant/toddler program. She believes in the importance of the program because the children are our future. Finally, thanks to my husband who comes with me to these conferences and then comes home and helps build the equipment that I need to implement the new ideas.

As an itinerant consultant traveling to over fifty homes once a month, I plan to use the following equipment: Active Learning household objects and toys, the Resonance Board, the Essef Board, wood trays, Velcro vests, and a cork board. I will encourage families to start collecting the easy Active Learning items and teach them how to use them at home throughout the month between my visits. I will especially stress the importance of allowing the child control of her/his own hands, and the importance of exploration of real objects, and the need for visually impaired children to always have a selection of toys or objects within easy reach of feet, hands, or mouth for stimulation, exploration, and learning.

“Lighting the Fire: Igniting the North American Active Learning Agenda,” based on the quote from Yeats, “Education is not filling a pail but the lighting of a fire,” was the theme of the conference and should be the motto for all of us. It will be mine! With all the wonderful information from the conference, my spark has turned into a flame. I cannot wait to spread the news about the Active Learning approach.

For more information about Active Learning contact the LilliWorks Foundation at <www.lilliworks.org>.


Don't Shoot the Piano Tuner: Should We Avoid the Blind Trades?

by John Bailey

Reprinted from the January 2004 issue of the Braille Monitor, a publication of the National Federation of the Blind. The article originally appeared in the NFB of Virginia newsletter, the Vigilant, edited by John Bailey.

Editor’s Note: Do you suspect that your child may not be, for whatever reason, college-bound? Are you worried about his or her future? College is certainly a wonderful door to opportunities, but not the only one. There are many good trades and skilled occupations requiring different degrees of specialized vocational training. Maybe this is the summer to learn more about them, and you can start with this description of one of the earliest trades in which blind people found the means to financial independence:

In some of the blindness-related journals I have been reading recently, I have noticed comments that bothered me. The authors argued that the traditional blind trades were inferior to regular jobs and should be avoided as career choices. This wasn’t said in so many words; however, the message was obvious.

In the past, agencies serving the blind offered only a few training choices to their clients wanting to work. If the client wanted to be trained for a career outside of a narrow list of approved careers, the agency refused to help and told clients they were on their own. So many blind people over the years were trained for careers that were not their first choice in order to receive the financial assistance they needed. As a result many people spent their lives in jobs they didn’t want and were unsuited for. They were forced by bad luck and bad advice into one of the so-called blind trades.

Some of those occupations were piano tuning, massage therapy, vending stand operator, and chair caning. Approved trades boiled down to those that used the allegedly enhanced hearing and tactile senses of the blind, according to the agency experts.

Today blind men and women have far more choices. Largely because of the work of the National Federation of the Blind and its efforts to reform the agencies, blind people no longer have to settle for the very limited career choices their predecessors had. It is understandable that people still feel some disinclination to choose a career in a blind trade. But in an effort to exert our new ability to choose, some people are unfairly denigrating the blind trades and those who work in them.

A little over a year ago I adopted a piano from a Federation friend who no longer wanted it. It was in pretty good condition considering that it was built when my parents were in high school. One thing it did need, however, was a tuning. As soon as the piano arrived, I got a call from another Federation friend who is a piano tuner. He wanted to set up an appointment for tuning my instrument.

When the time for the appointment came, so did the tuner. He was right on time. Being a curious person, I asked if I could watch while he fixed my piano. He agreed and began to work. We talked about pianos and about his career as a tuner. He had freely chosen and now loved his career. He described traveling from one appointment to another and explained that he had to look for new clients constantly while taking care of his current ones. A bit over an hour later he was done tuning the piano and giving me an education. He had a new client, and I had a new respect for a self-employed entrepreneur who happened to be blind.

My day job is as a computer programmer. I write software and carry out other duties as assigned. One of those duties is interviewing perspective employees. After interviewing for several years, I have learned which employee traits are valuable to my organization. Some of the traits sought by organizations include working independently with a minimum of direction, managing time and meeting deadlines, solving expected and unexpected problems as they occur, communicating effectively, and cultivating new business opportunities.

My self-employed piano-tuner friend had all these traits and more. He was the only one working to expand his business, keeping track of his expenses, and collecting fees. He was solely responsible for arranging his transportation and making sure that he acquired the latest training. If he got sick and couldn’t work, he did not get paid. If he wanted to take a vacation, he again lost income for that time. The success or failure of the business was completely his responsibility. Few people have the drive to pursue this kind of career.

So remember, there is no shame in working at an honest job that gives personal satisfaction and pays well enough to cover one’s material needs. The only shame is in excluding a potentially satisfying career choice because of an unfounded prejudice.


Writing and Performance Art

by Nancy Scott

Reprinted with permission of the author from the Slate & Style, a publication of the National Federation of the Blind Writer’s Division.

Editor’s Note: Do you have a budding young writer in your home? Is your child a good reader, but a reluctant writer? Are you looking for fun ways to encourage or maintain Braille literacy skills? Here’s a good project for this summer: read the following article together with your child then plan and conduct your own performance art show for family or friends. Hey, you can even “Help Your Child Become More Responsible” (see page 4 in this issue), and incorporate tips about choice making as you help your child plan the event. And what a great way to expand your child’s understanding of careers and the work world. Here, now, is what Nancy Scott tells us about her experiences with performance art:

My 21-year career as an author has contained many challenges and happy accidents. Writing requires discipline and perseverance. Getting published is helped by belief in oneself and tangible recognition. And sometimes, artistic dedication needs new projects that get the adrenalin going. One way to test work in the world or to find new reasons to write is reading work for audiences.

I write both essays and poetry. Though I attended readings early on and I was a good Braille reader, I didn’t think I could read my work with every word and inflection correct.

In 1992, a friend read several of my early-published poems at a local coffee house. That became my catalyst--not because I now had poems out in the air, but because I was afraid the sighted audience would think I couldn’t read. My advocacy as a blind person made me get up, shaking hands and knees, and read two Brailled poems the following month.

I practiced at home beforehand. No one threw things. They applauded.

After that, I occasionally read in open mike portions, never trying more than two pieces. I got smarter about microphones. Because Braille is big and I do not memorize work, I learned to read from a podium or table or other flat surface if I was standing. (I’ve used everything from flimsy music stands to the edge of a grand piano.)

It became fun to surprise people with my white cane and Braille pages. And, since some of the work was about disability, I could influence people’s thinking and talk about disability issues after the event.

In 1993, I was asked to feature read for a half hour. That led, in 1996, to the publication of my poetry chapbook Hearing The Sunrise. And that lead to other readings of both essays and poetry.

I’ve read at local arts festivals, churches and synagogues, service clubs, writers’ groups, senior centers, and bookstore and coffee house gatherings. Some groups badly need speakers and are happy to be approached. Sometimes, word of mouth encourages groups to approach you.

My most challenging performance art to date happened because a friend recommended me after seeing me read commentary essays that I’d published in our local newspaper. Our public radio station wanted people to write and record short pieces of this type.
I knew that writing the approximately 460-word essays to fit in a three-to-four-minute time slot would be easy. But I wasn’t sure I could read Braille fast enough for on-air. The news director convinced me to try.

So far, I’ve recorded twenty-six essays and the station has aired twenty. I have to record them at the studio and I read four at a time (all my nerves and cold hands can stand). I practice at home with a talking timer and, although they never come out with every inflection perfect, most essays are recorded in one take. There’s no money for this work, but it forces me to write at least eight essays a year for which I can find secondary publishing markets.

About one in four essays have a disability theme. Most of my audience now knows I can’t see, whether I’m discussing talking to kids about blindness or considering the plural of rhinoceros.

Logistics of performance art and disability are tricky. I need transportation to venues and help knowing the reading set-up. If I’m traveling with friends or attentive program providers, I can ask about audience size and reactions after a reading. And someone often has to rescue me because I can never remember how to get on or off a stage or out of the front of a room, even if I’ve done it twenty times. It’s nervousness, although I don’t usually look or sound nervous.

Sometimes, groups pay for readings. A national anthology tacked on $50 if I’d read my essay and one other at a local bookstore. I didn’t tell the publicity people I couldn’t see until my appearance in a second anthology. They wanted a radio interview along with a reading and I had to explain my reluctance to read Braille while holding a phone on my shoulder. (I’ve since bought a headset.)

I rarely read without choosing pieces and practicing ahead of time. I have to remember page turns because my hands are doing other things while my mouth is reading. I always read faster in performance than in rehearsal. I mostly read my own work, although some venues allow people to read favorite pieces by other writers. I always try to engage live audiences using humor or a response question.

Pages have floated off podiums. I’ve whacked my nose against microphones. And there are nights I’ve worn sneakers because I couldn’t walk far in heels. But I still get asked and I still offer to read to audiences.

Something I say or do might spark new thoughts for someone. Something I hear might spark an idea for me. Maybe, with enough practice and luck, I’ll make it to NPR or Book TV.


The Many Faces of Reading

by Deborah Kendrick

Reprinted from the Fall, 2004, issue of the Buckeye Bulletin, the newsletter of the NFB of Ohio.

Editor’s Note: As a child, summer meant many things to me: swimming, climbing trees, home-made ice-cream, playing with cousins at the family reunion; but most of all it meant freedom: freedom to read what I wanted, when I wanted, for as long as I wanted. I don’t remember that I ever thought about becoming a writer or, heaven-forbid, an editor, but no doubt all those long hours of summer reading helped pave the path that eventually led to that destination. If your blind son, daughter, or student is such a child (or if you want to nudge them in that direction), you will appreciate the following advice from a blind woman who has had a long, distinguished, and successful career as a writer. Here is what Deborah Kendrick has to say on the subject:

When people ask for advice on pursuing a career in writing, the first and most important guideline I give them is to read, read, read. Read everything you can get your hands (or eyes or ears) on. Read fiction, nonfiction, history, mystery, serious works of literature, and entertaining popular fiction. Read magazines, newspapers, lots of both, and then add any other reading into the mix that you can think of.

But you don’t have to want to be a writer to be an avid reader. There was a time when being blind and having a voracious appetite for reading was a pretty unfortunate combination. Today it could be argued that blind people have access to more reading material and more ways of approaching that material than their sighted friends.

If you’re reading this newsletter, chances are pretty good that you know about the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped Braille and Talking Book program. If not, call (800) 362-1262 if you live in northern or central Ohio or (800) 582-0335 if you live in the southern part of the state. You may also visit <www.loc.gov/nls> on the Web to learn more. You probably also know about Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic, a wonderful resource particularly for students, providing books in audio formats. Call (800) 221-4792 or visit <www.rfbd.org> to learn more.

I am a frequent borrower from both of these outstanding services. I usually have a small four-track cassette recorder in my purse or backpack for grabbing a few pages of a news magazine or book. In addition to familiar books and magazines in hard-copy Braille, I love downloading them from the NLS Web-Braille site for reading on my Braille note-taker. But my daily routine incorporates many other devices and systems for accessing printed material. Here are a few favorites:


About the size of a cell phone, the BibleCourier contains the entire Old and New Testaments in one tiny unit that can go with you anywhere. You can easily and rapidly search the Bible by book, verse, and chapter to find a particular passage. You can read continuously, bookmark favorite passages, raise and lower the volume, speed the reading up or slow it down. The reading is delivered by very clear synthetic speech. A simple telephone-style keypad on the front controls all of the BibleCourier’s functions.

The BibleCourier was developed through an effort launched by the Lutheran Braille Evangelism Association (LBEA), who contracted with Springer Design to manufacture it. As part of its ministry LBEA sells the Bible at the subsidized cost of $100 to any blind person in the USA. Your $100 (which includes shipping costs) covers one talking Bible, accompanying ear buds, and the user’s guide on one cassette. The complete user’s guide is also loaded into the BibleCourier itself, so that if you ever forget how to perform a task, you can just zip back to the manual and look it up. To order online, go to <www.lbea.org> or send an email to Rev. Dennis Hawkinson at <lbea@qwest.net>. Rev. Hawkinson says, incidentally, that the intention behind the BibleCourier was to offer a talking Bible that was portable and easy to use, even for people who don’t use computers.

The Creative Labs MuVo and Audible.com

Audible.com is a commercial service that sells audio books online that are recorded by professional narrators. These are the same books that you can buy on tape or compact disk at many bookstores, but are usually less expensive and offer you several ways of listening. Once you purchase a book, it is yours to download as many times as you like. You can listen to it on your computer, burn it to a CD, or transfer it from your computer into a handheld device that will play Audible.com files.

The device I am using is the Creative MuVo. About the size of a pack of chewing gum, the MuVo can be put into any tiny pocket or hung round your neck with the cord that is included. To transfer books to the MuVo, you plug it into your computer’s USB port and transfer. You can then listen through the ear-buds provided (or, if you prefer, through some other headset or by connecting portable speakers to the MuVo’s earphone jack). The sound is remarkably clear for such a small device, and the controls are extremely simple. You can play, pause, and go forward or back in one book or among books.

Audible.com offers about 20,000 titles, including classics, best-sellers, fiction, and nonfiction in all categories, as well as several radio broadcasts from National Public Radio and a few periodicals. There are various plans, but a Basic Listener membership costs $14.95 a month and entitles you to one book and one periodical each month and a free Creative MuVo. (If you mention my name when you register, I’ll get a chance to win a prize.)

Many other devices available through Audible.com and elsewhere will play their content. The MuVo is simple to use and is currently being offered free to new subscribers.

Your Public Library

I’m not talking about the wonderful Talking Book program that sends your books through the mail. I’m talking about that library in your neighborhood that all your sighted neighbors use. The audio book offerings both on tape and CD these days are remarkable, and even small branch libraries have collections. Books are both abridged and unabridged, so you’ll need to ask which you are getting. Drop in and ask the librarian to do a bit of browsing with you or request particular authors or titles. I’ve found that when new books by popular authors are released the audio version is often available at the public library at the very same time as the print version. The books play on any commercial tape or CD player and will, of course, also play on your NLS Talking Book machine.


No list of reading sources would be complete without our number one source of daily newspapers (and now some outstanding magazines). NFB-NEWSLINE® now has 110 newspapers from around the country as well as AARP the Magazine, The Economist, and The New Yorker. When I have to wait somewhere--for a taxi, for a doctor’s appointment, for a meeting to start, or to get my hair cut--I pull my cell phone out of my pocket and read the paper with NFB-NEWSLINE®, just as sighted people around me are doing with print. The search feature allows me quickly to locate a story someone else may have mentioned to me or to check on news of my favorite celebrity. Give yourself a present and spend a little time learning the NFB-NEWSLINE® commands. You know of course to call (888) 882-1629. To sign up or to get help, the national number is (866) 504-7300 and the Ohio number is (866) 391-0841.

Once reading for a blind person meant either a Braille book or another human being reading aloud. Those are lovely faces--but we now have many more. There are many devices and services for reading that I haven’t touched on in this article. The above, however, are some of my own favorite ways--most of them used daily--to feed an insatiable information and entertainment habit.


Braille Readers Making a Difference

by Barbara Pierce

For twenty-two years now we have been working to teach blind kids that Braille readers really are leaders. The contest jointly sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille has encouraged young Braille readers to read as much Braille as they can get their hands on. Our message is at last being heard, and many of our blind kids are entering the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest on November 1 each year and are reading what seems to many of us astonishing amounts of Braille between then and February 1.

This is great news, and all of our contest entrants are to be congratulated for their efforts. But our intention has never been just to encourage Braille reading; it has been to encourage blind youngsters to become leaders as well. So this year for the first time the
reading contest incorporated an additional element. Older youth were also invited to compete for an award for community service. Braille reading speed is important, but getting out and using Braille and our other skills to help the people around us is even more important.

In the 2005 Braille Readers Are Leaders contest a handful of students stepped forward to compete in this leadership component. The winner was eighth grader, Andrew Nantz, of Imbler in Union County, Oregon. Here are the two letters of support that he submitted. After reading them you will understand why Andrew is the 2005 winner of the Braille Leaders Community Service Award. Here are the letters from his supporters:

To Whom It May Concern:

It gives me great pleasure to write this letter of recommendation for Mr. Andrew Nantz. Andrew, an eighth grader here at Imbler Junior and Senior High School, has spearheaded a fundraising effort for victims of the recent tsunami. Andrew came to me for permission to run a class competition to raise money to send to Northwest Medical Teams to help the tsunami victims. It was his idea for the class that brings in the most money in a week’s period to be rewarded with a pizza party.

Andrew contracted with the owner of New York Richie’s, a popular restaurant in town, to see if he would be willing to donate the pizzas to the winning class. He explained all the details and what the money was going towards. Richie was more than happy to help Andrew in his cause.

I had Andrew provide all the information to our student body, which was read over the intercom during morning daily announcements. The response was overwhelming; within a week our school along with our grade school brought in a total of $1,623. The city of Imbler got involved and also donated $250, making the total of over $1,800. According to the local newspaper article every school in our county had raised money to send, which was a commendable effort for kids throughout Union County. But the most rewarding part for Imbler Schools was that we were able to raise the most money. It all started with the little blind eighth grader with a very big heart.

Mike Mills, K-12 Principal
Imbler Schools

To Whom It May Concern:

I would like to congratulate and honor Andrew Nantz, who visited my second grade classroom in November for National Children’s Book Week. Andrew was one of our special guest readers for the week, and he read Brailled copies of two of his favorite Frog and Toad stories. It was exciting for the students, and they were very impressed with Andrew’s reading. I was equally pleased as I was Andrew’s teacher in second grade when he first got serious about his Braille reading. What a joy to see him now. He read with wonderful expression, and he was very fluent. The students were listening to every word, and though I worried about their attention span without pictures, it was not a problem.

Not only did Andrew read both of the short chapter books, but he also gave the students some inspirational tips on why it was important to become a good reader and how being able to read and comprehend would help them when they got up into junior and senior high school. As an extra reminder he let them know that when their parents told them to read or to do their homework, they should just do it without any complaints because they were just trying to help them and it would pay off later.

Andrew settled into our special reading rocker and was comfortable in his role as story teller/reader. He interacted with the students and asked them questions as he went along, and he really seemed to enjoy being the teacher. At the end of our time together, he shared his Braille books and even got his science and history books out of his bag to share with us. The students were amazed at the size of the books and understood why he had a suitcase to lug them back and forth to class.

It was a great experience for all of us and one I hope to repeat next year. Andrew will always be welcome in my classroom.

Becki McIntosh

The Braille Readers Are Leaders contest forms is available in the back of this issue. Let’s all do what we can to inspire older students to meet Andrew Nantz’s challenge to become community leaders as well as reading lots of Braille. Email <materials@nfb.org> or call (410) 659-9314 to request additional forms.


2004-2005 Braille Readers Are Leaders Annual Contest Winners

The Top ten award winners in each category (see below) received $25, a special t-shirt, and a special certificate. Congratulations to all!

Tamilah Alexander, ungraded, New Jersey, 2,313 pages
Christian Turner, grade 5, Oregon, 897 pages
Billy Anderson, grade 6, California, 800 pages
Ryan Noblett, grade 2, South Carolina, 374 pages
Josh McInnish, grade 5, Alabama, 231 pages
Lyndon Dunbar, grade 11, Louisiana, 215 pages
Brittany Savage, grade 8, Virginia, 136 pages
Bria Franks, grade 4, Missouri, 135 pages
Craig Alexander, grade 8, Louisiana, 114 pages
Tyler Melone, grade 3, California, 110 pages

Grades Kindergarten-1
Merlyn Hileman, California, 11,420 pages
Nathan Stocking, Minnesota, 2,524 pages
Emily Brown, Iowa, 1,327 pages
Matthew Shifrin, Massachusetts, 896 pages
Mary Elizabeth Goodin, North Carolina, 874 pages
Christopher Rogers, Pennsylvania, 446 pages
Lucas Sanders, Virginia, 261 pages
Yesenia Carpio, Arizona, 172 pages
Danielle Cowan, New York, 124 pages
Justin Hedges, Kentucky, 120 pages

Grades 2-3
Vejas Vasiliauskas, California, 12,315 pages
Kelcey Schlichting, Missouri, 10,124 pages
Marché Daughtry, Virginia, 4,306 pages
Christopher Palmieri, Connecticut, 4,206 pages
Lucas Leiby, Pennsylvania, 2,493 pages
Amal Momani, South Carolina, 2,408 pages
Jessica Ruff, Idaho, 2,037 pages
Annabelle Costanzo, Iowa, 2,014 pages
Thomas Pelletier, Connecticut, 1,976 pages
John Johnson, Oregon, 1,799 pages

Grades 4-5
Joshua Gregory, Maryland, 7,905 pages
David Jones, Wisconsin, 7,835 pages
Morgan Budreau, Minnesota, 6,086 pages
Paige Tuttle, Kansas, 5,892 pages
Marisa Parker, Massachusetts, 4,919 pages
Greg Botting, Michigan, 4,489 pages
Lauren Beyer, Montana, 3,527 pages
Curtis Boatright, California, 3,438 pages
Kelsi Watters, Wisconsin, 2,782 pages
Robert Townsend, Kentucky, 1,692 pages

Grades 6-8
Lindsay Upschulte, Illinois, 13,818 pages
Tyler Kavanaugh, Kansas, 13,642 pages
Jonathan Wong, California, 12,248 pages
Kurt Elliot, Missouri, 7,965 pages
Anna Miller, South Carolina, 5,572 pages
Jenny Kellerman, South Carolina 5,444 pages
Jennifer Wing-Proctor, Michigan, 4,167 pages
Macy McClain, Ohio, 3,933 pages
Justin Hart, Missouri, 3,921 pages
Karen Arcos, California, 3,685 pages

Grades 9-12
Jetzy Franco, Oregon, 12,221 pages
Keao Wright, Hawaii, 10,426 pages
Albano Berberi, Massachusetts, 9,778 pages
Evelyn Carballo, California, 8,297 page
Jennifer Hyams, Kentucky, 7,168 pages
Alexis Tamayo, Arizona, 6,158 pages
Amanda Stogsdill, Missouri, 4,027 pages
Alyssa Perez, Arizona, 3,719 pages
Rick Sankey, Arizona, 3,704 pages
Alonza Harris, Jr., Virginia, 3,585 pages

Most Improved
Rhonda Cruz, ungraded, California
Jonathon McCarty, grade 4, Kentucky
Amy Green, ungraded, California
Jessica Van Bruggen, grade 5, Kentucky
Shaquane Jordan, ungraded, California
Amanda Simmons, grade 12, Arizona
Danny Price, ungraded, Maryland
Angela Vasquez, ungraded, California
Destiny DiMattei, ungraded, Maryland
Dalton Novince, grade 7, Kentucky


A Boa in My Brailler

by Barbara Loos

Editor’s Note: Electronic notetakers and laptop computers are rapidly replacing the hefty, nearly indestructible, and always reliable manual Braille writing machine known variously as the Braille writer, Perkins Brailler, or just Brailler. But it’s not gone yet, so I’m confident that almost all of our readers will be able to imagine the following scenes as Barbara relates her amusing (or horrid--depending upon your orientation toward snakes, I suppose) and highly unusual story. So, just for fun, here’s Barbara’s story:

A few days before my sophomore year of college officially began, my mother, sister, and I went to see which room I would occupy in Selleck Quadrangle and which one my sister, a year ahead of me, would have in another dorm on the University of Nebraska, Lincoln campus. I had that butterfly feeling familiar since childhood when wondering who my roommate would be at the school for the blind in Nebraska City. One thing was different now though. Then, although I didn’t know specifically with whom I would share a room, I knew all the girls in question. Now I would be meeting someone new. The roommate I had had as a freshman had been a senior who had graduated at the end of the year. I was happy for her but sad for me. She and I had become friends. We still usually catch up by letter at Christmas time.

As we entered the room I would soon call mine, my butterflies were soon replaced by intrigue. Just inside the door my mother stopped dead in her tracks.

“Well, I guess we know which desk will be yours,” she announced in a tone of both disbelief and disgust.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because this,” she said, placing my hand on something, “is on the other one.”

“How strange,” I said, mystified. “I wonder why someone would have a skull.”

Then there was the peculiar wooden box with a light bulb in it. What on earth was that? The right-hand end of the closet bar was sparsely hung with work shirts. There were no other outward signs of occupation. Whoever this person was, I was now looking forward to meeting her.

When we came back later to move my things in, she was there. Her name was Diane. The skull was a gift from a friend. The box with the light was for Otis, her pet boa constrictor. He had his own light bulb because temperatures below eighty degrees or so would make him lethargic. Although she had assured us that Otis had no way of escaping, my mother emphatically decreed, after Diane left, that she refused to read to me in that room.

For my part I enjoyed getting to know Otis. He liked to wrap around my arm and lean toward lights or slither from one of my legs to the other when I was seated. It was fun sometimes to carry him around and let him reach for things.

Only one time was our relationship anything other than amicable. Diane was cleaning his home while I sat on my bed, enjoying Otis as he lounged companionably in my lap. Suddenly I noticed that he was moving purposefully to my left. As I slid my fingers gently along his body, I discovered his mission in progress. His head and upper body were already inside my Brailler--a machine more or less like a typewriter, except that it has only six keys for creating the dots that form letters, numbers, and other symbols; a spacebar; a carriage-return lever; and both backspace and line-advance keys. Otis had entered by climbing over the keys and through the space along which the carriage moves. He had begun to intertwine himself in the inner mechanisms in such a way that pulling him out didn’t seem possible. I tried that anyway, having no other ideas. His response was a firmer grip on something in there and a resistance in his muscles that was both fascinating and unnerving.

Diane, a pretty unflappable soul, suggested that we let him come out when he decided to. When I asked how long that might take, she said that when he had gone into her skull, he had stayed only two weeks. Two weeks! I had homework to do that very night for which I needed to use the machine. I was horrified.

After telling her that this would never do, I started weighing options. Turning the Brailler this way and that, I hoped to inspire Otis to come out and look for more suitable quarters. Instead he pulled more of himself inside. So by the time Diane reached her friend, Tim, who had graduated from boa constrictors as pets to pythons, his suggestion of pulling him out backward was absolutely out of the question. Not only was I concerned about tearing his skin, but I was also having a hard time coming up with an explanation to a repair person of just how some of the internal workings of the Brailler had become bent, should that occur. I didn’t think anyone would buy,

“My roommate’s snake did it.”

Only one genuinely rational option occurred to me. We needed to take the Brailler apart. Removing the bottom was easy. It is made of something akin to Masonite and is held in place by eleven small screws. Since from time to time other objects had found their way into the cavity now occupied by Otis, I had a Phillips head screwdriver in my desk drawer just right for the job. Removing the base had an effect on Otis similar to moving the machine around, so it was still impossible simply to pull Otis out. Since the rest of the machine is held together by screws of various sizes, my single screwdriver was insufficient.

Fortunately, just down the hall lived my friend Judy. She generally had or could find both the tools and the ingenuity to deal with almost anything. Today she makes her living as a geneticist. That night I sought her out mostly for her tools, although I was hoping for a dose of ingenuity as well. She was initially a bit dubious about the project. Ultimately, though, the thing was just too funny for her to pass up. We soon had both Otis and my Brailler restored to their proper stations, injury-free.

Although thirty-five years have passed since this event, I have never tired of telling the tale. I think that’s because, during the course of that school year, Otis managed to snake his way into my heart as well as my Brailler.


Braille Readers Are Leaders
23rd Annual Contest for Blind Youth--2005-2006

co-sponsored by the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, divisions of the National Federation of the Blind

Dates: November 1, 2005 - February 1, 2006

Purpose: The mission of the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest is to motivate children to read Braille regularly and frequently because:

Who Can Enter: Blind or visually impaired Braille readers from kindergarten through the twelfth grade in the U.S.A. and Canada are eligible to enter the contest.

Categories: There are six categories: grades K-1, 2-3, 4-5, 6-8, 9-12, and Print-to-Braille. The Print-to-Braille category is for former or current print readers who are beginning Braille readers. This includes formerly sighted children who became blind after mastering print or partially sighted print readers who are learning Braille while they continue to read some print. Children who began to read Braille in kindergarten or first grade are not eligible for this category.

Competition, Awards, & Prizes: All contestants receive a certificate and a ribbon in recognition of their participation. Other awards and prizes include:

Rules for the Contest: All materials for the contest must be read between November 1 and February1 of the following year (three months). See the “Rules of the Contest--Questions and Answers” section for more details.

Schools for the Blind: Schools for the blind that enroll students in the contest and promote the program and Braille throughout the program period, will receive a special certificate suitable for framing and public display.

Certifying Authority: The certifying authority is responsible for: (1) verifying that the student read the Braille material listed and that the material was read between November 1 and February 1; (2) filling out and sending in the contest entry form in an accurate, complete, and timely fashion; and (3) assisting the student in finding suitable extracurricular Braille books and other materials to read for the contest. Teachers, librarians, and parents may serve as certifying authorities.

Interviews: The contestant, certifying authority, and/or parent may be contacted for an interview if the contest judges have questions or need additional information about an entry. Judges may, based upon the information available to them, adjust the number of pages or disqualify a contestant. All decisions of the judges are final.

Notification: Certificates, ribbons, and a winner’s list will be mailed to contestants on or about May 1. T-shirts and cash prizes will be mailed as soon as practical.
For more information contact:
(Mrs.) Barbara Cheadle, President, National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, (410) 659-9314, extension 2360 or 2361, <bcheadle@nfb.org>.


Questions and Answers--Rules of the Contest

1. When do I mail in the contest entry form and reading log? We suggest that it be mailed by February 15. Delayed or incomplete entries may cause the contestant to forfeit the right to compete for top prizes.

2. What if I didn’t know about the contest until after it began? Can I still enter? Yes.

3. If I enter late, can I still count the Braille pages I have read since November 1? Yes, but only if your certifying authority can verify that you read those pages.

4. What constitutes a Braille page? Each side of an embossed piece of paper is considered one page. If you read both sides, then you have read two pages. This is true even if there are only two Braille lines on one side.

5. Can I count Braille textbooks or other materials (encyclopedia articles, transcribed
worksheets, etc.) I am required to read for schoolwork? No.

6. Can I count books that I read for the Accelerated Reading Program? Yes.

7. Can supplemental reading books to beginning reading series be counted for the contest? Yes.

8. Can I count title pages, tables of content, Brailled descriptions of illustrations, etc.? Yes.

9. What if I don’t finish reading a book? Can I count the pages that I did read? Yes, but only whole pages.

10. Can I read the same book more than once? Yes, but only under the following conditions: the student must be at an elementary (5th grade or below) reading level; no book may be read more than three times; and the certifying authority must list or otherwise clearly identify which titles have been read more than once, how many times read (two or three) and indicate the number of Braille pages read at each setting. Example: Frog and Toad 3x20 pages = 60 pages; or Frog and Toad 2 times: 20+10 = 30 pages.

11. Can I read the dictionary? No. A Braille Menu? Yes, but you must list the title of the restaurant menu and, again, only whole pages count. Example: “Legal Sea Foods Menu” 2 pages. Cookbooks? Yes, same rule applies--the student must read whole pages and must give the complete title of the book just as you would any other book listed. How about the Bible or other religious books? Yes, of course. However, you must give a reference to the book(s) of the Bible you read (i.e. Proverbs, Matthew, etc.) AND you must read whole pages. Please do not give chapters and verses read. Acceptable--Bible, Book of Job: 20 pages. Not acceptable--Psalms 8, 24, and 32.

12. I have to transcribe books for my beginning reader. Most of these books have only a few words on a page. If the print book has more pages than my Braille transcription, how do I count pages for the contest? For the purposes of this contest, the number of Braille pages counted per children’s picture book should never be less than the number of print pages in that book. This is so even if the teacher has transcribed the entire book onto one Braille page. To avoid confusion we suggest that the books be transcribed page for page, one Braille page for each print page, whenever possible.

13. What if I want to Braille other material for my student to read, such as recipes or
instructions from a manual? Maybe, maybe not. The judges must have enough information to satisfy any questions or concerns they may have. For example: not acceptable--“chicken recipe,” 1 page; acceptable--Maryland Driver’s Test Manual, 2003 edition, published by the Maryland Department of Transportation, print pages 1-5: 12 Braille pages.

14. I have trouble finding enough Braille material for my older students. Do you have any suggestions? Yes. The National Federation of the Blind has free Braille materials suitable for blind youth, including the Braille Monitor magazine. To request the NFB Literature Order Form (large print or Braille) contact: National Federation of the Blind, Materials Center, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; (410) 659-9314, <materials@nfb.org>. You may also view the literature list on the NFB Web site at: <http://www.nfb.org/literature.htm>.

Q: Why did you create the Braille Leaders Community Service Awards?
A: The ultimate mission of the contest is to help children acquire Braille literacy so that they can participate fully in the communities in which they live. Furthermore, they can participate as leaders. We really mean it when we say, “Braille readers are LEADERS.” An important characteristic of leaders is that they serve others. For example, elected officials are often referred to as public “servants.” We judge their leadership skills on how well they “serve” the community. Good Braille skills allow blind children of all ages to demonstrate leadership through serving others. A first grader can practice her new reading skills by reading a book to her baby brother. A blind teen can take notes for his 4-H club, or read to lonely residents at a community nursing home. The opportunities for service--if you are literate--are endless.

November 1, 2005, to February 1, 2006

Mail entry form after February 1, 2006, to:
Braille Readers Are Leaders, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230

Grand total of pages read ____________

Student’s Name ______________________ Birth Date _____________ Age _________
Grade (please circle your selection)
K 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 un-graded
Parent(s) Name ___________________________________________________________
Home Address ___________________________________________________________
City, State, Zip ___________________________________________________________
Please list at least one phone number or an email address:
Phone (H)________________ (C )____________________ (W)____________________
Email __________________________________________________________________

[ ] YES, I am a dual print-Braille or former print reader

To determine your eligibility to compete in the Print-to-Braille category, please list the
approxmate date that you began to learn and use Braille:

Year _____________ Month/season __________________ Grade in school __________
Comments ______________________________________________________________

If you should be a winner, what T-shirt size would you require? (circle one)
Children: CM (10-12) CL (14-16) Adult: AM (38-40) AL (42-44) AXL (46+)


Name __________________________________________________________________
Position: Parent [ ] Teacher [ ] Librarian [ ] Other [ ] __________

Address ________________________________________________________________
City ____________________________________________ State _____ Zip _________
Is this a specialized school for the blind? [ ] Yes [ ] No
Date of school awards ceremony (approximate) _________________________________
Superintendent/Principal ___________________________________________________

Please send certificate, ribbon, and other awards or prizes to:


It is best to contact me by phone ___________________ email _____________________
Address ________________________________________________________________
City, State, Zip ___________________________________________________________

Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest 2005-2006

Name of Student _________________________________________________________

Date Braille pages Title of book, article, other material

Subtotal this page _________________

Please duplicate this page as needed

To the best of my knowledge this student did read these pages between the dates of November 1, 2005, and February 1, 2006. Please print name here ___________________

Signature of Certifying Authority __________________________ Date _____________

Braille Leaders Community Service Awards

Attach to your contest entry form and mail to:
Braille Readers Are Leaders, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230

Students grades 6-12 who wish to compete for this award must provide the following information as soon as possible after February 1, 2006.

It must also contain the name, address, phone number, and/or email address of the person writing the letter. The relationship between the person writing the letter and the student can be given in the letter or described in the form below. Parents and teachers of the visually impaired may submit letters of nomination, but stronger weight and consideration will be given to letters from others in the community who know about, or benefited from, the student’s service.

(Note: We understand that it may take a few weeks to fill out the forms and assemble the information. However, the judges may refuse to consider nomination letters received after March 1, 2006.)

Name of student __________________________________________ Grade _________
Number of Braille pages read _______ Date(s) of community service ________________
Number of letters of nomination enclosed (only one is required) ____________________
Comments or other information you would like to share

Name of person filling out this form (please print) _______________________________
Signature __________________________________________ Date ________________