Future Reflections                                                                                         Summer/Fall 2005

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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.

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