Camp 2000: Child Care During Convention
by Carla McQuillan
Lack of Insight in Children’s Literature
by Merry-Noel Chamberlain
Mandy Sue Day: A Book Review
by Roberta Karim and Review by Peggy Chong
Introduction to Sleepshades and
by Craig Eckhardt
Fill the Gap
by Yolanda Johnny Taylor
HorsebackRiging for the Blind
by Wanda L. Ritter
Review: Beginning With Braille:
With A Balanced Approach to Literacy
by Anna M. Swenson and Review by Carol Castellano
Does It Take So Long?
by Betsy Burnham
Saturday With The Braille Writer Repair Man
by Lucia Hasty
Technology And The Blind Lawyer
by Chris Danielsen
Have I Gotten Myself Into?
by Florence Dooley
Girls With Impaired Vision Be Mommies?
by Deborah Kendrick
Educator Of Blind Children Award For 2000
by Sharon Maneki
For more information about blindness and children contact the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children 1800 Johnson Street * Baltimore, Maryland 21230 * (410) 659-9314 NFB Net BBS: http://www.nfbnet.org * Web Page address: http://www.nfb.org
Copyright 2000, National Federation of the Blind
NFB Convention 2000 NOPBC Activities
The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) activities at the 2000 NFB convention will be a wonderful mix of the tried and true, and the new and creative. As usual, parents can expect timely, sensitive, in-depth, and informative presentations on the blindness issues that most concern them. There will be numerous opportunities, both formal and informal, to meet other parents of blind kids, and to form friendships and networking links. Some of the most outstanding teachers of the visually impaired and orientation and mobility instructors will be there, too, and eager to share their knowledge with parents.
Unique, however, to this event is the opportunity to interact with literally thousands of the real experts on blindness—blind people themselves. The blind people—old, young, and middle-aged—who come to NFB conventions represent the entire socio-economic, educational, cultural, racial, and career spectrum.
Here is the information you will need to make your plans to be a part of this exciting event this year in Atlanta, Georgia:
The convention will be held at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, 265 Peachtree Center Avenue, Atlanta, Georgia 30303. To make reservations call the hotel at (404) 521-0000. The Marriott has a national toll-free number, but do not use it! Reservations made through the toll-free number will not be valid. They must be made directly with the hotel. The room rates are singles, $57; doubles and twins, $59; triples, $61; and quads, $63. There is also a tax, which at present is 14 percent. There is no charge for children in the room as long as no extra bed is requested. A deposit of $60, by check or credit card, is required before the reservation is guaranteed. If a credit card is used, the deposit will be charged against it immediately. If a reservation is cancelled prior to June 4, 2000, $30 of the deposit will be returned. Otherwise, refunds will not be made.
NFB Camp (child-care)
Children must be pre-registered for this service. The pre-registration cutoff date is June 15, 2000. Details follow at the end of this article.
The registration fees for the Family Event, the continental breakfast, the parents seminar, the Braille Carnival, and all other NOPBC-sponsored workshops throughout the week are $25 per couple plus children, $35 for three adult family members (e.g. two parents and a grandparent) plus children, and $15 for one adult plus children. Although we have streamlined our registration procedure, we highly recommend that you pre-register for the seminar this year. It will allow you to enjoy a more relaxed, leisurely morning at the Family Event. The pre-registration form is included in this article.
These fees DO NOT include registration for the NFB convention proper; they only cover the NOPBC events. Registration for the convention is $10 per person and is required in order to get the convention hotel rates quoted above. Convention registration begins Monday morning, July 3.
The following NOPBC activities are only a small part of what goes on at the convention. NFB National Conventions are famous for informative, high-energy division and committee meetings; a huge, diverse exhibit hall; inspiring banquet speeches; fun and informational entertainment (a music talent show, dances, a casino night fund raiser, a Sensory Safari display, a mock trial, a play, etc.); and outstanding general session agenda topics. The convention session runs all day Wednesday, July 5; a half day Thursday, and all day Friday and Saturday. The banquet is Friday night, July 7.The exhibit hall is open all day Monday, all day Tuesday, before the general session and during noon break on Wednesday, all afternoon on Thursday, and during noon breaks on Friday and Saturday. For more information about activities planned for the 2000 Convention, please see the April 2000 issue of the Braille Monitor on the Web Site: <www.nfb.org>. You may also request a free copy from the NFB at 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; (410) 659-9314.
Here, now, is the line-up of NOPBC events at the 2000 NFB Convention:
Saturday, July 1
NOPBC Welcome Wagon
Parents who arrive in Atlanta on Saturday, July 1 may get parent-related convention information, tips, and NOPBC seminar and workshop agendas from the NOPBC Welcome Wagon. When you arrive, call on the hotel house phone and ask for Barbara Cheadle. (Note: please do not call after 10:00 p.m.!) You may also get information and pre-convention agendas from the NFB of Georgia suite, the NFB presidential suite, and NFB information tables set up in the hotel lobby.
Sunday, July 2
NOPBC Annual Parent Seminar Day
From eight in the morning to nine at night this day is packed with NOPBC events for parents, children, and youth. This year, the day will start on a more relaxed note. From 8:00 to 9:30 a.m. parents and kids are invited to start the day together at our informal Family Event. Here, parents can munch on bagels while they visit special information booths on Early Childhood, the Blind Multiply Handicapped Child, The Gifted Blind Child, Homeschooling, Residential Schools for the Blind, Convention Information, and a Blind Mentors and Models booth sponsored by the National Association of Blind Students. Children and teens can enjoy their juice while they talk to Louis Braille, Helen Keller, and other blind historical figures (in full period costumes) who will be our special guests at this event. For the more rambunctious youth, there are rumors that there will be a “Bop-It” playing corner. Braille Carnival Buddy volunteers will also be on hand to meet the kids and parents.
From 9:30 to 10:00 a.m. parents will have about 30 minutes to check pre-registered children into the NFB Camp before returning for the general seminar session at 10:00 a.m.
Alternatively, parents may remain in the Family Event room and register children ages 4 and up for the Braille Carnival. Under the supervision of Carnival Buddy volunteers, children may go to the Carnival in small groups, pairs, or even one-on-one if age and other factors make this desirable. Carnival Buddies will be available to supervise children from 10:00 a.m. to noon, when the parent seminar adjourns. Parents are asked to go to the Braille Carnival and pick up their children within 30 minutes after the morning seminar session adjourns.
The Braille Carnival will feature exciting and fun games, competitions, demonstrations, and prizes with Braille themes. Carnival booths are sponsored by NFB divisions, state affiliates, NFB centers, and residential schools for the blind. Sighted or blind, Braille reader or non-Braille reader, kindergartner or teen-ager—there will be lots of fun activities suitable for all. The Carnival will run from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Parents are welcome to join the fun over the lunch break from noon to 2:00 p.m.
The general seminar session for parents will run from 10:00 a.m. to noon. The theme this year is “Roles, Rights, and Responsibilities.” The guest speakers will include Joe Cutter, pediatric O&M specialists from New Jersey, and Allen Harris, Director of Field Operations and Implementation, New York Commission for the Blind. We will also have an exciting panel of 5 or 6 blind students and a panel of the school team members (classroom teacher, teacher of the visually impaired, parent, and school administrator) that are responsible for the education of blind and visually impaired children.
The afternoon workshops will include these topics: “Beginning Braille for Parents” (one, three-hour session); “Got a Hammer? Blind Kids Can Take Shop Class;” “Teaching Self-Advocacy Skills;” “Tactile, Auditory, and Visual Techniques for Low Vision Children;” “Modeling Social Skills for Blind Kids: Discussion Group;” and “The Braille Lite in the Classroom.”
While parents attend the afternoon sessions, all teens who are 12 and older have the choice of attending a Baby-Sitting Course conducted by Carla McQuillan from 1:30 to 5:00 p.m. Carla is the volunteer director of NFB Camp, the owner and operator of a Montessori school, and the president of the NFB of Oregon. She is also blind.
Blind teens also have the choice of attending special discussion groups concerning blindness issues as they relate to typical teen concerns. Young blind women ages 13 to 18 can attend the session called “What Your Mother Couldn’t Tell You,” and young blind men ages 12 to 18 can attend the “Guy Stuff” session. These sessions run from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.
Sunday evening, the entire family can relax at the NOPBC Family Hospitality from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. Then, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., blind and sighted youth ages 9 and up have the chance to participate in a hotel scavenger hunt. Under adult supervision, kids can explore the hotel and win prizes. To add to the fun and to enhance the educational aspects of the game, sighted kids carry canes and wear sleep-shades (blindfolds) on the hunt.
Monday, July 3
Monday, July 3, begins with two Cane Walk sessions. Parents of blind kids of all ages (babies to teens), teachers, and blind kids can get hands-on experience in using a cane in the hotel environment under the guidance of volunteer instructors from the Louisiana Tech/Louisiana Center for the Blind O&M program. Joe Cutter, pediatric O&M specialist, will provide the demonstration for the parents of babies, toddlers, and children up to pre-school age.
Teens have another chance on Monday from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m. to get together, socialize, listen to music, and enjoy games in a Teen Drop-In Room co-sponsored by NOPBC and Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM).
Tuesday, July 4
The big event on Tuesday, July 4, is the Annual Meeting of NOPBC, which is conducted from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. The meeting will feature many exciting state parent division reports as well as numerous informative guest speakers.
Wednesday, July 5
Wednesday evening, from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. is the traditional, always popular IEP and IDEA Workshop. This year one of the guest speakers is an attorney from Baltimore, Maryland, Mark Martin, who specializes in disability educational law issues.
Thursday, July 6
Joe Cutter, pediatric O&M specialist, will lead a drop-in anytime discussion about cane travel and orientation and mobility for kids in a session from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m. called “Have Cane, Will Travel.” Barbara Cheadle will moderate a drop-in discussion group during that same time called “Parent Power.” The focus of this session will be on ideas for organizing and strengthening NFB parent divisions. From 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. parents can drop in for “IEP Small Group Consultations”with experienced volunteer NFB advocates.
$________Fee enclosed (make checks payable to NOPBC)
$15 for one adult plus children
$25 for 2 adults plus children
$35 for 3 adults (e.g. parents and a grandparent) plus children
The NOPBC registration fee includes Continental breakfast at the Family Event, Sunday, July 2; NOPBC Seminar registration; Braille Carnival registration; and all NOPBC-sponsored workshops throughout the week. This fee does not include NFB Camp fees or convention registration.
Braille Carnival (ages 4 and up)
List child’s name, birthdate, vision (blind, sighted, low vision), and other disabilities.
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
NFB Camp 2000: Child Care During Convention
From the Editor: Carla McQuillan is a member of the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors and President of the NFB of Oregon. She also operates her own Montessori school, which has been growing rapidly since it opened. Since 1996 Carla has conducted NFB Camp, the childcare program during National Conventions. This year the Board of Directors has decided on an important change in NFB Camp registration policy. If you are considering using this important program during the convention in Atlanta, you will find this notice of deep interest. This is what Carla says:
Ten years ago, childcare during convention sessions was performed by parents, but times have changed. Last year we cared for ninety-four children in NFB Camp, nearly half of whom had not pre-registered. The increase in family participation at our conventions is wonderful news, but it has made advance preparations a necessity. By decision of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind, beginning in 2000, all children who wish to participate in the programs and activities of NFB Camp must register this year by June 15, 2000.
NFB Camp will be open during general convention sessions, division and committee meeting day, and banquet evening. Plenty of teens are always available to baby-sit during evening and lunchtime meetings. The schedule this year will be as follows:
Sunday, July 2, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (you are responsible for lunch)
Monday, July 3, Camp is closed
Tuesday, July 4, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (you are responsible for lunch)
Wednesday, July 5, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 to 5:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 6, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Friday, July 7, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; 1:30 to 5:30 p.m.; and banquet
Saturday, July 8, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 to 5:30 p.m.
These times may vary, depending on the timing of the actual convention sessions. NFB Camp will open thirty minutes prior to the beginning gavel and close thirty minutes after adjournment. Fees for the entire week (including banquet)are: first child, $80; second child, $60. By the day (does not include banquet) fees are each child, $20; banquet, $15.
NFB Camp Pre-registration Form
Return by June 15, 2000
List name and age for each child. Give a brief discription of disabilities, if any.
Weekly fees: first child, $80, second child, $60. Daily fees: each child, $20 times number of days. Banquet fee: $15 per child
Total due: $______________
Completed Pre-registration forms and payment must be received by June 15, 2000. Make checks payable to NFB of Oregon.
National Federation of the Blind
5005 Main Street,
Springfield, Oregon 97478,
The NFB Camp toddler room at the 1999 convention.
The Lack of Insight in Children’s Literature Regarding Blindness
From the Editor: I am not so naïve as to believe that if a child reads one book which portrays a blind character in a negative fashion, he/she will immediately and forever form an unalterable stereotype about blind people. Children are sometimes an enigma. They can be extremely vulnerable to very subtle messages that go right by us, and yet be totally oblivious to the blatant.
I remember a few years ago reading an article about the anti-oriental racism in the writings of a popular pre-World War II author. I was amazed. I had read every one of those books as a teen-ager and not once did that message connect with me, but as an adult, I saw it immediately. Why should this be so? I think that by the time I read those books, my values were firmly established. I discounted the racist remarks as purely the author’s attempt to draw a picture of a very dastardly villain. My parents had raised me to believe that all people were created equal, and were equally loved and valued by God. Furthermore, they lived these values. Their example outweighed the influence the racist’s remarks in these books might have had on me.
This does not mean that I believe books have little or no affect on impressionable young children. The power of the written word is tremendous. I believe parents should regularly supervise and discuss with children the books they read. This allows the parent the opportunity to reinforce the messages and values with which they agree, and the chance to explain why they disagree with others.
Books with blind characters present parents with an especially good chance to discuss opinions about blindness with their blind and sighted children. My guess, however, is that, especially in the early years, many parents do not feel secure enough in their feelings or knowledge about blindness to tackle this with conviction. My hope is that the following paper by Merry-Noel Chamberlain will help parents feel more confident about, and be more discriminating when, selecting and reading books with blind characters to, or with, their children.
By the way, it’s OK if you find you do not always agree with the finer points of Ms. Chamberlain’s analysis of a particular book. It has been my observation that when it comes to the portrayal of blindness in fiction, it isn’t hard for most thoughtful, informed people to agree on what is very bad, or what is very good. It can, however, be difficult to agree on nuances in books that fall somewhere in the grey zone between.
So, who is Ms. Chamberlain, and how did she come to write this article? Merry-Noel Chamberlain recently completed a Master’s degree program in Educational Psychology with a concentration in Orientation and Mobility at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Louisiana. She wrote this paper to fulfill one of her class requirements. This program, operated in cooperation with the Louisiana Center for the Blind, aggressively recruits blind candidates. Ms. Chamberlain reports that she had “vision problems” all her life, but only within the last few years has come to terms with her blindness. Ms. Chamberlain is currently employed at the Iowa Department for the Blind as an Independent Living Service Coordinator. For the purpose of publication in Future Reflections, Ms. Chamberlain’s page number citations have been omitted.
Readers may get a free Braille, print, or recorded copy of the speech, “Blindness: Is Literature Against Us?” by Dr. Jernigan which Ms. Chamberlain cites as the inspiration and basis for this article. To request it in the format of your choice, contact the NFB Materials Center at 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230, phone (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653. Here is Ms. Chamberlain’s paper:
Twenty‑five years ago, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan delivered a keynote address at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind entitled “Blindness: Is Literature Against Us?” In this address, Dr. Jernigan argued that stereotypes and false images of blindness permeated the literature of the time. Stereotypes about blindness in children’s literature can be particularly harmful because they may shape the way young people begin to think about blindness, thus providing a distorted image of the blind that is difficult to overcome later. Because over two decades have passed since Dr. Jernigan made his address, it is time that we re-examine our children’s literature to see whether it is still conveying the same misconceptions about blindness that it did in the past.
In his keynote address, Dr. Jernigan noted that there were nine common themes about blindness pervading the literature of the time. These nine themes included the following: Blindness as compensatory or miraculous power; Blindness as total tragedy; Blindness as foolishness and helplessness; Blindness as unrelieved wickedness and evil; Blindness as perfect virtue; Blindness as punishment for sin; Blindness as abnormality or dehumanization; Blindness as purification; Blindness as symbol or parable (Jernigan 1974). I propose to examine a representative sample of today’s children’s literature to see whether these themes, or other stereotypes about blindness, are still prevalent today.
It is, of course, even difficult to find children’s books that feature a blind character or that have a plot line focusing on visual impairment in any way. I visited popular bookstores to inquire about books with these features and repeatedly walked out empty handed. However, books on other disabilities, such as hearing loss/deafness, Alcohol Fetal Syndrome, or Attention Deficiencies Disorders, were in abundance. After inspecting an abundance of books on the shelves at bookstores, grocery stores, and even thrift shops, I gradually succeeded in developing a fairly large collection. For this study, I chose to examine some of the more popular books in my collection—those with the widest sales and therefore the greatest potential influence on the attitudes of the younger generation. I will discuss eight books with a reading skill level ranging from early childhood to adolescent.
The first book for beginning readers is Ben’s Glasses by David Johnson (1996). This book is about a young sighted boy named Ben, who was getting ready for class pictures at his school. However, Ben felt that he looked “goofy” in his glasses, so he decided to take them off before leaving for school. When he arrived at the school, he made several mistakes. He greeted a friend (which happened to be a hat rack), he made a comment to another friend regarding her hair (which happened to be a mop propped up against the wall), he entered the girls’ bathroom, and he even bumped into a chair to which he then apologized. Ben’s friends soon discovered that he did not have his glasses on, and they all discussed how everyone is different. Feeling better as a result of this discussion, Ben replaced his glasses. In the end, Ben noticed that the camera operator had his camera upside‑down. After this was corrected, the picture was taken, and all was well again.
This book attempts to be educational for the young reader by dealing with “problems and decision-making—even when the best thing to do is not always so clear.” Its apparent theme, as stated on the front cover, is that “Everybody is different in some way.” The problem with this book is in how it develops this theme. While the inside front cover stated, “filled with humor,” this humor is largely at the expense of the visually impaired character Ben. This book’s unstated themes would fall into Dr. Jernigan’s “Blindness as foolishness and helplessness” category because of the ‘silly’ and ‘helpless’ things which Ben did when he did not have his glasses on. Since this is a book for young readers, it may, unfortunately, establish in their minds stereotypical images of blindness; that blind people are indeed helpless, clumsy objects of comedy. Thus, when the children later meet a blind individual, they might perceive that person as foolish and helpless.
The same theme is apparent in the book Glasses for D.W. written by Mark Brown (1996). This story is about a young sighted boy, named Arthur, who had glasses, and his younger sister, D.W., who wanted them because she felt that “they look[ed] cool.” Arthur tried to tell D.W. that he really did need the glasses because, “before I wore glasses, things looked funny.” He explained that hats looked like bats, trash looked like cash, and a log looked like a dog. Therefore, D.W. closed her eyes and, pretending blindness, started to walk into the furniture and even into Arthur. A friend arrived, and Arthur told him that “D.W. is acting silly.” She then bumped into the friend and said, “Guess what? I can’t see!” The friend commented that D.W. was “nuts” and suggested they play soccer. D.W. wanted to play too, but her brother told her, “you can’t play soccer if you can’t see.” Suddenly D.W. could see again, thus she called it the “miracle soccer cure.”
Sadly, the pictures in this book reinforce the stereotypical image of a blind person with hands extended outwards and even an open jaw as D.W. bumped into a lamp that almost tipped over. Glasses for D.W., a book for young readers, expresses not only Dr. Jernigan’s “Blindness as foolishness and helplessness” theme, but also his “Blindness as abnormality or dehumanization” theme, for it surely is not normal to walk around with one’s jaw open. Young people who read this book would be likely to view the blind not just as a source of comedy, but as slightly grotesque figures lacking full humanity.
A somewhat different characterization of the blind occurs in Through Grandpa’s Eyes by Patricia MacLachlan (1980). It is about a little sighted boy, John, who saw things through his grandpa’s blind eyes. John described the different alternatives his grandfather used compared to the way sighted people do things. For example, while John would wake up because of the sunlight entering his room, his grandfather would wake up because of the warmth of the sun. When John wanted to know where his grandmother was, his grandfather told him to close his eyes and “look through my eyes.” John then heard the sound of his grandmother, who was working in the kitchen. This establishes the pattern of the book, as John continues to learn from his grandfather.
Throughout the book, Grandpa’s acute sense of smell is emphasized. Grandfather, while upstairs in his bedroom, could smell the fried eggs and buttered toast that were being prepared in the kitchen downstairs. On the way down the stairs for breakfast, Grandpa could identify the type of flowers in the kitchen. Grandma and Grandpa discussed how Grandpa could tell the type of flowers by smell. Later Grandpa’s amazing sense of smell surfaced again as he announced that he could smell the hot bread and spice tea Grandma had made for lunch, when he and John were far away from the house.
Similarly, Grandpa’s sense of hearing is brought to the reader’s attention. When he and John took a walk, Grandpa also could tell the difference between the various wild birds heard along the way. He could hear birds which John could not see due to their camouflage. Later, when Grandpa and John played the cello, it was stated that Grandpa learned to play music by listening. Thus, the story supported the stereotype that blind people are musically inclined, as well as the stereotype that they have an acute sense of hearing.
While this book supports many stereotypes, it also demonstrates some realistic alternatives. Grandma used the “clock method” to tell Grandpa where his food was on his plate. John explained, “I make my plate of food like a clock, too, and eat through Grandpa’s eyes.” During the walk, it was also mentioned that Grandpa took John’s elbow so that John could “show him the path,” bringing another alternative to the reader’s attention. Later, Grandpa could feel the south wind by the way his hair moved, instead of by seeing the trees lean. Back in the house, Grandpa demonstrated the alternative of pouring his tea by putting his finger just inside the lip of his cup. Later, Grandpa read Braille to Grandma and John, and in the evening Grandma and John watched TV while Grandpa listened as the music and words told him what was going on. Thus, the book provides the reader with some basic information on how the blind perform daily living tasks.
This book fell into Dr. Jernigan’s “Blindness as compensatory or miraculous power” theme because Grandpa’s senses of smell and hearing were emphasized all too much throughout the book. Furthermore, Grandpa did not show independence of travel by using the sighted guide method on the walk, so Through Grandpa’s Eyes conveys the “Blindness as foolish and helplessness” theme in that respect. While Grandpa was never ridiculed, as the central characters in the first two books were, he was not portrayed as being fully independent.
One interesting note about this book is that I located it among the special education books at a large popular bookstore. Through Grandpa’s Eyes is a Reading Rainbow Book. Therefore, it would be more appropriately placed in the children’s literature section of the store where children would be more likely to discover it. For even though it emphasized Grandpa’s sixth sense, it did educate the young reader about blind alternatives.
Another book about a grandfather, Susan Pearson’s Happy Birthday, Grampie (1987), provides an even more informed image of blindness. This book focuses on a young girl named Martha, who worked a great deal to make a tactile birthday card for her grandfather. “This was one card Grampie would be able to see even though he is blind.” The reader learned that every part of the card, from the picture to the letters, was made with a different type of paper with different textures. “She wanted Grampie to read it, too.” After the card was made, the family went to church and then to the nursing home where her grandfather lived. Once all the presents were opened, Martha gave the card to her grandfather. He took the card and touched it all over. Slowly, he felt the letters, then smiled and gave his granddaughter a hug. He then told her that he loved her, too.
It is to the credit of Happy Birthday, Grampie that it does not fit neatly into any of Dr. Jernigan’s categories. By making the blind character an elderly person in a nursing home, rather than someone who is more vibrant and independent, the author does treat blindness as helplessness. Otherwise, however, the book does not portray any stereotypes concerning blindness. This book does a wonderful job explaining tactile alternatives. Martha also spoke of what life was like when her grandfather could see. Therefore, this book was more true to life than any of the books I have written about thus far. It leaves young readers with a realistic concept of blindness.
A Native American story, Knots on a Counting Rope by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault (1966/1987), is another children’s book that escapes the old stereotypes. It, too, is a Reading Rainbow Book, and it was located in the children’s literature section of the bookstore. This book is about a young boy, named Boy‑Strength‑of-Blue‑Horses, who was born blind. Boy‑Strength‑of-Blue‑Horses and his grandfather often told the story of the stormy night on which he was born. Every time the story was told, a knot was placed on the rope, known as the counting rope. The rope was a metaphor for “the passage of time and for the boy’s emerging confidence in facing his greatest challenge, his blindness.” The grandfather was strong and wise as he talked to his grandson, who seemed quite young and immature yet accepting of his blindness.
This book goes further than Happy Birthday, Grampie at showing the capabilities of the blind. First, since the roles of child and grandparent were reversed in this story, blindness was not associated with debility. The story also teaches some alternatives, as when Boy‑Strength‑of Blue‑Horses stated, “...there are many ways to see, grandfather....I can see the horses with my hands.” Finally, the book educates readers about the capabilities of the blind by having the young boy participate in a horse race. The boy spoke about the route he took and how he got information from his horse on when to turn. Although he did not win the race, this incident shows the reader that blind individuals are quite capable of performing physical tasks that sighted people often assume are impossible for them.
Knots on a Counting Rope escaped Dr. Jernigan’s nine principal themes by not showing any stereotypes of blindness, nor drawing a negative picture of this state. In fact, the author did not even use the word blind in the story. The grandfather explained to his grandson that he was born with a dark curtain in front of his eyes. “Dark mountains” were used as a metaphor for difficult obstacles that people (both sighted and blind) face during life. Actually, this book was quite educational, teaching the young about Native American culture as well as blindness.
Equally educational is the classic Chinese folk tale The Seeing Stick by Jane Yolen (1977), a story about a young princess who was blind. Her name was Hwei Ming which, translated to English, means “the lightless moon on the last day of the month...becoming luminous.” Hwei Ming’s father, the emperor of Peking, announced to the people that if anyone could help his only daughter to see, “such a person would be rewarded with a fortune in jewels.”
In the south country lived a gentleman who heard the emperor’s request, so he gathered up a few items and set forth on the long journey, bringing along a golden wood stick and whittling knife. “The sun rose hot on his right side, and the sun set cool on his left.” As the man ventured to the castle, he whittled on the stick pictures of the various locations at which he stopped along the way. When he arrived in front of the emperor and his daughter, he told her the story of his journey while she felt the pictures on his golden wood stick. “As the princess listened, she grew eyes on the tips of her fingers.” Hwei Ming then became a teacher to the other blind children of Peking. On the last page of the book, the reader discovers that the man was also blind.
In drawing the illustrations for The Seeing Stick, Remy Charlip and Demetra Maraslis chose an interesting approach. The pictures started off quite dull with pencil drawings of gray, white, and black. However, when the man presented the seeing stick to Hwei Ming, the pictures developed color and detail.
Like Knots on a Counting Rope, this folk tale is successful in avoiding the nine stereotypes about blindness that Dr. Jernigan identified. While there were earlier ‘hints’ that the man was blind, that fact was not truly revealed until the end of the book. Thus, the young readers, who may not know much about blindness, would probably think of this character as simply an ‘individual’ and not a ‘blind person.’ The author showed that a blind individual is quite capable of traveling without a sighted escort, and she did this without suggesting that he had miraculous powers. By the same token, The Seeing Stick did not portray blindness “as total tragedy.” The book did show the grieving of Hwei Ming’s father, but this was later turned around when Hwei Ming learned some alternatives. There might have been a touch of Dr. Jernigan’s themes of “Blindness as a perfect virtue” and “Blindness as purification” in the characterization of the princess. She seemed to be disconnected with the world around her or somewhat shy. Apart from this, however, the book educated its readers about blindness in an accurate and dignified manner.
The historical accuracy of another children’s book makes it the centerpiece of my own library on blindness. Louis Braille: The Blind Boy Who Wanted To Read by Dennis Fradin (1994) is part of the Remarkable Children’s Series. These books are based on information collected from journals, old letters, and historical documentation.
Fradin told the story of Louis Braille from his early childhood to his death. Fradin explains how Louis became blind by having an accident with an awl, a tool used to poke holes in leather. The awl pierced his left eye, and later an infection from the injury spread to his right eye. Fradin explains that “had this accident happened today, Louis would not have lost all of his vision. Doctors might have even saved his damaged eye. However, in 1812, people did not yet know about germs.” Fradin describs what life was like for blind people when Louis was young. However, he points out that Louis Braille’s family avoided the prevailing stereotypes by treating the boy no differently than any of their other children.
This book focuses on the important events in Louis Braille’s life. For instance, it tells of when Louis left home at the age of ten to be educated at the National Institute for the Young Blind in Paris, where he had to live apart from his family. Louis was extremely excited about attending this school because he had heard that the Institute had special books that the blind could read. These books had raised letters printed on thick paper and were very difficult and time-consuming for the blind reader. Thus, “the thrill of reading quickly faded” for Louis. Later, however, Captain Charles Barbier visited the Institute with an invention of night writing designed for soldiers to read messages in the dark. This night writing inspired Louis, at the age of twelve, to investigate developing a similar system for the blind. Louis believed there must be an easier way to read than the raised letter system. After three years, he completed his system and shared it with his friends at the institute.
The book also details some of Louis Braille’s later achievements. Fradin explained that after graduation, Mr. Braille became a teacher for the Institute and obtained a job playing the organ at a church nearby. He also spent many hours building a library of Braille books for the students of the Institute. The Braille system was a success for the students, but not for the officials of the Institute. “In 1843 the principal burned a number of books printed in Braille and gathered up the students’ styluses.” However, the students would not stop using Braille, so a year later this system was accepted by the Institute. The author concluded by pointing out that “Mr. Braille spent the rest of his life trying to introduce Braille to the world.”
Louis Braille: The Blind Boy Who Wanted To Read is well written and does not employ any of Dr. Jernigan’s nine themes. It portrays the blind individual as being capable, confident, and normal. As a teacher of Braille, I have incorporated this book into my own lesson plans. It is replete with abundant information about the history of Braille which is important for any Braille beginner. This book would help young children, whether sighted or visually impaired, to develop healthy attitudes about blindness.
To underscore the extent to which children’s literature has and has not changed from the time of Dr. Jernigan’s keynote speech, I will discuss one final book written before his speech was given. Louis Braille: The Boy Who Invented Books for the Blind is a chapter book for adolescents, by Margaret Davidson (1971). In many cases, it provids more detailed information than Louis Braille: The Blind Boy Who Wanted To Read. For example, this book explains that the director of the Institute, Dr. Pignier, was actually a good friend of Mr. Braille. Dr. Pignier personally saved money to publish a small book about the Braille alphabet titled Method of Writing Words, Music, and Plainsong by Means of Dots for Use by the Blind and Arranged by Them (Davidson, 1971, p. 61). Copies of the book were sent to several important people in order to promote the Braille system. However, in 1841, Dr.. Pignier left the Institute, and it was the new director who did not like Braille. Davidson further explained that sighted staff members felt that if Braille were successful, the Institute would hire only blind instructors and thus, would not need the sighted ones. Furthermore, the sighted instructors wanted to keep the raised print because they could read it easily and did not want to take the time and effort to learn Braille. According to Davidson, it was the new director, Dr. Dufau, who burned all the books which Louis had transcribed into Braille. However, Dr. Dufau changed his attitude and later accepted the Braille system into the Institute. Finally, Davidson explains that Captain Barbier returned to the Institute to find out more information about the person who was adapting his idea of night reading to allow blind people to read. When Barbier discovered that it was a young boy, he became upset and would not accept the idea that the blind needed or had any desire to be able to read.
Louis Braille: The Boy Who Invented Books for the Blind, despite giving the reader a detailed history of Louis Braille’s life, reinforced certain stereotypes about blindness. In Dr. Jernigan’s list of themes, this book falls into the “Blindness as foolishness and helplessness” category. For example, Davidson explains that Louis could not participate in typical children’s games or even take a short walk down the street to a friend’s house. Similarly, Davidson informs the reader that the students of the Institute could not leave the building unless they all went together by holding a long rope led by a sighted person. Thus, children who finished reading this book would be likely to view the blind as abnormal people incapable of leading an independent life.
A re‑examination of Davidson’s book makes it clear why Dr. Jernigan in 1974 felt that literature was working against the blind. Unfortunately, as my study has shown, despite some improvements, this trend still continues today. Too often, in the books that children read, the ideas set forth can, in their young minds, create a negative perspective on blindness. Even today, there are few books that clearly portray the skills, attitudes, and independence of blind people in contemporary society.
It has been twenty‑five years since Dr. Jernigan presented his list of nine principal themes of literature at the National Federation of the Blind Convention. However, in the handful of representative books I examined for this study, five of those themes were apparent. If we look back to what he said about literature in 1974, I would have to say that his views hold true today. “If we consider the present,” Dr. Jernigan said, “there are signs of change, but the old stereotypes and the false images still predominate.”
What I would like to see in children’s literature (and in adult literature, for that matter) is demonstrated in another children’s book that I happened to come across in a local thrift store. It is titled Four for Cribbage by Gladys Yessayan Cretan (1981). The front cover is a simple picture of three children of various ethnic backgrounds, sitting around a card table playing cribbage. The table has a long cloth draped over it. Thus, at first glance, the reader would not know that one of the characters in the book has a disability. On the first page, the reader is greeted with a picture of a young girl and her dog. This girl, named Toby, has cable braces on her legs. The story is about Toby, who has just moved into a newly developed neighborhood and wants to have someone with whom to play cribbage. Eventually new people move into the neighborhood, so Toby is able to gain playmates. Throughout the book, the reader can observe Toby’s full body from time to time, and therefore the reader can see her cable braces and crutches. However, nothing is ever mentioned in the story about her disabilities. Nothing at all.
What I would like to see in literature of all levels are characters who are blind but who are not treated differently. I would like to see them portrayed simply as other characters in the book. Blind individuals would then be treated equally in literature, just as Toby is, and Dr. Jernigan’s nine themes would only be part of our historical record, not a reflection of literary conditions today.
Brown, M. (1996). Glasses for D.W. New York: Random House
Cretan, G.Y. (1981). Four for Cribbage. Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Davidson, M. (1971). Louis Braille: The Boy Who Invented Books for the Blind. New York: Scholastic.
Fradin, D. (1997). Louis Braille: The Blind Boy Who Wanted To Read. Parsippany, NJ: Silver Press.
Jernigan, K (Speaker). (1974). Blindness: Is Literature Against Us? (Cassette Recording). Chicago: National Federation of the Blind Annual Convention.
Johnson, D. (1996). Ben’s Glasses. New York: Grosset & Dunlap.
Martin Jr., B. & Archambault, J. (1987). Knots on a Counting Rope. (Rev. ed.). New York: Henry Holt.
MacLachlan,P. (1980). Through Grandpa’s Eyes. New York: Harper Collins.
Pearson, S. (1987). Happy Birthday, Grampie. (Rev. ed.) New York: Puffin Books.
Yolen, J. (1977). The Seeing Stick. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell
Mandy Sue Day
From the Editor: I asked a colleague of mine, Mrs. Peggy Chong, to take a stab at reviewing Mandy Sue Day, a children’s picture book by Roberta Karim. I discovered Mandy Sue Day through another blind friend—Marie Cobb—who happened upon it when she was ordering books from Discovery Toys for her grandchildren. Mrs. Chong reports that she was able to order the book through Bibelot’s bookstore. Mandy Sue Day is also available on cassette tape through your regional library for the blind.
The reviewer, Mrs. Chong, has the perspective of a woman who grew up as a partially sighted child who often resisted and denied her blindness. Readers may remember her article “I’m Partially Sighted, and I Use a White Cane” published in the Volume 16, Number 4 issue of Future Reflections. Here, now, is her review:
MANDY SUE DAY
Mandy Sue Day, written by Roberta Karim, is a delightful story for young readers about a farm girl and her horse, Ben.
Mandy lives on Amos Acres, the farm owned by her family. At the end of harvest season, the parents gives each of their six children a special day off for “good behavior.” This story is about the day Mandy Sue planned for herself.
As the author, with many wonderful descriptive phrases, takes the reader through Mandy Sue’s long awaited special day, he/she soon feels the love of Mandy Sue’s family and the love that Mandy Sue has for her horse, Ben.
Mandy feeds and grooms her horse for their lazy day. They ride around the farm, through the woods, then back to the barn to remove the burrs and riding gear—just Mandy Sue and her horse. It’s a fantasy day many little girls might dream about.
After a special meal prepared by her mother, Mandy Sue heads out to the barn to sleep with Ben. Little brother tries to give her a flashlight and is gently reminded by Mandy Sue that she doesn’t need it because “I can’t see.” Although there are some very subtle hints about her blindness in the text and the illustrations, it is only at this point near the end of the book that the reader is conscious of Mandy Sue’s blindness.
Even today, enlightened authors struggle with the portrayal of disabled children in literature. Some try to be politically correct while others attempt to make a statement. This author chose to tell a story about a little girl who just happens to be blind. The character is clearly a little girl first. She is a part of a loving family that lives on a farm. Mandy Sue is fortunate to have a horse of her own and a special day to spend with that horse. Blindness is just one of her characteristics. She is Mandy Sue Day—not blind Mandy Sue Day.
I highly recommend this book for any young child. I think, however, that girls, and especially girls who are blind, will particularly enjoy the story.
The Very Best Gift of All
Reprinted from the VIP Newsletter, Volume 15, Number 3, a publication of the Blind Children’s Fund, Michigan.
Editor’s Note: This tiny little article packs a great big lesson for parents of blind toddlers and pre-schoolers! If any readers have other suggestions of “the real-thing, playthings” for toddlers and preschoolers, please pass them on to me for the next issue!
Marion is a mother, a nurse, and an aunt who knows all about kids. When she was about to visit her sister’s family, she wanted to bring along a small gift for her niece.
So, for Susan, who is 2 ½ years old, Marion bought a gift-wrapped tin of plastic bandages in several sizes. Her husband thought the gift was weird, cheap, and inappropriate, and he said so. Marion merely smiled.
Susan, however, was utterly delighted. First, she looked all over her own body for some place she could use a bandage. She found a small scratch, and it seemed to qualify.
Then she put two on her doll. After that she sorted out the big bandages, the middle-sized ones, and the little ones. And she asked Aunt Marion what kind of cuts, scratches, bruises, or sore spots each one ought to be saved for.
Over the next few days, the bandages obviously were her favorite playthings.
What Aunt Marion had known was that at 2 ½, Susan’s play would probably include lots of simple pretending based on the real and simple events of her own life.
So the bandages were a smash of a gift because they helped Susan to pretend to do something important that grownups do. And every bandage—big, medium, or small—became a source of fun and a learning experience. That’s the very best gift of all.
From Primary News 6/99
This child maintains control by placing
his hand over his teacher’s hand as she demonstrates the slate and stylus.
Hand-Over-Hand Guidance: What Lesson Do We Teach?
Editor’s Note: Ms. Story a is teacher of the visually impaired and a member of AER Division 8, Anchorage, Alaska. This article is reprinted from The National Newspatch, November 1997.
Independence is emphasized in much of the literature concerning young children who are blind. In the revised edition of Can’t Your Child See? A Guide for Parents of Visually Impaired Children, it states that “The more they [parents] teach the child to function independently in the first three to four years, the less they will have to do later (Scott, Jan, Freeman, 1985).” But how do you “teach” independence to a one-, two-, or three-year-old child without sight? How do you bring the world to the child, and how do you teach skills such as putting on a jacket without making the child dependent on constant prompts and cues? It has often been observed that many children with visual impairments, especially those with additional impairments, are much more passive than their sighted peers. They seem to think of themselves not as a doers, but as people who must wait for assistance or a prompt.
Literature on young children with blindness often mentions the fairy godmother syndrome. The child has little information to make the connections of how and why things are appearing and disappearing within his/her world. There is also the concern of imitation: how do you show a child how to eat with a spoon if he/she can’t see how others are doing it? The solution offered for these concerns has often been a hand-over-hand guide technique. The adult holds the back of the child’s hand, the child is guided to the objects to be explored, and guided through the motions of the activity to be learned.
Some have begun to question and reject this method. Dr. Lilli Nielsen of Denmark noticed that children often pulled away when an adult attempted to direct or guide the child’s hands. Lilli writes, “I changed my approach so that guiding or leading the child’s hand was used infrequently. This resulted in the children seldom withdrawing their hands. On the contrary they became more eager to initiate exploration and examine objects, thus improving their ability to grasp and to use their hands in various ways.” Dr. Lilli Nielsen, Educational Approaches for Visually Impaired Children, SIKON, 1992.
Watching Nielsen play with a child, one can see how touching the inside of the child’s hand with an object elicits a grasp quickly and much more independently on the child’s part than forcibly placing the child’s hand on the same objects. Once the child is motivated by the objects, a sound or a nearby vibration can elicit a reach and grasp. The children she has worked with at her presentations often begin to imitate activities such as strumming a stringed instrument, blowing into a harmonica, or dropping balls into a container. The children’s hands were never guided, and they stayed actively engaged for up to an hour. The children’s parents, teachers, and therapists are often amazed at how much children will do for Lilli. A bigger challenge may be the very passive child who moves very little. It will take these children longer to learn, and small steps should be appreciated when they do occur. As Lilli has said, these children do not have time to waste.
Enthused by Nielsen’s results, many who attend her lectures focus on equipment such as the Little Room™, but continue to guide children’s hands. The children’s reaction is most often to pull their hands away, or passively to allow their hands to be manipulated. It is an issue that I still struggle with, for although I have seen some wonderful results in using alternatives, I still have to sit on my own hands sometimes to stop myself from guiding a child’s hand. Even if I do restrain my own hands, I still have to convince educators, therapists, and parents that there are alternatives. Fortunately, some of the parents I’ve worked with have had success with getting their children to hold their own bottle, finger feed, and eventually spoon feed without guiding/controlling their child’s hands. These successes make me question the standard advice given to parents and others about teaching a child without sight.
Hand-over-hand guidance is recommended in most of the literature (or at least there are photos or videos demonstrating it). For a sighted person, it seems an almost instinctual response to guide the child’s hands. Some children protest the guidance, but eventually come to accept it and wait for their turn to explore. How frustrating to have to wait to explore something yourself! One child that I worked with seemed actually to enjoy the hand-over-hand guidance for finger plays and songs, but was quick to push the adult’s hands away if the activity or object was unfamiliar to her. Other children seem much more affected by the technique and become more passive or defensive to touch. These children do not repeat the skill by themselves after being guided. It should be considered that this technique of guiding a child’s hand has been used too often and too quickly. Often it seems that the sighted person forgets, or is unaware of, the unique perspective of those that are blind. Martha Pamperin wrote about this perspective on the AER listserv recently:
“As I, a blind adult, go about getting myself a cup of coffee, I may (1) search the shelf tactually to locate cup and coffee pot, before (2) pouring the coffee. This preliminary search is normal for me, especially if I am at the home of a friend. It does not, however, look normal to the watching friend. Often as not, the friend concludes that I am not able to pour coffee and does it for me, or watches in amazement as I do it myself. Since a blind person, at the beginning of a task, uses a tactual search to substitute for the visual search made by a sighted person, blind people can look unable when they are actually very able indeed.”
Martha compares the sighted method vs. the tactual method of putting on a jacket:
“While the sighted kindergartner (1) sees the arm hole where his arm needs to go, and (2) puts his arm right in, the blind child will probably (1) aim his arm in the general direction of the arm hole, touch the front or back of the jacket, feel around to find the arm hole, and then (2) put his arm in. It is hard to resist directing the arm into the armhole or moving the jacket… The tactual search and the pause for auditory searching may make us look blind, but surprise, surprise, we are blind. Consider the beauty of gently searching hands, and the wonderful awareness of the listening posture. Wait, let it be.”
Another educator who is searching for alternatives to controlling hands is Barbara Miles, who presented a workshop entitled “Hands: Tools, Sense Organs, Voice” at the 1997 National Conference on Deaf-blindness. Barbara listed this topic among others in her agenda: “Skillful ways of touching and inviting touch, including alternatives to hand-over-hand techniques.” Barbara showed a video in which she gained the trust of a child described as tactually defensive. Barbara used her hands to “invite” and “comment” on objects and activities rather than directing his activity. Her hands followed the child’s very gently and were slightly under the child’s hands rather than over them, thus allowing the child to know that his tactile attention was shared. From this hand-under-hand position, the teacher could gently invite the child to touch an object or person without controlling. This freedom resulted in dramatically increased hand activity.
Consider the O&M technique of the sighted guide. We are taught that the sighted guide does not hold onto the blind person’s arm and pull—that would take all control away from the one being guided. The guiding must be invited and even then it is understood that the one being guided will have a harder time repeating the route by themselves because the guide-ee is dependent on the guide-er.
Hand-over-hand guidance has been promoted as a catchall solution without many questions as to how it is done, when, and why. The challenge remains in our work with young children to explore this issue of teaching, yet still promote independence.
My Name is Macy, and I was Addicted
Editor’s Note: Crystal is the president of the Ohio Parents of Blind Children and a former member of the Board of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children.
Gambling, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes—we are all familiar with these well-known addictions. But there is an almost unknown addiction to which my daughter, Macy—through my ignorance and innocence—fell prey. I am writing this article to help other parents of very young blind children avoid this addiction, or to break the habit if it has already taken hold.
Here’s our story. Macy at a very, very young age developed a love for music. In order to please her we bought her a tape player and lots of tapes for her to listen to. As time went by, Macy grew more and more attached to her tape player. Soon, she couldn’t go anywhere without her trusty tape player.
As her family, we began to feel the unpleasant consequences of her addiction. We had to turn tapes over in the middle of the night, and had to have spare batteries every place we went. We never had a quiet time, ever. We had become co-dependents. Finally, we realized we had to do something to keep our sanity. It was not a short process or an easy one. Frantically, I called everyone I knew asking how I could stop this. Most of the people I called were probably wondering how the heck I let this happen to begin with.
We started out very slowly pulling the tape player away. First we started playing storybook tapes instead of music. Gradually we were down to only listening to music at bedtime. We spent many sleepless nights due to Macy’s screaming and crying. She would bang her head on anything she could find when the music was off. She was going through withdrawal. We remained strong and continued to wean her from her precious tape player.
The road to recovery was long, but the trauma is now over. Macy is 7 years old now, and we listen to tapes maybe once or twice a week. Macy still has a great love of music, not because of her blindness, but just because of who she is. She plays the piano beautifully, has started guitar lessons, and occasionally plays the harmonica and bongo drums. She says she would like to be a piano teacher someday. She is still in love with music but we will never let it become an addiction like the tape player.
Please prevent this ordeal from happening to your family. Know when to say “enough!” You’ll be glad you did.
My Introduction to Sleepshades and Independence
Reprinted from the February, 1998 edition of News and Views of Blind Arizonians, a publication of the NFB of Arizona.
Tom O’Brien, News and Views Editor: Craig Eckhardt of Glendale had the opportunity last summer to attend and participate in the Colorado Center for the Blind’s summer program for high school students. At our Arizona State Convention last September, Craig reported to the membership on his experiences. Following are excerpts from Craig’s remarks:
I would like to begin by telling you a little bit about myself. I am fifteen years old, and I am a sophomore at Moon Valley High School in Phoenix. I am partially blind.
Until last summer, I was confused, restricted in my thinking and in my activities, and without direction or plans as to what I was going to do with my life. I had not yet been introduced to the National Federation of the Blind.
At the end of May, when the school year was coming to a close, I was anxiously dreading summer. I really had no plans except to stay up until 3 a.m. every night and watch TV. Actually, what I really wanted to do was to find a job. But no one was hiring and, besides, I was too young to get regular employment.
Then, one day as I was pondering my dilemma, I received a packet in the mail from my uncle. It was information about some place called the Colorado Center for the Blind in Denver. Apparently, my parents had told my uncle about my problem of what to do for the summer. He knew about the Colorado program for blind high school students, so he sent me the information.
As we studied the information, I learned that it wasn’t like a summer camp. It was more like a school for the blind and partially blind. Immediately upon hearing that awful word, “school,” my interest faded. I thought I had had enough of school for the year already.
I was about to give up on the Denver idea when I suddenly saw it, the word, “JOB!” A summer job was what I really wanted! After I saw “job,” I became interested all over again. Finally, it looked like I would have the chance to earn some extra cash.
It was at this time that I met up with the National Federation of the Blind. Since I was not a client of vocational rehabilitation services, I had to find some other way to pay for the tuition to attend the Colorado Center school. My mother contacted Jim Omvig and Bruce Gardner, blind leaders of the NFB of Arizona, and, somehow, they took care of it.
On June 7, I flew to Denver to begin my training and job. I didn’t know what to expect,
but I was excited. When I arrived at the Denver airport, my counselor, who would also be my roommate for the next two months, met me. Because of the small number of participants, I thought that the place would be small. To my surprise, however, we pulled up to the Cherry Creek Club Apartment Complex. And what a complex it was. It consisted of 1,400 public apartments, two pools, a hot tub, and it was all laid out in the middle of Denver.
Later that day, I attended a little get-together with the other students and staff. During that meeting our group discussed several rules, including curfew. A couple of days after that I became familiar with my surroundings, including the complex, a couple of markets close by, and the bus route to the Center.
My first day of classes was interesting. Quickly I was introduced to Braille, cane travel, and what I first thought would be my mortal enemy—blindfolds, also called “SLEEPSHADES!” I didn’t really have a problem with sleepshades, except that I hated them. Every time I had cane travel and had to put those things on, I became so afraid. However, after a time, I became used to the shades. I still didn’t like them, but I learned to handle it.
Of course we did other activities, too, like rock climbing (under sleepshades), traveling to the mall on the bus (under sleepshades), and buying groceries (under sleepshades). I asked why sleepshades were so stressed in this program. I was told that it is important for those of us with some remaining vision to learn to use that sight efficiently, and not to try to over-use it when it wasn’t helpful. Also, if you learned to rely on your other senses and on blind techniques, you wouldn’t be so afraid and would become more independent.
Independent. Now that was a word that made me ponder. I was not even familiar with the word. But all through the program I noticed how independence was displayed and discussed. My life had always revolved around set schedules, and everything was always laid out for me. Basically, you could say that I had been restrained from independent life, and I hadn’t even known it.
As I learned about independence, things went well. I even got the chance to go to New Orleans to the 1997 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. The convention was overwhelming. Every day I was so busy going to seminars, visiting the exhibit hall, and generally having a good time, that I can say I literally never got out of the hotel. But that was OK since everything at that convention was unforgettable and inspiring.
After our group got back from the convention it was time to start our jobs. I was honored to work at a federal center cafeteria. The job was fun and interesting, as I had expected. But I soon learned an amazing thing—the job wasn’t my biggest interest as I had thought that it would be. I realized that the job was but a small part of everything I was doing in the program. Yes, everything—Braille class, cane travel, rock climbing, the NFB convention, and the job—they were just parts of one program.
All the parts seemed to somehow connect around one focus, around one meaning. I’ve thought about this meaning for a long time. I finally concluded that all the activities and all the events had to focus around the idea of independence. Finally, it all made sense. And, because of this, other things in my life started to make sense, too. I wasn’t nearly as hesitant and confused as I had been when I started the program. Suddenly, I found out that doors and opportunities were opening up for me. I discovered it then, and I know it now—I have choices. I don’t have to be limited or held back just because I am partially blind. I am an individual, and I have individual needs. Thanks to the National Federation of the Blind, I now realize this. And let me tell you that just knowing and understanding this gives me a great feeling. This knowledge is very important to me; and I am thankful to the NFB that I have gained it.
I would like to thank all of you for letting me speak today, and for helping me to experience some of the best months of my life. The NFB has helped me to feel confident and to get my first real taste of INDEPENDENCE—it’s great!
From the Editor: The Colorado Center for the Blind is one of three rehabilitation training centers for the blind operated by the National Federation of the Blind. During the summer months, all three centers offer special programs for blind children and youth. They are truly outstanding programs, the best in the country.
Another excellent transition summer program for youth, WINGS, is offered by Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM). BISM, a private agency, has a long-standing cooperative relationship with the NFB in Maryland. All of these programs emphasize the use of competent blind instructors and counselors as mentors, a can-do attitude, job experiences for older youth, blindness skills, and blindness technology.
Program directors will discuss fees and funding with you, but here are a few suggestions about possible funding sources: (1) For older youth age 16 and up, investigate rehabilitation funding under transition services. (2) Explore with your school district the possibility of using the program to fulfill extended school year services (see article elsewhere in this issue). (3) If your school district has failed to provide a significant amount of services from your child’s current or past IEP, you could ask them to fund a summer program to fulfill their compensatory education services obligation. (4) Check with your local or state NFB and Parents of Blind Children Division affiliates about possible scholarships. If none are available, perhaps your interest, need, and willingness to help can spark interest in getting such a scholarship fund established. (5) Seek assistance from local clubs and organizations.
For applications and more information about the programs, contact the following:
Blindness: Learning in New
Dimensions (BLIND, Inc.)
Joyce Scanlan, Director
100 East 22nd Street, South
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404-2514
(800) 587-9558; (612) 872-0100;
fax: (612) 872-9358;
Colorado Center for the Blind
Dan Wenzel, Children’s
1830 South Acoma Street
Denver, Colorado 80223-3606
(800) 401-4632; (303) 778-1130;
(303) 778-1598; <www.ccb—denver.org>
Louisiana Center for the Blind
Pam Dubel, Children’s Program Director
101 South Trenton
Ruston, Louisiana 71270-4431
(800) 234-4166; (318) 251-2891;
fax: (318) 251-0109
Summer Youth Transition Program
Blind Industries and Services
of Maryland (BISM)
Rosemary Lerdahl, Rehabilitation Department Director
2901 Strickland Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21223
Grandparents Fill the Gap
Editor’s Note: Pat and Jerry Jones are dedicated leaders in the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Pat has served on the National Board and is president of the Tennessee Valley Parents of Blind Children. Both Pat and Jerry have assisted with national parent leadership training conferences—and they aren’t even parents of a blind child! So, why are they so involved in the organization? Here’s their inspiring story as reprinted from The Chattanooga Times, October 16, 1998.
Pat Jones is no different from anyone else rearing 11-year-old twin girls.
She divides her time between shuttling April and Amanda to horseback riding lessons and church choir rehearsals. Mrs. Jones is active in the PTA, lends a hand on school picture day and bakes for school fund raisers.
Mrs. Jones and her husband, Frank, reach across a generation to care for the girls, who were born blind. The grandparents have been the primary caretakers for the twins since they were first-graders.
“People think the stress level is because they are blind, but the stress is the twin part,” she said with a laugh. “The parents that had the seven kids I don’t envy at all.”
The Joneses are being swept along in one of America’s most pronounced demographic trends. According to a recent U.S. Census survey, there are 3.9 million children in America living in a grandparent-headed household. Of that number, 1.4 million of the children do not have a parent present, leaving the grandparents with full responsibility.
Pat Jones (right) hands out clean laundry to be put away by her twin granddaughters, Amanda (left) and April. The laundry isn’t from a visit. The girls, who are in the seventh grade at Oolatewah Middle School, have been living with their grandparents for six years.
Over the last 25 years, the number of children being raised by someone other than parents has increased at an alarming rate. The spike is due, in part, to drug and alcohol abuse, poverty, teen-age parenting, incarceration, death of a parent, violence, HIV/AIDS, or the parents being physically or mentally unable to care for the child.
Communities across the United States have scrambled to respond to the growing needs of grandparents raising their grandchildren. The Association for the Advancement for Retired People made the issue a priority when it established the Grandparent Information Center, which is aimed at helping grandparents raise their grandchildren.
According to the Grandparent Information Center, the majority of grandparents raising grandchildren assumed the primary care giving role because of substance abuse by the parents (44 percent). Next was child abuse, neglect or abandonment (28 percent) followed by teen-age pregnancy or the parent being unable to handle the children (11 percent).
Donna McConnico of Family and Children’s Services of Chattanooga said the counseling center is handling more and more cases of grandparents raising their grandchildren. The center offers counseling and parenting classes for grandparents.
Ms. McConnico, the counseling center’s clinical coordinator, said parenting classes acquaint grandparents with new parenting techniques such as using time-outs instead of spankings as a punishment. She said the center also teaches grandparents how to communicate better with teachers and principals.
“Discipline is a major concern for grandparents,” she said. “It’s difficult for them to move out of the more permissive grandparenting role into the new parenting role. We help them learn to say no.”
Ms. McConnico said most grandparents express exhaustion over the change in their lifestyle and feel a loss of freedom. Many of the grandparents said they thought the child-rearing part of their lives would be over once they reached their 50s.
“But they don’t really question why they are doing it or get angry at their grandkids,” she said. “If anything, they get angry at their own children for being irresponsible.”
Senior Neighbors of Chattanooga Inc. is making an effort to reach out to parenting grandparents. The program received a seed grant for $10,000 this year to expand services to grandparents or other relatives who have become surrogate parents.
Joyce E. Drew of Senior Neighbors said they fret over practical problems. They wonder about financial support, who can legally enroll the child in school, or who will take them to doctors’ visits.
One grandmother asked how to get counseling for her grandchildren, and another wanted to learn about mentoring programs so her grandson could have a positive male role model. One grandparent wanted after-school tutoring for her grandchild. Ms. Drew said many local organizations including the Boys Club and Girl Scouts are helping Senior Neighbors fill these needs.
Ms. Drew said it surprised her how little the grandparents asked for once they discovered a few of the options open to them. Although many of the grandparents she spoke to were on fixed incomes, very few complained about the financial or emotional strain the new situation caused for them.
The grandparents instead wanted to know how they could make their existing situation better for their grandchildren.
As for Pat and Frank Jones, they had just put the last of their five children through school when the twins’ mother moved back into their house with her four children.
Pat Jones grocery shops with the two 11-year-old girls.
Eventually the twins’ mother moved out with the two youngest children but left the twins with the Joneses so the twins wouldn’t have to change schools.
Mrs. Jones said the decision to raise them fulltime was not taken lightly.
“It was really hard at first,” she said. “We had to think about and pray about it for a long time. We kept asking ourselves if we were doing the right thing and if this is what we wanted for them and for us.”
But once the decision was made, the Joneses never looked back. They renovated their house and became active in support groups for parents raising blind children. They pored over books, searched the Internet, and talked to people to learn the options and resources available to them.
Now six years after the twins first entered her life and three years after she and her husband gained full custody of them, Mrs. Jones beams when she talks about “her girls.”
“The girls have taught me so much,” she said. “They taught me how to listen and how not to take things for granted. Now I take the time to really look at things, even if it is just a crack in the sidewalk.”
As a stay-at-home grandma, Mrs. Jones said she has more time to be actively involved with them. Yet, neither she nor her husband are trying to take the place of the girls’ parents.
“As grandparents we can love them as much as parents can, but we haven’t tried to make them feel like we are the parents,” she said. “We tell them they have a mom and dad, but we are their grandparents, and we always will be.”
Pat Jones grocery shops with the two 11-year-old girls.
Therapeutic Horseback Riding for the Blind
Editor’s Note: Ms. Ritter is a Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor and the Educational Consultant at Sebastian Riding Associates, Collegeville, Pennsylvania.
When people think of appropriate physical activities for blind and visually impaired children, horseback riding is usually not one that comes to mind. Riders typically function through their visual sense to steer and cue their horse. Imagine a child with low or no vision controlling a 1,000 to 1,300 pound animal. They must move through space on the back of this large horse without the aid of a cane or the feel of solid ground beneath their feet. However, at Sebastian Riding Associates, we have found horseback riding to be a wonderful activity for visually impaired children. A blind rider does not have an over dependence on vision, and can therefore move into the feeling and tactile aspects of riding more quickly. A goal for all riders is to advance to an ability to operate through touch and feel.
Sebastian’s is a nonprofit therapeutic riding facility serving over 100 riders with a large variety of disabilities (including combinations of disabilities), such as Cerebral Palsy, William’s Syndrome, partial paralysis, developmental delays, mental retardation, and blindness. Our riders find physical and cognitive benefits while enjoying the freedom of horseback riding. For individuals with these and other disabilities, the fluidity of riding offers them an experience that is otherwise unattainable.
Beyond the freedom and self‑confidence that is gained by riding, visually impaired children reap tremendous physical benefits, as well. Posture is often affected when a child is blind or has low vision. Some children tend to carry their head tilted upward, stretching their neck muscles, and throwing their shoulders back. Conversely, some children tilt their head downward causing their shoulders and chest to slump forward and cave in. These “blind postures” affect more than muscle and bone development. Posture translates into body language for the seeing world. A visually impaired child cannot pick up on the subtle cues of how others carry themselves. They must be taught how it feels to stand tall with square shoulders and head up and forward. An individual’s posture significantly impacts balance when horseback riding. Likewise, riding can significantly impact one’s posture, and therefore balance, in a very positive way. “Weaving” is one of many exercises that helps the child improve balance and posture. This exercise is done by having an experienced aid lead the horse in a zigzag pattern with unannounced stops. If a child is new to horseback riding, has other medical conditions, or extremely low tone, two side‑walkers will be used. The support given by side‑walkers provides safety, but riders must use their muscles to maintain a comfortable balance. In order to be balanced, the rider must sit up tall, allowing the pelvic area to follow the motion of the horse. Trunk muscles become strong, the head comes up, shoulders become square, and riders become increasingly aware of their body in space.
Riding a horse approximates a normal walking gait in the pelvic, trunk, and upper body area of a person. This is very helpful for blind children who shuffle their feet or tend to walk in a circle because of a dominant leg. Orientation and mobility specialists work with visually impaired children to lengthen their stride, hold their head up, and shift their center of gravity to lessen the shuffling, flat footed walking pattern characteristic of some blind children. While riding does not replace the exercises needed to walk straight with a comfortable heel down motion, it does support the strength, flexibility, and body awareness to facilitate the learning. In a normal human gait, the pelvic area and shoulder girdle move in counter rotation. A horse’s walking gait facilitates this same counter rotation in the human rider. The rider’s body responds as if long, heel down, strides are taken.
Andrew Love finds benefit and pleasure from horseback riding.
Horseback riding also offers many opportunities for the visually impaired to learn navigation skills. Grooming a horse involves large and fine motor movements. At Sebastian’s, the horse is cross‑tied in the barn. Riders must choose the appropriate grooming tools in the proper sequence and use them on each side and section of the horse. The hands‑on interaction with the horse teaches the child about the size and conformation of this large animal. It also requires focus and the ability to navigate in a busy and unique setting. When grooming is completed, the saddle and bridle are put on the horse. Buckling straps and attaching the therapy lead and lead rope require fine motor skills. Blind and visually impaired children can participate in each of these activities with the ultimate goal of performing these tasks independently. Blind riders lead their horses out of the barn and into the arena or riding ring. Riders follow verbal cues from the instructor and take cues from footing and sounds to determine when they and their horses have arrived at their destination.
Mapping is a navigational skill that can be done prior to, and during, a ride. A three‑dimensional map is used to replicate the riding area. The rider tactilely explores the arena through this tool. This three‑dimensional map gives the rider an understanding of his riding environment. While on the horse, the rider can determine the long and short sides of the arena from the distance traveled, the sounds of the spectator area, the whinnies from the barn, etc. Visually impaired riders stop, start, and steer their horse to sounds and verbal cues. These cues include direction from the riding instructor, music from a tape recorder, and noise‑making instruments. The games and activities included in the riding experience are practically limitless and lead to a fun and educationally relevant sport for the blind child.
Visually impaired children also gain muscle strength, balance, body awareness, confidence and self‑esteem through horseback riding. Therapeutic riding facilities are becoming more available as families experience the remarkable benefits. Some facilities are small with only one or two horses. Others are very well-established with top of the line equipment and many, many horses. However, most are somewhere in‑between, and almost all depend heavily on volunteers and donations. These programs are filled with volunteers, instructors, and horses who give of themselves because of a love for the special riders they serve. If you are considering a program for your visually impaired child, here are some questions you need to answer: How is your child’s mobility? Is your child a fearful child? How is your child’s balance? Is your child’s attention span and focus developed enough to participate in the riding experience?
When choosing a riding program, speak to the program director and the instructors. Does the program have other visually impaired riders? Some programs, such as Sebastian Riding Associates, have a week long camp designed specifically for visually impaired riders.
Are the instructors certified by your state handicapped riding association or by the North American Handicapped Riders’ Association? How are the horses trained? While there is no such thing as a totally “bomb proof” horse, a therapeutic horse should be calm, gentle, and extremely tolerant.
When you visit the facility, is it a safe environment? Are the walkways clear of tack and grooming equipment, but is that equipment readily available to the riders? You will want your child to have a safe environment that encourages exploration and eventually independence. Horseback riding is not an activity that is usually associated with blind and visually impaired individuals, but perhaps it should be. You can call NARHA (North American Riding for the Handicapped Association) for a list of Therapeutic Riding facilities near you, call (800) 369‑7433.
Beginning with Braille: Firsthand Experiences with a Balanced Approach to Literacy, new from the American Foundation for the Blind, begins with a discussion of the whole language and traditional approaches to teaching reading and writing. Author Anna M. Swenson is a Braille teacher who favors the whole language philosophy, but who has taught in various settings, and includes ideas and techniques that will work with the traditional approach as well. The book’s focus is on creating an atmosphere that promotes literacy, no matter what the teaching approach.
According to Swenson, Braille teachers, who are the book’s primary intended audience, are not only teaching the Braille code, but are also teaching reading and writing. Swenson encourages Braille teachers to keep up to date with current approaches to teaching language arts, to get samples of sighted students’ work in order to understand the level of classroom expectation, and to consult with the reading specialist or learning disabilities specialist in the school if the blind student seems to be having difficulty learning to read.
Swenson makes detailed suggestions regarding working out the technical aspects of teaching Braille to a student in the mainstream, especially in a whole language classroom. In the section “A Morning in the Mainstream,” the reader can get a vivid view of how the Braille teacher can work alongside the classroom teacher to ensure a solid foundation for the blind student.
While the book is primarily written for Braille teachers (and new Braille teachers will especially benefit from the author’s many ideas), Beginning with Braille will certainly be an excellent resource for parents, classroom teachers, and paraprofessionals as well. The book is full of creative ideas for making the learning of Braille meaningful for the student. Sprinkled throughout the text are thoughtful tips from an experienced teacher, such as how to determine if a child is confusing a Braille e with a Braille I because he cannot discriminate between the two shapes or because he cannot remember which name goes with which shape. Swenson reminds the reader that blind children need real‑life experiences in order to understand the concepts they will encounter in school.
The author provides step‑by‑step instructions and activities for taking a young blind student through the beginning stages of Braille reading and writing. Many activities are aimed at teaching a young student how to complete an assignment independently. The ideas could easily be used by parents for enrichment, homeschooling, or remediation, or for older children whose development has been delayed but who are now ready to learn to read. Although a classroom teacher may not have time to read the whole book, a parent or Braille teacher could pass along many ideas that would work well in the classroom.
The author, a creative teacher who understands the importance of keeping a child interested, offers explicit directions for teaching Braille reading and writing; creative, logical, easy‑to‑make worksheet ideas; guidelines for when the use of worksheets is appropriate; and ideas on how to include “meaning‑based” activities in the child’s instruction. Some delightful ideas, such as making a book out of musical greeting cards so that the child hears a new song every time she turns a page, make me wish I had a little one of my own to teach!
Swenson lists techniques and activities for teaching Braille within and outside the regular classroom. This information ends up highlighting the pros and cons of mainstreaming and the delicate balance between the expectations of the mainstream classroom and the need for individual instruction in Braille skills, especially for the youngest students. Swenson observes that some students need extra individual instruction to prepare them to participate fully in the mainstream classroom. She warns that insisting on full‑time mainstreaming in the beginning for students such as these may result in less mainstreaming later on. Swenson also reminds teachers, though, that the goal of the specialized instruction is for the student to be able to function in the mainstream.
Beginning with Braille also contains ideas and resources for blind students with reading disabilities, suggestions for functional Braille for the child with more severe additional disabilities, assessment tools, literacy skill checklists, and record‑keeping forms. The author supplies resource lists of useful books, videos, and organizations, as well as templates for making books and ideas for sharing Braille with the child’s sighted classmates. A list of books featuring blind characters is included, but without any indication as to how blindness is presented. (I have read many of these books, and some of them I would never recommend!)
A few times in the book, some unfortunate language creeps in. The author refers to learning Braille as “a time‑consuming and complex process that requires daily instruction by a teacher of visually impaired students.” Could we not say the very same for learning print? I think the point is that Braille must be taught by a qualified teacher who knows the code and knows the techniques that will work. Swenson also once or twice refers to the Braille teacher’s instruction as “intervention.” Lastly, among many ideas for meaningful Brailling opportunities, the author suggests that the child Braille out certificates of appreciation for classmates who served as sighted guides. Certainly other reasons to communicate with classmates—ones that keep the blind student on a more equal par with sighted classmates—could be found. She also recommends sighted classmates’ trying out sighted guide under blindfold (why not try out the cane?). Many of us discourage the use of sighted guide for our blind children, preferring instead more independent mobility. Despite these small criticisms, I do not hesitate to recommend this book.
The author of this book certainly loves her work. Her genuine enthusiasm is apparent on every page. By reading the case studies she includes, we can share in the excitement of seeing a student progress. Anna Swenson’s students are surely having fun and learning well. Now others have the opportunity to benefit from this teacher’s creative work.
Why Does It Take So Long?
Reprinted from the NBA Bulletin, Winter, 1996/97, published by the National Braille Association (NBA).
Editor’s Note: The problem of Braille illiteracy is not only about getting Braille instruction for kids, it’s also about getting Braille materials accurately transcribed in a timely fashion. This requires advance planning, adequate funding, and the selection of conscientious, qualified transcribers and proofreaders. Betsy Burnham, the author of the article below, is one of those conscientious transcribers who cares deeply about the Braille product that goes out to the students she serves through the Maryland Instructional Resource Center. She hopes her article will help educate school personnel about the importance of ordering Braille textbooks and materials early. Here is what she says:
In September of this year I was talking with Gloria Buntrock, a past president of NBA, regarding her group’s proofreading policy. I do not remember the exact conversation or what precipitated Gloria saying (and I paraphrase), “When you are transcribing a book you should think of yourself as a publisher.” Those words hit home and triggered many other thoughts for days to come.
Two or three days after this conversation I was feeling particularly overwhelmed and frustrated over an accounting book our group had received two weeks before. The school was calling wondering where the book was, the student needed the book. I began to think, what are we doing wrong, are we really taking too much time to Braille this book? We have a scanner and MegaDots after all! (I say that facetiously.) Then Gloria’s words, as I recalled them, came back to me. “You are a publisher.”
The thought occurred to me, “I wonder how long it took the publishers of this accounting book to have it ready for print distribution?” As the print publisher designs the book, decisions must be made as to how this information will be visually displayed not only to get the information to the student but to enhance the student’s learning of that information. Graphic artists, education specialists, typesetters, and many other specialists are involved in these decisions, which result in bold, colored, and italicized print, graphics, size of font and placement of pictures and, oh yes, those wonderful marginal notes. It is indeed a very long tedious process for print publishers and this long process is accepted and expected by the consumer. For this article I phoned the publishing company of the particular accounting book I was working on and asked the approximate time the publication of an accounting book takes. The person with whom I was speaking said from receipt of a manuscript to the final proof they plan on an absolute minimum of two years prior to sending the book for printing.
The decision as to which textbook school systems choose for their students is based not only on the information contained in a book, but also if the information is presented in a manner that will ensure and enhance the learning of the subject.
I realized that as a transcriber I indeed am a publisher, and the way I format or display the print copy in Braille must also “enhance the learning” of that material for the Braille reader. There is clearly a difference between what will enhance learning for a print reader and what will enhance learning for the Braille reader. I must be very concerned about how and where I place this material on the Braille page. Where do I put those marginal notes so they don’t interrupt the flow of the text? Which diagrams should be put into tactile diagrams, which should be described, which should be omitted? Will it be necessary for me to distinguish between bold and italicized print? How will the table or chart be used? Will it be read across or up and down? My decisions can and do make the material either clear and understandable or more confusing than ever.
Luckily, I have the Code of Braille Textbook Formats and Techniques, 1977; my handouts from NBA workshops; and fellow transcribers to assist me in making those decisions. But it does and should take time.
I want the books I transcribe to enhance learning, not just give the information, or worse yet, make learning that text more difficult because I didn’t format the text correctly or think about the student for whom I was transcribing the book. Therefore, I will continue to read what I am transcribing, think about how that information will be used, and format it properly.
The next time someone asks me why does it take so long, I will take a deep breath, count to three, and ask myself how long do I think it took to produce the print version; then say very nicely, “I am doing the best that I can. And oh, by the way, I have a copy of an article from the NBA Bulletin I’d like you to read.”
Hopefully, when those requesting the books stop to think about how long it took to publish the print text, they will begin to understand the function and job of a transcriber and grant them the same understanding and courtesy that they give the print publisher.
My Saturday with the
Braille Writer Repair Man
Editor’s Note: The following article, originally titled “How I Spent My Saturday” is reprinted from an issue of the VIP Newsletter, a publication of the Visually Impaired Preschool Services of Louisville, Kentucky. As a service to our readers, I did some research and added the list of Braille writer repair individuals and agencies at the end of the article.
I recently spent a Saturday with John Ireland (a.k.a. Dr. Dot), Braille writer repairman extra-ordinaire, dismantling and reassembling a Braille writer. The process took over eight hours, which is typical, John says, of a good job.
We look at a Braille writer and think, “How old-fashioned-looking and simple this thing is.” You would probably be surprised to know, if you haven’t attempted this yourself, that there are a zillion parts inside, all with peculiar names, and with no obvious pattern of connection. In addition to the native parts, there are often some interesting “foreign” parts. John says that his typical finds include pencil parts, french fries, safety pins, chewing gum wrappers, labels wrapped around the rollers, paper chunks, and lots of dirt and grime.
As John took the Braille writer apart, he examined each part and its connection to the next, analyzing as he went. After the workbench was completely covered with thing-a-mabobs and doohickeys, he started the re-assembly. He carefully cleaned each of the zillion pieces, filed a few back into shape, straightened one or two parts, put only the slightest drop of oil in just the right spots, and replaced springs and missing screws. As he re-installed each separate piece, he carefully checked for smoothness of operation and alignment of parts. Seeing the dissected beast back in one piece and working properly was quite a delight! Observing the knowledge and skill needed to complete a cleaning and repair gave me a new understanding of what is required and evoked great admiration for the time, patience, and care that John gives to the process.
As I drove home, completely mind-boggled, several things John said during the process rang clearly. If we want to keep Braille writers working, we must teach students to 1. Keep the cover on them when not in use. 2. Store them away from heat and dust. 3. Do everything you can to keep foreign objects out of the Braille writer (which includes not brushing the dog near the Braille writer). 4. Do not attempt to take the Braille writer apart, and do not add oil or sprays. 5. When a Braille writer is shipped, always send it in the container especially designed for shipping. Wrap the Braille writer in a plastic bag to protect it from the Styrofoam inserts required for padding. (The Styrofoam breaks up, freeing little chunks to migrate into the most sensitive Braille writer parts.) 6. Mailing regulations under FREE MATTER FOR THE BLIND do not allow anything to be shipped with the Braille writer. Send letters, money, etc. in a separate envelope, regular mail.
In addition to our local agencies, John repairs for people all over the country (individuals and other agencies). Always call him before sending a Braille writer for repair. He currently has a large backlog (as well as a full-time job and a family). Contact John Ireland at (303) 480-0706.
Braille Writer Repair Services
From the Editor: The following is not a comprehensive list, nor can I vouch for the quality of the services listed. I did contact each individual or agency to confirm that they were still in business and wanted to be listed in a national publication. I’m sure I missed some fine repair services, but such omissions were not intentional. The purpose of this list is simply to help parents and school districts locate repair services. The task of comparing and evaluating the quality of the services, costs, turn-around times, etc. I leave entirely up to the reader.
Call and ask for price quotes. $30 flat rate for minor repairs and cleaning, parts and shipping additional.
A repair service for all IBM typewriters and Perkins Braille writers. The service does work for the Maryland School for the Blind and other organizations in Maryland, but accepts Braillers for repair from all over the country. Please call before shipping a Braille writer. All equipment must be insured by the postal service.
Please call or write for price quotes.
Cleaning and repairing Perkins Braillers since January 1998, Bernadette Dressell has been trained and certified by Howe Press where Perkins Braille writers are manufactured. She has all parts in stock, and she can normally guarantee a two-week turnaround. Please call or write for price quotes.
Howe Press, the manufacturer of the Perkins Braille writer, also services and repairs Braille writers, sells a repair manual and Brailler service tools, carries a complete line of parts and assemblies for repairing Perkins Braillers, and provides specialized training classes for qualified persons to learn Brailler repair. To use the repair service, send a letter to Howe Press Service and Repair noting your name, address, Brailler serial number (on bottom of machine), and nature of the problem. Return the machine in the original shipping carton if possible, but DO NOT ship it in the carrying case. Also, NEVER use Styrofoam peanuts for packing. You will receive an estimate of the repair costs. The average repair job is about $60. Upon receipt of payment your machine will be repaired and returned to you.
APH charges one flat rate, $150, for all work and parts for machine repair. However, if only cleaning and very minor repairs are needed, APH will refund an appropriate amount. Turnaround time, if payment is received with the machine, is about 3 days. Credit card number information may be called in to the toll number above, or mailed with the machine.
The Arizona Brailler Repair Service (ABRS) is a co-operative enterprise between the Arizona Instructional Resource Center of the Foundation for Blind Children and the Arizona State Prison. The cost for labor is $30, with a 6-month warranty on labor. Parts are extra. Usual turnaround time is under 4 weeks, somewhat longer if unusual parts need to be ordered from Howe Press. Special care should be given to safe packing, preferably in the original box and packing material. Any insurance is to be paid by the machine owner.
A Life Sentence Repealed: A Blind Multiply Handicapped Student Achieves Functional Braille Literacy
Fourteen, blind, and multiply handicapped since infancy, Kevin knew about letters. Letters excited him in the way angels, UFOs, ghosts, and monsters excite many of us—lots of excitement, little practical value.
The Guru’s of Madison Avenue skillfully generate ungrounded excitement about products so that people will buy, well, just about anything. With kind intent, Kevin was manipulated in that way. His favorite television programs, “Sesame Street” and “The Electric Company,” mimicked Madison Avenue’s methods so as to promote every child’s desire to read.
Kevin was destined either to read Braille, or not read at all. Yet by 1981, “Braille” for Kevin was a mispronunciation of “fail.” Each class was preceded by dread, overshadowed by fear, and remembered in confusion, until, as each class ended, it changed to relief mixed with dread of the next Braille encounter.
Finally, in December of 1981, after six years of effort, his teachers abandoned all efforts to teach Braille to Kevin. I shared my son’s sense of relief. I shared the teacher’s assessment that Braille literacy was a futile quest for a child as damaged as mine. Yet, a distant part of me was outraged by the life sentence of illiteracy that was now to be imposed upon Kevin. The inner accountant in me hesitated before posting cost and cause to Kevin’s account in the way all had agreed it should be done.
I was a parent, aged 33. Both Kevin and Heather, my adopted daughter, were multi-handicapped and blind. No fear, no inordinate concern about blindness gripped me at that late stage. My children were who they were, and I saw nothing in need of fixing—except, perhaps, the society that shunned them.
Braille was a different matter, a less familiar thing. I nursed a parent’s terror of an imagined cult of Braille experts so exotic, so beyond my experience, that I might harm my son by even approaching Braille without years of study. But what harm could I do now? The legacy of our attempt to help Kevin make sense of letters, of Braille, was discarded as junk, left in a place not to be revisited. I could do no harm. I was free to look around for answers to questions I’d long contemplated.
I wondered if Kevin could at least learn that symbolic languages exist and operate. He might not read a book, but he could understand how others are able to do it. Many who have never piloted aircraft nevertheless understand something of how they work. I cannot lie into existence the story of myself as the outraged parent out to show the experts! You know the script: “They told me he’d never play the piano again! Well, I showed them!” Alas and a-lack, ‘twas not that way. The logic, opinions, and pessimism heaped on Kevin by experts merely made my own contribution to his burden less conspicuous.
I searched, but only for a way to help Kevin keep what he had. I wanted simply to add some garnish, to make his life less confusing to him. In that winter month, in that frame of mind, I mutilated Christmas toys. Little building blocks became Braille cells to build words and sentences on the surfaces of toy boards meant originally to serve as front lawns for little toy houses and villages. I fashioned my first Tack-Tiles®.
My limited imagination—and even more limited trust in my child’s skills—left me poorly prepared for the success of my first session with Kevin and Tack-Tiles®. The session began, I’m sure, with as much failure as any of his Braille lessons. Yet, if failure’s quantity revisited him, its quality in that lesson was a stranger to him. In that lesson, failure meant only that I would deny him the pleasure of confiscating my Tack-Tiles®, and the opportunity to lodge them onto his own board. Here, he viewed Braille’s challenge as a contest of human beings and human enterprises much more to his comfort and liking. That made a profound difference. He allowed me to tease and fence with him around his knowledge and ability to use this new learning tool. He was so focused and on-task that I began to wonder if I was the one who had an attention disorder. The fact that Kevin’s instructor—his father—had not the beginning of an idea how to proceed, helped immensely. Kevin and the Tack-Tiles® took complete charge. Success followed success in the wake of success.
For reasons too bizarre to go into here, Kevin was not in school throughout 1982 and 1983. (The very curious should read Murphy v. Timberlane Regional School District. It went twice to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, fall 93 and spring 94. The U.S. Supreme Court denied Timberlane’s petition for a writ of certiorari.)
I had no support from any teacher of the visually impaired. I grew fearful, this time, of losing what we’d gained. Over Kevin’s protests, I put the Tack-Tiles® away in mid-1982. He would see them again in 1985. In 1984, Kevin entered a class made up exclusively of mentally retarded adolescents, all of whom were sighted. I showed my handmade Tack-Tiles® to the staff, but my “show & tell” sparked minimal interest. I put Kevin’s Tack-Tiles® away for another year.
In 1985, a teacher’s aide was hired to work with Kevin. She had only a high school diploma, but she cared a lot about Kevin. She telephoned me quite unexpectedly one day. Very frustrated, she said, in effect, “I’ve been charged to care for this damaged, but in many ways brilliant, young man, who has nothing in common with his classmates, doesn’t belong in this class, and desperately needs to be challenged. Please tell me how to help him?”
I invited Robin that weekend to watch a videotape of a 1982 Tack-Tiles® lesson. She left with my handmade set in hand. After a few successful weeks, she contacted the local itinerant teacher for the visually impaired. Marina, who’d not seen Kevin since he was four, shared Robin’s excitement over what Kevin had accomplished. Over the next year, Marina guided Robin’s efforts, blending Tack-Tiles® with the Mangold Braille Series, to move Kevin along. He eclipsed the first year of workbooks in six months. Since Kevin’s Braille instruction was added after Marina’s schedule was set, one-hour bi-weekly was all Marina could secure for him. Yet Robin’s innate skill in using Tack-Tiles® kept pace with Kevin’s learning.
Robin left at the end of 1985 to pursue a degree in special education. None of her successors had any sincere interest in working with Braille. Marina struggled valiantly, visiting sometimes weekly, year after year, yielding only when Kevin was summarily ejected from school in 1987, on his 21st birthday.
Kevin is twenty-six at this writing. He’s at the Florida Lions Conklin Center for the Multi-Handicapped Blind in Daytona Beach studying Braille and enjoying the absence of his parents; says he’s not coming home—he’s probably right. He sent us a letter this week, the first we’ve ever gotten from him. His name, (two r’s in Murphy), the alphabet (two g’s, no f), and “I love you.” He knows how to Braille this. His mother, siblings, and I can read it and write back to him on a Perkins Braille writer. (Somewhere along the way, we accidentally picked up some Braille.) The silly little things I mutilated so long ago have now led to the greatest literary discourses my world has ever known. The ability to process three to four hundred words a minute will never be Kevin’s; Braille literacy, however, is forever his.
From the Editor: Kevin, the student described in the article above, is now, at 31, a young man approaching middle age. He lives and works in Daytona Beach, Florida, with supported living assistance from the Florida Lions Conklin Center for the Multi-Handicapped Blind. He has his own apartment in a regular apartment complex, and once a week someone comes over to help him cook and freeze meals for the coming week.
The support also means that if he wants, for example, to go to a restaurant in an area unfamiliar to him, he can call the Conklin Center and ask the Orientation and Mobility instructor to help him get oriented. Kevin supports himself (and is earning Social Security credits) with a packaging and assembly job at Metra Electronics. He still sends his parents notes (well, mostly Christmas cards) in Grade 1 Braille. He also uses Grade 1 Braille labels on all sorts of personal items (C.D.s, tapes, etc.) in his apartment.
Kevin, the father and author of this article, went on to develop and market the Tack-Tiles® system, which has been sold all over the country and in 16 foreign nations. For more information about Tack-Tiles®, contact Kevin Murphy at Tack-Tiles® Braille System, P.O. Box 475, Plaistow, New Hampshire, 03865; (800) 822-5845; <firstname.lastname@example.org>; <www.tack-tiles.com>.
Technology and the Blind Lawyer
Reprinted from the February, 1999 edition of The Palmetto Blind, a publication of the NFB of South Carolina.
For the few blind attorneys practicing law in the 1950’s, productivity depended almost entirely on the assistance of sighted people, such as secretaries or paralegals. Today, however, the practice of law is much more accessible to the average blind attorney due to the advent of various items that use computer technology. A blind attorney nowadays can read documents and materials relating to a case with an optical character recognition (OCR) system. He/she can generate documents such as correspondence and court papers—and even take his file to court—with a portable note taker like a Braille ‘n Speak. The purpose of this article is to discuss briefly how blind attorneys accomplish these tasks through the use of currently available and reasonably affordable technology.
For approximately $5,000, an individual can purchase an IBM-compatible personal computer, an optical character recognition system, and the speech software that will allow these items to be used effectively by the blind. A practicing attorney can use these devices in the following ways: to draft legal correspondence and documents, to research current law in the preparation of a case, and to read correspondence and documents from other parties.
Many people do not realize that the practice of law involves more than appearing in court. It requires reading, obtaining, and processing vast amounts of information. In fact, the practice of law involves a lot of paperwork, and just a little court time. Therefore, the attorney who uses this technology effectively has a good chance of establishing a successful practice.
While nothing has yet been able to replace the human eye in terms of efficiency, document scanners and the software that turns the scanned images into text that can be spoken by a voice synthesizer, has made reading the vast amounts of paperwork heaped on attorneys every day much easier. Furthermore, since the scanned documents can be stored as files, the blind attorney has a virtual file on his computer that he can access at any time without assistance. For example, a client’s entire file can be scanned into the computer and stored on disk for later reference. Similarly, documents like court rules, cases, and statutes can also be stored in this way. It is no longer necessary to sit down with a sighted reader to retrieve this information, although sometimes it is still helpful.
The computer itself, equipped with proper adaptive software for speech or large print, is a tremendous help to the blind attorney. Not only can the computer serve as a convenient way to generate documents, but it has also become the preferred means of legal research for both blind and sighted attorneys. Information that once required a large library space to store and keep current can now be stored on a CD-Rom or computer hard drive. In addition, if the computer has a modem, various on-line information sources can be accessed, providing up-to-the minute information on statutes, cases, and even pending legislation.
Computer-assisted legal research has radically altered the practice of law for everyone, but it is of particular help to blind attorneys, who no longer need a reader to go to the law library with them and flip through countless pages of legal texts. In short, a blind individual can enter the practice of law with relative ease and be more competitive with his sighted peers than ever before.
In addition to the devices and techniques described above, portable technology like the Braille ‘n Speak and the Braille Lite can be immensely helpful to a blind attorney, in much the same way a laptop computer assists many sighted attorneys. It is not uncommon to see an attorney carry his laptop to court, not only to retrieve information about the case, but to do actual research and make arguments on a moment’s notice. A Braille ‘n Speak or Braille Lite can be used in the same way.
In closing, while technology will never replace good Braille literacy skills, it would be wise for anyone contemplating entering the practice of law to become proficient in the use of adaptive technology. After all, the sighted legal community certainly has. The leading firms of the twenty-first century will be on the cutting edge of using advanced technology in the practice of law. In order to stay competitive in today’s legal professions, it’s a good idea to stay up-to-date with today’s technology.
What Have I Gotten Myself Into?
From the Editor: Not every kid is cut out to be college material, and not every kid who goes to college should be there. This is true for sighted students, and it’s true for the blind, too. College is not the only path to satisfying, lucrative employment. It is very important, I believe, for parents, students, teachers, and counselors to explore a wide range of career possibilities before the student’s transition out of high school. There are always a few brilliant straight “A” students who seem destined for Harvard or Yale and high-powered occupations, but most high school diploma students—sighted or blind—are not in that elite group.
Unfortunately, some very respectable technical, non-college career choices—such as piano tuning and medical transcribing—continue to suffer a reputation for being the “stereotyped jobs for the blind.” Just a few decades ago, it was common for the most competent blind students to be tracked into these professions. Although grateful for employment, many blind people had other dreams; dreams of being teachers, lawyers, businessmen/women, pharmacists, social workers, secretaries, ministers, accountants, administrators, librarians, and on and on. And, as blind people pushed their way more and more into these fields and others, the old stereotyped careers fell into disfavor.
While we never want to go back to the days when blind students, regardless of ability and interest, were tracked into certain “good careers for the blind,” is it really sensible to automatically put every blind student who can get a high school diploma onto a college track, regardless of ability or interests? I think we have done some of this already, and the results are unhappy, unemployable young people. We should not let the successes blind people have demonstrated in college create a new stereotyped career path for blind youth. Jobs requiring technical training, such as piano tuning, culinary arts, and medical transcribing, are respectable, too, and need to be a part of a blind student’s knowledge about career options.
The following article was written by a parent whose son, blinded as a teen-ager, found his niche in one of the old, stereotyped blind professions—piano tuning. Is he happy? Is it a good job? Here is how Florence Dooley answers those questions about her son and his job and life as a piano tuner:
When my son Rodger was sixteen, a junior in high school, he was looking ahead to a happy, almost carefree future. He got A’s and B’s without too much effort, he had lots of friends, and he loved motorcycles. With his knack for mechanical things (he enjoyed working on his bike almost as much as roaring off on it with his buddies), his Dad and I thought Rodger would graduate, carve out a niche for himself in a mechanical or electronic field, and go on being the happy‑go‑lucky guy he’d always been.
Everything changed—and nearly ended—on May 23, 1982. Rodger had visited a relative and was coming home on his bike on a hilly country road. Suddenly, a deer leaped off the hillside above, landing on top of him. The deer did not survive, and for a long while we didn’t think Rodger would either.
He was found with his face crushed into a guardrail. He was rushed to the hospital and spent 18 hours in surgery, coming out with a cast from his waist down. At that point we began to realize that all our lives were going to take a very different course. And when the doctor told us Rodger’s eyesight was gone, totally and permanently, we knew we had a challenge before us that made every other challenge we’d ever faced seem insignificant.
Our son was in a body cast for many weeks and had 137 doctor visits in the first six months. He went through all of the emotional responses you’d expect: frustration, anger, and depression.
But Rodger has never been a person to wallow very long in negative feelings. He was determined to graduate with his class and, against all odds, he received his diploma in May, 1983, nearly overwhelmed by a thundering ovation from his classmates.
After graduation, his friends went to college, trade schools, or to work. What could Rodger do? He still wanted to work with his hands. After installing a complete stereo system in his car, he realized his hands retained their dexterity and his brain could still deal just fine with spatial relations and logical operations. Only his eyesight was irretrievably gone. We checked out lots of trade schools for people with handicaps, but they offered little challenge and even less prospect of earning a decent living. To keep his spirits up and occupy his time between continuing surgeries, he began taking guitar lessons from a teacher at the Washington State School for the Blind, who asked, ‘’Have you considered piano service work as a career? The best piano technology school in the world is right here in Vancouver, Washington.” Rodger visited the Emil Fries Piano Hospital & Training Center, talked with the students and instructors, and entered in early 1986.
Did piano work offer him a challenge? Two weeks after he started the course, he groaned, “What have I gotten myself into? I’ll never be able to learn this stuff!” But the same determination that helped him graduate with his high school class got him through the two‑year piano technology course too. He found he liked the work and had good aptitude for it. I felt sure the outgoing personality that had helped him make friends all his life would help him attract customers and build a good business, and that has turned out to be the case.
Rodger Dooley (front, with screwdriver) and former instructor, Donald Mitchel, work on a piano at the Emil Fries Piano Hospital & Training Center
Does piano work give him the opportunity to earn a good living? Rodger has been a self‑employed piano tuner‑technician for ten years now. His fiancée helps him keep track of his many appointments, and he hires a driver to take him to jobs. He’s bought a nice house and a new pickup, as well as some of those expensive “big boy toys.” Every summer he takes a month‑long trip to North Dakota, where we have relatives. Before his arrival, a notice is posted in the store: “Certified Piano Tuner coming to town.” If you don’t think there’s a need for piano tuners, just watch the response of a piano owner who doesn’t have one living in her town! Rodger alternates vacationing with tuning and servicing pianos in the surrounding countryside, so he has fun and makes some money during his month in North Dakota.
Rodger gets many thank‑you notes from his customers. Some say they’ve been disappointed in other tuners but are pleased with his work. He once tuned for a Johnny Cash concert and got a personal compliment from the “man in black” himself! Rodger has such a friendly, trusting relationship with his regulars that frequently they’ll leave a key and a check for him to fill in when he’s finished. Customers often say, “My piano has never sounded so good,” and “No one else could answer our questions about the piano the way you can.” He really enjoys knowing he has earned the trust and respect of his customers.
Rodger’s back in charge of his own life, and he always gives credit to the school that gave him the skills, confidence, and ongoing help to belong to this excellent profession: Emil Fries Piano Hospital & Training Center (now known as Emil Fries School of Piano Tuning & Technology). You can call the School at (360) 693‑1511. If you want, they’ll even put you in touch with Rodger so you can ask him yourself! Piano tuning can help your son or daughter to have a better life, too. Rodger’s glad he got himself into it!
Can Girls With Impaired Vision Be Mommies?
Reprinted from EnVision (August 1997) with the permission of Lighthouse International, New York.
Editor’s Note: Deborah Kendrick is a successful free-lance writer who has a column on disabilities in the Cincinnati Enquirer that has been syndicated in a number of publications. She has three children.
When I was a little girl, I loved nothing more than my dolls. Tall dolls. Short dolls. Baby dolls and fashion dolls. But my favorite doll was Tiny Tears—who smelled like a new shower curtain, could really drink from her baby bottle, and whose wet diaper needed changing. I wrapped her in a blanket, cut scraps of cloth to make extra T-shirts, and took her everywhere with me.
Even at the age of seven, I knew I was practicing to be a mother someday, and I can’t remember a time when that plan was anything less than a certainty. When I was eight, my baby brother was born, and I got a lot of practice on a real live model. As a young teen-ager, I baby-sat for my brothers and cousins, and I never heard anyone wonder if I could do the job.
No one ever told me there was any reason I couldn’t grow up to be a mommy. No one, in fact, ever told me that I couldn’t grow up to be just about anything in the world I dreamed of being.
The first time anyone ever raised the question of whether I, who had been blind since age five, could have and raise children, was when I was 26. I had three advanced degrees, three years of teaching to my credit, and had lived on my own (first single, then married) since age 21. Now, here I sat in the hospital with a pink-blanketed bundle in my arms, awestruck, wondering what I would do next.
I wanted some hands-on instruction in diapering. I told a nurse who was going off duty, and when her replacement came in, the experience was brutal. She pushed my hands away gruffly and impatiently, saying she could do it better. I felt inadequate and embarrassed. This episode shook my confidence in my ability to cope with the incredible responsibility of being a mother.
Of course, within hours, I learned that the nurse’s ignorance about blindness was the problem, not my ability to fasten a baby’s diaper! I would also learn that the attitudes of others would continue to be the most significant problem unique to parents with impaired vision.
Today, I also realize that the feelings that I experienced holding the precious package that was my firstborn daughter were the same ones shared by mothers around the world. It is a temporary terror that we are not somehow up to the task before us. We are. I was. And so is every little child, blind or sighted, who wants to be a parent.
That terror fades in the face of necessity. You have to care for this baby, and so you do. My husband and I lived hundreds of miles from any relatives. I knew there was no one to bail me out—so I’d have to figure out how to do what this baby needed.
After 20 years of parenting three children, I know now that the easy part was back in those early days! The care babies need, after all, has nothing to do with sight. Bathing, diapering, feeding, cuddling—these are all tasks performed with hands, not eyes, and most people with impaired vision develop tactile skills that are well above average.
Organization is Key
Sure, I had to make adaptations along the way—just as I had to make certain adaptations in riding a bike, climbing a tree, or going to college as a kid who couldn’t see. I read books. I talked to other mothers. I invented solutions as I went along.
Organizing objects and clearly defining spaces were two keys in the first three years. Toys, books, food—everything that needed a Braille label got one. I pinned outfits together before laundering so that my babies were color coordinated, and I always put toys away in the same place. I carried my babies first in front carriers, later in backpacks, and as toddlers, used child safety harnesses to keep them close to me in public places.
My children have all been extremely verbal, as I’ve noticed many children of parents with impaired vision to be. They have also all been early avid readers, probably a consequence of all my talking out of necessity and my obsession with being sure there were plenty of opportunities for learning.
It always amuses me that sighted people are so particularly focused on the fact that I cared for my children as babies. That was, without doubt, the easy part. A baby stays where you put her. Even when crawling or early walking, a baby is easy to keep within a defined area. It’s when they become truly mobile—and later, truly individualized with their own opinions, that parenting, with or without sight, gets most challenging.
As a blind parent I suppose I have placed more emphasis on safety than some of my sighted peers.
When walking with children, I insist on hand-holding to be sure where they are, particularly in parking lots or streets. I have also placed more emphasis on verbal communication. When called, my children have all learned from toddlerhood on to first respond verbally, and then come running. A blind parent, in other words, loses that luxury of glancing out the window or across the park to confirm that a child is swinging or climbing safely. Our verbal confirmation, then, is just one more minor adaptation.
Sure, there have been things we couldn’t do. Someone else had to kick a soccer ball around with my eight-year-old, and someone else had to teach my older kids to drive. But no parent can do it all. On the other hand, I have taught other kids to bake cookies, write stories, sing songs.
Over the years I have known many other parents who are blind and seen many styles of parenting. Why should we expect anything less? Vision impairment is an equal opportunity disability and, as such, will affect people of all temperaments and leadership capabilities.
What I know for sure is that when it comes to parenting, the same rules apply for people with impaired vision as for all others. Anyone who wants to have children should do so, and will figure out the logistics as they go along. We have loved, laughed, and lived family life to the fullest in my household, and there is no person, no professional accomplishment, no privilege I could ever cherish more than my three children.
Once, when my daughter Melinda was about six, she threw a tantrum because I wouldn’t let her stay up as late as a little girl down the street. “I wish Mrs. King was my mom,” she wailed, as I tucked her into bed. “Well, too bad,” I told her as I kissed her goodnight. “It’s one mom per customer and you got me.” Today, I smile from the inside out as I hear that same child, nearly 21 now, tell me on the phone, “I am so lucky to have you for a mom!”
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award for 2000
Editor’s Note: Sharon Maneki is President of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. She also chairs the committee to select the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children for 2000.
The National Federation of the Blind will recognize an outstanding teacher of blind children at our 2000 convention July 2 to July 8, in Atlanta, Georgia. The winner of this award will receive an expense-paid trip to the convention, a check for $500, an appropriate plaque, and an opportunity to make a presentation about the education of blind children to the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children early in the convention.
Anyone who is currently teaching or counseling blind students or administering a program for blind children is eligible to receive this award. It is not necessary to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind to apply. However, the winner must attend the National Convention. Colleagues, supervisors, or friends may nominate teachers or other eligible individuals. The letter of nomination should explain why the teacher is being recommended for this award.
The education of blind children is one of our most important concerns. Attendance at a National Federation of the Blind convention will enrich a teacher’s experience by affording him or her the opportunity to meet other teachers who work with blind children, to meet parents, and to meet blind adults who have had experiences in a variety of educational programs. Help us recognize a distinguished teacher by distributing this form and encouraging teachers to submit their credentials. We are pleased to offer this award and look forward to applications from many well-qualified educators.
Please complete the application on the next page and attach the following:
* a letter of nomination from someone (parent, co-worker, supervisor, etc.) who knows your work,
* a letter of recommendation from someone who knows you professionally and knows your philosophy of teaching,
* and a letter from you discussing your beliefs and approach to teaching blind students. In your letter you may wish to discuss topics like the following:
What are your views about when and how students should use Braille, large print, tape recordings, readers, and magnification devices? How do you decide whether a child should use print, Braille, or both? When do you recommend that your students begin the following: reading Braille, writing with a slate and stylus, using a Braille writer, learning to travel independently with a white cane, using computers, and/or using electronic note-takers? How should one determine which students should learn cane travel and which should not? When should keyboarding be introduced, and when should a child be expected independently to hand in print assignments?
National Federation of the Blind Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award 2000 Application
Use a separate sheet of paper and answer the following:
* List your degrees, the institutions from which they were received, and your major area or areas of study.
* How long and in what programs have you worked with blind children?
* In what setting do you currently work?
* Briefly describe your current job and teaching responsibilities.
* Describe your current caseload, i.e. number of students, ages, multiple disabilities, number of Braille reading students, etc.
Attach the three required letters to this application and send all material by May 15, 2000, to Sharon Maneki, Chairwoman, Teacher Award Committee, 5843 Blue Sky Street, Elkridge, Maryland 21075; (410) 379-6130.
Extended School Year Services (ESY)—What the Courts Have Said
Reprinted from ParenTalk, Winter 1999, a publication of The Parent’s Place of Maryland.
Editor’s Note: Following this article are some brief descriptions of blind kids who have received ESY services in the state of Maryland. The descriptions of these children, the reasons they received ESY, and the services they received may help you understand how the ESY guidelines described below are applied to real-life situations.
Some school districts have become very comfortable and familiar with ESY services and routinely include it in timely IEP discussions. Others resist providing it, and still others are simply uninformed. If you believe that your child may need ESY services, you will need to request an IEP meeting to discuss it. Be sure that there is sufficient time between the meeting and the end of the school year so that, if services are denied, you can file a due process complaint and get a decision before the school year ends. Here now, is the description of the evolution of ESY services through the court system:
Since the precedent for extended school year programming was set in the Armstrong v. Kline case in Philadelphia, in a large number of instances the courts have been asked to determine the eligibility of individual children for extended school year services. This summary looks at the judicial decisions that have been rendered regarding this issue.
Judges and lawmakers have made significant decisions during the last 20 years, which define extended school year (ESY) services for children with disabilities. Several district court cases, beginning with Armstrong v. Kline (1979) and culminating with Reusch v. Fountain (1994), shaped the current federal regulations. For the first time in the history of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), these regulations require that ESY services be considered annually for every child with a disability. Each team that develops an individual education plan (IEP) for a child must decide if ESY services are necessary so that the child can avoid regression, a lengthy recoupment of lost skills, or other difficulties that could interfere with the education plan.
The first significant case in this arena was the Armstrong case, in which the judge ruled that a mandated 180-day school year violated a child’s right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE), specifically in reference to children with severe and profound impairments or severe emotional disturbances. The court stated that, “By its terms, the Act (meaning the Education for All Handicapped Children Act) appears to demand that the state supply instruction designed to meet all of the handicapped child’s ‘unique needs’ without limitation.” The court also required state and local school districts “to provide an education to handicapped children in excess of 180 days,” as determined by each child’s needs. This case defined that a school system’s goal for these severely affected children should be self-sufficiency, which could require providing more than the same 180 days to disabled children that is provided to non-disabled children. This case was upheld on appeal by the circuit court, which agreed that, “For some, but not all, Severely and Profoundly Impaired and Severely Emotionally Disturbed children, standing in the way of the attainment of some of these objectives (for self-sufficiency) is the effect of breaks in the educational program which are created, at least in part, by the 180 day rule.” The court also noted that recoupment time for lost skills is “usually much greater” for children with disabilities.
Once the courts ordered state and local school systems to provide more than 180 days of school per year to some children with disabilities, families across the nation began taking their school systems to court. In Stacey G v. Pasadena Independent School District (1982), a 12-month program without major breaks was ruled necessary for a child with autism and severe mental retardation. In Georgia Association for Retarded Citizens v. McDaniel (1983), the court ruled that a school system cannot use a “lack of available funds” argument to deny ESY services to a child with a disability. A school system must look at the child’s needs, rather than at its budget, when determining summer services for a child. The judge in Alamo Heights Independent School District v. State Board of Education (1986) noted that transportation services must be part of the ESY package for a child, even if the bus must get that child from a babysitter’s out-of-district home.
The case of Bucks County Public Schools v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (1987) showed that academic regression isn’t the only qualification for ESY eligibility. The judge in the Bucks County case stated that regression in emotional development for severely emotionally disturbed children is often “caused by interruptions in the educational programming,” and ordered that prediction of regression in emotional development qualifies as a need for ESY.
Holmes v. Sobol (1988) was a significant case because it found that physical therapy was a related service that could be provided for ESY, and further ruled that a related service can be a sole special education program. This case stated that without the maintenance of physical strength through therapy, the child would not be able to benefit from his general education. In Williams v. Gering Public Schools (1990), the parents of a child with multiple disabilities believed that a 12-month program could only be provided for their child in a residential placement. This court agreed that the child needed a 12-month school program in order to receive a free appropriate public education, but did not require that it be provided in a residential facility. The court ordered the school district to provide the 12-month program at a local facility for multi-handicapped children, specifying that an interruption from one school to another just for a summer program would provide an unacceptable level of regression for the child.
Reusch v. Fountain (1994) found a Maryland school district to have deceptive and purposeful policies which sought to deprive children of ESY services. The school district had:
(a) refused to notify parents of a child’s eligibility for ESY services,
(b) written misleading letters recommending a summer program that required tuition from the parents,
(c) told school administrators to refer parents to central administration when they asked for ESY services,
(d) purposely didn’t mention ESY services until it was too late to deliver them, and
(e) never told parents they had a right to request ESY services.
The judge used strong language as he set the parameters for ESY policies for children with disabilities. “The practice of inadequate and untimely ESY notice must cease. Notice of ESY designed to fully explain such services must be provided to parents of disabled children in a timely fashion before annual review meetings. The notice must not disguise or downplay the true nature of ESY or attempt to confuse parents between free extended year services and tuition-charging summer enrichment programs.”
The court went further and required that additional criteria be considered in addition to regression and recoupment time when considering a child for ESY services. The court decided that “emerging skills” and “breakthrough opportunities” (as when a child is on the brink of learning to read)—can and should be incorporated into the eligibility analysis.” A fixed-length program was also ruled illegal by this court, which ordered the school district to “make individualized determinations of the number of weeks, days per week, and hours per day that each student receiving ESY should be provided.”
While litigation continued in courtrooms across the country, the Office of Special Education Programs and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services wrote policy letters, which provided interpretation of the federal regulations for school districts. The Office of Civil Rights wrote letters of finding which defined when the denial of ESY services violated a person’s civil rights. Together, these letters provided parallel support for the court decisions by (a) defining ESY criteria and related services in an ESY program, (b) requiring school districts to look at issues beyond regression or recoupment when determining ESY eligibility, (c) emphasizing the need to set higher ESY standards than simply working toward self-sufficiency, (d) refusing to allow school districts to offer ESY programs that were available only to the most severely disabled children, and (e) requiring that integration with nondisabled peers be provided in ESY programs if required by the IEP.
The result of the court cases and substantive letters has led to the written federal regulations which describe how ESY services are to be implemented according to IDEA. The regulations define ESY as “special education and related services” which (a) go beyond the normal school year, (b) are addressed and mandated by the IEP, and (c) are free to the parents. The regulations also require that ESY services are available to each child with a disability and, “The determination of whether a child with a disability needs extended school year services must be made on an individual basis by the child’s IEP team.” 34 CFR 300.309 (1997).
The regulations also add two notes clarifying these definitions. The first note states that school districts cannot limit ESY services to “particular categories of disability or unilaterally limit the duration of services.” The second note gives states the authority to set standards for use in determining ESY eligibility “on an individual basis,” suggesting the consideration of factors such as the “likelihood of regression, slow recoupment, and predictive data based on the opinion of professionals.”
Alamo Heights Independent School District v. State Board of Education, Education for the Handicapped Law Report 554:315 (5th Cir. 1986).
Armstrong v. Kline, Education for the Handicapped Law Report 551:195 (E.D. Pa. 1979).
Baltimore (MD) City Public Schools (1986). Office of Civil Rights Letter of Finding, Education for the Handicapped Law Review 352:185.
Battle v. Commonwealth, Education for the Handicapped Law Report 551:647 (3rd Cir. 1980).
Bucks County Public Schools v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Education for the Handicapped Law Report 559:153 (Commonwealth Ct. of Pa. 1987).
Davila, R.R. (1990, Nov.). Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Policy Letter 17, Education for the Handicapped Law Review 419.
Georgia Association for Retarded Citizens v. McDaniel, Education for the Handicapped Law Report 555:251 (11th Cir. 1983).
Holmes v. Sobol, Education of the Handicapped Law Report 559:463 (W.D. NY. 1988).
Mesa (AZ) Public Schools (1989). Office of Civil Rights Letter of Finding, 16 Education for the Handicapped Law Review 316.
Reusch v. Fountain, 21 Individuals with Disabilities Education Law Report 1107 (D. Md. 1994).
Schrag, J.A. (1989, Aug.). Office of Special Education Programs Policy Letter, Education for the Handicapped Law Review 213:255.
Stacey G. v. Pasadena Independent School District, Education for the Handicapped Law Report 554:206 (S.D. TX. 1982).
Who Gets ESY?
Editor’s Note: The following are real-life examples of blind children who have received ESY services in Maryland sometime within the past 5 years. I want to thank Dan and Danielle Becker, Joe and Loretta White, and Regina Byrd for giving me permission to print the following data about their children.
CHILD A, age 8, grade 2. Blind from bi-lateral nerve hypoplasia. Light, color, and large object perception in the lower outer quadrant. No other disabilities. On grade level with her peers in all course work. All scores on the psychological test in the superior or above average range.
Reason for ESY:
* Emerging Skills/Breakthrough Opportunities
Time: 2 hours per week for four weeks
Location: The child’s home
Service Provider: Regular TVI (teacher of the visually impaired)
IEP objectives to be addressed for ESY
* use index finger of both hands to maintain a curved position of the finger when following lines with a verbal prompt/cue. 85% accuracy.
* read Braille contractions as they appear in the student text with fading verbal prompts. 90% accuracy.
* skim page for specific information with fading verbal prompts. 95% accuracy.
* increase reading speed and comprehension with fading verbal prompts. Teacher observation.
* reduce the number of Braille reversals when reading independently. Teacher observation.
* use correct finger placement on the Braille writer. 80% accuracy.
* use correct Braille when writing words, sentences, and paragraphs appropriate to grade level. 90% accuracy.
* erase and correct erasures on the Braille writer with minimal assistance. 80% accuracy.
* review basic operations of abacus appropriate to grade level.
CHILD B, age 9, grade 3. Multiply handicapped: blind, hearing impaired, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), mild cerebral palsy, and speech/language impaired.
Reason for ESY:
* Emerging skills/Breakthrough Opportunites
* Nature and/or Severity of the Disabilities
* Degree of Progress
* Severity of disability
Time: 6 weeks, 23 hours per week. Computer: 3 days @ .5 hour per day. Orientation and Mobility: 3 days @ .5 hour per day. Reading/math: 5 days @ 2 hours per day. Socialization: 5 days @ 2 hours per day.
Location: Local elementary school
Service Providers: O&M specialist and special educator/teacher of the visually impaired (TVI). Note: The school was not able to locate a special educator/TVI. With the approval of the parent, these services were provided by a blind high school math teacher.
Goals to be addressed for ESY:
I. Develop language arts skills
a. Identify reading vocabulary
b. Read and write Braille contractions
c. Read and write Braille composition and punctuation signs
d. Read and write Nemeth (math) symbols
e. Utilize correct formatting
f. Write 5 letters of the alphabet on slate and stylus
g. Read independently a variety of books at her reading level
II. Travel safely and independently
a. Utilize a systematic search pattern to orient herself to unfamiliar rooms with less than 5 verbal prompts
b. Demonstrate good posture and gait
c. Attempt to correct errors and miscalculations
d. Stay on sidewalk in non-complicated environment
e. Appropriately refuse offers of assistance in all environments
III. Continue with developing social communication skills
a. Identify and apply conversational rules with peers
IV. Demonstrate ability to use computer
a. Locate and type the home row and 6 letter keys
b. Locate and type keys needed for software (arrows, return, shift)
c. Utilize games to develop problem-solving skills
d. Type words using keys she has already learned
e. Read a Braille print-out of her work
V. Orient to her new school
CHILD C, age 9, grade 4. Multiply handicapped: visually impaired, speech/language impaired, ADHD, and mild cognitive impairment
Reason for ESY:
* Nature and/or Severity of the Disability
* Emerging skills
Time: 6 weeks, 3 hours per day.
Service Provider: Teacher of the visually impaired
Location: Parent’s home
Goals to be addressed for ESY:
a. Identify sight word vocabulary from selected reading materials
b. Identify functional vocabulary (i.e.—stop, men, exit, pull, in, etc.)
c. Sequence letters alphabetically
d. Identify letter-sound relationships for initial consonant sounds
e. Spell words using targeted vocabulary from reading
a. Rote count to 100
b. Identify numerals 0-100
c. Subtract whole numbers without re-grouping to 18
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