NFB 2001 Convention.................................................................. 1
NFB Camp: It’s More Than Child’s Play............................ 6
A Whole New World: The NFB National Convention 8
NFB Conventions: 2000 and 2001 (Editor’s Comments). 10
Asking for Help and Taking Responsibility................. 11
Rights, Life, and Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches 15
Responsibilities of a Seven-year-Old.............................. 17
the Visually Impaired: Roles, Rights, and
Responsibilities .............................................................. 18
by Malene Culpepper, 2000 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award winner
and Responsibilities in the Orientation
and Mobility Process....................................................... 23
Convention Magic.................................................................. 27
Teaching the Professionals Who Teach the Blind 30
Distinguished Educator Award for 2001.................... 35
2000 National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) annual Meeting............................ 37
Blind Kids and Magnet Schools: Our Experiences 41
with Standardized Testing
and Blind Students........................................................... 44
The Scholarship Class of 2000........................................... 46
Slate Pals Application........................................................ 53
NFB Policy and
the Education of Blind Children
Resolutions from the 2000 NFB Convention.......... 54
Climbing in Thin Air: An Interim Report...................... 62
The National Research
and Training Institute for the Blind
Capital Campaign Pledge Form.................................. 67
2001, National Federation of the Blind
more information about blindness and children contact the
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
1800 Johnson Street * Baltimore, Maryland 21230 * (410) 659-9314 ext. 360
www.nfb.org * email@example.com * BCheadle@nfb.org
NFB 2001 Convention
Sunday, July 1 - Saturday, July 7
National Federation of the Blind National Conventions are famous for informative high-energy division and committee meetings; a huge, diverse exhibit hall; inspiring banquet speeches; family-friendly and educational entertainment (a music talent show, dances, a game night, a Sensory Safari display, a mock trial, a play); and outstanding general session agenda items.
The convention general sessions run all day Wednesday, July 4; a half-day Thursday, July 5; and all day Friday and Saturday, July 6 and 7. The banquet is Friday night, July 6. Some 30 blind college students will be introduced and presented with scholarship awards at the banquet.The exhibit hall opens on Monday, July 2. It is a mind-boggling display of all the latest in computer technology, low-vision technology, literature, and aids and appliances for the blind.
For more information about activities planned for the 2001 convention, please see the April, 2001, issue of the Braille Monitor. You may request a free copy by contacting the NFB at 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; (410) 659-9314; <www.nfb.org>.
1201 Market Street
Room rates per night, plus tax:
$55 - singles
$65 - twins, doubles, triples, quads
For reservations call the hotel at (215) 625-2900 or the Mariott toll-free number (800) 228-9290. A $60-per-room deposit is required to make a reservation. Fifty percent of the deposit will be refunded if notice is given to the hotel of reservation cancellation before May 29, 2001.
NFB Camp (child-care)
Children must be preregistered for this service. The preregistration cutoff date is June 15, 2001. Details and a preregistration form are on pages 6 and 7 in this issue. Please note that this is not an NOPBC sponsored activity. This service is offered by the NFB as a convenience to members and guests at the convention.
• NOPBC Activities Fee: $15 per family or $5 per individual. This fee may be paid in advance (see preregistration form on page 5) or when checking-in at the NOPBC Seminar on the morning of Sunday, July 1. The activities fee covers all NOPBC-sponsored events throughout the convention week. It also includes annual membership dues in NOPBC.
• NFB Convention Registration Fee: $10 per person. NFB Convention room rates are contingent upon registering for the convention. Registration opens Monday morning, July 2, and is open at designated times throughout the convention. NFB Convention Agendas are available when you register. There is no pre-registration. Everyone must register in person.
NOPBC Schedule of Events 2001
Sunday, July 1
8:00 – 10:30 a.m. Seminar and Braille Carnival Registration. Refreshments
8:00 – 10:30 a.m. Exhibit
Tables * Multiply Disabled * Low Vision * Music * Kids Table: Blind People
in History Get Acquainted Game * Schools and other programs for blind children
* Mentors Sign-up Table: Mentors for Blind Teens, sponsored by the National
Association of Blind Students (NABS) and Convention Exhibit Hall Mentors for
Parents, sponsored by the Computer Science Division of the NFB
9:00 a.m. Kid Talk and Kid Introductions, Barbara Cheadle, President, NOPBC
9:30 a.m. Welcome by Dr. Maurer, President, National Federation of the Blind
9:45 a.m. Introduction of Carnival Volunteer Buddies, Sheila Koenig
10:00 a.m. Kids and Carnival Buddies team-up and depart. Blind teens depart for discussion groups or the Braille Carnival (their choice)
10:00 a.m. Braille Carnival begins. Melody Lindsey, Coordinator. 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 and blind, Braille reader or non-Braille reader, kindergartner or teen-ager—there will be lots of enjoyable activities suitable for all. The Carnival will run from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The Carnival Buddies will supervise the children and youth assigned to them from 10:00 a.m. to 15 minutes after adjournment at noon. The Carnival will stay open till 1:00 p.m. so parents, too, can enjoy the Carnival fun.
10:00 – Noon Discussion Groups for Blind Teens Only
(1) What Your Mother Couldn’t Tell You for teen women, ages 13 – 18, led by two blind women, Debbie Stein, former social worker, and Dr. Adrienne Asch, professor of ethics.
(2) Guy Stuff for teen men, ages 13 – 18, Doug Elliot, NFB leader and social worker
10:30 – Noon Let Freedom Ring (Parent/Teacher Seminar general session)
* What Freedom Means to Me: Blind Youth Panel
* Equal Access: Technology and the World Wide Web
* Equal Education: The Legal Perspective
* Equal Opportunity: The Parent Perspective
* What Freedom Means to Me: The Blind Adult Perspective
NOPBC Schedule of Events 2001
Sunday, July 1
Noon Recess Pick up children/youth at NFB Camp and/or Braille Carnival for lunch.
Blind teen discussion group released for lunch.
2:00 – 4:00 p.m. Words, Wheels, and Ways: Teen Workshops coordinated by Melissa Williamson, a blind educator and mother of three. Using discussion, role-playing (including role-reversals), and friendly competition (with prizes), blind and sighted teens learn about using—or being—readers and drivers. They will also discuss how to give directions; how to offer, accept, or decline assistance; when and how to offer (or use) human guide assistance, etc.; and then discuss how they can implement this knowledge throughout the convention.
2:00 – 5:00 p.m Five Concurrent Workshops for Adults
(1) Make Your Own Tactile Storybook. This is a hands-on workshop to teach parents how to modify storybooks so blind infants and toddlers can get equivalent information and pleasure from storybooks that their sighted peers get from the pictures. Karen Frank, Infant and Toddler Outreach Coordinator from the Maryland School for the Blind will conduct this workshop. This workshop will be repeated twice: 2:00-3:30 p.m. and 3:45-5:15 p.m.
The following four workshops
will be repeated three times:
2:00-2:45 p.m., 3:00-3:45 p.m., and 4:00-4:45 p.m.
(2) Words and Wheels: Through discussion, demonstration, and role-playing, parents and educators learn from blind workshop leaders how blind people obtain and use live readers and drivers to maximize independence in everyday life.
(3) What Do You Do When….? Blind and sighted workshop leaders, through demonstrations and role-playing, help parents and educators feel more confident about when and how is it appropriate to offer assistance to someone who is blind.
(4) From “Helpless” to “Helper” No one wants to be helpless. This presentation by parents to parents is about how to ensure that blind children avoid helplessness, achieve self-sufficiency, and acquire the competency and skills necessary to become a person who helps others.
(5) Living In A Visual World: By popular demand, Mrs. Barbara Pierce will be back to lead a discussion about how parents and teachers can help children acquire crucial social skills in an often highly visual world.
6:00 – 9:00 p.m. Family Hospitality. This year, as in past years, families can relax and enjoy the company of new friends and old at Family Hospitality. NOPBC will also have a few games and books in the Hospitality room to help occupy children ages eight and younger.
NOPBC Schedule of Events 2001
Sunday, July 1
7:00 – 9:00 p.m. Teens’ Scavenger Hunt and Kids’ Scavenger Hunt. Under adult supervision sighted and blind kids (ages 9 -12) and teens (ages 13-18) explore the hotel and win prizes. To add to the fun sighted youth are issued white canes and sleep-shades (blindfolds) to use on the hunt. Coordinators, Jan Bailey and Mildred Rivera.
Monday, July 2
9:00 –10:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Cane Walk (this session is repeated twice).
Parents, teachers, and blind kids (babies to teens) get hands-on experience in using a cane under the guidance of Joe Cutter, pediatric O&M specialist, and volunteers from the Louisiana Tech/Louisiana Center for the Blind O&M program.
2:00 – 6:00 p.m. Teen drop-in room sponsored jointly by NOPBC and Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM). Supervised games, music, and social activities for all teens.
Tuesday, July 3
1:00 – 5:00 p.m. NOPBC Annual Meeting
6:30 – 8:30 p.m. Follow-up discussion group for blind teen women
Wednesday, July 4
7:00 – 9:00 p.m. IDEA ’97 and the IEP Process: A drop-in question, information, and resource session. Come by anytime and pick up literature or talk to parents and professionals knowledgeable in the broad range of IEP topics. Marty Greiser, Coordinator.
Thursday, July 5
2:00 – 6:00 p.m. Have Cane, Will Travel. Drop-in anytime discussion group for parents, blind kids, and teachers. Joe Cutter, instructor and discussion leader.
2:00 – 6:00 p.m. Technology Individual Consultations. Co-sponsored by the NOPBC and the NFB in Computer Science Division, blind persons knowledgeable in technology will meet with parents individually to discuss the technology needs of their child. Make appointments by preregistration or sign-up on Sunday, July 1 at the parents seminar. Drop-ins will be taken if we have available volunteers.
2:00 – 4:00 p.m. Braille Your Own Games and Braille Talk. Drop-in and bring games for Braille labeling. Volunteers will also answer questions about Braille and demonstrate slate-writing. Co-sponsored by the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB).
NOPBC 2001 Activities Preregistration
for the NOPBC seminar and workshops is not required.
Preregistration for the NFB Camp (childcare), IS required.
Name(s) of adults_________________________________________________________________________
Address___________________________________ City____________ State______ Zip________________
Phone (H)____________________ (W)___________________ E-mail ______________________________
$___________ The NOPBC Activities Fee is enclosed. Make checks payable to NOPBC.
$15 per family (parents, grandparents, and all children) OR $5 per individual
The NOPBC activities fee includes all NOPBC-sponsored events for parents, children, and youth. This includes workshops, refreshments at the morning family seminar event on Sunday, July 1; refreshments at NOPBC Family Hospitality; the Braille Carnival; the Scavenger Hunts; etc. It also includes membership-at-large in the NOPBC. It DOES NOT include NFB Camp, NFB convention registration, or other workshops or seminars sponsored by other divisions or committees of the NFB.
[ ] Yes, I am interested in an Exhibit Hall mentor for Monday, July 2
[ ] Yes, I would like an appointment for a half-hour Technology Consultation on Thursday, July 5
____________ Time preferred (between 2:00-6:00 p.m.)
Preregistration Braille Carnival
Children Ages 5 and Up
First and Last
Name(s) of child(ren) Birth Date Vision (sighted, blind, etc.) Other disabilities
NOPBC Convention Activities
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
NFB Camp: It’s More Than Child’s Play
During convention week children be-
tween the ages of six weeks and twelve
years are invited to join in the fun and festivities of NFB Camp. NFB Camp offers more than just childcare; it is an opportunity for our blind and sighted children to meet and develop lifelong friendships. Our activity schedule is filled with games, crafts, and special performances designed to entertain, educate, and delight. If you are interested in having your children participate in this year’s program, please complete and return the registration form provided. Preregistration with payment on or before June 15, 2001, is mandatory for participation in NFB Camp. Space is limited and last year some families had to be turned away.
About the Staff: NFB Camp is organized and supervised by Carla McQuillan, the Executive Director of Main Street Montessori Association, operating two schools, parent-education courses, and a teacher-training program. Carla is the mother of two children, the President of the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon, and a member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind.
Michelle Ros is this year’s Activities Director for NFB Camp. Michelle is a Montessori teacher employed by Main Street Montessori Association. Carla and Michelle will supervise a staff of experienced childcare workers and volunteers.
Activities and Special Events: The children are divided into groups according to age: infants and toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children. Each camp room is equipped with a variety of age-appropriate toys, games, and books; and children will enjoy daily art projects. Blind teens will come in to read stories in Braille, and the National Association of Guide Dog Users will make a presentation. We will sing, dance, and play instruments with blind singer/songwriter Daniel Lamonds. In addition, the school-aged children will make excursions to the Farmers’ Market and the Please-Touch Museum. On the final day of NFB Camp we will conduct a big toy sale—brand new toys at bargain prices.
Banquet Night: NFB Camp will provide dinner and activities during the banquet. The cost for banquet activities is $15 per child in addition to other camp fees.
NFB Camp will be open during general convention sessions, division and committee meeting day, and the evening of the banquet. Plenty of teens are always available to baby-sit during evening and lunchtime meetings. The schedule this year will be as follows:
NFB Camp 2001
These times may vary, depending on the timing of the actual convention sessions. NFB Camp will open thirty minutes before the beginning gavel and close thirty minutes after session recess.
Fees: For the entire week (including banquet), first child $80, siblings $60 each. By the day, each child (does not include banquet), $20; banquet, $15 per child.
• Sunday, July 1, 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.*
• Monday, July 2, Camp is closed.
• Tuesday, July 3, 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.*
• Wednesday, July 4, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 1:30-5:30 p.m.*
• Thursday, July 5, 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.*
• Friday, July 6, 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 1:30-5:30 p.m.*
• Saturday, July 7, 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 1:30-5:30 p.m.*
* You are required to provide lunch for your child(ren) each day.
Please use the
preregistration form provided.
Return no later than June 15, 2001
Please print or type:
City_____________ State______ Zip____________
Child(ren) Information: Include description of any disabilities we should know about.
Name_______________ Date of birth______ Age__
Name_______________ Date of birth______ Age__
Name_______________ Date of birth______ Age__
Weekly Fees: $80 first child, $60 each sibling (includes banquet) $_____
Daily Fees: $20
per child per day,
# of days_____ $_____
Banquet Fee: $15 per child $_____
Total Due: $_____
Completed preregistration form and fee must be received by June 15, 2001.
Make checks payable to NFB of Oregon and mail to:
National Federation of the Blind of Oregon
5005 Main Street
Springfield, Oregon 97478
A Whole New World: The NFB National Convention
Reprinted from the January, 2001, issue of the Braille Monitor, the monthly magazine of the National Federation of the Blind.
From the Braille Monitor Editor, Barbara Pierce: Experienced Federationists are always telling new people that they should get to the National Convention if at all possible. Dr. Jernigan wrote that advice to me in 1974 just after I had had my first contact with NFB literature and was eager to establish a new chapter in my area. I had a sneaking suspicion that he was right, but I had three small children, including a young infant, and I didn’t seriously consider getting myself to that summer’s convention in Chicago. I now regret that I missed that convention, but when I showed up the next year, I immediately understood what he had been trying to tell me.
Sometimes the most effective voices in making such recommendations are those who have just experienced their first convention. Carrie Gilmer is the mother of a blind son. The two of them attended the 2000 convention, and life will never be quite the same again. She recounted her experiences in the Summer, 2000, issue of the Minnesota Bulletin, the publication of the NFB of Minnesota. If you have never been to an NFB convention, read what she has to say and see if it persuades you to join us in 2001.
About four years ago I received a phone call from my youngest child’s eye doctor. “Your son is legally blind,” he said. “We think Jordan has a retinal disease, and there is nothing I can do.” In shock I asked some what‑do‑you‑mean questions which he hurriedly answered. He told me he would inform State Services for the Blind and then more or less wished us luck. I hung up the phone realizing our lives had just changed forever. What did I know about blindness besides Helen Keller, bead stringing, and Ray Charles? Not much. I proceeded to cry nonstop for about three weeks.
We had just moved, and after my long cry I went back to the task of unpacking. In one box I found a little book my grandmother had given me. It was written by blind people. I read it and soaked it up. I read about blind lawyers, scientists, parents, teachers—people living normal, happy, fulfilled lives. It gave me hope that our new road in life could be as bright as the old one had looked. I told myself I should learn more about this organization. But I got busy with the here‑and‑now.
Jordan was six months away from kindergarten—the perfect age to learn multiple languages, so we decided he should learn Braille alongside print from the beginning. The school agreed. Soon we had a visit from our SSB [State Services for the Blind] counselor, Curt Johnson. He stressed Braille also. Our doctor had recommended low‑vision devices, and Curt helped us out with that as well as giving us good advice on how to talk about blindness with Jordan.
For nearly three years we went forward, thinking we knew what we were doing and had Jordan’s needs covered. But little leaks in the boat started occurring. We had Braille teachers with different philosophies, P.E. teachers who said he did as well as his sighted peers one week and then sidelined him for safety reasons the next. He didn’t run, and he hated balls. Legally blind? Try and explain legal to a seven‑year‑old.
Then one day Jordan and I were lying on the living room floor. “Are blind people happy?” he blurted out. I realized that we had a long way to go and that we had better start getting there quickly. I recalled the little books I had read and contacted the NFB of Minnesota. Judy Sanders quickly contacted me. She was kind and helpful and even offered to come to Jordan’s school the next week. She stressed the importance of role modeling for Jordan. She also told me that I could learn information in one week at the NFB National Convention that might otherwise take me years to accumulate.
Jordan and I decided to go. Upon checking into the hotel we noticed right away that we were surrounded by hundreds of blind people. There were so many that the perspective changed from noticing who was blind to noticing who wasn’t. That experience lasted all week and was one of the greatest for Jordan. All at once he saw hundreds of people—all colors, ages, shapes, and sizes—traveling, eating, reading, dancing, writing, walking, laughing. And all of them blind to one degree or another. He learned—low‑vision, partial, impaired, legally—it’s okay just to say blind, no explanation necessary.
Jordan used a cane on a scavenger hunt while blindfolded and then kept the cane as a gift. He was told the cane was his third eye on the ground. It would look down so that he could look up. He could stand up straight and walk proudly—not fearfully. “Cool!” he said. He found out for himself that blindness doesn’t have to be the biggest deal in his life.
I learned all this too plus parenting tips, facts and myths about blindness, what a slate and stylus are, the importance of normal expectations, and the need to quit guiding his eyes with my hands. I learned how to make the most of the vision he has now in conjunction with blind techniques when vision fails or is unreliable. We both made lifelong friends. Judy Sanders was right; it would have taken years to accumulate what we received in one week in Atlanta. Biggest convention tip: bring an extra suitcase for all the freebies from the sales vendors! For us, since that convention, it really is a whole new world.
Many kids—blind and sighted—enjoy using canes on the youth scavenger hunt.
2000 and 2001
Barbara Cheadle at the
2000 NFB Convention.
Parents register at the
2000 NOPBC Parents Seminar.
As you have already observed, this issue starts out immediately with a detailed list of upcoming events of interest to parents at the 2001 NFB Convention in Philadelphia. Of course, the events listed are only those sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). There is much, much more to an NFB Convention than what you see listed here! I urge you to check out the April issue of the Braille Monitor when it comes out (check the NFB website at <www.nfb.org> or contact the NFB Center at (410) 659-9314 and request a copy of the April Monitor). That issue will contain descriptions of all the exciting workshops and other events planned by the various NFB divisions and committees. I believe that the 2001 NFB Convention will be one of the best NFB conventions yet! On the other hand, the 2000 NFB Convention was absolutely outstanding and will be hard to beat. Just how hard to beat? Well, read on and judge for yourself. The rest of this issue is devoted to speeches, articles, reports, and photographs from the 2000 NFB Convention. If you were at the 2000 convention, I know you will enjoy having copies of those invigorating and informative speeches you heard to save and share with family and friends. If you did not attend the 2000 Convention, then I hope that what you read here will inspire you to attend the 2001 NFB Convention. As parent Carrie Gilmer said in the previous article, what you can learn in one week at an NFB Convention can otherwise take years to accumulate. I know. I’ve been going for over 20 years, and the experience continues to challenge me and renew me. So, if you do make it to Philly on July 1-7, look me up! I’ll be there!
Barbara Cheadle, Editor
Asking for Help and Taking Responsibility
Editor’s Note: Noel Nightingale, a member of the National Board of the National Federation of the Blind and President of the NFB of Washington, set the tone and philosophical theme for the NOPBC activities in her keynote address at the general session of the 2000 NOPBC Annual Parents Seminar. Here is what Noel had to say about “Asking for Help and Taking Responsibility”:
Noel Nightingale and her daughter,
Leila Nightingale Peterson.
Jim, my husband, and I have a friend who
will call Gemini. He is from the Democratic
Republic of the Congo, Africa (formerly, Zaire). He came to this country on a student visa. However, after he had attended college for a year, his country was taken over by a group of rebels. His father was a diplomat who was highly placed in the former government and had to flee the country for his life. No longer receiving financial assistance from his family in Africa, Gemini had no money to pay for school. He dropped out but stayed in the country anyway. Since he was no longer a student, his visa was not valid. He became an illegal alien.
Gemini is a Christian and began staying rent-free in the homes of people in his congregation. He stayed in one place for a few months, then another Christian would take him in. Various church members have been working with him to help him find ways to earn money and to straighten out his immigration status. They also work with him to integrate him into social circles and meet people his own age.
Jim met Gemini when Gemini was about twenty years old and two years after he had dropped out of college. Gemini is a charming person with a sympathetic problem. He does not want to return to his country, which is in turmoil, because he believes that he would be drafted or, more likely, killed (due to his father’s association with the ousted government). He has lost contact with his parents and siblings in Africa. Although he recently began communicating with a sister who lives in France, she does not have the resources to help him.
Jim and I agreed to take Gemini in for two months. We set a strict time frame for his stay and spoke with him about getting his immigration status legalized by applying for political asylum. We found an attorney who was willing to work with him on a pro bono basis and encouraged him to make a plan for his life. But, at the end of two months, Gemini had not made any progress in resolving his immigration status. Although he would always nod his head in agreement, he did not follow through on any of our suggestions for steps he might take. He did not work the entire time he lived with us, and he also did not help around our home. He never offered to wash the dishes, take the garbage out, vacuum the floor, scoop the cats’ litterbox, or do any other tasks that he watched us do on a daily basis.
Two years later (and four years since he dropped out of school), Gemini has not resolved his immigration status. In fact, he has waited so long to address it, he has probably lost any chance of obtaining political asylum. We occasionally see him—he always accepts our offers to take him out to lunch or dinner. He earns some money by tutoring children in French but lives rent-free in a church member’s home. The church member is in her eighties, and her daughter is so fed up with his free-loading that she called Jim to get him to eject Gemini out of her mother’s home (which Jim did not and could not do).
“Accept all help that is offered.” That was the advice I frequently received to endure the first few demanding months after I gave birth to my daughter last year. That is also the precept that Gemini unconsciously lives by. That is also the advice that blind people repeatedly receive. However, unlike the temporary situation of caring for a newborn, the advice is given to blind people throughout their lives. I have noticed a pattern: if taken regularly, accepting this advice, and thus always accepting the help that is offered or available, will have adverse (if unintended) consequences.
The advice to accept all help that is offered is not advice that is ordinarily given in our society. Our culture teaches us that we must be “independent” and not rely on others. We no longer come together to build our neighbor’s barn. Our neighbor builds it himself or pays to have it done. Contrary to our pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps culture, I can think of numerous situations in my daily life in which I am encouraged by others to let them do things for me because I am blind—things that I am capable of doing myself.
On a daily basis, I am encouraged to let someone help me cross the street and encouraged to let someone direct me to my destination. I am encouraged to let someone else open the wine bottle and encouraged to let others pour the wine. I have been asked to accept handouts, solely because I am blind. The expectation that I need more help than my sighted peers is pervasive, and it affects me. Sometimes, out of laziness, I accept that help, knowing perfectly well that I don’t really need it. Then, I feel terrible. I feel marginalized and begin to doubt whether I really could have done it.
Although at times it may not seem like it, there are many systems in place in our society specially designed to help us. These systems include health and welfare, education, rehabilitation, independent living, tax relief programs, social security and other income supports, specialized transportation, various subsidies, reasonable accommodations at work and in public places, and many more. Much of the time, these systems hand us things, without teaching us or enabling us to do for ourselves in the future.
For many who become beneficiaries of those systems, they become experts in squeezing everything they can get out of those systems. When I managed injured workers’ claims for the state Department of Labor and Industries, we had a saying that people who were off work for a long period of time frequently changed professions from Worker to Claimant. Although they do not start out that way, they eventually become professionals at claiming things. Claiming time loss compensation benefits for being off work from their injury, vocational rehabilitation benefits for not being able to resume their former line of work due to their injuries, permanent partial disability benefits for not being able to fully recover from their injuries, pension benefits for not being able to perform any kind of work as a consequence of their injuries, and so on. They spend part of each day sitting on their sofa, picking up the telephone, and calling the claims managers to demand things.
This is a phenomenon not peculiar to blind people, but because we have so many programs designed to help us and so many good people want to help us, it clearly happens to us too. There is something about these systems that encourages us to wring every little bit of benefit or entitlement out of them.
To avoid becoming a Claimant, we must determine when we need to ask for help from systems or people and when we should take responsibility for our own lives. The general rule of thumb, I think, is to first be honest with yourself about whether you really need the help, or whether you could do it yourself, and if the answer is that you do need the help, determine how you could obtain that help in a way that will allow you to do for yourself in the future. I have not always avoided being a Claimant myself, but I can give you two examples in which I did for myself instead of asking for others to do for me and am glad I did so.
First, when I attended law school, I decided not to become a client of our state vocational rehabilitation program. I could have become a client and persuaded the agency to pay for law school. Instead, I took out student loans and paid for the education myself. I figured that the loans were as available to me as they were to my sighted classmates, and I had enough confidence in my employment prospects to believe that I would be able to pay the loans back. However, after law school, when I decided to obtain training in the skills of blindness, I became a vocational rehabilitation client so that the agency could pay for my training (at the Louisiana Center for the Blind). This was a program that cost a lot of money for which loans were not available. However, completing the program would help me maintain my independence and do for myself in the future.
Second, when I obtained my first legal job as a summer associate in a large law firm, I knew that I would need a reader to efficiently do my work. Since I was being paid a lot of money, I decided to pay for my part-time reader out of my wages. In this way, I showed my law firm that I really wanted the job and that I was willing to sacrifice for it. At the same time, I told my law firm that were they to offer me a permanent position, I would need a full-time reader paid for by the firm. But, in what was essentially a training period during which I was not making any money for the firm, I paid for the accommodation. I now work for that law firm and know that my willingness to pay for my reader made a favorable impression. In contrast, one summer associate submitted his dry cleaning bill to the firm for reimbursement because he had spilled on himself while at a work-related lunch (paid for by the firm). He did not receive an offer for permanent employment.
When we do for ourselves, instead of relying on others, we gain the experience and we learn from the doing. We also gain confidence in our abilities, which continues to build each time we take on a new challenge. But if we consistently accept the assistance of others, we fall into a trap of not acquiring the experiences upon which our self–esteem and confidence are built. That is the trap that Gemini has fallen into. Never having to do for himself, his life has become a series of acquiring handouts instead of skills. He is not living up to his potential, and thus his life is mediocre. Unfortunately, I have also observed this pattern with many blind people. Constantly relying on the help of others, they never learn that they can do for themselves. If they were forced to do for themselves, they would learn that they can be creative and adventurous in problem solving; and in doing so, they would acquire skills that would allow them to flourish and live up to their potential.
There is a direct correlation between how much help we accept and how satisfying our lives are. The good news is that the kind of help the National Federation of the Blind offers is the kind that blind people, and parents of blind children, can use to build normal, productive lives. We teach people how to do for themselves: how to live independently and how to pursue their goals.
Scores of parents came to the 2000 NFB
Convention in Atlanta eager to learn
from the NFB—and each other—how they can help their blind children, as
Noel said above, “do for themselves” and “live independently.”
Among those families were....
Bob and Debby Brackett of Florida with children Luke, Winona, and Daniel.
Robyn Herrera of California with son John.
Susan Parsons of Missouri with children
Sarah, and Christine.
Rights, Life, And Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches
Reprinted from the February 2001 issue of the Braille Monitor, the monthly magazine of the National Federation of the Blind.
Editor’s Note: Seth Leblond, a Maine high school graduate, came to the 2000 NFB Convention as one of the year’s 30 NFB scholarship winners. This was not, however, his first convention or his first experience with the NFB. His parents have been active in the NFB for many years. At the parents seminar in Atlanta Seth took part in a panel presentation by blind young people of various ages. His remarks were very much to the point and contained excellent advice for all parents, but particularly for the parents of blind children. This is what he said:
Freedom, Rights, Responsibilities: these
are three concepts with which all children
must inevitably become familiar before they may properly enter the world of adulthood as contributing members of society. It is natural for anybody to assume that, since parents are the primary caregivers to their children, parents should be responsible for teaching their children about these basic concepts. But we live in a world in which a good many professionals in the field of work with the blind believe that, since they have been “specially trained” to work with blind children, they are better equipped to raise them than their own parents. Many of them are kind, compassionate, intelligent individuals. Nearly all of them mean well. But all of the courses they may have taken, all of the books they may have read, and all of the warmth they may feel are no substitute for parenting.
Several years ago I attended a seminar for parents of blind children in Massachusetts. During the course of the meeting, a panel of parents and a professional or two in the field of work with the blind assembled to discuss raising blind children. After the members of the panel had made brief speeches, the members of the audience began asking questions. One woman raised her hand and asked in a somewhat frightened voice, “Who’s going to teach my son how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?”
I had consciously to keep myself from laughing as I recalled my own first foray into the world of culinary arts, which was, coincidentally, the making of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I could practically see my mother hovering over my shoulder, watching as I flailed my knife around, trying to transfer the sticky peanut butter from the dull blade onto the bread. I remembered her calm voice, filled with amusement, telling me that I would have to clean up the enormous mess I had managed to make all over the counters and cupboards of the kitchen. I remembered painstakingly cleaning up that mess. I remembered how good my peanut butter and jelly sandwich tasted when I finally seated myself and began to eat. I fairly beamed with pride when my mother calmly informed the scared mother at the seminar that she should be the one to teach her son how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
As I got older, I came to realize that life itself is really much like cooking. Nobody in this world lives a perfect life. People, by their very nature, make mistakes, regardless of their background or circumstances. Sometimes we even make enormous messes of things. But it is the way we as individuals deal with our mistakes and clean up our messes that defines us as human beings.
In my experience people often exhibit a strong tendency to make mistakes and then try to place as much blame on factors outside their control as possible, thus diminishing or eliminating the blame due themselves. Since a good portion of the public does not understand blindness in and of itself, it is often extremely easy for us to blame certain of our errors or objectionable actions on our lack of eyesight.
In the spring of 1997 I received a letter from a friend that illustrates the tendency of many sighted members of the public to allow us to do just that. The person who wrote the letter, having been stopped by some friends in the hall of her school, arrived a few minutes late for a class. Ordinarily, this would have been an offense warranting detention at the school in question. However, the teacher informed my friend that she would not, in fact, have to spend any of her time staying after school. Since she was blind, he told her, he could understand why she might be late for class as a matter of course. He would simply overlook the incident. Being a responsible individual, however, my friend told him that she wanted to serve her detention because that is exactly what was expected of her peers. The teacher couldn’t understand, but he let her stay after school at her insistence.
I keep the letter describing this anecdote where I can easily find and read it. It serves as a reminder to me that the blind of the world may never receive equal treatment in society unless we also accept equal responsibility in society. It also serves as a reminder to me that I have at least one truly great and responsible friend.
The question some might ask is, “What’s in it for us?” We as blind citizens clearly have certain responsibilities in society, but what are all these rights I mention? Perhaps Jefferson said it most succinctly at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence when he wrote that “All men are created equal” and are endowed with certain rights such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Most of us are all too familiar with the stories of blind people denied employment solely because of blindness. We have seen agencies for the blind deliberately try to keep blind clients from choosing their own destiny. The more responsibilities we take, the more quickly will we, the blind of America and of the world, achieve true equality in society. The more we do to help ourselves, the more clearly will the public recognize our potential. As we assert our voices, those few who still seek to repress us will realize that we are not wrong when we say that we are their equals.
So what of your children? What can you tell them? Tell them that they are responsible for dealing with their own mistakes as best they can. Tell them that, whenever they can, they ought to take the responsibility to educate the public about the true abilities of the blind. Tell them to share what they learn about doing this with their colleagues and their children. And, when they make their first peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, make sure they clean up the mess.
Responsibilities of a Seven-Year-Old
Editor’s Note: A few issues ago (Volume 18, Number 2), readers had the opportunity to hear about Hannah’s education from her mother, Jill Weatherd, in the article “Suggestions for Working With Hannah.” At the 2000 NFB Convention, Hannah got a chance to speak for herself. She wrote and read—in Braille, of course—her own speech for a kids’ panel. Here is what she had to say to parents attending the NOPBC Annual Parents Seminar about the “Responsibilities of a Seven-Year-Old.” (Oh, by the way, if you had been wondering who the cute little blind girl was who read the Braille menu in the McDonald’s commercial in 1999, now you know.)
My name is Hannah Weatherd. I am
seven years old. I’m from Lima,
Montana. I’m in first grade at school. Lima School is kind of small. First and second grades have to be in a room. Third and fourth are in a room. Fifth and sixth are in a room. My jobs at school are line leader, pledge leader, and helper. The helper’s job is to pass out papers and take the milk slip to the office, if we have afternoon milk. Our teacher, Mrs. Schroder, needs someone to water the plants. I was supposed to do that one day but I forgot. There has to be somebody to put the trash in the big trash can and put a new liner in it. They need a first-grader and second-grader to put the forks, spoons, knives, and milk on the table for lunch. We need a librarian to straighten out the books so they won’t be crooked when Mrs. Kluepner is being the helper. I really like four of the jobs the best. I like line leader, emptying the garbage, and I like to be the librarian. At home I empty the kitchen trash. Sometimes I set the table and in the morning I make my bed. I feed our chickens, too. I clean my room. I find money in the washer, and Mom says whoever finds money in the washer gets to keep it. I pick my clothes out every day except Sunday.
I paid for my little brother’s airplane ticket to the NFB convention. I had enough money because I was on a McDonald’s commercial, and I wanted him to come this year. I wanted him to come because he has never been on an airplane before except when he was a baby, and he can’t remember it.
I haven’t decided what I want to be when I grow up. I think I really want to be a postmaster the most.
The End. Thank you.
Hannah Weatherd with NFB President, Dr. Marc Maurer, at the 2000 Convention.
Teachers of the Visually Impaired: Roles, Rights, and Responsibilities
by Marlene Culpepper
Teacher of the Visually Impaired
2000 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award Winner
Editor’s Note: Marlene Culpepper has all the trademark qualities of an exemplary teacher of blind children. She has high expectations for her students, excellent Braille and other blindness skills, and a positive philosophy about blindness. She is a creative and talented teacher, and she has initiative. Not willing for her students to settle for second-best, she goes beyond her job requirements to see to it that they, too, have equal opportunities for a quality education. To top it all, Marlene is also a capable speaker. Her enthusiasm and love for her work inspired everyone in the audience when she gave a presentation at the Annual Parents Seminar in Atlanta on July 1, 2000. Here is an edited version of that presentation:
Marlene Culpepper displays her 2000 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award plaque.
Good morning. I am honored to be here
today to talk to you about the roles,
rights, and responsibilities of those of us who serve blind children in our county. “It takes a village to raise a child.” I’m sure you’ve heard that before. In our case, it takes a concerted effort from parents, from the students themselves, from the teachers that work with the students, and from the administrators who provide the support, in order to put all the things together that are needed so that our children can become independent, capable adults. That is our goal in the Muskogee County, Georgia, school system. Our mission for the school system encompasses all of these things. Our mission statement is: “The Muskogee County School District is committed to the educational experiences that will enable each student to become a life- long learner, enter the workforce with necessary work skills, and achieve academic and personal potential.” This is our goal for all of our children. In order to make that goal a reality for our children who have visual impairments, I have to fulfill certain responsibilities.
We—the teachers—have to strive to help our students become self-sufficient. We have to keep our expectations high and then constantly keep raising them as the children meet their goals. We have to collaborate. The regular education classroom teachers have to work diligently to provide me— the teacher of the visually impaired (TVI)—with the education plans and materials in advance so that we can set the stage for lessons that will include our students and will be meaningful to them. Oftentimes we don’t have to provide a person to assist our students directly if we do enough advance planning so we can provide adapted or modified materials with which they can learn independently. For example, our students receive Brailled report cards and Brailled grades and comments on their papers so that they can read and measure for themselves how they are doing and what they are achieving. In fact, anything that is provided in the classroom for the sighted children—board work, hand-outs, overhead projector slides, etc.—is also provided in Braille for our Braille users. Our teachers work hard to see that this happens.
We have found that a child will become better skilled with the use of the abacus, for example, if the regular education teacher and the TVI teacher work together to plan for repetition and constant use. A regular classroom teacher can encourage the child to use an abacus, for example, during math instruction on a daily basis. This applies to other skills, too.
The regular education teacher can help our blind students to utilize their canes with frequency. It is a requirement in our school that blind students do not leave the classrooms without their canes. The regular education teacher can provide descriptive language of an environment that is constantly changing. They can engage and include the visually impaired student by describing illustrations, by allowing the child with low vision to have preferential seating so that they can see some of the materials if they are able, by explaining routines and board work, by explaining overheads as they are using them, and by describing one-on-one to the blind child what other students are doing. Oftentimes, our children can miss out if we don’t make a concerted effort to let them know what’s going on. “What’s so funny?” “Why are the other children in class laughing?” And teachers can, very discretely and with a sensitive tone, let our children know when what they are doing is not appropriate in the class setting in order to help them function better within the group.
My role as the teacher of the visually impaired is constantly changing depending upon the needs of my students. In fact, I was a preschool teacher for years and when I first assumed this position my focus and my number one goal at the time was to learn, or relearn, all of the Braille skills that I had learned in college but had not utilized in years. That included getting to know the Nemeth Code and becoming familiar with teaching the abacus. Later, I had to learn all the commands that are necessary to utilize JAWS, and how to work a Braille ’n Speak adequately. With Heather, one of my current students, I’ve had the opportunity to learn Braille music. The children guide me as far as what it is that I need to be learning and doing as their needs change.
I have to observe what’s going on with my students in the regular class and throughout the school day and respond to their needs whether they be socialization needs, mobility needs, or needs for better or different planning and instruction. So my role is first to learn and then to teach.
My primary job responsibility is, of course, to teach the students the blindness skills that they will need to be successful. For example, I’ve had children who don’t appreciate reading, but we still require them to read. At our school we have a reading log that all parents must complete. All students have to read a certain number of minutes per day. When they make progress, we point out to them how their skills have improved and what they have achieved. We impose these expectations upon them so that, once they realize they can meet these goals, they will expect more of themselves.
Children need more than academic skills in order to be successful, so I also teach, for example, socialization skills and organizational skills. I discuss with them how to maintain and establish conversations with peers. I teach them how to manage all of their materials within a classroom; how to be accountable for homework, for class work, for planning the pace of projects, and for getting projects done; how to ask for help when it’s needed; and how to utilize a reader. All of these things are skills that I consider my responsibility to teach them before they graduate from high school. Hopefully, they will then be able to utilize these skills to live independently.
I also have the responsibility to work hard to keep the lines of communication open with parents and with other teachers. Oftentimes that involves hearing things we don’t necessarily want to hear, digesting it, and then reacting appropriately. For example, shortly after I first took my current job, a parent, Mrs. Jones, came to me, and she said something that I imagine was really hard for her to say. She said, “Marlene, there are mistakes in Heather’s Braille work. I don’t think there should be mistakes.” That was hard to hear. I was struggling to learn the Braille code and my paraprofessionals were struggling along with me. But we didn’t brush it off. As a result, we created a system of checks and balances. Even though we use computer software and a Braille embosser (printer) to produce our Braille work, nothing goes to the children unless it’s checked by a person other than the one who created it. This doesn’t eliminate all the mistakes that can possibly occur, but it does minimize them tremendously.
Hammond (center) with her mother Donna Jones and NFB President
Dr. Marc Maurer at the 2000 convention. Heather is one of Mrs. Culpepper’s students, and her mother nominated Marlene for the Distinguished
My other role is to ask the “village” to help in the education of our blind students. I think that our children can become independent, self-sufficient, capable adults, but along the way we must have help from a lot of people to provide the materials that they need. So, one of the roles I have taken upon myself is to go out and present the community with our needs. When we started our mini-magnet visually impaired program in Columbus a few years ago, we realized that we didn’t have sufficient leisure reading material for our children. We had plenty of Braille writers and Braille paper. We had technology, but what we didn’t have were Braille storybooks in the library. At the time I was in the mentor-teacher program operated by the AFB (I needed a lot of mentoring, then. I didn’t know what I was doing, to be quite honest.) Anyway, I contacted my mentor teacher, who was in Florida, and I said, “I don’t have any library books. What do I do?” She said, “Well, look on the Internet. Find out in your community if there are any Braille books for you to utilize.” I did. Our public library had some Braille books that had been sitting around that some people didn’t even know were there. They sent those to us. She put me in contact with a group called the Temple Sisterhood Braille Transcribing Group. Those Braille transcribers told me that in between textbook production they had time to transcribe books for our program if I would send them the paper and tell them what titles I wanted.
Then one day I met a man from the Lion’s Club. He was selling brooms for the club outside Sam’s. I said, “What do you do for the children in our community?” He said, “Well, we don’t know any blind children in our community right now. Tell us more.” And I did. I explained our needs to them. I said, “We have children who are just learning to love reading, and they need books to read.” The club gave us four hundred dollars to buy paper. We sent that paper to the Temple Sisterhood Braille Transcribers, and they sent us books. The next year they said, “Was that enough? Would you like some more? I said, “Yes. We need more books.” This time we went to Seedlings and bought books.
We now have about four hundred Braille books in our school library. Our blind children can go to the library with their sighted peers and check out a new book every time they visit. That’s an incredible opportunity for our children. Not just to improve their reading abilities but also to develop their self-esteem. The books we selected are on the accelerated reader list because our school feels very strongly about the use of the accelerated reading program. Our children take accelerated readers tests. They utilize JAWS in order to do it. We buy and produce books that are within our test list so that we can measure their reading comprehension.
We have now tapped into some other sources for Braille books. We have been getting monthly free Braille books from the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults Free Braille Books Program. [Editor’s Note: The book series currently offered through this program are Nancy Drew®, The Nightmare Room, and the Little House Chapter Books.] We also get free Braille books from the Braille Institute program. They offer three books per child every four months. You choose from a catalog of different books everytime. Well, we have four Braille-using students, so we get three books per month per child or forty-eight books a year from the Braille Institute and three books every month in the year from the American Action Fund, which gives us thirty-six books from them. That’s a lot of books in one year—eighty-four—for free! They are fantastic titles. If you have not had the opportunity to visit their web sites or to contact them, please do so. [Editor’s Note: Contact the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults at 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, (410) 659-9314 ext. 361, <www.actionfund.org>. The Braille Institute can be contacted at 1-800-272-4553.]
We have received not only all of the books we need through help from the community but also donations of technology. We have written grants in order to provide our children with the Braille ’n Speaks that they need and district licenses for JAWS so they can have JAWS in their homes. The local Lion’s Club just donated computers to two of our children, and we have two children who received a thousand dollars each towards the purchase of a Braille embosser from the County’s Midnight Run. All of these things will help these children to develop their skills and their independence. To me that is imperative that they walk out of our school with the skills to produce independently their own work when they go to college and that they also have the materials with which to do it.
Which brings me to my final comments about the roles and responsibilities of a TVI. It is my job to instill in my students an attitude of self-sufficiency.
I have very high expectations of my students, and I hold them accountable for a whole lot, whether it be communication, keeping up with their work, showing initiative, or asking for help when it’s needed. I also feel it is my responsibility to open their eyes to what jobs and professions are available to them as adults. For that reason I read a lot to my children from Future Reflections and the Braille Monitor because I believe that this organization—the NFB—provides a tremendous number of examples of blind and visually impaired people who are successful, who are capable as professionals and as parents.
One of my students is a fourth grade honors student. He was sitting doing math with me one day, and he said, “You know, Ms. Culpepper, this school stuff just ain’t for me.” I said, “Well, if it isn’t for you, I want you to understand one thing. I’ve been your teacher since preschool, and I’ll be your teacher through high school. The day that I hear that you don’t have a job, that you have chosen to stay home and receive a disability check, that is the day that I will be at your door at eight o’clock in the morning. I will lay on the horn until you come out, and once you are out, I will drag you to the car, and I will take you to a job, and I will make sure that you show up for that job. I will not teach you for twelve years just to have you stay at home.”
I think that by making those expectations clear, he can re-evaluate his expectations for himself. I told this story to his mom, and she just laughed. She said, “That’s true. I appreciate what you said.” The attitude behind my student’s comment is not an attitude we need to develop in the fourth grade or any grade. School is for everybody no matter what their ability is. We can all learn. And, that, finally is my ultimate responsibility: to facilitate that learning for every one of my blind and visually impaired students.
Rights, Roles, and Responsibilities in the Orientation and Mobility Process
Editor’s Note: Joe Cutter, Pediatric Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialist, New Jersey Commission for the Blind, is a “professional” in the best and most noble sense of the word. He is also one of the most truly humble people I know. He never feels he is above learning something new from his students, their parents, blind adults, or fellow professionals. Joe regularly attends National Federation of the Blind (NFB) conventions and freely shares his knowledge and expertise with parents and teachers. He makes presentations, gives group workshops, and voluntarily consults one-on-one with any parent who approaches him with a problem. The following article is an edited version of the speech he gave at the 2000 Annual Parents Seminar at the NFB Convention in Atlanta, Georgia:
I know of no better place to come than
NFB and the National Organization of Par-
ents of Blind Children (NOPBC) to hear about, be informed about, and learn about your roles, rights, and responsibilities. I know of no other venue that respects and values these three R’s more than the NFB.
There is a Chinese proverb that says: “To know the way ahead ask those coming back.” The richness of human resources in this room today and at this convention all week will provide you with much fuel for thought and action in meeting your child’s requirements on the road toward independence. The positive role modeling, the rights that have been established by the individual and collective power of this NFB movement, and the personal responsibilities that have been taken by persons at this convention can provide you with comfort, confidence, hope, and skills as you travel the road ahead with your child.
There is an interconnectiveness between these three R’s. Your role as a parent gives you rights that come with responsibilities. For example, you have a need to know about blindness and a right to information about it. You have a need for training for yourself and your child on the skills of blindness. This information and training will facilitate your role and responsibilities as your child’s first teacher. At this convention a few years ago a learned gentleman from India told me, “The mothers lap is the child’s first classroom.” No one will have a greater impact on your child’s development than you, the parent.
Two-and-a-half year-old Mikaella Besson of Massachusettes (right) has many adventures with her new cane at the 2000 convention.
I would like to talk more about your right to information and training. You have a right to clear, reliable, and useful information. As a parent you are vulnerable to reading inaccurate information and misconceptions about blindness in the form of unreliable research about blind children. Much of the time this information will be with a negative perspective. Be careful what you read! It may leave you functionally illiterate about the true nature of blindness. At the worst, such material will leave you with less hope and less motivation. At the best, it’s like a mixed-up math problem from when you were a kid: Mary has three apples and Sally has four apples, so how many miles is it to Detroit? You scratch your head and think, “What?” You’re left not knowing what to do with what you read (or heard, for that matter) about blindness and your child.
Therefore, you have a right to read about and hear about a positive perspective about blindness. It is my responsibility as an O&M professional to never take away hope, to do no harm by promoting unreliable practices, but rather to nurture your role with your child. To develop, along with you, options and opportunities for your child. And it is my responsibility to advocate with you in what, sometimes, is a formidable structure of misinformation and misguided practices in the education of blind children today, particularly in the field of O&M. (More about this point later.)
You have a right to training: the “what” and “how” of O&M—or as I have come to know it through my involvement with the NFB—independent movement and travel. I am talking about training that is concerned with skills and skill proficiency and not the endless readiness and remediation for these skills. Training that respects early use of cane travel with the young blind child. Training in what I like to call the really long, long cane. The best way to learn how to use a cane is not with a pre-cane (you know, those PVC pipe, rectangular, push devices). The pre-cane will only slow down your child’s movement and make them vulnerable to not learning age-appropriate movement and travel skills. No, the best way for your child to develop cane skills is for your child to hold a cane in the hand and use it.
An unnecessary so-called readiness curriculum serves only the professional who uses it and, I believe, is used only by O&M professionals who haven’t learned the techniques for teaching long cane skills to the very young blind child.
How much independence and freedom can a young blind teen expect to enjoy at NFB Conventions? Wayne Pearcy of Texas, who got his first cane when he was two, is as mobile and independent as his sighted teen peers at the 2000 convention.
It has been my experience that the most misguided information parents get concerning O&M is about the method of sighted guide. It is not the practice in itself that is the problem but the misuse and abuse of it at home and school. All too often parents and classroom teachers are left with the idea that the child should do most of his or her traveling off the arm of another person. What the child learns, then, is how to observe someone else’s movement and not his or her own movement. Everything they experience about moving in the outdoor community and in the school is dictated and directed by someone else—the person guiding them—and they never get the opportunity to practice self-directed movement skills with a long cane.
Now, this is so, I believe, because the traditional university programs preparing O&M instructors for the field place an overemphasis upon this singular skill. It is the first skill taught for indoor and outdoor travel. There are pages and pages demonstrating the technique in the textbook curriculum and hours and hours in the practicum experience for the student learning to become an O&M professional. You will not find this singular skill overemphasized and over-utilized at the O&M program at Louisiana Tech under the direction of Dr. Ruby Ryles. Instead, in this program the students preparing to be O&M instructors use valuable time learning about a full compliment of independent cane-based travel skills, the real skills of blindness.
It is my thinking, based upon years of experience in the field, that the sighted guide technique has become “filler” in the curriculum and practice of the traditional trained O&M instructor. They do not know how to move forward with the skills of blindness that are promoted by the blindness community, blind travel instructors, and the NFB. Instead they fill the curriculum with sighted guide practice, and your child pays the price of sighted guide overload on a day-to-day basis. The blind child doesn’t need filler. Feed your child sirloin steak not hamburger helper!
The next point I would like to make about training is that if your child is partially sighted he or she has the right to sleepshade (blindfold) training. Such training develops confidence in using the alternative (non-visual) techniques of touch, smell, and sound. Your child cannot develop full confidence in blindness-based travel skills if they are still relying mostly upon 10 percent or less of typical vision. This will produce doubt, stress, and a tentative style to their travel. The often-used argument against sleepshade training is that the student will go back to using their vision once the sleepshade is off. This is of course true, but what these naysayers don’t take into account is that the person will now use his or her vision with greater confidence and with better judgement about when to use their vision and when to use the non-visual technique. They will have new options and trust in using these options. It’s about developing good judgement.
Blind role models are important to young cane users.
The Cane Walk, Youth
Scavenger Hunt, and Braille Carnival at the 2000 Convention provided many role modeling opportunities. In the photo
above, Sheila Koenig gives some gentle
hand-under-hand cane instruction to
Winona Brackett at the Braille Carnival.
Remember how I told you earlier that you are your child’s first teacher? Well, as your child’s teacher you have the right to help train the other professionals and educators in your child’s life. You are the child’s most natural resource. The more clear, reliable, and useful information you have about blindness, the more persuasive you can become in advocating for your child. Your information will be confidence based. (The word confidence comes from “con-fidos” which means “with truth.”)
Along with the parents of blind children in your state, you can work toward making a better life for your child and other blind children. An excellent example of this is in my own state of New Jersey. A decade or so ago Carol Castellano, Vice President of NOPBC and President of the Parents Division of New Jersey, informed, persuaded, educated, and trained me well. It was a gentle, one-on-one education. She worked with other parents in her state, and together they are making a difference. Some of these parents are here at this convention. Valerie and Ed Ryan, Amy Kaiser, and Donna Panaro.
This September the New Jersey Parents of Blind Children will conduct a teacher training workshop for classroom teachers. Carol works closely with Joe Ruffalo, President of the NFB of New Jersey, to make these kinds of training opportunities happen. Together they have positively influenced the quality of life in New Jersey for blind persons. I have learned much from Joe and Carol. They—parent and blind adult—have taught me to be a better professional, a better person. There is truly an educational revolution developing in the field of education of blind children, and the NFB is leading the way.
The blind child—your child—has the right to freedom of movement, the joy of movement, and the confidence that comes with self-directed movement. They have the right to take responsibility for their own movement and to practice and master the skills of blindness. It is your right, your role, and your responsibility to teach your child; and I—as the professional—have the responsibility to support, facilitate, and join you in this effort. And together we can be very formidable and persuasive in contributing to positive outcomes in independent movement and travel for blind children.
Editor’s Note: Do you remember your first adolescent love? Do you remember the breathless, giddy joy; the stomach-clenching angst—and the terror that your parents will make a big deal about it, or even TELL other people that you have a boy/girl -friend? If you do, then I don’t have to explain why the author of this article asked to remain anonymous, or why she asked that the names be changed to protect the guilty—oops, “innocent” parties! But before I give too much away, here is “Anonymous” to tell us her story about “Convention Magic”:
I remember the first time I witnessed Con-vention Magic. It was at National Convention. The day’s sessions were over. Several parents from my state were relaxing in a restaurant in the Dallas Airport Hilton. The son of one of the parents came breezing up to our table, brand new NFB long white cane in hand.
“Mom, I’m going to go have dinner with Al. I’ll be back in about two hours.”
“But, Winston, I don’t know where I’ll be in two hours. And where will you be? Where would we meet?”
“Don’t worry about it, Mom. I’ve got a key. I’ll see you back in the room later.”
Now this exchange would not have been out of the ordinary in any way, except that before this day Winston had never ventured off anywhere on his own. In fact, though he was totally blind, he had hardly even used a cane before. Now, he’d already been gone half the day and suddenly he was on his way out to dinner with a new-found friend.
See ya’ later, Mom. Convention Magic.
The heady feeling of independence that Winston’s mom was experiencing—Wow, I’m free! I don’t have to take care of my kid!—was palpable. My daughter was several years younger than Winston. Would there ever come a day when I would be able to sit casually in a restaurant while my child just went out?
As the years—and the conventions—went on, I saw Convention Magic manifest itself many times. In the relatively small and safe environment of our NFB State Convention hotels, I watched kids who had simply never gone anywhere on their own get the urge to go and explore. Elevators, escalators, soda and ice machines—all were great motivators. I watched as one boy decided to go up to his room on his own. He made it. A girl located a friend at the foot of the escalator. The whole gang of our almost-teen-agers found their way to somebody’s room for snacks, a movie, and a pillow fight.
But this past year, at NFB National Convention, Convention Magic cast its gentle spell over my kid. We hadn’t seen her since lunchtime. She was hanging out in the Teen Room while my husband, John, and I attended the Resolutions Committee meeting. John started toward the back of the room for a drink of water but quickly came racing back.
“Donna, you’ve got to come back here quick. You won’t believe this!”
“What is it?” I asked as we hurried toward the back of the room. Then I saw it. Framed in the doorway of the ballroom was our daughter standing head to head with a young man about her age—sixteen. They seemed engrossed in conversation and every so often, the boy moved his arm up to Belinda’s shoulder and rested it there a moment.
I was shocked. Belinda had never even flirted with a boy before, never mind let one touch her! Fighting back the wild urge to tell him to keep his no good, dirty hands off my daughter, I walked over and casually said, “Hi, Belinda. What’s up?”
“Oh, hi Mom. We came in here to see if we could find you and Dad. We’re going over to the Mock Trial, and I wanted to let you guys know where I’d be.”
“Ah. And who’s your friend?”
“Mom, this is Michael.” Dad said hello, too.
“So, where’s the Mock Trial being held?” I asked. “You guys know where you’re going?”
“Yeah, we know the room.”
“Okay,” we agreed hesitantly. “We’ll come and find you in the Mock Trial room when it’s over.”
“Okay, see ya.”
And with that, my daughter was off. My daughter and a boy. Whew.
I have to admit my husband and I couldn’t resist following the pair, first to make sure they got to the room all right and then to see what the heck they were doing. We peeked in, oh, only five or six times.
They were fine. They were sitting there listening, talking, laughing. Looked pretty normal. Looked pretty good. Every once in a while their heads leaned in toward one another’s.
We were back at the dot of seven to pick Belinda up. The following conversation ensued.
“So, you like this guy?”
“Oh, yeah, we really have a lot in common. And he’s really nice.”
“That’s great, honey.”
“He said I have really small hands.”
(AND HOW WOULD THIS CASANOVA HAVE FOUND OUT THAT MY DAUGHTER HAS SMALL HANDS?????)
“Well, gee, how come he said that?” I asked.
“We were holding hands, and he said my hands were small.”
“Ah ha. Holding hands, that’s, um, nice.”
“And he really likes my hair.”
(HER HAIR??? HER HAIR??? THIS REPROBATE DARED TO TOUCH MY DAUGHTER’S HAIR???)
“Well, you do have pretty hair,” I responded weakly.
“Yeah, he said it was really soft. Then, Mom?”
“We discussed how far we would go.”
(AAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!!!! #!$&%#$ sex education classes!)
“I see,” I managed to reply. “And what did you decide?”
“We thought a kiss on the cheek. That would be okay in public, right?”
Whew. “Yup, that’s just fine,” I said with relief.
The next day Belinda got to discover another typical teen-age experience—teen angst. She had been hanging out in the Teen Room with a girlfriend the day that she met HIM. When Belinda and Michael decided to go to the Mock Trial, Belinda invited Laura along. Laura, convinced that she was definitely third-wheel status, rather dramatically refused. Belinda left with Michael.
Later, back in the room, we found an emotional message from Laura on our tape, expressing her distress that Belinda had ditched her for a guy. Overcome with guilt, Belinda called Laura back to beg her forgiveness. Alas, no one was in the room, and Belinda had to leave a message. ALL NIGHT LONG, through dinner, through our evening activities, through getting ready for bed, John and I listened to Belinda’s anguished laments. “Will she forgive me? I really didn’t mean to leave her out. I asked her to come. It’s not my fault she wouldn’t come. She could have come with us. I’m so sorry. Will she forgive me?”
I am happy to report that Belinda’s apology was accepted and the two friends went out for ice cream the next day.
That evening, one more sweet thing happened. Belinda and I were sitting in a computer meeting when I happened to notice Michael come in and sit down in the back of the room. “Belinda,” I whispered, “Michael is here. Why don’t you go back and say hello.”
I pointed Belinda in Michael’s general direction and heard her calling his name in order to locate him. You should have seen how his face lit up when he heard her voice and realized it was Belinda. Wow, a boy lighting up over my girl’s presence. That was a pretty sight.
Could these events have happened elsewhere? I guess they could have. But they didn’t. They happened at the NFB Convention, the place where our kids can venture out, taste some independence, try out a few skills, and have new experiences—all with thousands of blind people around to provide help and inspiration!
Convention Magic. It’s a beautiful thing!
Teaching the Professionals Who Teach the Blind
Reprinted from the November, 2000, issue of the NFB magazine, the Braille Monitor.
From the Braille Monitor Editor, Barbara Pierce: For many years now Ruby Ryles has been an integral part of the National Federation of the Blind. Early on in her son’s life we helped the Ryles family discover the truth about blindness for themselves. In return Ruby has taught blind children creatively and optimistically. She has earned a Ph.D. including powerful research about the importance of acquiring Braille at an early age. And in recent years she has turned her dedication and talent to the field of orientation and mobility. She addressed the 2000 NFB Convention on July 7. It was late in the day, and delegates were beginning to anticipate the excitement of the banquet to come. But when Ruby came to the podium, she immediately captured the attention of the audience and never lost it. This is what she said:
This afternoon I want to tell you about
of the most exciting things going on in
this organization or in the field of blindness. But before I tell you what all the excitement is about, I want to take a few moments to share with you why I am doing what I do at Louisiana Tech University and the Louisiana Center for the Blind. In nine days it will have been exactly twenty-six years since the happiest day of my life. In the early morning hours of July 16, 1974, our long awaited, beloved son was born. He was absolutely beautiful, and I knew from the moment the nurse laid him in my arms that he was, of course, brilliant beyond any other child ever conceived. I have never since known the joy I felt in those early morning hours twenty-six years ago.
That summer, on the twenty-first of August, five weeks later, the doctor delivered the news—our beloved five-week-old son was blind. How could that be? Like everyone else, I knew all about blindness through movies I’d seen and songs and stories in Reader’s Digest and even the Bible, but I had never known anyone who was blind. He just couldn’t be blind.
The doctor said I should take him to New York City for more tests. During one of the breaks between the tests I wanted to get away from the hospital and its dreary, confining atmosphere, so I put my precious little one in a stroller and went for a walk down the crowded, busy Manhattan streets. It felt good just to be out in the sunshine and in the activity of busy people coming and going from all those buildings, until I came to the corner to cross a street.
There, not far from the corner, sitting on a sort of retaining wall, was a rather disheveled, unshaven man with his arm outstretched, holding a battered tin measuring cup with a few yellow pencils in it. But, you know, it wasn’t the beggar, his cup, or his pencils that took my breath away—it was what was around his neck. Across his chest, hanging from a discolored leather strap, was a rectangular piece of wood. Someone had taken the tool from one of those old wood-burning kits and written on that piece of wood. Across his chest, burned into the wood—and into my heart—was the word: “BLIND.” I know you could have heard my heart break. I did.
Ruby Ryles, Coordinator,
Louisiana Tech University/Louisiana Center for the Blind Orientation and Mobility Master’s Program.
My feet seemed to be made of lead and my eyes began to blur with tears as I turned to cross the street. The sorrow and the welling fear I felt for my baby’s future were so intense that it is even hard to describe it now. I stepped into the crosswalk to cross the street and must have been moving more slowly than the other pedestrians because people were passing me in that crosswalk. As I neared the other side of the street, a pedestrian moved by me, and, even through my tears, I couldn’t help noticing him. He was tall and slender and wore a tailored gray suit and expensive shoes. At his side he carried a briefcase and walked with a sense of purpose that conveyed an air of definitive professionalism. I watched as his cane touched the curb, and he never broke stride as he hurried through the large doors of an impressive building adorned with glass and polished brass.
I stood on the corner with tears drying on my face, but in the noise, the heat, the crowded street I didn’t understand what had just happened. I don’t know when I really figured it out—probably eight or nine years later when I met Jim Omvig, Joanne Wilson, Kenneth Jernigan, Marc Maurer, and hundreds of others who have crossed that street in life. That hot summer day in the space of the few seconds it took to get to the other corner, not only had the light changed, but forever in my heart what it meant to be blind had changed.
Twenty-six summers have come and gone, and recently in the infamous southern sunshine of Louisiana things came full circle. I now run a master’s degree program in Orientation and Mobility at Louisiana Tech University and the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston, Louisiana. Among our many projects is a new certification for orientation and mobility instructors—a certification based on performance and understanding of blindness rather than academic assumptions. Such an undertaking obviously demands copious amounts of, not only time, but also patience and dedication to the cause that such a project represents.
On a summer day two weeks ago seven professionals in the field of Orientation and Mobility met to pilot two sections of this new O&M certification document. Six of the seven professionals were experienced Orientation and Mobility professionals, and five were blind. We were working, four in a group, on the streets of Monroe, Louisiana. Several hours into our work I noticed a disheveled, unshaven blind man and his equally disheveled sighted companion, pushing him along the sidewalk. As they approached us from the opposite corner of the block, it was particularly the man’s cane that caught my eye. It was the folding aluminum type, badly bent, and held together at the joints by duct tape. He presented a dismal image to the world indeed. He approached our group, proclaimed his sad plight, and asked for money. One of the group stayed behind to talk to him for a moment, then the two blind men parted ways, and my friend hurried on to the corner to catch up with the rest of us. I felt an old memory stir—a memory when for me blindness meant sorrow and fear of the future—feelings long since obliterated by the years of association with dynamic blind professionals and friends in the National Federation of the Blind.
We were all actually too busy to pay much attention to the brief encounter, but in the days since I’ve thought of the completed circle that the scene represented. And it feels great!
I’ve told you a story of how I personally came to the Federation corner. Now let me share with you what we at Louisiana Tech University and the Louisiana Center for the Blind are doing on that corner.
In the fall of 1996 a longtime dream of many Federationists began to materialize when Louisiana Rehabilitation Services in cooperation with Louisiana Tech University and the Louisiana Center for the Blind received RSA funding to start an innovative university master’s degree program to train orientation and mobility instructors. For many years competent blind people have been effectively shut out of the university training programs for orientation and mobility. Mainly because of the ADA many university programs now accept blind O&M students; but because of the field’s long history of opposition to the idea of blind mobility instructors, university O&M-training programs have no earthly idea how a skilled blind mobility instructor should or could do his or her job.
In the past three years we have had twenty-three students in our program; eighteen of those students have been blind. Our instructor for the countless hours of practical training required in the program is blind. He is 100 percent agency-trained and is an incredible role model and an incredible instructor—Roland Allen. Eddie Bell assists with academic teaching responsibilities as well as O&M teaching duties. Eddie is blind and a graduate of the program and, like Roland, understands that the best way to teach independent travel is by example.
Because we are an NFB program, not only our philosophy but also our training methods differ dramatically from those of traditional university training programs in that we believe that, if an instructor intends to teach a skill, the instructor should be able to perform the skill.
Simply put, we believe travel instructors, O&M specialists, peripetologists—whatever people who teach cane travel want to call themselves—they ought to be able to travel without sight with a long white cane—blind and sighted instructors alike.
Wow! What a unique concept that is. To expect a teacher actually to perform the skill she expects her students to learn.
This exciting program has just completed its third year of operation and is drawing national attention for its innovative methods of training and quality graduates. An overwhelming number of blind adults and children in the United States do not receive even adequate skill training in cane travel or Braille.
Many of us in this room will agree that the lion’s share of the blame for this tragedy lies squarely on the shoulders of the university programs that graduate professionals who are not proficient in the basic skills of blindness—cane travel and Braille.
Now let me say this before I say another word—it does not take a master’s degree to be an outstanding orientation and mobility instructor. I repeat: It does not take a degree to be a highly skilled travel instructor. Well, go ahead; say it: “Why in the world are Federationists running a master’s degree program in O&M at a state university?” Because it is a fact of life that in today’s world, no matter how skilled you may be, more and more state and private agencies and commissions cannot even hire you, blind or sighted, without a master’s degree. This is the direction of the future, and, since it is, we intend to make every effort possible to see that the graduates of the Louisiana Tech/Louisiana Center for the Blind master’s degree program get the highest quality training possible with the right attitudes about independent travel and blindness.
All too often graduates from university professional training programs have very little personal association with real blind people and the real issues you face. All of the current Louisiana Tech University O&M master’s students and a number of graduates are here at this convention. If you want to know about blindness, the NFB is the place to learn, and this convention is the ultimate classroom.
I hope you are starting to get a sense of what the master’s degree program in O&M is about, but that’s only a part of the picture. Recently Louisiana Center for the Blind received funding from RSA for the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness. I also coordinate the Institute’s activities. The Institute is a significant development, and exciting projects are already underway—one is the development of additional master’s degree programs—one for teachers of blind children and another for rehabilitation counselors of the blind.
Recently Dr. Ron Ferguson began working for us. Until we were able to lure Dr. Ferguson to Louisiana, he distinguished himself as a widely published associate professor at Ball State University and a well-known member of the NFB’s Michigan affiliate. Dr. Ferguson, Dr. Jeff Walczyk from Louisiana Tech, and I are currently working on a research project in the area of orientation and mobility and will complete five such studies in the next five years—I can promise you that our research will not end up as material for Dr. Maurer’s banquet speeches.
Dr. Ferguson will take the lead in developing and editing a professional journal which will provide a forum for new and exciting material in the field of blindness. He is submitting to various journals a call for papers for a professional conference to be held in the fall of 2001 at the National Center for the Blind. Dr Ferguson is working on a comprehensive history of the field of orientation and mobility which will highlight the contributions of blind instructors in the professional field—a subject ignored or marginalized in traditional O&M textbooks. His book will be one of the program’s required texts.
For the past three years the Louisiana Tech/Louisiana Center for the Blind O&M program has been diligently working on a new certification for orientation and mobility instructors. We appreciate those instructors who have helped us with the pilot and validation of this document. When completed, the National Orientation and Mobility Certification will provide certification to qualified instructors, blind or sighted, degreed or agency-trained, who have the skills to pass two performance sections and one competency section of the test. A word to the wise—if you plan to apply for National Orientation and Mobility Certification, be sure you can travel well under sleep shades with the cane.
If you are interested in earning a master’s degree in teaching orientation and mobility, please contact me through the Louisiana Center for the Blind.
Seventeen years ago, when I became active in the National Federation of the Blind, I learned the truth about blindness. I didn’t understand it twenty-six years ago, but the indomitable spirit of the National Federation of the Blind was standing proudly on that opposite corner long before I ever got there. It is the collective voice, the collective action, the collective work of every one of us sitting in this room today that create that indomitable Federation spirit. Thousands of Federationists who have come before us have taught us that with our collective voice there is no need to fear the future, and our sorrow is reserved for those who have not heard or will not listen to the message we have shared for sixty years. Thank you.
Mike Neese, a former
student at the Louisiana Tech/Louisiana Center for the Blind O&M program,
Jodi Jones of Indiana pair up at the Cane Walk. The Cane Walk is an NOPBC- sponsored convention activity. It gives parents, kids, and teachers a chance to
use a cane under the direction of an experienced blind cane user.
Distinguished Educator Award for 2001
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 2001.
The National Federation of the Blind will recognize an outstanding teacher of blind children at our 2001 convention July 1 to July 7, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 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.
*See reverse side for application
Federation of the Blind
Distinguished Educator Award Application 2001
Please print or type
Day phone:__________________ Evening phone: __________________ E-mail:______________________
City:______________________________________ State:_________________ Zip:___________________
Please attach another sheet of paper with the following information:
• 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.
Please complete this application 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 to hand in print assignments independently?
Send all materials by May 15, 2001, to
Sharon Maneki, Chairwoman,
Teacher Award Committee,
5843 Blue Sky Street, Elkridge, Maryland 21075
National Organization of Parents of Blind
Children (NOPBC) Annual Meeting
by Christine Faltz, Secretary, NOPBC
NOPBC Board, back row, left to right: Board Members Maria Jones, Kentucky;
Samuel Baldwin, Missouri; Mark McClain, Ohio; Brad Weatherd, Montana;Sally
Miller, South Carolina; and Tammy Hollingsworth, Indiana. Front row: Second
Vice President, Martin (Marty) Greiser, Montana; Secretary, Christine Faltz,
President, Barbara Cheadle, Maryland; First Vice President, Carol Castellano,New Jersey; and
Treasurer, Brunhilda Merk-Adam, Michigan
By the time we all gathered for the 2000 Annual Meeting of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children on July 4, 2000, an infectious spirit of fun, comradeship, and shared goals suffused the group, a microcosm of the greater convention at the Atlanta Marriott. The Parents Seminar had provided the usual staples, such as the Beginning Braille Workshop, and fantastic new offerings, such as the pre-seminar breakfast and information tables. At these tables parents could pick up information packets and ask questions on topics as varied as early childhood, the multiply-handicapped blind child, home-schooling, and so forth. Another new feature was the mentorship program for teens sponsored by the National Association of Blind Students (NABS). On request, NABS matched blind college students with blind teens for the duration of the convention. Once names and room numbers were shared, it was up to the parent, the teen, and the college student to arrange times and places to meet.
NFB Camp, as usual, provided a safe, fun place for our kids. There were also plenty of recreational opportunities, both organized and otherwise, for the older children and teen-agers, sighted and blind alike. Family Hospitality Night provided a time and place for casual chatting, establishing new acquaintances, and recharging existing friendships with people we hadn’t seen in a year or more. The only drawback was the conspicuous and deeply-felt absence of Tammy Hollingsworth, our usual Family Hospitality Night and Raffle maven, who developed a serious throat infection. Happily, it only managed to neutralize Tammy’s energy and commitment for a couple of days.
It was in this atmosphere of friendship and eagerness to learn that NOPBC president, Barbara Cheadle called the 2000 NOPBC Annual Meeting to order on Tuesday afternoon, July 4. This year the brief business meeting included a motion to expand the NOPBC board by two positions. The membership clearly felt that the growth of the NOPBC over the past few years warranted a larger and more diverse board. The motion passed unanimously.
Everyone was saddened to learn that Julie Hunter, our treasurer for the past six years, was not running for re-election. Julie has done an outstanding job in her position, and NOPBC owes much to her leadership. Julie will remain active in NOPBC through her leadership of the NOPBC in Colorado.
At the conclusion of the brief business meeting, we kicked off the afternoon’s program with a delightful presentation by Amanda and April Jones about their first year in a magnet high school (their speeches are reprinted on page 41 in this issue). Amanda and April, blind twins from Chattanooga, Tennessee, have been active in the NFB from a very young age.
Mary Ellen Gabias and Christine Faltz then provided information about Art Education for the Blind, a nonprofit organization devoted to the idea that blind children should have the opportunity to appreciate art and art history through touch and sound and other adaptive techniques. A thoroughly-researched, fantastic series, “Art History Through Touch and Sound” is now available through the NLS regional library for the blind system, American Printing House quota funds, and residential schools for the blind. The introductory volume was available for perusal at the convention. It is beautiful and pleasing—both tactually and visually. Astonishingly, some regional libraries for the blind sent their free volumes back to NLS for “lack of space” or “lack of interest” (one even threw it in the garbage). But the libraries reversed those decisions and agreed to take the volumes when people at the NFB Convention heard about it and expressed their dismay at such short-sighted actions. It was made clear, however, that not all of the libraries had responded this way and that many were very supportive of the project from the beginning. Christine Faltz and Mary Ellen Gabias discussed how important they felt art awareness was for blind children, and urged attendees to ask their cooperating network libraries and schools for the blind for the books, and to tell their area art museums about the project.
Dr. Sheila Breittweiser, President of the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind accepts the $200 cash award for Outstanding Participation in the 2000 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest.With her is Anna Miller, a student at the school and the daughter of NOPBC board member, Sally Miller.
It was then time for another of the favorite highlights of the annual meeting: recognition of the winners and the outstanding participating school for the blind in our annual Braille Readers Are Leaders contest. The contest runs from November 1 through February 1, and is co-sponsored by NOPBC and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB). Braille readers from kindergarten through twelfth grade are eligible to enter. Ellen Ringlein, one of the contest judges, gave a report about the contest and announced the winners. This year we had 388 students and 15 schools for the blind enter the contest. The South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind won the award this year for its high rate of participation, and the Kansas School for the Blind received an honorable mention. A Massachusetts teacher of the visually impaired, JoAnna Stenbuck, was recognized for her efforts over many years in promoting the contest among her students. Past and present contest winners and the parents of winners were asked to stand and be recognized. Macy McClain of Ohio, Hannah Weatherd of Montana, and Elizabeth Causey of Georgia were among those recognized.
At the conclusion of the Braille Readers Are Leaders update, our 2000 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children award winner, Marlene Culpepper from Columbus, Georgia, was announced and called upon to give the keynote address. Mrs. Culpepper talked about standardized testing and the challenges and rewards of including blind students (see Marlene’s article “My Experience with Standardized Testing and Blind Students” elsewhere in this issue).
Following Mrs. Culpepper’s informative address, Deborah Kent Stein of Illinois described the NOPBC-sponsored Slate Pals program, a pen pals program through which blind kids can perfect Braille skills while staying in touch with blind peers in other geographical locations (see the Slate-Pals application on page 53 in this issue). The success of the program depends upon the number of requests we receive for slate pals. The more requests we receive, the easier it is to tailor matches according to interests, age, eye condition, level of Braille skill, etc. Parents like the service because, among other benefits, it improves their child’s Braille reading and writing skills. Children and youth who become slate pals sometimes find life-long friends, and all discover much needed peer support and encouragement from another blind kid who shares common interests. But mostly it’s just plain fun to get personal Braille letters in the mail.
We then heard from Susan Richardson of North Carolina who gave a report about NOPBC’s home-schooling network. This group has become one of our most active networks. Considerable credit for this goes to coordinator Debbie Day of Washington State. Her home-school website is, as Susan Richardson stated in her report, “awesome.”
Families and friends relax at the 2000 NOPBC Family Hospitality.
After Susan’s report Maria Jones of Kentucky described her experiences at the NOPBC Southeast Parents Leadership Conference at the South Carolina Rocky Bottom Camp of the Blind last March, 2000. It was agreed that similar conferences and retreats should take place throughout the country, if possible. Ms. Jones felt one of the best parts of the conference was the role-playing activities to teach parents how to assert themselves on behalf of their children and how to teach their children to advocate for themselves. Parents also got a cane travel lesson under sleepshades (blindfolds) and got to sample some very tasty homemade chicken soup prepared right in front of them by a blind cook. Small groups of parents were given tasks to work on together, such as planning a fund raiser or a social activity that integrated blind adults and blind children. There were workshops on IEP’s and the IDEA Amendments of 1997, how to decide when to teach print or Braille, the slate and stylus, transition from school to job or college, and so forth.
It was then time to move to reports from our state POBC divisions. With some 26 divisions, the reports had to be brief and to the point. As always, however, it was exciting and rejuvenating to hear what our parent groups are doing around the country. We heard about the family camping trip in Ohio, the Bowl-A-Thon fund raiser in Indiana, the Braille literacy legislative initiative in Michigan, the Braille Storybook Hour in Maryland, the mentorship programs pairing blind kids with blind adults in Colorado and Illinois, the Mall Cane Walk in West Virginia, the seminar for classroom teachers and aides in New Jersey, and many, many other innovative projects.
Before we moved on, Daniel Lamond, a blind entertainer and member of the NFB, arrived with his guitar in-hand to lead us in a much needed song break with plenty of hand-clapping, foot-stomping, stand-up, sit-down, action. Soon, we were all pumped up, refreshed, and ready to move to the next agenda item.
This item was a panel of representatives from our Louisiana, Colorado, and Minnesota NFB training centers for the blind and Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM). They came to talk about the summer programs they sponsor for blind kids. One of the panelists described her experience when she was a summer student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind a few years ago. She talked about her initial hostility toward the idea and her anger at her mother for sending her. By her third day, however, she was thoroughly hooked on the program, and to all of our delight, whispered into the microphone, “Sometimes . . . parents know best.”
From that panel we moved to another panel. Kristen Cox, NFB Associate Director of Governmental Affairs; David Andrews, Director, Minnesota Communications Center; and Sharon Maneki, Chairman of the NFB Resolution Committee, spoke about the timely provision of textbooks, standardized tests, and other materials in adapted formats for blind students.
Sharon Maneki concluded the panel with an in-depth look at the issue of standardized testing for both children and adults throughout the nation. She again raised the issue of the complexity of adapting standardized tests for blind children. It is especially difficult to adapt tests after they have been developed. It would be much easier if blindness professionals were consulted while the tests were being developed. Then there is the problem of practice test materials. Sighted kids get a lot of practice, but adapted practice materials for blind kids are virtually nonexistent and often unreliable. Other problems include providing blind students instruction and experience in using tactile graphs and charts so they can be prepared to use them in testing situations and the problem of who decides what medium a student shall use for a test—Braille, print, large print, readers, etc. [Editor’s note: All these topics were the subject of resolutions passed at the 2000 NFB Convention. See page 54 in this issue.]
The NOPBC meeting concluded with the final order of business, the election of officers and board members. The slate of officers submitted by the nominating committee that was chaired by Julie Hunter was elected by acclamation, and the meeting was adjourned.
We parted ways rejuvenated and excited about being a part of an organization that is on the leading edge of Changing What It Means to be Blind.
Blind Kids and Magnet Schools: Our Experiences
Editor’s Note: This article is edited from the remarks that April and Amanda Jones made to parents at the NOPBC 2000 Annual Meeting in Atlanta. And yes, they are twins, and they are blind. They are also independent, bright, articulate, assertive, sociable, and curious. These characteristics have been carefully nurtured and cultivated by their grandparents, Pat and Jerry Jones.
The NFB has also played an important part in their development. Shortly after the girls came to live with them, Pat and Jerry came to their first NFB Convention. They were delighted with the positive “can-do” NFB philosophy and decided right then and there that this was the spirit with which they would raise April and Amanda. And so they have, as you can see below, with quite admirable results. Here is what Amanda and April have to say:
The first year at my new magnet school was a great success. It started in Summer Spectrum. I explored creative writing for my first choice and drama for my second choice. I enjoyed both of them immensely. I have always loved to write so that wasn’t very new, but I decided to try drama because I felt the drama teacher would be a great help in getting me to feel more comfortable in front of audiences.
The first week of school was quite hectic for me. My schedule was very wacky because my creative writing and drama were switched around. I wound up in the commons (cafeteria) for about a week. Then I went into April’s drama class for a while to see if I would like it. The school almost didn’t offer creative writing because there weren’t enough students who were recommended for the class. But they did, and I finally got to take it. There were only six of us in the class. We wrote short stories, monologues, poems, and commercials. All of it was fun, but I liked writing short stories the best. We had a coffee house where students who wanted to share their writings could. I didn’t share any of my writings, and a few people weren’t happy about it, but I didn’t feel comfortable doing it.
I didn’t get to take drama because it wasn’t offered to students who wanted to take it as a minor. I was very disappointed. I took musical theater (which I didn’t like at all) for the first semester and piano for the second.
My math and American history teacher, Mrs. Schoonover, made us do two major projects this year, but they were both fun. The first project was to read a book and either put it on tape or make a cartoon board of it. I put mine on tape. I only got a 93 because it was too long. The second project was to make a poster of a person who influenced American history. I chose to do Mark Twain because I wanted to do someone who was a famous writer. Mrs. Schoonover is a horse lover like me. She now owes me a horseback ride for she promised the class that anyone who kept a 3.0 average would get a ride on her horse. She actually owes me two rides, one per semester.
Speaking of projects, my English teacher, Ms. Hartline, also made us do a poster of the “Diary of Anne Frank.” Mrs. Johnson, my science teacher, made us do a Rube Goldburg project. Harold Snider helped April and me with that project. We had to change a few things for the project to work, but we finally got it to work. [Editor’s note: Dr. Snider is a blind scholar who studied in Oxford. He is an active member and leader in the NFB.]
All the students and teachers accepted me quite well. I made more friends at this school than I have at any of the schools I have attended in my whole life. The majority of my friends were sixth graders, but I had a few high school friends as well as friends my own age. We had an award ceremony at this school. I won the Creative Writing Award and the President’s Award. I kind of had the feeling that I would win the writing award, but the President’s Award stunned me. I won it because I demonstrated the most improvement in my academic classes.
Next year I am taking playwriting, creative writing, foundations of acting, and French. We’re required to have 32 credits to graduate from high school. Everyone is on a college bound track, so those who don’t want to attend college are not permitted to attend. I hope next year will be as successful as this year has been.
I am attending a brand new magnet school called The Center for Creative Arts. I was very nervous about leaving my old school where I knew virtually everybody since first grade. My new school had a Summer Spectrum to help new students figure out where everyone was most comfortable. I found out that others were just as nervous as I was. I tried drama and band. I played in the band at my old school, so it wasn’t anything new. My new band teacher was going to learn Braille music.
Being a new school, the schedules were subject to change almost every day for a while. Amanda and I were in the same drama class for a short time. I didn’t like it, but my drama teacher wouldn’t let me drop out. I’m very glad that he did not let me drop out because I learned a lot and really liked the class. My drama teacher had us play games to teach us how to be more comfortable in front of audiences. One of the games we played was called Swat Tag. In this game a student with a “noodle” (the kind you use in the swimming pool) walked behind the seats, and as they came by they would give the seated person a gentle tap. If they wanted to tag you, they would smack harder. The tagged person would run to the center to a stool and wait for the person who tagged them to come to the stool. Then the person who had the noodle would lay it on the stool. The tagged person would grab it and try to swat the other person before he/she got to their seat. For my benefit when it was my turn, he would make the person who had tagged me close their eyes. They would have to find the stool on equal terms with me. All the games we played he adapted in some way so I wasn’t at any disadvantage.
In the second semester our drama class was going to put on a play. The parts I had were the narrator of Cinderella, the witch for Morgan, and the pot of brains, and several parts I can’t remember now. We did the rehearsals in class. They were pretty good except when there were interferences. On the last week before our performance some people did not show up. Mr. Ray was pretty ticked, but he let it go after he heard the reason. On the last day of rehearsal two of the kid’s parents came to pick them up an hour early. Mr. Ray came back and told us that the show was cancelled.
I ended up not being in band because it was not offered as a minor. So I took chorus for my first semester and creative writing for my second. I also took a technology class that gave you a high school credit if you passed the exit exam. I learned all the shortcut keys for JAWS for Windows and passed the exit exam. My teacher didn’t know the shortcut keys, but we had a print copy to give her from the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore.
My P. E. teacher had the notion that I should count my steps around the gym when I ran laps. She was a high school teacher and couldn’t handle middle schoolers very well, so we had a lot of trouble with her. I have her for one more year.
Everything in the Magnet School was focused around the arts. One of the things we were required to do was see “Madame Butterfly,” an opera sung in Italian. We were tested on this in every class. The school purchased tickets for us, and we had to meet at the theater in proper dress attire without our parents. Our parents had to pick us up after the opera.
These are just some of the things that we did this year. Next year I am taking puppetry, band, oral interpretation, and French.
I think that if other blind students have the opportunity to attend an arts magnet school, they should.
Amanda and April take a break between youth activities at the 2000 convention to talk over old times with their former teacher of the visually impaired, Cheryl Gateley (center).
My Experience with Standardized
by Marlene Culpepper
Editor’s Note: Mrs. Culpepper, winner of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award for 2000, gave two major presentations at the 2000 NFB Convention in Atlanta. She gave a speech as part of a panel at the annual Parents Seminar on Sunday (see page 18 in this issue) and then she made remarks to the Annual Meeting of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children on the following Tuesday. The following article is based upon the remarks she made at that meeting:
Let me preface this article by saying that
am in no way an authority on testing
children with visual impairments. I am, however, a teacher who learns through trial and error about what makes a child successful in standardized testing situations.
Without a doubt, the single most important factor in any student’s success with standardized testing is experience.
The more opportunity a child is given to learn to manage the stress involved in a test-taking situation, the more comfortable they will become. Subsequently, when the child’s stress is reduced and their confidence strengthened, there will be an improvement in their performance on the standardized test.
When I first started teaching school-aged children with visual impairments, our students were in the third grade and were taking a standardized test for the first time. In our state, the state-mandated tests are given in the first, third, fifth, and eighth grades. The test that our state utilized at the time was the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. For our students that meant a three-volume test, approximately 18 hours of test-taking, and lots of anxiety over the unknown.
As with anything that is perceived as difficult, my students approached this task differently. Some of the children spent too much time analyzing what should have been simple questions, while others rushed through the testing and guessed at the answers. The test results were not representative of the students’ performance in class and did not reflect their potential. But it was a worthy experience, because they completed the test!
After the test, we talked about the methods they employed in taking that test and began refining our test-taking skills. We talked about strategies (reading the question once, reading the answers, eliminating obviously impossible choices, re-reading the questions) and methods for solving the problems. In talking with them, I found that my students needed more experiences in reading graphs, charts, and diagrams.
We discussed how the test is scored and whether it is better to guess the answer or leave the unknowns blank. This is an important bit of information since each test is scored differently. We talked about what I observed as they were taking the test and how the strategies they used would impact their scores. For example, “If you didn’t use any scratch paper during the computation section, how did you solve the problems?”
In the end, the children were glad that they had taken the test like the other students in their classes and were not as intimidated by the thought of taking another standardized test in the future. Since then we have taken several tests and the children have done better than they did before. Our students who participate in the regular education program achieve scores at or above grade level when compared with their sighted peers.
As their teacher, I too have sharpened my test-administration skills with each test taken. I have learned that students should have a choice in how they record their answers. Since answer sheets are not provided with the Brailled version of the Iowa, we have experimented with a number of ways for them to provide their answers. The non-standard administration of this test allows for students to record their answer in Braille or answer orally and have their answer marked on the print sheet by the test administrator. I found that if each student is empowered to make that decision, they will be more at ease and will approach the test with greater confidence.
I have also learned that our students need frequent opportunities to experience standardized testing situations just as sighted children do. They need to take the same tests as their sighted peers with necessary modifications and materials in place. They need to be equipped with knowledge about the test and strong test-taking strategies. They also need to get the same preparation or pre-testing (with appropriately modified or adapted materials) that their sighted classmates receive.
I urge educators and administrators to give our visually impaired students every opportunity to take standardized tests so that they may develop their skills. By doing so, our visually impaired students will be able to pass high school exit exams and compete for scholarships. Because of our efforts in our school district, our visually impaired students are competent test takers today. They expect to do well when they take a standardized test and are prepared to do so. A little effort goes a long way!
The Scholarship Class of 2000
In celebration of and preparation for leader-
ship in the new millennium, the National
Federation of the Blind expanded the scholarship program yet again in 2000. During the annual banquet on July 7 we awarded thirty scholarships: twenty-two in the amount of $3,000, four of $5,000, three of $7,000, and the newly named Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship of $21,000. This last award was made in recognition of the new century. It will return to $10,000 next year.
In addition, in memory of Dr. Jernigan, the Kurzweil Foundation again presented an additional $1,000 scholarship, a document scanner, and, from the Kurzweil Education Group, the latest software for the Kurzweil 1000 reading system to each winner. Dr. Ray Kurzweil was on the platform to present a check and plaque to each student during the ceremony.
This year’s class was a remarkably strong one. At the banquet Peggy Elliott, Chairman of the Scholarship Committee, made a few remarks while the winners were making their way to the platform and then read each name in turn with the name of the award being made, the name of their home state, the state where they are attending college, and a brief description of what the student is studying and planning to do in the future.
Following are photographs of each winner at the convention. Next to each photo is Peggy’s introduction and description of that student.
Rod A. Barker, Oregon, Oregon
Rod is completing his senior year at Portland State University, where he is earning a bachelor’s degree in business and finance and is about to enter his career as a law student at the University of Oregon School of Law in the fall. Rod’s vocational goal is obviously to be a lawyer. [Scholarship: $3,000]
Denise L. Cunningham,
is currently not in school, being employed full-time teaching first- and second-graders
near her home in St. Louis. She is entering the University of Missouri at St.
Louis in the fall as a first-year graduate student, where she intends to earn
a Ph.D. in education and become a professor of elementary education.
Nicole E. Ditzler, Minnesota, Minnesota
Nicole has just completed her junior year and will begin her senior year in the fall at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, where she is earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a concentration in child and family studies. She intends ultimately to earn a Ph.D. in psychology and to become a Head Start teacher and eventually a family therapist. [Scholarship: $3,000]
Lisa Ann Hansen, Wisconsin, Wisconsin
Lisa is currently enrolled at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire, where she has just completed her sophomore year. Lisa is earning a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a minor in Spanish. She intends to earn an advanced degree in education and become a middle-school teacher of language arts and Spanish. Lisa is a chapter president in the National Federation of the Blind. [Scholarship: $3,000]
Jessica Ann Hosier, Iowa, Iowa
Jessica is currently not in school and will be returning to her studies at the University of Iowa in the fall, where she will be a junior. She is currently earning a bachelor’s in social work and intends to make herself a career as a social worker in the rehabilitation context. [Scholarship: $3,000]
Robin L. House, Missouri,
Robin is enrolled at the University of Missouri at St. Louis and is classified as a senior. Robin is currently earning a bachelor’s in elementary education. She intends to go on and earn a master’s degree and become an elementary school counselor. [Scholarship: $3,000]
Kelsey Lynn Cox Korsgard, Oklahoma, Oklahoma
Kelsey is a graduate student at Oklahoma State University, where she will be beginning her second year in the fall. She is earning a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, and she intends to be in private practice as a marriage and family therapist. [Scholarship: $3,000]
Melissa A. Lehman, Wisconsin, Wisconsin
Melissa is attending the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where she will be a senior in the fall. Her degree program is a bachelor’s in psychology, and she intends to earn advanced degrees in her chosen field and to be a child psychologist. Melissa is the President of the Wisconsin Association of Blind Students. [Scholarship: $3,000]
Amy Crystal Mason,
Amy is attending Lincoln Christian College, where she will be a sophomore in the fall. Amy is earning a bachelor’s degree in counseling and intends to be a Christian counselor for children in crisis. She is an officer of her state student division. [Scholarship: $3,000]
Jessica Bates McKinney, South Carolina, South Carolina
Jessica is currently attending Furman University, where she will be classified as a junior in the fall, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and political science. It seems to me that some of our politicians should do the same. Jessica intends to become a psychologist. [Scholarship: $3,000]
John A. Miller, California,
is the first of our five tenBroek fellows this year. He won his first scholarship
from the National Federation of the Blind in the year 1988. John is currently
a graduate student at the University of California at San Diego. He is earning
a Ph.D. in electronic and computer engineering, and he wants to be an electrical
engineering professor. His professors say he is a truly brilliant student and
Teresa (Tai) Tomasi, Massachusetts, Vermont
Tai is studying at the University of Vermont, where she will be a junior in the fall. Tai is earning a bachelor’s degree in political science and in French. She intends to earn a juris doctorate and to be a disability advocacy lawyer or lobbyist. [Scholarship: $3,000]
Melinda Louise Zuniga, Montana, Montana
Melinda is currently studying in the graduate program at the University of Montana, where she is earning a master’s degree in physical therapy. Melinda intends to be a physical therapist and to emphasize the treatment of back pain. [Scholarship: $3,000]
Brook Nichole Sexton, California, Utah
Brook is a tenBroek fellow who won her first scholarship in 1996. She is currently a senior at Brigham Young University, where she is earning a bachelor’s degree in family science with a concentration in human development. Brook intends to be a teacher of blind children and serves as President of the Utah Association of Blind Students. [NFB Educator of Tomorrow Award, $3,000]
Kristen M. Witucki,
Kristen is a graduating high school senior from Overbrook Regional High School. She is entering Vassar College as a freshman in the fall. She will be earning a bachelor’s degree in English, and she wants to be a high school English teacher. [NFB Humanities Scholarship, $3,000]
Zachary J. Battles, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania
Zachary is earning three different academic degrees—two undergraduate and one advanced, at the same time. I’m not exactly sure what they are, but he is at Pennsylvania State University. He is earning degrees in the areas of computer science and mathematics, and he will conclude his studies with a Ph.D. in computer science. Zach obviously intends to be a computer scientist, but I also want to mention that Zach has a vocation of teaching English as a second language to his current country of interest, the Ukraine. [The NFB Computer Science Scholarship, $3,000]
Stacy Leigh Cervenka, Illinois, Minnesota
Stacy will be a sophomore in the fall at Concordia College, where she is earning a bachelor’s degree in political science and French. She intends to conclude her studies by earning a juris doctorate degree and then to become a foreign service officer. Stacy serves in her state student division as an officer. [Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship, $3,000]
Priscilla Ching, California, Louisiana
Priscilla is currently attending Louisiana Tech University in a master’s degree program in educational psychology with a concentration in O & M, and she wants to design and coordinate programs for blind children. [The Mozelle and Willard Gold Memorial Scholarship, $3,000]
Nathan Earl Danes, Idaho, Idaho
Nathan is currently studying at Albertsons College in Idaho, where he will be a sophomore in the fall. He is earning a bachelor of science degree in physics and computer science. He intends to earn a master’s or further advanced degree in physics and computer science and then to be a nuclear physicist with a particular interest in research into anti-matter fusion. [Frank Walton Horn Memorial Scholarship, $3,000]
Suzanne Rowell Westhaver,
Suzanne is currently a student at the University of Connecticut at Waterbury, where she will be classified as a senior in the fall. She is earning a degree in the discipline of English. Her final degree she hopes will be a Ph.D. Suzanne intends to be an English professor. She also announced her intention to be a best-selling author and has organized a chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. [Kuckler-Killian Memorial Scholarship, $3,000]
Erik C. Motsinger, Oklahoma, Oklahoma
Eric is currently a sophomore at Oklahoma State University, where he will continue in the fall toward a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Eric intends to earn a law degree, and he wants to be a prosecuting attorney. [Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship, $3,000]
Debra Delorey, Massachusetts, Virginia
Debbie is a tenBroek fellow and a colleague of many of ours. Debbie won her first scholarship in 1996, and, if any of you have ever been to a Washington Seminar or to an occasional convention of the National Federation of the Blind, you will find Debbie walking around with roses in her hand selling them to you. She’s currently a graduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she is earning a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling. She intends to complete her studies with a Ph.D. and become a rehabilitation counselor. [E. U. Parker Scholarship, $3,000]
Kimberly Aguillard, Texas, Texas
Kim has just graduated from high school in Beaumont, Texas, and will be matriculating at Texas A & M University as a freshman in the fall, where she will begin her studies in psychology. Kim would like to earn a Ph.D. in psychology and then to serve as a psychiatric counselor. Kim serves as an officer of her state student division and at the age of eighteen founded a chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. [NFB Scholarship, $4,000]
Peter Andrew Berg, Illinois, Illinois
Peter is currently a senior at North Central College, where he is working on a bachelor’s degree in history. Peter will be starting studies as a first-year graduate student at DePaul University in the fall and intends to complete his studies with a master’s degree in history. Peter wants to be a high school history or social studies teacher. [NFB Scholarship, $4,000]
Seth Justyn Leblond, Maine, Maryland
Seth has just graduated from Deering High School in Portland, Maine, and will be attending Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland, in the fall, where he will start his studies on a degree in communications with a concentration in radio and TV journalism. Seth intends to be a writer and a broadcaster. This eighteen-year-old gentleman serves as an officer of his state affiliate and also as a chapter president. [NFB Scholarship, $4,000]
Michael Anthony Leiterman, Ohio, Ohio
Michael is currently a senior at the University of Cincinnati, where he is earning a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in chemistry. He will be continuing at the University of Cincinnati in the fall and plans to complete his studies ultimately with a law degree so that he can be a genetic biologist and lawyer. [NFB Scholarship, $4,000]
Cheralyn Braithwaite, Utah, Utah
Cheralyn, as we all know, is currently not in school because she is teaching. She will be starting her studies as a graduate student in the fall at the University of Utah, where she intends to earn a master’s degree in special education. She wants to be a special education school administrator. Cheralyn is an officer of her state affiliate and is also a chapter president. [Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship, $7,000]
Thomas Ladu Philip,
Thomas is a student at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities. He is currently classified as a senior and will be continuing his studies in the fall, earning a degree in English literature and creative writing. Thomas will ultimately earn a Ph.D. in the same subject and intends to be a professor of English literature and also a creative writer. He is already a published poet and serves as the President of the Minnesota Association of Blind Students. [NFB Scholarship, $7,000]
Thomas Wales, California,
Nathanael is a tenBroek fellow, having won his first scholarship in 1997. He is currently studying at the University of California at Davis, where he will be classified as a senior in the fall, completing a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering. He intends to earn a law degree and wants to work as a civil and environmental engineer and as a lawyer. Nathanael serves on the board of his state affiliate, is a chapter officer, and is also the President of the California Association of Blind Students. [NFB Scholarship, $7,000]
Angela Renee Sasser
Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship
Angela is a tenBroek fellow, having earned her first scholarship—and apparently quite a number of friends and colleagues—in 1997. She is currently studying at the University of Texas at Austin, where she will be a senior in the fall. Her current degree program is entitled “Humanities Honors,” and she is also earning an elementary education certificate. She intends to complete her studies with a master’s degree in elementary education and to be an elementary art teacher. That’s only one of many aspirations. She also intends to be an artist herself and to work in the field of museums and presentation to both blind and sighted persons. Angela, as you would expect, also serves as the President of the Texas Association of Blind Students.
Slate Pals slate pals
pen pal program for blind Braille reading students who
want to write and receive Braille letters from other students.
Mail to: SLATE PALS, 5817 North Nina, Chicago, Illinois 60631 or <firstname.lastname@example.org>
SLATE PAL PROFILE
Name__________________________________ Age_____ Birth Date______ Grade______
(circle one) *male *female
Address________________________________ City____________ State____ Zip________
I would like (fill in the number) _______slate pal(s)
I would like my slate pal(s) to be ___________age (please specify a range)
I would like my slate pal(s) to be (circle one) *male *female *no preference
Sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
Policy and the Education of Blind Children
Resolutions from the 2000 NFB Convention
Editor’s Note: The complete text of all resolutions is available in the August/September, 2000, issue of the Braille Monitor. This issue is available on the NFB website at <www.nfb.org> or in print, Braille, or cassette tape from the NFB Materials Center, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; (410) 659-9314. Copies of resolutions adopted at every NFB Convention throughout its history are also available in various formats from the Materials Center upon request.
The National Federation of the Blind adopted 34 resolutions at the 2000 convention in Atlanta, Georgia. Six of those resolutions concerned education. The trend in kindergarten-through-twelfth-grade education is to measure progress in education by proficiency testing in subject areas and school-accountability testing. Three resolutions address problems with these tests experienced by blind students across the country.
Resolution 2000‑02 concerns the provision of electronic versions of textbooks to school districts serving blind children. This topic was discussed in the last issue (Volume 19, Number 4) of Future Reflections.
In resolution 2000‑09, introduced by Pam Dubel, Director of Youth Services at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, we urge state departments of education to adopt policies to insure that blind students have the opportunity to participate in all testing programs and to obtain standard high school diplomas.
Kim Aguillard, a 2000 national scholarship winner who just graduated from high school, proposed resolution 2000‑13. In this resolution we urge state departments of education to adopt policies compelling all developers of standardized educational tests to consult with professionals in the blindness field and blind people as they develop proficiency and accountability tests so that these tests can be readily and appropriately adapted in nonvisual formats for blind and visually impaired students.
Resolution 2000‑22 was also introduced by a student, Allison Hilliker, from Michigan. This resolution affirms the authority of the student’s Individualized Education Program team to determine appropriate accommodations for the student to use when taking these standardized tests.
Another area of testing in which problems with accommodations have developed is the General Educational Development (GED) test, the alternative path to completion of high school. Doris Willoughby, a renowned author of books and articles on the education of blind children, addressed this issue in resolution 2000‑25. The GED test regulations illegally prohibit the use of a live reader to read test questions. A second problem is that there is some indication that the test will not be available in Braille when it is revised. In resolution 2000‑25 we call upon the American Council on Education to administer the GED test in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The last education issue that the convention dealt with by resolution was the role of disabled student services offices on university campuses. The two sponsors of this resolution, 2000‑31, have direct knowledge of the problems: Shawn Mayo is President of the National Association of Blind Students, and Jim Marks directs a disabled student services program in Montana. The resolution states that: “This organization urges the Association on Higher Education and Disability and the U. S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to join with it in developing and publishing a guideline and best-practice model for accommodating blind students in higher education to maximize learning and eliminate the unnecessary, unintentional, and widespread fostering of dependency now occurring on America’s college campuses.”
Although not directly an education issue in that it impacts both blind adults and blind children, resolution 2000-36, proposed by Kristen Cox, NFB Associate Director of Governmental Affairs, concerns orientation and mobility services. In this resolution we call upon all state and local education agencies to refrain from recognizing certification by AER or by the Academy for the Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals in determining qualifications for orientation and mobility instructors.
Here are the full texts of these resolutions:
Students and Standardized,
WHEREAS, a high-quality education is essential in order to compete for jobs, participate in community life, and sustain economic independence; and
WHEREAS, Congress recognized the right of individuals with disabilities to receive a free, appropriate public education by enacting the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which requires individualized plans of instruction to meet the particular needs of each disabled student but does not always put in place efficient systems to meet those needs; and
WHEREAS, despite IDEA, the lack of accessible instructional materials is still a barrier to a high-quality education for blind students, largely due to the labor-intensive and costly process of converting texts and other materials into accessible formats such as Braille when the conversion must be done by hand; and
WHEREAS, this conversion process could be streamlined significantly to reduce the burdens of both time and cost currently placed on local school districts if publishers of textbooks would promptly furnish an electronic version of each textbook that could then be converted into specialized formats for blind children; and
WHEREAS, some states have enacted legislation to address this need by requiring publishers to provide an electronic version of materials to education agencies when such agencies purchase print editions for sighted students, but this state-by-state approach does not address the needs of all blind children covered by IDEA since publishers do not often furnish electronic texts in states not requiring them to do so; and
WHEREAS, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) acknowledges that providing electronic text to support conversion of instructional materials into specialized formats for the blind is part of the responsibility of publishers; however, in spite of expressed good intentions, this responsibility is not being met voluntarily: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2000, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon Congress to turn the promise of IDEA into the reality of books for our nation’s blind children by enacting legislation to compel publishers to provide usable electronic versions of textbooks purchased for sighted children to school districts serving blind children.
WHEREAS, standards-based reform has dramatically increased the prevalence of high-stakes proficiency and accountability tests in school systems across the country; and
WHEREAS, preparation for these tests consumes a significant portion of classroom instructional time; and
WHEREAS, results of these tests may determine the type of diploma a student receives upon graduation; and
WHEREAS, the loss of vision alone in no way impairs the capacity of a student to meet or exceed the academic standards set for his or her non-disabled peers; and
WHEREAS, if students who are blind or visually impaired are not present during test-preparation instructional time, they will not benefit from the knowledge gained during these instructional periods, an all-too-common practice since teachers send the blind student out for Braille or mobility lessons while other students study for the test; and
WHEREAS, equally unfortunate is the common failure to provide blind and visually impaired students with study materials, survey tests, and practice tests in the appropriate alternative medium so that these students can prepare for high-stakes tests on an equal basis with non-disabled peers; and
WHEREAS, without the educational or credentialed background that proper instruction and testing with appropriate alternative media and IEP-based accommodations could have provided for them, these students will transition into the workplace with enormous, if not insurmountable, disadvantages; and
WHEREAS, IDEA requires that students with disabilities must be included in all district and statewide assessments; and
WHEREAS, IDEA further requires that students with disabilities have access to the regular education curriculum; and
WHEREAS, state departments of education bear a significant responsibility for implementing policies in their states to assure that blind and visually impaired students receive a free and appropriate education under the provisions of IDEA; Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2000, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization strongly urge state departments of education to adopt and implement statewide policies that will require blind and visually impaired students to receive the full range of instruction, support, and materials available to their sighted peers in the process of preparing for state-required, high-stakes proficiency or accountability tests; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly urge state departments of education to adopt policies which insure the right of blind and visually impaired students to pursue and earn a standard high school diploma, to the extent to which their abilities enable them.
WHEREAS, performance on proficiency and accountability tests is often used to determine student placement and advancement, and the use and reliance on such tests for students in grades one through twelve is growing year by year around the country; and
WHEREAS, many students who are legally blind must by law participate in these examinations; and
WHEREAS, too often the materials on these tests, particularly the tests for students in lower grades, is highly visually oriented and extremely difficult, or sometimes impossible, to adapt to a nonvisual format for students who are legally blind; and
WHEREAS, the education, placement, and advancement of blind and visually impaired students is negatively affected when the test items on proficiency and accountability examinations are not susceptible of being properly adapted; and
WHEREAS, this problem could be avoided and test items perfected which are easily adapted to alternative formats if the tests were developed from the ground up with the idea that they will necessarily be administered in nonvisual formats to students without vision; and
WHEREAS, the lack of standards for production of visual graphs and charts in alternative, nonvisual formats can also negatively affect the performance of blind and visually impaired students on such exams; and
WHEREAS, state departments of education bear a significant responsibility for implementing policies in their states to assure that blind and visually impaired students receive a free and appropriate education under the provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA); Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2000, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization strongly urge state departments of education to adopt policies compelling all developers of standardized educational tests within their borders to consult with professionals in the field of blindness and persons who are blind in the development of proficiency and accountability tests so that any tests which are adopted for use by the state can be readily and appropriately adapted in nonvisual formats for blind and visually impaired students; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge state departments of education to consult with professionals and persons who are blind to establish standards for production of graphical material in alternative formats.
WHEREAS, The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) establishes as the fundamental tool for guiding the education of a student receiving special services the IEP (Individualized Education Program), a document periodically prepared and updated by all those most familiar with and responsible for the education of the student (parents, teachers, administrators, and the student); and
WHEREAS, no special education or related services can be provided to such a student without a valid IEP in effect nor can any such services not specified in the IEP be provided to the student; and
WHEREAS, the accommodations and methods specified on the IEP have been determined to be the most appropriate for that particular blind or visually impaired student, a determination having the force of federal law since all special education and related services must be defined and delivered through the IEP process; and
WHEREAS, state-required proficiency or accountability tests are becoming increasingly common in school systems across the country; and
WHEREAS, these tests are often the deciding factor in determining whether a student may graduate and get a high school diploma or pass on to the next grade or educational level; and
WHEREAS, in some instances problems have arisen concerning the medium in which a test should be administered to a blind or visually impaired student when policies by state departments of education conflict with the IEP team’s authority to determine appropriate test-taking methods and accommodations for that student; and
WHEREAS, instances have arisen in which a blind or visually impaired student is required to take a proficiency test in a medium (such as Braille) in which the student is not yet fluent due to recent sight loss—a situation which forces the student to take a high-stakes test without proper skills due to no fault of his or her own and contrary to the dictates of the student’s IEP in effect at the time; and
WHEREAS, other instances have arisen in which state officials refuse to produce a test in Braille when the IEP team has provided for all instruction and testing in Braille, a situation in which the student is unfairly subjected to high-stakes testing in a medium contrary to the IEP and in which the student is not fluent; and
WHEREAS, state departments of education bear a significant responsibility for implementing policies in their states to assure that blind and visually impaired students receive a free and appropriate education under the provisions of IDEA: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2000, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization demand that state departments of education establish policies which acknowledge and defer to the authority of the blind or visually impaired student’s IEP team in the selection of appropriate accommodations and methods for all tests, including all state-required proficiency and accountability examinations.
The General Educational
Development (GED) Test
and Blind Individuals
WHEREAS, the certificate of General Educational Development (GED) is offered in all fifty states as the alternative path to high school completion, essential for vocational preparation and success; and
WHEREAS, one-half million people per year achieve this important goal by passing a five-part standardized test; and
WHEREAS, among these test-takers are blind men and women seeking a high school equivalency certificate along their personal path to growth and development; and
WHEREAS, the GED Testing Service of the American Council on Education produces this test and issues the regulations for its administration, including regulations that provide for use of large print, Braille, and taped versions of the test and for use of a live scribe to write down answers during administration of the test to blind test-takers; and
WHEREAS, the GED regulations puzzlingly and illegally prohibit the use of a live reader to read the questions even though this is a standard method for taking tests by the blind, used in the administration of every other standardized test in this country; and
WHEREAS, this prohibition is totally unacceptable, placing an unnecessary and unlawful stumbling block in the path of blind persons taking the personal responsibility of doing their best to better their condition and is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and its implementing regulations; and
WHEREAS, the next revision of the test (projected for the year 2001) is expected to rely much more on graphics than the current version does, making it more likely that more blind test-takers will wish to choose live readers since providing effective graphics in Braille and on tape is an inexact science; and
WHEREAS, despite the fact that modern technology has made Braille easy to produce, there is some indication that the test will not continue to be provided in Braille: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2000, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon the American Council on Education to administer the GED in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, including the amendment of its regulations where necessary, to ensure that all blind test-takers have and continue to have their choice among all of the four standard media routinely used by blind persons to access standardized tests: large print, Braille, tape, and live reader.
WHEREAS, history demonstrates that blind students in higher education achieve success through self-reliance and mastery of the alternative skills and techniques of blindness; and
WHEREAS, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, has been misinterpreted to overemphasize the universally accessible learning environment and institutional management of legal liabilities, causing colleges to do for blind students what they are perfectly capable of doing for themselves; and
WHEREAS, in yet another misinterpretation of the ADA, state rehabilitation agencies for the blind dump many of their rehabilitative responsibilities on colleges in the mistaken assumption that the law requires colleges to be fully responsible for blind students, thus taking on aspects of rehabilitation; and
WHEREAS, the purpose of higher education is to provide an education and the purpose of rehabilitation agencies is to provide rehabilitation, which includes training as well as auxiliary aids and services such as funding for readers, purchasing adaptive equipment, and providing training in the alternative techniques of blindness; and
WHEREAS, no comprehensive guideline or best-practices model for accommodating blind students in higher education is available as a reference for colleges, rehabilitation agencies for the blind, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, and blind students, leading to overaccommodation and college imposition of unnecessary and unwanted custodial restrictions on blind students simply because the disability service staff are untrained and unaware of the capabilities of the blind, including their need to learn independence; and
WHEREAS, the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD), an organization of disability service providers in post-secondary education, has the ability and duty to participate in the publication and distribution of guidelines and best-practice models on how to accommodate blind college students: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2000, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call on state rehabilitation agencies for the blind to perform their duties of preparing blind students for college study and providing the necessary services for study in college; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge colleges to refrain from doing for blind students what blind students are capable of doing for themselves and to refrain from assuming responsibilities correctly borne by state rehabilitation agencies for the blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge the Association on Higher Education and Disability and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to join with it in developing and publishing a guideline and best-practice model for accommodating blind students in higher education to maximize learning and eliminate the unnecessary, unintentional, and widespread fostering of dependency now occurring on America’s college campuses.
Orientation and Mobility
WHEREAS, the 1997 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) added orientation and mobility to the list of related services available to students with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, orientation and mobility services must be provided by qualified personnel as determined by state and local education agencies; and
WHEREAS, the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) is actively encouraging state education agencies to include AER certification in its definition of who is qualified to provide orientation and mobility services and has been successful to this end in some states; and
WHEREAS, the AER certification process may provide instructors with the functional knowledge of cane travel techniques, but it does not provide either a constructive or an enlightened view of the capacity of the blind, which is the essential ingredient to successful and independent travel for the blind; and
WHEREAS, without a deep and firm understanding of the capacities of blind individuals, AER-certified instructors often convey a negative and limiting attitude about blindness to young blind students receiving orientation and mobility instruction under IDEA at a time when the child’s beliefs are being formed that will have lifelong consequences; and
WHEREAS, methods and standards are available to determine qualified orientation and mobility instructors other than AER certification which contain not only the functional knowledge of cane travel technique, but the important positive attitude about blindness: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2000, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon all state and local education agencies to refrain from recognizing certification by AER or that of its successor organization—the Academy for the Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals—in determining qualifications for orientation and mobility instructors; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon state education agencies to consult with the National Federation of the Blind when developing and implementing standards and requirements that will be applied to orientation and mobility instructors.
Climbing in Thin Air: An Interim Report
by Erik Weihenmayer
Reprinted from the October, 2000, issue of the Braille Monitor.
From the Braille Monitor Editor, Barbara Pierce: Those who attended the National Convention last July will remember the electricity that sparked through the hall on Friday morning when Erik Weihenmayer came to the platform to make his interim report about his experience climbing Ama Dablam, the mountain beside Everest in Nepal. As Erik explained to us at the 1999 convention, the purpose of this climb was to enable the team that will attempt Everest in the spring of 2001 to work together on a rugged Himalayan climb. They needed to learn about each other and to climb together in the difficult conditions that characterize the highest mountains in the world. The climb turned out to provide all the challenge the team could ever have wished for and then some. But as team leader Pasquale Scaturro told me following the climb, “After this experience on Ama Dablam I can safely say that this is the strongest team I have ever climbed with.”
Will the team reach the summit of Mt. Everest next May? There are no guarantees in the Himalayas. Certainly the team’s experience with the storms of 2000 on Ama Dablam demonstrates that Mother Nature and the mountain itself have a great deal to say about who succeeds in summiting and who does not. But according to Scaturro this team has a better chance than many of making it to the top of Everest, and Erik will be an integral part of the effort.
What follows is the text of Erik’s interim report to the NFB as he delivered it to the 2000 convention. This is what he said:
About four years ago I climbed a rock
face, a 3,300-foot rock face called El
Capitán, in Yosemite Valley in California. It was exciting. If we really compared our climbing ability, my friend Jeff, with whom I climbed, is probably a bit better climber than I am. But we topped out on this rock face, and Jeff’s head lamp was broken. Even though Jeff is a better climber than me by day, guess who was a better climber at night? We had to get down from this rock face. Just as the last bit of sun was setting on the mountain, Jeff looked at this book, and it said, “Do not try this descent in the dark; eight people died last year.” We were in trouble. I had to lead Jeff out of the mountains. I climbed below him, and I put his feet in these little holes on the rock face. He made little noises like “AAAH, AAAH, AAAH!” which I found quite amusing. Then when we got off the rocks, I kept us on the trail by feeling the packed dirt under my feet, just as I do during the day. I was a little nervous to be guiding Jeff, but I knew that in that situation I was the person for the job.
I think the powers-that-be, those great forces in the world, convince us as blind people that certain people are born to lead, that people who are the strongest and fastest and see the best are the leaders in the world. That is just not true. We know that as blind people we can be leaders just like anyone else. We know that the only qualities we really need to be leaders are a little bit of skill and a lot of courage. We know that the best way to lead is to get out there and, as climbers say, “Take the sharp end of the rope and lead by our example.”
The National Federation of the Blind is sponsoring a couple of climbs: a climb to Ama Dablam in the Himalayas and a climb of Mt. Everest. We just got back from Ama Dablam, which was a practice climb. We chose the spots for these climbs for a couple of reasons. One, because for some reason when a blind person hangs by his finger tips off an ice face or a thousand feet off the ground, it gets a lot of attention. Because of that, climbing is a wonderful platform for talking about blindness, talking about the issues of blindness—the story of blindness, the wonderful work that the National Federation of the Blind does—and a platform to make the NFB sort of a household word among the population at large. As Dr. Maurer put it so well, “To attach blindness to a sense of adventure”; I like that one the best. We can also begin to pass on leadership, and I think that for me is an incredible legacy.
Erik Weihenmayer on the mountain.
As I say, Mt. Everest is the highest peak in the world, 29,035 feet, but it will take us conservatively about nine days to get to base camp. It’s a long, rocky trail up to base camp at 17,800 feet. We’ll take yaks for our gear. You can’t climb mountains like Everest outright; you can’t just go straight up it. From base camp it’ll take us between a month and two months to get to the top, weather and health permitting. If you just drop a person off at the summit of Mt. Everest via helicopter, within thirty seconds you pass out, and within another thirty seconds you’d be dead. That’s because at the top of Mt. Everest there is only about a third of the oxygen that we have at sea level. So you have to acclimatize; you have to climb the mountain slowly; you’re shuttling up the mountain through the succession of camps, getting a little bit higher and a little bit higher, convincing your body that it can breathe less and less oxygen, that it can survive up there in what they call the death zone.
I believe that as a climber and in life that your contributions to a team need to outweigh the accommodations that are being made for you. That’s why, when I’m climbing and I go to sleep each night in my tent, I want to be able to point to a few things that I’ve done that day that have contributed to the team’s success, like building snow walls or setting up tents or carrying just as much weight as everyone else. I never wanted to be just a token; I wanted really to contribute to the team.
One of the accommodations made to me as a climber in climbing Mt. Everest will be communication. My sighted teammates—I will have nine strong Himalayan climbers with me, none of whom is a paid guide; we’re all just friends—but they will communicate with me, tell me terrain changes, tell me whether we’re on a steep ridge, whether we’re climbing up over a big rock and down the other side. I’ll need to know those kinds of things. Because at 25,000 feet you start going on bottled oxygen, you cannot communicate in the oxygen mask. It restricts you from talking, so we’ll have to create some microphones inside our oxygen masks that will enable my team to communicate back and forth.
We’ll wake up on summit day about 11:00 at night, and we could summit anywhere from 10:00 in the morning until 1:00 in the afternoon. Mt. Everest has pretty bad storms usually most afternoons, so you want to be down off the mountain as soon as possible and back safely in your tent. Some of you know the story, Into Thin Air, in which some people got stuck out in those afternoon storms and got into some trouble.
We just got back from Ama Dablam. Ama Dablam is right next to Mt. Everest. It’s almost 23,000 feet. It’s much more steep and technical than Mt. Everest. Mt. Everest is basically a snow slope, which takes you to the top with some periodic rock. Ama Dablam is a very steep rock face. The Sherpa people, who are the local people, call Ama Dablam the mother’s jewel box, because of the mother, the goddess of the Himalayas, and the jewel box, a giant hanging glacier that you have to climb up and over to summit the peak.
We started out on this trail; it took us about six days to get to base camp. Some interesting things happened along the way. Number one, my friend Chris and my other teammates, they hike in front of me wearing a bell—I stick a bear bell to their pack and one to their ice ax so I can hear them jingling in front of me. But the yaks going up Ama Dablam and Mt. Everest also have these same kind of bells jingling from their necks, so the Sherpa people thought we were these strange yak people from the west because we were jingling along the trail. They thought it was really strange. They would point and say, “Yak man, yak man.”
Second, because I have a reasonable amount of skill using my long trekking poles and hiking and I’m not tripping and stumbling, a lot of the Sherpa people, the local people of the region, started feeling like I was cheating, like I wasn’t really blind—maybe I could see a little bit, and I was there trying to get attention or something like that. This rumor got around among the women in the market place that I could really see, so they waved their hands in front of my face to test me. I would feel the wind from their hands, so I would flinch, and they would say, “See that proves it, he can see.”
I didn’t know what to do. This was becoming a real problem because everyone was telling me, “We think you can see.” Part of the point was that I was blind, and I wanted them to know that. So I thought, okay I am reduced to drastic measures. I didn’t know what else to do. I don’t want to gross anyone out, but I lost my eyes a few years back to glaucoma, so guess what I had to do to prove to the Sherpas that I was actually blind? Well I proved it to him. He was a little grossed out, but when he left the room, he was thoroughly convinced. The head Sherpa passed it on to the rest of the Sherpas. He said, “He is blind; there is no doubt about it.”
I think sometimes as blind people we are reduced to drastic measures to prove to the sighted world, whether it’s in this culture or the Sherpa culture, that, even though we are blind, we can do the job. We can do it successfully.
When we got to our base camp at 16,000 feet on Ama Dablam, we started working our way up the mountain. We had to cross a giant boulder field. The upper mountain is so steep that rock pours off it, and it creates this giant hodgepodge of boulders that you have to leap across. There can be big gaps between them. Sometimes there are boulders up on a ridge where you don’t want to fall off the sides. They are very uneven; there is no rhyme or reason to them. Boulder fields do not meet Americans-with-Disabilities-Act requirements. It’s a blind person’s nightmare for sure. Actually, if I was really mean and I really hated a blind person, I would stick him in the middle of a boulder field.
We had to get across this boulder field. There wasn’t any easy way, but we kind of trudged across it, and we got over it. At 19,000 feet we met the steepest part of the climb, a vertical thousand-foot rock base, climbing it to almost 21,000 feet with heavy gloves and plastic boots. It was really beautiful climbing. We got to over 21,000 feet, and at that point we were stopped by weather. The monsoons were coming in from the south earlier and earlier every day, blasting us with horizontal snow and huge wind and freezing weather. All the rocks were piled up with snow, and ice covered over our ropes so it was difficult to rappel off them. We tried to get a little bit higher. Rocks and ice were pelting our helmets. It was very dangerous, and we decided this is really a practice climb. The point isn’t to summit this peak—it’s to get prepared for Mt. Everest, so we decided to turn back.
We came down the mountain. We had to cross down over those vertical sections and across about a thirty-foot traverse with no footholds that we nicknamed Abject Terror, because there’s about 5,000 feet of air under your feet, and you are hanging off these old ropes, and your feet are just slipping on the rocks. It’s really terrifying.
I had spent eight days at 21,000 feet with my friend Eric Alexander. This climb was being covered by Quokka.com, giving the NFB lots of publicity. When we were at 19,000 feet, they reported that Eric—and this was true—that one of our climbers had slipped and fallen 150 feet. That was not me; it was my friend Eric. Luckily he landed on a tiny ledge. He had on a pack that saved his spine. He had a helmet that saved his head. It was a real miracle. He climbed his way back up through slab rocks, and soon after that he went into shock. He got pulmonary edema, where his lungs filled up with fluid and the oxygen in his blood went down to forty percent, which is really bad, near death. So Steve Gipe, our doctor, brought him all the way down through the boulder fields to base camp.
At the same time, our teammates who were down at camp one climbed all the way back up the mountain, crossed Abject Terror, and helped us carry loads down the mountain. About ten o’clock at night, after coming down in this twelve-hour storm, we all came into base camp together. We met Eric and the doctor down there. It occurred to me that, if we had summited Ama Dablam in perfect, beautiful weather, we wouldn’t necessarily have proven what we went there to do, which was to find and prove our strength as a team. But we did, and I think that meeting such adversity and bad weather on this climb enabled us to find our strength as a team, to find the very best qualities within us. I saw it as a very positive training and preparation experience. Eric, by the way, got helicoptered off the mountain, out of base camp that next day, and he is recovering safely in Colorado now.
We are excited to go up Mt. Everest next year. We’re ready, we’ll be honed physically and mentally, and we are accustomed to the region now and the people. We’ll make a really good team as we climb Everest. I think the most beautiful legacy of this climb will be in the way that we pass leadership down to other people, especially young people. I have a friend named Steve Akerman. He’s a partial quadriplegic; he pedals his hand cycle, using just the power of his arms. He pedaled his bike around the world. It took him almost ten months. He went through eighteen countries. At the end of his ride he said to a group of people who had gathered to watch him come into Washington, D.C., “The word encourage is the most powerful word in the English language—to give people the courage to do great things by our own example of doing great things.”
I think that is so powerful because this climb can go a little way in helping blind people in particular to live their lives as they see fit, to make their own rules, to build their own parameters, to shatter perceptions, to blow through stereotypes, and to throw out the sighted world’s expectations and rise to the level of our own internal potential. If I can be a part of that through this climb, then I’m very proud. I’m also proud to be part of the National Federation of the Blind. I think it is appropriate that the NFB, the most powerful blindness organization in the world, is climbing the highest mountain in the world—a perfect match.
• Learn more about Erik Weihenmayer
• Follow the NFB 2001 Everest Expedition
on its historic climb
Research and Training
Institute for the Blind
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), America’s oldest and largest organization of the blind, is conducting a Capital Campaign to the build the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind (NRTIB). The new five-story, 170,000-square-foot building will be connected to the present 200,000-square-foot National Center for the Blind which houses NFB’s national headquarters located in Baltimore, Maryland.
• The Institute will be the center of technological advancement for the blind. Along with development and promotion of adaptive technology, training will be provided to ensure that the blind move smoothly with their sighted peers into the emerging technological age and do not become casualties of the “digital divide.”
• Statistics show that the current outlook for the 57,000 blind children growing up in this country is one of substandard education, social isolation, and probable unemployment. The NRTIB will identify the elements which characterize effective educational programs for blind children and implement research projects and services that will break down the barriers blind children face in reaching their full potential.
• Braille is crucial to literacy and future employment opportunities for blind and visually impaired children, yet, today, only 10 percent of legally blind children read Braille and more than 40 percent read neither Braille nor large print. There is also much needed in the way of upgrading the Braille skills of teachers of the blind and improving Braille production and Braille teaching technology. The National Research and Training Institute will be the center of a growing Braille Literacy Initiative that will ensure that the progress led by the NFB to reverse Braille illiteracy continues and that Braille is recognized to be as important to blind children as print is to their sighted classmates.
• The National Research and Training Institute will bring together knowledgeable professionals who will design materials and develop training programs to assist state and local agencies in helping blind and visually impaired seniors remain independent and continue to participate in the activities they hope for in their retirement years.
• The new National Research and Training Institute will be the center for research, demonstrations, and job-development partnerships with private industry. These partnerships in combination with successful employment preparation programs will create national momentum toward the full employment of the blind.
The projected construction cost of the Institute is eighteen million dollars. Your pledge can help us Change What It Means to be Blind.
For more information contact the
National Federation of the Blind
The Campaign To Change What It Means To Be Blind
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