(contents)

Future Reflections

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

Vol. 25, No. 2    Summer 2006

Barbara Cheadle, Editor

 

    ISSN-0883-3419

 

                                          

CONTENTS
                                         

Vol. 25, No. 2    Summer 2006

 

FEATURES

Speaking of Gratitude: Givers of Freedom and Creators of Opportunity
by Tonia Valletta Trapp

Overcoming Two Obstacles: Technology for Students who are Deaf-Blind
by Meenakshi Pasupathy

The only way signing can kill us
by John Lee Clark


PARENT POWER

Are We There Yet?
by Carrie Gilmer

OUR KIDS

Blind Kids in Sports—Focus on Golf
by Christina Zani

Sending A Shout Out
Glasgow students earn ham radio licenses, talk with the world


TECH TALK

The Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader:
The Revolution is Here!
by James Gashel

EARLY YEARS

Connecting with Jimmy
by Sue Elan Holmes

Technology and Life Skills
A Beginner’s Guide to Access Technology for Blind Students: Part Two
by Mike Tindell

BRAILLE

Braille Readers are Leaders Wraps-up Another Great Year!
by Courtney Lawrence

Braille Slate Pals


BOOK REVIEW

Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius
A review by Paula Kimbrough

Making It Work: Educating the Blind/Visually Impaired Student in the Regular Classroom
A review by Deborah Kent Stein

TRAVEL/O & M

Soaring Through Fear
by Merry-Noel Chamberlain

My Cane
by John Lee Clark

The Guide Dog Experience
by Dana Ard

LAWS & LEGISLATION

My Right To Vote
by Barbara Pierce

New Brochure About Braille Requirements in the Law

LOW VISION

What Do You Mean, You’re “Blind”?
Thought Provoker 101
by Robert Leslie Newman


BLIND HEROS AND ROLE MODELS

United We Stand
by Hannah Lindner and Barbara Loos

What is the National Center for Mentoring Excellence Program?
by Amy Phelps, Coordinator

Seeing the Value of Giving

Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

 

Speaking of Gratitude:
Givers of Freedom and Creators of Opportunity

by Tonia Valletta Trapp

Editor’ note: Do you ever wonder what your children will say about you and what you tried to do for them while they were growing up? What will they remember with fondness? For what will they be grateful? In their judgment, will the good choices we made outweigh the poor ones? We can only strive to do the best we can with the information and resources we have available. And one resource parents can tap, through the National Federation of the Blind, is the thoughtful reflections of blind adults who are willing to share with us their childhood experiences. Tonia Trapp is such a resource. A leader in the New Mexico affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind, Trapp delivered the following speech at the New Mexico state conference of the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AERBVI) on February 26, 2004. Shortly thereafter it was published in the April 2004 issue of the NFB magazine, the Braille Monitor. Here is what Tonia has to say:

One of the most difficult tasks we face as human beings is the challenge of developing an honest and realistic view of who we are: our strengths, our weaknesses, our talents, our shortfalls, our achievements. Growing up as a totally blind person has made that challenge a little more difficult for me than it would have been otherwise. Back in Virginia my mother has a drawer full of newspaper clippings in which various journalists wrote that I was amazing or outstanding because of my achievements as a blind person. Of course such notions are ridiculous, but they do offer a useful way to introduce the question I hope to answer for you tonight: How did I get to be who I am today?

As I’ve gotten older and hopefully wiser, I have come to the realization that who I have become has a little to do with me but has much more to do with the influences that other people have had in my life and the many opportunities that others have helped me to reach for. I feel an increasing wish to tell those people how much I appreciate all that they did for me. So tonight I will indulge in telling you about some of those people in my life. I know that each of you is influential in the lives of blind people, so I want you to know how essential you are and how much your influence matters.

I will start by telling you about the people who have naturally had the most influence on me, my parents. I became totally blind by the age of two because of bilateral retinoblastoma. So all of a sudden my parents were plunged into a new and frightening situation. They had to decide what to do with their blind child. At that point my parents made the decision that has had the greatest impact on my future, the most important decision they ever made for me. They decided that they wanted me to live a normal life, to do and experience all the things that children without disabilities experience. They let me explore my surroundings. They taught me how to swim, how to run, how to ride a bicycle, and how to dance. They let me play with neighborhood children at their houses, in the woods, and in our swimming pool. They let me go sledding and ice skating and roller skating and canoeing and horseback riding. They signed me up for Girl Scouts, choral society, and summer camp.

Were my parents taking a risk by giving me such freedom? Of course. And I did have my share of mishaps. I remember when my parents were teaching me how to ride a bicycle, and they took my brother and me to the empty parking lot at my elementary school to practice. My bike did not have handbrakes; to use the brakes, you had to pedal backwards. I remember one time I was riding my bike straight ahead, and my dad yelled, “Brake! Brake!” but I did not respond fast enough, so I rode straight into a chainlink fence and cut the bridge of my nose. No big deal. Then there was the time I went to a friend’s party at a roller-skating rink. I was skating along when I lost my balance and fell. I put my right hand down to catch myself, and I fractured my wrist.

The most serious injury I sustained happened on the first day of practice after I joined my school gymnastics team in the sixth grade. I was doing a move on the uneven bars, and we had a miscommunication about the location of the crashpad, a soft, squishy mat about eight inches thick, used to cushion landings. When I came flying off the low-bar and landed on a much thinner mat, I had too much momentum going, so I fell forward and put down my left hand to catch myself, breaking my arm.

You’re probably thinking, weren’t my parents afraid to let me do all those things? Of course they were. But did they allow their fears to hold me back? Not at all. My parents had the courage to let me live. I can never thank them enough for that. I have many memories of happiness and fun from my childhood because of them.

One of the things that my mother has always done extremely well is to inspire my curiosity about the world by encouraging me to examine things tactilely. She would show me sculptures that were reachable in museums and as decorations outdoors. Even today, when we go shopping, she picks up objects she thinks I would find interesting and hands them to me. When the architecture of a building is tactile, she points that out to me so I can enjoy it. When she came to visit me here a few years ago, she showed me the nifty carved wood on the front door of the Gardunos restaurant we took my family to.

In college I had a friend who worked at a science museum, and he took me there once for an insider’s view. I particularly remember two things he showed me. When we got to the museum, he told me to hold out my hands like a cup because he was going to put something into them. So I did what he asked, and he poured a bunch of fleshy things into my hands. I had no idea what they were. Then the objects in my hands all began to wriggle and squirm like mad, and I exclaimed to my friend, “What in the world is this?” He laughed and said that he had just given me a handful of worms.

The other thing I remember him showing me was a baby alligator. For some reason I especially like alligators. My friend had to remove the baby alligator very carefully from his domicile, using one hand to clamp the animal’s mouth shut so it could not bite. I had a fast feel over the alligator’s body because my friend had to put him back quickly. How nifty that was! I was excited to be able to touch that alligator, even briefly.

One of the most fabulous adventures I had in curiosity came about because of an administrator at one of the museums in Washington, D.C., who invited me on a personal, hands-on tour of a part of the museum not open to the public, but reserved for older students doing scientific research. In this area nothing was behind glass. Everything could be touched and carefully handled. I got to see all kinds of biological things like bones, preserved animals, fossils, insects, and lots of other cool stuff. I am sure that having my curiosity piqued in this way had something to do with my desire to learn and to know more about the world.

Several teachers played key roles in my development as well. One of these was my teacher Ms. Schlosberg at Camp Adventure, the private preschool I attended in Tucson, Arizona. Ms. Schlosberg took a special interest in me. Shortly before my family left Arizona to move to Virginia, she gave me a doll that she had sewn together herself. Other staff at my preschool took interest in me too. I remember them introducing me to the trapeze and showing me how to sit and swing on one.

When we moved to Virginia, my parents had to convince our local public school to admit me as a kindergarten student. They did not know a lot about the Education of All Handicapped Children Act that had been passed a few years before, so they decided to approach the problem practically. They suggested to the principal of my neighborhood school that I spend a day in one of their kindergarten classes so that the teacher could observe me. That was done. My parents had taught me my ABCs and numbers and so on, so I was able to convince the school that I was a child with some intelligence. I was admitted as a kindergarten student, and I attended public school from that point forward. I still remember my very first VI teacher, Ms. Wildberger, who taught me Braille. Of all my VI teachers, I remember her most fondly.

I have always been a rather ambitious person. My mother remembers that, when I was in kindergarten, I was walking along with some friends, and I turned to them and said, “So where do you want to go to college?” Then I told them that I was planning to go to Harvard. For a long time I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. My VI teachers spurred me on by introducing me to blind adults who had jobs and were supporting themselves as lawyers, radio announcers, engineers, and so on. I was also given chances to meet with adult blind women and ask them questions about how they did things like cooking, matching their clothes, and shopping. Actually I seem to recall that my mother asked most of the questions because I got bored quickly and wanted to do something else. But one way or another, the invaluable wisdom of those blind women was passed on to me.

When I was about ten, my VI teacher taught me how to type. I despised having to practice typing; it was awful! But it sure came in handy later. This same teacher introduced me to my first computer, the Apple 2-E, with a speech synthesizer called the Echo. I even got to take a computer home one summer and play games on it. Computers were just beginning to be popular back then, so I am very glad that my VI teachers had the wisdom to teach me how to use them.

Some of my classroom teachers went out of their way to nurture and encourage me too, like my third-grade teacher Mrs. Burgess, who encouraged me to write. She also took me to the circus for the first time. I remember my eighth-grade teacher, Mrs. Swaim, who made sure I knew that I had great value in her eyes, and my high school AP biology teacher Mr. Sane, who gave me individual attention to ensure that I could participate in labs and learn as much as possible. Then there was Dr. Aday, who taught me criminology when I took two summer classes at my college before starting my freshman year. Dr. Aday called me a few years later to suggest that I apply for a Truman Scholarship, which I had never heard of before.

Because of the support I received from all of my teachers and because of the strong work ethic I inherited from my parents, I earned mostly A’s in school, had the privilege of attending a high school for gifted students, and eventually won scholarships from the College of William and Mary, the Truman Foundation, the NFB, and several other groups. Together with support from the Virginia rehabilitation agency for the blind, those scholarships paid my way through my three-and-a-half years of college and two years of graduate school so that, when I completed my master’s degree in social work in 1998, I had no debts to pay back. I know that I was very blessed to be supported so generously.

I would not want you to think that I have forgotten about my mobility teachers. I remember my first O and M teacher, Mrs. Woolsten. She taught me how to use my cane to travel around my elementary school and other places. Other instructors like her taught me how to navigate busy streets, stores, and college campuses. They taught me how to use taxis, buses, and the subway system. Thanks to them I was never afraid to go where I wanted to by myself, whether that was Washington, D.C., for summer internships and volunteering, or Williamsburg for college, or Chapel Hill for graduate school, or Europe for swimming competitions.

Speaking of swimming, let me tell you about the people who helped me become an athlete. My first and most favorite sport is gymnastics. My mom likes to tell how she knew early on that I would be athletic. When she was pregnant with me, she sometimes felt my little fingers grasping her ribs as though I were trying to climb them like a ladder. She tells this other story about how, when I was about three, I was standing on a stool in the kitchen. Mom looked away for a second, and when she looked back, she was just in time to see me leap from the stool and do a flip, landing upright on the floor. So my parents put me into gymnastics lessons in my preschool years in Arizona.

Then we moved to Virginia, and I began elementary school. Sometime during my first two or three years there, my PE teacher Mrs. Hurst, noticed that I greatly enjoyed swinging around on the playground equipment. She wanted to encourage my athletic ability, and she wanted me to be safe, so she suggested to my parents that I stay after school sometimes so that she could teach me more gymnastics. When she had taught me all she could, my parents took me to a private gymnastics club run by Mr. and Mrs. Roltsch, who had never worked with a blind child before. They decided to give me a test run to see what I could do and to see if I would be fearful or timid as an athlete. They soon learned that the answer was “no,” so they took me on as a pupil.

My gymnastics teachers came up with some creative and useful ways of teaching me. To show me how to do a cartwheel, they used a doll to demonstrate what the movement should look like, which worked very well. It would have been difficult to grasp the concept without such a tactile model. Then when I needed to learn how to do cartwheels in a straight line, my coaches showed me a crack where two mats joined, and they told me to practice doing the cartwheels along that crack in the mats.

My favorite gymnastics event was the uneven bars. To show me how to do certain moves on the bars, my coach would call over one of the more experienced gymnasts and ask her to do that move. He would stop her at strategic points during the move and ask me to feel the position of her body so I could see what I needed to be doing.

The last creative teaching method I will tell you about had to do with my floor-exercise routine. I needed to follow a particular geometric pattern as I did the routine. In one of my routines part of the pattern involved making ninety-degree turns and moving along the square area of the spring-floor, which was no problem. But at one point I needed to move on the diagonal. To facilitate that, my coaches put the tape recorder that played the music for my routine at a particular corner of the spring floor so that I could move toward the music and thereby cross the floor diagonally. This method, like all the others, worked quite well.

I competed in gymnastics with my sighted peers, where I did especially well on the uneven bars. In the spring of 1985 I went to my first United States Association for Blind Athletes (USABA) national competition for blind gymnasts in Trenton, New Jersey, where I won four gold medals and one silver.

But when I broke my arm in the sixth grade just after joining the school gymnastics team, I faced a new challenge. Of course I had to give up gymnastics long enough for my arm to heal. Then I resumed my private gymnastics lessons. My coach took me to the uneven bars and asked me to do a move very similar to the one I had been doing at school when I broke my arm. The move was called a soul circle. It involved swinging around the low bar and letting go of the bar to land on the mat. I was afraid to do what my coach asked. I would perch on the low bar, do a preparatory movement that would set me up for the soul circle, then stop. I repeated that sequence over and over, too afraid to follow through. My coach waited patiently, lesson after lesson. He knew I was afraid, but he kept asking me to do the soul circle. He understood that it was crucial that I conquer my fear. And eventually I did. And I continued to compete as a gymnast.

In the spring of 1987, when I came here to Albuquerque to compete again as a blind gymnast in the USABA games, the coach of the national blind swim team happened to see me perform. He approached my parents and explained that, if I were interested in becoming a competitive swimmer, I could compete, not just nationally, but internationally as a blind athlete. So I decided in the seventh grade to take swimming lessons. Then, when I was in the eighth grade, my swim coach decided it was time for more serious training to bring me up to the level where I could join a sighted swim team and compete at that level. During that year I had three swim coaches, who worked with me to get me into shape.

I joined a sighted swim team, and in the spring of 1988 I swam in the USABA games in Indianapolis, where I set six national swimming records and was picked to be on the national blind swimming team going to Seoul, Korea, that fall for the Paralympic Games. For those of you who may not know, the Paralympics is the Olympics for the physically disabled, including people with vision impairments and various kinds of paralysis. At age fourteen I was the youngest American athlete to go to Seoul that year, which was a bit daunting. I was fortunate to be a member of two relay teams that set world records and won gold medals for two swimming events in Korea. Over the next two years I got to go to Holland, England, and France to compete in other competitions for blind swimmers. I also competed as a part of several sighted swim teams, including my high school team.

Now I have told you about some of the people who have been critical to my accomplishments. But I would be remiss if I did not tell you that I could not have come this far without God in my life. God has always sent me encouragers when I needed them most, people who poured their kindness and strength into me so that I could keep up a good fight and keep pressing forward. It would take me a long time to list all of the encouragers who have helped me along the way.

I have much to be grateful for: a wonderful husband and a very happy marriage, good friends; a job I enjoy; a comfortable, cozy house that I like to come home to; and groups and activities that I enjoy participating in. In a nutshell, I am living the kind of life that my parents envisioned for me long ago. But that does not make me amazing. All my accomplishments do not make me amazing. I am a person with some intelligence, some athletic ability, some tenacity, and some courage. But my abilities would have lain dormant and untapped if my parents, teachers, friends, and other people had not actively created opportunities for me to excel.

You too can be a creator of opportunity for a blind child or a blind adult. You can see the boundless potential that blind people have, and you have the power to harness that potential and channel it into great and small accomplishments. I could not have achieved all that I have without the help of many people just like you. You can help shape the lives of blind people into the exquisite works of art they were meant to become. I challenge you to use every such opportunity that you can find.

 

Overcoming Two Obstacles:
Technology for students who are deaf-blind

by Meenakshi Pasupathy

Reprinted from TECH-NJ 2006 Assistive Technology for People with Disabilities, volume 17, number 1; a publication of The College of New Jersey, School of Education, Department of Special Education, Language, and Literacy.

Editor’s Note: The Gabrys (parents of Jon, the subject of the following article) are longtime, active members of the Parents of Blind Children of New Jersey (POBC-NJ). Kathy has served as secretary on the Board of POBC since the group’s inception and is the editor of The Sounding Board, the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey. The following article focuses on the technology Jon uses, but the key to Jon’s success encompasses much more than his technology. Jon developed a love for adventure during the years he spent with Joe Cutter as his orientation and mobility teacher. Now a high school student, Jon is comfortable and confident navigating not only the crowded halls in his high school or the bustling streets of New York City, but also the golf course, bowling alley, rock gym, and boxing ring. Here is what the TECH-NJ issue published about Jon and his use of technology in the classroom:

Jon is an amazing sixteen-year-old who is a sophomore at Mountain Lakes High School. He is very enthusiastic and creative, has an excellent memory, and enjoys a variety of extracurricular activities that defy expectations of people who are deaf-blind, including rock climbing, golf, boxing, bowling, and playing the drums. Jon is profoundly deaf in both ears and is legally blind with 20/400 acuity. He has been diagnosed with Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis, a genetic condition that is known to cause blindness. Because of his deafness, he attends the Lake Drive Program for students who are deaf/hard of hearing at Mountain Lakes High School. Jon is the only deaf-blind student in the program. To accommodate his blindness, the names of all rooms and facilities are marked in Braille.

Jon communicates using sign language and often relies on tactile signing, especially when he is unsure about the information presented or when he is tired. He began tactile signing when he was nine years old, at which time his language development took off. Jon’s inability to see compounded the problems he faced in acquiring language.

Jon currently takes courses in geometry, science, art, literature and English. He is in self-contained classes for everything except art and receives one-on-one instruction for his language classes. Jon enjoys art and is in his second year in a mainstream art class. His mother commented that “he is developing a style,” which could be noticed in the samples included in his portfolio, Jon would love to enroll in wood shop one day.

Jon’s Support Team
In addition to his classroom teachers, Jon is supported by an interdisciplinary team. The New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired provides an educational consultant, Ragan VanCampen, who visits Jon at school three times per week. He works one-on-one with a teacher of the deaf, Diane Hewitt, on his language and communication development. She also serves as his one-on-one teacher for literature and English classes and acts as his sign language interpreter in other classes. The Commission has hired Linda Aldrich, a certified Braille Transcriptionist who also happens to be an art teacher at the high school, to translate school-related material into Braille. The final member of his support team is his mother Kathy, who is actively involved in his education. His access to and effective use of assistive technology as well as the other excellent services that Jon receives, would not be possible without the concerted and coordinated efforts of these four individuals.

Early Intervention
Although he is blind, Jon is a very visual learner. He uses his limited vision extremely well, and his mother credits this ability to intensive, early intervention services when his brain was very young and malleable, Jon was enrolled in St. Joseph’s School for the Blind’s Early Intervention Program in Jersey City when he was fifteen months old. His mother reports that he had two phenomenal teachers whose skills in teaching young blind children helped establish all the right connections as his brain was developing. Ms. VanCampen described Jon as a “mixed media learner,” that is, he reads both print and Braille. Since his eyes fatigue quickly, Braille is his preferred medium.

Jon’s Technology Tools
Jon uses an array of devices to assist him in his education. When I visited him in his school, he cheerfully demonstrated them to me. He uses a BrailleNote (Humanware – www.pulsedata.com) which is an electronic note-taking device. The BrailleNote is available with a Braille keyboard (the BT version) or a QWERTY keyboard (QT version) for input. Jon uses the QT version which provides output in Braille, print, or speech. It runs on a Windows operating system. The device has a refreshable Braille display so that Jon can read his work in Braille even as he is inputting the information using the QWERTY keyboard. He can control the rate of the refreshable Braille display. Jon’s mother taught him keyboarding by placing Braille stickers on a regular keyboard. Jon is now a proficient typist.

A laptop computer is connected to the BrailleNote. The information Jon enters into the Braille-Note is displayed on the laptop screen so that the teacher can follow Jon’s work. The BrailleNote Jon was using during my visit was a loaner from the Commission because his device had been sent back to the manufacturer for repair. Although the loaner machine was more advanced, it posed certain problems. It frequently broke down because the software it was running was a beta version and was not very stable. Also, the USB ports were temperamental and did not allow printing on any of the family’s printers or the printer at school. The PCMCIA card that the loaner accepted was not compatible with Jon’s own device, which meant the books stored on his PCMCIA card that had been downloaded from Bookshare.org and the National Library Service (http://www.loc.gov/nls) were not accessible and had to be downloaded again.

Low-Tech to High-Tech
Jon also uses a manual Perkins Braillewriter . This device directly embosses the Braille code that is typed by the user. He most often uses this device when the focus is on learning Braille and its mechanics. When Ms. VanCampen started working with Jon about three years ago, he was using alphabet Braille, which does not include Braille contractions. Braille contractions provide a type of shorthand Braille where one Braille symbol represents a group of letters or perhaps even a word. Now, he uses contracted Braille and is familiar with the complete Literary Braille code. The Perkins Brailler is also used as a backup to the BrailleNote. When new vocabulary is introduced, Jon usually learns it in uncontracted Braille to verify and reaffirm the spelling, and then in the contracted form. Advancing to the contracted form is essential as most Braille books use this form and also because Braille, even in the contracted form, occupies six to seven pages for every page of print material [NOTE: This is a high estimate. Most authorities agree that the average is three Braille pages to one page of print.] Jon is now learning to use interpoint which is Braille embossed on both sides of a page. Ms. VanCampen foresees that Jon will soon start learning the Scientific and Nemeth Braille code as he progresses to higher levels in science and math, respectively.

Braille Production at School
A Braille production system is used at school. The system consists of a PC, scanner, Braille embosser and inkjet printer. The material that has to be converted into Braille is given to Ms. Aldrich at least five days ahead of time. She first scans the material using a HP Scan-jet 8200 scanner and then opens the file in MS Word so that she can edit and format it correctly. If it is not possible to scan, then she manually types the material into the computer. The material is then converted to Braille using Duxbury Braille translation software. The translated material is then “printed” as a Braille document using the Braille embosser. The embosser is placed in an adjoining closet as it is rather noisy and disturbing to others in the classroom.

A print version of the Braille document, along with the corresponding text, can also be printed on the Epson ink-jet printer that is connected to the PC. This enables a person who is not conversant in Braille to follow Jon’s reading. Ms. VanCampen hopes that in the future, with the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standards (NIMAS), all published material, including textbooks will be made available in accessible electronic format so that conversion to Braille will be seamless.

Large Display Scientific Calculator
Although Braille is his preferred reading medium, Jon also uses print material, especially for math. He uses a Sci-Plus, which is a large-display scientific calculator by Sight Enhancement Systems (www.sightenhancement.com). Jon also writes down information when he wishes to engage in conversation with non-Braille users. This proves sufficient when the conversation is short and simple, but can quickly become tedious. Jon also uses some low-tech devices such as darkline markers and white paper, hand-written and machine-generated large print, optical magnifiers, and binoculars. He also uses a graphite, folding mobility cane (Ambutech) to travel safely and confidently.

Magnification Tools
When Jon wants to use his vision to read he uses a video magnifier (a CCTV from Clarity Systems, <www.clarityusa.com>) which allows for 4-60x magnification. The model that he uses has a swivel camera and allows for distance viewing as well as near magnification. Jon is quite familiar with adjusting and setting up this equipment. The near magnification feature of the CCTV is used for reading material such as pictures, maps, and certain books that cannot be readily converted to Braille. Jon uses the distance magnification feature to see his teachers and classmates and to see materials such as posters or decorations placed at a distance. He also takes the system into the school auditorium for assemblies and school performances. He can focus the camera either on the speakers or the sign language interpreter on stage to enable him to follow and enjoy the performance. He usually has an interpreter by his side who can sign to him when the camera is focused on the stage.

Assistive Technology at Home
At home the smoke/fire alarm and Jon’s pager system use a tactile alerting system. For telephone service Jon uses a large print TTY (telecommunications device for the deaf.) His mother told me that when he was young Jon had used Tactaid (www.tactaid.com) for almost three years. A Tactaid can help a deaf person understand sounds by providing coded sound information through vibrators placed on the individual’s skin. However, the use of this device was discontinued because Jon found the constant vibration to be distracting and annoying, and he wasn’t deriving benefit from it.

Equipment Maintenance
Although Jon’s is a success story in the effective use of technology for the educational advancement of an individual with deaf-blindness, the access to technology and service has not always been readily available. Jon’s parents usually approach the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired for funding when they recognize that Jon needs new equipment. The Commission has a special fund for students who are deaf-blind which can usually be accessed. If the Commission rejects the request, then they approach the school district. The Commission usually provides them with ample support when they submit a request to the school district. Jon’s BrailleNote and his Braille production system at home were paid for by a grant written by Jon’s home school district, but Jon’s parents take care of all extended warranty maintenance costs, as well as shipping and insurance expenses on his BrailleNote. The extended warranty has expired, and Jon’s parents bear the cost of repair. Jon’s father’s employer has been generous in providing two laptops.

Looking Ahead
Jon’s mother would like him to be fully included by the time he completes his five-year high school program. For that to happen, Jon’s team has focused its approach on an intensive language arts curriculum, including reading comprehension, vocabulary development, and writing skills, all of which were delayed due to a lack of exposure during Jon’s early years and the impediments posed by his disabilities.

Jon is currently working toward independent access to the Internet for research, e-mail, and enjoyment. Ms. VanCampen would like Jon to have access to text messaging as an alternative to the telephone. Text messaging is widely used in the deaf community, but it is not easily accessible to Jon due to his visual impairment. E-mail and text messaging will increase his communication with his peers and provide opportunities for him to work on his written communication skill. Once Jon learns the software-specific commands to navigate through the Windows operating system and the Internet, he will be able to access the Internet directly through his BrailleNote device or through a computer using the BrailleNote for its refreshable Braille display. These skills will be incorporated into his school day and reinforced at home where possible. According to his mother, Jon has recently started using e-mail to correspond with his family and friends. She would like him to come to rely on it as a means of communication.

Currently Jon does not have access to a device that has the appropriate features that would allow him to text message in “real time” with his peers. A device that would help Jon is an all-in-one wireless device, such as the Sidekick, adapted for tactual reading, but such equipment is not available at an affordable price. His mother is looking into the possibility of a variable-font cell phone as a start.

Portable System Provides Easy Communication with Sighted Individuals
To enable him to communicate more efficiently and effectively with sighted people. Jon’s mother would like him to have access to a new product called FaceToFace (Freedom Scientific – www.freedomscientific.com). FaceToFace connects the PAC Mate, which is Freedom Scientific’s Braille notetaker, to a regular Hewlett Packard iPAQ PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) with a wireless link. If Jon were to use FaceToFace he would use a PAC Mate instead of his BrailleNote, and he would carry the tiny iPAQ with him. When he wanted to communicate with a sighted person, he would hand the iPAQ to the sighted person, type on his QWERTY keyboard, and the message would wirelessly be beamed to, and displayed on, the iPAQ. The sighted person would then type a message on the iPAQ using the regular stylus and onscreen keyboard or an attachable keyboard, and the message would be wirelessly beamed to the PACMate which would display it on the refreshable Braille display for Jon to read in Braille. This new product may be a good solution to Jon’s communication problems with the hearing and sighted world, and Jon’s mother is hopeful that it may soon be part of Jon’s technology repertoire.

Meenakshi Pasupathy is a graduate student in the Department of Special Education Language and Literacy at The College of New Jersey. She is the parent of a child with severe disabilities.

 

The only way signing can kill us

by John Lee Clark

would be if the world took
a fancy to the way
certain signs made images
and the world would try
to have things be more
like pictures in the air.

To begin with, there would
be only one season, winter,
because the signs
for the other seasons
do not give the idea
the way winter does,
our bent arms shivering.

And that endless winter would
freeze us to death,
mainly because our house
would have only two walls.

It might as well be,
since all trees would
have five leafless branches
that never bear fruit,
which we would not need
anyway, since food would
only kiss our lips coyly,
knowing that swallowing
occurs on, not in, our throats.

Naturally, we would try
to live in spite of all this
by making fire, for us to drink
life, life from its light,
but it would be hopeless:
our flames would not
be fierce enough and would,
as our arms stiffen,
be too much like the sign
for waiting, which we would
be, waiting for death.

Still, we are happy:
There is only one way
signing can kill us,
and everything else it can
ever hope to make is life.

 

Are We There Yet?

by Carrie Gilmer

Reprinted from the Spring 2006 issue of the Minnesota Bulletin, a publication of the NFB of Minnesota.

Editor’s Note: Carrie Gilmer is the President of the Minnesota Parents of Blind Children and an emerging national parent leader in the National Federation of the Blind and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Carrie delivered the following message at the National Federation of the Blind Minnesota state convention this past October. In her address, Carrie Gilmer illuminates and gives perspective to the meaning of ‘Parent Power’ as we experience it in the National Federation of the Blind and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. I challenge you to consider her question--and her invitation--as you read the other articles throughout this issue. Here is Carrie:

Every time we get ready to go on a trip my kids ask me, “How long will it take to get there?” Sometimes it seems we are barely out of the driveway and the questions of “how much longer” begin. Inevitably, fifteen to twenty minutes later, my youngest child, Maya, will ask, “Are we there yet?” and twenty minutes after that, “How long until we get there, Mom?” Although it is an annoying question at times, it is a reasonable one. It is difficult to endure a journey when you don’t know how far you have come or how much there is left to go. It is hard to be patient on a journey if where you are going doesn’t seem relevant to you. It is also hard to be patient on a journey if you really do want to get to your destination, and its relevance to you is clear. Those are the times you feel so excited you can’t wait to get there.

When getting ready for a journey you prepare yourself differently for a one-hour trip than you do for a whole day’s journey. If you are going for a whole day, or longer, you need rest stops and refueling--you need to stop for food, and you probably have to switch drivers too. You need things to keep you occupied along the way. Sometimes on a long journey delays can occur. The vehicle may break down; maybe a storm comes along. Time is spent repairing or just holding your ground.

I was thinking of all this as I was thinking about how the National Federation of the Blind and the National Organization of Parents of Bind Children are vehicles for collective action. We are on a journey together. Our destination? Freedom for the blind! A day where it is well to be blind anywhere. A place where blind people are automatically and unquestionably considered normal and are expected to do normal things. A time when all blind children are expected to read, travel about independently, and be known--not for their blindness--but for their own unique contributions to the community around them.

Are we there yet? How long until we get there? I want to be there so very badly and I often feel like I can not wait. I feel this especially when I meet a child who has been denied the right to read, or pushed to use vision beyond all reason, or raised and educated with the very lowest of expectations because there is no vision at all. At these times I feel impatient. The journey seems long, the vehicle needs maintenance, storms have come and there are trees down in the road. On those days, it feels like we’ve barely gone a few miles on a journey I can not measure.

But then I think of someone like Marie Whitteker or Amy Virden or Larry Kettner or Georgia Bredesen--riding the NFB bus for fifty or sixty-five years--some of the first passengers on the bus. And here they are today--still helping in the collective, making time and effort to come to the meetings, and bringing items for the auction too. I think of all of us--how we love and encourage one another. How we feed each other and fight for each other. And then, the singing breaks out and we have joy together on the journey.

I talked with someone not too long ago. I have seen this person around for a number of years. I was very surprised to learn he wasn’t an NFB member. When I asked him why, he talked about the journey and how the NFB vehicle hadn’t gotten us there yet. He said he would join us when we got there! At first, I hardly knew what to say. Good grief, I thought! Then I told him how we might get there so much faster if he joined in and helped with clearing the road, or coming up with a song to sing, or paying for the gas, or pumping up a flat tire. Wait until we get there? No! We need every voice, every effort--and we need it today! And guess what. We are the ones who will get you there--even if you don’t help at all. When we arrive, all blind people will arrive. No one will be left behind. That is the destination--freedom for all, security for all, opportunity for all, equality for all. So you see; it is vital for all. It is not possible to truly attain these things and leave someone out; you are riding along whether you like it or not.

You heard the kids having a great time in Saturday School this morning. Do you know what they were excited about? They were writing little plays to practice educating others about themselves as blind people and the tools that they use. Then, they acted the plays out. They were applauding themselves and each other. They were so excited about who they are and the tools that they use. They had a great sense of humor! The scenes were woven with comedy and were realistic with a casual straightforwardness--not one was a tragedy. They also had some seriously amazing depth to their scenes that displayed how the public often reacts. They were excited to come up with words and to talk about it!

We have come a long way since I spoke of the present state of children’s education in Minnesota at the annual convention last October. We would not be this far without collective effort. I thank you with all my heart.

As I said this summer at the National Convention, if we really want to change things for blind people in the future, we must change the education, expectations, and opportunities for blind children today. If we change these things we will be very near the destination of our journey. I ask those who are listening to join us. We are the only ride to the true destination. We need you and whether you realize it or not, you need us. For all my co-passengers, thank you for picking up my family along the way and making the ride full of love, hope, joy and laughter.

All Aboard! Get on the NFB bus!

For information about how to contact the NFB parent’s division and/or NFB affiliate in your state, look on the NFB Web site at <www.nfb.org>, or <www.nfb.org/nopbc.htm>, or call Barbara Cheadle, President, National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), at (410) 659-9314 extension 2360 or 2361.

 

Blind Kids in Sports--Focus on Golf

by Christina Zani

Editor’s Note: This article was written by Christina Zani for Lifestyles of the Fun and Special, a newsletter and Web site dedicated to recreation, relaxation, and entertainment for children with disabilities. It is used with permission of the publisher, Linda Zani Thomas, <Lindazani@aol.com>.

It was a perfect autumn Saturday on the links. At least twenty young golfers of varying levels of vision and their parent/caddies along with volunteer coaches made their way around the nine-hole golf course at the Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia. They had gathered there for a biannual event hosted by the school, the Junior Blind Golf Program Tournament sponsored by the Middle Atlantic Blind Golf Association (MABGA).

Norman Kritz, Director of Golf for the MABGA, designed the course, which includes sand traps and a putting area, all surrounded by the lovely track of Overbrook School. Norman explained some basics about the day’s events. “The back four holes are for playing Best Ball,” he said. This is a game where two-person teams play against each other, and in order to tally score they keep playing off of the best putt for their team. He also pointed out that a professional coach sponsored by the MABGA comes to the Overbrook School every few weeks to work with students and that all golf clubs and equipment are provided at no cost to the child or family.

Out on the course, everyone worked hard at playing! Surrounded by his mother and siblings, Ricky Ricketts practiced in the putting area. His mother held him from behind to guide his arms, and a sister rattled the flag in the cup for Ricky to hear. He smiled widely each time he connected with the ball and sent it smoothly across the green toward the cup.

Two boys had partnered up for the morning, sixteen-year-old James Ryan and young teen Nick Martucci. They were golfing with their fathers as caddies. Nick is partially sighted and James is legally blind. They both have long solid drives, and I found myself ducking their line of fire when one of them would yell, “Fore!” James said, “I haven’t played this well all summer!” Both Nick and James are sports fans and they enjoy riding their tandems (bikes built for two) with family members. James takes trips to the driving range and Nick has weekly golfing lessons through the New Jersey Library for the Blind.

Although many boys were having their day on the course, the girls were out, too! One young lady named Victoria was playing quietly with a coach nearly her age, Linda Fox’s twelve-year-old son. She was concentrating hard and going for long putts. Pretty in pink, she showed a strong sense of calm and determination as she made her way to the cup.

Another young athlete was Patrick Molloy, who hit the course with his father, Michael. His stance was one of raised shoulders and what seemed to be perfectly placed feet. When I remarked on his interesting looking putter, he exclaimed, “It’s my Odyssey two ball putter!” After indulging me my interruption, Patrick resumed playing and displayed amazing precision in putting, nearly finding the cup with each swing!

The day’s organizers could not have been more pleased with their wonderful event. Jim Gantner and Gil Kayson, President of the MABGA and Chairman of the Junior Golf Program, spoke highly of the children and their organization’s accomplishments. Gantner made it clear that it was Gil’s determination that had gotten the Junior Golf Program off the ground, and Norman’s steadfastness that got the course built. He let me know that there were some people who didn’t think it could be done. Now, eleven years later, the program is thriving. The MABGA is looking to expand the Junior Program, and they sponsor adult outings about once a week between the months of April and November. Gantner and Kayson were also very encouraging about adults and children with varying levels of ability being able to golf.

As the sun got hotter and feet got tired, many eager children lined up for a driving contest and--to borrow a baseball term--some of them knocked it out of the park! A putting event closed out the sporting part of the day, with Norman Kritz rattling the flag for the putter’s ears, calling each golfer by name to take their chances at putting. Gentle laughter and clapping followed each putt. Sweet coaches Kathy Harrall and Paris Sterrett beamed at the children. Everyone then headed inside for pizza and well deserved awards for each child.

For more information:
Middle Atlantic Blind Golf Association (MABGA): www.mabga.org
Overbrook School for the Blind: www.obs.org
Lifestyles of the Fun and Special: www.lifestylesofthefunandspecial.com.

 

Sending A Shout Out
Glasgow students earn ham radio licenses, talk with the world

Reprinted from The Advocate (Kids Avenue), May 28, 2005, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Written by Relma Hargus, staff writer for The Advocate.

Editor’s Note: How well do you think you know blind kids? Here’s a quiz for you: as you read the following article, try to guess which one or more of these students is/are blind. Check your answer on the “Editor’s Quiz” at the close of the reprinted article, then read on for the answer. Hint: more than one answer may be correct. Here is the story:

Although her ham radio contacts are “mainly in United States,” Glasgow Middle School sixth-grader Elizabeth Allen has also talked with people in Bulgaria, Australia, Brazil, Scotland, Great Britain and South Korea.

“You learn the time differences,” Elizabeth said, explaining that she and her South Korean contacts are fifteen hours apart. Early morning in one place means late night at the other.

“Just by listening to call signs, you know what countries they’re from,” she said.

Elizabeth and classmates Zeshum Ahmed, Conan Cai, Jonguk Lim, and Michael Taboada each earned a FCC-granted Technician Class license and their own call signs by passing a multiple-choice examination.

The entry-level exam covers basic regulations, operating practices, and electronics theory.

“They just randomly pick thirty-five questions, so you have to study them all,” Conan said.

As licensed amateur radio operators, or “ham operators,” all five are authorized to talk without supervision on designated radio frequencies.

They are expected to be courteous and follow proper protocol and ethical conduct.

“You can get in trouble with the FCC if you don’t,” Zeshum said.

The five students, as well as fellow classmates who are studying to retake the exams, were initiated into the fun of amateur radio by Charamie Dunlap, their physical science teacher and a third-generation ham radio operator. Baton Rouge Amateur Radio Club donated equipment for the classroom, Dunlap said.

Both Michael and Elizabeth have radios at home.

“I like talking to people I don’t know,” Michael said. “It’s like a pen pal, except I guess we’re message pals.”

Amateur radio facts
Ham radio operators communicate with each other using voice, computers, and Morse code. Some hams bounce their signals off the upper regions of the atmosphere, so they can talk with hams on the other side of the world. Other hams use satellites. Many use handheld radios that fit in their pockets.

Sample questions for technician license:
1. What is a transmission called that disturbs other communications?
A. Interrupted CW
B. Harmful interference
C. Transponder signals
D. Unidentified transmissions

2. How does the frequency of a harmonic compare to the desired transmitting frequency?
A. It is slightly more than the desired frequency
B. It is slightly less than the desired frequency
C. It is exactly two, or three or more times the desired frequency
D. It is much less than the desired frequency.

Answers: 1. B; 2. C;

ON THE INTERNET: http://www.arri.org/


Editor’s Note: That’s the end of the article, now here is my quiz:

Editor’s Quiz:
Which kid(s) is/are blind? Check one or more of the options below:
1. [ ] Elizabeth Allen
2. [ ] Zeshum Ahmed
3. [ ] Conan Cai
4. [ ] Jonguk Lim
5. [ ] Michael Taboada
6. [ ] What difference does it make? They are all normal kids.

Answer:
Here is a short e-mail correspondence which contains the answer to the “Editor’s Quiz:”

From: Warren Figuieredo
Sent: Sunday, May 29, 2005
To: rhargus@theadvocate.com
Subject: Strike a blow against “World of Darkness” press

I read your article “Glasgow students earn ham radio licenses, talk with the world” with great joy because for once, The Advocate didn’t lapse into what I call “World of Darkness” sentimental mode simply because a blind student was involved.

Blindness is not always the focus of our lives even though the uninformed public thinks it is. And no, we don’t do everything “despite our disability.”

And no, we’re not always inspirational. We’re just people who do stuff like everybody else.

What a refreshing change! Thanks for the good reporting.

Warren Figueiredo

From: “Hargus, Relma”
To: Warren Figueiredo
Subject: RE: Strike a blow against “World of Darkness” press
Date: Mon, 30 May 2005

Thank you--for reading the story and sending your comment. Which one was blind? I’m not trying to be facetious. I honestly didn’t know Michael was blind until he whipped out his fold-up guiding cane when it was time to go to the next class. I agree his blindness wasn’t important to the story. He was a precocious, knowledgeable, delightful young man who happened (along with the other four delightful young people) to be smart enough to pass a test for which I didn’t even understand the questions.

Relma Hargus
Kids Avenue
The Advocate
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

From: Sandra Merchant
Sent: Monday, May 30, 2005
To: Cheadle, Barbara
Subject: Fwd: Strike a blow against “World of Darkness” press

This is what needs to happen with our blind kids. As background, Michael and four other children out of fifty-one passed their test for ham radio license. A newspaper reporter came and did an article on these kids. It came out this Saturday and Michael was pictured working with the radio with two of the other children and then each one had a smaller picture individually taken. Comments from three of the kids (including Michael) were included in the article. Nothing was said about Michael’s blindness. Here [above] is what Warren Figuieredo sent to the reporter and what she wrote back. THIS IS WHEN WE KNOW WE HAVE BEEN SUCCESSFUL!
Sandy [Mother of Michael Taboada]

Answer:

Obviously, number five, Michael Taboda, is the only blind kid in the group, and numbers one through four are sighted classmates. That leaves answer number six. We will let you--our readers--answer this one. Why don’t you raise it as a point of discussion at dinnertime tonight with the family? Send your answer and the rationale for it to: <futurereflections@nfb.org> or to Future Reflections, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230. We will post the most interesting, and/or most thoughtful answers to the blindkid listserv and to the NOPBC Web page at <http://nfb.org/nopbc.htm>. For information about how to sign up for the blindkid listserv, go to: <http://nfb.org/listserve.htm>.

 

The Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader
The Revolution is Here!

by James Gashel

Editor’s Note: Jim Gashel is the executive director for strategic initiatives for the National Federation of the Blind. He has been deeply involved in the planning and development of the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader. Now that the beta testing period is drawing to a close, it seemed appropriate to ask him to make the announcement of the extraordinary results of the collaboration between technological genius and the knowledge and expertise of blind people. This is what he says:

In 1975 Ray Kurzweil invented the first multi-font optical character recognition (OCR) technology capable of converting printed characters into full-word synthetic speech. This system, which was about the size of a small dishwasher, was called the Kurzweil Reading Machine. Joining with Ray Kurzweil to test and launch this product, the NFB secured financial support to purchase six preproduction units at a cost of $50,000 each. This technology was unique and revolutionary in its time.

Personal computers were not widely available and were not a mass-consumer product in the 1970’s, so the original Kurzweil Reading Machine was a stand-alone, dedicated reading system with its own internal computer and built-in scanner. Today the more modern version of the same technology--the Kurzweil 1000--is computer software running on a standard desktop PC connected to a scanner.
Although a certain amount of competition has developed over the last thirty years, the Kurzweil Reading Machine and its offspring have been widely regarded as the gold standard in text-to-speech conversion technology. However, having this technology in a completely portable form has been an unrealized dream. That was true until March 2006, when blind people throughout the United States started to learn about and use the world’s first handheld, text-to-speech electronic reading system for the blind. This is called the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader.

The name says it all. Unlike the Kurzweil Reading Machine, named for Ray Kurzweil as its inventor, the portable Reader has been designed by Ray Kurzweil and the National Federation of the Blind. Therefore this device bears both names. This name also symbolizes the fact that the blind themselves have played a leading role in making the world’s first completely portable reader a reality.
The Reader combines the latest state-of-the-art digital camera technology with a powerful personal data assistant (PDA). These components are housed in a custom-designed vinyl case that also contains internal circuitry to connect the camera and PDA to operate as a single system. Aside from this hardware, the software is completely new in blindness technology, with several features especially designed for this unique device.

Here are some of the vital statistics: the Reader is 6 inches long, 3 inches wide, 2-1/2 inches thick, and weighs 15 ounces. Although the Reader is about a thousand times smaller than the original Kurzweil Reading Machine, the PDA in the portable Reader is two thousand times faster. In fact, the portable Reader can execute about 500 million instructions per second as compared to 250,000 instructions per second for the Kurzweil Reading Machine. It also has a thousand times more memory (64 megabytes as compared to 64 kilobytes).
But the real difference is to have the power of reading in the palm of your hand. Here are a few reactions from early users known as “Reader Ambassadors” and “Reader Pioneers”:

Dwight Sayer: I have a neat story. Last week my BrailleNote rep came over to bring my GPS unit and some software. She had gotten the disks mixed up, and no one sighted was around. She couldn’t tell which one was mine. I said, “Wait a second….” I picked up a disk and shot a picture just pointing the Reader straight at it…. In a few seconds the Reader just rattled off the text on the CD, and I found I had my software right in my hands. The rep, who was drooling by that time, spent the next hour or so testing the Reader on everything from her checkbook to a receipt she had in her purse. By the way the ATM receipts that pop out of our great ATM machine at the National Center were read with ease as I was wondering what my balance was…. This little machine is a keeper!

Ron Gardner: The first thing I did with the Reader was go around my home snapping photos of the wall hangings. My grandchildren have given us some very precious quotes which are contained in framed hanging art. The quotes are covered with glass, and I wondered if the glass would reflect too much light. I am happy to report that the Reader worked with or without the flash, and the glass did not prevent a great job. It was terrific to be able to read these things from my grandchildren!

Ramona Walhof: I demonstrated the Reader at my Lions Club this morning. I started with the Idaho Potato Cookbook, which it does very well. It also read the restaurant menu quite well, although it was green print on white inside plastic. The Lions were more than astonished by its performance.

Amber Chesser: After over a month of anticipation and after a week of reading about everyone’s experiences, I finally began using my Reader on Friday afternoon. What a wonderful beginning it was, and what a wonderful weekend of reading I have had! The Reader exceeded my expectations from the moment I took it out of the box. It looked completely different from anything I had imagined. . . . The unit is not bulky or too large; I definitely plan to carry it to all of my university classes as well as to concerts, meetings, and anywhere else I go every day. I was also quite surprised at the accuracy with which I took the pictures from the start. . . . I could write a lengthy post brimming with enthusiastic descriptions of everything that I read over the weekend. . . . I recognize that there are definitely developments to be made, but at this time the marvelous designers and developers have hit the nail on the head. Thanks, National Federation of the Blind, for the honor of being a tester and for such an exciting creation!

Karl Smith: I just had to write one more time about my experiences at CSUN with the Reader. This morning I attended a session discussing the future of accessibility for portable computer platforms. This was more or less a discussion session with not a whole lot of substance. During the presentation the presenter mentioned that the NFB was about to announce the new Reader. Being much like a proud grandpa with new pictures of his grandkids, I pulled my machine out and waved it over my head. The presenter acknowledged that someone in the room actually had one. The fun started after the end of the presentation. I was suddenly surrounded by a large group of people wanting to see the Reader and know how it worked. Someone gave me a legal-sized piece of print to read. . . . A short time later my trusty Reader began reading information on augmentative communication. Everyone listened very quietly because of the low volume of the PDA speakers, while the reading kept going and going with pretty much flawless results. It was then that the man who gave me the paper admitted that he had purposely given me what he considered to be a particularly awful piece of material to scan. It was a printout of a half dozen or so PowerPoint slides from another presentation. For me it was another one of those dream demos. It went perfectly, and everyone was very excited. . . . Several of the people said that this was the best part of the session. Folks, this thing is . . . the beginning of a revolution. Rarely does a piece of technology by itself really represent the beginning of an entirely new era for the blind. This one does just that . . . Man, this thing is fun.

Vickie Saucier: I have now had my Reader for three days, and I agree with Gary. You’re not getting it back except for repairs, if needed. I’ve experienced all the problems and limitations that everyone else has mentioned. When Jim first demonstrated it, I was in tears, and I still feel that way. At the first brief demonstration by my representative, I was terrified and thought that I’d never be able to use it. Changing that battery seemed difficult: remembering the commands, focusing, flash cards, etc. really caused me some alarm, since I am not a tecky like some of you. However, I mastered all those things except for the flash card (I just have to read the instruction manual and I’ll know how to do that too). I even demonstrated how to do all those things to another Pioneer who didn’t attend the demonstration. I am looking forward to all the future improvements, but for now I’m happy reading those Jell-O boxes and cleaning a bookshelf in my office without sighted assistance. It goes everywhere with me, and next week it’s going to see Mickey with me and my grandson at one of my favorite places on the planet, Disney World.

Juliett Cody: Yes, the Reader is good on bulletin boards. I did it on campus today, and I was pleased. I was looking for scholarship applications, so the postings were as large as a regular page. I must admit it was wonderful to walk into the scholarship office and not have to wait until someone could help me. I love the Reader, and, like I said before, I am not returning it.

Ron Brown: On April 22 the Indiana State Library held a technology fair. The NFB of Indiana was invited to show off NEWSLINE, so I decided to take the Reader to the technology fair without any forewarning to the host. I charged up my Reader, got together some prearranged documents to read, and went to the fair. When I got to our booth, I set up shop and waited for the participants to come by. It took only a few minutes for word to spread that the Reader was there.

Needless to say, the Reader was a big hit. Ours became the most popular booth at the fair. Not only did the participants stop by, so did the other presenters. The Reader and I worked from 10:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. nonstop. It worked this long without my having to charge the battery. I had to change the camera battery only once. Some of the people that gathered around started handing me other documents to read. I took those documents and shot pictures of them, and the Reader performed like a champ. I started grabbing Kernel books off the table and any other document in sight to read. Yes, I threw caution to the wind and went for it. When I opened a Kernel Book and held it away from me up in the air; one guy from the crowd stated, “He’s holding the book upside down,” and I shot the picture anyway. The Reader read the page about Mount Everest being the tallest mountain in the world. I guess the Kernel Book story I grabbed was “The Summit.” The crowd went wild. I was told three people asked how they could join the NFB.
All in all it was a beautiful day, and the Reader was a big hit. I have the sore feet and the loss of my voice from talking so much to prove it.

These comments indicate an overall positive response among early users of the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader, and we are only at the dawn of this exciting new technology. Imagine what the future has in store for us with this technology we have created to meet our needs. Now that the Reader we have dreamed about is real, we have the opportunity and the ability to build upon this new beginning and make our Reader an even more powerful tool in the months and years ahead.

Even with its present capacity, however, the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader reads most printed documents, from letters and memos to pages in a book; reads address labels and instructions; reads an entire page or just a few lines of text for identification; and provides easy access to restaurant menus. The Reader even reads play or concert programs, instructions for appliances, and numbers on lottery tickets--the possibilities are endless.

There are hundreds of uses for the Reader every day. No other device in the history of technology for the blind has provided quicker access to more printed information than the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader. The world of the printed word is about to be opened to the blind in a way it has never been before. Get ready; the revolution begins today!

For more information contact the National Federation of the Blind Reader information and sales line at (877) 708-1724. A limited number of Readers are available at a special inaugural discount of $200 below the expected retail price of $3,495.

NOTE: The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children has helped place the machine with several families of blind children; the youngest of whom is four-years-old. Be on the lookout for further reports and testimonies from these children and their parents. We hope that a survey of their experiences will provide parents and teachers with some guidance about how the Reader can best interface with Braille instruction and other technology used by blind children and youth.

 

Connecting with Jimmy

by Sue Elan Holmes

Editor’s Note: The following article is edited from a presentation given at the North American Active Learning Convention sponsored by the Lilliworks Foundation, in the San Francisco area in February of 2005. Since many readers will not be familiar with the term, Active Learning, or with the equipment mentioned in the article, we have added definitions, descriptions, and a picture. Here is the definition followed by what Holme’s has to say about her experience with the Little Room, and what the Active Learning approach has meant for her son, Jimmy:

Active Learning--
“Created for children whose developmental age is three-and-a-half years or younger, the Active Learning approach enables the child with multiple disabilities to learn in the same way that very young children without disabilities learn--by doing, rather than being trained or taught. In this approach the child is provided with opportunities to learn through active exploration and examination of the environment. Teachers (and parents) set up developmentally appropriate environments that encourage the child to touch, move, and explore. They then respond to the child’s actions and sounds and interact with the child at his/her level of interest and development….Active Learning works with even the most significantly delayed and disabled children, enabling them to learn that they can act upon the world and initiate interaction with others.”
-- This explanation is quoted from materials prepared and distributed by LilliWorks Learning Foundation, www.lilliworks.org, the sponsors of the North American Active Learning Convention.

My three-year-old son, Jimmy, has always had tight arms and legs that were drawn up towards his body. From the beginning, it was extremely difficult to get him to touch, hold, swipe at, or mouth toys and other objects that most babies love. Before his first experience in Dr. Lilli Nielsen’s Little Room, he actually seemed to be tactile-defensive; he did not get enjoyment out of any toy or object that I presented to him. I remember thinking that maybe the problem was me, so I had my daughter, my husband, my mother, and my son’s therapists try to introduce objects to him, but to no avail.

I was desperate for a way to connect with Jimmy. I had the usual bond a mother gets from breast- feeding her child, but I still had a feeling of being disconnected from him. I had no way to communicate with him. He is severely visually impaired, has limited hearing in one ear with complete deafness in the other, he has spastic quadriplegia, he is missing the occipital lobe of his brain, and he does not speak. I remember the day I got the news about his hearing. It was the very last diagnosis to add to an already long list of complications.

Most parents would hear a diagnosis like this and feel hopeless. But all I heard that day were possibilities! Jimmy did, in fact, have some hearing. He was not a candidate for a Cochlear implant, but he could still hear. I never shed one tear in the doctor’s office, and even the nurse looked puzzled. I remember her saying, “You’re leaving? How are you doing? Can I get you anything?” I smiled and told her I was fine. Again looking puzzled, she asked me if the doctor should come back to explain the diagnosis. Apparently, my smile led her to believe that I had not just been told my son was severely hearing impaired. I told her that I’ve never been better. My son could hear! For a moment, I think she considered escorting me to the psych ward.

When we first ordered our Little Room, I was unsure of how this pile of metal and wood panels would transform my son into an “active” learner, much less any kind of a learner. I figured out how to put it together into the format that allows him to lay down inside it with all the object hanging around and above him, then put Jimmy in, and…he played…actually played…with the items hanging in the Little Room for a period of at least a half an hour. This was huge!

To my surprise, I discovered that Jimmy loves to clack things against his forehead. He is a jokester, laughing out loud the whole time he played. Small metal objects, like keys and metal measuring spoons, are among his favorites. He mouths them, enjoying the cold feeling on his gums and the texture of the smooth metal on his hands. I also place objects in the Little Room that have interesting sounds when tapped against other objects. A Koosh Ball is our central, reference object in the Little Room. Jimmy swishes his nose back and forth across it with his eyes squinted closed and a smile on his face, and immediately seems “at home” and familiar with his Little Room.

The Little Room is an acoustical dream! When we use it in conjunction with a Resonance Board, Jimmy’s vocalizations really begin. He plays with the echo feedback he gets, immediately kicking with glee. I noticed that taking special care to turn off the television, and picking a time of day when the house is at its quietist, leads to a more productive session in the Little Room. That way, the only noises Jimmy hears are the sounds that he makes by playing with objects or vocalizing…yes, the Little Room teaches Echo Location!
When used in conjunction with Thera Togs, Jimmy is at his best in the Little Room. The Thera Togs increase body awareness by “organizing” the body. Jimmy is not only playing with toys in the Little Room, but actually purposely making movements towards objects. Albeit shaky at times, he slowly brings his arms up, opens his hands, and anticipates the touching. His vocalizations in the Little Room increase, as well.

I have since purchased two of Lilli’s books to help me give Jimmy the best learning experiences possible. I never expected to learn all of the things that “good” parents do “wrong,” myself included. Scraping Jimmy’s chin with the spoon was a big example of doing the “wrong” thing with all good intentions. Of course, that’s why he associates his chin being touched with eating instead of concentrating on the movements of his mouth that are necessary for chewing and swallowing! I had to learn how to undo some of these patterns and think in a whole different way. I am also learning about, and am forever amazed at, how everyday objects make the very best toys for Jimmy.

Lilli Nielsen has an innate ability to develop products that enhance the learning and well being of kids like my Jimmy. But beyond her products, it is important to first take a look at your approach. The most important point of Active Learning is one that is the hardest for parents of the medically-and-developmentally-fragile to accept--it is this: that the child must actively explore on his/her own. The concept is easy, but I am among the parents that found this so hard to do. You are so used to holding your child tight after being told that they may not live past the first day or week of life. But the rewards of “letting go” have been great, as I can now dream of Jimmy actively exploring our home and the community, step by step. Letting go a little has made all the difference. Even now, I find myself having to sit on my hands (literally) to prevent myself from interfering with Jimmy’s learning process. Connecting with Jimmy is second nature as he becomes more and more aware of what’s going on around him. How ironic that in order to connect with my son. I had to first let him actively explore on his own!

Active Learning Equipment and Materials:

The Little Room: The Little Room consists of a metal frame supporting three side panels with various textures, a Plexiglas ceiling, and two play bars from which a variety of objects (everyday objects or toys) are suspended. This gives the child the opportunity to experience the properties of objects, to compare different objects, and try out different things to do with the object on his own without adults interpreting that experience for him. Since the objects are stable, it allows the child to repeat his actions with an object as many times as he needs to, at one to two-second intervals, without dropping and losing it. The immediate repetition enables the child to store the information gained from the experiences in his memory.

Resonance Board: The resonance board is a thin plywood panel carefully designed to vibrate to every movement a child makes while lying on it. It enhances the effectiveness of the Little Room, but can also be used alone to encourage play and movement.

For information about ordering equipment designed by Lillie Nielsen, contact:
LilliWorks Foundation
1815 Encinal Avenue
Alameda, California 94501
www.lilliworks.org
(510) 814-9111; fax: (510) 814-3941.

Books and Curriculum: The full line of Dr. Nielsen’s books is available from:
Vision Associates
2109 US Hwy 90 West Ste. 170 #312
Lake City, Florida 32055
Phone: (407) 352-1200; Fax: (386) 752-7839
www.visionkits.com

 

Technology and Life Skills
A Beginner's Guide to Access Technology for Blind Students: Part Two

by Mike Tindell, Access Technology Specialist
International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC)

Editor’s Note: Part One of this series on access technology appeared in the previous issue of Future Reflections. At that time, I announced that Part Two would tackle the questions of how a parent or IEP team decides which technology is appropriate or effective for the student, and when (grade or competency level) the technology should be introduced. However, IBTC Director, Ann Taylor, and team members Mike Tindell and Steve Booth felt very strongly that this piece about life skills needed to come first. All three members of this team are among the most technologically savvy people I know--which should be no surprise, given their positions. However, I also respect them because they are highly competent and independent people in all other aspects of their lives, too. So, here is Mike Tindell, representing the IBTC team, to talk about technology and life skills:

Blind children today are frequently introduced to advanced devices such as computers, talking cell phones, and electronic notetakers at very early ages. This is mostly a good thing, but it does have a down side. In the race to keep up with technology, other more fundamental and crucial life skills can be overlooked. Introducing blind children to some low-tech devices early in life provides the groundwork for future productivity and success with more advanced technologies when the time comes.

You may not think of it this way, but a white cane is a low-tech device or tool. Most sighted children learn to crawl and then walk by eighteen months, yet blind babies may hesitate in their mobility unless at a very early age they are provided with a miniature white cane. The earlier a child experiences her own white cane, the more likely she will be able to keep pace and travel confidently with her sighted peers. She certainly will not master her mobility skills and execute proper techniques at such a young age, but as she grows with her trusty white cane, her mobility can only improve at a more rapid pace than a child who does not receive a cane until later in development. Child size canes are available from the National Federation of the Blind Independence Market (formerly the Materials Center) at <www.nfb.org>, or call (410) 659-9314 to request a catalog. For more information and guidance about early use of the cane, see articles by Joe Cutter on the NFB Web site, and/or contact the NFB Jernigan Institute Parent Outreach Department at (410) 659-9314 extension 2360 or 2361.

Along with mobility skills, children need to develop control over their hands and hand movements. Sighted toddlers play with crayons, colors, and paints to acquaint their small hands with tools they will use daily throughout their educational and adult lives, and also to help them develop hand strength, dexterity, and coordination. The equivalent low-tech tool or device for blind toddlers is the slate and stylus. The slate and stylus was one of the first devices used to write Braille. While blind children will not know Braille at this early stage, neither do sighted children necessarily know their letters, but both will still enjoy and benefit from the experience of “pretend” writing. Under adult supervision (the styli does have a blunt point, much like a ball point pen) a young child can “scribble” (that is, punch tactile dots onto paper) with this tool the same way that a sighted child can sketch and doodle with crayons and markers. The earlier a blind child is introduced to the slate and stylus, the more polished her motor and tactile skills will be as an adult. Inexpensive plastic slates with a simple wooden handle stylus are available from many sources, including the NFB Independence Market (see contact information in the paragraph above.)

Beyond the slate and stylus, there are a variety of toys and products that enhance tactile abilities, and what many parents of blind children may not know, is just how important it is for a blind child to learn the written alphabet. Often a product is identified by a shape or a letter and the blind person who is familiar with the shapes of letters can more easily identify such objects. Wooden square blocks with raised print letters or recessed letters allows the child play time and learning time as they can both build and feel the patterns and shapes of each letter. Wooden blocks with tactile print and Braille letters are available from several sources, including the NFB Independence Market.

Additionally, as the child becomes accustomed with and learns Braille, parents can purchase sets of Braille tactile flash cards. These cards are an excellent early learning, low-tech way for a child to begin her quest toward Braille literacy. A dymo-tape Braille labeler is an effective tool to reinforce the blind child’s new skills. With the labeler, parents can create stick-on Braille labels for almost any personal or household object which the child can hold or feel. This will help the child to begin to associate the spelling of a word with the real physical object. Again, this helps the child enhance tactile skills as well as develop independent learning skills, because the child should identify both the object by touch, then the Braille word. Braille flash cards are available from many sources, including the Braille Bookstore. Visit them at <www.braillebookstore.com> or call (800) 987-1231. Dymo-tape labelers are also available from may companies or agencies, including the American Printing House for the Blind, Louisville, Kentucky, <www.aph.org>, (800) 223-1839; Independent Living Aids at <www.independentliving.com>, (800) 537-2118; and the National Federation of the Blind Independence Market.

All children love story time. This presents yet another opportunity to develop those important literacy and touch skills. With children’s books that are both printed and embossed with Braille, a parent can read to the child as she reads (or pretends to read) along with her fingers. For the younger child, simple tactile books--either designed specifically for blind children, or general toddler books--with furs and textures identified by touch are an excellent introduction to reading time. Creative Adaptations in Learning (CAL) offers a tactile book of nursery rhymes and shape recognition book--both of which can be found at <www.cal-s.org>, and a simple “tactile book” search on Amazon.com returns numerous titles, including raised line coloring books. These books provide the opportunity and encouragement for the pre-reader to feel the Braille dots on a page and, as the parent reads the story aloud, to come to understand that these dots represent words. This will familiarize her with the concept of reading with her fingers. As she learns Braille, the roles can switch and the child can read to her parent. Some parents actually take the initiative to learn Braille before, or along with, their child. The Hadley School for the Blind offers a free Braille correspondence course, along with a variety of online blindness skills courses excellent for family and friends hoping to help a blind child along her road to success. Visit the schools website at <www.Hadley-school.org>, select “Course Catalog” and then “Online Courses” for details.

After reading and writing, arithmetic naturally follows. Knowledge in mathematics is essential and blind children should learn math skills at the same level as their sighted peers. Not only have the science and mathematics fields become increasingly important to everyone in our modern world, a solid basis in mathematics from an early age helps build logic and problem-solving skills. The Cranmer Abacus and the Math Window are two low-tech devices which are the blind student’s equivalent to the sighted student’s pen and paper in performing math calculations. The Cranmer Abacus is an abacus which was modified for use by the blind by Tim Cranmer, a blind inventor (1925-2001), sometime in the early sixties. It is a handheld device with counting beads that allow blind students to set up math problems and keep track of numbers in the calculating process much as sighted students can write down numbers and do calculations on a piece of paper. Other variations of the abacus--the beginner’s abacus and the large abacus--are also available for early learners and children with delayed fine motor skills. The various abaci and teaching guides for them are available from the American Printing House for the Blind (see contact information elsewhere in this article).

The Math Window is a fairly new invention that consists of a magnetic board with Braille and large print tiles. The tiles can be arranged on the board linearly or vertically to show equations. The Braille numbers and math symbols are in the Nemeth Braille code. This is the code used for Math and Science calculations in this country. An algebra add-on kit is also available. This product can be purchased from Wolf Products at (724) 285-5428, or <www.mathwindow.com>. Naturally, the tactile and hand movement skills the child developed earlier in life by playing with blocks and toys, scribbling with the slate and stylus, etc., will prepare her well for using these low-tech math devices to do equations in class as quickly and easily as her sighted classmates.

Games and puzzles are excellent for the development of problem solving skills, and they are great ways for children to learn to identify shapes and to hone their fine-motor skills. And, they’re fun! In memory of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, the NFB Independence Market offers a tactile state puzzle. Not only does this educational tool help enhance tactile skills, it also teaches geography!

While Braille flash cards are wonderful for learning, Braille playing cards are great fun and allow blind children to interact both with other blind persons and with sighted friends or family. Go-fish and UNO are two fun card games to play. Checkers, Chess, Tic-tac-toe, Scrabble and Monopoly are a few of the games that are available in Braille with raised game boards with tactile markings.

Of course, games and activities should not be restricted to indoors. All kids, including blind kids, need fresh air, and playing outside is not only fun, it also helps kids to develop their gross motor skills and encourages greater independence and confidence in movement. A beep-ball comes in a variety of sizes and types, but all contain an electronic beeping device so as the child throws, passes, and receives the ball, she can hear the beep and know where it is at all times. Along with acting as a confidence builder, this type of toy helps to sharpen auditory skills. These games are available for purchase through many sources, including Independent Living Aids at <www.independentliving.com> or call (800) 537-2118 to request a catalog.

There is a common misconception among the general public that technology will solve all the problems of blindness. Technology certainly can and does play a vital role in the future independence of blind persons, but technology alone cannot substitute for basic skills. Blind children require the same basic learning and life skills as sighted children and they are just that, basic. Not only do blind children require the same skills, they are capable of learning the same information and performing the same tasks as well as sighted children. The most important low-tech item a parent can offer a blind child is encouragement. It’s free and children can’t get enough of it.

In the end, it will not be the tools or the technology that will make the difference, it will be the attitudes and beliefs about blindness which we convey to our children throughout all stages of their development that will matter most.

 

Braille Readers Are Leaders Wraps-up Another Great Year!

by Courtney Lawrence

After twenty-three years, the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest is still going strong! This year, close to 350 blind students of all ages and from all over the nation participated in the contest. In fact, they read a combined total of over 450,000 pages! Top readers such as Ana Maria Miranda (Arizona), Marisa A. Parker (Massachusetts), and Merlyn Hileman (California) each read over 16,000 pages in the three-month long contest! Additionally, this year four students were selected and acknowledged for their outstanding community service and promotion of Braille Literacy. While the Braille Leaders Community Service Award is still new to the contest, we hope that in upcoming years more contest participants will take that next step from being outstanding readers, to using those reading skills to give back to others in their communities. Again, we congratulate Hannah Weatherd of Wyoming, the 2006 Braille Leaders Community Service winner--and Kristin McCoy (Missouri), Estin Talavara (Kansas), and Andrew Nantz (Oregon)--Community Service Honorable Mentions.

Along with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and National Association to Promote the Use of Braille’s joint awards and recognitions, several state affiliates of the National Federation of the Blind and area schools honored their local Braille readers. The NFB of Pennsylvania recently held a special awards ceremony at the St. Lucy’s Day School for the Children with Visual Impairments, where the state president, Jim Antonocci, presented savings bonds to the top readers from Pennsylvania. The NFB of Maryland also held a special party and awards ceremony for participants throughout the state of Maryland, including nineteen students from the Maryland School for the Blind.

Other participating communities are honoring their students as well. In Lathrop, Missouri, NFB Kansas City Chapter President Ruby Polk, along with seventy-five fifth graders and ABC Channel 9 News, honored the states top winner, Holly Carneal. Holly’s 1,430 pages places her among the top twenty contestants nationwide in her category. That’s certainly newsworthy, and was indeed reported on the First News, Kansas City.

Rhode Island printed an article in its’ The Valley Breeze publication honoring seven-year-old John “JW” Frampton’s accomplishment of reading 1, 449 pages and earning top honors in the kindergarten through first grade category of the contest. In Delaware, W. Reily Brown Elementary School honored fourth grade participant, Larry Byler for reading 4,901 pages (or approximately fifty-two pages per day) during the contest, with a write-up in the school newsletter.

Next years contest commences November 1, and runs through January 31, 2007. After this year’s outstanding results, our Braille readers and leaders promise to impress again in 2007 with their next stack of books! Congratulations again to all!

2005-2006 Braille Readers Are Leaders Winners

Most Improved
Rachael Cardwell, MD
David Carnes, KY
Isaac Hebert, LA
Arthur McClendon, MO
Somaya Tarin, AZ
Miranda Manic, CA
Gerald Passero, LA
Aaron Reed, KY
Justin Thompkins, MO
Tobias Vogelstein, MD

Print to Braille
Ashley Brow, MA (2,507)
Veronica Puente, NC (1,970)
Jennifer Roule, FL (729)
Mario Mancillo, KS (706)
Anthony “Tony” James, NY (560)
Paulino “Armani” Correia, MA (509)
Hannah Siemer, OH (504)
Hien Nguyen, OH (467)
Kate Webster, CT (442)
Billy Anderson, CA (387)

Grades K – 1
Ellie Hardwick, VA (2,987)
Alyssa Townsend, IL (1,697)
Kathleen Budd , MI (1,678)
John “JW” Frampton, RI (1,449)
Gabriella Welsh, WI (1,281)
Andrew Zeman, WI (1,145)
Grace Miller, WA (1,070)
Yesenia Carpio, AZ (723)
Mia Correia, MA (666)
Lauren Thomson, IA (639)

Grades 2 – 3
Merlyn Hileman, CA (16,316)
Marche Daughtry, VA (6,530)
Vejas Vasiliauskas, CA (5,549)
Samantha Simonton, GA (5,313)
Nathan Stocking, MN (3,753)
Logan Elizabeth Anderson, IN (3,176)
Annabelle Costanzo, IA (3,166)
John Soovagian, OH (2,407)
Kodie Jo Arnold, OR (2,306)
Brian Martin, CT (2,242)

Grades 4 – 5
Marisa A. Parker, MA (16,411)
Christopher Palmieri, CT (6,564)
Lydia Elizabeth Evans, AL (6,341)
Paige Tuttle, KS (5,628)
Kelcey Schlichting, MO (5,276)
Larry Byler, DE (4,901)
Morgan Budreau, MN (4,611)
Dasha Radford, NC (4,495)
Danielle Burton, KY (4,054)
Meredith Pell, CA (3,274)

Grades 6 – 8
Tiana Knight, CN (14,400)
Daniel Dintzner, MA (9,559)
Ashley Jackson, TN (6,266)
Kevin Andrews, MI (5,332)
Joshua Pearson, MA (5,233)
Greg Botting, MI (5,175)
Sylvia Modesitt, MO (4,200)
Jennifer Wing-Proctor, MI (3,642)
Joshua Gregory, MD (3,463)
Ka Yat Li, CN (3,147)

Grades 9 – 12
Ana Maria Miranda, AZ (16,600)
Jonathan Wong, CA (11,992)
Estin Talavera, KS (11,435)
Leah Grinder, MD (8,022)
Dionne Dyer, FL (7,562)
Jessica Watson, MD (6,660)
Jennifer Hyams, KY (6,301)
Alexis Tamayo, AZ (6,267)
Keith Hinton, AZ (5,601)
Nick Rice, AZ (5,118)

Braille Leaders Community Service Award Recipient
Hannah Weatherd, WY

Honorable Mention
Kristen McCoy, MO
Andrew Nantz, OR
Estin Talavera, KS

 

Braille Slate Pals

“I have a student who is transitioning from print to Braille. If he could exchange letters with another Braille reader I think that would greatly motivate him to learn.”

“My 12-year-old daughter is the only blind child in her school. She would very much like to correspond with another blind girl her age who may share some of her concerns about fitting in.”

“Ever since my son read about Louis Braille he has been fascinated with the Braille system. He wants to find a blind boy his age (ten) so they can write Braille letters back and forth. Can you help us?”

These are only a few examples of the Slate Pal requests we receive throughout the year. Slate Pals is a program for children in grades K-12 that matches students who want Braille pen pals. The program is sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), and is available, free of charge, to children around the world.

Slate Pals enables children who are blind to correspond with one another in Braille. It also finds blind pen pals for sighted children who are interested in learning the Braille code.

Slate Pal requests have come to us from all fifty states and most of the Canadian provinces. We have also received requests for Slate Pals from many nations overseas, including Taiwan, South Africa, Denmark, Hungary, Uganda, El Salvador, Germany, Australia, and Great Britain. In matching Slate Pals the primary considerations are age range, gender, and interests. We also try to match each prospective Slate Pal with someone who lives in a distinctly different geographic locale.

If you have a child or student who would like one or more Slate Pals, please complete the enclosed form. Send the form in print or Braille or via e-mail to:

Debbie Kent Stein
5817 North Nina Ave.
Chicago, Illinois 60631
Phone: 773-631-1093 • Fax: 773-792-8245 • E-mail: dkent5817@att.net

BRAILLE SLATE PALS
A Pen Pal Program for Braille Readers and Students Who Want to Learn Braille

Name:_________________________ _______________ Age:________ Grade: __________
Male Female (Circle one)
Address: _______________________________________________City___________________
State______________ Zip __________ If not the USA, Country ________________________
E-mail: ______________________________________ Phone: __________________________
Parent(s) name and address if other than above:__________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________

Interests/hobbies: _____________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________

I would like (fill in number) _____Slate Pals.
I would like my Slate Pals to be (fill in age range) ______________
I would like my Slate Pals to be (circle one):
male female both no preference
Check one of the following:
[ ] I am blind/visually impaired. I use Braille regularly at school and at home.
[ ] I am blind/visually impaired. I read some print but am shifting to Braille.
[ ] I am sighted and would like to exchange letters in Braille with a blind Slate Pal.
Name (please print), signature, and relationship to the child/student of the person filling out this application: ______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________

Mail to:
Debbie Kent Stein
5817 North Nina Ave., Chicago, Illinois 60631
Phone: 773-631-1093 • Fax: 773-792-8245 • E-mail: dkent5817@att.net

 

Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius

by C. Michael Mellor
A review by Paula Kimbrough


Editor’s Note:
Paula Kimbrough is the former Publications Editor at Enabling Technologies, a manufacturer of Braille embossers. She began researching Louis Braille’s life in 1998 for an article, How Braille Began, for the company Web site, which also appeared in the July, 2005, issue of the Braille Monitor.

How’s this for a great story? A blind teenager from a farm village family, away at school, devises a code that revolutionizes communication for other blind people. The school is harsh, its location toxic, and its leaders often self-absorbed. Only other students and an occasional administrator even comprehend the magnitude of what the boy has done. The boy grows up to become a teacher at the school himself, but the conditions there destroy his health, killing him in his early forties. The code the boy invented nonetheless spreads around the world. Nearly 200 years later, the boy’s name is a household word.

The boy, of course, was Louis Braille. His tragic but triumphant life has proven irresistible to authors of children’s books for generations. Adult biographies of Louis Braille, however, can easily be counted on the fingers of one hand. Now National Braille Press has published a new biography, Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius, by C. Michael Mellor. This beautiful book, aimed at adult readers, covers what has long been known about Braille’s life but adds previously unpublished letters written by Braille himself, as well as art and photographs on nearly every page (fully described in the Braille edition).

At last, Louis Braille’s world comes to life with a richness that is entirely new. The book opens with Braille’s death from tuberculosis in the new building of the school for the blind in Paris, the institution where he spent most of his life. Braille had prepared meticulously for his own death, arranging his affairs to remember friends, family, and servants. This scene (which is historically well documented) shows why Braille as a subject is so challenging; the man seems almost too good to be true.

With this book, Mellor is determined to bring Louis Braille back to life as a full human being, and he succeeds. Readers see the farm village, Coupvray, where Braille was born and where his father operated a harness shop. The shop in the family home (today a museum) is the place where three-year-old Louis accidentally blinded himself while exploring his father’s sharp tools. Louis’s parents, Simon-René and Monique, were literate and industrious people, but in addition to their son’s accident, they were oppressed by local outbreaks of war, famine, and disease. They also had no special expertise to qualify them to be the parents of the most famous blind child in history.

Braille’s life shows how well, and in how many ways, his parents rose to the challenge.

Mellor realistically evokes not only every brave and difficult decision they had to make about their son’s future, but the loving environment of the family home. Braille’s warm family life instilled early what modern people would call tremendous self-esteem, and it served him well the rest of his life.

The book takes readers to the school for the blind where Braille became a student at the age of ten. Mellor does not spare modern readers the grim details of the real lives of blind people in the early 19th century. Life for students at the school might seem almost too bleak to be credible, except that every other option for blind people (usually some form of begging in the streets) was so much worse.
At school, Braille developed his considerable academic and musical gifts. Like the other students, he also spent a large part of every fifteen-hour day in workshop tasks intended both to help the school’s finances and to teach the students various manual trades. When Braille was twelve, an Army captain visited to show the faculty and students a dot code he had invented to write military messages at night. At first, Braille and his friends had fun playing with the code, but Braille alone steadily persisted for three years in simplifying and improving it. By the time he finished the basics of his system, he was sixteen and had devised a simple method using a six-dot cell to write and read words and some musical notation.

Braille’s new code was an immediate hit with the other students but would encounter indifference or opposition from sighted authorities for many years. Several once-prominent worthies in the blindness field would be horrified if they knew that they are only remembered today because they entirely missed the significance of Braille. Common objections were, and still sometimes are, that Braille’s reading and writing tools made blind people “too different from sighted people” or, even more strangely, “too independent.”

Yet Braille’s other projects show that blind people were not only trying to read and write for themselves but were also trying incessantly to communicate with sighted people. Both Braille and his schoolmates spent long portions of the year at the school in Paris, so letters back and forth from home were their primary source of news and comfort. Of course, the students could usually neither write nor read these letters for themselves. Braille and some mechanically inclined blind colleagues devised a machine called a raphigraphe that created visually legible print letter shapes from massed embossed dots specifically to help blind people write to sighted people. Photographs of Braille’s own letters, written in his own carefully memorized longhand characters, in raphigraphic dot letters, or through hired scribes, serve as examples.

The content of Braille’s letters, both to his family and to colleagues, gets closer to Louis Braille as a human being than any biography has ever done, revealing him to be funny, modest, and kind. Braille deeply loved his home village and extended family, which continued to restore his spirits, if not his failing health, during long summer visits. Readers meet a man thrilled with a nephew’s wedding, worried over grape harvests, and paying close attention to his students’ grades and career prospects. Touchingly, he also seems to have had a bit of a crush on his former school director’s sister.

While Braille disliked self-promotion (a former schoolmate said Braille’s “eccentricity was not to appear eccentric”), his letters show him to be quite astute about career and business matters. Although Braille was dying of tuberculosis for the last twenty years of his life, he always held at least one outside post as a church organist in addition to his teaching job. He also constantly maneuvered to obtain similar spots for colleagues and students from the school.

Braille may not have been the saint portrayed in children’s literature, but he was authentically a good man and, indeed, a genius. At a distance of nearly two centuries, modern readers can hardly help being moved by knowing what Braille cannot--that he really will improve the world for millions of people. Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius does a wonderful job of showing readers exactly what it cost him. Parents of blind children (especially those who may have been warned by “experts” against making their children “too independent”) cannot afford to miss it.

Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius by C. Michael Mellor is published by National Braille Press in several editions:
Print $35.00 (plus $5.00 shipping and handling on domestic orders)
Braille (or PortaBook) $25.00 (no charge for Free Matter shipping)
Library/School Edition (Hardcover Braille): $50

Order direct from National Braille Press via the Internet at http://www.braille.com or by contacting NBP at 88 St. Stephen Street, Boston, MA 02115 Phone: (617) 266-6160; Toll-free: (888) 965-8965; Fax: (617) 437-0456, or through http://www.amazon.com (print only).

 

Making It Work: Educating the Blind/Visually Impaired Student in the Regular Classroom

by Carol Castellano
A review by Deborah Kent Stein

“Life as a blind person need not be any more frustrating or stressful than life with eyesight--as long as blind/visually impaired children are taught the skills and given the tools they need to accomplish tasks with independence and with success,” writes Carol Castellano. “If the adults in the child’s life have positive attitudes about blindness and the abilities of blind/VI people and a basic understanding of the skills the child is learning, they can help move the child along and bring the day of independence closer and closer.” This statement captures the spirit of Making It Work, the latest offering in the Critical Concerns in Blindness Series, edited by Ronald J. Ferguson of Louisiana Tech University. Making It Work is a manual for the classroom teacher who has a blind student in his or her class. It is packed with information and advice on how to integrate a blind student into a regular elementary or secondary school program.

As Castellano points out, some U.S. cities began to integrate blind students into regular public school classrooms more than a century ago. Although these programs were quite successful, mainstreaming did not become widespread until the 1950s. Today about 85 percent of all blind children attend public schools. Despite this long history, few teachers and administrators have had any experience with blind students. The news that a blind child will be enrolling in the program is often greeted with anxiety. A host of problems seem to loom, and the teacher is assailed by a swarm of doubts and questions. How can I teach a child who can’t read the printed word? he wonders. How can a blind child understand maps and charts, work in science labs, create art projects, and take part in industrial-arts class? How will a blind student travel from classroom to classroom, negotiate the cafeteria line, and play safely on the playground? Making It Work provides answers to these questions and many more. It assures the teacher that, with the necessary skills and tools, the blind child can participate on an equal basis with her sighted peers in every aspect of school life.

In her opening chapters Castellano calls on the teacher to examine her attitudes about blindness and blind people. She points out the “sighted bias” that pervades much of the mainstream and professional literature about blindness. This bias presents blindness as helplessness and blind people as inferior to people with eyesight. Burdened with unimaginable difficulties, the blind person who goes about the business of living is regarded as brave and indomitable. Castellano challenges the assumption that it takes courage to live as a blind person. “Blind/VI children are simply doing what all children do--living and learning and developing and growing,” she explains. She adds that “We adults can certainly make a blind/VI child feel lacking and inferior and inadequate. We can also choose to make the child feel whole, equal, and competent. It is our attitudes that will shape so much of the blind/VI child’s experience.” Armed with a “can-do” attitude, the teacher will be able to tackle problems and create a stimulating learning environment.

In order to succeed in school and in life, the blind child needs to acquire certain critical skills. According to Castellano these include efficient methods for reading and writing, and the means for moving about freely and safely. For a child who cannot read and write print efficiently due to blindness or visual impairment, Braille is an essential tool. Independent travel is possible when the child develops skill in the use of the long white cane. Castellano explains the basics of Braille and cane travel, demystifying these tools for the uninitiated classroom teacher. She emphasizes that the teacher must encourage the use of these skills and tools so that the blind child can flourish.

In a variety of areas pertaining to the blind child’s educational needs, Castellano provides concrete suggestions. The book discusses the process of writing an individualized education plan (IEP) to set appropriate goals. It explores ways to adapt course materials and to help the blind child gain the information that sighted children absorb from pictures. One chapter is devoted to the role of the classroom aide. Castellano is adamant that the blind child must not be allowed to become dependent upon the aide, and recommends that by third or fourth grade the aide should largely be occupied with preparing Braille worksheets and other materials in alternative formats.

The importance of good social skills is mentioned frequently throughout the book, but the primary emphasis is on academic success. Sadly, some blind students in good academic standing retreat from public school because they feel socially isolated. In order to insure the child’s success at school and beyond, teachers must find ways to facilitate healthy, age-appropriate social interaction. A full chapter on social skills would have been merited. It is surely a critical concern in blindness; perhaps some day it will be granted a volume of its own.

The final chapter of Castellano’s book consists of a series of short essays by teachers and administrators who have worked directly with blind students. Their stories give life to the ideas Castellano has expressed. Some of these educators had misgivings when they found out they would be teaching a child who is blind, but they were open to the new experience. In the end each learned from his/her blind student, and felt that the student’s presence enriched the entire class.

Making It Work is a slender book, aimed at teachers who have little or no prior knowledge about blindness. The information is basic, and many of the suggestions tend to be general. The extensive list of resources at the back of the book will prove valuable as the teacher searches for specific ways to meet day-to-day challenges. Two excellent books listed in the Resources section will amplify the ideas Castellano sets forth. A Handbook for Itinerant and Resource Teachers of Blind and Visually Impaired Students by Doris Willoughby and Sharon Duffy, and Modular Instruction for Independent Travel for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired by Doris Willoughby and Sharon Monthei are compendia of suggestions for “making it work” at every level of a child’s education.
As an epigraph to this book Castellano quotes bioethicist and lifelong Federationist Adrienne Asch. “Why the regular school?” Asch asks. “Because there is not a ‘sighted world’ with blind people living outside it, but one world in which the blind person also lives. The blind person belongs; schools are for her or him, too, the same schools, the same world, the same kind of life.” The implication of these words is profound, yet wonderfully simple. May they shape the thinking of the teachers who read this book, and frame the way they welcome blind children into their classrooms and their lives.

Making it Work: Educating the Blind/Visually Impaired Student in the Regular School, by Carol Castellano, copyright 2005, Information Age Publishing, Inc., is available in regular print and on CD:

Print: $25 plus shipping and handling
CD: $25

The book may be ordered from:

* Information Age Publishing at www.infoagepub.com
* The National Federation of the Blind at www.nfb.org (click on Aids & Appliances, Books, Education)
* Parents of Blind Children-NJ at www.blindchildren.org.

Letters, calls, or e-mail inquiries about the book may be directed to the author, Carol Castellano, President, Parents of Blind Children-NJ, 23 Alexander Avenue, Madison, New Jersey 07940; (973) 377-0976; <center@webspan.net>.

 

Soaring Through Fear

by Merry-Noel Chamberlain

Editor’s Note: Can your blind child walk around your block unaccompanied? Cross a street independently? What about flying across the country without an assistant? Most airlines define unaccompanied children to be those ages twelve and under. Could your thirteen-year-old fly, for example, to the NFB headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland? For the past two years, over twenty blind kids about this age have done just that so they could participate in the NFB Science Academy program. What level of cane-travel skills would your child need? How many orientation and mobility lessons? How much independent travel practice in other settings? Ultimately, of course, no amount of preparation can take away the fact that there is always a first time for everything. It cannot be avoided. There is an old Chinese proverb that goes something like this, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Here is Chamberlain’s story about her first flying experience; the courage it took, and the confidence she gained because she took that first step to “soar through fear:”

I stood in line next to my husband Marty at airport security check-in, and my stomach felt as if the last hurricane that pounded Florida were roiling inside me. It was the first time I was going to travel independently by plane since I had become blind. This day I was on my way to Kalamazoo, Michigan, for weekend classes at Western Michigan University. Having a father in the military allowed me to travel extensively between Europe and the United States when I was growing up. But this was different. I thought how lucky I was that Marty had been given a special pass to escort me to my departure gate. Marty was very supportive, and I tried to appear confident as I clung to his sleeve. My heart was pounding, and my head was full of questions such as how was I going to be able to find my connecting flight? Where exactly should I stow my long white cane on the plane? What did the Braille Monitor suggest? What should I do if the airline wanted to take my cane away from me? Hadn’t I read stories in the Monitor about such situations? I was terrified at the possibility of having some sort of confrontation with the airline. I concluded that perhaps I should have brushed up on plane orientation and mobility.

What had I just overheard? Was the flight cancelled? Would luck be with me and Marty have to cancel his weekend plans in order to drive me to Michigan, which was what I secretly hoped for? That would be fine with me, I told myself. I really didn’t need to sit in on that elective seminar, did I? If we left within the hour, I would be in Kalamazoo tonight, just in time for class.

As we inched our way forward, the voices became louder and clearer. The hurricane in Florida had grounded planes in Tennessee. Too bad, I happily smiled to myself. I didn’t have to face my fear today, and Marty was going to have to drive me after all. We quickly exchanged my ticket, zoomed over to our house two miles away, packed an overnight bag for Marty, and headed towards the sunrise, leaving Des Moines behind us.

What a loss, the great opportunity to learn; to explore new terrain; to discover—using the discovery method—how to travel by plane. For several weeks afterwards, I regretted having my secret wish come true. Also I felt guilty for monopolizing Marty’s time by taking away his weekend and for being so selfish. If I could have done it over again, I would have embraced the learning experience of making that flight independently.

The opportunity to fly again came sooner than I anticipated, and this time I was eager to take the challenge. Western Michigan invited me to attend the 2005 Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Institute in Boston, which meant I was going to fly even farther than I would have the first time. Although I was nervous, I reminded myself how much I had regretted missing that learning opportunity. I also told myself that, if I was going to expect my students to face their fears, I needed to do the same thing. Besides, how could I face my own fears if I couldn’t even set foot on a plane? How could I show my face at a leadership conference (of all places) if I couldn’t be a leader?

The day soon arrived for me to jump and hold on tight to the bungee cord. I decided that I would take this opportunity to immerse myself totally in the flying experience. Well—except for the beginning when Marty would walk me to the gate to send me off. Perhaps that was the romantic side of me or a tiny bit of residual fear. I’ll never tell.

I won’t detail each flight, just report the highlights. Each plane, I discovered, had its own personality deriving from the cabin crew on duty. When I chose to enter the plane before the other passengers, the crew made a point of describing the overhead air and light functions to me. Later, when a passenger was seated beside me, one crew member introduced me to her, informed her that I was blind, and asked if, in case of an emergency, she would escort me to the nearest exit. Of course she said that she would, but I doubted it. That would have been the last thing on her mind if the plane made an emergency landing.

Generally everyone was helpful. One time a passenger retrieved my cane from the overhead compartment when I was experimenting with storage options. I tried putting it there a couple of times but ended up feeling more comfortable with it stored between the seat and the window. Not once did anyone try to take the cane away from me, which pleased me.

As I say, I wanted the total experience and decided to pick my battles later when it came to changing planes in Minneapolis, St. Paul. There I was stopped by a gate agent as soon as I exited the plane and was escorted to a row of blue chairs that displayed the handicapped icon on the back. I was instructed to wait there for the shuttle that was on its way to transport me to the next gate. I said that I could walk, but he insisted that it was quite a long way to my gate. So I sat and waited. Finally the electric cart arrived, and we went for a long, long ride. I was happy for the ride but felt that the cart was totally unnecessary. My layover was long enough for me to have walked, and I would have loved the opportunity to explore some of the shops along the way.

As I was nearing Boston, I suddenly wondered how I was going to find the luggage carousel once I had left the plane. I thought to myself, there are a lot of people on this plane. I’ll just ask someone with a sweet-sounding voice if he or she was going to baggage claim. That’s what I did. Together we walked to baggage claim, where I ran into John McMahan, a college classmate whose plane had arrived just ahead of mine. Radiating quiet confidence, I didn’t want him to guess how much I was exploding with triumph inside. I wanted to jump up and down for joy and give him a huge bear hug and a high-five. I was ever so proud of myself! I had done it. But I wasn’t brave enough to share my accomplishment with John, who is also blind.

In orientation and mobility we often talk about traveling with confidence. This trip taught me that traveling from home to the store really is no different from traveling by plane, providing that you have confidence in your independent travel skills. The structured discovery method of orientation and mobility allows individuals to develop such confidence. What one learns in the mall when using the discovery method can be transplanted to the airport terminal. For example, when you hear the footsteps of several people walking in the same direction at the mall, you can conclude that the exit is in that direction. Following the sound of footsteps in the airport concourse can often lead to baggage claim or get you near enough to hear it. When you have confidence in your mobility skills, orientation information will flow in when you are traveling over new terrain.

I am writing this on yet another plane as I head home from the Washington Seminar. This is now the eleventh plane I’ve been on since that first ride to Boston, and I have discovered that, if you appear to be a confident traveler, people will treat you like one. If you appear to be an inexperienced traveler, more assistance will be offered. Today I found my gate and entered the plane when my row was called. I counted the rows to number eight and sat down in seat B. The crew member didn’t make a point of introducing me to the overhead buttons. In fact, I wasn’t visited until drinks were served. That was when she saw my BrailleNote and must have concluded that I was blind because she carefully described where she had placed my soda on the tray and then gently patted my hand.

We all face fears from time to time, and even those who have received training in orientation and mobility or have years of experience traveling may encounter new opportunities to learn. Just today, as I left the Holiday Inn Capitol, I embraced the challenge of taking the Metro so I could experience and discover a new mode of transportation. But I’ll leave the description of that experience for another article because I feel the plane starting to descend. The cabin crew member just stopped by to see if I needed any assistance in Des Moines. “No,” I proudly told her, “I’m home.”

We are all fortunate to have the National Federation of the Blind to pave the way and allow us to learn from one another so that we can fly both literally and figuratively. I can hardly wait to soar through the sunny blue sky to the national convention in Dallas. Can you?

 

My Cane

by John Lee Clark

Whenever I skeddale
up stairwells
or dive down flights,
swooping past risers,
I want to touch down
on each landing standing
with my tango partner.

Whenever outside, I want her
to become a sword,
parrying lunges from poles
and challenging anything
in my way,
unafraid of ambushes
of concrete and of glass.

Whenever I approach seas
of feet, I want her
to wave her slender figure,
luminous white,
for all before me
to part and make way
for a man possessed.

 

The Guide Dog Experience

by Dana Ard

Reprinted from the Gem State Milestones (Fall, 2003), a publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho.

Editor’s Note: Dana Ard is the editor of the Gem State Milestones and a long-time leader in the NFB of Idaho affiliate. This article was published in a column called, “Bright Ideas.”

As I sat watching the movie “Scent of a Woman” with friends on New Year’s Eve, I had no idea that 2003 would bring the death of my golden retriever guide Fringe, and the beginning of a new partnership with Vergie, a two-year-old black Labrador retriever. Since this is what has happened, I thought I would use this opportunity to discuss guide dogs.

Although many blind people have definite opinions on the use of guide dogs, only about five per cent of all blind people choose a guide dog as their primary mobility tool. The reasons for choosing a guide dog are as varied as the people making the choice. I choose to try using a guide dog in 1985 to see if I could cross streets straighter and eliminate, or greatly diminish my tendency to diagonal intersections. I also hoped a dog would help me become a more confident, self-assured traveler. Also, Boise was becoming a larger city with more crime, and I thought I would feel safer as a blind person accompanied on my walks by a large dog.

There are around fifteen guide dog schools in the country. I have gotten all three of my guides from Guide Dogs for the Blind, which now has two campuses, one in San Rafael, and the newest campus in Boring, Oregon, near Portland. My decision was based both on proximity, and the experiences of friends who had gotten dogs from that school. I strongly recommend that prospective guide and philosophy. For instance, some schools like the Seeing Eye, in Morris Town, New Jersey, give ownership of the guide dog to the handler upon graduation. Guide Dogs for the Blind will grant ownership after a year, if the handler desires this. Guide Dogs for the Blind has a yearly follow-up program, which some people may not want. [Editor’s note: According to the Guide Dog representative we contacted, the follow-up program is designed to offer support and help especially in the first year, and is not meant to be intrusive.]

Some schools offer specialized programs for people with special needs such as the deaf/blind or persons that use a wheelchair for mobility. Guide Dogs for the Blind has always been very reasonable in allowing me to modify certain techniques to accommodate balance problems resulting from my cerebral palsy.

All schools require that a prospective student be able to travel independently and safely before they will be considered for a dog. Schools will either do an in-home interview, which will include a demonstration walk showing the student has the necessary independent travel skills, or request a video of the student, or some other verification of the student’s travel status. Although a dog is taught to disobey a command if he sees a dangerous situation, the director of the team is still the human partner. If the handler is unsure as a traveler, the dog can lose confidence, or try to usurp the handler’s authority.

The three most commonly used breeds in guide dog work are the Labrador retriever, the golden retriever, and the German shepherd. Other breeds are the standard poodle, smooth coated collie, Doberman pinscher, and some schools occasionally use the boxer. People who go for their first dog normally cannot select their breed of preference. Returning students can state a breed preference, but they may have to wait for a good match in the breed of choice. The selection of a dog for a person is not done by chance. The first consideration is controllability; that is, will the prospective handler be able to control the dog. If the dog cannot be controlled, the team will not function effectively. I have always been given “softer” dogs which require minimal control, as I am not a very hard handler.

Often the softer dog is not as confident, and requires encouragement from the human partner to build that confidence. Other considerations in the matching process include walking speed, the working environment, and home environment. I have always received dogs that walk at a slow-to-moderate pace. My dogs must be able to lie quietly in an office, and be tolerant of many different situations including going into homes with a variety of different animals and people. They must also be able to live in a multiple dog household, as we now have four other dogs of varying sizes and temperaments.

For the first-time student, guide dog school lasts twenty-six to twenty-eight days, depending on the school. Students returning for a successor dog may take a shorter class. During class, students travel in all types of environments, such as busy city streets, crowded walkways, country roads, shopping malls and other buildings, and on buses, subways, and commuter trains. Most schools require students to live in residence, although some offer in-home training.

Downsides of having a guide dog include the issue of shedding, the time it takes to build a good working team, the extra care and expense of the dog, the occasional illegal denial of access to the team, and the grief when the dog dies or retires. For me, these negatives are minor. Working with a guide dog for the past eighteen years, has been everything I hoped for and more.

If readers would like to contact the author, Dana Ard, with questions about her guide dog experience, she is available by e-mail at <danaard@myexcel.com> or by phone in the evenings, Mountain Time, at (208) 345-3906.

 

My Right To Vote

by Barbara Pierce

Reprinted from the Winter 2005 issue of Buckeye Bulletin, a publication of the NFB of Ohio.

Editor’s Note: Among the most precious rights and responsibilities of a citizen in a democracy is the right to vote, and specifically the right to cast a secret ballot. But, like many of the freedoms we enjoy in this country, this is a right that we seldom think about and usually take for granted--unless it is raining on poll-day and we have to give ourselves a pep-talk about the importance of exercising our rights. But thousands of blind citizens have never until very recently been able to fully exercise that right; Barbara Piece is one of them. Below, Pierce describes her first truly independent voting experience:

In one respect November 8, 2005, was a day I will never forget. Lorain County, the county where I live, was one of the forty-nine in the state of Ohio that managed to place new touch-screen voting machines in polling places in time for the fall election. Lorain County choose Diebold machines, which meant that a special keypad was attached to at least one machine so that voters requiring or preferring enlarged print on the screen or a digitized voice speaking either English or Spanish could vote independently. I have voted about eighty times since I turned twenty-one, but this was the first time that my husband did not have to read the ballot and cast my vote for me. I was looking forward to performing this duty of citizenship independently, but I did not expect that it would move me as much as it did. As I say, it was an unforgettable experience that actually moved me to tears.

Of course not everything went smoothly. In the first place each precinct was supposed to have an accessible keypad attached to one precinct, so we should have had two accessible machines; we had one. Then, when I slid my plastic card into the slot, nothing happened. I tried tapping buttons--silence. Eventually I turned around and asked if something was supposed to be happening. Immediately something did. A posse of poll workers descended on me, and the other voters watched in great interest as ladies checked the cables, reseated my card, asked me questions about what I might have done wrong, and tapped on the machine in various places. Then they got out the instruction book, which suggested that they do the things they had just done. Eventually they called the board of elections. The experts there told them to check the connections and refer to the instructions. Ultimately we were passed along to the real experts at Diebold, who eventually thought to remind the officials that they had to program my card differently if I was going to use the access feature.

They extracted the card, reprogrammed it, and sent me on my way again. This time the machine began talking immediately. The female voice was speaking far too slowly for this speed reader, but the introductory instructions told me how to speed up the speech. I did so, but I must report that the system would be easier to use if a male voice had been chosen. Moreover, it is ridiculous in today’s world of rapid digitized speech without pitch distortion that Miss Diebold’s voice became painfully shrill and almost unintelligible when speeded up only two clicks.

The general instructions are quite clear, but they should include directions for jumping to each actual vote rather than leaving the voter to experiment with ways to skip through the pages of printed information about each issue or tax. I found it easy to vote for individual candidates; I just tapped the key that I was told would cast my vote for the key that I was told would cast my vote for that person. With the issues and levies, however, the instructions explained how to vote for each, but not a word of advice was there about how to vote against. As far as I could tell, one would have to first vote for the item and then reverse the vote. This seems awkward when several keys on the keypad sat there with no apparent function. One could easily have been assigned to record a no vote. After issue one I discovered that tapping the six-key would advance me to the vote itself, but I heard of several voters who were afraid of missing the opportunity to vote at all if they began punching keys to see what would happen, so they slogged through about twenty pages of text in their effort to cast their ballots responsibly.

In fact the system is constructed to make it almost impossible for a voter to ignore a vote. I wanted to under-vote the city council election, and Miss Diebold was quite disturbed about my decision and questioned me closely to be sure that this was my intent.
I was very impressed with the final step of the voting process. I heard the paper ballot being printed and was told that it might be used if a hand count were necessary. Then I was invited to listen to what was printed on that piece of paper. I would have been allowed to skip this step, but I did not. I checked to be sure that each of my votes had been recorded as I intended. I have questioned whether or not the machine was really reading the paper or was simply reviewing the original choices I had made. I have been assured that it was reviewing the printed document.

As far as I can tell, my votes were accurately recorded. I understand that Ohio does not allow its voting machines to be networked together. This means that anyone with plans to hack into voting machines to change the votes would have to deal with each individual machine. If poll officials were to try to fix the vote, both political parties would have to agree on the fix. I don’t say that it would be impossible to throw an election using these new machines (we have never before succeeded in conducting a completely fair election, so voting fraud will no doubt continue to happen), but I found the election process to be fair and relatively easy to follow. I will no doubt find it even easier the next time.

I recognize that I was much luckier than most blind voters. In half of Ohio’s counties no accessible machines were available anywhere. Even where they had been installed, insurmountable problems occurred in some places. In one polling place the keypad was cabled to a machine that had malfunctioned. Rather than moving it to another machine, which could have been done in a few seconds, the officials told blind voters that they would have to vote the old way. Another voter could listen to the general instructions, but when she pressed the button that should have allowed her to begin the voting process, Miss Diebold went back to the beginning of the instructions. Nothing could induce her to move to the ballot.

Clearly, poll workers could have used more training. Voters too would have benefited from knowing better what to expect. Everyone took longer using the new machines. But in May things should go more smoothly. I hope that Diebold will take our suggestions about the voice it uses and that it can eliminate the pitch distortion. A few more general instructions would be useful, and for goodness sake, tell us how to vote “no” and to skip the background information if we do not need to read it in order to vote responsibly. But all things considered, we could have faced many more problems than we did. I for one am very grateful finally to be an independent voter.

Did you know?
Here are a few of the interesting facts about the pivotal role the National Federation of the Blind is playing in the development of accessible voting for the blind:

THE STAGE IS SET: The fiasco in Florida in the 2000 election sets the stage for Congressional reform.

--July 2001: The NFB passes resolution 2001-04 calling for nonvisual access language to be included in election reform legislation at the federal and state levels. NFB members nationwide spring into action and contact their Senators and Representatives to explain the problem and offer a solution;

--December 2001: The House and Senate election reform bills both include specific non-visual access language;

--July 2002: Bob Ney, Congressional Representative from Ohio, attends the NFB Convention and promises to support independent access to the voting process for blind citizens;

--October 2002: HAVA--the Help America Vote Act--passes. It includes critical non-visual voting access language. NFB President Marc Maurer and Director of Governmental Affairs, Jim Gashel, attend the bill signing by invitation of the White House.

--September 2003: The NFB establishes the National Center on nonvisual Election Technology under a federal grant.

-- April 2004: The NFB files a complaint in the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio on behalf of Barbara Pierce and other blind Ohioans whose civil rights have been violated because the state of Ohio failed to use available federal funds to purchase accessible voting systems.

--May 2004: The NFB nonvisual Access Election Technology Committee meets to discuss the criteria for accessible voting machines;

--July 2004: About 2,500 blind people have the chance to test at least six different prototypes of non-visual access election machines at the NFB Convention in Louisville, Kentucky;

--February 2005: The NFB Jernigan Institute organizes and hosts a national nonvisual Election Training Seminar; and

--July 2005: For the second year, prototypes of non-visual access election machines are available for blind conventioneers to test out at the NFB National Convention in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

New Brochure About Braille Requirements in the Law

The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) is proud to announce the availability of a new educational brochure entitled, “Braille and Visually Impaired Students--What does the law require?” published jointly by the National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities; and the NOPBC. In a simple, concise question and answer format, the brochure explains the requirements of the Braille instruction provision in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This brochure is designed to give accurate information and guidance to school administrators and other IEP team leaders who do not have a background in blindness. However, parents and teachers of blind and visually impaired students will also find it useful as a reference and resource for themselves, as well as a tool to educate others. Until now, the information contained in this brochure has typically been buried in broader publications about Braille and/or education law and therefore not easily accessible to the IEP team.

The development of this brochure has other historic significance. It is the first product of a new collaboration between the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and the National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities. In the fall of 2005, the NOPBC joined the National Agenda as a member of the Steering Committee. The National Agenda is a grassroots initiative made up of a loosely-knit group of organizations, agencies, and individuals collaborating to improve the education of blind and visually impaired students in this country. One of the ten national goals or priorities of the National Agenda is the full inclusion of parents as equal partners in the education process. The NOPBC is a nationwide membership organization of parents, family members, and other friends of blind children. Affiliated with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the NOPBC is a partner with the NFB in the publication and distribution of Future Reflections.

Multiple copies of the new brochure are available free of charge from the National Federation of the Blind and the NOPBC and, of course, it is also accessible on the Web sites of the National Agenda at <www.tsbvi.edu/agenda/>, and the NOPBC at <www.nfb.org/nopbc.htm>. To order the brochure, send your name, address, and the amount you want to Barbara Cheadle, NOPBC, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; (410) 659-9314, extension 2360; <bcheadle@nfb.org>.
Here is the complete text of the brochure:

Braille and Visually Impaired Students
What does the law require?

Passing a law is one thing. Getting it enforced and, more to the point, accepted, is quite another. Laws tend to be a reflection of public opinion, not a creator of it. They give a final nudge to new reality. With respect to Braille, there can be no doubt that the climate of public opinion has changed dramatically during the past decade. Once again, Braille is becoming the centerpiece in the education of blind people, just as print is for sighted people.

--Kenneth Jernigan, Braille Into the Next Millennium

Developed and published by
The National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities
www.tsbvi.edu/agenda/
in partnership with
The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), a division of the
National Federation of the Blind
www.nfb.org/nopbc.htm

Q: You mean that there is a specific provision in the law about Braille instruction for visually impaired students?

A: Yes, that’s right. The “Braille provision” as it is sometimes called, was added when the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was reauthorized in 1997 and was continued in the 2004 reauthorization.

Q: What does it say?
A: Here is the pertinent section from the IDEA reauthorization of 2004:
Section 614 (d)(3)(B)(iii)
(B) Consideration of Special Factors.--The IEP Team
shall--
(iii) in the case of a child who is blind or visually impaired, provide for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille unless the IEP Team determines, after an evaluation of the child's reading and writing skills, needs, and appropriate reading and writing media (including an evaluation of the child's future needs for instruction in Braille or the use of Braille), that instruction in Braille or the use of Braille is not appropriate for the child;

Q: Is it significant that this provision uses the word “provide” rather than “consider the need for” Braille instruction?

A: Good observation. Yes, it is significant. It means that the IEP team is obligated to assume--even before an evaluation is conducted--that Braille instruction will be a necessary service for the blind or visually impaired child. This is an important shift from past educational practices when it was routinely assumed that children with some usable vision would read print and only be provided with Braille instruction as the last resort.

Q: Does this provision apply to every blind or visually impaired child with an IEP?

A: Yes.

Q: Does this mean that visually impaired children who might have sufficient vision to read enlarged print or regular print with magnification shall also be provided with Braille instruction and the opportunity to use Braille?

A: That’s right. Unless, of course (as the provision states), an evaluation that takes into consideration the child’s future need for Braille literacy demonstrates that Braille is not appropriate.

Q: So, this evaluation must be pretty important. What is it called?

A: It is extremely important. Many people in the blindness profession have come to refer to it as a learning media assessment. In all instances where Braille instruction is not provided for children covered under this provision, documentation of a learning media assessment (the evaluation) is required. Furthermore, is it critical that a qualified person conduct the assessment. The National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, including those with Multiple Disabilities, recommends that “All assessments and evaluations of students will be conducted by and/or in partnership with personnel having expertise in the education of students with visual impairments and their parents.” Huebner, Merk-Adam, Stryker, and Wolfe. 2004.

Q: What must the evaluation include?

A: There are many elements in a learning media assessment. The Braille provision specifically requires that the following be addressed: skills in reading and writing, reading and writing needs, and future need for Braille or Braille instruction. The assessment of future needs is important because a number of congenital eye diseases or disorders are degenerative. As we know, the educational system is charged with the responsibility of preparing students for a lifetime of literacy. This provision protects the right of children with visual impairments to be provided with skills in a literacy mode that will also last a lifetime, whatever the prognosis might be for their vision.

Q: Are there any learning media assessment tools that an LEA can purchase and use for this evaluation?

A: Yes. The Texas School for the Blind, the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), and others have developed learning media assessment tools. Some state departments of education, such as Maryland, have also developed specific guidelines that may be used by IEP teams. Information about resources is included at the end of this brochure.

Q: Some children with blindness or visual impairment also have additional disabilities--such as autism, learning disabilities, developmental delays, cerebral palsy, and so forth. Do learning media assessments need to be conducted for these children? Might these children require Braille instruction?

A: Yes, and yes--to both questions. Literacy is the pathway to maximum independence and life satisfaction for every child that has the capacity to learn, including those at the functional reading level. It may take such children longer to learn to read, and/or require additional supports or individualized strategies, but this only highlights the importance of good assessments.

Q: Once the IEP team has conducted a learning media assessment and made a determination about the appropriateness of print and Braille instruction, does the team need to review or reconsider that decision during the annual IEP review?

A: That depends. If the child is receiving regular and adequate Braille instruction, probably not. However, if the child is not receiving Braille instruction, then it would be appropriate and in keeping with the intent of the Braille provision for the IEP team to discuss and/or reassess the decision annually.

Q: This sounds like a sensible and educationally sound process. Now what about those resources?

Resources

The National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities
www.tsbvi.edu/agenda/

Learning Media Assessments
www.lighthouse.org (search term: assessment compendium)

Braille Instructional Materials
American Printing House for the Blind (APH)
www.aph.org/products

American Foundation for the Blind
www.afb.org/store

Braille Too (Grant Wood AEA, Iowa)
www.aea10.k12.ia.us/divlearn/brailletoo.html

Exceptional Teaching Aids, Inc. (Mangold Exclusives)
www.store.exceptionalteaching.net/maex.html

Texas School for the Blind Publications
www.tsbvi.edu (go to Curriculum Publications)

Informational Materials about Braille
The World Under My Fingers: Personal Reflections on Braille, Second Edition
National Federation of the Blind
www.nfb.org

The Bridge to Braille: Reading and School Success for the Young Blind Child
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
www.nfb.org/nopbc.htm

Braille Into the Next Millennium ISBN 0-8444-021-7
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
www.loc.gov/nls

 

What Do You Mean, You're "Blind"?
Thought Provoker 101

by Robert Leslie Newman
Web site: http://www.whitsacre.info/vip/thought.htm

Editor’s Note: In the fictional vignette below, Robert Newman illustrates how raising low vision children with a positive NFB approach to blindness can help these kids feel confident in discussing blindness and in reaching out to make new friends. Newman, who is himself blind, is a career rehabilitation specialist with the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and a long-time member of the NFB. He started writing his Thought Provokers several years ago as a way to explore the diverse and often thorny issues which surround the adjustment to blindness process. This Thought Provoker and others are posted on his Web site. Here is Thought Provoker 101:

Thought Provoker 101

“What do you mean, you’re blind?” asked Kerrie’s new friend, Tommy. He had his nose right up to hers, his breath smelling of garlic from the lunch they had just shared.

Kerrie, age seven, had invited her new neighbor, six-year-old Tommy, over to welcome him to the neighborhood.
“You have those glasses on and your eyes look real big!”

Nose wrinkling, Kerrie turned her head aside and tried to answer him like her mother and teachers had coached her: “Ah, well, I can’t see good. I have to be real close and, ah, well, the light has to be bright. And…”

“But your eyes are looking at me! And they’re pretty blue, like my mother’s.” Tommy interrupted.

Reaching out to push away the wiggling hand Tommy had thrust up before her eyes, Kerrie patiently continued with her explanation.

“These glasses help me see stuff clearer. But I still have to get close.”

“How close?” Tommy broke in again, excitedly continuing with his need to know. “Can you read Harry Potter?”

“Yeah I am right now, on CD.”

“On CD! Can I see?” Tommy asked.

Kerrie lead the way to where she had placed the player, picked it up, and--fingers quickly orienting to the machine’s many buttons--pushed play. A voice with an English accent spoke from the small speaker on the front panel, “The Goblet of Fire!"

“That’s not reading!” blurted Tommy. “That’s, that’s….”

This time Kerrie interrupted. “Lots of people read this way. Didn’t you ever have any books on tape when you were little?”

“Yeah, but, but….” stuttered Tommy.

“Okay. You hear the words, right? And it’s like the people in England talk, right?”

“Yeah. That part’s cool.” Tommy responded, starting to really listen to what his new friend was telling him.

“And I’m learning Braille this year. I can read with my fingers, too!” Kerrie said, setting down the CD player and reaching for a nearby book. “Here, watch.” Kneeling down on the carpeted floor, Kerrie opened to a marked page and with both index fingers positioned at the top of the page, she began to slide her fingers along the Braille text. “Nancy Drew is my name….”

“COOL, can I try?” After Kerrie had him properly aligned, Tommy said, ”Ah, ...these bumps are….kinda small. So….how do you read it?” And getting his face right up to hers again, he said, “Do those glasses help you read this?”

“No! You read Braille with your fingers! It’s special and you have to learn it. My glasses help me read the computer.”

“Can I see?”

At the computer desk Kerrie brought up a screen enlargement program. “See. Bigger, bigger, smaller, smaller…” Tommy’s breathy “COOL,” accompanying each change. “And when I get to a lot of words that are hard to see, I can do this…,” Kerrie tapped some keys and a synthesized voice blared from the speakers.

“COOL, I gotta have one! Can I do it?”

Encouraged by Tommy’s enthusiasm, Kerrie continued, “I also use a white cane,” and pulled her cane out from behind the recroom door.

“Is that what that stick is called? Can I see?”

Kerrie’s mother had periodically come to the door of the room to listen to how the kids were getting along. She had purposefully refrained from coming in, not wanting to interrupt, however when she heard, “…I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours…,” she stepped in. She saw Tommy with a wide-eyed expression wearing Kerrie’s thick lens glasses, and Kerrie squinting behind the dark colored lenses of Tommy’s non-prescription sunglasses. It’s hard to say who started laughing first.

 

United We Stand

by Hannah Lindner and Barbara Loos

“No kidding,” we said in unison. It was the third time that day we had spoken simultaneously. Since we had met only two days before, this struck us both as unusual. As of this writing, our relationship is about three months old, and, from time to time, we are still doing it.
So what brought us together in the first place, and why are we coauthoring this article?

We met on November 10, 2005, in Aurora, Nebraska, having committed to two years of participation in the newly established mentoring program through the National Center on Mentoring Excellence of the National Federation of the Blind’s Jernigan Institute--Hannah as a mentee, Barbara as a mentor. None of the twenty blind adults and twenty blind youth knew before that date with whom we would be paired. By the time we left, those of us who attended the kickoff event had begun to get acquainted. So far, the two of us are having a great time. This article is our response to an invitation to share some of what we have done along the first leg of our journey.

We met during the initial gathering in Aurora. Having introduced ourselves upon sitting down beside each other, we were already together when the list of mentor/mentee pairs was read, announcing us as a team. Before that meeting adjourned, we arranged to have breakfast together the next morning. Acknowledging to one another that we do not like being conspicuous, we determined both a time and a specific place to connect.

One activity that weekend took us to a mall with specific assignments. We efficiently completed our mission, learning in the process that we both take expectations seriously while finding humor in much of what happens along the way.

Everything we have done since that time has continued to help us to get to know each other. We are regularly in touch by phone and via e-mail. We spent one afternoon at Hannah’s grandparents’ place sharing snacks and conversation with them as well as with her mother and one of her sisters. At Barbara and her husband Brad’s home, we have baked rhubarb bread, worked on the computer, downloaded and Brailled lyrics to a song we want to learn, and met over supper with another mentor/mentee team to discuss techniques of blindness they have used in anatomy classes, something Hannah anticipates needing in order to pursue her current post-high school goals. We have also attended events of the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska’s Lincoln chapter, giving us both food for thought and opportunities to network with other blind people. When the latest Harry Potter movie came to our Mopix theater, we donned wireless earphones and availed ourselves of audio descriptions of the visual happenings taking place on the screen.

And overarching all we do are five essential elements of success for blind people. Those elements are:

* coming to believe both emotionally and intellectually that it is respectable to be blind;
* learning the skills and mastering the alternative techniques of blindness;
* knowing how to cope with people’s misconceptions about blindness;
*possessing the discipline, the flexibility, and the work ethic, grooming, and appearance to blend in;
* giving back both to other blind people and to society.

Each of us has reasons for signing up for this project. In our own words, here is what we are getting out of this experience--Hannah first.

Hannah:

The experience of being a mentee has many good points. Having a mentor is very helpful, especially in the blind community. Mentors and mentees can exchange a good amount of advice. For example, in the blind community, a mentor can advise a mentee on what to do when a teacher or employer has doubts about what a blind person can do. It’s more than likely the mentor has been in the exact same spot before, and can give a suggestion on what worked the best. Mentors and mentees can exchange information and experience. For instance, I like to tell my mentor about some of the latest computer features. She has talked to me about how it is important to have a regular reader [a live person, volunteer or paid] not only to read mail, but to help identify unlabeled items and colors.

Having a mentor can provide a sense of security. Having a mentor now, I don’t feel as alone with blindness as I used to. Knowing a successful blind person gives me a feeling that I can do it, too. And now, instead of wondering what a successful blind person did to become successful, I can actually ask! I can ask and get an answer instead of asking a sighted person who would have to guess.
Last, but never least, being in a mentor-mentee relationship is fun. It’s just like any friendship. We spend plenty of time out in the community with blind and sighted people alike. I am also introduced to blind people’s organizations. For instance, last month, I got to go with my mentor to the meeting of the Lincoln chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, and I had a great time!

Barbara:

I agreed to do this because I love young people and enjoy the opportunity to interact with blind youth, whom I see, among other things, as the future of the blind, for better or worse. I once had a blind mentor, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who, after I had complained about how poorly things seemed to be going in Nebraska for blind people, said, “And what are you doing about it?” Realizing that I had just downgraded blind people who were, in whatever ways they could, trying to improve conditions for all blind Nebraskans, myself included, I determined to become part of the solution rather than the problem. That was over thirty years ago. Through a commitment to this mentoring program, I hope to continue to “do something about” improving life for at least two blind people--Hannah and me.

We both agree that a mentor-mentee relationship does not have to be a commitment that you wonder how you are going to fulfill. It can provide help, security, fun, friendship and satisfaction for both people. In our case, we hope that by growing in our acceptance of the respectability of being blind, improving upon our blindness skills, coping with both public and private attitudes about blindness, exploring ways of blending in and taking advantage of opportunities to give back, together we can truly change what it means to be blind in positive ways.

 

What is the National Center for Mentoring Excellence Program?

by Amy Phelps, Coordinator

In October of 2004, the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute received a five-year model demonstration grant from the U.S. Department of Education Rehabilitation Services Administration to develop a mentoring excellence program. As a result, the National Center for Mentoring Excellence was established to design, develop, implement, and evaluate a comprehensive national mentoring program to connect young blind people with successful blind adult role models. The ultimate goal of the mentoring program is to not only document the value of a formal mentoring program but to also see a marked increase in positive vocational outcomes and academic success for the participating youth and young adults.

The Nebraska Commission for the Blind and the Louisiana Center for the Blind were chosen as the first two demonstration sites because of their existing working relationship with consumer organizations and their commitment to mentoring as a means to success for transition age young adults. The state coordinators of mentoring, Carlos Serván, Nebraska, and Norma Crosby, Louisiana, began working closely with the National Center for Mentoring Excellence to identify and match mentoring pairs. The young adults who committed to the program range between the ages of sixteen and twenty-six and are blind or visually impaired. These young adults agreed to meet with their mentors monthly for a minimum of eight hours one-to-one and to maintain weekly phone or e-mail contact. In addition to the one-to-one time with mentors, the mentoring pairs will also come together as groups in their respective communities to experience first hand the value of learning from other blind people.

For more information about the mentoring program and ways that families, young people, schools, or agencies can collaborate with the National Federation of the Blind in mentorship projects, please contact Amy Phelps by e-mail at aphelps@nfb.org or by phone at (410) 659-9314, extension 2295.

 

Seeing the Value of Giving

Editor’s Note: For several years, I’ve only known Miss Inam Shalati as a voice on the phone calling to compliment me on the latest issue of Future Reflections or calling to make sure she was one of the first to get her cassette copy of the latest NFB convention parents seminar. Pleasant, but persistent, she never gave up until she got what she wanted; and she clearly wanted to learn all that she could about blindness, the Federation, and blind children. It was only gradually that I learned that Inam is just as passionate about sharing knowledge as she is about gaining it. Inam has a true Federation spirit; whatever the obstacles, she finds a way to give back to others. Here’s a short piece from the Summer 2005 issue of the Cerebral Palsy K.I.D.S. Center, Louisville, Kentucky, about Inam and her volunteer work with children:

Miss Inam

When little Katy, a seven-year-old blind student, met her new volunteer, she was not talking much to her teacher, or her aids in school. Her volunteer vision assistant, Miss Inam, was told to expect a difficult time with Katy, who teachers felt might be also somewhat autistic. But what the teachers couldn’t have known was the impact that this special volunteer would have for Katy.

To begin with, Miss Inam Shalati is no ordinary volunteer. She has won several volunteer recognitions, including a prestigious Bell Award given by WLKY in 1999. In fact, Inam is the lead Volunteer Vision Assistant within the Jefferson County Public School system. In this role she teaches Braille and tutors children who are visually impaired. And she knows a thing or two about overcoming obstacles herself, since Miss Inam was born blind and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at six months of age.

Growing up as a child with disabilities who also moved around with her family, Inam learned the value of doing things on her own. “I am a believer in doing anything you can to promote independence,” she explained. “My parents were great about letting me do things, even though it was scary letting your blind child go out into the world.” She also learned early on the value of physical and occupational therapy. “I have been to many centers and was always impressed with the caring of the staff.” In fact it was the therapists and aids that helped as she grew up that motivated Inam to become a volunteer. “I know what it’s like to need some help as a kid. And it gives me great joy to help others.”

Inam’s work with little Katy has opened new doors for this youngster. Once quiet, Katy is now talking to teachers, learning Braille, and more. Miss Inam also goes beyond school work to teach Katy manners, days of the year, months, and how to talk on the telephone in a proper telephone voice. She’s even reported to be more confident and social with other children during playtime.

“I love to hear her talk,” added Inam. “Two of her favorite sayings are ‘That’s a good idea’ and ‘You’re doing great.’” This May, Inam was awarded a Certificate for Outstanding Service to the Jefferson County Public school system. After a recent tour of the K.I.D.S. Center, she signed up to help and could be seen selling bracelets in May at the Walk, Rock ‘N’ Roll. She’s already agreed to be back next year.

Today at age twenty-nine, the obstacles presented by Inam’s disabilities are not over. Her eating, speech, and mobility are all affected and the severity is worsening as she gets older. But one thing that is not lacking is her positive attitude and her belief in helping others.

 

Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

Notices and information in this section may be of interest to our readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity. We list the price only for comparison purposes since most vendors reserve the right to change prices at any time.

Toys
Play and toys are an integral part of any child’s development, and the new site www.ableplay.org offers all the right toys for children with disabilities. Parents and professionals often struggle in their search for the best products for their disabled children, and that is why specialists like Diana Nielander, Director of Lekotek, have developed AblePlay™ to assist in that search. The products listed are often advertised in parenting magazines, but the difference is that these specialists have rated the toys’ appropriateness for various types of disabilities. Also, each toy has a description page with play and adaptation ideas. These are off-the-shelf products. AblePlay™ lists the retail price range and also locations where the toy can be purchased.

Scholarship
The Jewish Guild for the Blind offers an annual scholarship program for college-bound high school students who are legally blind. Applications will be accepted from students at the start of their senior year, with recipients selected and scholarships awarded later in that academic year. The Program will award twelve to fifteen scholarships of up to $15,000 each. All applications are due by September 15, 2006 and recipients should be announced by mid-December. Applicants must prove legal blindness and be a U.S. citizen or legal resident. Applications are available online at www.jgb.org/guildscholar.asp or call (212) 769-7801 for more information.

Large-Print
The Large-Print Ministry is now offering The Large-Print Book of Common Prayer CD and the Prayers and Psalms for Today CD. The first includes the entire 1979 Book of Common Prayer and is formatted for Microsoft Word. The 18-point text is perfect for putting together worship materials for the large print readers and the CD is also notetaker compatible. The “Prayers and Psalms” is in APhont™, a font created by the American Printing House for the Blind for people who read large print. While these materials are free, donations are encouraged and appreciated to help cover costs.

To order either CD, specify the CD being ordered and send a self-addressed 6x9 inch envelope with three first-class postage stamps attached to: Ann Dahlen, 1900 6th Avenue Apt. 513, Rock Island, Illinois 61201, or send an e-mail to anndahlen3@aol.com or largeprinthelp@aol.com

Transcriber Service
Victor S. Hemphill, Library of Congress certified transcriber for over forty years, offers transcribing services at $2.00/ page for English language text. Ships FREE MATTER FOR THE BLIND. Also teaches online transcribing course for $250.00. For more information and details about rates, contact Victor S. Hemphill at 2851 North Lake Avenue #9, Altadena, California 91001 or e-mail victorhemphill@charter.net, or call (626) 797-0765.

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