Future Reflections  Fall 2006



Future Reflections

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

Vol. 25, No. 3    Fall 2006

Barbara Cheadle, Editor


Copyright © 2006 National Federation of the Blind

For more information about blindness and children contact:
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230
(410) 659-9314, ext. 2360
www.nfb.org/nopbc • nfb@nfb.org • bcheadle@nfb.org




Vol. 25, No. 3    Fall 2006



Success in the Math Classroom and in the World


The Blind in the STEM Professions: Four Profiles


Making a Difference: 2006 NFB Science Academy Best Yet!
by Mary Jo Thorpe

Youth Slam: A 2007 STEM Leadership Academy


Teaching Exploration: Correcting a Glaring Flaw in the Education of Blind Children
by Geerat J. Vermeij

Why Blind Teachers? A European Study


All the World’s a Stage


Paving the Way for Friendships and Inclusion
by Barbara Cheadle and Wendy Nusbaum

Supplementing Your Child’s School Experiences
by Michael K. Meyerhoff, EdD


Child Development and Assessment
by Alan Garrels


You’re Not in Kansas Anymore, Dorothy
by Christine Brown

My Triple Life as Worker, Student, and Federationist
by Angela Howard


Braille Storybook Resources

State Braille Standards for Teachers of Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired: A National Survey
by Barry B. Frieman

Braille for Sighted Students

Braille Readers Are Leaders 2006-2007 Contest


IDEA Regulations Released
by Brandon Young

Hear Ye! Hear Ye!



Success in the Math Classroom and in the World

A panel presentation from the 2006 NOPBC Annual Seminar, “The Equation for Success,” Dallas, Texas, Saturday, July 1. Panel Presenters: Lindsay Yazzalino, high school student, Washington State; Larry Jacobsen, executive director, MATHCOUNTS® Foundation, Virginia; and Denise Mackenstadt, educator of blind children and orientation and mobility specialist, Washington State.

Editor’s Note: Can blind kids do math? With the right skills, tools, motivation, positive expectations, and supports from parents and teachers, the answer to this question is a resounding “Yes!” However, the disturbing fact is that hundreds of blind students are routinely steered away from math and math-related courses. In our technological world, where math skills are increasingly vital to most jobs and even daily living, this is simply unacceptable. Although the following material, which is a transcription of three speeches given at the 2006 convention, would normally be published in our convention issue, the topic is too important and too timely to wait. So we have included it in this, our back-to-school issue. Here is a transcription of the panel discussion. We have edited for clarity and to eliminate repetition; otherwise we have preserved the original presentations.

The first speech is from Lindsay Yazzalino, a 2004 Rocket On! Academy participant and a high school student from Washington State:

My name is Lindsay Yazzalino, and the reason why I’m speaking today is to give you the perspective of a blind math student. I’m seventeen years old. I live in Washington State and attend public high school, where I’m going to be a senior. Currently I’m in the process of completing an independent study--an AP statistics course.

Some of you guys may be wondering if blind people are capable of doing math. Well several different factors have helped me develop skills and succeed in math classes. One of them is having the right tools to work with. What I mainly use to complete my math assignments is the Perkins Brailler. I think many of you guys are familiar with it. It’s like a typewriter. You feed the paper in and, as you type, the paper comes out, and you get to see exactly what you typed. But since it embosses only in Braille, I often ask my vision specialists to transcribe the print equivalent underneath the Braille; that way my math teacher knows exactly what I have done. Also I have several different tools to make graphs. I use tactile graphing paper, tacky dots for points (people use these dots to stick vases on tables or stuff on walls), and to make graph lines I use Wikki Stiks. These are strings covered in wax. When you press them down on paper, they stick. Basically this is how I do most of my math assignments.

One of the most important factors that have enabled me to succeed is the attitude that people have. I’ve always been in an environment where people--parents, teachers, especially math teachers--have encouraged me to succeed in math. I’ve never been given the message, “No, you can’t do it.” That’s important because I have a math brain and I want to use it and I want to succeed. I’ve always been interested in math, and I have determination and the attitude that I’m not going to let the fact that my eyeballs don’t work get in the way.

Also, as I said, using the Perkins Brailler has helped me succeed because it’s important to be able to see the whole problem together. If you use a Notetaker with a refreshable display you only get one line and sometimes that line isn’t very big. Also important is being able to use the Nemeth code. That’s very important. I’m totally blind and I use Braille, and Nemeth is the Braille math code. If you are a blind Braille reader and if you want to succeed in a math class, Nemeth is the Braille standard, and it’s important to know it.

One other vital factor that has helped me in math is having good communication with my teachers. Math teachers will develop different systems, so it is important that you--the student--develop a system of turning in assignments, knowing what to do, and how to adapt materials for each class. Often math teachers rely heavily on the overhead. Being able to have the overhead materials printed up (in Braille) ahead of time, before class, is a help. But sometimes I need someone in the class (like a vision specialist or another sighted person) to help me take notes, especially if the math teacher has a lot of material on the overhead.

Although I’ve mainly encountered positives, there have definitely been some roadblocks that I’m working to overcome. One of them is the lack of nonvisual, accessible graphing calculators for the blind. Teachers rely heavily on graphing calculators, especially in advanced math classes. The challenge for me is to get my technical skills up in certain areas so I can use mathematical technology to learn more advanced math subjects. Also getting math books on time has been a tough one. This year, as I said before, I’m taking an independent studies class, and my biggest problems have been the graphing calculator issue and the fact that math books haven’t always come in on time. And when the math book isn’t on time, keeping up is very difficult. Oftentimes I can’t keep up because it’s not just the Braille text I need, but it’s the graphics, and graphics consume a great deal of time for my vision specialists to make. Also the capability to translate math Braille into print by computer is not perfected, which means that you have to use the Perkins Brailler and rely on a sighted person to help translate, and that can be inconvenient.

After I graduate from high school, I plan to go into a field of math or science. One thing I want to emphasize again is the importance of attitudes. If you have children who are math students, don’t allow blindness to hinder them. Encourage them; that’s one of the best things you can do. Blindness doesn’t have to be an obstacle. It hasn’t been for me, and it doesn’t have to be for anyone else.

Larry Jacobson, the second member of the panel, is the executive director of MATHCOUNTS, which is the math equivalent of the National Spelling Bee. A private non-profit foundation, MATHCOUNTS conducts an annual nationwide math competition for middle school students. Last fall they contacted the national NFB office seeking help in getting an accurate estimate of the cost in making the MATHCOUNTS program accessible in Braille to potential blind competitors. And the rest, as they say, is history. From that meeting Barbara Cheadle invited MATHCOUNTS to speak at the NOPBC seminar at the NFB convention in Dallas and to help NOPBC put together a mock math counts competition to demonstrate the techniques used by blind people to do math and as an educational, but also entertaining, way to encourage blind kids and their parents to think beyond the classroom when considering math. But we will talk more about the mock competition in a later issue. Here is what Jacobson had to say:

Good morning, everyone. I represent MATHCOUNTS, and MATHCOUNTS is a twenty-three-year-old organization that was formed by CNA Insurance, the National Society of Professional Engineers, and math teachers. These three groups put together materials with the aim of helping middle school students become passionate about mathematics. Now they all had ulterior motives for this: CNA needed actuaries; the professional engineers needed more professional engineers; and the teachers kind of liked teaching math. So that was the beginning of it.

Since then it’s developed into a much more serious business. On the one end, mathematics is the key to social and economic empowerment--no matter who you are. At the other end of the scale is a national security issue. That one runs this way: right now we are retiring more smart mathematicians than we are able to hire young, smart mathematicians. To give you one statistic, Lockheed Martin--who builds all kinds of airplanes and neat stuff--will retire 138,000 engineers within the next few years. There aren’t 138,000 engineers coming out of all of our engineering schools put together. So this has become something of a looming national crisis that is understood very well right to the top. In fact, three or four weeks ago I presented the [MATHCOUNTS] national winners to the President in the Oval Office and got into a discussion with Mr. Bush about it. He is very much aware about the national security [implications]. You know, the National Security Agency--NSA, the spy agency--consumes more mathematicians than any other group in the world. The Pentagon is number two, in general.

Everything in a digital world is math, and that’s both good and bad as it applies to blind people, deaf people, and what I will immoderately call any group of people that has traditionally been along the fringes. The bad part is that if you don’t have a very good understanding of mathematics, you are that much more divorced from employment, because everything has to do with a digital world. On the other hand the digital world opens huge doors for so many people who may have been on the fringes before.

I deal with brilliant, brilliant, kids all day long. These kids are so smart that they glow in the dark. But I’ll tell you, it doesn’t make any difference to the kids at that level whether you are deaf, blind, have any sort of certifiable handicap, or disadvantage or advantage. Because in the digital world I’m not so sure there are disadvantages. There are compensations, but I’m not so sure there are disadvantages. That’s because the level of sophistication is so high that those who are involved at the level we are talking about with the kids at the very top end will compensate for anything. They are all compensating for something, regardless of what it is. I would throw that out to you as an idea that may not have been embraced by many. The fact is that every kid out there at this level is compensating for something.

Over our twenty-three years of doing math competitions, [we have grown]. We start out now with half a million kids going into the system. We send materials to 40,000 middle schools. There is a state competition, there is local competition, and by the time you get to the nationals, it’s down to 280 kids. These 280 kids and the kids that are in the state competitions--these are your corporate leaders. These are your military leaders. This is the leadership group.

One of the interesting things that we are seeing is that kids who knew each other in MATHCOUNTS in the middle schools clump together; they find each other on college campuses. A few weeks ago I got a call from some kids at Yale. They said, “Do you mind if we use your trademark?”

I said, “What are we talking about here?”

They said, “Well, we’ve got a bunch of kids who are old mathletes, and we’d like to get together on campus and we would like to teach underserved kids in the black and Latino communities of New Haven.”

Now that’s kind of interesting. So I went to see them. I said, “Why do you want to do this?”
They said, “Frankly, if it hadn’t been for MATHCOUNTS, we don’t feel any of us would have gotten into Yale. We couldn’t have done as well as we did on the SAT exams, and we want to give back.”

When you look at that set of kids, it was quite a crew. They’re not kids that you would have picked out anyplace. I can tell you right now, it wouldn’t have made any difference at all if one of those kids had been blind. It wouldn’t have made any difference. These kids would have embraced that kid just like everybody else, because everybody else had something that might have marginalized them.

A week later I got a call from some kids at Princeton. I said, “I understand what your thing is; you’ve got friends at Yale.”

They said, “Yes, we have friends at Yale.”

So we go up and meet the kids there. We’ll do the same thing at Penn, and Johns Hopkins, and Columbia, and Brown, and Harvard. We’re talking with them all right now.

For years we served the kids that I’ll call diamonds. It was a matter of finding the diamonds, which were easiest to find in the white suburbs around rich cities. You didn’t have to find them, because their mothers would bring them forward and say, look at how brilliant my kid is. [But] in the world now of national security issues, we can’t overlook anybody. My board of directors has said to me, “You have to go find ways to find the kids that are harder to find.”

Let me tell you a little story. We just put a person on our board of directors, a Dr. Dwight Williams. Dr. Williams is the chief nuclear scientist for the Pentagon. Dr. Williams is a black man from southeast Washington. I said, “Tell me about yourself.”

He said, “Here’s the story. I’m from Southeast Washington. My mom was a schoolteacher in the D.C. school system. My mom realized two things: one, that the D.C. school system was a crappy school district, and two, that she had a smart kid. So she moved me to Fairfax, Virginia, arguably the best school system in the country. I ended up getting my Ph.D., and now I am a professional engineer.”

I said, “That’s kind of neat. Now tell me, what’s your interest in MATHCOUNTS?”

He said, “Look, I’m smart, but I’m not unique. There are thousands of kids in D.C. who will never be discovered. They’ll be overlooked. They’re smart; they just have to be found. How do we do it?”

I said, “You tell me, because if you can tell me how to find these kids, we’ll work with them.”
The story is pretty much the same with blind kids. They’re smart. We have not to this point known how to find them. Through this organization we hope we can do that. So, when we got to talk with Barbara, we said, “We need to find a way to discover these kids, and we need to find a way to get them involved in MATHCOUNTS.”

On the one hand we don’t want to dilute the rigor of the mathematics program. On the other hand there has to be some sort of reasonable accommodation. I don’t know what that is. I know that it would be relatively easy to run a MATHCOUNTS program with all blind kids. I’m not so sure we know how to do it with blind and sighted kids for the same reason that I know how to do it with all English-speaking kids, [but] I’m not so sure how I would do it with half English-speaking and half who speak Lithuanian, because I would be speaking different languages. So we’re dealing with different languages, and we are just going to have to learn how to do that.

So one of the things we are going to do while we are here is, tomorrow, we’re going to do a little MATHCOUNTS competition. By definition we will say that it is going to be a failure because we are going to mess up along the way because we really don’t know what we’re doing on this translation. On the other hand, we’re going to learn a heck of a lot, and on that part it is going to be successful. So I ask you to bear with us as we kind of fumble around, not knowing what we’re doing, but we will do our best.

I guess my message today is that the digital world has leveled the playing field. As has been said before, Braille is very, very important, so your kids have to learn Braille. They have to learn the mathematics version of Braille. Once they have those tools in place, they can operate with the best of them. I’m talking doctors, lawyers, engineers, on and on and on because mathematics is logic. It’s not numbers necessarily; it’s logic. And when we think of mathematics that way, it doesn’t matter if you’re blind, if you’re deaf, if you’re sighted; you just have to have some logic. As Lindsey was talking today, with the way she spoke, there’s no way that I would know that she’s blind. I talk with smart kids all day long, and Lindsey is smart. She happens to be blind, but she will be absorbed in the college curriculum just like everybody else with the whole math crew, because these are people who think.

Today I have tried to explain what we do, how we do it, how we’re changing, and hopefully bring to you a new perspective on the way blind people will be operating in a digital world. Thank you very much.

The final speech is from longtime Federationist, Denise Mackenstadt, of Washington State. Mackenstadt is a blindness educator with expertise, experience, and certification in Braille transcription and orientation and mobility. Here is what she had to say:

Well I have to say it: I am a math-a-phobic, big time. However, I have served as a Braille transcriber and a para-educator for students from grades two through eleven, and I think that means that I can safely say that I’ve passed tenth grade math; so I’m in good shape.

Math is really an international language. For example, did you know that the Japanese use Arabic numerals? Math is a language that scientists and engineers from all over the world use to communicate with each other. We don’t want to deny this to our [blind] kids. There is a myth that math is too visual for blind kids to learn. Not true. It is all in the presentation of the material. Obviously a blind student is not going to learn math visually (that’s a given), so we teach math nonvisually.

Be careful about the needs of your low-vision students too. Most of the time learning media assessments (which is the term for the assessment which helps teachers decide whether the student is going to read print or Braille) are given using text, but no math symbols or math diagrams. How a student sees these things (the numeral and math diagrams), with whatever the visual impairment is, can be different from how the student sees words. So, if a learning media assessment is being done on your child, make sure that whoever is doing the assessment understands that you want it to include math symbols as well. Because, again, the student may be able to read text well but may confuse numbers. Keep that in mind.

Most importantly, the professionals working with the student need to have prerequisite skills; and I say this for both the teacher of the blind and whatever Braille transcriber or para-educator is working with the student. These professionals have to be Braille competent, and I don’t mean that they took a class in Braille. I mean, are they competent in reading and writing Braille? [And that includes Nemeth, the special Braille code for mathematic numbers and symbols.] Nemeth should be taught to students from kindergarten on. A lot of discussion has occurred on a listserv to which I belong about when a teacher should teach Nemeth. [My answer:] Nemeth symbols should be started from day one, as soon as the blind student gets his/her first math assignment. You teach Nemeth when you teach everything else.

The [Braille] transcriber in particular should be very confident in putting together tactile graphics. There are certain kinds of criteria (you can find them on the Internet) for good tactile graphics. Many transcribers and teachers will do a tactile graphic that looks terrific visually, but it makes no sense tactilely. I never used a tactile graphic with a student until I was certain that the student could actually read what I was doing. Your blind student really needs to be involved in the tactile graphics. As a transcriber you need to learn what works for a student and what doesn’t work for a student.

[Next, you need to know about equipment that produces tactile graphics.] There are a couple of different products. You need to learn what a Puffer is; that is, a machine that puffs paper. You need to learn what a Tiger Embosser is. Most school districts can’t afford a Tiger, but you need to know what it is and what it can do. And you need to know how to do graphics by hand--the quick and dirty way. Please excuse me, but school transcribers are not going to do the NLS-required transcription process, because we don’t usually have time to edit what we do. And because we don’t, we actually have to be more knowledgeable. Very often we will get a test--with graphics--maybe twenty-four hours before the exam is going to be given, and we may be just a four-hour employee. So, we need to be able to transcribe and do graphics quickly, confidently, and in a way that the student can really read them.

We need to be familiar with certain kinds of software that are particular to producing Braille math. One of these is Scientific Notebook. This is off-the-shelf software that is compatible with Duxbury. It produces pretty good Nemeth code. It actually produces better Braille math than the Duxbury math does; for example, Duxbury math is very hard to use with mixed fractions, like one and three-quarters. Also you have to put in certain symbols by hand using a six-key keyboard. So you need to know what these are. However, you can’t buy Scientific Notebook and expect someone who does not know Braille to produce Nemeth Braille with it immediately. You can’t do it that way. No math software is perfect and produces reasonable Nemeth Braille. The software just makes it easier.

Some old-line transcribers think it is absolute heresy to do math on the computer. But I’ll tell you it’s nice when you have to come up with pages and pages of stuff. Besides, we all have kids, and we all know that kids lose things or drip milk on the one copy of the math homework you have just Brailed for them on the Braillewriter. That’s why the computer is really cool; you can save the files and make new copies fast.

Mostly you can’t do that with tactile graphics. However, there is an old-fashioned machine called a Thermoform machine. Every district ought to have at least one. They are still manufactured, and they are still useful. With a Thermoform machine you can make multiple copies on special plastic paper. Basically, the machine melts the plastic paper around your hard copy of whatever tactile graphic you have made by hand. Most Braille exams and textbooks that need multiple copies of graphics use thermoform.

Teachers of blind students need to have the proper materials on hand and readily available to the student in the classroom. As Lindsey was saying, the tools are necessary. What are the tools? Manipulatives. Get to know your kindergarten, first, and second grade teachers. The same manipulatives that are used in lower grades are really important for blind high schoolers. I know, they don’t like to use them from sixth grade on; they think they don’t need them. Well, I have news for you. If we continued to use manipulatives with all kids, they would all be a lot better off. Other tools: tactile measuring devices, Wikki Stiks (bendable, sticky waxed strips of cord), and stickpins on corkboards. The student can use a number of tools in the classroom to do quick-and-dirty tactile illustrations. They may require that the student explain to the teacher what he or she is doing, but again, part of math curriculum in schools today is demonstrating what you know. That’s the name of the game: you have to demonstrate it.

Second, math as taught today is not computation. When we were kids, we all had sheets and sheets of computations. Today math is really higher thinking. It doesn’t mean it’s harder; it means that the students are using a different part of the brain. It is just as important to talk about the process as it is to get the answer. And the process is probably multi-stepped. The thing is, I have known vision teachers who let children be opted out of a school’s math curriculum because they said it was too visual. That’s a myth; math is not too visual. Don’t let it happen to your child. Opting out puts those students at a real disadvantage as they go through the school system. The student needs to be assertive in the classroom, needs to communicate with the classroom teacher. The transcriber and blindness teacher need to communicate with the classroom teacher.

What about using another student as a note-taker in the classroom? As Lindsey was saying, using overheads and board work is really an integral part of what math teachers do. That’s how they’re taught to teach. Only a remarkable teacher can articulate everything put on the board. A human note-taker is helpful, sometimes essential. You need to take it case by case, class by class. The note-taker may be the blindness teacher, a para-educator, or another student, depending upon the circumstances.

If you can get what the teacher is going to put on the board ahead of time so that the student can peruse it while it’s being used, that’s great, but the vast majority of the time you’re not going to have that opportunity. My daily schedule as a para-educator went something like this. I would get to the high school by 7:30 a.m. Classes started at 8:10 a.m. I would go to each classroom to find out what the teacher was teaching that day. Nine times out of ten the teachers had just figured it out that morning. They’re looking at me and thinking, “She wants something.” So you would have to figure out how to talk to the teacher with respect. The teacher’s classroom is her or his domain, a personal kingdom. As a para-educator I need to respect this and let the teacher know I am not looking over her or his shoulder. It’s the same with the elementary school teacher. These teachers have planning books. Very cool, but those books are private. You really have to work with a teacher to allow you to observe those planning books but not disturb the teacher before classes start so that you have some idea what volume of the math book the class is going to be using.

The vast majority of math teachers do not use math books cover-to-cover. Most math materials today are disposable; most are not even in a book. You are at a real disadvantage if you’re thinking that all you have to do is come up with a page in a book, and it’s going to be sequential. Well, it doesn’t work that way.

In Washington State, as in many states, we have a high-stakes test. We call it the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning), and currently students have to take and pass the tenth-grade WASL in order to get a high-school diploma. This is very high stakes. It has been said that blind kids cannot pass the math WASL. Yes and no. As written, yes, it’s difficult to pass; but do not allow your blind child to opt out of these high-stakes tests because that could change how they’re admitted into college. Don’t let your state tell you that blind kids don’t have to take high-stakes tests. That’s not good enough.

In conclusion, I would say math is for all of us--blind kids, too. I’ve heard about the MATHCOUNTS competition, and I am excited to see them represented here. I think MATHCOUNTS is used in the Northshore School District in Washington State a lot.

I would say that, for blind kids to do math, you need the right materials, the right skills, and the right media. And don’t ever let others sell your kids short because math can be--and is--successfully taught to blind kids. I know Lindsay’s teacher of the blind. She’s wonderful. Unfortunately she has retired, but I talked to her before this seminar, and she gave me wonderful tips.

Last, it’s all about attitude, attitude, attitude. You need to be positive. You need to believe in blind people and talk to blind people about how math is done. Many wonderful blind engineers and mathematicians are here at this convention. Also there are some great blind teachers who teach math--from kindergarten through high school. Talk to them. Go for it; enjoy it. Even I made it through tenth grade math!


The Blind in the STEM Professions: Four Profiles

Editor’s Note: The source for the following information is the Web portal for the National Center for Blind Youth in Science, a program of the NFB Jernigan Institute. For more great information about how to include blind youth in math and science, see http://www.blindscience.org/ncbys, or contact Mark Riccobono, Director of Education, Jernigan Institute, at mriccobono@nfb.org or (410) 659-9314.

There was a time when it was unthinkable to have a blind person working in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics--the STEM fields--but that time is gone. Long gone. The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute has done much in recent years to incite STEM curiosity in young minds, and it is the blind professionals in these fields who stand as solid reminders that blindness is only another characteristic. The four men and women featured here have traversed the barriers once set up against the blind in STEM fields.


Dr. Geerat Vermeij earned his PhD in malacology from Yale University. He has been blind since age three, but that has not stopped him from earning a position as professor of marine ecology and paleoecology (a word most people don’t even know the meaning of!) at the University of California, Davis Campus. The world has been his classroom with studies in Guam, the Philippines, the Galapagos and Aleutian Islands, Hawaii, and Canada; Dr. Vermeij has a unique understanding of his field that has students eagerly awaiting his every lesson.


Women are hard to come by in the STEM fields, making Ms. Ameenah Lippold’s accomplishments all the more praiseworthy. She is not quite thirty years old and has earned a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Illinois, made waves in the adaptive technology field, and organized the Goals for Achieving Math Accessibility (GAMA) Summit. Now, she works for the Defense Information Systems Agency where she continues promoting accessibility through enterprise architecture. Ms. Lippold was diagnosed with blindness at six years of age.


Children love to use their hands whether they are touching, exploring, or building, and so does Nathanael Wales. Mr. Wales, now a civil engineer for the Department of Water Resources, Sacramento, has always loved building things. He was born blind and spent his childhood constructing and plotting his next move to be a great engineer. He earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of California, Davis, and is a solid reminder that childhood dreams can come true with strong values and hard work.


You don’t have to be a genius to know when brilliance is nearby. Tackling multiple STEM fields, Dr. Robert Shelton, not only earned his PhD in mathematics from Rice University, he also completed his postdoctoral work at Princeton. He divides his time between teaching college and working as both a mathematician and computer scientist. Dr. Shelton’s work led him to aid in the development of MathTrax and the Math Description Engine (MDE) algorithm that helped the National Federation of the Blind’s Rocket On! Science Academy students launch their first NASA rocket in 2004. Shelton became blind at age eleven after a failed surgery for congenital glaucoma.


Making a Difference: 2006 NFB Science Academy Best Yet!

by Mary Jo Thorpe

When you work in summer programs for blind youth, you sometimes find yourself wondering if all the blood, sweat, tears, and long hours with little sleep are really worth it. Does what we do really make a difference to those students we serve with our programs? Do they go home with more than just cute souvenirs, new pen pals, and sunburns? I was staring at my computer screen, trying to think of a new angle for an article about the Science Academy, and considering these very questions when my phone rang. After one long conversation, the phone rang again. Ironically, before I could even begin writing, I received calls from mothers of two of the students who attended the program this summer. They did not call to report a missing cell phone charger or a backpack that got left behind. Instead, each mom called to thank me for the opportunity the NFB gave her child to come and participate in such an extraordinary program. The moms described how their children could not stop talking about the cool things they got to see and do. One mom told me that her son had never before shown the slightest interest in electronics. However, at the Academy he had the chance to work on the circuits team to build a rocket payload and since then he has developed a passion for the subject. The other mom told me how her daughter rambles on-and-on about the neat tactile star charts and the awesome planetarium show she attended. One mother’s voice caught as she expressed the great joy she feels as she witnesses this new burst of confidence and enthusiasm in her child--all because of his participation in the Academy. After those calls, there was no more staring at the computer screen; I was ready to write.

This summer was our third, and possibly our best, Science Academy yet. The challenge in 2006 was to make things bigger, better, and more exciting than in the years before. Easier said than done, of course. But with the help of our great education staff at the Jernigan Institute, fabulous instructors from NASA and the community, and dynamic facilitators from our NFB membership, we pulled it off.

The first Academy session this year began on July 14, with the Rocket On! group of twelve high school students from nine different states. This year’s team definitely proved themselves to be the most energetic and enthusiastic team in the academy yet. Even at the closing ceremonies, after many late nights, one eighteen-hour day, and a 2:00 a.m. wake-up call, they were still as enthusiastic and energetic as they were on the first day. Right from the beginning these students proved they were natural cheerleaders as they participated in the challenge activities at a local ropes course. The students were able to literally “hang out” as they participated in activities such as walking along a telephone pole forty feet off the ground. These activities were used to foster teamwork and confidence--necessary elements to the overall success of the Academy. This was a new idea that we implemented into this year’s schedule, and it proved to be quite a hit--except for the fact that we all wished we could have spent more time at the course.

During the opening ceremony, the 2006 students were issued their mission--which they chose to accept--to prove that the third time really is a charm. They were challenged to build and launch a rocket that would beat the altitude of the first two rockets and that would deploy all three parachutes. Lastly, they were challenged to successfully recover the rocket in one piece--all feats that eluded the 2004 and 2005 Academies. The 2006 team met the challenge. The flight was perfect: the altitude achieved was the highest yet at over 5,900 feet, all three parachutes deployed on time, and the rocket was retrieved intact.

But the mission would not have been the success it was without the incredible teamwork of the Nose Blowers, the WASA, and the Logyx. You see, each academy is divided into three teams: the trajectory team, the circuit team, and the recovery team. Each team has specific assignments--just the way real NASA scientists work. To help build a spirit of trust and enthusiasm, the teams are asked to come up with a team name and compose a team slogan.

Here’s what Jennifer Suchan, a high school freshman from Maryland, said about her circuit team: “My team was named WASA, a play on NASA that stands for the Whozit Aeronautics and Space Administration. For those who don’t know, Whozit is the NFB’s mascot (logo). Our slogan was: We are WASA, / An association with NASA./ We’ll get your ship wired / Before we even get tired. / WASA, the Whozit Aeronautics and Space Administration (cheer).” The other WASA team members were Jordan Richardson, ninth grade, Minnesota; Tashia Schmelling, ninth grade, Virginia; and Trevor Saunders, tenth grade, New Jersey.

At the press conference (yes, we held a real press conference--just like NASA), Adam Puckett, a sophomore from Virginia, introduced and described the mission of his team: “When you hear the name Nose Blowers, probably the last thing to come into your mind is a rocket recovery team, but guess what? That’s exactly what we are. Our team members include Brittany Savage [ninth grade, Virginia], James Baker [ninth grade, New York], and Mary Fernandez [tenth grade, New Jersey]. Our instructors are Charlie Lipsett and Anna Muaswes. Our mission was to make sure that the nose cone deployed in order to release the parachute, so that the rocket would be recovered intact.”

Nose Blower team member, Jim Baker, concluded his team’s report at the press conference: “The recovery team successfully accomplished its part of the mission. We were successful because of our thorough testing, hard work, and dedication. The nose cone deployed and the parachutes released on time. Thus, we accomplished what we promised in our slogan: We’ll blow your nose off with CO2/ The parachute will pop out and come back to you!”

The Logyx trajectory team did not come up with a slogan, but they made up for this omission with their acute “logical” abilities and outstanding performance in accurately predicting the trajectory of the rocket. Mission director, Mika Baugh, a sophomore from Indiana, led the team composed of Billy Casson, eleventh grade, New Mexico; Carrie Modesitt, twelfth grade, Missouri; and Duncan McLaurin, eighth grade, Wyoming.

It was hard to say good-bye to such an enthusiastic group of students, but there was no time to be sad. They had barely been gone a week before we welcomed a brand-new group of middle school students for our second Science Academy session, Circle of Life. You can imagine the high our education department was on after the Rocket On! session, so of course we hit the ground running with high expectations for another successful week. This group’s recipe for success included ten bright, fun-loving students from eight states, several dozen blue crabs, a pair of chest-waders, and as many stars as you can get your hands on! The 2006 class included Karen Arcos, seventh grade, California; Ellen Bartelt, seventh grade, Wisconsin; Nicholas Cocchiarella, eighth grade, Minnesota; Elizabeth Conlin, sixth grade, Virginia; Edgar Gonzalez, seventh grade, Utah; Robert Hooper, ninth grade, Ohio; Minh Tam Ha, sixth grade, Massachusetts; Cody McFarland, eighth grade, Ohio; Anne Naber, eighth grade, Minnesota; and Nola Parker/Hubbard, eighth grade, Louisiana.

We added several new activities in our Circle of Life 2006 Science Academy program. One of the new endeavors was a Star Party we held on the deck off the dining room of the National Center for the Blind (our facility in Baltimore). The students began the evening by participating in several activities with noted astronomer and author of several tactile astronomy books, Noreen Grice from the Boston Planetarium. We also had special guests from the West Minster Amateur Astronomical Society. This Baltimore-based organization allows groups like ours to use their telescopic equipment for star-gazing while the members, all of whom are amateur astronomers, give presentations on a wide range of space-related topics. We arranged for the pictures taken by the telescopes to be converted into tactile images through the use of special thermoform paper and a Swell-Form machine. Unfortunately, the weather was not as cooperative as we would have liked, but the students were still able to see a few images. In addition, they spent the rest of the evening tactually examining the telescopes, using balloons to learn about supernovas, and discussing the volume of space using nylon-covered buckets with marbles that represented our galaxy. Sound intriguing? The following day the students visited the Maryland Science Center and attended a show at the planetarium lead by Noreen Grice. We had prepared tactile star charts and planet spheres in advance so that they had hands-on materials that allowed them to follow along with her presentation. The students also enjoyed visiting several of the other exhibits at the museum.

This year’s class definitely proved they were real troopers as they endured field trips and activities on three of the hottest days on record here in Baltimore, with temperatures reaching over 100 degrees, and a heat index of 110-112 degrees. A trip on the Snow Goose around the Patapsco Bay with water-bottle toasts every twenty minutes and a dip in the river in chest-waders made the situation a little more bearable.

Thanks to great instructors from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC), the students were able to get up-close-and-personal with a variety of marine life such as fish, oysters, and crabs. Through these hands-on activities, they learned about the ecology of these environments and the impact they have on our own lives. One of the students particularly enjoyed this program because it was the first time he had ever personally touched and explored so many creatures and objects from the natural world. Practically his only experience with the natural world had been from books and verbal descriptions. It was exciting to see him right up next to the guides, wanting to be the first to stick his hands in for a look at the latest collection from the seining nets or oyster dredge. Prior to coming to the Circle of Life, this particular student had attended a very popular, summer camp, noted for its level of fun and excitement. He repeatedly told the facilitators that he thought nothing could ever top that week, but that the Circle of Life had done it! He said that he wished he could rewind the week or wake up to find out that it hadn’t started yet so that he could start it all over again.

I am sure I speak for each of the students when I say that it is hard to choose just one thing that was the best part about the week. Whether it was the hike around the SERC reserve with ecologist Charlie Davis, building windmills with students from Johns Hopkins, answering pop culture trivia questions with local NFB chapter members, eating crabs and dancing all evening with members from the NFB of Maryland at the annual Crab Feast, or the ever popular shark dissection; there was something for everyone this year. To capture all the highlights and stories from the week, the students made a CD complete with inside jokes, funny phrases from the week, favorite memories, and even the occasional spoof on some of the facilitators. Some sang songs or acted out short skits while others chose to speak off-the-cuff. However, no one captured the week quite as succinctly as Karen Archo, a seventh grader from California. The printed copy of her song does not do justice to her recorded version, but it does convey some sense of the dynamic, life-changing nature of this week. Here are the words to Karen’s song:

The Science Academy’s lots of fun, / a lot of fun. / You learn great things: / touching dinosaurs at the Science Center, / learning about the Solar System, too. / Hiking and fishing and handling crabs, / dissecting sharks, / learning with soil, / none of these things made me get any scabs. / Riding and driving the Snow Goose on the bay, / this took place on Wednesday. / Talking to blind adults taught me a lot / about what to expect in the years ahead. / Hopefully, I’ll learn as much in the last few days, / just like the ones that have already passed. / The NFB is the place to be /when you want something to do and see. / Come to the NFB, / come to the NFB / where there is always something to do and see. / Come to the NFB!

To the students it may seem like the overall goal of our Science Academy is merely to have fun and do cool stuff. But there is so much more to it. In the NFB, we have high expectations of blind people and, over and over, through a thousand different subtle ways, we conveyed that message to the students. We showed them nonvisual techniques and tools for achieving tasks they never thought possible. We modeled for them how independent blind people behave and function in the world. We gently, but firmly, insisted that they use their canes at all times--no sighted guide! They bussed their own tables, fixed their own baked potatoes, helped set-up and breakdown tables for the cookout, and much more. Most importantly, we introduced them to blind individuals and fostered mentoring relationships. And in thousands of subtle ways, the students let us know that we made an impression: the comments about how “cool” it was that all the facilitators were blind and the pride in the voice as a student described how she could dissect a shark under blindfolds.

So, anyone who asks me about my summer had better be prepared for a dissertation. The twenty-two students in the 2006 class were some of the brightest, most talented students I have ever met, and I am proud to have been their teacher, mentor, and friend for the summer. But the relationship does not stop there. In the NFB, we strive to extend our network of mentorship and support to each other beyond the confines of one-time events. The Rocket On! students have been added to a special listserv where they can continue learning from their blind mentors and peers, as well as make new friends of the blind students from the 2004 and 2005 Academies. The Circle of Life students will routinely receive mailings and priority invitations about other NFB youth events. All of the students will be connected with blind leaders in their communities and states, and, as a consequence, many will be invited to speak at NFB state conventions or be given other opportunities to develop their leadership abilities. And in the years to come, I have no doubt that many of these students will come back to Baltimore to be instructors, mentors, and friends to the next generation of blind youth. Yes, what we do in the National Federation of the Blind does make a difference!



Where will your teen be on July 30, 2007?
How about Baltimore, Maryland, at the biggest and best event for blind youth EVER?!
Announcing the National Federation of the Blind

Youth Slam
A 2007 STEM Leadership Academy

Applications are now available; don’t miss out! Find the latest information on the
2007 NFB Youth Slam by visiting www.blindscience.org

What: The largest gathering of blind youth ever! This four-day academy will engage and inspire the next generation of blind youth to consider careers they never dreamed possible for blind people to enter. Youth will stay in dormitories at the Johns Hopkins University under the supervision and mentorship of a cadre of well-trained blind youth counselors. These role models and mentors will work in partnership with such STEM agencies and institutions as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering to engage the youth in exciting, challenging, and inspiring activities meant to stretch the imagination, build confidence, and increase science literacy.

The NFB Youth Slam will culminate in an inspiring rally at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and a celebration at the center of innovation in the field of blindness--the NFB Jernigan Institute.

When: July 30-August 4, 2007. This includes two travel days.

Where: Baltimore, Maryland

Why: The NFB Youth Slam will shatter some of the most significant barriers and misconceptions currently limiting blind youth. First, the Slam will break the relative isolation of blind youth; it will show blind youth that it is respectable to be blind. Second, it will expose blind youth to STEM fields in a way that powerfully demonstrates that these fields, and other challenging fields, are open to them. Third, the Slam will create a greater understanding among parents, teachers, and the general public that blind people can learn and excel in STEM subjects and careers.

Who: Two hundred blind or low vision youth who will be entering high school in the fall of 2007, who are currently in high school, or who graduate from high school in the spring of 2007.

Youth need not have a strong interest in science-related careers to fully participate, enjoy, and benefit from this unique experience.

How: Eligible students need to complete an application by March 1, 2007. Students will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis, so early applications are strongly encouraged. Applicants who are accepted to the NFB Youth Slam will be expected to pay a $200.00 registration fee to complete the application process. The registration fee is NOT required at the time of application to the Slam. The registration fee ensures the student will receive air and ground transportation, room and board, and access to all Slam activities and materials (valued at $3,000.00). Any other incidental costs, such as souvenirs, will need to be covered by the student. Local NFB chapters will be available to assist students in raising the registration fee if needed.

MENTORS NEEDED! Applications are also available for those interested in being mentors during this historic program. Mentors who pass the first phase of the screening process will be subject to a background check prior to being selected. Mentors selected to serve as role models for this important event will have all of their travel, room, and board expenses covered.

Applications are now available; don’t miss out! Find the latest information on the 2007 NFB Youth Slam by visiting www.blindscience.org


Teaching Exploration: Correcting a
Glaring Flaw in the Education of Blind Children

by Geerat J. Vermeij

Reprinted from the October 2004 issue of the Braille Monitor, the monthly publication of the National Federation of the Blind.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Geerat Vermeij is a distinguished professor in the Department of Geology at the University of California at Davis. In the summer of 2004 he generously contributed his time and expertise to take part in our first Circle of Life Science Academy for blind middle school students. His insightful article below is, in my opinion, a must-read for all parents and teachers of blind and visually impaired children. In it, he admits that even he--despite his broad experience with, and deep immersion in, scientific thinking--had made the error of assuming that children learned to use their hands and sense of touch “naturally.” Not so! Here is Dr. Vermeij as he discusses the urgent need to correct this myth:

A few years ago I was sitting in David Hillis’s office at the University of Texas at Austin. Hillis, a preeminent evolutionary biologist and MacArthur Fellow, was telling me about his research on a small Asian clam that was accidentally introduced by people to North America during the late 1930’s. Today this quite ordinary-looking little clam is found in lakes and streams throughout the United States. Researchers once thought that all the Asian clams in North America belonged to a single kind or species; but when Hillis began to analyze the DNA sequences of the clams, he discerned two genetically distinct species.

Hillis leaned forward in his chair. “I wonder if you can tell the difference between these species from the shells,” he said.

“Let’s have a look,” I said, always ready for a challenge. Hillis handed me six specimens, each a little less than an inch long. There were, of course, no labels; it was up to me to decide how to divide these six shells into categories.

I set about my task. First came a quick reconnaissance: I took each shell in my hands, manipulated it with my fingers, and put it down, all in less than a second. Much previous experience with Asian clams and with thousands of other clams allowed me to conclude that, yes, these shells belong to the genus Corbicula: ovate shape, coarse and somewhat irregular growth lines, right hinge characteristics, somewhat eroded beak without well-developed lunule or escutcheon. But all these shells sure looked alike, so a more thorough examination was called for.

The pads of my index fingers traced the outlines of the shells, probed the growth lines for their sharpness and spacing, noted how deeply cupped the valves were, and gathered a dozen other details. With my nails I observed the precise shape of the growth lines--were the lines sharp or flattened, reflected or erect, widely separated or close together, and so on. I repeated these observations, all quite unconsciously, with each shell. I picked up the valves again and again, comparing, contrasting, forming hypotheses in my mind, and putting them to the test with additional observations. I had to decide which features were meaningless variations and which might denote characteristics that distinguish one species from another. I had done this exercise hundreds of times previously, for careful observation of form, life habits, and other aspects of shell-bearing animals lay at the empirical core of my scientific work.

After a minute or two of this directed exploration, I had divided the shells into two groups of three each. The differences were awfully subtle, but I thought they might indeed indicate two distinct species.

I announced my conclusions. My colleague was impressed. “Right on the money,” he declared. The distinction I had perceived through careful tactile observation of the shells precisely matched the distinction Hillis had discerned from the DNA that he had extracted previously from the tissues of the clams whose shells he had given me to examine.

I tell this story, not to pat myself on the back, but to make an important point about exploring objects by touch. Quite simply, many blind people could extract far more information from the objects they touch if they developed and perfected techniques and skills for the most effective use of the hand--that exquisite and sensitive organ of touch that we humans have inherited and evolutionarily modified from our primate ancestors.

I was confronted with this larger issue when I was privileged to take part in the National Federation of the Blind’s summer science adademy for a dozen blind middle-school students. Mark Riccobono of the NFB and school teacher Robin House had invited me to talk about how to do science, how to think in a scientific frame of mind, and how blind people can be scientists. I would not just tell them about my research on shells but would have everyone examine shells so that we could then talk about how to ask scientific questions of these wonderful objects. I would also tell them about the larger scientific questions I have tried to tackle in my own career, questions about how evolution works, about evolution as fundamentally an economic process, and about the role that enemies play in the many directions evolution has taken over the course of the history of life.

We gathered at the Naturalist Center, a first-rate educational museum just outside Leesburg, Virginia. Thousands of specimens from the Smithsonian Institution are available for visitors to handle in a spacious setting where curiosity and free inquiry are the order of the day. I had arrived early to pull out some shells to demonstrate to the students and their enthusiastic adult entourage. Once everyone was settled and I had made some preliminary remarks about myself, about the etiquette of handling specimens, and about science and the blind, each participant was given a shell to examine.

As always happens when I am working with a collection, I was terribly pumped up to see such wonderful objects, even if they were all quite familiar to me. I never tire of looking at shells because I always expect to observe something new. On this occasion I was certainly not disappointed. Picking up a large Triton’s trumpet (Charonia tritonis), I happened to notice some small tubercles near the front end of the shell that formed a continuation of a row of sharp teeth along the shell’s outer lip. I have frequently handled specimens of this striking species, but somehow this interesting feature had escaped my notice.

But this exercise wasn’t for me; it was for the children. I invited everyone to offer a description of the unfamiliar object in his or her hand. What could each person tell me about what he or she had observed?

It became clear that most of the students had spent at most a few seconds of unsystematic exploration and then put the shell down. The verbal descriptions offered were so rudimentary that I felt unable to proceed to the level of thinking about these objects in a scientific way. The point of departure for honing the scientific state of mind is to observe carefully and to be puzzled by the observations that make no sense. If we can articulate what does not make sense, we are well on the road to translating the puzzle in the form of a scientific question. Once we have reached this point, we can proceed to the more standard scientific stages of proposing a hypothesis, testing the hypothesis against alternative explanations, and placing all our findings together with those of others in a coherent theory that will explain, not just the things we know, but many things we don’t know yet. I came away from this encounter with the strong conviction that society--parents, teachers, the blind, and all the rest of us--have largely and dismally failed to teach the skills of exploration.

Our hands are powerful sensory tools, capable of discerning fine details, integrating those details into a whole representation, and making sense of the things we touch; but if we don’t know how to use our hands in this way, our ability to extract information from the objects we touch is severely compromised. Tactile exploration has been part of my life for so long that I had in many ways taken it for granted. Insofar as I had thought about the matter at all, I held that learning about objects with the fingers came naturally, whatever that might mean. But I have come to believe this is wrong. Tactile exploration is a skill that must be taught and honed.

How does one do this? Although I have no experience teaching blind people, I have thought about how the hand works as a sense organ. The broad outline of the technique I describe briefly below comes from an idealized dissection of how I use my hands, fingers, and associated tools to gain a coherent concept of the things I touch.

Let’s think about those Asian clams again. I began with a cursory examination. The hand as a whole--or, if the object is small, the tips of several fingers--scans the object for general shape, weight, and texture. This gives us a general idea of an object, a tactile image we can then use to place the finer details we are about to uncover. The nearly random touching of the first stage is replaced by a much more systematic exploration, mainly using the tips of the index fingers. I may trace the object’s contours, noting every detail--angles, roundness, texture, protrusions, openings, and any other peculiarity.

My fingers trace specific paths, informed by the object’s overall form and by my hypothesis of the object’s orientation. With completely unfamiliar objects, it is helpful to be oriented: where is the front, the back, the left, and the right? If I have handled more or less similar objects before, this orientation, achieved almost instantaneously during the first phase of exploration, comes quite naturally. The pads of the fingers are sensitive but are rather large. If we want still finer details, we need finer instruments. I use the ends of the nails, especially those of the thumb and index finger, to characterize and count small features. If I need to examine the features inside openings too small or narrow to insert a finger, I employ a stiff pin or needle. Vibrations from the pin as I slowly pass the shaft of the pin along the surface of interest will tell me the number, location, size, and shape of the ribs, bumps, and other protrusions I encounter.

The entire examination may last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, but by the time I am finished, I have a detailed, coherent, and I hope accurate representation of the object in my mind’s fingers. Further examination would surely yield still more information, as I illustrated above with the Triton’s trumpet, but completeness characterizes all scientific efforts.
The key features of this process of tactile exploration are, I believe, accurate initial orientation and systematic (as opposed to random) touching and tracing. As exploration proceeds, we go from the large scale--overall shape, size, and weight; temperature; thickness; and the like--to a finer scale.

This recipe applies equally to tactile illustrations. We must begin by acquiring an overall sense of shape and size, which we do by using the whole hand and as many fingers as the illustration will accommodate. Once this stage is completed, we can begin to trace individual features, note the position of particular items, and observe how features are arranged relative to each other and to the whole.

Years ago, in a letter to the scientific journal Nature, a Canadian research group reported a study of the way blind subjects should read maps. The authors had their blind subjects first trace outlines. According to their data, it took thirty seconds or longer for the average blind subject to trace a given outline. In a comment published later that year in Nature, I pointed out that it would be very difficult to gain an accurate representation of the map if it took half a minute or more to complete the initial exploration. Integration, the key to gaining a representation of illustrations and objects observed by touch, is hard to achieve over time intervals as long as this. No sighted person would ever read a map by first following a country’s borders by eye; he or she would quickly scan the map, acquire a general orientation and a sense for its large-scale features, and then concentrate on the details.

The principles that apply to touch apply to the other senses as well. It takes experience and some practice to gain a full appreciation of a piece of music or a bird’s song we have heard, a painting we have seen, or even of the foods we taste and smell. Our senses have enormous potential to inform us about the world and to enrich our lives; but we must learn how to use our senses to best effect, how to observe, or to become more aware of our surroundings. This is as true for the sighted as it is for the blind, but for the blind there is the additional obstacle that we lack sight, one of the most integrative of the senses, the one that permits a nearly instantaneous, large-scale, and often distant orientation.

I no longer remember how or whether I really learned to observe, but I do know that my parents and brother were twenty-four-hour tour guides, describing everything and anything wherever we went. More important still, they showed me every imaginable thing--plants, insects, mushrooms, doorways, window frames, walls, brickwork on old Dutch buildings, rocks, models of buildings--the list is endless. In doing so, they stimulated my already substantial curiosity. Yet I wanted more; I hungered to become acquainted with my surroundings, to make sense of them--in short, to understand the world in a scientific frame of mind. I wanted to be aware, not only of the pleasures of my surroundings, but of its dangers and pitfalls.

I could not observe everything first-hand, of course, so I began to read. I read and read and read and read some more, and I still read voraciously. And in order to read and to retrieve all that information, I had to have superior Braille skills. What do superior Braille skills amount to? Rapid and accurate Braille reading, like rapid and accurate print reading, means quick recognition and processing of pattern, attention to detail, and engaging the mind as the fingers or eyes briskly move line by line across the page. There is, I am convinced, a direct connection between learning how to gather information from objects and learning how to read quickly and accurately. This is true for everyone, not just the sighted and not just the blind.

Nothing would help blind children more than being taught the techniques and pleasures of exploration--touch, sound, taste, smell, and whatever vision remains. It is hard to be curious about things if we do not know what those things are like. It is hard to avoid dangers if we are unable to interpret the cues our senses provide about our surroundings. It is hard to gain a sense of aesthetics if we feel, listen, taste, or smell carelessly and casually. And it is hard to get a job if we lack the skills to gain and process information by effective reading and effective use and interpretation of our senses.

We must make exploration a habit, a good habit, a pleasant and rewarding habit. We must educate parents, teachers, and the blind themselves how to observe with the mind engaged. This is not rocket science; in fact, it requires no technology at all other than the biological technology we have inherited from our evolutionary ancestors. How can anything be more important?


Why Blind Teachers? A European Study

Editor’s Note: The following is a narrative outline of a presentation that two Norwegian teachers (one blind, one sighted) and one psychologist gave at a European conference on the education of blind children. I came upon it when a friend of mine forwarded to me by email a much longer, expanded article about this study. The article was fascinating and illuminating, but far too long to reprint. However, the following summary is just right. It is reprinted with minor edits for clarity from the ICEVI Web site at: http://www.icevi-europe.org/cracow2000/proceedings/chapter06/06-01.doc.

The article has two themes: the importance of learning to learn through touch, and the value of blind teachers as role models in the education and lives of blind children. There is also a sub-theme about the biases and prejudices against blind teachers. Some things seem to be the same, no matter which side of the Atlantic you live on! (It so happens that I have a blind colleague who, not long ago, was denied employment at a school for the blind on the basis that she could not “visually observe the students.” She has gone on to other employment, but the fact that this discrimination happened demonstrates the degree of prejudice and low expectations that still exists among even the professionals serving the blind.)

It is encouraging to see a study with conclusions that are consistent with the experience of hundreds of parents who, over the past twenty-five years, have discovered blind role models through the National Federation of the Blind. The study also corroborates Dr. Vermeij’s observations in the lead article in this issue, “Teaching Exploration: Correcting a Glaring Flaw in the Education of Blind Children.” Here, now, are what the Norwegians have to say on the topic of hands, touch, and blind teachers:

Title: “Hand over hand” A blind teacher of the visually impaired at work with a blind child

A presentation given at the International Council for the Education of People with Visual Impairment (ICEVI), European Conference, Krakow, July 9 – 13, 2000.

Astrid K. Vik: Teacher of the visually impaired, working at Huseby Resource Centre, Oslo, Norway
Karen J. Andersen: Teacher of the visually impaired, working at Vestlandet Resource Centre, Bergen, Norway
Knut Brandsborg: Psychologist, working at Huseby Resource Centre.

1. Introduction
Teachers who are blind have their limitations, of which they are frequently reminded. People who are sighted also have limitations in their ways of sensing and experiencing the world, and particularly when it comes to working with blind children. Most of us [who are sighted] are little aware of these limitations, and we are not at all used to being reminded of them.

2. Background
“Hand over hand” is a study where we have focused on what is happening in the contact and interaction between a blind nine-year-old girl, Line, and me [Astrid], the blind teacher.

The questions which we will concentrate on, are the following:

3. Method
During one year, Line and Astrid had seven meetings and shared activities of daily life. All meetings were video-taped. A selection of interactions and shared explorations during these meetings were analyzed by the three of us together: Astrid, a teacher of the visually impaired and blind herself; Knut, a psychologist, and me [Karen], a teacher for the visually impaired; both of us sighted and having years of experience within the field. Each of us contributed to the analyses of the videos from our own viewpoint, either from the outside as sighted persons or--as for Astrid, a blind individual--with an inside perspective on the situations.

4. The five strategies
The results of the analyses were categorized into five strategies which, in different ways, describe what happened between Line and Astrid. These strategies were:

In the following we will concentrate on strategy number one, and we will start by showing you a short video illustration of the strategy.

5. A video illustration: the clothespin game
Main strategy: Using hands together.
Situation: Astrid and Line are sitting face-to-face on the floor, a jacket lying between them.
Theme: Finding out how to fasten clothespins on the jacket.
Comments: Astrid presses the clothespin open. Line feels Astrid’s hand on the “pressing side.” Simultaneously, Astrid helps Line feel the opening of the clothespin while she herself is pressing on the opposite side. She feels or “reads” or “looks” together with Line on the opening side. Line “reads” Astrid’s pressing hand. Astrid “reads” Line’s feel-the-opening hand.

6. Three perspectives on the results

6.1. The blind teacher’s insider perspective:
When I try to describe what is happening when Line and I use our hands together, I have a problem finding exact words. Maybe we do not have words to describe these interactions precisely, because our language is based on a visual way of thinking? I am still in a process where I try to find out what I do when I use my hands together with Line, and how she registers and understands what I am doing.

When we are using hands together to explore an object it is important to have a simultaneous perspective on the object which we are dealing with. We sit or stand close together with the object in front of us. In this position we have physical contact with each other and we can “read” each other’s body language.

When we have a good interaction, our hands are warm and soft. I put my hands on the object with a soft touch. My hands have the shape of a fan. Line puts her hands on top of mine. We use a soft touch to the object. From the way Line uses her hands, from their temperature, from her way of touching my hands, and the amount of energy in her fingers, I get a clear impression of the quality of our interaction. When she is active, she will frequently move her hand towards my fingertips and establish contact with the object. At that moment, she may take over the initiative in the exploration, and I take my hands away from the object and put them as a soft carpet on the topside of Line’s hands.

We may compare this to a journey. When we start the exploration, I am the guide and she is the tourist. After a while, when she feels safe and comfortable, she frequently takes the initiative to take over my role. Now she is the guide and I am the tourist while we explore the object. When I have my hands as a carpet on Line’s hands, I register whether she is active, or if she is insecure. If necessary, we return to our original roles. Sometimes Line’s hands stop moving across the object. Then I have to be sensitive. Maybe she needs a break, or maybe she wants me to be the guide again.

In some very few situations I felt that using hands together could be difficult. This occurred when the objects were so small that it was uncomfortable with many fingers working together at the same time. Sometimes Line pushed my hands away. After a while, she would often take my hands and put them on the object together with her own hands and say: “Look.” I think she did this because she wanted me to share the experience with her. I have to be sensitive when I use my hands together with a blind pupil. In my opinion, the simultaneous use of hands can be a good way of learning if it is based on a good relationship and a very high degree of sensitivity and respect for each other’s needs.

6.2. The sighted teacher’s outsider perspective
Using her hands together with Astrid’s seemed natural to Line. Without any instruction, she placed her hands on top of Astrid’s like she was reading her movements, or maybe listening to Astrid through her hands. She also accepted Astrid’s hands touching hers in the same way when she was the active part in the interaction or, in other words, when her hands were “speaking” to Astrid.

This way of using hands together is well known to the deaf-blind as a method of communication.

To me, as a sighted viewer, the four hands were dancing a ballet. The only disharmony appeared when Astrid, on rare occasions, eagerly tried to force Line’s hands to touch something and in that way prevented her from moving independently.

For the visually impaired, simultaneous use of touch helps communication. It secures the establishment of communication. It helps to maintain contact, and to break contact when intended. When these communicative elements are not accessible by sight, touch is needed. Deaf-blind persons will be totally dependent on touch for communication, but visually impaired persons will profit a great deal from it.

6.3. A psychological perspective: a sighted outsider’s view
My starting point: self esteem; this is my favorite psychological concept. The meaning here is: “I am good enough as I am.” It is a way of feeling OK, of basic well being in a psychological sense.

Two of the three most important sources of self-esteem (according to Ernest Becker) are

Confirmation has been called the basic “fuel” in childrens’ development.

Physical contact and common use of hands will necessarily increase the amount of physical confirmation for a blind child.

Physical contact and using hands together will give a blind child some of all the symbolic confirmation that she loses because so much of this is conveyed visually. It is largely through vision and body language that we tell our sighted children that we see them, that is, that we share some experience with them. This we do either through vision alone, or frequently combined with words.

Blind children are given just about all confirmation and information through words alone. This means that they ordinarily receive less of this [confirmation and information] than sighted children do, and what they do get is through one sensory channel at a time.

An example: The blind child bends down and touches her shoe. “I have new shoes today.” The adult answers from a distance: “Yes, they are really nice.”

A similar experience for a sighted child: The adult is standing with his back to the child, without looking at the shoe, using the same words: “Yes, they are really nice.”

What would that feel like for a sighted child? It resembles having to communicate with others almost entirely by telephone. This is truly what we may call autistic.

It is unfortunately true that congenitally blind children have a dramatically increased risk of developing autism-related problems. [Could] perhaps one reason for this be that they frequently experience sighted adults behaving in an autistic-like manner towards them?

Physical contact and using hands together to “look at” the shoe, or the clothespin, may prevent the child from feeling rejected, and/or from the feeling of being all alone in the experience with only distant words of shared attention. [With physical contact,] the child will have a lot more possibilities to get out of the telephone booth and communicate on more channels than only one. She will receive far more of the physical and symbolic confirmation that she needs to go further in activities and development, and to maintain and strengthen her self-esteem.

7. What we have learned

People who are blind have a lot of knowledge that sighted people do not have when it comes to contact with, interaction with, and teaching of blind students. Sighted people have a lot to learn.

Visually impaired and sighted professionals should work together in teams and on a basis of equality. This may vastly increase the chances of optimal benefit in our work.

So maybe, when a future job applicant who wants to work with a blind child is being interviewed, the following question should be asked: “Have you reflected on how you may compensate in this job for not being blind?”

NOTE: The longer, expanded article by these three authors is available for viewing on the Internet at: http://www.ks-huseby.no/sensiblegraphics/handoverhand.txt.


All the World’s a Stage

“All the world’s a stage….”
--William Shakespeare, from As You Like It.

Have you ever considered how many times your child will be in an auditorium, theater, or on a stage during his/her school career? Think about graduations, for example. From preschool on up, a student could be in the spotlight as a graduate as many as five or six times during his or her school career, and most certainly will attend many other graduations of siblings and friends. And what about the numerous school assemblies, plays, and musicals that a student will attend not only as a member of the audience, but surely a few--maybe many--times as a performer on stage as well. Most museums of any size boast auditoriums for their public education programs. And we haven’t even discussed commercial theaters, community playhouses, opera and symphony halls, lecture auditoriums, summer playhouses, or even church performances on a makeshift stage in the basement.

Unfortunately, many blind students feel awkward, fearful, and dependent in this environment despite their regular exposure to it. And such feelings are totally unnecessary. Considering the number of times a blind person, from childhood on, will be in this environment, it certainly warrants setting aside time for a few well-planned orientation and mobility lessons. Knowledge and skills in moving about in an auditorium and on a stage will contribute greatly to any child’s confidence and independence in the school environment and in the world.

To help you get started, we are reprinting the following orientation and mobility lesson plans for auditoriums and stages from the book by Doris Willoughby and Sharon Monthei, Modular Instruction for Independent Travel for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired. I hope the title sounds familiar, and I hope many of our readers already own it. If not, I encourage you to get it. A description of the book is online at the NFB Web site: http://www.nfb.org/nfb/NOPBC_Books.asp?SnID=530022273. Information about where and how to order it is included at the end of the article. Here, now, is what Willoughby and Monthei have to say:

MODULE 76: An Auditorium or Theater

by Doris M. Willoughby and Sharon L. Monthei

OBJECTIVE: (1) The student will detect step-downs and drop-offs with the cane, and proceed appropriately.
(2) The student will locate an appropriate seat, sit down, and stow the cane, in varied situations such as auditoriums, libraries, and restaurants.

AGE OF STUDENT: Preschool and up (see individual examples)

Detecting step-downs or drop-offs
Floor plans
Finding a seat
Stowing cane
In a crowd or a line
Sound direction and meaning

Structure of buildings
Human guide
Walking in company with others
Meeting the public
Corners, turns, and angles
Orientation within a room
Obstacles in path
Purchase or transaction
Flexibility and confidence

SEE ALSO (Other Modules):
In a Crowd
Walking Independently While Following Someone
Alternate Routes Within a Building
Orientation Inside New Classroom
Human Guide
Unexpected Drop-off or Step-Down
Visually Confusing Appearance

REMARKS: Show parents and school staff how reliably the cane finds the edge of the stage. Urge that the student be expected to use her cane when she is on stage--when she walks up to receive an award, give a real speech, sing with the chorus, etc.

A blind student may act in a play or take part in any other activity.

Many blind adults recall that their strongest feeling at their own graduation was fear of falling off the stage. How sad--how unnecessary.

TEACHER PREPARATION: Look around the auditorium and the stage. Note overall characteristics and interesting features. Determine whether the student is already somewhat familiar with the area; if so, build on any existing knowledge.

(Elementary grades)
(This example assumes a school auditorium with built-in-seating.)
Ask the student to enter and find any seat, sit down, and place the cane where it is out of the aisle and won’t roll away. (Each time the student takes a seat during this lesson, she should put the cane down and pretend she is going to stay.)

“Think about how it is when other people are here. When you’re walking down the aisle past the rows of seats, how can you tell if a seat is already occupied? … Yes, you might listen; gently touch the back of the seat; touch people’s feet gently with your cane; ask if there is an empty seat nearby… And, of course if it’s a school assembly, you might have assigned seats.

“Practice that, please. I will walk on down the aisle and take a seat on the end of a row, on the left side of this aisle. You come along down, notice where I am, and take a seat farther forward.

“Now, please imagine that you need to climb over a couple of people to get to a seat inside the row. Your cane can help you find where to step, and at the same time it can tell you where there is an empty seat.

“I’m going to move three rows back on this same side of the aisle. I’ll sit near the end, but perhaps not quite at the end. I’ll tell you when I’m ready. Then you count three rows toward the back, walk on in past me, and take the next seat on the other side of me. This is good practice for crowds.”

Continue with practice such as the following:

(Elementary grades)
Note: Even if there is no regular auditorium, there may be a stage. Many elementary schools have a stage in conjunction with the gym. Children sit on the floor, or chairs may be brought in. The blind student should understand where the stage is and its general layout.

CAUTION: Before going onto a stage, consider the maturity and behavior of the child. If she is very impetuous, heedless, or uncertain, hold onto her.

(Preschool age)
Students below kindergarten age, whether blind or sighted, will be closely supervised while in an auditorium. They will be permitted very little independence.

Nevertheless, selected portions of the above activities are very appropriate for a preschool-aged child:

(Elementary grades and up)
Sometimes, especially for a theater-arts class, there is a stage entrance directly from a hallway. The door may look just like other doors.

If such an arrangement exists, and the student is not already familiar with it, consider asking her to enter the door without being told exactly what is within. Depending on the student’s experience and ability, she may be given various degrees of warning. After the drop-off is found and discussed, you can say, “This is a good example of why the cane should be used even after entering a room. You could even say that this is a dramatic example--ooh, terrible pun.”

(Elementary grades and up)
Often a tour can be arranged at a time when there is no show, especially at a “live” theater. Explore as much as is practical, in the manner suggested for the auditorium above. (A theater employee should be with you if you go to a non-public area, including the stage itself.) Look at the ticket window, the lobby area, and the snack counter. Walk around on the balcony, examine the front of it, and be sure the student understands the balcony’s relationship to the main floor. Find the emergency exits.

(Fourth grade and above)
The competence of students above the primary grades in regard to this Module will vary considerably. At any given age, some students will have a good grasp of the skills and a good understanding of the general layout of a theater. Others--even those who are competent elsewhere--may have major misconceptions or lacks. For example, one student may have always gone only to the assigned seating with her class, and may have no idea how many aisles and rows there are. Another student may know how to get onstage from the front, but not realize that there are entrances from behind the stage.

Many students are fearful of falling off a stage. Many believe incorrectly that the cane is “in the way,” too conspicuous, and not very helpful in any part of a theater.

It is wise to “spot-check” even an advanced student. Try a few selected exercises from the examples above (presented in an age-appropriate manner). If many problems and needs emerge, the student should have detailed practice.

Moving about comfortably in theater-style seating is important for anyone. Furthermore, most people, at one time or another, find themselves on stage--perhaps only briefly and as part of a group, but nevertheless on the stage.

Integrate and reinforce skills:

Recently, I complimented one of my students for an excellent talk about Braille at the city-wide PTA meeting. But I was disappointed that her cane had been nowhere in sight.

“I could never have found my way around that auditorium at South High alone,” she protested. “Someone had to guide me up to the podium. And I didn’t know where I’d put my cane. In some theaters there’s no way you can get it under the seats.”

Looking around the student’s own school, I located a theater-arts classroom with which she was not familiar. We found a time when it was vacant, and I (with exaggerated fanfare) simulated the PTA program: “May I show you to a seat, Ms. Ainsworth? … And now it’s time for the next item… Ms. KAREN AINSWORTH! Would you come on up to the podium, Ms. Ainsworth? Right up here…”

Thus she walked toward my voice, here and there in the large room which had unexpected step-downs. To her delight and surprise, she easily succeeded without ever taking my arm. (I explained that in a real situation, she might indeed choose to take someone’s arm for a time, but this did not exclude the cane.) She practiced placing the cane under her seat and by the podium. During “informal moments after the program,” she walked around the room alone. Later we repeated all this while her mother watched.

With a cane, one may choose to accept various degrees of help from time to time. Without a cane, there is no choice but dependency.

VARIATION(S): Introduce your student to various kinds of settings, formal and informal. Compare the seating in a church or temple. Examine an outdoor amphitheater or stadium. Discuss definitions and graduations--e.g., when does a “meeting room” or “classroom” become an “auditorium” or a “theater”?

How to order:
Modular Instruction for Independent Travel for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired may be ordered from the NFB Independence Market at 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230. Phone: (410) 659-9314, extension 2216. Fax: (410) 659-5129. Email: independencemarket@nfb.org. Web site: http://www.nfb.org/nfb/Products_and_Technology.asp.

You may order online, by phone, or by fax if you use a VISA, MasterCard, or Discover credit card. The book in regular print format is item number LSA01P and costs $20 plus shipping and handling. Please contact the Independence Market for current shipping and handling charges.


Paving the Way for Friendships and Inclusion

by Barbara Cheadle and Wendy Nusbaum

Barbara Cheadle:

You’ve found (finally) a great childcare or preschool program that will enroll your child--and best yet, they seem enthusiastic and excited about the opportunity to have him or her. After a few weeks, however, you realize that the other kids don’t “get” it. Some kids totally ignore your child as if he or she were part of the furniture, and some kids are all over him or her in their eagerness to “help.” Some kids think it’s fun to play “guess who I am,” and others are like ghosts as they flit by and around your son or daughter, never speaking directly to him or her. You are at a loss. You want your child to fit in and make friends, but your son or daughter just isn’t mature enough yet to take on the entire task of educating his or her peers.

Wendy and Mike Nusbaum of Westminster, Maryland, and parents of eight-year-old Christopher Nusbaum, faced this problem several years ago, and came up with a solution that worked for their son. Wendy composed a letter to the parents of Christopher’s playmates and, with the cooperation of the childcare center administrators, sent the letter home with the kids. It turned out to be a simple, yet effective strategy. The parents of Christopher’s playmates followed Wendy’s advice and talked to their kids. Soon their behavior toward Christopher changed, giving Christopher a chance to make friends and become a part of the group. I’m absolutely certain Wendy isn’t the only parent who has done this, but she is the one who sent me a copy of her letter with permission to publish it.

Whether we like it or not, the task of educating others about blindness is an ongoing reality in the lives of every blind person of any age. For young blind children, most of that burden falls on us--the parents. But that burden can be a little lighter when we share, parent-to-parent, blind adult-to-parent, our stories and our solutions.

Over the years, Wendy has gone beyond letters to develop training sessions (in collaboration with Christopher’s Braille teacher) for Christopher’s new team of teachers each year. She is also always on the lookout for other places in the community where she can educate people, especially those who will interact with Christopher on a regular basis. In her church community, she and a couple of other mom’s of children with disabilities realized that they did not feel comfortable around each other’s children, so the three of them developed and conducted a training session for all church members.

Wendy and Mike belong to an ever-growing cadre of NFB parents who take the initiative to teach their communities about how to include their blind kids, and, in the process, they change many people’s attitudes about blindness in general. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. Here, now, is Wendy’s letter; and, yes, you not only have permission to copy it or use it as a template, we URGE you to do so!

Wendy Nusbaum:

Dear Fellow Celebree Parents,

We would like to start with saying “thank you” for taking the time to read this letter. We would also like to take this time to thank Lisa and Celebree for stepping outside the box three-and-one-half-years ago and saying “yes” to Christopher joining the Celebree family. It may surprise you how many people were not willing to accept a blind child into their daycare setting, but not Lisa. Her response was, “We do not know a lot about blindness, but we are willing to learn.” So here we are today, having learned a lot together and now needing to teach others.

Years ago we were told that between the ages of four and six, Christopher and his peers would start to understand what it means to be blind. Well, we are finding that to be very true. This year many of the children have been asking questions and have wanted to help Christopher. We find that very heart warming, as blind kids sometimes are not accepted by their peers. However, we are finding that they do not always know the best way to help him. Thus, the purpose of this letter. We were hoping that you might take a few moments to explain some of this to your child(ren) with the hope that we can alleviate some of their frustrations and Christopher’s. We thought we might provide you with a few suggestions of things to discuss with your child(ren).

1) It would be very helpful to Christopher if the kids would give him their names when they are talking to him--just for a little while. Just like your child has learned his friends’ names and faces, Christopher will put their names and voices together. It will not take him long once he starts to separate out all the new voices. He just needs a name to go with a voice a few times.

2) If you think Christopher needs help, please ask--do not just grab him and help. He is like any other five-year-old and wants to “do it by himself.” He also may not know you are there, and you could startle him. He is pretty good about letting you know if he wants to do it by himself or if he needs help.

3) Please do not grab Christopher’s hands. His hands are his “eyes.” This startles him and frustrates him very quickly. It is like someone grabbing at our eyes or face, except we can see it coming and he cannot. If you need him to find something, let him know where it is. He knows his left from right, and “in front of” and “behind.” You can also tap on something or beside it. Christopher is very good at locating a sound. This can also be used to help him orient himself in a room if he gets twisted around.

These are just a few things that we thought might help you and your child(ren). We have also attached a sheet with other information for when you encounter someone who is blind. If you have any questions please feel free to talk to us either at Celebree or call us at [phone numbers]. We are more then willing to answer any questions concerning Christopher and his blindness.

Again thank you for taking this time and for caring enough to help Christopher and his friends form lasting relationships.

Wendy and Mike Nusbaum


Supplementing Your Child’s School Experience

by Michael K. Meyerhoff, EdD

Editor’s Note: On occasion, I come across a gem of an article that is not blindness specific, but which truly fits with the theme of a particular issue. In this back-to-school issue it is helpful, I think, for parents to be reminded that no school or team of teachers can provide a complete education for any child. In this article reprinted from volume 18, number 2, Pediatrics for Parents, psychologist Dr. Michael Meyerhoff explains the continuing importance of families in supplementing the school experience. Here is what he says:

My five-year-old granddaughter started kindergarten this year. When she returned home from her first session, I immediately asked, “What did you learn in school today?”

She frowned back at me and replied, “I guess not enough. They say I have to go back again tomorrow.”

This story reminds us that just because school is over for the day, it doesn’t mean your child has stopped learning. In fact, throughout childhood, some of the most significant educational experiences take place outside the classroom.

From the beginning of kindergarten until they graduate from grammar school, children spend a lot of time receiving formal instruction in many important subjects from their teachers. However, given the limitations of the system, it is inevitable that certain aspects of their development simply cannot be fully addressed.

For one thing, schools are not always designed to nurture curiosity. Given state-wide curriculum requirements and the corresponding practice of developing daily lesson plans, teachers often are pressured to “stay on schedule” and do not routinely have the luxury of indulging all the tangential inquiries little ones love to present. While this allows for the requisite “instruction” to take place, it does not necessarily permit each child to receive a complete “education.”

As Socrates said, “Education is not the filling of a vessel: it is the kindling of a flame.” Consequently, it is not until they get home that many children get a full opportunity to ask all of the questions ruminating about in their minds and can be offered all the assistance they desire in finding or figuring out the answers (which typically leads to even more questions). While teachers at school usually manage to ignite several small fires every day, it is through relaxed, unstructured interactions with their parents and others that those small fires can be fanned into roaring intellectual pyrotechnics.

In addition, schools sometimes are unable to foster a great deal of creativity. Since one teacher is responsible for a large number of students, every one is generally required to do the same thing in the same way at the same time. And since “success” in school is often determined by scores on standardized tests, the emphasis is usually on coming up with the “correct” answer.

Consequently, many children do not get sufficient opportunities to pursue their own particular interests and exercise their own special abilities until they return home. At that time, through fun, fascinating, free-form play activities, they at least get the chance to explore and expand the knowledge and skills they are acquiring in school according to their own individual inclinations and inspirations--and as a result, they gradually develop their own unique insights and innovations.

Finally, schools are not ordinarily geared toward encouraging cooperation. With their mandate, academic institutions tend to focus heavily on intellectual skills, and the interpersonal skills sometimes get very scant attention. And due to the fact that scholastic programs tend to become progressively more selective in their admissions requirements, a child’s classmates are typically “competitors” rather than “companions” in the learning process.

Consequently, it is not until they come home and engage in recreational activities that many children get the chance to learn how to get along with their peers. It is largely through play that they develop the capacity to take the perspective of another person, to share ideas and information, and to coordinate efforts in a pleasant and productive fashion.

Society needs knowledgeable, skillful people in order to function. It also needs curious, creative, cooperative people in order to flourish. Therefore, it is imperative that parents supplement the school experience by providing plenty of opportunities for intriguing and imaginative interpersonal play. While teachers are charged with producing competent citizens, it is mothers and fathers who must ensure that their children grow up to be complete, caring human beings.

Michael K. Meyerhoff, EdD, is executive director of The Epicenter Inc., “The Education for Parenthood Information Center,” a family advisory and advocacy agency.


Child Development and Assessment

by Alan Garrels

Reprinted from volume 2, number 1, of About Blind Children (ABC), a publication of the Washington State Department of Services for the Blind.

Editor’s Note: The following article is one of two in this issue that are not blindness specific. This one, however, was written by a professional who has worked in services for blind children for many years. Alan Garrels is the program manager of Child and Family Services for the Department of Services for the Blind, Washington State. He wrote this piece because he wanted to help the parents he worked with to become better observers and supporters of their own children’s development. He also wanted to introduce parents to the jargon and common assessment tools used by therapists and educators. Knowledge, so it is said, is power. As you read you will notice that in the two examples of how children develop, there is a strong emphasis on the importance of multi-sensory input in the learning process. Too often parents of blind children are bombarded with messages that tell them how key the visual sense is to learning and how hard it is going to be for their child to compensate for that missing sense. The straightforward facts presented in this short piece demonstrate how all systems work together to advance development. Here is what Garrels has to say:

“We judge our children by what we feel they are capable of doing, while others judge them by what they have done.”

Child Development and Assessment
There are various theories on the subject of child development. It is not our intention to explore the particularities of individual theories but to discuss general themes and aspects of child development.

One of the more universally accepted theories is that child development is sequential in nature; that there is often a hierarchy of skills from which milestones can be determined, regardless of the skills that are being assessed.

For purposes of illustration let us review the development sequence most children experience when acquiring the ability to walk independently. A baby, resting on its back, will be observed to attempt trunk rotation and to lift his shoulders and hips up from his mattress.

From this position a baby can roll over to a prone or tummy position. This is an important milestone for once a child can position himself in a prone position several things are likely to occur. As a child lifts his head he strengthens his neck and shoulder muscles. He also begins to develop a sense of his environment using visual, auditory, and vestibular input. The next milestone occurs when the baby begins to roll and attempts forward locomotion. Working to keep babies resting in prone position will assist in development for they will begin to use their arms and legs for forward motion and pulling up to a crawling position. It is important to reinforce this milestone because through crawling a baby is acquiring several skills that will further assist his gross motor development. While crawling a child begins to practice reciprocal motion. This motor milestone is important to a child’s quality of movement, gait pattern, and his ability to remain oriented to his environment. Secondly, in crawling a baby will begin reinforcing his sense of balance. As a baby crawls and learns more of his environment he is also working towards his next milestone, pulling himself up to a standing position. In a normal sequence it will be necessary for the large muscle groups to have the requisite strength to keep a child erect and balanced. While these muscles do not normally mature until a child is somewhere in the area of 6 to 12 months of age, look back on all of the important perceptual and motor skills that have been exercised before these large muscles are strong enough to help a baby stand. It is now that a child will take the next step on the developmental chart. When ready to begin walking a child will utilize all the skills they have mastered: motor development, sensory input, balance, and strength.

On a developmental continuum there can be many stops along the way and children will often plateau or remain at one level for a sustained period of time. This is often the situation with sensory and physically impaired children for they need to allow all the various component skills to catch up with another, or to compensate for one another, before they proceed.

To further illustrate the concept of sequential development, let us review visual perception and learning. Again, from a sequential perspective, a baby will understandably be reflexive in nature, but it is important to observe. The next developmental milestone usually is for a baby to begin attending to a light source or an object that contrasts with the background against which the object is perceived. The ability to attend to an object is often referred to as fixation and it is at this milestone that we observe a baby attempting to use her eyes together or in focus. This aspect of visual learning is perceptual and related to cognitive development. It is strengthening the eye muscles and training them to work in synchronization. Typically a baby will begin to localize objects in her near environment and after finding an object she will then fixate on it. With multi sensory input a baby will begin, to some extent, to show an ability to discriminate. The sound of her mother’s voice paired with a touch will prompt a baby to look toward or fixate on her mother’s face and she will begin to associate her mother’s face, smell, voice, and touch.

After a baby begins to find and fixate on objects, the next developmental milestone is for her to track an object as it moves through her visual field. Once again, we are observing several systems working together: muscle development, visual perception, and cognitive development. As a baby is able to track an object, the next sequential phase is to involve other systems and it is then that we observe a child reaching out to the object and visually attending to their hands as they come into contact with the object.

Sequential visual development therefore calls for the development of that portion of the brain that perceives light and images, development of the muscles controlling eye movement, and control of the muscle groups which will enable a child to integrate what she perceives to what she can touch, feel, and relate to through a multitude of senses.

With respect to assessing what exactly a child is capable of seeing it is first necessary to observe the developmental milestones of visual perception and learning.

At this point in our discussion please notice that we have refrained from assigning an age to our phases or milestones. The purpose of this discussion has not been to look at child development in terms of chronology but rather to view achievement in terms of what sequential development is and how it is important to the quality of basic sensory and motor growth.

As parents you will most certainly be given reports and evaluations that place your child’s ability to perform certain functions on a developmental chart or profile. At the same time you are cautioned by professionals not to compare your child’s abilities to that of another child. There is a very real difference between comparing individuals to one another and attempting to place a child’s abilities on a continuum of development. What a therapist or educator is trying to accomplish when assessing a child is to establish what the child has done and to assign those achievements to a spot on a developmental continuum. These profiles give the therapist/educator an opportunity to objectively view the skills in the context of normal sequential development and to work on the skills that will guide a child to the next developmental milestone.

Parents are often introduced to different checklists and assessment tools used by therapists and educators. CLOSER LOOK, available from Washington PAVE, prepared the following glossary:

Achievement test--Tests that measure the extent to which a person has acquired certain information or learned how to do something--usually because it has been taught.

Assessment--The gathering of information about strengths and weaknesses in a child’s abilities, levels of functioning, and learning characteristics.

Behavioral objective--Statement, in measurable terms, of what a person will be able to do. Example: John will be able to correctly write the first ten spelling words in five minutes.

Chronological age--A person’s actual age by the calendar, usually given by year and month.

Cognitive--Thinking, understanding, and being able to use judgment and memorization.

Correlation--Relationship between two scores or measures. Example: students who score well on language aptitude tests may also show aptitude for development of good reading skills (but not necessarily).

Criterion referenced tests--Tests, which do not produce a number or quotient, but show what a student can or cannot do. They compare a child not to other children, but to a set of standards or criteria. Tests to measure a child’s own progress within himself/herself.

Development--Stages of growth from babyhood on up, observing in sequential steps. The approximate ages of which steps in development occur are charted in developmental scales. Generally, development is measured in the following areas: fine motor, gross motor, cognitive, self-help, social emotional, and expressive and receptive language.

Developmental lag or delay--A delay in the appearance of some steps or phases of growth in any of the developmental areas.

Diagnostic test--Test that diagnoses or locates specific areas of weakness and strength.

Grade equivalent--The average raw score for all children in the same school grade. That is, if the average raw score of all third graders was ten correct answers on the arithmetic test, then this raw score is converted into a grade equivalent score of 3.0 (meaning grade three, zero month). Most testers caution against putting stock in grade-equivalent scores when they are higher or lower than average. They provide a very rough estimate of a child’s mastery of academic work or capacity to learn.

IQ Intelligence Quotient--A way of expressing the results of a score on an intelligence test. IQ scores, generally speaking, compare a person tested with a large number of other persons of the same age. Children with disabilities and children who don’t understand questions based on cultural experience are at a disadvantage. Scores are no longer regarded as reliable for large sections of the population. IQ must never be used by itself as a measure of intellectual capacity.

Mental age--Refers to the score a person receives on an intelligence test. Compares scores to the results achieved by other children given the same test at the same age.

Norm--Statistical term describes the performance of some specific group. Norms indicate normal, usual, or average performance.

Norm-referenced test--Test that compares a learner’s performance to a norm or an average.

Objective test--Tests in which a single answer key is used. Scorers have no option as to rightness or wrongness of answer. Examples are multiple choice or true/false tests.

Percentile--A score that reflects a comparison of one child’s performance with others who are taking the same test. Percentile rank refers to a point in a distribution of scores. Example: if a child scores in the eightieth percentile, it means that eighty percent of all children taking that test scored below that level.

Profile--A graphic representation of the results of several comparable tests. A profile is useful in identifying general areas of strength and those needing reinforcement.

Psychological test--Covers a range of tests used for studying people and how they behave. May be intelligence tests to study personality, or other tests to decide if there may be an organic impairment of functioning.

Readiness test--Test that ascertains whether a learner is ready for certain school tasks.

Standardized test--A test given to a group of students under uniform conditions, with the same instructions, time limits, etc. Tests are designed by sampling performance of other students, using results as a norm for judging achievement.

Subjective test--Tests in which different scorers may rate the answers differently. No set answer key. Example: essay test.

Infants and pre-schoolers are often assessed using informal skill inventories.

Two commonly used tools are the Hawaii Early Learning Profile (HELP) and the Oregon Project (OR).

The HELP consists of 685 developmental skills for children between 0-36 months. Formatted on a checklist it is a non-standardized test used to facilitate individual assessment, program planning, and recording of children's progress within the developmental areas of cognition, language, gross and fine motor, social-emotional, and self-help.

The OR consists of 640 behavioral statements organized in eight developmental areas: cognitive, language, socialization, vision, compensatory, self-help, fine motor, and gross motor. The Oregon Project is designed to provide assessment and curriculum guidance to educators and parents of young blind children from infancy to 6 years of age. A criterion-referenced assessment, the OR is not designed to provide precise scores. The Oregon Project includes curriculum guides and suggested teaching activities.

Commonly Used Tests

AAMD Adaptive Behavior Scale--Used with children 3 and up. This test uses a normed questionnaire that helps to determine the child’s strengths and weaknesses in self-help and social skills. It is scored in percentile ranks and standard deviations.

Alpern Boll Developmental Profile--Children 6 months to 11 years. It is an interview measure although it is generally used as a direct test. Age scores are developed for each area in the test and an estimated overall IQ equivalent. Five areas are tested: gross/fine motor, self-help, social, cognitive, and language.

Baley Scale of Infant Development--Usually used with children 2 to 30 months in age. Has been used with children over 30 months with suspected delays to determine a possible age equivalent. It is divided into three scales and tests cognitive and gross motor skills.

Bender Gestalt Test for Young Children--Used with children 5 to 11 years. It tests perceptual motor functions of the child. Scores are given by age norms. It is used solely for sensory testing.

Columbia Mental Maturity Scale--Used mainly with hearing impaired children, non-verbal children, and children from different language and cultural backgrounds, ages 3.5 to 9 years. It tests non-verbal cognitive reasoning and ability. It gives an age deviation score and an estimate of the age level the child’s performance is nearest.

Developmental Indicators for the Assessment of Learning (DIAL)--Tests children from 2.5 to 5.5 years. Used basically as a preschool screening tool. It is used in various school districts throughout Washington State. It has a tendency to test a false high. It generates scores in four areas that can be computed to age equivalents. It tests in gross motor, fine motor, concepts, and communication.

Peabody Developmental Scales--Children birth to 7 years. This is one of the more comprehensive tests. It is scored on scales to give age equivalents. It tests fine and gross motor skills.

Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT)--Used with children kindergarten through twelfth grades. This is an individually administered test. It is broken down into five basic subtests. It provides scores in grade equivalent, percents, and a standard score. It tests the areas of math, reading, spelling, and general knowledge.


You’re Not in Kansas Anymore, Dorothy

by Christine Brown

Reprinted from the June 2003, issue of the Braille Monitor, the monthly magazine of the National Federation of the Blind.

Editor’s Note: This presentation was initially given to the mid-winter conference conducted by the National Association of Blind Students (NABS) held in Washington, D.C., on February 1, 2003. In other words, a roomful of young blind college students--not parents. However, it is exactly the kind of speech that I think every parent of a blind college-bound student should eavesdrop in on--and the earlier the better. Here is what Ms. Brown has to say about what it takes for a blind student to really succeed in college:

Are you inspired today? I am. I’m inspired by the members of the National Federation of the Blind.

I am a coordinator of services for blind students in the Disabled Student Services office at the University of Michigan. Now, before you boo and hiss and throw tomatoes at the stage, let me tell you that I believe in blind people. I am a graduate of the NFB orientation and mobility master’s program at Louisiana Tech and a proud member of the National Federation of the Blind. The National Federation of the Blind has taught me that my role is to empower blind students, spur them on to reaching their fullest potential, and help equip them with skills to go on to become gainfully employed in their field of choice.

I have been asked to speak to you this morning about the role of a disabled student services office in the life of blind students and what I perceive to be the students’ rights and responsibilities that go along with these services.

Let me start by telling you a true story. I encountered a blind freshman recently who would tell you that she had had the best services available in high school. In her mind she was fully prepared for college. If she needed Braille books, they were ordered by someone for her. If she had an exam, she would show up for the test and a crisp Braille copy would be waiting for her on her desk. If she needed to get to class or an appointment on campus, a staff member was always ready to extend an arm to take her there.

She graduated with a 3.8 grade point average and had a very high level of confidence that she would succeed in college--why wouldn’t she think that? She had succeeded very well to this point and had had great services, right? To respond to this question in the youthful vernacular, let me just say, “Not!” The student’s name could have been Dorothy, and I want to say, “Dorothy, let me just tell you that you’re not in Kansas anymore.”

This student started the enrollment process at the university, and it was time for her first placement exam. She walked up to the front of the room and said, “Hi, I’m here to take my exam in Braille.” Well, no dialogue with the professor had taken place beforehand, and the professor had no idea what the student was talking about. You can imagine that the situation just got more complicated from there.

I would assert that this student did not get great services in high school because no one prepared her for the next step. No one gave her tools in her toolbox to succeed; they just took care of everything for her. My friends, this concept is called custodialism, and it is a dangerous adversary. It can be subtle and disguised by the best of intentions on the part of the staff. It can reside under a sugar coating of desire to protect the student and be decorated with some sprinkles on top that minimize the student’s ability to be a competent and competitive individual.

This student’s high school staff had the responsibility to teach her to stand on her own two feet. They should have taught her to advocate for herself, to travel independently and without assistance, to register for classes on her own, to take notes in class, to communicate the best medium for taking exams with faculty, to use a slate and stylus and adaptive technology equipment, to be held to exactly the same standards as her sighted peers, and to succeed in life on her own.

I tell you this story because I believe that DSS offices have the same responsibility at the college level. Sadly, this is not the only student I’ve encountered who has been in this boat, and it is a cold and rude awakening for these students. An old saying about parenting goes, “If you let them make little decisions when they are little, they’ll be able to make big decisions when they are big.” The same is true for you in leaping out of the nest and learning to fly on your own as a successful college student. You might be thinking to yourself, “I know I’ll be able to do it myself when the time comes, but I’m going to take advantage of all these great services.” I guarantee that you could read every book ever published on how to swim, but until you jump into the cold water, you won’t really know if you can do it.

What does this mean for you? I encourage you to avoid viewing the DSS office in extreme terms. On one side of the coin you should not view it as your enemy to be avoided like the plague, and on the other side of the coin you should not view it as your caregiver or the entity that will take care of everything for you. Let’s talk about your rights and responsibilities as a college student.

Your rights are clearly defined under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). I like what Peggy Pinder Elliott has to say about the ADA. She says, “Whenever a blind person is tempted to say the words ‘Americans with Disabilities Act,’ that blind person should pause, take a deep breath, do a little mind-emptying exercise, and then focus on the real question, which is ‘How am I myself--this very person and no one else--going to get this job done?’ Any temptation to duck, wangle, or permit others to do our coping for us should be firmly resisted.”

You have the right to receive materials in an alternative format and the right to reasonable accommodations in your classes. Materials in alternative format could include Braille, scanned materials, or books on tape; and reasonable accommodations could include using a laptop to enter exam answers or extended time on exams if you are using a live reader for an essay exam.

Your responsibilities are to go talk to your professors, on your own, before the term begins; to establish a rapport; and to answer any questions they may have. You have an opportunity to educate your professors about what it will be like to have a successful and independent blind student in his or her class.

You should ensure that you have the tools you need to succeed, such as technology, books, note-taking capability, and the ability to use the Internet as a powerful tool and conduct research using online resources. You will notice the operative word here is “you.”

I have another saying (I have a lot of sayings): “Be a forest ranger, not a firefighter.” What does this mean? It means be alert, know what is ahead instead of putting out a huge blaze. I highly recommend that you make it a practice to forecast what you will need to succeed and make sure that everything is in place.

If you are not sure what you need because you are new, then learn to network. Partner with other students in the division who are successful and find out what they did. Networking means maximizing resources and knowing how and where to get information. I have another saying, “If you’re not networking, you’re not working!” You are welcome to partner with your DSS coordinator, but remember two things: 1) this person is earning a salary on your behalf, and it is you who decide what course of action to take; and 2) you have no better resource than a successful blind student. I’m going to repeat this one: “You have no better resource than a successful blind student.” Partnering with your DSS coordinator becomes sticky territory because only a handful of people in positions like mine hold the belief that it is respectable to be blind and know the truth about blindness. Then there is the majority--those sugar-coated, well-intentioned people who want to make all your worries go away.

If you have one of these sugar-coated people in your DSS office, I encourage you to use the services judiciously and set some expectations--for example, that it will be you who arrange your test-taking, you who will talk to your professors, and you who will get a job when all is said and done. It is tempting to take the easy path, but I guarantee you it isn’t smart. In fact, I was joking with a friend at national convention in Kentucky who took my arm to go through the convention hall instead of using her cane. She joked, “This is easy; I could get used to this.” Both she and I knew that she had excellent cane travel skills and could have navigated her way through the room without a problem, but pragmatically it made sense at that moment for her to use an alternate tool.

This is the key to your success: have a multitude of tools available and know your options. The greatest definition of freedom is choice. If you don’t have choices and options, you’ve just lost your freedom.

Also set your expectations high. I encourage you to take a hard look at yourself and work on areas that need improvement. When I came to Michigan, I had a few students who were always late to appointments with me. They didn’t say anything or give me a reason when they were late; they just showed up late. Apparently this had been an acceptable standard before I came, and no one challenged the issue. I had to sit down with them and establish a new expectation. Some people may say, “Oh, the poor blind student, he just can’t make it on time--I’m going to let it slide.” I say, just say no to this kind of thinking. I expect exactly the same of you as I would from your sighted peers because I view you as equal to them. You will be judged equally if you behave at their standard or above.

I would like you to think for a moment about your future. When you get a job and your new boss says, “Please find out all you can about global warming, write a report, and take it to Bob Smith at 905 Washington Street by 10 a.m.,” will you be up to the task?
I encourage you to think in terms of long-range planning. Can you be sure that you will be able to take the next step?

I close by again quoting Peggy Pinder Elliott, who has written some great articles on dealing with DSS offices. If you haven’t read her articles online, you should. She says:

When a DSS office does it for us, it translates into failure to learn coping skills. So say it nicely, say it with kindness, say it with firmness, but say it! “I’ll do it myself.” And make it stick. Make it stick with the DSS office, and make it stick with yourself. When you do, we’re all winners. We win when we discover self-reliance, when we build our own dignity, when we learn to handle tasks for ourselves without even thinking much about it. In other words, we win when we find out who we are and reject the trappings of custodialism, however they are dressed up and disguised. In a very real, very practical sense that is exactly what Dr. Jernigan meant when he said: “We know who we are, and we will never go back.”


My Triple Life as Worker, Student, and Federationist

by Angela Howard

Reprinted from the Spring 2003 issue of the Minnesota Bulletin, a publication of the NFB of Minnesota.

One of the things I like most about our organization, the National Federation of the Blind, is that we are a very take-charge kind of people. We’re always looking for ways to improve ourselves as an organization as well as in our individual lives.

I currently work in the human resources department for a student loan company in St. Paul. Last spring, after some soul-searching, I decided that this isn’t the job I want to have for the rest of my life, and in order to get where I really want to be in my life, I needed to further my education. I signed up for a class at the Hubert Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota--with some fear, but also with a lot of excitement. On my first day of class, my teacher walked in and said, “Raise your hand if you want to change the world and make the world a better place.” He said, “If you raised your hand, then you’re in the right class.” Immediately I knew that I was making the right decision in my life.

Going back to school has been very challenging but also very rewarding for me. There are three very important lessons that I’ve learned in my months as a full-time employee and a part-time student.

First is the importance of preparation. This is important for everyone, but I think it’s even more important for blind people. One of the things I did to prepare for being a successful student and employee was to meet with my professor about a month in advance. I wouldn’t suggest meeting quite so far in advance for most people, but I was very nervous, so it worked out well for me. I do, however, recommend trying to meet with your professors and establishing the fact that you are the advocate for yourself--they don’t need to call the disability services office to find out what to do with you; they should ask you about it. Make them feel welcome to ask you.

I educated my professor a little bit about blindness; he had never had a blind student before in his class. I showed him my slate and stylus and my BrailleNote, and I told him that these were how I would do a lot of my reading and writing for class. I also told him I would be typing my papers and turning them in at the same time as everyone else. We discussed ways for me to complete my final exam at the end of the semester. He also gave me a packet of papers that he knew he would be using during the class for this semester. I had the ability and equipment to scan those and have them ready before the class even started, which has helped me tremendously. I found out the title of the book and discovered that I could get it through Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D), so I made sure I was registered with RFB&D and ordered it and had it ready before the class started.

Another way that I’ve prepared in advance is managing what I need to do and when I need to do it. For example, I had a ten-page paper due the day after our state NFB annual convention; but I wanted to be at the convention all weekend. So I knew that I would have to get this paper done several weeks before everyone else. Everyone in the class I spoke with was surprised that I was somewhat ahead of them, but I wanted to be at the convention so I had to get it done.

Let me tell you a little about the paper. The assignment was to interview someone who is making change at the state legislature on the issue of education. There are several issues in education that I was interested in; however, I decided to interview Judy Sanders for my paper. [Sanders is blind and works on legislative issues for the NFB of Minnesota.] I decided this because we had to give a four-minute presentation on the paper, and turn in a two-page summary of our ten-page paper that our professor then puts into a booklet and uses to teach next year’s class. So I thought of this as a wonderful opportunity to be able to talk about the Federation and our work for four minutes to my fellow classmates, as well as teach students whom I won’t even meet in next year’s class. I thank Judy for her help with the paper, and I’m sure she got sick of me calling her saying “I have one more question,” which usually ended up being about fifty more questions.

The second thing I’ve learned during my months of trying to juggle school and work is the importance of maximizing time. When I coordinated volunteers through AmeriCorps in my previous position, I attended several workshops on effective management of volunteers. People said over and over again that the busier people make the better and more reliable volunteers. This seems counter-intuitive, but if you think about it, busier people have learned to maximize their time. For example, I have a two-hour commute on the bus every day to get to and from work. I used to sit there and do nothing during those two hours, but I’m way too busy to do nothing now. I spend several lunch hours a week scanning my materials; I don’t have a scanner working at home, so I take advantage of my lunch hour to scan materials. I save them on a disk and put them on my BrailleNote, which allows me to read my schoolwork on the bus, saving me a couple of hours of having to do work at home. I do have one textbook on tape, so during my weekly attempts to clean my apartment, I play those tapes so I can get two things done at once.

I’m also studying for the Graduate Record Examination, which is a standardized test one takes when applying for graduate school. I make out flash cards of words and math terminology that I’ve forgotten, so I can take advantage of free time that I have before my class or during my fifteen-minute breaks or when I’m eating lunch with my co-workers.

The third important key to being a successful full-time employee and student is to keep focused on your goal. Sometimes it is harder as a blind person to get the things done that one needs to do to be a successful student and employee. I’ve had some frustrating moments. Sometimes I’ve thought, “It’s not fair that I have to spend a lunch hour or two a week scanning materials that other people can just read.” I had a very frustrating evening one night when we had a field trip over to St. Paul, and it took me an hour and forty-five minutes to get home on the bus. On my way home, I wondered if this was really worth it. After a while I decided that, yes, it is.

Even though it is a little harder sometimes to manage getting our work done as a blind people, what other option do we have? Are we just going to sit on the sidelines and let other people pass us by as they chase their goals--sighted people and blind people who have a little more gumption than we do? Will we look back and say, “Well, I didn’t get to meet my goals and I’m not doing what could really make me happy in life because it was a little bit harder for me sometimes and sometimes the bus took longer…” Of course we’re not going to do that; Federationists don’t do that.

I thank all of you for the work that you have done. Without you, and without your work, and without the fact that you decided to raise your hand and say that you wanted to change the world, I wouldn’t be where I am today, and we wouldn’t be working toward our goals in our lives. Let’s not stop our work until every blind person in this country has the opportunity to follow their dreams and meet their goals.


Braille Storybook Resources

compiled by the
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
A Division of the National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230
(410) 659-9314, extension 2360 or 2361 * Fax: (410) 659-5129
bcheadle@nfb.org * www.nfb.org

American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults (AAF)

Free Braille Books Program
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
(410) 659-9314, extension 2361 * Fax (410) 659-5129
www.actionfund.org * brailleaction@actionfund.org
Selected popular children’s reading series (currently Jigsaw Jones Mystery® chapter books for grades 2-4; Matt Christopher sports books for grades 5 and up; Sampler set of chapter books from four different series including SpongeBob SquarePants®; Franny K. Stein; Mad Scientist; My Weird School; and Ready Freddy) are available free to blind children, teachers, libraries, etc. The books are mailed out every month so that blind children can have them at the same time that sighted children can buy the books in the bookstore.

Braille Institute of America, Inc.
741 North Vermont Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90029
(800) 272-4553 * (323) 906-3104
www.brailleinstitute.org * ums@brailleinstitute.org
Offers children ages 3-18 a variety of books of which they may select four titles three times a year. Dots for Tots and TacTales are programs offered for blind toddlers.

Seeing Hands
P.O. Box 46374
Minneapolis, MN 55446
(763) 404-2675
www.seeinghands.org * info@seeinghands.org
All books in collection available on loan free of charge. Organization also offers a free Braille book to participants on their birthday!


American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults (AAF)
Kenneth Jernigan Lending Library Service
18440 Oxnard Street
Tarzana, California 91356
(818) 343-3219
http://www.actionfund.org/ * actionfund@actionfund.org
Services are available to blind individuals and schools. Contact AAF for application.

Braille Circulating Library, Inc.
2700 Stuart Avenue
Richmond, Virginia 23220
(804) 359-3743
www.careministries.org/bcl.html * braille@aol.com
Religious materials in Braille, large print, and cassette for 6 week time period.

Christian Record Services, Inc.
4444 South 52nd Street
Lincoln, Nebraska 68516
(402) 488-0981 * Fax (402) 488-7582
www.christianrecord.org * info@christianrecord.org
Offers 415 Braille titles and 1623 audio tape titles ranging from fiction, adventure, Bible, and non-fiction covering all reading levels. (30 day lending)

National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS)
1291 Taylor Street N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20542-0002
(202) 707-5100 * (800) 424-8567 * Fax (202) 707-0712
www.loc.gov/nls * nls@loc.gov
Primary source of Braille and recorded books and magazines for the blind. Books are loaned through a national network of regional and sub-regional libraries for the blind and physically handicapped. Catalogs of Braille books for children, youth, and adults are available. NLS also coordinates Web Braille for patrons of the regional and sub-regional libraries. This program provides electronic files of Braille books that can be downloaded for display or embossing. Contact the Washington, D.C., office for the location of the library for the blind that serves your area.

** There are two search options. The first allows you to perform a search similar to one you would find in any public library, i.e. keywords, author, title etc. The second is an area search to find a library in your state or region that serves blind readers.

“Very Bumpy Stories” Volunteer Braille Service
1710 Douglas Drive
Golden Valley, Minnesota 55422
(763) 544-2880
www.vbsmn.org * vbsmn@vbsmn.org
Print/Braille books for young readers. The program is open to all individuals and to school districts in Minnesota only.

Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Library for the Blind
1929 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, Ontario
Canada M4G 3E8
(416) 486-2500, ext. 7520 Toll-Free 1-800-268-8818
Fax 416-480-7700
www.cnib.ca/library * library@cnib.ca
Library services for blind, visually impaired, and deaf-blind Canadians of all ages. Offers Braille, large print, and a variety of access technologies.


American Printing House for the Blind (APH)
P.O. Box 6085, 1839 Frankfort Avenue
Louisville, Kentucky 40206
(502) 895-2405 * (800) 223-1839 (U.S.A. & Canada) * Fax (502) 899-2274
www.aph.org * info@aph.org
Offers a limited number of Braille books from kindergarten to adult reading level. Free catalogs available upon request. Maintains the Louis Data Base of Accessible Material for People who are Blind or Visually Impaired.

** APH offers many services and products. To search for books, the simplest method is to select the “Louis” search. From there, click on “Search for Textbooks, Recreational Reading, and Downloadable Files” Now you have the option of putting in a keyword or entering the ISBN number. If you know the book title, enter it here. If you simply want to browse all titles, (though tedious) start at the beginning of the alphabet and in the search field enter “A”.

The Braille Resource and Literacy Center (The BRL Center)
1094 South 350 West
Orem, Utah 84058
(801) 224-3334 * Fax (801) 224-0089
www.brlcenter.org * contact@brlcenter.org
Offers books for beginning readers in double-spaced, non-interpoint, un-contracted (or alphabetic) Braille. Pages on the right are in Braille, and the pages to the left are the same text, line for line, in print. Also offers children’s books in contracted Braille. A list of titles is available.

I Can See Books
88 Captain Morgans Boulevard
Nanaimo, British Columbia V9R 6R1
(800) 987-1231 * Fax (800) 985-1231
International: 1 (250) 753-3093 * Fax 1 (250) 483-1590
www.braillebookstore.com * info@braillebookstore.com
Offers an extensive collection of Braille and print/Braille books for all age categories.

National Braille Press (NBP)
88 St. Stephen Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02115
(617) 266-6160 * (888) 965-8965 * Fax (617) 437-0456
NBP offers a Braille Book-of-the-Month club for young readers. The subscription is $100/year for 13 books. (Sign up as a trial to get notices on titles.) NBP also offers other Braille books for all age groups, and a Braille manual, Just Enough to Know Better, for parents who wish to learn Braille. Check the Web site or call for a free catalog.

Seedlings: Braille Books for Children
P.O. Box 51924
Livonia, Michigan 48151-5924
(734) 427-8552 * (800) 777-8552 * Fax (734) 427-8552
www.seedlings.org * info@seedlings.org
Offers print-Braille-and-picture books, print-and-Braille books, un-contracted Braille books, and Braille books for ages up to 14. Free catalog upon request.

William A. Thomas Braille Bookstore
Braille International, Inc.
3290 Southeast Slater Street
Stuart, Florida 34997
(772) 286-8366 * (888) 336-3142 * Fax (772) 286-8909
www.brailleintl.org * info@brailleintl.org
Operates a walk-in and mail-order bookstore for the blind. Free catalog upon request.


State Braille Standards for Teachers of Students
Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired: A National Survey

by Barry B. Frieman

Reprinted from the January 2004 issue of the NFB’s publication, the Braille Monitor, Barbara Pierce, editor.

Editor’s Note: Barry Frieman is a professor at Towson University in Maryland. He has performed a valuable service by gathering into one place the information about how each of the states establishes its standards for hiring the teachers charged with preparing its blind and visually impaired students. Please be aware, however, that some changes may have occurred in the two years since the survey was first published. New Mexico, for example, has established a program to train teachers of the visually impaired in order to meet the state’s needs for teachers with specialized knowledge. Nevertheless, Frieman’s survey and analysis is, we think, as current and as comprehensive as any readily available from any one source. Therefore, we think it is valuable information to make available to parents and teachers of blind students. Here it is:

The Challenge

Principals and administrators are faced with the challenge of finding competent teachers who have the expertise in Braille to teach children who are blind and visually impaired. These teachers need many skills other than Braille in order to be successful, including the ability to teach compensatory skills; prepare special learning materials; assess student learning; collaborate and consult with other professionals; understand the physiology of the eye and the medical implications of visual impairments; teach orientation and mobility; and other teaching skills. This research project was limited to Braille.

Administrators in local school districts depend upon state education agencies to set the certification standards for teachers. All states have specific certification standards for those who teach children who are visually impaired; however, these standards vary across the country. This research study will report the variance in Braille certification standards across the country for teachers of children who are visually impaired.

Teachers and Braille

The American Foundation for the Blind (1996) estimated that fewer than 10 percent of people who are legally blind in the United States and fewer than 40 percent of the estimated number who are functionally blind are Braille readers. Although a great deal of technology is available to aid in the literacy of children who have some usable vision--computer voice programs, magnifying devices, audio devices, etc.--these children also need a knowledge of Braille in order for them to reach their maximum level of literacy and self-sufficiency.

Technology does not guarantee literacy. Spungin (1996) believes that one of the major reasons for the increasing illiteracy of people who are blind and visually impaired is the historical emphasis on teaching children with residual vision to read print. Wittenstein and Pardee (1996) found that 89.4 percent of the teachers surveyed in a national sample agreed that technological devices should be used to enhance Braille and not to replace it.

As Maneki (1989) points out, problems arise when the person with a visual impairment who has not been properly trained in Braille is forced to rely on clearly inadequate partial vision rather than the more efficient Braille system. Although some children with visual impairments can make use of enlarged print generated by computers and video technology, Maneki notes that the limits of depending on large print only--eyestrain, slowness, and the relative lack of portability of the equipment--makes a convincing argument that Braille must be taught as well.

Allman (1998) notes that, if vision teachers are expected to teach Braille and related skills, they must learn these skills in their preservice training. Knowlton and Berger (1999) point out that teachers not only need to know Braille but also need to use the new computer technologies that enhance a teacher’s ability to produce Braille materials. Amato (2002) notes specifically that teachers of Braille need to be able to demonstrate proficiency in all five of the Braille codes: literary, Nemeth (math and science), music, foreign language, and computer. She goes on to suggest that the National Literary Braille Competency Test be used by teacher preparation programs as an assessment of their preservice teachers’ Braille skills.

The Research Method

Written queries were sent to departments of education in all fifty states. State department of education personnel were asked to send a copy of their certification standards for teachers of children who are blind or visually impaired. Some states sent paper copies of their standards, others responded via email, while still others sent instructions on how to find the queried data on the state’s Web site. Follow-up phone calls or emails were made to state personnel if clarification was required. Data from the four states that didn’t respond to the researcher’s request were collected from the state’s Web site. Data were collected from all fifty states.

Avenues to Certification

States certify (i.e., license) candidates who want to teach children who are visually impaired in three main ways: requiring the candidate to graduate from an approved bachelor’s or master’s program from an approved college or university; have a generic degree (bachelor’s or master’s) in special education; or have an endorsement to an existing certificate in either early childhood, elementary, secondary, or special education, spelling out courses needed to gain that endorsement.

Approved Programs

Nineteen states require candidates to graduate from an approved program. The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (2003) requires that colleges or universities applying for approval document that their preparation program follows the guidelines of a recognized learned society. The Council for Exceptional Children (2003), a recognized learned society in special education, has developed performance-based standards for programs to train teachers of students who have a visual impairment. The standards cover the following areas:

* Foundations--a general understanding of the basic terminology related to the visual system, a historical view of education of the blind, and an understanding of federal programs;

* Development and characteristics of learners--effects of blindness on development, and physiological and psychosocial issues related to blindness;

* Individual learning differences--effects of blindness on learning;

* Instructional strategies--including strategies to teach Braille reading and writing, specialized daily living skills, and techniques to modify instructional materials and methods to best meet the needs of blind children;

* Learning environments/social interactions--modifying the environment for visually impaired students;

* Language--strategies for teaching alternatives to nonverbal communication for visually impaired students;

* Instructional planning--implementing and evaluating learning objectives for visually impaired students;

* Assessment--specialized techniques for visually impaired students;

* Professional and ethical practice;

* Collaboration--with families and other professionals.

If a candidate graduates from an approved program that follows the Council for Exceptional Children’s standards, an administrator can predict that the teaching candidate will have the necessary background to teach Braille.

Generic Special Education Degree

Seven states required candidates to have a generic degree in special education with no mention of a course or competency in Braille. Candidates with a special education degree will have experience and skills in dealing with children with special needs but will not necessarily know how to teach Braille.


Twenty-four states require candidates to have courses in order to earn an endorsement. Candidates with endorsements will have taken an array of courses related to blindness. Some states require the students to have a single course in Braille. Completing a course brings no guarantees that the candidate is competent in Braille. Other states require candidates to show a competency in Braille. A complete state-by-state report of the findings is noted at the conclusion of this article.

Action for Administrators

Strong and convincing evidence exists that early literacy in Braille for students who are visually impaired will facilitate positive outcomes in many areas (Johnson, 1996; Ryles, 1996). To act in the best interests of children who are visually impaired, administrators must make a commitment that every child who is blind or visually impaired shall have the right to be taught Braille and that the Braille be taught by somebody who is competent in its use.

Today principals have no guarantee that a candidate with formal credentials from a state will be fluent in Braille. Administrators need to insure that every candidate hired to work with children who are visually impaired has the skills to teach Braille.


To best serve the children who are visually impaired in their care, administrators need to hire teachers qualified to teach Braille. With solid Braille literacy skills taught by competent teachers, children who are visually impaired will be able to reach their full potential and take their place in American society.


Allman, C.B. (1998). Braille communication skills: What teachers teach and visually impaired adults use. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 92(5), 331-338.

Amato, S. (2002). Standards for competence in Braille literacy skills in teacher preparation programs. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 96(3), 143-154.

American Foundation for the Blind (1996). Estimated number of adult Braille readers in the United States. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 90(3), 287.

Council for Exceptional Children (2003). Professional standards. Retrieved March 24, 2003, from http:www.cec.sped.org/ps/.

Johnson, L. (1996). The Braille literacy crisis for children. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 90(3), 276-279.

Knowlton, M., & Berger, K. (1999). Competencies required of Braille teachers. Re:View, 30(4), 151-160.

Maneki, A.P. (1989). Blindness and the Use of Partial Vision. Braille Monitor, August, 444-446.

National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (2003). Professional standards. Retrieved March 24, 2003, from http://www.ncate.org/standards/m_stds.html.

Ryles, R. (1996). Impact of Braille reading skills in employment, income, education, and reading habits. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 90(3), 219-227.

Spungin, S.J. (1996). Braille and beyond: Braille literacy in a larger context. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 90(3), 271-275.

Wittenstein, S.H., & Pardee, M.L. (1996). Teachers’ voices: Comments on Braille and literacy from the field. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 90(3), 201-210.

State Requirements
Generic special education degree:

Alabama, Hawaii, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming


Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wisconsin

Graduate of an approved special education degree program

Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia


Braille for Sighted Students

The Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind teaches sighted students lessons about Braille and blindness

About four years ago Kirk Adams, Director of Public Relations and Resource Development at the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind, was searching for a disability awareness program that would offer a positive perspective on blindness. Kirk Adams knew that if he could approach young children--who are generally more open-minded and accepting than adults--about the capabilities of the blind, he would be able to gradually change public attitudes about the blind.

Enter the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the nation’s oldest and largest organization of the blind.

Shortly before Mr. Adams began pondering how to go about educating local school children on the subject of blindness, the NFB had developed such a program called Braille Is Beautiful. Coincidentally, the purpose of the NFB’s program (geared to sighted students) was very similar to the program Mr. Adams had in mind. When Mr. Adams read about the unique program in the Braille Monitor, the NFB’s monthly publication, he knew it was a match waiting to happen.

That was four years ago.

Currently, Mr. Adams invites eighteen fifth-grade classes per academic year to the Seattle Lighthouse for a discussion, a tour, and a snack. “I’ve learned that you have to have the snack. It isn’t the most important element, but it is a necessity.” Through a generous grant from Alaskan Copper & Brass (a local company) he is able to purchase Braille Is Beautiful program kits and distribute them in advance to each of the fifth-grade classes. The kit comes complete with a curriculum instructional guide for teachers, workbooks for the students, slates and styli, Braille alphabet cards, Braille paper, Kernel Books (a collection of stories depicting the lives of ordinary blind people), and much more. The class, under the instruction of their regular classroom teacher, begins the Braille Is Beautiful program in their classroom. Then, the class takes a field trip for a tour of the Lighthouse. A blind member of the Seattle Lighthouse staff gives the students a presentation on Braille and assistive technology for the blind. Misconceptions and misunderstandings about blindness are addressed in a final question and answer segment.

Teachers, parent volunteers, and students complete the program by writing reactions to the visit (students write their responses in Braille). The following is a response from a fifth-grade teacher and a student participant of the program. Their comments demonstrate the value of the program:

“The trip was well planned and organized. The students enjoyed the variety of speakers… The students love writing in Braille. Some are trying to do assignments in Braille… We would have liked to see more information regarding laws and legislation for the blind because we could have easily tied it into our social studies lesson.” -- Fifth-grade teacher

“Hello. Thanks for giving me a great time. I enjoyed sharing stuff about blind people… Thanks for writing my name in Braille. My favorite part was when Kirk [Mr. Adams] read the Harry Potter story in Braille.” --Fifth-grade student

Mr. Adams’ approach to the Braille Is Beautiful program is a model for success. Classes receive the kit before their scheduled visit and continue to educate themselves about Braille and blindness once the program is completed. Mr. Adams has worked diligently to fund the program so that the school incurs zero cost (making it all the more appealing for teachers who may be limited by tight budgets). Mr. Adams realizes the positive possibilities of the Braille Is Beautiful program. He states:

“We plan on doing this for a long time to come. Our goal is, looking ahead twenty years, to have one of our participants own his or her own business or work in a personnel office that will be visited by a blind applicant looking for employment. We would love for our applicant to look back on this experience and realize that he or she learned that the blind are capable. The end result would be an employment opportunity for a blind person that may not have come about without experiences like the one we offer.” -- Kirk Adams

For more information about the Braille Is Beautiful program, please contact:

Parent Outreach, NFB Jernigan Institute; 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; (410) 659-9314, extension 2360; email: parentoutreach@nfb.org.

For more information about the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind programs, contact Kirk Adams at (206) 436-2110 or email him at KAdams@seattlelh.org.


Braille Readers Are Leaders 2006-2007
24th Annual Contest for Blind Youth

Sponsored by
National Association to Promote the Use of Braille
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
National Federation of the Blind



Dates for the contest: November 1, 2006 - February 1, 2007

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

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

How can my student or child enter? Submit an entry form electronically or in print (see enclosed) at the conclusion of the contest. Preregistration is not required. For details about submitting an entry form electronically, contact us at BrailleReadersAreLeaders@nfb.org or call (410) 659-9314, extension 2361.

Categories: There are six categories: grades K-1, 2-3, 4-5, 6-8, 9-12, and Print-to-Braille. The Print-to-Braille category is for former or current print readers who have just begun to read Braille independently. This includes formerly sighted children who became blind after mastering print or partially sighted print readers who are learning Braille while they continue to read some print. Children who began to learn to read Braille at the same time as sighted peers typically learn to read print (kindergarten or first grade) are not eligible for this category.

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

What is so important about the Braille Leaders Community Service Award? This award most closely reflects the ultimate mission of the contest. Braille literacy enhances the ability of blind children to participate fully in the communities in which they live. Furthermore, they may participate as leaders. We really mean it when we say, “Braille readers are LEADERS.” An important characteristic of leaders is that they serve others. Good Braille skills allow blind children of all ages to demonstrate leadership through serving others. A first grader can practice her new reading skills by reading a book to her baby brother. A blind teen can take notes for his 4-H Club or read to lonely residents at a community nursing home. The opportunities for service--if you are literate--are endless. Our goal is not to teach kids how to read Braille so they will have something to fill up an otherwise empty and meaningless existence. Our goal is help all blind kids achieve a full, active life made even richer and fuller through literacy.

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

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

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

Notification: Certificates, ribbons, and a winners’ list will be mailed to contestants on or about May 1. T-shirts and cash prizes will be mailed as soon as practical.

For More Information: Barbara Cheadle, President, National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, (410) 659-9314, extension 2360; BrailleReadersAreLeaders@nfb.org. See also www.nfb.org/nfb/NOPBC_Braille_Readers_Are_Leaders.asp

Questions and Answers--Rules of the Contest

1. When do I mail in the contest entry form and reading log? We suggest that it be mailed by February 15. Delayed or incomplete entries may cause the contestant to forfeit the right to compete for top prizes. This year, the entry form may also be submitted electronically. Contact us at (410) 659-9314, extension 2361, or by email at BrailleReadersAreLeaders@nfb.org for details.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. What if I don’t finish reading a book? Can I count the pages that I did read? YES.

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

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

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

13. My student reads a lot of electronic books with a refreshable Braille display. Are these eligible? MAYBE. If so, how do we count Braille pages? Formatted files with a .brf extension--for example, files from Bookshare.org and NLS Web Braille--will have Braille page numbers in the file. These are acceptable. If you wish to use other scanned or non-.brg formatted files for the contest, you must contact the contest officials in advance for guidance and approval in how to determine the Braille page count.

14. What if I want to Braille other material for my student to read, such as recipes or instructions from a manual? Can we count these? MAYBE, MAYBE NOT. The judges must have enough information to satisfy any questions or concerns they may have. For example: not acceptable--“chicken recipe,” 1 page; acceptable--Maryland Driver’s Test Manual, 2005 edition, published by the Maryland Department of Transportation, print pages 1-5: 12 Braille pages.

15. I have trouble finding enough Braille material for my older students. Do you have any suggestions? YES. The National Federation of the Blind has free Braille materials suitable for blind youth, including recent issues of the Braille Monitor magazine. To request a literature list (large print or Braille) contact: National Federation of the Blind, Independence Market, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; (410) 659-9314, extension 2216; eringlein@nfb.org.

16. Is this entry form available on the Web site so that I can print out more copies? YES. www.nfb.org/nfb/NOPBC_Braille_Readers_Are_Leaders.asp


Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest 2006-2007

November 1, 2006, to February 1, 2007
Submit entry form after February 1, 2007, by mail, fax, or online.
Mail: Braille Readers Are Leaders, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230.
Fax: (410) 659-5129. Online: www.nfb.org/nfb/NOPBC_Braille_Readers_Are_Leaders.asp

Grand total of pages read

Name _______________________________________________________________
Birth Date ________________
Grade (please circle your selection) K 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 un-graded
Parent(s) Name ________________________________________________________
Home Address _________________________________________________________
City State Zip _________________________________________________________
Please list at least one phone number or an email address:
Phone (H)________________ (C ) _______________ (W) _____________________
Email _____________________________________________

Name _________________________________________________________________
the following is my [ ] home address [ ] work address
Address _______________________________________________________________
City State Zip ___________________________________________________________
It is best to contact me by: Email ___________________________________________
Phone ___________________________________ Best times to call _______________
Position: [ ] Parent [ ] Teacher [ ] Librarian [ ] Other

Please send certificate, ribbon, and other awards or prizes to (CHECK ONE):
[ ] STUDENT at home address or [ ] CERTIFYING AUTHORITY

[ ] YES [ ] NO This student is a dual print-Braille or a former print reader and the student started learning Braille after first grade. If “yes,” then please list the approximate date or grade in which the student began to learn Braille and use Braille. Please add any comments that will help the judges determine if this student qualifies for the print-to-Braille category.

Began to learn Braille: _______________________
Began to use Braille for reading: _________________
Comments _____________________________________________________________

This student attends:
[ ] public school [ ] private school [ ] a specialized school for the blind [ ] homeschool

SCHOOL NAME ___________________________________________
City State ________________________________________________
Superintendent/Principal ________________________________________

If the contestant is a winner, what T-shirt size is required? (Circle one)
Children: CM (10-12) CL (14-16) Adult: AM (38-40) AL (42-44) AXL (46+)

OPTIONAL COMMENTS: We would particularly like to know about additional disabilities or unique challenges which have impacted this student’s study of Braille. We are constantly looking for ways to improve the contest or add new programs to encourage Braille literacy. This information will help us in this endeavor.


Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest 2006-2007

Name of student ____________________________________ State _________

Date __________ Braille pages ____________
Title of book, article, other material _____________________________________

Date __________ Braille pages ____________
Title of book, article, other material _____________________________________

Date __________ Braille pages ____________
Title of book, article, other material _____________________________________

Date __________ Braille pages ____________
Title of book, article, other material _____________________________________

Subtotal this page _______________

To the best of my knowledge this student did read these pages between the dates of November 1, 2006, and February 1, 2007.

Please print name here _______________________________________
Signature of Certifying Authority _______________________________
Date ____________________

Please make duplicates of this page as needed, or print out copies from the NFB Web site at:


Braille Leaders Community Service Awards

Attach this form to your contest entry form, enclose the letter(s) of nomination, and mail or fax to: Braille Readers Are Leaders, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; Fax (410) 659-5129.

For information about how to submit your entry electronically, please contact us at BrailleReadersAreLeaders@nfb.org or call (410) 659-9314, extension 2361.

Students in grades 6-12 who wish to compete for this award must provide the following information as soon as possible after February 1, 2007:

The nomination letter(s) should be no more than three typed pages, single-spaced, and should contain a detailed description of the community service performed by the student, the date or dates of the service performed, how the student demonstrated leadership skills through this service project, and how Braille skills were employed or useful to the student in the performance of the service. It must also contain the name, address, phone number, and/or email address of the person writing the letter. The relationship between the person writing the letter and the student can be given in the letter or described in the form below. Parents and teachers of the visually impaired may submit letters of nomination, but stronger weight and consideration will be given to letters from others in the community who know about, or benefited from, the student’s service.

(Note: We understand that it may take a few weeks to assemble the information. However, the judges may refuse to consider nomination letters received after March 1, 2007.)

Name of student __________________________ Grade ____________ State ___________
Number of Braille pages read ______________
Date(s) of community service ___________________________________________________
Number of letters of nomination enclosed (only one is required)
Comments or other information you would like to share ______________________________

Name and title of person filling out this form (please print) _____________________________
Signature _________________________________________
Date ___________
Contact information: Phone _________________________________


IDEA Regulations Released

by Brandon Young

Editor’s Note: Brandon Young is a senior at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He is majoring in political science with a minor in philosophy, with plans to attend law school after graduation and further training in blindness skills at the NFB Louisiana Center for the Blind. During the summer of 2006, Young served as an intern at the National Center for the Blind under James McCarthy in the governmental affairs department of the NFB. Here is what he has to say about the release of the new IDEA regulations:

On August 3, the United States Department of Education (DOE) held a ceremony to announce release of the final regulations for Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) was invited to attend. Jim McCarthy, director of governmental affairs; Barbara Cheadle, president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children; Brandon Young, intern, department of governmental affairs; and Rachael Becker, a blind high school student from Maryland, attended the event on behalf of the NFB. We learned that the final regulations will be posted in the Federal Register on August 14, and will take effect sixty days after that date.

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, Assistant Secretary of the Office for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) John Hager, and Director of Special Education Programs (OSEP) Alexa Posny, all spoke at the meeting. Hager said that the department had received 5,500 responses to the regulations and that this was likely the highest number of comments ever received for special education regulations. The OSERS held two sets of public meetings at which interested individuals could offer their opinions.

Hager said that approximately three-quarters of the Federal Register document is a point-by-point analysis of the numerous public comments, and the remaining one-quarter consists of the regulations and appendices. The speakers emphasized that most of the proposed regulations were left unchanged in the final document. The key point Secretary Spellings made, which the other speakers echoed, was the importance of high expectations for students with disabilities. They stressed that students with disabilities should be challenged to achieve and should receive instruction from highly qualified teachers, a requirement of No Child Left Behind.

Many people, including our readers and representatives from the NFB, submitted comments last summer that expressed concerns about the implementation of the new instructional materials provisions. Primary among those concerns was the issue of guidelines for states choosing to opt-in or -out of using the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC). We said that there must be a clear process for states and local education agencies (LEAs) to communicate whether or not they are choosing to participate with the newly created Center (NIMAC), and that this information be readily available to parents, advocates, and other members of the public. The NFB also urged the department to require that, as a condition for opting-out, the states and local agencies had to submit data on how they planned to provide students accessible formats in a timely manner. However, the department denied this latter request claiming that the statute did not permit it to do so. But, the department did agree to make information more publicly available and it has already published the annual list of states participating and those not participating with the NIMAC on its Web site at www.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/monitor/nimac.html.

Once there was a chance for questions, Jim McCarthy vocalized concern about the instructional material regulations, stating that there were problems with the original proposal. Department officials expressed the view that the final regulations were improved; although they conceded that Jim and other advocates would probably not be completely happy. They finally stated that the department would use its position as a “bully pulpit” to stress the importance of students getting their Braille books and other nonvisually accessible instructional materials on time.

Several individuals from a variety of organizations asked questions and made comments about the new regulations, but the most inspiring and well-received statements came from two young students. One was our own Rachael Becker. She thought it was extremely important that department officials recognize how difficult it is for students to do well in school when textbooks are late. She said that there were times in her experience that she never received her Braille textbooks at all. Department officials pledged to do all in their power to assure that students received their textbooks at the same time as their peers and stated that this was the goal of the new provisions.

It was a great experience to hear from the top ranking officials of our education system. They told us that the regulations were improved from the original proposal, and after reviewing them, I agree. They made what I hope is a true commitment to our blind children, saying they would use their positions to educate states and local districts to the importance of getting students their textbooks on time. So now, we need to do our part and hold these officials to their commitments. No other work we have done in the Federation is any more important than this: to improve opportunities for blind elementary and high school students to achieve future success.


Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

NFB Independence Market

From Ellen Ringlein, manager, Independence Market, comes the following announcement:

This summer and fall will bring some significant changes to what was formerly known as the NFB Materials Center. First, there is the name change. We are now called the Independence Market because we provide literature as well as aids and appliances that enhance the independence of blind individuals. We also have a new manager, me—Ellen Ringlein; I joined the staff in July. The phone number is still the same: (410) 659-9314, extension 2216; and your call will most likely be answered by a staff member whose name you will recognize: Justin Shroyer, Philip Taylor, or Kandice Rose. We also have a new email address which is independencemarket@nfb.org.

The physical store location of the Independence Market is changing as well. We will soon have completed our move into our new space in the Jacobus tenBroek Library in the Jernigan Institute. In this new area we will display our free literature, which will rotate periodically. We will also have a beautiful store area in which visitors can browse and shop for the aids and appliances we have for sale.

The final change will happen behind the scenes. We are in the process of getting a new inventory management system, which will streamline how we process your orders. We hope that all these changes will improve the service you will receive from the NFB’s new Independence Market.

An Overview of Planned Giving

Making a charitable gift is one of the most satisfying experiences in life. Each year millions of people contribute their time, talent, and treasure to charitable organizations. When you plan for a gift to the National Federation of the Blind, you are not just making a donation; you are leaving a legacy that insures a future for blind people throughout the country. Here are some of the special giving programs available through the National Federation of the Blind.

The National Federation of the Blind is a service agency specializing in providing the help to blind people that is not readily available to them from government programs or other existing service systems. The services of the NFB are specially designed to meet the needs of all blind people. By maintaining a widespread campaign of public education, advocating for the rights of blind children and their families, administering scholarship and mentoring programs for blind youth, providing financial and other specialized assistance, conducting seminars on blindness, evaluating and developing accessible technology, and providing information and services to senior citizens so that they can adjust to vision loss and live more accessible and independent lives, the NFB is changing what it means to be blind.

We will be happy to provide you with further information about the National Federation of the Blind or any of these giving opportunities. Please call or write us at: National Federation of the Blind, Department of Outreach Programs, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230; (410) 659-9314, ext. 2406; outreach@nfb.org.