Future Reflections

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

Vol. 26, No. 1          Winter/Spring 2007

Barbara Cheadle, Editor

 

ISSN-0883-3419

Copyright © 2007 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

 

                                          

CONTENTS
                                         

Vol. 26, No. 1          Winter/Spring 2007

 

CONVENTION

2007 Convention Bulletin

What Can Blind People Do?

FEATURES

Some People Just Get It
by Jennifer Dunnam

More to Life Than Meets the Eye
by Deborah Kent Stein

What It Means to Walk with a White Cane
by Chris Danielsen

PARENT POWER

Parent Leadership Program
by Barbara Cheadle

EDUCATION

Converting Pail-Fillers to Fire-Lighters: The Active Learning Agenda
by Barbara Cheadle

Patterns of Behavior
by Carla McQuillan

NFB Makes MATHCOUNTS Materials Accessible

The Teaching Cane
by Mary Jo Thorpe

NLS Kids Zone

JUST FOR FUN

My First Bag of Tricks
by Anna Dresner, Review by Mary Anne Parks

IEPs

The Pop-Up IEP
by Carrie Gilmer

Transition Is Never Easy—IEP Advice to a Middle School Teacher
by Michael Gosse, PhD

Avoiding Stormy IEP Meetings
by Randy Chapman, Esq.

LAWS & LEGISTRATION

The Midas Touch
by Marc Maurer

Textbooks on Time—Federal Fact Sheet

BRAILLE

A Parent’s Guide to the Slate and Stylus (Revised 2007)
by Barbara Cheadle

Odds and Ends

 

2007 Convention Bulletin

Are you planning to come to the 2007 convention? Will you be bringing children with you? Do you plan to attend events sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children at the convention? Then you need to read this bulletin. We’ve included a checklist to help you organize your preparations:

Convention Preparations Checklist:
___1. Call and reserve a room at the hotel. See details on this page. Deadline: June 1.
___2. Preregister with the NFB. See page 2. Deadline: May 31.
___3. Register your child or children for childcare (NFB Camp). See pages 3, 4, and 5. Deadline: June 15.
___4. Preregister for the NOPBC events. See details on pages 6 and 7. Deadline: June 15.
___5. Make your travel arrangements.


Atlanta Site of 2007 NFB Convention

The 2007 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place in Atlanta, Georgia, June 30 through July 6, at the Marriott Marquis Hotel at 265 Peachtree Center Avenue, Atlanta, Georgia 30303. For room reservations call (888) 218-5399.

The 2007 room rates are singles, doubles, and twins $61 and triples and quads $66 a night, plus a 15 percent sales tax. The hotel is accepting reservations now. A $60-per-room deposit is required to make a reservation. Fifty percent of the deposit will be refunded if notice is given to the hotel of a reservation cancellation before June 1, 2007. The other 50 percent is not refundable.

Rooms will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations may be made before June 1, 2007, assuming that rooms are still available. After that time the hotel will not hold our block of rooms for the convention. In other words you should get your reservation in as soon as possible.

Guestroom amenities include cable television, coffee pot, iron and ironing board, hair dryer, and high-speed Internet access. The Marriott has several excellent restaurants. The hotel is currently undergoing renovations that will result in some alteration in the configuration of these. We will report on the changes as the convention draws near. It still features indoor and outdoor pools, solarium, health club, whirlpool, and sauna.

We strongly recommend preregistering for the convention itself online at <http://nfb.org/legacy/convent/preregistration2007.php> or by mail any time starting March 1 and ending May 31. The 2007 convention will follow what many think of as our usual schedule:

Saturday, June 30 Seminar Day
Sunday, July 1 Registration Day
Monday, July 2 Board Meeting and Division Day
Tuesday, July 3 March for Independence and Opening Session
Wednesday, July 4 Tour Day
Thursday, July 5 Banquet Day
Friday, July 6 Business Session

2007 National Convention Preregistration Form

Please use this form or provide all the requested information.
Registrant Name ___________________________________________________
(print legibly)
Address _________________________________________________________
City ____________________________________________________________
State ___________________________________ Zip ____________________
Phone __________________________________________________________

___ I will pick up my registration packet at convention.

___ The following person will pick up my registration packet:
Pickup Name ______________________________________

Please register only one person per registration form.
One check or money order may cover multiple registrations.
Check or money order (sorry, no credit cards) must be enclosed with registration form(s).

Number of preregistrations x $15 = ____________
Prepurchased banquet tickets x $35 = ____________
Total ______________

All preconvention registration and banquet sales are final (no refunds).

Mail to: National Federation of the Blind
Attn: Convention Registration
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
Registrations must be postmarked by May 31, 2007.

 

NFB Camp: Childcare at the 2007 Convention

by Carla McQuillan

Programs and Activities: During convention week, children six weeks through ten years of age are invited to join in the fun and festivities of NFB Camp. NFB Camp offers more than just childcare; it is an opportunity for our blind and sighted children to meet and develop lifelong friendships. Our activity schedule is filled with games, crafts, and special performances designed to entertain, educate, and delight. If you are interested in this year’s program, please complete and return the registration form provided at the end of this article. Preregistration with payment on or before June 15, 2007, is required for staffing purposes. Space is limited, so get your registration in early.

About the Staff: NFB Camp is organized and supervised by Carla McQuillan, the executive director of Main Street Montessori Association. Operating three schools, parent education courses, and a teacher-training program, Carla is the mother of two children, and a longtime leader in the National Federation of the Blind.

Alison McQuillan--camp worker and teacher since 1998--will be our activities director again this year. Over the years we have recruited professional childcare workers from the local community to staff NFB Camp. Recently we have determined that recruiting from our Federation families results in workers with proper philosophy and attitudes about our blind children. Carla and Alison will be supervising camp workers and all related activities.

Activities and Special Events: The children are divided into groups according to age: Infants and toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children. Each room is equipped with a variety of age-appropriate toys, games, and books. Daily art projects will be prepared by Corrine Vieville, a member of the Oregon affiliate. In addition, school-aged children will have the opportunity to sign up for half-day trips to local area attractions. Some of the planned events include walks to Olympic Park to play in the fountain, and a trip to the Coca Cola museum. Dates, times, additional fees, and sign-ups for field trips will be included in the registration packet. Space for special events is limited to enrolled NFB Campers only, on a first-come, first-served basis. On the final day of NFB Camp we will conduct a big toy sale--brand new toys at bargain prices!

Banquet Night: NFB Camp will be open during general convention sessions, division and committee meeting day, and the evening of the banquet. Plenty of teens are always available to baby-sit during evening and luncheon meetings. We will have a list of babysitters at the NFB Camp table at convention.

Please use the NFB Camp Registration Form.

NFB CAMP REGISTRATION FORM
Completed form and fees must be received on or before June 15, 2007

Parent’s Name ____________________________________________________
Address _________________________________________________________
City _______________ State___________ Zip______ Phone _______________

Child(ren)’s Name(s)
________________________________Age______ Date of Birth___________
________________________________Age______ Date of Birth___________
________________________________Age______ Date of Birth___________

Include description of any disabilities/allergies we should know about: _________
________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________

Who, other than parents, is allowed to pick up your child(ren)? ______________
________________________________________________________________

Per Week: $90 first child, $60 siblings No. of Children______ $_________
(Does not include banquet)

Per Day: $20 per child per day No. of Days_____x$20 child $_________
(Does not include banquet)

Banquet: $15 per child No. of Children ______ $_________

Total Due $_________

We understand that NFB Camp is being provided as a service by the NFB to make our convention more enjoyable for both parents and children. We will pick up children immediately following sessions. We understand that if our child(ren) does not follow the rules or if for any reason staff is unable to care for our child(ren), further access to childcare will be denied.

Parent’s Signature ___________________________________________ Date ______________

Make checks payable to NFB Camp. Return form to: NFB Camp, 5005 Main Street, Springfield, Oregon 97478. Phone: (541) 726-6924

NFB CAMP SCHEDULE
NFB Camp will be open during general convention sessions, division and committee meeting day, and the evening of the banquet. Times listed are the opening and closing times of NFB Camp. Children are not accepted earlier than the times listed, and a late fee of $10 will be assessed for all late pick-ups. NFB Camp provides morning and afternoon snacks. You are responsible to provide lunch for your children every day.

Date NFB Camp Hours
Saturday, June 30th 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 1st Camp is Closed
Monday, July 2nd 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Tuesday, July 3rd 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Wednesday, July 4th 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 5th 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Banquet 6:30 p.m. – 30 minutes after closing
Friday, July 8th 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

You are required to provide lunch for your child(ren) each day.

These times may vary, depending on the timing of the actual convention sessions. NFB Camp will open thirty minutes before the beginning gavel and close thirty minutes after sessions recess.

National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
Seminar and Workshops for Parents and Teachers at the 2007 NFB Convention
Schedule of Events and Preregistration

Saturday, June 30
SEMINAR DAY

Sunday, July 1
CONVENTION REGISTRATION (all day)
EXHIBIT HALL (all day)
RESOLUTIONS COMMITTEE MEETING (afternoon)

Monday, July 2
NFB OPEN BOARD MEETING (morning)
EXHIBIT HALL (all day)
DIVISION MEETING DAY (afternoon, evening)

Tuesday, July 3
MARCH FOR INDEPENDENCE (6:00 – 9:00 a.m.)
GENERAL SESSION (all day)

Wednesday, July 4
GENERAL SESSION (morning only)

Thursday, July 5
GENERAL SESSION (all day)
BANQUET (evening)

Friday, July 6
GENERAL SESSION (all day)

Questions? Contact Barbara Cheadle: bcheadle@nfb.org or (410) 659-9314, extension 2360


NOPBC 2007 SEMINAR REGISTRATION

Make checks or money orders payable to NOPBC. Mail to:
Sandy Taboada, 6960 South Fieldgate Court, Baton Rouge, LA 70808-5455

NOPBC Conference Fees
This fee includes annual dues for membership-at-large in the NOPBC.
$15 one adult
$10 per teen for youth groups accompanied by chaperones
$25 families

Fee enclosed (make checks payable to NOPBC) $________________

Adult Name(s). Please include first and last names of each adult and please check relationship or interest in the NOPBC:
1. ______________________________________________________
[ ] parent [ ] relative [ ] professional [ ] blind parent [ ] chaperone for a teen group [ ] other

2. _______________________________________________________
[ ] parent [ ] relative [ ] professional [ ] blind parent [ ] chaperone for a teen group [ ] other

Address _________________________________________________________
City ____________________________________ State___________ Zip______
Telephone(s) ______________________ E-mail _________________________

Do you already receive Future Reflections? YES NO

Are you a member of your state POBC chapter? YES NO

Is this your first NFB Convention? YES NO

Please list names (first and last), birth dates, and grades of all children attending the convention with you. Please include a brief description of the child’s vision and any additional disabilities.

Name, birth date, grade, vision/other
1. _______________________________________________________________
2. _______________________________________________________________
3. _______________________________________________________________
4. _______________________________________________________________

Additional comments, questions, or requests: ________

 

What Can Blind People Do?

by Barbara Cheadle

The politically correct (PC) response to the question posed in our title--What Can Blind People Do?-- might be a perky, optimistic, “Whatever they want to do,” but if forced to give examples, I suspect most people would come up short.

While the PC answer really is true, it’s not a very satisfying response to those of us (parents of blind children, for example) who really need to know more. After all, achieving independence and living a full life has many components: a job, a family, personal independence, participation in the community, hobbies, recreation, sports, leisure pursuits, travel, volunteer activities, religious participation, activism, clubs, and much more.

Getting specific answers to this question is one of the many reasons parents should attend a national convention of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). For over sixty years, the members of the NFB have been expanding the frontier of what is believed possible for blind people to do in all areas of life. One of the ways the NFB does this is through organizing special divisions around specific topics. Here’s how these divisions work.

Each of the divisions is led by an elected president and board of directors, and membership is based on interest, participation, and the paying of annual dues. Currently, there are twenty-six active divisions, including the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). Each division holds an annual meeting at the NFB convention. Some of them also sponsor special workshops and/or other educational activities for their members at the convention. Most of the divisions also sponsor listservs and a few of them organize special events and/or conferences between conventions. And all of them have members who are willing to provide support and information to each other and to parents and their blind kids throughout the year.

So, how can parents tap into the knowledge, resources, and blind role models these divisions can offer to families of blind children? This year at the 2008 convention, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children is structuring our activities so that families can meet blind members from these divisions, can attend division meetings, and otherwise participate in division-sponsored activities or workshops. Division leaders will speak at the NOPBC conference on Saturday, June 30th, the divisions will help sponsor and conduct activities for children on Saturday, and the divisions will be ready to welcome families to their meetings, most of which occur on Monday, July 2. More details are in the NOPBC conference packets and on our NOPBC Web page at <www.nfb.org/nopbc>. To request an NOPBC conference packet, please see the Web page or contact Barbara Cheadle at 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; (410) 659-9314 extension 2360 or 2361.

The NFB Web site also publishes a list of divisions with contact information. It is reprinted on page ____ of this issue as a resource and service to our readers. Since the divisions are operated out of members’ homes and new officers are elected annually, we recommend that you also check the Web site for updates before calling. The list is available at <www.nfb.org/nfb/Divisions_and_Committees.asp>.

 

Some People Just Get It

by Jennifer Dunnam

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

Editor’s Note: A resident of Minnesota, Dunnam is the author of the NFB publication, The Slate Book, and is the manager of Braille programs for the NFB Jernigan Institute. She also comes from a Federation background; her parents, Sandy and Butch Dunnam, are longtime members and leaders in the NFB in their native state of Louisiana.

Sometimes, in the course of the mundane acts of my day--walking down the street, finding a seat on the bus, using stairs, opening doors--I feel the constancy and magnitude of the need to educate the public about the capabilities of blind people. Long ago I came to accept the ever-present possibility that some ordinary, everyday movement of mine might prompt an anxious passerby to try to protect me or make something easier for me. I know that the vast majority of such instances involve people who want to do something good, and I do my best to deal with them kindly while maintaining my dignity. But sometimes I wonder inside if blind people’s efforts to educate the larger society are having any effect at all. Will sighted people ever come to understand any of the reasons why it might be preferable to let a blind stranger go her way without extra interference? Not long ago, I got an answer.

One day, as I was walking down a hallway in the building where I work, a man I didn’t know said, “excuse me,” as if he wanted to tell me something. For a moment I thought to hurry on, but he didn’t seem anxious, so I was curious and stopped.

“I know you don’t know me, but I’ve been hoping I’d see you again.”

Before I had time to wonder if he was some kind of stalker, he continued: “About two weeks ago, I saw you walking down this same hall. I thought you might be about to bump into something, so I grabbed your arm. That obviously startled you, because you jumped and jerked your arm away. As I thought about it later, I realized that I had invaded your space, and I hoped I’d get a chance to apologize to you sometime.”

I had forgotten the incident, but when he recounted it, it came back to me: I’d been in a hurry to deliver something to an upstairs office, and he seemed to come out of nowhere and firmly took hold of my upper arm. Usually, when things like that happen, I remove my arm from the person’s grasp and politely say something like, “Thanks, I’m okay,” but in this case, he had startled me so much that I just yanked my arm out of his hand and scurried on my way without saying anything at all. I knew he hadn’t meant it this way, but I had indeed felt intruded upon. Would he have done that to a sighted woman?

But here he was now, weeks later, having thought this through. Many times I had wished someone would just “get it” without my having to explain it every time. Now that it had really happened, I hardly knew how to react, but I did manage to express to him how much I appreciated his thoughtfulness and that I hoped he wouldn’t worry about it anymore.

The exchange lifted my spirits for the rest of the day. It also helped me remember that, relatively speaking, sighted people try to assist blind people unnecessarily far less often than they just go their way and allow blind people to do the same. Even in airports, where the sight of someone walking independently with a white cane tends to cause great anxiety, the people who accost us are outnumbered by the people who just go on about their own business. This proportion is not a naturally occurring phenomenon; it is the result of the concerted effort of thousands of blind people--both individually and collectively--blanketing the country with good information and teaching people one at a time. My awareness of all my fellow Federationists working along with me is one of the most comforting things in my life.

A few days after the apology from the man in the hall, I was boarding a bus on which there was standing room only. A few people kept offering me their seats, which I refused with a smile and a thanks. But they kept insisting, and after a while, the bus driver said, “She’s already said she’d rather stand, now leave her alone.” What a contrast to the times when the bus driver is the one insisting that someone give up their seat for me. It felt great to have such an ally!

In no way do I believe that our education work is done. There are still too many blind people without jobs because of employers’ misconceptions, too many movies that are informed by and that perpetuate harmful stereotypes depicting helpless blind people. But more and more, blind people are gaining and demonstrating the skills and confidence they need to live freely in the world. And, in turn, society is beginning to understand that people who are blind have the same kinds of dreams and hopes, and deserve the same respect and freedom, as everyone else.

 

More to Life Than Meets the Eye

by Deborah Kent Stein

Editor’s Note: Sometime in the late nineties a book was published that included a chapter written by Debbie Kent Stein, a novelist and longtime leader of the NFB of Illinois. Several newspaper editors in England contacted her to request permission to print versions of that chapter as articles in their publications. The most accurate of these appeared in the March 27, 1999, edition of the London Times. Soon after, that article was reprinted in the June 1999 issue of the Braille Monitor, the monthly publication of the National Federation of the Blind; and now we are reprinting it. In this article, Debbie deals clearly and honestly with one of the most difficult issues many blind people thinking about parenthood have to face. I think her insight and compassion has something to say to parents whose blind children, once grown, may one day face the same issue. This is what she says:

When I was only a few weeks old, my mother realized that I could not see. For the next eight months she and my father went from doctor to doctor searching for answers. At last a leading eye specialist confirmed everything they had already heard by then--my blindness was complete, irreversible, and of unknown origin. He also gave them some sound advice: they should help me lead the fullest life possible.

Fortunately for me this prescription matched their best instincts. As I was growing up, people called my parents “wonderful.” They were praised for raising me “like a normal child.” As far as I could tell, my parents were like most of the others in our neighborhood--sometimes wonderful and sometimes annoying. And from my point of view I was not like a normal child--I was normal. From the beginning I learnt to deal with the world as a blind person. I did not long for sight any more than I yearned for a pair of wings. Blindness presented occasional complications, but it seldom kept me from anything I wanted to do.

For me blindness was part of the background music that accompanied my life. I had been hearing it since I was born and paid it little attention. But others had a way of cranking up the volume. Their discomfort, doubts, and concerns often put blindness at the top of the program.

Since one of my younger brothers is also blind, it seemed more than likely that my unknown eye condition had a genetic basis. I never thought much about it until my husband Dick and I began to talk about having a child. Certainly genetics were not our primary concern. We married late (I was thirty-one, Dick forty-two) and were used to living unencumbered. Since we both worked as freelance writers, our income was erratic. We had to think about how we could shape our lives to make room for a child, whatever child that might be.

Somehow blindness crept into our discussions. I do not remember which of us brought up the topic first. But once it emerged, it had to be addressed. How would I feel if I passed my blindness to our son or daughter? What would it mean to Dick and to our extended families? What would it be like for us to raise a blind child together? I premised my life on the conviction that blindness was a neutral characteristic. It created some inconveniences such as not being able to read print or drive a car. But in the long run I believed that my life could not have turned out any better if I had been fully sighted. If my child were blind, I would try to ensure that it had every chance to become a self-fulfilled, contributing member of society. Dick agreed with me. We were deciding whether or not to have a child. Its visual acuity was hardly the point.

Yet if we truly believed our own words, why were we discussing blindness at all? I sensed that Dick was trying hard to say the right thing, even to believe it in his heart. But he was more troubled than he wished me to know. Once, when I asked him how he would feel if he learned that our child was blind, he replied, “I’d be devastated at first, but I’d get over it.”

In retrospect I can appreciate the honesty of his words. Yet he had not given the answer I had wanted to hear. I was blind, and I was the woman he had chosen to marry, to spend his life with for better or worse. He accepted my blindness naturally and comfortably, as a piece of who I was. If he could accept blindness in me, why would it be so devastating to him if our child were blind as well? “You know why,” was all he could tell me. “You have got to understand.”

What I understood was that Dick was the product of a society that views blindness, and all disability, as fundamentally undesirable. All his life he had been assailed by images of blind people who were helpless, useless, and unattractive--misfits in a sight-oriented world. I had managed to live down those images.

Dick had discovered that I had something of value to offer. But I had failed to convince him that it is really okay to be blind. I wanted our child to be welcomed without reservation. I wanted Dick to greet its birth with joy. I did not know if I could bear his devastation if our baby turned out to be blind like me. In order to make a decision, we had to gather all the facts. Before we carried the discussion any further, we needed to find someone who could answer some critical questions.

On a sunny morning in October Dick and I set out to visit a specialist who had been recommended to us. Perhaps I would learn at last why I am blind. As we packed the car, Dick commented, “It’s going to be a long, nervous day.” I could not have agreed with him more.

I expected a battery of tests. But the doctor dilated my pupils, gazed into my eyes, and announced, “I’ll tell you what you have, and I’m 100 percent certain. You’ve got Leber’s congenital amaurosis.” Leber’s a genetic condition, he explained, autosomal recessive in nature. Both of my parents carried the recessive gene, and each of their children had a one-in-four chance of inheriting the eye condition. What were my chances of passing Leber’s on to my own children? I asked. The doctor explained that I would inevitably give one recessive gene for Leber’s to my child. But unless my partner happened to carry the same recessive gene, there was no possibility that our child would be affected. The chances that Dick would prove to be another carrier were slight.

The discussion could have ended with that simple exchange of information. But the doctor had more to say: “You have a good life, don’t you? If you have a child with Leber’s, it can have a good life, too. Go home and have a dozen kids if you want to.” Even from a complete stranger, those were wonderful words.

The trip to the specialist cemented our decision to have a child. Days after our daughter Janna was born, my mother and father flew out to visit us. Mom helped with the cooking and housecleaning while I marveled at the extraordinary new being who had entered our lives. I was too happy and excited to feel exhaustion. I was not worried about Janna’s vision or anything else.

It was almost time for my parents to go home when Dick said to my mother, “You’ve raised two blind children. What do you think--can this kid see or not?” My mother said she really couldn’t be sure. Janna was hardly a week old: it was too soon to tell. The day after my parents left, Dick found the answer on his own. As Janna lay in his arms, awake and alert, he moved his hand back and forth above her face. Distinctly he saw her turn her head to track the motion. She saw his hand. She followed it with her eyes.

“She can see!” Dick exulted. He rushed to the telephone and called my parents with the news. I listened quietly to their celebrations. I do not know if anyone noticed that I had very little to say.

How do I feel about the fact that Janna can see? I am glad that her world is enriched by color as well as texture and sound. And I am grateful that she will never be dismissed as incompetent and unworthy simply because she is blind. But I know her vision will not spare her from heartbreak; she will still meet disappointment, rejection, and self-doubt as all of us must.

For me blindness will always be a neutral trait, neither to be prized nor shunned. Very few people, not even those dearest to me, share this conviction. Sometimes I feel a sense of failure when I run into jarring reminders that I have not changed their perspective.

However, in recent years a new insight has gradually come to me. Yes, my own loved ones hold the unshakable belief that blindness is, and always will be, a problem. Nevertheless, these same people have made me welcome. Though they dread blindness as a fate to be avoided at almost any cost, they give me their trust and respect. I am not sure how they live amid these contradictions. But I recognize that people can and do reach out, past centuries of prejudice and fear, to forge bonds of love. It is a truth to marvel at, a cause for hope, and perhaps some small rejoicing.

 

What It Means to Walk with a White Cane

by Christopher Danielsen

Reprinted from the February 2007 issue of the Braille Monitor, a monthly publication of the National Federation of the Blind.

Editor’s Note: Everything that sparkles is not gold, and not everything you hear on television talk shows is true. Recently, a young blind teen made quite a stir when he appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and announced that he can navigate the world just fine without using a white cane. Christopher Danielsen, editor of the NFB blog, Voice of the Nation’s Blind, recalls his own ignorance and arrogance as a young blind teen as he reviews and exposes the half-truths and mythology behind this sensational headliner:

The public holds two beliefs about blindness that seem to be mutually exclusive. One is the idea that blind people are generally helpless and incompetent. This belief is prevalent, as evidenced by an unemployment rate among blind people that stubbornly remains at around 70 percent. But coexisting with this view is the seemingly incongruous conviction that the blind are endowed with almost superhuman abilities. This belief arises from the myth that, when a person has lost one sense, the remaining ones become sharper to compensate for the lost sense--in this case eyesight. Thus the blind are believed to hear better than the sighted, which accounts for the musical talents of famous blind musicians like Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and Ronnie Milsap. It is also often assumed that the blind must naturally have extra-sensitive touch in order to read Braille.

Of course neither of these beliefs is accurate. The blind are not helpless and incompetent, at least not when we have acquired effective training in the alternative techniques of blindness. Nor are we superhuman; we have simply trained ourselves to use our remaining senses in ways and with an attention that the sighted do not usually employ. Our hearing is not sharper, but we are likely to notice sounds that the sighted tune out because they deem them unimportant, like traffic noise or the sound of an air conditioning unit at a building we pass on our way to the store that serves as a clue to where we are on the route. The fact that we are able to read Braille proficiently comes from practice and training, not from magically altered nerve cells in our fingers.

But though the public’s belief in the uncanny perceptual abilities of the blind provides little in the way of practical improvement to our lives--more job opportunities, greater social acceptance, and the like--it persists, and when the notion seems to be validated by a blind person, the media pounce on the story.

The latest blind media phenomenon of this sort is fourteen-year-old Ben Underwood of Sacramento, California. In the past several weeks Mr. Underwood has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, on the CBS Evening News, and in a number of print newspaper and magazine articles. Mr. Underwood navigates his neighborhood and high school by rapidly clicking his tongue and using the echoes from the sound to determine what is around him. Using this technique, he even zips around his neighborhood on roller blades.

Mr. Underwood’s seemingly uncanny ability to navigate exclusively by sound has been dubbed by the media “echolocation,” which is the name given by scientists to the ability of nocturnal creatures like bats to navigate by emitting sonar signals at frequencies that are too high for humans to hear and that allow them to locate and feed on flying insects. Some dolphins also use echolocation to navigate through the water by making clicking sounds. With television cameras recording the spectacle, Mr. Underwood went swimming with dolphins at Sea World to compare their methods to his own. Young Mr. Underwood did not seem to have any qualms about making a show of himself or about being compared to bats or aquatic mammals.

The concept of using tongue clicks to navigate isn’t new; another Californian, Daniel Kish, has been doing it for years and even teaches the technique to other blind people to supplement their use of a white cane or dog guide. Mr. Underwood has been using the technique since he was three, and, either through extensive practice or uncanny aptitude, he does appear to navigate quite well, at least within familiar environments. But unlike Mr. Kish, Underwood has publicly disparaged the tool with which most blind people navigate: the long white cane. With all the unrestrained hubris that only teenagers can regularly muster, Underwood declared on the Oprah Winfrey program: “I will never use a cane. A cane is for other people who cannot walk. I'm not falling over.”

This brash statement betrays both contempt for the long white cane and ignorance about how it is actually used by blind people. Mr. Underwood seems to confuse the long white cane used by the blind with support canes used by those who have difficulty walking. He has apparently never considered the idea that a white cane might provide even more information about his environment, since he would be adding the sense of touch to the sense of hearing for a fuller picture of what is around him. Nor does he seem to understand that the tapping of a white cane serves the same purpose for a blind traveler as his tongue clicks; the sound provides information about whether one is walking along a row of buildings or in an open space and what kind of material one is contacting. A glass window sounds different from a metal drainpipe.

Members of the National Federation of the Blind have often observed that the wisdom of learning and using alternative techniques is not always immediately apparent. I use a white cane every day, but I did not always do so. When I was a child, I roamed my subdivision freely on foot, on my bike, and on roller skates, using my hearing and limited light perception to navigate. Obviously I survived, suffering only the customary scrapes and bruises of childhood. But when I began to explore the wider world around me, with its busy intersections and large buildings, I gradually realized that I could travel more effectively in unfamiliar areas by using a long white cane.

My high school orientation and mobility instructor used to refer to the cane as “your tactual digital extensor.” In using the word “digital,” he was referring to the digits of the hand (fingers), not to modern technology. And the phrase, though partly a joke, was intended to remind me that I needed to think of the cane as a part of me, an extension of my hand that allowed me to touch a larger piece of the world than I could without it. That same instructor also taught me to listen to the way my cane taps bounced off objects, but he never encouraged me to rely on my sense of hearing alone. He always reminded me to pay attention to everything that my cane, in conjunction with my other senses, was telling me.

Even then I didn’t fully realize the importance of what I was learning or develop full confidence in the power of the white cane. It took six months of training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind for me to integrate the white cane fully into my everyday life. Since my time in Louisiana, however, I have never ceased to carry my cane, and I have never regretted that decision. The importance of the white cane is a realization for which I am profoundly grateful to my blind brothers and sisters. My white cane gives me more freedom than I ever had as a child when I did not carry it. Then I was limited to the confines of my neighborhood, a familiar environment and one in which, I suspect, watchful neighbors monitored my every move and would spring into action if I appeared to be getting into danger. Now I can travel anywhere I please, whether I have previously visited the place or not, with full confidence in my ability to navigate efficiently and safely.

Mr. Underwood is fourteen years old, and like most people that age he believes that he knows a great deal more than he actually does. As a teenager it is also likely that he passionately wants to appear as much like his peers as possible, and they do not carry canes (though it’s worth pointing out that neither do they click their tongues as they walk). He will have to discover for himself the limits of his own capabilities and how alternative techniques can assist him best, just as all blind people must. (Despite his disparagement of the white cane, he does use Braille and adaptive technology.) Daniel Kish, the teacher of echolocation by tongue clicks, has met Underwood and seen his echolocation abilities, and he suspects that Underwood will ultimately find a white cane more useful when he visits unfamiliar places. Were it not for the recent national acclaim he has received, Underwood might be just another young blind person who needs to be urged, gently but firmly, to explore other alternative techniques and to develop a positive philosophy about blindness--a philosophy that brings him to the understanding that blindness is nothing to be ashamed of and therefore there is no reason to avoid carrying a white cane in order to appear not to be blind.

But Mr. Underwood’s national media appearances have fueled the belief in the public mind that the white cane is a mark of inferiority. He has inadvertently reinforced the distinction the public makes between extraordinarily gifted blind people and so-called ordinary blind people. His statements imply that the white cane is an inferior travel technique, a scarlet letter signifying incompetence and dependence. This assertion cannot go unanswered.

It is self-evident that the white cane has proved a useful tool to millions of blind people the world over. If it were not a useful tool, then the cane could never have achieved broad acceptance among the blind. Blind people who travel with a white cane navigate their environment with speed, confidence, and safety. The white cane is a tool that provides mobility and independence to blind people every day, and has done so at least since blinded veterans began returning from the battlefields of World War II. Other alternative techniques can supplement the white cane, but they will never replace it.

Precisely because it is such a useful tool, the white cane is a symbol of competence and independence, not a badge of inferiority and incompetence. The fact that the white cane signifies independent travel and civil rights for the blind is enshrined in the laws of the United States. Generations of people, blind and sighted alike, know what the white cane does and what it signifies. Our testimony as blind people, whether in speeches and articles like this one or in the simple act of walking quickly and confidently about our cities and communities as we work, play, and worship, proclaims the truth about the white cane to the nation and to the world.

 

Parent Leadership Program

by Barbara Cheadle

In conjunction with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) department of affiliate action has developed an exciting new leadership program for parents of blind children. Funded by the national office of the NFB, this program was launched at the 2006 convention with a core group of eighteen sets of parents from almost as many different states. In exchange for funding to attend the convention, these parents committed to building and strengthening the NOPBC divisions in their states. Parents in the group were assigned mentors and attended two special leadership sessions hosted in the affiliate action suite. The two sessions concentrated on membership development, organization building, advocacy, and mentoring.

Conference and individual calls to offer encouragement and guidance followed in the fall. Then, in January, funding was once again provided by the NFB for parents in the group to attend and participate in the NFB Washington, D.C., Seminar. The four-day event included a special all-day session on the nuts and bolts of running a parents division. Some of the topics covered were: how to moderate a meeting, develop an agenda for meetings, conduct elections, manage the treasury in compliance with state and federal laws governing nonprofits, and more. Handouts included timeline charts for planning seminars and a starter booklet for writing grants. Participants also toured the national headquarters of the NFB in Baltimore and joined other delegates from their states to visit their senators and congressional delegates to discuss the NFB’s 2007 priority legislative issues for the blind.

Plans are already underway to continue the leadership program at the 2007 NFB convention. Strengthening of our parent organizations in our state affiliates will directly benefit blind children across the country and will immeasurably benefit our NFB state organizations as well. Parents of blind children joining with blind adults to accomplish the work of the Federation will prove a formidable alliance indeed.

The comments below are edited from the evaluations we solicited from the leadership participants after their attendance at the 2006 NFB convention. The comments say it all, so here are Kris Shields and Elizabeth and Fernando Valois:

Kris Shields, North Carolina. July 24, 2006
The leadership team meetings were really instrumental in getting information about what we would be expected to do once home. It gave us a great opportunity to hear some ideas of what other chapters were doing and how to plan an event. I really appreciated that there were state NFB presidents at our meeting as well. It was nice to see that we were supported by the NFB and really a part of them, and that they cared about our development.

The Cane Walk for the families was wonderful. There were so many O&M instructors who were there to help. Our O&M instructor even gave us her phone number so that we could contact her after convention if we had any questions.

Attending the NFB convention was positively overwhelming. My husband had to return for work Tuesday night. I was very sad that he missed the session about the television makeover show where a blind mom was taught cane-traveling skills and a playground was built. I cried throughout that entire presentation, but not because of the show, although that was emotionally captivating, but because of the response of the audience. As I sat in the midst of thousands of blind adults and listened as they cheered this woman on to independence, I was overwhelmed with the thought, “With these people and this group behind my husband and me, how can we fail?” For the first time I felt as though figuring everything out that we needed to do for Cindy was no longer ours to figure out and fight for by ourselves.

I left with so many contacts of people who really care, who have the first-hand knowledge to help us, and who are excited about helping us lay the foundation that will prepare and propel our daughter to independence. How can we ever say thank you enough for this incredible gift that we were given? Thank you, Carol, Barbara, and Joanne for your leadership in developing this program and getting funding for scholarships for families. Thank you to everyone at NOPBC and the NFB who planned the events. And thank you to the NFB and to everyone who helped fund our scholarship.

Elizabeth and Fernando Valois, New Jersey. August 1, 2006
We were very thankful that we were given the opportunity to participate in the NFB convention this year. It gave us a chance to meet the leaders we have heard so much about, such as President Maurer, and to meet new people, such as our parent mentor from New York, Maria Garcia.

The convention re-energized us. It was the perfect opportunity to renew our commitment and refocus on the important goals that lie ahead. It was also an eye-opener. We realized that we had been getting too comfortable in thinking that all things in Tomas’ education were going well when, in fact, they are not. We were also surprised that so many parents were in the same situation or worse. It made us realize that our goals for our son, Tomas, are the same goals that most other parents have for their blind kids. That means when we work together to achieve those common goals, we are also meeting our needs and helping Tomas and ourselves.

We tried to participate in as many events as possible. The most memorable were the Cane Walk and the IEP workshop. We felt a connection with Brian, our O&M instructor for the Cane Walk. He gave us really worthwhile advice to take back home. For example, our son Tomas had a cane with a tennis-ball-type of tip. Brian showed us how the tennis ball tip interfered with the cane’s proper use [as a source of sound and tactile feedback]. Tomas was used to having the tennis ball tip on the end of the cane, but after one day [using a cane with a metal tip], he stopped asking for the tennis-ball-tipped cane. Brian taught us to not be afraid to question and evaluate actions that in the long run could lead to poor judgment and poor training.

When we came back from the convention we contacted our school district, which is initiating paperwork for O&M instruction to begin in September. We arranged to meet with school staff so we could correctly instruct them in the cane’s proper use and to encourage them to follow O&M instruction and not teach or enforce inappropriate cane techniques.

The IEP Workshop for Dummies was very instructional and informative. It was in the evening so no one was rushed. We were able to relax and the speaker did not mind taking the extra time for questions and answers. We learned guidelines and information that we can easily adapt to our son’s IEP and that we can pass on to other parents with whom we come into contact at school.

In the parent leadership program our mentor Maria Garcia took the time and effort as a mentor to instruct us, especially about how to coordinate workshops and programs for parents. She encouraged us to attend the workshop on emergency preparedness that she conducted. Her aim was to instruct us in how to prepare and conduct a workshop. She showed us examples of past workshops and programs and gave us many good tips and advice.

We definitely believe the program should continue next year and we encourage families to attend. What we gained as a family is immeasurable. Most of the time we are reminded of what Tomas hasn’t done or yet accomplished. But at the NFB convention we were able to see possibilities. The convention allowed us to expose Tomas to many positive role models and to create an atmosphere of normalcy for him. We were so glad when we heard him scream out loud in happiness, “Look at all these canes!” Walking with the cane was a normal occurrence at the convention, and it seemed that the normalcy has continued at home. He demands his cane all the time and he looks confident with it. This is why we tried to attend as many convention functions as possible (even the banquet) with Tomas. Even though we know that he did not understand President Maurer’s banquet speech, “An element of justice,” he did listen. One day he will understand the words and the words of other blind leaders. We want him to see, listen, and live all these positive experiences.

 

Converting Pail-Fillers to Fire-Lighters
The Active Learning Agenda

Keynote Address by
Barbara Cheadle, President
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
at the
North American Active Learning Convention
Oakland, California, February 3, 2005

Editor’s Note: A report on this conference entitled “It Only Takes a Spark to Get the Fire Roaring” was published in the Summer/Fall 2005, volume 24, number 2, issue of Future Reflections. Back issues in print or cassette tape are available free from the NFB Independence Market, (410) 659-9314, extension 2216. The article is also on the NFB Web site, <www.nfb.org>, under Publications, Future Reflections.

We are achieving freedom and independence in the only way that really counts--in rising self-respect, in growing self-confidence, and in the will and ability to make choices. Above all, independence means choices…
--Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, “The Nature of Independence,” July 6, 1993

Ask a hundred people--that’s about the number of people in this room, isn’t it?--for a definition of independence and you will get as many different variations as you have people. Independence is a slippery term. Everyone not only thinks they know what it is, but assumes that everyone else must view it the same way. But as soon as the term is put to the test in its particulars, consensus suddenly evaporates.

Take the teenage girl who has her new driver’s license and the keys to the family car. “A-ha,” she thinks, “now I can go where I want to go, when I want to go. Independence--at last!”

But then comes the first test of her definition of independence and, you guessed it, she discovers that her parents had a very different definition. Our very unhappy, very “grounded” teenager has plenty of time to consider the pitfalls of assuming she knows what independence means.

The definition of independence with which I opened my speech comes from a letter Dr. Kenneth Jernigan wrote to a group of blind rehabilitation students in Louisiana. Those of you who are in the blindness field will know of Dr. Jernigan, but there are others here who may not. Dr. Jernigan was, through the decades of the sixties, seventies, eighties, and most of the nineties until his death in 1998, the premier leader of the blindness movement in the United States. Blind himself, his writings, speeches, and leadership of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has forever changed how blindness is viewed in this country. But back to our discussion of independence.

Few populations have struggled as much to define independence as the blind and those professionals and agencies that serve children and adults with blindness and visual impairments. In this instance the students, after months of rigorous training in the use of the long white cane and full of the novice’s pride in their newfound freedom of movement, wrote a letter to Dr. Jernigan raising the question with him about whether blind people who traveled with sighted assistance (sighted guide)--such as they had seen him do at an NFB convention--were really independent. In response to this letter Dr. Jernigan took that slippery term, independence, and broke it down into these four elements: self-respect, self-confidence, the ability to choose, and the will to choose.

Today, I want to talk with you about that most fundamental element of independence: choices.

Let’s begin with why you chose to come to this convention. The organizers and hosts of this convention selected with extraordinary insight and wisdom the convention theme of Lighting the Fire: Igniting the North American Active Learning Agenda. The theme is based on the following quote from William Butler Yeats, “Education is not filling a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” I believe you have come to this convention because you have chosen--perhaps consciously, perhaps unconsciously--to reject the pail-filling model of education and to throw your lot in with the fire-lighting proponents of education. You are a select group. Whether this is your first Active Learning workshop or your fifth; whether you are a parent, a early-childhood specialist, a teacher of the visually impaired, an occupational therapist, or one of those ubiquitous “others;” you are here because you yearn to ignite sparks that will catch fire and transform the lives of the children with whom you work or the child you parent. That’s what I believe, and that’s how I intend to relate with you throughout this convention: as colleagues in a movement to transform every pail-filler into a fire-lighter, and we will begin with ourselves. But we will not stop there. Please note that once the fire is lit within us, our purpose is to go on and ignite the North American Active Learning Agenda. Or, as it is more sedately described elsewhere in the agenda, “to plan the future of Active Learning.” But I’ll talk more about that later.

Let me tell you how it is that I came to be here today. On one level I am here because the leadership of the National Federation of the Blind--President Marc Maurer--and the leadership of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), of which I am the president and which is a division of the NFB--have determined that Active Learning is important. As leaders we have exercised our will and capacity to make choices and chosen to put our time and resources into supporting and promoting this convention. We have put our name on it as a sponsor; and our name and what it stands for, means a great deal to us.

But why me, and not another representative? I’m one of those people that belong in the “others” category. I am a parent of a blind son, but he does not have any additional disabilities. I have a teaching degree, but I have never taught in the classroom. And I’m not a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a counselor, or any other kind of direct service provider of children with blindness and additional disabilities.

But I am the president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) and the editor of Future Reflections, the National Federation of the Blind Magazine for Parents and Teachers of Blind Children. As such, I have certain responsibilities to the members who elected me and to the 14,000 plus readers who seek information, guidance, and help. And, as you know, somewhere between 40 to 60 percent of those members and readers have children with additional disabilities. As our organization grew, and Future Reflections became more influential and widely read, more and more parents were asking me questions about what could be done for their multiply disabled children, and I didn’t have answers.

The National Federation of the Blind was founded on the premise that blind people have the capacity to make choices and determine their own destinies. Blind people need the same opportunities to learn, to try, and to succeed--or fail--just like everyone else. The Federation proclaims: It’s normal to be blind. It’s respectable to be blind. It’s okay to be blind. I once heard a blind member of the Federation put it this way, “There is no sighted world, there is just one world, and blind people belong in it.” Everything in me said that this must be true for blind and multiply disabled children, too--but parents needed practical answers and specific strategies. Could their child learn? And, if so, how?

It was with these unanswered questions in mind that over ten years ago I went to Dr. Jernigan and asked him to authorize NFB funds to send a representative to the Lilli Nielsen workshop in Michigan. You see I had read about the Little Room. I had even corresponded with Lilli and published an article about the Little Room and about her first conference in the United States. But I needed to know more. Maybe, just maybe, this Lilli person was onto something.

Dr. Jernigan didn’t need much explanation or persuasion about the importance of this venture. The question was, who should go? As much as I wanted to go myself, I was willing, if we could only send one person, that that person be a parent leader with a multiply disabled child or maybe a special education teacher. But Dr. Jernigan pointed out that if it was potentially this important, then I needed to go, for through my leadership roles I would have the most influence in spreading the information on a large scale. In the end, the NFB sent two of us--Loretta White, a special educator who is also the parent of a multiply disabled blind child, and me.

After the very first day of that conference, I knew that this Active Learning stuff was really big, really important. Everything Lilli said resonated with me. It connected with all that I had learned from the Federation about the right--the need--for blind people to do for themselves, to make their own choices. Just as the average blind child needed special tools and alternative techniques--such as the long white cane and Braille--to achieve self-determination and independence, so too did the blind, multiply disabled child need special materials and tools--such as the Lilli Nielsen Little Room and resonance board--in order to learn. But, as important as these tools and materials are, what was most important was the recognition that the foundation of learning for all children--blind or sighted, with or without additional disabilities--was self-initiated movement. And there can be little or no self-initiated movement without, you guessed it, choices.

What is the Little Room all about? It is about choices and self-initiated movement. The Little Room provides an environment that allows the multiply disabled blind baby or child to learn incidentally, spontaneously through his/her own self-directed movements. No one selects a toy or object and places it in the child’s hand. Instead, in the Little Room the child is surrounded with a rich array of carefully selected everyday objects and the slightest movement by the child will immediately put her/him in touch with them, and so begins the process of self-discovery, and the real learning--not training, not rote compliance to a prompt, but real learning--begins. It’s the child that makes the decision to reach out and investigate, and the child that carries through with that decision.

For me, the immediate and striking parallel between what happens in the Little Room for blind kids who are not yet mobile, and blind children who are ready physically and cognitively to walk and move about in the larger world, is the long white cane and the mobility approach developed by the NFB called Guided Discovery. As in the Little Room, the instructor using Guided Discovery does not spoon-feed or train the student in a memorized route, rather the blind student learns to explore the environment through his/her own initiative and self-directed movement. You can learn more about this approach from Joe Cutter’s workshop later in this convention.

The demonstrations of the Little Room and the effectiveness of the hands-off-the-hands strategy were so innately sensible, the stories and videos so dramatic and compelling, that I became, like many of you here today, an instant fan of Lilli’s and a staunch advocate of Active Learning. Most importantly, I came away with the firm conviction that in the essentials, the goals and purposes of the Active Learning agenda and those of the NFB and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children are harmonious and complimentary. In the years that followed my attendance at Lilli’s workshop, I have published articles about Active Learning principles in Future Reflections, conducted workshops at our national conventions in which we used and promoted Active Learning principles and materials, and recommended Active Learning principles and materials to parents and teachers from all over the country. In the NOPBC and the NFB, the principle of hands-off-the-hands struck an immediate and responsive chord with the blind members of the NFB. Lilli’s article about “Guiding Hands” is a key article in the early childhood packet we give out year after year to hundreds of parents of young blind or visually impaired children. The strategy of respecting the child’s autonomous use of their hands is so essential that it was specifically addressed in the training the NFB Jernigan Institute provided to the NASA employees last summer who participated in the Institutes’ Science Academy for blind youth.

Although I am not in the classroom and working daily with children, I do have opportunities from time to time to personally demonstrate Active Learning approaches--especially the approach of keeping your hands off the child’s hands. I always find this an awkward principle to explain, but an amazingly easy one to demonstrate. This principle too is all about self-initiated movement and therefore also about the will and the ability to make choices and about independence. One demonstration can be very dramatic, which is good. The more dramatic the more likely the parent and/or teacher will embrace and adopt Active Learning. Here is a very dramatic example about a little boy (I’ll call him Kenny) that I had the chance to meet not long ago.

It started with a phone call from a grandmother who was raising her blind, developmentally delayed grandson. She lived in the area and had heard about the Braille storybook program sponsored by our local Federation parents group. This was her first contact with the NFB, and she was eager to learn all she could. However, she explained that her grandson was not walking or talking and was considered mentally retarded. She often thought he could be doing more, but she didn’t know what to do and neither did those who were working with him in his educational program.

I urged her to come to the storybook hour and to bring her grandson. The program was as much an opportunity for families to network as it was for the kids to hear a story. It was also a good chance for her to see and interact with blind people of all ages--the children who come with their parents and the blind teens and adults who come to be “buddies” with the younger kids. (Blind role models are an important part of every program we conduct in the NFB for children and families.)

When they arrived, Kenny, who was small for his age, was scrunched up in one of those umbrella-type strollers. And what was so striking--and Lilli, you and others here will understand this--his hands were clenched into tight little fists right up by his ears; it was as if they were locked in place. And yet on his face was a look of interest, of engagement, perhaps even of curiosity. The grandmother was a little late so we didn’t have time to talk before our blind teen began to read the storybook. Each child had his/her personal copy of the print-Braille storybook and a blind mentor sitting with him/her. The mentor helped the child find and follow the Braille with their fingers and turn the pages at the right time. Of course, the grandmother wanted desperately for her little boy to participate like the other kids. She kept trying to tug his hands down to put them on the book, and the more she tugged, the more Kenny resisted, and finally he began to fuss. And I was thinking, “Oh, Lilli, I wish you were here!” Finally, I convinced the grandmother that it was okay for Kenny to sit and listen, and she stopped tugging on Kenny’s hands.

After the story was over I had, at the most, thirty minutes to talk with the grandmother while the other kids with their mentors and parents had their snack and started a craft. In my mind, I was asking myself, “What can I do that will have the biggest impact?” I didn’t have a Little Room or a resonance board, and I didn’t have Lilli looking over my shoulder. I finally decided to focus on the principle of hands-off-the-hands. But my real audience was Kenny. As I explained to the grandmother the importance of never guiding his hands, how there were other, better ways to encourage Kenny to reach out, I gently dangled and fluttered my fingers--like an object hanging from a Little Room--against Kenny’s head just above one of his clenched fists. It only took seconds for him to notice the touch, and soon his face was shining with curiosity and pleasure. I interspersed my conversation with comments to Kenny, “Oh, do you like that? Do you feel that? I wonder what it is!” Within moments, he unclenched his fist and his hand shot up to find and grip mine. I exclaimed in delight, and we started our game. He would grip and release, and find my fluttering fingers again. He was smiling and crowing in glee, and I was laughingly responding with encouragement and praise. Before we finished our game, Kenny gripped both my hands, stiffened his legs, heaved himself out of the stroller, and astonished us all--including him--by attempting to take a step. The grandmother was in tears. Never had he shown this much self-initiated action. Never had he voluntarily uncurled his fists to reach out for anything--but then again, never had he been “invited” to do so. He had always had things done to him, and never been given the choice and the opportunity to reach out and exercise self-initiated action.

In some ways, this is a wonderful story about the power of Active Learning. In another way, it is a sad one because I cannot tell you how Kenny is doing today. His grandmother contacted me a couple of times after that encounter, but then she dropped out of sight, so to speak.

But some parents stick with it, and I have followed them in their journey with Active Learning. One friend has a blind daughter with Asperger’s (autism), mild cerebral palsy, a hearing impairment, and a learning disability. This friend also has four other children with a range of various disabilities. The most involved is a girl I’ll call Amanda. Amanda is deaf, has profound mental retardation, and has extreme physical limitations. Although my friend used Active Learning principles with good results with her blind daughter, it has been most beneficial with her daughter Amanda. Amanda can feed herself and does so routinely--at home. She can take off her coat by herself--at home; and cooperatively helps others dress her as much as her physical limitations allow--at home. At her new school, it’s a different story. Although Amanda has these skills, and will do them in the context of an environment that respects her autonomy and her right to choose, the school wants her to perform these skills upon demand for their convenience: in other words, they want a trained, compliant student. And, as you might guess, Amanda is having none of it. Their demands and disrespect leave her only two choices: she can express her anger at their disrespect and refuse to comply, or she can submit. I am not picking on educators--I know there are Active Learning practitioners in this room who could tell the same story, simply flipping the role of parents and educators.

And that brings me back to our convention’s theme: “Lighting the Fire: Igniting the Flame of the North American Active Learning Agenda.” What will we choose to do--you and I--about the future of Active Learning in this country? What can we do to make it possible for your child or students--children like Kenny and Amanda--to have the benefits of Active Learning?

It is instructive, I think, to consider both the obstacles and assets in achieving that goal. It may come as no surprise to you when I say that there are forces and trends in our larger culture that are working against us. For example, I have read that the average child spends four-and-one-half-hours a day in front of the TV or in front of the computer screen. When they are active, it is in adult-dominated, highly structured, and organized activities such as soccer, ballet, gym class, swimming classes, basketball, and so forth. There’s nothing wrong with these activities, except that children also need a good deal of unstructured time or free play. That’s where and how spontaneous learning, self-reliance, problem-solving, and the capacity and will to make choices--that is, the development of independence--take place. At one time in our culture, children had plenty of opportunities even during the school week for unstructured free play--we called it recess. However, as more and more legislative requirements are pressuring schools to raise test scores--and punishing schools who do not meet certain standards--more and more schools have been cutting back on the amount of recess, many eliminating it entirely. The Atlanta, Georgia, school system led the way when it became the first (note, not the last and certainly not the only) large public school system to eliminate recess entirely throughout its system. Fortunately, there is a counter grassroots movement afoot. There is an association for the promotion of free play that began in Denmark, and three states in our country have passed legislation requiring that schools keep recess in the school schedule.

In one respect, the Active Learning agenda movement may help lead the country back to a healthier learning environment for all children. If so, this will not be the first time that an invention or program for the blind benefited the larger society.

But we also have assets, and those assets are more than enough to overcome the obstacles. This convention is proof of that. What are those assets? They are in us: our brains, our strength of purpose, our perseverance, and our capacity to work together collaboratively to achieve a common goal.

I think Dr. Marc Maurer expressed it best in his 1991 banquet address at the National Federation of the Blind convention. In talking about how ideas can change history, he said:

In a fireplace one log by itself, regardless of how big, will almost certainly fail to burn. There must be at least two. The flame from one is reflected by the other. The brightness and heat come from the space between the logs, the reflection of the flame.

As it is with flame, so it is with ideas. A new idea has only a limited time to take fire, to catch the imagination of the public and burn. And if the flame is to be reflected--the kindling point sustained--more than a single person is required. There must be two, five, ten--at least a handful--to build the heat and speed the process. Regardless of its merit, if an idea (once ignited) fails to reflect the flame of group interaction, its time will soon pass, and it will disappear into insignificance and be forgotten. Of course, an idea can be revived (many times, in fact, if the need is sufficiently urgent), but the process must always begin anew. And if the idea is to live and prosper--if it is to make a meaningful difference in the lives of people--all of the elements must be present: the idea, a leader, and at least a handful to reflect the flame.


The sponsor of this convention has set forth for us an ambitious agenda indeed. But we have the means to accomplish it. We have the idea--Active Learning. We have not just one leader in Lilli Nielsen, but we have at this convention many leaders of Active Learning. And there are many more than a handful of us in this room and around the world to reflect the flame. It is our responsibility and obligation--whether it be as a parent to our child, a teacher to our students, or as a part of all those “others” who care about children and learning--it is our responsibility to reflect the flame of Active Learning. Thank you.


More information about the educational approaches and equipment developed by Dr. Lilli Nielsen is available from:

LilliWorks Active Learning Foundation
www.lilliworks.com
1815 Encinal Avenue
Alameda, California 94501
Phone: (510) 814-9111; Fax: (510) 814-3941

Vision Associates
www.visionkits.com/Lilli_Nielsen.html
2109 US Highway 90 West Suite 170 #312
Lake City, Florida 32055
Phone: (407) 352-1200; Fax: (386) 752-7839

Patterns of Behavior

by Carla McQuillan

Editor’s Note: Carla McQuillan’s list of credentials and accomplishments as an educator is long and impressive. She is the executive director of Main Street Montessori Association in Salem, Oregon, and she operates three private school facilities. In addition, the association hosts an annual professional Montessori conference, at which McQuillan has presented many workshops and a keynote address. Blind herself, McQuillan has a particular passion for sharing her knowledge with parents of blind children. Here is what she has to say about patterns of behavior in very young children:

If we understand that a child works to perfect the adult she or he will become, then we must look at the patterns of behavior that emerge in childhood as indicators of the adult personality. This perspective requires that we consider more seriously the impact that the child’s environment will have on the developing young mind and spirit.

Children two to six years of age are attempting to understand the ways of the world. Everything is foreign and new to them. They must, therefore, process information by sorting and categorizing details as they construct their perception of the world. In essence, every interaction and communication is processed by the child and given some meaning. The child looks for repetition in order to confirm general knowledge.

This is particularly important when considering the parents’ interactions with their blind child. Rather than providing opportunities for the child to try to integrate itself into the environment, the parent attempts to serve as the primary link between the blind child and the sighted world. This is understandable, as it is the wish of every parent to help their child in a smooth, easy transition into society. However, this is often magnified in the case of a blind child. It causes the child to become dependent on another individual to make connections for him that, ultimately, he should be making for himself.

For example, a three-year-old blind child is playing with a favorite toy. The child sets it down and then later wishes to play with that toy again. Rather than expecting the child to use blindness skills to search for the toy, the parent readily retrieves it and puts it back in the child’s hand. For a young child, who has no prior knowledge or value system, the child comes to believe that what she absorbs from the environment is true and culturally acceptable. Imagine this child as an adult: she has developed the perception that she is not responsible for keeping track of her possessions. After all, when she needs or wants something, there is always a sighted person to bring it to her.

Most adults do not realize the significance of their day-to-day interactions with young children. We tend to view things in the moment rather than evaluating the long-term effects of our words and actions.

Take, for example, the three-year-old who asks mom for a cookie. The mother says calmly, “No, it’s too close to dinner.” The child begs and pleads saying he’s hungry, he needs a cookie, he wants a cookie, can he just have one, he promises he’ll eat dinner, etc. After several negative responses from the mother, she becomes weary of the pleading and finally gives in to the child’s demands. “All right, just one, and then I don’t want to hear another word out of you.”

Consider the lesson the three year old has learned:
· No doesn’t always mean no.
· If I whine and beg, I am likely to eventually get what I want.
· If I persist and can evoke emotional responses in my mom, I can control her behaviors.

None of these are lessons that the mother intended to teach. She agreed to comply with the child’s wishes out of frustration and convenience. Much of our behaviors as adults are influenced by our emotions and what is in our best interest for the moment. We need to take a closer look at what characteristics we ultimately wish to develop in our children and conscientiously act accordingly.

Start by making a list of all the traits and characteristics that you would like your child to develop and possess as an adult. If you are like most people, your list includes such attributes as: responsible, organized, compassionate, respectful, considerate, confident, etc.

Next, carefully evaluate the way that your child behaves and interacts with you and others. Ask yourself if you are encouraging the characteristics that you desire or if you are facilitating the development of less positive patterns of behavior.

Our children behave precisely as we have trained them. It is our responsibility to help them develop positive patterns of behavior that will enable them to be competent, capable, contributing members of our society when they reach adulthood.

 

National Federation of the Blind makes
MATHCOUNTS Materials Accessible


Editor’s Note: Under the direction of public relations officer, John Paré Jr., the National Federation of the Blind has been blitzing the media in recent months with press releases about our many exciting new initiatives. To Paré, who was a blind leader of the NFB in Florida before he joined the national staff, writing these press releases is more than a job; it is an opportunity to share his personal belief in the programs of the NFB with the public. Here is a recent press release from his office about an initiative of interest to parents and teachers of blind children:

As part of its continuing effort to improve math education for blind students, the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute announced shortly before the new year that it has partnered with the MATHCOUNTS Foundation to produce challenging mathematical materials in accessible formats. Through a contract with GH Braille <www.ghbraille.com/company>, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has prepared Braille-ready files of the 2006-2007 MATHCOUNTS School Handbook, which is used by teachers across the nation to supplement the middle school math curriculum and prepare students to participate in MATHCOUNTS competitions.

The Braille files of the MATHCOUNTS handbook contain both the full text of the book and tactile representations of the graphics contained in it, which can be printed with Braille embossers. Students or their teachers can download the Braille-ready MATHCOUNTS School Handbook from the Web site of the MATHCOUNTS Foundation at <http://www.mathcounts.org/>.

“The greatest challenge for blind students who want to excel in math is obtaining materials in accessible formats,” said Mark Riccobono, director of education for the Jernigan Institute. “By producing the MATHCOUNTS School Handbook in Braille, we are filling a need for supplemental math study materials and paving the way for blind students to participate in local, state, and national MATHCOUNTS competitions. Our goal is to help prepare blind students to pursue and excel in careers relating to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”

Larry Jacobson, Executive Director of the MATHCOUNTS Foundation, said: “We are very grateful to the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute for helping us fulfill our mission to increase enthusiasm for and enhance achievement in mathematics among all U.S. middle school students. The NFB provided the expertise necessary to make these materials accessible to blind students, making a valuable contribution not only to the education of the blind but to the advancement of mathematical education throughout society.”

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “Blind students have traditionally been discouraged from pursuing the study of mathematics or hampered unnecessarily in their studies by the lack of accessible materials. We are committed to removing the barriers that limit the participation of blind students in math and science, and making the MATHCOUNTS School Handbook accessible is a manifestation of that commitment.”

About MATHCOUNTS
MATHCOUNTS is the nation’s premier middle school math enrichment, coaching, and competition program. Each year, it provides every U.S. middle school with free creative curriculum materials meeting National Council of Teachers of Mathematics standards for grades 6-8. With the generous support of all MATHCOUNTS sponsors and volunteers, and leadership of the National Society of Professional Engineers at the local and state levels, MATHCOUNTS is providing today’s students with the foundation for success in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics careers.

 

For more information about the efforts of the NFB Jernigan Institute to increase opportunities for blind students to access math and science instruction, please see the Web site <www.blindscience.org>. Mark Riccobono, Director of Education for the Jernigan Institute, may also be contacted at 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; (410) 659-9314, extension 2368; <mriccobono@nfb.org>.

 

The Teaching Cane

by Mary Jo Thorpe, NOMC

Editor’s Note: Mary Jo Thorpe is part of the Education Team at the NFB Jernigan Institute.

If valuing the blind child’s independent movement and travel is simple to understand, why do so many parents find independent movement and travel more difficult to achieve for their blind children? It has been my experience that the most formidable obstacle to valuing independent movement and travel in the blind child is negative attitudes.
– Joseph Cutter from Independent Movement and Travel in Blind Children: A Promotion Model

In the education of blind children, including early intervention, certain practices and concepts sometimes take on specialized jargon, making them sound more sophisticated. We see this in discussing orientation and mobility for blind children. Apparently the more elaborately we package the concept and the more complicated the practice, the more validity it is perceived to have. This leaves the blind child’s most important teachers, the parents, feeling inadequately prepared to raise their child.

Joe Cutter, a pioneering specialist in pediatric orientation and mobility (O&M), has done much to demystify the concepts around teaching orientation and mobility to blind children and to empower parents to promote independence in their blind child. Mr. Cutter has presented professional workshops around the country and in Canada. He has also helped develop early childhood orientation and mobility and early intervention programs in several states. His credentials include over thirty-five years of experience as an O&M instructor, certification as a teacher of the blind and visually impaired, and a master’s in teaching the developmentally handicapped. Informed by the experience of skilled blind travelers, Cutter has developed a unique and highly effective approach to independent movement and travel for children. Mr. Cutter brings a child-centered perspective to his teaching, promoting independent movement and travel from an early age. An advocate for parental involvement, he encourages parents to trust their own expertise as their children’s first teachers.

With the aim of empowering independent travel in blind children and promoting innovative practices, Joe Cutter will release a book this year titled Independent Movement and Travel in Blind Children: A Promotion Model. This book synthesizes Cutter’s years of professional experience, sound early-education practices, and the collective experience of skilled blind travelers in a way that will expand the perspective of parents and professionals alike. To provide a glimpse into Cutter’s revolutionary book and to help demystify independent movement and travel in young blind children, this article discusses a technique, the teaching cane, that Cutter has taught parents to use effectively. He introduces it in Chapter Four.

In providing background on the teaching cane, Cutter writes:

As a sighted, conventionally trained O&M specialist, the thought of using a cane in instruction to teach blind children never occurred to me for twenty years. I was trained to use my sight to monitor the movements of blind children. Blind children had their canes, and I had my sight. The thought occurred to me for the first time when, observing blind travel instructors teaching blind students, I began to realize the attunement between the student and the blind instructor. Blind cane travel instructors were using their canes not only for their own travel, but also to give information and role model positive cane travel skills for their students.

Despite this revelation, it was a year, Cutter explains in his book, before he would alter his teaching strategy. Here’s how he describes that first experience:

I was going down a hall in an elementary school, walking with my student to her class, as we were going to do a little show and tell about the cane. I took out a telescopic cane from my briefcase to show her the cane I would be using for the cane demonstration to her classmates. I tapped it on the floor and walked with her as she used her cane. This student broke into a beautiful smile and said, “You use a cane too, Mr. Joe?” … I explained that because I was sighted that I use my vision for travel but a cane for demonstration purposes like we were going to do today with her classmates.

Then an idea came to me. This student had been having difficulty with sliding and tapping her cane wide enough for adequate ‘coverage.’ I asked her to listen to my tap and think about the sound my cane made and if she could do the same. Within one minute this kindergarten child expanded her coverage to an adequate width. I never had to place my hand over hers or physically monitor her movement in any way. She simply heard my cane, internalized the information, and developed a new motor plan. This is an example of bottom-up learning that this child exhibited and taught me. From then on I had a new teaching strategy and teaching tool, the “teaching cane.”

After Cutter became comfortable with this new teaching strategy, he passed his knowledge and experience with the teaching cane on to parents and finally to classroom teachers and instructional assistants of blind students. Cutter explains that through this process, “Cane travel was demystified as I ‘role-released’ my O&M information and teaching cane to the significant others in the blind child’s life.”

Cutter’s teaching-cane technique puts a cane in the hand of the parent, sighted or blind, in order to model cane-travel techniques for the blind child. When the parent is using the teaching cane, the blind child holds the shaft of the cane to observe the movements the parent is making with the cane. Alternatively the parent can use the teaching cane while the blind child uses his or hers. This modeling technique allows the parent to play a vital role in helping the child to develop early movement and exploration. Through this developmental process, which Cutter calls the “bottom-up approach” (also explained in greater detail in the book), young blind children, including toddlers and preschoolers, begin to develop a kinesthetic approach to the world from the information their senses take in and from the feedback they receive from a push toy or a cane. Because young children are still mastering gross motor skills, the teaching cane allows parents to model these skills as well as to preview the necessary fine motor skills the child must learn.

The teaching cane also allows the parent to provide the child with a constructivist learning experience in which the child can feel successful. For example, a parent can demonstrate a technique such as sliding the cane in order to distinguish textures or surfaces or model how to problem-solve the identification of obstacles by probing with the cane around the obstruction. As a child holds the cane with the parent, he or she can observe the benefits of the cane and appropriate cane technique and build on the developmental schema.

Another aspect of the teaching cane is the way in which its use can help to instill a sense of normalcy for the child. If a child is exposed to the cane early on, it becomes a natural part of the environment, an extension of the self. In addition, seeing the parent using a cane can also help diminish any potential fears or self-consciousness the child may develop from being the only one with a cane. Parents can help to establish a child’s confidence and trust in the cane since he or she naturally trusts the parents’ judgment. Seven-year-old Anthony Tumminello illustrates the way early exposure to cane use can promote greater confidence and positive attitudes:

My name is Anthony Tumminello. I am seven years old and in first grade at Cozy Lake School in Oak Ridge, New Jersey. I am here today to tell you about how I get around with my cane. I’ve always had a cane, even before I could walk. My parents would carry me in their arms, and I would hold a very long cane. I could feel the bumps when we walked, and it would make me laugh.

I use my cane everywhere I go. I use it in school to travel to my classroom, the library, computer room, gym, cafeteria, and to recess. I go all over the school. One time we were getting in the car, and when we closed the door, we heard a loud snap. It was my cane. They are not strong, but they are very helpful. I love my new cane.

Cutter’s experience with putting a long white cane in the hands of parents and encouraging them to use it to model for their children has been extremely successful. Testimonials from parents who have worked with Cutter show that parents need not receive days of training in the long white cane before effectively using it to model for their children. By picking up the cane and running it over surfaces while carrying the child, parents have already mastered one of the most important skills--demonstrating confidence in the long white cane as a tool for independent movement and travel. That’s what Kathy Gabry of New Jersey thought was important, too. Here’s her testimonial:

My son had Joe Cutter as an O&M instructor from the time he was twelve months old until he was nine years old. Joe included me in every process of teaching. We had long conversations about the philosophies of travel by deaf-blind individuals. By giving me a cane and teaching me as he taught my son, I soon began to trust in the skills of blindness, and I was able to understand and reinforce proper techniques. My son is now sixteen years old and a very competent cane traveler.

All parents, whether their blind children are ten months or ten years old, can make a difference today by picking up a white cane and spending some time exploring the textures and surfaces that will become familiar to the child. Any parents who feel uncertain about incorporating the teaching cane into their relationship with their blind children should find a skilled blind traveler who can serve as a mentor and source of encouragement. In fact, it was the example of blind instructors teaching blind people how to travel effectively that helped Joe formulate the teaching-cane technique. Similarly, parents will find that, with the teaching cane in hand, the blind child will soon lead the way through natural curiosity fueled by parent involvement.

The novel concept of the teaching cane is simply that--the idea of teaching the value of a cane. Parents need not have intensive training or formal education to share in their child’s learning experience. Along with educators and others interested in the development of blind children, they will benefit from the fresh, positive, and proven approaches Cutter describes in his book. Those who have experienced Joe Cutter through seminars and his previous writings have long awaited a volume bringing together his varied experience.

 

Independent Movement and Travel in Blind Children: A Promotion Model should be released in the summer of 2007 and will be available from Information Age Publishing, PO Box 4967, Greenwich, Connecticut 06831; (203) 661-7602; <www.infoagepub.com>.

 

NLS Kids Zone
Children-centered content on the NLS Web site

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, has introduced Kids Zone, a feature on the NLS Web site designed as a central hub for retrieving NLS materials for younger readers.

“Our goal was to give our young patrons direct access to as much children’s content as possible,” said Patricia Steelman, NLS children’s librarian. Though children’s materials have always been available through NLS’s International Union Catalog, getting to the material was sometimes a multistep process, Steelman noted. To find books just for young readers, patrons had to run a search in the NLS catalog, retrieve the search results, and review the full record of each title, looking for descriptive tags such as “For grades K-3.”

Now children have their own catalog on NLS Kids Zone at <www.loc.gov/nls/children /index.html>. “The kids catalog offers an embedded filter variant on the interface. Every search returns only children’s materials available from the NLS collection,” explained Robert Axtell, head of the Bibliographic Control Section.

If children need suggestions for finding good reading materials, Kids Zone also presents listings of award-winning books, information on popular series, descriptions of magazines for children, a bibliography of children’s classics, and a link to the Library of Congress Kids and Families Web site. The lists of award-winning books, series, and classics also provide the added convenience of direct links to Web-Braille for subscribers and the most recent RC numbers for ordering books from network libraries. Kids Zone also features reading lists for three prestigious children’s book awards: the John Newbery Medal, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the Schneider Family Book Awards.

Patrons may also want to peruse the Kids Zone information on favorite children’s book series, including the Chronicles of Narnia, the Harry Potter series, the Redwall Abbey series, and the Swallows and Amazons series. Readers who wish to learn more about periodicals such as Boys’ Life or National Geographic Kids will find descriptions and details on how to subscribe to NLS-produced and network-produced magazines on Kids Zone. Finally, Web visitors can link to the Library of Congress Kids and Families Web site, which offers a cornucopia of multimedia resources, games, and reference services for children and adults, such as the Everyday Mysteries site that provides answers to questions like “What’s the difference between sweet potatoes and yams?”

Visitors to <www.opal-online.org/kidszone20060920.htm> may receive a guided tour of Kids Zone, which was a part of the September 20, 2006, presentation of “Ready-Set-READ! Literary Resources at the Library of Congress,” an interactive online Webcast.

“We hope that children and families will use NLS Kids Zone to help them enjoy more of the many NLS and network materials produced just for kids,” said Steelman.

My First Bag of Tricks

by Anna Dresner
Review by Mary Anne Parks

Editor’s Note: One of the new offerings at the National Braille Press (NBP) is a magic trick kit called, My First Bag of Tricks, edited and compiled by blind author, Anna Dresner. Undoubtedly, there are those who might think that magic tricks are “too visual” and therefore not within the scope of appropriate activities for blind kids. But magic, after all, is not really about vision. It is about the interplay between illusion and reality; it is an attitude, a state of mind, and very much about the hands being quicker or more clever than the eyes. A few years ago, at the grand opening of the NFB Jernigan Institute, we had an amateur blind magician circulate throughout the crowd amusing and entertaining guests with his magic card tricks. So, when I had the good fortune to get a sample of the My First Bag of Tricks from NBP, I started looking around for someone to test it and write a review. That’s when I met Mary Anne Parks at an NFB workshop. Parks is a blind leader in the Performing Arts Division of the National Federation of the Blind. She likes kids, and she’s not afraid to try something new. Anyway, Mary Anne agreed to take the sample kit of My First Bag of Tricks, read it, try all the tricks herself, and write a review. Here is what she has to say:

As an adult in my thirties, I found the My First Bag of Tricks collection a bit of a challenge. I felt like the adult who keeps trying, unsuccessfully, to set her VCR to record a program only to have a child nonchalantly get it set and recording properly within seconds. This is how I felt when trying to perform the tricks in this collection. You’ve seen warning labels, no doubt, on products not to be used or given to children under the age of [blank]. Well, this magic kit should have a warning label too: Adults should not attempt these tricks without a child’s assistance.

Actually, I did quite well for not having a kid around. As a whole, the instructions for this collection of tricks were straightforward and the step-by-step directions easy to understand and follow. The kit contains one Braille volume of instructions entitled My First Bag of Tricks and props for the magic tricks described in the book: a wand, a magic box, cups, ball, etc. Also included is a certificate that can be mailed off to request a free magician’s hat. All the props were neatly packaged and labeled in Braille. In addition to the instructions, I enjoyed reading about the author’s personal enjoyment of and experience with magic, her views on the importance of magic, and additional tips on how to handle magic tricks. This was a neat feature of the book that I think other readers, adults and kids, will enjoy, too.

After performing (or attempting to perform) all of the tricks in the collection, I’m satisfied that a child over the age of seven should not have any problems understanding what the tricks are supposed to do, following the instructions, and successfully performing all, or at least most, of the magic tricks. If I had had the opportunity to try these tricks when I was a kid twenty years ago, I think I would not have had any problems at all. Here’s my experience with each of the tricks I tried:

Cups and Ball: This was one of the easiest tricks to perform. The objective of this trick is to fool the observer when placing the cups on the table and shuffling them to confuse the observer about which one has the ball under it.

Magic Drawer Box: In this trick, the objective is to not let the observer notice the false bottom in the box while the magic is taking place. This was also one of the easier tricks to perform.

Nickels to Dimes: The objective of this trick is to make it appear as if you have turned a nickel into a dime, and then turn it back again. Although I tried and tried to accomplish this trick, I was not successful. I’m convinced this is a trick that only a child can master.

Ball Vase: The objective of this trick is to get the ball into the secret compartment in the bottom of the vase without the observer noticing the switching of the ball. I found this to be one of the most difficult tricks in the collection. I confess that I was not able to figure out how the secret compartment fit onto the bottom of the vase.

Spiked Coin: In this trick, eight spikes are placed into a container that contains a coin, and then the coin is removed “magically” from the container without removing the spikes. The most difficult part of this trick for me was inserting the spikes into the container. It appeared that some of the spikes might have been bent, not allowing the spikes to easily slide into the holes of the container.

Wand Routines: These tricks were very easy to understand as well as perform. One of the routines is to give an illusion of the wand rising by holding the wand vertical in one hand while pulling on the elastic string inside of the wand.

After reviewing the collection of My First Bag of Tricks my conclusion is that it is a clever toy that any child who likes imaginative play will enjoy. I especially liked the accommodations of Braille on the packages of trick props as well as the complete instruction book in Braille. I thought the descriptions of each trick and the step-by-step directions were done exceptionally well. I would recommend this collection of magic tricks to any child who dreams of being a magician.


My First Bag of Tricks is available for $15 from National Braille Press, 88 St. Stephan Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02115; <www.nbp.org>; toll-free telephone number (888) 965-8965, or regular number (617) 266-6160.

 

The Pop-Up IEP

by Carrie Gilmer

Just before Christmas 2005, Barbara Cheadle approached me with an offer. The National Center on Low-Incidence Disabilities (NCLID) director, Dr. Kay A. Ferrell, wanted the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) to collaborate with them on a project. The project was to develop content for a parent-friendly Web site to help parents of blind children with the individualized education program (IEP) process. Would I, Barbara asked, coordinate the effort on behalf of the NOPBC? The format, she explained, would be the same as the one NCLID had used for their Web pop-up IEP for parents of children with deafness. A parent organization had drafted that content, and NCLID now wanted a parent organization to help them do a pop-up IEP addressing the needs of blind kids.

I took a look at this pop-up IEP, and even though it had been written for parents of deaf kids, my initial reaction was, “Wow! I wish I had had this for myself ten years ago.” It was not your usual Q and A format. It was different. It had the beauty of simplicity; it was simple to understand, simple to use, and simple to apply.

It was an offer with great potential, and we couldn’t refuse. So, after nine months of intense effort our pop-up IEP “baby” was born. We are now proud to announce the launching of a practical, comprehensive, and powerful help in navigating the annual IEP process. It is called the BVI Pop-Up IEP and it is located online at <http://nclid.unco.edu/nclid/bvi/>. As explained above, the site is sponsored by the National Center on Low-Incidence Disabilities (NCLID), a project of the University of Northern Colorado. The content was developed under contract by NOPBC officers and board members who solicited input from parents of blind children from all over the nation. Dr. Kay Ferrell, director of the NCLID, supervised the project and Ann Sebald, NCLID program coordinator, shepherded it through to completion.

We believe the pop-up IEP offers parents and advocates of blind children an unprecedented tool that is invaluable in strengthening their efforts to improve the education of blind children. Here’s how it works.

As I said, it is not in a Q and A format. Instead, the user is presented with a selection of common conversation-stopper type of statements that parents of blind kids might hear at an IEP meeting. You know, the kind of statement that either leaves you speechless or struggling through emotional shock to come back with a rational, well-reasoned response. Then, after you select a statement, you get a matter-of-fact, non-blaming, and factual explanation of why this statement is a problem. The next section takes you to sample responses that you can make to this statement. These responses are respectful, courteous, yet assertive. Next, is a page with the specific sections of the special education law that back up the responses. Finally, resources and information are given where appropriate. When possible, we tried to include pro-active steps that parents can take to avoid or help solve these problem situations.

With permission of the National Center on Low-Incidence Disabilities, we are including a reprint of two of the problem statement segments from the BVI Pop-Up IEP at the conclusion of this article.

But first, a word of thanks. We in the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children applaud the efforts of the National Center on Low-Incidence Disabilities and its staff, especially Dr. Kay Ferrell and Ann Sebald, to help parents join the IEP process as empowered and informed members of the team. We hope that the collaboration between NCLID and the NOPBC is the harbinger of many more joint ventures between consumers and service providers in the years to come.

Here now is statement number three and statement number nine from the BVI Pop-Up IEP, reprinted with permission of the National Center on Low-Incidence Disabilities, from <http://nclid.unco.edu/nclid/bvi/>:

 

Pop-Up IEP for Blindness and Visual Impairment
Collaborative effort between the
National Center on Low-Incidence Disabilities
and the
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children

Copyright © 2006
National Center on Low-Incidence Disabilities
Permission to use for educational purposes granted.

3. “We think the cane could pose a hazard to other students. We’d like your child to leave it at the door or in the locker.”

Why is this statement problematic?
The proper use of the long, white cane will not cause a hazard but can actually prevent hazardous situations from occurring. The cane identifies a child as having a visual impairment so that others can respond appropriately. Like vision, the cane provides a preview of what is out in front and enables the child to detect objects, identify drop offs and other changes in elevation, and walk confidently at a normal speed. Furthermore, the cane helps the child develop spatial concepts and environmental awareness. The child must be taught to take personal responsibility for the cane and use it appropriately for safe and independent travel.

Possible Responses for Parents/Advocates

1. “According to Ellie’s formal orientation and mobility evaluation the cane is a necessary tool for her safe and independent travel. In fact, she is building life-long skills that will enable her to negotiate a variety of environments independently.”

2. “Jan needs her cane in the same way that a student in a wheelchair needs wheels or a student with myopia needs eyeglasses. She uses it for safe and independent mobility. Not allowing her to use her cane in the halls and classroom will compromise not only her safety but also her understanding of the environment. In addition, her IEP cannot be considered implemented if she is not allowed to use her cane.”

3. “Jack’s cane is a respectable and necessary tool that enables him to move about safely, independently, and age appropriately. For example, it would be very demeaning and inconvenient if Jack had to wait for someone to ‘take’ him to the bathroom. Jack has been trained in the proper use of his cane and should be expected to use it properly. The orientation and mobility specialist would be glad to discuss any concerns you have."

Federal Regulations

Section 300.105(a) Assistive technology.
(a) Each public agency must ensure that assistive technology devices or assistive technology services, or both, as those terms are defined in Sec. Sec. 300.5 and 300.6, respectively, are made available to a child with a disability if required as a part of the child’s--

(1) Special education under Sec. 300.36;
(2) Related services under Sec. 300.34; or
(3) Supplementary aids and services under Sec. Sec. 300.38 and 300.114(a)(2)(ii).

IDEA 2004, (Public Law 108-446):
Section 601(c)(5)
Almost 30 years of research and experience has demonstrated that the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by

(H) supporting the development and use of technology, including assistive technology devices and assistive technology services, to maximize accessibility for children with disabilities

Section 602(1)(A)
‘Assistive technology device’ means any item, piece of equipment or product system… that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with a disability…

(26) ‘Related services’ means… orientation and mobility services…
(33) ‘Supplemental aids and services’ means aids, services, and other supports that are provided in regular education classes or other education-related settings to enable children with disabilities to be educated with non-disabled children to the maximum extent appropriate…

Proactive Solutions for Parents

9. “Sorry, our school is not equipped with and does not have the money for the assistive technology your child needs.”

Why is this statement problematic?
Many school districts are struggling with shrinking budgets. However, by law the school district must provide your child access to a free, appropriate public education (FAPE). This includes equal access to the same learning materials and activities as their sighted peers. Students needing specialized technology such as adapted computers with Braille display, screen magnification, large print software, speech output or tactile graphics are entitled to these adaptations by law. The school district is responsible for the cost of the needed technology.

Possible Responses for Parents/Advocates

1. “Joshua is currently unable to use the classroom computer. He must have the same opportunity to access the information and technology as his sighted peers. I would like to request an assistive technology evaluation so we can determine what his needs are and what technology could benefit him.”

2. “Eva’s assistive technology evaluation identifies her technology needs and provides recommendations for specific programs/devices. We all want to give Eva the opportunity to keep up with her classmates. I would like the evaluation results to be included in her IEP, including the recommendation for training on the equipment for Eva and her classroom teacher.”

3. “I can appreciate the dilemma that you face in these times of budget cuts, but we are here to focus on Bradley’s need for accessible classroom materials and we know that the law requires the school to provide that access. Bradley needs ______________ in order to keep up with his class and complete his work independently.”

4. “It’s really a matter of prioritizing the money that the district does have, and for our conversation today, this isn’t about money, this is about equal access. Antonia needs adapted computer technology to work in the computer lab with the other students in her class.”

Federal Regulations
Section 300.105(a)(b) Assistive technology.

(a) Each public agency must ensure that assistive technology devices or assistive technology services, or both, as those terms are defined in Sec. Sec. 300.5 and 300.6, respectively, are made available to a child with a disability if required as a part of the child’s--

(1) Special education under Sec. 300.36;
(2) Related services under Sec. 300.34; or
(3) Supplementary aids and services under Sec. Sec. 300.38 and 300.114(a)(2)(ii).

(b) On a case-by-case basis, the use of school-purchased assistive technology devices in a child’s home or in other settings is required if the child’s IEP Team determines that the child needs access to those devices in order to receive FAPE.

IDEA 2004 (Public Law 108-446):

Section 601(c)(5)
Almost 30 years of research and experience has demonstrated that the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by--

(H) supporting the development and use of technology, including assistive technology devices and assistive technology services, to maximize accessibility for children with disabilities

(d) PURPOSES--The purposes of this title are--

(1)(A) to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living;

Section 602 Definitions

(1)(A) ‘Assistive technology device’ means any item, piece of equipment or product system…that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with a disability.

(2) ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY SERVICE--The term ‘assistive technology service’ means any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition or use of any assistive technology device. Such term includes--

(A) the evaluation of the needs of such child, including a functional evaluation of the
child in the child’s customary environment;
(B) purchasing, leasing, or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive technology
devices by such child;
(E) training or technical assistance for such child, or, where appropriate, the family of
such child
(F) training or technical assistance for professionals…

Section 614 (1)
(A)(i) Definitions…IEP means… and …includes

(IV) a statement of the special education and related services and supplemental aids and services…and a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided for the child--

(bb) to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum… and to participate in the extracurricular and other nonacademic activities; and
(cc) to be educated and participate with other children with disabilities and non-disabled children …(d) Individualized Education

Programs--(3)DEVELOPMENT OF IEP--
(B) CONSIDERATION OF SPECIAL FACTORS--The IEP Team shall--
(v) consider whether the child needs assistive technology devices and services.

Additional Information

 

Transition Is Never Easy--IEP Advice to a Middle School Teacher

by Michael Gosse, PhD

A few years ago, my sister Vicky, a middle school teacher in an upscale district in New England, contacted me for advice. A student with a degenerative eye condition was enrolling in her math class, and she was the classroom teacher representative for the IEP team meeting. She needed advice. So, why call me? I guess you could say I’m the family expert on blindness. I was born with albinism and as a consequence have been legally blind all of my life. (Most people with albinism have some degree of vision loss.) True, I didn’t deal with it very effectively until I got involved with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) as a scholarship winner, but that’s been many years ago and I am past those struggles about whether I am really “blind enough” to carry a cane (sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t) and all that stuff.

After I met the NFB, I went on to get my PhD in electrical engineering and today I make a respectable living as an independent businessman. My wife and I have two lovely daughters, ages four and six, and I’m active in my community. As I state in the letter below, I’ve served on the NFB National Scholarship Committee for over a decade, and recently I was elected the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. But, back to the call from my sister.

Apparently, this student had been in the system for awhile and as his vision deteriorated, the solution that was applied was to give him a full-time instructional assistant. However, it was becoming apparent that this wasn’t such a great idea. The aide went with him everywhere, took notes for him in class, ate lunch with him, and, well, you get the picture. My sister told the parents and the school administrators about her brother and his involvement with the NFB, and they seemed eager to hear my perspective. I’m sure my sister was hoping that I could guide her, the parents, and the other team members in a different direction, and I didn’t disappoint her. With a few minor edits, here’s the letter I wrote:

Dear Vicky,

I decided that I needed to write down my thoughts on your upcoming IEP meeting involving a blind student in your class. Feel free to bring this note to the IEP meeting and share it with the group.

One of the biggest challenges of educating blind children is making sure that they are being taught both academically and socially at an age appropriate level. So as you go through the IEP process for the next school year, I believe that this has to be the central focus of the discussion. At the age of fourteen, most of your other students function in an independent fashion. This means that they get themselves from one class to the next, or they face the consequences. They take their own notes, they do their own homework (with help from whatever sources they are able to assemble), and they make their own friends.

However, the reality is that a blind student in a public school setting is at a severe disadvantage. The trick is to balance the need to pass the academic requirements for an education in eighth grade, and the need to acquire special skills that will lead to success later in life. This is not a decision that needs to be made for 99 percent of the students you will face, but the IEP process forces this decision to be made for special needs students, and a blind student in this particular case.

I personally know totally blind people who travel the world, who run businesses, lobby Congress, teach math, raise families, develop products, write federal policy, and climb mountains. Each one of these individuals was given training and opportunity to excel on his or her merit. I also know blind people who can’t leave their homes without a guide, who can’t cut their meat at dinner, who still live with their parents at age fifty, and who have no social skills at all. Each one of these people was coddled and prevented from advancing beyond the limits placed on him or her by well-meaning caretakers.

I personally took advantage of similar situations as a child. The system wasn’t that hard to figure out. What saved me was that I couldn’t play both sides of the game. You can’t tell your parents that you should be allowed to cross the street to go to a friend’s house if you just told them that you couldn’t do your book report without help. So my personal drive for independence prevented me from hiding behind the helpless-blind-child routine.

At fourteen, it is time for any blind student who is going to be successful in life to establish independence. But without the necessary skills, tools, and opportunity, this is an impossible task. The IEP and all its participants need to play a critical role, even if it is an uncomfortable one. Here are my recommendations:

There will never be a time when the transition to independence is easy, comfortable, or convenient. But adolescence is a difficult transition for this very reason. Blindness builds character in ways that many of the other students will never have the opportunity to experience. Many of the players in the IEP process will undoubtedly think that this blind student is too young, naive, and too vulnerable to be cast into the world of independence. But there are only five more years for this student to develop independence skills and prepare for college or a career. The next year needs to be a year of transition and support. I fully expect a significant impact on academics that will require, perhaps, the need for a tutor and a network of ad hoc counselors. But a clear distinction needs to be made between support and independence. All your students need support, many need tutors, and some need counseling. The IEP team needs to be observant, flexible, and resolute.

As you know, I served for ten years as a member of the National Federation of the Blind’s National Scholarship Committee. I can tell you first hand that academics are not correlated strongly to success for blind people. By far, blindness skills, independence, and leadership are the trademarks of a successful blind adult. It is unfair that blind students need to excel beyond their sighted peers, but that is the reality, and that is the reality that the IEP team must come to terms with and implement.

I hope this letter provides some insight, direction, and guidance. Most of all, I hope that my experiences can help an insecure, unskilled blind kid become an independent, competent blind adult. On a personal note, my itinerant teacher stopped coming when I left sixth grade. I remember vividly the discussion with the teacher that she was not going to come anymore. I was heartbroken. I felt cast aside. I was afraid. But, I survived and even thrived because I had been provided with the tools and skills of independence.

Your brother,
Mike

 

Avoiding Stormy IEP Meetings

by Randy Chapman, Esq.

Editor’s Note: The target audience of the article below is the school administrators--principals, vice principals, etc.--who schedule and chair IEP meetings. However, all members of the IEP team can benefit from the advice given by this longtime legal advocate from Utah. Chapman gives us a nonjudgmental peek inside the thinking process, priorities, and motives of administrators; then he proceeds to demonstrate why these do not have to conflict with the priorities and needs of parents in the IEP process. Here’s what Chapman has to say:

Principal Fife was the captain of the good ship HMS Middle School. He knew his mission: keep the school shipshape, hatches battened down, and sailing straight. Through twenty years serving in her Majesty’s local education agency he’d successfully weathered the storms sent his way. Why then had the IEP meeting he just chaired been such a disaster? He was assigned to act as the designee for the Director of Special Education and, though he had attended many IEP meetings, this was the first time he scheduled, planned, and chaired an IEP meeting for a student with a disability.

He thought he’d run a tight meeting. He invited only the essential professionals. To keep the meeting on time as well as non-adversarial, he kept discussion to a minimum and discouraged the questioning of the professionals. After all, each professional was an expert in his or her area of service provision, and their recommendations shouldn’t be second-guessed by others. Thanks to him the meeting was completed in ninety minutes (thirty minutes past the one hour he had announced at the outset as the time allotted for the meeting). So, what was the deal? Why did the parents leave angry and threatening to see a lawyer?

In the above scenario Principal Fife wanted to have a productive Individualized Educational Program (IEP) meeting. He wanted to develop a good program for the student, but his emphasis on efficiency sacrificed quality and unnecessarily angered the student’s parents. Sure, there are going to be disagreements in IEP meetings. Educational programming is not an exact science. You should expect that, at times, parents will disagree with the recommendations of the educational professionals and that educational professionals will disagree with one another. But proactively seeking parent input in the IEP process can help you avoid unnecessary disagreements and help make those disagreements that may be necessary less disagreeable.

Eight Tips for Planning and Chairing an IEP Meeting

1. Schedule the meeting at a time reasonably convenient for the parents. The IDEA requires this and it makes good sense. Let the parents know, in writing, when the meeting is scheduled and make sure they know they can reschedule for another time and who to contact if they wish to reschedule. Then, if they ask, reschedule. You do not want parents to call the wrong person and be told the date is set, etched in stone, and cannot be changed.

2. Tell the parents, in writing, who the school district is inviting to the IEP meeting and what their role is. The parents may not know what role each professional plays in their child’s life. You don’t need to provide a biography of each IEP team member, but include their title and be sure the parents know they can find out more information if they wish.

3. Make sure all of the right people are invited to the IEP meeting. For example, if the student will be transitioning from elementary school to middle school next year, it might be wise for you to include some of the middle school teachers in this year’s IEP. Or, if you expect a discussion regarding placing the student in a private or non-district program, make sure appropriate staff from that program attend the meeting to describe the program and answer questions. Parents and other professionals cannot make a decision about a placement in a vacuum.

4. Ask the parents if they would like other individuals invited to the meeting. The IDEA requires that “not less than one of the student’s regular education teachers” attend the meeting, but students in middle school and high school often have more than one regular education teacher. The parent may want to have more than one regular education teacher. The IDEA also allows parents or school personnel to include on the IEP team other individuals who have knowledge or expertise about the child’s special needs. For example, the child may be seeing a therapist privately, and the parent may want that individual invited to the meeting. When it comes to IEP meetings more is not necessarily merrier, but too few is clearly not enough.

5. Do not set a time limit for the meeting. Try to schedule sufficient time, but if the IEP is not completed in that time, schedule another meeting to complete the IEP. Be sure that the parents and other professionals know that this IEP will not be rushed to completion.

6. Facilitate open discussion among all members of the IEP team. Encourage parents to ask questions of the professionals and the professionals to ask questions of the parents and each other.

7. Translate professional mumbo jumbo. Break down education speak so that all team members understand what is being said.

8. Remember whose child it is. Listen to the parents and treat them as you wish to be treated: as a professional. Parents are members of the team. Remember, that while school professionals want what’s best for the child, they are not the parents. The professionals know the child as their student while at school and during the child’s school career. But the parents will be the child’s parents for life.

Using these tips will tell parents that you and the other educators in the IEP meeting really want what is best for their child and value the parents’ input. If parents think that you are not open to their ideas, they can become frustrated and angry. Refusing to reschedule meetings or to invite individuals that the parents would like at the meeting sends a message that you don’t really care. Since you do care, don’t send that message. Also, listening to the parents, having the right people at the meeting, and facilitating open discussion will help ensure that a good plan is developed. There will be disagreements in IEP meetings. That’s okay. There are times when IEP meetings may become rancorous and adversarial. That’s okay too. But you don’t want the meeting to become needlessly adversarial because you didn’t seek parent input into putting the IEP team together and you didn’t respectfully listen to the parents’ concerns.

 

Randy Chapman is the director of legal services at the Legal Center for People with Disabilities and Older People, Colorado’s Protection and Advocacy System. He is the author of three books, including The Everyday Guide to Special Education Law, (The Legal Center 2005). For twenty-nine years, he has been promoting and protecting the rights of people with disabilities. He can be reached at <www.thelegalcenter.org> or (800) 288-1376.

The Midas Touch

Reprinted from the New York Times, December 18, 2006

Editor’s Note: The title of this article refers, of course, to the fairy tale about King Midas. His greed for gold led him to ask for something (the ability to turn whatever he touched into gold) that ultimately was not in his best interest. In fact, his golden touch ended up destroying that which was most precious to him. In the National Federation of the Blind, we are most careful about what special accommodations we ask for. History has taught us to look carefully for the unintended consequences of changes that, on the surface, might seem like a good thing for the blind. Here is Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, discussing the recent controversy surrounding the topic of whether or not the paper currency in the United States must be altered for the benefit of blind people:

In a ruling in a lawsuit last month, Judge James Robertson of Federal District Court said that United States currency discriminates against blind people because bills are all the same size and cannot be distinguished by touch. His decision was applauded by some advocates for the blind, including the American Council of the Blind, which brought the lawsuit. But as president of the National Federation of the Blind, the nation’s oldest and largest organization of the blind, I believe that Judge Robertson’s ruling is wrong.

Discrimination occurs when the blind are barred from enjoying benefits, goods or services. This definition of discrimination is what most people understand the word to mean. If a landlord refuses to rent an apartment to someone because of race, color, creed, or disability, then discrimination occurs. Sometimes people with disabilities are barred from certain facilities or services because of the way they are designed. A person in a wheelchair cannot climb the steps of a public building; if the building does not have a wheelchair ramp, that person is prevented from entering it. In another example, my group is suing the Target Corporation because the company’s Web site doesn’t accommodate the special text-reading software that the blind use to surf the Internet. In both cases, a person with a disability is kept out of a public place or denied use of a service, just as African-Americans were not welcome at whites-only lunch counters.

But while blind people cannot identify paper currency by touch, that does not prevent us from spending money. When we hand merchants our money, they take it and provide us with the goods or services we have paid for, no questions asked. People with whom we transact business provide us with correct change if needed, and we then organize the money in a manner that allows us to identify it in the future. We transact business in this way every day.

There is no evidence that the blind are shortchanged more often than the sighted; if a question does arise about a particular transaction, it is the responsibility of the blind person to sort out the matter. Identifying money by feel, as the blind are often able to do in many other countries, may be more convenient, but inconvenience is not the same thing as discrimination.

While it is crucial that minorities have a voice in society, it is also the responsibility of every minority group to use that voice wisely and not to cry “discrimination” when no discrimination has occurred. The blind of America will fight discrimination wherever we find it, but we achieve nothing by falsely portraying ourselves as victims and engaging in frivolous litigation.

 

Textbooks on Time--Federal Fact Sheet

From the Editor: Federal documents can be intimating to first-time readers. Filled with an alphabet-soup of acronyms, every other sentence seems to end with references to section such-and-such or so-and-so. But if you think of them like the yapping dog whose bark is worse than his bite, you will discover that with a little patience and persistence, these documents are not as difficult to understand as appearances might suggest. Effective advocacy begins with accurate information, and for parents or other advocates of blind students, there really is no substitute for the information to be gained from documents written and released by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. If your child or student has suffered from late or delayed textbooks over the years, then the following document is worth spending some time reading and digesting. In the fall, we hope to publish a follow-up article with specific suggestions or a checklist about what parents and other advocates can do to monitor this process.

But, first things first. The following fact sheet is available on the new Web site for the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEPs) at <http://idea.ed.gov/explore/home>. Go to the side bar entitled “Browse Major Topics” and click on “National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS).” Other topics in this series of fact sheets are also available on this Web site. Information about the newly established National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC) is available on the Web site, <http://nimac.us/>. The NIMAC is administered by the American Printing House for the Blind. Here, now, is the federal fact sheet about NIMAS and NIMAC:


IDEA—Reauthorized Statute
National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS)

The reauthorized Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was signed into law on December 3, 2004, by President George W. Bush. The provisions of the Act became effective on July 1, 2005, with the exception of some of the elements pertaining to the definition of a “highly qualified teacher” that took effect upon the signing of the Act. The final NIMAS was published on July 19, 2006 (71 FR 41084) and was included as Appendix C to Part 300--National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard--published on August 14, 2006. This is one in a series of documents, prepared by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) in the U.S. Department of Education that covers a variety of high-interest topics and brings together the regulatory requirements related to those topics to support constituents in preparing to implement the new regulations. This document addresses statutory and final regulatory requirements regarding NIMAS.

IDEA Regulations

1. Provides definitions related to purchase of and access to instructional materials.

2. Requires the adoption of NIMAS.

3. Establishes SEA rights and responsibilities.

4. Establishes requirements for the preparation and delivery of files.

5. Requires collaboration with State agencies providing assistive technology programs.

6. Establishes responsibilities of LEAs for purchase of instructional materials.

Under sections 612(a)(23)(A) and 674(e)(4) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, as amended by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, the Secretary of Education establishes the NIMAS. Under section 674(e)(4) of the Act, the NIMAS applies to print instructional materials published after July 19, 2006. The purpose of the NIMAS is to help increase the availability and timely delivery of print instructional materials in accessible formats to blind or other persons with print disabilities in elementary and secondary schools.

 

A Parent’s Guide to the Slate and Stylus
Revised 2007

by Barbara Cheadle

Initially published in the Fall 1994 issue of Future Reflections, this guide has been updated and revised for this issue. This version also includes a kid-friendly description from the Braille Is Beautiful workbook for children about how to use the slate and stylus.

This guide is intended for parents of children who are Braille or soon-to-be Braille readers. The purpose is to prepare parents so that they can support and encourage the use of good Braille writing and note-taking skills. It is also to help parents become informed advocates for quality educational instruction in the area of Braille writing with a slate and stylus. We begin the guide with a review of the Braille system for parents who are not yet familiar with the Braille system.

Review of the Braille system
Braille was first developed about 1820 by a young Frenchman named Louis Braille. He created Braille by modifying a system of night writing that was intended for use by nighttime artillery crews. He did this work as a very young man and had it complete by the time he was about eighteen. He and his friends at the school for the blind found that reading and writing dots was much faster than reading raised print letters that could not be written by hand. The development of this system by young Louis Braille is now recognized as the most important single development in making it possible for the blind to get a good education.

It took more than a century, however, before people would accept Braille as an excellent way for the blind to read and write. Even today many people underestimate the effectiveness of Braille. While CDs and other recorded synthesized speech materials are enjoyable, Braille is essential for note taking and helpful for studying such things as math, spelling, and foreign languages.

Experienced Braille readers read Braille at speeds comparable to print readers--200 to 400 words per minute. Such Braille readers say that the only limitation of Braille is that there isn’t enough material available.

Braille consists of arrangements of dots that make up letters of the alphabet, numbers, and punctuation marks. The basic Braille symbol is called the Braille cell and consists of six dots arranged in the formation of a rectangle, three dots high and two across. All symbols, letters, and numbers consist of one or more of these six dots. The six dots are commonly referred to by number according to their position in the cell:

Braille cell with dots numbered

There are no different symbols for capital letters in Braille. Capitalization is accomplished by placing a dot 6 in the cell just before the letter that is capitalized. The first ten letters of the alphabet are used to make numbers. These are preceded by a number sign which is dots 3-4-5-6:

Braille number sign

Thus, 1 is two Braille cells: number sign a; 2 is number sign b; 10 is number sign a j; and 193 is number sign a i c:

Braille sign as above

Braille is written on heavy paper, and the raised dots prevent the pages from lying smoothly together as they would in a print book. Therefore, Braille books are quite bulky. Some abbreviations are used in standard American Braille in order to reduce its bulk. These must be memorized, but most Braille readers and writers find them convenient, rather than a problem.

What is a slate and stylus?

A slate and stylus is to a Braille reader what a pen or pencil is to a print reader. Just as the pen or pencil is designed to place a visible mark on a piece of paper, the slate and stylus is designed to punch (emboss) raised, tactile bumps or dots onto a page. Since Braille is a very exact system--the dots in the Braille cell must be precisely spaced--it wouldn’t do to attempt to punch dots free-hand onto a page. In order to hand-Braille accurately, there must be a puncher (the stylus) which, when pressed into the paper, will raise a tactile Braille dot, and a guide (the slate) which will allow the user to punch the dots into precise positions.

Like the pen or pencil, the slate and stylus is inexpensive, portable, and simple to use. From taking notes in a classroom to jotting down a phone number the uses--and advantages--of the slate to the blind are as many and as varied as those of the pencil or pen are to the sighted.

Pens and pencils come in a variety of styles and sizes, and so do slates and styluses. All, however, have certain common characteristics. The typical stylus is about two inches long. It has a metal point for punching the dot into the page, and a small handle that can be firmly and comfortably gripped by the index finger and thumb. Although the shape and size of the handle may vary, all styluses will have a metal point for embossing Braille dots.

The typical slate is made either of metal or plastic. The most common type of slate, called the pocket slate, is about the width of an average piece of paper (8 1/2 inches wide) and may be four or six lines of Braille high (about 2 inches). It is hinged and opens like a book so that the paper is sandwiched between the two parts of the slate. The top piece of the slate has small, evenly spaced openings the precise size and shape of the Braille cell. These are called windows. The bottom piece is solid with small indentations for each dot so that the Braille dots will be consistent in shape and size. Again, slates come in different models to suit different writing needs. There is a slate, for example, especially designed to be used as a guide for three-by-five note cards. All slates will have a top and bottom guide as described. Together, a slate and stylus weigh about two ounces. Both are easily carried in a pocket or purse.

Why should blind children learn to use the slate and stylus?

For all the same reasons that sighted children learn to write with a pencil and pen. Think about it. Sighted children have had access to computers for years. Yet computers have not replaced the need for pencils and pens or the need for handwriting instruction. The ability to take quick, legible notes with a cheap, simple, portable device is important for both print readers and Braille readers. A slate doesn’t use batteries or an electric outlet. It can be carried in a pocket. It is cheap to replace and inexpensive enough that several may be purchased at one time--just like pens. The slate and stylus allows the Braille reader to write down information he or she can immediately read and review anywhere, anytime. A student may easily take a slate and stylus with him or her on school or family trips, to summer camp, Sunday school class, Scout meetings--anyplace a pencil can go, a slate and stylus can go. Students may write classroom notes; take a telephone message; take down names, addresses, and telephone numbers; and write out all types of Braille labels and lists with a slate and stylus.

How does the slate and stylus compare to other methods of writing Braille or taking notes?

Most children today begin writing with a Braille-writing machine. This may be what your child is currently using. These machines are comparable to typewriters. The Braillewriter has a keyboard of only six keys and a space bar, instead of one key for each letter of the alphabet. These keys can be pushed separately or all together. If they are all pushed at the same time, they will cause six dots to be raised on the paper in the formation of a Braille cell. Pushing various combinations of the keys on the Braillewriter produces different letters of the alphabet and other Braille symbols. The Braillewriter is a little smaller than most computer printers and weighs about ten pounds.

The Braillewriter is excellent for writing and editing reports, doing class assignments in the elementary grades, doing math problems, keeping financial records, and generally any Braille writing which does not require moving the Braillewriter from place to place frequently. The Braillewriter’s bulk and weight make it a poor choice for most note-taking tasks when students begin moving from class to class in school. It is impossible, of course, to slip a Braillewriter into a pocket or purse as one does with a slate and stylus.

Sometimes students believe that a tape recorder will handle all their note-taking needs. Although tape recorders are useful to blind students, they are not good note-taking devices. Note taking means sifting the information as one listens and making decisions about what is important to write down and what is not. It also means condensing and organizing the information as one writes. It is not possible to do any of this quickly or well with a tape recorder. Besides, students who record an hour lecture must spend another hour listening to it--and even more time studying from it. If they had taken Braille notes in class, they could skim through those notes in less than half the time that it would take to study from a taped lecture.

There is also, of course, a whole array of electronic Braille note-taking devices, talking computers, and Braille printers for students to choose from today. The Braille notetakers are especially popular, even among many elementary age children. And they have become a nearly essential piece of technology for blind students, middle school through college, and for blind people in the professions. It is significant that the most versatile and efficient of these students and professionals are those who also keep a slate handy in their desks or pockets. Even the director of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind--a technology demonstration facility that displays a sample of every type of Braille and speaking device for the blind in the world--keeps a slate on her desk. For quick, ordinary note-taking needs, the slate still can’t be beaten.

How fast can a student write with a slate and stylus?

As fast as a sighted student can write notes with a pen or pencil. Good instruction and daily practice are as important for the Braille student as they are for the sighted student. If the blind student is not keeping up and complains that the slate is too slow, it is probably due to inadequate instruction and/or practice. One author of a slate and stylus teaching manual suggests that blind students should be able to write a minimum of 15 to 20 words per minute by the time they enter high school. This speed is based upon timed trials in which the student writes out complete sentences with correct spelling and punctuation. Obviously, as the author points out, much faster speed can be obtained when using note-taking shortcuts.

One blind woman worked several years as a note taker with a state agency that investigated equal employment opportunity complaints. The job required taking notes at formal hearings. Some hearings were recorded, but note takers were needed for those who objected to this. The notes did not need to be verbatim, but they did need to be thorough and accurate. Some hearings lasted as long as three hours. She could not use a Braillewriter for it was deemed too loud and intrusive by the hearing judges. So, she used a slate and stylus to take the notes and typed them up later to turn in. She soon developed a reputation for being an outstanding note taker, and hearing judges frequently requested her services. The woman learned to write with the slate in first grade, when she was six years old.

How long does it take to learn to use the slate and stylus?

How long does it take to learn to use a pen or pencil? This depends. It takes only seconds to learn how to hold the pencil and make a mark on a piece of paper. It takes a little longer to learn how to hold the pencil correctly when writing words and letters, and of course it takes much longer to learn how to print and write cursive correctly and legibly. It partly takes a good deal of time because the student is learning the letters while he or she is simultaneously learning to write them.

The same is true when learning to write Braille with the slate and stylus. The rudiments of using the slate and stylus can be learned in minutes. Proficiency in using the slate comes with months or years of regular practice and usage (as in the case of very young children). Remember, this is also true for sighted students learning to write with a pencil.

As a parent you may be wondering how fast you could learn to use the slate and stylus. The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children sponsors Beginning Braille for Parents workshops. In three hours, parents learn the basics of reading Braille and writing it with the slate and stylus. They learn how to insert the paper into the slate frame, how to correctly hold the stylus while punching the dots onto the paper, how to use their fingers to guide the stylus and keep their place, and how to move the slate guide down the paper as needed. Then, as they learn Braille letters, they learn how to use the slate guide to punch in the correct dot positions for the desired letter. Parents leave the workshop feeling that Braille reading and writing is fun and easy! Many continue to study and practice Braille reading and writing on their own.

Of course not everyone can attend a workshop, so at the end of this guide is a list of manuals and other materials, which may be used for independent home study of Braille and the slate and stylus.

Are there any differences between learning to use a pen or pencil and learning to use a slate and stylus?

Yes, but let’s first review how they are not different: Both systems, as discussed in the questions above, have the same function and advantages and get the job done equally well; both systems take about the same time to learn; and neither system is inherently any more difficult to learn than the other. Please keep these similarities in mind. In the long haul they are more important than the differences.

The differences between the methods of writing arise naturally out of the fact that one is a visual system and one is a tactile system. For example, most people learn to hold a pencil at a slant. But different hand and finger positions and motions are required for slate and stylus usage. For ease and efficiency in punching Braille dots, the stylus must be held in a straight up and down position. Also, punching dots onto a page requires slightly more force than is needed when writing with a pen or pencil. Teachers of blind children often encourage young blind children to play with pop-together toys because this activity develops strength and dexterity in the fingers. This dexterity is also required when opening the four-line pocket slate and repositioning the paper.

On the other hand, while sighted students must essentially learn four different ways of forming each letter of the alphabet--print upper-case, print lower-case, cursive upper-case, and cursive lower-case--blind children need to learn only one form for each letter. (As noted in the review of the Braille system at the beginning of this guide, a Braille word is capitalized by simply placing the Braille dot 6 before the letter to be capitalized. This is much simpler to learn than an entire new form for each letter.)

Finally, a person writing Braille with the slate and stylus begins at the right side of the paper and ends the line on the left, since the dots are being produced on the underside of the paper. Of course, the Braille reader reads from left to right, for the dots are then on the top side of the paper. Although this may seem a bit confusing, it need not be at all troublesome, since both reading and writing progress through words and sentences from beginning to end in the same manner.

If a blind student is confused and refers to writing with a slate as “writing backwards,” then incorrect teaching methods are likely being used. No respectable elementary teacher in the country, for example, would teach sighted students that a d is a backward b. Of course it is reversed, and of course students figure that out, and of course some students have a few problems because of it. But correct teaching methods combined with lots of practice solve this difficulty. The same is true of learning to write with a slate and stylus.

When should blind children learn to use a slate and stylus?

Blind people who started school anytime up to the late fifties or early sixties find this question amusing. Although the first mechanical Braille-writing device was invented in 1850, Braillewriters were not commonly available to blind students of all ages until after 1951--the year the modern Perkins Brailler went into production. In those early years Braille-writing machines--if they were available at all--were used only by students in the higher grades, and one machine was shared by several students. So, what did blind first-graders use all those years before the Braillewriter was invented or available to them? Why, the slate and stylus, of course! (This is still true, by the way, in developing nations where Braillewriters are far too expensive for common usage.)

Many parents today have discovered that their blind preschoolers can use the slate and stylus for the same purpose that sighted preschoolers use a pencil or other marker: to scribble. Just like a sighted child, a blind child may pretend that his or her scribbles--the Braille dots--are words or even pictures. This gives the child a positive experience with the slate and stylus so that when formal instruction begins she or he is comfortable with the slate and eager to learn to write real words with it.

Formal instruction can begin as early as kindergarten. Some teachers begin instruction around third grade. Remember, however, that it is easier to gain the interest and cooperation of younger students. Younger children especially enjoy the physical act of punching the paper with the stylus and hearing the pop pop pop as they press the dots onto the page. Also, slate and stylus skills should be firmly in place by the time the child is old enough to want and need a truly portable system of writing. If these skills are not in place, the child begins to be subtly excluded from certain activities.

Consider, for example, a typical meeting of a Girl Scout troop of girls, grades three through six. The troop is planning a campout. Each patrol within the troop is told to plan a menu for one of the meals, make a grocery list, and take the list to the store to buy the foods. They must also plan one activity--a skit, a game, etc.--for the campout. Before they begin planning, however, each patrol must choose one of the girls to be the patrol secretary to keep all necessary notes and lists. Slate and stylus skills would put a blind Scout on an equal footing with her sister Scouts in handling this necessary task for the group. She would also get early experience with one of the most common jobs in our society. Secretaries are needed everywhere--in business and in volunteer community organizations.

What is the best method for teaching the slate and stylus?

Although there are a few variations in approaches to teaching the slate and stylus, all good teaching manuals adhere to the same basic principles. For example, all the best manuals insist that the word backward never be used when describing or teaching the slate and stylus method of writing. Instead, the authors of these manuals encourage phrases such as: starting side or approach side; first column, second column; first side, second side; direction of travel; and so forth. This approach is essential for the best success.

Beyond this, a good teaching manual or method description should provide the following: (1) an explanation of the importance of building motivation and enthusiasm in the student through discussions and demonstrations of the usefulness of the slate and stylus; (2) a thorough description of the sequential steps to take in teaching the student how to physically manipulate the slate and stylus--i.e. inserting paper, holding the stylus, moving the paper down, locating the Braille cell window with the tip of the stylus, and so forth; (3) lesson plans or a sequential list of letters and words to be introduced to the student; (4) miscellaneous information about materials, equipment, and teaching aids; and (5) guidance and suggestions about promoting daily practice and use of the slate and stylus among students.

Listed below are some teaching manuals, which meet these criteria. A few of these manuals were written primarily for teachers of newly blind adults. They have been included because parents might find them useful as self-teaching guides and because some of the methods and teaching aids apply to children, too.

The Slate Book: A Guide to the Slate and Stylus
by Jennifer Dunnam
National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
(410) 659-9314, extension 2216
www.nfb.org

Teaching the Braille Slate and Stylus, A Manual for Mastery
by Philip Mangold
(Available in print or audio cassette)
Teaching the Braille Slate and Stylus
(18-minute video)
Exceptional Teaching, Inc.
5673 West Las Positas Boulevard, Suite 207
Pleasanton, California 94588
(800) 549-6999 or (925) 598-0082
www.exceptionalteaching.com

Braillewriting Dot-to-Dot
This is a kit with a teacher’s manual (print or Braille), supplemental teaching devices, an exercise cassette, and reference sheets.
American Printing House for the Blind
P.O. Box 6085
Louisville, Kentucky 40206-0085
(502) 895-2405 or (800) 223-1839
www.aph.org

What kinds of slates and styluses are available? How much do they cost, and who sells them?

The typical pocket slate and stylus was described under the heading “What is a Slate and Stylus?” The slate, as you will recall, may be made from plastic or metal. The plastic slates are the least expensive ($6.00, including the stylus). Some retailers also offer a plastic slate for three-by-five index cards. Metal slates may be aluminum, a lightweight metal, or steel. They are more expensive than plastic but are also available in a wider variety of sizes and styles to meet different needs. The different styles include note-card-size slates (six-line, 19-cell) with or without a hinge; slates with a notch for holding Dymo labeling tape; one line, 25-cell slates for labeling tape only; pocket slates with an open back so that the Braille can be read without removing the paper from the slate; slates designed exclusively for embossing cassette labels or playing cards; and full-page board or desk slates. Prices vary among sources, of course, but will typically range from $8.00 to $30.00 for the pocket or specialty metal slates and $50 plus for desk or board slates. Most retailers include a free stylus with a slate order.

One type of board slate, which is especially useful to Braille transcribers, comes in three pieces: a sturdy page-size writing surface (much like a clipboard) made of wood, plastic, or masonite; a heavy-duty metal four-line, 41- or 27-cell slate; and a regular stylus. The board has a clip at the top to hold the Braille paper in place and matching holes down the right and left sides of the board. The slate is like a regular pocket slate with the addition of two small round pegs on the backside of the frame. These pegs, when inserted into the matching holes on the sides of the board, hold the slate firmly in place. When the student has completed four lines of Braille the slate is eased out of the holes and slid down to the next set of holes and so on until the page is full.

In addition to the regular stylus described earlier, there are styluses with a flat-sided handle to prevent rolling; pencil-shaped styluses; and reversible metal styluses (flat or regular handles) in which the point may be removed and reversed for storage inside the handle. These vary in price but are roughly $3.00 and up. Wooden or metal Braille erasers that flatten unwanted Braille dots are available in about the same price range as the stylus.

Some sources for slates and styluses are:

National Federation of the Blind
Independence Market
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
(410) 659-9314, extension 2216
www.nfb.org

American Printing House for the Blind
P.O. Box 6085
Louisville, Kentucky 40206-0085
(502) 895-2405 or (800) 223-1839
www.aph.org

Perkins Howe Press
175 North Beacon Street
Watertown, Massachusetts 02172
(617) 972-7308
www.perkins.org/section.php?id=228

Independent Living Aids, Inc.
Mailing address:
P. O. Box 9022
Hicksville, New York 11802-9022
Location:
200 Robbins Lane
Jericho, New York 11753
(800) 537-2118 (sales)
www.independentliving.com

It’s So Easy a Kid Can Do It
Instructions for the Slate and Stylus

Editor’s Note: The following material is reprinted from Get the Idea: A Student Instruction Book, one of the components in the Braille Is Beautiful curriculum. Braille Is Beautiful is a diversity awareness curriculum program for sighted students, grades four through six. The program teaches Braille as a vehicle for the broader purpose of exposing students to positive attitudes about blindness and blind people. Information about the Braille Is Beautiful program is in the feature section on the NOPBC Web page at <www.nfb.org/nfb/braille_is_beautiful.asp>. To order the program, contact the NFB Independence Market at (410) 659-9314, extension 2216. Here, in kid-friendly language, is a simple description of the slate and stylus and instructions on how to use it to write Braille dots:

What is a slate and stylus and how is it used?

Idea 6 What is a slate?

A slate is a guide for writing Braille. Slates come in many different sizes. The most commonly used slate is about as wide as an average piece of paper and is about two inches high. A slate is metal or plastic. It is hinged so that it opens like a book. The topside has rows of evenly spaced openings or windows. Each window is the size of a Braille cell. The bottom side is solid with small indentations for Braille dots. The slate holds the paper in place while the writer punches Braille dots onto the paper with a stylus.

Get the Idea?

Idea 7 What is a stylus?

You use a stylus to punch the dots in the paper using the slate as a guide. A stylus is about two inches long. It has a 1/2 inch metal point for punching the dots into the paper, and a 1-1/2 inch wooden handle with a rounded knob at the end so it may be firmly and comfortably held. Writing with the slate and stylus is the same to Braille readers as writing with a pencil or pen is to print readers. Just like a pencil or pen, a slate and stylus is easy to carry with you and use wherever you go.

Get the Idea?


Idea 8 How do you hold a stylus?

The stylus is held with the blunt end down and the knob end up. You press straight down on the paper in your slate like a needle in a sewing machine to create a Braille dot.

Remember:
The stylus must always be held straight up and down.

Try this:
1. Place the top of the stylus (knob end) against the first section of the
index or pointer finger nearest the palm.

2. Curl the tip of your finger around the knob end of the stylus and support the sides with your thumb and fingers.

Get the Idea?

Idea 9 Loading the slate with Braille paper

1. Place the slate in front of you with the windows on top and the hinge on the left.

2. Holding the bottom edge (nearest to you), lift the slate on its top edge so that the window side is facing away from you.

3. Open the slate and place a sheet of Braille paper between the two parts so that the edge is resting on the desk. Slide the paper all the way against the hinge.

Hint: Opening the slate too far, bending the top past fully open, will bend or break the slate so it cannot be used.

4. Close the slate and return it to flat on the desk with the window side up facing you.

5. Now open the slate again as you would a book. Note that the paper is held in place by four small pins at the four corners of the bottom part of the slate. Lift and replace the card precisely, using the holes as a guide.

Get the Idea?

Idea 10 How to write with slate and stylus

Load the slate using Idea 9. Holding the stylus with your index finger and thumb, lightly place the metal point into a Braille cell window. Trace around the edges of the window hole with the tip of the stylus.

Feel the bumps as you trace the opening.
Can you feel six distinct positions in the cell?

Braille cell with dots numbered.

The six positions are numbered: Starting on the first side 1, 2, 3; the second side 4, 5, 6. Holding the stylus as described in Idea 8, apply pressure at dot 1--you will hear a little pop. Continue making dots around the Braille cell (2, 3, 4, 5, 6) to make a full Braille cell.

Practice being precise while making the following dots:

1. dot 1 6. dots 1, 3, 4, 5, 6
2. dot 2 7. dots 2, 4, 5, 6
3. dot 3
4. dots 1, 2
5. dots 1, 3, 5

Get the Idea?

 

CLOSE TO HOME
News from the NOPBC and the NFB


IT’S A SMALL WORLD WIDE WEB
The Evolution of the NOPBC Web Site: Do you like to surf the Web? Do you also like to learn about how a nationwide parent organization is changing what it means to be blind for their children? Well you’re in luck! The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children has a Web site that continues to evolve and expand to reach its ultimate outreach potential. If you haven’t looked lately, visit <www.nfb.org/nopbc> and take some time to explore. There you will find convention registration info, Future Reflections’ issues online, contact information for your state affiliate, tips for new parents, information divided by topic, upcoming programs and events, and--coming soon--a calendar of parent seminars across the country. Any comments, questions, or suggestions should be directed to Seth Lamkin at <slamkin@nfb.org>.

INDEPENDENCE MARCH
The March for Independence site is Live! If you are participating in the first-ever March for Independence this summer in Atlanta, Georgia (and you should be), then be sure that you have created your own personal Web page. You should have received an e-mail at the end of February, after you had registered for the March, with your user ID and password. So make sure you log in and create your own page for people to find and sponsor you. It’s fun, it’s easy, and best of all: it really works! So let your creative side run wild and visit <www.marchforindependence.org> to work on your page or visit a friend’s page and sponsor them!

THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE
Want to Save $170? The NOPBC has recently learned that some organizations are selling the Handbook for Itinerant and Resource Teachers of Blind and Visually Impaired Students by Doris Willoughby and Sharon Duffy for over $170! While this wonderful book is certainly worth $200 and beyond, the NOPBC is offering copies for free. If you would like a copy on cassette (2-track only, five tapes in a set); in Braille (eight volumes); or regular print (533 pages), please contact Seth Lamkin at the NFB office in Baltimore, (410) 659-9314, extension 2361, or e-mail <slamkin@nfb.org>. You may order as many copies as you would like, but NOPBC does request that you send a donation to help defray the shipping costs. So order now while supplies last! The checks should be made payable to NOPBC and mailed to NOPBC Free Offer, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230.

NETWORK!
National Federation of the Blind Divisions: Find a division that matches your interests and get involved! These bodies provide support, information, and resources regarding a wide range of professions, recreational activities, special interests and other areas related to blindness. Please note the full listing of divisions with their appropriate contact information on page _____.

AROUND THE BLOCK
Helpful Items from Here and There

Please note: The NOPBC is not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK
Touch and Explore at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: If you get a chance to visit New York City this year, make sure you check out the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Web site before you go. Visit <www.metmuseum.org/events/ev_vis_dis.asp> and click on “For Visitors Who Are Blind or Partially Sighted.” On Saturday, April 21, from 11:00 am to 12:30 pm, the Met will have a workshop for families with blind children entitled “In Touch with Ancient Egypt,” where families and children are encouraged to touch and feel a 3,000-year-old mummy case, sculptures, hieroglyphs, and other ancient objects. Throughout the year, you can call (212) 879-5500, ext. 3561, for information about accessible programs. Be sure to check out the rest of the Touch and Explore events as well as the book, Art and the Alphabet: A Tactile Experience, which introduces masterpieces from the Museum’s collections.

Art Beyond Sight: Multimodal Approaches to Learning Creativity and Communication, September 28-30, 2007, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC: This international conference co-sponsored by Art Education for the Blind, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and UNESCO will address multimodal approaches to learning in art history, contemporary art, and new media; cognitive psychology and neuroscience; universal/human-centered design, products, and environments in the 21st century; and education for people with sensory and other disabilities. The registration fee for this conference is $150 ($75 for students with ID). A registration form will be posted on <www.artbeyondsight.org> after May 1st and can be e-mailed to you by writing <editor-at-large@artbeyondsight.org> with “September Conference” in the subject line.

HARRY POTTER IN BRAILLE
Pre-Order Deathly Hallows and Save! National Braille Press is offering the seventh, and final, installment of the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling at a discounted price for those that pre-order their copies. Once again, National Braille Press reached an agreement with Scholastic Press and will be releasing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on the same day it is released in print: July 21st. While the Braille version is normally $34.99, if you pre-order, you will receive the novel for only $18.89. After July 21st, the price will return to $34.99.

Also, if you would like to download the Braille files from the National Braille Press Web site on July 21st, you can pre-order that copy and save as well! Once you pre-order, you will receive a file that explains how to get your copy on July 21st. To order or read more about this book online, visit <http://www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/HALLOWS.html>.

CAN YOU SAY INDEPENDENCE? DORA CAN!
Dora i-crayons™ Talk and Teach: What was developed as an instructional tool to teach kids to learn their colors and how to spell is also being used by blind children as an instrument for independence. Dora i-crayons™ use a battery-operated plastic base to connect to the plastic end of a Dora i-crayon™. Once inserted, Dora exclaims the name of the color and its spelling. She will then say an object that shares the same color as the crayon, followed by the color in Spanish. The same idea has been applied with different Nickelodeon themes including Blue’s Clues and SpongeBob. If you order from Independent Living Aids, they will place Braille labels on each crayon so that your child can also learn the spelling of the color in Braille. The NOPBC recently acquired a set and experienced a few glitches in the product. The crayons have a tendency to break in the plastic head, rendering them useless. You can buy replacement crayons at a lower cost than the full set, but it is still something to note. Also, if the crayon is not inserted fully, the color will be recognized incorrectly.

MATH AIDS
ETA Cuisenaire®: This tip comes from the New Jersey Parents of Blind Children newsletter. “Check out the ETA Cuisenaire® Math K-12 catalog for an awesome array of hands-on math tools. Contact (800) 445-5985 or visit <www.etacuisenaire.com>.”

IEP on DVD
Self-Determination Using Self-Directed IEPs: This advertisement comes courtesy of Virginia Commonwealth University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Workplace Supports and Job Retention. “In this 90-minute DVD, presenters share strategies for achieving self-determination in the transition planning process.” Recommended practices centered around self-determination are described and backed up by an interview with participants who used this method throughout their IEP process. The DVD is sold for $19.95. To order, contact Roberta Martin at (804) 827-0749 or <rsmartin@vcu.edu>. Or write to VCU-RRTC, P. O. Box 842011, Richmond, Virginia 23284.

SPEAK EASY (AND FREE!)
New Screenreader Technology Is Free for Personal Use: Screenreader.net is a nonprofit organization that produces free screenreader computer software for the blind. Their program, Thunder, is a free screenreader that currently operates with Windows XP, 2000, and the new Vista operating system. Screenreader.net guarantees that it will work with Microsoft Word, Outlook Express, and Internet Explorer, and says that it may also work with other programs. For more information, visit <www.screenreader.net>.

NEW TECHNOLOGY FROM LEVELSTAR
Get the Icon Early Bird Edition: LevelStar has announced the early version of their new Icon mobile manager technology for the visually impaired. The Icon stores 1,000s of books and songs as well as a calendar, address book, e-mail, word processor, voice recorder, music player and many more software applications. The Icon’s Web browser is not available for this special offer, but will be provided free of charge to Early Bird participants when the full version of the Icon is released. For more information, call (800) 315-2305 or visit <www.levelstar.com>.

PRICE CUT!
Great News from Creative Adaptations for Learning (CAL): “CAL has drastically reduced its prices! Thanks to the underwriting and sponsorship of its many supporters, CAL is now able to lower its prices, making CAL-tac™ tactile pictures available to a much wider audience of children who are blind, visually impaired, or who have other special needs.” For additional information or to request a catalog in large print or Braille, contact: Creative Adaptations for Learning, 38 Beverly Road, Great Neck, New York 11021. You can contact them by phone at (516) 466-9143, by e-mail at <calinfo@cal-s.org>, and online at <www.cal-s.org>.

 

National Federation of the Blind Divisions
Spring 2007

Divisions are listed alphabetically by name. Details and contact information are provided by the division. If a division listing does not have contact information or is inaccurate, please contact Joanne Wilson, director of Affiliate Action, National Federation of the Blind, at <jwilson@nfb.org>; (410) 659-9314, extension 2335.

Agriculture and Equestrian Division
President: Fred Chambers
3510 Bedford Circle
Carlsbad, California 92008
Home: (760) 505-8500
E-mail: regenerative@earthlink.net

Assistive Technology Trainers
President: Michael Barber
3000 Grand Avenue, Apartment 817
Des Moines, Iowa 50312
Home: (515) 284-1569
Work: (515) 281-1305
E-mail: m.barber@mchsi.com

Classics, Antiques, and Rods (CARS) Division
President: Joseph B. Naulty
11943 Suellen Circle
Wellington, Florida 33414
Home: (561) 753-4700
Fax: (561) 793-1104
E-mail: jbnaulty@adelphia.net

Deaf-Blind Division of the National Federation of the Blind
President: Robert Eschbach
1186 North Verbena Place
Casa Grande, Arizona 85222-5440
Phone: (520) 836-3689
E-mail: Rmesch@earthlink.net
Web site: http://www.nfb-db.org/
A membership organization of deaf-blind persons working nationally to improve services, training, and independence for the deaf-blind. Offers personal contact with other deaf-blind individuals knowledgeable in advocacy, education, employment, technology, discrimination, and other issues surrounding deaf-blindness.

Diabetes Action Network for the Blind
President: Lois Williams
3305 Stonebrook Circle Northwest
Huntsville, Alabama 35810
Home: (256) 852-4143
E-mail: loiscares898@yahoo.com
This is the leading support and information organization of persons losing vision due to diabetes. Provides personal contact and resource information with other blind diabetics about nonvisual techniques of independently managing diabetes, monitoring glucose levels, measuring insulin, and other matters concerning diabetes. Publishes Voice of the Diabetic, the leading publication about diabetes and blindness.

Health Care Professionals
President: Abio Sokari
4202 Southwest Colly Creek Court
Topeka, Kansas 66610
Home: (785) 266-7901

Human Services Division
President: Melissa Riccobono
1026 East 36th Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21218
Phone: (410) 235-3073
E-mail: maricco@uwalumni.com
Membership organization of blind persons working in counseling, personnel, psychology, social work, psychiatry, rehabilitation, and other social science and human resource fields. Dedicated to improving employment opportunities and advancement for blind persons and provides resources regarding blindness-related techniques and methods used in these fields.

Masonic Square Club
President: Fred Flowers
3110 Wisteria Avenue
Baltimore, Maryland 21214
Home: (410) 598-0155
Blind individuals committed to the sharing of Masonic experiences, goals, and history.

National Association of the Blind in Communities of Faith
President: Tom Anderson
c/o Colorado Center for the Blind
2233 West Sheppard Avenue
Littleton, Colorado 80120-2038
Work: (303) 778-1130
E-mail: tanderson@cocenter.org
A membership organization of blind persons devoted to work in all faiths, denominations, and religions. Provides support and resources to those interested in these concerns and to all seminary and religious students.

National Association of Blind Entrepreneurs
President: Jim Bonerbo
733 Yonkers Avenue, Suite 304
Yonkers, New York 10704
Phone: (914) 476-8444
Home: (718) 325-8094
Fax: (914) 476-8446
E-mail: j.bonerbocpa@verizon.net
A membership organization of blind persons who are self-employed or are directing personal businesses and those interested in starting their own business. Provides advocacy and resource information and offers support for both the beginner and the established entrepreneur.

National Association of Blind Lawyers
President: Scott LaBarre
1660 South Albion Street, Suite 918
Denver, Colorado 80222-4046
Phone: (303) 504-5979
Fax: (303) 757-3640
E-mail: slabarre@labarrelaw.com
Membership organization of blind attorneys, law students, judges, and others in the law field. Provides support and information regarding employment, techniques used by the blind, advocacy, laws affecting the blind, current information about the American Bar Association, and other issues for blind lawyers.

National Association of Blind Merchants
President: Kevan Worley
263 Pyrite Terrace
Colorado Springs, Colorado 80904
Home: (719) 520-1391
Work: (719) 527-0488
Merchant’s Message: (877) 521-8363
E-mail: kevanworley@blindmerchants.org
Web site: http://www.blindmerchants.org/
Membership organization of blind persons employed in either self-employment work or the Randolph-Sheppard vending program. Provides information regarding rehabilitation, social security, tax, and other issues which directly affect blind merchants. Serves as an advocacy and support group.

National Association of Blind Office Professionals
President: Lisa Hall
9110 Broadway Street, Apartment J-103
San Antonia, Texas 78217-6104
Home phone: (210) 829-4571
Web site: www.zeli.net/nabop.html
Membership organization of blind secretaries and transcribers at all levels, including medical and paralegal transcription, office workers, customer service personnel, and many other similar fields. Addresses issues such as technology, accommodation, career planning, and job training.

National Association of Blind Piano Tuners
President: Don Mitchell
218 St. Louis Way
Vancouver, Washington 98664-1257
Home: (360) 696-1985
Work: (360) 693-1511
E-mail: donmi@pacifier.com
Membership organization of blind persons working as professional piano technicians and those interested in pursuing this career. Works with training schools for piano tuning and addresses issues related to the advancement of new technology regarding electronic pianos and keyboard equipment.

National Association of Blind Rehabilitation Professionals
President: Carlos Serván
3800 C Street
Lincoln, Nebraska 68510
Home: (402) 327-0414
Work: (402) 471-8104
E-mail: cservan@inebraska.com

National Association of Blind Students
President: Ryan Strunk
647 West 17th Street
Fremont, Nebraska 68025
Home: (402) 730-4092
E-mail: r_strunk@hotmail.com
Web site: http://www.nfbstudents.org/
For over thirty years this national organization of blind students has provided support, information, and encouragement to blind college and university students. Leads the way in offering resources in issues such as national testing, accessible textbooks and materials, overcoming negative attitudes about blindness from school personnel, developing new techniques of accomplishing laboratory or field assignments, and many other college experiences. Offers strong advocacy and motivational support.

National Association of Guide Dog Users
President: Priscilla Ferris
55 Delaware Avenue
Somerset, Massachusetts 02726-3714
Phone: (508) 673-0218
NFB of MA: (508) 679-8543
E-mail: nfbmass@earthlink.net
Web site: http://www.nfb-nagdu.org/
Provides information and support for guide dog users and works to secure high standards in guide dog training. Addresses issues of discrimination of guide dog users and offers public education about guide dog use. Nationwide networking. Publishes magazine for guide dog users.

National Association to Promote the Use of Braille
President: Nadine Jacobson
5805 Kellogg Avenue
Edina, Minnesota 55424-1819
Home: (952) 927-7694
E-mail: nadine.jacobson@visi.com
Membership organization of blind persons working in various professions with a common interest in promoting the use of Braille.

National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science
President: Curtis Chong
3000 Grand Avenue, Apartment 810
Des Moines, Iowa 50312-4238
Home: (515) 277-1288
Work: (515) 281-1361
E-mail: curtischong@earthlink.net
National organization of blind persons knowledgeable in the computer science and technology fields. Works to develop new technologies, to secure access to current technology, and to develop new ways of using current or new technologies by the blind.

National Organization of Blind Educators
President: Sheila Koenig
2214 Emerson Avenue South, Apartment 4
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55405
Home: (612) 977-9110
E-mail: shekoenig@msn.com
Membership organization of blind teachers, professors, and instructors in all levels of education. Provides support and information regarding professional responsibilities, classroom techniques, national testing methods, and career obstacles. Publishes the Blind Educator, a national magazine specifically for blind educators.

National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
President: Barbara Cheadle
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998
Work: (410) 659-9314, Extension 2360
E-mail: Bcheadle@nfb.org
Web site: www.nfb.org/nopbc
Support, information, and advocacy organization of parents of blind or visually impaired children. Addresses issues ranging from help to parents of a newborn blind infant, to mobility and Braille instruction, education, social and community participation, development of self-confidence, and other vital factors involved in the growth of a blind child. Strong national network of contacts with other parents offers encouragement and positive philosophical support. Publishes Future Reflections, the leading national magazine for parents and teachers of blind children. The NOPBC also has a listserver for parents of blind children called blindkid.

National Organization of the Senior Blind
President: Judy Sanders
111 Marquette Avenue South, Apartment 503
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55401-2027
Home: (612) 375-1625
E-mail: jsanders4@mn.rr.com
Membership organization of elderly blind persons providing support and information to other blind seniors. Issues include concerns such as remaining active in community and social life, maintaining private homes or living in retirement communities or nursing homes, learning the techniques used by the blind, independently caring for oneself, and maintaining a positive approach to vision loss.

Performing Arts Division of the National Federation of the Blind
President: Dennis Holston
111 East 128th Street, Apartment 2T
New York, New York 10035
Home: (212) 933-0688
E-mail: dholston@nyc.rr.com
Web site: http://www.padnfb.starcitynet.com/
An organization of blind persons working in film, television, theater, and other performing arts areas. Addresses issues and concerns related to these fields, provides support and networking, and works to increase opportunities for the blind in these careers. Want to learn more? Join our listserve at <http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/perform-talk>.

Public Employees Division
President: Ivan Weich
4792 Parkhurst Lane Northeast, #230
Bremerton, Washington 98310-3009
Home: (360) 782-9575
E-mail: IEWeich@comcast.net
Organization of blind persons holding local, state, or federal jobs. Focuses on issues such as changes in governmental hiring and retention practices, new job skills needed for the future, government employment downsizing, new electronic means of finding public sector jobs, self-advocacy, and career planning strategies.

Science and Engineering Division
President: John Miller
10955 Deering Street
San Diego, California 92126
Home: (858) 527-1727
E-mail: jmiller@ccpu.com
Blind persons with expertise and experience in fields such as genetics, telecommunications, biology, chemistry, physics and nuclear physics, or mechanical, electronic, and chemical engineering. This is a strong support group to encourage blind persons in pursuit of these careers, many of which have been considered not possible for the blind in the past.

Sports and Recreation Division
President: Lisamaria Martinez
900 143rd Avenue, Apartment 186
San Leandro, California 94578
Phone: (510) 289-2577
E-mail: lmartinez217@gmail.com

Travel and Tourism Division
President: Douglas M. Johnson
Post Office Box 534
Manchester, Washington 98353
Home: (360) 871-3731
E-mail: dougmj1@wavecable.com

Writers Division
President: Tom Stevens
1203 South Fairview Road
Columbia, Missouri 65203-0809
Home: (573) 445-6091
E-mail: cthls@earthlink.net
Blind writers in all styles, including poetry, short story, fiction, nonfiction, magazine writing, and theatrical work, offer encouragement and support to blind writers and authors. Issues cover various aspects of this business, including selling your work, publishing, technology, motivation, and discovering writing and publishing resources
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