Future Reflections

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

Volume 27 Number 1                 Winter/Spring 2008

Barbara Cheadle, Editor

ISSN-0883-3419

Copyright © 2008 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

Volume 27 Number 1                 Winter/Spring 2008

 

CONVENTION
2008 Convention Bulletin

Remember the Past, IMAGINE the Future
by Barbara Cheadle

2008 Seminar Registration

Sponsorship Opportunity for the NOPBC 25th Anniversary Celebration

My First NFB Convention Experience
by Kathi Cassi and Maria Alvarez

2008 NFB Camp: It’s More Than Child’s Play
by Carla McQuillan

FEATURE
Equal Expectations: A Belief Paradigm or a Politically Correct, Feel-Good Phrase?
by Dr. Eric Vasiliauskas

PARENT POWER
Letting Go
by Maury Weedman

TECH-TALK
The Typing Tutor

LAWS AND LEGISLATION
Progress and Stalemates: The Complexities of Creating a Textbooks-on-Time System for Blind Students
by Pat Renfranz, Sandy Taboada, and Jill Weatherd

EARLY YEARS
Devastated
by Amber Bobnar

OUR KIDS
Blind Inc.: My Life-Changing Experience
by Sarah Leon

Take That Summer Vacation Travel Tips from Moms of Children with Multiple Disabilities
by Jeanette Buttler and Martha Hack

EDUCATION
Encourage Hands-on Learning
by Mary Jo Thorpe

Extended School Year: What Does It Mean? Could It Be An Option For Your Child?
by Marcia Kelly

It Takes a Village—Iowa School Staff Help Turn Discards into Braille Teaching Tool
by Art Stuchis

ODDS AND ENDS

 

Join the NOPBC
Subscribe to Future Reflections

For thousands of parents and friends of blind children, PARENT POWER means membership in the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. The NOPBC is a national membership organization that provides vital support, encouragement, training, and information about blindness to members and to the broader community. As an affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind, the NOPBC is a bridge that connects families to blind role models and mentors. NOPBC is also a vehicle for expanding resources for parents, changing public attitudes about blindness, and creating greater opportunities for blind and visually impaired kids everywhere. Your NOPBC membership matters. NOPBC is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.

NOPBC Membership Application * Subscription to Future Reflections

Membership in the NOPBC includes membership-at-large in the NFB. Future Reflections is FREE and there is no requirement that you join the NOPBC to receive the magazine. If you wish to join the NOPBC and/or take advantage of the free subscription, please use the form below. (Please print)

Name(s) ______________________________________________ Date _______________
(Please include the first and last names of both parents if appropriate)

[ ] Parent(s)/caregiver [ ] Teacher [ ] Other

Address _____________________________________________________________________
City _______________________ State ___________ Zip_________ *Country ____________
E-mail ________________________________ Phone ____________________________
(Please designate if this is a home, cell, or work phone)

If you are parents, please include the following information for each blind/VI child in the family:

Name (first and last) of blind/VI child ______________________________________________

Birth date _________________ Sex: M [ ] F [ ]

Dues/donation. Enclosed is a check or money order made payable to the NOPBC:

[ ] $8 [ ] $15 [ ] $25 [ ] $50 [ ] Other $_________
NOTE: One dollar per adult is counted as dues, the balance is a charitable donation.

I wish to receive Future Reflections in (check all that apply) [ ] Regular print [ ] Tape [ ] E-mail

This is a: [ ] New subscription [ ] Change or correction:
Please print old or duplicate name and/or address as it appears on your magazine label:
____________________________________________________________________

[ ] I do not wish to join the NOPBC. Please send me a free subscription to Future Reflections.

Mail to NOPBC, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230 U.S.A.

*International Subscribers: There is no shipping and handling fee for residents of the USA, USA territories, Canada, and Mexico. Residents of all other countries are asked to pay a fee in USA currency of $20 for a one-year subscription and $55 for a three-year subscription. Send checks or money orders made payable to the National Federation of the Blind. Enclosed: $______ shipping and handling for a (check one) [ ] One-year subscription [ ] Three-year subscription

 

Dallas Site of 2008 Convention

The 2008 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place in Dallas, Texas, June 29-July 5, at the Hilton Anatole Hotel at 2201 Stemmons Freeway, Dallas, Texas 75207. Make your room reservation as soon as possible with the Hilton Anatole staff only. Call (214) 761-7500.

The 2008 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, 2008. 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, 2008, 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 soon. Guestroom amenities include cable television, coffee pot, iron and ironing board, hair dryer, and for a charge high-speed Internet access. The Hilton Anatole has six excellent restaurants, twenty-four-hour-a-day room service, first-rate meeting space, and other top-notch facilities. It is in downtown Dallas with shuttle service to both the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport and Love Field.

The schedule for the 2008 convention will depart from what many think of as our usual schedule: Sunday, June 29 Seminar Day Monday, June 30 Registration Day Tuesday, July 1 Board Meeting and Division Day Wednesday, July 2 March for Independence and Opening Session Thursday, July 3 Tour Day Friday, July 4 Banquet Day Saturday, July 5 Business Session

2008 National Convention
Preregistration Form

Please register online at <www.nfb.org> or print legibly on this form or provide all the requested information and mail to the address below.

Registrant Name _______________________________________________________________
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, 2008.

 

Remember the Past, IMAGINE the Future
The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC)
Celebrates 25 Years: 1983 – 2008

by Barbara Cheadle, President, NOPBC

How does one imagine the unimaginable?

Do you ever look at a new gadget or piece of technology and wonder how anyone came up with this idea? Do you ever read about some social practice from ancient primitive societies--such as abandoning newborn twins because (so it was believed) they are inhabited by evil spirits--and wonder how people could have ever thought this way? It is hard to imagine something new, either a physical thing, or different ways of thinking about people or the world around us.

There was a time when it made all the sense in the world to believe that the Earth was flat, and that evil spirits caused physical and mental illnesses. To suggest otherwise would invite being thought a fool, or worse, mad. Yet, astonishingly, history clearly demonstrates that the human race has a unique capacity to do this very thing: imagine the unimaginable.

Some of the greatest turning points in history were rooted in those moments when individuals or even small groups of people glimpsed a vision of something new, something different, something currently beyond their grasp. The unimaginable becomes a reality when an individual or groups of people pursue that vision and make it come true; consider Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement; Mohandas Gandhi and the non-violent movement to free India; Raymond Kurzweil and the invention of a reading machine for the blind; and Dr. Jacobus tenBroek who, with sixteen other blind men and women from seven states, founded the National Federation of the Blind.

I do not believe I exaggerate when I state that a turning point in the history of the blind was made twenty-five years ago on July 2, 1983, in Kansas City, Missouri, when parents of blind children made common cause with the organized blind and brought into being what would ultimately be known as the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, a division of the National Federation of the Blind--the NOPBC.

From the beginning, the goals were bold and imaginative; the structure and premise new, fresh, and unique. Never before (so far as I know) had a national parents organization of children with blindness (or any other disability, for that matter) chosen to be guided and mentored by an adult organization of the same disability. Our affiliation was not to be a matter of lifeless words on paper, but a living, breathing, growing, and changing relationship--parents and their blind children interacting and partnering with blind adults.

On that day, we made the commitment to imagine together with the members of the National Federation of the Blind, a society where our children would be accepted as normal--with all the rights and the responsibilities that this implies--and given the same opportunities as all other children to achieve their potential and pursue their dreams.

As individual families and as an organization, we hitched our wagon to the star of the National Federation of the Blind, and that decision has made all the difference in the lives of thousands of blind children—some of whom are now young adults. And now, after twenty-five years, it is time to pause, take stock, reflect, take inspiration from our past successes, and consider what it is that we might imagine for the future.

At the 2008 NFB convention in Dallas, Texas, the NOPBC invites you--and all families and teachers of blind and visually impaired children--to celebrate with us our twenty-fifth anniversary as we “Remember the Past, IMAGINE the future.”

The day of celebration will begin in usual style on Sunday, June 29, with workshops, seminars, and activities for every member of the family--blind kids and sighted siblings, too. Following a day full of active learning is an evening of relaxation; an informal buffet dinner with our families (kids included) and friends in the NFB; and an upbeat, inspirational, yet fast-paced program highlighting twenty-five years of accomplishments.

And don’t overlook your opportunity to be a sponsor! You can honor your special child or student, express your congratulations, or send a brief message about what NOPBC has meant to you for inclusion in the commemorative program. The sponsorship form with details is on page xx in this issue.

See the convention bulletin at the beginning of this issue for details about how to make room reservations at the convention hotel and how to register for the NFB convention (which is a separate fee from the NOPBC registration and a requirement in order to get convention rates). Of course, as in past years, the workshops and other activities on Sunday, June 29, are only the beginning of many NOPBC-sponsored activities scheduled throughout the NFB convention. Following is a schedule of events followed by an NOPBC preregistration form:


NOPBC Schedule of Events
2008 NFB Convention * Dallas, Texas


Day 1: Sunday, June 29

Childcare: The NFB offers childcare (NFB Camp) all day (except during lunchtime) on Sunday, June 29, and during other convention sessions throughout the week. Complete information, including fee schedule, age requirements, times available, and so forth, is available on page xx in this issue. Please note that preregistration for NFB Camp is required. NOPBC Fees including dinner tickets to the Sunday night, June 29, anniversary buffet: $25 per adult, $15 per youth, ages 12 and up, and $7 per child, ages 6-11. Children ages 5 and under, no charge. Tickets for the buffet dinner may not be available at registration, so PLEASE preregister. Preregistrations are due June 20, 2008.

NOPBC Fees, no dinner tickets: $20 per adult, no charge for children and youth accompanied by family members. Teens accompanied by chaperones, $15 per teen.

The fee helps cover the cost of workshop materials, the packets and handouts from all NOPBC sessions, AV equipment for our speakers, the cost of our Teen Hospitality Room, and other expenses incurred by the NOPBC at the convention.

8:00 – 9:00 a.m. Registration. Those who preregistered should pick up name badges, packets, and dinner tickets at this time.

8:30 a.m. NFB Camp opens

9:00 – 10:30 a.m. Remember the Past, IMAGINE the Future (general session beginning with NFB President Maurer’s famous Kid Talk session)

10:30 – NOON Breakout sessions. Seven concurrent 90-minute sessions for adults.

Children, ages 10 and up, accompanied by a parent or adult are invited to participate in these sessions, too:
1. Getting Serious about Music Education: A hands-on look at the Braille music code and music software for the blind student. Instructor, Jennifer Dunnam.
2. Getting Serious about Math: A hands-on introduction to the abacus. Instructor, Annee Hartzel.
3. Touch, Sound, Movement, and Little White Canes for the Early Years (birth-5). Instructor, Denise Mackenstadt.
4. Games—Think Outside the Box: Learn how to adapt board games, and which games are blind-friendly right off the shelf. Instructor, Merry-Noel Chamberlain.
5. Blind and Multiply Disabled—Life after 21: Resources and tips to help parents maximize their multiply impaired children’s opportunities for an independent, productive life after they exit the educational system. Instructor, Barbara Schultz.
6. Low Vision: Low Expectations? How you can help your low-vision kid learn to use nonvisual techniques and develop positive attitudes to overcome subtle and not-so-subtle messages of low expectations. Instructor, to be announced.
7. What Do You Do When You Meet 2,000 Blind People? Is this your first convention and do you feel a little overwhelmed by all those canes and guide dogs? This session conducted by blind member Angela Howard will give you a chance to ask those “dumb” questions so you can relax, learn, and enjoy.

10:30 – NOON Teen Track 2008 (co-sponsored by the NFB Jernigan Institute): “Tonight on David Letterman—Educating the Public about Blindness.” Blind and sighted youth get a chance to go onto a “mock” David Letterman show and explain to the audience what it is like to be blind, or to have a blind family member. Coordinator, Mary Jo Thorpe.

NOON – 1:45 p.m. Lunch (on your own)

2:00 – 4:15 p.m. Sessions for children and teens according to age/grade levels. The children in grades K – 8 will have fun with the seminar theme, “Remember the Past, IMAGINE the Future,” as they learn more about themselves, blindness, and the skills of blindness through games, art, making Braille books, and other activities. Denver artist, Ann Cunningham, in collaboration with the children session coordinators, will be lending her talents to produce exciting, interactive projects and activities.

— Children, grades K – 2. Coordinator, Melissa Riccabono
— Children, grades 3 – 5. Coordinator, Ronza Othman
— Youth, grades 6 – 8. Coordinator, Gail Wagner
Teen Track 2008 (co-sponsored by the NFB Jernigan Institute): Training for the NFB American Gladiator. Recreational activities in partnership with the NFB Sports and Recreation Division. Coordinator, Mary Jo Thorpe.

2:00 – 4:15 p.m. Concurrent workshops for parents. Two sessions: 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. and 3:15 – 4:15 p.m.

Session One: 2:00 – 3:00 p.m.
1. Early Years: Can I Be Your Friend? The development of social skills begins in the cradle. Instructor, Heather Field.
2. Elementary Years: Technology and Blindness Skills. Like the chicken or the egg question, we have to ask ourselves which comes first? Kristin Sims, Instructor.
3. Teen Years: From the Mall to College Campus. Preparing teens to travel in all settings. Instructor to be announced.
4. Special Topics: Raising the Mobility Bar for Multiply Disabled Students. Instructor, Denise Mackenstadt.

Session Two: 3:15 – 4:15 p.m.
1. Early Years: Listen—Your Little One is Trying to Tell You Something. Parents have a lot to do with their children’s development of language and communication. Instructor, Heather Field.
2. Elementary Years: Mobility: Making it Work in the Public School Setting. Instructor, Denise Mackenstadt.
3. Teen Years: Fun, Friends, Fashions, and Fitting In. Instructor to be announced.
4. Special Topics: The Challenges of Home Schooling. Instructor Brunhilde Merk-Adam.

6:00 – 7:00 p.m. Family buffet, casual dress, bring the kids. (See NOPBC registration information on page xx for cost. Please note that tickets must be purchased in advance.)

7:00 – 8:00 p.m. NOPBC Celebrates 25 Years. Program with surprise awards, inspirational addresses, and highlights of NOPBC accomplishments (No fees, attendance at dinner not required).

8:00 – 10:00 p.m. Family Hospitality

8:00 – 9:30 p.m. Teen Talks: As in previous years, experienced, sensitive blind leaders are asked to conduct these two talk sessions on the all-important teen topics of dating, relationships with parents, social interactions with peers, and so forth. Moderators are experienced blind adults with extensive experience with children and youth. Parents are not invited. The session for boys will be led by Dan Wenzel and the girls by Christine Boone. For boys and girls ages 14 and up.

Day 2: Monday, June 30

8:00 – 10:30 p.m. Cane Walk: Session I: The Cane Walk is for blind kids, their family members, and/or teachers. It is sponsored by the NOBPC in partnership with the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University and the Louisiana Center for the Blind.

10:00 – 12:30 p.m. Cane Walk: Session II (repeat session)

10:30 – 11:30 a.m. Teen Track 2008: Orientation to the Convention for Teens, Teen Hospitality Room. Contact Brigid Doherty at the hotel for the hotel suite/location.

2:00 – 4:00 p.m. Demystifying Chemistry with Dr. Andrew Greenberg (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Cary Supalo (Pennsylvania State University): Come join us as we explore the wonders of the chemical sciences. Using state of the art tools and techniques designed specifically for laboratory independence of blind and visually impaired students, you will run a series of fun and exciting chemical reactions. These safe and hands-on chemistry activities will highlight such topics as acids and bases, solution concentration, and nanotechnology. Included in the presentation will be an introduction from blind chemist Cary Supalo, a doctoral candidate at the Pennsylvania State University. Participants will be broken up into groups according to elementary, middle school, and high school levels, as well as a section for parents. Preregistration is required for participation. See NOPBC registration.

1:00 – 4:30 p.m. Teen Hospitality Room. Games, music, and socializing for all teens. Drop in anytime. Contact Brigid Doherty at the hotel for the hotel suite location.

7:00 – 9:00 p.m. Dad’s Night Out: This is an opportunity for fathers to talk about their kids in an informal, social atmosphere. Blind dads of sighted kids are also welcome to join the group.

Day 3: Tuesday, July 1

7:30 – 9:30 a.m. NOPBC Board Meeting

11:30 – 12:30 p.m. Teen Track 2008: Teen Meet and Greet with Division Reps: Come learn about the various divisions of the NFB.

12:45 – 4:15 p.m. Teen Hospitality Room.

1:00 – 3:30 p.m. NOPBC Annual Meeting and Program: Keynote address by 2008 NFB Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award Winner and a program with continued highlights from the 25th Anniversary celebration. A brief business meeting with elections of officers and board members to follow.

4:00 – 5:30 p.m. Parent Power Workshop: Moderator Barbara Mathews. An NOPBC workshop about expanding and strengthening state and local parent groups, fundraising, developing programs, and recruiting members.

5:30 – 7:00 p.m. Braille Book Flea Market and Reunion for Braille Readers Are Leaders 7:00 p.m. Books on Time: Mobilizing the Troops for Action Despite considerable efforts over the past ten years, blind children still begin the first day of school without their books. Now is the time to educate and mobilize a force of advocates at the grass roots who will help us overcome this injustice. The session will cover how the law is supposed to work, how to assist families in navigating the complaint process, how to create change at the local level, and how to assist the NFB national office in tracking the problems with timely, accessible textbooks. More specific details will be available in the coming months about the specific time, location, and agenda for this important training seminar. Sponsored by the NFB Jernigan Institute in collaboration with NOPBC.

Day 4: Wednesday, July 2

7:00 – 9:00 a.m. NOPBC board meeting

Lunch break Teen Hospitality Room.

7:00 – 10:00 p.m. Teen Track 2008: Teen Dance: Want to go to a dance with your kind of music? Come get your groove on with other teens at the NFB Youth Track Dance. Teens 14-18 are invited. Music will include: Top 40, Hip Hop, R&B, and even country! There will also be games and time to chat.

6:30 – 10:00 p.m. Concurrent workshops for parents. Two sessions: 6:30-8:00 p.m. and 8:30-10:00 p.m.

Session One: 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.
1. All About Your Child’s IEP: Annee Hartzel, teacher of the visually impaired, and Denise Colton, parent of a blind child. Hartzel also served on a committee that developed state educational standards for Braille students in California. Hartzel will review the basic principles of how to write an IEP, provide tips on being an effective advocate in the IEP meeting, and so forth.
2. Drop-in Play and Learn with Heather Field: Parents of infants and toddlers (ages 0-5) are invited to bring their kids to this hands-on interactive session with Heather Field. Heather will answer questions and demonstrate toys and activities to encourage development and age appropriate behaviors.
3. Letting Your Child’s Wild Side Out: Join us as we explore how young blind children can enjoy fun, age-appropriate activities like surfing, skiing, snowboarding, gymnastics, Frisbee, rollerblading, and much more. Both presenters will use PowerPoint presentations with pictures and video of their blind children engaging in all of the above activities. Warning: While supervised children of all ages are encouraged to attend, be prepared for the consequences: they may very well ask you when they can try these activities too! Led by Dr. Eric Vasiliauskas and Grace Tiscareno-Sato.

Session Two: 8:30 – 10:00 p.m.
1. All About Your Child’s IEP: (repeat session) 2. Good Educational Programs Are Built on Good Evaluations: this session will help parents and teachers learn to identify the elements of good assessments. The workshop will identify sources of assessments, how to develop and evaluate teacher-made assessments, and strategies for identifying sources of independent evaluations. A panel of instructors to include Dr. Ruby Ryles, Carol Castellano, and others.
8:30 – 10:15 p.m. Hobbies, Crafts, and Games: Supervised arts and crafts activities for children ages 6-12. You want to go to an NOPBC workshop, but you have kids who are almost too old for a babysitter but maybe not old enough to stay by themselves, so what do you do? Bring them here for an evening of hobbies and crafts! NOTE: This is a program for the children of parents who are attending NFB workshops within the hotel. It is not a childcare service. Parents are welcome to come with their child and do an activity together. Coordinated by Heather Fields.

Day 5: Thursday, July 3

Time TBA Scout Open House: come learn about scouting from representatives with Boy Scouts of America and blind Federation scouts. More information forthcoming.

1:00 – 3:00 p.m. NFB Jernigan Institute Open House: Come to talk to Barbara Cheadle about the development of the Parent Outreach department of the Jernigan Institute and learn about other Institute programs.

1:45 – 6:15 p.m. Teen Hospitality Room.

8:00 – 10:30 p.m. Astronomy and the Invisible Sky: Come participate in hands-on activities to see what a night under the stars is all about. Weather permitting, we will also have an outside star party. Led by Noreen Grice of You Can Do Astronomy LLC and the Museum of Science, Boston. Kids of all ages, including blind adults and friends in the Federation, are welcome to attend. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

Day 6: Friday, July 4

Lunch break Teen Hospitality Room.

NFB Banquet Along with other NFB Divisions, NOPBC will announce the much sought after 50/50 raffle drawing

Day 7: Friday, July 5

NFB General Session *During the session, NOPBC will announce contributions to the White Cane Fund, tenBroek Fund, Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Fund, and Imagination Fund.

NOPBC Board Officers

Barbara Cheadle, President. Married: John Cheadle; three children: John Earl, age 31, Charles (Chaz) (blind), age 30, Anna, age 26. Baltimore, Maryland.

Carol Castellano, 1st Vice President. Married: Bill Cucco; two children: Serena (blind), age 24, John, age 21. Madison, New Jersey.

Brad Weatherd, 2nd Vice President. Married: Jill Weatherd; two children: Hannah (blind), age 15, Levi, age 13. Saratoga, Wyoming.

Carrie Gilmer, Secretary. Married: Phillip Richardson; four children: Joe, age 25, Kate, age 22, Jordan, age 17, Maya, age 10. Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Sandy Taboada, Treasurer (Dr. Sandra Merchant). Married: Joe Taboada; two children: Michael (blind), age 15, Robert, age 13. Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

2008 Seminar Registration

Mail to: Sandy Taboada, NOPBC Registration 6960 South Fieldgate Court Baton Rouge, LA 70808-5455

NOPBC Conference Fees

NOPBC Fees, including dinner tickets to the Sunday night, June 29, anniversary buffet: $25 per adult, $15 per youth (ages 12 and up), and $7 per child (ages 6-11), ages 5 and under, free. Tickets for the buffet dinner may not be available at registration, so PLEASE register early.

NOPBC Fees, no dinner tickets: $20 per adult, no charge for children and youth accompanied by family members. Teens accompanied by chaperones, $15 per teen.

Fee enclosed (make checks payable to NOPBC) $________________

Make checks or money orders payable to NOPBC.

You can either register for specific workshops online at <www.nfb.org/nopb>, or request a hardcopy registration form.
Please check your choice: [ ] online [ ] send hardcopy

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 teens [] other
2. ____________________________________________________________________________
[] parent [] relative [] professional [] blind parent [] chaperone for teens [] 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. ______________________________ ________ ____ _________________

 

 

My First NFB Convention Experience

by Kathi Cassi and Maria Alvarez

Editor’s Note: Kathi Cassi is the Ohio mother of a young man who became blind as a teenager, and Idaho resident, Maria Alverez, is the mom of a blind toddler. Kathi and her son Luke attended their first NFB national convention in Dallas, Texas, in 2006; it was also Maria’s first NFB convention. Here is what these mothers have to say about their experiences as reprinted from their respective state NFB newsletters:

My First Convention

by Kathi Cassi

Reprinted from the Fall 2006 issue of the Buckeye Bulletin, the newsletter of the NFB of Ohio.

My name is Kathi Cassi, but I would much rather be identified as Adam and Luke’s mom. We were content living a small-town life. Like all families we had our problems, but they were nothing we couldn’t deal with. Then my son Luke, who is now nineteen, began to lose his vision soon after high school. While in high school he excelled in sports and socializing. His biggest worry until then was that he and his friends, (many of whom he had had since kindergarten) were all about to go separate ways.

The doctors determined that his vision loss was caused by a disease our family had never even heard of called Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy. The fact that it is a mitochondrial disease that is passed from the mother added another dimension to the horrific pain, shock, and sadness that I was feeling upon learning my son was losing his sight. I felt extremely guilty. I also began to worry about my other son, Adam. Would this terrible disease strike him? I went into a mother’s mourning having lost such a precious part of my child.

As I rose from my despair, I was ready to fight. I found Barbara Pierce, and she encouraged us to attend the national convention in Dallas. She also encouraged Luke to consider going to the Louisiana Center for the Blind for adjustment-to-blindness training. With much hesitation, not knowing what to expect, Luke and I went to the NFB convention in Dallas. We hooked up with other Federationists in Cleveland, and the welcome, fellowship, unity, and friendship never stopped. We have both made life-long friends.

When we arrived in Dallas, Luke and I met his roommate for the week. I told this gentleman that he did not have to worry about babysitting Luke because he is very independent. Eric Duffy assured me that he would not babysit even if I wanted him to. After a while I almost wished I had persuaded him to make that babysitting commitment.

Luke may not always have gotten A’s in academic subjects in high school, but he always got A’s in “plays well with others.” Most of the time I could not keep up with him. I found myself knocking on the door or calling the room asking Eric if he knew where Luke was. After a while, when Eric heard my voice, he automatically said, “No! I don’t know where he is, and I don’t want to know where he is.”

Here are a few things I learned from the convention:

1. I learned that blindness doesn’t rob a person of his gifts. Luke can still make friends as easily as he ever did.
2. I learned that I have taken life and vision way too seriously.
3. I learned that you don’t need pictures or souvenirs to carry home; the memories are in your heart.
4. I learned that the most important things in life cannot be seen: God, love, self-confidence, success, and joy.
5. I learned that our days are measured. Whether we enjoy life and what we do with our time is our choice and in our power.
6. I learned that my son is going to be okay. He has tapped resources that he never knew he had. His mind, heart, and soul are intact. He is strong and kind and fun to be around. He holds his head high and carries and presents himself with confidence.
7. The image of a hero you’ve spent a lifetime constructing can change in a week or in the blink of an eye.
8. Stupidity, meanness, and lack of compassion are more blinding than the loss of eyesight.

Thank you, National Federation of the Blind of Ohio; you taught me how to see. Luke is now attending the Louisiana Center for the Blind and reports that things are a little tough but certainly doable. I miss him terribly, yet I have great confidence that he is where he should be. This belief is reinforced each time he calls with his friends near by, eager for him to get off the phone.

My Experience at the NFB Convention

by Maria Alvarez

Reprinted from the Fall 2006 issue of the Gem State Milestones, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho.

The NFB convention in Dallas, Texas, was my first experience with the NFB. My name is Maria Alvarez and I have a son, Diamond, who is two years old and is blind. Being able to help him succeed in every aspect of life is my goal; I think any mother will go to extremes to help her children. The NFB convention was so inspirational to me. I met other parents, teachers, orientation and mobility instructors, blind lawyers, blind scientists, blind leaders, and many, many new friends. It allowed me to see about three-thousand blind individuals making their way through airports, hotels, restaurants, and more. I also had the opportunity to attend the parents’ division meetings and workshops and meet other parents with the same concerns that I had. Some of them had already gone through a lot of the same experiences as I had, and were so helpful in giving advice. I was understood in a different way by individuals who have overcome the same doubts and concerns I experienced. It was a comforting moment. I realized that I was not alone, and it empowered me to pass this on to others in my home state of Idaho. I am now committed to initiating a parents division for the NFB here in Idaho.

Some of the most inspiring moments at the NFB convention for me were witnessing the young (blind) students doing presentations. Wow! These young kids helped me to see what my son, Diamond, can become. They were so well-rounded, well-spoken, and not at all shy. When I think about it, it brings a knot to my throat and tears to my eyes. Before I attended the convention, I now see that I did have different expectations for Diamond because of his blindness. The convention helped me see that Diamond can be who he wants, and do what he wants; blindness does not need to define him, he will define himself. It was such an emotional experience and it is hard to express on paper. I wish every parent could go to the NFB National Convention and experience the power and empathy that flows throughout.

I want to thank Elsie Lamp for taking the time to talk to me at the Sensory Safari exhibition held at the Shilo Inn in Idaho Falls. I noticed there were NFB pamphlets, and I asked Elsie to explain to me what the NFB did. I had always thought it was only for adults. If it had not been for Elsie taking the time to talk to me, and then contacting Paula Achter, NFB President of Idaho, I would not have had the opportunity to attend the convention, and I am so grateful.

 

Sponsorship Opportunities for the NOPBC
25th Anniversary Celebration
1983 - 2008
Help Us Celebrate 25 Years of IMAGINING a better future for blind children

On June 29, 2008, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), a division of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), will celebrate twenty-five years of bringing hope, inspiration, and practical knowledge about blindness into the lives of thousands of blind children and their parents. This celebration will be a part of our annual week-long family training conference. This conference brings together (from all over the country) blind children of all ages, their parents, other family members, and blind role models and mentors from the NFB to instruct and inspire them. Our anniversary conference theme—Remember the Past, IMAGINE the Future—reflects our commitment to always keep looking forward.

After our 2007 conference, Kim from Texas wrote, “As a parent, this was a life-changing experience…I feel an even stronger sense of hope, coupled with determination for my daughter [Kayleigh’s] future.” Another parent, Bonnie, from Georgia, said, “The hardest part of going to the NOPBC presentations was not being able to attend each and every class.” Lety, also from Texas, explained that when she and her husband first adopted their blind daughter, Kayla, they were “lost.” “Finally,” she said, “after seeking organizations to help me—as a parent—to better equip and teach my daughter, my search was finally over…being part of the NOPBC has truly been a life-changing experience.” But kids say it best. Ten-year-old Laura of Pennsylvania summed it up when she said about the experiences the NOPBC provided for her, “I learned it’s okay to be blind.”

Other NOPBC programs include sponsorship of the national Braille Readers Are Leaders contest; a preliteracy Braille program for toddlers and preschoolers; free canes to blind children under the My First Cane program; scholarships for blind children to attend summer enrichment programs; a pen-pal (Slate Pals) program that promotes friendships among blind and sighted students; state and regional workshops for parents; and distribution of Future Reflections, a quarterly journal for parents and teachers of blind children. For more information about the NOPBC, see our Web site at www.nfb.org/nopbc. Back issues of Future Reflections are available at www.nfb.org/nfb/Future_Reflections.asp.

We have accomplished much in our twenty-five years, and we are proud of it. But there is so much more to do. That’s why we are asking you for your support. Your gift of $25, $250, $500, $1,500, $5,000—or any amount—will help provide for a better childhood and a better future for blind kids like Kayleigh and Laura. According to the level of the contribution and/or the date we receive the contribution (see commitment form, next page), sponsors will receive recognition in our commemorative program, our Web home page, and/or in Future Reflections. The NOPBC is a 501(c) (3) not-for-profit organization. All contributions should be made payable to NOPBC and mailed to Barbara Cheadle, President, NOPBC, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230.

Thank you for your support! Together we can do more than IMAGINE a better future for blind children—we can make it happen.

(Mrs.) Barbara Cheadle, President
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children


Sponsorship

Yes! We would like to sponsor the NOPBC 25th Anniversary Celebration!

[ ] Collegiate Level Sponsor $5,000
Corporate: Logo on lead banner in the NFB Imagination Fund 5K March for Independence July 2, 2008; ad space in one issue of Future Reflections Corporate & Family: Full-page ad or message in the commemorative program
[ ] Upper Level Sponsor $1,500
Half-page ad or message in the commemorative program and corporate ad space in one issue of Future Reflections
[ ] Elementary Level Sponsor $500
One-quarter page ad or message in the commemorative program and corporate ad space in one issue of Future Reflections
[ ] Primary Level Sponsor $250
A listing and ad or message of 50 words in the commemorative program
All corporate sponsors receive their name and a link on the NOPBC Web site throughout 2008.


Corporate or Organization Sponsors:

Sponsorship check (payable to NOPBC) enclosed: $________ OR check will follow (date): __________
Contact Name: ______________________________E-mail: ____________________________________
Company/Organization: _____________________________________Phone:______________________
Address, City, State, Zip:________________________________________________________________

Individual Sponsors:

[ ] Friends and Family of NOPBC Are you now, or were you ever, a member of NOPBC? ________
Sponsorship check (payable to NOPBC) enclosed:
[ ] $25 [ ] $50 [ ] $75 [ ] $100 [ ] $150 [ ] $200 [ ]See above [ ]Other ______

Name: _________________________ E-mail: ___________________ Phone:__________________

Address, City, State, Zip:_________________________________________________________

[ ] YES, I contributed $25 or more and would like to send best wishes to NOPBC and/or honor my child/student/parent with a line of 20 words or less in the commemorative program and Future Reflections.

Message*:

 


*Note: For families, we suggest the following format: John, Barb, J.E., Chaz, & Anna Cheadle

Please mail the sponsorship form with check made payable to NOPBC or fax a commitment to:

Barbara Cheadle, President
National Organization of Parents of
Blind Children
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230

Tel. (410) 659-9314, ext. 2360
Fax (410) 659-5129
bcheadle@nfb.org
www.nfb.org/nopbc

 

2008 NFB Camp: It’s More Than Child’s Play

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, 2008, is required for staffing purposes. Space is limited, so get your registration in early.
This year our complete registration packet will be available after February 15 on our Web site in Word format <mainstreetmontessori.org>. Complete the entire packet and send it with payment by US mail before June 15th and save time at convention.

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 the proper philosophy and attitudes about our blind children. Carla and Alison will be supervising camp workers and all related activities.

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. In addition, school-aged children will have the opportunity to sign up for “Four Hours of Fun in the Stockyards.” Space for special events is limited. We are selling NFB Camp T-shirts this year for $10. Pre-order them to make sure we have your size (call or visit our Web site for an order form). 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 banquet for an additional fee, which includes dinner as well as entertainment: the Creature Teacher is going to be bringing six exotic animals for a learning and touching experience. Our animal collection will include an African bull frog, a hairless guinea pig, and a giant black African millipede.

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.

NFB Camp Registration Form

Completed form and fees must be received on or before June 15, 2008

Parent’s Name _________________________________________________________________

Address ____________________________________________________________________

City ________________________ State________________ Zip______
Phone ____________________________ Cell Phone ________________________________

Child(ren)’s Name(s)

________________________________________ Age________ Date of Birth______________ ________________________________________ Age________ Date of Birth______________ ________________________________________ Age________ Date of Birth______________

Include description of any disabilities or 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 ______ $_________

_____Hamburger _____Chicken nuggets

Field Trip: $35 per child No. of children_______ $_________ (includes NFB Camp T-shirt-child size: S M L XL)

Total due $_________

We understand that NFB Camp is being provided as a service 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. (541) 726-6924. <mainstreetmontessori.org>

NFB Camp Schedule NFB Camp will be open during general convention sessions, division and committee meeting day, and the evening of the banquet. The below scheduled hours for NFB Camp are tentative. The actual hours are based upon the beginning and ending of sessions, so that parents may drop off their child(ren) 30 minutes prior to the start of session and must pick up their child(ren) within 30 minutes from the end of session. On occasion, the end or beginning of session may be earlier or later than the agenda indicates. There is a $10 per quarter-hour per child late pick-up fee. NFB Camp provides morning and afternoon snacks. You are responsible to provide lunch for your children every day.

Date                                     NFB Camp Hours

Sunday, June 29 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Monday, June 30 Camp is closed

Tuesday, July 1 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Field trip for elementary students

Wednesday, July 2 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Thursday, July 3 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Friday, July 4 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 5 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. Field Trip: “Four Hours of Fun in the Stockyards”

What does four hours of fun mean? It means a historic walking tour of the famous Fort Worth Stockyards, Cowtown, USA; a front-row seat to a live cattle drive, including one-on-one discussion with the herders; a tour of The Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame that has numerous restored covered wagons from different periods; and an amazing trip through the Cowtown Cattlepen Maze.

This trip leaves on Tuesday, July 1, and includes transportation to and from the hotel, lunch, an NFB Camp T-shirt and the “Four Hours of Fun.” Tour departs at 8:45 and returns at 3:00. Space is limited. We will fill spaces in the order received. Note: registration must be accompanied with payment for consideration, and priority will be given to children enrolled in NFB Camp. Children who are not enrolled for the entire week of NFB Camp are welcome for a fee of $40. Sorry, this trip is only for children 5-10 years of age.

 

Equal Expectations: A Belief Paradigm or
a Politically Correct, Feel-Good Phrase?

by Eric Vasiliauskas, M.D. (“Dr. V”)
Keynote Address, March 2, 2007
California Teachers and Educators of the Visually Handicapped (CTEVH)

It is a pleasure to have the privilege to address you today, especially since CTEVH has had such a profound impact on our family, through what we have learned by attending the annual conferences and through the individuals we have met and interacted with over the years.

Our blindness journey began a little over ten years ago with the birth of our eldest son Vejas. Petras joined our family four years later. As our boys have grown, we have grown with them. In fact, I must admit that, despite all my schooling and training, this has been the most educationally intense and the most educationally rich decade of my life.

While I had heard educators in the blindness field and parents of blind children warn of the dangers of being overprotective, it wasn’t until our first CTEVH conference nine years ago, that I heard the term “equal expectations” for the first time. Dan Kish’s family was presenting a workshop and his father honed in on the concept of equal expectations. He emphasized that we must demand higher expectations of our blind youth, and that our kids need the skills to make it in the real world where they will not be given a break just because they have a visual impairment. They will not be given twice as much time as their co-workers to complete their projects. Once your child graduates, it’s survival of the fittest.

“Equal Expectations.” I must admit that, as a father, the first time I heard this catchy phrase my ears perked up and I thought “How refreshing! Now this is a philosophy I can identify with and aspire to.” During today’s presentation I will start out by sharing with you how our family has chosen to address the challenges associated with raising blind children and preparing them for life. I intend to be provocative and to challenge each and every one of you to honestly assess whether you indeed have equal expectations of blind children. While some of what I share with you and propose to you will undoubtedly be controversial, I sincerely ask each of you to listen to what I have to say with an open mind.

To start I would like to share some photos of our boys, and in doing so give you a better sense of where we are coming from philosophically and to our approach to raising our children. As you will quickly gather, it would be hard to call us overprotective. Vejas is now ten years old. He is fully mainstreamed and attends fourth grade at our local elementary school. In this slide we see Vejas on a field trip with his class onboard a sailing ship called the American Pride. Vejas helped hoist the massive sails, swab the ship’s tall-reaching masts, and he even had the opportunity to steer the ship for a stretch.

This is a picture of Vejas’s third grade classroom, which was intentionally configured to encourage maximum independence. On the right we see Vejas writing on his BrailleNote, which is positioned in front of his Perkins Brailler [not shown]. He places his reading materials on the clear plastic stand that sits over the Perkins. Once he completes his classroom assignment, all he has to do is pick up his BrailleNote, turn around, and take a few steps to the counter in the back of the classroom, and he then either prints or embosses his work (wirelessly, via infrared ports) and turns the assignment in on the spot with the rest of his sighted classmates. The classroom teacher has instant print and doesn’t have to wait for days or longer for someone to ink print his work. This also allows for more real-time feedback and avoids transcription errors that, even in the best hands, are bound to occur during the ink printing process from time to time. In second grade Vejas relied on his classroom aide to help with the cables. On the recommendation of the technology specialists from the California School for the Blind (<www.csb-cde.ca.gov/Documents/technology.htm>) who came down to assess Vejas in his classroom through the outreach program, we abandoned the cables by taking advantage of this simple wireless infrared technology. As a result, since third grade, Vejas has been able to independently do these tasks.

Petras just turned six a few days ago. He is fully mainstreamed in our local elementary school’s pre-kindergarten program.

Whether at home or on the road, both boys are expected to help out with chores and tasks. When we travel, Vejas and Petras both help haul the luggage. After all, it’s “Too much for Dad to do all by himself,” isn’t it? The boys help scoop out pumpkins and carve jack-o-lanterns every Halloween. From time to time they help prepare meals, desserts, or snacks like cookies, pudding, or guacamole. The boys help plant, care for, and harvest crops from the little garden in our backyard. In the left frame we see Petras carrying in a bowl of lemons he helped pick off the tree [not shown]. On the right, Vejas squeezes lemons with his cousins as they work together to make fresh homemade lemonade [not shown]. Here, Vejas and my wife Rasa are putting together a gingerbread house [not shown]. As you can see, Vejas has learned the secret that the chef never goes hungry. And, of course, the best fruit salad is the one you make from scratch yourself--or so says Vejas.

Our children help pick out food at the store, carry it into the house, pull items out of the grocery bags, and from time to time even put them away. Which reminds me, here is a parental O&M pearl: You know how tempted kids are to hold on to your hand when you are out and about with them? Well, if you have your child help you by carrying a bag or an item, he or she can’t grab your hand and so is forced to focus on his or her cane skills. Vejas has figured this one out and now asks me, “So, Dad, what are YOU carrying?”

Rasa Brailled the microwave in our kitchen so that Vejas can independently heat things up. Vejas has started clearing the table after dinner. Petras enjoys running the dishwasher by hitting the markers Rasa placed on the front panel. Time permitting, Vejas helps unload the dishwasher and put things away. Rasa used raised markers to make our clothes washer and dryer accessible as well. Petras enjoys loading and unloading the dryer. Here Vejas is using power tools to help me assemble his brother’s new bed [not shown]. Vejas in fact caught on a while back and, from time to time, will ask, “Dad do you really need my help, or are you showing me how to do this?”

My wife and I go out of our way to give our boys experiences that other sighted children have. As illustrated in this slide, this includes participating in birthday parties at the AdventurePlex gym complex, bowling, mini-golf, and even laser tag [not shown]. We take advantage of opportunities in the community to learn more about what our public servants do, whether it be climbing in a police car, flipping the switch for the siren, speaking over the car’s megaphone, hopping on an officer’s motorcycle, or trying on a heavy, well-insulated fireman’s outfit in the middle of the summer in Palm Springs. We enjoy tandem biking and flying kites at the beach.

Vejas and Petras are both little fish. They love the water and have both been taking weekly swimming lessons since they were three or four years old. Vejas is our family’s reigning whale-riding champion: last summer, despite three adults simultaneously performing cannonballs, we were still unable to dethrone Vejas from Shamu (an inflated killer whale). Vejas and Petras love water activities, including this 100-foot waterslide in Palm Springs and water parks, like Knott’s Soak City. Theme parks are always lots of fun for children and adults of all ages.

We try to take advantage of fun opportunities when we can. One weekend Vejas’s school held Dodger’s Day. We joined in the festivities at the ballpark. To give Vejas a better understanding of what was going on, I downloaded some general information on baseball, went to the Dodger’s Web site and downloaded information on each of the players, and then embossed and compiled this into a personalized program for him. We also brought along the Picture Maker Kit from the American Printing House (APH) to Dodger’s Stadium and with it I laid out the field to make it easier to explain what was going on. We did the same thing when we went to a Lakers game last year. As you can see Vejas even met some of the players, including Brian Cook and Luke Walton, who autographed his embossed program next to their Brailled names [not shown]. Movies are a lot of fun. We enjoy DVS videos at home and on special occasions go for the all-out full experience of the movie theater.

Both of our boys have been searching for the raised dots of Braille on book pages since about nine months of age. Here we see my youngest son Petras enjoying his favorite nighttime book, Good Night Moon, with his Mom. It is important to start reading early. Reading contributes to concept development. It is fun, is a great bonding time, and creates discussion points; and early exposure sets the tone that reading is exciting. Early introduction to Braille does NOT mean waiting until kindergarten, or even preschool. Literacy begins at home. If you spend some time at the Borders’ or the Barnes and Noble’s children’s section, you will notice that even the simplest of children's books includes print letters or words. Are our blind kids given equal access to Braille at the same age? The answer is simple: No. We need to get interesting Braille books and Brailed toys into the hands of our blind and low vision children before their first birthdays. When exposed early, kids search (look) for Braille in books before their first birthdays.

Both of our boys love stories. As you can see here, we are high-volume users of the Braille Institute Library <www.brailleinstitute.org> and the Kenneth Jernigan Library <www.actionfund.org/kjlibaps.htm>, both of which mail volumes of books every few weeks for the boys to enjoy. Our mailman gets quite the workout. When requesting specific books, we always opt for an electronic or embossed Braille version. We only ask for audiotapes when a Braille format is not available.

Vejas has been participating in the National Federation of the Blind’s (NFB’s) national Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest <www.nfb.org/nfb/NOPBC_Braille_Readers_Are_Leaders.asp> since he was in kindergarten. For pages to count in the contest, the children need to read the Brailled pages on their own. Tapes do not count. Participating in this contest in particular has been a truly rewarding experience. I literally get goose bumps thinking about how much progress Vejas has made in his Braille reading skills each year over the three-month contest period.

I must however caution each of you that should you read to your child and encourage literacy; you must be prepared to deal with the potential consequences. Let me elaborate with a real life example. Several summers ago, my family came along when I was lecturing at a medical conference in Hawaii. Disney’s Lilo and Stitch happened to début that very week. I was not particularly surprised when, after listening to the Read-A-Long audio book version of Lilo and Stitch, my ever-inquisitive, soon-to-be first grader asked, “Dad, what exactly is surfing?” I did my best to explain, already anticipating the question that soon followed: “So Dad, when can I go surfing?” Now I had met Cara Dunne-Yates and her parents when Vejas was only ten months old. As many of you know, besides being a mother and a Harvard law school graduate, Cara was a Paralympics tandem cycler and competitive skier. So I had a fairly good idea of what blind children and adults were capable of. In fact, inspired by Cara and other families we had met, I had even taken Vejas for a few runs down a ski slope when he was just three-and-half years old. Nevertheless, I must admit that I was caught a little off guard by his request to go surfing, and not being a surfer yet myself, did not know how realistic or safe it was for any child his age, sighted or blind, to go surfing. I let Vejas ride some imaginary waves at a luau the following night. Then I did what I imagine other parents might do and tried to punt this one by explaining that, unfortunately, we only had two days left and there wasn’t enough time to arrange for a lesson. As a compromise of sorts, the next morning we went boogie boarding and sea-kayaking. But as many of you know, kids are very perceptive. Vejas knew that boogie boarding, while fun, was not the same as surfing.

Well, as fate would have it, we decided to go on a real two-week vacation (no work) to Kauai the following summer. As soon as the airplane’s wheels lifted off the ground, Vejas stopped reading his book. He turned his head towards me and in a very focused fashion extended his hand to find my face and gently guided it in his direction with the clear intent of making sure he had my full attention. (I wonder where he learned that maneuver?) He then pointedly posed his question, a question that undoubtedly had been brewing ever since we began to plan this trip: “So Dad, when are we going surfing?” I reassured him that we would look into it once we got to Hawaii. After continued prompting from my persistent six-and-a-half year old, I arranged for an early morning surf lesson.

Here we see the surfing instructor, Miguel, working with Vejas on the shore. He is teaching Vejas auditorially and kinesthetically by having him practice over and over what he will need to know to perform on the waves. Miguel and Vejas then headed out into the ocean. I was assigned the job of catching Vejas once he reached the shallower water. I got my camera ready. To my amazement, on his first attempt, Vejas not only stood up but he assumed a near-perfect surfing stance as he rode his first wave. I was so excited I forgot to take a picture and cheered him on as he glided past me. I then watched him lunge forward as his surfboard implanted itself in a sandbar. I snapped out of my trance and rushed over to him. Instead of tears, he turned towards me and shouted “Dad, did you see me? I want to try that again!” Vejas had a second lesson with Miguel a few years later and he has had several additional formal lessons since then. I once asked him which instructor he thought was the best. “Miguel” he responded without much hesitation. When I asked him why, I was admittedly a little surprised by his insightful response. He said it was because Miguel paid the most attention to detail and had the highest expectations of him.

I have to admit that Vejas looked like he was having so much fun out there on the waves that it inspired me to take up surfing last year. And no, I don’t have any pictures of that--you’ll just have to take my word for it. But I do have a shot of Vejas and his own yellow surfboard with his cousins at the beach [not shown]. Now, Vejas not only surfs the waves, but the Internet as well.

We are avid users of the National Library Service’s (NLS) Web-Braille <www.loc.gov/nls/reference/factsheets/webbraille.html> system. In preparing for today’s talk, I was very excited when I stumbled upon Web-Braille’s child-focused search portal, NLS Kids Zone <www.loc.gov/nls/children/index.html>. And we love Bookshare.org <www.bookshare.org>. As of last week, there were 3,227 children’s books available via their Web site, and the number seems to grow weekly. As a parent, I submit that a Bookshare membership is among the best investments a parent, student, or teacher of blind students can make. If you don’t have one, go to the exhibit hall and sign up today. You won’t regret it, and you might even get a conference discount.

We get a variety of accessible children’s magazines. Cricket magazine arrives in the mail every month on tape. This is combined with National Geographic World Children’s Magazine which is recorded on side two. Vejas just started receiving Sports Illustrated for Kids audiocassettes a few weeks ago. Vejas looks forward to Brailled versions of Spider magazine, Stone Soup magazine, and Muse magazine <www.loc.gov/nls/children/magazines.html>. And both boys enjoy the new Squid Tactile Activities Children’s Magazine available through APH <www.aph.org>. Many of the Brailled magazines are also available in electronic format for downloading via Web-Braille. While this is nothing short of amazing, I would like to put forth a fatherly word of caution. Call me old-fashioned, but when downloading Braille magazines for children, I think that parental and teacher discretion and guidance is still advisable.

I have another example of the potential consequences of reading. When Vejas was in third grade, he read a book from the Jigsaw Jones series sent to him by the American Action Fund <www.actionfund.org/freebooksmain.htm> called The Case of the Snowboarding Superstar. Around that same time he read a story in Spider magazine about snowboarding. I’m sure some of you can guess what question this led to. That’s right--“So Dad, when can I go snowboarding?” I used to ski a lot in my younger days, but snowboarding became popular after I moved to Southern California. I have to admit that I wasn’t sure how to approach this one either. So I posed the question on NFB’s blindkid listserv <www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/blindkid> and got back some great leads. I was able to arrange for a snowboarding lesson with the adaptive skiing and snowboarding instructors at Big Bear Mountain <www.usarc.org>. The instructor guaranteed Vejas one thing: that he would fall; and he did. But he had a great time and some fun runs. Once again, my son inspired me to attempt something new. I actually gave snowboarding a try for the first time last week. To use an expression I hear my son and his friends use, it was “Extreme.” Petras was eager to join in the fun this year. He had such a great time during his half-day skiing lesson that we delayed our departure so that he could squeeze in another lesson.

As many of you may know, Rasa and I are of Lithuanian descent. To help maintain our cultural roots, both boys attend Lithuanian School for four hours every Saturday morning. In this extracurricular setting, as you can well imagine, our family does not have access to the same formal resources for the visually impaired that the boys have during the rest of the week. Yet, amazing as it may seem, the boys actually have access to the Lithuanian school curriculum to the same degree as their sighted classmates. Here, we see Petras in his Lithuanian kindergarten class [not shown].

This next slide shows Vejas in his first grade Lithuanian Saturday school classroom [not shown]. On the left we see him working off of worksheets that have been Brailled and modified by Rasa [not shown]. To the right of that we see Vejas Brailling out an assignment in class on his Perkins Braillewriter [not shown]. The transcribers and teachers of the visually impaired in the audience can appreciate the amount of time that goes into the Brailling and ink printing of all the materials for both boys.

A few years back, I met Joe Sullivan, the president of Duxbury Systems, here at a CTEVH conference. I still remember approaching his table in the exhibit hall and asking him if his program could be modified to accommodate Lithuanian Braille translation. He not only said it could be done, but offered to do this for us. There was an article awhile back in the Boston Globe that described Joe, as the “wizard” of Braille <www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2006/09/10/lost_in_translations>. I couldn’t have put it any more accurately. Let me show you why.

Vejas is now in fourth grade. We have modified his workspace in the Saturday school classroom to enhance independence. Here we see Vejas reading his Lithuanian textbook passage off his BrailleNote in class. Yes, believe it or not, the BrailleNote can be tricked into displaying Lithuanian Braille. You just need to make sure the voice feature is turned off to avoid hearing what sounds like complete gibberish. This year Rasa started Brailling out Vejas’s Lithuanian textbook passages ahead of time on our laptop into the Lithuanian template in Duxbury. I might add, she uses six-key entry, which she finds faster. We then save the documents as “brf” files and then transfer the files to Vejas’s CompactFlash card.

If you think that’s amazing, then hold on to your seats. Thanks to Joe Sullivan, we now have the capability for Vejas to complete his Lithuanian homework and class work assignments on his BrailleNote, which he saves as “brf” files. We then transfer these to our laptop, open the files with Duxbury, with a single stroke convert the BrailleNote-generated Braille to Lithuanian print, and turn the document in on the spot. It is much easier for Vejas to make corrections within his electronic Braille documents. Not to mention that, as assignments inevitably become lengthy at the higher-grade levels, think about how much time is saved by not having to ink print. Under my guidance Petras too has recently started dabbling with twenty-first century technology in Lithuanian Saturday school.

Let me share with you some additional marvels of the twenty-first century. To illustrate, here is a page from my son’s Lithuanian textbook. I can use OmniPage Professional to scan and then optically recognize the Lithuanian text. Then I proof the text on my laptop using OmniPage Professional’s built-in proofreading tool which is similar to spell check, and then make any additional needed corrections using the Lithuanian keyboard option which comes prepackaged as part of Windows XP. Next, I copy the corrected Lithuanian text, import it into the Lithuanian template I created in Duxbury, and then with a single keystroke translate the text into Lithuanian Braille, which can then be embossed or transferred to the BrailleNote via a CompactFlash card.

But wait. It gets even better. While we unfortunately don’t have access to a Lithuanian equivalent of Web-Braille or Bookshare, the World Wide Web now offers us new options. Bernardas Brazdzionis is one of Lithuania’s most influential patriotic writers. Every Lithuanian child has read his famous tale called “Meskiukas Rudnosiukas” which roughly translates to “Little Brown-Nosed Bear.” A few weeks ago, Vejas participated in a commemorative ceremony marking Rudnosiukas’s one-hundredth year birthday. Vejas asked if I could find him some background information on this author and poet. So naturally I Googled Bernardas Brazdzionis, and one of the links led me to this Lithuanian Web page: Vikipedija (you see there is no “w” in the official Lithuanian alphabet.) Unfortunately our JAWS screen reading program isn’t sophisticated enough to handle Lithuanian yet, but being the eternal optimist that I am, I am hoping for this capability in the future. For the time being however, I am able to copy the text, paste it into Duxbury, and--voila!--translate the text to Lithuanian Braille. This really is like a virtual magic wand isn’t it? By saving this as a Lithuanian “.brf” file, I was able to provide Vejas with reference material in Lithuanian that he could access on his BrailleNote to filter through on his own. This offers us the ability to broaden our children’s Lithuanian language exposure.

In the fall of last year, Vejas was invited to read at a special Lithuanian mass. As he gracefully read the Lithuanian passage with his BrailleNote, he projected an image of competence and confidence and turned quite a few heads, even the visiting Bishop’s. I submit that such moments help redefine people’s preconceptions of the abilities of the blind.

You might think that equal access in the church environment might also present a formidable challenge. Let me share with you how we have chosen to address this. It turns out that the selected daily readings and gospel passages used in our church can be found on a Webpage. By this point in the presentation, it shouldn’t surprise you to find out that every week I simply copy the text, and then go through the easy steps to make it BrailleNote-accessible.

I have made an arrangement with our church’s choir director. He e-mails me the list of songs that will be used for upcoming masses, and we then download or write these out ahead of time on my laptop. We save these as WORD files that Vejas can access and read with his BrailleNote during mass. Even if Vejas is reading the words for the first time (which is often the case) you would never know it. You see, Vejas reads Braille fast enough that he can sing along with everyone.

Though the Web is in its infancy, for a blind child it offers the opportunity to access useful information that can otherwise be hard to come by. When you go to a restaurant, what percentage of the time do you think they actually hand you a Braille menu upon request? In our experience it is not too often. An increasing number of restaurants are posting their menus on the Web. As long as they are not picture files, many are thus easily accessible. Before a recent visit to the Ragin’ Cajun in Hermosa Beach, I copied the menu from their Web site and pasted it into Duxbury so that Vejas could decide what he wanted on his own.

Yes, we have high expectations of our boys. We also have high expectations of our district’s educators and our VI professionals because, for our children to acquire all the skills they need to become truly independent and succeed to the best of their ability, they need to not only master the general education curriculum, but the whole host of compensatory blindness skills including Braille fluency, orientation and mobility skills, technology skills, social skills, advocacy skills, and the skills of daily living.

But what about when it comes to the academic setting? Based on nearly a decade of interactions with both general education educators and with VI professionals, I am too frequently led to wonder if “equal expectations” represents a true belief paradigm, or more of a feel-good politically correct phrase. Teachers, educators, and administrators, as a parent, I ask you, “What is your philosophy when it comes to educating my blind children?” Is your goal to have them “get by,” that is, to do well enough to at least be able to perhaps graduate from high school, or are you intent on doing your best to make sure they have the chance to reach their full potential in life and to really succeed? Do you have equal expectations of blind and visually impaired children? To help frame this discussion, I would like to pose a series of questions and then comment on each from my perspective as that of a parent who has dreams and high expectations for my children, who happen to be blind.

What do you expect of your Braille-reading students? Do you expect your Braille readers to read faster than, at the same rate as, or slower than their print-reading classmates? Let me share with you one first grader’s perspective. One day when I was with Vejas in his first grade Lithuanian classroom, he, in his usual form, finished his assignment before anyone else. I leaned over to let him know this and he whispered back to me, “Of course Dad, that’s because I have the advantage--Braille is faster.” I am proud to share with you that Vejas was formally recognized as the best student and most fluent reader and writer in his Lithuanian school class that year.

California is the first state to adopt formal Braille Reading Standards <www.cde.ca.gov/re/pn/fd/documents/braillereadstand.pdf> and Braille Math Standards <www.cde.ca.gov/re/pn/fd/documents/braillemathstand.pdf>. These standards have already served our family in very real and practical ways. However, while this is a definite step (or perhaps more appropriately--leap) in the right direction, unfortunately these standards do not include standards for reading fluency.

Let’s examine reading rate guideline data from the US Department of Education Web site that present the numbers of words per minute at which children read silently and orally during the elementary school years <www.ed.gov/teachers/how/tools/initiative/summerworkshop/mccabe/edlite-slide019.html> and middle school years <www.ed.gov/teachers/how/tools/initiative/summerworkshop/mccabe/edlite-slide020.html>:

Grade Level
Words per Minute (wpm)
 
Silent
Oral
2 70-100 66-104
3 95-130 86-124
4 120-170 95-130
5 160-210 108-140
6 180-230 112-145
7 180-240 122-155

Do you expect your Braille readers to be reading at the pace suggested in these guidelines? By the end of sixth grade, are your Braille students reading 180-230 words per minute? Are your third graders reading 95-130 words per minute? These numbers may seem a little high, so let’s look at the reading fluency benchmarks that our school district (Manhattan Unified School District) uses:

Grade Level
District Benchmark
(wpm with 95% accuracy)
1
60
2
115
3
130
4
135
5
150

The third grade benchmark is 130 words per minute with 95 percent accuracy.

Some of you may be thinking, “Dr. V, that is wishful thinking,” because your experiences have taught you that the blind adults, teens, and children you work with do not read that fast. Some might direct me to the NLS Factsheet, <www.loc.gov/nls/reference/factsheets/braille.html>, which states that the average reading speed of blind individuals is about 125 words per minute. To put this into perspective, based on the data from the US Department of Education Web site, that is about the average speed that a typical sighted third or fourth grade child reads print. But it is likely that the Braille reading speeds are based on a mixed bag of individuals, many of whom started reading Braille later in life as teens or as adults.

Some of you would likely to point me to these standards which have been posted on both the California Department of Education's Braille-n-Teach listserv <http://csmt.cde.ca.gov/helpFAQ.aspx> and on AERNet, the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired’s e-mail discussion listserv: <http://lists.aerbvi.org/pipermail/aernet_lists.aerbvi.org>, numbers which are actually being used by VI professionals around the country.

Grade Level
Reading Rate (wpm)
Texas School for the Blind and Visually
Impaired (TSBVI) Assessment Kit
Michigan Scale
3
4
5
6
9
High School Graduate
College
51
58
66
67
---
---
115
30
---
---
60
90
120
---

At the third grade level, in stark contrast to the 95-130 words per minute proposed by the guidelines on the US Department of Education Web site, or the 130 words per minute benchmark set by our school district, the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) Assessment Kit reportedly suggests that 51 words per minute is acceptable and even more shocking is the 30 words per minute benchmark put forth as adequate by the Michigan scale.

By the end of third grade Vejas was clocked at an oral reading speed of 182 words per minute with 100 percent accuracy. I only recently explained to Vejas that there are educators who believe that Braille is a slower reading medium than print. With utter disbelief, Vejas replied with, “But that’s ridiculous!”

Let’s examine the performance of some of the top young Braille readers in the NFB’s yearly National Braille Readers Are Leaders contest. In order for pages to count, the contestants need to read the Braille pages on their own (tapes don’t count). Take a close look at the accomplishments of some of our young Braille readers from around the country. Two years ago my then second-grade son read over 12,000 pages of Braille in three months, <www.nfb.org/Images/nfb/Publications/fr/fr18/fr05sf.htm>. Last year one of California’s second graders, Merlyn Hileman, who frequents this conference with her parents, read 16,316 pages in three months, <www.nfb.org/Images/nfb/Publications/fr/fr22/fr06sum10.htm>. Many of these young readers are reading thousands of Braille pages for pleasure. I assure you, these kids are not plodding along at 30 or 51 words per minute. Perhaps a key factor is that many of these children had been immersed in Braille before they started elementary school.

If you look at the readers in the NFB Braille Readers Are Leaders contests over the years, you find that the trend is towards more and more pages of Braille in each age category. Clearly, interesting Braille reading materials for children and adolescents have become much more readily available during the last decade from Bookshare.org, the NLS, the Braille Institute, National Braille Press (NBP) <www.nbp.org>, Seedlings <www.seedlings.org> and others. There are people who can read Braille at 200, 300, and some even over 500 words per minute. Individuals who learn to read Braille as adults tend to plateau out at much slower reading speeds, perhaps less than 100 words per minute. It is not appropriate to lump expectations for children who have been immersed in Braille from infancy with those of children or adolescents who start learning Braille later on--this is an important distinction, which seems to be overlooked when it comes to designing and interpreting norms. Many people believe that speed is influenced by practice. Given the dramatic increase in the accessibility of fun Braille materials, I would not be at all surprised that, if Braille reading norms were reexamined in an appropriate fashion, we would discover that the new rates, especially for those children with early Braille immersion, would be significantly higher than the norms currently being used by many educators.

What about your low-vision, large-print readers? Are they keeping pace with, or out-pacing, their sighted peers? How does their reading proficiency compare to their age-matched sighted classmates or the Braille-reading NFB Braille Readers Are Leaders contest participants we just looked at? Are your large-print readers struggling to keep up with schoolwork? How many are avid readers? How many actually enjoy reading for fun? If they must read, do they prefer to listen to books on tape? Are they, too, participating in reading contests? By high school, are they able to read hundreds of pages per week?

Are your Braille students keeping pace with their classmates when it comes to taking notes in class and completing their assignments? What about your large-print readers? How efficiently can they take handwritten notes in class? Are they as fast as their sighted peers? How legible are their notes when they need to review the information? Can they efficiently read their own notes without having to lug a CCTV everywhere?

In children with residual vision, Braille is not encouraged as much as it could or should be. I was heartbroken by a question posed to me by a girl in middle school who came to a workshop I was giving last year on Braille resources. She sat down in the front row and before I formally started, she raised her hand and asked me, “How do I convince my teachers to teach me Braille?”

She went on to elaborate. “I have some vision and my teachers make me use large print, but I can only see a few words at time on a computer screen. I just can’t keep up with my schoolwork and homework. I can’t even read my own notes without a magnifying device. I just don’t know what to do. I know I should learn Braille, but my teachers are unwilling to teach me. What can I do?”

Unfortunately this story is neither unique nor that uncommon. I have heard such stories many a time, including at this and prior CTEVH conferences. Just because a child can read enlarged print does not mean that that is the best primary learning mode for that student. The irony is that children who have some residual sight are frequently at a disadvantage because they often can’t keep up with their peers and may ultimately be less likely to be passionate about reading. Furthermore, it is important to remember that many conditions (even in children) are associated with progressive loss of vision over time, in some cases due to the underlying eye condition, in others from retinal detachment or glaucoma.

How fast can your elementary school students type on a Braille keyboard, be it a Perkins Brailler, Mountbatten Brailler, or an electronic notetaker? How does their speed compare with the QWERTY speeds of their sighted peers? The truth is that both my third grader and my sighted wife can Braille faster and more accurately than I can type on a QWERTY keyboard--and I type on my computer every day.

How fast can your elementary school student type on a QWERTY keyboard? Are they typing as fast as their sighted peers? The reality is that in 2007 and beyond, keyboard proficiency is a critical skill that blind children must efficiently master. Keyboarding becomes increasingly important as there is a move towards Internet-based learning modules in education. Typing has become an integral part of many jobs. It is needed to fill out Internet-based forms and job applications, do online banking, and to purchase items online.

In what grade do you introduce an electronic Braille Notetaker? Preschool? Kindergarten? First Grade? Second Grade? Third Grade? Fourth Grade? Fifth Grade? Middle School or Junior High? High School? In the year 2007, more and more children are starting to formally get exposed to Braille notetakers as early as kindergarten and first grade. Based on the California School for the Blind’s “Intro to the BrailleNote GPS” workshop I attended this morning, GPS training for our elementary school students is just around the corner as well. In fact, electronic Braille notetakers were one of the hottest topics of conversation between the second, third, and fourth grade finalists at the National Braille Challenge Invitational 2005 and 2006 <www.braillechallenge.org>. Do you know what the coveted grand prize in each age category at the Braille Challenge Invitational was last year, even at the youngest first and second grade levels? A PacMate. Now that is progressive!

When do you introduce a slate and stylus? I love the following story I read in the Braille Monitor <www.nfb.org/Images/nfb/Publications/bm/bm93/brlm9310.htm>. Kim Boshart in Nebraska started teaching preschoolers to write with the slate and stylus “because she didn't know they couldn't learn it” that young. Guess what? They did learn. How fast can your elementary school student Braille using a slate and stylus? My wife worked with a social worker that could take notes on a slate and stylus at the same pace as her sighted team members. We had wanted Vejas to learn the slate and stylus for several years now. Last June, our teacher of the visually impaired joined us at the Braille Challenge banquet. Vejas made a new friend and wrote down her contact info on his BrailleNote. But his new friend didn’t have a notetaker or a Perkins with her to get his contact info. I glanced over at our teacher of the visually impaired and in a friendly manner pointed out that that is why kids need to learn the slate and stylus. Fortunately, we can now point to the California Braille Reading Standards and say that it is part of our child’s academic curriculum.

Do you expect your blind or visually impaired elementary school student’s computer skills to be superior to, the same as, or inferior to their sighted classmates? In what grade do you introduce keyboarding, WORD, EXCEL, and PowerPoint? My children are mainstreamed and attend public school. In our local elementary school, beginning in kindergarten, all the kids attend Technology Lab once a week. Just like an increasing number of school districts around the state and country, the Manhattan Beach Unified School District has a formal district-wide technology curriculum defining what students should master by the end of each grade level, starting as early as pre-kindergarten. In our school district, kindergarteners and first graders focus on keyboarding skills, second graders work in Microsoft Word, and third graders are introduced to EXCEL and PowerPoint.

In fact Vejas, just like all of his sighted classmates, had to prepare a PowerPoint presentation at the end of third grade. He chose to do it on the Lincoln Memorial. He completed this with the assistance of JAWS and without ever touching a mouse. How is that for a wake-up call? This is not unique to our district. Keith Christianson, a blind teacher of the visually impaired who many of you know, introduces his second and third grade students to EXCEL. I have a patient who attends school in Yorba Linda. She asked me for some information on Crohn's disease that she could use for her third grade PowerPoint presentation.

Yes, technology is in our elementary schools and it is here to stay. Despite what VI educators may have been taught or may currently still be experiencing, the world has changed over the last few years. It is 2007 and technology has filtered down to the lower grade levels. This is a reality which will be increasingly more common. Rather that be reactive, I want parents and educators to be aware of this very real new trend, this new reality, so that they can proactively prepare to address the technology needs of their children and students rather than putting children in a position where they will progressively, perhaps even exponentially, fall further and further behind.

Do educators have equal expectations of blind children? If educators truly believe in “equal expectations,” then why is it that nationally only 45 percent of blind or severely visually impaired, but otherwise capable, students graduate from high school, compared to 80 percent of their sighted counterparts? (Data from the American Foundation for the Blind [AFB] Web site: <www.afb.org/section.asp?SectionID=15&DocumentID=1367>.) Why do only 16 percent of those blind or severely visually impaired students that graduate high school then go on to earn a college degree? Now granted one doesn’t need a high school diploma or college diploma to a get a job, but everyone should agree that advanced education certainly broadens one’s options.

Some may feel I am overreacting and claim that local outcomes are better. How many of the Braille readers and large-print readers in your school system graduate from high school and from college? How many have gone on to pursue postgraduate studies, including law school, medical school, or PhDs? How does the performance of Braille-reading students and large-print reading students in California compare to the rest of the children taking the California state STAR exam? Where is the actual data? Who collects it? How accurate is it? I am under the impression that such education attainment statistics are not well tracked. Where is the accountability? California state testing results are broken down by economic status, gender, ethnicity, and the broad category of disabilities. The state testing agency knows which students get Braille or large print exams. Why are the performance results of blind and visually impaired children therefore not examined and made available? Without accurate and current local district, SELPA, or state-based statistics, how can parents be asked to “back off” and to put their full trust in “the system”?

Employment status is a reasonable alternate measure of the fruits of the current educational system. According to the AFB Web site, <www.afb.org/section.asp?SectionID=15&DocumentID=1367>, less than half of low vision adults and only about a third of legally blind adults are employed, and of that third, 93 percent of the employed blind read and write Braille; only 7 percent don’t. We must also take into account that these statistics focus only on employment status, that is, employed versus unemployed, not on the type of job one is able to hold. As a parent who wants the best for his blind children, I find these statistics sobering. We must all critically examine the educational system performance hard data, the educational report cards so to speak. The data suggests that at the schooling level there is a huge discrepancy between the accomplishments of sighted and blind children. From a parent’s standpoint, I must interject that this report card of the current status of affairs is also not at all encouraging and is certainly not reassuring.

Let’s not forget orientation and mobility. How do the independent travel skills of your blind or visually impaired children compare to their classmate’s abilities? Are your ten-, eleven-, and twelve-year-olds able to safely and independently cross streets on their own? – Their sighted peers do. Do your ten-, eleven-, and twelve-year-olds have the skills to go to the hotel gift shop to pick something up for you? Their sighted peers can. How would they do if you asked them to go the neighbor’s house across the street to get you some sugar for a recipe? Can they find their way around a grocery store or the local shopping mall? Their sighted peers can.

Be honest, how many of your blind or visually impaired children passed this litmus test?

I would like to wrap things up by focusing on three concepts and by extending a few challenges to you.

1. STRIVE FOR EQUAL EXPECTATIONS. Blindness alone is not a reason to have lower expectations of students. Kids need to be given the chance to be the best that they can be. That won’t happen if the expectations of parents and educators are low. Too many kids are not getting the skills they need to make it in the world. That is a recurring theme at almost any conference. Please set the bar of expectations for our children at a high level. Children, and even adults, will rise or fall towards the expectation standards you put forth. I have in particular enjoyed and been inspired by lectures and articles by the following individuals who promote the concept of equal expectations: Dr. Ruby Ryles, Dr. Fred Schroeder, Dr. Karen Wolfe, Dr. Sharon Sacks, and Carol Castellano. At the beginning of each school year Rasa and I share some of their articles with the general education teachers and staff to help convey to them that they should have the same expectations from our boys as their classmates.

Parents and educators are responsible for making sure that, in addition to the traditional academic curriculum, blind and visually impaired children acquire the full complement of skills they will need to function in life confidently, to live truly independently, and to reach their full potential. When your children graduate from high school, they won’t have someone to arrange their things, to cook for them or shop for them; and they won’t be able to rely on predetermined travel routes to get from one place to another, or on a sighted human-guide to escort them from one place to the next. The Expanded Core Curriculum (EEC) <www.afb.org/Section.asp?SectionID=44&TopicID=189&SubTopicID=4&DocumentID=2117> and <www.tsbvi.edu/Education/corecurric.htm> is a set of guidelines put forth by the National Agenda <www.tsbvi.edu/agenda> intended to make sure that, by the end of high school, blind and visually impaired students acquire all the needed life skills, including appropriate social skills and blindness skills. The ECC needs to be elevated from the level of informal guidelines to a formalized state or federal policy, much like the California Braille Reading Standards and Braille Math Standards. To be an effective tool for blind children, the EEC needs to be given some teeth, so that parents and VI professionals can point to them as official requirements when convincing school administrators that working on activities of daily living, physical therapy, and occupational therapy really are part of the blind or visually impaired child’s educational curriculum. Please take the steps needed to make the EEC a powerful and influential resource.

Parents and educators may ask, “There’s so much to do. Where do we start?” This is a process; it doesn’t happen automatically. Is it achievable? Absolutely. My suggestion is for parents, educators, and the child to pick and agree to work on one or two goals every three months. The child needs to buy into these as well. Some goals will require more work and time than others, such as learning how to button a shirt, to tie shoelaces, or to use silverware properly. But each baby step that is accomplished brings the child one step closer to where we, and they, want to be. I submit that blindness itself is NOT the handicap, rather, not giving kids the appropriate Braille and other blindness skills creates the handicap--the handicaps of functional illiteracy and over-reliance on others. In my opinion this is further compounded by lower expectations on the part of parents and educators of our blind children than of age-matched sighted peers, and, I will add, low (to virtually nonexistent) expectations of parents by educators.

2. FAMILY INVOLVEMENT IS NEEDED. I encourage educators to synergize with parents and give parents the tools they need to help their child succeed. With all due respect, educators of the blind are fooling themselves if they think they can most effectively teach a blind child all the skills they need on their own without involving parents in the process. Here is a story problem. Let’s say for sake of argument that kids actually get ten hours of sleep a night. That leaves 98 waking hours during a week. If an itinerant teacher of the visually impaired spends one hour a day with a child, an orientation and mobility instructor three hours a week, and an occupational therapist and physical therapist ninety minutes each a week, and let’s assume that the blindness skills and concepts are actually actively reinforced the rest of the school day, that still means that the majority of the child’s waking hours are with the parents. Blindness professionals need to take advantage of the parental component of the equation, or you will fall short of the answer.

Teachers, if you want to have a real, long-lasting impact, rather than just leaving a footprint, leave a legacy with each child and family you work with. Teach your kids, and importantly their parents, how to “fish” for themselves. Empower parents by encouraging them to educate themselves in the matters of blindness and raising a blind or visually impaired child, by showing parents how to network with other parents, and by teaching them how to find and utilize resources on their own.

The theme of this year’s CTEVH conference is resources. I submit that every CTEVH annual conference is an overflowing cornucopia of resources and practical information that any parent could benefit from. It is my understanding that there are close to 6,000 legally blind students in California. I don’t see anywhere near 12,000 parents here at this conference. They are missing out. Teachers and administrators, I urge you to take the necessary steps to get the parents of your students to attend. I will go so far as to challenge each teacher to get at least one of the parents you work with to attend next year’s conference. The various organizations and SELPAs serving blind kids in Southern California should be encouraged to carpool families here next year. Be creative, perhaps a vendor could volunteer or be convinced to sponsor a prize to the group that gets the most parents to attend.

3. SUCCESS REQUIRES A GROUP EFFORT. Lastly, I submit that to optimally educate and prepare a blind child for life, the team needs to involve not only the child, parents, educators (both VI and general education), but a more direct interface with the blind community itself. My children’s accomplishments and successes are due to a team effort; a team that extends well beyond the bounds of our home and our local system. Parents and children need to be exposed to positive role models in the form of blind mentors and blind advisors. I respectfully suggest that every parent and blindness professional who works with blind or visually impaired children be open-minded and subscribe to Future Reflections, a journal in which blind adults, educators, parents of blind children, and even blind kids themselves share experiences covering a wide variety of topics pertinent to growing up blind and to raising a blind child. Most importantly, the articles are presented from a refreshing, positive, uplifting, practical, success-in-academics and success-in-life prospective.

I challenge every teacher of the visually impaired, every orientation and mobility instructor, every administrator, every student interested in a career as a blindness professional, and every parent of a blind or visually impaired child to spend an entire week at a national conference of the blind. I’m not talking about a conference that is specifically oriented towards teachers or parents, but a conference where virtually all the thousands of attendees are blind and where you participate in the activities and interact with blind people from all walks of life. The experience of immersion with the successful blind is sure to be a life- and perception-altering experience.

The reality is that the scope of skills that young blind children, as well as teachers of the visually impaired, and parents, need to master is ballooning. I respectfully submit that if indeed one really believes in age-appropriate expectations, then in all aspects of life, our blind children need to be encouraged to develop the same, or parallel, skills as their age-matched sighted peers.

I leave you with this last thought. What would you attempt to do (for your blind child) if you knew you could not fail? To really take advantage of this philosophy we need to reexamine our own current paradigms and become aware of what is possible. More importantly, the more we educate ourselves about blindness issues, the more we expose ourselves to the successful blind (and their parents), the more we come to realize that the boundary between what is possible for a blind individual and for a sighted individual is not all that much different.

 

Letting Go

by Maury Weedman

Reprinted from the November/December 2006 issue of VISability, a newsletter published by the Visually Impaired Preschool Services (VIPS) program in Louisville, Kentucky; <www.vips.org>.

Editor’s Note: Don’t be deceived by the brief nature of this little gem. It has a powerful message for moms and dads of blind children of all ages. Here is what Maury Weedman has to say about the importance of “Letting Go”:

My name is Maury Weedman and I am working part time at VIPS as a certified orientation and mobility instructor, a certification I obtained at the venerable age of fifty-six. My wife Pauletta has worked at VIPS for more than fifteen years. Our totally blind son Jamie was and is my inspiration for pursuing this field. He has attended college for two years and is currently enrolled in a challenging program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. [Editor’s note: this is one of the three training centers for the blind in the United States operated by the National Federation of the Blind. The other two are the Colorado Center for the Blind and BLIND, Incorporated, located respectively in Colorado and Minnesota.]

Jamie has had to work very hard for his gains and has always done so with a “can do” attitude. He exudes positive energy almost all the time and is inspirational in nature. Nevertheless, Pauletta and I have invested untold hours in his development. In order to mitigate the impacts of blindness, the effort needed by parents is constant and exhausting, but worth every minute of it.

Even though at times frustration can take hold, the typical result of active parents is a very close relationship with their blind child. This is true for me. My bond with Jamie is powerful. But the time has come to let go. This is a wrenching experience with any child, but when there is a disability, a parent’s fears are more exaggerated. We have a tendency to stay in protective mode and thereby inhibit the independence of our children. If this impulse is not resisted a child may end up as a fifty-year-old with no life, few skills, and deceased parents.

Where possible we must give our children the gift of independence, and let them go into the world. This tendency to over-protect will always be with us, but we have to fight it. Even though Jamie is twenty-two and very capable, I have recently gone through probably my worst crisis ever related to letting go, but the result is that Jamie is becoming a young man who is setting his own course. What more can a parent do for a child? So, if as a parent you aren’t going through some fairly extreme anxiety from time to time over independence issues, you may be hovering a bit too close.

 

The Typing Tutor

A review by the Access Technology Team of the International Braille
and Technology Center (IBTC) at the National Center for the Blind

In a world dominated by computer technology, touch-typing is critical and is set to remain a core skill for blind students. All four of the products reviewed below provide excellent methods for teaching touch-typing to blind learners using a PC keyboard. They come with multiple site licenses for school and educational institutions or may be purchased separately for individual use.

TypeAbility requires JAWS, while the other three typing tutors come with their own speech so no additional screen access software is needed. Of course the student will need JAWS or a similar screen access program, or a sighted assistant, to locate each tutor to begin with.

TypeAbility:
TypeAbility, available from <www.yesaccessible.com/typeability.html>, is a typing tutor program which relies on JAWS for Windows screen access software to make its accessible features come alive. In fact, without JAWS, there will be no speech output. The program offers extensive options and training levels and has been found by some teachers to be more flexible than other typing tutor programs. It is available for $85 as a single installation, $220 for a ten-site license, and $440 for a twenty-site license.

Targeted to younger students, TypeAbility presents the lessons in a playful, childlike format. It provides immediate feedback if the learner presses an incorrect key, with a gentle reminder of the correct key. The program comes with sixty-eight default lessons, but more can be added by a teacher or parent. The program can also be modified to cater to adult learners. Go to the product’s Web site for a demo of the product.

Talking Typer for Windows:
Talking Typer for Windows, available from American Printing House for the Blind (<www.aph.org>), costs $79 (without enhanced voicing) or $89 (with enhanced voicing). This program is self-voicing and has various levels from which a student can choose. It will tell the student what keys to press and then report back whether the correct key sequence was pressed. Other options include speed tests where the student increases his typing speed to receive feedback on how fast and accurately he is typing.

PC Talking Typing Tutor:
PC Talking Typing Tutor, available from DeWitt and Associates at <www.4dewitt.com>, costs $99 for a personal copy. It comes with speech and has similar features to the Talking Typer for Windows program. A classroom version is also available at $199, with an additional $49 being charged per student seat. This version allows a teacher to use multiple profiles to track the progress of different students.

Consisting of fourteen lessons, PC Talking Typing Tutor takes a student from identifying the keys on the keyboard to advanced practice of his or her typing skills. Each lesson contains various exercises, allowing the student to repeat the items from the lesson. It also provides speed and accuracy testing in each lesson. There are various options to change the look of the interface to accommodate low vision. Depending on what speech is available on the computer being used, the student may be able to choose different voices. The speed and pitch of any available voice can be altered to accommodate user preference.

Talking Typing Teacher:
Talking Typing Teacher, available from MarvelSoft at <www.marvelsoft.com>, is self-voicing and works in a similar way to the other typing tutors. Once again, personal programs are available, as well as teacher’s versions that allow an instructor to set up learning tracts for a student. Adults may want to turn off many of the features to make the program friendlier and less childlike. The student MarvelSoft product costs $104.95. The Talking Typing Teacher Pro version, at $404.95, is network compatible and can serve up to thirty-five machines from the one central (server) machine on which the program is installed. The Pro version allows a teacher to teach up to thirty-five students at a time, while centrally storing all the information, and it comes with an extensive teacher kit.

NOTE: The staff at the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC) is able to review these competing products because this laboratory for the blind has a mandate to purchase one working model of all Braille embossers, along with other technology for the blind sold in America. Vistors who wish to personally compare rival products are welcome to do so during business hours and by making a prior appointment. The IBTC is located in Baltimore, Maryland, at the National Center for the Blind.

 

Progress and Stalemates: The Complexities of Creating a Textbooks-on-Time System for Blind Students

A Report by Pat Renfranz, Sandy Taboada, and Jill Weatherd

Editor’s Note: The authors of this report are parents of blind students and active leaders at the national level within the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). They are also well known as advocates for blind children within their respective states of Utah, Louisiana, and Wyoming. This article comes out of a report written as a textbooks-on-time committee assignment from the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). Here is what they have to say:

Many parents of blind children struggle with the knowledge that the general educational community seems to believe that it is acceptable for blind children’s Braille, audio, or other accessible formats of textbooks (and, by extension, other educational materials) to arrive chronically late--long after classes have begun. As parents, we--the authors of this report--have been told by our school authorities that late-arriving books are “just the way that it is.” At the NFB convention this past July in Atlanta, many parents from around the country attended an evening seminar sponsored by NOPBC entitled “Textbooks on Time: Update on NIMAS and NIMAC,” hoping to learn more about new methodologies for obtaining textbooks on time. This article grew out of a report on that session.

Getting Braille or other alternative formats of textbooks on time is the consequence of a long series of events, all of which must work in a timely fashion. Some events occur sequentially, and others occur on a parallel track. Some steps involve people with little or no appreciation for the time and effort required to produce textbooks in alternative formats, while other steps involve those with directly applicable skills, for example, transcribing and producing Braille. Here are some of the steps:

1. Textbooks for all students must be adopted according to individual state rules. In some states texts are adopted at the state level. When talking about textbook selection, such states are called adoption states. In this system local school districts (and sometimes individual schools) select which textbooks they will use from the state-approved list. Other states are considered non-adoption states. In these states texts are selected at the district level, or even sometimes school-by-school, from among all textbooks on the market. Textbook adoption comes in many flavors. School districts, in both adoption and non-adoption states, however, tend to adopt new textbooks every five to eight years.

2. Contracts for the purchase of texts are written, and states or districts purchase books as required by their schools.

3. Somehow this complex system of decision-making also involves individual teachers who, in varying degrees, play a role in deciding which books will be used in their classrooms for the following year.

4. At the district or sometimes local school level, the person in charge of ordering materials for a blind student must know which school the student will attend and each teacher that the blind student will be assigned to in the coming year. This person must contact each individual teacher to obtain a textbook list for his or her class. In many states or districts this task is assumed by the teacher of the visually impaired (TVI), but it may also be assigned to secretaries, administrative assistants, vice principals, or counselors. But let’s assume that it is the TVI. Once the TVI has the textbook list, he or she must check the student’s IEP to determine which formats are acceptable for which classes. ISBN numbers should be carefully checked, and, as the search for the textbook in the acceptable format begins, possible alternatives must be explored and identified as either acceptable or unacceptable. For example, if an older edition of a math textbook is available in Braille, but the more up-to-date edition the teacher will use is not, will the older version still be acceptable with minimal problems for the student and teacher?

5. The list of required textbooks and other required classroom books and materials is then cross-checked against various databases to see if the books/materials already exist in the required format. The TVI or someone else in the district or local school may be responsible for this, or it may be done by a centralized agency. In Utah, for example, the Educational Resource Center located on the campus of the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind does this search. No one database is comprehensive, however. For example, the Louis database at the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), while extensive and the primary source of textbook listings (especially Braille textbooks), does not list the recreational or literary books available through the Library of Congress, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) system. Sometimes commercially available materials from organizations such as Seedlings Braille Books for Children, Inc., or the National Braille Press are listed with these databases, and sometimes not. And books that have been individually Brailled by school districts are probably rarely registered with these databases.

6. Decisions must then be made about where to obtain the accessible materials. Textbooks can be purchased from an accessible material producer (such as APH); borrowed from another school or an agency specializing in the desired format (such as RFB&D—Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic); or produced in-state by the state resource center (if one exists), or on contract with, for example, a Braille transcriber.

7. After the search is completed and it is determined that one or more textbooks must be produced in the alternative format—Braille, recorded, or large print--then the order must be placed. Production complexity ranges dramatically depending on the type of textbook, when it was ordered, how many other orders the producer receives, how completely the district placing the order follows the instructions of the producer, and so forth. A book that requires many tactile diagrams, for example, could take many months to produce in Braille. A recorded book could be slowed down if the district sends the producer the incorrect edition or only one print copy of the text when two copies are required.

8. Produced materials must be shipped and delivered to the school. Shipments can be delayed, especially if they are shipped Free Matter for the Blind; shipments might arrive in the summer and be misplaced or lost before the school year starts; or the books might be shipped to the wrong school in the district. Braille textbooks are often cumbersome to store, and facilities must be adapted. A place in classrooms should be set aside where active volumes of books can be easily accessed by the student every day.

As you can tell, there are a lot of cracks through which the idea of Textbooks on Time can fall. One year the textbooks for one of our children were simply never ordered; in another the incorrect edition of a math textbook was ordered. In some of our states textbooks are adopted so late in the year that it has been nearly impossible for accessible versions to be ready by the start of the school year.

This overview sets the stage for a discussion of the NOPBC workshop conducted at the 2007 NFB convention. The specific subject that the textbooks-on-time workshop panel addressed was the role of NIMAS. NIMAS stands for National Instructional Materials Access Standard. NIMAS addresses only one of the steps listed above: the production of a textbook in an alternative format. This step is a crucial one and can be extremely time consuming. In order to learn more about NIMAS, Barbara Cheadle, NOPBC president, convened a panel of experts on this issue. The panel included Dr. Karen Blankenship (Iowa Department of Education and co-chair of the Steering Committee of the National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities); Marty McKenzie (access technology coordinator and statewide vision consultant, South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind, South Carolina Department of Education); and Jim McCarthy (program specialist, Governmental Affairs Department). We were also fortunate to be joined by Tuck Tinsley III, Ed.D. (president of the American Printing House for the Blind).

We began with an overview of the National Instructional Materials Access Standard (NIMAS) and the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC). NIMAS was developed beginning in 2002 as a way to increase the accessibility of print instructional materials. It is, essentially, a standard that K-12 (kindergarten through twelfth grades) textbook publishers can use to format electronic files of their books. NIMAS is supposed to satisfy two concerns regarding electronic book files: (1.) to protect the textbook from copyright infringement and (2.) to standardize the electronic version of textbooks so that it is easier, faster, and more straightforward to produce a given textbook in an alternative format. NIMAS source files can be used to produce textbooks in student-ready specialized formats, such as in Braille, audio, digital text, and large print. Currently NIMAS files can be used to produce books only for K-12 students with “qualifying disabilities.”

The NIMAC is the central repository for NIMAS files. The NIMAC is housed at the American Printing House for the Blind (APH). Its function is to receive, store, and distribute publishers’ electronic files of print instructional materials in the NIMAS format. While NIMAC is housed at APH, Tuck Tinsley stressed that NIMAC is an entirely separate entity, thus freeing APH from any liability in regard to copyright infringement.

Educational materials covered by NIMAS are those considered to be core materials for K-12 students. Dr. Tinsley later clarified what this means. Within Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the term “print instructional materials” means printed textbooks and related printed core materials that are written and published primarily for use in elementary school and secondary school instruction and are required by a state educational agency (SEA) or local educational agency (LEA) for use by students in the classroom. A continuing discussion between publishers and the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) conducts an ongoing debate about what specific materials are covered by NIMAS.

Qualifying disabilities are defined as “blind and print handicapped.” Our understanding was that disagreements in defining “print handicapped” initially led to difficulty in establishing a NIMAS format with which publishers would be satisfied. This in turn has made Braille production from NIMAS files more laborious than it might have been. However, Tuck Tinsley later said that, within the language of IDEA, the term “blind or other persons with print disabilities” means those who qualify, in accordance with the federal act entitled “An Act to provide books for the adult blind” (2 U.S.C. 135a; 46 Stat. 1487), to receive books and other publications produced in specialized formats.

The Association for Educational Publishers, in a memo dated November 27, 2006, to the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs, writes that, “Indeed, no child will have access to all of the textbooks and core related materials to be submitted to the NIMAC, only to those that are used in their classroom.” This means that the NIMAS file of an accessible textbook is not available to your student if it is not in use in his or her specific classroom, even if that textbook was adopted by your state. Our research shows that the textbook publishing industry is also very concerned that NIMAS files used to produce an accessible textbook for one qualifying child could be subsequently used as a textbook for another child, qualifying or not. The U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs, however, states that, “If students are NIMAS eligible, an SEA or LEA can use the specialized format already derived from NIMAS file sets for other NIMAS-eligible students. However, SEAs and LEAs may not share these specialized formats with students who are not NIMAS eligible, even though they may benefit.”

Not every state has opted into the NIMAC system. However, according to IDEA 2004, regardless of their relationship with the NIMAC, both the state and local educational authorities are responsible for ensuring that accessible specialized formats are provided to students with print disabilities in a timely manner. On our NOPBC panel at the convention, Marty McKenzie (South Carolina) noted that there is really no good reason why a state would choose to opt out of participation in NIMAC. The states that have chosen to opt out do so typically because of fear of copyright infringement lawsuits.

Each state, we have learned, has its own process for adopting textbooks for K-12. Depending on the state, textbooks can be adopted at either the state or local level (or both). Publishers are required to provide textbook files to NIMAC after a state (or other purchasing agent) has contracted with a publisher to provide them. Indeed the requirement to send the electronic files to NIMAC should appear in the contract. Textbook adoption deadlines become important when states adopt textbooks late in the school year because this delays deposition of NIMAS-formatted electronic files of textbooks into NIMAC, which in turn delays the production of the book in an accessible format. The good news is that, according to Tuck Tinsley, as of September 2007, approximately 2,000 certified file sets are in the NIMAC repository, a very large number of which have been contributed by publishers voluntarily in advance of a purchase contract requiring their submission. Dr. Tinsley later noted that state and local representatives are still in the process of learning how to write contracts requiring the deposition of files from publishers and also how to convert the NIMAS files once they get them.

According to a presentation about NIMAS by Julia Myers and Nicole Gaines at the 2007 Getting in Touch with Literacy conference, as of October 15, 2007, forty states were coordinating with NIMAC, fifty-one Authorized Users of NIMAC, and forty-three registered Accessible Media Producers. Forty publishers were thus far participating, contributing 2,109 files, with 527 downloads. Tuck Tinsley told us that he has been “pleasantly surprised at the number of publishers who are working in advance of receiving contracts and are preparing and submitting files for materials they are currently marketing for new contracts.”

Deposited textbook files, however, are not formatted books. One important distinction that parents must recognize is that these formatted textbook files are not electronic copies of the book that can be directly embossed into Braille or placed on a student’s electronic note-taking device. The NIMAS files are not student-ready, and no one ever intended for them to be seen or used by students in this raw form. The files must first be converted to the finished specialized format by an AMP (Accessible Media Producer). NIMAC, in fact, does not work directly with students, individual schools, teachers, or parents.

When a state educational authority agrees to coordinate with NIMAC, it designates a small number of authorized users of NIMAS files. An authorized user can download the files comprising a textbook and can also designate an accessible media producer (AMP) to download files as its agent. Only these authorized users and their designated AMPs can download files from the NIMAC. So, once a book order comes into the state’s NIMAS program, the authorized user can choose the AMP to use during the ordering process. AMPs can include individuals such as Braille transcribers at your state’s school for the blind or organizations and agencies such as Prose and Cons, Bookshare, and RFB&D. Downloaded files can be converted into formats that allow for Braille production, audio production, digital-text production, and large-print production.

A list of authorized users is not publicly available. Primary state contacts for NIMAS/NIMAC are available at <http://nimas.cast.org/about/resources/nimas_nimac_contacts.html>. The over 200 AMPs can be found at <http://www.aph.org/ampdb.htm>.

Learning how to access NIMAS file sets and how to convert books from NIMAS files into user-friendly files is a challenging endeavor. With time AMPs will gain the experience required to convert NIMAS files into the necessary specialized formats, especially Braille. According to APH President Tinsley, training on how to do this conversion is offered by the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). In the meantime SEAs and LEAs are still trying to figure out how to handle NIMAS and NIMAC.

Marty McKenzie, resource center director from South Carolina, remarked that, once an authorized user has converted the NIMAS file into another format, the user can share the reformatted file with, or produce the textbook for, others and perhaps list it on the Louis database at APH. This could potentially save a lot of time and duplication of effort among individual Braillists or other AMPs. However, textbook publishers, as represented by the AAP and the AEP are understandably wary about the easy transfer of downloaded files (they have their profit margin to protect, after all) and about how NIMAS-produced materials might be made available to students who do not qualify as blind or print-disabled. As reported in the meeting minutes from the NIMAC Development Committee Meeting in January 2007, publishers are quite concerned about what happens to digital media after an AMP has made it accessible. Can the AMP make money selling the product to multiple users? Can an AMP make the product available to students who do not strictly qualify under NIMAS criteria? Where is the protection for the intellectual property that a textbook represents? The publishing industry is formidable; hence the existence of NIMAS file formats, authorized users, authorized media producers, and the tight rules and regulations governing the use of NIMAS file sets.

There is some question about whether publishers must submit materials to NIMAC that have been published after July 2006, or if they must submit materials that are being sold after July 2006, independent of the copyright. If the requirement is interpreted that only textbooks published after July 2006 are subject to the NIMAS rules, and the typical life of a textbook is five to eight years, then a book published anytime before July 2006 could be marketed and used in your child’s classroom until 2011 or later without being subject to the NIMAS requirements.

Another important issue is that there is currently no method for using NIMAS to produce math textbooks (or other core materials in Nemeth Braille Code), nor are NIMAS files compatible with the production of tactile diagrams. Furthermore, descriptions of figures are included in the NIMAS file only if provided by the publisher. Since math and science textbooks are more difficult to produce in an alternative format in the first place, clearly we need to work with publishers to establish a file format that is compatible with science and math material production; progress is being made in this regard for good digital audio production. Also there is currently no best method to determine the “pedagogical intent” of a diagram, figure, or graph, and how to include that information in NIMAS files. Many users and supporters of NIMAS are trying to encourage publishers to include figures and graphs in a file format called SVG. This format allows for the best (so far) translation into a tactile format. Students who receive high-quality tactile graphics in their textbooks will learn the material better and will also perform better on high-stakes tests in which such professionally produced tactile graphics are highly likely to be present.

At the 2007 NOPBC workshop, several parents asked whether APH could monitor textbook production, including timeliness and quality. Dr. Tinsley was very clear on one thing: APH’s goal is for all students to receive their textbooks when needed. However, he later told NOPBC that APH cannot, unfortunately, require states to send data about when students receive their textbooks. APH could request that its ex officio trustees provide this information. (APH ex officio trustees are representatives from each state designated to collect the data APH requires for the management and distribution of the federal quota fund materials to that state.) He explained that APH had surveyed trustees to determine estimated percentages of students who do not have textbooks when needed and the time lag until they actually received them. He further said that APH plans to conduct another such survey soon.

But it seems to us that there are some potential problems with this type of survey. Essentially APH is asking the trustees, who have a stake in how their state’s educational programs for blind children are rated, to make a good faith effort to identify not only systems that work but also those that need improvement. Although Dr. Tinsley said that “timely manner” is considered to be the first day of school or the first day of the particular class, some authorities may think that merely making a good faith effort is sufficient to satisfy the goal of On Time. These biases may influence the ability of trustees to answer these questions objectively. As one parent has said, the reason we have NIMAS is because people's "reasonable efforts" kept resulting in late textbooks.

NIMAC’s role (remember, NIMAC is administered by APH, but it is totally separate from other APH functions) in this process is only one piece of the puzzle: providing immediate access to files needed to create the accessible formats.

There is some good news and, we hope, progress. In October 2007 the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) was awarded nearly $5 million from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education to speed the delivery of accessible teaching materials to students with disabilities. CAST has organized the Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) Consortium that will, according to the CAST press release, “explore the most efficient means to provide students with disabilities the materials they need to access, participate, and achieve in the general educational curriculum.”

The AIM Consortium includes Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. The goals include developing state systems to increase the timely provision of accessible materials. If your state is listed as a member of the consortium, it may be worth contacting the person in charge in your state to see if they require feedback from users (our children) of the materials for timeliness and quality.

What needs to be done, and what can we--the consumers acting individually and collectively through NOPBC and the NFB--do to monitor and encourage continued progress toward making textbooks-on-time a reality? Here are some ideas, some of which were generated by the 2007 NOPBC workshop, some by our NOPBC committee research, and some through a recent committee meeting with the NFB Jernigan Institute Education Department, the NFB Governmental Affairs Department, and the NOPBC:

1.) If your state opted out of using the NIMAC and your student does not get his or her textbooks on time (the first day they are needed), make sure to report this to your state education agency and send a copy to the NFB Governmental Affairs Department, attention: Books on Time. Check the NFB Web site for details, <www.nfb.org>. The NFB is looking for information and trends that will help us determine if or what actions might be taken to move us closer to the goal of Textbooks on Time.

2.) Your state may be an opt-in state, but your child or student may continue to have problems with getting textbooks on time. Again, report this to your state education agency and send a copy to the NFB Governmental Affairs Department, attention: Books on Time (see above).

3.) We must support efforts allowing the production of math textbooks in the Nemeth Braille code directly from NIMAS file sets. We want to find a way to get textbook publishers to encourage their authors to include instructive descriptions of figures, where appropriate, in the NIMAS file set and, further, to encourage illustrators to format graphics so that tactile diagrams can be straightforward to produce. If you have knowledge, ideas, or connections that will help us achieve these goals, contact our NOPBC Textbooks on Time committee chairperson, Pat Renfranz at <dblair2525@msn.com>.

4.) States or school districts should be required to adopt textbooks in a timely manner so that there is time to produce them in the needed format. We can educate our LEAs and SEAs about this need and help them realize that "textbooks on time" needs to be taken literally. We can work within our state NFB affiliates and other advocacy organizations to find solutions within our states.

5.) It is currently difficult to find up-to-date listings of states participating in NIMAC. We can encourage NIMAC and/or CAST to list states that have opted to participate in the NIMAC program and also to list the registered users on a state-by-state basis.

6.) Some blind or visually impaired children are served under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act but are not being provided special education services under IDEA. Access to textbooks through the NIMAS is a condition of IDEA, not the legislation that governs rehabilitative services. There is some question in the industry about whether “504 students” are eligible to use NIMAC-deposited files or products derived from them.

SUMMARY BY PAT RENFRANZ
My father is a retired engineer. When I spoke with him about this article and the complexities of getting textbooks in alternative formats on time, he told me about Critical Path Method (CPM), a technique used in project engineering that ensures that all the steps required to complete a complex project are done on time and to proper specifications. Maybe it’s time we apply CPM to textbook ordering so that it can be a streamlined process. This would include (1) a list of all activities required to complete the project, (2) the time that each activity will take to completion, and (3) the dependencies between the activities. CPM determines which activities are critical and which can be delayed without making the project longer. In my view any delay that results in that sinking feeling that my child has when her materials are not ready would be unacceptable.

RESOURCES
This Web site has a lot of detailed information about NIMAS and an excellent FAQ page: <http://nimas.cast.org>.

This Webpage from the Department of Education has a section devoted to NIMAS/NIMAC: <http://idea.ed.gov/explore/home>.

To find out how textbooks are selected in your state, go to this site from the Education Commission of the States:
<http://www.ecs.org/ecsmain.asp?page=/html/educationIssues/ECSStateNotes.asp>.

The listing of primary state contacts for NIMAS is available at <http://nimas.cast.org/about/resources/nimas_nimac_contacts.html>.

Anyone can search the NIMAC database to see which textbooks have been deposited by publishers by going to the Web site: <http://www.nimac.us/> then selecting the link “Enter the NIMAC Repository.”

Additionally, over 200 alternative media producers are currently listed on APH’s AMP database. You can search this database by visiting: <http://www.aph.org/ampdb.htm>.

GLOSSARY
The NIMAS program is filled with lots of jargon, acronyms, and organizations with which parents may not be familiar. Here are some definitions and resources that may be of interest to you:

NIMAS stands for the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard, which is used by K–12 curriculum publishers to produce source files of a given textbook. These files can subsequently be used to produce the textbook in a specialized format such as Braille, digital text, or audio, for students with print disabilities. Standardizing the file format makes it more straightforward to convert a textbook into an accessible format. For a given textbook the full set of files includes XML content files, a package file, images, and a PDF file of the title page (or whichever page contains ISBN and copyright information).

NIMAC stands for the National Instructional Materials Access Center; in other words, this is the site where the textbook files are deposited by the book publisher. The NIMAC repository was established at the American Printing House for the Blind (APH).

CAST is the Center for Applied Special Technology. It is a nonprofit organization that, among other things, hosts the federally funded NIMAS Development and Technical Assistance centers for the delivery of accessible instructional materials. CAST is not focused exclusively on blind or visually impaired students.

SEA and LEA are the State Educational Authority and the Local Educational Authority.

AAP and AEP: The Association of American Publishers and the Association of Educational Publishers are two large trade organizations that represent publishers of textbooks and other educational materials.

SVG refers to Scalable Vector Graphics. This is a digital language used to represent graphical figures.

 

Devastated

by Amber Bobnar

Editor’s Note: Ever notice how tricky language can be? You said one thing that you thought was perfectly clear, then discover that it was interpreted entirely differently than you had intended. Amber Bobnar, mother of a blind son and creator of the <www.WonderBaby.org> Web site, deals with nuances in attitudes and beliefs about blindness in the following piece that might be misinterpreted if not read carefully and thoughtfully. I hope you will give it that attention.

Devastated. I hear that word a lot: “When we first discovered our son was blind we were devastated.” I understand that. I’ve experienced it myself. But it’s funny how now, over two years after the so-called devastation, it’s hard to imagine that I ever felt that way. My son Ivan seems so perfect and so full of potential and possibilities.

But there certainly was a time when all I could think about were all the things Ivan would not be able to do as a blind child. He’ll never blow bubbles, fly a kite, or watch Sesame Street. Probably because coloring was always a favorite activity for me as a child, I kept returning to the thought that he would never color in a coloring book. How could a blind child possibly have fun with colors?

Eventually I realized that I was really stuck in the world of can’t, so I began trying to think more positively. I started to say to myself, “Ivan can do anything he wants to do! He can color, fly a kite, go to the movies, play sports, and whatever else he puts his mind to.” This is a much better attitude, but it also has a dangerous down side that I almost got caught up in. It’s hard to remember that it’s possible to be too positive. Not only will Ivan definitely face limitations (as we all do), I also risked pushing him into activities just for the sake of proving that my blind child can do all that a sighted child can do. I suddenly pictured myself forcing Ivan to play soccer or color in that coloring book just because that’s what all the normal kids are doing. It made me shudder.

I didn’t want to foster the attitude that Ivan can do things simply because I desperately need him to do those things. I see this with parents of blind children every day. They push their children to fit in or to participate in activities that don’t interest them simply for the benefit of the parents.

I think it’s very important to remember: My child will do what he wants to do because he wants to do it or because it benefits him in some way.

Now I try to be more realistic in my expectations of Ivan. With coloring, for example, I still think that this is something Ivan can do, but now I think about how we can make the activity as entertaining and beneficial for him as possible.

Activities like coloring and painting are good for Ivan because they strengthen his hands, encourage grasp, and facilitate wrist rotation. They’re fun because there are more elements to coloring and painting than just the visual; crayons and paints, for example, have a distinct smell and feel.

Also, since Ivan is blind, we can experiment with different ways to make coloring and painting exciting for him. We can finger paint with pudding, then eat our art; we can draw with scented markers; we can place sandpaper under our drawing paper so that the crayon marks are raised; or we can make art with strings, buttons, curled lengths of paper, and other three-dimensional objects. Whatever we do, it will be beneficial because we will explore Ivan’s other senses while encouraging him to participate in those normal childhood activities. And most importantly, it will be fun because we’ll only do it if Ivan finds it enjoyable.

I do believe that Ivan can do almost anything and that nearly any activity presents some sort of learning opportunity. The only way Ivan will learn about the world is through interacting with it. Of course, Ivan may not be interested in art at all; he may be more of an action kind of guy, and that’s fine, too. We won’t discourage him from running or riding a bike any more than we would discourage him from playing with paints and crayons.

Remember that your child is a child first. Don’t think of your child as primarily a blind or handicapped child. The disability is an integral part of who he or she is but does not define who he or she is as a person. Some kids like to draw and others don’t; some kids like to run and others don’t. Let your child explore the world in his or her own unique way, encourage this exploration, but don’t push him or her into activities just because it will make you feel better about the disability.

 

BLIND, Inc.: My Life-Changing Experience

by Sarah Leon

Editor’s Note: The National Federation of the Blind operates three rehabilitation training centers for the blind: the Colorado Center for the Blind, the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and BLIND, Inc., in Minnesota. During most of the year, the programs are available for adults only, but in the summer each of the three operate programs for children and youth. As more and more parents learn about these centers, they are asking themselves if one of them might be right for their children. Sarah’s mom asked herself that, too. Sarah Leon is a high school senior who delivered a presentation about her experiences with the Ohio Bureau of Services for the Visually Impaired (BSVI) and the NFB training center for the blind in Minnesota, BLIND, Inc., at the 2006 Ohio state convention. Everyone including the BSVI director was impressed with her presentation. Barbara Pierce asked her to put her experiences on paper for publication in the Spring-Summer 2007 issue of the Buckeye Bulletin, the newsletter of the NFB of Ohio. Here is what she said:

The airplane began to creep down the runway. I sat rigidly, gazing out the window and hoping for a safe flight. Little did I realize that I was about to embark on one of the most exciting episodes of my life.

My story really begins long before this, on a night in March when many events were set in motion. My mom spent that night sleeplessly tossing and turning, worrying about my future. I was a junior in high school and was just beginning to look into possible colleges, yet I was utterly unprepared for any college experience. When, and where, and how could I find the skills I needed? At last the idea of a school for the blind occurred to her.

The next morning she asked me what I would think of attending a school for the blind. This was not a new topic of discussion between us; I knew that I was limited in many ways. Never having learned even to cross an intersection, I was totally inadequate in travel, and I had never really worked with computers. I quickly decided that a school for the blind could be the answer I was looking for.

Since I needed blindness skills only, and since my training could not interfere with my high school education, I had to find a summer program which concentrated solely on blindness training. Mom suggested that we look into some NFB centers that she had heard of, for we could be sure of finding people there who shared our philosophy of blindness and who would give me the right kind of training. To our delight, we discovered that all three centers had the type of program we wanted.

Barbara Pierce has always been a source of wisdom for me on all issues related to blindness, so I called her to ask her advice about which center I should choose. After assuring me that training was a wonderful idea, she said that all three of the centers were fantastic and that I should call them for information and make my own choice. This I did, contacting all of the centers’ directors and finding out as much as I could about the programs. While all of them sounded very interesting, BLIND, Inc.’s College Prep/Life Skills class attracted my attention. Since college preparation was my main purpose in seeking training, I decided that BLIND, Inc., was ideally suited to meet my needs.
When I called BLIND, Inc., to ask them for application information, they suggested that I contact the Bureau of Services for the Visually Impaired of Ohio (BSVI) about funding for the program. They encouraged me to apply to the center in the meantime, saying that I could let them know about the funding later.

While I appreciated their kind advice, I was wary of becoming involved with an agency that I knew nothing about. Once more I called Mrs. Pierce for her advice. She soon explained to me the purpose of BSVI—to assist blind people to gain employment—its buy-Ohio policy, my right to make an informed choice about services and service providers, and my need to be approved for services. She also prepared me for the length and difficulty of the undertaking, especially if we had to appeal an unfavorable decision.

Armed with this new information, I called BSVI and asked to speak with a counselor. The counselor listened as I described my needs and desires and then set an appointment when we could discuss these things in person. In the interval I applied and was accepted to BLIND, Inc. Nothing remained now except to learn whether BSVI would fund my training.

When the day of the appointment arrived, my parents went with me to the meeting. The counselor began by asking the usual questions—how had I been educated, what was my level of blindness skills, and what were my goals and desires in coming to BSVI? She explained that any services I received would have to be part of an IPE (an Individualized Plan for Employment). I would have to set a vocational goal and show how blindness training fit with that goal before I could receive any funding. Also, because of BSVI’s Buy-Ohio policy, I would have to demonstrate that BLIND, Inc., could help me reach my vocational goal in ways that no in-state program could match.

Few sixteen-year-olds really know what they want to do with their life, and I was no exception. I was strongly opposed to being channeled into a vocation too early, instead of allowing events and college experience to guide me naturally into the right form of employment. Yet I needed the training, so I agreed to try to designate a possible future career. My counselor then told me that I had been approved for services and assured me that she would do everything in her power to help me get funding for training. She also asked me to compile a document listing my reasons for choosing BLIND, Inc., instead of an Ohio program such as that conducted by the Cleveland Sight Center (CSC).

Returning home, we immediately put together the required document; explaining that BLIND, Inc., could give me sleepshade training, blind instructors as role models, apartment-living experience, and preparation for interacting with college professors and fellow students. After waiting a couple of weeks without any response from my counselor, we finally contacted her for feedback. To our dismay we learned that what we had sent was insufficient. She now asked us to give her a point-by-point comparison of BLIND, Inc.’s program with an Ohio program like the CSC’s new summer program. Excitedly she described this new program and urged us to research it in detail.

I was somewhat shaken, but I began at once to call the directors of both centers, collecting as much information as I could. Each phone call only confirmed more clearly my first conclusion: the CSC program could not meet my training needs. We laid this out in a letter, especially stressing the sleepshade training. This type of training allows students to learn alternative blindness techniques which make it possible for them to function independently and safely, regardless of further vision loss. This training is also helpful when a student has just enough vision to be dangerous when attempting to use it for traveling. I fall into both these categories. The director of CSC’s summer program told me that he did not believe in sleepshades. Furthermore, only three of CSC’s thirteen instructors are blind, and I was told that a travel instructor must be sighted to tell me how to move in my environment. At BLIND, Inc., seven of the nine instructors, including the travel instructor, are blind. Even in areas such as recreation and apartment life I found that BLIND, Inc.’s program was challenging and encouraged total independence, while CSC’s was unexciting and encouraged reliance on semi-functional vision.

Shortly after I sent this letter, BLIND, Inc., contacted me to tell me that they had to know within two weeks whether I could come that summer. Not being able to reach my counselor, I was referred to her supervisor, to whom I explained the new urgency of my situation. The supervisor told me that we would have to write an IPE and provide a cost analysis of the two programs before anything else could be done. This was alarming, since writing an IPE can take weeks, but I sent through the cost analysis immediately. I noticed that BLIND, Inc.’s eight-week program cost two hundred dollars less than CSC’s six-week program. Since my counselor had suggested BSVI might cover the equivalent of an Ohio program in funding BLIND, Inc., this was highly encouraging.

Two days later my counselor called me. Excitedly she told me that I had been approved for 100% funding of the BLIND, Inc., program, and she did not mention the IPE. Gratefully I thanked her for the wonderful news, thrilled that BSVI had come through with the funding just in time.

One month later, after much happy anticipation and preparation, I was saying good bye to my parents and boarding a Minneapolis-bound plane. I had not flown since I was a little girl, and because of my close friendships with my siblings, I had never spent even one night without someone from my family. Perhaps these were the causes of my nervousness as I sat looking out the tiny window. Yet we landed in Minneapolis without the slightest incident.

After sitting in the gate for a long time, waiting for someone from BLIND, Inc., to come and get me, I at last called the center to find out where my escort was. They told me that someone was waiting for me at baggage claim. After another long wait I secured one of the airline staff to accompany me downstairs.

There I met Dick Davis, the assistant director of BLIND, Inc., who drove me to the center and gave me what felt like a whirlwind tour of its lower floor. Then he took me to my apartment, giving me a long, terribly confusing explanation of the route the students took to school. Not until he had dropped me off at my apartment did I begin to feel at home, as I unpacked and made friends with my roommate.

My impressions during those first few days are a whirl of activity and directions, most of which I did not comprehend. Minneapolis was like a vast labyrinth of streets, names, and routes. The buses seemed terrible to me. It was like a strange game where I had to leap on and off at exactly the right instant or be sucked into the heart of the labyrinth.

Still, from the first day that I began my training, I fell in love with the center. It is difficult to say what caused me to feel this way. Perhaps it was the practical new skills I was learning daily, which were revolutionizing my ability, or perhaps it was the novelty and challenge, yet I found myself enjoying the experience immensely.

Intermingled with this enjoyment was the incredible amount of work that I was doing. I had not realized just how much I didn’t know until I arrived at the center, and I wanted to learn as much as I could in the short time I had. When the staff saw my hunger to learn, they pushed me at a faster pace, doing everything in their power to assist me. Their efforts were undoubtedly what allowed me to accomplish as much as I did.

My instructors were willing to sacrifice even their own personal time to give me the training I needed. For instance, the shop instructor stayed for hours overtime, helping me to finish a beautiful Norwegian-style bookcase. On another occasion, my last day at the center, I reminded my computer instructor that I had not learned how to do email, and I had only an hour and a half left. He immediately dropped what he was doing, leaving his break early, and taught me how to work my email account.

The staff’s impact went far beyond teaching me skills, however. They completely changed my ideas of independence and blindness. Before coming to the center, I had unconsciously set limits for my independence, but the daily exposure to blind instructors who lived truly independently shattered those limits, an experience that I could never have gotten from sighted instructors. Sometimes it was the little things, like watching the guys run down the stairs, that affected me most. They inspired me to learn to live independently as well, and I eagerly accepted the challenge.

My training was not free of difficulties. One day, after I had spent two miserable hours wandering around on what should have been a one-hour assignment, I shared my frustrations with my travel instructor. To my shock, he replied, “Well, that’s wonderful!” As I stared at him in disbelief, he explained, “I like all my students to have at least half a dozen similar experiences before they graduate. Look at what happened; you got lost, but you used your knowledge and creativity to get unlost. That’s really valuable.” From this I realized that part of BLIND, Inc.’s training philosophy was that experience, even if it is failure, is the best teacher for life.

Interspersed with the work and the challenges of my training was a lot of laughter and fun. One day the entire school went out to a water park. One of the rides there was an alpine slide, a long concrete and fiberglass track which ran in a series of curves and drops down a small mountain, down which one rode on a small sled on wheels. When we arrived at the top of the hill after a long ski lift, we ran across the platform and grabbed our sleds. I was wearing my sleepshades, since this was a school recreation event, and I could only hear the others whiz down the track into silence. Then I was off, nervously holding my brake at half-throttle. After two fun and uneventful rides, I decided to make the third one worth remembering. I shot down the slide, going as fast as I dared and careening around curves at a thrilling speed. Suddenly I felt the ground level beneath me, and I pushed the speed full-throttle. My friends turned around just in time to see me come shooting down the last stretch of track and collide into the all-too-solid safety cushion at the track’s end. For one breathtaking moment I was airborne. Then I landed once more on my sled, amid the others’ hysterical peals of laughter.

The climax of my training came during my last week at the center, when I was given a drop-off. The drop-off, to me, is really a symbol of the entire BLIND, Inc., philosophy, a philosophy which says that students should be placed in lifelike situations where they learn problem-solving skills, build confidence, and discover new blindness techniques, also known as the “structured-discovery method.” BLIND, Inc., does not believe in making things artificially easy for its students; instead it gives them a wide base of practical knowledge and experiences that they will draw upon for the rest of their lives.

Thus one morning I found myself standing on an unknown street corner in Minneapolis. I was allowed only one question to get me back to the school, and it could not be, “Where am I?” or “What street is this?” Quickly I began to walk back towards the nearest busy street and located a bus stop. When the bus arrived, I rode it for a short time, figured out where I was and walked the rest of the way back to the center.

Still buoyed by the extra confidence which this success gave me, I left the center at the end of the week, but I did not leave as the same person who had arrived. I carried away with me a host of new skills. From not knowing how to cross an intersection, I had progressed to my first drop-off. From knowing nothing of computers, I had mastered the basics of Word and been introduced to the Web. Finally, I had discovered my love for woodworking, improved my Braille speed, and learned new cooking techniques.

Supporting me in these new skills was a valuable network of friends and instructors. Such resources should not be underestimated since difficulty and discouragement do not cease after graduation from an NFB center. As I discovered, it is all too easy to begin to slowly let go of one’s independence without the support and challenge of others.

By the time I left the center, my confidence and freedom had been transformed. This time, when my plane landed, I walked alone from the gate to baggage claim to meet my parents. I carried with me a new zest for the unknown and the challenging. Even my perception of myself as a person who is blind had changed. The burdening belief that my blindness was a weakness was gone, replaced by a healthy knowledge of my ability and independence. Finally, I left the center with the living knowledge that whatever my dreams are, whatever God’s calling is upon my life, I can pursue those dreams and that calling unhindered by my blindness.

NFB Training Centers for the Blind

Colorado Center for the Blind
2233 West Sheppard Ave
Littleton, Colorado 80120
Phone: (303) 778-1130
ccb@cocenter.org
http://www.cocenter.org/

BLIND Inc.
100 East 22nd St.
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404
Phone: (612) 872-0100
Toll Free: 1-800-597-9558
Fax: (612) 872-9358
info@blindinc.org
http://www.blindinc.org/

Louisiana Center for the Blind
101 South Trenton Street
Ruston, Louisiana 71270
Phone toll free: (800) 234-4166
Phone local: (318) 251-2891
Fax: (318) 251-0109
training@lcb-ruston.com
http://www.lcb-ruston.com/


Take That Summer Vacation
Travel Tips from Moms of Children with Multiple Disabilities

by Jeanette Buttler and Martha Hack

Reprinted from the June/July 2007 issue of VISability, A Parent’s Newsletter, published by the Visually Impaired Preschool Services (VIPS) program in Louisville, Kentucky, <www.vips.org>. The original title is “Take That Summer Vacation: Travel Tips for Your Special Needs Child.”

Well it’s that time of year again for the great American Summer Vacation—the Family Road Trip. As moms of children with multiple disabilities, we are going to share some of our travel tips with you in hopes that you will feel empowered to set off on that family trip with your special needs child and leave some of your fears behind.

Martha
When you have a child with multiple needs, a trip to the grocery store can be a whole day event--you have to take oxygen, suction, pulse ox monitors, and all kinds of other equipment that we forget the names of like “the blue thingy.” The thought of actually going on a weekend trip or a weeklong trip doesn’t even seem possible.

Jeanette
I think we both would agree that the primary thing you need to do is plan, plan, and plan some more. First, you need to select your destination. The Internet is a great resource for finding out the specifics about the location you have chosen. My family likes to visit museums. These are usually very accessible for wheelchairs and some even have special exhibits for the sensory impaired. Museums are almost always air conditioned, so if you have little ones that don’t do well in heat, these are great destinations.

Martha
When we decide where to go, I always check with the hotel about handicap accessibility and try to get one of those rooms. It gives you a little extra space for all the equipment. I also call the locations that we plan to visit and ask them about wheelchair ramps and such. And I always make sure of the location of the closest hospital to our hotel. I hope that we never have to use it, but I always feel better knowing that I have directions to it in the glove box.

Jeanette
Once you have chosen your destination you may well want to start planning what you will need to take on this trip. The obvious things are clothes, diapers, food, and so forth, but with our kids that also usually means medications, feeding tubes, feeding bags, equipment, and special foods--among other things. It is a good idea to start a list of all the things you will need on a daily basis. I like to think through how each day will go; it helps me remember all of the things that I will need to accomplish each task. I, like Martha, keep most of these items in an easy-to-carry plastic tote. We travel so regularly now that I keep this tote stocked with staples at all times.

Plan to take extra of everything. It’s like Murphy’s Law--anything that can break, may break. Be prepared and you won’t be stressing-out in the middle of your vacation. My daughter, Darcy, has a trach, so many of our supplies have to do with trachs. I make sure that I have 2 x 2’s, extra trachs, trach ties, and all things associated with trachs in the same large ziplock bag. We even take an extra suction container with all parts in case anything breaks. I have also learned that if your equipment has wires, adapters, and so forth, that can break or malfunction, then it is good to have extra of these items as well. One time we forgot a “Christmas tree” connector for our air compressor and my husband had to improvise. He went to a local Lowes store and found a brass nipple that worked great. We now always keep extra Christmas tree connectors with our supplies.

Martha
Make sure that you prepare for every possible event that could happen to your child. I start to get JD’s stuff ready the weekend before we go; that way I have a whole week to remember things that I might have forgotten. I use that time to make up a “JD box.” In the JD box is everything that he could need that you can’t buy at a Walgreen’s or Wal-Mart--suction items, gloves, an extra g-tube, oxygen hose, breathing treatment supplies, and so forth. These all go into a plastic box that has a nice handle and locks shut; but you could also use one those large zipper bags. I like a locking box just in case it falls off the cart at the hotel. It may seem like you will be taking A LOT of stuff, but I buy sample sizes of things or use smaller empty bottles to put things in, and that always saves room. Just think of how much you will need for the length of your trip.

Jeanette
A lot of what I have learned has been by trial and error. I try to organize by category, such as trach supplies, clothes, and diapers. I keep these individual supplies in large or even extra large ziplock bags within our plastic container. I have a group of syringes that I keep in our travel container at all times along with extra extension tubes and small measuring cups. The medications of course always get put in at the last minute. That is why it is good to have a checklist.

Martha
The night before the trip I go over everything again! (This drives my husband John nuts!) But I’d rather be sure that I have everything in that box. I also put all JD’s things by the front door as I check them, then I know they have been checked. Make sure you don’t forget all the power cords to equipment even if it is battery-operated. And take extra batteries for things that you will use also. I always plan more than I need. If we go for two days, I take stuff for four days and, that way, if something gets spilled or broken we have back up, especially for clothes. Preparation is the key.

Jeanette
Besides all of the supplies you will need, you’ve got to think about your child’s needs while traveling in your vehicle. I keep all of the items that we will need during the day while traveling in Darcy’s backpack. This includes food, diapers, a change of clothes, sunscreen, extra humidity vents, PRN meds, and any other little things that may be needed. It is a good idea to keep your backpack handy for easy access. Your little one may also need to get out and stretch occasionally, just like the rest of the family, after riding for a while. Darcy likes her “floor time” so when we take a break at the rest stop, we take her wheelchair out of the back of the van to make room for Darcy so she can lay and stretch for a while. It also gives me a place to change her since at six years of age she is getting a little long for the standard diaper-changing table.

Martha
JD’s backpack usually gets stuffed with things that we might need on the road or at the event. Again, suction items, food, thermometer, and a change of clothes. Then I have everything handy, and I don’t have to unload the car to get to something. I also put in a plastic grocery bag in the backpack as this can come in handy for many uses.

Jeanette
If your child has trouble with the heat, like my daughter does, then I have some more ideas for you. A few years ago our family went to Disney World in June. I was very worried about how Darcy would react in the heat. We started planning early and were able to locate a shade for wheelchairs by contacting the company that sold and maintained her chair. My husband then went online and found a company called Heat Relief Depot that sells products to help beat the heat. They had many options, and the one we chose were cooling pads. They fit in Darcy’s chair and the best thing is they re-freeze in 20 minutes by submerging them in ice water--no freezer required. We have found that a small soft-sided cooler with ice works great for this and fits on the handle of her chair along with everything else we pile on it. The last thing we did to help keep Darcy cool was to attach a battery-operated fan with soft foam blades to the side of her sunshade. It was flexible so we could direct it wherever Darcy needed it. We like to say, “Darcy has it made in the shade.”

Martha
We just recently braved a trip to Indy with JD and Ryan, my five year old. While there, we went to the Children’s Museum. I called beforehand and although they said they were handicapped accessible, I never expected them to be as good as they were. Every activity was one that JD could do--even dressing up in dinosaur costumes made just for kids in wheelchairs! So make sure that you call ahead or go online and look it up. Most places are very helpful, and no question is a stupid question.

Jeanette
This summer my family and I had a chance to take a road trip to Washington, D.C. This was not our first trip, and won’t be our last. In the last four years we have made many road trips with Darcy. What we have learned is that anything is possible if you plan. While in Washington we visited some of the Smithsonian Museums. The great thing about these museums is that they are free. The Smithsonian actually has many museums. Some of the ones we visited were the American History Museum, the Natural History Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the National Portrait Gallery, the Native American Museum, and the National Air and Space Museum, just to name a few. All of these museums are handicap accessible and climate controlled. I’ve also been told if you plan in advance and contact the museums, you can have a tour guide to help your sensory impaired child explore the museum more fully.

We always load up Darcy’s wheelchair at the start of the day with her basic necessities: food, diapers, a change of clothes, and any meds we may need during the day. Don’t forget sunscreen--even while walking around the city you can get major sun exposure if you’re not careful. Washington, D.C., is very accessible for handicapped public transportation. The city buses are all accessible as is the Metro (the rapid transit system). We chose to walk on this trip since our hotel was centrally located. Of course, one thing that helps us to be able to take Darcy out and about for a long day of sightseeing are the things we do to help keep her cool and comfortable.

We always like to dine out when we are in a new city and Washington, D.C., was no exception. My husband chose a lovely restaurant called Georgia Brown’s that promised great Southern dining. It was a little more expensive than our usual fare; but what the heck, we were on vacation. We were seated quickly and made our choices. Just after our dinner arrived, Darcy decided she needed to vomit. This happens to us regularly now, so we were not necessarily surprised. Luckily the table was covered in plain white paper over the tablecloth and most of it landed there. We were able to tear off the paper, and the table was fine. I took Darcy to the bathroom to clean her up and used the change of clothes we had brought along. We then returned to the table and, with everything cleaned up, finished our meal with no further interruptions. We don’t let little things like this stop us from going out to dinner. It was not the first time Darcy had vomited on the table, and we’re pretty sure it will not be her last. We’ve even been able to laugh about it on a few occasions.

Martha
On our trip to Indy, I planned JD’s clothes for four days of travel, even though we were gone for only two days. But it turned out that JD didn’t need them--Ryan did after throwing up in the car twice. He just wore some of JD’s extra clothes, and it all worked out and everyone had a great time.

Jeanette
Last, I would like to touch on the subject of the “public.” Often, when we take our special needs children out into the community, we are met with stares. We occasionally have this happen, but mostly we think that our child has as much right to be there as anybody else. Not all the people we see are rude. We had a very positive encounter with a young woman on our D.C. trip. She came up to us and started speaking, mostly signing, and asked if she could touch Darcy. She had some kind of device (like a phone or mini computer) that she could type text on and ask us questions. The young woman was deaf, but definitely not handicapped. She was very nice and even offered to teach Darcy. Never have I ever had anyone actually come up to me and say, “I would like to teach your child.” This was wonderful. Unfortunately she lives in D.C. and we live in southern Indiana. We did exchange e-mails and have shared experiences since our meeting in June. It was so nice to have a positive experience out in public. One of the great things about having a special needs child is that they allow you to meet all sorts of wonderful people in the world that you otherwise may never have met.

I encourage all of you to get out there and travel, even if it’s just a short weekend to get away to a town or a place close to home. It can be done, and your whole family will have fun!

 

Encourage Hands-on Learning

by Mary Jo Thorpe, Education Program Specialist
NFB Jernigan Institute

As part of the NFB’s initiative to promote interest in subjects related to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), the Future Reflections editor has asked the NFB Jernigan Institute to submit several useful articles relating to this area over the next few editions. These articles will provide concrete suggestions to parents and teachers about best practices they can use to empower their blind students and help them gain more from the study of STEM subjects. It seemed best to start with fundamentals, and nothing is more fundamental when talking about the education of blind or low-vision children than a discussion of the importance of hands-on learning. So, here are some tips we hope you will find useful:

Tips to Encourage Hands-On Learning
In many ways, we live in a “hands-off” society. Phrases such as “Do not touch!” or “Hands off!” send a message that using our hands to examine something is socially inappropriate and unacceptable. However, the use of touch to gather information is a valuable tool, and vital to a blind student’s learning.

“Hand thinking,” as research psychologist Selma Fraiberg refers to it, allows the student to form a mental picture of one’s surroundings through touch. It is an effective and completely respectable method of gathering information for observation and learning. Numerous blind students are given so many “don’t touch” messages that they become timid and ineffective in using this skill of exploration. If we as educators and parents do not break that pattern, then the students are truly handicapped--not by their blindness, but by their lack of experience. The following are some points to keep in mind when encouraging hands-on learning.

1. Be cautious not to limit your blind student’s exploration because of your visual bias. Just because it looks yucky or unpleasant to you, does not mean that it will feel that way to the touch. Even if it does, so what? Dissection material for a biology lab class is a good example. Through the use of touch, students will gain experiential knowledge rather than relying solely on descriptive knowledge and, as a result, have more meaningful learning experiences.

2. Use the hand-under-hand teaching method. This occurs as the instructor places his hands under the student’s to demonstrate a particular task or motion, or as a way to gently lead a student’s hand to a particular object to explore. It can be thought of as the alternative to a sighted student watching a demonstration. Hand-under-hand allows the student to maintain more control over his or hands than if the instructor grasped them and moved them in the traditional hand-over-hand approach. More control over their own hands gives blind students a higher level of control over the entire learning process. Of course, the method works best if the instructor also incorporates strong verbalization, concise instructions, and clear movements with his hands in a way that is easy for the student to distinguish.

For example, when teaching concepts where a student needs to be shown how to hold a tool or instrument, the instructor can hold his hands under the students’ to help the students understand the motion their hands need to make, or to demonstrate the correct hand or finger position. This practice can also be helpful when an instructor is trying to explain concepts that are ambiguous or highly visual.

3. Like any other skill, students need to have proper tactile observations modeled and articulated for them so that they know what and how to examine with their hands. Since most visual learners (that includes most teachers and most parents) may be unfamiliar with tactile exploration and observation, here are a few suggestions that can help you help your blind student make meaningful observations and gather appropriate information tactually.

When we allow blind students to explore objects by touch, we are giving them the opportunity to form mental pictures made from their own observations. Verbal descriptions are still helpful and sometimes necessary, but these are intrinsically someone else’s interpretation, someone else’s view of reality. Blind individuals can visualize, through the use of touch and mental reflection, just as sighted people do. As teachers and parents we must be patient while our learners take the time they need to form those mental images. With practice, blind students will learn to perfect their use of touch as an effective tool.

Additional Readings
“Another Way of Seeing” by Deborah Kent Stein, Future Reflections volume 22, number 1 (Convention 2002), pp 27-30. http://www.nfb.org/Images/nfb/Publications/fr/fr9/fr03co12.htm

“The Barrier of the Visible Difference” by Kenneth Jernigan, Gray Pancakes and Gold Horses (Kernel Book 14), 1998 National Federation of the Blind, pp. 1-15. http://www.nfb.org/Images/nfb/Publications/books/kernel1/kern1401.htm

“Educated Fingers” by Barbara Pierce, Future Reflections volume 23, number 2 (Special Issue—The Early Years), pp. 75-77. http://www.nfb.org/Images/nfb/Publications/fr/fr14/fr04se19.htm

“Hand-Over-Hand Guidance: What Lesson Do We Teach?” by Andrea Story, Future Reflections volume 19, number 1 (Winter/Spring 2000), pp. 17-19.
http://www.nfb.org/images/nfb/Publications/fr/fr19/Issue1/f190106.htm

“Teaching Exploration: Correcting a Glaring Flaw in the Education of Blind Children” by Geerat J. Vermeij, Braille Monitor volume 47, number 9 (October, 2004), pp. 700-705. http://www.nfb.org/Images/nfb/Publications/bm/bm06/bm0609/bm060908.htm

 

Extended school year: What does it mean?
Could it be an option for your child?

by Marcia Kelly

Reprinted from the Winter 2007, Volume 30, number 1, issue of Pacesetter, a publication of PACER Center, Inc., Minneapolis, Minnesota; <www.pacer.org>.

For some children with disabilities, a long break from special education instruction and related services can result in a significant loss in skills. Summer vacation, for example, can be a time when achievements gained during the school year are lost.

A possible solution to helping your child maintain those skills is extended school year services. Unlike summer school, extended school year services are tailored to the needs of the child and support goals established in the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). Designed to help children who are three to twenty-one years old maintain their skill or development levels during long breaks, these services are provided at no cost to the family.

Each year, your IEP team must discuss whether your child needs extended school year services. The team will look at several factors and compare them to the goals specified in your child’s IEP to determine if your child qualifies.

One factor the team will consider is called regression. “It means that when there’s a break in services, your child falls back to a significantly earlier skill level,” says Judy Swett, PACER Center advocate. “For example, before winter break, your child showed progress on a speech goal, such as using longer sentences. After winter break, he was back to using two-word sentences.” Or perhaps the child has a goal in the area of reading and was found to be reading at the fourth-grade level at the end of the school year, but in September he was reading at the third-grade level. Such changes should be documented by the team throughout the year, Swett adds. “This data is essential to determining if your child qualifies for services.”

A related consideration is called recoupment. It refers to how long it takes your child to regain the pre-break skill level. “It should not take longer to regain skills than the length of the break,” Swett says. Your child’s recoupment time should be documented, as well.

Other factors will be considered, too. For example, would a break prevent your child from attaining or keeping skills that allow for personal independence? The skills typically are identified in your child’s IEP and may include such things as being able to dress him or herself, communicate wants and needs, do basic reading and writing, and understand time and money concepts.

As the team looks at your child’s potential need for extended school year services, they also will evaluate such things as:

After weighing all the data, the team will determine if your child qualifies for extended school year services. If so, the team will consider what services and settings would be appropriate. Recommendations can range anywhere from a structured program at a school to community activities and suggestions of things the family can do at home. Some of the options may include support from staff.

If your child does not qualify for services, you have other alternatives. You could, for example, ask your IEP team for suggestion of activities you can do with your child to maintain skills.

Summer is indeed a time for fun and sun. For some children, it can also be an appropriate time to keep skills sharp and give learning a great start in the fall.

Editor’s Note: For more information about extended school years services, and examples of how it fits the specific needs of blind children, see these articles from past issues of Future Reflections:

1. “Extended School Year Services” by Leslie Margolis, Winter/Spring 2005, volume 25, number 1; <http://www.nfb.org/Images/nfb/Publications/fr/fr17/fr05ws18.htm>.
2. “Extended School Year Services (ESY): What the Courts Have Said,” by Rose Kraft, Winter/Spring 2000, volume 19, number 1; <http://www.nfb.org/images/nfb/Publications/fr/fr19/Issue1/f1901pt.htm>.
3. “Who Gets ESY,” Winter/Spring 2000, volume 19, number 1; <http://www.nfb.org/images/nfb/Publications/fr/fr19/Issue1/f1901pt.htm>.


It Takes a Village—Iowa School Staff Help Turn Discards into Braille Teaching Tool

by Art Stuchis

Editor’s Note: Braille is fun. Braille is exciting. Braille is important. That’s what Art Stuchis, inventory specialist with the Des Moines Public Schools Central Stores department thinks. Here’s his unusual but uplifting account about Braille, school collaboration, and an innovative teaching tool made from discards. You may or may not be able to find and replicate the materials used for the nifty Braille teaching tool Stuchis describes, but the story is worth reading anyway for the inspiration. Here it is:

Merry-Noel Chamberlain teaches Braille to Des Moines Public School (DMPS) students who are blind or low vision. Braille is a tactile representation of letters of the alphabet, series of letters (such as “tion”), or whole words (such as “knowledge”) by different configurations of dots called a “cell” in a field of six (exactly like the number six on dice.) Since her students are low vision or blind, the tactual approach is best for learning. Teachers are constantly seeking entertaining and interesting ways to pass knowledge on to their students. So, Merry-Noel was very excited when she discovered that the plastic base packing that secures glue sticks had indentations that looked exactly like two Braille cells side-by-side. By arranging small steel magnetic balls or oak “buttons” (that look like miniature muffins), in these indentations, her students could make a game out of configuring different letters or contractions in Braille.

That’s how Linda Stanley and I got involved. Merry-Noel sought us out and requested our assistance in collecting these discarded plastic base packings. I felt that Merry-Noel was innovative and practical in utilizing something as a learning tool that was discarded by the hundreds by Central Stores when we distributed supplies.

Linda Stanley, a bus driver for DMPS, works in Central Stores during the summer to assist with the rush of orders in preparation for the start of the upcoming school year. Linda has a heart for children, especially those with disabilities, because of a cousin who overcame obstacles to graduate from college. (A success in itself!) When Linda learned of the value of the plastic base for Braille contractions, she began collecting them. Knowing her time in Central Stores was limited, she took it upon herself to repackage the glue sticks with rubber bands and salvage the plastic base packing (aka: Braille cells.)

This is where I enter the picture. Every story of intrigue needs a flunky, a carrier, someone to smuggle the goods out and deliver them to where they are needed most. That was my job. About an hour after regular quitting time one mid-August evening, I left my office with a plastic Hy-Vee bag carrying a box of 96 packing bases. I almost made it. Unknown to me, still in the building were Kyle Black (my boss’s boss) and Sheila Mason (my boss’s boss’s boss). Upon seeing me, Kyle questioned what was in the bag. Trying to put the best face on in an awkward situation, I replied “You know, that is a nice story …” and proceeded to tell him about Merry-Noel’s innovativeness and Linda’s adoption of the project.

I’ve since been told that these 96 Braille tools have been, or will be, distributed several ways: some went to parents to assist with tutoring Braille to their children; some have gone directly to DMPS blind or low-vision students; some went to classroom teachers who, for the first time, have a blind student in their class; and some will be distributed to teachers throughout the state at an up-coming statewide conference about blindness and low vision to be held in West Des Moines.

Words cannot express the benefits to our students when there is collaboration among teachers. This demonstrates that collaboration between teachers and other members of the DMPS team can benefit our students and others throughout the state as well.

Back in the olden days, the blackboard was used by students who misbehaved to duplicate a sentence multiple times for penance. Thus, this account--my penance. Thanks, Kyle, for requiring me to write this only once.

 

ODDS AND ENDS

Close to Home
News from the NOPBC and the NFB

The Gifts that Keep On Giving
Braille Book Flea Market: This notice comes from Peggy Chong, coordinator of the annual Braille Book Flea Market. “Donate your gently used but no longer needed Braille books to the 2008 Braille Book Flea Market sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille. Books should be in good condition. Cookbooks, Twin Vision® books, and books suitable for children are greatly needed. Last year, even though we had many generous donations of books, we were almost out of books in the first hour of the Flea Market. So many children hunger for their own books to have by their bed in the same way that their siblings do.

In a few months, we will have a local address in Dallas where you can send the Braille Books you wish to donate. Begin your search through the boxes in your basement and spare room and get them ready for shipping. If you have any questions, contact Peggy Chong at (515) 277-1288 or e-mail <peggychong@earthlink.net>.” This year’s event is slated to take place on Tuesday, July 1, 5:30-7:00 p.m.

Can You Hear Me Now?
knfbReader Mobile: The knfb Reader, the device that changed thousands of lives among the nation’s blind, has undergone quite the facelift. In January, knfb Reading Technology, Inc., unveiled the knfbReader Mobile, a product that combines the benefits of the previous reader with the convenience of a multifunctional cell phone. Like the knfb Reader Classic—which is still available for purchase—the new version reads most printed documents, address labels and package information, easily recognizes US currency—no matter the orientation; stores thousands of pages of text; transfers text files to and from computers or Braille notetakers; and can adjust reading speed to a user’s preference. However, the knfbReader Mobile combines these features with a multifunctional cell phone, the Nokia N82, to better consolidate the blind consumer’s technology needs. For more information, visit <www.knfbreader.com>; call (877) 547-1500; or write to knfb Reading Technology, Inc., at P.O. Box 620128, Newton Lower Falls, Massachusetts 02462.

Get Linked
NFB-LINK: The best resource for most of life’s challenges and opportunities is not always found in a textbook or encyclopedia, but in the experience of those that came before us. That’s why mentors are so important and why the NFB-LINK online mentoring program is so successful. Here, a college student can learn how to conduct experiments in a biology class; a newly blind person can learn how to continue gardening after vision loss; and a parent, teacher, or rehabilitation professional can learn directly from the expertise of those with real-life experience. Answers to questions like “Can a blind person be a social worker” or “How can I participate in a yoga class” are all found on the NFB-LINK site. Information can be found on career paths, educational opportunities, recreational activities, technology, and many other topics from successful blind and visually impaired people.

To access the service, visit <www.nfblink.org> and either join the growing pool of mentors, or request a mentor that can help answer your blindness-related questions. For additional information about this program, contact Rosy Carranza via e-mail at <rcarranza@nfb.org> or by phone at (410) 659-9314, extension 2283.

Teach Your Teen to Fish
NFB Teen Empowerment Academy: Okay fishing enthusiasts, calm down. It’s just a metaphor. This summer, the NFB Teen Empowerment Academy will enable blind teens to learn the skills and build the confidence necessary to achieve a life of independence and a rewarding professional career. This eight-week residential training program based at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore, Maryland, begins by developing the teen’s blindness skills through instruction on Braille, technology, mobility, and daily living skills—all taught by highly qualified blind role models. While skills are certainly a focus, regular discussions on blindness and a trip to the NFB national convention will raise expectations and foster positive views of what it means to be blind.

During the second portion of the program, participants will enter the working world as each student is placed, according to strengths and interests, into fifteen- to twenty-hour-a-week jobs earning minimum wage. In addition to on-site job coaching and real employment experience, students will benefit from everyday household chores such as preparing meals and doing their own laundry while at the National Center. Trips to baseball games and amusement parks, and activities such as hiking, bowling, and swimming will allow for additional skill-building through the support of qualified blind mentors. All students will be given consideration, but priority will be given to Maryland residents. Applicants must have an open case with their state’s vocational rehabilitation agency or another funding source. Contact Rosy Carranza at (410) 659-9314, extension 2283, or via e-mail at <rcarranza@nfb.org> for additional information.

Around the Block
Helpful Items from Here and There

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

The Universe at Your Fingertips
Touch the Invisible Sky book release: On January 15 at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore, Maryland, NASA launched their most recent tactile exploration of the cosmos. Touch the Invisible Sky contains sixty pages of color images of nebulae, stars, and galaxies, as well as representations of the telescopes used to create those images—Hubble, Chandra, and Spitzer. Raised lines and textures are placed in various patterns directly over the color pictures so that they can be interpreted by touch. Since many of the phenomena in the universe are invisible to the naked eye, Touch the Invisible Sky merely reinterprets the invisible tactually rather than visually, as infrared telescopes do. The book is authored by Noreen Grice of You Can Do Astronomy LLC and the Museum of Science, Boston; Simon Steele, an astronomer with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Doris Daou, and astronomer at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Copies can be ordered through the publisher by phone at (787) 730-0987, by writing to PMB 500, RR 8, Box 1995, Bayamón, Puerto Rico 00956-9676, or by purchasing online at <www.ozonepublishing.net/contact.htm>.

Stay Puft Diagrams
Tactile Diagrams: “VIEW International Foundation (VIEW) is pleased to make available a large number of tactile diagrams developed for use by college students. Initially this collection is only available on CDs. Schools may purchase all or part of the collection depending on their needs. To utilize the files in this collection, a school must have the free Adobe Acrobat Reader and a means for printing on and processing capsule paper. There are 11,280 files in the complete collection. The complete collection is on ten CDs and sells for $259. Each individual CD will sell for $59. These prices include shipping and handling. The CDs are designed to run as a CD-based product, and no installation is needed. To utilize these diagrams, they must be printed on capsule paper which is then processed with a machine that activates the paper producing a raised image.” Subjects covered by the diagrams include but are not limited to aeronautics; mathematics; statistics; physics; economics; psychology; and thermal, fluid, earth, atmospheric, and computer sciences. For more information, visit <www.viewinternational.org/diagrams.htm> or contact VIEW at 230 Peach Tree Drive, West Monroe, Louisiana 71291-8653. You can also call (318) 396-1853 or e-mail <ttsinfo@earthlink.net> with “tactile diagrams” in the subject line for more information.

Braille Volunteers
Braille Transcribing, Binding, and Distribution: The Temple Beth El Braille Bindery Volunteers (TBEBBV) is an organization that provides services in the typing, binding, and the distribution of reading materials in Braille at state, national, and international levels. It supplies children’s books to schools and libraries on a “paper-exchange” basis, without further costs. Concept books for preschoolers are available for order as well. These books are brief titles on a variety of subjects including shapes, numbers, the alphabet, and the solar system. They are all tactile and contain accompanying Braille and print text. Each book ranges in cost from $1.50 to $4.50 which covers the cost of materials in constructing the books. The group also repairs Braille writers upon request. For more information about this and other services provided by TBEBBV, contact them at 7400 Telegraph Road, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan 48301; or by phone at (248) 851-1100, extension 3129, or (248) 788-0358; or by e-mail at <asmandel1@sbcglobal.net>.

Braille Music Seminar
Summer Braille Music Institute: “The National Resource Center for Blind Musicians is accepting applications for its seminar for blind college-bound musicians, which will be held July 14-20 at the Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Designed for serious Braille-reading music students preparing for or already in college (ages average 17-21), the program tailors instruction to each person’s need to develop Braille music and theory skills, and to learn to use technology to submit music assignments in print notation. Applicants must have already studied some music theory, have had several years of music lessons, and be able to present a polished and pleasing performance. Applicants must also show they have begun thinking realistically about reachable goals, and that they have the independence skills, social readiness, and maturity to be a contributing part of a close-knit group. Contact the Resource Center regarding tuition, scholarship criteria, and the application and audition procedure. Deadline for requesting applications is April 12; all application materials must be in the Resource Center office by May 8.

Other options: Please contact the Resource Center if you are a sighted teacher and would like to gain experience as an intern helping out during the program, or are a parent and would like to bring a younger student for an evaluation. The Resource Center now works with colleges and state agencies to provide phone and online tutoring to students studying music at the college level. Visit <www.blindmusicstudent.org>, which is also a music information resource. Contact David Goldstein at (203) 366-3300, extension 229, or <info@blindmusicstudent.org>.”

Sharing the Wealth
Bookshare.org Awarded $32 Million over Five Years: This past fall, Bookshare.org announced that the Office of Special Education Programs of the U.S. Federal Department of Education selected the organization to receive an award of $32 million over five years. According to President and CEO Jim Fruchterman, “this funding is to fully support all schools and students with qualifying print disabilities in the United States, K-12 and post-secondary, with access to the entire Bookshare.org collection of accessible electronic books and to software for reading those books. As of October 1, 2007, we will cease charging these schools and students anything to join Bookshare.org as members. We are planning on adding more than 100,000 new educational books and materials to our existing collection of over 34,000 titles. We expect to provide millions of books to students through this new program over the next five years, at a tenth or less of the historical cost of providing these services.” To find out more about Bookshare.org, visit their Web site at <www.bookshare.org>; e-mail them at <info@bookshare.org>; or write to Bookshare.org, The Benetech Initiative, 480 S. California Avenue, Suite 201, Palo Alto, California 94306-1609.

Online Resources
Reading Rockets: Here are some online resources provided by Reading Rockets, “a national multimedia project on how young kids learn to read, why so many struggle, and how caring adults can help. <www.ReadingRockets.org> is our comprehensive and daily updated Web site that includes reading news headlines, research-based articles, tips for parents and educators, video interviews with top children’s book authors, a monthly e-newsletter, national and local resources, an online store, and much more.” For more information visit <www.readingrockets.org> or write to Reading Rockets, WETA Public Television, 2775 S. Quincy Street, Arlington, Virginia 22206. You can also call (703) 998-2001 or e-mail <readingrockets@weta.org>. Another online resource, Colorín Colorado, provides information, activities, and advice for Spanish-speaking parents and educators of English-language learners. More information about Colorín Colorado can be found at <www.colorincolorado.org>, or contact Reading Rockets directly.

“The Reading Rockets project is comprised of PBS television programs, available on videotape and DVD; online services, including the Web sites <www.ReadingRockets.org> and <www.ColorinColorado.org>; and professional development opportunities. Reading Rockets aims to inform and inspire parents, teachers, childcare providers, administrators, and others who touch the life of a child by providing accurate, accessible information on how to teach kids to read and help those who struggle. The project is guided by an advisory panel made up of leading researchers and experts in the field of reading.”

Dinner and a Hologram
Children’s Vision Award Dinner: On Saturday, May 31, 2008, The Association for Retinopathy of Prematurity and Related Diseases (ROPARD) will host the Children’s Vision Award Dinner at the new Detroit Institute of Arts. This will be of particular note for parents and teachers of the visually impaired and individuals interested in technology. ROPARD will be presenting an award to Dr. Mark Humayun for his work in artificial vision. He is currently testing microchips in a first study with humans and expects to begin to implant a more advanced microchip in the very near future. The keynote speaker for this event will be Raymond Kurzweil who will be appearing as an interactive hologram. During the presentation, Mr. Kurzweil and Dr. Humayun will have a dialogue about each of their perspectives about artificial vision. Proceeds from the event will be used to help continue the research and free educational services to families at the Children’s Low Vision Resource Center funded by ROPARD. For further information, or to register for the dinner and/or the presentation, visit <www.ropard.org>, call (800) 788-2020, or e-mail <ropard@yahoo.com>.