Future Reflections

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

Volume 27 Number 4                               Fall 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 4                               Fall 2008

 

BULLETINS

Detroit Site of 2009 NFB Convention

The National Federation of the Blind Youth Slam 2009

FEATURE

An Ordinary Childhood
by Julie Reid

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LOUIS BRAILLE

Louis Braille Touched Us All
by Deborah Kendrick

NFB Launches National Braille Literacy Campaign

Making Braille the Key to Literacy and Fun--The 2007-2008 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest Report
by Becca Cordell

SCIENCE AND MATH

STEMming the Tide and Bridging the Barriers
by Eric Guillory

Comets, Kids, and Captain Whozit: Tales from the 2008 NFB Junior Science Academy
by Mary Jo Thorpe

PARENT POWER

Cutting Through Fears
by Carrie Gilmer, President, National Organization of Parents of Blind Children

My Moment of Liberation
by Jennifer Hu

What Matters Most--Thoughts from a Parent of Three Kids with Multiple Disabilities
by René Harrell

Iowa Parents of Blind Children Host Toys and Games Seminar
by Barbara Hammel

IEP Comebacks That Work

GAMES AND TOYS

Sound-Producing Toys--Too Much of a “Good” Thing?
by Jacki Harth, MS, LPP, BCBA

Rags to Riches? Just Pretend…
by Tina Bruce

Merry-Noel’s Game List
A List of Nonvisually Accessible Commercial Games

How to Adapt Milton Bradley’s “Twister” Game
by Loretta White

Merry-Noel’s Original Games
by Merry-Noel Chamberlain, TVI, NOMCT

ORIENTATION & MOBILITY

Reflections on Collaboration in Orientation and Mobility (O&M)
A Mother, Her Son, and Their O&M Instructor Share Thoughts and Experiences
by Fabiana Perla, Tina Fiorentino, and Rocco N. Fiorentino

TECHNOLOGY

Cell Phone Accessibility for Your Blind Child
by Wesley Majerus

CAREERS

Some Thoughts on Career Exploration
by Robin House

ODDS & ENDS

 

Detroit Site of 2009 NFB Convention

The 2009 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place in Detroit, Michigan, July 3-8, at the Detroit Marriott, Renaissance Center, 100 Renaissance Center, Detroit, Michigan 48243. Make your room reservation as soon as possible with the Detroit Marriott staff only. Call (313) 568-8000.

The 2009 room rates are singles, doubles, and twins $62; triples $66; and quads $68 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, 2009. 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, 2009, 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, free wireless Internet service in the lobby, and for a charge high-speed Internet access. The Detroit Marriott has four excellent restaurants, twenty-four-hour-a-day room service, a food court on the Prominade Level, and other top-notch facilities. It is in downtown Detroit with excellent access to air, train, and bus service.

The schedule for the 2009 convention is a full day shorter than recent conventions:

Friday, July 3                Seminar Day [Parent’s all-day seminar and activities for children and youth sponsored by the
                                    National Organization of Parents of Blind Children]
Saturday, July 4            Registration and Packet Pick-up Day
Sunday, July 5               Board Meeting and Division Day
Monday, July 6             Motor City March and Opening Session
Tuesday, July 7             Business Session
Wednesday, July 8       Banquet Day and Adjournment

 

The National Federation of the Blind Youth Slam 2009
July 26-August 1, 2009

University of Maryland, College Park

Have you ever wondered how police use forensics to solve crimes? Do you want to learn more about environmentally friendly energy and resources? Do you dream about a career in chemistry, engineering, or journalism? Or do you just want to meet other blind kids from around the United States? Then we have the summer program for you!

Join us for the second National Federation of the Blind Youth Slam, an experiential academy focusing on science, technology, engineering, and math subjects and careers. Two hundred blind and low vision high school students will stay at the University of Maryland and be mentored by blind role models during fun and challenging activities meant to build confidence, expand leadership and advocacy skills, and increase science literacy.

Don’t worry if you aren’t interested in science--there is something for everyone at the NFB Youth Slam. Participants will also attend various social events as well as workshops on topics such as leadership, career preparation, and advocacy. The NFB Youth Slam will culminate in an inspiring rally in Washington, D. C.

Those interested in participating as students or mentors should complete an application by March 1, 2009. Visit <www.blindscience.org>, e-mail <youthslam@nfb.org>, or call (410) 659-9314, for more information.
Why should your teenager attend? Here’s what people said about the 2007 event:

“When I participated in the Youth Slam 2007, it was my first involvement in the Federation or the blind community in general. My mentor opened up a world to me that I never dreamed existed.” --Candice Chapman, Mississippi

“(We) have watched Chelsea blossom over the last few years as she has had learning and social opportunities such as Youth Slam... She has really benefited from the opportunity to interact with other blind students. She has become more confident, more mature, and has developed life-long friendships.” --Terri and Bob Henrizi, parents of Chelsea, Michigan

“This program has provided Brent with the confidence to attend a college away from home. He learned so much about how to rely on himself and that anything is possible in the field that he wants to study.” --Donna and Russell Bowling, parents of Brent, Ohio

 

An Ordinary Childhood

by Julie Reid

Reprinted from the Winter/Spring 2008 issue of the British publication VIEWPOINT, The Magazine of the National Federation of the Blind UK under the title, “I’d Like to Have Seen You.” The NFBUK is not affiliated with the USA-based National Federation of the Blind, which is the not-for-profit consumer organization that publishes Future Reflections.

Editor’s Note: Our dreams for our children often include things that have made us happy in our own lives. My three children are the joy of my life, and so at the top of my dream list for my children (who are now young adults) is the wish that they, too, will have children. But is that dream practical and possible for a blind child? And even if it is, will his or her children grow up to feel deprived and cheated of a childhood because they had a blind parent? The following story, which comes from the United Kingdom, is the first-person account of the sighted daughter of two blind parents who dared to make their dream of happiness a reality.

Although not affiliated with the National Federation of the Blind in the USA, the Reid’s lives, as described by their adult daughter, demonstrate the essence of Federation spirit and philosophy. Their competency and no-nonsense attitude about blindness made a strong impression on their daughter; strong enough to mostly ward off the influence of the insidious and subtle as well as silly and blatant mythologies about blindness that filtered into their daily lives through the comments of well-meaning but uninformed townspeople. Sometimes Julie Reid falls into the stereotyped script modeled for her by those teachers, neighbors, classmates, or even family members. But a quote from one of her parents or her own personal reflections quickly get her back on track and focusing on her theme that despite the differences in how things were sometimes accomplished in her household, life for her was pretty much like life was like for all the other children growing up in their community.

The original title was “I’d Like to Have Seen You.” So, why the title change? Because I thought the implied pathos of the original title was misplaced (see below the full quote from which that title was taken), and I wanted a title that was more descriptive and accurate. Reid’s own opening words seem to capture the essence of her story. And, yes, I did note the inconsistency and irony between my title and the original editor’s introduction which refers to Reid’s “extraordinary childhood.” But Reid can tell her own story, and you can be the judge of whether or not she had an extraordinary childhood or an ordinary childhood which she describes with extraordinary spirit, charm, and insight. Here is what she says:

“I’d like to have seen you,” my mother says, “but it’s not as important as you’d think.”

Etta and Fred Reid held down successful careers, had three children in quick succession, and managed to raise them with hardly any outside help. No big deal--except they are both totally blind. Here their daughter, Julie Reid, remembers her extraordinary childhood.

Tuesday August 1, 2006
The Guardian

Mine was a pretty ordinary childhood. But not everyone saw it that way. One word sums up people’s response to the news that my parents are totally blind: incredulity. Incredulity that they could cook, get around, perform the general tasks of everyday life--let alone raise three children, including twins, while holding down successful professional careers.

My father Fred and mother Etta were both born, fully sighted, in Glasgow in 1937, but lost their sight during childhood. Etta was six when it happened; Fred, fourteen. My mum was involved in a traffic accident; my dad, I was told from a very young age, “got a germ in his eye.” (It was actually a condition called double detached retina.) They met at the Royal Blind School, Edinburgh, at the age of fifteen, married at twenty-six, and had three children, all fully sighted, fifteen months apart; Gavin in 1966, then, in 1967, my twin brother Leslie and me. They did not meet overt hostility when they decided to have children. They were not told by a maternity doctor, as one of their blind friends was, that “You shouldn’t be having children.” All the same, it was a rare thing that they did, and as I approach forty, with two small children of my own, I’ve begun to revisit my early years and wonder how on earth my parents coped with three small ones born so close together.

“I was aware of people judging me and people waiting for me to fail,” says Etta. “But my mother had ten of us and she had loads of energy, and I think I inherited that.”

My father has a slightly different take on it: “Every blind person in any walk of life, if they’ve got any kind of desire to succeed, has to work fifty percent harder.”

As a schoolchild, I was always asked what it was like to have parents who were blind. I had a stock response: “My parents are just the same as yours.” They weren’t, of course, but as far as I could see, my life was pretty much the same as that of my friends, except that we had a few more strange gadgets: the bleepers that let you know when a mug was full and when a light was on, and one that told you when it was raining so you could bring the washing in; the weird contraption for writing Braille and, later on, a talking microwave. (To this day, I give a very wide berth to the talking scales that announce the user’s weight to the entire household.) I did have one major gripe, though: I would have loved for us to have had a car. No school-run for me. We always caught the bus, cycled, or walked.

We lived in a handsome, four-storey Victorian house in Kenilworth, a small, affluent town in Warwickshire. My friends assumed that we children must have had lots of chores to do: “Who does the cleaning? How does your mother turn the cooker on?” But aside from the occasional shopping and washing-up duties and lawn-mowing (for which I was paid), we did little around the house except mess it up. My mother had weekly hired help with the cleaning, but she still spent all day Friday in a whirlwind of scrubbing and polishing. The stair carpet would be swept at the edges before vacuuming; the entire basement floor would be scrubbed on hands and knees. Windows would be cleaned, light bulbs changed--Mum thought nothing of skipping up a stepladder.

There was the occasional painless task: sometimes, on a Sunday night, a basket would be presented to me full of socks waiting to be paired up. And there was one almost daily chore that I hated as it tended to clash with “Grange Hill” [a television program]: tatty inspection. My mum peeled the potatoes herself, but would worry that rogue “bad bits” would escape her probing fingers, and ask one of us children to check them over for her.

My mum cooked every night. “I went for a session of twelve cookery lessons for blind people in Glasgow just before I got married,” she says. “It included making pastry, cakes, scones, savoury flans, and fish and chips in the oven, which was safer.”

In our house, there were Braille markings on the cooker knobs to indicate the temperature, and the timer also had Braille on it, but beyond that, the job was done with easy precision. “You knew how long a dish would take, so you would just prod it with a fork to check it was done,” Etta says.

She was an adventurous cook, always on the lookout for new meals in her Braille magazine to impress her dinner-party guests with. My dad could cook too, and I really looked forward to his fat chips when Mum was away.

Every few years my mother did go away. She would leave for three weeks and return, fully trained up, with a canine addition to the family, a new guide dog. Misty, Candy, Beauty, Roma, Katy, Sheena, Promise, Innis, Wendy, Ralph, Raffles, Rona--guide dogs were a constant presence during my youth, as both my mother and father had them. We all formed close bonds with these dogs and it was always very sad when one had to retire. For years I harboured an ambition to be a guide-dog trainer when I grew up.

People go weak at the knees when they see a guide dog. They would often stop, uninvited, to pat Mum’s or Dad’s guide-dog, which, I would officiously inform them, was not allowed when the dog was in harness. Sometimes I’d nag mum to leave the dog at home, anxious to avoid the relentless, unwelcome attention. On these occasions, I would do the guiding--considerably less well than the four-legged regular. I had not been trained to swerve for overhanging objects, would fail to stop at kerbs, and frequently omit to mention that we were about to step on an escalator. (By the way, let me clear up a bizarre misconception of a childhood friend: Misty, Candy, Beauty, et al., definitely could not count the number of bus stops so as to be able to let my Mum or Dad know when to get off.)

It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that my parents were universally admired in our small town, only marginally less than their guide dogs. One particular source of awe was the jobs they did. Until his retirement, Dad was a lecturer in history at Warwick University. He’d been an undergraduate at Edinburgh in 1958, and then did a PhD at Oxford before becoming a lecturer; and throughout his studies he depended on people reading to him. Many of the readers came from the church at the end of the road. “Nobody volunteered, I just barged in and asked them,” he says. A year into his studies he acquired, through the generosity of others, a tape recorder, which was new technology at the time and revolutionized his studying. His readers could record material and Fred could listen and re-listen to it as and when required.

Dad developed an extraordinary talent for listening to speeded-up tape readings to save time. As a girl, I would often lie in my bedroom, which was next door to his study, listening to the surreal sound of his readers’ Pinky and Perky voices coming through the wall and wondering how he could possibly make out what they were saying.

As for my mother, she not only cared for us with very little outside help, but also worked as an NHS physiotherapist for thirty-four years. Her first job was in Oxford, where she was living with Fred after they married. She was employed at the Churchill hospital, which had never appointed a blind physio before, and they took some persuading to take her on. “The doctor of physical medicine, who was in charge of recruitment, was very skeptical. He actually came to our flat and said he was sorry but there wasn’t a job for me, as he couldn’t imagine how a blind person could function. So we set about talking him into it. Eventually he said I could have a trial period for three months. After that time, the head of physio said I was just the same as any other person starting off.”

Later on, Mum worked part-time at the Warnford hospital in Leamington Spa, so she could be at home when we got back from school. She always took the bus to work, whatever the weather. Even during heavy snow, she would venture forth with good boots and make it into work while many of her colleagues phoned in to say they were stuck on the drive.

Despite some people’s misgivings, my parents knew in their twenties that they wanted children, and were confident that they would cope and be good parents. “We always thought we could,” says Etta. “My father didn’t want me to get married, because he always looked after me. And he used to worry when I took up with Fred. And my mother said to him, ‘But you’ll not always be there to look after her. She should get married just like everybody else.’”

Fred says that his peers at the blind school used to challenge him about the practicalities of having children. He would argue it out with them and challenge their reservations. “They’d say things like, ‘You can’t see the spots when they’re ill,’ and I’d say, ‘Well, children show other symptoms other than spots; they cry and are in discomfort and so on. And if you’re worried you can confirm it with a sighted person.’ If you reasoned it out you realized that these were unrealistic fears.”

Etta says she knew of one totally blind couple living in London. “They had a child and I went to visit them when I was a physiotherapy student, [aged] about twenty-four. And they managed perfectly well with their child, who was about a year old. A few years before that, I met a blind woman on a train and she told me she had five children. And she managed all of them and she did the cooking and everything. So I knew that some blind people had done it. The thing is,” she says, “you just don’t listen to sighted people because they haven’t a clue anyhow. They think, ‘Oh, I couldn’t do that if I couldn’t see.’”

As my eleven-month-old son, Theo, careens destructively around the house, I’m increasingly curious about how they coped with the domestic practicalities of three small children. “When you were really tiny we put you in a playpen when I was busy,” my mother says. “You weren’t allowed in the kitchen; there was a sliding panel that we put down between the kitchen and the dining room. There was nothing in there except the furniture--nothing on it, and nothing that you could pull around--and a load of toys.”

When I ask Mum how she managed to get to the shops with the three of us plus a guide dog, her explanation conjures up an extraordinary picture: “The dog was in front with my left hand and I was guiding the double pushchair with my right hand behind me, with Gavin walking along beside me.” It was a quiet area, she adds. There were wide pavements and grass verges and the local shops were a short walk away. “We bought the house because it was near schools, shops, and the park.”

Some other adaptations were necessary to bridge the gap between blind parents and sighted children. Mum says: “We bought the ordinary Ladybird books and we had readers who used to come in, people from Kenilworth who volunteered to be readers, and they would tell me what was on each page and I would write a caption at the top in Braille. I knew the stories anyhow, so I read out the stories reading the caption.”

Reading aside, we had the usual array of toys and activities. “Bricks, Lego, Plasticine and Play-Doh, these were great games that anyone could play,” says Fred. “That’s where it’s a huge advantage to have been able to see before.” Dad was a particularly skilful modeler--he could produce fantastic miniature figures of animals from Quality Street [candy] wrappers. “And I used to play the piano and sing to you and get you all singing and jumping about,” says Mum, who is a brilliant pianist. My parents’ musicality is a legacy of their time at the blind school.

“However beneficial inclusion in mainstream schools might be,” says Fred, “there’s no doubt that special schools were able to concentrate on things like music. The musical life in our school was so vibrant.”

As we got older, Dad would come home with weird-looking games, such as the chess set with spiky-topped white pieces and a board with raised squares. I remember fondly the chess games I played with Dad as a child, and found it strangely hypnotizing as his fingers darted around the pieces on the board while he weighed up his next move. The chess set, as well as the dominoes, cards, and draughts [checkers] sets we had, were produced by the Royal National Institute for the Blind, not for children but for blind adults. “In those days, the RNIB had few aids or devices to help families where the parents were blind and the children were sighted,” says Fred. “We had to fight to get things like Snakes and Ladders, Ludo, and Monopoly--and we got them in the end.”

Now that I have Maya, who is four, and Theo, I have the chance to witness my parents with them--a version of the relationship they had with us when we were small. I remember again the perhaps inevitable embarrassment. During trips to town with my mother I would sometimes moan about what seemed like the town’s entire population staring at us. “Just stare at them back,” my mother would advise. But I was too shy to do that.

There were the weekly swimming trips with my dad. He was a strong swimmer, but keeping a straight line in the water without sight is very difficult. As he dived into the water and set off on one of his tangential lengths, unsuspecting bathers were torpedoed from behind; the pool would not have cleared more quickly had a shark been spotted in the deep end. Then, when I was eleven, Mum decided that the time had come to buy me my first bra by catching me unawares and feeling my breasts (funny now, but I cringed about that one for years). I could go on.

Sometimes, embarrassment spilled over into annoyance; I was a teenager, after all. At times I would get stroppy about being required to act as a guide. I still do. In our twenties, my brother Les and I accompanied our parents on a series of trips abroad. “What can you see now?” Mum would ask when she knew that there was a view before us. Sometimes I would childishly refuse to say.

How did their being blind affect us? I think that the experience of providing a running commentary on the world for my parents for so many years means that, so my husband Mark tells me, I am unusually observant. I like to think that this is a quality I might pass on to my children.

More significantly, the general admiration directed at Mum and Dad--I grew up hearing the phrase, “Aren’t your parents amazing?” on an almost daily basis--made me feel that I was special. And I was very proud of their achievements.

I was always asked as a child, “Don’t you feel sad that your parents have never seen you?” But that thought seemed to trouble others far more than it did me. When I got married, my best woman, Melanie, had a poignant line in her speech that drew spontaneous applause from the guests: “I’d just like to tell Etta and Fred how beautiful their daughter looks today.”
Thinking back to my school days, I was always especially keen for my teachers to witness me doing things. Perhaps, I’ve begun to think in retrospect, that was why I was so sporty as a child. The hockey pitch or tennis court were arenas where I could literally be seen to excel.

The family photo album didn’t exist in our house. I am especially thrilled when relatives give me photographs of me in childhood with my family. I was in my late twenties before I saw a picture of myself as a baby because, of course, my parents did not own a camera.

What also saddens me now is that Mum and Dad can’t see my children--that they’ll never see Maya looking so pretty in that special dress doing her fairy dance, or see Theo flash them one of his melting smiles. And when I see my children’s puzzled faces when grandma or grandpa fails to respond to their eye contact, I also get a pang.

But when we discuss this, my parents give me their own empowering perspective. “I’d like to have seen you but I don’t think it is as important as people think,” says Etta. “I think seeing is so primitive. Even a dog and a cat can see. Knowing a personality and knowing how you speak and what you say and how you say it, I think that’s more important than how people look. I don’t think seeing is knowing.”

Fred agrees: “Sight is a very misleading and beguiling way of understanding people. Philosophers have raised this question: Is sight misleading? Is it possible that listening and touching get you nearer to people than sight does?”

As I watch baby Theo feeling the contours of his grandpa’s face, it’s obvious that touch is a primary sense for him. And I have started to explore these other ways of knowing with Maya. I recently bought her the scratch-and-sniff book, Little Bunny Follows His Nose, which I loved as a child.

Maya loves playing with Plasticine with her grandpa. He made her a fantastic racing car recently, a particularly skilful execution of a 1940’s model, as he was working from visual memory. Fred laughs. “I’m stuck in a time warp,” he says. “Milton has been described as having the blind man’s capacity to remember everything he had ever seen.”

A few years ago, at a family Christmas, Mum produced a tape recording of Les and me playing the piano when we were about seven. “Prelude,” we announced in turn in a high-pitched squeak, before stumbling through the piece and squabbling over whose was the better performance. It was magical to hear it, and the experience seemed heightened by the fact that it was purely audible, uncluttered by the visual.

During a couple of visits to Kenilworth we have made tape recordings of Maya, and will do the same of Theo. I’ll produce them one Christmas, God willing, in years to come. And I hope that they’ll find them as magical.

 

Louis Braille Touched Us All

by Deborah Kendrick

Editor’s Note: The following tribute to Louis Braille first appeared in the January 8, 2006, edition of the Columbus Dispatch and then was reprinted in the February 2006 issue of the Braille Monitor, a publication of the National Federation of the Blind. The author, Deborah Kendrick, is a freelance writer, a columnist, and a Federation leader in Ohio. Her tribute is especially appropriate as we celebrate, on January 4, 2009, the 200th birthday of the man who invented the Braille code:

I was using a phone in a hotel lobby years ago when my friend, laughing, tapped me on the shoulder and guided my hand to a place on the wall at least a foot above my head. In a millisecond the dot pattern my fingers encountered sent the printed message to my brain, “No smoking.” (What were they thinking to post a sign in Braille on a wall above a pay phone where no ordinary mortal, Braille-reading or otherwise, was likely to be touching?) Beyond the joke, that memory evokes pleasure. Like hundreds of other tactile glances over the years--finding a bit of Braille on a monument, a commemorative plaque, a bottle of perfume, even some articles of clothing at Target--the aha flash of joy is one of sheer delight in being included, having my literacy count as much as anyone else’s.

It’s a gift of the very best kind, finding words I can read in unexpected places, and an especially grand gesture of the inclusive kind swept through cyberspace this week. E-mail messages were rapidly criss-crossing the planet last week as blind people and their friends and colleagues spread the word that Google’s home page greeted visitors with the Google logo in Braille, along with a “Happy Birthday Louis Braille” message to honor the inventor’s birthday, January 4.

In 1809 three boys were born who would change the world: Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, and--the one sadly under-celebrated--Louis Braille. Born in Coupvray, France, Braille was blinded at age three in an accident in his father’s harness-making shop. He was lucky to have loving parents who encouraged his independence and who sent him at age ten to a boarding school in Paris, one of the first such schools for blind children.

And the rest of us--generations of blind people in every country of the world--have been lucky that he was a genius who seized a code shown him by Charles Barbier, a code used for “night-writing” by soldiers, and perfected it as a means of reading and writing for people without sight. When asked by parents of blind children what single tool has been most significant to me as a writer, student, parent, advocate, all-round member and lover of society, the answer is unequivocal: BRAILLE.

As I write these words, I look (with my hands) at them in Braille. When I read my email, press releases, newsletters, and the latest romance or thriller--in hardcopy or electronically--I read them all in Braille.

And I am not alone. The good news is that between 85 and 90 percent of all blind adults who are employed are Braille literate. But the bad news is that only 30 percent of all blind American adults are employed--most of that larger group having never learned Braille. Well-meaning but misguided educators have diminished emphasis on Braille in schools, so that only 10 percent of blind children today are taught to read and write.

Louis Braille was an inventor by the age of twelve. He grew to be a beloved teacher and gifted musician. Because of his remarkable invention, blind people today are teachers, doctors, lawyers, writers, musicians--and parents reading Braille storybooks to their children.

Deborah Kendrick is a Cincinnati writer and advocate for people with disabilities. <dkkendrick@earthlink.net>.

Editor’s Note: The following resource information from the last two paragraphs in Kendrick’s article has been updated to reflect the current status of the Louis Braille coin and the biography of Louis Braille:

A bill (H.R. 2872) introduced in the U.S. House by representatives Bob Ney (R-OH) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) designated one of the two commemorative coins minted in 2009 to be in recognition of the bicentennial of Louis Braille’s birth. This is a simple but marvelous gesture, at long last, to honor a man who gave such a gift to the world. It will raise funds for Braille literacy, and garner recognition for the system of literacy that has the power to improve the lives of millions of blind children and adults. The Louis Braille coin will be available for sale by the USA Mint on or about March 26, 2009.

(An excellent biography, Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius, by C. Michael Mellor, was released in the Spring of 2006. It is available from the National Braille Press in both print and Braille, <www.braille.com> or (800) 548-7323.)

 

NFB Launches National Braille Literacy Campaign

Throughout 2009 blind people around the world will celebrate the bicentennial of Louis Braille’s birth. During this year the NFB will raise the profile of the Braille code through a national Braille literacy campaign, Braille Readers Are Leaders (BRL). Local Federationists celebrated Braille’s birthday on January 4, by sponsoring educational events at book stores and libraries across the country. On March 26 the U.S. Mint will begin selling a commemorative silver dollar to the general public. It will include the likeness of Louis Braille and the raised dots, BRL, the Braille abbreviation for the word “Braille.” Proceeds from the sale of these commemorative coins will help fund the NFB’s national Braille literacy campaign. Articles examining various issues surrounding Braille will be published in the Braille Monitor and Future Reflections throughout the next year as part of this educational initiative. President Maurer announced at the 2008 NFB national convention that one goal of this campaign will be to double the number of Braille readers among the American blind school-aged population by 2015. For further information about developments in the NFB’s national Braille literacy campaign, visit <http://www.braille.org> and sign up to receive regular updates by email.

 

Making Braille the Key to Literacy and Fun--The 2007-2008 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest Report

by Becca Cordell

Editor’s Note: Becca Cordell is one of the newer members on the staff support team at the NFB Jernigan Institute. She is not, however, entirely new to blindness. Her family and the Polansky family--Ed, Susan, and their blind son Jason--have attended the same church in Thurmont, Maryland, for many years. Susan Polansky is the president of the Maryland Parents of Blind Children division, and Jason has been a participant in the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest for many years. It’s a small world, indeed. Here is Becca’s report about the contest:

Flying to the moon. Navigating the perilous seas to find a forgotten but precious treasure. Solving a crime and capturing a crazy crook to become a town hero. These are just some of the adventures in which a child may find themselves when reading a good book. While reading is entertaining, it is also an essential key to unlocking the door to a successful future. With 347 students from 39 states participating in the 2007-2008 Braille Readers Are Leaders contest, it seems safe to say that blind students from across the nation are preparing themselves for the future--and having a blast doing it.

The Braille Readers Are Leaders contest is designed to promote the joy of reading for pleasure, to promote a pride in Braille as a viable literacy medium equal to print, and to demonstrate the importance of independent reading in the development of Braille literacy skills. While the twenty-fifth annual contest was held in this same spirit, it also saw several changes in the rules and awards. One of the changes included the opportunity for early registration. This allowed participants to receive their awards and certificates in a more timely fashion and it guaranteed all early applicants a contest T-shirt.

This year’s contest also included the addition of two new awards. The first was the Jennifer Baker Award, which was given to delayed Braille readers, students with additional disabilities, or students who overcame other obstacles to achieve Braille literacy. The other award was the Twin Vision® Award, which was instituted for dual print-Braille readers.

Another notable modification was the contest reduction in length from three to two months. The contest continued to have the same start date of November 1, but this year concluded on January 4--Louis Braille’s birthday. With a total of 417,608 pages read this year, the results show that participants took the shorter time frame as a challenge because they read over 1,000 more pages a day!

A final significant change was the addition of a new grand prize. Contest winners were granted the opportunity to receive a trip for themselves and a parent to the 2008 National Federation of the Blind national convention in Dallas, Texas. This year, twelve of the best and brightest Braille readers from around the nation won this coveted award. Congratulations to winners Anna Walker (PA), Gabriella Welsh (WI), Cricket Xioa Jiu Bidleman (HI), MarChe’ Daughtry (VA), Daniel Dintzner (MA), Joshua Pearson (MA), Mary Church (CA), Alexis Tamayo (AZ), Jordan Richardson (MN), Ashleah Chamberlain (IA), Sumpa Akhter (OK), and Rachna Keshwani (NE).

Anna Walker was one of our most spirited competitors this year reading the most pages in her grade category (K-1), earning a Twin Vision® Award, and being one of the lucky twelve who received a trip to the national convention. For Anna’s achievements, she was recognized in her local newspaper, The Herald-Mail. The article notes Anna’s recognition in the Pennsylvania General Assembly by both legislators and the National Federation of the Blind. Anna’s favorite book is The Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown and is one of the books that contributed to the 5,209 pages she read. In a very sincere and direct way, Anna explained the importance of Braille literacy, “If you don’t read, you won’t get a job.” Anna, however, is not worried about getting a job--she has big plans for her future. The article reveals Anna’s plans to “be a Braille teacher, the president of the United States, a veterinarian, a ‘science girl,’ a ‘jazz girl,’ a ballerina, a nurse, a doctor and a dance teacher, in that order.” With Anna’s enthusiasm and clear Braille skills, it seems that she has an excellent chance of accomplishing any and all of the things on her to-do list.

The 2008-2009 contest is already in full swing with participants from across the country again reading furiously trying to attain the contest’s honors. It’s not too late to join the fun and to be eligible for the big prizes. For more information about this year’s contest, please visit <www.nfb.org/nfb/NOPBC_Braille_Readers_Are_Leaders.asp>. Good luck to all of this year’s competitors.

2007-2008 Braille Readers Are Leaders Winners

Grades K-1

*Anna Walker, 5,209. PA
Ahbee Orton, 2,758. TX
Maura Loberg, 2,026. NE

Grades 2-3

*Gabriella Welsh, 7,501. WI
Gabrielle Nicholas, 4,412. MO
*Cricket Xioa Jiu Bidleman, 4,317. HI

Grades 4-5

*MarChe’ Daughtry, 10,487. VA
Merlyn Hileman, 6,464. CA
Lucas Leiby, 6,237. PA

Grades 6-8

John Carnemolla, 16,697. CT
Paige Tuttle, 7,847. KS
Minh Ha, 5,184. MA

Grades 9-12

*Daniel Dintzner, 25,111. MA

COMMUNITY SERVICE AWARDS

*Joshua Pearson, MA
*John Evans, NY
*Mary Church, CA
*Alexis Tamayo, AZ
*Jordan Richardson, MN

JENNIFER BAKER AWARDS

Djeinaba Mbodji, NY
Yesenia Carpio, AZ
Kevin McArthur, GA
*Ashleah Chamberlain, IA
*Sumpa Akhter, OK

TWIN VISION® AWARDS

*Rachna Keshwani, NE
Katharina Kroblen, AZ
Madeline Link, PA
Tom Brown, PA
Anna Walker, PA
Jonathan Wong, 10,508. CA
Zackarrah Erickson, 4,460. MI

*Winners of a trip to the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Dallas, Texas.

 

STEMming the Tide and Bridging the Barriers

by Eric Guillory

Editor’s Note: Eric Guillory is the director of Youth Services at the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB). For more information about the LCB programs, go to <www.lcb-ruston.com> or call (800) 234-4166. The Louisiana Center for the Blind is located at 101 South Trenton Street, Ruston, Louisiana 71270.

How polyhedra and suspension bridges helped to change attitudes and misconceptions about blindness.

On January 18, 2008, eight blind high school and college students gathered in Ruston, Louisiana, to participate in a groundbreaking weekend of fun and learning--the Let’s Get Physical About Science academy. This project was made possible through a grant awarded to the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana (NFB/LA) by the NFB Imagination Fund, and was a collaborative effort between NFB/LA and Louisiana Tech University’s IDEA Place NASA research facility.

“All too often, the blind are discouraged from pursuing careers in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The NFB of Louisiana is happy to be working in concert with the staff of the IDEA Place and the Jernigan Institute on this initiative--designed to alter these negative views and to forever change what it means to be blind for the youth of our state and nation,” says Pam Allen, Executive Director of the Louisiana Center. “An unfortunate side-effect,” continues Mrs. Allen, “of these misconceptions is that, in an alarming number of instances, blind people begin internalizing and subscribing to these views. Consequently, the proverbial bar of expectations is lowered, at least for them, leading to diminished self-esteem and a defeatist attitude.”

When I first met with Glenn Beer, director of the IDEA Place, he and his staff were very receptive to the thought of working with blind students. However, they were visibly apprehensive about how to best proceed--repeatedly telling me that they had never worked with a blind student before. Mr. Beer et al. were concerned that they might not be equipped with the tools and/or knowledge to adequately address STEM subject material utilizing formats accessible to the blind.

Their trepidation notwithstanding, the IDEA Place staff did a fantastic job of planning fun and challenging activities focusing primarily on geometric and physical science skills and concepts. “What we came to realize is that we did not need to plan anything special for the blind students,” said Dr. Carolyn Talton. “The materials we employed are those which should be used with all students, blind or sighted, to aid in developing a more kinesthetic approach to learning.”

In addition to the IDEA Place math and science experts, student volunteers from Louisiana Tech University were recruited to act as facilitators and provide assistance as necessary. Before the weekend began, I stressed the importance of not doing too much for the students, but rather allowing them to problem-solve and work as autonomously as possible. This dedicated group did an outstanding job; never once did I witness any of them enabling a student or doing something for him or her that he or she should be doing independently.

For two action-packed days, students engaged in a variety of individual and small-group activities intended to augment their understanding of the properties of both two- and three-dimensional geometric figures (such as triangles and polyhedra), and the relationship of each of these to others.

On day two, students were expected to construct load-bearing bridges and other structures out of various materials. One memorable activity involved each small group of students being given ten pieces of copy paper and a length of Scotch tape. Each group was charged with the task of designing a number of columns out of these materials; the strength of these columns would then be evaluated for their weight-bearing potential. Reams of copy paper were then stacked, one by one, on each group’s columns. The result was a wonderful mixture of drama, suspense, and comedy as each design was put to the test. The winning team’s columns managed to withstand the weight of twelve reams of paper before collapsing. It was marvelous to watch the students demonstrate, time and again, higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills as they were taken through a succession of increasingly difficult challenges.

Later that evening, a dinner dance and awards ceremony took place at which students’ projects were put on display and each was recognized for his or her hard work during the weekend. It was a fitting end to two days of intensive instruction--one that was just as much a learning experience for the students as it was for their instructors and volunteers.

It is hoped that we can work together with Louisiana Tech University on future STEM subject endeavors involving our blind youth. For some of the students, it was their first time on a university campus and/or opportunity to interact with college students. “This weekend was awesome, and I have learned so much,” commented Chelsea Page, a senior from Vicksburg, Mississippi.

“Everyone here is so nice and I’ve done activities here that we normally don’t get the chance to do in the regular school day,” said Katie Wintz, a sophomore from Gonzales, Louisiana.

“I hope y’all do this again next year; I am definitely coming back if you do!” enthused Emily Weidner, a freshman from Sulfur, Louisiana.

“I had a great time working with everyone and being able to talk with the students from Tech; I am definitely glad I came,” said Michael Taboada, a freshman from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Not only were the students appreciative of the proceedings, but their parents and teachers were as well. “I am so thankful that the Federation takes the time and energy to plan these activities for my daughter and other blind students. The dedication of your staff to improving the lives of our blind youth is incredible,” exclaims Michelle Jarvis, Chelsea’s mom.

“I think what you guys are doing up there is awesome; I wish I could have been there to participate,” says Melissa Hill, a teacher of blind students in Ascension Parish.

Earlier, I remarked on the excellent work done by the Louisiana Tech University student volunteers. Their zest for life and outpouring of youthful energy made this event truly memorable. One student, Danielle Hamilton, a biology major, was overcome with emotion as she said “I think I have learned more from these students than I taught them … chase your dreams and don’t let anyone tell you that your goals can’t be achieved.”

The NFB is committed to educating the public about the blind, showing them that we can in fact participate equally in society given proper training and opportunity. It was a pleasure to have been a part of the planning and implementation of the weekend--the first of more to come.

 

Comets, Kids, and Captain Whozit: Tales from the 2008 NFB Junior Science Academy

by Mary Jo Thorpe

Reprinted from the October 2008 issue of the NFB monthly publication, the Braille Monitor.

Editor’s Note: Mary Jo Thorpe is the education programs specialist at the NFB Jernigan Institute. Here is her report on the first-ever Junior Science Academy:

If you had visited the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore during the last week of July, you probably would have been swept up in all the excitement and commotion pulsating around the building as the first-ever NFB Junior Science Academy took place. Inquisitive onlookers would have seen thirty of the brightest, most talented children having the time of their lives amidst some of the most creative and exciting activities ever imagined.

This summer the NFB Jernigan Institute opened its doors to thirty families from across the country for its first-ever Junior Science Academy. Celebrating its fifth year of successful science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs, the NFB Jernigan Institute ventured into new territory in an effort to empower children at an earlier age than ever before with the skills necessary to pursue study in STEM subjects.

One parent accompanied each child and attended programming for adults in conjunction with the children’s activities. These sessions were customized with presentations and activities designed to address issues facing parents of blind children. The sessions also aimed to provide parents with a vast network of resources and support. Blind people from across the country volunteered their time to come and serve as mentors to supervise the children during daytime activities. They served as great role models for the children and their parents. Each mentor had three students for whom he or she was responsible.

The four-day event was jam-packed with activity. The theme for the children’s activities focused on earth and environmental science. In order to help the children better understand why the earth is able to sustain life, however, the program began with activities that taught about the make-up of the various planets in the solar system and other phenomena that affect our earth. Noted astronomer and author of several tactile books on space phenomena, Noreen Grice led these activities. Noreen used containers of sand and hot packs (to represent the surface of Mars) and cotton balls sprayed with window cleaner (to represent the gaseous atmosphere of Jupiter) to help the students get a better sense of what different planetary environments might look like.

Though it was hot and humid outside, the children stayed cool during another activity, which had them making their very own comet. With frozen fingers, the students chatted on enthusiastically as they rolled balls of ice in sand, rocks, and corn syrup to learn how comets form as they travel through space. The children moved on to learning about different biomes and weather from two scientists from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. A couple of future meteorologists were discovered in the group as the children constructed their own barometers and asked questions about clouds, air pressure, and weather patterns. Bursts of laughter greeted the instruction of one of the scientists who played strange birdcalls and various animal sounds during his explanation about life in different environments. He also passed around several samples of different soil and vegetation as they compared and contrasted different biomes.

On day two the JSA decided to “Go Green” as the children participated in a number of engineering activities around alternative energy resources. These were led by Caroline McEnnis, a graduate student from Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering, who has been involved with our STEM programs for three years now. The children especially seemed to enjoy an activity where they made batteries out of fruit. First they had to insert a nail and penny into a piece of fruit. Then they attached the clips from a talking voltmeter to the nail and the penny to see how much voltage the fruit could produce as its juice interacted with the metal of the nail and the coin. They compared the amounts from different pieces of fruit to determine which produced the highest voltage.

By the end of the day the children had constructed some method for harnessing energy and producing electricity from each of the four sources of alternative energy--water, wind, solar, and vegetation. The children were then given a specific biome and asked to design their house of the future. Each biome brought with it its own restrictions and resources. For example, groups with a desert biome would not be able to construct a water pump for their house but would have access to a large amount of solar energy.

After constructing their houses from everyday household items like shoeboxes, paper plates, and straws, the children practiced their public speaking skills during a mock press conference before their parents and staff members from the National Center for the Blind. During the press conference the groups unveiled their designs and gave explanations about why they had chosen the components they did. This was a great way for the children not only to show what they had learned but also to practice some basic alternative techniques a blind person would use in giving a public presentation.

One of the main objectives of the Institute’s Science Academy programs is to explore new ways of making certain activities accessible to the blind. During this session a program called “Computer Science Unplugged: Fun with Computing without a Computer” was introduced to the children. This is a new curriculum to help teach children some of the fundamentals of computer science. Richard Ladner, a Boeing Professor in Computer Science and Engineering from the University of Washington, expressed an interest in adapting this curriculum so that blind children could participate in its activities. He and two of his staff came to the program and led several of these activities with the participants, some of the first blind children to test this curriculum. Activities included a variety of games or sorting puzzles which illustrated principles used by computer programmers. Once again the Science Academy is helping to open new doors to the blind through the use of cutting-edge education models.

Evenings provided family time and even more fun. A special guest, Captain Whozit, paid a visit to the children one night to recruit their help in finding the treasure of independence, which he explained had been left behind “by a man named Jernigan.” Captain Whozit led the children on a wild chase through some exciting challenge activities to find the five keys to independence that would unlock the treasure. After meeting some of the captain’s salty shipmates, walking the plank, and soaking themselves during the bucket brigade, the children managed to locate all the keys. They then learned that each key represented a particular skill of blindness that blind people need in order to gain independence. The highlight of the night was seeing the physical keys transformed into true keys of independence as a couple of the children learned how to use a key in an actual lock.

No summer program would be complete without some kind of outdoor excursion, so we made sure to throw one of these into the mix. The children visited North Bay Adventure, an outdoor recreational site in Maryland near the Pennsylvania border. Here the children participated in a nature hike, held snakes and turtles, and took a little dip in the Chesapeake Bay to cool off later in the day. North Bay also provided some of the children with what may have been the biggest confidence booster of the week—the zip line. Those who participated were harnessed to a large cable that extended from a four-story tower several yards across the beach and ended just off the shore in the water. One child in particular was very excited to ride the zip line since he had never done anything like that before. Once he was harnessed in and standing on the launching platform, however, he suddenly became extremely nervous and even tearful. Despite the tears, he clearly wanted to succeed and refused to be unhooked. So, after nearly ten minutes of coaxing and encouragement, he took off, eyes squeezed shut and panic on his face. We eventually had to pull him away from the zip line’s anchor staff member, with whom he spent nearly an hour trying to negotiate another turn.

The parents had some great experiences of their own during the program. The parent educator team was Barbara Cheadle, director of parent outreach for the NFB Jernigan Institute; Carrie Gilmer, president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children; and two renowned educators of blind children within our organization, Denise Mackenstadt of Washington, and Annie Hartzell from California. Parent sessions ranged from topics on multisensory learning to writing goals for IEPs. For many of the parents this was the first introduction to the NFB and the first time this kind of information about blindness had ever been given to them.

Experiential activities also helped parents learn the value of nonvisual techniques. Parents wore sleepshades as they learned to prepare a Jell-O salad, travel with a cane, and even use a chainsaw. One afternoon found the parents wearing sleepshades and rotating through various stations to learn practical skills of cane travel: going up and down stairs, stowing a cane in a car, and carrying a tray. Several of the parents reported that the best part of their sessions was the panels of blind adults. These panelists shared some of their own experiences growing up as blind children. They also talked about things their parents did well parenting a blind child and gave suggestions of things they wish their parents had known to do or had done differently.

Following the program we have received several e-mails and phone calls from the participants articulating their reflections on the program. Following are some of their comments:

It was an excellent decision to make this a dual child/parent event. The agenda for the parents was exceptionally well done. The content was clearly spot on, from the parent group interest and discussion that I observed. The subject experts who led the meetings were very knowledgeable and well prepared. 
--John Butler (Arizona), grandfather of Alex Butler, age thirteen

We came home with that action-packed information…and I have already put many things in motion…Don’t you all feel so charged up! I am ready to make some positive changes around here to help Dillon and to arm ourselves with as much information as I can about Dillon’s eye condition.
--Kathleen Smith (West Virginia), mother of Dillon Smith, age ten

My son had a great time, met new friends, and learned new things as well. As a parent I learned a great deal as well as far as the future for my son.
--Anita Velazquez (New Jersey), mother of Matthew Howell, age eleven

The last morning of the program wrapped up with a lot of excitement and a few tears. Both parents and children shared contact information with newfound friends. During the closing ceremony several of the students shared some of their favorite activities of the week as well as what they wanted to be when they grew up. It was exciting to hear that future blind adults have such great aspirations.

The entire program was a great success and has received rave reviews. Those interested in reading more about the program and viewing pictures can visit <www.blindscience.org> for more JSA action. The NFB Jernigan Institute hopes to offer more programs like this in the years to come. Those of us responsible for the organization of the JSA would like to thank the National Center for the Blind staff, the instructors, and those who served as mentors for the children. We could not have done this without such a great team. Finally, because of the overwhelming response of applicants and some unforeseen complications earlier this summer, the Jernigan Institute will conduct a fall session of the Junior Science Academy. We look forward to having an equally successful program with those who will be participating in September and look forward to more Junior Science Academy tales.

Editor’s Note: The September program might have been, so some maintain, even better than the summer program. Although the sessions were shorter, the smaller group and the experience gained from the summer program made it possible to create an intense learning experience that parents and kids are still talking about.

 

Cutting Through Fear

by Carrie Gilmer
President, National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
carrie.gilmer@gmail.com

Reprinted with permission from the Fall 2008 D.V.I. Quarterly, volume 54, number 1. DVIQ is a publication of the Division on Visual Impairments, Council for Exceptional Children. For information about the publication, articles, advertisements, etc., contact the DVIQ editor, Sheila Amato, at <brltrans@verizon.net>.

Two weeks ago I waited for a turn to cut through a large tree limb with a chainsaw while wearing sleepshades (blindfolds). About a dozen other people took their turns ahead of me. I knew other groups had also done this before and had no problems; still…I had some fear. So, I did what I usually do when I address my fears: I began to analyze if my fears were reasonable.

The person supervising had previous experience in supervising people who were doing this for the first time. That provided some comfort. I was pretty certain his vision was not more than light perception (LP). I had put my life in a blind person’s hands before and come out alright, so it wasn’t really his level of vision I was concerned with. This man was also a good friend of mine. I knew and trusted his judgment, so I found some comfort there too.

One by one, each person before me jubilantly held up his or her souvenir piece of freshly cut log and proudly shared it with the others. Each excitedly talked about what he or she had felt. They were especially finding laughter in comparing the straightness of the cuts. Somehow, though, sharing in their victories wasn’t bringing me the comfort I thought it would.

As my turn grew nearer my anxiety level increased. What was I afraid of exactly? Well, I knew my arms were the weakest part of my body. I also had never used a chainsaw. How heavy would it be? I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to tell without looking when I had cut through the log. I was afraid combining that with my weak arms gave me a greater than average risk. I was afraid I wouldn’t have the strength to react quickly enough to pull the saw up, or the wits to shut the thing off in time. Then the saw would drop, as quickly as lightning, and before I or my supervisor could react I would chop off at least one of my legs. I would be the ONE who would become seriously injured. Because of me and my near-death injury this practice would not occur again.

Okay, I had named my fears. I had created the worst-case scenario in my mind and emotions. Then I questioned the reasonableness of my fears, and I spoke them out loud to my friend who was to supervise me as my turn was up. As I spoke them out loud I realized that what I had feared most was my own lack of ability to observe and react. I quickly reasoned I had underestimated myself before.

Then I wondered what would happen if I walked away and gave in to my fears. At the least I would look pretty silly and weak to all the other new parents who had been looking to me as a leader. Especially since they had all done it! So, I could either be the ONE injured or the ONE to walk away. I decided to be more afraid of not doing it than doing it. My friend had not reacted in the least to my outspoken fears and the pouring out of my soul. “Mm-hmm,” was all I could get out of him. How maddeningly usual! He proceeded to show me (by touch) the parts of the saw, how I could stop it, where to keep my hands, and how to tell where to put the blade.

At his calm prodding I turned the saw on, found the log with the blade, and began to cut through it. All my attention was focused to wait for the split second I felt it go through, and to hold the saw up and shut it off. It all happened even quicker than I had anticipated. I was able to tell immediately when the blade had cut through and also had no problem holding up the saw and shutting it off. I had a nice big chunk, from a thicker log than most of the others, and the cut was straight enough to brag about.

Today it sits on my desk as a reminder. For me it is both a reminder to reasonably question the necessity or superiority of vision for a task as well as to trust more in my own abilities. It is also an important reminder to me that fears must be cut through both intellectually and emotionally.

This past school year my family had the wonderful opportunity to host a blind exchange student from Ukraine. Bogdan had a lot of fears when he first came to live with us, and the biggest by far was that he feared “looking blind.” He used Braille--having no choice, unless he wanted to only read a few words painstakingly at a time-- and the option to not use it had never been offered. The cane, however, had been optional. For him, Braille didn’t have to be read in public. The cane was public however, and with it, he looked blind. Without it, he had convinced himself, he looked normal. He stated seriously he would rather die than be seen with it.

Through the years he had built up quite an illusion; he had become masterful at it. Everyone in his life cooperated with it, until me. Seriously, he was the absolute best “follower” I have ever seen. He had it down to a science. But that was the trouble, needing someone to follow, or needing to be somewhere familiar. This had worked for the first seventeen years. I knew it wouldn’t if he wanted to be a free man for the next seventeen years and beyond.

I tried chipping away at his intellectual reasoning. He very emotionally refused to try carrying the cane. I let go of the issue--except for the occasional weekly speech/debate and the monthly teen program I ran where carrying it was required for attendance. He carried the thing like an Olympic torch or as if it were laden with deadly bacteria. Finally, after nine months, something occurred that he should have been able to handle at his age. First he avoided it, and then he tried to rationalize blindness as an excuse. He felt madder about being blind than ever. I used this experience to press at his emotions. For a few tense-filled days we went back and forth and he tried all his last desperate excuses. I refused to accept them. I struggled between pressing too hard and not pressing hard enough. He was to go home in a few weeks. I became more afraid of him going home defeated than pressing him to face his fears. Finally, he also became more afraid of being defeated than facing his fears. He gave the cane a real try, and to his shock and surprise (and everyone else’s) found it really useful after all. He went home and continues to live feeling free of the fear of looking blind, and using his cane.

Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, the founder of the National Federation of the Blind, said overcoming blindness “requires effort and patience and initiative and guts.” Raising and educating a blind child to become truly competitive alongside their particular sighted peers requires the same things. So does building a cohesive accurately informed team. It requires us to constantly reexamine what we think our students can do, and to get them and the rest of the world to do the same. Together we have to be more afraid of children not being ready to enter the world independently than afraid of doing everything it really takes to empower them with all the skills and confidence necessary to live a normal life as blind adults out in the real world.

 

My Moment of Liberation

by Jennifer Hu

Editor’s Note: Here is what one Virginia mother says about her “A-ha,” moment of liberation and empowerment at the 2008 Junior Science Academy:

I am happy to have this opportunity to share with other parents what I have learned from attending NFB’s Junior Science Academy (JSA) from July 23 to July 27, 2008.

Although my daughter Joy is twelve and has been blind since age five, I had never worn a blindfold to experience what it feels like to be “in the dark,” or to experience doing things Joy’s way. Thinking back over all those years, I can still hear myself impatiently saying, “Watch out, be careful!” or “Let me do it, it’ll be faster,” or “How come you can’t remember there’s a chair over here?” or other similar remarks--and always in such an impatient tone. In addition to not understanding what it feels like to be treated this way, I have also struggled with a strong sense of incompetence. I deferred teaching her how to do things “the blind-people way” to the professionals because I thought, as a sighted mother, that I was not qualified to teach her.

During our “Cooking without Looking” workshop at the JSA, I put sleepshades on for the first time. I remember feeling panicky and scared, and wanting to yank them away from my face. Using my hands to feel around to figure things out was also very unnatural for me. But after those initial moments of apprehension, I calmed down and started to follow the instructor’s directions to explore the kitchen with my other senses. While exploring, I realized it was so easy to miss essential information if I didn’t explore in a systematic way or did not use my entire hand. In addition, I also learned that I needed to use common sense to know where to retrieve needed items. For example, it made sense for the kitchen mittens to be stored in a drawer close to the stove and for mixing bowls to be found in the cupboard near the sink. After the hour-long workshop, our team successfully created a delicious Jell-O dessert with chopped fresh fruits in it. This experience gave me such confidence that I couldn’t wait to go home and cook with my daughter. No longer did I feel incompetent and incapable to work with my daughter, and no longer did I feel I needed to rely solely upon the professionals to teach my daughter important daily living skills. It was truly a liberating moment for me.

I also appreciated the opportunity to bond with other parents who struggle with the same issues I struggle with, and who understand my fears. All these years, I have lived under the fear that Joy may lose her eyes one day and would have to wear glass eyes. I just couldn’t bear the thought of her not having eyeballs. But during JSA, I met people, adults and children, who wear glass eyes and they really helped alleviate my unfounded fears.

I want to sincerely thank NFB for providing this wonderful opportunity to educate and empower the parents and to rekindle the love of science for all these children.

 

What Matters Most--Thoughts from a Parent of Three Kids with Multiple Disabilities

by René Harrell

Editor’s Note: René Harrell is the mom of three kids and the president of the Colorado Parents of Blind Children, a division of the NFB of Colorado. She is also a dynamic presence on the blindkid listserv, which is where she posted the following remarks in response to a mom’s inquiry about raising a blind child with additional disabilities. Blindkid is hosted by the NFB and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, and it’s called blindkid because that’s what we talk about—our blind kids. To subscribe to the listserv, go to <www.nfbnet.org/mailman/lisinfo/blindkid_nfbnet.org>, or go to the NFB Web site at <www.nfb.org> and search for “discussion groups.”

My daughter, age six, is blind and also has multiple disabilities. She has low-functioning autism, developmental delay, hypotonia, and a speech/language articulation disorder that is separate from her autism-related communication delay.
My middle son is four and he is sighted. He was originally diagnosed with moderate autism but lots of intensive therapy has moved him to the high-functioning range and he shows signs of soon moving into the Asperger’s range of the spectrum. In addition to his ASD diagnosis, he has an endocrine disorder for which he needs growth hormone treatment, celiac disease, deformities in his adenoids that lead to sleep apnea, and his new doctor thinks that what we’ve always described as facial ticks are actually small seizures, so we’re now running down that path. As an infant he was born without tear ducts and those had to be constructed with surgery. He had some other minor physical things that needed correction, too. He was hypotonic and refluxing to the point of almost needing a G-tube for his FTT (gastric feeding tube for failure to thrive), and had extreme difficulty in taking in food by mouth. Most of those issues have been resolved with time.

My third child is also sighted but was born with what we thought was a minor heart defect that would resolve itself given time. She turned out to be one of the rare ones that developed complications. She now has permanent aortic valve damage as well as a separate electric-rhythm disorder. Both conditions will require surgery before the age of ten.

So, when it comes to siblings, I just take the approach that we all have stuff in our lives--we all have unique issues, unique strengths, unique struggles, and our purpose as a family is to encourage one another. Our family motto is “Family first--together we win.” We also often say, “Family gets our best, or no one gets the rest.”

Granted, my children are still very young; Clare is the oldest at six and my other two are four and twenty-one months. However, we consider it extremely important to instill that concept that we are a team, and we want to do things and frame our activities in a way that makes our team successful for every member in it. Each one’s strengths need an opportunity to shine, and everyone needs encouragement and help with the areas with which they struggle. This is the value we try to instill in each of our children. No one is better or worse, we are each individuals that need to be honored for who we are.

In terms of dealing with the multiple disabilities in my blind daughter, I quickly realized that I needed to be the synthesizer for the whole process. I have to constantly evaluate, prioritize, and re-assess her most pressing needs. For Clare, communication has taken over as our highest priority. Our biggest goal for Clare is that she has every opportunity to develop effective communication with the world around her. So, we have spent an enormous amount of time involved with our local Autism Society of America chapter.

While Clare is the only child in that group who is blind as well as autistic, I have gleaned a wealth of information on augmentative communication that we have been able to non-visually adapt for Clare’s lack of vision. The organization has also been a tremendous source of information about how to structure routines for her, how to prepare her for transitions, and how to teach her new concepts. This was also the group that gave me the tips we needed to foray (with pretty decent success) into toilet training this past Christmas.

We also have tapped into resources through our local developmental disabilities board and our local Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC). These are the groups that have been able to offer us services appropriate to Clare’s cognitive level, and who encourage us along the path of trying to dream and plan for Clare’s eventual transition into adulthood. Because Clare will never be able to live independently or without supervision, we have gained invaluable insight into the steps we will need to take to assume guardianship over Clare when she reaches the legal age of adulthood. We have learned how to structure a trust for her to protect what government benefits she might need, and how to financially plan for her future when someone else might need to care for her. These groups have provided us with information about the options available to her for adult living programs, supportive employment, recreation opportunities, social opportunities, and inclusive programs that will support and integrate her successfully with her peers.

In short, we have pursued those parent-experts who also have children with Clare’s other disabilities. It then becomes our job as her parents to sift through it all for the pieces that are meaningful to our specific situation: we modify, synthesize, adjust, and integrate all of this information in ways that specifically benefit Clare. We try and view everything not through the prism of one specific disability, but through the prism that is our daughter. And the attitude we take towards each of her disabilities is always “What can we do and how can we approach this so that we can mitigate its negative impact on her ability to lead a full and rich life?” That is the question that we ask when approaching each of our children’s disabilities, both our sighted children and our blind child.

As a parent, it makes for a very full plate, but a very rich and rewarding one. I remember joking to my youngest daughter when she was still a newborn, “Hey you, the therapy schedule is full, so I hope you’re not thinking you’re going to need any!” We were so confident for so long she was going to be our “issue free” child and, sure enough, that didn’t happen. We didn’t go into parenthood planning on having so many children with so many additional needs but--wow--have we learned so much. My children have made me into the parent I am today, and I am a stronger, more capable, more discerning, more thoughtful, more driven person because those are the skills that parenting them has required. I believe every single one of my children can make a positive contribution to our society, no matter what alphabet soup of labels they carry. My job as their parent is to help the rest of the world to look beyond the diagnoses and see what I see: remarkable kids who can be remarkable adults if given the right attention, instruction, encouragement, coaching, guidance, opportunity, and access. This is what I wake up every day figuring out how to accomplish, bit-by-bit and day-by-day.

 

Iowa Parents of Blind Children Host Toys and Games Seminar

by Barbara Hammel

Editor’s Note: One of the advantages of being a part of a National Federation of the Blind (NFB) state or local parents group is that, by working together, we can get a whole lot more accomplished in less time because we can pool our resources and talents. Besides, because it is our organization, we don’t have to sit and hope and wait for someone else to meet our needs; we can do something about it ourselves. That’s what our Iowa Parents of Blind Children division did this past year. When the members discovered that they all had a common problem, they did something about it. In this case, the benefit is now expanding to parents and teachers far beyond Iowa. The accessible game’s list and original education games articles in this issue were originally researched and written by Merry-Noel Chamberlain to use as a handout for the Iowa seminar. Here’s what IA/POBC officer and parent of blind twins, Barbara Hammel, says about the seminar:

Last winter, the idea for a toys and games seminar came to mind as a result of conversations among our members about gifts that some of our blind children had gotten from friends and family. Because the gift giver did not know what would be most enjoyable for a blind child, the gifts were often blah or boring; certainly not as much fun as they could have been.
We can all get a mental block from time to time on gift-giving for certain people, but many of our family members and friends seemed to have an insurmountable, permanent mental block when it came to giving gifts to our blind children. So, we thought what we needed to do was to host a seminar for parents, families, and friends about selecting appropriate gifts, toys, and games for the blind child. At the seminar, we wanted to have a lot of examples of toys, gifts, and games for attendees to look at. We also wanted to have a lot of quality material for attendees to take home and use as resources. And we wanted to cover all ages of children. That was a daunting task.

The Iowa Parents of Blind Children is a very new organization. It became a division of the NFB of Iowa (a state affiliate of the NFB) in 2007. As a group of parents, we had been meeting informally for several years, but never took on much outside of our meetings. Our children participated (and still do) in Saturday School--a project of the Des Moines chapter of the NFB--while we parents met in another room to discuss current issues.

We soon discovered that this seminar was going to be a large undertaking that would require a lot of effort by a lot of people. Because we were so new, we had no brochure, no business cards, and no idea where to start. So, we made a list. We wrote up a one-page proposal that showed the basic idea of what we wanted to do. Next was a budget. Well, two budgets: one we hoped for and one we were resigned to. Then we went out to ask for money and sponsorships from businesses.

An agenda was next. After much discussion, we realized that we had way too much for a one-day seminar, and so we had to prioritize. That was great. If we could think of so much stuff to cover, then surely we had a winner that would be of interest to others. So, we set off to find speakers that could present on our priority topics.

Our next task was to select a time and place. There did not seem to be any time that was good. We wanted an all-day seminar. That limited when and where it could take place. We also had no money, which shortened the list of locations considerably. In the end, President Carrie Thomson got us a location at her job site. Her company facility provided a conference room, kitchen, and break-out rooms to accommodate any program items that we wanted. It also had free parking.

Now, how could we get the word out? As I said, we were very new. We had no real mailing lists: no e-mail lists for parents or educators, no mailing lists of possible supporters, and no lists for the media. So, everyone was asked to bring together any lists of contacts that they had gotten from previous seminars they had attended and any other contact information for educators or other parents of blind children that they happened to have in their e-mail box. Next we contacted the national office of the NFB for the Future Reflections list. We made contacts with those in the blindness field and education of blind children field, and many agreed to forward on our announcements regarding the seminar. The Iowa Library for the Blind sent out a mailing for us with an announcement about our seminar and details about the agenda.

The final step was to start looking for toy and gift exhibits. We looked through our closets, play rooms, and toy boxes; and we watched what our children were spending quality and enjoyable time with. Each of us began collecting good gifts and toys to bring on the day of the event for our displays.

Our work paid off. On Saturday, September 27, 2008, the Iowa Parents of Blind Children put on an all-day seminar that focused on how to adapt toys and games. We presented examples of gifts and toys which blind children can play with right out of the box--all from your neighborhood Target or other favorite department or toy store. We also demonstrated how simple it can be to adapt other toys that are not accessible right out of the box.

The registered participants were given resource packets that were two-inches thick. Material included articles from Future Reflections, the Braille Monitor, and information from many other resources and catalogs. Several speakers came with handouts for participants. Participants also saw exhibits of Discovery Toys and adaptive technology.

President Carrie Thomson began the seminar with an introduction about the IA/POBC--who we are and what we do. She explained about our Saturday School, about how the blind children are mentored by blind adults in a wide range of skill-building activities, and about how the parents meet to discuss concerns and learn useful skills and strategies for raising independent children.

Curtis Chong, a widely-known expert in blindness technology and a long-time leader in the NFB, spoke about gifts that are technology oriented. For example, he told us that the iPod Shuffle is accessible but not iTunes, which is used for downloading music for the iPod. (Apple is currently working on making their software accessible.) An alternative device to an iPod would be the Creative ZenStone, a small MP3 player with 2 gig of memory. Chong said you could just put all the music in one folder and let it play. The price for it is currently about $60. Then he introduced the group to the Victor Reader Stream. Besides the basics of the Stream, he told how you could pay for books from <audible.com> or System Access Mobile Network from <SaroTek.com>.

Michael Barber, president of the NFB of Iowa and also a blindness technology teacher, demonstrated how the Knfb Reader reads printed text. Karen Kenninger, director of the Iowa Library for the Blind, followed Michael Barber with a presentation about how the library can help with gift giving. The Library will transcribe Braille rules for games, and she told about all the books on games and game rules that are already available from the library. Karen showed us a sample of Taboo cards, crossword puzzles, and Sudoku puzzles in Braille, and then gave suggestions about how we can transcribe puzzles into Braille ourselves. She brought a Braille copy of Conundrum Magazine. For those who’ve not heard of Conundrum Magazine, it’s a British publication with a variety of puzzles, word searches, crosswords, logic puzzles, word scrambles, Sudoku, and more.

We finished the morning with a presentation on how to modify games using common craft products like puffy paint. We then adjourned for lunch and exhibits. Representatives from Discovery Toys, Vision Helpers, and the Iowa Department for the Blind were on hand to talk with parents about their products.

After lunch, Chris Short, a teacher of the visually impaired, and Ann Hegstram spoke about products from Independent Living Aids. They also talked about books about blind children--not including Helen Keller or Louis Braille stories.

Sarah Cutwright, a Discovery Toys dealer, demonstrated some of her toys. Those included a toddler talking telephone, castle marble works with chime balls, a CD with learning songs, some touch-and-feel books, and various other textured and brightly colored toys. Then she divided us into groups, gave each group some toys, and asked us to discuss how a blind child could play with it or what adaptations would we suggest to improve the toy.

The remainder of the afternoon was taken up with presentations about accessible computer games and accessible cell phones (and how to determine which one or what plan is best for your child and family). Finally, we ended the day with a presentation about other options for gifts, such as crafts and scrapbooking, and how to make them tactile.

The day was a success. Parents who were new to us attended the seminar. A lot of information was presented and distributed. Our message and contact information is now out there for many parents of blind children to find.

The event was also a big success for the division as well. We now have a brochure, e-mail contact lists for parents and educators of blind children, and mailing addresses for many more parents as well. Since the seminar, several parents who could not attend have asked for the packet that we had prepared for the event. Oh, and did I mention that we now have our own Web site! Check us out at <IowaSaturdaySchool.com>.

 

IEP Comebacks That Work

Editor’s Note: Are there certain phrases that you hear over and over again at an IEP meeting, but no matter how well prepared you are, these phrases always seem to blindside you? When you go into your next meeting, be prepared with a few polite, but firm, comebacks for stock phrases that usually leave you speechless or spinning your wheels as you try desperately to think of a way to get the focus of the meeting back onto the needs of your child. These “comebacks” were contributed to us from a New Jersey parent who found them in a newsletter from Helping Hand, a statewide parent advocacy network. In a few places we have added, in brackets, examples especially appropriate to parents of blind children.  Here are the tips:

Statement: We don’t do that.

Comeback: I realize that none of your current students are receiving a program like this one, but since IDEA requires an appropriate education which meets each child’s needs, there are no encompassing absolutes. If the IEP team agrees that this service is appropriate and meets a need, then it can be done.

Statement: This is the only program we offer.

Comeback: I realize that this is the program that other students are currently receiving, but since it is not appropriate for this child and does not meet his need we need to discuss other options. Individualized Education Plans are just that--individual--and perhaps if a new program is started, you will find that it will also meet the needs of others.

Statement: We don’t have the funds.

Comeback: Gee, I thought that discussing funding during an IEP was illegal. Let me just get that on tape.

Statement: You have to find a summer school.

Comeback: Let’s discuss my child’s eligibility for extended year services in order not to regress over the break.

Statement: One half-hour per week occupational therapy [orientation and mobility, Braille, etc.] is all students get.

Comeback: I realize that most students do not require the extensive occupational therapy [orientation and mobility, Braille, etc.] that my child does, however I hardly find that offering him the same amount of therapy [special instruction] that the other children need is individualizing his education plan, or it is certainly not appropriate for him. Let’s discuss HIS needs.

Statement: You have to find a social skills group.

Comeback: Since my child has an identified need in social skills, and it has an impact on his education. I ask that the [school district, the Local Education Agency or LEA] meet this need by providing social skills training.

Statement: We don’t need to write that down.

Comeback: I will note it right here in my parent’s notes. One moment while I get your comment on tape, too.
I.E.P. [When writing the IEP, these stock phrases are sure to show up.]

Statement: …where/when appropriate…

Comeback: Let’s modify that to make it more concrete.

Statement: …in a timely fashion…

Comeback: Let’s qualify that to give us a deadline. What would you consider a timely fashion?

Statement: He lacks motivation.

Comeback: Let’s make up a plan to motivate him, write a goal, get a behaviorist to work with the teacher to help find his motivation, and support her efforts.

Statement: We do that naturally.

Comeback: Great! So then let’s just add it to the notes in case of future staff changes.

Statement: If we do it for one, we have to do it for all.

Comeback: The beauty of an IEP is that it is an individualized plan, and only what a child needs is required. I would like the name of the person [who can authorize this service] and the date on which I will hear a reply from that person written into the IEP notes.

Statement: There’s not enough time to discuss this issue; moving on…

Comeback: Well then, let’s schedule a meeting to finish it up when you can take time to address all of the issues at hand. Here is when I am available…

 

Sound-Producing Toys--
Too Much of a “Good” Thing?

by Jacki Harth, MS, LPP, BCBA

When my two oldest kids were young (in the early 80’s), there were plenty of toys and activities that produced sounds. Squeak toys squeaked when you squeezed them, a bell rang when you pushed a lever, a Jack-the-box tinkled out a tune when you turned the crank, rattles rattled, jingle bells jingled, and pots and pans rattled and clanged when hit with a wooden spoon. But as kids played, they themselves provided the sound effects for most of their toys: yelling out “vroom, vroom” while racing their little cars, making animal sounds when playing with their stuffed animals, huffing “chug-a-chug-a-choo-choo” when playing with train sets, singing songs to their dollies, and shouting “hooray” when they won a board game.

When our youngest son Tyler was diagnosed with congenital blindness, we increased the number of toys and activities with sound effects in our toy boxes; some we bought, some we modified. We attached bells of all kinds to elastic and then attached them to toys so he could easily find his favorites. We stuffed toys with crinkly plastic bags, and strung metal canning rings on a string to provide more sounds and activities. We also searched the stores for even more toys to provide auditory enjoyment. The technology of sound-producing toys seemed to be expanding at that time. We found a small cassette player, an electronic keyboard, and stuffed animals with sewn-in buttons that produced high pitched electronic music when you squeezed them. A combination of new toys, old favorites, modified toys, and a few inventions he made himself provided hours of enjoyment and learning.

Fast-forward twenty-some years with the arrival of our grandson. I have thoroughly enjoyed introducing him to these old favorite sound-producing toys (canning rings and pots and pans), and I love to watch him make his own joyful noises. However, I cannot believe how the most popular toys now have a virtual plethora of sound effects, commentaries, songs, or wise cracks to accompany almost every single toy.

Walking down the toy aisles in a store, we are hard pressed to find any toy that doesn’t make some kind of sound, statement, or song. Books don’t have to be read to children by adults anymore because the books read themselves! Stuffed animals sing tunes by a variety of classical composers (Is it that important that a nine-month-old knows that the song played is by Vivaldi?) Rattles sing long alphabet and counting songs, trains make annoying realistic engine sounds, and what was once my favorite Sesame Street character does everything from giggle, tells kids he loooooves them, to break-dance to hip hop music (sorry Elmo).

Oftentimes, it only takes a press of a button, a gentle touch, or even just a mere motion to activate this cacophony of sounds. These toys become activated when you try to put them away in the toy box, take them out of the toy box, when you walk by the toy box--even in the middle of the night, when you are nowhere near the toy box.

Most typically developing children learn and develop play skills despite this onslaught of extraneous noise, but I seriously wonder if this fanfare is necessary for children to engage in the most important job of their young lives--play.

For parents of kids with special needs, these high-tech toys can be both a help and a hindrance. While the sound effects and noises can motivate a child to press a button, move toward an object, or complete a task, a toy with additional noises and sounds can make the child vulnerable to activities that can quickly evolve into non-functional repetitive (stereotypic) actions.
A child who is blind may get much enjoyment out of a teapot set that sings “I’m a little teapot” when the pot is tilted a certain way, but may miss out on the intended use of the toy, which is to facilitate pretend play. Instead of setting out tea cups and pouring a pretend cup of tea for each of her dollies, that child may repeatedly tilt the teapot to play the song over and over. A toy ambulance that cries out with a wonky siren when dropped or thrown may be great fun, but it is intended to be a part of a pretend script. Like the tea pot, this toy can unintentionally stimulate and reinforce stereotypic behavior that is harmful to the child’s development; exactly the opposite of what you wanted the toy to do.

A child with autism may discover that different animal sounds are activated when he or she opens the fences on a toy barn. This toy is intended to promote pretend barnyard play--putting the animals inside the barn, taking them out to eat, etc. But does it? While this is a wonderful opportunity to learn animal sounds, the sounds are not made by the animal figure themselves, and opening and closing the fences may become a repetitive act that is hard to interrupt when an adult intervenes to show the child how to play appropriately with the toy. A stacking toy that provides a magical sound when the rings are placed on a spindle could also be sabotaged when the child discovers the little button to activate the sound. Once that happens, there may not be enough motivation to play with the toy appropriately, because it is easier just to activate the button.

Now I’m not suggesting a boycott of buying toys with sound effects, just some caution. If you have a child with special needs, look at his or her history with other toys. Does he or she often get stuck or hung up on repetitive activities that keep them from playing with toys appropriately? If so, then take the batteries out (or never put them in). Set up learning times to directly teach your child how to play with toys appropriately. The time spent preparing toys and teaching your child can add to his or her repertoire of play skills. Appropriate play skills not only facilitate physical and cognitive development but will also increase your child’s sociability.

So, set up a tea party with a silent teapot, “zoom” and “vroom” toy trucks and cars, shout “hooray” when you win a game, and show your child that making your own sound effects can be fun too.

Author’s Note: Almost twenty years ago, I was soaking up information on how to teach my congenitally blind son Tyler and came across great articles in the NFB newsletter. Wanting to make a contribution myself, I wrote an article about the benefits of encouraging our blind kids to play with pots and pans. As I said, that was two decades ago. I had forgotten about the article until my daughter Googled me while doing research for a college paper and discovered several Web sites containing reprints of this article. Flattered by the fact that she could Google me and come up with anything, I started to think that there may be a need for more articles that contained some good, old-fashioned ideas that parents could easily apply. Sadly, our Tyler passed away a few years after I wrote the pots and pans article, but my interest in teaching children with disabilities led me to go back to school and obtain my undergraduate and graduate degrees in applied behavior analysis (ABA). Currently, I am the clinical director for a home-based ABA program in Minnesota and I thoroughly enjoy providing quality services for children and their families. With my background as a mother of typical kids, a special needs child, and a grandma of two little ones, I’m thinking that my opinions, ideas, and suggestions could be of benefit to others--or at least food for thought. I hope you think so too.

Jacki Harth, MS, LPP, BCBA
Clinical Director
Behavioral Dimensions, Inc.
Phone: (651) 271-8084
E-mail: jharth@behavioraldimensions.com

 

Rags to Riches? Just Pretend…

by Tina Bruce

Reprinted from LOOK Newsletter (Spring 2006, Issue 43), a publication of the National Federation of Families with Visually Impaired Children, a registered charity of the United Kingdom.

I remember my grandmother--who would be well over a hundred years of age if she were alive now--telling me that she used to tie pieces of rag around the handles of the chest of drawers in her bedroom and pretend they were children in a classroom. She would then teach the class, pretending to be the teacher, and make little books for each pupil which she would write in, make deliberate mistakes, and then correct with a red pen.

Imagine if my grandmother were a child of today. She might be given a plastic school set. She might be given a Barbie doll. But what would she have done with these expensive toys? Probably exactly the same as she did with her ragged school.

Finding play in everyday life can be rich and without cost, and Treasure Baskets are one example of this. These are the invention of Elinor Goldschmeid and they celebrate the importance of offering children natural playthings. I prefer to use this expression rather than the word toys which has come to be linked with expensive, commercially produced, profit-orientated, and (usually) plastic objects.

Research shows that children get more out of playthings which offer very open-ended possibilities in the way they are used. Many commercial toys have narrow possibilities. Once you have pressed the button on a plastic toy and a bell has rung for red or a buzzer for green, what else is there to do with it? No wonder most children prefer the box it came in.

Many grandparents now are making Treasure Baskets for their grandchildren. All you need is a basket made of natural material which is stable and circular. Children often like to lean on the basket, so it shouldn’t tip easily. It should not be less than 14 inches in diameter and 4 to 5 inches high, it should not have a handle, and it should have a flat bottom.

The principle of a Treasure Basket is that everything you put in it should be natural, safe, and definitely not rubbishy. You might gather objects made of natural materials, such as a small wooden shaving brush, raffia box, or woolen ball.

Alternatively, you might decide to offer things from nature, such as a fir cone, large corks, a dried gourd, a piece of loofah, or shells that don’t splinter. Maybe you have some lovely wooden objects which would make perfect playthings. A wooden egg, a small turned bowl, a pastry brush, bobbin, or dolly-type of clothes pegs are a few ideas.

Cardboard and paper can also be offered, such as scrunched up grease-proof paper, small cardboard boxes, soft corrugated paper, or different kinds of material.

Of course, if any object worries you in relation to safety or sensitivity, then don’t put it in the basket. You know your child, and you must feel comfortable about what you offer.

The best way to support Treasure Basket play is to sit near the child but to be a quiet and encouraging companion. It is very difficult to really enjoy the play if people keep talking to you and interrupting your explorations. This is not the time for vocabulary building.

Treasure Basket play is especially suitable for children with visual impairments. Adults and older children can enjoy Treasure Baskets as much as children, as they offer a quiet space with tranquility and peacefulness.

Children need to develop their own play agenda, which involves their ideas, feelings, relationships, and sense of physical self. This is very satisfying for a child--giving the child a feeling of power rather than being controlled by others all the time.
Of course, play only flourishes if children freely take part in it. They need to choose to play. The moment must be right. When a child is involved in rich play, they are deeply involved. Rich play means children with greater well-being, and richer learning.

Sitting and reaching for something you want on the far side of the basket, and fishing it out without toppling, is exhilarating--even for a child with a range of disabilities. These children are doing what children have done since the beginning of time--enjoying the magic of play.

We need to give ourselves permission to act on the wonderful fact that play is free of charge. It doesn’t have to involve any money at all.

Think of my grandmother playing with her ragged school. She was using what we might call “found” playthings to create a very rich play scenario.

LOOK trustee and professor Tina Bruce is an eminent early year’s specialist. She has written many books on the subject and is currently based at Roehampton University.

 

Merry-Noel’s Game List
A List of Nonvisually Accessible Commercial Games

by Merry-Noel Chamberlain, MA, TVI, NOMCT

Editor’s Note: Merry-Noel Chamberlain is a recent winner of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children award. She is also blind herself, the mother of a blind daughter, and a board member of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. The list below is an expanded version of the hand-out Chamberlain prepared for the Spring 2008 seminar about toys and games sponsored by the Iowa Parents of Blind Children (see the article about the seminar elsewhere in this issue).

To make sure you could get the maximum benefit from this list, the editor’s office researched each game online to see if it was available. By far the best location for the largest number of the games was Amazon.com, followed by the online or bricks and mortar stores for Toys “R” Us (Toysrus.com) and Target (Target.com). We have listed the location or locations that we found each game. We could not find a source for three or four of the games, but we left them on the list anyway. Perhaps your search will be more fruitful than ours. We also investigated the generic and specialized craft products and materials that Merry-Noel mentions in the second and third sections that could be used to adapt the games--such as puff paint and Dymo tape. A brief explanation describing where to find these products precedes those sections. Here is the list--have FUN!

This is a list, in three sections, of commercially available games that I’ve collected over the years. The first section contains games that are accessible straight out-of-the-box. The second section of the list is “Games Needing Adaptations Other Than Braille” and the third section is “Games Needing Braille Adaptations.” I’ve included some helpful hints and explanations in the second and third sections about how I adapted the games for my blind students. Please note that the lists do not include games made especially for individuals who are blind.

Accessible Games Straight Out-Of-The-Box:
1. 3-D Puzzles: Amazon.com
2. Bop-it and Bop-it Extreme: (Age 8+) Amazon.com, Target.com
3. Candy Land Castle Game: (Age 3+) Amazon.com, Target.com, Toysrus.com. Note: Although this game uses colored shapes, all similar shapes have the same color and don’t interfere with the game.
4. Counting Cookies: Cookies that have candies that look like M&Ms® for counting. (Age 2+) Amazon.com, EducationalLearningGames.com
5. Crocodile Dentist: (Age 3+) Hasbro.com, Amazon.com, Sillyastoys.com
6. Dominoes (traditional): (Ages 4+) Amazon.com, Target.com. Note: Most regular dominoes are tactual, but if you have a set that need adapting, see number eight in the second section of this game list.
7. Egg-Shape Sorter (Small World Express): (Age 3+) Smallworldtoys.com, Amazon.com. Note: The six egg shapes come in a toy egg carton, making it the perfect tool for learning about the six-dot configuration of a Braille cell.
8. Electronic Hot Potato – The Musical Potato Tossing Game: A plush potato you toss. (Ages 5+) Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Target.com
9. Inchwormstm: Each worm (one inch in length) snaps together to make learning to measure fun and easy. LearningResources.com, Amazon.com
10. Lacing & Tracing Shapes (also Lace & Trace Shapes): Amazon.com, Fatbraintoys.com
11. Latches Board: A board that has several types of window and door latches to open and shut. Amazon.com, Growingtreetoys.com, BarnesandNoble.com
12. Learning Resources Stacking Shapes Pegboard: Amazon.com. Note: This is fun for creating Braille dot patterns.
13. Magnetic Capital Letters (letters embossed with Braille) (Ages 3+) Amazon.com
14. Magnetic Numbers (numbers embossed with Braille) (Ages 3+) Amazon.com
15. Mancala: (Age 6+) Amazon.com, Boardgamecentral.com, Toysrus.com. Note: I prefer the game board that folds into two sections because it creates two perfect Braille cells. By playing the game end-to-end, it gives a great opportunity to review Braille contractions as you play.
16. Manuscript Letter Beads (R2184): ROYLCO, Inc. Amazon.com, Eofficedirect.com, Shopping.msn.com. Note: This is a great way to create words and sentences, then have the student Braille them onto paper. It has many other uses, too. These also come in numbers.
17. Nickelodeon Dora Talking I-Crayons: Six crayons with one removable electronic crayon topper that speaks the color of the crayon in English and Spanish. (The topper can only be used with crayons in the Dora set.) Target.com, NFB.org/nfb/Independence_Market.asp
18. Oreo Matchin’ Middles: (Ages 3-7) Fisher-Price-Toys.com (takes you to Amazon.com). Cookies (like Oreos) that have tactual centers for matching. Note: This is a great memory game.
19. Othello Magnetic: (Age 8+) Tsukuda Original. Editor’s note: We could not find an online source.
20. Play with Letters Desk (77821): Fisher Price. Editor’s note: We could not find an online source. Author’s note: This has raised tactual letters with Braille. However, the Braille on the “W” was manufactured reversed. I wrote to the Fisher Price Company and they exchanged it.
21. Simon: Each color has its own distinct sound as it lights up. Amazon.com, Toysrus.com
22. Smart Snacks Counting Cookies (see also Counting Cookies, number four on this list): Cookies that have tactual candies for counting. Amazon.com, Fatbraintoys.com. Note: A new educational version speaks, “Can I have another?” It’s called Count and Learn Cookie Jar. (I don’t have it, yet.)
23. Smart Snacks Sorting Shapes Cupcakes: (Age 2+) Amazon.com, Target.com. Note: Another great game for beginning Braille learners.
24. Spin the Beetle: (Age 3 – 6) Hasbro.com. Note: The child may need to use tactual methods to determine to whom the beetle is pointing.
25. Tater Toss Game: A wind-up plastic red potato. (Age 3+) Schylling. Amazon.com, Kazootoys.com
26. Thin Ice: Amazon.com. Note: Play this with or without the tweezers.
27. Tic-Tac-Toe: Author’s note: Many commercial brands of Tic-Tac-Toe are accessible but I like the one by Luxurious the best because the pieces stay contained on the game board. This brand is available from the NFB Independence Market <www.nfb.org/nfb/Independence_Market.asp>. Note: After playing the game, I cover a row and see how many Braille contractions the student can find with the “X’s” or the “O’s”, then I turn the board around to find more.

Materials Used to Adapt Games:

Editor’s Note: A few of the products used to adapt the games in the following two sections are easily obtained at any craft, fabric, or hardware store. Several, however, are specialized products for the blind and may only be available from a few locations. Some of the products are generic; others are specific brand-name products. To assist in locating these materials, here is a list of the items and suggested sources in alphabetical order. We did not attempt to identify all possible sources, so many of the products may be available from other places. Here are the Web sites for the three specialized sources listed below: NFB Independence Market (NFB-IM), <www.nfb.org/nfb/Independence_Market.asp>; American Printing House for the Blind (APH), <www.APH.org>; and Independent Living Aids, LLC (ILA), <www.IndependentLiving.com>. Here is the list:

Braille dice--Available from the NFB-IM and ILA.
Braille graph paper--Embossed graph sheets available from APH.
Braille label sheets--Clear plastic label sheets with peel-off adhesive backing.
Braille stickers--Available from ILA.
Duct tape--Generic name of a commonly used tape originally designed for the construction industry. Available in hardware stores.
Dymo tape--Transparent labeling tape. It comes in rolls of ½ inch by 12 feet with a peel-off adhesive backing. Available from NFB-IM and other suppliers of Braille materials.
Elmer’s Glue--Available wherever you can buy children’s school supplies or crafts.
Feel ‘n Peel stickers--Tactual stickers available from APH.
Graphic tape--Graphic Art Tape available from APH.
Hot glue--Generic item available in almost any craft store.
Puff paint--Generic item available in almost any craft store. Might also be able to use Liquid Tactile Marker available from NFB-IM.
Sticky foam--Foam shapes with a peel-off backing. Very popular and available in most craft stores.
Talking dice--Talking Glow Dice, available from APH.
Talking timer--Available from NFB-IM.
Textured tape--Ribbon with peel-off adhesive backing. Available in craft stores.
Velcro--A brand name and a common product available in craft and fabric stores.

Games Needing Adaptations Other Than Braille:
1. 15 Numbers Puzzle: (Age 6+) Woodexpressions.com. Adaptation: A dab of puff paint on the number “9” so it doesn’t get confused with the “6”. (It has a mark but it isn’t very tactual.)
2. 3D Snakes & Ladders (the American version is called Chutes & Ladders): (Age 5+) Amazon.com, Target.com. Adaptation: Use textured tape or graphic tape to underline the rows where the player must go left. Use a Braille label sheet to emboss a thin line of Braille dots to underline the rows where the player must go right. Put tape around one of the marbles. Use talking dice or Braille dice.
3. Amaze: Amazon.com, Kazootoys.com, Target.com. Adaptation: Cut Braille graph paper to the size of each of the game puzzle cards, then use tactual stickers to indicate how to set up each puzzle challenge. Clip the top right corner of the card to show which side is up. Each puzzle card will be different, so each card will need to be adapted individually.
4. Bouncin’ Bugs: (Age 8+) Discovery Toys, Inc. This toy has been discontinued but may be available on eBay. Adaptation: Same as for the game Amaze.
5. Candy Land: (Age 3+) Amazon.com, Toysrus.com, and just about any store where games can be purchased. Adaptation: Use Feel ‘n Peel stickers (both sets). Use graphic tape for the shortcut paths.
6. Connect Four: (Age 7+) Hasbrotoyshop.com, Target.com, Toysrus.com, and many other locations. Adaptation: Because the centers of the game pieces are textured, use Elmer’s glue to fill in both sides of the centers of one color. The glue will shrink down as it dries, and it takes three layers of glue to make the pieces thick and smooth. The unmodified opponent’s pieces will be noticeably thinner and rough to the touch. Puff paint may work, but it is important to keep the pieces thin so they can slide through the slot.
7. Connect-O-Round: (Age 7+) Hasbrotoyshop.com, Toysrus.com, Target.com. Much like Connect Four. Adaptation: Use hot glue to fill in the middle of the game pieces for one player. Be sure to keep the pieces thin enough so they will slide through the slot.
8. Dominoes (traditional): Available from almost any location where games are sold. Adaptation: Most dominoes are tactual; however, if your set is not, use Feel ‘n Peel stickers. You might want to put magnets on the back of the pieces and play the game on a cookie sheet to help them stay in place.
9. Henry: Tiger Electronics. Available only on eBay. Adaptation: This game is not totally accessible when played solo. However, when playing with others, one can use a graph technique to announce each move. Number the columns from the left to the right and letter the rows from top to bottom. For example “B – 4” means the button located on the second row and in the fourth column.
10. Lucky Ducks: (Age 3 – 6) Amazon.com, Target.com, Toysrus.com, other locations that sell games. Adaptation: Place Feel ‘n Peel stickers under the colored duck pieces. Be sure that you select matching textures for each color. Alternatively, if your child can identify Braille letters, you can use Dymo tape to mark each duck with the first letter of the color (example, “y” for yellow).
11. No Peeking: (Age 3 – 8) Ravensburger. Editor’s note: Could only locate UK Web sites for this game. Adaptation: Place Feel ‘n Peel stickers on the pieces.
12. Othello: (Age 8+) Amazon.com, Target.com, Toysrus.com. Adaptation: Use graphic tape to line the grid. Place a tactual sticker on one side of the playing pieces. The pocket version of Othello has a tactual grid but playing pieces will still need tactual stickers.
13. Rush Hour Deluxe Edition: (Age 8+) Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Fatbraintoys.com, Target.com, Toysrus.com. Adaptation: Use Braille graph paper to cut to the size of the parking lot game board. Use consistent tactual markings for the pictures on the playing cards which show the players where to place their playing piece vehicles on the parking lot. For example, you might put the same tactual stickers in a row for a car using two spaces, strips of sand paper for longer cars, and puff paint around the edges for the longest trucks. Place duct tape over the edge of the opening.
14. Shift-Tac-Toe: (Age 6+) A shifting-sliding Tick-Tac-Toe game. No longer available at Walgreen’s online, but Abstractstrategy.com offers places to find it. Adaptation: Use puff paint, tactual stickers, or other tactual material to place an “X” or “O” on both sides of one of the player’s pieces.
15. Pop-O-Matic Trouble: (Age 5+) Miltonbradley.com, Amazon.com. Adaptation: Use graphic tape in a variety of ways to distinguish one player’s pieces from another. Example: Leave one player’s pieces bare. Use thin graphic tape once around a second player’s pieces. Put two strips around a third player’s pieces, and place thick graphic tape on the top and upper position of the fourth player’s pieces. Use the same method to indicate each player’s finish and home positions.
16. Who Lives Where: (Age 3+) Amazon.com, Cadaco.com, Target.com. Adaptation: Place a tactual sticker on the front bottom of the house to assist with placement of which way is the top.

Games Needing Braille Adaptation:
1. A to Z Jr.: (Age 5+) Discovery Toys, Inc. Discontinued but may be available on eBay, and/or check with your Discovery Toys independent educational consultant. If you do not know of one in your area, contact NFB member and Discovery Toy consultant Melissa Riccobono at <toys@riccobono.us>, or shop online at <www.discoverytoyslink.com/riccobono>. Adaptation: Braille the letter game board and cards. Use Braille dice and change the meanings for numbers 5 and 6 to represent the game dice. The game board provided with this game can be used for a variety of other lessons.
2. Bingo cards: OrientalTradingPost.com, Nobbies.com. Adaptation: Braille the cards or make your own cards. Bingo boards can be Brailled also. (See instructions about making flash cards in the “Other Helpful Hints” section at the conclusion of this game list.)
3. Boggle Jr. (Your preschooler’s first Boggle Game): (Ages 3 – 6) Amazon.com, Boardgames.com, Hasbrotoyshop.com. Adaptation: Use Dymo tape or Braille peel-off label sheets to Braille the letter cubes with a capital sign to indicate which way is up. Number the cards and record the picture on a cassette for individual play. Place Braille numbers on the front left side of the cards so the child can place the cards in the correct order. Braille the picture words upside down on the top back side of the card. Use only one card at a time in the holder to allow the child to read the Braille.
4. 4-Way Countdown: (Age 6+) Amazon.com, Boardgames.com, Cadaco.com. Adaptation: Braille the dice. Brailling the game board is optional. You may want to place a foam or felt pad in the box to make it less noisy.
5. Crayola® Triangular Crayons: Crayolastore.com. Adaptation: These anti-roll crayons are perfect for labeling with Braille.
6. Pizza Fraction Fun: LearningResources.com, Amazon.com. Adaptation: With some creativity, this can be made very tactual by gluing thick string around the green pepper slices, cutting felt into mushroom shapes, using loose leaf hole protectors for olives, using Feel ‘n Peel stickers for the pepperoni, etc. Put the tactual items on one side of the slice of pizza and put Braille labels on the other side.
7. I SPY – Word Scramble: (Age 7+) Amazon.com, Target.com. Adaptation: Braille the game board and cards. Use a talking timer. (You will have to purchase this separately from NFB-IM or other specialized sources.) Note: This game is a great teaching tool for a variety of Braille lessons.
8. Letter Flip: (Age 10+) Out of the Box. otb-games.com, Amazon.com. Adaptation: Braille the letters upside down on the back of each tile. Braille the cards. Note: This is a great teaching tool that can be used for a variety of lessons. Cover the print letters with duct tape to enhance Braille skills.
9. RACKO: (Age 8+) Hasbrotoyshop.com, Amazon.com. Adaptation: This game has a plastic “rack” in which the cards sit. You will want to place the Braille numbers on the cards so that the child can reach over and down to read the Braille on the bottom of the backside of the card as it sits in the rack. (It is awkward to try and read the dots while the card is in the rack if the Braille is aligned on the top.) Clip the top right corner of the card so that the child knows which side is up on the print. This game gives children good practice in reading and manipulating cards independently.
10. Sorry Revenge: (Age 6+) Hasbrotoyshop.com, Amazon.com. Adaptation: Cards need to be Brailled.
11. Spell Time – Only the right letter fits!: (Age 3 – 5) Cadaco.com, Amazon.com, Educationallearninggames.com. Adaptation: Tiles and cards need to be Brailled. Pictures need tactual stickers.
12. Sudoku: (Ages 8+) Amazon.com Adaptation: When Brailling numbers on the tiles, be sure to use number signs so players can orient the tiles correctly. Two print colors are used to indicate how to set up the board. Braille the game set-up options on Braille graph paper and use puff paint or graphic tape to underline the set-up numbers as indicated in the directions. Use graphic tape to form the grid on the game board. Editor’s note: The NFB Independence Market, <www.nfb.org/nfb/Independence_Market.asp>, sells a pre-adapted Sudoku game.
13. Sum Time: Math game. (Ages 3 – 5) Cadaco.com, Drugstore.com, Educationallearninggames.com. Adaptation: Tiles and cards need to be Brailled. Pictures need tactual stickers.
14. Twister: Editor’s Note: See detailed article by Loretta White elsewhere in this issue.
15. Upwords: (Age 10+) Hasbrotoyshop.com, Amazon.com. Adaptation: Put Braille on the tiles and use Graphic Art Tape on the game board.
16. Word Flip: (Age 8+) Discovery Toys. Adaptation: Braille the word cards and find another container to store them in because they will now be too thick to all go into the playing box with the window slots that they come in. Since only one word card needs to be in the window slot at a time when playing the game, that’s not a problem. Next, find a piece of firm foam (about ½ inch thick) that you can cut to fit permanently into the window slot of the playing box. Since the other cards will no longer be stored behind the top card as it is played, something needs to be there to hold the card flush against the window opening so that the child can read the Braille on the card.
17. Yahtzee Turbo: (Age 7+) Hasbrotoyshop.com, Amazon.com, Target.com. Adaptation: Braille the cards. Five Braille dice will need to be substituted for the dice in the game. (The game shows matching colors for each number on the dice but this is not pertinent for the game.) This is a fast moving game, so it might be frustrating for readers too slow to keep up.

Other Helpful Hints:
1. Use plastic cards when possible because the Braille will hold up longer and be less likely to flatten out. I prefer to use Braille plastic label sheets to label the cardboard cards.
2. Game lids or other shallow boxes can be used to contain dice when rolled.
3. A microwave bacon cooker can be used to help organize playing cards.
4. Collect a variety of sizes and shapes of shampoo, soap, or other types of bottle lids to use as game pieces.
5. For games that require marbles, substitute beads so that players can distinguish their pieces from others.
6. Create a tactual coloring board or screen by duct-taping a piece of plastic or metal screen onto thin plywood or very thick cardboard. Place paper on top of the screen and color onto the paper with any ordinary crayon. The screen creates a nice easy-to-feel texture on the paper.
7. To encourage tactual Braille reading, make Braille flash cards out of old playing cards. Emboss the Braille so that the dots are read on the backside of the cards. The visual clutter on the card discourages the low vision reader from trying to read the Braille with his or her eyes.

 

How to Adapt Milton Bradley’s “Twister” Game

by Loretta White

Editor’s Note: The sturdiness of the game adapted with these materials and techniques is phenomenal. More than a decade ago, White adapted four (maybe five--but we only know where four of them are today) Twister games for use with children’s programs in Maryland. One of the games was donated to Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM) to use at KIDS Camp and other youth programs. Another ended up in NFB Camp--our NFB National Convention childcare program--where it is used every year. Two others live at the National Center for the Blind where they are used for after-hour games for youth programs sponsored by the NFB Jernigan Institute, such as the Science Academies, the Youth Slam, youth leadership programs, and other activities with children. The adapted twister game is also part of NFB history; a picture of a Twister game in progress hangs on a corridor wall in the NFB Jernigan Institute. Shortly after the NFB Jernigan Institute established the National Center for Mentoring Excellence, the adapted game was taken to the targeted states to use in the ice-breaking activities for launching each program. Loretta agreed to share her instructions for adapting the game at the request of Treva Olivero, coordinator of the mentoring program, who said that the project leaders in the states want their own adapted game to keep. And now we are publishing it for the benefit of our Future Reflections readers. Here it is:

Supplies:

One (1) Twister Game
Two (2) sleepshades
Plastic storage box (with snap-on lid) that is at least 22 inches by 14 inches by 5 inches
Plastic sticky-backed Braille paper
Heavy Braille paper or plastic
Heavy cardboard rectangle (15 inches by 13 inches)
Braillewriter or slate and stylus for making Braille labels
Paper or gummed labels for print labels
Linoleum glue (smallest size can)
A small old or disposable brush, about 1 inch wide (You will want to throw it away when finished.)
Compass and marker
Scissors and/or X-Acto knife (or other comparable brand, such as Exacto)

Enough of each of the following fabrics for six 7.5 inch circles. Getting these specific fabrics will ensure that there is adequate texture differences and that the circles will hold up over time:
From the carpet department in major home improvement stores:
Royal to navy blue low pile indoor-outdoor carpet
Green fake grass floor covering
From the fabric shop:
Good quality yellow fake fur
Good quality (thick) fake red leather

Adapting the Twister game plastic sheet:

1. Using a compass and marker, draw six 7.5 inch circles on the back of each of the circle fabrics.
2. Cut them out using very sharp scissors or an X-Acto knife.
3. Spread the Twister game plastic sheet on the floor, removing all wrinkles. If there are a lot of small wrinkles, place it in the dryer on the lowest heat for a few minutes to smooth out the wrinkles. You can also use a hair dryer. The folds in a brand new game are not a problem.
4. Attach the circles to the Twister game plastic sheet one at a time matching the colors.
5. Using an old small or disposable paintbrush, apply linoleum glue to a colored circle on the Twister game plastic sheet and to the back of the circle. Be sure both circles are completely covered with glue.
6. Center the fabric circle of matching color on top of the glue circle and press firmly over the entire circle. Wipe off excess glue around the outside of the circle. If the fabric circle does not lie completely flat, place a few large books on top of it.
7. Continue the process until all circles on the Twister game plastic sheet are covered with fabric circles.
8. Allow Twister game plastic sheet to dry 24 hours before moving.

Texture reference card:

1. Using the fabric scraps, cut one 3 inch by 2 inch rectangle of each fabric.
2. Using the same technique as above, attach the fabric rectangles to the heavy cardboard rectangle leaving about 3 inches between each piece and at the top and bottom.
3. Braille and cut out one label in contracted (Grade 2) Braille for each color (red, blue, green, yellow).
4. Apply the label directly under the matching color.

Braille spinner board:

Braille, cut out, and apply the following labels in contracted (Grade 2) Braille:

Four (4) each: blue, red, green yellow

One (1) each: right foot, right hand, left foot, left hand

Make five (5) large print “Twister” labels for the plastic storage box (the new game box). Attach a label to each of the four sides and the lid. Cover the labels with clear sticky backed plastic. Clear wide plastic tape works as well. Place a Braille “Twister” label on each print label.

Put the spinner board, folded Twister game plastic sheet, game directions (print and Braille), texture reference card, and sleepshades into the new game box, put on the lid. Invite your friends over and PLAY TWISTER!

 

Merry-Noel’s Original Games

by Merry-Noel Chamberlain, TVI, NOMCT

The Cardinal Game
A game for two or four players that focuses on cardinal directions

The Cardinal Game is a variation of the Start Again game.

Object of the game: Be the first player to move all game pieces across the board (North, South, East or West) to its final destination.

American Printing House for the Blind materials needed:
100’s Board kit (APH)
One Braille or talking dice (APH)

Directions for constructing the game board and pieces:
1. Place Velcro as indicated with a “V” on the 100’s board. [From left to right, leave the first vertical column blank, in the second column leave the top two and bottom two spaces blank, in the next eight vertical columns, leave the top and bottom spaces blank, in the ninth column leave the top two and bottom two spaces blank, and leave the tenth and last vertical column on the far right entirely blank.]

2. Place sticky foam or textured contact paper in the squares marked with an X below. These spaces will not be used. [Starting from the top left, mark with an X the top two and bottom two spaces in the first, second, ninth, and tenth vertical columns.]

3. Braille the following words as indicated below. [Spell out the word North in the first horizontal column at the top, placing the N in the third space from the left followed by the other letters across the top. Follow the same procedure with the word South in the horizontal column at the bottom. Next, spell out West and East in the far left and far right vertical columns placing the first letter of the word in the fourth space from the top followed by the rest of the letters vertically.]

4. Create four sets of playing pieces by attaching Velcro on one side each of the six squares, six circles, six stars, and six triangles found in the APH 100’s pack. (Other objects may be used for playing pieces as long as each set contains six identical items and all are easily distinguished by touch.)

How to play the game:
1. Set up the game for four players as shown in the diagram below (S = squares, C= Circles, ST= Stars and T=Triangles). Note: It doesn’t matter which shapes are placed in which cardinal location. [Place one set of playing pieces (squares) horizontally across the top column filling in all spaces except those marked with an X. Place another set of playing pieces (circles) across the horizontal column in the same manner. Next, use another set of playing pieces (stars) and fill in the six spaces in the far left vertical column, and place the last set of playing pieces (triangles) in the six spaces in the far right vertical column. The playing pieces will cover the Braille letters spelling out the four cardinal directions, but should not be placed on top of the spaces marked with an X.]
NOTE: If there are only two players, players must be positioned across the board from each other and may select their own shape.
2. Each person rolls the die to determine who starts first. The person who rolls the lowest number goes first and game proceeds clockwise.
3. A player in the North position must travel to the South position and vice versa. A player in the East position must travel to the West position and vice versa. Note: Throughout the game, discuss the direction each player is traveling--either North, South, East, or West.
4. If a player lands on an occupied square, that opponent’s game piece must be returned to his/her start position and the current player occupies that square.
5. The exact number must be rolled on the die to occupy the final destination of the player. If a number is rolled that is too high, the player must bounce backwards on the board in the opposite direction. For example, if the player is moving west and is three squares from its final destination and rolls a five, that player must go forward the three squares and then back to the East two squares. The player continues to do this until the correct number is rolled that allows the player to land in the final destination with the exact number rolled on the die. Note: Discuss the change in cardinal direction as this occurs. Ask players what direction other individuals are traveling.
6. The player must only travel North, South, East, or West. Traveling at an angle or sideways is not permitted.

How to determine the winner of The Cardinal Game:
The first player who is able to get all game pieces to the final destination of the board (opposite to their starting position) is the winner.

The Take Away Game
A simple game that focuses on subtraction

Object of the game: Be the first player to punch all twenty bumps on a score card.              

American Printing House for the Blind materials needed:
Score Cards – enough for each player (APH)
One Braille or talking dice (APH)

How to play the game:
1. Each player needs a score card with all the punches (bumps) face upwards.
2. Determine who will start.
3. The player rolls the dice and punches down the number of bumps as indicated on the dice.
4. When the punches left are six or less, the exact number must be rolled to completely punch down the rest of the card.

How to determine the winner of The Take Away Game:
The player who is first to punch down all 20 dots on his score card is the winner.

Note: This game can introduce the concept of how the stylus--like the finger punching out the bumps on the score card--is used as a tool to punch out Braille dots.

Merry-Noel’s Odd Ball Game
A tactual matching game

Object of the game: To create the most matches and/or locate the “odd ball.”

Supplies needed:
A large plastic bucket or container to store balls
A black or opaque round tablecloth (one that can not be seen through)
A large variety of matching 2-ball sets with different textures, sounds, and/or sizes
Time: Depends on your own personal time limit and/or amount of balls in the bucket.
Number of players: Two or more.

How to play the game:
Before the game begins, the teacher/instructor must secretly remove a ball and hide it. The match to this ball left in the bucket becomes the “Odd Ball.”
1. Sit in a circle around the bucket of balls. Place the round tablecloth over the bucket and laps of the players.
2. Choose someone to go first and go clockwise around the circle.
3. Everyone picks one ball out of the bucket. There is a time limit of how long a person’s hand is in the bucket. A simple way to track the time is to ask everyone to count out loud to five.)
4. From the second round on, players have the choice of either trading a ball with another player or choosing a ball from the bucket to make a match. One trade per player, per turn, or one ball from the bucket--not both. (Remember the time limit of counting to five.)
5. When a trade is offered to a player, the other player can decide not to trade. If this happens, the player must choose a ball from the bucket.
6. Players make matches by either trading with another player or locating its match in the bucket.
7. When all the balls are out of the bucket, continue around the circle one-by-one to attempt any additional trades. (Remember only one trade per player per turn.)

OPTION: The game can stop after one time around the circle, or several turns around the circle until all the trades are complete. It is up to the teacher/instructor.

How to determine the winner of Merry-Noel’s Odd Ball Game:
The player with the most matches and the player who finds the “odd ball” are the two winners of this game. On occasion one person may be a double winner by getting the Odd Ball and by having the most matches.

Grade II-Braille Review Game
A matching game

Object of the game:
Practice and review Braille letters, contractions, and punctuation.
Collect as many tactual matching disks as possible. The way to do this is to find a matching disk in a container to one that has been retrieved and placed in a muffin pan Braille Cell.
Number of players: Two

Supplies needed:
Two small six-cell muffin pans. (Approximately 5 x 7½ inches.)
An assortment of eight different textures* glued onto one-inch diameter cardboard circles. Twelve disks are needed for each different texture. Total disks needed: 96.
Peek-proof opaque box, bag, or container to store the disks.
*Ideas for textures can include silk, plastic, different types of sand paper, corduroy, velvet--any hard, knobby, soft, smooth, fuzzy, etc. items.

How to play the game:
1. Place all the disks in the container.
2. Each player needs a Braille cell muffin pan.
3. Player one retrieves a disk from the container and places it in the Braille cell pan in front of him/her. In order to keep the disk, the player must state the dot number location in which the disk is placed and then state the letter, contraction, or punctuation sign that is created. Examples: Dot 1 – A; Dot 2 – EA; Dot 6 – capital sign.
4. Player two has a turn.
5. Player one then retrieves another disk and creates a different contraction or letter. In order to keep the disk, this person must state the dot number locations of all the disks in the pan and correctly state the letter, contraction, or punctuation sign that is created. Examples: Dots 1 and 2 – B; Dots 1 and 3, C; Dots 2 and 4, cc, con, or colon.
Note: It is up to the instructor if only one sign or if all possible signs must be stated.
Note: If the newly drawn disk matches the disk already in the pan, then the player has a choice. The player can add the disk to the pan and create a new sign, or the player can remove the matching disk. Either way, the new contraction so created must also be stated. If by removing the matching disk the pan becomes empty, the player has created a “space.” The game does not end if the cell becomes empty.
6. The players continue to create ever-changing Braille contractions. As stated above, when a match is made, the player may choose to either remove the match, creating a new contraction which must be stated, or the player may decide to leave the match in the cell and create a new sign by adding the mate to the Braille cell. However, the matching pair may not be removed until the next play.
7. Repeat until all the disks have been used.

How to determine the winner of Grade II - Braille Review:
The winner is the player who has the most matching pairs.
Questions and Answers:
Q: What do you do when you have a full cell with no matching disks and draw another disk that does not match anything in the cell?
A: Since the disk does not match any of the disks in the cell, nothing can be changed to create anything new. The disk is returned to the container and a new disk may be drawn. Should this happen again, the play is over and it is the next player’s turn.
Q: Is it okay to state dot numbers in random order?
A: The dot numbers should be stated in numerical order.
Q: Can a disk be removed from its dot location to another?
A: A disk can only be removed from the Braille cell when its match has been retrieved from the container. Once the disk is placed in a specific dot location, it can not be moved to another dot location.
Q: Is it still a match if the colors are the same but the texture is different?
A: That is up to the instructor as one of the variations of the game.
Q: Is it okay to have more than one matching pair in the Braille cell at the same time?
A: Yes.
Q: Can more than one matching pair be removed at one time?
A: Yes.
Variations of the game:
1. Have a non-player remove one of the disks and hide it. Play the game as described above, but the player who has the last lone disk without a mate is the winner.
2. Each player creates an on-going list of the Braille signs that they created in the Braille cell. The player with the most letters, words, contractions, and punctuation signs (without repeats) is the winner. Repeated signs are only counted once.
3. Use matching colors instead of matching textures.
4. To include more difficult contractions, use the muffin pan that has two cells (a 12-unit muffin pan), add four different textures and be sure to make 12 disks of each texture.

True or False Braille Game

Number of Players: One
Object of the game: To create as many “True” dominoes as possible.
How to win: Create all “True” dominoes by making corrections to the “False” dominoes.

Supplies needed:
23 - Domino trays from Light Box Kit. (APH)
46 - Blank plastic cards (2x2) (APH)
Dymo tape or Braille label sheets with peel-off adhesive backing (APH and other sources)
Slate and stylus or Braillewriter
Scissors

Preparing the game materials:
1. Cut off a small piece at the upper right corner of each plastic card so that players will know which side is up.
2. Braille whole word contractions on Dymo tape or use Braille label sheets and apply one per card on 23 of the blank cards. Remember to orient the card so that the cut-off corner remains in the upper right.
3. Braille the uncontracted words that match the whole word contractions on Dymo tape or Braille label sheets and apply to the other 23 cards. Again, remember to orient the card so that the cut-off corner remains in the upper right. (Note: The uncontracted word “knowledge” will need to be placed at an angle in order for it to fit.)
4. Pop the cards onto the dominoes, matching a Braille whole-word contraction card to an uncontracted Braille word card.
5. Create some “False” dominoes by matching up the wrong set of whole-word contractions with uncontracted words.

How to play:
1. The student is given a domino and is told to announce the contraction and read the uncontracted word next to it. If it matches, the student will say the domino is true and creates a “True” pile. If it is not correct, the student must create a “False” pile.
2. As the student explores the dominoes he/she may discover that he/she is able to change the “False” dominoes into “True” dominoes by removing and exchanging one of the cards on the domino. This is acceptable.

Other Options:
1. Use contractions with which the student is having difficulties.
2. Introduce new contractions as the student increases his/her knowledge of Braille.
3. Only put one half of the contractions in the domino chambers and place all the matches face down on the table. The student selects a card from the pile and finds its match on the domino.
4. Have the student mix them up for the next student.

 

Reflections on Collaboration in Orientation and Mobility (O&M)
A Mother, Her Son, and Their O&M Instructor Share Thoughts and Experiences

by Fabiana Perla, Tina Fiorentino, and Rocco N. Fiorentino

Reprinted with permission from the Spring 2007 D.V.I. Quarterly, volume 52, number 3, guest editor, Missy Garber, PhD. DVIQ is a publication of the Division on Visual Impairments, Council for Exceptional Children. For information about the publication, articles, advertisements, etc, contact the DVIQ editor, Sheila Amato, at <brltrans@verizon.net>.
Effective collaboration among students, parents (or caregivers) and O&M instructors can result in improved integration of mobility skills into everyday life. When parents participate in the O&M instructional process, their level of awareness and knowledge regarding O&M increases, allowing them to practice, reinforce, apply or even modify skills and techniques to fit their needs and improve their child’s independence level. Additionally, students and parents can make O&M lessons more meaningful and effective by voicing their needs, concerns, and preferences, as well as collaborating in decision-making and problem-solving situations.

From the Parent’s Perspective

As a new mother of an infant blind child ten years ago, I (Tina) realized how difficult it was to raise a child who cannot see the world the same way I did. When I look back, I remember feeling alone and scared of the unknown. I knew I had to become more familiar with what was ahead of me. Among other things, I wanted to become more educated in the area of orientation and mobility, as well as other ways to teach my son how to successfully and safely explore and navigate his world.

Orientation and mobility training is provided in my state through the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and O&M services are very limited (scheduled once every six to eight weeks for one hour). As I watched my son mature day after day, I realized the services being provided by the state were insufficient for my son to truly comprehend the concepts of orientation and mobility. Through my contact with other families, I desperately tried to find a qualified O&M specialist. Most of the families I spoke to referred me to one specialist in particular, Fabiana Perla.

Working with Fabiana has been a mutually beneficial parent-specialist relationship. Each of us is working towards common goals by sharing responsibility, authority, and accountability for results. I try to attend all sessions with my son to reinforce the techniques she introduces. We share a common interest. Working together brings our goals to fruition.

When my son, Rocco, is faced with a mobility challenge in his daily routine in school or on the playground, we discuss with Fabiana different aspects of problems, constructively explore our approaches, and search for solutions. Because of our collaboration, the solution goes beyond our expectations. For example, when Rocco was learning to navigate his way in the town of Haddonfield, he was given directions to locate a store in the middle of a block and then to make a purchase.

Fabiana had described landmarks to listen for and objects to be aware of, but it was the technique of the three-point touch she taught him that I found most intriguing. When using this technique, the cane swipes from one side to the other of the full arc s and is then lifted up to check further to one or the other side for openings or a landmark. As one travels along a wall, it would be easy to unknowingly pass an entrance. With the three-point touch one can check where the opening of the doorway is located and find the desired destination. This technique was very helpful for Rocco to successfully locate a store independently, and, having observed his instruction in this skill, it is a technique that as a parent I can suggest he apply to situations outside of mobility lessons.

From the Instructor’s Perspective

One way that Tina and Rocco contribute to enhancing Rocco’s mobility training is by bringing experiences, concerns, questions or challenges to my attention. While early on it was mostly Tina who would report on a problem experienced outside of O&M lessons and ask for my input, over time Rocco learned to voice his own questions.

Nowadays, Rocco (now age ten) often comes to our lesson and says “Fabiana, you won’t believe what happened today at school!” and then proceeds to relate a mobility incident, success, or challenge he experienced. For example, one day he told me his teachers at school instructed him to use his cane even when another student was guiding him. He disagreed with their instruction, thinking it unnecessary to use his cane if he was being guided. This immediately generated a lively discussion among Rocco, his mother, and me as to whether it was or was not necessary to use a cane with a guide, what the advantages and disadvantages were, and how to modify the technique if necessary. I decided to throw my original lesson plan for that day “out the window” to address this concern. Through role-play and discussion, we explored when and how it might be helpful to use a cane when another student is guiding him.

Knowledge of her child and his prior experiences also enhances Rocco’s O&M instruction in that her knowledge of her son allows Tina to share insights on how to instruct more effectively. There have been many occasions when, as I was struggling to explain a new concept, she would come to my aid by using “just the right words” or remind Rocco of a past experience he had with his family that was helpful in understanding a new concept.

I consider myself lucky that, from the beginning, Tina has chosen to participate in almost every lesson I have conducted with her son, and that has, no doubt, contributed to our strong sense of teamwork. Although such a strong parental presence is not the norm with most families I work with, I believe it is also not necessary for effective collaboration to take place. For example, Mr. Fiorentino does not take part in mobility lessons but participates actively in all decisions regarding O&M. He keeps himself involved by inquiring about Rocco’s lesson, discussing issues with Tina, and coming to all pertinent meetings.

True partnerships are not so much about the quantity but the quality and nature of the interactions. In fact, there are instructors who contact parents often, either to assign them “homework” or to share information about their child’s progress, but who do not look to the parents as true partners in the decision-making process. Similarly, there might be parents who could potentially observe every single mobility lesson and still not be active participants in the process. So, what does collaboration entail? In my view:

The conviction that students, parents, and teachers possess valuable knowledge and can learn from each other. This philosophy contrasts with a linear model of education in which transmission of information and skills is unidirectional, always generated from the teacher.

A belief that the outcome of a collaborative process will be better (e.g., more meaningful) than what could have been accomplished working in isolation. For example, IEP mobility goals that include the input of the student, parents, and specialist have better chances of being appreciated and accomplished than those devised by the instructor alone.

1. A certain degree of confidence/security on the part of mobility instructors, so that suggestions and constructive criticism are not experienced as a threat but as opportunities for growth and improvement.

2. Some level of assertiveness and comfort, particularly for parents and students, to bring up questions and offer suggestions to the person who is supposedly “the expert” in the field.

3. Good communication amongst team members. Again, it is not about how often we talk; it is about what takes place during the exchanges. Instructors can gain a lot of valuable information and insight by asking questions and listening. When contacting parents, for example, it is helpful to do it without “an agenda” or preconceived idea. Going back to the example of developing IEP goals, calling or meeting parents with a blank piece of paper encourages input and the sharing of ideas more than bringing a list of already written-up goals.

From the Student’s Perspective

When asked to reflect on the collaboration process in O&M, Rocco addressed a number of issues. One of his first remarks was particularly significant, as it speaks about a sense of empowerment: “The child may know some things the parents and mobility instructor do not.” He felt his role as a team member included keeping his parents informed about what he did or learned during mobility lessons, because “how else will they know?” He listed some of his responsibilities:

I have to be somewhat cooperative. You can’t work with a student that is always asking, “Why do I have to do this or that?” I need to be willing to work, stay focused…not thinking about what am I eating for dinner... Students need to have their own opinion of what they feel and let parents and the instructor know.

Rocco acknowledged that developing trust takes time and pointed out the importance of the instructor and parents being willing to listen to students.

Regarding the role of parents, Rocco thought, “It is important for parents to participate because how do [they] know what [their] child is doing?” He believed parents also learned from observing mobility lessons and can and do provide emotional support to the student. “It makes me feel more confident because mom is there…[she] makes me want to do more things.” Rocco identified the following parental responsibilities: “practicing with me at home” and “tell [the mobility instructor] if I have not been doing something.”

Regarding the responsibilities and qualities of an O&M instructor, Rocco stressed the need to be cooperative, a willingness to listen, and the ability to “think of something to help students solve their problems.” He also felt it was very important for the instructor to preview environments ahead of time and identify their challenges “so the student does not get scared.” Rocco ended with the following thoughts regarding O&M:

[Without mobility] I would be nowhere. I wouldn’t be using the cane. I would probably be tripping. I wouldn’t know about echolocation or about mobility. I wouldn’t know how to go to the Visitor Center and ask directions, or how to go anywhere…I learned a lot. Even though it seems short --two times a week --that is eight hours a month. I learn a lot in eight hours a month!

Collaboration throughout O&M skill development among students who are blind or visually impaired requires commitment on everybody’s part as well as the ability to come up with creative strategies and to think outside the box. Both parents and instructors need to be able to share their perspectives, express concerns, bring up challenges, and share new information relevant to the O&M process.


Fabiana Perla is an assistant professor at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry. She has worked in the field of visual impairment for over 20 years and is a certified Low Vision and Orientation and Mobility specialist. She is currently a doctoral student at Arcadia University.

Tina Fiorentino is the mother of Rocco. She started the Little Rock Foundation for Blind and Visually Impaired Children. For more information go to <www.tlrf.org>.

 

Cell Phone Accessibility for Your Blind Child

by Wesley Majerus, Access Technology Specialist
International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC)

Over the past few years, the number of children who have cellular telephones has skyrocketed. Whether the children have the phones for contact with family and loved ones, or as a way to text, blog, and stay in contact with friends, the issue of children and cell phones is an important one for parents and families across the nation. For parents of blind children, these concerns expand into questions about nonvisual access technology, adding even more complications. This article discusses the pros and cons of low-end and high-end cell phones, and how they are made accessible for blind or low vision students. Some consideration is also given to accessibility issues for a child with mild motor problems.

If you are on a budget or do not wish to spend a great deal for cell phone service, a few tips will allow you to make almost any cell phone at least usable for a blind or low vision student for quick calls home or for calls to friends. For a child with low vision, you will want to look for a phone with a large visual display, changeable contrast, and a font that can be manipulated. The buttons should be fairly large and those with different shapes should be easy to feel and distinguish. Beware of some of the new designs that have keypads that are flush with the face of the phone; these are not a good choice. It might be helpful to have your child with you at the store to see if he/she can distinguish the buttons on the phone or can easily read the numbers and letters on the screen.

Speed dial is a worthwhile feature for these low-end phones. The parent or other sighted user can program the phone so that the child can hold down a number button and cause the phone to dial a specific, programmed phone number. For example, parents’ home, work, and cell numbers, or the number to a trusted family friend or neighbor can be programmed for quick access in this way. Drawbacks to this method are that blind users cannot independently assess how much battery power remains on the phone, or when the phone is in a poor signal area. (Of course, the blind child will learn from experience how to estimate the remaining power, make a good guess about the cause of signal problems, and he/she can always ask for visual confirmation from a sighted friend.)

Be sure that phones without speech access make some tones or other sounds that are easily distinguished for power on, dialing, and shutdown. Try to find a phone with easy-to-duplicate steps for dialing. For example: open the phone, hold down a speed dial key, and the number is dialed. Make sure mistakes are easy to recover from—such as pressing the end key repeatedly between calls to clear the screen, or being able to delete an entire set of numbers just dialed by holding down the clear key. Even low-end phones can have nonvisually accessible features such as buttons that make distinct tone sounds when pressed. This allows the child to independently monitor the difference between the number buttons and feature buttons such as menu, enter, arrow keys, etc.

One advantage of taking this route is that a low-cost phone is easily replaced if lost or damaged. Phones such as these can be used by children with dexterity issues if the phone has large, easy to press buttons and if it has features that allow the student sufficient time to find and hold keys down without the phone going too quickly into automatic speed dial.

Several brands of low-cost phones which meet these criteria are available on the market. One such phone is the Jitterbug. Though designed and marketed for senior citizens, it can be a good option for children who are blind or have low vision. Numbers can be programmed into the phone. It is larger than most modern cell phones with a very distinguishable ear piece, which might be good for young kids, kids with mild hearing loss, or kids with motor problems. It also has large, tactile buttons and a large visual display for ease of use. Because it is not tied to one carrier, it works nationwide through the company’s agreements with multiple providers. Verizon Wireless also has a phone similar to the Jitterbug. It is called the Verizon Wireless Coupe™ and its features include large buttons and a large display. The Coupe also has a voice dialing feature for calling contacts stored in the phone.

Some cell phone companies have low-end phones that have accessibility features built in. The leader for producing these phones is LG Electronics. Motorola also has some phones that fall into this category. These include the Motorola W315, MOTOKRZR K1m, and MOTORAZR2 V9m. When reading the marketing literature for cell phones, look for features such as voice activated dialing or spoken caller ID that will audibly give the name or number of the person calling. Test the phone in the store to see if the features on a particular phone will meet your needs.

If you are a Verizon Wireless customer, you have a choice of several phones that can be used nonvisually with voice output. These include the LG VX5400, VX8350, enV, enV²™, and, to a limited extent, the LG Voyager™. Because cell phone models and features change quickly, use the guidelines presented in this article to find an accessible phone in the event these specific models are not available. Sprint PCS also has the LG LX570 Muziq™, which provides limited voice output. If you are shopping for phones online, check your carrier’s accessibility page for further assistance in finding usable phones. Unfortunately, not all carriers have an accessibility section. Alltel, Verizon Wireless, and AT&T Wireless all have accessibility pages that you can consult for more details.

If you want a more feature rich phone for your child or teenager, there are a number of options available through PDA and Smartphone devices. To make these types of phones usable, an additional software package (see details in the next paragraph) will need to be purchased. Benefits to these higher-end phones include the ability to send text messages, surf the Internet wirelessly through a data connection, and reading e-mail on the phone. Use of Internet, text messaging, and e-mail service can become expensive. It is important that you understand how your specific plan works and which charges you will incur if your child utilizes these services or exceeds the number of kilobytes or messages in your plan. These phones vary in price depending on any rebates or other discounts you can obtain from your carrier. With no discounts or rebates, they can range from $200 to $600 alone.

There are three types of high-end cell phones. In each case, the phones will need to be made accessible through a screen reader. These screen readers provide speech access to the items on screen as you use the phone’s various functions. For low-vision users, magnification software can also be installed. For an advanced user, you can add Braille support to the cell phone with a Braille display, which creates Braille through small tactile pins that move mechanically. This is a very expensive proposition because Braille displays of this kind can cost between two and ten thousand dollars.

Windows Mobile® is an operating system for mini computers and cell phones. It comes in a smartphone version or a professional version. The difference between the two versions is that the professional version works on phones that include a touch screen, often referred to as PDA phones. The simpler smartphone version works on devices that look and act more like basic phones, in that they are controlled with joysticks or arrow keys, function buttons, and accept input from small QWERTY keyboards built into the phone or number pads. Some smartphones have both a number pad and a QWERTY (like a typewriter or computer) keyboard. PDA phones, along with their standard touch screen, can also contain QWERTY keyboards, number pads, or both. On phones that only have a QWERTY keyboard; the numbers are embedded in this keyboard, which means that they are on keys that do other things. A function button is included to switch the phone from number and punctuation mode to typing (with letters) mode. Note that the QWERTY keyboards on most phones have very small buttons, often meant for thumb typing. They would not be a good choice for someone with dexterity issues. Take advantage of your carrier’s trial period for any phone that you buy so that it can be returned if it will not work for your child. Windows Mobile® contains an accessibility configuration area where you can change display font and backlight, how long error messages are displayed, and the behaviors of keys and buttons when they are pressed and held.

Code Factory, whose Web site is located at <www.codefactory.es> has two pieces of software available for making Windows Mobile® phones usable by blind and low vision users. Mobile Speak Smartphone works with smartphone type devices (those with no touch screen). It makes the menus on the smartphone accessible, and gives access to call logs, the address book, phone settings, calendar, and other phone applications. As you install Mobile Speak Smartphone, you have the option of installing the Mobile Magnifier that is bundled with the product. Mobile Speak Pocket is Code Factory’s software that makes Windows Mobile Professional phones usable. As a general rule, if you are looking at a Windows Mobile®-powered phone that contains a touch screen, you will most likely need Mobile Speak Pocket. The Code Factory Web site at <www.codefactory.es> can give you supported phones by carrier, the version of software you will need based on a specific device, and will allow you to download and activate a thirty-day trial of either the smartphone or professional version of Mobile Speak.

Symbian is another phone operating system. It runs primarily on phones made by Nokia Corporation, and which are only available on a limited number of phone providers. Two companies provide software that can make these phones usable. Nuance Communications, Inc. provides TALKS and ZOOMS, which are speech and screen magnification solutions respectively. This package is the preferred means of making Symbian phones accessible. Code Factory, mentioned earlier, also provides Mobile Speak and Mobile Magnifier for the Symbian platform. TALKS and ZOOMS can be found at <www.nuance.com/talks> and Mobile Speak can be found at <www.codefactory.es>.

One recommended Symbian-based phone is the Nokia N82. It is a small palm-sized phone with easy to feel buttons. In addition to the ability to install screen access software onto the phone, you can also take advantage of software from knfb Reading Technologies that can make the phone a powerful reading system. By installing the software and affixing plastic anti-glare film (sold in the package) over the camera lens and flash of the knfb Reader, the user can take pictures of type-written or printed text and have it read aloud. This package can be used as a reader alone or, with the addition of TALKS or Mobile Speak, a fully accessible cell phone and reading machine can be achieved. knfb Reader software sells for $995 plus the cost of the phone at <www.knfbreader.com>. A bundle that includes a preconfigured phone is also offered.

Cell phones have revolutionized our lives and have made it easier for all of us, including children, to stay in touch. This article has outlined the types of cell phones and the means for making them usable by blind and low-vision persons. If you have any further questions, you can call our Access Technology Answer Line at (410) 659-9314, and select option 5.

Resources

Alltel Accessibility: http://www.alltel.com, then click “Accessibility”
AT&T Disability Resources: http://www.wireless.att.com/about/disability-resources/disability-resources.jsp
Mobile Speak screen readers: http://www.codefactory.es
Talks screen reader: www.nuance.com/talks
Jitterbug cell phones: www.jitterbug.com
Knfb Reading Technologies: www.knfbreader.com
Verizon Wireless accessibility site: http://aboutus.vzw.com/accessibility/index.htm

 

Some Thoughts on Career Exploration

by Robin House

Editor’s Note: Robin House is a blind guidance counselor in a regular school, and one of the leaders in the NFB of Missouri affiliate. Below is the text of a presentation she gave in July 2008 at “Mission Believe: The Sky’s the Limit,” a youth outreach program sponsored by the NFB of Missouri. Here is the talk she gave to parents of blind middle-school students:

Take a moment to think about the path your own career has taken. Have you had one, or more than one, career? How many majors did you have in college? Is it realistic that our children will have one college major and one job that will last them a lifetime? I personally have had five different college majors and three careers so far. I currently work as a guidance counselor in an urban, elementary school.

Can blind people work in any career they may choose? With the exception of driving vehicles and piloting airplanes, the answer is definitely yes. Hence, the need to offer career exploration for our blind kids just as we do for sighted siblings and peers. Parents play a key role in career exploration in partnership with counselors, teachers, and other family members. Open communication and support of the individual is essential.

I believe career exploration begins very early within the family and in the community through children’s interactions with people at work. Exploring careers continues formally during elementary school when students [in Missouri schools] are introduced to the Six Career Paths. Guidance counselors present classroom lessons and individual academic and vocational planning using the Six Career Path concept. The Six Career Paths are in the areas of creative/artistic, health services, human services, nature, business, engineering and technology. The combination of school subjects and extracurricular activities will provide the foundation of skills and interests to direct students to one or more of these career paths. For example, a student who is good at mathematics and organization might want to consider the business path.

As students move toward middle and high school the Six Career Paths are further delineated into Sixteen Career Clusters. For example, the Health path can include everything from a medical technician to a doctor. At this point, students will be introduced to a four- or six-year plan related to scheduling and a transition plan related to an IEP. Students will be asked to consider what education they are interested in past high school and which of the six career paths. The reason this is important is if a student wants to go to college, he or she needs to take certain classes in high school to keep that avenue open. And since students will be able to take electives, they should consider classes related to the career path of most interest. For example, creative writing, art, and music classes would be related to the Creative/Artistic path.

[At this point, House opened up the floor for questions from the audience. Here are the questions and answers she provided:]

Question from a parent: Is it better for my son or daughter to take an honors class and get a “B” in it or take a regular class and get an “A”?

Robin House: As a counselor, my answer for students who qualify for honors classes is to take the class in which you will learn the most. Honors classes usually attract more serious students and are better preparation for college-level classes.

Question from a parent: Should blind students work in high school?

Robin House: Working provides a good opportunity to learn additional skills outside of the classroom. This can be done for pay or as a volunteer. Part-time jobs and extracurricular activities provide many advantages to students. It is during these years that an individual begins to build his or her resume and relationships with people who will serve as references.

Fortune 500 companies report the following top three employee characteristics: teamwork, problem solving, and interpersonal skills [see <www.realrestitution.com>]. This has changed over the past four decades when writing, computation, and reading topped the list of fifteen valued skills. So, directly teaching these top three skills--teamwork, problem solving and interpersonal skills--and giving blind students opportunities to develop them through paid or volunteer positions while still in high school is very important when it comes to preparing for careers.

Question from a parent: Should my son or daughter take a resource class or study hall?

Robin House: It depends on how he or she uses his or her time in these classes. These classes also replace other classes which a student could benefit from taking in preparation for college or careers.

Question from a parent: Are there stereotypical jobs or careers for blind people?

Robin House: The two that come to mind are disc jockeys and musicians. Learning to read music and play an instrument is beneficial for all students and can provide a lifetime of enjoyment. But there are so many more career options available that it is important to fully explore all areas even if it seems [to the uninformed person] like these careers might be hard for a blind person to do. Adults play a key role in helping guide students. Adults should be encouraging and realistic, but should also be careful not to confuse realism with ignorance about blindness and the capability of blind people. I remember a conversation I had with my dad when I was thirteen years old. I was so excited about knowing the progression of high school math. I enthusiastically told him it went from Algebra to geometry to trigonometry to calculus. He did not say much except how hard it would be and he did not know if that was right for me. As a result, I took the minimum required of me in high school math. I later became more confident in myself and my blindness skills and I took more math courses in college but I had to make up what I had missed.

Discouraging comments can be so hurtful. I was disappointed when I was in fifth grade and wanted to learn the guitar. I could not see well enough to read the music. The teacher said she could not teach me. I think back on that and I now know that I could have learned to play the guitar if the adults in my life had viewed the situation as simply a problem to be solved or a roadblock to be overcome.

[Robin concluded her presentation with the following remarks:]

Planning and preparing for the world of work is an important undertaking. It starts small and increases in scope. In order for kids to explore careers successfully they need the help of many resources, including their parents. Open communication, the development of skills and interests, and encouragement from the adults in their lives will tremendously help blind youth explore careers and plan for their working future.

 

ODDS & ENDS

Close to Home

News from the NOPBC and NFB

Selected Books and DVDs from the NFB Independence Market
Order online, by phone, or by mail at: NFB Independence Market, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; <www.nfb.org/nfb/Independence_Market.asp>; E-mail: <IndependenceMarket@nfb.org>. Phone: (410) 659-9314 (select the option for Independence Market from the voice mail menu). Please note that the prices listed below do not include shipping and handling charges.

It’s OK to Be Blind (DVD)

Parents and blind kids are interviewed at a National Federation of the Blind national convention about their thoughts and experiences with blindness and the NFB. One blind girl sums it all up when she says it is OK to be blind. Fourteen minutes. LPA32DV: $5.00

White Canes for Blind Kids (DVD)

Depicts blind children and adults at an NFB national convention using their white canes in crowds, on escalators, crossing streets, and many other situations. Parents, blind adults, and kids are interviewed regarding their experience with, and views about, early cane use. Twelve minutes. LPA17DV: $15.00

Avoiding An IEP Disaster: Questions and Answers (DVD)

This 33-minute DVD opens with a role-play which shows an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting gone awry. A discussion follows, which addresses such questions as, “What are parents’ responsibilities and rights under the law?” and “What should a parent do if they disagree with a recommendation?” The federal law that set up the IEP process--Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)--is referenced and explained in the context of practical questions and concerns of parents. LPA73DV: $5.00

Making It Work: Educating the Blind/Visually Impaired Student in the Regular School (by Carol Castellano, 227 pages.)

Discusses how to make the regular school education a successful experience for blind/visually impaired children. Appropriate for school staff, specialized service providers, and parents. (Regular print format) LSA05P: $25.00

The Bridge to Braille: Reading and School Success for the Young Blind Child (by Carol Castellano and Dawn Kosman, 191 pages, illustrated by Lynne Cucco.)

Chapters like “Setting the Stage for Success,” “Adapting Materials,” “Doing Math in Braille,” “Independence in the Classroom,” and “Using Technology” show parents and teachers how to guide blind children from early Braille literacy experiences all the way to full participation in the classroom. The book enables parents and teachers to give ordinary help with schoolwork to children who happen to be blind.

Independent Movement and Travel in Blind Children: A Promotion Model (by Joseph Cutter, 331 pages, b/w photos.)

This book is full of practical tips and strategies about how parents and teachers can help a blind child develop normal and independent movement. It includes detailed instructions and information about canes--what kind, when a child should get one, etc.--and introduces an exciting new approach, “Bottom-Up,” to teaching orientation and mobility to young children developmental ages birth through kindergarten. (Regular print format) LSA104P: $30.00

Modular Instruction for Independent Travel for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired (by Doris Willoughby and Sharon Monthei, 398 pages, b/w photos, diagrams.)

For the mobility teacher, classroom teacher, or parent, this practical guide offers a thousand creative suggestions for teaching cane travel to preschool through high school blind and visually impaired students in every possible setting. (Print format) LSA01P: $20.00

NFB Teens on Facebook
From Carrie Gilmer, president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children comes this notice: “It is my pleasure to announce a new place for teens to hang out, network, and get great information in a safe, facilitated environment--not hindered in the least by geography or time warps, or unduly by parents or teachers. So, share this news with your teen and circulate it widely to all the blind and visually impaired teens you know:

Calling all blind and visually impaired teens--Blindness 4 1 1 was created by the National Federation of the Blind to give you a place to meet other teens with vision loss and to give you a chance to learn about resources that can help you in school, at home, and in your community. If you are currently a Facebook member, go to groups, search for the group using our group name--Blindness 4 1 1--and request access to our group. If you are not signed up for Facebook then join in on the fun. Visit <www.facebook.com> to get connected with our NFB teen group. If you have any questions, call Rosy Carranza at (410) 659-9314, extension 2283 or e-mail her at <rcarranza@nfb.org.”

Save the Date!
The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute will be holding an early childhood conference on May 8-9, 2009 in Baltimore, MD. This conference is open to those parents of blind children ages birth to seven who live in the Mid-Atlantic region. However, other interested families are welcome to attend. More information will be available in the coming weeks including how to register for this exciting event. Please continue to visit <www.nfb.org> for more details as they develop, or contact the Education Department at the NFB Jernigan Institute at (410) 659-9314. 

New York Parents on the Move
This past August, the New York Parents of Blind Children (NY/POBC) division of the NFB collaborated with the NYC Fire Department, the NYC Board of Education, and the Hearing Education Services to sponsor two Emergency Safety Day events. The goal of the event was to provide hands-on safety instruction to blind and visually impaired, as well as deaf and hearing impaired, youngsters from the finest emergency medical providers and the finest educators in the country. Maria Garcia, president of the NY/POBC and a lieutenant with the fire department’s emergency service, said that after the event, the kids were actually practicing mock 911 calls on the way home on their school busses. One hundred kids attended the event on the 16th of August in the Bronx and one hundred fifty the following week in Queens. The event garnered media attention throughout the city, and much praise from parents and teachers. Many emergency medical technicians, veteran paramedics, FDNY fire fighters, teachers, and para-professionals volunteered their time to make the event possible. Garcia says that everyone is now “harassing me to find out when they can do another event.” For more information about the event, go to <http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news/education&id=6301708>. See also the Web site at <www.pobcny.org> and blog at <pobcny.blogspot.com>.

Indiana Parents of Blind Children
During the recent state convention of the NFB of Indiana of October 30 through November 1, 2008, the Indiana chapter of the NOPBC met and elected the following officers: president, Jan Wright; vice president, Nancy Cole; secretary, Lisa Rodriguez; and treasurer, Chris Hollingsworth.

Minnesota Parents of Blind Children
The Minnesota parents division held elections on Friday, October 10. The results are as follows: president, Carrie Gilmer; vice president, Brenda Johnson; secretary, Dorie Miller; treasurer, Phillip Richardson; and board members, Jean Bening and Sue Kress.

They also made plans to create a flyer about Minnesota Parents of Blind Children, Saturday School, and Teen Night to insert in the affiliate brochure and distribute to doctors’ offices, diabetic and oncology clinics, and hospitals. They formed a team to revive the division newsletter. They plan to hold informal technology fairs for parents and students separately, where parents can get informal, one-to-one help from NFB members throughout the year in two-hour workshops. Finally, the group has made plans for blind teens to mentor the students at Saturday School. Minnesota parents are on the move!

Maryland Parents of Blind Children
In November, at the NFB of Maryland state convention in Ocean City, the Maryland Parents of Blind Children conducted a Cane Walk seminar for families, and held elections at their annual luncheon meeting as part of the many activities held that weekend. The officers elected for the 2008-2009 year are: president, Susan Polansky; first vice president, Trudy Pickrel; second vice president, Darlene Dorr; secretary, Barbara Cheadle; treasurer, Bob Watson; and board members, Sharonda Baker, Bill Jacobs, and Leslie Garrison. Parent, Latonya Phipps, was elected to the board of the NFB of Maryland that weekend also.

NFB Writers Division Contests for Youth
The dates for the 2009 Writers Division contests are January 1 through (postmarked) April 1. A great new feature this year is that, in addition to our annual short story fiction and poetry contest for adults, we have added a writing contest for youth. See all requirements below.

The Youth Writing Contest is intended to promote Braille literacy and excellence in creative writing. Entries will be judged on creativity and quality of Braille. We are looking for creative writing in fiction and poetry. This is a contest for students who use Braille. Entries must be submitted in hand-embossed Braille, using either a slate and stylus or a Braillewriter. No computer Braille entries will be considered. Submissions must be Brailled by the entrant. Elementary students (K-5) may submit contracted Braille, uncontracted Braille, or an acceptable combination of the two. Students in higher grades will be expected to submit stories or poetry in contracted Braille.

There are six categories: elementary fiction, elementary poetry, middle school fiction, middle school poetry, high school fiction, and high school poetry. Elementary is K-5. Middle school is 6-8. High school is 9-12.

Three cash prizes will be awarded in each of the six categories. First prize per contest is $25, second prize is $15, and third prize is $5. Submissions for fiction may not exceed one thousand words. Poetry may not exceed twenty lines. Authors may submit multiple entries, and all work must be original and unpublished. Each entrant must provide an identical print copy for possible publication.

Entries must be accompanied by a cover sheet containing entrant’s name, address, phone, e-mail, entry title, and school and grade of entrant. Winners will be announced at our division meeting during the July 2009 NFB national convention in Detroit, Michigan. Send all youth entries to Fred Wurtzel, 1212 N. Foster, Lansing, Michigan 48912.

The NFB Writers Division adult short story and poetry contests will take place during the same period as the youth contest: January 1 through April 1. For more details about the division and how to join, contact Lori Stayer, 2704 Beach Drive, Merrick, New York 11566; <LoriStay@aol.com>.

Quiet Cars Update
The National Federation of the Blind continues to work with legislators, regulators, the automobile industry, and other interested parties on a solution to the problem of silent vehicle technology such as that used in gasoline-electric hybrid cars. On November 19, 2008, the National Federation of the Blind made a presentation to the World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations, a United Nations working group also known as WP-29, at its meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. Our presentation was well received and WP-29 has begun the process of studying the problem and issuing a formal opinion. Also this past fall, members of the Maryland affiliate served on the Maryland Quiet Vehicles and Pedestrian Safety Task Force, which is charged with producing a comprehensive report and recommendations for the consideration of the Maryland General Assembly. The report of the task force was submitted in December. The NFB also continued to advocate for passage of a federal law to ensure the safety of the blind and other pedestrians, as well as other affected groups such as runners, cyclists, and small children. This proposed law, the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, did not pass the 110th Congress but garnered bipartisan support from over eighty co-sponsors, and the bill’s original sponsor plans to reintroduce it when the 111th Congress convenes in January of 2009.

World-Wide Braille Essay
The National Federation of the Blind has agreed to promote and administer this exciting contest sometime in the Spring 2009 for the geographical area covered by the North American/Carribean Region of the World Blind Union. Cash prizes will be awarded for the top five essays in two categories: Junior and Adult. Sponsors for this one-of-a-kind contest include the Japanese company, Onkyo. As soon as information about the contest details becomes available, it will be posted on <www.Braille.org>.

Looking for Braille Books?
NFB announces ShareBraille.org: Parents, teachers, librarians--are you trying to find a new home for your child or student’s discarded Braille books? Is your child or student gobbling up Braille books faster than you can find them? The National Federation of the Blind is pleased to announce the availability of ShareBraille.org, a site dedicated to giving your older Braille books a new home, and helping you find Braille books that you want to own and give a home.

ShareBraille.org was developed to allow the posting and searching for “gently used” Braille books that you no longer need. You don’t have to worry about books taking up space if you or your child does not plan on reading them again, and you don’t have to feel guilty about throwing them away. The Web site is simple to use: create a free account at ShareBraille.org, add the books you want to offer to another user, and look for an e-mail from someone requesting that you ship them your book. Pack and ship the book using the Free Matter for the Blind mailing privilege, and you’re done. Someone else gets to enjoy a “new” Braille book. Of course, the program works both ways. If you are a parent, teacher, or school librarian, this is a great way to find and collect some free Braille books for that special child or student of yours.

ShareBraille.org can only accept listings for materials you are entitled to redistribute. Please do not list any materials owned by a lending library or other entity. Participants are expected to list books that they are willing to give away. This service is offered free of charge to users in hopes that Braille materials can be available to all who want them. Please take a moment and visit ShareBraille.org today!

Around the Block
Helpful Items from Here and There

Please note: We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information in this section; we have edited only for space and clarity.

Leading the Way Invites Applicants for 2009:
From Shannon Smiley, a Leading the Way Fellow, comes this announcement: “If you knew one trip could change your life, would you take it? Last summer twelve students, six of them blind or visually impaired, embarked on a truly life-changing adventure: rafting the Grand Canyon. They spent two weeks shattering expectations and using adversity to their advantage as they explored science, culture, leadership, and service within the canyon walls.

Developed in partnership with world-renowned blind athlete Erik Weihenmayer, the Leading the Way program teams high school and college students who are blind, visually impaired, and sighted for an unparalleled science, community service, leadership, and cultural adventure. In 2008 we traveled to the Grand Canyon, the Inca Trail, and the Amazon. In 2009 we are returning to the Grand Canyon and piloting our first group combining students who are hard of hearing, deaf, and hearing on a trip to Costa Rica.

Not only an amazing experience for the participants themselves, each Leading the Way expedition is paired with a social awareness and media campaign used to educate a much broader constituency. These campaigns provide a message of hope and inspiration while helping to break down barriers, misconceptions, and prejudices about people with disabilities. Leading the Way has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, The Travel Channel, ABC Nightline, and World News Tonight.

To see if spots are still available on the 2009 Leading the Way expedition, send an e-mail to <leadingtheway@globalexplorers.org>. Scholarship funds are available. To learn more about the program, go to <www.globalexplorers.org> and click on “Leading the Way” under the main photo.”

Global Explorers is located at 420 S. Howes Street, Suite B300, Fort Collins, Colorado 80521. Office phone is (877) 627-1425.

Tactile Kit for Science
The Tactile Adaptations Kit for blind, visually impaired, and special needs students was designed for teachers by Dr. Lillian A. Rankel (science teacher) and Marilyn Winograd (teacher of the blind). This kit has been used to teach chemistry, AP chemistry, and AP physics to a blind student and has also been used to teach chemistry to students with learning differences. Science and math lessons can be made into tactile representations. Concepts can be shown in bright colors with rough or smooth surfaces on a magnetic board allowing for easy manipulation. Upper-case letters and numbers marked with Braille are included so that math and science formulas can be displayed and rearranged to solve problems. Circle charts, bar graphs, ionic compounds, molecules, DNA structures, cells, incline planes, vectors, and more can be presented. Magnetic backed felt and foam sheets, textured dots for coding, various magnets, and magnetic strips can be used to create your own adaptations. The instruction booklet gives many examples for students from grammar school to college. The Tactile Adaptation Kit can be ordered for $149.00 plus shipping. A detailed description with photos and ordering information can be found at <www.MDWEducationalServices.com>.

Crashing Through Award
Sendero Group would like to encourage and recognize independent travel exploits by blind people as exemplified by the book about Mike May, Crashing Through, by Robert Kurson. The Crashing Through award is open to applicants from any country, twenty-nine years of age or less. The funds can be used for school, technology, travel or whatever the winner chooses. Interested parties should think about adventure travel already taken in 2008 or about future possibilities. The focus is on independent travel. In other words, a cruise would not be rated highly in terms of independence. A portion of every Sendero GPS sale will go into an annual scholarship fund to be awarded to the applicant with the most impressive travel adventure for the year. All applications must be submitted by February 15, 2009. We anticipate a $2,500 award for one person. To apply, go to <www.senderogroup.com/ctapp.htm>. For more information about the Sendero Group, LLC, see <MikeMay@SenderoGroup.com>, or call toll-free (888) 757-6810. Sendero Group, LLC, is located at 429 F Street, Davis, California 95616.

“On the Go” Literacy Activities
Developed by Angela Notari-Syverson, Ph.D. and colleagues, these materials include fourteen activities designed to be used outside the home: in the car, while walking, during bus rides, etc. The activities encourage early language and literacy development from birth through preschool. They are appropriate for children with disabilities as well as children who are developing typically. The development of these materials was supported by Grant H324M020084 from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. To download materials go to <www.walearning.com> and click on the purple button that says “Free Parent Education Handouts” on the home page. Look for the “On the Go” file to download the materials in PDF format. For questions please contact: Mary Maddox, Washington Learning Systems, (206) 310-7401, <maddox@walearning.com>.

Portable Scanner
ABISee, Inc. is proud to introduce the Eye-Pal, a portable one-pound Scanner/Reader. This innovative tool makes it possible to turn any computer into a scanner and reader for the blind and deaf-blind. It converts printed material to refreshable Braille, speech, or a saved text file. With a single keystroke you can easily start and stop scanning or reading, or get the description of the page layout spoken as a sighted reader sees it. The saved text can be carried anywhere and used with iPod, key chain memory, CDs and more. Eye-Pal folds like a tripod and fits in a laptop bag. When unfolded, the L-shaped legs are locked to make the device stable. For more information, go to the ABISee, Inc. Web site <www.abisee.com> or call toll-free (800) 681-5909. ABISee, Inc., is located at 141 Parker Street, Suite 201, Maynard, Massachusetts 01754.

For Low Vision Users
For low vision users, ABISee has developed two portable devices: the Zoom-Ex, a scanner/reader and magnifier with no need for an X-Y table, and the Zoom Twix, a dual function CCTV and document-reading device with two cameras that makes low vision students fully functional in a classroom. For more information, please see ABISee, Inc. contact information above.
 
Free Braille Books
American Action Fund Free Braille Books program is taking applications for the 2009 year. This program gives away up to two Braille books per month throughout the year to eligible blind students, their teachers, blind adults, and institutions (such as school libraries) that serve blind students. The books are in contracted, interpoint Braille for students reading at levels between second and sixth grade. For more information see <www.ActionFund.org> or call the AAF office in Baltimore, Maryland at (410) 659-9315, extension 2361.

Nominate a Student for Free Technology
Nominate a student to receive equipment from the 13th Stevie Wonder House Full of Toys benefit concert, December 13, Los Angeles. Nominations are open for students and young folks who could benefit from this technology and who could not otherwise afford it. A school or small organization may also apply if the equipment will be used by more than one student. The application asks for one page or less with a story or essay about what the student has done or is doing to give to others. Nominations are open through January 15, 2009. For more details on how to apply, visit <www.SenderoGroup.com/hftform.htm>. So far, companies donating include: Code Factory, Freedom Scientific, GW Micro, Humanware, knfb Reading Technologies, LevelStar, Sendero Group, TalkingThermostats.com, and ViewPlus.

Top Tech Tidbits
Top Tech Tidbits is a weekly e-mail newsletter featuring short (really, really short) “tidbits” about technology for the blind. It is distributed by Flying Blind, LLC, 955 Pembrook Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44121, Web site <www.flying-blind.com/>. People can subscribe to Tidbits via e-mail at <tttt-join@topdotenterprises.com> (Make sure to get all 4 Ts into the address!). For questions and comments regarding Tidbits, please e-mail Dean Martineau at <dean@topdotenterprises.com>. Dean Martineau provides adaptive technology training by phone, online, and in person, with flexible arrangements, and at affordable prices

For Sale, Touch the Sun and Other
VIEW International Foundation (VIEW) has the following for sale:
1. Copies of Touch The Sun by Noreen Grice. When ordered directly from VIEW and shipped Free Matter: $29.95. 2. Collection of files for creating tactile diagrams. This 10-CD set contains 11,280 files that can be used to create diagrams in a number of subjects: $259.00 for the complete collection; $59 for individual CDs. See their Web page for more details. 3. Clear thermoformable plastic sheets 13-7/8 x 18-5/8” and 0.007” thick. These can be embossed with a Perkins Brailler or thermoformed to produce transparent tactile materials: $0.60 per sheet; plus shipping and handling, minimum order 10 sheets. For more information, please contact Robert Jaquiss, Executive Director, VIEW International Foundation, 230 Peach Tree Drive, West Monroe, Louisiana 71291-8653; phone: (318) 396-1853; e-mail: <rjaquiss@earthlink.net>; Web site: <www.viewinternational.org>

Camp GDB
By Aerial Gilbert, Outreach Manager for Guide Dogs for the Blind: The inaugural Camp GDB was held on the San Rafael campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind in late July/early August 2008. The purpose for the camp was to give visually impaired teens (ages 13-16), a realistic experience and the knowledge to help determine if having a guide dog will be the right mobility choice for them.

There were a total of six teenage campers who participated in the four-day program. Additionally, two teenage graduates of GDB and their guide dogs attended the camp as peer mentors. The teenagers arrived on campus on a Wednesday afternoon, and they embarked on a scavenger hunt as a way to learn the GDB campus and dormitory as well as get to know one another. The evening wrapped-up with a barbeque and pool party.

The next day began early, and the campers learned about the process of applying for a guide dog, class training, how a dog thinks, the difference between a long cane and a guide dog, and the importance of having good mobility skills. (This was further emphasized by the fact that the campers were required to bring their canes with them.) Everyone got an opportunity to first work with the GDB instructors and Juno (the empty harness), and then with a guide dog, in downtown San Rafael. After returning to campus and after lunch, like a class of students in residence to train with a new guide dog, the teens were each assigned a dog. They were responsible for the dogs until the next morning. Responsibilities included feeding, grooming, and relieving their dogs. The night ended with a relaxing canine t-touch massage workshop.

The third day was designed to give the campers an experience job shadowing various departments on the GDB campus. The day began with a Q&A with Nancy Gardner, president and CEO for Guide Dogs for the Blind.

From there the campers went to work with canine welfare technicians in the training kennels and met with one of the veterinarians to tour the vet clinic. The morning ended with a tour of the Puppy Socialization Yard and learning the art of puppy handling. In the evening, a group of GDB puppy-raisers joined the campers to share stories about their puppy-raising experiences.

The following day Camp GDB came to its exciting conclusion when campers attended Fun Day, an on-campus annual GDB event celebrating the more than 1,400 dedicated puppy-raising volunteers.

Camp GDB was work and fun, as well as extremely gratifying for the campers and GDB staff. The next Camp GDB is scheduled for July 29 – August 1, 2009. Please e-mail <agilbert@guidedogs.com> or call (415) 499-4030 for additional information.

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