Future Reflections         Fall 2008

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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:

Barbara Hammel plays with her son, Jesse.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.

Matt Maurer (IN) explains the rules of this tactile-Braille adapted game to student, Jasani Whitehead, at the 2006 Braille Carnival at the NFB convention.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>.

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