Future Reflections

A Magazine for Parents and Teachers of Blind Children published by
the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults in partnership
with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children.

Volume 28 Number 3                                          Fall 2009

Deborah Kent Stein, Editor
  

ISSN-0883-3419

Copyright © 2009 American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults

For more information about blindness and children contact:
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230
(410) 659-9314
www.nfb.org/nopbc • nfb@nfb.org • dkent5817@worldnet.att.net

 

CONTENTS

Volume 28 Number 3                                         Fall 2009

FEATURE

NFB Youth Slam: What I Wish I Had Learned As a Teen
by Mary Jo Hartle

EDUCATION

A New Way to Set Up a Program for Deaf-Blind Students
by Dr. Denise M. Robinson

My Child Goes to Boarding School
by Tammy Raulerson

A PSAT Story: The Test Was the Easy Part
by Barbara Mathews

JOURNEYS

Kendra's Story
by Richard A. Holloway

Are We There Yet?
by Beth Sturman

ART

Tapping the Creativity of Blind and Visually Impaired Students
by Chris Kuell

Arts, Culture, and Blindness: A Study of Blind Students in the Visual Arts
Reviewed by Ann Cunningham

BEYOND THE CLASSROOM

Swimming with a Blind or Visually Impaired Child
by Mary McDonach

Building Leadership through Scouting
by Lenora J. Marten

Study Abroad: More Than Learning about Another Culture
by Corbb O'Connor

ADVOCACY

"You Gotta Know the Rules If You're Gonna Play the Game"
by Graciela Tiscareño-Sato

An Effective Complement: Advocacy and Forgiveness
by Joan Guthrie Medlen

TECHNOLOGY

Cell Phone Accessibility for Your Blind Child
by Wesley Majerus

PROGRAMS

Walking the Walk: Learning through the National Center for Mentoring Excellence
by Treva Olivero

A Life in the STEP Program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind
by Emily Weidner

FAMILY FUN

Touch, Pick Up, and Tinker

Christmas Shopping for My Family
by Ana Gschwend

ANNOUNCEMENTS

ODDS AND ENDS

 

The 2009 Louis Braille
Bicentennial Silver Dollar

Proof Coin: $41.95
Uncirculated Coin: $33.95

How to Order

Visit <www.usmint.gov> or call 1-800-USA-mint
TTY: 1-800-321-mint

About the Coin

The 2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar is considered US legal tender.

Both the proof and uncirculated coins are composed of 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper.  The proof coin has a mirror-like background and a frost foreground.  The blanks are specially treated and the dies are highly polished to create a cameo effect.

Mintage Limit: 400,000.

Check <www.usmint.gov> for additional product and purchasing information.

The 2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar commemorates the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille, inventor of the Braille system, which is used by the blind to read and write.  Now for the first time in history, a United States coin features readable Braille and is available in both proof and uncirculated versions.  Surcharges from sales of the 2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar are authorized to be paid to the National Federation of the Blind to further its Braille literacy programs.  For more information about the NFB’s Braille literacy initiatives, please visit <www.Braille.org>.

 

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NFB YOUTH SLAM: WHAT I WISH I HAD LEARNED AS A TEEN

by Mary Jo Hartle

From the Editor: A number of blind men and women, past and present, have achieved prominence in the sciences. Nevertheless, blind students all too often are discouraged from exploring biology, chemistry, physics, and other scientific fields. The NFB Jernigan Institute is committed to widening opportunities for blind students in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. One of the Institute's most exciting programs is Youth Slam, a smorgasbord of hands-on learning experiences in fields generally considered off limits for blind students.

I wish that, when I was a teen, there had been exciting programs like the NFB Youth Slam for me to attend. Who knows? Maybe if there had been, I'd be writing to you now about something really fascinating like quantum physics. Even if I never really was cut out to be a scientist, I could have learned great lessons and had awesome experiences if I could have attended such a program when I was younger. Instead I now get to live vicariously through the hundred and eighty students who got to participate in this year's program. I know I'm not alone. Many of us wish we'd had such an opportunity. I will do my best to give you a taste of the Youth Slam week. I strongly urge you to visit the blogs and podcasts posted by student participants of the NFB Slam news track at <www.blindscience.org>, because this brief article about the event cannot do it justice.

As many of you know, this year's NFB Youth Slam was only the second one in our organization's history. It took place from July 26 to August 1, 2009, on the campus of the University of Maryland, College Park. While holding the program at the university's main campus presented logistical challenges, it gave students a real taste of college life--walking twenty minutes to attend a class, eating in a dining hall, staying up late to hang out with friends, trying new things, and being challenged academically.

In total we created eleven science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) content tracks that students attended each day. Each student was assigned to one of his or her top three picks. Following is a short description of each track and the students' accomplishments during the week.

Slam Engineers Go Green and Blind Design: These two tracks provided a unique opportunity for blind youth to work on a design project with the University of Maryland's School of Architecture. Key faculty members in the two tracks included Caroline McInnis-Sailor, a PhD from Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering, and Nathaniel Wales, a blind civil engineer from the US Army Corps of Engineers. The two tracks collaborated to design energy-friendly houses of the future. Pods (three-student groups) from each track were placed on teams. Each team was assigned a specific biome or ecosystem where its hypothetical house was to be located. Students in the engineering track learned about various sources of alternative energy and how to harness them for a particular biome. They made solar cells, built windmills, designed fruit batteries, and constructed water mills, which they incorporated into their team's house and biome.

Participants in the Blind Design track worked directly with architecture students to create the design and framework of their house. Instructors walked the students through the various processes a beginning architecture student would experience-- moving from initial draft drawings to constructing scale models. The track provided great opportunities to incorporate alternative techniques to combat the visual challenges posed by the field of architecture. For example, students used Wikki Stix and rapid-prototyping devices to replace computer-aided-drawing (CAD) activities. Manipulatives such as wooden blocks and dowels cut to various scales and identified by means of different textures or Braille labels were used to help students during the construction process. These manipulatives became more intricate and were transformed into realistic models as the design process neared completion.

Slammin' in Space: Participants in this track spent the week learning about space phenomena and preparing for a simulation mission at the Maryland Challenger Center. Activities incorporated hands-on supplements such as tactile phases-of-the-moon charts, which were helpful during the moon mission at the Challenger Center. Students also learned about constellations, invisible light waves, environments on other planets, and much more through hands-on activities. Participants toured the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and learned about various professions in aeronautics. Instructors included Noreen Grice from the Boston Planetarium, owner of You Can Do Astronomy, LLC; Ben Wentworth, a retired science teacher of the blind from Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Vivian Hoette from the Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin.

Slamming out the World's Water Crisis: Dr. April Hill and PhD candidate Cary Supalo from Penn State University created this unique twist in chemistry to educate participants about the world water crisis. In addition to learning about the severity of the crisis, track participants used some of the chemistry-related techniques currently being explored by scientists in water remediation, working to remove the harmful materials found in many water supplies. This track helped introduce some exciting methods for making chemistry labs accessible to blind students. Participants used sophisticated software and equipment that can indicate to a blind person whether or not a chemical reaction has taken place. Other software makes certain pieces of lab equipment independently accessible to the blind.

Slam Talk Back--Creating IM Chatbots: We definitely had some future employees of Google and Yahoo in our midst. In this track students built their own chatbots that talked to them through Instant Messenger during the week. Participants were able to design their chatbots with unique qualities and personalities. They returned home with a better understanding of artificial intelligence, natural language processing, and Web programming, along with a personalized chatbot that they can continue to use on their home computers. A team from Access Computing from the University of Washington helped make this exciting track possible again this year.

Slammin' Sports: Professors from the University of Maryland's School of Public Health led participants through a series of interactive activities around physical fitness and its science. Students were charged with the tasks of incorporating skills they learned during the week into the design of their own personal fitness regimens. They worked as a team to design a game, toy, or piece of playground equipment to fit the universal-design guidelines. Participants also heard from blind professionals in related fields such as recreational science, massage therapy, and sports medicine.

CSI Slam: Participants in this class had their work cut out for them. They were charged with the task of using principles of chemistry and other scientific skills to solve a murder case. Until now this popular field has not seemed very blind-friendly. But, through some simple adaptations and a little imagination, we showed that many of the chemical tests performed in this field could be made accessible. For example, students could detect whether a reaction had occurred when a specific chemical was applied by using a color identifier. This test enabled students to tell whether a stain was blood. Additionally, fingerprints lifted from an object could be covered with graphite or black ink, copied onto swell-form paper, and run through a swell-form machine to make them tactilely discernible. We hope to see more interest among blind people in this field over the next few years.

Youth Slam Blind Driver Challenge: Riding on the tail of the organization's national initiative to create a car that the blind can drive independently, this track pushed participants to think more creatively than ever before. Engineering students from Virginia Tech University's blind driver challenge team participated in the NFB Youth Slam. They led a group of students through what has been the team's challenge for the past year. Each pod in the track identified a specific problem to solve in making a vehicle accessible. Teams then designed prototypes based on principles of engineering that could potentially address that issue. On Friday track participants test drove the accessible go-cart built this past year by the VT team. A great deal of excitement and media attention were focused on this project that day. Those who are interested in reading some of the newspaper articles about this project should visit the NFB's Website.

Operation Air Slam: It's not every day that someone can say he or she launched a scientific balloon. Now fifteen NFB Youth Slam participants can make this claim. These students worked with instructors from the University of Maryland Balloon Science Program and the Maryland Space Grant Consortium. Through hands-on physics experiments and presentations students learned how and why balloon launching is a valuable asset to scientists who study the atmosphere. Groups put together Cricket Sensors and attached these payloads to simple party balloons that were equipped with tracking devices. After the launch students analyzed data that was transmitted in Morse code from the sensors before the balloons landed several miles outside Baltimore City. Participants also visited the space systems and neutral buoyancy labs on campus to tour the unique facilities used by the university's aerospace engineering department. They also attended a lecture by a blind employee at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

NFB Slam News: Instead of engaging in a specific set of STEM activities for part of the day, students in this track spent their time visiting other tracks and reporting on the various activities. This year participants in this track captured the highlights of the week through podcasts, blogs, written articles, and videography. A number of talented blind sound engineers, writers, and editors assisted the students in this effort, guiding them with their skills in using nonvisual techniques to produce quality media. This track demonstrated to students that one can work in many other professions that require knowledge of the STEM subjects. It taught students how to exercise their own voices to provide a unique inside look at the week.

Slam Robots: In this exciting new track, participants explored robotics in small teams using Lego Mindstorm robots. An instructor from the Rochester Institute of Technology, along with our own Robert Jaquiss of Louisiana, led students through a series of computer programming activities as teams worked toward a final challenge project. Participants learned about robotic movement, navigation, and sensors while programming a solution using creativity and problem-solving skills. At the end of the week each team's robot participated in a challenge maze to test the teams' work.

SHORT SESSIONS

When they weren't participating in track activities, students could select a variety of short sessions. Nearly thirty short sessions were peppered throughout the week. We wanted the students to taste a lot of things that would whet their appetite for more. Short sessions crossed over all elements of the STEM curriculum.

Staff members from the NFB International Braille and Technology Center (IBTC) fascinated technology lovers with sessions on the history of technology. They displayed various pieces of equipment that have evolved over the years. They also introduced blindness products helpful to students, such as electronic Braille notetakers, speech and magnification programs, scanning software, and the Victor Reader Stream.

A favorite among the short sessions was the shark dissection, a trademark activity of previous NFB science academies. Other sessions included labs on making synthetic collagen, building and testing windmills, studying invisible light rays, examining tactile photos from the Hubble telescope, and learning the chemistry of cooking through making chocolate.

Another exciting partnership in this component was the participation of Mike May, cofounder and CEO of Sendero Group and one of the developers of the first accessible GPS for the blind. Mike led a couple of sessions designed like sophisticated scavenger hunts to teach the students how to use this technology.

Addressing blindness issues was also a key part of the week. These activities were as important to the curriculum and the learning experience as the STEM content sessions. Whether a session was a debate or a straightforward discussion, the topics were advocacy, making a positive first impression as a blind person, cane travel, legislation, and the importance of collective action.

One afternoon and evening we visited the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore. The afternoon featured tours of the NFB Jernigan Institute, short sessions on blindness topics, and an exhibit hall staffed by various organizations from around the country. The evening concluded with a fabulous talent show in which students performed. President Maurer even regaled the group with a rousing a cappella version of a song from Gilbert and Sullivan's "Trial by Jury," which he characterized as the intersection where litigation and opera meet.

Social Events
What is a youth program without a little fun? Evenings were filled with recreational activities such as goalball, judo instruction, and other sports activities, along with dancing until our feet hurt. One evening presenters from the Westminster Astronomical Society of Maryland even hosted a star party. Participants made tactile images of real-time photos from the evening's night sky.

By far the Rec-EX (Recreation Extreme) night was the most popular evening and took some students literally to new heights. If they weren't jumping by leaps and bounds on the bungee trampoline or flying high on the sticky wall, students could be found sliding down the giant inflated water slide or being tossed around by the mechanical bull. The evening truly had something for everyone. Several participants even got the opportunity to douse some of the NFB's leaders in the dunk tank.

The Youth Rally and March in DC

On Friday the NFB Youth Slam closed its program with a bang. We held an exciting rally at the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall, followed by a program at the brand-new Visitor Center at the US Capitol. Students were bused to the Lincoln Memorial for what was truly a momentous occasion. Blind people gathered in front of the Reflecting Pool at the foot of the memorial. Hundreds of young blind people with high aspirations for the future were surrounded by dozens of blind mentors and other members of the National Federation of the Blind. Music greeted the crowd with messages of "I have a dream," "Your story is yet unwritten," and "They say that the blind cannot do science, and we say, Slam that!"

As the group gathered, the wind picked up and the skies opened, drenching the listening crowd with a downpour. The speakers got as wet as everybody else. NFB First Vice President Dr. Frederic Schroeder and President Marc Maurer inspired the youth to aim high and continue the fight for equality. Presidential Assistant Kareem Dale commented at the beginning of his abbreviated remarks that he was going to demand hazardous-duty pay, and keynote speaker Ever Lee Hairston laughed at the rain and challenged the cheering crowd with her personal story of freedom dreamed of, demanded, and earned. She even led the crowd in a chorus of "We Shall Overcome." Enthusiasm prevailed as the crowd outlasted the rain to march the two miles from the Lincoln Memorial to the US Capitol.

When we arrived, we enjoyed a reception at the new Capitol Visitor Center, where participants were addressed by Representative Steny Hoyer. He reiterated the importance of blind people's belief in themselves and each other. NASA representatives presented the NFB with the Louis Braille commemorative coins that flew into space on a shuttle mission earlier this summer.

What did the NFB Youth Slam mean to its participants? This week was more than an exciting opportunity to meet new people and learn new things. Many of the participants took home a greater sense of pride in themselves as blind people, not to mention that shot in the arm of Federation philosophy that we all know and love. For some this was a life-changing event, perhaps the first time anyone has really expected quality work from them and challenged them to expect it from themselves.

For some participants insight came from something as simple as a new activity or subject they had never had the opportunity to explore. One young woman, previously determined to go into a field related to fashion, proclaimed to her mother one evening on the phone that she is now considering marine biology. She participated in the dogfish shark dissection and found that she may have more interest in biology than she realized. Because of her blindness she had never had much exposure to biology or other sciences. She learned for herself this week that there are more doors to open and fields for her to explore.

The opportunity to participate in the NFB Youth Slam this summer definitely made an impression on each of us who took part. It's so much bigger than exposing students to STEM subjects and enabling them to meet other blind youth. We all left feeling a little different from when we arrived. We recently received an email from a parent saying that her daughter came back an entirely different person. She explained that her daughter had usually used sighted-guide technique with her parents. When she picked up her daughter after Youth Slam, the young girl walked independently through the airport using her cane. She explained to her mom what an experience it had been for her to be around people who, in her words, "just get it" with respect to blindness.

We hope that Federationists will follow up with youth and mentors from your states who participated in the NFB Youth Slam. Get to know them and their families and continue to share the Federation's message with them. Ask them to share with you what they learned from their NFB Youth Slam experience. You won't be sorry.

 

A NEW WAY TO SET UP A PROGRAM FOR DEAF-BLIND STUDENTS

by Denise M. Robinson, Ph.D., TVI

From the Editor: Dr. Denise Robinson is a noted educator of blind children. The programs she has created in the state of Washington help blind students become fully integrated into the school environment. In this article Dr. Robinson explains how her educational philosophy can be applied to the teaching of deaf-blind children.

Albert Einstein once remarked, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." It is daunting to think about the unique challenges posed by the dual disabilities of deafness and blindness. Yet, with the power of imagination, we can design programs that enable deaf-blind children to join their hearing and sighted peers at home and at school.

The rubella epidemic of 1964-65 sent a wave of deaf-blind children into the education system and brought deaf-blindness to the attention of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). Today deaf-blindness is one of the few disabilities with a category all its own under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA recognizes that deaf-blind students need to master a variety of skills in order to gain an education. Once the student has these skills at his disposal, the possibilities are endless.

In my school districts I have identified and evaluated a number of deaf-blind students. I discovered that most of them exclusively used American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate. Their only contacts among their peers were fellow signers. I wanted to widen their options so they could communicate with anyone they chose. In my work with these children I incorporate the teaching of new skills that ultimately allow them to communicate with signers and non-signers alike.

The program I am in the process of establishing gives the students an assortment of communication tools. These tools include ASL, English, Braille, touch typing, tactile sign, and computer technology. I want teachers to learn to use software designed for speech recognition. With this software the teacher's spoken words appear on a laptop at the student's desk so that he does not need a signer.

If the deaf-blind child has enough vision to use ASL, it may be his first language. He should also start to learn tactile sign, which will become very important if vision loss is progressive. At the same time he needs to learn English, to understand how it relates to and differs from visual and tactile sign languages. To be fully integrated into our English-speaking society, deaf-blind people must be able to use English as well as ASL.

The emotional and psychological aspects of learning different modes of communication are as important as academic training. The deaf-blind child should come to view difference as a source of strength rather than a cause for despair. I have observed that children are more resistant to learning "different" modes of communication the later such methods are introduced. If the parents and teachers insist that the child should depend solely upon print and visual signing through the first years of school, the child may fight against learning Braille and tactile sign later on. The resistance is stronger the later nonvisual instruction begins.

Like children with any other form of exceptionality, deaf-blind children make the most rapid and consistent gains when they receive early intervention. The birth-to-three program provides the child and the whole family with essential communication tools. It is crucial for siblings and parents to learn ASL and/or tactile sign so that everyone can communicate with the deaf-blind child. The earlier the intervention begins, the sooner the child can learn more sophisticated communication systems. During this phase he can be introduced to a computer that has talking software and a Braille display. Thus equipped, the computer is an invaluable tool for teaching the child English.

Ideally, instruction in ASL, tactile sign, and cane travel are well underway by the time the child turns three. He should also be receiving pre-print, pre-Braille, and pre-technology training. At this age teaching needs to occur through real-life experiences, just as it does for children with sight and hearing. For example, the teacher hands the child an object such as a cup of juice. The child drinks the juice. The teacher signs a sentence, "You drink juice." Then the teacher presents the same sentence in tactile sign. Finally the child types the words on the computer in written English and touches the words on the Braille display. He also begins to learn the commands for the talking software that eventually can become his voice. At first, all this instruction is a constant spoon-feeding of information, but the child soon begins to understand what the instructor is teaching him. By age five a deaf-blind child with this training will have the same English-language skills as his sighted and hearing classmates; he will use Braille, typing, and speech output software to communicate. He will attend intensive deaf-education classes and will be integrated into regular classes with the assistance of an ASL or tactile sign interpreter.

In order for the deaf-blind child to succeed at school, it is vital for the teacher to learn the use of speech access software, such as Dragon Naturally Speaking or Speech in Microsoft Word. When the teacher can communicate with the child directly, the interpreter eventually can leave the classroom. The child is learning on his own along with the rest of the students. On the desk in front of him the student has a computer with a Braille display and talking software. The teacher wears a microphone. As the teacher speaks, her words appear on the monitor in front of the student and on the Braille display. If the student has a question he can raise his hand, type his question on the computer, and have the talking software speak his words. The teacher answers the question by speaking into the microphone, which sends her words to the computer. The student reads the teacher's comments on the Braille display, and the lesson goes on. This system has worked well in my own teaching of deaf-blind students. I am working on a plan to incorporate this method with other teachers in their classrooms.

To handle classwork the student reads information in Braille. If he has some sight he uses enlarged print to see pictures or graphs. He types his work on the computer and emails it to the teacher. The teacher uses email to send her response back to the student. The student is completely independent, with no adult stationed by his side to help him.

Once the deaf-blind child has good touch-typing skills an additional keyboard can be hooked to his computer. In this way two people can talk back and forth. Anyone can come up and talk to the student by typing a message, and the student can type his reply. The keyboard makes it possible for the deaf-blind student to interact easily with his classmates.

This ease of communication is founded upon the student's knowledge of English. If the deaf-blind child knows only ASL or tactile sign, communication with non-signers is very difficult. Speech software has little value, and the child must depend on an interpreter. To communicate with non-signers he has to have an interpreter with him wherever he goes. By learning English and using a computer, the child can talk with any English speaker. Eventually, students can use even more sophisticated equipment, such as the deaf-blind communicator put out by Humanware.

By learning all the communication tools--ASL, tactile sign, English, Braille, touch typing, and technology-- the deaf-blind student can enter the world of learning. If every teacher learns to use speech software, the student can fully be a part of the school community. To have teachers and others embrace such learning possibilities calls for a great deal of thought transformation. Too often people are content with "just enough" and are unwilling to reach for the best. A far higher standard can be achieved if we stretch our imaginations.

 

MY CHILD GOES TO BOARDING SCHOOL

by Tammy Raulerson

From the Editor: Many parents think long and hard about whether to send a child to a local school or to a residential school for the blind. Tammy Raulerson describes how her family resolved the dilemma by combining public school with a part-time residential program.

My child goes to boarding school.

Yes, I know the correct term is residential school. The one who started calling it boarding school was my daughter Tacey. As she was preparing to go to the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) she thought it was funny to tell everyone that we were sending her to boarding school. She liked people's reactions. The news was such a shock to people when they heard it!

Tacey is a typical nine-year-old girl, but two things set her apart from the other children in our neighborhood. For one thing, Tacey is blind. For another, she is a rodeo queen.

 Tacey was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma when she was seven months old. Retinoblastoma is a rare form of cancer that attacks the retinas of young children. The term "bilateral" means that the cancer developed in both of Tacey's eyes. By the time she was seven years old Tacey's eyes had been removed to prevent the cancer from spreading.

Most of us agree that we live in an incredible country that affords us many opportunities and advantages. But for someone with a disability this isn't always the case. Though there has been much progress over the years, we still have a long way to go. It disturbs me whenever people stare at us in public. Some folks even follow us around and take pictures of Tacey. Sometimes they are excited because they recognize her from the media. Mostly, however, they are simply fascinated by seeing a blind child. Some days this is challenging to me as a parent! I want to shield my child from the curious stares.

Tacey entered public school as soon as she turned three. She had three full years of public school before she lost her vision. Once she lost her second eye, we started to look at everything in a different way.

I am a teacher. I have taught many children with special needs, although I never had a blind student in any of my classes. My teaching experience showed me how difficult life can be for any child who is coddled or not held to high standards. I taught too many students, both "special needs" and "regular education" children, whose parents did everything for them. These children couldn't care for themselves without constant guidance. Some children in regular education could not even fix lunch or do laundry by the time they went to high school. Now that is scary! I wanted my child to succeed in life! I wanted her to feel she could accomplish anything she chose, and to be self-sufficient in every way possible.

When Tacey lost her sight my husband Michael and I had to decide on the best school placement for her. Because of my teaching experience and Tacey's intelligence, we felt that she should stay in the local school district. We wanted Tacey to be successful in the real world, and to us the real world meant public school.

Tacey attends a public school in our neighborhood. In fact, it is the school where I taught for many years. A lot of the teachers have known Tacey since before she was born. We are very fortunate that the school district personnel go out of their way to make sure Tacey gets the education she needs. She participates fully in everything along with her classmates. She is enrolled in a class for gifted and talented students, and she takes part in extracurricular activities including choir, cheerleading, and University Interscholastic League Competitions. She is very successful in school.

However, Tacey is the only blind child in our area. After she lost her sight she rarely encountered other blind children except at a summer camp at TSBVI. Having taught so many children with special needs and seeing Tacey interact with other blind students at camp, I knew she needed to be around other blind people at times. She also needed the intense training that could occur at a special school. However, her success in regular school meant that residential school was not the best placement for her year-round.

When Tacey attended summer camp at TSBVI, we learned that the school offered special sessions throughout the year. Local school districts can register blind and visually impaired students to attend these sessions. Sessions take place every other month and are scheduled for a week or a weekend. During these sessions, the children live in a dorm on campus, attend classes to help them hone their skills, and do their classwork from the public school. When we asked Tacey if she would be interested, she loved the idea! Her experience at camp convinced her that she would like to be part of the residential school culture on a short-term basis.

The program at TSBVI meets a need for Tacey that cannot be met in the public school. She is immersed in a unique society of blind and visually impaired children where she is never set apart from the rest. She is just one more student, rather than the only blind student. The program provides intensive training in Braille, keyboarding, and technology skills that she does not receive in our neighborhood school. This training strengthens those skills without sacrificing her academics. All of the academic work from her regular classroom is sent with her to be completed in her spare time. This arrangement allows her to stay current with her public-school classmates.

When we asked Tacey if she wanted to be a full-time student at TSBVI she was quick to tell us, "NO!" Michael and I agree that she does not need to attend TSBVI full time. We believe strongly that she should be educated in the least restrictive environment. As long as she is successful and happy, she will remain in public school. With the special program at TSBVI, Tacey gets the best of two worlds. She lives at home and attends public school with all of her sighted friends, but for a short time each month she has the chance to belong to a group of blind students.

Tacey's position as a rodeo queen presents another set of challenges. Her full title is Miss Tough Enough to Wear Pink Four States Rodeo Queen. She represents cancer survivors in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. Wrangler launched the Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign in 2000. Tacey travels all over the United States to make special appearances at rodeos and other events. She appears with Miss Rodeo Texas, Miss Rodeo Texas Teen, and Miss Rodeo America, as well as many other queens. She has appeared at the National Finals Rodeo and the Miss Rodeo America Pageant. She rides in limousines and gets special seats at concerts.

We have to be very careful to keep Tacey's personal and public lives separate. Because she gets so much media attention, spends time with celebrities, and receives such a variety of extra benefits, some of her classmates started to treat her like a celebrity. They didn't want to play with her as a friend; they wanted to pump her for news about people she met and special things she did. When she is with her friends Tacey tries to keep quiet about her life as a rodeo queen. She doesn't mind being a celebrity when we are traveling, but when we are back home she wants to be just one of the kids.

Michael and I love going places with Tacey. Her amazing sense of humor and her zest for life bring us so much joy! When she is away for sessions at TSBVI we miss her terribly.

Going through all we have been through together has made me a better person and a better parent. I wouldn't have asked for this, but it has brought me some incredible experiences. No matter what happens, I know that Tacey will live life to the fullest. She will persevere and accomplish anything she sets her mind on. Her strong will and stubborn streak will get her through any hardships that life tries to throw at her!

Tacey touches many lives every day. It is impossible for us to go anywhere without someone feeling the impact of her joyful spirit. We thank TSBVI and College Station Intermediate School District for helping us raise such a successful and happy child!

 

A PSAT STORY: THE TEST WAS THE EASY PART

by Barbara Mathews

From the Editor: Barbara Mathews is second vice president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). Until recently she was president of the California Parents of Blind Children. Here she shares how she prepared for her daughter to pass through a rite of passage of secondary education, the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT).

October 14, 2009, was a milestone day. My daughter, Kyra Sweeney, a tenth grader, took the PSAT. Over the past year preparation for the test required a great deal of attention. Again and again I asked myself the question heard so often from the parents of blind children, “Why does it have to be so hard?” I hope that our story will help others navigate the process.

When Kyra was about to start ninth grade we learned that freshmen could register to take the PSAT in October. However, when my husband called the College Board he was told it was too late to apply for accommodations for the 2008 PSAT. That first call taught us two things: start the process very early, and don’t count on the school to do it for you.

Early in 2009 I went on the College Board Website and read everything I could about the test and accommodations. I searched through the information for students, parents, and professionals. Particularly useful were the instructions for completing the Student Eligibility Form and the Sample Student Eligibility Form. The page entitled “Other Accommodations” included a useful section called “Examples of Accommodations Available on College Board Tests.” I found it was helpful to take my time and read everything that might possibly be relevant. I bookmarked and printed all of the items that I might need later.

Calls to the College Board were very frustrating. For example, finding no mention of a BrailleNote on the Website, I asked if Kyra would be allowed to use one to record her answers. The person on the phone had no idea what a BrailleNote was. When I couldn’t get clear information from the College Board, I did what any savvy parent would do. I called Carol Castellano, president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Carol confirmed that we should request a Braille device and advised us to request a reader as well. Kyra could use the reader selectively. For example, a question might ask about the meaning of a word on “Line 22,” meaning Line 22 in the print version. Kyra could ask the reader to read Line 22 from the print page.

In March of 2009 I moved forward on getting the Student Eligibility Form submitted. Part of the form had to be filled out by the parent and part by the school, and the school had to submit the form. I made an appointment with the school counselor. Before the appointment I filled out the entire sample form, including the sections on extended time, visual assistance, auditory assistance, and other assistance. Under “Other Assistance” I wrote in “Braille device for written answers” and “record answers in test booklet.” I took the sample form, along with material printed from the College Board Website, to the appointment. The counselor and I sat together as I filled out the parent section and she filled out the school section. If I hadn’t been there when she filled it out, I don’t know what would have gone on that form.

To my relief we received the letter with the approved accommodations a few weeks later. Our request was approved, with one exception. Although we requested 150 percent extended time, the letter approved only 100 percent extended time. We decided to accept 100 percent. Once a student gets to the actual SAT, 100 percent is a very long time. It’s important to note that the accommodations letter applies to all College Board tests, as long as the student attends the same school and the school verifies that he/she continues to be eligible. You don’t have to go through this process every year!

The letter approved a reader, “to be chosen by the school.” I provided input on the choice. I didn’t specify individuals, but said the reader must be a capable person who could understand the directions and would take time to prepare. The school selected the teacher of the visually impaired to administer the test and serve as a reader.

Practice tests are available in Braille, but we could not receive one until Kyra’s application for accommodations was complete. Once we had the accommodations letter I requested a Braille practice test from the College Board. After ten days without a response I put in a call. I was told the that College Board thought I was requesting the 2009 practice test, which wasn’t yet available. I said I would take any Braille practice test they had, and finally I received one at home.

However, the answer key wasn’t provided with the test. Looking carefully, I realized that the Braille practice test was the same as the practice test included in the print 2008 PSAT/NMSQT Student Guide. An answer key appears on the last page. I ordered a couple more past PSAT’s from the College Board Website. (They aren’t very expensive.) They come in print, but I thought it would be useful to read additional sample questions to Kyra. The tests came without answer keys, so again I had to call the College Board. They sent me the answer keys right away by email, but only after I called and asked.

When the new school year started, I called the College Board and requested the 2009 Braille practice test. They insisted on sending it to the school, but it arrived within a week. I also picked up a copy of the 2009 PSAT/NMSQT Student Guide, which the school provides to all students who register for the test. Kyra joked about taking a practice test for the practice test, but I strongly encourage it. She knew a lot about what to expect when she took the actual test. For instance, she determined that she was better off not using a reader. She found that the print line numbers were marked in the Braille test, and it was helpful for her to read beyond the specific line referred to in the question. Other students might have a different preference. The practice test helps the student figure this out.

This August, when we received the information about signing up for the PSAT during school registration, we were ready. Kyra signed up for the test on school registration day along with everyone else. Remember, getting an accommodation letter isn’t the same as registering for the test. You need to do both.

After all of this we still had a near disaster. I was out of town when I received an email from the TVI on my Blackberry. The school had to send in a PSAT order roster to order the non-standard test format. According to the order roster, a Braille test could only be administered on Wednesday, and not on the normal Saturday test date. Kyra could choose to take the test on Saturday, but it would be given entirely with a reader. The school needed a decision. The deadline for sending in the order roster was the next day!

I responded right away that Kyra would take the PSAT on Wednesday. No one has ever explained why Wednesday is the only day the Braille test can be given. It’s unfair and discriminatory to make blind students miss classes to take the test. Until the policy is changed, parents should discuss this issue with the school well in advance to avoid a last-minute glitch.

Naturally I wasn’t there on the test day, but it seemed to go smoothly. When Kyra finished the test, the TVI filled in answer sheet bubbles and attached her answers printed from the BrailleNote. I suggested that Kyra keep the document, just in case something gets lost. Maybe that’s over-the-top worrying, but what’s the harm?

Sometimes I forget that there’s still one more step. We don’t have the results. For now, the success is that Kyra took the test!

 

KENDRA's STORY


by Richard A. Holloway

From the Editor: When parents first learn that their child is blind, they often pass through a time of panic, despair, and self-doubt. Richard Holloway, first vice president of the Georgia Organization of Parents of Blind Children, recounts how he moved through and beyond this phase to discover a world of possibilities for his daughter.

I have three children. Many people would say that two of them are typical and one is blind. I prefer to say that I have three typical children, one of whom happens to be blind.

Some people can't decide whether to say their child is "blind" or "vision impaired." One reason so many of us struggle over a term for our child's condition is that a stigma is attached to the word "blind." For me, the word "blind" simply describes my child's lack of vision.

My daughter, Kendra, was born on September 11, a year to the day after the September 11 we all remember too well. I could never have predicted the strange mixture of emotions I experienced at my child's birth. Kendra is my second child. My older daughter was born from a previous marriage, so this birth was my wife's first. We had such joy and expectation leading up to her arrival! We had no indication at all of any medical concerns. When a problem was discovered at birth, we were caught totally off guard.

Generally I say that Kendra has been totally blind since birth. For most intents and purposes that is true, but for the purpose of this story it really is not the case. Kendra's birth was pretty typical except that she came very quickly. When she arrived I noticed that the doctor looked concerned. Kendra did not want to open her eyes, and one of them was swollen. The staff whisked my daughter to the corner of our room and then off to a special nursery. It was all very distressing for us! My wife never even had a chance to hold her firstborn child at the time of her birth.

Over the next few hours we learned that Kendra's eye was not actually swollen. The "non-swollen" eye was the immediate concern. The first eye appeared to be normal, but the other was basically missing. Later we learned there actually was a very small, chaotic eye there, but it has never provided Kendra with any vision.

We were stunned to hear that our child would have vision on only one side. It seemed that nothing could be worse. We had no idea what we were in for as our journey progressed.

We soon found out that Kendra's "good eye" had cataracts. Fortunately, the doctors told us, her field of vision was not obscured. That may have been true in the beginning, but by her two-month well baby checkup, she had no red-reflex in her "good" eye. We already had an appointment scheduled with a specialist; now we moved up that appointment. Our sense of urgency is almost indescribable. We simply had to fix this problem at all costs!

The specialist explained that Kendra needed a lensectomy to remove the cataracts. She would be fitted with strong glasses to create a fixed field of vision in her "good" eye, since she was too small to have an artificial lens implanted.

By now the language to describe our daughter's situation had begun to change. Instead of being told that she had "a greatly reduced field of vision," we started to hear the undeniable term "low vision" being used. My wife was now in intense information-gathering mode. I did a lot of reading and research too, but my efforts paled in comparison to Stephanie's.

We were told that the lensectomy would take an hour and a half. We had barely settled in the hospital waiting room when one of the surgeons came out to see us. There was another problem. Some connections between the lens and the retina, which should have dissolved before birth, were still intact. We needed a different surgeon--a pediatric retinal specialist.

We rescheduled the surgery, and this time it was completed. Soon afterward Kendra was fitted with glasses. The crisis seemed to be over, and we tried to feel like ordinary parents. However, within a few weeks we noticed a change of color in our daughter's eye. Bleeding inside the eye clouded her vision, and her ocular pressure rose. We went to one medical appointment after another, searching for answers, clinging to hope.

Finally we received good news. The pressure in Kendra's eye had dropped to normal. We smiled and joked in relief. At last we could go home and relax!

I felt so much better, and it was wonderful to see Stephanie smile and relax. Nevertheless I had a twinge of uneasiness. The doctor told us Kendra still needed an ultrasound, just to make sure her eye was all right.

As usual, I sat and held Kendra during the ultrasound procedure. I could see the monitor as the technicians looked inside her eye. Something seemed wrong. I have no ultrasound training, but I clearly saw something floating around on the screen. I was deeply worried, but I kept my fears to myself. I didn't want to upset Stephanie for no good reason.

A few minutes later we found out why the pressure in Kendra's eye was normal. When the retina detaches, pressure in the eye can go down very quickly. Kendra's only retina had fully detached. Unless it could be reattached our daughter had no possibility of vision.

Once again surgery was scheduled. The operation attempted to mend tears in the retina so it could heal itself, but progress was disappointing. When the doctors undertook yet another surgery, they discovered that Kendra's retina had shriveled into a tiny mass. The doctor told us that reattaching the retina would have been like trying to line a basketball with a liner the size of a tennis ball. Whatever the metaphor, at the age of six months Kendra was totally blind.

Did Kendra ever have sight? Technically the answer is yes. Stephanie even recalls one time when Kendra saw her mommy and responded. It happened only once. I'm glad it happened, and I hope that somewhere in Kendra's mind that memory of vision survives.

When my first wife and I divorced I discovered that in many ways ending a marriage was like experiencing a death. I had the same sense of catastrophic loss when my daughter became blind. Yet, with all the pain over Kendra's lost sight, ultimately there came a sense of comfort. We had done everything in our power to save Kendra's vision. Despite all our efforts the worst had happened. The waiting and hoping were over, and it was time to move on.

Fortunately, aside from her vision issues, Kendra has always been very healthy. Apart from some early ear infections and the usual bumps and bruises, she is just fine. Some people may be startled by those words. Kendra is blind--how can she be "just fine?" She won't be able to do anything, and she will never be "normal." I suppose such thoughts ran through my own mind at one time, but looking back now they seem absurd. The biggest challenges my daughter faces come from the people around her. People assume that she needs help with everything, but she doesn't. The ones who need help are people like me. As a parent I have had to learn new ways to communicate. I have to find nonvisual methods to convey information. I can't just point at an object or tell Kendra to watch how I do something. I have to describe and demonstrate things physically. For most of us, nonvisual thinking is brand-new.

I felt real panic when all this started. I was overwhelmed by the sense that I had to adapt the entire world for Kendra. I knew I'd manage somehow, but it was going to be a major undertaking. Over time, though, I have come to realize that Kendra is not the first blind child in the world. We have found ready-made solutions to most of the problems we have encountered so far. Some of these solutions are rather obvious. For instance, if your child doesn't have enough vision to ride a bike safely down the road, get a tandem bicycle. Other solutions take thought and research. For us, Kendra's crib became a focal point of concern. Our worries sent us off in search of answers.

By the time Kendra was strong enough to crawl out of her crib, we realized it was a long way from the top rail to the floor. At the time we believed that it was a bit more dangerous for her to be climbing out than it would have been for a sighted child. Looking back, we realize we were wrong about that, but at the time we didn't have that perspective. One night we found Kendra hanging over both sides of the crib at the corner, fast asleep! We had to figure out a way to keep her from going over the side head first. For a while a contraption called a crib tent helped us keep her in the crib more securely. We had no idea how we were going to keep her safely in a "big girl bed" at all. How could we prevent her from falling out? None of the side rails we found seemed likely to help.

It turns out there was a trundle bed under the day bed that was already in Kendra's room. When we pulled out the lower bed most of the way, we ended up with a "stair-step" arrangement. If Kendra rolled out of the upper bed, she would fall onto the lower bed. If she rolled out of the lower bed, she would fall only a foot to the floor--not a major hazard. Probably the bed wasn't a huge hazard in the first place. At this point Kendra is no more likely to fall out of her bed than any other kid.

I have discovered that there are many, many nonvisual ways for Kendra to learn about the world. Some things or places have a particular smell she can identify. Some things are warmer or cooler than others. Sometimes she can locate an object because it is near a particular sound source. We all use nonvisual clues every day, but we don't usually pay conscious attention to them.

Before Kendra knew how to read we put Braille labels on lots of things around the house, exposing her to Braille in the same way a sighted child sees print all around her. We read to her from print/Braille books so she could feel the Braille just as a young sighted child looks at print letters and words. Now Kendra reads very well on her own. Using her Brailler she writes as well as or better than most of her sighted peers write in print. She is learning to use a refreshable Braille display and a computer with a screen-reading program called JAWS. Using her computer she can emboss her work in Braille.

As time goes by we find more and more options for our child. She enjoys listening to books on tape. Movies and TV shows generally have enough dialogueand sound effects for her to take them in by listening. We have also discovered TV programs and movies on DVD that have audio descriptions. Many ATM's have headphone jacks. A blind person can plug in headphones and use the ATM with audio feedback. A blind person now can use a Braille notetaker such as a PAC Mate along with a portable bar code scanner to read the labels on the items on store shelves. A cell phone can be equipped with a camera that works as a portable scanner to turn text to speech. A talking GPS system can be useful in way-finding, just as a GPS with a screen is helpful to sighted travelers. The list goes on and on. By the time Kendra is old enough to drive there may even be a car that she can drive herself. We're not counting on it, but we're hopeful.

I have gotten to know a good many blind adults, and they have taught me a lot. They have shown me that with proper education and training a blind person can do almost anything. One blind fellow I know made a point of cleaning off his own roof a few times before he would hire someone else to do it. He wanted to make sure he knew how to do it himself.

Kendra is a busy young lady. Honestly, she wears me out, but I think it is fantastic! She has quite a musical gift, and it is a joy to watch it develop. She plays piano, guitar, drums, and even the harp. She makes up stories and writes them out in Braille. She reads to her little brother. She likes to sing and make recordings. She likes to swim, and I think she is a better swimmer than most kids her age. I know she's a better swimmer than I am! She takes ballet and tap classes, and she has taken gymnastics. She's also a Brownie; she was a Daisy Scout last year. It's safe to say that Kendra is as active as most sighted children, or perhaps even more so.

When I look toward the future, I know that some day Kendra will get around town on foot or by bus, rapid transit, or cab. She will be able to travel unassisted on trains, boats, or planes. I've learned that blind people grow up and go off on their own, just like everyone else does. They have careers, get married, and raise families--all of the things that we want for all of our children. But that's a little beyond the scope of Kendra's story. After all, she's not quite seven years old yet. Some day all of those possibilities will be part of her story too. My wife and I will try to make certain that she gets the foundation she needs during the first part of her life. Kendra will take care of the rest of the story on her own.

 

ARE WE THERE YET?

by Beth Sturman

From the Editor: Beth Sturman is an active member of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois. In this article she recounts her family's long journey to meet the needs of her son, Marcus Boyer, who is legally blind with some residual vision. Her quest for the tools to help her son learn effectively mirrors the experiences of countless families of low-vision students.

"Are we there yet?"

On a long road trip you hear this question from your children again and again. In our family's case, we find ourselves asking this question on our journey with our son, Marcus Boyer. Marcus is a thirteen-year-old blind child. His challenges have led us uphill and downhill, over plateaus, through tunnels, up mountains, and even across the barren desert. Like any trip, ours is exciting and stressful. We run into obstacles and roadblocks, but we also see beautiful scenery. As we gain experience traveling we take time to smell, hear, and taste our successes.

I gave birth to triplets on September 26, 1996. Marcus weighed 2 pounds 2-1/2 ounces, and had a Level 3 brain bleed. Time after time he took two steps forward and one step back, always keeping us on our toes. We knew that he was going to be active and full of energy.

After Marcus had been in neonatal intensive care for three weeks, the doctor told us that his retinas were detaching and he needed surgery to save his sight. Then, barely a week after his first operation, the doctor put a shunt in his head to help drain the fluid around his brain. Marcus fought his way through all these dangers. After ten weeks in the hospital, we finally got to take him to his first destination, his home!

Home on a heart monitor and many medications, Marcus soon revealed his unique personality, drawing all kinds of people to him. Yet his progress was uneven. Still unaware that Marcus was legally blind, we noticed delays in his development. It is wonderful having triplets--we had two other children to show us the age-appropriate skills Marcus needed. As we identified the problems, we faced the stress of mapping out a plan of action. How were we going to get Marcus to his next stage in life?

In those days we were a timid family of meek demeanor. We were very good at taking directions from others, but we never questioned where we were going. To visit various pediatric specialists we traveled with Marcus to Chicago, St. Louis, and Indianapolis. Whenever we could manage it, we turned these medical excursions into family outings. Marcus experienced train rides, horse and buggy rides, and boat rides. He visited zoos and museums and attended major-league sporting events. Life was good. We thought we were at the place we needed to be with Marcus.

Marcus was on his way to our next destination, public school. Surely, we thought, school was the perfect place where Marcus could grow and develop. "Are we there yet?" we asked.

School proved to be a struggle for Marcus. His first grade teacher referred him for a vision assessment. We also took him to an optometrist. Marcus was found to be legally blind. Our school district assured us that he would receive vision services so he could learn to read. The district hired an itinerant teacher of the visually impaired (TVI), and services started at the beginning of second grade. Unfortunately, we found out in March of that school year that the TVI seldom appeared to work with Marcus and his classroom teacher. The regular education teacher and special education teacher were floundering with no knowledge about blindness. We spent months on this road, traveling aimlessly. Eventually the district fired the TVI and hired another one for Marcus's third-grade year.

The new TVI was full of useful information. She introduced us to dazzling technology that she promised would help us on our journey. By using a CCTV, Globe Magnifier, and monocular, Marcus would be able to read print. We met a small village of people within the school district, the cluster of professionals involved in the education of exceptional children. We were excited to scale this mountain and conquer whatever lay on the other side. With all these new services and this new technology, we thought to ourselves, "We are there!"

As the year went on, however, Marcus's reading failed to improve. In fact, he was still struggling at the pre-primer level. When we questioned our TVI, the occupational therapist, and the other professionals, the climate seemed to change. We found ourselves in the desert, lonely and isolated. Our family walked toward the mirage of wonderful services to help Marcus cope with his limited vision. The village of helpers became nomadic. Most of the professionals wandered away, leaving us with only the baggage we had in hand. "Are we there yet?" we asked hesitantly. As a family, we decided this was not the place for us.

When Marcus was in fourth grade, we suggested Braille as an option. His teachers told us that Braille was old school, and insisted that technology was the way to go in today's world. We did not understand that technology without a method of reading is illiteracy. We knew only that Marcus lagged farther and farther behind his classmates with each passing year.

By now we had shed our meekness. We began to push against assumptions. We crossed a foggy, hazy landscape and reached a city of busy traffic and loud noise. We met education advocates and talked with education lawyers. The fast pace and quick action were exciting, and sometimes exhausting. We grew overwhelmed as the experts cited studies and quoted from articles. Our heads spun until we all got seasick.

We finally obtained orientation and mobility training (O&M) for Marcus, after the school district turned him down twice for these services. Marcus was only allowed to use the cane at school, and only when the instructor was present. In theory he had two short sessions with the cane each month. Then we discovered that the O&M teacher was skipping lessons. We called meeting after meeting. Marcus moved on to fifth grade. He entered a new school, made new friends, and met a new set of teachers.

The strain took its toll on Marcus. He became lethargic and withdrawn. Cut off from the opportunity to learn beside his classmates, he escaped by tuning people out. He lacked the self-confidence to move forward.

Marcus was placed part-time in a special education classroom where more than half of the children had behavior problems. He spent half of each school day in this class. Soon he was mimicking the inappropriate behavior of his classmates. He enjoyed listening to his new friends talk about gangs and fighting. I started visiting his classroom to observe, and enlisted the help of other evaluators as well. We found that some of Marcus's vision equipment was broken. Sometimes the other students maneuvered the equipment while Marcus was reading.

Marcus was getting lost in the new school building. He had a difficult time traveling up the stairs and across the courtyard. Teachers told us that he was immature because he wanted to grab their hands when they traveled in unfamiliar places. The school denied him the opportunity to go on field trips with his regular education class. Our dream destination eluded us. The lawyers, doctors, and advocates were very good at finding "quick fix" solutions to Marcus's problems, but nothing they did made a real difference. The mounting frustration and the ongoing expenses were crushing us. We had to leave the city and travel on.

When he was eleven Marcus started telling us about places he wanted to go. He wanted to read, to take part in sports, to meet new people, and eventually to travel by himself. How could we help him reach these goals?

After making over seventy phone calls to find guidance and information, we finally discovered the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois (NFBI). We met Patti Gregory-Chang and Debbie Stein, NFBI president and vice president. Suddenly our journey took on new meaning and power. We surrounded ourselves with blind people who knew how to travel and navigate through their own adventures. People in the NFB showed us the power and the shortcomings of technology. Blind themselves, they were experts on blindness, and directed us to the tools that would give Marcus independence. They taught us the value of Braille and the freedom that was possible through the use of the long white cane.

We have been traveling with the NFB for the past two years. Our family has attended national conventions in Dallas and Detroit. Marcus attended Buddy Camp in Minneapolis. We have visited the National Center in Baltimore, and walked the halls of Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. We belong to a community that stretches across the country and beyond. Marcus now has friends from all over the United States and even from Jamaica. He has traveled by plane, train, and bus. He has the support and guidance he needs to draw his own map.

Last summer the NFB helped us obtain intensive Braille instruction for Marcus. Today, in the seventh grade, he is finally reading Braille. He is still a beginner, but he enjoys reading without someone helping him at every step. His friends know that he is reading; right now the grade level doesn't matter.

We have found through the NFB that fighting with our school district only put a halt to our adventures. On our own we found help for Marcus, and now he is teaching the school district. He has a great orientation and mobility specialist, and technology services supplement his increasing literacy skills. He plays golf, shoots baskets, and bowls on a team. Currently Marcus is on his middle school's cross-country team, even though the coach is not very supportive. Recently Marcus ran in a meet and was the first runner from his school to cross the finish line. The smile on his face was priceless! It is part of his life journey to prove to people that he might be blind but he can still function as well as anyone else.

Someone once told me, "Maximize the opportunity and minimize the disability." Knowing your child and being involved in your child's life will help you understand the importance of high expectations. By raising the expectations you will push your child to his or her highest potential.

We might not be there yet, but what an adventure we have had so far! We are becoming better travelers and more experienced navigators. We could never have reached this point without the help of the National Federation of the Blind and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC).

We are lucky to be able to travel with Marcus on all his adventures. Don't miss the opportunity. Take the journey with your child and see the sights!

 

TAPPING THE CREATIVITY OF BLIND AND VISUALLY IMPAIRED STUDENTS

by Chris Kuell

Reprinted from Dialogue, Vol.  45, No. 2, March-April, 2009

From the Editor: Teachers who have always thought of art in solely visual terms may feel daunted by the prospect of including a blind student in an art class. Verna O'Donnell, an art instructor in Deep River, Connecticut, firmly believes that art is for everyone. She shares her enthusiasm and creativity with sighted and blind students alike.

Melissa, a willowy sixth-grader, sits at her art class table meticulously picking through a bag of pebbles to find just the right ones. The assignment is to create a landscape from the various materials the teacher has provided. The student creates a cliff overlooking a river on the left side of her paper with the pebbles she's chosen. A river of thick blue paint soon flows over the cliff, creating a vibrant waterfall. Melissa pastes on a short beach area with sandpaper and makes a few bushes with felt. A thin, cotton-ball cloud decorates the sky, and the final touch is a cat cut from foam, settled on the beach to enjoy the scenery.

Melissa's classmates warmly receive her picture, and are eager to share their projects with her. As she runs her hands over a friend's artwork, he explains that it's a winter mountaintop. He's in the picture, skiing down the slope.

"There is no bigger thrill than figuring out a cool new way to adapt an art project," says Verna O'Donnell, a paraprofessional. She shares her passion for art with students and teachers alike. Eight years ago Verna was invited to help at the preschool her daughters had attended. The school had a blind student, and the teachers knew O'Donnell could find a way for her to participate in art projects with her class.

Unfortunately, Melissa didn't share her new instructor's enthusiasm. "It wasn't easy to win her over," O'Donnell says. "But after a good deal of trial and error she was hooked. We came up with ways to keep her hands clean so she could explore comfortably, and added textures and scents to projects. The changes were met with a lot of excitement from her classmates, which helped sway her."

O'Donnell was a freelance photographer when the opportunity to work with Melissa came along. She followed her to elementary school, where the art teacher was enthusiastic about incorporating tactile and sensory art into the curriculum. O'Donnell decorated her office door with masks and a variety of artwork which all the students enjoyed. Her work affected the students' attitudes about blindness. "Many of the students think about making their classroom art projects accessible," O'Donnell explains. "Some students have come to me for advice on ways to make their drawings tactile. Several students have learned some Braille as well. It is amazing to me how such a small thing can alter the way people look at the world."

O'Donnell has expanded her passion for bringing art to blind students. She has taught classes and special workshops for the NFB of Connecticut, the summer program at the Oakhill School in Hartford, and the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts. She doesn't use textbooks or Internet sources for planning art projects. Instead, she relies on her creativity and imagination. "Honestly, I make most of it up as I go along," she says. "I get an idea and start experimenting. I try to have several backup plans for blind students, because you never know how much art they have been exposed to, or what their skill level might be. My first priority is for them to have fun. If it is too frustrating, you will lose them. The end result is not as important as the process. Students will improve with practice. If they are having a great time they are more likely to stick with it."

One of O'Donnell's favorite projects is to have students decorate masks. She has also found that students enjoy creating landscapes; Melissa's scene with the waterfall and beach is a good example. Imaginary landscapes open the doors for discussion about books, stories, and fantasy locales.

People tend to think that creating art is a purely visual process. O'Donnell believes that when blind or visually impaired children take part in art class on equal terms with their sighted classmates, they become empowered to participate in other areas that also might be considered off limits. She encourages art teachers to welcome the opportunity to work with blind and visually impaired students. "Don't get locked into one approach to something," she advises. "That is a guarantee it will not work. Anything can be adapted. Relax and have fun!"

Materials for the Blind Student's Art Cabinet

Craft glue--This glue is thicker and much easier to work with than the more commonly used white glue. Things don't slide around as easily.

Craft foam with adhesive backing--With this material the child can create shapes and stick them down on the paper. Adhesive foam is a great material for students who are new to art. If the student is not proficient with scissors, the teacher can cut out shapes or purchase ready-made foam shapes.

Craft foam--This material is very useful for teaching drawing. The student can draw on a piece of paper laid over a sheet of craft foam. The pen or pencil creates a raised-line drawing that is a mirror image of the original.

Hot glue gun--Hot glue is a quick way to make raised lines. With the glue the teacher can outline a drawing for the student to paint or color with crayons.

Fabric scraps--Scraps of various textures can be used to compose landscapes and other tactile pictures. Felt, fur, lace, and assorted trims can serve many creative purposes.

Assorted natural materials--Pebbles, small shells, twigs, and even sand are all great for making landscapes.

Resources

 Art in the Dark: a seven-minute video documentary of Verna O'Donnell working with blind and sighted students--<www.nfbct.org/html/artinthedark.htm> 

Art Beyond Sight: compiles information about art instruction and art appreciation for blind children and adults--<www.artbeyondsight.org>

National Federation of the Blind Krafters Division: Online classes and discussions--<http://krafterskorner.blogspot.com>
NFB-Krafters Korner: a free listserv for blind crafters and artists who share tips and ideas. Go to <www.nfbnet.org> to subscribe. 

Project Ideas: Suggestions for art projects for blind and visually impaired kids, designed for home schoolers--<www.tsbvi.edu/Education/artideas.htm> 

 

ARTS, CULTURE, AND BLINDNESS: A STUDY OF BLIND STUDENTS IN THE VISUAL ARTS

Reviewed by Ann Cunningham

From the Editor: Ann Cunningham is a widely recognized sculptor and creator of tactile graphics. She teaches art at the Colorado Center for the Blind.

Arts, Culture, and Blindness: A Study of Blind Students in the Visual Arts, by Simon Hayhoe. Teneo Press, 2008, 193 pages, $30, <http://teneopress.com>.

The visual arts hold a pivotal position in our culture. Throughout history people have expressed personal and cultural attitudes and impressions through two- and three-dimensional art. The creation and enjoyment of art are important to all human beings, whether they are sighted or blind.

In Arts, Culture, and Blindness Dr. Simon Hayhoe juxtaposes blindness and visual art, shining a light on cultural assumptions that are rarely examined. His research is concerned with the experience of blind art students in a variety of settings. He carefully examines the students' attitudes toward the arts and how these attitudes have evolved. He also focuses on art teachers and school systems to determine as fully as possible the beliefs and teaching techniques that underlie each student's visual arts experience.

As he interviews art students and teachers, Hayhoe speculates about the circumstances that lead some students to participate gladly in visual art and others to be frustrated by the whole experience. A significant portion of the book discusses the amount of risk a student is asked to take to complete an assignment. Hayhoe explores the consequences of too much risk or too little challenge upon the student's self-confidence and sense of self-worth.

All too often, this book describes students whose teachers have low expectations for them, or no expectations at all. Entirely too typical is the description of a blind student who is handed a lump of clay and told to work with it in the corner, while the real teaching is directed to the sighted students. In contrast, however, is the account of a student who is on fire with creativity. Her story is so inspiring that I can recommend the book on its basis alone. This student accepts the challenge to work with color even though she is only able to do so theoretically, by applying the principles her instructor has taught her. She is highly creative in her approach, tackling color handling and theory. Relentlessly she tries one solution after another until she creates the sculpture she has envisioned. Examples like this one reaffirm my need to hold high expectations for myself as a teacher and to have faith in my students' abilities to find creative solutions.

As I read Dr. Hayhoe's research in Arts, Culture, and Blindness I felt I was given the opportunity to examine my own beliefs. I realized that I had dismissed theoretical inquiry into color as unimportant for blind students. I found myself wondering what else I have dismissed out of hand.

I know artists who are blind and who use color very successfully. One of them I place without reservation among my favorite color field painters. I know it is possible for a person who is blind to use color to convey everything that great art can express. Why then haven't I placed greater emphasis on this area of study for my students?

As an art teacher I will use this book as a tool to reinvigorate and inform my classes. It challenges me to re-examine many of my long-held notions. It is a great gift when we can see ourselves more clearly, and this book helps us do just that.

 

SWIMMING WITH A BLIND OR VISUALLY IMPAIRED CHILD

One Family's Experience with a Buoyantly, Ebulliently, Brave, Brave Girl

by Mary McDonach

Reprinted from <www.wonderbaby.org>.

From the Editor: Many small children, blind and sighted, develop fears of new experiences. It takes real courage on the child's part, and courage and steadiness from the parents as well, for such fears to be overcome. In this article Mary McDonach of Paisley, Scotland, describes how her daughter conquered her terror and learned to love the water.

With very little warning and even less preparation, a few weeks ago classes and kindergartens at some of our local schools were closed due to an outbreak of H1N1. It was a frightening time for many parents. Certainly my partner and I were terrified! To complicate matters we had a healthy five-year-old daughter with an unplanned vacation and a hankering for a good time. We didn't have the first idea where this good time might be hiding. We just knew it had to be cool, interesting, inexpensive, mildly educational, and with relatively low infectivity possibilities!

Our initial thinking was that on Monday we would go to the local public swimming pool. We hadn't been there for ages. If Elizabeth enjoyed it, we could go back.

Day One: The Vice-like Grip of Terror

We quickly realized that our idea that it had been a while since we went swimming with Elizabeth differed wildly from what her memory told her. Her mind ran more along the lines of, "I've never, ever been here before! What is happening?" At first her remarks indicated only mild anxiety and reluctance.

In the pool Elizabeth wore her sporty red swimsuit and her "brave face," that was pressed uncomfortably close to my "encouraging face." Any suggestions about loosening the choke hold from my neck or raising her bottom from my knee were met with a firm "No, thank you." For one and a half hours my partner and I took turns hopping round the pool with her attached--inconspicuously, we like to think! Elizabeth was terrified and enthralled in almost equal measure.

Afterwards, in the changing rooms, we had a difficult time encouraging her into the shower. "But I've just been in all that water! I don't need a shower!" We explained that chlorine was added to the water in the pool to keep it clean. The chlorine was what she smelled, and it was a bad idea to leave it on her skin. This was the last straw, the coup de grace, the insult, where previously there had only been (mental) injury. "GET IT OFF ME!" she bellowed (charmingly, of course).

Upon later examination, the backs of our necks turned out to have bruises just the size of five-year-old fingers. It was a rough day, but it was a start!

Day Two: "Can We Go Again? Today?"

Later, when my partner and I talked over the experience, we agreed that it must have been strange and dreadful for Elizabeth--possibly rating alongside immunization injections in terms of pleasure. So it was a bit of a surprise for us when she jumped out of bed the next morning with one wish, front and center in her mind: "Can we go again? Now?" We agreed, eventually, to go after lunch.

Some time later, when we went to investigate the drumming noise coming from the sitting room, we found Elizabeth on the floor kicking her feet. She explained that she was practicing swimming, but it wasn't working very well. The sitting room floor remained uncooperatively solid. This was a different girl, though--that was self-evident. She now knew what the challenge was, and she intended to give that challenge a good hiding!

Elizabeth's grip was much less fierce this time. We had decided at the first visit not to do any pretending about her safety. There would be no jokes that she might be dropped or dunked. We would be as serious as she was--and she was deadly serious.

Our approach was validated fully when we saw the amount of trust Elizabeth was willing to give us. Plainly she did not want to let us pull her between us to simulate the movement of swimming. She did not want to lie on her back with only her head and bottom supported. Nonetheless, she submitted. Grimly, she even made her way around the rim of the pool, holding on tightly. In retrospect, I realized this stage was a lot like the "cruising" she did, holding onto furniture, prior to walking independently.

I bet the lifeguards get to see some pretty dopey parents. At least they were discreet about our failings! With nothing said, a female lifeguard who had taken an interest in Elizabeth's progress walked away for a few moments and returned with two inflated armbands. Casually she threw them to us. Well, duh! I wish I'd thought of that! That little bit of added buoyancy was all Elizabeth needed to give her the independence she craved.

Day Three: The Siren Call of the Water Slide!

We decided to take a day off from swimming because Elizabeth was clearly exhausted, although she refused to admit it. That day we endured a million questions: "Why are there tiles on the floor?" "Why is the floor slippery?" "Why is water a liquid?" "Tell me more about the chlorine I can smell." "Why do we need to shut the door when we are getting changed?" (And what a huge question that is!)

Armed with the best answers we could offer, a different girl set off for Day Three at the pool. She wore a new two-piece swimsuit and a broad smile, and she had the confidence to hold onto the side and kick her legs. Most significantly, she brought up the water slide. She had known it was there, but she had not mentioned it before. It must have seemed like a silent, ominous dare to her. Now, with enough assurances to satisfy herself that she would be caught, absolutely and without a doubt, she climbed the stairs to the four-foot platform. She had watched other children on the slide and heard them scream with delight, but for Elizabeth this moment was not about having fun. This was something she felt she had to do. We put no pressure on her to do it; we just tried to be supportive of her attempt, regardless of the outcome.

Even though our outstretched arms softened the impact, she hit the water like a bomb! Once I swept her hair out of her eyes and helped her clear her nose, we saw the utter joy in her huge smile. She had beaten the challenge she set for herself! She shone with pride in her accomplishment.

She wasn't finished yet. "I want to swim underneath," she told us. She threw herself beneath the surface of the pool with the cheerful abandon of an inept seal. Every attempt to swim underwater (and we couldn't get her to stop attempting) ended with her swallowing pool water, choking and spluttering. She just could not get the concept of closing her mouth and holding her breath.

After a lot of thought, we found a solution. We asked her to do something that would be incompatible with opening her mouth and trying to breathe underwater--we asked her to hum. It worked! As she went under she pressed her lips together tightly and began to hum until she was back up. The air being forced from between her lips prevented her from swallowing water.

At the end of the day Elizabeth was chilled, shivering, and ready to collapse into sleep. But we were all radiant with pride on the journey home!

Day Four: "Don't Catch Me!"

"If I don't say anything, don't catch me."

We were not quite sure we had heard right. I stood at the bottom of the slide saying, "Do you want me to catch you?" and Elizabeth sat at the top of the slide saying nothing at all! What was I to do? I didn't catch her!!!

She emerged triumphant. When she could finally breathe again she asked every adult in the pool (all of whom were strangers), "Did you see that?" Everyone was most impressed (and they were all very graceful about being asked half a dozen times if they had indeed witnessed the beauty, bravery, and ultra-mega-splashy mermaidyness that had been her entry into the pool). And she was searching for more challenges:

Jumping in from the side? Done that!
Riding on a parent's back? Done that!
Floating on her back? Please! She's done that!
Going down the slide head first? I think you know the answer to that one!

Then the same friendly lifeguard did the same quiet routine; this time she tossed us brightly colored, weighted rings. This challenge was a tough one. The water refraction added to Elizabeth's dire depth perception, and she could barely see the rings when they sank to the bottom. Before going underwater to retrieve them she searched the general area with her feet. When we suggested that this was cheating, she told us firmly, "It's not wrong--it's different." She's right. We taught her that ourselves. Shame on us!

Of course, we didn't need to be told a third time about pool aids. The goggles and nose clips really helped! And when Elizabeth realized the buoyancy from the water wings was not assisting her in her dives, she began diving with only one of them on!

Reflecting on What We've Learned

Our daughter has albinism and is legally blind. She also has photophobia; sunlight glancing off water at random angles is painful for her. At the pool she had to adapt to an entirely new space and new set of rules. She accepted the distorted sound quality and the vulnerability she felt being wet and walking on a tiled floor.

Elizabeth has developed her own brand of stroke--flap, flap, kick, kick, kick, splash, laugh, spit out pool water, and repeat! She has a lifetime to learn classic moves.

She has even managed to categorize all this as fun--isn't that outrageous!

This story is not about Elizabeth's blindness or her intellect or any of the thousand other things that we, the parents of blind and visually impaired children, adapt to every hour of the day. This story is about my selfish and unstoppable pride in my child, who sets her own goals, meets them by her own timetable and standards, and judges herself as a person of worth. My daughter is the bravest person I know.

I am writing this for her.

My partner and I are both relieved that for the time being Elizabeth has no idea of the worlds this will open up for her--scuba diving, Air and Sea Rescue, Olympic sports, lifeguarding--to name but a few.

We intend to leave all that till she's six!

 

BUILDING LEADERSHIP THROUGH SCOUTING

by Lenora J. Marten

From the Editor: Through the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and other organizations in the community, blind children have the chance to build friendships and develop a variety of new skills. However, negative stereotypes sometimes stand in the way of the child's full participation. Lenora Marten, president of the Florida Parents of Blind Children, describes how her son's perseverance paid off and led him to an invaluable Scouting experience.

When our son, Eric Marten, joined the Boy Scouts, he had to overcome many more obstacles than those imposed by his blindness. He had to persevere despite the stereotypes and prejudices of others in order to take part in the full range of Scouting activities. The first troop he joined saw his blindness as a major limitation. The troop leaders regarded him as a handicapped person with minimal abilities. Assuming that he could not do the work required, they gave him badges that he had not really earned.

In addition to Scouting, Eric was involved in taekwondo, which was a very positive experience for him. When he received his first Black Belt from the American Taekwondo Association, he thought his Boy Scout leaders would finally see him as capable. Much to Eric's dismay, the troop leaders assumed that his taekwondo coach had simply given him the rank of Black Belt because he felt sorry for him. One of the troop leaders looked at me and said, "He can't have a Black Belt--he's blind!"

Scouting was not turning out to be the enriching, leadership-building experience it should have been. Eric, however, displayed what it means to be a true leader. He did not give up. He set out to find people who would see him, and not only his blindness. He approached the North Florida Scouting Council with his concerns. Its members were impressed with the young man before them, and they were eager to help. They pointed Eric toward Troop 333.

The North Florida Council Troop 333 in Jacksonville surpassed our expectations! No one ever once treated Eric in a patronizing way because of his blindness. In the fall of 2007, he and his troop hiked Blood Mountain, the highest peak on the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail. Eric has gone whitewater rafting, observed manatees, gone fishing, cooked at campouts, used woodworking tools, and learned to use the Boy Scout knife. That one made us, his parents, pretty nervous. But Scout Master Lewis sent us on our way, assuring us that he knew what to do. He had done research to find out how to teach knife skills to a visually impaired person. He had consulted other Scout leaders, and he said Eric would be just fine.

Eric worked through the ranks of Scouting, fulfilling the same requirements met by his sighted peers. He is known in his troop as the Scout who "tries his best at everything." He has served as Scout Librarian and Patrol Leader. On May 11, 2009, he received the rank of Life Scout. As a Life Scout he has a new job, serving as Scribe for his troop. The Scribe keeps the troop's records. He records the activities of the Patrol Leaders' Council. He also keeps a record of dues, advancement, and attendance at troop meetings--much like an NFB chapter secretary.

This past summer, Eric earned the opportunity to attend the Boy Scouts High Adventure Sea Base Camp for a full week of sailing, snorkeling, and fishing. The program was not a pleasure cruise. Crews were expected to work aboard the vessel. The boys slept on deck, fished, snorkeled, and worked the forty- to fifty-foot sailing boat. They planned their own course to explore the beautiful Florida Keys.

This same troop stepped up to the plate to help out at the 2008 National Federation of the Blind of Florida State Convention in Jacksonville. The boys were there through the entire weekend, only going home to sleep. They helped with directing people and assisted at the breakfast buffet and happy hour. They hung out and played games in the kids' and teen rooms. In the end the Scouts felt that they got more out of the experience than we did. They not only earned their Disability Badge; they gained a greater understanding of the blind community and what Eric's life is like as a blind person.

 Eric will spend this school year working on a project to earn the rank of Eagle Scout. The Eagle Scout service project provides the opportunity for the candidate to demonstrate the leadership skills he has learned in Scouting. He does the project outside the sphere of his Scout troop. As a demonstration of leadership, the Scout must plan the work, organize the personnel needed, and direct the project to its completion. Eric hopes to do his Eagle Scout project at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. He looks forward to becoming a leader, mentor, and motivator for our blind youth as he carries out his Eagle Scout project.

 

STUDY ABROAD: MORE THAN LEARNING ABOUT ANOTHER CULTURE

by Corbb O'Connor

From the Editor: Corbbmacc (Corbb) O'Connor is a senior at George Washington University in Washington, DC, where he is studying economics and political communication. At the 2009 NFB convention he received his second NFB scholarship, conferring upon him the honored title of tenBroek Fellow. In this article Corbb writes about what he learned during a college semester in Ireland.

One year ago this week, my parents came to visit me at college. They were on their way to Dubai, UAE, where my dad was to give a presentation about leadership to a group of medical executives. Mom, Dad, and I had agreed to meet outside the campus library. I got there a little late, but I couldn't find them. I called Dad and heard the familiar ring of his cell phone somewhere nearby. Then I saw him and Mom walking toward me. I had never felt so joyful! I felt as though I were coming home after years away. Actually, I had only been gone for a month, but I was farther from home than I had ever been before on my own.

My parents had visited me at college before, but this visit was different. I was no longer at my university in Washington, DC. I was at a new school in a foreign country. Though English was the dominant language, it sounded so different that it always reminded me I was not in the US. I shared a two-bedroom apartment with two messy, noisy girls. My classes were unlike any I had taken before. The whole experience was foreign to me, though I had looked forward to it for seven years.

I knew that I wanted to study abroad ever since I was in seventh grade. When my older brother hunted for colleges, travel abroad programs were among his priorities. I often heard him and my parents discussing the possibilities, and I, too, wanted to study overseas some day. I took Spanish in junior high and high school, and I thought it would be exciting to go to a faraway land where I really had to know the language in order to succeed. Because of guide dog access laws, however, when it came time for me to apply to study abroad programs, I selected Ireland.

I completed what felt like several books of paperwork so that my five-year-old yellow Lab, Phoenix, could be admitted into the country. Then, just before I was scheduled to leave for Ireland from my home in the suburbs of Chicago, Phoenix became very sick. I would not be able to take him with me after all.

I felt frustrated, sad, and scared. Nevertheless, I thought my adjustment would be easy. "I still use my cane a lot," I told myself and my family. "I use it at rock concerts, noisy restaurants, and crowded ball games. I've been with Mr. Cane-O since I was in first grade. I'll be fine."

I went to Ireland to learn things. I never expected that one of the things I would learn was how inadequate my cane skills were. Over time they improved. My social life (away from my roommates!) also picked up. Classes became more natural. Still I was happy to go home to loving family, caring friends, and Mom's great cooking in mid-December.

Looking back on my semester in Ireland, I realize that I learned three things. First of all, I learned how to live a less stressful life. Next I learned that foreign experiences are only foreign until they become part of a routine. Finally I discovered that I can succeed anywhere, overseas or here in the United States.

Before I went abroad, I lived a very stressful life. My mother (who I realize more and more always knows best!) often told me that I should "chill out, relax, and live a little more." "I am!" I'd shoot back. "I'm happy, I promise!"

I was happy, but the stress probably wasn't healthy. In Washington I worked twenty hours a week, went to class fifteen hours a week, slept far too little every night, and tried to cram in as much studying as possible. I never quite finished all the work I needed to do. I didn't set out on purpose to live a less stressful life in Ireland. It just happened. I couldn't work while I was abroad, so I found myself with twenty extra hours a week. Not wanting to sit idle, I sought out volunteer opportunities. I helped seven- to nine-year-olds with their homework at a nearby school, and I hosted a show on current affairs at the campus radio station. Even so, I had more free time than before. I wasn't rushing everywhere. I even slept eight hours per night! As a result, I was healthier, happier, and less distracted throughout the day. Now, a year after I went abroad, I make time to read a good novel every few days and to go for fun walks with Phoenix. I regularly cook a relaxing dinner with my friends.

Ireland taught me that things only feel foreign before they become part of a routine. My mom told me this would happen but I didn't believe her. How could looking right instead of left when I crossed the street become normal? How could I feel at home in the Emerald Isle, wearing a raincoat everywhere I went, while my friends enjoyed a sunny fall season back home? How could all the strange brand names at the grocery store ever seem familiar? I'm not sure how it happened, but eventually all of those things did become subconscious. My dad taught me a trick at the grocery store. He told me to read the names of the items next to the ones I wanted on the shelves. That way, the next time I went back, I'd recognize the products even if I never intended to buy them. It helped.

My routine in Ireland was unlike any I had known before, and I came to enjoy it. Cooking was one example of the change. At first I cooked dinner every week with my new friend Brendan (usually homemade stir-fry) simply because we needed to eat. At some point I made a transition, and cooking became both calming and exciting.

My months in Ireland taught me that, while change is tough, it's something that I can and should experience more often. When I hunted for summer internships in the spring before I went overseas, I wanted to stay in a familiar locale. I didn't bother to look at internships anywhere outside Washington, DC. Now I'm looking at opportunities for next summer in New York City; Mountain View, California; and downtown Chicago.

Somebody once told me that it's painful to make friends all over the world, because you're going to be separated from them for a long time. Even when you meet them again it won't be the same. After studying in Ireland, I disagree. It's exciting to have diverse friends, and it's nice to have travel buddies who will meet me in Europe next time I return.

My parents visited me once more while I was abroad, this time for Thanksgiving. They started in Dublin and traced the perimeter of Ireland. I met up with them for the second half of their journey. Our driver was a Dublin native. During that visit I wasn't so eager to go home. I wanted to show my parents the country I'd tried to call home for a couple of months. One time the driver answered his cell phone, and my dad asked me if he was speaking Irish. "No, that's English," I said, no longer even noticing the driver's Irish accent. As I said, all is foreign until it's part of a routine. It sounds like a simple lesson, but it took me a semester to learn it.

Study abroad, I've come to realize, is more about studying yourself than it is about experiencing another culture. I'll be eternally grateful to everybody who encouraged me to go abroad, to stay abroad, and to try something new. I'm glad that I studied in Ireland and that I stuck with it through all of the difficult moments. Now I know that I can do it again.

 

"YOU GOTTA KNOW THE RULES IF YOU'RE GONNA PLAY THE GAME"

by Graciela Tiscareño-Sato

From the Editor: A San Francisco-based mother of three, Graciela Tiscareño-Sato is an advocate for kids with special needs. She is also a global technology marketing professional, a published author, and a US Air Force veteran aviator. With her husband, Genro, she created the presentation and DVD "Letting Your Child's Wild Side Out: Raising the Confident Blind Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler." She can be reached at grace@babymilagro.org and through the web at <www.babymilagro.org>. 

Our firstborn child, Milagro, entered the world one hundred days ahead of schedule. Her severely premature birth occurred at twenty-five weeks gestation. She weighed just one pound two ounces, about as much as a package of butter and a muffin. After nearly five months in the NICU, four hospitals, nine ambulance rides, and five surgeries, she came home with mostly-detached retinas.

When Milagro was a toddler, before her transition to preschool, my husband, Genro, and I determined to get the knowledge we needed to be her advocates. As a couple we had accumulated years of professional experience in the areas of information technology, software and web development, marketing, public relations, and military aviation. However, our knowledge of state and federal special education laws was nonexistent. Instead of approaching the special education process with fear and uncertainty, we decided to take control and fill in our knowledge gaps. In this article I suggest three steps toward empowerment for parents, based upon our own learning and experience.

Step One: Attend a Wrightslaw Special Education Law Boot Camp.

I highly recommend this program to parents of children who are in the special education system. Live training costs $175 per couple or $100 for one person. You can also obtain a CD, "Special Education Law and Advocacy Training," for $49.95.

We attended a Wrightslaw Special Education Law Boot Camp when Milagro was about two and a half years old, just after her first assessment for preschool services. Our entire family attended the workshop. My husband and I took turns taking notes and holding Milagro's two-month-old sister, Kotomi. Milagro entertained herself with toys on the hotel's ballroom floor. The knowledge we gained in this workshop launched us on our journey of advocacy and enabled us to keep learning.

Wrightslaw training is conducted by Peter Wright, a renowned special education attorney. Wright grew up with dyslexia and learning disabilities. He openly shares his dismissive kindergarten report card and other personal stories of low expectations. Later he describes how he won a case before the US Supreme Court on behalf of a disabled student. His wife Pamela is his coauthor and business partner. Together they raised a son with special needs. The Wrights have an immense body of knowledge and they make an outstanding teaching team.

The workshop taught us that we would be the special education law experts on the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team. Nobody would ever be able to misinform us, accidentally or intentionally, about what program elements were available or possible. Try asking these questions at your next IEP meeting. "Has anyone in the room been to law school?" "Has anyone present taken a course on special education federal law, IDEA 2004, or state education law?" You'll probably see that somewhere around zero people in the room have this knowledge. The people on your child's team are highly educated teachers, administrators, educational psychologists, and speech therapists, but they are not knowledgeable in the specifics of federal and state law. This is your critical role. If you can convince a teacher on the team to attend a training workshop, it will be doubly beneficial to your child. Imagine an education team with several members versed in the legal requirements, all working toward your child's IEP goals and supporting services.

The Wrightslaw Boot Camp focuses on two critical elements: the federal law called IDEA and the culture of the education system. You don't merely read through a book of laws. You read the law with Peter Wright's explanations in plain English. He tells you what key parts of the law mean for your child's IEP. You also gain insight into the personality types and motivations of the program administrators, teachers, specialists, and aides you'll encounter in the education system. You'll learn to recognize these personality types and use your knowledge to your child's advantage.

You'll also learn the meaning and requirements of state and federal law. You'll learn how parts of the law are commonly interpreted by school districts, and how to determine whether or not the interpretations are correct. You'll hear about specific court cases and learn their implications for your own situation. You'll learn to interpret test scores and will become comfortable with the all-important bell curve. By the end of the training you'll know why an IEP goal based on teacher observation instead of a quantitative standard usually isn't worth the paper it's written on.

There is simply no substitute for this foundational knowledge. Get it live or via CD-ROM, but get it.

Step Two: Start an in-home library on special education law and best practices.

If you attend the Boot Camp training live, you'll receive two essential books as part of the workshop package. You can get the books plus the Boot Camp training on CD-ROM for $89.95. The books alone are also available for purchase.

The first book is called Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, Second Edition. It is available in print or print/ e-book combination at <www.wrightslaw.com>. This book includes the texts of IDEA 2004, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Family Educational Records and Privacy Act, and several US Supreme Court decisions, along with analysis and interpretation. I find the electronic version of the book especially valuable. It is in Adobe PDF format and is quickly searchable with keywords when you need a reference. For example, suppose your program administrator says, "We've had to cut the transportation budget for your child this year. We can only reimburse you for mileage for one round trip a day." With a quick text search you find transportation directly addressed in Appendix A to Part 300. "... A public agency must provide transportation as a related service if it is required to assist the disabled child to benefit from special education ... at public expense and at no cost to the parents, and that the child's IEP describes the transportation arrangement." You can print out the page and show the administrator what federal law requires. Ask her to show you the written authority that trumps federal law and allows the implementation the district wants to use to save money. Watch how fast transportation services get written into the IEP.

The second critical book is From Emotions to Advocacy. I call it "my special education how-to manual." This book demystifies the organizational culture of school districts and the educational bureaucracy. Have you ever wondered, "Why can't they just do what's right for my child? Why does everything have to be so hard? Why doesn't the teacher stick up more forcefully for my child in the IEP meetings?" This book answers these questions and many others.

The book promotes the philosophy that you should always act as if some day you're going to litigate. That way you'll never have to do so. Document every exchange. Record every IEP meeting and keep a phone log of conversations. The book presents a step-by-step plan for organizing documents, setting the tone at meetings, writing post-IEP meeting thank-you letters, and writing letters to object to decisions.

Another invaluable law-based tool is the Pop-Up IEP, available at <www.unco.edu/ncssd/bviIEP/INDEX.SHTML>. It is a sixteen-square matrix of conversation stoppers that parents sometimes hear when advocating for their children. Each statement is followed by possible responses and the passages in the law that back them up. It's a brilliant tool, one you should bookmark and use frequently.

Step Three: Keep the knowledge coming.

Now that you've graduated from Boot Camp and have the first two essential books in your library, the last step is super easy. Just visit <www.wrightslaw.com> and sign up for continuing education and information through the awesome free weekly newsletter, Special Education Advocate. It will inform you of new court cases that may have a direct impact on your child's IEP and delivery of services. At the beginning of each school year an article will remind you how to read a bell curve. You can also see the upcoming Boot Camp schedule or get the training on a CD-ROM.

The Results

Because we began to educate ourselves when our daughter was two years old, my husband and I have established reputations as powerful, professional, informed advocates. We never attend an IEP meeting solo; both of us prioritize the meeting as more important than work events. If we're not both available on a proposed meeting date we make sure that the date is changed.

We treat the IEP meeting as the business meeting it is, and we present as business people do. We open the meeting with our own tone-setting PowerPoint presentation. We show a slide called "Our Vision as Milagro's Parents." The slide keeps everyone focused on the ultimate goal, ensuring that Milagro becomes an independent, literate, employable, self-fulfilled adult some day. Our presentation is sprinkled with photos of our child so that nobody forgets why we're all there. If you're not into PowerPoint software, bring a framed 8x10 photo of your child and place it in the middle of the table. It accomplishes the same thing; it keeps the meeting focused on your child. If you want the meeting to be child-centric, you will need to guide the team.

We make the point that the meeting is about Milagro and her FAPE (free and appropriate education). We state up front, "We are her project managers. You, the professionals, are temporarily on our team. We thank you for being here." We state this because it's likely that only the parents will be on the IEP team from preschool until high school graduation. Along the way, other team members will move, retire, or change jobs. The parent project managers will provide the only continuity.

In our presentation we celebrate our daughter's progress and thank each team member for his/her hard work and dedication. The expression of thanks sets a positive tone and helps everyone feel good. We then move to the challenges ahead and present the areas of focus for Milagro's upcoming year. We cover specific, measurable goals we want included in the IEP. After our presentation we provide handouts to everyone in the room. Our presentation becomes part of the official record. We are equal partners on the team.

When a meeting is very tight on time, we provide a "parent agenda." This strategy ensures that we cover the points we want to discuss instead of following only an administrative agenda. We bring our laptop and make an audio recording of every meeting, as is our legal right. We burn a CD copy of the audio file at the meeting's conclusion and give it to the administrator.

We own this process. We are the experts on our child. The professionals ensure that her age-appropriate goals and objectives are on track and update us on her progress. Together, we make course corrections on this journey. We request, in writing, additional IEP meetings when we feel they are necessary.

My husband and I subscribe to the mantra "Trust, but verify." We don't stay away from the school, assuming that things are going swimmingly. We take turns doing parent observations about once a quarter, and more often if needed. We take notes just as the professionals do when they observe a child in a school setting. IEP non-compliance is hard to hide when a parent is present.

You may encounter resistance when you want to do an observation at your child's school. If this happens, ask to see the federal or state laws that prohibit or limit your ability to do observations. I haven't seen any. You may be presented with a district-specific policy on observations or with nothing at all. Chances are good that you'll be free to observe and get a sense of whether the IEP is being executed in a compliant manner.

When things go wrong, as they sometimes do, we call a team meeting to fix them. Once we had an IEP meeting with two elementary school principals in the room, two general education teachers, two TVI's, two speech therapists, two APE teachers, two O&M instructors, and several other team members. Twenty people were needed that day to transition our daughter from a school whose culture proved inappropriate to the school where she is now thriving. We will forever be grateful to the TVI (Yardley Hoffman), the O&M teacher (Lori Cassels), and the program administrator (Sandra Nevin) who suggested the change, and to Sandra for orchestrating the process.

We have a solid, effective, efficient, and mutually respectful relationship with our IEP team and administrators. We don't dread IEP meetings. Instead we look forward to them. The meetings give us a chance to help construct goals to start our daughter on her next steps toward success.

Above all, we preserve the relationship with our IEP team members. Pete Wright reminds us to treat this relationship as "a marriage without possibility of divorce." We nurture it, keep it professional at all times, and always, always keep control of the big picture. We will never relinquish that control. Milagro is our child.

Please consider spending the money on the training and reference materials I have described here. You can spend as little as $90 for the essential training and reference materials, or you can spend a few hundred dollars and travel to do the live Boot Camp training. The full schedule of live training events is here: <www.wrightslaw.com/speak/schedule.htm>.

If you make this investment in yourself and in your child's future, you'll be ready to start the special education process without fear. You will be full of knowledge, knowing how to look up what the law requires. If you don't take these steps to educate yourself, you may be susceptible to the folklore perpetuated throughout bureaucratic organizations. You may believe erroneous statements made by professionals who have neither studied the law nor gathered the information recommended here. As Air Force Captain Cuomo once said to me in a former life of mine, "You gotta know the rules if you're gonna play the game."

 

AN EFFECTIVE COMPLEMENT: ADVOCACY AND FORGIVENESS

by Joan Guthrie Medlen, R.D., L.D.

Reprinted from <www.disabilitysolutions.com>.

From the Editor: Joan Guthrie Medlen is the mother of a son with Down syndrome and is a long-time advocate in the Down syndrome community. She can be reached at her Website, <www.downsyndromenutrition.com>.  Although this article is not specifically pertinent to advocacy for blind children, it addresses issues that can have a profound effect on any parent who fights for a child's rights in the special education system.

Living the life of a disability advocate can make the world seem like a very adversarial place. Of course, a lot depends on your experience. Most of the time, parents of children in early intervention services feel nurtured by their early childhood specialists. Everyone is concerned about the development and health of your baby and looks for the typical milestones along with you. Parents feel supported as specialists suggest strategies to keep the baby from sliding out of the high chair, to get up on all fours to crawl, or to sign his first word, "More," which everyone regrets later. I hear many parents describe early intervention services as a type of cocoon, protecting them from what lies just around the corner: school-aged services.

Over the years, I've had to advocate staunchly for my son. I remember walking into a "brainstorming meeting" to find it was a full-blown IEP review with no notice. Seventeen people sat around a table smiling pleasantly at me, reassuring me that there was nothing to worry about. My son was only five at the time. In those early years I was devastated after every meeting. I felt exhausted--as if one of the dementors from Harry Potter had sucked all but a last breath from me. In just a short time, "advocacy" became synonymous with anger and frustration.

Since then, I've learned that being an effective advocate for my son, who has significant disabilities, means having impenetrable skin. It also means not thinking of him as my son, or myself as his mother, at school or during the meetings. Rather, advocacy becomes a business deal from my perspective. I force myself to sit back and watch the interaction of the team, listen to comments, and then ask for the time I need to process the information. All must be done with as little emotion as possible. Sometimes I am more successful than others.

There are times when my feelings get the best of me and I am overwrought with anger, hurt, and resentment--every negative feeling we have words to describe and some we do not. It is easy, perhaps too easy, for parents to fall into a constant pattern of righteous indignation. One of the best things about the years Andy was included in elementary school was being able to spend time with other parents who were constructively involved with the school community rather than being surrounded by anger and frustration all the time. The school did not have a special education room. When Andy moved on to middle school, I cried when I met some of the parents in his homeroom, a visually based classroom. The first meeting I attended was filled with anger, bitterness, and blame. I felt like I was being poisoned.

How did this happen? I agree that more often than not parents have a lot to be frustrated and angry about. Constantly maneuvering to find someone who sees your child as a great kid (rather than being told all the things he can't do) is not easy. Living under the microscope of special education without feeling judged at some point is impossible. The "evaluation" is not limited to academics, school situations, or your child's strengths. Folks tend to want to know just what we are doing at home to teach our children.

I've been doing some reading on forgiveness over the past year. I am increasingly convinced it is the missing link in advocacy efforts. Not being able to forgive eats away at us and breeds bitterness. The injustice takes on a life of its own; it is all-consuming. It becomes a part of daily life. That means your adversary wins.

My first introduction to this concept came from the book How Good Do We Have to Be? by Harold Kushner. He tells the story of asking a woman whose husband had an affair, left her, and fell chronically behind in child support payments to forgive her husband. When asked how he could suggest such a thing, he replied, "I'm not asking you to forgive him because what he did wasn't so terrible; it was terrible. I'm suggesting that you forgive him because he doesn't deserve to have this power to turn you into a bitter, resentful woman." For me, that was a new spin on forgiving someone.

The last thing my children need is a bitter, resentful, angry mother, nor do I want to be that person. I enjoy life and like to revel in the good things, large and small. I love watching my children learn and grow, each at his or her own pace. I enjoy being helpful and looking for constructive solutions to overwhelming situations. I like to laugh. I want to be a nice, warmhearted person, not a sour, negative, cross one. I want to be able to walk into my son's school community and be the person I was before special education entered my life.

Like many people, I wondered if by forgiving people who have hurt me--whether it was intentional or not--I also am agreeing that nothing wrong happened. I have learned that this is not the case. I had to learn what forgiveness is, and what it is not. Here are some of the things I have learned.

Forgiveness is:

Forgiveness is not:

I believe forgiveness strengthens my ability to advocate effectively. When I let go of resentment and anger, people are more willing to talk and problem-solve. They are less likely to worry that the discussion will become a battle with an angry parent. Remember, forgiving someone does not mean they are not accountable for their actions. No one loses rights by forgiving an injustice.

Learning about forgiveness has given me a lot to think about. Have I truly forgiven every situation I am resentful over? No. But I am working on it. I am learning that it is harder to forgive those things that I have held onto for a long time--such as the IEP meeting I mentioned earlier--than events that are recent. Perhaps our response to a situation becomes so ingrained that changing how we feel about it takes time and work. After all, forgiveness is not meant to be easy, if done correctly.

These days I am not as easily upset in meetings about my son, though I have my moments. I am working on remembering to examine the situation, tease out the lessons, and then to work on forgiveness. It feels much healthier. And I am much happier for the work.

 

CELL PHONE ACCESSIBILITY FOR YOUR BLIND CHILD

by Wesley Majerus

From the Editor: Cell phone technology evolves with dizzying speed. This article originally appeared in the Fall 2008 issue of Future Reflections. It has been updated to help our subscribers stay informed about new developments. Wesley Majerus is an access technology specialist with the 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 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 can be made accessible for blind or low-vision students. Some consideration is also given to accessibility issues for children with mild motor problems.

Low-end Cell Phones

If you are on a budget or do not wish to spend a great deal of money for cell phone service, a few tips will allow you to make almost any cell phone usable by a blind or low-vision student, at least for quick calls. For a child with low vision, 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 distinguish by touch. Beware of some of the new designs with keypads that are flush with the face of the phone. It might be helpful for you and your child to go to the store together. See if he/she can distinguish the buttons on the phone or 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 dial a specific programmed phone number. For example, the parents' home, work, and cell numbers or the number to a trusted family friend or neighbor all can be programmed for quick access. However, these phones have some drawbacks. Blind users cannot independently assess how much battery power remains on the phone or determine when the phone is in a poor signal area. (Of course, the blind child will learn from experience how to estimate the remaining power and can make a good guess about the cause of signal problems. He/she can always ask for visual confirmation from a sighted friend.)

Be sure that a phone without speech access emits distinct tones or other sounds to indicate power on, dialing, and shutdown. Try to find a phone with easy steps for dialing--for example: open the phone and hold down a speed dial key. Make sure the phone offers an easy way to recover from mistakes. Even low-end phones may have nonvisually accessible features such as buttons that make distinct tone sounds when pressed. Such features allow the child to distinguish between the number buttons and feature buttons such as menu, enter, arrow keys, etc. One advantage of the low-end route is that a low-cost phone is easily replaced if lost or damaged.

Children with dexterity issues can use a basic phone if it has large buttons that are easy to press. There should also be features that allow the child sufficient time to find keys and hold them down without the phone going too quickly into automatic speed dial.

Several brands of low-cost phones that meet these criteria are currently on the market. One such phone is the Jitterbug. Though designed and marketed for senior citizens, it is also 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 a good feature for young children, children with mild hearing loss, or those 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 service providers.

Verizon Wireless has a phone similar to the Jitterbug. It is called the Samsung Knack and its features include large buttons and a large display. The Knack has a limited menu readout and a voice dialing feature for calling contacts stored in the phone.

Some cell phone companies offer low-end phones with built-in accessibility features. These features include adjustable fonts, talking caller ID, and the reading of status information such as signal strength, roaming status, and battery level. Unfortunately, these phones can be difficult to find. Often their accessibility features are not well publicized, and the turnover rate for cell phones is quite rapid. The leading producer of these phones is LG Electronics. Motorola also has some phones that fall into this category.

When reading the marketing literature for cell phones, look for features such as voice-activated dialing or spoken caller ID. Some phones may also mention "Menu Readout." The Menu Reader setting reads some menu choices aloud as you scroll through them. Often, however, these menu readout options only work for the first levels of a menu. This being said, it can be beneficial to have them on a low-cost phone.

Test the phone in the store to learn if its features will meet your needs. If you are shopping for phones online, check your carrier's accessibility page for further assistance in finding usable phones. Not every carrier has an accessibility page on its Website. AT&T Wireless, Sprint-Nextel, and Verizon Wireless have accessibility pages that you can consult for more details. These pages may recommend specific phones, but you should examine any phone yourself to determine whether it will meet your child's needs.

High-end Cell Phones

If you want a more feature-rich phone for your child or teen, a number of options are available through PDA and Smartphone devices. To make these phones usable, you will need to purchase an additional software package (see below). The benefits of these higher-end phones include the ability to send text messages, surf the Internet wirelessly through a data connection, and read email on the phone. Internet, text messaging, and email service can become expensive. It is important that you understand how your specific plan works and what 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 the child uses the phone's various functions. For low-vision users, magnification software can also be installed. An advanced user 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; Braille displays can cost from two to ten thousand dollars.

Windows Mobile is an operating system for mini-computers and cell phones. It comes in two versions, Smartphone and Professional. 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; they are controlled with joysticks or arrow keys and function buttons, and accept input from number pads or small QWERTY keyboards built into the phone. Some Smartphones have both a number pad and a QWERTY, which resembles a typewriter or computer keyboard. PDA phones, along with the standard touch screen, can also contain QWERTY keyboards, number pads, or both. On phones that have only a QWERTY keyboard, the numbers are embedded in this keyboard. This means that they are on keys that do several things. A function button switches the phone from number and punctuation mode to typing 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 limited dexterity. Take advantage of your carrier's trial period for any phone that you buy. The phone can be returned if it will not work for your child.

Windows Mobile contains an accessibility configuration area. You can change display font and backlight, the length of time error messages are displayed, and the behavior of keys and buttons when they are pressed and held.

Screen Readers

Code Factory, whose Website is <www.codefactory.es>, has two pieces of software for making Windows Mobile phones accessible to 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. It also 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 need Mobile Speak Pocket. The Code Factory Website shows you supported phones by carrier and the version of software you will need based on a specific device. It allows you to download and activate a thirty-day trial of either the Smartphone or the Pocket version of Mobile Speak.

Symbian is another phone operating system. It runs primarily on phones made by Nokia Corporation. These phones are only available through a limited number of providers. Two companies provide software that can make these phones usable. Nuance Technologies provides Talks and Zooms, which are speech and screen magnification solutions respectively. This package is the preferred means for 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 palm-sized phone with easy-to-feel buttons. As well as installing screen access software onto the phone, you can take advantage of software from kNFB Reading Technologies. This software adds a powerful reading system to the phone. By installing the software and affixing plastic anti-glare film (included) over the camera lens and flash, the user can take pictures of typewritten or printed text and have it read aloud. The kNFB Reader software can also be installed on the Nokia N86 cell phone. Features of the N82 and N86 cell phones vary.  Please evaluate your needs carefully before choosing a phone. This cell phone package can be used as a reader alone or, with the addition of Talks or Mobile Speak, as a fully accessible cell phone and reading machine. 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.

On June 19, 2009, Apple Computer Corporation released the iPhone 3GS, the latest update to its iPhone platform. This phone is unique in that it is a high-end phone that contains accessibility features out of the box. These features come in the form of VoiceOver, a fully functional screen reader for the phone, as well as voice-activated dialing and screen magnification. This phone is also unique because it is operated solely through the use of the touch screen that covers most of its top face. The Home, Sleep, volume controls, and Power buttons are the only tactile controls available on the phone.

The iPhone becomes accessible when VoiceOver is activated. Touch gestures are specific to the VoiceOver program. One can drag a finger around the screen to hear what exists on any given portion. A double tap gesture selects the focused item. The user can flick left and right to move quickly between controls. Typing is achieved in text fields either by dragging a finger or flicking left and right to the desired character or control and double tapping. When navigating through text, one can use a rotating gesture to select the navigation level (word, character, heading, etc.) and then flick up or down to move by that unit. On the Web, one can use this rotor control to choose visited and unvisited links, form controls, or headings. This phone is not recommended for young children. It would best be used by an older child who is curious about technology, eager to learn, and careful with equipment. The phone retails for $299 with a plan from AT&T. If it is damaged, its replacement cost is around $700.

Conclusion

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

Resources

Apple iPhone Accessibility - <http://www.apple.com/accessibility/iphone>
AT&T Disability Resources - <http://www.wireless.att.com/about/disability-resources/disability-resources.jsp>
Jitterbug cell phones - <www.jitterbug.com>
kNFB Reading Technologies - <www.knfbreader.com>
Mobile Speak screen readers - <http://www.codefactory.es>
Talks screen reader - <www.nuance.com/talks>
Sprint-Nextel Accessibility - <http://www.sprint.com/landings/accessibility/?id8=vanity:accessibility>
Verizon Wireless accessibility site - <http://aboutus.vzw.com/accessibility/index.html>

 

WALKING THE WALK: LEARNING THROUGH THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR MENTORING EXCELLENCE

by Treva Olivero

From the Editor: One of the most exciting programs sponsored by the NFB Jernigan Institute is the National Center for Mentoring Excellence, established in 2004. Coordinator Treva Olivero describes the program and its impact on the lives of participants.

After a day of physical endurance events, including a rock-climbing wall, zip line, and other activities in the high ropes challenge course, nineteen-year-old Karen Anderson faced one more obstacle. She stood at the base of the utility pole, contemplating a straight ascent at least six times greater than her own height. With nervous confidence gained during the day of conquering new challenges, she began the climb. The pole shook constantly as she made her way upward. Finally, she reached the top. Perched high above the ground, Karen thought that she had achieved her goals on the high ropes course.

Then, from below, Karen heard people cheering encouragement. "Stand up!" they shouted. "You can do it! Stand up on the top of the pole."

Karen considered the challenge. There was yet a higher goal for her to achieve. She could actually stand on this narrow perch. Or could she? The pole was shaking and she was tired. She had accomplished a great deal already by reaching the top of the pole, not to mention her achievements on other portions of the ropes course. She was tempted to stop. But voices floated up from the ground, spurring her on. "You can do it, Karen!" they insisted. "Go ahead!" Carefully, slowly, on trembling legs, Karen maneuvered herself to stand proudly at the top of the pole.

This is not the story of an amazing blind young woman who overcame an obstacle on a high ropes course. It's the story of a young blind woman who realized that, with the inspiration of her mentors, she could achieve more than she had ever imagined. Karen's adventure took place in Nebraska, but it could happen anywhere. It is just one example of the impact on blind young people when they are connected with positive blind adult role models. A series of programs through the NFB Jernigan Institute's National Center for Mentoring Excellence (NCME) demonstrates the value of mentoring experiences for blind youth. Every young person needs someone to encourage her/him to dream big and do more.

In 2004 the NCME received a demonstration grant from the US Department of Education to create mentoring programs for blind youth between the ages of sixteen and twenty-six. In the NFB we have always known the value of mentoring. This grant allowed us to formalize programs and to demonstrate through research the power of connecting blind youth with positive blind adult role models as mentors. Our goal through this program is to increase mentees' knowledge and participation in the vocational rehabilitation process, with a resulting outcome of postsecondary academic success, high-quality employment, and community integration.

The first year of the grant was spent developing the program as a whole and getting two states ready for their first mentoring groups. The NFB Jernigan Institute worked with the state affiliates to form partnerships with the state agencies for the blind. The Louisiana Bridges Mentoring Program and Nebraskans Empowering the Blind (NEB) started out as pilot programs with their first groups of mentoring pairs. After the second year of the grant, another group of mentoring pairs was established in each participating state. In 2007 the Georgians Empowered through Mentoring Success (GEMS), Ohio Mentoring Program, Texas CHANGE (Connections Helping Another Navigate and Gain Excellence) Program, and Utah Network for Mentoring Excellence (UNME) were established. Throughout the past five years we have connected 138 blind youth with positive blind adult role models.

Mentees are connected with mentors who have good blindness skills, are successful in their chosen careers, and have a positive philosophy about blindness. For two years each pair communicates via telephone, instant messaging, and email, as well as in face-to-face meetings and quarterly group activities. Due to travel distances and the lack of public transportation, some pairs were unable to have face-to-face time together. However, they compensated through other means. Several mentors learned to use social media sources such as Facebook to communicate with their mentees in a method with which they are familiar.

Daniel Martinez lives in Brownsville, Texas, and his mentor, Ryan Strunk, lives hundreds of miles away in Austin. They connect through phone conversations. Daniel is in his first semester at the University of Texas in Brownsville, and Ryan has given him advice on how to manage a reader for his math class. "It's great to have a personal advisor," Daniel says. Another mentoring pair knew they wouldn't be able to meet as often as they liked. They read a book together, choosing one that they both would enjoy. As they discussed the book over the phone they learned a lot about each other.

The pairs that were able to meet one-on-one shared a variety of activities. These activities helped mentors and mentees grow in their relationship and helped the mentees develop more positive attitudes about blindness. Mentoring pairs went hiking, picked strawberries, learned to apply makeup, baked cookies, attended plays and movies, shopped, or simply hung out and talked.

These formal mentoring programs are structured with quarterly group activities designed to help get the mentors and mentees together. These gatherings also allow the mentees to realize and achieve their goals. Each state coordinator plans activities that are in keeping with the goals of the program. The Ohio Mentoring Program arranged for mentors and mentees to cook together and hold a progressive dinner. The Texas CHANGE Program held one of its activities at a resort where mentees learned to surf and build sand castles. UNME mentors and mentees participated in a Meet-the-Blind Month activity at the Gateway Mall in Salt Lake City. During this activity, mentors taught travel skills to mentees as they conducted a scavenger hunt. The mentees also educated the public about blindness by handing out brochures. Georgia mentoring pairs recently had an activity on a farm. Mentors and mentees explored the farm, rode four-wheelers, went horseback riding, and grilled steaks. Louisiana mentors and mentees went to a Cajun festival together and worked on navigating in crowds. This experience showed the mentees that they could attend such an event independently and have fun. Daphne Mitchell, the Louisiana state coordinator, reported, "It really stretched their confidence and showed them that the adaptive techniques we had been teaching them really work."

In March 2009, mentors and mentees from each of the participating states came to the NFB Jernigan Institute in Baltimore for Future Quest, a weekend seminar. Led by staff on the education team, Future Quest included activities and workshops on topics such as interviewing skills and self-advocacy. Students participated in mock interviews and listened to job panels composed of blind professionals from a number of careers. The seminar culminated with an evening social activity, organized by the mentees and their mentors.

All of these mentoring activities, like the experience with the ropes course, have moved the youth beyond their comfort zones and pushed them to challenge themselves. These experiences have also helped the mentees build a network of blind role models whom they can call on when they run into blindness-related issues. Texas mentee Daniel Martinez comments, "In the mentoring program I have not only gained one mentor, I've gained many of them."

The mentoring program has helped prove the value of having blind individuals mentor one another. The blind youth who participated over the past two years have benefited greatly from working with their mentors. "What I've learned from Tina is to keep going and to have confidence in myself," says Kayla Weathers of Georgia. Olivia Walter of Ohio talks about her mentor and how she learned about problem solving, "[My mentor has] taught me that there are always more than five ways to do things. If one way doesn't work, then keep looking."

The key to the success of these mentoring programs is the fact that blind people learn best to deal with blindness from their exposure to other blind people. In the NCME programs all of the mentors are blind. Texas mentor Ryan Strunk explains that blind youth do their best to adjust to their blindness, but seldom are they exposed to good blind adult role models. "They're smart and they're talented and they have an idea of what they want to do," he says of the mentees, "but because of their blindness, they have no idea how to do it." Jason Souvannarath, a mentee from Utah, said of his mentor, "He's been through the ropes. He knows how it feels."

Words only begin to describe the benefit of connecting blind youth with blind mentors. The NFB Jernigan Institute created a video that shows what the mentoring program has done in the lives of the participants. The video is called "Walking the Walk: The NFB Mentorship Advantage." It can be found at <www.nfb.org/mentoring>. We encourage you to get your child connected with a blind role model who has a positive attitude about blindness.

Although the grant from the Department of Education has ended, the participating state affiliates plan to continue their programs. Other NFB affiliates are making efforts to integrate mentoring into youth programs in their states. By linking blind youth with blind adult role models, we can enable young people to achieve higher goals than they ever dreamed possible.

 

A LIFE IN THE STEP PROGRAM AT THE LOUISIANA CENTER FOR THE BLIND

by Emily Weidner

From the Editor: Last summer seventeen-year-old Emily Weidner attended the teen program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Here she shares her thoughts about her experience.

I've been blind since I was nine years old. Thankfully, I learned at that age to accept the fact I was blind and get on with my life. Since then, I have always been a fighter when it comes to my independence at home, at school, and in my community. Before I attended the Summer Training and Employment Project (STEP) at the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB) in Ruston, I was proud of my existing abilities. I thought I was an excellent Braille reader, especially since I only started learning when I was nine. I thought I had a good knowledge of assistive technology. I even believed my daily living skills and orientation and mobility (O&M) skills were pretty good. After a while, however, I felt that these skills could use a little improvement. In December 2008 I applied to attend the STEP program that the LCB hosts every summer for blind high school students.

The first four and a half weeks of the program consisted of training in skills of blindness, which, of course, focused on Braille, cane travel, computer literacy, and daily living skills. My counselors were awesome. I've known dedicated teachers, but my instructors from the STEP program were more than dedicated to helping the eight of us in the program become high-achieving high school students. In short, they loved their work!

In Braille class, we spent the first half of each two-hour period reading silently and then aloud. The second half of the class period was devoted to writing with the slate and stylus. In the adult program, STEP, and the Buddy Program, everyone at the LCB learns the slate and stylus first. This is a good strategy if you're just learning to write Braille. Whenever there was Braille paper lying around I would slate to no end. This made my Braille instructor very excited. For a couple of days before we left to attend the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Detroit, Michigan, a few of us wanted to learn Braille music, but unfortunately we didn't get very far on that.

I really needed to work hard in travel class. My O&M skills had been slipping and needed major improvement. My instructor spent the first week showing me routes to the center from the apartments where we stayed. In the middle of the second week, however, I had to switch travel instructors since my schedule had changed a bit. This change meant I would have a new route every other day. I learned to find businesses using the address system, and how to travel across parking lots and driveways. The third week was a challenge for me because my travel instructor thought I was ready for independent routes. He thought I could handle a route without having him tell me anything except where he wanted me to go. I learned that it was okay to get lost and to ask for directions.

In my home economics class, I was exposed to numerous cooking opportunities. On my very first day of training, my classmate and I were sent out grocery shopping. It was the first time I went grocery shopping with an assistive shopper. The following day the fun began in the kitchen. My first cooking project was making blueberry muffins. Of course, when it's your first time doing something like that, you're going to make a mistake or two and spill here and there. I learned to clean up the mess and get on with the project.

In my computer classes I was given several research assignments. Normally I got frustrated with research of any sort, but my class assignments were intriguing. I planned a dream vacation and researched three of the colleges I would like to attend. The assignment was more of a delight than a chore. I was also exposed to a cell phone with TALKS, a mobile screen-reading software. It was pretty awesome. The phone also had a knfbReader Mobile installed, which I found to be rather neat. My instructor showed me a Victor Reader Stream, which I found much easier to navigate than the Victor CD players. I love technology, and this class showed me more of the things out there to help a blind student.

During the last three weeks of the program all of us students worked at local businesses in Ruston. I had the pleasure of working at a daycare center, where I was surrounded with four to twelve kids a day. My fellow STEP students often asked me why I never pulled my hair out dealing with so many children. I always responded that I have that many nieces and nephews so there was nothing I couldn't handle. The kids I worked with were amazing and adorable. Given the chance to work at the daycare center again, I would do it without any hesitation.

Now that I'm home, I feel more confident in my abilities. Before I attended STEP my family was slightly hesitant about letting me do certain things. Now everyone almost always lets me loose to do what I need to be doing. Every time I ring the silver Freedom Bell that I received at my graduation from the STEP program, the sound is more than just a ring. It is a sound of freedom and independence that all blind people should know.

 

TOUCH, PICK UP, AND TINKER

From the Editor: This article is part of a new series in Future Reflections that highlights blind-friendly museums, historical sites, and other places to visit.  If you would like to write about a place your blind child or student has enjoyed, please contact the editor at <dkent5817@worldnet.att.net>.

Exploratorium: The Museum of Science, Art, and Human Perception
3601 Lyon St.
San Francisco, CA 94123
(415) 561-0360
Open Tuesday-Sunday 10 AM to 5 PM

All too often, blind children experience museums as rows of blank glass cases or a phalanx of wooden barricades. Even when objects stand invitingly out in the open, some zealous security guard is likely to swoop down with the ringing edict, "Don't touch!" San Francisco's Exploratorium embraces a refreshingly different approach. Its mission statement explains that visitors are welcome to "touch, pick up, and tinker with hundreds of exhibits."

The Exploratorium was founded in 1969 by Dr. Frank Oppenheimer, a physicist who believed that learning occurs best through direct experience. Housed in the Palace of Fine Arts and several adjacent buildings, the Exploratorium contains more than four hundred hands-on exhibits. Exhibits allow visitors to explore aspects of physics, perception, the life sciences, and much more.

The laws of physics come to life in intriguing ways. Sift iron filings through tiny holes in a curved pipe. By directing the flow you can form bridges, canyons, and delicate spires. Balance a ball atop a rising jet of air. Discover how sound is conducted when you talk against a giant balloon. Find out what happens when you divert the flow of water with boards and stones. Experiment with magnets, pendulums, and interlocking gears. Build a structure with tessellated decahedrons. Don't know what those are? Well, they have lots of sides, and you can fit them together in amazing ways!

A series of exhibits on the human mind teaches visitors about the senses. You can check your hearing and challenge yourself to sort through a medley of conversations that bombard you through a headset. Test the lightness of your tread--can you walk across a crunchy patch of gravel without making a sound? Learn about patterns of communication as you listen to a series of taped conversations between couples trying to resolve conflicts.

A unique feature of the Exploratorium is the Tactile Dome, a maze that visitors navigate in pitch darkness. Hanging from the walls and ceiling are a host of objects that can be identified by touch. Though blind visitors may be rather unimpressed, sighted friends and family may enjoy and learn from the experience. Tours of the Tactile Dome require advance reservations.

Whatever your age or background, the Exploratorium will spark your curiosity and your sense of wonder. Kids and adults can easily spend hours roving from one exhibit to another, then returning to their favorites for another try. In the summer of 2010 the museum plans to open a new section, the Geometry Playground. Whatever it is, it's bound to be interesting!

 

CHRISTMAS SHOPPING FOR MY FAMILY

by Ana Gschwend

From the Editor: Seventeen-year-old Ana Gschwend lives in Manitoba, Canada. Her mother is a long-time subscriber to Future Reflections, and Ana has contributed several articles to the magazine over the years. Here she recounts her first experience of Christmas shopping without the help of a family member.

The holiday season brings loads of fun and joy, as well as a list of duties that need to be performed. Presents must be bought, trees decorated, treats baked, and stockings stuffed. Blind children should not be excluded from helping out with holiday-related tasks at home and at school. They can help decorate the tree, bake cookies, make crafts items, and carry out just about any other holiday chore.

I have always loved every part of the holiday season. In the days when I still had light perception I loved to see the pretty lights shining from the Christmas trees in the windows of houses in our neighborhood. At home I would look at the lights as I sat near the Christmas tree. Sometimes I'd hold a light close to my face so I could feel its warmth and see its glow.

Last year, for the first time, I did all of my own Christmas shopping and bought presents for my family with my own money. I will do the same thing again this year. It is my way of sharing and giving something back to people I love.

On Wednesday, November 12, 2008, I called the St. Vital Shopping Center near my home and asked for shopping assistance later in the month. I heard about St. Vital's shopping assistance program through an email advertisement, and I jumped at the opportunity to shop without the help of a family member. The woman who took my call was the customer service supervisor. After taking down my name and phone number she set up a date and time with me to go to the mall. I was scheduled to do my shopping on the twenty-second of November.

I had recently won two hundred dollars in a writing contest, and I decided to use the money to buy Christmas gifts. On the morning of the twenty-second I hopped into my mom's car and she dropped me off at the mall's customer service center. It turned out that the woman who took my phone call was the one who would help me with my shopping.

Earlier I had asked everyone in my family what they wanted, so I had mental notes of their wishes. Armed with this information, we set off. I bought a recording of "The Sound of Music" for a blind friend of mine who is a big fan of that musical. I bought some bottles of skin cream for my mom and her sister and some warm thermal socks for my brother. He spends lots of time in cold conditions at work. (Winters on the Canadian prairies are really cold!) I bought warm gloves for one of my cousins and thermal socks for his brother. For my mom I also bought a gift certificate to a music store, but unfortunately I lost it. I had some money left over so I decided to treat myself. I bought two big bags of popcorn and some other junk foods that I love. We finished all of my shopping in two hours. Bags in hand, I met mom back at the customer service counter. We drove home together and I hid my family's presents safely away.

My shopping expedition was well worth the effort. My family happily accepted the gifts and everyone thanked me for them. My friend loved the CD I bought her. It felt good to make my family and friend happy.

This year I won one hundred dollars in the same writing contest. (Last year I came in first, and this year I won third prize.) Again I will use my prize money for my Christmas shopping. I look forward to buying gifts for my family once again. I hope they'll like my choices as much as they did last year.

The holiday season is a time for everyone. Everyone has some sort of role to play. I encourage you to include your blind children in all of the fun and festivities.

Happy holidays to you and yours!

 

ANNOUNCEMENTS

Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest
Sponsored by the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB), the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), and the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute
<www.nfb.org/BRAL>
(410) 659-9314, Ext. 2510
BrailleReadersAreLeaders@nfb.org

Contest Dates: November 1, 2009 to January 4, 2010 (Louis Braille's birth date)
Deadline for Registration Forms, Entry Forms, and Reading Lists: January 22, 2010

Blind and visually impaired students who read Braille and are enrolled in kindergarten through grade 12 are invited to compete for cash prizes and more in the 27th annual Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. All students who register by December 1 will receive a contest T-shirt.

To take part in the contest, a student counts the number of Braille pages read during the period from November 1, 2009, through January 4, 2010. A parent, teacher, or librarian must serve as a certifying authority. Students who join the contest after the opening date may count pages read on and after November 1. Prizes are awarded in the following categories: grades K-1, 2-3, 4-5, 6-8, 9-12, and Most Improved. Additional prizes are awarded to dual print/Braille readers, delayed Braille readers, and students who use Braille to help them perform a community service. Twelve contestants will win a trip to the 2010 NFB national convention in Dallas, Texas, to be held July 2-9.

REGISTRATION FORM (CHILD)
Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest 2009-2010

Fax: (410) 659-5129, email: BrailleReadersAreLeaders@nfb.org, or mail to: National Federation of the Blind, Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest, 200 East Wells Street, Baltimore, MD 21230

Deadline: Friday, January 22, 2010

CONTESTANT
Last Name _____________________________ First Name _____________________________
DOB _____/ _____/ _______ (MM/DD/YYYY)                                Grade _________________
Parent(s) Name _______________________________________________________________
Address ______________________________________________________________________
City ______________________________ State __________________ ZIP ______________
Phone ___________________________ Email ______________________________________

CERTIFYING AUTHORITY
(Teachers, librarians, and parents may serve as certifying authorities.)
Name _______________________________________________________________________
Address _____________________________________________________________________
City ___________________________ State _______________________ ZIP ______________
Position:           Parent               Teacher                   Librarian                  Other ___________________
Preferred Contact Type:
 Phone ___________________________    Email _________________________________

Please send certificate, ribbon, and other awards or prizes to:      
 STUDENT at home address            
 CERTIFYING AUTHORITY

 This student is a dual print-Braille or a former print reader.
If you checked the box above, then please list the approximate date or grade in which the student began to learn Braille and use Braille.
Began to learn Braille _______________
Began to use Braille for reading _______________________
Comments ___________________________________________________________________

This student attends:
 Public school             Private school            Homeschool            
 A specialized school for the blind
School Name __________________________________________________________________
School City __________________________________ School State ____________________
Superintendent/Principal ______________________________________________________

This year, EVERY participant who registers in advance for the contest will get a T-shirt!
What T-shirt size is required?  Child Medium (10-12)                    Child Large (14-16)
             Adult Medium (38-40)          Adult Large (42-44)              Adult Extra Large (46+)

Twelve students will win an 8-day, 7-night trip for themselves and a parent or other adult chaperone to attend the 2010 NFB National Convention in Dallas, Texas, from July 2-9, 2010. More information is available at www.nfb.org/BRAL.
Will the student be competing for a trip to the NFB National Convention?            Yes    No

The Braille Leaders Community Service Awards recognize the efforts of students in grades 6-12 who have read a minimum of 500 Braille pages.  The application and requirements can be found on the main Braille Readers Are Leaders page at www.nfb.org/BRAL.
Are you submitting a Braille Leaders Community Service Awards application?    Yes    No 

The Twin Vision® Awards have been established to recognize the efforts of students who are former print readers or use some combination of print and Braille in their academic and/or leisure reading activities.
Are you submitting a Twin Vision® Awards application?     Yes    No

The 2010 Jennifer Baker Awards have been established to recognize the efforts of delayed Braille readers or other students who have additional disabilities or have overcome other obstacles to achieve Braille literacy. The application and requirements are enclosed and can be found on the main Braille Readers Are Leaders page at www.nfb.org/BRAL.
Are you submitting a 2010 Jennifer Baker Awards application?     Yes    No 

The 2009-2010 Braille Readers Are Leaders Competition features a Team of the Year Award.  This award is given to the team that demonstrates the best combination of pages read and team spirit.  A team may consist of as many as five and as few as two participants.  The application and requirements can be found on the main Braille Readers Are Leaders page at www.nfb.org/BRAL.
Are you submitting a Team of the Year award application?              Yes    No

Please note that if you choose to use the electronic version of the form for your reading list submission, you must use the sheet provided on the Braille Readers Are Leaders main page. Please email the completed form to BrailleReadersAreLeaders@nfb.org.
____________________

2010 Youth Writing Contest
Sponsored by the Writers' Division of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB)
Contest Deadline: Entries may be submitted between January 1 and April 1, 2010.
Categories: Poetry and Fiction
Prizes: Up to $25 cash and publication in the Writers' Division newsletter, Slate and Style.

For contest details and submission guidelines, visit the Writers' Division Website, <www.nfb-writers-division.org>.

____________________

Liberate Us Video Library Project
ATTN: Grace Tiscareño-Sato
22539 Cisneros Drive
Hayward, CA 94541
grace@liberate-us.org

Two mothers from the San Francisco Bay area have launched an exciting project to promote positive images of blind children and adults. If you have short home videos of your blind child reading Braille, playing the flute, wrestling with siblings, climbing a tree, or engaged in any other activity, ordinary or extraordinary, please submit them for inclusion in the Liberate Us Library. Other ideas for videos to share include public speaking, independent mobility, sports and recreation, or a performance. (Blind adults are invited to submit videos too.)

The collection of videos will become a YouTube channel, taking advantage of a vital communications medium used by millions of people worldwide. Liberate Us will orchestrate a national media outreach campaign to share the video collection so that positive images hit the airwaves while they also are spread online.

Here's your chance to participate in an initiative that can truly break down stereotypes and show the public how real blind people go about their lives. Liberate Us is seeking funding from foundations to produce personal success stories professionally in video, audio, and written formats. Having video examples as a YouTube channel is a critical step in the grant-writing process. Your videos will be instrumental in the awareness campaign and inspirational to families of young blind children. Please join in.

Step One: Upload a one- to three-minute video clip that supports this awareness message at <www.youtube.com>. Here are two sample videos: <www.youtube.com/watch?v=YntKTaa3ciw> and <www.youtube.com/watch?v=JL0d6J0gxl0>. Once your video is uploaded, copy the unique URL in your browser window and continue.

Step Two: Go to <www.babymilagro.org>. Find the "tell us your story" box and describe the video clip--the person, the event, and anything else you want the audience to know. Paste in the unique URL to your YouTube video with your story and send it.

That's it. You can also burn videos to a CD and mail them to the address above. A longer article about this project is posted at <www.liberate-us.org>.

____________________

Junior Science Academy 2010
Sponsored by the National Center for Blind Youth in Science (NCBYS)
<www.blindscience.org>
(410) 659-9314, Ext. 2407
Contact: Mary Jo Hartle: mhartle@nfb.org

The Junior Science Academy is a four-day program of field trips and hands-on activities to spark students' interest in the physical and earth sciences. Students will learn about alternative techniques that can make science and math more accessible and more fun. In addition, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) will sponsor a series of workshops for parents and guardians who accompany participating students.

The program is open to blind and low-vision children ages eight to twelve who are in grades 3-6. Fifteen applicants will be accepted for each of the Academy's two sessions. The sessions will be held at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore, MD, July 28-August 1 and August 4-8. The program will begin to accept applications in November 2009.

____________________

Requiem for the Ziegler

At a time when reading material in Braille was woefully scarce and libraries for the blind were virtually nonexistent, the Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind began publication in March 1907. Produced in Braille and sent free of charge to subscribers around the world, the "Ziegler," as it was affectionately called, was a monthly potpourri of general-interest articles from a wide variety of print publications. It also included columns of news and views on blindness-related topics. In its early decades the Ziegler was among the few information resources available to Braille readers. (Eventually the magazine was also produced in a recorded format.)

Today Braille readers have a vast array of resources at their fingertips. The Ziegler has fulfilled its purpose. Without fanfare the magazine ceases publication of its Braille and recorded versions in November 2009. It will continue in a new incarnation online. (See Odds and Ends.) Thank you to the dedicated founders, supporters, and editors of the Matilda Ziegler Magazine, who helped the blind community take its first crucial steps toward the Age of Information.

 

ODDS AND ENDS

Braille Books

With the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest in full swing, it can be a challenge to keep up with kids' hunger for fresh reading material. Braille books also make great holiday gifts, and several sources offer books for purchase or free of charge. Here is a list of resources.

American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults: Kenneth Jernigan Library for Blind Children, 18440 Oxnard St., Tarzana, CA 91356; (818) 343-2022; <www.actionfund.org>--The Kenneth Jernigan Library lends books from its Twin Vision collection free of charge to individuals and schools. The books contain Braille pages bound between the pages of the original print book.

American Action Fund Free Braille Books Program: 1800 Johnson St., Baltimore, MD 21230; (410) 659-9314, Ext. 2361; action@actionfund.org; <www.actionfund.org>--This program provides titles in popular children's series free of charge to schools and individuals. Books are mailed out monthly so that blind children can have them at the same time they appear in the bookstores.

American Printing House for the Blind: 1839 Frankfort Ave., Louisville, KY 40206; (800) 223-1839; info@aph.org; <www.aph.org>--The American Printing House (APH) offers a variety of Braille and print/Braille titles for purchase. Books in the On the Way to Literacy series are print/Braille titles with tactile illustrations.

Braille Institute of America, Inc.: 741 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90029; (323) 906-3104 or (800) 272-4553; ums@brailleinstitute.org; <www.brailleinstitute.org/childrens_books>--The Braille Special Collection includes some 1,100 titles for children at all grade levels. Any blind child in the US or Canada can receive books free of charge. Additional titles are available for purchase.

Braille International, Inc.: 3290 S. E. Slater St., Stuart, FL 34997; (772) 286-8366; molly@brailleintl.org; <www.brailleintl.org>--Braille International has an extensive online bookstore with fiction and nonfiction titles for children from preschool through grade 8. A few Spanish-language titles are available.

Future Aids, The Braille Superstore: (800) 987-1231; <www.BrailleBookstore.com>--Among the numerous departments at Future Aids is the Braille Bookstore, which offers both Braille only and "Text/Braille" titles for children. Designed to help parents and teachers who are not fluent in Braille, Text/Braille books have print text on the left-hand page and the accompanying Braille text on the right.

National Braille Press: 88 St. Stephen St., Boston, MA 02115; (800) 548-7323; <www.nbp.org>--Most titles in NBP's catalogue can be purchased in hard copy or electronic Braille "PortaBook" formats. NBP also hosts the Print/Braille Children's Book Club, offering a new title for purchase each month. Each book is sold at the same price as the print edition.

National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped: <www.loc.gov/nls>--With tens of thousands of titles in its collection, NLS has by far the most extensive library of Braille books in the United States. Books can be borrowed in hard copy Braille or downloaded as e-books through the WebBraille program. Visit the Website to locate your nearest regional library or to search the database by author, title, or subject. In addition to books, NLS offers the following Braille magazines for children and teens: Boys' Life, Muse, Seventeen, Spider, and Stone Soup.

Seedlings Braille Books for Children: P.O. Box 51924, Livonia, MI 48151-5924; (734) 427-8552 or (800) 777-8552; info@seedlings.org; <www.seedlings.org>--Seedlings offers more than one thousand reasonably-priced Braille children's books for preschoolers through teens. The Book Angel Program for VI Children allows readers to receive two books per year free of charge. The Rose Project provides Braille copies of articles from the World Book Encyclopedia on request.

Seeing Hands: P.O. Box 46374, Minneapolis, MN 55446; info@seeinghands.org; (763) 404-2675; <www.seeinghands.org>--Seeing Hands is a free lending library of print/Braille titles for children ages four to ten.

Volunteer Braillists and Tapists, Inc.: 517 N. Segoe Rd., No. 200, Madison, WI 53705; (608) 233-0222; office.vbti@tdsnet; <www.vbti.org>--VBTI maintains a lending library of some two thousand Braille titles for children and adults. Most library books are also available for purchase. The organization provides transcription services and will transcribe everything from textbooks to knitting patterns and crossword puzzles.

Toys and Games

Toy Ideas from NOPBC: <www.nfb.org/nfb/NOPBC_Toys_for_Blind_Kids.asp>--This Webpage, compiled by parents of blind children, lists commercially available toys that can be enjoyed by kids from preschool through the school-age years.

 2009 Toys"R"Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids: <www.toysrus.com/category/index.jsp?categoryId=2257808>--This catalogue, updated annually, is available online and is free of charge at all Toys"R"Us and Kids"R"Us stores. The catalogue is not arranged on the basis of specific disabilities; rather, it emphasizes particular skill sets and/or areas of strength. Categories include auditory, creativity, fine motor, gross motor, language, tactile, and more. Within each category you can search by age and gender.

The Braille Caravan: Available from National Braille Press, <www.nbp.org> or Creative Adaptations for Learning, <www.cal-s.org>--The Braille Caravan is a set of thirty plastic blocks, each with moveable pins that can form any Braille letter or contraction. Blocks can be arranged to form words or phrases. This is a great tool for the beginning Braille reader.

Celebrating Louis

Louis Braille on Tour: <www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/louis/louis_tour.html>--With the help of biographer Michael Mellor, National Braille Press has compiled a traveling exhibit on the life and work of Louis Braille. The touring schedule can be found on the Website. The site provides descriptions of ten of the twenty panels in the exhibit, and gives biographical information drawn from Mellor's book A Touch of Genius.

Louis Braille Postage Stamps: <www.blindianastamps.com>--The year 2009, the two hundredth anniversary of Louis Braille's birth, has been marked by celebrations around the world. Since January 4, Louis Braille's birthday, more than forty nations have issued postage stamps to honor the inventor and his reading system. The Louis Braille stamps are all on view at this unique Website, along with brief descriptions and ordering information. This site is a comprehensive source of information on stamps relating to blindness that have been issued from 1916 to the present. Areas of interest include education of the blind, the blind in art, mobility, and notable blind and visually impaired persons. The site represents the dedicated efforts of Ken Stuckey, former librarian at the Perkins School for the Blind, and Gunilla Stenberg Stuckey, former director of the Tomteboda School in Stockholm, Sweden.

Tactile Graphics

Noah's Ark: <www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/support/highlights.html?id=mLpPq5EV#27>--Just in time for the holidays, National Braille Press has issued a storybook about Noah's Ark with a set of twelve tactile illustrations by renowned artist Ann Cunningham. The Noah's Ark set comes in three parts: a print/Braille book by Caldecott Award winner Jerry Pinkney, a booklet called Fun Facts about Noah's Ark, and Cunningham's original pictures bound with metal rings. Simple yet full of intriguing detail, the pictures are reproduced on sheets of durable plastic. Kids can meet Noah, with his beard, sandals, and flowing robes; explore the Ark from bow to stern; and discover a host of animals two by two, from elephants to dragonflies.

Illustrated Christian Literature: Assembly of God Center for the Blind, 1445 N. Boonville Ave., Springfield, MO 65802; (417) 831-1964; blind@ag.org--This organization maintains a free lending library of Christian titles and also offers a variety of books for sale. Many titles include tactile illustrations created on standard Braille paper with the Tiger Embosser. Among the illustrated offerings are the seven titles in the ever-popular Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis.

The T-Map Project: (415) 694-7363; <www.lighthouse-sf.org/services/vlrc/tmap.php>--Also using Tiger Embosser technology are maps from the T-Map Project of the San Francisco Lighthouse. The program creates tactile maps based on nearly any street address in the US. The address is marked by a small circle at the center of the map, which covers the streets in the surrounding square mile. Street names are given in the accompanying key. The maps are free to California residents and cost $15 apiece to persons outside the state.

Tactile Adaptations Kit: MDW Educational Services, LLC, 1115 Inman Ave., Suite 116, Edison, NJ 08820; (908) 565-1802; MDWEducationalServices@gmail.com; <http://dswinograd.web.officelive.com/tactileadaptationskit.aspx>--This kit is designed to help teachers and parents create tactile graphics for blind students and sighted children who learn best in a multisensory environment. The kit contains a magnetic dry erase board and a variety of materials for making pictures. Materials include glue sticks, textured dots, magnet-backed felt and foam, and magnetic print and Braille letters. A booklet presents ways the kit can be used and suggests adaptations for teaching difficult concepts.

Music

National Resource Center for Blind Musicians: Music and Arts Center for Humanity, 510 Barnum Ave., Bridgeport, CT 06608; (203) 366-3300; info@blindmusicstudent.org; <www.blindmusicstudent.org>--The National Resource Center for Blind Musicians maintains a comprehensive Website whose purpose is to acquaint students and teachers with materials and strategies that have been developed to give blind and visually impaired people equal opportunities for the learning of music. It provides a wide variety of links to music-related services through other organizations. Callers may be referred to individuals with expertise in a given area.

Opus Technologies: 13333 Thunderhead St., San Diego, CA 92129; (866) 678-7832; (858) 538-9401; opus@opustec.com; <www.opustec.com>--Established in 1992, Opus Technologies develops and sells software as well as print and Braille materials for the learning and use of Braille music. Publications include How to Read Braille Music, Second Edition, by Betty Krolick, in print, Braille, and CD-ROM formats; Music Braille Code, 1997, in print and Braille; New International Manual of Braille Music Notation, in print and Braille and on CD-ROM; and Music Literacy: Its Role in the Education of the Blind, by Sylvia Clark, a historical view of music notation systems for the blind used in Europe and the US, available in print only.

News and Information

Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind: <www.matildaziegler.com>--In its new incarnation, the Matilda Ziegler Magazine is an online source of blindness-related information. RSS news feeds are archived and are updated daily. The site also provides extensive listings of products, services, and organizations.

New Book

Listening to the Children: Testimonies from the World's Blind and Partially Sighted Teenagers is available as a free PDF download at <www.once.es/new/Onceinternacional/0_pruebaonceint/listening-to-the-children-book>. The book is edited by Ana Pelaez Narvaez of ONCE, Spain's organization of the blind, under the auspices of the World Blind Union. Versions are available in both English and Spanish. Gathered here are personal essays by blind teens from the developing nations as well as the industrialized world. The teens write frankly about their struggles, disappointments, triumphs, and aspirations.

Advocacy

IDEA Information: <http://idea.ed.gov/explore/home>--This Website, sponsored by the US Department of Education, provides a wealth of information about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Topic areas include early intervening services, the Individualized Education Program (IEP), the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS), and much more. Videos and podcasts explain complex regulations in user-friendly, practical terms.

Pop-up IEP for Parents/Advocates: <www.unco.edu/ncssd/bviIEP/index.shtml>--Designed by the National Center on Low-Incidence Disabilities of the University of Northern Colorado in partnership with the NOPBC, this Website is intended to help parents advocate for blind and visually impaired children in the IEP process. The site includes a list of sixteen arguments often posed by school personnel, followed by reasonable and persuasive responses.