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 2 Summer 2009
Deborah Kent Stein, Editor
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
www.nfb.org/nopbc • [email protected] • [email protected]
Volume 28 Number 2 Summer 2009
A Letter from the Editor
by Deborah Kent Stein
The Way It All Began: Building a Magazine for Parents and Teachers of Blind Children
A New Model of Education for Blind and Low Vision Students
by Dr. Denise Robinson
Celebrations: A Year in the Life of My Resource Room
by Gloria Moyer
My Canadian Education Experience
by Ana Gschwend
The Blind Child and Its Development
by Kate M. Foley
Enriching Your Child's Life with Foreign-Language Braille
by Dr. Eric Vasiliauskas
What Braille Means to Me
by Lindsay Upschulte
Beginnings and Blueprints
by Mary Jo Thorpe-Hartle
Sleep Baby, Sleep
by Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway
Music to Teach By
by Amber Bobnar
The Girl at Disney World
by Kim Cunningham
by Sean M. Whalen
Dating and Marriage
by Doris Willoughby
Music, Music, Music!
What We Did Last Summer
by Kim Cunningham
Empowerment through Knowledge: A Review of Courses for Parents of Blind Children
from Hadley School for the Blind
by Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway
Welcome to the New NOPBC Board!
Braille Readers Are Leaders! Winners of the 2008-09 Contest
ODDS AND ENDS
Proof Coin: $41.95
Uncirculated Coin: $33.95
Visit <www.usmint.gov> or call 1-800-USA-mint
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>.
For thousands of parents and friends of blind children, PARENT POWER means membership in the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. The NOPBC is a national membership organization that provides vital support, encouragement, training, and information about blindness to members and to the broader community. As an affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind, the NOPBC is a bridge that connects families to blind role models and mentors. NOPBC is also a vehicle for expanding resources for parents, changing public attitudes about blindness, and creating greater opportunities for blind and visually impaired kids everywhere. Your NOPBC membership matters. NOPBC is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.
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by Deborah Kent Stein
As many of you know by now, Future Reflections editor Barbara Cheadle retired on May 1, 2009. She was with the magazine since its inception almost twenty-eight years ago. She brought it into the world, nursed it through its infancy, and helped it grow and thrive for nearly three decades. Under her leadership Future Reflections has become a unique and invaluable resource for parents and teachers of blind children, promoting the positive philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. I feel honored, excited, and a bit daunted to have been asked to serve as the new editor of Future Reflections. I hope to maintain the high standard Barbara established, and to help the magazine meet the ever-changing needs of today’s parents and teachers.
I would like to take this opportunity to tell you a bit about myself. I have been totally blind since birth. I grew up in New Jersey, where I began my education in a resource room and was later fully mainstreamed. I earned a BA in English from Oberlin College and a master’s degree from Smith College School for Social Work. For four years I worked in community mental health at University Settlement House on New York City’s Lower East Side. I then moved to the town of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico and embarked on a new career as a writer of books for young readers. My first novel, Belonging, was published by Dial Press in 1978. It draws upon my experiences as a blind student in a regular high school. Writing as Deborah Kent I have published nearly two dozen young-adult novels and many nonfiction titles, mostly on topics in US history. Since 1983 I have lived in Chicago with my husband, Dick Stein, also a writer of children’s books. We have one daughter, Janna, age twenty-five, who is currently teaching and thinking about going to graduate school.
For more than twenty years I have been an active Federationist in Illinois and in some of our efforts and programs on the national level as well. I feel that every aspect of the organization’s mission is vital, but my greatest passion is for our work to enhance the lives of blind children. I have served as NOPBC liaison in Illinois since 1991, advocating at IEP meetings, planning seminars, and providing resources for teachers and parents wherever I can.At NFB national conventions I have had the pleasure of meeting and learning from many teachers and parents from around the country. As editor of Future Reflections I look forward to widening and deepening my acquaintance with all of our readers. I welcome your ideas and questions. Especially I welcome your articles and news items for Future Reflections. Please feel free to contact me with your thoughts and suggestions. I believe the magazine should reflect the triumphs and concerns of parents and teachers, and should map a course toward the best possible future for today’s blind children.
In the late 1970s Barbara Cheadle was working as a rehabilitation counselor with the Nebraska Services for the Blind. She was also an active member of the NFB of Nebraska. Through her NFB involvement she helped to organize a seminar for parents of blind children in the state. By most standards the seminar was a success. The parents listened attentively, asked lots of questions, and carried away bags bulging with NFB literature. Nevertheless, Barbara felt depressed when the weekend was over. "I kept remembering the faces of some of those parents, so full of grief and bewilderment and fear," she recalls. "I knew that whatever positive things they took away from the seminar would be lost in the months and years ahead." She longed for a way to "sneak into their homes" and help them build an ongoing connection with the NFB and its positive message about blindness.
When their son John Earl was two, Barbara and John Cheadle decided to adopt a child from overseas. Eventually they adopted their son, Charles (Chaz), a blind child from Korea. During the adoption process Barbara discovered the strong, consumer-based network of support that existed for parents who adopted children from abroad. Local groups and national publications provided support and information at every stage of the adoption journey. Parents involved in international adoption belonged to an active, welcoming community that recognized their needs and valued their efforts. Barbara realized that the parents of blind children needed such a community too.
Shortly after Chaz joined their family the Cheadles moved to Missouri, where John took a position with the state rehabilitation agency. Again the Cheadles joined their state's NFB affiliate, this time as the parents of a blind child. Barbara connected with a group of blind adoptive parents led by Susan Ford. To help blind parents negotiate the adoption process, this group formed a committee under the auspices of the NFB, the Committee on Parental Concerns. The committee soon embraced other parenting issues as well as adoption; today it is the Blind Parents Group.
In the early 1980s the Committee on Parental Concerns was the only group within the NFB directly involved with parents and children. Although most of its members were the blind parents of sighted children, Barbara suggested that the committee launch a national newsletter for the parents of blind children. With the committee's unanimous support, she carried the idea to NFB President Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. "He told me to go for it," she says. "We had no guidance, no direction, and no money, but we were going to make it happen somehow."
The Committee on Parental Concerns found money for paper and printing, and the Missouri Affiliate helped to develop a database of subscribers. Barbara, who had experience editing the NFB state newsletter in Nebraska, became the new publication's editor. She and John stapled the first issue together on their dining room table. Called the National Federation of the Blind Newsletter for Parents of Blind Children, it bore a simple paper cover with the old NFB logo, a circle with the words "Security, Equality, and Opportunity" around the circumference, and at the center a triangle with the letters NFB. Below the title were the words "published by the National Federation of the Blind Committee on Parental Concerns." Volume 1, No. 1, of the newsletter appeared in October 1981, and went out to three hundred sixty-eight subscribers.
Clearly the publication needed a more attractive name, something around which it could build its unique identity. The Committee on Parental Concerns solicited ideas by holding a contest. The winning entry came from Dottie Neeley, a blind rehabilitation teacher from Missouri. The name popped into her head as she and another Federationist were driving with John Cheadle to attend a demonstration about issues in the Idaho State Vending Program. "I don't know exactly how I came up with the name," Dottie says. "I just thought, our children are our future reflections. In the future they'll reflect back who we are today and what we've managed to give them." The name Future Reflections appeared on the fifth issue of the newsletter, published in October-November 1982.
In 1983 Dr. Jernigan invited NFB leaders Susan Ford, Barbara Cheadle, Doris Willoughby, and Ramona Walhof to the National Center in Baltimore to plan the formation of the NFB Parents' Division. The Parents of Blind Children Division of the NFB (later renamed the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, or NOPBC) took over the publication of Future Reflections. The Committee on Parental Concerns fully supported the transition. It had launched the publication, and now passed it into loving hands.
At first finding good material for Future Reflections was a real challenge. The POBC transcribed speeches from state and national conventions. Much of the early material was written by leaders in the NFB, including Doris Willoughby, Ramona Walhof, John and Barbara Cheadle, and Dr. Jernigan. "Myths and Facts about Blindness" was a regular feature. Barbara wrote articles based on her interviews with successful blind adults and with parents of blind children. Many of the early issues also included an article on the medical aspects of eye conditions in children, contributed by a physician who was well-versed in the Federation's outlook. At first the master copy of each issue was produced by a typist. Production became computerized in 1985, shortly after the Cheadles moved to Baltimore. Barbara handled the layout herself, eventually learning to use a desktop publishing program. Future Reflections began to include photographs in 1998, and Barbara did all of the photo research. In the Summer-Fall 2002 issue, Future Reflections added the word "teachers" to the subtitle, and adopted the Whozit logo in its cover design. Three light-blue Whozits, a mother, father, and child, stride across the cover against a dark-blue background.
In 1993 Barbara compiled a special issue of Future Reflections to be sent to new parent contacts as part of an introductory packet of Federation literature. A special issue on early childhood, to be sent to parents of young blind children, was compiled in 2004. Other special issues have covered such topics as cane travel, Braille, and sports and recreation. Generally one issue each year contains reports and presentations from the annual NFB convention. Today Future Reflections goes out to some 14,000 subscribers in the United States and overseas. It is produced in print, cassette, and electronic versions. Most of the back issues are archived at <www.nfb.org/nfb/Future_Reflections.asp>.
Through nearly three decades Future Reflections has built a body of literature that serves as a resource for parents and teachers of blind children. It offers possibilities instead of gloom, a hopeful forecast instead of despair. "I think we give parents something they're really looking for," says Barbara Cheadle, gazing back over her long career as editor. "Sometimes mothers of young kids tell me they keep each new issue in the bathroom; that's the only place they can grab a few minutes alone to read it. But they're determined to read it through, and they figure out a way!"
By now the children whose parents pored over the early issues of Future Reflections have grown up. They are working, studying, and raising families of their own. As they find their way through the joys and pitfalls of life, they reflect the vision their families had for them as children. In the same way, tomorrow's blind adults are the future reflections of the world we imagine and work to build for them today.
by Dr. Denise M. Robinson, TVI, PhD
From the Editor: Dr. Denise Robinson is a dedicated teacher of blind and low vision students in central Washington. Over her long career she has shattered the low expectations which too many of her colleagues hold for blind students. In this article she describes her innovative program to help blind children achieve at the same level as their sighted peers.
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The present 80 percent illiteracy rate and 74 percent unemployment rate among blind adults should tell us we can do something better in the education of blind and low vision students. In this article I describe a program that is very different from the typical modes of instruction. I believe this approach may help reverse the current trend.
When I was twenty-four years old, both of my eyes hemorrhaged from diabetic retinopathy and I lost most of my sight. I had never talked with or even met another blind person until I went to school to learn blindness skills. Through many years of surgeries I regained a great deal of sight, but I grew to love and see the potential of Braille and technology. Consequently, in 1990 I enrolled in classes to become a teacher of the blind. My most impressive teacher was Mr. Lennox, who had been blind since birth. He taught college classes and also had a resource classroom for blind and low vision students in the Detroit suburbs. He showed me what blind and low vision students could do if they had the correct education. That education included daily living skills, Braille, orientation and mobility, and technology. Mr. Lennox believed in equipping students with all the tools they might need, and letting them discover what worked best for them. With all the skills at their disposal his students easily kept up with their sighted classmates.
I also met low vision students from other school districts who had no Braille or computer skills. They read slowly and laboriously, using CCTVs and enlarged print. I met totally blind students who read Braille, most with one hand, but had no computers, no way to produce work in print. Para-educators stuck to their sides all day long, "helping" them do their work. Some schools had computers with speech programs, but none of the teachers knew how to use them so no one learned on them.
After I received my bachelor's degree in December 1992 I set out to apply the lessons Mr. Lennox had taught me. I took a job as a teacher of the blind and visually impaired in Michigan. For five and a half years I taught Braille and technology as an itinerant teacher. To insure that my students were fully integrated into the mainstream classroom I also worked closely with their classroom teachers. I trained a para (paraprofessional educator) to adapt the students' worksheets and other materials. Each year I watched students learn and find success in their mainstream classes because of Braille and technology. With computer access my students printed out their work and handed it in with the rest of the class.
By the time I moved back to Washington, my home state, I had formed high expectations for blind students, and I was ready to implement the best practices I had discovered in Michigan. My caseload was small enough to allow me to work with each of my students every day. All of my students had low vision, and many of them had progressive eye conditions. I had two para-educators who learned Braille, and eventually we hired two more. I taught the new paras Braille and trained them in technology.
As needed I prepared the students for their classroom lessons. When they walked into class they functioned on their own. They read in Braille and used the computer to print out their assignments or to email their work to their teachers. Each year I watched new students begin at the bottom of their reading group and progress to the middle and even the top of their mainstreamed classes.
To instill a love of leisure reading, I focused on the students' interests. The younger ones were fascinated by magic, so Harry Potter became their best friend. The more they read, the more their reading speed and fluency increased. Students who did not read at home were much slower than their peers who read all the time.
My students spanned the full age spectrum. I had a six-month-old baby, several high school students, and a number of children in elementary and middle school. The earlier I began to teach them, the better the results. I started the baby on tactile and visual training. As time went on I let him play with a Brailler, slate and stylus, light box, and other tools. When he was three, I began formal Braille and technology training. He knew the Braille alphabet and dozens of contractions when he entered kindergarten, and could type on a computer keyboard. He was able to keep pace with his peers because of the early introduction of literacy.
Another child, who came to me when she was in kindergarten, was already behind her peers. She could only see large print and did not know the alphabet in print or Braille. With intensive Braille and technology instruction she slowly gained ground. Even with one-on-one instruction, however, she still needed a para when she was in the classroom to help her keep up with her lessons. By the end of the year, and with extended school year in place, she was at grade level. By the next fall she no longer needed a para in the room with her.
The later the child starts learning Braille, the harder it is for her to move from trying to do everything in large print. This is especially true for high school students. Even highly capable children and teens do not want to be different, although their classroom work is suffering badly. With intensive service they can eventually reach grade level. Once they get moving with Braille and computer speech software, they find they actually perform faster than their sighted peers.
The computer can lead to a breakthrough for high school students who no longer can use print. A student can learn the keyboard in about three days and master the basics of speech software in two weeks. By the third week he is back in the classroom on his own. For the next two months or so he may complain about how slow he is, but I let him know that his persistence will pay off. I refuse to let a para take notes for him or do his work. At the end of that two-month adjustment period he is working comfortably on his own. However, for these older students Braille is very slow in coming. Most middle-school students and high schoolers take up to two years to learn Braille, and seldom do they read it for pleasure. They do everything on the computer. These young people also resist using a long white cane, even when they bump into poles and other obstacles without one. They actually believe people around them do not know they are visually impaired. They need counseling to help them deal with the emotional aspects of vision loss and being different, so they can go on to be successful. The children who do not learn how to accept their vision loss join the unemployed and illiterate, as they never gain the necessary skills to succeed.
Para-educators play a key role in our program. The para's main job is to produce all the classroom materials in a format the student can use effectively to be independent. Written material is put into Braille or e-text. Diagrams are reproduced with raised lines or enlarged for viewing. Once the work is ready, the child can perform along with her sighted peers. It is essential that the para meet regularly with the classroom teachers to plan for the work ahead of time. The student MUST have all the necessary work as soon as the sighted students receive it. OpenBook, Kurzweil, Duxbury, Braille embossers, and other technology really help the para produce all the work that needs to be completed. Internet sites contain thousands of books that can be downloaded and embossed or put into e-text.
After six years I took a new position at an educational school district (ESD) in the central part of Washington State. The ESD covered twenty-five school districts and included forty-two blind and low vision students. I was the only teacher of the blind. I traveled fifteen hundred to three thousand miles a month. I knew I could not begin to teach forty-two students on my own. I had to find and train people who were interested in working with the blind.
Within three months the ESD hired on a blind person who knew Braille and assistive technology. His wealth of knowledge was a blessing. Two months later, the ESD hired on another person who was Braille-certified and knew a good portion of the technology. These two people were known as Braille specialists -- they were highly skilled and trained but lacked formal degrees.
Between the three of us at the ESD, we worked with all forty-two students. I handled their evaluations, including their IEPs. I set up all the programming and did all the paperwork. I also set up the weekly schedule so everyone knew where to go, what to do, and a myriad of other details. I taught all of the older students, as I was the only one who knew Nemeth Code, abacus, slate and stylus, Braille music, and many of the advanced technologies. The Braille specialists instructed the younger students and taught Braille to some of the older students. I checked in on the younger students once or twice a month and saw the older students once a week. I worked approximately seventy to eighty hours a week.
When I first began my evaluations of where my students spent their days, I was appalled by what I found. The students had minimal skills. They could not use Braille well, did not have English or math skills, and did not know any technology. The para-educators were doing all of the work for them. The paras walked the students everywhere, the students holding onto their arms. That was the scenario wherever I went. Within three months of starting my new job, I set up classes to train the paras in Braille and technology.
In addition to training the paras I worked to gain the support of the special education directors. I gave presentations with videos of the students I had taught north of the Seattle area. I followed up in person with the directors in their districts, convincing them to buy the necessary equipment. I assured them that I could load programs, configure systems, and troubleshoot problems with the technology, and that I could teach the students and paras how to use it. The special education directors could feel confident that equipment would be put to good use, and they could look forward to future videos recording the students' progress. Over time the directors have come to respect my expertise. They truly want to do the right thing, but often they are consumed with the problems of the thousands of students in their district. They welcome my suggestions because they recognize that I want the best for our blind students and know what they need in order to learn. When I request a piece of equipment, they do what they can to acquire it. I keep them abreast of future needs and prepare the directors ahead of time so they can plan financially for coming purchases. There are districts with huge budget deficits where services are greatly hindered for all students, but I continually work with them in order to find solutions. Slowly, proper services are coming about.
The directors have been wonderfully supportive of my efforts to train the paras. They let me hold trainings one afternoon a week, and the paras are paid for their time. The paras have great incentive to learn, and learn they have.
I firmly believe that a para without training is a detriment to a child. He can actually impede the child's learning and prevent the student from making friends. Instead of turning to the teacher for answers and direction, the child looks to the para for help. The regular teacher counts on the para to instruct the blind child. Whatever the child manages to learn is taught by a para whose own education is limited and who has no teaching credentials. On the playground the child plays with the para and has no chance to make friends with her classmates. The child and the para occupy a world apart, isolated from the rest of the class. This hurts the child emotionally, socially, and academically.
A well-trained para knows that his job is to enable the child to be in the classroom by herself, doing the same work as her peers. The para adapts the work materials as needed. When the child requires assistance with a lesson, the para assists as the regular education teacher directs. He does not answer the student's questions, but always directs her back to the teacher. The trained para does not play with the student during breaks, but gives her space to interact freely with other children. His main purpose is to adapt the material, checking with teachers to make sure the students have all the needed work. Even in first and second grade the students are independent in the classroom if proper instruction started early enough.
In the ideal program the para works with two or three students at a time. A long-term one-on-one relationship with a para is a detriment to the child's growth and independence. In a situation where a child must have a one-on-one in the classroom, I rotate paras periodically. In this way a problematic codependent relationship can be avoided.
Under Washington state law, anyone working with blind and visually impaired students must be certified in Braille. The paras in my program become Braille-certified within one to one and a half years. Within that time they also learn the technology necessary to adapt the materials for the students. In addition, I help the paras work with the unions to get higher pay and title when they become Braille-certified. Braille training occurs weekly and Nemeth/abacus/technology training occurs once or twice a month. The paras email lessons to me during the month so I can correct their work and comment on their progress. Continued instruction occurs weekly as the paras observe while I instruct students.
Another critical factor in the program is the need to train parents and receive their input. Several times a year I hold a parent night. The ESD personnel and the paras also take part. At each of these events we teach the parents about some aspect of the education of blind children. I invite blind professionals to speak so the parents can start to envision their child's future success. Parents meet other parents of blind children, and no longer feel isolated. They get to know the team that is teaching their child. I make myself available to parents on an ongoing basis through email and the telephone.
I also make sure to be available to the paras and special education directors, who often raise questions and concerns. Every day I spend two or more hours answering email and phone calls. I try to devote at least two days during the week to paperwork, as well as attending IEP meetings and evaluations.
Needless to say, progress toward the ideal program has not always been smooth and straightforward. Paras in the process of gaining skills were not ready to take on all the work that needed to be done. It took time to train them properly, and some simply did not work out. During my second year, the ESD hired a new TVI who had a special education background but lacked knowledge of Braille and other blindness skills. She had no desire to learn, and for two years her students floundered. I have discovered that it is far worse to have someone with poor skills working with the students than to have no one at all. If a teacher or para is not working out it is best to move her along during the probationary period. If a poor teacher survives probation with satisfactory evaluations, it is important to work with the directors to have her skills tested. Everyone will quickly become aware of her lack of ability. It is vital to move these teachers out of the system if they refuse to learn the appropriate skills to teach blind children.
Fortunately, by the third year another person finishing her TVI and O&M degree came on board. She proved to be a very valuable member of the team. The ESD also added another Braille specialist by my fourth year. About ten new students a year have come into the ESD program, and today we have sixty-five, with several more pending evaluations. Approximately 60 percent of them are learning Braille, and all are using some type of technology. Many high school students use BrailleNotes in the classroom, and do mathematical calculations on their laptops. I asked for donations from the community that enabled us to revamp used computers for all of our students who needed them at home. The students can complete work at home, and the paras can send them materials by email. The middle and high school students download books for leisure, reading from sites such as Bookshare.org, and read them on their BrailleNotes.
There are many ways to help blind and low vision students "see" what the teacher is doing. For low vision students who cannot see at a distance, we attach a monitor to a document camera with a VGA splitter. The student can see everything that is going on in the distance. Low vision students who travel from class to class use a portable device called an ONYX, a monitor/camera that folds into a rolling case. Some low vision students find the CCTV helpful for looking at diagrams or printed documents, using it in addition to Braille and a computer with speech software. Blind students can connect their BrailleNotes to computers and receive Word documents from the teacher, who is showing information on the board in front of the classroom. I show the teachers that, with good computer skills, blind and visually impaired children can do everything they expect from their sighted students.
Low-tech tools are also essential. Both blind and low vision students learn to use the slate and stylus, and how to print with pen and paper. I want the blind students to be able to script their names and print all the letters of the alphabet. With this skill they can leave a note for a sighted person if need be. By learning print the blind student can understand what people mean when they refer to a "U-turn" or a "T-shaped intersection" or an "I-beam."
Despite all the technology, the students use their Braillers daily and slates and styluses on a weekly basis. I want them to be able to pick up basic tools and use them well. When the technology goes down and has to be sent in for repair, students can use their Braillers to do their work. The students learn to take good care of their tools because they know that their computer or BrailleNote is the fastest tool to help them keep up.
In four short years our program has made great progress. The ESD will soon have four TVIs, three of whom are also certified in orientation and mobility. We now have ten Braille-certified paras and Braille specialists, and we have six more in the process of getting their certification. A half-dozen parents are also working toward certification, taking the weekly Braille classes. Despite the rough places in the first years, the students have excelled with their newfound skills. Because they use their skills throughout the day, they have made dramatic improvements. With Braille-certified paras, their instruction continues all day long. Constant integration of instruction is the key.
Of our sixty-five blind and visually impaired students, seven are preschoolers, all of whom are learning pre-Braille and technology skills. We have twelve elementary-school students, four middle-school students, and fifteen high-school students who are learning Braille, technology, and other blindness skills. Several of our large-print users are being evaluated for Braille due to their decreased reading speeds. We also have fifteen-plus students with additional disabilities who use many types of tactile learning modes to communicate with those around them. When you include all the tactile methods used with the multiply impaired students, the percentage for tactile instruction is higher than 60 percent.I am constantly evaluating where the students are and where they need to go, constantly thinking about what it will take to get them where they need to go. I know what does not work. I am looking for all the things that do work, and work well. One thing I want is to give our students as many tools as possible in the toolbox of knowledge. As new tools come along I will introduce them to the students so they will always have a wide selection to choose from as they strive to reach their dreams and goals in life.
by Gloria Moyer
From the Editor: Gloria Moyer is a resource-room teacher of blind students at the James Otis Elementary School in Chicago. She was recently honored as a 2009 Golden Apple Fellow. In this article she shares her enthusiasm for teaching Braille and her creative approach to integrating Braille into the school community.
I will always look back on the 2008-2009 school year as a year of celebrations at James Otis School in Chicago—celebrations of a legacy and of individual growth.
I encourage the students in my resource room to embrace life’s challenges and celebrate every accomplishment. High fives and applause are everyday occurrences. My morning reading group consists of four primary-aged children with different visual and cognitive abilities, as well as varying levels of academic strengths. They have learned to work as individuals and as a group, and to encourage each other. Emerging Braille readers mastered the alphabet and are moving on to whole words. The electric Braille writer is a popular tool. My third-grade Braille reader has mastered this year's contractions, improved fluency and comprehension, and has written many creative stories. She competed in the Illinois Braille Challenge for the first time. My large-print reader has grown enormously. She arrives at school each day eager to read another story and learn new spelling words.
Inclusion continues to have a positive effect on my students, their sighted classmates, and the general-education teachers and staff. Everyone has learned to appreciate the strengths and differences in each child and to work together. I smile each time a classmate volunteers to "buddy" with a student of mine. I measure a successful year by the increase of personal independence, as well as academic improvement.
This year I conducted a professional development activity with my colleagues. While blindfolded, they performed money and food activities. The classroom environment was simulated and they also used canes to navigate their surroundings. Afterward we held a group discussion, while everyone was still blindfolded, and talked about feelings. The experience of "walking in another's shoes" was a life-changing moment for many.
We celebrated the life and legacy of Louis Braille and his two hundredth birthday on a grand scale. January 2009, Braille Literacy Month, began with a school-wide assembly. We presented a slide show about Braille's life, delivered individual testimonials entitled, "I Love Braille because…," sang "Happy Birthday" in French, and brought the house down with a performance of the Braille Rap Song. Sighted classmates joined in the rapping and dancing, and are lovingly known as "The Braillettes." The Braille Buddy Board was a popular weekly feature. I posted a riddle on Monday with the answer written in Braille. Everyone was invited to decipher the riddle and place the answer along with his or her name in an envelope. Every Friday, those who answered correctly learned to Braille their name on an index card and posted it on the Braille Buddy Board. Hundreds of names were written over a five-month period. I sponsored a Louis Braille Birthday Poster Contest and received many creative entries. I conducted mini Braille lessons in the regular-ed classrooms and host an ongoing before-school Braille Club for sighted students and teachers who wish to learn the code.This school-wide involvement increased awareness and respect for Braille's remarkable code and life. I am proud to be a member of the Otis School community and look forward to new celebrations next year.
by Ana Gschwend
From the Editor: Parents sometimes struggle to decide whether to mainstream a blind child or have her educated in a special class or residential school. In this article sixteen-year-old Ana Gschwend describes her experience in a program of full inclusion in Manitoba, Canada.
On July 3, 2001, my mother and I moved to Manitoba, a prairie province in central Canada. For six years prior to our move, we had lived in Virginia, where I went through preschool and four years of elementary school. For two of those years, I was taught by a well-known teacher of the blind and visually impaired. She is also an author, and has written many books on teaching Braille to blind and visually impaired children. I was placed in a classroom with other blind and visually impaired children. Kids from several grades were all taught in the same room.
This article is not about my experience in the States. I want to share my experience of attending school in Canada, in a very different school system where the teachers were not as familiar with blind and visually impaired children. My experiences were mostly good ones. My teachers had a genuine interest in learning to adapt their teaching techniques to meet my needs. They treated me the same way they treated the other kids. I received good services from the Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired of the Manitoba Department of Education.
On July 13, 2001, I received a visit from a lady from the Special Services Branch of the Manitoba Department of Education. The Special Services Branch works with children who are blind or visually impaired. The lady was my mobility instructor, and for the next five years she was my vision consultant as well. She made sure that I had all of the resources and materials I needed for my classes. On that first visit she arrived with a welcoming and cheerful attitude, a bag of chocolate-chip muffins, and a tape recorder. I would use the tape recorder for listening to books on tape, as well as recording things on my own. Right away my instructor, who I'll call Mrs. M., took me for a walk to familiarize me with my new neighborhood. She encouraged me to walk independently using my cane, just as I had done in the States when I went out on mobility lessons.
That visit didn't last long. At the time I was mostly interested in the tape recorder. I started to record books that I planned on sending to people I knew. A week later, Mrs. M. brought me my very own Perkins Brailler. She happened to pop by our home while we were out, and left it at our back door. That night I sat down at our kitchen table and wrote a long letter to a friend, telling him of my time here so far. Also I was provided with a raised-line drawing kit and a small box of tactile materials that I could use for doing crafts projects or making pictures.
Unlike the schools in my county in Virginia, the Manitoba schools started classes at the end of August. Before my first day of school, Mrs. M. and I did some mobility inside the building so I could get more familiar with the layout. On the 29th of August I met my teachers and the aide who would be with me that year. The next day I started the fourth grade.
That year the other kids were learning how to handwrite in cursive script instead of printing. By my own choice I started learning to write my name both in print and in cursive. I used my raised-line drawing kit to learn the shapes and formation of the letters. I looked forward to handwriting time, as I enjoyed sharpening my print-writing skills. My aide helped me along the way until I got it right. When the kids did art projects, I did the same things using tactile materials. At recess, on field trips, in music class, and in gym, I did whatever the other kids were doing. If what they were doing was very visual I would do something close to it in a non-visual way, as I am totally blind.
In the fourth grade here there are no proficiency tests. The kids do have tests once in a while though, and I got tested just as much as they did. I managed to get good marks that year, and got along with my teachers and my aide.
Grade five, on the other hand, was a little different. The teacher had designed her curriculum to fit visual learners. Suddenly, so I am told, she had to adapt it a little in order to include me in the class. One of the periods we had -- which I loved -- was art study. We'd have a film about a famous artist, such as Pablo Picasso or Vincent Van Gogh, and would do a task related to his life. Sometimes I was able to participate fully in that class, which lasted for only half an hour. When the task was something very visual that I couldn't do I made good use of my time. It gave me a chance to practice handwriting with my aide's guidance, using my raised-line drawing kit.
I did most of the things the kids in the fifth grade did, and did pretty well in all areas of my schooling that year. My teacher was nice and easy-going, and worked well with me. My sixth-grade year was a little rockier though.
My sixth-grade teacher was very opinionated and really had all of her students work on thinking outside the box, including me. A different thing about her was that she included me in all the art classes. She gave me a final mark of 86% (or an A). She said that she thought I deserved it and that she wasn't just giving that mark to me; I'd earned it -- I still remember those affirming words to this day. That year, I was on the school’s honor roll, and even received a medal for my skills in music class. Once again, I was included in everything, even the school musical, “Treasure Island.” I was a narrator and a chorister (a singer in the choir), and I had a blast.
My junior-high years were relatively smooth ones. I was not sucked in by the peer pressure to wear cosmetics, date, etc. I believed, and still do, that schoolwork should be one's big priority -- not the enhancement of one's physical appearance (unless it's absolutely necessary) or the development of an intimate relationship with another person. For grades seven, eight, and nine, I was on the honor roll. I received awards for my skills in band class, where I played the clarinet.
One thing I discovered almost as soon as we arrived in Canada was that all students were expected to learn French, beginning in the fourth grade. Luckily my aide knew Braille and knew all of the accent symbols used in French, so she was able to Braille my French worksheets. I took French for four years. In sixth grade I even won an award in a French poetry contest. I recited a poem out loud, from memory. It took a lot of practice. I enjoyed listening to the French songs that our teacher played. I liked to learn new words such as the names of animals, things in the forest, and common foods. I learned to carry on a basic conversation in French.
Now I am in the eleventh grade, and I will enter the twelfth grade this fall. During my high school years, I have made high marks, and have taken courses in psychology, sociology, foods and nutrition (sometimes we still call it home economics, or home ec), and choir. I hope to take the advanced psychology course offered by my school, which could give me a credit towards university. I enjoy school, and I never skip, unlike so many other kids who clearly do not have school at the top of their priority list. Thanks to my talking computer, I am able to email my assignments to my teachers and receive feedback on them. My teachers are very willing to adapt things for me or to give me their feedback in alternative ways instead of writing it by hand in print.
As you can see, there are some differences between my education here and my education in the States. For all of my schooling here in Canada, I have been mainstreamed. I was never put into a separate classroom; that's not how the school system works here. They're big proponents of inclusion, not exclusion. But whether you're being educated in the US, Canada, or anywhere else, be sure to make the right choices that will work for you, so you can aim for success and succeed at whatever you do.
by Kate M. Foley
From the Editor: Kate M. Foley was a graduate of the California School for the Blind in Berkeley, the school that Dr. Jacobus tenBroek later attended. For many years Foley worked as a rehabilitation teacher of the blind. In the summer of 1918 she delivered a series of lectures on the education and abilities of blind children and adults, published in book form the following year as Five Lectures on Blindness. The full text of this book can be found at <www.archive.org/stream/fivelecturesonb00deptgoog>. Some of the language in her lecture on the development of the blind child seems dated and may be jarring to modern ears. Yet Foley expresses many of the ideas and attitudes that we promote in the NFB. She and others like her, whose names are long forgotten, helped to lay the foundations for the work we carry forward in the Federation today.
In considering the development of the blind child, we must recognize the fact that, in mental attainment, at least, he is the peer of the child who sees. But in order to bring this about, the early years of the child must be carefully supervised, and his training calculated to fit him for the tremendous task awaiting him. Unfortunately, the parents of blind children rarely understand the importance of this early training. They are too often too absorbed in their own sorrow at having a child so afflicted, too sure that loss of eyesight means loss of mental vigor, to realize that their own attitude, their own self-pity, may prove a greater handicap to the child than blindness itself. If a child lives in a house where he is waited upon, and made to feel that mere existence and the ability to eat and sleep are all that may reasonably be expected of him, and that he must depend upon his family for everything, he will grow up helpless, selfish, and awkward, and no amount of later training will entirely counteract the pernicious effect produced in these early, formative years. When placed in school with other children, he will be very sensitive to correction, and may become morbid and unhappy, thus giving a wrong impression of the blind in general. If, on the other hand, the child is taught to be self-helpful, permitted to join in the work and play of other children, made to feel that, with greater effort, he may do just what they do, he will soon become cheerfully alert and hopefully alive to all the possibilities of his position. But in order to achieve success, let me repeat that such training must begin at the earliest possible date.
You may never have thought of it, but the blind child has no model, no pattern. It learns nothing by imitation. The normal child copies the gestures and mannerisms of its parents, and so learns many things unconsciously, and with little or no instruction. But the blind child must be taught to shake hands, to hold up its head, to walk properly, to present and receive objects, and the thousand and one details of daily living so naturally acquired under ordinary conditions. Long before it has reached school age, the blind child should be permitted to romp with other children, to take bumps and bruises as part of the game, and should be encouraged to run, jump rope, and join in all harmless sports, thus acquiring that freedom of movement, muscular co-ordination, and fearless bearing, so necessary if he is to cope successfully with the difficulties awaiting him. His toys should be chosen to instruct as well as amuse, and in this way he should be made familiar with the different forms--the square, the circle, the oblong, the triangle, and the pyramid. He should be trained to recognize the difference between smooth and rough, soft and hard, light and heavy, thick and thin. He should be given plasticine or clay with which to model, and be urged to reproduce his toys, thus assisting in the muscular development and intelligent use of his fingers--another essential equipment.
As soon as possible, the process of dressing should be taught. The child may learn this more readily if a doll is used as a model, and he is required to put on its clothes each morning, and remove them just before his own bedtime. This important process should be made as interesting as possible, and each successful effort greeted enthusiastically, each failure carefully pointed out, its cause discovered, and its repetition prevented, when possible. In this way he acquires system, learns to put his clothes away in a certain place, and to locate them again without assistance.
His little fingers should be kept constantly employed stringing beads, putting pegs in a wooden board, cutting paper with kindergarten scissors, and modeling with plasticine. If thus occupied, he will escape the mannerisms peculiar to the blind child whose only amusement has been to put his fingers in his eyes, shake his hand before his face to see the shadow, rock his body back and forth, and whirl around in dizzy circles. I found just such a child, a girl of eight years, who had never done anything for herself, and whose parents refused to send her to school. It took me some time to win the child's confidence, but when I did, I had no trouble to correct many of her habits, and I soon taught her to dress herself and learn to read. When I asked her what she did all day before, she answered, "Oh, I just sat in my rocker, and rocked back and forth, shaking my hands." And when I asked why she did not play and act like other children, she began to cry, and said, "Nobody never told me nothin' else to do till you came."
When six years old, a blind child should be sent to the nearest state school for the blind, or to a special class, if there is such a department in the public schools of the city in which it lives. The necessity of sending the child to school thus early can not be too strongly emphasized, and education of blind children should be made compulsory, just as in the case of ordinary children. This is a measure which should be considered by all those interested in child welfare.
A school for the blind should consist of a kindergarten, primary, intermediate and high school department, and the life of the children should conform as closely as possible to that of a large family in a well-ordered home. Those in charge of the children should be impressed with the responsibility of the task they have undertaken and should do their utmost to assist in the work of fitting the little ones for the preliminary skirmish in the battle of life. All children should have constant supervision during the formative period, but more especially does the blind child need watchful guidance in his work and at his play. Little habits must be broken, awkward movements discouraged, self confidence fostered, and every effort made to develop the child along sane and normal lines, so that, in later life, he may have the poise and bearing so often lacking in those who are blind from early childhood.
It is sometimes claimed that it is not essential that a teacher of the blind be possessed of more than an ordinary education, and this is why so many schools for the blind fail to turn out capable, cultured, self-reliant boys and girls. Dr. Illingworth, the noted English educator, gives the following qualifications for a teacher of the blind: “a sound education, self-control in a high degree, a boundless enthusiasm, a determination to succeed, should be kind and sympathetic, and at the same time firm, and should be true to his word.” I wish to add a few more qualifications to Dr. Illingworth's list, and they are these: a broad, comprehending sympathy, a sense of humor, and a heart brimming with love for all children--a heart capable of sharing the joy and grief of every child heart. And I wish to emphasize, in a special manner, one of the doctor's qualifications--namely, "a boundless enthusiasm," and to add yet another, a living, breathing faith that teaching is a divine calling, and that the opportunities for good or ill are limitless. In many schools for the blind the inspirational value of a blind teacher is overlooked or ignored. In this connection Dr. Illingworth says: “It takes a seeing teacher to become what might be called a naturalized blind person, that is, one able to see things from the blind point of view; though he is never in the favorable position of a blind teacher who can say to a child, ‘Do it so; I can do it--I am blind like you.’” In the residential schools Dr. Illingworth recommends that the ratio of blind teachers to seeing should be one to two. He says, "Their very presence is a continual inspiration and incentive to the pupils," and he adds, "The education of blind children, in those subjects in which the methods of instruction are necessarily and essentially totally different from those of the seeing, is best in the hands of a properly qualified blind teacher."
I wish now to call attention to some of the advantages to be derived from coeducation of blind and seeing children. As early as 1900 Chicago started a special class for blind children as a part of its public school system, thus inaugurating the movement in this country, if not in the world. Since that time many large cities, including Boston, New York, Jersey City, Rochester, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, Toledo, Cincinnati and Los Angeles, have started similar classes, carrying the children from the kindergarten through elementary and high school, and preparing them for college. In the special class, the children are trained to speak intelligently of things which they do not see with the physical sight, so that they may be able to converse naturally upon ordinary topics, and need not have to plead ignorance, on the ground of never having seen this or that object. The children are taught Braille reading and writing, and a great deal of time is given to these branches. They are taught all sorts of handwork--basketry, weaving, knitting, modeling, and chair caning; and, when old enough, they are sent with the other children to sewing, cooking, and music classes. As soon as possible, they recite with the regular classes, their lessons being previously read or explained by the special teacher. This gives them the contact with normal children, so necessary to the development of the blind child. Those not in favor of special classes claim that this competition is too severe a strain, and that it is unkind and unwise to place blind children with those whose physical advantages and opportunities for study are greater. But we have found that the plan works admirably. The special teacher trains her pupils to be self-reliant and helpful, insists that they join in the games of the others, assuring them that, with greater effort, they, too, may play.
The special teacher trains the memory of her pupils to the highest possible degree, impressing upon them that their minds are vast storehouses in which to keep all sorts of knowledge tucked away for future use, and that it is disastrous to blind children to forget. In mental arithmetic, they usually lead the class. Their presence in the school is of the greatest help to the others with whom they work in class. Their success in overcoming difficulties is a stimulus to the pride and an incentive to the ambition of the seeing child. And so the presence of the blind child is sure to result in untold good, not only to the child so handicapped, but to the entire school, removing as it must, the belief, now, alas, so general, that when eyesight is lost, all is lost. Trained side by side with its sighted companions, doing the same work as well, if not better, the later success of the young blind seeker after knowledge is practically assured; for, as I have said, in mental attainment the blind child is the peer of the child with eyesight, --here, beyond cavil, the chances are equal.
To my mind, the coeducation of the blind and seeing is a step in the right direction--a very forward step, since it will ultimately bridge the gulf of misconception and skepticism now separating these two classes--a gulf which must be bridged if we hope to arrive at a sane and satisfactory solution of the problem of finding employment, not only for the returned blind soldiers, but for the thousands of intelligent blind men and women who are waiting eagerly, hungrily, for a chance to prove their ability, a chance to earn their daily bread. When blind and seeing children are trained side by side, from the kindergarten through the grades into high school, and on to college perhaps, the barriers dissolve; the blind boy and the seeing boy are comrades--they have played together, worked together, and together they have planned their future. The seeing boy knows the blind boy will succeed because he has seen him victorious in many a mental skirmish. Just this May, right here in the University at Berkeley, a blind student graduated fourth in a class of more than one thousand seeing students. It may be interesting to note, in passing, that there are seven blind students now attending the university, and that the state provides three hundred dollars a year to defray the expense of a reader for each student. New York was the first state to provide readers for blind college students, and this was brought about through the efforts of Dr. Newel Perry, a blind graduate of the University of California, now a teacher of mathematics in the California School for the Blind. Dr. Newel Perry was largely instrumental in the passage of a similar bill in this state, and so once again, the blind are indebted to a blind teacher for advancement.
But all the children in the special classes will not care to go to college, and for those who do not, other work will be provided, manual training given, and all sorts of trades encouraged. Here, too, they will have the added stimulus of studying side by side with their sighted companions. It is my earnest hope that some day this state will establish a technical school for the blind. In such a school, a deft-fingered intelligent blind boy could learn electric wiring, pipe fitting, screw fitting, bolt nutting, assembling of chandeliers and telephone parts, be trained as a plumber's helper, and taught to read gas and electric meters by passing the fingers over the dial--in short, a variety of trades and occupations could be pursued with profit to the school and to the students.
But while waiting for the establishment of such a school, there is much to be done by way of preparation. We must prove the truth of Clarence Hawkes' assertion that "Blindness is, after all, but a 25 per cent handicap in the race of life." But it is a handicap, no matter what profession is adopted. I analyze the handicap thus: 24 per cent of it is the prejudice and unbelief of the public, and the other 1 per cent is the lack of eyesight. I believe this is not too strong. In speaking of the handicap, Clarence Hawkes continues: "A blind person, in order to succeed equally with the seeing, must put in 125 per cent of energy before he can stand abreast of his seeing competitor." In order to prove blindness to be but a 25 per cent handicap, we must train our blind children from their earliest infancy. We must not sidetrack them. We must plant their feet firmly on the highroad of life; encourage their first, faltering steps; teach them to go forward fearlessly, with head erect and shoulders squared; warn them of pitfalls and hidden thorns; show them the wisdom of making haste slowly when the path is steep or uneven; impress upon their minds the importance to others of their success; and, above all, train them to have confidence in themselves; teach them to realize that, because of their struggles and limitations, they have a mental equipment and reserve force possessed by very few of their more fortunate fellow beings. Thus trained and fortified, our young blind people will work like Trojans to prove their ability to those who doubt it, and succeed in removing one obstacle after another, until they stand ready to take equal chances with any who may be pitted against them. The hand of the sightless worker is steadier, and his courage greater, because of the years of struggle and constant effort of which his sighted competitors can form no conception.And so those in charge of the education of the blind, whether in residential schools or public school classes, have a herculean task before them, but if their hearts are in the work, if they are alive to their wonderful opportunity for service, and if they have faith in the ability of their pupils, the future success of these handicapped young people is practically assured. As with the nation today, so with those interested in the welfare of the blind--we look to the children for the fulfillment of our highest ideals, and hope in their advancement to see our "dearest dreams come true." I am often called visionary, and I am proud to confess that I have a vision, a wonderful vision of the future of the blind. It may not be realized during my lifetime, but if some of the children I have inspired will take up the torch, and carry it on unfalteringly, I shall be satisfied. Meantime, I walk by the light of my vision along rough roads, across strange streams, up hills that are steep and rock-strewn; and, though my courage sometimes fails and my strength seems unequal to the task, the light shines clear and steady, and I go forward in the glad assurance that one day my vision will be realized, my cherished dream for the emancipation of my people, the emancipation of the blind, must "come true."
by Dr. Eric Vasiliauskas
From the Editor: Dr. Eric Vasiliauskas and his wife Rasa are the parents of two blind sons, Vejas and Petras. Through their efforts to help their children connect with their Lithuanian heritage they have become deeply interested in foreign-language Braille. This article is my abridgement of a more extensive treatment of this topic that can be found online at <http://knol.google.com/k/eric-vasiliauskas-md-drv/enriching-your-blind-childs-life-via/2fo8us37li3cv/1>. Dr. Vasiliauskas will continue to update the online article, so check it for the most current information.
Families that immigrate to the United States or other countries struggle to integrate into the fabric of their new society while maintaining cultural ties with their countries of origin. Many second-generation Americans also feel a strong ethnic bond which they want to pass on to their children. The preservation of language of origin through successive generations is a many-faceted challenge.
According to data from the 2000 US Census Bureau, a language other than English is spoken in approximately fourteen million US households <http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/censusandstatistics/a/lingiso.htm>. In fact, based again on recent US Census data, nationally, nearly one in five children enters school speaking a language other than English. In some regions of the country, such as California, more than one language is spoken in 40 to 50 percent of all households. In light of these staggering statistics, it is amazing that virtually no information is available on how blindness issues factor into the equation of raising a child in a multilingual home. Little information exists to help parents of blind children find resources that will make their cultural heritage tangible in nonvisual ways. Parents may first turn to their child's teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) for advice on accessing foreign-language Braille. Unfortunately the topic of foreign-language Braille receives little emphasis in most TVI training programs. Some TVIs and transcribers provide Braille class materials in Spanish, French, or other foreign languages for students in English-speaking school settings. However, they have limited experience advising parents who want to expose their blind children to the language of their ethnic roots.
My wife and I are both second-generation Lithuanian Americans. Both of us grew up in bilingual households and were active in our Lithuanian-American communities. We wished to share this rich culture with our children as well. In order for our blind children to have access to the written word in Lithuanian, we had to provide them with Lithuanian Braille. In our search for resources we literally started from scratch. Our children now have access to their Lithuanian Saturday-school curriculum to the same degree as their sighted peers.
In 2004 I was invited to give a presentation at a symposium on Braille co-sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind of California and the Braille Institute of America in Los Angeles. Part of the symposium's focus was on Braille literacy in early childhood. Since our children use Lithuanian Braille I was asked to comment on foreign-language Braille from a parent's perspective. To make the presentation more meaningful, I decided to elaborate on how families might expose their children to foreign-language Braille in the early years. Spanish is by far the most widely-spoken foreign language in California, so I chose to use Spanish as my primary example. To prepare for my presentation I conducted an extensive search for resources -- making phone calls, surfing the Web, and sending emails to parents and professionals in a variety of organizations. In the end I was able to offer many practical suggestions, and to steer parents and teachers toward a variety of resources. The interest generated by this presentation inspired me to expand and consolidate the information I managed to gather. This article may serve as a starting point. I encourage you to explore beyond the resources I present here, and to have fun in the process!
For the most part, learning foreign-language Braille is not especially hard. The code common to most languages based on the Roman alphabet uses the same letters as English Braille. Thus the letter "a" in Spanish or German Braille is the same as an English Braille "a," and a Spanish or German Braille "t" is the same as an English Braille "t." It is not necessary for beginners interested in foreign-language Braille to learn contractions, as many foreign languages use only uncontracted Braille.
A contraction is a Braille symbol for a grouping of letters frequently used in a given language. Thus contractions vary from one language to another. Furthermore, there may be variations from one country to another where the same language is spoken. For example, the contractions used in France differ from those found in French Canada. Spanish-speaking countries that employ contracted Braille also differ in their use of contractions.
It is important for families and educators to acknowledge and take into consideration a variety of foreign-language factors. Language issues may vary depending on whether the given language is the user's native language or is being studied as a second language in school. Foreign-language books Brailled for English-speaking students are generally somewhat different from the books a native speaker of the language reads. Spanish Braille and Spanish terminologies vary among the Spanish-speaking countries. It is my personal feeling that, though there may be differences, the benefits of exposure to any Spanish Braille will often outweigh the other issues. Experience with differences in contractions will likely lead to language discussions that would happen anyway, given time. You will have to determine how much of a concern this is in your particular situation.
An Internet search can help you find the Braille system for the language in which you are interested. Wikipedia, the worldwide Web-based free multilingual encyclopedia, has an increasing number of foreign-language Braille alphabets. At <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Braille> you can select from a long list of languages. Click on any language in the list to see a Webpage in that language that discusses and depicts the basic Braille code specific to that language. Thus, in many cases, parents now have the chance to read information about Braille in their native language.
A few specific Websites that discuss Spanish Braille basics include: <www.fbu.edu.uy/informacion/alfabeto/alfabeto2.htm>, <www.fbu.edu.uy/informacion/alfabeto/alfabeto3.htm>, <www.fbu.edu.uy/informacion/alfabeto/alfabeto6.htm>,
In addition, Spain's blindness organization, ONCE, offers a Web-based, self-paced course in Spanish for sighted Spanish-speakers who want to learn Braille. The course is called "Curso Básico de Autoaprendizaje del Braille." To begin the program go to <www.once.es/otros/cursobraille>, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the "COMENZAR CURSO" link.
You may also want to connect with regional or country-specific contacts via Websites for the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment (ICEVI) <www.icevi.org> or the World Blind Union (WBU) <www.worldblindunion.org>.
Tiresias <www.tiresias.org/archive/agencies>, the Website of the Digital Accessibility Team of the United Kingdom's Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) maintains a list of agencies serving blind and partially sighted people. The list is sorted by country. Mobility International USA maintains an international resource database (MIUSA) <www.miusa.org/orgsearch>. To locate resources for the blind in a specific country on this search Webpage, select the desired country and click on "blind" under the "disability tab." Another option is to contact the Braille library in the desired country, or to have a local friend or relative there make an inquiry on your behalf.
Some schools and VI programs offer workshops to teach parents Braille. Classes are sometimes conducted in Spanish. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend participating in an NFB Braille Is Beautiful: Beginning Braille for Parents Workshop. I attended one of these workshops in October of 2003 <www.nfbcal.org/nfbc/journalss2003/brailleisbeautiful.html>. Amazing as it may seem, I watched a room full of parents learn the basics of Braille in under four hours. By the end of the workshop each parent was able to Braille a secret message to his or her child using a slate and stylus. Participating in that workshop was one of the more moving and empowering experiences of my life.
Toys can be invaluable tools for teaching foreign-language Braille to children. My wife Rasa, an occupational therapist, has been a genius at modifying toys to make them accessible. To give your toddler or preschooler a playful head start on the Braille alphabet, QWERTY keyboard layout, and time/clock concepts, you can buy popular electronic toys and add your own Braille letter labels to them. Such toys are available not only in English, but in a variety of foreign language versions as well.
As of this writing the following alphabet, number, clock, and/or QWERTY keyboard layout toys are available at <www.spanishtoy.com>: Spanish Baby Smartronic Speak & Teach Phone; VTech Alfabeto Manzanitas (Spanish Alphabet Toy); and Aprendo el Alfabeto (Spanish Alphabet Learning Toy). More bilingual Spanish toys are available at <www.sb-kids.com> including Telly the Bilingual Teaching Time Clock. Don't stop with these Websites. Explore toy stores, perform an Internet search for bilingual toys, or go to eBay and search the term "Braille" for ready-to-purchase modified toy options.
It is incredibly easy to make toys accessible simply by adding Braille labels to the flat buttons. Make sure to put the Braille label on the button itself, not above, below or next to it. Many kids are not interested in what is above or below the button--they want the direct auditory feedback. Use transparent Braille labels so that sighted siblings, friends, and classmates can fully enjoy the toys as well.
A variety of Spanish-language electronic toys are available from <www.toyslandia.com>. They can easily be made accessible by placing the appropriate Braille-label letter on each button.
National Braille Press (NBP)
The National Braille Press <www.nbp.org> offers a Braille literacy program for children from birth through age seven called the "ReadBooks! Program" <www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/readbooks>. It is designed to encourage families with blind children to read print/Braille books together. Books are available in English or Spanish. Teachers and parents can order a Braille Book Bag with English- or Spanish-language materials for their student or child by filling out the contact form on the NBP Website <http://www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/readbooks/request.html> or by calling (888) 965-8965, extension 34. Each bag contains an age-appropriate print/Braille book, a Braille primer for sighted parents, a colorful print/Braille placemat, print/Braille bookmarks, a gift coupon redeemable for another print/Braille book, Braille/large-print playing cards, and print/Braille magnetic letters. The bag also comes with a booklet for parents entitled "Because Books Matter" by NOPBC president Carol Castellano. It shares basics about the Braille code, explains why Braille reading is important, and suggests ways parents can read with young blind children. A Spanish version of this guide, "Porque Los Libros Si Que Importan" comes with the Spanish bag and is also available separately for free. A Spanish Braille alphabet card is included in the Spanish bags.
American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)
The American Foundation for the Blind <www.afb.org> offers a free packet for parents to promote early Braille literacy called "Connecting the Dots." This packet is also available in Spanish and is called "Conectando los Puntos." The packet includes an English or Spanish Braille alphabet card and handouts that provide an overview of English or Spanish Braille codes, including basic punctuation. The packet also lists introductory Braille resources and includes sources of Braille children's books, as well as suggestions for making Braille books with young children. To order the free packet, phone (404) 525-2303 or email the request to <[email protected]>.
Seedlings Braille Books for Children
Seedlings <www.seedlings.org> is a nonprofit organization that offers a broad selection of Braille and print/Braille books for children. They currently offer eight bilingual (English and Spanish) preschool books. They are available at a cost similar to the list price at a typical bookstore.
Bookshare.org <www.bookshare.org> offers over 5,300 e-books for children. The number of books for young children and teens increases weekly. A recent search under the "Spanish language" option revealed over 1,100 Spanish titles. To search for Spanish children's books, go to the Advanced Search page, select the language Spanish, then check off Children. There are at least sixty titles. Bookshare will give all K-12, postsecondary, and graduate students in the United States with qualifying print disabilities access to this library without charge.
National Library Services (NLS)
The National Library Service (NLS) Website <www.loc.gov/nls> lists over eight hundred Braille books in Spanish and over 2,100 Spanish recorded books. The NLS now also supports a children's catalog search portal called NLS Kids Zone <www.loc.gov/nls/children/index.html>. To search the children's Website for Spanish children's books, click on the "Kids Catalog" link and type "Spanish language" in the Keyword search box. As of December 2008 I found over one hundred Spanish children's audio titles and thirty-three Braille book titles. While none of these are yet downloadable files, they are readily available by requesting them through one's regional Braille library to be delivered to your child's or student's home. The Foreign Language Librarian of the NLS has developed a Foreign Language Materials Webpage with links to foreign language resources <www.loc.gov/nls/foreignlanguage/index.html>.
Regional Braille Libraries
Contact your local or regional Braille library for a list of available Spanish children's materials. At last count, the Braille Institute, the library that serves the Los Angeles area, has access to six hundred twenty-seven Spanish-language Braille titles for children and youth via the Braille Institute Library Services and through other National Library Service (NLS) network libraries and cooperating agencies via interlibrary loan.
Your state library may have some age-appropriate books in Spanish. The California State Library has a growing searchable Braille and Talking Book Catalog <www.btbl.library.ca.gov/klasWeb>, which contains Spanish Talking Book recordings including several children's favorites. To identify selections for children and youth, go to the basic search page above; type "juvenile" in the search field and select Spanish from the Language Menu. A recent search using those parameters and the default All Media option yielded over sixty Spanish youth titles.
National Library Service in Puerto Rico
The Biblioteca Regional para Ciegos y Físicamente Impedidos de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped) is part of the NLS system and therefore it will lend books via interlibrary loan to anyone who is an NLS patron. To pursue this lead, surf over to their Website <www.bibliotecaregionalparaciegos.com> or send an inquiry to <[email protected]>.
State Schools for the Blind
Contact the library at the school for the blind in your state to see if it has foreign-language materials that your child or student can borrow. The California School for the Blind <www.csb-cde.ca.gov> library now has an online catalog <www.lib.csb-cde.ca.gov/opac/csftb/>. A keyword search of the term "Spanish" revealed many Braille and audio-books that sound like they would be interesting for a Spanish-speaking youngster.
An organization with vast resources is ONCE, the Spanish National Organization for the Blind (Organización Nacional de Ciegos de España; <www.once.es>. ONCE's mission is to improve the quality of life for the blind and visually impaired throughout Spain. While to join ONCE one must be a Spanish national, ONCE provides resources that can benefit many Spanish-speaking individuals, such as the information available through the Center for Research, Development and Application (Centro de Investigación, Desarrollo y Aplicación Tiflotécnica or CIDAT); <http://cidat.once.es>. The Website has a broad range of useful blindness- and low-vision-related information, including household, sports, and technology products and information.
The Website of El Servicio Bibliográfico de la ONCE (SBO) <http://sbo.once.es> has a link that provides an opportunity to enter the Digital Library ONCE, a password-protected Website that houses electronic materials in Braille and Daisy format. Like our own NLS, the Bibliographic Services of ONCE offer several children's magazines that are available in embossed Braille and/or electronic format, including Trasto, which is reportedly known as "la revista más divertida de la ONCE," which roughly translates to "ONCE's funniest magazine." Go to <http://sbo.es/hoome.cfm?id=98&nivel=1>, then move down the list to Ocio y Cultura for the list of magazines, one of which is Trasto. Published monthly in Braille format and also downloadable in electronic format, Trasto is written for children from ages eight to twelve and contains stories, poems, and other entertaining content.
ONCE transcribes textbooks and other educational materials and provides these for free to students in Spain. I have been told that ONCE also sells any of the books that appear in its catalogues <http://sbo.once.es/home.cfm?id=2&nivel=1> to anyone interested in purchasing them, and that their Spanish Braille children's and youth books are reasonably priced. The department to contact is: Atención al Usuario either in Madrid or Barcelona. Their email is: <[email protected]> for Madrid and <[email protected]> for Barcelona, or you can also call: 902 11 22 92 to order desired books. Remember that from the US you need first to dial the international access code 011, then the Spanish country code 34, then the number.
The International Federation of Library Associations
The International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) <http://ifla.jsrpd.jp> provides information about libraries and institutions for the blind throughout the world. Their Advanced Search Form allows you to search for Braille and audio offerings. The IFLA Website suggests that the electronic text and sound recording listings in the directory can be borrowed via an exchange mechanism by submitting requests via the local libraries or institutions that are registered in the directory.
The Argentine Library for the Blind
The Argentine Library for the Blind (Biblioteca Argentina Para Ciegos) <www.bac.org.ar> has Braille books for children and youth. Braille books are not available for electronic download at this time. For more information, contact the librarian at <[email protected]>.
Tiflolibros <www.tiflolibros.com.ar> is a non-profit organization based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, that maintains an expanding digital library for blind and visually impaired Spanish speakers. Tiflolibros offers an online catalog with more than sixty thousand digital audiobooks that registered members can download using their personal password. The audiobooks may be read on computers and other electronic reading devices. While Spanish is the official language of Tiflolibros, the library also offers books in foreign (non-Spanish) languages. Tiflolibros has more than three thousand subscribers in over forty countries, including the US. This digital library is open to any visually impaired person living anywhere in the world, as well as to institutions that make books available to the blind and visually impaired. While membership is free, a donation is encouraged to support the library's operation. To initiate the registration process, send an email to: <[email protected]>.
Those with older children or teenagers may consider searching Project Gutenberg's foreign language e-text and audio options. These e-texts can be downloaded for free from the Website <www.gutenberg.org>.
You may also want to check out the Librivox Website <www.librivox.org> where audiobooks of texts in the public domain can be downloaded for free. In addition to English, books are available in a variety of languages including Spanish, French, German, Dutch, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, and Russian. Librivox has a mechanism to help locate volunteers to record special requests in the desired language.
American Printing House for the Blind (APH)
APH's Louis Database is a searchable database of accessible materials. It contains location information for over 170,000 titles in Braille, large print, sound recording, and downloadable electronic files from over one hundred seventy agencies throughout the United States and Canada. To search Louis for foreign-language reading materials select the Search for Textbooks, Recreational Reading, and Downloadable Files link, then once on the Book and File Repository Search Page, enter the words "Spanish language" or "Japanese language," etc., in the Search for field. Then click on the Search tab and scroll through the options. If a book does not exist already, one can use APH's Accessible Media Producers Database <www.aph.org/ampdb.htm> to search for people or companies that can produce accessible books in a variety of languages.
Mobility International USA
MIUSA <www.miusa.org> is a nonprofit organization founded with the goal of "Empowering people with disabilities around the world to achieve their human rights through international exchange and international development." The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange (NCDE) <www.miusa.org/ncde>, which is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State and administered by MIUSA, encourages individuals who are blind or visually impaired to learn a foreign language and facilitates international travel opportunities. MIUSA/NCDE has published a great foreign-language resource guide entitled: "Accessing Foreign Language Materials as a Blind or Low Vision Student: An Informational Guide on Arranging for Assistive Technology, Accessible Formats and Services in the Foreign Language Course" with specific emphasis on Arabic, Chinese, Hindi/Urdu, Japanese, Korean, Persian/Farsi, Russian, and Turkish. The book, by Michele Scheib, can be downloaded in several formats for free or accessed at <www.miusa.org/ncde/tipsheets/foreignlanguageandblind/languageguide>. In addition, the MIUSA/NCDE Website has a variety of useful links for teachers and older students to explore <www.miusa.org/ncde/spotlight/foreignlanguage>.
Fun Print-to-Braille Translation Websites
Kids may enjoy the Fundacion Braille del Uruguay's fun Spanish print to Spanish Braille translation Website called "Alfabeto Braille en Linea" <www.fbu.edu.uy/alfabeto/alfabeto-online.htm>. There is also an English-language Arthur series character-based English print to English Braille translation Website: <http://pbskids.org/arthur/print/braille> and an AFB Braille Bug secret message site: <www.afb.org/braillebug/emailmessage.asp>.
Foreign Language on a Braille Notetaker or Computer
The foreign language speech synthesizing programs that run on the BrailleNote and the PAC Mate, as well as the computer screen-reading programs JAWS, Connect Outloud, Dolphin Pen, Hal, and Window-Eyes have multi-language capabilities. In some cases the multilingual features come with the base software, in other cases language packages need to be purchased separately, so it is best to make sure prior to purchasing.
Please note that electronic Braille notetakers will display appropriately-generated foreign-language Braille so that the text can be tactilely read from the unit's refreshable Braille display. However, they may not read aloud the foreign-language text coherently or with proper pronunciation unless a software program designed for the desired language is installed. Since there is as yet no Lithuanian language package for the BrailleNote, when reading Lithuanian documents my kids just turn off the speech to avoid what otherwise sounds like complete gibberish. The BrailleNote will display Spanish letters in standard Word documents appropriately on its refreshable Braille display.
Interactive Electronic Text Games
Text games can be a fun way to encourage and motivate youngsters to work on their Braille reading and writing skill proficiency. A variety of electronic interactive text adventure games can be played on electronic Braille notetakers. Players read directions and the game text on the refreshable Braille display and type their actions/responses on the notetaker's keyboard. There is an additional motivational factor of time in some games. Many such accessible text games can be downloaded from Websites such as the "Interactive Fiction Archive" <http://ifarchive.org>, "Baf's Guide to the IF Archive" <http://wurb.com/if/game>, and others. While many of these games are older, some dating back to the 70's and 80's, they can be entertaining and quite challenging; children, tweens, teens, and even adults enjoy them, just as their sighted peers enjoy video games. Exploration of the Websites reveals quite a few Spanish-language gaming options and, though one may need to search, there are listings for text games in other languages as well. The format that I know works on the BrailleNote is termed "Z-code" and these files end with the extension ".z5".
Caution: Here is some good old-fashioned fatherly advice: such Web archives contain good and bad games, and not all work well due to coding flaws/bugs. Adult-oriented material can be scattered through the archives, and foul language is sometimes included in some of the more innocent-sounding games. It is advisable to read the game reviews. If possible try games that have been screened by individuals you trust.
Handy Foreign Language Computer Keyboard & Toolbar
To facilitate access to your desired language, use the foreign-language keyboard and toolbar capabilities that are built into Windows XP and Vista. Add an easily accessible language bar to the taskbar to your computer's desktop. To do this in Windows XP, go to the Start menu and scroll down to Settings to open up the control panel; then open up the Regional and Language Options icon. Click on the Languages tab, then to view language options click on the Details button. You should now be looking at the Settings tab, and the Default input language displayed should read "English (United States) - US." At the bottom under preferences, click on the Language Bar button. Check the boxes "Show the language bar on the desktop" and "show additional Language bar icons in the taskbar," then click OK. Now click on the Add button. Scroll down until you find the desired second or third language. Note that for some languages--such as Spanish, German, and French--you need to specify which country or region you want. Select and click on the OK button. Click on Apply and then OK to exit the various boxes. You will likely need to reboot to make sure all the settings are fully applied.
There are two quick and easy ways to switch between the language keyboards you have now installed. Sighted parents and teachers can look on the right side of the desktop taskbar. You will see "EN" (this stands for English). When you click on this the language option(s) you chose to install will appear in the drop-down menu. Click on the one you want and your keyboard is reset to type in that language. Blind users can easily cycle through the installed language keyboard layouts by holding down the left Alt key and pressing the Shift key. (I actually find this keyboard command option faster than the point and click method.)
For Lithuanian, all standard letters are the same as those labeled on the letter portion of the keyboard. The special letter characters are typed by hitting the appropriate number on the top row (to type numbers, you have to switch back to English mode). To make it easier for me, I have attached a transparent Braille label with the special Lithuanian letter to each applicable number key. While all this sounds somewhat complicated, it is actually quite simple and convenient once you start working with it. By taking similar steps through the control panel in Windows Vista, one can similarly set up foreign-language keyboarding features.
The National Braille Press author, Anna Dresner, recently published a great foreign-language computer resource entitled It's Not On the Keyboard: Typing Special Characters and Foreign Languages in Word, which covers many of the "how to" aspects of nonvisual access to computer-related foreign-language issues. It includes information on how to type in a language that uses many symbols that aren't on the standard keyboard or are in a completely different alphabet, how to install or change the keyboard layout to meet individualized foreign-language needs, how to get screen readers to speak the language being typed, how to read a foreign language on a Braille display, and how to spell-check and grammar-check in foreign languages.
Foreign Language Braille Translation Programs
The most versatile Braille conversion program is the Duxbury Braille Translator, which supports over one hundred twenty languages <www.duxburysystems.com/nations.asp>. For basic translation Duxbury is very user-friendly and fairly intuitive. I suspect most parents can be "up and running" with Duxbury with minimal instruction. MegaDots, Braille 2000, and WinBraille support a smaller number of non-English languages.
The text from many foreign-language Websites can be copied and pasted or imported into a translation program for quick and easy conversion into Braille. However, it is not always so straightforward. Sometimes what looks like a unique foreign-language print letter on a Webpage is actually a symbol font character that to the sighted reader looks like the foreign language letter. These symbols are readily obvious once imported into Duxbury, but depending on the number of such "symbol insertions," the process of editing the symbols ranges from simple to painstaking.
Sometimes when text is simply copied from an Internet page and pasted into a Word document, the information is not accessible on a BrailleNote. There are several ways to get around this problem. A simple step is to select all the text in the document (Ctrl+A) and select Clear Formatting from the Formatting Toolbar. I have found that by far the most effective way to strip away interfering formatting is to paste the text first into a Duxbury print document. It works almost every time! Then the text can either be converted to a ".brf" file or copied and pasted back into a Word document.
Scanning of Foreign-Language Text
Scanning of foreign-language text to e-text is now possible through a variety of optical character recognition (OCR) software programs. Scanned text can then be converted to Braille via one of the Braille translation programs. Kurzweil 1000 and OmniPage Professional both recognize over one hundred languages, and OmniPage Professional even includes basic spell-checking functions for some languages. OpenBook is released in ten languages. While the English version of OpenBook ships with speech synthesis in English, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Danish, and Finnish, additional languages are available. OpenBook's OCR recognizes thirty-three languages, and other languages can be recognized by performing custom installations.
As you can see, a great variety of resources for foreign-language Braille are available, and we are discovering more all the time. Blind children today can enjoy the richness of growing up with two languages, and can become fully literate in both.
by Lindsay Upschulte
Reprinted from the Braille Literacy Initiative page of the Website of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois <www.nfbofillinois.org>.
From the Editor: Lindsay Upschulte of Sparta, Illinois, is about to enter her junior year of high school. In this essay she reflects upon her gradual evolution as a Braille reader.
When I started learning Braille, I was in preschool. At the time, I was only three-and-a-half years old. Because I was so young, I did not realize that I was "different" from the other kids that I went to school with. While they were having fun in school, I thought that it was "unfair" that I had to learn how to read.
At the beginning, learning Braille was frustrating for me. It was hard to memorize all of the different letters. I didn't understand why the other kids weren't learning it, too.
When I was in kindergarten, I began to realize that the other kids were not reading Braille. This added more frustration. When I would read aloud to my kindergarten teacher, she could not help me with words the way she helped the other kids. Because of this, I preferred listening to tapes or being read to.
As time passed and my vision teacher helped me become more fluent in reading Braille, I began to love reading Braille more and more. It became fun to be the only one who could read in the dark in my family. Instead of thinking of Braille as a burden, I began to look for longer books to read. Short books just didn't last long enough anymore.
Soon my vision teacher entered me in the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. Although I did not win anything the first year I entered, it was fun to challenge myself in an area that I enjoyed. After that, I entered the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest for the next several years.
As I grew older, Braille became essential in class. For one thing, I could not see what my teacher was writing on the chalkboard. If I wanted to do well on tests, I would have to take notes. I learned how to take Braille notes electronically or with a slate and stylus. Because of this, it is now easier for me to study with Braille notes instead of listening to a tape or trying to recall what was said in class.
Math became more challenging for me in middle school. In eighth grade especially, when I started algebra, Braille was a necessity. In order to figure out equations, I needed to be able to see my previous steps. It would have taken too long for me to do this verbally. Without Braille, I would not have been able to do algebra. This, too, was the case with geometry, especially when I was doing proofs.
Braille has helped me with many things in the past, and it will continue to be an asset in the future. When I go to college, I will take notes in Braille. Braille will help me recall everything I learn in class.
Now, Braille is something I can honestly say I would not want to do without. Unlike tapes, which you need a tape player to listen to, you do not need any other technology to enjoy Braille. Braille has helped me so much in the past and it will continue to do so in the future. I have no regrets about learning Braille. On the contrary, I would not want to live in a world without Braille.
by Mary Jo Thorpe-Hartle
From the Editor: Mary Jo Thorpe married Jesse Hartle this summer. Longtime friends, both work at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore, Maryland. Mary Jo is the Education Program Manager for the NFB’s Jernigan Institute and Jesse is the NFB’s Government Program Specialist, which finds him often in Washington, DC, explaining the Federation’s point of view.
Through work with early intervention specialists; educators of the blind; and, most importantly, parents of blind children, the National Federation of the Blind aims to identify and address the most critical issues affecting young blind people and to develop priorities for the NFB Jernigan Institute. A theme that emerges over and over in this area is the lack of positive, appropriate early education for families with blind children. This is especially disturbing because research in early childhood education shows that the family has the greatest impact on child development. Parents are frequently told that their children are incapable of developing age-appropriately because of their blindness, encouraging parents to lower their expectations and creating a vicious circle of learned helplessness. Because this cycle can be overcome with effective early education, the Institute has made early childhood education a primary initiative.
In order for parents to help their children reach their highest potential, they need a clear blueprint for success. This blueprint and the tools for its construction were presented to a group of parents of young blind children at the 2009 NFB Beginnings and Blueprints Early Childhood Conference. The conference was held in May at the NFB Jernigan Institute, which sponsored it jointly with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. It included a number of resources in the early childhood field and served more than thirty parents of blind children.
Families from several states filled their toolboxes as they attended a number of panels and breakout sessions. Such topics as play and exploration, early Braille, orientation and mobility instruction, and developing the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) filled the agenda. Attendees agreed that the panel of blind adults was one of the highlights of the conference. "What I Wish My Parents Had Known about Blindness" helped answer a lot of parents' questions and provided examples of how they would like their children to act as adults. The conference also included visits to the Independence Market, tours of the National Center, a cane walk, and an exhibit hall. It provided something for everyone, as blind children and their sighted siblings participated in exciting child-care activities led by positive blind role models. These included a rousing game of goalball, hands-on art projects, and a visit to the Jacobus tenBroek Library. Having the children on site also allowed for great interaction between families and presenters. There was lots of one-on-one instruction for parents with their children in orientation and mobility and active explorative play. It was wonderful to witness toddlers getting their hands on a cane for the first time.
Beginnings and Blueprints was the second such conference the NFB Jernigan Institute has held. Like most of the Institute's projects, this program aims to be a model for other states and regions interested in providing similar conferences. The education team at the NFB Jernigan Institute hopes to make many of the sessions and PowerPoint presentations from this conference available online through its early childhood initiative page. The team also hopes to be a resource to states interested in facilitating their own early-childhood conferences. To learn more, view pictures, or read comments from participants, visit <http://www.nfb.org/nfb/Parents_and_Young_Children.asp>.
by Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway
From the Editor: For parents with a new baby, the issue of obtaining a good night's sleep can become all-consuming. Blind children sometimes experience sleep disorders, and sleep deprivation can be a distressing problem for their parents. In this article Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway, president of the Georgia Organization of Parents of Blind Children, describes a non-invasive treatment that made a dramatic difference for her daughter and for the whole family.
It's 3:00 a.m. and the baby's day has just begun. You, however, are so sleep-deprived that you can barely function. Your baby seems determined to stay awake all night and sleep all day for weeks on end. Then things seem like they are finally settling down and the baby sleeps at night for a while. Lulled into thinking the worst has passed, you are shocked and dismayed when your little bundle of joy once again starts staying up all night.
Sound familiar? For children (and adults) without light perception, such a pattern is not uncommon.
My daughter Kendra spent the first fifteen months of her life with an undiagnosed sleep disorder. We were desperate for answers, but neither our pediatrician nor our pediatric ophthalmologist was able to help. I lost count of the number of times we were told we just needed to be more firm with Kendra, that we had to let her cry it out.
I finally discovered a center for pediatric sleep disorders in Atlanta and called for an appointment. Before we took Kendra in, we were asked to graph the times when she was asleep each day, using a sleep diary. When we studied the graph we made a startling discovery. The sleep times that seemed so random and confusing to us in our own sleep-deprived state were very obviously part of a pattern. Kendra's bedtime shifted by half an hour to an hour each night. Eventually, it seemed like things were back to normal, but we had simply reached the phase where her sleep times coincided with typical ones. After meeting with the doctor, we finally had a diagnosis: free-running (nonentrained) type, which is one of several circadian rhythm sleep disorders. It may also be referred to as non-twenty-four-hour sleep-wake syndrome or free-running disorder (FRD).
Circadian rhythms are biological cycles which last for approximately twenty-four hours. An example of a circadian rhythm in animals is the cycle of sleeping and waking. In a circadian rhythm sleep disorder, the typical twenty-four-hour cycle is disturbed. Jet lag is one common example of a circadian rhythm sleep disorder. Kendra's day, before light therapy was initiated, was approximately twenty-five hours long instead of twenty-four.
Melatonin is often used to treat sleep disorders. It is a neurohormone produced in the body by the pineal gland. Although melatonin has been demonstrated to be safe when administered for short periods of time (weeks or months), there have not yet been any studies to look at the long-term effects of melatonin supplementation. We were hesitant to administer melatonin to Kendra, and were very pleased when the doctor recommended an alternative. He suggested light therapy. It seemed like a crazy treatment to use with a child who had no light perception, but by that point we were open to trying almost anything.
The particular light box we used was the North Star 10,000 from a company called Alaska Northern Lights <www.alaskanorthernlights.com>. The morning after it arrived, we tried it out by putting it on the kitchen table in front of Kendra's highchair while she had breakfast. She sat in front of it for approximately thirty minutes. Some mornings we put toys on the highchair tray to keep her occupied for the full time. Now that she's older, we have a tape player and CD player on the table to keep her entertained.
We noticed a difference in Kendra's sleep patterns very soon after we started the light therapy treatment. You may ask, as we did, how light therapy can possibly work for a person who has no light perception. Kendra's doctor explained to us that the light influences the pineal gland (sometimes referred to as the third eye). As mentioned earlier, the pineal gland produces the body's melatonin.
Kendra is now almost seven years old. I can count on my fingers the number of days we have skipped her morning light therapy since we began over five years ago. During the last Christmas vacation we did conduct our own extremely unscientific study to see what would happen if she went for a few days without her light box. We noticed that her sleep schedule was starting to shift so we quickly resumed its use. Kendra's light box has traveled with us to New York, New Jersey, Texas, Kentucky, and several other locations. It will be with us in Detroit for the 2009 NFB convention. The benefits of its use far outweigh the costs or hassle of lugging it with us on vacations.
There are several types of sleep disorder, and not all of them will respond to light therapy. This article should not take the place of speaking with your doctor. I was motivated to write this piece after I spoke with several parents at the NFB's 2009 Beginnings and Blueprints conference. Many of the parents I met seemed to be at the same place we were years ago. I hope that our story will help others locate the information and services they need so they can finally get a good night's sleep.
To locate a sleep center, visit <www.sleepcenters.org>. A sample sleep diary may be found at <http://www.sleepeducation.com/pdf/sleepdiary.pdf>.
by Amber Bobnar
Reprinted from the Spring 2009 issue of Finding Our Way: Microphthalmia/Anophthalmia Parent Support, Vol. 2, No. 3.
From the Editor: For all children, music is both a pleasure and a wonderful learning tool. In this article Amber Bobnar describes a variety of ways that music can be used to help blind children learn about their surroundings.
Music can be a great way to stimulate a visually impaired baby, but where do you begin? We'll give you some practical ways to incorporate music into your little one's day.
Music is a wonderful resource for your blind baby, but be sure to use it carefully and deliberately. Since blind children need to learn how to orient themselves in their environment, they need to rely on their other senses to figure out what's going on in the room. For example, you may not even notice the ticking clock or humming refrigerator, but your child can learn to use these noises as clues that she's in the living room or the kitchen. If music is incessantly playing in the background, important noises (like the clock or refrigerator) may be muffled and your child may not learn to home in on the sounds. On the other hand, you can use music to orient your child, too. For example, if your child is playing out in the yard, you can place a stereo or radio in the window so he'll know which direction the house is in. Or maybe Dad always listens to the radio while he works. Your child will begin to recognize that the room with music is Dad's office. As your blind baby learns about depth and space, you can walk through the house pointing out different smells and noises and teaching him that each room is different. One great exercise is to play music in one room, then walk in and out of that room carrying your child. Your baby can learn that you are moving in and then out of the room by listening to the music get louder and quieter.
All children, both blind and sighted, love to sing and mimic what they hear. I'm sure you've heard kids singing along to cartoon theme songs or commercial jingles they hear on TV or the radio. While this may be fun at first, blind children are often unable to break out of the mimic stage and end up repeating songs and phrases over and over without really understanding the meaning of what they're saying. This is called echolalia, and you can learn more about it at this link <http://www.wonderbaby.org/articles/echolalia.html>. Rather than allowing your child to pick up and repeat pointless songs, teach her meaningful songs that will encourage language and growth. Songs such as "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" <www.songsforteaching.com/learningstation/headshoulders.htm> teach body awareness and the names of body parts. Here are more songs to sing with your child:
Find other great songs to sing with your child at <http://www.songsforteaching.com>, a great site where you can listen to the song, read the lyrics, and purchase the CD. And if you want to keep up to date with new children's musicians, you can visit our fun Children's Music Blog <http://www.bostonchildrensmusic.com>. Encourage your child to jump, roll, or "fall" (or bounce your baby on your knee) while you sing. Examples include “Hip-Hop Around the Clock” (learn to tell time.); “Ten in the Bed” (a counting song.); “Simon Says” (teach your child to follow directions); and “Hands Up for Letter Sounds” (teaches the letters and their sounds).
Playing with instruments is an excellent way to improve your baby's fine motor skills. Don't expect him to play anything melodic just yet, but do encourage him to feel, grasp, bang, or pluck at any number of instruments. Our son has been playing with a mini piano and a ukulele since he was about three months old. He really loves his piano and has gotten very good at feeling out the individual keys. Our physical therapist and vision specialist both use his piano as incentive when they are playing with him, and they attribute his finger dexterity to this play. Instruments like a piano are also a great way to teach cause and effect. When your baby bangs the keys, they make a sound. Eventually, he'll figure out that he is making that sound himself. This is a very important concept. Also, when you are playing with an instrument, make sure that it doesn't just appear and disappear into thin air -- your blind baby can't see the object come and go. Play a few notes on the piano as you bring the keyboard to your baby, then do the same as you take it away. This will teach him that objects move through space, that things don't simply appear out of nowhere, and it may also encourage him to reach out for the expected toy.
You can use music to encourage an unmotivated child or calm a distressed child. For example, if you're introducing your visually impaired child to a new environment, it may seem frightening to her. Try placing her in a comfortable corner with a stereo playing soothing music set between her and the rest of the room. Lower the volume gradually until she becomes accustomed to the new noises in the room.
You can also use music to play games that will encourage your child to explore her environment. Here are a few ideas: Hide a musical toy or a stereo somewhere in the room and have your child find it. Have your child find an object before the music stops. Go about the house or neighborhood and record sounds. Take your tape of recorded sounds home and see if you can identify them. Sing a song about objects in the room and have your child find the object. Describe the object in your song but don't name it. Think of it as a musical scavenger hunt!
Music is a wonderful way to play with a blind baby or child because it encourages listening and moving. Use music throughout your developmental plan, but remember the most important thing--have fun with your baby!
by Kim Cunningham
From the Editor: Kim Cunningham is president of the Texas Parents of Blind Children. A few months ago she posted a note to the NFB Blindkid Listserv, describing an incident that had inspired her when her daughter Kayleigh was four years old. She expanded her post into an article for Future Reflections, and here it is.
I'm sure that every parent remembers the day their child was diagnosed as blind or low vision. For me, it was a life-changing moment. My mind was consumed with one thing -- fear! It was the fear of what I thought it meant to be blind. I had never known or even met a blind person. How in the world was a regular stay-at-home mom like me supposed to have the abilities to raise a blind child? What would this mean for my precious daughter and for the life of our family? Would my daughter be happy? I had fought so hard to save her! Now I knew I would have to fight equally hard to insure that she had a good life. And so our journey began ...
My daughter, Kayleigh, was born severely premature. I never knew if each day would be my last chance to see her. Every trip to the hospital was agonizing, knowing another major complication was right around the corner. After fifteen surgeries and a four-and-a-half-month stay in the NICU, we brought home a healthy four-and-a-half-pound baby. We were told that she had a severe vision loss; however she should be able to see "some." Some . . . What the heck did that mean? She could see but she couldn't see? Boy, was I confused!
In the following weeks, we were shuttled between doctors, therapists, and teachers. Our new life began as we tried to learn how to parent a partially blind child. Our first teacher of the visually impaired kept using the B words -- blind and Braille. I couldn't even say those words. My fear was all-encompassing. I remember one day crying and asking my mother, "What happens if my little girl grows up and is angry because she is blind?" In that moment I realized that I would not give her the opportunity to think or say those words. I knew I must let go of my fear and learn all I could about blindness. I began reading books, attending parent support groups, and asking questions of all the professionals who were now in our lives.
During this time, I kept hearing words like "disabled," "handicapped," and "special." These words strongly connoted not being able to do this or that. The words made me sad. These labels just didn't seem to fit my little girl, who was making progress in every area of development. Don't get me wrong. She was months behind according to her birth age, but during each review of her development, she was climbing the ladder of success. We were on our way -- to where, I had no idea, but nevertheless we were heading in a positive direction.
When my daughter was four years old, we decided to take the family to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. I hoped the trip would take us away from all the therapies and doctor's appointments, and give us some time to be an ordinary family. Kayleigh had had a cane since she was two, and I knew that she would have a blast exploring the park with her newfound independence.
Disney World is a magical place for children, but this trip made it a magical place for me also. While we stood in line, waiting our turn to get on yet another ride, I saw a group of teenage girls laughing and giggling like most teens do. They were headed to one of those giant roller coaster rides, I'm sure fully anticipating that this one would be even better than the last. Then I noticed something very familiar. One of the girls was holding a cane! They were typical teenagers doing typical teenage things, and one of them was blind. No one was holding her hand. No adult was supervising her every move. No stigma kept her from having friends. There was nothing "special" about her except that she was using a cane.
That young lady will never know the impact she had on my life. She showed me what I wanted for my daughter. Now I had a sense of direction and a picture of what my goal would look like. I would raise my daughter to have the same opportunities her friends had. I would no longer listen to the naysayers who painted a picture of gloom. Now I knew that Kayleigh truly was able to have a typical life. I could have the same expectations I would have if she were sighted.
Over the next thirteen years we struggled to educate everyone in my daughter's life about blindness. Most people only thought of their own fears, as I once had myself. There had never been an academic blind child in our school district before, and no one expected Kayleigh to be an accomplished student. Every step of the way I refused to allow her blindness to excuse her from doing her best.
Kayleigh is now a junior in high school and a member of her high school choir. This year the school planned a trip to Disney World. Since I have chaperoned many school events, I assumed that I would have the opportunity to go along on the Disney World trip. Then, a few months before the trip, my daughter informed me that she preferred me not to chaperone this year. She wanted to go by herself. She felt confident in her abilities and wanted to hang with her friends without Mom around. WOW! This was the very picture that I had in my mind when I saw the vibrant blind teenager thirteen years ago. I did it -- I really did it!Kayleigh returned from her four-day trip full of stories. She told me how she rode the fastest rides, watched shows, had her picture taken with the Disney characters, and shopped in all the stores. As she talked about her trip, my mind kept going back to the blind teenager I saw years before. I thanked that unknown girl who made such an impact on my life. I pray that our children are able to change the lives of other families that are on the same journey. Who knows . . .
by Sean M. Whalen
Reprinted from TheStudent Slate, the Newsletter of the National Association of Blind Students, Winter-Spring 2009.
From the Editor: In the NFB we often speak about equipping children and teens with good blindness skills so they can participate in life on terms of equality. Sean Whalen, former president of the Wisconsin Association of Blind Students, served as an intern on Capitol Hill. In this essay he recounts how he drew upon his skills and his sense of adventure to be present at an unforgettable historic event.
It was Tuesday, January 20, 2009, 1:00 a.m., and there I sat with a cell phone plastered to one ear and a land line to the other, listening, as I had been for the past thirty-five minutes, to rival cab companies here in Arlington, Virginia, inform me that all dispatch operators were busy and assure me that calls were being answered in the order they were received. That seemed to me a reasonable order in which to answer them, so I continued to hold, with the anticipation of witnessing a great moment in American history building inside me. It was, after all, the day that Barack Hussein Obama, a man whom I had spent almost two years supporting and virtually my entire October and early November campaigning for in Fairfax, would place his hand on Lincoln’s Bible and take the oath of office, thus becoming the 44th President of the United States. Through the Congressional internship that I had done in Representative Ron Kind’s office, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a ticket to the Inauguration. On the final day of my internship, the Chief of Staff took me and another intern aside, to inform us that we would each be given one ticket to the swearing-in ceremony. I had planned to be a face in the crowd on the National Mall on Inauguration Day, but the promise of gaining entry to the ticketed area added a whole new level of excitement.
As my mind meandered, a tired voice on the other end of the line snapped me back into the moment. "Redtop Cab, may I have your pickup address?" I had a moment’s hesitation as I tried to discern from which phone the voice had come, but after clearing that up, I provided all the necessary information. "We'll have a cab out in ten minutes," the man said, and hung up the phone hurriedly. I found it somewhat amusing that I had just spent nearly an hour waiting for dispatch and would now wait only ten minutes for the cab itself. Perhaps they ought to have brought in some drivers and put them on the phones. At any rate, I grabbed my cash, my keys and my cane, and after quadruple checking that my purple ticket was in fact in my coat pocket, headed for the door.
As I stepped out into the eighteen-degree night to wait for my cab, I felt confident that I would beat the rush to the gates. The Metro was not to start running until 4:00 a.m. and I figured that chartered buses would not be rolling in until around 6:00. I also felt a slight thrill at doing something so ridiculous. Some people, labeled "crazies," had been queued up since 11:00 the night before. But, let's face it, the 2:00 a.m. departure wasn't completely sane itself.
"Where to?" the driver asked. I told him that I wanted to go as close to the entry gate at 1st and Louisiana Southeast as he could get me. The drive over the river into the District was smooth sailing with no traffic to be found. However, once we entered DC itself, it became clear that "as close as he could get me" wasn't going to be all that close. All streets around the Capitol had already been barricaded and there was no way to proceed but on foot. I tried to get some information from the driver about exactly where he was letting me off, but the most I could glean from the conversation was that we were near L’Enfant Plaza. Fortunately, there were police posted at every single corner, and, though they were brought in from all over the US and had no idea where anything was, they could at least tell me which corner they were posted at. I struck out, and through numerous "What is the name of this street?" inquiries, got my bearings and headed south down 2nd Street. Crowds were already starting to gather on street corners and the excitement and anticipation were definitely in the air. Once I crossed into the Southeast quadrant, I asked another Inauguration-goer if he knew which way to turn to head toward Louisiana Avenue and the purple gate. He was quite confused. He had been heading up 2nd Street in the other direction looking for the very same gate. It turned out that he was right. When my ticket was given to me, I was told to go to 1st and Louisiana Southeast, but really, the gate was located at 1st and Louisiana Northwest. Either my informant was holding the map upside down, or he was completely sadistic. Either way, I was now headed back in the right direction. I finally arrived, at about 3:30 a.m. and after over an hour of walking, at my gate. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had beaten the crowd, even more so than I could have hoped. This gate was for tens of thousands of ticketed guests, and I was somewhere between thirty-fifth and forty-fifth in line. This is the first time that visions of the front row started to dance in my mind.
Over the next four-and-a-half hours in line, I was part of something that I had never before in my life experienced. Differences in race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and age and disability seemed to disappear, or more accurately, simply ceased to matter. We all exchanged our stories of how we got there and why we felt it so important to come. We cracked jokes and shared laughs. We sang songs together and took part in group calisthenics to keep the blood flowing to our frozen feet. Most of all, we just took in the atmosphere of palpable excitement and tried to grasp the enormity of what was about to happen.
By 6:00, the masses started to pour in. Many, on their way to the back of the line, tried to execute the stop, linger, and be absorbed into the line approach. As you might guess, those of us who had been waiting for hours were having none of that. We called them all out and raised enough of a ruckus that police came and made sure that the people at the front of the line actually belonged there. By 7:00 the sun was up and the opening of the gates felt imminent. And then, finally, at just before 8:00, the gates were opened and the rush was on. The line was no more. In its place was a mass of humanity surging toward the security checkpoints. As I rushed in, a man named Crenshaw from Atlanta, with whom I had been talking a lot in line, shoved me toward a particular checkpoint and yelled over his shoulder, "go there, that one's short." And it was. There was one person in front of me.
Then it was all metal and electronics on the table, through the metal detector, refill the pockets, and on ahead to the ticket checkers. "Tickets in hand!" they shouted to the oncoming crowd. I whipped the ticket out of my pocket and waved it in their direction as I tried to remain ahead of the majority of the flood of people. From there, it was a footrace. Truth be told, I wasn't quite sure where to go, but I knew I wanted to get there quick. Some were literally sprinting, most were somewhere between an ultra-brisk walk and a jog. I followed the flow of people until, all of a sudden, I found myself run up against a chest-high metal barricade. Could it be? Oh yes, indeed it was! I had found my way to the very front row of standing room. There were 25,000 seated guests in front of me, but roughly one and a half million standing behind me, all the way to the back of the National Mall.
The next two hours, up until the official start of the program, were spent talking to new people and listening to others exclaim at every new sighting of an A-list celebrity walking about just below in the seated area. At 10:00 the program started. However there was nothing too exciting until 11:30 or so. The huge crowd roared as Joe Biden was introduced and took his oath. We then enjoyed the musical stylings, though actually prerecorded, of Yo-Yo Ma et al. Then, after nearly ten hours in the freezing cold, the moment finally came. Barack Obama took from Chief Justice John Roberts the Presidential Oath of Office. Though Roberts’ brilliant legal mind couldn’t quite handle memorizing and properly reciting a thirty-five-word oath, it was no less powerful when Obama said “So help me God.” And the twenty-one-gun salute was fired off. It was almost surreal to be right there among the ecstatic crowd at that moment. He then delivered his Inaugural Address. To spare you my political and rhetorical commentary, I will say only this--the speech was absolutely moving. It was inspirational, well-delivered, and befitting the moment. The feeling of actually being there and taking part in this great moment in American history was nearly indescribable. It is absolutely an experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
After the ceremony, the mobs of people tried to make their way out of the area. I, being familiar with the area, was a hot commodity. I gave many directions to nearby Metro stations and helped untold numbers figure out which trains were going where. Nobody seemed too bothered that I was blind; they were just happy to find anybody who had any reliable information. I plugged my way down Pennsylvania Avenue eight or so blocks to the Eastern Market Metro station, hoping that it would be less crowded than other stations in the more immediate vicinity. It was. Rather than waiting for hours to board a train, I was from street to seat in about forty minutes. Once I got off the Metro, it was a brisk walk home, and a much needed seat on a soft couch in a warm living room to take in the parade and news on TV.
While there are many things that stand out in this story, the fact that I am blind is really not one of them. Therein lies the message. The Inauguration was a microcosm of life. Were there a few things that I had to do differently from the sighted public? Absolutely. Were there things that it might have been desirable, convenient, or aesthetically pleasing to see? Yes, I’m sure. Did my being blind dominate the landscape or dictate what I was going to do? Certainly not. This was an incredible experience, and blindness does not stop us from leading incredible lives.
by Doris Willoughby
Reprinted from Future Reflections, January 1982, Vol. 1, No. 2.
From the Editor: Doris Willoughby is a longtime Federationist and the coauthor of the book, A Handbook for Classroom and Itinerant Teachers of Blind Children, a classic in the field. This article appeared in the second issue of Future Reflections. It still has a great deal to say about a topic that parents sometimes find hard to address.
"Will the other kids want to go on dates with me?" This question, raised directly or indirectly by a blind youngster, seems to be one of the hardest for parents to deal with. There is, of course, no simple formula for preparing any youngster for adult relationships; however, we will offer some suggestions which we hope will be helpful. I myself can comment from three viewpoints: as the wife of a blind electrical engineer; as a teacher of blind youngsters of various ages; and as a member of the National Federation of the Blind, which has 50,000 members from widely varying backgrounds.
First of all, consider how you would prepare a sighted son or daughter for dating and marriage. Talk with other parents, including those whose children are grown. Don't expect perfection from yourself or any parent -- remember the man who said, "I once had six theories about how to raise children. Now I have six children and no theories!" Consciously apply the same general approach to your blind son or daughter that you would use if he or she were sighted. Do this in regard to personal grooming and makeup, etiquette, homemaking skills, sex education, general personal relationships, and everything else. When there are areas in which you may not know how to teach certain skills, such as cooking, seek instruction through personal contact or written materials. Look for ways to build experience in all areas of life, and avoid the tendency to think, "He/she doesn't really need to do that." It is valuable for a person who doesn't drive to be able to feed a parking meter easily. It is important to understand the general pattern of a basketball game even if one is not on the team and does not see the game visually. It is valuable to gain experience with a variety of sports and games, such as swimming and chess. The more one knows, the more likely one is to be able to join in when a group chooses an activity.
Transportation, especially for a boy, is often a source of consternation. To some extent the solutions will be the same as in any family where the youngster does not have a license, or where there are not enough available vehicles. For the older blind youngster, however, it is very desirable that he or she have money available to pay for gas, use public transportation, or perhaps to pay someone for driving -- and thus not be simply dependent on others. In other respects as well, every youngster should always have enough independence to be able to leave a dating situation or a group if circumstances become undesirable or threatening. (We used to call it "mad money.") The blind youngster who is assertive and can use a telephone need not be at a loss for alternative ways to get home.
A young blind woman once told me of a teacher's saying to her, "You are an exceptional blind person. You are attractive enough to marry a sighted man." She and I analyzed that comment and thought of several implied statements within it:
--Most blind people aren't attractive.
--Marrying a sighted person is categorically much better than marrying a blind person.
--This young blind woman would be still more attractive if she were sighted.
--As this young blind woman gets older, she will probably be much less attractive and desirable as a partner.
The National Federation of the Blind emphatically disagrees with all these implied statements, briefly commenting as follows:
--Individual blind people are attractive or unattractive according to their individual characteristics and one's personal opinions.
--Since the majority of the population is sighted, it is to be expected that frequently a blind person will marry someone who is sighted. However, although sight is a helpful thing to have, it does not make a person "better," either in intrinsic value as a person, or as a partner in marriage. The blind individual is wisest to date a variety of people, and to choose the marriage partner (sighted or blind) who is best suited for him or her based on all characteristics. Also, the attitude of each partner toward blindness is far more important than the mere fact of being blind or sighted.
--We don't compete in life with what we might have been under other circumstances; we compete with others as they are. A blind person with a reasonable degree of poise and competence can fit in socially on the same basis as others.
--In a culture which tends to glorify youth, we all face changes in attitudes toward our physical appearance as we grow older. This need be no more of a problem for the blind than for others.
Having dealt with the statements implied by the teacher's remark, let us consider her original remark itself. No doubt you have heard many variations of the comment, "She does so well, we would never know she is blind." Although often one must accept such remarks in the spirit intended, it is well for you and your growing youngster to recognize the problem of the implied statements. (Compare the remark sometimes made to a sighted person, "You drive so well I almost forget you are a woman!") This type of remark is a symptom of the unfortunate social attitudes which still expect the blind to be inferior and incompetent. When possible, try to avoid statements such as the above, and say instead, "My, you are getting to be an attractive young woman!" . . . "That new hairdo looks great!" . . . "I'm glad you had so much fun at the party." . . . "You and Bob seem to be really hitting it off well." . . . "I think you showed a lot of social poise in that situation."
Sometimes, unfortunately, you and your youngster will encounter even more obvious and direct misunderstanding and prejudice. He or she may not be invited to certain social functions. A parent may object to a son or daughter dating a blind youngster. Friends may try to "mother" your youngster instead of including him as an equal. We suggest approaching this problem in two ways simultaneously. First, help your youngster to realize that all teenagers face problems such as these. James Dobson states that the current social environment makes all teenagers feel (1) ugly, (2) dumb, and (3) unloved (James C. Dobson: Preparing for Adolescence, Bantam Books, 1980). Many rejections are simply the same kind of thing that happens to everybody. At the same time, there are indeed specific misunderstandings and prejudice regarding blindness. It is most helpful for you and your teenager to talk with other blind people of various ages and discuss in detail how they handle such matters. The National Federation of the Blind will gladly put you in contact with blind people in your area, and also provide you with written materials about the subjects discussed in this article.
Help your youngster develop confidence and assertiveness so that he or she does not appear helpless. Encourage him or her to speak up in social situations, as when a waiter might expect others to order for the blind person and/or to pay the check. It is most unwise to try to avoid the problem by trying to hide the fact of blindness, as by leaving one's cane at home, holding a printed menu, etc. If this is done, misunderstandings and mistakes tend to grow instead of decrease, and the blind individual is unable to use important alternative techniques such as the cane for independent travel.
My husband and I met at a "Young Adult Fellowship." He brought a deck of Braille playing cards, since the group enjoyed playing "500" and Bridge. When we went on a camping expedition to the church's cabins, he repaired the stove in-between recreational activities. The next week he called me and said, "How would you like to go to a movie? If I pay for the gas--and of course the tickets--would you drive?"During the months when Curt and I were dating, someone said to me, "I think it's simply wonderful of you to date him." I had a vague feeling at the time that there was something wrong with that remark, but I really didn't know what to say or think about it. Today I would say something such as, "It is not a matter of my doing something for him. He is a terrific guy, and we both really enjoy each other's company." And I would realize the remark means that we have a lot of work to do in educating the public about blindness. As you help your blind youngster to enter the adult world of dating and marriage, you are helping to work toward the time when blindness will be generally accepted simply as one characteristic among many.
From the Editor: "We're planning a family outing. We want to be sure our blind child can fully enjoy the experience along with his sighted siblings. Where's a good place to go?" Sooner or later this question seems to come up whenever parents of blind children get together. To the best of my knowledge there is currently no guide or Website that rates museums, historic sites, and other places of interest according to their accessibility to blind and visually impaired visitors. This issue of Future Reflections inaugurates a new feature called "Family Fun." In each issue we will review a possible destination for a family outing or class field trip, looking at it from the perspective of a blind visitor.
I welcome your feedback and your ideas! If you would like to tell readers about a place that your family has enjoyed, please contact me at <[email protected]>.
The Morris Museum
6 Normandy Heights Road
Morristown, New Jersey 07960-4612
Back in the days before CD's and MP3 players, music on demand was a rare and precious commodity. As early as the sixteenth century inventors created ingenious music boxes and other devices that poured forth song at the touch of a button or the twist of a key. In 2003 the Morris Museum became the proud owner of the Murtogh D. Guinness Collection, including nearly seven hundred mechanical music boxes and other automated marvels. The collection, the life work of an heir to the Guinness family fortune, is on display in a 4300-square-foot gallery on the museum's main floor. At 2 p.m. from Wednesday through Sunday, visitors are invited to a lecture/demonstration of some of the collection's wonders.Docents are open to letting blind visitors touch several of the devices that are shown, although many are deemed too fragile. Even without as much hands-on exploration as one might wish, the lecture is fascinating, illustrated with many audible examples. Throughout the gallery itself are numerous stations where visitors can listen through headphones to the popular music of our forebears as it is rendered by an array of mechanical musical devices. Several hands-on exhibits show the workings of a typical roller music box, where hammers produce notes by striking pins arranged in a pattern on a turning cylinder. Two Rube-Goldberg-type sculptures, also available for tactile exploration, show the complicated workings of gears and pulleys, the underpinnings of the collection's musical wizardry. Unfortunately everything in the museum's Children's Room, American Indian Collection, and other exhibit areas is behind glass. But the Guinness Collection will provide an afternoon of fun and learning for the whole family, blind and sighted alike. To find out more, visit <www.morrismuseum.org/collections/guinness/guinness.html>, where you can hear audio samples of some of the collection's offerings.
by Kim Cunningham
From the Editor: As the kids are getting ready to start a new school year, it's fun to look back on the joys of summertime. In this article Texas POBC President Kim Cunningham describes an outing that was a great learning opportunity, and lots of fun as well.
You feel the warm sun shining on your face. You taste the salty ocean water as you swim with the waves. You feel your feet sink as you walk in the soft sand. You hear the familiar call of the seagulls as they look for a meal. All of your senses come alive at the ocean's shore.
Recently, a group of blind Texas children traveled to Galveston Island, Texas, to learn about our coastal shores. We were invited to attend a beachcombing class led by Ms. Kat Pollock, who worked with the Texas Parks Department prior to Hurricane Ike. The hurricane caused widespread devastation along Galveston's shore, including most of Galveston Island State Park where Ms. Pollock was previously employed. Ms. Pollock had taught beachcombing classes at the park, and now she was eager to offer her classes again. One day as she searched the Web she discovered the Texas Parents of Blind Children's Website. She contacted us and invited our children to attend one of her classes. Of course, we jumped at the opportunity to learn.
With the help of a grant from the Imagination Fund, TPOBC hired a bus to take our families for a day of learning at the beach. We arrived early in the morning at the beautiful Palisades Palms Condominium Resort. The general manager of the resort offered his facility as a meeting place for our families. The lobby had a beach décor, including a large indoor waterfall which all of the children enjoyed. Outside the resort we found a swimming pool, a large deck area, and a long boardwalk leading out to the beach.
Ms. Pollock began the class by describing various kinds of plant life that could be found on the beach. She showed the children sea beans, coconuts, and seaweed, and explained how they played a role in the coastal ecosystem. Many of the children used their canes to sweep across the sandy beach, searching for various objects. The children also discovered the tiny ocean creatures that live within the plants. When they shook handfuls of the seaweed called sargassum, they found shrimp, crabs, and small fish.
The children were also given a chance to use a seine net. The seine net measures about three feet high by ten feet long, and has poles attached along the shorter edges. Working the net was a team effort, with one person holding a pole at either end. The team would walk through knee-deep water, allowing the net to scoop up the ocean life in its path. The contents were then emptied into a plastic tub, and everyone was allowed to feel the catch. The children found several species of fish, including a baby amberjack.
Ms. Pollock also had brought several skeletons of marine animals to show the children. The kids were amazed by the shark skeleton with its array of teeth.
At the end of the class the children learned to use a slurp gun, which resembles a syringe. It is about two and a half feet long with a two-inch opening. The kids placed the end of the gun near the water's edge, pulled back on the handle, and then pushed the contents into dry sand. Out came a bunch of small crabs that wasted no time in getting back to the ocean.After class all of the families gathered poolside for lunch and cooled off with a quick swim. Several of the kids traveled back to the beach for independent exploration and a nice, relaxing swim in the ocean. We all learned so much from Ms. Pollock, and we look forward to attending another beach event next year.
by Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway
Knowledge is power. As parents and educators of blind children, many of us may find ourselves in situations where we feel we lack the knowledge we need to raise our children to be independent and capable adults. Before my daughter was born, I had never personally known anyone who was blind. I felt like I needed a crash course in “Blindness 101.” I found many of the resources I was looking for through the Hadley School for the Blind.
My daughter Kendra was born on September 11, 2002. On September 12, I was at my computer looking up information on the various diagnoses we had been given, along with general information related to blind children. Just as individuals have personalities, so too do organizations. I gravitated toward the Websites of organizations that better fit my expectations of what I wanted my daughter's life to be. Finding the Website of the NFB was like striking gold. I knew that the philosophy shared by the NFB and the NOPBC matched my own personal philosophy. Similarly, I found the courses offered by the Hadley School for the Blind to be very empowering. Six months after Kendra was born, I enrolled in my first Hadley course in the Family Education track. My instructor was Debbie Worman. She and I have kept in touch ever since. I even had the chance to meet her in person in 2006 when I went to Chicago to receive Hadley's Robert J. Winn Family Education Award. I've found all of my Hadley instructors to be extremely knowledgeable and helpful. Some of them, such as Linn Sorge, have been blind. Linn frankly answered my questions and encouraged me to view her as a resource. Kendra still talks fondly about Linn, whom we met in person during our visit to the school.
The Hadley program enables parents to take courses from home at their own pace. Assignments are either mailed to the instructor or submitted by e-mail. Many courses are supplemented with videos, books, and other tools which the student may keep. I am currently enrolled in the Introduction to Braille course, and was provided with a slate and stylus to complete my lessons.
I have often encouraged other parents to take advantage of the courses offered through Hadley. I asked Debbie Worman to answer a few questions about the school for those who are not yet familiar with it. She was happy to do so.
Stephanie: Some readers may not know about the Hadley School for the Blind. Can you tell us a little about the school?
Debbie: The Hadley School for the Blind is the largest worldwide distance educator of blind and visually impaired people, their families, and blindness service professionals. Founded in 1920 by William Hadley and Dr. E.V.L. Brown, Hadley offers courses free of charge to its blind and visually impaired students and their families, and provides affordable tuition courses for blindness professionals. Today, the school serves more than 10,000 students annually in all fifty states and one hundred countries. Hadley relies on contributions from individuals, foundations, and corporations to fund its programs.
Hadley courses are offered in four program areas: Adult Continuing Education (ACE), High School (HS), Family Education (FE), and the Hadley School for Professional Studies (HSPS).
Hadley has a course for you if you are:
Stephanie: I know that you worked hard to create the new mini-courses that Hadley is now offering for parents. Can you describe those for us?
Debbie: Hadley is very excited to introduce three new mini-courses in the Family Education Program. These free one-lesson mini-courses are on topics relevant to parents with babies and young children. Photos and insightful comments from experienced parents enhance each course.
Raising a child who is visually impaired adds unique twists to the parenting adventure. This course shows how planning can help you face parenting challenges more confidently and strengthen the relationships with yourself, your child, other family members, and your community. Parents are offered strategies for taking care and scheduling time for self. Tips are offered for enjoying your child, building strong family connections, and building community.
Learning the basics of special education services helps you make sure your child obtains an appropriate education. This mini-course discusses professionals and the system of services in the United States. It explains the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) and the Individualized Education Program (IEP), and outlines the range of placements for children with visual impairments. It also gives ways to prepare for the transition from early intervention to preschool.
Working with other members of your child's educational team can greatly benefit your child. You know your child best, so you are the captain of this team. This mini-course discusses parents' rights and the laws pertaining to special education in the United States. It presents advocacy strategies to help you ensure that your child receives a free, appropriate public education.
Each mini-course offers tools and information to families. The courses are designed to support parents and convey a positive philosophy about blindness. For example, in "You, Your Child and Your Community," parents are encouraged to use the words "blind" and "visually impaired" and to join the blindness community. Organizations such as NOPBC are discussed as well as blindness listservs and national conferences.
In "How to Be Your Child's Advocate," parents are taught specific advocacy techniques to obtain services for their child. They are trained to speak out on their child's behalf and act as advocacy role models for their children.
In "Beginning the Special Education Journey," parents learn to be full participants in their child's educational experience.
Stephanie: There are many resources available to parents of blind children, yet not all of them share the NFB's philosophy. The NFB believes that, "The real problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight. The real problem is the misunderstanding and lack of information that exist. If a blind person has proper training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to a physical nuisance."
Would you please comment on how the courses offered by Hadley fit in with the NFB's philosophy?
Debbie: Hadley courses mesh well with the NFB philosophy. Specifically in our Family Education Program, we believe parent education is the key to a blind child's success. When parents and other family members focus on gathering information, they are able to see a bright future for their child. Hadley Family Education courses offer parents an avenue for building confidence in their parenting and encourage them to expect independence for their child.
Hadley understands the importance of Braille in a child's life. Parents are encouraged to learn Braille in our Introduction to Braille and Contracted Braille courses.
Stephanie: Can you elaborate on how the books and other resources used in the Family Education Program support the NFB philosophy?
Debbie: Let me answer that question based on my personal experiences as an instructor with Hadley for twenty years. I have always referred parents to NOPBC. I not only teach at Hadley, I also do Information & Referral for the Family Education Program. So you can imagine how many families I have referred to NOPBC in twenty years!
I wrote one of the new mini-courses, "You, Your Child and Your Community." In writing it I reread many Future Reflections articles so that I might fire myself up! I wanted the new course truly to reflect NFB's positive philosophy. For example, in the course I encourage parents to use the word "blind."
All of the new mini-courses are designed to support and encourage parents to be their child's best advocate. I think this meshes well with NFB's philosophy.
I also teach the Hadley "Learning Through Play" course, and I use several Future Reflections articles as supplemental material. Parents have really liked "Mom, What Does Blind Mean?" and "Blind Kids Play, Too."
For the advocacy and special-education courses I plan on using an article from Future Reflections titled "Kendra's Kindergarten Year: As Good As It Gets."
I am in the process of putting together a resource list for the three mini-courses. I will definitely have Carol Castellano's books and Doris Willoughby's books on the list as I have referred parents and educators to them for years.Stephanie: Thank you, Debbie, for sharing this information about the Hadley School for the Blind. For more information, or to register for courses, please call (800) 323-4238 or visit Hadley's Website at <www.hadley-school.org>.
On July 5, 2009, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) conducted elections at its annual meeting. The following officers and board members were elected: first vice president, Brad Weatherd (WY); second vice president, Barbara Mathews (CA); treasurer, Pat Renfranz (UT); and board members, Jim Beyer (MT); Denise Colton (UT); Merry-Noel Chamberlain (VA); David Hammell (IA); Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway (GA); Carlton Walker (PA); Andrea Beasley (WI); Jean Bening (MN); Debby Brackett (FL); and Lety F. Castillo (TX). President Carol Castellano (NJ) and Secretary Laura Weber (TX) were not up for election this year.
In 1984 the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), in conjunction with the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB) and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), launched an annual contest to encourage Braille reading among blind students. Over the past twenty-six years thousands of blind children and teens have entered the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest, competing for cash prizes as they build their reading speed and deepen their love for words on the page.
This year the contest began on November 1, 2008, and concluded on January 4, 2009, the two hundredth anniversary of Louis Braille's birth. During the nine weeks of the contest, teachers and parents helped each contestant maintain a careful record of the number of Braille pages he/she read. (Materials returned for school assignments did not count.)
Prizes were awarded in five categories according to grade: kindergarten-grade 1, grades 2-3, grades 4-5, grades 6-8, and grades 9-12. Contestants also competed for Twin Vision® Awards, granted to students who read both Braille and print; Most Improved Awards, provided to students who made substantial improvement over the past year; Jennifer Baker Awards, given to students who have overcome significant obstacles to become Braille literate; and Community Service Awards. The Community Service Awards were granted to students in grades 6-12 who used their Braille skills to provide services to individuals or organizations in the community.
All students who registered in advance for the contest received a "Braille Readers Are Leaders" T-shirt. A prize of $50 was awarded to the first-place winner in each category, and twelve winners were awarded a trip to the 2009 NFB convention in Detroit.
Below are listed the names of the 2009 Braille Readers Are Leaders winners, along with his/her state and the number of pages read. The winners of the twelve trips to the NFB National Convention in Detroit are marked with an asterisk.
Alayna Hall, IN: 5,000.
Taylor Thompson, AK: 1,459.
Kendra Holloway, GA: 1,246.
*Anna Walker, PA, 11,033.
*Gabrielle Nicholas, MO, 8,112.
Shaylin Wells, OK, 7,896.
Lucas Leiby, PA, 8,083.
Merlyn Hileman, CA, 7,058.
*Gabriella Welsh, WI, 6,044.
*Kalah Dolman, NY, 11,777.
Roosevelt Thermitus, FL, 7,782.
John Carnemolla, 7,144. CT
*Daniel Dintzner, MA, 18,107.
Minh Tam Ha, MA, 8,270.
Arron (AJ) Faxon, Jr., VA, 6,390.
*Mary Church, CA
*Jordan Richardson, MN
*Kayla Weathers, GA
*Jonathan Welscott, MI
Raquel Barajas, AZ
Kathryn Hurd, MO
Boh-Lee Kim, NY
Justin Thompkins, MO
Jonathan Gutierrez, PA
*Megan Palmer, UT
Michael Smedley, PA
*Emma Tubberville, MA
Elijah Veltre, WV
*Isabel Nieves, GA
Danielle Sowell, SC
Alexis Tabb, SC
A brand-new school year is upon us. Below you will find a gathering of resources for teaching and learning, in the classroom and beyond.
Dictionary & Thesaurus: Spelling can be a problem for many Braille readers. National Braille Press (NBP) offers a speller that contains fourteen hundred elementary-level words, listed alphabetically (without definitions). A child can look up the spelling of words independently. Each word is listed first in its uncontracted form, and then with contractions. The same word appears in print just to the left, so everyone can use this speller. The Braille Speller costs $7.
NBP also sells the Scholastic Pocket Thesaurus, featuring more than 800 entries for words most commonly used by children ages nine through twelve. Words are listed alphabetically. For example: "drive: 1. vb steer, maneuver, navigate, pilot, ride, propel, jockey, operate, control. 2. vb banish 3. n trip 4. n ambition, energy." The Scholastic Pocket Thesaurus comes in two volumes and sells for $10.
Braille Symbols Chart: This print 11 x 17 inch poster shows the English Braille symbols for letters, numbers, punctuation, and 189 contractions. Selling for $5, this is a great poster for a classroom.
The Bridge to Braille: Reading and School Success for the Young Blind Child by NOPBC President Carol Castellano and TVI Dawn Kosman has everything you need to know about adapting school materials to promote independence in the classroom. It is available in print for $12.95.
Primary Phonics: Educators Publishing Service provides the first reading experiences for millions of students. NBP has transcribed two sets of books from the popular Primary Phonics series. Every page includes print illustrations, large-print text, and text in both contracted and uncontracted Braille. Each set contains ten storybooks in a carrying case for $24. You can buy both sets together for $40.
Nemeth Reference Chart: This chart is organized in three columns. The first column shows a print mathematical symbol, the second column shows the Nemeth Code symbol, and the third column presents the ASCII equivalent. The chart is available in Braille or print for $16.95.
Help with Music: How to Read Braille Music by Bettye Krolick explains the Braille music symbols most frequently found in elementary- through intermediate-level music. In print only, for $9.95. Who’s Afraid of Braille Music? introduces concepts important in reading and writing Braille music for aspiring musicians of any age. Available in print or Braille for $14.
Print/Braille Picture Books: Twenty-five years ago National Braille Press started the Children's Braille Book Club, featuring popular picture books enhanced with Braille on transparent plastic sheets, and priced the same as the retail print title. These books are great additions to home and classroom libraries. Email notices are sent out monthly, announcing the new selection.
PortaBooks: Most of the books from NBP are available electronically as "PortaBooks," either on a CD or as a direct download from the Website. You can get lots of popular children's books already translated and ready to be embossed or read on a notetaker. NBP has bundled dozens and even hundreds of titles together: Early Reader 1 (87 books in 4 formats on CD): $20; Early Reader 2 (237 books in 4 formats on CD) $20; and the Magic Tree House Series (35 books on CD): $12.
Tactile American Flag: Most blind kids know the American flag has stars and stripes, but they may not know how it is designed. NBP has created a tactile American flag in red, white, and blue with the Pledge of Allegiance printed on it in print and Braille. The flag is available in either uncontracted or contracted Braille for $5 (please specify format).
Poetry: Where the Sidewalk Ends is available in most school libraries. NBP’s version features the same poems in print and Braille, and includes the illustrations. The whole classroom can read the humorous poems of Shel Silverstein for the same price as the print edition, $18.99 (2 volumes). A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children, compiled by Caroline Kennedy, shows great respect for children by including quality children's poets (Lear, Milne, Stevenson) and age-appropriate classics by poets such as Dickinson, Hardy, Wordsworth, and Shakespeare. The book is available in one volume for $19.95.
Astronomy: Touch the Stars is an astronomy book created by Noreen Grice specifically for blind and visually-impaired stargazers. Nineteen carefully-rendered tactile illustrations by Creative Adaptations for Learning (CAL) bring the excitement of constellations, comets, meteor showers, and nebulae down to earth and onto the page. The text is in large print and Braille. The book includes print versions of the tactile illustrations for sighted readers. (One hardcover volume for $32.)
Labeling: Our most popular book this year is Label It! Braille & Audio Strategies for Identifying Items at Home & Work. It focuses primarily on labeling clothing and household items with Braille. An extensive resource list at the back covers labeling materials and products. It's available in print or Braille for $12.
Valentines: Every year NBP designs print/Braille Valentines for kids to share with their classmates. Designs are posted online every January.
Remembering Louis: To help celebrate Louis Braille's bicentennial, NBP has created print/Braille bookmarks featuring a design by artist Judy Krimski. The bookmarks are packaged in bundles of thirty (for $8) or fifty (for $12).
Note Cards: To help educate the public about Louis Braille's legacy, NBP offers gift boxes of Louis Braille note cards. Ten cards and envelopes are packaged in each box. The cards feature the colorful Louis icon designed by artist Judy Krimski. The number 200 appears in Braille in the upper left-hand corner, and in print on the right. Along the bottom are the words LOUIS BRAILLE in Braille and print.
Louis Braille Bicentennial Wall Poster: This educational wall poster celebrates Louis Braille's life and achievements. The 12.25 x 17 inch poster prominently features the Louis icon plus the Braille alphabet. Along the left and right margins, smaller images and text illustrate Louis's life and facts about the Braille code. Posters are free while the supply lasts; there is a charge for shipping only. Limit: one per customer.
To order any of these products contact:
National Braille Press
88 St. Stephen Street
Boston, MA 02115
Toll-free: (800) 548-7323
Seedlings Braille Books for Children sponsors the Book Angel Program, open to all blind and visually impaired children in the US. Children who sign up will receive two free Braille books per year from the Seedlings collection of some 950 titles for children from infancy through age fourteen. To learn more, contact:
Seedlings Braille Books for Children
Toll-free: (800) 777-8552
National Center for Blind Youth in Science <www.blindscience.org> is an extensive Website powered by the Jernigan Institute of the National Federation of the Blind. The site is designed to encourage blind students to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (sometimes referred to as the STEM curriculum). Sections for students and teachers are packed with information and resources. Among the site's unique features are short biographical sketches of blind scientists and CareerLink, a means for students to network with blind people working in the STEM fields. The site posts information about opportunities for blind students such as Leading the Way, developed with the help of blind mountain climber Erik Weihenmayer; Space Camp for Interested Visually Impaired Students; and NFB's Youth Slam and Junior Science Academy.
Accessible Science at <www.perkins.org/accessiblescience> is a new Website created by the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts. The site suggests a variety of activities in the physical and life sciences that can teach concepts to blind and visually impaired students. Sections on such topics as astronomy, biology, chemistry, ocean science, and tactile graphics list print and online resources. Visitors to the site are strongly encouraged to submit their own experiences and ideas.
ILAB <http://ilab.psu.edu/index.html> is a project of the National Science Foundation in conjunction with Pennsylvania State University in State College, Pennsylvania. The site provides information about equipment that has been designed to give blind and visually impaired students greater access in the laboratory, particularly in the field of chemistry. Among the available products are the ID Mate Portable Bar Code Reader, which enables students to read labels on containers of chemicals; the Color Analysis Laboratory Sensor, which speaks the colors of solids and liquids used in experiments; and the Submersible Audible Light Sensor, which monitors the color of precipitates.
The Princeton Braillists are a small group of senior citizen volunteers dedicated to creating affordable tactile atlases for blind children and adults. Their maps are produced on heavy 11 x 11 ½ inch Thermoform sheets, bound into volumes with cardboard covers. The master for each map is made by hand with metal foil, allowing for a variety of textures to indicate mountains, oceans, cities, rivers, boundaries, and other features. To date they have created twenty-eight atlases, including Maps of Canada and the United States, Russia and Its Former Republics, Atlas of the Middle East, and Outline Maps of the World. They have also created a book of basic human anatomy diagrams. Prices range from $14 to $25. For a complete listing visit <http://mysite.verizon.net/resvqbxe/princetonbraillists>. To order send check or money order to:
The Princeton Braillists
76 Leabrook Lane
Princeton, NJ 08540
For questions call Ruth Bogia at (215) 357-7715 <[email protected]> or Nancy Amick, (609) 924-5207 <[email protected]>.
Many Websites not specifically intended for blind visitors offer a trove of fully accessible materials. Here are a few sites your kids or students may like to explore.
Kiddie Records Weekly <http://www.kiddierecords.com> makes available hundreds of recordings produced commercially for children in the 1940s and 1950s. Many were full-scale productions involving well-known actors, musicians, and composers. Selections include nursery rhymes, fairy tales, Tom and Jerry adventures, Wild West stories, and much more, often with dazzling sound effects. Files can be downloaded or purchased as CDs, or you can stream for free.
Two sites sponsored by National Public Radio (NPR) contain extensive audio archives that may be of interest to middle- and high-school students as well as older listeners. The Website <http://www.npr.org/programs/lnfsound/> holds a collection of "Lost and Found Sound," including historic interviews, city soundscapes, and songs in now-extinct languages of Africa. The Third Coast Festival Website <www.thirdcoastfestival.org> archives hundreds of radio documentaries. Listen with headsets and discover how state-of-the-art recording equipment captures the sounds of a Moroccan bazaar, a mountainside in Nepal, or a plunging waterfall.
Samizdat Express <www.samizdat.com> makes thousands of public-domain titles available on CD and/or DVD. The books are saved as text files, and can easily be accessed with a screenreader, Braille notetaker, or audio device such as the Victor Stream. The Complete Book 3-DVD Set contains 20,884 titles for $149--a whole library of classic fiction and nonfiction, both famous and forgotten. CDs sort the collection by author, time period, or subject area; purchase a single CD with all the works of Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, or Shakespeare, or a collection of documents relating to African American or Native American history. One CD contains hundreds of classic stories and novels for children. To receive a free "Kids' Book of the Week:” contact Richard Seltzer at <[email protected]>.