Future Reflections         Summer 2009

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Empowerment through Knowledge:
A Review of Courses for Parents of Blind Children from Hadley School for the Blind

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.

You, Your Child, and Your Community

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.    

Beginning the Special Education Journey

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.

How to Be Your Child's Advocate

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>.

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