Future Reflections Special Issue: Blind Children with Additional Disabilities
by Deborah Kent Stein
Recently I spoke with an advocate for children with disabilities in the public schools. "I've heard a lot about the NFB," she told me. "You guys are awesome! You really get things done! Too bad you only care about the vanilla blind."
"The vanilla blind?" I repeated. "What do you mean?"
"You know," she said. "Blind people who don't have any other disabilities. People whose only disability is blindness."
This criticism of the Federation is not new, but I believe it is unfounded. In nearly every chapter across the country adult Federationists with multiple disabilities play an active part. Some use orthopedic canes or wheelchairs, some have developmental disabilities, some have hearing impairments, and some have complex medical conditions. Blind children with additional disabilities are woven into the NFB community as well. The NFB Jernigan Institute and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) are deeply committed to including blind children with multiple disabilities in our activities and programs.
Statistics tell us that at least half of all blind children have additional disabilities of one kind or another. The combination of blindness and other impairments can affect how a child learns, plays, moves about, and communicates. To educators and other professionals with a strong background in autism, deafness, or learning disabilities, blindness may be a complete mystery. It is sometimes hard to ensure that the blindness-related needs of multiply disabled children are fully met or even acknowledged.
We in the NFB do not claim expertise in autism, dyslexia, or any disability other than blindness. Where blindness is concerned, however, we have a vast reservoir of knowledge based on firsthand experience. We recognize that blind children, including those who have multiple disabilities, need to learn nonvisual techniques in order to reach their fullest potential. We deplore the fact that all too often blind children with additional disabilities fall through the cracks in the education system, emerging ill-prepared to step into adulthood.
This special issue of Future Reflections focuses on blind children with additional disabilities at home, at school, and in the community. Many of the articles are written by parents, and some are the work of professionals who offer original thinking and innovative practical suggestions. Some contributions come from blind adults who have lived with multiple disabilities since childhood. I hope that this issue will show that blind people with additional disabilities are an integral part of the Federation. I hope it will help dispel the myth that the NFB only cares about the "vanilla blind."