Future Reflections Summer 2010
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by Doreen Franklin, Susan Harper, and Carol Castellano
From the Editor: The blindkid listserv, sponsored by the NOPBC and the National Federation of the Blind, is a forum that enables parents of blind children from all over the country to share experiences and exchange ideas. Recently Doreen Franklin, vice president of the Florida Parents of Blind Children, posted a letter she sent to the superintendent of her daughter's pre-kindergarten after a disturbing incident. A chorus of listers responded with much-needed support and suggestions for handling difficult situations in the future. Below is Doreen's letter, followed by two of the responses she received.
From: "Doreen Franklin"
To: "NFB Parents" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Daughter's Pre-K Graduation
Date: Friday, June 04, 2010 1:16 PM
I want to share a letter that we hand-delivered to our school superintendent today about our daughter's pre-K graduation ceremony. As you can tell from the letter, the occasion was bittersweet.
Dear Superintendent ---,
I am writing about my daughter, Victorria, who is visually impaired and has attended the pre-K program at Eagles Nest. Her graduation ceremony was today. I am writing to tell you how upset my family was with the way Victorria was treated.
The ceremony started with a teacher leading Victorria using sighted guide technique. Torrie was set down on the floor to watch the photo review of the year with the rest of her class. She has low vision, and she was not able to see or recognize the pictures of herself and her friends. All of the other children were shouting out, "That's me!" They even shouted, "Torrie!" but Torrie could not participate in the festivity that her friends were enjoying. I wish so much that one of the teachers could have described the pictures to Torrie so she could take part in the fun! It was heartbreaking to sit there and watch Torrie unable to participate with her peers. I wanted to bring her over to me and go through the pictures verbally with her, but I knew she needed to stay where she was. (I have asked her teacher for a copy of the CD so that Torrie can watch the show at home).
As the ceremony continued, the children moved to the stage. Again, Torrie was led by the teacher to her seat. Her cane was nowhere to be seen. During the program, Torrie was led to a place on the stage to hold a sign. All of the other children were able to walk toward the audience during parts of the program, but Torrie sat still. We were so disappointed! Our daughter's disability was being hidden. By not letting her use her cane, the school tried to make her look like the other children, yet she was not doing the things that the others were doing. She was not walking toward the audience like her sighted peers. It was as though she were being taught to be ashamed of her disability and her cane. That is not what we are instilling in Torrie at home! We want her to be proud of who she is!
The diplomas were then given out, and the children shook hands with the teachers. Torrie walked across the stage without her cane. When I saw that, I gasped for my daughter's safety. After the ceremony, all the other parents got their children and took pictures of them on stage. But a teacher held Torrie by the hand and led her out of the auditorium, separating her from the group. My family and I were very disappointed. We have no pictures of Torrie on stage with her diploma.
Torrie is finally getting orientation and mobility instruction for use of the cane. In our last IEP meeting it was decided that she would not use the cane in her classroom, but that she would use it at all other times in school. She should have used her cane in the auditorium today. The other parents all know she uses a cane, and I don't think it would have mattered to anyone if her cane had been visible. If it had been on the floor beside her, she could have used her cane to move around like her sighted peers. Instead, her disability was concealed. Do you know the message that was being sent to Torrie? That message is that you cannot be yourself--you need to hide your disability by hiding your cane. What a sad lesson for our pre-K children!
This past weekend I attended a state convention for people who are blind and visually impaired. Everyone used a cane or guide dog. No one was ashamed of having a visual disability. These blind adults navigated an environment that was new to all of them--they had to find their way from the hotel check-in to their rooms and from their rooms to the restaurant and various seminar rooms. Several of these people were speakers who had to walk to the front of the room to give their speeches. None of these adults was embarrassed about using a cane or guide dog; instead, they moved throughout the hotel with confidence and independence.
I don't have the words to describe my feelings about the independence and assurance I saw in the people I met last weekend. I can hardly begin to tell you how I felt when I saw that my daughter was not allowed to use her cane, a tool that gives her both independence and safety! What a stark contrast!
I have been trying to be upbeat about the ceremony with my daughter, but it has been quite hard for me to hide my sadness. Torrie told me that she didn't need her cane on the stage. That is not a decision for a five-year-old to make. Whether she uses a cane is a decision made by her parents. We, her parents, have made that decision. It was reaffirmed by the IEP team after an orientation and mobility assessment clearly showed the reasons for her cane use.
Several members of our family wear glasses. We don't question their use or feel embarrassed by it. Torrie's cane is a part of her, just as our glasses are a part of us. How can we instill that message in her when the school isn't on board for the use of her cane?
From: "Susan Harper"
To: "NFB-NET Blind Kid Mailing List
Subject: Re: Daughter's pre-K graduation
Date: Friday, June 04, 2010 6:34 PM
We share your tears, not of joy, but of a moment Torrie and her family were robbed of. Her cane is a part of her, just as my glasses and my husband's hearing aids are parts of us. I hope that you will share this letter with Torrie's teachers and the school principal and superintendent. This is not a criticism of them, but a teaching moment. However, you will never recoup this memorable time in your daughter's life. All you can do is teach her to hold her head high, carry her cane, and go on.
There will be other moments like this. We have been the parents of children with disabilities for over ten years, and now we have a blind child. We feel your pain and pray for healing, not just for your family, but for all the folks who are ignorant about what it means to be different. Celebrate with your little girl and tell her she is a special person in your life every day. You are the best thing in her life. Don't stop advocating, and use this story over and over where it is needed to teach!
Please accept this big hug from our big family to you and your amazingly brave little girl. There are going to be dumssas (our word, and you can unscramble the letters) everywhere.
From: Carol Castellano
To: "NFB Parents"
Subject: Re: Daughter's Pre-K Graduation
Date: Saturday, June 05, 2010 12:36 PM
I am sitting here with tears in my eyes, having just read your letter about Torrie. These moments are so meaningful for us, perhaps even more meaningful than those same moments with our sighted children. So many of us have had to work very hard helping our children develop and fighting the system so that they get an equal shake.
I hope that the sting of this day subsides quickly. This experience will become your ammunition for doing things differently next time. We can just about guarantee that people--even those who know our kids and have worked with them--will sell them short on activities like this and will not share our utter PASSION for them to participate equally and fully. I'm afraid that the onus lies on us--and eventually on our kids when they learn to self-advocate. It is up to us to insist on equal participation and then to teach exactly what that means.
Though it probably does not feel that way now, this will become a crucial and incredibly valuable learning experience for you. Unfortunately, we cannot take it for granted that others will do the job right. I am sure it is difficult to view what happened in a positive light now--as in, better to find this out in preschool than in high school. So, now you know. For other school events, religious rites, Scouting activities, graduations, assume that you'll need to get in there early and teach. As Torrie grows older, include her in the planning--what do we need to tell these guys so that you can participate just like everyone else? In this way, you'll be teaching her what to expect and how to advocate for herself. Things won't be depressing or sad because she'll be informed and empowered. The day will come when she will be able to anticipate problem areas and do the teaching herself in advance.
Again, I hope the sadness dissipates quickly. Go on to the positive--this is a valuable lesson learned nice and early that you and Torrie will use well throughout her life.
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