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 29 Number 4 Convention Report 2010
Deborah Kent Stein, Editor
Copyright © 2010 American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
For more information
about blindness and children contact:
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, MD 21230
www.nfb.org/nopbc • [email protected] • [email protected]
Volume 29 Number 4 Convention Report 2010
TOP DOWN AND BOTTOM UP
Education: Top Down and Bottom Up
by Carol Castellano and Dr. Edward Bell
Imagine the Possibilities!
by MarChé Daughtry, Zina Lewis, and Mark Riccobono
From Alchemy to Chemistry
by Cary Supalo
How to Tell Time at Sea
by Dr. Fred Schroeder
Teacher Training, Past and Present
by Dr. Jerry Petroff and Dr. Ruby Ryles
Rehabilitation: the State of the Art
by Dr. Edward Bell
Access for All
by Noreen Grice
Knowing Is Not Enough
by Laura Weber
WORKSHOPS AND PRESENTATIONS
I Survived Math Class
by Al Maneki
Math in New Dimensions
by David Schleppenbach
ABC and 1, 2, 3
by Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway
Low Expectations: Consequences and Remedies
by Rick Fox
The Quest for Independence
by Carla McQuillan
The Teen and Tween Rooms
by Kim Cunningham and Sally Thomas
by Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway
We Who Are Called to Teach
by Laurel Hudson, PhD, 2010 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children
The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards
presented by Gary Wunder
The 2010 NFB Scholarship Awards
presented by Anil Lewis
The 2010-2011 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest
Odds and Ends
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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Conventions change lives. Thousands of people in the National Federation of the Blind will attest to the truth of this simple statement. The annual convention of the NFB brings together blind people of all ages and their families, along with teachers and other blindness professionals, for nearly a week of presentations, workshops, and other activities. It's all about sharing resources, exchanging ideas, and gaining an exciting new perspective on the possibilities for blind people.
The seventieth annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind met from July 3 to July 8 at the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas, Texas. Convention opened with "Education: Top Down and Bottom Up," a day-long conference for parents of blind children and professionals in the fields of education and rehabilitation. Lectures and hands-on workshops of special interest to parents and teachers were spread throughout the week, covering everything from early Braille exposure, tactile maps, and math instruction to IEPs. Kids and teens enjoyed games, science experiments, crafts, and all the delights of making new friends and reconnecting with old ones.
Though the formal activities are important, the friendships and working partnerships that form at convention matter most of all. For many parents, convention is their first opportunity to meet and talk with blind adults. Parents who don't know any other families with blind children back home suddenly meet hundreds of others who share their joys and concerns; they know that they are not alone.
The following pages attempt to capture the spirit of Convention 2010 through a series of photos of conventioneers at work and at play. Later in this issue you can read a sampling of the presentations that were delivered. If you attended the convention in Dallas, these pictures and articles may bring back memories. If you weren't able to be there, we hope that this issue of Future Reflections will inspire you to join us in Orlando, Florida, for Convention 2011. You'll make new friends, carry away valuable ideas, and begin to see a brighter future for your blind child. Conventions change lives.
From the Editor: The 2010 convention of the National Federation of the Blind opened with a day-long conference for parents, teachers, rehabilitation counselors, and orientation and mobility instructors. The Joint Conference for Families and Rehabilitation Professionals sprang from the combined efforts of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), the National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB), the National Association of Blind Rehabilitation Professionals (NABRP), and the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness (PDRIB) at Louisiana Tech University. The conference coordinators were NOPBC President Carol Castellano and PDRIB director Dr. Edward Bell. Here are their introductory remarks.
Carol Castellano: Our theme this year is "Education: Top Down and Bottom Up." Parents worry and sometimes experience real fear about the future of their blind children. What we imagine when we look down the road truly depends on what we come to believe about blindness. I'm happy to say that here in this organization we see that blind children can look forward to a future of independence, competence, confidence, and empowerment.
The ability of blind children and blind adults to achieve independence and full lives depends to a great extent on the foundation that their education and rehabilitation provides. The quality of that education and rehabilitation depends upon the training and expectations of those who are teaching. Education, both from the top down and the bottom up, is of great interest to us here today.
We are fortunate to have in the room with us, both as speakers and as members of the audience, teachers and rehab professionals who share our progressive views, our positive thinking, our high expectations, and our high hopes for the future. I welcome all of you and look forward to a great convention.
Dr. Eddie Bell: Thank you, Carol. It is my pleasure to welcome you all here today. This is our ninth annual rehabilitation and orientation and mobility conference, and this is the second year that we've hosted the morning session in cooperation with the NOPBC. In years past we used to look across the hallway at the parents of the children we were hired to teach, and we realized that they were discussing independence, Braille access, and many other topics that were a focus for us. It only made sense for us to hold a conference together. We all want the same things. We need to put our collective wills together to create a better education for blind children and adults across the country.I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce Dr. David Gullatt, who is the dean of the College of Education at Louisiana Tech University. The Institute on Blindness is part of the College of Education. Dr. Gullatt has been a real champion of our cause and is a strong force in helping keep the institute headed down the right path. This is his first convention, so as you see him around, please give him a warm welcome!
by MarChé Daughtry, Zina Lewis, and Mark Riccobono
Introduction by NOBPC President Laura Weber: The programs of the Jernigan Institute are changing kids' lives and their beliefs about what they can do in the future. Like Cary Supalo, they can travel the world and look smart! In this panel we're going to hear from a student who participated in one of these programs, from her mother, and from the executive director. I present to you MarChé Daughtry, the student; her mother, Zina Lewis; and the executive director of the Jernigan Institute, Mark Riccobono.
MarChé Daughtry: Hi, people! I'm MarChé, and this is my mom. I was in the LAW Program this year, which stands for Leadership at Washington. We went to the Jernigan Institute on the fifteenth of April. Mom and I took the train, which I was very excited about because I never took the train before.
The first day we got into our rooms and met a lot of new people. The next day we learned about the history of the National Federation of the Blind. We learned about the founders and the important things they did in their lives and how some of them went to Congress.
Then we had a little debate. There were about twenty-five of us kids and we debated four issues, pro and con. The issue for my team was "Should blind people get extra time for taking tests?" We were the team that said, "No, they should not." We had five minutes to say why they should not, and our team won!
The next day, which was Sunday, was my favorite. We went out sightseeing. We went to the Lincoln Memorial and the World War II Memorial, all kinds of memorials. At the World War II Memorial they actually have tactile pictures. You can feel the pictures of the soldiers and see what they're wearing and the things they're carrying and even their tents. I met a man there who was really in World War II. He actually got hurt right before D-Day, so he wasn't in the D-Day landing.
Then we went to Arlington National Cemetery. Let me tell you, it was the most painful walk I have ever had, all up hills! Yes, I was complaining, but no, we could not take a break! [Laughter.]
Zina Lewis: We were there for the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was really quite nice to see the sychronization of the soldiers. We also saw a memorial at the Pentagon for 9/11. They have benches arranged so that some of them face the Pentagon and some of them face away from it. The benches facing the Pentagon represent the airplanes flying into it, and the benches facing outward represent the people who were inside, with their names.
MarChé: Monday we went to the Capitol, and we had to dress nice. I'm okay with dressing nice. I liked going to the Capitol because I love history, and there's so much history all around you when you're there!
Zina: The first thing we did when we got to the Capitol was--
MarChé: We stood in line! [Laughter.]
Zina: Then we went in to see the House of Representatives. We were there for about an hour. The guide explained where the president comes in, he explained the aisle and the side for the Republicans and the side for the Democrats--he just explained how things went. Then one of the pages came in and talked to the children about being a page. She encouraged the blind students to put in their applications. Her name is Stacy Cervenka and she's blind.
MarChé: Another thing I liked was that they had a tactile map of Washington with the streets labeled in Braille. We didn't get much chance to look at it before we had to move on.
Zina: The Presidential Hall had a lot of statues and paintings. Stacy went over to the paintings on the wall and explained a little bit about each one. We went on to a gallery where you can whisper from across the room and people can hear you. She showed us; she went across the room and whispered and we could hear her, and that was pretty neat. Then we rode a subway to where we ate lunch. And that's where things went downhill.
MarChé: But first after lunch we went to the White House! And we went to a big conference room where the president talks to people.
Zina: Kareem Dale, the President's Commissioner on People with Disabilities, talked to the kids about things going on in the White House. We didn't get to meet the president, but he was there. But, well, MarChé wasn't feeling well, and on the way back--
MarChé: Mom! This is my part! I'm the one that threw up! [Laughter.] All over the place! It was awesome!
Zina: And we were stuck in rush-hour traffic. All the way back to Baltimore!
MarChé: Then the next day we went to the House offices and talked about our bills. One bill was about quiet cars and one was about getting speech or Braille on those flat things--you know--touch screens. I went to see my representative. He wasn't there, so I talked to one of his assistants. He had actually signed off on the quiet cars bill, so I tried to convince him to sign the technology bill. I think he decided to sign on, but I'm not really sure.
Zina: We were with a group of four kids from different parts of the country, so we went to see their representatives, too. The appointments were pretty spread out, so we had quite a long stretch of time in between where we just sat around in the cafeteria.
MarChé: We went to see one representative who had signed onto all our bills, and we went to say thank you. One of the students I was with, her name was Hannah. She's from somewhere out west. And her representative I couldn't stand! We tried to talk to her assistant about quiet cars and the touch screen bill, but she wasn't interested at all.
Zina: She just didn't want to sign onto the bills, and she didn't want to hear what the children had to say.
MarChé: We weren't getting anywhere. We were just going around in circles. But then the boy named Ross said something about children, sighted children, running out and getting hit by quiet cars. Then all of a sudden it was, "Oh, we can't have children getting hurt!" It was like blind people don't matter, but sighted children matter! And we said that if they have audio on the touch screens, that would help sighted people who can't read very well. Maybe that started to change her mind.
Mark Riccobono: That's a tough act to follow. I appreciate the opportunity to be here today, and I really appreciate that all of you are here. The fact that you are here is immensely important for you, for your children, and for the children you teach. Your being here is one of the elements that will make a tremendous difference. Making a difference is the essence of our Jernigan Institute--it's not mine, it's all of ours. It's our institute, and it will do all of the things we want it to do.
For about a decade I have been working on the education of blind children. I hesitate to say that because I don't know that things are any better than they were ten years ago. I'm a blind person. I grew up as a blind person, although I didn't know it. Nobody ever said I was blind, though I was legally blind at least. For the past three years I've been a parent, although I wasn't the parent of a blind child. I've been a parent, so I've had all those experiences.
My blindness is caused by a condition called aniridia. Aniridia can lead to many things. By itself it doesn't necessarily cause vision loss, but it can lead to glaucoma. Glaucoma caused much of my vision loss.
Seven weeks ago my wife, Melissa, who is also blind, gave birth to a daughter. [Applause.] Oriana has aniridia. It's possible that I could now be the parent of a blind child. I just don't know. The possibility of blindness for Oriana doesn't scare me, because I know what to do about that. I know the National Federation of the Blind will be there for us. The thing that scares me is the education system that my daughter might have to go through. We're the folks who are going to change that--for your children and for my child--for all of our children! [Applause.]
My mom didn't know I was blind. She knew I had vision loss. Professionals told her this and that, but no one ever told her about the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. I grew up during the early days of the NOPBC. The NOPBC was growing, and Future Reflections was growing, but my mom knew nothing about those resources. She has a lot of regrets about the things she didn't know. She has come to work with the National Federation of the Blind and our Wisconsin affiliate. She's been involved with parents there, trying to give them some of the things she wished she had had.
My mother has been talking to some of the Wisconsin parents about Oriana. One mother told her friends, "Karen has some good news and some bad news!" The good news, of course, was that she has a new granddaughter. The bad news this woman referred to was that the granddaughter might have some degree of vision loss. My mom called me up and said, "I don't feel that this is bad news. First of all, who better to raise her than two blind parents? This is not bad news. Blindness is not a bad thing!" But for so long she had been given the impression that blindness is a limiting factor that she almost felt bad about pushing back against what people were saying. I said, "Don't feel bad about it! Push back as hard as you can!" [Applause.]
When we had our first child, Austin, moments after his birth the doctor said to us, "You know, I looked all around, but I didn't find a manual in there." He meant that we're not expected to know all of the things we need to know as parents. It's a learning process. That's true for any parent, whether your child is blind or sighted.
In the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute we're trying to change the experience of education for blind children. The best way we know to do that is to do it ourselves. Cary Supalo gave a very good description of one important element, our work in science. It's not that we think every blind child is going to become a scientist. It's not that we believe engineering is suddenly the new chair-caning! But we want blind kids to know they have the opportunity to become astronomers or engineers. If that's not what they want to do, if that's not where their passions lie, they will still do something more than what they thought they could do before. That's the essence of what we're working toward.
Cary gave a description of how we're trying to catalog some of the great things that are happening out there. Where great ideas have been generated in the past there has been no way to preserve them and build upon them. That's what we're doing with our Science Initiative. We're doing it in many other areas as well. I'll talk about a couple of them before I close.
One area we're working on is Braille. We know that Braille literacy is important and we have a lot of work to do there. For decades we've been running the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest in partnership with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. This year we had record participation. [Applause.] It shows that the effort that ramped up last year is making a difference. We also have generated a summer program called Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning, the BELL Program. We have packaged that curriculum. This summer we're offering that program to provide Braille instruction to kids who typically aren't getting Braille, kids who are overlooked. Most of them have some vision. In some cases to say that these kids have vision is kind of a joke! We're providing Braille for them. If the schools won't teach them, we'll teach them ourselves. We're doing that in Georgia, Maryland, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. That curriculum is available to anyone in the National Federation of the Blind who wishes to put together the resources and find the really great teachers who want to get Braille to these kids. We can do it ourselves and will continue to expand that effort. The attitude has been that Braille is a last resort. Unless we insist that there is a different path, we won't make progress.
One of the richest assets available to us is the network of blind people in the NFB. You don't have to know everything. When I have any question related to blindness, I know I'm only two, maybe three people away from finding the answer. We want to build upon mentoring opportunities.
Our goal in the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute is to make sure that the next generation does not have the same regrets that we have. Many of us regret that we didn't meet the National Federation of the Blind earlier in our lives. We're going to eliminate that regret for the current generation.
There are so many elements in the education of blind children that need to be worked on. The work starts with our building a network, discussing our hopes and dreams, and thinking about how we can get there together. That's what we do in the Jernigan Institute. Your voice is important. Your participation in the work we do is important, not just for your child but for all blind children. We believe that they are all our children. Their dreams are our hope for the future. Thank you.
by Cary Supalo
Introduction by Carol Castellano: Over the past several years the National Federation of the Blind has put a great deal of effort into breaking barriers so that blind children can participate fully in math and science. We have our science academies and astronomy workshops in the summer. We have a great Website that we invite you to visit. Cary Supalo is one of the movers and shakers in this effort. He is a graduate student in chemistry at Penn State University and will soon have his PhD. I'm very happy to introduce Cary Supalo.
The ancient Greeks believed that lead could be turned into gold. Trying to achieve this goal, they practiced a science called alchemy, using all sorts of concoctions and operations. However, they never succeeded.
The seventeenth-century scientist Robert Boyle, often considered the father of chemistry, questioned how chemical compounds interacted with one another and started studying basic chemical phenomena. Boyle is most noted for his discovery of how pressure and volume of gases interact, which became known as Boyle's Law.
In the nineteenth century, scientists such as Dmitri Mendeleev designed the modern Periodic Table. They placed the elements in columns and rows with the elements going down each column having similar physical and/or chemical properties. It is these chemical and physical properties that chemists today hold near and dear to their hearts.
When people ask me what a chemist does for a living, I sometimes give them what I consider a profound statement: "I control matter for a living." It sounds more impressive than it really is, but in essence that is what chemists do. We problem solve to figure out why things are the way they are. We also try to make new compounds in the hope of improving the quality of life for humanity. However, sometimes we make things that are detrimental to humanity, such as certain pesticides, hydrogenated food oils, and Thalidomide.
Why is all of this important to the blind?
In years past, it has been difficult for the blind to have access to career paths in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professions. These fields were perceived to be too difficult or too dangerous for the blind to pursue. But why have STEM activities been seen as too difficult or too dangerous?
Some people indicate the reason has been the historic lack of accessible technologies. Others say it is because science teachers are concerned about injury to blind students and their classmates. Still others believe that science teachers generally do not possess the technical knowledge base to provide Braille support and other adaptive assistance to blind students. In other words, life would be simpler for teachers if blind students stayed away from science classes.
It may also be that many blind students themselves do not feel comfortable handling laboratory equipment and glassware. This discomfort might result from the student not being allowed to handle various items in the home. Some parents overly shelter their blind children, not allowing them to wash dishes, do housecleaning, use knives at the table, cook dinner, etc. Many parents of blind children feel that working with chemicals is not safe and could result in harm.
For all of these reasons, the National Federation of the Blind started the National Center for Blind Youth in Science (NCBYS) and <www.blindscience.org>, the world's first dynamic Website where parents, teachers, and students can obtain tips on teaching and learning a wide range of math and science concepts. We now have the knowledge base. Next we need the technology. Through my work as project manager of the Independent Laboratory Access for the Blind (ILAB) project at Penn State University, a suite of relatively low-cost talking and audible tools has been developed for blind students in science classes. These tools can be used by students of physics, chemistry, earth science, and biology. A number of these tools are commercially available from Independent Science, LLC, a consultancy licensed Vernier distributorship that I founded.
We have interfaced the JAWS screen reader with the Logger Pro Data Collection software package to make all laboratory probeware from Vernier Software and Technology accessible to the blind. These devices include temperature, pH, oxygen, conductivity, motion, magnetic field, humidity, turbidity, voltage, and approximately two hundred other types of probes used in numerous scientific fields of study. Various devices are appropriate for use by elementary school, middle school, high school, and college students. Some of this probeware can even be used in research laboratories.
Independent Science is now working to develop additional access technologies that we hope will open more doors of opportunity for the blind. Earlier this year, the company received a small business innovation grant from the National Science Foundation to develop the first handheld data collection device for the blind. Students can plug various Vernier probes into the device to collect data in classroom laboratories or in the field. This technology will allow blind students to collect pH measurements in forest streams or swimming pools, check outdoor humidity, or plot acceleration and velocity while they ride a roller coaster. The device is currently in initial testing, and we hope to have it commercially available by the time the 2011 NFB national convention rolls around.
The blind have come far in the sciences in recent years. I think Dr. Jernigan would be proud of what we are doing, and more important, of where we are going. However, all this work will have been for nothing unless we encourage more blind students to study STEM curricula. We also need you to encourage and inspire teachers of the blind to believe that it is beneficial for the blind to study science. Science is challenging, but we blind people are excellent at problem solving through numerous aspects of our daily lives. Problem solving is a key characteristic for any scientist to possess.
by Dr. Fred Schroeder
Introduction by Dr. Edward Bell: I'd now like to introduce the first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind. He is a research professor at San Diego State University. He has touched the lives of nearly all of us. He is by far one of the country's most renowned experts in the field of education and rehabilitation. We are very proud to have him speaking to us here today--Dr. Fred Schroeder.
Let me begin with a disclaimer: I have no idea what "top down and bottom up" really means. [Laughter.] However, this will not at all deter me from speaking on the topic!
Let's start with "top down." Let's start all the way at the top, with the federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. I don't want to sound negative, but I have to be honest. The federal law is not on your side. The federal law says that your blind child has the right to an education. That sounds pretty good, right? But when you look at how that right is implemented, essentially you cannot look to the legal system to support your child's education. The big assumption is that your child will be behind. If you say, "I want my child to be at or above grade level in all subjects," you risk being labeled as one of those difficult, unreasonable parents who hasn't accepted their child's limitations.
The school has to put together a package of services for your child. How does it do that? The process starts with an evaluation. Who decides what makes up that evaluation? The school. Who conducts the evaluation? The school. Who interprets the results of that evaluation? The school. Who takes that interpreted information and translates it into educational services? The school! Finally you're sitting at the IEP meeting saying, "This is not what I want for my child," and they say, "But based on the assessment information this is what your child needs."
We do have due process, and you can go to court. Your child will probably have graduated by the time you complete the process. And can you win in court? The short answer is, no. The standard set by the courts has been that as long as the school is offering services that provide some educational benefit, that's good enough. Some educational benefit! It's hard not to have some educational benefit. Plant your child in front of Sesame Street every day and he'll learn something!
So when we start with "top down," the problem is that the special education legislation lets the schools figure out what to do for children with disabilities. It assumes that whatever the schools do must be okay. I used to be a special education administrator. I can tell you the way it works. If the school district has a service and they think your child can benefit from it, he'll probably get it. If they have adaptive PE, guess what will come out of the evaluation! Your child needs adaptive PE, and they'll put it into the IEP. If there's a service they do not have, you will not likely find it in the IEP. That's the bottom line.
Does that mean we're left helpless? No. You can still use the formal system in effective ways. Going through the federal courts takes years and likely you won't get much from it. But for whatever reason, the schools are afraid of the courts. You can use the threat of the fair hearing process. Don't tell them that they don't need to be afraid! You can use that fear as you advocate for your child.
As Dr. Ruby Ryles has pointed out, you need to know blind adults. You need to know, concretely in your own mind, how you want your child to function when he or she is my age. You need to have a goal. I talked about this two weeks ago at a research conference on Braille. I used an analogy. I'm sure you're all familiar with the history of the marine chronometer. It was developed under the British Longitude Act of 1714. At that time the British Navy had no way of determining a ship's longitude at sea. To determine longitude you had to know what time it was at the port of departure and what time it was locally in order to measure the distance between the two positions. Nobody knew how to do that. They had pendulum clocks, and when you put a pendulum clock on a ship it doesn't work very well.
Why did I use this analogy? With the technology of the time there was no solution to the longitude problem, so the British government set up a grant competition. It offered a prize to anyone who figured out a solution. Many, many people came up with ways to tell time at sea. They tried all sorts of methods. The marine chronometer was developed because it was a non-pendulum clock. Here's the point I made at that conference, the point I'm reiterating now. Rather than saying, "There's no way to tell time at sea--there's no way to do this!" the British government started with a goal. That's what you need for your child. You need a clear vision of what your child's future should look like when he or she is fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, thirty, even fifty-three! You will develop those goals by knowing other blind people. Then you need to advocate in the schools to get the services your child needs in order to achieve those goals.
I wish I could tell you there is a formula that will always work. There is not. But one thing that helps is to take a blind adult with you to your child's IEP meeting. It is easier for the schools to speak authoritatively about blindness when nobody in the room is blind. When a blind person is sitting there, talking about the skills that she or he uses, it's very different. A lot of NFB affiliates send people to IEP meetings. A blind person who goes to an IEP meeting doesn't need to be an expert in the law, and neither do you, because the law is not really on your side. You need to advocate for what your child needs from the perspective of a parent.
What is one of the hardest things to get for your child? Braille instruction. There are two reasons for this, one practical and one attitudinal. As I said, schools don't provide things unless they already have them available. Unless you live in a rural district, they probably have a TVI. Does the TVI have an hour a day to work with your child, five days a week? Probably not. From the perspective of the school district, the school doesn't have the resources to teach your child Braille. That's the practical reason why it's so hard to get Braille into the IEP. Second is the attitudinal reason. If your child can see a little bit, the idea is that he or she is better off than a child who is totally blind. He or she can read print. Never mind that your child reads slowly, never mind that your child gets headaches and makes lots of errors--you should be thrilled that your child can see enough to be a print reader. Well, there's nothing wrong with seeing. Some of my best friends can see! [Laughter.] But what we're talking about here is functioning. Do you want your child to be fully literate? Now, some legally blind people are fully literate using print. But that is not the case for three out of four legally blind adults. That is the national statistic. For years the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) has collected information about reading methods. If you look at active readers--kids who read print and kids who read Braille--three out of four blind kids in the United States who have some sight and are reading, they're exclusively using print.
What can you do? You must make an emphatic argument that your child needs to be a Braille reader. You need a blind person to go with you. It is harder for the schools to tell you how inefficient Braille is with a blind person sitting there. This is negotiation, a strategic approach. You have to understand in your mind and heart what it is that you want your child to be able to do. Then you need to push the school district relentlessly. You meet with the special education teachers and administrators, and they say, "Braille isn't warranted." Then you get an independent evaluation. You get it done by someone like Dr. Ryles, someone who really knows what she's doing. After that, if the district is still stubborn, threaten to sue them. They hate that. Threaten to take them through the fair hearing process. They hate that. Camp out at the superintendent's office--it makes them nervous! I don't know why, but superintendents are very gun-shy about talking to parents. You'd think that school superintendents would be very good at talking to parents, but they don't like it. Call the superintendent and say you want an appointment, and guess what he'll do. He'll say, "We'll have the special education director meet with you." You say, "No, I want to meet with the superintendent." Someone in his office will say, "I'm sorry, but he's very busy and he can't meet with you." So show up at the office and say, "I plan to sit here. My child's life is at stake. I've got a friend at the newspaper, and she's going to be here in a little while to sit here with me."
We're talking about strategies here! Show up at the school board meeting. Go to your state legislator and talk about it from the standpoint of an injustice. The school is potentially damaging your child's future, your child's life, your child's livelihood, your child's self-esteem. This is serious stuff.
Obviously you don't want to start by being combative, but you need to start by being firm. Here's one of the biggest pitfalls you likely will run into. Your child has a little bit of sight. You say, "I want Braille." They say no, and you push, and finally they say, "Okay, we'll have your child be a dual reader. We'll teach your child to read both print and Braille." After all, your child can see a little bit. Doesn't it make sense to have your child use that little bit of sight and read Braille, too? Isn't that the best of both worlds? Well, it would be if Dr. Ryles or one of her graduates were the teacher, someone who really means what they say when they talk about dual reading. If your child can see graphs and charts and pictures--things that don't display easily in Braille--it would be helpful. Dual reading is theoretically possible. Lots of things are theoretically possible! But in most cases dual reading means maybe they'll show your child the Braille alphabet for a few minutes every week. What will happen is that your child will be a poor print reader, and after a year or two they'll tell you, "You know, Timmy's making real progress in print. He's learned the alphabet!"
If you want your child to be a dual reader, sit down with some blind people and figure out what that expectation is. What does it really mean? Unless you have a firm picture in your mind you won't know how to have your child get the best out of print and Braille. I'd start out by saying to the school district, "I want my child to be primarily a Braille reader. I want my child to use Braille for all straight text reading--in English, history, social studies. My child can use vision for some aspects of science and math." Don't let "dual reader" be code for waving a little Braille in your child's direction once in a while and having him or her spend the rest of the time in front of a CCTV reading print at twenty words a minute and getting bad headaches!
I'd like to say that "top down" has its place in negotiation. It does, but it's the smaller place. You need to start from the bottom up, and that's the power of your being here. Fortunately you've got three thousand role models here this week. If you were just looking at me, you'd think, "Man, my child's future is kind of bleak!" [Laughter.] But you can look at three thousand other blind people at this convention. Some people have had great training, and some people have had wretched training. You can build your plans on that body of experience. Start with solid expectations. Know what you want your child to be able to do, and build your strategies around your goals.
Before I close, I want you to know that you have more than three thousand role models here. You have three thousand friends and relatives. Blind adults feel about your children the way I feel about my own biological children. We want your child to get off to a great start. You will find blind people willing to spend time and energy and resources to help you and to help your child. I encourage you to become a part of this community. I understand that most of you have work commitments and other commitments, but to the degree that you can do it, go to your state NFB conventions. Go to the next national convention and stay all week. You might say, "My child is only four. Issues around Randolph-Shepard or employment or senior services don't apply to us." Of course they apply! They apply because they're part of you developing that clear vision of what you want your child's future to be.
I wish you the very best success. If I personally can ever be of help to your children, call on me. I'll do anything in the world that I can.
by Dr. Jerry Petroff and Dr. Ruby Ryles
Introduction by Dr. Eddie Bell: Our next panel will talk about teacher training and where we're headed. The first speaker is Dr. Jerry Petroff of the College of New Jersey. Following him we will hear from Dr. Ruby Ryles from Louisiana Tech University.
Dr. Jerry Petroff: The College of New Jersey is a state-run school with about six thousand students. It was once a normal school that trained only teachers. It is now a liberal-arts college with what I believe are great preparation programs for all kinds of teachers. We have the state's only programs to train teachers of the blind and teachers of the deaf. Vito DeSantis, the director of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind, came to me when there was no teacher of the blind program in the state. He said, "I'm really interested in partnering with you to start a program, a program that has a different vision from most of the programs that are training teachers." I said, "This would be great! Let's try to do it!" He gave us three years of funding, which was very important, since blindness is a low-incidence disability. We knew we weren't going to have the twenty-four students in the classroom that the college requires. Some kind of funding was necessary before I could go to my president and say, "This is something we should do, and it won't be financially impossible." Also, the State Department of Education said, "If you can get three years of funding from the Commission, we'll give you funding for the three years after that."
I did an estimate and found that programs for low-incidence kids need outside funding for at least six years. It takes six to ten years for the roots of a program to work their way into the system. I'm still waiting for the state to come through with the money we were promised; I have hopes that it will happen this year.
A New Set of Values
Vito DeSantis gave us the money for our first three years. He said that Dr. Fred Schroeder would be a really good guy to help us allocate that money. Dr. Schroeder was the right person, and he and I have become good friends and colleagues. Another crucial thing we did in starting the program was to engage Carol Castellano. Carol came to work with us part-time. She and Dr. Schroeder helped us formulate a program based on a set of values. One of those values is the idea that disability is a social construct and that we need to reject the medical model as much as we possibly can. [Applause.] Today the medical model drives practice. It makes teachers look at the deficits of your children. We wanted to embrace what I've heard here this morning, the idea that blindness is one feature of an individual.
We drafted a value statement that you can read on our Website. It declares the same clear, simple values that permeate the NFB. Our statement talks about high expectations for our kids. It talks about teaching blindness skills. The traditional model looks at the child's blindness as something that needs to be fixed, and even encourages sighted people to admire the fact that they are sighted. Our statement embraces the premises of the 1997 Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). It doesn't just give lip service to the law. It doesn't just allow you to think about how to get around the law, which is what school districts so often do.
When I sat down with Carol I had a lot of questions about the changes we were making. I looked at what schools teach future teachers right now, and I said, "You mean, it's not important to teach our students about every possible thing that can go wrong with the eye?" [Laughter.] Carol said, "It's not important. They're not doctors. They're teaching our children."
We'd discuss these things and I found myself reflecting. I said to myself, I'm resorting back to the mean again. I consider myself a somewhat thoughtful guy, and brave with my head. If this was happening to me, how were we going to give young teachers the skills they need to combat the thinking they'll have to combat? I hate to use military terms, but I can't think of any other words to say it.
A young teacher went to work for the Commission for the Blind. She came to me two weeks ago in tears. She said, "They're beating me up in the office. Every time I do a learning media assessment the way you taught me and it comes up showing that a kid needs Braille, they make two or three older TVI's do it over again. What do I do?" I said, "Bring me into it." I have to go myself and say, "Let's talk about this. We can look at it another way."
Our program is still very small. I hope we can make it grow. I have only three students right now. I'm not going to flounder or compromise on where we need to go. We believe that blind students need to know Braille. We believe that children have a right to be as independent as they can be. We believe in the importance of teaching blindness skills.
Building a Community
Vito DeSantis, who gave us money and has been such a wonderful support, is up against an education workforce that really is not clear on what it should be doing. It is made up of teachers who are perpetuating old visions, old paradigms of looking at the education of blind children. We need to combat those old ideas with logic, preparation, and cooperation (which I'm not always good at, but I can do the other things!). We need to create a community in New Jersey around our teacher preparation program. Carol is working with us to have in-service training, to create a place where teachers can come and say, "This is what I'm struggling with. How can my community help?"
I'm happy to say that we now have a five-year program. Young people can come in at eighteen or nineteen and say, "I want to be a teacher of the blind." We have them for five years. They come out with a master's degree, certification in elementary education, a content major, and an understanding of the education of children. That understanding is the first and foremost thing we want for our teachers. Beyond all that, our students understand the way we're teaching them to be teachers of the blind. Now we're establishing a master's program where anyone can come in with an undergraduate degree and certain liberal arts prerequisites and can train to become a teacher of the blind. That program should be in place by next semester.
Another struggle we face is state accreditation. We don't agree with all of the things they say our teachers should be learning. Some of the language is heavily laden with the medical-model approach. We're looking for ways to get around that, and I think I've found a few of them.
I've come to realize that our program must do more than train teachers. It must be a safe haven where we can come together with blind people to move the agenda forward.
Dr. Ruby Ryles: Across the United States, university programs for teachers of blind students and orientation and mobility instructors are struggling. We are very fortunate at Louisiana Tech for a number of reasons. Dr. Bell introduced the dean of our College of Education this morning. He is here at this conference. This dean and the dean we had before him are the reasons that our institute and our degree programs for teachers and O&M instructors have grown substantially. Joanne Wilson is here in the audience. Joanne was one of the people who helped launch our teacher training program back in the early 1990s. We offered classes for teachers before we had our degree program.
The Low-Incidence Challenge
Because blindness is a low-incidence disability, it is hard to get these programs started and it is difficult to keep them going. We know all the problems that low incidence and isolation cause us. We know it as parents, with our kids being the only blind children in the area. It affects us at the university level also as trainers of teachers. Our classes are very small. Jerry is nodding right now--he has three students! In this day of budget cuts, most universities would say, "We're cutting your program." I'm not sure how many programs there are right now. Nationally there used to be thirty-six programs to train teachers of blind kids and less than two dozen O&M programs. Think about that! We've got about 96,000 kids in the United States who need services, and we have so few programs, and many of those are destined to be eliminated.
We are grateful to Louisiana Tech for allowing us to hold these important classes with only four or five students. Dr. Gulatt has teased me over the years, saying that if the College of Education had to depend on the revenue from our students to keep the lights on, we'd all be working in the dark! [Laughter.] It takes a supportive university to keep such a program alive.
The Louisiana Center for the Blind under Dr. Joanne Wilson and Pam Allen, working closely with Louisiana Tech, has helped us so much. Joanne Wilson and the previous dean got the idea for starting the Institute on Blindness. We've had the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech for the past ten years. Under the able guidance of Dr. Bell it is booming. Our problem right now is that we don't have the staff to carry out all our ideas.
Low incidence affects me at the training level because I have real problems recruiting students. We have students at several levels. Some are just entering, some are student teaching, and some will start student teaching in the fall. Altogether we have a dozen students. In the beginning I had a problem finding sites for student teaching. Four years ago a dynamic graduate of ours started a program in a school district about thirty miles from us. She had nine students when she started, and she has fifty-four now. Her program has grown to have three teachers, and they're all wonderful. Two were trained at Louisiana Tech and the other one--we claim her, too. She's a convert.
The Greatest Learning Experience
All of the students in our program are at this convention. We bring our students to the NFB convention because it's the greatest learning experience we can give them. How in the world can they know the issues their students are going to face unless they learn about the concerns of blind adults? We don't have money for much of anything else. We want to put our money where it really counts, toward this learning experience right here. Students come away from convention as parents and blind adults come away. It is life-changing. This organization made me the teacher I am today.
One of the problems among teachers of blind kids is isolation. You get out in the field and you've got to deal with low incidence. You're the one and only out there. There's nobody else around. If you're a first-grade teacher and you don't know what to do when something comes up, you can run to another first-grade teacher because there are lots and lots of them. There are plenty of books full of good ideas for first-grade teachers, too. That's not the reality for teachers of the blind. Let me give you an example.
I taught in Anchorage, Alaska, in the 1980s. One of my blind students wanted to take a class on the mechanics of small engines. In Alaska that means engines for small planes. What did I know about engines? That wasn't part of my teacher training! Nobody taught me how you work on an engine without sight.
At first I thought I had nobody to go to for help. But that wasn't true. I had 50,000 people to go to in the National Federation of the Blind. I knew that somewhere in this organization there was some blind person who knew how to work on an engine.
Sure enough, I found a blind mechanic over on the east coast. There was no point in me talking to him. Anything he told me would be watered down by the time I took it back to my student. So I put Joe on the phone with this guy and let them talk for a while. When he got off the phone Joe told me the guy said he needed a set of adaptive tools. One of them was a caliper. I went to the Lions Clubs and pleaded my cause, and they helped buy a set of adaptive tools for Joe.
Joe took that class very successfully. In the end he decided he didn't want to be a mechanic--he didn't like getting his hands dirty! [Laughter.] He had a great experience taking that class, though. Today he owns his own restaurant.
I learned in the Federation that partially sighted kids need to be taught Braille. There's no argument about it with any of us. I was fortunate that my son was born totally blind. He was an outstanding Braille reader. We belabor Braille at Louisiana Tech. I can't let our teachers-in-training student teach until they can read Braille at speed, whether they're sighted or blind. Our minimal speed is fifty words a minute. In the strategies class our students have got to get up to a hundred words a minute. At the end of their coursework our students take the exam for national certification in literary Braille.
Incidentally, our teachers are called teachers of blind students, TBSs. That term came from a meeting with the NOPBC. The NOPBC requested that our teachers not be called vision teachers--they're not teaching children how to see! The NOPBC also requested that our teachers not be called teachers of the visually impaired, because that term reinforces the fear of the word blind.
Due to the low incidence of blindness, one of the biggest problems in the field is that teachers of blind students graduate from university programs never having known blind adults. Typically there might be two or three blind adults in these programs. Whatever those few adults can or cannot do is what those teachers believe. Most of our teachers are sighted. They come in with all the attitudes about blindness that exist in the general public. At Louisiana Tech we have a very close connection with the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Our students spend a lot of time at the Center, where they get to know many competent blind people. Our students really are immersed in blindness. Our O&M students wear sleepshades for three months and learn all the techniques of blindness.
We teach our students the ultimate assessment of blind students--that is, what would you expect the child to do if he/she were fully sighted? That is the easiest and most accurate assessment. It covers reading, technology, daily living skills, and social skills.
We would love to talk to you about our program at Louisiana Tech. We invite you to get hold of us.
by Dr. Edward Bell
Introduction by Carol Castellano: Dr. Eddie Bell has been in this field for roughly fifteen years, working hard for the benefit of teachers, rehabilitation counselors, and other professionals, and also for the benefit of their blind students and clients. It is a great pleasure for me to introduce Dr. Eddie Bell.
As I was thinking about the state of the art in education, rehabilitation, and research, it occurred to me that the best way for me to talk about where we are is by looking through the lens of a paradigm. A paradigm is basically a model or framework, a set of practices and principles for looking at the things we do. In 1970 Thomas Kuhn talked about how a new paradigm can only replace an older, existing one when it has demonstrated enough success to point the way toward more effective strategies. What paradigm governs the world of education, rehabilitation, and research that we know today? Over the past sixty years or more the field of rehabilitation has been under a paradigm that we might call the traditional approach. This approach was developed in the army hospitals of the 1940s and in the schools for the blind. This paradigm has grown over the past sixty years. It includes the entire methodology and philosophy that determine the way professionals view education and rehabilitation. All of the aspects of blindness education and research that have driven the field over the past six decades have come through this traditional approach--the university O&M and teacher training programs, the certification processes, the professional organizations such as the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired.
The traditional paradigm has not been dominant because it's a perfect model or because we agree with it. Way back in the 1940s and 1950s the National Federation of the Blind was not very satisfied with the way rehabilitation was being done in this country. Members of the organization tried to work with agencies and universities to educate them and to say, "There's a better way to encourage independence. There's a better way to train individuals." They weren't very well received. For the most part universities thought blind people had very little to offer to the blindness professions. We continued to push from the outside, trying to convince the universities to change, to see the value of the consumer perspective.
In 1958 Dr. Kenneth Jernigan took over the Iowa Commission for the Blind. Within a short time he turned it into one of the most successful rehabilitation programs in the country. He demonstrated that the consumer perspective in rehabilitation is a powerful agent for change.
You might think that was enough to convince some of the more traditional folks that this idea was worth looking at, but it didn't happen right away. More than twenty years passed before the Nebraska Commission for the Blind adopted Dr. Jernigan's method and philosophy. By that time the debate over which programs were most effective was in full swing. It was discussed heavily in research literature and at professional conferences, but that research and those conferences were all governed by followers of the traditional approach. The new approach was mocked and ridiculed. It was seen as militant, dogmatic, outside the realm of what was realistic.
After another fifteen years or so, in the 1980s, the NFB centers were founded in Minnesota, Louisiana, and Colorado. Based on the consumer perspective, they began to train blind adults to become independent. Within a very short time these centers were recognized nationwide and internationally as being among the world's most effective training programs for blind adults. Shouldn't that be enough to change the field? Well, no. The field continues to view this approach as a fringe effort, an anomaly inconsistent with the values and philosophy of the existing paradigm.
Another ten years went by. We began to produce professional literature. The first book on our approach was Cognitive Learning Theory and Cane Travel Instruction by Richard Mettler. It explained how cane travel through structured discovery works. The book argued for a paradigm shift, and showed that these ideas were not just an anomaly, not an erosion of existing law, but something different and substantively better than what was used previously. In 1997 Maria Morais and others created a book on techniques used by blind cane travel instructors.
Those two small pieces of literature formed a body of knowledge in nontraditional mobility that was used in the development of the orientation and mobility program at Louisiana Tech University. It is the first and only program anywhere in this country based on a consumer perspective and philosophy.
Things started moving a little more quickly. In 1999 the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness was founded as a collaborative effort between Louisiana Tech University and the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Its purpose was to oversee the orientation and mobility program, to build new programs, and to begin to do research on blindness. That research is meant to deepen and clarify an understanding of blindness and to lead to better methods and techniques for increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of blind individuals. The National Blindness Professional Certification Board was founded to credential our graduates as they went out into the work world. The NFB created the Jernigan Institute as a world-class leader in rehabilitation and education.
All of this was still not enough to change the field. There was still lots of mockery and ridicule. But within the past ten years the National Development and Research Institute on Blindness has become one of the leaders in the field of training individuals who are blind.
By 2004 we had created a monograph on the orientation and mobility field that, for the first time, put structured discovery cane travel on a par with the conventional approach to teaching. We created a series of books called Critical Concerns in Blindness to get the truth about blindness from the consumer perspective into the literature and out into the field. The ninth book in the series has just been released and it is at this conference, a book by our very own Carol Castellano.
Within the past two years the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness has taken a leading role in training individuals to work in the fields of rehabilitation and research. The National Blindness Professional Certification Board continues to be strong with its orientation and mobility certification. It has also launched the National Certification in Literary Braille for credentialing of teachers who work with blind kids. Both of these credentials are becoming viewed as the gold standard across the country for teachers who work with blind kids.
Research done at the Institute on Blindness is finding its way into the professional journals--not just the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, which has governed the field for so many years, but growing and expanding beyond it. Research is starting to show that mentoring is valuable, and that literacy for blind kids is attainable.
In collaboration with the Jernigan Institute we helped to create the National Reading Media Assessment, an assessment designed to help identify kids with low vision who need Braille. We're gathering hard data so we can show administrators that if these kids aren't given Braille instruction they will fall behind grade level within just a year or two.
This is the ninth conference of rehabilitation professionals, and now we're working together with parents. There are over two hundred people in this room today working and learning together. We're working to design the future direction of rehabilitation, the direction we will follow in the next generation.
While we've done professional research and conducted professional discourse, we've had no way to get it published in peer-reviewed journals. As we've done with everything else in our field, if we can't convince the professionals, we create it ourselves. The NFB Jernigan Institute, in collaboration with Louisiana Tech University and Butler University, is launching, at this convention, the first ever peer-reviewed research journal on blindness that is based on a consumer perspective. [Applause.] The Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research is now live! It is an online journal based on the perspective of consumers who know about blindness. All of you should sign up as readers. Parents and professionals should sign up to be peer reviewers. Go to <www.nfb-jbir.org> and find the journal.
The paradigm has shifted. The new state of the art in education and rehabilitation is here in this room. Look around at the professionals sitting next to you. If you want to know where rehabilitation and education are headed in the coming decades, it's all here at this convention.
A good friend of mine said at a conference a couple of weeks ago, "We've already taken over the field. The problem is they just haven't figured it out yet!" I think he's right. It's due to you professionals who are figuring out the right direction, and to you parents who want the best for your kids. It's due to all of you coming together with the attitudes and expectations that are needed to move forward.
by Noreen Grice
From the Editor: For the past twenty-six years Noreen Grice has been finding ways to make the study of astronomy accessible to blind people. She is the founder and director of You Can Do Astronomy LLC, and is the author of several books on the stars and the solar system that include tactile graphics.
Twenty-six years ago I was a college student, majoring in astronomy. During the summer before my senior year at Boston University I started a part-time job in the planetarium at the Boston Museum of Science.
Not long after I started working at the museum, a group of blind students stood in line for one of my planetarium shows. I felt nervous when I saw them, and asked the planetarium manager what I should do. "Just help them to their seats, that's all," he said.
I helped the blind students to their seats. Then I welcomed everyone to the planetarium and pressed the button to start the show. The show was pre-recorded, so I just sat in the console. At the end of the show I got back on the microphone and thanked everyone for visiting the planetarium.
If you've heard my story before, you know what happened next. The audience walked past the console toward the exit. I wondered what the blind students thought of the planetarium, so I walked around the booth and asked them. They told me bluntly, "The show stunk." Then they walked away.
That moment changed my life. I vowed to make astronomy accessible to blind people. I didn't know how to do it, but I was determined to figure it out.
Over the years I created tactile astronomy images to accompany all of the planetarium shows. I also wrote several accessible astronomy books: Touch the Stars; Touch the Universe: A NASA Braille Book of Astronomy; Touch the Sun: A NASA Braille Book; The Little Moon Phase Book; and Touch the Invisible Sky: A Multi-Wavelength Braille Book Featuring Tactile NASA Images. I also designed the tactile graphics for the Solar System Radio Explorer Exhibit at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Visitor Center, the Tactile Carina Nebula poster for the Space Telescope Science Institute, and the tactile maps in the new NASA book, Touch the Earth. To help other educators learn to make their programs and facilities more accessible, I established my own consulting company called You Can Do Astronomy.
I am sighted and I became a member of the National Federation of the Blind in 2003, when Barbara Cheadle asked me to come and present a couple of accessible astronomy sessions for students at the national convention in Louisville. Since then, I've been to many national conventions, presenting astronomy programs and participating in a variety of workshops. You'll find me with the folks from Connecticut.
Beyond the conventions, I've been an astronomy instructor for two Circle of Life Academies, one Junior Science Academy, and two Youth Slams for high school students. I've worked with students who are blind or have low vision. Whether they explored tactile star patterns, modeled the seasons and moon phases, measured craters, imaged telescopic views of the night sky by touch, these students fully participated in each experience without barriers.
Last summer, the "Slammin' in Space" class at the Youth Slam went on a Moon Mission at the Maryland Challenger Center. If you're not familiar with the Challenger Centers, they are teaching facilities sponsored by the spouses of the astronauts who died aboard the Challenger Space Shuttle in 1986. Each Challenger Center has a very realistic Mission Control Room with specific stations for crew. The stations include Navigation, Life Support, Science, Engineering, Communications, Data, and Medicine. A nearby room is a reproduction of the interior of a space laboratory station with work areas for the mission control counterparts. The navigator in Mission Control communicates by radio with the navigator in the Space Station, the engineer in Mission Control communicates with the engineer on the Space Station, and so on. The students must rely on each other to accomplish the mission.
About a week before the students arrived for the Youth Slam, I traveled to the Maryland Challenger Center with Youth Slam Coordinator Mary Jo Hartle and my co-instructor, Ben Wentworth. I took photos and made careful note of the exact requirements for each crew station. For example, the Navigation Stations in Mission Control and on the Space Station required the crew to view images on a computer to choose the best method for achieving orbit. The engineering crew in the Space Station needed to build a probe from a visual graphic display as the engineer in Mission Control described which components to connect first. The medical crew on the Space Station had to monitor the health of the Space Station's crew by taking vital signs. Other crew members needed to complete a visual chemical test to check the cleanliness of the space station's water and classify the geology of lunar samples. No problem. I created tactile diagrams, 3-D models, attached Braille labels, and substituted talking medical and chemical instruments for visual ones. There wasn't much that could not be made accessible. Steve Booth and staff at NFB headquarters produced Braille versions of the crew manifest.
What do you think happened on the day of our mission? The students went to their assigned stations, communicated with each other, conducted experiments, corrected an emergency oxygen leak, and successfully landed on the moon. It was great!
As we left the Challenger Center and headed back to campus, we talked with the students. They said that the Moon Mission was one of the most exciting things they had ever done.
I never understand why people assume that students who have low vision or are blind cannot be just as successful as their sighted counterparts. That assumption is just not true.
Is it possible for a blind person to become an astronomer or an astronaut? Of course! I know two great candidates, students who are NFB members--Chelsea Cook from Virginia and Terry Garret from Colorado.
While I was developing tactile astronomy images back at the Museum of Science, I started to think about other ways to make the planetarium more accessible. With grant funding we were able to install an assistive listening system with volume amplification for people who are hard of hearing. We also added a modular captioning system for deaf visitors. The captioning system, it turns out, was often requested by visitors who spoke English as a second language. They had no problem hearing but told me "It was easier to understand English by reading rather than listening." I was also able to relocate wheelchair accessible seating from one restricted area to several locations within the planetarium. This allowed people to sit with their friends rather than requiring all wheelchair users to be herded together like cattle.
I live in New Britain, Connecticut, and I am an active member of the NFB Central Connecticut Chapter. We meet once a month at the Plainville Library. Recently, I borrowed a library book called Accessible Connecticut. The book details accessibility resources at many Connecticut museums. I found that most children's museums and many science museums offered hands-on activities, but accessibility was extremely limited at art and history museums. Out of thirty-seven museums in Connecticut, twenty were described as not being very accessible to a person who is blind. The other seventeen museums had some accessible hands-on components. However, these seventeen museums often required blind visitors to give advance notice of a week or more, with the idea that the staff could have time to gather some hands-on materials. Any deaf visitor who required an interpreter needed to give two weeks notice. I have to wonder why.
Why doesn't a person with a visual or hearing impairment have the same access to a museum, at any time, as a person with vision or hearing? Not only do these museum policies seem unfair to me, I find them personally outrageous. Making a museum accessible is good for all visitors. For example, many sighted people have different learning styles and do best with tactile materials. Accessibility also helps the museum's bottom line by raising attendance. I think it takes more effort to make excuses why museums and classes can't be made accessible than it would take simply to make them accessible.
I no longer work at the Boston Museum of Science, but I have to tell you about the very last planetarium show I gave. It was Christmas Eve Day, 2009. As usual, I was taking tickets for the planetarium show. Visitors handed me their tickets and I ripped off a portion and handed them back a ticket stub. A woman with her husband and children approached the planetarium entrance and handed me their tickets. When I handed her back the ticket stubs she said "thank you" in a way that told me she was deaf. Without thinking, I said, "We have captioning for this program." "You have captioning? We need captioning!" she answered. A few minutes later I had the captioning system set up at their seats.
I stepped into the console, welcomed everyone to the planetarium, and pressed the button to start the pre-recorded holiday program. During the show, I noticed the dim flicker of the captioning display and the silhouette of the family reading the illuminated text.
After the show, the audience walked past the console toward the exit. As this family approached, I came around the booth to ask them how they liked the planetarium show. They smiled and the mother joyfully said, "What a wonderful thing! Captions in the planetarium! We'll be back!"
As they walked away, I could not help thinking how a planetarium or any museum can transform from an inaccessible place to a destination to be enjoyed by all visitors, any time, without advance notice, and regardless of visual, hearing, or physical abilities.
And I still wonder, why can't every classroom and museum be an accessible and welcoming place for all? I know it is possible.
by Laura Weber
Introduction by Mark Riccobono: Laura Weber currently serves as president of our Texas Parents of Blind Children. She will soon be certified to teach blind students. She has completed all of the coursework to become certified as a literary Braille transcriber from the Library of Congress. Earlier this week she was elected to serve as the new president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Here is Laura Weber!
When Mark asked me to speak to you today about the failure of the education system in meeting the needs of the blind, my first question was, "How long will I have?" I could stand here all day listing the flaws in the current system, but I'd be preaching to the choir. This crowd, more than any other I could address, understands the problems our children face. Some of you have blind children. Some of you were blind children. Some of you teach blind children. Many of you have experienced the failure of the education system in meeting the needs of the blind, and those who haven't experienced it certainly have heard about it.
I, too, have experienced this failure. People may look at me and the other parents on the boards of Texas Parents of Blind Children and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and think, Wow! These parents really have it together. They know what it takes for a blind person to be successful. I bet their kids are getting the best services available! Wrong! Knowing what your child needs and getting what your child needs are two very different things.
A Few Examples
One national board member has a daughter in elementary school. Kendra was in the first grade last year. She's incredibly bright and reads at the fourth-grade level. She reads Braille faster than 86 percent of sighted first graders read print. Kendra's parents were told that she didn't qualify for the gifted program, despite standardized test scores ranging from the 96th to the 99th percentile for first graders. After two months of trying to use logic and the law with the school system, Kendra's parents requested a mediator. At that point the district decided that maybe Kendra qualified for the gifted program after all.
This is an example of blatant discrimination in general education. Would a sighted child with the same reading level and test scores be denied acceptance into the school's gifted program? No! Kendra's parents knew that, but knowing wasn't enough to prevent the problem.
Another national board member has a son in junior high. David began missing school in fourth and fifth grade for headaches that his parents were told were due to sinus infections. A couple of days at home each time seemed to solve the problem.
In the sixth grade the problem worsened. A few days off now and then no longer helped, and the headaches were constant. David lost three months of school that year. He underwent MRIs, CT scans, a lumbar puncture, and drug treatments. Finally the doctor correctly diagnosed the problem. David had occipital neuralgia. This is what the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes says about the condition: "Occipital neuralgia is a distinct type of headache characterized by piercing, throbbing, or electric shock-like chronic pain in the upper neck, back of the head, and behind the ears, usually on one side of the head. This pain is caused by irritation or injury to the occipital nerves, which can be the result of trauma to the back of the head, pinching of the nerves by overly tight neck muscles, compression of the nerve as it leaves the spine due to osteoarthritis or tumors or other types of lesions in the neck."
What does this have to do with the education of blind children? Therein lies the cause of David's problem. Because he was blind, his teachers saw no reason why he shouldn't be seated facing a wall instead of facing forward like the rest of the class. Their reasoning was that it prevented the cords from his equipment from stretching across the floor and creating a hazard for the other students. David didn't need to be seated by the corded equipment, but they thought it would be more convenient. David had to turn his head constantly to face the front of the class. After several years of this he developed the occipital neuralgia that caused him constant pain and months out of school.
This is another example of discrimination and ignorance in general education. Would a sighted child be expected to sit at a desk facing the wall? No! David's parents knew that, but knowing wasn't enough to prevent the problem.
A Texas board member has a daughter who just graduated from high school. Kayleigh was an honors student, active in choir and drama. She's the secretary of the Texas Association of Blind Students. She's also a 2010 NFB scholarship winner. She must have received the very best educational services, right? Wrong!
When Kayleigh graduated, her visual reading rate was around 160 words per minute. Most seniors in high school read between 250 and 350 words per minute. Kayleigh's Braille reading rate was 40 words per minute. This may sound slow until you realize that she didn't receive any Braille instruction until she was a senior in high school. For years Kayleigh and her parents knew she needed Braille in addition to print. Her teachers wouldn't listen. To borrow a theme from Carol Castellano's wonderful speech at last year's convention, the teachers said, "This child doesn't need Braille. This child is not blind."
This is another example of ignorance, this time in special education. Would a sighted child who reads 100 to 200 words per minute less than her peers be denied help to read more efficiently? No! Kayleigh's parents knew that, but knowing wasn't enough to solve the problem.
What's really scary about these examples of ignorance and discrimination in the education system is that they're true stories about the children of parents active in the NFB. These parents have the attitude, the information, the support, and the mentors that their kids need. Yet they still have to fight, year after year, to ensure that their kids get a quality education. What about the parents out there who have never even heard of the NFB? What about the parents who don't know what their kids need? What kind of education are their kids getting?
The current education system is failing to educate too many of our blind students. I have given some examples, and I'm sure that the people in this room can give dozens more. We know there is a problem, but knowing isn't enough. We need action.
To solve the problem, we need to understand the root cause. Here's where it gets a little bit tricky. Humans love to assign blame. We say, "If blind kids aren't learning, the teachers are to blame." But there are some excellent teachers out there, and we all know that those who are not so outstanding are only teaching what they have been taught. Okay then, we say, teacher education programs are at fault. But again, there are good programs out there. You really can't blame a program. Someone developed it, someone decreed that it was sufficient--are those people to blame? How about the people who set the curriculum, or set the standards, or prepare the materials--are they responsible?
I'd like to propose that we don't blame anyone, but that instead, we step up to the plate and do something about it!
When I started researching for this speech I found a wonderful article in an old Future Reflections issue. It stood out for me in its simplicity, listing nine specific ideas that underlie a good education for blind children. I'd like to read that list to you now.
1. Blind people, given the proper training and opportunity, can compete on a basis of equality with their sighted peers. This should be the basic philosophy for any program and standard for evaluating programs for the blind.
2. It is respectable to be blind. The word blind should be restored to the vocabulary of educators and used frequently. [Applause.]
3. All blind children, including legally blind children who have some vision, should learn to read and write Braille.
4. All Braille users should learn to use the slate and stylus as early as possible and be required to use it regularly.
5. Teachers of blind children should be required to demonstrate proficiency in reading and writing Braille.
6. All blind children should be given the long white cane and instruction in its use. The cane should be with the child throughout the day.
7. Sleepshades should be used routinely when alternative techniques such as cane travel or Braille are being taught to children with partial vision.
8. Educators should work with the organized blind to expose blind children of all ages to competent, knowledgeable blind role models.
9. Special education teachers of the blind should be required, as part of their professional growth and continuing education, to attend conferences or conventions of blind consumers. [Applause.]
We may all have one or two things we'd like to add to the list, but I think we can safely say that, if we want our blind children to succeed, that list of nine things is a pretty good start. There you have it, problem solved.
But before we pack up and go home, here's a sobering fact. That list was written by my friend and mentor, longtime president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, Barbara Cheadle, in 1985. That list was written twenty-five years ago. We knew then what our kids needed. We knew back then what constituted a good education for blind children. Yet our education system is still failing too many of our blind children today.
The news isn't all bad. The NFB has made huge strides in the twenty-five years since that list was written. The Federation fought and won the battle to have a Braille revision included in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The NFB promoted legislation ensuring that textbooks are delivered on time. It created a certification process for teachers that assesses their Braille competency, developed a new learning media assessment that isn't biased toward print, initiated a teacher recruitment and mentoring program, carried out advocacy and consultation for countless families struggling through the IEP process, and sponsored a groundbreaking Braille research summit that brought professionals and consumers together with a common goal. These are only a few examples of what the NFB has done and is doing to improve the education of blind students.
Many of our blind kids have succeeded due to excellent services or in spite of poor ones. This year's class of scholarship winners is living proof of that fact. But we want that success for all. We want equal opportunity for every one of our blind children.
My daughter Lindsay, who is blind, will turn eight in two days. I want a good education for her, and I know it is not guaranteed. That's one of the reasons I recently changed careers. After working for seventeen years as a biomedical engineer in the aerospace industry, I rethought my career priorities. I am now in the last class of my master's program in special education. I look forward to being certified as a teacher of blind students. [Applause.]
I was honored to be part of an education reform task force that met in Baltimore in June. I can assure you there was hope in that room--not just hope, but conviction. Dr. Maurer committed the power of the NFB to solving this problem now. He made it very clear that knowing what our blind children need isn't enough. We need action. No longer will we be content to chip away at the problem, helping one family at a time. No longer will we stand by while the system continues to fail so many of our children. We are waging a battle here, and the National Federation of the Blind has decided that it's time to go all out.
The military has a name for the kind of attack we're planning: shock and awe. It's shock and awe time! The assault is coming from all directions: teacher training, standards, curriculum, policy, assessments, research, and leadership development. We're developing a multi-level sustained approach to initiate wide-ranging, long-lasting change in our education system. We will reach families of blind children and the professionals who serve them. We will find more good teachers and more good programs, and if we can't find them, we'll make them. We will build relationships with professionals in the blindness field, and we'll get them to our trainings and our conventions as part of their professional development. We will raise the expectations and standards for all blind students.
The road will be long and there will be obstacles, but we didn't choose this fight because it would be easy. We chose this fight because knowing what our blind children need isn't enough. We won't rest until they get what they need!
by Dr. Al Maneki
From the Editor: Dr. Al Maneki retired in 2007 after working as a mathematician for the U.S. Defense Department for thirty-three years. He is currently treasurer of the Science and Engineering Division of the National Federation of the Blind.
One of the workshops sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children at our 2010 convention was called "I Survived Math Class." The purpose of this one-hour workshop was to offer support and encouragement to the parents of blind and visually impaired students who will be taking math classes, possibly for the first time. As the moderator of this workshop, I would like to provide a summary of the proceedings. I hope that interested persons who could not attend may benefit from the exciting presentations and the lively discussions.
The workshop panelists were Alyssa Bates, Michael Taboada, and Dave Schleppenbach. Each panelist spoke for ten minutes, with time allotted immediately afterward for questions. The final minutes of the workshop were devoted to general discussion and audience participation.
Alyssa Bates was our first panelist. She is a senior at Penn State University, majoring in meteorology. She received an NFB scholarship in 2008. Alyssa's partial vision enables her to read and write large print. She described the difficulties she had using protractors, rulers, and graphing calculators throughout her school years. Either the print was too small or the light/dark contrast was not sufficient. She found the use of CCTV's for reading textbooks unsatisfactory and preferred reading textbooks close up. She has never had trouble writing her math homework assignments. (In a recent phone conversation Alyssa told me that this year, for the first time, she has been reading e-books on her computer with the screen magnification features provided in the newer versions of the Windows operating system.) Finally, Alyssa expressed regret over not having had Braille instruction and access to recorded materials in her early school years. In her concluding remarks, she strongly encouraged parents of partially sighted children to obtain educational opportunities in all three reading media so that their children will be able to use the reading medium of their choice at the appropriate time.
The second panelist was Michael Taboada. Michael is a freshman at Louisiana State University and is majoring in computer science. His parents are longtime members of NOPBC, and Michael has benefited from the summer programs at the Louisiana Center for the Blind and Blind Industries and Services of Maryland. He is a longtime Braille reader and has had the good fortune to have Braille math textbooks. He has learned to do math assignments on a Braille notetaker. In his talk, he described how he developed special notations to represent mathematical expressions in linear form rather than using the subscript and superscript notations commonly found in print. His method allowed him easy access to these expressions on his notetaker without the somewhat cumbersome symbols for subscripts and superscripts provided in the Nemeth Braille code. He was able to generate printed homework assignments for his sighted teachers without the need to rely on Nemeth-to-print translation. Michael and his teachers had to develop an agreement about how subscripted and superscripted expressions would be represented in linear form. Obviously, this entails extensive use of bracketed and parenthesized expressions. Also, special conventions had to be agreed upon for certain mathematical symbols that are graphical in nature. When I phoned Michael as I prepared this article, he told me that he is taking calculus I and introduction to Java programming in his first semester at LSU.
The final panelist was Dave Schleppenbach, president of gh, LLC, a technology company that helps people with print disabilities access information. Although Dave is sighted, he has a thorough understanding of the problems confronting blind persons when they take math and science classes. In his talk, he correctly argued that if we are to have access to the print media, we must have simultaneous access to charts, diagrams, and text of all fonts. All three of these may occur in any order or arrangement. The complete transcript of his remarks appears elsewhere in this issue.
The questions and discussion throughout this workshop were very lively. The audience wanted specific details about how blind students learn math and do their homework. In this discussion, the need for a student to work math problems on paper with an old-fashioned Brailler became very apparent. There was much discussion about how math tests can be administered without Braille. The need for a student to develop the ability to do math with the use of a sighted reader was also heavily stressed. By the end of this workshop it was clear that there are no universal answers to fit all situations. It is important for all parents and blind students to keep an open mind about the problems confronting them and to realize that solutions must be worked out to fit individual situations.
Over the remainder of the convention a number of parents approached me and said that they found this workshop interesting and extremely helpful to them. I came away convinced that this workshop should become an annual event at our national conventions. There is an urgent need to answer questions about how blind students can learn and do math effectively. In the past, it has been all too easy for blind students to be exempted from math requirements at the secondary school and university levels. While this might be an easy way out for teachers and administrators, it is doing no favors for our blind students. In future workshops I think we should hear from some non-STEM majors who were required to take at least one college-level math course. Certainly not all of us are cut out to be meteorology or computer science or math majors. People studying the fine arts, social sciences, and humanities are equally entitled to math literacy.
Future workshops should also include discussions about tactile graphics. For the past two years I have worked closely with the School of Engineering at the University of Vermont to enhance methods by which blind students can create tactile drawings. I believe that this work is on the verge of bringing commercial products to market which will enable blind persons to draw and edit their own diagrams.
Since I did my undergraduate and graduate work in mathematics over forty years ago, I know that my approach and attitude to doing math may be somewhat dated. While I took notes in hardcopy Braille, I used live readers to write my homework assignments, my dissertations, and my professional publications. Therefore, while I am comfortable serving as a workshop moderator, mine is not the last word on how blind people can best do math in the framework of today's demands and resources.If you have questions about how your child or student can handle math classes, there is no need to wait for the next workshop. Contact me by email at [email protected] or by phone at (443) 745-9274. If I don't have the answers, I'll find the right people to help you. Let's make the math experience enjoyable and beneficial for everyone. I look forward to hearing from you.
by Dr. David Schleppenbach
From the Editor: As the world rushes into the Digital Age, new opportunities are opening for blind students of mathematics. Dr. David Schleppenbach of gh, LLC, is one of the innovative thinkers working to make math fully accessible.
My experience has been in teaching math and science to students with disabilities. I have a degree in math and a degree in chemistry, and I also studied physical chemistry in graduate school. I guess I couldn't get enough of it and kept going back for more. [Laughter.]
I got interested in helping students with disabilities because my wife is blind. She ended up dropping out of college because she couldn't get access to the materials she needed. As a sighted scientist I thought that was ridiculous; in our modern era why couldn't materials be made so that a blind person could use them? That was fifteen years ago, and I was a lot more naïve back then. Now I realize how hard some of the challenges actually are.
When I was in graduate school about fifteen years ago we used research notebooks. The notebook was filled with notes, equations, and hand-drawn pictures in various colors, all blended together. It was all handwritten and very two-dimensional. This is how we were trained to document things when I was in school. We used print textbooks with pages full of equations and pictures. The print was very small. When I wanted to learn something, I went to a library, found a book, read it, wrote down a lot of notes, and hoped that eventually I would find out something. If you needed to find something that wasn't known, you had to hunt up someone who was doing research in that area and ask to see his notebook. Everything was recorded on paper. Millions of facts and figures on paper were buried in libraries.
Contrast that scenario with what I've been using lately--the iPad. I can draw a pattern on the screen. I can enlarge it or shrink it or move it around. On this little device I have the ability to do all of the things I used to do with pencil and paper. I can look up articles that are full of complex equations and charts. If I need to look up information, wherever I happen to be I can pick up my iPad and search.
Nowadays, in the digital world, information is becoming available in ways that were inconceivable even fifteen years ago. This development is of tremendous benefit to students with disabilities. I still can't hand an iPad to a blind student and say, "Use this, your problems are solved." But because mainstream society is putting information into this format, that day will come, and it will come pretty soon. At some point we will be able to hand an iPod to a student and she or he will be able to listen to it and have a tactile display. Whatever the student's preferred method of input and output, the system should work.
This degree of access will be possible because of the development of new standards and specifications for the exchange of information. You may have heard of the DAISY format used in the DAISY-formatted Talking Books. Formats such as DAISY are designed to help people convey information. They can include mathematical equations, pictures, graphs, and all sorts of other things. A wealth of technology is becoming available to people who want to access information in this way. One technique is called Math ML, Math Markup Language. It is used to encode equations, diagrams, and all sorts of other information for people with disabilities or for people who are not disabled. Journal articles by sighted scientists are written in Math ML so they can be emailed from one person to another or posted on a listserv. Access to information is now immediate. Colleagues can share information without having to walk to a library in another building or wait for somebody who's out to lunch.
After doing some work at Purdue and researching how to accommodate around difficult topics such as differential equations, calculus, and physics, I started a company. Our company produces products to help students with disabilities access information. We have a suite of products that is actually called Suite Talk--I didn't come up with the name! [Laughter.] The idea is for these programs to speak to the student. We worked for many years with Dr. Abraham Nemeth to develop a technology called MathSpeak, an open-source program that anyone can use. With MathSpeak the computer automatically converts mathematics into a spoken equation, a spoken string of words that is unambiguous and precise. This technology is profound. It means that one can procure a DAISY book, open it up, and listen to the text and the math. One can use the cursor keys to move around, attach a Braille display, and enter data back in by using the bookmark feature.
You can learn more about MathSpeak by visiting <www.gh-mathspeak.com>. Anyone can use this technology. To date two companies have adopted it in their products, our company, gh, LLC; and Design Science, which makes tools to help people encode and display mathematics. Most of our research has been done with students at the lower grade levels. We started with algebra and pre-algebra because we feel it's very important to convey certain concepts from the beginning. For example, if you don't understand the concept that a fraction has a numerator and a denominator, then it's really hard when you get further along in mathematics. Some of the Design Science tools are used for higher-level math, even by scientists writing journal articles. The program is really meant to cross the spectrum.
There are problems with any attempt at spoken math. Imagine trying to do long division with speech! We're starting to realize that maybe writing long division two-dimensionally isn't the best way to solve the problem. It just happens to be the way people are used to doing it, because of inertia. We've collaborated with university professors to work on better ways to teach.
MathSpeak is similar to a screen reader, but screen readers are expensive and difficult to use. We decided instead to break up the product for specific tasks. We have a book-reading product, a Web-browsing product, a product for taking tests, and a product for writing your own material. Each one is inexpensive and completely self-contained. All of the products have speech and Braille support built into them. To get a book into the program, you download it from any of a variety of sites or make your own book. We have a webinar at <www.gh-accessibility.com>. It shows you how to create your own math book by using either Microsoft Word or Open Office. I won't go into all of the details here, but by using tools that are all free you can create books with Math ML embedded in them, and they will play with our book-reading product. There is a Japanese product that will scan mathematics and convert to Math ML. Also, Windows 7 supports the creation of math, either by scanning or using a handwriting tablet. This way you can input math as a picture or by using a mouse, and it will be converted to Math ML.This technology is becoming more and more available. The pieces are out there now. The only step remaining is to figure out the interface for each type of disabled student.
by Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway
From the Editor: Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway is president of the Georgia Parents of Blind Children and serves on the NOPBC board of directors. At this year's convention she gave a presentation on Braille that was packed with valuable information.
My daughter, Kendra, is totally blind. I got started with the NFB right away, when she was very young. At my first convention I went to the opening session and listened to a panel of students led by Barbara Cheadle, who was the NOPBC president at that time. At the end of the presentation I raised my hand and asked a question. My voice was shaking and tears were running down my cheeks. I asked them, "How will my daughter make friends?"
Seven years later, I can hardly believe I asked. If you've ever met my daughter, you'll know that she can't stand within five feet of anyone without introducing herself. But as parents of young blind children we worry about these things, and we don't always have someone who can answer our questions.
I'm here to talk to you today because I'm Kendra's mother. In the seven years she's been on this earth I have learned quite a bit about Braille. I had never known a blind person before Kendra was born. I had a lot of misconceptions. My connection with the NFB has been very helpful to me. As parents of young blind children we get bombarded with an awful lot of negative information. We hear from teachers and therapists about all the things our kids won't do or can't do. Honestly, the only thing I've found so far that Kendra can't do is play a competitive game of tennis. Still, I take her to the tennis court, put a racquet in her hand, and tell her to bounce and hit. Now she has that hands-on experience and she knows why I'm screaming when I watch a women's match.
Some blind people may tell you that Braille is slow, hard to learn, and outdated. If that's what they're saying, they probably haven't been taught Braille in the right way. If you make learning fun it's going to stick a lot more, no matter what the subject matter. When you talk to your children about Braille, try to sound enthusiastic. Show them that you're learning it too.
Just like sighted children, some blind children have a hard time learning. Others are little geniuses. Some need extra help and some are writing computer programs when they're five. There's a tendency for educators to say, "A blind child will be slow," or "A blind child will be developmentally delayed." There is really no reason to make that assumption.
Recently a parent asked me, "When do you start exposing a blind child to Braille?" Think about sighted babies. A sighted baby is exposed to print from the moment he's born. As soon as his eyes start to focus, he sees print on the box of diapers, print on food labels, print in storybooks. The child is absorbing print whether he knows it or not. Eventually he learns to identify the letters of the alphabet and realizes that those letters can be combined into words.
Now think for a moment about what a blind baby is exposed to. The blind child is not typically born into a world of Braille. She isn't automatically exposed to the written word the way the sighted baby is. Some blind children aren't exposed to Braille until they start school. If you have a child with low vision who can read some print, you might be told that she doesn't need to learn Braille at all. Think for a moment about the disadvantages of all this for the blind child.
Then look at writing. A sighted toddler is given crayons and encouraged to scribble. Scribbling is preparation for learning to write. How often does a blind child get that same opportunity? Let your child practice punching out letters on the Perkins Brailler. Get a slate and stylus and let your child play by punching dots. Let your child hear you using those tools, too.
The good news is that a blind child who is exposed to Braille at an early age can read and write as well as his or her sighted peers who read print. The NFB, through its Braille initiative, is working to increase the number of children being taught Braille. Imagine if you had a class of sighted children and only one out of ten of them was being taught to read and write! That's what is happening with our blind children. It is estimated that only one out of ten blind children is being taught Braille. It's important for parents to know that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, contains a provision that reads, "The IEP team shall, in the case of a child who is blind or visually impaired, provide for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille unless the IEP team determines, after an evaluation of the child's reading and writing skills, needs, and appropriate reading and writing media, including an evaluation of the child's future need for instruction in Braille or the use of Braille, that instruction in Braille or the use of Braille is not appropriate for the child." According to this law, the schools have to offer Braille unless they can demonstrate why they shouldn't.
Unfortunately, the law doesn't mean you're going to get Braille for your child without a fight, especially if your child has low vision. If your child has enough vision to see some print, you might hear that Braille is unnecessary. My response is, "How could it possibly hurt to teach that child Braille?" The more tools we can give our children, the better off they'll be. My daughter's TVI says, "It's just one more tool in the toolbox." If you have a young child who is already struggling to read large print, it's not going to get easier. The print will get smaller and there will be a lot more reading to do the further he goes in school.
Since Kendra has no vision at all, nobody ever tried to tell us she had to read large print. By the middle of kindergarten she was reading above grade level, at forty words per minute in contracted Braille. She knew 121 of the 189 Braille contractions. Last year, in first grade, she was being given fourth- and fifth-grade spelling words, and she read Charlotte's Web independently. I don't know if anything we did at home contributed to her reading ability, but in case our efforts paid off, I want to share them with you.
Before Kendra could talk, we put Braille labels all over the house. Since there is print everywhere for kids who are going to be print readers, there should be Braille everywhere for kids who are going to read Braille. We used a Braille label maker, which is very simple even if you don't know Braille yet. The print letters are around the bottom so you can see the letter you will be printing out. We put labels on the refrigerator, the lower cabinets in the kitchen, the stove, the table, the chairs. When she started speaking Kendra found the label on her high chair and asked me what it said. At that point I knew she had made the connection between those bumps and words.
We also bought a Perkins Brailler for her so she could scribble and also hear us using it. We bought Braille label makers for our relatives so they could send her notes. We bought two Braillers, one on eBay and one on Craigslist.
Keep in mind that the Perkins Brailler takes a lot of finger strength. When Kendra was younger she worked with an occupational therapist to do some exercises to strengthen her fingers. There are a lot of little games to build strength in the fingers and hands, things like popping bubble wrap or squirting a water gun. It's also important to do activities that increase the child's tactile discrimination.
Early on we found all of the companies that offered Braille books for children, and we started to create a home library. If you're not familiar with the Braille Book Flea Market here at convention, I highly encourage you to attend. There is a huge room full of Braille books for the kids to select. All of the books are given away free; they just ask you to make whatever donation you choose. If you want Twin Vision® books, the ones that have print and Braille on the same page, get there early! It's like a feeding frenzy! Everyone finds out where they are, and they go really fast!
When Kendra got a little older we started to teach her the Braille alphabet. We made a game of making the letters by putting tennis balls into six-hole muffin tins. The six holes are arranged like the six dots in the Braille cell. To make the letter “a” you put a tennis ball in the top left hole. This game doesn't help with the tactile learning of Braille, but it works at the cognitive level, helping the child remember the dot positions. As Kendra became more familiar with the dots we started to play timed games. We'd call out a letter and see how fast she could put the tennis balls in the right position.
Kendra loves tactile graphics, and there aren't many books out there that include raised pictures. One that she enjoys is Humpty Dumpty and Other Touching Rhymes, which you can purchase from National Braille Press. A six- or seven-year-old sighted child can find plenty of picture books, but for blind kids that age there are very, very few. To help fill that gap we started to make story boxes to go with some of Kendra's books. You find small objects that go along with the story. A great program is Dots for Tots. Four times a year they send you free Braille books for your child, and they always include one Twin Vision book with a matching audiotape and a stack of objects.
We wanted reading to be fun, so we were always on the lookout for toys that incorporated Braille. eBay is a great place to look for them. We found several items, including the Alphabet Annie talking dolls, the Spelling Bee with both print and Braille letters, and the Elmo Phone with Braille numbers on it. When Kendra was in kindergarten I started creating a Word of the Day that I would put into her lunch-box. It began as a simple word on an index card, and it morphed into a tactile arts and crafts project. For instance, one time I made a harp out of cardboard with rubber bands for strings, and the word harp Brailled on it. It was a great way to help Kendra get interested in reading and a great way for me to practice my Braille.
As soon as she started learning contractions, Kendra had very little tolerance for me writing in uncontracted Braille. I found a Website where you can type in a word and it shows you the dot positions. I'm still taking the introductory Braille class through the Hadley School for the Blind. The Hadley School offers free correspondence courses for parents through the Family Education Program and you get to keep all of the materials they send you. When they have extra materials available, they will send those, too. Recently my teacher sent me a set of Brailled wooden blocks that unfortunately aren't always available.
We wanted to introduce Kendra to other Braille readers so she wouldn't feel she was the only one who was not reading print. When she was younger we enrolled her in the Braille Reading Pals program, a free program sponsored by the NOPBC. When she got a little older she signed up for the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest, a ten-week contest where kids keep track of how many pages of Braille they read.
The NFB is a great place to look for role models, especially if you're like me and didn't know any blind people until your child came along. In addition to the adults we've met, we have also met a blind college student who has become a mentor for our daughter. When Kendra was in kindergarten, this student went to her school and read two Braille books to the class. It was good for all of the kids to have that exposure.
Last year I wrote an article for Future Reflections about all the things Kendra's teachers did to make the classroom accessible and ensure that things ran smoothly for her. It was in the special issue on Braille, which contains a lot of good articles and is a great resource. I've also written a follow-up article about Kendra's first-grade year. Things are so much easier when you can get the teachers involved and get them excited about introducing Braille into the classroom.
I want to close with a piece of advice that is relevant whether your child reads print or Braille. Read, read, read! Make it a family activity. Make it fun. Reading enriches the whole family.
Future Reflections: Special Issue: A Celebration of Braille; Volume 28, number 1, 2009.
Curran, Eileen. (1988) Just Enough to Know Better: A Braille Primer. Boston: National Braille Press.
ISBN: 9780939173150. <www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/JETKB.html>
Castellano, Carol and Dawn Kosman.
The Bridge to Braille: Reading and School Success for the Young Blind Child.
Sources of Braille Books
Braille Institute of America, Inc.
741 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90029
(800) 272-4553 or (323) 663-1111
American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults (AAF)
Kenneth Jernigan Lending Library Service
18440 Oxnard St., Tarzana, CA 91356
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS)
1291 Taylor St., NW, Washington, D.C. 20542-0002
(202) 707-5100 or (800) 424-8567
American Printing House for the Blind (APH)
P.O. Box 6085, 1839 Frankfort Ave., Louisville, KY 40206
(502) 895-2405 or (800) 223-1839
National Braille Press (NBP)
88 St. Stephen St., Boston, MA 02115
(617) 266-6160 or (888) 965-8965
Seedlings Braille Books for Children
P.O. Box 51924, Livonia, MI 48151-5924
(734) 427-8552 or (800) 777-8552
Equipment (label makers, slate and stylus, etc.)
National Federation of the Blind, Independence Market
200 E. Wells St., Baltimore, MD 21230
Independent Living Aids (ILA)
Braille Education and Resources for Parents
Hadley School for the Blind
700 Elm St., Winnetka, IL 60093
(847) 446-8111 or (800) 323-4238
Braille Contraction Dictionary
Perkins School for the Blind
175 N. Beacon St., Watertown, MA 02472
Toys (check eBay or Craigslist)
Alphabet Annie Doll
Braillin Braille Learning Doll
V-tech toys (Buzz the Spelling Bee, others)
Fisher Price Elmo phone
National Braille Press Reading Caravan
Playskool Alphabet Magnets with Braille
Uncle Goose Braille Alphabet Blocks
by Rick Fox
Introduction by Carol Castellano: Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to tell our personal stories. I appreciate Rick Fox's willingness to speak to us on this topic today. He brings a word of caution and a very meaningful message.
I grew up over forty years ago, well before many of you were born. I wonder if this speech is even necessary. Have kids evolved to the point where they won't take the path of least resistance if they can get away with it? Have we done our work in the Federation so well that pity toward blind people has disappeared, and low expectations about our capabilities have faded from the public mind? I'm afraid not. Perhaps my words will help some of you counteract experiences similar to mine in the lives of your blind children and help them avoid the painful consequences I had to survive.
As a child I was blessed with a loving, encouraging family whose expectations for me were no different from those for my sighted siblings. My father went to law school with a blind man who later became a judge in New York, so he knew a positive blind role model. We all have memories of pithy sayings by those who raised us. My father's saying for me was, "You must learn to do things yourself because there will come a time when your parents won't be around to do them for you."
My Braille instruction in my neighborhood public school began early and occurred often. I was in the top reading group from March of my first-grade year onward. I don't remember ever being without a Braille book when I really needed it. My cane travel instruction also began early. My training sessions were rigorous and my mobility instructors told me many times that I would be able to go wherever I wanted.
Nevertheless, consistent forces and influences in my early years conveyed messages of shame, incompetence, and inferiority due to my blindness. These messages were strong enough and consistent enough to impair the growth of my character, hamper my acquisition of vital skills, and blow a gaping hole in my self-confidence as I reached adulthood.
All of us remember the nervous and hopeful excitement with which we approached the first day of school each September. Would we be in class with our friends? Would the teachers be nice? strict? fair? I secretly asked myself an additional question by seventh grade: How much would my teachers let me get away with on account of my blindness? Here are some reasons why.
In fourth grade a teacher pulled me and another kid apart when some playful wrestling during recess turned into a serious fight. The other kid caught hell. I was sent gently back to my class. My fear of catching it from my parents for getting into trouble in school overpowered my disgust at this pitying and unjust outcome.
In fifth grade six of us were slated to get zeroes for the day in PE because we had forgotten our gym clothes. I slipped into the teacher's office at the end of the period and asked him not to tell my older brother what had happened. My brother would doubtless spread the news at home. I guess the combination of my quivering chin and my blindness was too much for the teacher. My zero was erased while the others were allowed to stand.
From sixth grade on, a minority of my teachers silently conspired with me to give me grades I did not deserve. They knew it and I knew it, though we never spoke about it. My sixth-grade teacher tested me orally at times while the rest of my classmates took written quizzes in their seats. I usually did pretty well, but if not, the teacher all but told me the answers with hints and tone of voice. During the first week of school in eighth grade, my math teacher asked me how I proposed to take his test, which he handed to me in print. "No problem," I said. "I'll do it with a reader at home." [Laughter.] The system worked fine until I was out sick for a couple of days and missed a key concept. Too embarrassed to ask for extra help, I found a buddy, an A student, who agreed to fill out all subsequent math tests for me. My math teacher had to be aware that something like that was going on. Though I failed all properly proctored tests such as finals and midterms, and though I couldn't participate effectively in class, I ended up with a C at the close of each marking period. My math buddy stayed with me until the end of my pathetic math career and was always there to lend a helping hand. All of my math teachers were similarly cooperative.
By the time I approached high school graduation, I had been taught two diametrically opposed philosophies of blindness and two contradictory ways to think about myself. Those two philosophies would compete for supremacy inside me for years. The positive philosophy said I would go on to college, where I would get ready for a job, a family, a home, and all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. When my parents and most teachers expected high standards of achievement and behavior from me and held me accountable for falling short of those standards, they were telling me they had faith in my ability to function effectively as an adult and live a full and happy life. When I succeeded, my self-confidence got a boost. Their faith in me helped me sustain a belief in myself.
The negative philosophy said that blindness would prevent me from reaching my potential in all areas of life. When some teachers gave me grades I did not earn, when they did not hold me accountable for bad behavior, they were telling me loud and clear that my blindness prevented me from meeting their usual standards. They were saying that I wouldn't be able to cut it in the real world as an adult. Whenever that lesson was taught, it eroded my self-confidence, to say nothing of the skills I was supposed to be learning. It took a big chunk out of my faith in myself.
In college my self-doubts often overwhelmed my self-confidence and sense of adventure, resulting in a paralyzing depression. What makes you think you can succeed here or anywhere else? the negative voice would sneer. Whenever the going got tough, somebody was always there to give you the right answer, to erase your zero, to do your test for you. You're a fake, a phony, a fraud! Your idea that you can compete effectively as a blind person is a sham, so don't even try.
The road to recovery from depression is often circuitous. The NFB was prominent in mine. Who would be more qualified to help me sort out my feelings about blindness than other blind people with similar experiences and a tested, successful philosophy? When my self-confidence was at its lowest and I was about to give up, the NFB's insistent message of optimism, high spirits, high standards, and love of one another helped me hold on and keep going. I finally learned that forgiveness of myself and others is the best way to be free from the shackles of the past in order to live in the present and concentrate my energies and hopes on the future.
I worked for IBM for twenty years as a sales representative, as a technical support person, and as a programmer. For the past twelve years I have been part of an access technology company. For four years I was president of the Connecticut affiliate of the NFB, a high point for me and a great test of my positive philosophy of blindness.My parents never knew about those actions of mine back in school. It never would have occurred to them that some teachers would behave as they did. Please guard your children's futures by knowing what kind of work they're doing and how they're doing it. Are their teachers holding them to the same standards as the rest of the class? This is no different from your responsibilities toward your sighted children. The temptation to take advantage of the low expectations of others is great, and the opportunities are all too plentiful. Thank you for listening, and my best wishes for the success and happiness of your precious children.
by Carla McQuillan
From the Editor: Carla McQuillan is a longtime Federationist from Oregon. For many years she has directed NFB Camp for children at national conventions. She is the executive director of Main Street Montessori Association.
I do a lot of workshops with parents. I find that parents of blind children and parents of sighted children have very similar needs and concerns. Sometimes I ask parents of blind children to list the traits they hope to see in their kids when they grow up, and here are some of the answers they give me: confidence, independence, competence, intelligence, ability, curiosity, happiness, courage, adventurousness, compassion, determination. Those characteristics are identical to the ones I hear listed by parents of children who have no disabilities.
What can we do right now to help your child develop these characteristics? Over the thirty years that I've been in early childhood education, I've seen that these characteristics are formed at two, three, four, and five years of age. By the time a child gets older, characteristics become set in patterns.
I believe very strongly in the teachings of Dr. Maria Montessori. She was a medical doctor who developed theories about what children needed at certain points in their lives to become independent, contributing members of society. She based her theories on her observations of children. The greatest obstacles that she found to a child's natural development of independence and self-direction were the adults who wanted to help more than was necessary.
Maria Montessori described an inner drive that every human being has from birth. That drive causes every child to move toward greater and greater independence and control over his/her environment. It causes a child to want to learn to move, to crawl, to walk, to reach out and explore. Because that drive is so strong in children, we adults have a tendency to check it, to slow the child down, to try to make him or her back off from that natural desire to move forward. As parents and educators working with blind children, we have to make sure that we are not obstacles in the way of their natural push toward independence.
I will tell you here and now that this may be one of the most difficult things you will ever have to do in your life! The world out there is not going to be kind to your blind children. It is a tough place for them. The best way to make sure that your children are ready for the outside world is to back off and make them do things for themselves.
Think about this scenario. You're watching your child and she's starting to walk. You see that she's going to take a tumble and you want to stop her. You know what? Every kid who learns to walk is going to fall down. That's how they learn to be more careful. That's how they learn balance. A parent told me once that she had a seventeen-month-old blind child who was walking. Her daughter was in a play group with other blind and visually impaired children. One of the leaders of the play group said that it was very unusual for a blind child to be walking before the age of two. I had never heard anything like that in my life! My background is not in work with blind children. I am blind, and I have worked with blind children in my environment, but my training is not in special ed. So my reaction was, "What? What is the reason behind that?"
The reason is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Parents are told not to expect their child to walk till the age of two, so they stop doing the natural things that they would do with a child who is not blind. With our kids who are not blind we hold their hands and walk with them. We give them walking toys. We put things in their environment that encourage them to practice walking. If you don't think your child can walk till she's two, when do you start to do those things? Probably not at eight and nine and ten months!
Be careful when you look at a developmental model for your child. Make sure you're not looking at someone's idea of what a blind child should be doing at each phase of development, but what every typical child should be expected to do at that stage. Do everything you can to move your child in that direction.
A Secret within Each Child
I have a good friend who's here at convention, Bennett Prows. Bennett is a twin. He is blind and his brother is sighted. He believes that one of his greatest advantages in life was that his parents did not know anything about raising a blind child. They made Ben do everything his brother was doing. When Bill learned to ride a bike, they told Ben to go out and learn to ride a bike, too. When Bill learned to skateboard, it was, "Ben, get out there on your skateboard!" There was no difference between what he and his brother were expected to do. They took out the trash, did the laundry, and cleaned the yard. Today Bennett Prows is a successful attorney who works for the Federal Office of Civil Rights. He attributes a great deal of his success, his ability to fit into society, to the fact that his parents treated him just as they treated his brother who was sighted. Keep that in mind. Stop and ask yourself, would I be doing this if I were talking to a sighted kid?
In my training I learned that children between the ages of one and five are developing their muscles. They are learning how their bodies work in space. They are learning balance and movement, their physical abilities and limitations. Unless they use their muscles and do things that stretch their physical limits, they don't develop naturally. We as adults have a tendency to say, "Oh, be careful!" All of a sudden we have put some doubt into the child's head. Be careful! Is there something scary about what I'm about to do? Adults tend to make children fearful. Fearfulness is not a natural instinct in most children.
When my son was six years old and we had just opened our big school, we had a play structure with wide, six-inch beams. It was eight feet high because I wanted the swings to be really high--I like swings! My son used to climb up onto the top bar of the play structure and walk on it as if it were a balance beam. It was six inches wide. Most balance beams are only four inches wide.
I am fearful of heights. I always have been and I guess I always will be. So my heart stopped when he walked up there, but I resisted the urge to stop him. (I did tell him he couldn't do it when the kids were at school because it would scare my teachers.) He never fell. He is a very athletic, agile human being who has great balance. He is naturally able to do a lot of things that I can't do because of my fear. I managed not to impose my fears on him.
I'm not going to advise you to encourage your children to do anything like that. But if they have that desire, create an environment where they can explore the possibilities. I worked with the family of a four-year-old blind boy who loved to climb. He would climb up on the furniture and climb up on the counters. Children are drawn toward the things in their lives that they need in order to function and develop. I told the parents that if their son was climbing, they needed to find something that would give him the opportunity to climb safely. Probably climbing up the bookcase was not the greatest thing for him. Just because he wanted to do it, that didn't mean it was okay. That child's parents needed to find a safe alternative. Maybe they could set up a climbing structure and monitor it. Maybe they could put it in an environment where he'd land on something soft if he fell.
Montessori said there is a secret within each child, a secret that only the child knows. The child knows what she needs in order to develop cognitively, socially, and emotionally. The best we can do is to observe and learn from what the child shows us. Then we must do our best to bring the elements the child needs into her environment. Montessori said we should look at children as though we are scientists. We should always be exploring to find out what we should be doing next, whether we're meeting the child's needs, and how we can help her become more independent.
When a child is about two, he or she reaches the age of "me do it myself." The more you as parents encourage your children to do things on their own, the better off you're all going to be. If you do things for your children for too long, there will come a time when they will not want to do things themselves. You will not be able to get them to do things when you want them to.
When my daughter was five years old she cleaned my bathrooms. My daughter, who is not blind, was very meticulous. We had a black dog, and she would get every last little black dog hair off the toilet and off the floor. She was proud of what she was doing. What was my error? Alisson was so good at what she did that when her brother got to be five years old I didn't insist that Duncan step in and learn to clean the bathroom. Guess who doesn't know how to clean a bathroom today! By the time I said, "Okay, now it's your turn," he was past the phase of being interested.
Children go through sensitive periods where they're really interested in something. The phase goes on until they master that particular skill and then it fades away. If you don't grab those moments when they come, they may pass by. It's not that your children won't learn later, but they won't be as efficient or effective as they might have been. Kids love to clean things. You should encourage your three-year-old to learn to dust. Teach your two- and three-year-olds to take silverware out of the dishwasher and put it into the drawers. By all means I encourage parents to have kids do chores around the house. It's part of their responsibility as a member of the household. It gives them the opportunity to feel that they're making a contribution, and there's no better way to build confidence!
A child is going to struggle when he starts learning to get dressed. Putting on socks and shoes--that's a big one! All of the three-, four-, and five-year-olds at our school put on their socks and shoes by themselves. They all change their own clothes.
It's a struggle at first. I always tell people it gets worse before it gets better, particularly if the children have gotten old enough that they're really not interested in learning that skill any more. If they've come to expect you to do a thing for them, you're going to have a battle. Keep in mind that children do not use energy unnecessarily. They may pitch a fit, but that takes a lot of energy. They will not do it unless it pays off for them.
It may be difficult to step back. Some parents have told me they have to walk out of the room and cry. But if you do this now and help your children become self-sufficient, you will be pleased with the results when they're older. You can't start that learning when they're sixteen years old!
Learning by Doing
Blind kids are supposed to start transition services when they're fourteen and a half years old. In my opinion that is way too late to start teaching some of the skills that are included in what we call transition services. Those kids should be growing up with those skills. As soon as the child is physically capable of mastering a particular task he ought to be doing it. If you have a blind child and you don't have any sighted children, you might not be sure what is age-appropriate. Talk to people. Read about child development. Learn about the expectations for children of different ages.
Sometimes we see a child who is not allowed to become independent and have control over her environment, who has not had the power to make choices. The drive for control is so powerful that the child will get control over the parents.
I watched this happen just today. I saw a blind girl seven or eight years old, brand-new to convention. She came into the Kids' Camp room and refused to use her cane. She set it down and proceeded to tell the workers in the room, "You need to tell me where that is! ... You need to tell me what this is. ... You need to tell me where you put my ..." That tells me that there are people in her environment who do that for her. So we got our O&M specialist to come and take her on a lesson. By the time she came back to the room she was using her cane, she was looking for the materials around the room, and she wasn't asking anyone for help. It took all of thirty minutes.
We had a little blind boy enrolled at school. He had lost his vision very suddenly from a brain tumor. He had no other issues that they could detect, just the loss of his vision. He came into the classroom two weeks after he lost his sight, and his hands were on everything. He was adventurous, he was curious, he was doing exactly what a two-and-a-half-year-old ought to do.
In my state children have to be three before early childhood education kicks in. He came back to school when he was three. This child, who had been so adventurous right after he lost his vision, got off the school bus and stopped. He waited for someone to take his hand and lead him into the school building. We had a cane for him and he was taught how to use it. There's a hallway that leads from the front door out to the back door and the playground. There's a wall on one side, there's carpeting on the other, and there's tile all the way--it's a straight shot. Every day he would get inside and he would stop.
Thank goodness for good staff. I told them, "I don't care what it is--if you know he can do it, just wait for him." We had a lovely assistant working with him, and she would sing. She would walk ahead of him and sing to let him know where he was supposed to go. She never touched his cane and she never touched him. Over time he slowly began to do things on his own, little by little. Somehow, in that six months when he was at home with his family, I'm willing to bet that everybody brought things to him.
A child who is independent and adventurous is going to reach out and find things. He's going to find a way. The child who is accustomed to having other people do for him will sit with his hands out and wait for things to be brought to him. Translate that to the young person who is eighteen or twenty years old. Do you think that pattern is suddenly going to change?
The Lessons We Teach
Children will do exactly what we train them to do. If we teach them to wait right there and let us bring things to them, that's exactly what they're going to expect in life. That is the role that they will learn to play.
It's very, very hard for a lot of parents to take this in. I know how much you want to make sure everything is wonderful for your children! That can only happen if you make sure your child struggles and has to work. That's the only way for your child to develop the determination, tenacity, and never-quit attitude that will enable her to be successful in life. It begins when they're so young that they're just becoming aware of what is going on around them. That's when you start to teach those lessons.
My parents had no clue what to do with a blind kid. I have quite a bit of peripheral vision, but I have no central vision. I cannot read print at all. I didn't look blind, and no one ever suggested that I read Braille. I wish my parents had insisted that I learn--I can't stress enough the importance of Braille literacy for blind kids!
When I first went off to college I lived in an apartment six or seven miles from my parents' house. My mother would call me and say, "Hey, I'm going grocery shopping, would you like me to take you?" The grocery store she'd take me to was three blocks down the street from me. I know my mother would never have driven across town to go there! Then one day I was walking home from class, about three blocks, and my mother called me. She said, "It's raining. Can I give you a ride?"
I found myself feeling very irritated and angry with her. I knew it wasn't her fault; I knew she was doing it out of love. But I had to sit her down and say, "You have to stop this. You have to stop worrying about me. You have to let me go. I'm going to be okay." Well, she did stop--sort of. I mean, she's still a mom, right? [Laughter.]
Try to recognize how important it is for your children to pull away from you. If they don't, they can never hope to have what I know you want for them.
Young children are trying to figure out how the world works. Children under the age of five or six are taking everything in and processing it to derive some sort of meaning. They look for patterns and routines, and they define themselves based on the way things happen around them. Make sure the lessons you teach are the ones you really want your children to learn!
When we have a class of preschool children, we set up a lot of self-contained, single-purpose activities. You can set these up at home for your young children. For example, if I want to teach a child to pour, I start with a tray and a pitcher and grains instead of liquid. Once the child gets the motion of pouring from pitcher to pitcher, when he has not spilled any of the beans onto the tray, we go to smaller grains, and eventually to water. Then we move on, to the point where the child is actually pouring from a pitcher into a cup. Make sure at some point that the pitcher has more water than the cup will hold!
Children love activities like this. They want to learn things that will allow them to be more independent. Give them the activity in a very nonjudgmental environment. If they spill or drop something, do your best not to react. Say, "Oh, let me show you how to clean that up." We always have dustpans and brooms for cleaning up dry things, and we have buckets and sponges for cleaning up liquids. That's part of the natural process.
When the child starts learning to pour into a glass, show him how to put his finger over the lip of the glass and use very cold water. The first time he's going to keep pouring and pouring, right? Calmly point out how cold the water feels when it touches the tip of his finger, and tell him that's when it's time to stop pouring. It will probably take several tries, but the child will do it eventually.
Make Room for Practice
One time at an NFB convention I was conducting a babysitting workshop with a roomful of kids who were eleven to sixteen years old. About half of them were blind. There were about fifteen kids, and it was very hot! There were pitchers of water at the front and the back of the room, and I called a break so everyone could get a drink of water. One of the blind girls, about thirteen years old, turned to the sighted girl next to her and said, "Would you get me a glass of water?" I said, "Wait a second. You're in a babysitting workshop to learn how to take care of someone else's children. You will pour your own water!"
She knew the technique. She put her finger over the lip of the glass and started pouring, but when the water touched the tip of her finger she didn't stop. The water spilled over the top of the glass. When she realized it had spilled onto the table, she panicked.
My heart sank. I knew that her family had been involved with the NFB for many years, but clearly she had not done this activity very often. Cognitively she understood the technique, but she couldn't do it smoothly and comfortably. Sighted people will notice if you're uncomfortable doing what you do. Gracefulness is key!
We had a lot of towels in the room because we were practicing diapering baby dolls. I tossed her a towel and said, "Go ahead and clean it up and try again." She was a bit flustered, but she did it. I told her, "Do it slowly," and she did.
I know her parents taught her how to pour. But because she wasn't doing it perfectly, watching her made them uncomfortable. I'm guessing that this was especially true in public. So they avoided putting her in any situation where she would have to be embarrassed. Let your kids practice at home in a nonthreatening, nonjudgmental environment where they can practice until they get it down.
It's a mom thing or a dad thing to do stuff for your kids. Parents feel uncomfortable when they watch a child struggle. It's very hard to stand by and let a child figure things out, when it would be so easy and efficient for you to step in and get the thing done. It's all about your comfort level. It affects not only parents, but all of the people who have any dealings with your children. When people act on the impulse to swoop in and take over, it's easy for a child (and later, for an adult) never to worry about doing those little things for himself or herself.
Self-advocacy is very important in this area. From a very young age you have to teach your child that she can do things, and that she needs to show other people that she can do things. Our kids also have to learn about doing things for other people. If they do not participate in social reciprocity, they will not be viewed as equals.
Keep your focus on the long term. When people see you letting your child struggle, they will tell you that you are being cruel. Know in your heart and soul that they will never understand what you are dealing with. They will walk away and never have to deal with the life that lies ahead for you and your child. Be confident in what you are doing and get the support you need from people in the National Federation of the Blind and other parents of blind children. You will need that support. Know that you are not alone and that you're doing what is best for your child in the long run.
by Kim Cunningham and Sally Thomas
From the Editor: Parents sometimes wonder what convention has to offer children who have outgrown Kids' Camp. The Teen and Tween Rooms provide structure and fun for kids too old for Kids' Camp and too young to sit happily through long meetings and workshops.
At an NFB national convention there are never enough hours in the day. The convention agenda is packed with lectures, workshops, and hands-on technology demonstrations, to say nothing of fun activities such as the barbecue and Karaoke Night. Families must prioritize the "must do's" and then hope to find time for everything else.
Younger children keep busy all day at NFB Kids' Camp. For older kids the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) provides the Teen and Tween Rooms. Open to any tween or teen attending the convention, the rooms are available for at least one session every day. Blind children, their sighted siblings, and the children of blind parents are all welcome to stop by.
The NOPBC provides two separate rooms: one for teens (ages thirteen to eighteen) and one for tweens (ages eleven to thirteen) During the NOPBC opening session, families are notified of the room numbers and contact information of the hosts. The NOPBC agendas are marked with the days and times the rooms will be open.
The rooms are offered as chaperoned hangouts, places where the teens can catch up with old friends or make new ones. Snacks and soft drinks are provided. Many teens bring lunch or dinner and eat together. Often the teens order a pizza to share.
In general, the teens and tweens spend their time doing what they do best: playing games, talking about their social lives, and of course discussing everything they've experienced in the exhibit hall. It is our desire to create a relaxed atmosphere where the kids can wind down and sort through the day.
As parents most of us have seen times when teens and tweens are less than kind to their peers. Somehow, we have not seen this happen in the Teen and Tween Rooms. No matter what activity is taking place, everyone is included. The kids are patient as they teach each other and try to answer questions. They share stories, listen to music, and laugh a lot! Hosting the Teen and Tween Rooms is a highlight of our time at convention.
by Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway
From the Editor: Convention is about many things--exchanging information, sharing resources, and strengthening a positive philosophy about blindness. It is also about building friendships, as Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway can attest.
Over the past couple of years, Kendra Holloway of Georgia and Lindsay Adair of Texas have had several phone conversations. Both girls are eight years old. Their conversations tend to go something like this:
Kendra: What noisy toys do you have?
Lindsay: I have a Jibber Jabber doll and some noisy books with buttons and some stuffed animals that make noise when you squeeze them.
Kendra: Lindsay, are you blind?
Lindsay: Yes. Are you?
Kendra: Yes. So, what other noisy toys do you have?
Lindsay is the daughter of NOPBC President Laura Weber. Laura and I first met at an NOPBC board meeting in 2008. We found it interesting how many things our daughters, both in kindergarten at the time, had in common. Both blind from birth, Kendra and Lindsay shared an aversion to certain noises when they were younger. As they got older, both of them were intensely interested in learning about the family tree of each and every person they met. The girls are known for their strong (some might say stubborn and bossy) personalities. Laura and I joked that if they ever met in person, it would be like a clash between Godzilla and Mothra.
Although Lindsay had previously attended two NFB conventions and Kendra had attended six, the girls had never met. As we made our plans for the 2010 NFB convention in Dallas, I think Laura and I were even more excited about the girls meeting than they were themselves. Kendra and Lindsay met for the first time at Kids' Camp on the day of the NOPBC seminar. There was no initial shyness at all. They hugged and sat down together at a table. Plans were quickly made for trips to the pool and back and forth visits between their hotel rooms. Lindsay brought a small trampoline to the hotel and Kendra brought every other toy (and yes, both families drove to the convention to accommodate the toy needs). Each of the girls owns a Victor Reader Stream and they had a great time one night comparing their tastes in music and books. The Junie B. Jones books got the thumbs up from both girls, as did an assortment of jokes. Hearing two eight-year-olds exchange jokes is very amusing, no matter how funny the jokes themselves are.
Laura and I recognize how important it is for our daughters to grow up with friends who are blind, as well as friends who are sighted. Given the small numbers of blind children, finding blind friends can be a challenge.
The importance of having blind friends to talk to was emphasized to me on Kendra's eighth birthday. Although she had a great time at her party, Kendra seemed down all weekend. She didn't want to blow out her candles or make a wish at the party. That night she told us that her birthday wish was that she could see. I felt as if someone had plunged a knife into my heart. There really is no good answer when your child tells you something like that. Although I can try my best to be supportive, I can never really understand what she's feeling when it comes to being blind. As she gets older, I am happy that she will have friends like Lindsay to talk to about those painful feelings as well as more positive topics.
Lindsay recently told Laura that she'd met a new girl at recess. The girl told Lindsay that the kids at school were sad that she was blind because she couldn't see beautiful things. Lindsay told her mother that she said, "Well, me and my mom aren't sad I'm blind." They talked about it for a while, and then Lindsay said, "I'll bet if the kids at school could come to a convention, they'd think that being blind is pretty fun." Statements like that really show the value of having blind friends and being a part of the NFB.
In the same way that Kendra and Lindsay share their experiences, Laura and I do as well. As most people reading this article know, there are some challenges unique to raising a blind child. It's wonderful to have a friend to vent to about various issues that have come up with the school system, or to have someone who understands the frustration of trying to do homework with your child in Braille (especially when your child's knowledge of Braille surpasses your own). We've talked about the social skills our girls possess, sports and other activities they enjoy, and our hopes and dreams for their futures. Our involvement with the NOPBC and the NFB has enhanced our lives significantly. It has given our daughters the chance to make lifelong friends and given us the opportunity to find the support and friendship of other parents. Kendra and Lindsay are already looking forward to the next NFB convention. Look out, Orlando!
by Laurel J. Hudson, PhD
From the Editor: On July 5, Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway had the honor of presenting the 2010 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award to Dr. Laurie Hudson. Stephanie praised Dr. Hudson for holding her blind students to the highest standards. As the recipient of this award, Dr. Hudson was given the opportunity to address the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Here is what she had to say.
I was attending the University of New Hampshire, majoring in psychology and taking courses in learning, perception, and motivation. I knew I wanted to do something in the education area, but I had no idea what it would look like for me. Then one winter morning during my senior year, I looked out the third-floor window of my college dormitory and watched one of my favorite psychology professors, Dr. Fred Jarvis, tapping his cane along the snowy sidewalk on the way to his office. This really captured my attention--how did his cane help him? As a blind person, how did he keep track of where he was? I asked him about it, and he told me about a federally funded masters degree program in something called "orientation and mobility" at Boston College. I was about to get married and move to Boston. I applied to BC, and I thought it was a done deal, but I wasn't accepted. I had done well at UNH, but the Boston College admissions office was wisely concerned that I didn't know the first thing about blindness. They thought that perhaps I was interested out of a spectator-like curiosity or an unhealthy need to be a helper. I was devastated, but I got myself an assistant teacher position at a place called the Boston Center for Blind Children. I got some experience and re-applied to BC. I got in this time, went through the program, and in 1973 became an orientation and mobility specialist (or, as BC uniquely coined the term, a "peripatologist.")
As I started my first O&M job in the 1970s, the state of Massachusetts was beginning to empty its institutions. The state had finally come to the conclusion that people with disabilities were better served in small residences and job sites in the community than in massive, crowded, impersonal institutions. A number of blind adolescents had been institutionalized. To help them make the transition to the outside world, the local Protestant Guild for the Blind started a program and hired me as one of two O&M specialists. What a shock for me, straight out of school, to realize that many of these young men and women, labeled as severely/profoundly mentally retarded, could readily learn Braille literacy, independent living skills, social skills, and mobility!
At the same time as this de-institutionalization was taking place, Massachusetts mandated some major changes in its education system. I remember being nervous as all get-out when someone from the Massachusetts Board of Education conducted an audit of our program, interviewing me about what we were doing in terms of mainstreaming (or inclusion). "Do you do any mainstreaming?" one of them asked. I had never heard of mainstreaming. Almost nobody had at that time. Streaming? Rivers? Fishing? Swimming? I blurted out some kind of ridiculous answer, as if I had been a student who had partied all night and was trying to bluff her way through an essay exam. Looking back, I wonder how those state administrators kept from chuckling. Anyway, within a few years, after Massachusetts had piloted mainstreaming and the IEP process through a state law called Chapter 766, the federal government adopted much the same process with a piece of legislation called IDEA, and we've never looked back.
After working at the Protestant Guild, I took up a variety of positions teaching mobility at Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts, and in public school systems in the Boston area. I also started a family of my own. I liked to take courses in my field in the evenings as I was teaching, and in the process I became certified as a teacher of students with visual impairments and as a teacher of students with severe/profound disabilities. I took so many courses, in fact, that I realized I wasn't far from a PhD. For my dissertation, I individually assessed forty-eight incredibly helpful blind adults in order to compare some of the most common ways that we were measuring spatial cognition. The catchy name of my dissertation was, "Relationships among Five Measures of Survey Level Mental Representation of Space in the Visually Impaired." I think my doctoral committee members were the only people who ever read it through, and I'm not even so sure about them. My father got through the abstract, and my mother made it through the title.
My training and my experience have opened a lot of doors for me. Over and above my regular teaching in Massachusetts and since 2004 in Georgia, I've been able to teach courses to prepare teachers of the visually impaired and O&M specialists at Boston College, the University of Massachusetts, Florida State University, and the University of Arizona.
Over the years, I've done research on sonic devices with Lesley Kaye, on the developmental stages of blind infants with Kay Ferrell, and on verbal description with WGBH public television. My verbal description research led me to a project jointly sponsored by the American Foundation for the Blind and the Described and Captioned Media Program, where I worked with David Dawson and a dozen other people to develop guidelines for verbal description of educational videos.
I've also had the opportunity to do international work through the Hilton-Perkins program. (As an aside, this is the Hilton of the Hilton Hotel chain. Conrad Hilton hadn't known anything about visual impairments/blindness until he read a book about Helen Keller. He was so inspired that he started a foundation that has funded ongoing support for deafblind services in over sixty countries.) Through Hilton-Perkins, I've taught teachers at schools for the blind in China and Vietnam for the past ten or twelve years. I'll be leading a mobility workshop in Ahmedabad, India, later this month.
Lastly, I had the opportunity to write a book called Classroom Collaboration, still in publication through Perkins School for the Blind. I wrote this book when I was working full-time in inclusive settings in the public schools. (I guess I finally learned what mainstreaming is!) Public school teachers, therapists, and paraprofessionals were so uncertain about what to do with a blind child in their classes that I wrote this book to give them some guidelines. The American Foundation for the Blind took one section, called "19 Ways to Step Back," for a free poster that it still distributes nationally. It's a narrow, vertical poster, printed in black and red on white, with a whole range of footprints, from dinosaurs' feet to running shoes to high heels, next to the nineteen steps. Let me take a minute to read some of the steps to you. They're all about independence, as I know we all are.
The first step is, "You're stepping back so your students can step forward and become independent. Keep this in mind." The second is, "Clock how long it actually takes for students to start zippers, pick up dropped papers, or find page numbers. What's a few more seconds in the grander scheme?" The third is, "Sit on your hands for a whole task while you practice giving verbal instead of touch cues. Hands off the hands." And now jump down to the nineteenth step, "Post a sign, 'Are there any other ways I could step back?'"
Teaching has indeed been a magnificent profession for me. But let me get to my students now. That's what it's all about.
Lesley was one of the adolescents released from an institution. He showed me, without a shadow of a doubt, way back during my first job ever in the 1970s, that blind people belong in the community and not in institutions.
Lauren. I began as her O&M instructor and TVI when she was three years old. I continued with her, one-to-one and five days a week, until she finished middle school. She moved with her family to California at that point. When she graduated from high school, her family sent me cross-country airline tickets and offered the use of their guest room so I could be the one to hand her her high school diploma.
Ali had cerebral palsy and used a walker. That determined girl learned to read Braille with her thumb when cerebral palsy prevented her from using the typical hand formation.
Rachel also struggled. Braille reversals got the best of her all through elementary school, but she finally got to the other side of them. For Rachel I wrote a poem about Nemeth numbers, “Zero, four, six and eight, sometimes it's hard to keep them straight.” For those who are familiar with the National Braille Press book, Just Enough to Know Better, Rachel is the little girl in the stories.
Pamela was a creature of habit. She found great security in having a "hot dog, no roll" for her lunch at a diner every single Wednesday for two years during our mobility lessons. But then she took a risk and went from security to adventure. Instead of her usual "hot dog, no roll," she sat down at the diner stool and asked for "just a spoonful of premium honey, nothing else."
Grace was endlessly entertained but also effectively educated when we pretended during O&M lessons that there were detours all along the routes in her elementary school. I used to jump ahead of her as she was walking familiar routes in her school. I'd pretend to be the maintenance man and say in my lowest possible voice, "Excuse me, little girl, I'm washing the floor right here. You'll have to go around another way." Rather than being terrified of getting lost, Grace would giggle at my pretend voice and then happily accept the challenge of this spatial problem solving.
Jack taught me everything I know about Braille notetakers when he was only seven years old.
Eli, a current student, had eighteen surgeries in the first eighteen months of his life. Whenever Eli seems willful during our lessons, I never mind too much. That willfulness is what kept him alive during all his medical complications.
In my reflections on my students over the years I need to include the adults I've taught. I've supervised and learned from literally dozens of student teachers. Sometimes I look over a roomful of TVIs in my home state and realize that I've supervised or worked alongside the majority of them. Then I shudder to think, "If I'm wrong, then they're all wrong."
Then there are the master teachers in schools for the blind in Asia. I've become close to a lot of them. I've taught them a little bit about what we've figured out in the United States. They've taught me a LOT about dedication and resourcefulness.
Now I get to Kendra. She and I have written so many experience books together, figured out so many paper jams together, and explored so many nooks and crannies of her school together! She wrote a paper this spring about why she likes Braille. I'd like to quote some of it to let you know more about my own values and philosophies.
She opened her essay by writing, "Braille helps me read." Those four words are why I've been teaching students with visual impairments for nearly forty years. Reading and writing are key to recreation, employment, and understanding the world. Braille literacy makes this happen for tactile/auditory readers.
Kendra is in a fully mainstreamed classroom at her public school near Atlanta, Georgia. Even as a first grader, she completes most of her assignments on an electronic notetaker, producing print copies by herself with just a little bit of help in attaching a cable. I introduced her preschool classmates to Braille, even when they were much too young to learn it. (One of them confided in me, "We don't really know Braille, you know, Dr. Hudson. We just enjoy the feel.") I'm so committed to making a Braille-rich environment for Kendra that I taught the Braille alphabet to her classroom teacher and to almost all of the sighted students in Room #207. Kendra wrote in her paper, "Rainey and Giselle learned Braille." They sure did! These two sighted girls took their spelling tests on extra Braillewriters in the room this year. They took class notes in Braille and they even exchanged private Braille notes full of first-grade gossip with Kendra.
Last year, Kendra's class played a "name the sound" game. They heard recordings of various sounds such as a rooster and a lawnmower and had to identify them. Then they heard a clinking sound, which was actually a typewriter, but they had probably never heard a typewriter--most people under twenty haven't. We teachers were ready to move on to the next sound, but lots of her classmates had shot up their hands. "It's a Braillewriter, it's a Braillewriter!" they shouted. They had never heard of a typewriter, but Braillewriters were part of their daily routine. That's just how it ought to be for sighted kids in school with blind students. I know Kendra thinks so, too, because she wrote, "I like what (Rainey and Gisele) write, because they are nice Braille writers."
Next, she wrote, "Doctor Hudson taught me Braille when I was little ... I was three when I first learned Braille. And now I know a lot more Braille. I am an expert at reading Braille!" This reflects another important philosophy for me. Early intervention is good for students and it's good for their families. Don't ask me to wait for readiness. The first word for one of my students when she was a baby was "Dada," and her second word was "Bay" for "Braille." Sighted babies are exposed to print on their hospital bracelets on the day they are born. Let's get Braille and accessible print out there from day one as well. Let's get children pushing a device, anything from a long cane to a wooden chair to a child-size hockey stick, as soon as they're moving from one place to another in any way. Rather than trying to wait for children to develop mature gait and confidence before introducing these tools, I use these tools as a way to build the confidence and movement skills.
Back to Kendra's paper. She wrote, "Doctor Hudson also taught me how to use the slate and stylus." Yes, I'm committed to introducing every realistic means for my students to read and write, whether they use a Braillewriter, an electronic notetaker, a personal computer, a slate and stylus, a handheld magnifier, a closed circuit television, a simple 20/20 marker, or any other literacy tool. Put it all on the table. If there's any question about print vs. Braille, then I enthusiastically introduce them both. If we teachers are intimidated by Braille or if we aren't convinced that it's worth the time to teach it, our students will pick up on our attitude and lose their own confidence and enthusiasm.
Kendra wrote, "There are lots of Braille books to read." At seven years of age, she has no idea of the shenanigans it sometimes takes to make a wide range of Braille books available to her. Through careful and persistent research on the part of her family, our state lending library for accessible materials, our regional assistive technology expert, and organizations like NFB, she indeed experiences that there are "lots of Braille books to read." She has every right to this expectation.
My enthusiasm has been contagious. Kendra wrote, "Braille is stupendous and splendid." I, myself, drool over crispy dots and elegant contractions. I'm pleased to see that I've passed on this passion to my students. Yes, Braille really is stupendous and splendid.
Kendra closed her essay by writing that "Doctor Hudson and I are both good Braille writers and we're also good Braille readers." I don't think she knows yet that she has already surpassed me in reading and writing Braille tactually. She doesn't know that her curiosity gets her so deep into computer setup menus that I need to be on the telephone with User Assistance in California for hours to reset her devices. But it's important to me that she has regarded me as a literacy model for these past five years, and it's important to me that she feels comfortable exploring the deeper menus of her devices without worrying too much at this point about getting back to the factory settings. Thank you for all you've taught me, Kendra.
Let me take a few minutes now to share my three favorite quotes about teaching. These quotes affirm me, they encourage me, and they drive a lot of my teaching.
1. "... We who are called to teach do so out of conviction that what we teach is important, that those whom we teach are precious, and that the reason why we teach reaches to the very core of our place and mission in the world." This quote is right at the top of my professional resume, and I took the name of this presentation from it, "We Who Are Called to Teach." I hadn't heard of the author, Robert Fong, but I found the quote in a little book published in 1996 about the spiritual faith of college professors. Let me break it down into its three parts.
"What we teach is important." I teach Braille literacy. I teach ways to do math non-visually. I teach orientation and mobility. I teach the use of sensory systems to help students with low vision and hearing loss, and I teach adaptive technology. When I see my students' fingers zipping confidently across lines of Braille, when I see my students setting and clearing beads on an abacus, when I see them adjusting the settings on a PC so they can access it more fully, when I see their canes finding every obstacle and down curb, when I see them using echolocation to walk ever so gracefully, then this quote resonates with me. It's clear that what I teach is important. As TVIs and O&M specialists, we never have to wonder whether our professional lives have meaning.
Next, Fong writes, "Those whom we teach are precious." When I think of Lesley, Ali, Lauren, Eli, and Kendra, the parade of students I've taught over the years, and when I think of their families and of all the general educators I've worked with in inclusive settings, when I think of all the teachers I've trained at the university level and all the people I've mentored in Asia, I'm again sure why I'm called to teach. These people under my tutelage are precious to me indeed.
Finally, Fong writes, "The reason we teach reaches to the very core of our place and mission in the world." I knew I was called to be a teacher by the time I was in high school. I joined an after-school club called Future Teachers of America and won a $500 university scholarship to study special education. Sometimes people wonder why I "waste" my PhD and three teaching credentials teaching three-year-olds instead of being a big-time administrator. My answer is that my professional place is to be a teacher, and with a PhD I have the theoretical knowledge and the strategies to teach in the very best way I can.
Here is the second quote. Again I'd like to give credit. I have no idea who Dr. Juan C. Sampen is, but I love what he writes. "Teaching consists of causing or allowing people to get into situations from which they cannot escape except by thinking." I like this quote because it drives a lot of my lessons, especially in mobility, in technology, and in my work with students with low vision.
The clearest examples are probably in mobility. Blind children in public schools and their surrounding neighborhoods don't get nearly enough opportunities to get lost. One step in the wrong direction and somebody is always tugging at them or saying, "Oops, no, it's that way!" One of my major roles as an O&M instructor is to keep people away when my students make a wrong turn, veer into a driveway, or overshoot a destination. My job is to give my students the chance to recognize that they're not where they think they are, to give them the chance to problem solve and find their destination, to give them the chance to find that drop-off with their canes so they experience "proof of protection" from their devices.
This quote drives my technology instruction, too. My students get little opportunity to experiment freely with technology without someone warning, "Oh, no, don't touch that key!" One of my roles in introducing technology is to allow my students to push that key, to get stuck in some drop-down menu they've never encountered before, so they can explore what's there and take some time to figure their way back to familiar settings.
Finally, this quote drives me as I help my students with low vision to figure out ways to access material. Maybe they'll lean forward so their eyes are closer to their material, or maybe they'll try using a magnifier, or maybe they'll try some other way. I'm sure not going to provide them large print automatically and deny them opportunities to problem solve.
One last quote. A professor named Marc Gold wrote a definition of people with mental retardation as "those people for whom we have not yet found a way to teach." I like to spin off this language for students with visual impairments. It's not necessarily true that a one-year-old child with a visual impairment and cerebral palsy can't walk. Maybe we just haven't found a way to motivate her enough yet. Maybe it's not that a blind second-grader can't enjoy a game of kickball, but that we just haven't brainstormed with her physical ed instructor enough to find the right auditory signals. It's not that a high school student can't take cellular biology, but that we haven't worked enough with his science teacher to decide on accommodations for microscopes. Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway wrote about this idea in the most recent issue of Future Reflections and I encourage you to read her article if you haven't already. It's called, "From a Statistician's Point of View."
Let me close today by returning to quotes from my students. This one is from Lauren, the student whose family flew me to California for her high school graduation. Like Kendra, Lauren wrote an essay about me. It was called "Advice Giver." She wrote, "If you didn't know what to say to a boy you wanted to go to a dance with and if your friends had the stupidest advice ever, you could just ask Doctor H. about it, though she's not a kid so she might not know about kid stuff but be 95 percent sure that she'd give you good advice."
Of course I've made my share of coulda-shoulda-wouldas in my teaching over the years, but my goal is to give my students, their families, and my colleagues good advice at least 95 percent of the time. There's nothing I want more for blind children than for them to become confident, capable, and independent men and women.
I heard a saying on public radio last week, "It takes a decade to become an overnight success." I consider receiving the Federation's Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award as the culmination of my four decades of teaching. So many people have acknowledged me and congratulated me, and I'm feeling so very affirmed. It's indescribably gratifying. Thank you again, so very much. And thank you all for your attention this afternoon.
by Gary Wunder
Introduction by Gary Wunder: This is the third year we have taken time on the convention agenda to celebrate the life and work of Dr. Jacob Bolotin. He was a physician who trained as a blind man, practiced as a blind man, and gave back to the community not only through his healing but through his work with blind boys in scouting. So powerful was Dr. Bolotin's influence on his nephew, Alfred Perlman, that he and his wife Rosalind created an endowment in Dr. Bolotin's name. Its purpose is to recognize individuals and organizations whose effort furthers Dr. Bolotin's life work and the ongoing work of the National Federation of the Blind. Central to this work is the absolute conviction that, when given the opportunity, the blind can make a significant contribution to their own self-support, the betterment of their communities, and the enrichment of all whose lives are touched by their spirit and accomplishment.
Our first recipient is a man whose name is very familiar to anyone who follows the advancement of technology. His inventions have transformed the smooth sheet of paper, which once conveyed nothing to the blind, into a rich source of information that has opened the doors of the public library and created many new opportunities for employment. The possibility of reading print independently, once only a dream to blind people of my generation, is now as close as our shirt pockets. Today we honor the inventor and the spirit that has given life to the dream.
The relationship Ray Kurzweil has had with blind people through the National Federation of the Blind has spanned some thirty-five years. While he has made significant contributions in the world of musical production and speech recognition, meeting the needs of blind people has always held a special place in his heart. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in congratulating Mr. Raymond Kurzweil on his Bolotin Award in the amount of $15,000.
Ray Kurzweil: It is hard to find words to express my feelings, not only for this recognition, but for this deeply gratifying collaboration. It is gratifying to see your ideas used in the world and see the benefit, and it is even more gratifying when it happens through a collaboration with the people who are seeking that benefit. I do a fair amount of mentoring with young companies. There are two things I look for in their plans. One is that they recognize the law of accelerating returns, that they actually write down what the world will be like a year from now, two years from now, in terms of their underlying technology. The other important thing I look for is that they collaborate with the users for whom they create their technology.
Some teams say, "Oh yeah, we have three weeks of beta testing with a couple of users." That's not what we're talking about. We require that all of the engineers at Kurzweil Music Systems be musicians, people who care about music and understand it deeply. We developed voice-activated recording systems for Edison, and we had doctors create those systems, including blind doctors. I am very grateful to have learned this lesson. All of you taught me that, and working with you has been a fantastic experience.
Gary Wunder: Not long ago the words "Apple," "Mac," "iPod," "iPhone," and "iTunes" would have elicited a collective groan from an audience of blind people. Apple has incorporated touch-screen technology into many of its products. For years this technology has been almost completely inaccessible to the blind. But Apple has now developed this technology in a way that makes many of its products accessible. Not only has this development given us access to many popular Apple products, it has eased our long-held fear that the adoption of touch-screen technology will lead inevitably to a widespread decline in access for the blind. Apple has done what once seemed impossible. It has taken a graphical user interface dependent on heretofore inaccessible touch-screen technology and made it accessible to the blind at the same price paid by the sighted. For this work and for all of the innovations we hope will spring from it, we proudly present to Apple an award in the amount of $10,000. To accept this award, we call on Greg Jozwiak, vice president in charge of iPhone marketing.
Greg Jozwiak: We're very honored by this award, and we want to thank the National Federation of the Blind for acknowledging our work. We also want to thank the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. They have been great collaborators, and their continued feedback and fantastic relationship with Apple have helped us do what we've done. At Apple we didn't think that a touch-screen had to be a barrier to the blind. Our goal was to take what was previously difficult technology for blind people to use and make it friendly. We are proud that all of our multi-touch-display products--the iPhone, the iPod Touch, and the iPad--include our innovative voice technologies that make our products accessible to this community. We're also proud that iPhone 4 has now gone even further. It's the first mobile phone to support more than thirty wireless Braille displays right out of the box, no additional software required. It includes Braille tables for more than twenty-five languages. We try to design our products for as many people as possible, including those who are blind or visually impaired. It is a great honor to accept this award recognizing the work we have done. I thank you very much.
Gary Wunder: If you are a student in higher education, the computer is central to your daily work. It allows you to see the class syllabus, access handouts, read the thoughts of classmates, and submit assignments. The most commonly used software to make all of this happen online is Blackboard. For years blind students and professors faced tremendous obstacles because the product was only marginally usable with screen-reading technology.
The difficulty in getting mainstream software companies to take the needs of the blind seriously is well known. First comes their surprise that a blind person would want to use their system. Then comes a grudging acknowledgement that things could be better--but not right now. The blind will have to wait. If the product is old, too much computer code must be changed, and changing it isn't cost-effective. If the product is new, the priority must be to satisfy the majority customer base, which is sighted; after that will come work for accessibility. By the time the new product works well enough to be accepted by the sighted, it is old, and again we are told to wait.
When a company decides that no function will go into what it sells unless it can be performed with nonvisual techniques, accessibility becomes an essential part of the offering. Blackboard has made this commitment, and it is evident in the functionality that is now available to the blind. For the improvements it has made and for its ongoing commitment to accessibility, we are pleased to present to Blackboard an award in the amount of $10,000. To receive this award, I give you Lara Oerter, vice president of corporate strategy for Blackboard.
Lara Oerter: I want to thank the team at Deque Systems and the team here at the National Federation of the Blind for working with us and pushing us on this. Anne Taylor, Clara Van Gerven, and all the others who worked with us have helped improve the educational experience for all users. Sometimes getting there is really hard, so we appreciate the collaborative spirit we have had with all of you here at NFB. Thank you very much.
Gary Wunder: Many in this room have occasionally spent time talking and thinking about what we would do if science offered us the possibility of getting or substantially improving our vision. Some have decided we'd jump at the chance. Some feel that we are fine the way we are and that to see would alter our very nature. Still others have developed a more nuanced approach that says, "I'd do it if there was little threat to my health, if the procedure was affordable, and if I wasn't sidelined too long in the trying."
For the man I'm about to introduce, the question was more than hypothetical. In 2001, after being blind for forty-three years, he underwent a rare operation that granted him sudden vision. At the time he was a successful businessman, a husband, an athlete, and a community advocate. He didn't need vision to fulfill any of those roles. What attracted him to vision was the sheer adventure of it, in the same way one might be attracted by the possibility of running faster, jumping higher, or predicting the future.
This entrepreneur has placed the power of global positioning in the hands of blind people. Using his advanced systems, blind people aren't just passengers in the back seat; we are giving directions and truly participating in the journey. For these innovations and for the work he does with the National Federation of the Blind to promote accessibility everywhere he can, we proudly present a Bolotin Award to the founder and chief executive officer of the Sendero Group, Michael May, in the amount of $5,000.
Michael May: There is no greater honor than to be recognized by your peers. I thank the committee for considering my nomination and for granting me this award. It's amazing to look back at somebody who was a doctor before canes and NFB and technology. Imagine Dr. Bolotin in 1910 and 1920! Imagine Louis Braille in the 1800's and James Holman, the blind world traveler--all people who did what they did without the things we have today. We've come a long way, and we have a way to go. I am focusing on the future and what more I can bring to all of us as we strive for independence. This award is a great symbol of that independence. Thank you for recognizing me.
Gary Wunder: Far too many Website designers have not considered the needs of blind users. They have employed unlabeled graphics, buttons we can't find with screen readers, and let's not forget the captchas that place a garbled image on the screen that only a sighted person can identify!
The man we honor today is as committed as we are to making Websites accessible. He has created a university class that teaches students to write accessible pages. When the airlines offer alternative pricing by phone to the blind because their sites are inaccessible, he has students call, posing as blind people, and documents how frequently they are not given the price posted on the Web. When government agencies claim they are committed to accessibility, he is the man who does the study that reveals that 96 percent of them are not fully accessible. What's more, he publishes those results.
For his work as a champion for accessibility to the Web and his active opposition to discrimination against the blind, we proudly present to Dr. Jonathan Lazar of Towson University a Bolotin Award in the amount of $5,000.
Jonathan Lazar: Thank you for this amazing honor, but really, the thanks go to all of you and the people whom I work with in Maryland. We do all this work together. My students take field trips to the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind and the Maryland Technology Assistance Program. They meet blind individuals who come to my classes. We make all of this happen together. You take part in the research studies. You give me feedback. I run many focus groups at NFB, so I am always trying to listen. You are the ones who say, "Here's the problem. Here's what you need to work on." I thank everyone who takes part in the studies, everyone who talks with my students, everyone who helps educate me about better ways we can do this.
Speaking of the airlines, here's a reminder. If you get an inaccessible airline Website and you have to call their phone center, and they say they will charge you the extra phone center fee, remind them that it is against the law! Thank you very much.
Gary Wunder: The life's calling of our last recipient gives meaning to the work of all those we've recognized so far. Their work assumes that capable blind people want and need what they have to offer. The man we honor today helps to prepare the young people who will benefit from the inventions and the accessibility for which all of us strive. Like Dr. Bolotin, he has the distinction of serving in one of the most honorable professions known to humanity. He is a teacher, a sculptor of minds.
For years our recipient has worked beyond the hours for which he is paid to perform his teaching duties. He has generated the funds to give his blind students experiences they simply can't get in school. His charges have been able to come to these conventions and share in our work to create opportunities. He caught me off guard when, in his excitement about being a winner, he said, "The more I come to conventions, the angrier and more frustrated I get." He went on to say that his anger and frustration spring from his realization that, while he has been teaching the blind for more than thirty years, only recently has he been able to give his students the opportunity to meet and interact with successful blind people.
We are pleased to present to Mr. Al Lovati of the Indiana School for the Blind a Bolotin Award in the amount of $5,000.
Al Lovati: I want to thank the National Federation of the Blind for having created this structure, the organization, the programming, and having the personnel that have helped guide me and others in our work with blind youth. I want to thank Ron Brown, the Indiana affiliate, and its members for providing the local support that made each visit to an NFB event meaningful. I want to thank my students, past and present, for teaching me. You were active. You were involved. Finally, I'd like to thank the Indiana Lions; the Alliance for the Eyes BVI project; and my local club, the Washington Township Lions Club, for helping create the mechanism that has allowed the students to attend NFB conventions every year since 2004. I'm deeply honored by this award. I promise that my future actions and words will prove me worthy.
Gary Wunder: I close by thanking the Santa Barbara Foundation for its financial contribution to these awards and by thanking every member of this audience who gives to the National Federation of the Blind and who is therefore equally responsible for this program.
We have a free booklet that says far more than time allows me about the individuals and organizations we have honored today. Read it and distribute it proudly. It helps to chronicle the progress of the blind as together we create a future full of hope and promise.
presented by Anil Lewis
From the Editor: The awarding of the National Federation of the Blind Scholarships is one of the major highlights of the NFB convention each year. Everyone is eager to meet and honor this group of outstanding men and women. Their achievements demonstrate talent, perseverance, and academic excellence. They stand poised to make invaluable contributions in a wide variety of fields of endeavor.
At the meeting of the NFB board of directors, twenty-six winners of the 2010 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship awards and four tenBroek Fellows (students receiving a second NFB scholarship) introduced themselves to the Federation. Each speaker was introduced by Scholarship Committee Chairperson Anil Lewis. Anil announced the home and school states after each winner's name.
Beth Allred, Colorado, Colorado: I was walking back to my room last night and thinking to myself, "What has the NFB given me?" What comes to mind right away is confidence. I have the confidence to walk into an airport and say, "I don't need that wheelchair because I'm blind. I can walk there myself." The NFB has shown me a way toward a future I cannot wait to discover. I'm a master's student in vocal performance at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and I plan to become a professional singer and voice teacher. I am deeply honored to be here today as a tenBroek Fellow. Thank you very much.
Sheri Anderson, Tennessee, Tennessee: I have an idea for an organization that will change the world. This organization will build a winning team, raise funds, promote awareness to foster inclusive communities, and organize on the premise of service. To discover how easy it is to gain commitment, build relationships, and obtain the full potential of this organization, look deep within yourself and reach for the hand of the person beside you. Then move forward with me into the future of the National Federation of the Blind.
Sina Bahram, North Carolina, North Carolina: This is my first time at a Federation meeting, and I'm extremely honored. I'm especially thankful for all of the ways I've learned over the last couple of days to help out, and I'm looking forward to more ways to help out and to offer my service and learn from so many others. I think the real power of this organization is the people who understand the obstacles and struggles and also share the successes we've seen over the past seventy years. I look forward to the next seventy. Thank you very much.
Alicia Betancourt, Florida, Florida: I'm getting a master's in social work, and what I plan to do with my degree is improve equality for people with disabilities to get a job so they can work alongside their sighted counterparts. I'm from a small town called Key West, Florida, and they're very closed-minded about blindness. Every time I go home, I see people staring at me with my cane. When they ask me, "How do you do it?" I tell them, "I get my confidence and my backup from the NFB. I can do whatever I want as long as I put my mind to it."
Zachary Brubaker, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: I will be attending Penn State University with a double major in physics and mathematics. When I speak about this gift that has been given to me, I'm not only speaking about the scholarship, for which I am truly grateful. I'm speaking about the gift of the Federation. Before discovering the NFB, my support was limited to two great parents and a handful of exceptional teachers. Now I've discovered this organization that tunes out the naysayers who say, "No you can't," and "You will never," and says, "Yes we can," and "We will." I see the road in front of me, and I will continue to put one foot in front of the other to work toward progress, knowing that I have a life of service ahead of me.
Chelsea Cook, Virginia, Virginia: I am going to the great university known as Virginia Tech, and I will be majoring in physics with minors in astronomy and creative writing. I hope to take those studies to the front doors of NASA and say, "Look, it doesn't matter what the flight surgeons say, I'm going into space one day." Gene Kranz, the famed flight director of Apollo 13, once said, "Anything is possible if we will just commit." I am committed to learning. I am committed to my mentors, my friends, and my goals in the Federation. I'm committed to giving back.
Mary Fernandez, New Jersey, Georgia: I am a junior at Emory University studying psychology and music. My mentor asked me this morning, "Why did you apply for this scholarship?" I said, "Because out of every scholarship that I have won, this has meant the most to me." This scholarship is one where I know that I'm on even ground with all of these wonderful people and that it's not because I'm blind and going to school that I'm getting it. Our current president said, "Greatness is not a given; it must be earned." I may not be great right now, but I strive to be great, and I know everyone in this room strives to be great. We are changing what it means to be blind, and I know I'm going to drive in my lifetime. I really don't know how to thank you for giving me the confidence and independence that you have. Thank you so much.
C. J. Fish, Virginia, Virginia: I'm studying at Marymount University, pursuing a master's in mental health counseling. I'm truly humbled, honored, and blessed to stand before you as a tenBroek Fellow. My experiences have brought me into a family and a support network. I've been challenged to grow in ways that I never thought I could. I see blindness as a strength and an asset. I search for the good in all people and situations. I strive to live my life as an example for others, and to change society's view of blindness, one person at a time. Remember that you as individuals can make a difference, one person at a time, as well. There is always a way.
Rashi Goel, Georgia, Georgia: I am currently a sophomore at Georgia Tech, and I'm majoring in environmental engineering. As a pragmatic idealist with a lot of faith in humanity, I consider myself a community-minded activist, possessing the heart, intensity, and capabilities of fulfilling my dream to change the world. Therefore I want to work for Engineers Without Borders, an international organization that seeks to assist developing countries with various sustainable engineering projects. I have been involved with the NFB for the past two years and have really enjoyed the wonderful friends and opportunities it has provided me. Thank you.
Deepa Goraya, California, Michigan: I go to the University of Michigan Law School, and I'm going into my second year. I also have the wonderful opportunity to intern in the White House for Kareem Dale. I'm Indian and my religion is Sikh. When I was younger, my family would host religious events at our local Sikh temple. I was always shoved aside into a corner and not allowed to help in the kitchen. My mom never showed me how to cook because she was too afraid. Then I discovered the NFB, and I realized that I was needed. I was needed by my local student division; I was needed by my local chapter; I was needed by the National Center to be a leader. I went to the Louisiana Center for the Blind and finally learned to cook. I'm now proud to say that, when I'm at these religious functions, I no longer allow myself to be shoved aside into a corner. I stand alongside my younger siblings and my cousins, and I really show people what it means to be blind. Thank you.
António Guimaráes, Rhode Island, Rhode Island: I attend Western Governor's University and I plan to make my life in the teaching career, first as a high school teacher. I'd like to say that each of you must have a passion, and I invite you to join me in achieving our goals and dreams and in building a life that is rich and full.
Conchita Hernandez, Nebraska, Nebraska: Buenos días, good morning! I will be attending Louisiana Tech University this fall to become a teacher of blind students. The Federation has provided me with a family to come to, laugh with, and cry with. Salvador Allende said, "To be a student and not be a revolutionary is a contradiction." Even if we are not all students, we are all revolutionizing what it means to be blind.
Chris Jeckel, Illinois, Illinois: I'm a second-year law student at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago. I was moved yesterday when listening to the resolutions to hear the committee outline thorny issues the blind community faces on a daily basis and then to hammer out the words to address those issues. It was powerful. I'm very grateful to be here. I'm learning a lot.
Andrea Jenkins, Georgia, Georgia: I'm currently a sophomore at Valdosta State University, majoring in Spanish and minoring in French. I'm also a graduate of the Louisiana Center for the Blind. My goal is to be a Spanish and French translator and a missionary. I want to thank everyone here, including the scholarship committee, for allowing me such a wonderful privilege. I'm going to take the philosophy that I embrace so dearly and change what it means to be blind.
Kayleigh Joiner, Texas, Texas: I will be a freshman attending Stephen F. Austin University, where I will get my bachelor's in elementary education. After that it is my plan to go to Louisiana Tech University, where I will get my master's to become a teacher of blind students and an orientation and mobility instructor. The NFB has taught me that it is respectable to be blind and that blind people can go into careers such as science, technology, engineering, and math. I have a painting in my room that says, "One candle may light a thousand." I hope to be that one candle for future generations of blind students. Thank you.
Melissa Lomax, New Jersey, Maryland: For as long as I can remember, I've enjoyed helping people in any way that I can. I still do that today in my school and in my local, state, and national Federation communities. I presently attend the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. I'm a sophomore pursuing an English literature major, English writing minor, and a secondary education certificate. I've always wanted to become a teacher. With my dedication and love for writing, I hope to give my students a quality education and to better their future. I thank you very much for giving me this opportunity.
Kirt Manwaring, Utah, Utah: I will attend Brigham Young University next fall as a freshman studying political science and philosophy with an eye toward law school. Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian statesman, famously said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." I promise you that I will do everything I can to be that change and to show the community that it is respectable to be blind.
Kristin Mathe, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: I am not the first, and for that I thank you. I have not had to blaze this trail alone and have not had to walk alone as the only blind person ever to get an advanced degree. That is a good thing. I will not be the last--and that is a better thing! Because of all of you I am able to pursue a PhD in rhetoric and public address, coach collegiate debate, and teach public speaking. I will be a professor; I will do research to understand better how movements such as ours can continue to change people's minds about a variety of issues. As I go forward, I keep in mind that there are those who will come after. I would like that road to be even smoother for those who follow. Thank you.
Esha Mehta, Pennsylvania, Colorado: I became a member of the Federation when I walked through the doors of the Colorado Center for the Blind, and that is when I began my journey. I've grown up in a culture where blindness is not accepted and it is considered one of the worst things that could ever happen to you. Because of my training at the Center and because of the support from all of you, this is not the case for me anymore. I know that I can change the world through my dream of becoming a teacher of the blind and visually impaired. Not only do I want to change the world here in the United States, but I want to help open up a center in India so that those children can have the same future that I am starting to have here. Through the Center I've gained the gift of literacy. Before I came to the Center, I did not know Braille. Now I stand before you reading my Braille notes. It is said that to be a teacher is to touch your students' lives forever. I hope to do that internationally and here in the United States. Thank you to the board and my fellow Federationists for supporting my dreams.
Tabea Meyer, Indiana, Indiana: This is my first convention, and I'm honored to be here. I'm so grateful for the confidence the scholarship committee has placed in me. I'm going to do everything I can to achieve excellence, and I thank you so much. I was born in Kassel, Germany, and there independence wasn't something that was encouraged for blind people. When I came to the United States as a second grader, the NFB was very active in helping my family prevail in a court trial in which our school was not willing to allow me and my two siblings to attend. Over the past few years I lost touch with this organization, but now I'm here and learning about the philosophy that you guys hold dear.
Josie Nielson, Idaho, Utah: I am going to be a sophomore at Brigham Young University in Utah this fall. I'm a violin performance major, and I want to write my master's thesis on developing a new method for teaching blind musicians. I came to the convention very excited, but I had a lot of questions. I know I'm not alone when I say that I was struggling to know when it was a good time to be using a cane. I do not have sight, but I'm not completely blind yet. I have met some wonderful friends over the course of these few days who have helped me understand the importance of using a cane. I want to thank those people sincerely for their support, and I want to tell you proudly that I walk away from this convention with a cane in my hand and with tools that will help me succeed. Thank you so much.
Shaun Reimers, Utah, Utah: I'm going to be studying law at the University of Utah starting next month. I plan to work hard while I'm in school and after I'm done I hope to get a great job. What motivates me most is the desire to be a good husband and father, a working citizen of the United States, and a contributing member to the Federation. Even before I applied for the scholarship, I planned to be a lifelong member of the Federation. The philosophy of the NFB is the only real option for addressing the issues blind people face. For better or for worse the NFB is stuck with me for life. I hope as a family that we can accomplish great things together.
Ashley Ritter, Indiana, Indiana: I'm going to be a sophomore this fall at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis. I am majoring in secondary English education with a minor in education policy. After my bachelor's my plan is to get my master's in teaching blind students, and after a few years of teaching I plan to make my way into the government in education policy, writing, revising, and improving the education system of America. Six years ago I was introduced to the NFB, when I was getting out of eighth grade. I was very shy. I wouldn't even admit to myself that I was blind, let alone admit it to anyone around me. The help I got is something I can never pay back, but I'm ready to pay it forward. I thank you so much for this opportunity.
Cali Sandel, South Carolina, South Carolina: I'm currently pursuing a master's in public administration at Clemson University. I am so very blessed and honored to come before you as a tenBroek Fellow. It's been a fun ride. Since my very first convention in 2006, I have served as a student division president for the state of South Carolina, am currently on the board of directors, and am helping to ensure Braille literacy in South Carolina. On Father's Day weekend my granddad said that at his high school graduation the principal said that George Washington would've been more at home two thousand years before his time than in our current society with current technology and the way things run, but the blind community is not like that. I would like to think that the founding fathers would be very comfortable with us here today and that they would be glad and proud of the movement and how far it's come. We don't always get to reap the fruits of our labor, but I'm optimistic and excited to keep pursuing the road we're traveling, and I'm so glad everybody's here with me.
Jessica Scannell, New Jersey, New Jersey: I am a senior attending Montclair State University. My major is education with kindergarten to fifth grade as my concentration. I would like to be a teacher of the blind when I graduate. I currently hold a position as secretary for the NFB Northeast Chapter of New Jersey. Thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity and have a wonderful convention.
Quintina Singleton, New Jersey, New York: I would like to begin by sincerely thanking the scholarship committee for selecting me to be a finalist. In addition to being a prestigious award this scholarship is a generous contribution toward my future, and I'm very grateful for it. I'm the secretary for the National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey, and I'm also the producer of the Internet program "Through Our Eyes" with Joe Ruffalo. In September I'll be starting graduate school at New York University, working toward my master's degree in both childhood and special education. One of my main objectives as an instructor of children with special needs is to help my students discover for themselves that challenges should never be allowed to stand in the way of success. Thank you.
Yadiel Sotomayor, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico: I'm starting a double major at the University of Puerto Rico in translation and English education. I can summarize the philosophy of the Federation in three words: independence, equality, and support. Independence means that everybody in the Federation has helped me a lot because they have converted me from a shy person into an active member of society, and I know it has done the same for all of you. Equality is what we're all fighting for. Finally, support--because, if there is something a blind person wants to do, I know that he will have every member behind him.
Tara Tripathi, Florida, Florida: I'm from Orlando, Florida, a wonderful place where you all will be next year. I'm doing my PhD program in text and technology at the University of Central Florida. I want to say thank you to all of you, especially our leaders, who made this scholarship possible. When you walk on a sidewalk, there are three reactions possible when you encounter a rock. You might feel the rock with your cane, walk around it, forget about it, and go wherever you're going. The second possible reaction is that you feel it with the cane, beat the rock because you are angry and maybe use some language I will not use here, and then you continue to move ahead. The third reaction is to try to remove the rock so the people who come next will not trip on it. I salute that third group of people, for these are the kind of leaders NFB has. I want to be one of them. I hope that the recognition given to me will give me enough confidence to be able to remove the roadblocks from the path of progress by the blind throughout the world. In my PhD dissertation I am trying to propose universal design for all kinds of consumer goods for classrooms, electronic spaces, and Websites. Universal design asks for access for everyone, so no segregation is tolerated by true leaders. Segregation has come back in a new way in the field of technology. We are increasingly using touchscreens, and the manufacturers ignore us. In my dissertation I will argue in favor of universal design. I thank you all for this wonderful opportunity to speak to all of you.
Kayla Weathers, Georgia, Georgia: I will be a freshman in the fall at Dalton State College. I would like to get my bachelor's degree in special education and my master's degree in teaching blind students. Many times when blind people ask me what I want to do and I tell them I want to teach blind students, it's because I want to be a mentor to them. I didn't have a lot of mentors who were blind when I was growing up. I'd like to empower my students with the Federation's philosophy that they can achieve their dreams and change what it means to be blind. Thank you so much for this opportunity.
Michelle Wesley, Illinois, Illinois: I am going into my first year of veterinary medicine at the University of Illinois, so all of you guide dog users, please consider telling your friends to get a dog because I want to specialize in working with service animals in orthopedics and rehab. I look forward to meeting each and every one of you, and again, thank you so much for having me.
Here is the complete list of 2010 scholarship winners and the awards they received.
$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Alicia Betancourt, Rashi Goel, Deepinder "Deepa" Goraya, Christopher Jeckel, Andrea Jenkins, Kirt Manwaring, Esha Mehta, Josie Nielson, Ashley Ritter, Jessica Scannell, Quintina Singleton, Tara Prakash Tripathi, and Kayla Weathers
$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Educator of Tomorrow Award: Kristin Mathe
$3,000 NFB Computer Science Scholarship: Sina Bahram
$3,000 Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship: Elizabeth "Beth" Allred
$3,000 Kuchler-Killian Memorial Scholarship: António Guimaráes
$3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship: Chelsea Cook
$3,000 Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship: Shaun Reimers
$3,000 Michael Marucci Memorial Scholarship: Yadiel Sotomayor
$3,000 E. U. Parker Scholarship: Kayleigh Joyner
$3,000 Jeannette C. Eyerly Memorial Scholarship: Melissa Lomax
$5,000 Hank LeBonne Scholarship: Sheri Anderson
$5,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Maria "Conchita" Hernandez, Tabea Meyer, and Cali Sandel
$7,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship: Michelle Wesley
$7,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship: Zachary Brubaker
$10,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship: Mary Fernandez
$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship (donated by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults): C. J. Fish
The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille, and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children are pleased to announce the twenty-eighth annual Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. The contest encourages children in grades K-12 to be proud of their ability to read Braille and to work to improve their skills.
Seven Simple Steps
1 Register: Fill out the simple online form at <www.nfb.org/BRAL> to enter the contest
2. Gather: Collect leisure reading material (books, magazines, and whatever else that has a title, author, and date of publication).
3. Log it: Download the spreadsheet at <www.nfb.org/BRAL> and save it where you will be able to access it easily, or print it and keep a hardcopy log.
4. Read: Put your fingers to the paper!
5. Leader Board: Update your "Pages Read" on the Leader Board to compete for additional prizes.
6. Letters: Contestants competing for a special award must submit at least one letter of recommendation for each award.
7. Turn it in: Submit your reading log, special award documentation, and final entry form no later than January 18, 2011, at <www.nfb.org/BRAL>.
Breaking Down the Contest
1. Regular Contest: Everyone participates in the main contest where contestants compete against their same-age peers to read the most Braille pages during the two-month reading period.
2. Leader Board: Throughout the two-month reading period, participants have the opportunity to update their "pages read" for a chance to get their name on the Leader Board.
3. Special Awards: Participants may opt to compete for a special award in addition to competing in the regular contest. All of the special awards require a letter of nomination.
A. Braille Leaders Community Service Award: Students in grades six and above who use their Braille literacy skills to conduct a community service project are eligible for this award.
B. Twin Vision Award: Students who use a combination of print and Braille in their leisure and/or academic reading are eligible for this award.
C. 2011 Jennifer Baker Award: This award is named after Jennifer Baker, who overcame many severe disabilities to become Braille literate, was a frequent national winner in the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest, and died far too young. This award is given to current contestants who document the obstacles they have overcome to acquire Braille literacy skills.
D. Braille Readers Are Leaders Team of the Year Award: Teams of two to five participants compete to read the most pages and exhibit team spirit. Teams can show team spirit in many ways, such as Twitter and Facebook posts, blogging, emails to NFB listservs, announcements at NFB chapter meetings, or other creative means.
4. Essay Contest: Winners in the regular contest, winners of the 2011 Jennifer Baker Award, and winners of the Twin Vision Award will be eligible to enter the Braille Readers Are Leaders Essay Contest to compete for a trip to the 2011 National Federation of the Blind Convention.
Certificate of Participation
Mystery Prize: Awarded to participants whose names appear on the Leader Board during the two-month reading period.
Honor Roll Ribbons: Awarded to participants who reach the following levels of pages read: 500; 1,000; 4,000; 8,000; and 12,000.
Cash: Checks in the amount of $50 will be awarded to the winners (first through third place) in each category of the regular contest, and all winners of special awards, excluding the Team of the Year Award.
Plaque: A plaque will be given to the team or teams that win the Team of the Year Award.
National Recognition: The team or teams that win the Team of the Year Award will become the spokes-team for next year's contest.
Twelve Lucky Winners
Winners of the Braille Readers Community Service Award and winners of the Braille Readers Are Leaders Essay Contest will receive an eight-day, seven-night trip for themselves and a parent/guardian to the 2011 National Federation of the Blind National Convention in Orlando, Florida.
Remember: Whether you are competing as an individual or as part of a team, the goal is to read as many Braille pages as you can.
For more information or to request paper registration forms, contact:
Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest
200 E. Wells St. at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, MD 21230
(410) 659-9314, Ext. 2293
Adult ContestAdults are invited to enter the second annual Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest for Adults. This contest promotes the use of Braille in recreational reading among blind adults as a means to maintain and improve their skills. Braille-reading individuals eighteen years of age or older who are no longer enrolled in compulsory educational programming in the U.S.A. and Canada are eligible to compete in the contest. Adults with various levels of experience reading Braille are welcome to join in the fun. For more information, please visit <www.nfb.org/BRAL> or call (410) 659-9314, Ext. 2293.
TRAVEL AND LEADERSHIP
Global Explorers Leading the Way
420 S. Howes, Suite B300, Fort Collins, CO 80521
Application Deadline: November 15, 2010
Developed in partnership with world-renowned blind mountain-climber Erik Weihenmayer, Leading the Way brings together blind and sighted youth ages fourteen to twenty-one for an adventure combining leadership, science, culture, and service. The summer 2011 destination is the majestic Grand Canyon.
"The Warrior King"
Royal Ontario Museum
On view until January 2, 2011, "The Warrior King" exhibition showcases one of the most significant archaeological finds in history: the 1974 discovery in north central China of thousands of life-sized terra cotta sculptures of Chinese warriors. The exhibition features 250 artifacts, including ten sculptures. Replicas of four original sculptures are available to be touched. The exhibit includes visitors' guides in Braille and large print that contain a tactile map and tactile drawings of several pieces on display.
Ellen Herlache, MA, OTR
A candidate in the Doctor of Education in Counseling Psychology program at Argosy University Online Programs/Phoenix Campus is conducting a study to learn more about the impact of a child's visual impairment on family quality of life, and to find out which types of support services may be most helpful. In order to participate in this study, you must be the parent or guardian of a child from birth to age twenty-one with some form of visual impairment, and must reside in the United States. All persons who complete and submit the survey can enter into a drawing for one of four $25 VISA gift cards. The survey should take less than fifteen minutes.
Circadian Rhythms in Blind Children and Adolescents
Oregon Health and Science University
<www.ohsu.edu/sleeplab> (click on Current Research)
(503) 494-1402 or (866) 424-6060
Totally blind children between the ages of five and eight and teens between seventeen and twenty, with and without sleep difficulties, are sought for participation in an NIH-funded study on sleep patterns. Subjects can participate from home. Participation may include wearing an activity monitor, keeping a sleep journal, periodic saliva collection, and possibly taking melatonin tablets. Participants will be compensated for their time. The goal of this study is to learn more about irregular body rhythms in blind people that keep them awake at night or prevent them from staying alert during the day.
National Federation of the Blind 2011 Scholarship Program
(410) 659-9314, Ext. 2415
Application Deadline: March 31, 2011
Legally blind students from twelfth grade to graduate level are encouraged to apply for a 2011 NFB scholarship award. Thirty scholarships will be granted, ranging in value from $3,000 to $12,000.
Online Training for O&M Instructors
Dr. William H. Jacobson
Department of Counseling, Adult and Rehabilitation Education
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
2801 S. University Ave., Little Rock, AR 72204
The University of Arkansas at Little Rock has received a five-year RSA grant to prepare O&M instructors in an online format, effective October 1, 2010. Eight full-time scholarships are to be awarded each of the five years of this grant.
Praxis Readers for Braille
The Educational Testing Service (ETS) is seeking Library of Congress-certified Braille teachers for part-time employment for scoring Praxis exams. The work is cyclical, and scorers are needed for the winter 2011 season. Applications should be completed online.
Braille Reading Pals Club
National Federation of the Blind
(410) 659-9314, Ext 2295
The Braille Reading Pals Club is an early literacy program that encourages parents to read daily with their blind or low-vision child (ages infant to seven). Club members will receive a print/Braille book and a plush Reading Pal, a monthly e-newsletter with tips to promote Braille literacy, quarterly Braille activity sheets for young children, Braille birthday cards for child participants, and access to a network of resources devoted to serving parents of blind children. Registration is now open for the new year, beginning January 1, 2011.
TOYS AND GAMES
PlayAbility Toys, LLC
(520) 547-0922 or (866) 204-8863
PlayAbility Toys designs and manufactures toys for children with special needs. The toys are created and developed in collaboration with specialists in the field. The company works closely with speech therapists, physical therapists, and special education instructors to create toys and games that appropriately target multiple developmental levels for all children. Use code SDB2010 to receive a 10 percent discount.
Blind Gamers Series
The Blind Gamers Series is a series of free electronic games that can be played by blind and sighted players together. Games include cribbage, Scrabble, Chess Challenge, Crossword Puzzle, and several varieties of Solitaire.
RAISED LINE COLORING BOOKS
Tactile Vision, Inc.
6115 Edwards Blvd., Mississauga, ON L5T 2W7, Canada
Tactile Vision, Inc., offers a series of raised-line coloring books at beginning and advanced levels. Each book contains ten pages of pictures to be colored.
Learning Sight and Sound Made Easier
(716) 348-3500 or (800) 468-4789
Learning Sight and Sound (LS&S) sells a ten-page book of raised-line pictures for coloring.
True North Records
14-3245 Harvester Rd., Burlington, ON L7N 3T7
"Music for Creative Kids" is a collection of eighteen original songs to entertain and stimulate creativity in children ages three to eight. Songs encourage safe play, teamwork, and fun activities. The package includes a list of links to free online musical resources.
Temple Beth El Sisterhood Braille Bindery
7400 Telegraph Rd., Bloomfield Hills, MI 48301
Barbara Mandelbaum: [email protected]
Temple Beth El Braille Bindery has a catalog of more than one thousand Braille titles for children grades K-6. Books are available free of charge; families are asked to make a small monetary donation or supply Braille paper.
Beulah Reimer Legacy (BRL)
This new resource offers over fifty print/Braille titles, created by adding Braille on clear plastic to ink-print pages. The titles include board books and books with accompanying CDs.
Directions for Me
Horizons for the Blind
2 N. Williams St., Crystal Lake, IL 60014
(815) 444-8800 or (800) 318-2000
Directions for Me is a new online resource that offers accessible packaging information. The Website provides preparation instructions, ingredient lists, nutrition facts, and more for many commonly used grocery, health, and beauty products. The site was designed to be fully usable with speech and Braille output devices.
Choice Magazine Listening
(516) 883-8280 or (888) 724-6423
Choice Magazine Listening is a bimonthly audio magazine containing unabridged articles, short stories, essays, and poetry selected from more than one hundred outstanding publications. Material may include adult content and is suitable for mature readers. The magazine is produced on four-track cassette and is also available for electronic download to patrons of the National Library Service.
You Gotta Know the Rules if You're Gonna Play the Game