Future Reflections

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 30 Number 1                                     Winter 2011

Deborah Kent Stein, Editor


  

ISSN-0883-3419

Copyright © 2011 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
(410) 659-9314
www.nfb.org/nopbc • nfb@nfb.org • dkent5817@worldnet.att.net

 

Contents

Volume 30 Number 1                                     Winter 2011

FEATURE

"Equal and Appropriate Expectations": Challenges for Education
by Eric Vasiliauskas, MD

EARLY CHILDHOOD

Reweighting and Constraint: The Development of Movement in Young Blind Children
by Mary Jo Hartle and Jane Clark

Vestibular Stimulation
by Jennifer Stevens

You Can Say That Again! Or, Echolalia, Echolalia, Echolalia
by Mary McDonach

EDUCATION

A New Model for Teacher Training
by Sheila Amato, EdD

Handling Math in Braille? A Survey
by Alfred P. Maneki, PhD

TRAVEL

FlashSonar: Applying Sonar Imaging to Mobility
by Daniel Kish, MA, MA, COMS, NOMC

How to Make an O&M Snowman
by Merry-Noel Chamberlain, NOMCT

Where the Sidewalk Ends
by Steve Hastalis

CAREERS

A Blueprint for Success
by Tim Cordes, MD, PhD

QUESTIONS TO PONDER

Rejoicing with the Sunrise
by Rene Harrell

Advocacy and Independence
by Lenora J. Marten

PROGRAMS

Gear up for Greatness!
by the Education Staff of the NFB Jernigan Institute

One Summer, Five States, and Six BELLs
by Natalie Shaheen and Jackie Otwell

Reading Books and Having Faith
by Diane Croft

Memories from Minneapolis
by Ben Dallin

FAMILY FUN

Hands-on Art
by Ann Cunningham

Visiting the Disney Parks: Tips and Tricks
by Lenora J. Marten

REVIEW

Getting Ready for College Begins in Third Grade
by Carol Castellano, Reviewed by Carlton Anne Cook Walker

ANNOUNCEMENTS

ODDS AND ENDS

 

NFB National Convention 2011

Palm-lined drive leading to front entrance to Rosen Shingle Creek ResortSunday, July 3-Friday, July 8, 2011

Rosen Shingle Creek Resort
9939 Universal Blvd., Orlando, FL 32819-9357

Reservations: Call (866) 996-6338 only, to make reservations as soon as possible

The 2011 room rates are singles, doubles, and twins, $63; and triples and quads, $67. In addition to the room rates there will be a tax, which at present is 12.5 percent. No charge will be made for children under seventeen in the room with parents as long as no extra bed is requested. The hotel is accepting reservations now. A $75-per-room deposit is required to make a reservation. Fifty percent of the deposit will be refunded if notice is given to the hotel of a reservation cancellation before June 1, 2011. The other 50 percent is not refundable.

Rooms will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations may be made before June 1, 2011, assuming that rooms are still available. After that time the hotel will not hold our room block for the convention. In other words, you should get your reservation in soon. Guestroom amenities include thirty-two-inch flat screen television with NXTV; two telephones; laptop safe; coffeemaker; hairdryer; and, for a fee, high-speed Internet access. The Rosen Shingle Creek Resort has a number of restaurant options, including two award-winning restaurants, and twenty-four-hour-a-day room service. It has first-rate amenities and shuttle service to the Orlando Airport.

Schedule: The schedule for the 2011 convention will follow that of last year:

Sunday, July 3  Seminar Day
Monday, July 4   Registration Day
Tuesday, July 5   Board Meeting and Division Day
Wednesday, July 6   Opening Session
Thursday, July 7   Business Session
Friday, July 8   Banquet Day and Adjournment

First Timer's Guide to the NFB National Convention: Our beginner's guide to the NFB national convention is intended to give the first-time convention attendee some important information about national conventions of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). It is available at <www.nfb.org/Images/nfb/Publications/convent/firsttime.htm>

 

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Our goal is to help blind/visually impaired children grow up to be productive, fully functioning, independent mem­bers of society by providing information, inspiration, and support to their parents and teachers. We are also dedi­cated to providing ideas, assistance, and information that will help blind/visually impaired children with additional disabilities reach their full potential.

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"Equal and Appropriate Expectations": Challenges in Education

by Eric Vasiliauskas, MD

From the Editor: The father of two blind sons, Dr. Eric Vasiliauskas (affectionately known as Dr. V) is a leader in the California Parents of Blind Children and a member of the NOPBC board. At the 2010 NFB convention he spoke on a panel that addressed "The Failures of the Education System." This article is based on Dr. Vasiliauskas's presentation.

As a parent, I can attest that many challenges still exist in the current educational system for blind and visually impaired children. I will start with several illustrative anecdotes.

When we began our journey thirteen years ago with our older son, Vejas, Braille books for very young children were virtually nonexistent. We bought some popular storybooks from the children's section of our local bookstore, and my wife Rasa added Braille to the print pages. When she had questions she turned to our first teacher of the visually impaired. It quickly became clear that our TVI was not proficient enough to answer even simple questions about Braille contractions reliably.

Questioning the Professionals

Later we started to ask VI professionals about how a blind person does this or that. All too often there was a telling pause before the professionals came up with an answer. Eventually, to our shock, we realized why so many TVIs and O&M instructors had trouble answering our questions. They simply didn't know or socially interact to any significant degree with successful, independent blind adults.

A few years ago, I attended an O&M lecture geared toward professionals. The topic was grade-level-appropriate O&M instruction. At one point, an O&M instructor in the audience voiced her perspective. She commented that if her students didn't learn concepts "on her watch" it was okay with her. As she put it, "There's always rehab." In the discussion that followed, it was clear that many of the other professionals held the same viewpoint. They did not seem to accept the responsibility of teaching from a paradigm of equal and age-appropriate expectations.

Recently, a colleague in my field contacted me for advice. After extensive evaluation, his ten-year-old had been diagnosed with visual field defects. He can see the beginning and end of longer words, but not the middle portion. He is bright and has been able to fill in the literal blanks based on context, but his desire to read books and his reading comprehension have dropped over the past few years. Having seen how well my sons are doing, the boy's parents wondered about Braille as a possible solution. Their son was very excited about the proposal. Within four weeks, with minimal formal instruction, his fingers were reading at 40-50 words per minute. I wish that were the punch line, but unfortunately it is not. The boy's school district requested a formal assessment from one of the regional schools for the blind. The educator who performed the assessment stated, "We use large print for all kids with visual impairments. Kids who have vision don't need Braille. Braille is not as fast as print."

The Need for Data

When our eldest son made the transition from preschool to the elementary school system, our TVI told us that we were "too involved" and informed us that we would have to "back off" and let the education system take over. Statistics at the time showed that nationally only 45 percent of blind or severely visually impaired, but otherwise capable, students graduated from high school. Of those graduates only 16% went on to earn a college degree. We found these statistics and the subsequent employment statistics for blind adults very sobering. They highlighted the huge discrepancy between the academic accomplishments of sighted and blind children and the undeniable shortcomings of the education system for blind students in this country.

Some may claim that more recent outcomes, or some local outcomes, are much better. If so, where is the actual data? How accurate is it? And who collects it? I am under the impression that academic performance statistics for Braille and large-print readers are not well tracked, if at all--locally, statewide, or nationally. How many programs and states can proudly show data on the subsequent employment and career choices of their former blind students? Without current and accurate statistics, how can parents be asked to "back off" and to put their full trust--their child's future, their child's life--in "the system?" How can we affect change and measure impact if there is no mechanism for accurately recording the current conditions and progress, or lack thereof, over time?

One possibility is to consider an approach being used to answer important questions in medicine, a National Electronic Outcomes Registry. Such a registry could track local, regional, and national outcomes in real time across a wide range of academic and skills areas for informational, comparative, and accountability purposes. It could even include fields for yearly justification of why a given child is not being taught Braille. The performance and accountability data could be used to motivate state and local VI program administrators to shift the paradigm from one driven by the wish to meet minimal legal requirements to one that emphasizes quality, true success, and a given child's best interest.

Proficiency in Technology

The ultimate goal of the education system should be simple and clear. By the time a student graduates from high school, he or she should not only meet the general academic curriculum requirements, but should also have acquired the blindness skills needed to pursue his/her post-high-school dreams. You would think that a child who has received quality O&M training and VI services for fourteen to eighteen years would have learned the necessary blindness skills and would have the confidence to travel and live independently. Unfortunately, such an accomplishment is the exception rather than the rule. Too many kids turn eighteen without attaining the age-equivalent skills of their sighted peers. These deficits put our blind young people at an avoidable disadvantage as they start college or attempt to join the workforce. Let me be blunt. In many cases the education system is responsible for creating functional handicaps where they need not, and should not, exist.

The scope of skills that blind children need to master is ballooning. Currently, each blind child's fate is to a large degree delegated to that child's IEP team. The team is not a static entity, but consists of a series of transitional teams. Each team passes the child and family to the next level, from preschool to elementary school, from elementary school to middle school, and from middle school to high school. Each team focuses on getting the child through the few years for which it sees itself responsible before "passing the baton." Apart from the family, there is no long-term memory of prior struggles and successes, no vision for the future beyond that particular year or two. Teams tend to focus only on the academic portion of the curriculum. Because there is no clear legal obligation, the education system often does not take responsibility for ensuring that a child learns the additional blindness skills he/she needs to function independently.

Technology is undeniably leveling the playing field in the workplace. Education, too, is shifting more and more toward technology-based and Web-based learning. In fact, at a conference this spring, the Manager of Specialized Media of the California Department of Education stated that within five years school textbooks for all children in California will be provided in electronic formats. Early in the last school year, I received a lot of grief when I requested supplemental e-text files of my son's seventh-grade embossed textbooks. I was told that the files, which the TVI could download from the Department of Education Website, were "not student-ready" or were "not clean enough." Yet at the national and state levels, there does not appear to be a clear proactive plan to ensure that Braille-reading students will be provided with "clean" transcriber-proofed e-text. "Clean" Braille and graphics aside, how prepared are school districts, TVIs, and students for this transition? How are kids in elementary and middle school going to access and process their academic materials efficiently? Currently many of them don't have the necessary tools. They lack screen readers or equipment with refreshable Braille displays. Even if they had the proper software and hardware, few students today have the Braille skills and technology skills to work with electronic texts.

Before my son Vejas entered preschool, I realized that an alarming number of TVIs and O&M instructors were neither comfortable nor proficient with basic blindness technologies. Subsequent experience has only confirmed that impression. In the twenty-first century, it is no longer acceptable for students in TVI and O&M teacher preparation programs to receive superficial instruction about such technologies as screen readers, Braille notetakers, and GPS. "Exposure level instruction" in technology leaves teachers uncomfortable with its use. They incorrectly perceive assistive technology as difficult to use and hard to teach. Lack of familiarity and comfort translates into a natural tendency for teachers to delay introducing skills, claiming that the student is too young or "not ready." It seems self-evident that people who have chosen to make the education of our children their profession should be expected to demonstrate true proficiency in the use and teaching of assistive technology.

TVIs and Braille

As we know, proficiency problems are not limited to electronic technologies. They extend to basic skills such as the slate and stylus and to Braille itself. Too few TVIs are proficient in Braille. Some don't have any Braille readers on their caseloads, which means that if they are sighted, their Braille skills get rusty over time. As a result these TVIs are unlikely to suggest Braille for students with low vision, knowing they will have to relearn it in order to teach it. Unfortunately, those teachers and administrators who are most proficient in blindness skills, the blind themselves, are underrepresented in both academic teaching programs and local VI programs.

Raising the Bar

The bar of expectations for blind students--and their teachers--needs to be raised. The performance of blind students must equal that of their sighted peers. California has taken a step in this direction, becoming the first state to adopt formal grade-level-equivalent standards for Braille math and Braille reading. These standards even include instruction in the slate and stylus. This adoption is very commendable. It represents a significant leap forward and should be modeled in all states and beyond.

Nevertheless, the standards do not go far enough. Reading fluency standards need to be added as well. Quality data regarding Braille fluency is greatly needed. Existing studies of childhood reading fluency may reflect and inappropriately validate the current tendency to accept lower reading rates for Braille users. We need published research that documents what can be achieved with early Braille immersion, appropriately high expectations, and quality training.

An additional approach to consider is the creation of a YouTube-type menu with a variety of children and adults reading Braille aloud. Skillfully edited video snippets that show individuals reading fluently and engaging in other activities would send a persuasive, difficult-to-refute message to educators, parents, and the public.

In my professional life, I am an academic clinical researcher. In my search to understand the basis for the philosophical beliefs in the VI/blindness field, I have come to the dismaying realization that there is a lack of high-quality research in the area of childhood VI and O&M. Studies too often fail to differentiate between the abilities of children who have been blind from birth and those who became blind at a later age. Children with low vision are not distinguished from those who are functionally blind. Research seldom takes into account children who have fallen behind due to the delayed introduction of Braille and other blindness skills. Some studies even fail to address differences between age groups. Furthermore, most studies of blind children are not well designed. Study groups are too heterogeneous or contain too few subjects for the results to be statistically sound. Conclusions are often inappropriately overstated, if not by the studies' authors, then by those who quote the studies to defend their positions. As a result, much that is presented as fact regarding blind children is drawn from personal experience, based on small, non-generalizable studies, or extrapolated from the recollections of blind adults.

I would like to point out another fundamental problem in O&M instruction for blind children. Most O&M training programs follow an adult rehabilitation model. When applied to children, this approach is inherently flawed. Children are not simply little adults. Few people would deny that different methods must be used to teach skills to adults, toddlers, preschoolers, and high school students. Yet few O&M programs offer an approach suitable for teaching children to travel independently. Childhood O&M needs to be formally developed as a specialty.

Interface with the Blind Community

The philosophical and functional challenges that exist in the education system in 2010 are significant, but they are not insurmountable. The accomplishments and successes of my children are due to a team effort. Our team extends well beyond our home and our local school system. It involves critical input from the NFB and others in the blind community. By attending a variety of conferences and by reading articles such as those in Future Reflections and the Braille Monitor, my wife and I began to learn about blindness-related issues. We met other parents and came to know educators outside our local sphere. Most important to us were our interactions with members of the blind community, in particular our extended NFB family. Our family has encountered many hurdles along the way, but we have developed an extensive support system. A network of acquaintances, teachers, mentors, and friends provides us with critical perspective and insight.

Through our intense learning process, we have come to realize that there is little difference between what is possible for a blind person and for a sighted person. This conviction has become our operational paradigm. While there are exceptions, this paradigm is not held by many in the current academic blindness/low-vision field.

To educate and prepare a blind child for life, a child's team needs to involve a direct interface with the blind community itself. There also needs to be more direct interaction between academic training programs and the blind community. I sense that some members of the younger generation of student professionals and teaching program graduates are curious about the "alternative" approaches and techniques of the NFB. It's time for us to go mainstream and actively step out into the academic community. We need to put together more NFB-sponsored formal programs at regional, state, and national educators' conferences. I urge O&M professionals to be more vocal on the O&M listservs and TVIs on the TVI-oriented lists. Also, consider the possibility of formally inviting some "traditionally-trained" student O&M and student TVI professionals-in-training to next year's national convention, where they can participate in the activities and interact with blind people from all walks of life. The experience of immersion with the successful blind is sure to be a perception-altering experience. It will surely generate some thought-provoking classroom discussions when the students return to their programs. The ripple effect may be surprising.

Parting Thoughts

I'm going to wrap up with the following thoughts. Behind every truly successful blind child is an involved parent. Show me the parent of a young Federationist, and you will show me someone who is supportive, invested, and informed. Along with many other parents, I would like to see educational professionals--TVIs and O&M instructors--actively collaborate more closely with parents and with the blind community. By working together we can synergize our efforts for the most positive impact.

I urge you to intensify efforts to access families much earlier on. Early exposure to the NFB philosophy represents true, meaningful, and life-altering early intervention. The impact of such an investment of time and resources will pay off manyfold. As you well know, today's young children are the NFB's future--the membership and leadership of tomorrow. Having had the privilege to meet and interact with the members of the NFB's Educational Reform Task Force, I am reassured that there is in fact inspired vision, conviction, and hope for positive reform.

 

Reweighting and Constraint:
The Development of Movement in Young Blind Children

by Mary Jo Hartle and Jane Clark

From the Editor: In April 2009 the NFB Jernigan Institute hosted "Beginnings and Blueprints," a conference for parents of blind children from birth to age seven. This article is based on a conference presentation by Mary Jo Hartle of the Jernigan Institute and Jane Clark, Professor of Kinesiology at the University of Maryland at Towson.

Mary Jo Hartle: As parents of blind children you're often told that your child isn't going to have typical developmental milestones, that your child will never be able to do this or that. That doesn't always have to be the case. We want to encourage our children to be age-appropriate or stage-appropriate, depending on their capacities. In this session we'll talk about ways to compensate for some of the challenges that blindness may impose on the tasks of child development.

Jane Clark: A lot of college exams are multiple choice, as you probably know. I'm going to give you the answer up front, and later I'll ask for it. Just to tell you now, the answer is C, and it stands for constraints.

Think of the constraints in your life--you have children, you might have two bedrooms when you need four, you only have one tree in your yard, or you have a big lawn to mow. Those are all constraints that influence what you do. Now, if I want to make a movement such as reaching for a glass on the table, everything I do is constrained. My movement is constrained by three things: 1) what I want to do, 2) the environment, and 3) the person I am. So the constraints are you as a person, your social and physical environments, and the task you want to perform.

Gravity is a major constraint within the environment. You've seen on C-Span the astronauts in space--they don't walk, they kind of float. They're in an environment without gravity. All the movements you see in babies during their first year of life--rolling over, sitting up, standing--are about learning to work with gravity.

Sensory Apparatus

We all have sensors that tell us where we are in space.  Our biggest sensors are in our heads. There are the sensors inside our ears, our ears themselves, and our eyes. It seems that the body is set to work like a big globe or ball with everything underneath it. I'm listening to Mary Jo on my right. I hear the sound coming from my right side and turn my head. Sensors in my inner ear tell me about my position and the movement as I turn. They tell me if I'm upright or upside down, and they tell me at what velocity I'm moving. Those sensors can be impaired in some people. For example, some people who lose their hearing also lose the sensors in the inner ear, what we call the vestibular system. If you've ever had an ear infection or dizziness from water in your ear, you know those constraints can change the sensory information you receive. Those changes may affect how you move. Closing your eyes or not having vision will also constrain how you move.

Movement within Constraints

The typically developing child has three senses in her head. She'll have sound, the vestibular system, and vision. The child who is blind doesn't have the visual sensor, so she has to figure out how to use the constraints she has. We tend to think of a constraint as something that is not good, something that holds us back. But constraints are not necessarily negative. Actually constraints are just information. If you have four choices and I say that the answer is not A, B, or D, I've constrained the answer to be C.

Now, how do we work with constraints across our life span? Unless there is a physical disability we're all built pretty much the same. We have hands that rotate on our wrists, we have knees that let our legs move back and forth. A problem with our knees or hips places new constraints on the way we walk. We may also change our gait or patterns of movement due to sensory constraints. A person who can't hear may have a slightly different gait from a person with hearing. A person who can't see may have a different gait from a sighted person. Add a cane and the gait changes again, because the center of gravity is now out in front of the body. Holding your arm out in front of you pulls you forward.

The way to address someone's motor system, the way to get someone to move how you want, is to talk about tasks. You can't visually demonstrate movement to a child who can't see. Don't try to move him in the way you want him to move. Moving him may give him a quick sense of what you want him to do, but it isn't very meaningful to his brain. We know now from MRI studies and other brain research that our brain processes are organized around tasks. If I ask you to sign your name, you don't think about the individual strokes that make up the letters. When I reach for the microphone on my right I don't think about the thickness of it and the position of my hand as I grasp it. I think about the task of grabbing the mic. If I change the task I need to do, my constraints change automatically.

MJH: To relate these concepts to blindness, I want to repeat that constraint doesn't have to be a negative thing. The lack of vision may seem like a deficit, but actually it's just a different way of taking in information. When people tell you about all the things your blind child won't be able to do, they're assuming that those things require vision. It's very likely that your child can do whatever it is if they find what we call a nonvisual technique.

Learning by Doing

If your child is learning to crawl, she's not seeing the visual cues that stimulate sighted children to reach and pull forward. There are ways you can adapt for that and help motivate your child to crawl, through modifications in the environment.

JC: Okay, let's think about crawling. From the outside it looks as though crawling is very easy and natural, but actually it takes kids quite a while to learn those movements. Kids are motivated to move by things in the environment, and they figure it out. In a study done on blind babies, they took toys that the children had cuddled and that also made sounds. The babies were familiar with these cuddly toys, and they knew the sounds the toys made when squeezed or shaken. When an adult squeezed the toy, the babies oriented toward the familiar sound and tried to move toward it. Naturally, as a parent, you don't hold the toy too far away. You hold it close enough that the baby has a chance to reach it. As a parent you must find a way to get the task to speak to the child.

MJH: When we teach orientation and mobility, or cane travel, we often talk about structured discovery learning. This topic actually relates to many things in a blind person's life, or in anyone's life. We're always learning through experience. The most constructive way to master a skill is to learn by doing. You can tell your child how to do something, but until he actually has the experience he won't internalize that learning. You might let him feel your hands as you do something, or give a clear verbal explanation to walk him through a task. The most important thing is to give your child lots of opportunities to learn through experience and to get positive reinforcement by accomplishing tasks.

JC: There are three stages to learning a skill. The first and most important one is getting the idea. Pushing the child through a series of movements isn't usually very effective. If he's very young, talking him through it doesn't work well either. I remember teaching two-year-olds to swim and telling them to kick. They didn't have any idea what I was talking about, but when I just let go of them in the water they started kicking by themselves. Then, as they did it, I said, "Kick! Yes, that's good kicking!" and they attached the word to the movement. They got the idea of staying afloat and moving in the water.

The second stage of learning a skill is figuring out what the feedback means, interpreting the sensory information. The third phase is internalization. Think about the experience of learning to drive a car. I remember my father telling me to keep my eyes on the road, not to look at the speedometer, but to stay at forty miles per hour. That assumed that I had an internal sense of what forty feels like. I didn't have that sense when I started driving, but today I do. At first you need feedback, a glance at the speedometer, but after a while you have an internal representation of what you're doing. I think that the same is true of learning to travel with a cane. At first you're depending on a lot of feedback, and eventually you can go on automatic pilot in the same way that a person drives a car.

MJH: What Jane says is relevant for children learning any basic skill. When a child is learning to read Braille, first she has to learn to track with her hands, and later she'll build speed as tracking becomes automatic. When she learns how to pour, pouring becomes automatic and can be applied as she learns more complex tasks around cooking. If children don't experience these basic skills early on, they have so much to learn later. You don't want your child to turn eighteen and try to move out on her own when she doesn't know how to boil water or make the bed!

It's very important for kids to get their hands on things when they're little. As blind people, we get information about things by touching them. I'm looking at this microphone right now as I touch it. Touch is my way of looking at something. We really need to encourage blind kids to be hands on!

Reweighting the Senses

JC: The skin is the largest sense organ we have. It's miles long! There's a lot of touch available in that sensory organ, and it can make up in large measure for the lack of vision.

MJH: As blind people, we learn to use the senses that we have. It's not that we're endowed with super senses of touch and hearing, but we learn to use what we have in ways that a sighted person may not learn. We learn to pay more attention.

JC: To put it another way, the senses are reweighted. Every sense has a weight. Even when you have all your senses, sometimes you need to weight one more than another. There used to be a theory that vision is the dominant sense. Now we think of it quite differently. Vision is very powerful and we use it when we can, but as soon as it becomes unreliable we reweight our sensory information.

Here's an example of reweighting. Can you feel the back of your chair? I bet you weren't thinking about the back of your chair until I asked you that question. If you close your eyes, you can still tell that you're sitting on a chair and not a bench. You can feel the back of the chair against your back. You reweighted the information you were taking in.

Scaling the Mountain

Every developmentalist sees the world as a mountain. You start somewhere and work your way toward the top. This is true for moral development, cognitive development, and motor development. We're all born at the bottom of the mountain. We start pretty much in the same place, beginning with reflexive movements. We have sucking reflexes, withdrawal reflexes, and grasping reflexes. We also have the rooting reflex. If you touch a baby's cheek it turns toward the touch, and then when you touch the lips the sucking reflex kicks in. If you touch a baby's palm the hand closes in a grasp. It's called a flection reflex because it doesn't involve the thumb. The use of the thumb evolves quite a bit later. When the hand closes on an object, the child has opened a dialogue with the environment.

By the time a child is a year old, she can probably feed herself and walk. That's average. Walking can begin anywhere between nine months and eighteen months.

MJH: Professionals in the blindness field sometimes claim that blind children take twice as long to walk as sighted children do. It depends on a lot of factors, such as how much stimulation the child is getting and how much exposure to things. If parents are very involved with their kids and work with them a lot, the kids are much more likely to stay on track.

JC: That's true for all children, blind and sighted. If you think that you shouldn't encourage a child to walk because he might hurt himself, then the child is probably going to be delayed in walking. Vestibular stimulation is very good for encouraging movement. Lifting the child in the air, turning him upside down--those movements help him map the environment in 360 degrees rather than just from a reclining position or even an upright position. I know a family in which both of the parents are gymnasts. All of the children grew up to be gymnasts, too. When the children were young their parents encouraged them to move in all sorts of ways, and they developed incredible balance and spatial awareness. They developed within the constraints of their parents' expectations that they would be comfortable with their bodies and would move easily in their environment.

MJH: For you as parents, reweighting means changing your perception that your blind child can't do certain things. It means finding ways that your child can do things without the use of sight. You yourself have to adjust your way of thinking in order to help your child find ways that will work for her. Your child will rise to your expectations.

Developmental Milestones

Look at the milestones for typically developing children. If you notice that your child is delayed in any area, think of ways to help her move forward. You might offer her certain kinds of play or expose her to an environment that invites a particular kind of activity.

JC: To get back to the mountain--we begin at the bottom in the reflexive period and achieve independent feeding and locomotion in the first year. It's all about survival--we have to get to our food and put it into our mouths. The next period is very critical to becoming a physically active person. This is the period of developing fundamental motor skills. These skills include walking and running, jumping, skipping, hopping, and galloping. Skipping and galloping are playful gaits. Then we learn to move the arms and hands around the trunk, and to coordinate those movements with the movement of the legs. We start with large movements and move to finer, more specific movements. When we acquire skills we gain the ability to adapt movement to new circumstances.

I think blind children can be at risk for a lack of selectivity. If they don't get the chance to experience a lot of activities and learn a wide variety of skills, their range of options becomes quite limited. Using exercise equipment can be very helpful. Blindness is no obstacle for using a treadmill, a rowing machine, or a stationary bicycle. Bowling is a good sport; it's what we call a closed environment in which the target doesn't move. I encourage playing with a ball--rolling it, throwing it, bouncing it.

MJH: There are a lot of adaptive toys available, such as balls with bells inside of them. You can buy a basketball hoop that makes a beeping sound. Also there are often simple ways to adapt things. A friend of mine once adapted a Frisbee so that I could play. He bought a clock radio and took it apart. He clipped the beeper from the alarm onto the Frisbee so I could hear it.

These adaptations not only help our children's motor development; they also have tremendous social implications. Kids learn about being part of a team, having fun with others, and negotiating. It's all extremely valuable experience. By giving our kids the chance to learn motor skills, we open many, many pathways for them later in life.

 

Vestibular Stimulation

by Jennifer Stevens

Reprinted with Permission from WonderBaby Newsletter, April 2010

From the Editor: Most children, blind and sighted, enjoy bouncing, spinning, and other activities that help them develop a sense of their position in the environment. Such activities are examples of vestibular stimulation--they stimulate the vestibular sensors in the inner ear. Young blind children sometimes become dependent on these self-stimulating movements, which can turn into entrenched habits or mannerisms. In this article Jennifer Stevens describes how her family provides vestibular stimulation for her seventeen-month-old blind son through an assortment of enjoyable play activities.

We are flying by the seat of our pants with what we know;
Everything we learn, is as we go.

We find a problem, do some research, network with other parents of blind children, and figure out what to do. One big challenge for us every day is to provide enough vestibular stimulation for Gavin. I will share with you some of the ways we have found for meeting this need.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat: Gavin loves this song, and we sing it about fifty times a day (no joke!) He sings it to himself, too. When I hear him, that is my cue that he needs some vestibular stimulation. Typically he stands while I hold his hands. I've also tried using a sitting position to give him a different sense of movement. We "row" back and forth throughout the song. It becomes a game when he starts to jump up and down mid-song and I sing the words faster. When the song is over he jumps and claps and says, "YAY!" It's a big production, and then we start over again. This is something we do all the time, not just at home. It has saved us when we are out shopping, at a wedding, or in an area that is unfamiliar to him. Best part, it's free!

Jumper: We thought Gavin was over his Jumper months ago, until Daddy tried moving it to the garage. Gavin heard the music and went wild! Now he uses the Jumper every other day. It is still great for him, even at seventeen months. He jumps up and down with great force and laughs the whole time. We will keep using it until he is done with it or outgrows it. Until then, he can jump away!

Side to Side: I made up this game with Gavin one day while we were playing on the ground. He stands up, holding my hand, and we sing the "Side to Side Song." All I do is say "Siiiiide to siiiiide"--trying to carry a tune, mind you. (I'm glad he doesn't care that Mommy has a horrible voice!) When I say "side to side," he moves side to side. Then I say, "Up, down," and he jumps up and down. Then it's on to "back and forth," and he moves back and forth. We do it fast and slow, and I mix it up. He loves it! It's a game, but he is getting used to direction and where he is within his space. We play a similar game with Gavin sitting in his wagon or his little car.

Sit 'n' Spin: We bought a Sit 'n' Spin for Gavin months ago, but he was still too small for it. Now that he's bigger, it's great for him and provides fun times for him and his older brother to play together.

Ding Dong: My Grandpa did this with us grandkids when we were little. My husband and I have carried on the tradition and have been doing it with both kids since they were very small.

Gavin lies on his back on the floor, and I tell him to give me his feet and hands. With my left hand I hold his right hand and his right foot at the ankle. With my right hand I get his left hand and left ankle. I pick him up off the floor and swing him up and down between my legs. The song goes like this, "Ding dong, ding dong, one, two, three!" At three I gently put him back on the floor. This game goes on until he stops requesting "MORE," usually after about the twentieth time! We build up the anticipation with the counting and put a lot of emphasis on the count. When Gavin is a little older we'll try letting go of his feet at "Three!" Both of our boys love this game, and we are usually pretty beat after it's over!

Bucket Swing: We installed a bucket swing in our garage. We are usually outside every day when Landon, Gavin's brother, gets home from school or right before dinner. Landon rides his bike or scooter and Gavin swings. The bucket swing is great. It's cheap and all we needed to buy were two eyehooks to install. He gets to be outside in the fresh air and puts his hands up when he swings (which is great to keep them away from his eyes).

Windows Down: This is a lifesaver when we are driving. It's pretty boring for little ones to sit strapped in their car-seats. A car trip can be even harder for a blind baby who does not have the option of looking out the window. Even if we put his favorite music on, Gavin is likely to begin eye-pressing. But he loves to have the back windows down and feel the wind against his face and hair. He puts his hands up to feel the wind go through his little fingers. When I tell him we are getting ready to go in the car, I make it a big production and say "We're going to put the windows down!" He instantly laughs and puts his hands up. He can't wait for car rides!

Airplane: This is usually something Daddy does with Gavin. Gavin is getting bigger, and I'm afraid I'm going to drop him. Daddy picks him up under the tummy, asks him to spread out his arms and legs and act like an airplane. We've added some big up-and-down and swooping movements for additional vestibular stimulation. Gavin and his dad go flying all through the house. Warning: make sure your child hasn't just eaten or he/she may get a case of the air sickies!

Gavin displays some self-stimulating mannerisms, and these movement games help us rechannel his energy. He does eye pressing, he will rock back and forth, and he has even started head banging on the floor. Whenever these behaviors begin, we try to redirect him. When he rocks I scoop him up and we will do one of our songs, or I ask if he wants to swing. His head banging started when he began to use communication but couldn't effectively convey what he needed. He will usually start by getting irritated for a few minutes. If his needs aren't met, he will bang his head on the floor. Usually this happens when he is getting bored with his toys. We redirect him, and this has been very effective. Each time we redirect him, it works. We don't tell him no, we just point him in a different direction and he is usually happy with it.

A great thing about these games is that Gavin's older brother can play many of them with him. The games provide great bonding and play time between them. Even though Landon is offering stimulation for him, it's done through play.

 

You Can Say that Again!
Or, Echolalia, Echolalia, Echolalia

by Mary McDonach

Reprinted with permission from <www.wonderbaby.org>

From the Editor: To the parents and teachers of blind children, persistent echolalia can be a maddening problem. In this article Mary McDonach of Paisley, Scotland, looks at echolalia from the child's perspective and discovers reasons for this perplexing behavior.

The word echolalia is derived from an ancient Greek myth about a nymph named Echo who could only repeat the last words stated by other people. Unrequited love left her heartbroken, and she pined away until only her voice remained. It's a cautionary tale about love and loss. You may think it's an old story with little relevance today, unless your blind child constantly repeats everything you say or seems to get stuck repeating one word or phrase over and over. In that case, you may have your own little Echo on your hands.

Does this conversation ring a few bells? It's a real-life example from my own real life!

Parent: Which story would you like tonight?

Child: What story am I wanting?

Parent: That's right. Which story are you wanting?

Child: What story am I wanting?

Parent: Yes, what story are you wanting?

Child: What story am I wanting?

Parent (now exasperated): What story am you wanting. I mean ...  never mind. No stories tonight!

That really is a cautionary tale!

It is thought that as many as 80 percent of young blind and visually impaired children exhibit echolalia in their speech patterns. Echoing is an excellent way to learn and practice language skills, and it is part of language development in most children, blind or sighted. However, in sighted children the period of echolalic speech tends to be relatively short. Blind and visually impaired children, on the other hand, seem to find this behavior more useful, so for them it has a more extended life.

How Can Echolalia Be Useful?

The uses of echolalia are many and varied. For blind and visually impaired children it can function in some ways that sight does for other children. Here are some examples.

Who's There? A sighted child simply looks around to see who is in a room. Your blind child does not have this option, but he/she has the same interest in finding out. A young child lacks the verbal skills to get this information in an unobtrusive way. Repeatedly asking questions that may have no bearing on what your child is trying to find out can seem odd to older children and adults. However, when we consider that your child's question will elicit some form of response from the others within a room, it is more readily understandable as adaptive behavior. Frequent repetition of the behavior can be seen as the child's way of staying informed about who is there and who has left.

Who's Where? Getting people to respond will also help your child know where others are in relation to himself/herself. Notice how in the following example everyone at the table engages with Tommy in some way in response to his echolalia:

Mum says, "Dinner time, Tommy. Yum, yum."

Tommy says, "Dinner time, Tommy. Yum, yum."

Mum interprets correctly that this is Tommy's way of saying that he heard her.

Tommy, now sitting at the dinner table with his siblings, says, "Dinner time, Tommy. Yum, yum."

His older brother says, "That's right, Tommy."

Tommy says, "Dinner time, Tommy. Yum, yum."

Older Sister says, "You've already said that. Stop saying that."

Tommy says, "Dinner time Tommy. Yum, yum."

Baby sister says, "Yum, yum."

Tommy says, "Yum, yum."

Older Sister says, "Mum, make him stop doing that."

Baby says, "Yum, yum."

Mum pulls her hair out, strand by strand.

Basic Connections: A sighted child will make a primary connection with others by using eye contact. Although eye contact is not possible for the blind child, he/she has the same need as the sighted child for that initial connection with other people. Echolalia gives him or her the semblance of this contact. It is not necessary for the speech to do anything other than provide connection. The child may not understand a need for speech to be relevant, as echolalia does the job of mimicking frequent casual glances.

Conversations and Social Connections: At this stage the blind child's understanding of language (called receptive language) is greater than his or her ability to express things verbally (called expressive language). Your child may want to get involved in the conversation of others, but may not have the ability to initiate or continue discussion of appropriate subjects. Echolalia can give the blind child the opportunity to seem to be involved in the conversation before his/her verbal abilities allow it. This behavior provides the child with a feeling of inclusion in the social aspects of conversation that would otherwise be fulfilled through eye contact and body language. Ironically, though the blind child seeks social inclusion through the use of echolalia, he/she is increasingly seen by others as different.

In addition to echolalia, pronoun confusion is apparent in the speech of many blind children. This confusion serves to multiply the child's apparent detachment from the group. Breaking away from these speech patterns can be very difficult, and what started as a transient developmental stage can become a rigidly performed habit.

What Can You Do to Minimize Echolalia?

It is crucial to your sanity as a parent that you remember that this too will pass. Every child at some point exhibits idiosyncratic quirks of behavior. Showing your child that there are easier, more practical ways to use language is the most effective way for you to spend your time. Gentle, persistent guidance may be difficult when your child is repeating for the thirtieth time something that was inane the first time around, but it will pay off in the end. Your effort is not about preventing him or her from speaking, and neither is it about exerting your dominance or control. On the contrary, this is about providing a path for your child to explore language and expand his/her abilities. You are guiding your child to behave as an ordinary, social person and eventually a well-rounded, socially aware, and happy adult.

Here are some tips to help you cope with your child's echolalia and encourage him/her to move on to more expressive forms of communication. Read through these suggestions and try the ones that seem the best suited to your situation. Remember that all kids learn at their own pace and react in their own ways, so be patient and don't give up! There is no quick fix. It is important for you to know and accept at the outset that giving your child an alternative to what currently works for him or her will take patience, commitment, and time.

Build a Language Bridge.  Language is your child's bridge to the world. His abilities with language will come directly from those around him. Make language work for both of you by providing him with a commentary on his world that grows with his understanding and abilities. The more expressive the language he is exposed to, the greater will be his ability with words--perhaps the most useful tool to give any child.

Be sure to explain to your child in very descriptive language what is going on around him. Who is in the room and what are they doing? What are the sounds he is hearing? A nice game to play is "I hear a ..." This game builds on the child's desire to repeat a single phrase, but it also requires her to think and fill in the blank. Sit outside and listen. Have your child tell you what she hears. Help her out by saying, "I hear a motorcycle ... I hear an airplane ... I hear the leaves rustling in the breeze." Encourage her to listen and label sounds herself.

Explain the unspoken language of sighted people. Your blind child needs an understanding of what people do and why they do it. Describe the nonverbal language of others, giving detail about the smiles, nods, and gestures that complement other people's speech. Help your child emulate this nonverbal communication where appropriate. It will bridge what might otherwise be perceived as a gap in his or her social behavior.

Model the correct response to a question or situation. Sometimes a gentle nudge in the direction of appropriate responses is all your child needs to act correctly. Positive feedback will help him remember what he did right, so he can use a variation of the behavior the next time. Success breeds success. Here's an example:

The kindergarten teacher says every morning: "How are you today, Tommy?"

Every morning Tommy replies: "How are you today, Tommy?"

Standing behind Tommy, his mum whispers in his ear: "Tommy's fine and he had a big bowl of cereal for breakfast." This is the correct response if Mum were answering the teacher, but she's offering it to Tommy. Now he has a choice. He may still say what he usually says, but one morning soon he may give the correct response.

In another example, the teacher says, "How are you today, Tommy?" Then she says, "That's a question, Tommy. I'd love to know if you are feeling well or grumpy or sad or happy."

Tommy now has the answers to her question and a better idea of the parameters to follow. In addition, even if he is echolalic, he is more likely to repeat her last word, "happy." "Happy" can be interpreted as a positive and appropriate response to her question, so he's winning already!

Simplify your speech. When your child is very young and just beginning to speak, it's a good idea to keep things simple. That way, when he does repeat what you've said, he's actually correct. For example, you may say, "Bye bye, sweetheart," instead of, "Bye bye, Tommy." When he repeats, "Bye bye, sweetheart," his language will actually sound correct. Also, since blind children tend to have a hard time with pronouns, it's a good idea to drop them, at least until your child has mastered other language skills and is ready to move on to pronouns. You may feel a little silly saying things like, "Mummy is going to pick you up now," or, "Tommy sounds tired," but it will help him know who you are talking about without having to decipher all those difficult words like you and me.

Don't ask unnecessary questions. When you ask a question that you don't really expect to be answered, you're placing needless pressure on your child. Instead of saying, "Are you ready for a bath?" you could say, "The bath is ready!" or, "Tommy's bath is ready." Either way, you're giving your child a phrase that he can repeat and learn as the signal that he's about to take a bath. Besides, what if he did answer your question and said no? You'd give him a bath anyway, so don't leave yourself open to debate!

Play up your child's strengths. If your child is good at repeating words and phrases, harness that power to teach him to talk on his own! Let him copy your phrases while you slowly phase out your words and encourage him to fill in the blanks. This is a great way to help your child to gain control and take ownership of his language. Here's an example:

Mum rolls a ball to Tommy and says, "Tommy has the ball!"

Tommy, holding the ball, says, "Tommy has the ball!"

The next day, Mum rolls the ball to Tommy and says, "Tommy has the b--"

Tommy, holding the ball, says, "Ball. Tommy has the ball!"

The next day, Mum rolls the ball to Tommy and says, "Tommy has the --"

Tommy, holding the ball, says, "Ball. Tommy has the ball!"

The next day, Mum rolls the ball to Tommy but doesn't say anything. Tommy, holding the ball, says, "Tommy has the ball!" At this point Tommy gets lots of hugs and kisses for saying something on his own!

Don't be tempted to ignore your child's echolalic speech. Any speech is an attempt to communicate and deserves a response from you. Whatever the quality of the content, your child needs to know that his efforts are valued.

Find a speech and language therapist who motivates and inspires you and your child. Advice from a trusted professional will be an invaluable asset. This is a long-term issue and there are no magic wands. It's a bit like guerrilla warfare; you'll have to be ever vigilant, ever ready with the correct word or phrase (or sometimes just an understanding cuddle) to save the day. Remember, it's no fun for your child either. Start today and help your child move toward freedom of expression. (And just think of all the great arguments you're going to have when he's older!!!)

 

A New Model for Teacher Training

by Sheila Amato, EdD

From the Editor: Dr. Sheila Amato is a longtime teacher of blind and visually impaired students. In addition, she has instructed future TVIs in Braille and other critical skills. This article is based on a presentation she delivered at the 2010 National Federation of the Blind convention in Dallas, Texas.

One week ago today I retired from my day teaching position, after serving for thirty-eight years as a teacher of children who are deaf, deafblind, and blind. I had the most wonderful students and parents in the world, and my students achieved outstanding success in many areas.

I should have been able to retire with the laurels of success upon my feted shoulders. Instead, I retired with much concern for the quality of the future education of my students. Whoever comes aboard as their teacher in September will walk into a position where, among other tasks, he or she will have to transcribe trigonometry, honors Italian, and chemistry into Braille for my blind student who is a high school junior. Such challenges will face that teacher every day.

When Mark Riccobono invited me to speak on a panel about the education of blind students, I was intrigued. When he asked me to focus on innovations that are needed in the preparation of teachers of blind students and what we still need to learn, I was in! However, I have to admit to a level of discomfort as I sit here before you on a panel with the title, "The Failure of the Education System in Meeting the Needs of the Blind." As a teacher, I do not want my career and my efforts to be thought of as a failure. But after some intense discussion with Mark and others I have come to realize that this is not a reflection on any one teacher, but on the system as a whole. I'm here because I believe that the challenges we face together and the solutions that we can develop have the potential to build an education system that will prepare future teachers to meet the needs of our blind students.

Teacher Education and the Braille Literacy Crisis

In July 1989, more than twenty years ago, Dr. Susan Spungin spoke before a national convention of the blind in Denver, Colorado. She provided her perspectives on why we have increased numbers of illiterate blind people. I will deal with only some of these reasons today, those that involve teacher competence and teacher training in Braille, my areas of passionate interest and involvement.

In 1989 Dr. Spungin said that university training programs for teachers of visually handicapped students had given lip service to teaching Braille, and over the years had graduated Braille instructors who were less than proficient. In the 1990s most university programs required only one Braille course, and 20 percent of them did not even touch the Nemeth Code for Braille mathematics. Today most programs require two and even three Braille courses. In addition to the literary code, programs now incorporate Nemeth Code, Braille music, foreign language codes, and computer code, as well as methods and strategies for teaching reading and writing by using Braille and Braille-related assistive technology.

A research study has recently been completed that gathers data on how university instructors teach Braille to future teachers. The results of this study will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness. I eagerly await this data.

AER, the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind, has just formed a work group to discuss the establishment of national standards for university Braille courses. This work group will convene in two weeks at the biannual AER convention in Little Rock, Arkansas. One of the topics to be discussed by this work group is the National Certification in Literary Braille Competency Test. I have been involved in the test development process through all its iterations over the past two decades. This test is a solid assessment tool to measure the Braille transcription skills of the minimally qualified candidate for entry-level teaching. I am hopeful that discussion will involve the potential for endorsement of this test at the university level, and that creative solutions to work out administrative issues between all parties will be developed. We should not allow our university students to take their place as teachers in the classrooms of our children without meeting these standards.

Dr. Spungin also talked about the existing service delivery model in the schools serving blind children. She described how, through the concept of least restrictive environment founded in Public Law 94-142, these models favor itinerant teaching consult services. Because of large caseloads and geographic regions served, this model limits the time teachers spend with their students. While sighted students learn literacy skills throughout the day, blind children learn Braille perhaps two or three or five hours a week. Their teachers often spend more time in travel than in direct instruction.

When I was teaching a university Braille course in one of the Midwestern states, the mother of a blind son took one of my classes designed for teachers. I asked her why she was taking a course on Braille. She told me that she and her family lived on three generations of family farmland in a very rural area. She was not willing to send her six-year-old son several hundred miles away from home to the state school for the blind. The itinerant teacher of the blind could only get to her son's school twice a month, and then only when the Cessna plane that brought her to the school was not being used for crop spraying. If this child was going to learn Braille, it was up to his mother to teach him.

The shortage of teachers for students who are blind or visually impaired is a real crisis today. Approximately forty university-level programs in the United States are training teachers. Collectively these programs graduate about 250 new TVIs per year, in a field where we are currently five thousand TVIs short of filling the existing need. Some states do not have a teacher training program, while others have two or three within close proximity.

Another question of time is the duration of the course. Is the fourteen- or fifteen-week time frame of the university semester too short for students to gain true competence in Braille? The majority of our regular education teachers are themselves educated in a print-rich environment, yet we're expecting our future teachers who are learning Braille to become highly qualified with less than four months of instruction. Instead of positive attitudes and love of Braille, some of my students leave with frustration and distaste due to the speed with which they have had to proceed through their lessons. Will these future teachers advocate for their students to use Braille if they themselves have not had a rewarding experience while learning the Braille system?

Some of my students simply did not pass the course. Last year I had a 40 percent failure rate. While we're in desperate need of more teachers, enabling less than qualified individuals to enter the field as teachers of our blind students is not the answer!

Online Braille Instruction

One solution to the lack of access to teacher training programs is online Braille education. When I taught online Braille courses I experienced the freedom of realizing that the world is the true classroom, that learning is not bound by four walls and one instructor. As the world becomes their classroom, students begin to add valuable members of the field to their personal and professional networks. Guest speakers can be integral parts of online courses; they help build community as they share their expertise via discussion boards. My students have had the benefit of learning from and being able to contact Dr. Abraham Nemeth, creator of the Nemeth Braille code for math, to ask questions. He is always delighted to speak with them about his life's work. Thank you, Dr. Nemeth!

The online model allows educators to reach students in diverse geographic areas without the need for travel. Although the online model is designed to allow flexibility and to eliminate the cost and time required to travel to a classroom, many graduate students still juggle jobs, family, and other courses. Time management skills, organization, and self-discipline are prerequisites to studying Braille online. On several occasions I have said to a student, "Perhaps this is not the best time in your life for you to be taking this challenging course."

The online method of instruction poses challenges in demonstrating or observing mechanics such as the skill of proper hand position on a Perkins Brailler. In the same way that technology cannot replace Braille, online Braille simulation software cannot replace the experience of pressing keys while learning to use a Braillewriter. Online Braille instructors need to be able to provide opportunities for students to learn and demonstrate their proficiency with Braille software and the Perkins Brailler without face-to-face interaction. This is yet another way in which we can collaborate to make such learning opportunities available.

Last but not least, a comment on the accessibility of online instruction. Full and independent access for university students who are blind or visually impaired is not yet assured in the online Braille courses I teach. Inaccessibility is often due to limitations in computer hardware and software and sometimes to lack of owner/operator skills.

Tools for the Toolbox

Two hundred years after the birth of Louis Braille, I'm teaching a new generation of university students that has grown up to view technological gadgets as extensions of their bodies. These students are captivated by multitasking. They talk, listen, and text in a synchronized, natural manner. They have instant access to communication and they have come to expect that the world will join them in philosophy and practice. The educational model so familiar to most instructors in preparing teachers in the field of visual impairment has changed, and these shifting paradigms in education have led educators to identify new challenges and search for solutions.

In conclusion, I would like to share with you a brief story that I wrote in honor of my grandfather, a carpenter, and my aunt, a retired TVI who was my first Braille teacher.

To build a house, a carpenter has many tools at his or her disposal. Although the hammer is a very common tool, it comes in various shapes and sizes and weights, and with varying prices. While it is a tool that is relatively easy to use, a carpenter cannot build a house with a hammer alone. So the carpenter starts to assemble tools for his/her toolbox. He or she can purchase or borrow tools. Some are given as gifts. There are always new tools coming out on the market. To avoid getting left behind or getting a reputation for being obsolete or incompetent, the carpenter has to be aware of all the newfangled gadgets and technologies that are out there. He or she needs to learn to use all of these tools, either by going to a trade school or a program or by being an apprentice or by working collaboratively with more experienced carpenters. The carpenter learns to measure twice and cut once, because accuracy is critically important in the trade. He/she may never need to use all of the tools in the toolbox, but the carpenter has the choice of which tool to use. Unless the carpenter has learned how to use all of the tools available, valuable equipment will lie untouched at the bottom of the toolbox and he/she will never achieve his or her potential.

Not knowing how to use all of these tools could be okay as well. It depends on what the carpenter wants to build. If she/he wants to build a small bench, then a saw and a hammer might suffice. If she/he dreams of building a castle, the carpenter has to be competent using all of the tools that are available.

How do the tools and skills of a carpenter relate to the teaching of Braille? Teachers need to teach skills and strategies so that their students will have choices in their educational and vocational careers. Some students will learn uncontracted Braille and use it to label their CDs. Some will learn contracted Braille, go to college, and earn challenging degrees. Some students will surpass us in their knowledge of technology and will become our teachers and mentors. It's all about choice, and about having the skills and knowledge to make the correct choices. We, as teachers and teacher trainers, must ensure that the choice belongs to our students, and is not determined by our failure to teach the skills they need to learn.

 

Handling Math in Braille?
A Survey

by Alfred P. Maneki, PhD

From the Editor: At the 2010 NFB convention in Dallas, Dr. Al Maneki moderated a lively panel on access to mathematics classes by blind students. The response to the panel was enthusiastic, but it raised a number of unanswered questions. Al realized how little is actually known about how blind people handle the many challenges of math. With the help of Judith Chwalow, DrPH, and Mark Riccobono of the NFB Jernigan Institute, he has compiled a series of survey questions to help us learn more.

How do blind and visually impaired people read and do mathematics? I address this question to any blind person who has studied math at any level, or who uses math regularly in his or her work.

Technology makes Braille materials more available than ever before. However, it is unclear whether the greater availability of Braille extends to the field of mathematics. Even if mathematical materials are available in Braille, the question remains of how blind and visually impaired people actually perform mathematical tasks--solve problems; prove theorems; take tests; and write papers, dissertations, and books. How do blind and visually impaired people communicate mathematically with others?

As a blind person, I have studied and worked as a mathematician for my entire adult life. I have answered the above questions for my own situation. Yet it is clear to me that mine are not the only answers. We know that a number of blind and visually impaired people have done and are currently doing mathematics, but we have no systematic information about the methods they find most useful. To help the blind community, we need to gather answers from a number of people with a variety of experiences. We plan to organize and summarize these answers and publish the results in a form that will be helpful to teachers, parents, students, and blind adults.

With the help of Judy Chwalow, Director of Research at the NFB Jernigan Institute, I have compiled a set of questions that I would like to circulate as widely as possible. If you wish to furnish answers to some or all of these questions, please send your responses to me. While this is an informal survey, I believe that the responses we receive will prove valuable to many people.

Who Should Complete This Survey?

We would like to hear from any blind or visually impaired person who has taken or is taking at least one math or math-based science course at the secondary or postsecondary school level. We would also like to hear from any parent or teacher who has advised or assisted a blind or visually impaired child with at least one math or math-based science course. Furthermore, we are interested in students' experiences learning geometry or elementary school arithmetic.

There is no restriction on when or how long ago you or your child took a math course. We want to learn about the methods of handling math that worked best for you. We are equally interested in methods that were not particularly successful or useful.

If you or your child are considering taking math courses at any level, you should read these survey questions. They may help you get the information you need to complete your courses successfully.

Instructions

In your responses, please provide me with contact information (name, address, email, phone) so that I may reach you for possible clarifications and follow-up interviews. Please also include your age (closest to five-year multiples, i.e., 20-25, 25-30, etc.); the highest level of education you have completed; your primary reading medium; and your current employment status and job title.

You need not answer all of the questions, since some of them may not be relevant to your experience. You do not have to answer questions separately. You may provide a narrative summary for your response to this survey.

If you require additional information about these questions, please get in touch with me. You may contact me by email, phone, or snail mail. My contact information appears at the end of the survey.

You may submit your responses by email or snail mail (Braille or print please, no audio) to the addresses shown below. Please complete this survey by April 15, 2011. Persons taking courses after this date may respond later, as I anticipate a continuation of this survey.

Your answers will not be used to judge your mathematical strengths or weaknesses. Any personal information you may reveal in your responses will remain confidential. Names, mailing addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers will not be distributed.

Survey Questions

Here are the questions to consider:

1. What math or math-based science courses have you taken (elementary, secondary, community college/university, graduate school)? Specify the level of each course, and describe the subject matter that was included.

2. Were classroom lectures useful to you? Since mathematics is generally communicated visually, tell us as specifically as you can what you actually learned from these lectures. If lectures were not helpful, tell us what you did to compensate for the missing information.

3. Were you able to take classroom notes? If so, tell us what method you used: large print, hardcopy Braille, electronic or live notetakers, audio recordings, etc.

4. How did you handle reading assignments? Tell us about your use of Braille textbooks, recorded textbooks, large print textbooks, or the use of live readers or tutors.

5. How did you do homework assignments and take tests? Describe your use of large print, notetakers, hardcopy Braille, mental arithmetic, or dictation to a live reader. If you used Braille, describe your method of translating Braille into a medium accessible to instructors who do not know Braille. If you used Braille/print reverse translation software of any kind, describe how this worked. In your answer to this question, tell us about any additional devices and technologies you have used, i.e., older devices such as the Taylor Slate, Cube-a-Rithm Slate, Circular Slide Rule, and Cranmer Abacus; and newer devices such as talking calculators or specialized learning software.

6. Have you written papers containing mathematical content in an academic or professional setting? Describe how you did this, especially the use of human support.

7. How did you work with line drawings, graphs, or charts? Explain how these were described to you or produced in accessible formats. If you had to construct these items, tell us how you accomplished this task.

8. How familiar are you with the Nemeth Braille code? Describe the extent to which you use it for reading or writing.

9. Are there any tools/devices/aids that you wish you had had that would have enhanced your mathematical experiences?

10. How satisfied are you with your mathematical experiences? Are there other comments you would like to make about how blind and visually impaired people may read and do mathematics?

Conclusion

This is an informal survey. I am conducting it with the intention of using the results to help others who will be taking math and math-based science courses in the future. The results of this survey, after they have been compiled, may also prove useful to people who are accustomed to doing math in their own ways. These folks may find new ways of working more productively. It could further turn out that these responses will suggest altogether different ways of doing math, either by refining methods already in use or by suggesting the development of new techniques and technologies. I fervently hope that over time this survey will make it possible for blind and visually impaired people to learn and do mathematics more efficiently and with greater ease.

I plan to compile the first set of responses (received by April 15, 2011) into an article, ideally for publication in the newly established Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research. It is also my hope that this survey will be a continuing investigation. Additional articles pertaining to this survey will be published if they are warranted.

In preparing this article and survey, I received valuable help from Deborah Kent Stein, editor of Future Reflections, and from Mark Riccobono and Judith Chwalow of the NFB Jernigan Institute. Although they have left their marks on this article and survey, I assume responsibility for all shortcomings, errors, and omissions.

I thank you in advance for helping me with this survey. I look forward to hearing from you.

Al Maneki
Email: apmaneki@earthlink.net
(443) 745-9274 (Cell)
9013 Nelson Way, Columbia, MD 21045

 

FlashSonar: Understanding and Applying Sonar Imaging to Mobility

by Daniel Kish, MA, MA, COMS, NOMC

From the Editor: Consciously or unconsciously, most of us who are blind gather a great deal of valuable information from the echoes that bounce off objects in the environment. Daniel Kish has done extensive study on echolocation and has pioneered methods for training blind children to use it more effectively. Daniel is cofounder and president of World Access for the Blind, a California-based organization that focuses on developing innovative approaches to improving the functioning of blind people. He holds master's degrees in psychology and special education, and he is a certified orientation and mobility instructor.

On my first day of first grade, the bell rings and all the kids scamper gleefully away. I amble after them, occasionally clicking my tongue, listening for the wall to my left and avoiding chairs left askew. I hear kids laughing and shouting outside through the open door. I hear the sides of the doorway in front of me, and I center myself as I pass through it to the new playground beyond. After a few steps I pause to consider the strange, chaotic environment stretching out before me. I stand on a crack that runs parallel to the building behind me, where the smooth cement turns to rough pavement. I wish my feet were not covered with shoes.

I have no cane; mobility isn't provided to children my age in 1972. I have been clicking to get around for as long as I can remember. Everyone says I'm really good at it, but I never think about it. It comes as naturally to me as breathing. I click and turn my head from side to side, scanning the expansive space before me, straining to penetrate the heavy curtain of commotion. The world suddenly seems bigger than anything I've ever encountered, and noisier, too--teeming with flocks of darting voices, swarms of bouncing balls, and battalions of scuffling shoes. What is around me? How do I get there? What do I do when I find it? How do I get back?

I find the noise oppressive, like a looming wall that seems almost impenetrable. But curiosity wins out, and I step cautiously forward, clicking quickly and loudly to cut through the cacophony. I follow the clear spaces, passing between clusters of bodies, keeping my distance from bouncing projectiles. From time to time, I click back over my shoulder. As long as I hear the building call back to me through the crowd, I know I can find it again. However, its presence is fading fast. The noise undulates all around me like a thick pall of fog enveloping my head.

The storm of noise goes on forever in all directions, and I will soon lose the building. Should I head back? A ball skitters behind me and shoes pelt after it. The sounds spur me onward. There must be grass and quiet somewhere, open space like there was on the kindergarten playground.

The pavement starts to slope slightly downward. The building is lost to me now, but I realize that if I find the slope and follow it back upward, it will point me in the right direction. The pressing din gives way to a softer hue, and my clicking inquiries find no reply, suggesting that a very big field of grass lies ahead. With relief I speed up, eager to find open quietude. My shod feet find the grass, and the heavy fog releases me.

Stimulated by the promise of adventure, I break into a run, quickly clicking to ensure that nothing stands in my way. I'm free as a bird taking joyful flight. Then, suddenly, something whispers back to me from the open expanse, and I jolt to a stop. "Hi," I venture in a bell-like treble. There is no reply. As I scan, clicking more softly, the something quietly tells me about itself--it is taller than I am and too thin to be a person. When I reach out to touch it, I know already that it is a pole. I'm glad I found it with my ears and not my head. The pole has a small metal cap on top. I click around me, and barely hear something else whispering back. Leaving the pole, I move toward this next thing as it calls to me with a similar voice, telling me that it is also a pole. I detect yet another one, and another--nine poles in a straight line. Later I learn that this is a slalom course. In time I practiced biking by slaloming rows of trees while clicking madly.

A buzzer abruptly slices the air. I am not startled, but I freeze and raise my hands to my ears. When it finally ceases, I lower my hands to hear buildings from far away calling back to the buzzer. I detest the buzzer, but the distant voices echoing back sound like wistful music. I scan around me, clicking, but I can't hear the building over the great distance and bedlam of kids. I clap my hands with a sharp report, and something large calls back through the tangle of piping voices and scurrying shoes. I turn in that direction. The grass gives way to pavement, and as I step quickly up the slope, clicking and clapping, I hear the unmistakably broad, clear voice of a wall drawing nearer.

The crowd noise has organized itself and is not quite so assaultive. I hear kids in lines facing the wall. I don't know why they're lining up or what I'm supposed to do, and I can't tell where my classroom is. The wall sounds completely featureless, offering no information. I ask someone a question, and someone points me in the right direction. I start to walk along the crack parallel to the wall, but kids are standing on it. I move in toward the wall, clicking and walking between it and the fronts of the lines until someone calls my name. I find the right line and, turning away from the building, I click my way along the line until it runs out of bodies, now all quiet as directed by the teacher. I lay my hands on the shoulders of the kid in front of me as I was taught--a boy I would guess by his T-shirt and short hair. As the line moves and we enter the room, I let go, clicking and scanning to avoid kids as they shuffle into their chairs. I click along the wall to my right until I near a corner. Sensing the distance from the wall in front of me, I know I'm near my desk at the end of my row. I reach to my left and find a desk with a Braillewriter on it. I take my seat, wondering how big the new playground is, and if it has a slide. I wriggle with excitement to find out more next recess.

Perceiving the Environment

Through our perceptual system, the brain constructs images to represent everything we experience in our conscious minds. The way we interact with the environment depends upon the quality of these images. When vision is disrupted, the brain naturally works to maintain image quality by optimizing its ability to perceive through other senses. The brain seeks to discover and explore in order to heighten the quality of meaningful information gathered through our experiences. The inability to see with our eyes need not be disabling when the brain learns to "see" with an intact and heightened perceptual imaging system. Indeed, the visual system of the brain is recruited to assist in processing nonvisual stimuli such as echoes and tactile information. Our approach to long cane and FlashSonar training is thus based in perceptual science in order to activate the imaging system quickly and efficiently.

Cane travel and other areas of perceptual training are integral to our approach to orientation and mobility. If I could redo anything about my childhood, it would be to have a long white cane available to me. We have developed approaches to long cane training for children at their first steps and before. However, this article focuses on FlashSonar, as we feel it is the least understood and most poorly implemented element in standard mobility training.

Both sight and hearing interpret patterns of energy reflected from surfaces in the environment. Reflected sound energy is called echo. The use of echoes, or sonar location, can help a person perceive three characteristics of objects in the environment--location, dimension (height and width), and depth of structure (solid vs. sparse, reflective vs. absorbent). This information allows the brain to extract a functional image of the environment for hundreds of yards, depending on the size of the elements and strength of the sonar signal. For example, a parked car, detectable from six or seven yards away, may be perceived as a large object that starts out low at one end, rises in the middle, and drops off again at the other end. The differentiation in the height and slope pitch at either end can identify the front from the back; typically, the front will be lower, with a more gradual slope up to the roof. Distinguishing between types of vehicles is also possible. A pickup truck, for instance, is usually tall, with a hollow sound reflecting from its bed. An SUV is usually tall and blocky overall, with a distinctly blocky geometry at the rear. A tree is imaged according to relatively narrow and solid characteristics at the bottom, broadening in all directions and becoming more sparse toward the top. More specific characteristics, such as size, leafiness, or height of the branches can also be determined. Using this information in synergy with other auditory perceptions as well as touch and the long cane, a scene can be analyzed and imaged, allowing the listener to establish orientation and guide movement within the scene.

Passive and Active Sonar

There are also two types of sonar processing--passive and active. Passive sonar is the most widely used type among humans. It relies on sounds in the environment or sounds casually produced by the listener, such as footsteps or cane taps. The images thus produced are relatively vague and out of focus. Passive sonar may be sufficient for detecting the presence of objects, but not for distinguishing detailed features. It's a little like hearing the murmur of other people's conversations around you. You catch bits and pieces, but the information contained therein may or may not be relevant or discernible.

Active sonar involves the use of a signal that is actively produced by the listener. It allows the perception of specific features as well as objects at greater distances than passive sonar. It's more like engaging in active conversation with elements of the environment. One can ask specific questions of particular elements and receive clearer answers. In fact, scientists who study bats call the process of bat sonar "interrogating the environment." The bat is actively involved in querying features of the environment for specific information through an array of complex sonar calls almost as varied and strategic as a language. Only recently has it been made clear that humans can learn to do likewise.

Because of its relative precision, active sonar is used most widely in nature and in technical applications. The greater accuracy of active sonar lies in the brain's ability to distinguish between the characteristics of the signal it produces from those of the returning echo. The echo is changed by the environment from which the signal bounces. These changes carry information about what the signal encounters. In our work with blind students we use the term FlashSonar because the most effective echo signals resemble a flash of sound, much like the flash of a camera. The brain captures the reflection of the signal, much like a camera's film.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of FlashSonar is that an active signal can be produced very consistently and the brain can tune to this specific signal. Elicited echoes can easily be recognized and small details detected, even in complex or noisy environments. It's like recognizing a familiar face or voice in a crowd. The more familiar the face, the more easily it is recognized. The characteristics of an active signal can be controlled deliberately by the user to fit the requirements of a given situation, and the brain is primed to attend to each echo by virtue of its control over the signal.

Discerning the Signals

Tongue clicks can be used effectively to gather sonar information about the environment. The click should be sharp, similar to the snap of a finger or the pop of chewing gum. It can be very discreet, no louder than the situation dictates. Hand claps or mechanical clickers may be used as a backup, but they require the use of the hands and are not easily controlled. Clickers are generally too loud for indoor use. They should never be sounded near the ears, and never clicked more than once every two or three seconds. Cane taps can be used in a pinch, but the signal is poorly aligned with the ears, and it is inconsistent as surface characteristics change. The use of cane taps in this way may encourage unnecessarily noisy or sloppy cane technique.

We find that sonar signals are rarely noticed by the general public, so they do not constitute a concern against normalcy. They generally result in improved posture, more natural gait and head movement, greater confidence, and more graceful interaction with the environment.

When we teach FlashSonar to students, we start by sensitizing them to echo stimuli. Usually we have them detect and locate easy targets such as large plastic panels or bowls. The idea is to help the student get a sense of how echoes sound. We call this a "hook stimulus" because it hooks the brain's attention to a stimulus that it might otherwise ignore. Once this recognition is established, we gradually move to subtler and more complex stimuli.

We use stimulus clarification to help a student perceive a stimulus that he/she may not sense, such as an open door or a pole. To clarify the stimulus, we may use a large pole or a wide doorway, or use a reverberant room beyond the doorway. Once the student can detect the clarified stimulus, we return to the original stimulus.

Our most frequent approach is stimulus comparison. We exemplify the sounds of environmental characteristics by using A-B comparisons wherever possible. For example, solid vs. sparse may be shown by comparing a fence near a wall. A high wall could be found near a low wall, or a tree near a pole, or a large alcove near a smaller one. We try to locate training environments that are rich with stimulus variation. The characteristics of almost any object or feature can be better understood when compared to something distinctly different.

Stimulus association is the conceptual version of stimulus comparison. Instead of comparing elements in the environment, we are comparing real elements to those in our minds by drawing upon mental references. For example, when facing a hedge, a student might say, "It sounds solid."

I might reply, "As solid as the wall to your house?"

"No, not that solid," she might say.

"As sparse as the fence of your yard?"

"No, more solid than that," she might answer.

Now we have a range of relativity to work with. "Does it remind you of anything near your house, maybe in the side yard?"

"Bushes?" she might query.

"What seems different from those bushes?"

"These are sort of flat like a fence."

If she still can't put words to what she is perceiving, we tell her what the object actually is--a hedge. Ultimately, we have students verify what they hear by touching and exploring.

We also encourage precision interaction with the environment. For instance, we might have a student practice walking through a doorway without touching, with the door closed more and more to narrow the gap, or having a student locate the exact position of a thin pole, and reach out to touch it without fishing for it. We also work on maintaining orientation and connectedness with surfaces in complex spaces. A good example of this is moving diagonally from one corner to another across a very large room, like an auditorium or gym. They learn to hear the corner opening up behind them, while closing in before them, and keeping their line between the two. The world is not made of squares and right angles, but of angles and curves. This exercise helps stimulate the ability to process nonlinear space. It is surprisingly difficult for many students, but surprisingly easy for others. Once this task is mastered, we place obstacles to be negotiated while still maintaining orientation.

Freedom to Explore

Ultimately, we support students to be able to orient themselves and travel confidently through any space, familiar or not. We practice finding and establishing the relative locations of objects and reference points in a complex environment, such as a park or college campus. The students walk through the area, keeping track of their location with respect to things they can hear and echolocate. They are discouraged from staying on paths, but urged to venture across open spaces. We find and map objects and features until the space is learned. Active echolocation makes this process go much faster.

The most important thing is to allow and encourage blind children to explore their environment without constantly supervising their every move or structuring all of their activities. It is important that they often direct their own movements, not relying strictly on direction from others. The occasional hint is nice, but spoon-feeding our kids all the answers is debilitating; it breaks down the perceptual system. We must remember that the brain is like a muscle. It only gets stronger with self-directed exercise. The earlier this happens in a child's life, the more comfortable and friendly will the child's relationship become with the environment.

The mother of a boy we have worked with wrote to us about her son's progress. I quote from her letter:

"My youngest son, Justin, totally blind, is five ... we introduced Justin to a white cane when he was eighteen months old, ... [and] he ... processes the information he gains from it very effectively. Justin is a very active, outgoing fellow who loves socializing and sports of any kind. ... the work [Daniel] has done with Justin has had tremendous results. ... Walls are easy for Justin to hear. He has moved on to identify parked cars, store displays, other solid objects like newspaper boxes, bushes, and more, all with the click of his tongue. ... If I ask Justin to go and find a ... solid object that doesn't make noise, he will click his tongue and ... set off in that direction. As he nears it, he will actually pick up speed and become more confident. ... He can then stop short of it. ... The delight on his face when ... he discovers what he has found is unparalleled. ... The other day my husband asked Justin to tell him when the type of fence changed along the street. ... Clicking his tongue, Justin could tell him when the fence changed from brick to wrought iron. ... we had seen Justin using echolocation on his own as a toddler. ... I'm not sure how much Justin knew what he was doing, or how much further he would have taken it. I know that I have heard a lot of blind adults say that they use echolocation to some degree. ... But in Justin's case, with structured training, his potential in this area is being drawn out and he is learning to use echolocation more effectively than he would have otherwise. ...

"Probably my greatest strength ... is my ability to teach him social skills. I have a very strong interest in this area, and it shows in who Justin is becoming. He is extremely well spoken, ... very outgoing, confident, and well-liked by his friends and classmates. ... a tongue click ... is hardly noticeable. In fact, unless you were listening specifically for it, I don't know that you would notice it. Okay, if you are blind you almost surely would, but I am commenting as a sighted person. It is hardly noticeable at all. ... The tongue click in no way resembles a blindism or mannerism. ...

"Today Justin does not exhibit any mannerisms. ... Here is something positive that [echolocation] does do. It keeps the head up nicely, because when you click to scan your environment you lift your head up instead of hanging it down. ... We, like any parents, want the best for our son. We want him to be as independent and free as he can be. To give him that, we want him to have access to all the options so that he knows what is possible and can make his own choices. ... I strive to give my child access to all of the resources I can to help him become who he wants to be. This is one such resource. ... Echolocation training is most definitely helping to accomplish that goal.
--Tricia"

Try It Yourself

For sighted parents, close your eyes and have someone hold a bowl or open box in front of your face. Speak. Listen to the hollow sound of your voice. Now have the box removed and put back. Hear how your voice sounds open or closed in. Try the same thing with a larger box or a pot. Hear how your voice sounds different between smaller and larger objects--perhaps deeper for the large pot.

Try the same thing with a pillow or cushion, and notice that your voice sounds soft instead of hard. Try going to the corner of a room and hear how your voice sounds hollow when you're facing the corner. How does the sound change when you face the center of the room?

For further information and video demonstrations of our FlashSonar program, please visit <www.worldaccessfortheblind.org>.

 

How to Make an O&M Snowman

by Merry-Noel Chamberlain, NOMCT

From the Editor: Nearly any situation can provide an opportunity for teaching and learning.  Merry-Noel Chamberlain, a National Orientation Mobility Certified Trainer (NOMCT), currently of Nebraska, explains how building a snowman can become a useful lesson in orientation and mobility.

When given lemons, make lemonade. When it snows, no need to cancel the day's travel lesson. Instead, build a snowman! That's exactly what the students at Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind did in orientation and mobility (O&M) class one day in February of 2010. Orientation and mobility class is much more than teaching students to use the long white cane. It teaches them to interpret environmental cues and to move freely in all sorts of situations. Here are some ways to build "teaching moments" into an afternoon of snowman construction.

One component of combining O&M with building a snowman is showing the students what to do with their canes. After all, the student doesn't need the cane in order to bend over and push a snowball around a field. It is very important for the student to know how to retrieve the cane when the snowman is completed. If the cane is simply dropped in the snow it might be lost until spring! When not needed, the long white cane can be propped against a tree, fence post, or building. It can also be placed along the edge of a cleared sidewalk.

When students enter a snowy field, encourage them to pay attention to the nonvisual information provided by the environment. Sunshine, wind, and traffic sounds are all valuable cues. In the middle of the day the sun will be directly overhead and/or slightly to the south. As the day progresses, the sun is more in the westerly or southwesterly direction. Whether the day is sunny or cloudy, students should pay attention to traffic sounds. Perhaps a major street runs to the east. Students who note the sound of that traffic will always know where east is located. A breeze may help, too. The student can note the direction of the breeze before walking away from the cane. A distant train can also be a source of information. Knowing where the train track is can be quite handy.

Of course, students can also use a Braille compass while traveling in a snowy field. If the cane is stored along a shoveled sidewalk north of the field, the compass will point in the direction of the sidewalk from wherever the student is standing. The student can walk north, find the sidewalk, and follow the edge to retrieve the cane.

Once the student is oriented and the cane is safely stored, the fun stuff begins. First, show the student how to pack a snowball as tightly as possible. Encourage him/her to add more snow and roll the ball forward (or away from the body). With each roll the student gently packs new snow against the ball.

Sometimes it is helpful to push down gently on the snowball as it is rolled forward, packing the new snow firmly. As the snowball grows bigger and heavier, it begins to pack itself. It may actually pick up all the snow on the ground, leaving a line of bare grass in its wake.

It is important for the student to plan ahead. He/she must determine where to place the snowman and roll the snowball in that direction. The first snowball is the base. Next the student must make a second and third snowball. The second snowball needs to be slightly smaller than the first. The third, which forms the head, should be smaller than the second.

Gently, the student should rub off a bit of snow from the top of the first snowball to make a somewhat flat surface. Then he or she can lift the middle-sized snowball onto the base. Gather extra snow and pack it like glue between the two snowballs. Repeat this procedure to add the smallest snowball to the top.

Students can be as creative as they wish when they decorate their snowman. Here are a few ideas to get things started. Wrap an old scarf between the middle and top snowballs. Add a hat. At VSDB we used broken cane handles as arms and a broken cane tip as a nose. Our snowman wore a pair of sleepshades and another cane was propped against his body--after all, this snowman was in O&M class!

 

Where the Sidewalk Ends

by Steve Hastalis

From the Editor: Steve Hastalis is a charter member of the Chicago Chapter of the NFB of Illinois. Public transportation is his lifelong passion. In May 2010 he retired after working for thirty-five years with the Chicago Transit Authority.

I was fourteen years old in the summer of 1966, between my freshman and sophomore years of high school. My parents took me to music camp at Michigan State University in Lansing. Toward the end of the session, my mother wrote me a Braille letter. She told me that we would move from the Beverly area on the south side of Chicago to a western suburb. I distinctly remember her writing, "The public transportation won't be what it is in the city, but we'll make it work."

Shortly after we moved to Western Springs, my mother came to me on a Sunday night and suggested, "Let's go for a walk."

First we walked along the curving streets of our subdivision. These streets had no sidewalks. We then walked out to 55th Street, a main road with dirt shoulders and, again, no sidewalks. Cars and trucks passed within a few feet of us, going about 55 miles per hour. Large trucks created compression in front and suction behind, pushing and pulling as they passed. Their diesel engines produced considerable noise and fumes. We walked east to Wolf Road, past the parking lot of a grocery store and a gas station. We walked through turning lanes as we crossed an intersection.

"I don't like this," I commented, but my mother did not reply. We both knew that I had to learn to walk through this terrain. I had to go to the grocery store, to the stop for the transit bus which still ran then, to the bus stop for the school bus I used when I stayed after school for extracurricular activities, and ultimately to the train station about a mile and a half north.

Shortly after we moved, my mother arranged for a mobility instructor to show me more of the area. We walked and drove around the neighborhood, but the instructor did not show me anything new. I finally disclosed my big goal to her, "I want to walk to the train station."

She immediately divorced herself from that endeavor, saying, "It isn't safe, but you can do it if you want."

I was taught to respect my parents and teachers. I did not say anything for fear of being considered a rebellious teenager who did not respect adults. I certainly had thoughts to this effect: "Isn't it the job of the mobility instructor to make it as safe as possible? What's the point of this mobility lesson?"

I contemplated the striking contrast between my mother's positive attitude and this instructor's negative approach. My mother insisted that I overcome less than ideal circumstances and succeed, while the mobility instructor sadly lacked creativity and belief in blind people. This instructor and I obviously had only one lesson. I have no recollection of her name or organization. My mother did not imply, even slightly, that I have further lessons with her. My mother and I had a clear yet unspoken understanding that we would not let this instructor's negative attitude stop me from reaching my ultimate goal.

Some time later, my mother took me to the train station. As we drove north on Wolf Road, she explained in a very matter-of-fact way, "The sidewalks stop at 49th; after that, the drainage ditch runs three feet from the road."

"Okay," I thought to myself, as I contemplated the seriousness of her directions and admonition. I returned from the city that afternoon, got off the train, and walked south along the west side of Wolf Road. After I crossed 49th Street, I stepped onto the grassy road shoulder. I stopped and explored carefully with my cane, finding the drainage ditch. These conditions confirmed my mother's directions exactly.

I safely walked the rest of the way home on the road shoulder between the pavement and the drainage ditch. I continued through the intersection with the turning lanes at 55th Street, along the dirt road shoulders, and through the curving streets of the subdivision.

Later I figured out a route involving parallel side streets a block or two west of Wolf Road. The residential streets gave me a much more pleasant walk away from the heavy, fast traffic and drainage ditch on the main road. However, my new route had a significant drawback--there were no stoplights when I crossed 47th Street and 55th Street. I listened carefully to the traffic and crossed quickly during quiet moments.

After that day I felt liberated, having gained greater independence in a very tangible way. Family members still drove me to and from the station frequently, because they offered, not because I required assistance. Occasionally I also took a taxi.

A large metropolitan area such as Chicagoland runs the gamut in terms of travel conditions. It has downtown office buildings, city streets, rail terminals, and elevated and subway train stations. It has suburbs with curving streets in subdivisions and main roads with dirt shoulders, drainage ditches, and no sidewalks. A commuter train takes people between outlying suburbs with rural travel and downtown big-city travel conditions, usually in less than an hour. A blind person who wishes to partake of all that a large metropolitan area has to offer should acquire enough experience and confidence to handle this wide variety of travel conditions on a moment's notice.

 

A Blueprint for Success

by Tim Cordes, MD, PhD

From the Editor: At the 2010 NFB convention in Dallas, Federationists were honored and thrilled to hear a presentation by Dr. Tim Cordes. Perhaps half a dozen blind people have ever completed medical training in the United States. Dr. Cordes is among them. In this article he shares some of the ingredients of his success.

"Dr. Cordes. Hi." Papers rustled as my next patient set down his book and rose to meet me. The last time I met him he sat quietly in the waiting room until I called. As I walked back to my office with him, my Seeing Eye® dog by my side, I noticed the smells of soap and cigarettes--one a good sign, one not so good.

We sat down and I reached for my notebook computer, placing the earphone in my ear in order to hear speech from my screen reading software. Although my patient said he was doing great, I heard him fidget with his hands and look up at the ceiling when we hit a tough topic. I pressed him on it and we decided what to do next. After he left I phoned in a prescription to his pharmacy and completed my notes. The day went on.

As a blind psychiatrist in my last year of training, I've had to learn many things along the way. We are always learning. Either we learn to limit ourselves and subscribe to negative predictions, or we learn to challenge ourselves and strive toward possibilities. How did I learn to avoid the negative predictions and keep striving?

From the beginning my family taught me that hard work and achievement were the norm for everyone. My father was a hardworking engineer. My mother was a stay-at-home mom who kept busy with volunteer work. Both of my sisters became high school class valedictorians. They left me big shoes to fill. I couldn't hope to fill them without hard work and adaptation.

In my family, the bar was set high. No one would lower it for me just because I was blind. Like my older sisters, I always had chores to do. From washing dishes to clipping weeds around the house, I was expected to help out. Even when my sisters complained about my slowness as my careful fingers found every spot of dirt on the plates, I was not excused from doing my share. I grew accustomed to the fact that sometimes participating would be a challenge.

When I was nine, I read magnified print on a closed-circuit television (CCTV). I loved summers because the school let me take the CCTV home with me. We didn't have a desk for it, so we put it on the living room floor. I would lie on my belly, looking up at the screen for hours. I vividly remember reading Lassie Come-Home one huge word at a time. It was hard, but my love of reading kept me going.

I did not see the writing on the wall (probably because it wasn't in large print!), but my parents and my teacher of the visually impaired certainly did. They recognized that my reading technique and speed were going to stand in the way of my success. I could not truly be a high achiever unless I learned Braille.

I was not eager to learn Braille, but I was used to working hard at school. I accepted Braille instruction as one more challenge. As my vision faded over the years, I came to value the skill I had been taught.

We may not always know where a given skill will come in handy. When I learned to hold the lines, planes, and angles of high school geometry in my head, I had no idea that I was building a set of skills that would help me in the study of medicine. Today my mental imaging techniques help me understand the geometric relationships within the molecules at the heart of cells and medications. I took music lessons when I was growing up, and in high school and college I studied computer programming. Later, in medical school, I wrote software that uses sound to describe the shapes of proteins. I was able to use the skills I possessed in a way I could never have foreseen.

Early success helped me realize that I could set a goal and work to achieve it step by step. When I was eleven I wanted to take part in sports as my sisters had before me. I thought that wrestling would be a good place to start. To build up my skills I wrestled with any neighbor kids I could find, and I often came in for dinner with grass-stained pants. My parents readily agreed when I told them I wanted to join the school wrestling team. If they had doubts, they never let me know.

Before the season started, my mother and I stopped by the gym to visit with the coach, who was still in college.

"Tim wants to wrestle, and he doesn't see well," my mother explained.

"Okay," the coach said. "No problem. The school for the blind has some great wrestlers. There are a few special rules we can use. It will be fine."

At wrestling practices I did pushups, drills, and exercises alongside the sighted kids. We used only a few adaptations. I received some extra one-on-one help when I learned new wrestling techniques. I ran with a partner for longer warm-up runs or jogged in place when collisions would have been imminent in our small gym. During an actual match the only modification was the rule that my opponent and I never broke physical contact. That was it.

Soon enough it was time for me to test what I had learned. My first match ended with me pinning my opponent. I had my share of wins and losses, and I finished the season by winning the local tournament. With a dream, hard work, and appropriate modifications, I had become a 72-pound victor, and I liked it.

The pattern of dreaming, hard work, and success was set.

The same pattern has allowed me to reach the place where I find myself today. As a doctor of medicine I can help my patients with their own challenges and changes.

With high expectations, a dream becomes the blueprint for a life. With hard work we build our dreams into reality, using the substance of our skills. We all have chances and choices about our work--which blueprints to follow, which tools to use, and ultimately, what we learn along the way.

 

Rejoicing with the Sunrise

by Rene Harrell

From the Editor: The Blindkid listserv sponsored by the NFB and the NOPBC is a discussion forum for parents of blind children across the country. Recently several listers shared their thoughts about a story called "Welcome to Holland" which is sometimes used in an attempt to comfort new parents of a child with disabilities. Some people on the list wrote that the story brought them solace, while others felt that it seemed to minimize their pain. Here is the thoughtful response of Rene Harrell of Colorado Springs, president of the Colorado Parents of Blind Children.

From: Rene Harrell
To: NFB-NET Blind Kid Mailing List (for parents of blind children) blindkid@nfbnet.org
Subject: Re: Coping with grief of having blind child fable
Date: Thursday, November 04, 2010 1:56 PM

I think it would be helpful in this discussion to post the actual fable. It was written and copyrighted by Emily Perl Kingsley, and it's called "Welcome to Holland." Here it is.

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability--to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this ...

When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip--to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The flight attendant comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."

"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."

But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible place full of pestilence and famine. It's just a different place. You must go out and buy new guidebooks. You must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around and begin to notice that Holland has windmills and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

Everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy, and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. For the rest of your life you will say, "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned." The pain of that will never, ever go away, because the loss of that dream is a very, very significant loss.

But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, very lovely things about Holland.

I don't think this story is meant to trivialize the multitude of feelings that come with having a child with a disability. The author acknowledges the loss and the pain, but she tries to show that a lifetime of mourning means we miss finding joy in the circumstances that we have.

This fable resonates well with some parents while others feel very offended by it. I think it really comes down to how the parents feel about their unexpected trip. Do they feel that Holland is simply different, or do they feel that they have landed someplace horrible--not in Holland, but in Rwanda during the genocide?

I think many parents feel as if their plane had been hijacked and taken them to a terrible place. Some children may not exactly be facing pestilence and famine, but they are facing disease--disease that causes pain and threatens their very lives. I can understand why these parents don't feel like they've been taken someplace unexpected but benign, and instead feel that they have landed in a very threatening, scary place indeed.

Ultimately, however, I think the point of the story is really about attitude. The loss doesn't evaporate, but the fact of the matter is that we're here and not at the destination we expected. We can focus on mourning and pining for the place we thought we'd be, or we can look around wherever we are and claim the blessings of this new place as our own.

The Holland analogy recognizes that parenting a child with a disability is different and involves loss. It also asks an unstated question: are that loss and that difference malignant or are they not? I appreciate the question, and I've done a lot of reflecting on this story in relation to my own experience parenting children with special needs. I have one child who is blind and has a developmental disability, one with high-functioning autism, one with life-threatening cardiac defects, and one with cerebral palsy and developmental delays.

I've come to a somewhat different analogy, because I don't think the process of having special needs children always follows a predictable, linear pattern. When I describe my experience, I borrow from Emily Kingsley's story, but to me it's more akin to planning a voyage on a huge ocean liner and finding myself on a little sailing yacht. It's challenging to learn to steer and navigate. My little boat is more vulnerable to unexpected waves and big storms, and it requires a different level of vigilance and action. The learning curve is so steep that sometimes I wonder whether I will ever feel confident in my ability to control this vessel. I have no directions on board, no guides, just a set of tools and supplies that I don't know how to use. Storms rage, waves seem to come out of the blue and knock us off course. I feel powerless to do anything but pray and hope for survival.

At first I'm totally focused on trying to master my boat. I do nothing more than take a passing glance off the bow and wonder wistfully if I am completely alone. Then, finally, I start to look in earnest. Lo and behold, there are other little sailing yachts off in the distance! We shout to one another across the ocean, trying to figure out where everyone else is going. Is anyone else going in the directions we're traveling, or are we each alone on our charted course? This task is especially challenging since none of us is really certain where we're headed.

Gradually we have learned to keep a keen eye for those other little boats on the horizon. We learn to anticipate a brewing storm and to navigate around some of the bigger waves. Sometimes a whole group of us gathers together. We share what we've learned with the newer captains, and glean information from those more experienced.

At last the wind is quiet, the ocean looks like a sheet of rippling turquoise. The water is warm and we stick our feet over the backs of our boats. We chat with our neighbors and friends until the sun sets and begins to rise again. I think of how few people will ever experience this beautiful sunrise the way I do, and my neighbors with me. I close my eyes and slowly inhale, trying to capture every sensation of that perfect bliss.

And yet, no matter how good I get at navigating around storms, sometimes they still hit out of the blue. With no warning the rain beats on my sails, the waves wash over the deck. The wind blows my little boat further into the stormy waters. Crying with fear, anger, and frustration, I hunker down while the storm batters me to and fro. I close my eyes to remember those exquisite sunrises. I work just to hang on and survive. There might be damage to my boat, but there will also be early mornings in a calm sea again, watching the sunrise from my back deck with my friends.

And so it goes, with storms that give way to sunrise and sunrise that explodes into storms. Each storm teaches me something new. Sometimes I make it through the storm triumphant and unscathed. At other times I'm battered and bruised and my boat's sails hang by mere threads. But whatever happens, I always look forward to rejoicing with the sunrise. I know there is always a sunrise waiting for me.

 

Advocacy and Independence

by Lenora J. Marten

From the Editor: In public places those of us who are blind frequently are offered special accommodations. Sometimes these accommodations grant us access that would not otherwise be possible; for example, we may be allowed to touch objects in a museum that may not be handled by sighted visitors. At other times accommodations may be pleasant and convenient, but are not essential to our access to an event or activity. When should we accept special privileges, and when should we insist on being treated like everybody else?

As parents of blind children, we often are forced to make complex choices. When should we encourage our children to be independent and to demand the same treatment that others receive? When should we advocate for or accept special accommodations? The way we choose to handle a given situation can lead to heated debate.

Furthermore, we face the daunting task of educating the sighted public about blindness. Wherever we go, we are aware that our children make a lasting impression. People remember the feeling our children leave with them far more readily than they retain our straightforward explanations. We must teach our children when to insist on independence and when to advocate for accommodations, and we must remain sensitive to those around us in the process. All of these issues seem especially prominent when we visit an amusement park.

My husband and I have three children, a girl and two boys. Our daughter, Christen, is sighted. Our son John is just beyond the threshold for legal blindness, and our other son, Eric, is almost totally blind, with only a small amount of usable vision. We never felt that John needed a special pass to experience an amusement park. He stood in long lines with the rest of us, talking to the people he saw around him and observing the images, writings, and architecture specific to each ride. John was fortunate enough to experience Disneyland for the first time with his Uncle Allan, who also is legally blind. Every child struggles to find the patience to stand in line on a hot summer day. The struggle is even greater for a child who must wait to see what's coming up in front of him, especially when his older sister is chattering excitedly about everything she sees. Allan helped John learn to be patient with his vision loss while Christen and I worked on ways to make the long wait more interesting and fun for him.

A few years later, Eric and I found ourselves with an afternoon to spare in Hollywood, where Eric was auditioning for a role in a McDonald's commercial. After stopping by the Braille Institute to say hello to some friends, we made our way across the freeway to Universal Studios. Eric had just started using his cane a few months before, and he still had some anxiety in unfamiliar places. However, he had recently discovered Nickelodeon on our huge 62-inch screen, and I was confident that he would be motivated to take on this adventure.

As we stood in line to purchase our tickets, Eric showed me how he was going to use his cane on the tour. Out of the corner of my eye I saw an official-looking gentleman making his way toward us. He said hello to me, introduced himself to Eric, and asked us to follow him to Customer Service. "No, ma'am, there isn't a problem," he said, reading the concern on my face. "Please, just follow me."

After the fights I had fought for so many years, my mind automatically began to race. I geared up for yet another battle. Were we about to hear that Eric would not be allowed to take the tour, that we must appreciate the liability issues, that this refusal was really for my son's own good?

As we entered the Customer Service office, the gentleman welcomed us to Universal Studios and asked Eric if he had been to the Braille Institute. Eric's face lit up as he talked about the friends he had met at the Braille Olympics. The gentleman went on to explain that we didn't need to stand in line. Eric did not have to pay to get in, and I would get in for half price. Finally, if we wished, he would assign a staff member to us for the remainder of the day. Our guide would explain the park to Eric and answer any questions he might have. Universal Studios became Eric's very favorite park. He was truly "King for a Day."

During another visit to California, we spent the day at SeaWorld San Diego. At that time, Christen wanted to be a marine biologist when she grew up. She had been talking about dolphins nonstop for days. I was concerned that the color of the dolphins would blend too much with the water, making it difficult for John to see them. I knew that Eric wouldn't be able to see them at all, but I wanted John to see as much as he could. Naturally I did what all good moms do in such a situation--I sent Dad early to save us a spot. The park was extremely busy that day, and I was taking no chances.

While Larry waited patiently, workers cleaned the bleachers and got ready for the next show. One staff member chuckled and made a comment about Larry being there "a little early." Larry explained that his wife had sent him, and waiting was safer than arguing; besides, his boys needed a really good spot from which to see the dolphins. They went on to talk about visual impairment, blindness, light sensitivity, and color contrast. It turned out that Larry was speaking to a man from SeaWorld Orlando who worked with the search and rescue team. He invited us to meet him at a training pool at the back of the park. The kids had the chance to touch, play with, and instruct a dolphin. At one point as they sat on the side of the pool with their feet dangling in the water, the dolphin buddied up right in front of them and they could touch it from head to tailfin. They got to feed the dolphin and even gave him hugs and kisses. They especially loved it when he flipped his tailfin into their laps and waited while they explored.

When we moved to Florida, one of the biggest decisions in our house was which park to choose first for those wonderful Florida Resident Annual Passes. That year, Busch Gardens in Tampa was opening a new roller coaster called Shiekra. Eric was tall enough to ride roller coasters, and the higher and faster they were, the happier he was. Much to his dismay, we decided to wait a few months until the crowds diminished. In the end he found that the wait was definitely worthwhile. The park was still pretty busy when we visited, but it was no longer necessary to stand in line for three hours to give the Shiekra a try.

SeaWorld, Disney World, and other Florida parks offer two special passes to visitors, the fast pass and the gap pass. A person who purchases a fast pass buys the right to use the fast-pass line once per ride. If the visitor wishes to ride a second time, he/she must stand in the regular, sometimes longer than long, line. The free gap pass allows a disabled person and his/her family or friends to use the fast pass line. The Cadillac of all passes, it allows the disabled person's party to ride any ride as many times as desired.

The option of the gap pass brings us back to that gray line between independence and advocacy. When we enter Disney World, SeaWorld, or Universal Studios, do we teach our children to demand the same treatment that any sighted person is given? Or do we teach them to advocate for what they need in order to have the ultimate park experience? Each family must decide for itself.

 

Gear Up for Greatness!

by the Education Team at the NFB Jernigan Institute

From the Editor: The NFB Jernigan Institute sponsors an array of programs that promote the education and independence of blind and visually impaired children.  Junior Science Academy, hosted every other year at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore, gives middle-school kids a hands-on exposure to science.

As part of our continuing initiative to promote access to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects for blind youth, the NFB Jernigan Institute hosted its second Junior Science Academy (JSA) in the summer of 2010. This year we received a record-breaking 130 applications from elementary-school children across the country. Thirty students and their parents were selected to fill the two four-day sessions, held at NFB headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland.

The Junior Science Academy involved parallel learning tracks for children and parents. Based on the theme "Gear Up for Greatness!" the program introduced the children to hands-on learning in the field of physics. Participating parents learned how to start gearing their children toward success. Though the lessons in the student and parent curricula looked very different, the learning objectives were closely related. By the end of the program participants of all ages realized that a child's potential greatness need not be limited by blindness.

During the JSA sessions students learned about the workings of machinery through practical applications. They used levers to lift refrigerators and launch goalballs across the classroom. Rubber band cars were assembled to demonstrate the uses of the wheel and axle. Students investigated the mechanical advantage of the wedge by hammering dull and pointed nails into pieces of scrap lumber.

In later lessons, students learned how complex Rube Goldberg devices combine the mechanical advantages of multiple simple machines. After exploring a Goldberg machine built by the staff at the NFB Jernigan Institute, each pod (consisting of three children and a blind mentor) took a diverse collection of household items and built its own Goldberg creation. Students turned old doorknobs and ear-bud cases into pulleys. They stretched balloons over cans to make trampolines. Each pod created a machine that moved an object at least three feet. The methods for moving the objects varied greatly, but each mechanism incorporated multiple simple machines.

The student activities culminated in a field trip to a local amusement park. While they delighted in the various attractions, the students learned about the physics involved in each ride. At one attraction they used multiple pulleys to rescue an instructor from an "emergency" on the ropes course. They learned about the application of Newton's laws of motion through simple machines used in the go carts and roller coaster. The students even discovered physics concepts in a game of laser tag!

While the students were busy building confidence in their ability to do science, their parents learned from blind adults and NOPBC leaders how to foster independence in their children. On one panel, blind adults shared their experiences, expressing what they wished their parents had known about blindness when they were growing up. That panel really seemed to help the parents open up, and they asked the panelists some probing questions. They explored such issues as how to get a child to be more sociable and how a blind person can be a parent.

The parent instruction became more intense when hands-on activities were introduced. During the discussion of orientation and mobility, parents learned nonvisual methods for performing practical tasks. Every parent chose to don sleepshades for the entire session rather than using them only during specified activities. Parents practiced using canes and nonvisual techniques to walk around the building, carry trays to tables, and climb stairs. They also learned ways to stow their long canes into cars and minivans. Most of the parents explained that they wore the shades to gain a better understanding of how to teach nonvisual techniques to their children.

During a session designed to help parents advocate for their children, parents shared their experiences with the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) process. Naturally Braille was an important topic of discussion. Parents learned about the benefits of teaching Braille to children who have low vision, and heard about some of the research that supports this practice. They also participated in experiential learning activities related to the literary and Nemeth Braille codes. One parent in the group had low vision himself and was not a Braille reader. During this session he realized how valuable Braille could be for him, and how important it is for him to learn so he can model this for his low-vision son.

The parents' sessions concluded with a cooking class under sleepshades, led by blind instructors. During this session, the parents made Jell-O salads. The recipe incorporated a variety of skills--using a knife, measuring, pouring, and cooking over a stove. The children loved hearing that their parents were tackling these challenges under sleepshades. They especially enjoyed serving as taste-testers when their parents finished their hard work.

Overflowing with excitement over their newfound knowledge of blindness and science, the students and parents shared their experiences with one another at the closing ceremonies. The children were charged with the task of expressing in an original way what they had learned during the program. One of the most creative groups included two boys who used their bodies to show off their knowledge of simple machines. They performed somersaults to represent the wheel. One student lay in a push-up position while the other rolled a cane down his back to demonstrate an inclined plane.

Before the closing ceremony was over, we sneaked in one last learning experience for the students. A large machine stood at the front of the room, inviting children and parents to ponder its purpose. Though a number of theories were developed, no one knew why there was a crazy contraption next to the podium. Finally, Professor Matt Maurer answered everyone's questions. He announced that one lucky pod would get to use the combined mechanical advantage of multiple pulleys to hoist our NFB president, Dr. Marc Maurer, several feet into the air.

Excitement soared at this announcement! The selected students took their positions behind the hoist (a lift used for installing air ducts in large buildings) and found a crank. Dr. Maurer sat in a chair in the front of the hoist. As the students started cranking, his feet left the floor. They went on cranking, and soon Dr. Maurer's feet dangled over everyone's heads. "Can we raise him all the way to the ceiling?" the students wondered. "How many pulleys are in this hoist?"

After lifting Dr. Maurer over twelve feet into the air, the students brought him safely back to the floor. Everyone got the chance to examine the pulleys hidden in the machine.

Finally it was the parents' turn to share during the closing ceremony. One mother said that before she came to the JSA she had worried about how her son would learn to carry a tray in the cafeteria at his new school. She thought it would take a paraprofessional countless hours to discover a solution and teach the new skill to her son. Within her first two hours at the center, blind mentors showed her a simple method for carrying a tray with one hand and using a cane with the other. Another newly empowered mother rejoiced in saying, "I came to this program with a visually impaired daughter. I am leaving with a blind daughter!"

Special thanks go to all of those who served as mentors and instructors during the two sessions of the program. We would like to recognize them for their hard work and dedication to making our 2010 program a success. Our student mentors were Mika Baugh, IN; Candice Chapman, MI; Mary Fernandez, NJ; Ashley Ritter, IN; Garrick Scott, GA; and Joe Shaw, TN. Instructors of students were Dr. Matt Maurer, IN; Nathanael Wales, CT; and Henry (Hoby) Wedler, CA. Our parent instructors were Kim Cunningham, TX; Denise Mackenstadt, WA; Dr. Ruby Ryles, LA; Carlton Anne Cook Walker, PA; and Laura Weber, TX.

We loved getting to know the thirty families that participated in the NFB Junior Science Academy, and we are geared up to see all the great things they will do in the coming years! To read more about this program or to view pictures from the most recent sessions, please visit  <www.blindscience.org>.

 

One Summer, Five States, and Six BELLs

by Natalie Shaheen and Jackie Otwell

From the Editor: During Louis Braille's bicentennial celebration in 2009 the National Federation of the Blind pledged to double the number of Braille readers in the United States by 2015. The NFB BELL Program is part of the Federation's multifaceted effort to bring Braille literacy to a new generation of blind children.

In the summer of 2008 a group of children in Maryland took part in the first Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Program sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind. BELL is an intensive two-week program for low-vision children between the ages of four and eight. The program introduces children to Braille through a variety of engaging activities. It was developed by members of NFB's Maryland affiliate who recognized the need for young children with low vision to be exposed to Braille as a viable reading method. The teachers and mentors who led the program in Maryland developed a curriculum that evolved and improved through its use in later BELL Programs.

Adopted by the NFB Jernigan Institute in 2009, the BELL Program doubled in size, involving children in Maryland and Georgia. In 2010 the program grew threefold. It was held at six sites in five states and reached sixty children altogether.

Preparation for the 2010 BELL Programs began months in advance. During the winter representatives from each of the five sponsoring states attended a seminar at the NFB Jernigan Institute in Baltimore. Less experienced "BELL ringers" teamed with veterans to develop plans for funding, transportation, food, and facilities. Educators working in the field and at the Jernigan Institute presented the NFB BELL curriculum. These teachers aren't the chalkboard-addicted lecturers sometimes encountered in school. They believe in showing their students that learning is fun. Seminarians learned about the curriculum by participating in the lessons they would eventually teach their BELL pupils. They put on a skit, tried out games involving Braille, and played goalball.

Filled with enthusiasm after the seminar, attendees returned to their home states to plan their respective programs. Each state coordinator organized a team of affiliate members to lay the groundwork. Members of each state's BELL team took part in monthly meetings via conference call with Natalie Shaheen (a member of the Jernigan Institute Education Team) and Jackie Otwell (NFB BELL core teacher). During these sessions the BELL teams discussed their progress and brainstormed about ways to meet challenges.

Jackie Otwell and the NFB of Utah team launched the first 2010 NFB BELL Program from June 14 through June 25. The Monday after the close of the NFB national convention, BELL Programs kicked off in Houston and Atlanta. Jackie joined the NFB of Texas team to help facilitate the Houston program. The NFB of Georgia team, made up of veteran BELL ringers, ran its Atlanta program without the support of a core teacher. The Houston and Atlanta programs wrapped up on July 23. Jackie then traveled to assist members of the NFB of Virginia with their BELL Program, which ran from July 26 through August 6. The last two programs ran from August 2 through August 13 in Maryland and Savannah, Georgia. Again Maryland and Georgia worked without the assistance of a core teacher, since both were experienced in running BELL Programs.

The 2010 NFB BELL programs were spiced with memorable moments. The younger children learned to scribble using the Perkins Brailler. They built finger strength and tactile discrimination skills by working with Play-Doh and arts and crafts materials. Older children played games that involved forming Braille letters with ping-pong balls in muffin pans or egg cartons. Kids played Braille board games and threw Braille dice.

Nothing is more exciting than executing a program for children. Nothing is more fun than watching children grow! The NFB Jernigan Institute will facilitate the NFB BELL Program again in 2011, and it plans to have three new sponsoring states. Each of the new states will have the support of a core teacher to facilitate its program, just as Utah, Texas, and Virginia did in 2010. To learn more about the 2011 NFB BELL Programs, contact Natalie Shaheen at nshaheen@nfb.org  or (410) 659-9314, ext. 2293. You can also learn more by visiting <www.nfb.org/nfb/Bell_Program_2009.asp>.

If your state isn't ready to sponsor a BELL Program in 2011, you may still find the curriculum valuable as you plan other Braille-related activities. You can obtain an electronic version of the BELL curriculum by contacting Natalie Shaheen.

 

Reading Books and Having Faith

by Diane Croft

From the Editor: Diane Croft is the highly creative program developer at National Braille Press in Boston. She is also a poet and a devotee of literature and philosophy.

A good quote can pack a lot of meaning into a dense space. The best quotes teach us to think beyond our narrow confines. I begin this article with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. I propose that we use his words to help us question some assumptions. Dr. King said, "Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase."

Sounds pretty simple.

To challenge myself, I Googled the quote and found a thread of responses from youngsters who were asked, "What does this quote mean to you?" The best answer (chosen by online voters) was, "Faith is starting to do something, even if you don't understand why. ... You can't see the big picture yet."

This young fellow already sees the big picture. Do we?

Another student believes the quote means, "trusting that each step you take will be illuminated enough to keep you from falling."

Ah, now we have the potential for falling. Certainly this adds another dimension. Are we willing to risk failure?

A third student volunteered, "I think it means to have faith, or believe or trust in it--whatever 'it' is--even if you have doubts or fears."

This student has added fear to the equation. Can we overcome our fears and take the first step?

The next response is my personal favorite. "I guess it would be no different than the first person who ever spoke on a telephone. They could not see the person on the other end, but they were talking to them."

Can we trust a new concept?

And finally, "It's kind of an idea about faith that guides you even though you don't know where you're going. But you know you're going in the direction you're supposed to."

So one simple quote has taken us back to where we started. How do we know which direction to go? The staircase metaphor seemed so straightforward at first. Now we're going up the stairs, now we're going down. But when it comes to our children, there are no simple directions.

Certainly we can all agree that reading to our children at an early age is the right direction to take. But if we do not yet know how much or in what way they may read, are we willing to risk failure and overcome our fears? Are we willing to expose our children to a concept that is new for many of us--Braille instead of print? Are we willing to risk failure? Are we willing to express our doubts about a system of reading with which we ourselves are not yet comfortable? Are we looking at the big picture, our child's potential future, rather than staying focused on the smaller moments of today?

We at National Braille Press are deeply committed to helping parents and teachers of blind children take that first step into reading. Of course, we think it's best if the book contains both print and Braille, even if you don't know where the future leads. With that goal in mind, we started a free Braille book program almost ten years ago. The program is called "ReadBooks: Because Braille Matters." We understand that parents are not always ready to take the first step, so we try to make it easy for them to do so.

If you have a blind child from newborn to age seven, you can contact us for a free book bag full of goodies. Everything in the bag has been selected to stimulate an interest in reading. You will find an age-appropriate print/Braille book, a tactile ball or graphic, a booklet by Deborah Kent Stein about the importance of tactile pictures, a moveable Braille Caravan block, and a coupon for another print/Braille book or set of print/Braille playing cards. You will also find a Braille primer for sighted parents called Just Enough to Know Better and a booklet called Because Braille Matters, in which Carol Castellano explains why Braille literacy is important.

National Braille Press receives tons of mail from Braille book bag recipients. I want to share one example.

"I cannot thank you enough for making these wonderful Braille book bags available for free to visually impaired children. We received the book bag last night, and my three-year-old daughter crawled up to me and started flipping through the pages of the board book and running her fingers over the Braille. This is her very first Braille book, and she absolutely loves it! It is also a very colorful and silly book. She loves the tactile ball as well.

"I also want to thank you for being so thoughtful and including educational material for the parents. This is very new to us as well, and we look forward to learning Braille along with our daughter. We even got to learn how to spell her name in Braille!

"We cannot wait to see what other great Braille books your organization has to offer each month [NBP also offers a Children's Braille Book Club.] Thanks for everything, and we wish your organization great success!"

This parent took the first step. The family has started to read together. After all is said and done, the big picture begins with faith.

To order free ReadBooks bags from National Braille Press, call customer service toll free at (800) 548-7323 or visit <www.nbp.org> and type "Readbooks" in the search box. Red bags are geared for children birth to three years of age, blue bags for ages four and five, and green bags for ages six and seven. One bag per child.

 

Memories from Minneapolis

by Benjamin Dallin

Reprinted from The Student Slate: The Newsletter of the National Association of Blind Students, Fall 2010

From the Editor: Ben Dallin is currently a junior at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he studies history and international relations. In 2008 he completed adjustment-to-blindness training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Last summer he had the chance to pass on the skills he learned to a group of middle school students at BLIND, Inc., in Minneapolis.

Not long after I got on the plane to Minneapolis, Minnesota, I struck up a conversation with the guy sitting next to me. A college student about my age, he was returning home from a vacation. As we told each other about our summer plans, I realized that I had only the vaguest idea of what I would be doing. I knew that I was going to be a counselor with the Buddy Program at BLIND, Inc. I would be working with blind kids ages nine to fourteen. Beyond that I knew almost nothing.

On the plane I began to realize I was embarking on an adventure. Despite my nervousness and uncertainty, I recognized that I would most likely have many educational and rewarding experiences. Over the next five weeks, both my trepidation and my positive expectations proved to be completely justified.

Although the Buddy Program itself lasted only three weeks, staff members arrived a week early for training. We also stayed for a week after the kids left, writing reports on the program's classes and activities. The four counselors spent the first week getting to know each other and the rest of the staff at BLIND, Inc. We became certified in first aid and CPR, reviewed policies and procedures, and learned about the individual Buddies. There would be four boys and six girls in the program, hailing from all parts of the country. We visited the dorms at the University of Minnesota where we would be staying with the kids.

My nervousness grew as the week progressed, but it dropped dramatically when the Buddies finally arrived. With the kids on board, there was no time for abstract worries and concerns. We plunged into our roles as counselors with full force.

One of the first things I realized about our kids was their resilience. No hardship in the camp experience phased them for long, including saying good-bye to their parents, adjusting to dorm life, and getting up at six-thirty in the morning to catch the bus over to BLIND, Inc. Sometimes they made me feel downright old! After a long day of classes and activities, when I would have liked nothing better than to fall into bed, the kids had other ideas. They were ready for wrestling matches, video games, and pillow fights. It could be frustrating at times, but I now recognize their energy and resilience as positive qualities. I think it is especially important for us as blind people to cultivate these qualities at an early age, as we must deal with many challenges in everyday life. The Buddies I had the privilege of knowing were off to a great start!

The three-week camp program offered a variety of activities designed to build the kids' confidence and improve their views of blindness. We had pool parties, picnics, and dinners at the homes of blind adults and staff members of the center. Many of these events allowed the Buddies to interact with blind teens and adults who were students and staff from the other programs at BLIND, Inc.

One of the most memorable highlights of the program was a camping trip up near the Wisconsin border. We slept in cabins, but all of our waking hours were spent outdoors. Everyone got to choose from a list of activities that included canoeing, tubing, fishing, and hiking. Based on our choices, we formed groups consisting of kids, teens, and adults. The day after we arrived at the campsite, we split into our groups and embarked on our respective journeys.

I went canoeing. I soon learned the importance of creative thinking as we struggled to stay together as a group in our canoes. Our efforts culminated in using a shoelace to tie two canoes together. It was a great experience and the kids seemed to have a wonderful time!

When we had all returned from our adventures, the Buddies were eager to tell stories and compare notes. They helped gather wood for a bonfire, and we spent that evening singing songs and roasting marshmallows. When we packed up and prepared to catch the bus back to Minneapolis the next morning, the Buddies were responsible for helping clean up the campsite. On the way back, they expressed their unanimous enjoyment of the trip. Besides having fun, they had improved their skills and learned about personal responsibility.

In contrast to our two-day camping trip, our visits to Wild Mountain Water Park and the Mall of America were crowded and noisy, with ample opportunities for us to become separated. I'm still amazed at how well the Buddies managed--for the most part--to stay together as a group. They also kept a very positive attitude, which was helpful as we navigated these challenging urban environments. Indeed, whenever I began to get frustrated, I realized how much the kids seemed to be enjoying themselves.

When we weren't venturing out into the city or participating in some other activity, we held classes at BLIND, Inc. The Buddies had classes in home management, Braille, computers, travel, and industrial arts. These classes parallel those taught in the adult programs of the NFB training centers. It was sometimes hard for the kids to make the transition from seeing us as counselors and friends to viewing us as their teachers.

It was wonderful to see the kids make progress and better realize their potential as blind people. Whether we were teaching them to make rubber-band guns in industrial arts or pour liquids and fold money in home management, we tried to emphasize that the alternative techniques of blindness are as effective as the techniques used by sighted people. I was often struck by how important it is for parents to have high expectations for their blind children. The intelligence and capabilities of the Buddies made it clear to me that childhood is the best time to learn basic skills and form positive views of blindness.

When I arrived in Minnesota, I didn't realize that my job as a counselor would call upon me to serve as a teacher, nurse, tour guide, housekeeper, and mediator. Sometimes I suspect that I learned more than the kids did. It was great to experience the NFB training centers from the perspective of a staff member rather than as a student. I sharpened my own skills as I tried to impart them to the Buddies, and I was reminded of the great importance of the NFB's mission.

On the final night of camp we held a dinner and talent show for the kids and their parents. As I said good-bye to the Buddies, I hoped more than anything that they came away from the program with more confidence and higher expectations for themselves. If they realize that blindness does not have to affect their potential to be happy and reach their goals, then our camp was truly a success.

 

Hands-On Art

by Ann Cunningham

From the Editor: Ann Cunningham is an artist whose pictures and sculptures are meant to be enjoyed through touch. Her work is on display in many museums and public buildings. Two of her installations are on display in the Jacobus tenBroek Library of the NFB Jernigan Institute. She teaches art at the Colorado Center for the Blind.

Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center
30 W. Dale St., Colorado Springs, CO 80903
(719) 634-5583
Open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 AM to 5 PM; closed Monday

Art and design color every corner of our day-to-day world. Someone designed the glass from which we drink our morning juice and the fork we use to place tasty morsels in our mouths. We all have hands-on experience with well-designed tools and products and with some that are not so well-designed. But where can we get our hands on the art portion of the art and design duo? In particular, where can we gain hands-on experience of the fine arts?

Most of the world's sculpture gardens are perfectly friendly toward visitors who wish to explore the sculptures by touch. These venues are great places to visit. However, outdoor art pieces are frequently so huge that only parts of them are accessible. Sometimes only the pedestal is within reach.

The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center has taken a different approach to making art accessible. All of the works at the museum's Tactile Gallery have been selected to be touched. A dedicated committee has amassed a collection of almost two hundred pieces, including many original works. Twelve to eighteen pieces are on display at any given time, and exhibits change regularly.

The Tactile Gallery was created in October, 1981, by Peggy Marshall and Mary Mashburn. It was modeled on the Mary Duke Biddle Gallery in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Biddle Gallery has since closed, making the Colorado Springs Tactile Gallery the oldest and largest collection of tactilely available art in the United States.

Until recently the gallery was a small alcove off the museum's main hall. Now, after the museum underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation, the tactile art collection has moved into a large brand-new gallery adjacent to the main entrance. All who enter the museum can enjoy the Tactile Gallery free of charge, including those attending meetings, lectures, and the theater.

The pieces in the Tactile Gallery are displayed within easy hand's reach, even for most wheelchair users. The pieces are labeled in large print and Braille. Museum docents are dedicated to helping visitors make the most of their experience with the exhibits. It is wise to contact the museum prior to a visit to arrange for a docent to be available.

In 2008 I was honored with a commission to create an original work for the gallery in memory of founder Peggy Marshall. I took the opportunity to create four landscape panels. The pictures are iconic images representing Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter in the Rocky Mountains. Each picture shows Pike's Peak in the background.

I often take my art students from the Colorado Center for the Blind on field trips to the gallery. Their enthusiastic response to the art objects makes these visits as much fun for the docents as they are for us. We all learn from one another.

In my classes I see students quickly learning to interpret and enjoy works of art through the sense of touch. This skill is easily acquired, but it is enhanced by experience. I strongly encourage parents and teachers to give blind children plenty of opportunities to get their hands on art!

 

Visiting the Disney Parks: Tips and Tricks

by Lenora J. Marten

From the Editor: As president of the Florida Organization of Parents of Blind Children (FOBPC), Lenora Marten offers suggestions for getting the best experience at the parks around Orlando, site of the 2011 NFB convention.

There seem to be a tremendous number of Disney tips floating around the Internet. More often than not, you'll find the same tips over and over. There are Disney World Secrets, Disney World Tips and Tricks, and even Disney World guidebooks for the truest park junkies. I must admit that we've not only read a few of those guidebooks, but have occasionally carried one with us for quick reference. Here are some tips that I hope you will find useful when you visit Disney World and the other parks with your children.

Guides and Maps

Braille guidebooks are available at Guest Relations in all four of Florida's Disney theme parks. These guidebooks provide a general overview of each park. A twenty-five-dollar deposit is required, refunded if the guidebook is returned on the same day. Stationary Braille maps can be found in each of the Disney parks and in the Downtown Disney area. The maps represent the downtown area and each Disney theme park. They use large print with a clear Braille overlay and have some additional raised graphics to highlight key landmarks and attractions. In each of the theme parks Braille maps can be found at or near the Guest Relations Lobby and near the Tip Board.

At specific attractions guests with visual disabilities can get supplemental information by using a handheld audio description device. Like the Braille guidebooks, audio devices are available at Guest Relations locations. A hundred-dollar deposit is required, refunded if the device is returned by closing time.

Planning, Packing, and Traveling

Be sure to visit the Websites for the parks you plan to visit. You can view maps, show schedules, information on special events, and restaurant menus online. Write down a list of the rides and shows you don't want to miss. Take time to go over the map of the park and plan out a route for the day. Advance planning can spare you a lot of walking time.

Don't forget to pack sunscreen, hand sanitizer, hats, comfortable shoes, and change for toll roads. Bring a backpack for water, snacks, and, if you already have them, ponchos for water rides. Sure, the backpack will be heavy, but it will get lighter as the day goes on. Pretty soon it will become a bag for storing purchases.

Fun Facts

One way a nonvisual child can relate to an amusement park is by learning facts about his/her favorite rides and the park in general. When other family members are discussing what they see, the blind or visually impaired child can participate by sharing this knowledge. For example, Spaceship Earth, the visual and thematic centerpiece of Epcot, weighs sixteen million pounds--more than three times the weight of a space shuttle that is fully fueled and ready for launch! The "outer skin" of Spaceship Earth is made up of 11,324 aluminum and plastic alloy triangles. And did you know that rainwater never falls off the sphere? It's channeled into the ball and funneled away.

Parking

As you pull up to the parking area, you may choose to let the attendant know that you are traveling with a blind child. If you do so, the attendant will give you a temporary disabled parking pass. You will still have to pay general parking fees, but you will be allowed to park closer to the park entrance within your preferred parking area. You will only pay parking once per day within the four Disney parks. Keep the receipt on your dashboard and show it when you enter the next park.

There are no parking fees at Downtown Disney, as it is not attached to any Disney park. However, you must pay to park at Universal Studios City Walk unless you arrive later in the evening.

Worried about remembering where you parked? With your cell phone or digital camera, take a picture of the sign that indicates where you parked your car.

Disabled Passes

These passes can be obtained at Guest Services, usually located close to the main entrance. The passes are sometimes referred to as gap passes, but have other names as well. Please note that the rules and privileges associated with disabled passes can change at any time and may be different for some rides. In my experience it is pretty easy to obtain this pass for blind children and their party (usually up to six people, including the disabled person) if the child travels with a cane. If your child is visually impaired but does not use a cane, there is no clear indication of a disability. Therefore, the customer service representatives have no way to determine whether your child is in fact visually impaired. They will not simply take your word for it! Too many people try to get this pass by walking in and saying that they need it. On one occasion, as my son Eric was obtaining his pass, a man behind us said, "That's pretty cool! Hey, I don't see so well myself. I should get one of those!"

If your child does not use a cane, contact your ophthalmologist for a document stating that he/she is legally blind. Better yet, go to <www.nfb.org> and order a free white cane for your child before you travel to Orlando. You may discover that the cane turns out to be pretty helpful as your child navigates through the crowds from one place to another.

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay!
My, oh my, what a wonderful day!
Plenty of sunshine headin' our way,
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay!

 

Getting Ready for College Begins in Third Grade
Working toward an Independent Future for Your Blind/VI Child

by Carol Castellano
Reviewed by Carlton Anne Cook Walker

From the Editor: Carlton Anne Cook Walker serves as second vice president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. The mother of a blind daughter, nine-year-old Anna Catherine, she is a teacher of blind and visually impaired students and holds national certification in literary Braille.

Getting Ready for College Begins in Third Grade:
Working toward an Independent Future for Your Blind/VI Child (Pre-K through Middle School)
by Carol Castellano
National Federation of the Blind
200 E. Wells St., Baltimore, MD 21230
(410) 659-9314, Ext. 2216
Catalog No.  LSA110 (print)

With Getting Ready for College Begins in Third Grade, Carol Castellano provides an excellent addition to the library of every parent or educator of blind/visually impaired children. Efficiently and effectively she provides vital information to the novice, augments the skills of the veteran, and expands everyone's base of knowledge.

In fewer than one hundred pages Castellano packs a punch. She offers guidance on all of the major areas of concern for parents of blind children: academics, independent living skills, independent travel, social skills, and self-advocacy. Castellano opens with a chapter entitled "High Expectations," and she weaves this theme throughout the book.

Castellano explores both the needs of children who are blind/visually impaired and those of their parents. She speaks as adroitly to the needs of parents whose children have some functional vision as she does to those whose children are totally blind. She carefully demonstrates the need to keep expectations high and to look ahead to a child's academic future. In addition, she explains how parents can remedy an academic program that is not meeting a child's current and future needs.

About 15 percent of the text is devoted to independent living skills. Castellano emphasizes the importance of high expectations and the need to integrate everyday self-care activities into the lives of blind and visually impaired children when it is age-appropriate. Much of the time parents and educators get caught up in day-to-day classroom activities and neglect these very crucial aspects of the lives of blind and visually impaired students. Imagine a teen who cannot bathe, get dressed, or do laundry independently. How will such a student fare in college? While academics are important, Getting Ready reminds us that many other factors also affect success (or failure) after high school.

Another 30 percent of the book addresses independent movement and travel. In a thoughtful and accessible narrative, Castellano shows parents the importance of independent travel as well as the often-neglected issue of concept development. She provides several examples of "guided discovery" and helps parents gain confidence in their ability to facilitate their child's exploration of the environment. The book contains multiple photographs of blind children engaged in exploration activities and sports (including gymnastics, swimming, and bicycle riding). These photos can help families and educators see the range of activities possible for our blind children, if only we provide them with opportunities.

Many parents, especially those new to blindness and without blind role models, are unsure about when or whether to introduce the long white cane. Castellano highlights indicators of the need for a cane and presents a short but excellent explanation of basic cane technique.

I especially appreciated Castellano's explanation of "sighted guide technique" and the reasons why many orientation and mobility (O&M) professionals concentrate on this facet of training. This background information can help a parent effectively advocate for a program that best meets the child's independent travel needs.

Too often overlooked in the school setting, the development of social skills is another important need for students who are blind or visually impaired. In Getting Ready, Castellano describes multiple social skills and shows parents how to support their development in age-appropriate ways. She also addresses the need to help a child develop self-advocacy skills, and lists two dozen resources to support the skills she outlines.

As noted above, Castellano emphasizes the vital importance of high expectations and skill development throughout the book. In addition, she often emphasizes the benefits of accessing the knowledge of successful blind role models. Drawing upon their own fund of experience, blind adults can help blind children acquire the skills and confidence they need to succeed in college and in life. Getting Ready serves as an excellent introduction for new parents or a refresher for veterans, and I heartily recommend it for all.

 

ANNOUNCEMENTS

PROGRAMS

2011 NFB Youth Slam
<www.blindscience.org>
Contact: Mary Jo Hartle, (410) 659-9314, Ext. 2407
Students ages 14-18
July 17-23, 2011
Deadline for Applications: March 1, 2011
The third biennial NFB Youth Slam will take place at Towson University in Towson, Maryland. NFB Youth Slam is an intensive program to provide blind teens with hands-on experience in the sciences. Students will meet and work with blind scientists from many fields and will use assistive technology to conduct experiments.

Independence 2011
Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM)
<http://bism.org>
3345 Washington Blvd., Baltimore, MD 21227
Contact: Amy Phelps, (410) 737-2642
aphelps@bism.org
June 19-August 5, 2011
Legally blind high school students who will enter tenth, eleventh, or twelfth grade in the fall of 2011 may apply to this summer program. Participants will receive training in nonvisual skills including Braille, assistive technology, and independent travel with the long white cane. Students will gain real-world work experience by holding a two-week paid job.

Summer Institute for Blind College-Bound Musicians
National Resource Center for Blind Musicians
510 Barnum Ave., Bridgeport, CT 06608
(203) 366-3300
info@blindmusicstudent.org
Students in 11th grade and above
July 10-16, 2011
Deadline for Applications: May 4, 2011
Held on the campus of the Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia, this is an intensive week-long program for serious blind musicians who plan to study music at the college level. Students will develop skill in using Braille music and music software. Space is available for six participants. One intern opportunity is available for a music education teacher or vision teacher.

Exploration Summer Programs
<www.explo.org>
932 Washington St., Norwood, MA 02062
(781) 762-7400
Deadline for Applications: As early as possible
Courses through Exploration Summer Programs give kids and teens learning opportunities in a variety of fields from medicine to culinary science. The programs welcome participants with diverse backgrounds, including those with disabilities.

NFB TRAINING CENTERS

The NFB training centers in Louisiana, Colorado, and Minnesota each sponsor summer programs for children and teens. Taught by blind mentors, participants receive intensive training in Braille, assistive technology, cane travel, and daily living skills. They also take part in fun activities from camping and canoeing to exploring complex shopping malls. [See Ben Dalin's article "Memories of Minneapolis" in this issue.] Teens who apply for these programs must have an open case with their state's department of rehabilitation services. Staff at the training centers can answer questions about becoming a rehab client. Below is some basic information about this summer's programs.

Louisiana Center for the Blind
<www.lcb-ruston.com>
101 S. Trenton St., Ruston, LA 71270
(800) 234-4166
Contact: Eric Guillory,  eguillory@lcb-ruston.com

Buddy Program
Children grades 4-8
July 17-August 6, 2011
Deadline for Applications: April 8, 2011

Summer Training and Employment Project 2011 (STEP)
Students ages 14-17
June 5-August 6, 2011
Deadline for Applications: April 10, 2011

Colorado Center for the Blind
<www.cocenter.org>
(800) 401-4632 or (303) 778-1130, Ext 222

Confidence Camp for Kids
Children from the Denver area ages 5-10
June 6-17, 2011

Initiation to Independence
Children ages 12-14
July 18, 2011

Earn and Learn
Students ages 14-18
June 10-August 5, 2011

Summer for Success
College Students
June 10-August 5, 2011

BLIND, Inc.  (Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions)
<www.blindinc.org>
100 E. 22nd St., Minneapolis, MN 55404
(612) 872-0100, Ext. 251
Contact: Charlene Guggisberg:  cguggisberg@blindinc.org
Deadline for Applications: April 15, 2011

Buddy Program
Children ages 9-13
July 15-August 6, 2011

Postsecondary Readiness and Empowerment Program (PREP)
Students ages 14-17
June 12-August 5, 2011

CONFERENCES

Hermansky-Pudlak Syndrome Network 18th Annual Conference
<www.hpsnetwork.org>
(800) 789-9477
March 18-20, 2011
Uniondale Marriott Hotel, Oyster Bay, Long Island, NY
HPS is a form of albinism characterized by legal blindness and a variety of health issues. Attendees at this year's HPS conference will have the chance to interact with the world's leading experts in the field and to meet other families affected by the syndrome. At the same time and location, the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation (NOAH) will host a miniconference for anyone affected by any type of albinism.

SUBMISSIONS

2011 Blind Youth Writing Contest to Promote Braille Literacy
NFB Writers Division
Contact: Robert Leslie Newman
504 S. 57th St., Omaha, NE 68106
newmanrl@cox.net
Deadline for Submissions: April 1, 2011
The NFB Writers Division is hosting a contest to promote Braille literacy and excellence in creative writing. Entries will be judged on creativity and quality of Braille. Each entry must be submitted in contracted Braille using a slate and stylus or Braillewriter, unless the entrant is still learning contractions (explain in an accompanying note). Fiction and poetry by students in elementary school, middle school, and high school will be considered. Cash prizes up to $25 will be awarded, and winning entries will be published in the Writers Division magazine, Slate and Style.

Lions Club International Essay Contest
<www.lionsclubs.org>
Contact: Christopher Kempski, (630) 468-6835
christopher.kempski@lionsclubs.org
Lions Clubs International is sponsoring an essay contest for students who are blind or visually impaired and who were eleven, twelve, or thirteen years of age by November 15, 2010. A grand prize of $5,000 will be awarded, in addition to a trip to the Lions International Convention in Seattle, Washington, June 29 to July 3. The theme for the essay is "The Power of Peace." A Lions Club must sponsor each participant.

Sound in Sight, Vol. 2
Performing Arts Division (PAD), National Federation of the Blind
Contact: Brooke Fox, (347) 948-4445
Contact: Dennis Sumlin, denmaster77@gmail.com
Deadline for Submissions: March 1, 2011
NFB's Performing Arts Division seeks blind recording artists for a multi-genre compilation CD. Artists selected for inclusion will receive five copies of the CD and will have the distinction of helping PAD's innovative programs for blind performers. WAV files are preferred, but high quality  MP3s also will be considered. Original material is strongly encouraged, and tracks should be no more than five minutes in length.

SCHOLARSHIPS AND AWARDS

RFB&D 52nd Annual National Achievement Awards
Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic
<http://www.rfbd.org>
(609) 243-7087
mgreenwald@rfbd.org
Deadline for Applications: March 1, 2011
College seniors who are blind or visually impaired and high school seniors with a learning disability are eligible to apply for the 52nd annual national achievement awards from Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. Students who are blind or visually impaired and receiving a master's or doctoral degree by June 2011 may also apply. Share your story as an RFB&D member and you could win up to $6,000.

NFB National Scholarships
<www.nfb.org/scholarships>
Contact: Chairperson Patti Chang, Esq.
(410) 659-9314, Ext. 2415
Deadline for Applications: March 31, 2011
Legally blind students who will be enrolled full-time in postsecondary studies in the United States in September 2011, or who are working full-time and enrolled part-time are eligible to apply for an NFB National Scholarship. Thirty awards ranging in value from $3,000 to $12,000 will be granted to outstanding blind students this year. All winners will attend the NFB national convention in Orlando, Florida, with the assistance of the Federation.

 

ODDS AND ENDS

SCIENCE

Science Activities for the Visually Impaired/Science Enrichment for Learners with Physical Handicaps (SAVI/SELPH)
<www.lawrencehallofscience.org/education/programs/saviselph>
SAVI/SELPH is an interdisciplinary, multisensory science enrichment program for middle school students with and without disabilities. In addition to teaching materials, SAVI/SELPH offers equipment adapted for use in classroom experiments. Equipment available for purchase includes the FOSS balance and tactile syringe, Braille and large print thermometer, tactile histogram board, and modified beakers for measurement of liquids.

Independence Science, LLC
<www.independencescience.com>
1281 Win Hentschel Blvd., West Lafayette, IN 47906
(814) 441-2589
Contact: Cary Supalo, csupalo@independencescience.com
The mission of Independence Science, LLC, is to empower blind and visually impaired students to participate fully in the science classroom. Products are designed to enable students to conduct high school and college experiments independently. Audible and tactile tools can be used in chemistry, biology, physics, earth science, and many other fields. Training is available to help teachers use these products with their blind students.

Tech Matrix
<www.techmatrix.org>
National Center for Technology Innovation
American Institutes for Research
1000 Thomas Jefferson St., NW, Washington, DC 2007
(202) 403-5323
techmatrix@air.org
The Tech Matrix is an online tool to help parents and teachers find educational and assistive technology products for students with disabilities. It enables users to make informed decisions by comparing products side by side. Content areas include mathematics, science, writing, and differential learning. The product list contains links to information about hundreds of programs and assistive devices.

INFORMATION

Online Programs for All Libraries (OPAL)
<www.opal-online.org/progschrono.htm>
OPAL is an international collaborative effort by libraries to provide Web-based programs for library users and staff members. Users may join streamed live events or browse podcasts in the OPAL archives. Topics include literature, health, history, music, and science.

How Stuff Works
<www.howstuffworks.com>
Whatever intrigues you, from animals to technology, you will find a wealth of articles, podcasts, videos, puzzles, and questions and answers on this eclectic Website. It's a great place to spend a wintry afternoon!

TACTILE GRAPHICS

Tactile Graphics Website
<www.tactilegraphics.org>
Created by Lucia Hasty of the Braille Authority of North America (BANA), this comprehensive Website promotes excellence in the design and production of tactile graphics. It provides basic information on production methods and techniques, listings of new products that can assist in the creation of raised illustrations, highlights on hardware and software, and information on training and conferences.

Tactile Books Advancement Group (TBAG)
<www.tactilebooks.org>
ClearVision
61 Princess Way, London SW19 6JB UK
(44) 20-8789-9575 [overseas]
info@clearvision.org
TBAG works to promote the availability of tactile books for blind and low-vision children. The Website provides information about designing, producing, buying, borrowing, and using books with tactile illustrations. Guidelines for publishers, authors, and illustrators give advice about small changes that can make a big difference.

Hungry Fingers
<www.hungryfingers.com>
Contact: Boguslaw Marek, hungryfingers@hungryfingers.com
Products from Hungry Fingers are designed to help blind children understand and make use of spatial concepts. Among the available products is the Transfograph, a tool for explaining the relationship between three-dimensional objects and two-dimensional drawings. The Space Master uses geometric shapes to increase the child's confidence in managing space. Listen and Touch Books introduce drawings one step at a time. These books are available in English, German, Dutch, and Hungarian.

BOOKS

Getting Started with the iPhone
by Anna Dresner and Dean Martineau
National Braille Press
<www.nbp.org>
88 St. Stephen St., Boston, MA 02115
Available in Braille, eBraille, ASCII, and DAISY formats
The iPhone is an amazingly versatile device, and Apple has made it fully accessible off the shelf. Yet how does a blind user harness the power of this extraordinary gadget? The answers are packed into this new offering from National Braille Press. Learn about selecting an iPhone, setting up basic configurations, and purchasing and using apps to create an endless range of options.

 Read How You Want
<www.readhowyouwant.org>
(800) 797-9277
Contact: Bradi Grebien-Samko,  bradi@readhowyouwant.com
Based in Sydney, Australia, Read How You Want is a publishing company that produces books in a variety of alternative formats and sells them at prices comparable to those of books in standard print. Books are printed on demand and are distributed to readers in countries covered by the book's copyright. Titles are available in seven print sizes as well as Braille and electronic (DAISY) versions. Thousands of titles are currently listed, including fiction and nonfiction for children and adults.

Bookshare
<www.bookshare.org>
Bookshare is an ever-expanding library of downloadable electronic books for people who cannot access regular print. With about ninety thousand books in English and Spanish, including textbooks at all grade levels, Bookshare is the world's largest library of accessible titles. The collection grows by more than one hundred titles per day. Bookshare is free for all U.S. students with qualifying disabilities, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). The Website includes pages for parents and teachers that explain how Bookshare works and offer suggestions for using it to encourage reading and language skills.

Seedlings Braille Books for Children
<www.seedlings.org>
(800) 777-8552
info@seedlings.org
Seedlings offers low-cost Braille books for blind children from infancy through the teen years. By registering for the 2011 Book Angel Program, children can receive two Seedlings books free of charge.

GAMES AND TOYS

Blind Mice Mart
<www.blindmicemart.com>
Blind Mice Mart has an impressive selection of games and play equipment. Regulation-size audible balls for soccer and basketball, the Brailled Talking U.S. Puzzle Map, and tactile board games such as chess and Snakes and Ladders are among the many products available.

Independence Market
<http://secure.nfb.org/ecommerce/asp/default.asp>
The NFB's Independence Market sells tactile versions of classic games including backgammon, Battleship, checkers, and Sudoku; ringing athletic balls; a beeping Frisbee; and tactile coloring books.

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