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 2 Special Issue: The Teen Years
Deborah Kent Stein, Editor
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
www.nfb.org/nopbc • firstname.lastname@example.org • email@example.com
Volume 30 Number 2 Special Issue: The Teen Years
A Letter from the Editor
by Deborah Kent Stein
A Chance to Look Back
Incidents in the Life of a Blind Girl
The Memoirs of Mary L. Day
Slates, Readers, and Determination
by Grace D. Napier, MA, MA, EdD
Growing Up on the Wild Side
by Sue Tillett
It's Okay to Be Blind
by Parnell Diggs
PREPARING FOR THE WORLD
Kyra Prepares for High School
by Barbara Mathews
The Best Decision of My Life
by Michal Nowicki
The Transition Train
by Maureen Lamperis
When Blindness Is Seen as the Inability to Learn
by Joanne Laurent, MA, NOMC
Confidence and Trust: My Training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind
by Kayleigh Joiner
Getting and Keeping a Job
by Stacy Cervenka
STRETCHING THE LIMITS
Rated PG: Parental Guidance
by Rosina Foster
Strokes to the Finish Line
An Interview with Jason Polansky
I See London, I See France
by Rylie Robinson
Stepping Up and Out
by Mary Fernandez
TIPS AND TRICKS
Blind Teens and Technology
by Stephen Toth
Looking Good without Looking: A Guide to Personal Style for the Visually Impaired
by Linda Zani Thomas
The Top Ten Advantages of Dating Blind and Sighted People
by Priscilla McKinley
The Eyes of Me
A Film Review by Mary Ellen Gabias
NFB CONVENTION 2011
When I Grow Up: The 2011 NOPBC Conference
by Laura Weber
Child Care at Convention
ANNOUNCEMENTSODDS AND ENDS
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>
Are you the parent of a blind or visually impaired child? Don’t know where to turn?
Founded in 1983, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) is a membership organization of parents, educators, and friends of blind children reaching out to give each other vital support, encouragement, and information. We have thousands of members in all 50 states plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.
The NOPBC offers hope, encouragement, information, and resources for parents of blind or visually impaired children. NOPBC provides emotional support and a network of other families dealing with the same challenges you are facing. We also provide information, training, and resources to empower you to take an active role in guiding your child’s development and education. We can provide information on your child’s rights and on the laws and legislative issues that will enable you and your child to become strong and effective advocates.
Have you ever wondered what your blind or visually impaired child will be capable of when he or she grows up? The answer to that question is that blindness/visual impairment does not have to stop your child from doing anything he or she wants to do. We can connect you with other families and blind adults who can serve as positive mentors and role models. They can teach you the attitudes and techniques that will enable your child to become independent and to succeed in life.
Our status as a division of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the largest and most influential organization of blind people in the world, provides many benefits. Our members are well informed about the societal, legislative, and technological issues that affect blind people. We also enjoy the resources, support, and expertise of fifty thousand blind people who can serve as mentors and role models for us and our children. Finally, as our children grow up, they have the Federation to belong to.
No other organization for parents of blind/visually impaired children offers more programs, activities, and training to families, children, and youth. One of our most exciting activities is our annual conference. Every year since it was established, the NOPBC has conducted an annual conference for parents and teachers of blind children as part of the national convention of the NFB. The program has grown to include five exciting days of workshops, training sessions, activities for all family members, including sighted siblings, and countless opportunities to meet blind adults and other families and children from around the country.
The purpose of the NOPBC is to:
Most states have an NOPBC affiliate chapter. You can find your state chapter at www.nopbc.org. If your state does not have a chapter and you would like to start one, please contact us. We may be able to offer training and other assistance to start a state NOPBC chapter.
• National and State Parent Seminars and Conferences
• Future Reflections Magazine
• NOPBC Web site
• Books and Videos
• Blindkid & Other Listservs
• Early Childhood Conferences
• Pop-Up IEP Web site
• Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest
• Slate Pals Pen Pal Program
• AAF Free Books Program
• Share Braille Book Exchange
• Writing Contests
• Junior Science Academy
• Youth Slam High School Science Academy
• National Center for Blind Youth in Science Web site
• NFB-NEWSLINE® Newspaper Service
• Where the Blind Work Web site
• Free White Cane Program
• Blindness 411 Facebook Group for Teens
• NFB-LINK Mentoring Program
• Scholarship Program
• Straight Talk about Blindness Video Series
• Parent Leadership Program (PLP)
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
by Deborah Kent Stein
The exhilaration when that certain someone asked you to dance; your agony when you realized you wore just the wrong outfit; your mortification each time you had to appear in public in the company of your parents; your triumph at the big competition when you discovered the applause was for you. For most teens, life is sprinkled generously with high-intensity moments such as these. No matter what happens to a teenager, it's the best or the worst ever. Even the ordinary events of an ordinary day are extreme--is any suffering more acute than sheer boredom?
As they take their first steps out of childhood into the unknown adult world, teens face some daunting challenges. Academic demands are suddenly more rigorous, overnight the social scene grows more complex, and in the midst of the turmoil there are life-changing decisions to be made about education and career. Ready or not, the future is bearing down like a locomotive.
Blind teens face all of the challenges their sighted peers must contend with, but blindness can add some extra twists. While sighted kids are pushing against the limits and trying to wave parents good-bye, many blind teens are still catching up on the basic skills of independence. At a point when nearly everyone struggles to fit in, the blind teen may feel isolated and out of place. Yet, like all teens, blind teens find ways to try out new experiences and identities. They test new skills and taste the thrill of achievement.
This issue of Future Reflections examines the teen years from several points of view. Parents, professionals, blind adults, and blind teens themselves explore the many facets and angles of the growing up experience. They write about friendships, academic strivings, and extracurricular activities. They offer practical tips and personal reflections. Sometimes with humor, sometimes with tinges of sadness, but always with hope, they share their stories and their wisdom.
Whatever else one might say about the teen years, they are a memorable time of life. Perhaps these pages will remind you of some of your own teen adventures. Perhaps they will suggest a path for your children or students to follow in the years ahead.
"I think it would be cool for Future Reflections to print some articles by blind people who grew up in different decades," my friend Sue Tillett commented several months ago. "It would show how things have changed over the years."
"Or not," I said. "It might show that some things haven't changed much at all."
Sue's suggestion came to mind as I began to plan this special issue about the teen years. What was life like for blind teens growing up thirty years ago? What was it like to be a blind teen in the sixties, or back in the thirties and forties? And was there any way to learn about blind teens of previous eras, I wondered. Had any of them left memoirs or journals that would tell their stories?
In the articles that follow, four blind people share their stories of growing up. Their times and circumstances vary widely, but their stories express similar themes. They are united by a conviction that life as a blind person can be productive and rewarding, full of fun and adventure. Technology has changed, opportunities have become more plentiful, but the human spirit remains the same across the generations.
The Memoirs of Mary L. Day
Blind people have lived in every nation and era, representing every stratum of society. Until recent decades, however, few have left accounts of their lives. Before the twentieth century only a handful of blind men and women had the chance to become literate, so the vast majority had no way to record their lives for posterity.
Mary L. Day is one of the rare exceptions. During her lifetime Mary published two memoirs. The first, Incidents in the Life of a Blind Girl, appeared in 1859, shortly before she graduated from the Maryland Institution for the Blind in Baltimore. A sequel, The World As I Have Found It, was published nearly twenty years later, in 1878. Mary's writing is full of Victorian frills and flourishes, and she sprinkles her chapters with lines of sentimental poetry. Her meandering sentences may challenge the patience of many twenty-first-century readers. Nevertheless, Mary's memoirs give us a glimpse into the life of a young woman who, like many blind teens today, struggled to come to terms with her blindness and to find a place for herself in the world.
Mary was born, fully sighted, in Baltimore in 1836. Her father, a tinsmith, hoped to develop a business on the frontier, and when Mary was a year old he took the family to the edge of the wilderness in Michigan. The Days lived in a cozy log cabin with four rooms, two on the ground floor and two above. They had an uneasy relationship with the Native Americans who lived nearby. White settlers formed close bonds, as they needed one another's support to survive the hardships of frontier life.
Over the next few years Mary's family moved from one frontier settlement to another as her father tried to establish a business. Mary helped her mother with household chores and occasionally attended school. Then, when Mary was ten years old, her mother suddenly fell ill and died.
Her mother's death shattered the family. Mary's father dispersed his five children among several scattered frontier families. He promised to come back for them as soon as he found work and settled down, but he never returned. Eventually Mary learned that he had remarried and started a new family.
For the next two years Mary passed from one loveless home to another. Wherever she lived she was expected to earn her keep. She cooked, scrubbed, and tended babies from dawn until she collapsed into bed. In one household her mistress was taken sick, and all of the housekeeping duties landed upon Mary's young shoulders. "Every night it would be twelve o'clock before I laid my head upon my pillow," she writes. "I would then cry myself to sleep, my limbs aching, and indeed my whole body weary and full of pain" (Incidents in the Life of a Blind Girl, p. 56).
At last, when she was twelve, a kind family took Mary in and made her one of their own. Mary enjoyed an idyllic summer, but at the end of August her life underwent another radical change. "I was attacked with severe pain in my eyes, yet I could not discover that they looked differently from what they usually had. ... I suffered intensely with them that night, and by the morning they were painfully inflamed. ... They continued in this way until noon. I went to the lookingglass, and after wiping them about five minutes I could see distinctly. They then closed, and in less than twenty-four hours I was blind! forever blind" (Incidents, pp. 62-63).
Her blindness sent Mary on a long odyssey in search of a cure. She passed from one well-intentioned neighbor to another, each claiming to know some healing remedy. Physicians were called in, and they too promised to restore her sight. Each attempt by the doctors resulted in failure and disappointment, and most of the treatments were agonizing. One doctor "directed me to be kept in a dark room for four weeks, with bread and molasses as diet; besides this, I had every second day to undergo an operation upon my eyes, giving me the most intense and excruciating pain" (Incidents, pp. 66-67). Since anesthesia was virtually unknown in the years before the Civil War, it is safe to assume that these operations were conducted while Mary was wide awake.
When it seemed clear that Mary's blindness was irreversible, her benefactors began to complain that she was a burden, suggesting the time had come to send her to the poorhouse. "This terrified me greatly," Mary writes, "as I had always imagined it a dark, dismal prison. In this part of the country there were officers appointed to look after the sick and the friendless, and if a certain amount would cover their necessities and the services of a physician, these were rendered; if not, they were sent to the almshouse" (Incidents, p. 69). At the last moment another generous family, the Cooks, came to Mary's rescue. They welcomed her into their home, and she lived with them for the next five years.
Mary quickly learned her way around the house and grounds, and could walk to a neighbor's house "without a guide, quite alone." Her adoptive siblings enjoyed reading aloud and introduced her to the world of literature. Her adoptive mother taught her to knit. "At first I thought this impossible as I could not see," Mary writes, "but they persuaded me to try. Often when I would become impatient at my slow improvement, and almost in vexation, would toss my knitting from me, Mrs. C. would pick it up, repair my errors, and cheerfully say to me: 'Mary, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again.' ... In about a year I learned to knit a pair of stockings, and I assure you it was no small gratification to me, my acquired knowledge" (Incidents, p. 72).
When she was fourteen Mary turned her skill with the knitting needle into a full-time occupation. "Being now able to knit pretty well, I felt anxious to do something towards supporting myself. I thought I would ask one of our neighbors to let me do the usual winter knitting her household required. ... She appeared pleased with my desire to do something towards making a livelihood, and said I should come to her house and knit by the week. ... My remuneration was a dollar a week. From this time I could command as much and more than I could possibly do, and in this way supported myself for four years" (Incidents, p. 75).
Three years after she joined the Cooks, Mary received a letter from a long-lost sister, now living in Chicago. For two years Mary's sister urged her to go to Chicago and live with her, but Mary was reluctant to leave the Cooks. The deciding factor was the lure of yet another doctor who might be able to restore her vision. At seventeen Mary set off for Chicago, first by stagecoach and then by railroad or "the cars," as she calls the train. Mary does not point out how unusual it was for a young woman to travel without the protection of a brother, father, or female chaperone; for a young blind woman to do so must have been quite unheard of.
Throughout the three-day trip fellow passengers offered Mary their companionship and assistance. Gentlemen even bought her meals, paid for her train tickets, and handed her gold pieces to help her on her way. In her memoir Mary expresses appreciation for their kindness and seems quite comfortable with this special treatment. Her life had been a hard one, and she seems grateful for human kindness in any form.
Reunited with her sister and two of her brothers, Mary underwent another painful and unsuccessful series of operations on her eyes. The best doctors in Chicago could not help her, but they urged her to seek medical advice in the east. Determined to pursue every hope, Mary once again set out alone, this time to join relatives in Baltimore.
Mary's experiences as a solo traveler were not always pleasant. When her train was scheduled for a long layover in Toledo, Ohio, she asked the conductor to guide her to a hotel near the station. The conductor failed to arrive when the train stopped, and Mary was left by herself when the other passengers left the car. At last she got the attention of a workman who agreed to help her. "Placing my sack on his arm, he took me by the hand, and literally dragged me over the seats until I began to think my life was in danger. ... He led me in this way to the parlor, where were other of the passengers, to whom he said: 'Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to take good care of this young lady, for she is in the dark sure'" (Incidents, pp. 117-118). In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Mary faced another overnight stopover. She grew deeply suspicious of the conductor who guided her to a hotel. His behavior seemed evasive, and she was convinced he meant to do her some harm. "[At the hotel] I locked my door, and commenced a thorough investigation of every nook and corner," she writes. "I should not have been at all surprised in my search to have put my hand on the conductor. The evening was extremely warm, yet I lowered my only window, fearful lest someone might be able to make their way in through it" (Incidents, p. 131).
After her arduous journey, Mary reached Baltimore and was lovingly welcomed by an aunt and cousin whom she had never met before. Within three days she embarked upon yet another course of treatment for her eyes. "The doctor bathed my head with some kind of liquid until I became so weak I could not speak a word nor help myself. He then blew another liquid into my eyes, which occasioned me great suffering for an hour or more. ... I was under treatment six months, daily undergoing the most acute pain" (Incidents, p. 141). This treatment, too, was completely ineffective.
At last Mary accepted the fact that she would be blind for the rest of her life. In 1855, at the age of nineteen, she entered the Maryland Institution for the Blind, today the Maryland School for the Blind. Her fellow students--seven of them in all--welcomed her as though she were an old friend. "This is the usual manner of the blind," Mary reflects. "They are never strangers to each other, a common sympathy seems to link them wherever they meet" (Incidents, p. 165).
Braille was not yet in use at the school, and Mary learned to read and write using raised print letters. She also studied music and sewing, and she learned to do fancy beadwork. Occasionally the students gave musical performances that were open to the public.
Mary was keenly aware of public misconceptions about blindness. On the days when the school was open to visitors, she and her classmates enjoyed "a fund of after-merriment" over the questions and comments they received. "They appeared to regard us as a race distinct from themselves," she writes. "Some would ask if we closed our eyes when we slept as did seeing persons. Others would inquire, 'Do you not have great difficulty in finding the way to your mouth when you eat?' ... They would also stand close beside us and pass remarks upon us, as though they thought we were as unthinking and unfeeling as might be a breathing statue. I have known them to say aloud and immediately by our side, that we were the ugliest people they had ever seen. ... These and similar comments were constantly being made in our presence, as though they thought because we were blind we had also been deprived of reason” (Incidents, p. 174).
Mary grew to revere the school's founder and superintendent, Professor Loughery, a highly accomplished blind man who served as a mentor to his students. Her first memoir closes with the sad news of Loughery's death and the appointment of the school's new superintendent.
Mary's second memoir, The World As I Have Found It, resumes her story with her graduation from the Maryland Institution. Her first book proved to be her ticket to financial independence. For nearly twenty years she criscrossed the nation, usually accompanied by a paid companion, selling copies of her book wherever she went. She also sold beaded baskets and shawls, drawing upon the skills she learned at the school for the blind.
At a boardinghouse where she spent several weeks, Mary met and fell in love with a young businessman whom she refers to only as "Mr. Arms." After a long courtship, often interrupted by Mary's travels, she and Mr. Arms were married. Even after she became a married woman, she continued to travel widely, supplementing her husband's income through her book sales.
In an age when women were expected to be quiet and submissive, Mary Day Arms was not afraid to assert herself. In every town she visited, she went straight to the newspaper editor, the mayor, and other civic leaders, asking them to help publicize her memoir. Shortly after she left school she even arranged a visit to the White House, where she had tea with President James Buchanan and sold him a copy of her book.
Among the countless people Mary met on her travels was the great woman suffrage advocate Susan B. Anthony. Although Anthony was a fierce champion of women's rights, Mary's encounter with her was acutely painful. She writes that "an impetuous hand pitched at me one of my own books. The voice asked: 'Were you ever in Michigan? Are you married? I knew a blind woman there who had five children, and they were all deaf and dumb! I think Congress ought to pass a law to prevent these people from marrying and bringing such creatures into the world!' These burning words came with the fierce force of the tornado ... She was beyond hearing before I could sufficiently recover to reply. Words I would have spoken burned upon my lips, and emotions welled up from the depths of an affection as deep, true and unfathomable as ever struggled in such a heart as that of Susan B. Anthony. Long did I dwell upon the cruel words, wondering [how] they could have emanated from a woman who advocated the inviolable rights and bewailed the deep wrongs of her own sex, or if Congress had the power to exclude the blind from loving and following the holiest impulses of their natures, like other human beings" (The World As I Have Found It, pp. 180-181).
Mary's story ends abruptly when she settles down with her husband to write her second memoir. There is no record of her remaining years. Thanks to the books she left as her legacy, we know she was a woman who pushed beyond the limitations that constrained most blind people during her times.
Arms, Mary L. Day. (1878). The World As I Have Found It, Sequel to Incidents in the Life of a Blind Girl, Baltimore: James Watts.
Day, Mary L. (1859). Incidents in the Life of a Blind Girl, Baltimore: James Young.
by Grace D. Napier, MA, MA, EdD
From the Editor: Grace Napier holds an MA in supervision and administration from New York University and an MA in elementary education from Temple University. She also earned an EdD in communications from Temple. She taught blind and visually impaired children at a residential school in Pennsylvania and served as an itinerant teacher in New Jersey for twelve years. She trained teachers at summer sessions at Syracuse University and at the University of Nebraska, and she taught full-time at the University of Northern Colorado for twenty years. In retirement she turned her hand to writing, publishing two novels, a memoir, and a nonfiction book about guide dogs. Dr. Napier's achievements are all the more impressive in view of the obstacles she faced as a blind student in the 1930s and 1940s.
I entered college in September 1940. Times were very different for blind students then. I would like to share some of my experiences for the benefit of high school and college students today.
When I was in first grade I attended the same school as my brother. My parents knew nothing about special education, and no help was offered to me. The principal and teacher did not want me there, thinking that I was mentally retarded; that was the term used back then. They assumed that blindness and mental retardation went together. The teacher made no attempt to determine what I knew or what I could learn. I sat at my desk and no one interacted with me all day!
One day the principal entered the room to announce the names of children being promoted to second grade. He did not mention my name as he read the list. "What do we do about Grace?" the teacher asked him.
The principal said, "Promote her until we are rid of her!"
While I was in "second grade," my parents learned about special education for children who are blind. At that time most blind children who received an education went to residential schools. However, I lived in New Jersey, a state that did not have a residential program. Some blind students in New Jersey attended resource rooms and some went to residential schools out of state.
My parents took me to visit a class for blind pupils in the adjacent city of Paterson. Immediately I fell in love with the teacher, Miss Katharine Taylor. On the day of my visit she taught me to read the Braille letters a, b, and c. I was thrilled to discover a great teacher who knew how to teach me to read! In my mind, bells rang, horns blew, and lights turned on!
I began as a student in the day program the following Monday. I spent part of each day in classes with normally sighted children, and part of the day in Miss Taylor's room. I stayed with Miss Taylor until I graduated from eighth grade.
After graduation I attended high school in Clifton, my own city. It was a large school and I was the only blind student. My home room teacher was my reader. I graduated from high school with honors.
I was determined to go on to college, but I found it very difficult to get accepted. In fact, at times it seemed impossible. After reviewing my application, the board of one college rejected me with the rationale, "What's the point of educating a blind person?" After that rejection I applied to a local college, planning to commute. I was rejected there, also, despite my strong academic record. According to the dean, a blind person could not be a teacher. After I received his rejection, I wrote back and explained that I did not expect him to find me a teaching position; that was my responsibility. All I requested was the opportunity to earn my bachelor's degree. In his next letter, the dean repeated, "A person who is blind cannot be a teacher!"
Happily, the third college where I applied had had blind students before, and they had shown that they could handle the demands of college studies. I was accepted at New Jersey College for Women (today called Douglas College). I graduated from that school and pursued graduate studies, earning two master's degrees and a doctorate.
Another hurdle facing me as I applied to college was my mother. She was an uneducated woman who had never known anyone who was a college graduate. Every time I mentioned college, she blasted me with, "Knock that crazy idea out of your head! You are not going to college. Don't forget that you are blind!" When I was awarded scholarships, my mother thought the money was charity and refused to accept it. One of my high school teachers finally got her to understand that scholarships are not charity, but honors.
I had a dog guide when I began my freshman year. She was the the first dog guide on that campus. My dog set high standards in performance for later dog guides at the college to follow.
Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, with its enormous store of recorded college textbooks, had not yet been founded. I did not have the luxury of reading independently whenever it was convenient or necessary. A few textbooks were hand-transcribed into Braille for me by volunteers, and they were a valuable resource. The transcriber sent the book to me section by section as it was completed. However, if the instructor had the students skip a chapter, I might be out of luck. If we were told to skip ahead from chapter 3 to chapter 5, I might not yet have chapter 5 available because the transcriber was still working on chapter 4.
How did I complete my reading assignments? Certain students were assigned to read aloud to me and were paid by the New Jersey Commission for the Blind, the agency that sponsored me during college. Usually reading sessions lasted an hour, and frequently we did not have time to complete the assignment. One assignment could take at least two sessions with a reader. I had to schedule sessions at my readers' convenience. I could not ask a reader to come to my dormitory room at ten o'clock in the evening to complete the work before class next day. As a result, I was not always able to finish my reading on time. By listening carefully to lectures and class discussion, I learned some of the information contained in the material that I did not have a chance to read.
In class I took notes with a slate and stylus. Why did I not use a Perkins Brailler or an electronic or audio device to take notes? Those machines simply had not yet been invented. I used a typewriter when I did assignments that had to be submitted to my instructors. Why did I not use a computer? Computers were not yet available. Typing worked very well for me, but I had no way to review and proofread my work.
When a test was scheduled, I brought my portable typewriter and met with a reader in a room near the classroom. Most of our exams were essay tests. My reader read the questions one at a time and I typed each answer. We rarely had a multiple-choice test. When such a test was given, my reader read the questions to me and marked A, B, C, or D on the answer sheet according to my responses.
Shortly before commencement, one of my classmates said, "It must be great to be graduating from college without ever having taken a test!"
Surprised by her question, I asked, "What do you mean?"
"Every day when we have a test you are absent!" she answered. I clarified that on test days I was in another room, taking the test with my reader.
While I was an undergraduate, I learned about a blind student on campus who told her professor of English that she could not do a library research term paper because of her blindness. That semester, while I was in an English class with a different faculty member, I completed a library research paper. That same blind student sometimes would not turn in assignments, claiming, "My typewriter needs a new ribbon, and I can't change a ribbon. I had to wait for someone else to do it for me." Meanwhile, I was changing my own typewriter ribbons.
Some students then and even now capitalize on their blindness to avoid doing what other students are required to do. They feel no embarrassment about admitting that they cannot do this or that. When they are later employed, will they expect their employer to accept their whining and complaining about being blind?
A member of our graduating class later wrote me a letter telling of a vacancy in the school where she was teaching. I was hired.
I must admit that I do not sympathize with whiners among blind college students. Today students have many advantages that blind students in my generation never had. Besides computers for word processing, they have the Internet with access to books available for download. They have small electronic equipment for audio or Braille record keeping, and of course Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. Some colleges even have rooms with specialized equipment to enable blind students and students with other disabilities to succeed.
The attitude toward blind students was quite different when I was in school. At one university, my reader and I were at the card index searching for a book appropriate for my assignment. I whispered to my reader author names, topics, and specific titles for her to search for. The librarian came to us and, speaking more loudly than we had been talking, let us know that she wanted silence. When I asked where my reader and I could work without disturbing anyone, she answered, "That's your problem, not mine; but don't take the book outside this building." My reader and I ended up sitting on a staircase with students going up and down beside us. Experiences like that developed my ability to concentrate!
Another time, at a university medical library, the librarian evicted another student from his curtained carrel for me to have a place whenever I came. This sort of behavior is unfair to sighted students. One day, a male student fell in stride with me to ask, "Are you a med student?" I explained that I was not, but that I was doing research on retrolental fibroplasia (the condition known as retinopathy of prematurity, or ROP, today).
"Were you ever evicted because of me?" I asked. Yes, he had been, several times. He graciously exempted me from blame by saying, "That librarian is a bear in her management of a library."
I would enjoy being an undergraduate nowadays! Count your blessings today, students! Those of you who whine and complain, stop it!
by Sue Tillett
From the Editor: I met Sue Tillett the summer I was six years old at Camp Marcella, New Jersey's camp for blind children. I remember exploring a play area with her on our first afternoon and making one amazing discovery after another--finding a slide, a seesaw, a merry-go-round, and a giant rock that was great for climbing. With the spirit of adventure that I came to admire, Sue kept saying, "What's going to happen next?" In this article she shares a bit about what happened next as she was growing up in the sixties. Sue worked for nearly thirty years at a center for senior citizens, where she developed a program called LINK that matches seniors with high school students. She is a member of the Capital Chapter of the NFB of New Jersey.
When Debbie Stein asked me to write about my life as a blind teenager, I said to a friend, "Do I really want folks to know what a poor student I was and to read about my shady exploits?"
"Aw, come on, Sue," she said. "After all, it was the sixties." I was the one who suggested that Future Reflections include a series of articles about teens growing up in different eras. I guess I had to give it a go.
My parents knew nothing about how to raise a totally blind child. Fortunately for me, they set the gold standard for not being overprotective and for not letting me use my blindness as an excuse to get out of doing things at home. (I used it to the hilt in school though, something I am not particularly proud of today.) My parents kept up a united front, so we kids couldn't play one against the other. They gave us a lot of freedom if we didn't abuse it. We could roam all over town, as long as we showed up at six o'clock for dinner. That meant six o'clock--not one minute after six!
I was the middle child of three, with a brother nine months older and a sister five years younger. My brother taught me to wrestle, climb trees, and join in neighborhood games. Since I wasn't taught to use a cane, he walked me to and from school until I began walking with friends. My parents constantly got calls from neighbors saying, "Your daughter is up in our tree," or "Sue is on our garage roof!" My parents calmly told them to go back inside. "Don't look," they'd advise. "She'll get down the same way she got up there."
Like most blind students in New Jersey at that time, I started out in my neighborhood school. I disliked school from my first day. To me it was a hardship that simply had to be endured. Kids teased me; I had some learning difficulties; and teachers felt sorry for me and pushed me along, ignoring the problems.
When we were six and seven, my brother Jeff and I were allowed to take the train together from Princeton to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to visit our grandparents. When I was seven I was allowed to take the trip alone. In fifth grade, when my parents shipped me off to Perkins School for the Blind, I traveled from New Jersey to Boston and back on my own. Without a cane, I was completely at the mercy of conductors, bus drivers, flight attendants, the Travelers' Aid Society, and the kindness of strangers. At Perkins I was always being punished for the terrible things I did--standing up on the swings, sliding down the banisters, and sneaking off to my room for a little privacy.
In the fall of 1963 I left Perkins and returned home to attend high school. I began my freshman year with trepidation. After four homesick, unhappy years at Perkins, however, I was thrilled to be living at home again and delighted to be back in public school. I worked hard and even made the honor roll my first semester.
The Braille versions of my high school textbooks rarely arrived on time. Eventually I hired a couple of classmates as readers. I used a slate and stylus to take notes in class, and often asked classmates if I could share their notes. When I took a test I would type my answers on a manual typewriter, or I would have to stay after school and take the test orally with the teacher. My father read to me faithfully every single day of our life together. He gave me a wonderful appreciation for books, although I was an adult before I enjoyed reading on my own for pleasure. I was, and still am, a slow Braille reader, but I wouldn't trade Braille for anything. I can't imagine how I would have gotten through school or held my various jobs without it.
Outside of school I had an active social life. I joined a Mariner Scout troop and made some good friends. We had wonderful troop leaders. They got us involved in service projects, took us on camping and canoe trips, and taught us to sail. Our troop owned two sailboats and two canoes, and we spent many afternoons on a nearby lake. We all became good sailors. During my senior year, ten of us took a week-long cruise on a fifty-nine-foot schooner out of Mystic, Connecticut.
With my friends I was fearless and outgoing, but I was a totally different person in school. I never raised my hand if I didn't understand something and only rarely if I did. Despite all my activities and adventures, I was not completely comfortable in my skin as a blind person. I was ill at ease with anyone I didn't know, and I just wanted to be invisible.
By the time I started high school I still had had no mobility training at all. At first I depended on my brother and my friends to help me get from class to class. Eventually I learned the way, but even then I walked with a friend whenever I could. How much easier life would have been if I had had a cane in my hand!
Another blind student, Gaye, went through the public school system in Princeton along with me, and we were good friends. She was an excellent student, outgoing and talented, and I was convinced that people saw us as total opposites. A few months into our freshman year, the New Jersey Commission for the Blind finally decided that it was time for Gaye and me to learn cane travel. Neither of us knew anyone who used a cane. The only blind adults we had ever met were Agnes Allen, our beloved counselor from the commission during elementary school; and Peter Putnam, the famous writer and historian, who taught at Princeton University. Both of them traveled with dog guides. To Gaye and me, traveling with a cane was beyond weird! To us one thing was clear--neither of us was going to be caught dead walking around Princeton with a cane, looking blind! Somehow Gaye charmed our O&M instructor into taking us over to Trenton for the little bit of cane instruction we received.
At Christmas time my father announced that he was going to take a sabbatical, and in February we loaded up the station wagon and moved to Riverside, California. Out there ninth grade was the top grade of junior high, which felt to me like a real demotion. The school officials didn't think that a blind student belonged in public school. They said I had to go to a school on the other side of town because another blind student already attended there and the teachers were "more used to it." Most of the students didn't talk to me, and I didn't know how to talk to them. I did make one close friend in the Riverside Mariner Scout troop, and we became inseparable.
In the spring my father was offered a position as chairman of the Department of Political Science at UC/Riverside. I began writing frantic letters to my friends back home, begging them to ask their parents if I could live with them and finish at Princeton High. My mother happened to read one of those letters. That was the deciding factor, plus the fact that the school said I had to take drivers' ed in tenth grade because it was a requirement, even though it meant I would have no room in my schedule for biology.
After missing a semester, fitting back into my Princeton class was difficult. I lost my enthusiasm for school again, and I nearly failed biology because I refused to cut into an animal or touch anything that was dead. (Given my immoderate love of animals, you might think I would have jumped at the chance to get a Seeing Eye dog when I was sixteen. But once again I didn't want anything to attract attention to the fact that I was blind. I was in my mid-twenties before I took my first exhilarating walk with Velvet.) Also that year, I began to do a lot of babysitting for the children of my parents' friends. Years later, one of those mothers hired me to work with her at the Princeton Senior Resource Center, a job I held for twenty-seven years. The most memorable event of my sophomore year was that my parents allowed me to go to the Martin Luther King March on Washington with a friend who had been one of my counselors at New Jersey's camp for blind children.
During my junior year, my best friends Margy and Cheryl and I began hanging out with a friendly, fun-loving crowd, and we partied hearty almost every weekend. We were in love with all the folksingers of the sixties, and we went to New York and Philadelphia to catch them in concert whenever we could. One of my friends wrote to Bob Dylan and asked him if it would be okay for her to Braille the poems on the back of his albums for me. He wrote back and said that he would be honored if she would do that, and that he would think of us someday but he didn't know where or when. A year later we were at a concert in Philadelphia when we heard Dylan sing the lines, "Write Braille, go to jail, / Join the army if you fail," in his song "Subterranean Homesick Blues." We grabbed each other and screamed as only teenage girls can.
By senior year, we began to dabble in drugs and alcohol. Margy and I took up smoking, thinking we were cool. Margy pinched a book of blank passes from one of our teachers, and we began cutting classes regularly. We also perfected the art of cutting whole days of school. Sometimes we would tell our parents that we were going to ride my tandem bike and set out for one of our favorite haunts. We'd head out to play in the woods or sunbathe, or we'd stash the bike somewhere and take a bus to Trenton or New Brunswick to go shopping. My sister wrote my absentee excuses and forged my father's signature.
Most Thursday and Saturday nights I sneaked out my bedroom window to hang out with my friends until dawn. One night my mother saw the light from a cigarette go past the window of her bedroom. Suspicious, she came into my room and opened my window. The kids whispered, "Hey Sue, wanna go to the beach?" Still tucked in bed, I didn't dare breathe as my mother replied, "Certainly not!" and checked to see if I was asleep. Even with that close call, my nighttime antics were not discovered until the middle of April. I was grounded until after graduation, while my buddies were grounded for only two weeks.
Growing up in Princeton, surrounded by extremely bright family members and friends, I was always expected to go to college. However, I couldn't wait to put school behind me, and I had no aspirations for the future. Weren't my poor grades evidence that I wasn't smart enough for the academic fast track? My father began bringing home the dreaded college catalogues in which I had no interest. I figured that I would flunk out of any college foolish enough to accept me and would end up living at home for the rest of my life.
One night my parents came home from a dinner party and told me they had learned about Goddard College in Vermont. It was a school where students worked according to their own ability and were not given tests. There were no grades. The student and her professors wrote evaluations of her progress. Students were expected to find volunteer or paid work in the community related to their field of study. If the college didn't offer a course the student wanted, she could design her own course as an independent study. At last, here was a learning environment that made sense to me! Goddard focused on learning in a practical way rather than forcing students to absorb what others thought was important.
In the fall of 1966 I began my time at Goddard in a state of high excitement. Then, at the beginning of my third week on campus, my father died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of forty-three. His death was a crushing loss, and it transformed my view of life. Almost immediately I turned into a serious, hardworking student. The only time I missed a class was to tack days onto a long weekend and go home to check on my mother and sister. I missed the closeness of my high school chums, and I spent so much of that year grieving for my father that I had a hard time making new friends. Gradually, I did make some very close friends in college. I walked around on campus without a cane and depended on classmates whenever it was convenient. Few of the books I needed were available from the Library for the Blind or from Recording for the Blind. I paid students to read to me directly or to record my assignments on my big old reel-to-reel tape recorders. Because my Braillewriter and typewriter were so noisy, I got permission to work in the office of one of my professors. I would head over there after my friends went to bed and study until four in the morning.
Goddard was the drug capital of the universe. Most of the students used drugs almost every day, and they seemed to be using them as an escape. They weren't laughing and having fun the way we did back in high school. I thought, "If this is addiction, I don't want any part of it!" I was determined not to allow drugs to become a crutch in my life.
Goddard was tough if you didn't learn to take responsibility for your own life. Out of the sixty-five students who entered as freshmen with me, only twelve of us graduated together four years later.
There was another blind student at Goddard who was two years ahead of me. During my sophomore year, Myra and I decided that our social lives would be a lot more exciting if we owned a car. My friend Peter and I hitchhiked down to Wesleyan and, for twenty-five dollars, bought my brother's 1951 Chevy that had no reverse gear. We learned that you had to parallel park the Chevy uphill so that you could coast down backwards. Should I really admit that I drove it onto campus and waved at the guard in the gatehouse? No one would insure a car owned by two blind people. So in the wisdom of youth Myra and I decided that if they wouldn't insure the car we would drive it uninsured. The Chevy was only worth twenty-five dollars anyway. Myra used it with her friends and I used it with mine. We had a lot of fun with it that year, and we sold it to the local garage in the spring for twenty-five dollars.
At the beginning of my junior year, I decided that I desperately missed having an animal in my life. A friend and I hitchhiked to a farm and returned to campus with two Maine Coon kittens zipped into our jackets. I continued to work hard, but I was starting to feel like I needed a break from school. I applied for a work-study program in the occupational therapy department at the Institute for the Crippled and Disabled (ICD) in New York City.
In January I moved into an efficiency apartment on St. Mark’s Place with two friends and two kittens. The apartment was fifteen blocks from my job. I knew I would finally have to learn to use my cane, but I was terrified of the city traffic. At first I would walk just far enough to take the bus, and it took me a month to work up the courage to walk to and from work. Eventually I began to walk all over the city, and even to the Port Authority Terminal to go home for an occasional weekend, but I still would not use that cane in Princeton.
My roommates and I tutored kids in Harlem, went to Broadway shows, and attended concerts at the Fillmore East and the Apollo Theater. We protested the Vietnam War and wore our skirts unimaginably short. Our tiny apartment overflowed with Goddard friends, booze, and pot. We shared our food, our beds, and everything we owned.
When I returned to Goddard in the fall of 1969, I threw myself into practice teaching and researching and writing my senior thesis. The whole dorm turned out to watch Mehitabel deliver four beautiful kittens in my bottom bureau drawer. A week later, I went to my graduation, for the second time, barefoot.
For a while I was under the impression that, because of all the new technology, today's blind kids have it much easier than we did. I was disheartened to discover that they still have many of the same difficulties we faced growing up, such as not getting their books on time. The worst problem they face, of course, is that so few blind kids are being given Braille instruction.
Still, when I see a four-year-old at convention stepping out in front of her parents with a cane in her hand, I want to skip down the hall. I love to listen to our blind teens speak and hear how self-confident and empowered they are. I love to read Future Reflections and learn about all the wonderful opportunities our kids have in the Federation today. I love knowing that parents have organized and are reaching out to help each other raise their blind children. It really does "take a village" to do it well.
Looking back over those years, I am amazed that we all survived and grew up to be responsible adults. How lucky I am to have several of my wonderful friends from high school and college still in my life. My father would have been so interested and astounded by all the technology we have today. He would have been pleased to know that his wild, rebellious daughter did well in college, that she turned out okay in this big crazy world. And he might even have been just a little proud.
by Parnell Diggs
From the Editor: Parnell Diggs is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind. He is an attorney with a general practice in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. In this article he describes his experience as a blind teen growing up in the 1980s.
Shortly after I was born, my parents noticed that smiles and funny faces, gestures, bright colors, and cute stuffed animals did not attract my attention. I could track light, but I did not recognize the faces of relatives or notice when someone quietly approached my crib.
When I was about six months old, my grandmother saw a peculiar movement in my pupils. Her discovery launched me on a long odyssey of doctors' visits. Local ophthalmologists quickly referred us to regional programs, and ultimately my parents consulted with nationally known experts. Professionals agreed that my diagnosis was congenital blindness due to detached retinas. No one knew how or why my retinas had detached.
My parents were young and scared. They had no idea how to raise a blind child. They did not know about the National Federation of the Blind, and they thought that blindness was the worst thing that could happen to anyone. They had met only one blind person before, a piano tuner who lived in their small southern hometown. He shuffled from place to place without a cane or a dog guide, and everyone in town knew to watch out for him. My parents did not want me to turn out the way he had.
In the fall of 1975 I entered first grade in the public school system of Charlotte, North Carolina. A few weeks after school started, my parents and I flew to Boston, where I underwent a relatively new procedure called laser surgery. Today laser treatments are available in communities throughout the country, but during the seventies only a few hospitals offered this option. I had two unsuccessful laser surgeries, one while I was in first grade and one a year later. By the time I finished second grade, it was clear that nothing could be done to give me sight.
Once they realized that I would never be able to see, my parents struggled toward their own philosophy of blindness. As far as they knew, blind people did not vacuum, make beds, wash dishes, rake the yard, or take out the trash. They reasoned that although I couldn't see, I did not have to "live like a blind person." They resolved to teach me all of the things that they believed blind people didn't do. If I learned to be independent, my parents hoped that I would not have a life like the shuffling blind man from their hometown.
At home my parents expected me to do my share of household chores. They also encouraged me to play outside. I rode bikes and played football. At the same time, my parents tried to prevent me from behaving in any way that called attention to my blindness. They sent me the clear message that my blindness was shameful and ought to be hidden whenever possible. "Don't put your hands out; it looks blind," they often told me. I was warned not to touch things to find out what they were, even though exploration by touch would have given me invaluable information.
My parents were convinced that if I avoided looking blind I would be accepted as "normal." Unfortunately, however, few sighted children or adults regarded me as normal at all. Even my friends and their parents treated me differently from the way they treated my sighted peers. One Halloween night, for example, when I was still very young, I went trick-or-treating with some friends. We were being supervised by their parents. I didn't have a cane at that point in my life, and I tripped over a curb and almost fell. After that minor mishap the parents in the group insisted that I trick-or-treat with my mask off--as if I would see better without it. When we were unsupervised after school, my playmates sometimes picked on me as the only blind kid on the playground.
As we grew, my younger brother, Holland, began to notice how our peers perceived me. He decided that if I learned to look sighted, perhaps I would fit in more easily. He set out to teach me how to pretend to look around at things and even how to use certain hand gestures to show my dissatisfaction with others.
I remember walking on the beach at night, as a teenager, holding the end of a wire in my hand. Holland held the other end so that no one would see me holding his arm. Incidentally, let me confess that the wire was my idea. We were looking for girls, of course, and most girls did not think it was cool to date a blind guy. (I didn't know it then, but those days would pass quickly. But back to the story.)
By the time I reached tenth grade, I had discovered a talent for singing and playing guitar. I excelled in the chorus at my high school and made the South Carolina Honors All-State Chorus with one of the better scores among tenors across the state. On the day of our concert, a buddy managed to convince me that my name had inadvertently been left off the program. No one disputed his claim, and I wonder to this day if he was pulling my leg. I still don't know whether the other students felt pressured not to ruin the gag. Since I couldn't read the printed program, I couldn't verify his claim, so I took his word for it.
Later that year, Holland and I auditioned for our school's production of The Music Man. We had rehearsals four times a week. I was also on the wrestling team. I found that I had very little time for homework. I attended wrestling practice in the afternoon, went home to shower, and headed out to play practice.
Sadly, no one insisted that I concern myself with taking books home or even carrying them to class. I slid by as much as the world would let me. Most of my books were audio recordings, and I had very little exposure to Braille during junior high and high school. Fortunately, I had learned Braille in first grade and used it throughout elementary school. I was able to pick it up again when I needed it in college.
It is very important to insist that blind students work as hard as their sighted peers in school. Blind students should be treated like typical students their age. I was allowed to coast as a teenager, and I milked my blindness to get out of schoolwork as often as I could. As a parent or teacher, don't fall for it!
When I was sixteen, I dropped wrestling and All-State Chorus because I had been hired to sing and play guitar at a restaurant in Columbia, South Carolina. (We relocated to Columbia when my father enrolled in law school there.) While my sighted peers were ringing up groceries at the local supermarket for $3.35 an hour, I earned two hundred dollars a week singing in a lounge three hours a night. Occasionally, a patron offered to buy me a drink, but at sixteen I was too young to accept. My age didn't stop me from learning the music of all of the favorite artists of my parents' generation: Simon and Garfunkel, Harry Chapin, Cat Stevens, and many others.
As a singer I was popular enough to be invited to perform at school pep rallies and at my high school graduation. However, I was never invited to those weekend parties I always heard about on Monday mornings. At sixteen and seventeen, most girls still thought it was awkward to be seen socializing with me too closely. Nevertheless, by the time I reached eleventh grade, I had a girlfriend who was a freshman at the University of South Carolina. Kim Gossett graduated from my high school at the end of my tenth-grade year. We began dating in May, just in time for me to attend her senior prom. I went to the prom as a high school sophomore, which put me several jumps ahead of most of my sighted peers.
Although I tended to have issues with girls, most boys were not concerned about any social consequences of hanging out with a blind guy. I had my share of friends throughout school. I attended sleepovers, had friends over to my house, went to ball games, and rough-housed with the best of them.
I graduated from Irmo High School in 1987 and enrolled at the University of South Carolina. USC has a sprawling urban campus with lots of traffic and plenty of busy street crossings. I decided that a long white cane would be helpful if I planned to live through college. I also started using Braille when I studied for my exams. Today Braille is an invaluable tool in my law practice in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
As a member of the national board of the NFB, I have the privilege of traveling across the country to speak with groups about blindness. I believe that the average blind child has the potential to become anything he or she wants to become. Sometimes blind children make mistakes, just as sighted children do. Like their sighted peers, blind kids and teens must have the opportunity to explore the world and grow from their mistakes as well as their successes. Blind children must be encouraged to put their hands out and explore. They need to absorb the message that it's okay to be blind.
by Barbara Mathews
Reprinted from Future Reflections, Special Issue: Cane Travel and Independence, Vol. 27 No. 2
From the Editor: Barbara Mathews lives in Santa Monica, California, and serves on the board of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). In the years since this article first appeared, Barbara's daughter Kyra has been an active, successful high school student.
My daughter, Kyra Sweeney, will start high school in a few months. It's a huge school with three thousand students and multiple buildings spread out over a couple of acres, so mobility is on our minds. We all like to tout our children's skills and accomplishments (and implicitly, I suppose, our own). Well, here's an admission: mobility is not Kyra's greatest skill.
We have a couple of excuses. One is that she seems to have inherited my sense of direction, or lack thereof. Those "You are Here" signs always confuse me. At our vacation home in the mountains, I swear the sun rises in the west. Another reason for Kyra's weakness in mobility is even harder to admit. It's that we're busy. We're often in a hurry. It's usually quicker just to guide her than to insist that she walk by herself.
Nonetheless, I'm really not concerned about how Kyra will get around in high school. With the help of the NFB, we have been preparing for a long time. Here are some steps along the way that I remember most vividly.
Wake-Up Call at Convention
When Kyra was four, we attended the NFB national convention in Dallas. It took place in a big hotel in the middle of the Dallas-Forth Worth Airport. The hotel is no longer there, but some readers may remember the long, long hallway that connected the two towers. We were walking down that hallway one day, and Kyra was holding my hand. Along came a blind mom and her blind daughter, who was probably under two years old. They were not holding hands. The daughter walked independently using a cane. She seemed to be having fun walking by herself. As they passed us, I realized I was doing something wrong. Kyra was already behind where she should be. Ever since that day, Kyra has not left the house without her cane.
Big Step into Middle School
Three years ago we were preparing for Kyra's transition to middle school. It was a big, sprawling school with twelve hundred kids. She was coming from a small elementary school where she had more help than she needed or we wanted her to have from staff and friends.
Three things made a difference as we moved her toward greater independence. First, we developed an IEP goal stating that Kyra would have mobility lessons on campus during the summer. She went to the school every day during the week before classes started so she could learn her way around. Second, we had a goal written into the IEP that she would get her class schedule before school started. Her mobility lessons could include learning the routes to her specific classes. For reasons that escape me, getting the class schedule early is always harder than it should be. But we kept after the counselor and got the schedule a bit early. Finally, and most important, Kyra was motivated to learn. She did not want an aide or classmate to guide her from class to class.
I will never forget the first day I dropped Kyra off and watched her walk by herself down a long outdoor corridor. I wondered if she would remember where to make the left turn toward her classroom. She did. I was very proud.
Kyra recently returned from her eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C. Together with two good friends she boarded the plane to come home. The flight attendant tried to take her cane, saying, "Your nice friends can help you." They all laughed; Kyra said, "No, thank you," and they proceeded down the aisle. When she told me the story I said, "You should have said, 'They won't be able to help me if they're dead.'" But we agreed that might have sounded a little harsh. I was really thinking, "All those times I embarrassed even myself by insisting that she keep the cane with her--it paid off! The lesson sank in!" Beyond that, even her friends get it.
We have not depended entirely on school mobility lessons to teach travel skills. Summer is a great time to take advantage of other learning opportunities. When Kyra was ten she spent the first of three summers at Buddy Camp at BLIND, Inc., the NFB training center in Minneapolis. This summer she plans to go to the middle school program at another NFB center, the Colorado Center for the Blind. These programs are great places for kids to boost mobility skills and to make friends as well.
Have your child start using the cane when she or he is very young. It will become a habit before your child realizes it's "different."
Convey a positive attitude about the cane. Help the people around your child understand that the cane is not only essential; it's a symbol of independence and pride. When people call Kyra's cane "her stick," I say (politely, I hope) that it's called a cane. Then I respond to whatever point they've raised.
Calling a cane by the proper term is a matter of respect. It's also a matter of remembering that teaching others is part of changing what it means to be blind. Our children are ambassadors to the sighted from the blind community.
There's a story about an old man walking through the forest. He sees a young man cutting down trees for firewood. The old man watches for a while and says, "If you'd sharpen that saw you could get the job done faster and better." The young man responds, "I don't have time to sharpen the saw. I have to get all this wood cut by sundown." When we are impatient, when we don't take the time to let our children learn and explore by moving independently, we're not thinking logically about the future.
Be a pest about mobility lessons and "cane rights." Sometimes it's hard to keep after educators. It takes time to learn about your rights. But your efforts will be worthwhile. You can model self-advocacy skills that your child will need when she or he leaves home.
Incidentally, no school or mobility instructor has the right to tell your child what kind of cane to use or when she/he may use it. Obtain the cane (or canes--having a spare comes in handy) yourself. You can get a cane free of charge from the NFB. If the mobility instructor insists on teaching with a different type of cane during lessons, you can decide whether to fight it or not. If the instructor tries to tell you what kind of cane your child should use outside of lessons, you can laugh and say, "No, thank you." By the way (and this is especially important in the teen years) Kyra's friends have opinions on which canes are cool. The sleek long white NFB cane is cool; those short heavy canes are not.
Kyra's next IEP meeting is coming up soon, and I have requested that an administrator from the high school be present. We want to include provisions for getting her class schedule early and having mobility lessons on campus before school opens. I'm prepared to work through the summer to make sure the promises are kept. At 7:00 AM on September 2 I plan to drop off Kyra at school. I will watch her head off to her first class--probably Marching Band--with her backpack, her lunch, her flute, and her cane.
by Michal Nowicki
From the Editor: Michal Nowicki is a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He speaks Polish, Russian, and Spanish and plans to become a translator.
On an ordinary evening in October 2008, I sat on my bed at the Transitional Living Center at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired (ISVI) in Jacksonville, Illinois. With the help of one of the residential care workers, I had just finished packing my belongings. I had spent nine emotionally devastating weeks at the school, and I had finally convinced my parents that I could not bear the psychological burden any longer. Tomorrow I would leave Jacksonville and return home for good.
Fortunately, as the hours passed, I asked myself the most important question of my life. If I withdrew from ISVI now, would I ever gather the strength to pursue independence training again? Mobility was one of my most serious weaknesses, and I knew that I had a remarkable O&M instructor at ISVI, the only one who had ever emphasized transferable skills over route travel. I realized that giving up on ISVI would almost certainly destroy whatever chance I had to become self-sufficient. After an excruciating inner struggle highlighted by an anxiety attack, I decided to make one final attempt to face the challenge. The decision I made that night transformed every aspect of my life. It allowed me to become independent and to build my self-esteem in dramatic ways.
It is hard to convey the extent of my progress over the past three years. In the areas of daily living skills and orientation and mobility, I was probably at the level of a five-year-old child when I arrived in Jacksonville. As a high school student I felt comfortable with indoor travel, but when my O&M specialist tried to point out the difference between parallel and perpendicular traffic, her explanation sounded to me as if she were speaking a language I didn't know. I knew so little about the kitchen that one could almost conclude I had never heard the word. I did not know how to make a sandwich, cut food, or use a microwave, let alone prepare complex meals. As a high school senior I never imagined that one day I would sort and pick out my own clothes and even wash them--tasks that are routine for me today. In fact, I only mastered the skill of putting a shirt on a hanger after several months of practice.
My dependence on others for my everyday needs stems from the fact that I grew up as an only child with very overprotective parents and grandparents. Their attitude was at least partially influenced by their Polish heritage; they were raised in a culture where the opportunities for blind people were extremely limited. As my high school graduation approached, my teachers of the visually impaired urged me to seek transitional training at ISVI. I feared the separation from my family, but I understood that my situation would never change as long as I lived with my parents. I would never be able to pursue a postsecondary education and/or find a job unless I gained basic life skills.
My first two months of training at ISVI seemed like psychological torture. I felt utterly unable to meet the high expectations of my teachers. For example, while I was still learning to select clothes to wear on the following day, my life management teacher attempted to show me the entire laundry process--how to separate light-colored clothes from dark ones, operate washers and dryers, and fold and organize clothes. I was extremely lonely. At a time when I desperately needed emotional support, the students and staff members were all strangers and my parents were two hundred miles away. Sometimes I felt like an inmate in a Soviet labor camp. I suffered frequent emotional breakdowns, culminating in abrupt panic attacks. In fact, my O&M instructor eventually told me that he planned each of our lessons as if it were the last time he would see me. He was legitimately concerned that I might drop out at any time.
I entered the transitional living program at ISVI to learn to perform some specific tasks, such as how to cross streets safely and how to manage money. When I graduated after one academic year, not only had I learned these skills, but I also had gained strategies for approaching many unfamiliar situations. The ISVI instructors were well aware that it is not possible to prepare a student for every obstacle he or she may someday encounter. Nearly all of these teachers stressed the importance of problem-solving skills that can be applied under diverse circumstances. When teaching me a route or neighborhood, my O&M instructor would not tell me what type of intersection I was approaching. Instead, he encouraged me to apply my knowledge of traffic patterns. This was a technique that I could utilize at any intersection, provided that some vehicles were passing by.
My ISVI instructors also underlined the importance of self-advocacy, another area where I made significant improvement. As my life management teacher noted, all humans require assistance from others. In order to ensure that their needs are properly addressed, they must express them clearly. I understood my needs and limitations, but I used to feel reluctance and discomfort each time I had to seek information or ask for help from a stranger, especially by phone. Thanks to the transitional living program, however, I have lost those fears, and can now express my needs without distress.
Some of my instructors at ISVI worried that spending only one year at the school would not reverse nearly two decades of dependence on others in virtually every aspect of life. They were very right, but the program gave me the momentum I needed to keep moving forward. My education at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) provided an excellent opportunity for me to apply and expand upon the skills I began to develop in Jacksonville. Although I received adequate training in street travel, as well as in transferable skills pertaining to orientation on a college campus, central Illinois does not have a fixed-stop public transit system. When I left ISVI I still was not proficient in using buses, trains, and subways. UIC is located in the heart of a city with one of the most extensive public transportation systems in the United States. I quickly learned to take full advantage of the city's buses and trains, as well as the university's campus shuttle bus. Today I rely on a public bus as I travel daily between the campus and my apartment. The Blue Line of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) serves as my travel pass to downtown Chicago.
My self-advocacy and problem-solving skills have proved vital to my college success. I no longer have a teacher of the visually impaired or a case manager as I did through high school. The Disability Resource Center plays a major role in providing me with necessary accommodations such as course materials in an accessible format. Nevertheless, it is my responsibility to communicate with my professors and teaching assistants and to make sure that I receive the accommodations I need. Self-advocacy is as vital to success in college as a high grade point average.
Likewise, problem-solving strategies have proved very useful to me in coping with minor and major challenges. I can look for a cue or landmark when I get lost on campus, and I can figure out how to complete an assignment when I don't have it in an accessible format. When the campus bus routes were completely restructured after my freshman year, I was forced to explore alternative ways of getting to my classes.
I know I made the right choice when I decided to postpone higher education for a year to undergo intensive training in blindness skills. Without this training, I could not have survived a single semester in college, despite the fact that I graduated from high school with a 4.0 grade point average. I would not have been able to find any of my classroom buildings independently, since I had almost no experience with outdoor travel before I went to Jacksonville. Without the confidence to express my needs, most likely I would not have been able to ensure that my accommodations were provided. Despite my initial suffering, the transitional living program equipped me with the techniques necessary for success at the university level and empowered me with skills that I can apply in the workforce. On that agonizing night at ISVI I made the most important decision of my life.
by Maureen Lamperis
From the Editor: Maureen Lamperis and her son Joe were among the speakers at the rally following the March for Independence at the NFB convention in 2009. In this article Maureen writes about Joe's challenges and his journey toward independence.
My eighteen-year-old son, Joseph, has been riding the transition train for a long time now. He spends most of his day learning in a classroom for visually impaired students within a regular public high school. When he was diagnosed at birth with bilateral anophthalmia, our main concern for Joey was his lack of vision. We dug in and searched for resources on blindness. We live in the Chicago area, and we were pleasantly surprised to discover many valuable resources close to home. We immediately enrolled Joey in our county's parent-infant education program, and later he attended the school designated for children who need vision services.
Joey easily caught onto the Braille code, and he learned to read early on. He embarked on cane travel with eagerness. However, his social behaviors were often inappropriate, and he struggled with comprehension. We learned that he faced a challenge in addition to his blindness--he had a disorder that placed him on the autism spectrum. When we dealt with blindness alone, we felt that the answers were very straightforward. With this new diagnosis, the answers were far from clear.
As Joe grew older and the time drew near for transition from school to employment, we realized that we had to take a more aggressive approach toward some of his behaviors. Behavior that passed as funny or cute in a child would not be acceptable in the adult world of work. For Joe, the transition train started up as early as grade school.
Preparing for Work
Many of Joe's teachers had the wisdom to look ahead and prepare him for the future by building job-related skills. Joe enjoyed his first work experience when he helped run a movie theater within the school, selling tickets, popcorn, and beverages. He learned to take his job responsibilities seriously because he received a paycheck for prizes at the end of his calculated pay period. Other in-school opportunities included working in the school store, cleaning the teachers' lounge, and making jewelry to sell for a fundraiser. During middle school Joe and his classmates ran a snack shop, dividing up all of the tasks from start to finish. Each job taught valuable skills that Joe needed for his future.
When Joe entered high school, the transition train picked up speed. Planning and teaching focused on the future more than ever. What would Joe like to do? How did we envision him as an adult? We addressed these questions at each IEP meeting. Joe's teachers, transition planner, and job coach worked together to design job-related activities throughout his day. He traveled back to his old grade school to read aloud to the kindergarteners in the vision program. He also answered many questions from students about technology for the blind--his area of expertise. At school he prepared and served breakfast at Breakfast Club each morning during first period.
At times the transition train seemed to bog down, and we felt real frustration. Joe made more than one unsuccessful attempt to take an online computer certification course. It was just too much of a challenge for him at that time. All of us learned from the experience, and it helped us map out some new directions.
Learning Outside School
A great deal of transition preparation takes place for Joe outside school. At home he tries to be as independent as possible. He sets his alarm each morning, showers in a timely fashion, and takes care of personal hygiene before school. He learned to select clothing appropriate for various activities and then to care for his clothes himself. Running the washer and dryer is one of his favorite chores.
Sometimes allowing natural consequences to occur has been more effective than my harping and reminders. Joe knows that the bus driver is unhappy if he isn't ready and makes him wait. If Joe spills the milk he gets an opportunity to practice cleanup. If he leaves his equipment in the wrong place, his baby brother has a chance to grab it. Good cane use minimizes his bumps and bruises. Communicating clearly on the telephone gets the fastest results.
Joe has had more than thirty-five different bus drivers since he started going to school. By now he has learned to give expert directions to his home. He was especially motivated after the day a driver dropped him off and left him at the wrong address!
Safe travel was an important area for us to explore with Joe. For two years Joe participated in FreedomLink, a transitions program for blind teens sponsored by the NFB of Illinois. At the group's monthly meetings he practiced a variety of travel modes within the city. With blind mentors he took subways and elevated trains, city buses, Metra trains, and taxis. He visited many exciting places in Chicago, having fun while he learned valuable tips on daily living. He became more confident in using public transportation, and he subsequently took the train downtown from our suburb by himself!
Two summers ago Joe was hired as part of an Illinois student employment project. His first real job interview was such a learning opportunity! He prepared for every aspect of the experience, from choosing his attire to giving the appropriate handshake. On the job he helped with clerical tasks. He didn't get to use the computer as he had hoped, but this disappointment taught him flexibility and the importance of following his supervisor's direction. Best of all, he independently took a public bus and a taxi back and forth to his workplace. He learned to get from the curb to the revolving doors, from the doors to the elevator bank, and up to his office. He even found his way when the driver unexpectedly left him off at a different drop-off location.
No Polished Ending
At times the prospect of transition seems overwhelming. Sometimes I only see what Joe needs to work on, his areas for improvement. Too often I fail to recognize how far he has come already. When I reflect on the many goals Joe has reached, I am truly amazed.
I have come to realize that the transition process does not have a tidy little beginning and a perfectly polished ending. It begins gradually as the child learns to take on small responsibilities. We are sometimes impatient, wanting to reach our goals immediately. It takes patience and perseverance to continue riding the transition train, but if one stays on track the rewards are great!
by Joanne Laurent, MA, COMS
From the Editor: Joanne Laurent is an ACVREP-certified orientation and mobility instructor. Her teaching experiences include both adult services for the blind and K-12 school children. She has an unusually high success rate with people who have been labeled "spatially challenged" or "cognitively impaired." Her business, Highest Expectations and Adaptive Travel Skills Instruction for the Blind, can be found online at <www.blindcoach.com> .
I have taught cane travel and daily living skills for over twelve years. Frequently I am called upon to perform vision assessments of transition teens who have failed to receive an adequate education. I am amazed and ashamed when I discover that professionals have mislabeled their blindness as some variation of cognitive impairment. It's hard to believe such atrocious errors still happen in our civilized society. We claim to value education above all else, but I witness this heart-wrenching oversight again and again. Blind and visually impaired children who struggle through school without proper training, equipment, and accommodations are often incorrectly labeled as being cognitively impaired or learning disabled. The results are illiteracy and helplessness that easily could be prevented by teaching these children Braille and the other adaptive skills of blindness. Sadly, many of these children are destined to live limited and possibly even custodial lives.
I have trained many teens and young adults who looked as though they would spend their days in assisted living situations. Their daily living and academic skills were so profoundly substandard that doctors, teachers, administrators, and even their own parents considered them to be mentally incompetent. Many of these students, who were the victims of inferior training, have been rehabilitated successfully. They may continue to receive assistance in a few areas such as financial management, but are otherwise living independently in their own houses or apartments. Many of them are now employed.
Starting with a Solid Foundation
I once visited a thirty-year-old man in a semi-assisted living situation. He wanted to learn to go to the store. My assessment revealed that he had poor orientation inside his own home and was unable to get to his mailbox. As I read the case notes, I discovered that he had spent a few years at a school for the blind and later had completed training at an adult rehabilitation center. In addition, an itinerant O&M instructor had attempted to teach him how to get to the store. The instructor concluded that it was not possible to teach this man to travel anywhere. The case notes stated that he was "unable to generalize information."
I am convinced that when a willing student is unsuccessful, a change in teaching methods will significantly boost skill mastery 98 percent of the time. My motto is, "If you can't learn it, I'm not teaching it right." Since this man truly wanted to learn, I jumped in with gusto. Sure, there were frustrating moments. But once I figured out our problems were related to communication and not to any mental incompetence, progress began.
I must admit that it took me quite a few lessons before I figured out why this student was behaving so inconsistently. I finally realized that he didn't understand what I was asking him to do, yet he attempted to follow my instructions unquestioningly in order to please me. If I asked him to walk two blocks in a straight line, he'd respond by taking off with complete confidence. Soon he would begin making turns or doing other strange things. Sometimes the behavior I observed appeared to be defiant and uncooperative. But the student approached each lesson with eagerness. His manner forced me to find another explanation for his seemingly uncooperative conduct.
Eventually I discovered that this thirty-year-old man did not understand terminology that I assumed would be basic for anyone who had received a lifetime of orientation and mobility lessons. He did not know the meaning of words such as block, curb, or corner. He was unable to let me know that the language I used was meaningless to him. Once I taught him some of the basic concepts one might teach to a small child, our lessons progressed nicely. After five years of two or three lessons a week, he lives independently. After much struggle and hard work, he achieved his dream of getting a dog guide.
The case notes had claimed that this man was unable to generalize. Yet his apparent inability had little to do with his mental capacity. He simply had no experience or foundation upon which to build new information. Once a foundation was in place, practice and repetition helped him bring a sense of order and meaning to each new experience.
At first we struggled with very simple routes. We progressed to more complicated routes and even routes involving multiple bus transfers. Today he plans his own bus routes and experiments with travel to new places. Occasionally he calls me and requests help learning to get to a new location. The lesson is quick because he can relate what I describe to an array of past experiences. He usually meets me at a bus stop in front of the desired location. He needs only ten or fifteen minutes of help to explore an unusual situation that has him stumped, such as a business that is far from the street or set at an odd angle. Other than seeking occasional sighted assistance to learn about an unusual configuration, this man who was labeled "unable to generalize" is truly an independent traveler. He lives alone in his own house, cares for and enjoys the companionship of his dog, and has developed a social life.
A twenty-year-old man enjoyed a similar happy outcome. The case notes said that he was unable to understand spatial concepts and would never be able to travel. When I began to work with this young man, he lived with his parents and was completely incapable of finding his way around his own house. He was accustomed to having his food cut up for him and did not know that frozen peas were stored in a place called a freezer. At the same time, he was a proficient Braille reader and a computer genius. He was well-mannered and articulate. I was certain that no learning disorder existed, in spite of reports to the contrary. With the help and support of a wonderful parent who allowed the learning process to develop, this student is now working and living independently (with support in handling a few things like finances). He has friends for the first time in his life.
I feel very fortunate to have worked for an outstanding agency that allowed me the necessary training time to help these and other students. Ordinarily, blind rehabilitation programs cannot afford the luxury of time to remediate a lifetime of low expectations. These students need help building skills necessary in nearly every area of life. It should not be necessary for an adaptive living skills teacher to teach young adults how to tell time, count change, and use fractions so they can follow a recipe. Sometimes, however, these basic academic skills must become part of the rehabilitation training program. My success in teaching these concepts within the limited time frame available has shown me again and again that no cognitive impairment was present. These students are simply blind, and thus they grew up with low expectations. My successful results with this overlooked group are considered to be happy endings. Yet I am saddened, knowing that these students could have had so much more freedom and happiness if only they could reclaim the first eighteen years of life experiences that were stolen from them by the "experts."
"She Doesn't Need a Cane--She Just Needs to Look Where She's Going!"
Society places a very high value on vision. For centuries blindness has aroused pity and denoted shame, poverty, and incompetence. The stigma of blindness affects children as well as adults. It is passed down to children by their parents, teachers, and doctors. Adults continually praise any ability to see a target object. "Can you see that?" "Keep trying!" "That's great, Timmy! You saw it!" Children quickly learn that seeing pleases people and not seeing troubles them. They feign being sighted and get by the best they can.
An astonishing number of blind people willingly choose to hide their vision loss. They present themselves as sighted due to the negative public perception that is associated with blindness. Most people who pretend to be sighted have not been exposed to proper training and opportunity; a large percentage grow to love adaptive devices and techniques once they experience the freedom that comes with using these tools.
Children and adults can be masters at hiding significant visual impairments. They may appear to function well because they have learned to compensate and adapt, but they tend to avoid unfamiliar situations as much as possible. A student may appear to travel freely and to see and understand classroom dynamics, but he or she often experiences unnoticed difficulties and/or anxiety.
Visual impairment can easily be overlooked in children who work hard to fit in and appear "normal." I recall performing a vision assessment on a nine-year-old girl. She was crafty about suggesting the best routes for traveling throughout her school. With the congenial demeanor of a hostess, she helped me find my way around during my first visit. She traveled freely and easily without any indication that she needed a cane. However, I soon realized that she was avoiding stairs. When I asked her about my suspicions, she admitted that she was afraid of stairs because of her poor vision. She could ascend and descend some familiar staircases without appearing disabled, but her anxiety was an unnecessary source of discomfort that she was hiding from her teachers. Although it was no secret to the school staff that she was legally blind, her poor travel vision had gone unnoticed. Sometimes she completely missed seeing unexpected drop-offs and surface changes. She was unsafe walking near stairs and drop-offs without a cane, and she was alone with her distress.
In class this child could not see the board from her seat. She was expected to keep up with the class by the repetitive action of focusing her monocular on the board, releasing the focus to stop and write a note, and then focusing up on the board again. She could see only a few letters or words at a glance, and her narrow field of vision caused a severe reading hardship. Tragically, her blindness won her the label "slow learner." All she needed in order to thrive were some reasonable accommodations. She needed an advocate to ensure that she could sit closer to the board and get Braille training added to her IEP.
More Kids Need to Learn Braille!
I work with a gut-wrenching number of young adults who were denied the opportunity to learn Braille as children. While performing preliminary low-vision assessments to determine training needs, I encounter far too many recent or soon-to-be high school graduates who lack basic literacy skills. When I am told that print is a student's reading medium, I assess his or her ability to read printed material using whatever aids are currently available. First I establish that the student can see the printed text, bring it into focus, and recognize it. If the student is able to see the print but cannot read it, I might ask him to write something such as, "Dear John, How are you today?" with an easy-to-see bold pen. Sometimes as he struggles to write I make the horrifying discovery that yet another blind child was pushed through the school system with no knowledge of the written word. I learn that he is unable to spell any simple words and has no knowledge of letter-writing format. So I help him out with the spelling--because I'm trying to determine what he can see, not his spelling ability. As I spell out, "D-E-A-R J-O-H-N comma" I have had graduating seniors ask me, "What's a comma?" and "What's a question mark?" Since all properly educated blind people fully understand spelling and punctuation, I feel compelled to inquire why these children are being allowed to graduate. I always hear the same story: "He's cognitively impaired," or "She's learning disabled." If I actually believed those statements, I could say that this situation is not my business. But when a whole life has been destroyed because blindness was misdiagnosed as low intelligence, it is my business!
Defeating the Label
I have spent hours observing appropriate behavior and engaging in intelligent conversation with students who carry the "cognitively impaired" label. Many of them excel in several intellectual areas and have mechanical or computer skills that far exceed my comprehension. I do not accept that the school's failure to educate them is due to their inability to learn. These children should have been taught to use Braille as their primary reading method.
Children can only learn skills such as reading and writing through practice. "Helping" by reading their printed homework questions to them does not constitute practice or lead to a proper education. Children will avoid reading when it is difficult or not enjoyable. If they avoid reading they will never learn to read effectively. Dr. Ruby Ryles points out that reading must be pleasurable if we are to expect a child to read the quantities of material necessary to acquire good reading skills. "To be able to be literate," she states, "our children must physically read the same amount of material as sighted kids." She adds that if print reading speed "is not up to snuff, you need to be looking at Braille" (Ryles, 2004).
Please Don't Wait!
If vision loss is detected in a child of any age, a specialist in blind rehabilitation should be contacted as soon as possible. Parents must learn how to ensure that their babies and children grow up to be well-educated, competent, happy, successful adults who fully participate in life. If there is the slightest concern that a visual dysfunction may be occurring, please request a consultation with a rehabilitation specialist for the blind and an IEP or IFSP advocate. The National Federation of the Blind will help you find an advocate and will explain IFSP (for babies) and IEP (for children age three and up). It is vitally important that parents become informed of all rehabilitation options. The quality of a child's entire life may depend on the decision that is made in the snapshot moment of one person's observation and recommendation.
Ryles, R, PhD, (2004, 1992). Is your child age-appropriate? Future Reflections, Vol. 11, No. 5, Convention 1992.
by Kayleigh Joiner
From the Editor: Kayleigh Joiner is a freshman at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, Texas. She was the recipient of a 2010 NFB National Scholarship.
As I approached the Louisiana Center for the Blind, housed in a square, two-story, French colonial building, I felt a rush of anticipation. This was the place where I would spend the next six months. I could hear traffic whizzing past on the nearby street, and every few hours the loud whistle of a train.
Every student attended five classes: Braille, computer, cane travel, industrial arts (shop), and kitchen/home management. Classes were held Monday through Friday from eight to five. People who had some residual vision were required to wear sleep shades in order to learn how to do things without relying on their vision. The idea was that when the student removed the sleep shade, he or she would be able to use a combination of vision and alternative techniques to accomplish tasks.
During the first few days at the center we were assessed on our knowledge so the instructors would know where to begin. Each of us had our own individual schedule. My day began with Braille from eight to nine. Then I went to a computer class from nine to ten. Following computer I had cane travel from ten to noon. We had an hour lunch break. From one to three I had industrial arts class, and I ended the day with kitchen/home management from three to five.
All of us students lived in apartments. The apartment complex was about a mile away from the center. This was my first experience living in an apartment and having to buy and cook my own food. It took some getting used to, but eventually I got into a routine. Students usually walked to and from the center every morning and evening.
My cane travel instructor was Mrs. Arlene. She was about five feet tall, had long white hair and talked with a northern accent. The first thing she went over with me was how to use my cane properly. We worked on my cane technique for about a week. Then I moved on to learn the route back and forth to my apartment. For several weeks I worked with Mrs. Arlene out in the hot sun. At first I walked very slowly and cautiously when I traveled outside with my cane. As we walked the route I explained to Mrs. Arlene what street came next and when I needed to turn.
Soon enough Mrs. Arlene announced that today I would be doing the route independently. I was quite nervous and frightened. I recall tearing up because I was so afraid. My previous cane instructor, who taught me in grade school and high school, had always followed behind me when I did assignments for her. She had me rely on my residual vision when I crossed streets or found house addresses. I had never done anything completely on my own before, and the idea was very frightening. I didn't have the confidence to believe that I could complete the route successfully on my own.
With the route mapped out in my mind, I set off on the journey. At first I got a little bit off track, but I listened to the traffic around me and was able to get back to where I needed to be. When I returned to Mrs. Arlene, I felt accomplished and proud. I had really done it. This was my first step toward gaining confidence in myself.
Getting up to Speed
Mr. Whittle, my Braille instructor, talked with a southern accent. He had a round stomach and short gray hair. During my assessment he timed my Braille reading at forty words per minute. Since I had not grown up reading Braille and was largely self-taught, this wasn't too bad. However, I knew there was room for improvement. After timing my reading speed, Mr. Whittle had me write with a slate and stylus so he could get an idea how well I wrote in Braille. For a Braille user, a slate and stylus is equivalent to writing with a pencil and paper.
As my Braille classes continued, I read aloud every morning. Mr. Whittle occasionally timed me to check my speed.
Josh Boudreaux, my computer instructor, talked with a Cajun accent. During the first few months he had me practice navigating the Internet using a screen reader (a program that spoke aloud the information on the screen). In kitchen class I worked on preparing simple foods such as muffins, pizza, and cookies from scratch.
A Leap off the Platform
In September all of the students and staff at the center took a trip to Tennessee. On the first day of the trip we had the opportunity to go on a zip line. I was quite nervous about zip lining. I had done this kind of activity before and am normally not afraid of heights. However, this time I felt different, as I would be under sleep shades. With the encouragement of my peers and instructors, I took the leap off the platform and enjoyed the ride down. I felt the wind blowing as I sped down the cable.
The following day we took a trip to Rock City. There we walked along a trail where we could touch and smell a variety of flowers and plants. We also walked through various caves. One in particular was very narrow. In one section crystals had formed on the rocks, and we examined them by touch. There was a long, narrow suspension bridge that squeaked when people walked on it. If someone was jumping on it I felt it swaying from side to side.
On the last day of our trip we went whitewater rafting. When we were on the river I could hear the roar of the rapids. Occasionally I received the paddle splashes of a water fight being conducted by another rafting group.
In October we went to Arkansas. For the next three days we rotated between hiking, rock-climbing, and horseback riding. With the exception of the whitewater rafting, we did all of these activities under sleep shades to help us build confidence.
When we went hiking I used my cane in one hand and a trekking pole in the other. Occasionally I had to climb over wobbly rocks. I found that I could easily feel the loose rocks beneath my feet.
At the rock-climbing site we all suited up into our harnesses and helmets. Some of the rocks felt rough and others felt smooth. The rocks in general were about fifty feet high. When I was about halfway up the first rock, my legs began to tremble. I wanted to go back down, but my peers and instructors kept giving me words of encouragement that helped me make it to the top.
When it was time to go horseback riding, I was quite anxious. I am not much of an animal person, and I didn't know what to expect. Luckily I got a horse that was very gentle. As I rode I heard the clopping of the horse's hooves on the trail. I also heard the guides giving us verbal directions on which way to turn.
Measure Twice, Cut Once!
The Monday after we returned from Arkansas, I was in shop class about to cut another piece of stock using the table saw. Shop class was not intended to teach woodworking as a trade but as a confidence builder. I had prepared the machine and started to cut my piece of stock when I realized that something was wrong.
"What did you forget?" asked JD, the shop instructor.
"My measurement must be off," I mumbled.
"You haven't measured anything yet," JD reminded me.
I began to mutter about other things I might have done wrong.
"What did you forget to do?" JD pressed.
"My fence isn't over far enough," I replied.
I started the table saw again and cut my stock. I then measured it to see if it was 44/16ths inches, as it was supposed to be.
"It's too wide," I said.
"What's one step that you forgot?" JD asked again, waiting for me to realize my mistake.
I was silent as I adjusted my click ruler, thinking that I had it set incorrectly. A click ruler is a measuring device for the blind made out of a long metal rod. It has raised indentations every half inch and smaller ridges measuring sixteenth-inches.
"You had your click ruler set correctly," JD informed me.
I went through the steps out loud. "I never measured," I said with sudden realization.
"You never set the saw up to cut 44/16ths," Said JD in a matter-of-fact tone.
After I set up my saw to cut 44/16ths of an inch, I prepared to make the cut.
"How do you find your right hand safety?" JD asked.
I was silent as I moved my hands to what I thought was the correct position.
"Where are your reference points? How do you know that you are safe?" JD urged.
I was silent once more.
"There is no law out there that prevents you from saying you don't know. Not everybody knows everything," JD said. I thought he sounded pretty knowledgeable himself.
"I don't remember," I said meekly.
JD proceeded to show me where the reference points are, and I began to cut my board. Then I measured and found that I had cut my board to exactly 44/16ths. I learned a very important lesson that day. It is okay to admit that you don't know or remember something.
In mid-November I was a month away from graduating from the adult program at the Louisiana Center. One day in Braille class Mr. Whittle timed me at sixty words per minute. I felt frustrated that I wasn't getting any faster. I had been in the sixties for at least a month. I was reading the number of pages he wished me to read, and I couldn't understand why I wasn't progressing more quickly. I didn't feel like it was very respectable to be reading at that rate. Mr. Whittle assured me that in fact it was very respectable, especially since I had learned Braille as an adult and not as a young child.
Near the end of our time at the Louisiana Center, all of us in the Adult Program were expected to do a "drop-off." The drop-off was one of the greatest challenges in the program. Under sleep shades, each of us was driven to an unknown location and dropped off, with no information about where we were. We were expected to use the techniques we had learned in order to figure out how to get back.
As I listened to the van drive away I drew a deep breath. This was the final test of all the knowledge I had gained from my cane travel instruction. I listened carefully, and when I heard the sound of traffic I headed in that direction. I felt the sun's rays on my left cheek, and I knew that because of the time of day the sun was to the southeast. I heard a lot of cars traveling in one direction--south. Based on this information I deduced that I was more than likely on Trenton Street.
If I had followed my instincts I would have returned to the center a lot sooner than I did. Because I didn't listen to my instincts and trust what my environment was telling me, I ended up taking four hours to return. That day I learned that my instincts are usually right and that I should trust more than doubt.
At last it was December 17, 2010, my graduation day. Pam Allen, the director of the center, began the ceremony by talking about some of my accomplishments. When she finished she opened the floor for my instructors, family, and friends to speak. I was deeply touched as I listened to the things everyone was saying about my achievements. I realized how far I had come in the past six months. I was more confident and had a new belief in myself. I had managed to double my Braille reading speed to eighty words a minute, and I had learned that I could trust myself. Confidence and trust are the biggest things that I gained at the center. Wherever I am, I am able to put them into place.
At the end of the ceremony, each graduate received a silver bell with an eagle on top. The eagle represented the graduate's freedom to go out into the world with the skills that he or she had gained. The bell was inscribed with the graduate's name, the date, and the motto of the Louisiana Center for the Blind: "Together we are changing what it means to be blind."
My months at the Louisiana Center for the Blind changed my life forever. The Braille and computer skills I learned are a tremendous help now that I have entered college. Using my long white cane, I travel wherever I want to go. Because of my training, I now go out with my friends at night, something I never would have done in the past. I know that with confidence and a positive philosophy about blindness, blind people can accomplish anything.
by Stacy Cervenka
Reprinted from The Student Slate, Spring 2011
From the Editor: Stacy Cervenka spent the past five years working as a legislative assistant in the United States Senate. In this article she recounts her experience and offers practical tips and encouragement for blind job-seekers.
For the past five years, I worked as a legislative assistant for Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas. I advised the senator and worked on legislation pertaining to adoption and foster care, child protection, juvenile justice, pro-life issues, disability rights, special education, vocational rehabilitation, Native American issues, Second Amendment rights, Social Security, pensions, labor issues, North and South Korea issues, and postal issues. I was also Senator Brownback's liaison to the Senate Special Committee on Aging.
My time in the senator's office was spiced with many extraordinary moments. I felt as though I had once-in-a-lifetime experiences once a week! I co-wrote a bill that is now a law; I sat in my boss's office and made conversation with Buzz Aldrin; I got a long smoochy kiss from Bono; Senator Ted Kennedy personally introduced me to his dog, Splash; and I became one of the few people I know who has actually been inside North Korea.
Blind college students often ask me what they can do to increase their chances of finding a fulfilling and well-paying job. Although there is no one-size-fits-all secret to success, I believe that there are a few things blind people can do to enhance their chances of finding the job that's right for them.
Courage (a.k.a. Acting Is Believing)
Okay, we're all tired of hearing that we're courageous every time we do the simplest task. However, it does take courage to put ourselves into unfamiliar situations where we're not certain how we'll be perceived or whether we'll be welcome. Prejudice and discrimination are very real, and nobody likes to feel underestimated, ignored, or rejected. Understandably, we sometimes shy away from situations that might trigger these unpleasant feelings. Yet if we avoid situations that carry the risk of rejection, we rob ourselves of many marvelous opportunities. We also fail to experience the sense of strength and courage that comes from facing our fears.
Applying for a job, internship, or volunteer position carries the potential for unfair rejection. However, if you constantly pass up opportunities for fear that you'll be treated unfairly, you ensure that you'll never be hired.
This lesson came sharply into focus for me a few days ago when I attended a conference of the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation. The director of human resources at one of the branch offices told me that he would really like to hire more people with disabilities. The problem, he said, was that Mitsubishi often posts job announcements on Monster.com and other job databases, and no one with a disability ever applies. Furthermore, he explained, Mitsubishi often has booths at college job fairs across the country. He rarely sees students with visible disabilities at these job fairs. In complete earnestness he asked me a probing question. If so many qualified people with disabilities are unemployed, why does he never run into them at job fairs or through the main channels where Mitsubishi recruits?
I thought carefully about his question. I believe one answer is that we're often so fearful of discrimination that we tend to look for jobs with agencies we already know. We wait for job announcements to make their way across the listserv of the National Association of Blind Students (NABS) or into the Braille Monitor. Obviously employers who post job announcements in NFB publications are open to hiring blind people.
Seeking out jobs on Monster or Craigslist is much more risky, since the possibility of discrimination is strong. We reason that the employer probably won't hire us anyway, and all of our efforts will be for nothing. It takes a certain amount of courage and good faith for a person with a disability to reply to a mainstream job announcement. However, only a tiny percentage of job openings will ever be posted in blindness-related publications. To make ourselves available for the widest array of job opportunities, we have to get out of our comfort zones. The courage it takes to apply for a job will serve us well once we enter the workforce.
I remember when I started leading Kansas constituents on tours of the U.S. Capitol. I was terrified! I wasn't afraid I would get my guests lost or that I'd forget key information about the Capitol's history and artwork. I was nervous about how our constituents would perceive me. Would any of them ask for a different tour guide? Would the tour be awkward and uncomfortable as our guests tried to pretend that my blindness didn't exist?
Conducting tours helped me learn a lesson that has stood me in good stead ever since. Acting is believing! I felt apprehensive, but I didn't have to act like it. Before my first tour, I took a deep breath, said a little prayer, and breezed into the front office to meet our guests. I acted as though I'd been leading tours for years. I made no attempt to hide my blindness, but I didn't make a big production of it, either. The tour went very well.
After a few weeks of playing the role, I became a confident tour guide in reality. Within a month, possible reactions to my blindness never crossed my mind as I went out to greet our guests.
As a blind person in an integrated workforce, you'll need to venture outside your comfort zone fairly often. You'll have to look at your apprehension and deal with it to keep it from stopping you.
Have Faith in the Work Blind Activists Have Done
While it's true that discrimination is still an ugly reality, we need to acknowledge that we are making progress. Society is becoming more and more aware that people with disabilities are employable.
I learned this lesson on my first day in Senator Brownback's office. I started as an intern, and I was extremely nervous. I was afraid that no one in the office would entrust me with substantial work. I worried that I would have to work very hard to raise people's expectations. However, on my first day, our internship coordinator introduced me to one of the legislative assistants and told me I'd be working for him. Without skipping a beat, the assistant asked me to go down to the Senate Printing and Graphics Office. I was to retrieve a chart that Senator Brownback needed for an upcoming speech on the Senate floor.
Our office was on the third floor of the Hart Senate Office Building. Printing and Graphics was in the basement of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. I'd only been on the job for about two hours, and I had no idea how I'd get where I needed to go. Still, I was not about to tell my boss that I couldn't do the very first thing he asked me to do! I must have asked directions every ten feet on my way to Printing and Graphics, but I retrieved the chart. My heart soared when I realized that my supervisors had higher expectations of me than I had of myself. It was a really good feeling--one we as blind people don't get to have often enough!
During the first few weeks of my internship I wasn't always greeted with high expectations. Sometimes the reactions of others were very painful. A few days into my internship I approached a legislative assistant and asked if I could help him with anything. He thanked me but told me he had nothing for me to do. A minute later he walked into the "intern pit" and declared, "I need an intern!" I was devastated. He'd seen me walking around the office and helping other staffers with various tasks. How could this guy fail to trust me?
Not long after this incident I was hired full-time as a staff assistant. One day this same staffer sent an e-mail to several women in the office asking if one of us might be free on Saturday night to babysit his children. I was thrilled that this staffer, who didn't trust me to run an errand for him when I first came into the office, had included me on the message. He now had enough belief in my abilities that he was willing to entrust me with his children. Although I had no real desire to spend my Saturday night babysitting, I seized this opportunity to strengthen his awareness of my capability. I took the job and began a warm friendship with the staffer and his family.
Blind and otherwise disabled activists have worked hard for the passage of laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act that protect our civil rights. We have worked equally hard to educate our colleagues and other employers by example. You might run into more open-mindedness than you think. A lot of us have been paving the way for you!
You Gotta Have Skills!
Regardless of how hard you work to venture outside your comfort zone and how far the disability rights movement has paved your way, when the rubber meets the road, you gotta have skills. If you land a job and can't work as efficiently as your colleagues, you probably won't last very long. Even if you do keep the job, you're unlikely to advance within your company or organization.
My job required many different skill sets. I needed to do effective research using online and print media. I needed to use the computer to write letters and memos and to communicate with colleagues, constituents, and other stakeholders. I needed to be able to travel independently to meetings on and off Capitol Hill. I needed to be able to take concise notes in meetings with constituents and lobbyists. I also needed ways to access the information on the handouts and reports that constituents and lobbyists gave to me.
On a more abstract level, I needed to be able to walk into a meeting and put people at ease. When I started to attend meetings on my own, one of my biggest fears was that people wouldn't take me seriously. I remember the first time I walked into a meeting with ten school superintendents and school board presidents, all very distinguished people in their forties, fifties, and sixties. Each of them had twenty or thirty years of experience. I was terrified that they were all thinking, "Who is this twenty-something little blind girl, fresh out of college? We have to meet with her?"
So, in addition to my computer skills and ability to do research, people skills were crucial in my job. Furthermore, as a blind person, I had to have a good set of self-advocacy skills. Our office had never had a blind employee before. I had to explain what technology I needed and where the office could procure it. I had to tell my supervisors how I would handle the huge amount of mail that came across my desk, give tours of the Capitol Building, and shepherd VIP constituents wherever they needed to go. Most of the other staffers believed I could do these things, but they had no idea how. It was my responsibility to figure out ways to get things done and to communicate any needs I had to the appropriate people.
All blind job-seekers must ask themselves some serious questions and strive to answer them honestly. Do you have good blindness skills, good relationship skills, and good self-advocacy skills? What will you do when your boss dumps a stack of papers on your desk and tells you he needs a report by tomorrow? How will you travel to meetings at unfamiliar destinations when you have little advance notice? Do you get along with people and relate to them easily? Are you currently able to advocate effectively for yourself without calling on your parents or the Office of Disabled Student Services? How will you explain your abilities and needs to your colleagues, supervisors, and clients in a way that is clear and confident rather than defensive or confrontational?
You might acquire your skills through a training center, through a home-based rehabilitation program, or from family and friends. You might use visual techniques for some tasks and nonvisual methods for others. Whatever your particular situation, you need to make sure you are capable of handling the day-to-day grind of a typical workplace.
Getting and keeping a job takes a lot of work! Acquiring the prerequisite skills, venturing outside our comfort zones, advocating for ourselves and others with disabilities, and educating our employers and colleagues on a personal level can take a lot of time and effort. However, nothing is more fulfilling than having a job you love.
by Rosina Foster
From the Editor: Rosina Foster lives on forty acres in south central Missouri with her husband, three children, three horses, ten chickens, eight guinea fowl, a dog, and, soon, two mama goats. In February of this year she attended NFB's Washington Seminar as part of the Parent Leadership Program.
We often hear the phrase fitting in. Sometimes I ask myself what that phrase really means. I think I know what it means to me, but to my teenage son, my opinion about fitting in doesn't mean much. In his life I have been relegated to PG--just parental guidance. You might think that is a sad situation, but it doesn't seem that way to me. I'm sure that the parents of most teens have acquired PG status, so I figure I'm just fitting in with my parent crowd.
For most teens, fitting in isn't easy; I remember that from my own experience growing up. It can be especially hard for our blind and visually impaired kids. They have an obvious difference that other kids notice right away. I am a firm believer that our expectations as parents should be the same for all our children, whether they are blind or sighted. Granted, it is easier to say that than to live by it. When we learn that our beautiful child is blind or visually impaired, it can be extremely difficult to resist giving him or her special treatment. When we feel pain over what our children seem to be missing, or when we worry that a challenge will be too hard for them, we may be tempted to rush in and take charge. Unfortunately, when we try to protect our kids we may only make more problems for them in the long run.
A Range of Choices
My son Roman is in seventh grade and has just started running track. He ran cross-country last fall. He is in band, and he takes piano lessons. He routinely goes to school dances and ice cream socials, and he has sleepovers and other social events. He even (gasp!) has a girlfriend!
Certainly Roman doesn't take part in every activity that is available. I didn't, and I'm sure that not many kids do. However, he gets out there and participates in as many activities as he wants. He tried gymnastics for several years before he decided to quit. I made him join the swim team one year and he decided not to join again. His fourth-grade brother has been on the swim team for three years now and loves it. Each of our kids is finding what works best for him.
Like Everyone Else
How did we get to this point? We really can't take much of the credit, as Roman is naturally a very confident, independent boy. However, I think that our efforts to make sure he was treated like everyone else have made a real difference. It is not always easy. I found that I had to start with myself and start early. I realized that Roman and Ethan might have to learn different ways of doing things, but in the end they are just children, and they need to be treated like children.
I distinctly remember an incident that occurred when Roman was four years old. He was attending a Halloween party with a piñata. When it was his turn to swing the stick, he refused to wear the blindfold. He insisted, "I don't have to wear it 'cause I can't see anyway!" I told him that everyone had to wear the blindfold. If he didn't wear it, he couldn't play. He was stubborn and refused to put the blindfold on, so I wouldn't let him play the game. Lots of people thought that I should have let him play, poor kid, but I stood my ground.
Roman was mad at me the whole day, but he got over it and can't even remember the incident today. When I bring it up, he laughs and thinks it was silly. After all, if he couldn't see why should he care if he wore a blindfold or not? For me, though, this incident is important. Even at that early age I didn't want Roman to think he could get away with things because of his blindness. I wanted him to learn that he had to play fair and do whatever was required of the other kids. I knew he would be showered from all sides with chances to slide by, to do less than others were expected to do. I didn't want him to get those ideas from me.
Do I ever force my kids to do things that they don't like? Certainly! That's what parents do. I was made to do chores, practice an instrument, play sports, clean my room, and help around the house--all things that I didn't always want to do. I expect the same things from my children that my parents expected from me. After all, I turned out okay in spite of it.
One thing that I believe has helped Roman and Ethan fit in with their peers is the fact that all their lives they have been in the same school. They have changed buildings occasionally, but they've always been in the same town and with the same group of kids. These kids have known my boys since the beginning. We have had more problems with teachers' expectations than we've ever had with peers. Of course kids make comments and ask questions, and occasionally someone says something that hurts. Once Ethan was asked, "Is it fun being blind?" Another time a classmate told Roman, "You must be stupid if you are blind!" I tell my kids to get used to these questions, as they will hear them all their lives. My advice is to answer them the best they can and move on.
Quality of Life
Two years ago Roman moved into fifth grade, entering middle school with a new set of PE teachers. The teachers didn't want to let him play dodge ball. They were afraid that he was going to get hit with a ball and get hurt. Roman told me that of course he was going to get hit--the game was dodge ball! I was concerned as well, since Roman has had many, many surgeries and I didn't want him to have another detached retina. But I remembered something a doctor once told me about quality of life, so I knew we had to find a solution. Roman desperately wanted to play, and the teachers and I wanted to keep him safe.
We ended up doing several things. First we found a pair of sport safety glasses for Roman to wear. Then I wrote a letter to the school, stating that Roman had my permission to play dodge ball if he wore his safety glasses throughout the game. If he wouldn't wear them, he couldn't play.
The PE instructor was still nervous, and he gave me a call. He was afraid Roman would get hit in the face. I asked him if the students were allowed to aim for the face. He said of course not. They were all told never to aim purposely for the face of any student, but accidents still happened. I stated that I could understand accidents; that was why Roman was wearing the safety glasses. Roman was allowed to play, and I have never heard any more about it.
Accidents Do Happen
Accidents do happen, I was reminded recently. Roman decided to run cross-country, and at the end of the season the coach gave out silly awards to all of the team members. Roman got one called the No Parking Sign Award. The coach explained that he and Roman were running one day and he wasn't paying attention very well. He told Roman to turn up ahead. A moment later he heard a loud bang and a holler. He looked and saw that Roman had run smack into a No Parking sign.
At first when I heard the story I was upset. Not only had Roman gotten hurt, but he hadn't told me about it. When I questioned him, he said, "Gosh, Mom. I didn't think it was that big of a deal. Didn't you ever get hurt as a kid?" And I remembered that I had. I guess if it wasn't important to him, I shouldn't make so much of it.
I strongly believe that getting your kids out there and involved in everything you can is the best way to make sure that other kids see that they are really not so different. If your kids don't like one activity, try something else. We live in a very rural area, so we have few extracurricular activities available besides sports. But in most places parents can find a variety of activities for kids to try--chess, band, swimming, reading clubs, climbing gyms, Scouts, 4-H. We are getting goats this year, and I hope to get Ethan interested in showing them. Showing animals at fairs is a good confidence-builder for kids. It gets them out there and gives people the chance to see them being just like everyone else. The more they do the same activities that their peers are doing, the more they are accepted.
As the parent of a blind child, get yourself connected with others in your situation. Even better, get connected with people who were in your situation and have moved on. Contact the NFB. I have only known the NFB for two-and-a-half years. They have been the best two-and-a-half years we have had. My boys have also chosen to get involved. We are no longer alone. If we stumble, we have help. We have help if we need to learn how to do something. The NFB has become the most important family we have. When my sons have long outgrown their need for my parental guidance, the NFB will still be there for them. People in the Federation will be parents, siblings, teachers, confidants, mentors, best friends, and more.
Sometimes Roman tells me, "Do something different or weird. It gets you noticed." And believe me, Roman loves to get noticed!
An Interview with Jason Polansky
From the Editor: Over the past several months, Jason Polansky has been featured in a number of articles and TV news programs in Maryland. He is the only blind student on his high school's varsity swim team. I asked Jason to share his experiences with the readers of Future Reflections, and here is what he told me in an interview.
Deborah Kent Stein: Hi, Jason. Please tell me a bit about yourself and where you go to school. What sort of program are you in?
Jason Polansky: I'm fourteen and I'm a ninth grader at Catoctin High School. I'm completely mainstreamed but I have vision services in science class every day.
DKS: When did you learn to swim?
JP: I've been swimming since I was three years old. I took lessons at a college near our house. Now I have a membership there so I can practice in the pool and the gym. My mom and dad have always been very supportive of my swimming.
DKS: Did you have to try out to get on your high school team?
JP: They didn't really hold tryouts. There was room for thirty new kids, so I just signed up. Anybody was allowed to join.
DKS: How did the coach respond to the idea of having you on the team?
JP: The coach was my English teacher, so she already knew me. She seemed very comfortable having me join.
DKS: What was the response of your teammates?
JP: Most of them hadn't ever known a blind person before, so I guess at first they weren't sure what I could do. By now we're all getting used to each other and it's not a big deal.
DKS: Do you use any alternative techniques when you swim with your team?
JP: At meets a teammate stands by the side of the pool with a long pole that has a tennis ball on the end of it and touches my head with the ball when I get near the end of the pool. Also there's a lane guard I can feel. I keep it on one side so I can swim straight.
DKS: Do you specialize in any particular stroke?
JP: Right now I swim freestyle and breast stroke, and I'm working on butterfly. I swim fifty yards in freestyle and in freestyle relays. The relay can be two hundred or four hundred yards, with four people swimming. I've also done the hundred-yard breast stroke and the two hundred-yard medley relay, where each person uses a particular stroke.
DKS: How has the season gone for you so far?
JP: I haven't won a medal yet, and I'm generally placing somewhere in the middle. It's my first season and right now I'm working to get better and faster. Mostly I'm competing against myself.
DKS: There have been a lot of stories about you in the news lately. How do you feel about getting so much media attention?
JP: In a way I feel like it isn't fair. I'm really not all that remarkable. A lot of other people are as good as I am. But the good part of it is I have a chance to show that blind people can do things like everybody else.
DKS: So you see this as a chance to help educate the public?
JP: I don't have a problem being well-known, but I don't want it to go to my head. I want people to know that anybody can do anything they're passionate about.
DKS: What are some of your other interests besides swimming?
JP: I like tandem cycling, and I'm active in our church youth group. We went on a mission trip to Racine, Wisconsin, and helped do repairs on people's houses. Most of the houses belonged to elderly people who couldn't manage their own repairs. I learned to use a six-foot roller to paint walls and ceilings. Last summer I went to Buddy Camp at BLIND, Inc., and I learned a lot of stuff up there.
DKS: Do you plan to continue swimming competitively after this year?
JP: I'd like to stay on the swim team through high school. Then I'll see if I want to go further. It's still too early to know for sure.
DKS: Thank you for giving this interview. Good luck with whatever you decide to do.
by Rylie Robinson
Reprinted from The Student Slate, Winter 2010/2011
From the Editor: Rylie Robinson is a recent graduate of the Indiana School for the Blind. In this article she describes her first experience of self-advocacy as she attempted to join a student tour of Europe.
My brother, who is three years older than I am, is also totally blind. By the time I was born, my parents had come to terms with the thought of blindness. When I came into the world, I was immediately treated like everyone else. I had most of the opportunities other kids have.
When I was old enough to start school I entered the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, where my brother was already enrolled. Like my home the school for the blind was a safe haven, a place where blindness was completely accepted. To put it bluntly, I was largely sheltered from the reality of being a blind person in a sighted world. I grew up blind, had a blind brother, and lived with blind people at school five days a week. When I encountered discrimination for the first time, it came as a complete shock. I wasn't prepared for it at all.
During the summer before my junior year in high school, I received a letter from the People to People Ambassador Program, inviting me to take a trip to London and Paris. According to the letter, the trip would be an innovative educational experience that would teach me about the culture and history of these majestic European cities. For years I had dreamed of going to London, so right away I knew I'd do all I could to make this trip a reality.
I had to think about many factors before embarking on this journey, including the cost of the trip and the fact that I would have to miss some school. Then there was the fact that I'd be the only blind student in the group. The first two factors, especially the cost, far overshadowed the last one. I barely gave it any thought. I simply figured any concerns would smooth themselves out once I met everyone and showed that I was independent.
A few months after I applied for the program, my mother (not even myself) received a call from the main office of the People to People agency. By this time I had talked to the group leaders, and most of my plans were in place. As far as I was concerned, I was definitely going. But apparently it wasn't definite at all. The agency stated that it would be a huge liability for them to take a blind person along. The agency spokesperson said that I had to have a sighted person with me to assist me as needed. Furthermore, People to People wasn't even going to pay for this assistant. Due to my blindness I was expected to pay double what everyone else paid for the trip.
I had no idea what to do. I knew I was being treated extremely unfairly, but I didn't know how to proceed. I had never been in a situation like this before. The people at the agency didn't think I could take care of myself at all. They thought I'd need an assistant for everything. They even asked my mother if I could dress myself without help! She told me, "I didn't even give them the courtesy of answering the question."
We tried to reason with them, and eventually we got them to cut the price we'd have to pay for an assistant in half. They said that was as far as they would go with the negotiations. It seemed we were stuck, with no way to go forward. They said we could take their terms or I could cancel my application.
At this point we asked the NFB for advocacy assistance. I was put in touch with a lawyer who knew one of the administrators at the school for the blind. This lawyer called the agency, which was represented by another lawyer. During these conversations, my independence was the main topic. After the two lawyers had their preliminary talks, my lawyer called and asked me questions about my abilities. "If you got lost," he asked me, "how would you react? Could you get out of the situation in a calm manner? If the sighted people in your group decided they didn't want to help you at all, would you be able to do everything by yourself?" I had to think over these questions carefully. I had never really traveled independently before, and I had always been around other blind people and accepting sighted people. I realized that if it came down to it, I would do whatever it took for me to be able to go to London and Paris, even if I had to prove my independence along the way. I answered the lawyer's questions with an honest yes, and he relayed my answers to the agency lawyer. In the end, I was able to take my trip to the city I'd been dreaming about, and I had a wonderful time. I never got lost, and though I did a lot of things independently, I was able to get help if I asked for it.
Though the discrimination was unnecessary and due to sighted ignorance, it was definitely a learning experience for me. It forced me to think about myself and to evaluate myself as an independent blind person. I had to ask myself whether I really was confident enough and skilled enough to take on such an adventure. I came to the conclusion that, even though I asked for help in most situations before, I could do what I needed to do independently if it came down to it. This self-evaluation really boosted my confidence. It showed me just how determined I could be when it came to doing what was necessary in a situation. It was a rather difficult and arduous journey, but in the end I came out the victor. Faced with blatant discrimination, I was able to pull out the positives. I proved to myself and to everyone else that I could do what I said I could do.
At one point I was very close to canceling the whole thing. I began to think the trip wasn't worth all the energy it was costing. But I realized there was much more at stake than going to London and Paris. I was proving to myself and to other blind people that confidence and determination are the keys. Those attributes will help us change what it means to be blind.
by Mary Fernandez
From the Edtior: Mary Fernandez attends Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, where she majors in psychology and music. At the 2010 NFB convention she was awarded the Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship.
Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Launch! In a cloud of smoke the rocket erupted from the launching pad with a resounding BOOM! Cheers rang out in the operations room of the NASA Wallops Island blockhouse. All of us teenage rocket scientists hugged each other and screamed. We could not quite believe that our rocket had just taken off.
In my excitement I almost forgot to report back the altitude of our rocket. But somehow I got hold of myself and ran to my station. "5,610 feet!" I yelled. Soon the rocket started its descent. At 2,000 feet someone else yelled, "Parachute has deployed!" A few minutes later our rocket landed gently off the Virginia shore. A NASA crew waited to pick it up, preferably intact, and bring it back to be stored at the Jernigan Institute at the National Federation of the Blind headquarters.
Not many fifteen-year-olds ever have the experience of launching a ten-foot sounding rocket from a NASA facility. I was fortunate to be a participant in the Rocket On! program sponsored by the Jernigan Institute in 2006. I was one of twelve blind students selected from around the country to take part in the program. We spent a week in Baltimore, where we prepared the payload for a rocket that we would launch ourselves. The Rocket On! program was one of the most inspiring and defining experiences of my high school career. It gave me the confidence and determination to attend one of the top colleges in the nation, travel to Paris for a summer, intern at a small nonprofit organization, and do extensive research.
A Thirst for Education
I was born in Colombia, a nation where very few blind people have the opportunity to obtain an education. As a small child I was told to sit down and be still; being blind meant that I could not play with other children. Doctors told my grandmother that as a blind person I really should not engage in much physical activity, and I certainly should not go to school. At that time my mother was living in the United States. When I called her and told her what the doctors said, she insisted that I be enrolled in school. Off to school I went, but the teachers protested that they had no idea how to teach a blind child. After only a month it was decided that I had to stay home after all.
In 1997, when I was seven years old, my mother returned to Colombia and arranged to take me back with her to the United States. As soon as we arrived in the U.S., my life changed for the better. At last I was able to go to school. I was so thirsty for education and knowledge that I loved every minute of it. Best of all, my mother did not accept the idea that since I was blind I needed to receive special treatment. Although she did not know any other parents of blind children, she set out to raise me as she would raise any other child.
By the time I reached high school I was a pretty normal girl, although I was a bit shy. I made friends and always did well academically. However, I still couldn't help feeling a bit uncomfortable with my blindness. After all, I was the only blind person I knew. Although my mother pushed me and set high standards, many other people thought that I had accomplished an incredible feat if I walked down an ordinary hallway.
Meeting Blind Mentors
Fortunately, I grew up in New Jersey. When I entered high school I was introduced to the LEAD program. LEAD is an acronym that stands for Leadership, Education, Advocacy, and Determination. Sponsored by the New Jersey Commission of the Blind, the LEAD program targets blind high school students from around the state. We met once a month and were mentored by blind adults on dressing for success, handling finances, and much more. Up to that point many of us did not know any other blind youth, much less successful blind adults. Interacting with our blind mentors, knowing that they had families and jobs, was essential in shaping our perceptions of ourselves.
Every spring, the LEAD program takes the students to visit the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore. There I learned about the Rocket On! program, which is how I wound up launching a rocket when I was fifteen years old.
As I progressed through high school, I became much more involved in the NFB. I attended my first national convention the summer after my junior year. I like to learn by seeing concrete examples. It is one thing to know that there are theoretical blind people doing theoretical things out in the world. It is an entirely different thing to meet those people, talk to them, and ask them questions. National convention showed me that I wasn't the only blind person with dreams and aspirations, even though some people claimed that my goals were impossible to achieve.
College and Beyond
When the time came for me to apply to college, I was more than ready to take on the challenge. I decided to attend Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. I was attracted to the nice weather, and the people I met were really nice, too. I love my college, and I've taken advantage of many of the opportunities Emory offers its students. Since the seventh grade, when I started studying French, I decided that I wanted to study abroad in Paris. When I arrived at Emory, I immediately looked into study abroad options and decided to go to Paris in the summer. After I convinced everyone that I was perfectly capable of taking care of myself in a foreign country, I jetted off to Paris in the summer of 2009.
I will never forget my first visit to Paris. Not only did I improve my language skills, but I also visited some of the most famous landmarks in the world. I ate delicious pastries, tasted some great wine, and visited real castles where royalty had lived. I even got to walk down the most expensive street in the world! I'm a slave to fashion, and getting to visit Chanel, Dior, Prada, and Ralph Lauren one after the other was pretty much a dream come true. Never mind that I couldn't afford anything--but hey, I can dream, right?
Last summer I had another great experience. The Emory Ethics Center has a summer internship program called the Ethics and Servant Leadership Program. Twenty-seven Emory students were chosen to work with nonprofit organizations in Atlanta. I was matched with the Atlanta Harm Reduction Center (AHRC). This community-based nonprofit served marginalized and minority communities. The goal of AHRC is to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases by providing various harm reduction services. While interning there I had the opportunity to perform many services. I distributed food, found rehab and detox treatment centers for those who were ready to take that step, taught groups about substance abuse and management, and helped with the needle exchange program. Our clients brought in dirty needles, on average four hundred a week, and received clean needles in return. Needle exchange is highly controversial, since many say that we are encouraging drug use by giving out needles. We disagree. We recognize that drug addicts will use drugs whether they have dirty needles or clean ones. The needle exchange program helps prevent them from getting and spreading HIV/AIDS in the process.
Working for the Atlanta Harm Reduction Center has been one of the most meaningful things I have ever done. Every person I met had a remarkable story, and no one expected less of me because I am blind.Doing well in school has always been a priority for me. So far my studies have paid off, but I have learned the most outside the classroom. Being able to experience the world from the perspective of others has helped me understand the society we live in more fully. Meeting people from different walks of life has served as further motivation for me to pursue my goal of becoming a psychologist. I think it is essential for all of us to step outside our comfort zones and take a good look at what goes on outside our own social circles. By learning about others, by experiencing their milieu, by truly listening and trying to conceptualize the plight of others, we can gain further insight into our communities and ourselves. If we all strive for that understanding we can make a change in the world around us. If only in a small way, we can make the world into a more loving and accepting place.
by Stephen Toth
From the Editor: With texting, iPhones, Facebook, and Twitter, technology is almost a life source for most teens. Blind teens can be adept at using technology at school and beyond, as Stephen Toth explains.
I met my best friend, David, at the 2007 convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Atlanta, Georgia. We met while we were trying to distinguish our canes; we couldn't tell them apart. We argued over whose cane was whose and seemed to hate each other from the beginning. We didn't know that we would be together just a few weeks later at the summer camp run by the Louisiana Center for the Blind.
David and I quickly discovered that we had a lot in common. We are both technology geeks, and spent much of our time at the LCB talking about old notetakers. A notetaker is a personal digital assistant (PDA) similar to a laptop, but adapted for the blind and visually impaired. It has synthesized speech to let the user know what is happening in the computer and a Braille display with moveable electronic pins that form Braille characters. David's school had provided him with a BrailleLite Millennium 20, a notetaker that was manufactured by Blazie Engineering. I had a BrailleLite 2000 18, made by Blazie as well. At the time, David wanted a BrailleNote, a device manufactured by HumanWare. My school had given me a BrailleNote QERTY, a BrailleNote with a standard keyboard. I told David keyboard combinations for it, though he later decided to get the BrailleNote BT instead, which has a keyboard similar to that of a Perkins Brailler. I also have a PacMate, which is manufactured by Freedom Scientific. A PacMate is a notetaker that includes Microsoft Office. PacMate also comes equipped with JAWS, the Windows version of screen reading software, which allows the user to access third-party applications such as Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, and Skype.
I used notetakers for doing schoolwork until the middle of seventh grade, when my dad purchased a laptop that I could take with me to class. I installed JAWS on the laptop so that I could have access to the Internet applications I like to use.
Gmail is very important to me because it is the main way I have written communication with my classmates and teachers. Prior to this year, I used a flash drive to transfer my school assignments from my teacher's computer to my personal computer. Flash drives work fine, but they are small and can get lost easily. I've had several go through the wash and come out of the dryer not working. Once I lost my flash drive and had to use floppy disks in order to get my schoolwork. Luckily that's all behind me now. My teachers, classmates, and I can collaborate by sending documents as email attachments. My teachers email me my homework and other assignments that require completion at home. I complete the assignments and either print them out or send them back via email. Some students do not have Internet or email addresses at home, so when I get a group assignment I work on it orally in class with my peers. If a group project requires writing or research on my part, then I work on it at home and print it for the rest of my group to see.
I did not have a computer or notetaker in elementary school, and had to use a Perkins Brailler instead. A Brailler looks a bit like a miniature typewriter with fewer keys. Thick paper is fed through the machine, and multiple styluses are used to make raised dots on the page to form Braille symbols. It took me one-and-a-half times longer than a sighted student to complete my work, and I had trouble keeping track of my assignments.
When I was in fourth grade, my mom and the disabilities coordinator for my school requested that the school board provide me with a notetaker and a Braille printer, also known as a Braille embosser. The school district sent us an old VersaPoint Duo embosser and two Braille 'n' Speak notetakers, neither of which had a charger with it! The embosser is still being used today, but the Braille 'n' Speak was made in the eighties and nineties, so it is a very outdated piece of technology. While the Braille 'n' Speak is considered a notetaker, it has no Braille display and no USB port. Because there is no way to transport information from the Braille 'n' Speak to a computer, this device is very impractical for a student. My mother had to request specifically that I be given a BrailleNote. She told me later that she had to threaten to take legal action before she got the school board's cooperation.
Using technological devices in the classroom is a big responsibility. It is much easier to play a game or text a friend than to pay attention in class. It is also hard to keep computers up to date and running properly. My first computer, an old IBM Thinkpad that my dad passed down to me, ran on Windows XP. It had no antivirus software, and it got a virus and crashed at the end of my sixth grade year. It probably didn't help any that I ran a magnet over the hard disk drive, destroying it completely! My uncle gave me his 2007 Lenovo Thinkpad at the beginning of this school year. I use it to write reports, finish classwork and homework, and even to record my answers to tests. The computer has helped me out because it keeps all of my work together, so my assignments cannot get misplaced. While Brailled work has to be transcribed, organized, and stored, the computer saves everything in one place. Aside from math, which I do orally, I use my laptop for all of my assignments. The only time I need to read hardcopy Braille for school is when my teacher uses a Braille printer to emboss graphics for mathematics classes. With tactile graphics I can get an idea of what shapes and graphs are supposed to look like.
Most of my textbooks are available to me on my computer, which allows me to read chapters quickly. When I want to look up something in my text, I can use a word search tool and find what I'm looking for much faster than I could find it in a hardcopy Braille book.
David and I have both come a long way in our use of technology in the classroom. While it sometimes can be distracting, it is also very helpful. The faster the machine, the faster we can finish our assignments, and the more free time we have to talk to each other on the phone.
by Linda Zani Thomas
Reprinted from the Braille Monitor, January 2010
From the Editor: Linda Zani Thomas serves on the board of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children of New Jersey. In 2009 she conducted a fashion workshop at New Jersey's state convention. The workshop was so popular that she decided to put some of her tips into writing. While most of this information is geared for girls, guys may find a few helpful hints as well.
As a blind person you will have much more success in becoming a style and fashion icon than a sighted person. Oh yes, you heard me correctly! Vision can be misleading, and in personal style it can be just plain confusing. Sighted people tend to copy the fashion sense of those they admire, and this can get them into trouble. Just ask a sighted friend, and you will hear a litany of fashion disasters, from dressing like Madonna to trying to copy that popular girl in class. Chances are you look different from other members of your family, your friends, or your classmates, and one of them probably wishes she or he looked like you. Trust me, having vision causes people to make lots of errors when they aspire to have the image of someone else instead of accepting and celebrating their own physical gifts. Discovering and embracing your assets is the cornerstone of your unique style and image.
Self-assurance in your personal style will help others see you as smart, self-disciplined, a good decision maker, and someone who pays attention to detail. As you become more comfortable in your skin, your self-confidence increases, putting others at ease and leading to better personal relationships. Cultivating your own personal style is a discipline that will benefit you in all areas of your life.
In this article you will learn:
What looks best on you.
How to choose fashions and trends that fit your personal style.
How to determine what colors suit you best and how to use color to convey your personal style.
How to master shopping tips, tricks, and resources.
Step 1: Find Your Natural Shape
For this all-important first step, you will need a measuring tape. A tactile tape measure is available at the NFB Independence Market (<www.nfb.org/nfb/NFB_Market.asp>) or at <www.independentliving.com>. Measure yourself in your underwear. You will also need a small notebook and scotch tape for this and the other steps. This notebook will become your personal stylebook. Jot these numbers down in your stylebook so you will have them to show the salespeople when you go shopping.
You will need to record five basic measurements:
Circumference of your shoulders. Measure around from the outer edge of one shoulder until the ends of the tape measure meet at the beginning.
Circumference of your bust and circumference underneath your bust. Measure at the fullest part of the bust and then again just under your bust, over the ribcage. The first measurement gives you your bra size, and, if you subtract the second measurement from the first, you will get your cup size. An A cup is a one-inch difference, a B cup is two inches, and so on.
Circumference of your waist. Measure at the smallest part, above the navel.
Circumference of your hips. Measure at the fullest part of your hips.
Now for the fun part, determining your body shape and figure type. There are five basic body shapes.
Hourglass: Bust and hip measurements are about the same, with waist at least 25 percent smaller. This shape is the most balanced figure type. Personal style goal: not to throw your look out of balance.
Linear: Bust, waist, and hips all have about the same measurement. Women with this body shape tend to be athletic-looking or thin. Personal style goal: to add the illusion of curves.
Upper Curvy: Shoulders or bust are the widest parts of the body. Personal style goal: to balance the upper and lower figure proportions by minimizing the upper figure or maximizing the lower figure.
Middle Curvy: Bust and waist are about the same measurement and are much larger than the hips, or waist is the largest measurement. Personal style goal: to minimize the waist and balance the upper and lower figure proportions.
Lower Curvy: Hips are the widest part of the body. Personal style goal: to balance the upper and lower figure proportions by minimizing the lower figure and maximizing the upper figure.
Step 2: Determine Your Clothing Size
Now that you know your measurements, you can determine your clothing size. You may be two different sizes, one on top and another on the bottom. What follows are typical American sizing charts to help you get started.
Step 3: Choose the Right Silhouettes for Your Shape
Now for some more fun--choosing garments that give you the right silhouette to balance your figure or, for hourglass-shaped women, to keep you in balance. Here are some basic dos and don'ts.
Hourglass: Fitted clothing looks great on you. Floaty tops are fine, but make sure they are fitted to the small of your back to emphasize your waist. Wear flat-front pants and skirts to keep a smooth line. Color trick: dark bottoms and lighter-colored tops. Cropped tops, boxy miniskirts, short-pleated skirts, crewnecks, dropped-waistline, or empire-waistline dresses are probably not going to work for you.
Linear: Create curves with floaty, ruffled tops. Shoulder pads work on you, as do jackets that cinch the waist and flare at the hip. V-neck and scoop-neck tops work well on you. So do belted looks. Your goal is to emphasize your waist in order to create a middle curve. Boxy, straight tops and dresses and fitted, spare tops probably are not your best choice.
Upper Curvy: Your tops should contain minimal details; tunics look great on you. One-button jackets, long dusters and swing coat styles work well on you. Fit and flare skirts will work for you, as will wearing dark colors on top and brights or prints on the bottom. Lightly fitted sheath dresses look beautiful on you. Avoid pencil skirts or tops that are too fitted or tight.
Middle Curvy: Wear tops that skim the body and do not tuck them in. One-button jackets that reach your hip are a good choice, as are tops with U-, V-, or scoop necks. You will find belts difficult to wear. Try wearing light colors on top with darker colors on the bottom or monochromatic dressing (all shades in one color family). A-line, empire-fitted sheath dresses work well for you, as do flat-front, bias-cut skirts.
Lower Curvy: Balance your figure with boatnecks and cap sleeves--bell or flared sleeves are probably not best for you because they add volume when your hands are by your hips. Jackets and tunics should cover your derrière--shoulder pads are okay as are lightly fitted shirts. Boxy, double-breasted, or bolero jackets will probably not work on you. Tight tops with no structure, especially short tops, will throw your figure out of balance. Flat-front, flared-leg pants are a good choice for you, as are A-line and wrap dresses. Avoid tops and dresses with empire waists. Try light colors on top, dark on bottom.
Experiment with what looks best on you. Then record your dos and don'ts sheet in your stylebook to help you find your best fashion styles quickly when you're shopping. Most large departments stores such as Macy's, Lord and Taylor, and Nordstrom have personal shoppers who will work with you within your budget at no charge. They even may offer free alterations, including hems, on regular-price items.
Step 4: Choose the Perfect Outfit for Each Occasion
Before you go to a job interview or head out with friends or a date, take a moment to consider what you want the outcome to be. How do you want to be perceived? How do you want to be remembered? Then dress accordingly. My tip is that, if it occurs to you while you are getting ready that maybe you should wear something else, listen to that thought. Change your outfit.
Control the message
When you feel confident and dressed right for the occasion, you control your message even before you open your mouth to speak. There is much truth in the old saying that you have only one chance to make a good first impression. Sighted people make a judgment call on vision alone right from the get-go. The fact that a visually impaired person can nail that first perception with excellent wardrobe choices will be impressive!
Your choice of color can also bolster your image. Experts suggest wearing charcoal gray or dark blue for a job interview, red to stand out when taking a leadership role or speaking in public, baby pink to be irresistible on a date, and ivory to project a feeling of serenity when hosting an event. For expert fashion advice read The Look by designer Randolph Duke.
Not sure what to wear? Please feel free to contact me. I can be your personal style consultant. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Step 5: Finding Your Best Color Palette
Choosing the right colors to wear is as important as finding the right silhouettes for your figure. To look your best, you can't have one without the other. Color choices say a lot about the wearer, and, just like clothing silhouettes and styles, they telegraph to anyone with sight a lot about who you are. Each color creates a different emotional reaction and set of assumptions in the viewer. It's not only important to wear the colors that are most flattering to you, but also to wear colors appropriate to the message you want to convey about yourself. Here is a list of colors and the emotions they elicit.
Red: excitement, confidence. Red draws attention to itself and stands out. If red were a scent, it would be a blooming rose or cinnamon. If it were a sound, it would be Pavarotti holding the final note of "Nessun Dorma."
Yellow: happy, bright. Yellow also draws attention to itself. If yellow were a scent, it would be lemon. If it were a sound, it would be Mariah Carey singing her highest note. Light yellow is a soft color and would taste like lemon custard.
Blue: serene, fresh, peaceful, spiritual. In its warmer tones, blue can be calming, and it can be invigorating in its cooler tones. If blue were a scent, it would be the ocean. If blue were a sound, it would be rushing water.
Green: friendly, welcoming, relaxing, natural. If green were a scent, it would smell like mint or freshly mown grass. If you stand still in the woods in the summer and listen, that is the sound of green.
Purple: regal, sophisticated. If purple were a scent, it would be fragrant lilac. If purple were a sound, it would be a saxophone.
Orange: happy, welcoming. If orange were a scent, it would smell like an orange or an apricot. Orange feels like sunshine on your skin.
Light pink: gentle, feminine, soft. If light pink were a scent, it would be baby powder. It feels like a feather on your skin. Bright pink or rose is happy and feminine. It would taste like strawberry jam.
White: pure, heavenly, angelic, honest. If white were a scent, it would smell like clean sheets when they come out of the dryer. If white were a sound, it would be a breeze.
Ivory: warm, sophisticated. If ivory were a scent, it would be vanilla. If it were a flavor, it would be vanilla custard or dulce de leche.
Brown: warm, earthy, sophisticated. If brown were a scent or flavor, it would be warm chocolate cake. Brown sounds like James Earl Jones's voice.
Black: serious, mysterious, intense. If black were a scent, it would be incense. Black feels like the night.
Gray: a sophisticated, elegant neutral. It conveys quiet confidence. Gray feels like a cashmere pillow or a fine mist on your skin.
Determining Which Shades Look Best on You
Each color has both warm and cooler versions or shades. Warm colors have a bit of yellow to them and work best on women with warmer skin tones. Cool colors have a bit of blue in them. To determine which shades look best on you, it is helpful to determine which category you are in, warm or cool.
Step 1: Hold two necklaces, one gold tone and the other silver tone, against your face. If you cannot see your image in a mirror well enough to be sure, ask someone you trust to tell you which color is more flattering. If you look better in gold, your skin has a warm tone; if silver, your skin has a cool tone.
Step 2: Let's break it down still further. According to a great book called Life in Color by Jesse Garza and Joe Lupo, those with warm coloring can be divided into sun or earth groups; those with cool coloring are divided into moon and star groups. You can determine which of these groups you belong to by holding up two different colors to your face in natural light and choosing (or having someone whose taste and judgment you trust advise you) which looks best. These colors correspond to Benjamin Moore paint swatch colors 2020-30 Sparkling Sun and 2169-30 Oriole for those with warm coloring, and 2061-60 Little Boy Blue and 2062-30 Blue Danube for those with cool coloring. You can get paint chips at any Benjamin Moore store to do this exercise. The book Color Me Beautiful by Carole Jackson calls these groups winter, spring, summer, and fall. Some salespeople may be familiar with these terms, so I have listed them below as well.
2020-30 Sparkling Sun: Sun/Summer. Suns look best in clear, tropical colors with a yellow base such as saffron, coral, and apple green.
2169-30 Oriole: Earth/Fall. Earths look best in rich, deep hues with a yellow base such as berry, moss, chocolate, and deep teal.
2061-60 Little Boy Blue: Moon/Spring. Moons look best in light, clear, blue-based colors such as strawberry, sky blue, lavender, and pink.
2062-30 Blue Danube: Star/Winter. Stars look best in rich jewel tones with a blue base such as ice blue, true red, and ultraviolet. Black looks best on Stars.
Once you've determined your color group, your best bet is to choose colors with either warm or cool tones that are in your color palette. Another thing I like about Life in Color is that the book has removable color chips by group in the back. For those without access to the book, don't despair. You can hold scarves or pieces of material of different colors up to your face to determine which colors look best on you.
Once you have a pile of color swatches or scarves that look great on you, you can take those items to the paint store and have the manager scan them into the computer to determine which paint colors correspond to them. Your stylebook will come in handy again. Tape your paint color chips or swatches into your stylebook to guide salespeople at your favorite clothing stores. If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, you can take a snapshot of any item. Use the ColorCapture application from Benjamin Moore or the ColorSnap application from Sherwin-Williams to translate your snapshots to paint chip colors.
Streamline Your Wardrobe with Your Personal Signature and Basic Colors
The best way to build a wardrobe is to choose one or two basic colors, called "neutrals," to showcase your silhouette and form the building blocks of your outfits. Neutrals are grounding and calming; certain neutral shades will work best for your color palette.
Sun/Summer. Suns look best in medium, warm brown; chocolate brown; and ivory. Grays are probably not ideal for you.
Earth/Fall. Earths look best in brown hues with a yellow base like chocolate or camel or medium light khaki. Medium or light gray and olive green are probably not a good idea.
Moon/Winter. Moons look best in cool grays and dark navy blue. Beige and brown colors are not good for Moons.
Star/Spring. Stars look best in cool medium to dark gray or bright white. Beige, mustard, and olive green will probably not work for you.
Suits, skirts, and pants in your basic colors will form a base for you to pop your tops and accessories with your signature colors. Your signature color is whichever shade in your color palette (Sun, Earth, Moon, or Star), not a neutral, gives you the most joy and makes you feel just right. It will be the color or colors that make you look the best when held up to your face and that fit your personality. Do let me know which is yours.
Step 6: Streamlining and Organizing Your Closet
First, here are some basic tips.
Linda's Modern Wardrobe Basics for All Ages
These items will take you through your errands and leisure time:
Jeans, 2-3 pairs: black, dark denim, white.
Tops: building-block and signature-color solids, a couple of prints.
Jackets, shrugs, shawls in your signature colors and silhouettes.
Shoes/boots: building-block colors (2), signature color (1).
Handbags (2): building-block color, signature color.
Jewelry: in building-block and signature colors.
Add these for working women:
Suit, 3 pieces if possible: skirt, pants, jacket in building-block color.
Dresses: in building-block and signature colors and prints.
Dress shoes: in building-block colors.
Dress coats, long and short: in building-block colors.
Briefcase: in building-block or signature color.
Hats, gloves, scarves, shawls: in signature colors and prints.
Jewelry: in building-block color and style, use signature color in work-appropriate style.
by Priscilla McKinley
Reprinted from The Student Slate, Spring/Summer, 1999
From the Editor: Until her untimely death in December 2010, Priscilla McKinley was an active member of the NFB of Iowa and the NFB Blind Educators Division. At the NFB national convention in 2000 she received the Blind Educator of the Year Award. As a writer and teacher Priscilla was gifted with keen insight and a wry wit. In this article she offers students her unique perspective on a question that is often discussed in the blind community.
From time to time at NFB conventions and other gatherings of blind people, someone raises the question whether it is preferable to date a blind person or a sighted person. This list shows that there are certain advantages either way you look at it.
10. Dating a sighted person means you have a sighted guide when some idiot smashes into you and breaks your cane on your way to class.
Dating a blind person means you have a spare cane when some idiot smashes into you and breaks your cane on your way to class.
9. Dating a sighted person means you have someone to keep you from kissing a nose instead of the lips.
Dating a blind person means you don't care if you give or get a kiss on the nose instead of the lips.
8. Dating a sighted person means you can take drives in the country on weekends.
Dating a blind person means you can have private NFB conventions on weekends.
7. Dating a sighted person means you have someone to blame when you collide in the hall.
Dating a blind person means it's no one's fault when you collide in the hall.
6. Dating a sighted person means you have someone to describe what's going on during the silent moments of a movie.
Dating a blind person means you have time to get popcorn or go to the bathroom during the silent moments of a movie.
5. Dating a sighted person means you know who's going to drive on your next date.
Dating a blind person means you know you're going to take the bus on your next date.
4. Dating a sighted person means you have someone to tell you if your socks match.
Dating a blind person means you have someone who remembers whether you cut the tag out of your orange or your purple shirt.
3. Dating a sighted person means there's someone to tell you when you have a piece of broccoli stuck between your two front teeth.
Dating a blind person means no one notices when you have a piece of broccoli stuck between your two front teeth.
2. Dating a sighted person means you can ask questions like, "What's the expiration date on this milk?" and "Does this look infected?"
Dating a blind person means you can ask questions like, "What's the Braille symbol for S-I-O-N?" and "Does this feel swollen?"
Okay, okay. Hold on. I'm not going to give you the Number One advantage of dating sighted and blind persons until you hear me out. I have some important things to say here. Really!
As students, many of you have dated, are dating, or would like to date. Some of you may have pondered the question of whether or not to date a sighted or a blind person, as I have in the past. Sometimes I thought it would be easier to date a blind person, someone who could understand the challenges blind people face on a daily basis. At other times I thought it would be easier to date a sighted person, someone who could alleviate some of the challenges that go along with blindness.
Then, when I was in a relationship with someone sighted, I would start to question why I was with this person and why he was with me. Was he with me because he liked to play the protector? Was he with me because he had low self-esteem and didn't think he could get a sighted partner? Was I with him because it was nice to have someone to drive me places when I was in a hurry or read the paper when NFB-NEWSLINE® broke down? Was I with this person because I was afraid to be alone?
When I was in a relationship with a blind person, I found myself asking similar questions. Did we have anything in common besides our blindness? Was I in this relationship because I didn't think a sighted person could accept me? If I stayed in this relationship, how would we manage as a blind couple?
People enter relationships for many reasons. Like everyone else, we as blind students sometimes enter into relationships for the wrong ones. However, we can make this possibility less likely by possessing self-confidence and good blindness skills. For example, I probably won't get into a relationship of dependency with a sighted person if I have access to readers, have good Braille and cane travel skills, and thoroughly know the city bus schedule. Likewise, I won't be likely to enter into a relationship of safety with a blind person if I have the self-confidence to be blind on my own.
In other words, as in any relationship, you have to be happy with yourself before you can make another person happy. The better your blindness skills, the less your blindness will become an issue in a relationship. Both sighted and blind persons will respect you more if you are capable and self-confident. And isn't that what Dr. Jernigan, Dr. Maurer, and our other mentors in the National Federation of the Blind have been telling us for years? It is respectable to be blind. If you keep repeating this to yourself, you will start to believe it. If you believe it, you will begin to live it. Living that truth will positively affect your relationships with both sighted and blind people.
It is important for all of us as blind individuals to analyze our relationships. I'm not saying you have to get out a microscope and examine each and every move you and your partner make, but you should ask yourself the following questions:
1. Would I still be interested in this person if the status of his/her sight changed? In other words, if you are dating a sighted person, would you still be interested if he/she went blind? Or, if you are dating a blind person, would you be interested if he/she got his/her sight back?
2. Would I still want to be with this person if all of a sudden I could see?
If you are currently in a relationship and answer "no" to either of these questions, you might want to get out that microscope and take a closer look. You might be in the relationship for the wrong reasons. If you answered "yes" to both questions, then you have made it to the Number One advantage of dating a sighted or a blind person, which is the same for both.
1. Dating this person, sighted or blind, means being with the one you love (or at least the one you like a heck of a lot). And isn't that what really matters?
A film review by Mary Ellen Gabias
From the Editor: Mary Ellen Gabias is a longtime member of the NFB. After emigrating to Canada she helped found the Canadian Federation of the Blind, which is modeled upon the NFB in the United States.
The Eyes of Me: A co-production of Illegal Films and the Independent Television Service (ITVS)
Available from <www.eyesofme.com>
Growing through adolescence to adulthood can be confusing and emotionally bruising under the best of circumstances. The Eyes of Me captures the richness and depth of these struggles as it follows four students at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) during one eventful year.
Chas, Megan, Denise, and Isaac are kids you could find in any high school. Chas is a seventeen-year-old hip-hop musician. His drive toward instant adulthood leads him to drop out of school and live precariously on his own. Megan is a class valedictorian with dreams of higher education and a professional career. Denise is a painfully shy fifteen-year-old just beginning to discover boys, make friends, and break out of her shell. Isaac is a young man from rural Texas who has lost his sight within the previous year.
If these students had been sighted, their stories would have made for interesting cinema. Blindness, their reaction to it, and the attitudinal barriers they face add another dimension to stories that are, at bottom, about coming of age.
The film spends some time highlighting blindness techniques, but it avoids the trap of making individuals seem insignificant by focusing chiefly on the tools they use. We see a cane travel lesson and a Braille lesson and observe several students using computers equipped with screen readers. We also see a student council meeting, a drama practice, and a school play, as well as prom night and graduation. The message is clear; blind students use the skills of blindness as a means of participating in life.
The filmmakers spent a year at the Texas School for the Blind, a residential school in Austin. They shot more than 250 hours of film to weave the four individual stories into a collage. The storyline switches abruptly from one student to another, a style of presentation that isn't always easy for a blind person to follow. However, the DVD includes a descriptive video track, which can make a big difference. Documentary footage is interspersed with "rotoscopic animation" that is intended to create visual interest. I watched the movie with my sighted children, and they described the animated sections as "odd."
Several vignettes in the film stand out for me. There is the heartbreaking moment when we learn that Isaac's retinal detachment might have been operable if his grandparents had had medical insurance. There is the painful scene when Chas discovers that his mother hasn't arranged for his bus ticket home as she promised. There are also light, giggly scenes of girls gossiping about potential boyfriends.
The film avoids reinforcing the dual stereotypes of helplessness and superachievement that so often tarnish stories about blind people. The students talk openly about how the reactions of others to their blindness can be hurtful and disheartening. They also demonstrate their growth in self-confidence in the course of the year.
Federationists will be far more able than uninitiated viewers to separate the struggles of adolescence from the adjustment to blindness. The film could have been much stronger philosophically if a capable blind adult had been asked to provide a mature perspective. The same effect could have been achieved if the film had followed sighted adolescents facing similar personal issues. For example, a sighted valedictorian or hip-hop musician also face the world with a complex set of problems and emotions.
Producer/director Keith Maitland and his team have put together a film noteworthy for its respect of adolescents and blind people. It is clearly superior to most films about blindness created by those outside the community and vastly superior to many that have been done by organizations that claim to understand blindness-related issues.
by Laura Weber
When my daughter, Lindsay, was six years old, she wanted to be the President of the United States. But only for one term, she told me. After that, she wanted to be a clown and make balloon animals at Chick-fil-A.
When she was seven, Lindsay decided that she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. She told me that she was going to have two children, both girls, and that their names would be Brittany and Emma. I asked her whether a husband fit into this picture, and if so, did she already know his name, too? She didn’t miss a beat. “His name will be Mr. Lindsay.” Of course. How silly of me to not know that.
Now Lindsay is eight years old. She wants to be a baker…and a singer…and an author…and a mom. Her plans may change a hundred more times before she grows up, but I think the important thing is that when she thinks about her future, she’s not putting limitations on herself based on her blindness, or anything else, for that matter.
What does your child want to do when he or she grows up? Go to college? Get a job? Have a family? What do you want for your child? We all want our children to succeed, but there is no single definition of success that applies to all people--blind or sighted. I believe that our goal should be to help our children reach their full potential, whatever that may be. Whether our kids have academic goals or developmental goals, it is our job, as parents and teachers, to learn all that we can to help them succeed. The NOPBC conference at the national convention of the NFB is the place to learn how to do just that.
My family attended our first national convention in 2006, and by the time I left, I knew that the NFB’s philosophy was what I wanted my daughter to learn and live. I want her to have a positive attitude, self-determination, and high expectations; and I want her to have blind adults in her life to model the skills, competence, and confidence needed for success. I don’t know what Lindsay’s future holds, but whether she’s destined to be the President of the United States or a clown making balloon animals at Chick-fil-A, I want to make sure she has all the tools she needs to achieve her dreams. I want that for your child, too, so I hope you’ll join us at the NOPBC conference this year.
The 2011 NOPBC Conference, “When I Grow Up,” will take place at the NFB National Convention in Orlando, Florida, from July 3-8. All families and teachers of blind and visually impaired children are welcome, and there will be activities for everyone. The following is a description of the special NOPBC activities for parents, teachers, children, and youth, some insider information, and registration forms.
WHEN I GROW UP…
2011 NOPBC CONFERENCE
Schedule of Activities for Parents, Teachers, Children, & Youth
SUNDAY, JULY 3
Full-Day Seminar for Parents & Teachers
7:30 - 8:45 a.m.—REGISTRATION
9:00 - 11:00 a.m.—GENERAL SESSION
Welcome—Laura Weber, president, NOPBC
Kid Talk with Dr. Marc Maurer—Kids get a chance to speak to the president of the National Federation of the Blind about anything that’s on their minds
Braille Readers are Leaders Recognition
Looking Toward the Future—Dr. Fred Schroeder, 1st VP, National Federation of the Blind; president, NFB of Virginia
When I Grow Up—Panel of Blind Students
What Do Blind People Do?—Panel of Blind Adults
Introducing: The New NOPBC Web site!
10:45 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.—NOPBC CHILDREN’S ACTIVITY (ages 5-10, in NFB Child Care)
Children will work with professional clowns and learn all about costumes, makeup, tricks, jokes, and putting on a show. This activity continues in the afternoon.
10:45 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.—NFB YOUTH TRACK SESSION (ages 11-18)
Sponsored by NFB Jernigan Institute
Get in the Game
Jump into this year’s Youth Track with fun icebreakers; come catch up with old friends and make new ones.
11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.—NOPBC CONCURRENT SESSIONS—PARENTS & TEACHERS
The Right to Literacy for Young Blind/VI Children
How to provide experiences to prepare children of all abilities, ages 0-8, for a future of literacy. Instructors: Ann Burgess, MLS - Children’s Librarian and Early Literacy Specialist; Barbara Bailey, M.Ed. - Parent and Volunteer School Librarian (Pre K-6th)
Technology and the IEP
What technology does your child need? What does the law say about technology? How can you get it into the IEP? Instructor: Dr. Matt Maurer, Butler University
IDEA is Over—but Life for Your Adult Child with Additional Disabilities is Just Beginning
Finding resources and information for life after high school for children with additional disabilities. Instructor: Carol Akers, Parent
Get a Life—A Social Life, That Is
How parents and teachers can facilitate the development of social skills and friendships. Instructor: Mary Fernandez, Nat’l Assoc. of Blind Students
12:15 - 2:00 p.m.—LUNCH on your own; pick up children from child care
1:30 - 4:30 p.m.—NFB YOUTH TRACK SESSION (ages 11-18)
The Blind Life
Games designed to entertain and stretch your ideas about blindness. Test your skills through Jenga, let your inner actor/actress out through Get a Clue, Take a Risk, and play the Game of Life.
2:00 p.m.—Clowning Around workshop continues in the Child Care rooms
2:00 - 3:15 p.m.—NOPBC CONCURRENT SESSIONS—PARENTS & TEACHERS
Low expectations can doom a blind/VI child to failure. What do appropriate expectations look like? Instructor: Dr. Ruby Ryles, LA Tech University
Behavior: Who’s in Control Here Anyway?
Learn about positive behavior supports and how love, control, independence, and self-determination are all connected. Instructor: Dr. Jerry Petroff, The College of New Jersey (TCNJ)
Preparing for College
Tips for getting through the application process and surviving freshman year. Instructors: Barbara Mathews, NOPBC Board; College Student Panel
Tools and Techniques for the Classroom
How the blind/VI student can be included in all classroom activities. Instructors: Dr. Lillian Rankel, Science Teacher; Marilyn Winograd, TBVI; Dr. Cary Supalo, Independence Science; Dr. Andrew Greenberg, Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center, Univ. of WI
3:30 - 4:45 p.m.—NOPBC CONCURRENT SESSIONS—PARENTS & TEACHERS
Issues in Standardized Testing
Computer-based testing, state consortia, IEP accommodations—what will it all mean for blind/VI kids? Instructor: Pat Renfranz, NOPBC Board
Behavior: Who’s in Control Here Anyway?
Learn about positive behavior supports and how love, control, independence, and self-determination are all connected. This session will put a special emphasis on dads, but all are welcome. Instructor: Dr. Jerry Petroff, TCNJ
How to Get Rid of Your Child ☺
Equipping your child with the skills needed for an independent life. Instructor: Melody Roane, VA Dept. for the BVI
Out & About: Independent Mobility for Your Child
High expectations, real-life goals, and how to achieve them in the area of independent travel. Instructor: Denise Mackenstadt, NOMC
5:00 - 7:00 p.m.—MIX & MINGLE RECEPTION—PROFESSIONALS & PARENTS
7:00 - 9:00 p.m.—NOPBC FAMILY HOSPITALITY
Relax and chat, meet new families, and connect with old friends. “Veteran” parents will be on hand to welcome and provide information.
MONDAY, JULY 4
No NFB Child Care on this day
8:45 - 10:30 a.m.—CANE WALK Session I
11:00 a.m. - 12:45 p.m.—CANE WALK Session II
Learn and experience the Discovery Method of travel at these special workshops. Parents, teachers, blind children, siblings welcome. Instructors: Jeff Altman, NOMC, and cane travel instructors
11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., or 3:00 p.m.—NOPBC FAMILY OUTING TO SEAWORLD
Admission to the park and a special tour, all at a very special price. Must preregister. Details on registration pages.
4:00 - 5:00 p.m.—NFB YOUTH TRACK SESSION (ages 11-18)
Writing Your Script
Aspiring writer? Just want to brush up on the basics? Come join members of the NFB Writers’ Division for this fun and informative workshop.
TUESDAY, JULY 5
10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.-NOPBC CHILDREN’S ACTIVITY (ages 5-12, in Child Care)
NOTES: All NOPBC children’s activities will take place in NFB Child Care. Be sure to register your child with child care! On Tuesday, July 5, only, 11- and 12-year-olds may be signed up for child care.
Tinkering with Tools
Children will touch, examine, and use tools and equipment related to cars and doing things around the house courtesy of Joe Naulty, Harold Wenning, and the NFB CARS Division.
11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.—NFB YOUTH TRACK ACTIVITY (ages 11-18)
Want to be a lawyer? Career plans include teaching or working in the human services field? Unsure what career to consider? Looking for people with similar interests? However you answer these questions, come hear NFB members describe their divisions and find the one that is right for you.
1:00 - 4:00 p.m.—NOPBC ANNUAL MEETING: OPTIONS & OPPORTUNITIES
Keynote address by the 2011 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children, special guest speakers, student panel, how do blind people do things, summer programs for our kids, Parent Power, business meeting, elections, and much more!
1:30 - 3:30 p.m.—NOPBC CHILDREN’S ACTIVITY (ages 5-12, in Child Care)
NOTE: You may drop off your child early at child care on this day so that you can attend the NOPBC Annual Meeting. Children stay in child care after the activity.
Hands-On Science Is So Much Fun!
Children will conduct messy, noisy, interesting, funny, creepy, dirty, and baffling experiments with quicksand, space sand, jumping beans, dinosaur sandwiches, and crater-making, while learning the science behind the fun. Instructors: Dr. Lillian Rankel, Marilyn Winograd, Dr. Cary Supalo, Dr. Andrew Greenberg
5:00 - 7:00 p.m.—BRAILLE BOOK FAIR
A book lover's dream! Browse tables of new and used Braille and print/Braille books. Volunteers will box your books and deliver them to the post office for Free Matter shipment. Books are free and donations are encouraged to help support our Braille programs. Cosponsored by NOPBC & NAPUB. Coordinator: Barbara Cheadle
7:00 - 9:00 p.m.—NFB YOUTH TRACK ACTIVITY (ages 11-18)
The Amazing Race
A fast-paced evening filled with various challenges. Put on your game face and come enjoy Orlando with your friends.
7:30 - 9:00 p.m.—DADS’ NIGHT OUT
All dads, sighted and blind, are welcome. Call Jim Beyer at (406) 239-2057 for location.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 6
7:00 - 10:00 p.m.—NOPBC CHILDREN’S ACTIVITIES (ages 6-14)
Crafts & Games
For children whose parents are attending the NOPBC workshops.
7:00 - 8:15 p.m.—NOPBC CONCURRENT SESSIONS—PARENTS & TEACHERS
IEPs for Rookies: The Law, Evaluations, Goals, Strategies
The basic principles of writing an effective IEP for parents who are relatively new to the process. Instructor: Carlton Walker, Parent, Attorney, TBVI
VR Services? What’s That?
From the IEP to the IPE—how the rules change, what to expect from a rehab agency, what can rehab pay for, what is SSI, how to be an informed consumer. Instructor: Dick Davis, Asst. Director, Employment Programs, BLIND, Inc.
Will & Estate Planning for Families with Special Needs Children
What you need to know to plan for and protect your child’s future. Instructor: TBA
8:30 - 9:45 p.m.—NOPBC CONCURRENT SESSIONS—PARENTS & TEACHERS
IEPs for “Veterans”: Getting a Good Plan in Place
For parents who have been through the IEP process a few times but still need assistance in getting a good education plan in place. Instructor: Carlton Walker, Parent, Attorney, TBVI
The ABCs of Braille
A hands-on workshop that will teach the beginning of Braille reading and writing. Instructors: Gail Wagner, TBVI, and Vickie Buchignani, COMS, TBVI
Finding Summer and Part-Time Jobs
Tips & techniques from experienced rehab professionals and blind people who’ve done it. Instructors: Dick Davis, Asst. Director, Employment Programs, BLIND, Inc., & Panel of Blind Adults
7:00 - 10:00 p.m.—NFB YOUTH TRACK ACTIVITY (ages 14-18)
Minute to Swim It
Come enjoy an evening of swimming, and wacky games based on the popular game show Minute to Win It. You don’t want to miss an evening that is sure to be full of laughs and great memories!
THURSDAY, JULY 7
7:00 - 8:45 a.m.—NOPBC BOARD MEETING
NOPBC Insider Information
National convention is a complicated week of events. Here are a few tips to help you stay organized and take advantage of the many opportunities that will be available.
CHILDREN’S ACTIVITIES & CHILD CARE INFORMATION:
SEMINAR DAY INFORMATION
TEEN & TWEEN ROOMS
OTHER ACTIVITIES ALL WEEK LONG
NOPBC 2011 CONFERENCE
REGISTRATION, WORKSHOP, & FAMILY OUTING SIGN-UP
Make checks payable to NOPBC and mail with forms to:
Pat Renfranz, NOPBC Treasurer
397 Middle Oak Lane
Salt Lake City, UT 84108
Save money by preregistering! Preregistration must be postmarked by June 10.
After June 10, please register on-site in Orlando.
By June 10
On-site in Orlando
Child/Youth (5-18 years)
Adult Name ____________________________________________________
[ ] parent [ ] professional [ ] other____________________
Adult Name ____________________________________________________
[ ] parent [ ] professional [ ] other____________________
Please list additional adults on a separate sheet.
Address ______________________________ City _____________________
State _______ Zip _____________ Phone _______________________
E-mail ____________________________ Alt. phone ____________________
Children’s names (first and last), ages, and brief description of vision and any additional disabilities:__________________________
How many? Prereg. by June 10 On-site reg.
Adults _____ @ $25 = $______ or @ $30 = $______
Children _____ @ $10 = $______ or @ $15 = $______
Total enclosed: $_________
___ I receive Future Reflections ___ I am a member of my state NFB/POBC ___ This is my 1st national convention ___ If not, how many have you attended?
___ I cannot attend the Conference but please put me on the NOPBC mailing list. (Please fill out information online or above and mail in form.)
PLEASE NOTE: Preregistrations postmarked after June 10 will be returned.
Also, remember that registrations for the NOPBC Conference and NFB child care are separate and must be mailed to different places.
SUNDAY, JULY 3
11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. (Please mark how many will attend each session)
_____ The Right to Literacy for Young Blind/VI Children
_____ Technology and the IEP
_____ IDEA is Over—Life for Adult Child with Additional Disabilities
_____ Get a Life—A Social Life, That Is
2:00 - 3:15 p.m. (Please mark how many will attend each session)
_____ Age-Appropriate Expectations
_____ Behavior: Who’s in Control Here Anyway?
_____ Preparing for College
_____ Tools and Techniques for the Classroom
3:30 - 4:45 p.m. (Please mark how many will attend each session)
_____ Issues in Standardized Testing
_____ Behavior: Who’s in Control Here Anyway? (with emphasis on dads)
_____ How to Get Rid of Your Child ☺
_____ Out & About: Independent Mobility for Your Child
CHILDREN (ages 5-10)
Please mark how many will attend each session
_____ 10:45 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.: Clowning Around Workshop
_____ 2:00 - 5:00 p.m.: Clowning Around continues
Name _____________________ Age_______
NOTE: Children’s activities will take place in NFB child care. In order for your child to take part, YOU MUST REGISTER YOUR CHILD FOR CHILD CARE on that day.
YOUTH (ages 11-18)
Please mark how many will attend each session
_____ 10:45 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.: Get in the Game
_____ 2:00 - 5:00 p.m.: The Blind Life
MONDAY, JULY 4
8:45 - 10:30 a.m.: Cane Walk Session I
Please mark how many will attend session
_____ adults _____ children _____ youth
_________ ages _________ ages
11:00 a.m. - 12:45 p.m.: Cane Walk Session II
Please mark how many will attend session
_____ adults _____ children _____ youth
_________ ages _________ ages
11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., or 3:00 p.m.: NOPBC Family Outing to SeaWorld
Please see separate registration materials following Workshop Sign-up sheets.
YOUTH (ages 11-18)
Please mark how many will attend session
_____ 4:00 - 5:00 p.m.: Writing Your Script
TUESDAY, JULY 5
CHILDREN (ages 5-12)
Please mark how many will attend each session
_____ 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.: Tinkering with Tools
Name _____________________ Age_______
_____ 1:30 - 3:30 .pm.: Hands-On Science Is So Much Fun
Name _____________________ Age_______
_____ I give my permission for my child to be photographed in this session
NOTE: Children’s activities will take place in NFB child care. Child must be registered for child care that day in order to attend. On Tuesday, July 5, only, 11- and 12-year-olds may be signed up for child care.
YOUTH (ages 11-18)
Please mark how many will attend session
_____ 11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Blind Apprentice
_____ 7:00 - 8:00 p.m. The Amazing Race
WEDNESDAY, JULY 6
7:00 - 8:15 p.m. (Please mark how many will attend each session)
_____ IEPs for Rookies
_____ VR Services? What’s That?
_____ Will & Estate Planning
8:30 - 9:45 p.m. (Please mark how many will attend each session)
_____ IEPs for “Veterans”
_____ The ABCs of Braille
_____ Finding Summer and Part-Time Jobs
CHILDREN (ages 6-10)
Please Note: Sign your child up for this activity only if you will be attending NOPBC workshops that evening.
Please mark how many will attend session
_____ 7 - 10 p.m. Crafts & Games
Name _____________________ Age_______
YOUTH (ages 11-18)
Please mark how many will attend session
_____ 7 - 10 p.m. Minute to Swim It
NOPBC Family Outing to SeaWorld
Information & Touch Tour Registration
SeaWorld has made it possible for NOPBC families to visit the park on Monday, July 4, for a cost of only $25 per person! They have also set up a special touch tour for blind children. To take the tour, you must sign up and send payment in advance (see below). If you do NOT want to take the tour, but just want to visit the park, you do NOT need to sign up or pay in advance. Either way, to enter the park at the special price, you must enter through the Education Gate and mention that you are with NOPBC. The Education Gate is located in Lot G, accessible through SeaWorld's main toll plaza. Entrance is through the Education Gate, but you will exit through the front gate of the park. The park is located less than 3 miles from the convention hotel, so it will be a short drive or taxi ride to get there. There is a fee for parking. Glass bottles, straws, drink lids, and coolers are not permitted into the park.
TOUCH TOUR INFORMATION—SeaWorld Ocean Discovery Adventures in Education: Shark & Penguin Encounter
Blind children will experience a behind-the-scenes tactile encounter with sharks, penguins, snakes, lizards, bones and even polar bear fur! Each special tour begins at the Education Pavilion where a specially trained educator will guide participants through their tactile exploration. Guests are then challenged to separate shark fact from fiction before interacting with a small shark. After that, penguin and puffin enthusiasts can venture behind the scenes of Penguin Encounter. Guests learn firsthand from animal care experts about nurturing these unique birds. Then, participants put their knowledge to the test as they interact with curious puffins and waddling penguins. Please note that this part of the tour involves a set of stairs and may involve walking on ice or wet surfaces.
Tour space is limited and will be assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you and your child would like to participate in the tour, please fill in the form below and mail it with your check ASAP. You may sign up your blind child/children and one adult. If your blind child is mature enough to participate in the tour under general (rather than one-to-one) supervision, you may sign him/her up to go on the tour independently. If you cannot accompany your blind child on the tour because of your other children, please contact us and we will try to accommodate you.
There will be three tours—at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. Each tour is limited to 25 people, including adults. Please mark your 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choices of times. (Note: if you also want to participate in the Cane Walk on that day, make sure you either sign up for the earlier Cane Walk Session or a later tour session.) You may arrive early at the park and stay late to enjoy all park shows and attractions that do not conflict with your tour time. If all tours are filled by the time we get your paperwork, we will contact you and return your check. If you get closed out of the tours, you will still be able to enter the park for the $25 fee (pay at the door).
TOUCH TOUR REGISTRATION
Blind Child’s Name (first and last)
___________________________ Age ______ Date of Birth ____________
Blind Child’s Name (first and last)
___________________________ Age ______ Date of Birth ____________
Accompanying Adult’s Name
[ ] parent [ ] other____________________
Address ______________________________ City _____________________
State _______ Zip _____________ Phone _______________________
Cell phone ____________________
1 or 0 (circle)
X $25 =
Child/Children (Under 3--no charge)
X $25 =
Please write a separate check for this tour made payable to NOPBC and mark “family outing” in the memo section. Mail with this form to:
Pat Renfranz, NOPBC Treasurer
397 Middle Oak Lane
Salt Lake City UT 84108
NOPBC 2011 CONFERENCE OVERVIEW
Please Note: Teen Room & Tween Room schedules will be added when NFB full agenda is available.
Sunday, July 3
9:00 - 11:00 a.m. General Session (Adults, Children, Youth)
Children & Youth will be escorted to their activities at 10:45
10:45 a.m. -12:15 p.m. Children’s Activity (ages 5-10)
10:45 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. Youth Track (ages 11-18)
11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. NOPBC Concurrent Workshop Sessions
2:00 - 5:00 p.m. Children’s Activity continues (ages 5-10)
2:00 - 5:00 p.m. Youth Track (ages 11-18)
2:00 - 3:15 p.m. NOPBC Concurrent Workshop Sessions
3:30 - 4:45 p.m. NOPBC Concurrent Workshop Sessions
5:00 - 7:00 p.m. Reception
7:00 - 9:00 p.m. Family Hospitality
Monday, July 4
8:45 - 10:30 a.m. Cane Walk Session I (Adults, Children, Youth)
11:00 a.m. - 12:45 p.m. Cane Walk Session II (Adults, Children, Youth)
11:00 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. SeaWorld Family Outing tour times
4:00 - 5:00 p.m. Youth Track (ages 11-18)
Tuesday, July 5
10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Children’s Activity (ages 5-12; ages 11 & 12 this day only)
11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Youth Track (ages 11-18)
1:00 - 4:00 p.m. NOPBC Annual Meeting
1:30 - 3:30 p.m. Children’s Activity (ages 5-12; ages 11 & 12 this day only)
You can bring children to child care early on this day; they can stay in child care after the activity ends
5:00 - 7:00 p.m. Braille Book Fair
7:00 - 8:00 p.m. Youth Track (ages 11-18)
7:30 - 9:00 p.m. Dad’s Night Out
Wednesday, July 6
7:00 - 8:15 p.m. NOPBC Concurrent Workshops
8:30 - 9:45 p.m. NOPBC Concurrent Workshops
7:00 - 10:00 p.m. Children’s Activity (ages 6-14)
for children whose parents are in the NOPBC workshops
7:00 - 10:00 p.m. Youth Track (ages 11-18)
Thursday, July 7
7:00 - 8:45 a.m. NOPBC Board Meeting
Reprinted from the Braille Monitor, April 2011
Since 1996 Carla McQuillan has organized and directed child care during sessions of the national convention. Carla is a longtime Federationist and is a leader at both the state and national levels. She is also the executive director of a nonprofit organization that operates three Montessori preschools and a teacher certification program in Oregon.
During convention the children are divided into three age groups: infant/toddler, preschool, and elementary school. The child care rooms are equipped with toys, games, books, and art materials, and the baby room also has cribs. Each room is assigned an experienced supervisor who engages the other care professionals. This year the supervisors will be drawn from the staff at Carla's Montessori schools. In addition, local Head Start teachers will assist with the care and activities. Alison McQuillan, Carla's daughter, will direct the program and staff when Carla is in sessions. Alison has worked in this capacity since 2003.
Special Activities and Events
A clown team, Dipsy and Doodle, will conduct a clown clinic during the first few days of convention. The clowns will teach the children some skits and will let them explore costumes, make-up, and face painting. They will return to entertain the children during the convention banquet. Other special activities will include water play on the hotel lawns, projects organized by the Krafters Division, Braille story time, and music activities led by blind adults.
We anticipate a large crowd in child care this year. It is imperative that all children be registered in advance. Spaces are limited, and they fill quickly. To secure your child's space, fill out the registration form below and mail it with your payment to:
NFB Child Care
5005 Main Street
Springfield, OR 97478
We can also accept MasterCard or Visa by phone or e-mail. Direct questions to Carla McQuillan at (541) 726-6924, or e-mail her at email@example.com.
NFB Child Care Schedule
Sunday, July 3, 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m.
Monday, July 4, Closed
Tuesday, July 5, 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m.
Wednesday, July 6, 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 7, 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m.
Friday, July 8, 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m.
Banquet, July 8, 6:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m.
* Closing times may vary, depending on the actual adjournment of sessions. Children must be picked up within thirty minutes of adjournment to avoid a late fee.
Child Care Fees
All week, (5 days, excluding banquet), $100.00
Banquet, (includes dinner and show) $25.00
By the day, (as space is available) $25.00
Priority will be given to children who are registered for the care week. Spaces will be assigned on a first-come first-serve basis, as registration and payment are received. We accept checks, money orders, MasterCard, and Visa. For more information call Carla at (541) 726-6924.
BRAILLE BOOK FAIR/FLEA MARKET
Braille Book Fair
UPS/ Attention: Bessie Graham
8901 Atlantic Avenue, Orlando, FL 32824
Donate your gently used but no-longer-needed Braille books to the 2011 Braille Book Fair/Flea Market sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille. Books should be in good condition. Cookbooks, books about sports, print/Braille picture books, and all books suitable for children and youth are needed. Children are so hungry to have their very own books that every year, despite generous donations, most of our books for young children are gone in less than an hour. Search through the boxes in your basement and spare room and get those books shipped to the address above. Peggy Chong has stepped down after many years of building this successful event, and this year's coordinator is Barbara Cheadle. If you have any questions, contact Barbara at (410) 747-3472 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. This year's event will take place on Tuesday, July 5, from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m.
On March 15, 2011, the National Federation of the Blind filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the use of Google Apps for Education and Chrome notebooks by many Oregon schools. These complaints grew out of NFB's concern that, increasingly, public schools are adopting inaccessible technologies that exclude blind students and teachers from school activities. If you would like to report a problem that you have encountered with inaccessible educational technology, please contact the NFB through the new online form at <www.nfb.org/technologyform>. Complete the questionnaire called "Digital Technology and Accessibility in Schools."
Sleep Study on Blind Infants and Toddlers
Donna Brostek Lee
Assistant Professor, Western Michigan University
Office Phone: (269) 387-5944
Cell: (502) 403-6891
A doctoral candidate at the University of Louisville who currently teaches at Western Michigan University is conducting a research study on sleep problems in young blind children. The study is noninvasive and will not involve any medication. The sleep patterns of participants will be measured through a small device worn on the wrist, and the intervention will consist of an auditory bubble panel to act as a positive sleep association and zeitgeber (time cue). In addition, caregivers will need to log daily sleep information such as the time they put the participant to bed and unusual events during the day. Families will not be paid for participation, but they will be offered the option to keep the bubble panel upon completion of the study. To qualify, a participant must be between nine and thirty-six months of age, must have a sleep problem as identified by caregivers, must be totally blind or have light perception only, and must have no other disabilities or major medical conditions.
Disease Distribution Survey on ONH
Children's Hospital Los Angeles
4650 Sunset Blvd., MS #88, Los Angeles, CA 90027
Contacts: Mark Borchert, MD, and Pamela García Filion, MPH (323) 361-2267
Children's Hospital Los Angeles is conducting an ongoing nationwide survey to gather information on how cases of optic nerve hypoplasia (ONH) are spread across the United States and to determine if there are unique distributions of this disease. Participation is available to families with a child diagnosed with ONH, and it is completely voluntary. Parents of a child with ONH are eligible to complete the survey if the mother lived in the United States three months before becoming pregnant and during her first two trimesters.
National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB)
101 S. Trenton St., Ruston, LA 71270
Contact: Deja Powell (318) 257-4554
The NBPCB has established rigorous standards for certifying competent professionals who wish to demonstrate their knowledge and proficiency in reading and writing the literary Braille code. Candidates who fulfill all application requirements and successfully pass the National Literary Braille Competency Test (NLBCT) are awarded the National Certification in Literary Braille. Test dates and locations are posted regularly on the Web site, and an applicant may also request a test to be administered in his/her area.
NFB-Link provides mentoring relationships for individuals who would like resources and guidance on a variety of blindness topics. The program pairs individuals seeking information or advice with experienced Federationists. This is a great resource for anyone who wants to learn more about a variety of blindness issues, from how to use services at college effectively to how to re-pot an orchid using nonvisual techniques.
NAGDU Education and Advocacy Hotline
The National Association of Guide Dog Users (NAGDU) has launched an innovative new service. The NAGDU Education and Advocacy Hotline offers information about the legal rights of individuals who use service animals and allows callers to speak with an advocate who is trained to resolve access denials. Currently the hotline provides general information about service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as specific guidance concerning restaurants, taxis, and health care facilities. Future plans include summaries of specific state laws and guidance in a variety of languages.
Contact: Janice Davis
Be Someone is an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization that uses the game of chess to help at-risk youth discover their potential and learn the skills necessary to win in any situation. Since Be Someone opened more than a decade ago, thousands of children have proven to themselves and others how much they can achieve with determination and perseverance.
TactileView is a software program for producing tactile maps, pictures, and diagrams. The design software allows production on a Braille embosser or on microcapsule paper. The Web site includes an extensive catalog of images that can be produced using this method.
MOLinsight Web Portal
Contact: Joao Aires de Sousa
MOLinsight is a gateway to open-source software as well as software freely accessible to students that can be integrated in strategies for blind users to process chemical structures. It includes the NavMol program, a molecular editor for visually impaired users. The NavMol program enables the user to navigate the structure of a molecule atom-by-atom, providing information about neighbors of each atom and bond types. It also allows structures to be changed by adding or deleting atoms and bonds. This is a very simple application that uses the MS-DOS or Linux shell command-line interface. Users interact with the program via the keyboard and text-to-speech software or Braille display. Testers of the new improved version are welcome.
Developed by K-NFB Reading Technology, BLIO is a new ebook reader that is fully accessible to blind users. The free software can be downloaded to a computer running a Windows operating system. The program provides access to more than three million books that can be downloaded free of charge, as well as some seventy thousand titles available for purchase.
Bookshare announces a new partnership with Sourcebooks. Sourcebooks publishes college and test study guides including Gruber's SAT, The Fiske Guide to Colleges, and The U.S. News and World Report Ultimate College Guide, as well as books about college life such as The Naked Roommate: and 107 Other Issues You Might Run into in College, by Harlan Cohen. Bookshare is a library of nearly one hundred thousand electronic books that can be read in DAISY format or using a refreshable Braille device. Any student with a qualifying disability may subscribe free of charge.
The Real U Guides
National Braille Press
88 St. Stephen St., Boston, MA 02115
(617) 266-6160, Ext. 520
Three titles from National Braille Press may be of particular interest to teens and young adults. The Real U Guide to Your First Apartment, The Real U Guide to Bank Accounts and Credit Cards, and The Real U Guide to Your First Job are available in Braille and ebook formats.
Top Tech Tidbits Newsletter
Flying Blind, LLC
Sent via e-mail every Thursday, this newsletter offers the week's updates on adaptive technology. Each listing links to a site where the reader can find further information.
YourTube is a free, accessible Web interface for the wildly popular YouTube. The interface allows users to search effortlessly for audiovisual material on the YouTube site. Search terms are entered and the results are shown as headings. The player controls are easy to use with a screen reader, and alternative colors are an option for users with low vision. Povidi NZ Ltd is a New Zealand-based company committed to developing solutions that matter for the visually impaired.
TED is a nonprofit organization dedicated to "ideas worth spreading." This site makes available more than nine hundred eighteen-minute talks delivered by world leaders in such fields as science, medicine, the arts, and global issues. Hear what the experts have to say about the sound the universe makes, the birth of words, the causes of cancer, and much, much more!
7-128 Software has reviewed over one hundred Web sites and compiled a list of the top twenty-five sites for blind gamers. The sites listed give information about blind-accessible games and blind gaming communities.