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 31 Number 1 Winter 2012
Deborah Kent Stein, Editor
Copyright © 2012 American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
For more information
about blindness and children contact:
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, MD 21230 • (410) 659-9314
www.nfb.org/nopbc • firstname.lastname@example.org • email@example.com
Volume 31 Number 1 Winter 2012
Action Required: Are Your Kids Using Technology in School?
by Mark A. Riccobono
TEACHING AND LEARNING
Emerging Victorious: How the NFB Braille Reading Pals Club Is Promoting a More Literate
Generation of Blind Children
by Anna Cheadle Hughes and Emily Gibbs
by Dr. Denise M. Robinson
Paintings to Touch
by Doreen Franklin
Making Friends, Meeting Strangers
by Barbara Pierce
"Use Your Hands, Mom! Use Your Hands!"
by Barbara Cheadle
Avoiding the Ditches
by Barbara Loos
INTERESTS AND PASSIONS
That Single Chance
by Leslie Hamric
"Put Your Head Up and Smile!"
by Aleeha Dudley
Working with My Hands: From Paneling to Powder Horns
by Frederic W. Noesner
New Discoveries about the Developing Brain
by Hilary Richardson
Introducing NFB Early Explorers
by Meleah Jensen
Louder and Prouder: Two More States Added to the BELL Choir!
by Jackie Otwell and Natalie Shaheen
Driving Change: The 2011 NFB Youth Slam
by Natalie Shaheen
For the Love of Reading: Seedlings Braille Books for Children
by Vicky Opie
Building a Parents' Chapter in Alaska
by Pamela Gebert
Saturday School Isn't for Saturday Anymore
by Peggy Chong
Out-of-Sight Science Experiments,
by Dr. Lillian A. Rankel and Marilyn Winograd
Reviewed by Alex Gamino
ODDS AND ENDS
Future Reflections is a magazine for parents and teachers of blind children. It is published quarterly by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults in partnership with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Future Reflections is available free of charge to subscriber addresses in the U.S. in regular print and audio formats and via email, or it can be read online on the NFB website. Canadian subscriptions are $35.00 per year, and other foreign subscriptions are $75.00 U.S. per year. Checks should be made payable to the National Federation of the Blind and sent to the NFB, Attention Future Reflections, 200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, MD 21230.
For an email subscription to Future Reflections, visit <www.nfbcal.org/listserv-signup.html> and follow the instructions.
To subscribe to Future Reflections in print or audio format, send an email to ParentOutreach@nfb.org. Put "Subscribe to FR" in the subject line and include your preferred medium in the body. Please include your address, whether you are the parent of a blind child, a teacher, or other subscriber. If you are a parent, include your child's name and birth date.
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.
What is different about the NOPBC?
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.
What is the mission of the NOPBC?
The purpose of the NOPBC is to:
• create a climate of opportunity for blind children in home and society.
• provide information and support to parents of blind children.
• facilitate the sharing of experience and concerns among parents of blind children.
• develop and expand resources available to parents and their children.
• help parents of blind children gain understanding and perspective through partnership and contact with blind adults.
• function as an integral part of the National Federation of the Blind in its ongoing effort to achieve equality and opportunity for all blind persons.
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.
What are the programs, activities, publications, and resources of the NOPBC?
• 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 Braille 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)
by Mark A. Riccobono
From the Editor: Is technology a blessing or a barrier for blind students? Sometimes it is hard to know for sure. In this article Mark Riccobono, executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute (the research and education arm of the National Federation of the Blind), examines the technological revolution in today's classrooms and calls for action to ensure that blind students fully reap the benefits.
Technology used to be something extra to help reinforce educational concepts. Its role in schools was confined to the school library and maybe a computer lab. Certainly it was not found in every classroom, and it was hardly in the hands of individual students on a consistent basis. But this scenario has been replaced by a technology revolution that has come so quickly many of us have been caught by surprise.
The father of a blind child recently posted the news to a parents' listserv: "Talk about a wake-up call! I learned that not only are iPads being piloted in the high school, but also in every school in our district. At my younger son's elementary school the whole fifth-grade class will be using iPads this school year. One of the other elementary schools in our district chose to pilot iPads at the kindergarten level! The whole district is getting wired to phase in the electronic era. This is no longer some futurist possibility--the e-wave is here and will likely roll into your district before you know it."
The e-wave is definitely upon us, but this article is not meant to brace you for yet another invasion of educational practices that will have to be worked around for blind children. It is, in fact, a call to action. Technology brings opportunities that blind students have never had before. However, it will take a consistent and insistent network of well-informed parents and advocates to ensure that these opportunities are realized.
In the days when the printed book was the primary instructional medium in the schools, blind children did not have immediate access to the materials their sighted peers were using. Fortunately, Louis Braille invented his tactile code for reading and writing during the nineteenth century. Over the years new technologies made it easier to transform the printed book into Braille as quickly as possible. Innovations included the development of Braille translation software, high-speed Braille embossers, optical character recognition (OCR), and desktop scanners. In the United States, an amendment to the Copyright Act permitted the reproduction and distribution of materials in specialized formats. As printed materials were increasingly produced digitally on computers before they were sent to a printing press, we were able to create systems for getting an electronic file of the printed work that could be transcribed into Braille. Today many stories and novels that are used in K-12 classrooms during the school year or for required summer reading are readily available for immediate download from WebBraille, a program of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS); or from Bookshare.org.
Due to the fact that each Braille textbook is composed of multiple volumes, students who use hardcopy Braille only have real-time access to one or a few volumes at a time during class. Ordinarily they don't have a full embossed copy of their textbooks at home, either. Teachers often teach chapters out of sequence. The blind student is at a serious disadvantage when the teacher suddenly skips ahead to a chapter near the back of the book and the student does not have the needed volume. When studying for exams, students may need access to chapters that are not at hand. The textbook glossaries and indexes are in completely separate volumes to which blind students may not have ready access.
Electronic books (e-books) can be read in Braille with a device such as the BrailleNote or PAC Mate. Unlike hardcopy Braille books, e-books are compact and highly portable. Electronic files containing the content of books are easily searchable, giving students ongoing access to material in all of the chapters as well as glossaries and textbook dictionaries. With a properly prepared e-book, the blind student easily can keep up with his or her sighted classmates.
Enter the technology revolution (or the e-wave). The once-familiar textbook, with its hundreds of pages between hard covers, is retreating into history. Today technology in the schools is no longer just a flashy enhancement or supplement, but an integral part of the curriculum. As school districts consider the adoption of new textbooks, increasing numbers are choosing digital versions in lieu of hardcopy editions. Sighted students use technology extensively to access core instructional materials. More and more educational content is delivered via the Internet or in other digital forms.
Technology is changing the paradigm of teaching and learning. It is also changing the paradigm for equal access to education for blind students, providing unprecedented opportunities as well as new challenges.
Unlike the printed book, most technology is not inaccessible to blind students by default. Digital content starts in a form that is inherently accessible, and it has the potential to remain accessible--as long as the correct design is implemented. In other words, the old paradigm of adapting what you get is being replaced by a promising new paradigm where what you get is accessible immediately, with no additional adaptation. We sometimes refer to this paradigm with the slogan, "Same book, same time, same price." However, this slogan may be too limiting, as the "book" is only one piece of the vast digital landscape of webpages and other systems used to facilitate learning in the twenty-first century.
Unfortunately, current technology designs frequently exclude accessibility. All too often the schools fail to keep accessibility in mind when they purchase new technology. The result is a broken promise, the promise of equal access to education paid for with public funds.
The paradigm shift that accompanies the increasingly high-tech learning environment leaves some people feeling uncertain. Yet the laws that ensure equal access to education for students with disabilities remain fairly clear when they are applied to the new paradigm for digital education. Access to technology in the schools is more than a promising practice for students who are blind--it is a right protected by law. Digital-based instructional tools and materials used in the classroom must be user-friendly for blind students, and e-content must facilitate the same functions and benefits for blind students that it provides to students without disabilities.
On May 26, 2011, Russlyn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights for the US Department of Education, issued a "Dear Colleague Letter" to elementary and secondary education officials throughout the nation. This letter, along with an accompanying document listing frequently asked questions, makes it clear that schools must ensure equal access to the educational benefits and opportunities afforded by emerging technology, and that all students, including those with disabilities, must receive equal treatment in the use of technology. The Dear Colleague Letter and FAQ documents were the follow-up to a letter released jointly by the Department of Education and the Department of Justice on June 29, 2010. All of this correspondence sprang from complaints filed by the National Federation of the Blind on behalf of blind students.
Below are some highlights from the correspondence. (The URLs for the original documents are provided at the end of this article.)
The Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) makes it clear that these documents are not new statements of law or regulation, and emphasizes that existing laws and regulations ensure current civil rights protections. Question 1 in the FAQ notes in part: "The DCL discusses longstanding law. Specifically, it addresses key principles of federal disability discrimination law: the obligation to provide an equal opportunity to individuals with disabilities to participate in, and receive the benefits of, the educational program, and the obligation to provide accommodations or modifications when necessary to ensure equal treatment. Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, these legal standards apply to entities that receive federal financial assistance, including elementary, secondary, and postsecondary institutions. ... Under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 (Title II), these obligations apply to entities of state and local government, including public schools."
As technology emerges there needs to be a shift from the accommodation model to one that embraces mainstream access. The FAQ goes on to say,
"For the purposes of assessing whether accommodations or modifications in the context of emerging technology, and, more specifically, electronic book readers, meet the compliance requirements, the DCL provides a functional definition of accessibility for students who are blind or have low vision. Under this definition, these students must be afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as sighted students. In addition, although this might not result in identical ease of use compared to that of students without disabilities, it still must ensure equal access to the educational benefits and opportunities afforded by the technology and equal treatment in the use of such technology. The DCL uses the term 'substantially equivalent ease of use' to describe this concept."
The FAQ goes on to give examples and presents questions to be considered in implementing new technologies. "Sometimes accessibility is viewed either as a barrier to implementing new technology or as a secondary concern to the importance of staying on the cutting edge." The FAQ makes it clear that innovation and accessibility need not be mutually exclusive. "... the Department encourages schools to employ innovative learning tools. Because technology is evolving, it has the capability to enhance the academic experience for everyone, especially students with disabilities. Innovation and equal access can go hand in hand. The purpose of the DCL is to remind everyone that equal access for students with disabilities is the law and must be considered as new technology is integrated into the educational environment."
The original DCL (June 29, 2010) was written as a response to a specific set of events (the use of inaccessible e-book readers in several postsecondary institutions). The FAQ makes it clear that, "The principles underlying the DCL--equal opportunity, equal treatment, and the obligation to make accommodations or modifications to avoid disability-based discrimination--also apply to elementary and secondary schools under the general nondiscrimination provisions in Section 504 and the ADA."
The FAQ notes that nondiscrimination applies far beyond the set of circumstances around e-book readers. "All school programs or activities--whether in a 'brick and mortar' online, or other 'virtual' context--must be operated in a manner that complies with federal disability discrimination laws."
The two Dear Colleague Letters and the Frequently Asked Questions document are a great package of policy guides for school districts and state departments of education. However, guidelines are relatively meaningless to the blind student in the classroom unless we ensure that school district administrators and classroom teachers understand the equal access provisions under the law and work to make them part of the general practice of their school systems. The National Federation of the Blind continues to provide national leadership on these issues through policy, standards development, and use of the existing laws. Below are some of the things the NFB is doing at a national level to help advance this issue, followed by some of the local action that is needed by parents, educators, and others associated with the NFB. The race for equal access to technology is not over, and the outcome is not yet certain.
The National Federation of the Blind continues to protect equal access to education by:
It is important for parents and other interested parties to get actively involved in the systematic implementation of accessibility as the new technology paradigm takes shape. The local level for parental involvement includes the classroom, the school, the district, and the region, as well as the local chapter and parent division of the National Federation of the Blind. Parent advocacy on behalf of their own children will have an impact on other students, especially when parents work together.
Parents can make a difference by:
Sharing the DOJ/DOE Letters and FAQ's with key educational leaders and asking them what is or can be done to implement plans to ensure accessibility. As a parent or teacher you might share these materials with your school district superintendent, school principal, school board, technology officer, district director of special education, and the person specifically in charge of blind/visually impaired services for your district. It is important to note that special education services (and sometimes technology services) are not only delivered by a student's local school and school district. Frequently, school districts form consortia in geographical regions to provide and coordinate services. These consortia are sometimes referred to as education cooperatives or local education agencies. To raise awareness it is important to understand how services are coordinated and to know the key points of influence.
Finding out if your district has a technology committee. Suggest that the district establish a formal technology access subcommittee if one does not yet exist. The subcommittee can address the spectrum of access needs and offer to become an active member in the process of designing your child's future.
Meeting with district administrators or school board personnel to learn about your district's plans for the near and distant future. How is digital education going to be approached, adopted, and phased in over the next few years? Does the district plan to pilot electronic book readers? If so, which ones will be used? What are the plans for on-campus wireless access? Be sure to urge the district to think beyond the classroom. As this article was being finalized, the Baltimore City Public Schools announced a public/private partnership to rebuild school libraries and implement inaccessible electronic book readers for students to use. Why should students with print disabilities be shut out of the public school library?
Working with other members of the NFB at the local level to understand what statewide initiatives might impact the use of technology in the schools. The NFB has long been effective because of our collective action on key issues and our sharing of best practices and resources. Consider putting together a presentation with blind adults about the importance of access to technology, including examples of technologies that are and are not accessible.
Asking for a copy of your district's technology curriculum. Districts should have formal school-board-sanctioned policies available online. Share this curriculum with your child's teacher of blind students and make sure that clear and measurable technology goals are part of your child's IEP. The goals should emphasize age/grade-equivalent skills that sighted peers are also developing. Your child should be engaged in the same technology activities as his or her sighted classmates. Your advocacy for your child will help push accessibility in the technologies used in instruction.
Considering how your child's digital skills compare to those of classmates. Blind students should have ready access to screen-reading programs on campus and at home. The expectation should be that blind children develop Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and web-browsing skills at the same time and pace as their sighted classmates. Blind children also need to have age- and grade-equivalent skills with Braille notetakers.
Determining the accessibility of key web-based resources. Websites promoted for educational use are supposed to be accessible. Is your child able to access school calendars, teacher websites, publisher websites, class blog sites, and school newspapers independently to a high-level degree? It may be helpful to encourage uniformity within school districts by suggesting that all of the district's schools use the same grading and calendar programs.
Asking for a formal independent technology assessment from outside the school district, such as your state school for the blind, to ensure that technology skills and accessibility standards are being evaluated appropriately.
Encouraging early reading in all formats, including embossed Braille, e-books, and children's e-magazines. Be sure that your child has a Bookshare account, available free of charge to all students with qualifying print disabilities (<www.bookshare.org>).
Completing the National Federation of the Blind Digital Technology and Accessibility in Schools Questionnaire. The NFB is seeking information about accessibility barriers in the digital technology used by all students, teachers, and administrators in K-12 schools, universities, and colleges in the United States. This short online form helps us gather data about trends and accessibility, and it should be completed whenever you find new technology barriers.
Sharing what you learn through your advocacy with other members of the NFB so that we all can continue to make our advocacy efforts more effective.
The e-wave is here, but with it comes the great promise of mainstream access for students with disabilities. Powerful technologies that are built from the beginning with accessibility in mind are equipping blind students and blind professionals with the tools to maximize their talents and compete on terms of equality. We are in a time of transition. If the promise is to be fulfilled, we need to help the educators and administrators in our schools understand accessibility. By working together and sharing best practices, we will build a future full of opportunities with technologies accessible to all.
1. May 2011 Dear Colleague Letter to Elementary and Secondary Education Officials from Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali. <http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201105-ese.html>
2. The Frequently Asked Questions document published with the May 2011 DCL is available at <http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/dcl-ebook-faq-201105.html>
3. For more information, the June 2010 Dear Colleague Letter is available at <http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-20100629.html>
4. National Federation of the Blind Digital Technology and Accessibility in Schools Questionnaire <www.nfb.org/nfb/DirectTechAccess_193.asp>
5. This topic is frequently discussed on two NFB listservs. Both are good places for sharing ideas and resources: BlindKid, <www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/blindkid_nfbnet.org> and Professionals in Blindness and Education (PIBE), <www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/pibe-division_nfbnet.org>
6. December 2011--The Report of the Federal Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities (while not targeting K-12 education, there is overlap in the related technology issues--some may be interested in this as further background). <http://www2.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/aim/publications.html>
by Anna Cheadle Hughes and Emily Gibbs
Reprinted with updates from Future Reflections, Vol. 24, No. 1, Winter/Spring 2005
From the Editor: Literacy--the ability to read and write effectively--is essential for success in today's world. For blind children, literacy in Braille is the foundation for success. In this article, Anna Hughes and Emily Gibbs examine some of the literature on emergent literacy and show how the NFB is encouraging parents to expose their blind children to Braille at an early age.
What do Woody, Fred, Colossal, Snowball, Fluffy, and Emily have in common? These stuffed animals are helping blind children ages birth to seven develop reading skills that will enable them to be self-sufficient, independent, and successful throughout life. Okay, so the kids' parents might be helping, too, by setting aside time each day to read with their child, but furry reading pals certainly play their part. For one thing, they provide an incentive that makes reading time fun and social. They also allow the child to practice the pronunciation, intonation, and pacing they hear during story time by reading to the reading pal as if it were another child.
A growing body of literature and research regarding early experiences with written material referred to as "emergent literacy" finds, time and time again, that successful readers develop literacy skills long before they actually read. Using the example above, children can learn pronunciation, intonation, and pacing without being able to read words on a page. Most importantly, the research finds, children who learn to associate reading with fun and to associate symbols with spoken language at a young age (two or three) are most successful when they learn to read. Such skills are just what the NFB Reading Pals Club is trying to encourage.
My son really enjoyed participating in this program. He liked the idea that we were also reading to his reading pal, who he named Fred. Thank you. --Gloria; (Liam is six.)
The program for blind infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and reading-delayed older students calls on parents to read aloud to or with their children for fifteen minutes a day with a Braille reading pal and reading pack. The NFB Braille Reading Pals Club allows blind children to connect reading with fun and to associate raised bumps with language, skills that the body of research in emergent literacy deems essential for reading success.
Ellie reads Braille a lot--her favorite thing. --Jan; (Ellie is six.)
The figures speak for themselves. Braille readers truly are leaders. According to one study by Ruby Ryles, PhD:
30 percent (13 of 43) Braille-reading subjects obtained graduate degrees, compared to 13 percent (4 of 31) legally blind print-reading subjects.
25 percent of Braille-reading subjects were in the highest income bracket ($25,000-$70,000) vs. 7 percent of legally blind print-reading subjects.
47 percent of Braille-reading subjects were in the lowest income bracket ($7,000 or less), but 62 percent of legally blind, print-reading subjects were. (Print and Braille readers were equally represented in middle-income bracket.)
81 percent (35 of 43) Braille-reading subjects answered "yes" when asked if they could read as fast and as fluently as their classmates in high school; only 29 percent (9 of 31) legally blind, print-reading subjects answered "yes."
(Excerpts from Ryles' study are printed in the February 1998 issue of the Braille Monitor.)
The importance of Braille is expressed, not only in measurable terms as in Ryles' study, but also in self-esteem, confidence, and independence. In addition, in more technical terms, Braille aids in self-actualization, since it enables the uninterrupted pursuit of interests and passions. Braille has all sorts of vital uses in the adult world, such as keeping notes and records and allowing the user to label food packages, DVDs, and medications.
Success in learning to read is greatly improved by earlier literacy experiences. "Experiences with print (through reading and writing) give preschool children an understanding of the conventions, purpose, and function of print--understandings that have been shown to play an integral part in learning to read," write Gunn, et al, in a synthesis of emergent literacy research. Debra Johnson cites no fewer than six studies when she claims, "According to current research, children's literacy development begins long before children start formal instruction in elementary school (Allington and Cunningham 1996; Burns, Griffin, and Snow, 1999; Clay, 1991; Hall and Moats, 1999; Holdaway, 1979; Teale and Sulzby, 1986). The mounting research finds that experience and interaction with written material before kindergarten lay the groundwork for future literacy skills."
Though this concept might seem obvious to some, it has been a long time coming. Emergent literacy refutes the "reading readiness" view, which holds that children must reach a certain level of physical and neurological maturation before they are ready for reading and writing. Often in the past, and still sometimes today, reading to children is considered irrelevant, useless, or even harmful (Johnson). Emergent literacy holds that reading and writing skills develop concurrently in response to environmental stimuli, rather than in a linear fashion after a certain amount of cognitive development--i.e., after a child learns to read, he/she is ready to learn to write (Johnson). Emergent literacy, then, "is characterized by the early development of understanding that abstract symbols have meaning and that people use these symbols for the communication of ideas" (Koenig, cited in Stratton). In short, the concept of emergent literacy describes how children can become attuned to spoken and written communication almost from birth. The more attuned they are, the better readers they become.
Observable stages in development mark this process as it occurs. Specifically, Johnson notes that, at two or three years old, children begin "to produce understandable speech in response to books and the written marks they create." At three or four years children begin to read by themselves, actually reenacting from pictures and experimenting with written scribbles. Studies have found these "written scribbles" to be distinct from drawings in children as young as three, as J. M. Stratton remarks. "Harste and Woodward (1989) reported that when three-year-olds were asked to make a picture, the marks they made were distinctly different from those they made when asked to write their names.” Gibson (1989) and Neuman and Roskos (1993) reported similar findings. This "written scribbling" clearly requires knowledge that symbols represent speech and are different from other visual representations. If children already have this knowledge at age three, it only further confirms that literacy skills begin to develop even earlier, in the first year of a child's life.
There is no reason that the stages of development should be any different for blind children, and no excuses can legitimately be made for denying them the rich environment in which pre-literacy skills emerge. Not surrounded by and immersed in Braille as sighted children are in print, blind children may lack the opportunity to associate symbol with spoken language at an early age. Even worse, some parents of blind children intentionally forgo reading to them--"since the children could not see the pictures, the parents thought they might be confused by the visual concepts" (Crespo, 1990, cited by Stratton). Surely the result of such an approach would be a more confused child, one from whom information about the visual world is intentionally withheld for no apparent reason. In fact, storytelling is an ideal platform for instructing blind children about the visual world. From the comfort of their own bedroom, children can learn about tiger stripes, unicorn horns, sign shapes, textures, car and truck shapes, and more. They can take that information with them into the world as they learn to socialize with other children who avail themselves of such information through sight. Storytelling is an opportunity that should be capitalized on rather than avoided.
Likewise, parents should use preschool as a time to introduce their blind son or daughter to the "bumps" of Braille. If parents wait a few years to introduce the concept of reading, the pre-literacy "window" may have passed. If anything, the research shows that the three-year-old brain is ripe for discovery of the symbolic world. Either children can conclude that they have access to written language themselves through "bumps," or that they can access written language only through another person. Though it is never too late to introduce Braille, the research is clear--it is never too early, either.
The girls (blind/visually impaired triplets) love reading time and their reading pals. We used reading time as a reward after doing Braille lessons and cane (O&M) lessons each evening. It was our time together to explore new worlds, meet new friends, have wonderful adventures, and most of all be together. They had so much fun! We would love to participate again. --Darlene; (the triplets, Caitlin, Courtney, and Cassidy, are five.)
I read to my daughter every night--usually three or four small books--several times--she loves story time! --Dawn; (Kimberly is three.)
During the first two years of life, the most important thing one can do to foster reading is to fill a child with "warm interactions around books that teach them the equation: books = love + fun," says Grover Whitehurst, a renowned reading specialist and chairman of the psychology department at the State University of New York/Stonybrook (Gabriel). The same theme appears when Stratton discusses literacy outcomes that are common to all emergent literacy research. They include the discovery that books are fun, awareness that symbols represent meaning, understanding that the story comes from print, awareness of the structure of stories, hearing "book language" as different from conversational language, and fostering a desire to read (Anderson et al, 1985; Clay, 1991; Gibson, 1989; Neuman and Roskos, 1993; Teale and Sulzby, 1989). Among the suggested indicators of preacademic skills for three-year-olds in this area, compiled by the National Center on Educational Outcomes (Ysseldyke, Thurlow, and Gilman, 1993) is that the child demonstrates an interest in books and in listening to stories.
Indeed, making reading into a fun time is so crucial that the authors of the book What Parents Need to Know about Reading and Writing offer a list of tips to achieve this result. Though not designed with blind children in mind, any of the tips can be adapted for use with a blind child. Compiled by the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh and the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), these tips include reading with your child every day, listening to your child read to you, reading street signs with your child, making shopping lists together, finding books to match your child's interests, and encouraging your children to act out stories with brothers or sisters [or reading pals] (Gabriel).
[Kimberly] has now started to identify the bumps on the pages as Braille. --Dawn; (Kimberly is three.)
I now can read to my son while he reads with his fingers. I love the books. --Brenda; (Aso is five.)
The girls loved picking out a book, and Courtney would learn to trace the Braille. They had so much fun! We would love to participate again! --Darlene; (the triplets, Caitlin, Courtney, and Cassidy, are five.)
We read to Harmony several times a day, and she is starting to feel the Braille much more. --Lindsey; (Harmony is three.)
It would be unconscionable for parents of a sighted child to keep their child from seeing any print until the age of five, six, or seven. However, it is fairly routine for blind children never to experience Braille until early school age or older. Considering that "developing the concept that a symbol is functional and represents meaning is essential to emergent literacy" (Clay, 1991; Gibson, 1989; Stratton), such an omission could, and does, have serious consequences for blind children. As MacCuspie states, "The value and lifelong benefit of early intervention with children who are blind or visually impaired is well documented" (Ferrell, 2000). As noted by one professional, "If we don't prepare children for formal literacy instruction before they enter school, then we are already way behind the starting point of their peers who are sighted." At the appropriate age, their peers can be expected to "understand that pictures represent real items in the world, pick out one book from another by its cover, become aware that words are different from pictures, and [maybe] pretend to read." At the same age, blind children should be expected to understand that pictures represent real items in the world (tactile pictures would be useful in this context); pick out one book from another by its weight, shape, and texture; become aware that Braille bumps are different from tactile pictures; and maybe pretend to read. The appropriate age, referred to in the quote above by Butler, is the age of three.
The NFB Reading Pals Club has just these goals in mind--in addition to the love + fun part, of course--and makes them truly achievable. By encouraging parents to spend fifteen minutes per day (a lofty goal, but high expectations are part of reading success), the program encourages the "literate environment" in which "reading, writing, and oral language develop concurrently and interrelatedly" (Sulzby and Teale, 1991, cited in Gunn, et al) and which is so crucial to literacy acquisition (McGee and Lomax, 1990, cited in Gunn, et al). It fosters specific skills such as an awareness of print (in this case, Braille) and knowledge of the relationship between speech and print (or Braille) that "substantially affect the ease with which children learn to read, write, and spell (Hiebert, 1988; van Kleeck, 1990; Weir, 1989)" (Gunn, et al). Something as simple as letting your child feel bumps on the page while you tell a story can impact his/her ability as a reader and writer in school.
If you are commited to reading and playing in an open, "literate" environment (say with Braille blocks, a slate and stylus--under supervision--or a stylus-shaped object, or other toys), your expectation for your child to become literate will work its own influence. Stratton describes a study that compared a group of visually impaired children who were expected to be print readers to a group expected to be Braille readers. Not surprisingly, 72.2 percent of the group of children expected to be print readers "engaged in scribbling activities (using pencils, markers, and paintbrushes), compared to 27.6 percent of expected Braille readers (using Braillewriters or slate and stylus) (Craig, 1996)." Of course, these results were based entirely on the environments produced by such expectations. Blind children introduced to Braille "bumps" at a young age might also exhibit "scribbling" by poking holes in paper or otherwise mimicking the code (they can use Braille writing tools, or, if those are unavailable, they can use pencils, markers, and paintbrushes). The research results do not imply that children expected to be Braille readers develop more slowly, but rather that the proper environment must be created in which they are exposed to Braille play in order to develop literacy awareness.
Thank you for sponsoring this program. It was motivating to me as a parent and enjoyable to Maura, who knew every day she would get books read to her. --Jean; (Maura is three.)
We love to read. By doing this program, Sonny is learning to read, too. Thanks. --Jeanie; (Sonny is four.)
Thank you so much for this. The Braille reading pal was a great incentive. --Ann Marie; (Kaitlyn is three.)
First and foremost, when it comes to story time, the parent is a provider. Gunn reports that in a study of fifty-nine parents of preschool children, Hildebrand and Bader (1992) found a commonality among children who performed well on three emergent literacy measures (i.e., writing letters of the alphabet): their parents were more likely to provide them with alphabet books, blocks, and shapes. But parents also provide the time and commitment to make story time a fun and dependable part of the daily routine. Much of the research cited in this article is also replete with findings that storybook reading or reading aloud to children repeatedly emerges as a key component in facilitating early literacy acquisition. Time spent reading and interest in reading are two of the strongest indicators of later reading success. The more open and creative a parent is willing to be to spark such interest and sustain it through regular reading, the more the child reaps the benefit.
For one parent in the NFB Braille Reading Pals Club, it was not books, blocks, or shapes that she needed to provide, but an alternative reading method. When her son showed little interest in books, she found that singing the stories kept his attention. One child's blocks are another child's songs, and it's the parent's job to identify and provide what works. Because this parent provides a regular, customized story time, her son will be better prepared to read and write later on.
Another crucial role of the parent is that of model reader. Research draws strong correlations between "reading to children and subsequent success on reading readiness tasks." Such studies, too numerous to cite specifically here, were conducted by Hiebert, 1988; Mason and Allen, 1986; Morrow et al, 1990; Teale and Sulzby, 1987; Burrough, 1972; Chomsky, 1972; Durkin, 1974-75; Fodor, 1966; Irwin, 1960; Moon and Wells, 1979; Smith, 1989; and Anderson, Hiebert, Scott, and Wilkinson, 1985. Some of this research indicates that the child will model his/her reading behavior after that of the parent. "The child discovers many things about the functions of symbols and writing by observing others who are engaged in such activities and by actively experimenting" (Gibson, 1989; Teale and Sulzby, 1989) observes Stratton. Gunn, et al, echo the sentiments. Johnson also describes this phenomenon, and details how children come to imitate their literacy models, "Gradually, these readings [play reading exhibited by toddlers] demonstrate the intonation patterns of the adult reader and language used in the book." Just as children play house by imitating parents and relegating their own role to a doll, children can "play read" by imitating story time. The Braille reading pal provides an excellent "child" for play reading, but the parent must be the original reading model. A child who understands that symbols are related to language and intonation patterns is already well on the way to literacy.
For parents looking for fresh and new Braille books for their child, there are resources available. A position paper on literacy found on the webpage of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind declares, "Parents must be provided with both the materials and the skills and ideas so they can implement simple emergent literacy programs in their homes. These kinds of programs must be made accessible to parents without undue hardship or cost, for parents are the primary teachers of all children in this age group [two to five years old.]" The NFB Braille Reading Pals Club is one way parents can set up their own "emergent literacy programs," though we still prefer to call it "love + fun time." Parents and teachers aware of techniques to encourage emergent literacy ensure that a child need not be competitive to be victorious.
I enjoyed the extra readings for myself. I did like having the opportunity to have the "twin" books. --Anonymous Parent
Be sure to provide plenty of tactile stimulation to your child while you read. This may include touching or holding the book (don't worry if it is "the right way round"), handling toys or objects like those in the story, or acting out the story with the reading pal. When your child is ready, you might also have him/her retell favorite stories by touching objects in sequence, much as a sighted child would retell a story by looking at pictures. Always remember, as one parent noted, "the actual time spent with the parent is what is most important to [the child.]"
Add an adorable reading pal to your family or classroom. When you join this program for the first time, your packet includes:
A welcome letter
One age-appropriate print/Braille children's book
One reading pal stuffed toy
Resource information about where to buy or borrow print/Braille books
One application for a free white cane
A What Is the NFB? brochure
A National Organization of Parents of Blind Children brochure
A Braille and Visually Impaired Students: What Does the Law Require? brochure
A Braille alphabet card (a favorite among sighted siblings)
Future Reflections Special Issue: The Early Years
After joining the program, throughout the year you receive:
A monthly electronic newsletter full of information and literacy tips
A quarterly Braille activity sheet
A Braille birthday card the month of your child's birthday
The program for 2012 begins January 1! To join this club, contact Abby Bispo at (410) 659-9314, Extension 2312, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Butler, S. (2003). Helping Young Listeners Become Successful Readers: Babies & Toddlers.
Gabriel, J. (2001). Creating a Reader: Books = Love + Fun.
[Note: Access requires payment.]
Gunn, B., et al. (1995). Emergent Literacy: Synthesis of the Research. National Center to Improve the Tools of Educators. Technical Report No. 19. <http://www.childcareresearch.org/childcare/resources/2776/pdf>
Johnson, D. (1999). Critical Issue: Addressing the Literacy Needs of Emergent and Early Readers. <http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/content/cntareas/reading/li100.htm>
Ryles, R. The Impact of Braille Reading Skills on Employment, Income, Education, and Reading Habits. (1996). Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, May/June 1996. <http://www.braille.org/papers/jvib0696/vb960311.htm>
Stratton, J. M. (1996). Emergent Literacy: A New Perspective. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness. May/June, 1996. <http://www.braille.org/papers/jvib0696/vb960305.htm>
by Dr. Denise M. Robinson
From the Editor: Dr. Denise M. Robinson is a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) in the state of Washington. She writes frequently about her students and her convictions about the education of blind children.
I love teaching, and I am constantly seeking the best methods to help my students. Each student blesses me in special ways, and each has a valuable story.
A few years ago, a second-grade teacher spoke to me near the end of the school year. She explained that one of her students, a girl named Kaleigh, had a great deal of difficulty seeing and accessing her schoolwork. The teacher wondered if I had any suggestions that might help her.
Kaleigh was not working at grade level, and everything was a struggle for her. Due to a condition that was present at birth, she was very small for her age and had partial limbs. She had one usable finger and a partly usable thumb on one hand and a tiny finger extension on the other fixed limb. She also had low vision. She had had many operations, including a number of facial surgeries, and as a result she missed a lot of days in the classroom. In addition to her frequent absences for medical appointments, her inability to read print efficiently was having an impact on her schoolwork.
When I walked into the classroom, I spotted Kaleigh right away. Her tiny frame was dressed in an adorable pink outfit. As I observed her quietly, I discovered that she had found an effective way to grasp a pencil. Leaning over her desk with her face about two inches from her paper, she printed out letters slowly but surely. At recess time I asked her to stay in with me, and she readily agreed.
The first question I always ask a child is, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Kaleigh immediately replied, "A princess." I smiled. Of course. Lots of little girls want to be princesses, and Kaleigh was no different. We all want to feel beautiful and important and to know that we matter.
Because she was scheduled for several more surgeries, I did not begin instruction with Kaleigh until she was in the middle of third grade. During the fall, I did some preliminary work with her special education teacher, her para-educator, and her mother. I taught them the basics of Braille and the technology that Kaleigh would be using. I wanted them to get a jump start so they could follow through on the lessons I set up. Due to my huge caseload of students scattered across central Washington, I would only be able to see Kaleigh twice a week. She would need daily instruction and follow-up in order to succeed academically. Fortunately, she had an incredible team, everyone dedicated to her success.
Once Kaleigh and I began working together, I noticed that the finger on her one fixed limb did not have the receptors necessary for reading Braille. She would have to depend on that one little finger on her other hand. So that she could read more quickly, I had her use the finger on her fixed limb to track the Braille lines down the left margin of the page while she read with her right finger. With a lot of Braille reading over a couple of years, Kaleigh's wonderful brain created enough nerves in that left finger to start reading Braille in each sentence. After lots of practice she built her reading speed to 115 words per minute. You can watch her fingers flying over the page in the YouTube video we created.
Kaleigh does all of her writing on her laptop computer. She reads from her Braille books and types the answers into Word documents. She can also use Excel and PowerPoint as needed. She types sixty-eight words per minute, and she knows JAWS commands as well as she knows all the pink outfits in her closet. She emails her work to her teachers, and they email back their comments and grades so she can do her work independently. After three years of work on blindness skills, Kaleigh is now on grade level.
As a student Kaleigh has become one of my brightest shining stars. When I launch into a new technology adventure, I try out the equipment or program on Kaleigh first. She can send email and text messages. Skype has become her favorite mode because of its accessibility features, which are completely compatible with JAWS. When she is at school, she uses Chat to ask me how to do a certain command she may have forgotten. When I send back a simple reply, she can resolve her issue within seconds.
These days I work with Kaleigh virtually through Skype and JAWS Tandem. I can watch everything she is doing on her computer from far away. Her para-educator has gone virtual, too. At school Kaleigh texts her para when she needs something, and the para drops it off in the classroom without any intrusion. Through texting, the para and I check in with Kaleigh during the day to ask how everything is going. No one else is aware of these interactions. The para and I remain invisible, working in the background.
Kaleigh is a fast learner with a great memory. Her agile, eager mind has put her at the top of her class. With her abilities, Kaleigh has the potential to go far in life, to become a queen in whatever field of endeavor she chooses.
by Doreen Franklin
From the Editor: Doreen Franklin serves as vice president of the Florida Parents of Blind Children (FPBC).
"I have been all over the world!" my daughter Victorria (Torrie) told the Federationists at the NFB of Florida state convention in May 2011. Torrie hasn't been around the world physically, but she was featured in a news story through the TV/ABC-affiliate that aired before an international audience on March 22-23, 2011. The story highlighted Torrie's exploration of an art exhibit called Even Hands Can See.
Even Hands Can See displays the work of artist Horst Mueller of Germany. All of the pictures are vividly painted in beautiful bright colors and include tactile features that all visitors can enjoy, whether they are sighted or blind. In fact, Mueller insists, "Please DO Touch My Work."
Our family went to the art display at the Steinhausen Gallery in Stuart, Florida, on March 22, 2011. We were joyfully greeted by Horst Mueller himself. Immediately he took Torrie to several of his pictures in a corner and lifted one off the wall for her to examine at eye level. Torrie loved having the chance to touch these beautiful creations and to see the colors at close range, holding the painting on her lap.
Horst Mueller had given each of his paintings a name, but Torrie gave each one a new name of her own to help her remember it more easily. One piece was officially called "Tranquility," but Torrie renamed it "Cinderella." She was thrilled when Horst showed her the Braille note he had put at the bottom of the painting.
Torrie's dad, David, and I believed it was important for Torrie to experience works of art firsthand, even at the age of seven. It was an added bonus to have the artist there, to talk with him and tell him which paintings Torrie liked best.
Torrie and I attended another showing of Horst Mueller's work, this time meeting up with a group of Federationists from the West Palm Beach Chapter who came on the bus. They had lunch in the park and got the chance to explore the art gallery. When we met Horst Mueller at the gallery, he commented on the news story about our earlier visit and told Torrie that she had been "around the world." She was thrilled! Torrie and I met several Federationists that day, and she told them of her worldwide fame. Our visit to the art display was clearly a special experience that Torrie will never forget!
by Barbara Pierce
Reprinted from Future Reflections, Vol. 23, No. 3, Fall 2004.
From the Editor: Some articles are so full of insight and ideas that they deserve to be reprinted as each new generation of blind children emerges. Here Barbara Pierce discusses the challenges faced by blind children and youth as they try to make friends. She suggests a variety of ways parents and teachers can help them navigate the complex terrain of relationships with peers. During her long history as a Federationist, Barbara has been a vigorous advocate for blind children. She is a past president of the NFB of Ohio. As the former editor of the Braille Monitor, she continues to provide guidance and wisdom to the publication's current editor.
Human beings are social animals. Only a small percentage of us prefer to live alone, away from all company and doing everything for ourselves. On the other hand, people vary in their ability to make social contacts and in their interest in doing so. The process of building friendships with sighted children and joining groups of playing youngsters is a challenge to nearly every blind child.
How can a blind toddler learn to interact with other youngsters when he/she doesn't know what they are playing with? What should parents do when no one invites their blind child to birthday parties? What should a blind elementary student do when classmates or neighborhood kids spend their time riding bikes or playing video games, activities in which she/he cannot take part? How can we help teens of both sexes when they discover that no one is interested in dating someone who is noticeably different?
I don't have easy answers to any of these questions, but these issues do not evaporate. We can help blind children and adults develop skills and techniques that will enable them to navigate these rough waters with poise and confidence.
In order to learn how to conduct oneself in social situations, one must have a pretty accurate idea what is going on in the group one wishes to enter. Blind people must evolve strategies for getting this information. With practice these skills can often be performed almost unconsciously. In the beginning, however, it may seem nearly impossible to develop these abilities.
For sighted people, vision generally seems to be the dominant sense. Yet all of us gather information in several ways simultaneously. How does a blind person sharpen his or her nonvisual abilities?
To some degree children who have never depended on vision attend to nonvisual cues automatically. Parents and teachers can speed and improve the acquisition of these skills through constructive play.
Begin by tuning your own senses to notice textures, sounds, shapes, and odors. Whether you are working with a blind toddler just beginning to explore the world or with an older child who has recently lost sight, you can help by calling attention to nonvisual cues. Point out the distinctive feel of all-weather carpet; the different ring of footsteps on tile, wood, or paving; the resilience of padded indoor carpeting; the sound-absorbing qualities of a wall, tree, or parked car; the cooking smells that issue from a restaurant exhaust fan; and the fragrance of a store's perfume counter.
The blind child will use these perceptual skills to keep track of what is happening in the immediate area. How many other children are playing in the room? What are they doing? Are the Lego blocks spread out underfoot? Is a video playing, meaning that kids are probably sitting in front of the television? You can help your child learn to notice such things and draw correct conclusions from the data.
At first you may feel some frustration when you try to notice such things nonvisually. I encourage you to make friends with blind adults. Ask them to help you train yourself to process the information that comes to you through senses other than sight. Be warned, however, that not all blind adults are equally expert in interpreting environmental information.
Make a game of determining by sound what toy another child is playing with. Balls, blocks, cars, and noise-making pull toys all make distinctive sounds. When a child becomes familiar with his own talking or musical toys, these too are easy to identify.
One helpful trick is to tie a small bell to the shoe of a playmate who is too young to identify himself reliably when asked. In this way your blind child will know where other children are in the room. This information is important for maintaining an accurate idea of what is going on.
It is not easy to strike a balance between urging the blind child to enter into play with others and providing her with the quiet stream of information that helps orient her to her surroundings. Each child will make progress at his or her own rate. What is enough information for one child to get started and continue independently is not sufficient for another. Moreover, children's needs change. Parents should always work to reduce the amount of intervention necessary for the blind child to play with other children.
This may be a good place to discuss the role of classroom aides for school-age blind children. The aide who makes herself indispensable to her student is working against the child's best interests. The aim should always be to help the child do more and more of the interpretive work independent of adult supervision. A blind child will never learn to make friends on the playground if an aide is always intervening, asking for him to have a turn on the swing. As parents gain confidence providing constructive information, they can guide the aide to do the minimum necessary. The aide should allow the blind child to take an active part in class or group activities.
Elementary school is the time when a blind child must learn the rudiments of making friends and getting along with the group. Other children are unlikely to make a point of including the blind child without adult encouragement or even insistence. A little of this intervention may be helpful, but in the end the blind child must make his or her own way.
If the children at school have no prior experience with a blind classmate, it may be useful for a parent to make a presentation to the class at the beginning of the year. Cupcakes with Braille letters in M&M's or other blatant appeals to gluttony or curiosity can be a good first step. A parent, teacher of the visually impaired, or blind adult can make blindness seem less scary, even interesting. However, adults can't make classmates do more than give the blind student a chance to make a place for himself or herself.
The classroom teacher may be able to suggest an individual or small group likely to accept a blind friend. You might break the ice by inviting students over after school, for a birthday party, or on a weekend outing. Encourage your child to become active in a school or extracurricular program. If you don't hear your child mention the names of classmates or kids from church, Scouts, or 4-H, probe to learn why not. Be creative in constructing opportunities for friendships to grow. If they are not happening, look for the explanation and make suggestions of what your child can do about it.
When I was a child, my family lived on a short, dead-end street. Eight girls of almost the same age lived on our block. When the group congregated on our porch in the summer, my mother always made sure that cool drinks and cookies appeared partway through the afternoon. This sometimes happened at other houses, too, but we could count on it at my house. This may have been bribery, but I don't think the other kids thought of it that way. The advantage to me was that I was completely familiar with my own home and could move around freely and confidently.
When your child gets together with others to play or share an outing, he or she can build on the social capital. At school your child can say in passing, "When my friends and I were at the mall the other day . . ." or "Jenny and I were playing dress-up with my mom's old prom dresses . . ." or "My dad was helping Tim and me build a racer . . ." Your child may discover the value of dropping such tidbits independently, or you may have to help him or her get started. Other children will soon gather that the blind kid does all the stuff the others do.
Your job is always to remain on the sidelines--providing opportunities, setting the stage, observing how things are going, collecting data from other observers, quietly providing information and feedback to your child as things go along. During these years you need to help your child learn to do things independently and to refrain from engaging in personal habits that put other people off.
This is as good a place as any to bring up another area in which elementary students should begin learning to shape their environment. We call it self-advocacy. Blind children can and should begin learning to establish some of the ground rules for interactions with sighted people. You can help resolve some of the problems that inevitably arise.
You are in a restaurant and a server asks you whether your blind child would like a refill on a soft drink. Do not answer the question for your blind child if you would not do so for a sighted child of the same developmental level. You might even say, "I don't know; why don't you ask Jimmy?" Don't let others establish eye contact with you and discuss your blind child as if she or he were unable to hear the conversation: "It's such an inspiration to watch her struggle with that little cane to figure out where she's going." The best antidote to such twaddle is a bracing comment about how Sue is doing very well when she remembers to bring the cane along and use it properly. This said, looking firmly at Sue, brings your child into the conversation and makes the person take notice of her as someone with ears and feelings.
As a child grows up and gains experience, she or he will need to work out strategies for all sorts of initial interactions. You can't ease those tough first encounters for your child, but you can help him/her devise the strategies. One of the most vexing conversation openers is, "I bet you don't recognize my voice." All blind people deal with variations of this opener. It takes a good deal of self-confidence to respond, "No, I'm sorry, I do not," and then stop speaking while continuing to look at the person. I have often wanted to retort, "No, but if you were someone important, I'm sure I would." So far I have resisted the temptation to make some such response, but the fantasy reflects the degree of frustration and social pressure that such comments elicit from blind people. Help your child think of some appropriate rejoinders. If you are present, you might put in, "It's Mary Jones, your old Sunday-school teacher," or "I'm sorry, I don't know who you are either. Should we know you?"
When you and your child walk into a social situation, you might inconspicuously mention the names of the people in the room. In the Federation, when a new person enters a room, we make a practice of going around and telling the blind newcomer who is present. This is a simple courtesy that sighted people easily can adopt.
I don't know very many people, blind or sighted, who would willingly relive their teens. Nearly all of us were painfully uncertain of ourselves and uncomfortable in our changing bodies during those years. Because sighted teens are preoccupied with their own insecurities, they are unlikely to spare much thought for the massive uncertainties that plague the blind students they know. I doubt that parents can spare our blind youngsters any of this suffering, and suffering it most certainly is. From my observations and my firsthand experience, I will tell you up front that the teen years are difficult for virtually every blind person. Marching straight through them is the only way to get safely to the far side.
There are certainly some exceptions, but few blind teens have much of a dating life during high school. For the most part sighted teens are so insecure themselves that they do not dare associate romantically with anyone as demonstrably different as a blind person. Because girls mature earlier than boys do, socially adept and presentable blind boys may have more of a dating life than blind girls in high school. If a young blind woman is very attractive and poised, she may draw some masculine attention, but it is likely to be from men who are a bit older or who are markedly mature in their outlook.
What is a teen to do during these desert years of "just friendship" with the opposite sex? The short answer is, endure them and garner as much experience as possible. Parents should do as much as they are permitted to help polish social and grooming skills. Every teen wants to be listened to and taken seriously. Blind teens can learn to be good listeners. Rightly or wrongly, they are often given credit for wisdom and understanding beyond their years. They can capitalize on such attitudes. Granted, it is no fun to be the favorite sister of everybody on the basketball team or to advise the cheerleaders on how to impress the class president. After all, the blind male thinks, I'm a person with feelings, and I'd love to go out with you.
Pass the tissues, Mom, and prepare to do some listening yourself. The truth is, however, that all this confiding provides valuable experience and fodder for later conversational references. Comments such as, "I spent an hour on the phone with Joni last night," or "One of my closest friends last year was our quarterback," are hints of friendships. They can reassure other students that this kid is connected and knows what's what, even if he or she is blind.
It's tough to pull all this off. It will only work if the blind teen has made some friends and can hold her own in group settings. The skills and connections built in the early years are key to giving the teen enough confidence to make it through the treacherous waters of high school social life.
Give your teen the opportunity to get to know other blind teens in challenging summer programs for blind students. Such experiences are an excellent way to jump-start social awareness and hone social skills. They also provide wonderful grist for the conversational mill during the school year. There's nothing like reminiscing about water-skiing, whitewater rafting, or rock climbing to convince the high school set that the blind student is pretty cool. Moreover, friendships formed at training programs or even during NFB national convention can provide much-needed confidence and reinforce new skills.
Everything I have said about the teen years holds true for beginning college and even for starting to live alone. As one grows older and gathers more experience, the details change, but the principles remain the same. One must make a good appearance; develop blindness skills and the confidence that comes with knowing that you can cope in any situation; listen, really listen to others and respond with care and tact; develop a plan for one's life and goals that may be shaped, but are not bounded, by blindness. That said, one is left with the challenge of imposing one's worldview and view of blindness on a wide and ever-shifting community of strangers.
Frankly, the lifelong necessity to educate the world and teach others to take you at your own valuation gets to be a pain in the neck. The good news is that the more you do it, the easier it becomes. It helps to have a group of friends in the NFB who understand what you are doing and how frustrating or funny it can sometimes be.
Some of us arrange our lives so that we don't have to deal with groups of strangers, just as some sighted people do not like meeting people they don't know. The difference is that most sighted people can slip into the background if they wish, while blind people who are out and about are always going to be noticed. If a blind person begins early to use a white cane and gets really good at it, he/she will feel more comfortable being watched. Most of us feel less at ease under observation when we expect to make mistakes. Good cane users do not necessarily do everything right, but they can move smoothly and with confidence. Ultimately, perfection is not the object. The point is to get safely and independently where one wants to go.
From time to time, we must walk into a roomful of strangers. In fact, some of us frequently find ourselves in this situation. I used to work with my college's alumni office. Masses of alumni would return to campus for meetings. I had to mingle and locate the particular alums with whom I was going to be planning reunions or meeting to do committee work. At such receptions all of the alums wore name tags. They could take a quick look at names and years of graduation and make an informed guess about whether they should recognize each other. I, on the other hand, had not a clue who most of them were.
Those were not my favorite occasions, but I would take a deep breath, grab my white cane, and plunge into the crowd. One thing to be said about a really long white cane is that it is not easily overlooked, and it certainly explains why its user slips into a group saying brightly, "And who all is here?" I picked my group carefully, avoiding the ones deeply engrossed in conversation. I would slide between groups until I heard a familiar voice or found a group engaged in superficial chat. Sometimes someone would speak to me as I passed by, since I was obviously staff. I might overhear a question that I could answer, and I would insert myself into a group that way.
Once I had made a contact, no matter how it was done, I could get that person to look around for other people I was supposed to find. As with most things, getting started is the hard part. Going on is a matter of waiting for opportunities and seizing them when they come along.
The earlier your child has social experiences, the sooner he or she will adjust to encounters at a slightly higher level. Again, social demands at NFB conventions or training centers provide invaluable experience and excellent role models.
Every blind person, like every sighted person, has a natural level of social confidence and preferred involvement. Your job as a parent is to be sure that your child's level is not unnaturally low because of poor skills or lack of social know-how. Temperamentally some people are introverts and some are extroverts, but within the constraints of personality your child should be able to function with poise and confidence. We all develop strengths and discover weaknesses in ourselves. That is part of the human condition. We must all learn as best we can to compensate for our weaknesses and make the most of our strengths.
by Barbara Cheadle
From the Editor: Barbara Cheadle is the founder of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) and served as its president for nearly thirty years. She was also the founding editor of Future Reflections. As she explains in this article, she has a solid respect for the use of nonvisual techniques.
Was this a bruise on the apple? Frowning, I slipped off my glasses and brought the apple up close to my eye. Just then, I heard a soft chuckle and the teasing, deep voice of my adult son, Chaz. "Use your hands, Mom. Use your hands."
When parents are raising children, they never can be sure that what they say and do is getting through. Only years later, as their children strike out on their own, do parents find out the lasting impression their lessons have made. As I sat with the apple in my hand, I recognized one of those joyous moments of vindication. It happened in my kitchen, while I made a special family meal with the help of my partially-sighted, legally blind son, Chaz.
"Use your hands, Chaz, use your hands," was our gentle mantra during Chaz's early years. We never intended to discourage him from using his impaired (but often useful) vision. However, we encouraged him to use and trust his unimpaired (and almost always useful) sense of touch. We wanted our son to grow up feeling that his limited vision placed no restrictions on his pursuit of any interest or career. We wanted him to be at ease with himself, unafraid of losing more vision and confident that he could handle whatever came his way. We had learned from our partially sighted friends in the National Federation of the Blind that Chaz really needed to believe that it's okay to be blind. He also needed academic tactile skills such as Braille.
From our observations at conventions and other NFB events we had learned that Chaz needed to trust his tactile sense and to use it every day in order to achieve true independence and competency. We had seen many partially sighted adults clumsily trying to use their vision for tasks such as finding a keyhole and unlocking a door, tasks that their totally blind friends accomplished smoothly and independently. We wanted our son to have the best of both approaches. We wanted him to use his vision when it was efficient and useful, and to use his sense of touch when it would serve him best.
My husband's first career as an auto mechanic had taught him the value of using touch. Many are the times when a mechanic cannot get into a tight spot to look at a part that needs work. He or she must often work solely by touch. It was easy for my husband to teach Chaz to use tools by touch and to locate dropped objects by sound. Did he need a straight-edge screwdriver or a Phillips head to get a screw out? He didn't have to get his face up close to see the screw at the top of the window. He could feel it and tell what it was; then, using touch, he could unscrew it and take it out. If he had tried to do such tasks visually, with his face right up close, he would have been very clumsy. Often he would have failed, and he might have concluded that he didn't have enough vision to do most handyman jobs.
To help Chaz around the house, I asked my blind friends how they cooked, cleaned, and handled other chores by touch and sound. We practiced pouring liquids using touch to determine the fullness of a glass. We used touch to make a smooth bed, to pick out the best fruit, to check whether the dishes were clean, to peel a potato. We explained why it was not safe to put one's nose down on the stove burner to adjust the flame. By passing his hand quickly above the surface and listening, Chaz could feel and hear to make the adjustments he needed.
Chaz also learned nonvisual techniques by modeling the blind and partially sighted friends who were in and out of our house and whom he saw regularly at NFB chapter meetings and other events. They helped him accept the use of touch and sound as normal and natural ways of doing things. I did not know then, but know now, that we were trying to make touch a natural part of Chaz's way of being. And our efforts paid off.
After the "Use your hands, Mom" incident in the kitchen, I've had several conversations with my son about how he uses touch in his everyday life. At first it wasn't easy for him to tell me because he hadn't thought much about it. He simply does what he wants to do without any internal dialog about whether or not he'll use vision, touch, or both for a particular task. For example, once he was employed for three months as a cook on a ship that sailed up the Hudson River. The ship provided educational programs for schoolchildren. Chaz told me that his shipmates were astonished when they realized that he wasn't looking at his hands or watching what he was doing as he cooked. He chopped vegetables, mixed salads, stirred soups, and drained hot pasta purely by touch and sound while he talked with his watching shipmates.
Chaz uses his partial vision effectively and extensively in many ways, especially with computers and print. He brings his face close to his work, and it has not been a problem in his career as a computer information specialist. At the same time, he does not regret having learned Braille. He uses Braille when he has to give a speech or a presentation, and he taught a close friend Braille so she could write letters to her beloved blind uncle.
Chaz is still working out alternative nonvisual methods to accomplish some tasks. He and his wife have bought a thirty-five-foot sailing boat which now serves as their home. Chaz has repaired the engine, built new cabinets, and refinished the wood trim without any problems. Raising, lowering, and tying off the sails are easy tasks--those jobs are all very tactile. But Chaz is still learning, he told me, to navigate and steer using sound and touch. He is still developing and testing his techniques.
Due to a central cataract, Chaz does not see well in bright sunlight or in conditions of glare. He sees best in twilight conditions. Because he has incorporated the use of touch as part of his natural way of doing things, he does not avoid glare conditions or restrict his activities to conditions that are optimal for his vision. Chaz loves the sea, even though the glare requires him to wear sunglasses most of the time he is out on deck, further limiting his amount of usable sight. He follows his interests, wherever they lead him.
by Barbara Loos
From the Editor: Barbara Loos is a long-time Federationist from Nebraska. Her numerous articles for NFB publications reflect her caring, wisdom, and deep commitment to opening opportunities for blind children and youth.
Once again, on a frigid winter afternoon, my son John was late getting home from school. Quickly donning my winter gear, I grabbed my long white cane. With a word to my daughter Marsha about staying put (hardly necessary, given the weather), I set out to track him down. Although I began with the route he was supposed to walk, I knew I might have to deviate to locate this free spirit.
This time I found him mid-route. He stood waist-deep in the snow that had collected in the creek bed that ran under the bike path between the school and our home. He said he was seeing how long he could keep his bare hand in the snow--something he and his friends, Brandon and Tim, had challenged each other to do during recess that day. Though he had already outdone them, he wanted to impress them further the following day, so he was practicing. It was easier to do in the creek, half-buried, because he didn't have to bend down.
No doubt I reminded him that I would have been more impressed had he come home and reduced the chance of frostbite for both of us. Nevertheless, I was fascinated by the willingness of boys, generation after generation, to go to great lengths, often enduring pain, for the satisfaction of outdoing their peers in what they suppose to be manly pursuits.
This incident came to mind recently as I reflected on the ideas about blindness that get handed down through the generations. Unless we deliberately seek ways to intervene, the negative stereotypes of yesteryear will keep playing themselves out with the mindless regularity of little boys competing to see who can hold his hand in the snow the longest.
While there are many stereotypes, I only want to concentrate on one of them here. I'm thinking of the old adage that, if the blind lead the blind, they'll all fall in the ditch. This mindset assumes that the techniques used by the blind are inferior to those used by the sighted. Yet, simply because it is often repeated, an adage doesn't necessarily embody the truth.
Over the years, I have met many harried parents and teachers, frantically trying to figure out how to use technology with which they don't identify. Sadly they commiserate about the difficulties involved in getting workable materials for blind children, especially when print is inadequate and Braille seems overwhelming. Resignedly they conclude that there's nothing to do but wring their hands and accept that blind children really can't be expected to compete with their sighted peers. They may seek out medical personnel and university experts for guidance, but mostly they overlook a hidden resource that is often in their midst--blind adults.
I don't have an endorsement in teaching the blind, nor do I have a blind child. But I am a parent with a bachelor's degree in education, and I love being where fun and learning converge. One place I've found this enticing convergence is in healthy mentor/mentee relationships with blind children and youth. My qualification for this place of privilege has nothing to do with my being a parent (I'm not that given youth's parent) nor my educational background (I'm not that student's teacher). What gives me authenticity is our shared characteristic of blindness and the ways it has an impact upon us.
The painter Vincent van Gogh wrote in a letter to his brother Theo, "I want to go through the joys and sorrow of domestic life in order to paint it from my own experience." Whether blindness is part of who we are to begin with or comes to us later on, it is a part of our experience that we can share with others.
The child who asked me, during our first time together, "Where do you put your cane when you get home?" had no reason to ask that question of her parents or her teachers. They aren't blind, so they don't use a cane. As it turned out, we both put our canes behind the front door. We also talked about occasionally using our canes in our own homes if there's something out of the ordinary going on, such as a party or rearrangement of furniture. We compared our canes' lengths, tips, names, etc. I mentioned the "garden cane" I keep by my walk-out basement door at the back of the house. I use it when I work in the yard, and I don't care how scratched or dirty it gets. We also discussed the telescoping cane I take in my bag as a spare. I use it at sporting events, where I can make it small, hang it from my belt, and jump up and down and cheer to my heart's content without concern that it might fall through the bleachers. Small stuff? Sure! But life is made of such minutiae, and real-life experience trumps role playing.
Incidentally, I took the bus to and from the meeting where I had that discussion. One of the child's teachers told me later that, during a class discussion about transportation, the student told her that she would be taking buses to get around when she grew up.
How likely is it that a parent or teacher will have the opportunity to play a game of Scrabble tactilely, using Braille tiles, with a blind student who struggles with spelling? In my experience, time constraints and parent/teacher/student dynamics often sabotage such a possibility. As a mentor, I have often enjoyed playing Scrabble and other games with blind youth. Audio and crossword puzzles, computer games, and Braille art have helped break the ice or become part of established relationships. Again, since what I bring isn't tied to doing a chore or completing an assignment, tangents are okay. Often they involve interactions about blindness.
Sometimes assignments do get done during mentoring time. A mentee once asked me to co-write a duet poem with her and to recite it in her classroom and during a poetry sharing at another school. Entitled "Proud," the poem gave voice to her emerging realization that it is okay to be blind. The presence of refreshments at the latter event gave us an opportunity to discuss ways of using a cane while carrying juice and cookies.
Another important aspect of mentoring is that it can take the "Yeah, but ..." out of things. Once a teacher mentioned to me that a blind student couldn't do math on a given day because she had a bandage on her index finger, the finger with which she read Braille. I asked what she was doing with her other fingers and suggested that she be expected to use them. On another occasion, a student told me that she couldn't necessarily fulfill the length requirement for an assigned paper; she couldn't determine length when using a Braille notetaker. I showed the student and her teacher the commands for accessing that information with the machine. I suggested to the student that this kind of excuse-making, were it to become a habit, would most assuredly reduce her chances for success. I also mentioned to the teacher that, rather than allowing the student to set her up, she could expect her to verify the length of her paper when she converted it from Braille to print on the computer, just as others were doing when they keyed in their papers from handwritten text.
Many of my favorite mentoring times have involved Braille. While sighted youngsters see people using print everywhere, blind children and youth almost never get enough exposure to others efficiently modeling Braille use in school or at play. After spending considerable time with his hands on mine while I read from behind his chair, one student told me he could feel smooth Braille reading in motion for the first time. He noticed one day that his hands were reading as if mine were under them, but they weren't. From then on, he was a committed two-handed reader, and his reading speed increased exponentially.
Recently a teacher mentioned to me that a student with whom I had read a couple of times asked her one day, "Is this how Barbara does it?" This student already read with both hands, but one of them had been doing very little actual work. She wanted to read faster. The teacher had talked to her about what she could do and shown her the method, but reading with another blind person brought it to life for her.
A skill that often seems to be overlooked is the use of the slate and stylus. One way I have found to catch people's interest in using this tool is doodling. Sometimes I only need to comment that, when writing, dots 1, 2, and 3 are on the right side while dots 4, 5, and 6 are on the left, and the door to the child's creativity is thrown wide open. Other students prefer a specific task. I might suggest using dots to make a heart. The simplest version of a heart drawing goes like this:
Line 1--Dots 2, 3, 4; 1, 5; 2, 4; and 1, 5, 6.
Line 2--Dots 1, 2, 6; space twice; dots 3, 4, 5.
Line 3--Space once; Dots 1, 5; 2, 4.
My daughter Marsha and I once used a Brailler, some three-by-five index cards, and glue to make a card game similar to Go Fish. Each player got four cards; cards showed ten different shapes, and each one had a one-word descriptor at the top and bottom. If the word contained contractions, it would be written in uncontracted form on the top and contracted form on the bottom. We glued a blank card to the back of each one so that the dots wouldn't show from the underside.
Notetakers can also be used for making shapes or pictures with Braille. If a notetaker is used, drawings can be mass-produced using translation software and an embosser. These pictures can make fun raised-line coloring sheets.
One thing that often causes major difficulties for us human beings is the tendency referred to as comparing apples with oranges. This tendency is compounded when those making the comparison have a strong preference for the apple or the orange and proclaim that fruit superior to the other. The genius of Louis Braille is that he thought outside that box. As his diary puts it, he recognized that an alphabet and numerals "developed for the eye" (we'll call this the apple), didn't work for the blind. He concluded, "The solution then rests with a device that has nothing to do with the eyes." The tactile system he created (let's say the orange) is an alternative to, not a substitute for, print. In other words, Louis Braille showed that it is possible to have two equal, though not identical, systems for reading, writing, and even doodling, one visual and one tactile.
Just as apples and oranges may be eaten by themselves or mixed together in a delicious salad, print and Braille may serve as stand-alone methods or be combined in fascinating ways. Louis Braille, understanding that blind and sighted people need to communicate with one another, created raphigraphy, a way of making print out of Braille dots, so his students could write to their families. Although I have no experience with his system, I have encouraged blind youth to experiment with using Braille to make raised print letters, and they have used it to create greeting cards and bookmarks.
U-turns, T-intersections, and figure 8s, to mention just a few terms, are part of the fabric of our culture, and signatures are often required. It is crucial for blind people to know how print letters and numbers are shaped and written. Children generally learn various representations of linguistic expression easily, so teaching both Braille and print simultaneously can be as natural to them as learning multiple languages is for those fortunate enough to have that opportunity. And Braille doesn't require that a child learn different grammar or pronunciation. Marsha and I often left messages for each other in Braille, and she and some of her friends used its patterns in visual ink dots to write one another notes.
Tactile expression abounds in our world. We need only seek it out. When we were at an art show that included both visual and tactile art, Marsha once said that touching a piece was a different experience from looking at it. She enjoyed both.
Just as sighted children are taught visual etiquette, blind children need instruction in appropriate tactile observation. Some blind people have been so conditioned to keep their hands off things that they miss out on much of their environment. Others reach indiscriminately for anything within their grasp. My blind older sister, noticing that I often broke things, showed me how to locate and handle things more gracefully. I have been glad to pass on these techniques to others. Many things in the environment have both visual and tactile components, and it can be a lot of fun to make a game of finding them.
I have met blind children and youth who are determined to use their remaining sight for nearly everything, often because they have been pushed to function visually. They attempt to do things visually that efficient people, sighted or blind, do using their other senses. When people say, "She can use print, but he has to use Braille," print becomes the good guy and Braille the bad guy. Furthermore, this attitude eliminates the option, very useful for many, of using both Braille and print effectively.
All too often, blind children with some remaining vision are not exposed to Braille and other tactile experiences at all. In other cases, they are introduced to nonvisual experiences only as a last resort, when print and visual expression are no longer viable. By then everyone involved is most likely frustrated. Yet visual and nonvisual experiences can work very well in tandem. People I know who use both Braille and print like to have the option of deciding which method to use, based on the situation.
Being in a healthy mentor/mentee relationship with a competent blind adult can give young people a chance to gain perspective and take the guesswork out of how to do things. This perspective can help their families relax about things as well. A young blind mentee once said to me, "Instead of wondering what a blind person did to become successful, I can actually ask! I can ask and get an answer, instead of asking a sighted person who would have to guess."
I feel grateful and privileged to have my own mentoring relationships. Yet I feel sad that, for many blind people, this resource is largely hidden. Mother Theresa once said, "Few of us can do great things, but all of us can do small things with great love." Blind mentors and mentees can do those small things and share that great love every day. We need to spread the news to parents and educators and bring this resource out of hiding. After all, as investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett puts it, "What you pay is the price. What you get is the value." The value is to give blind children and youth a chance to live more fully than past generations have lived. We have the priceless opportunity to help them live as equals in a society that will be better off for it. Some, should they choose to, may earn good money digging ditches; but none who heeds the encouragement and shared wisdom of blind mentors is likely to fall into one.
by Leslie Hamric
From the Editor: Although her two-year-old son keeps her busy, Leslie Hamric finds time to coordinate the At-Large Chapter of the NFB of Illinois. She also nurtures her lifelong love of music.
The year was 1989, and I was attending Lincoln Junior High in Park Ridge, Illinois. All day I had looked forward to the audition for concert choir. Music had always been my strong point, and I was confident that I would get in. Furthermore, Mrs. N., the music teacher, did not seem bothered by my blindness. In fact, she willingly gave me the words up front to a song I had to sing at the last minute.
Since I was so pleased with my audition, I spent the next few days in eager anticipation. However, when the list of new choir members was finally posted, my name was not there. What went wrong? My parents called Mrs. N. and asked her for an explanation.
Nothing could have prepared me for the teacher's response. Casually she told my parents that I didn't get in because the choir was going to do choreography. At first my parents accepted her reasoning. After further thought, however, they realized that choreography could not be anything beyond dancing, clapping, and moving my arms around in certain patterns. I could easily learn all of those things if someone showed me the steps. My parents had the gut feeling that Mrs. N. had turned me down because she was uncomfortable with my blindness.
After we talked it over, I agreed that Mrs. N. had excluded me because of my blindness and needed some educating on the subject. We decided it was appropriate to take the situation up to the next level. We consulted with my teacher of the visually impaired (TVI), who made some phone calls and scheduled a meeting. The meeting would include my parents, the director of special education, the head of the music department, and Mrs. N. I decided not to attend; I was afraid I would not handle it well emotionally.
At the meeting, Mrs. N. said she did not want to deal with any of "those special ed kids." She said that having me participate in choreography would make the choir look bad. The head of the music department, Mr. R., seemed to back her completely. Mrs. N. asked a series of questions about how I would learn the dance steps. The director of special education told her to talk to my TVI, who would know how to teach me. He also reminded her that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) legally allowed me to be in choir, and that reasonable accommodations should be provided. After more discussion that simply wasn't going anywhere, the director of special ed had had enough. "You let her be in concert choir this minute," he said. "That is an order."
Although Mrs. N. finally relented and let me into the choir, she was disrespectful to me all year. She would not let me perform in the piece that had choreography, even though I worked hard with my TVI to master the dance steps. To make matters worse, Mrs. N. would not permit me to walk on and off the stage with another student, for fear I would bump into something. She had an irrational fear that my parents would sue her if anything happened to me, and she insisted that I walk onto the stage with a teacher's aide. My parents and I were relieved on the day I graduated from junior high. I would start high school with a fresh set of teachers who, we hoped, would be open-minded and happy to work with me.
In August of 1990 I entered Maine South High School in Park Ridge. Right from the beginning the performing arts teachers were eager to work with me. I signed up for orchestra, and the director was delighted to have me as one of her cellists. She had a local cello teacher record all of the pieces on tape so I could learn them. The music was more difficult than any I had played before, and there was a great deal of it to learn. Still, I memorized it all and met the challenge.
In 1991, during the summer before my sophomore year, I took part in a summer drama class. We put on a musical called Black Patent Leather Shoes. I was afraid that the drama teacher would not pick me because choreography was involved, and I was pleasantly surprised when I was selected. At first I was overwhelmed by the number of dance steps I had to memorize. However, everyone was willing to show me what was going on, including the drama teacher himself.
People showed me the dance steps in two ways. First they moved my hands, arms, or legs through the motions. Then they performed the steps while my hands rested on their hands, arms, or legs so I could feel what they were doing. I have an excellent sense of rhythm, and most of the time I had no trouble staying in sync with the other dancers. If I happened to get off track, the person next to me quietly told me which way to turn or gently moved my shoulders back in the right direction. As the summer progressed, I felt more and more confident with the choreography.
Finally the day of our first performance arrived. This time I walked onto the stage with one of my friends, so I did not look out of place. Naturally my parents were in the audience. So was Mr. R., the head of the junior high music department. He saw me in action, singing and gracefully performing one dance step after another.
After the curtain call, Mr. R. approached my parents and commented on how well I did. "It is just amazing what a little help can do," my dad told him simply. Mr. R. had no reply, but he looked stunned as he walked away. We will never know the true effect of my dad's comment, but at least he conveyed the idea that blindness need not be an issue, given appropriate training and opportunities.
The high school choir director was also delighted to have me in his class, and he treated me as he did everyone else. Like it or not, I had to meet his high expectations. He insisted that I learn to read Braille music, a skill that would serve me well in the future. If he was not sure about a specific adaptation, he asked me or talked to my TVI. He arranged to have my music transcribed into Braille, installed a push pin by my folder slot so I could find it easily, and explained various vocal techniques in nonvisual terms. I looked forward to his class every day because it was fun and inspiring.
Besides participating in orchestra and choir, I decided to take voice lessons to improve my singing technique. Both of my voice teachers were wonderful, and neither of them objected to having me as a student. They welcomed my ideas and often commented on how much they learned from me. They said I made them better teachers because I gave them a new perspective. All of my hard work paid off when the choir director let me into the vocal jazz ensemble my junior year. When I was a senior he gave me a big soprano solo at two of our concerts. I knew I had earned these opportunities based on my musical abilities and not because I was blind.
My high school musical experiences with piano, cello, voice, orchestra, choir, and drama made my confidence bloom. Music gave me a sense of self-worth. I began to make friends and felt I belonged to a group. Eventually my peers saw me as a talented musician and not as just "that blind kid."
By the time I reached senior year, I knew I wanted to major in music at college. I earned a bachelor's degree in music performance from Northern Illinois University in 1999. After college I went straight on to receive my master's degree in performance from the Eastman School of Music, one of the best music schools in the country, in 2002. I completed coursework in music therapy at Western Illinois University in 2004. Out of all my music experiences in college, my absolute favorite was performing recitals every year.
Although I am not a musician by career, music is still a big part of my life. Like me, my husband Andy is a cellist, and our favorite activity is playing duets. I have taught private cello lessons, and I perform at church services. I am a member of my church choir. Right now I am a stay-at-home mom, and my cute little boy, Michael, keeps me on my toes. I really enjoy nurturing his potential for musical talent. No matter what life brings my way, music is a gift that will allow my creative side to shine.
As I reflect on my performance experiences, I wonder how different my life would have been if the high school music faculty had not given me those early opportunities. Although Mrs. N. tried to knock me down with her prejudicial treatment, I stood tall and held my ground. My strong support network believed in me and encouraged me to keep going. I did not give up. I entered high school with new strength of character. I realized I would have to acquire self-advocacy skills if I was going to be successful. When I was selected for the summer musical, I started using my new skills to communicate what I did and did not need.
I am forever grateful to the performing arts faculty at Maine South High School. The teachers there gave me that single chance to demonstrate that anything is possible with open communication, creativity, and the willingness to accept new challenges. Their receptive attitudes helped me know that I was contributing to a worthwhile endeavor--music.
The best advice I can offer blind young people is to obtain a strong support network, maintain high expectations, and forge ahead with a smile. As the motivational speaker Les Brown says, "If you set goals and go after them with all the determination you can muster, your gifts will take you places that will amaze you."
by Aleeha Dudley
From the Editor: Aleeha Dudley is a freshman at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She plans to become an equine veterinarian. In 2011 she was awarded an NFB national scholarship.
For me, horseback riding is perfect harmony. I am one with the horse. I don't have to rely on any alternative methods to help me participate with the rest of the sighted community. I can ride confidently in an arena full of my sighted peers. Some of them don't even know that I'm blind.
I turn to horses when I'm the most stressed. When I'm on the back of a horse, I can let everything else go. I focus on the relationship between me and the twelve-hundred-pound animal underneath me.
I was in sixth grade when my aunt gave me four free riding lessons. When I first met my instructor and the horse I was about to ride, I have to admit I felt a little intimidated. However, my instructor helped me learn to love horses. She never said that I couldn't ride. She always treated me as though I shared a level playing field with everyone else at the barn. To help me learn, she even rode blindfolded so she could experience riding as I did. Over time I became acquainted with the other horses and the people who worked in the barn. Other riders never seemed apprehensive when we rode together in the same arena.
Riding always comes with a bit of risk. Once, during the summer after my eighth-grade year, my horse spooked and threw me into the wall of the arena. I walked away with a few scratches and a nice dent in the riding helmet that we all were required to wear. I got right back on that horse, and I continued to ride--not without a little apprehension at first! Eventually I regained all of my confidence as an equestrian.
By the winter of my sophomore year in high school, my instructor thought I was ready to show at the Preble County Fair. We approached our county's horse committee to see if it would be possible for me to ride in their show, since I already showed my rabbits there. The horse committee flatly refused, and their decision had nothing to do with rabbits. They did not believe that I could be safe on a horse, and they were convinced that I would be a danger to those around me. I was more than a little disappointed. I had known these people most of my life, and I expected more from them.
As it turned out, this decision had some negative consequences for my county's horse committee. Some of my friends, who had been supporting the equine events financially, pulled their funding when they found out what the committee had decided.
Meanwhile, my instructor approached the horse committee of the Wayne County Fair across the state line in Indiana. At first the Wayne County committee was just as skeptical as the committee in Preble County, and came very close to refusing me. When we asked why they did not want me to ride, they gave all the answers we had heard before. However, one of the committee members traveled to the barn one evening to observe me during a lesson. He was very apprehensive in the beginning, acting as if I couldn't saddle and ride a horse on my own. When I dismounted an hour later, covered with sweat and mud, I felt exhilarated. I knew I had done well, and I had shown the committee member that I could ride. With his help, I was allowed to show in the fair. I showed in Wayne County for three wonderful years.
During the first year that I showed horses at the fair, I ran into a small problem. The second class I was entered in was a halter class; the rider leads the horse past the judge at various gaits. The wind blew a large, white hat off another exhibitor's head. My horse spooked when the hat landed close to his front feet. He reared up, turned around, and walked about six feet away. I knew that if a horse spooks you should not try to hang onto the lead rope because there is a danger of being dragged. I dropped the lead rope and nervously waited for help.
Fortunately my instructor was close by. She entered the arena and brought my horse back to me. I distinctly remember every word she said. "Take this lead rope in your hands, put your head up, and smile. If you don't, all of these people will see that you can't even handle a little spook. Keep on showing." And so I did. I was not afraid. I knew the truth of my instructor's words.
Later that day, I finished my riding class and was surprised to find that many people were in tears. From my point of view, nothing very special had happened. But many people in the audience felt they had witnessed something moving and powerful. They hadn't believed that I could ride a horse just like everyone else did, and I had just proved them wrong.
During my senior year the Preble County Horse Committee approached me and offered to let me show at their fair at last. They had seen that I could be safe around others while I was on horseback. However, I refused their offer. By that time I was fully established with the show in Wayne County, and I did not want to leave.
For me as a blind person, horseback riding has had its challenges, but it has helped shape me as a person. Through riding I learned to be confident. I learned to overcome my shyness around strangers. Most of all, I learned that I can do whatever I set my mind to. I have laughed, cried, shouted in anger and frustration, smiled in exhilaration, and, most of all, I have had fun.
by Frederick W. Noesner
From the Editor: Frederic Noesner has had a lifelong interest in antique weapons and colonial history. In 2011 he published a novel, The Fortunate Ones: Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia as Seen without Sight, which depicts how blind people may have lived in the years before the American Revolution. A digital audio version is available from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) and the book can be purchased in print from the author at email@example.com, or from the publisher at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Totally blind since early childhood, I was very fortunate to grow up in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. I was blessed with wonderful, loving parents who did all that they could to give me the skills and opportunities I needed. Dad had an extensive home workshop, filled with both metal- and woodworking equipment. He had a lathe, a milling machine, a drill-press, a grinder, a sander, a table saw, and an amazing variety of hand tools. Nothing was off limits to me, as long as I used it carefully and correctly. I learned that every tool had a specific purpose, and it was to be used for that purpose only. A screwdriver was not a chisel. A wrench was not a hammer.
Dad's workshop was neat and orderly. Every tool had its place, and one was expected to return it to that place at the end of each job. In fact, during large jobs, Dad often advised taking a break, putting every tool away, and cleaning up. This method made it easier to find the tools one needed, rather than sifting through a jumble of items on the bench.
Dad was always aware of safety issues, and he passed that awareness to me. "You only have ten fingers," he used to say. "Keep them. They do not grow back." He taught me that when a tool makes an unusual sound, that is often a sign that it is not being used properly, or that it is hurt and needs help, such as oil.
My father was a demanding teacher, and working for him was not always easy. He could make anything, and he was willing to share his knowledge with anyone who wanted to learn. He often told me that I should be able to do most of the things that he did, but that I might have to do them in a different way. I learned to think a job through and plan alternative methods in order to achieve the desired outcome without vision. These principles and practices, learned in early childhood, have stood me in good stead throughout my life.
Although I was allowed to use any tool in the workshop, the first one that was truly my own was a Braille ruler. It was a one-foot cast aluminum rule with a lockable slide on one end and a scriber tip on the other. It arrived under the Christmas tree when I was five years old. The following Christmas a Braille watch arrived--only after I had demonstrated that I could tell time. I learned to tell time when Dad made me a clock face about four inches square with brass pins in the configuration found on most Braille watches of that long-ago era. (Today's ubiquitous talking timepieces did not appear until the 1970s.) Dad or Mom would set the hands on the clock model and leave it at my place on the breakfast table. Each morning I had a lesson while Mom was making breakfast.
Most tools designed for the use of blind people are related to measuring. One of the most useful of these is a ruler made from a threaded rod. The threads are one-sixteenth of an inch apart. On one side of the rod most of the threads are milled away so that the user can feel the remaining threads at every one-half inch. As the rod slides into a slightly larger tube, the user can feel and hear clicks at every sixteenth of an inch. I believe this type of ruler was originally designed by a shop teacher at Philadelphia's Overbrook School for the Blind. For many years these wonderful rulers were made as a training project by blind people at the New Jersey Commission for the Blind's Rehabilitation Center in Newark, New Jersey. Sadly, this project was scrapped during the late 1970s, when it was decided that it was more important to evaluate blind people for work than to teach them a particular job.
Prior to its transformation into an evaluation center, the Rehabilitation Center of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind was truly a place where blind people could learn to use their hands. They learned how to use tools that could help them gain dexterity and confidence. During the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s the Rehabilitation Center was administered by Dick Friend, who was totally blind himself. Dick could use all of the tools and machines at the Center, and he taught other blind people to do so as well. I had learned a great deal growing up in my dad's shop, but I also learned a lot of ways to do things without looking at them from Dick Friend. In my dad's shop I was never able to use a machinist's micrometer, a tool for making minute measurements in thousandths of an inch. Dick Friend introduced me to a micrometer that had been adapted with very fine notches in order for blind people to read it.
In one corner of the Rehabilitation Center's wood shop, Dick constructed a model room for a house. The room had exposed beams, and a student could easily follow the wiring for electrical switches and outlets. It had a sink, so a student could learn to change the washer in a faucet. It had both a window and a door, so students could learn about window sash weights, doorknobs, and locks. Dick believed that if, after a few weeks at the Center, a blind person could return home able to deal with small home projects, it would do wonders for that person's self-esteem and overall confidence.
Although I never attended the Rehabilitation Center as a client, my first job out of college was as a rehabilitation counselor for the New Jersey Commission. I had many occasions to visit clients who were students at the Center. Many of us counselors were in our twenties, and we were buying and working on our first homes. Dick often held informal little seminars around his desk at lunch time. The topic depended on who was doing what on a house at the time. He covered such projects as rewiring and plumbing, mixing and pouring cement, paneling a room, and installing a drop ceiling. As I was restoring my first house, an 1890 Victorian that had been badly neglected, these little seminars were a golden opportunity for me to learn from a blind craftsman.
Dick and his wife had a wonderful little summer cottage on the coast of Rhode Island. A contractor had put up the rough shell, and Dick had finished all of the interior work himself. He often invited staff members from the Center to visit for a weekend. One year he invited me and my wife to stay at the cottage for a week of my vacation. He would be there with us on the weekends, but we would stay on for the entire week. Over the first weekend, I helped him staple up some insulation at the end of the living room. As he left on Sunday evening, he commented that in the morning the local lumber yard would deliver the pine tongue-and-groove paneling that was needed to finish the job. He thought it would be nice if I had installed it by the time he and his wife returned.
By the time the next Friday evening rolled around, I had all but the final board cut and fitted into place. The last board was tricky, as it had to be cut at a very careful angle so it would blend into the remaining wall of the room. I ruined two boards trying, and finally decided to wait for Dick's arrival. When I explained the problem, he was delighted to teach me how to set up the radial arm saw to cut the angle. That teaching opportunity meant more to him than the fact that I had completed the rest of the job.
I don't think I have ever been happy for any length of time unless I was making something with my hands. While I was away at college I could no longer work in Dad's shop, but I made some attempts at wood carving. One of my roommates remarked that he felt as if he were living with a beaver. As time went on, I gradually added to my collection of specialized tools. My brother, who is a tool and die maker, made a level for me. It was a large ball bearing that rolled back and forth in a polished section of angle iron. More recently I acquired an audible level that is more accurate.
In his workshop my dad made flintlock rifles and restored antique weapons, clocks, and tools. As a result, I have always had a deep interest in colonial history. When I was ten or eleven I tried my hand at making a powder horn. As time passed I made others, whenever the need arose to have a particular horn for use with a flintlock rifle or musket.
In 2006 I secured a seasonal job acting as a colonial person with Historic Philadelphia. I needed to find a colonial craft that I could demonstrate to the public. Making powder horns seemed just the thing. For the last two seasons, I have been assigned to make eighteenth-century-style powder horns in a lovely shaded spot in the courtyard of the Betsy Ross House, and I joined The Honorable Company of Horners. However, I realized that my horns were only primitive copies of the beautifully carved and inlaid horns that other members of the guild were making. I decided to seek out more knowledge. At a seminar I met Frank Willis, whose eighteenth-century-style powder horns are truly wonderful. He invited me to his shop, where we explored methods for making better and more traditional powder horns.
Eighteenth-century powder horns fall into two major categories. The first and most primitive horns were those that an individual made for himself, most likely from the horns of his own cows. He probably worked on them in the yard of his cabin, or possibly in front of his fire on a cold winter evening. These horns were very utilitarian. The base plugs were usually fitted by hand to the natural oval shape of the cow's horn. In addition, there may have been a few simple decorative rings filed around the horn.
The second type of powder horn was produced in some quantity in horn shops. These shops produced everything imaginable that could be made from horn--combs, thimbles, spoons, dippers, cups, and bowls. Most shop-made horns were fitted with round lathe-turned bottoms. The large open end of the horn was forced into an even round shape to accept the lathe-turned plug. This was achieved by boiling the horn in oil at about 350 degrees Fahrenheit to make it pliable. Frank Willis has urged me to adopt this method of traditional horn-making. Turning a bottom on a lathe is not a problem for me, but I must admit that I am a bit intimidated by dealing with 350-degree oil. We are working to find a safe way for me to handle this part of the process. One of my goals is to discover methods that a blind crafter might have used during the eighteenth century as well as making horns with the type of tools that were used during the colonial period.
Over the years I have collected a number of antique hand tools. The ones that interest me most are those made by a smith or cabinetmaker for personal use. When I hold one of these old tools in my hand, I can almost absorb the loving craftsmanship and knowledge that went into its creation and use. I feel that these tools have been placed in my care so that I can preserve them and their heritage of knowledge for future generations.
I hope this short article may encourage the parents of blind children, as well as blind children themselves, to know that there are ways for us to achieve the things we wish to do or learn in life. Whether it is with our hands or our minds, there is always a way.
by Hilary Richardson
From the Editor: The Summer 2010 issue of Future Reflections included a short announcement about a study on brain development in blind and sighted children that was being conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Now, a year and a half later, the study is well underway. In this article Hilary Richardson, a member of the research team, describes the study and discusses some of the preliminary findings.
Right now is an incredibly exciting time to be a developmental neuroscientist. A developmental neuroscientist studies the minds and brains of children in order to understand how we grow and learn and how a baby's mind transforms to that of an adult. By studying young children, scientists can ask questions about how the brain supports learning a language, how and when we learn that other people may hold beliefs that are different from our own, and how we come to understand and make reasonable moral evaluations. Studying how the mind and brain develop will illuminate which mental abilities we are born with and how we are shaped by our experiences.
In the past ten years it has become possible to ask questions such as these by studying children's brain development with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI is a very safe procedure we can use to take pictures of people's brains. Images that show the brain's anatomy, or shape, appear as still photographs. The brain's function is shown through a functional MRI, or fMRI, as a series of images over time, much like a movie. MRI technology lets us study the brain as it does the things we otherwise take for granted in our everyday lives, such as processing language, perceiving social interactions, and interpreting visual images. We can study how the brain typically processes these stimuli and how this neural response changes with age. We can also study how mind and brain development are different in children who have unique developmental experiences, such as children who are blind.
I am fortunate to be involved in this research through my work with Dr. Marina Bedny and Dr. Rebecca Saxe at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. These researchers have already studied language and social cognition in blind adults, using behavioral tests (question and answer) and fMRI. Their research shows that the part of the brain that is used for seeing in sighted people gets recycled for many other jobs in blind people, including understanding language. Scientists used to think that only a small number of specially evolved regions, unique to the human brain, could ever be involved in processing language. By contrast, recent studies suggest the brain is extremely adaptable; parts of the brain typically used for vision can switch to understanding the meanings of words and sentences. This remarkable discovery highlights how experience dramatically alters brain development.
To understand better how and when the brain accomplishes this change, we are now working with children who are blind. Does this change happen during childhood, or does it occur as the result of aging or learning to read Braille? Does the visual part of the brain take on a specific part of language processing? What does the development of the typical language brain regions look like in children who are blind?
From a practical perspective, the results of this study may eventually have an impact on educational planning for blind children. In the more distant future, the results may inform decisions about the timing of possible treatments for the restoration of vision. We always caution parents that this study will have no direct benefit for their children. However, we take this research program as an opportunity to communicate with children, their families, and the blind community about our studies and about neuroscience in general, and we learn a great deal from the families that take part in our studies.
So far, twelve congenitally blind children between the ages of four and seventeen have participated in our study. We are actively recruiting more blind children from across the country to come visit us. When a family is interested in the study, we talk with the parents and child about the research and explain what the testing day is like. If the family wishes to participate, we arrange a trip to MIT. Though the testing only takes about half a day, most families stay in Cambridge for one to two nights, and we cover travel expenses.
We try to make the testing day a fun learning experience, and we share with children the excitement of being a part of real science. We help the children become familiar with the scanning environment by practicing in a "mock" scanner. While they are in the practice scanner, children listen to music or hear a story.
Next we head to the real scanner. The children are given an opportunity to learn about the scanner by touch. We explain how it works, how we use it to learn about the brain, and what questions we are hoping to answer. When the child is ready, we start the scan.
During the first part of the scan, the child listens to a story or music of his/her choice while we take anatomical still photographs of the brain. Then the child plays a game that involves listening to stories and music while we measure brain activity related to the various types of stimuli. Using this task we can study the response to language and music in different parts of the brain, including regions typically recruited for vision.
The whole scan takes thirty to forty minutes. After the scan, we take a break and eat lunch. The last part of the testing day is the behavioral testing. A certified teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) administers tasks that assess Braille reading, language, and math ability. Throughout the day the children are encouraged to take breaks and are provided with snacks. Each child receives an Amazon gift card and small brain-related prizes for participating in the testing. We also print pictures of the child's brain for the parents to keep.
The families that have taken part in our studies have enjoyed their experiences at our lab. For Marina, Rebecca, and me, this project is incredibly fun and interesting. We have had the opportunity to meet some fantastic kids, and we have immensely enjoyed getting to know them and their families.
Though we are still collecting data, our preliminary findings suggest that the functional reorganization of the brain that we have observed in blind adults begins in early childhood. We find that some visual areas respond to language and others to music in children as young as four years of age. This project is an important step toward understanding how the mind and brain develop, how abstract knowledge such as language is represented in the brain, and how experience plays a role in each of these processes.
Our findings so far encourage us to continue and expand our work. In future studies we will work with a more varied population of blind children, including those with some residual vision, in order to see how varying levels of visual experience affect brain development. Looking forward, we are eager to expand our relationships with blind individuals, parents of blind children, educators, researchers in related fields, and clinicians. Our work has benefited tremendously from the help of the blind community. We are also incredibly grateful to the families that have made our research possible. We extend a warm thank-you to the National Association of Parents of the Visually Impaired (NAPVI) and to the National Braille Press for their encouragement and support.
We would love to talk to you. If you have questions or would like more information about this research, please contact Hilary Richardson and Marina Bedny by phone at (617) 286-6476 or by email at email@example.com. Also, please check out our website for this study at <http://kidsbrains.mit.edu/bkids.html>.
by Meleah Jensen
From the Editor: Until the early 1980s, most professionals in the blindness field believed that cane travel could not be taught until a blind child reached the teen years. Deprived of the opportunity to move freely, to explore the environment, and to keep up with their sighted peers and siblings, blind children were forced into a role of dependence on others. The NFB is passionately committed to promoting cane travel for young blind and low-vision children. In this article, Meleah Jensen, an education program assistant in the Jernigan Institute, describes an exciting new program.
I had a cane put in my hand for the first time at the age of sixteen. I was at a student seminar sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana. I carried the cane with me and used it for the remainder of the weekend; however, when it was time to go home I gave it back. There was no way I was going to show up at school carrying a cane! Canes were for blind people, and at that time I did not consider myself to be blind.
It took another three years, many a frustrating moment, and six months as a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind before I realized the benefits of using a cane. Although I know it does no good to ask "what if?", I wonder how different my life might have been had I had a cane in my hand at sixteen months instead of sixteen years.
Unfortunately, I am not an anomaly. All too many Federationists can tell similar stories. Stories like mine inspired the NFB Jernigan Institute to launch the NFB Early Explorers Program early this winter. Early Explorers is designed to introduce the long white cane to young blind and low-vision children from birth to age seven. In addition, we want to equip parents of blind or low-vision children with the knowledge, tools, and confidence necessary to become their child's first travel teachers. Dr. Frederic Schroeder, a researcher and the first blind person to earn professional certification in cane travel, once said, "One of the most fundamental parts of a blind child's training is the development of independent travel skills. Without these skills, the blind child is placed in a position of being dependent on others for inclusion in daily activities." Simply put, having a cane allows a blind or low-vision child to explore and to have the same experiences as his or her sighted peers.
Parents who participate in the NFB Early Explorers Program will receive several resources to help them as they step into the role of their child's first travel teacher. These resources include the book Independent Movement and Travel in Blind Children: A Promotion Model by Joe Cutter. Long-time readers of Future Reflections are familiar with Joe Cutter and his work in the field of early cane travel. In his book he discusses the role parents play in encouraging their blind children to move freely and ultimately to travel with a cane. "It begins when the expectant mother introduces her baby to movement in utero," Cutter says. "Whenever the mother sits, stands, turns, or walks, the child inside her experiences movement. Once the baby is born, the mother and father become attached to their child through touch--through holding, carrying, and playing with their baby. The joyous world of movement has begun, and it is the parents who are the first, the primary, educators of their child."
Families who take part in the NFB Early Explorers Program will also receive a welcome packet containing an informational DVD, a child-sized white cane, and a copy of Cane Travel and Independence, a special issue of Future Reflections. The informational DVD is approximately twenty minutes in length and includes advice from professionals in the blindness field on how to know if your child is age appropriate, how to select the best cane, and so on. Parents will also hear from blind children of various ages who explain in their own words why they use a cane. Of course, such a video would be incomplete without comments from experienced parents of blind children. "Anna is a wonderful child, and she deserves the right to be a child," says Carlton Cook Walker of Pennsylvania, who serves as second vice president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). "She deserves the right to run down a sidewalk and skin her knee. She deserves the right to climb up a rock hill and scrape her belly (which she's done). . . . She deserves to be like every other kid in her school, and her cane ensures that she can."
If you sign up for the program, our support will not end once we have sent your welcome packet. Each quarter you will receive an issue of Travel Tales, an e-newsletter. Travel Tales will be filled with practical tips and information that you can use to help your blind child learn to navigate the environment using the long white cane. The first issue is already in the works. It will include tips for turning a trip to the grocery store into a teachable moment for your blind child, and suggestions for traveling successfully through snow using a cane. Families and educators will also have the opportunity to write in and ask questions about cane travel or blindness in general. Don't be shy. We want to answer your questions, no matter what they might be.
To register or to learn more about the NFB Early Explorers Program, please visit <www.nfb.org/earlyexplorers>, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (410) 659-9314, ext. 2418. Help us spread the word about the importance of early movement for young blind children by telling the parents and families you encounter about the NFB Early Explorers Program!
by Jackie Otwell and Natalie Shaheen
Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Vol. 54, No. 10, November 2011.
From the Editor: The National Federation of the Blind works hard to promote the use of Braille among blind youth, and the BELL Program is one of its major initiatives. BELL (Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning) is an intensive, two-week summer program for blind children between the ages of four and twelve, conducted by NFB affiliates in their home states across the country. In this article supervising teacher Jackie Otwell and program coordinator Natalie Shaheen focus on two states that sponsored BELL for the first time in 2011.
The NFB BELL Program (Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning) has done it again! The choir has grown! Colorado and North Carolina joined in the fun last summer. Veteran states participated again, and some programs even grew. Utah and Maryland held one program each, Texas and Virginia each held three programs, and Georgia held two. In all, eleven NFB BELL Programs were held in seven states.
Gary Ray, president of the NFB of North Carolina and coordinator of the North Carolina BELL program, saw the possibilities back in September of 2010. He wanted to bring this opportunity to children in North Carolina, but he was a bit apprehensive at the training seminar in February. He knew that the program was going to be a lot of work, and he wasn't quite sure he was cut out to work with kids. However, when he got back home and started tapping into his state's resources, he began to feel that his team was equipped for the task. Fellow Federationist Debbie Jackson and the Friends of the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped were there to help.
When the program was over, Gary proudly stated that he would be happy to do it again. He described his involvement with the BELL Program as one of the best experiences he has ever had with the National Federation of the Blind. He recognized that children are the future of the Federation; by helping them become as independent as possible and develop positive attitudes about blindness, Gary and the North Carolina BELL team were building the Federation. Gary was great with the kids. If it weren't for the BELL program, he might never have realized that he had such skills.
The students in North Carolina experienced great success during the BELL Program. After hearing the Captain Whozit skit, a story about a girl who uses her cane at camp after a surprise visit from a cane-tapping superhero, Emily used her cane at a swim meet for the first time. She even showed it off to a few friends. Eleven-year-old Wesley, who was new to Braille, blossomed over the two weeks and developed a can-do attitude about Braille and nonvisual techniques. Before BELL, he was only receiving thirty minutes of Braille instruction a week. All of the positive feedback and fun lessons--such as drawing with the Perkins Braillewriter, playing Braille Bingo, and making candy Braille--helped get Wesley pumped up.
To add to the fun, the North Carolina BELL Program took a field trip to the Marbles Kids Museum. Elijah experienced ice hockey on a simulation rink where participants wore socks instead of ice skates.
Out west in Colorado, Michelle Chacon and Diane McGeorge used their expertise from coordinating other youth programs to make BELL a success. Michelle found the curriculum resources to be very helpful. The lessons provided a nice springboard for her own creativity. She felt that the conference calls that led up to the program provided a good deal of useful information. Conference calls gave Michelle and her team opportunities to learn how other states handle the logistics of field trips, lunches, and transportation. The NFB of Colorado team also found the conference calls to be good platforms for reporting progress on tasks and regrouping for the next wave of work.
The Colorado program drew on the talents of one of the affiliate's members, Ann Cunningham, to add art to the curriculum. For many years Ann has taught art to blind people, and she has created beautiful tactile artwork of her own. She provided students with opportunities to create pen-and-ink drawings, using a raised-line drawing board and clay. Braille labels were added to the students' pieces. The students held an art show and explained their pieces to one another. Sculptures included a princess, the solar system, and Lightning McQueen from the Cars movies. Not only did students walk away with improved Braille skills; they discovered that blindness needn't prevent a person from being artistic!
Interested in joining the Braille-teaching BELL Choir? We are looking for three new host states for the summer of 2012. If your affiliate is interested in enriching the lives of blind youth through increased access to Braille instruction, contact Natalie Shaheen at email@example.com or visit <www.nfb.org/BELL>.
by Natalie Shaheen
Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Vol. 54, No. 10, November 2011.
From the Editor: Youth Slam is the NFB's weeklong summer program for high school students that occurs every other year. The program gives blind students hands-on learning opportunities in the STEM curriculum--science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In this report Natalie Shaheen, director of education at the NFB Jernigan Institute, attempts to convey the energy and excitement of the program by including a sampling of the Tweets generated by staff and students. Twitter is a popular social medium that provides very brief bits of Internet communication. Whether you want to follow the Tweets on a given subject or intend for your Tweet to be part of the discussion, you have to use the hashtag for that topic. In the case of Youth Slam, the hashtag is #NFBYS11. Parents, teachers, and interested Federationists who wanted to stay in touch with Youth Slam activities searched Twitter using #NFBYS11 to find the Tweets. Those contributing to the conversation included the hashtag in their messages. We have retained the hashtags in the Tweets below.
Time was when turning on the radio or television was the best way to get breaking news. Today news hits Twitter--a social media site--long before it hits any other media stream. During the week of the NFB Youth Slam, July 17 to 23, this principle held true. Students, volunteers, staff, visitors, celebrities, and even people across the country who couldn't make it to the program were Tweeting about NFBYS11 (Twitter talk for the 2011 NFB Youth Slam).
The best way to learn what was happening from one minute to the next during the week of Youth Slam at Towson University is to look at Twitter. A query for NFBYS11 on Twitter yields many Tweets, including the following, which, taken together, provide a window on the events and energy of the program.
NFBScience: "Students arrive today! Let the fun, learning, and empowerment begin. #NFBYS11"
Maryann Migliorelli: "#NFBYS11 Second morning at Youth Slam. Eagerly awaiting our mentees. Yesterday was full of fun and learning. Much preparation for kids."
Angela Dehart: "Students will start arriving soon! Let the fun begin! #NFBYS11"
After a day and a half of training and preparation at Towson University, staff and volunteers eagerly awaited the arrival of the students. As the 136 students traveled to Baltimore by plane, train, and automobile, volunteers excitedly reviewed the events of the week and the things they had already learned about the students they would soon meet.
NFBScience: "The first students have arrived! #NFBYS11"
The students arrived at the dorm by the busload from the airport and train station. The symphony of luggage rolling down the sidewalk, students talking excitedly about their travels, canes tapping, marshals directing traffic, old friends embracing, and new friendships forming was reminiscent of the first days of national convention.
NFBScience: "Mentors are talking with students about the long white cane and how to use it effectively--expanding their horizons. #NFBYS11"
Since the program took place on a college campus, students got extensive travel experience throughout the week. To ensure that students were ready for the week of traveling, volunteers saw that each student had a cane and gave students who came in with traditional canes the opportunity to try a long white cane for the week. These initial conversations about cane travel were instrumental in setting the tone of independence for the week. As the week progressed, volunteers found time to talk more with students about independent travel as they walked from class to class.
Kriss McCall: "Assuming my own Slammer made it in one piece. Eagerly following your Tweets to live the excitement from a distance. at NFBScience"
Students traveled to and experienced the entire Youth Slam without their parents by their sides. This was more difficult for the parents than it was for the students. Parents recognized that their teens would grow and learn so much over the week that they wanted to be there to observe the growth firsthand. Since they couldn't be with their children, parents stayed in touch through modern technology such as cell phones and social media.
Mark Riccobono: "The biggest group of blind people ever doing the marshmallow challenge is #NFBYS11."
After everyone enjoyed dinner, the program started with a kick-off event that included the marshmallow challenge. Each pod (one blind adult and three blind students) received twenty pieces of uncooked spaghetti, one yard of string, one yard of tape, and one jumbo marshmallow. The object was to build the tallest free-standing structure possible, ensuring that the entire marshmallow sat at the very top. The pods had eighteen minutes to complete the challenge. The tallest tower built at Youth Slam was twenty-eight inches high and was built by a pod of women. This activity got the students' problem-solving juices flowing and allowed the pods to come together as teams.
Mario Armstrong: "Looking forward to giving a presentation to young students at the national NFB Youth Slam tomorrow--see y'all soon. #NFBYS11"
Mario Armstrong, a TV and radio personality whose segments air regularly on CNN, NPR, and The Today Show, is a resident of Baltimore. In advance of coming to the program to speak with students in the journalism track, Mario was following all the buzz about the Youth Slam on Twitter.
Shanae Bethea: "This is awesome! We are at Youth Slam. #NFBYS11"
Even early morning wake-up calls couldn't dampen the students' enthusiasm. Everyone was off to breakfast by 7:00 a.m., if not earlier, and the students still found time to Tweet first thing in the morning!
NFBScience: "Dr. Maurer, president of the NFB, just finished speaking to the students at the #NFBYS11 opening ceremony."
NFBScience: "Now Mark Riccobono is talking to the students about the NFB Blind Driver Challenge. He was the first blind man to drive a car! #NFBYS11"
NFBScience: "Students say they want to ride in the blind drivable car. So we are setting it up. Students will ride in the car on Friday. #NFBYS11"
Monday morning's opening ceremony was packed with a lineup of impressive speakers. The students welcomed everyone with applause; but, when President Maurer and Mark Riccobono were introduced, the ballroom erupted in cheers, chants, and applause from the students. The young people couldn't wait to hear what these two influential men had to say. As the students learned about the history and current status of the NFB Blind Driver Challenge from Mark Riccobono, the energy was palpable. As Mark wrapped up his comments, the students started chanting that they wanted to ride in the car. Mark then told them that they would have that opportunity on Friday at the NFB Jernigan Institute. The students could hardly believe what they were hearing. As Mark left the stage, the students cheered, "Ric-co-bo-no, Ric-co-bo-no." The program was off to a great start!
NFBScience: "#NFBYS11 participants in their first track sessions: chem, robots, space, bio, engineering, news, cs [computer science], nanoscience, forensics, and geoscience."
Pumped up from the opening ceremonies, students headed off to their first track sessions. Before the program, students chose from one of ten STEM disciplines (referred to as tracks throughout the program) to study throughout the week. The students spent fifteen to seventeen hours learning and engaging in activities related to their chosen disciplines over five days.
Amy Lund: "Enjoying the teacher track at Youth Slam 2011. #NFBYS11"
In addition to the ten STEM-focused tracks for the students, this year's Youth Slam also featured a track for teachers of the blind. In this track teachers learned about best practices in teaching blind students in various subjects, particularly how their blind students can function nonvisually in the STEM classroom. Teachers received direct instruction from fellow educators and also spent a good deal of time observing the students' learning activities.
Angela Dehart: "Students in the journalism track are learning all about social media. #NFBYS11"
James Bybee: "CNN's Mario Armstrong talks to the journalism track at youth slam. #NFBYS11 <http://boo.fm/b415724, via Audioboo app"
The journalism track started its week with a bang; having a celebrity guest speaker on day one was pretty exciting. Students spent the rest of the week learning about the various media available to today's journalists: print, television, radio, and social media. Each pod picked a medium and a subject and created a news piece by the end of the week.
NFBScience: "In the nanoscience track students are doing a mini me activity to learn how small the nano scale really is--it's nonvisual. #NFBYS11"
Before students in the nano track could start doing science at the nano scale, they needed to know how small these objects are. To do this, students measured their bodies and then created models that were one tenth their size. These models were called "mini me." The students then made a model that was one-tenth the size of their mini me, a "mini mini me." They then pondered how many more times they would have to divide by ten to get the dimensions of a mini me at the nanoscale with the knowledge that a nanometer is equal to one billionth of a meter.
NFBScience: "Students in the forensics track are currently looking at skeletons and learning to tell the difference between the bones of males and females. #NFBYS11"
Throughout the week forensics track participants learned how to interpret and identify various forms of forensic evidence. They worked extensively with real bones, determining the age and sex of a skeleton based on the features of the bones. By the end of the week the students were able to solve a mock crime.
NFBScience: "The space and engineering tracks are working together to build a geodesic dome. #NFBYS11"
NFBScience: "The dome is complete. #NFBYS11 <http://twitpic.com/5s8hcy>"
The space and engineering tracks collaborated throughout the week to build a Mars habitat equipped with a building (the geodesic dome), roads for hovercrafts that would deliver supplies, and much more. The dome they built on the first day became a cornerstone for their work the rest of the week.
NFBScience: "The robotics track is building sumo bots. Later the robots will fight. #NFBYS11"
The robotics students programmed LEGO Mindstorm robots to do all kinds of crazy things. They had robots fighting and playing dodgeball. Nope, it wasn't magic; it was all in the programming.
NFBScience: "Day two. Today students attend short sessions in addition to their tracks: recreational math, mineralogy, Blind Driver Challenge, and others. #NFBYS11"
To provide the students a diverse STEM experience, the teens attended four short sessions throughout the week when they weren't in their tracks. In these sessions students got a quick and exciting introduction to various STEM disciplines. The mineralogy session was run by Dr. David Vanko, the dean of the College of Science and Math at Towson University. Dr. Cary Supalo also ran a short session, which the vast majority of the students attended. In this session, Dr. Supalo guided the students through several experiments in which they collected data using the LabQuest, a product of Vernier Software and Technology that has been made accessible with JAWS through Dr. Supalo's work.
NFBScience: "Students in the journalism track are picking topics for audio and blog documentary productions: life at Youth Slam, minimum wage, education, technology, YS tracks. #NFBYS11"
Angela Dehart: "In the journalism track pod 30 has decided to do its documentary project on education of blind students. #NFBYS11"
Day two, and the journalism students are already picking the topics they will use for their documentaries.
NFBScience: "Biology track is learning how to use micropipettes to measure accurately for their experiments. #NFBYS11"
The biology track performed genetic transformations as part of a genetic engineering investigation. To complete these experiments successfully and nonvisually, the students used various techniques, including micropipettes. This piece of mainstream lab equipment is great for measuring liquids very accurately. Though not designed for blind students, micropipettes work well nonvisually.
NFBScience: "Forensic track cleaning footprints with toothbrushes so they can match the prints to shoes. #NFBYS11 <http://twitpic.com/5sm3ip>"
The students in the forensics track always had their hands in something messy. Learning is a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.
NFBScience: "Nano track experimenting with the nanomanipulator, a haptic interface connected to an atomic force microscope (AFM)--really cool stuff! #NFBYS11"
Things at the nanoscale are so small that no one can see them. Scientists who work at the nanoscale use atomic force microscopes to gather data about samples they cannot see. The AFM has a probe that scans the surface of the sample to collect the information the scientist is looking for. With the nanomanipulator demonstration students were able to interact with pre-programmed samples of nano materials through a haptic device. Students held a stylus that was connected to the computer by a multi-jointed arm. As the students moved the stylus around, they could explore the sample and feel the same forces the probe of the AFM encounters. The students couldn't wait to share this extraordinary learning experience with people who visited their class.
Jeffrey P. Bigham: "Youth Slam CS track: great chat with at vick08 [apparently one of Jeff's friends] on computing and accessibility, and first real-world navigation test with students' code. #NFBYS11"
Students in the computer science track (CS) worked with Mac computers and iPhones to write accessible iOS applications that directed them to landmarks and people. They used their applications to play games, including scavenger hunts and GPS tag. Whoever said, "Geeks don't know how to have fun?"
Natalie Shaheen: "Some good goalball here at the YMCA . . . Back to Towson. #NFBYS11"
The learning and fun didn't stop at 5:00 p.m. when classes adjourned. Students spent each evening participating in lots of exciting and challenging recreational activities. Some of the options were familiar, like goalball and yoga, while others were unique: minute to win it, murder mystery, and rec-it.
James Bybee: "Just got to watch a bunch of blind people in chemistry mix dangerous chemicals. Youth Slam is so cool! #NFBYS11"
The young people in the chemistry track handled all sorts of chemicals and learned how to do so safely from Henry Wedler, a blind chemist. Students learned the science behind making artificial flavors for common foods. Students also worked together to make bio fuel to power fans.
NFBScience: "Engineering track just ran a hovercraft on a thirty-ft track with sensors so blind drivers know to turn and stop. #NFBYS11 <http://twitpic.com/5t05we>"
One of the many projects the engineering track worked on was creating roadways for hovercrafts to travel on to get supplies to the geodesic dome they built earlier in the week. The students built these roads using PVC pipe. They used standard window alarms as sensors to alert the blind driver to points along the track where he would have to turn or stop.
NFBScience: "Blind forensics instructor talking about alternative techniques she uses in field. She says slate and stylus is best for taking notes because of dirt. #NFBYS11"
The blind instructors at Youth Slam impart all kinds of wisdom to the teens, the most important of which is how they do their jobs as blind people. Cheryl Fogle, a blind archeologist, told the students that she uses a slate and stylus in the field to take notes because she doesn't want dirt getting into her electronics.
Tyler: "In journalism listening to a guest speaker, really interesting, talking about media stuff and how twitter is useful as a news feed. #NFBYS11"
Tyler, a student in the program, joined Twitter after learning about it in the journalism track and used it to report on the program throughout the week.
NFBScience: "Biology track testing bacteria grown last night. #NFBYS11"
After genetically modifying a colony of bacteria, the students in the biology track let it grow overnight. In the morning they examined their samples to see if their experiment had worked. When the experiment did not work, the students had the opportunity to learn what had kept the bacteria from doing what they had expected.
NFBScience: "Dr. Don Thomas, professor at Towson University and former astronaut, is speaking with the space track. #NFBYS11"
Students and instructors listened intently as they learned about life aboard a shuttle from someone who has actually been to space. Students wondered aloud if they might be the first blind people in space.
Tyler: "I'm about to use Mark Riccobono's, the blind driver's, guitar for a talent show. Awesome! #NFBYS11"
David Brown: "Just sittin' in the talent show at the NFB National Center. #NFBYS11"
Wednesday afternoon and evening the Youth Slam came to the NFB Jernigan Institute. In the afternoon students attended the Slam Seminar. Sessions at the seminar included NFB training center panel, blind science professionals panel, accessible math, question and answer with Dr. Maurer, blindness advocacy, and an Apple products talk. As the two students above mentioned in their Tweets, after dinner students and volunteers showed off their gifts in a talent show.
James Bybee: "Dissecting a shark was cool. #NFBYS11"
NFBScience: "Students are dissecting dogfish sharks in Smith 373. This morning pods 11, 13, 23, 24, 27, 30, 33, 34, 35, and 38 were cutting up. #NFBYS11"
NFBScience: "This afternoon pods 1, 5, 8, 20, 39, 40, 43, 44, and 47 will be exploring the dogfish with Mark Riccobono. #NFBYS11"
Thursday was shark dissection day. A number of the pods participated in a short session in which they dissected a dogfish shark. The session was co-taught by a biology professor from Towson University and Mark Riccobono. Mark instructed the students on the nonvisual techniques blind people can employ to dissect specimens safely and efficiently, and the professor explained the biology of the dogfish shark. The students, the instructors, and Smith Hall smelt like dead fish long after the dissections were over.
Friday, the last day of the program, was jampacked with exciting events. Participants spent the morning at Pit Row. In the afternoon students once again visited the NFB Jernigan Institute, but this time the event was Driving Change: The Final Lap.
NFBScience: "Tracks are setting up their booths in the Pit Row, an event in which they get to teach their peers what they learned all week. #NFBYS11"
NFBScience: "Students in the nano track are walking around Pit Row in bunny suits like those worn in clean rooms. #NFBYS11 <http://twitpic.com/5tz8w4>"
NFBScience: "People are being interviewed live at the journalism track booth. #NFBYS11"
NFBScience: "People are crawling into the geodesic dome built by the space and engineering tracks . . . Once they get in, they can stand up inside. #NFBYS11"
NFBScience: "iPhones in hand, students in the CS track are explaining how they used GPS apps to play tag. #NFBYS11"
NFBScience: "It sounds like learning here at the Union. Students are having fun learning from each other. #NFBYS11"
At Pit Row each track set up and staffed a booth where students got to share with their peers all of the knowledge they had acquired through the week. The tracks didn't pull any punches; they brought all sorts of interesting material to show their friends. The Tweets above describe just a few of the exhibits that were available for the students and volunteers to view. The students had a blast learning from and teaching their friends. The adults who wandered into Pit Row were astounded by all the knowledge the students managed to acquire in just a week.
NFBScience: "Volunteers just led the students in singing 'Glory glory Federation.' #NFBYS11"
NFBScience: "Tracks are doing chants. The students are pumped up. #NFBYS11"
After Pit Row the energy level of everyone in the ballroom was through the roof. An impromptu pep rally seemed in order. Volunteers led the students in singing Federation songs, after which the tracks started a cheering competition to see who could cheer and chant the loudest for their track. The students could be heard throughout the Union.
Mark Riccobono: "I am about to take my first drive on city streets. The NFBJI is the center of innovation. #NFBYS11"
NFBScience: "Students are getting rides around the block in the blind drivable car. The young folks are having a blast. #NFBYS11!"
David Brown: "The full force of the week just hit me. In the USA it is legal to pay people with disabilities subminimum wages, and we don't like that. #NFBYS11"
Friday afternoon's Driving Change: The Final Lap was the event the students had been looking forward to since Mark announced on Monday that they would be riding in the NFB BDC car. In addition to riding around the block in one of the Blind Driver vehicles, an enormous enough opportunity to constitute a whole event in and of itself, students also participated in several other activities indoors: bumper cars, tire-changing, car art, constructing rubberband cars, and watching a blind bikers' stunt show. The event wrapped up with inspirational remarks from Federation leaders, after which David Brown, a student, Tweeted about how powerful the program had been for him.
Amy Lund: "Leaving Towson University. Great experience! #NFBYS11"
David Brown: "Don't you hate it when you have to say good-bye to everyone you met and go home? #NFBYS11"
On Saturday morning exhausted and tearful students and volunteers boarded buses for BWI and Penn Station. Everyone was already talking about the next Youth Slam and what they would be doing then. Until next time, "Slam That!"
by Vicky Opie
From the Editor: When blind children develop a hunger for books, parents and teachers must seek out reliable sources of Braille materials. Seedlings Braille Books for Children is an invaluable resource. For more than twenty-five years, Seedlings has fulfilled its commitment to promote Braille literacy.
In 1978 a Michigan woman named Debra Bonde pondered what she could do to make a difference in the world. After speaking with a Braille transcriber, she decided to sign up for a transcribing class at the local community center. One of her classmates was the mother of a visually impaired child. This mother told Debra that few books were ever produced in Braille for blind children. Debra deeply enjoyed sharing the special moments of reading with her children, who were sighted. She didn't think it was right that blind children had such limited access to the books her children loved. Soon she came up with the idea of making Braille books on her own.
Debra Bonde turned her idea to reality in 1984, when she founded Seedlings Braille Books for Children. The mission of Seedlings was to promote Braille literacy and instill blind children with a love of reading. At that time children's books in Braille were scarce and quite expensive. Seedlings worked to increase the availability and lower the cost of Braille books for children of all ages.
Working from her basement office, Debra produced 221 Braille books in 1985, the organization's first year of operation. Today Seedlings produces approximately 23,000 Braille books per year. Some are print/Braille books for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, including such titles as Touch and Feel Baby Animals. There are also full-length novels for teens transcribed in several volumes, such as Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book One: The Lightning Thief.
Even today only a very small percentage of children's book titles are ever produced in Braille. In 2011 Seedlings added ninety new titles, and twelve hundred titles are offered in the 2012 catalog. Seedlings books sell for about half the cost of production. Individual and corporate donations, foundation grants, and proceeds from fundraising events make up the difference.
Over the years Seedlings has received many moving letters of appreciation, some from parents of blind children and others from blind parents of sighted children. One reader wrote, "Ms. Debra Bonde, I'm writing to thank you for the truly wonderful service that your Seedlings company provides to the visually impaired world. I am a totally blind father who has been purchasing and reading your company's books to my six-year-old daughter for the past five years. One of the happiest days in my life as a father had to be the first day that she brought one of the books and began reading it to me. Even though she is sighted and can read print books, she still sometimes loves to get the Braille books that you produce so that she can see me reading along with her. Thank you and your employees for such precious moments and making experiences possible for me and many others at very affordable prices."
Seedlings sponsors many special projects and book giveaway programs to put more books and more Braille into the hands of blind children. The Rose Project offers free encyclopedia articles to any child who needs Braille research material for reports and school projects. The Book Angel Program sends two free books per year to children in the US and Canada. The titles are drawn from wish lists the children submit. This program was originally called Anna's Book Angel Project in memory of Debra's nineteen-year-old daughter, who was killed by a drunk driver in 2001.
Seedlings received this wonderful message from the parent of a blind child: "I received the two free books from your Angel Book Program, and I wanted to say thank you! It means more than I can say to have your organization available to us. Reading is something I have always loved, and I hope to instill [this love] in my daughter. Having so many books available in Braille is such a blessing. I was so excited to skim through your catalog, and when I did, I started to cry because I realized that my little girl will not miss a thing. She can experience the same wonderful stories that I did growing up. Thank you again, so much!"
With the help of a small staff and scores of volunteers, Seedlings ships Braille books and articles from its office in Livonia, Michigan, to children all across the United States and Canada and in many countries overseas. Seedlings Braille Books for Children has produced over 330,000 books and articles in Braille since 1984. For more information or to request a free catalog, visit <www.seedlings.org> or call (800) 777-8552.
by Pamela Gebert
From the Editor: Building a new chapter of the NOPBC presents many challenges, especially in a state with a widely scattered rural population. Yet the experience of Pamela Gebert of Alaska shows that it can be done. This article is based on Pamela's presentation at the NOPBC board meeting during the 2011 NFB convention in Orlando, Florida.
When my daughter, Julia, was three months old, she was diagnosed with a severe condition that left her without sight. Only two weeks after her diagnosis, we had the good fortune to start receiving services for infants and toddlers who are blind. Our teacher was wonderful. She brought all kinds of adaptive toys that encouraged Julia to roll and ultimately to crawl and to walk. We had the Little Room, designed by Dr. Lilli Nielsen, Denmark's pioneering educator of blind children. Our house was filled with stuff, all for the benefit of our child.
Even when Julia was a tiny infant, her teacher brought Braille to our house. We had calendars and catalogues and books that none of us could read, but the teacher asked us to place them throughout our home. We had adhesive labels in the kitchen, on light switches--Braille was everywhere! It all makes sense to us now. We take for granted that our sighted children have plenty of early exposure to the written word. They see print on cereal boxes and magazines, and as we drive through town they see signs. We have to bring the same early experience of literacy to our blind children.
Outside our back door is a beautiful mountain range, the Chugach Range, and some of those peaks are climbable. One day I asked our teacher how we were ever going to climb Flat Top with our daughter. When I grew up that was something I did with my family. We were big hikers and skiers. Our teacher told us about the young blind man who had just climbed Mount Everest. The next time she came, she brought articles to show us. She also started to bring me little books with titles such as What Color Is the Sun? and The World Under My Fingers. I read them and enjoyed them very much! I remember lying in bed sometimes just thinking about the possibilities; those books gave me so much hope!
From the beginning I was reaching out for information, looking at resources on the Internet and making phone calls. I called Florida and southern California, Michigan and New York, contacting organizations and asking for literature. The mailbox started filling up. Ultimately I found the NFB. I spoke with a very kind, helpful lady who told me they did not have a parents' chapter in Alaska. She suggested I think about starting one.
At that time I had a two-year-old son and a very sick infant who was on chemotherapy. I thought, I'm reaching out for help! I have nothing to offer! But that conversation planted a seed, and over the years I started to think that it really would be nice to meet other families of blind children. Andre, our teacher of the visually impaired, helped make that happen. When we had questions about Braille, she and another teacher of the blind held a weekend Braille class for our family. The grandparents, my sister, my husband and I all attended. Andre invited some other families with children who were a bit older than Julia, and they gave us a demonstration. Their encouragement gave us so much hope and peace! Julia was still in an infant carrier, but we wanted to learn everything we could and find out what we could expect.
You all remember the days before email and text messaging. Think back to how enjoyable it was to open the mailbox and find a handwritten letter from a friend. That was the first one you'd open. The bills would go to the side, and you'd open that letter. That's how I felt about that blue glossy magazine, Future Reflections. I'd see it in the mailbox and set it aside. Like the Kernel Books, the articles in the magazine gave me hope and peace. It actually took me a while to realize that the books and the magazine came from the same organization! It was the organization that spoke to me.
The spring issue of Future Reflections always included information about the NFB national convention, and I'd think, some day we're going to get there. The year convention was held in Louisville, we actually got serious. I made phone calls inquiring about childcare, but Julia was still very sick and we just weren't ready to go.
Last year in mid June, when Julia was ten years old, I got a call from our former teacher of infants and toddlers. She wanted to let me know that there had been some changes in the state of Alaska. The services for visually impaired infants and toddlers would be no more. The state had cut funding; the grant would no longer be continued. Blind children throughout the state of Alaska would not receive help until they reached preschool.
I remember that when we hung up I was sitting in a parking lot, thinking how terrible this news was. As I drove home I thought about all the benefits our family had received, how much it meant to us. Our teacher had given us the message of high expectations. She taught us that Julia could do whatever the rest of us were doing. I felt very sad for all of the families in Alaska who would not have the chance to hear that message.
At that point my child was in school and doing very well. She had started preschool ready to learn. I was stressed out when she was transitioning to preschool. A few weeks before her third birthday I was lying next to her and she reached down and touched my goosebumpy leg. "Mama, what are all these letters doing here?" she asked me. I thought, what am I thinking? We're going to be okay! Our little girl equated bumps with letters, just as our son, who is two years older, knew that letters make words.
My sadness for those other families began shifting to anger. I thought about all the kids who weren't going to be ready for school and might never catch up because they haven't had that important early exposure to literacy.
I went straight to work. I started making phone calls and plane reservations. Two weeks later, Julia and I were in Dallas at the 2010 NFB convention. I knew I could go to the NFB for support--I'd known that for years. I hadn't pre-registered for the NOPBC conference, but I crashed a few meetings. I talked to Carol Castellano and asked a lot of questions. When I got home I was fired up and inspired.
The week after we returned from convention, I started writing letters. I created a petition and got five pages of signatures from parents, teachers, and Lions Club members. I went to Camp Abilities, Alaska's camp for blind children. I forwarded the petition to legislators, representatives in Congress, and our governor.
It's been a long fight, with some passionate, distressing meetings, but we've made some changes. Things are moving along. They're not quite what I'd like them to be, but we're heading in the right direction.
If you've ever been a long-distance runner, you know how sometimes you hit a plateau, and you don't know how you're going to continue. But you persevere, and finally you get to the end. We've hit the plateau a couple of times, but we're back on track now.
Despite those passionate meetings, the state invited me to some meetings with rural educators early last summer to talk about expectations and the things that blind kids need. I was very pleased that they were open to hearing what parents of blind children have to say. We're making progress.
In February I was invited to the NFB's Parent Leadership Program (PLP). The program was a whirlwind of information! I am so appreciative to Barbara Cheadle, Laura Bostick, and Carol Castellano for all the information they gave us. I took home piles of fliers and made templates for Alaska. I was determined to start an NOPBC chapter in my state. I found a room and rounded up some blind young adults to handle childcare. I sent out fliers to as many people as I could reach and asked them to forward the information to others. I asked people to RSVP, but I only got a handful of responses, even though I sent out the information a number of times.
On the night of the meeting, I told our state NFB president that no matter how many people came, we'd call it a quorum. We were going to make this happen. Soon after that people started to stream in. When the meeting began at seven o'clock, we had thirty-nine people in attendance. That very evening we established a parents' chapter. We talked about a constitution, we discussed our mission, and we created work groups. Advocacy was our big priority. There needed to be more than just one crazy mom who kept showing up on people's doorsteps! I have more people behind me now, and it's wonderful.
One of our goals is to make sure that Alaska is accessible to our blind kids. Alaskans tend to be very active, outdoor people. We planned a family picnic for July. The Lions generously provided pizza, salad, and desserts. The Camp Abilities campers demonstrated beep baseball and other sports.
Alaska is a huge state. If you transpose the map of Alaska onto a map of the rest of the US, it would sprawl from North Dakota and Michigan all the way to Florida. The next biggest city is an eight-hour drive from Anchorage, where we live. Many of our communities are inaccessible except by boat or plane, so it's tough to get people together--that's an understatement!
Our new NOPBC chapter is very concerned about the blind children who live in rural areas. In September a group of families set out with a traveling road show. We camped in a town five hours away and invited the families from that area. The kids got to know each other and the parents learned about what we hoped to do. Next summer we're going to do the same thing in Fairbanks, the city eight hours north of us. We'll bring our campers and tents, and we'll get together that way.
In February we plan to hold our first annual Alaska Parents of Blind Children convention. We'll do it in conjunction with the Braille Challenge. It will be a weekend of parent workshops and activities for the kids. Then we'll caravan down to a little town called Burgwood and camp out there. We'll have a big slumber party, and the kids are going to do some downhill skiing. We have a wonderful skiing program for blind kids called Challenge Alaska.
Our main goal in setting up a parents' chapter is for these "bush" Alaska families to believe in their kids and for the kids to feel good about themselves. Whatever their sighted peers are doing--whether it's hunting or gathering berries or fishing--our blind kids are fully capable of doing those things, too. They can be fully literate, they can graduate and go on for further schooling--they can be so many, many things.
Advocacy remains a driving purpose of our chapter. I'm tapping a lot of people around the country who have gone through tribulations with their state governments. I'm learning what has worked from those who have gained years of experience before me. It is wonderful to know that I'm not alone!
by Peggy Chong
From the Editor: A number of parents' chapters around the country have started Saturday School programs to help blind children build confidence and enhance their skills. In this article Peggy Chong explains how the Saturday School in Iowa has grown and evolved over the years.
The jingle of a popular television commercial used to tell us that Friday wasn't Friday anymore. Well, Saturday isn't Saturday anymore in Iowa. Saturday School will be held on the best day for our families, no matter where it falls in the course of the week. And our kids can still say, "and I helped."
For many years the Iowa Parents of Blind Children and members of the Des Moines Chapter of the NFB of Iowa have worked together on a Saturday School (SS) program in Des Moines. Once a month we helped to reinforce blindness skills such as cane travel and Braille. But most importantly, our blind volunteers showed the children and their families how valuable the basic skills of blindness really are. Our blind role models have demonstrated that proficiency in Braille, cane travel, and other skills is essential for success. At the meetings the parents met separately while the kids had their monthly activities. They didn't have much chance to get to know the volunteers who worked with their children.
Our goal is to help our blind children participate in every aspect of school, church, and community life. During the past year we found it harder and harder to work Saturday School into the complicated schedules of our kids and their families. We did not want to discourage participation in outside activities, yet we know that the confidence we build in Saturday School has helped make that participation possible.
By now the young children we met in our early days have grown into tweens, and many of them will be entering the teen years this season. Yet SS continues to grow. Recently several children in kindergarten and first grade have joined us. Some of the children are just starting to learn Braille; others are expert readers who have placed in the Braille Challenge competition at the Braille Institute in California. Faced with a growing shortage of volunteers, we found we could not hold multiple classes in our two-hour window. What were we to do?
This year we decided to try out a new format. Parents and children, including sighted siblings, will meet together and partake in the day's activities. We meet once a month, but at a variety of locations and not always on Saturday. We are introducing the SS families to successful blind adults at their homes and workplaces. Everyone will take part in the demonstrations and discussions.
We held our first class on Sunday, September 11, 2011, at the home of the president of the Iowa Parents Division, Carrie Thompson, and her husband, Brice. We focused on nonvisual ways to grill a hamburger. Six families participated, for a total of thirty-two people present. NFB of Iowa President Michael Barber was our volunteer griller and teacher. Mike told the children and parents that he would have loved to have learned to grill much earlier in life. He explained how he learned that a blind person can grill from Dr. Kenneth Jernigan.
After a short introduction on the techniques he uses as a blind person, Mike invited the children to give grilling a try. One at a time he had each child place a hamburger on the hot grill, as parents and other family members looked on. Each child had to find an open spot on the grill surface and place the hamburger properly. Some of us thought to excuse our five-year-old young man, but he was not to be left out. After we found a stool for him to stand on, he took his turn learning to put a hamburger on the grill.
We then talked about how to find the meat to turn it over and how to tell when it is done. Other blind adults shared some of their tips and tricks for grilling. Then it was time to eat our hamburgers and hot dogs along with a fantastic potluck lunch.
After lunch the families held a short meeting to discuss activities for the rest of the year. For October we planned a lunch at Billy Joe's Lounge in West Des Moines. The owner, Al Bickel, will tell the children and their families how he uses his blindness skills every day to operate his place of business. In November a blind vendor is going to talk about how he operates his own business. He will open up the vending machines and show the kids how they operate. Some of our kids are really looking forward to that! Our holiday party will be at the home of a blind couple, both working and maintaining a beautiful house in the suburbs.
Our little six-year-old did not take part in the actual grilling, as we all thought she was a bit too young. She is still "grilling" Oreos at home. Her family learned a lot at that first meeting of this season. In years to come they will stand beside her, our little princess, when the world tries to tell her that she cannot do things because she is blind.
by Dr. Lillian A. Rankel and Marilyn Winograd
National Braille Press
Available in large print or Braille, $20
Reviewed by Alex Gamino
From the Editor: For many years, Dr. Lillian Rankel and Marilyn Winograd have worked to make the sciences more accessible to blind students. Their new book, Out-of-Sight Science Experiments, contains thirty-two step-by-step experiments for blind children to conduct at home with family or friends. The book shows kids how to make balloon rockets, acid rain, a solar finger heater, Ziploc ice cream, Diet Coke geysers, and more.
Alex Gamino, a blind fourth-grader from Berwyn, Illinois, agreed to try out the experiments and review the book for Future Reflections. As it turned out, his whole family got involved in the project.
I think the experiments were fun and interesting. They all worked, and using this book is a great activity for parents and kids to do together.
This book is a perfect example of how people can have fun while they learn new things. Blind children can use it easily because it has very detailed descriptions of every step. It explains the science behind each experiment, and that helps us visualize what is going on. The most important thing is that we can do most of the activity steps ourselves.
My brother (who is not blind) and I had a lot of fun. My brother had tried some of these experiments at school, but I had not had the chance to do them.
The most surprising experiment for us used a bottle and a nail. It is amazing how air pressure can hold the water in. We all thought (even my mother) that it would not work. The volcano experiment was fun, too, and I plan to do it often. Many of the others are on my list of tricks to play on my friends now.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to try these experiments firsthand.
Alex's mother, Nelly Gamino, adds:
The boys had an absolutely awesome time. One of the pictures shows Nick making the funniest face ever. His eyes are about to pop out, and his mouth is open in shock. Alex is sitting next to him with a gigantic laugh because of his brother's expression. They are working on the experiment where an egg sinks in fresh water but floats in salt water. I think this picture totally shows the fun time we had with these projects.
NFB Summer Training Programs
The NFB training centers in Louisiana, Colorado, and Minnesota each sponsor summer programs for children and teens. Taught by blind mentors, participants receive intensive training in Braille, assistive technology, cane travel, and daily living skills. They also take part in fun activities, from camping and canoeing to exploring complex shopping malls. Through every aspect of these programs, students are exposed to a positive, can-do philosophy about blindness.
Teens who apply to NFB training programs must have an open case with their state's department of rehabilitation services. Staff at the training centers can answer questions about becoming a rehab client. Below is some basic information about this summer's programs.
BLIND, Inc. (Blind Learning in New Dimensions)
100 E. 22nd St., Minneapolis, MN 55404
(800) 597-9558 or (612) 872-0100, ext. 251
Contact: Charlene Guggisberg
Application Deadline: April 15, 2012
Children ages 9-13
July 13-August 4, 2012
Post-secondary Readiness and Empowerment Program (PREP)
Students ages 14-17
June 11-August 3, 2012
Children Grades 4-8
July 15-August 4, 2012
Summer Training and Employment Project 2012 (STEP)
Students ages 14-17
June 1-August 4, 2012
Colorado Center for the Blind
(800) 401-4632 or (303) 778-1130, ext 222
Application Deadline: As soon as possible. Acceptance is based on date when application is received.
Confidence Camp for Kids
June 11-22, 2012
Initiation to Independence
Students in middle school
June 16-August 3, 2012
Earn and Learn
High school students
June 8-August 3, 2012
Summer for Success
June 8-August 3, 2012
For more than a century, children in the US and Canada have enjoyed the tradition of going away to summer camp. Typically, summer camps offer outdoor activities such as hiking, swimming, and nature study, as well as arts and crafts and singing around the campfire. In addition to the standard summer camp experience, kids can now choose among day programs and sleep-away camps that appeal to nearly any special interest, from art to computers, from chess to cooking and ocean exploration. Blind children should be encouraged to pursue their particular passions in the selection of a summer camp, whether or not the program is designed for blind and visually impaired children.
On the other hand, camps designed with blind children in mind can offer the chance to build blindness-related skills and to bond with peers who share a common experience. Here is a sampling of some of the special camps for blind children that will operate in the summer of 2012.
National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute
National Center for Blind Youth in Science (NCBYS)
200 E. Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, MD 21230
Contact: Emily Gibbs, (410) 659-9314, ext. 2407
Students grades 3-6 and 9-12
July 23-29, 2012
Application Deadline: April 1, 2012
The National Center for Blind Youth in Science is launching an exciting new program called Project Innovation. This pioneering program attempts to foster a sense of innovation and autonomy in students by allowing them to determine their course of study during the program. Though multiple branches of science will be explored, each student will ultimately focus on a large project to be completed by the end of the week. A unique feature of Project Innovation is the introduction of pre-program involvement, including social media and telecommunications. These communications will allow students to network with each other and with members of the science community and the NFBJI staff to determine where their interests lie and what their final project might be. The NFBJI will welcome younger students and their chaperones, and for the first time high school students will be included as well. The high school students will serve as junior advisors who will not only participate in the science program, but will model blindness skills and techniques to their younger counterparts. The students will learn how much fun science can be through hands-on instruction, field trips, and interactive activities. Attending parents will participate in a corresponding seminar with workshops on meeting the needs of their blind children.
Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM)
3345 Washington Blvd., Baltimore, MD 21227
Contact: Amy Phelps, (410) 737-2642
BISM operates two summer programs for blind students, focusing on nonvisual skills such as Braille, assistive technology, and independent travel with the long white cane. Students will work under the supervision of blind mentors, and will take part in a variety of fun activities that also promote independence.
Students in high school
June 17-August 10, 2012
Application Deadline: March 31, 2012
Students in middle school
July 22-August 11, 2012
Application Deadline: March 31, 2012
National Resource Center for Blind Musicians
391 E. Washington Ave., Bridgeport, CT 06608
Contact: David Goldstein, (203) 366-3300, ext. 229
Summer Braille Music Institute
July 15-21, 2012
Application Deadline: May 2, 2012
This intensive program is designed for serious Braille-reading music students who are preparing for or already enrolled in college. Instruction is tailored to meet the needs of each individual. Students develop their skills with Braille music and music theory and learn to use technology to submit music assignments in print notation. Applicants must have studied some music theory, have had several years of music lessons, and be able to present a polished and pleasing performance.
Visually Impaired Surf Camp
July 23-27, 2012
Application Deadline: There is no fixed deadline, but please register as soon as possible. Through this free program, blind and visually impaired children, as well as their sighted siblings, can experience the thrill of riding the waves on North Carolina's Cape Fear Coast. Blind children with additional disabilities are welcome. One-on-one instruction is adapted to meet the needs of each child and to ensure that everyone has fun.
Space Camp for Interested Visually Impaired Students (SCIVIS)
Contact: Dan Oates, (304) 851-5680
September 22-27, 2012
SCIVIS is a week-long camp that takes place at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, coordinated by teachers of the visually impaired. Students use accessible computers, and materials used during missions are available in Braille and large print. Several SCIVIS programs are available, including Space Camp, for students in grades 4-6; Space Academy, for students in grades 7-12; and Advanced Academy, for students in grades 10-12.
Science Sense Tours
Sat, Feb. 11, 10 AM: Dinosaurs
Wed, March 14, 2:30 PM: Animal Adaptations
Sun, April 22, 10 AM: Scales of the Universe
Visitors who are blind or visually impaired are invited to attend monthly programs in the museum galleries. Museum tour guides highlight specific themes and exhibition halls, engaging participants through extensive verbal descriptions and touchable objects. Science Sense is free with museum admission. Space is limited and advance registration is required.
National Federation of the Blind Scholarships
200 E. Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, MD 21230
(410) 659-9314, ext. 2415
Application Deadline: March 31, 2012
The National Federation of the Blind offers thirty scholarships to outstanding legally blind students who will be enrolled full-time in accredited postsecondary institutions in the United States during the fall semester of 2012. All winners will be assisted to attend the 2012 NFB national convention in Dallas, Texas. Scholarship awards range in value from $3,000 to $12,000. Criteria include academic excellence, service to the community, and leadership ability or potential.
American Foundation for the Blind Scholarships
1000 Fifth Ave., Suite 350, Huntington, WV 25701
Contact: Tara Annis, (800) 232-5463 or (304) 523-8651
Application Deadline: April 30, 2012
The American Foundation for the Blind offers a variety of scholarships for legally blind students in undergraduate and graduate programs. Awards range from $500 to $3,500.
Jewish Guild for the Blind
Contact: Gordon Rovins, (212) 769-6801
Application Deadline: September 15, 2012
The Jewish Guild for the Blind awards ten to sixteen annual scholarships of up to $15,000. The scholarships are given to college-bound blind high school seniors who demonstrate academic excellence.
Summer Internship Opportunities
Institute for Accessible Science (IAS)
Attn: Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program
Hall of Discovery and Learning Research, 228
207 S. Martin Jischke Dr., West Lafayette, IN 47907
Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program
Application Deadline: Preference is given to applications received by March 1, 2012, but later applications will be accepted.
The IAS Summer Research Fellowship Programs have the goal of promoting the inclusion of persons with physical disabilities in biomedical science careers through assistive technology development, student and educator support services, and research. The aim is to encourage talented students with physical disabilities to engage in laboratory research and enhance their preparation for further study. Students selected for these programs will be paired with faculty mentors who will help them design and conduct a research project. In addition, through IAS-sponsored activities, students will have the opportunity to contribute to an understanding of the issues students with physical disabilities face in pursuing careers in biomedical science.
Student Internship, Research, and Scholarship Opportunities
The College of New Jersey has compiled a list of more than 150 summer opportunities for undergraduate students in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Most of these opportunities involve work in research laboratories at a university or government facility. Each listing includes the application deadline and a link to further information.
2012 NFB Youth Writing Contest
Deadline for Entries: April 1, 2012
The 2012 Youth Writing Contest in poetry and fiction is designed to promote Braille literacy and excellence in creative writing. Entries will be judged on creativity and quality of Braille. Contest categories are divided by grade level: elementary, middle, and high school. The top prize in each category will be $30. Contest winners will be announced at the Writers Division meeting at the NFB national convention in Dallas.
National Federation of the Blind
2012 Jacob Bolotin Awards
Contact: James Gashel, (720) 295-7401
Application Deadline: March 31, 2012
The Jacob Bolotin Award Program is a way to recognize individuals and organizations that have demonstrated exemplary leadership and extraordinary accomplishments toward achieving the full integration of the blind into society. Named for a pioneering blind physician who practiced in the early twentieth century, these awards are made possible through the generosity of his late nephew and niece, Alfred and Rosalind Perlman. Application for an award may be made either by the applicant directly or by third parties who nominate an applicant.
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award for 2012
Contact: Cathy Jackson, firstname.lastname@example.org
Application Deadline: May 15, 2012
The National Federation of the Blind will recognize an outstanding teacher of blind children at the 2012 NFB convention. The winner of the award will receive an expense-paid trip to the convention, a check for $1,000, a plaque, and an opportunity to make a presentation about the education of blind children to the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). Anyone who is currently teaching or counseling blind students or administering a program for blind children is eligible to receive this award. Teachers may be nominated by colleagues, supervisors, or friends.
Tactile Graphics Guidelines
After extensive planning and research, the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) has issued a manual called Guidelines and Standards for Tactile Graphics. The manual is now available as a free download. Topics include criteria for including a tactile graphic, design principles, production and duplication methods, Braille formats, mathematical and scientific diagrams, standardized tests, and much more.
2011 National Employment Seminar
The morning and afternoon sessions of the 2011 Employment Seminar held at the NFB convention in Orlando, Florida, are now available as audio files. The recordings are also available in CD format from Peter Donahue at email@example.com. Topics include the use of technology during a job search; strategies for starting a small business; fun, well-paying jobs that blind people do; and much more.
Living Books for the Ears
This site is a trove of vintage radio broadcasts available as free, downloadable MP3 files. Offerings include dramatizations of classic novels such as Little Women, Robinson Crusoe, and David Copperfield, as well as episodes of Big John and Sparky and other old-time children's radio series.
The Blind Advantage: How Going Blind Made Me a Stronger Principal and How Including Children with Disabilities Made Our School Better for Everyone
by Bill Henderson
Harvard Education Press
Bill Henderson, who received the 2010 Distinguished Blind Educator Award from the National Federation of the Blind, was a pioneer in inclusive urban school leadership. In his new book he provides a practical guide about what it takes to make inclusion work.
Keeping track of family health records can be a challenge, especially if you have a child with complex medical issues. Here are a few resources that may help to make life easier. Note: We have not tested them for accessibility to blind parents.
Minerva Health Manager
The Minerva Health Manager lets you keep track of all health-related appointments and stores information regarding immunizations, medications, and health records. Minerva can be accessed from a computer, iPad, iPhone, or Android or through a portable flash drive.
This smartphone application allows users to input healthcare information for the whole family, including doctor's visits, health records, and prescriptions. It is available for iPhone, iPod Touch, and Mac.
Mayo Clinic Health Manager Software
This free software keeps the family's health records in a secure place. It provides interactive tools to help the user evaluate family health and can send email reminders for upcoming appointments.
Learning Ally Audio Tutorial
Learning Ally has developed an audio tutorial to help users learn to download titles from its extensive library of educational materials. Each audio clip provides detailed instructions on how to download, install, and use the online bookshelf features. The clips are accessible while a screen reader is in use to download a book. In an effort to provide greater support, Learning Ally has set up a mailbox that goes directly to the product support coordinator, Kristen Witucki, a long-time Learning Ally member who is blind. You can reach her at the email address above.
Blind Mice Mart
16810 Pinemoor Way, Houston, TX 77058
Blind Mice Mart offers a wide variety of adaptive products for the blind and visually impaired. Departments in the "mega mall" include cooking and baking, hardware, labeling, home and office, and toys and games. The Movie Vault contains thousands of audio-described movie soundtracks that can be downloaded free as MP3 files.