2002 National Federation of the Blind Convention
Alabama Seminar for Parents
Literacy Leaps as Blind Students Embrace Technology
Aide Lauded for Work with Blind Kids
Teacher Recognition Letter: Karen DeFeo, Maryland
Educator of Blind Children
Award for 2002
Out of the Mouths of Babes
Pre-Braille Experiences for Infants and Toddlers
A Montana Yankee in Louis Braille’s Court
Low Vision and Monoculars
A Sighted Mom’s First Mobility Lesson
Let the Medals Jingle
Education and Recreation for Blind
and Visually Impaired Students
If I Have Seen Further: The Blind Serving Communion?
Breaking Ground, Building a Dream
NFB Chapter Reaches Out to Parents and Blind Teens
Reflections and Photographs
Unseen Forces: What Blind People Draw
The Blind Lead the Sighted: Technology for People with Disabilities Finds a Broader Market
Catalogs from the Editor’s Bookshelf
Braille and Technology Center
for the Blind
2001, National Federation of the Blind
more information about blindness and children contact the
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
1800 Johnson Street * Baltimore, Maryland 21230 * (410) 659-9314 ext. 360
www.nfb.org * email@example.com * BCheadle@nfb.org
2002 National Federation of the Blind Convention
Reprinted from the December 2001, issue of the Braille Monitor.
It is time to plan for the 2002 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. This year we will gather in Louisville, Kentucky, home of the Kentucky Derby.
We will return to the hospitality of the Galt House Hotel and the Galt House East Tower, where we conducted our 1985 convention. Once again our hotel rates are the envy of all. For the 2002 convention they are singles, doubles, and twins $57 and triples and quads $63. In addition to the room rates there will be a tax, which at present is 12.36 percent. No charge will be made for children fifteen and under in the room with parents as long as no extra bed is requested.
For 2002 convention room reservations you should write directly to the Galt House Hotel, 140 N. Fourth Street, Louisville, Kentucky 40202 or call (502) 589-5200. You can make reservations for either the Galt House Hotel (known familiarly as the Galt House West) or the Galt House East Tower (called the Galt House East) by calling this number. The restaurants and outdoor pool are located on the west side of the facility, and the East Tower is comprised of suites with a living room, refrigerator, and wet bar. The hotel will want a deposit of $60 or a credit card number. If you use a credit card, the deposit will be charged against your card immediately, just as would be the case with a $60 check. If a reservation is cancelled prior to June 1, 2002, $30 of the $60 deposit will be returned. Otherwise refunds will not be made.
The West Tower has twenty-five floors, and the East Tower has eighteen. Guest-room amenities include cable television, coffee pot, iron and ironing board, hair drier, and dataport.
The Galt House has two restaurants, the River Grill, which is moderately priced, and the Flagship, a revolving restaurant on the roof, which provides one of Louisville’s finest dining experiences, with prices to match. See later issues of the Monitor for information about tours and other attractions in the Greater Louisville area.
The 2002 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will be a truly exciting and memorable event, with a program unparalleled and a rededication to the goals and work of our movement. Make plans now to be a part of it. The schedule this year is somewhat different from our usual one. Pre-convention seminars for parents of blind children and other groups and set-up of the exhibit hall will take place on Wednesday, July 3, and adjournment will be Tuesday, July 9, at 5:00 p.m. Convention registration will begin on Thursday, July 4, and both Thursday and Friday will be filled with meetings of divisions and committees, including the Friday morning annual meeting of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind, which is open to all.
General convention sessions begin on Saturday and continue through the afternoon of Tuesday, July 9. The annual banquet will take place on Monday evening, July 8. To assure yourself a room in the headquarters hotel at convention rates, you must make reservations early. The hotel will be ready to take your call or deal with your written request by January 1.
Remember that as usual we need door prizes from state affiliates, local chapters, and individuals. Once again prizes should be small in size but large in value. Cash, of course, is always appropriate and welcome. As a general rule we ask that prizes of any variety have a value of at least $25. Drawings will occur steadily throughout the convention sessions, and you can anticipate a grand prize of truly impressive proportions to be drawn at the banquet. You may bring door prizes with you or send them ahead of time (identifying the item and donor and listing the value in print and Braille) to Kevin Pearl, 2716 Hillside Terrace, Louisville, Kentucky 40206‑2513.
The best collection of exhibits, featuring new technology; meetings of our special interest groups, committees, and divisions; memorable tours arranged by the host Kentucky affiliate; the most stimulating and provocative program items of any meeting of the blind in the world; the chance to renew friendships in our Federation family; and the unparalleled opportunity to be where the real action is and where decisions are being made – all of these mean you will not want to miss being a part of the 2002 National Convention. We’ll see you in Louisville in 2002!
more details about the
schedule of events for parents and youth, contact
National Organization of Parents
of Blind Children
(410) 659-9314, ext. 360
Alabama Seminar for Parents
by Mike Jones
The National Federation of the Blind of Alabama is honored to announce that it has been awarded a grant by the Alabama Civil Justice Foundation to conduct a weekend Parent’s of Blind Children Workshop. The Alabama Civil Justice Foundation was created by Alabama’s legal community as a charitable philanthropy, committed to the belief that every person should have a sense of well-being, a quality education, the opportunity to live and work in a safe environment, and the chance to work and earn a living.
The National Federation of the Blind is the nation’s leader in programs for the blind. The Federation has been teaching parents, students, and blind adults for over sixty years the basic principals that it is respectable to be blind and that blind people can compete with their sighted peers.
The grant will sponsor fifteen families to attend the State Convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Alabama, where they will participate in the activities of the convention and attend specially designed seminars to learn strategies for educational development, confidence building, and setting realistic expectations. At the convention parents will have an opportunity to meet positive blind adult role models as well as learn about services available to them. Classes will be conducted in Technology, Braille, and Independent Travel.
seminar and convention will be in Huntsville Alabama at the Huntsville Hilton
Hotel March 15-17, 2002. To obtain a registration form, contact, Mrs. Daphne Johnson, Chairperson
Parents of Blind Children Committee.
Phone: (256) 287-1056
Literacy Leaps as Blind Students Embrace Technology
Reprinted with permission from the November 2000, issue of English Journal, a publication of the National Council of Teachers of English.
Editor’s Note: Deborah Hartz teaches high school English at the Arizona School for the Blind in Tucson. A few years ago, at the National Federation of the National Convention, she was recognized for her outstanding work in promoting Braille literacy through the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. She has also published stories in Future Reflections and in the NFB Kernel Books series about her experiences as the mother of a blind daughter.
“Mrs. Hartz, I think you are going to be proud of me.” Beth is maneuvering her wheelchair between several student desks and a printer table. She is heading for a computer equipped with voice output to take a test on a book she has finished. Beth is blind and has cerebral palsy. Four years ago she read Braille, as she describes it, “at about a kindergarten level.” She had learned the contractions needed to read Braille, but her reading skills had not yet become automatic. After physical therapy and further Braille instruction, Beth is able to read seventh grade materials independently and eighth and ninth grade materials with the help of a Franklin Language Master – a speaking, electronic dictionary. Beth occasionally has a spasm strong enough to make her hands change lines in her reading material. Her reading speed lags behind her comprehension, and she reads at speeds between ten and forty‑five words per minute, depending on the difficulty of the material.
This is the first week that Beth has been able to browse in a library independently and select the books that she wants to read. Over the weekend, she logged onto several online databases using her home computer and screen reading software, JAWS (Job Access With Speech) for Windows. She downloaded the files for several books and accessed the material using her Braille note-taking device. All of this was done independently, thanks to technology.
I teach high school English to blind and low vision students at the Arizona School for the Blind (ASB) in Tucson. Students in my classroom employ a variety of technologies on a daily basis. In this article, I report on the full range of technologies that my students are using. While some of these practices will work well with students who are not visually impaired, other technologies are blindness specific. Some equipment may not be useful in your classroom unless you have a visually impaired student.
Unequal Opportunities: No Chance to Choose
Six years ago, my major concern was access to the printed word for my blind students. My most advanced class that year included four blind juniors and seniors who attended the University of Arizona after graduation from ASB. These students were proficient Braille readers, and yet none of these articulate, bright Braille users was registered to receive Braille books through the mail from our regional cooperating library. The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped was established as a branch of the Library of Congress in 1931. It operates a network of regional libraries that lends Braille books to blind individuals using the United States Postal Service. There is no postage charged; the books are sent as “Free Matter for the Blind or Physically Handicapped.” My students were receiving only the taped books available through the mail from our State Talking Book Library in Phoenix.
When I questioned these students about their reading habits, three admitted that they read in Braille only those books that others selected for them. Occasionally they had been allowed to make choices among several books, but they had not really ever had the opportunity to browse and self-select books. This situation shook me. I could not imagine students going off to college who had never had the opportunity to choose their own recreational reading material. Younger students on our campus independently discovered books of interest and ordered them by calling the toll‑free number of the cooperating library. But to think that several of my intelligent, college‑bound students made it to their senior year without self‑selecting books amazed me.
it came time for report writing, I was again amazed. I was hired in 1994.
The World Book Encyclopedia in Braille, which took up a large portion
of a wall of the library, had been published in 1964. Anything that took place
after John F. Kennedy’s assassination did not appear in that encyclopedia.
Thirty years of history and discoveries were missing. One student told me that
his strategy for choosing a report topic was to pick an out‑of‑date
subject to ensure that he could find materials in Braille. Of course blind
individuals did choose more current topics in 1994, but they found themselves
relying heavily on a sighted reader searching print books for relevant material.
This material could then be recorded and read to the student, who took notes
on it in Braille, or it could be transcribed into Braille for the blind individual
to access. There were also periodicals that were produced in accessible formats
(flexible record disks, audio cassettes, or Braille). In addition, each year
the Library of Congress would decide which current print books would be converted
to an accessible format to be circulated through its lending
Early Efforts: Building a Classroom Library
A college dictionary in Braille takes up seventy‑two large volumes. As I moved the 4’ x 8’ bookshelf that housed the Braille dictionary into my classroom from the teacher’s workroom six years ago, I pondered the enormity of my task. A classroom is only so big. To build a diverse classroom library that would include standard print, large print, and Braille materials in sufficient quantities to allow for browsing would be a monumental undertaking. And yet, I knew it had to be done. Students read more when they can readily sample books of all types. I tackled the task with enthusiasm, signed students up with the regional library, and ordered my first piece of technology.
The full‑speaking Franklin Language Master Special Edition was that first purchase, and it remains one of the most useful tools in my English classroom. A dictionary and thesaurus is combined in one compact device that measures an inch thick and less than six inches square. This dictionary can be carried around in a backpack. (For a complete description of the Franklin line of products, check out their Web site at http://franklin.com.)
All of my students use this talking dictionary, but it has been most helpful for students who speak a language other than English at home or who have identified, specific learning disabilities. The Special Edition costs about $450 and is well worth the price. What an improvement over that first semester, when I had four blind students moving back and forth to the bookshelf to locate the specific volume that contained a vocabulary word. As my classroom library expanded to eight tall bookshelves, a rotating display rack, and other miscellaneous bookholders, the Braille dictionary was again banished to a storage room. The “dictionary bookshelf “ now houses a collection of books for students just beginning the transition from print to Braille.
Current Classroom Design
Technology is infused into all aspects of my curriculum. At one end of the room are two stand‑alone computers, one networked computer with Internet access, a printer, and a Kurzweil reading machine (a scanner with optical character recognition that converts print into spoken language). A filing cabinet stores my electronic dictionaries, a portable disk drive, a Braille Lite (a laptop computer with a refreshable Braille display – pins that move up and down to form one line of Braille at a time), and all of the necessary cables and connectors.
Eight bookshelves line my walls, providing students with a classroom library of Braille, standard print, and large print books. In addition, a disk box on top of the filing cabinet contains books that have been saved to computer disk as text files. These books can be loaded into the portable note-takers that many of my students use to be accessed via speech. When the books are loaded into the Braille Lite 40, they can be read in Braille using a forty‑cell refreshable Braille display.
Next to the door of my classroom is a desk with a dedicated printer for Braille note-takers and a tape recorder. Though the panel phone above this desk cannot be used to call long distance, it can dial toll‑free numbers. Students use this phone to order Braille books or to make tech support calls. Along the opposite wall, in an alcove between bookshelves, is the desk with a closed circuit television (CCTV) that magnifies the print in a book and displays it on a monitor.
My students now have access to a wealth of information. Scanners and Braille translation software make the transcription of materials into Braille much easier. Students read newspapers online using the World Wide Web. They save articles to disk and read them at a later time using a Braille ’n Speak, a computer with voice output, or a refreshable Braille display. Using online periodical searches, students can access abstracts of articles on a given topic and determine which branch of our city library carries the magazine. By calling that branch, we can have a fax of the material forwarded to our school for transcription into Braille.Blind students can read their files in Braille, locate the errors in the Braille text, and push a button just above the error to route the cursor to the proper
The shelves of my classroom library are overflowing with books. Two closets in the conference room contain further shelving, as do the cupboards that line the fourth wall of my classroom. My current focus has shifted to developing the discipline and skill to handle this glut of information. How can I help students to read better and faster in order to handle the demands of an increasingly complex, information‑dense world? How do I teach the flexibility and problem-solving that is necessary in a milieu of ever‑changing technology? How can I teach students to judge the validity of information that they are accessing?
As an English teacher, my concern is to teach students to read and write effectively. I want them to look forward to reading a book. I want them prepared for the demands of life and work and college. I want them to know that writing allows communication across time and space and that one well‑written letter or article may change their world.
Technologies for Writing
For writing we compose, revise, and edit on personal computers with the JAWS screen reading software and a DecTalk Express or Accent SA speech synthesizer. Students who need screen enlargement use a computer with ZoomText Extra enlargement software. Other students use a Braille note-taker (a Braille’n Speak or Braille Lite), Perkin’s Brailler (a manual Braille writer equivalent to a typewriter), or the slate and stylus (a metal frame with an awl‑like tool that produces Braille a dot at a time). Some low vision students write with a black felt tip marker, viewing their enlarged handwriting on the monitor of my closed circuit television.
The Braille ’n Speak is a laptop computer the size of a videocassette that allows a student to use Braille to input data. There is no screen for viewing; speech, print, or Braille are the output media. On this device, a student can compose and edit files with ease. It can be hooked to a printer, and the translation software within it will convert the Braille to print. When it’s connected to an embosser, Braille can be produced.
The Braille Lite 40 is a note-taking device that features a refreshable Braille display. This machine is used extensively during editing. Students write their papers on a Braille ’n Speak or a computer and then transfer their files to my Braille Lite, using a portable disk drive. The Braille Lite 40 has cursor routing. Blind students can read their files in Braille, locate the errors in the Braille text, and push a button just above the error to route the cursor to the proper location for making the correction. This is a more efficient process for editing than the use of auditory feedback on a Braille ’n Speak or a computer. Unless the student has reason to doubt the spelling of a word, the misspelling is not readily apparent with voice output. It is easier to check the spellings of those nasty homophones on a Braille display.
Our procedures for composing, revising, and editing are similar to those used in other electronic classrooms. However, since it is ineffective to write comments on a blind student’s paper, my responses are written to the student as a text file. Students revise their papers on a computer or Braille note-taker, toggling between two files to incorporate suggestions into the revised paper. Often assignments or responses to student writing are sent to students via e-mail.
Last year we went beyond the asynchronous mode of e-mail as we tested the use of Old Pueblo, a MOO that operates over the Internet from the University of Arizona. A MOO (Multi‑user dimension, Object Oriented) is a “text‑based, virtual reality site” that allows the “manipulation and interaction with cyber‑objects in addition to just chatting with other people” (Lingua‑MOO Web site). Students met with one another in a cyber world reminiscent of the old text‑based Adventure game. One room of Old Pueblo was a conference room equipped with the tools needed for a group of users to revise and edit a paper together in synchronous time.
Technologies for Reading
On the reading side of the curriculum are the online libraries of books that can be downloaded as text files. These books can be put into hard copy Braille using Braille transcription software and an embosser, or they can be accessed on a Braille note-taker. By connecting the note-taker to a portable disk drive, entire books can be transferred and read via speech output or a refreshable Braille display.
I used to drive myself crazy trying to determine whether my students were reading the pages they claimed. I have had students make up entirely new plots for nonexistent books in hopes of snowing me and getting extra points for outside reading. Two years ago, I installed the Accelerated Reader Program on my DOS computer. JAWS for DOS reads the multiple‑choice tests well, and my blind students take the tests independently. We have quarterly contests between teams, with the winning team coming to my house for dinner. This has been a motivator in my classroom. I try to keep students reading a variety of books. My goal is to have students reading more challenging books without becoming frustrated. Recent research in my classroom supports the theory that students who are reading in their “zone of proximal development” will make significant reading progress.
I use the Accelerated Reader TitleFinder CD, which contains a listing of 33,000 books with estimated reading levels, as one tool to help to determine the degree of difficulty when students are selecting books. I also use the reading level estimates provided within Microsoft Word. Although the levels that are generated by this program are estimated by a formula that considers the syllables/word and the words/sentences, not the difficulty of vocabulary, they give me an idea as to the relative difficulty of books. Accelerated Reader has recently converted to the ATOS (Advantage‑TASA Open Standard) Readability Formula. The new formula takes into account the length of the book and the average grade level of words, as well as the number of words/sentence and characters/word. (Advantage Learning Systems, Inc.) My TitleFinder CD still uses the Flesch‑Kincaid, the formula used in Microsoft Word. I am looking forward to the switch to a formula that attempts to control for the difficulty of vocabulary. Even so, the final determination of the difficulty of a book needs to take into consideration the interests, experience base, and word knowledge of the individual student.
Recently, my first‑period class accompanied me to the Learning Resource Center, where we picked up eleven boxes of the new Braille ’n Speak 2000 models. Returning to the classroom, I realized the magnitude of my task. My students needed to review their files, transferring important files to a new Braille ’n Speak 2000. Some students had fifty or more files of all sorts – phone directories, calendars, math homework, biology notes, reports, stories, games, etc. Once the files were transferred, the Braille ’n Speak could be assigned to another student. In my classroom, I have one portable disk drive by which these files can be transferred easily. One student at a time was able to work with the disk drive. While this student worked relatively independently, I taught the other seven students in the class.
The Chaos of Change
One week later shipping boxes still block three of my bookshelves. Blue, fuchsia, and gray Braille ’n Speaks are stacked on any free surface in my classroom so that I can record each serial number as devices are checked in and out. The accessories are driving me to distraction. The Classics and the 640s (two Braille ’n Speak models) use 9‑volt battery chargers and have rectangular ports. The Scholars and 2000s use 12‑volt chargers and have round ports. Students need to return their chargers before I issue new ones. I recheck my records and update them. A new batch of in‑the‑ear earphones arrived with the new devices. Once I issue all of this equipment, class can return to “normal.” I wonder how I ever got involved in such a process during finals’ week.
Why Embrace Technology in the English Classroom?
Given all of this trouble, why do I support the intensive use of technology in my classroom? The equipment is always changing. My room is in such an uproar over the arrival of these new devices that I despair of ever putting it back in order. Learning to use new technology takes time, and that is already at a premium. Some of my high school students are struggling to write a coherent sentence. Why should I devote a portion of my English classes to technology when the state standards have goals for reading and writing that are above the current performance of many of my students? The answer is that the payoffs are impressive when technology is working well. Several examples of technology that works spring to mind.
On Wednesdays during lunch, a small group of students meets with me to read Shakespeare. We are currently reading Twelfth Night. Up until this week, all of my Shakespeare‑at‑lunch students have been print readers. Three students have tunnel vision and read small print (10 or 12 point font) but with severely reduced visual fields. The other two students read Large Print or use a CCTV to enlarge the print. However, one student, Amanda, has invited more students to join us. Several are Braille readers.
Technology came to my rescue. Kathy Barry, our transcriptionist, downloaded a copy of Twelfth Night from the Internet and saved it as an ASCII text file. Within the day, I had a disk copy that could be loaded into a Braille Lite and read via the refreshable Braille display. Kathy also produced hard copy Braille for acts four and five. The computer disk was obtained within two class periods. Technology is truly amazing!
Technology motivates students to write and edit, and learn. On the first day of school, I assigned a Braille ’n Speak to Jerry and Shawna, incoming freshmen. Both of these students had been exposed to this equipment in middle school but neither had had a note-taker for personal use. Within a class period, we had reviewed creating and writing files. A day later, these students were editing documents.
Jerry is a technology fanatic. He found the internal Help file and overnight was able to explain every feature of the Braille ’n Speak to Shawna. Phone directories, recipes, files of codes for Play-Station or Nintendo games soon appeared in their directories. They could use the alarm feature to wake up in the morning or the stopwatch to check on their reading speed.
I taught Jerry and Shawna only the features that pertained to reading, writing, and editing. Students learn from associating with more proficient technology users. This concentration of Braille readers and technology users is a major strength of a residential school for the blind. Students share their expertise after school hours with each other.
The day before school began this year, Shawna appeared at my classroom door and introduced herself. She was nervous about making the transition to high school. She wanted an idea of what my English class would be like. She commented that she did not enjoy reading or writing. I asked her about her interests. She mentioned watching the World Wrestling Federation and the Animorphs on television. Shawna left my classroom with the first volume of a Brailled Animorphs’ book under her arm. Her enthusiasm for English skyrocketed the next day when I assigned her a Braille ’n Speak. Within two months, Shawna was regularly staying up past eleven to read or write. Harry Potter, the Animorphs, Stephen King ... her Braille reading speed increased from thirty‑three to seventy words per minute, and her creative stories often exceeded twenty pages in length. She began to declare that she intends to become either an author or a country‑western singer. I believe that technology was a major component in her attitude change.
Note-takers for Less Proficient Braille Readers
Some of my students are learning Braille as their visual acuity or visual fields are decreasing. Often these students are struggling to read the notes that they are taking by hand. Once they are able to write the alphabet in Braille, they can begin to take notes on a Braille ’n Speak. I can show an academic student who knows the Braille alphabet how to create, write, and read files in a single class period. This student is then able to take notes and access them. I teach the other Braille ’n Speak features as needed within my regular English classes.
This new order of Braille ’n Speaks has allowed me to outfit an entire Biology class with note-takers. Five of these students still have usable vision, which allows them to take handwritten notes and read them back fairly easily. But for students with progressive eye disorders, it is important to teach skills that compensate for vision loss before the students need them. Only one of these students complained vociferously during the first note-taking session. Her eye condition is progressive, and yet she kept stating that she will never need Braille or a Braille note-taker. It is my hope that she will soon recognize the power of these devices and embrace rather than fight this learning opportunity.
During fourth period, I am in the Learning Resource Center (LRC) computer lab with my junior/senior class working on writing portfolios to be submitted to the Composition Board at the University of Arizona for evaluation. The reluctant Braille ’n Speak user is in this class. She has not yet written an expository piece for her portfolio, and grades for this quarter are due tomorrow. She tells me that she cannot stay after school to work on her paper because she is not a dorm student. Perhaps if I were willing to drive the twenty miles to Marana to take her home, things could be worked out. She is banking on the fact that I probably don’t have time to drive her home tonight. I tell her that by using the Braille ’n Speak she can write her paper at home. The Braille ’n Speak is, after all, a laptop computer.
The Braille versus Technology Debate
Fifteen years ago, as I was training at the University of Arizona to become a teacher of blind and visually impaired children, there was a lot of debate about the impact that technology would have on the education of blind children. At that time, some people within the field predicted that technology would replace the use of Braille. Blind individuals would be able to type papers on a computer with speech output. They could listen to books on tape. Reading machines such as the Kurzweil could be used to access print material. Blind students could record their lectures. Notes could be transcribed on the computer.
There were reasons that some people advocated dropping the use of Braille. Braille was bulky – who wants a seventy‑two volume dictionary? Reading Braille was slow. Most college professors choose new books to teach from, and the books have not been put into Braille. Transcribing books would take too long – the class might be over before the book was ready. A relatively untrained individual can read a textbook onto an audio tape, whereas the transcription of a book into Braille required a skilled individual. However, as technology advanced, Braille did not become obsolete. In fact, the use of Braille has become much more important and feasible for the blind student or employee.
Scanners with optical character recognition and translation software make the production of a Braille book much more rapid. Our transcriptionist has produced some thick books within one or two days, if the typeface is clear in the print copy. With the advent of refreshable Braille, books can be saved as text files and read in Braille with no Braille hard copy needed. Blind college students are now able to carry all of their books in a disk box in their backpacks.
is not always slow. Some Braille readers can read at speeds of 300‑400
words per minute. Many Braille readers do not improve because they don’t believe
it is possible to read fast, and they do not practice reading Braille. Practice
is essential. If students are always allowed to choose a medium other than Braille
to use, their Braille skills do not
books are not an efficient medium when the goal is locating specific pieces
of information. Tapes are linear. They must be run back and forth through the
tape head when searching for specific data. Many Braille users complain that
audio books put them to sleep and that reading Braille is a more active process
than reading by listening. A sighted reader or a Braille user will pause to
think when new concepts appear or when information needs to be processed to
be understood. As the tape plows ahead relentlessly, the mind is apt to wander.
It is often necessary for a tape user to rewind the tape several times in order
to comprehend the material adequately. A student searching for a specific quotation
to use as supporting evidence in a literary analysis might take a great deal
of time to locate it on a tape. That same person could search a disk file and
locate the quote by searching for a target word or phrase in a fraction of the
time, which could be used more productively to improve the
It is vital that blind students become successful Braille users. According to Kirchner, 70 percent of blind individuals of working age are unemployed. Those with literacy skills are able to meet the needs of competitive employment. Students who consider themselves auditory learners must still read and write in either print or Braille.
The Rest of Beth’s Story
Beth turned eighteen last year and began receiving Supplemental Security Income due to her disabilities. She saved her money and purchased a fully speaking Franklin Language Master Special Edition electronic dictionary, a Braille ’n Speak 2000, and a portable disk drive. She also upgraded her computer and purchased JAWS for Windows so that she can access the Internet when she is at home.
Prior to her investment in technology, Beth “read” using recorded books. Spelling and the conventions of writing are often learned serendipitously while reading print or Braille, and taped books do not include the spellings of words or the punctuation. Beth had only a limited exposure to spelling, and her papers reflected that limitation.
The Franklin Language Master provides audible spellings as well as definitions. When Beth first got her talking dictionary, it would often take four or five attempts before her spelling would be close enough to standard to pull the desired word into the correction list. After a month and a half of using her Language Master consistently, Beth spelled words closely enough to the standard that about 75 percent of the time she would retrieve the desired word in her correction list on her first attempt. She was so inspired by her new freedom to learn through the use of technology that she ran down the batteries in her dictionary in two and a half weeks. (The batteries in my classroom dictionaries last about three months, and students use my dictionaries six periods per day.)
This year as I reviewed Beth’s writing goals, I noted with satisfaction that she made progress with editing for spelling. Her goal stated that she would have fewer than ten spelling errors per typed, double‑spaced page. Though this goal may not seem rigorous, it was a major improvement over the forty or fifty errors that might have occurred a year ago. One paper that Beth edited this year had just three errors in nine typed pages. Never would this progress have occurred without the Braille ’n Speak and the electronic dictionary.
Flexibility and Problem Solving Are Necessary
As teachers we need to be flexible. When we experience technical difficulties, we need to remain composed and think of other ways to achieve our goals. Developing our students’ abilities to solve problems is crucial to their success in a complex society. One way to begin this process is by verbalizing the choices that we make as we solve problems. Another is to take the time to question the students about the obstacles they encounter and the successes they are making while using technology or completing a task.
An effective method for making this process concrete is to have students keep a learning log as a separate file in their note-takers, where they report daily on things that they learn. They record successes as well as the many frustrating details that seem to impede progress when starting a new project. I have been surprised by the types of things that cause students to get staffed on a project. Keeping and reviewing a learning log can minimize these delays. We discuss our logs in class and brainstorm for possible solutions.
Tips for Tired Teachers
Overworked? Exhausted by the demands that technology is placing upon you? Have your students read the manuals and the Help files. They can make tech support calls. Students can help each other. It is important that teachers are well grounded in the standard features of a machine, but just knowing what the advanced features are is sufficient. It is only necessary that you are able to whet the appetite of a learner. When possible, share the workload with students. They will be better prepared for life, and you will have time to plan lessons, grade papers, or read a novel.
Advantage Learning Systems, Inc. “Accelerated Reader ATOS Summary.” 13 June 2000. <http://advlearn.com/ar/aratossumary.htm>.
Kirchner, Corinne, Emilie Schmeidler, and Alexander Todorov, Looking at Employment through a Lifespan Telescope: Age, Health and Employment Status of People with Serious Visual Impairment, Mississippi State University Rehabilitation, Research and Training Center of Blindness and Low Vision, 1999.
Lingua MOO.Ed. Cynthia Haynes and Jan Holmevik. University of Texas at Dallas. 6 July 2000. <http://lingua.utdallas.edu/>.
Old Pueblo MOO. 20 July 1998. College of Humanities and the Faculty Development Partnership, University of Arizona. 6 July 2000. <http://www.u.arizona.edu/~danika/moo/>.
Web Sites That Provide Information on Technology for the Blind
American Printing House for the Blind. <http://www.aph.org>.
Engineering (producer of the Braille ’n Speak, Braille Lite, the portable disk
drive, and many other products).
Resource List (updated in March 2001 by the International Braille and Technology
Center for the Blind).
Electronic Publishers, Inc.
International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (independent evaluation and demonstration of equipment for the blind). <http://www.nfb.org/tech.htm>.
Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
Aide Lauded For Work with
by Colleen Pohlig
At the 2000 NFB Convention, Sharon Maneki (right) presents a placque to Denise Mackenstadt (left), as the 2000 recipient of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award.
Reprinted from the Seattle Times, Tuesday, June 19, 2001.
Editor’s Note: In July 2001, Denise Mackenstadt became the first Braille instructional assistant to receive the prestigious Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award given annually by the National Federation of the Blind. In the next issue of Future Reflections we will feature the speech she gave at the 2001 Annual Meeting of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. In the meantime, we reprint the following article in salute to Mrs. Mackenstadt, and to all instructional aides/para-educators who work tirelessly and diligently on behalf of their blind students.
The greatest gift will come when the boy she has pushed and fought and cared about for six years no longer needs her.
“I’m slowly fading away. It’s a triumph,” says Denise Mackenstadt, a teacher’s aide at Skyview Junior High in Bothell.
Since 14-year-old Chris Micelli was in second grade, “Mrs. Mack,” as he calls her, has been by his side, guiding him through crowded hallways, spinning visual lessons into auditory and tactile ones, goading him into finally learning Braille, mastering the latest technology for the blind – and never letting him give up on himself.
Chris sums up Mrs. Mack this way: “She knows what I can do, and she won’t let me get away with doing less. Sometimes that’s bad.”
It is these qualities – Mackenstadt’s dedication and high expectations of blind students – that recently earned her the nation’s Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award. Mackenstadt is the first teacher’s aide to win the honor, which the National Federation of the Blind will present to her at its annual convention July 1 in Philadelphia. Classroom teachers have always won the award. The honor comes with a $500 check, a plaque and an all-expenses-paid trip to the convention, where she will address the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children.
“This award is very heartfelt because it is coming from blind people themselves,” she said.
Mackenstadt plans to use the award to tout the hard work of all teachers’ aides and to call for more training for those who work with disabled students. She said one of the toughest struggles with Chris was teaching him to read. For two years after he lost his sight in first grade due to a congenital disorder, he refused to learn to read Braille – the only way blind people can read.
“When he was young and so angry and wanted to give up, I told him, ‘I’m going to outlast you.’” And she did. She tried everything, then came across the magic reading tool: joke books.
Mackenstadt does have a personal advantage. “My husband is totally blind – has been since about the same time Chris lost his sight – and that helps me say, ‘This isn’t working for me,’ when Chris says he can’t do something,” she said. “And that’s frustrating for him because I raise the bar and when he meets it, we raise it again.” Chris has always been in regular classes and has completed the same work as his peers. Mackenstadt says it’s a balancing act to know how much he needs from her, and how much he can – and should – do on his own. The goal, which they are on track for, is that he become almost totally independent after next year, in time for high school.
Sharon Maneki, chairman of the National Federation of the Blind’s award-selection committee, said the committee chose Mackenstadt for her “exceptional teaching” and her countless volunteer hours in the disabled community. She helps run a Saturday family program for blind kids, promotes Braille training for educators, and is involved in Northshore School District’s parent advocacy group for families with disabled children.
Noel Nightingale, President of the Federation’s Washington branch, said she nominated Mackenstadt because, unlike schools in general, Mackenstadt expects a lot from blind students. “And she has taken the time to get to know blind people and what it is that makes us successful as adults,” she said. “She doesn’t think she knows what’s best for us. She listens to us and is with us as a peer and colleague.”
DeFeo, Howard County Visually
Impaired Program, Maryland
Amy Herstein and Karen DeFeo
Editor’s Note: Most of the teacher appreciation letters I receive are from parents, and about teachers and students that I do not know and have never met. However, I have had the great pleasure and good fortune of knowing every one of the individuals in the following letter for a number of years. I work closely with Karen, who is President of the Maryland Parents of Blind Children, on local parent projects; I’ve watched Amy grow into a young lady; and I have served with both Karen DeFeo and Betsy Clark on various committees. In fact, I had the honor of presenting Betsy Clark with the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland’s Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award a few years ago.
The primary purpose for publishing these letters is to spotlight hard-working professionals who deserve public recognition. But these letters are more than that – they are blueprints for parents, teachers, and administrators who are often unsure about the role of the specialized professionals who work with our blind kids.
If you know a teacher, O&M instructor, Braille transcriber, teacher’s aide, etc. who deserves a public “thank you,” please send your Teacher Recognition Nomination Letter (with, if available, a photo of the teacher and/or the student) to Future Reflections, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230. You may also send it by e-mail to <BCheadle@nfb.org>. Be sure to include the name and address of the sender, the teacher’s name, the student’s name, the name of the school district, and specific details about why this professional deserves national recognition. The letters should be no less than one typed page, and may be up to three pages. If your letter is published, we will send you extra copies of the issue free of charge at your request.
Here, now, is this issue’s letter in recognition of Karen DeFeo:
Teacher: Karen DeFeo
Student: Amy Herstein
School: St. John’s Lane Elementary and Dunloggin Middle School, Ellicott City, Maryland.
July 16, 2001
(Mrs.) Betsy Clark
Vision Program Head
Howard County School System
Columbia, MD 21045
Dear Mrs. Betsy Clark:
I am writing to commend the dedication and fine work of Karen DeFeo, the Braille instructor who has been working with my daughter, Amy, for the past four years. Karen started working with Amy during fifth grade at St. John’s Lane Elementary School and continued with her through Dunloggin Middle School.
The transition from elementary school to middle school was trying for both Amy and Karen. Many of the students and all of the teachers were new to Amy. In elementary school students have one primary teacher each year. The teacher of the visually impaired can spend one or two hours per day at the student’s school and communicate with the primary teacher each day. In middle school, there are seven or eight teachers to communicate with in the same amount of time. Karen has excellent communication skills to work with a variety of teachers. After the first two to three months of sixth grade, Amy, Karen, and the sixth grade teachers developed a very good relationship.
Karen has transcribed more than 2,000 Braille pages per year for the past two years. Many times she took work home in the evenings so Amy had Braille handouts at the same time her sighted peers received their handouts.
There were many times over the past four years when I had concerns with Amy’s personal life, such as personal hygiene, posture, and social skills. Karen was always there to listen, offer suggestions, and even help by putting some goals on her IEP to work on these issues. Karen was also available in the evenings to talk, which meant a lot to me as a single working mother.
Karen has a strong knowledge of Braille and she is totally committed to providing accurate Braille materials. Karen participates in various statewide committees where she promotes the use of Braille. I hope she will receive your continued support to participate in these committees.
Amy has built a strong foundation in Braille skills due to Karen’s efforts. Karen was open to adding items to the IEP that I felt were important, such as using the computer for e-mail and Internet access. These items may not be part of the school curriculum, but they are helpful tools for all students to know.
I would like to let you know I greatly appreciate all the hard work, the dedication, and the friendship Karen has given to Amy and me over the past four years.
Ellicott City, MD
Cc: Mrs. Karen DeFeo,
Mrs. Barbara Cheadle, Editor, Future Reflections
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award for 2002
NFB Teacher Award Committee
The National Federation of the Blind will recognize an outstanding teacher of blind children at our 2002 convention July 3 to July 9, in Louisville, Kentucky. The winner of this award will receive an expense-paid trip to the convention, a check for $500, an appropriate plaque, and an opportunity to make a presentation about the education of blind children to the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children early in the convention.
Anyone who is currently teaching or counseling blind students or administering a program for blind children is eligible to receive this award. It is not necessary to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind to apply. However, the winner must attend the National Convention. Colleagues, supervisors, or friends may nominate teachers or other eligible individuals. The letter of nomination should explain why the teacher is being recommended for this award.
The education of blind children is one of our most important concerns. Attendance at a National Federation of the Blind convention will enrich a teacher’s experience by affording him or her the opportunity to meet other teachers who work with blind children, to meet parents, and to meet blind adults who have had experiences in a variety of educational programs. Help us recognize a distinguished teacher by distributing this form and encouraging teachers to submit their credentials. We are pleased to offer this award and look forward to applications from many well-qualified educators.
Please complete the application on the next page and attach the following:
1. A letter of nomination from someone (parent, co-worker, supervisor, etc.) who knows your work;
2. A letter of recommendation from someone who knows you professionally and knows your philosophy of teaching; and
3. A letter from you discussing your beliefs and approach to teaching blind students. In your letter you may wish to discuss topics such as the following:
4. What are your views about when and how students should use Braille, large print, tape recordings, readers, magnification devices, computers, electronic note-takers, and other technology?
5. How do you decide whether a child should use print, Braille, or both?
6. When do you recommend that your students begin instruction in the use of a slate and stylus, a Braille writer?
7. How do you determine which students should learn cane travel (and when) and which should not?
8. When should keyboarding be introduced?
9. When should a child be expected to independently hand-in print assignments?
National Federation of the Blind
Educator of Blind Children Award
Deadline: May 15, 2002
Use a separate sheet of paper and answer the following:
* List your degrees, the institutions from which they were received, and your major area or areas of study.
* How long and in what programs have you worked with blind children?
* In what setting do you currently work?
* Briefly describe your current job and teaching responsibilities.
* Describe your current caseload, i.e. number of students, ages, multiple disabilities, number of Braille reading students, etc.
the three required letters to this application
and send all material by May 15, 2002, to:
Sharon Maneki, Chairwoman
Teacher Award Committee
5843 Blue Sky Street
Elkridge, Maryland 21075
Out of the Mouths of Babes
Reprinted from See/Hear, Volume 6, Number 3, a joint publication of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Texas Commission for the Blind.
Paige, mother of Alexandria (Alex), has been gracious enough to share her experiences raising a child with blindness. Alex who is almost 9 years of age is losing what vision she has due to Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis. Her mom has been diligent and creative about teaching her those concepts that sighted folks take for granted.
Alex, who attends Andy Woods Elementary School in the Tyler I.S.D., had been reading about different kinds of animals along with her classmates. Paige knew that even though Alex was acing the tests she didn’t really have the big picture. This savvy mom called the Caldwell Zoo in Tyler to request a “hands on” tour. When the public relations director discouraged her, Paige persisted. Eventually the owner not only agreed to the tour, but personally showed Alex around the zoo. He asked that they come in the morning, before the zoo opened to the public, when the animals were just waking up and still in their private areas.
Alex, her mom, and vision teacher were able to feel the ear and horn of a rhino with the help of the animal trainer. Alex explored a giraffe and trailed along its tall neck! Her face lit up when she connected the words that she previously had read to the real thing! This “aha moment” brought tears to the owner’s eyes.
This experience led to another opportunity. Alex’s unique way of learning made a profound impact on the veterinarian for exotic animals. He plans to contact Paige the next time they have to anesthetize a large animal; Alex hopes it will be an elephant!
Once again, Paige has paved the way for Alex to have the same opportunities as her classmates, by encouraging her to enter a local essay‑writing contest. The Kimberly-Clark Company, in conjunction with Brookshire Brothers grocery store, sponsored the contest. The theme was “My Favorite Teacher.” Alex entered and won! One winner was chosen from each grade level for the entire district. She selected her teacher of the visually impaired as the subject. Here is Alex’s essay:
My Favorite Teacher
My favorite teacher is Mrs. Elsie Rao. She is my visually impaired teacher. I think that she should be selected as Brookshire’s favorite teacher because she works very hard to teach me other ways to read, write, and do math. But she is so much more than that.
She helps me learn that my vision loss will not stop me from becoming a successful person. She believes in me even when I do not, and she has a very special way of describing the world to me.
Once, I asked her why some cars did not have roofs? She said, “They are called convertibles.” She just happened to own one, so she let me feel the roof go down. She said, “You really can not understand this unless you ride with the wind blowing through your hair. [Editor’s note: Of course they took a ride!]
My mom says that Mrs. Rao always starts with a firm foundation. I really did not understand this until I asked Mrs. Rao what concrete was. She went out and bought a bag of concrete for us to make just so I could understand.
She has a big impact on my life and she also lets me teach her about being blind so together we keep on learning.
Paige reminded me that these success stories would not be possible without the support of their local school district. Connie Moore, the principal of Andy Woods Elementary, believes in “teachable moments” and understands the importance of release time for her vision teacher.
Paige believes that Alex is exposed to the expanded core curriculum because Mrs. Rao not only answers Alex’s many questions, but involves her in finding the answer. If at all possible, Alex hears about it, reads about it, and does it.
This approach pays off, the first place prize for her essay was a $1,500 gift certificate from Circuit City.
Pre‑Braille Experiences for Infants
Reprinted from VIPS News 17/3, May/June 2001, a publication of the VIPS Program in Louisville, Kentucky.
Editor’s Note: This was the second article in a two-part series published by VIPS in the Spring of 2001. In the first article, Ms. Connolly discussed the importance of understanding spatial relationships, of developing cognitive concepts, and of tactile discrimination. In this part, she expands upon other important pre‑Braille experiences.
Number Concepts and Patterns
Important number concepts and patterns include few/many; some/none; more/less; pair; zero; all; one-to‑one correspondence; first/second/third; last; and counting to ten.
Play with objects in a six‑muffin tin. Find and take out one or two. Guide the child’s hand to learn how to use one hand as a placeholder and the other hand to place an object in the hole. This reinforces one-to‑one correspondence when one object is put into each hole. This will help the child imitate patterns later on.
Large pegboard play is great for beginning number relationships. Let the child play creatively and later introduce number concepts. Older infants and young toddlers will enjoy positioning large pegs and blocks to create things.
Older toddlers may be ready to imitate patterns of pegs on a board or large shaped beads on a string. Create rows of tape or Velcro strips with blocks or shapes. Again, as with sorting and matching games, begin with two and increase to three or four.
Practice doing movements with words to describe them. Also, talk to the child about what he/she is doing so the words have meaning at natural times of the day. Important movement concepts include go; start/stop; fast/slow; push/pull; scribble; draw; trace; bend; open/close; slide; roll; hold; insert/place/put; reach; sit; squeeze; turn; and follow.
Good head control and independent sitting are important to read Braille with ease. Reaching for an object based on sound or visual cues or on command is also important.
Guide the child to develop a systematic approach to searching for an object within reach to develop good skills for later exploration of pages and manipulation of books.
Fine motor skills that are important for eventual reading include grasp/release; twist/turn; rotate and examine; open/close; stack; nest, etc. Busy boxes and nesting or stacking toys are good for developing these skills.
Further refinement in motor skills can be encouraged by putting objects into and taking them out of containers of all sizes and by playing with manipulatives, such as finger foods in containers; shape sorters; pop beads; linking chains; large pegs; form boards and simple puzzles; and blocks. Important skills for dexterity include pincer grasp; poke/probe objects, spreading/wriggling fingers; pointing; isolating each finger, relaxed curving of fingers; wrist flexibility; and tracking a raised line by touch.
Babies are like sponges – they absorb information. Use words to name and request and eventually the baby will, too. Guide infants and toddlers to use words to name and request, and to follow simple directions. Help them listen to a short story with objects as props and to explore tactual books and turn pages.
Braille in Everyday Life
1. Encourage “scribbling.” It’s fun and important. Allow toddlers to “scribble” with a Braillewriter or slate and stylus (with supervision). Plastic sheets from bacon packages, when thoroughly washed, work great for Braille.
2. Share with your toddler what you are writing – grocery lists, notes to friends, etc.
3. Braille notes for toddlers to take to family members and have them read aloud.
4. Leave Braille “love notes” under the toddler’s pillow or in his lunch box; include print so anyone can help the child read it.
5. Take the toddler’s hand to experience Braille in the community on signs, elevators, and Braille menus. Remember, sighted infants have been seeing print in their world from a very early age.
6. Get a Braille labeler or a slate with slits for dymotape for labeling. Label the child’s belongings with his name (diaper bag, cup, lunch box, snacks, etc.) Label areas of the home, familiar objects, and toys with Braille. Label the numbers on a toy telephone or animal names on a See’N Say, for example.
Literature Rich Experiences
7. Create a box or bag with items associated with a familiar routine. Write a story on an index card about taking a bath, visiting Grandma, or going to a restaurant. Include objects associated with that experience – a story in a box or bag!
8. Clap and bounce with rhymes, finger plays, and songs; pause before the last word of a familiar rhyme to let the child anticipate and fill it in.
9. Keep textured books, cloth and cardboard books, Braille books, and sound books available for your child on a low shelf where she can find them herself.
10. Go to the library for story hour to hear richly read stories. There are usually hands‑on activities associated with these.
11. Practice turning pages together. Reinforce this by slipping treats, leaves, or pieces of fabric to find between the pages.
12. Adapt print books by placing Braille above or below the lines of print.
13. Make books meaningful by gluing an object on the front to match the story, or tie an object on it with a ribbon.
Reading from Left to Right
14. Play at making rows of large pegs in a pegboard from left to right.
15. Roll a car or rolling toy on a table from left to right with one or both hands.
16. Play at following the track with wooden sticks, sandpaper strips, lines of glue, and Brailled materials (with and without spaces).
17. Glue objects to a strip and have the child move from left to right to discover and talk about each.
18. Place objects in a 12‑muffin tin; have the child identify the objects, moving from left to right across each row.
Concrete to Abstract
Braille is a system of symbolic representation of real objects and experiences, just as print is for the sighted reader. Infants and toddlers learn best at a concrete, hands‑on level. Touching experiences with objects and people are critical. Begin by describing what he is doing when he is playing with a toy: “Tyrone is banging blocks.” Talk out loud about what you are doing, too.
The next step is to use an object as a reminder or to prepare for a transition in activity, such as a key to go for a car ride. For example, let the baby hold the keys as you prepare to leave (and only at that time). The next step is to use the same or similar objects to talk about a past or future experience. This way, you see, it becomes a symbol.
Then make a book with object symbols to tell a pretend story about someone else. At this time, add a raised drawing to represent the object and match it, as well as a Braille label next to it. Then the connection can be made between the real object and the Braille word. Sighted children go through a similar progression with pictures as symbolic representations.
Match real objects to things that go together or outlines of them. Trace familiar, real objects to make puzzles out of them.
A Montana Yankee In Louis Braille’s Court
by Carolyn Brock
Editor’s Note: The following story was first published in the Observer, a publication of the NFB of Montana, and later reprinted in the Braille Monitor. Carolyn Brock is a teacher and an active member of the NFB. Here is her delightful report of her visit to the home of Louis Braille:Blind or sighted, most people have heard of Louis Braille. They generally know that he was French, lived over a hundred years ago, lost his sight as a child, and grew up to develop the system of raised dots which has become the means of reading and writing for blind people all over the world. But there is much more to the story..
I had read Kenneth Jernigan’s article published in the July 1994, issue of the Braille Monitor, discussing the NFB’s financial contribution to the restoration of the Braille home in Coupvray, France, just east of Paris. The article also included a detailed description of the homesite itself. While planning a two-month stay in France last summer, my husband and I decided that a visit to the Braille home would be a worthwhile excursion.
On a previous trip to France in 1991, I had visited several centers for the blind, both in Paris and in Burgundy. Everywhere I was impressed with the pride that blind French people feel in the work of Louis Braille; at each center I was repeatedly reminded that Braille was originally a French system. This summer I learned that sighted French people share that same pride. Several days before the planned trip to Coupvray, we visited the Pantheon, the huge domed memorial to great French citizens in all fields of endeavor. Almost as soon as we walked in the door (I carrying my white cane), we were approached by a museum administrator who explained to me again how proud the French are of Louis Braille and directed us to his memorial site. I was given the English language version of a small book about Braille and the village of Coupvray.
The visit to Coupvray lived up to our expectations. It is only a mile or two from Euro-Disney and has only recently been surrounded by the sprawling metropolitan suburbs. But Coupvray itself retains its country village flavor. The old part of the village is very much as it must have been in 1769, when Louis Braille’s grandfather built the original house. Like most village houses of the time, it was a single room with a niche for the parents’ bed built into an outer wall. In the next generation Louis Braille’s father, a saddle-maker who also owned vineyards, was successful enough to build an adjoining workshop accessed by leaving the living quarters and walking around the outside of the house to the workshop entrance. Over the years the Brailles had the money to add an upstairs bedroom each time a child was born, with two different stairways leading up from the two sides of the house. To this day the house is on the edge of the village, with a rutted road, navigable only by a 4-by-4 vehicle, leading off into the woods just behind the house.
Into this family, very affluent for villagers of the time, Louis Braille was born in 1809, the last of four children. He was blinded at age three in an accident with his father’s work tools. When he was fifteen, his family sent him to the School for the Young Blind in Paris, an expense which no ordinary village family would have been able to afford.
At school in Paris young Louis was an outstanding student. He was taught the system of tactile writing being used at the time, which used conventional letter shapes. This embossing system had been developed by Valentin Haüy (who standardized the use of the white cane in Europe, and after whom the largest center for the blind in France is named). The disadvantage of the system was that there was no way for an ordinary blind person to write it. Young Louis also saw an experimental system, using raised dots instead of letters, developed by a French army officer, to communicate with his men at night. Not only was the raised-dot system easier for a blind person to read; it could also be written with very little special equipment. Louis Braille went to work refining the system. The result was the French version of Grade I Braille, with a symbol for each letter of the alphabet and the basic punctuation marks.
After becoming the first blind teacher at the school, Braille set to work teaching his pupils this new system of reading and writing. The result could have been predicted by anyone familiar with the story of Braille in modern times. The blind students loved the Braille system and used it to take notes and to write to each other. The other teachers at the school, all of them sighted, were totally opposed since they could not read it. But Louis Braille continued to teach the system, and by 1840 the French Ministry of Education had little choice but to accept it as the standard method of writing for the blind. It has since been modified for use in virtually all of the world’s major languages and contracted into Grade II versions to fit each one.
The Braille house in Coupvray is a monument to this remarkable chain of events. The living room of the house is still sparsely furnished, much as it was in the early nineteenth century. In the huge fireplace hang cooking pots used at the time. Next to the fireplace, in a child-sized chair, sits a life-sized doll of a little boy, Louis Braille at age four or five, dressed in the clothing of the period.
Next door in Simon Braille’s saddle-making workshop are the crude wooden workbench, table, and chairs, much as they must have been during Louis Braille’s childhood. Display cases contain collections of the saddle-making craft.
Climbing either set of stairs, one arrives at a landing, where the wall has been knocked out, uniting the two staircases and thus the two halves of the house. On the landing stands a life-size girl doll, one of the Braille sisters, also dressed in authentic clothing. She indicates the way to Louis Braille’s room, which now houses the rest of the museum. An attic room, still farther up, is yet to be completed.
It is in Louis Braille’s room that a visitor gets a sense of the magnitude of Braille’s accomplishment. Here are displays of the early equipment used to write Braille, primitive ancestors of our interpoint embossers and refreshable computer screens. But the most moving tribute to Louis Braille comes from the testimonials to him which are displayed throughout the room. There are cards and letters from all over the world, many of them bearing stamps commemorating the work of Louis Braille. Over and over, in many languages, they tell the stories of blind people whose lives were enriched and transformed by the work of this one person. It is a fitting monument to a man who over a century ago began changing what it means to be blind.
Low Vision and Monoculars
by Edith Ethridge
Reprinted under the title “Problem Solving” from the Spring, 2001, issue of Parents’ Writes, the newsletter of the Kentucky Parents of Blind Children, a Division of the NFB of Kentucky.
Editor’s Note: If you have a partially-sighted child or student, I think you will find the following article about using a low vision device delightfully practical and non-sentimental. Edith Ethridge is clearly one expert who understands that visual aids or solutions are not the answer to every problem encountered by a person with low vision. Her advice is sensible and well-grounded in an understanding of the importance of efficiency and effectiveness when making choices about low vision devices or techniques. In a field that is notorious for pushing the use of vision to the point of inefficiency and discomfort, Mrs. Ethridge offers a positive approach to making decisions about low vision devices. Here is what she has to say:
Our 12-year-old son will not use his monocular at school when needed. He attends half-day at the Kentucky School for the Blind and the other half-day in the public school. He admits while attending public school that instead of using the monocular, he will ask someone sitting next to him to tell him what he needs to write down. He has told us that the other students think his monocular is cool, but still he worries about ridicule from the other students. As a self-advocacy skill, we know he needs to overcome this, but we’re running out of ideas. Would love to hear any suggestions!
Carol, Taylorsville, KY
Reluctance to use monoculars may be due to a variety of factors. Consider some of these questions:
it make a significant difference
Ť Is there a social issue?
Ť Is it difficult to use?
Ť Is the task interesting or motivating?
Ť Is the child aware that other people use monoculars and binoculars for a variety of recreation and career activities?
Be sure the monocular improves vision enough to make a significant difference. If just moving a few feet closer can provide the same amount of improvement, most children will just want to move toward the activity. The monocular restricts the field of view and some kids don’t want to miss out on other visual interests.
Be aware that the type of visual condition may affect the benefit of the monocular. Central vision loss may make using it more difficult.
Be sure the child has had appropriate instructions in how to spot, focus, scan, and track using the device.
Prove the difference. Have the child use unaided vision for a task and then try the same task using the monocular. Let him prove to himself just what it can do and the differences in detail that can be observed.
Model it. Use binoculars and monoculars with your child. Create an environment where classmates and playmates use the same or similar devices for fun activities. Have toy binoculars available near the window or door for preschoolers and younger children.
Provide evidence that other people use vision devices for recreation and in their careers. Keep a scrapbook of pictures of vision devices being used and discuss them. Highlight pictures of surgeons, jewelers, and people at sporting events such as the racetrack, football games, and baseball games using vision devices. Look in advertisements for pictures of the monoculars used by golfers, and binoculars used by bird watchers.
Take the monocular and binoculars on family outings and trips. Use it with your child, have other family members use it, too. Keep a journal of time that it is used. Use stickers on a chart or other rewards to show just how many occasions you have used it.
Attend High Vision Games where other children are using monoculars. Find an older child who is a successful monocular user to act as a mentor and describe how useful it is in mobility.
Have realistic expectations. Remember that the monocular is just one device used to increase distant vision acuity for short tasks. It would be difficult to watch a movie using a monocular, try it! Although the monocular may not be an equalizer for all demands on distant vision, it is portable, relatively inexpensive, and doesn’t require batteries!
A Sighted Mom’s First Mobility Lesson
by Lydiah Schuck
Nathan and Lydiah Schuck, with daughters May and Amy, take a break in the Children’s Room while touring the National Center for the Blind, headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind, Baltimore, Maryland.
Reprinted from the April 2000, Michigan Focus, a publication of the NFB of Michigan.
I have been helping my four‑year‑old daughter with her cane for a year now, but I’d never really tried to get around with a cane myself. The Michigan Parents of Blind Children seminar in November was my first chance for a mobility lesson.
I got started late, so I joined a group already in progress on their lesson. I slipped on the sleepshades (blindfolds) and Geer Wilcox directed my first steps – onto an escalator! I think starting late was a mistake. I should at least have walked down a hallway with the aid of the cane before I tried that escalator. But to Geer’s credit, I made a successful trip down to the hotel lobby.
What an amazing feeling! Getting off the escalator and, later, getting off the elevator, felt like ... well, have you ever been roller skating? Can you recall the way your feet feel like they are still moving, even when you are done skating? I think there must be something about this that is similar in my brain, because I felt like my feet were still moving as I stepped off the escalator.
As my travel lesson went on, I left Geer and went on with the help of Adam Emerson. Adam has a great teaching style and a wonderful comforting voice. [Editor’s note: Adam is the blind son of Sunny Emerson, a former officer in the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Now, about a decade later, her son has become a role model for other parents!] Adam helped me to locate a phone booth. I called my husband to tell him what I was doing, and his response was, “Did you tell me about this meeting? How come I never know about these things? I’d like a cane lesson, too.” So, I guess he’ll be at the next parent seminar.
We went up in the elevator. Adam told the other people in the elevator to let me find the numbers myself. We went down to the basement and up several floors before I found the Braille number seven, and I was a bit embarrassed. I realized pretty quickly that it didn’t matter.
It’s not like a subway where if I missed my stop, I’d be in the next county or something. We eventually got to the seventh floor.
It will still take me a few trips to believe my cane when it tells me that, yes, there is solid floor outside the open door of the elevator. It was a surprise to me to realize how much I rely on my eyes to step out of an elevator. I was afraid to get out at first.
We proceeded to the high point of my mobility lesson: taking a walk with Anna, my daughter, who was playing in the child care room. She was delighted that I appeared at the door with my cane. She dragged me down the hallway, quite a switch from the usual parent‑pulling, dawdling-child scenario. Adam took us down the hall and into a stairwell where we went up and down some steps. Anna had to climb the railings, too. Listening to all this activity gave me a new appreciation for blind parents. I would certainly need to learn some new ways of monitoring my children’s activities if I were blind.
We went back to the child care room, left Anna there, and then went to explore the pool area. It’s a strangely‑shaped pool, Adam told me, and I believe him because it kept popping up in the most unexpected places. The pool area was a bit of a sensory overload for me. There were voices near and further away, the smell of chlorine, the repeated bang of my cane against the deck chairs, echoes, and the continuing sense that I was about to drop over the edge. But I never did!
As we moved around the hotel lobby, hallways, stairwell, and pool area, I began to notice how the sound of the room could give me an idea of its dimensions. I could hear the open lobby below me as I went up and down the escalator. Some places just sounded smaller. I started to notice the wall in front of me, or the coke machine I passed by.
Near the end of my walk, I became careless, not trying so hard. I thought, “If I can just get back to the second floor, I can take off these sleepshades.” So at the very end of my walk, though I gained a new appreciation for the cane as a tool, I still wanted to be back in my comfort zone. For my child, mobility with a cane is her comfort zone. It was a delight to be able to have a visit in her world.
Let the Medals Jingle
by Tonia Valletta Trapp
Tonia Valletta Trapp
Editor’s Note: The following story first appeared in the 1998 NFB Kernel Book Gray Pancakes and Gold Horses, and was later reprinted in the Braille Monitor. The Kernel Books are a series of paperback books featuring stories by, and about, blind people. The purpose of the books is to educate the general public about blindness and the normality of blind people. The books are available in print, Braille, and cassette tape for a nominal charge from the NFB Materials Center, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, (410) 659-9314. Since Tonia wrote this piece, she has married Gregg Trapp, an attorney in New Mexico. Here is the story:
I remember how surprised I was when, during my eighth grade year, a fellow student in my Spanish class approached me and said admiringly, “Hey, I was doing some research, and I found a picture of you in National Geographic World magazine. I didn’t know you used to do gymnastics!” My mom has collected all the newspaper articles about me since I was three years old; they are tangible proof that being blind, let alone a blind gymnast, is a big deal to the rest of the world. But it was not the numerous articles, the swell of being notorious, the people who said, “You’ve inspired me so much,” or the medals and ribbons that I loved so dearly: it was being a gymnast.
Mr. Roltsch was the coach who agreed to take me into his gym and teach me gymnastics when I was seven or eight years old. “I had never taught a blind gymnast before,” he told me later, “so I was hesitant and a bit skeptical when your Mom called me and asked me to teach you. But, when your Mom brought you over, and I took you down into the gym to test you out, I decided it was worth the challenge to take you on as a pupil.” He had a deep, powerful voice that I was drawn to because it said, “I expect 100 percent grit from you, and if you don’t give it to me, I will be disappointed.” At the same time his voice was gentle and reassuring. He never hesitated to correct me, and he had a not-so-subtle way of telling me when he knew I was cheating him out of valuable time by slacking off. I rejoiced at every compliment I got from him, for he gave them only when my performance was nearly perfect enough to merit them.
Mr. Roltsch was a demanding coach and a darn good one. Those of us on the team who appreciated gymnastics as both a sport and an art, just as Mr. Roltsch did, gave him every ounce of strength and determination that we had, and he, in the course of a few years, transformed us from hesitant, clumsy little marionettes into gymnasts.
The Roltsches’ gym was built into their basement, and to get to it, you had to walk down a steep, spiraling sidewalk that curled around the house and led straight to the door of the upper deck of the gym. Up there we all pulled off our sweat suits and socks, tossed our shoes against the wall, and scampered down the thirteen planked stairs onto the floor mats below. The gym had its own smell, which I came to associate automatically with the sweat of grueling workouts and the sweet, paralyzing exhaustion that always accompanied them.
I quickly became addicted to the anesthetic effect of the draining workouts, so much so that whenever I entered the gym, even before I had stripped down to my leotard, I could feel tender, invisible fingers gently massaging and stretching my muscles in preparation for the next two hours of leap, tumble, and swing.
My first victory in gymnastics came when I turned my first cartwheel. Someone had tried to show me what a cartwheel looked like by using a Barbie doll, but I could not understand. In my eight-year-old mind, I was a little girl, not a doll, and I was not able to imagine my body manipulating itself the way the doll moved in the hands of my coach. For weeks, maybe even months, I tried mechanically to turn a cartwheel, putting down slowly first one hand, then the other hand, then one foot, then the other foot. I felt like a long-limbed gorilla slapping the mat with my hands and clumping with my feet as I tried to force my body to turn itself properly.
Then one day it happened without my even trying; in fact, that must have been why it happened. All of a sudden I found myself sliding smoothly through the air and landing in the same position I’d started in. I knew as soon as I landed that this was how a cartwheel was supposed to feel. I still did not understand exactly how I’d done it, much less what it looked like, but I did know what one felt like, and that was all that mattered.
The next challenge was to train myself to do a straight cartwheel, so I turned wheel after wheel using the crack between the mats as my guiding line. It took the horse a while, but finally it learned to pull the cart straight down that line.
The “floor ex,” short for floor exercise, was my second favorite event. I didn’t like doing balance beam because I couldn’t keep myself from falling off; and, because I could not run straight down the thirty-foot runway to the vault, I could not build up enough power to hurl myself over it. But the floor (I especially liked its more modern version, the spring floor, that was carpeted and bounced slightly when you fell on it) for me consisted of gravity, the expansive flatness, and the infinite space above it through which I could leap and twist and somersault to my soul’s content.
Truly, to be off the ground, buoyed up in the air, restrained by nothing, and surrounded by an exhilarating nothingness for just an instant is the sweetest liberation I have ever known. For that reason my favorite move on the floor was the double front handspring, because keeping my body in constant motion during those three to four seconds electrified me every time I did one. I would launch onto my right foot as though I were skipping; then, after my left foot hit the ground once, I lunged forward and boxed the floor with open palms as my feet sailed in an arc over my head and landed in front of my hands, which sprang from the floor, rocking me forward into a standing position once again. I would then repeat the move, except this time without the skipping start because the momentum of the first handspring catapulted me into the second handspring.
For the record, I admit that throughout my six years as a gymnast I had to work extremely hard at being both flexible and graceful. However, when it came to the floor and the uneven bars, I was the queen of brute strength and aggression: the two bars levitated in space, the gravity, the nothingness, and the expansive flatness were all my subjects, and I forced them to work as hard for me as I did for them.
My favorite event, as well as my best, was the uneven bars. I received my highest score ever, an 8.25, doing a class four bar routine. Other coaches worked with me on floor, beam, and vault; but when it came time to work on the uneven bars, Mr. Roltsch was my coach to the exclusion of all other coaches and assistant coaches. When he realized that I loved the bars best and was strong and daring enough to take them on, he dedicated himself to the challenge of helping me to perfect my bar routine.
Gradually, yet unmistakably, the bars ushered themselves into the center of the gym as I visualized it – and I, the bars, and Mr. Roltsch pressed on toward ultimately unachievable perfection.
At my first gymnastics’ meet I did only my bar routine because it was my best and most practiced. I remember that day well. The rest of the team were already at the meet doing their other three routines. It wasn’t yet time to join them, so Mom dropped me off at the Roltsches’ house. Mr. Roltsch met me at the door and took me through his house and downstairs into the gym. There he helped me warm up on the bars and run through a few routines so I would be ready at the meet. Then we went back upstairs, I dressed, and we sat outside on his porch drinking lemonade. I don’t remember what we said, but I know that I felt loved and protected sitting with Mr. Roltsch on his porch. We then drove to the meet, and I did my routine. I was scared, but I made it through and got a score of 6.65. My coach was happy with that score.
A few years passed, and I turned eleven on May 13, 1985. I was a fifth-grader, and school was almost over. Some time before that a friend had told me, my mom, and Mr. and Mrs. Roltsch about a national sports competition for the blind that happened every year during the first week of June. This year Nationals, sponsored by USABA, the United States Association for Blind Athletes, would be held in Trenton, New Jersey. By now my bar routine had improved considerably, along with my other three routines; I now competed all-around, doing all four events in the meets I went to. So my coach, my mom, and I talked it over briefly and decided that I should go to New Jersey.
Soon I was sitting quietly in the back seat of the Roltsches’ car as we drove north; my parents followed the next day. On the morning of the competition I was more terrified than I had ever been in my entire life. I felt sick to my stomach, and I could hardly swallow the chocolate milk Mr. Roltsch told me I had to drink. All had gone well in practice, but now was the real thing, my one and only chance to prove myself to all those who would be watching, including my parents.
Floor, beam, and vault came and went in a haze; I fell off the beam four times and set a national record with my score on the floor exercise. Then came the uneven bars. I was psyched, I was ready – and I was scared. There was one move in the routine I was particularly worried about. It was the hardest move in the routine, and if I didn’t get the timing absolutely right, I would miss it completely.
Perching on the low bar facing forward, I would do a single-leg shoot through to straddle the bar, then reverse grip and raise myself from off the bar to circle swiftly around it. This move was called a mill-circle catch because in mid-rotation I would let go of the low bar about 7/8 of the way around to reach for the high bar. If I let go too early or too late, I wouldn’t catch the bar, and Mr. Roltsch would have to touch me to keep me from falling. If he touched me, the judges would deduct half a point from my score. We had practiced this move hundreds of times, and I knew I could do it perfectly. But, would I? Or would I clam up and not let go at all?
I was up. I splashed chalk on my hands and positioned myself standing on the mat in front of the low bar. I touched the bar, saluted the judge, and began my routine. It was swift, tight, and powerful. Pausing for not even an instant, I shot my leg through to straddle the low bar, reversed grip, raised myself off the bar, and...whapp! I had done it: I had caught the high bar. The audience gasped in a hushed voice, and I heard my Dad exclaim in astonishment, for he had never seen me compete before. I finished my routine, and Mr. Roltsch hugged me as the applause raged and surrounded me with love.
As I stood on the top level of the make-shift platform with one girl standing below me to my right and another below me to my left, I cautiously lifted my hands to my neck and felt the thick, wide ribbons that cascaded down my chest. There were five medals spread out just below my chest: four gold and one silver. I had won the first-place all-around medal, which meant that I was now the reigning national champion blind gymnast. I kept smiling while pictures were snapped of me with the second and third place winners – it was wonderfully easy to smile.
As we all left the gym victoriously, the medals at my chest began to jingle rhythmically as I walked. After a few steps I put my hand over them to quiet them because I was afraid that the people walking with me would think I was being obnoxious. “Tonia,” my friend exclaimed jubilantly, “take your hand away. For goodness sake, let those medals jingle!” The others agreed heartily, so I removed my hand, and the medals at my chest began to swing and bounce wildly with a glorious chink...chink...chink ....
blind athletes’ competition was my first encounter with a national organization
involved with blind people. More recently I have come to be a part of the National
Federation of the Blind. After being urged by my friends to attend the National
Convention, I decided that the most godly and appropriate thing for me to do
would be to attend with an open mind and heart. To my great surprise and delight,
as I met one Federationist after another, I encountered blind people who were
friendly, polite, and confident in their own abilities. And I noticed other
characteristics of Federationists that impressed me very much. Most notably,
I observed a contagious enthusiasm and energy, together with a strong, binding
sense of commitment to bettering the position of blind persons in
I found myself compellingly attracted to this group of people who shared my enthusiasm and willingness to work hard to accomplish set goals, so I decided to join the National Federation of the Blind and to search for ways to use my own special gifts and abilities to further the independence, goals, and aspirations of all blind people.
There are many ways to let the medals jingle.
Education and Recreation
for Blind and
Visually Impaired Students
by Angelo Montagnino
Editor’s Note: Mr. Montagnino – ”Monte” – is a physical education and recreation specialist who has taught movement, games, and recreation skills to blind children since 1964. He has taught and directed physical education (P.E.) programs at camps for the blind, and was for many years the head coach of the Association for Blind Athletes in New Jersey. He currently gives workshops for physical education teachers about how to include blind and visually impaired kids in P.E. classes. Thanks to Carol Castellano, President of the New Jersey Parents of Blind Children (NJ/POBC), I had a chance to attend one of Monte’s presentations about a year ago. The following piece was one of several hand-outs Monte gave out at the workshop:
Learn About the Student’s Eye Disorder
Check the student’s records to see if any physical limitations are imposed on him. Take advantage of any residual vision the student might have. Find out if the child sees better under certain lighting conditions. Some children prefer incandescent light (yellow light) to fluorescent light (white light). Others may desire high intensity lamps to do detail work or require a high degree of light to best see a target, while some children are bothered by the glare of bright light.
Use Descriptive Verbal Instructions
Since the main avenue of learning for many visually impaired children is through hearing, verbal instructions should be given when demonstrating a skill. Give clear, concise, and consistent directions. Say what it is you are actually doing in body-oriented language. For example, when teaching a child to hop, say, “Stand on your left foot, raise your right foot, and jump in the air on your left foot.” Use directional words such as, “right,” and, “left.” Cite large landmarks in the playing area to guide a low vision child: “Walk to the exit door, turn toward the window.” Using terms like, “quarter turn,” “half turn,” or “full turn,” may be helpful to the totally blind person. Use tactual, hands-on demonstrations with verbal instruction. Describe where things are by using the face of a clock for orientation, with the child at six o’clock: for example, “The water fountain is at seven o’clock, 12 feet away.”
Use Movement as a Mode for Learning
Guide the student, but do not overprotect him. It is much better for a child to get a few bumps and bruises by interacting with his environment than to let inactivity stagnate his body. By moving and physically interacting with his environment, the visually impaired child has another way to learn about himself and his world.
Involve the Student in a Physically Active Way
Try to avoid having students only participating as scorekeepers or timers in a game. They need the activity. See that the visually impaired child is totally active during his gym period. Try to work the student into at least part of the game or enjoy/experience the activity with another student.
Allow the Visually Impaired Child to be Near Enough to See or Touch when Demonstrations are Given
A child with low vision may be able to observe procedures if he is near enough to the demonstration. For the totally blind child or child with little usable vision, the demonstrator or some other participant may have to position the child’s body or allow the child to touch another person in the correct position and give more verbal explanations. Allowing the child to perform the activity with individual guidance is also helpful.
Provide a Fun and Safe Environment
Give the student an orientation to the area in which he and others will be playing. Help him discover where large pieces of equipment are placed. If equipment is moved into a different location, help him find where it is relocated and its relationship to walls and other equipment.
Beware of Flying Objects
The surprise element of not knowing where the ball is going in a fast-moving ball or flying-object type game can result in frustration and grave consequences for the visually impaired youngster.
Make Use of a Sighted Guide
In many activities and games, a partner can greatly enhance the enjoyment and safety for the visually impaired student.
Within reason, carefully experiment and see what works best for the visually impaired student. Each visually impaired student has his own unique abilities and difficulties. Don’t underestimate his ability.
Consult with the Visually Impaired Child not only to Determine Activity Preference but also to Decide Which Activities Might be Safe
As mentioned earlier, there are eye conditions that limit activity, a fact which should be discussed with the parent, physician, or low vision specialist. Consultation with these persons will give the recreation specialist a great deal of information about the needs, interests, and abilities of the child. For example, children who are at high risk for a detached retina should not participate in contact sports or diving. Children with diabetes may be advised to avoid certain sports or to increase their daily exercise gradually.
Modify the Rules of the Game
Rules may be modified to accommodate visual limitation but care should be taken not to alter the basic structure of the game if at all possible. (For example, in volleyball, the ball may be permitted to bounce once, or the visually impaired student may take one serve before each team begins serving.) The visually impaired child will want the activity to remain as close to its original form as possible.
Use “Special Equipment”
In some cases, special equipment is desirable to facilitate the full participation of the child in a given activity. This equipment can be purchased from a supplier or can be developed by the physical education or recreation specialist. In archery, for instance, an auditory signal can be placed behind the target. When developing modified equipment, it would be advisable to seek the assistance of the visually impaired child. He or she may or may not want to use a balloon, beach ball, etc.
Development of Fundamental Skills & Games
Encourage movement exploration. Focus on how the body moves by bending, stretching, turning, swinging, and curling the body, by itself, as well as in relationships to objects and other people. Help students to become aware of their body and the ways in which it can move. A good movement vocabulary will help the child to learn new skills more efficiently.
Teach the child to jump, land, and roll, while standing in place, while moving, and while jumping off equipment. This is a good safety skill which will help the child become more confident because he will then know that he can handle himself on a spill.
Go From the Less Difficult to the More Difficult Skills and Break Down Skills into their Component Parts
For example, to teach the child to catch a ball, begin by bouncing the ball to the child from a short distance away. Gradually increase the distance. Then decrease the distance again, but eliminate the bounce. Finally, increase the distance again. A large, lightweight, softer ball would help.
Also, be aware of the child’s
previous experiences in recreation and other areas. Some visually impaired children
have not developed activity skills because they were never given opportunities
to participate in play. Thus, the physical education/recreation specialist may
need to begin working with basic skills before involving the child in some regular
Limit Playing Space
Table tennis is an example of a game with a limited area that a child with a narrow visual field may be able to enjoy. Playing games in a small gym or a handball court may facilitate greater involvement for the visually impaired child without greatly distorting the experience for the normally sighted participants.
Slow the Action
For example, instead of a regular ball, a balloon may be used in a game of catch. A child with a field loss may be able to keep the balloon in the central portion of vision because it is moving with less speed.
Use Larger or Smaller Playing Objects
For example, a beach ball
can be used to play volleyball. If the child has an acuity loss he may be able
to see the object when he is far away from it if it is larger than regulation
size. Also, targets can be made larger or moved closer to the player. If the
eye condition has resulted in limited visual field, it may be helpful to use
a smaller ball or move the target further away so it can be seen in the field
Use Proper Lighting and Color Contrast
A ball can be taped with bright yellow/orange fluorescent or black tape, so that it contrasts with the floor and walls. A shuttlecock can be painted a bright color to contrast with a playing court. Colored tape can be used to mark the playing areas. Contrasting colors can also be used for table games.
As previously discussed, find out if the child sees better under certain lighting conditions. It is also helpful to discuss with the child what factors may be visually distracting. For example, some children are bothered by stripes, polka dots, certain plaids or colors, strobe lights, and lights reflecting off glass.
Have the person (“it”) wear on the wrists or ankles an elastic band with bells on it or maintain verbal contact while pursuing the visually impaired student. Alternatively, you can buddy the visually impaired student with a helper.
Provide a change in floor texture. For example, place a rubber carpet runner or tumbling mats next to the wall so that the child knows when he steps onto the changed surface that he is stepping out of bounds. The change in surface is also a warning signal to him that a wall or object is coming up so he needs to put on the brakes. The child will move much more freely if he knows that hazardous objects are not in the playing area.
Throwing and Catching
Before throwing the ball, give the receiver a sound clue. A bounce pass will be easier to receive than a direct pass. Utilize large heavy balloons to slow down the speed of the ball. The use of yarn balls, fluff balls, and nerf balls lessen the impact of a direct hit to the body. These should be used when playing the popular game dodge ball. When throwing at a target, provide a sound reinforcement (i.e. bells) behind the target. Beepers can be used or just have someone strike the target first.
Striking and Hitting
To practice striking skills, place a ball on a tee or have a ball suspended from the ceiling. If you want the ball to move through space upon hitting it, utilize Velcro. Place Velcro on the end of a rope which is suspended from the ceiling and matching Velcro taped onto a light ball with a bell in it or attached to the ball. in this way, the child will learn about the projection of the ball as well as how to control his hit in determining the power and direction in which the ball will go. The visually impaired student may also use a slow motion ball or large whiffle ball and oversize plastic bat. A ball can be rolled on a table or the floor. A large ball or a large wiffle ball with several small bells placed inside it, makes an excellent rolling target.
Partners can provide safe assistance in running. They may hold hands or use brush contact (keep touching hand or forearm to hand, wrist or any part of the arm). Another technique is have the visually impaired student and guide runner each hold the end or loop of a flexible piece of material. (They may also have the loop go over the guide’s right wrist and the visually impaired student’s left wrist). A visually impaired runner may be able to run to a “caller” for a short run. A student can also run by himself by holding onto a rope or wire stretched out between two points. Provide a warning signal about 8 feet from each end. If tape is wrapped around the rope, the student can quickly turn at that point and continue a shuttle run.
Centered or Individual
Sports and Activities
These activities are most valuable for the visually impaired student and require very little change. Give explicit body oriented instructions such as “to your left,” or “Pull elbow into sides,” or “reach forward and then up.”
Rhythms can provide great fun for the visually impaired student.
Line dances – one line, everyone holding hands.
Novelty dances – all doing same movements in own self-space.
Partner dances –
keep in body or voice
Modern or Jazz – give student a specific boundary area free of obstacles.
Aerobic dance – Step aerobics and basic movements are great. Where needed provide extra verbal instruction and “up close” or hands on demonstration.
Vaulting – Start with hands on vault or use a one-step approach.
Beam – Encourage bare feet or light slippers; use a long strip of carpet the same size as the beam on the floor.
Tumbling – Provide an area free of objects; have a buffer area around the exercise mat to give a warning of upcoming obstacles. The mat should be of the best color contrast, a verbal cue can help keep student going straight and signal a totally blind tumbler when he approaches the end of the mat.
Provide a tactual floor
cue (long board or sidewalk) which is perpendicular to the target. Have student
stand sideward to tactual floor cue. Provide a sound cue below or in front of
target. Help student zero in on target by telling him to move bow to the left,
right, up, or down. Use large traffic cones about 1/3 distance to help a visually
impaired student locate the
Use a handrail with the free hand to guide bowler in a straight path toward pins. Square student up with pins. Give immediate feedback as to how many pins are knocked down.
Square student up with ball and target. Help the student get the side of his body facing the target. A sound or visual cue can be used. Student should wait for an “all clear” signal before swinging.
When swimming the front crawl along the side of the pool, watch that the student doesn’t bump his head against the wall. Teach him to use a delayed arm stroke as he anticipates the upcoming wall. Make the racing lane about three feet wide in order to give immediate input to the student about the direction of his stroke in relation to a straight line. When diving, have the student request an “all clear” signal before taking his dive.
Track and Field
Run tandem with a sighted guide (use “brush” or “holding” contact with a guide). In high jumping use a one-step approach; some visually impaired students may be able to take more than one step and be successful at clearing the bar. The hop, step, and jump and the long jump can be attempted from a standing start. Provide a sound source from the direction you want the student to move.
The discus and shot-put require the use of a sound clue (clap, beeper, or counting) from the direction you want the object released. Some visually impaired students may not need any modification, some may need a visual cue to see the jump board or the bar.
Use a hand-touch start. Whenever body contact is lost, start again in the stance position with the hand-touch.
Popular Team Sports
the actual game of most team sports can be quite difficult for total involvement
of a visually impaired student, most of the fundamental skills of each sport
can easily be taught to the student and then modified games played. The game
should not be changed so much that it no longer resembles the intended game.
More focus on the basic skills of the sport not only benefits the visually impaired
child but also helps improve the sighted child’s skills. Try to find the best
position or part of the game for the visually impaired student to play and
Focus on dribbling skills. Visually impaired children can become very skilled at dribbling a ball in different directions and while supported on different body parts. Make up short ball-handling and dribbling routines.
During free throws, help position student at free throw line and give a clapping sound clue while standing directly under the basket. With some exploration of trial and error, the student will learn at what angle he must release the ball in order to make a basket. If needed, tap the rim with the ball once or twice. If needed, protect the student from a rebound.
A beeper could be placed at the back rim of the basket and the student could locate the sound source to shoot his basket. A small carpet square could be stuck to the free throw line and the student could dribble around the court. When he gets to the carpet square, he would then turn to the sound source and shoot. Visually impaired students can be “special foul shooters.”
When playing with a partner or group, be sure to warn the blind student of an upcoming pass. For example, “Hey, Todd” (get attention), (pause) “Catch”, (then pass the ball). When passing the ball, the use of a bounce pass gives additional warning.
Practice hitting a ball off of a tee or from a suspended rope. First use the hand and then practice with a bat.
Playing in the field could be extremely hazardous. A visually impaired student may be able to play the field especially with a good buddy.
A good choice is to be a designated hitter for both teams. Use of foam balls or wiffle balls and a rubber or plastic bat can provide a much safer environment and the game can also be played indoors. Be a designated batter for both teams. Bat off tee if needed, run to the foul side of first if needed. Run with a partner. The partner is on the inside. Get behind the partner or buddy if on third.
Run bases with a sighted guide. Avoid having someone else run for the blind child. He needs the running activity.
Kick at a stationary ball if needed. Be a designated kicker for both teams.
A visually impaired student can learn to deliver the ball in a good underhand pitch while the catcher gives him a sound clue. Have a defensive player to the side and several feet closer than a visually impaired pitcher.
If needed a beep soccer ball is available. Use a box about one foot square. The child can hear where the box is sliding to; when the sound stops, so has the movement of the box. The child can easily locate the box and kick it again.
A milk carton with bells in it is also a fun item to kick and track. Keep-away games can easily be made up with a partner or small group teams.
A tin can with pebbles in it could be utilized when playing outside on an asphalt or concrete surface.
Make use of the same hitting items as in soccer.
Allow the visually impaired student to use the goalies wider and flatter stick (greater surface area will aid the student in finding the puck or ball).
Practice lead-up skills of volleying with the use of a large, heavy balloon. The slower speed of the balloon gives the partially sighted student a better chance to track the balloon. This activity could provide more success for sighted children, also.
Modified games could be played with a sponge ball, nerf ball, beach ball, or large balloon. Partially sighted players may stay up close to the net, or may be able to do everything under ideal or good visual conditions. Visually impaired students can be a designated server. The team gets their regular serves in addition to the designated serve. A totally blind student should be given a chance to learn all the striking fundamentals with a good toss and a strike command.
If I Have Seen Further: The Blind Serving Communion?
by James H. Omvig
Reprinted from the January 1996, issue of the Braille Monitor, the monthly magazine of the National Federation of the Blind.
Editor’s Note: Can blind children grow up to be fully participating members of society? Are blind people capable of doing the ordinary community services that we take for granted? Can a blind person serve as a leader in a Scout troop? Chair the PTA Book-Fair? Bake cookies for the high school Honor Society fund-raiser? Volunteer as a judge in the high school debate tournament? Serve on the kitchen clean-up crew at the church’s annual pancake supper? Will others give them a chance to serve, or will they be relegated to the sidelines – always spectators, never “doers”? Jim Omvig, a long time leader in the NFB, faced this question a few years ago in his church. I think you will find his story edifying and instructional:
“My goodness, things are so bad over there at the church now, that they even have the blind serving communion!” So said an elderly, homebound member to one of her close friends and confidants on a particular Monday morning.
The church in question was the one I attended for several years in Baltimore, Maryland. The poor blind man who had supposedly been so abused by this congregation was me. Here is how it all happened.
At the time of this incident I had been blind for many years and had been an active member of this church for a short time. Years earlier, I had had the great good fortune of encountering the National Federation of the Blind, and I had experienced enormously valuable training and insight. I had been taught (and had come emotionally to believe) that as a blind person I was simply a normal human being who happened to be blind and that the opportunities for me to work and participate fully in the world were limitless. I had also learned that erroneous attitudes about blindness rather than the physical condition of being blind are the most persistent problems with which each blind person must deal on a daily basis. Finally, I had come to understand fully that as a successful blind person I had an obligation to do what I could to help change those existing, negative public attitudes.
I was living to the hilt what I had been taught by the Federation. I had become an attorney and was the Director of a major program of the Social Security Administration at its Baltimore headquarters. Additionally, I was married to a wonderful wife, had a fine young son, served as Vice President of my Lions Club, was an active member of my church’s governing board, and was also active in the local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. My life was in every way normal, if busy.
A few weeks before the communion incident occurred, I had been asked by the minister (we’ll call him Bob) if I would be willing to have my name placed in nomination to become one of the deacons of the church. I agreed and, as church elections generally go, I was elected without a hitch. It had not occurred to me that one of the duties of a deacon (at least, at this church) is to serve communion at the Sunday service.
Some time after the election we had a day of planning and training. Early on, the minister Bob came to my sighted wife (not to me) and said, “I’m making out the communion-serving schedule of deacons for the year. Jim won’t want to serve communion, will he?”
My wife Sharon is also well-grounded in proper attitudes about blindness and in the knowledge that we have a lot of work to do to make things better. She knew as well as I that Bob’s real question was, “Since Jim is blind, he wouldn’t be able to serve communion, would he?”
Even so, she just smiled and said, “I think you had better ask Jim about that.” Then she came to me in another meeting and told me about Bob’s question.
What was I to do? Or, more accurately, what were we to do, since my wife is as concerned as I that we seize every possible opportunity to provide positive educational experiences about blindness?
One thing was clear: It would not be helpful or even desirable for either of us to become upset or angry. Far from useful, such a reaction would have served only to teach the minister (and anyone else who happened to learn of it) that the blind are not only helpless and incompetent but also rude and ill‑tempered on top of it.
Frankly, I had not given a thought to the fact that deacons serve communion or the way in which I as a blind person might accomplish the task. I determined then and there, though, that it would be important for me to do it and that I would find a way! The National Federation of the Blind had taught me that. I decided to do it both because it was my duty as an elected deacon and because this would be a marvelous opportunity through quiet example for me to teach hundreds of people at a single stroke about blindness.
We decided that I would just wait until Bob came to speak with me. But, of course, he did not come. Some time in the early afternoon Bob went to Sharon again and said, “Jim won’t want to serve communion, will he?”
Again she said, “You need to talk to Jim about that.” And again she told me, and I waited a little longer.
Finally, toward the end of the day, Bob came to Sharon yet a third time. This time he sounded a little impatient. He said, “You know, I have to finish this communion schedule today. Jim won’t want to be on it, will he?”
This time Sharon said, “Come along, Bob; let’s go find Jim; and you can ask him. I can’t speak for him.”
When they found me, Bob asked if I would be willing to serve, and I casually said, “Of course I will.”
He sounded more than a little concerned and, with some awkwardness, he finally got around to asking, “But how will you do it?” At this church the deacons who are serving gather at the back of the sanctuary and then walk two‑by‑two up to the front of the church and up the steps to the altar. They take the trays from the minister or elders and then go back down and serve the individual members of the congregation row by row. When all have been served, the deacons return to the altar to leave the trays and then walk again in pairs back to their seats.
I told him that I had not yet had the opportunity to think about it but that there was a way. And there was, and I did!
On the first day I served, the church was a‑buzz. Later Bob said to me with real warmth and an obvious feeling of pride, “You were more of an inspiration here today than I was. I actually saw people with tears in their eyes.”
So it was that by Monday the story had spread throughout the congregation, even to the shut‑ins. It is true that the activity seemed noteworthy in the beginning – even remarkable to some. But the end of the story was the most gratifying for Sharon and me. For in a very short time whatever I did (whether it was serving communion, serving as head of the finance committee, or serving as a trustee) was accepted as the ordinary and unremarkable activity of a church leader. My blindness simply was no longer an issue.
As I look back now, I’m glad that the question of serving communion came up. Bob learned from it, the members of the congregation learned from it, and my wife and I learned, too. We came to have an even deeper understanding of the normality of the blind and the ease with which real education about blindness can be presented by each of us to the sighted public.
I don’t know whether it is remarkable, or even unusual, for a blind person to serve communion or to take an active position of lay leadership in a church. Perhaps it is, but I think not. As I relate this story, though, two or three points which I do know for a certainty come to mind.
First, I know that it was important for me in this instance to be firm and confident and to do my share. If I had simply decided that serving communion was not possible or was too difficult or was just too much trouble, I would have contributed to the erroneous attitudes about blind people which have kept us down and out through the years and which I and others are working to change.
Second, I know that when we as blind people encounter those who have an attitude such as that displayed by Bob, we can’t afford the luxury of going off half‑cocked or losing our cool. Nor do we have any business trying to fix blame or to become bitter. What we need is compassion and understanding. It is noteworthy, I think, that through the years Bob has become one of my best friends and a true believer in the cause of the blind.
Finally, I know that the work and education which I had the opportunity to provide at my church were not mine alone. If serving communion really was my taking a step beyond what other blind people had done before me, then it was still made possible by those who had come before me in the organized blind movement. They had had the wisdom to join together for concerted action, and they had formulated constructive ideas. They had developed a positive philosophy about blindness, and they had then shared their ideas and philosophy and dreams with me and thousands like me.
I believe that Sir Isaac Newton best captured the essence of this concept when he said, “If I have seen further, it is because I have stood upon the shoulders of giants!”
As a blind person, whether it is working and supporting my family, serving as an officer in a Lions Club, or serving communion at my church, I have truly stood upon the shoulders of giants. And if I have seen further, it is because of them – the founders and early leaders and members of the National Federation of the Blind.
Breaking Ground, Building a Dream.
Maurer opens the ground-breaking ceremony for the NRTIB on
October 19, 2001.
On October 19, 2001, under the bright blue sky of a perfect autumn day, the National Federation of the Blind celebrated the groundbreaking for a dream. Of course, the media called it “The National Research and Training Institute for the Blind,” (NRTIB) but we, the parents of blind children, and blind people throughout the country, knew better. We were breaking ground in preparation for transforming a dream into a reality. A dream that all blind citizens of the United States will have the opportunity for full, rich lives – lives that include a good education, satisfying employment, fulfilling personal relationships, and opportunities to participate completely in the community.
We know that this can happen, that blindness alone need not be a barrier. Many blind people have achieved this dream. But the barriers are many, and the majority of those who are blind continue to live on the margins of society; never gainfully employed, never realizing their full potential. Despite advancements in public education about the capacities of the blind, blind people still suffer a seventy percent unemployment rate. Among all those with disabilities, blind, deaf-blind, and multiply disabled youth have the highest unemployment rates (National Longitudinal Transition Study of Special Education Students, 1991).
Of course, the five-story, 170,000-square-foot building, which will be connected to the present 200,000 square-foot National Center for the Blind, is only the housing for the dream. It is the programs in the NITIB that will make the difference.
Among the program priorities identified by the NFB for the Institute, are the Blind Children’s Initiative, and the Braille Literacy Initiative. Both of these initiatives will address the most intractable obstacles to the preparation of blind children for independent lives; obstacles such as shortages of specially trained teachers, limited access to computer technology, low expectations, and inadequate Braille instruction.
Among the programs possible with this new institute are:
Ť Educational classes, both on premises and via distance learning technology, for teachers of the blind, vocational rehabilitation professionals, and parents of blind children.
Ť Pilot projects to develop, demonstrate, and disseminate model learning strategies that have been tailored to meet the needs of blind and visually impaired students.
Ť Research to develop innovative methods for learning Braille that combine new technology applications with the experience of competent Braille users.
Ť The development of new access technology; such as computer-based speech- and Braille-output educational software and games to use in motivating, teaching, and preparing blind youth for the computer age.
But, first things first. The building to house the programs must first go up before the programs can be established. And so, on October 19, at 10:30 a.m., some 300 Braille and print agendas were distributed as people gathered outside along Wells Street, the southern boundary of the NFB property in Baltimore, Maryland – site of the National Center for the Blind. We all cheered as Dr. Maurer broke out the gold shovels for the groundbreaking. Dr. Maurer served as Master of Ceremonies and also made some brief remarks.
Some of the other dignitaries and contributors who spoke at the ceremony were Steve Marriott of The J.Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation; Maryland Senators Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes; Barbara Walker, President of the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults; Congressmen Benjamin L. Cardin and Robert Ehrlich; Patricia Schroeder, President, Association of American Publishers; Walden W. O’Dell, President and CEO, Diebold, Inc.; and Joanne Wilson, Commissioner, Rehabilitation Services Administration, U.S. Department of Education.
One of the first speakers at the ceremony was Michael Hingson, a long-time member of the NFB and a survivor of the September 11 terrorist attack; his office was on the seventy-eighth floor of the World Trade Center’s Tower One. His remarks, printed below, capture the spirit of the event:
Michael Hingson and his guide dog, Roselle.
Questions and Choices
by Michael Hingson
September 11 was a day of change for the entire world. It was a day of destruction. It was a day of terror. It was a day of questions. Also it was a day that offered choices for us all.
Some of us were involved personally in the events of that day. I was on the seventy-eighth floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center in New York when an aircraft slammed into the building. I faced personally the terror, the destruction, and the challenges of a rapid building-evacuation. I experienced, first-hand, debris falling around me as I fled for my life during the collapse of Tower Two.
Since the Center’s destruction I have asked many questions as have all of us. For example, what kind of being would plan and carry out such a campaign of mass death and destruction against innocent bystanders? How can I possibly help console those who lost loved ones? Finally, where do we go from here?
The media have taken notice of me and my guide dog Roselle because our story is different. The question asked of me most often is “How did you get out of the building?” My immediate reaction is to answer that I walked down the stairs, of course. I know there is also a question which is never asked. This question is “How can any blind person be working in the World Trade Center?” My real answer to both questions is the same. It is this:
The philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind is that blindness is not our handicap; poor attitudes and misconceptions about blindness are the largest barrier we face.
Long ago I adopted the Federation’s philosophy that it is OK to be blind. I made a conscious choice to live my life to its fullest. I adopted the reality that I can use alternative techniques to sight in order to go about my business.
In this light, getting out of the World Trade Center was the same for me as for the others who escaped except for my employing the technique of using a guide dog. I would also add that, due to the incredible volume of dust and smoke, no amount of eyesight helped those near the buildings as they collapsed.
I know that having a strong positive attitude about myself as a blind person helped me to focus and thus to survive the terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, not all blind persons have had the opportunity to embrace the upbeat philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.
The ground we break today will open new opportunities for blind persons to climb their individual mountains even in ways not yet conceived. The creation we begin today is more than a physical place. It is the embodiment of the ideas and ideals nurtured by tens of thousands of blind persons. It will be a place where we can remember and ponder our past. It will provide an environment to learn as well as to teach. Here blind people will move forward on their own life journeys.
People everywhere are still asking questions about September 11. It remains to be seen whether or not we as a world community will learn and grow from the tragedy. For years we who are blind have been asking questions and seeking answers about ourselves. This new institute will represent the choices we make. I pray that all of us, blind and sighted, will find ways to move forward past our own personal roadblocks. God bless you all.
Editor’s Note: For a complete report about the groundbreaking ceremony and the gala black-tie event which followed later that evening, please see the November 2001, issue of the Braille Monitor. It is available for viewing on the NFB Web site at <www.nfb.org>, or from the NFB Materials Center in large print, cassette tape, or Braille. Contact:
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
NFB Chapter Reaches Out to Parents and Blind Teens
by John Bailey
Editor’s Note: As I reflect back on the days when my blind son was a child, then a teen, (he’s now in his 20’s and finishing college) it is ever more clear to me the importance of the times we spent socializing with blind adults. Through the informal dinners and parties, our family learned to be comfortable around blind people. We made friends with whom we felt at ease asking the personal, and sometimes embarrassing, social questions – “How does a blind woman know if her lipstick is on right?” Often, we did not need to ask the question. Merely being with blind people and observing how they handled social situations gave us the answers we needed to properly guide and train our son in blindness techniques.
We did all this, of course, through activities within our local and state affiliates of the National Federation of the Blind. Well, that’s how it began, anyway. After we developed the friendships, we did what all friends do. We planed dinners out, or took turns going to each other’s homes. We went bowling, skating, hiking – even vacationing – together. Very soon, learning about blindness was not primary – it was merely a side benefit of wonderful friendships. But all this began by joining our local chapter of the NFB, and going to chapter functions and social events.
The following short item is about one of our local chapters in Virginia that organized a pool party in order to give families of blind children and teens an avenue to form those important social bonds and connections with competent blind adults. There is a saying that if you want to win, you gotta play the game. Of course, you may not win even if you play, but you most certainly will not win if you don’t play.
So it is with friendships and role-model relationships with blind adults. If you want it to happen for your blind kids, you gotta find ways to meet blind people! Here’s one way one NFB chapter made this possible last summer for parents and blind kids in their area:
Saturday, July 18th turned out to be a great day for a pool party. Several months ago, the Fairfax Chapter of the NFB of Virginia decided to make increasing its membership a major priority. During that time, it became more and more obvious that there was really a need for an organization like the NFB. In particular, we discovered that there are many teens in our area who are having a difficult time coping with growing-up along with also having to adapt to blindness.
So, the Chapter decided to reach out into the community of young people and invite them to a social event designed just for them.
Long-time Federationists Billy Ruth and Alan Schlank, offered their home, kitchen, and pool to the chapter for a Saturday of fun. Cathy Schroeder (Chapter Secretary) planned the event along with doing most of the work. She and Billy Ruth prepared all of the hamburgers, potato salad, desserts, etc. Cathy’s husband, Fred Schroeder (former Director of the Rehabilitation Services Administration under President Clinton) volunteered to grill the burgers and dogs. (All of these chapter members, by the way, are blind and were once blind children.)
During the afternoon, many long-time NFB members arrived, along with several first-time guests, including several families of blind children. It was the perfect environment to meet, talk, eat, and build friendships. Needless-to-say, the children and teens splashed in the pool while their parents were able to relax and enjoy the wonderful weather.
In between working the grill, Fred Schroeder talked about the benefits of the NFB affiliated training centers in the country. He spoke in particular about the children’s program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. He gave the center high praise for teaching blind children mobility and literacy skills, and also teaching them the living skills and confidence they will need when they eventually venture out on their own.
While the parents did adult-stuff, the kids had fun. Carl Knoettner offered the use of his spine to youngsters who wanted piggyback rides. Three-year-old Christian (a future swimming gold medallist) kicked, splashed, and squealed with glee while paddling his feet in the water. Everyone ate too much.
Among the guest were several families who had just discovered the NFB. They brought all their children – blind kids and sighted siblings – who played and ate while they (the parents) took the opportunity to talk with other parents and with blind chapter members. It seemed that every possible issue was discussed to some extent. However, there was one item that generated the most comments and emotion: the topic was “How can I raise my child to be accepted socially?”
Everyone knows how uncomfortable it can be when others consider you different. This can be particularly painful during the adolescent years when our image of ourselves and how we fit into society is being formed. The blind are certainly not exempt from experiencing this rite-of-passage.
Someone at the barbecue told me a story. They spoke of a similar party they held at their home a few years earlier. They had invited both sighted and blind children to share their pool. During the afternoon, the sighted kids played, interacted, and had a good time with one another. One blind boy did not participate. He stayed at the opposite end of the pool. He played by himself and interacted with no one else. It would probably be easy to go around-and-around as to whether the sighted kids were avoiding the blind child, or the blind boy was avoiding interacting with everyone else. Whatever the case, both sides lost out.
One of the founding ideas behind the National Federation of the Blind is that the average blind person is just as capable as his/her average sighted counterpart. What are needed are the proper attitude, training, and opportunity. In short, blindness is a physical characteristic no more consequential than red hair, black skin, or any other such trait. We call these concepts, “The Truth about Blindness.” In many cases, the NFB struggle for equality can be compared to the civil rights struggles of other minorities. For example, to overcome the negative images of blacks in the culture, black parents organized to make sure that their children did not grow up believing those stereotypes.
can I raise my blind child to be accepted socially? In some respects, the answer
is simple. First, blind children must accept themselves. They must not believe
society’s negative images of what the blind can and can’t do. Parents can help
by supporting their children and by teaching them the skills they will need
to compete in society. Then, parents must give their children the opportunities
to use those skills. As the children master those abilities and put them into
practice, they will develop a more accurate self-image. The result will be a
self-image built on having successfully overcome obstacles – not one based on
a child is a family affair. Children don’t live in a vacuum. They will adopt
the beliefs of the caregivers in their lives. So, it is very important for the
parents and role models in their lives to believe the truth about
Where can parents learn more about raising a confident child, and the truth about blindness? From your local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. That’s where.
Which brings me back to the pool party. Our discussions over food and around the pool demonstrated that we could have fun and learn at the same time. On all counts, our pool party was a great success. We thank all those who helped to make this event possible and so enjoyable, and specifically, Cathy Schroeder and the Schlanks. Hopefully, we can do it again next year!
Whom Do You Hang Out with?
following is reprinted from the
August/September 2001 edition of the Braille Monitor:
When we think about who we know that might be in a position to make a capital campaign gift to help build the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind, it’s easy to assume that we don’t know the sort of people who could help. But Mike Jacqubonuis of Maine is President of his local Lions Club, and, when asked, they make a gift of $1,000. Jason Ewell of Ohio was a college student when his father’s Lions Club made a pledge of $25,000. Charlie Brown, Kiwanis; Don Capps, Rotary; and Joe Ruffalo, Lions and Knights of Columbus, are all members of the national Board of Directors and personally active in service organizations.
Are you a member of a civic organization that makes grants to charities? Do you have a close friend or family member who is? Such groups are willing contributors to causes that their members support. Vince Connelly, who works on our capital campaign, needs to know what contacts we have. Don’t put it off; contact him today with useful information. His phone number is (410) 659-9314, ext. 368, and his e-mail is <firstname.lastname@example.org>. You can help.
by Dana Ard
Dana Ard, with the help of her well-behaved guide dog, models an outfit for a local fashion show in Boise, Idaho.
Reprinted from the Summer 2000, Gem State Milestones a publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho.
Editor’s Note: Readers may recognize Dana’s name from the article about labeling clothes in the previous issue. Dana is a rehabilitation teacher and counselor with the Idaho Commission for the Blind, and an active member of the NFB. Dana is also blind from birth, and has mild cerebral palsy.
I never asked Dana about her parents, but my guess is that they took an unsentimental, no-nonsense approach to her upbringing. Certainly Dana does not view her disabilities as an excuse for a sloppy appearance, poor manners, or inferior performance. She holds herself – and her blind clients – to the same standards expected of others in our society.
Here is what Dana has to say about the techniques blind women can use to look their fashionable best:
In this issue, I will discuss ways that we as blind people can get information about fashion trends and offer some suggestions for managing our wardrobes. Let me say first that I think women are far more concerned with fashion than men. At least, that’s how it is in our family. My husband watches the weather forecast to find out what the temperature will be in order to know whether to wear a long-sleeved or short-sleeved shirt to work. I concern myself with such burning fashion issues as whether the blouse I’m wearing looks better on the outside or the inside, whether the shoes I plan to wear will complement my ensemble, or whether the panty lines are really that serious.
There are several ways of getting fashion information. Going to a clothing store that carries the styles of clothes you like and checking out the racks, either with a trusted sighted friend or a competent sales clerk, is one way.
Reading fashion articles in women’s magazines, such as Ladies’ Home Journal (available in Braille), Good Housekeeping (available on tape) or Our Special (a Braille publication produced solely for the blind) is a second source of information.
I have found watching the
fashions displayed on QVC, a cable shopping network, to be very helpful. Garments
are presented and described in full detail: including color, length, styles,
and comments about whether the item is appropriate for office or for casual
wear. General comments are often made about current clothing styles. Many of
these fashion designers have a mix-and-match clothing line to
assist in building a coordinated wardrobe. My roommate at guide dog school bought most of her clothes from The Fashion Network, and she was the best-dressed woman in our class.
To assist me in coordinating
the colors of my outfits with other clothes in my closet, I have purchased the
services of a wardrobe
consultant, Mary Ann Wilcox, who offers this service as part of her business, Beauty for All Seasons. She put together new outfits using my existing wardrobe. I numbered each outfit and described it in Braille. Now, if I want ideas for something different to wear, I consult my list of outfits. Mary Ann will also take photos of the outfits, which can be used as reference. If you don’t live in the Boise, Idaho area and want to find a wardrobe consultant, you might contact a clothing store or the national office of Beauty for All Seasons for the name of someone who could provide this service locally.
By the way, in response to this column in the last Milestones, I received this tidbit. Delaine Exley of the Panhandle Chapter called to let people know that tying or buckling pairs of shoes together helps to keep the right shoe from being separated from the left.
Reflections and Photographs
Simon, her kitten.
Editor’s Note: Jennifer Dunnam, author of The Slate Book (see review in last issue, Volume 20, Number 3), was a Braille teacher for several years at BLIND, Inc., in Minneapolis. Currently, she is the Braille transcriber and Document Conversion Specialist (which is to say, she coordinates the production of print materials into alternate formats) for the University of Minnesota. She is active in the NFB, and serves as Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota.
Every Christmas, when my two younger sisters and I were growing up, our fam-ily drove to a small town forty miles away from our home to exchange gifts with several sets of relatives who lived there. The Christmas I was twelve years old, one of my grandmothers gave each of my sisters a small mirror with her name embossed on the handle. I do not remember the gift I got; all I remember is that it was definitely not a mirror with my name on it, and I wasn’t happy about that. By the age of twelve, I knew that it was inappropriate to express displeasure about a gift, so I kept my disappointment well hidden for the rest of the visit.
My interest in having that mirror had a lot to do with my upbringing. When I was a child, my parents maintained the same expectations for me that they did for my sighted sisters. There was no tiptoeing around visual words or concepts: I learned what color things were, I watched TV, and I turned on lights when it was dark. My parents never tried to hide or deny my blindness or the fact that there were things I could not do in the same way as other people did, but they always started with the assumption that I would participate in all aspects of both working and playing. For instance, I got coloring books the same as my sisters; the crayons were labeled with the names of their colors in Braille, and often someone used a tracing wheel from a sewing kit to make the outlines of the pictures tactile. (Sometimes, no one had time to trace the pictures before I wanted to use the coloring book, but I used it anyway, delighted not to be restricted to coloring between the lines).
So on the way home in the car that Christmas day, I stewed. Why did my grandmother think that just because I couldn’t look into the mirror I shouldn’t have one? I had a mirror in my bedroom, and I stood before it everyday to brush my hair and get ready for the day. It felt strange to me not to do so, and I wasn’t concerned about seeing the reflection. Besides, my friends frequently borrowed each other’s mirrors to check their appearance during the day; how impressed they would surely have been if I had my very own personalized mirror to lend them!
Finally, with the miles between our car and Grandmother’s house increasing, and with Becky and Angie ooh‑ing and aah‑ing over those stupid mirrors, the ungrateful brat in me won out. “It’s not fair!” I blurted. “Why didn’t I get a mirror, too?” my parents pointed out – quite reasonably – that my grandmother may not have been able to find a mirror that said “Jennifer.” That possibility hadn’t occurred to me, and after a little more thought, I came to accept it as the most likely explanation. But I still couldn’t help wondering.
I have been blind since birth, and it took some time for my understanding of certain visual concepts to evolve. Even with the excellent foundation my parents laid for me, my grasp of my relationship to certain visually oriented objects has not always been very accurate. I can still remember the time one of my sisters, hardly more than a year old, poured a bowl of mashed potatoes over her own head.
Photographs have always been taken copiously and valued highly in my family, and this occasion was no exception. As the photo of the mess was passed around at a family gathering, I joined everyone else in clamoring for a look. When the picture was finally handed to me with instructions to touch only the edges, I held it a few minutes, but I couldn’t tell what all the fuss was about. I didn’t quite understand that everyone else could see the picture and I couldn’t; I thought the picture was just one of those things I was still too young to understand.
As I grew up, however, I learned that most other people could get information from pictures more readily than I could. At the same time, I began to understand that photographs were of greater value than just for seeing.
The summer I was eight years old, I went to the zoo with some friends. My favorite part was the elephant ride, and when I learned that photos were available, I asked our chaperon to let me buy one of myself on the elephant. The chaperone was doubtful, wondering why a blind child would want a picture. After I explained that I wanted to take it home and let my family see me riding the elephant, she agreed. At home, everyone exclaimed over the picture: my parents were proud, my sisters were envious, and I wanted a camera of my own!
In school, class pictures were a very big deal among the students. Each year almost everyone at the public school purchased packets of individual school pictures of themselves to exchange with their friends. I gave out plenty of photos and got quite a collection of pictures of my school friends, often with messages written on the backs. Junior high and high school yearbooks were filled with pictures and also were vehicles for messages. There were times at school when I felt left out or couldn’t participate in something because of issues relating to blindness, but I could always fit right in during the great picture exchange.
In college, I spent several summers abroad, and I always took along a camera so I could bring home images to share with friends and family. I tried at first to keep a list in Braille of the order of the pictures as I took them so I could explain them to people when I showed them later. But then I found a better solution: I got a very high‑quality Polaroid camera. Soon after the pictures came out of the camera, I used a slate and stylus to make Braille dymo tape labels and stick them on the bottoms of the pictures.
I now live far away from the rest of my family, and it’s nice on occasion to share photos of the people and things that are important to me now. The pictures are also a quick way to connect the people in my life with those from my past; I can say to an interested friend, “This is my sister and her new husband,” or “Here is the house where I grew up.” Recently I had a photo taken of my new kitten, scanned the picture into a computer, and sent it to my sisters via e‑mail.
Now, at gatherings of friends or on special occasions, it is instinctive for me to bring a camera and make sure that pictures get taken. Usually others take the photos, but when the need arises and the subject is not too complex, I take them myself. (It took some practice to learn to aim correctly and hold the camera straight; I’m no professional photographer, but I can usually do a decent job of getting the subject centered enough in the frame so no heads are cut off.)
I am grateful to my family for making sure early on that I participated in all the normal activities of our daily life – even the sharing of photographs, which some might have considered unnecessary (not to mention inaccessible) for a blind person. Their positive, practical attitude fostered in me the expectation that I would be treated as an equal in society, and therefore went a long way toward giving me the tools I needed to bring that expectation closer to reality.
The matter of the personalized mirror, as it turns out, was not entirely closed on that long‑ago Christmas day. When my grandmother died about four years later, I helped with the sorting of some of her belongings. I was surprised when I found, deep in one of her boxes, a small mirror, identical to the ones my sisters had received that Christmas four years ago – but with my name on it. Since I am the only Jennifer in my family, it seems fair to assume that the mirror was bought for me, and then for some reason reconsidered. Did my grandmother stop short as she wrapped our gifts and redden as she realized what she thought might be a cruel faux pas? Did someone who went shopping with her realize the “mistake” and tell her it made no sense to give a mirror to a blind child? Or did she just misplace the mirror and not find it until after Christmas? I will never know.
I do know for certain that, regardless of what made her choose a different gift for me, she acted entirely out of a wish to be kind and supportive. I am sure she never dreamed that, in buying a gift for her blind granddaughter, sticking to traditional thinking about blindness actually meant going against the grain.
Unseen Forces: What Blind People Draw
Professor’s Findings Hint at How Art
Enters the Mind
by Blake Gopnik
Reprinted from The Washington Post, Sunday, April 29, 2001.
Editor’s Note: In 1990 we published an article called, “Pictures and the Blind” (volume 9, number 1). It was a compilation of the presentations given by John M. Kennedy, Paul Gabias, and Morton A. Heller at a June 9, 1989, symposium sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore. Dr. Kennedy, as you will see from the article below, is still doing research and promoting his findings about the capacities of the blind to enjoy and create art.
I was, by the way, a participant in that early symposium, and, as a consequence, gained permission for the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children to distribute “Ideas for Art Lesson Plans,” one of the hand-outs prepared by these three researchers for the symposium. The material is still relevant, and still available free of charge. Send your request to:
Ideas for Art Lesson Plans
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
(410) 659-9314 ext. 360
I also urge readers to investigate the Art History Through Touch and Sound series developed by Art Education for the Blind (AEB) and available from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) at:
American Printing House for the Blind
1839 Frankfort Avenue
P.O. Box 6085
Louisville, Kentucky 40206-0085
(800) 2230-1839; <www.aph.org>
Tell your school that the series is available from APH under the Quota Funds system.
Also, all the Regional Libraries for the Blind and Physically Handicapped have one of the volumes from this series to make available to their patrons. Please check with your regional library and ask about the loan policy. Even if you think your child or student is too young for this material, please take a look at the program. It provides excellent examples of visual materials appropriately adapted to a tactile medium.
These, and other art education programs, may also be available through a museum near you. Over 30 museums around the country collaborate with AEB to accommodate the needs of visually impaired students.
For more information about these and other art opportunities for blind students, contact:
Nina G. Levent,
Art Education for the Blind
160 Mercer Street
New York, NY 10012
(212) 334-8721; fax: (212) 334-8714
In one of Kennedy’s early studies a woman, blind from birth, drew this picture of a horse.
Giotto was Italian. So of course was Leonardo da Vinci, Ditto, Titian, and Bernini. Italy seems to breed artistic genius. It must be something in the olive oil.
Little Gaia is Italian, too. She’s a 13-year-old from Rome who loves to draw, and her pictures may make her the next big name in changing how you think of art.
After all, Gaia can just about draw a person sitting on a chair. She can draw a crowded dresser, too. Even a sketchy wedding scene isn’t entirely beyond her reach.
All very impressive, even amazing stuff, given that Gaia is pitch blind.
But keep your shock to yourself if you run into her. “Gaia gets annoyed if anybody thinks it’s surprising that blind people can draw,” says John Kennedy, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and the world’s leading expert on pictures by the sightless. He shares Gaia’s frustration at the blinkers that most sighted people wear. “We’ve always thought of drawings as creatures of vision, locked within vision, for vision,” he says. But he’s on his way to proving pictures are so universal that they can be understood through people’s sense of touch – even by those whose whole world is known through touch and just through touch.
Pictures matter so much to human beings of every stripe and color because they communicate so well, and they communicate so well because they plug into how our minds sort out the world around us. Some of this sorting out, Kennedy believes, works pretty much the same whether you’re getting to know the world through sight or touch, and that’s why the same pictures can speak to both.
Drawing on Psychology
Kennedy’s a sprightly 58-year-old, impressively clearheaded, but also jovial and garrulous in a way that senior scholars rarely are. His special gift for drawing out a yarn has won him teaching prizes and helps spread word of his research – even in science, a drop of showmanship can give a boost to raw discovery.
During a recent lunch, a nearby diner commented on how much fun she’d had eavesdropping on his spiel; immediately, he pulled her right into it, chatting about him, about her, about the blind, about art, about his interviewer and the article that might get written. Twinkling eyes, a trim mustache, a touch of friendly roundness – you might venture “leprechaun-ish” but for fear of riling the Irish-born researcher. How suitable that he should choose a topic as cheerily improbable as pictures for the blind. Why not work on hairbrushes for the bald, or jockstraps for sportswomen, while he’s at it?
If Kennedy’s work may sound wrongheaded, it turns out it’s paying off. He recently got news that, at August’s meeting of the American Psychological Association, he’s to receive the Arnheim Award, presented each year to a scientist who has made major advances in the psychology of art. (Rudolph Arnheim is one of the field’s great pioneers. Now 96 and long retired in Ann Arbor, Michigan, he says he’s still a fan of Kennedy’s “very important” work, which he’s known since they were Harvard colleagues in the early 1970s. Full disclosure: I’m a Kennedite as well, having been invited into a research group of his a few years back as the token art historian.)
Simply showing a drawing to someone without sight, or getting someone to make one, is not such a big deal. Put a sheet of plastic on a yielding surface, then draw on it with a handy ballpoint, and you’ll make a line that any fingertip can feel. (Special kits have been invented that get the sheet and stylus and support just right, but they aren’t strictly necessary.) The surprise isn’t that the blind can feel a line, or draw one, but that they can recognize the things we sighted people use a line to show, and that the sighted also recognize the things drawn by the blind: a legible car, a snowman, a smiling face.
Gaia has been feeling pictures drawn by her mom, and drawing others in return, since about the age of three. Last year, when Kennedy came across this proudly preserved oeuvre, he was impressed with how close it came to something by a sighted child. It shows a typical progression from simple forms to more complex ones, and depicts the kind of things you might expect: Gaia’s home, the objects in it, the people all around her, even the clothes she would like to design for them – though she’s never seen a stitch of clothing in her life, but knows only what it feels like.
Once, Kennedy met up with Gaia in a museum program for the disabled. It wasn’t clear that was the place for her. “Frankly, Gaia could have joined many programs for sighted children. And many sighted children would have looked to Gaia and asked, ‘How do you draw that, Gaia?’ and Gaia would have told them.”
Kennedy has come across such things before. Gaia is no special prodigy. She’s just a precocious example of how much pictures can mean to the blind.
Kennedy tells a favorite story about the time he went to test a blind man who’d never drawn before. They start drawing after dinner, and keep at it for several hours. Come 9 o’clock, Kennedy suggests coming back to finish the next day. “Look, this is really interesting. Could you stay a little longer?” asks the sightless man. Eleven o’clock comes round. Still no stopping him. Finally, around 1 a.m., he agrees to call it quits with pictures.
“When I give them an opportunity to draw, they say, ‘I can’t do this, I’m blind,’” explains Kennedy. “I feel a bit like I’m saying, ‘Take up thy bed, and walk.’ But I’m saying, ‘Take up thy pen and draw.’ And they say, ‘Okay, I’ll try.’ And then they start, and within seconds they say, ‘I didn’t know that I could do this.’”
There’s much more to Kennedy’s research, however, than just its “neato” factor. There must be something big at stake if all of us, sightless and sighted, are so amazed that blind people can draw. We tend to think of pictures as pretty superficial stuff, eye candy that tickles at the surface of our brains. Kennedy is busy showing that images reach much deeper into the human mind.
“It’s not just that he’s making available a new resource to blind people,” says Dominic Lopes, an Oxford-trained scholar who now works on picture theory and aesthetics at the University of British Columbia. “He’s also making available a new way of seeing something that is very familiar to sighted people. We’re awash with pictures in our environment, and this helps us understand them.”
As Kennedy likes to explain it: “Vision is just a hallway in the brain to get you through to other stuff, in some mental room at the end of the corridor. And you can reach it by coming in through another corridor, which is touch…a route for the blind.” Some of our knowledge of the world is in that mental room – knowledge about how objects’ edges work, and of their surfaces, about how things recede from us in space, and how we move among them – and none of that is simply visual. It’s stuff that every human needs to flourish.
Art in a New Perspective
A blind person would be a helpless lump without a sense that there is space out there, that objects sit in it, and that you can chart a path and life among them. If drawings can capture that kind of information and present it to the eyes of the sighted, why not imagine that they can do the same for the fingers of the blind? Drawings, after all, aren’t a whole lot like the real world we see out there around us; they’re a kind of shorthand that captures certain crucial bits of it. Those bits matter to both the blind and the sighted, and so can be understood by touch as well as vision.
This overturns some cherished scientific preconceptions. When Kennedy’s research was just beginning, he had a visit at his Toronto home from James J. Gibson, a hallowed name in the psychology of vision and his mentor at Cornell. Gibson was on record insisting that blind people would never, in principle could never, come to grips with pictures. “Two hours later he left, saying, ‘Of course blind people can understand pictures. It has to be true.’”
There’s another old conceit that Kennedy has helped demolish. Some theorists have claimed that realistic pictures are strictly conventional – that they’re an arbitrary construct of our culture, like how we shape the letters of our alphabet or the rules we use to choose a shirt and tie. It’s a notion that has worthy roots: For years, scholars have tried to level the world’s artistic playing field by insisting that one nation’s art is no better than another’s. Taken to extremes, however, this movement has also tended to pooh-pooh the innovations made in European realism, describing them as random preferences imposed on the less powerful as though they were hard facts. People brought up on Western-style art come to imagine that realistic pictures are especially good at rendering the world, the argument goes, only because we’re trained to read them; we may think that they have universal meaning, but that makes us like those who imagine that a dog is naturally better suited to be patted than to be cooked, and so protest another land’s dog soup. There’s even a long-lived misconception that tribal peoples can’t read a picture when they see one for the first time – a myth that refuses to die, despite masses of evidence disproving it.
“We mustn’t go too far and say that everything in representation is utterly conventional. Because then we’ve missed the gold mine that there are universals in pictures that all cultures do have access to, whether or not people have been trained in them,” Kennedy says. His great contribution is to show that even people who have never come across a picture in their lives – never having had the sight to see one with – can understand what one’s about. For Kennedy, drawings by the blind give evidence for “a universality greater than we ever dared dream.”
British philosopher Robert Hopkins thinks that may be taking things a bit too fast. He’s an admirer of Kennedy’s research, and admits that he, too, might have launched a principled argument against the possibility of pictures by and for the blind if Kennedy hadn’t proven their existence. But he insists that we need to explore just what kind of experience blind people have when they come to feel a drawing, before we decide that it is just like the one that sighted people have. Philosophers like Hopkins struggle with what it means for a flat picture to “look like” a real thing in the world, and about the different ways our minds may process pictures vs. things. If they have to add touch into the equation, that could throw everything off track. “It’s very easy to think that a way of representing the world that we make great use of is also available to the blind,” Hopkins says, “that we see it, and they touch it, but that otherwise they’re much alike. I’m just asking that we think about this more carefully.” Even Hopkins, though, feels that the apparent similarities are striking, and may give theorists of mind like him hard evidence in which to ground their thinking about classic pictures.
After all, when Kennedy asks the blind to draw, they come up with some of the same devices invented by the first human artists painting in their caves, then perfected by the greats of Western realism.
Kennedy has shown how blind people can even use and understand the basic principles of perspective. This is his most important work, according to Hopkins, since it shows blind people clueing in to one of normal drawing’s most peculiar features – the way it can take an object like a cube with sides we see as parallel, and use converging lines to represent them.
One of Kennedy’s blind subjects, for instance, drew a table “from above,” so that only a square top was visible, since the legs were hidden underneath – even though he’d never seen the way a surface blocks our view of what’s below it, but only felt the way it blocked his touch. But when the blind man chose to draw the same table, as he said, “from underneath,” he took care to show the top, now farther away, as a small square, with its four legs angled out from its four corners, as though looming toward us. In sophisticated art-school terms, those legs were drawn converging toward a vanishing point.
This table all alone hardly competes with Leonardo’s “Last Supper.” But it and other pictures like it show an astonishing grasp of the foundations that great artists build on. They hint that the appeal of some of what those artists do – and our willingness to spend ridiculous amounts of time and money just to get the chance to witness their achievements – may be grounded in our brain’s most basic wiring.
What Cannot Be Seen
When the Spanish master Diego Velazquez painted his “Spinners” in the 1650s, it may have been the first time an artist rendered the movement of a turning wheel by leaving out its spokes, relying on a single arcing line to indicate how they whiz by. In the 1970s, a blind woman brand-new to drawing came up with almost the same device when she decided to try her hand at illustrating a fairy tale.
Which brings us to some of Kennedy’s most recent work. Now that he’s shown how universally we humans understand how lines can stand for objects and the space around them, he’s keen to show how well they also capture what cannot be seen.
One part of how art works is clearly metaphorical: We use a certain way of picturing the world to speak about our deeper feelings toward it. You might use jagged lines to communicate about something that’s hard, for instance, and flowing ones to show something that’s soft and yielding – soft in fact, or only soft in how we feel about it. When Kennedy set out to test this very metaphor, he found that all his subjects, blind or sighted, read jagged lines as “hard” and flowing ones as “soft.” Even though, as Kennedy points out, the real forms that our eyes and hands perceive are never that clear-cut: A polished river stone doesn’t have a single jagged edge, for all its hardness, and a soft maple leaf is nothing but zigzags.
Like the rest of us, those born without sight tend to do far more with pictures than just get a real-world shape across. “The blind want to use pictures to do things, like reach out to children; show humor; illustrate fairy stories; understand human relations; understand work; show someone in a picture so that it suggests caring, carrying or being comforted,” Kennedy says. It looks as if pictures can play such complex games regardless of the sense that tunes them in – it seems as though they come ready-made to do so. And once you’ve gone from pictures that give reliable information to pictures that break rules and prod below the surface of how things look or feel, you’re coming close to art.
Amazing as the drawings by the blind may be, it’s not clear that they’ve reached that level yet. But art, of course, takes time, and this is a community that’s only beginning to learn what it can do in pictures.
Kennedy is waiting for the day when Braille newsletters come copiously illustrated, for information’s sake, but also for the sake of art – “using what has been done before, and taking a step beyond it,” as he puts it. “Maybe they’re not just showing Mount Rushmore as it is. Perhaps they’ve added a fifth figure, or put in a joke…Maybe they’ll be adding Pinocchio noses to the politicians.”
The Blind Lead the Sighted:
Technology for People With Disabilities Finds a Broader Market
by Eric A. Taub
Reprinted from the New York Times, October 28, 1999.
Gregg Vanderheiden regularly washes his own clothes, but unlike most people, he never loses any socks. He is immune to that modern plague because he uses sock sorters, small plastic rings that keep each pair together in the laundry. I haven’t had a mismatched or incomplete pair in years,” Vanderheiden said.
While this minor invention seems a perfect product for a Lillian Vernon catalogue, it was actually created for and originally marketed by organizations for the blind, to help those without sight keep their matching socks together in the dresser drawer.
Sock sorters are not the
only invention that has migrated to the general population. Some of life’s more
mundane innovations, including cut‑down curbs and large‑handled
can openers, have come about as solutions for the
But so have many more sophisticated, high‑technology inventions, like computer scanners and optical character recognition software. And like many such innovations, their usefulness to the rest of society has usually been realized only over time.
When Thomas Edison filed his patent for the phonograph in 1877, he listed 10 uses for the machine. “Phonograph books, which will speak to blind people without effort on their part,” was second; music was fourth.
Closed‑captioned television, created to help the deaf, has become ubiquitous in the nation’s health clubs, allowing people to watch soap operas or news shows while they work out. Descriptive audio tracks – secondary audio programs that provide summaries of a television show to help the blind follow the action – are popular with home workers who want to keep abreast of a show’s developments but cannot always stare at the screen.
What type of person devises
such solutions for what are, for most people, life’s minor
“Football players don’t invent jar openers because they have no trouble opening jars,” said Vanderheiden, head of the University of Wisconsin’s Trace Center, which researches ways to improve access for the disabled to information and telecommunications systems. “It takes somebody who can’t live with the way the world currently is to create a new invention.”
Or somebody in love with that type of person like Pellegrino Turri. In Italy in 1808, Turri invented a machine to help his lover, the blind Countess Carolina Fantoni, write letters to him.
That typewriting device was not needed for the seeing population because upper‑class, literate people had the time to write letters, using quill pens. Writing with a quill was a difficult task for the blind, who could not know if their writing was uniform or if the quill was running out of ink.
During the early 1800’s, Turri in Italy and Ralph Wedgwood in England, working separately, each created carbon paper. Turri’s paper worked with a typewriting machine. Wedgwood’s invention, patented in 1806, allowed the blind to write without worrying about whether the pen had ink – a metal stylus could be used instead.
By 1823, carbon paper was
being marketed in the United States as a general business
Of all the disabilities, it is blindness that has led to most of the technological innovations that have later migrated to the general population.
“Blindness is often an absolute, in a way that deafness isn’t,” Vanderheiden said.
“Changing from an acoustic to a visual world is not as hard as the opposite.” Raymond C. Kurzweil, developer of the first practical optical character recognition software, said: “Blind people are early adopters. They have a much more pressing need for new technology. Even if it’s not perfected technology, it still provides a useful sensory aid.”
Kurzweil said a blind person had once explained to him that the only real handicap for blind people was their complete lack of access to print. Kurzweil used his expertise to create the Kurzweil Reading Machine, the first device that gave the blind the ability to have printed material read to them by a machine, in 1976.
The machine combined the first charge‑coupled device flatbed scanner with optical character recognition software and a text‑to‑speech voice synthesizer. The scanner transfers the printed document into the machine, the O.C.R. software translates the words into recognizable text, and the synthesizer translates that text into understandable spoken English.
The reading machine wasn’t perfect; it couldn’t recognize every word. But that was not a fatal flaw. “We didn’t need 100 percent accuracy because a human can always detect errors and make corrections in one’s own mind,” Kurzweil said.
It was the strong demand from the blind that made this product successful, Kurzweil said. “We always knew that there were commercial applications for scanners, O.C.R. and text‑to‑speech software, and that prices would eventually come down,” he said. “But if we had pursued the commercial market initially, we might not have succeeded.”
Today, text‑to‑speech software lets the blind read text on Web sites and in e-mail. But while some functions are newly accessible, the popularity of graphically rich Web sites and operating systems like Windows and Mac OS has actually reduced the ability of blind people to use a personal computer.
Microsoft, for one, understands
that in its attempts to make the Windows operating
system easier to use, it has actually made the system more difficult to use for a significant minority. To ease accessibility problems, the company has charged a staff of 40 full‑time employees with insuring that its products – from Windows to Office – can be mastered by people with physical disabilities.
Software and Web site developers
encouraged to embed hidden descriptive text in their programs so text‑to‑speech software can read the graphics to people with limited vision.
“We’re enforcing stricter requirements for those who want to use our Windows logo on software packaging,” said Luanne LaLonde, the product manager for Microsoft in the accessibility and disabilities group. “People will need to follow our accessibility rules.” Thanks to those standards, Word and Excel users can magnify their screens and increase the size of their toolbars, both features first perfected for the visually impaired. Similarly, while the ability to create customized keyboard shortcuts as substitutes for various computer commands is now taken for granted, that concept was in fact originally developed to help those with physical disabilities find keys they could easily use.
The World Wide Web Consortium has developed a set of accessibility guidelines to help the visually impaired easily read Web sites; for example, every button on a Web page should have accurate and appropriately descriptive text tags. Otherwise, clicking on a button marked Search on a site might prompt text‑to‑speech software to say only “button.”
Marti McCuller, a legally blind Web site developer, was frustrated by her difficulty in navigating through search engines. “My text‑to‑speech software let me read the various search sites,” she said, “but they often put so many links on a page it became hard to use.”
That is because the blind, even with text‑reading software, cannot glance at a page. There is no way for them to get a quick visual overview of a site’s contents and make mental notes about where it would be worthwhile clicking and exploring later. Rather, the blind must laboriously click from line to line, determining by a process of elimination where they want to go.
As a solution, Ms. McCuller created her own search engine, an amalgam of other search sites that does not force the user to move slowly around the site and wade through advertisements to find the right place to enter a query. Search words are entered at the top of the page, and appropriate links are displayed above all other material as well. Users do not need to tab through extraneous material.
The search engine has become popular with the sighted as well as the blind. “Those who can see like the fact that there are no ads getting in the way of their information,” Ms. McCuller said.
Text‑to‑speech and speech‑to‑text technologies, staple tools of the blind, have become integral parts of a new generation of software that allows consumers to retrieve their e-mail by phone, program household devices, and speak to business colleagues around the world even though they speak different languages.
The Clarion Corporation uses speech‑to‑text software originally developed by Kurzweil and licensed from the Lernout & Hauspie Corporation for Auto PC, an in‑car computer that responds to voice commands and reads e-mail and other information.
Hax.com utilizes text‑to‑speech software to give consumers the ability to hear their phone messages, e-mail, and eventually, their faxes over the telephone.
The service is popular with business people and others who are often not near a computer, said the company’s president, Gary Hickox. In the future, a customer will be able to dictate a letter over the phone and have it sent as an e-mail text message.
Lernout & Hauspie has demonstrated its new simultaneous translation system, which with just a one‑second delay allows the user to speak in English and have the words translated into another language in a grammatically correct manner with a natural‑sounding voice.
Voice‑to‑text software translates the words into machine‑readable text, which text‑to‑text software translates. Text‑to‑voice software simulates the sounds of the other language, using the company’s Real Speak speech synthesis software.
“Fifteen to 20 years from
now, voice input and output for computers could be the norm,” said Greg Lowney,
Microsoft’s director for
A restaurant filled with diners talking into their voice-activated pocket‑size devices may be the price for society’s attempt to extend the fruits of the technological revolution to all.
Catalogs from the Editor’s Bookshelf
by Barbara Cheadle, Editor,
As editor of a national publication, I get lots of unsolicited material – including lots of catalogs (that’s not a complaint, by the way, merely an observation). The list below is, literally, a list of the catalogs on my bookshelf today. The catalogs offer products that I believe readers would find useful, or would like to know about. I make no claim, however, about the reliability of the companies offering the products, quality of products, price, etc. It is not a comprehensive list of catalogs, a list of the best, or worst, or anything else. It is exactly what I have said: a list of current catalogs that have shown up in my mail basket.
Catalogs of Blindness Products
Ann Morris Enterprises,
A Catalog of Innovative Products
Dedicated to People with Vision Loss,
Volume 16, 2002
551 Hosner Mountain Road,
Stormville, New York 12582-5329
phone: (845) 227-9659 or (800) 454-3175
fax: (845) 226-2793
Web site: www.annmorris.com
AFB Press, Catalog of
2001 - 2002
American Foundation for the Blind
Customer Service, P.O. Box 1020,
Sewickley, Pennsylvania 15143
phone: (800) 232-3044; Canada and International: (412) 741-1398
fax: (412) 741-0609
Web site: www.afb.org
American Printing House,
APH Products Catalog 2002 - 2003 and
APH Catalog of Accessible Books for
People Who Are Visually Impaired or
Blind, 2000 - 2001
1839 Frankfort Avenue, P. O. Box 6085, Louisville, Kentucky 40206-0085
phone: (800) 223-1839 or (502) 895-2405
fax: (502) 899-2274
Web site: <www.aph.org>
DVS Home Video® Catalogue
P. O. Box 55742,
Indianapolis, Indiana 46205
phone: (317) 579-0439
Web site: <www.wgbh.org/dvs>
To order Braille catalogs
phone: (888) 818-1181
To order large print catalogs
phone: (888) 818-1999
To hear an audio version or other
information phone: (800) 333-1203
2001 – 2002 Catalog
20102 Woodbine Avenue,
Castro Valley, California 94546-4232
phone: (800) 549-6999 or (510) 582-4859
fax: (510) 582-5911
Web site: www.exceptionalteaching.com
Howe Press of Perkins
School for the Blind, Catalog of Products
175 North Beacon Street,
Watertown, Massachusetts 02172
phone: (617) 924-3490
fax: (617) 926-2027
Independent Living Aids,
Can-Do Products™ For Your Active Independent Life, 2001 - 2002
200 Robbins Lane,
Jericho, New York 11753
phone: (800) 537-2118
fax: (516) 752-3135
Web site: www.independentliving.com
LS&S Group 2000
– 2001 Catalog
P. O. Box 673, Northbrook, Illinois 60065
phone: (800) 468-4789 or
TTY: (800) 317-8533
Illinois: (847) 498-9777
fax: (847) 498-1482
Web site: www.lssgroup.com
The Lighthouse Catalog
F.D.R. Station, P.O. Box 5281,
New York, New York 10150-5281
phone: (800) 829-0500
Web site: www.lighthouse.org
National Braille Press
Under Construction, Back to School
Braille Backpack 2002 and Catalog of
88 St. Stephen Street,
Boston, Massachusetts 02115
phone: (617) 266-6160 or (800) 548-7323
fax: (617) 437-0456
Web site: www.nbp.org
National Federation of the Blind
Aids & Appliances Descriptive
1800 Johnson Street,
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
phone: (410) 659-9314
fax: (410) 685-5653
Web site: www.nfb.org
Recording for the Blind
Tools for Success: Catalog of Products 2001 – 2002,
Att: Customer Service, 20 Roszel Road,
Princeton, New Jersey 08540
phone: (800) 221-4792
fax: (609) 987-8116
Web site: www.rfbd.org
Vision Resources, Vision Aids
P.O. Box 888,
Southeastern, Pennsylvania 19399
phone: (800) 888-7400
fax: (610) 296-0488
Seedlings Braille Books
for Children, 2002 Catalog
P. O. Box 51924,
Livonia, Michigan 48151-5924
phone: (800) 777-8552
fax: (734) 427-8552
Web site: www.seedlings.org
Texas School for the Blind
Publications, January 1999
1100 West 45th Street,
Austin, Texas 78756-3494
phone: (512) 206-9215 or (512) 206-9240
fax: (512) 206-9452
Web site: www.tsbvi.edu
Catalogs of Special Education and Disability Products
Crestwood Company, Communication
Aids for Children & Adults, Crestwood Catalog 2001 - 02
6625 North Sidney Place,
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53209-3259
phone: (414) 352-5678
fax: (414) 352-5679
Web site: www.communicationaids.com
IntelliTools® Learning Technology for Special Education, Fall 2000 Catalog
1720 Corporate Circle,
Petaluna, California 94954
phone: (707) 773-2000 or (800) 899-6687
fax: (707) 773-2001
Web site: www.intellitools.com
Pacer Center, Inc,
Catalog of Publications 2001
8161 Normandale Blvd.,
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55437-1044
phone: (952) 838-9000;
MN only: (800) 537-2237;
(888) 248-0822; TTY: (952) 838-0190
fax: (952) 838-0199
Web site: www.pacer.org
TASH International Inc.
Real People – Real Solutions (catalog of products)
3512 Mayland Court,
Richmond, Virginia 23233
phone (North America): (800) 463-5685
phone (VA only): (804) 747-5020
fax: (804) 747-5224
Web site: www.tashinc.com
Technology for Education,
Assistive Technology for Special Needs and General Learning, Catalog 2002
1870 50th Street East, Suite 7
Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota 55077
phone: (800) 370-0047 or (651) 457-1917
fax: (651) 457-3534
Web site: www.tfeinc.com
Education Catalog, Fall 2001
One Franklin Plaza,
Burlington, New Jersey 08016-4907
phone: (800) 266-5626
fax: (609) 239-5950
Web site: www.franklin.com
Speak To Me!
330 S.W. 43rd Street, Suite 154,
Renton, Washington 98055
phone: (800) 248-9965
Web site: www.SpeakToMeCatalog.com
Recorded Books, LCC
Winter, 2002, Elementary School
Complete and Unabridged Audiobooks for a Multisensory Approach to Reading
270 Skipjack Road
Prince Frederick, Maryland 20678
phone: (800) 638-1304
fax: (410) 535-5499
Web site: www.recordedbooks.com
and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC)
The IBTC is a comprehensive evaluation, demonstration, and training technology center which contains over $2 million worth of speech and Braille technology.
Established in 1990 on the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the National Federation of the Blind, the IBTC is located at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore, Maryland.
IBTC serves as a
nerve center and laboratory to:
Stimulate the use and development of
technology for the blind,
Ť facilitate comparative evaluation of state-of-the-art technological devices,
operate a test site for innovative
Ť function as a hands-on training center for blind individuals and other interested persons and groups.
Who wants to spend thousands
of dollars for equipment when one has never had the
opportunity to see it in operation, to talk to someone who has used it, to compare it to other similar devices, to know something of its reliability and durability, or to determine its capacity to meet real-life, on-the-job, or personal needs in a practical way?
No one does, of course. Yet, this has often been the only option available to would-be purchasers of specialized access technology for the blind. Unlike their sighted counterparts, blind people are not able to purchase equipment that is accessible to them at their local computer stores. The companies producing Braille and speech access devices for computers tend to be small firms which do not have local outlets. At best it has been possible to get hands-on experience with only a few devices, and even then, under circumstances making true comparative evaluations virtually impossible. The IBTC meets this unmet need.
Who can benefit from the IBTC?
Ť Blind persons
Ť Information technology, rehabilitation, and other professionals
Ť Vendors of technology
Ť Family members
Ť Members of the public
Ť State and federal government technology professionals
Personal and Telephone
Experienced staff of the IBTC are available to answer questions about all manner of assistive technology for the blind, either in person or over the telephone. We welcome your questions.
How to Reach Us:
Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
Phone: (410) 659-9314
Fax: (410) 685-5653
The National Federation of the Blind Magazine for Parents of Blind Children
1800 Johnson Street * Baltimore, Maryland 21230
(410) 659-9314 * www.nfb.org * email@example.com
Date: ________________________Phone number(s):________________________________
Name of child:_________________________________________Birth date:_____________
[ ] Parent [ ]Teacher [ ]Other_____________________________________
Subscription. I understand this inludes a family membership in the National
Organization of Parents of Blind Children
[ ]$15.00 Non-member subscription
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