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by Kim Bosshart
Editor's Note: What happens when a teacher of the blind teams up with the National Federation of the Blind in her community? That is what teacher Kim Bosshart of Fremont, Nebraska, decided to find out. First, she decided to attend the 1988 National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Chicago, Illinois. Then...but Ms. Bosshart really tells it better herself. Here is a letter and an article she recently sent to me. It is a wonderful testimony as to what can happen when a teacher decides to "use her best resource."
230 Beaumont Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21228
I know we only met briefly at national convention, but I am looking forward to talking with you in the future. Barbara Walker and others I have met speak so highly of you. I have heard through several sources that you were having great difficulty getting the services you wanted for your son. I do hope all has worked out for the best. I know that sometimes as parents we have to reach down inside for every last bit of strength to continue fighting for the rights of our children, But in the end it usually pays off.
I would like to personally thank you for sending all the back issues of Future Reflections. I have already spent many enjoyable nights reading. I just don't ever seem to get enough; the more I know, the more I don't know.
Barbara Walker said that you might be interested in an article about some of the things that have been going on in Fremont. I have tried to put together an article for you, but please bear in mind, I am a teacher, not an author. Please feel free to edit this as you wish. As you can tell from the article it has been an exciting year. I also learned so much at convention. Barbara said we need to be aware of those people who have never been here before in case they become overwhelmed. Of course, I thought and snickered to myself. Little did I know that that person would turn out to be me. It took me a solid week just to get over the physical trauma, and the emotional experience will remain with me for a lifetime. I am excited more than ever to be establishing a program for visually impaired students in Fremont, especially since I have so much wonderful backing from all my newfound friends in the NFB. I am looking forward to our community workshop in March. I am anticipating a good turnout. I hope you find your new year a good one. I'm looking forward to talking with you at convention this summer. The time will be here before you know it!
Sincerely, Kim Bosshart
by Kim Bosshart
Educating blind students, their parents, school staff and the community about blindness can be an overwhelming mission. That is why I have relied on the most valuable resources available to me, blind people themselves.
One very pleasurable activity I have implemented as part of my curriculum has been inviting blind individuals to visit school with me for a day. I have been doing this once a month this year.
The students spend time talking and getting to know the blind person. Oftentimes, I will make a request that the guest zero in on a certain topic.
For example, if the student is having trouble accepting a cane or using it properly, I request that the blind person talk about his own personal experiences and the benefits he has derived through using a cane.
Such tactics have been used successfully in other areas such as Braille, social skills, dating, and career exploration.
The students always look forward to the visit. Not only do they benefit, but so do all the other students and teachers in the school system who see blind people competently traveling about the school.
The following are some comments from students and teachers about the visits:
My visually impaired student had a hard time admitting that he had an impairment. He refused to work with a cane and walked with his head down. After being introduced to other visually impaired people and observing how proud and happy they were to be using a cane, he has also accepted the cane. My class has benefitted greatly from visually impaired people visiting with us. It is an excellent opportunity for them to learn about specialized equipment and aids that are available for visually impaired people. It also helped them realize that there are always ways to deal with problems. --Joan Everett, Resource Teacher
I am Kristen Holmer, and I go to Fremont Jr. High. I feel the blind people I've met have helped me to be more comfortable about my blindness. They shared many feelings with me. I especially enjoyed relating to one specific person whose family had gone through the same things my family went through. His family felt uneasy with the idea of his using a cane, even though he had a good idea what the cane could do for him. I also felt the same way and was afraid to share my feelings with others about using a cane. The blind people I talked with have helped me feel more at ease about using my cane and showing others how it is used. They also helped me realize that it is very important to acquire good cane travel skills so I can get around wherever I want to go. I found it interesting to learn how they handled their bank accounts and recordkeeping. I have learned a lot, and I'm glad I have the opportunity to meet other blind people. --Kristen Holmer, Student
Another attempt was made to educate the school staff and parents about the abilities of blind people by hosting a workshop. A panel of five blind people answered many questions, first for school staff after school and later in the evening for parents. The following are some responses from teachers/parents who attended the workshop.
Recently I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion consisting of five visually impaired adults and young adults. I was most impressed with the positive outlook each person had and their individual ways of overcoming obstacles and misconceptions. I would like to see future discussions be available to the public as well as parents of visually impaired. -- Carole Strunk, Parent
The panel of blind persons has enabled me to grow enormously in the area of personal understanding of the emotions of blind persons. Each person related how they became blind and how they dealt with becoming blind. They discussed where they were at, at the present time in their acceptance of blindness. Each of us secretly is afraid of a handicap --and especially blindness, and then to have someone talk about it actually happening! It brings out a lot of emotion! The panel talked about their abilities as a blind person, what they expected from other people, and what other people should expect from them. Most people are quite ignorant about blindness, and many have preconceived ideas about it. Most of our attitudes about blindness are not even in our consciousness, and made me feel quite ignorant. Most of us are not around successful blind persons to see that they can do the same things that you and I do every day. Another thing that impressed me was the sense of humor they held. This sense of humor put me at ease. They were joking about the things I felt really uncomfortable with and didn't know how to react to in some cases. A blind person who is comfortable with himself is the example that should be introduced to blind students. They seldom, themselves, come into contact with blind persons. The panel made me realize that whether you are sighted or unsighted, it's your attitude that is going to get you through life. Your attitude is what really counts, what you will become, how happy you will be, and what kind of relationships you make with other people --Mary Herkenrath, Para Professional
I attended a conference in which five blind people spoke about how they handled being blind. I was quite impressed with them--not just because they could do the same things I can do, but with their confidence and general outlook on life. Until the last two years, I had never come into contact with anyone who is blind before. I just thought that blind people were kept apart in some "home" somewhere for their protection. Now that I've had two blind students and had the opportunity to hear the five blind adults in the conference, my attitude has changed. 'Hey, these are people just like me,' was my reaction. Before I was very uncertain about mainstreaming blind people into 'normal' society; now, I think it is a rnust and people like myself should be educated in advance for it. --Rich Hirschman, Teacher
After attending a panel discussion with blind individuals, I gained a great understanding of the normalcy of a blind person. After meeting and talking with the panel, I would and do feel confident and comfortable interacting with a blind person. I also know that it is good to keep my high expectations for the blind student I have in my classroom. --Paula Price, Special Education Teacher
From the positive responses we received, we are now planning a largescale community workshop. Plans are underway to present this workshop in March of 1989.
In my opinion, it is a real injustice nol to bring blind persons together to share emotions, experiences, attitudes and goals. Knowing someone else is having the same feelings and/or problems can make or break the attitude of a blind child growing into adulthood. They deserve the best. Most blind persons are very willing to share with all of us.
So many of us have gained so much from the guests who have visited the Fremont Public Schools. So utilize your resources and please make it a point to have your students/children meet other blind children and adults. It is a wise investment for their future.
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