Travel Tales

Volume 1, Issue 4

Happenings with Whozit

This year Santa has once again enlisted help from his elves at the NFB Jernigan Institute to ensure that blind boys and girls around the country receive Braille Letters from Santa. In addition to a letter, children will also receive a couple of Santa’s favorite recipes and a tactile coloring page, as well as a couple of other surprises. To have Santa send your child a letter, get signed up here!

In addition to helping Santa get out Braille letters, the NFBJI staff continues to work to ensure that blind students receive a quality education, which includes access to technology that they can use. Recently, began a big push to get their Kindle eBook readers and associated eBooks into K-12 schools across the United States. In addition, has also created a system that will allow teachers and administrators to push Kindle content to non-Kindle devices. The issue with this technology is that neither the Kindle, the eBooks associated with the Kindle, nor any of the devices this material can be pushed to are accessible to blind or other disabled students. Federal law mandates that school districts must not purchase or issue technology that is not accessible. For Amazon to be within the confines of the law, they must either make their technology accessible or stop campaigning for schools to use them in the classroom. As part of our efforts to ensure that these technologies are made accessible, or never find their way into the classroom, the NFB will be holding an informational protest outside of the headquarters in Seattle, on December 12. As part of this protest, Santa will be delivering a bag of letters to Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO. These letters written by parents of blind children and blind children themselves will explain why this inaccessible technology is so detrimental to students who are blind or otherwise disabled. If you have any questions about this effort, please contact Chris Danielson, the NFB’s Director of Public Relations by calling (410) 659-9314 ext. 2330, or by sending an email to [email protected].

December not only brings the end of the calendar year, but it also brings the end of the first year of NFB Early Explorers. In order for us to better serve program participants next year, would you please take a few minutes to fill out our Program Post Evaluation?

Have you moved since registering for the NFB Early Explorers Program? Has your child’s cane gotten a little too short for them? No worries, we have a simple solution. To update your contact information and/or request that a new cane be sent to your child, simply fill out the form we have created especially for this purpose. Please note you are only eligible to receive a new cane every six-months. If it has not yet been six-months, you need not worry as this form will be available from now on.

Ask the Experts

This section of Travel Tales is dedicated to answering your questions about blindness, independent movement, and cane travel. Send your questions to [email protected] and be watching future issues of Travel Tales for the answers.

Question: Is it necessary for my child to use a pre-cane?

This question is answered by Joe Cutter, a cane travel teacher who developed the child-centered approach to teaching children how to travel with a cane. In The Need for Pre-Canes Fact or Fancy, an article that first appeared in the Fall 2001 issue of Future Reflections, Mr. Cutter explains why pre-canes are unnecessary and actually more complicated to use than a cane.

Yes, Dominique, Blind People Can Pick-out and Cut Down a Christmas Tree!

As you prepare for the upcoming holidays, there will be many opportunities for your blind child to explore and new activities to take part in. One of these activities might include helping to pick-out and cut down the family Christmas tree. In the below article, Dominique Lawless, a graduate student at Louisiana Tech University shares her experiences learning how to accomplish this task as a blind person:

Some of my fondest memories as a child happened once a year after Thanksgiving and well before Christmas. I lived in upstate New York from the age of three to the age of thirteen. Every year my mom and aunt would bundle my brother, cousins, and me up and we would go to a Christmas tree farm to cut down a tree. I was unusually small for a child of my age, but I remember leading my cousins through banks of snow in my pink snow suit while the grown-ups looked for the perfect tree. When the trees were found, we’d all stand back and watch while my uncle would cut them with the hand saw. After that, we carried our tree through the snow to the waiting hay wagons and rode back to the parking lot and check out area. When the trees were secured to the roof of the van we’d all pile in and head to Dunkin Donuts for some munchkins and hot chocolate. 

I was always fascinated by the process of selecting the perfect tree, cutting it down, and setting it up. As a child, the question of how to do this as a blind person never entered my mind. Why would it? I was having a blast with my family. But as I grew older, I began to ponder this issue. How would I cut down my own tree? How could I make these memories with my future children? There had to be some way for me to successfully select a tree and cut it down as a blind person.

In 2010 I was a student at the Louisiana Center for the blind in Ruston, Louisiana. At this training center we did much more than learn Braille, cane travel, and daily living skills. We went white water rafting in Tennessee, rock climbing in Arkansas, and experienced Mardi Gras in New Orleans. While all of these activities were fun, they also doubled as confidence building exercises to prove that we could do an array of things as blind people. 

One morning we were told that we’d be taking an afternoon trip to a tree farm where we’d select three Christmas trees for the Center. I was thrilled. I’d been living in Tennessee for about ten years and hadn’t gone Christmas tree cutting since I was little. Even though it was sixty-five degrees outside and there was no sign of snow, it was still an amazing experience. The staff and students all walked around with their canes and sleepshades looking for trees. I did the same but was initially a little confused. I didn’t know what made a Christmas tree “good”. Even though I had memories of picking out trees, I never knew the specifics of how to choose one. I pulled aside one of the travel instructors and asked him to give me a quick lesson on tree hunting. He told me to loosely hug the tree I found and check for large gaps in the branches. If the tree felt full and not scraggly, then it was probably a good tree. 

I set to work feeling trees and looking for gaps. I found a few that might have worked but when I looked a little more, they proved to only be mediocre. Finally, after about fifteen minutes of searching, I found a good tree. I stood by my tree like I was instructed and waited for my teacher to come and tell me if my tree passed inspection. As it turns out, one of the trees I found was used as a Christmas tree in the Louisiana Center for the Blind. I even got to use the hand saw and cut through it a bit before giving someone else a turn. 

Cutting down a tree might seem insignificant to some, but for me it was a remarkable experience. I was even able to carry the smallest of the three trees from the van up to the dining room in the Center by myself. I have always self-identified as a blind person, even when the “professionals” told me otherwise. I have also participated in events that the same professionals would tell me were too dangerous. I think cutting down a tree definitely qualifies as one of those events. It is an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I now realize that when I become a parent and want to take my children Christmas tree chopping with my cousins and their children, I won’t have to stand aside, afraid of getting hurt. I can be a role model for all of my family members just by chopping down a tree. 

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