by Meleah Jensen
The winter quarter accessible bulletin board at the NFBJI celebrates the launch of a new Jernigan Institute education program, Early Explorers. This program introduces blind children (birth to seven) and their families to the long white cane.
The board is lined with canary yellow paper. Each of the four edges has a handcrafted border of toddler-sized shoe prints made of red, yellow, and purple foam. In the center of the board are the words “Early Explorers” in black and white letters, arching over the centerpiece, a globe made of a round blue plastic sled with a twenty-four-inch diameter. The convex side of the sled protrudes four inches from the board. Green foam continents are glued to it. Beneath the sled in black and white letters are the words “Finding Our Way in the World.”
On the top left side of the board is text about the Early Explorers program. Midway down the board on the left side is a photo of a little girl and her father using white canes that is described in Braille. The bottom left has two tactile Whozits, one twelve inches, the other about seven inches tall, constructed from foam in the Whozit colors: yellow crescent-shaped head, red arm, purple torso, blue leg, and white cane. To the right side of the sled/globe are five matted photos of young children exploring the world with their canes. These are described in Braille. Towards the bottom right of the sled is an enlarged replica of a Braille compass.
From the Editor: Meleah Jensen is an education program assistant in the NFB’s Jernigan Institute. In the following article she describes a brand new JI program and invites us all to spread the word about it to the families of young blind children. This is what she says:
A cane was put in my hand for the first time when I was sixteen. I was at a student seminar sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana. I carried the cane with me and used it for the remainder of the weekend. However, when it was time to go home, I gave it back because no way was I going to show up at school carrying a cane. Canes were for blind people, and at that time I did not consider myself to be blind. It would take another three years, many a frustrating situation, and six months as a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind before I would realize the benefits of using a cane. Although I know it does no good to ask, “What if?” I wonder how different my life might have been had I had a cane in my hand starting at sixteen months instead of sixteen years.
Unfortunately, I am not an anomaly. My story is one that many Federationists could tell. Stories like mine are why earlier this winter, the NFB Jernigan Institute launched the NFB Early Explorers program designed to introduce young blind and low-vision children from birth to age seven to the long white cane. In addition, through this program we want to give parents of blind or low-vision children the knowledge, tools, and confidence necessary to become their child’s first travel teacher. Dr. Fredric Schroeder, a researcher and the first blind person to earn a master’s degree in cane travel, once said, “One of the most fundamental parts of a blind child's training is the development of independent travel skills. Without these skills the blind child is placed in a position of dependency on others for inclusion in daily activities.” Simply put, having a cane allows blind or low-vision children to explore and have the same experiences as their sighted peers.
Families participating in the NFB Early Explorers program will receive several resources to help them as they step into the role of first travel teacher. These resources include Independent Movement and Travel in Blind Children: A Promotion Model by Joe Cutter. Longtime readers of Future Reflections are no strangers to Joe Cutter, or his work in the field of cane travel. In this book he discusses the role of parents in their blind child’s learning to move and ultimately to travel with a cane. Cutter says, “It begins when the expectant mother introduces her baby to movement in utero. Whenever the mother sits, stands, turns, or walks, the child inside her experiences movement. Once the baby is born, the mother and father become attached to their child through touch—through holding, carrying, and playing with their baby. The joyous world of movement has begun, and it is the parents who are the first, the primary educators of their child.”
Families participating in the NFB Early Explorers Program will also receive a welcome packet containing an informational DVD, a child-sized white cane, and a copy of Cane Travel and Independence, a special issue of Future Reflections. The informational DVD is approximately twenty minutes long and includes advice from professionals in the blindness field on knowing if your child’s behavior is age appropriate, selecting the best cane, and so on. You will also hear from blind children of various ages telling you in their own words why they use a cane. Of course a video of this type would be incomplete without comments from experienced parents like this one from Carlton Cook Walker of Pennsylvania, who serves as second vice president of the NFB’s National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. She says, “Anna is a wonderful child, and she deserves the right to be a child. She deserves the right to run down a sidewalk and skin her knee. She deserves the right to climb up a rock hill and scrape her belly (which she’s done).… She deserves to be like every other kid in her school, and her cane ensures that she can.”
Our support will not end once we have sent your welcome packet. Each quarter you will receive an issue of Travel Tales, our e-newsletter. Travel Tales will be filled with practical tips and information that you can use to help your blind child learn to navigate the environment using the long white cane. The first issue is already in the works and will include tips for turning a trip to the grocery store into a teachable moment for your blind child and successfully traveling through snow using a cane. Families and educators will have the opportunity to write in and ask questions about cane travel or blindness in general. Don’t be shy. We want to answer your questions, no matter what they are.
To learn more about the NFB Early Explorers program or to register, visit
<www.nfb.org/earlyexplorers>, email <[email protected]>, or call (410) 659-9314, extension 2418. Help us spread the word about the importance of early movement for young blind children by telling the parents and families you encounter about the NFB Early Explorers program.