38, No. 3
Barbara Pierce, Editor
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NATIONAL FEDERATION OF
THE BLIND IS NOT
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 38, No. 3 March 1995
BLINDNESS: HANDICAP OR CHARACTERISTIC
by Kenneth Jernigan
MORE DEVELOPMENTS AT THE
ARKANSAS SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND
by Barbara Pierce
PARENTS: BLIND CHILDREN'S
FIRST MOBILITY TEACHERS
by Joe Cutter
FIGHTING FOR THE RIGHT TO
by Charles Allen
AND EVERYBODY LOSES: A HARD
LESSON ABOUT DISCRIMINATION
by Corally Littrell
AGING AND BLINDNESS: THE
by Mary Ellen Gabias
OF READERS, DRIVERS, AND
by Peggy Pinder Elliott and Barbara Cheadle
SKILLS FIRST: TEACHER SAYS
ADA CAN'T CREATE JOBS
by Bill Guida
FOCUS ON A LEADER: TOMMY
by Elizabeth Campbell
by Steve Benson
Copyright 1995 National Federation of the Blind
[LEAD PHOTO: Caption: March 31 is the application deadline for the 1995 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Contest. The NFB Board of Directors recently decided to increase the size of many of the awards to be presented at the banquet in Chicago on Thursday, July 6. As a result this year we will present twenty-two $3,000, three $4,000, and one $10,000 scholarships. Application forms are available from the Materials Center at the National Center for the Blind. Pictured here are four recent $10,000 scholarship winners.]
[LEAD #1: Portrait CAPTION: Chris Boone,
1994 scholarship winner]
[LEAD #2: Portrait CAPTION: Mildred Rivera, J.D., 1988 scholarship winner]
[LEAD #3: Portrait CAPTION: Dr. Robert Greenberg, 1986 scholarship winner]
[LEAD #4: Portrait CAPTION: Pam Dubel, 1991 scholarship winner]
[PHOTO #1: Kenneth Jernigan stands at the podium reading Braille. CAPTION: Kenneth Jernigan reads Braille in the Assembly Room at the Iowa Commission for the Blind in 1975.]
HANDICAP OR CHARACTERISTIC
by Kenneth Jernigan
From the Editor Emeritus: The first
formal presentation of "Blindness--Handicap or Characteristic" was
when I gave it as the banquet speech at the 1963 convention of the National
Federation of the Blind in Philadelphia. However, I had been developing the
ideas embodied in it for more than a decade, using them in classes at the Tennessee
School for the Blind and later at the California and Iowa orientation centers.
After the Philadelphia convention I made a few revisions and gave the speech again in Albuquerque--in either 1963 or 1964. I don't remember which. In any case it was at a district meeting of Governors' Committees on Employment of the Handicapped for a number of southwestern states. The version presented at that time is the one we have used ever since, and I think it is fair to say that it has been (and still is) regarded as a cornerstone of our philosophy. It has probably been the subject of more attacks than most documents we have ever issued, and it has also been, according to many Federationists, a great help to them in forming their ideas about what blindness is and what it isn't.
I think I haven't revised "Blindness: Handicap or Characteristic" for at least three decades, nor do I think it needs much revising now. It still represents the basic core of what I believe about blindness. It occurs to me, however, that a number of newer Federationists may not be familiar with this germinal document, so I thought it might be well to print it again in the Monitor.
When I wrote it, I was Director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind, and I have left it that way. Even so, a certain amount of superficial changing has been done. Here and there I have given a nod to political correctness, and I have done some jumping backward and forward in time. This leaves a few rough edges, but the body of the document is left intact. So here, with the exceptions I have mentioned, is "Blindness: Handicap or Characteristic" as I wrote it over thirty years ago:
It has been wisely observed that philosophy
bakes no bread. It has, with equal wisdom, been observed that without a philosophy
no bread is baked. Let me talk to you then about philosophy--my philosophy about
blindness--and, in a broader sense, my philosophy concerning handicaps in general.
One prominent authority recently said, "Loss of sight is a dying. When, in the full current of his sighted life, blindness comes on a man, it is the end, the death, of that sighted life...It is superficial, if not naive, to think of blindness as a blow to the eyes only, to sight only. It is a destructive blow to the self-image of a man...a blow almost to his being itself!"
This is one view, a view held by a substantial number of people in the world today. But it is not the only view. In my opinion it is not the correct view. What is blindness? Is it a "dying"?
No one is likely to disagree with me
if I say that blindness, first of all, is a characteristic. But a great many
people will disagree when I go on to say that blindness is only a characteristic.
It is nothing more or less than that. It is nothing more special, more peculiar,
or more terrible than that suggests. When we understand the nature of blindness
as a characteristic--a normal characteristic like hundreds of others with which
each of us must live--we shall better understand the real needs to be met by
agencies serving the blind, as well as the false needs which should not be met.
By definition a characteristic--any characteristic--is a limitation. A white house, for example, is a limited house; it cannot be green or blue or red; it is limited to being white. Likewise every characteristic--those we regard as strengths as well as those we regard as weaknesses--is a limitation. Each one freezes us to some extent into a mold; each restricts to some degree the range of possibility, of flexibility, and very often of opportunity as well. Blindness is such a limitation. Are blind people more limited than others?
Let us make a simple comparison. Take a sighted person with an average mind (something not too hard to locate); take a blind person with a superior mind (something not impossible to locate)--and then make all the other characteristics of these two exactly equal (something which certainly is impossible). Now, which of the two is more limited? It depends, of course, on what you want them to do. If you are choosing up sides for baseball, then the blind person is more limited--that is, he or she is "handicapped." If you are hunting somebody to teach history or science or to figure out your income tax, the sighted person is more limited or "handicapped."
Many human characteristics are obvious limitations; others are not so obvious. Poverty (the lack of material means) is one of the most obvious. Ignorance (the lack of knowledge or education) is another. Old age (the lack of youth and vigor) is yet another. Blindness (the lack of eyesight) is still another. In all these cases the limitations are apparent, or seem to be. But let us look at some other common characteristics which do not seem limiting. Take the very opposite of old age--youth. Is age a limitation in the case of a youth of twenty? Indeed it is, for a person who is twenty will not be considered for most responsible positions, especially supervisory or leadership positions. He or she may be entirely mature, fully capable, in every way the best qualified applicant for the job. Even so, age will bar the person from employment. He or she will be classified as too green and immature to handle the responsibility. And even if the person were to land the position, others on the job would almost certainly resent being supervised by one so young. The characteristic of being twenty is definitely a limitation.
The same holds true for any other age. Take age fifty, which many regard as the prime of life. The person of fifty does not have the physical vigor he or she had at twenty; and, indeed, most companies (despite recent legislation to the contrary) will not start a new employee at that age. When I first wrote those words in the 1960's, the Bell Telephone System (yes, it was the Bell System at that time) had a general prohibition against hiring anybody over the age of thirty-five. But it is interesting to note that the United States Constitution has a prohibition against having anybody under thirty-five run for President. The moral is plain: any age carries its built-in limitations.
Let us take another unlikely handicap--not that of ignorance, but its exact opposite. Can it be said that education is ever a handicap? The answer is definitely yes. In the agency which I headed (I was director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind from 1958 to 1978) I would not have hired Albert Einstein under any circumstances if he had been alive and available. His fame (other people would have continually flocked to the agency and prevented us from doing our work) and his intelligence (he would have been bored to madness by the routine of most of our jobs) would both have been too severe as limitations.
Here is an actual case in point. When I was Director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind, a vacancy occurred on the library staff. Someone was needed to perform certain clerical duties and take charge of shelving and checking books. After all applicants had been screened, the final choice came down to two. Applicant A had a college degree, was seemingly alert, and clearly had more than average intelligence. Applicant B had a high school diploma (no college), was of average intelligence, and possessed only moderate initiative. I hired applicant B. Why? Because I suspected that applicant A would regard the work as beneath him, would soon become bored with its undemanding assignments, and would leave as soon as something better came along. I would then have to find and train another employee. On the other hand, I felt that applicant B would consider the work interesting and even challenging, that he was thoroughly capable of handling the job, and that he would be not only an excellent but also a permanent employee. In fact, he worked out extremely well.
In other words, in that situation the characteristic of education--the possession of a college degree--was a limitation and a handicap. Even above-average intelligence was a limitation, and so was a high level of initiative. There is a familiar bureaucratic label for this unusual disadvantage: it is the term "overqualified."
This should be enough to make the point--which is that if blindness is a limitation (and, indeed, it is), it is so in quite the same way as innumerable other characteristics to which human flesh is heir. I believe that blindness has no more importance than any of a hundred other characteristics and that the average blind person is able to perform the average job in the average place of business, and do it as effectively as the average sighted person similarly situated. The above average can compete with the above average, the average with the average, and the below average with the below average--provided (and it is a large proviso) that he or she is given training and opportunity.
Often when I have advanced this proposition, I have been met with the response, "But you can't look at it that way. Just consider what you might have done if you had been sighted and still had all the other capacities you now possess."
"Not so," I reply. "We do not compete against what we might have been, but only against other people as they now are, with their combination of strengths and weaknesses, handicaps and limitations." If we are going down that track, why not ask me what I might have done if I had been born with Rockefeller's money, the brains of Einstein, the physique of the young Joe Louis, and the persuasive abilities of Franklin Roosevelt? (And do I need to remind anyone, in passing, that FDR was severely handicapped physically?) I wonder if anyone ever said to him:
"Mr. President, just consider what you might have done if you had not had polio!"
Others have said to me, "But I formerly had sight, so I know what I am missing."
To which I might reply, "And I was formerly twenty, so I know what I am missing." Does this mean that I should spend my time grieving for the past. Or alternatively should I deal with my current situation, sizing up its possibilities and problems and turning them to my advantage? Our characteristics are constantly changing, and we are forever acquiring new experiences, limitations, and assets. We do not compete against what we formerly were but against other people as they now are.
In a recent issue of a well-known professional journal in the field of work with the blind, a blinded veteran, who is now a college professor, puts forward a notion of blindness radically different from this. He sets the limitations of blindness apart from all others and makes them unique. Having done this, he can say that all other human characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses belong in one category--and that with regard to them the blind and the sighted are just about equal. But the blind person also has the additional and unique limitation of blindness. Therefore, there is really nothing the blind person can do quite as well as the sighted person, and he or she can continue to hold his or her job only because there are charity and goodness in the world.
What this blind professor does not observe is that the same distinction he makes regarding blindness could be made with equal plausibility with respect to any of a dozen--perhaps a hundred-- other characteristics. For example, suppose we distinguish intelligence from all other traits as uniquely different. Then the person with above 125 IQ is just about the same as the person with below 125 IQ--except for intelligence. Therefore, the college professor with less than 125 IQ cannot really do anything as well as the person with more than 125 IQ--and can continue to hold his or her job only because there are charity and goodness in the world.
"Are we going to assume," says this blind professor, "that all blind people are so wonderful in all other areas that they easily make up for any limitations imposed by loss of sight? I think not." But why, I ask, should we single out the particular characteristic of blindness? We might just as well specify some other. For instance, are we going to assume that all people with less than 125 IQ are so wonderful in all other areas that they easily make up for any limitations imposed by lack of intelligence? I think not.
This consideration brings us to the problem of terminology and semantics--and therewith to the heart of the matter of blindness as a handicap. The assumption that the limitation of blindness is so much more severe than others that it warrants being singled out for special definition is built into the very warp and woof of our language and psychology. Blindness conjures up a condition of unrelieved disaster--something much more terrible and dramatic than other limitations. Moreover, blindness is a conspicuously visible limitation, and there are not so many blind people around that there is any danger that the rest of the population will become accustomed to it or take it for granted. If all of those in our midst who possess an IQ under 125 exhibited, say, green stripes on their faces, I suspect that they would begin to be regarded as inferior to the non-striped--and that there would be immediate and tremendous discrimination.
When someone says to a blind person, "You do things so well that I forget you are blind--I simply think of you as being like anybody else," is that really a compliment? Suppose one of us went to France, and someone said: "You do things so well that I forget you are an American and simply think of you as being like anyone else." Would it be a compliment? Of course, the blind person should not wear a chip on the shoulder or allow himself or herself to become angry or emotionally upset. The blind person should be courteous and should accept the statement as the compliment it is meant to be. But the blind person should also understand that it is really not complimentary. In reality it says: "It is normal for blind people to be inferior and limited, different and much less able than the rest of us. Of course, you are still a blind person and still much more limited than I, but you have compensated for it so well that I almost forget that you are my inferior."
The social attitudes about blindness are all-pervasive. Not only do they affect the sighted but the blind as well. This is one of the most troublesome problems which we have to face. Public attitudes about the blind too often become the attitudes of the blind. The blind tend to see themselves as others see them. They too often accept the public view of their limitations and thus do much to make those limitations a reality.
Several years ago Dr. Jacob Freid (at that time a young teacher of sociology and later head of the Jewish Braille Institute of America) performed an interesting experiment. He gave a test in photograph identification to black and white students at the university where he was teaching. There was one photograph of a black woman in a living room of a home of culture--well furnished with paintings, sculpture, books, and flowers. Asked to identify the person in the photograph, the students said she was a "cleaning woman," "housekeeper," "cook," "laundress," "servant," "domestic," or "nanny." The revealing insight is that the black students made the same identification as the white students. The woman was Mary McLeod Bethune, one of the most famous black women of her time, founder and president of Bethune-Cookman College, who held a top post during Franklin Roosevelt's administration, and a person of brilliance and prestige in the world of higher education. What this incident tells us is that education, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and that when members of a minority group do not have correct and complete information about themselves, they accept the stereotypes of the majority group even when they are false and unjust. Even today, after so many years of the civil rights movement, one wonders how many blacks would make the traditional and stereotyped identification of the photograph--if not verbally, at least in their hearts.
Similarly with the blind--the public image is everywhere dominant. This is the explanation for the attitude of those blind persons who are ashamed to carry a white cane or who try to bluff sight which they do not possess. Although great progress is now being made, there are still many people (sighted as well as blind) who believe that blindness is not altogether respectable.
The blind person must devise alternative techniques to do many things which would be done with sight if he or she had normal vision. It will be observed that I say alternative, not substitute techniques, for the word "substitute" connotes inferiority, and the alternative techniques employed by the blind person need not be inferior to visual techniques. In fact, some are superior. Of course, some are inferior, and some are equal.
In this connection it is interesting to consider the matter of flying. In comparison with the birds, humans begin at a disadvantage. They cannot fly. They have no wings. They are "handicapped." But humans see birds flying, and they long to do likewise. Humans cannot use the "normal," bird-like method, so they begin to devise alternative techniques. In jet airplanes humans now fly higher, farther, and faster than any bird that has ever existed. If humans had possessed wings, the airplane would probably never have been devised, and the inferior wing-flapping method would still be in general use.
This matter of our irrational images
and stereotypes with regard to blindness was brought sharply home to me in the
early 1960's during the course of a rehabilitation conference in Little Rock,
Arkansas. I found myself engaged in a discussion with Father Carroll, a well-known
leader in the field of work with the blind at that time. Father Carroll held
quite different views from those I have been advancing. The error in my argument
about blindness as a characteristic, he advised me, was that blindness is not
in the range of "normal" characteristics. Therefore, its limitations
are radically different from those of other characteristics falling within the
normal range. If a normal characteristic is simply one possessed by the majority
in a group, then it is not normal to have a black skin in America or a white
skin in the world at large. It is not normal to have red hair or to be over
six feet tall. If, on the other hand, a normal characteristic is simply what
this or some other authority defines as being normal, then we have a circular
argument--one that gets us nowhere.
In this same discussion I put forward the theory that a person who was sighted and of average means and who had all other characteristics in common with a blind person of considerable wealth would be less mobile than the blind person. I had been arguing that there were alternative techniques (not substitute) for doing those things which one would do with sight if one had normal vision. Father Carroll, as well as several others, had been contending that there was no real, adequate substitute for sight in traveling about. I told the story of a wealthy blind man I know who goes to Hawaii or some other place every year and who hires sighted attendants and is much more mobile than any sighted person I know who has ordinary means since most of the people I know can't go to Hawaii at all. After all of the discussion and the fact that I thought I had conveyed some understanding of what I was saying, a participant in the conference said--as if he thought he was really making a telling point, "Wouldn't you admit that the wealthy man in question would be even more mobile if he had his sight?"
This brings us to the subject of services to the blind, and more exactly to their proper scope and direction. There are, as I see it, four basic types of services now being provided to blind persons by public and private agencies and volunteer groups in this country. They are:
1. services based on the theory that blindness is uniquely different from other characteristics and that it carries with it permanent inferiority and severe limitations upon activity;
2. services aimed at teaching the blind person a new and constructive set of attitudes about blindness--based on the premise that the prevailing social attitudes, assimilated involuntarily by the blind person, are mistaken in content and destructive in effect;
3. services aimed at teaching alternative techniques and skills related to blindness; and
4. services not specifically related to blindness but to other characteristics (such as old age and lack of education), which are nevertheless labeled as "services to the blind" and included under the generous umbrella of the service program.
For purposes of this discussion, categories three and four are not relevant since they are not central to the philosophical point at issue. We are concerned here with categories one and two. An illustration of the assumptions underlying the first of these four types of services (category one) is the statement quoted earlier which begins, "Loss of sight is a dying." At the Little Rock conference already mentioned, Father Carroll (who was the one who made the statement) elaborated on the tragic metaphor by pointing out that "the eye is a sexual symbol" and that, accordingly, the man who has not eyes is not a "whole man." He cited the play Oedipus Rex as proof of his contention that the eye is a sexual symbol. I believe that this misses the whole point of the classic tragedy. Like many moderns, the Greeks considered the severest possible punishment to be the loss of sight. Oedipus committed a mortal sin. Unknowingly he had killed his father and married his mother. Therefore, his punishment must be correspondingly great. But that is just what his self-imposed blindness was--a punishment, not a sexual symbol.
But Father Carroll's view not only misses the point of Oedipus Rex--it misses the point of blindness. And in so doing it misses the point of services intended to aid the blind. For according to this view what the blind person needs most desperately is the help of a psychiatrist--of the kind so prominently in evidence at several of the centers and agencies for the blind throughout the country. According to this view what the blind person needs most is not travel training but therapy. Blind persons will be taught to accept their limitations as insurmountable and their difference from others as unbridgeable. They will be encouraged to adjust to their painful station as second-class citizens and discouraged from any thought of breaking and entering the first-class compartment. Moreover, all of this will be done in the name of teaching them "independence" and a "realistic" approach to their blindness.
The two competing types of services for the blind--categories one and two on my list of four--with their underlying conflict of philosophy may perhaps be clarified by a rather fanciful analogy. All of us recall the case of the Jews in Nazi Germany. Suddenly, in the 1930's, the German Jews were told by their society that they were "handicapped" persons--that they were inferior to other Germans simply by virtue of being Jews. Given this social fact, what sort of adjustment services might we have offered to the victim of Jewishness? I suggest that there are two alternatives--matching categories one and two on my list of four.
First, since the Jews have been "normal" individuals until quite recently, it will, of course, be quite a shock (or "trauma" as modern lingo has it) for them to learn that they are permanently and constitutionally inferior to others and can engage only in a limited range of activities. They will, therefore, require a psychiatrist to give them counseling and therapy and to reconcile them to their lot. They must "adjust" to their handicap and "learn to live" with the fact that they are not "whole men and women." If they are, as the propaganda would have it, "realistic" they may even manage to be happy. They can be taken to an adjustment center, where they may engage in a variety of routine activities suitable to Jews. Again, it should be noted that all of this will be done in the name of teaching them how to accept reality as Jews. That is one form of adjustment training.
In the case of Nazi Germany, of course, the so-called "adjustment training" for the Jews passed the bounds of sanity and ended in the death camps of the Holocaust. The custody and control with which we as blind persons deal do not generally in present-day society express themselves in such barbarous forms, but it should be remembered that blind babies were uniformly exposed on the hillsides to die in earlier times. Today's custodial attitudes about the blind are more often than not kindly meant--especially if the blind are submissive and grateful and if they are willing to stay in their places. In fact, with respect to the blind, the day of custodialism is hopefully passing.
We know what happened to the Jews and others in Nazi Germany who rejected the premise that Jewishness equalled inferiority. The problem was not in Jewishness but in the perceptions of others. Any real so-called "adjustment" would have needed to involve equal treatment and human rights. The problem was centered not in the individual but in society and society's perception of the individual. In such circumstances (even if anybody had been inclined to use one) the psychiatrist would not have been helpful. The so-called professionalism of the Nazi psychiatrist would have made no difference since such professionals likely had the same misconceptions about Jews as the rest of Nazi society. The emphasis could not be on resignation; it had to be on rebellion. That is how it might have worked if even the rudiments of civilization had continued, but Hitler's madness put an end to dialogue, and to a great deal more.
Even though we live in a different country and a different time, there is much we can learn by contemplating the interaction between Nazi society and the Jews. False perceptions about minorities that begin as nothing more than distaste or a feeling of superiority can magnify to a point of separation from reality. What seemed unthinkable yesterday can become acceptable today, commonplace tomorrow, and fanatical dogmatism the day after that. Both minorities and majorities can be dehumanized in the process.
Be that as it may, we must deal with the problems of our own time and society (and in our case, particularly with the problems of the blind). We must do it with all of the understanding and freedom from preconception we can muster. There are still vast differences in the services offered by various agencies and volunteer groups doing work with the blind throughout the country. At the Little Rock conference to which I have already referred, this was even more apparent than it is today, and the differences of philosophy repeatedly surfaced. For instance, when blind persons come to a training center, what kind of tests do you give them, and why? In Iowa (at least this is how it was in the 60's) and in some other centers, the contention is that the blind person is a responsible individual and that the emphasis should be on his or her knowing what he or she can do. Some of the centers represented at that Little Rock conference in 1962 contended that blind trainees needed psychiatric help and counseling (regardless of the circumstances and merely by virtue of their blindness) and that the emphasis should be on the center personnel's knowing what the student could do. I asked them
whether they thought services in a training center for the blind should be more like those given by a hospital or those given by a law school. In a hospital the person is a "patient." This is, by the way, a term coming to be used more and more in rehabilitation today. (That is what I said in 1962, but I am glad to say that more than thirty years later we have made a considerable amount of progress in this area.)
With respect to patients the doctors decide whether they need an operation and what medication they should have. In reality "patients" make few of their own decisions. Will the doctor "let" him or her do this or that?
In a law school, on the other hand, the "students" assume responsibility for getting to their own classes and organizing their own work. They plan their own careers, seeking advice to the extent that they feel the need for it. If students plan unwisely, they pay the price for it, but it is their lives. This
does not mean that the student does not need the services of the law school. He or she probably will become friends with the professors and will discuss legal matters with them and socialize with them. From some the student will seek counsel and advice concerning personal matters. More and more the student will come to be treated as a colleague. Not so the "patient." What does he or she know about drugs and medications? Some of the centers represented at the Little Rock conference were shocked that we at the Iowa Commission for the Blind "socialized" with our students and invited them to our homes. They believed that this threatened what they took to be the "professional relationship."
Our society has so steeped itself in false notions concerning blindness that it is most difficult for people to understand the concept of blindness as a characteristic, as well as the type of services needed by the blind. As a matter of fact, in one way or another, the whole point of all I have been saying is just this: Blindness is neither a dying nor a psychological crippling. It need not cause a disintegration of personality, and the stereotype which underlies this view is no less destructive when it presents itself in the garb of modern science than it was when it appeared in the ancient raiment of superstition and witchcraft.
Throughout the world, but especially in this country, we are today in the midst of a vast transition with respect to our attitudes about blindness and the whole concept of what handicaps are. We are reassessing and reshaping our ideas. In this process the professionals in the field cannot play a lone hand. In fact, the organized blind movement must lead the way and form the cutting edge. Additionally it is a cardinal principle of our free society that the citizen public will hold the balance of decision. In my opinion, it is fortunate that this is so, for professionals can become limited in their thinking and committed to outworn programs and ideas. The general public must be the balance staff, the ultimate weigher of values and setter of standards. In order that the public may perform this function with reason and wisdom, it is the duty of the organized blind movement to provide information and leadership and to see that the new ideas receive the broadest possible dissemination. But even more important, we must as blind individuals--each of us--examine ourselves to see that our own minds are free from prejudice and preconception.
DEVELOPMENTS AT THE ARKANSAS
SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND
by Barbara Pierce
In the November, 1994, issue of the
Braille Monitor we reported on the bizarre goings-on for the past twenty
years at the Arkansas School for the Blind. Leonard Ogburn, superintendent at
the school until he was allowed to resign on September 23, 1994, had, according
to affidavits from a number of women school employees and former students, fondled
and spanked them. Other allegations were made against him as well. Ogburn failed
polygraph tests during which he denied spanking one of the teachers in connection
with her performance evaluation, and the teacher had made a tape recording of
a telephone conversation in which she and her lawyer maintained that he had
admitted to spanking her. The entire episode was complicated, messy, and disturbing.
Finally the case seems to be winding down, though less satisfactorily than many
could have wished. Here is a summary report of what has happened since mid-October,
when the November issue of the Braille Monitor went to press.
On October 26, 1994, Helena Ward, Vocational Principal at the Arkansas School for the Blind, appeared in Pulaski County Municipal Court to answer a charge of "obstruction of government operations." On July 7, 1994, state police doing an investigation on Leonard Ogburn had requested a copy of a report written by Tina Gill, a graduate student at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, which was titled "Communication Practices and the Impact on Organization Solidarity and Control in Decision Making: Arkansas School for the Blind." At first Ward had agreed to give a copy of the report to state police, explaining that she would have to collect it from her home and would have it available the following day. On July 8 the state police investigator returned to the school to pick up the report, but Ward refused to
surrender it, saying she was following instructions from Leonard Ogburn (who at the time was suspended with pay from his duties as superintendent) and from his attorney. According to the state police investigator, he then asked Ward if she understood what she was doing, and she replied yes. The state police investigator then went to Pulaski County Municipal Court and obtained a bench warrant for Ward's arrest on one misdemeanor count of "obstruction of government operations." He returned to the
school, arrested Ward, read her the Miranda Rights statement, handcuffed her, and transported her to the Pulaski County Jail in the back of a police car. While leaving the school, the state police investigator was handed a copy of the Gill report by Jim Hill, Acting Superintendent. On the way to the jail Ward told the arresting officer, according to his later affidavit, that release of the report would certainly ruin many lives and careers at the school. She was subsequently booked and arraigned on the charge and then released on bail.
At the Ward trial on October 26, only two witnesses presented testimony: Danny Harkins, State Police Investigator, and Ward herself. The Municipal Judge found her "guilty as charged" and sentenced her to thirty days in jail and a $100 fine plus court costs. Ward's jail sentence was suspended under an Arkansas program for first-time offenders. When asked for comment by the media at the conclusion of the trial, Ward's attorney violently swore at reporters, attempted to cover a television camera lens with his hands, and refused to make any sensible comment, according to observers at the scene.
The trial of Leonard Ogburn on one misdemeanor count of "harassment" was originally scheduled for Thursday, December 1, 1994, and was postponed until Thursday, January 19, 1995. The prosecuting attorney had hoped to bring several other charges of harassment against Ogburn but was prevented by the judge from doing so. On January 12, 1995, a pre-trial hearing was held to determine what evidence could be introduced by the prosecution and the defense at the trial on January 19. When the judge told
both sides that no character witnesses would be permitted to testify, the defense offered no testimony other than Ogburn's. They had planned to bring several character witnesses, but the judge said that both sides could undoubtedly produce any number of people to support their views of Ogburn's character but that the case would have to stand or fall on actual evidence and information. The prosecution then brought as witnesses the state police investigator and the state police officer who administered the polygraph test that Ogburn failed on July 14, 1994. The prosecution also brought three women identified in the Braille Monitor article as affiants "B," "C," and "D." They were examined by the prosecution and cross-examined by the defense. They each re-affirmed the statements they had made in their affidavits. The judge ruled that the testimony of the police officers and the three affiants would be admitted along with that of the female teacher known to Braille Monitor readers as affiant "A." In other words, no prosecution evidence was rejected.
Everything seemed to be set for the trial of January 19. Then, on Wednesday, January 18, Ogburn and his attorney, Jim Rhodes, appeared in Pulaski County Municipal Court and asked that the Ogburn case be brought forward so that he could change his plea from "not guilty" to "no contest." An assistant prosecutor was present. Michelle McElroy, Pulaski County Deputy Prosecutor, had previously told a Braille Monitor reporter in a telephone conversation that she would not accept a plea of no contest. However, her assistant in court on January 18 was apparently unaware of this decision and indicated that the prosecution would accept a plea of no contest. The judge then sentenced Ogburn to one year in jail and a fine of $250 plus court costs. The jail sentence was suspended under the program for first-time
offenders. Normally the judge would have fined Ogburn only $100 but apparently decided that $250 was appropriate in this case.
Here is the article, written by staff writer Joe Stumpe, that appeared in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on January 19:
No Contest, Ogburn Says to Charge Gets probation, Fine for Let-me-spank Call
The criminal case against Leonard Ogburn
is over, but not the debate over what really happened at the Arkansas School
for the Blind.
Ogburn, former superintendent at the school, pleaded no contest Wednesday to harassing a female employee by saying he wanted to spank her.
Little Rock Municipal Judge Lee Munson placed Ogburn on probation for one year and fined him $250 plus court costs.
Ogburn had been scheduled for trial today. During a preliminary hearing last week, two women testified that Ogburn spanked them and asked to be spanked himself while they were students at the school, and a third woman said he spanked her while she worked as a janitor there.
It was another female employee who brought the misdemeanor harassment charge against Ogburn. The woman, who is blind, said he had spanked her twice in conjunction with job evaluations. The harassment charge relates to a telephone conversation in May 1994 in which Ogburn said he wanted to spank her again.
The woman's attorney, Mark Riable, said his client has mixed feelings about the case's outcome.
"She's relieved that she doesn't have to go through cross-examination, but at the same time I think she was ready to tell what happened to her, have her day in court, and confront him with this evidence, which I believe was overwhelming."
"I think she would have liked to have seen a little stiffer sentence," Riable said. "Certainly the court would have had the discretion to do that. But as far as I know, he had no prior (criminal charges).
"I can't say that (Ogburn's sentence) was out of line on this type of case."
Ogburn could have been sentenced to up to one year in jail and fined $1,000.
Neither Riable nor Michelle McElroy, the deputy prosecutor handling the case, was notified beforehand that Ogburn was entering a no contest plea.
McElroy said it's her understanding that Munson usually sentences first-time offenders in harassment cases to one year of probation and fines them $100. McElroy also said she [also] understands that Ogburn doesn't plan to ask for a new trial in circuit court, as would be his right in a case originating in municipal court.
In a no contest plea, the defendant admits to the allegations against him but does not plead guilty.
Ogburn couldn't be reached for comment. His attorney, James Rhodes, said his client entered the plea Wednesday because "He's just worn down with all of this."
Rhodes said the woman who lodged the criminal complaint against Ogburn and one of the three others who testified against him all maintained cordial relations with him long after the spankings occurred. That indicates the spankings "were consensual in nature," Rhodes said.
"Whether you consider it kinky or whether he just considered it horseplay or not, he's been ruined, but it was never illegal," Rhodes said.
But Riable said female employees and students were afraid to refuse Ogburn's requests to spank them.
Ogburn was suspended June 24, 1994, and resigned September 23. If he completes his year of probation successfully, the case will be expunged from his record for civil purposes--such as applying for a job or bank loan--but not for criminal purposes.
Mark Riable, the attorney for the plaintiff in this case, has written a letter to the Board of Trustees at the Arkansas School for the Blind demanding compensation for his client because of the spanking and harassment which she endured at the hands of Leonard Ogburn as part of her job evaluation. Under Arkansas law the school and Board's exposure is $100,000 plus court costs and attorney's fees. If this matter is not settled amicably, he says that he will consider filing a lawsuit to obtain compensation. Here is the text of that letter:
Little Rock, Arkansas
February 7, 1995
Hon. LeAnne Yeargan
Attorney General's Office
Little Rock, Arkansas
RE: ______and the Arkansas School for the Blind
Dear Ms. Yeargan:
I write to you in your capacity as attorney for the Arkansas School for the Blind and the Board of the Arkansas School for the Blind and Deaf. As you know, I have represented ______, an employee at the school, and assisted her through the long and difficult process of seeing justice done to former superintendent Leonard Ogburn.
Mr. Ogburn has now been convicted of harassing ______, as if there was ever any question.
During the investigation I learned, and I think the board discovered, that Mr. Ogburn failed a polygraph examination and admitted in the presence of officers of the Arkansas State Police that he had in fact harassed, assaulted, and spanked (battered) ______ in conjunction with her employment at the school.
I believe ______ to be a person of unquestionable credibility and a truly innocent yet brave person who has had the guts and the fortitude to stand up for her rights against the odds and let it be known that she will not be treated improperly.
______ filed a complaint with the Equal
Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), which I have been told resulted
in notification to the Board of her allegations of improper treatment in relation
to her employment there. EEOC has not yet rendered a decision, nor has a right-to-sue
letter been issued though I am sure ______ could obtain the right to sue upon
______ also has certain rights under the new Arkansas Civil Rights Act and is clearly within the statute of limitations provided therein, based upon that statute being extended because of the filing of a complaint with the EEOC.
If you have not had an opportunity to review the new Arkansas Civil Rights Act, it provides for punitive damages of up to $100,000 for unconsensual physical contact against a government subdivision, not to mention court costs, attorneys fees, and compensatory damages.
______ has never been motivated by financial gain, but I have encouraged her to seek some consideration for the wrongs done against her, for the violation of her physical and emotional
person, and for the personal stress she has had to endure for over a year. Though she could make a substantial monetary claim, she desires to be reasonable and not to subject the school to further litigation or public embarrassment. Mr. Ogburn has done enough of that.
I therefore put you on notice and make demand, in an attempt to compromise this matter, that the school compensate ______ in the sum of $25,842.77 for her pain, suffering, and emotional distress. She will fully release the school, the board, and any other parties from any liability in the future in exchange for said compensation. Of course with this release she would expect to be treated fairly in the future as a continuing employee of the school and to be protected from any form of retaliation for standing up for her rights.
The sum demanded is equal to ______'s 1994 salary. What she has had to undergo entitles her to at least double time for the past year.
I must respectfully request a prompt reply.
Riable Law Firm
Shortly after Ogburn's resignation an
ad hoc search committee was formed to assist the Board in selecting a new superintendent.
In mid-February this committee made recommendations to the Board about who should
be interviewed. Four candidates made the final list. Richard Umsted, former
Superintendent of the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired, who was fired
from his position because of scandal early last fall, was one of these. The
other three finalists were: Noel E. Stephens, supervisor of the Southeast Regional
Cooperative of the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind in Tucson; Ivan S.
Terzieff, director of educational services at the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving
School in Vinton, who taught at the Arkansas School for the Blind in 1972-73;
and J. Kirk Walter, executive director of Hoover Rehabilitation Services for
Low Vision and Blindness in Baltimore. Jim Hill, the Acting Superintendent of
the Arkansas School for the Blind, was not placed on the list of finalist. At
press time no appointment announcement had been made. We also know nothing yet
about whether the Board of Trustees will decide to compensate the ASB teacher
who first blew the whistle on Leonard Ogburn for the harassment she received
first at his hands and more recently from his supporters on the ASB faculty.
But this is the way important questions of right and wrong too often resolve themselves--not with a resounding peal of victorious bells, but with a clank and a hiccough. The results to date are not all that they might or perhaps should have been, but neither are they negligible. Once more we are reminded that justice is usually secured by slow degrees.
[PHOTO #2: Portrait CAPTION: Joe Cutter]
[PHOTO #3: Joe Cutter stoops to the floor
encouraging Richie Cavallaro to explore his cane and surroundings. Richie's
father and sister watch and wait. CAPTION: Richie Cavallaro (age four) of New
York pauses to explore the cool, smooth surface of the floor before he picks
up his cane. Joe Cutter has explained to Richie's dad and sister that exploration
during cane travel is both natural and desirable for toddlers and preschoolers
and should not be discouraged.]
BLIND CHILDREN'S FIRST MOBILITY TEACHERS
by Joe Cutter
From the Editor: The lead article in
the February, 1995, issue of the Braille Monitor was the text of a 1980
speech by Dr. Fred Schroeder, now Commissioner of the United States Rehabilitation
Services Administration. In the headnote we said that progress had been made
by some members of the orientation and mobility profession in their approach
to the training of blind children in the use of the long white cane. The following
article demonstrates that progress. There are, alas, still too many O&M
specialists refusing to introduce the cane to young blind children, but professionals
like Joe Cutter are gradually making a difference in the field, and the youngsters
whose lives they touch will never be the same.
Mr. Cutter, who lives and works in New Jersey, is the 1994 winner of the National Federation of the Blind's Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award, an honor which was truly deserved. He is a highly trained and deeply committed teacher with vast experience and a tough-minded willingness to draw conclusions from the data before him. Through the years, as he has worked with Federation parents, read NFB literature on cane travel, and watched carefully and learned from the children with whom he has worked, he has come to recognize the importance of early and sensible introduction of the white cane.
On Friday, July 1, 1994, Joe Cutter addressed the Parents of Blind Children National Seminar in Detroit, Michigan. His remarks were first printed in the Fall, 1994, issue of Future Reflections, the quarterly magazine of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, a division of the National Federation of the Blind. This is what he had to say:
When Barbara asked me if I would be interested
in speaking about parents as the blind child's first mobility teachers, I responded
with an enthusiastic "Yes!" I was delighted because I believe this
statement to be true, and I welcomed the opportunity to relate to you my ideas
on this subject.
I have come to respect and value the information and positive thinking about blindness which I have gained from the National Federation of the Blind. Blind people, including blind children and their parents, have taught me the most about blindness. In a small way, then, your sharing with me through the years comes full circle as I now share my thoughts with you.
My thoughts and words today are from a book I am writing about blind children and independent mobility. Interwoven through this book is the theme that parents truly are the blind child's first mobility teacher. 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. It is only natural, therefore, for parents of blind children to be their child's first mobility instructors. After all, they are the ones who set the stage for all movement.
If parents are the natural educators of their children, then the professionals are the secondary educators. In the early life of a blind baby, parents may be introduced to professionals, programs, and services established to assist in caring for their baby's needs. Parents may have a blindness professional visit their home, or they may take their baby to an early-intervention program outside the home. Some of these services are given directly to the baby. In others the professionals provide guidance to parents with suggested activities, materials, and strategies that will facilitate the child's learning. The intent of these programs is to inform parents and at times give hands-on intervention with the child.
I have visited many of these early intervention programs over the years and have learned much from observing the creative teaching of many talented, dedicated, and hard-working professionals. I have also visited in the homes of many families of blind babies; and I have learned as much through observing the creative teaching of talented, dedicated, and hard-working parents. The significant difference is that parents are not paid, and they do what they do for twenty-four hours a day. I note this difference to underline my observations that parents have a much longer, sustained, and intimate relationship with their child than do the professionals.
Yet, when blind babies and children enter early intervention programs, parents are often presented with an attitude which implies, "We know what is best for your child." This attitude challenges the natural teaching role of parents. When educators (whether intentionally or not) separate parents from the service program, in whole or in part, the message is sent to the parents that someone else (the blindness professional) did for their babies what they--the parents--could not or did not do. This may seriously affect the relationship that parents have with their children. Parents may develop feelings of inadequacy. They may take less initiative or be hesitant about movement activities with their babies and children if they have come to believe that the professional's role is more important.
Speaking of professionals, I can't help saying something that has disturbed me for a long time. Why do we call teachers who work with blind children "vision teachers"? It sounds like a contradiction in terms to me. Can you imagine getting a knock on your door and, when you open it, hearing the information, "Hello, I'm the vision teacher. I'm here to work with your blind child." So I use the term "blindness professional" because it seems more relevant to me.
Programs of services to blind children do what they do best when they nurture the relationship between children and their parents. The parent/child relationship is indivisible, and that is how it should be treated and respected by the professionals. Blindness professionals and other educators who appreciate this parent/child relationship will rely upon the parents as a vital natural resource. They will support parents in their efforts to establish mutually pleasing and nurturing relationships with their babies, and they will help them with accurate information about blindness.
For example, when I was studying about babies, I was fascinated by something that some of the research calls a voice/space event. When even very young babies hear the sound of their mommy's voice, they turn toward it in expectation of seeing Mommy's face. I discovered the first time I worked with a blind baby that, although he could not see, his head and eyes moved in the direction of the sound of his mother's voice. This baby, too, was looking for the voice/space event. The obvious alternative technique at this point would be to assist the baby's arm and hand to the mother's face, linking sound with touch. This common human trait of the voice/space event, which in the sighted baby links sound to vision, has been adapted for the blind baby by linking sound to touch. The usefulness of this adaptation depends largely upon the way in which I, the professional, present it to the mother. First of all, I cannot be a substitute for the mother (the primary caretaker) in this situation. The voice/space event must take place with the mother, not me. Second, if I present this to the mother correctly, she will come to understand that she, too, could have made this discovery. She will then go on to use this knowledge and the confidence she has gained from it to make her own observations, adaptations, and compensations with her baby without my assistance. This is how it should be. Professionals should not supplant the parents as the child's primary educator; they should encourage and nurture it. This includes the role the parent should play as the child's first mobility teacher; mobility for children begins with play between parent and child.
In the early years parents engage in a variety of play activities with their children. The importance of play cannot be overemphasized. Play is fundamental to being human. Fun and play are the child's form of work, of getting the job done, of acting on the world, and reaping rewards from it. The head of the Department of Infant Studies at Rutgers University, Dr. Lorraine McCune, writes, "When play is defined to include all of the baby's freely chosen encounters with objects, a large portion of the child's waking time is playtime."
The implications of this statement for blind children are many. When blind children are restricted in the kind and amount of play they may perform and when adults limit their free intentional movement, the context of their understanding of people, places, and things will also be limited. This will necessarily cut short their ability to reason, experiment, and create. Blind children are vulnerable to having play done to them, initiated for them, and taught to them in formal activities. Adults would be serving the blind child's best interest if they would instead focus their energy on structuring the environment so that the blind child can initiate his or her own play more often. Such spontaneity is fundamental to being human, but blind children are often in jeopardy of having spontaneous experiences restricted by well-meaning adults. These principles are crucial for parents and professionals to understand as they consider their roles in promoting movement and mobility in the blind child.
When children are young, they are learning to identify and label the world. Blind children are no different. They too need to become familiar with the world. Familiarization develops orientation. For sighted children vision puts them in the action. For blind children touch, sound, and movement put them in the action too. You cannot label the world for a blind child by touching it for him. To be meaningful, the experience must come from the child's own action. For example, use of the cane facilitates self-initiated action and thus contributes to the creation of an active learner.
The skilled use of tools is a fundamentally human activity. For children toys are tools. (Remember, we said that play is a child's work. Toys, therefore, are a child's tools.) They are skill-enhancing instruments. The hand-held tool (or toy) is an extension of the body in space for all children. During play the child is introduced to objects in the world. To the child all of these are potential toys. Some will serve an everyday function, such as the hand-held spoon, for example. A spoon is more than something you use when you eat. It is a tool of action. When we think about the spoon in this way, we can begin to understand its connection to the blind child's white cane. The cane, too, is a hand-held tool of action to get a job done. The greater the child's skill in using these tools--spoon or cane--the better the job will be done. Since we know that hand manipulation of tools develops over time from "on body" to "off body" for all children, we can infer that the spoon is a precursor to the cane. These tools manage space near and far respectively, the spoon being used closer to the body and the cane being used further away. Whether banging on a plate with a spoon or banging on the ground with a cane, the blind child is using tools to demonstrate movement in space.
As your child's first mobility teachers, you want to know what the cane can do. The cane is a tool that performs many functions. It can inform, inspect, explore, detect, and protect. Most of all it facilitates getting to know and moving within the world. To illustrate, the cane is more than a windshield wiper on the world. It is the steering wheel that can be manipulated to take you in the direction you want to go. It's the headlight, which gives preview of what's ahead; it's the bumper, which protects from unexpected encounters; and it is the antenna, which is constantly receiving sounds and resonance information from the surroundings. The cane is also the tires, which adjust to the terrain and provide a smoother, more stable ride. Finally the cane is the sideview mirror, which gives peripheral protection whenever the traveler needs to circumvent an object. Like the car, the cane is only as effective as the driver using it. Both driver and cane user require training and must obey the laws of the road. Mostly the cane, like the car, gets you where you want to go.
This light-hearted analogy illustrates the varied uses of the cane. Thinking of fun, what child is not fascinated by a stick? It connects the child to the ground in a way that is fun. When walking, it seems natural to hold a stick and "touch the world"; therefore, it is a natural act for the blind child to be using a cane. Fun, play, toys, tools, self-initiated movement, canes: are you beginning to see the connections?
As your child's first mobility teachers, you the parents must make the decision to use a cane.
You may come to such a decision in conjunction with the orientation and mobility specialist or without such a professional. The point is, it should be your decision. Generally a cane will help facilitate a blind child's movement shortly after he or she begins walking. I have known blind children, however, who took their first steps across a large space with a cane. In these cases the child was ready to walk but would not self-initiate many steps across large spaces. Therefore, observe the blind child's movement around the event of walking. If the cane seems to promote movement, go with it. Do posture, gait, and self-assurance improve with the cane? If yes, then it's facilitating movement.
If the child is evaluated by an orientation and mobility (O&M) professional and it is decided that he or she is not ready for a cane, ask yourself these questions: What is my child ready for--someone's arm? A pre-cane device that may be more complex to handle than the simple design of a cane? The less safe and
efficient movement promoted by the so-called pre-cane techniques? I believe the answers to these questions will lead most parents to the decision to take charge, purchase a cane, and get started. It may be a bit scary, and you may be a bit doubtful in the beginning, but have faith in your own intuition and in your child--you're a team.
If the orientation and mobility specialist is tuned to the same station as you, all the better. If not, you and your child can dance to your own music. When others see what's going on, they may decide to join the dance. It is not only okay to take the lead in starting your child with cane mobility, but it may be necessary if the alternative of inaction will negatively affect his or her self-esteem and skill development. You cannot count on the professionals always to have the right answers. Please believe me. I'm a professional; and, when I think of some of the professional decisions I've made based on erroneous assumptions, I want to bury my head in the sand.
I remember my personal journey in working with children. When I began teaching, I used the same post-World War II techniques all mobility teachers are taught, including sighted guide, pre-cane safety techniques, and certain readiness skills. It wasn't until I happened to take some courses in infant studies at Rutgers University and was introduced to NFB literature by parents such as Carol Castellano [Carol is the President of the New Jersey Parents Division and the Second Vice President of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children] that my assumptions and beliefs about children and cane travel were challenged. That was really scary and threatening to me. But it was also liberating. I will always remember Fred Schroeder's article, "A Step Toward Equality: Cane Travel Training for the
Young Blind Child." I shall never forget his analogy about crayons and canes. He said that keeping a cane away from a young blind child because the child wasn't ready to use it as an adult was like taking crayons away from a sighted child because the child couldn't write like an adult yet.
Like the sighted child using crayons, the blind child will initially use the cane with more exaggerated movements. This is done for many reasons: postural security, balance, the newness of the tool, and the human urge to experiment. Through familiarity and maturation the cane will gradually be used with more purposeful movements and, therefore, more efficiently. Please know that the act of playing with the cane is a natural way for young children to experiment. It is the way they learn about the cane and the way it works. This playing is not a reason to discontinue use of the cane for fear of lack of readiness. Remember, play is the child's work. Therefore, do not be discouraged if the child's initial use of the cane appears to be just playing around. Some of the best travelers started out having fun with their canes.
Accordingly, do not insist upon the blind child's demonstrating mature cane skills very early. Such skills as proper adult grip, position, extension, arc, touch technique, and so forth will come in time with maturation. You risk frustrating the child, and a negative attitude may develop towards the cane if you expect too much in the way of adult cane technique. Expect the child to use the cane from the source of control most readily available--hand, wrist, arm, or shoulder--given the strength and control he or she has from those sources. With growth and maturation these components of movement will expand, and so will the cane techniques that work from them.
The blind child will want to check out what is being contacted by the cane. You might notice the hand sliding down the shaft to touch the contacted object or the foot moving to check it out. This behavior is also displayed by adults who use the cane for the first time. A basic principle operating with young children is "connection before coordination." This should be accepted as a normal stage of learning. Do not scold children or try to prevent the behavior. It will decrease as they learn more about the world around them and as they become more goal-oriented in their travel.
Activities that are fun and enjoyable to children also tend to facilitate sensory integration and skill development. The cane is a natural tool for these activities. For example, children enjoy banging the cane. They like hearing the echoes they can make with it. They will hold the cane in different ways, even
upside down. They are exhausting all the possibilities of what they can do with a cane. This is a fundamentally human characteristic, and we should not limit such exploration as long as it does not hurt the child or another person.
Experiences in school set the stage for what will be expected of children in their adult lives. This is true for blind children too. But, as stated earlier, blind children are more vulnerable to having their independent movement restricted by others. Most classroom teachers and aides do not know what to expect or encourage regarding the movement of young blind children. Some educators learn quickly and are very good at facilitating movement, and others are not as helpful. This should be of no surprise to us. More upsetting is the fact that some professionals in the blindness field have limiting views about blind children and independent movement. In situations such as this, parents must inform not only the teacher working with a blind child for the first time, but also the blindness professional about the parents' expectations for their child in the use of the cane and independent movement.
A parent cannot assume, just because an orientation and mobility specialist is consulting with the school and working with their child, that the child's movement needs will be promoted to the fullest extent possible. Even if you and the orientation and mobility specialist are reading from the same page of the same chapter of the same book, what is happening in school is not necessarily what should be happening. I have often given a mobility lesson to a child in school and then come back for the next lesson a week later to discover the cane exactly where we had left it. I knew from the condition of the cane and the tip that it had not been used since our last lesson. So it is in your child's best interest for you to know what's going on every day.
If your child is not moving about at his or her own volition, then he or she is moving about at someone else's. Parents will need to decide what they want for the child and make it clear to school personnel. It is that important an issue. The blind child is being prepared to believe one way or another about movement in school and in the larger world. Blind children will either learn that they can take responsibility for their own movements or that they cannot. It is that simple.
Of course, I am primarily thinking about the sighted guide. This is certainly a sufficient, and sometimes appropriate method of travel. I'm just concerned about young children's using it as their standard operating procedure for moving around. Also I think the term implies that the guide must be sighted. One thing I have learned from this convention and other NFB conventions is that the blind certainly do lead the blind, and most efficiently too. Some professionals now prefer the term "human guide," but I am even uncomfortable with this. It still implies that one person is leading and the other following. There are times when we all prefer to walk with someone, and it is not a matter of guiding or leading. Carol Castellano came up with the term I like best. She calls it "paired walking." And isn't that what it really is?
To the questions of when to use the cane, how often, and where (school, home, playground, etc.), first ask yourself if the cane promotes and facilitates movement, confidence, curiosity, safety, and knowledge of the world. If it does, then use it. I believe, by the way, that the cane should be used both at home and at school. (By home I do not mean inside the house in which you live. I mean all the places your family may normally go with the child--the mall, restaurants, church or synagog, homes of friends, etc.) Using the cane in one setting and not the other is a limitation and sends a mixed message to the child.
Now I would like to say a few words about vision impairment, visual efficiency, and visual inefficiency. Many visually impaired children ambulate with general safety and independence in their homes, schools, and familiar areas outdoors. The need for the cane may not be as obvious for these children. Therefore,
here are some questions you might want to think about if your child has vision:
1. Is your child relaxed while moving
2. Is your child's stress level elevated in unfamiliar or congested areas?
3. Is your child's performance in street crossings and night travel age-appropriate?
4. Are your child's gait and posture negatively affected by pushing vision to the point of inefficiency?
5. Are you holding your child's hand, not because you want to, but rather to avoid uncomfortable or difficult-to-manage travel situations?
6. Do you think the cane could facilitate safe, effective, efficient, or confident travel?
If the answer to any of these questions
is yes, you might want to give the cane a go. If you've answered yes to any
of these questions and are still doubtful about trying the cane, you may have
hidden negative attitudes about blindness which are getting in the way of making
a logical decision about the cane. As your child's first mobility teacher, you
owe it to him or her to keep an open mind about the cane.
One opportunity you have here at this convention is to observe visually impaired travelers using canes. You might think of this as your NFB Convention school, and this is your 101 course in mobility. After all, you will remember that you are your child's primary mobility teacher. Observe the confidence, poise, relaxed posture, and grace with which good cane-users move. Observe their safety and efficiency. One of the things, by the way, that I would like to do at this year's NFB Convention school is to receive a mobility lesson under blindfold from a blind mobility instructor. So that's an open invitation to any blind mobility teachers here.
One insight I'd like to pass on to you is something I was told by a parent who learned this by observing blind people with canes at her first NFB convention. I think it sums up many of the thoughts I'm sharing with you about vision and visual inefficiency. This parent told me she had concluded from her experience that you have your vision for what you can see, and you have the cane for what you can't. I can think of no other more truthful or basic statement than this on the issue of using a cane.
I think it's important to say a word or two about blind children who have developmental delays. All children observe the world through their sensorimotor systems. Vision is not essential to observe the world. The brain is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate against the various modes of gathering information and observing the world. The five senses, like the fingers of the hand, retrieve information and give meaning to the world and the child's movement. Blindness is a physical characteristic, the absence (partial or total) of sight. I do not think it fundamentally alters the way humans think or adapt and compensate. We do not think with our eyes; we think with our brains. So, whether we read Braille or print or communicate with sound or manual sign language, it is the brain which takes in the sensory information, decodes it, and processes it.
The developmental route for blind children who have added factors affecting their development--cognitive, physical, emotional delays--is more precarious. These children are especially vulnerable to having others do for them what they can learn to do for themselves. But, like all other children, they thrive on a can-do approach. If anything, these children need more of the learning-by-doing method. Remember, the process of independence begins with self-initiated action. It is through personal action that the child has the chance to observe the consequences of that action, then refine it, and practice it as a new skill. Children who are given the opportunity to initiate their own movements are motivated to do more and learn more. When others do the movement for or to them, children lose interest in their own activity and become passive.
For example, a blind child who uses a wheelchair would have greater possibilities for independent (self-initiated) movement with a one-wheel drive or motorized wheel chair. With one hand the child could operate the chair and with the other use a white cane for preview of obstacles ahead. This set-up, which promotes independence, would be superior to the alternative of the child's being constantly dependent upon someone else both to push and to guide him. In fact, I saw someone in a wheelchair this morning who was using a cane for preview.
If you suspect that your child is delayed in development by factors other than blindness, you will need to secure reliable information and services to provide a sound menu of experiences and activities. To such a menu you can add the alternative techniques of blindness. As your child's first mobility teacher you can creatively adapt and compensate along with your child. You can promote your child's self-initiated movement, and you can expect others to respect the goals that you set for independent movement.
In Budapest, Hungary, there is an interesting program called conductive education. It's a program for the physically impaired child with cerebral palsy and other physical impairments that affect the child's development of independent movement. Some of these children are also blind. The program's philosophy is ortho-functional. The child learns by doing. Self-help skills are essential and valued along with academics. It is more important, for example, for a child to get to class independently and late than to get there on time because of dependency upon someone else.
The conductive education approach holds that, if a child is perceived as dysfunctional, the goals set for that child will reflect those perceptions. How we perceive a child can make all the difference in the goals we set for him. It is the difference between using a promotion model and a deficit model. The deficit model stresses limitations; the promotion model emphasizes possibilities. The independence these children are likely to achieve depends a good deal upon our expectations of them. Do we see children with limitations or children with possibilities?
Let me give you an example of what I mean. The following sentences are from the book First Steps, published in 1993 by the Blind Children's Center. These sentences demonstrate the disturbing sighted bias and erroneous assumptions about blindness still to be found in the professional literature. This is the first sentence of the introduction: "The world of children with visual impairments is a very different one from ours."
My response is,"How so?" Are the authors implying that blind children are fundamentally different from sighted children? I don't believe it, and the evidence doesn't support it. We all live in the same world.
Here is the second sentence of the introduction: "Although these children are faced with a puzzling array of sensation and information, our loving guidance can create a safe and nurturing path for them to follow."
My response is that the current research about how children learn, specifically infants, suggests that the world is not perceived as a puzzle. Rather, infants organize their sensory information to make sense out of the world. They improve upon their perceptions, adapting and compensating as they get more
information. It would appear that the authors altered these data to fit their pre-conceived notions about blind children. The sentence implies that what is needed for learning is for blind children to follow the adults' lead instead of the adults' following the child's lead. Again, this is inconsistent with my experience and with the research.
The third sentence of the introduction reads: "Parents, family members, educators, and health care professionals find themselves drawn together by the formidable challenges of these children's infant and preschool years."
I ask you to consider these definitions of the word formidable from Webster's dictionary : 1. causing dread, fear, or awe. 2. hard to handle or overcome; as a formidable job. Roget's College Thesaurus lists
the following synonyms for formidable: appalling, tremendous, arduous, or Herculean.
I would not choose any of these words to describe my role or the parents' role with the blind child. I suggest that this is not the message I would choose to communicate to parents and other educators about what it is like to raise or educate blind children. All parents are presented with challenges in raising
children. The challenges in raising blind children will sometimes necessitate different solutions. From my experience, probably the most formidable aspect of raising a blind child for parents is trying to get the professionals to provide appropriate education and training. This is a problem with attitudes and bureaucracies, not with the child or the physical fact of blindness.
Finally, here is a sentence from the book regarding the sighted-guide technique: "The intent of using a human guide is not to relieve the child who is visually impaired of his travel responsibility, but to provide the child with the skill of taking an active role when traveling with a sighted person within both familiar and unfamiliar areas."
My first response is, how can you observe your own movement from the arm of another person? This is a logical impossibility. Who has the responsibility for negotiating the environment? Why is it assumed that, when a blind child is walking with a sighted person, he or she will naturally be guided? What is active about following another's lead? And why does the guide need to be sighted? There are times when sighted-guide travel is appropriate, but to suggest that it requires some skill which a child needs to learn for independence is ludicrous and false.
The subtleties of the written word hit
home hard when you are the subject matter. Blind people and parents of blind
children hear the bias in these words clearly. First Steps is written
by a professional, credentialed group of authors. The Blind Children's Center
provides a real service for blind children, and in many respects this book is
rich in useful information. But at its core are assumptions that communicate
erroneous beliefs about blindness to those thirsty for knowledge. I believe
these assumptions damage blind children. History has given us enough of these
harmful, false images. We do not need them dressed up in the respectability
of professional jargon, then pawned off on us as modern, scientific concepts.
It is time to stress a promotion, not a deficit, model of blindness.
Research would better serve the needs of blind children and our energies would be put to better use if we spent more time raising questions and debunking erroneous assumptions about blindness. Here are some questions I have:
1. What do we truly believe about the
capabilities of blind travelers when professional organizations will not certify
blind orientation and mobility specialists?
2. What are the vulnerable areas in the blind child's opportunities to express the innate need to know and drive to move?
3. What is really essential to function with a cane?
4. How can the sighted guide, pre-cane techniques, or pre-cane devices be considered precursors or predictors of independent travel? Where is the research to substantiate these common assertions?
5. What do orientation and mobility specialists believe about the parent-child relationship?
6. How can the use of resonance and the broader perception of sound and space be facilitated in blind babies and older children? How do we enhance or distort its use in the type of canes we recommend and choose for them?
7. Has our sighted bias ignored the contribution to movement that the use of auditory object-perception (echo location) facilitates?
8. What subtle, or not so subtle, messages do we send to blind children which discourage them from moving actively in the world?
9. How do we interrupt or inhibit the self-initiating and sustaining movement of blind babies and children?
10. How do our touch and physical handling of blind babies and children affect the development of the use of their own touch? How do the touch and oral cues which we impose upon children in a travel situation affect their abilities to figure out and solve their own travel problems?
11. What do we do to a blind child's interest in and ability to use the cane when we either try to teach adult skills for which he or she is developmentally unready or delay giving a cane in favor of a pre-cane device?
12. How are blind children's self-image and desire for independence affected when we teach them that someone else will take responsibility for their movement when that someone else is always sighted? I believe that the consequences of the orientation and mobility profession's not addressing these questions and many others will result in increased vulnerability for a profession already in jeopardy. Meanwhile, the blindness movement has been developing its own growing body of literature based upon a different perspective--a perspective which has evolved from over fifty years of the collective experience of thousands of blind people. Here are some of my observations of the philosophy which fuels the passion and reason found in NFB literature: (1) It's positive, (2) it assumes that blindness need not be fixed, (3) it promotes the concept that differences are not deficits, (4) the alternative techniques of blindness promote a can-do approach to life, and (5) it deals with issues and concerns that are fundamentally human.
What I have described to you today is
what I call a pediatric perspective on independent mobility. I hope it fuels
your beliefs and actions--as your child's first mobility teachers--in promoting
his or her independent movement in the early years.
In summary, the need to know and the drive to move are fundamental to being human. Therefore, orientation and independent mobility are more than a way of moving from one place to another; they are a way of life, a way of knowing, a process of reciprocal interaction, a method of being with the world instead of separate from it. During the early years of life this process enables the blind child to engage in the world in an increasingly independent manner. During these early years a common thread sews together a whole variety of experiences. This thread is the fundamental fact that, like all other children, blind children have an innate sense of order, an inherent ability to organize their experiences; and they can learn from and improve upon those experiences. From the earliest sensorimotor schemes to the formation of intentional thought and complex problem-solving, the drive to want more and to make more out of what reality at any given moment appears to offer is as much the foundation of purposeful thought and movement for blind babies and children as it is for those who are sighted.
It is particularly important that parents be provided with accurate information about both blindness and this natural process so that they can better teach and assist their children to interact independently with and within the world. Together as a team--parents, child, and professionals--we must work toward common goals that will stimulate the child's natural need to know and the drive to move.
The history of formalized orientation and mobility has entrenched an adult-to-adult approach, with sighted-guide and pre-cane techniques being taught prior to cane instruction. This tradition can be thought of as a top-down model. In this model adults first learn the concepts, then learn the motor schemes to match the concepts. With a pediatric perspective, however, the approach must be bottom up. (I want to acknowledge the influence of Dr. Lorraine McCune on my thinking. Her knowledge and clear thinking about what babies do and how they learn contributed much to the development of this model.) First, the child learns purposeful movement; then with a solid foundation of motor-schemes upon which he has learned to trust and rely, the child learns the concepts. Out of the experience come the concepts, the ways of thinking about the world. With this bottom-up model, parents and other educators can explore strategies, activities, and tools--such as the cane--that facilitate purposeful thought and purposeful movement.
This approach rejects the notion that children must have a certain maturity level before they can use a cane for movement. Maturity unfolds as movement and motor-schemes become more sophisticated. Canes can assist in this process from the moment a child begins to walk.
In this bottom-up model cane travel is not considered an isolated set of skills. Instead, the spoon becomes the precursor to the cane. Hand-held tools that manage space and get a task done (spoons, scoops, shovels, etc.) are respected in this bottom-up approach. From this perspective motor skills for cane use are not a mysterious set of unique skills requiring extraordinary knowledge and specialized training; they are extensions of ordinary motor-schemes and tool-use that all children can learn and parents can teach. There is also no need for so-called pre-cane techniques and pre-cane devices in this approach. In truth, pre-cane techniques are actually alternative travel techniques (which are, incidentally, inferior to cane travel techniques), and not at all necessary in any way for cane use. The same is true for pre-cane devices. They are actually alternatives to the cane and in no way add to a child's preparedness for the cane.
Also, with this approach parents and other educators are careful not to insist prematurely upon cane techniques that may be appropriate for the adult but may not be at the appropriate developmental level of the blind child. Blind children need to explore, figure it out, and develop self-taught solutions which are respected by the adults in their lives. The pediatric orientation and mobility from the bottom-up perspective respects the developmental needs of all children: security, movement, interpretation of sensory information, communication, and autonomy. These needs are met in the child's day-to-day life: in feeding, bathing, playing, socializing, and exploring the world. From this perspective the blind child's use of the cane is simply a natural part of growing up, as normal as learning to use a spoon.
Above all I want to stress that our beliefs as parents and educators will affect what we give and how we give it, what we teach and how we teach it, and what our expectations will be for our blind children's development towards independence. These beliefs will affect not only our relationships with each other but what our children will ultimately come to believe and expect of themselves as blind persons.
I hope that these thoughts assist you in your role as your children's first mobility teachers.
[PHOTO #4: Portrait CAPTION: Charles Allen]
FIGHTING FOR THE RIGHT TO WORK
by Charles Allen
From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the January, 1995, issue of the Merchants Messenger, a publication of the Merchants Division of the National Federation of the Blind. Charlie Allen is President of the Merchants Division. The story he tells here is unfortunately familiar. It is still all too common for large organizations to assume that they can take advantage of blind vendors. But Federationists like vendor Jerry Grimes are also becoming more and more familiar--blind people who refuse to lie down meekly and allow themselves to be walked over, people who are prepared to stand and be counted, strong in the confidence that they do not stand alone. Here is Jerry Grimes's story as told by Charles Allen:
Federationist Jerry Grimes
has managed the vending facility at Kentucky State University at Frankfort since
it opened in 1983. He was required to pay the university a commission equal
to 5 percent of his net profit, an amount he also pays to the Department for
the Blind as set aside.
In 1989 the university decided to end its contract with the department and hire a private vending company. The department negotiated with the university and agreed to pay a higher commission in order to keep the facility. The money they agreed to pay belonged to Jerry Grimes, not to the department. Since the department did not have the authority to give away Grimes' money, he sued the department and the university in August, 1989. On April 22, 1992, Grimes prevailed. The university wanted a private contractor, but the court said the Kentucky Business Enterprize Program (KBEP) was entitled to operate the facility. The university wanted the right to have Grimes replaced as manager. The court upheld Grimes's right to stay, consistent with KBEP rules. The court ordered that Grimes would pay the university only the 5 percent required in the original contract. The university wanted the right to set prices. The court said that Grimes could not be forced to charge less than prevailing prices in the local area. The court ordered a contract which reflected these decisions.
Though the court had spoken, the university seemed slow to learn. Unfortunately, the university still wants control, not only of prices, but of product as well; and it wants a voice in determining Grimes's tenure. Grimes returned to court this time with the department as an ally, not an adversary.
The university had entered into a monetary agreement with the Coca-Cola Company and therefore demanded that Grimes sell only Coca-Cola products in his canned drink machines. The university also opened a food cart service outside a building in which he had machines, thereby entering into direct competition with him. On November 18, 1994, Grimes prevailed again. The court said that needed food-service contracts must be negotiated with KBEP in accordance with state and federal law. Under federal and state law the department has the sole right to determine the facility manager, and the university may not restrict the operation of a facility through its own exclusive brand agreements.
With some financial assistance from the National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky, Grimes has himself paid the cost of his legal action. Grimes supports the university not only with the commission he is required to pay, but in other ways too. For example, he underwrites the cost of the university's Easter egg hunt and supports other university programs as well. Even so, the university wants to get rid of him. It appears they don't like assertive blind people. They have moved his storage room to a place far harder for him to manage physically. The university has appealed the November, 1994, decision and continues to drag its feet.
In a National Federation of the Blind banquet address Jerry Grimes once heard the words, "We know who we are, and we'll never go back." These ringing words remain at the core of his being. He cites them as his inspiration to keep fighting. His personal struggle for the right to work has strengthened the entire Kentucky Vending Program.
AND EVERYBODY LOSES: A HARD LESSON ABOUT DISCRIMINATION
by Corally Littrell
From the Editor: The following article
is sobering and highly instructive. It does not have a happy ending, though
one can hope that, as the social climate for disabled people in this country
changes, such experiences will eventually become less common. We in the National
Federation of the Blind will certainly do what we can to help, but where human
prejudice and narrowness of vision are in control, there are limits to what
can be accomplished.
Corally Littrell is a dedicated and experienced teacher of blind and visually impaired children in Massachusetts. As a blind person herself, she is also a long-time reader of the Braille Monitor. She is quick to say that her ideas about the importance of high expectations, the necessity for good public education about blindness, and the difficulty of our struggle for first-class status have been shaped by her contact with the Federation. But for years she was busy and happy, telling herself that she could make her contribution by providing good teaching and an effective role model for her students. She never bothered to seek out the nearest NFB chapter.
Then suddenly, before she realized what was happening, she found herself in the middle of a nightmare. One of her students was transferred to a new school, and she was to go along. The building principal was a committed believer in full inclusion for all disabled children and, as became painfully clear, a skeptic about the abilities of disabled adults. In four short weeks this combination proved disastrous for the blind student, the itinerant teacher, and the faculty's understanding of what blind people can accomplish. It remains to be seen how much can be salvaged from the wreckage. The story of how it happened begins with Ms. Littrell's cover letter to the Braille Monitor and a letter of commendation prepared by the faculty of the student's first school when they heard about what was happening to Ms. Littrell at the new school. Here is her cover letter:
January 22, 1995
Ms. Barbara Pierce
The Braille Monitor
Dear Ms. Pierce:
I am an itinerant teacher of blind children and youth. I am also blind myself. I believe I have been the victim of discrimination at one particular school due to an unenlightened principal. Her negative attitudes and actions have resulted in a significant reduction in my teaching hours; a corresponding cut in salary; a serious threat to my professional reputation; and, worst of all, the loss of vision services for a very special little girl who needs them desperately. I think it is imperative that this principal be made aware of her own prejudices and be educated as to the competencies of the blind. I can think of no source as well-equipped to give me guidance in this task as the National Federation of the Blind.
Although the principal's discriminatory actions occurred during a period lasting only about four weeks, to comprehend the situation fully you'll need to have some basic information dating from the very beginning. Therefore, I have enclosed a summary of the events from my perspective to help you understand my point of view. I hope you will give me the benefit of your long experience dealing with people whose prejudice results in lowered expectations, limited opportunities, and unjust treatment. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.
Corally Littrell, M.Ed.
We were most fortunate to work with Corally Littrell for two years at Center School. Although many of us did not work closely with her in the classroom, we had the opportunity to see her as she worked with _____ and talked with the staff. Many of us asked her to be a guest speaker in our classrooms during Disability Awareness Week at the school and saw a presentation of a talented and gifted teacher. We regret that this committed, caring, understanding, dedicated teacher will no longer be coming to our school. She was an inspiration to all of us. We want to thank you for giving us the opportunity to learn from her.
That was the letter written by the faculty at Center School, and it is difficult to imagine how the staff could have written a more supportive or favorable letter. The colleague about whom they wrote was not incompetent, irresponsible, or inept; she was clearly a respected colleague who would be missed professionally and personally. Here, in her own words, is what happened to this fine teacher. It is an unsettling, even frightening story because it is a reminder of what can happen to any of us when one person in authority decides, for whatever reason, to destroy us. Here is Ms. Littrell's statement:
In the fall of 1992 a multiply-impaired
little girl was entering the first grade in a nearby town. Because she was blind,
her IEP specified thirteen hours of service delivered by a certified teacher
of the visually impaired. As of September 1, however, no teacher of the visually
impaired (TVI) had been found. As a TVI working for the collaborative to which
this town belonged, I was available. Although initially the parents did not
want a blind teacher, there seemed to be no other option. I was hired, and thus
began one of the most rewarding teaching experiences of my career.
Thereafter the parents and I had a good relationship, sharing the view that, given strategies and materials tailored to meet her individual needs, their little girl could learn. We also held in common the belief that open and frequent communication was essential, and although we did not always agree, we were willing to listen to each other. In addition, I considered their input invaluable and was awed by their devotion, concern, and tenacity when it came to fighting for their daughter's rights. Moreover, they often thanked me for the good job they felt I was doing and showed their appreciation in a variety of ways.
In addition, it was my pleasure to work among the greatest of school staffs. Although I was an itinerant teacher who spent only two hours each morning in this school, everyone from the principal to the custodian treated me as if I truly belonged. My own blindness was never an issue, for I was considered a fellow professional who had valuable information and ideas to contribute. This warm, friendly environment fostered mutual respect, acceptance of individual differences, and a spirit of
cooperation. (When the details of my subsequent dismissal from this little girl's team emerged, the staff wrote a wonderfully supportive letter, which is enclosed.)
At the beginning of her third year of elementary school (and her third year with me) it seemed evident that this student was tiring far more easily than in the past. Apparently her seizure medication had recently been changed, and one side effect was increased fatigue. Exacerbating this situation was the physical plant in which her third-grade class was located. Not only did she have to contend with numerous stairs, but she also had to travel from one building to another on a daily basis. Therefore, a decision was made to transfer her to another public school in town, one with all classes in the same building.
With this in mind, my student's individual aide and I met twice with the new principal, first with her alone and then again with the classroom teacher and the inclusion specialist. We were both looking forward to meeting the principal, for we had heard glowing reports from the parents, who coincidentally had been friends of hers for many years. And, indeed, she appeared to be a warm, friendly woman, very much dedicated to providing the best education for all students. She also spoke of the importance of fostering a team spirit among staff members and lending support whenever necessary. Despite these positive signs, there were a few disquieting moments.
Prior to this meeting my student's parents had mentioned that the entire staff at this school were highly supportive of full inclusion, and it became obvious almost at once that this principal was no exception. Her thoughts on the subject were delivered with great enthusiasm and conviction. For example, she spoke at length of the special needs children for whom there was "no hope" who had made remarkable gains since being fully included in regular classes. Although my two years' experience with this highly distractable child had taught me that she would benefit from some instruction in a separate setting, I felt this was not the time to discuss it. (The decision to move her was not yet final.)
The principal made another disturbing comment when it became evident that the class schedule for art, physical education, and music coincided with the time I spent with my student. She understandably refused to change the entire school's schedule on behalf of one student, but rather than suggesting that I do so, she asked if I could just accompany the student to these classes. It seems highly unlikely that this same suggestion would have been made to an occupational therapist, speech and language pathologist, or any other teacher whose services were valued. Needless to say, I replied that I could certainly do so, but it would not be an efficient use of my time.
In the end, however, I had to follow the student and her aide to art and music. This was not only humiliating but a waste of valuable teaching time. I vowed that at the first opportunity I would meet with the teacher in order to rearrange my schedule.
In addition, a number of recommendations I made based on my knowledge, training, and experience as this student's TVI were dismissed by the principal as inconsequential. For instance, I emphasized the importance of scheduling weekly meetings in order for the classroom teacher and me to plan any necessary adaptive strategies and materials. Despite the fact that appropriate planning time is considered essential in any inclusion program, the principal said this was not possible.
Similarly, I mentioned that in the past I had often taught my student along with a small group of her classmates. The principal replied that this would only be possible if the parents of the other children signed permission slips. It seemed to me that this was unlikely to be a school policy applied to all certified teachers.
I also attempted to dissuade the principal from "preparing the way," as she put it, for my student to join her new classmates. Upon hearing of her intention, I mentioned that, although this may seem like a good idea, taking a more forthright approach would be preferable. In fact, I specifically stated that members of the National Federation of the Blind recommend that the arrival of a new blind student be handled just as it would if the student were sighted. I further explained that discussing my student's disabilities beforehand would send a subtle, negative message that these disabilities are so profound and shameful that they need to be discussed in a secretive manner. However, the principal decided to ignore this advice and proceed as planned.
Finally, I agreed with the principal that, if my student were to be transferred, the transfer should take place as soon as possible. At the same time, however, I cautioned against making the move without appropriate preparation, for we all wanted that very first day to be a successful one. She seemed to concur with this view, yet I was told on a Friday morning that my student's first day in the new location would be the following Monday.
During my first visit to the new school the principal had given me a brief tour of the building, pointing out those locations that would be important for me to note should the move come to pass. In showing me one room she had told me that it was designated as the area in which I would work with my student and store my instructional materials. The room was small and divided into front and back sections, the latter being mine. She had pointed out a few empty bookcases, and in answer to my inquiry, she had assured me that there was enough room to set up my student's computer equipment. Having been completely capable of teaching in the many corners and closets I have been assigned over the years, I was thrilled with these accommodations.
When I learned on that Friday morning that we would be moving, I had just two hours to pack my extensive collection of materials before the custodian sent by the principal arrived. However, he could fit only two boxes in his car and had to leave the majority behind. Although the principal promised that he
would return later that day, these things were not actually moved until three days later. This upset me. If I had been told in the beginning that this task would be difficult, I would have arranged to move the materials on my own. After all, I wanted my student to have all the familiar, specialized materials she used on her first day.
Incredibly, the arrival of my materials did not resolve this problem. The principal next told me that for some unknown reason the room I had intended to use for storage was now unavailable. So my boxes remained in the hall, packed and piled high. I arrived each morning two hours early in order to have time to dig through these boxes in search of what I needed. Due to the absence of group planning time, however, I did not know what materials would be needed until the lesson was in progress. Obviously I could not locate the items I needed on such short notice.
To make matters worse, my boxes were moved nearly every day. In fact, each morning my husband and I would roam about the school in search of the new, undisclosed location of my things. Invariably, we found them out in the open in a remote place, far from my student's classroom. Not surprisingly, I worried about the security of these items, for many were toys, tempting to the children passing in the halls. This concern turned out to be reasonable, for I later discovered that at least one teacher had taken a few of the more expensive items, believing they were to be thrown away.
I did recognize that this move had been made in haste and that there were bound to be a few glitches. But to say the least, this deplorable situation did not constitute a very warm welcome and was so far removed from reasonable accommodations as to be laughable. The unavailability of appropriate materials made it impossible for me to teach this youngster effectively. So in the end it was she who suffered from the consequences of administrative indifference.
I twice met with the principal to check on the progress being made on locating a storage place for my materials. She explained in an offhand manner that this school simply did not have any available space. Her attitude seemed callous and unsympathetic to me, but I tried very hard to give her the benefit of the doubt. Yet I could not believe that other teachers' personal things would be mishandled in this way. It seemed obvious that the storage problem had very low priority for her, and once again I was made to feel that my contribution to this little girl's education was considered insignificant.
By this time I was very upset, so I turned to my supervisor from the collaborative and arranged to meet with her the next day to discuss this issue as well as others. After hearing the numerous stories I have recounted here, she insisted that we inform the town's special education director of the situation. It is my understanding that he was somehow already aware of these problems. He visited the principal early on the Friday morning of that first week, and later that afternoon I was given a few empty bookcases in a small closet off the cafeteria, a fully satisfactory solution in my view. It also proved to be good timing, for I am ashamed to admit now that by this time I had given up hope and, rather than make any more waves, had made arrangements to purchase my own bookcases that day after school.
As this storage situation was being played out, other events were occurring which were even more blatantly discriminatory. On my second day at this school, the principal unexpectedly announced that I would not be allowed to teach my student alone, without the individual aide being present. I must have visibly bristled at this, for she asked me, "You don't agree?"
To which I replied, "No, I do not."
Having read about this kind of negative attitude many times in the Braille Monitor, I was well prepared to answer. I first stated that I had been successfully teaching this little girl for two years now without constant supervision by her aide. I further explained that I could do what sighted teachers do by using alternative (not inferior) techniques and offered to demonstrate them should she be interested. Thinking that an undue concern for my student's safety was at the root of this directive, by way of example I described how I had handled my student's seizures, sometimes recognizing them before the sighted adults present at the time.
The principal's reply was, "I don't want any more burn incidents." Thinking there had been some horrible accident in this school in the past, I asked to what she was referring. I was totally unprepared for her answer. It turned out that she was referring to a burn of unknown origin discovered on my student's arm the year before, and it seemed apparent that she was also insinuating that I had been responsible. A bit of explanation is necessary here.
Late one afternoon last year the aide noticed a small broken blister on my student's arm, apparently the result of a burn. Her immediate reaction was to wonder aloud if this had somehow been caused by the floor lamp I used when working on visual skills with this student. This was understandable since, every time I switched it on, I warned my student about the heat radiating from its bulb. But this theory was short-lived, for the evidence indicated it was impossible. She could neither reach the lamp nor, given her cerebral palsy, twist her arm into the awkward position necessary to touch the bulb or shade.
In a conversation I had with the parents just a few weeks ago, they assured me that the great significance that the principal attached to this incident did not come from them. The mother told me that, even if the lamp had been the cause, they would have considered it just an accident. She explained that at the time she had briefly mentioned the incident to the principal as part of a conversation with a friend. "Unfortunately," (the mother's word) the principal remembered the incident and used it as the rationale for requiring that I not be left alone with my student.
After hearing the principal bring up this long-ago event as the excuse for her decision, I could barely speak. This mandate clearly did not reflect the parents' point of view, for they had never objected to their daughter's working with me in a separate setting in the past. It is also interesting to note that the
principal has since allowed the student to be unsupervised in a crowded, tiled bathroom with the door shut. Apparently the principal believes the student is far safer alone there than she would be sitting in a chair, fully engaged in activities under my supervision. However, it seemed wisest to me to consider the best way to respond before doing so, and I resolved to speak with her the next day.
The next morning I made what I now consider to be a grave tactical error. I met with the principal and told her that I would abide by this rule. I went on to say that I understood that she felt it necessary because she had no prior experience with blind people. I truly believed at the time that for my own sake, as well as for my student's, we would have to learn to work together in harmony, and I was willing to make the first move toward that end. I hoped that given time she would come to realize that I was truly competent and worthy of the same respect given to the other professional educators with whom she worked.
However, for the moment I lost sight of the fact that I should not have had to prove myself to this woman, for her lowered expectations were based on nothing more than a personal bias against the blind. Thus, in saying this, I recognized that I was compromising my own integrity and letting down my blind brothers and sisters.
Although the principal never mentioned the information at the time, I soon discovered that all but one of the adults working with this student had been told that the aide must always be present when they were working with the child. Needless to say, I was somewhat relieved to hear this news because it appeared that I was not being singled out after all. I had never expected special treatment or even reasonable accommodations; all I wanted was to be treated like the other teachers. However, a week later I realized that the word "alone" in the principal's directive held a special meaning when applied to me.
The day I made this discovery the classroom
teacher did not have her plans ready until the class began to file in. This
meant that I would have to go with the flow and would not have the opportunity
to gather the necessary materials beforehand. Thus, when I determined that an
alternative lesson would be needed, I asked the aide to collect a few items
from my storage area. She then asked the teacher if she could leave to do so,
but the request was denied.
Rather embarrassed and apologetic, the teacher explained that the principal had made it very, very clear that the aide could not leave the student's side when I was teaching "because you are blind." The teacher was also told that, if anything ever happened while I was with the student in the classroom, the teacher would be responsible. She was, therefore, fearful of taking on this responsibility while teaching an entire class.
How demeaning and discriminatory! I could not even be trusted in a room full of children and a classroom teacher. So instead I left my student with the aide while I made the trip, dismayed once again at the loss of valuable teaching time. It was now abundantly clear that the principal's prejudice was affecting not only the education of this student but also the attitudes of the adults and children attending this school.
After one week it became obvious that a planning meeting was indeed necessary, and one was scheduled. However, no planning was accomplished, and the main topic became full inclusion. As mentioned previously, I was well aware of the school's commitment to this philosophy, but I naively thought that all decisions would nevertheless be child-centered, not based merely on a currently popular trend. I also foolishly believed that my input would be seriously considered since I alone among the educators there had expertise and experience working with this child.
I began by stating that I, too, believed in the value of full inclusion, but not necessarily for all children. In fact, much of my work as a TVI is aimed at enabling blind students to be educated alongside their peers. However, in this developmentally delayed child's case, successfully adapting the second-grade curriculum to meet her needs was not always possible or desirable. She frequently needed an alternative learning environment, creative strategies, and adaptive materials not always available in the regular classroom.
For example, I felt it was inappropriate for this student to listen to a lesson on Roman numerals when she really needed practice counting to ten. Similarly, listening to a cursive- writing video or writing her weekly spelling words with hand-over-hand guidance seemed meaningless since she could not read print or Braille at this time. Learning to use a tape recorder as a communication device seemed a more appropriate alternative. Finally, I reminded them that, to be included in society, she really needed to learn life skills such as putting on a coat, feeding herself, and organizing her personal belongings. Nevertheless, their attitude was that she was probably gaining more from these second-grade activities than I realized.
As proponents of full inclusion the classroom teacher, inclusion specialist, and especially the principal also insisted that any alternative instruction take place within the regular classroom. I then described the implications of this student's cortical visual impairment and, anticipating this difference of opinion, distributed numerous journal articles pertaining to CVI. I further explained that CVI studies and experience (mine as well as that of other educators who have worked with this student) have indicated that she cannot filter out extraneous visual and auditory stimuli. Her performance suffers greatly if competing sensory information is present, so some pull-out time is necessary.
Although all of the teachers in attendance voiced opposition to pull-outs, the principal's comments appeared to be more like a personal attack. She insinuated that I was old-fashioned and out of step with current educational practice and that I supported teaching this student in a separate setting for some self-serving reason. The others listened to my point of view, asked thoughtful questions, and offered possible compromises; but the principal seemed to do nothing but repeat that pull-out time would not be allowed. She supported this by saying that she had been to numerous workshops and conferences on inclusion, and not one had condoned pull-outs--hardly a good enough reason to reject a strategy that had proven to be successful with this particular child. Moreover, this discussion also indicated that the principal had been less than honest when, during our initial tour, she had pointed out a room in which I could work with this student. (I later discovered that I was not the only one at this meeting to sense the principal's hostility toward me. One of the teachers admitted that she was so appalled that she had nearly reported the way I had been treated to the superintendent.)
I assumed at the time that the principal's refusal even to consider my point of view on this issue was due to an almost fanatical support of full inclusion. It seemed that no amount of evidence to the contrary could change her belief that this philosophy was right for every child. However, I soon discovered that I was the only teacher who was not allowed to remove the student from the classroom for instructional purposes. The occupational therapist, orientation and mobility instructor, speech and language pathologist, physical therapist, and even the inclusion specialist work with this student outside the classroom. In contrast, while working with me, this student had to struggle to concentrate within the context of a very busy classroom, and meeting with little success.
During this inclusion discussion I also mentioned that much of my work with this student had included pre-teaching which would enable her to benefit from the regular classroom activities. When asked for an example, I explained that she could not always comprehend the stories used in second grade because she sometimes lacked knowledge of the necessary concepts. For instance, in her previous school, before her class was to listen to The Mud Puddle, I discovered she did not know what mud was or where dirt could be found. Thus, I had her dig up some dirt, make mud, and dramatize the story with a classmate. For other stories I had brought in bread dough, carrot seeds, lamb's wool, apples, and many other objects to provide the necessary concrete experiences beforehand.
Upon hearing of this, the classroom teacher
offered to do the same on this student's behalf. I thought this was highly appropriate
and said, "If you are willing to take the time and obtain the materials,
I'm sure many of your other students could benefit from this approach as well."
The principal immediately interrupted, saying to me, "Why should she get the materials? You should do it."
Tired of her emotional abuse and admittedly losing control myself, I sarcastically replied, "Perhaps I should spend my evenings locating and purchasing these things with my own money. Then I could just drop them off each morning because obviously I am not good enough to teach this child."
A mere two weeks after making the move to this school, I was sitting in my office when the collaborative's special education director, my boss, approached me to get an update on the situation there. I was visibly upset as I related the details of the way I was being treated and the way it was affecting my student's education. His response was immediate; I was not to enter that school again until something was done about the "hostile environment." I was relieved and very grateful for the vote of confidence and told him so. He simply replied, "The collaborative will support you, not only because we like you but because you are right."
Three days later a meeting took place between the collaborative's special education director and the involved personnel from this school to discuss possible solutions to the problems that had arisen. Afterwards he told me that, regrettably, the principal took no responsibility whatsoever for these problems, apparently preferring to place the blame on "Ms. Littrell's overly sensitive nature." He also said that although he made it very clear from the outset that it had been his decision, not mine, to remove me from the school, he had repeatedly to correct the principal's comments to the contrary. She also put more emphasis on problems such as the initial lack of storage space. In the end it was the town's special education director who explained that all I really wanted was respect.
Consulting his notes, my boss also reported that the principal was extremely upset over two particular incidents that she said she had witnessed. First, she did not approve of the aide's walking me out to the car every day, leaving my student alone, without supervision. Second, she accused me of having the aide take supplies from the closet on my behalf, which is against school policy. Both of these incidents were related as facts not only to my boss but also to the town's special education director, the aide's boss.
The aide and I were outraged to hear of these complaints because they were absolutely untrue. Thus, we wrote individual letters in our own defense, detailing evidence and requesting that the principal rectify the situation with those who initially heard these false charges. She never granted this request but subsequently explained to the aide that my boss had lied to me, for she had never said those things to him. Later she changed her story again and told the aide that what she had really said was that either the aide or I had been caught by the classroom teacher going through her personal belongings. Not surprisingly, the teacher denied ever having said this and did not appreciate in the least being used in yet another of this principal's false accusations.
After his meeting with the school staff, my boss then asked me if I would be willing to return to this school to give it another try. He warned me that he did not hold out much hope, given the principal's attitude. I absolutely did not want to return. All my life I have loved teaching, enjoyed working with children, and teaming with fellow professionals; but I dreaded entering that school every day and often left nearly in tears. Moreover, I feared the principal's retaliation after what she would consider all the trouble I had caused. But I agreed to try my very best to work things out, first because he had asked me to and second because I cared a great deal about my student.
Thus, the classroom teacher, inclusion specialist, individual aide, and I met to discuss our various roles and make specific plans for the following week. The principal was conspicuous by her absence, which made me feel far more at ease. We worked very well as a team, agreeing on almost everything and even laughing together. I believe that we all felt very optimistic about the future and decided that one more meeting was necessary before I could return as the TVI on this student's team. I also made it clear, however, that certain discriminatory measures would have to be changed before I would return. They rightly pointed out that the principal would have to address these issues.
However, this was not to be. A few days later the town's special education director informed my boss that the parents no longer wanted me to teach their daughter. This did not entirely surprise me since I was well aware of the close friendship they had with the principal. So I sent a small gift and a goodbye tape to their daughter, as well as a letter to the parents thanking them for giving me the wonderful opportunity of working with their terrific little girl.
A few weeks later the parents called me to apologize for insisting that I no longer teach their daughter. They explained that they were not aware of the facts until they later did some investigation on their own. All they knew at the time was that I was not showing up every day and their daughter was not receiving any TVI services. It seemed to them that I was not demonstrating appropriate concern for their daughter's education. But they now realize that it was not my decision to leave and why it was done.
Although I had felt I owed the parents an explanation at the time I stopped going to the school, my boss told me not to communicate with those involved. Apparently the two special education directors wanted to work out a solution without further complications. However, I was kept informed every step of the way by my boss, and I assumed everyone else was similarly notified. Yet the parents called the school every day to see if I had arrived, and the principal (both a close friend and the administrator of their daughter's school) never explained the situation to them. It would seem that the principal believed it was to her advantage to keep the parents in the dark, making me out as the villain.
At long last I have reached the end of my story. Reviewing the details here, I am astounded that it took me so long to recognize that prejudice was at the heart of the problems I experienced at this school. It was the aide who first brought out in the open the idea of prejudice when she told the town's special education director, "The principal can't tell someone who has done a job successfully for two years that she cannot do it because she is blind. That's against the law." My boss also interpreted the situation correctly almost immediately and labeled the principal a "bigot." Even my husband admitted later that he had suspected this explanation from the beginning but opted not to mention it until I came to this conclusion myself. Perhaps I just did not want to admit that a so-called educated woman, one who fervently believes in full inclusion for disabled children, was not capable of including a blind teacher on her staff.
Once I fully accepted that I was being treated differently and unfairly simply because I was blind, I went through numerous stages emotionally. My initial reaction was hurt. I know that I am a creative, dedicated, and talented teacher and that I did not deserve to be belittled in this way. I next felt anger and somehow wanted to punish this person who had made me so miserable and caused such havoc. And, as time passed, I even began to consider the advice given in the currently popular Eagles hit song, "Get Over It." This latter option was particularly enticing since I really wanted to close this chapter of my life and move on.
But I cannot do it. This is not the first time this principal has revealed her prejudice within the school setting, nor is it likely to be the last unless something is done to educate her. And, as my experience demonstrates, the consequences of her negative attitudes and actions can be profound and far-reaching. In this case they included the following:
1. The student is not receiving the thirteen hours of vision services specified on her IEP and, given the scarcity of TVI's in this area, may be without them for a very, very long time.
2. Those currently teaching this student are not receiving the needed consultative services of a TVI.
3. My teaching time has been cut by thirteen hours.
4. My salary has also been cut nearly in half.
5. My driver's hours and salary have similarly been cut.
6. The wonderful reputation I have enjoyed as a competent, caring teacher is in serious jeopardy.
7. As a principal, this woman's discriminatory attitudes and actions toward me as a blind person may well have negatively influenced the children and adults working and learning within her school.
It seems that the principal has gotten exactly what she wanted, while nearly every other team member has suffered the consequences of her prejudice. With this in mind my focus has once again shifted. I now believe that the most important task at hand is to educate this principal, if that is indeed possible, so that she will no longer wield her power unjustly. She needs to understand that her discriminatory actions are hurtful, immoral, and against the law.
Corally Littrell, TVI
[PHOTO #5: Portrait CAPTION: Mary Ellen Gabias]
AGING AND BLINDNESS: THE DOUBLE WHAMMY
by Mary Ellen Gabias
From the Editor: As longtime Federationists
know, Mary Ellen Gabias has been an active and knowledgeable member of the organization
for many years. In fact, when I attended my first state convention, she offered
to room with me and help me understand what was going on during that whirlwind
weekend. She was a college student at the time and I a young mother, but despite
the difference in our ages and preoccupations, we became immediate and fast
After college graduation Mary Ellen took a job in Nebraska which kept her traveling around the state and working with blind people, frequently senior citizens. She then moved to Chicago, where she worked in politics for a while before moving on to become Assistant Director of the Job Opportunities for the Blind Program at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore.
During those years she met and eventually married Dr. Paul Gabias, who was teaching psychology at a university in Nevada. They relocated to Canada when he found other teaching jobs north of the border, and they now have two small children, who keep Mary Ellen busy much of the time.
But she has always found time to advocate for improvements in the lives of blind people, and together Mary Ellen and Paul have established the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality (NFB:AE) in Canada to work directly on such issues. Their organization is based on NFB philosophy and is working to educate blind and sighted people alike about the abilities of blind citizens.
The following article is taken from the winter, 1994/95, edition of The Canadian Monitor, the publication of the NFB:AE. Here it is:
Many years ago a sighted retired teacher
walked into an agency for the blind to offer her services as a Braille transcriber.
The agency thanked her for volunteering but declined her offer. They explained
that at least a year of study was required to become a certified transcriber.
At her age the investment in training would not be worth the effort.
Undaunted, this teacher went to another
agency for the blind in the large city where she lived. They were seeking volunteer
readers for blind students and were only too happy to have her. Her volunteer
reading career spanned twenty-five years and enriched the lives of dozens of
blind people. Incidentally, she taught herself Braille though she never became
a certified transcriber.
Just last month a government official was responding to requests by blind consumers for better service. He assured everyone that he really understood blindness from personal family experience; his grandfather had been blind. As a young boy this official had been a sighted guide and personal assistant, so he knew how difficult blindness must be.
Taken together, these two stories illustrate the double whammy of blindness and aging when they occur together. One agency for the blind threw away the talents of a vital, energetic, and intelligent woman simply because of her age. Because she was sighted, their refusal to work with her had no dramatic effect. If she had been blind and seeking help, however, one shudders to think about the quality of the service she would have received from an agency with such low expectations of seniors.
The government official's most important and emotionally significant encounter with blindness happened at a time when very little was expected of blind people, especially older blind people. Though the world has changed since this gentleman was assisting his grandfather, his emotional attitudes about blindness had already been formed. If he were ever to become blind, he would need to do a great deal of rethinking about those attitudes.
Societal attitudes about aging have undergone a dramatic and needed transformation over the past generation. People who used to think of themselves as over the hill now demand their turn at the top of the heap. Though myths about aging are still far too prevalent, most of us know at least one active octogenarian. The word "senior" and "senile" are no longer synonymous in the public mind.
Societal attitudes towards blindness are changing too, though not quite as dramatically and rapidly. The public is beginning to accept or at least not to be astonished when blind people pull their own weight in the life of the community.
Unfortunately, when blindness comes in later life, all the old stereotypes about aging and blindness seem to return with a vengeance. The older blind person, having been raised in an era when blindness was thought to be synonymous with helplessness, often feels the only course of action is to adjust to
helplessness with as much grace and good humor as possible. The service worker in an agency for the blind, who may not have thought through the stereotypes about aging, often accepts as appropriate the resistance of a newly blind older person to learning blindness skills. The same worker is likely to push
harder when facing the same resistance from a young newly blind individual. In addition the community at large often accepts the notion that blindness necessarily results in diminished abilities for older people--"You can't teach an old dog new tricks" or "She has had a good life; it would be cruel to push her now." Even with the combined force of age and blindness stereotypes weighing them down, many newly blind older people still learn what they need to know in order to continue full and active lives.
An eighty-year-old continues doing her sewing and handicrafts. A seventy-year-old uses Braille for her extensive recipe collection. A retired gentleman takes up woodworking and sells his work. All three use their long white canes to travel independently on city streets and buses.
The difference between these active people (actual cases) and those who settle into a rocking chair is not intelligence or native ability. It is motivation, the availability of good training, and, above all, the right attitude.
Where can we, as a consumer movement, focus our energies in order to make the largest possible difference for people who become blind when they are older? First, we can continue to do public education at every opportunity. Second, we should take every opportunity to speak at church groups, senior centers, and other gatherings where older people and their families may be present.
Another good way to reach older people is to develop a buddy system. One NFB chapter in the United States assigned an older woman who was in poor health, but very interested in the problems of seniors, the task of telephoning older blind people in the community. She spent her day keeping in touch with these individuals; they became her friends and in the process improved the quality of their lives. In another case a group of seniors organized a handicraft sale and donated the proceeds to their local NFB chapter.
Finally, let's not forget that nowadays seniors are actively involved in many aspects of political and community life. Let's help transform this particular double whammy into an historic oddity.
[PHOTO #6: Peggy Elliott sits and listens
at the 1994 NFB convention CAPTION: Peggy Elliott]
[PHOTO #7: Portrait CAPTION: Barbara Cheadle]
OF READERS, DRIVERS, AND RESPONSIBILITY
by Peggy Pinder Elliott and Barbara Cheadle
From the Editor: The following article is reprinted from the Fall, 1994, issue of Future Reflections, the magazine of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, a Division of the National Federation of the Blind. It begins with Barbara Cheadle's editorial note. The discussion is constructive and timely for parents of blind children as well as for blind people of all ages. Here it is:
One of the presentations given at
the daylong seminar for parents of blind children at the 1994 NFB National Convention
was entitled "Readers and Drivers: The Other Alternative Techniques of
Blindness." For this presentation Peggy Elliott and I teamed up for a lively
discussion from two viewpoints: the blind person who uses readers and drivers
and the sighted person who provides the service. (Peggy is a blind attorney,
the Second Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind, and the President
of the NFB of Iowa. I am the editor of Future Reflections, President
of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, and the sighted parent
of a sixteen-year-old blind son.) However, everyone quickly discovered these
differences were only superficial. Since both speakers operated using the same
philosophy of blindness, we arrived quite naturally at complementary conclusions
about what parents and blind kids need most to know about these other alternative
The following article is an expansion and refinement of the discussion held at the parents' seminar. After looking at the transcript, both of us wanted to flesh out several ideas we had only had time to mention in passing at the seminar. We also agreed upon a slightly different title. Here, then, is what Peggy Elliott and I have to say about readers, drivers, and responsibility:
Peggy Pinder Elliott
I get to talk today specifically about
readers and drivers. But these are really only subparts of a much more general
topic, alternative techniques. I've heard some of today's session already, and
lots of people have used the term "alternative techniques." Let me
give you an example which I think will give more body to this concept and will
help you better understand my comments today about how readers and drivers function
(or should function) for blind people.
When I talk to school children about blindness, as I often do, I tell them I'm going to talk about alternative techniques such as Braille. Of course, they think this is interesting. I tell them that Braille's the same as print; they are alternatives to each other. When you're talking with second-, third-, or even fourth-graders, this concept is a bit of a reach; so I use an example. Here's what I say. I ask the children if their moms have a place in the kitchen where they keep cookies. The kids usually giggle and say, "Yeah."
"Do you know where that is?" I ask. Yes, they know where Mom keeps the cookies. Then I ask them if Mom can reach the cookies easily just by standing on the floor.
They say, "Oh, yeah, of course. She can reach them just standing on the floor."
I ask, "Can you reach the cookies standing on the floor?" "No!, uh uh. We're not supposed to get into the cookies."
"Do you know a way, when Mom's not in the kitchen, that you can get to those cookies?" They always giggle and give me various methods (usually involving counters and stools) that they have figured out for getting to the cookies. So I say, "Now, see, your mom's taller than you, so she can reach the cookies by standing on the floor. But you can still reach the cookies by using an `alternative technique.' The point is, you get the cookies, right?" Anyway, kids always like this subject, so I have found it to be a good way of explaining about alternative techniques. What I stress to the kids is that it isn't really important how you do it (get the cookies); the important thing is to get it done.
As parents of blind children you need to be concerned with making sure that your children learn techniques and approaches which they can use throughout their lives so they can get it done--whatever "it" is. Today, I'm going to help you with this job. I'm going to give you some pointers on what to teach your child about using readers and drivers. First I'm going to talk about what we--blind adults--do with readers and drivers.
We all know about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). We all know about the Braille literacy laws we have gotten passed in twenty-five states. We know there are lots of sources of reading material in alternative media (such as Braille and tapes) used by the blind. But, despite all this, I will tell you flat
out that it is not possible for all printed or written material ever to be simultaneously available in an alternative medium accessible to the blind. It is just not going to happen. For example, in my own practice (I'm a lawyer) I get a lot of stuff in handwriting. This type of material will not be readily accessible in my lifetime or even the lifetime of your children in any way other than through the use of a reader.
A reader, by the way, is a sighted person
who conveys to the blind individual the print or pictorial information on a
piece of paper. Every blind person needs to be able to use readers as one way
of getting information. This is true for students in college, and it's true
for blind people in most any job. Therefore, it's important to keep in mind
that readers are going to be a part of any blind person's life. I remind college
students of this all the time. I was talking just the other day to someone who
complaining about not getting a book in time for the beginning of a class. (It happened to be a college student, but it could have been a high school student.) I said that in a job the employer is not responsible for such details; the blind person is. One can't walk into the employer's office and say, "You have to provide me with this or that." The blind employee has to be able to walk into that office and say to the employer, "Tell me what I can do for you and by when you need it done." The use of readers gives blind people the flexibility needed to take on this responsibility. So understanding readers and learning how to use them are important techniques for parents to help their children learn to use.
Readers, in my view, are (as I once said to the consternation of some of my readers) information-acquisition tools. Some readers find this description a bit cold. I do not intend to be cold, but information acquisition is my goal when I use a reader--not friendship or companionship or anything else. The fact that the information is acquired through the use of another human being instead of through Braille, a tape recorder, or some other tool or device in no way changes the fact that I am using an alternative to get information others would get with their eyes. I think it's important for everyone concerned to understand that the sighted reader is first and foremost an information-acquisition tool for a blind person.
Most blind adults pay for readers. You simply cannot get readers on a regular basis in college, on the job, or even for personal affairs if you don't pay them. This makes reading an employer/employee relationship. The reading is then a service bought and paid for, not a favor to the blind person. The blind person needs to understand this and teach it to the reader. Reading is a service that's being provided. It's something I need. It's something for which I'm willing to pay. It is not a favor.
The most important and fundamental responsibility of the blind person in a reader relationship is to be in charge and to make all the decisions about what is read. This is easy to say but sometimes hard to implement. Sighted people who are new readers often want to tell the blind person what they think needs to be read, not what the blind person really wants to know but what the sighted person finds of interest. Therefore, when using an information-acquisition tool that happens to be human, the blind person has to be very clear that he or she is the one making the decisions and furthermore needs to convey this politely and firmly to the reader.
I was a prosecutor when I first came out of law school. Most of the material that came across my desk had been generated that day. There was no way to get at that material without having a sighted reader under my direction to read to me what I needed to know. On the other hand, I would never have gotten anything else done if I had not known when to tell the reader to stop reading. People hand you a lot of material these days that you don't need to read. Blind people must know how to acquire and analyze material quickly, regardless of whether the information is accessed through their own hands (Braille) or through another person (a reader).
The first thing--and this is very important--that blind children need to learn is that using readers is okay. It is one of the many appropriate alternative techniques they will be using throughout life. Using Braille is okay. Using tapes is okay. Using readers is okay. A high school principal came to me once in consternation. She said that, because she couldn't get a certain book in Braille for a blind student on time, the student had been excused from doing a book report. I landed on that principal with both feet! I said, "Why did the student get out of doing the book report? Don't you provide readers as an alternative when the book isn't available? Have you ever given the student experience in using a reader?" The principal was surprised. She had never thought about that student's need to learn how to use readers.
She didn't think of readers as an appropriate alternative technique. Well, they are. Obviously, the child first needs to know how to read and write--to be literate. But once that stage is achieved and the child has solid Braille skills, the next stage includes using tapes and readers.
How can you teach your child to use readers? For one thing, you can build it into the IEP (Individualized Education Program) when the child gets older (junior high or middle school). Determine in advance that certain material in certain classes will be read with readers. Research papers using reference material and other books from the library are good projects for reader use. Get the student involved in this procedure. He or she needs to play an active part in all the decisions regarding reader use. Parents, the student's Braille teacher, or blind adult role models can then conduct some reader training sessions with the student. Use a book the student has used and with which he or she is familiar. Ask the student to decide what should be read; then teach the youngster how to give oral instruction to move a reader through the printed material. You may even want to do a role reversal. Have the student be the reader with his or her Braille text, and you do the directing.
The important thing to remember is not
to help the student too much. In fact, you may want to make a distinction between
your teacher/reader role and your reader-only role. As a teacher/reader you
will interrupt and make suggestions as your child practices directing you in
reading. You may also discuss the layout and content of the book and the illustrations,
etc. But in your role as a reader you will only read what you are directed to
read, and you will not make comments or judgments about what you are asked to
read or not read. Nor will you give information from the material which you
have not been asked to provide (descriptions of pictures or illustrations or
information about appendices, bibliographies, etc.)
It can be extremely difficult to do,
but if the student does not ask you to read something, keep your mouth shut.
Do not read anything except what you have been directed to read. Conversely,
if the student asks you to read material you think is unnecessary, don't make
any comments or judgments; just read. The student must learn to be in charge
and to accept the consequences of decisions, including mistakes. Besides, you
will find even in the early stages that your child is often right and you are
wrong. Even if you are very familiar with the subject matter, the student knows
more about the class, the teacher, and the teacher's expectations than you do.
Remember, in this situation you are a reader--not a tutor, not a parent, not
a teacher, not a mentor, not a friend, but a reader only. Be sure that others
who read for your child understand this. As the parent you may have to be aggressive
in insisting that those who read for your child follow these rules.
This is especially true since it is more common for blind children and youth to have volunteer readers as opposed to paid ones. Also readers are more likely at this stage to be selected by someone other than the student--parents, teachers, etc. These circumstances combined with the youth and inexperience of the student tend to blur the issue of who is in control, who is making the decisions. The primary motivation of those who are paid for a service is clear--money. The connection between keeping their job and following the rules laid down by the student is also clear. The motivation for volunteers is somewhat different. They want to help a blind person; maybe they are even friends with the student. Such volunteers tend to think of themselves more as partners than as employees receiving instructions. This situation requires more delicacy and tact if the blind student is to remain in control but still keep a reader happy and motivated to continue reading.
If, however, a reader is a paid employee of the school, such as a teacher's aide, the student may still have a problem. Because the child is young and is a student, both reader and student may assume that the reader is automatically in charge by virtue of age and status as a school employee. If a reader under these circumstances refuses to follow the directions of the student, the parent or Braille teacher or both must insist that the reader be replaced with someone who will cooperate.
Usually members of one's own family are a student's first readers. This can work well as long as the principle is established and followed that the student is in charge of the reading. However, if siblings are required to read, there need to be trade-offs. Siblings need to feel that they get something out of this arrangement too. Maybe they will be paid (if so, then the blind student needs an equal opportunity to do work for which there is pay), or maybe an exchange of services can be made between the blind student and sighted sibling. For example, one student allowed his older sibling to read his taped books from the Library for the Blind in exchange for reading services. Whatever the circumstances, the objective is always the same: for the blind students to get the printed information they want--not what someone else thinks they should have.
With regard to drivers the framework of analysis is essentially the same. I can repeat exactly what I said with this slight change: the objective is not to get information, of course, but to get somewhere. Because blind children will not become drivers when they grow up, they must integrate into their life pattern a plan for other people to drive them. They will not have the option of picking up the keys and jumping into the car whenever they need to go somewhere. This will be irritating and a nuisance, but let me tell you something; it's okay. There are appropriate alternatives, and they do work. It helps, though, if you understand the options, if you train your kids to know how to handle the alternatives, and if you let them know that these alternatives are okay.
Again, you must remember that, if you are using paid drivers, they are not doing you a favor. Drivers are supposed to do what you tell them to do and be where you say you want them when you want them. You have to learn to plan ahead when you're dealing with drivers. If you have to get to the airport, you should avoid calling someone at the last minute in the hope that they will do you a favor and get you there on time. You've got to be sure that your drivers will show up when you need them. Therefore, you must approach using a driver as a service which you plan and direct and for which you are willing to pay.
The two major issues involved in planning the use of drivers are scheduling and routing. Since scheduling is something parents work on with all kids, the scheduling of driver service need not be approached any differently; the same principles apply. But what about routing? A blind student has planned ahead and arranged for driver service to an event. The driver arrives; the student gets into the car; then what? Who sets the itinerary? Who decides the route to and from the destination? Well, when I'm in the car and have hired the driver, I set the itinerary, and I decide the route. How do I know the route? If I have never been to the place before, I get directions in advance just as anyone else would do. This surprises many people because the tendency is for the sighted person to take responsibility for this task. Sighted people don't expect a blind person to be aware of surroundings or capable of giving directions. And sadly many blind people can't because they never learned to do so or even realized that it was possible.
Parents can play an active role in preparing blind youth to learn driving routes and how to give directions to drivers. One method I would recommend very strongly is emulating a driver. Try, for example, a trip to the supermarket. Get into the car with your youngster, get behind the wheel, then say "Okay, where do we go?"
Now your kid might try to be smart and say "To the supermarket," but don't buy it. Demand specific instructions for every turn. When you back out of the driveway, do you turn right or left? (Which raises another interesting travel problem for your child: what do right and left mean when you're going in reverse as opposed to going forward in a vehicle?). How many blocks do you travel before you turn? Which direction do you turn? Is there a light or a stop sign at the turn? Are there any landmarks--buildings, signs, etc.--to which the driver should be alert? It may take you a couple of hours the first time you try this, but there's no better way for your kid to learn. So you might as well not plan to buy milk that first time. You may not even get there the first time you try this, but that's okay. The best thing parents can do for their children is give them time so they will have opportunities such as this to learn by doing. They need time and encouragement to do things on their own, to make mistakes and learn from them. And they need to know from you that this is an okay way to learn. Drivers, like readers, will tend
unconsciously to take over. Your child needs to have the training and confidence to resist this impulse and take charge of the situation.
After you've completed this exercise, sit down and talk to your child about concepts he or she may have missed. What is a block? How do streets intersect? What is the difference between parallel and perpendicular traffic? Can he or she use the cardinal directions: east, west, north, and south? What about
describing various traffic patterns: one-way streets, multiple lanes, right turns on red, left-turn-only lanes, four-way stop signs, speed limits, and so forth? These concepts aren't necessarily hard to learn, nor should their mastery be restricted to mobility class. Have your kid sit up front with you when you drive and talk about these traffic patterns as you encounter them. Talk out loud about what you see when you drive.
How about maps? Does your child know how to use them? Kids need to have and use maps. They don't always have to be permanent works of art. You can use table utensils and napkins to make simple maps which show how streets intersect to make blocks.
After your kid has some success in directing you as a driver, branch out to other family members, relatives, friends, and volunteers. Give your kids the chance to learn how to direct a lot of different people as drivers. When they become adults and are finally out on their own, they'll be able to get where they want to go because you gave them many opportunities to learn and practice these skills when they were young.
My experiences in driving and reading
have been as a volunteer within the National Federation of the Blind. Reading
and driving have been a part of what I have contributed to the organization.
In fact, I have never been a paid driver or reader for anyone. I first joined
the NFB as a member of the local chapter in Omaha, Nebraska. I was sighted,
my husband was sighted, and we owned a twelve-passenger van. At the time it
made sense that driving could be one of our contributions to the chapter. (Please
note that I said "could" not "should" be driving. The fact
that people are sighted and drive does not mean that this is automatically the
contribution they should make as members of the NFB. Although I still drive
occasionally for local chapter functions, it is no longer one of my primary
contributions to the affiliate.)
One of my earliest experiences in driving under the direction of a blind colleague was with a fellow named Jerry Eckery. I recall that the first time I drove Jerry someplace I did not know where we were going, and he gave directions. He was excellent. He did everything Peggy was telling you that you should teach your child to do when in charge of a driver. He was in control. He knew where he was going and was able to give instructions and describe landmarks that a sighted driver could follow. We would make a turn, and he would say, "You should be passing an Exxon station to your left." Sure enough, there it was. This was a route he had never walked. He had no reason to know about that Exxon station except that he knew it would be helpful to the sighted drivers he would be directing. I truly appreciated and learned a lot from Jerry. As a driver, volunteer or paid, it certainly made my job a lot easier to be able to sit back and follow directions. That's what I did when I was Jerry's driver.
Another member of our chapter whom my husband and I frequently drove to meetings was an elderly woman who had grown up as a blind child in a very protected and sheltered environment. She didn't have much money, and she didn't get out much. She didn't have Jerry's extensive knowledge of the city, but she did know her own street and could give others information about her area. She did something else which I truly came to appreciate. She knew that I was a member of the NFB chapter and that I considered driving my contribution. Nevertheless, she did not take my driving for granted. She always thanked me for the ride. From time to time she offered me money (which I always refused) or a trinket or toy for my children (which I would accept). She did not have Jerry's knowledge, independence, and resources, but she had dignity, she was courteous, and she did not expect others to do for her what she could do--however small it was--for herself. That attitude was evident in the way she treated me as a driver.
Having said that, let me shift gears,
so to speak, and talk to you about some of my pet peeves as a driver. When I'm
done, Peggy will get a shot at the same topic. I think that one of my top pet
peeves is driving for someone who is consistently unable to give me directions
or tell me about landmarks: who, in short, is never able to tell me anything
more than the address of our destination. I am not annoyed at the individual,
for I know that this is merely a matter of ignorance and lack of skills. These
people, as blind children or as newly blinded adults, never had the opportunity
to learn how to take responsibility for giving directions to others and furthermore
never knew that this was possible. Rather I am annoyed and angry at the real
culprits: parents who overprotected their children, rehabilitation systems which
custodialize instead of promoting independence, and the general cultural environment
which continues to promote an image of the blind as helpless and dependent.
You can avoid this problem with your children by teaching them these skills
and especially conveying to them that it is their responsibility to know how
to get to where they want to go and how to direct those who are driving them.
How do you do that? Here is one idea. We used to play an orientation game when we were traveling in our vehicle with our three children (one of whom is blind). My husband would say, "If I were to get in the car, pull out of the driveway, turn left, go two blocks, cross the street at the light, proceed to the next
light and make a left, then stop about halfway down the block, where am I?" The children would guess the answer. Then one of them would have a turn to describe a route--putting in all turns, landmarks, etc. as appropriate--and the rest of us in the car would guess the answer. This was a great game, not just for our blind son, but for everyone in the family. You can think of other mobility or orientation games to play too.
Also when I'm in a vehicle as a driver or as a passenger, I naturally talk a lot about landmarks. I call everyone's attention to a new billboard, a new four-way-stop sign, the architectural style of buildings we pass, and so forth. This natural tendency on my part was helpful especially to our blind son. He began to learn about the things in the surrounding environment that sighted drivers use as important landmarks in getting about.
The ability to operate a car personally is, unquestionably, a great convenience in our society. However, people pay a great deal for this convenience. It is expensive to own and operate a vehicle--even a clunker or an economy high-gas-mileage model. My other pet peeve is with people who assume that, not only is driving your own car more convenient than alternative modes of transportation, but it is also much cheaper. This just isn't so. Years ago my husband (who was single at the time) compared his yearly transportation expenses--personal and job-related--with those of a blind colleague. Both of them worked for a state agency in supervisory positions, doing pretty much the same type of job. They were both bachelors, lived in the same city, and were in the same social circle, so their personal social activities were equivalent. Out of curiosity they sat down (they spent hours doing this) with all their tax information and compared personal and business transportation expenses. My husband owned and operated a travel-all van; his friend used all the available alternative transportation modes available to him: public transportation, taxis, walking, and privately paid drivers for both business and personal use (he was reimbursed for on-the-job travel expenses at the same rate my husband and other sighted employees were reimbursed for their travel expenses). The difference in expenses was no more than $2.00. (Don't ask me which way it came down, Peggy. I don't remember.)
As parents you are in a position to teach your child about the real costs of owning and operating a vehicle. We teach our sighted children these things. Many sighted sixteen-year-olds are required to work or save money to help pay for the cost of their automobile insurance, the gas they use in the family car, or the cost of their own vehicle. How many parents think to teach this information to their blind teenagers? Do your blind teenagers know how much their automobile insurance would cost if they drove? How about the up-front purchase cost of a car. Do your blind teens know that most people go into debt and spend years making monthly payments on the cost of a vehicle? What about maintenance and repair costs? Have your blind teenagers gone with you to the auto shop to buy tires or to pay a $200 repair bill and pick up a car, which has been in the shop for a week?
This information helps your teens in many ways. It gives them a better perspective on and understanding of their own transportation costs now and when they become independent adults. They will feel different about the monthly cost of bus fare, taxi fare, and private driver's fees if they know what it costs the average sighted guy to drive a car. This knowledge will also help them as adults to negotiate fees for private drivers successfully and fairly. Many blind teens will grow up and eventually own cars, which will be operated by sighted spouses, other family members (such as sighted teenagers), or even hired drivers. But for some reason (perhaps our stereotyped notions about blindness) we parents seldom think about the necessity of teaching our blind children about the costs and problems of owning and operating a vehicle.
This knowledge will also help your children grow up to be effective and courteous users of volunteer drivers. Even when they become financially independent adults, there will always be occasions when the most convenient, or only available, transportation is with a friend, a co-worker, a neighbor, or other people willing to volunteer a ride. Should the driver be offered money for gas? How much out of the way is it reasonable to ask the driver to go? Should you arrange to do a favor in exchange for the ride or just remember to do something special for the person sometime? Or, under the circumstances, is there a need to do anything at all other than say "Thanks?" Every situation is different, so there is no one right answer to these questions. However, the more knowledge blind people have about the transportation time and costs to sighted drivers, the better able they will be to make decisions which keep everyone--rider and driver--happy and feeling good about the situation.
As a volunteer driver I have been in all the situations described. When my children were small, I sometimes exchanged favors with a blind friend who also had small children. She would baby-sit for my children, and I would drive or read for her. It was a legitimate exchange of favors, and we considered it an equal relationship. On other occasions, when driving to a Federation meeting, for example, it might or might not be appropriate for riders to share the expense. If the meeting was hours away, clear across the state, sharing the costs made sense. If it was a local meeting for which I incurred no significant extra expense either in time or mileage, it never seemed right to accept more than a "Thank you" from riders.
To sum up, you can give your children a head start in avoiding these pet peeves if you give them a good education now in how to be responsible for and skilled in meeting their own transportation needs.
When I started thinking about pet peeves
I only came up with two, but they're pretty all-encompassing. One involves the
sighted, and one involves the blind. Interestingly enough they are obverse sides
of the same coin. My pet peeve involving blind people is (and possibly I feel
more strongly about this because I am so aware that it doesn't need to be this
way) blind people who don't take responsibility. Responsibility for what? Well,
for anything! It starts when you're a kid. For example, in my family we had
a whole passel of kids; there were six of us. And at the dinner table, if you
didn't push your chair in when you got up from the table, three or four of your
brothers and sisters were likely to wind up with bruised shins, and they would
come and pound on you because they had tripped over the chair you forgot to
push in. In my family pushing in your chair wasn't a matter of courtesy; it
was a matter of survival.
Now I ask you, how many blind kids do you suppose get up from the table and push in their chairs? And how many don't push in their chairs? How many parents consistently say, "Son, come back here and push in your chair," and how many do you suppose never say a word, but just push it in themselves? How many blind kids get up from the table and leave while everybody else in the
family carries the dirty dishes into the kitchen? How many of you require your sighted kids to help clear the table but never ask your blind kid to do his or her part?
Most blind adults who do not take responsibility were once blind children who were never asked to carry the same weight as others. Furthermore, usually no one even described to the child what others were doing. The blind child may not know that other people push in their chairs. Eventually the kid will deduce
either that all chairs are on automatic rollers or that someone else is pushing them in. But why not make it a point of instruction and responsibility for the blind kid at the same age you would do it for the sighted kid? It is simply a matter of courtesy for all of us to push in our chairs. Why not make it a point of instruction that all family members--including the blind child--will help with this or that task: making beds, vacuuming, collecting laundry, folding laundry, etc.?
Blind children who do not get this instruction are the ones who grow up to become those blind adults who do not know how to tell others where they live, who do not know how to give instructions to a driver, who are not responsible enough to schedule transportation ahead of time, and who do not have the courtesy to offer payment to a driver when appropriate. To me responsibility and courtesy go hand in hand. I am afraid that all too many blind children--and some blind adults too--have not been taught or have forgotten the lessons of responsibility and courtesy.
These lessons must be taught by you, the parents of blind children. It may sometimes take a little longer to teach your blind child. The first time you tell your kid to push in a chair, you may need to walk around behind him and put his hands on the chair and show him how to push. So what? Even if you have to do this a number of times, eventually he will learn to push the chair in by himself. He will have learned a lesson in courtesy and will have taken on a little bit more responsibility. This, in the end, lets him hold his head higher because he is then a part of what's going on around him, not a helpless bystander. And each such experience makes the next task easier to learn.
The obverse of this pet peeve is, of course, the sighted person who assumes that she knows what is good for a blind person and that it is her job to take care of everything for the blind individual. You'd be surprised how many things are simply done for us, to us, and around us that we may not ever know about unless we are alert and know to anticipate the problem. Even then we may only learn about what was done after it is too late to do anything about it. Let me give you two examples of this pet peeve.
I was standing on a street corner one day. The light was red for travel in my direction. A woman came up behind me, grabbed my arm--practically cutting off the circulation, and said that she would take me across the street. I pointed out to her that the light was red and that I was waiting for traffic to stop and the light to change so that I could cross safely. She dropped my arm in anger, said, "Well, you think you know so much," and walked away. I was quite capable of judging whether or not it was safe to cross that street, and I wasn't about to go just because she said it was okay. She was welcome to go if she wanted to, but I wasn't going with her. In effect, she was trying to take responsibility for me and then became irritable when I pointed out the basic facts about red and green lights and furthermore insisted on taking responsibility for myself. That really torched her. The attitude which prompts this kind of behavior among sighted people toward the blind not only diminishes the dignity of blind persons but diminishes the sighted as well.
Here's another very recent example. This happened when my husband (who is quite tall and also blind), my secretaries, and I were in line to board the airplane to come to this convention. My sighted colleagues and I had walked through the airplane door when, as my husband was about to walk through, the flight attendant cried out, "Watch his head!" Well, we all spun around and looked--for whatever good that did! She had good intentions, she was trying to give him information, but she didn't know how to do it. She thought someone else had to be responsible for him; someone else had to "watch his head"--he couldn't do it himself. My husband's been tall a long time, and he's gotten onto a few planes in his life. He knows when and how to protect his rather tall head.
These incidents are a continuing irritation to blind people. It is abrasive to our dignity to have sighted people around us assume that they are responsible for us and then proceed to do things and take actions which we could--and should--be doing for ourselves. But as blind adults we must simply deal with these situations. How do we do it? Well, at the personal day-to-day level we hopefully bring to these incidents the right balance of courtesy, tact, and firmness. We do not wish to be rude, but neither must we let ourselves be pushovers and let others take responsibility for us. On a broader level this is the very reason for the existence of the National Federation of the Blind: public education. The person who thinks he has to help me across the street is likely to be the same person who will deny me a job. But I know that what we do in the National Federation of the Blind has changed public attitudes and will continue to change them. I know I am treated with greater respect on the street and in the workplace than were our founders, like Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, fifty years ago. Furthermore, I intend to do my part so that your children will be able to say the same thing about my generation.
And what role do you, the parents, play? Again, on the day-to-day, personal level you need to teach your children to take responsibility for themselves. You need to instill in them the confidence and skill to be tactful yet firm with those-- kindly as they may be--who will try to take it away from them. You are their first sighted model. Yes, in the NFB we talk a lot about blind models, and your child does need us. But they need good sighted models too. And you are their first, and can be their best, sighted model. What do you model for your child? Do you insist, in small ways and large, that they take responsibility for themselves? Do you graciously back down when your lesson takes, and they tell you firmly, "Leave me alone. I will do this myself"? And at the broader level are you doing your part as a member of the National Federation of the Blind to educate the sighted public about the capabilities of the blind?
As I said, my pet peeves are pretty all-encompassing. But if you want your blind child to grow up to be independent in all areas of life as an adult, including the effective use of readers and drivers, I think you must honestly address the issues we have raised here today.
[PHOTO #8: Bonnie Peterson stands at microphone. CAPTION: Bonnie Peterson]
SKILLS FIRST: TEACHER SAYS ADA CAN'T CREATE JOBS
by Bill Guida
From the Editor: Occasionally even
experienced Federation leaders are pleasantly surprised by the quality of an
article that results from an interview with a reporter. Usually one can tell
whether the reporter is bored or interested, puzzled by the complexities of
the issue or intrigued by them, filled with distress and pity at the plight
of blind people or fascinated by the prospect of their fighting for the rights
and responsibilities of first-class citizenship. Bonnie Peterson, President
of the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin, was uneasy when the woman
who does public relations for her university contacted her to say that a reporter
wanted an interview. The paper in question, the Kenosha News, almost never does
stories about people who are not themselves residents of the community. And,
though the University of Wisconsin-Parkside is in Kenosha, the Peterson home
is not, so Bonnie figured he would quickly lose interest in the interview. In
fact, he didn't even show up for it. But he eventually rescheduled. He was running
late, however, so he arrived while she was teaching a class, and Bonnie had
to juggle the interview and her teaching responsibilities simultaneously. But
she managed to give the reporter the time he wanted even though he seemed distracted
while they were talking. Bonnie is nothing if not professional and dedicated
to educating the public about blindness and sensible attitudes toward blind
people. Mostly they talked about the impact of the Americans with Disabilities
Act (ADA), but other topics crept in as illustrations and asides.
She was totally unprepared when, on Sunday, January 22, 1995, the story appeared on the front page of the Kenosha News. She was even more astonished when she read the story, for the reporter had indeed been listening and had managed to incorporate much of their conversation in the article. Here it is:
The law cannot change negative attitudes
toward people with disabilities.
Not even the Americans with Disabilities Act can do that.
Nor, says Bonnie Peterson, President of the Wisconsin chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, is the ADA meant to do that.
"What do businesses need? They need skilled employees. Skills first, then accommodations," argues Peterson. "You can't force things down people's throats."
There's no reason an employer should tolerate someone who is blind who doesn't first demonstrate skills for the job in question, she adds.
"Right now, what you just saw me do is the most important thing," says Peterson.
Peterson gestures toward a television studio in the basement of the Communication Arts Building at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. She's just finished teaching a class there on public speaking.
"The ADA is a law; it's just a law. And most people are afraid of it," Peterson continues. "But it's just a part of something--education. Teaching people the skills they need to compete for jobs: that's what's important."
Back in the studio Peterson focuses a video camera on a student who has moved behind a table in the front of the room. She rolls the camera back on its wheeled tripod a few inches as she listens intently to the speaker.
As the student speaks, Peterson uses a stylus to punch out rapid-fire notes in Braille on the notepad in her lap.
When the speaker finishes, Peterson invites critiques of the presentation from his classmates in the television audience. Then she offers some of her own, mixing praise with constructive criticism.
Peterson's assertiveness training began as a child.
She learned early that sighted teachers expected less of her, apparently reasoning that, because she was blind, she was impaired intellectually as well.
"When I was young, people sold me short because I was blind. But I knew I needed those skills," said Peterson.
Peterson tells of purposely getting teachers angry at her to make them give her challenging assignments--the same work assigned to sighted children.
These days she tilts at bigger dragons: the state Department of Public Instruction, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, even federal agencies.
Substituting pseudo-aids for the teaching of real, marketable skills to the blind really raises Peterson's hackles.
Take the half-sphere domes known as truncated domes some municipalities are placing in sidewalk pavement and crosswalks, the theory being that the rougher surface will help blind people navigate city streets more safely.
"They're not safe at all. Your cane can get caught in them--your heels, if you're wearing high heels, whether you're blind or not," says Peterson, her exasperation obvious. "Nobody in our state organization or at the national level supports truncated domes."
The ADA has been a boon to people suddenly and allegedly specializing in products and services for the handicapped, she says.
Mixed with the legitimate providers are the unscrupulous, who prey on the ignorant, exploiting the ever-present fear of lawsuits. They include contractors who persuade business owners and managers that the ADA requires them to do things they're not legally obligated to do.
Peterson recounts the story of a Madison hotel manager who insisted the law required the hotel to provide special accommodations if her organization was to book its annual convention at the site.
"Apparently some contractor had told him that we had to have strobe lights above the beds. Now why in the world would blind people need strobe lights?" Peterson asks with a laugh.
She doesn't discount the importance of the ADA in addressing problems of inaccessibility for people with impaired mobility. Workplace accessibility was at the heart of the act that went into effect in 1990. And it has proven especially effective for people using wheelchairs, says Peterson.
By paying attention to the people with the handicaps, private firms and public agencies can only benefit, she adds.
Take truncated domes. What might be a better solution?
Longer canes, perhaps, with metal disks on the tips, similar to the metal disks used on the bottom of chair and desk legs in school rooms.
Again, it comes down to learning the necessary skills.
For Peterson these skills are fundamental, of course, but they aren't the kind of marketable skills that should be the subject of job interviews.
"Is walking up stairs a marketable job skill? No. So why are you focusing on it?" Peterson asks, rhetorically. "I have skills that are equal to yours."
She points out that without good listening, reading, and note-taking skills she couldn't survive in her profession.
"The skills you have worked for are the same I have worked for. We just do them in different ways," says Peterson.
There you have the article, and the reporter was clearly unwilling to let it go at that. He and Bonnie had also talked about the problems surrounding the question of Braille literacy and teacher competency in Wisconsin (see the March, 1994, issue of the Braille Monitor for the details), and he wanted to tell his readers something about the situation. In a box to the right of the article, the following information appeared:
Declining Blind Literacy is Concern
One of Bonnie Peterson's more recent fights pitted her against the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC).
Peterson heads the state chapter of the National Federation of the Blind.
The fight centered on a DPI policy that WEAC supported and Peterson links to a decline in literacy among blind Wisconsin schoolchildren.
That policy allows special education
teachers who can't read Braille themselves to teach blind children to read Braille,
To bolster her argument, she cites a drop in the blind literacy rate in the state to 4 percent.
That compares to a national average of
48 percent in 1965, according to the American Printing House for the Blind.
Without literacy skills blind school children will become blind adults lacking the most fundamental job skill of all.
The compromise solution her organization worked out with DPI and WEAC will require that after July 1, 1995, teachers hired to teach blind students how to read Braille prove their proficiency in Braille by completing the National Literary Braille Competency Test. They also must demonstrate that they have practiced teaching Braille to school children.
But a DPI rule allows previously hired teachers with A-25 licenses to demonstrate proficiency by successful completion of either the NLBCT "or two semester credits in reading and writing of Braille, or thirty department approved clock hours in reading and writing Braille."
"Only time will tell if it is the right thing to do," says Peterson. "But two semester credits on a college level is not a very substantial course." The compromise angers Peterson. For the first time in eight years of teaching, she said she was ashamed to call herself a teacher.
"Never before have we allowed people to be certified who were not qualified," she said.
DPI Superintendent John T. Benson disagrees with Peterson on the issue of A-25 licensing and qualifications of teachers currently holding such licenses.
"I'm satisfied that the entire community that's affected by this had its chance to be heard. All the legislators that reviewed this were satisfied," Benson said.
FOCUS ON A LEADER: TOMMY CRAIG
by Elizabeth Campbell
The following brief sketch of Tommy Craig, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas, first appeared in the Winter, 1995, edition of the NFBT News, a publication of the NFB of Texas. The author, Liz Campbell, is President of the Fort Worth Chapter and a reporter for the Fort Worth Star Telegram. Here it is:
Tommy Craig doesn't shy away from helping
people fight for dignity and equal treatment in society. As the new president
of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas, Craig, thirty-nine, emphasizes
the abilities and capabilities of blind people. However, he knows that many
blind people believe that they can't compete on terms of equality with their
sighted peers. He also knows firsthand that often those who are supposed to
help blind people hurt them with their own negative attitudes about blindness.
Craig was born in Ashdown, Arkansas, in 1955, and he says that his parents did not allow his blindness to be an obstacle or a hindrance.
"I was the only blind person in the town where we lived," he recalls. "When I dropped something, they made me get down and pick it up. People thought they were mean, but I am glad they treated me that way."
At age nine Craig left home to attend the Arkansas School for the Blind in Little Rock. He found much that was negative at the school. However, he was able to gain some positive skills such as a good working knowledge of Braille. He says, "I wasn't happy about going to the school for the blind, but it enabled me to learn Braille, which is one of the best things ever to happen to me."
Mr. Craig's parents died when he was young, and he moved to Texas. He lived in Houston with an aunt and uncle and completed his secondary education at MacArthur High School after spending some time at the Texas School for the Blind in Austin. Then he completed two years of college at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches and the University of Texas at Austin. Subsequently he took a job as a houseparent at the Texas School for the Blind.
While living in Austin, Craig discovered the National Federation of the Blind. He recalls learning about the work of the Federation when he attended the Austin Chapter's Christmas party in 1976. There he heard a taped presentation describing the Federation's efforts to help blind people who worked at the
Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind. He felt strongly that this effort was important, and it served to cement his commitment to the Federation.
Soon after joining the NFB, Craig became President of the Austin Chapter and a member of the NFB of Texas Board of Directors. In 1993 he became Secretary of the NFB of Texas, and at the March, 1994, convention in Odessa he was elected President.
For many years Craig served on the affiliate's Legislative Committee. During the time he served on this important committee, the Federation worked tirelessly to secure the passage of many significant pieces of legislation. He is particularly proud of the fact that he was serving on the committee in 1991 when the Federation spearheaded the passage of the Texas Braille Literacy Act. This momentous legislation guarantees all blind students who live in Texas the right to learn Braille, and it has become a model for the country.
Craig says that his new role as the elected leader of the NFB of Texas offers many exciting challenges. He suggests that advocacy will be in the forefront during his administration.
He says, "One thing I really enjoy is representing students, doing advocacy work, and getting out there to work for blind people."
[PHOTO #9: The Museum of Science and Industry is an ornate, multi-columned, domed building. CAPTION: The Museum of Science and Industry was opened in 1893 for the World's Columbian Exposition.]
[PHOTO #10: The Empress River Casino glides through the water along the banks of the Des Plaines River. CAPTION: The Empress River Casino, a 222 foot casino on the Des Plaines River]
by Stephen O. Benson
From the Editor: Steve Benson is President of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois. As you can tell from the following article, the affiliate is working hard to ensure that this summer's convention is the best ever. Be sure to make your hotel reservations as soon as possible so you won't be disappointed. Room rates are singles, $47; doubles and twins, $49; triples, $54; and quads, $57 (no charge for children rooming with parents if no extra bed is required). In addition to these charges, there will be a tax, which at present is almost 15 percent. Write to Hilton and Towers Hotel, 720 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60605, Attention: Reservations; or call (312) 922-4400. Hilton has a national toll-free number, but do not (we emphasize NOT) use it. Reservations made through this national number will not be valid. They must be made directly with the Hilton and Towers in Chicago. Now here's a glimpse of what the Illinois affiliate has in store for us during our free time at the convention:
Chicago is a city of tremendous diversity. Within a mile and a half of the Chicago Hilton and Towers Federationists will find restaurants serving the cuisine of Italy, Greece, China, Thailand, Germany, Russia, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, and India, and of course the hardy fare of the United States. As we did in 1988, conventioneers will prowl "Taste of Chicago," the annual summer food fest in Grant Park. Federationists can also sample jazz, blues, and other musical forms. Museums are close at hand. One of the best ways to become acquainted with the Windy City is through our six Wednesday afternoon and three evening tours. The Illinois affiliate has planned a variety of tours that will satisfy diverse tastes and interests. Following are descriptions of nine tours and the tour reservation form. Readers of the Braille, cassette, or disk editions of the Braille Monitor may copy the information from the order form with a computer or typewriter and indicate tour choices. Please send completed forms, along with appropriate payment, to the address shown on the form no later than the second week of June. (Reservations must be in the hands of Windy City Events by June 19.) We've had fun working with this fine tour operator to craft tours that we know you will enjoy.
Tour #1: The Museum of Science and Industry
Step into the Midwest's leading tourist attraction. More than four million people visit the Museum each year. It houses more than 2,000 exhibit units in seventy-five exhibition halls in a fifteen-acre complex. The Museum's exhibits demonstrate scientific principles, technological advances, and industrial applications; and besides all this, it's fun.
The Museum's Henry Crown Space Center is devoted to space exploration. A mock shuttle takes visitors on a simulated flight, and you can walk around in a re-creation of a space station.
An important part of the Henry Crown Space Center is the Omnimax Theater. This unique facility boasts the largest projector in the world. It projects its image on a domed screen that covers a 180-degree field of view. Omnimax presentations are dramatically enhanced by a seventy-two-speaker system that generates 20,000 watts of audio power.
In addition, the Museum houses a Boeing 727 airliner, a World War II German submarine and a coal mine. This exciting tour takes place Wednesday afternoon, July 5, from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. The cost is $20 per person.
Tour #2: The Illinois Railway Museum
Railroads began service to Chicago almost a century and a half ago. Through the intervening years more than twenty-five railroads have played a critical role in developing Chicago's position in commerce and industry. Railroads transported vast amounts of raw material and finished products in and out of the Windy City. Enormous crowds of people poured through Chicago's six principal rail terminals. Crack luxury trains originated in Chicago and rolled to every corner of the United States.
In commemoration of the place of railroads in Illinois history, the Railway Museum has assembled equipment ranging from a four-ton horse car to a 400-ton steam engine that plied the mighty Rocky Mountains.
Come to the Railway Museum and ride antique trolley cars and Chicago's "L" train or relax behind a steam engine or diesel streamliner power car. The museum has a souvenir shop crammed with captivating railroad memorabilia, for a fee.
This Wednesday afternoon tour departs from the hotel at 1:00 p.m. and returns at 6:00 p.m. The cost is $17 per person.
Tour #3: Windy City Boat Cruise
The one-and-a-half-hour boat cruise on the Chicago River and Lake Michigan is always a popular trip. In 1988 the demand was so great that we had to order a second boat. This year there is a bonus: as part of this tour, Federationists will be treated to a one-and-a-half-hour bus tour of Chicago's Magnificent Mile and Gold Coast.
This tour will weigh anchor at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday afternoon and return at 5:00 p.m. The cost is $15 per person.
Tour #4: Chicago's Media
In the Golden Days of Radio, many top-rated programs originated in Chicago. Since 1987 the Museum of Broadcast Communication has entertained thousands of visitors each year with unique hands-on exhibits. Return now to those thrilling days of yesteryear and meet the real Charley McCarthy. Open Fibber McGee's closet, and take a peek inside Jack Benny's vault. View informative and entertaining video presentations on the history of television. Relive television's greatest moments in sports at the Sportscaster's Cafe. Put on your news anchor jacket. Check your script and get ready for your cue. You're reporting the news and creating a souvenir that will last a lifetime.
The next stop in the tour is the Chicago Tribune's Freedom Center, one of the largest and most technologically advanced newspaper printing facilities in the world.
From the first circulation of four hundred, printed in 1847, to the 1.2 million newspapers currently circulated, the Chicago Tribune has established a reputation as one of the nation's leading information sources. The Freedom Center tour will include a brief video and a walk through the five-story production facility. Note, tour participants must be at least ten years old.
The tour of Chicago's media leaves the Hilton Wednesday at 1:30 and returns at 5:00. There is limited seating. The cost of this tour is $15 per person.
Tour #5: Chicago's Hottest Neighborhood
This unusual tour is aimed primarily at children and parents. Seating is limited. The hot spot on this tour is the Chicago Fire Department's Survive Alive House. In response to the alarming number of children under thirteen who died or who were injured by fire in the late 80's, the Public Education section of Chicago's Fire Prevention Bureau collaborated with the Chicago Public Schools, the Archdiocese of Chicago, and hundreds of preschools to develop a fire prevention program. Using hands-on training techniques, this unique facility allows children and adults to learn about fire prevention and safety. One of Chicago's fire chiefs will take you on a brief tour of Chicago's Fire Academy.
This tour departs on Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and returns at 5:00 p.m. The cost is $15 per person.
Tour #6: Windy City Highlights
See what makes Chicago an exciting city on this special tour, which singles out architectural masterpieces, past and present. Your tour guide will point out our world famous sculpture by Chagall, Calder, Miro, and DuBuffet.
There are two stops on this tour; both will be of special interest to shutter bugs. The first will remain a secret, but I'm certain it will take you to new heights. The second will be at Planetarium Point for a truly spectacular view of Chicago's skyline.
Chicago Highlights departs from the hotel on Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and returns at 6:00 p.m. The cost is $15 per person.
Tour #7: Windy City Oktoberfest
Federationists on this tour will have a genuine treat--OktoberFest, Chicago style. You will travel to Chicago's northside historic German community, Lincoln Square, for browsing in some truly unique shops, including a turn-of-the-century apothecary and an absolutely fabulous pastry shop, Cafe Selmarie, possibly the best in the entire metropolitan area. The high point of this tour is dinner, music by a traditional German band, dancing, and fun at the Chicago Brauhaus, a delightful German restaurant.
The OktoberFest tour leaves the hotel on Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. and returns at 9:00 p.m. Seating is limited, so don't wait to make your reservation for this one. The cost is $40 per person.
Tour #8: An Evening With the White Sox
Chicago sports fans are eternal optimists, so we planned this tour based on the belief that the impasse between players and management will be resolved. But whether it is or not, there will be baseball at White Sox Park, one of the nation's newest baseball parks. National Federation of the Blind will appear on
the scoreboard, hot dogs, and all the accompanying culinary treats will be present in abundance for purchase, and we'll have a good time.
Buses to White Sox Park will leave the Hilton Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. and return around 10:00 p.m. The cost is $30 per person.
Tour #9: Feeling Lucky
Step aboard luxury motor coaches and Windy City Events will whisk you away to one of Chicago's most exciting and elegant night spots, the Empress River Casino in Joliet, Illinois. Come prepared for two and one half hours of casino fun plus browsing in dockside shops.
The tour will depart Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. and return to the hotel at midnight. The cost is $20 per person.
If you have questions, please call Windy City Events at (312) 341-0221, or Steve Hastalis at (312) 508-5307.
This month's recipes come from members of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico.
[PHOTO #11: Portrait CAPTION: Vicky Trujillo]
by Vicky Trujillo
Vicky Trujillo is the President of the Albuquerque Chapter and a member of the Board of Directors of the NFB of New Mexico. She is a secretary with the New Mexico Human Services Department. As a native-born New Mexican, she is quite familiar with the fine dishes of the region. These cookies are especially popular for holidays.
6 cups flour
1« cups sugar
2 cups shortening or lard
1/4 cup water or wine
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons crushed anise seeds
1 teaspoon vanilla or rum (or both)
Method: In a large bowl cream shortening,
sugar, anise seeds, eggs, and all liquids. Add salt, baking powder, and flour
and mix thoroughly. Roll out dough and cut with cookie cutters. Sprinkle with
a mixture of sugar and cinnamon. Preheat oven and bake at 350 degrees for nine
minutes. Sprinkle again with topping before serving. Yields six dozen.
Note: You can crush anise seeds by measuring them onto a piece of wax paper. Fold the paper into an envelope that will contain the seeds and then crush them using the bottom of a glass, heavy rolling pin, meat mallet, or other implement.
by Vicky Trujillo
1 large can peeled whole tomatoes
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
5 yellow hot peppers (jalapenos) finely chopped
1/2 pound chopped green chilies, or to taste
1 clove garlic, chopped
Method: Combine all ingredients and
mix well. Use as a dip with your favorite chips.
GREEN CHILI CHICKEN ENCHILADAS
by Carla Candelaria
Carla Candelaria is the daughter of
state President Joe Cordova. This just happens to be one of Joe's favorite dishes.
3 dozen corn tortillas
1 cup vegetable oil
2 10-ounce cans cream of chicken soup
2 10-ounce cans nacho cheese soup
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken
1 medium onion, chopped
1 pound Monterey Jack cheese
1 pound longhorn cheese
1/2 cup green chilies, chopped (frozen or canned)
Method: Simmer chicken in water until
thoroughly cooked. Prepare soups according to instructions on cans. Add chopped
green chilies. Grate and mix cheese. Fry corn tortillas until lightly browned
but still soft and drain on paper towels. Soak fried tortillas in chili soup
sauce and line a large rectangular casserole dish with about six. Shred chicken
and spread a sixth evenly over soaked corn tortillas. Sprinkle surface with
a sixth of the onions and spread a sixth of cheese over all. Repeat these
four layers five more times with remaining ingredients. Top final layer with remaining chili sauce. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake for approximately thirty minutes. Serves six to eight people generously.
[PHOTO #12: Portrait CAPTION: Pauline Gomez]
BEAN CHEESE DIP
by Pauline Gomez
Pauline Gomez is a charter member of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico. She was a successful kindergarten teacher of sighted children and operated her own school for many years. She has received much recognition within her community, where she participates in many civic projects. However, the NFB receives and benefits from most of her energy.
1 large can refried beans
2 tablespoons margarine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1 medium jar taco sauce
1 small can green chilies, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 small can black olives, sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
Method: Mix all ingredients except for one third cup each cheese and olives. Fill oven-to-table casserole dish with the mixture. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake casserole for twenty-five to thirty minutes, or until bubbly. Remove from oven and sprinkle reserved olives and cheese on top. Serve with corn chips.
[PHOTO #13: Portrait CAPTION: Patti Harmon]
GREEN CHILI STEW
by Patti Harmon
Patti Harmon is the President of the White Sands Chapter of the NFB of New Mexico. In 1991 the National Federation of the Blind surprised Patti by naming her our Blind Educator of the Year. For twenty-three years she has taught at the New Mexico School for the Visually Handicapped in Alamogordo. She describes herself as a New Jersey girl who found green chilies in this land of enchantment. The flavor was so unforgettable that she made the state her home. According to Patti, if you add chilies to any food, you become a good cook.
2 pounds ground round
2 large onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped
cumin to taste
chili powder to taste
salt and pepper to taste
10 green chilies, fresh and hot (canned chilies may be
substituted for a milder dish)
Method: Search your kitchen for the
largest pot available. Place meat in pot, covering it with water, and set the
pan on low heat. As meat cooks, add chopped onions and garlic. Start adding
cumin and chili powder. Add chopped tomatoes. Add salt and pepper. Taste. Peel
and chop potatoes and cook them in a separate pot until tender, then drain.
When meat is fully cooked, add potatoes to pot. Stir, taste. Add shredded green
chilies to pot. Taste. Add more spices, stir, taste. If desired, add flour to
thicken. Taste, simmer. Fragrance permeates your home. Taste. Serve or store.
This stew improves with age. Serve with hot flour tortillas and ice water.
** New Chapter:
On Tuesday, January 24, 1995, the Clarendon County Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina was organized, thus becoming the forty-fifth local chapter of the South Carolina affiliate. The new officers are Dr. Wyman Morris, President; Theron Dennis, Vice President; David Ridgill, Treasurer; Foye Shelton, Secretary; and Etha Thompson, Social Director. Congratulations to all the new Federationists in Clarendon County and to the entire NFB of South Carolina.
** Computer Tutorials Available:
Dean Martineau has asked us to carry the following announcement:
Affordable Computer Tutorials Available. Top Dot Enterprises offers the following: Top DOS 5/6, a tutorial for beginning and intermediate users of DOS through versions 6.22, three cassettes and a supplemental disk including utilities, games, sample macros, and batch files: $19.50 plus $2 shipping. Top Guide to ASAP, tutorial on the screen reader, two cassettes, $15 plus $2 shipping. Top Introduction to Computer Knowledge, a combination introduction to computers for the blind and computer buyer's guide, containing sound bytes of word processing, reading print, and other activities conducted with a computer and voice output: $9 plus $1 shipping.
Complete Audio Guide to the Braille 'n Speak, covers both the BNS classic and BNS 640 through the 1993 revisions: three cassettes, $16 plus $2 shipping.
For more information or to order, contact Top Dot Enterprises, 8930 11th Pl. SE, Everett, WA 98205; (206) 335-4894; e-mail: [email protected] Quantity discounts available; credit cards not accepted; purchase orders incur an additional $5 handling charge.
Ken Silberman, President of the Southern Maryland Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, reports that in December, 1994, the chapter elected the following officers: Ken Silberman, President; Gerelene Womack, Vice President; Polly Johnson, Secretary; Bernetha McLamore, Treasurer; and Alfred Wilson and Jack Darosa, Board Members.
** For Sale:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
One Visualtek Voyager XL, excellent condition, original boxes, manual included. Asking $750. If interested, contact Robert Campbell at 3126 College Avenue, Apartment N, Berkeley, California 94705, or call (510) 658-4373.
The Central Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota recently elected the following officers: Andy Virden, President; Elaine Curtis, First Vice President; Bob Simmons, Second Vice President; Hazel Youngman, Secretary; and Dennis Groshel, Treasurer.
** Magazine Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
VersaNews, a magazine for Braille display users, covers developments in Braille equipment, both domestic and imported, and how people use Braille to access the benefits of the computer age. Topics include product reviews, tips from readers, how-to articles, and explanations of computer concepts from the Braille user's perspective. VersaNews is published three times a year on MS-DOS disk, on VersaBraille II disk, and in print. Non-print users must have a computer or electronic Braille system to read the magazine since there is no paper Braille edition. The new, reduced rates for subscriptions are $20 in the United States and Canada and $25 elsewhere. All payments must be in U.S. dollars. Specify format when sending orders and inquiries to VersaNews, David Goldstein, 87 Sanford Lane, Stamford, Connecticut 06905 or calling (203) 336-4330.
From the Editor Emeritus: Mr. Chong Chan-yau is a long-time leader of the Hong Kong Association of the Blind, as well as a personal friend. I was pleased to receive the following recent announcement
Hong Kong Association of the Blind
Kowloon, Hong Kong
January 27, 1995
Compliments of the season to all of you. We hope you had a good start to 1995.
I am pleased to share with you that, our President, Mr. Chong Chan-yau, has been awarded an Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in the Queen's New Years Honours List. This signifies the recognition of his work done in promoting the rights of the blind and the transformation of social prejudice and misunderstanding relating to blindness.
We hope the award will demonstrate that with determination blind people can achieve, and it will facilitate the message to get across. With best regards.
Alex Chaing (Mr.)
** Music Division Newsletter Planned:
The Music Division of the National Federation of the Blind would like to produce a newsletter but needs material for the first issue. Record or concert reviews, concert announcements, anecdotes about musical experiences, tips for music students or professional musicians, and any other noteworthy contributions would be welcome. Send information in Braille or on tape to Stephanie Pieck, RD 3, Box 200, Altamont, New York 12009.
** In Memoriam:
Karen Mayry, President of the NFB of South Dakota, reports with regret the death on December 17, 1994, of Richard Hansen. Richard joined the NFB of South Dakota in the early 1980's and was quite active for several years. As his health deteriorated due to complications of diabetes, he was less active but continued to be very supportive. Richard was well-known in Rapid City, active in his church, and a staunch believer in NFB philosophy. Many Federationists know his sister Sandy Hansen, who
is one of the leaders of the NFB of South Dakota and attends National Conventions. Richard will be missed.
** Job Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
The Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services (DORS) is seeking qualified candidates for the position of superintendent at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired (ISVI) in Jacksonville, Illinois. The job requires knowledge, skill, and experience demonstrated by a master's degree in special education or a closely related field. The preferable candidate would also possess a Ph.D. or Ed.D. in the field of vision. The job also requires three years' progressively responsible administrative experience in special education or a closely related field.
The salary range for this entry level position is $40,704 through $90,180, to be based on present salary and other factors. This position is exempt from the Illinois Personnel Code but receives all health care, vision care, dental, and life insurance benefits. Interested candidates should send a resume, including salary information to Dee Showalter, Personnel Director, Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services, P.O. Box 19429, Springfield, Illinois 62794-9429, fax (217)524-3385. Applications for this position will be accepted until April 15, 1995.
Those interested in reading the complete job description should call the Job Opportunities for the Blind Program at (800) 638-7518. Job Opportunities for the Blind is a job referral program jointly conducted by the National Federation of the Blind and the U.S. Department of Labor.
** For Sale:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
The following items are for sale: Artic screen review program, $150; Tiny Talk screen review, $100 (if bought together, $200); and a refurbished Kurzweil personal reader table scanner with case, $1500. If interested, call Katie at (602) 577-6334.
Kerry Smith, Corresponding Secretary of the St. Louis Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri, reports the following election results: Daryl White, President; Judy Burch, Vice President; Susan Ford, Recording Secretary; Kerry Smith, Corresponding Secretary; Thelda Borisch, Treasurer; and John Dower, at-large Board member.
** For Sale:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
I wish to sell a Kurzweil Personal Reader, model 7320 (original price $9,950). It does not include hand scanner. I have used it very little. I am asking $2,500 but will take less if buyer pays shipping. Contact Richard Scott at 2614 Oates Drive, Dallas, Texas 75228, or call (214) 320-9944.
** Agricultural and Equestrian Newsletter
At the 1994 NFB convention in Detroit, the agricultural and equestrian concerns group met. Members decided to produce a cassette newsletter called The Corn and the Cob. Efforts are being made to compile the first issue. Articles about personal experiences or interests in agriculture are welcome. If you would like to receive this publication or contribute information to it, please write in Braille or on tape to Stephanie Pieck, RD 3, Box 200, Altamont, New York 12009.
** Guide Dog School Guide Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
The second edition of A Guide to Guide Dog Schools by Ed and Toni Eames is now available in print. It describes two Canadian and fourteen United States guide dog training programs. Topics covered include application procedures and selection process, statistical data, average daily schedule during team training, leisure time activities, ownership policies, and contact after graduation. Information about acquisition of dogs, puppy-raising, specific training dogs receive, criteria for matching dogs and students, residential arrangements for students, dormitory rules, and evaluation of teams' readiness to graduate is provided. Material for this section was obtained from the guide dog schools.
Part one explores the costs and benefits
of working with a guide dog, myths about guide dogs, questions frequently asked
about the human/guide dog partnership, and the potential impact of guide dogs
on the lives of their partners. In this section the authors draw on their own
experience as guide dog users as well as the experience of hundreds of other
people. Part two contains individual descriptions of each school.
This second edition updates information and reflects the changes that have taken place in the eight years since the publication of the first edition. The book also contains material about two of the Canadian training programs.
The 145-page book is available in standard print or computer disk at a cost of $10 including shipping and handling. Checks should be made payable to Disabled on the Go (DOG) and sent to Ed and Toni Eames, 3376 North Wilshon, Fresno, California 93704-4832. You may call (209) 224-0544. The cassette and Braille versions are being produced by the National Library Service. Please contact your NLS Regional Library about availability.
** Afghans Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
I can make afghans of any size to order. The cost includes yarn and shipping and handling. Costs are as follows: crib, $25; twin, $40; double, $55; queen, $70; and king, $85. If you wish, you may supply your own yarn. Call Rose at (802) 223-1673.
** Volunteers Needed for Sleep Study:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Earn up to $700 per month for three to twelve months. Men and women, ages eighteen to eighty-five, without light perception and using no prescription medications are invited to participate in a study on circadian rhythms and sleep patterns in the blind. The study is being conducted at the Brigham and Women's Hospital. The study involves wearing an ambulatory monitor while living at home and spending four to five days in the laboratory each month. Participants will be paid for their efforts and may also learn valuable information about their eyes and their sleep-wake patterns. For more information call the Brigham and Women's Hospital at (800) 722-5520, extension 1132, at any time. Specify your interest in the "blind study."
** Canes with Nylon Tips:
As Monitor readers know regular NFB canes come equipped with metal tips. However, some people throughout the country have requested nylon tips, in addition to which there is a demand for nylon tips in the overseas market, which we are now beginning to service. Therefore, the NFB now stocks canes with nylon tips. We also continue to stock our regular canes with metal tips, of course. The new nylon tip NFB canes have our logo on them. They are carbon fiber, either telescopic or rigid, and come in lengths from 41 to 59 inches. Also available is a four-section folding aluminum cane with a nylon tip and an elastic cord in two adjustable lengths. For further information or to place orders, contact the Materials Center at the National Center for the Blind at (410) 659-9314 from 12:30 to 5:00 p.m. (eastern standard time) Monday through Friday. As with other items, payment may be made by check, money order, or credit card.