Future Reflections

A Magazine for Parents and Teachers of Blind Children published by
the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults in partnership
with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children.

Volume 30 Number 3                                     Summer 2011

Deborah Kent Stein, Editor

 

ISSN-0883-3419

Copyright © 2011 American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults

For more information about blindness and children contact:
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, MD 21230
(410) 659-9314
www.nfb.org/nopbc nfb@nfb.org • dkent5817@att.net

 

Contents

Volume 30 Number 3                                     Summer 2011

FEATURE

Is the Law on Our Side?
A Conversation between Dr. Frederic Schroeder and Dr. Adrienne Asch

LEARNING

"Dad, Where's the Plunger?"
by Richard Holloway

What Do You Do with a Blind Ballerina?
by Deja M. Powell, MA, NOMC

MAKING FRIENDS

Plays Well with Others
by Amber Bobnar

Lunch in the Chorus Room
by Jennifer Dunnam

ADVOCACY

More Than a Loving Family
by Karen Leinart

Entering the GATE
by Joy Orton

OTHER PERSPECTIVES

Growing up in Macedonia
by Adrijana Prokopenko

TRANSITIONS

NFBU Project STRIVE
by Cheralyn Braithwaite Creer

Affect Change: How to Swim in a Sea of Transitions
by Kimberly Flores

TECHNOLOGY

Drawing from Experience: Picturing Molecules with Sound
by Tim Cordes, MD, PhD

PROGRAMS

The Chance of a Lifetime: Leadership and Advocacy in Washington
by Jim Beyer

What's Up in Baltimore?
by Somaya Terin

Braille Readers Are Leaders 2010-2011
by Natalie Shaheen

SLATE PALS
A Pen Pal Program for Children Who Read Braille

NOPBC NEWS

New NOPBC Board

POBC Roundup
by Laura Weber

REVIEW

Goodnight Moon to Touch
Reviewed by Deborah Kent Stein

ANNOUNCEMENTS

ODDS AND ENDS

 

Is the Law on Our Side?

A Conversation between Dr. Frederic Schroeder and Dr. Adrienne Asch

From the Editor: Dr. Fred Schroeder is the first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind and a research professor at San Diego State University. Over the years he has taught blind children, directed special education programs, and helped to shape education policy at the national level. At the 2010 NFB National Convention, Dr. Schroeder addressed a group of parents of blind children regarding advocacy and the law. He pointed out drawbacks with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and explained that in significant ways the law is not on the side of blind children and their parents (see "How to Tell Time at Sea," by Dr. Fred Schroeder, Future Reflections, Vol. 29, No. 1).

Dr. Adrienne Asch is a longtime activist in the field of disability rights and currently serves as director of the Center for Ethics at Yeshiva University in New York. Both Dr. Schroeder and Dr. Asch hold the highest expectations for blind children and care passionately about their education, but they have somewhat different views about the strengths and weaknesses of IDEA. To explore how their ideas differ and where they overlap, they agreed to hold a conversation and share their thoughts with the readers of Future Reflections.

Fred Schroeder: In my opinion, the greatest strength of IDEA is also its greatest weakness--that is, the concept of an individualized education plan to educate an individual child. When you start with the premise that you're going to individualize a child's educational program, in a way you're starting with a blank slate. You're beginning with no expectations whatsoever. You take away all of the assumptions about learning that are a given for a nondisabled child. Then, having taken out all those assumptions, you put back this piece and that piece, and you end up with a program that is often less demanding than that designed for other children. The law reinforces the assumption that kids with disabilities cannot learn as much or as well or as quickly as nondisabled kids.

The model under IDEA is what I call a "progress model." To use the language from a Supreme Court decision, the standard is that the service must "confer some educational benefit." In other words, as long as the child is learning, there is essentially no expectation that the child will learn at a given pace. The standard is simply that the child should be doing better than he did last year or the year before. For example, if a blind third-grader is reading Braille at a first-grade level, and by fourth grade is reading at a second-grade level, the assumption is that the child is progressing as quickly as he or she is able. The system is not required to show that the child is progressing at a rate that makes sense, given the child's overall ability. The measure is only whether the child is doing better.

This is certainly an oversimplification; there are many permutations to this thinking. But this is why I tell parents, "You must hold fast on getting into the IEP [Individualized Education Program] the things you believe are in your child's best interest. You must recognize that the school has a vested interest in keeping the services and the accountability as low as possible. The school doesn't want to come up short at the end of the process."

School districts are great at providing what they have available to provide. If your child needs something that is not easily provided within the school's infrastructure, the school officials will fight to avoid providing it. If your child needs an hour a day of Braille instruction, and the school doesn't have a teacher with that amount of time in his or her schedule, the chances are very low that the school will agree to put that amount of Braille instruction into the IEP.

High Expectations

Adrienne Asch: I certainly see your point that the individual school wants to do what it is set up to do. It's going to fight not to do anything it feels it's not set up to do. As I read the law, though, I find that right up front it talks about high expectations for children with disabilities. The law states that those high expectations haven't been met, and the amendments to IDEA try to deal with that. Obviously the devil is in the details, but it's important to remember that the phrase about high expectations is in the law. I think it gives parents something to batter the school district with when the district says, "Your kid is progressing and we can't expect anything more than that."

The IEP is not about what the child should be learning per se. It's supposed to be about the aids and services that supplement what is going on in the classroom. It's not about whether the child is supposed to learn third-grade material. If the child is in third grade, then it's a given that the child is supposed to learn third-grade material. If the school puts into an IEP that they only expect a blind third-grader to be reading at a first-grade level, that's not the fault of the law. It's the fault of an insidious interpretation of the law.

Fred Schroeder: I agree that the intent of the law is subverted in these cases. The schools will say that if a child has a significant disability, and the child is eight years old, the child will not be doing conventional third-grade work. This idea may be rooted in work with kids who have cognitive disabilities, but it spills over to blind kids. The school will say, "Sure, we want your child to perform at grade level, but you have to understand that he has a lot of special needs. It isn't realistic to have that expectation for your blind child." A lot of special educators play into this kind of thinking.

I'm not necessarily critical of the law itself, but the law has to be implemented. If the law is routinely implemented in a way that is less than desirable, it's logical to say, "Let's find ways to tighten the law."

Adrienne Asch: One of the things that got us into this conversation was the question of whether the law is on the side of high expectations for the child. As I read the law, it is. It's true that the court made a terrible decision a number of years ago in the Rowley case, when it ruled that the school didn't have to provide an interpreter for a deaf child since she was getting by without one. Still, it's my impression that since then the Supreme Court has been somewhat better about educational services for kids with disabilities. We haven't had a blindness case go to court, but it's not clear to me that the court would say a child doesn't need Braille if the child can squint and read print at fifteen words a minute.

Fred Schroeder: Yes, there is language in the law that talks about high expectations. But realistically, the way it works is that the child is assessed and his or her needs are identified through the assessment process. Then interventions are identified and services are provided. I tell parents, "You have to be very clear about what you want, and you have to be assertive about trying to get it." Also, parents have to recognize that special education is often a resource issue for the school district. Funds are tight, and schools don't want to spend money on things like Braille and O&M.

The Burden of Proof

Fred Schroeder: To go back to what you said a moment ago, I don't think the court would necessarily agree to Braille, even if a child with low vision is reading print at fifteen words a minute. I don't think the court would go with us because I don't think the relative effectiveness of print or Braille for the child is the question that would get before the court. It goes back to the concept of Braille being a special education service. The court would look at whether the IEP process was followed the way the law prescribes. There would have to be an assessment of the child's reading and writing needs, and if the IEP team determined that Braille was not needed after going through the correct process to reach that determination, I think the court would uphold the team's decision.

Adrienne Asch: Then the issue is, what is the correct process? It seems to me that the law could be written more clearly to say that a child with a disability should be presumed to be at the same grade level and to have the same academic ability as a child without a disability, unless proven otherwise. The burden of proof should be on the school and the assessors to show why the child is not able to do grade level work. Even though the IEP process is supposed to be about aids and services supplemental to the regular education program, it's not explicitly clear that the law makes that assumption. If we go back and do amendments, we should put that into the law if it's not there already. It might help the parent say, "Prove to me why my child can't do fifth-grade work if he or she is in the fifth grade. That's the expectation you have for the other twenty-nine children in the class, so have it for my child, too." The IEP should be about providing services to enable the fifth-grade child to do fifth-grade work, not to do third-grade work.

Fred Schroeder: I agree with you entirely. Here, however, is what I think you would get back. Part of the testing that is done on a child in special education is intelligence testing. Another major area is achievement testing. The intelligence testing is supposed to measure the child's ability, and the achievement testing asks where the child is functioning right now.

Well, no instrument for measuring intelligence has been validated for blind kids. There probably never will be such a test because the population is too small for a test to be validated. Back in the 1980s the Perkins School modified the Stanford-Binet and put out what they called the Perkins-Binet. It included tactile graphics to represent the visual portions of the Stanford-Binet, but it was never validated. Another tool that is still often used is the the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, the WISC. With blind kids they give the verbal portion only. It isn't the complete test. An underlying premise of intelligence testing is that the results fall on a normal bell curve, and you'll get that curve if you test enough people. But you just don't have enough people when you're dealing with blind kids.

If you say that you have to assume that a blind child should be on grade level unless proven otherwise, you run into a problem. There is no instrument to prove what the child's intellectual capacity really is. What you're left with is achievement testing. I say that little Johnny should be assumed to be doing fifth grade work because he's in fifth grade. But the school points to an achievement test that places him at the third-grade level. Then where are we?

A Broader Perspective

Adrienne Asch: If schools were doing their job for all sorts of kids--kids with limited English proficiency, kids with learning disabilities--the school would assess each child in multiple ways. Schools aren't doing a good job assessing anyone, including blind kids. Kids aren't being assessed well, and they aren't being helped. The problems that we see for blind kids in the public schools are the things that are wrong for everybody. Schools say that a child isn't achieving, but they don't look at all the things the child is doing outside of the classroom that show intelligence and flexibility. They need to find ways to bring those characteristics into the school setting. We should team up with the progressive forces in public school reform. To make the schools better for blind kids, we need to make them better for all children.

In spite of the problems, some blind kids are getting the things they need in public school, and they're doing well. We need to look at the kids who are successful and find out what makes the difference for them. We need to spend much more time studying those kids, understanding what has worked for them, without giving up on what the public schools and the law have to offer. Going back to segregated education isn't the solution; the solution is to make integrated education work well for everyone.

I'd like to see us in the Federation do serious research with our scholarship winners. We should find out how they got what they needed in school. How did they make friends? How did they get reading skills? What worked and what didn't work? If they can do it, then everybody else can, too.

Fred Schroeder: I don't mean to imply that I'm giving up on the law. But the law doesn't make the schools have high expectations, even though that's its objective. My message to parents is to start with the premise that your child is going to be on grade level and push the school district to provide the services your child needs.

When I ran a special education program, I was criticized by the state department of education. For our kids we had the overarching goal on the IEP that "Johnny will function at or above grade level in all academic subjects." Then we got into the details about what services Johnny needed to make that happen. The state said, "You can't have that as an overarching goal. It has to be an individualized goal for each child." For goodness sake! Even today they do a kind of full task analysis so everything is measurable. Your child will learn to identify thirty Braille contractions with 80 percent accuracy, that kind of thing. It's very hard to push the system to support high expectations. Part of it is attitudinal and part of it is about resources.

Adrienne Asch: I think it's very important to say that the law has tools in it that parents can use. The law is on the side of parents if they know how to use it.

What Parents Need to Know

Fred Schroeder: Yes. I agree--if parents understand what the law can do for them and what it won't do for them. I'm saying to parents, "You've got to be an advocate. You've got to go out and meet blind people and understand what the future can be for your child, and then you need to be assertive to make sure your child gets the services he or she needs in order to reach that expectation."

Adrienne Asch: If I were going out to parents, that's what I would be saying, too. It sounds as though you think perhaps you've oversimplified a bit, and you could be more positive about the tools the law has in it as well as what it won't do. Then we might not have any disagreement at all.

Fred Schroeder: I'm not bashing the law as much as I'm telling parents they have to be really assertive. I'm not pushing any kind of placement, either schools for the blind or public schools. A parent has to pick whatever seems best for their child. I'm not pushing a placement concept as much as the whole notion of expectations and not letting your child be sold short.

Adrienne Asch: It seems to me we should be saying to parents that the school has the burden of proof to show why your child can't be on grade level. The services you want for your child are the services to keep your child on grade level or above. An hour of Braille a day is not a good way to think about it. The child needs to learn enough Braille to read in Braille what his or her classmates are reading in print. Maybe it's an hour a day, maybe it's three hours, maybe it's an hour a week with a lot of practice and having all their books in Braille.

Working toward the Goal

Fred Schroeder: Yes, but when you're sitting there filling out the IEP form, part of what is identified is the amount of service. It gets quantified in minutes. If a school says, "Your child will get fifteen minutes of Braille twice a week," that's what the child gets.

Adrienne Asch: But the amount of service could be, "The child must do the classwork using Braille texts." It could be written that way.

Fred Schroeder: I'm all for it. But I don't think most school districts would agree. When I was in graduate school I remember hearing that in a regular ed class only 17 percent of the kids are at grade level. The rest are above or below. So you get the argument from the school, "We don't ensure that a child without a disability is on grade level. It's a goal, but many children are behind, for a variety of reasons." You get into a lot of nebulous areas, and in the end there is no expectation.

Adrienne Asch: That's why we need to team up, not only with people in the blindness and disability fields, but with the people in school reform who want to make schools different generally. In big cities there are horrendous dropout rates. I read in the Times the other day that some schools have only 11 percent of kids at grade level. Some were happy because they went from 5 percent one year to 12 percent the next year, but that meant that 88 percent still weren't up to grade level. And we're not talking about kids with disabilities here.

Fred Schroeder: Bottom line, blind kids, and all kids, need a school environment that brings out their fullest potential. I'm totally open to partnering, to changing the law, to developing teacher prep programs, and doing whatever else will get us there.

I think that young blind kids need to be introduced to computers and notetakers with refreshable Braille in a much more aggressive way. Sighted kids get exposed to computers at an early age now, and blind kids need much more early exposure to technology. It facilitates integration and all sorts of other skills that they will need to use. Part of the dilemma we have is that the schools will say, "We don't provide laptop computers to sighted kids, so what you're asking for is above and beyond." In my mind it really isn't.

Tools for Learning

Adrienne Asch: Actually there is text in the law about technology, designed to implement the educational goals of the student. We would have to show that today the equivalent to the pencil and paper for the blind child is a refreshable Braille PDA or laptop computer. A laptop or a notetaker is the way to go if that's what will help the child keep up.

I would like to see all blind kids learn Braille. I think they also need to learn to use all the other tools such as audio recordings that will help them get the information they need. I'm not sure how we define literacy. It's not just taking in information; it's more than that. The question is, what tools is the law going to give you to advocate for the services that your child needs?

I think it's important to push hard for Braille. I don't want to see schools let off the hook. But I don't want to see it done in terms of minutes per day. I want to see it done in terms of what your child will be able to do with Braille, the things that sighted children are doing with print. There are things that can only be done through reading--you need to understand how sentences are constructed, you need to understand the length of a paragraph, you need to understand how things are arranged on a page.

Fred Schroeder: I use the minutes per day example because that's the operational shorthand used in the IEP. I agree with you that it's not the way to look at it. It's inadequate. I say to parents, "If you have a functional goal in your mind, make sure you get enough intervention for your child to reach that goal."

Adrienne Asch: Before we specify the means--an hour a day, ten minutes a day, or what have you--you need a clear description of what you want the child to be able to do. We have to help parents formulate that goal so they can make the argument.

Fred Schroeder: I agree. But if you talk to parents, especially parents who are trying to get Braille instruction for low-vision kids, you will hear story after story of school districts setting ridiculously low goals, and I do mean ridiculously low. Goals like reading nine or ten words a minute for a fourth grader.

Adrienne Asch: Clearly that's not okay!

Fred Schroeder: It's not okay to us, but it's clearly okay to somebody!

Adrienne Asch: I think there is plenty of argument we can make to show why those low expectations are wrong. If a sighted fourth grader is expected to read a given number of pages in an hour, you want the blind child to read comparably. Obviously the more the child reads Braille and the earlier he starts, the better his chances of fluency.

Fred Schroeder: I don't think the law, as it's currently written and implemented, puts that kind of expectation on the school districts. It goes back to the assessment. They do an assessment of your child and say, "Johnny's in third grade, but he's reading at a first-grade level." There's no data that says he should be reading on a third-grade level. The school district uses the assessment to set a low expectation, and then identifies an amount of service or intervention to support that depressed expectation. You and I are in agreement that the expectation ought to be one of parity. How do we establish that goal in a way that will really stick?

Adrienne Asch: I don't know that there is any one way. We can arm parents by telling them to give the school all the information they've got about how the child functions out of school. That means the parents have to do a lot of things before school age--encouraging the child to explore, providing a lot of nonvisual stimulation. Blind kids need to come into school with skills and general knowledge.

Fred Schroeder: It comes back to how we help parents get high expectations written into the IEP and identify the services that will support those expectations.

Adrienne Asch: Maybe we need to go through the law and find what text should be amended to operationalize high expectations. The high expectations language is there, early in the law. We should be able to go through the law and say how the IEP process could better reflect the assumption of high expectations. How can the law put the burden of proof on the school to show why a child is not operating on grade level? That might be a relatively simple but profound amendment, if there is an amendment to make.

Fred Schroeder: What is really troubling is when a school will look you in the eye and say, "Your child is reading at thirty words a minute. That's great! That's fine! You should be happy with that."

Adrienne Asch: There's an answer to that. The parent has to say, "No, I can't be happy with that! At that rate it will take seven hours for my child to do the assignment! You don't expect a sighted child to read at thirty words a minute, so why are you expecting that of my blind child?" It's easy to answer.

Fred Schroeder: It's not at all easy to answer. They'll look you right back and say, "Look, you've got to be realistic. This is part of your child's disability."

Adrienne Asch: There is nothing in the disability of blindness that says you can't read quickly.

Fred Schroeder: And they'll say, "Dr. Asch, we understand that you're extraordinary, and we hope your child is extraordinary, too, but that isn't realistic for most blind kids." It goes round and round and round. I try to tell parents they have to know blind people. They have to have a firm belief in what their child can do, and they've got to push and push for that expectation to be reflected in the identified goals.

A Tremendous Difference

Fred Schroeder: IDEA has its shortcomings, but it has made a tremendous difference. It recognizes the constitutional right of children with disabilities to be educated. I think that's huge. It isn't the end of the struggle, any more than the civil rights legislation of the 1960s was the end of racial discrimination. Even with IDEA in place, a good bit of the problem is attitudinal, some of it is limited resources, and some of it is lack of proper training for teachers. We've crossed the hurdle of saying that kids with disabilities deserve to be educated. Now we have to figure out how to educate them effectively. I don't in any way want to minimize what IDEA has contributed.

Adrienne Asch: Fifty years ago blind kids got educated, but typically it was in a separate setting, whether or not that's what they wanted. The law not only says that kids with disabilities must be educated. It says that they can be educated with and belong with nondisabled kids if that's what their families want, and the school has to provide a situation where they can flourish. That's important in the same way that Brown v. Board of Education was important. The law gives parents the mechanism to say, "I want my child to flourish. I want her to flourish with the neighborhood kids she knows. I want the services she needs so she can flourish in the school environment." The law doesn't give those things without creativity and determination on the part of parents. There's no question about that. We have a lot of work to do.

I think the NFB can work best by giving parents the same high expectations for their blind kids that they have for their sighted children. It's important for NFB members to participate in IEP meetings because they are a testimony to what the parent is trying to say. We have to know the law well so we can show the parent the text of the law they can use. To the extent that the law doesn't operationalize the notion of high expectations as well as we would like, we can work to amend it. Imperfect though it is, the law is on our side, and we can teach people how to use it.

Fred Schroeder: I think the law is a tool. The real key is for parents to have high expectations. I think they get those expectations by being around blind people. Having so many parents come to national convention is very powerful. The achievements of blind people are not just something they read about or understand intellectually. At convention they get to see the full range of blind people, the cross-section of society that we are. That experience can help them shape their expectations and become assertive advocates to support those expectations for their blind children.

 

"Dad, Where’s the Plunger?"

by Richard Holloway

From the Editor: It is often said that 80 percent of all learning is visual. For a totally blind child, however, 100 percent of learning occurs nonvisually. Given plenty of opportunities for hands-on exploration, a blind child can acquire most of the information about the world that sighted children possess. In this article, Richard Holloway describes how he helped his blind daughter, Kendra, fill in some important information gaps.

"Dad, do we have a plunger?" my daughter asked one afternoon. "Where's the plunger?"

I was a little concerned. Why would my eight-year-old daughter possibly need a plunger, after all? This just couldn't be good!

"I want to know what a plunger feels like!" she explained.

Wow! I had done it again. I pride myself on describing the visual world to my blind daughter, but there it was--another little hole in her understanding. Did we have a plunger? Sure. Was I going to let her explore it with her hands? Well, no, that didn't seem the best plan. You might find ours to be as well-washed as any slightly used plunger anywhere, but I'm not going to put it into a child's hands for tactile exploration. "I'm sorry," I said, "we don't have a plunger that you can touch. It isn't clean enough. But what if I take you to the store and let you explore a new, clean plunger?"

Kendra was delighted with the idea. That's how I came to take her on her first Home Depot expedition.

Adventures at Home Depot

There was nothing I needed to buy. This was an outing of exploration, a true quest for knowledge. We made our way to Home Depot's plumbing aisle. Not only did Kendra get to look at a plunger. She soon learned that there are different styles of plungers, made from different materials, and that they come in various sizes. She was fascinated and full of questions.

After a while we moved on. I had blocked several hours of the day for this outing, just in case. Where should we head next? Toilet seats! There was an entire wall of them only a few feet away. Standard length, elongated, with lids, without lids, plastic, wooden, hard, padded, even some with a cutout in front--which prompted another whole discussion! The greatest fascination for my daughter was why the seats were arranged vertically on the wall that way. I began to realize how much information she was missing, information that most kids pick up without any special effort on anyone's part.

What about whole toilets? We have never encouraged Kendra to explore toilets with her hands, but brand-new ones are as clean as anything else in a store. We checked out the toilets, then moved on to tubs and showers. Next we found sinks for both the bathroom and the kitchen.

Before long, we had examined all the plumbing supplies we could find. We began to roam the store's other aisles. Appliances, Carpet and Flooring, Lumber, Fencing, Landscape. Kendra hates the noise of lawnmowers and other loud machines. In the store she understood that they were turned off and would make no frightening sounds, so she explored them freely.

Kendra seemed to enjoy hardware a lot, too. She was fascinated to learn how small and how large nuts and bolts can be. Tools were also fun. The many shapes and sizes of hand tools and power tools were quite new to her.

Shoes, Balls, Motors

The Home Depot outing left me exhausted. It involved several hours of intense describing and explaining, but the effort was well worthwhile. Not long after that Kendra had a question about shoes for sports. The concept of cleats seemed bizarre to her. We headed to Sports Authority and went straight to the shoe racks. I showed her baseball cleats, soccer cleats, football cleats, turf shoes, golf shoes, and any other unusual shoes I could find. I also let her explore more conventional tennis shoes so she could compare them to basketball shoes and running shoes.

Many questions followed, and ideas started popping into my head. Did Kendra have any idea that a baseball glove is a giant oversized thing nothing like the gloves she'd seen before? Did she know that there are different kinds of gloves for baseball and softball? Had she ever heard of a catcher's mitt? Did she know what a wooden bat was like compared to an aluminum bat?

We explored baseballs, softballs, and footballs. Kendra was surprised to learn that some balls aren't even round! She wondered why some balls have laces or seams. How many kinds of balls were there? We found tennis balls, soccer balls, golf balls, and bowling balls. We compared inline skates with roller skates. We noticed that skateboard wheels felt a lot like skate wheels. We compared different kinds of life preservers and various wet suits. We found the weights department and felt weights from one pound up to twenty pounds or more, one pound at a time. We compared the shapes of the weights and how hard they were to lift. We examined barbells, dumbbells, ankle weights, and free weights. Who knew there were so many kinds of weights to choose from? I could sense the wheels turning in Kendra's mind. Pieces were coming together for her about a lot of things.

Since then, we've made trips to a lot of different stores. Bass Pro Shops was especially interesting, with row after row of boating and camping supplies. In the boating area Kendra learned what an anchor is like. She discovered that anchors come in assorted designs and sizes. Outboard motors, too, come in a wide range of sizes. We examined little electric motors and gas engines from two horsepower up to 350. My five-year-old son could just about lift the smallest engines, but the big ones are over seven feet tall and weigh over 800 pounds. Fortunately, the store had a rack with at least a dozen engines of various sizes for Kendra to touch and compare. I took her to the back of a boat with a 350-HP engine. She studied it from the ground up. It was taller than she could reach, so I lifted her on my shoulders until she could touch the very top.

We've searched the auto parts store for all things automotive. We've compared many wheels and tires at a tire store. They come in lots of sizes, but the different tread patterns on tires seem to be the most interesting feature. We've explored all sorts of electronics at stores such as Best Buy and Fry's, though feeling the internal parts of an old junk computer at home seemed to be more interesting than exploring new machines on display.

It may be easier and faster to get through the supermarket if we don't discuss every item on each shelf. However, when time allows, grocery shopping certainly can be a fascinating opportunity. We've found a lot to explore in the produce section--that's one part of the store where most of the products are out in the open, not encased in plastic wrappings or cardboard boxes.

Up on the Roof

When Kendra was six years old, we took her with us to pick out a Christmas tree. Kendra helped us make our selection, so she knew what the tree looked like. As we drove home, Kendra wondered aloud where we had put the tree; she knew there was no room for it inside our van. Where did the tree go? How did it fit?

"We put the tree on the roof of the van," I explained. I showed her the roof from the inside and said the tree was on top of that.

My answer didn't seem to help much. "How can it be outside the car?" Kendra asked.

As soon as we got home, I grabbed a ladder. I invited Kendra to climb up as I stood behind her. Standing on the top rung didn't help a lot either. A sighted person can easily see the entire roof of a van from a ladder, but only a small portion was within Kendra's reach.

Finally I guided Kendra to move from the ladder onto the roof of the van. She sat and explored all she wanted. The tree was still tied to the roof rack, so she could find out how it stayed on in the wind. I remembered the little pocket camera on my belt and snapped a quick photo. I still smile when I see that picture, thinking of that day and that moment of learning.

Perhaps my daughter is not quite old enough yet, but I think we're not far from a walk on the roof of our house. A model of a house would be a great learning tool, of course. But if she can explore the roof safely, there's nothing like firsthand experience!

Closer to the ground, we've examined a lot of plants over the years. As a gardening enthusiast, I've maintained a sensory garden with interesting plants that have distinctive textures and scents. When she was quite young, Kendra enjoyed having a number of interesting (and relatively safe) plants to explore. They were all within reach from one location that she thought of as hers.

Surprises from Santa

Since Kendra came into our lives, Santa seems to bring us more things to explore, such as extra musical instruments. We have acquired a variety of ukuleles, guitars, keyboards, synthesizers, a small harp, and even a drum set. We also have some unusual pieces, such as a Native American flute; a jaw harp; and a kalimba, or African thumb piano. We even have a Theremin, the only electronic instrument you play without touching it. You vary the sounds by moving your hands closer or further from a pair of antennae.

I've bought these instruments because nothing beats unlimited exploration time. We've also taken quite a few trips to large music stores such as Guitar Center, where we can roam the aisles for free. In a music store you can explore hundreds of instruments under one roof. They also have plenty of recording gear and PA equipment, always a great fascination to my child. She especially loves all the faders and knobs on audio consoles.

Last summer, on the way to the NFB convention in Dallas, we stopped overnight in Vicksburg, Mississippi. As we headed out in the morning, I saw some Civil War cannons in front of the hotel. Kendra was curious. We didn't hesitate to delay our departure. She got out of the car and felt all the parts of a cannon or two.

Close to Home

Chances to supply missing information are almost everywhere. We've found many of them close to home. Not long ago Kendra's cane bumped into a guy wire at the edge of our front yard. We had passed within inches of that wire hundreds of times. Actually, we made a pointed effort to avoid it. It was a trip hazard, after all. Kendra had no idea that the wire was there, but one day she found it with her cane. What was it for? "It helps hold up the phone pole," I explained. I anticipated the next question, "What's a phone pole?" There it was again, information that Kendra's sighted peers took for granted. My explanation led to details about how electricity and cable TV, phone service and the Internet get into our home. "What about water?" No, water comes through pipes underground. In some places, power and phone lines also run underground, and there are no poles.

On a drive soon after this discussion, I spent several minutes telling Kendra every time we passed a phone pole. She couldn't believe there were so many of them. I realized how many other things we passed while she was unaware. From time to time I'd pick something else to tell her about in quantity as well as specific detail--houses and traffic lights, for example.

Some things, such as traffic lights, are hard to explore hands-on. I've bought some decommissioned traffic lights for a playhouse I built, so they were available for Kendra to touch. As parents we've had to be creative and proactive to provide Kendra with opportunities to examine things tactilely. Still, hands-on exploration is so valuable that it is truly worth the effort. We have learned a lot together, but a great deal remains for us to explore. This learning process is never really finished.

What, you may ask, does Kendra consider the most meaningful of all these adventures? Home Depot, she will say, without a doubt. At the end of that first adventure she talked me into buying her--you guessed it--her very own plunger! It is a joy to watch our daughter discover the world in her own unique style!

 

What Do You Do with a Blind Ballerina?

by Deja M. Powell, MA, NOMC

From the Editor: Deja Powell is an orientation and mobility instructor for blind children and serves as programs manager for the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University. Recently she got married to her fiancé when he returned from a deployment in Iraq.

My mom grew up as a dancer. When she was twelve she started teaching as an assistant dance teacher. Shortly after my parents were married, my dad built them a new house with a dance studio in the basement.

When I arrived, a baby girl, I was a dance teacher's dream. I left the hospital in tights and a leotard and leg warmers (this was back in the 1980s). That's pretty much what I wore from then on. I was the little ballerina my mom had always dreamed about!

You can perhaps imagine the heartbreak my parents experienced nine months into my life when they were told that I was blind. The doctors predicted a dismal future. My parents' dream of their little dancer probably faded into the distance.

However, as soon as I started to crawl and then to walk, the dream revived. I loved music and I loved dancing to it. When my mom went down to the studio to teach, I would cry at the top of the basement stairs. I badly wanted to dance, but I couldn't join the class--not because I was blind, but because I wasn't yet two years old.

When I finally turned two I started dance classes. Mostly my mom just let me move around in class as I chose; that's what two-year-old students usually do anyway. Outside of class Mom helped me move to an actual beat. Holding my hands, she danced with me in the living room, in the kitchen, in the studio, and in the yard. I quickly picked up on the rhythm of music. I knew how to work the stereo before I could talk. I loved to dance, and I danced all day.

As I got a little older, my mom began to spend more one-on-one time with me. She taught me specific positions for my feet and showed me where to place my arms. At first she literally put my body into the correct positions. As we worked, I learned ballet terminology. Plié, first position, jeté, pirouette, arabesque, fourth position--I knew what each term meant, and I could perform each one of them. Mom even did flashcards with me to help me learn the names of all the ballet positions. Whenever she announced a step in class, I knew exactly what she was talking about.

I began to excel in dance as I got older. I was long and lean and fit to be a dancer. I always felt that I was meant to dance.

As I became more competitive, I spent more and more time at the studio with my mom and classmates. I learned arm movements and specific placement for my feet for all my routines. At one point I was spending about ten hours a week at the studio. That was where I wanted to be.

In performances and competitions my teammates and I strategized about how I would find my spot, keep formation, and get to where I needed to go. Sometimes they communicated with me verbally, telling me to stop, keep going, or move to the right. Sometimes the routine was designed so that I didn't have to move far from my spot. I could still do many formations this way, and it helped make the transitions for me easier.

A dance teacher with a blind student can figure out what works best based on the student's strengths. Talk about what works most smoothly. Don't be afraid to try out several ideas before you figure out what works. Try to be as verbally expressive as possible while you teach. Plan one-on-one time to work with the blind student outside of class.

If you are the parent of a blind child who wants to dance, there are ways it can be done. As in any activity, you and your child may have moments of self-doubt. While I tried not to let my blindness affect my love for dance, there were moments when I thought about giving it all up. After all, you don’t see many blind dancers. Was there really a place for me in the world of ballet?

When I was nine years old, I had the opportunity to perform in the half-time show at the Fiesta Bowl football championship in Phoenix, Arizona. It was my first huge dance milestone. We spent hours on the hot football field, practicing our routines. At one point, I heard a teacher walk up to her student who was standing behind me. She told the student that she was positioning her arms the wrong way. "But I'm following the girl in front of me," the student protested. "Oh, you really shouldn't follow her," the teacher said. "She's blind. She doesn't know what's going on."

I felt crushed, and the tears started rolling. It was the first time in my life that someone doubted me because of my blindness. I have never forgotten that terrible moment.

I realize today that I have to set my own expectations and work on my own confidence, because people will doubt me my whole life. Dancing became my escape from reality. When I danced I felt like everyone else, and I actually felt like I belonged. I still find opportunities for dance today, such as yoga and Zumba (a combination of Latin dance and aerobics).

Fortunately for me, I had parents who really didn't care what the professionals had to say. They found ways to adapt something I loved around my blindness. If your child wants to be a dancer, a gymnast, or an athlete, there are always ways it can be done. There's a blind person out there somewhere who has done it already.

I can't imagine my life without dance. I'm glad my parents didn't hold back on letting me dance because I am blind. I'm grateful that they never thought I was too fragile, or that dance was too dangerous or too difficult for me. Dance shaped me and gave me the confidence that is a huge part of finding success as a blind adult.

Come on! Let’s dance!

 

Plays Well with Others

by Amber Bobnar

Reprinted from Wonderbaby Newsletter, June 2011

From the Editor: Amber Bobnar is the creator of <www.wonderbaby.org>, a Website that offers many articles with practical information on raising a blind child. The site has recently become affiliated with Perkins School for the Blind. Here Amber describes how she helped her son Ivan cope with a vexing problem.

We're playing at the park in the late afternoon because that's when nobody else is there. It's just me and my little guy, Ivan.

Another family approaches, and I tense up. Will we have to leave? The family has a little girl about my son's age, around two. She laughs as she runs to the swings. My heart sinks. Why did she have to laugh? Ivan's ear-splitting screams can be heard blocks away as we pack up our things and head home.

At two years old Ivan had a huge problem: he hated kids. I don't mean that he disliked kids or preferred to play on his own. No, my son hated to be around other children. If we were anywhere near another child, Ivan would kick and scream as though we had just encountered a boy-eating monster.

We were preparing for Ivan to transition to preschool in less than a year. The prospect of him peaceably sitting in a classroom full of other kids seemed remote at best. We knew we had to change his behavior, and fast!

Maybe you've experienced this with your own child. Some kids with vision impairments tend to get upset around other children. They'll be doing just fine, happily enjoying a day out with their parents, when suddenly they hear a child laugh or squeal, and the day is done. Some blind kids may even react to their own siblings. I know parents who desperately attempt to keep their children apart so that everyone stays calm. That's no way to live in your own home!

What can you do to help your child tolerate, and eventually enjoy, being around other children? Here's what we did for our son.

Understand Why

Kids are terribly unpredictable. They run and jump, they laugh and scream. They're loud, rambunctious, and playful. Kids are totally capable of being angels one second and going into tantrums the next. They make very little sense and, oh yeah, they like to throw things.

Your child may associate other children with frightening sounds, unpredictable behaviors, and sudden hits in the head from flying objects. If you think about it that way, being afraid of other kids makes perfect sense!

Some blind kids have trouble with sensory integration. Without vision to help put things together, it can be hard to take in all the noises, smells, and sensations coming at them every day. Blind and visually impaired kids can feel overwhelmed by loud sounds or other intense sensory input. You need to help your child figure out what's happening when other kids are around and change negative associations to positive ones.

Set Goals

It can feel daunting to tackle a major goal, but if you take it in realistic and attainable steps you're more likely to succeed. When we were trying to help our son acclimate to being around other kids, our ultimate goal was for him to transition into a preschool program at age three. We began with a smaller goal. I wanted Ivan to be able to sit through the half-hour story time at our local library.

Story time took place every Thursday morning in the Children's Room. Each week a cheerful librarian led the moms and toddlers in a song, read a few books following the theme of the day, and closed with a couple more songs. I knew that for Ivan the session would be pure torture.

Before we got started, I spoke with the library staff to explain our problem and what we were trying to do. Having them understand our situation helped tremendously. I didn't have to worry about being thrown out or getting glared at by the staff. They were on our team, and they were rooting for us!

Now we had a clearly set goal. We just had to figure out how it could be achieved.

Take Baby Steps

If you think about it, being afraid of other children is really a behavioral problem. Your child may have perfectly good reasons for feeling the way he or she does, but the reaction to those feelings is inappropriate. You need to help your child form new associations, control his or her feelings, and curb troublesome behavior. None of this can be done overnight!

With our library dilemma, we began by sitting outside the Children's Room with the door ajar (with permission from the librarians, of course). Ivan could hear what was going on in the room, but he could tell that the activity was far off and feel that he was out of harm's way.

By sitting away from the action, Ivan learned to listen to what was happening. I explained to him what was going on in the room, and he began to understand that story time wasn't dangerous at all. He never got hurt, even though he was still uncomfortable. I was trying to teach him that being uncomfortable doesn't mean you can run away. Stop, listen, and figure out what's around you was the lesson. Is it safe? Are you okay? Then let's calm down.

We inched closer and closer to the door every week until we were right outside the Children's Room. Eventually we were able to sit on the very outskirts of the group. Then we moved closer and closer until Ivan was actually in the middle of story time!

This process took about three months, and it was only one part of our plan. While we were attending story time every Thursday, the rest of the week we worked on changing Ivan's associations about other kids.

Change Associations

Your child may associate other children with frightening, unpredictable experiences. Part of your job is to change that association. You want your child to hear other kids and think, "Oh, there are kids here! There must be something fun going on!"

We made a list of things that Ivan really, really liked. Then we did our best to get him involved in these activities around other children. Here is our list of things Ivan really enjoyed when he was two years old. Actually it hasn't changed much in the past four years.

a. swimming
b. eating
c. swinging
d. listening to music

You see where we're going with this?

We took Ivan to our local pool almost every day so he could experience the water. We asked when would be the best time to come when other kids were there. We found out that a class came in every Wednesday afternoon. We were there every Wednesday. Ivan held on to me as tightly as he could while we were splashed and tossed by the kids in the pool, but he didn't cry. The water was so much fun he didn't get too upset about the noise and confusion. He was worried about the kids in the water, but at the same time he was thrilled by the pool itself.

On other days, during snack time, I packed Ivan's favorite foods into his diaper bag and we headed to the playground down the road from our house. We would sit under a tree and eat peaches and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while we listened to kids scream and laugh. Ivan whimpered, but he loved his food so much that he put up with the noise.

After the snack was settled I'd sit Ivan in the swing. I let him feel the back-and-forth movement while the other children ran wildly around the playground. This was one of the hardest parts of our plan, but eventually Ivan would calm down enough to enjoy the swing while he listened to the other kids.

Finally, we took Ivan out to hear live music as often as we could. This was the best thing for him. We'd find free library shows, outdoor summer concerts, and any other venue that gave a musician the chance to sing "Wheels on the Bus" to a bunch of screaming toddlers. Ivan cried and clung until he heard the guitar or piano begin to play. Then he would relax and listen to the music.

After months of these activities, Ivan began to associate kids with fun times. Kids are at the pool, the park, and at concerts. Kids like to do the sorts of things that Ivan likes to do. If we hear kids, then maybe something fun is happening!

Be Patient

I'm not going to lie to you and say this was a breeze. These were some of the hardest months of our lives. It is difficult, painful, and counterintuitive to take your child over and over again to places where you know he will be unhappy. As parents we're hardwired to protect our kids, not to torture them! But I knew I had Ivan's best interest at heart. I knew that if he didn't overcome his fears, he'd have a horrible time in preschool.

In Ivan's case, our efforts paid off. After three or four months of constantly being around other children, Ivan decided that kids weren't so bad after all. And his first day of preschool was wonderful!

 

Lunch in the Chorus Room

by Jennifer Dunnam

Reprinted from The Minnesota Bulletin, Volume 76, Number 2, Spring 2010

From the Editor: Jennifer Dunnam is president of the NFB of Minnesota. During a seminar at the Minnesota state convention, several parents of blind teens talked about their children's struggles to make friends and fit into the social milieu. After the convention Jennifer reflected on her own experiences growing up and wrote the following article.

I was born totally blind, and I grew up a relatively normal kid during the 1970s. I attended public schools throughout my education, although I spent the first three years in a "self-contained" classroom with other blind and visually impaired students. In that setting I received a good foundation in Braille and in the other necessary subjects. By third grade I was mainstreamed in all my classes at a public school nearer to home.

Things were not always easy by any means, but I was generally successful during my elementary and junior high school years. I had acquired strong Braille skills early on, and I was fortunate to have all of my educational materials provided in Braille. Also I had the advantage of getting to know my classmates from an early age, and I made some good friends. My parents were very supportive and worked to make sure I was age appropriate in most skills and behavior.

However, there was one major lack in my education. I never had a long white cane until I was twelve years old. I never knew any blind people who got around without being led by a sighted person until much, much later. My parents and I simply didn't know anything different, and neither did anyone around us. I could climb trees, ride bikes, and get into my share of trouble along with my sisters. But when I wasn't at home I couldn't walk independently beyond the confines of a classroom or on routes within the school that I had practiced beforehand. I spent a lot of time worrying about how I would get from place to place. I remember as a young child hoping that somehow when I grew up I would find an invisible person to guide me so that people would not have to see someone with me everywhere I went.

Starting High School

Even though some of my good friends would be scattering to different schools, I eagerly looked forward to the start of high school. Several days before school began, I went to the building with a cane travel instructor and practiced the routes I would need to get to my classes. Things started out well. The teachers were interesting and knowledgeable, and I enjoyed being exposed to some of the older students. However, when lunchtime came that first day, I had no plan. Like many other students I had brought my lunch from home, but with whom would I eat? Where would I go? The cane travel teacher had talked with me about how I would handle this eventuality, but I had tried not to think about it.

Clearly now there was nothing to do but to follow the instructor's suggestion. I would have to walk up and down the courtyard where people were chatting and having lunch until I heard someone I knew or until someone saw me and asked me to sit down. Nowadays I would think nothing of such a maneuver, but at that time it was very traumatic and frightening to me. I worked up my nerve and did it successfully. I had to do the same thing every day for the first week or so, and it never got any easier. Finally I discovered that some people I knew and liked ate regularly in the chorus room. I started eating there and fit in well, getting to know some very interesting people. What a relief! Things were looking up.

Then, about three weeks after the start of school, my father announced that we would be moving to a new town because of his job. Suddenly I was off to a new school where I knew no one and where no one had any experience dealing with a blind person. My materials were available in Braille, and again I was successful academically. But socially my life was an entirely different story. Every day and every hour seemed as traumatic as that first week of lunchtimes had been at my other school. I never realized how much the people I grew up with had learned to anticipate what I needed. I did not know how to cope with a completely new situation.

A couple of weeks after I settled into the new house and the new school, a classmate invited me to a Halloween party. My parents would not permit me to go. The invitation was very important to me, but unfortunately I couldn't clearly explain why it mattered so much. I felt I shared common interests with the people who would be at the party, and I wanted to get to know them better. My parents only knew that they had never met these kids or their parents, so I stayed home. That group never again invited me to an activity, and I never became close to them, although they were in many of my classes. For the next four years, whenever I needed a place to focus my anger and hurt over the isolation I experienced, I blamed the Halloween party incident. Of course, it's now clear that one declined invitation was not the cause of all my troubles.

Long, Lonely Years

The details of my lonely high school years are hazy in my memory. I know that my head was often filled with terrible thoughts, and in some ways it is a miracle that I am still here to tell about it. Being a private person, I didn't generally reveal what an awful time I was having. My interests, hopes, and dreams were like those of others, but few seemed able to see that. Mostly I felt treated as if I were from another planet. In my mind, my troubles came down to the fact that I was blind and that most of my classmates did not accept me.

Only much later did I come to understand that many other factors contributed to my teenage difficulties. First, I was painfully shy and naturally a loner. These traits necessarily bring challenges for anyone dealing with high school. Add my limited travel skills into the mix, and it's not hard to see why some high schoolers found it easier to go about the business of being teenagers than to do the work it would have taken to include me in their activities. I had to be led from place to place (or so we all thought), I could not drive, and I could not participate in things that were visual in nature. I was quiet and sad a lot of the time, except in class, where I could excel.

A few people made the effort to be friends and to include me. They did not do it out of pity, but out of genuine friendship. Even then I could tell the difference. I did not generally have much in common with them, but they were good people. Because of them, my high school years were not entirely without adventure, but those fun times were rare.

One day a friend told me of a conversation about me. Someone had commented that I was very smart, and someone else said, "Well, if I stayed in my house and studied all the time, I'd be smart, too." The friend who heard this conversation tried to explain that it wasn't quite like that, but the others didn't listen. How could they understand that I didn't stay home because I wanted to, but because I didn't know how to make anything else happen?

A Hopeful Perspective

One thing that helped me survive high school was the National Federation of the Blind. Some members of the Federation started to invite me to seminars and conventions. Slowly those experiences helped me see what I might do differently. However, change took a very long time. Conventions and student seminars didn't happen often, and I couldn't always attend. I didn't really get involved until after high school.

I had always believed the NFB philosophy, but I didn't have enough knowledge to live it to its potential. After some thorough cane travel training using the structured discovery method and after a lot of interaction with blind people who pushed and supported me, I began to gain a confidence I had never before known. I started to do things I had never thought possible. I learned to cope with public attitudes, working at the balance between not making people feel bad and not feeling obliged to accept every bit of help that was offered.

For some of my classmates, high school graduation was a sad farewell. For me it was just a great relief and a chance to move on. My parents did not stop me when I decided to attend a college far from home. They rejoiced with me when I found that I could thrive in the college environment. They did not object when I spent summers abroad studying French, German, and Russian. They only mildly expressed their concerns when, after graduating from college, I bought a pass that let me ride the Greyhound for a month. I visited friends around the country--even taking a three-day trip to Arizona with no clear plan of what I would do when I got there. Incidentally, I did not practice any routes ahead of time. By the time I moved thousands of miles away to take a job in Minnesota, it just seemed like par for the course.

A Twenty-year Overview

In the twenty years since high school I have led a normal, happy life. I have had a sequence of very good jobs, made many friends, and held leadership positions in community organizations. I have always had the support of my parents and relatives, who instilled in me a basic belief that I would someday be able to do whatever I wanted with my life. I have also had the support of the family that is the National Federation of the Blind, from which I learned the skills that I needed to make that belief a reality. There are always challenges--some of them blindness-related, some of them not--but that is life's way.

During the twenty years we have just flown through, I cannot exactly say that I came to peace with my high school experience. Mostly I blotted it from my memory. It was an awful period in my life, and I hoped to help other kids avoid going through similar times if I could. After graduation I did not remain in contact with any of my high school classmates. I hardly gave a thought to our twenty-year anniversary as it came and went. High school was a chapter from the distant past, utterly and thankfully gone and buried.

Reconnections

Life, however, is full of twists, turns, and unimaginable surprises. A few months after that twenty-year anniversary mark, a family member convinced me to sign up for the social networking site known as Facebook. I had resisted doing so for a long time, but I was finally persuaded that it might be a good way to keep up with family who live far away. Soon I began to find people from my past with whom I had completely lost touch. I found some friends from before high school, and, eventually, even some people who attended high school with me. It has been absolutely fascinating to see how their lives have developed--some in predictable ways, some in ways that were not predictable at all.

It has been a good thing to have contact with these people so many years later, now that we've grown up a bit, and with my clearer understanding about blindness and the role it plays and does not play. It is pleasant to find that my memory of some people as truly accepting of me was not wrong; that acceptance continues. Of course, some people talk about what an inspiration I was, and some remember things I wish they had forgotten. But mostly we're all just people living our lives.

Here is one example of the conversations I have had as I reconnect with the people from my past. When this person, whom I'll call Lisa, found me, she was not sure I would remember her. After establishing that we indeed remembered one another, our correspondence went like this:

* * *

Lisa: I remember we were in math class together during junior high! You know how, as we get older, we have a tendency to look back on things and remember all the idiotic things we've done? Well, I have been doing so and I feel that I owe you an enormous apology (again). During that year, you were kind enough to invite me to your birthday party. I was having such a great time. You had a real good friend there. I can't remember her name but she was always there for you and was even learning your Braille machine. She was with me and a couple other friends you had invited, telling us about how you had become blind, and that you could see only blurred shadows. For whatever reason, and to this very day I still think about it and still don't know why, I went up to you and asked how many fingers I was holding up. Your mom grabbed my hand and told me that it was not funny. I felt like crawling under a rock and probably should have.

That following week, your mom was bringing you to class, I caught up with you and apologized then, and you were wonderful enough to forgive me. But it has still been bothering me all these years that I had the mental capacity to have been so cruel. Jennifer, I am so terribly sorry for having done that. I cannot believe I ever did such an insensitive thing. That is why I thought you wouldn't remember me or wouldn't want to remember me. I hope that you will forgive me (again) and that we can continue to be friends and catch up on the GOOD times!

Jennifer: Goodness! Please spend not one more second worrying about such a thing! I have zero memory of the incident. What you describe sounds a whole lot more to me like a kid simply being curious than a kid being cruel. I have always viewed my blindness in a very matter-of-fact way, and not as something to be uncomfortable about. One of the very biggest challenges I faced while growing up (and even now, truth be told), is to help others not feel they must tiptoe around blindness or view it as some great tragedy that makes me vastly different from them. Your being at my birthday party indicates to me that you were clearly someone who had enough comfort with blindness that you and I were able to have a normal friendship based on other things. That's pretty special, and was not easy to come by for me, especially in those days. You weren't feeling sorry for me or thinking of blindness as some big deal. It is also likely that, even if I was a bit taken aback at first by the fingers question, I was probably a lot more upset with my mother for making a big deal about it. Anyway, I hope this makes sense to you, and please don't be concerned any longer about it. I'm absolutely delighted to have reconnected with you, and I look forward to staying in touch.

Lisa: Thank you, Jennifer! I will think of it no longer!!!! I have been thinking of you a lot over the years and I am also very happy we are able to reconnect! I am very happy you allowed me to be one of your friends and still are allowing me. What a blessing! My parents have always taught me to look past the things that make others different from me and to look for what lies inside; not to dwell on the color of their skin, the God they worship, or the wheelchair they sit in. It is the heart that makes the person.

* * *

While I certainly was not happy to hear that Lisa had worried about this incident all these years, it was encouraging to know that people could be so thoughtful. This was one of many exchanges with people in which I had the opportunity to articulate things more clearly than I could as a young person.

By no means do I mean to give the platitude here that "everyone has a tough time as a teenager, so don't worry, it will all work out eventually." I was fortunate in many ways to be at the right place at the right time, and several elements became available that helped me immensely. Such is not the case for everyone. We must do all we can to help blind teenagers through what can be a very tough time. While I have come to a better understanding of the difficulties of my teenage years, I believe I could have avoided some of the problems with better information and support. We in the Federation have been working hard to improve opportunities for blind youth today, and there is much yet to be done. Some of the challenges in today's world are quite different from those of twenty or more years ago, but some are the same.

A New Generation

Recently the journal of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind (AER) published an article about the benefits of giving children early cane travel instruction. Of course, we in the NFB have long known and advocated for this, and we have helped many children gain independence at an early age. Still, I was delighted to see that perhaps even more kids will avoid some of the difficulties I had because of my lack of travel skills.

Today's technology provides blind people with better access to information than ever before, and with more options for making connections with people than we have ever known. With computers, blind youth today can communicate in writing with their sighted classmates; such an option was not available to blind people my age and older.

These excellent developments do little good unless blind youth have the basic skills to move about independently and to function appropriately in social settings. Also, they must have access to blind role models who can show them what is possible. This is why our NFB youth programs are so important. We must do all we can to connect with blind teens and give them the support and encouragement they need.

 

More Than a Loving Family

by Karen Leinart

From the Editor: Karen Leinart is the adoptive mother of four children from China. As she prepared her youngest, Matthew, to enter school, she realized that she had to become his advocate.

On Christmas Eve, 2004, my husband and I first saw a picture of the little boy in China who would become our fourth child. It's hard to describe the connection we felt to him at first sight, but there it was. Pretty soon we were immersed in preparations for another adoption. Matthew was two years old, and he had been on our agency's list of waiting children for several months. The agency was having a hard time placing him, and soon his file would be returned to China. Perhaps he would be listed with another agency.

Why was it so difficult to place this beautiful child with a family? It's hard to know for sure, but most likely he had not been placed because he has a visual impairment. Matthew has albinism and is legally blind.

We researched albinism extensively before we decided to adopt Matthew. The more we read, the more we concluded that it wouldn't be much of a problem. Our research assured us that all Matthew would need was a lot of sunscreen and some magnification aids at school. Once we brought him home, however, we quickly learned that Matthew needed more than a family to love him. What Matthew needed most was an advocate.

At our first visit to the pediatric ophthalmologist, we had to insist that the doctor provide a prescription for glasses to correct Matthew's astigmatism and myopia. We knew that glasses wouldn't cure his legal blindness, but they would improve the vision he had. The doctor didn't seem to think it was worthwhile to provide Matthew with glasses. He assured us that Matthew would do "just fine" in school with large print books and a seat in the front row.

Though Matthew was almost three, we contacted Early Intervention Services to conduct initial screening so that we would have information ready for his transition to preschool. Early Intervention did a variety of tests and passed the results along to the school district. When we contacted the local school district, we got our next lesson in being Matthew's advocates.

The school district wanted to place Matthew in a preschool that had a program for visually impaired children, but it was ten miles from our home. When we visited the program, we saw a classroom with many children who had multiple needs. Matthew had many post-institutional delays, and we felt he needed exposure to a wider variety of children. We also had concerns about sending a newly adopted child with attachment issues on a long bus ride every day. Once again we had to dig in our heels. At last the district agreed that Matthew could attend a regular class at our local preschool.

Matthew entered our school district's preschool program when he turned three years old. His two older sisters attended the same school, and having them there helped relieve his separation anxiety. Matthew had to do a lot of catching up after his time in the orphanage, and his initial progress was remarkable. At first his vision itinerant mostly observed him, but by the end of the first year he was introduced to a CCTV, a device for magnifying print on the page. We asked about methods for nonvisual learning, and were assured that the classroom was rich in things that provided those opportunities.

As Matthew approached kindergarten, however, we wondered if large print and magnification aids were going to be enough for him. His best vision was about 20/400. He had to hold things very close to see them, and he always had his head bent forward. He seemed to be taking a long time to learn to read and write letters and numbers. The classroom teachers and the vision itinerant assured us that he was doing well, but we felt that perhaps their expectations were too low. It was time for our next lesson in advocacy.

We began to network with several other families that have adopted children with albinism from China. We learned that some of them were having their children learn to use both Braille and large print, becoming dual media readers. Following their lead, we read a study by Dr. Ruby Ryles. Her findings showed that learning Braille as a child had a positive impact on the employment rates of visually impaired adults. We also researched special education law. We found that the IEP team was required to address Matthew's need for Braille.

We started to ask questions about Braille for Matthew. Armed with information from the NFB, I met with Matthew's itinerant teacher of the visually impaired (TVI). She was quick to tell us that Matthew was a visual learner who would not benefit from Braille. We pushed further and set up a meeting with her supervisor. At that meeting, we heard a number of arguments against Braille instruction for Matthew. "No child with albinism has ever needed Braille." "Braille is outdated and is being replaced by technology." "Even if we teach it to him," we were told, "Matthew will never choose to use Braille." Clearly it was going to be a battle to get Braille instruction for Matthew.

At the IEP meeting for Matthew's transition to kindergarten, we came armed with information from the NFB and copies of the study by Ruby Ryles. We finally got some Braille goals added to Matthew's IEP, as well as continued support for large print and magnification. Matthew made some progress during the end of preschool and beginning of kindergarten, but he was being taught Braille visually, and he struggled to see the dots.

Frustrated, we contacted the NFB. The Federation provided us with support, evaluations, and an advocate. Our IEP meeting held during the fall of Matthew's kindergarten year went much better, and daily time for tactile Braille education was added to his IEP. The school district once again wanted to place Matthew in its vision program. We visited the class again. Though we continued to have some concerns, we saw that at the K-1 level it was run more as a resource program, with children spending much of the day in regular ed classrooms. We decided to place Matthew in the vision program for a half day, and in his home school for the other half day.

Matthew's Braille education really took off. He also became much more comfortable and adept at using his visual aids. For first grade, we changed Matthew's placement to the vision program full time.

By the middle of first grade, Matthew started to experience quite a bit of eye fatigue. His reading and classwork slowed down, and frequently he could not finish his homework. His eyes were so tired that he needed over an hour to complete a ten-minute worksheet. Though his Braille instruction was underway, he still used his vision for most of his work in class. His teacher adjusted his schedule and changed the ratio of print and Braille. Matthew started spending half his day doing math, science, and social studies in large print. He spent the other half of his day doing language arts in Braille. He also used Braille for all of his homework assignments. Matthew's Braille skills progressed more rapidly, and his eye fatigue was gone.

Matthew has now finished second grade. At the beginning of the school year, testing showed that he was a year behind grade level with his print reading skills and even further behind in Braille. During the year, he made great progress in both reading media. We have encouraged a lot of Braille reading at home, including participation in the NFB's Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. Matthew read more than 1,400 pages for the contest this year! His teacher is wonderful at pushing him ahead and having high expectations for him. His end-of-year testing indicates that Matthew is reading at the early third grade level. We are convinced that this improvement occurred because his print and Braille reading have converged. He is now able to read using his full range of capabilities.

Matthew still has to learn some more Braille contractions. Once he learns them he'll be ready to move on to the chapter books he wants to read. He can't read them in print because it's too fatiguing, but soon he'll be ready to take them on in Braille. Over the next year, we expect to see his Braille fluency surpass his fluency with print, and we believe his reading will start to soar.

There is a place for print reading in Matthew's life and a place for Braille. As Matthew continues to learn and mature, he'll find the right place for each.

We have a picture of Matthew reading a print book. His head is at almost a 90-degree angle to his body, his eyes squint, and he holds the book a few inches from his face. When Matthew reads Braille, he cuddles up under a blanket, sometimes pulling it up over his head, and enjoys reading. Matthew loves books. With Braille he can read in a comfortable position, without the lights that bother him, and without any eye fatigue. Aside from needing a family, Matthew's biggest need was indeed to have an advocate.

 

Entering the GATE

by Joy Orton

From the Editor: Trained as an English teacher, Joy Orton has been a stay-at-home mom for the past seven years. As this article goes to press, she and her family are preparing to spend two years in China, where Joy and her husband, Paul, will teach in a small rural college.

In 2004 my husband and I traveled to China to adopt our daughter, Ahbee.  She was four years old and had been cared for in an orphanage since she was two. We know nothing of Ahbee's early history. We only know where she was found in a market, and what she was wearing.

When she went to the orphanage, Ahbee was already talking. Based on the dialect she spoke, we know that she did not originally come from the part of the province where she was found. The orphanage assigned her a birthday based on her calculated age. Although we don't know exactly when or where she was born, she has an official birth certificate.

As we navigated the adoption process from our home in Texas, we did not know that Ahbee was blind. If we had been aware of her disability, we probably would have been afraid to take on the challenge. We knew nothing about blindness, and we had all of the usual fears and misconceptions. Fortunately for us all, the medical report said only that Ahbee had nystagmus, an involuntary movement of the eyes. We thought that the condition would be correctable with proper medical treatment.

When we met Ahbee in China, we realized that her vision was much more limited than we had thought. She would walk and run in familiar places indoors, but on the street she was unsure and wanted us to carry her. We also began to suspect that she was very bright. During our first meal together she would take bits of cereal from a bowl and hand them to each of us. We responded by saying, "Thank you," in English. By the next morning "thank you" was part of Ahbee's vocabulary.

Before I was married I lived in China for four years, so I know some Mandarin. Mandarin is similar to Hakka, the language Ahbee learned at the orphanage. My Mandarin was a help as Ahbee adjusted to life with our family, but at times the differences between Mandarin and Hakka led to confusion. An early example was when she wanted to go swimming, and we thought she wanted to take a nap. She was not happy about that!

Soon after we brought her home, Ahbee discovered a toy stroller. Pushing it ahead of her, she cruised freely around the house and yard, exploring her new environment. We contacted an orientation and mobility instructor, who very tentatively asked us how we would feel about giving Ahbee a long white cane. Without hesitation we said that we wanted Ahbee to have a cane if it would help her. The O&M instructor was relieved. She told us that many parents strongly resist cane instruction for their blind children.

Ahbee spent half a year in a pre-kindergarten class and then went on to kindergarten. The school tested her for the gifted program, but the materials were largely visual, and Ahbee was below the cutoff point. Ahbee's teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) suggested that she spend an extra year in kindergarten in order to consolidate her English and Braille skills. Thanks to her dedicated teachers, Ahbee's kindergarten was a Braille-rich environment. In addition to providing Braille books and worksheets, her teachers made sure that many things in the classroom were labeled in Braille.

That second kindergarten year was helpful for Ahbee. She improved in her spoken English and made great strides in reading Braille. Again during that year she was tested for the gifted program, and again her scores fell below the district's cutoff scores.

My husband searched the Internet for information on gifted blind students. He discovered a Website sponsored by the Frances A. Karnes Center for Gifted Studies at the University of Southern Mississippi. The URL is <www.usm.edu/gifted>. The site includes extensive information on children with dual exceptionality--gifted children who also have a sensory, physical, or cognitive disability. The research showed that giftedness expresses itself differently in children who have other forms of exceptionality. For instance, a blind child who reads Braille on grade level is often gifted. Because blind children usually have little early exposure to Braille compared to print exposure for sighted children, Braille readers of average intelligence tend to fall below grade level.

From the Frances Karnes Website my husband printed out a huge document, describing the multiple characteristics of dually exceptional children, including gifted blind children. From our point of view, Ahbee seemed to fit the profile. In fact, nearly everyone who interacted with our child was struck by her intelligence. We asked to have her re-evaluated for our school's gifted program, GATE, which stands for Gifted and Talented Education. The program evaluates any kindergartener who is recommended by a teacher or parent.

Ahbee had been tested earlier for the GATE program, but according to the results she didn't qualify. However, after studying the research from the University of Southern Mississippi, I knew that no test for giftedness has been normed for blind children. I felt strongly that factors other than her test score should be considered in Ahbee's evaluation. I arranged a phone conference with the GATE teacher at Ahbee's school.

During our phone conference, the teacher agreed that Ahbee was very bright. However, she said that she was not sure Ahbee would fit into the gifted program. She worried that Ahbee would be unable to deal with visual materials used in the classroom or to work independently on research projects. She also thought the pace of the class might be too fast for Ahbee. Furthermore, she worried aloud, "I'm not sure it would be best for the other children to have Ahbee in the class."

I was shocked to hear such a comment coming from an educator. I pointed out that every child with a disability is entitled to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE). The child's effect on other children in the class is not supposed to be a consideration. Despite the teacher's negative attitude, I was determined to pursue the GATE program as an option for Ahbee.

The next person I contacted was the GATE Program coordinator for our school district. I gave her a copy of the document from the Karnes Center Website. She thanked me and promised to get back to us.

Several weeks passed, and I heard nothing from the coordinator. I left her a series of phone messages and sent her numerous emails, but got no reply. Finally I sent her a certified letter. The letter was received, but still the coordinator did not respond.

By now it was May, and the school year was drawing to a close. I was eager to firm up Ahbee's placement for the fall. It was at this point that my husband suggested I contact the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC).

When I called the NOPBC I had the pleasure of speaking with then-president Barbara Cheadle. Barbara suggested that we file a complaint with the State Board of Education or a complaint under Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act. She urged me to tell the school that a formal complaint would be our next step unless we received a response from the district coordinator.

Following Barbara's suggestions, I called the coordinator again and left yet another message. I also called the IEP coordinator (known as the diagnostician) at Ahbee's school. I told the diagnostician that I didn't want to file complaints, but since the coordinator refused to respond to me, I felt that I had no choice.

The strategy brought miraculous results. Within half an hour I received the long-awaited call from the district coordinator. Sounding full of enthusiasm, she said we needed to meet! We needed to talk! Without delay she set up a conference.

At the ensuing meeting, I spoke with the district coordinator and the school principal. The GATE teacher, the one who had worried about Ahbee's effect on the other children, was not present. At our meeting, the coordinator stated that the district needed a procedure for evaluating not only Ahbee, but also other exceptional children in the future. The diagnostician evaluated Ahbee over the summer, working closely with her TVI.

That fall, as a first grader, Ahbee entered the GATE program. In Ahbee's school GATE is a pull-out class. The GATE students are assigned to regular classrooms and are pulled out for special activities once a week. Ahbee was also being pulled out of her regular class for Braille and O&M instruction. Although her day was something of a patchwork, she continued to receive 90 and above in all of her classes. We felt certain that GATE was the right placement for her. Without Barbara Cheadle's help, Ahbee's placement might have been stalled indefinitely.

After she overcame her reservations, Ahbee's first GATE teacher was loving and kind. However, she tended to make plans at the last minute. Often she didn't give the Braillist enough time to prepare the materials Ahbee needed. We have continued to be vigilant to make sure Ahbee's needs are being met.

Year after year we see the same pattern at school. Ahbee's classroom teacher begins the year with a look of terror. Then, as the teacher discovers Ahbee's eagerness to learn, terror changes to delight. Ahbee is often one of the first students to answer a question. Her teachers tell us that she is awesome and wonderful, and it's not simply because she can walk to a room down the hall and deliver a message. Ahbee's teachers generally expect as much from her as they do from their other students.

Each of Ahbee's teachers has brought something unique to the task. In first grade her classroom teacher actually Brailled Ahbee's Christmas card and provided her end-of-the-year awards to the Braille transcriber in time for them to be ready in Braille when the other children got their awards.

Today, at almost eleven, Ahbee plays piano and is a voracious reader. She is starting to learn to cook. She has taken tap dance and ballet, and now she has settled on clogging as her dance of choice. This past year she placed first for her school in the spelling bee and came in second in the regional competition.

In 2006 our family attended our first NFB convention, and we haven't missed a convention since. The NFB philosophy resonated for us from the beginning. We want to raise our daughter to be confident, capable, and involved in the life around her. With her talents and drive, she is off to a great start!

 

Growing Up in Macedonia

by Adrijana Prokopenko

From the Editor: Each year more and more blind children come to the United States from overseas. Some arrive as adoptees, and others come as immigrants with their families. Their early experiences in the developing world are often quite different from those of blind children who begin life in the United States. In this article Adrijana Prokopenko describes her life growing up as a blind child in Macedonia.

I was born on February 2, 1979, in Skopje, Macedonia. I grew up in Skopje, and I also spent a great part of my childhood with my grandparents, who lived in the eastern part of the country. Macedonia is a small nation in eastern Europe. It has only about two million people. Until 1991 it was part of the former Yugoslavia. Macedonia is a developing nation, and it is undergoing many changes.

I was born three months premature, and I spent two and a half months in an incubator. The oxygen that helped keep me alive also damaged my eyes. I became blind due to a condition called retinopathy of prematurity (ROP).

As soon as my parents learned about my blindness, they called the national school for the blind, which was in our city. They talked to one of the teachers, who agreed to visit us and give my parents some tips about raising me. There was no early intervention program, so people tried to help each other in any way possible. They shared whatever knowledge they had about blindness.

I don't think I was even aware that I was blind when I was a small child. I was a lively, curious kid who did most of the things sighted kids do. I loved to ride my bike outside. I liked to play in the park, to run and exercise.

When I was old enough to start school, I went to the school for the blind that my parents had contacted. I had the same teacher who had visited me at home. It was great, because she knew me very well. I soon learned Braille and math. I started playing the piano and participated in extracurricular activities. Unfortunately, we never had instruction in orientation and mobility or classes on daily living skills. There was no instructor qualified to teach in those areas, so we had no chance to learn the basic skills of independence. Also, not much technology was available. We had no electronic equipment of any kind. I only had the Perkins Braillewriter. Even Braillers were hard to obtain and repair.

The students who came from other cities lived in the dormitory and went home on holidays. Because I lived in Skopje I was a day student. Students who had some sight were given many advantages at the school. They were encouraged to take part in extracurricular activities and to help in the dormitory and kitchen. The totally blind students were expected to study music and to read the small collection of Braille books we had available. It was rare for a totally blind student to get involved in sports or other extracurricular activities in the same way as partially sighted students. It only happened when initiated by a teacher or some other person.

A few of the teachers at the school were blind, and they were a great help to me. I talked to them about many things, and they became my second family.

When I was in fifth grade, I started to learn English. My English teacher was a wonderful role model, and I always felt happy in her class. She was always willing to help us, in class and outside. Knowing her, I realized that I wanted to be a teacher.

I practiced English by listening to the radio and TV. I became interested in learning how blind people lived in other parts of the world. I wanted to travel and experience life that is quite different from what we know here in Macedonia.

In 1998 I learned about a program for international students sponsored by the Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia. By that time I had graduated from high school and completed my first year of university studies. I discovered that I met all of the criteria, and I was accepted into the program. I had heard many good things about education for the blind in the United States, and I was thrilled to have this opportunity.

My parents were very happy for me. They wanted me to have a bright future and to achieve my goals, and they realized that in our country I could not get the training I needed. I am sure that at times they worried about me and felt sad that they wouldn't be able to see me for a whole year. Still, they also knew that if they kept me here, they couldn't help me much and I wouldn't be pleased either.

I entered the Overbrook program in the fall of 1998. The program was designed to teach cane travel, assistive technology, and leadership skills. I also studied English and took part in choir and sports. The teachers challenged us and expected us to work hard, so we were busy most of the day.

There were ten international students in the program. My friends were all students from countries where blind people lived much as we did in Macedonia. I related to them easily from the beginning. We were there for each other at any time of the day or night. I loved my time in the United States, but I missed my family very much, especially around the holidays.

On the weekends we left Overbrook and stayed with host families in the Philadelphia area. At the end of the school year we took a trip to Washington, D.C. We planned the whole trip for the students and staff, from travel and accommodations to meals and sightseeing.

After a year at Overbrook I obtained a scholarship to study at Eastern Mediterranean University in Cyprus. I graduated from the English teaching department in 2003. When I returned to Macedonia I began looking for a job. Because I was blind, no one wanted to give me a chance. I went to countless interviews and was always turned down. Finally a friend of mine introduced me to another English teacher. Through her I found some private students who came to me a few hours a month, but I still needed a full-time job.

At last, in September 2006, I found a job at the school for the blind that I had attended as a child. I enjoy working there, and I do whatever I can to help my students.

Some things at the school have improved since I was a student there. The school recently acquired a Braille embosser, so we may soon have access to more books than ever before. However, there is still no trained staff to teach orientation and mobility, daily living skills, and similar specialized courses that are easily available to most blind people in the west. Without cane travel skills, it is very hard for blind people in Macedonia to travel independently.

The unemployment rate among blind Macedonians is very high, as much as 80 percent. Blind workers are unemployed because they are not qualified to hold jobs or because employers simply do not want to hire them. For this reason most blind people struggle financially. I have known very few blind people who marry and raise children.

Teaching blind students involves much more than teaching a particular subject. Each of my students is special in unique ways. Some want to become musicians or computer programmers. Some plan to be massage therapists or telephone operators; blind people in Macedonia have traditionally found work in these fields. I try to introduce my students to blind people who are working, and the students get very excited about these contacts. I hope that my students will have many opportunities that were not available when I was growing up. I hope they will not have to encounter the discrimination that was such an obstacle for me and for so many others.

 

NFBU Project STRIVE

by Cheralyn Braithwaite Creer

From the Editor: Cheralyn Braithwaite Creer serves as first vice president of the NFB of Utah, and she is a board member of the Utah Parents of Blind Children. She has taught special education and worked in the Utah State Office of Education. She became involved with the NFB during college, and it had a powerful impact on her life. She tries to pass along what she has learned through her work with Utah's Club STRIVE.

Whenever a member of Project STRIVE gives me a call, the ringtone on my phone is a song made famous by Miley Cyrus. It's a song about pushing forward beyond fear and self-doubt, struggling up mountains in spite of failure. What really matters, the lyrics tell us, is the climb. That song sums up my hopes and dreams for the young people involved in Project STRIVE.

The NFB of Utah started Project STRIVE (Successful Transition Requires Independence, Vocation, and Education) to meet the unique needs of blind and visually impaired youth throughout Utah. Members of the program must be between the ages of thirteen and twenty-six. All of the instructors are positive, educated, blind adults. They are dedicated to mentor life, education, and employment readiness skills for blind young people. These skills, along with a positive attitude toward blindness, are critical for blind and visually impaired youth if they hope to transition successfully into adulthood.

Over the past year our members have told us a lot about themselves and how they feel. Here are some of their comments. "I don't feel smart." "I'm blind and I'm not okay with that." "No one understands what I'm going through at school." "My friends don't understand what being blind means." "I'm a poor reader and speller." "I feel like I have to choose between being blind and living in the sighted world." "Sometimes they call me mean names at school." "I'm going to graduate pretty soon, and I need to get out of my house more. I want to be involved in things and make friends." Their feelings are my reason for becoming involved in Project STRIVE.

Before we became mentors, my colleagues and I underwent considerable preparation. I need to acknowledge the training we have received through the Jernigan Institute. I also need to acknowledge the mentoring spirit that grew in our state through the Utah Network for Mentoring Excellence (U'nME). Blind mentors serve as instructors in technology, orientation and mobility (O&M), activities of daily living, and social skills.

The mentors and mentees of Club STRIVE met every month, ten months of the year. Our monthly themes used the letters in the name, Club STRIVE.

C: Collaboration and networking. We held our opening social at a local amusement park.

L: Long-term goals. By untangling a giant spiderweb made of yarn, participants learned the value of teamwork. They recognized that the knots in life can only be untangled over time, with patience and perseverance.

U: Using resources. Vocational rehabilitation counselors and training center administrators explained what adult services can offer.

B: Beliefs about blindness. Participants took public transportation to a fast food restaurant and traveled from there to the office of a blind social worker.

S: Success. The group heard presentations by a panel consisting of a successful blind college student, the blind director of the Utah Division of Workforce Services (DWS), and the blind owner of an adaptive technology business. Then we took public tranportation to go ice skating.

T: Transition. We held a cleaning competition and human foosball game.

R: Responsibility. We had two slumber parties, one for the boys and one for the girls. We addressed leisure activities, hygiene, and grooming.

I: Independence. Participants learned basic car maintenance from a blind mechanic.

V: Vocation. We held a career day that included résumé writing, interview preparation, and mock interviews.

E: Education. Participants were supported to attend the NFBU state convention.

Club STRIVE challenged members to set and achieve goals outside of organized activities. This past year, students had the opportunity to win an iPad by reading Braille daily outside school, riding public transportation independently, performing household chores nonvisually, etc.

In addition to monthly club activities, Project STRIVE arranged quarterly activities for transition-age participants (members from tenth grade through age twenty-six). This group, known as STRIVE Forward, went to a shooting range, conducted a service project for a local homeless shelter, and took part in a Career Day.

"Ever since Club STRIVE I have been more self-confident," says one of our participants. "I've learned to better understand my blindness." Another participant reports, "Last week I did a timing during Braille class and I went from thirty-one words to forty-five words [per minute] in contracted Braille. I think [Club STRIVE] has helped a lot!"

Here are some other comments from Project STRIVE members:

"I cleared the table after dinner, and then washed the dishes with sleepshades on."

"I am trying to use my hands rather than my eyes [when cleaning]. It is because I don't feel I can always trust my eyes."

"If it wasn't for my mentor, I wouldn't be at the level I am with computers."

"One of my favorite activities we have done at Project STRIVE is making hamburgers on the grill. I was afraid of using the grill for fear of burning myself. Now that I have been able to use a grill firsthand, I'm not afraid of them anymore."

"I loved hearing how Dr. Tim Cordes went through medical school along with his sighted peers. His speech was totally inspirational."

"Before I started [cleaning my bathroom] it looked clean to me [visually]. After I cleaned it by feel, I can certainly say it was a completely different story. Ewww!"

In conclusion, I think again of the song that is my ringtone. It doesn't matter how fast we reach our goals, the song says. It doesn't matter what goals we achieve. What's important is the climb.

 

Affect Change: How to Swim in a Sea of Transitions

by Kimberly Flores

From the Editor: Kimberly Flores is president of the NFB of Texas. This article is based on a speech she delivered in April 2011 at a joint conference of the Texas Association of Blind Students and the Texas Parents of Blind Children.

Life is full of changes: transitions from high school to college, college to work, college to grad school, internships in new places, moves to new towns, elections to new positions--you get the picture. It's not always easy. In fact, I'm inclined to agree with the writer James Baldwin, who said, "Most of us are about as eager to be changed as we were to be born, and go through our changes in a similar state of shock."

In navigating the transitions in my life I have learned some valuable lessons that I'm going to share with you today. I hope these ideas will help make some of your paths a little smoother.

Transitions are inevitable. Sometimes as blind people we are swept along by change. We do not have control, and we are unlikely to feel comfortable in the new situation or happy with the outcome. However, when we take an active role, we manage, or affect, the change. At those times we shape our own futures. We take responsibility, and we learn in the process. I'm going to present some simple strategies for bringing about change, using an old-fashioned acrostic based on the word AFFECT.

Attitude

First, let's start with the A. The first thing you need in order to affect change is a good, positive, can-do attitude. You often encounter people who either believe you cannot do something or think you are amazing for imagining you might be able to try. These are not helpful attitudes. You need to believe in yourself, and you need to maintain and project an attitude of confidence. This does not mean you have all the answers. It means that you trust in your abilities and your problem-solving skills, and you know you will work things out.

When I started college at Texas A&M University, a huge campus of about 45,000 students with no real grid system, I'd wake up every morning with my heart racing. I knew I had a whole day of adventure ahead of me. In other words, I was probably going to be lost for a good part of the day. I knew how to find the buildings where my classes met, but I also needed to run errands, and I wanted to get involved in activities. I wanted to push myself from the very beginning, and I was terrified. It was hard and uncomfortable, and by the way, the temperature was about 108 degrees every day.

One afternoon I was looking for the Analytical Science Building for an extra credit lab class. I stopped a passerby to ask for directions. It turned out I had stopped a freshman, and he didn't know either, so he called over a friend. The friend, Dan, didn't know, so he called over Sarah. Sarah didn't know, so she asked Joey, who had a map in his backpack. Pretty soon everyone was peering at the map, and someone cracked, "How many Aggies does it take to find the Analytical Science Building?" Moral of the story? It's not always a blindness thing!

Toward the end of my college career I lived off campus. On the first day of the new semester I was running late. Rushing to class, I pushed open the door to a huge auditorium. The professor was already lecturing, so I went about halfway down the room to look for a seat. Students started whispering about empty seats, which apparently I had missed. Carefully and quietly I made my way from one side of the auditorium all the way across to the other. Then I turned around, based on more whispered instructions, and began the trek again, one row up. About halfway back across it occurred to me to make sure this class was Behavioral Statistics. It was Linguistics.

In my haste, I'd assumed I was late and bolted into the wrong class. I jogged back up the steps and out the door.

This incident would have devastated me my first week at A&M, but now I shrugged it off and laughed in the hallway. The change, I think, was the difference in my attitude. Over my years at college I had developed a new level of comfort with change. Since college I've adjusted five times to new jobs. Every first day was scary, but each one was also exciting. I had a sense of confidence and poise because I knew I had new opportunities. You only gain this kind of attitude from trying new things over and over.

Flexibility

I like to say that the F in NFB stands for flexibility. We blind people are creative problem-solvers. The best way for us to thrive is to have several solutions ready for any given problem or situation. If someone calls to schedule an interview, how will you get there? Suppose you are only comfortable using a special transit service, a door-to-door public transportation option for people with disabilities that is available in many cities. What if the interview is to take place tomorrow morning, and your special transit rides have to be scheduled thirty-six hours in advance? What will you do? If you always depend on relatives or friends for rides, what will you do if they all have obligations?

I recommend having three solutions to every scenario. This may sound like a lot of trouble, but if you plan this way it will become second nature. After a while you won't even notice you're doing it.

I don't want to sound like a hopeless pessimist, but I'll let you in on a strategy I use. I call it the worst case scenario game. I imagine the absolute worst case scenario and mentally walk myself through how I'd handle it. I figure out how I could salvage the situation. It may sound crazy, but it works.

Finely Tuned Skills

The second F in Affect stands for finely tuned skills. Take the time to master the skills of blindness. These may include assistive technology, Braille, independent travel, advocacy, self-presentation, and daily living skills. I often meet blind people who only master one or two of these skill areas. I'm thinking of the blind computer genius who cannot make a grilled cheese sandwich or the adventurous blind pioneer who will travel anywhere independently but cannot read in either Braille or print, so is basically illiterate. Neither one of these people is very employable. It takes time to cultivate skills, and the process may be frustrating. However, when we master these essential elements we ensure that we can keep pace with our peers the rest of our lives.

It's very important to learn to accept constructive criticism. This can be a struggle for anyone, blind or sighted; but as blind people we especially need feedback about our dress, presentation, and finished products. We can only improve if we can take this feedback and learn from it. Not many of us enjoy hearing that we could have done better. I know I don't! Nevertheless, through some pretty tough conversations, I've sharpened some of my most marketable skills. Ask for feedback. By welcoming feedback you put yourself in control. You give people permission, on your terms, to share their opinions with you. Always thank them, even if what they tell you is the exact opposite of what you want to hear. Review their comments later, after you've had time to cool off. Generally there is some truth to their feedback, and it can help you grow.

Exert Yourself!

According to Ralph Waldo Emerson, "People wish to be settled. It is only as far as they are unsettled that there is any hope for them." I absolutely believe this is true, especially for blind people. Exerting yourself means pushing yourself to achieve clear goals. It requires a great deal of self-reflection and self-awareness. Sometimes I hear students say, "I'm going to take some time off. I need a break!" This thinking is very common among students between high school and college or between college or grad school and the workforce. The problem is that when you take a break you're not exerting yourself, and you're not building up your résumé. Time stretches on. When you've had enough rest, the world will not automatically supply you with an opportunity.

When sighted people take time off, they nearly always hold a retail job or work in a restaurant twenty or so hours a week. They're getting out and about, networking in a way, and gaining résumé filler.

You should always have school, an internship, a volunteer position, a paying job, or, better yet, a combination of these things. If you do not, members of the NFB can and will help you find something. The less you have going on in your life, the harder it is to find something constructive to do.

Before I graduated from college I was accepted into a public policy internship program through A&M. It was a paid internship in Washington, D.C., with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. I was in Washington for about five months. It was enough time for me to decide that I like policy work, but not on Capitol Hill. Here is an example of how exerting myself worked to my advantage. Interns were responsible for going through all of the major newspapers and literally clipping out stories about the senator. (I have no idea why.) I was stumped when I tried to come up with an alternative technique for this one, so I proposed that I do something different and better. I offered to fill in for staff at various committee hearings. I would take notes and write up summaries. As a result I had a much more educational and fulfilling experience than the other interns received.

I also secured two other jobs during college. One was an AmeriCorps position with the March of Dimes. The start date was flexible, so I was able to begin in August, allowing me to direct the youth programs that summer at the Louisiana Center for the Blind.

So far so good, right? When I finished my March of Dimes stint I decide that one year with AmeriCorps was enough. I applied to Saint Edwards University to obtain a master’s degree in human service administration. I moved to Austin in October and took the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). I had to wait nearly a year to enter school, so in the meantime I started looking for a job.

Soon I got a call and heard, "Your résumé looks fabulous! I think you'll be a great fit! We can't wait to meet you!" But when I went in, the person conducting the interview told me flat out that she didn't think a blind person could do the job, working at a home for abused and emotionally disturbed children. I was caught totally off guard, so the rest of the interview did not go well. Needless to say, I didn't get the job. (But hey, good news! She found me inspiring!)

I did not find a job until February. All things considered, five months is not a terribly long time to search for work, but it scared me. Ultimately I was successful because of the groundwork I had laid ahead of time--exerting myself and planning, building a résumé with no down time.

My first job in Austin was a wonderful opportunity. I was part of a collaboration of nonprofit organizations, but I didn't earn much money. About a year into that job I got a contract job with another nonprofit for a few hours a month. I was working two jobs and finishing up my master’s studies. When I completed my degree I got my first job with the state of Texas. Last September I got another opportunity with a different state agency, the Texas Workforce Commission, which is where I work today.

I've been very fortunate, and I've also worked hard to get where I am. I've exerted myself and pushed beyond my comfort zone every step of the way. If you are bored and what you do is not challenging to you, do more. If you watch twenty hours of TV a week or sleep twelve hours a day, consider restructuring your time. Exert yourself to improve, and make your next transition easier.

Cultivate Networks

When I was a student I got invited to all kinds of conferences for blind youth. I was the only blind student in my school district, and of course people thought I was amazing. I got rock-star treatment. When I went to conferences I ran into the same thing. I remember one conference where the parents and children were working together to describe how to make a fruit salad. They weren't really making one, God forbid! They were just talking through the process, nice and easy.

Then, when I attended my first NFB convention, it was a different experience! For once I wasn't the brightest star in the room--far from it, actually. I was holding onto my mom's arm, with my cane folded tightly in my hand. People were flying past me with dogs and canes, and they knew where they were going! They had confidence and poise that I didn't have.

I was faced with a choice. I could have become irritated and resentful toward all of those confident, capable blind people; or I could push aside my fear and insecurities and try to learn from them. That's what I did, and it changed my life, drastically and unmistakably. I'm sure I would have gone to college either way, and I probably would have found a job, but I would have been ruled by a fear of change. I would not have known how to affect transition.

I hope that this conference is a positive experience for you. We are all like you, and we are all different. Like people in any group, sometimes we agree, and sometimes we disagree. But when you have struggles, we will support you. When you want to quit, we will help you carry through. We believe in you. When you don't know how you can do something, we know that you can and you will. Within our membership, there are blind people doing almost anything you can imagine. We can provide mentors and friends. A few minutes of networking can save you hours of brainstorming and work!

Time

Finally, the T in Affect stands for time. Learn to manage your time effectively as soon as possible. Eliminate the habit of procrastination. As soon as you fall into procrastination, you limit your flexibility. When technology fails you, and it will, you will be in trouble unless you have prepared in advance. You'll have to explain to your professor or your boss that you don't have the assignment ready because your technology crashed and you couldn't use a public computer at the library like everyone else. We need to work in advance, and often our work needs to be reviewed visually by a reader.

My jobs involve technical writing. I've learned every formatting trick with my screen reader, JAWS. Nevertheless, I use a reader to check my projects before I submit them to my boss, and there is always something that must be touched up. Find someone to review your work who pays close attention to detail and who is brutally honest.

Some professors might not mark you down for errors that they assume are due to your blindness. Do you want mercy points or do you want to learn to be accurate?

A very important part of time management is taking time out. All of these elements: attitude, flexibility, finely tuned skills, exerting yourself, and cultivating networks, take energy. Allow yourself some time outs so you can feel comfortable and get recharged. Choose friendly environments where you feel right at home. Sometimes it's a relief to share your great blind stories with friends. I have one or two blind friends who will always sympathize when I share my most painful or embarrassing blind moments. Better yet, they'll try to top the stories I tell them. That always makes me feel better!

The future is brighter for blind people today than it has ever been in history. We walk alone, but we march together. With attitude, flexibility, finely tuned skills, exerting ourselves, cultivating networks, and time management, anything is possible through all of life's changes and transitions.

 

Drawing from Experience: Picturing Molecules with Sound

by Tim Cordes, MD, PhD

From the Editor: Dr. Tim Cordes is a practicing psychiatrist in Madison, Wisconsin. As a graduate student he developed a unique, nonvisual method for creating and understanding images of complex molecular structures. In this article he describes the method he devised.

While I was attending graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, I studied biochemistry in the laboratory of Katrina Forest. Biochemistry is the study of the atoms and molecules that make up living systems, whether they are plants, animals, or bacteria. In living organisms, proteins are the molecular structures that do the heavy lifting. They perform a host of functions, from making our fingernails hard to digesting the meals we eat. Each protein has a unique three-dimensional shape that places each specific atom where it can do the job it needs to do. The shape of a protein determines its function, and by figuring out the structure, scientists can learn how the protein works.

The standard way to show the structures of molecules is through pictures. Since I am blind, however, visual representations were not available to me. As I thought about alternative methods I might use, I reflected on the fact that no one can actually see a molecule. All but the most gigantic molecules are smaller than the wavelength of light. For all practical purposes, a single molecule is invisible. A picture is simply a visual way to convey information about a molecule's structure. Other ways of presenting this information, such as tactile diagrams or three-dimensional models, are just as valid as pictures if they enable someone to learn.

My lab used a technique called X-ray crystallography to compute the structure of the protein I was studying, which was named Virulence Factor Regulator. When I began to examine the molecule's structure, I started with off-the-shelf software. Using a screen reader, I wrote short scripts, or sets of instructions, to list where particular atoms were positioned in space. I saved these lists to textfiles and read them using the computer's editor function. In this way I began to learn about my protein, puzzling over which atoms were near each other and how they might interact. When I taught my lab mates, I did the reverse. I wrote scripts that selected certain atoms and controlled their graphical presentation. The process was cumbersome, and I clearly needed a simpler, faster method.

How could I explore which atoms were near each other in space and learn about the bonds and relationships between them? How could I learn all of this without the tedium of writing and reading dozens of textfiles? Part of the solution came when I realized that I was dealing with a database problem. I began by writing a program that made a database of where the atoms were in space. I realized that I needed to move a virtual "box" within that space, figure out which atoms fell into it, and display its contents in a text format. I built in the ability to use the keyboard to scroll through three-dimensional space, much as I might use a screen reader's review cursor.

My program was helpful for a local neighborhood of the molecule, but I needed a better sense of the overall structure. I had heard about a blind chemist who developed a system that turned the two-dimensional line graphs of infrared spectra into audible tones. Perhaps I could develop a way to listen to molecules.

As a teenager, I had learned to play keyboards and compose electronic music. Until now, the high point of my musical career was a Guns n' Roses song that my friends and I performed in our high school talent show, featuring my keyboard playing and screeching vocals. Now I reached back to my keyboard skills for a means to produce audio tones. I wanted to avoid the complexity of surround sound programming or complicated speaker arrangements. I needed a system that could be accessed using simple headphones. I decided that MIDI music would be perfect.

Three-dimensional space has three axes--one running left and right, another going up and down, and the third going forward and back. I decided to represent the left to right dimension by sending sounds to the left and right ears. I made the pitches rise as objects went upward, and made the tones quieter as they moved in the forward direction. I used different instruments to represent each type of atom--a piano for carbon, an organ for oxygen, etc. A colleague suggested that I build in the option to step through the backbone of the protein, playing notes along the way.  This was a nice addition that gave each protein its signature song. The same colleague also gave my program its signature name, cheerfully calling it TIMMol (pronounced tim-mole) from early in its development.

With TIMMol I could better conceive of my protein, but I still couldn't show others what I was listening to. Text output and audio tones worked well for me, but my sighted colleagues were used to the standard graphical displays. I joined forces with Britt Carlson, a fellow graduate student in biochemistry, who had an interest in education. Routines to display molecules graphically were freely available on the Web. I grafted these onto TIMMol and, with Britt's input, tweaked the visual presentation step by step. I would make a change and send her the new program. She would examine my work and give me feedback. For example, to show where the audio cursor was, we settled on a sphere that looked like it was made of spiderwebs. Now I could show people visually what I was looking at with my audio program.

Britt and I believed in the program, but could students use it effectively? We gathered nine volunteers from our laboratories to find out. We gave them a tutorial, let them practice, and then set them loose. We disabled the graphical display on their computers and asked them to perform a variety of tasks such as identifying the general shape of a piece of a molecule and figuring out which atoms held a metal ion in place. The students showed success in many of these areas, and it is likely that their abilities would improve with practice. Interestingly, we noticed that people who had the least experience using the standard graphical models had the most success with our program. I speculate that they weren't yet locked into thinking about structure in conventional ways. This discovery was very encouraging. Beginning students, and especially students who are blind or visually impaired, would probably have little experience with the conventional tools. Given our success, we published a paper describing TIMMol in a journal called Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education. To my delight I learned that the editor who ultimately accepted our piece had written the textbook I used when I first learned about biochemistry at the University of Notre Dame.

TIMMol helped me better understand the properties of the particular protein I was studying. However, the ideas behind TIMMol reach far beyond protein structures. Because the source code can be easily modified, the framework of TIMMol could be used to convert almost any three-dimensional data into sound. Uses for this system could range from helping blind people learn the layout of a multilevel airport to letting them inspect MRI scans. Beyond that, TIMMol shows that, when given the chance, a person can meet a challenge by mobilizing tools from his or her life experience. The solution may come in a surprising form, one that can be shared for the benefit of others.

 

The Chance of a Lifetime: Leadership and Advocacy in Washington

by Jim Beyer

From the Editor: Jim Beyer and his wife, Gwen, live in Missoula, Montana. The youngest of their three children, Lauren, is congenitally blind due to a genetic condition called LCA. Jim founded Montana's NFB parents' chapter, Help Other Parents Excel (HOPE), and has served on the national board of the NOPBC since 2007. In 2010 and 2011 he attended the LAW Program as a parent mentor.

The news spread like a grass fire on the Facebook group page. The bill for which the twenty-five Leadership and Advocacy in Washington (LAW) Program students had advocated during their four-day stay at the National Center in Baltimore had just been passed into law.

"And to think we lobbied for that!" Hannah remarked. "We contributed something, so we should be proud of ourselves!" One of the parents wrote, "Ross and I heard it on the news this morning before school. Very cool to think our kids had a part in this! Yeah, NFB!"

Yeah NFB indeed! The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 was conceived and brought to fruition through the work of many NFB members and staff. It was a community effort. The LAW Program students were privileged to be part of the community that has positively affected the lives of their fellow Americans. How many of their sighted peers can stand up in class and say that a bill they have advocated for has become the law of the land? How many of their peers back home can tell about their conversation in the Old Executive Office Building with the president's special adviser on disabilities, or their meeting with the assistant attorney general of the United States in the Great Hall of Justice? How many have strode the halls of power on Capitol Hill or listened to the Gettysburg Address inside the Lincoln Memorial? Heck, how many of their peers back home know that the National Mall doesn't have a Cinnabon?

The blind and low-vision students who take part in the NFB LAW Program each April have done all that and more.
             
Sponsored by the Jernigan Institute, the LAW Program takes place in April for blind youth in grades six through nine or ages twelve through sixteen. For the 2012 program, watch for information to be posted on the NFB Website at <www.nfb.org/nfb/LAW_Program.asp>. Members of the Institute's education staff work with the staff of the NFB's Governmental Affairs Department to create a meaningful agenda designed to advance issues of concern to the blind in America. But while the students are changing the course of mighty rivers and leaping tall buildings with a single bound, they are also being changed themselves.

When the students enter the registration room on Friday afternoon, most of them are timid and cautious. They hover like shadows behind their parents. Some of this is normal adolescent angst. Some of it is a general lack of confidence. They stand awkwardly, ignoring the other students around them, but nonetheless their senses are alert. Outwardly quiet and reluctant, they are alive and excited on the inside.

Registration over, moms haul suitcases into dorm rooms while the students tag along, bumping into the tag-alongs next to them. At dinner the students begin to relax. "Where are you from?" "What eye condition do you have?" "What grade are you in?" "Do you like Modest Mouse?"

Later, in the Harbor Room, the students settle on couches with games in front of them and confident blind mentors beside them. The awkwardness evaporates. The students have found new friends, and the chatter doesn't stop.

The next morning classes begin. The adults attend the parents' group and the students learn about civics and the federal government.

The parents' agenda is comprehensive. Parents listen to guest speakers as well as other parents discuss a range of topics, including:

The power that parents have
Common mistakes in parenting a blind child
How to advocate
Vocational and rehabilitation services
Summer camps for blind and visually impaired kids
Socialization issues
Independent travel

The students' day is full too. They learn about:

The U.S. Constitution
The right to work
The challenges of leadership
The legislative process (again)

After dinner everyone meets the NFB Governmental Affairs team to learn about what lies ahead on Capitol Hill. Later the students have a chance to enjoy themselves in an evening of goalball, or more board games if they choose not to be clobbered by a heavy speeding ball.

The adults, meanwhile, go out for a mixer. They get acquainted with strangers from all over the country and find out quickly how much they share. They will have even more in common before the four days are over.

Tonight they meet a dad from India who investigated schools for the blind in his native land when his daughter was three, only to discover that the "best" school locked the students in cages for "recess." They will learn that he and his family are very relieved to raise their wonderful, sensitive daughter here instead.

They will meet a mom who, while raising her blind child, changed careers and now works as a teacher of blind students (TBS) so she can help other children gain independence.

They will meet chaperones who are their students' TVIs. They have come to learn, to share, and to help.

They will meet single parents who want the best for their children, struggling to get it done while they cope with all the other demands that life tosses their way.

They will meet concerned dads who want to find ways to "fix it," whatever "it" is.

They will meet their future NFB family.

The next day is a free day. Everyone boards the bus and rides to Washington, D.C., to spend a day at the Mall (not that kind of mall!) They are dropped off at the west end and set loose on D.C. for about six hours. Most ascend into the Lincoln Memorial and then descend into the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. After that, small friendship clusters scatter to the nearby sites: the Smithsonian, the White House Rose Garden, the Washington and Jefferson Monuments. Some kids walk hand-in-hand with their moms; others amble slowly, maintaining contact with other travelers; some practice good posture as they tap their new long white canes before them. The really adventurous ones hop the Metro to wander the sacred grounds of Arlington National Cemetery, Robert E. Lee's old plantation.

On the ride back to the National Center a few kids and grownups try to nap, but it's pretty hard, given all the excited chatter--and not all of it comes from the students.

Monday begins with another bus ride to D.C. and a tour of the U.S. Capitol. Not just a regular tourist trip, this cook's tour is unique. It starts with a session on the House floor with the Honorable Bill Zeliff, a former representative from New Hampshire. This is the room where the State of the Union Address is given each year, and it is a rare privilege indeed to be allowed on "the floor." Some parents wonder what famous people have sat in their seat. Some of the students, their confidence growing, may be wondering when they will be elected so they can come back and sit in one of these seats again.

The Rotunda, the original Senate Chambers, the whispering spot, and Statuary Hall with John Trumbull and Helen Keller all await. After lunch all head downtown to visit the Executive Branch of the federal government. This visit may occur in the White House, the Great Hall of Justice, or the Old Executive Building, each a very impressive structure in its own right. The Class of 2010 met with Kareem Dale, the special assistant to the president for disability policy. In 2011, students met with Mazen Basrawi, the counsel to the assistant attorney general. The students were free to share their experiences regarding life and blindness and to learn from both of these high-powered men what the federal government does regarding blindness and disability issues. Oh--both of these men are blind.

Back at the National Center that evening, it's crunch time--time to settle down and receive a briefing for the next day's work. Students and parents assemble in the auditorium with the Governmental Affairs team to learn about the items being addressed on Capitol Hill and the names and numbers of any bills that need help. These students are just the ones for the job. They learn who sponsors and cosponsors each bill, and where each bill lies in the process toward passage. They are briefed on the importance of each bill, and then they engage in role play with program staff to sharpen their advocacy skills. And they need to be sharp! Representatives in Congress have high expectations.

The bus ride in the morning feels different from the last two. The passengers are more focused, and they are dressed for success. Wearing jackets and ties or dresses and pumps, the students mean business. Today, in delegations of four, each student will meet with his/her district representative. Each student will inform his/her representative of the issues at hand, what needs to be done, and whom to contact for more information.

This is the students' day to shine. Parents hold their breath and silently watch their kids advocate for themselves and for the greater good. It is better than watching them score a touchdown!

What is the goal of the LAW Program?

Is it to change the laws or the funding structure in our country? Perhaps.

Is it to help students understand our civic structure? Sort of.

Is it to have a really cool field trip? Yes, that too.

But the real goal of Leadership and Advocacy in Washington is for twenty-five blind youth each year to walk into a Congressional office, on their own, stand up and speak for themselves about relevant issues in a competent and dignified manner, building their confidence as they do so.

At the formal dinner on that final evening, it is apparent that a transformation has occurred. The reluctant kids who hid in the shadows have become confident, independent leaders. Saturday's hand-holders walk unassisted with their canes to the podium for their final presentation to the group. They know that they have done what very few have done or ever will. Friday's children are no more.

Departing the next morning, it feels like Christmas is over and all the friends are heading home. Boxes of Kleenex are shredded. Once a collection of strangers, the group has become a family. Everyone will stay in touch on the Facebook page created just for this group. Members will continue to help each other with the details of living with blindness, providing encouragement when those details seem overwhelming. The students have added to their own Facebook friends. They are off to the future with their new, farflung pals.

On Facebook one mother writes, "Do you know that my son got on his sister's new four-wheeler yesterday? He rode slow, but he loved it. I think everyone telling him he could do anything reminded him that he can do anything, and he did."

Another says, "My three sons are getting along much better since we returned home. The students at the program were kind to and accepting of each other. My son brought home those positive feelings and is, so far, much nicer to be around."

And another, "This trip was what my daughter needed. Though she had a cane and O&M training, she was not using it. From the time she received her new cane she has been using it, and she has become more independent. It was a very positive experience for both of us. She told me before we left Baltimore she would like to stay there for a year."

And, "I have also seen many positive changes in my son. I owe it all to this life-changing experience of the NFB LAW Program. It has given him great confidence and the ability to get out of the house and get his independence back. I tried to provide those skills to him, but I just couldn't do that for him like so many of you did. Thank you."

Want to know the purpose of NFB's LAW Program? That's what it's all about!

 

What’s Up in Baltimore?

by Somaya Terin

Reprinted from The Student Slate, Summer 2011

From the Editor: Somaya Terin is a high school student from Arizona. She currently serves as treasurer of the Arizona Association of Blind Students.

At some point nearly everyone has had a life-changing experience for good or bad. For me, traveling on my own was a life-changing experience in a good way. When I went to Baltimore for the Youth Leadership Academy of the National Federation of the Blind, my thoughts about traveling with my family changed completely. I used to want to go everywhere with my mom or dad, but now it's different. Baltimore was a wonderful experience, and I was a different person when I came back. The trip made me become more independent and brought me close to blind youth my own age.

Before I went to Baltimore, my family always helped me with the simplest tasks. At a buffet my mom would tell me to stay where I was, and she would serve me my food. When I traveled with them, I would hold my mom's or dad's arm and they would carry my luggage for me. I felt uncomfortable and helpless. When I went to the NFB national headquarters for the Youth Leadership Academy, I took my forty-seven-pound suitcase upstairs by myself. In the dining room I got my own food without any trouble.

Before I flew back to Arizona, my mom told me that she would meet me at my gate in Phoenix. As it turned out, my plane arrived early. Instead of waiting for Mom, I asked an agent at the airport to direct me to my luggage carousel. He gave me specific directions on how to get there. When I got to the luggage location, I put my hand on each bag that came by. My bag had a pink ribbon on it, so when it came past me I could feel that it was mine. Everyone in my family was surprised. This is what the National Federation of the Blind teaches. It teaches blind people to be independent.

Meeting blind youth who experience the same issues I face is very important to me. When I need to solve problems having to do with my family or my school, my blind friends are right by my side. They have dealt with the same issues. In Baltimore I talked about my eight-year-old brother, who is also blind. I explained that my family didn't let him use his cane. A mentor told me that he had faced a similar situation. One day when my brother was walking to the park with our cousin, he tripped over a rock because he didn't have his cane with him. His leg was badly injured for a very long time. My mentor told me to talk to my parents and explain to them that my brother's cane is his way of seeing. What would they do if someone took their eyes away from them? When I returned to Arizona, I talked to my parents and they understood. Now my little brother uses his cane everywhere, and it makes him happy and safe.

When I was in eighth grade, there were new students who didn't know what my cane was. A seventh-grader fell over my cane and told the principal that I purposely tripped him. A few days later the principal called me up to his office. I was really scared. He asked me if I had tripped the boy on purpose. I told him that I couldn't see him, so it was an accident. The principal agreed, and he apologized to me. I told this story to the group of students in Baltimore. It was funny to us, but we all learned from it. We had a large discussion on how we can explain to a sighted person why we use the cane.

Sometimes my family gets upset because I want to be independent and get my own food in buffet lines and fast-food restaurants. I tell them that that's not how it's supposed to be. They should be happy that I want to be independent. I want to follow the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.

As I got ready to go back to Arizona, I felt very close to the students I had met in Baltimore. I got very emotional because I was going to miss them so much. Of the forty-three students in the program, I met at least fifteen who had amazing personalities. I know I can count on them for anything I need. The National Federation of the Blind is like a family. The Federation has done a lot for me, and I will do anything to help in return.

 

Braille Readers Are Leaders 2010-2011

by Natalie Shaheen

From the Editor: As blind people we know that Braille literacy is one of the keys to success for blind adults. The annual Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest embodies our commitment to literacy for blind children. Contest organizer Natalie Shaheen describes the 2010-2011 competition.

For almost three decades the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB) have encouraged blind children across the country to be proud of their ability to read Braille. The Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest challenges them to improve their reading skills. The children who participated in the contest back in the early years have grown up to be adults with careers and families. Many of them have assumed leadership roles within our organization.

For the past several years the program has followed the same basic timeline. Students pre-register for the contest in October. The reading period--the portion of the contest when the students put their Braille skills to work--runs for sixty-five days from November 1 to January 4, Louis Braille's birthday. Throughout the reading period the participants keep track of the number of Braille pages they read. At the conclusion of the reading period the judges review the reports that the students submit. They determine the top three winners in each category and the winners of the special awards.

This year over six hundred students from forty-two states registered for the contest. Between the categories, special awards, and Team of the Year Award, twenty-eight contestants won prizes in the K-12 competition. These twenty-eight students come from twelve different states, and many of them have been winners in previous years. Here is a full list of the winners in the 2010-2011 K-12 contest and the number of pages read by each one.

Grades K-1

Andrea Cordero-Perez, AZ, 1,638 pages
Camille O'Neill, NE, 1,356 pages
Aunya Anderson, GA, 1,112 pages

Grades 2-3

Christian Adams, IN, 18,584 pages
Alayna Hall, IN, 15,425 pages
Taengkwa Sturgell, IN, 9,469 pages

Grades 4-5

Ahbee Orton, TX, 14,051 pages
Noah Mondor, IN, 12,073 pages
Rosanna Scott, AR, 11,393 pages

Grades 6-8

Lucas Leiby, PA, 9,846 pages
Vejas Vasiliauskas, CA, 9,655 pages
Julianna Reala, NY, 6,595 pages

Grades 9-12

Jonathan Wong, CA, 15,754 pages
Daniel Dintzner, MA, 14,254 pages
Destiny DiMattei, MD, 11,304 pages

Community Service Awards

The Community Service Awards are given to participants who performed a service within the community with the help of their Braille skills. Johnathon Welscott served as an announcer for the athletic department of his middle school. He used Braille notes that included game night rosters and the names of game officials. Chris Mossberger researched local businesses which he could ask for donations to help families of blind children attend the NFB national convention in Orlando. He composed a Braille letter requesting donations and transferred it to the computer so it could be printed.

Chris Mossberger, IN, ninth grade
Johnathon Welscott, MI, eighth grade

Jennifer Baker Awards

These awards are given to contest participants who met special challenges in order to learn and use Braille.

Christian Adams, IN, third grade
Andrea Cordero-Perez, AZ, first grade
Taengkwa Sturgell, IN, third grade

Twin Vision® Awards

These awards are granted to students who are learning to read both Braille and print.

Bryanna Daniels, CA, seventh grade
Amber Steet, TX, twelfth grade
Danielle Sturgeon, MA, seventh grade
Jessica Vaughan, IN, third grade

Team Spotlight

This year six teams competed for the title Braille Readers Are Leaders Team of the Year. The Chinese Phoenix Readers rose above all of the others. This team consisted of four fourth-grade girls from Texas, Arkansas, and Michigan, all of them adoptees from China. The team's original goal was to read 20,000 pages. The Chinese Phoenix Readers blew right past their goal, reading a total of almost 34,000 pages as a group. Through a Facebook page and frequent phone calls the girls kept each other and their fans up-to-date on their progress throughout the contest. As Team of the Year, the Chinese Phoenix Readers become the spokespersons for the 2011-2012 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest.

Chinese Phoenix Readers

Ahbee Orton, TX, fourth grade
Rosanna Scott, AR, fourth grade
Jenna Scott, AR, fourth grade
Calli Bowman-Tomlinson, MI, fourth grade
Team's Total Pages: 33,828

National Convention Trip

In addition to the standard contest, an essay contest was conducted to select twelve students to win a trip to the NFB national convention. Each of these twelve winners, along with a parent or guardian, had the opportunity to attend the convention. They were recognized at various meetings, and some of them even got the chance to speak publicly. Best of all, the students met thousands of other blind people, young and old. They formed friendships and mentoring relationships that will last for many years.

The following students attended the national convention through the Braille Readers Are Leaders program:

Aunya Anderson, GA, first grade
Andrea Cordero-Perez, AZ, first grade
Bryanna Daniels, CA, seventh grade
Noah Mondor, IN, fourth grade
Ahbee Orton, TX, fourth grade
Julianna Reala, NY, seventh grade
Rosanna Scott, AR, fourth grade
Taengkwa Sturgell, IN, third grade
Danielle Sturgeon, MA, seventh grade
Jessica Vaughan, IN, third grade
Jonathon Welscott, MI, eighth grade
Chris Mossberger, IN, ninth grade

The Future

We are approaching the thirtieth anniversary of the start of the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. We are looking for feedback from current and former participants, as well as their teachers and parents. We want to know what you love about the contest, what you wish could be done differently, and what you would like us to add to the program.

It is of the utmost importance to us that our programs serve our members. Your feedback can ensure that we meet this goal. Please send us your feedback at <www.nfb.org/BRAL>.

 

Why Join the NOPBC?

Are you the parent of a blind or visually impaired child?  Don’t know where to turn? 

Founded in 1983, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) is a membership organization of parents, educators, and friends of blind children reaching out to give each other vital support, encouragement, and information. We have thousands of members in all 50 states plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

The NOPBC offers hope, encouragement, information, and resources for parents of blind or visually impaired children.  NOPBC provides emotional support and a network of other families dealing with the same challenges you are facing.  We also provide information, training, and resources to empower you to take an active role in guiding your child’s development and education.  We can provide information on your child’s rights and on the laws and legislative issues that will enable you and your child to become strong and effective advocates. 

Have you ever wondered what your blind or visually impaired child will be capable of when he or she grows up?  The answer to that question is that blindness/visual impairment does not have to stop your child from doing anything he or she wants to do.  We can connect you with other families and blind adults who can serve as positive mentors and role models. They can teach you the attitudes and techniques that will enable your child to become independent and to succeed in life.  

What is different about the NOPBC?

Our status as a division of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the largest and most influential organization of blind people in the world, provides many benefits. Our members are well informed about the societal, legislative, and technological issues that affect blind people. We also enjoy the resources, support, and expertise of fifty thousand blind people who can serve as mentors and role models for us and our children. Finally, as our children grow up, they have the Federation to belong to.

No other organization for parents of blind/visually impaired children offers more programs, activities, and training to families, children, and youth.  One of our most exciting activities is our annual conference.  Every year since it was established, the NOPBC has conducted an annual conference for parents and teachers of blind children as part of the national convention of the NFB.  The program has grown to include five exciting days of workshops, training sessions, activities for all family members, including sighted siblings, and countless opportunities to meet blind adults and other families and children from around the country.

What is the mission of the NOPBC?

The purpose of the NOPBC is to:

•  create a climate of opportunity for blind children in home and society.
•  provide information and support to parents of blind children.
•  facilitate the sharing of experience and concerns among parents of blind children.
•  develop and expand resources available to parents and their children.
•  help parents of blind children gain understanding and perspective through partnership and contact with blind adults.
•  function as an integral part of the National Federation of the Blind in its ongoing effort to achieve equality and opportunity for all blind persons.

Most states have an NOPBC affiliate chapter.  You can find your state chapter at www.nopbc.org.  If your state does not have a chapter and you would like to start one, please contact us.  We may be able to offer training and other assistance to start a state NOPBC chapter.

What are the programs, activities, publications, and resources of the NOPBC?

•  National and State Parent Seminars and Conferences
•  Future Reflections Magazine
•  NOPBC Web site
•  Books and Videos
•  Blindkid & Other Listservs
•  Early Childhood Conferences
•  Pop-Up IEP Web site
•  Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest
•  Slate Pals Pen Pal Program
•  AAF Free Books Program
•  Share Braille Book Exchange
•  Writing Contests
•  Junior Science Academy
•  Youth Slam High School Science Academy
•  National Center for Blind Youth in Science Web site
•  NFB-NEWSLINE® Newspaper Service
•  Where the Blind Work Web site
•  Free White Cane Program
•  Blindness 411 Facebook Group for Teens
•  NFB-LINK Mentoring Program
•  Scholarship Program
•  Straight Talk about Blindness Video Series
•  Parent Leadership Program (PLP)

Contact Us:
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
President@nopbc.org
<www.nopbc.org>

Slate Pals
A Pen Pal Program for Children Who Read Braille

In this day of email, texting, and social networking, the idea of sending letters on paper through the postal system may seem charming, quaint, and woefully obsolete. Nevertheless, today's children still take delight in receiving real letters in the mailbox. The Slate Pals program, which began some twenty years ago, is still alive and well.

Established by Dr. Fred Schroeder while he served as director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind, Slate Pals now operates under the auspices of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). Slate Pals is a free program that matches children in grades kindergarten through twelve who wish to correspond by exchanging Braille letters. Some Slate Pals use Braille as their primary reading method, some are dual-media readers, and some are in the process of shifting to Braille from print. In recent years many sighted children have also requested blind Slate Pals who can help them learn Braille. Writing letters is a great way to encourage Braille literacy and help kids connect with others who may share their interests and experiences. Besides, it's a dying art that's well worth preserving!

Every year Slate Pals receives requests from children throughout the United States and Canada. Requests have also come from Denmark, Australia, Uganda, South Africa, Taiwan, Russia, and many other nations. Slate Pals are matched on the basis of age and interests, and an effort is made to match children from differing geographic regions.

If your child or student would like to take part in the Slate Pals program, complete the form on the following page (please print clearly!) If you prefer, you may submit the information by email to dkent5817@att.net. Children are very welcome to place a Slate Pal request themselves by sending a Braille letter. We'll look forward to hearing from you!

BRAILLE SLATE PALS
A Pen Pal Program for Braille Readers and Students Who Want to Learn Braille

Name:____________________________________________ Age:________ Grade: ________
Male    Female  (Circle one)
Address: ______________________________________City___________________________
State_____________________ Zip __________ If not the USA, Country __________________
Email: _______________________________  Phone: __________________________________

Parent(s) name and address if other than above:
__________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________

Interests/hobbies: _______________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________

I would like (fill in number) _____Slate Pals.  
I would like my Slate Pals to be (fill in age range) ______________
I would like my Slate Pals to be (circle one):  male     female     both     no preference

Check one of the following:
    [  ]  I am blind/visually impaired.  I use Braille regularly at school and at home.
    [  ]  I am blind/visually impaired.  I read some print but am shifting to Braille.
    [  ]  I am sighted and would like to exchange letters in Braille with a blind
          Slate Pal.

(Please Print) Name of the person filling out this application, relationship to the child/student, and signature:
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________

Signature: ____________________________________________________________________

Mail to:
Debbie Kent Stein
5817 North Nina Ave.
Chicago, Illinois 60631

Phone: 773-631-1093  *  Email: dkent5817@att.net

 

New NOPBC Board

At the 2011 convention of the National Federation of the Blind, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) held its annual election. Following is a list of the members of the new board of directors of the NOPBC.

President: Laura Weber, TX
First Vice President: Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway, GA
Second Vice President: Carlton Ann Walker, PA
Secretary: Andrea Beasley, WI
Treasurer: Pat Renfranz, UT

Board Members:

Wingfield Bouchard, MS
Jim Beyer, MT
Amber Hall, IN
Jean Bening, MN
Zina Lewis, VA
Holly Miller, NJ
Trudy Pickrel, MD
John Fritz, WI
Barbara Mathews, CA
Pamela Gebert, AK

 

POBC Roundup

by Laura Weber

From the Editor: Laura Weber is president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). She serves as a resource to Parents of Blind Children (POBC) chapters throughout the country. Here she gives an overview of developments in several active states.

Alaska:I'm very excited to report that Alaska has a brand-new POBC chapter. Pamela Gebert is president, and she and her daughter Julia attended their first NFB convention this summer. I think we'll be hearing more from Pamela in the near future.

Wisconsin:Wisconsin put on a great seminar for parents and kids this year. It was called "Have Skills, Will Grow." President Andrea Beasley writes:

"We had speakers who came and talked about independent cooking, Braille, and technology. Then graduates and staff from all three NFB centers and from our state school for the blind talked about their programs. The kids learned how to make beds, clean and set a table, vacuum, fold clothes, and make lunches. To make lunch they spread cheese or peanut butter on celery, assembled a Panini sandwich and set it on the maker, and measured and heated the ingredients for Rice Krispies treats. They also cleaned up after themselves, which included doing dishes. When all the hard work was done, they each got to play with their very own homemade Play Doh, in three different colors/flavors.

"In the afternoon the kids played while two O&M instructors spoke to the parents about cane use. They answered questions about when blind kids should get canes.

"Later the parents and kids got together and formed groups of three or four for a scavenger hunt called The Amazing Race. We gave each group clues that led to different spots in the hotel. Each group got its clues in a different order to keep things from getting too congested. There were five clues and candy had to be found at each stop. The first team back won a prize. When all of the teams got back, we had a discussion on how people felt about the activity and what worked and what didn't. We all had a great deal of fun!

"Oh, I forgot one really important thing! The kids wore sleepshades in the morning, and EVERYONE wore them for The Amazing Race!"

New Jersey:New Jersey POBC has been very active on the legislative front. Working with the whole New Jersey affiliate, the chapter is leading a huge grassroots effort to protest cuts to funding for certified teachers of the visually impaired (CTVIs) across the state. A number of parents and kids have testified, receiving a good deal of news coverage.

Maryland:In conjunction with Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM), Maryland POBC held a workshop for parents and a fun game/learning day for kids in April. It was the second annual "Be OK with Blindness" workshop. Sessions included cooking without looking, O&M techniques from pre-K to college, homework struggles, and the need for blind mentors.

Indiana:Indiana POBC held a Bowl-A-Thon on April 9th. The event was a fundraiser and a chance for everyone to get together and have fun. President Amber Hall writes:

"Fifty or fifty-five people attended, and we had around thirty-five bowlers. Most of the food was donated, and we had a special appearance from the "Pizza Pizza" guy from Little Caesar's Pizza. He passed out coupons and a lot of the kids had their pictures taken with him. We charged $10 per person. (It cost $6.00 per person to bowl two games.) Each bowler received a door prize ticket. Bowlers received extra tickets if they brought in $50 or more in pledges. We also held a raffle that brought in $329. The biggest prize was a two-night stay in an RV at Lake Rudolph Campground. We had lots of door prizes and called out names all during the event. Altogether we raised a grand total of $2,061, and we had a great time! It was lots of fun!"

Illinois:In April the NFB of Illinois put on its third annual spring seminar. This year's event was called "Spring into Action: Home, School, and Beyond." Three programs ran simultaneously--the sessions for parents, Kids Camp for children eleven and under, and The Teen Scene for kids between twelve and eighteen. The parents heard presentations by TVIs and advocates, a parent panel, and a teen panel. In the afternoon they had hands-on demonstrations of various technologies used by blind children and adults.

 

Goodnight Moon to Touch

Reviewed by Deborah Kent Stein

Goodnight Moon to Touch
Text by Margaret Wise Brown
Tactile illustrations by Irma Goldberg and Shirley Keller
National Braille Press
(800) 548-7323
 <www.nbp.org>

My friend Cindy used to be a Girl Scout. "Be prepared!" was her motto when her children were growing up. Just in case the car broke down by the side of the road, she kept a box of emergency supplies in the trunk. She always had a flashlight, a couple of blankets, and a good supply of water and snacks. And, for rough moments when comfort was truly needed, she carried a copy of Goodnight Moon.

As a blind child I was never much impressed when I heard Goodnight Moon read aloud. It offered no adventure, no surprises, and none of the humor I enjoyed in other stories. I failed to understand why sighted children and parents loved the book so much, reading it at bedtime after bedtime. As far as I was concerned, once was more than enough.

Like many storybooks for very young children, Goodnight Moon succeeds because of its illustrations. The pictures interact with the simple text to form a seamless whole. Without pictures, however, the text falls flat. The words by themselves fail to tell a meaningful story.

Now at last the mystery of Goodnight Moon is revealed for blind children through Goodnight Moon to Touch, a wonderful creation from National Braille Press. By thinking about the original in innovative ways, the editor and illustrators have designed a book that is interesting and enlightening for blind readers of all ages.

Goodnight Moon is set in a Victorian bedroom referred to in the text as "the great green room." In the classic print edition, pictures of the great green room appear on nearly every page, rich with recurring images and shifting details. Since most blind readers have limited experience with pictures of any kind, it would be difficult to render these complex graphics in an understandable tactile form. Instead, tactile illustrators Irma Goldberg and Shirley Keller recreated only those images mentioned in the text--the bowl of mush, the comb and brush, the mittens and socks, the ticking clocks, etc. In addition, they faced another challenge--if the illustrations were repeated on each page where they are mentioned, the book would become too expensive and too bulky to be practical. To solve this dilemma, Goodnight Moon to Touch is packaged as two books in one. The larger volume contains the twenty illustrations on heavy-duty plastic sheets. Tucked into an envelope at the back of this volume is a separate print/Braille version of Goodnight Moon with the original inkprint illustrations.

The two volumes can be read individually or enjoyed together. A blind child can page through the book of illustrations and find the appropriate graphic while reading or listening to the story. Some blind kids, like their sighted counterparts, may prefer to put the text aside and simply look at the pictures.

The book will appeal to readers who have varying degrees of experience interpreting tactile graphics. Some of the illustrations--the comb, the brush, the balloon--are very simple and easy to recognize. Some may be a bit more challenging to understand by touch, such as the kittens, the bears in chairs, the old-fashioned telephone, and the cow jumping over the moon. A few of the pictures, such as the bunny sitting up in bed, employ techniques of perspective. These illustrations require careful examination and explanation, but they provide valuable information about how images in print are rendered. A text description accompanies each illustration, guiding the reader through many aspects of the picture.

As the editor points out in the introduction, very few "picture books" for blind children contain real pictures. Goodnight Moon to Touch is one of the rare exceptions. I'm pretty sure I would have loved Goodnight Moon if this version had been around when I was growing up. Goodnight Moon to Touch will make a great gift, and will be a fine addition to classroom libraries. It might even be a good idea to keep a copy in the trunk of the car along with the flashlight and extra water bottles. If you ever have a breakdown, you and your child can pass the time looking at the pictures till the tow truck comes. For now ...

Goodnight stars
Goodnight air
Goodnight noises everywhere

 

Announcements

SURVEYS

Study on Non-24-Hour Sleep Disorder
Vanda Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
9605 Medical Center Dr., Suite 300, Rockville, MD 20850
(888) 389-7033
info@non24registry.com
Blind individuals ages 18-75 who have recurrent sleep problems are sought for an ongoing clinical research study. A short survey can be completed over the phone or online to determine if an individual qualifies for the research project. For each completed survey, $25 will be donated to an organization that helps blind people. Volunteers will be compensated for participation in the clinical study and will receive study-related medication, medical evaluations, and transportation at no cost.

Braille Writing Device
sene.m@husky.neu.edu
(617) 949-0819
Melda Ulusoy is a PhD candidate at Northeastern University in Boston. She is conducting a study to determine the usefulness of an inexpensive, portable, battery-powered Braille writing device. She is interested in the opinions and reactions of parents, students, and teachers.

Adult Rehabilitation and Employment Survey
<www.pdrib.com/ares>
(318) 257-4554
dseilhan@latech.edu
This survey is intended for adults who are blind or visually impaired and who are of employment age. The purpose of the survey is to gain information about individuals' experiences with vocational rehabilitation, adjustment to blindness training, education, and employment. The survey may be completed online or by telephone and should take about ten minutes. The names of those who complete the survey will be entered into a drawing for a Visa gift card worth $100.

BOOKS FROM NOPBC

Contact: Laura Weber
president@nopbc.org
(832) 971-7571
NOPBC is offering three excellent books at a special discount so that state affiliates and parents' chapters can make them available. When you purchase two or more copies of any title from NOPBC, you can buy the books at cost. The three books available at the discount rate are Getting Ready for College Begins in Third Grade: Working toward an Independent Future for Your Blind/VI Child, Pre-K to Middle School, by Carol Castellano; Making It Work: Educating the Blind/Visually Impaired Student in the Regular School, by Carol Castellano; and Independent Movement and Travel in Blind Children: A Promotion Model, by Joe Cutter.

SCHOLARSHIP

HumanWare 2011 Braille Literacy Scholarship Program
<http://www.humanware.ca/web/en/newsletter/281.htm>
HumanWare
2011 Braille Literacy Scholarship Program
5128 Oak Point Way, Fair Oaks, CA 95628
Contact: Sharon Spiker, sharon.spiker@humanware.com
Deadline for Entries: December 31, 2011
HumanWare announces that a Mountbatten Learning System and all associated software and accessories will be awarded to a child in the United States or U.S. territories. Any child between the ages of three and eight who is learning Braille or is assessed as a future Braille learner can qualify. To enter this competition, the parent of a qualifying child should explain in 1,000 words or less why Braille literacy is key to the child's success and describe the role the Mountbatten Learning System will play in the child's future. Essays must be submitted with the written support of an early childhood or early intervention professional.

CONTEST

APH: Typhlo and Tactus Tactile Book Contest 2011
<www.aph.org/edresearch/tactile-book-contest>
American Printing House for the Blind
1839 Frankfort Ave.
Louisville, KY 40206
Attn: Suzette Wright
Deadline for Entries: September 2, 2011
Typhlo and Tactus is an organization that exists to improve the quality and quantity of books with tactile illustrations that are available to young children with visual impairments.  In 2000 the organization began to conduct a biennial tactile book competition that was open to European members. This year's tactile book competition is open to a worldwide audience. APH has agreed to be the contact organization in the United States. A panel of judges at APH will select the top five entries for final adjudication by an international panel of visually impaired children and adults as well as professionals in the blindness field.

NEW NAME

Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D) has changed its name to Learning Ally. The new name reflects the organization's expanded emphasis on people who learn differently. You can visit Learning Ally at <www.learningally.org>.

MENTORING

Employment Mentoring Project
Mississippi State University
Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision
Contact: Jamie O'Mally, rrtc2@colled.msstate.edu
(800) 675-7782
Mississippi State University is conducting research to determine whether pairing blind students with blind mentors in their career fields will help them find employment. The project will match a group of blind professionals with blind mentees. The program will begin in January 2012, and each mentor/mentee pair will remain in contact for a year after the mentee graduates. Prospective mentors can complete an eligibility survey at <http://tiny.cc/mentor-professionals> and prospective mentees can complete a survey at <http://tiny.cc/mentor-students>.

 

Odds and Ends

MATH

Math Window Teaching Aids
Wolf Products, Inc.
<www.mathwindow.com>
106 Purvis Rd., Butler, PA 16001
(724) 285-5428
 wolfproducts@mathwindow.com
The Math Window Braille Kit consists of a palette with magnetic tiles marked with both Braille and print. The kit provides a great way for blind students to interact with sighted teachers and classmates, constructing and solving problems in "real time" as concepts are being taught in the classroom. Basic math, algebra, and geometry kits are available.

Tools for Learning Math
Exceptional Teaching, Inc.
<http://exceptionalteaching.net>
3994 Oleander Way, Castro Valley, CA 94546
(800) 549-6999
info@exceptionalteaching.com
Exceptional Teaching sells a number of tools and games for teaching math concepts to blind students. Here you can find magnetic fraction strips, electronic quiz games, interactive math cards, Braille math blocks, a teaching cash register, and much more.

BRAILLE

Kester Braille Reading Program
<http://kesterbraille.com>
sierra@fiber.net
The Kester Braille Reading Program is designed to teach specific skills to beginning Braille readers in the same sequence they are taught to their sighted peers. The program teaches the alphabet, numbers, three-letter words with the short vowel sound, and basic punctuation through reading and writing. The manual is intended to be easy for a parent or teacher to use without extensive preparation.

Seedlings Braille Books for Children
<www.seedlings.org>
1415 Farmington Rd., Livonia, MI 48154
(800) 777-8552
Seedlings offers more than 1,100 titles in Braille for purchase, maintaining prices at half the cost of production. The Rose Project is a free service that provides articles from the World Book Encyclopedia in Braille for blind children in elementary and high school. Through the 2011 Angel Book Program for VI Children, registered children receive two free Braille books during the course of the year.

ORIENTATION AND MOBILITY

New Website on Independent Travel
Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness
<www.pdrib.com/pages/omkids.php>
O&M specialist Merry-Noel Chamberlain has created a Website for parents and teachers of blind children. The site includes a question and answer section, games that enhance the O&M experience, a recommended reading list, and a downloadable book for readers of all ages, The True Story of Owin M.

TACTILE GRAPHICS

Tactile Adaptations Kit
MDW Educational Services LLC
<http://dswinograd.web.officelive.com>
1115 Inman Ave., Suite 116, Edison, NJ 08820
(908) 565-1802
Contact: Marilyn Winograd,  Marilyn.Winograd@gmail.com
With the materials provided in the Tactile Adaptations Kit, visual aids used in teaching science can easily be rendered into tactile representations.  Creator Marilyn Winograd is available to consult with teachers on making science classes fully accessible to blind students.

Atlases
The Princeton Braillists
<mysite.verizon.net/resvqbxe/princetonbraillists>
76 Leabrook Lane, Princeton, NJ 08540
Contact: Nancy Amick, (609) 924-5207
The Princeton Braillists have created three new tactile atlases depicting regions of Africa. Atlas of Northern Africa, Atlas of Southern Africa, and Atlas of East and Central Africa can be purchased by check or money order at $14 each. The atlases contain overview maps of the region and individual maps of each country, along with introductory facts and general information.

Coloring Books
National Braille Factory
www.nationalbraillefactory.com
5040 Victoria Dr., Vancouver, BC, Canada V5P 3T8
(877) 827-2455
Contact: Allison Follis, allison@braillefactory.com
The National Braille Factory offers more than twenty coloring books with raised-line pictures, including seven basic coloring books, two Christmas coloring books, and a coloring book with animal pictures. Each book contains ten pictures to be colored. The company also produces chocolate bars with Braille messages such as "thank you" and "congratulations."

Guidelines and Standards for Tactile Graphics 2010
Braille Authority of North America (BANA)
<www.brailleauthority.org/tg>
This downloadable version of BANA's 2010 document is available in HTML format.  Hardcopy print and Braille editions, along with a supplement of sample tactile graphics, will be produced for sale.

ADVOCACY

iAdvocate
<http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/iadvocate/>
iAdvocate is a free application developed by Syracuse University, made available through iTunes. It provides information on advocacy strategies for parents to help ensure that school-aged children with disabilities are provided with appropriate services and resources in their education. It provides functional strategies, a wide range of resources, and straightforward suggestions that allow parents, teachers, and students to understand their rights, even the playing field when working with school districts, and design an educational program that is responsive to their input and tailored to meet their specific needs. The app includes strategies that parents can pursue as advocates; resources, information, and links to laws, books, articles, Websites, videos, and organizations that can provide information on inclusive education; and responses, that feature simulated conversations between parents and school professionals.

RESOURCES

Website for College Students with Disabilities
We Connect Now
<http://weconnectnow.wordpress.com>
We Connect Now is dedicated to uniting people interested in the rights of people with disabilities, with a focus on college students and access to higher education and employment. A goal of this site is to help college students with disabilities to succeed in their studies by getting the information and support they need. The jobs section helps to empower people with disabilities through job postings and job-hunting tips. The page is available in Spanish as well as English.

Blind How
<http://blindhow.com>
Contact: Adam Rushforth, adam@rushforth.org
Blind How is a new Website for finding answers and sharing knowledge on a questions related to blindness and visual impairment. Categories include active daily living skills, education, recreation and leisure, and technology. Members of the site may submit articles, questions, and tutorials.

TECHNOLOGY

De Witt and Associates
<www.4dewitt.com>
Contact: Melissa Bourn, (201) 447-6500, Ext.  211
melissa@4dewitt.com
De Witt and Associates offers two classes to teach assistive technology to blind and low-vision students, parents, and teachers. These two-hour classes, "Introduction to Screen Readers/Magnifiers" and "Advanced Screen Readers/Magnifiers," are delivered using remote access software by a live trainer who can answer questions.

Twenty-Six Useful Apps for Blind iPhone Users
by Peter Cantisani
National Braille Press
<www.nbp.org>
88 St. Stephen St., Boston, MA 02115
orders@nbp.org
(800) 548-7323, Ext. 520
This new offering from National Braille Press describes twenty-six accessible apps for the iPhone. Users can identify bills, dictate emails and tweets, listen to turn by turn walking directions, and much more.

GAMES

Twenty Games to Boost Your Baby's Development
<www.babycenter.com/0_20-fun-silly-development-boosting-games-to-play-with-your-ba_1479310.bc>
or on the Website, go to: Home > Baby > Activities & Play > Games and Activities.
Here is a trove of simple activities that can engage babies from birth to age one year. Most involve hearing, touch, and movement, and can easily be used with blind or visually impaired infants.

Melissa and Doug Puzzles
<www.melissaanddoug.com/melissa-doug-childrens-puzzles>
(800) 718-5365
service@MelissaAndDoug.com
This company markets a variety of wooden and cardboard puzzles, including several that incorporate textures and sound. They also sell puppets, dollhouses, castles, and other toys conducive to imaginative play.

BOOKS
Check Amazon.com, Bookshare.com, and the NLS BARD system for availability.

Inside My World
by Larry Johnson
ISBN: 1449971725
In this memoir Johnson recounts his experiences growing up as a blind child and teen in the 1940s and 1950s. Johnson attended public schools, held a variety of odd jobs, and eventually launched a career in radio broadcasting.

Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero
by Michael Hingson
Thomas Nelson Publishing
ISBN: 9781400203048
In this memoir the author describes his life as a blind man and recounts his dramatic escape with his guide dog from the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

The Fortunate Ones: 18th-Century Philadelphia as Seen without Sight
by Frederic W. Noesner
Masthof Press
ISBN: 9781601262424
In this novel the author, who is blind, portrays life as it may have been for blind people in Philadelphia around the time of the American Revolution.

SONGS AND STORIES

Kids Public Radio
<www.kidspublicradio.org>
This free Internet station has three channels, streaming lullabies, stories, and sing-along music. Great for a summer afternoon when it's too hot to play outside!