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 31 Number 3 Summer 2012
Deborah Kent Stein, Editor
Copyright © 2012 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 • email@example.com • firstname.lastname@example.org
Volume 31 Number 3 Summer 2012
From Literacy to Advocacy
by Jesse Hartle
A Matter of Justice: Our Fight to Obtain
by Holly Miller
A Chance to Learn
by Angelica Gomez
Sports and Recreation for Young Blind Children
by Heather Field
If I Wrote His IEP
by Erin Jepsen
Social Security: Benefits and Pitfalls
by Ronza Othman
Braille ... I Like It!
by Penny Duffy
Powder Blue Blindness
by Mindy Heppe
Sharing Meaning through Movement
by Dr. Jessica Bachicha Ewell
Breaking through the Silence: How Technology
Gave a Voice to My Son
by Tina Tan Egle
Gauges, Tires, and Pistons
An Interview with Bart Hickey
Picturing the Movies: The Puzzling, Contradictory,
Wonderful World of Audio Description
by Richard Holloway
The Service Effect: How Helping the Community Builds
Strong Leadership in Students
by Darian Smith
The Gift of Giving: The Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest,
a Student's Perspective
by Elizabeth Kazmierski
The 2012 NFB LAW Program: Modeling Best Practices for Incorporating Technology
in the Learning Environment
by Emily Gibbs and Natalie Shaheen
The 2012 Teacher Leader Seminar
by Emily Gibbs
New Hadley Course Gives a Voice to Braille Music
by Kate Streit
I Can't See, but ... I Can Imagine
by Patricia Bennett Wilson
Reviewed by Deborah Kent Stein
Quest for Independence
by Kim Cunningham
New NOPBC Board Elected
by Carlton Ann Cook Walker
2012 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest Winners
Conferences, Research, and More
ODDS AND ENDS
Future Reflections is a magazine for parents and teachers of blind children. It is published quarterly by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults in partnership with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Future Reflections is available free of charge to subscriber addresses in the U.S. in regular print and audio formats and via email, or it can be read online on the NFB website. Canadian subscriptions are $35.00 per year, and other foreign subscriptions are $75.00 U.S. per year. Checks should be made payable to the National Federation of the Blind and sent to the NFB, Attention Future Reflections, 200 E. Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, MD 21230.
For an email subscription to Future Reflections, visit <www.nfbcal.org/listserv-signup.html> and follow the instructions.
To subscribe to Future Reflections in print or audio format, send an email to ParentOutreach@nfb.org. Put "Subscribe to FR" in the subject line and include your preferred medium in the body. Please include your address, whether you are the parent of a blind child, a teacher, or other subscriber. If you are a parent, include your child's name and birth date.
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 Website
• Books and Videos
• Blindkid & Other Listservs
• Early Childhood Conferences
• Pop-Up IEP Website
• Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest
• Slate Pals Pen Pal Program
• AAF Free Braille 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 Website
• 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)
by Jesse Hartle
From the Editor: The National Federation of the Blind has made a deep commitment to promote Braille literacy, and it wages the campaign on many fronts. In this article, Jesse Hartle presents his own story and describes an exciting new development, the “Dear Colleague” letter on Braille signed by twenty-six U.S. senators. Originally from Louisiana, Jesse Hartle works as a government programs specialist with the NFB’s national office in Baltimore, Maryland.
I am typical of the majority of blind students in the United States. According to statistics, 90 percent of the blind students in this country are not taught to read and write Braille. This staggeringly low literacy rate among blind students exists despite current federal law, which requires Braille to be the primary reading medium for blind students. I was educated as a blind student in the public schools, and later, as a professional, I played a role in correcting the literacy crisis for blind students through my work in legislative affairs for the National Federation of the Blind.
In most cases, when a totally blind child enters public school, we can safely assume that he or she will receive instruction in Braille as his or her primary reading medium. However, for students who have some vision, as I did, the experts have a different plan. When I was two years old I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease that causes vision to deteriorate with age. My parents did not know much about the alternative techniques of blindness. They did what most parents do--they listened to the so-called experts. The experts told my parents that they would show me Braille, but said I did not need it for my education. They explained that the best way for me to succeed in school would be through the use of large print books. Eventually, when the large print no longer worked for me, I began to use a closed circuit TV (CCTV) in order to complete my assignments. At my best as a fifth grader, I read twelve words a minute. The experts viewed this as an acceptable performance. They said they were sparing me from the "stigmas" that I would have to suffer if I learned Braille.
I don't know what stigmas I would have endured as a Braille user, but I know about the stigmas I lived with as a student who could not read. I lacked self-confidence because I could not participate fully in class--for example, I was never asked to read aloud. I had to memorize notes because I could not easily refer to the notes I wrote in bold, black ink. Worst of all, I learned in those early years of instruction that blind kids could not be expected to do the same things that sighted students do. I believed that I would always be less capable than my sighted peers. Looking back, I find it interesting that the "experts" on blindness seemed to be the people who had the hardest time using the word blind or teaching blindness skills.
My elementary-school teachers believed in the "sight is might" model for success. Luckily, others stepped into my life and helped me chart a better path. When I entered middle school I had a new teacher. He told me that I would have to learn all the skills of blindness in order to succeed. First among these skills was the use of Braille. My teacher believed in blind people, and he encouraged his students to get involved in school activities. Every year he took a group of his students to the seminar sponsored by the Louisiana Association of Blind Students.
There is a reason my new teacher's philosophy about blindness was so different from anything I had encountered before. Don Banning was a member of the National Federation of the Blind.
Shortly after I met Mr. Banning, I was introduced to many other leaders in the Louisiana affiliate of the NFB. Among them were Harold and Joanne Wilson, Pam and Roland Allen, and Jerry and Merilynn Whittle. They all believed in teaching the skills of blindness. They taught me to believe in myself and in blind people.
Years later this belief in blind people led me to Baltimore, where I joined the staff of the National Federation of the Blind. I serve as a government program specialist at NFB headquarters. I work for the passage of legislation that will promote better lives for blind people. I also work to stop legislation that perpetuates society's negative stereotypes about blindness. Since I joined the NFB staff, I have had the chance to work on many issues related to the education of blind students.
In 2006, the National Federation of the Blind launched an initiative in Congress to have a commemorative coin minted in honor of Louis Braille's two hundredth birthday, which was celebrated in 2009. Funds raised from the sale of the coin help support programs and initiatives to increase the Braille literacy rate among blind students. In 2010 the NFB worked successfully for the passage of a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives recognizing the importance of Braille for blind students.
Our most recent effort to improve the literacy rate of blind students took place in the spring of 2012. With other members of the NFB team, I met with the staff of Sen. Patty Murray of Washington to discuss issues of concern for blind students across the country. That discussion led to a "Dear Colleague" letter from Sen. Murray. The letter called upon Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to issue new regulations to ensure that the congressional intent set forth in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) relating to Braille instruction for blind students would be met. In the course of one week, members of the Federation from across the country urged their senators to join with Sen. Murray. When the secretary of education received the Dear Colleague letter, twenty-six members of the senate were listed in support of this important educational initiative.
I have enjoyed my work on these legislative issues. I view my work as a way of giving back the gift that was given to me twenty years ago. I know that some of you reading this article are longtime subscribers to Future Reflections. Maybe some of you are reading this magazine for the first time, having just learned that your child is blind. Whichever the case may be, I urge you to hold high standards for your blind child. Please know that it is okay if you don't know all the answers. Just ask the real experts, the experts who live the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.
by Holly Miller
From the Editor: When news of the judge's ruling in the Hank Miller case leaped over the Internet, Federationists applauded across the country. Holly Miller's story is one of conviction and perseverance. Because his family refused to have low expectations, Hank Miller will get the chance to live up to his full potential. You can read the Miller case online or download the judge's 69-page ruling. However, URLs are subject to frequent changes, and often you must pay a fee to download a case from a website. To download a free copy of this case, enter the case name (J.M. and H.M. v. Oceanport Board of Education) in a Google search box or similar program, then from among the answers, tap on the link from <www.special-ed-law.com>.
Holly Miller is a member of the board of the Parents of Blind Children of New Jersey as well as a member of the NOPBC board. In addition to Hank and a seventeen-year-old son, Red, she has a greyhound named Louie who is blind from birth.
On August 18, 2008, I sent an email to the special services director of our school district, suggesting that our son, Hank, might need Braille. Hank was getting ready to enter second grade. I'll admit that at that point my husband and I weren't 100 percent convinced Braille was the answer for him, but we saw signs that Hank was having trouble reading print, and we felt he should be evaluated.
Hank had enough vision to see large print, but eye fatigue limited the length of time he was able to read. It was a physical effort for him to see words on the printed page. The longer he had to read, the less he understood what he read.
Two months after I sent our original email, we were granted a meeting, at which the state-employed teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) gasped, "I'd hate to do that to him!" By that she meant Braille, of course.
Undaunted, we pressed for a learning media assessment. The assessment was done, but the results were not presented to us until February. Even though the reading stamina portion of the evaluation was left blank, we were told that Braille was not appropriate for our son.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) presumes Braille to be the primary reading method for legally blind students. Yet, although Hank is legally blind, we were forced to prove that Braille was appropriate for him.
Over the following months, we sent countless emails and letters and attended one meeting after another. We prepared for each meeting carefully, bringing articles and advocates. We secured an attorney. We switched attorneys. Evaluations were done by both sides.
The school personnel and the professionals at the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (NJCBVI) were immoveable. Nothing we did, said, or presented swayed their firmly made-up minds. They told us that Hank was a sighted reader, that he was better off as part of the sighted world. They insisted that Hank's wonderful approach to learning would be thwarted if we forced him to learn Braille. "Why would you want to make him more blind?" they demanded. They seemed to believe we were trying to do something to him instead of for him. We jokingly called it Munchhausen by Braille--a reference to Munchhausen by proxy, the phenomenon by which parents deliberately cause their children to become ill.
As the months--then years--went by, we emphasized repeatedly that our concern was Hank's inability to handle sustained reading tasks. We were assured that sustained reading wasn't a problem, even though the district never tested it. During this time, Hank was kept in the resource room for reading, five days a week, ninety minutes a day. He spent 25 percent of his school day in the resource room. When we asked why, we were given a multitude of reasons, but we were skeptical about all of them. The fact that Hank's eyes couldn't keep up with the regular classroom workload was never on the list.
The testing done by the school district showed that Hank had no reading disability on a cognitive level. However, when we asked the district to evaluate his sustained reading, the evaluation never took place. Our own experts did sustained reading evaluations, and we shared the results with the NJCBVI. These tests all showed that Hank did very well on short reading tasks, but when he read for longer periods of time (ten to twenty minutes), his speed, accuracy, comprehension, and retention fell significantly. These results clearly illustrated that Hank's vision was the problem, not his mind.
Despite our findings, the school district and the NJCBVI still declared that Braille was inappropriate for Hank. It became apparent that nothing we could do would change their thinking. The only way Hank would ever get Braille instruction would be through a court order.
By this time our story had caught the attention of Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). With the might of the NFB behind us, we filed for due process in June 2011. Our legal team consisted of Jayne Wesler from Sussan & Greenwald in New Jersey and Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum and Jessie Weber from Brown, Goldstein & Levy in Baltimore. The hearing lasted nine days, but those nine days were spread over seven months.
The wheels of justice turn slowly, but turn they did. On May 3, 2012, we received the decision from the administrative law judge. Hank would receive Braille instruction!
The judge found our evidence to be more research- and data-based than that presented by the NJCBVI and that it was supported by evaluations geared toward Hank's specific disability. She found that both the district and the NJCBVI had a bias against Braille. "The comment that H.M. has to stay in a sighted world shows a bias against Braille because it infers that Braille is a lesser medium than the technology that she recommends," the judge said in her ruling. "H.M. is a legally blind student who has functional vision. He can live in the sighted world, learning and using Braille as an alternative reading tool, along with assistive technology. It is more logical that doing so will enhance his learning rather than thwart it."
The ruling ordered that Hank receive Braille instruction ninety minutes per day, five days a week. This is very important, because studies show that frequent and intense Braille instruction is critical for a student to master the code. Hank will also receive three years of compensatory education. This will take the form of summer instruction, including attendance at the Buddy Program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind.
On July 10, 2012, nearly four years after we made our initial request for Braille, Hank had his first official Braille lesson. We cannot wait to see how his reading takes off from here. He is such a smart, inquisitive boy, and it was terrible to watch him avoid reading because it hurt his eyes.
We cannot begin to express how deeply thankful we are to everyone involved in Hank's case. Even though we knew we were right, we did not have the resources to prove it on our own. Without the NFB behind us, Hank never would have gotten Braille instruction. It is our greatest hope that other families can use our case as an example with their schools, avoiding the need to bring legal action.
by Angelica Gomez
From the Editor: The best reading method for a child with low vision is often a topic for debate. However, it seems safe to assume that a totally blind student naturally will be taught to read Braille. Yet in some cases, Braille instruction is not provided, even to totally blind children. If a blind child has or is thought to have additional disabilities, Braille may be deemed inappropriate--even when sighted children with similar disabilities are taught to read print. The story of Melanie Gomez, an eight-year-old blind girl from Florida, is an example of what can happen.
Our daughter Melanie started preschool when she was three years old. She was in a class where some of the children had disabilities and some did not. She was the only totally blind child in the group. We felt it was a good program, and Melanie seemed to be doing well.
Melanie was in that program for two years, but when she began kindergarten she had to switch schools. The new school placed her in a class for autistic children, even though Melanie had not been diagnosed with autism. My husband and I really didn't understand what was going on. We trusted the school. We thought the people at the school were experts, and we believed they would do everything possible to help Melanie learn.
Pretty soon, though, we started to get worried. Sometimes Melanie came home with scratches, bruises, and even bites from the other children in her class. She became afraid of loud noises, and she didn't like to play with her cousins anymore. If one of them went up to her, Melanie would scream and push her away.
We told the school we wanted Melanie to be placed in a class with other blind children. The school said a placement like that wouldn't work because Melanie didn't know Braille. "But how can she know Braille?" I asked them. "No one has tried to teach her." They would send her homework home all in print. Nothing was tactile, not even the pictures she was supposed to color. How could she learn anything from those worksheets? To her they were just blank pieces of paper!
One day when I had something else to do, my husband, Jimmy, attended Melanie's IEP meeting without me. He came home very confused. He said he didn't understand most of the things they were saying. We decided to call for another IEP meeting so both of us could be there.
The school was not happy about calling a new meeting, but they went along with our request. Some of the teachers made impatient remarks, and I saw a few of them texting or talking on their cell phones during the meeting. We found out that they had labeled Melanie autistic and learning disabled. They tried to tell us she couldn't learn because she had those other disabilities besides being blind.
After that meeting, we were very upset. We felt the school was holding Melanie back. She was getting speech therapy, and one day I asked the speech therapist what we could do. She was very sympathetic. She really listened to us, and after we talked, she got us an advocate. That's when our battle with the Dade County School District really began!
When Melanie was in first grade we went to a whole series of meetings, some local and some regional. The school got a lawyer, and so did we. I believe the people at Melanie's school really thought they were giving her what she needed. But they were convinced that she couldn't learn reading or cane travel or much of anything else. It turned out that the district's department of services for the visually impaired didn't even know that Melanie existed!
Our local lawyer ended up bringing in Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum, an attorney with Brown, Goldstein and Levy in Baltimore. That firm has a lot of experience with cases involving blind children. They helped us get a full assessment, and the report showed that Melanie should be getting Braille and cane travel. In mediation the school agreed to place Melanie in a class for blind children. It also agreed to help her make up for all her lost time by paying for Braille instruction during three summers. This summer Melanie and I will spend two weeks in Baltimore while she attends the Maryland BELL Program (Braille Enrichment for Leadership and Learning). We are both totally excited!
Melanie is eight years old now, and she attends a class with two other blind children. She knows the whole alphabet in Braille, and she loves to write with her Perkins Brailler. Teachers from New York and Louisiana have come to observe her. They are amazed by the progress she has made.
I'll never forget one of our meetings, when the school's lawyer started off by announcing, "I'm not here to have my time wasted!" It is very sad when a person like that says such a thing in front of two parents who want the best for their child! It was my daughter's time that was being wasted by a school that didn't believe in her and didn't care. Melanie was being pushed aside. The more she fell behind, the less chance she had to show her capabilities.
I know there are many Melanies out there, children who haven't been so fortunate to get the help our daughter received. I am very, very grateful to everyone who helped us in our fight to get Melanie the chance to learn. I hope that other families will benefit from our experience so their children can have the excitement of learning that Melanie is enjoying at last.
by Heather Field
From the Editor: A native of Australia and blind since infancy, Heather Field draws upon more than thirty years of experience as a teacher and consultant in Australia and the United States to write this article. She lives and works in Tennessee, where she runs a small private school for sighted and blind students and pursues her career as a songwriter. She is the contact person for the NOPBC in Tennessee and is working hard to form its Tennessee chapter.
When most people hear the word sports, they think of people running about with various combinations of balls and bats or sticks. The word recreation suggests camping, hiking, golf, surfing, or birding. Whatever activities people think of, their mental pictures rarely include blind adults, and certainly they don't involve blind children.
Those of us who are parents or educators of blind children are more likely to have expectations about their involvement in sports and recreation. We probably think of school-age children roller skating, swimming, wrestling, bowling, doing judo or gymnastics, or taking part in Brownies and Cub Scouts. However, it's unlikely that even the most informed among us have given much thought to sports and recreation for blind children under eight years of age. Yes, of course, we know they need to play, and we classify play as a form of recreation. We know it's not good for blind children to play inappropriately--rocking, spinning, poking their eyes, or aimlessly banging and sucking on toys--but usually that's about as far as the play discussions get.
Instead of thinking about blind children spending their time in recreational activities, we tend to talk about and work on trying to get young blind and low-vision children to play. We try to engage them in active play, social play, dramatic play, role play, appropriate play, and so on. Many of us, who should know better, move their bodies through space, trying to make them do the things we want them to do, the things we call play. We do all this adult-controlled taking and making in the hope that, when we stop and leave our children alone to entertain themselves, they will realize that this movement was play and will want to do it again without us.
This approach usually gets task compliance; however, as we have seen over and over, it fails to get children to move in ways that we understand as play. Faced with this result, we may plug away with the same old failing approach because we can't bear to give up. On the other hand, we may resign ourselves to our children's inactivity and strange behavior, blaming it all on their blindness.
Such resignation isn't surprising. Many blindness professionals warn us to expect delayed development and antisocial behavior from our young blind and low-vision children. The professional literature tells us that blind children probably won't crawl, and that they may not even walk until they're two or three years old--let alone run, climb, ride a tricycle, or learn to swim. When we observe our blind and low-vision children not playing, behaving strangely, and seeming to ignore the world around them, many of us become deeply discouraged, believing that the professionals must be right. All too often, we conclude that this behavior is normal for blind children. We come to feel that blindness is a tragedy that will prevent our children from leading independent, fulfilling lives. After all, the most normal thing in the world is for children to play, and, tragically, our blind children just don't seem to do that. But this is not an accurate conclusion.
We cannot afford to keep trying the same old "take and make" approach, and we cannot give up on our children, believing that blindness will bar them from normal human behavior. Instead, we need a completely new mindset. We must base our thinking on the premise that blind/low-vision children are children first, that they are like all other children, and that the lack of vision is merely a secondary consideration. Only then can we apply what we know about children and early childhood development within the nonvisual context.
The patterns set in the first years of life are critically important. Much of a child's character is molded during early childhood. In the early years he/she forms self-perceptions as well as relationships with other people and with the world. Research shows that it is difficult to alter a person's beliefs and expectations after the age of thirteen or fourteen. Thus, if we want blind and low-vision children to think of themselves as people who engage in active pursuits such as sports and outdoor recreation, we have to give them positive experiences in the early years. They must learn that recreational activities are fun and satisfying, and that they can, in fact, participate.
"All very well in theory," you may be muttering, "but you don't know my child. He doesn't want to do anything but sit and rock ... or press buttons on noise-making toys ... or open and close the fridge door ... or chew on his blankie ... or ..." (you can fill in the activity). "How do you propose I get my child from there to 'sports and recreation'?"
Obviously, this is a very important question. Before I suggest sports and recreational activities for the under-eights, I want to talk about the cause and prevention of the inappropriate behaviors so prevalent among young blind and low-vision children. How do we convince them to stop themselves doing the inappropriate behaviors and get them to try new things?
Note that I said "How do we convince them to stop themselves," and not "How do we stop them?" Getting children to want to stop and to want to try new things is the real problem to be solved.
The official position of the NFB on blindness is that "the problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight, but the misconceptions and lack of information that exist about blindness." This is true in the area of the development of young blind children. The misconception is that blind infants and toddlers don't want to move like other children do; obviously, we think, they would move if they wanted to. Because they don't move as typical children do, we believe we have to make them move (or try to make them) until they finally do want to, or until we decide they're beyond changing.
People continue to believe this misconception, even though it doesn't fit with anything else we know about children and early childhood development. As Shakespeare said, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." A child, whether it's called blind or given another label, is still a child. Its essential "childness" is not altered by characteristics such as the amount of vision. Furthermore, to believe the misconception that blind infants and toddlers don't want to move like other children do requires us to ignore all of the blind and low-vision children who develop like typical children of the same age.
The average parent knows three things about young children and play:
1. Children want to do things--to play.
2. Children want to choose what they do--to decide for themselves.
3. Children can't be made to want to do something. (Try getting a two-year-old out of the bath when he doesn't want to get out!)
Why, then, do we ignore these three basic principles about play when it comes to blind children? After all, they are still children!
Let's assume for a moment that blind and sighted children are identical except for the fact that one group gets information about movement options through the eyes and the other group does not. The average sighted child, from the time she is born, is driven to move. She watches how others move and does the same. In fact, by the time she is four or five years old, most of our movement-related conversations with her are about moderating or stopping particular movements. "Stop running! ... Don't throw that! ... Get down off there! ... Don't jump from up there! ... Sit down! ... Stop hitting! ... Give that back ..." Why do we expect that the child with little or no usable vision will be different? Her inner drive to move is just as strong and irresistible as it is in the child who is sighted. This is the reason so many blind children rock or engage in repetitive behaviors. They need to move and they do move, though they do not move in ways that typically sighted children do.
Why do blind children move in ways that seem so strange? Is it because blindness causes different behavior patterns? No! It's simply because blind children lack information on available movement options. Blind and low-vision children don't visually observe the movements of others. Unfortunately, sighted caregivers usually don't realize that they need to give the blind child information about movement options in nonvisual ways. Even when they recognize the need, they may not know what to do. Joe Cutter, the renowned orientation and mobility instructor, author, and speaker, discusses the problem like this:
"Just because a child is lacking eyesight, s/he is not lacking the 'drive to move and the need to know.' We don't see with the eye and hear with the ear; rather we see and hear with the brain! A young blind child simply needs assistance in learning how to move and in finding out what there is to know."
Sighted children aren't born knowing how they can move; they observe others moving and copy them. The blind child is equally capable of observing; he just can't observe using vision. If the blind child is given the opportunity to observe through his other senses, he will learn just as the sighted child learns. Cutter says, "I believe in the interconnectiveness of the sensory systems, that vision is only one system and that blind children have a multitude of systems available to them (touch, auditory, vestibular, proprioceptive, smell, taste, the drive to move, the need to know, the ability to self-amuse, etc.). We must invite blind children to make the world their home; to move safely, confidently, and effectively ..."
Clearly, it's not lack of vision that keeps blind children from moving in age-appropriate ways. Rather, it's the lack of information about how people move and what's out there in the world worth moving toward. It's also the lack of people who know how to help them get this information. As is true with all children, at first caregivers must bring the world to the child in meaningful ways. Eventually, Cutter explains, "The goal is for the child to initiate movement him/herself. Parents and other adults in the child's life can facilitate movement by showing the child that the world is a safe place where s/he can find fun and enjoyment. First the adults bring the world to the child; then we help the child go to the world him/herself."
Why is movement so vitally important? Why is it so much a part of the young sighted child's life that it needs to be part of the life of the young blind child, too? "One of the things a child must do in order to make sense of the world is to put together, or integrate, the information s/he takes in through the senses (sensory integration). But a child cannot integrate information that s/he does not have! So one of the keys is making sure the child is receiving information about the world. How does a blind child get information about the world? Largely through movement. Movement brings the child into contact with objects and people in the world. If a child is restricted in movement, s/he will be restricted in information about the world."
If he doesn't know his movement options, the child won't choose them. Because the blind child needs to interact physically with the world--touching, tasting, smelling, balancing, sensing slope--it is vital that he move about. Children, blind and sighted, need to move to understand themselves and their world; the blind or low-vision child needs movement even more than the sighted child does.
The research on the play of young children shows that it is practice for life. Children learn about living life in safe, pretend situations so that they are ready and able to deal with reality when they need to. Playing up and down the steps unassisted at home gets the child ready for all the steps out there in the world. Hunting for a lost ball in the back yard or in the park lets him practice information-gathering and problem-solving, perseverance and courage, all of which he will need later on. His sense of accomplishment when he achieves his goals in play situations teaches him what to expect when he sets goals at school and beyond. Movement in play situations readies children for movement in the real world.
In summary, blind and low-vision children want to move, but they need us to interact with them in ways that don't rely on vision. If they learn that there are thousands of fun ways to move, and they learn to make these movements with confidence based on success through play, they will be able to apply this experience when they face the demands of real life. Through movement they learn that this world is a fabulously interesting place and that there are lots of fun things one can do in it. However, in order to teach the blind child about these possibilities, parents and teachers must think about the world in nonvisual ways.
Now that we've established that blind and low-vision children want to move, and that we need to help them observe their movement options nonvisually, we can talk about bringing purpose and meaning to their movement through sports and recreation. In the truest sense, sports and recreation choices begin at birth. Babies start with recreational activities such as finding their fingers and toes. Later they discover the satisfaction of self-initiated movement as they attempt to imitate the movements of the people around them. As for sports--as soon as a baby has played his first game of peek-a-boo, or has kept bouncing when you have stopped, encouraging you to bounce him more, he has played his first sports event.
Getting your blind tween or teen interested in sports and recreation starts with the games he plays with you as an infant, toddler, and preschooler. As a sighted parent or teacher, you may have trouble coming up with ideas for nonvisual movement experiences and interactions. However, I find that with a few initial ideas, a couple of successes, and the expectation that blind children can attain age-appropriate behavior, sighted people can become very good at providing sports and recreation activities for young blind and low-vision children. As your child learns all the ways he can move alone and with other people, he will be able to engage in constructive recreational activities and in age-appropriate games and group play or sports. Who knows, he might end up being the first blind man from your state to win a marathon or fly a hot-air balloon across the Atlantic--all because you showed him he could climb the monkey bars and jump onto a pile of gym mats when he was four years old.
If you ask parents what sports and recreational experiences they give their sighted babies and toddlers, they will probably look at you strangely. Parents don't realize that the big red ball they roll with their infant, the swing that their toddler enjoys, and the wading pool into which their preschooler jumps all morning are all sports and recreational experiences. With some adaptations, you must provide the same kinds of experiences for your blind or low-vision child. The only special consideration is to give your child lots of information and choice about the experiences. To feel safe one must feel in control, and one can only feel in control when one can choose an activity based on adequate information.
Here are some suggested activities to get you started on your sports and recreation plan for your blind or low-vision child. Even if your child is over age eight, it's never too late to apply the principle that children will do what they want to do if they believe they can do it.
Interactive play is the foundation of purposeful movement in babies. We need to play with blind babies just as we do with typically sighted children, taking care to provide nonvisual interaction such as touching the hand and using a playful tone of voice rather than merely smiling.
1. Give your baby lots of close physical contact. Your infant may enjoy being carried about in a sling or "snuggle sack." Right now you are his sports and recreation. Basically, you're teaching him that life and people are safe and lots of fun, and that interacting with people--belonging to a team rather than being alone--is very satisfying.
2. Create interesting midline (vertical center line of child's body) space in varied situations so that your baby's movements will bring him into contact with things to touch and hear. When the baby is lying in a crib, dangle toys from cradle gyms and mobiles so that they are within his reach. When the baby is sitting independently or playing in a playpen, place interesting toys within reach. In this way, his attempts at choosing recreation outside of his own body are rewarded. He learns that his mind can be engaged. He can set goals for himself ("I'll reach out and find something to do"), and he can achieve those goals. This sense of personal achievement motivates children like nothing we can offer them.
3. Play games--lots and lots of games, all kinds of games. Tickling games; touching and naming body part games; snuggling games where you blow "raspberries" on baby's tummy, back, legs, or arms; jiggling games where you hold baby in your arms and dance to some fun music. Try anything you can think of to interact with the baby. Also, play patty-cake and other hand and finger games that encourage the baby to hold his hands at midline.
4. Place the baby's hands on his bottle when he is being fed. When he knows the word bottle and the sound of the bottle being shaken, encourage him to reach out and grab it and to hold it for himself. This teaches him that he can choose to control what's happening to him.
5. Who's This: Provide objects and stuffed animals of various textures and shapes. Sit them on the baby's tummy or lap and make appropriate, funny noises. Encourage your baby to touch and explore.
6. Hide and Seek: Encourage your baby to search for an object that has been withdrawn slightly from his touch.
7. Get Me: Encourage your baby to reach toward the sound of a familiar toy and grab it, first at midline, and then at various points within reaching distance.
8. Wiggle-Wiggle: This game will help your baby understand that spatial information can be gained through sound. Place a rattle or bell in your child's hand or around his wrist or ankle. Alternately move his hand or foot and then keep it still. Do the same with your own hand or foot and let the baby feel you do it.
9. Chasey: Slowly move a sound-making toy, keeping it within your baby's reach. Encourage him to catch it.
10. Talk to your baby about his activity, naming the objects he contacts and the actions he performs.
All of these suggestions are meant to be fun for you and your baby. Enjoy your play! (Based on the study "The Development of Reaching in Blind Children as It Reflects Object Permanence," Hatem G., Hyrnan N., Keith E., Maida S., Rogone S., Saar M.)
Provide your child with lots of opportunities to move on and with you.
1. Slippy-Slidey: Sit on the couch or chair and slide the child down your legs to the floor. Let her climb back up and go down again as many times as she wants to (within reason!) Let her roll down sideways as well as headfirst. Let her do the same with a big pile of cushions or pillows next to the couch.
2. Squashy-Squeezy: With your toddler on the floor, tell her you are going to go "squashy squeezy." Put your body over her and cuddle down around her. Let her escape by crawling or rolling out from under you. Try variations where you catch her legs or arms and let her struggle to escape. Let her climb on you and do the same.
3. Bouncey-Wouncey: Sitting on the floor, set your toddler on your outstretched legs and bounce her on your knees. Say, "Uh-oh, it's going to tip you off!" and gently tumble her off after seven or eight bounces. Over a period of days, remove your hands from supporting the toddler and let her enjoy the freedom. She will soon tip herself off onto the carpet. Move on to bouncing her on other parts of your body. Lying on your back, draw up your knees and set the toddler on your legs with your feet supporting her back. Hold her by the upper legs and very gently bounce her. Make the same progression toward the child holding on by herself and balancing independently. Move to sitting the toddler on your back and bouncing her as you lie face down on the floor. When she shows she's ready to try something new, move to being on all fours and bouncing and swaying her about as she lies and, finally, sits on your back.
4. Roly-poly: Let your toddler lie on your front and roll off, helping with your arm to make it a gentle experience. Your toddler will want to roll around and soon will not need your arm support. Let her roll up and down the length of your body, from chest to feet and back again. Remember to keep up the verbal commentary, such as, "Oh dear, someone's rolling on me like a rolling pin! Someone's squashing me flat." (Of course you can show her how a rolling pin works, using Play-Doh or pastry dough.) Once she is good at rolling, let her roll up and down and on and off on your back.
5. Swing-Swing: Holding your toddler's hands and feet, gently swing her back and forward, from side to side, and from head to foot. Start by only doing three swings and then put her down. If she enjoys it, introduce her to a real swing.
6. Jumping Jack: Stand your toddler on the bed and bounce her up and down as you hold her around the waist. Encourage her to jump by herself. When she is independently making jumping movements, hold her hands and let her jump herself, using you only as a guide. As soon as she is confident with this, move her onto a mini trampoline. (There are trampolines with attached handles for children to hold onto as they jump).
7. Chasey: Have your toddler catch you as you move away from her. Keep talking the whole time you are running away, saying things like, "I'm going down the hall to the bathroom. Catch me, catch me! Uh-oh, here she comes! She's gonna catch me, she's getting closer!" Let the child catch you after only a few seconds when you first introduce the game, and make the time longer as she gets better at it. Have your toddler run away from you as you chase her. This is a good outside game. One parent or a friend can hold the toddler's hand and run with her while the other parent (making lots of noise) chases them. At first the toddler will not run; she will walk fast. She will need to learn what run means by doing it.
8. Seesaw: Find a seesaw at the local park and invite another parent to put her toddler on with yours. Hold them in place and explain what's going to happen. Say, "Up and down," as the seesaw moves. If no other child is available, work the seesaw yourself.
9. Independent Play: These are some of the toys that allow a toddler to play independently: toys that can be pulled or pushed, such as a doll's stroller or play shopping cart; sit-on riding toys, a large beach ball, an inflated inner tube, a wading pool, and a sandbox.
The following ideas can be used with younger children where appropriate and should occur spontaneously as part of the movements they observe you doing. The list below is intended to be a resource of ideas that you can incorporate into your everyday play activities. This is not a list of things for you to do to your child. Instead, it is a list of experiences that would be great for a blind/low-vision child to have. For example, walking a balance beam should not be a required activity, but can be part of a game, such as crossing the bridge in a favorite story. Rolling off a pile of gym mats or cushions can be a variation on a game of Chasey. Going for a walk over different surfaces can be a game of Hunt the Tiger. Punching the knock-down clown can be Kill the Monster.
The emphasis should always be on letting the child observe what you do and choosing his own movements. Allow the child to try out his own ideas and suggest several choices if he does not initiate a movement: "Do you want to climb up the monkey bars, or would you like to go underneath and have a look what's down there?" Remember that children learn through repetition and may want to do the same activity a number of times before moving on to something new. Rolling off a pile of mats may not seem exciting to us as adults, but it's very exciting when you're three years old and you've just discovered that you can do it by yourself.
1. Knock-Down Clown: Place the clown next to the child. Tap or move it against his body, encouraging him to grasp it and knock it down.
2. Balloon or Beach Ball: Suspend a balloon or beach ball with string and tape. Sway it back and forth, tap it, rub it, and encourage the child to do the same. Turn it, hold it, and make speech sounds or vibrations. Rub it on the child's face and hands. You can insert rice or other sound-making objects, or you might attach small bells to the string.
3. Bells: Suspend a bell or string of bells. Try to stimulate a reaction to the sound.
4. Bounce or roll a beach ball past or toward the child, or use a soft ball with a bell inside.
5. Open or close doors with the child.
6. Carrying: Carry or hold objects with one or both hands. Vary the size and weight of the object.
7. Crawling and Climbing: Put the child on or under a rolled-up mat. If necessary, help him roll off, get out, or climb over.
8. Walking Trips: Take walks over gravel, rocks, grass, sand, dirt, cement and blacktop, carpet, and tile. Climb over logs, go up and down ramps, and climb stairs. Walk through puddles. Climb on large boulders and duck under chains.
9. Exploring: Examine things in the environment, such as trees, shrubs, stairs, tables, benches, and play equipment. Encourage the child to move around by himself, exploring with his hands or using his long white cane.
10. Wheels: Expose the child to toys that roll and have moveable parts.
11. Balloon: Attach balloon with elastic to wrist or ankle.
12. Rocking: Expose to rocking horse or teeter-totter. Tumble about, even if only one hand is on it.
13. Scooter-Board: Have child lie on tummy on a scooter-board and pull himself along with his hands. Sit and twirl in swivel chair or sit/lie down on a wheeled vehicle and be pulled, pushed, etc. Include a three-wheel vehicle if possible.
14. Shopping Bags and Boxes: Fill them up with items and take things out.
15. Gym Mats: Child moves about on all fours, lifting up one leg or arm at a time. Kick like a grumpy horse or lash out to scratch like a fierce tiger! Child rolls across the length and breadth of the mat. Place the mat on a slope or double the mat over and let the child roll or run down the resulting hill.
16. Hidey House Box: Get a big cardboard box from an appliance store. Let the child hide inside it, crawl in and out, pull the "door" shut, sit in it, and bang on it from the inside. Tip the box from the closed end so the child slides out onto the floor. Put the open end of the box on the couch so child slides down inside to the other end.
17. Balance Beam: Use a regular low balance beam or a long, rectangular board six to twelve inches wide, supported by two bases several inches above the floor. Walk sideways on the beam. Crawl across it. Scoot across. Walk across with one foot on and one foot off. Straddle the beam. Use the balance beam as an inclined plane, one end supported by a box.
18. Inner Tube: Child can play with it, walk on it, and step in and out. Tie it to something and let him crawl through it. Suspend it several inches above the ground to make a tire swing and have the child lie in it on his tummy.
19. Sandbox: Bury the child's feet. Pretend he has lost them; be surprised when you dig them out. Encourage shoveling and scooping.
20. Toys: Old spinning tops, Slinky, Jack-in-the-Box, Fisher Price bus or house.
21. Water Play: Fill a basin or small pool with water. Put in toys such as sponges, boats, and rubber duckies. Wash items, rubbing and squeezing.
22. Water Pistol: Let the child squirt himself and others. Squirt objects such as balloons that will make a sound when water strikes them. Squirt water into a cup.
23. Missing Objects: Scatter toys on the floor. Crawl around and find them. Hide objects under cushions or behind furniture.
24. Spray Fun: Provide the child with a box of spray containers, such as shaving cream, whipped cream, Krazy Foam, Silly String, and water with scented oils added. Let the child spray them. Play with body lotions and powders. (This is a good outdoor activity.)
25. Bubbles: Feel them, break them, follow them.
26. Textures: Examine and identify the textures of food and substances.
27. Scents: Examine and identify the scents of food and substances.
28. Music: Encourage movement of body parts in many combinations, following rhythm.
29. Swinging: Introduce the child to objects that rock or swing--rocking chair, glider, or hammock. Let him feel the movement. Encourage him to try ways of moving his body that make the object move for him.
30. Pushing: Push objects with the hand off the table and into a container.
31. Licking: Let the child lick a lollipop or ice cream cone.
32. Obstacles: Encourage as much movement as possible in relation to obstacles. Use verbal terms such as left and right, sideways, around, over, under, on top of, go in, sit in, sit under. If needed, provide sound by tapping or by any other means to assist or motivate the child to climb or move. Help him find objects to catch, grab, strike, kick, or push. Throw objects to a person or at another object.
Barna, G. Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions. Ventura, CA: Regal, 2003.
Cutter, J. Independent Movement and Travel in Blind Children. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, 2007.
Eisenberg, J.P. and Quisenberry, N. "Play: Essential for All Children. A Position Paper of the Association of Childhood Education International." Childhood Education 79:1 (Fall 2002): 33-39.
Montagnino, A., Suggested Activities for Young or Multi-Disabled Blind Children. Blind Children's Resource Center, 2003. <www.blindchildren.org/sports_games/5_1_2.html>
by Erin Jepsen
From the Editor: Erin Jepsen is a writer, researcher, and mother of four. For a while she taught music in the public schools. She stopped in order to homeschool her own offspring, picking up some special ed training and a Braille transcriber's certificate along the way. Her family, including several members with visual impairments, lives in Idaho, where they all enjoy hiking, swimming, reading, and roasting gourmet coffee. You can read her blog, A Number of Things, at <http://whistlererin.blogspot.com>.
As the parent of a blind child, and as someone with some training in special education, I've read my share of IEP goals. They usually read something like this: "Child shall recognize 160 out of 190 Braille contractions with 89 percent accuracy by April 30. Child shall read Braille text at a second-grade level, with 65 percent fluency and a minimum speed of 40 WPM for 80 percent of the trials."
Good grief! Are we educating children or programming robots?
I mean no offense toward special education teachers, many of whom receive little appreciation for doing a difficult job. It's just that the "system" boggles my mind sometimes. To take something as messy and organic as learning and stick it into a quantifiable little box seems more ludicrous than useful. Of course, we want to be able to measure progress; but to a parent, or worse, to a student, these numbers can seem like a bewildering mash of random statistics.
Take a hypothetical twelve-year-old boy, for example. He reads at a second-grade level, and seldom reads for fun. He sees well enough to read 16-point print, but his vision is such that doing so becomes a chore. Should this kid be taught Braille? Should he use a CCTV? What should his goals be? How specifically should his IEP language be worded? Ought the school to expect that he learn on grade level with his age-mates, or does his visual impairment exempt him from the educational standards to which his peers are held?
In my mind, these questions exhibit all kinds of problems by their very nature. This is a kid we're talking about! His disability doesn't turn him into a robot that needs to be weighed, measured, and quantified. He is a kid, first and foremost. Someday he will be an adult who likely will want to find a job, have a family, pursue hobbies, travel and live and dream.
If I wrote an IEP for this boy, I would write something like this: "Child shall be exposed to stories about dragons or baseball or surfing until he falls in love with stories and begins devouring them in whatever format he can get his hands on. Child will send 'secret code' messages in Braille to nerdy friends and will begin programming computers. Child will spend time in the fresh air getting exercise and not worrying so much about goals and numbers and statistics until he finds out that he is passionate about auto mechanics and is willing to learn the math necessary to calculate the weight of a car's engine. Child shall be expected to do the same chores as his siblings, take an appropriate amount of responsibility for his appearance and manners, and have the same freedom to explore his world and find his place in it as anyone else."
Get down the why we learn and the how--Braille, print, audio--will fall into place. Once the boy is excited about learning, give him as many hours of Braille and print and audio as you can squeeze into the day, and let him drink it in. But for goodness sake, don't start with "thou shalt learn 35 Braille contractions," or he never will!
Children can be pragmatic, and blind children are no different from any others. If reading is a lot of work, a smart child won't bother. Only when she discovers that a world of magic lies just beyond the print or Braille page will she suddenly decide that learning to read is a worthwhile activity. For some kids, audiobooks first awaken this magic. For others, the tactile enjoyment of Braille draws them in. Once kids find out that stories open the way to friends who live only in books, that through reading they can survive on a lonely island for years, sail on pirate ships, or live with Laura Ingalls on the wild prairies, listening to wolves howl and Pa play his fiddle, they beg to be allowed to read, rather than dragging their heels. When they discover that their passion to learn about orcas can be fed by enlarged font on a computer screen or by listening to audio-described documentaries, you will find they are suddenly captivated and will spend far more than the required twenty minutes reading. A simple iPad game can open the door to a lifelong love of geography and world travel.
Math, of course, presents a whole new set of challenges. For many children, blind or sighted, the interminable drudgery of timed drill sheets saps mathematical study of any possible success or enjoyment. As children, how many of us dreaded the worksheets that plopped onto our desks as the teacher started a stopwatch? Yet I've discovered a new world of math while homeschooling my kids. Did you know that nines are tricky and zeros are humorous? Did you know that if nobody tells kids that math is boring, they will do mental math on car trips? I've had to tell my son, "Stop doing math and get your coat on!"
Algebra begins to make sense when the numbers are weights on a balance, and X is a piece of tissue covering one side. Geometry ceases to be random lines in a book and becomes necessary when it's brought out to the wood shop. Calculus can be used to draw the shape of a water droplet where no droplet existed a moment before. Yet an IEP simply states, "Child shall add four-digit numbers with 75 percent accuracy 60 percent of the time." Did anyone ever notice that 75 percent accuracy won't build a birdhouse that stays together?
If your goal is to set the bar low enough that you can check off your box at the end of the day, are you actually educating a child? Did he learn today that a dogwood flower is a square, a petunia becomes a pentagram, but a lily is actually a hexagram? Even if he can't see the magic of a maple leaf, did he touch one? Did he count the contrasting stripes across the crosswalk today like my four-year-old daughter did? Has anyone ever told him that the hum from his computer monitor comes because it is set to 60 cycles instead of being set higher?
Fortunately, thousands of wild and creative teachers out there are problem solving in wonderful ways, such as building tactile maps out of M&Ms and licorice whips. There are dedicated teachers who will give a reluctant reader different books until they find the one that captures her imagination. There are parents, too, who spend hours gluing strips of fabric to board games to make them tactile, and argue with the employees at the science museum until their child can touch the skeleton that stands behind the DO NOT TOUCH sign. There are children who learn to program computers beyond any expectation, play "Legend of Zelda" although they have never seen the screen, or perfect their skateboarding technique. There are blind children who, when they are excused from learning graphing, get books and find websites and teach themselves how to do it.
As I teach my daughter, I don't want her to meet a goal of 75 percent, and that for only a fraction of the time. I want her to dive into life at 100 percent. She will learn to read because everyone in her family reads, and she'll understand what she reads because we'll talk about it together and read it together, just as I do with all the other children I have taught. She'll learn to run and swim and do math and climb trees, just as her sighted brothers and sisters do. And thankfully, she won't do it only 60 percent of the time!
by Ronza Othman
From the Editor: Ronza Othman is an attorney with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She received a National Federation of the Blind Scholarship in 2006, and she serves as first vice president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers. She is an active member of the Illinois and Maryland affiliates of the NFB.
Many parents of blind children view the benefits available to their families through Social Security programs as a means to provide their children with access to the world on an equal footing with their sighted peers. Nonetheless, parents may unknowingly abuse the system, with the result that their blind children are labeled as incompetent by the Social Security Administration. In addition, blind adults who received benefits as children may ultimately be held responsible for thousands of dollars in overpayments. Social Security benefits may leave blind adults with little or no motivation to become productive members of society through gainful employment, or with low self-esteem and complete dependence on family members, friends, and social welfare programs.
A family with a ten-year-old blind child (we'll call her Ronnie) applies for and is approved to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Because Ronnie is a minor, the Social Security Administration (SSA) requires that her monthly benefits be sent to a representative payee. The representative payee is responsible for administering the monthly payment from SSA, completing the annual income statement paperwork, and attending the case evaluation sessions that take place every few years. Since Ronnie is blind and her blindness is permanent, she does not need to attend any of the reviews with the caseworker, as long as the representative payee provides updated medical and financial information. Ronnie's mother is appointed as her representative payee. Since Ronnie is very young, she is not aware that her family is receiving SSI payments on her behalf.
As Ronnie grows up, her mother continues to act as a representative payee. SSA is supposed to have an in-person review with all child beneficiaries when they turn seventeen to evaluate whether they remain eligible for benefits as adults and to assess whether a representative payee is needed. However, many cases fall through the cracks. In fact, in many instances, the SSA expects beneficiaries to request this review themselves. Ronnie's mother continues to receive monthly payments, to complete necessary paperwork, and to attend periodic reviews on behalf of her daughter. Ronnie learns that she is receiving SSI, but she is not involved in any of the administration of the money that comes to her mother every month. When she asks about it, her mother tells her that the money is meant to pay for Ronnie's care and housing, not to provide her with spending money.
Ronnie goes to college and gets a job on campus. Years later, she gets a full-time job and moves out on her own. One day, after she has been working for a few years, she is contacted by an investigator. The investigator informs her that she owes an overpayment of thirty thousand dollars to SSA. She is told that she must pay back the entire amount immediately. Ronnie tries to contact SSA to get information about why she owes this money. SSA informs her that information can only be shared with her in writing. The address SSA has on file belongs to Ronnie's mother. SSA will not let her change the mailing address on her file because she is deemed "incompetent" in the system.
Ronnie visits a local SSA office to get more information. No one can share information with her. She is told that she has a representative who is required to act on her behalf. She informs SSA that the overpayment should therefore be the responsibility of that representative. SSA informs Ronnie that she is responsible for the overpayment, though she is not entitled to information about her case unless the representative payee is present. Ronnie argues that she never received the money herself and that she was not aware it was being issued after she began to work. SSA informs her that if she fails to pay back the entire overpayment or set up a monthly payment arrangement, SSA will garnish one-third of her wages. SSA will consider reducing the overpayment only if Ronnie files a fraud report against her representative payee.
Ronnie learns that minor children who age into adulthood retain their beneficiary payee status unless the review at age seventeen determines that the beneficiary can handle his/her own affairs. Since Ronnie did not have a review, the computers at SSA automatically changed her status from that of minor child beneficiary with a representative payee (mandatory for all children) to adult beneficiary with a representative payee. The agency views adults with representative payees as incapable of handling their own affairs and administering their benefits themselves--essentially as incompetent.
Ultimately, Ronnie has to provide SSA with a letter from her physician stating that she is competent to handle her own affairs. She has to go with her mother to the SSA office near her mother's house when she submits the letter, because SSA requires that the representative payee not object to the beneficiary taking control over her own case. The field office assigned to the case is the one geographically closest to the mailing address on file, regardless of where the beneficiary lives. For Ronnie, this means the office is in a distant state.
Once Ronnie is reclassified in the system as being capable of handling her own affairs, she learns that the overpayment resulted from her earnings while she worked part-time in college. She was not involved in her SSI case, so she did not know about earnings limits or reporting requirements. In addition, though Ronnie's mother notified SSA that Ronnie was working after she got a full-time job, SSA continued to send out a monthly check. Ronnie's mother vaguely knew that Ronnie was still entitled to benefits during a transition period after she started working. She thought that SSA would know when it should stop paying benefits. However, as happens frequently, SSA did not stop sending monthly SSI checks until several years after Ronnie's mother reported Ronnie's employment. The end result was the thirty thousand-dollar overpayment.
In essence, because Ronnie's caseworker did not conduct a review when Ronnie turned seventeen, and because the SSA system automatically converts minor children with representatives to incompetent adults, Ronnie was deemed incompetent simply because of her blindness. When she tried to obtain information about her case and the reasons for the overpayment, SSA refused to share this information with her due to her status. When she tried to change the address to which SSA was sending mail, she was prohibited from doing so because she was not deemed able to handle her own affairs. When she tried to fight the overpayment, she was prevented from doing so for the same reason. She was never evaluated as to whether or not she could handle her affairs. She had to prove that she was capable and competent by providing a letter from a physician.
SSA informed Ronnie that the only way to avoid repaying the overpayment was to file a fraud claim against her representative payee and have that person prosecuted. Ronnie believed that her mother simply didn't understand the rules. Her mother used the monthly SSI checks to pay for Ronnie's food and lodging, and Ronnie couldn't allow her to be charged as a criminal. Ultimately, Ronnie entered into a settlement agreement with SSA wherein she had to pay two hundred dollars a month nearly to the end of her natural life. SSA can also redirect any income tax refunds to which Ronnie might be entitled. If Ronnie loses her job, applies for SSI in the future, or retires, SSA will likely take a portion of the benefit to which she would be entitled to cover the overpayment. Ronnie will be paying back the debt and suffering its consequences for years to come.
Ronnie is not a mythical Social Security beneficiary. Her story is all too common. Parents don't always understand the nuances of SSA requirements. Often they are not aware that minor children should have a review at age seventeen to assess whether they will continue to need a beneficiary payee in adulthood. Since blindness is constant and does not usually require medical recertification, SSA does not always insist on regular reviews. Yet the consequences of a lack of such reviews, in a broken system that defaults unreviewed beneficiaries into the category of incompetent adults, are long-lasting and severe. I understand them firsthand, because Ronnie's story is my own.
Alex was also a minor when his family began to receive Medicaid and a monthly SSI check due to his blindness. Alex's father served as his representative payee. As an adult, Alex continues to receive benefits, administered by his father. Alex does not get involved in reviews, annual financial reporting, or anything else related to his case. However, he is completely dependent on his benefits. They pay for his food and part of his family's rent, and they provide him with spending money. Alex's father manages the payments and gives Alex a monthly allowance that he can use for fun activities.
Alex's family has also become dependent on these SSI benefits. They have come to rely on the monthly checks to make ends meet. Alex's SSI checks pay for housing, food, clothing, medicines, and other necessities.
SSA intends that SSI benefits provided to minor children be used for their disability-related expenses. However, many parents view the monthly payments as being intended to pay for the child's necessary expenses, such as food and shelter. This misunderstanding is heightened by the required annual financial statement that breaks the yearly amount of SSI benefits received into categories including lodging, food, and personal supplies such as toiletries. Nonetheless, the real purpose of providing disabled children with SSI is to pay for items and equipment that they need as a direct result of their disabilities, such as access technology, transportation, and services not covered by insurance.
A parent is responsible for the financial support of his or her child, including the cost of housing and food. When parents use SSI payments to cover necessities, the money is no longer available to purchase disability-related services and equipment, and blind children are forced to go without them. Though they have food to eat and a roof over their heads, they may not have computer equipment, orientation training, or access to Braille or large print books. They become isolated and dependent on their parents and family members to access information and interact in the world.
Some parents believe they are entitled to compensation from the government because they have a blind child. This thinking is inherently damaging to the child, who is made to feel that his/her existence in the family warrants a regular apology in the form of a payoff. Recently I spoke with several parents, asking them why they receive SSI for their children. They made the following comments: "We get SSI because the government wants to reward parents of blind children." "My daughter gets SSI to make up for her blindness." "We need the money because raising kids in this country is expensive." "The government is paying us to put up with the blindness." I asked each of these parents if they would still love and take care of their children if the monthly checks stopped coming, and each of them emphatically stated that they would. Yet the message their children hear is that their blindness warrants compensation. Undoubtedly, this message will have a negative impact on the child's self-esteem and self-image.
Alex grows up to be an adult. He spends his days playing games on the Internet and his evenings playing on the Internet some more. He has a close-knit group of friends, none of whom he's ever met in person. He chats with them daily while they game, and they take cybervacations together.
Alex is perfectly content to live his life in the basement of his parents' house, as long as he has food, a computer, and the Internet. Whenever anyone asks him if he plans to get a job, his response is, "SSI will get me by."
Alex has fallen into the category of the complacent blind who have no intention of becoming contributing members of society. His monthly SSI checks pay for his necessities, and his family pays for the rest. Alex does not have high expectations for himself. He does not seek employment because he is more comfortable depending on those around him than depending on himself. He has not been exposed to mainstream society, so he is socially awkward. Consequently, he prefers his solitary computer-based existence.
Alex's story is not unique, either. I've known many people like Alex; many of them were dependent children who grew into dependent adults. They absorb the low expectations of their parents and family members, along with those imposed by society, and form low expectations of themselves. With a monthly SSI check as a safety net, they need not go out into the world to earn a living, effectively reinforcing their dependence on others and the government.
Alex is perfectly capable of gaining independence. He may need training, resources, and motivation, but he could get a job, move into a place of his own, and handle his own responsibilities. However, if he does so, he will lose his SSI benefits. Alex and his parents might find this prospect incredibly scary, as SSI serves as Alex's security.
SSI is a valuable and useful program. It has furnished many blind children and adults with resources they need to live in the world. But living in the world is not merely a matter of existing. It involves interacting with others, being productive, experiencing new things and places, demonstrating abilities rather than disabilities, and paying taxes to pay it forward to the next generation.
When used properly, SSI can foster competence. For example, Emma is an SSI beneficiary who is receiving state rehabilitation services. When she becomes gainfully employed, SSA may reimburse her state for the costs of the rehabilitation services it provided. SSA views Emma as a competent, productive, contributing member of society, and it considers the cost of her rehabilitation services as an investment in her future. Through her income taxes, Emma will repay all of the money that was spent on her in just a few years.
Ultimately, SSI can even help a beneficiary earn more than sufficient money to cover necessities and gain true independence. Adam is a student who receives SSI benefits. He used his monthly check to purchase the popular screen reader, JAWS, and a Braille notetaker, the BrailleNote. Adam's SSI payments also helped him obtain technology training, mobility instruction, and a reader while he was in college. Eventually Adam landed a wonderful job, and he is making a great deal of money. He got this job because he's a competent blind adult. He travels independently, he is a strong Braille reader and user of access technology, and he earned top grades in college. In essence, the items that SSI paid for helped him become the best qualified person for the job. Without those resources, he probably would not have gotten his job, a position that may make him very wealthy one day. In addition, these resources gave him the skills to gain true independence and self-reliance.
SSI can promote motivation among its beneficiaries. Laura is an SSI beneficiary who is searching for employment. She knows that she can't survive for very long on less than seven hundred dollars a month, and she is aware that she cannot earn more than a certain amount of money without losing all of her benefits. Laura accepted several part-time jobs in order to gain work experience and to supplement her SSI income. She stayed below the earnings limit while she worked these part-time jobs. Laura found a full-time job once she had gained sufficient experience. She will exceed the earnings limit, and she will lose her SSI benefits after a transition period. Though the job will not make her rich, she is motivated to take it. After all, she will be earning more than seven hundred dollars a month, and she will likely get promotions and raises as time passes. Laura is investing in her future and using SSI as a stepping-stone to achieve the future she wants.
In sum, SSI can be critical to and a positive influence on the futures of its beneficiaries. However, parents must be mindful of the pitfalls and consequences of receiving benefits for their children. From the beginning they must encourage their children to be involved in the administration of their benefits. They must recognize the financial consequences to the child once the child becomes an adult. Parents must consider the psychological consequences of receiving benefits.
Finally, parents must instill in their children the understanding that SSI is a resource, not a crutch. Failure to do so will result in a generation of incompetent, impoverished, unmotivated blind adults who have a sense of entitlement. Parents must teach their children that they are capable of being independent, self-motivated, productive members of society.
by Penny Duffy
From the Editor: Parents sometimes share powerful stories on the Blindkid listserv, sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). Recently Penny Duffy wrote about an incident in the life of her daughter, Abby. She developed her post into an article for Future Reflections.
My eight-year-old daughter, Abby, became blind about two years ago. She started first grade as a sighted child who might need glasses. Before Thanksgiving we realized that she was blind. Her vision loss was so severe that she couldn't tell if there was print on the page, much less read it.
At the time, I knew nothing about Braille. Fortunately, Abby has a wonderful teacher who recognized that she needed Braille from the very start. This teacher is giving her something invaluable--true literacy.
Abby didn't yet know how to read when she started first grade. After losing her sight, she had to grasp the concept of reading, learn Braille, and adjust to being blind, all at the same time. Abby often got angry. She became upset that her friends didn't have to work as hard as she did. She was annoyed that she had to read "baby books." She told me repeatedly how much she hated learning Braille.
First grade was rough for Abby. She wasn't the only one shedding tears of frustration that year! It was very rough for me, as her mom, too.
In 2011, Abby and I attended our first NFB national convention. I remember sitting in a workshop and hearing Dr. Ruby Ryles say, "Braille is not hard to learn." After watching Abby struggle through first grade, I thought, Dr. Ryles just doesn't get it! Braille is hard to learn!
I didn't say my thoughts aloud. I kept quiet and listened. As the workshop went on, I began to suspect that my own frustrations were making it harder for Abby to learn Braille.
When Abby and I returned home, I made significant efforts to build a positive attitude. Learning Braille was not the real issue for Abby. The real issue was adjusting to her blindness.
Abby's Braille skills improved greatly in second grade. She started to do assignments independently, and she got excited about reading. She began to realize that learning Braille could be a positive experience. Recently she even called her Perkins Brailler "my baby."
A few months ago, I was sitting with Abby while she read a book. "Mom!" she said suddenly.
It sounded like she wanted to say something important. "What?" I asked.
"Braille ... I like it."
Abby continues to make great progress. She is committed to be reading at grade level by the time she reaches third grade.
I wish I had known two years ago what I know today. The adjustment to blindness gets easier, and Braille really isn't hard to learn. Embrace it. Celebrate it. Braille ... I love it!
by Mindy Heppe
From the Editor: Mindy Heppe serves as pastor to two tiny Lutheran churches in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. She has taught in Ireland and Lithuania, and she is a member of the board of the Pennsylvania Parents of Blind Children. She is the mother of three children through international adoption.
Sometimes I have been accounted precocious. When I wasn't yet two years old, I climbed onto the roof of the neighbor's chicken coop. I started college just before I turned sixteen.
On the other hand, I've been a bit slow here and there. I never got around to having kids until I was in my forties. And I was fifty-two before I figured out that I am blind.
My son, Yang (affectionately known as the Yangster), led me to the NFB. When he was seven, he ran into the same parking meter three times in one summer. I don't know why that particular meter kept planting itself in his path, but after the third collision I decided it was time for him to get a white cane. The problem was that I didn't know where to get one. At that time we were homeschooling. In our district, that meant we received no services from a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) or an O&M instructor. (I know it's against the law, but that's a story for another time!) At first I thought a white cane might be a piece of medical equipment that required a doctor's prescription. Then, when I started a web search, one resource jumped out at me--the Free White Cane Program sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind. Well, that caught my attention!
I ordered a cane for my son and another one for myself, to help me teach him. I downloaded Tom Bickford's book, The Care and Feeding of the Long White Cane, and Yang and I figured out the basics. Although he didn't use the cane often, Yang had another tool in his kit.
Two years later, our state vocational rehab folks had some extra money to spend, and they asked if Yang needed anything. I suggested they provide him with some cane travel instruction. An O&M instructor came out to visit us. She gave Yang a few pointers, but she declared that he was doing fine on his own. Because Yang has some vision, she didn't seem to be interested in teaching him.
Meanwhile, I kept reading the NFB webpage. I discovered the Junior Science Academy (JSA), a week-long summer program for blind middle-school students and their parents. Yang and I attended the JSA and had a fine time. Yang found himself amid an army of kids with white canes, and he began to identify himself as blind. (He liked the science, too--for years his stated career goal has been aerospace engineer.)
I enjoyed the program, but I went home feeling somewhat unsettled. When the parents made Jello salad under sleepshades, I didn't have any of the revelations that seemed to be going on around me. What was going on? When I spilled some water putting ice-cube trays into the freezer, I grabbed paper towels and cleaned up. I thought that was the obvious thing to do, but our mentors were audibly impressed. Apparently I'd been using some nonvisual cooking skills without realizing it.
Yang and I both have albinism. When I adopted him I was startled to discover that albinism is considered a special need. I have considerably more sight than Yang does, but it is what some of us with albinism have dubbed "crap vision." People with albinism have atypically developed retinas, optic nerve hypoplasia, and nystagmus--the uncontrolled eye movements that are an ongoing attempt to focus. I don't drive, and Vocational Rehab picked up a fair chunk of my college tab.
I had a TVI when I was in school, and we had marvelous discussions. She showed me some Braille books, but as a student I read standard print without magnification. I continued to do so until middle age, when a condition called presbyopia hit me a bit harder than it does some folks. Now I'm all about magnifiers (although the tradeoff is that I can now read road signs, which came as a bit of a shock).
The upshot of all this history was a state of confusion. I went through life feeling it would be presumptuous of me to think of myself as blind when I can see so many things.
Two years after our JSA experience, Yang and I attended the NFB's Leadership and Advocacy in Washington (LAW) program. To watch your twelve-year-old functioning smoothly as part of a team advocating on Capitol Hill is one of those bust-your-buttons-with-pride moments!
However, although he was game, I realized that Yang still had some challenges self-identifying as blind. And I knew why. It was because I didn't identify as blind myself.
Near the end of the LAW Program I took aside a very gentle, totally blind Federationist and told him my story. Then I took a deep breath and asked, "So--am I blind?"
"Yes, you are," he replied without hesitation. He went on to deliver a useful metaphor. "So maybe you're powder blue and I'm navy," he said, "but we're still both blue."
I got it. Then, of course, he asked me if I wanted a cane. Well, yes! I left the program with cane in hand, a fifty-two-year-old brand-new proudly blind person--and a better role model for my blind son.
by Dr. Jessica Bachicha Ewell
From the Editor: Dr. Jessica Bachicha Ewell is an accomplished classical singer who has performed as a soloist in England, Italy, and the United States. Recently she performed at Carnegie Hall as first place winner in the Barry Alexander International Vocal Competition. Jessica won an NFB national scholarship in 2002 and was a tenBroek Fellow in 2006.
"Ready to go?" my dad asked as I came out of the dressing room, performance shoes in hand.
"Just about. I have a few minutes, and I'll wait a little while before I put these heels on."
I spoke lightly, but inside, my excitement about the upcoming performance pounded like foamy surf against the seashore.
I had been chosen as first prize winner of the Barry Alexander International Vocal Competition, and I was the only singer to represent the United States. This was the day of the winners' concert. I was preparing to step out onto the stage of Carnegie Hall.
I would open the performance with Gabriel Fauré's "Pie Jesu." In my mind, I went over the music for the thousandth time. I also imagined my entrance and exit and every gesture that would bring the audience deeper into the confiding entreaty of the piece.
As a blind classical singer, I know that movement and facial expression are essential aspects of my communication with the audience. In our extremely visual world, it isn't enough to give a beautiful and authentic musical interpretation. People need to see my interpretation being lived and expressed through my physical presence--in the gestures and facial expressions that tell the story of the song. As I have learned this skill, I have often reflected on how important it is--and not only for blind performers. All blind children and adults need to know how to communicate in the nonverbal language that is used and taken for granted by our sighted peers.
For me, acquiring nonverbal fluency has been much like learning a foreign language. As in language study, vocabulary, connection, and confidence are three key areas that constantly must grow and interact with one another.
In order to communicate using a spoken language, the speaker and listener must share a common vocabulary. The same holds true for nonverbal communication. What emotions or intentions do certain gestures or facial expressions convey?
Until I was ten or eleven, I thought that to wave good-bye one held one's arm out straight in the direction of the departing person and flapped the hand and fingers loosely in the air. One day, while I was confidently bidding farewell to some friends who were driving away, my little brother came up to me laughing. "What are you doing?" he asked.
"Standing here," I replied.
"No, with your hand?" he persisted.
"I'm waving, of course."
"You don't wave like that!" He proceeded to show me how to put my hand up, palm outward, and move it calmly side to side from the wrist.
"Oh!" I exclaimed, a little embarrassed. "I never knew."
Facial expressions also form much of this nonverbal vocabulary. Until I was in college, I thought that a frown involved only the lips. I never knew how it looked for someone to wrinkle the forehead in anger. I was working with a voice teacher on an aria, and she told me to look angrier. I frowned as hard as I could, but she kept saying the same thing. Finally she saw what was missing, and she had me feel her forehead as she made the expression. Many small revelations such as this one have augmented my nonverbal vocabulary, providing amusing occasions along the way.
How many times do we, as blind people, think a gesture means something that it doesn't mean? How often do we develop our own ways of communicating emotion, ways that do not correspond to the social norms sighted people learn from observation? Parents and teachers can build a blind child's nonverbal vocabulary by making teaching moments out of ordinary occurrences. Waving, beckoning a friend from across the room, or hailing a taxi are all gestures to be learned through description and touch.
One can spend hours reading a French dictionary, but unless one practices the new words, most of them will run through the mind like water through a sieve. In the same way, a blind child needs frequent opportunities for practice in order to become fluent in nonverbal language. She also needs to connect what she practices with the world around her. For example, a teacher might show a blind child how to make the movements that accompany a particular song. The child can learn to move along with her sighted classmates, but the learning can go much farther. The teacher might go over the movements later with the child, explaining why these specific gestures were chosen to express the words or emotions of the song. "You open and raise your arms on this line because it's about flying, and this gesture brings to mind the motion of a bird's wings."
Through honest and repeated feedback from someone whose judgment the blind child trusts, she can cultivate her kinesthetic sense. Over time she can learn to perform gestures intuitively. The body naturally remembers how certain positions and expressions feel from the inside. This memory is sometimes called a sixth sense. Paying attention to this sense takes practice. It also requires confirmation from other people that what the kinesthetic sense is saying actually expresses the intended emotion. For me, this connection comes through honest feedback from teachers and coaches. These professionals tell me whether my gestures and expressions really convey what I think they do. Guided by their constructive criticism and their affirmations, I begin to form a kinesthetic memory of the desired expression. After repeated affirmations that I can recreate the effect at will, I am ready to test it in the real world of the stage. There, if I am successful, my expressions can easily be understood.
Finally, if one gets top grades in writing French but quails before the necessity of speaking French to the Parisians, one will never attain fluency. Again, the parallel with nonverbal language is clear. Confidence must pervade every movement and expression. There is no "halfway there" in a gesture. Even if the gesture is incorrect, carrying it through with a definite intention will give it a meaning it would otherwise lack. In my case, this confidence took years to mature. When I was a child, I took part in classroom activities that involved gestures only with reluctance. I felt I stood out from my peers because someone had to show me what to do. Even when I learned the gestures, I felt anxious. I worried that I wasn't doing the motions correctly, and I wondered whether my classmates were laughing at me. To make matters worse, I didn't know why moving my arm or taking steps in a certain way meant anything. Frequently, the motions did not seem to connect to each other. I wanted to give up. I did not understand why the other children thought making these gestures was fun.
My inhibitions began to melt away when I took ballroom dance lessons in my teen years and at college. Within a harmonious whole, individual motions made more sense to me. I experienced the splendid freedom of graceful movement.
"Complete every gesture," a movement coach once told me. "Whatever you do, don't let your arm just hang there." Although this advice applies directly to performance, it is helpful in social nonverbal communication as well. Once the blind child has a selection of gestural "words" to use and enough experience to know which ones serve his purpose, he must not hesitate to use them repeatedly, with a variety of people in a variety of situations. When he decides to make a gesture or facial expression, he must not hang back or do it halfheartedly for fear of making a mistake. He should not "second guess" himself. By encouraging blind children to act with confidence and openness to the unique emotional gifts and demands of each moment, we can bring them into a fuller participation in the nuances that make social life so complicated and rewarding.
by Tina Tan Egle
From the Editor: Born in Burma, Tina Tan Egle finds the energy to combine active careers as a dentist and college track coach. She is also tireless in her quest for resources to help her son, Justin, who is blind and has additional disabilities.
I am the mother of a sixteen-year-old boy, Justin. He is totally blind, nonverbal, and autistic. He was born at twenty-three weeks gestation--just four months and two days. He weighed less than one pound. Due to his extreme prematurity and low birth weight, plus his 100 percent dependence on oxygen, the doctors and others specialists on the neonatal intensive care unit believed he had no chance of survival.
Within the first week, Justin became lethargic and ill. After three days, blood tests revealed that he had contracted a deadly E. coli infection through cross contamination by nurses caring for other babies in the unit. With his kidneys and lungs shutting down, tiny Justin blew up like a Goodyear blimp. The NICU physicians were ready to discontinue his life support, but I would not sign the permission forms. Within five days, his kidneys started to function again and he was out of danger.
After five months in the hospital, Justin was able to suck from a bottle, and he had gained three pounds. We took him home with an oxygen tank and a heart monitor. By that time I was convinced I had a very determined child who wanted to live. I was sure there was a reason he was still alive after everything he had endured.
Justin had numerous surgeries in an attempt to prevent his retinas from detaching. I took him to an ophthalmologist in Detroit who was recommended highly. Despite everything, however, Justin was left totally blind.
As he reached the age of two, Justin began to say a few words. He entered a birth to three program through our neighborhood public school. All of the therapists commented that Justin was an intelligent, delightful, and happy child. He learned quickly, especially when sound was involved. He loved to hear animal sounds, and he loved to use the IntelliTool Talking Program. The program allowed him to play many sound-based games.
When Justin was three and a half, we wanted to enroll him in pre-kindergarten. The school system required an MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) immunization. My husband, Mike, and I were concerned about having him get this shot. He already had been through so much, and we were worried about a possible reaction. Reluctantly we decided to go ahead.
As soon as we got home from the doctor that day, Justin developed a high fever and went into violent seizures. He was turning blue as we rushed him to the ER. That was one of the worst days our family has ever lived through. From that day on, Justin has not been able to speak. He can only utter "Hi," "Bye," and "Papa." He began to rock constantly, and he started to have nighttime seizures. I took him to a series of pediatric neurologists, who confirmed my suspicions. They diagnosed Justin with autism and placed him on medications to control his seizures.
[Note: Scientific research has not found any link between immunizations and autism, despite anecdotal reports. However, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports a small risk of febrile seizures (seizures triggered by fever) after immunizations. The CDC states that "genetic predisposition and other factors such as cerebral palsy, delayed development, or other neurological abnormalities increase a child's risk for developing epilepsy after a febrile seizure" <http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/Vaccines/MMRV/qa_FebrileSeizures.html>.]
Mike and I were devastated! Justin's future looked bleak. What could we do to help him? We felt we had nowhere to turn.
We took Justin to one speech therapist after another, driving all over the state. Nothing they tried ever helped him communicate. The speech therapists gave up on him, but I could not. There had to be a way for Justin to express himself. I was certain he understood what was going on around him; he just couldn't tell us what he was thinking.
Over the years we have moved three times in our efforts to get Justin the education he deserves. He has been in school systems where he was the only blind student, and he was always misunderstood by the educators. Instead of giving him the technology evaluations necessary for a blind, nonverbal child with autism, all three school districts gave the standard tests used for sighted students with special needs. Of course, Justin failed every test. He scored extremely low on IQ tests. The psychologists added another diagnosis to the list: severe mental retardation. They claimed that Justin was not teachable at any academic level.
I tried to have Justin's teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs) teach him Braille, but year after year they refused. That diagnosis of mental retardation followed him like a black mark through his life in school. He spent his days listening to music and playing Wii games at school. I tried to teach him Braille at home, but after a while he was reluctant to learn with me. He didn't think Braille was fun. He wanted to have fun at home as he did at school.
For a time Justin's teachers experimented with an electronic device that provided speech output. Due to his autism, Justin would press the keys repetitively. The teachers were afraid he would break the equipment. They never let us have it for home use, and they stopped using it at school.
The teachers said that Justin got too excited when they let him use the computer. They didn't believe he would be able to use it to communicate. I started teaching Justin to use the computer keyboard at home. I downloaded free demo versions of the IntelliTool Talking Program and the screen reader called JAWS. Justin loved computer time. I gave him computer time as a reward after we worked on cane use, self-feeding, toileting, climbing stairs using alternate feet, and other skills. Justin is very pleased with himself when he accomplishes a task.
Justin was approaching his thirteenth birthday, and he was in seventh grade. He still was not receiving Braille instruction, and he had no communication device. I knew he needed a device that would help bridge the gap between his receptive and expressive language.
In the spring of 2009 I learned about the NFB of Illinois (NFBI), and I signed up as a new member. I will never forget the day NFBI President Patti Chang called to invite me to the annual parents' conference. Justin and I felt totally embraced by the NFBI members and parents. I felt we had come home.
I learned a great deal at that conference. For the first time I heard about the School Association for Special Education Vision Program (SASED), a program for blind/visually impaired students in the Chicago suburbs. I spoke to many parents whose children were enrolled in the SASED program, and they all were very pleased. I wasted no time. On Monday morning I called to make an appointment to observe the class at the middle school. I was amazed by what I saw. This was the school system Justin had needed since he was three years old!
With the help of Patti Chang and NFBI Vice President Debbie Kent Stein, my husband and I convinced our school district to let Justin go for a trial visit to the middle school in the SASED program. That visit was the turning point for Justin. He totally fit into the program. The vision coordinator and the TVIs recognized that the key to learning for Justin was communication. Once he could relay his thoughts, his true learning potential would be unlocked.
Justin started at his new school in November 2009. On his first day he came home with a communication device called the Fusion. The Fusion is a portable device designed for people who cannot speak, and it is fully accessible for someone who is blind. It speaks aloud the words Justin types.
One winter day Justin removed the Fusion from his backpack and typed out, "Mama, I am so cold, can you please give me a sweater?" It was the first time my child had ever called me Mama! I had waited for thirteen years! I was in tears.
That was just the beginning. The TVIs and aides all work very hard, and Justin does, too. He is eager to learn as much and as fast as he can. Justin can type faster now, since he has the same equipment at school and at home. His new teachers agree with me that the necessary tools must be at home as well as at school. Our children need to use their technology in all environments. Justin takes his Fusion to the park, to restaurants, and to family gatherings. He types to communicate with everyone he meets.
The teachers at Justin's school are experienced in working with blind students who have additional disabilities, including those who are nonverbal. Justin is flourishing, and we can see in his face that he is happy to be understood. Now he emails simple greetings to his friends and family. He sends me three or four short emails per week from his technology class, and I look forward to reading what he has to say about his day at school. His dad got jealous because Justin only wrote to me. One morning, Mike asked Justin to send him email, too, and Justin complied. Now he emails to both of us routinely.
Justin can use the iPad and go on the Internet. He has learned to open up YouTube files so he can listen to music and movies. He types faster and more accurately. He deletes his incorrect spellings and retypes correctly. He does not use the spell checker yet. I want Justin to build his confidence and accuracy by correcting himself.
The school gave Justin JAWS and the new Lite Touch Braille Writer. He loves using both of them, and he works on them constantly. He actually likes doing homework!
We want Justin to be involved in activities outside school, just like any other teen. I found the perfect piano and swim instructor for him. She is Heidi Musser, a blind triathlete and musician. Heidi and Justin bonded very well. Heidi and her mother, Erika, discovered that Justin has perfect pitch. When he hears a song for the first time he can play it back, whether it is classical, jazz, or rock. Heidi and Justin can play the piano side by side for hours. Lessons take a lot of time, but their shared love for music is undeniable.
When Heidi and Erika started to give Justin swim lesson at the YMCA two years ago, he was afraid to get his hair wet. Now he can float, and he can stay down under the water holding his breath.
What would we do without today's technology? Justin totally relies on it day and night, and it allows him to show his true self. He opens up to people instantaneously and shows his humorous side to those who are close to him. He makes me laugh at his jokes.
I have always told stories to Justin, and now he tells me stories, too. When he comes home from school he tells me about his day from start to finish by typing on the Fusion or writing on his BrailleNote. One day he told me that his taxi passed an accident on the way to school. He typed that there were police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks. When I asked the driver about it, he confirmed that it happened the way Justin described it. When they had a fire drill at school, Justin typed out that they had to evacuate the building, and that the sirens were loud.
Justin tells me how he likes my cooking. He types out what he wants to buy at the grocery store. He tells Dad when the TV is too loud. Justin and his best friend, Max, a boy in his class, spend their downtime at school playing music and games on the computer. They also email to each other.
Having technology in our home has been a huge gain. Justin is learning to use his equipment properly, and he knows how to take care of it. He charges the Fusion nightly; he turns it off to save the battery life. He is showing us that he can be responsible.
In the fall semester of ninth grade, Justin received an award as a Distinctive Honor Roll Student. He earned A’s in all seven subjects, and his name appeared on the Dean's List. On the Honor Roll assembly day, March 15, 2012, he went up on the stage and shook hands with the dean and members of the school staff. We have just received a letter confirming that once again Justin attained straight A status for the spring semester. He will add another Distinction Honor Roll Certificate to his portfolio. Justin has also received two certificates from his speech therapists for his effective use of communication technology. We are all very proud of Justin's achievements.
Justin expresses that he would like to go to college and become a computer programmer. He would also love to be a nighttime DJ. We feel that he is going to be successful. He is a very determined young man.
Technology, music, and the right educational environment have opened the way for Justin's success. Still, we know that there is much more work to do. Justin has many skills to learn and a great deal of knowledge to absorb. But his growing confidence is priceless.
Typical kids love high tech devices, and our blind kids are no different. Our kids deserve the same access to technology that sighted kids have. Through sound, Justin actually learns to use technology more quickly than I can using my vision.
I work two jobs, but I always find time to share with Justin. I want to learn what he is learning, and I don't want to miss any magic moments. We have many of those.
Justin is truly a blessing to me. He has enriched my life and taught me to be humble. He has helped me appreciate many things I always took for granted. As I watch him grow into a young man with a purpose in life, I feel joyful and content.
Justin has escaped from being a prisoner of silence. He now feels free. Words cannot describe our gratitude to the NFB of Illinois for pointing us in the right direction and to the SASED Vision staff for their dedication and expertise. Mike and I are eternally grateful to our families; to Heidi and Erika Musser; and to Heather Fritz of Wisconsin, a TVI who performed vision assessments and technology evaluations. Their constant support, prayers, and love have transformed Justin from a mysterious child to a well-mannered, sociable young man.
An Interview with Bart Hickey
From the Editor: In the National Federation of the Blind we often state that, with the proper training and attitude, a blind person can perform any job that does not inherently require sight. Bart Hickey is a fine example. In an interview he told his story to the readers of Future Reflections. To watch Bart in a video, go to <www.vimeo.com> and type the Intimidator into the search box.
Deborah Kent Stein: Please tell me a bit about the work you do.
Bart Hickey: I'm an auto mechanic, and I run my own business in Alsip, Illinois. It's called Bart's Automotive and Towing Company.
DKS: I bet people are surprised when they find out what you do. Not many blind people are working in that field.
BH: Well, they say it isn't normal, but I'm definitely not normal!
DKS: How did you learn so much about cars?
BH: My dad worked on old cars a lot when I was growing up, and he would show me everything he was doing. I loved getting my hands on the engines and learning how they worked. I was very lucky, because Dad wasn't afraid to let me do things. He never saw my blindness as a problem that would get in my way. I rode a bike, I swam, went skating--I had a lot of friends in the neighborhood, and I did whatever they were doing.
Dad died when I was eleven, and my family went through some tough times. When my mom had car trouble, I'd pitch in and troubleshoot, the way Dad used to. After a while, other relatives and friends started asking me to help them out with their cars. The more I worked on cars, the more I learned. A friend's grandfather was an auto mechanic, and he taught me a lot. I learned by doing. I hung around his shop, and people got to know me. I built kind of a network.
DKS: Where did you go to school?
BH: I attended a resource room in one of the Chicago public schools until I finished eighth grade. That's where I learned Braille and cane travel. I've always been totally blind. I was born premature, and I developed what they call ROP [retinopathy of prematurity]. After grade school I went to an all-boys Catholic high school.
DKS: What did you do after high school?
BH: I attended a community college for two years. My second year I signed up to take a couple of courses on automobile mechanics. The instructor really didn't want me to be in his class. He kept trying to get me to quit.
DKS: Did you stick it out?
BH: Oh, I sure did! We had a big project where each student worked as part of a team, rebuilding a motor. Ours ran when we got done. That was so exciting!
DKS: Where did you work when you finished school?
BH: I tried to get a job with a garage, but nobody would hire me. They just didn't believe a blind guy could do the work. I spent five years knocking on doors. In the meantime, I had to have a job, so I went to work as a darkroom technician in a hospital, developing X-rays. I knew I wasn't going anywhere with that job. New technology was coming in, and darkroom work was a dying career.
Meanwhile, I kept working on cars in my spare time. That's what I really wanted to be doing. Finally, I figured out that if I couldn't find a job working for somebody else, I might as well go into business for myself. I opened Bart's Automotive in 1992.
DKS: What methods have you found for doing your work without sight?
BH: I use a lot of tools that have sound or speech. One of them is a talking volt meter. There's one called a variac that gives tones to indicate different resistances. I use an audible photo cell for detecting lights, and I have a talking air gauge for testing tire pressure.
I've added Braille labels to a lot of the things I use. For instance, I have a lot of rolls of wire of different types and thicknesses, so I mark them with tape that I label. I cut little notches for the marks on my measuring tools.
DKS: I know that computers control more and more functions in cars these days. Do computers make your work easier or harder?
BH: For me, being a mechanic has gotten much harder. To diagnose a problem today, I need to read the code that the computer puts out. The check engine light is one example. It can mean a lot of different things.
At this point, I've been in business long enough that I have people working under me. They tell me what the lights show, and I tell them what we've got to do. I have enough knowledge that I can supervise their work and make sure everything is running properly when we're through.
DKS: What are your plans for the future?
BH: I've got a 1969 Dodge Dart, and I've been rebuilding it. I want to go out to Utah and drive it on the Bonneville Speedway. A blind guy drove a car at the Daytona 500, and I want to drive at Bonneville. It's wide open desert, nobody out there, nothing to get in my way. I'm trying to make it happen.
by Richard Holloway
From the Editor: Richard Holloway serves as vice president of the Georgia Parents of Blind Children. His daughter, Kendra, is in the fourth grade. He frequently shares his insights and expertise by writing articles for Future Reflections.
"Does Kendra like to watch movies?" my neighbor asked one day. Before I could answer her, she got that familiar look on her face--the look I see whenever someone thinks they have made a social blunder regarding my nine-year-old daughter, who is totally blind.
"Yes, she does," I replied. My neighbor was so busy apologizing that at first she didn't hear me. Then she seemed to think I was just trying to be polite. But it's true--Kendra likes movies very much, especially when DVS (Descriptive Video Service) is available.
According to WGBH-TV, the Boston-based PBS station that pioneered the service, "Descriptions make television programs, feature films, DVDs, museum exhibits, theme park attractions, and other visual media accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired by providing descriptive narration of key visual elements." My daughter loves DVS. It provides information that she truly craves, and it allows her to feel more fully included in a lot of the things her peers enjoy.
DVS offers a carefully planned description of elements of a film or TV show that are understood visually by the typically sighted viewer. It is even available for some live events, such as plays, circuses, and presidential inaugurations. All her life I have tried to describe as much of the world as possible to my daughter. DVS is another way of doing the same thing. Conveniently, with DVS, the description is simply there for the listening.
If you have ever listened to a baseball game on the radio, you have already heard an audio described program. The sportscaster assumes that the listener cannot watch the game, so he/she provides a verbal commentary. If you are the parent of a blind child, you probably do the same thing. A program is on, your child is interested in it, so you try to explain what is happening on the TV screen. The nice thing about DVS for a TV show or movie is that the descriptions are scripted. They are carefully planned to give as much important information as possible about a show. It would be difficult and exhausting to do this on the fly.
With audio description for a show or movie, it is important that the describer not talk through dialogue or song lyrics. Audio description is inserted carefully at quiet points between lines of dialogue. If there are sound effects or music in the background, the movie audio is typically "dipped," or made quieter, while the describer speaks.
As a sighted listener to numerous DVS films, I enjoy following what is happening on the screen when I'm in the next room or driving the car. DVS definitely makes crosscountry drives more tolerable for our family. My two younger children, one blind and one sighted, can watch show after show, sharing and enjoying a common experience.
How can you track down DVS videos and broadcasts? I have found a number of options.
DVS is probably best known for home video use. A few years back, the best way to watch a video with DVS was to purchase a videocassette or borrow one from a lending library. The choices were limited and the sources for loan or purchase were few. Videocassettes with DVS were hard to come by, but they were easy to use. The tape always played with audio description, as long as you had the right version.
A few of these old VHS tapes remain in circulation, but times have changed. The DVD is now the medium of choice for most home video buyers. DVDs dominate the selections from lending libraries and video rental kiosks as well. A DVD can have multiple audio tracks from which to choose, although some have only one. One disk may have English only. A second may list Spanish and English, allowing you to select between the two languages through the menu options. Still another disk may offer multiple languages and so-called "director's tracks." Any of these disks may include DVS in English as well. (I have yet to run across a single foreign-language DVS track here in the U.S.).
There are various ways to identify disks with DVS content. On a DVD (including a Blu-ray DVD) you'll find any available DVD audio tracks in the audio languages menu. Select DVS as you would any language option. The exact term used may vary. Some newer disks also include an easy startup screen where the DVS can be selected as soon as the disk is loaded, without the need to navigate through complicated menus.
Another way to simplify this process depends on your DVD player and remote. Some machines offer an "Audio" button that lets you jump from one audio track to the next, with no menu access required at all.
A number of titles are released in multiple DVD versions; some have DVS and others do not. In some cases, later rental versions of a DVD have the descriptive video track removed, although it was available with earlier versions. One major movie distributor has recently agreed to stop deleting the DVS tracks on future rental releases.
In some cases, you may find that only the standard DVD release has DVS included, while the Blu-ray disk does not have that option. However, in the case of one recent film, The Incredibles, I found that the opposite was true; only the Blu-ray release included audio description. Read the packages carefully before you buy, and be aware that the details of DVS apply only to the feature film itself. In general, DVS is not available for supplemental content.
Unfortunately, with TV broadcasts, DVS is somewhat more confusing. If you search around on your cable TV box, you may find a setting that allows you to select for DVS or audio description. However, chances are you won't find any DVS programming there. Why not? For one thing, few shows that are broadcast have DVS available. Unlike closed captioning for the hearing impaired, DVS is not yet a federally mandated requirement. Beyond that there seems to be no clear explanation. The DVS option has not been implemented on any system I have ever checked. When audio descriptions actually are broadcast, you'll find them under alternative languages, generally listed as "Spanish."
If you use TiVo® or another DVR system to record programs, you may be wondering whether you can record DVS programs to watch at a later time. The answer is yes (at least for TiVo), but it is a little complicated. As mentioned before, you'll probably find that any programs with DVS on your cable system are broadcast under "Spanish." The problem is that many other programs are actually broadcast in Spanish through the same menu selection. You'll have to select a default language to record on your TiVo. If you select Spanish and there is a DVS track, you'll get DVS English, but if there is Spanish, you'll get Spanish instead. Even more confusing is the fact that sometimes a station will broadcast with a second language track turned on but no sound feed; you can end up with no audio at all on your recording.
The confusion doesn't end there. A few channels rebroadcast entirely unrelated audio on the Spanish track. For example, one station here in Atlanta broadcasts local weather information on that second audio channel. I think this is a fairly common practice; I'm aware of a station doing something similar in Dallas.
You need to know one more thing about language selections on broadcast programs. If you tune into a channel that broadcasts with Spanish as the primary language, you generally will not find audio with the "Spanish" selection. The audio will be found under "English." (HBO Latino is a good example of this situation.) In most cases, though, the best way to find a DVS track is to search for "Spanish" audio options.
If you have ever watched a recorded show with closed captioning, you probably discovered that you can turn it on and off at will. You can select between various audio tracks in the same way while a show is being broadcast. When you use a DVR to record, however, most systems (including TiVo) only record the active audio selection. This means that once a program is recorded in a format other than nondescribed English, you cannot change the recording. It also means that if you switch settings mid-recording, the way you made changes is exactly how the recorded show will play back. If you switch in the middle from English to DVS, the description will start in the middle of the program. Closed captions are recorded separately and can be switched on and off at will, even when playing back a recording. As far as I am aware, all of the DVRs (such as TiVo) record only the active audio track to save disk space; audio tracks take a lot more space than the data for the text used in closed captioning.
From WGBH I obtained a list of PBS programs supplied with audio description. However, I was never able to locate any of these programs through our local PBS affiliate. Ultimately, the general manager of our Atlanta PBS station explained that they had stopped broadcasting with the DVS option. "Georgia Public Broadcasting has broadcast descriptive video in the past," I was told, "but ran into a significant amount of confusion among viewers who received it, didn't want it, and didn't know how to turn it off because of the variety of methods of selecting or de-selecting it on the various televisions from multiple manufacturers. Our engineers found themselves spending a considerable amount of time responding to complaints and then talking viewers through the options. Initially we thought the calls would end after a time, but they kept coming. So eventually we abandoned the practice of delivering DVS. We received very few complaints about it no longer being offered." He went on to say, "Now that we're broadcasting digitally, DVS is handled differently from in the past. We'll take another look at what would be involved in offering it and what the likely impact would be for viewers who don't want it. I'll be happy to get back to you once we know more."
That exchange occurred over a year ago. So far, the station has offered no additional information. I suspect that few people complained because few people knew the programming was available in the first place. It is hard for people to complain about losing something when they don't know they've lost it.
Ours is not the only station that doesn't supply available DVS programming. I have tried to record shows with DVS from two other local stations that receive some described programing from network sources. Although I tried on several occasions, the shows simply were not broadcast that way. I tried to contact both of the affiliates, but neither one bothered to respond to my inquiries.
Not only does the existence of a program with DVS fail to guarantee that it will be broadcast on your local affiliate. Some networks, such as Nickelodeon, maintain multiple subnetworks with differing standards. The original Nickelodeon channel shows certain programs with DVS, such as Dora the Explorer, yet the exact same shows on Nick 2 do not include DVS. I attempted to contact Nickelodeon multiple times for an explanation. So far, the network has failed to respond.
You may be surprised to learn that you can watch a limited number of films with DVS in the movie theater. Sometimes the service is available the first week of a run, or even on the first day of a new release! Interestingly, description may be available in the theaters for films that do not have DVS when the DVD version appears.
To enjoy DVS in the theater, a moviegoer wears special headphones with a built-in audio receiver. A data disc is loaded into a special system that simulcasts the audio description only. The user hears the description through the headphones while listening to the rest of the movie sound over the main speakers in the theater.
The best source of information about described movies is a website called Captionfish (<http://www.captionfish.com>). Be aware that the primary function of the site is to list theaters that show movies with the much more widely available captioning services for the hearing impaired. Go to the filter and select "Descriptive Video." Once you find a described movie that is airing in your community, check with the theater. Since few patrons use DVS, often theaters don't maintain the equipment or keep the headsets charged. I have attended movies that were scheduled to run with DVS, only to be told that it was not present on the supplied media. When I have talked in advance with theater managers, they have been more than happy to make sure that DVS is working properly. DVS is still fairly new in some places, so be patient. Over time, more shows probably will be available, and the system should work better in general.
From time to time, audio description is available at live programs and events. The descriptions are scripted to some degree, but since the event is live, they are created or modified on the fly as the situation warrants. As an example, we have taken Kendra to described programs at the Big Apple Circus, where she wore headphones similar to the ones used in the theater for DVS. A pair of audio describers, much like sportscasters, explained various aspects of the show. Not only were the actions described; the animals, costumes, and details of the performance were explained as well. Blind audience members learned how big the animals were, what they might feel like, and when an acrobat was jumping onto a horse or swinging on a trapeeze overhead. Pretty exciting!
On a recent school field trip to our aquarium here in Atlanta, Kendra was loaned a set of headphones and a small digital recorder. The recorder contained descriptions of various exhibits, and she could call them up at will. With this system, Kendra heard about the contents of nearby exhibits while her friends were looking at them. Without audio descriptions, the trip would have been a boring day of walking past big walls of glass. Instead, Kendra shared an exciting day of learning and fun with her friends.
Last year, while we attended the 2011 NFB convention in Orlando, Florida, we took the kids to Disneyworld. We found interesting accommodations in the guest services office, such as a large tactile map of the park. We also were able to borrow a machine similar to the one Kendra used at the Atlanta Aquarium. Disney, however, takes things a step farther. As the user gets within a certain distance of a particular section of the park, such as "Tomorrowland," the appropriate description begins automatically. The action during certain rides is also described as the user rides through them. Again, this was a delightful treat for our daughter. I understand that Disney intends to expand this service, adding more rides to the available list and installing the system in other Disney parks.
While searching for DVS programs on the website of the TBS network, I found an indication that they do not broadcast any DVS programming. This was surprising, since TBS's sister network, Turner Classic Movies, lists about one hundred films normally broadcast with DVS. On a whim, I checked TBS several times and found at least one movie being broadcast with audio description.
Some months later, I was watching A Christmas Story, a show that TBS runs for twenty-four hours each year on Christmas Day. On the next-to-last showing for the year, I switched to Spanish, and what do you know? DVS was running! I set my TiVo to record the last showing of the year with the audio switched to Spanish, and it worked. Now I have a copy of A Christmas Story with audio description stored on my DVR, ready to watch next Christmas season.
If all of this sounds too confusing to bother with, I want to point out that DVS follows the pattern we have seen with many other programs and services for the blind. At first they aren't available. Then, when they become options, access is very complicated. Over time, the system is simplified, and bugs are worked out. Ultimately, these services and adaptations become commonplace.
DVDs with DVS are relatively simple to use now, especially if sighted assistance is available when selecting the correct menu items. As I mentioned before, newer disks sometimes provide a direct way to reach the DVS option. Once developers recognize the need for an accessible system to activate the adapted programming, the situation may improve. Finding and accessing DVS in TV programs remains complicated, but other services are straightforward. These include described live performances and prerecorded descriptions at theme parks and other venues. Programs like these have meant a great deal to our daughter, and we seek them out whenever possible.
In some ways, DVS is the counterpart for the blind and visually impaired to closed captioning for the hearing impaired and deaf communities. Broadcasters were slow to adapt to the need for closed captioning until the federal government required compliance under multiple acts, including the Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990 and an additional act passed in 2002. It now appears that the need for DVS is coming to the forefront, with Sec. 202 of S. 3304, the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010. The act is a fairly complicated piece of legislation, but it is clear that part of the package is intended to make DVS programming for broadcast more available, starting first in the major television markets and adding more markets and programming over time. Section 204 even specifies that "... functions shall be accompanied by audio output ..." to assist the blind in navigating through menus to access these features, so there is a clear potential for progress on the horizon.
DVS is great, but it can't begin to answer all of the questions a blind child may have about places, actions, and events. As a parent or teacher, you don't have to wait for a recording to explain visual aspects of a walk down the street or a trip to the store. The more information your child or student gains about the world around him or her, the faster he/she will build a knowledge base and develop a concrete understanding of the fascinating world in which we live.
<http://main.wgbh.org/wgbh/pages/mag/alldvsmovies.html> - This link will take you to a list of over 800 films that have been described by WGBH in Boston. Many films that are not on this list have been described by other services. Once you know which movies have been described, you can keep an eye out for your favorites. Check to find out whether the DVD you encounter or the broadcast on your schedule runs with DVS.
If you've bought many recent DVDs for your kids, especially releases by Dreamworks, you may discover that you already own a number of described videos. This time last year, our family owned one or two movies with DVS for the kids. Now we have a shelf with roughly forty videos for the kids to watch, including cartoons and other animations as well as live action films. We even found a collection of all six Star Wars films in Blu-ray with DVS. I must say those movies make our family movie nights a lot more fun for me!
The following list contains a number of shows provided by various networks. Keep in mind that local affiliates may or may not rebroadcast these shows with the DVS options available.
PBS, Daytime Shows
Barney and Friends
Between the Lions
Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman
It's A Big Big World
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (Select episodes of the series air with description.)
Sagwa, The Chinese Siamese Cat
Sesame Street (Some episodes are offered with DVS, though it is unclear which ones from what I was able to find.)
Simply Ming (Select episodes of this series air with description.)
Thomas and Friends
The Victory Garden (Select episodes of this series air with description.)
PBS, Prime Time
Lidia Celebrates America
NCIS (Dick Charles)
NCIS: Los Angeles
Criminal Minds (Bob Gelbart)
Without a Trace (Dick Charles)
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (Bob Gelbart)
Dora the Explorer (Narrators include Kate Loman and Tom Glinn.)
Go, Diego, Go! (Descriptions for all of the series are read by Kate Loman.)
The Fairly Odd Parents (Descriptions are read by Joel Snyder, who also reads the descriptions in the scripts for Sesame Street.)
My Life as a Teenage Robot
Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide (Joel Snyder)
Rugrats (Kate Loman reads the descriptions for all 1990s episodes and all from 2000-2003, with Tom Glinn reading the descriptions for the final season.)
Jimmy Neutron (Tom Glinn reads the descriptions for seasons 1 and 2; Kate Loman reads the descriptions for the rest of the series.)
Team Umizoomi and Bubble Guppies (Unknown narration reads the script and announces for Milli, Geo, and Bot and Molly, Gilly, Nonny, Mr Grouper, Goby, Deema and Oona and instrumentals in all the new episodes.)
Lazy Town (Scripts read by Gina Deere at CaptionMax were previously aired on Nick.)
The Simpsons (Miles Neff reads the scripts.)
Turner Classic Movies (TCM)
Various films (over 100) are listed on WGBH's DVS page on TCM
by Darian Smith
From the Editor: Darian Smith is earning a degree in recreation management at San Francisco State University. He serves as second vice president of the National Association of Blind Students (NABS).
I first got involved with community service when I was a teenager. I helped create recreational programs for blind youth and seniors in San Francisco. I enjoyed the experience and appreciated what it gave me, but eventually I wanted more of a challenge.
One summer, while I attended a program sponsored by one of the National Federation of the Blind training centers, I met a group of young people who were serving with an AmeriCorps program called the National Civilian Community Corps. They were doing various kinds of work in and around the building. I learned that they got the chance to travel the country, meet all sorts of people, and gain new skills. I was excited by their stories, and eventually I looked into AmeriCorps for myself. I found out that I could go anywhere in the country and challenge myself to learn new things and meet new people.
When I looked a little further into AmeriCorps, I learned that the program offers many incentives for youth to give their time to national and community service. They include a small living allowance, skills and experience to add to one's résumé, and education awards that can help pay for college.
I discovered that AmeriCorps provided many opportunities for me to serve close to home in the San Francisco Bay Area and all across California. However, I wanted to see as much of the country as I could and to get a mix of experiences. I decided to explore the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), the program in which I ultimately enrolled.
NCCC (N triple C) is an intensive ten-month community service experience. Members range between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four. They work on teams to address the most pressing needs of the nation's communities.
NCCC teams work on a series of service learning projects that last for six to eight weeks. These experiences may involve education, the environment, construction, disaster relief, or unmet human needs. Each team is based on one of five regional campuses. Team members train on campus and are deployed to any state within the region that the campus serves.
Of course, the prospect of trying something dramatically new was a little scary. Fortunately, I had the longstanding support of my family, my mother in particular. She always encouraged me to try new things, especially when travel was involved.
I would like to share an overview of my ten-month AmeriCorps journey. It was a journey that allowed me to learn about myself and my country. It showed me that passionate, committed people, both sighted and blind, can take part in changing society for the better. I also learned how my sighted peers viewed me as a blind person. I saw the limitations they set upon themselves by setting limitations upon me.
Corps Training Institute marked the beginning of my AmeriCorps NCCC journey. The first days were very hectic. After I checked in, I met my roommates, the people on my team, and the people in my unit. I met a lot of these new people within my first few hours on campus. They were wonderfully enthusiastic and talented individuals, and I came to know many of them as my Corps teammates and friends. I was the first blind person most of them had ever met. The same was true for the team leaders, unit leaders, and office staff on campus.
During training, Corps members traveled across campus to attend various training sessions and meetings. Sessions included training on diversity, CPR, first aid, and how to run a Red Cross disaster shelter. They also covered the program's rules and regulations.
Those first days on campus served as a sort of test for me. They gave me a chance to show how a blind person travels in familiar and unfamiliar areas. As I look back on it, I realize I felt the need to prove that I was very capable of traveling and problem-solving. I got the feeling that people generally didn't believe I could do those things.
In many ways, life on the Corps training campus was what you might experience at a university. The campus had a cafeteria and a set of dormitories. I was assigned to a single room located next to an emergency exit, and my room had a full bathroom. Despite detailed explanations, the dorm staff didn't understand how I, as a blind person, could find my way to a bathroom down the hall or exit the building in the event of a fire. Ignoring my protests, the staff insisted on putting me in a "more accessible" room.
A few days into training, I approached the director of the AmeriCorps NCCC campus about putting on a one-person "Meet the Blind Month" event. I had initiated the idea with her prior to my arrival on campus, and she was very receptive. The event was spread out over our month of training. Meet the Blind Month literature was displayed in the main dorm lobby. Corps members got an informal introduction to goalball, and I held a question and answer session during a Corps-wide community meeting. Finally, in keeping with the month-long theme, I conducted an activity called "Cane Travel Training." I was fortunate to be able to borrow sleepshades and canes from the Colorado Center for the Blind. The time and energy I put into this activity were well-spent. Corps members, team leaders, and office staff alike participated in the series of informal trainings. They learned how a blind person safely and effectively navigates in familiar and unfamiliar areas, doing so with a high degree of confidence. They also learned about proper cane technique for moving about in a building, going up and down stairs, and traveling outdoors.
One cane travel activity that proved to be a highlight was a session that took place during my unit's team bonding time at Rocky Mountain National Park. Individuals learned to navigate rocky paths using a cane while they listened to the birds and the wind through the trees and felt the sun on their faces. Everyone who took part enjoyed the event. Those who didn't participate expressed interest in taking part if the event were repeated.
My team's first assignment was an environmental service project in Boulder, Colorado. We worked with the City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks. We worked on building two new hiking trails, cleared out a few irrigation ditches, and removed invasive species (which translates as pulling weeds).
In most instances I found it was best for me to partner with a member of the team and work on our share of the project together. Otherwise the work quickly grew rather boring and repetitive. When it came to hiking to and from some of the sites over rough, uneven paths, I alternated between traveling alone and traveling with a human guide. When I walked to a site with another person, I simply kept pace while we had a conversation.
At one of our worksites, I was asked to clear grass patches out of a trench. First I had a project sponsor store my cane in a safe place. Then I walked along one side of the trench, feeling with my foot for broken-up patches of grass and damp earth. I threw them into an area that was pointed out by the sponsor. The project introduced me to tools I had never used or heard of before, such as the rock bar and the McLeod. I also became better informed about the socioeconomic factors that go into decisions about preserving land or developing it for recreational purposes. I learned a lot about Colorado and its water conservation plans as well.
My project sponsors were a great help. They enabled me to learn while they learned along with me. The lesson? Given the training and opportunity, a blind person can do most of the jobs a sighted person can do, and do them just as effectively as anybody else.
As one of my roles on the team was recruitment, it was natural and appropiate for me to talk to groups about the program. During my first round, I visited the Boulder Valley Chapter of the NFB. I spoke about AmeriCorps NCCC and the great benefits of giving back to one's country through national service. I enjoyed letting people know that the program is out there and that, yes, blind people can be a part of it and do great things.
From Boulder my team and I went to Brazoria County, Texas, where we worked with the United Way. We were assigned to canvass the community, talking to residents about resources available to victims of Hurricane Ike. This work, of course, meant a lot of walking and a lot of talking. I had two primary roles on this project. I have good communication skills, so I did most of the talking with clients while we were in the field. I also wrote out weekly progress reports to document where we had been and what we did.
During this round, my skills as a recruiter reached new heights. Using a laptop with JAWS and an Internet connection, I researched local schools and youth programs. I arranged for us to speak to young people about AmeriCorps. With various members of my team, I talked up the program with venture crews and high school students.
On this round I felt confident in my ability to be personable and to make myself and the program shining positives. Even shy people generally wanted to learn more about AmeriCorps when I described the great aspects of the program and the wonderful things it allowed me to do as a blind person. Youth who would never have considered the program at first glance gave it serious thought, and some planned to enroll as soon as they finished school. Their response gave me a great feeling. During this round I showed many youth that anybody who wants to serve their country can do so.
On various construction and debris removal projects during this round, I learned to work with more new tools--the skill saw, Sawzall, drill, axe, and nail gun. By this point my teammates and team leader willingly took the time to teach me skills I might not have thought I could learn. As was the case on my previous project, the people in the community started off with no idea what to expect from me. In the end they proved to be some of the best teachers and best people I worked with during my Corps year. They were always so nice and helpful to everybody, and they treated me as if blindness was the last thing they thought of when they saw me.
My next project was in Hale County, Alabama. This project round presented me with a greater opportunity and a bigger challenge than any of my other Corps assignments.
Hale County is the fifth poorest county in the country. The town where I lived was like most towns in Alabama--very small and not very notable to anyone who didn't live there. The nature of our project was construction work and painting. I had done both during previous projects. However, I had to convince a new team and team leader, as well as the staff back at my base campus, that I could do these things. An added challenge was convincing them that I could climb scaffolding with ease and confidence. Though I showed my team leader and project supervisors that I could do the job, the campus management still had doubts.
During this round, all of the AmeriCorps campuses were filling positions for their incoming class of team leaders. I was interviewed by four campuses where I was being considered for open positions. In the end I was not offered a position by any of these campuses, and some did not even bother to notify me. One campus admitted to altering the general set of questions they ask the other candidates. They said they were not sure that I, as a blind person, would be able to answer them. I started to question the organization's true belief in people with disabilities and in me as a blind person. The organization seemed to feel that a person with a disability could certainly become a Corps member, but could not lead a group of ten young adults on challenging projects. AmeriCorps leaders seemed unwilling to trust a person with a disability, especially a blind person, to handle such a responsibility.
Most of my job this round was recruitment off the worksite. I also worked in a local thrift store that benefited the community. In addition, I carried out some minimal tasks on the worksite, helping volunteers restore a ninety-five-year-old Rosenwald schoolhouse. On hot days, when the temperature reached as high as 95 degrees, I found myself pulling rusted nails out of old two-by-fours. Meanwhile, my teammates were climbing the side of the old schoolhouse to hammer nails or to paint. One could argue that my work had to get done, but I often found myself in the very situation I had worked so hard to avoid. I didn't want to sit on the sidelines while my teammates challenged themselves in ways they had never expected.
Nevertheless, I had some fascinating experiences in Alabama. I attended my first crawfish boil and lived through more tornado warnings than I would have liked. I met some truly great people who were working to help the local people change their way of life. I was fortunate to know some of the best folks in this small county.
I learned that inadequate housing and education were not the only problems Hale County faced. One day I rode along with a postgraduate student from the University of Alabama who was testing water purity in the area. The student told me that many residents in the county drink and bathe in darkened water from their pipes, having no other choice and not knowing how unhealthy the water is.
Overall, our Alabama project was a very educational time for me. I learned about things we take for granted and the challenges we face in closing the gap between the haves and have nots.
In our fourth project round, I was one of the fortunate few Corps members to be selected to work in AmeriCorps NCCC's Summer of Service program. That year, 2009, it was the only AmeriCorps program of its kind in the country. The Summer of Service (SOS) Program gave at-risk youth the opportunity to serve their local community. The young people gained invaluable skills and an awareness of community needs. The program also provided a small stipend that the youth often used to help support their families.
Before the youths arrived on campus, my teammates and I took part in a week of training, followed by a two-week camping trip in the mountains near Jamestown, Colorado. Besides the fun parts--hiking and setting up tents--my new team and I worked on moving tree limbs to the side of the road to be gathered. Most of the work involved "hauling slash," dragging limbs down a hillside. I used my cane with my left arm and hauled with my right, sometimes following the voices of my teammates. One fun thing I did during the trip was to use a hydraulic wood-splitter. This machine was designed as an easier, less labor-intensive way to split logs.
After two weeks of work and bonding, we returned to Denver and got ready for the participants. I was asked to serve as one of four co-crew leaders, overseeing a team of seven to ten young men and women. Crew leaders were responsible for supervising the participants, making sure that they stayed on task on the worksite. We also encouraged them to maintain safe habits and respectful behavior on the worksite and off. The participants often challenged my abilities as a supervisor, but they worked hard. It was rewarding to see them mature over the course of the project.
Three short weeks later, the SOS Program was over, and I approached the end of my AmeriCorps year. It was time for me and my teammates to look around, look ahead, and say good-bye to our AmeriCorps family. I will never forget the blend of sadness and overwhelming satisfaction that washed over me as I crossed the stage in the campus auditorium at our closing ceremony. On more than one occasion over the year I had considered walking away. Now I had completed the journey.
Suddenly I heard a roar of applause. It was led by the Summer of Service participants we had helped to graduate just weeks before. I felt a sense of finality, pride, and accomplishment. Like the young people I had tried to help, I, too, had matured through my AmeriCorps service. I wanted to take what I learned about service and get more involved at home.
Since my Corps year, I have been more involved in service projects than I ever would have imagined. I even lead a service-oriented club on my college campus.
While I was in AmeriCorps, I got the idea of creating a place where blind people of all ages could learn about getting involved in community service. A couple of years and some long hours with friends later, the National Federation of the Blind has formed the Community Service Group. The group has discussions via conference calls and a listserv. Members learn about opportunities for blind people to get involved in community service. By the time this article is published, we will have completed our first community service project and held a seminar and organizing meeting at the 2012 NFB convention in Dallas.
I firmly believe that community service has beneficial effects on all those who participate. My AmeriCorps experiences were both positive and negative, but all of them helped me learn and grow. I now take part in any service project I can fit into my schedule.
I highly encourage others to explore any opportunity that sounds the least bit interesting. Give it a try! You may become a more well-rounded person with the drive to find the good and the potential for improvement in the world around you. You just may go on looking for ways to make the world a better place.
To learn more about AmeriCorps, visit <www.americorps.gov>.
by Elizabeth Kazmierski
Reprinted from The Braille Monitor, Volume 55, No. 4, April 2012
From the Editor: Each year the National Federation of the Blind sponsors the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest, a competition that encourages Braille reading among children and adults. One category of awards is designated for readers who use Braille in order to perform a community service. Fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Kazmierski of Michigan won the Community Service Award in the 2011-2012 contest. In this article she writes about her experiences and what they meant to her.
I have always had the opportunity to share good deeds with others in many places and many ways. I hope that these everyday-life contributions encourage feelings of giving.
This year I participated in the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest for the Community Service Award. I heard about it from news we get because my twin brother and I are members of the NFB and have been to Baltimore for programs for blind students.
One of my first full contributions to the NFB was performing an original composition for piano entitled "Summit," written for Erik Weihenmayer, the blind mountain climber. It was recorded on the first Sound in Sight CD compilation by the NFB Performing Arts Division. I had the opportunity to play the piece for Erik at a fundraiser in Detroit in 2006. As a composer, I write most of my pieces for others who have touched my life, especially involving blindness.
In April of last year I participated in the LAW Program (Leadership and Advocacy in Washington) at the Jernigan Institute in Baltimore.
During the program I advocated for the Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind to congressional staffers. My group members and I went from office to office discussing the bill. A month ago I put the skills I learned at LAW into practice because of our governor's decision to abolish the Michigan Commission for the Blind. I marched with members of the NFB of Michigan and the Michigan Parents of the Visually Impaired outside the governor's office for a protest, and then we visited senators and representatives to make the views of the NFB known. I was even able to help some adults talk to legislators. It was powerfully nice to use the skills I learned through the LAW Program in a very important way.
Last fall I chose to participate in my high school girls' field hockey team as a statistician. The other girls would give me details about plays, penalties, and substitutions; then I recorded these details on my BrailleNote. As part of the team, I was included in every activity. I helped out while the parents and coaches learned about Braille and how blind people can take part in the team. As a teenager might say, "It was awesome!" When the team formed a huddle with their sticks up and I held up my cane, too, I felt I was part of the team. This experience was enjoyable for me and everyone who saw me copying down every little detail in Braille.
During the spring of last year I helped raise money for the American Cancer Society by playing piano at a restaurant in our town and also displaying Braille music to the public. The people who watched me thought of the Braille code as impressive, and it was a lot of fun showing them about reading Braille music.
Another activity I did as part of the Community Service Award contest was reading Bible excerpts for the weekday service at our church. The people in our congregation and the priest were delighted to see me reading the lines of important text as it ran across the display of my BrailleNote Apex and speaking out to spread the Word. In the priest's letter he wrote for the contest, Father Jim talked about how touched he was to see me take in simple words through my fingers, and then breathe out a scripture, communicating the important message it had to say.
These were some of the activities I participated in for the Braille Readers Are Leaders Community Service Award. I had to have letters of recommendation from people who knew about the various service activities I did. Each of these people emphasized the importance of my spirit in the process of using Braille to help other people. It made me feel proud to read the letters, and the words also encouraged me to think of other ways I could help out in my community to eliminate barriers put up by people who do not know blindness as I see it. I hope my service pays forward and inspires other people, but it was neat to get paid back with letters in which almost every word was a compliment. I'm glad the NFB has a contest that promotes service and using Braille, especially because people can learn more about what blind individuals are capable of and what they can accomplish. When we give to other people, gifts get paid back to us in return.
by Emily Gibbs and Natalie Shaheen
From the Editor: The LAW Program (Leadership and Advocacy in Washington) is one of the many exciting initiatives for blind youth sponsored by the NFB Jernigan Institute (NFBJI). In this article LAW coordinators Emily Gibbs and Natalie Shaheen explain how technology played an integral part in the program in 2012.
Today technology is everywhere, including the classroom. Educators all over the world harness the power of technology as a learning tool. Perhaps a kindergartener in a large city school has never visited a farm, but during a unit on farms he can communicate with real farmers in the Midwest through Skype, VoiceThread, blogs, and social media. Technology is a wonderful tool for providing authentic learning experiences.
Unfortunately, as far too many blind students can attest, much of the technology in today's classrooms is inaccessible. It is illegal for schools to use inaccessible technology, but few educators are familiar with the regulations. We must continue to educate the general population about the vital importance of nonvisual access.
The educators at the Jernigan Institute appreciate the power of technology as a learning tool. At the NFBJI, however, we will not use a technology that is inaccessible. We know it is possible to use accessible technology for any classroom activity a teacher can devise, and it isn't hard.
The curriculum for this year's NFB LAW Program incorporated a great deal of technology. Technology allowed each student to work independently at his or her own pace. Learning became more self-directed, and it could take place almost anywhere, at any time. Students were so excited that they spent some of their free time on learning projects. By sharing how we incorporated accessible technology into the LAW Program, we hope to encourage other educators to make their classrooms fully accessible.
The 2012 LAW program was held at the Jernigan Institute in Baltimore from April 13 to 18. Twenty-three blind middle-school students attended, coming from fifteen states. Each student came to the program with a chaperone, most often a parent. Six blind adult mentors--David Bouchard, Dezman Jackson, Ryan Strunk, Briley Pollard, Brooke Sexton, and Karen Anderson--served as role models and helped with instruction in the classroom. Parent mentors Jim Beyer and Carlton Anne Cook Walker facilitated a workshop for the parents and other chaperones. The workshop focused on ways for parents and teachers to ensure blind children's success.
During the program, each child had access to a mobile device as a vehicle for learning. iPads and iPod Touches were available. The devices were pre-loaded with accessible apps that the students might find useful.
The first lesson of the program involved the NFB Oral History Project. After listening to segments of interviews with famous Federationists, the students were divided into pairs. Students used iPods to record the oral history interviews they conducted with one another. The interviews are now part of the NFB Oral History Project. These young people officially have contributed to the history of the organization.
The students spent Sunday learning about the legislative process and the history of the blindness civil rights movement. They would need this information to be successful during the rest of the program. The day started with students poring over primary source materials from the NFB archives to discover the Federation's constitution at work. Some read the minutes from the founding meeting that took place in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1940. Some examined antique Braillewriters or listened to "A Lefthanded Dissertation," a speech by Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. All of the materials were available for the students to examine in the classroom. Staff of the Jacobus tenBroek Library were on hand to provide any additional information students wanted as they studied the plethora of artifacts. As in previous years, paper Braille and large print versions of the text of all primary sources were provided. This year we also offered the content as an iBook that the students could read on their iOS devices, giving them another way to access the curriculum.
This hybrid content delivery model, providing hardcopy and electronic materials simultaneously, was also employed later in the day, when students learned about the work of the Federation in getting jobs for blind people. To kick off the "We Want to Work" lesson, students examined primary sources related to the Randolph-Shepard Act, civil service employment for the blind, and the NFB's efforts to improve working conditions for blind workers in sheltered shops. The students gained a firm understanding of the NFB's extensive work in improving employment opportunities for the blind.
Grounded by this sense of history, the students engaged in several activities that taught them about the fair wages issue. The young people experienced the simulation of a sheltered workshop where they were required to bundle popsicle sticks. The students were split into two groups, "disabled" and "nondisabled." The "disabled" students were paid based on a piecework rate, while their "nondisabled" peers were paid minimum wage--two M&Ms a minute. The students were appalled by the inequality in payment methods demonstrated through this activity.
By the end of the day, the students were fired up to help ensure that all people with disabilities earn at least minimum wage. On Tuesday they would have an opportunity to contribute to the effort by talking about fair wages with their members of Congress. First, however, they needed a firm understanding of both sides of the issue. They examined totally accessible webpages created by the NFB's Governmental Affairs team. These pages presented the fair wages issue from pro and con perspectives. At the end of this fast-paced two-hour lesson, the students had the information they needed to go to Capitol Hill!
Our building contains a great deal of history that is important for an understanding of our movement. A lesson on Sunday morning drew on the vast knowledge of John Cheadle, director of facilities at the Jernigan Institute. Before the program Mr. Cheadle recorded nine audio clips that impart stories and facts about different parts of the building. These audio clips were incorporated into a self-guided tour including the dining room, fourth-floor conference room, harbor area, Harbor Room, lunch room, auditorium, Members Hall, the atrium, and the tenBroek Library. The students moved from one location to the next in the order that suited them. At each location they used an accessible app on their iOS devices to scan a posted tactile QR code, which was also labeled in Braille. Once scanned, the QR code played the audio clip for that part of the building. In addition to the QR code, the students had the opportunity to talk to Mr. Cheadle in person about the building and the blind driver car.
The audio QR codes were not the only ones used in this program. More than seventy QR codes were posted all over the Harbor area. Instead of linking to an audio file, each of these QR codes contained embedded text. When students scanned any of these QR codes, they were shown facts about the NFB Jernigan Institute, the nation's capital, and leaders in the Federation. (Did you know that the capital of the United States has been located in eight different cities? Or that the walls and floor of the atrium of the NFB Jernigan Institute are lined with 1,486 Italian porcelain tiles?) These facts were the answers to trivia questions that were asked on the bus trips to and from Washington, DC, during the program.
In addition to having lessons at the NFBJI, the students spent a good deal of time in Washington, DC. On Saturday, students and chaperones toured the monuments on the Mall and explored other nearby attractions. The students spent Monday morning at the U.S. Capitol, where they toured the House floor, an opportunity afforded to very few visitors.
The group spent Monday afternoon at a federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. The stujents observed Mazen Basrawi, a blind lawyer, as he conducted a live plea hearing. Mazen Basrawi currently serves as counsel to the assistant attorney general, Civil Rights Division. After the hearing he spoke to the students about his job and how he does his work as a blind person.
Tuesday was the most exciting day of all. Each student had a meeting with one of his or her members of Congress or someone from the congressional staff. The students spoke with their representatives about fair wages for workers with disabilities. The students gained confidence and advocacy skills by facilitating these meetings. How many middle-school students go to the Hill and run a meeting with a member of Congress about a piece of legislation? Ours did, and they did it well!
The lessons that comprise the NFB LAW Program are easy to replicate, and they make good stand-alone activities for youth programs. If you are facilitating a youth program for your affiliate, or if you think of other ways you can use the lessons developed for the LAW Program, please contact Emily Gibbs (email@example.com) or (410) 659-9314, extension 2407. We will be happy to share lesson plans and all the materials needed to make the lessons a success.
by Emily Gibbs
From the Editor: The NFB has a rich history of reaching out to blind youth and to parents of blind children. Now, through the NFB Jernigan Institute, the Federation is also reaching out to teachers. In this article Emily Gibbs describes an exciting new program, the Teacher Leader Seminar.
Because blindness is a low incidence disability, teachers of the blind often work in isolation. They face other professional challenges as well. Many have overwhelming caseloads, one teacher sometimes serving fifty students scattered over several districts or counties. Frequently teachers are not provided with the resources they need to educate blind students successfully.
The National Federation of the Blind is aware of these struggles, and it is committed to provide support and training to teachers of blind students. The NFB Teacher Leader Seminar was conceived to provide much-needed professional development for teachers of the blind and for other blindness professionals. During the last week in January, teachers flocked to Baltimore to participate in this brand-new program.
The agenda for the program was set through consultation with experts in the field of education. The Teacher Leader Seminar consisted of four tracks: science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM); access technology; multiply impaired students; and building blocks for successful itinerant teaching. Participants were free to stay within one track for the duration of the seminar or to participate in multiple tracks throughout the weekend. For example, a teacher might attend all three sessions in the track on multiply impaired students, or she/he could attend one session about STEAM, one about access technology, and one on itinerant teaching. The flexibility of the agenda afforded teachers the opportunity to attend sessions that most closely met their students' needs.
When teachers were not in track sessions, they had the chance to attend special breakout sessions. These sessions were designed to give teachers experiences that are unique to the NFB. Teachers had the opportunity to learn about NFB philosophy and the National Reading Media Assessment. Some toured the International Braille and Technology Center. Some even put on sleepshades and grilled steaks or used a chainsaw. Five breakout sessions took place concurrently, so there was always something interesting to be found.
An unusual feature of the 2012 Teacher Leader Seminar was the incorporation of social media into the program. Participants were encouraged to interact with one another and with the world outside through social media websites. One site used extensively was Twitter. Through 140-character "tweets," Twitter allows people to post status updates to the world. If you aren't "following," or connected with, a particular user, there is no way to read that user's communications. However, if the user includes a "hashtag," a word preceded by a number sign, users can search for that hashtag and enter the discussion.
The hashtag for the 2012 NFB Teacher Leader Seminar was #TLS12. Anyone who wanted to hear about the seminar could participate in the discussion by looking for that hashtag. Teachers posted tweets about what they were learning during track sessions and breakouts. They posted pictures of themselves traveling under sleepshades, grilling hamburgers, and using adaptive science tools. Teachers interviewed each other on video and uploaded the interviews to Twitter as well. Twitter enabled people to experience different sessions and see what others were doing. It was the ultimate solution to the age-old problem of wanting to be in two places at once.
All of the tweets from the seminar could be seen online and on an eight-foot screen in the northwest corner of Members Hall. The screen was updated constantly throughout the day. For those people who didn't bring a computer, the southwest corner of Members Hall was turned into a social media lounge. This area was set with café tables and chairs. Computers were available all day long so people could check email and send Twitter and Facebook updates, as well as access the TLS Forum.
The TLS Forum was an online bulletin board. It was accessible only to participants inside the building. The forum provided information about the building, about the NFB, and about Baltimore itself. On the Forum participants could find cab or bus information and learn about the offerings of nearby restaurants. This information was especially important for teachers who were not staying in the building and for people who went out to explore Baltimore on Saturday night.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the NFB Teacher Leader Seminar was the Unconference. An Unconference is unlike a traditional conference in every way. There is no agenda. The program is created and organized by the participants on the day it takes place. The people who are attending volunteer to run sessions and speak about topics of passionate interest or concern. Using the TLS Forum, people suggested topics throughout the first two days of sessions. Anything could be an Unconference idea. Some people suggested topics they were excited about and about which they knew enough to run a discussion. Others suggested topics about which they knew nothing but hoped to learn more. Anyone could run a session or suggest a topic, simply by posting it on the Forum.
On Sunday, for thirty minutes before the Unconference began, a town hall meeting was held to plan the schedule for the day. The schedule for the Unconference was decided by consensus of the entire group, based on suggestions posted on the Forum. Sessions were chosen quickly, and in every case someone happily volunteered to lead the discussion. The only rule of the day was the "Two Feet Rule." If you decided you weren't learning in a session or that it wasn't what you thought it would be, get up and walk out.
Unconference sessions covered a wide range of topics. Some, such as "Creative Braille Teaching Tools," consisted of one person talking to the group. In others, such as the session on accessible apps, the entire group shared ideas and information. There was even a philosophy discussion aptly called "Myths of the NFB." Participants were invited to discuss openly and honestly what they had heard about the NFB and what they had learned during the seminar.
At the end of the program we asked teachers to fill out an anonymous survey about their experiences. When asked if they felt that the conference expanded their professional learning network, 100 percent of the thirty-two responders said yes. When asked if they would recommend the conference to other teaching professionals, thirty-one of the thirty-two said that they would. One participant exclaimed, "I will definitely recommend this conference to other blindness professionals in future years. It is a great way to share ideas and learn from one another. It is also a good way to introduce people to the NFB's philosophy." Another replied, "My goal is to get all of my program to come next year." No matter what topic participants came to the conference hoping to learn about, 100 percent of responders agreed that they had learned more at the seminar.
According to the participants, the inaugural 2012 Teacher Leader Seminar was a huge success. People who attended the seminar offered positive feedback and insights for improvements in the future. Due to the overwhelmingly positive response, planning has already begun for the Teacher Leader Seminar of 2013. We hope to see you there!
by Kate Streit
From the Editor: The Braille music code has been with us for nearly two centuries. Louis Braille invented the code and taught it to his students at the Institution for Blind Youth in Paris. Nevertheless, few teachers and transcribers are skilled in the use of Braille music today, and too many blind students are taught music only through listening and memorization. The Hadley School for the Blind is attempting to bridge this gap with a useful new course.
For music students and performers who are blind, learning to read Braille music is essential. Sighted teachers, too, may want to learn about teaching Braille music or may seek ways to support a student who is learning the Braille music code. Braille transcribers may wish to add knowledge of the music code to their set of skills. A new course from the Hadley School for the Blind, "Braille Music Basics," attempts to meet these needs by offering an introduction to the fundamentals of Braille music.
The prerequisite for this five-lesson course is Hadley's "Braille Music Diagnostic." This preliminary course assesses the student's ability to read print music and visually to read and produce uncontracted Braille. "Braille Music Basics" includes five lessons. Lessons 1 and 2 provide some of the basic symbols used in Braille music for any performance medium. These lessons concentrate on music for single-melody instruments such as the clarinet or violin. Lesson 3 explains Braille music for voice with melodic and choral accompaniment. Lesson 4 presents Braille music for keyboard instruments. Lesson 5 addresses some questions about teaching and transcribing Braille music.
The information in this introductory course does not enable students to transcribe print music, teach music, or teach Braille professionally. However, after completing the course, students enthusiastically can support and encourage a blind student who is learning to read Braille music independently.
"Learning the basics of Braille music is a great opportunity for music teachers working with students who are blind," says instructor Linn Sorge. "Reading music should begin for a student who is blind just as it does for one who is sighted. Reading Braille music can open many doors toward self-confidence and further independence. This course gives music teachers and parents enough understanding of Braille music that they can encourage a Braille reader to begin reading music he or she wants to play."
Written by musician and Braille music transcriber Ruth Rosen, the course is offered tuition free to students in Hadley's Family Education Program and tuition free for a limited time to students in the Hadley School for Professional Studies. The course is available online or by mail in large print. The development of the course was partially funded by a generous grant from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) in Louisville, Kentucky.
The Hadley School is also developing a version of the course for blind and visually impaired individuals who want to learn and play Braille music, "Braille Music Reading." After completing this course, students will be able to read single-line music. The course will be available to students in Hadley's Adult Continuing Education (ACE) and High School (HS) programs. These programs are open to blind and visually impaired individuals age fourteen and over. All courses in these programs are tuition free.
For more information or to enroll, please visit our website at <www.hadley.edu> or contact Student Services at (800) 526-9909.
by Patricia Bennett Wilson
Reviewed by Deborah Kent Stein
I Can't See, But ... I Can Imagine
by Patricia Bennett Wilson
Illustrated by Sharon Bean
Global Publishing Services, Bend, OR
61 pages, includes CD, $39.00 plus $3.50 shipping and handling
With varying degrees of success, a number of children's books present stories about blind children. Few, however, portray blind adults as active members of their families and communities. This picture book, available in both inkprint and print/Braille formats, is a loving tribute to the author's blind grandmother, Persis Beach Bennett, who lived in rural New Hampshire in the first half of the twentieth century.
Persis Beach Bennett lost her sight in 1925, when the youngest of her four children was ten years old. Her story is told from the point of view of her young granddaughter, Patty. Patty treasured her visits with Grammie, who "did all the wonderful things grandmothers do." The reader is introduced to Grammie as she and Patty bake cookies together, and learns that "Grammie measured [each ingredient] by feeling it in her hands." It is at this point that the reader finds out that Patty's grandmother is blind.
The book is constructed around five songs that Persis wrote for her grandchildren. The reader is given the story of how each song came to Grammie, followed by the lyrics. The imagined conversation between two frogs at the lake leads to "Frog Song." "Patty's Pup Pepper" is inspired as Grammie listens to Patty playing with her dog on the beach. Grammie's songs, re-mastered from recordings she made in 1949, are included on a CD packaged with the book.
Like most blind people of her day, Persis Bennett does not use a cane, and she depends upon family members to guide her when she walks "downstreet." Nevertheless, she clearly contributes to the life of her family in significant ways, and she has many devoted friends. Her imaginative take on the world shows that there is much more to vision than physical eyesight.
by Kim Cunningham
From the Editor: Kim Cunningham is president of the Texas Parents of Blind Children and serves as second vice president of NOPBC. She and her daughter, Kayleigh Joiner, have been members of the NFB ever since they attended their first national convention in Atlanta seven years ago.
Texas Parents of Blind Children (TPOBC) held its second annual spring convention, "Quest for Independence," in beautiful San Antonio, Texas, from April 13 to April 15, 2012. TPOBC partnered with the Texas Association of Blind Students (TABS) for the second year to bring parents, blind children, and blind college students together for a weekend of education and fun. Co-hosting the convention with TABS has been a great way for parents to meet successful blind students and for the college students to mentor students in high school and elementary school.
TPOBC and TABS began to plan for the convention shortly after the 2011 NFB National Convention. We hoped to put together informative and engaging sessions that would inspire families to believe in their children's abilities and to discover the path to independence. Our planning committee met monthly through teleconferences and worked out the details as time went by. Topics and speakers were carefully chosen to appeal both to students and parents. We determined to have separate parent sessions and student sessions as well as joint sessions to maximize the quality of information for each group.
Upon registering, the parents were given name tags and folders with the agenda, TPOBC membership forms, and various articles from the NFB Independence Market. We also included a "Getting to Know TABS" contest form for parents. This sheet had three questions related to the NFB or its student groups. To answer the questions on the form, parents had to introduce themselves to the TABS members. Each parent who turned in a form was eligible to win a gift certificate.
The planning committee also decided to have a fun new activity during the opening icebreaker on Friday evening. Students and parents were grouped into teams. Each team was given a piece of string, several pieces of uncooked spaghetti noodles, a small piece of tape, and a marshmallow. The teams competed to see which could build the tallest structure. Parents (wearing sleepshades) and blind students had to communicate effectively to engineer what they would do. The activity was great fun, and the structures were very creative.
On Saturday morning, O&M specialists Joleen Kinzer and Garrett Aguillard gave a presentation on the long white cane. Kevin Markel, a transition specialist with the Division of Blind Services talked with the parents about the transition process and future goals for their children upon graduation. Families had the opportunity to learn about the National Association of Blind Students from NABS president Sean Whalen. Steve Tompkins from NFB-NEWSLINE® explained how the NEWSLINE service works and described some of the publications students might find helpful and entertaining. Larry Temple with the Texas Workforce Commission talked about the labor market in Texas and careers that are in demand.
After lunch, TPOBC treated the families to a relaxing cruise along San Antonio's beautiful Riverwalk while the students went on a scavenger hunt. The cruise gave members a great opportunity to get to know the families better and talk about any concerns they might have. Despite a few raindrops, everyone enjoyed the tour.
A panel of college students hosted the last session of the afternoon. An open question and answer forum allowed parents to address any issues of concern.
After dinner that evening, TABS hosted salsa dance lessons for everyone. The students were encouraged to join in and enjoy the music. The parents were pleased to see their children laughing, dancing, and doing what teens do best!
On Sunday morning, the group came together for some scientific fun. Henry (Hoby) Wedler, a PhD candidate in chemistry, hosted a session called "Making Chemistry Accessible, One Atom at a Time." Students and parents took part in an assortment of hands-on experiments. In one, they filled balloons with dry ice. After the balloons were tied, the air began to expand, setting off a chain reaction of burst balloons all over the room. Everyone laughed and had fun. Best of all, the students learned that they could do experiments successfully in nonvisual ways.
Also on Sunday, winners of NFB-Texas and NFB national scholarships spoke to the students about when and how to to apply to these programs. The students were urged to keep their grades up, to seek leadership roles, and to volunteer in their communities.
Next, the families learned about the programs available from the NFB training centers. TABS members talked about the Buddy Programs, the high school programs, and the adult rehab program. The students spoke candidly about their experiences and the independence they had gained.
Members of the student and parent divisions reported on the 2012 Washington Seminar. The participants explained some of the current issues that face blind citizens and described their experiences educating their representatives on these issues.
The final session of the weekend was a hands-on demonstration of Apple iOS devices. Participants visited three stations set up around the room. Kayleigh Joiner, Gabe Cazares, and Monica Villarreal demonstrated the iPhone, iPad, and Mac computer respectively. Students were shown how to turn on VoiceOver and navigate the devices nonvisually. The students were also given a list of blind-friendly apps they could purchase for their own devices.
We all had a great weekend. The families left knowing more about blindness and encouraged about their children's future. I know we helped to educate the families on how to follow their "Quest for Independence."
However, I must admit to being disappointed in our attendance. I had really hoped for a much larger group, as San Antonio is located in the central part of the state. For those of you in larger states, I am sure you understand! Sometimes we reach many, sometimes a few! I know we will work out the kinks as we go along. Live and learn! Very soon we will begin to plan for the third annual TPOBC/TABS spring convention!
by Carlton Anne Cook Walker
On July 2, 2012, in Dallas, Texas, at the national convention of the National Federation of the Blind, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) held its annual meeting. The following individuals were elected to the executive board: Carlton Anne Cook Walker (PA), president; Andrea Beasley (WI), first vice president; Kim Cunningham (TX), second vice president; Pamela Gebert (AK), secretary; and Pat Renfranz (UT), treasurer. The NOPBC membership also elected the following board members: Jim Beyer (MT); Jean Bening (MN); Laura Bostick (LA); Wingfield Bouchard (MS); Amber Hall (IN); David Hammel (IA); Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway (GA); Zina Lewis (VA); Holly Miller (NJ); and Trudy Pickrel (MD).
Barbara Cheadle (MD) remains on the board as President Emerita, and Carol Castellano (NJ) continues to serve the NOPBC as its director of programs.
Each year, from November 1 to January 4 (Louis Braille's birthday), blind students across the country take part in the annual Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB). Students compete for prizes in five categories based on grade. In addition, Twin Vision® prizes are awarded to dual-media readers, and the Jennifer Baker Awards are given to readers who have overcome unusual obstacles to achieve Braille mastery. Community Service Awards go to students who have used Braille in order to perform a community service. While most contestants enter as individuals, student and adult teams also are eligible to participate.
The 2011-2012 contest marks the twenty-ninth year of the Braille Readers Are Readers Contest. Here is a complete list of this year's winners.
1st Place Maia Armstrong, IL--1,976 pages
2nd Place Holly Connor, WA--1,543 pages
3rd Place Emerie Mitchell-Butler, VA--1,179 pages
1st Place Maria Monteiro-Oliveira, GA--8,839 pages
2nd Place Andrea Cordero-Perez, AZ--5,617 pages
3rd Place Matthew Leinart, IL--3,174 pages
1st Place Maegan Weiler, WA--21,646 pages
2nd Place Rosanna Scott, AR--13,255 pages
3rd Place Alayna Hall, IN--10,332 pages
1st Place Kortnee Barton, UT--12,035 pages
2nd Place Shawn Abraham, MD--8,884 pages
3rd Place Samantha Simonton, GA--7,078 pages
1st Place Lanie Molinar, TX--18,328 pages
2nd Place Roosevelt Thermitus, FL--12,365 pages
3rd Place Michael Davidson, OH--12,071 pages
COMMUNITY SERVICE AWARD
Elizabeth Kazmierski, 10th grade, MI
JENNIFER BAKER AWARD
Page Segura, 11th grade, AZ
Andrea Cordero-Perez, 2nd grade, AZ
TWIN VISION (r) AWARD
Emerie Mitchell-Butler, Kindergarten, VA
Beck Schutte, 2nd grade, MA
Matthew Leinart, 3rd grade, IL
Thomas Bannon III, 4th grade, VA
Shah Mohammad, 3rd grade, TX
TEAM OF THE YEAR AWARD
Michael Smedley, 6th grade, PA
Mitchell Smedley, 3rd grade, PA
Team's Total Pages Read: 1,450
1st Place Treva Olivero, LA--2,012 pages
2nd Place Julie Newman, IN--1,432 pages
3rd Place Brian Mackey, NJ--1,240 pages
1st Place Ericka Mosley, VA--12,829 pages
2nd Place Kierra Davis, VA--9,813 pages
3rd Place Judy Sanders, MN--4,512 pages
1st Place Mike Sivill, OR--5,459 pages
2nd Place Tony Schnurr, IN--3,529 pages
3rd Place Danielle Shives, MD--3,212 pages
1st Place Brandi Bryant, CA, 11,330 pages
2nd Place Patrick Gormley, MD, 8,163 pages
3rd Place Tami Jones, IN, 7,889 pages
1st Place Veronica Bargehr, IL--3,027 pages
2nd Place Christy Grimstad, AZ--2,658 pages
3rd Place Ephraim Poonen, AZ--1,254 pages
TEAM OF THE YEAR AWARD
LITTLE DOTS ON THE PRAIRIE
Jean Rauschenbach, Beginner, MN
Judy Sanders, Intermediate, MN
Hannah Furney, Beginner, MN
Pat Barrett, Beginner, MN
Trudy Barrett, Beginner, MN
Team's Total Pages Read: 7,520
National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute
200 E. Wells St., Baltimore, MD 21230
September 27-29, 2012
Contact: Natalie Shaheen, (410) 659-9314
The Braille Symposium will provide professionals, blind people, and other interested parties with an opportunity to learn about promising practices in Braille instruction and teacher preparation. The symposium will feature vignettes from blind people on how Braille is being used today, presentation/discussion sessions on promising practices, and sessions on problems and solutions.
Tactile Graphics Conference
National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute
200 E. Wells St., Baltimore, MD 21230
November 30-December 1, 2012
Contact: Clara Van Gerven, (410) 659-9314, ext. 2410
The NFB Jernigan Institute is delighted to present its first conference on tactile graphics. The conference will be a two-day, in-depth look at how tactile graphics can be made and how they enhance STEM education for blind students. Among the many topics discussed will be basic techniques for creating tactile graphics, the use of 3-D models, and what works and what doesn't work.
Fourth Multimodal Approaches to Learning International Conference
Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10028-0198
October 26-28, 2012
Contact: Marie Clapot, (212) 334-8723
Organized by Art beyond Sight and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this conference will address inclusive and multisensory learning environments and strategies, particularly in relation to the arts and museums. Discussions will focus on experiences that involve sound, touch, movement, and olfactory and proprioceptive modes of learning. Since 2005 this conference has been a forum for crossdisciplinary creative thinking and the exchange of ideas. The audience includes museum staff, art educators, special education teachers, therapists, artists, architects, and universal design advocates.
National Blindness Professional Certification Board
101 S. Trenton St., Ruston, LA 71270
The NBPCB has established rigorous standards for certtifying professionals who teach orientation and mobility skills using structured discovery cane travel methods and principles. Successful applicants earn the designation of National Orientation and Mobility Certificant (NOMC). This website provides information about certification and recertification. It also offers information about structured discovery travel and the consumer-based model of rehabilitation.
Survey on Education and Employment
Contact: Arielle Silverman, (602) 502-2255
A doctoral student in psychology at the University of Colorado and a past president of the National Association of Blind Students is conducting an online study to investigate the factors that relate to educational and employment success for blind and visually impaired people. The survey examines participants' experiences interacting with the sighted public, feelings about life overall, and blindness-related skills. Participants must be over age eighteen and must live in the United States.
Achievement, Conscientiousness, Self-Efficacy, and Locus of Control
The Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University are seeking participants for an online study. It is hoped that information gathered through this research will lead to positive changes in employment and educational practices. Participants are asked to complete a 59-item survey, and will have the chance to win a $50 Wal-Mart gift certificate.
Bookshare and Innovation for Education (BI4E)
Benetech, the Silicon Valley nonprofit that uses technology for social change, has won a five-year award from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, to continue its groundbreaking work ensuring that educational materials are accessible to students with print disabilities through its Bookshare initiative. The award allows Benetech to meet the challenges of the changing educational landscape by creating free open source tools for content providers and working with those providers to make educational materials accessible from the start. Benetech's innovative tools will tackle such major challenges as accessible math and graphics. Benetech intends to double its student membership from 200,000 to 400,000, grow usage by more than 150 percent, increase to more than 200,000 educational titles in its library, and expand its teacher training programs and parent outreach.
New England Blind and Visually Impaired Alpine Ski Festival Week
Sugarloaf Mountain Resort, Carrabasset Valley, ME
February 10-14, 2013
This national event is designed to create a unique social, recreational, and educational experience for skiers of all levels. Skiers will develop their abilities on all levels of terrain with their own guides or with festival volunteers.
Patricia C. Wilson
A school for the blind in Liberia is in great need of materials. The school has fifty-five blind students. If you can donate any of the following items, please contact Patricia Wilson. Items needed include Braille and recorded books, portable CD players and batteries, Perkins Braillers, and Braille paper.
Braille for Children
Teaching Braille to very young children can be a challenge, considering their short attention span. This site provides some ideas to help parents and teachers make learning Braille a positive experience for children, beginning at age three. Although this site targets very young children, ideas may also be helpful for older children who have cognitive delays.
Making It on the Playground
This website is based on a blog created by Mary Jo Hartle and describes ordinary events in the life of a blind couple raising a baby daughter. Mary Jo shares "Pages from the Hartle Playbook," or, as she puts it, how the Hartles "make it on our own playground." Topics include choosing a home, helping blind children fit in with peers, and dealing with the public.
Archive on Americans with Disabilities
Sierra Gregg, winner of a 2012 NFB National Scholarship, has created an exciting new web resource at the National Archives. The resource features a variety of records on Americans with Disabilities, drawn from all of the presidential libraries and converted to an accessible digital format. The collection includes letters from Helen Keller to President Hoover and a Braille letter sent to President Eisenhower by a thirteen-year-old boy.
With the motto "a library for the price of a book," Samizdat sells some 23,000 public-domain titles in electronic formats. Sold on CD or DVD, titles are grouped by period (e.g., British Literature before 1700), author (e.g., Charles Dickens, Mark Twain) or topic (e.g., world religions, early medicine, African-American history). Samizdat now offers organized collections of 50-100 downloadable titles in TXT format as Virtual Library Collections (VLPs). Each collection can be downloaded as a single zipped file, including an index. Books can be read on Windows PCs, Macs, and most e-book readers.
Texas Center for the Visually Challenged (TCVC)
TCVC offers refurbished computers to blind and visually impaired residents of the U.S. and Canada in exchange for donations of $100. Computers are customized for accessibility and come with speakers, sound card, and a demo copy of the screen reader Window-Eyes. Tutorials are available in audio and large-print formats.
AfterShokz Bone Conduction Headphones
Rather than canceling external sound, these headphones permit the wearer to hear ambient sounds while listening to recorded material. Using these headphones, a blind student can listen to a screen reader or audio textbook without missing classroom discussion.
New Perkins SMART Brailler
175 N. Beacon St., Watertown, MA 02472