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 32 Number 1 Winter 2013
Deborah Kent Stein, Editor
Copyright © 2013 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 protected] • [email protected]
Monday, July 1--Saturday, July 6, 2013
Rosen Centre Hotel
9840 International Dr.
Orlando, FL 32819
Reservations: (800) 204-7234
The 2013 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place in Orlando, Florida, July 1-6, at the Rosen Centre Hotel at 9840 International Dr., Orlando, FL 32819. Make your room reservation as soon as possible with the Rosen Centre staff only. Call (800) 204-7234.
The 2013 room rates are singles, doubles, and twins, $79; and triples and quads, $85. In addition to the room rates there will be a tax, which at present is 13.5 percent. No charge will be made for children under seventeen in the room with parents as long as no extra bed is requested. The hotel is accepting reservations now. A $90-per-room deposit is required to make a reservation. Fifty percent of the deposit will be refunded if notice is given to the hotel of a reservation cancellation before May 28, 2013. The other 50 percent is not refundable.
Rooms will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations may be made before June 1, 2013, assuming that rooms are still available. After that time the hotel will not hold our room block for the convention. In other words, you should get your reservation in soon.
Guest room amenities include cable television; in-room safe; coffeemaker; hairdryer; and, for a fee, high-speed Internet access. Guests can also enjoy a swimming pool, fitness center, and on-site spa. The Rosen Centre Hotel offers fine dining at Executive Chef Michael Rumplik's award-winning Everglades Restaurant. In addition, there is an array of dining options from sushi to tapas to a 24-hour deli. The hotel has first-rate amenities and shuttle service to the Orlando Airport.
Monday, July 1--Seminar Day
Tuesday, July 2--Registration Day
Wednesday, July 3--Board Meeting and Division Day
Thursday, July 4--Opening Session
Friday, July 5--Business Session
Saturday, July 6--Banquet Day and Adjournment
First Timer's Guide to the NFB National Convention
View our beginner's guide to the NFB National Convention, intended to give the first-time convention attendee some important information about national conventions of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). Read the First Timer's Guide at <https://nfb.org/convention-first-timers>.
National Federation of the Blind
2013 National Convention Preregistration Form
Please register online at <www.nfb.org/registration> or use this mail-in form. Print legibly, provide all requested information, and mail form and payment to:
National Federation of the Blind
Attn: Convention Registration
200 East Wells Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
Please register only one person per registration form; however, one check or money order may cover multiple registrations. Check or money order (sorry, no credit cards) must be enclosed with registration(s).
Registrant Name _______________________________________________________
City ____________________________ State _____________ Zip ___________
Phone ____________________________ Email _______________________________
___ I will pick up my registration packet at convention.
___ The following person will pick up my registration packet:
Pickup Name ______________________________________
Number of preregistrations _____ x $25 = ____________
Number of pre-purchased banquet tickets _____ x $50 = ____________
Total = ____________
1. Preconvention registration and banquet sales are final (no refunds).
2. All preregistration mail-in forms must be postmarked by May 31.
Volume 32 Number 1 Winter 2013
The Federation in Your Journey: The Courage to Try
by Mary Ellen Gabias
The National Reading Media Assessment
by Carol Castellano
Contracted or Uncontracted Braille: Which Should Blind Children Learn First?
by Heather Field
Echolocation with the Long White Cane
by Merry-Noel Chamberlain
Discover the Body: 3D Printing and Teaching Materials for Blind and Visually Impaired Children
by Halla Sigridur Margretardottir Haugen
INTERESTS AND PASSIONS
iPhoneography: Photography for All
by Luis Pérez
Triumph at Fleadh Ceoil
by Amy Safko
Bitten by the Space Bug
by Chelsea Cook
Seeing beyond the Impossible
by Hai Nguyen Ly
Word of Mouth
by Mary Fernandez
Sifting through the Past
by William Nutt
iOS Accessibility: Teaching the Teachers
by Diane Brauner and Ed Summers
IDEAS AND ATTITUDES
Teaching Math Skills and Building Relationships
by Gloria Isidro-Villamizar
One Email at a Time
by Stacey Hildenbrand
A Matter of Perspective
by Katie Vescelus
Charting Our Own Course: Project Innovation 2012
by Natalie Shaheen
Louder and Prouder Still: Four More States Join the BELL Choir
by Eric Guillory, Jackie Otwell, Casey West, Carlton Walker, and Meleah Jensen
The Nightmare and the Dream
by Carlton Anne Cook Walker
ODDS AND ENDS
by Mary Ellen Gabias
Reprinted from The Blind Canadian, Vol. 5, July 2012
From the Editor: Mary Ellen Gabias grew up in Ohio, lived for several years in Illinois, then in Maryland, and settled in British Columbia in the 1970s. She is deeply committed to the organized blind movements of both her native land and her adopted country. Currently she serves as president of the Canadian Federation of the Blind (CFB).
Journeys make me think about travel and moving around. The notion of traveling is a metaphor for how I live my life and what the Canadian Federation of the Blind (CFB) and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) mean to me. Over the years, I have discovered that the stories I tell myself about what has happened to me shape my destiny more than the happenings themselves. I find that I have lived with a number of paradigms that sometimes support and sometimes conflict with one another.
First Paradigm: Don't move! When I was five, a buddy knocked on my door and asked me if I could go outside and play cops and robbers. My mom said yes, but she told me to stay in the backyard. "Don't go near the side yard. Workers are repairing the septic tank," Mom said.
If I had listened to my mom that day, I wouldn't be telling this story now. All I can say in defense of my five-year-old self is that, when Elliot Ness was in hot pursuit of Al Capone, he probably didn't remember everything his mother told him, either. I will spare you the details, except to tell you that when I was running full speed ahead and, suddenly, there was no ground underneath me, I felt like I was flying--until gravity won. My mother stated the lesson from that event simply, "You pay a price when you don't pay attention."
How grateful I am that that was her message! She so easily could have said, "Don't run! It's too dangerous for you."
My parents encouraged me to move on my own. Unfortunately, other people and circumstances did not. My brothers usually parked their bikes in the wrong places; it is amazing how many bruises one can get from falling over a bicycle! Many people said, "Don't worry; I'll do it; you might fall; just sit there." So the idea that moving was scary entered my consciousness.
A long white cane would have made things far easier for me, but my parents told themselves a story that, along with a tin cup and a handful of pencils, the cane was part of the beggar's badge. I became afraid to move because I lacked the tool that would have helped me.
Second Paradigm: Exploring is fun. In second grade I learned about explorers such as Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan--those brave people who went out and discovered new continents. Our school's acreage was relatively small, but it felt enormous. I set out to explore every inch of it, charting unknown territories. Without a cane to check out the ground ahead of me, my explorations were more arduous than they needed to be. Even so, I began to believe that life was fun; getting around was an adventure. Then, home to Mom's cupcakes--no starving in the wilderness! The idea that exploration was a joy became part of my life.
Third Paradigm: Am I good enough? I heard the family of another blind student talking about "cane travel." They said of their child, "He moves as fast as a sighted person." I wanted that speed and ease for myself. I begged for cane travel lessons and insisted that my parents change their story about what it meant to use a white cane.
I was instructed by an orientation and mobility specialist who had been trained in Boston. She called herself a peripetologist. Peripetology was a pretentious, manufactured Greek word referring to the science of getting around. I learned an assortment of techniques--the two-point touch, three-point touch, touch-and-slide, touch-and-drag. I learned to go with a sighted person the first time I went anywhere in order to make sure the new route was safe. The third paradigm became: "Am I doing it right? Am I a good traveller or a bad one?"
All of these paradigms existed simultaneously. Sometimes I was scared to move, sometimes I was excited, and sometimes I wondered if I was good enough.
Then I became involved with the National Federation of the Blind--a growing, changing and dynamic organization in the US. My first trip to a Federation convention, where hundreds of blind people gathered together, helped me better understand my paradigms and changed the stories I told myself.
For far too many people at convention in 1972, independent travel meant that not everyone had his or her own sighted guide. Independence meant that one guide worked with five or six people. Groups of us traveled by "train"--not Amtrak or VIA Rail, but a train where a sighted person guided five or six blind people who hung onto each other for dear life. Heaven help us if the trains got tangled up! The sighted people would argue about who had the right of way and which train should move. The blind people waited patiently while the sighted guides settled the matter.
At the same time, I encountered a new and exciting spirit at that convention. Canes tapped everywhere. I met blind people who walked by themselves with their heads high, with speed, with joy. Sometimes one person linked arms with a less confident colleague, and sometimes sweethearts held hands. I deliberately followed those confident travelers around the hotel and the downtown Chicago streets, imitating everything they did. I added yet another paradigm to my list.
Fourth Paradigm: I've got places to go, and I'm going to get there. Blind people live with all of these paradigms of travel and life. Yes, sometimes moving seems too dangerous; sometimes it is an adventure to explore and try new things; sometimes self-doubt stops us from trying at all. But, more and more, because of the Canadian Federation of the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind, blind people travel because they have places to go. The techniques are the same; the stories are different.
Federation conventions change your life. You cannot imagine, until you go, the many empowering stories you will hear, and how these stories will change your life and the lives of others, in so many subtle ways.
That day when I was playing cops and robbers, if my mother had said, "Don't move, it's too dangerous," my plunge into the septic tank would not have been just a humorous story. It would have ended my desire to move and dream on my own. I would have become afraid that independent action would lead me into the mire. Instead, I learned that when you pay attention, you don't have to pay a price. I am grateful to my parents and to everyone in the Federation for helping me understand those lessons, for teaching me the way, and for sharing my journey.
by Carol Castellano
From the Editor: For nearly thirty years, Carol Castellano has been a vocal advocate on behalf of blind and visually impaired children. She is the author of four books, including Making It Work and Getting Ready for College Begins in Third Grade. She is a past president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), currently serves as the NOPBC director of programs, and was part of the committee that created the National Reading Media Assessment (NRMA).
We know how to make the education of blind/visually impaired children work. We know what services these children require and which techniques they need to master. We can adapt materials and teach access technology so that they can participate fully throughout the school day, learning alongside their sighted peers. My daughter, totally blind and a Braille reader, is a product of this system. She received excellent services in elementary and high school, and she has just earned a graduate degree.
However, I believe there is a subgroup of students that is not so well served. In my role as long-time NOPBC board member and advocate, I get phone calls from parents across the country who are seeking assistance with their children's education. In one six-month period, I received calls from six families with children from age four to twenty-four. Strangely, all of these parents had the same story to tell. Their children had low vision. They were taught to use vision for all tasks. They were not doing well in school, or, in the case of the older ones, were not able to get jobs. Clearly, they were not receiving the training they needed in order to develop academic and life skills or the ability to self-advocate. The parents were worried about their children and felt sorry for them. They watched as their children's lives became more and more restricted.
Over the years I, like many others, have come to the conclusion that these children are being short-changed. I believe we need to do a better job of educating this segment of the visually impaired population. A central issue seems to be the student's reading medium. These children read print in school, but were unable to keep up with their classmates. The students read at a slower rate than their peers and were shifted to audio materials very early in their academic careers. Their assignments were cut in half. A classmate or classroom aide was assigned to take notes for them. The students did not enjoy reading and were not developing full literacy skills. Having seen how Braille enabled my daughter to develop literacy and excel, I wondered why these children were not given the opportunity to learn Braille.
In an effort to remedy this widespread problem, the National Federation of the Blind formed a committee to examine the issue in depth. The committee was composed of experienced teachers of blind students (TBSs), professors in TBS training programs, specialists in deafblindness and multiple disabilities, and experienced parent advocates. It determined that in order to facilitate academic success for partially sighted students, there was a need for a new evaluation instrument to identify a student's appropriate reading medium or media. The target population for the new assessment tool would be visually impaired youth from preschool to twelfth grade who have enough functional vision to identify print letters or shapes by sight.
In preparing to create the new assessment tool, the committee researched the learning media assessments on the market, surveyed teachers, and consulted with reading specialist Jerry Johns. We found that the teachers surveyed felt that current assessments were too long. Instead of using one particular tool, they were picking and choosing parts that they liked from several different instruments. In reviewing the available assessments, we found that the information collected was inconsistent and allowed for a great deal of subjectivity. Much of the information collected was not related to determining a student's reading medium. The assessments tended to rely on student preference and operated on the assumption that this preference was the most efficient practice. Also, there was an acceptance of slower reading rates for print-reading partially sighted students. We found the use of the progress standard--the premise that, as long as the student shows some progress from one year to the next, the pace of learning is acceptable. This approach stands in sharp contrast with the peer standard, which compares the student's progress to that of peers of similar cognitive ability.
The new assessment is based on very different assumptions.
The new instrument, the National Reading Media Assessment (NRMA), is thorough, but not time-consuming to administer. On average, it can be completed in about seventy-five minutes. It is given under standardized conditions, using standardized materials in order to obtain objective results that correctly identify the student's reading media needs.
The NRMA collects only data relevant to determining the student's reading medium. It takes into account future literacy needs, as mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and it is RTI (response to intervention) compatible. Scoring is numerical and objective. NRMA results yield a quantitative summary indicating the extent to which the student is able to function using print materials in comparison to sighted peers. The NRMA provides a literacy scale indicating the level at which print loses effectiveness and Braille or a combination of print and Braille should be employed for educational purposes.
The NRMA is the first and only research-based, standardized assessment tool of its kind for the identification of reading medium or media. It has undergone three years of field testing and data analysis in which quantitative results determined modifications in content and procedures. An article providing a detailed account of the research and findings is presently under peer review. An additional research section to examine reading speed and the ability to do sustained reading when using accommodations is in the planning stages.
The National Reading Media Assessment is available online free of charge. The NRMA is meant to be administered primarily by teachers of blind/visually impaired students, though there may be occasions when it could be administered by other evaluators. Parents and teachers are welcome to view the NRMA via training videos to determine if its use would benefit their child or student. Use of the NRMA also provides the opportunity to participate in ongoing research on the subject. Instructional videos can be accessed at <www.nfbnrma.org> (no login required). To access the evaluation itself, create an account at <www.nfbnrma.org> by entering a username (your email address) and password. After you receive an email notifying you that your account has been created (within twenty-four to forty-eight hours), log in at <www.nfbnrma.org>.
An additional resource available free of charge online is the new book, Integrating Print and Braille: A Recipe for Literacy, edited by Sharon Maneki, a long-time NFB leader and education advocate. The goal of the book is to ensure full literacy for the partially sighted student through the successful integration of print and Braille into the student's school and home life. The book provides teaching strategies, case studies, personal stories, documented research, and practical tips. With chapter topics such as "Enhancing Vision Through Touch" and "Creating the Dual Media Integration Plan," the book emphasizes the thorough teaching of print and Braille so that the student can use both media efficiently and effectively. Another focus of the book is to develop the student's ability to choose the appropriate medium for the task at hand. Integrating Print and Braille: A Recipe for Literacy is available at <www.nfbnrma.org> (create an account and log in) and at <https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/books/integrating-print-braille/integratingprintandbrailletoc.html> (no login required).
by Heather Field
From the Editor: For decades, educators have debated the merits and drawbacks of teaching contracted Braille to beginning Braille readers. Recently the question prompted a series of exchanges on the Blind Homeschoolers listserv, a forum for parents who are homeschooling blind children. Heather Field posted the following response, based upon her experience as a Braille reader and a teacher of blind children.
From: Heather Field
Sent: November 29, 2012, 8:38 PM
To: [email protected]
Subject: Contracted Braille
I recommend teaching contracted Braille from the start. As a blind person who remembers learning to read Braille, I believe I have a pretty good grasp of the situation. Here is my rationale.
1. The amount a child can read is limited to the number of actual dots he/she can get under the fingertips at a given time. Unlike the eyes, the fingers can't be taught to take in a whole line at a glance. Since we can't make the intake conduit handle larger clumps of information, let's put that information into smaller packages. If the child can run her fingers over the letter c and read the word "can," or the letter l and read the word "like," she can, in a sense, absorb information at a tactile glance. Reading a whole-word contraction is quicker than having to read "c-a-n" or "l-i-k-e." From the beginning, I teach that a letter stands for such-and-such a word only when it has a space on each side of it. In this way we don't run into problems when I start teaching simple words such as "bag."
2. Why do children try learning to read? They try to learn because they want to read. Which will get them reading more quickly--being able to read a whole sentence by recognizing three letters, or having to learn the whole alphabet and then read each letter to spell out a word? In reading letter by letter, the child must try to remember the letters he has already read while figuring out the one he is currently touching. Then, he must try to remember what the combination of letters spells. I submit that it is much easier and more motivating for a child to read one letter and know the word that he has read. For instance, if I write in Braille the letters "p c g," putting a space between each letter, I have written a sentence--"People can go." Changing p to y gives me the option to write, "You can go." As soon as the child has learned the letter d, I can write, "Do you go? Do people go? You do go. People do go." I can ask questions to make the sentences meaningful, such as, "Tell me about swimming." Then the child can read, "Do you go?" This method teaches comprehension from the start and engages the child's mind in reading, not just in discriminating between letters.
Teaching the letters x, n, w, and u gives you the words "it," "not," "will," and "us." The whole six-dot cell stands for the word "for." Children quickly learn to recognize this symbol. I usually use the child's name in our lessons. As it is the only large word in the story, the child identifies it, even if he doesn't know all of the letters yet.
With only these few letters, I can present the child with fun sentences. Very early in the reading journey, these sentences can actually be combined to make entertaining stories. Usually I tell my part of the story and the child reads her part. A reading session might go like this:
Heather: "Mother needed some milk from the store. She asked her oldest girl, Penny ..."
Child: "Can you go for it? I can not go for it."
Heather: "So, Mother said to her second girl, Erin ..."
Child: "Can you go for it for us?" "I can not go for it. I will not go. I will not."
Heather: "So, Mother asked her littlest girl, Anna ..."
Child: "Will you go for us? Can you go for it? Can you? Will you? Anna, do go for it. Do go, Anna. Will you go? Will you not go for it, Anna? Anna will go. Anna can go for it for us. Go Anna, go. Go for us."
3. Natural motivation arises from reading meaningful sentences, and the need to comprehend what is being read ensures mental engagement. Motivation and engagement build early success, confidence, and enthusiasm.
Children who love reading learn to spell and to write creatively. Spelling only becomes an issue when teachers don't teach Braille readers to spell when the time comes. I had a reading age of nine years six months when I was six years and eight months old. I couldn't spell like a typical nine-year-old, but I didn't need to. I just needed to read what I wanted to read. I learned age-appropriate spelling as I matured as a learner.
I believe that contracted Braille can be especially useful for children with developmental delays. When they learn to recognize words, they don't need to bother with decoding and spelling. Start with reading and see where the child can go.
This is a rather protracted explanation of my rationale for teaching contracted Braille. I hope I have explained it well enough. Just my thoughts, of course.
PS. I'm still trying to figure out why Penny and Erin wouldn't go to the store! (smile)
by Merry-Noel Chamberlain
From the Editor: Growing up as a blind child, I assumed that echolocation was an ordinary part of life. For me it was as natural as breathing. No one taught me to notice the echoes bouncing off objects in my surroundings; they were simply there, and I learned to read the messages they gave me. In those days echolocation was called "facial perception," and no one seemed to know much about how it worked.
Today echolocation is recognized as a valuable skill that can enhance a blind traveler's ability to move independently. In this article, Merry-Noel Chamberlain explains what echolocation is and how it can be used effectively. Merry-Noel is an orientation and mobility instructor and a teacher of the visually impaired who lives in Omaha, Nebraska.
A few years ago I was working with a middle-aged man on an orientation and mobility (O&M) lesson. As we walked along a street in his neighborhood on a beautiful sunny morning, he informed me that he could hear the houses as we passed by them. I didn't quite believe him until he demonstrated his knowledge by telling me whenever we were beside a house. Then he went a step further, informing me when we were beside a mailbox. I was rather surprised at his fine-tuned hearing. This gentleman, totally blind since birth, was right on the mark with each statement he made. Still, as the sighted instructor I was back then, I couldn't hear what he heard as he noted the echoes from the metal tip of his cane.
I had had sleepshade training with the long white cane when I was training to become a counselor for the blind and visually impaired. During my training, I learned to listen for the auditory information that my metal cane tip provided as I approached a building or a brick wall. I could hear the distinctive echo the cane tip made when a wall was about five feet away. However, at that time, I didn't fine-tune my skills enough to hear buildings that were a hundred feet off or to pick out a lone mailbox connected to a post next to the sidewalk. Years later I concluded that my three months of training under sleepshades was not nearly long enough for me to fine-tune the skill that is called echolocation.
I did not perfect the skill of echolocation with the long white cane until I gained further training through the orientation and mobility program at Louisiana Tech in Ruston, Louisiana. My additional hours of sleepshade training focused exclusively on orientation and mobility (cane travel). This training truly gave my ears more time to concentrate on the information provided by the metal tip of my long white cane. In addition, while I was a student at Louisiana Tech, I discovered that I was legally blind. I picked up the long white cane and have used it ever since.
I believe that most people, blind and sighted, know a bit about echolocation. Perhaps you have seen a documentary on the sonar navigation used by bats, dolphins, and submarines. Maybe you have stood on a mountainside and yelled, "Hello!" to hear the sound of your voice bounce off a rock wall and return to you. Perhaps you have even experimented with echoes in the city by yelling out the window of a tall building. Basically, an echo is created when sound is projected from one location and bounces off a solid object to return to its point of origin.
In orientation and mobility, echolocation is the use of echoes to determine the distance between the original location of a sound and the object from which its echo bounces. The longer it takes for the sound to return, the further away the object is. As one approaches a building, the time between the original sound and its echo becomes shorter. In addition, changes in the sound of the echo can give the traveler other information about the environment through which he or she is moving. The echoes in a hallway sound different from the echoes in an office or reception area. The echo that the metal cane tip sends back from a solid wall is different from the echo of a recessed doorway. A closed door sounds different from an open door. The sound of an open space is unlike the sound of a car parked nearby. The echo may vary depending on the materials used to construct a building or object. Echoes will also differ depending on whether the traveler is inside or outdoors.
For a blind or visually impaired child or adult, learning about echolocation seldom requires a three-day course, and the skill does not have to be taught by an O&M instructor. Echolocation can be introduced in a matter of minutes (usually by an O&M instructor or by a blind or low-vision cane user). However, it takes time and effort for a new cane user to fine-tune the ears to hear the information provided by the metal cane tip. For a new cane user, the whole concept of learning the long white cane may be overwhelming. The new cane user may focus so much on learning technique that echolocation simply needs to be brought to his/her attention and mastered over time.
Did you notice that I said "metal" cane tip? That's because plastic (marshmallow or roller) cane tips do not provide a useful echo. The cane tip must be metal in order for echolocation to be effective. The metal cane tip is a consistent element--it does not need to be trained. One does not need to think about making the sound consistent. One can listen to the metal cane tip and still carry on a conversation. One can use the long white cane and still have a free hand to carry a bag of groceries or pull a stroller. If the environment is too noisy or windy, or if the traveler is wearing a hood, the cane can still provide tactile information to the user--permitting safe, effective travel from one location to another. The metal cane tip still makes an echo, although the sound may be blunted. The longer one uses the metal cane tip, the more in-tune he/she becomes to the plethora of sounds it creates.
Besides the metal cane tip, there are other methods used for echolocation. These include making auditory sounds with the mouth, snapping the fingers, or using clickers. Some proponents argue that echolocation with these sounds makes the use of the cane unnecessary. However, sounds made with the mouth, fingers, or clickers do not provide information about the terrain where one is traveling. Echoes alone do not inform the traveler about curb cuts, steps, or deep cracks in the sidewalk. The long white cane can provide such information about the terrain to the traveler, allowing him/her to travel safely.
Clucking, clicking, and other mouth sounds, snapping of the fingers, or using clickers to obtain echolocation can draw negative attention from the public. After many years in the field of O&M, and as a white cane user myself, I have concluded that most members of our society are aware that the long white cane is used by individuals who have a visual impairment to help them travel freely. However, if a person makes auditory sounds with the mouth, while turning his/her head from side to side to aid in hearing, the public may wrongly assume that the person has a mental disability. Many members of our society may think negatively about public snapping of the fingers, too. I've always understood the action of snapping the fingers as an impolite way to gain someone's attention, perhaps a waitress in a busy restaurant. The bottom line is that the metal cane tip offers echolocation to the user in a positive, consistent manner that is most accepted by members of our society.
Some people who are blind or deafblind may want to try using a portable electronic travel device that employs ultrasound to detect objects such as open cupboard doors or low branches. These devices provide tactile and/or auditory feedback. The device can vibrate or make chirping sounds (through an earpiece) that become more rapid the closer an object is to one's body. However, such a device cannot help the individual find curbs, cracks in the sidewalk, or abandoned roller skates on the pavement. In the advertisements for such electronic devices, retailers recommend that the device be used in conjunction with the long white cane or guide dog.
When I work with individuals on O&M, I have found four levels of skill with echolocation. My students who have been blind since birth are most expert. Those who became blind in early childhood have mastered echolocation with some additional training, while those who became blind as adults can become quite proficient. (I fall into this category.) Sighted people or people who became blind later in life are quite capable of using echolocation, but not usually at the level of individuals who have been blind since birth.
Highly developed intense hearing focus
Echolocation is self-discovered
Echolocation introduced by an O&M instructor or
May develop other methods of echolocation (sounds with the mouth or snapping of the fingers)
Becomes aware of other methods (excluding sounds with the mouth) of echolocation
Willing to try electronic or low-tech tools (clickers) for echolocation
Becomes an expert with echolocation using the metal tip of the long white cane
For me, becoming blind as an adult, the long white cane with the metal tip is the most effective tool for echolocation. It enhances independent travel, providing the individual takes the time to fine-tune his/her hearing to become knowledgeable about the many sounds the metal cane tip can offer, sounds that provide a plethora of information. I only wish that someday I could become as skilled at hearing the fine detailed information my long white cane is trying to tell me as those who have been blind since birth.
by Halla Sigridur Margretardottir Haugen
From the Editor: Halla “Sigga” Margretardottir Haugen is a graphic designer, illustrator, and events planner who lives in Reykjavik, Iceland. She studied graphic design in Florence, Italy, and at the Icelandic Academy of the Arts in Reykjavik. She hopes to use her background to work in an environment where people with different educations come together to make beautiful designs that will help others. As she wrote this article, she was awaiting the birth of her second child.
Two years ago I decided to go back to school and finish my bachelor's degree in graphic design at the Icelandic Academy of the Arts. While researching an assignment in 2011, I visited the National Institute for the Blind, Visually Impaired, and Deafblind and became fascinated with tactile graphics in books. Each tactilely illustrated book was a work of art, combining form, materials, and imagination. Most of the books I saw had some educational purpose, giving children an opportunity to learn about the world around them through raised images.
Looking farther, I found that most children's books with tactile images come from other countries. The schools in Iceland do not have many learning materials with tactile illustrations for blind children. Some books have been translated, but in the translation the meaning often changes and the images and texts do not necessarily match.
Personally, I cannot imagine how it would be possible to learn without having illustrations to explain how things work. Our whole environment comes to life when we understand its particular forms and functions. But the blind children in Iceland have no choice. They are lucky if they get one or two pictures in a whole math book.
I could not get this lack of illustrations in learning materials out of my mind. I ended up writing about tactile books for my BA thesis in the autumn of 2011. In the process I learned more about tactile books and what blind children need. I learned how the books should be designed, what is available now, and what may be published in the next couple of years. I found myself asking the same questions again and again. Can these books be made in another way? Is there a way to make the process easier and to enable the publisher to make many copies without difficulty? Is there a way that could be used for a variety of teaching materials? How could I make a book for the blind or visually impaired?
When it came to my final project I decided to make teaching materials about the human body for blind and visually impaired six- to eight-year-old children. It is possible to use almost anything to make a tactile book, but it can be hard to find enough of one material to make many books. What would be the best material to represent skin or bones? I went through a long process trying to find the best way to make my book. Finally I decided not to limit myself to technology that we use today. To broaden my horizon I talked to a lot of people with different backgrounds and tried to find a new way to make the book. During the research, the idea of using 3D printing came to me.
Additive manufacturing (AM) or 3D printing is well known to many people. It has been around at least since the 1980s. At first large printers could print out fairly simple objects, but since then there have been vast improvements. The process is now used to make many of the most complicated objects on the market today. I knew about AM but I had never given it much thought before, as I did not have the knowledge to make things in 3D programs.
Many companies print in 3D. I ended up contacting a Belgian company called Materialise because it has an extensive range of 3D printing technology. Its clients include large technological companies, hospitals, surgeons, and people like me who are interested in bringing their own designs to life. With 3D printing it is possible to print virtually anything in as many copies as you like. If I can design or model my idea digitally on a computer, it can be "3D printed" in layers of material to form a complete three-dimensional object. Objects can be made from a wide variety of materials such as hard or soft plastics; soft fluffy material similar to fake grass; or metals such as titanium, stainless steel, and silver. Researchers are even bringing new materials to the market, enabling people to print out gold, concrete, wood, bone, human cells, and much more.
When I learned about these possibilities, I knew this was how I wanted to make my book. With 3D printing I had the opportunity to make a book with both 2D and 3D images. The idea fascinated me, and I wanted to see if I could make something that could be used to help blind children.
At that stage of the project I had no idea how to work in 3D programs, so I had to start from the beginning. I had to find a program that suited my needs, then sit down and learn to use it. Once I had some anatomical models of the human body and a relatively good knowledge of the program, I could start to design the book itself. The design changed numerous times during the process, but today I have a white prototype in 3D and a 2D color version of my book. The original final design cannot be executed today in exactly the way I intend, as I decided to design the book without limitations. I tried to think beyond the frame of current possibilities.
I always knew it would be hard to print out the human body exactly as it is, but it can be produced from materials that have a density and texture similar to the skin, muscles, bones, and inner organs. Why focus on what we have now, when there is progress in the field every day? Who knows what will be available in a few years? The technology exists, and in the end I hope to make something that will be even more useful for the children. If there is a demand, the technology will follow. I am happy to say that at this moment people are working out how to print the book in a cost-effective way with as many of my desired details as possible. We will see what I have in the end.
Through the whole process I have been looking at materials created earlier for blind and visually impaired children. To my surprise, I have not found any learning resources made with this 3D printing technology. There are endless possibilities. The only limits are those within our imaginations. For example, it will be possible to enhance the experience of art exhibits. Replicas of paintings and sculptures can be printed in 3D so that anyone can touch them. With the materials available today, almost anything can be reproduced with a density or texture similar to the original. Objects that are too fragile to be handled or things that are too large or small to be understood by touch can be printed in more durable materials or in different proportions. It should be fairly simple to print maps of neighborhoods on a feasible scale. Imagine being able to feel the shapes of neighboring houses, to discover how many trees there are along this or that road, or to learn what your own house looks like from the outside! Imagine a tactile picture of the view from your window! It will also be possible to print the world as blind people experience it, to help sighted people understand it better and link these differing perceptions.
Today the greatest barriers to making 3D printed learning materials are the cost and the learning curve involved with 3D design programs. These factors will not always stand in the way. The companies that print in 3D are becoming more aware of the private consumer. Printers for private homes have entered the market, and the materials are becoming cheaper. In the near future it will be easier to design in 3D with the help of programs such as SketchUp from Google, which is already available. Other programs are on the way. Some AM companies have developed simple programs that are specifically designed for their printers.
My advice is not to limit yourself to what is already available. Make designs that can and will be used in the future. If I can do this, anyone can! It is just a question of how much you want to make it happen.
Making the book Discover the Body has been a long and adventurous process, and it has been one of my greatest challenges in design so far. I have been lucky to meet and know new people who have been ready to help me make this product, which I hope will be a great help to the children.
Since I graduated four months ago, my book seems to have taken on a life of its own, receiving attention from all over the world. People from Europe, the United States, and Australia have been in touch with me to learn more about Discover the Body. Some want to buy the book. Others publish articles about it, introduce it at conferences, and even show it in art exhibitions. I never thought that a BA project could get so much attention, and it fills me with overwhelming gratitude.
All of this interest tells me that I am doing something right. Creating 3D access to the world for blind and visually impaired people is one of my dreams, no matter what form the connections may take. I think that only good can come from this pursuit. It is just a matter of having an open mind, following the technical developments, and using each step to the best advantage. I hope that in the end the whole process of making this book will do some good in the future, no matter how long it takes.
by Luis Pérez
From the Editor: Luis Pérez is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Special Education at the University of South Florida. His dissertation focuses upon the lived experiences of graduate students with visual disabilities. In 2009, Luis was selected as an Apple Distinguished Educator. He has served as the webmaster for his local chapter of the NFB in Hillsborough County, Florida, and created a public service announcement about white cane safety that can be viewed at <http://bit.ly/whitecanesafety>.
"To photograph is to put on the same line of sight the head, the eye, and the heart."
For me, this quote by the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who is considered by many to be the father of modern photojournalism, captures the essence of photography. I have a visual impairment due to an eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa (RP) that has left me with less than ten degrees of central vision. Nevertheless, my passion to capture the beauty and richness of the visual world has not diminished. I have found that learning about photography is relatively easy, given the host of online resources and communities available to someone starting out with this hobby. I can compensate for my vision loss through the accessibility features built into the smartphone I always carry around with me. This convergence of passion, knowledge, and accessible tools allowed me to pursue photography as a hobby after I learned that I was losing my sight.
Around the time I was diagnosed with RP, digital photography was coming into its own. With a digital camera, I do not have to worry about the cost of developing the many photos I often take before I capture an image just right. With traditional photography, the cost of purchasing film would have made the hobby too expensive for me.
Digital photography solved the problem of cost, and the development of smartphones with powerful cameras solved the problem of actually being able to take pictures. With a smartphone, the act of photographing is reduced to its most essential elements--point the camera at a scene and snap! Not having to worry about all the dials and knobs is very freeing for me. I can focus my creative energy on actually capturing what I can see in front of me. As accessibility features are added to smartphones, photography has become even more accessible and enjoyable for me.
I am not the only person with a visual impairment who considers digital photography an important part of his or her life. On the Flickr photo-sharing site, more than three hundred blind photographers have come together to share their best shots and to provide advice and support for other blind people who want to get started with photography. The only rules for joining this community are a Flickr account and a willingness to introduce oneself and tell one's personal story. The group (which can be found at <www.flickr.com/groups/blind_photographers> captures the social component of photography. Yes, we take photos because we find something in the world that captures our attention aesthetically or emotionally. But the next major component of photography is the wish to share what we've captured with the important people in our lives. The blind photography group on Flickr provides a social space where blind photographers can share their photos, not only with each other, but with family members and friends.
The desire of blind people to take photos has also been documented in the academic literature. As part of a collaboration between researchers at Rochester and Washington Universities, an online survey about photography was sent to various organizations, mailing lists, and companies that serve the blind. Of the 118 respondents, 71 percent said they had used a camera recently. The top reason given for using a camera was to take photos of family, friends, trips, and events (62 percent of respondents). A majority (52 of 84 respondents) said they took photos as a hobby or experiment (Jayant, Ji, White, and Bigham). Only two of the respondents did not think they could use a camera at all. The survey results show a strong desire among blind and visually impaired people to take photographs, even in the absence of accessible cameras.
Despite the fact that they lack accessibility features, on occasion I still use a traditional digital camera to take photos. I feel that the act of taking a photo as a political statement is as important to me as the photo itself. When I come to a scene and pull out my camera while holding my white cane, people are forced to question their preconceived ideas about what blind people can accomplish. However, these days I do most of my photography with my smartphone, using its many built-in accessibility features. The smartphone (in my case it is an iPhone) is also much smaller and easier to work with, which is important for me because I often have a cane in my other hand when I take photos.
In this article I will focus on the iPhone because it is the type of phone I use. However, other smartphones (such as those running Android or Windows) now also have powerful built-in cameras, and their accessibility is improving. The cameras on the iPad and the iPod Touch also have improved with recent releases of those products. They are now good options for mobile photography. Since they run the same iOS software as the iPhone, the features discussed in this article (including the built-in accessibility support) will apply to those devices as well.
My first smartphone was the original iPhone released back in 2007. Its only accessibility feature was the ability to pinch in to zoom for a better view while reading web pages. Not only has Apple improved the quality of the camera on the iPhone (it now has eight megapixels), but it has added a number of accessibility features that make the iPhone the most accessible camera for the blind I know. These features include:
Starting with iOS 5, the built-in Camera app is compatible with VoiceOver. It allows someone who is totally blind to take a photo with the iPhone or iPad. To take a photo with VoiceOver on your iPhone or iPad:
1. Launch the Camera app while VoiceOver is turned on. To do this, drag one finger around on the screen until VoiceOver announces that it has landed on the Camera app. Then double-tap anywhere on the screen with one finger to launch the app.
2. Use a similar technique to interact with the various controls within the Camera app:
Once you have selected the camera and set your options, move your finger near the middle of the screen. For photos of objects, VoiceOver will announce when the camera has autofocused. For photos of people, VoiceOver will use facial-recognition technology to announce the number of people in the frame and give their positions, as well as the size of the faces (i.e., "one face, large face, centered.") At that point, you can take a photo in three different ways:
I prefer the latter two techniques, as they make it easier for me to hold the phone steady in order to get a sharp photo. Double-tapping the screen can cause device shake, which results in blurry photos.
To work with the photo you just captured, move your finger to the lower right corner and double-tap to open the Photo Viewer. Once in the Photo Viewer, you can delete a photo by selecting it, moving your finger to the lower right corner to select Trash, and double-tapping with one finger. To share a photo, select it, choose the Action button at the bottom of the screen, and double-tap with one finger to hear the available options. The options include emailing the photo, sending it in a text message, and posting it to Twitter or Facebook. To take additional photos, move your finger to the lower left and choose Return to Camera.
A new option in iOS 6 is the ability to take a panoramic photo. To take this kind of image, select Panorama from the options of the Camera app (top center), snap the photo as you normally would, then move your phone around you from left to right or vice versa. As you move the phone, VoiceOver will help you keep it in a straight line by announcing when you need to raise or lower it. When you've captured the desired area of the panorama, release the shutter one more time and the image will be captured and saved to the Camera Roll.
In addition to the built-in Camera app, there is a wide selection of apps for capturing, editing, and sharing photos in Apple's App Store. However, the support for VoiceOver varies from app to app, depending on how well the developer has labeled the buttons and other controls. The Apple apps tend to have the best support of all. In addition to the Camera app, the built-in Photos app allows you to manage and share photos, and the iPhoto app ($4.99 in the App Store) allows you to edit them. Among the third party apps, I have found the popular Instagram app (free) to be one of the easiest to use. It provides a complete workflow for capturing, editing, and sharing photos within one app. Tommy Edison has posted a video on YouTube that shows how a blind person can use the Instagram app. This tutorial is available at <http://bit.ly/TommyEdisoninstagram>.
Along with the apps, numerous accessories make it easier to take photos if you have low vision. Among the ones I have found most helpful are the following (all can be purchased at amazon.com):
An alternative workflow for editing photos for people with low vision is to use a traditional digital camera to take the photo and then edit it on the larger screen of the iPad. This requires the purchase of an Apple iPad Camera Kit for connecting the camera to the iPad with a USB cable. The kit also includes a card reader for transferring photos directly from your camera's memory card. My choice of camera for this kind of workflow has been my Sony NEX-5N. The Sony NEX-5N is a mirrorless camera. It has the capabilities of a traditional digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera (such as the option for interchangeable lenses and fast image capture), but removing the mirror makes these cameras much smaller and lighter than other DSLR cameras. I can easily compose an image with one hand with this camera while holding my cane with the other. While I use the Sony NEX-5N, other companies such as Nikon and Olympus have similar mirrorless cameras in their camera lineups.
As with the iPhone, images are composed with a touchscreen on a mirrorless camera. My loss of peripheral vision, which makes it difficult for me to look through a viewfinder, encouraged me to move to a mirrorless camera in order to compose my photos as I had been doing with the iPhone. The only drawback with this type of camera is that, as with the iPhone, it can be difficult to see the screen in bright light. However, a number of shades and anti-glare covers for the touchscreen can be purchased to address this issue.
The future for blind photography is bright. The same support for accessibility available on Apple devices is being embraced by other companies such as Google and Microsoft. For example, devices running the latest version of Android include two features called TalkBack and Explore by Touch that are similar to the VoiceOver screen reader on Apple devices. An even newer development is the introduction of point-and-shoot cameras that have Wi-Fi connectivity and run a customized version of Android. It is my hope that camera companies will choose to keep the accessibility features of the smartphone software when they adopt it for the next generation of connected cameras. If they do, our ability to capture the beauty around us through photography will only be limited by our desire to learn and our passion for the hobby. I hope more blind people will join me on this journey of exploration and experimentation. I hope they will post their photos on Instagram for all of us to see. You can reach me at <http://instagram.com/lfp1211> Keep on snapping!
Jayant, C., Ji, H., White, S., and Bigham, J. (2011). Supporting blind photography. Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Computers and Accessibility (ASSETS 2011). Dundee, Scotland.
by Amy Safko
From the Editor: Amy Safko worked for many years in the field of early intervention. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Medford, New Jersey.
When our daughter Emily was four years old, she announced that she wanted to play the Celtic harp. My husband, Greg, is a classically trained pianist. We had thought the piano might be Emily's instrument of choice, but from the beginning it was the harp that she wanted. I think she got the idea when we took her to the Winterthur Museum and Gardens in Wilmington, Delaware. Emily heard a harp concert there, and she was utterly enthralled. She was a pretty hyper kid, but she sat spellbound as she listened to the music.
We found Emily a teacher of Celtic harp when she was six. The Celtic harp is much smaller than the harp played in an orchestra. It has levers instead of pedals, and it is more manageable for a child to play.
At about the time Emily began to take harp lessons, we discovered that she has a rare genetic condition called Stickler syndrome. Stickler can affect many parts of the body, including the eyes, ears, and connective tissue. In Emily's case it caused severe nearsightedness; she started to wear glasses when she was two. We were told that she was at high risk for retinal detachment.
When we went for genetic testing, it turned out that I have Stickler myself. I was born with cleft palate, which was corrected with surgery. Cleft palate is one of the many possible manifestations of Stickler.
One day when she was ten, Emily told us that she was seeing spots, or floaters. we knew this could be a sign that her retinas were detaching. We took her to the ophthalmologist, but he didn't find anything wrong.
A few weeks later, Emily came home and said that all of a sudden she couldn't see the board at school. People's faces looked blurry to her. It turned out that both of her retinas were almost completely detached. She had surgery on her right eye the next day, and they operated on her left eye a week later. Then the retina of the right eye detached again, requiring yet another surgery. After each operation she had to be completely immobilized for five days. This meant that, with the three surgeries, she spent fifteen days lying facedown without moving.
The surgeries reattached Emily's retinas, but she is legally blind now, and her remaining vision is very fragile. She started to learn Braille in fifth grade, and she uses a cane. The cane is especially helpful at night or when she goes from sunshine outdoors to a dimly lighted room.
Ironically, a few weeks before Emily's retinas detached, her harp teacher started encouraging her to play with her eyes closed. Most Celtic harpists play by ear. In fact, Ireland had a strong tradition of blind harpists in the eighteenth century. At that time smallpox was rampant, and many people became blind as a result of the disease. Music was one of the few professions open to blind people in those days, and many became harpists. One blind harpist in particular, Turlough O'Carolan (1670-1738), is revered as Ireland's greatest harp master. He composed hundreds of songs that are still played today.
Emily knew about O'Carolan and the other blind harpists, but she still had doubts about her ability to play after she lost her sight. Everything seemed different to her. She'd say, "The strings are all weird." Her teacher was great. She kept talking about "muscle memory," and after a while Emily discovered that her hands knew where they needed to go. She has a very good ear and a good memory. After a week or two she was playing with confidence again.
Emily entered her first harp competition when she was eight. It was a qualifying competition for the Fleadh Cheoil (pronounced Fleah KEEole) which is sometimes called the World Series of Irish music. Before her retinas detached, Emily competed at the Fleadh Cheoil in Ireland two years in a row. She competed in the under-twelve category in general harp and slow airs harp. Slow airs is very challenging because the harpist has to play in the way a vocalist would sing.
The Celtic harp community is very close-knit, and we have made some wonderful friends. When Emily was going through her surgeries, people from all over the world sent us cards and even gifts. It was truly amazing--we heard from people we had never even met!
In August 2012, eight months after her surgeries, Emily competed at the Fleadh Cheoil for the third year in a row. Her goal was to hear her name called out. The judges call out the names of the top three winners in each category, and that's a great honor.
Emily did hear her name called out this time. She tied for third place in the under-twelve slow airs competition. Both of the third-place winners were asked to play again, and Emily dropped down to fourth place. But she had heard her name called out. It gave her great motivation to try again next year.
Emily wants to be a professional harpist when she grows up. For now, though, she's intent on going back to the Fleadh Cheoil next summer. She loves the fun and excitement of being among the musicians she has come to know over the years. And she can't wait to hear the judges call out her name again!
by Chelsea Cook
Reprinted from the Braille Monitor, Vol. 56, No. 1, January 2013
From the Editor: Chelsea Cook is a student at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia. Since childhood she has been fascinated by space travel. In this article she explains how she came to be "bitten by the space bug" and what she is doing to make space travel a possibility for herself and for other blind people.
Jimmy was about to go on another adventure. Without his parents' permission. In a homemade rocket. To a galaxy no human had ever visited before. And I was going with him.
To my ten-year-old mind, there was nothing more thrilling than watching Jimmy Neutron. Even without audio description, I could follow the story. I was infatuated with the idea that a fictional boy genius my own age could accomplish all these amazing feats. He didn't always fit in, so I could relate to him. His sheer boldness and confidence inspired me and showed me that, with hard work, I could do just as well in math and science. Most important of all, Jimmy showed me that I could go to the stars.
Certainly most kids have the fantasy of becoming astronauts. But that dream never died for me. At the same time Jimmy was rocketing around town and galaxy, I picked up a book by Noreen Grice called Touch the Stars II. It is one in a series of Braille books about astronomy that Grice has created, complete with carefully designed tactile graphics. In the introduction to the book, I read about Kent Cullers, the first blind radio astronomer. As the Braille graphics whisked me off to the constellations, planets, galaxies, and star clusters, it dawned on me that a career in some sort of astronomical field was no longer just a childhood dream. It could become a reality for me, as it had for other blind people. I thought, "If Kent Cullers could do that, so can I." Now I had to work to join those ranks.
Once I was bitten by the space bug, it didn't let go. I attended NASA workshops for youth, dragging my parents to Saturday-morning lectures about Mars, impact craters, and the basic characteristics of flight. I took advanced math in fifth grade, catapulting me into algebra by seventh and eighth. I couldn't get enough of the sciences surrounding astronomy. When the Braille eighth-grade physics and chemistry book was ordered accidentally instead of the seventh-grade biology text, I let no one know that I sneaked three volumes home every weekend. Under the covers I devoured the inner workings of laser technology and neutron stars. I got my hands on every book that Noreen Grice produced.
When I entered high school, I used to joke that my idea of a perfect Friday night was to stay up late watching Discovery Channel documentaries about black holes and dark matter, or to surf the NASA website when my parents had gone to bed and the pages loaded quickly. Most of my science education was self-driven. I had to fight to take Advanced Placement calculus and physics my senior year.
People thought I was an amazing blind person for wanting to go into a scientific field. How great it was that I wanted to learn these hard, abstract concepts that my sighted peers had no idea about. But it was much more than that--a drive and a thirst for knowledge propelled me. I am convinced that early Braille reading was the catalyst for all my other adventures. Jimmy Neutron and Noreen Grice came along at just the right time to spark my love of math and science.
For the longest time I thought I would combine astronomy and chemistry ... until I took physics in tenth grade. My teacher expected nothing less from me than from any other student. With every demonstration we did, I got my hands dirty--pushing bowling balls up for pendulums, having graphs drawn into my palm, playing with slinkies to simulate wave properties, being rolled around in a swivel chair to appreciate negative acceleration. I loved physics so much and felt its absence in junior year so greatly that I had to listen to calculus-based lectures on the Internet. I could generally follow what the professors were saying, and I would get in a few problems at the lunch table. Even though I hadn't had formal training in calculus, physics--which was connected to astronomy--was all I cared about.
Then came my Sweet Sixteen. Most girls want a party, or boys, or (for the sighted folks), a car. I really didn't know what I wanted, but what I got was beyond anything I could have hoped for. The NFB national convention was in Dallas that year, and my mom had dismissed the idea of going to Houston early on. I was not expecting a recording from her on my birthday: "We have a problem. The tickets aren't for Dallas. You're going to Houston!" For two days I toured the campus of the Johnson Space Center. Another surprise was a private tour, and one place we visited was Mission Control.
This was not a glassed-in view, nor one from a movie or photograph. I was in the actual room used from 1965 to 1995 to control all of America's space missions. Astronauts of all eras, flight controllers of all competencies, and flight directors of all ranks had stood or sat where I currently occupied the universe for the better part of twenty minutes. "Awe-inspiring" was too weak a word to describe the flood of overpowering emotion that took hold while I stood in that large, all-encompassing chamber. I sank down in front of one of the work stations, the cushion accepting that a new occupant had come along. Still not believing my circumstances, I looked out over the darkened consoles to the giant black screen at the front of the room, imagining controllers filling every one of these seats. I thought of myself in Apollo flight director Gene Kranz's position and wondered if I had a right to fill his enormous shoes. I had heard his voice many times over the years (Apollo 13 is my favorite mission), but I couldn't fathom the fact that I was actually sitting in his chair.
Now I am in college, pursuing my dreams for real. Freshman year included four astronomy courses and a space survey course. I am currently in an astrophysics sequence. I have Braille math and physics books, readers well versed in their fields, and professors who understand that I can learn the material; sometimes all it takes is a different way of presenting.
The connections and influences that made a difference when I was ten are still with me. I have all five of Noreen Grice's books on my shelf at Virginia Tech, and I have many megabytes on my computer devoted to the boy genius with the ice-cream hairdo (think dipped cone on top of large head). I still listen to Jimmy Neutron's soundtrack when I'm solving especially difficult calculus or physics problems. Something about that carefree time when I first realized that anything is possible helps the answer come to me. I always dream of that day when I will no longer be bound by Earth's gravity; I will be in a place where the scope of the universe is as limitless as my imagination.
by Hai Nguyen Ly
Reprinted from Future Reflections, Special Issue on Sports, Fitness, and Recreation, Vol. 26, No. 2
From the Editor: Hai Nguyen Ly works for Kurzweil Reading Systems and chairs the Committee on Research and Development of the National Federation of the Blind. This article originally appeared under the byline of David Wright.
As far back as I can remember, I've had an interest in physical activities. Like any active kid, I enjoyed climbing trees, swinging from ropes (pretending that I was Tarzan), and jumping off the garage roof (hoping that I could fly). I read a lot of books, and as a result I had a tremendously active imagination.
Two aspects of my childhood set me apart from other children. At the age of six I was adopted from an orphanage in Vietnam. Only three weeks after I relocated to the United States, I found out that I would eventually go blind.
Despite the frustrations that came with my degenerating vision, I was a very resilient child and adapted easily. My parents did everything they could to make sure I received the best education at home and in school. For the most part, they were open-minded about encouraging me to participate in mainstream activities that had to do with academics and music. However, when it came to physical activities such as sports, I was often left on the sidelines. When I asked why, the answer always had something to do with people not wanting me to get hurt.
I suppose I was taught early, like many blind children, that I was different and that I had no future. I remember my kindergarten teacher asking me one day what I wanted to be when I grew up. Innocently, I told the class that I wanted to be a detective, an inventor, a martial artist like Bruce Lee, or maybe an astronaut. A lot of the kids laughed at me and asked how I was going to do those things when I couldn't even see clearly. Needless to say, I went home crying that day.
I went through elementary school with very few friends, but the ones I made were open-minded and dared to dream with me. At recess my friends taught me a variety of ways to get into trouble. We climbed fences, walked on top of the monkey bars, and jumped off the swings to see who could go the farthest. Those days of mischief helped me realize that I could compete physically with my sighted peers. Despite the uneducated assumptions of so many people (including my parents) about what I could not do, I had a deep-seated determination to succeed. I was determined to prove to myself that I was equal to my sighted peers.
At the age of thirteen I lost my remaining sight. During the years that followed, I went through a number of pretty big life changes. My determination was severely tested through a time of unrelenting despair over my vision loss. My parents placed me in a group home when they were unable to handle my depression. I relocated to a new and immensely larger school system, and eventually I competed on a regular high-school gymnastics team.
Although I am usually a pretty optimistic person now, my parents' decision to place me in a group home caused me to sink even deeper into depression. I spent many nights lying awake, wondering what I had done to deserve this retribution from my parents and from God.
In the end I threw off my depression by diving into my academics and getting involved in as many extracurricular activities as I could. Many of these activities played an important role in developing my independence and confidence. Although I spent much of my high school career looking for ways to avoid being at the group home, I believe now that being there forced me to raise my level of independence.
My love of sports began with my fascination with the martial arts. It seemed to me that in every mystery novel I read, the detectives were proficient in karate or some other form of fighting art. I figured that in order for me to be a good detective, I too must learn to throw my weight around. I also wanted to play traditional sports such as basketball, football, and soccer. However, I was always excluded from these activities in school and at home because of my blindness.
Throughout my school years, I fought the school system to take part in mainstream physical education classes. Most of the time I convinced my counselors to let me into the regular classes, but I was often forced to sit on the sidelines, not allowed to participate in the day's activities. Exclusion from team-building activities made me feel that I was unwanted and incapable of participation in normal sports.
When I relocated to the group home in the western suburbs of Chicago, I lost my struggle with the school system to remain in mainstream physical education. But when one door closes, another opens. At the beginning of my sophomore year, I discovered that my high school had a wrestling team. Although my parents discouraged me from joining the team, I gained their grudging approval with the help of my therapist. I wish I could have seen the look on the head coach's face when I walked into the wrestling room for the first time! Some of the other team members told me later that he looked confused and slightly annoyed, as if I were wasting his time. My coach soon learned that I was just as hardworking and capable as any other member of the team. I ended up wrestling through my sophomore and junior years, winning more matches than I lost.
In the winter of my sophomore year, I was talking to one of my new friends, Brandon, during lunch about blindness. He was curious and amazed at my level of independence; he wanted to know why all blind people were not like me. At one point in our conversation, I told him confidently, "Other than driving, name something that you think I can't do, and I'll show you otherwise."
Brandon said he would think about it and that he would get back to me after practice. I asked him what he was practicing, and he said that he was a member of the school's gymnastics team. I asked him if he'd ever heard of a blind gymnast. He said that, come to think of it, he hadn't. He paused and said, "I dare you to join gymnastics."
That day I attended my first gymnastics practice with Brandon. When Brandon introduced me, I asked the coach if he thought I could join and compete as part of the team. To my great joy, he said, "I don't see why not."
The coach had one of the team members show me the gymnastics equipment corresponding to each event. Then he asked me to choose an event in which I thought I could succeed. After trying out all of the equipment and making more or less a fool of myself, I didn't know if I could live up to my friend's challenge. The sport turned out to be quite a bit harder than I had first believed. But after the first month or so, I noticed that my workouts were easier and that I was making progress in my performance. My coach discussed my strengths with me and suggested that I compete on pommel horse or still rings. He said that I looked like a good candidate for parallel bars as well.
At the beginning of each practice my coach explained the routine and described the body positions to me. Each gymnastics routine has a number of basic requirements that have to be met. Routines are scored based on criteria ranging from body position to smoothness, completion of transitions, and smooth mounts and dismounts. After my coach had finished explaining a routine to me, he would often ask me to perform it in front of the team. After I tried (and usually failed) at the routine, my coach would lift and maneuver my body through the proper positions. All the while he was telling me the name for each position and how long I should hold it.
Although I may not have been the best gymnast, my blindness brought a brand-new perspective to the way the team learned. It wasn't long before the coach told my teammates that they should think about learning gymnastics the way I did in order to understand it fully. Instead of using their eyes, he challenged them to use their other senses. My teammates soon began to teach me routines using the coach's methods. This helped me learn, and it helped them gain new techniques for their performances.
After our first gymnastics meet (which we won!) we were interviewed by a local newspaper. My team captain told the reporter that he wouldn't have done so well if it weren't for the hours he spent teaching me my routines. He said that by teaching me he had to think of alternative ways of expressing the concepts to me, and this in turn gave him a better understanding of what he had to do. By the end of my senior year everyone on my team agreed that they performed better because they had learned to think about the sport using alternative methods.
By the end of my senior year, I was no longer a novelty to the gymnastics community. When I started scoring higher than some of the "good" gymnasts, I was shown the respect that I deserved as a person competing on an equal playing field.
Enrolling blind children in sports, or challenging them to be physically active, is beneficial in many ways. Overall, children who are active are healthier and are able to focus better in school. Blind children who are active have better spatial and kinesthetic awareness--that is, an understanding of their physical position within different environments. This awareness is invaluable when it comes to independent travel. Good spatial awareness also enhances comprehension of mathematical concepts such as height and distance. All this is to say that physical activity and sports play very crucial roles in the development of all children, blind and sighted.
Although my friend challenged me to join gymnastics, he really didn't think I could do it. But my coach dared to believe. As silly as it may sound, "seeing beyond the impossible" really is possible. Impossibilities are no more than self-limitations. With the right techniques, sufficient encouragement, and self-motivation, I was able to compete in mainstream sports.
by Mary Fernandez
Reprinted from The Student Slate, Fall 2012
From the Editor: Mary Fernandez, who won an NFB National Scholarship in 2010, is a recent graduate of Emory University in Atlanta. In this article she describes her long search for a job and gives some pointers for other job-seekers.
I jumped out of the cab in front of Union Station and made my way quickly to the ticket counter. I had already missed the train I had planned to catch, and was hoping to make the next one. I bought my Amtrak ticket and made my way to the gate. It looked like I would make it on time for my first-ever job interview.
Once on board, I sat down with every intention of relaxing. But after five seconds exactly, my thigh started to twitch. Taking a deep breath, I told myself that, while this was a big deal, it would be okay, right? Then my foot started tapping.
Okay, I'll call my mom! Well, that only took ten minutes. Fine, I'll listen to some relaxing music. I will ignore the five-year-old who lives in my head and at times like now asks annoying questions like, "Are we there yet?"
If I was going to be thinking, I might as well think about things that might help me during the interview. The only problem was that, aside from the research I had done during the last two weeks, I wasn't quite sure that I was even qualified to be a paralegal. That thought brought my mind back around to my résumé ... Did I include everything I had done? Did I ever fix that one spelling error?
Okay, this wasn't working, and I still had fifteen minutes to go on the train. I gave up and just let my thigh twitch, but restrained from picking at my nails. Hopefully no one was staring at me and my peculiar behavior. Or if someone was looking at me, hopefully they had nothing to do with the decision about hiring me.
At long last, after what seemed like three hours instead of half an hour, the train arrived at Baltimore's Penn Station. I walked as quickly and in as dignified a manner as my four-inch heels would allow me. I got into yet another cab and asked the driver to take me to the offices of Brown, Goldstein & Levy. As I sat in the cab, I wondered yet again how exactly I had managed to land an interview for a dream job that I hadn't even considered during my job search.
The ride was mercifully short, and I still made it the requisite fifteen minutes early. Okay, I had made it! IN TIME! I sat in the gorgeous lobby and utilized every tool I had ever learned to control stage fright. After a while my twitching subsided, though my heart rate still speeded up if I thought too hard about the importance of the next hour.
The interview started exactly on time, and as it turned out, it wasn't an hour, but closer to two hours. I was quickly briefed by the firm administrator and told that I would be speaking to a total of five people. The good news was that, after the second person, I just couldn't keep up my high agitation level. With everyone I spoke to, I realized more and more what a wonderful opportunity this job could be.
By the end of the interview, I was exhausted, and my heart rate had picked up again. This time, however, it was just pure unadulterated excitement. Sadly, that excitement lasted until I realized that now I had to wait to find out the end result.
That night I came back to Washington, DC. I was set to wait for at least two days to know whether or not I got the job and to reflect some more on how it had all happened.
It all started in October of my senior year. After a rather dramatic epiphany during which I realized that psychology was not what I wanted to do for the next seven years, let alone the rest of my life, I found myself at a complete loss. Here I was, months away from graduation, and the plan that I had so carefully sculpted during the last four years had crumbled right in front of me.
After I had tired myself out with my panic at no longer having a ten-year plan, I finally calmed down and started listening to what people had to say. I also started listening to myself. Much of what was coming out of my mouth, things like, "Oh my gosh, I'm a failure!" and "There's nothing else I can possibly do with my life!" stopped making as much sense as it once did. I figured out that what I really wanted to do was try working for a year or two. Then I would go to law school, something I had wanted to do since the age of seven.
Okay, great. I had decided not to go straight to graduate school and to try to find a job in one of the hardest economic times our country has faced. And so it all started.
I officially began my job search in November of 2011, and I did not get an interview until June of 2012. Like all my fellow graduating classmates, I became an expert on job searches. I started by crafting a good résumé--which I doubted on my way to my first job interview. Be that as it may, I tried to make my résumé not only succinct but also demonstrative of all my hard work and achievements during my four years in college. The end result was a résumé that had a strong foundation and only needed a few tweaks, depending on the specific position. It listed a double major at a liberal arts college, a third language, internships every summer, significant academic research and my name in a publication, and service to the community. But my résumé did not cut it for about fifty jobs.
Once I had a résumé that was approved by friends and the career center at Emory, it all began in earnest. My major focus in looking for a job was to try the federal sector first, since the benefits are great and supposedly the government is always hiring. I have since learned that the government isn't always hiring, especially since we are getting out of an economic recession. Despite that, I learned about some incredible resources that every student with a disability who is graduating from college should explore.
The first program I heard about is called WRP, or the Workforce Recruitment Program. It is a program targeting college students and recent graduates with disabilities. There is an application process, and recruiters will come to college campuses that have requested them to interview candidates; the end result is a database in which résumés and applications are posted along with the interviewer's thoughts about the applicants. This database is accessed by government agencies and private contractors who are interested in hiring individuals with disabilities.
Aside from WRP, I also became a frequent attendee of career fairs. Every career fair on campus was fair game. It got to the point where, if I knew I had a career fair to go to between classes, I had a whole routine for changing into my business clothes, going, doing my thing, and changing back into regular clothes before running across campus to go to my next class.
Of all the career fairs I attended, the most adventurous was a career expo for people with disabilities in Washington. The event was taking place on the last Friday of spring break. I decided to stay on campus through most of the spring break, as I had a recital to prepare for, and fly into DC on Thursday to go to the expo on Friday. I would use AirTran U, which allows college students under the age of twenty-three to fly for a significantly reduced fare.
So Thursday came along, and after packing my extremely fashionable and professional business outfit, I ran to get my nails done. Since the lady did such a fine job, I was now running a lot later than I intended, so I took a forty-dollar cab to the Atlanta airport. I didn't mind this so much, since all this money was an investment in my future.
I got to the Atlanta airport only to be informed that AirTran U had been suspended since Southwest took over. I was told that if I wanted to get to DC for the weekend, I would have to pay about eight hundred dollars. Now, there are investments, and there are investments; I did not have the capacity to make an eight-hundred-dollar investment for my future. I was crushed ... And I was determined ... I refused to believe that after all my preparation I would have to go back to Emory.
As I was starving from running around all day, I went to Wendy's and started to eat and work the phone. After a few phone calls, I discovered that a really good friend of mine has a wonderful father who works for Delta. This amazing man called me and set everything up so I could fly into DC and back to Atlanta at the best price I've ever gotten for a round-trip flight.
This career expo was extremely informative and opened my eyes to many realities about looking for a job. However, the most valuable lesson I began to learn that weekend was about personal connections and building relationships. I had been friends with this girl through our years at Emory, and I'm sure at some point she mentioned her parents' occupations. But if I hadn't built enough of a connection with her, her father would never have known about me and my plight.
Eventually, getting a job did not come about from spending entire weekends on <usajobs.gov> or applying to every job I could possibly, maybe, be qualified for. It came down to personal connections.
Soon after I graduated, I fell into a rather pitiful funk. I had a college degree and was back to living with my mother. I adore my mother, and I would not be anywhere close to where I am without her, but I had pictured myself in a position where I might be able to help her out after I graduated. After seeing me mope around for long enough, she finally asked me what my job search consisted of. I explained all of the Internet resources I was exploiting, etc. She said she was sure that would eventually get me results, but if I wanted a job in the next two months I should probably consider picking up the phone and connecting with people. After a minute of thinking this over, I decided that she was right, as always.
I called everyone I knew who has a job. Not only that--I focused on people who knew me, who knew my capabilities, who had worked with me in the past, and who are well-connected. I made it easier for them by forwarding them my résumé. Most importantly, I always expressed my gratitude to anyone who cared enough to take time out of their busy days to send my résumé to people they knew.
Something truly amazing happened once I took this approach. People who were looking for employees started calling me about potential opportunities. A week and a half later, I got an email from Brown, Goldstein & Levy, where my résumé had miraculously landed. I swear the only time I have screamed so loud was when I got an invitation from the White House, asking me to spend an evening with my idols, Michelle Obama and President Obama. Brown, Goldstein & Levy actually wanted to interview me!
Now, when you have been rejected over and over by people who don't have a clue about you, you start hoping just to have one minute face-to-face with them so you can show them that you are awesome. That is why, when I got a request for an interview, I jumped for joy and screamed it out.
I often speculate with my close friends that technology has not only changed the way we do things, but the way we interact with people. I pride myself on the fact that, while I love texting and will log onto Facebook at least once a week, I still talk on the phone for the majority of my communications. I like emailing, too. When you sit down and take more than five seconds to write something that is more than 160 characters long, you are more likely to make a close connection with the person on the other side. But even I had forgotten about the importance of networking in the true sense. A lot of us think of networking as meeting people for a minute or so, exchanging email addresses, and maybe emailing them or texting them when you need something and remember them long enough to think they might be able to help. But networking is more than being Facebook friends or being connected on LinkedIn. It is about building relationships with people and letting those relationships grow. Then, when you are searching for employment, you can call them up. They will not only know who you are, but will be proud that you have graduated, that you are in search of a job, and want to become a responsible citizen.
I was very fortunate that my mother gave me the little kick I needed to get going. Although the economy is slowly but surely getting better, I think now more than ever it is important to connect with people. As young blind professionals or students, we struggle not only with getting an interview, but with all the misconceptions that will inevitably arise when we walk into an employer's office. I was extremely fortunate that Brown, Goldstein & Levy is a law firm that not only knows people with disabilities, but has time and time again stood with us to fight for our rights.
I found my ideal job. It took many, many months of work and an incredible amount of perseverance. It took support from my friends. One particular friend, when I would start getting a bit hysterical after my twentieth, and fortieth, and sixtieth rejection letter, would assure me that I was really a rock star and that there was a job waiting for me. That same friend was proved right when the email with the job offer got to me through his Wi-Fi network, only one day after my interview. It took a reality check from my mother, who reminded me that while it might seem like technology runs the world, there are people behind those technologies who are looking for employees. It took a measure of luck. But in the end all it really took was a phone call.
by William Nutt
From the Editor: In October 2011, the story of a remarkable archaeological discovery flashed over the media. William Nutt, a graduate student in archaeology at the University of Texas/Arlington, had unearthed the earliest known Etruscan depiction of childbirth. William is earning dual degrees in business and anthropology/archaeology. In 2005 he won a national scholarship from the National Federation of the Blind.
I grew up in Grand Prairie, Texas, not far from Arlington and Dallas. My older sister and I both were born with an eye condition called cone-rod dystrophy. I am blind with a small amount of functional vision. I cannot read large print as my sister can.
My parents were remarkable advocates, always encouraging my sister and me to surpass our own expectations. At school I became adept at using Braille, audio materials, and screen-reading software. Through these experiences I learned to use whatever worked best in a given situation. The opportunities that my parents helped to create and my drive to succeed led me to graduate tenth in my high school class, while still maintaining a healthy involvement in extracurricular activities.
When I went to college, I had no real idea what I wanted to do with my life. I considered everything from work for the government to cultural anthropology. After some hesitation, I became an English major. I thought I might like to study Old English literature, or possibly become a writer, inspired by my sister, who writes professionally. My fiancee, Hannah, was struggling with the same issues.
In the spring of 2009, I took an elective course in archaeology, Aegean Prehistory. It was taught by Dr. Karl Petruso, a fantastic and erudite teacher, who had dug extensively in Greece and around the Mediterranean.
His class resonated deeply with those passions for the exploration of the past that Hannah and I share. We both decided to change our majors to anthropology. I graduated a year later with a major in anthropology and minors in English, history, and Latin. Our interest in archaeology led us to enter graduate school and further our knowledge of the discipline. In 2010 the National Science Foundation awarded me a graduate research fellowship with funding for three years, which helped make this dream possible.
In the summer of 2011, as graduate students in anthropology and archaeology, Hannah and I signed up to go on a dig at the Etruscan site of Poggio Colla. The Etruscans flourished in northern Italy before they were conquered by the Romans. Poggio Colla is a hilltop sanctuary that lasted for several centuries before it was destroyed by Roman troops.
Dr. Gregory Warden, the lead archaeologist at the site, was eager to help Hannah and me adapt excavation methods for me without compromising their effectiveness. Before we left the States, we brainstormed with him about nonvisual techniques for the field, which could be modified if necessary.
The dig was a very intense experience for me. I had the pleasure of working with some wonderful people, especially the heads of the dig, Dr. Warden and Dr. Michael Thomas, as well as my trench supervisor, Cameron Turley. Hannah (now my wife), several other students, and I were excavating a trench beneath the earliest architectural foundations of the sanctuary complex. Each of us worked in a small area, using a sharpened trowel. We removed soil in very thin layers, taking great care not to disturb any artifacts we uncovered. Each bucketful of loose soil was sifted through a screen to find any bits of pottery or bone. If an artifact such as a sherd of pottery was found, we mapped and photographed its precise location.
I glided one hand lightly in front of my trowel to feel as I dug to avoid disturbing artifacts. I learned to distinguish the various soil types by touch. At the site I used an iPad for notetaking, inspired by their use at the excavations at Pompeii. Back at headquarters I used a laptop for recording the day's notes.
My work at the dig brought some frustrations. To record his/her work, an archaeologist must draw diagrams of the trench where the digging takes place. The diagrams must show the layers of soil and pinpoint where objects were found. Although I knew the layout of the trench and could describe the soil layers in detail, I had no way to make an accurate drawing. Perhaps emerging technologies in the field of tactile graphics will help obviate this problem; however, easy solutions are not likely to arise for years to come.
By a fortunate chance I was assigned to clear a corner of the trench early in the season. Our trench was full of sherds of a glossy black pottery called bucchero. I found several pieces incised with images. The most notable was a sherd with an image that was unlike other fragments. The excellent conservators at the site cleaned the piece. The site's expert on bucchero, Dr. Phil Perkins, identified the image as a woman giving birth. Based on the age of the fragment, the pottery appears to contain the oldest Classical birthing scene currently known. The sherd was less than three inches long and under an inch wide, but it contained the image in its entirety. As news of the discovery spread later that year, I had my "fifteen minutes of fame." However, although I excavated the piece, Dr. Perkins and staff responsible for its analysis did the hardest work.
During the summer of 2012 I had the privilege of working at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, studying the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age in the Near East as part of my NSF fellowship. The Oriental Institute has an extensive collection of artifacts from this period, and the staff was welcoming to my wife and me, making sure that I could do my work regardless of my disability. Some of the artifacts I analyzed had not been examined in decades. We have many new techniques for analysis today, and it was invigorating to apply new methods to the older collections we studied.
When I examined the artifacts, I generally wore very thin gloves. The gloves enabled me to get tactile information without the danger that oils from my hands would damage the artifacts. I was permitted to handle some flint pieces without gloves, a privilege I greatly appreciated. Hannah helped photograph the pieces and handled the microscopic examination of relevant artifacts.
A blind archaeologist, like a blind person in any field, has to work as independently as possible. It's important to be creative, to have good problem-solving skills. It's also crucial to recognize when you need help. I am very grateful to all of the people who have helped me along the way, especially to Hannah. Without her I would not be where I am today.
I am not sure where I will go with my training in archaeology and anthropology. Working with museum collections is an area that interests me very much. Since I will also have a business degree, I might get involved in cultural resource management. Anthropology/archaeology is a very diverse field that offers myriad possibilities if one knows how to leverage the training.
Whatever I do professionally, I am dedicated to making a positive difference in the world. As an Eagle Scout, I am serious about improving myself and the world as a whole. As long as each of us can find ways to adapt and grow stronger, a disability is merely a hurdle rather than a barrier.
For a news article with a photo of the sherd, go to <http://io9.com/etruscan-civilization>.
by Diane Brauner and Ed Summers
From the Editor: Diane Brauner is a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) and instructor in orientation and mobility (O&M) in North Carolina. Ed Summers is a blind software engineer and manager of the accessibility team at SAS Institute, the market leader in business analytics software. In this article Diane and Ed describe their project to train teachers on the use of the iPad and other Apple products with blind and visually impaired students.
We met in the spring of 2012 at a conference sponsored by the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Visually Impaired (AER). At the conference Ed demonstrated SAS's latest research on accessible charts, maps, and graphs on the iPad. Diane was enthralled with the wealth of information he had to share. She couldn't stop asking questions. Finally another teacher spoke up and said, "Please be quiet and give the rest of us a chance!"
After the presentation, the two of us got together to talk. We found the response to Ed's presentation both troubling and exciting. It revealed how little TVIs know about access technology in general and the access features for the Apple products in particular. It also showed us how eager they are to learn in order to help their students.
More and more, digital technology is replacing hardcopy textbooks in today's classrooms. Some school districts in North Carolina have been almost wholly digital for the past five years. Other districts are hard at work making the transition, using online texts and digital materials wherever possible. We found ourselves wondering how blind students will fit into the digital environment. Must a blind student be expected to use an algebra textbook that comes in thirty-six Braille volumes, while her classmates access their math texts electronically? Unless they are brought fully into the digital age, blind students will be at a severe disadvantage.
At the same time, the adoption of the Common Core state standards is driving many states to conduct end-of-grade and end-of-course assessments completely online. For example, North Carolina is on track to convert to online testing during the 2014-2015 school year. We are concerned about how visually impaired students will be accommodated as this change occurs. Will the tests be accessible? What accommodations will be allowed? Will students be able to use the same accommodations they have used with instructional materials throughout the school year? How will charts, graphs, maps, and other graphics be presented to visually impaired students?
Both of us recognized the potential for digital materials to revolutionize access for blind/visually impaired students. However, in order for these students to benefit from technology, TVIs must become knowledgeable about its use.
Shortly after our first meeting, we developed a training workshop that introduces TVIs to the basic iPad accessibility features that are available for visually impaired students. We conducted that workshop seven times in North Carolina during 2012. The workshop consisted of a full day of hands-on activities. Every participant had access to an iPad during the workshop. SAS provided loaner iPads for teachers who did not own an iPad.
The workshops began by introducing teachers to the iPad and showing them how it can be made accessible by turning on the VoiceOver program. After our basic introduction, we showed the TVIs how to use VoiceOver in the classroom in conjunction with a Braille display or with low-vision aids. They saw how easily Braille readers can use a Braille display to read digital books and classroom handouts. Students with low vision can use the iPad to see a Smartboard at the front of the room, and most of them quickly prefer the iPad over the CCTV or other magnification devices because the iPad allows them to blend in with their peers.
To our amazement, we found that many TVIs did not know that the iPad and other Apple products have built-in accessibility features that are included at no extra cost. They were not aware that these features are available straight out of the box on every single iPad. We also discovered that many visually impaired students are not taught to use technology until they reach middle school, although their sighted classmates get hands-on experience with computers as early as kindergarten. This gap seems to be due to the fact that many TVIs have had limited training in access technology and do not feel comfortable teaching it to their students. TVIs said they found screen readers such as JAWS difficult to master and to teach.
After the training, many of the teachers reported that they were now teaching their students to use the iPad, with impressive results. They felt that the iPad helps mainstreaming work smoothly and easily. By looking at the iPad screen, the classroom teacher can see what the blind student is doing and can give immediate feedback. The teacher can send assignments directly to the student, and the student can send completed work back to the teacher--all without the intervention of a TVI or classroom aide. By using the iPad, students are able to complete homework assignments more quickly than ever before, giving them time to play with friends and take part in extracurricular activities.
Initially, most blind students learn to drive the iPad with a series of taps and finger slides upon the touch screen. This is beneficial for understanding the spatial layout of the iPad. Pairing the iPad with either a Bluetooth keyboard or a refreshable Braille display is also an efficient way for low-vision or blind students to interact with the iPad. One blind student, who also has physical disabilities, was not able to master the finger gestures; however, she successfully uses a refreshable Braille display to drive her iPad.
In North Carolina, many schools provide iPads for all of their students, blind and sighted. Students are allowed to take these iPads home; they are not exclusively for classroom use. Braille displays are readily available through quota funds.
The iPad is an important tool, but it is not the only answer for blind/visually impaired students. It does not yet provide tactile access to graphics, and it does not provide a way for Braille readers to use Smartboards. The SAS accessibility team is working to develop audio and tactile interfaces for digital graphics. Its goal is to develop technology that enables visually impaired students to access the exact same digital math and science textbooks as their sighted peers. Until that technology is commercially available, there is still an important role for hardcopy Braille materials, especially in mathematics and the sciences. These fields rely heavily on diagrams, charts, and pictures to convey concepts and information.
At this point we have trained about one hundred TVIs in North Carolina, and we plan to conduct workshops in Boston, Houston, and San Francisco during 2013. It's exciting to see the change that a day or two of intensive training can make in a teacher's attitude. Many teachers come to us convinced that no totally blind student can use the iPad effectively. By the time they complete our workshop, they have turned around completely. Some of the older teachers, the ones who were the most apprehensive in the beginning, have become our most enthusiastic converts. When they leave our training sessions, they're all about teaching technology!
We believe passionately that blind and visually impaired students should have the same access to technology that has become a matter of course for their sighted peers. We are convinced that they should have the same early exposure that is provided to other children, beginning in kindergarten or even in preschool. With effective use of technology, blind and visually impaired students can compete on terms of equality with their classmates in the mainstream classroom.
by Gloria Isidro-Villamizar
From the Editor: When teachers work with students, the academic subject is naturally the primary focus. However, as Gloria Isidro-Villamizar points out, the teaching process can also strengthen relationships and help change attitudes about blindness.
Several years ago I started tutoring blind students in mathematics. Some were enrolled in a regular school program and some attended the National Institute for the Blind (INCI) in Colombia, Puerto Rico. The work brought many challenging moments. I welcomed these challenges as opportunities for learning and professional development.
To become the coach I hoped to be, I had to learn how the students functioned at school and within their families. I visited the students at school and interviewed their teachers, inquiring about the teaching methods they used. I met the parents at school, and most of them invited me to visit their homes. These visits helped me get to know the students in their home environments.
The youngest student that comes up to my mind is Laurita. She was eight years old, and she had a ten-year-old brother. As I tutored Laurita at home, I noticed that her brother showed little understanding of her situation. He seemed to reject her because of her blindness. I closely observed what was happening and decided to involve Laurita's brother in our tutoring sessions. If we all worked on math together, perhaps his attitude toward his sister would begin to change.
The experiment worked just as I imagined. After the second tutorial, Laurita's brother was willing to join us. He even prepared the teaching area and had the materials ready by the time I got to their house. Working together to review math concepts helped the children learn to deal with each other and brought them closer.
Experiences such as this one showed me that the process of instructing blind students in math is strengthened when we, as teachers, involve the student's family, classmates, and friends. This realization gave me the idea of bringing together classmates, friends, and family members as a team to design materials in high and low relief for teaching math concepts to blind students. The result was a tactile Cartesian plane that showed points in relation to vertical and horizontal axes. The main axes were shown in high relief, and the secondary axes were in low relief. There were holes at the points of intersection. Geometric figures could be formed by using flat nose studs and wires.
I recalled my experiences teaching blind students years later, when I arrived at the University of Puerto Rico/Río Piedras (UPRRP) to pursue a master's degree in mathematics. I drew upon my knowledge when I had the opportunity to design the Adapted Mathematics Course for Visually Impaired Students. The course is now offered by the Department of Mathematics in the College of Natural Sciences at UPRRP. It is available, in Spanish, to all students with disabilities and to special education teachers in training at <http://matematicaadaptadaparapersonasciegas.blogspot.com>. The course provides students with written materials in Braille and large print as well as tactile materials, the Cranmer abacus, talking calculators, and computers with the JAWS screen-reading program.
The use of tactile materials and other adaptations often sparks the curiosity of classmates, friends, and family. While they review the knowledge they have acquired in the classroom, students have a great opportunity to share their learning methods. One of my blind students at UPRRP visited the UPR radio station for one of his classes. During the visit, people at the station saw him working a calculation with his Cranmer abacus. In response to their questions, he explained what the abacus was and how he was learning to use it. At the end of the semester, this student prepared and recorded a program called "The Cranmer Abacus." The program can be heard and seen on YouTube. (Visit www.YouTube.com and enter Abaco Cranmer in the Search box.)
It is very interesting to discover how we can break down barriers and strengthen bonds of friendship through mathematics. With the language of geometry we can find new ways to interpret the world around us.
by Stacey Hildenbrand
From the Editor: After teaching computer technology to middle schoolers for fifteen years, Stacey Hildenbrand trained to become a teacher of blind and visually impaired students. She was a member of the 2011-2012 Teacher of Tomorrow Program, an experience that changed her life. She lives with her family in Florence, Kentucky, and is a member of the Kentucky affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind.
I am the mother of a two-and-a-half-year-old child named Layla. Layla is intelligent and funny, and she just happens to be blind.
When Layla was only two months old, my husband, Jason, and I discovered that she could not see. After many trips to doctors and a lot of tests, we learned that she has an eye condition called Leber's congenital amaurosis, or LCA. At first we were devastated after we received the diagnosis. Neither of us had ever met a blind person before. We panicked when we tried to imagine how we would raise a blind child. However, our devastation turned to curiosity, and we began to research every resource on blindness that we could find.
I have been a teacher for fifteen years. It occurred to me to seek out a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) in my school district. A TVI responded almost immediately to my email, and I met her a few days later. She spoke about her blind students with great respect and gave me many valuable resources. She impressed me with her knowledge and inspired me with her passion. I went home that night and informed my husband that I was going back to school to become a TVI.
I enrolled at the University of Louisville and set my goal to graduate with a master's in teaching the blind and visually impaired. Around the same time, some friends and I attended a gathering of blind people in Cincinnati, where we met Richie Flores of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas. When he found out that we were teachers, Richie told us about the Teacher of Tomorrow Program sponsored by the NFB. He spoke highly of the program and encouraged us to apply.
I applied to the Teacher of Tomorrow Program, along with a friend of mine from the TVI program at the U. of Louisville. Both of us were accepted. As members of the program, we visited the Jernigan Institute at the NFB headquarters in Baltimore. I learned many valuable lessons and met some amazing people. Unfortunately, I also discovered some disturbing facts about society's views of blindness. I found out that blind people are not always treated as equals with the sighted. I envisioned my daughter's future and was moved to help change society's perceptions. But what could I really do?
Through the Teacher of Tomorrow Program, I was introduced to the Kernel Books, a series of small books containing short personal essays by blind people. I took a couple of Kernel Books home from Baltimore and read them carefully. I was intrigued by the stories these authors wrote about their lives and the lessons they offered.
Thanks to the Teacher of Tomorrow Program, I attended many more National Federation of the Blind meetings and met many more successful blind people. I was thrilled to meet the authors of some of the Kernel Book articles. Eventually I collected the entire set of Kernel Books, about thirty in all. I continued to enjoy and learn from the stories I read. My attitude about blindness began to change, and I felt more hopeful about Layla's future. I learned that blindness is nothing more than a characteristic, and that, with training and skills, blind people can do nearly anything on equal terms with sighted people.
I began to realize that society's negative opinions about blindness are not due to ill feelings toward blind people; instead, the problem is the lack of experience with or knowledge about blindness. I decided to try to help our family and friends understand what blindness means. Most of our friends and relatives had never met a blind person until Layla came into our lives. Though they had the best of intentions, I am sure some of our relatives viewed her as different because she is blind. Probably they set limits on what they thought she was capable of doing, based on their stereotyped ideas. They had no exposure to successful blind people. They had never experienced the NFB meetings that I was so lucky to attend. As Layla's parent, I could not accept this situation as inevitable. I wanted to do something to change their opinions.
Suddenly I had an idea. What would happen if I could share the Kernel Book stories? My husband and I truly enjoyed reading the Kernel Books, and we were enlightened by the many people who wrote so eloquently about their blindness. Those stories made blindness seem so minor! If, in only one year, Jason and I could realize that blindness is nothing more than a characteristic, then perhaps our family and friends could start to believe it, too.
At the start of 2012 I made a New Year's resolution. I resolved to spread the word about blindness. If our family and friends could not interact with other blind people, perhaps they could learn from the Kernel Book stories. I began to email a Kernel Book story to a few people every other week. Usually I added personal stories about people I had met through the National Federation of the Blind. Sometimes I described events in Layla's life as she was growing up.
I got many positive responses from the recipients of my emails. More and more people requested to be added to my list. As the months passed, my list kept growing.
When I sent off my usual story at the end of 2012, I commented that I was debating whether it would be the last of my Kernel Book emails. I received many replies. I recall one in particular, sent to me by my uncle. "Thank you so much for taking the time to send the stories," he wrote. "I can tell you they have been very enlightening, and I strongly agree with you regarding blindness being a characteristic."
Layla is the only blind person my uncle knows, and his words meant a lot to me. Maybe, in my own little way, by sending a few simple emails, I am slowly changing the perceptions of others.
Only by experiencing the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind and by witnessing or hearing about competent, capable blind people will society's view shift to one of acceptance and opportunity. This philosophy has changed the lives of Jason, Layla, and me, and the lives of my family and friends--one email at a time.
(To read all 30 books online and begin collecting stories, go to <https://nfb.org/kernel-books>.)
by Katie Vescelus
From the Editor: Katie Vescelus is a full-time mom who lives in Indiana. In this article she shares her family's journey dealing with blindness and coping with cancer.
During a routine visit when our younger son, Matthias, was three months old, our pediatrician detected a problem. Matthias wasn't tracking objects with his eyes. At home we had noticed that he responded to sounds but didn't seem interested in looking at things visually.
Our pediatrician referred us to a specialist, who told us that Matthias had a rare form of childhood cancer that attacks the retinas. Retinoblastoma (or RB) can be unilateral (affecting one eye) or bilateral (present in both eyes). Matthias had a very aggressive form of bilateral retinoblastoma. RB is treated with chemotherapy, radiation, laser therapy, cryotherapy, or surgery, or with some or all of these methods in combination.
Until he was nine months old, Matthias underwent intensive chemotherapy, laser therapy, and cryotherapy. No matter how kind the doctors and nurses were, the hospital was a scary place. Often only a curtain separated us from the patient in the next cubicle. We couldn't help overhearing the doctor's verdict or the patient's moans of pain and fear.
The seemingly endless medical procedures greatly slowed Matthias's development. He would start to make progress, but he lost ground whenever he went back into the hospital. For months he had a central line implanted in his chest. The line allowed the doctors to administer his chemo without sticking him over and over with needles. Unfortunately, the line also made it almost impossible for Matthias to crawl. If we put him onto his stomach, he would scream because the line caused him pain when he was in that position.
In spite of all the chemo, Matthias's tumors continued to grow. Besides the main tumors, he developed tiny "seed tumors" in both eyes, so many that the doctors couldn't count them all. We were faced with the choice of subjecting our son to radiation treatments or having his eyes enucleated, or surgically removed.
Radiation might have saved Matthias's remaining vision, but we knew that it could cause serious long-term damage. It might even lead to other life-threatening cancers later on. We also knew that Matthias's retinas were barely functioning due to damage from the tumors, and that enucleation would eliminate the cancer. After weighing our options, we decided that enucleation was the best choice for Matthias. We felt that total blindness was preferable to the ordeal of radiation and the heightened risk of cancer in our son's future.
We have no regrets about the decision we made. We realize, however, that each family must determine its own course. Under similar circumstances, some parents may opt for radiation. We respect the choices that others make, only hoping that they become as fully informed as possible before reaching a decision.
My husband and I imagined that Matthias would go through an adjustment period after he lost his remaining sight. He delighted us with his resilience. Within forty-eight hours he seemed to recover completely from the surgery and to accommodate his vision loss. In the weeks and months that followed, he rushed to catch up on the developmental milestones he had missed during treatment. When he had the surgery at ten months, he wasn't consistently sitting up on his own. Soon afterwards he sat, pulled himself up on furniture, and stood independently. He started walking at seventeen months.
I know that parents often feel terribly upset when they learn that their child is blind. Our struggle with cancer gave us a very different perspective. We rejoiced that Matthias was alive. He was a survivor, and his life stretched out before him. The loss of his vision seemed a small price to pay for the blessing of life itself.
As soon as we realized that Matthias was going to be blind, my husband and I set out to educate ourselves about blindness. We read everything we could find about blindness and blind children. Especially helpful were personal accounts written by successful blind adults. Most of these people, we discovered, grew up with at least one person who had normal expectations for them. After a while we got the hint. We resolved to treat Matthias as we would treat any other child his age. We would do our best to make sure he learned the things that other children his age were learning.
Having always depended on our vision, we had to think carefully about how Matthias perceives the world. We realized how important it is for him to examine things with his hands, and we looked for ways to teach him about the world through touch. At first our efforts were complicated by the fact that Matthias had aversions to a number of textures. For example, he couldn't stand the feel of grass or sand. To help him overcome these aversions, we gave him gentle but repeated exposure to things he disliked. We set him on the grass and talked to him reassuringly when he cried. It wasn't long before he started to play on the back lawn. We discovered that Matthias hated the technique known as hand over hand, in which an adult takes hold of a blind child's hand and places it on an object. He was much happier and more receptive when we brought an object to his hand instead, or took him to a place where he could explore freely at his own pace.
We have found many things that Matthias loves to do. Now four years old, he enjoys standing in the creek and throwing rocks, listening gleefully to the splashes they make. He never gets tired of sitting in the water and playing in the current.
When we go for walks in the woods, we encourage Matthias to touch bushes, flowers, and trees. However, he can only explore the portion of a tree trunk that is within his reach. We realized he had no idea of a tree's height and shape. Then one day we came upon a tree that must have blown down in a storm. We let Matthias and his brother explore it from end to end. They spent more than an hour climbing and playing on that fallen tree trunk. Matthias learned things about trees that he never knew before.
As Matthias grew more curious, we realized that he missed out on many of the things sighted children learn by looking at pictures and watching movies. How could we teach him what a mountain is? or a desert? Other children knew what those terms meant. Matthias needed to know, too.
Our family is widely scattered across the United States. We have relatives in Colorado, California, and Arizona, as well as many other places. On a trip to San Francisco to see my brother, Matthias loved riding the cable car, and he thought the barking of the seals at Fisherman's Wharf was absolutely hilarious. When we visited my mother near Phoenix, Arizona, we all went out to experience the desert. It is fascinating to find out what aspects of an experience will capture Matthias's attention. (The day we went to the desert, what interested him most was his grandmother's swimming pool!) We look forward to discovering his impressions of mountains when we visit family in Colorado.
Because Matthias does not learn to do things by watching other people, it takes him longer to master certain skills than it would take a typically sighted child. Teaching him to dress himself has called for patience and imagination. We enjoy each accomplishment, and we're always looking for ways to teach him new skills.
While we enjoy exploring the world in new ways with our blind son, the pain of our journey with cancer lingers in our hearts. We are happy that available treatments have allowed us to keep our precious son, but we also believe in the possibility of other treatments that won't damage the body as current ones do. In March of 2011, one of my friends from college shaved her head in support of St. Baldrick's Foundation, an organization that raises money for research on pediatric cancer. It is one of the few foundations that supports RB research. St. Baldrick's maintains a list of children who have had cancer, and a person who chooses to shave his or her head does so to honor a specific child. We decided to have Matthias's name added to the list so I could honor him. A representative from St. Baldrick's contacted us, and we shared a bit of our story. I shaved my head in March 2012.
In July we learned that Matthias had been selected as one of five St. Baldrick's Ambassadors for 2013. Because most pediatric cancers are rare, it is challenging to raise funds for vital research. The stories and photos of the St. Baldrick's Ambassadors put a human face on childhood cancer, helping the public understand that research can help real children live and thrive. It is difficult for us to talk about Matthias's long months of treatment, but we hope we can raise public awareness by sharing our story.
Because of Matthias's retinoblastoma, we now belong to two new communities. We are part of the blind community, and we also have a place in the community of cancer survivors. Sometimes people in the blind community are uncomfortable when they learn about Matthias's cancer; they don't seem to know how to connect with us. In the same way, people in the cancer community are sometimes shocked and frightened by Matthias's blindness. There is a tremendous need for education on both sides.
Every now and then, some well-meaning person laments that Matthias's blindness is a tragedy. "He will never see a rainbow," they say. "he'll never see a sunrise or a painting."
"Yes," I answer, "it's too bad he'll never see a rainbow, but why focus on the things he can't do? There are so many things that he can do, and that's what's important." We certainly haven't spent any time or energy lamenting what Matthias's sighted brother, Magnus, can't do. Why would we do that to Matthias?
If we spend our time in a dark, negative place, that's where our child will spend his time, too. Cancer has taught us that life is precious. We are profoundly grateful for every day we share with one another as a family, and for the communities of friends and supporters that welcome us.
You can learn more about St. Baldrick's Foundation by visiting <www.stbaldricks.org>. On March 8, 2013, I will shave my head for a second time to support this important cause. If you would like to susport pediatric cancer research, please go to <www.stbaldricks.org/participants/katiev>.
by Natalie Shaheen
Reprinted from the Braille Monitor, Vol. 55 No. 9, October 2012
From the Editor: Nearly a decade ago, the NFB Jernigan Institute began to conduct innovative educational programs for blind youth. In this article Natalie Shaheen, director of education at the Jernigan Institute, shares excerpts from the journal she kept throughout the creation and execution of this summer's youth program, Project Innovation.
Traditionally, when children are in an educational setting, a few things about the structure are a given. First, the teacher determines what is going to be learned and leads the children in the learning. Second, the children in the class or activity are all about the same age.
In the Federation we like to break the mold, try out new ideas, and raise expectations. That is exactly what we did in NFB Project Innovation last summer. Instead of the teachers determining what was going to be learned and leading the process, the students took that role. Instead of one age group of students, we had two. Based on what we know about the way children learn, we thought that the children would have a higher-quality learning experience if we made a few changes. Excerpts from my Project Innovation Investigation Journal tell the story.
Investigation Journal Entry 1, October 11, 2011
Description of Investigation: The NFB Jernigan Institute will facilitate a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) program for twenty third- through sixth-grade students and ten high school students July 24 to 29, 2012. Students will design an inquiry-based investigation in an area of STEM that is interesting to them and will conduct the investigation during the program. In addition to designing and conducting an investigation, the high school students will assist in mentoring the younger students.
Materials Needed for Investigation:
Hypothesis: A multi-age STEM program that incorporates student-initiated learning will produce students who are highly motivated and engaged in STEM content and have increased leadership and mentoring skills.
Investigation Journal Entry 2, April 23, 2012
We now know who is coming to the program. We have students from eighteen states, ranging in age from seven to nineteen. We've put together ten independent experiments for the students to work on when they aren't engaged with their investigations. These activities are diverse, including engineering challenges in which students will use gummy candy and toothpicks to create bridges and an experiment in which students drop Mentos into a two-liter bottle of soda to cause a huge eruption. Hopefully all of the students will find something of interest.
We have also designed four optional activities for the students to participate in if their investigation is at a standstill. There are two optional chemistry activities--one for Junior Innovators and one for Senior Innovators--which involve eating Miracle Frooties, which change the way your taste buds work. Who knew chemistry was involved in eating! The optional engineering activity for the Junior Innovators is a challenge in which students will try to use plastic cups to build the tallest tower they can. The Senior Innovators will also be tasked with an engineering challenge; theirs will consist of using foam insulation tubing and principles of physics to create a roller coaster for a marble. These optional activities will provide the students with glimpses into a few more STEM disciplines in addition to those they are studying in their investigations.
Investigation Journal Entry 3, May 13, 2012
This week we began weekly calls with the thirty Innovators. The students--especially the Junior Innovators--are more shy on the phone than I had anticipated. In order to learn with them over the phone, I'm going to have to come up with ways to get them warmed up before we start talking about Project Innovation. This week we're asking the students to decide what format they are going to use for their Investigation Journals. We've given them many choices: hardcopy, electronic file, podcast, and blog. We have also asked them to think of five things they might want to study. The only restriction is that it has to fall into the category of STEM. I reminded the students that sometimes even things that don't seem like they are related to science have a STEM component. Because I like sports, I gave the example that a lot of engineering and experimenting has to happen to make high-quality sports equipment. I wonder how many different topics the thirty kids will end up studying. Will any of them pick the same topic? Will one discipline be more popular than the others? If so, which one will it be?
Investigation Journal Entry 4, May 25, 2012
The students have now identified the areas of STEM they want to study, and they are beginning to work on their measurable question or engineering design specifications. One of the Senior Innovators wants to build a prototype of a space elevator. One of the Junior Innovators wants to do an investigation around the science of ice cream. The students are keeping track in their Investigation Journals of what they are learning.
Investigation Journal Entry 5, June 25, 2012
All of the students have measurable questions now. They include:
Students are now developing their step-by-step plans or procedures for their investigations. They will be turning in the list of materials they will need to perform their investigations very soon. Once the students have completed their step-by-step plans and materials lists, they are ready to come to NFB Project Innovation and conduct their investigations. It is extraordinary to watch the students move through the process of preparing for their investigations. We have some intriguing youth coming to this program; I can't wait to meet them in person and observe their learning firsthand.
Investigation Journal Entry 6, July 9, 2012
All of the students have turned in their materials lists. Now it's time to do some frantic shopping. We have two students doing investigations of hovercrafts, but otherwise everyone is investigating something different. Consequently, we have diverse materials to buy. Here is a sample of our shopping list.
Investigation Journal Entry 7, July 16, 2012
With the exception of a few last-minute items, we've got all of the materials the students have requested. It's time to start sorting through the dozens of shopping bags and placing each student's requested items on the tables. I wonder how many students will find, when they start working on their investigations, that they should have asked for additional items. I suspect we will be doing a few shopping runs during the program.
Investigation Journal Entry 8, July 23, 2012
The volunteers arrived today. Our team is now assembled, and we're ready to work and learn with the program participants. Tomorrow we will spend the morning going over logistics as a team. After lunch the Senior Innovators will start to arrive. This is going to be so much fun!
Investigation Journal Entry 9, July 25, 2012
The program has officially started. We have all of the students and chaperones in the building. Folks came from as far away as Alaska and Puerto Rico. The Senior Innovator who came from Alaska took three planes to get here and traveled independently the whole way; she is going to be a great role model for the Junior Innovators. I am curious to see how the Senior Innovators take to their roles as mentors to the Junior Innovators. Yesterday during an activity where the Senior Innovators were learning about how to be a good mentor, some of them expressed their concern that they aren't naturally good with kids. I think the Senior Innovators are underestimating themselves; I'm glad we are able to provide them with an opportunity to be mentors and leaders.
This evening we had a welcome and kick-off. After some inspiring remarks from President Maurer and Mark Riccobono, the chaperones and Innovators went their separate ways. The chaperones had an opportunity to introduce themselves and mingle, while the students had a little fractal fun--an activity in which students used six index cards to create a box. It was then connected with other boxes to create a bigger box, demonstrating the mathematical principle of a fractal.
Investigation Journal Entry 10, July 26, 2012
Today--the first full day of the program--was awesome. The students spent the morning in innovation time, working on their investigations. The Senior Innovators got a jump start on their investigations Wednesday before the other students arrived, so they were able to step in and help the Junior Innovators when they got stuck or had questions. The Junior and Senior Innovators spent the afternoon in separate activities. Both groups had lessons on nanoscience, a STEM subject often not covered in the standard K-12 science curriculum. Each group also participated in a philosophy lesson. The younger students talked about the characteristics of successful blind people and then used craft supplies and Braille labels to decorate a large paper person to symbolize the characteristics discussed. The Senior Innovators watched a humorous video about some of the random comments sighted people frequently make to blind people. Then they discussed the various ways they could respond to such comments, keeping in mind that they may be the only blind person that sighted person ever interacts with.
The chaperones also had a full day of learning. They learned about the programs and resources available to their families through the NFB Jernigan Institute. Dr. Fred Schroeder offered remarks to the group about skills and confidence, the foundations for success. Two panels of blind adults covered things they wish their parents had known. They discussed the fact that blind people can compete on terms of equality in STEM careers. The chaperones wrapped up their day with a hands-on nonvisual cooking activity.
The learning didn't stop at five o'clock. The Junior Innovators and their chaperones headed to the Inner Harbor for a night on the town. This outing gave parents and students an opportunity to implement some of the things they had learned about independence during the day. Senior Innovators spent the evening hiking at a local park. The outdoor learning experience started with some advice from experienced blind hikers about alternative techniques that are helpful on the trail. A few of the students had never hiked before, and they were a bit tentative about the unpredictable terrain. In the end, however, everyone had a great time, and those who were hesitant at first gained confidence as they successfully navigated obstacles on the trail.
Investigation Journal Entry 11, July 27, 2012
We just wrapped up another jam-packed day of learning. Students had another block of innovation time; their investigations are coming along well. Bridges and hovercraft are taking shape, and some lovely pieces of fruit are well on their way to becoming batteries. One student is problem-solving why the ice cream maker isn't working properly. Another student, who is designing a tactile graphics tablet, is already on his third prototype.
The theme of today was creative problem solving. The students are learning firsthand that in STEM, things don't always happen the way you anticipated, and when you come up against a barrier, you have to rethink your plan. These lessons are valuable far beyond the walls of the STEM classroom.
In addition to innovation time, the students participated in various other experiments and activities. Both the Junior and Senior Innovators had their optional engineering challenges today. The Junior Innovators also did a materials science lab, in which they combined ingredients to make new toys and then determined which toy they thought would be most marketable. The younger students also learned about the characteristics of fingerprints by examining enlarged tactile images of their very own fingerprint. Senior Innovators investigated whether or not certain foods have antimicrobial properties. By exposing the students to these activities in addition to their investigations, we provide them with a broader view of STEM and the various alternative techniques used by blind people in those disciplines.
All of the Innovators had the chance of a lifetime today to get up close and personal with the NFB Blind Driver Challenge car and to talk in small groups with blind drivers Mark Riccobono and Anil Lewis. The students even got to sit in the driver's seat and test the nonvisual interfaces. I'm quite jealous; I've not yet had that opportunity myself.
The Innovators topped off their day with a field trip to a rock-climbing gym, where they did lots of problem solving. Several of the climbing walls had overhangs and obstacles, and the students had to figure out how to get around them. We didn't realize until we got to the gym that several of our Junior Innovators are part monkey! They practically sprinted up the walls! One of the students, who ended up being a natural climber, had resisted the idea of going climbing. He had never done such a thing and wasn't really interested in trying; but when we got to the gym and the energy level was high, he gave it a try. Thirty seconds later he was at the top of the wall, eager to come down so he could try another wall.
The chaperones' day was fast-paced as well. They learned about problem solving and structured discovery through a variety of hands-on cane travel activities. They now know how their children will be able to stow their new long white canes on the airplane or in a car, how to carry a cafeteria tray and use a cane at the same time, and much more. Advocacy and the IEP process were also a part of the chaperones' discussions today. The chaperones are gaining confidence as they soak up valuable information.
Investigation Journal Entry 12, July 28, 2012
Today we wrapped up NFB Project Innovation with a bang. The day started with the last session of innovation time. Students concluded their investigations and tabulated their data. They spent time deciding what they were going to show off at the Innovation Expo--an open house later in the day where chaperones, Federationists, and members of the public would come to learn from the students.
In the afternoon the Innovators had a blast experimenting with liquid nitrogen under the direction and supervision of instructor Hoby Wedler, a blind chemist. After freezing an assortment of items, from carnations to balloons, students tossed objects across the room and listened with delight as they shattered all over the floor. We found out that making a mess is tremendous fun, and you can learn a lot in the process.
By far the highlight of the day was the Innovation Expo. Students stood by their tables and explained to visitors the investigation they had planned, what actually happened, and the conclusions they reached. You could hear the pride in the children's voices as they taught the adults all about STEM. The chaperones were also proud of what the students had accomplished under their own direction. One parent came running up to me and said, "See, I knew my son was bright and had the ability to learn. The school just doesn't believe in him." After the expo one Senior Innovator pulled me aside and said, "Natalie, I am so proud of myself for doing this. I mean, I wasn't sure I was going to be able to do it on my own; but I did, and my project turned out even better than I had expected."
As I walked around to learn from each student at the Innovation Expo, I asked everyone the same question. What is the coolest thing you learned from doing this investigation? The responses were a bit varied, but two common themes emerged. The students liked learning about problem solving and overcoming the unexpected. They also learned that, when they get to make decisions about their own learning, it is much more interesting. One student told me that, if the teachers had decided what she was going to learn about, they probably would have picked something boring like butterflies!
Investigation Journal Entry 13, July 29, 2012
Results: Based on my observations, I think we proved our hypothesis. It was amazing to me how engaged the students were in the learning that was available to them in this program. They almost never needed reminders about where they were supposed to be or what they were supposed to be doing. I believe they were so engaged because they were driving the learning themselves. They chose the topic of their investigation, and, when they weren't working on their investigations, they chose the independent lab or optional activity that they wanted to participate in.
The Senior Innovators--some of whom didn't think they were good at working with kids--really stepped up to the plate. They encouraged the Junior Innovators when they were frustrated that a part of their investigation hadn't work out. They helped guide the Junior Innovators in finding answers to their questions without providing the answers. Perhaps most important, they modeled good blindness skills and a positive attitude about blindness for their younger counterparts.
Like the Innovators, we learned a lot by doing our investigation--NFB Project Innovation. We had to do a great deal of problem solving, too. What do you do to build rapport with students when they are shy about talking on the phone and you live thousands of miles from them? What do you do when the motor one of the students needs to build his space elevator is stuck on a boat coming from China and won't come in until after the program?
When telling people about our plans for NFB Project Innovation, we often got the response, "Why? That seems like a lot of extra work." The Federation is made of people who take charge and are in control of their own lives. We don't sit around and wait for people to tell us what to do; we make things happen. We want the same for our blind children. Our motivation for creating a program around student-initiated learning was twofold. First, we hypothesized that it would create a higher-quality learning experience. Second, we wanted to empower our blind students to take charge of their learning and, by doing so, to realize that they can take charge of their lives. We will continue to look for opportunities to incorporate student-initiated learning into our youth programs in addition to providing environments where students of all ages can teach and learn together.
If you are organizing a youth program in your affiliate, you might consider incorporating these elements to enhance your effort. If you'd like ideas about how to do so, contact me at [email protected] or (410) 659-9314, Ext. 2293.
by Eric Guillory, Jackie Otwell, Casey West, Carlton Walker, and Meleah Jensen
Reprinted from the Braille Monitor, Vol. 55, No. 11, December 2012
From the Editor: In the National Federation of the Blind, we are deeply committed to Braille and Braille literacy. Through the BELL Program (Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning) we introduce school-age children to the way blind people read and write. Here is a report from the most recent states to join the program.
Our NFB BELL Choir continues to grow. During the summer of 2012 Louisiana, Idaho, Nebraska, and Massachusetts all held Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) programs for the first time. These four new states were joined by our seven veteran states, several of which had expanded their programs. Utah and North Carolina each held one program; Colorado, Virginia, Maryland, and Georgia each held two; and Texas held four. In all, eighteen programs took place in eleven states.
What follows are snapshots of the programs held by the four new additions to our NFB BELL choir.
Eric Guillory, who serves as director of youth services at the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB), is no stranger to planning and running youth programs. Even with all of his years of experience, he says he still felt a bit of trepidation. However, any nervousness he felt was eased by knowing that he was leading a great team of teachers and volunteers.
Louisiana got the bells ringing in Ruston in early June. Rather than using the more traditional two-week day-school model, Louisiana opted to employ the residential capacity of the LCB in order to serve more students from around the state.
In addition to the LCB, the NFBL had help from the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University. Students who were enrolled in the institute's training program for teachers of blind students were a tremendous asset to this endeavor, serving as wonderfully knowledgeable and caring instructors.
In addition to intensive instruction in the literary Braille code, students learned nonvisual techniques for cooking and some basic cane travel skills. These skills were reinforced in walks around the campus and on community outings. Other vital components of the program were the social and role-modeling opportunities provided for students. While skill development is critical, positive attitudes about blindness are equally so. For some students the chance to interact with blind peers was one of the most memorable aspects of the program. One grandmother said, "Being around the other kids and participating in such excellent activities has been tremendous for Baylee. She has enjoyed herself so much, as have I. Taking a tour of the Louisiana Center and interacting with the teachers and other mentors this past week has been very enlightening for me, and I look forward to Baylee's involvement next year."
Ramona Walhof, a longtime Federationist and past president of the NFB of Idaho, serves as the BELL coordinator for the state. She says, "I wanted BELL in Idaho because so many kids are not learning Braille or are not learning it thoroughly." The sound of the BELL is still reverberating throughout Idaho. Ramona says that she was told by parents of a couple of participants who attended an ice cream social that their children are still talking about the BELL Program. Not only did the kids learn Braille, but their attitudes about blindness changed during these two weeks. The students proclaimed that BELL is "blind friendly."
Carlton Walker served as Idaho's core teacher. Below is her story of the Idaho BELL Program:
"Spirits were as high as the peaks that overlook the Idaho capital of Boise as the Idaho BELL Program came to life on July 23, 2012. Full-time blind mentors Ramona Walhof and her sister, Susan Ford, took the lead in teaching classes in Braille reading and writing. These sisters live their love of Braille in their instruction, and their students made great gains in a short two weeks. Students also benefited from the expertise of a certified cane travel instructor, a teacher of blind students, and blind role models. These three ladies used a variety of activities, including hide-and-seek games with school lockers and having the students use a Braille-labeled microwave to make breakfast and snacks.
"Other activities included a rocking birthday party for Louis Braille on opening day. In addition to traditional birthday fare (decorated cookies and balloons), BELL students engaged in some serious decorating activities. Using patterned duct tape, tactile stickers, and different ribbons, BELL students individualized their canes, their BELL notebook binders, and even their sleepshades.
"As terrific as the facilities and instruction were at St. Joe's, BELL could not be contained in one building. Field trips included an afternoon trip to the pool at the Boise YMCA and a hands-on, ears-open trip to the Discovery Center of Idaho. On the penultimate day of BELL, we all traveled to the heart of downtown Boise to explore above-ground parking garages, elevators, escalators, busy traffic intersections, and ice cream."
When the Nebraska affiliate began to explore the possibility of bringing the BELL Program to its state, affiliate president Amy Buresh sent out an email in which she illustrated Nebraska's need for BELL. She cited a phone call from a parent who had come to the NFBN for help getting Braille for her three-year-old child. She ended her message with an enthusiastic call to action: "Let's do this thing!"
Although the excitement of the team was evident, several challenges and obstacles threatened to silence Nebraska's BELL. Fortunately, in true Federation spirit, each of the obstacles was surmounted, and the Nebraska BELL Program was a success. Casey Robertson traveled to Nebraska to serve as the core teacher. Here is what she has to say:
"Let's play ball! Nebraska's very first BELL Program was a grand slam hit. On the second day of the program BELL's very own student, Rachel Rockemann, threw out the opening pitch for the Nebraska Storm Chasers minor league baseball team. That was just the start of the excitement for the six students who participated in Nebraska's BELL Program. Each day was filled with entertaining ways of learning Braille, such as Braille beach ball, Braille Twister, and Braille baseball. The students enjoyed activities such as making bird feeders and learning to cook using nonvisual skills.
"Students also enjoyed interacting with blind role models who dropped in to help with various activities or to share story time. By the third day of the program, students decided to remove the word "can't" from their vocabulary. They decided that "blindness" and "can't" should not be in the same sentence. Participants spent a lot of time encouraging one another to push beyond what they originally thought possible. By the end of the two weeks, the students had accumulated over 150 "BELL ringers," or accomplishments, to show off to their families on the closing day.
"One student decided by the second week that he wanted to try Braille again at school because 'it can be fun and I can read with it.' Another student wanted to teach her friends about her cane and why she needs it. Each student developed more than just Braille skills over those two weeks; they each developed a sense of being okay with their blindness. They felt better about themselves and believed they could do anything they wanted to do in their lives."
Kristina Constant is working on a degree to teach blind students. As a future teacher and as a lifelong Braille reader, she understands the necessity for blind students to have access to quality Braille instruction. Although Massachusetts had the smallest BELL Program, make no mistake--its BELL was ringing just as loud and just as proud as the BELLs in our other new states. Jackie Otwell was the core teacher for the Massachusetts BELL Program. Here is what she has to say:
"Although Springfield, Massachusetts, had a small cohort, consisting of two marvelous middle-school students, each one walked away having increased Braille knowledge, nonvisual techniques, and daily interactions with positive blind role models. These teens also became well-versed in the kitchen, making fudge, cookies, and Cheerios treats. Zahra learned how to Braille the entire alphabet. Brandon increased his knowledge of contractions. For example, he learned the saying, "Drop it like it's hot!" for the contractions i-n and e-n, and that a-r is the pirate contraction. Although such crutches are corny, middle-school students liked them, and we had a lot of laughs.
"Zahra and Brandon had the opportunity to take the knowledge they acquired from the "Money! Money! Money!" lesson to a local Royal Farms store. The pair used their cane techniques to cross a busy intersection to get to their goal of candy. The team also learned how to play and refine goalball skills from expert Nancy Bazanchuk, director of CHD Disability Resources. Brandon, familiar with goalball, showed off his throwing skills, and Zahra caught on to the basics quickly. Kudos to Christina Constant for taking on this new BELL Program!"
Interested in joining the NFB BELL Choir? We are looking for three new host states for the summer of 2013. If your affiliate is interested in enriching the lives of blind youth through increased access to Braille instruction, contact Natalie Shaheen at <[email protected]> or visit <https://www.nfb.org/bell-program>.
by Carlton Anne Cook Walker
From the Editor: At the 2012 convention of the National Federation of the Blind, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) elected Carlton Walker to serve as its next president. In this article, Carlton introduces herself to the readers of Future Reflections. She shares her concerns for today's blind children and her vision of how the NOPBC can make a positive difference.
At its annual meeting last July, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) elected me as its president. I am humbled by this honor, and I look forward to working with each of you to continue the vital work of the NOPBC for blind children and their parents. I take this opportunity to introduce myself to the readers of Future Reflections and to share my vision of our future.
I am a mother, a wife, a teacher of blind students, and an attorney. Law school came first, then marriage to Stephen Walker, and instant motherhood to Kenny (ten at the time) and Stephanie (who was then nine). I have run a solo, general-practice law firm since 1997, and I still serve as solicitor to several municipalities in south central Pennsylvania.
Since 2009, I have served as a full-time teacher of students with blindness/visual impairment. I joined the NOPBC in 2006. I became a board member and served as second vice president before I was elected to the presidency in July 2012.
In 2007 a group of parents in Pennsylvania restarted the Pennsylvania Parents of Blind Children. I served as its president until 2010, and I remain on its board. I have also had the honor of serving on the board of Pennsylvania's NFB affiliate and on the advisory committee to our state's blindness agency.
My introduction to blindness came at a pediatric eye exam in 2003. My two-year-old daughter, Anna Catherine, was being checked for "lazy eye," or amblyopia. Amblyopia runs in my family, and we had noticed that Anna's left eye tended to drift off to the side. We soon found that she had refractive amblyopia and a lot more.
Anna was born eight days overdue at a robust eight pounds, ten ounces. A series of health problems plagued the first year of her life, resulting in the failure of her eyes to develop properly. She has no central vision, scatomas (dark spots) in her peripheral vision, and an acuity between 20/200 and 20/400 for near and distance vision.
Anna is now eleven years old and a sixth grader at Yellow Breeches Middle School in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania. Though she can read enlarged print, it tires her eyes. Though she can use her vision for travel most of the time, she has no depth perception and sometimes fails to notice objects in her path.
Anna uses a combination of print and Braille for reading and writing. In addition to literary Braille, she has learned Nemeth Code for math and science and Braille music for music class. Anna uses a long white cane for travel.
By learning the skills of blindness and using nonvisual techniques and tools, Anna does not let her limited sight hold her back. At school she plays flute in the band and sings in chorus. Outside of school, Anna is involved with Youth Group and Handbells at church. She keeps in touch with blind friends all over the country via telephone, and she plays golf and chess whenever she gets the opportunity. She surfs YouTube for all things Harry Potter, and she is obsessed with her clothing, hair, and all things related to fashion. She puts off her homework and argues with her parents. In other words, she is a typical tween.
When Stephen and I learned about Anna's blindness, we did not know what to do. Back then, I didn't know what "significant visual impairment" really meant, and the ophthalmologists were not very helpful. As time went on, Anna's vision did not meet her expanding needs in the academic, recreational, or social realms. Though she received early intervention services for other issues, no one seemed able to explain how we could help Anna deal with her visual impairment.
I contacted the nearest agency for the blind, which was forty miles away. The representative seemed flustered when I told her that Anna was three years old. "We only work with adults," she explained. I felt I had nowhere to turn.
Through an unlikely series of coincidences and good fortune, I received information about an organization called the National Federation of the Blind. I discovered that the NFB even had a division devoted to children, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Better still, there was an upcoming conference specifically devoted to young children, the Beginnings and Blueprints Conference at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore, Maryland. As we drove down the Interstate toward Baltimore, Stephen and I had no idea what was in store for us. We only knew that we needed help.
The NFB staff, members, and parents gave us more than we ever could have imagined. We met blind teens and adults who embodied the possibilities for Anna's future; we found hope. We learned about the tools and skills of blindness; we found guidance. We developed relationships with phenomenal people who believed in Anna and cared about her; we found a family.
However, when we returned home to share all this great information with Anna's school, the reception was less than warm. We had to fight for instruction in blindness skills, and the instruction Anna did receive was not always of the highest quality. With guidance from many blind adults and from other parents, I delved into blindness education advocacy. I began to make presentations to parents, teachers, and other attorneys about special education and blindness education in particular. I went back to school to earn a Master of Education in Visual and Multiple Impairments. I have worked in the Harrisburg area as a teacher of students with blindness/visual impairment since 2009.
When I reflect back on this journey, I often ponder, "Where would we be if we had not found the NFB and the NOPBC?" The answer is not a pretty one.
Without the NFB and the NOPBC, Anna would not have learned Braille. By this time, she would likely be using only auditory input and output--and she would be functionally illiterate. Anna would not have a cane. She would need to walk with a sighted guide in unfamiliar locations. In familiar settings, she would run into people, or she would move very slowly down crowded school hallways, dragging her hand along the walls. Several times a day she would trip or fall down. She would develop a fear of traveling by herself.
Anna would not have an independent spirit. She would define herself as "impaired" because she would not have the alternative techniques of blindness. She would not have the skills she needs to live the life of a typical eleven-year-old.
Without the NFB and the NOPBC, I would feel alone. My sense of isolation would be overwhelming. I would know that something was missing from Anna's life, but I would have no idea how to find it for her. I would be completely reliant upon a system that has low expectations for my child. I would feel like a failure as a parent.
Unfortunately, my nightmare is a reality for far too many parents and children. The NOPBC and NFB transform lives, but two vital ingredients are required for this transformation.
First, we need the continued experience and energy of members in order to provide vital information and services. We also need financial support. Parent chapters (POBCs) at the state level help support local parents. The NOPBC supports existing POBCs and provides resources to states that want to start new POBC chapters.
Second, we need to reach more parents of blind children. All too often, parents only hear about things their child cannot do. High expectations are essential to the development of all children. Blindness is a characteristic that need not define a child or limit that child's future. All parents of blind children deserve to know about the support and information available from the NOPBC and the NFB.
This July in Orlando, Florida, we will hold the thirtieth NOPBC Annual Conference. At that conference, we will offer multiple opportunities for parents to learn from blind adults and professionals in the blindness field. Parents will learn at seminars and breakout sessions, through hands-on activities, and via informal, one-on-one personal interactions. We also offer a variety of programs for blind children. There will be activities where they can learn and practice new skills of blindness. They will have unparalleled opportunities to meet and make friends with other blind children from across the country.
All blind children have the right to learn the skills of blindness that will allow them to become as independent and productive as they would be if they were not blind. All parents of blind children deserve to have a community of parents and blind adults that understands where they are and where they are headed, a community that can support them along the path. The NOPBC continues to explore new ways to achieve these goals. Together we will make the dream come true for parents and children throughout the nation!
2013 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships
200 E. Wells St. at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, MD 21230
Contact: Patti Chang, Esq.
(410) 659-9314, Ext. 2415
Application Deadline: March 31, 2013
The National Federation of the Blind is now accepting applications to the National Scholarship Program, which recognizes achievement by blind students, from those entering college in the fall semester of 2013 to those enrolled in graduate studies. Thirty top students will receive scholarships, ranging in value from $3,000 to $12,000. To be eligible, a student must be legally blind in both eyes; must reside in the United States or Puerto Rico; and must be pursuing or planning to pursue a full-time, postsecondary course of study in a degree-granting program at a United States institution in the 2013 scholastic year. One scholarship may be given to a person employed full-time while attending school part-time. Scholarship winners must participate in the entire NFB convention and in all of its scheduled scholarship activities, July 1-6, departing on July 7. Each winner will receive financial assistance to attend the NFB convention in Orlando, Florida, an excellent opportunity for high-level networking with active blind persons in many professions and occupations.
54th Annual National Achievement Awards
Application Deadline: March 15, 2013
College seniors and graduate students who are blind or visually impaired are eligible to apply for Learning Ally's Mary P. Oenslager Scholastic Achievement Awards. The awards are given in recognition of academic excellence, outstanding leadership, and service to others. Three top winners will receive $6,000 each, three special honors winners will receive $3,000 each, and three honors winners will each receive $1,000. Applicants must have been registered with Learning Ally for at least one year, beginning March 15, 2012. In addition, the $1,000 William L. Ritchie Learning through Listening Award will be presented to a high school senior in the Washington, DC, area who is blind/visually impaired or has a learning disability. The Winslow Coyne Reitneour Scholastic Achievement Awards of $2,500 and $1,500 will be granted to blind/visually impaired or learning disabled high school juniors and seniors who live in southern California. The deadline for the Ritchie and Reitneour Awards is March 1, 2013.
2013 American Foundation for the Blind Scholarships
1000 Fifth Ave., Suite 350
Huntington, WV 25701
Application Deadline: April 30, 2013
The American Foundation for the Blind administers a scholarship program for qualified blind students. Most AFB scholarships are designated for specific fields of study. Applicants will only be considered for the scholarships they have selected on the application.
Jewish Guild for the Blind Scholar Program
15 W. 65th St.
New York, NY 10023
Application Deadline: TBA
The Guild Scholar Program will award twelve to sixteen scholarships of up to $15,000 each to college-bound high school juniors who are legally blind. Applications will be accepted from students at the end of their junior year, with recipients selected and scholarships awarded the following academic year.
NASA Summer Internships for Students with Disabilities
Contact: Kenneth A. Silberman, Esq., (301) 286-9281
Summer 2013 internships run for ten weeks for college students and six to eight weeks for high school students. College students receive a stipend of $6,000, and high school students receive $1,800. Internships for college students are also offered during the school year. Internships are available at all NASA centers nationwide.
Funds for First-Timer Parents to the NFB Annual Convention
2013 Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund
200 E. Wells St. at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, MD 21230
Contact: Allen Harris, Chairman, (410) 659-9314, Ext. 2415
Application Deadline: April 15, 2013
The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund invites NFB members to apply for a grant if they have always wanted to attend our national convention but have not had sufficient funds. The requirements are posted in the January and February Braille Monitor article, “Convention Scholarships Available” by Allen Harris, fund chairman.
2013 NFB Writing Contest
NFB Writers' Division
Deadline: April 1, 2013
The Youth Writing Contests in poetry and fiction, sponsored by the NFB Writers' Division, are intended to promote Braille literacy and excellence in creative writing. Entries will be judged on creativity and quality of Braille. Prizes will be awarded at three levels: elementary, middle school, and high school. Prizes for youth categories range up to $30. Winning entries will be considered for publication in the Writers' Division magazine, Slate & Style.
VSA Playwright Discovery Competition
Deadline: June 1, 2013
The Kennedy Center invites middle and high school students to explore the disability experience--in their own lives, the lives of others, or the lives of fictional characters--through the art of scriptwriting. Young writers with and without disabilities are encouraged to submit one-act scripts for stage or screen. Entries may be the work of an individual student or a collaboration by a group of up to five students. The competition has two divisions: grades 6-8 and grades 9-12.
Script Writing Intensive
The Kennedy Center
Deadline: May 15, 2013
The Kennedy Center is pleased to announce the new Script Writing Intensive for aspiring young writers with disabilities. The Intensive will bring a select group of high school writers with disabilities to Washington, DC, in September 2013 for a weekend of pre-professional activities including script workshops, roundtable discussions, staged readings, and more. The program is ideal for student writers interested in writing for the stage or screen.
2013 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards
Contact: Jim Gashel, (720) 878-4248
Deadline for Nominations: March 31, 2013
Nominations are now being accepted for the 2013 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards. The awards will be presented in the first week of July at the 2013 convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Orlando, Florida. These awards recognize individuals and organizations working in the field of blindness that have demonstrated exemplary leadership and extraordinary accomplishments toward achieving the full integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality. The awards are given in the name of Dr. Jacob Bolotin, a blind physician who practiced in Chicago early in the twentieth century.
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award for 2013
Teacher Award Committee
210 Cambridge Dr.
Louisville, KY 40214
Contact: Cathy Jackson, (502) 366-2317
Nomination Deadline: May 15, 2013
The National Federation of the Blind will recognize an outstanding teacher of blind children at the 2013 national convention. The winner of this award will receive financial assistance to attend convention, a check for $1,000, a plaque, and the opportunity to make a presentation about the education of blind children to the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Anyone who is currently teaching or counseling blind students or administering a program for blind children is eligible to receive this award. Teachers may be nominated by colleagues, supervisors, or the parents of students. The letter of nomination should explain why the teacher is being nominated for this award.
Whispercast Use in Public School Classrooms
Contact: Valerie Yingling, (410) 659-9314, Ext. 2440
In October 2012, Amazon announced Whispercast, a free online tool that allows schools to deploy and manage Kindle content through Kindle devices or other device programs. Unfortunately, Amazon's Kindle ebooks continue to be inaccessible to blind users in critical respects, and it is therefore illegal for school districts to purchase and distribute them. Please find out if your school has or is planning to adopt the Whispercast Program. If so, contact Valerie Yingling, paralegal at the NFB, to report this information and to learn more.
Mothers of Blind Children Survey
Contact: Sonja Biggs, (650) 833-9392
Sonja Biggs, a doctoral candidate at Capella University, seeks volunteers for a study on mothers of legally blind children. Participants must be the mothers of blind children in grades one to three. The research will explore how mothers teach school-related skills to their blind children before kindergarten, and how these skills affect the child's school performance. The survey will be conducted through telephone interviews using Skype.
Tactile Graphics and STEM Education for the Blind
April 12-13, 2013
The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute will host a conference on how tactile graphics can be made, and how the use of tactile graphics enhances STEM education for the blind. This subject is especially relevant in light of the recently published guidelines from the Braille Authority of North America (BANA), the rapid adoption of digital textbooks, and the 2011 FAQ to colleges, universities, and K-12 schools mandating equal access to educational materials.
Striving for Independence: Southwest Regional Student Seminar
325 E. Flamingo Rd.
Las Vegas, NV 89169
Contact: Rena Smith, (702) 228-4217
March 22-24, 2013
This conference is geared toward blind high school and college students in the southwestern region. Students will learn about their rights, get information about NFB training centers, and have a chance to network with other students. Parents will learn how to help teens prepare for college, make connections with mentors, and network with other parents. NFB President Marc Maurer will be a guest speaker.
Each summer, the adjustment-to-blindness training centers affiliated with the National Federation of the Blind sponsor programs for blind children and teens. These programs provide intensive training in Braille, technology, and cane travel. They are taught by blind instructors who use these skills in their daily lives. The programs build a positive attitude about blindness through activities that challenge assumptions and strengthen confidence. Center staff can help applicants work with state rehabilitation agencies to help cover program costs. Below is information about the 2013 summer programs offered by each of the NFB training centers.
July 13-August 3, 2013
Children ages 9-13
Application Deadline: As soon as possible
Postsecondary Readiness and Empowerment Program (PREP)
June 10-August 2, 2013
Blind high school students
Application Deadline: April 15, 2013
Colorado Center for the Blind
2233 W. Shepperd Ave.
Littleton, CO 80120
(800) 401-4632 or (303) 778-1130
Confidence Camp for Kids
Children ages 5-10 who live in the Denver area.
Initiation to Independence
Middle school students
Earn and Learn
High school students
Summer for Success
College prep program
Louisiana Center for the Blind
101 S. Trenton St.
Ruston, LA 71270
Contact: Eric Guillory, (800) 234-4166
Children grades 4-8
Striving for Success Summer Training and Employment Project (STEP)
Blind high school students
Contact: [email protected]
By adding the sense of touch, eTouch Sciences has developed a fun and exciting way for students to learn math and science more effectively. Using a haptic device, students can interact with three-dimensional objects that are displayed on the computer screen. Students can feel the shapes and textures of the parts of a plant cell, experience how much things weigh on other planets, or explore a volcano and feel the lava flow. Educational apps provide a wide range of math and science lessons that include haptic feedback, audio, and high contrast graphics.
Innovations at Bookshare
Contact: Betsy Burgess, (408) 348-5596
Bookshare, a global leader in providing accessible digital books to readers with print disabilities, is pleased to announce two innovative product additions. The Web Reader will help Bookshare members open and read books directly with a browser, without requiring them to download the book or utilize separate software. The Bookshelf will help members and sponsors organize reading for themselves or their students. For example, teachers can now place assigned K-12 reading on a Bookshelf to be downloaded later, or they can give students direct access to a book so they can log in and read using the Web Reader. Several videos on YouTube explain how to use Bookshare.org, some feature young blind students. Go to www.YouTube.com and in the Search box, type Bookshare.org. For a video specifically on using Web Reader, go to YouTube and type, Bookshare Web Reader.
Just Books Read Aloud
This website features 225 children's books read aloud as YouTube videos. Offerings include The Golden Locket, Pinkalicious School Rules, and The Screaming Mean Machine. You can search for titles by length (tiny, short, medium, or long), or by author, narrator, or category.
Tech-Ease 4 All
Tech-Ease 4 All is a collection of "how to" tutorials for the built-in accessibility options of each operating system: Universal Access in Apple's OS X and Ease of Access in Microsoft Windows. Each tutorial consists of a brief closed-captioned video, a webpage with step-by-step directions and screenshots, and a PDF document that has been tagged for screen reader access. A section of the site is dedicated to the needs of people with visual disabilities, with instructions for how to use the VoiceOver screen reader on the Mac and the built-in Narrator on Windows to access email, browse the web, and more. The site also features a section on web accessibility where visitors can learn how to create accessible webpages, PDF documents, and videos.
Making Tactile Books
Christine Moe, a teacher of the visually impaired, developed this site to promote early literacy among blind and severely visually impaired children in the preschool years and for emerging Braille readers. The site includes directions for making books, ideas for creating interesting and attractive tactile books and other materials, and links to other resources and ideas.
Tactile Book Advancement Group (TBAG)
61 Princes Way, London, SW19 UK
TBAG works to promote the design, provision, and enjoyment of tactile books for blind and partially sighted children. This website includes information about designing, producing, using, buying, and borrowing books with tactile illustrations.
Spatial and Map Cognition Research Lab
University of Oregon
The Spatial and Map Cognition Research Lab at the University of Oregon has developed resources to help teachers create tactile maps and use them with their students. These tactile mapping products have been developed through ongoing research on spatial thinking, navigation, and map use. The Tactile and Mapping Editor (TaME) is software that makes the production of tactile maps and graphics easier for the general population. Tactile Thematic Maps are downloadable files that can be printed on swell paper (microcapsule paper) with an embosser. The Tactile Symbol Set was developed to create a set of common symbols to make use of tactile maps easier and a more standardized experience. Symbols include streets, intersections, buildings, parks, and more. Products are available free of charge at the website.
Dots and Dogs
33562-4 Yucaipa Blvd., #435
Yucaipa, CA 92399
Dots and Dogs sells a variety of products designed for blind people, including a number of toys that help develop tactile and auditory skills. Among them are Texture Dominoes, Feel & Find 3D, the Weight Box Game, and the Sound Box Game.
Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers
Founded in 2000, Brain, Child is the nation's largest literary magazine devoted to motherhood. Each issue contains personal essays, poetry, news, book reviews, and in-depth feature stories. The magazine is available in hardcopy, online, and as an Apple digital app.
WGBH National Center for Accessible Media
1 Guest St.
Boston, MA 02135
This site lists motion pictures that are being shown with audio description for the blind and/or closed captioning for the hearing impaired. It also lists theater chains that provide these services.