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 2 Special Issue on Advocacy
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 • firstname.lastname@example.org • email@example.com
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>.
Volume 32 Number 2 Special Issue on Advocacy
A Letter from the Editor
by Deborah Kent Stein
Terms and Acronyms
Protecting the Rights of Blind Individuals in the United States
by Dan Goldstein
EDUCATION AND THE LAW
Weapons of Meaningful Education
by Carlton Cook Walker
INDIVIDUALIZED EDUCATION PROGRAMS (IEPs)
Just Forget They're Blind: A Philosophy-Based Approach
to the Education of Blind Children and the IEP
by Carol Castellano
Transition Is Never Easy: IEP Advice to a Middle-School Teacher
by Michael Gosse
From Control to Autonomy: Our Quest to Homeschool Our Daughter
by Terri O'Neill
THE FEDERATION IN ACTION
Braille Standards for the State of Maryland
by Melissa Riccobono
Amazon Kindle: Is It Coming to a School Near You?
by Mehgan Sidhu and Valerie Yingling
Developing Self-Advocacy Skills, or, The Pursuit of a Normal Life
by Carol Castellano
The Courage to Fight for Chocolate Cake
by Haben Girma
Blind and Gifted? Blind and Gifted!
by Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway
Cane Denied: When Good Policy Isn't Enough
by Penny Duffy
Katie Can Sit Where She Pleases
by Heather Fritz
NFB CONVENTION 2013
NFB Kids Camp Adventure
by Carla McQuillan
No Limits! 2013 National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) Conference for Families and Teachers
by Carlton Cook Walker
Calling in the Cars
by Joanne Wilson
ODDS AND ENDS
Future Reflections is a magazine for parents and teachers of blind children. It is published quarterly by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults in partnership with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Future Reflections is available free of charge to subscriber addresses in the U.S. in regular print and audio formats and via email, or it can be read online on the NFB website. Canadian subscriptions are $35.00 per year, and other foreign subscriptions are $75.00 U.S. per year. Checks should be made payable to the National Federation of the Blind and sent to the NFB, Attention Future Reflections, 200 E. Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, MD 21230.
For an email subscription to Future Reflections, visit <www.nfbcal.org/listserv-signup.html> and follow the instructions.
To subscribe to Future Reflections in print or audio format, send an email to ParentOutreach@nfb.org. Put "Subscribe to FR" in the subject line and include your preferred medium in the body. Please include your address, whether you are the parent of a blind child, a teacher, or other subscriber. If you are a parent, include your child's name and birth date.
Are you the parent of a blind or visually impaired child? Don’t know where to turn?
Founded in 1983, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) is a membership organization of parents, educators, and friends of blind children reaching out to give each other vital support, encouragement, and information. We have thousands of members in all 50 states plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.
The NOPBC offers hope, encouragement, information, and resources for parents of blind or visually impaired children. NOPBC provides emotional support and a network of other families dealing with the same challenges you are facing. We also provide information, training, and resources to empower you to take an active role in guiding your child’s development and education. We can provide information on your child’s rights and on the laws and legislative issues that will enable you and your child to become strong and effective advocates.
Have you ever wondered what your blind or visually impaired child will be capable of when he or she grows up? The answer to that question is that blindness/visual impairment does not have to stop your child from doing anything he or she wants to do. We can connect you with other families and blind adults who can serve as positive mentors and role models. They can teach you the attitudes and techniques that will enable your child to become independent and to succeed in life.
What is different about the NOPBC?
Our status as a division of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the largest and most influential organization of blind people in the world, provides many benefits. Our members are well informed about the societal, legislative, and technological issues that affect blind people. We also enjoy the resources, support, and expertise of fifty thousand blind people who can serve as mentors and role models for us and our children. Finally, as our children grow up, they have the Federation to belong to.
No other organization for parents of blind/visually impaired children offers more programs, activities, and training to families, children, and youth. One of our most exciting activities is our annual conference. Every year since it was established, the NOPBC has conducted an annual conference for parents and teachers of blind children as part of the national convention of the NFB. The program has grown to include five exciting days of workshops, training sessions, activities for all family members, including sighted siblings, and countless opportunities to meet blind adults and other families and children from around the country.
What is the mission of the NOPBC?
The purpose of the NOPBC is to:
• create a climate of opportunity for blind children in home and society.
• provide information and support to parents of blind children.
• facilitate the sharing of experience and concerns among parents of blind children.
• develop and expand resources available to parents and their children.
• help parents of blind children gain understanding and perspective through partnership and contact with blind adults.
• function as an integral part of the National Federation of the Blind in its ongoing effort to achieve equality and opportunity for all blind persons.
Most states have an NOPBC affiliate chapter. You can find your state chapter at <www.nopbc.org>. If your state does not have a chapter and you would like to start one, please contact us. We may be able to offer training and other assistance to start a state NOPBC chapter.
What are the programs, activities, publications, and resources of the NOPBC?
• National and State Parent Seminars and Conferences
• Future Reflections Magazine
• NOPBC Website
• Books and Videos
• Blindkid & Other Listservs
• Early Childhood Conferences
• Pop-Up IEP Website
• Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest
• Slate Pals Pen Pal Program
• AAF Free Braille Books Program
• Share Braille Book Exchange
• Writing Contests
• Junior Science Academy
• Youth Slam High School Science Academy
• National Center for Blind Youth in Science Web site
• NFB-NEWSLINE® Newspaper Service
• Where the Blind Work Website
• Free White Cane Program
• Blindness 411 Facebook Group for Teens
• NFB-LINK Mentoring Program
• Scholarship Program
• Straight Talk about Blindness Video Series
• Parent Leadership Program (PLP)
by Deborah Kent Stein
In 1971 I graduated with a master's degree in social work and began to look for a job. My résumé seemed to make a good impression, and I was called in for numerous interviews. However, as soon as my prospective employers found out that I am blind, everything changed. At a large city hospital I was told, "You should look for work at a smaller agency where it will be easier for you to manage." At a small child guidance clinic I heard, "You should apply to one of the big hospitals where they have a lot of programs and can meet your special needs." One social work director patted my shoulder and said sweetly, "I know there's a niche for you somewhere, dear, but I'm afraid it isn't with us." Another stated bluntly, "I'll tell you right now that because of your handicap I'm not going to hire you."
After months of frustration, I called the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). I explained that I was encountering employment discrimination due to my blindness, and I asked if the ACLU could help me.
The answer was no. If the issue were race, religion, gender, or ethnicity, the ACLU could invoke the laws of the land. But few existing laws protected blind people, or people with any sort of disability, from discrimination in any form. "If you want our help," said the official on the phone, "you'll have to change the law."
Eventually I found a job on my own. I was working on New York's Lower East Side when I joined the Metropolitan Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind (a forerunner of today's New York City Chapter). A group of chapter members had drafted an amendment to the state's human rights act that would grant protection to people with disabilities. I remembered my discussion with the ACLU and threw myself into the campaign. When the New York Human Rights Act was amended to include disability in 1973, I knew we had helped change the way blind people would be viewed and treated. It was my first experience with legislative action, my first taste of the power of collective advocacy.
In 1966 Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, founding president of the National Federation of the Blind, published a groundbreaking essay called "The Right to Live in the World: The Disabled in the Law of Torts." He demonstrated that people with disabilities are hampered from participating fully in society by overt and covert discrimination that impinges upon every aspect of life. Dr. tenBroek showed that such discrimination violates the rights of American citizens as outlined in the U.S. Constitution. Forty years ago in New York I learned firsthand that the NFB can be highly effective in its work to ensure the right to live in the world for blind people in the United States.
The world has undergone tremendous changes since I searched for my first job forty years ago. Today a host of local, state, and federal laws protect the rights of people with disabilities. However, laws must be interpreted and enforced in order to be effective. New laws must be crafted and enacted to meet the challenges of an ever-changing world. The need for action arises again and again.
The Federation continues to advocate for blind people today, as it has since its founding in 1940. It works to pass laws that open opportunities for blind people of all ages. By educating the public and invoking the law when needed, Federationists advocate to gain blind students the chance to learn Braille and other crucial blindness skills, and they fight discrimination in the workplace and the community. Furthermore, the NFB instills blind people with a belief in their right to participate as equals in every aspect of life, and it supports their efforts to advocate for themselves.
Articles in this special issue of Future Reflections examine advocacy from many perspectives. Attorney Dan Goldstein reflects on the rights of blind people within the context of other civil rights movements, and NOPBC President Carlton Cook Walker explains how the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) helps ensure that blind children receive a meaningful education. Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway, Terri O'Neill, and other parents describe their efforts to advocate for their blind children. Carol Castellano shows that the Individualized Education Program (IEP) can be used to ensure that blind students receive the same education as students who are sighted. Haben Girma writes about self advocacy as a college student and shows that it's even worth fighting for the choice to eat chocolate cake.
For those of us who are blind, the ability to self-advocate is an essential life skill. Likewise, it is crucial for parents and teachers to advocate on behalf of their blind children or students. Through the Federation we can gain critical skills and experience in advocacy. We can learn, we can draw strength, and we can pass it forward.
Discussions of advocacy for blind children are peppered with references to disability laws and relevant procedures. Those in the know seem to take the jargon for granted, but the rest of the world may flounder in a sea of acronyms. Here is a short guide to some of the terms you will encounter as you read the articles in this issue of Future Reflections.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)--Signed into law in 1990, the ADA is the most comprehensive piece of federal legislation that has ever been passed to protect people with disabilities from discrimination. It covers employment, public accommodations and public transportation, commercial facilities, telecommunications, and more.
Individualized Education Program (IEP)--Mandated under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, an Individualized Education Program (sometimes referred to as an Individualized Education Plan) is a document that defines the educational goals for a child with disabilities. Based upon the needs of and goals for the child, the IEP determines services and placement. An IEP may be in effect for a child from age three until the completion of twelfth grade.
Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)--The IFSP is a plan for early intervention services for children with developmental delays. A child may have an IFSP from birth to age from birth to age three.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)--Originally enacted in 1975 as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, IDEA ensures the right of all children with disabilities to receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE).
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973--This piece of legislation, commonly referred to as Section 504, prohibits discrimination against persons on the basis of disability in private and public programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. Section 504 is a landmark piece of legislation, as it was the first major law to protect the civil rights of people with disabilities.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973--This section of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal electronic and information technology to be accessible to people with disabilities, including employees and members of the public.
White Cane Laws--White Cane Laws are any of a number of state laws and local ordinances that protect the right of blind persons to enter and use public accommodations with a white cane or dog guide. Most of these laws also require drivers to yield to a blind pedestrian with a dog guide or white cane.
by Dan Goldstein
Reprinted from the Braille Monitor, November 2008
From the Editor: Dan Goldstein, an attorney with the Baltimore firm of Brown, Goldstein and Levy, has long served as legal counsel to the National Federation of the Blind. In this article, based on an address he delivered at the 2008 NFB national convention in Dallas, he examines the state of the civil rights movements of the blind and other minorities in the United States. When he completed his remarks at the convention, the audience spontaneously broke into several choruses of "We Shall Overcome."
I grew up two hundred miles south of here, in Austin, Texas. I have very fond memories of Austin, but when Dr. Maurer said that he wanted me to talk today about the state of the disability rights movement compared to the state and the history of the other civil rights movements, it brought to mind an unhappy memory from Austin: Miss Pruitt.
In the fall of 1964 Miss Pruitt was my high school civics teacher. Miss Pruitt complained more than once during the semester, with considerable resentment, that African American men had gotten the right to vote more than fifty years before women did. She thought it was a great injustice that her rights were recognized later. Mind you, in 1964 the right of African Americans to vote in parts of Texas was more theoretical than real anyway. But Miss Pruitt, nonetheless, felt slighted.
I knew that what Miss Pruitt was saying was racist and offensive and wrong, and I wasn't shy about getting sent to detention for my smart mouth. In fact I still owe McCallan High School four hundred hours. I could never articulate my response to Miss Pruitt in a way that satisfied me.
Jump ahead four years to the summer of 1968. I'm in Washington, volunteering for the SCLC, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, planning the Poor People's March. (I had, by the way, the important job of figuring out how many Port-a-Potties were needed and where they should be placed along the march route.) A new phrase was going around that summer, "women's liberation movement," or "women's lib." In preparing to talk to you today, it occurred to me that maybe it was just new to me, so I checked on the Internet. It turns out that the February 1968 issue of the magazine Ramparts was in fact the first time that the phrase "women's liberation movement" was used in print, so it was new at that time.
Starting that summer and going forward the next few years, I sat in on many arguments where veterans of the civil rights movement were saying that this women's rights movement was a distraction and would take away resources and supporters from the fight for racial justice. That didn't sit right with me either. The reverse of Miss Pruitt was just as wrong as Miss Pruitt. And, although I was slow to understand all of the things that the women were talking about, I could understand that this approach, too, was wrong. But I still didn't quite have the right way to articulate it.
Ten years ago I read an extraordinary book, All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery. The book describes how, in the 1840s, Garrison was getting criticized heavily by his fellow abolitionists for allowing women like the Grimke sisters to address mixed audiences and to advocate, not only for abolition, but for the right of women to vote. Some of his critics said that people who might support abolition but not women's rights would be lost. And, in any event, for women to address such concerns in public was an activity foreign to their sex. Garrison's response to these critics was always the same: "It's all one issue; it's all the same issue."
So, Ms. Pruitt, wherever you are, it's all one issue, ma'am. We're not free, any of us, until all of us are free--all of us! Whether the discrimination is based on stereotypes, bigotry, or anything else other than one's own merit, we all deserve to be free of it.
It is worth remembering that, after all, these categories don't exist in mutually exclusive ways. There are blind African American women in this room. A victory or a loss on any one of three fronts is a victory or a loss for each. The problem is, if you are a member of more than one minority, you have to win three out of three to be a winner; two out of three won't cut it. That's why we all have to be together.
Now I'm not proposing we all join hands and start singing "We Are Family." There are critical differences among the civil rights movements. I know there are people in this room who are uncomfortable and even angry that I might suggest that we have common cause with people who are disabled by mental illness or developmental delays, that we have common cause with people who are excluded because of their sexual orientation; but a bad decision on deaf rights hurts us. And a bad decision on race rights or any other rights hurts us. We've seen and we should remember from the past that, when there has been fighting and suspicion among different groups, the folks who get hurt are the people who were already the victims of discrimination. Growing up in Austin, I watched Latino and African American communities battle each other for who was more deserving of the table scraps when they should have united to insist on having seats at the dinner table.
What we have in common, despite all our differences, is that the majority regards us as outside the norm, as people who can be denied equal opportunity, people who can be excluded. In Nazi Germany being a gypsy or a gay person or having a disability was every bit as much a ticket to the crematorium as being a Jew. In 1934 between three hundred thousand and four hundred thousand mentally and physically handicapped Germans were forcibly sterilized. In 1939 the Nazis adopted a secret plan to euthanize the disabled. As people became aware of this, protest grew, so the program was supposed to have ended in 1941. Nonetheless, people with disabilities continued to be killed by Nazi doctors by starvation, poisoning, or lethal injection. Homosexuals not only suffered the same fate, but in the camps they had to wear pink triangles and were beaten and tortured by fellow inmates who shared the Nazis' hatred of gay people. So, as far as I'm concerned, though I rarely encounter anti-Semitism in the United States, as a Jew I'm not safe till everybody's safe. As each discriminated-against minority makes strides, it has educated and prepared the general public and the judges to be receptive and to understand the arguments of the next group.
So where are we? What are the signs for progress? A significant milestone in any civil rights movement is the establishment of legal protections and enforcement of those protections by the courts. By itself legal protection is not enough. For example, in the wake of the Civil War, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, guaranteeing rights to equal treatment under the law, equal rights in contract. By 1868 the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution had been enacted. But eight years later, in 1876, to guarantee the election of Rutherford B. Hayes over Samuel Tilden, the federal government ended Reconstruction and withdrew its support for immigration, and things were bad for a very long time. So just having the laws on the books doesn't do it.
But in 1909 the NAACP was founded, and in 1940 the NAACP Legal Defense Fund was established. With a national group poised for collective action, the combination of laws, court cases, and mass demonstrations created meaningful, sudden, and dramatic changes, even though it didn't conclude the battle.
Consider how fast change can come. In the spring of 1962 I was in the eighth grade, and I worked as a page in the Texas Senate. If you went down to the basement of the Texas Capitol--and most of us would have no reason to do it if we weren't going to fix the boiler--but if you went down to the basement of the Texas Capitol, you would find--and this is the word I'm assigned, not my word--you would find the "colored bathrooms" and the "colored water fountain." In front of the Capitol stretches beautiful Congress Avenue. The lunch counter at the Rexall Drug Store on Congress Avenue was segregated, as were the two movie theaters on Congress Avenue. Not far away was the campus of the University of Texas. The few African American students admitted to UT were housed in old World War II housing miles from campus with no public transportation. When I left for college in the fall of 1965, only three years later, none of those horrors was still true.
Statutes are an expression of the national consensus, even if they are just aspirational when they are passed. Statutes make equal access a right and are not dependent on the whims of the majority. When statutes are coupled with a national organization (can anybody think of one?) with the resources to bring cases to enforce the laws and with leaders who are prepared to take action to focus the attention of the nation, rapid change can occur.
There is another, harder piece, though, and that's the question of social integration. Social integration is the key to the speed with which we get our rights and our ability to hold them. Consider this. After women won the right to vote in the United States in 1920, there was little national debate over women's rights for nearly fifty years. In 1964 Congress passed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. That's the act that forbids discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, national origin, or sex. It was not until the next year, though, that the National Organization for Women was founded. Gender discrimination was not addressed as a result of a national consumer organization supporting the law. How did the women get included? Southern legislators, in an attempt to kill the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provisions, added sex in an attempt to make the law look ridiculous. When the law went into effect on July 2, 1965, a reporter asked Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr., the first EEOC chairman, "What about sex?" "I'm all for it," he answered. The Wall Street Journal speculated that now the Playboy Club would have to hire shapeless, knobby-kneed male bunnies to serve drinks to stunned businessmen. The New Republic urged the EEOC not to take seriously a mischievous joke perpetrated on the floor of the House of Representatives by seven Congressmen, while the New York Times suggested that Congress might just as well try to abolish sex as sex discrimination. The first staff director of the EEOC said, "There are some people on this commission who think that no man should be required to have a male secretary, and I'm one of them."
Well, that was not so long ago, 1964. But although the battles for equal pay and appropriate working conditions and equal rights and hiring and promotion are far from over, I suggest to you that the barriers in this area have fallen with unprecedented speed. I think there are both social and economic reasons for this. First, women are more than half the population. Second, there is intense social integration. Men in this country have wives and daughters or other significant social interactions with women. Thus there is an intense personal interest by many men in the equality of women in the workplace. Moreover, given that the economy increasingly demands two-earner households, men have a strong economic incentive to see that their spouses can maximize their economic contribution.
When you look at employment numbers, though, the disability rights movement, especially for the blind, is much further from equality than those who have been discriminated against on the basis of race or gender. I once had the nerve (and the person was very gracious about it) to ask somebody in this room whether he'd encountered more significant discrimination because he was black or because he was blind. He said, "Well, I've been black longer than I've been blind, but I think I've encountered more discrimination because I'm blind."
Another way to look at the question of social integration is that, in the early stages of each rights movement, members who succeed are considered to be exceptional or amazing by a majority that utterly lacks awareness of the condescension inherent in this reaction. I no longer leave a meeting with a black or female professional and hear a white male say to me, "Isn't he (or she) amazing?" But I'll know we're closer to the Promised Land when I can go through an entire year of meetings with Dr. Maurer and sighted persons from outside the NFB and not hear once after the meeting, "Isn't he amazing?" He is, by the way, but not the way they mean it!
So we have the statutes and we have the court cases and we're beginning to break down the barriers. Progress in social integration is slow because so many employable blind people are unemployed and therefore not meeting sighted people in the workplace, maybe partly because blindness is a low-incidence disability. But I think there's also a lack of progress because of fear. I'm not going to wake up tomorrow a different color than I am today; and, unless I go through a whole bunch of painful operations, I'm always going to be a male. But I may someday lose my sight or use a wheelchair. While that should make me more empathic about disability rights, for many still, the sight of a blind person or the sight of a wheelchair user disturbs their state of denial. It reminds them that their status can change, and they really wish that disabled people would be invisible.
In this connection I talked to my partner Andy Levy, whom some of you may know. Andy's a wheelchair user. I said, "Andy, do you think that wheelchair users are more integrated in society than blind persons?" He said, "Well, there's an easy scientific test. Go to a series of restaurants, half the time with somebody in a wheelchair and half the time with a blind person. Bring a decibel meter. That way you can measure, when does the waitress say more loudly, 'What would he like?' to you when you're with a blind person or when you're with a wheelchair user? That'll tell you who's more integrated."
I've been working with the NFB for more than twenty years. We have some statutes in place, but they're not adequate to the task, and they may never be. We have court cases, we have made real progress, and we will continue to do so. But by themselves the statutes and cases will never be enough. The great battlefield today, our Brown v. Board of Education, is that we live in the information age, and the blind are not given equal access to information. Without that we will not have meaningful employment, we will not have social integration, and we will not have equality of opportunity. That is the great battle that ten years or so ago Dr. Maurer asked me to help with. We are further ahead than we were ten years ago, but I will not pretend that it's time to pat ourselves on the back, and the speed with which technology develops makes it hard not to fall behind. We have tools that we have only begun to use to make the case that discrimination is bad business. We need to use Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act to make sure that companies selling hardware and software to the federal government have to make their products accessible or lose business. We have to use the damage provisions of state antidiscrimination laws, like those in California, so that businesses know that discrimination costs money. If you discriminate you'll take a hit to your pocketbook. When a company believes that its existence in cyberspace immunizes it from the Americans with Disabilities Act, yet it provides services to schools and universities, then we'll sue the schools and universities under the Rehab Act. We'll let the businesses know that, if they want to discriminate, we can destroy their business. At the same time we must make the positive economic case in access to information and employment that money spent for accessibility is money well spent.
Most of all we must help each other in our battles without regard to our religion, gender, race, sexual preference, or disability. Ms. Pruitt, it's all the same issue. "And deep in my heart, deep in my heart, I do believe we shall overcome someday."
by Carlton Cook Walker
From the Editor: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a crucial piece of legislation regarding the rights of children with disabilities. When used effectively, it is a powerful tool to ensure that blind children receive a free and appropriate public education, as Carlton Cook Walker explains in the following article. Carlton Walker serves as president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC).
When I tell parents that I am both an attorney and a teacher of blind students, they usually respond, "Wow! You must have a great IEP (Individualized Education Program) for your daughter!"
"No," I tell them, "unfortunately I have to fight the same battles you do." Like all too many parents of blind and visually impaired children, I have fought to make certain that Braille is available for my daughter and that it is valued by the school staff. I have had to insist that my daughter's technology be accessible and effectively implemented, and I have had to ensure that her right to keep and use her long white cane is not abridged.
Too often, parents feel that special education is an unending war. As in all wars, there are no winners; each side merely fights to lose less than the other. In this scenario, administrators pull out their artillery, educators put on their armor, and parents prepare to launch guerilla attacks. The IEP becomes a contrivance of misdirection, an implement of obfuscation, and an engine of inaction. In the midst of this mayhem, the greatest casualties are the children.
Luckily I have found some secret weapons for this warfare--weapons that I now share with you. I call them weapons of meaningful education, or WMEs. I have utilized these weapons in my roles as parent and professional educator of blind children.
Successful IEP teams focus on the true purpose of the IEP, as defined by the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). By focusing on the underlying purpose of the IDEA, the IEP team members are armed with weapons of meaningful education.
The IDEA is the federal law that creates and defines the Individualized Education Program, or IEP. It sets forth eligibility criteria for students and minimum requirements for schools as they create and implement IEPs. However, before any of these matters is addressed, the IDEA sets forth both Congressional findings about special education and the purposes of the law. First I will discuss the portion regarding Congressional findings.
First portion of Congressional Findings:
20 U.S.C. Section 1400(c)(1):
Disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to participate in or contribute to society. Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.
First portion of Congressional statement of IDEA purpose:
20 U.S.C. Section 1400(d)(1)(A)
Purposes.--The purposes of this title are: to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.
First, let us explore the findings of Congress. These findings spurred the creation of the IDEA and, thus, the IEP. By examining the reasons IEPs are needed, we can create IEPs that meet the needs of our children or students. Congress recognized the value of "ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities." 20 U.S.C. Section 1400(c)(1). Essentially, the IDEA seeks to ameliorate as much as possible the effects of disability on an individual's ability to reach his/her maximum potential in school, in employment, and in life. Disabilities are natural and need not be debilitating. Yet, when disabilities are treated as grossly abnormal by the majority of society, the disabled are either coddled or shunned. The effect in either case is isolation and lack of achievement--human potential unfulfilled. Through the IDEA, Congress sought, and seeks, to bridge the divide between disabled and typically-developing students so that all may enjoy the opportunity to succeed.
Next, the purposes of the IDEA lend further support to the principle that special education is designed to provide disabled students with a more even playing field so that their hard work may bear fruit. The law recognizes the need to meet the "unique needs" of disabled students in order to "prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living." 20 U.S.C. Section 1400(d)(1)(A). Again, the IEP is meant to serve the student. IEPs are meant to meet unique needs related to the student's disability. They are meant to provide these students with the knowledge and the tools to achieve their potential in school, in employment, and in life.
The objective of the IDEA is clear. The IEP is merely the tool used to carry out this mission. However, time and bureaucracy have shifted attention away from the student's future. Instead, other concerns are often at the forefront. These concerns include funding, staffing levels, competency of personnel, attitudes toward blindness tools and techniques, low expectations, and overprotection resulting from fear of legal liability. None of these concerns is the focus of the IDEA, where the student and his/her needs take center stage. Development of the IEP should focus on the student's current and future academic, vocational, and independent living needs. The student should receive education and training designed to minimize or eliminate the impact of the student's disability. This is the purpose of the IEP. This should be the focus of the IEP team. This is the major weapon of meaningful education.
We have explored what is needed--a concentration upon that which is needed to minimize the impact of the disability and maximize the performance of the student in all aspects of life during and after school. The next question is how. Tap into the hearts of the educators and administrators on your student's IEP team. Though the pressures of their positions may be clouding their judgment, you can help them rekindle their love for teaching. You can lead them to intensify the impact of their professional talents by focusing on the needs of the student.
As a preliminary matter, convey that individualization does not mean diluting the curriculum. The content to be taught should, to the maximum extent possible, mirror that taught to typically-developing students. Though the presentation of the academic material may require alteration (Braille transcription, tactile graphics, etc.), the content of what is taught should remain the same. While this concept is simple and straightforward, in terms of real-life implementation the devil is in the details.
All too often, regular education teachers fall into the trap of thinking about what they teach rather than why they teach it. In addition, teachers of students with blindness/visual impairment may find themselves so focused upon blindness skills that they miss the important job of ensuring that blindness/visual impairment does not impact the content of the education that students receive. Parents often feel so overwhelmed by fighting for blindness skills training and so under-informed about regular education content that they are not sufficiently equipped to fight daily curricular battles. Once again, the students lose.
Take heart, fellow warriors! There are additional tools in the arsenal. The first is a set of reading and mathematics standards for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade, the Common Core State Standards. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted these standards for the minimum levels at which students in each grade are expected to perform. (Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia have not yet adopted these standards, and students in these states will meet the state-adopted standards.)
The mission statement illustrates the premise that these are minimum standards all students will need to meet in order to succeed after they leave school. "The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy." From "Implementing Common Core State Standards," <www.corestandards.org>.
These standards provide an objective standard that all students should achieve (unless other intellectual disabilities prohibit the meeting of these standards). The methods by which students gain access to content are not relevant. The standards serve as a valuable tool to direct all educators to teach the skills necessary for the achievement of the tasks described in the standard.
For example, let us examine a reading standard for first graders: "Know and use various text features (e.g., headings, tables of contents, glossaries, electronic menus, icons) to locate key facts or information in a text." (From "English Language Standards, Reading: Literature, Grade 1," <http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/RL/1>.) In order to meet this standard, the blind student must have a variety of skills. The student must be able to read contracted or uncontracted Braille tactually at a first grade reading level, which would include at least the whole uncontracted Braille alphabet. The student must be able to understand the Braille formatting used for each text feature listed, and must be able to read the text with sufficient accuracy to allow for comprehension such that "key facts or information" can be identified by the student. Thus, an IEP that does not provide at least this skill level is not designed to allow the student to meet these standards. Thus it short-changes the blind student from the regular education his/her sighted peers are receiving. It does not matter what blind students have done in the past; these standards set forth the minimum "free, appropriate public education" that the IDEA requires.
Mathematics is an even bigger concern. Many teachers of blind/visually impaired students have been taught that students should not learn the Nemeth Code used for math in Braille until after they are fully fluent in contracted literary Braille, which often occurs between second and third grades. However, a quick look at the kindergarten mathematics standards illustrates the fallacy of this educational theory: "Compose and decompose numbers from 11 to 19 into ten ones and some further ones, e.g., by using objects or drawings, and record each composition or decomposition by a drawing or equation (such as 18 equals 10 plus 8); understand that these numbers are composed of ten ones and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, or nine ones." From <http://www.corestandards.org/Math/Content/K/NBT>. In order to meet this standard, our blind kindergarteners need to be able to read and write Braille numbers tactually (including two-digit numbers), and they must be able to read and write operations symbols such as the plus sign and the equals sign. Holding off on this instruction means holding our students back--and that is not acceptable.
As if this weren't good enough, we have yet another weapon of meaningful education, an arrow striking at the heart of the educational needs of our blind students. Educators in the state of Maryland, with the assistance of various stakeholders, including members of the Maryland Parents of Blind Children and the Maryland affiliate of the NFB, crafted the first and only Common Core Standards for Braille readers (<http://mdk12.org/instruction/commoncore/braille/index.html>). [See Melissa Riccobono's article elsewhere in this issue.]
The key to success in the day-in, day-out education of a mainstreamed blind student is teaching everyone involved to focus on the content that is being taught rather than the method of teaching. As mentioned above, the Common Core Standards assist in this endeavor, but they are only the beginning. All professional educators involved with the blind student must start to think in terms of content rather than task.
For example, consider the “word find.” A word find is an array of individual letters with spaces between them. Students are asked to connect the letters--horizontally, vertically, diagonally, forward, or backward--to form words. In either print or Braille, word finds are not especially meaningful from an educational standpoint. In fact, many schools have "outlawed" word finds due to the lack of educational benefit they provide. Usually, word finds are used to introduce or reinforce vocabulary for a particular unit. Instead of insisting that a Braille reader engage in this activity, a more meaningful and useful activity might be to have him/her use the vocabulary words in sentences or in a paragraph. If familiarization with vocabulary is the instructional core, no one should have qualms about modifying the delivery system in order to reach the instructional goal.
Even a highly visual concept such as color can be addressed effectively for students with blindness/visual impairment. What is the purpose of teaching colors? As a preliminary matter, color names are largely taught for organizational/categorizational purposes. In later years, colors grow in importance from labels to literary symbols. The ability to see colors is not important for any of these purposes. In the early years, labeling and categorization can be accomplished by alternate means. Different textures can be used in place of colors whenever colors are used for instructional purposes. Literary connections with various colors can be explicitly taught as a part of the regular education curriculum.
Once the IEP team can acknowledge the core educational skill at issue, modification for instruction of visually impaired students becomes far clearer and easier to implement. All students, no matter their disability, are entitled to a free, appropriate public education under the IDEA. By focusing on the content to be taught, barriers to the instruction of blind students melt away, and this federal right can become a reality.
by Carol Castellano
From the Editor: For many parents, the process of creating an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for a blind or visually impaired child can be daunting. "I'm not a professional," parents sometimes say. "I don't really know what my child needs." In this article, author and longtime advocate Carol Castellano shows how a positive philosophy about blindness can inform the IEP process and ensure that a blind or visually impaired child receives the appropriate education.
IEP team members almost fall out of their chairs when I declare that the best thing they can do for a blind/visually impaired student is to forget that he or she is blind. Most of the time, the blindness is the only thing that they can see. It is, they assume, the reason the student needs special education. I try to show them that the blind/VI student needs the same education as everyone else. Only the methods by which we accomplish that goal make the education of blind/VI kids different.
I start with two basic premises. First, blind people can lead normal lives. Second, blind people can achieve what they want in life, according to their abilities and interests. The amount of eyesight a person has does not matter.
How do I know these things? Why do I believe them? I've read about Dr. Abraham Nemeth, blind from birth, who learned the New York City subway system when he was a little boy. He went on to become a college math professor and the inventor of the Nemeth Code for Braille mathematics. I know about Dr. Geerat Vermeij, blind from early childhood, who became a world-renowned marine biologist, and Erik Weihenmayer, blind from adolescence, who has scaled the tallest mountains on earth, including Mount Everest. The stories of these and other ordinary and extraordinary blind people taught me that blindness need not stop a person from achieving a goal or accomplishing a task.
The realization that blind/VI people can accomplish and achieve raises expectations. If that guy can learn the subway system, maybe my kid can cross the street. If that other guy can recognize rare biological species, maybe my kid can take a lab science. If that last guy can climb Mount Everest, maybe my child can take gym. Once we have the awareness and the raised expectations, all that's left is to figure out the how-to.
In order to succeed in school, blind/visually impaired children--like all children--need to reach a certain level of development. They need the ability to interact with other children and with adults other than family members. They need to know how to share, to take turns, and to play cooperatively. They need the ability to sit still for a little while, to pay attention, and to follow directions. Finally, they need to be able to learn from someone new. They also must have the concepts that underlie formal learning, the ability to stay on task for a short time, and enough self-help skills that they can eat a snack, use the bathroom, and hang up their coat and backpack independently.
How does a child get to this point? Normal life experiences enable children to make progress in all the regular developmental areas that get them ready for school--gross motor, fine motor, speech and communication, general knowledge, concept development, and self-help. Families with blind/visually impaired children might need to pay a little extra attention to certain of these areas--for example, motor skills, concept development, and self-help skills. In addition, as parents of blind children, we have to make an explicit effort to ensure that our kids become independent. We need to make certain we don't hold them back because of our own fears (they might get hurt! they might get lost!) or our lack of information (we're not born knowing how blind people cook, for example). We must make sure our children learn to do tasks for themselves and that they internalize this expectation. We must guard against overprotection and learned dependence. It is all too easy for people to do things for the blind/VI child that the child could and should be doing for him/herself.
In addition to the regular developmental areas, blind/VI children must learn to use their other senses--touch, hearing, taste, smell, and body position. They must develop listening skills and memory, spatial awareness and body awareness. These are the predecessors to the formal skills they will learn later, such as Braille, access technology, and cane travel.
Once blind/VI children get to school, the goals for their education will be to participate fully and independently in the classroom and to grow up to be a self-sufficient, independent adult. These, of course, are the same goals that we have for all children.
The process of creating an appropriate IEP for a blind/VI student is the same as it is for any other student with an IEP. Observations and evaluations identify current levels of functioning, strengths, and needs. From the needs come the goals and objectives, and from the goals and objectives come the program and placement.
Academic or developmental plans can be made for the blind/VI student, just as they are for their sighted counterparts, if we first take blindness/visual impairment out of the equation. Think about what you would plan for the student if he or she were not blind/VI. Base the plan on the child's cognitive level, abilities, and interests, just as you would for a sighted child of a similar academic level.
Blind/VI students need and deserve the same information and education as their sighted peers. Blindness/visual impairment should never determine whether or not a student will be expected to learn a certain subject or master a certain skill. For example, blind/VI students take classes in math, the sciences, film, driver's education, and other subjects that might at first glance seem impossible or of no use to them. Blindness/visual impairment should not be the reason the child is placed in a special education or life skills class. Finally, academic plans for a student must be based on his or her cognitive level or developmental profile, not on how much eyesight he/she has.
Blind/VI students fall into three main categories.
1. Children who are progressing normally and are on track for various milestones. These children will have the same academic goals as their sighted classmates. The only difference is that they need materials in accessible formats.
2. Children who have an additional disability that affects their education. For these children, we must modify academic goals as necessary, and then add materials in accessible formats.
3. Children with severe additional disabilities. For these children we might plan more individualized and developmental IEP goals, and then add materials in accessible formats.
Within this framework, children in all three groups will learn the necessary skills and use the tools of blindness/visual impairment.
Whatever category your child or student falls into, the process will be the same. Think about what you would plan for this student if he or she were not blind/VI. Set academic or developmental goals just as you would for a sighted student with a similar learning profile.
If the student has no disabilities other than blindness or visual impairment, modifications in the academic goals will not be necessary or appropriate. The student will be expected to master the standard academic material.
Again, if the blind/VI student has a learning or other disability that affects education, make the appropriate modifications to content, study guides, testing, etc., just as you would if the student were sighted. Then add in the adaptations for blindness/visual impairment as needed, such as specialized materials, hands-on or close-up presentation, and verbal description.
In addition to needing the same education as sighted children, blind/VI students need to be able to perform tasks on an age-appropriate level (or a stage-appropriate level, in the case of children who are developmentally delayed). This is where the special skills of blindness/visual impairment come in. A simple way to decide what specialized skills a child needs is to ask, "What is the task before the child? Does the child have the skills and tools to accomplish it?" If the answer is no, then teach the child the necessary skills so that he/she can accomplish the task independently. Don't accommodate! Teach skills! If you notice areas in which the student lags behind, develop a plan of action to get him or her caught up. Blindness/visual impairment does not mean that the student must lag behind sighted peers.
In order to have a meaningful IEP and make the education of the blind/VI child work, certain basics must be in place:
The IEP should contain an explicit goal of independence so that the student can become independent in the classroom and in all areas. The student should make progress toward independence every day! The team must build in a long-term timeline for independence.
It is important to keep in mind that most of the aide's tasks, including direct assistance, should be aimed at facilitating independence and teaching the student to do tasks for him/herself, not simply doing things for the child. As early as possible, the aide must work toward teaching the student to pay attention to and respond to the teacher. In order for the child to progress in independence, the aide must be allowed, whenever the student is handling a task independently, to step back and do nothing without fear of criticism. Make sure that this, too, is written into the IEP, along with plans for phasing out direct assistance by the aide. Without a plan, it might never happen!
With a philosophy-based IEP, expectations will be high. The student will receive the appropriate level of education, materials will be ready in accessible formats, and teachers will know how to include the student in all activities. The child will learn the skills and be able to use the tools necessary to participate fully, and she or he will be on the way to an independent life.
by Michael Gosse
Reprinted from Future Reflections, Winter/Spring 2007
From the Editor: When a student has low vision, parents and teachers often struggle to determine how he/she will best function at school and beyond. Should the child read large print, Braille, or some combination of the two media? Should he or she learn to use a long white cane? What accommodations are appropriate? In this article, Michael Gosse gives advice to the teacher of a low-vision student as she prepares for his IEP meeting.
A few years ago, my sister, Vicky, a middle-school teacher in an upscale district in New England, contacted me for advice. A student with a degenerative eye condition was enrolling in her math class, and she was the classroom teacher representative for the IEP team meeting.
So, why call me? I guess you could say I'm the family expert on blindness. I was born with albinism, and as a consequence I have been legally blind all my life. (Most people with albinism have some degree of vision loss.) True, I didn't deal with my blindness very effectively until I got involved with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) as a scholarship winner, but that was many years ago. I am past those struggles about whether I am really "blind enough" to carry a cane (sometimes I do, and sometimes I don't) and all that stuff. After I met the NFB, I went on to get my PhD in electrical engineering, and today I make a respectable living as an independent businessman. My wife and I have two lovely daughters, ages four and six, and I'm active in my community. As I state in the letter below, I've served on the NFB National Scholarship Committee for over a decade, and recently I was elected president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.
But back to the call from my sister. Apparently, this student had been in the school system for a while, and as his vision deteriorated, the solution that was applied was to give him a full-time instructional assistant. However, it was becoming apparent that this wasn't such a great idea. The aide went with him everywhere, took notes for him in class, ate lunch with him, and--well, you get the picture. My sister told the parents and the school administrators about her brother and his involvement with the NFB, and they seemed eager to hear my perspective.
I'm sure my sister was hoping that I could guide her, the parents, and the other team members in a different direction. I tried not to disappoint her. With a few minor edits, here is the letter I wrote.
I decided that I needed to write down my thoughts on your upcoming IEP meeting involving a blind student in your class. Feel free to bring this note to the IEP meeting and share it with the group.
One of the biggest challenges in educating blind children is making sure that they are being taught both academically and socially at an age-appropriate level. As you go through the IEP process for the next school year, I believe that this has to be the central focus of the discussion.
At the age of fourteen, most of your other students function in an independent fashion. They get themselves from one class to the next, or they face the consequences. They take their own notes, they do their own homework (with help from whatever sources they are able to assemble), and they make their own friends. However, the reality is that a blind student in a public school setting is at a severe disadvantage unless he or she has the necessary skills. The trick is to balance the need to pass the academic requirements for an education in eighth grade and the need to acquire special skills that will lead to success later in life. This is not a decision that needs to be made for 99 percent of the students you will face, but the IEP process forces this decision to be made for special-needs students, and for a blind student in this particular case.
I know personally totally blind people who travel the world, who run businesses, lobby Congress, teach math, raise families, develop products, write federal policy, and climb mountains. Each one of these individuals was given training and opportunity to excel on his or her merit. I also know blind people who can't leave their homes without a guide, who can't cut their meat at dinner, who still live with their parents at age fifty, and who have no social skills at all. Each one of these people was coddled and prevented from advancing beyond the limits placed on him or her by well-meaning caretakers. I personally took advantage of similar situations as a child. The system wasn't that hard to figure out. What saved me was that I couldn't play both sides of the game. You can't tell your parents that you should be allowed to cross the street to go to a friend's house if you just told them that you couldn't do your book report without help. So my personal drive for independence prevented me from hiding behind the helpless-blind-child routine.
At fourteen, it is time for any blind student who is going to be successful in life to establish independence. But without the necessary skills, tools, and opportunity, this is an impossible task. The IEP and all its participants need to play a critical role, even if it is an uncomfortable one. Here are my recommendations.
There will never be a time when the transition to independence is easy, comfortable, or convenient. But adolescence is a difficult transition for this very reason. Blindness builds character in ways that many of the other students will never have the opportunity to experience.
Many of the players in the IEP process will undoubtedly think that this blind student is too young, too naive, and too vulnerable to be cast into the world of independence. But there are only five more years for him to develop independence skills and prepare for college or a career. The next year needs to be a year of transition and support. I fully expect a significant impact on academics that will require, perhaps, the need for a tutor and a network of ad hoc counselors. But a clear distinction needs to be made between support and independence. All of your students need support, many need tutors, and some need counseling. The IEP team must be observant, flexible, and resolute.
As you know, I served for ten years as a member of the National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Committee. I can tell you firsthand that academics are not correlated strongly to success for blind people. By far, blindness skills, independence, and leadership are the trademarks of a successful blind adult. It is unfair that blind students need to excel beyond their sighted peers, but that is the reality. That is the reality that the IEP team must come to terms with and implement.
I hope this letter provides some insight, direction, and guidance. Most of all, I hope that my experiences can help an insecure, unskilled blind kid become an independent, competent blind adult.
On a personal note, my itinerant teacher stopped coming when I left sixth grade. I remember vividly the discussion with the teacher that she was not going to come anymore. I was heartbroken. I felt cast aside. I was afraid. But I survived and even thrived because I had been provided with the tools and skills of independence.
by Terri O'Neill
From the Editor: For most families of blind children, a public school education seems to be the best option. However, for a variety of reasons, a growing number of families choose to homeschool their blind children. Despite resistance from her local school district, Terri O'Neill of California was determined to homeschool her daughter, who is blind and has additional disabilities. Here is her story.
By the time our youngest child entered our lives, my husband and I were seasoned homeschoolers with eleven years of experience. We knew how well individualized learning can work. Our views on education and our ways of working with our children evolved over the years. When Jeni came to us, I had no doubt that we would find a way to get her what she needed in order to be successful.
Jeni has bilateral anophthalmia, which means that she was born without eyes. She entered our lives as a foster child, a severely neglected infant. From the beginning we were involved with social workers and government agencies. At first every decision we made had to be approved by someone outside the family--even something as simple as whether we could trim Jeni's hair.
Despite our confidence, we were overwhelmed by all that we had to learn and by the array of treatments and services Jeni required. The treatments for her eye condition involved hundred-mile trips to an oculist every two weeks during our first year together and several surgeries after that. Meanwhile, groups of people flocked to the house to work with Jeni and talk to me. At first I had no idea who these people were or why they had come. I was simply trying to learn about my child's medical conditions and bring her back to life.
After a very rocky first week, Jeni responded miraculously to love and affection. Gradually we settled into a routine. As I became more comfortable with Jeni's needs, I focused on our frequent visitors. I learned that they came from our school district's early intervention program. Jeni had an IFSP (Individualized Family Service Plan). Our visitors were occupational therapists, speech therapists, play therapists, and a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI). And a public health nurse. And a social worker from Child Protective Services (CPS). And a social worker from the foster care agency.
In the beginning, the professionals determined everything that was in Jeni's IFSP. I did not understand it, and honestly I wasn't worried about it right then. My job was to love this child back into life. And it was working.
As time went on, however, I started to ask questions. My family was seriously overscheduled, and most of the sessions seemed to be repetitious. I requested that at least one of the therapists stop coming, and no one argued. That was our first victory!
Shortly after Jeni arrived in our family, we were given "educational rights," meaning that we could make decisions about her education. We knew that in reality this meant we were authorized to agree to the program developed by the school district. We wanted desperately to adopt this little girl, and adoption procedures were our priority. The involvement of the public school system in our lives was of little importance at that point. Court hearings about Jeni's future kept me busy and stressed.
Eighteen months later, when Jeni's adoption was finalized, we felt we could be more vocal about what we needed and didn't need. I was very concerned about Jeni's failure to meet developmental milestones. She was two years old, and still she was not sitting on her own. The answer from the doctors and other professionals was always the same: "It's because she's blind." I grew up with an uncle who is an independent blind man, and I knew that blindness by itself does not cause developmental delays.
I had been asking for physical therapy (PT) to address Jeni's weakness, and I had been told that she didn't need it yet. Now I grew more insistent, and PT was finally included in her IFSP. I also went on a search and destroy mission to find a neurologist who would not dismiss Jeni's symptoms as blindness issues. When she was three years old she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. It felt good to know that my instincts were validated. The diagnosis allowed us to increase Jeni's PT. Now we had something concrete to research, and we found several therapies that have proven helpful.
When Jeni turned three the school district made a big push to put her into preschool. Having homeschooled two older children from the start of their education, we fully intended to do the same with Jeni. The district's idea of the "least restrictive environment" was a classroom with fifteen other children who had speech and developmental delays. Jeni would have to be bused twenty miles each way to attend this program. The arrangement might have been convenient for the system, but I did not want to imagine my three-year-old in this environment for several hours a day. Politely we declined the district's offer of free and appropriate public education (FAPE).
In the end Jeni's IEP included TVI services, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and physical therapy. I would take her to a school site to receive all of these services. I was fine with this arrangement, with the exception of the physical therapy portion. The school district contracted with an itinerant physical therapist and did not have a gym or equipment for him to use. At home we have a veritable therapy room. I asked for and was given permission to have PT at home so the therapist could use our equipment.
At three Jeni still was not talking or eating solid food. I was unhappy with her lack of progress, and I didn't care for the way the speech therapist worked with her. In my research I ran across information on music therapy, and it sounded like a good fit for Jeni. I will always be grateful to our wonderful music therapist, who was able to activate a critical part of Jeni's brain. We actually saw results after the very first session.
After a month of private sessions, which we paid for ourselves, I asked the school district to discontinue traditional speech therapy and include music therapy in Jeni's IEP. I had to do a lot of research about IEPs and alternative therapies, and I submitted copies of several relevant documents, including legal statutes. Nothing in the law forbids a school district from including music therapy in an IEP. After a long meeting, the district agreed to a trial of music therapy for one month. When we reconvened to evaluate Jeni's progress, everyone readily admitted that she had made improvements. We were granted music therapy for another four weeks. For several months we went through a series of similar evaluations and authorizations. Finally, since everyone agreed that music therapy was making a difference, I insisted that we put an end to the monthly meetings by writing it into Jeni's IEP. No one argued, and we had another advocacy victory.
Our next big hurdle was the IEP scheduled in the spring before Jeni's fifth birthday. It was time for kindergarten. We listened politely to the special education teacher, school board, and school district administrators as they lectured us again on the importance of putting Jeni into their program. I told them I had no intention of putting her into kindergarten. The district even offered to mainstream Jeni with an aide--something they had never suggested in the past. Once again we stated our intention to homeschool her as we had our other children.
I asked for orientation and mobility services to be included in Jeni's IEP. In the past the O&M provider had declined to work with her, claiming that she was "too young and couldn't walk." Now an evaluation was ordered. It was conducted by the same gentleman who had refused to work with us earlier. This time he agreed to work with Jeni, but he dismissed my desire to get her a cane and familiarize her with it. So I did it myself. Thanks to more research I found Joe Cutter's terrific, parent-friendly book, Independent Movement and Travel in Blind Children, which demystifies the field of O&M. With the help of the Free White Cane Program of the National Federation of the Blind, I obtained a child-sized cane for Jeni. She was delighted with her cane! It expanded her world. She was still not independently mobile, and the cane extended her reach. That was huge for her. It also gave her more incentive and confidence to move around.
During the year before mandatory school age, I began shopping around for a charter school. I tried to enroll Jeni in the public charter my other children were in. I was shocked by the unhelpful attitude we encountered and the negative statements we heard from the special education administrators. In the end, they refused to accept Jeni as a student.
Next I talked with another school we had been involved with years before. After a few meetings with the principal, this school agreed to send someone to Jeni's transitional IEP meeting. The school has classes that the children can attend if desired. Each student is assigned a teacher who works with the parents on an as-needed basis. At the beginning of each semester, the parents sign a contract that lists what the student will work on and outlines the parents' and teacher's responsibilities. A monthly meeting with the teacher is required, but meetings can be arranged as often as once a week.
Until this point our IEP meetings had been arduous, emotional ordeals that never lasted less than two hours. On a few occasions the meetings continued into a second day. In contrast, the transitional meeting was positive and encouraging. I left feeling inspired, hopeful that we had finally convinced the powers that be that nontraditional methods of educating children can be appropriate and successful.
That meeting took place in April. In August, the school requested a brief meeting to set up dates and times for Jeni's various service providers. It quickly became apparent that the school had never dealt with a child with multiple disabilities, one of which was blindness. Everyone was very afraid of "doing something wrong."
At that point Jeni was receiving over six hours of therapy and instruction a week--Braille, O&M, occupational therapy, music therapy, and physical therapy. We were very aware that this was too much for her. Her already erratic sleep habits were growing worse with the stress of an overscheduled life. We asked to reduce some of her services to monthly consultations. We would incorporate the activities into daily life, where they made sense and could be useful.
Most of the therapists were willing to support our approach. They knew how involved we were in working with Jeni outside of therapy time. However, the school district administrators were uncomfortable with our request, and we spent the next school year fighting. Often I received verbal compliments from personnel on what a good job I was doing and how much progress they saw with Jeni. But the same people would not back me up in meetings with the school district authorities or the county Office of Education.
Within our school system, even an IEP is pretty standard. If a child has a particular set of issues, he/she gets a particular set of therapies. Sadly, it is often forgotten that the "I" in IEP stands for "individualized." Heaven help the family that steps up to advocate for anything more, less, or different from the program the school wants to provide.
The answer to my request for a reduction in Jeni's services came in the form of more paperwork and more frequent IEP meetings to check on her progress. We underwent this extra monitoring even though we had weekly meetings with the teacher and submitted monthly progress reports to the school. The district even requested that the special education teacher observe me teaching Braille to Jeni. The teacher didn't know Braille, so I'm not sure what she was able to observe and report.
The policing visits and paperwork felt invasive. Nothing fires me up as much as hearing people tell me they know better than I do how to raise my children. None of the professionals involved with Jeni had experience with a blind, developmentally delayed child with cerebral palsy. I was by far the expert on her; yet the school officials could not acknowledge publicly that a parent might provide an education as good as or better than anything the "experts" had to offer.
We had spent six years working with and learning from all types of therapists. We had assimilated a great deal of hands-on experience, and we were able to apply our knowledge to help Jeni continue in her development. The only service we felt we needed on a regular basis was physical therapy. In the end we decided it was not worth the hassle, emotional turmoil, and paperwork to get this service through the district. We filed a private school affidavit, wrote our own IEP, and paid for physical therapy ourselves.
That decision was our final turning point. We had given the system a chance, but we just could not agree on the best course of action for Jeni. So we cut our ties with the district.
Simple? Only in theory. Even after I sent in my letter of withdrawal, the district still tried to set up meetings with us. I politely refused. I knew the law, and I took each step with confidence. Even so, there were times when I was terrified that someone would threaten to get CPS involved. Due to Jeni's beginnings, we were firmly embedded in the public system, and getting out was difficult and a little scary. We joined the Home School Legal Defense Association for protection.
Having the freedom to create an environment where Jeni can thrive has been worth all the struggle. This year we have seen tremendous growth--academically, socially, and, most important to me, in the areas of life skills and independence.
Since becoming the parent of a child with special needs, I've had to learn to advocate, to speak up, and to be assertive. I was not used to doing these things before Jeni joined our family, and none of it comes to me naturally. But for our children, we parents can learn to do whatever is necessary.
by Melissa Riccobono
From the Editor: The National Federation of the Blind has long advocated for the teaching of Braille to students who are blind, and has championed the use of Braille as a means to literacy for the blind population. However, educators and administrators have often debated about what should comprise an adequate curriculum for Braille training and what levels of proficiency should be expected. In this article Melissa Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, explains how the NFB promoted the passage of the nation's first law calling for standards in Braille instruction.
In 1992, the Maryland Literacy Rights and Education Act was passed. This act guaranteed the right of blind and visually impaired students to be taught Braille. When deciding whether a student should learn large print or Braille, IEP teams in Maryland (and around the country) need to take a student's current level of vision into account and also consider the likelihood of future vision loss. This law was a great first step in advocating for blind children in Maryland to be taught Braille.
As the years went by, however, parents, teachers, and advocates became frustrated with the law's limitations. First of all, the 1992 law did not fix the problem of having Braille taught only to a select group of blind students. IEP teams still made decisions against Braille instruction, citing data from assessments that they believed showed that the students did not need Braille and/or would not benefit from learning it. (The NFB has created the National Reading Media Assessment in order to address this problem.) Even when the fight for Braille instruction was won, members of a student's team often disagreed about what teaching Braille actually meant, especially in the case of students with some remaining vision. Did it mean teaching a student the alphabet, "just in case" he or she lost more vision and needed to pick up Braille later on? Did it mean teaching some contracted Braille? Did it include teaching the Nemeth Code? And how fast should a student progress through the Braille code in order to keep pace with his or her sighted peers? If a student needed to begin learning Braille later in his or her school career, how should a teacher measure whether the student knew enough Braille to use it effectively in the classroom?
Many educators and advocates pondered these questions, and no one seemed to have satisfactory answers. Unfortunately, as a result of this uncertainty, students with some remaining vision were often taught the minimum; in many instances they learned only the Braille alphabet. The uncertainty also contributed to some teachers saying, "I've tried to teach this student Braille, but she is very resistant to it. I've taught her the basics, and she really doesn't like it. She can read print pretty well, and there are always audio books. I just don't see the need to go any further with Braille at this time."
Members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland saw these trends and grew very concerned. We wondered what we could do to make a dent in this problem. Sharon Maneki, NFBMD Legislative Chair and a past president of the affiliate, began to think that it would be worthwhile to advocate for Braille standards in Annapolis during the 2010 legislative session. Sharon called a meeting with educational leaders around the state, including NFBMD leaders and staff from the NFB national office, to discuss the idea and to gain support for a bill. Sharon's efforts met with an enthusiastic response, and our journey toward Braille standards officially began.
When advocating for a bill at the state or national level, you must begin with an idea. Next, and just as important, you need to identify who can help you get your bill through the legislature and onto the governor's (or president's) desk. For our Braille Standards Bill, Sharon Maneki identified Maryland House delegate Sheila Hixson and Maryland Senator Joan Carter Conway as good candidates to approach for sponsorship of our legislation. Both women chaired committees that would be hearing our bill, and they are both longstanding friends of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.
These relationships with legislators greatly simplified the process of finding legislative support. Del. Hixson and Sen. Conway both knew who we were. They trusted Sharon Maneki when she explained the problems caused by the lack of Braille standards, and they proposed our bill as the solution. Once we had found champions for our bill in the House and the Senate, the real work for the members of the NFBMD began.
Every year, the NFBMD holds a Day in Annapolis. This event resembles Washington Seminar, the annual event when Federationists from all over the country visit legislators on Capitol Hill. Our Day in Annapolis lasts only one day instead of being spread out over three. During the Day in Annapolis, members of the NFBMD visit the office of every state legislator. We educate the legislator, or his or her staff, about our issues. We ask for cosponsors for our bills, answer questions, and, in general, introduce each office to the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.
This task may seem daunting, and I must admit it makes for a long day. However, there is truly strength in numbers. At least fifty members of the NFBMD attend the Day in Annapolis each year. Because of this large participation, we can divide into teams and conquer the legislature one office at a time. We enjoy a very nice dinner after our work is done, and each team leader reports on our progress. In this way, we are able to follow up with possible cosponsors. We also know which legislators may not be supportive of our bills and understand a little about their objections. This information helps us when we prepare testimony for hearings; we try to address the questions and objections before they are voiced.
As I remember, there was very little, if any, opposition to our Braille Standards Bill. We had two great champions working with us to help educate the legislators, and we had the support of other stakeholders in the State Department of Education and the Maryland School for the Blind. Furthermore, the Braille Task Force that we proposed in our bill would not cost the state of Maryland any money. These factors, along with the obvious problems for Maryland's blind students caused by the lack of Braille standards, made it quite easy for us to sell our bill to the members of the Maryland legislature.
After our Day in Annapolis, it was time to let our voices be heard in committee. Members of the NFB of Maryland, including the then president of the Maryland Association of Blind Students, many members of the Maryland Parents of Blind Children, and other NFBMD leaders, testified to the House and Senate committees responsible for our bills. (At that point we had two bills, one in the House and one in the Senate). Members of the NFBMD also wrote letters to committee members explaining the need for passage of our bills. In addition, many members made phone calls asking for a favorable vote on our bills.
All of this advocacy paid off. In May of 2010, HB413 and SB230, Maryland Standards for Instruction in Braille Reading, Writing, and Mathematics, were signed into law. These bills mandated the creation of a Braille Task Force. This task force was comprised of teachers, transcribers, and other stakeholders (including myself, as the president of the NFBMD, and two parent representatives from the Maryland Parents of Blind Children.) The mission of the task force was to recommend standards in mathematics and English/language arts to the Maryland State Board of Education. These standards needed to be approved by the board by September of 2012.
In addition, the task force was charged with looking at the certification and recertification requirements for teachers of blind students in Maryland. These requirements have not been updated for several years, and they need to be changed in order to ensure that teachers have the knowledge and skills to teach students under the new Braille standards. These requirements will be submitted to the Maryland Board of Education by September 2013.
The Braille Task Force began its work in the fall of 2010. The task force agreed that the Braille standards were for students, teachers of blind students, classroom teachers, paraprofessionals working with blind students, administrators, and parents of blind children. All members agreed that high expectations were critical to the success of all students and to the standards themselves. Therefore, the task force defined its role as creating standards that identified the skills students would need in order to succeed, given the broad guidelines of the Common Core Curriculum, which have been adopted in forty-five of the fifty states. Therefore, the Maryland standards are actually applicable in any other state using the Common Core Curriculum.
The task force quickly recognized the need to concentrate on three areas in order for students to be successful in mathematics and English/language arts. These areas are Nemeth Code, tactile graphics, and literary Braille. The task force developed standards for students in all three of these areas. The task force did not simply go through the curriculum and replace the word "print" with the word "Braille." The members discussed each part of the curriculum and had to come to an agreement regarding what, if any, changes needed to be made to state clearly the skills a Braille-reading student would need in order to meet each standard. Some of these discussions were short and easy because everyone agreed. Others took much longer; they were fascinating to me and other task force members due to the different points of view that were passionately represented. The work of the task force was reviewed by experts in the field, and their feedback was taken into consideration when the final draft of the Braille standards was created.
The task force met its deadline. By September 2012, Maryland's Braille standards were approved by the Board of Education. They are being implemented across the state during the 2012-2013 school year.
The Maryland Braille Standards have many wonderful attributes. For the first time, teachers, parents, administrators, and other stakeholders have clear guidelines regarding what skills a Braille reader needs at each grade level in order to keep up with his or her sighted peers and fully participate in the Common Core Curriculum. These skills include standards for tactile graphics--an area that has not always received much attention when children are taught Braille. Although the document itself is quite lengthy, the actual Braille symbols and concepts needed for each grade level in mathematics (Nemeth Code and tactile graphics) and English/language Arts (literary Braille) are nicely laid out in chart and checklist form in one of the document's appendices. Parents and teachers can easily see what a child should know. Parents can ask questions about whether their child knows each Braille symbol and concept, and teachers can use the checklist to record each child's progress. Students should be the overall winners. They should be given a true education in Braille and should become competent Braille readers as a result.
Because there are now standards that must be met, parents and teachers will have more "teeth" in the IEP process. Parents or teachers can argue rightfully that students need more than thirty minutes a week of instruction in order to meet the Braille standards. Teachers can argue that their caseloads are too big and that they cannot give their students adequate instruction time. Eventually this should lead to more teachers being hired so that all Braille readers can be taught adequately. Parents now can advocate more easily for extended school year services, especially for older children learning Braille. They can cite the standards and prove how much a student should know in fifth grade in order to be ready for sixth grade as a Braille reader. If a student is truly considered a Braille reader, then he or she needs to meet the Braille standards, period. He or she should not simply be taught the alphabet "just in case." If a student does not meet the Braille standards, parents will have the evidence they need in order to argue for a different teacher for their child if necessary--one who knows the Braille code well and has the skills to teach it effectively.
The work of the Maryland Braille Task Force has been followed by advocates and curriculum developers around the country. For example, the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) is updating its Patterns series, which is used to teach many beginning Braille readers. APH is using the Maryland Braille Standards as a guideline in order to match the changes in the Patterns series to the Common Core Curriculum. There is no doubt that other organizations and states will look at this document for guidance in the years ahead.
Unfortunately, as with all things, the Maryland Braille Standards have their limitations. One limitation is the fact that some blind students still may not get the opportunity to become Braille readers, especially if they have a good deal of residual vision while they are young. Teachers may look at these standards and say to parents, "Your child might benefit some from learning Braille, but look at the amount of information he would have to learn in order to become a Braille reader. It is a lot. I just don't know if it is worth all that effort if he will be resistant to Braille and will probably be a print reader anyway." The National Reading Media Assessment should help assuage this argument.
A second limitation is the fact that there is no true vehicle, as of yet, to measure whether students are meeting the Braille standards. Yes, there are checklists, but will teachers use them? Certainly a student's academic performance and results on standardized state and/or national assessments will be good indicators, but these measures have their own limitations.
The best remedy for these specific limitations is parent education and involvement. Parents need to know that the Braille standards exist. They need to know where to find the standards and how the standards can be used as a tool to help keep track of student progress. The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland is doing its part to provide this education, but this is a huge job that will truly never be done.
Should the NFBMD and/or other states pass legislation to mandate that certain assessments be given to Braille readers to ensure they are meeting the Braille standards? Is it right to subject blind students to yet another standardized assessment? Do standardized tests really measure student knowledge accurately in all cases? These are questions that should be pondered, and to which there are no easy answers.
Professional development is also needed in order to ensure that these standards have the most favorable impact. All teachers of blind students in Maryland have received professional development training surrounding the work of the Braille Task Force, the Common Core Curriculum, and an overview of the document itself and how to use it. Still more professional development is needed, however. The task force was not able to address the "how" in the standards document. The emphasis in the document itself is what skills students need, not how to teach those skills. Teachers of blind students may benefit from development geared toward the "how" in many cases. How do I create tactile graphics to help my students learn geometry concepts? How do I teach my students editing marks used to correct their papers? How do I teach Nemeth Code when I don't know it very well myself? Undoubtedly, the list goes on. Professional development opportunities are crucial; without them, the standards could very well sit on a shelf and never become the true resource they ought to be.
Along with professional development come certification and recertification requirements in Maryland. A work group will convene to discuss these requirements. For the standards to be effective, teachers must have the background in Braille needed to teach it to their students. How can teachers acquire and demonstrate these skills? What additional certification requirements should be necessary? For example, should there be access technology requirements? These are only some of the questions this work group will need to address.
Despite these obvious limitations, the Maryland Braille Standards are a huge step forward in the education of blind children. Because these standards are aligned with the Common Core Curriculum, parents, teachers, and advocates in other states can use them as a guideline to measure a student's Braille reading abilities. Other NFB affiliates may wish to advocate for the adoption of these standards in their own states or to create their own Braille task force to develop similar standards.
Clearly, all of the problems in the education of blind children are not solved by the Maryland Braille Standards. However, the standards are a valuable tool which, if used wisely, will benefit hundreds of Braille readers across the United States for years to come.
by Mehgan Sidhu and Valerie Yingling
From the Editor: As many Future Reflections readers are aware, the National Federation of the Blind works to ensure that blind students have equal access to educational materials used in the classroom. The deluge of new electronic platforms for presenting information to students has brought us an array of challenges. In this article, NFB legal counsel Mehgan Sidhu and paralegal Valerie Yingling explain how families can help make sure that books using Amazon's Whispercast program are made accessible to blind students and others with print disabilities.
Is your child's school planning to implement Whispercast? If so, the NFB wants to hear from you.
Amazon is increasingly marketing its inaccessible Kindle ebooks and Whispercast program to the public schools. As schools adopt Amazon's products and services, they create educational disadvantages for students who are blind or print-disabled, impeding their ability to engage in the assigned curriculum. This practice is discriminatory and illegal, and it poses significant harm to the education of blind children.
In October 2012, Amazon announced the release of Whispercast, a free online program designed to streamline the process of purchasing and distributing Kindle content in schools and workplaces. Whispercast allows teachers to distribute Kindle content wirelessly to students' ereading devices while monitoring and managing their device settings, including Internet access and website filters. The content can be distributed en masse to an entire classroom or grade level, or it can be distributed individually for differentiated instruction.
The use of Whispercast is not limited to Kindle devices. Amazon advertises the program as highly compatible with Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs. Free Kindle apps are available for personal computers, Apple and Android smartphones and tablets, and other devices. As schools prepare for the 2013-2014 school year by assessing student needs and available funding levels, school administrators may understandably believe that implementing Whispercast through a BYOD program is a solution for budget shortfalls.
Amazon is aggressively marketing its products to schools. The company is promoting the millions of books and other materials it offers as ways for students to access the Core Curriculum and to become enthusiastic about reading. Amazon advertises the Kindle's interactive dictionary and encyclopedia, as well as its highlighting, note-taking, and bookmarking features, as ways for students to engage with their texts to bolster comprehension. We anticipate that in response to Amazon's marketing and the increasing pressure schools face to shift to digital materials for their cost savings and other benefits, we may see many schools adopting Kindle ebooks and Whispercast in the upcoming school year.
Emerging technology can be a wonderful thing, but only when it is accessible. Unfortunately, Amazon's Kindle e-books are inaccessible in critical respects to individuals who are blind. The best access Amazon offers, using a Kindle Keyboard (also called Kindle 3G) or using the Kindle for PC with Accessibility Plugin to read Kindle ebooks, leaves blind students woefully behind their sighted classmates. When reading Kindle ebooks on these platforms, for example, blind students cannot navigate through text character by character or word by word. The lack of these features greatly interferes with students' ability to learn and generalize phonetic awareness, grammar, and sentence structure. Students who are blind cannot access Kindle's touted interactive features, including the built-in dictionary, encyclopedia, and the highlighting and note-taking features. Thereby they are hindered in their ability to comprehend texts and assignments. When using Kindle ebooks, blind students cannot navigate the table of contents, locate specific text, or bookmark passages, increasing the possibility that they will not be able to complete in-class assignments or follow a teacher's lectures. In addition, Kindle ebooks are not compatible with refreshable Braille displays. All of these features, in contrast, are available on Blio and iBooks, and are fully accessible to blind students.
When schools implement inaccessible technology such as Whispercast, their actions constitute discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504). Public entities such as schools cannot deny individuals with disabilities the benefits of services and programs granted to those without disabilities. Furthermore, schools that receive federal funds cannot deliver to individuals with disabilities any benefits or services that are inferior to those provided to students without disabilities. The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education have made clear that when schools adopt inaccessible ebook technology they are violating federal law. They have mandated that schools refrain from implementing emerging technology that is not accessible to students who are blind or print disabled.
For years the NFB has been a strong advocate for fully and equally accessible ebooks, including Amazon's Kindle ebooks and devices. In December 2012 the NFB sponsored a letter-writing campaign, requesting that parents and children write to Amazon's founder and CEO, Jeffrey Bezos, describing the impact that inaccessible Kindle content has had on their educational experience. The NFB's campaign culminated in a protest at Amazon headquarters in Seattle, Washington. Federationists delivered the letters to Amazon staff members and publicly protested Amazon's insufficient response to the requests of blind students and blind consumers for accessibility.
Advocacy efforts continued in March 2013, when NFB President Marc Maurer wrote to the Departments of Education in all fifty states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia to advise them that the implementation of Whispercast in their schools puts blind students at a significant disadvantage and constitutes discrimination under the ADA and Section 504. Dr. Maurer also wrote to the National PTA in response to its announcement of Amazon as sole sponsor of the National PTA's Family Reading Experience program. His letter explained that by partnering with Amazon to distribute Kindle devices and ebooks to low-income and at-risk schools, the National PTA not only assists schools in violating federal law, but also excludes blind students from fully participating in and benefiting from the Common Core state standards it stalwartly promotes.
Our work, however, is not over. Amazon continues to market Whispercast and Kindle ebooks to schools. Currently the NFB is tracking school systems that have chosen to implement or are considering the implementation of Whispercast or of Kindle ebooks. As parents and educators of blind children, your assistance and advocacy will be invaluable to ensure that blind children have equal access to ebooks at school.
If you would like to take action, here are some suggestions:
For more information about the inaccessibility of Kindle ebooks and Whispercast, please visit <https://nfb.org/Kindle-books>.
by Carol Castellano
Reprinted from Getting Ready for College Begins in Third Grade: Working toward an Independent Future for Your Blind/VI Child, by Carol Castellano (Information Age Publishing, 2010).
From the Editor: For nearly three decades Carol Castellano has been a vocal supporter of the rights of blind/visually impaired children. She is a past president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), serves as president of New Jersey Parents of Blind Children (NJPBC), and is the author of four books, including Making It Work and Getting Ready for College Begins in Third Grade. This article first appeared as Chapter Six of Getting Ready for College Begins in Third Grade.
Rounding out the set of skills your child will need for a successful launch into an independent future are self-advocacy skills. Self advocacy is the ability to speak for--and speak up for—yourself—effectively. The long-term goal is for our children to be able to take charge of their own lives and not to need or expect others to speak for or be responsible for them. The process leading to this goal begins in early childhood and continues over the years in age-appropriate steps. At first, parents do the advocating--we protect, support, advocate for, and when necessary, fight for our children. Then, little by little, the balance shifts as we teach and empower our children to advocate for themselves and insist that they receive opportunities for increasing independence. As we train our children to step forward, we ourselves learn to step back.
To be effective self-advocates, our children need to feel comfortable with all aspects and characteristics of themselves, including their blindness/visual impairment. One way to develop this comfort level in your child is to learn and use positive language about blindness/visual impairment and the abilities of blind/VI people. Seek out competent blind/VI individuals who can serve as mentors and role models for your child and read the stories of accomplished blind/VI people.
Unless you live in a large city, your child is probably the only blind/VI student in the school system, and there is a good chance that school personnel have not had experience with blindness/visual impairment. Parents can use this situation as an opportunity to teach high expectations and positive attitudes and language to others. Positive attitudes and language will ensure that your child sees him/herself as a whole and complete human being, not as a collection of deficits and needs, as sometimes is the view in the education and medical systems. Your child will be watching and listening. As your child hears you speaking these positive words, he or she will feel good about him/herself, both as a person and as a blind/VI person, and will begin to internalize the message: It's okay to be blind. Blindness is just one of many characteristics that make up who someone is. Blindness/visual impairment does not stop a person from achieving goals.
Most definitions of self advocacy focus on the person's understanding the disability, knowing his/her needs, and knowing how to request accommodations. Although these things are important, for a blind/VI person, the more critical focus is acquiring the skills to get the job done and effectively communicating to others how he or she will accomplish the task. Don't think in terms of having things done for the child or making things easier for him or her; instead, think about the child's knowing how to do things. In other words, don't think accommodations; think skills.
One of the foundations for developing competence is having many, many experiences with the people, places, and things in the world. As an active participant in the world, your child will learn how to interact with others, find out how things work, develop a store of knowledge comparable to that of sighted peers, and learn how to do things. As understanding and ability grow, your child will learn to make comparisons, make choices, and make decisions. All of this leads to the development of judgment, very important to self-advocacy skills and being able to care for oneself.
So many of the people your child will encounter in the world will make the automatic and immediate assumption that your child needs help. Your job is to make sure your child learns the alternative skills of blindness/visual impairment that will enable him/her to handle age-appropriate tasks, demonstrate that help is not needed, and earn the respect of those around him/her. Blind/VI children need the ability to accomplish the normal tasks of life in the normal amount of time. Be sure that your child learns all the alternative skills needed to complete schoolwork independently, travel in and around the school building and in your neighborhood independently, do his/her fair share of household chores, and otherwise complete all the tasks expected of a child his or her age. Expose him/her to the variety of tools and options that exist for getting any particular job done.
It is very common for parents of partially sighted children to feel relieved that their child "is not blind." Teachers might say the child is lucky that he/she "won't have to" learn Braille or "won't have to" use a cane. The child is encouraged to use his/her remaining vision for all tasks and is rewarded by making Mom and Dad happy when he/she is able to see. Perhaps the child even feels embarrassed or ashamed if he/she is unable to accomplish a task visually.
Typically, these children are not taught the alternative nonvisual skills and are expected to function entirely visually--that is, until their impaired vision is unable to manage the task. Then these children start receiving accommodation after accommodation--shortened assignments, recorded books, someone to take notes for them, someone to accompany them on class trips, someone to get them safely from class to class. If these children have internalized the idea that being able to see is good and pleasing to adults, but having difficulty seeing is bad and makes the adults feel sad, and if they feel embarrassed or self-conscious about not seeing well enough to keep up, then they will not be inclined to speak up for themselves when their vision alone is not efficient enough for the task at hand. Left without alternative skills to accomplish the task and without the advocacy skills to speak up, these children truly are helpless. Is this any preparation for an independent future?
Don't let this happen to your child! Make sure that instead of accommodations, he/she is given the opportunity to gain age-appropriate skills. Instead of assistance, make sure he/she is provided with the tools that lead to empowerment and independence. Then, instead of feeling frustrated or embarrassed, or seeing him/herself as in need of help or protection, your child could view him/herself as--and really be--a competent, equal participant in the world.
As your child gains experience and skill, he or she will also be building confidence and self-assurance. You can encourage the development of confidence through the atmosphere you create in your home.
Blind/VI children (and even adults) are vulnerable to the unasked for and often unwanted "assistance" of innumerable well-intentioned people who, without thinking to ask, will pull them, push them, move them, steer them, place them, decide for them, and on and on. People will always be "protecting" your child, automatically assuming that they--by virtue of having eyesight--know what the blind/VI person needs. If your child does not gain the ability to deal effectively with these situations when they occur, he/she will be kept from having a normal, self-directed life!
Most books on blindness/visual impairment or disability talk about the ability to speak up to tell others your needs. I believe that for blind/VI people, the speaking up is much more needed to protest what you DON'T NEED! Cultivate in your child the ability to speak up for him/herself when these situations occur. Empower him or her to say a polite but firm "no, thank you" to unwanted assistance, accommodations, or special treatment.
Remember that the ability to say a realistic "no, thank you" is predicated on the child's actually having the experience, judgment, and skills to handle the task him/herself.
Whether trying to arrange an accommodation, request assistance, or avoid unwanted help, your child needs the social interaction skills to make him/herself understood and to persuade others to do what he/she wants. Practice ways to ask for and refuse things that will be likely to result in the desired outcome.
As your child grows up, make sure the balance shifts so that he/she begins taking the responsibility of advocating for him/herself. Secure in your love and support, bolstered by your belief in him/her, skilled in decision-making and judgment, filled with confidence and the knowledge base, skills, and competence to back it up, and fortified by the belief that he/she deserves equal treatment, your child will be well on the way to become an effective self-advocate.
by Haben Girma
Reprinted from the Braille Monitor, April 2013
From the Editor: Haben Girma is a third-year student at Harvard Law School. Recently she was recognized by the White House as a 2013 Champion of Change. This article is based on a speech she delivered at the mid-winter meeting of the National Association of Blind Students (NABS) in Washington, DC, held in conjunction with the NFB's annual Washington Seminar. During Washington Seminar, Federationists spend two days meeting with legislators and their staff to discuss issues of importance to blind Americans.
Last week Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas paid a visit to Harvard Law School. During a public talk he gave before the whole school, Dean Martha Minow asked him to name his heroes. He named his grandparents and one of his law clerks, and then he said, "I saw a young woman this morning. What's her name?"
Dean Minow immediately understood. "Haben."
Justice Thomas continued, "Haben. I admire her. I admire that kind of courage."
Justice Thomas was among the first African Americans to go to Yale Law School, and I am the first deaf-blind student to attend Harvard Law School. I would not go so far as to compare the challenges I faced to those Justice Thomas encountered growing up with Jim Crow laws in Georgia. When he graduated from Yale, he struggled to find a law firm that would hire a black man. By contrast, I have not finished my last year of law school yet, but I already have a job lined up, despite being a woman, black, and deaf-blind.
While I was fortunate not to have grown up battling blatant and fiery racism, I agree that it requires courage to become an attorney with disabilities. I have a little vision and a little hearing, but to avoid perpetuating hierarchies of sight or hearing, I describe myself as deaf-blind. When I thought about possible careers during my high school years, the prospect of going to law school seemed incredibly difficult, stressful, and downright crazy. I knew there were blind lawyers, but I had never heard of a deaf-blind lawyer. In order to become an attorney, I would have to pioneer my way through a thousand big and small obstacles.
In the many times I have needed to advocate for myself to get to where I am now, I have relied on courage. As we advocate for blind Americans on the Hill tomorrow, we'll need courage. Being a disability rights advocate starts with self-advocacy.
There are two very important components to self-advocacy. The first is being able to educate people about the legal rights of people with disabilities; the second requires creative problem-solving skills to find alternative techniques for accomplishing tasks. I'll use stories from my own life to illustrate each point.
After graduating from high school in Oakland, California, I attended Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. My college experience was good overall, except for some initial challenges with the cafeteria. The college cafeteria had several food stations that served different items each day, and the printed menu hung on the wall by the entrance. I tried asking people to read the menu to me, but with the noise level in the cafeteria, hearing people read the menu proved nearly impossible. At first I quietly approached a food station, accepted a plate from the staff behind the counter, and discovered what they were serving when I sat down to eat.
As a student with a busy schedule, I felt frustrated that I did not have access to the cafeteria menus. I then asked the cafeteria's manager to email a copy of the menu to me before each meal. Since the cafeteria always had its menus in electronic format, emailing them to me involved only copying and pasting the information.
The manager agreed to email the menu to me, since it was simple and easy enough to do. I still remember the excitement of getting those first few emails. Instead of picking a station at random and taking whatever the staff behind the counter put on my plate, I could finally choose what I wanted to eat! If the menu said Station Three was serving fried rice and eggrolls, I could skip Stations One and Two and go straight to Station Three. And of course I was thrilled to have choices for dessert! Whenever the cafeteria emailed me the menu, life was delicious.
But every other day the staff would forget. I stopped in their office one day to remind them politely that I needed those emails. They said they were very busy but would try to send the emails consistently. Unfortunately they continued to forget to send the menu nearly every other day.
As a busy student with a full load of classes, I found that eating well was very important. I explained the situation to the heads of the Student Life Department and Student Support Services. They told me the cafeteria was operated by an outside company and was out of their control. So I wrote an email to the manager of the cafeteria. I explained that, since I paid to eat at the cafeteria like all the other students, I needed access to the menu so I could fully use the services I was paying for. The manager responded, saying that the cafeteria was very busy, that they were doing me a big favor, and that I should stop complaining and be more appreciative. I don't know about you, but if Station Four has chocolate cake and no one tells me, I'm definitely not feeling appreciative!
Remembering a disability rights workshop I attended back in high school, I decided to invoke the power of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In my email response to the manager of the cafeteria, I cc'd several others on the management team to make sure they learned about the ADA. I explained that Title III of the Act requires businesses to make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities; if the cafeteria refused to do this, I would sue.
To tell you the truth, I had no idea what I was saying. How exactly was I going to sue anyone? I couldn't afford a lawyer. I could file a complaint with the Department of Justice, but what if they thought my issue was trivial? What if a judge decided that emailing a menu to me before each meal was not a reasonable accommodation? Part of me was nervous and worried, but another part of me was excited. I had a dream of joining the civil rights movement, a dream of pushing aside barriers for students with disabilities, a dream of eating my chocolate cake.
While I was eating dinner the next day, the cafeteria manager came over to apologize and promise that I would receive menus for each meal in a timely manner. And you know what? He actually kept his promise. I couldn't believe how much he'd changed, how much my life had changed--all because of the phrase, "I'm gonna sue." The threat of a lawsuit seemed as powerful as actually filing a lawsuit. By invoking the ADA, I forced him to set aside his attitude toward blindness temporarily, and instead to consider whether my request was reasonable. He originally thought that providing access for blind students was an act of charity, a favor he could do when he had a free moment and was in the right mood. Slowly the ADA is teaching people to change their attitude so that granting equal access to people with disabilities becomes the norm.
Threatening to sue is a very effective strategy for combatting discrimination, but it is only a last resort. Lawsuits are complicated, long, and expensive. Countless times I have requested and received accommodations through friendly discussions. The college I attended provided nearly every accommodation I needed, and most of the staff was very welcoming.
The second component to self-advocacy is creative problem-solving skills. Once you overcome discrimination, once people have changed their attitudes about disability, you will need techniques for getting the job done. Technology is constantly providing new tools with which blind people can accomplish tasks. While some accommodations require the development of complex software, such as VoiceOver on the iPhone, at other times the solution is simple, such as using Braille labels to distinguish between similarly sized bottles. Growing up, I had wonderful teachers who taught me many of my most valuable skills: Braille, cane travel, and an attitude that creative thinking would overcome any obstacle.
Several years ago I belonged to a rock climbing club for blind students. Rock climbing is an accessible sport for blind students; by feeling for handholds and footholds, you can pull yourself up the rock wall. We all learned to climb and belay. The belayer is the person who holds the climber's ropes.
To my surprise the instructor told me I could not belay, since I would not hear the climber telling me to lower him/her from twenty, thirty, or forty feet in the air. Although I understood his concern for safety, I felt frustrated that the other blind students were allowed to belay and I was not.
The instructor could not think of an alternative technique for deaf-blind belayers, and unfortunately I couldn't think of one, either. However, the fact that he and I couldn't figure it out didn't mean someone else couldn't. As in many other areas of life, if you can't solve a problem, you look for an expert in the field. If your bike breaks, you take it to the bike shop. Since I was looking for a rock-climbing technique that would allow a deaf-blind person to belay safely, I contacted a rock-climbing expert. The solution we came up with was brilliant. When a climber is ready to come down, he tugs on the rope several times to send a clear signal to the belayer. Since the belayer is holding the other end of the rope, he or she instantly feels the signal.
Finding creative solutions for people with disabilities can be challenging. It's easy to dismiss something as impossible. Many of you live with sighted family members. You have sighted teachers and sighted friends. For this reason you may feel pressure to act as the sole expert on blindness. I want to remind all of you that you don't have to be an expert on blindness. When you run into an obstacle, contact an expert in a related field to develop innovative solutions.
Once you've learned to advocate for yourself, the natural next step is advocating for others. This week we are all here to advocate for blind Americans. If the thought of meeting legislators makes you feel nervous, find your inner courage. Advocating for seemingly trivial things like the right to eat chocolate cake develops an inner courage, and that courage will serve you in the quest for greater rights. Remember that advocating for others starts with learning to advocate for yourself. When you assert your dreams, your needs, and your rights, opportunities become limitless.
by Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway
From the Editor: Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway is a statistician with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. She serves as president of the Georgia Organization of Parents of Blind Children (GOPBC) and is a member of the board of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC).
"What would Kendra get out of being in the gifted program that she wouldn't get out of just being in the regular classroom?"
Believe it or not, that question was posed by the DeKalb County, Georgia, Gifted Coordinator. It sums up the attitude we encountered in our battle to have our daughter, who is blind, fairly evaluated for her school's program for gifted students. The battle never should have escalated as it did, but we knew it was worth fighting. I hope that our experience will help other parents understand that they must often work long and hard to get their blind children the education they deserve.
Early in the 2009-2010 school year, when Kendra was in first grade, I received a call from her teacher of the visually impaired (TVI). The TVI explained that neither the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) nor the Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT) were available in Braille for first graders. (The ITBS is available in Braille for later grades). In our county, all first, third, and fifth graders are given these tests to determine their eligibility for the gifted program. I was concerned about how to ensure that Kendra was fairly evaluated.
I contacted the County Gifted Program Coordinator to ask about alternatives to the ITBS and CogAT. I also asked for suggestions on the Blindkid and Professionals in Blindness Education listservs, both sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). Little did I know that identifying an appropriate achievement test battery would turn out to be the easiest step in the process.
The Low Incidence Special Education Coordinator for DeKalb County and the Assistant Director at the Georgia Academy for the Blind (GAB) helped identify a suitable achievement test battery for Kendra. In early December of 2009, I was notified that the achievement test was now available and that the school psychologist was being contacted to formulate a plan for an alternative to the CogAT.
The standardized achievement test that had been chosen was the Braille adaptation of the Woodcock-Johnson III Normative Update Tests of Achievement (WJ III ACH-Braille), which Kendra's TVI administered. On January 25, 2010, Kendra met with the school psychologist and was administered a verbal aptitude test as an alternative to the CogAT.
In March of 2010 I was notified that Kendra was deemed ineligible for the gifted program based on her test scores. I was very surprised by the decision, and I had no intention of letting the matter drop. I sent an email to the assistant principal and the teacher of the gifted, expressing my concerns about the testing process and asking for clarification on certain points. I included links to websites regarding the criteria for identification of giftedness in students who are blind. In response I received an email from the teacher of the gifted, once again denying Kendra's eligibility. The email did not address any of the concerns I had raised. The Gifted Program Coordinator simply re-stated Kendra's test scores.
On April 12, I sent an email to a number of school and county officials, requesting an in-person meeting. Following are excerpts from my letter.
"While the need for this meeting is prompted by my concern for my own child, I believe there is a larger issue involved. As president of the Georgia Organization of Parents of Blind Children (GOPBC) and a board member of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), other parents of blind/visually impaired children frequently ask me about eligibility for gifted programs. I have heard many examples over the past several years of blind children being denied access to programs for the gifted. This is due, in part, to confusion as to how to appropriately test these children. As a statistician by profession, I have concerns regarding the use of any standardized test without appropriate interpretation of the results by someone familiar with the effects of blindness on the scores. . . .
"The literature is very clear on the many problems associated with using standardized tests with blind children. Even the questions on tests such as the Braille adaptation of the Woodcock-Johnson are likely to be influenced by a visual bias. I found support for this while conducting my own research on the use of standardized tests with blind children. According to documentation for the WJ III ACH-Braille, for example, 'Scores on tests designed for and standardized on the general population should be interpreted with great caution. It is possible, if not likely, that they are underestimates of ability because of the visual bias of many of the verbal items. Because blind subjects' scores are derived from norms for sighted subjects, the resultant scores should never be used as a sole determinant to exclude a blind subject from any program or opportunity in the educational setting or the community' (p. 7: WJ III ACH-Braille Supplementary Manual, provided by Dr. Lynne Jaffe.)"
I learned of the work of Dr. Lynne Jaffe and another expert on blindness and giftedness, Dr. Carol Evans, while I was exploring the issue of the testing of blind students. In my letter to the school officials I described some of their findings and included the link to information regarding Dr. Jaffe's background, particularly as related to the Woodcock-Johnson III test. I explained that Dr. Jaffe had reviewed Kendra's test scores. "It is true that Kendra's age normed percentile for reading was 85," I wrote. "However, her grade normed percentile for reading was 97. Dr. Jaffe explained that she always runs both sets of scores for a student (unless a student has been held back) and that the grade norms were more appropriate because they take into account years of school experience. In Kendra's case, her September 11th birthday puts her on the older end of first graders. This is reflected in the discrepancy between the age and grade normed scores. Kendra did qualify in the area of achievement based on percentile rankings by grade (97th percentile in reading)."
I pointed out that Dr. Jaffe suggested looking at the particular items that Kendra missed to see if a visual bias was responsible. I further noted, "The documentation for the WJ III ACH-Braille, as I understand from my discussions with Dr. Jaffe, specifies the manner and conditions in which the test is to be administered. For example, the manual states that the test should be administered at least twice with blind subjects before administering it for the purpose of using the scores and analyzing the results (p. 6). That was not done for Kendra. While I do not believe this had a big impact on her scores, it is worth keeping in mind for future administrations of the test to other students." In addition, I requested that Kendra be assessed with the WISC-IV; I had learned that the WISC-IV is regarded as a better assessment tool for blind subjects than the DAS II, which Kendra had taken with the psychologist.
"Blindness in children is, as you know, a low incidence disability," I concluded. "The number of children who are both blind and gifted is therefore also extremely low. There has not been much research done on this group, but the research that has been done recommends a review of the child's portfolio of work and evaluations by the teachers who know the child well. Kendra has always been one of the higher achievers in her classes. She won the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest (a national contest) two years in a row and this year placed second in the Georgia Regional Braille Challenge. This year, only she and one other child are doing advanced work in the classroom (fourth- to fifth-grade spelling words and more advanced reading assignments).
"Teaching a blind student may be intimidating for a teacher who has never done it before. My roles in the GOPBC and NOPBC have given me the opportunity to communicate with other parents of blind and gifted students. Some of these parents have already volunteered to provide information to Kendra's teachers about things that have been done to make the gifted program a success. It is well known by Kendra's past and present teachers that my husband and I have always been very happy and eager to serve as resources. If we do not have a solution to a problem which may arise, we have the entire membership of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and NOPBC to fall back on for support. Believe me when I tell you that providing support for the education of blind children is a high priority for both those organizations.
"My husband and I are not asking for automatic entry into the gifted program for Kendra. We are asking that she be evaluated fairly and in light of published recommendations regarding the identification of blind/gifted students."
The in-person meeting I requested took place on May 3, 2010. One of the main points I raised was the use of grade norms rather than age norms for the achievement test. Kendra's birthday is in early September, so she just missed the cutoff for school entry by a few days. She has therefore always been one of the oldest children in her class. There was a large discrepancy between her grade-based and age-based WJ III ACH-Braille scores (percentile rank 97 and 85, respectively). The school chose the lower, age-based score while we argued that the higher, grade-based score was more appropriate. I could not get anyone in the meeting to agree out loud that a grade-based score would be accepted.
The day after our meeting, I contacted the program specialist for gifted education at the Georgia Department of Education for clarification on the use of grade norms versus age norms on the WJ III Tests of Achievement. She explained that, in the area of mental ability, the age-based scores must be used, even if both are available. In the area of achievement, however, either age- or grade-based scores may be used. Therefore, the state agreed (at that time) that either age- or grade-normed scores could be used for the achievement test criteria. Foolishly, I thought we were close to victory.
Two days later, I emailed the program specialist for gifted education and the director of student support services in DeKalb County. After reviewing the May 3rd meeting and my exchange with the program specialist, I stated, "The meeting ended with an assurance from our principal that my daughter, Kendra Holloway, would be placed with the other gifted students next year in second grade. We believe that the principal was sincere in his efforts to do the right thing for Kendra, but we were uneasy about her not receiving the official classification of gifted. We did not pursue it further at that time because nobody present at that meeting responded affirmatively when asked whether the grade norms for Kendra's achievement test were admissible. If they are, she then qualifies on two of the four criteria and should be tested further. She was not tested at all for motivation, and it is our assertion that she should have received an alternative test for mental ability. At this point, we are requesting that she be assessed for motivation using a portfolio of her work, and that she be tested for mental ability using the WISC-IV.
"I have spent an incredible amount of my time researching these questions and contacting various people. While I am always willing to do anything I can to help my daughter succeed, it should not have been necessary for me to go to these lengths. I am hoping that we can resolve this before the school year ends. Please provide the name of the person who will be able to take the lead in addressing our concerns so that we may move forward."
I received the following reply from the program specialist. "Yes, I have spoken with the county program gifted coordinator and confirmed that DeKalb County followed procedures outlined in the Georgia Gifted Education Resource Guide. It appears that the principal made a positive decision on Kendra's class placement for next year."
I truly could not believe what I had read. To this day, I'm still amazed at the complete about-face in her position regarding the use of grade-based scores. Even though the principal had said he would place Kendra with the other gifted students in the second grade, we did not consider this a "positive decision." We wanted the official designation of gifted and the assurance that Kendra would remain in the program in the coming years.
If you've read this far, you have probably figured out that I had no intention of giving up until the question of eligibility was handled to my satisfaction. I knew we were right, and I knew Kendra qualified for the gifted program according to the state guidelines. I sent this email to all involved on May 12th, 2010, "I found out this afternoon that my daughter Kendra Holloway's score on the Renzulli scale of motivation was 96 percent. In addition, her score on the Renzulli scale of creativity was 98 percent, and her reading score on the Woodcock-Johnson III Tests of Achievement-Braille Adaptation was in the 97th percentile. She therefore meets the criteria for the gifted program as set forth in the Georgia Education Resource Manual (scores above 90 in three of the four assessment areas). I am confident that now that we are all aware of the fact that she actually qualifies for the gifted program, we can move forward with officially classifying her as a gifted student and preparing for her entry into the program this coming fall."
The program specialist for gifted education followed up the next day with an email saying that most districts have a policy prohibiting the use of rating scales in more than one area. In other words, if a scale is used to qualify a student in creativity, it cannot be used to qualify the student in motivation. Despite a string of other emails between me and various county and state administrators, I felt I was not making any progress.
Finally I requested a mediator. Looking back, I probably should have done so sooner, but I just continued to believe that people would do the right thing. I referred the mediator to information on the website of the Georgia Secretary of State (160-4-2-.38 Education Program for Gifted Students, Amended). I listed Kendra's test scores and pointed out that she met the eligibility criteria in three of the four areas (achievement, creativity, and motivation). I explained that I had saved all of the relevant correspondence, including an email from the program specialist for gifted education, confirming that either age- or grade-normed values could be used. I included information from a Q&A on the state website regarding the prohibition against using rating scales in more than one area. According to the website, "... this restriction does not apply to two separate scales that measure two different constructs, even if those two scales are included in the same larger instrument."
I closed with a quote from the Resource Manual for Gifted Education, taken from the Georgia Department of Education website. I quoted the Georgia Department of Education Resource Manual for Gifted Education Services (page 78):
Particular attention should be given to potentially gifted students from culturally diverse, economically disadvantaged (ED), or disability populations during the student talent search process, to make sure that nontraditional gifted students are recognized and given a chance to receive a thorough evaluation needed to establish their eligibility. Although the multiple-criteria rule (160-4-2-.38) has allowed Georgia educators to make progress in identifying gifted students more fairly, it is necessary to continue guarding against the potential barriers to the recognition and development of giftedness among underrepresented students. Often such barriers are related to attitudes and access."
On May 20th, 2010, the mediator sent the county gifted coordinator a list of questions she needed to address based on points I had raised in my email. The mediator also outlined several things that needed to take place very early in the 2010-2011 school year to get Kendra officially placed in the program.
Finally, on Friday, May 21st, 2010 (the last day of school), I received a phone call from the Low Incidence Special Education Coordinator. I was in Kendra's classroom for the end-of-school party when the call came in, and I recall the coordinator saying that I was going to be very pleased when I heard her news. All of a sudden, the county agreed that Kendra was eligible for the gifted program after all! She didn't need to take any additional tests, and she would start the program in the fall. Most importantly, I could stop sending lengthy, detailed emails to people!
I first inquired about gifted program eligibility in September of 2009. In May of 2010 we finally received a favorable decision. Why did it take so long? Why did my daughter have to miss out on a year of being in the program? The facts never changed. Kendra's scores didn't change.
I am incredibly grateful to the many people who provided support and guidance, and who believed, as I did, that Kendra belonged in the program. I would like to say that I am no longer angry at those who put up unnecessary roadblocks during this process. I would like to, but I can't. I do not know what motivated such behavior. Was it fear of not knowing how to teach a blind child? Was it pure ignorance? Or was it a belief that a blind child didn't belong in a program for gifted children?
When I was first asked to write this article, I hesitated. I knew it would be a difficult piece to write, and I knew it would stir up a lot of emotions as I looked through all my old notes and emails. This piece is not meant to be a blueprint for anyone else to follow. Rather, I hope it will show other parents that even when you have all the information and "right" on your side, it might still take a great deal of time and effort to obtain what your child deserves.
Kendra is approaching the end of fourth grade and remains in the gifted program. I am happy to report that she continues to do very well in school. Her success in the program makes the year-long battle worthwhile.
by Penny Duffy
From the Editor: Penny Duffy is president of the New Hampshire Parents of Blind Children. In this article she describes an unfortunate incident that occurred on a family outing and reflects on the need for greater public awareness about the rights of blind people.
In one form or another, parents of blind children advocate for their children every single day. My nine-year-old daughter, Abby, became blind two-and-a-half years ago, and I find we are still learning important new things about advocating for her and helping her learn to advocate for herself. One of our biggest lessons to date came a few months ago.
The short form of the story is simple and shocking. In late August 2012, my husband, Chris, and our two children, Abby and Sam, went to a local history museum on a special outing. When they arrived, the clerk told them that Abby couldn't bring her long white cane into the museum. Chris explained that Abby is blind, but the clerk insisted that she could not enter with her cane. "We have had issues with kids in the past," she stated.
My husband complied with the clerk's request. He passed Abby's cane to someone beyond the desk.
A few minutes later Sam complained that he felt nauseous. He called and asked me to pick him up. I took him home, and his stomachache immediately disappeared. Looking back, I think he was feeling a lot of anxiety over what happened at the desk.
Abby and Chris continued to explore the museum. With her cane Abby is a confident traveler, but now she followed close behind her dad, and sometimes he led her by the hand. Without her cane, she felt unsafe on a steep flight of stairs.
When I found out what had happened, I contacted the museum right away. I knew their refusal to let Abby use her cane was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Later I discovered that it violated New Hampshire's White Cane Law as well. The person I spoke with told me that the clerk's action was against the museum's official policy. She explained that the clerk didn't know what a white cane was.
I left the conversation still feeling very frustrated. I wanted to do what I could to help prevent such a thing from happening again, so I wrote about my family's experience on my blog. "Perhaps [the clerk] didn't hear when Chris said Abby was blind," I wrote. "The issue is, regardless, what did she think [the cane] was? It's a white cane, not a switchblade! Who are these kids she spoke of? I envision a ninja army of blind children with white canes trashing the museum.
"We have already gotten an apology and I believe it was genuine, but I am very concerned this could happen again. No one should ever have to go through what happened to my family. The issue is that it happened, and that can never be changed. The experience is now part of our family's story."
The incident ended up going a bit viral. It wound up in a local newspaper and on two evening television newscasts. It was picked up by a large-scale national Internet news website and even appeared in a tabloid on a website in the UK.
I want to address the obvious question that many people are asking. Why would the parent of a blind child allow someone to take their child's white cane away? Chris really thought the museum had the right to restrict any item from being brought inside. He was sure the museum must know better than to make an illegal request. He did question the request, and he told the clerk that Abby is blind to prevent any confusion. He could have left after he was told that she couldn't bring in her white cane. However, he had two kids with him, and he didn't want to disappoint them. As parents we all make decisions that we end up regretting, and this was one of those times.
It has now been more than six months since the incident happened. There were many lessons learned. One of those lessons is that sometimes one parent is more knowledgeable than the other. It is really important that both parents understand their blind child's basic rights. I hope other parents can learn and grow from what happened to our family.
I learned a lot as I read through the hundreds of comments on the story that were posted online. I discovered that some people still don't feel blind people belong in museums. I learned that many people still have a negative understanding of what a white cane does. I came to realize that there is much work still to be done.
I did hear from someone who handles ADA compliance for a major museum. She shared with me that many museums are taking notice of the story and not just assuming that their employees know what a white cane is. They are trying to make sure their staff members are educated. In the end, that is all I wanted.
by Heather Fritz
From the Editor: Heather Fritz is a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) and orientation and mobility (O&M) instructor in Wisconsin. She is also the mother of seven children, six of whom are blind or visually impaired. In this article she writes about advocating for blind children from the perspectives of both parent and teacher.
When I went to China to bring home our daughter, Katie, I had no idea what to expect. I knew that Katie was six years old and totally blind, and that she had been living in an orphanage in Inner Mongolia. When I got to China I was told that a social worker would bring Katie to meet me at the airport. Conditions at the orphanage were so bad that I would not be allowed to go there. I wondered what Katie had experienced, and what it would take to instill her with confidence and a sense of her own worth.
At the airport, I found Katie and the social worker waiting for me. The social worker explained that they had arrived early and had been there for twelve hours. Katie had refused to leave the airport during the long wait. She was afraid that if she left, the social worker might take her back to the orphanage. She was determined to meet her new mother and set off for the United States. In that moment I saw the strength of Katie's character and realized that she had begun to advocate for herself as best she could.
As I made the final arrangements to bring Katie home with me, I noticed that the social worker was very anxious about her ability to move around. She insisted that Katie count her steps everywhere she went, as though she could not travel safely unless she knew the precise number of steps she had to take. Katie seemed eager to move and explore, but she was being hindered constantly by the people around her.
We got home on August 14, and Katie entered school two weeks later. She had already picked up enough English to make her wishes known, and her transition to an American school went more smoothly than we had expected.
I grew concerned, however, when I met with Katie's TVI. At our first meeting, she explained that her goal was to teach Katie several letters of the Braille alphabet during kindergarten.
"What are the reading goals for the sighted kindergarteners?" I asked, turning to the classroom teacher.
"By the end of the year I expect them to be reading three-letter words," the teacher said.
"That's what Katie will be doing," I told the TVI. "Katie should be reading three-letter words by the end of the school year. Whatever her classmates are learning, she's going to learn it, too."
Right from the beginning we introduced Katie to the NFB. She attended her first state convention that October. Our student division reached out to welcome her and put her to work folding fliers and delivering door prizes. We took her to her first national convention that July. Federation philosophy was a natural fit with Katie's feisty personality.
We gave Katie a cane as soon as she got to the U.S., and she caught onto its use right away. She was thrilled to be free at last. No more counting steps! Her O&M instructor told us Katie had better cane skills than many fifth and sixth graders.
A few months into second grade, Katie told us that the driver of the school bus refused to let her sit in the back with her sisters. She was the only totally blind child on the bus, and he deemed it necessary for her to take a seat in the front. That evening my husband, John, and I talked with Katie about how to handle the situation. We encouraged her to devise a plan to fix the situation herself, but we assured her that we would be right behind her, there to support her.
The next morning John and I were there to watch Katie board the school bus. Before the driver could tell her where to sit, she walked confidently to the back and took a seat next to her sister. The driver began to say something, looked at us standing at the bus door, and didn't say a thing. From then on, Katie was as free as the other children to sit where she pleased. She had won the first of many battles, and she had won the battle herself.
Today, as a seventh grader, Katie is a very strong self-advocate. She handles most situations on her own, and they never even come to our attention. However, at the beginning of this school year, we found it necessary to intervene on her behalf. The issue was physical education.
The school's PE teacher, who was new to the district and had never worked with Katie, believed that activities in phys ed class were becoming too complex for her. In particular, he was concerned about her ability to take part in team sports. He was quick to point out that he was also certified to teach adaptive PE. He stated that the school had a big, beautiful room filled with specialized equipment. He proposed removing Katie from the regular class and allowing her to go to the room alone, where she could work out using a treadmill, stationary bicycle, or other exercise machines.
When we met with the PE teacher, we suggested we look at the purpose of team sports in school. We told him we were under the impression that team sports were offered as a way to teach children to work together and to help them learn the rules of the game. We pointed out that a seventh-grader's participation in sports doesn't have to be about winning. My husband and I also made a point that we didn't want Katie to be separated from her peers. Most importantly, we didn't want Katie to think she couldn't take part in these sports.
The teacher argued that Katie's participation would involve too many risks. Besides, it would be impossible for her to take part in such games as baseball, which call for hitting a ball and running on the field. We said we expected him to teach Katie the rules that the other children were learning. We also suggested a number of ways for Katie to play along with her classmates. She could use a ball that gave an audible signal. When she had to run bases, she could run to a sound source or run with a partner. By taking part in the regular PE class, Katie could learn about baseball firsthand and could share in the fun and excitement as a member of the team.
Eventually the teacher gave in. "If you think there's a problem with Katie playing a sport, come to us," we told him. "Between all of us, including Katie, we can come up with ideas for modifications." We also told him that many times Katie knows what will and won't work. We told him just to ask. So far PE has worked out fine.
As a teacher of blind and visually impaired students, I practice the same philosophy that I follow as a parent. I work to make sure that my students are expected to achieve the same goals as their sighted classmates. I insist that they learn the skills that will make it possible for them to keep up with their peers. Sometimes I find myself in an adversarial situation with my colleagues and supervisors. A prime example was my work with a fifth-grade student named Lee.
When I was assigned to work with Lee, I reviewed his file and learned that he had a progressive eye condition. His vision was 20/600. Nevertheless, he was being seen by a TVI twice a year, only on a consulting basis. He had no blindness skills, no Braille or magnification, and no cane.
The school didn't consider Lee to be blind, but he had been labeled a behavior problem. When I insisted that he receive services due to his visual impairment, the director of special education told me, "You work for us, not for the student!"
I requested a functional vision assessment and an orientation and mobility assessment for Lee. The assessments were done at the Wisconsin School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (WSBVI). It turned out that WSBVI had assessed Lee four years before, when he was in first grade, and had recommended that he receive daily TVI services. When I called a meeting to discuss Lee's new assessments, the special education director declared, "This kid isn't blind! I know what blind is! I'm blind myself without my glasses."
I suggested that Lee's behavior problems resulted from the fact that he couldn't keep up with his class due to his low vision. Once he learned the skills he needed, his behavior would probably improve. The special education director was so angry he stopped the meeting. He couldn't bear to have his authority challenged.
The school didn't believe that Lee needed a cane. After I saw him fall down a flight of stairs, I convinced the school that he needed O&M services as a safety measure. When he started to use a cane, some of the other boys liked to grab it and drop it down the stairwell. The principal tried to brush the problem aside with the old cliché about "boys will be boys." I pointed out that a cane dropped from the third-floor landing was a projectile that could hurt someone badly. I also pointed out that the boys' behavior was bullying, and that it could jeopardize my student's safety. The principal spoke with the boys, and the problem ceased, at least for a time.
Getting help for Lee was a long battle. We heard a series of promises, but real change was a struggle. By the time he started to receive the services he needed, fifth grade was well underway. He began to catch up with his classmates, but he should never have been allowed to fall behind in the first place.
Lee is now a high school senior. He earns A's and Bs, and he is making plans for the future. He hopes to attend a technical school and become an auto mechanic. He will be the first person in his family to graduate from high school.
Teachers and parents sometimes say that children can't advocate for themselves, or that a child is too young to advocate. I've discovered that children can be very effective. Even our six-year-old, Jake, can say, "I can do that myself," or, "This will help." As adults we have to be careful how we word our requests. Kids may not be tactful, but they say what needs to be said. When a child says, "Let me do that, too," or "I don't like getting treated like a baby," grownups need to listen. The child gains self-esteem when she or he learns to speak up. Children must learn that they have a voice and that what they say really matters.
Self advocacy is a skill that blind children will need to use throughout their lives. The sooner they master it, the better off they will be.
by Carla McQuillan
If you are between the ages of six weeks and twelve years, NFB Camp (child care) is the place to be at national convention this year in Orlando. During meetings and general convention sessions, NFB Camp will be open for fun.
Our camp rooms are divided by age with toys and activities appropriate to the ages served in each room. We have rooms for infants and toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children. The infants and toddlers spend much of their time in the room with occasional walks around the hotel and stories read from Braille books. The preschool group will enjoy Braille story time, arts and craft projects, and small group play on the hotel lawns. The school-age children will have special-guest activities such as science and technology, music and movement, beep kickball, art and drawing, and visits from blind people employed in different professions. In addition, we will have daily excursions to the hotel lawns for outdoor games and water play.
Just down the street from the hotel is an indoor fun house called Monkey Joe's. This air-conditioned party room has several giant inflatable structures with slides, obstacle courses, bounce houses, and ball pits. In addition, there are several carnival and arcade games.
We will be taking small groups of children to Monkey Joe's several times throughout the week. The cost will be $10 per child, which includes transportation on the local shuttle that runs up and down International Drive and admission to all the attractions at Monkey Joe's.
Children must be between the ages of five and twelve, and priority will be given to children enrolled in NFB Camp for the week. Look for sign-up sheets at the NFB Camp registration desk when you get to the convention.
NFB Campers will enjoy their own banquet night activities beginning with their meal. After dinner, the children will enjoy games and win prizes at the camp carnival.
NFB Camp is under the supervision of Carla McQuillan, president of the NFB of Oregon and a longtime member of the Federation. Carla is the executive director of Main Street Montessori Association, operating three Montessori schools and a teacher education program. She has directed NFB camp since 1996. Alison McQuillan serves as the activities and staff coordinator for camp. Alison monitors the daily programs, drop-off and pick-up, and staff-to-child ratios, ensuring that only parents and authorized adults are allowed into camp rooms.
Each of the three camp rooms has a supervisor who is responsible for the activities of that age group. These leaders are chosen because of their experience and demonstrated capacity to handle groups of children and workers. Other workers and camp volunteers are drawn from within the organization. We usually have a mix of blind and sighted teens and adults who work with the children.
Michelle Chacon is a certified orientation and mobility instructor and a teacher of blind children. She will be available throughout the week to consult with parents and staff, as well as provide some individualized instruction for our campers.
NFB Camp maintains a list of people who are interested in providing care outside of the scheduled hours for camp. The list is at the check-in desk for NFB Camp. Parents are welcome to review names on the list if they are in need of caregivers during off hours. NFB Camp and the National Federation of the Blind are not responsible for the actions and behavior of those on the babysitting list. We do not screen the people; we merely maintain a central list for the convenience of convention attendees.
Because of the limited space, we require that parents wishing to enroll their children in NFB Camp complete and return the registration form below no later than June 15, 2013. You may also email or call to reserve your child(ren)'s space: <firstname.lastname@example.org> or (541) 653-9153. Any questions can also be directed to Carla McQuillan at the same address, email, and phone.
Completed form and fees must be received on or before June 15, 2013.
City__________ State___________ Zip______ Phone _______________
Cell Phone _______________ Cell Phone _______________
___________________________ Age_____ Date of Birth___________
___________________________ Age_____ Date of Birth___________
___________________________ Age_____ Date of Birth___________
Include description of any disabilities or allergies we should know about: ____________________________________________________________
Who, other than parents, is allowed to pick up your child(ren)?__________
Per Week: $100 first child, + $75 x ____ siblings: # of Children _____ $_________
(Does not include banquet)
Per Day: $25 per child per day:
(Does not include banquet) M W TH F S (circle)
# of Days_____ x $25 child $_________
Banquet: $25 per child: # of Children _____ x $25 child $_________
# of each: _____Turkey Sandwich _____Cheese Sandwich
We understand that NFB Camp is being provided as a service to make our convention more enjoyable for both parents and children. We will pick up children immediately following sessions. We understand that, if our child(ren) does not follow the rules or if for any reason staff are unable to care for our child(ren), further access to NFB child care will be denied.
Parent’s Signature _____________________________________ Date ______________
Make checks payable to NFB Camp. Return form to NFB Camp, 5005 Main Street, Springfield, OR 97478; (541) 726-6924; and <www.mainstreetmontessori.org>.
NFB Camp will be open during general convention sessions, division and committee meeting day, and the evening of the banquet. The hours for NFB Camp are tentative. The actual hours will be based on the beginning and ending of sessions so that parents can drop off their children thirty minutes before the start of session and must pick up their children within thirty minutes of the end of session. On occasion the actual end or beginning of session may be earlier or later than the agenda indicates. We charge a $10 per quarter-hour per child late pick-up fee. NFB Camp provides morning and afternoon snacks. You must provide lunch for your children every day.
Date NFB Camp Hours
Monday, July 1st 8:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.–5:30 p.m.
Tuesday, July 2nd Camp is closed.
Wednesday, July 3rd 8:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.–5:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 4th 9:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.–5:30 p.m.
Friday, July 5th 8:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.–5:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 6th 8:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.–5:30 p.m.
Banquet 6:30 p.m.–30 minutes after adjourn.
Additional forms (emergency info, waivers, etc.) will be mailed or emailed after we receive the registration form above.
by Carlton Cook Walker
Shortly after my daughter, Anna Catherine, turned three, an ophthalmologist told me that she was "legally blind" and had central vision loss. I was surprised, but I was not particularly worried. At that point, I had not noticed any evidence of her visual impairment. Besides, blindness was nothing compared to what she had already faced.
Anna Catherine's first year of life had been filled with multiple hospitalizations, endless painful procedures, and tube feeding through a port in her stomach. Just before her first Christmas, her doctors warned us that our nine-month-old daughter might not live another year. They said we would be lucky if she lived to be five or six years old.
Thankfully they were wrong about her diagnosis, but Anna still had much to overcome. When she was one year old, she was finally strong enough to begin the physical milestones of infancy such as rolling over and sitting up. Shortly after her second birthday, a month-long stay at a feeding clinic taught her how to swallow. She spent the next year trying new foods and liquids, and we went a whole twelve months without a visit to a hospital emergency room!
Thus, even though I was not expecting the "legal blindness," I was not really worried. Anna acted just like most three-year-olds. Nevertheless, I began to research what this term "legally blind" meant. I found out that central vision loss can significantly impair one's ability to read print. I wondered whether she should start learning Braille. I wondered what her future would hold.
I soon found, however, that many people thought my ideas about Braille were simply wrong. Anna's ophthalmologists and optometrists downplayed my thoughts of Braille. "She should be able to read print, so she WON'T need Braille." Anna's educators conveyed a certainty that she would NOT be a candidate for Braille. They told me that she would need large print (36-48 point font) and, as a result, would be a slow reader. I wondered why these people who said she didn't need Braille were telling me about what she couldn't do because of her limited vision. Wouldn't Braille help?
Even in our own family, no one seemed eager to admit that Anna's life would be impacted in any way by "her eye issues." My husband retreated from any talk about Braille or canes, while other family members expressed great sadness "about her vision." One close family member was downright hostile and even forbade me from saying the "B" word--blind--in front of Anna.
Despite all this, I eventually knew that my little girl needed more than she was getting. I noticed that Anna was not as independent as her peers. My fearless toddler was becoming a fearful preschooler. One day while walking home from the library, I made Anna let go of her fierce grip on my hand. None of the other children at the library story hour held their parent's hand so tightly. Two steps later, Anna walked right into a telephone pole and ended up with a walnut-sized lump in the middle of her forehead. Immediately, I felt terrible and went back to holding her hand all the time. It seemed that her limited vision was truly going to limit her.
Fortunately, through a series of coincidences, I found out about the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and a conference being held in just a few weeks. Somehow, my husband agreed to take off work to go to this conference for parents and blind kids--even though he knew that Anna wasn't one.
In May 2005, at that conference in Baltimore, Maryland, everything changed. We met successful blind adults who showed us that blindness was not the tragedy we had been led to believe. We heard that blindness skills could "reduce blindness to the level of a physical nuisance." We learned that our little girl need not be defined by her visual acuity or her visual field. Before the conference, we had believed that the amount of vision Anna had would determine how far she would go in life. Instead, we began to understand that having the skills to do the task at hand, not level of vision, would be the most accurate predictor of future success for our young daughter.
At that 2005 conference, I also came to know the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). In addition to successful blind adults, we had the support of parents from all over the nation! While each family has its own story, we remain together on the same page of believing that our children can be as successful and as independent as they would be with full sight. With the help of successful blind adults, our children ARE reducing blindness to the level of a physical nuisance and tearing down the artificial vision-focused barriers erected by others.
Now, as NOPBC president, I have the great honor and pleasure of welcoming you to our NO LIMITS conference. NO LIMITS means sharing information, ideas, and dreams. NO LIMITS means mastering the skills needed for independence and self-determination. NO LIMITS means the amount of eyesight our children have will not be the determining factor in how far they go in life. NO LIMITS!
The 30th annual NOPBC Conference: NO LIMITS will take place from Monday, July 1 to Saturday, July 6, 2013, at the National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Orlando, Florida, at the Rosen Centre Hotel. We look forward to seeing you at our full-day seminar on Monday and at our many activities, listed below, which continue all week. Preregister (forms below) or register on-site in Orlando. Hope to see you there!
MONDAY, JULY 1
Full-Day Seminar for Parents & Teachers
7:30 - 8:45 a.m.—REGISTRATION
9:00 - 10:45 a.m.—GENERAL SESSION
Welcome—Carlton Walker, President, NOPBC
Kid Talk with Dr. Marc Maurer—Kids get a chance to speak to the president of the National Federation of the Blind about anything on their minds
No Limits!—Anil Lewis, Director of Advocacy and Policy, National Federation of the Blind
Braille Readers Are Leaders Recognition
Life without Limits—Dr. Jessica Ewell, Opera Singer; Lindsay Yazzolino, MIT Cognitive Neuroscience Researcher
No Limits for These Kids!—The Students Speak
11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.—NOPBC CHILDREN’S ACTIVITY (ages 5-12, in NFB Child Care)
Music and Movement with Conchita Hernandez, Special Educator
NOTE: NOPBC children’s activities will take place in NFB Child Care throughout the week. Be sure to register your child with child care! (NFB Child Care has separate registration and fees—see article elsewhere in this issue.)
11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.—NFB YOUTH TRACK SESSION (ages 11-18)
Sponsored by NFB Jernigan Institute.
11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.—NOPBC CONCURRENT SESSIONS—PARENTS & TEACHERS
Access Tech: Apple Products
Come see how the accessibility of iPhone, iPad, iPod products, accessories, and apps could work for your child/student. Instructor: Dan Wenzel, Manager, Youth Services, Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM). NOTE: This workshop repeats at 2 p.m.
Early Childhood Language and Play
Learn how to create a stimulating environment for the development of language and play in the young blind/visually impaired child. Instructor: Heather Field, Special Educator.
The Inclusive Classroom
How to set up the classroom and what the classroom teacher needs to know for the student’s full participation throughout the day. Instructors: Denise Mackenstadt, NOMC; Kristen Sims, Teacher of Blind Students.
Making and Understanding Raised Line Drawings
Participants will use Raised-Line Drawing (RLD) boards to create, erase, and revise images through free-hand sketching and more formal manual drawing methods needed for STEM curriculum content. Staff will share tips for improving student ability to read RLDs by touch and understand their content. Instructors: E.A.S.Y. LLC Staff.
Social Skills for the Teen Years
Looking good, making friends, dating, and other concerns of the teen years. Instructors: Deja Powell, Cane Travel Instructor, Fashionista; Garrick Scott, President, NFB of GA, Youth Mentor.
12:15 - 2:00 p.m.— LUNCH on your own.
Pick up children ASAP from NFB Child Care at 12:15.
1:30 – 4:30 p.m.—NFB YOUTH TRACK SESSIONS (ages 11-18)
2:00 p.m.—NOPBC CHILDREN’S ACTIVITY (ages 5-12, in NFB Child Care)
Hands-On Art with Ann Cunningham, Tactile Artist
NOTE: NOPBC children’s activities take place in NFB Child Care throughout the week. Be sure to register your child with child care! (Separate registration & fees)
2:00 - 3:15 p.m.—NOPBC CONCURRENT SESSIONS—PARENTS & TEACHERS
Access Tech: Apple Products
Come see how the accessibility of iPhone, iPad, iPod products, accessories, and apps could work for your child/student. Instructor: Dan Wenzel, Manager, Youth Services, Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM). (Repeat of morning session.)
What tools and materials are available for my child to use for access to a full education? Where can my school get them? Instructor: Eric Guillory, Director of Youth Services, LA Center for the Blind.
Movement & Exploration for the Young Blind Child
How can you get your child moving and exploring the world? What if your child has delays? Would a cane be good for your child? The session will be appropriate for families with children with or without additional disabilities. Instructor: Mary Jo Hartle, NOMC, Teacher of Blind Students.
Aiming for Independence
Independent living skills for home, school, and community. Instructor: Melissa Riccobono, President, NFB of MD, School Counselor.
The ABCs of Braille
A hands-on workshop for adults that will teach the beginning of Braille reading and writing. Instructor: TBA.
3:30 - 4:45 p.m.—NOPBC CONCURRENT SESSIONS—PARENTS & TEACHERS
Technology: Where Do I Start?
This session will explore the basics of access technology for blind/VI children. Instructor: Jack Mendez, Director of Technology, LA Center for the Blind.
Social Skills for the Younger Years: Interaction and Play
How parents and teachers can facilitate the development of age-appropriate social skills in the younger blind/VI child. Instructor: TBA.
Out & About: Independent Mobility for Your School-Aged Child
High expectations, real-life goals, and how to achieve them in the area of independent travel. Instructor: Denise Mackenstadt, NOMC.
Self-Advocacy: A Critical Life Skill
We want our children to be able to take charge of their own lives as adults. This workshop will explore the importance of self-advocacy and provide suggestions for teaching children to effectively speak up for themselves. Instructor: Arielle Silverman, Doctoral Student, University of CO.
Persuade, Negotiate, Collaborate
Choosing your battles and resolving conflict at IEP meetings so that your child can benefit and make the most progress. Instructor: Sharon Maneki, NFB of MD, Advocate.
7:00 - 9:00 p.m.—NOPBC FAMILY HOSPITALITY
Relax, chat, meet new families, and connect with old friends. “Veteran” parents will be on hand to welcome you and provide information.
TUESDAY, JULY 2
No NFB Child Care on this day
7:00 – 8:45 a.m.—NOPBC Board Meeting
8:45 - 10:30 a.m.—CANE WALK Session I
11:00 a.m. - 12:45 p.m.—CANE WALK Session II
Learn and experience the Discovery Method of travel at these special workshops. Parents, teachers, blind children, siblings welcome. Instructors: Jeff Altman, NOMC, and cane travel instructors.
2:45 – 4:00 p.m.—NOPBC YOUTH STYLE SHOW
This is an opportunity for your aspiring model to take a walk down the runway in a favorite outfit from his or her closet. Contact Kim Cunningham at 713-501-9659 or email@example.com to sign up and for further information.
4:00 – 5:00 p.m.—NFB YOUTH TRACK SESSION (ages 11-18)
WEDNESDAY, JULY 3
10:00 a.m.—NOPBC CHILDREN’S ACTIVITY (ages 6-12, in NFB Child Care)
Astronaut Activities with Noreen Grice, Accessible Astronomy Educator
11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.—NFB YOUTH TRACK SESSION (ages 11-18)
12:45 p.m.—You may drop off your child early at child care on this afternoon so that you can attend the NOPBC Annual Meeting.
NOPBC CHILDREN’S ACTIVITY (ages 5-12, in NFB Child Care)
Beep Kickball with Judy Byrd, Beep Kickball Association
1:00 - 4:00 p.m.—NOPBC ANNUAL MEETING: OPTIONS & OPPORTUNITIES
Keynote address by the 2013 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children award winner, special guest speakers, news from NASA, cutting-edge information on products and services, summer programs for our kids, Parent Power, business meeting, elections, and much more!
5:00 - 7:00 p.m.—BRAILLE BOOK FAIR
A book lover's dream! Browse tables of new and used Braille and print/Braille books. Volunteers will box your books and the post office will deliver them to your home as Free Matter. Books are free; donations are encouraged to help support our Braille programs. Cosponsored by NOPBC & NAPUB. Coordinator: Krystal Guillory, Teacher of Blind Students, NFBL BELL Coordinator.
7:00 - 9:00 p.m.—NFB YOUTH TRACK ACTIVITY (ages 11-18)
7:30 - 9:00 p.m.—DADS’ NIGHT OUT
All dads, sighted and blind, are welcome. Call Jim Beyer at (406) 239-2057 for location.
9:00 - 10:00 p.m.—CONVENTION 101
Facilitated convention experience for tweens & teens. Facilitator: Carlton Walker, President, NOPBC.
THURSDAY, JULY 4
7:00 - 9:00 a.m.—NOPBC BOARD MEETING
8:45 – 9:20 a.m.—CONVENTION 101
Facilitated convention experience for tweens & teens. Facilitator: Carlton Walker, President, NOPBC.
10:00 a.m.—NOPBC CHILDREN’S ACTIVITY (ages 6-12, in NFB Child Care)
Making Raised-Line Drawings with Staff of E.A.S.Y. LLC
12:15 - 1:15 p.m.—CONVENTION 101
2:00 p.m.—NOPBC CHILDREN’S ACTIVITY (ages 5-12, in NFB Child Care)
NASA at Your Fingertips with David Hurd, NASA Scientist
5:10 - 5:35 p.m.—CONVENTION 101
7:00 - 10:00 p.m.—NOPBC CHILDREN’S ACTIVITY (ages 5-12) Crafts & Games—For children whose parents are attending NOPBC evening workshops.
7:00 - 9:45 p.m.—NOPBC CONCURRENT SESSIONS—PARENTS & TEACHERS
7:00 - 8:15 p.m.
Homeschooling a Blind/Visually Impaired Child
Come network with other homeschoolers to share information and tips and discuss the challenges and satisfactions of homeschooling. Instructor: Heather Field, Special Educator.
7:00 - 8:15 p.m.
IEP Basics for Parents of Blind/VI Students
The sections of the IEP, essential assessments, how assessment information is used, how to be an active and effective participant. Instructor: Carlton Walker, Attorney, Teacher of Blind Students.
8:30 - 9:45 p.m.
IEP Development and Legal Process Overview
Dos & Don’ts for the IEP meeting; preparing for possible mediation, due process, appeal, etc.; overview of the legal process; how to prepare for a due process hearing so you don’t have to have one! Instructor: Carlton Walker, Attorney, Teacher of Blind Students.
NFB YOUTH TRACK ACTIVITY (ages 11-18)—Time TBA
FRIDAY, JULY 5
8:15 – 8:50 a.m.—CONVENTION 101
Facilitated convention experience for tweens & teens. Facilitator: Carlton Walker, President, NOPBC.
12:15 - 1:15 p.m.—CONVENTION 101
5:10 – 5:35 p.m.—CONVENTION 101
SATURDAY, JULY 6
8:15 – 8:50 a.m.—CONVENTION 101
Facilitated convention experience for tweens & teens. Facilitator: Carlton Walker, President, NOPBC.
12:15 - 1:15 p.m.—CONVENTION 101
5:10 – 5:35 p.m.—CONVENTION 101
National convention is a complicated week of events. Here are a few tips to help you stay organized and take advantage of the many opportunities that will be available.
Activities for Children & Youth; Child Care Information:
Seminar Day Information
Other Activities Going on All Week Long
In addition to the special NOPBC activities for parents, children, and youth listed in this document, other activities that you and your child may be interested in attending will be going on all week. Often many activities are going on at the same time and you and your child will have to make choices! Here is a sampling:
NOPBC Family Outing to Gatorland
Gatorland has made it possible for NOPBC families to visit the park on Sunday, June 30 at a discounted rate. Please note, this is the day BEFORE our full-day seminar. We will meet in the lobby of the Rosen Centre Hotel at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday and then carpool or cab-pool to Gatorland, which is a short distance from the hotel. We can then enjoy the park from 1:30 to 5:00 or 6:00 p.m., depending on their closing time that day.
Cost of the discounted tickets will be $17.49 for adults and $10.75 for children 3-12 years. Children under 3 are free. Visit the Gatorland website at <www.gatorland.com/index.shtml> to see all the fun-filled activities they offer.
Make check payable to NOPBC and mail with forms to:
Pat Renfranz, NOPBC Treasurer
397 Middle Oak Lane, Salt Lake City, UT 84108
Save money by preregistering! Preregistration must be postmarked by June 15.
After June 15, please register on-site in Orlando.
By June 15
On-site in Orlando
Child/Youth (up to 18 years)
Adult Name ____________________________________________________
[ ] parent [ ] professional [ ] other____________________
Adult Name ____________________________________________________
[ ] parent [ ] professional [ ] other____________________
Please list additional adults on a separate sheet.
Address ______________________________ City _____________________
State _______ Zip _____________ Phone ___________________
Email _______________________________ Alt. phone ________________
Child/Youth 1—Name (first and last), age, brief description of vision and any additional disabilities: _____________________________________________
Child/Youth 2: ___________________________________________________
Please list additional children/youth on a separate sheet.
How many? Prereg. by June 15 On-site reg.
Adults _____ @ $30 = $______ or @ $35 = $______
Child/Youth _____ FREE FREE = $__00__
Total enclosed: $_________
___ I receive Future Reflections.
___ I am a member of my state NFB/POBC.
___ This is my first national convention.
___ If not the first, how many have you attended?
PLEASE NOTE: Preregistrations postmarked after June 15 will be returned.
Also, remember that registrations for the NOPBC Conference and NFB child care are separate and must be mailed to different places.
SUNDAY, JUNE 30 (Day before conference begins)
1:00 p.m.—Trip to Gatorland (Please list how many will attend)
_____ Adults _____ Children 4-12 years _____ Children 3 & under
($17.49) ($10.75) (Free)
(Payment is due the day of the trip.)
MONDAY, JULY 1
11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. (Please mark how many will attend each session)
_____ Access Tech: Apple Products
_____ Early Childhood
_____ Inclusive Classroom
_____ Raised Line Drawings
_____ Social Skills—Teens
2:00 - 3:15 p.m. (Please mark how many will attend each session)
_____ Access Tech: Apple Products
_____ What’s Available?
_____ Movement & Exploration for the Young Blind Child
_____ Aiming for Independence
_____ ABCs of Braille
3:30 - 4:45 p.m. (Please mark how many will attend each session)
_____ Technology: Where Do I Start?
_____ Social Skills—Younger Children
_____ Out & About: Independent Mobility for Your School-aged Child
_____ Persuade, Negotiate, Collaborate
CHILDREN—You must register your child for NFB child care for the day for child to participate. Child care has separate registration and fees. (See article elsewhere in this issue.)
Please mark how many children will attend each session
_____ 11 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.: Music & Movement (ages 5 – 12)
Name _____________________ Age_______
_____ 2:00 - 5:00 p.m.: Hands-On Art (ages 5 – 12)
Name _____________________ Age_______
TUESDAY, JULY 2
8:45 - 10:30 a.m.: Cane Walk Session I
_____ Adults _____ Children _____ Youth
_________ Ages _________ Ages
11:00 a.m. - 12:45 p.m.: Cane Walk Session II
_____ Adults _____ Children _____ Youth
_________ Ages _________ Ages
2:45 – 4:00 p.m.—Youth Style Show
Name _____________________ Age_______
WEDNESDAY, JULY 3
CHILDREN—You must register your child for NFB Child Care for the day for child to participate (separate registration and fees)
Please mark how many children will attend each session
_____ 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.—Astronaut Activities (ages 6-12;
mature 5-year-olds may attend)
Name _____________________ Age_______
_____ 2:00 - 4:00 p.m.—Beep Kickball (ages 5-12)
Name _____________________ Age_______
THURSDAY, JULY 4
CHILDREN—You must register your child for NFB Child Care for the day for child to participate (separate registration and fees)
Please mark how many will attend each session
_____ 10:00 - 11:30 a.m.—Making Raised-Line Drawings (ages 6-12)
Name _____________________ Age_______
_____ 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.—Space Exploration (ages 5-12)
Name _____________________ Age_______
7:00 - 8:15 p.m. (Please mark how many will attend each session)
_____ IEP Basics for Parents of Blind/VI Students
8:30 - 9:45 p.m. (Please mark how many will attend)
_____ IEP Development and Legal Process Overview
CHILDREN (ages 5-12 years)
Please Note: Sign your child up for this activity only if you will be attending NOPBC workshops on Thursday evening.
_____7 - 10 p.m. Crafts & Games (Please mark how many will attend)
Name _____________________ Age_______
Gatorland trip is Sun., June 30. Teen Room & Tween Room schedules to come.
Monday, July 1
9:00 - 10:45 a.m. No Limits Seminar (Adults, Children, Youth)
11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. NOPBC Children’s Activity in Child Care
11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. Youth Track
11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. NOPBC Concurrent Workshop Sessions
1:30 - 4:30 p.m. Youth Track
2:00 p.m. NOPBC Children’s Activity in Child Care
2:00 - 3:15 p.m. NOPBC Concurrent Workshop Sessions
3:30 - 4:45 p.m. NOPBC Concurrent Workshop Sessions
7:00 - 9:00 p.m. Family Hospitality
Tuesday, July 2
7:00 – 8:45 a.m. NOPBC Board Meeting
8:45 - 10:30 a.m. Cane Walk Session I (Adults, Children, Youth)
11:00 a.m. - 12:45 p.m. Cane Walk Session II (Adults, Children, Youth)
2:45 – 4:00 p.m. Youth Style Show
4:00 - 5:00 p.m. Youth Track
Wednesday, July 3
9:00 a.m. NOPBC Children’s Activity in Child Care
11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Youth Track
1:00 - 4:00 p.m. NOPBC Annual Meeting—Drop kids in child care early
2:00 p.m. NOPBC Children’s Activity in Child Care
5:00 - 7:00 p.m. Braille Book Fair
7:00 - 9:00 p.m. Youth Track
7:30 - 9:00 p.m. Dad’s Night Out
9:00 – 10:00 p.m. Convention 101
Thursday, July 4
7:00 – 9:00 a.m. NOPBC Board Meeting
8:45 – 9:20 a.m. Convention 101 meets
10:00 a.m. NOPBC Children’s Activity in Child Care
12:15 – 1:15 p.m. Convention 101 meets
2:00 p.m. NOPBC Children’s Activity in Child Care
5:10 – 5:35 p.m. Convention 101 meets
7:00 - 9:45 p.m. NOPBC Concurrent Workshops
7:00 - 10:00 p.m. Children’s Activity for children whose parents are in the NOPBC workshops
Time TBA Youth Track
Friday, July 5 and Saturday, July 6
8:15 – 8:50 a.m. Convention 101 meets
12:15 – 1:15 p.m. Convention 101 meets
5:10 – 5:35 p.m. Convention 101 meets
by Joanne Wilson
From the Editor: The many innovative programs of the National Federation of the Blind cost money, and fundraising is one of our ongoing concerns. Late in March Joanne Wilson, director of President Maurer's Office of Affiliate Development, sent the following letter to the presidents of our fifty-two NFB affiliates, introducing an exciting new fundraising initiative. We take this opportunity to share her letter with the readers of Future Reflections in the hope that you will help us spread the word.
Dear NFB Affiliate Presidents,
The National Federation of the Blind always steps up to get the job done. Many affiliates are actively working to assist in finding new financial support for our national movement, and we have just launched a new program that should allow each of our affiliates to make a difference. The National Federation of the Blind has launched a vehicle donation program.
The vehicle donation program allows us to accept car donations anywhere in the United States. Our national office and our affiliates have been turning car donations away because we have not had an effective program for managing them and turning them into cash for the organization. We have now solved this problem, and we need your help to take advantage of this opportunity.
After extensive research, the Federation has made an agreement with Vehicles for Charity to process our car donations. Besides cars, we also accept vans, RVs, motorcycles, dirt bikes, boats, trucks, and tractors. However, it is up to us to capture the donors by promoting the fact that we can accept vehicle donations and finding creative ways to get the word out.
To begin, I am asking you to take some immediate steps to help with this effort:
As we move into spring, we will be building this program out in more detail and providing more supporting materials. If you assign a member of your affiliate to help promote this program, please send their name and contact information to me so we can send them communications. We will be planning a conference call soon to answer questions that people might have about the program and share ideas for spreading the word.
We are starting with the tried and true Federation local outreach to get the word out. As we build success with this venture, we will have the capacity to consider other forms of promotion such as advertising. Consider this notion. If fifty-one of our affiliates (unfortunately we cannot operate the program in Puerto Rico) generate ten referrals each, with an average donation value of $500, we are talking about better than $250,000. That is easily within our capacity in 2013. Maryland has already generated one referral this week and all we did was answer the phone and have the ability to say, "Yes, we can take your donation," rather than turning it away. Imagine what we can do with some Federation creativity and enthusiasm! If each of our affiliates generates one hundred car donations per year, we will have a tremendous base to build on.
Let's start calling in the cars!
Yours in the Federation,
Director, Affiliate Development Office of the President
National Federation of the Blind
200 E. Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, MD 21230
Phone: (410) 659-9314, Ext. 2335
Location: Towson University, just north of Baltimore, MD
July 29-August 3, 2013
Application Deadline: May 15, 2013
Designed for students in grades eight through twelve, NFB STEM-X is the latest program sponsored by the National Center for Blind Youth in Science (NCBYS). This inquiry-based science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) program will provide participants with learning opportunities in fields from engineering and robotics to the science of cooking.
Legally blind students and sighted students with a legally blind parent are eligible to apply for the 2013 Antonia M. Derks Scholarship of $2,000 and the Kelsey Campbell Memorial Scholarship of $1,000. Applicants must be high school seniors who will enter college in the fall of 2013. In addition to the application form, applicants are asked to submit a personal essay and one letter of recommendation.
Internship on Disability Rights
Laszlo Strategies, LLC
2020 K St., NW, 7th Floor
Washington, DC 20006
Contact: Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, (202) 365-0787
Laszlo Strategies is proud to announce internship opportunities in Washington for outstanding future leaders. Interns must be at least juniors in college and must be willing to work for eight weeks. They will work on the following projects: building a grassroots network and political infrastructure so that US presidents will make opportunities for people with disabilities a significant part of their campaign platform and presidency; encouraging religious institutions to become inclusive toward people with disabilities; supporting policies and practices that will enhance employment prospects for people with disabilities. Laszlo Strategies is a strategic communications firm that specializes in helping nonprofit groups that champion the causes of medical science and people with disabilities.
Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation
National Braille Press
88 St. Stephen St.
Boston, MA 02115
The Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation was developed to inspire an innovator to continue the promotion of Braille literacy for blind and deaf-blind people worldwide. Twenty thousand dollars will be granted for a new educational method, a new tactile literacy product, or a new technological advance in tactile literacy. The prize has attracted innovators from all over the world in the fields of education, technology, engineering, tactile graphics, and general literacy. More information about the 2013 prize will soon be available on the NBP website.
Typhlo & Tactus Tactile Book Contest
American Printing House for the Blind
1839 Frankfort Ave.
Louisville, KY 40206-3152
Contact: Roberta Williams, firstname.lastname@example.org
Deadline for Entries: July 15, 2013
Typhlo & Tactus (T&T) is an organization dedicated to improving the quality and quantity of books with tactile illustrations available to children with visual impairments. T&T conducts a biennial international tactile book competition. The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) is the national contact organization in the US. APH publicizes the competition, directs participants to guidelines, and accepts and judges U.S. entries. APH will select the top five U.S. entries for submission to the international competition.
Wonderbaby.org, a website dedicated to helping parents of young children with visual impairments, including those with multiple disabilities, is among this year's winners of the Parents' Choice Seal of Approval in the website category. Parents' Choice Foundation is a nonprofit guide to quality children's media and toys. Its annual awards recognize excellence in media categories such as books, software, mobile apps, and websites. Wonderbaby.org is a website created by Amber Bobnar, the mother of a blind son, and it is now linked to the online resources provided by the Perkins School for the Blind. The site offers information on a wide range of topics, including mobility, language, and play.
Braille Summit 2013
Contact: Judith Dixon, email@example.com
Location: Crown Plaza Boston-Newton, Newton, MA
June 19-21, 2013
The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) invites you to participate in the NLS Braille Summit 2013 to help determine the best ways for libraries to support Braille literacy. The conference will bring together librarians, Braille literacy professionals, Braille readers, and other stakeholders. The conference will allow participants to gather lessons learned from across the US and around the world; assess the present state of Braille literacy, technology, and access; and make recommendations that will shape Braille programs and priorities for the future of the network of NLS cooperating libraries.
Students Who Are Wired Differently National Conference
Sponsored by Developmental Resources
P.O. Box 615, Chapin, SC 29036
Conference Location: Marriott Marquis Hotel, Atlanta, GA
Preconference: June 19, 2013
Conference: June 20-22, 2013
This conference, directed to the needs of classroom teachers, special education teachers, therapists, and other professionals, offers tools, strategies, and other recommendations for working with students who experience a wide array of diagnostic conditions including autism, Asperger's syndrome, and ADHD. Sessions focus on ways to tap the potential of these students and bring out their best in the school setting.
2013 Summer Institute on Theology and Disability
Contact: Bill Gaventa, (732) 235-9304
Location: University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada
July 15-19, 2013
The theme of this summer institute is "In God There Is Diversity, But No Division: Building Interfaith Dialog and Collaboration through Theology and Disability." With the diverse city of Toronto as a backdrop, the focus will be on exploring disability and theology from a variety of religious perspectives and traditions. The website includes MP3 audio files and videos from past summer institutes.
Louisiana Parents of Blind Children is forming a statewide network for sharing information, resources, and support, and needs your help! If you're the parent of a blind/VI child and you live in Louisiana, please join the team. Call or email your contact information to the address above. LPOBC is building an all-new distribution list, so please send your contact information, even if you have done so previously. And spread the word to families, friends, and colleagues. By working together, parents in the LOPBC are changing what it means to be blind in Louisiana!
Braille Book Fair 2013
Attn: Milton Bennett
8901 Atlantic Ave.
Orlando, FL 32824
It's that time again--time to sort through all those boxes and donate your gently used but no longer needed Braille books to the 2013 Braille Book Fair sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. The primary goal is to get more books into the hands of children, youth, and beginning adult Braille readers. Children are so hungry for their very own books that, every year, most books for young children are gone in less than an hour. In greatest demand are print/Braille storybooks, leisure reading (fiction and nonfiction), cookbooks, and books about sports. Send your donations to the address above so eager readers will be able to select them at this summer's convention. If you have any questions, contact Book Fair coordinator Krystal Guillory at (318) 245-8955 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Calls for Books and Materials
ISHI seeks Braille materials, canes, books on CD, tapes, digital recorders, rechargeable batteries, tactile board games, and other supplies for eighty-five children at the Kabala School for the Blind in Sierra Leone. The children, most of whom have been abandoned by their families, range in age from three to twenty.
Program in South Africa
Kimberly Lewis is a Peace Corps volunteer working in rural South Africa. A blind man in her village is teaching Braille and other skills to groups of blind students ranging from teens to senior citizens. Supplies are scarce, and they would appreciate donations of books, playing cards, slates and styluses, etc.
National Library Service Survey
The Library of Congress National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) is conducting a survey to understand how to better serve the needs of readers of Braille and Talking Books. It is not necessary to be a current NLS reader to take the survey. The survey will be used to improve service to current readers and to find out what services readers of Braille and Talking Books are looking for. You can take the survey online or via phone.
Research Study about Tactile Graphics
University of Arizona
Department of Disability and Psychoeducational Studies
PO Box 210069, Tucson, AZ 85721
Contact: Dr. L. Penny Rosenblum, (520) 621-1223
Dr. Penny Rosenblum of the University of Arizona has been conducting research about how individuals prepare math materials for Braille readers. In a follow-up study, she wants to learn what youth with visual impairments have to say about tactile graphics. To take part, a child must be in grades 6-12 and be within two grade levels in math, must be a proficient Braille reader, must have experience with tactile graphics, and must be articulate and comfortable sharing information with adults.
Arielle Silverman, a doctoral candidate in psychology at the University of Colorado, is conducting an online study on the experiences of blind and visually impaired adults as they prepare to find employment. The study seeks legally blind adults over age eighteen who live in the US and are seeking employment, as well as high school and college seniors and graduate students who will graduate in 2013. The study consists of three phases, and participants will receive a $10 gift certificate on the completion of each phase.
A Different Vision 2013
Plymouth Guild for the Arts
11 North St.
Plymouth, MA 02361
May 12-June 1, 2013
A Different Vision is a tactile arts show presented by the Plymouth Guild for the Arts. The exhibition will feature art that can be touched, including works by both blind and sighted artists. This is a show for everyone.
Special Education Law
Pop-Up IEP for Blindness or Visual Impairment
Created with input from the NOPBC, this site lists problematic statements that parents sometimes hear from school staff at IEP meetings and offers suggestions for respectful but effective responses. Statements include, "We think the cane can pose a hazard to other students," "Of course your child will need a personal aide; we can't expect our teachers to do all that extra work," and "We are concerned about your child's safety; we can't let him/her be involved in that activity because we don't want him/her to get hurt." Each suggested response includes a link to relevant passages in the law.
Although not specifically tailored to the needs of blind/visually impaired students, this website presents a compendium of information on special education law and the IEP process. Learn about books and courses that can help you become a better advocate. Review existing laws, browse a library of caselaw documents, search the archives of Wrightslaw newsletters, and comb through additional resources.
DREDF has been a champion of disability rights since 1979, and its website has extensive information about the rights of children with disabilities under IDEA and other laws. DREDF offers training on IDEA for parents and professionals.
Protected Tomorrows is a national advocacy firm that enhances the lives of people with severe disabilities through a comprehensive life-planning process. With the motto "Prepare, Protect, Provide," Protected Tomorrows helps families explore options in order to provide financial security and as much autonomy as possible for members with autism, mental illness, and developmental disabilities.
Toys and Games
Tapir Preservation Fund Gift Store
PO Box 118
Astoria, OR 97103
Want to teach your daughter the difference between a horse and a donkey? Would your son like to know what a gorilla looks like? This online gift store, which raises funds to protect endangered tapirs around the world, sells models of hundreds of animals, from dogs and cats to aardvarks and linsangs--and tapirs, of course. Detailed plastic models range in size from two to eight inches. Plush toys are also available. Your child can build a personal menagerie. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
Time In Dolls
The Time In Doll is an educational toy that teaches children the concept of time and patience in a fun, natural way and is an effective tool to allow parents to get a few minutes of personal time. Bonus features on the doll teach kids to tie laces, button buttons, snap snaps, and fasten Velcro. Time is often associated with time-outs in kids' minds. With the Time In Doll, parents can set a timer for five minutes and promise to give the child full attention when it rings. The built-in timer can go up to fifteen minutes.
7-128 Software announces the publication of its 2013 list of the top twenty-five websites for gamers who are blind. Games are ranked on the basis of availability, price, help provided, and reviews.
The Encyclopedia of Sports and Recreation for Persons with Visual Impairments
by Andrew Leibs
Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing
This book profiles more than one hundred blind athletes and describes hundreds of accessible programs and products. As one reviewer notes, it includes "every accessible sport known to man."
ReadBooks is a national children's Braille literacy program that encourages families with blind children to read books together. National Braille Press distributes attractive Braille bookbags to families with visually impaired children, ages birth to seven, in the U.S. and Canada. The distribution is a collaborative process with educators and early intervention professionals. Each bookbag contains an age-appropriate print/Braille book, a Braille primer for sighted parents, a print/Braille alphabet card, and much more.
A website "for people who love stories and storytelling," Storybud has text, audio, and combined text and audio versions of stories, all available for free. Text size and color can be adjusted.
When kids learn about threats to our environment, they want to know what they can do to make a difference. Here's an easy way to make a positive difference by keeping plastic out of our landfills and oceans. ReUsies are a reusable, eco-friendly alternative to disposable snack bags and sandwich bags. The bags are 100 percent cotton, quick-drying, and lined with leak-resistant nylon. They meet the FDA standards for food safety. They also can be used to carry such items as keys, sunglasses, toys, or small electronic devices.
Learn to Letter with Raised Ruling
This paper is marked with raised lines to reinforce writing within the lines for sighted children. It may be useful for blind children who are learning to write print letters and sign their names. Enter the title in the search box to locate this product.