Future Reflections

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

Volume 33 Number 1                                    Winter 2014

Deborah Kent Stein, Editor


Copyright © 2014 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

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Orlando Site of 2014 NFB Convention

The 2014 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 Drive, Orlando, Florida 32819. Make your room reservation as soon as possible with the Rosen Centre staff only. Call (800) 204-7234.

The 2014 room rates are singles, doubles, and twins, $82; and triples and quads, $88. 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 $95-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, 2014. The other 50 percent is not refundable.

Rooms will be available on a first-come, first-served basis until our block is filled or until May 28, whichever comes first. After our block is filled and/or after May 28, the hotel has no obligation to accept any further reservations, but may do so if it has rooms available. 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.

The schedule for the 2014 convention is:

Tuesday, July 1           Seminar Day
Wednesday, July 2      Registration Day
Thursday, July 3          Board Meeting and Division Day
Friday, July 4              Opening Session
Saturday, July 5          Business Session
Sunday, July 6            Banquet Day and Adjournment


Volume 33 Number 1                                    Winter 2014


Reinterpreting and Expanding "The Right to Live in the World"
by Dr. Adrienne Asch


Social Skills for the Younger Years: Interaction and Play
by Conchita Hernandez


Having the Transition Conversation: Setting Goals for the Future
by Lydia Schuck

120 Minutes: How the Federation Helped One Student Bound for College
by Deborah Kendrick


College Board Testing Accommodations: What You Need to Know
by Jill Green

Common Core State Standards-Aligned Testing:
Will Your Child Have Access to Accommodations?
by Valerie Yingling, Megan Sidhu, Esq., and Melissa Riccobono


Life Lessons from a Tree
by Cayte Mendez

An Unusual and Demanding Profession
by Cassandra McNabb-McKinney

Emilie Gossiaux, School of Art Senior Blinded in 2010,Wins National Art Award


Frequent Flyer: Preparing Your Child for Independent Travel with the Airlines
by Faith Rosenshein Young

Self-Advocacy in Spain: Curiosity, Confidence, and Commitment
by Chelsey Duranleau


Producing Tactile Materials: An Update
by Robert Jaquiss


The Horse Sense of Proper Training
by Dr. Matthew Maurer

Of Parallels, Learning, and New Paradigms
by Carlton Anne Cook Walker


Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math to the Extreme
by Natalie Shaheen

Behind the Scenes at Temple Beth El Sisterhood Braille Bindery
an Interview with Barbara Mandelbaum


Summer Programs

Scholarships, Awards, and More


Subscription Information

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.

URL:  <https://nfb.org/future-reflections>

Why Join the NOPBC?

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

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

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

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

What is different about the NOPBC?

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

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

What is the mission of the NOPBC?

The purpose of the NOPBC is to:

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

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

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

•  National and State Parent Seminars and Conferences
•  Future Reflections Magazine
•  NOPBC 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)

Contact Us:
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children


Reinterpreting and Expanding
“The Right to Live in the World”

by Dr. Adrienne Asch

Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 56, Number 8, August/September 2013

From the Editor: On November 19, 2013, the National Federation of the Blind lost a long-time member who passionately upheld our philosophy throughout her life. Dr. Adrienne Asch, who died of cancer at the age of sixty-seven, had a long and distinguished career as a teacher, writer, and bioethicist. At the time of her death she was director of the Center for Ethics and Edward and Robin Milstein Professor of Bioethics at Yeshiva University. In her work and in her life, she strove for full integration and equal opportunities for all persons, especially for people with disabilities. She brought her ideas into discussions with policymakers and with leaders in the fields of medicine and the law, and she spoke without fear to those who strongly opposed her opinions. On the afternoon of July 4, 2013, Dr. Asch shared her thoughts at the first general session of the NFB convention. She reflected upon her work and pointed the way for all of us to carry it forward.

It is a tremendous honor, privilege, and responsibility to be here with you today, following Dr. Maurer's stirring description of all that the NFB has worked for over this past year. Every year I have been so distressed by the problems our members face and so moved by the struggles NFB takes on to change what it means to be blind that I wind up making my way to the back of the room to the PAC and SUN tables to increase my pledges. This year will be no exception, and I'll understand if some of you are doing that now and not necessarily paying undivided attention to what I'm going to be talking about today.

When our founding president, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, wrote his justly famous article, "The Right to Live in the World," he was talking about the right to move about in the world, the right to be employed in that world, the right to have an ordinary place in the common life of the community and nation. But what I'm talking about today is yet one more arena in which individuals within our organization and our organization as a whole may become more involved. As medical science learns about how to extend life after injury and illness or learns how to detect someone's future amount of illness or disability, we will confront ever more moments when assumptions about what blindness means for a person's future, for her or his "quality of life," will be used to decide whether that person should continue to "live in the world."

In the past forty years a host of questions has emerged for individuals, families, medical professionals, and the larger society. Here are some examples.

Real-Life Situations

Parents of premature infants must decide whether or not their infants should enroll in a study to determine the appropriate level of oxygen the infant should receive to try to prevent blindness caused by retinopathy of prematurity. How should the researchers describe the consequences of blindness or vision loss to these parents?

Or, imagine that you, sometime later in your life, having been blind for many years, acquire some other set of disabling conditions as the result of a car accident or a stroke. Should you continue to receive life-sustaining treatment, or should blindness, when combined with the new disabilities, justify having family or doctors provide less treatment or different treatment than would be provided to a person with sight who sustained the same new illness or injury?

Suppose a person who has been deaf his whole life learns that he will become blind within the next few years. He decides to go to Oregon, Washington, or Montana--where it is legal for physicians to aid a person in dying--with the request that physicians give him medications that will end his life so that he doesn't have to live for years as a person who is both deaf and blind.

In another example, prospective parents, eagerly anticipating the birth of their first child, learn through genetic testing that the child-to-be is very likely to have an inherited condition called retinitis pigmentosa. Should the parents continue the pregnancy, knowing their future child will probably become blind, or should they decide to end the pregnancy? What information will help them make a good decision?

As I said, these are questions that have come up over the past several decades. President Maurer discussed some of them during his 2003 banquet speech. Just this past April, Gary Wunder wrote an editorial in Braille Monitor, suggesting that this might become a new arena for NFB discussion and action.

It was during the early 1980s that I first discovered these bioethical questions. I had been investigating discrimination cases for the New York State Division for Human Rights for ten years. I had been a member of the NFB for fourteen years when I went to my first bioethics meeting at the Bar Association of the City of New York. The topic being discussed was whether parents and doctors should be allowed to withhold life-saving treatment from a baby born with spina bifida or Down syndrome. The treatment would lessen, but not cure, the disabilities; without the treatment the baby would probably die. There were four experts speaking: two urging that the baby receive treatment over parental objection; two supporting the right of parents to make what was a life-and-death decision for their newborn child. During the question-and-answer session, I stood up and said something very close to these words: "These talks have been very thoughtful and careful. But none of the speakers here is either a person with a disability or a person who is the family member of someone with a disability. The perspective of people with firsthand knowledge of disability is absent from this conversation. It shouldn't be." I didn't have firsthand knowledge of Down syndrome or spina bifida, but I did have firsthand knowledge of one disability, blindness; and I did have years of political, professional, and NFB experience that insisted that the voices of those affected by decisions had to be present when such decisions are made.

These few sentences, sentences that sound pretty obvious and commonsensical to us, made a frighteningly big impression on many of the people in the room. The next thing I knew, someone came over to me and said, "How do I get in touch with you? I need to invite you to a conference." One of the speakers urged me to contact the Hastings Center, the premiere bioethics thinktank in the country at that time, to join their project on decision-making for "imperiled" newborns. I did join the project and go to the conference. Soon I was going to more and more bioethics conferences. At those conferences I listened to people who considered themselves "experts" say things such as, "If you're paralyzed and can't run through the woods, it's worse for you and others than if you can run through the woods." "It is a tragedy to have a disease like muscular dystrophy."

My question, "Have you ever met or spoken to anyone who has muscular dystrophy?"

"No, but I know that it has to be terrible."

"You consider yourself a scholar," I said. "You believe in making arguments with evidence. Where are you getting your evidence about muscular dystrophy?"

A few years later Dan Brock, a philosopher who writes about bioethical issues and whose ideas Dr. Maurer discussed in his 2003 banquet address, wrote the following: "The controversy concerns genetic diseases that result in serious disabilities but that still leave the persons who have them with valuable lives well worth living [Brock, 2005, 70-71]. My concern is with the middle category of genetic diseases and disabilities that most people would consider serious, but neither devastating nor minor. As examples of serious disabilities, I shall use blindness and serious mental impairment or retardation, though recognizing that some would judge blindness to be sufficiently minor to not warrant reproductive testing [71]. For example, if a person has been blind from birth, she may never fully understand the experiences she is missing from not being sighted. Nevertheless, there will be valuable human activities requiring sight that will not be possible for her, or that will be more difficult and less successful without sight, such as visual experiences and the pleasures or work or recreational activities requiring sight, and the potential loss or limitation of those activities in her life may be reason enough to attempt to prevent her disability when that is possible [72]."

Informed Consent

Now here's an interesting thing about the field of bioethics. The first philosophers, lawyers, doctors, and clergy who got involved in bioethics wanted to foster the rights of patients going through the medical system and dealing with the often patronizing attitudes of doctors. Very similar to our views in the NFB, bioethicists espouse views such as "patient choice" and "self-determination" and "autonomy." They argue that no medical procedures should be done without receiving "informed consent" from a patient. So here's a little story about the collision of NFB philosophy and bioethics when it comes to informed consent.

In 1993 I was attending a bioethics conference known as Bioethics Summercamp. At this four-day conference, 120 bioethicists got together for discussions of emerging issues; leisurely meals; drinks by the pool; conversation; hiking; and, in this instance, whitewater rafting. About eighty of us signed up to go whitewater rafting. Now I want you to picture this scene: eighty men and women between the ages of mid-thirties to seventies. Philosophy professors aren't known for their athletic prowess. Most of us had never done whitewater rafting; most of us were both curious and a little nervous about what awaited us. How rough were the rapids? What were the chances of falling out of the raft? Would the raft topple everyone? Riding over to the rafting, we all read and signed the informed consent forms, assuring the rafting company that we knew rafting had its dangers, that we knew we might sustain injury in an accident, that we knew water was wet, and that rafts might capsize. I read and signed the same informed consent as all my bioethics colleagues, and all of us carefully read over and criticized every word in and all the words out of the informed consent document. We discussed how we, as experts, would rewrite it.

And then we got to the rafts and the professionals from the company who were going in every raft with the six aging professors. A doctor--a psychiatrist--took it upon himself to speak to the person leading our raft to call attention to the fact that I am blind, a fact that should have been obvious from the presence of my cane.

"You can't paddle the raft," he said to me. "You have to sit in the middle."

I ignored these admonitions as much as I could, doing some paddling, but all I got for it was the displeasure of my colleagues. They accused me of going in the raft to prove a point, not because I was interested in having a new experience.

The next year we had another whitewater rafting session, and a colleague rushed over to me upon seeing me arrive to say, "Adrienne, you can't go in the raft! Alta fell in yesterday."

My reply, "Are you telling everyone else not to go in the raft?"

So much for autonomy, self-determination, informed consent, and the acceptability of taking risks! In all too much of the bioethics establishment, they know better than we do about how bad our lives are and how much we don't understand the ordinary hazards of life--whether it's cooking on a stove, crossing the street, or riding in a raft.

What We Must Do

So we have a lot of work to do, and here's some of what I think NFB members, who are experts in what it means to live as a blind person, can do to educate the world of bioethics about blindness.

There are medical schools throughout the country, one in nearly every state. NFB members could reach out to medical schools and offer to speak with medical students, residents, and doctors--not just in ophthalmology but in any field--about what it means and doesn't mean to be blind.

Every hospital has some kind of ethics committee, where difficult cases get discussed. These ethics committees need community members, people who are not medical professionals but who bring dedication and commitment to getting the views of the public into ethical deliberations. People who are blind or who have other disabilities have often been excluded from these deliberations; they have not been considered part of "the public." But of course, we are, and our voices need to be heard.

Similarly, a great array of genetic conditions can now be detected in embryos and fetuses. When people who are thinking of becoming parents learn that a potential child might have a genetic condition that would result in blindness, these people deserve to get information, not only about the medical facts of retinitis pigmentosa, Leber's congenital amaurosis, retinoblastoma, or some other condition. They need to know how children, adults, and their families live their lives on a daily basis. What are the resources available to children and their families? Can parents expect that their potentially blind child will have a life that will include school, friends, love, work, and life as a parent? For just the same reasons that the Federation works hard with the NOPBC, the Federation and NOPBC need to work so that genetic counselors and doctors can give prospective parents of blind children the opportunity to learn from experts in blindness what might be in store for them and their children.

Let me conclude by challenging us with some questions that are just starting to get bioethical discussion. These are questions that could provide us with plenty of opportunity for reflection and conversation.

Resource allocation in an emergency is a big topic in bioethics these days. Different states, professional societies, and the federal government are trying to decide who will get ventilators in a serious flu pandemic when there are not enough ventilators for everyone. Various allocation schemes have been discussed: only people above or below a certain age will get them, knowing that the very young and the very old might die without them; only people with dependents will get them, so that children will not lose parents, aging parents will not lose children who are caring for them, people will not lose their spouses; only people with a certain estimated quality of life before and after the ventilator use will get them; and people whose quality of life is considered lower for some reason will not get them. Again, that might be blind people, because blindness is considered a deterrent to a life of quality. Conversely, blind people, as those "worse off" should get ventilators first because they deserve compensation. Do we want to get priority for ventilators by claiming we've been "worse off" all the rest of our lives? Is that a price we want to pay for the privilege of staying alive?

As people who believe it is respectable to be blind, legitimate to be blind, we may believe that blindness should not disqualify people from the right to live in the world. But suppose genes could be modified before birth or visual implants could be given after birth or during a life to preserve or restore sight? Is blindness a characteristic that is incidental or central to anyone's self-definition? How should we help parents contemplating sight-restoration techniques for their children or people contemplating sight-restoration for themselves?

I don't know how we as individuals or we as an organization will choose to answer these questions. I do know that, just as we've worked to change laws and practices in education, rehabilitation, technology, employment, and child custody, we must take our place in the bioethics debates now and in the future. Although some of these questions may challenge us deeply to think about what it means to be blind, we are up to that task. Reread Dr. tenBroek's historic article with these questions in mind. Go back to Dr. Maurer's 2003 banquet speech; reread Gary Wunder's editorial in the April 2013 Braille Monitor. They can guide us as we go into this new intellectual and practical territory. And, as someone who's been doing this work for about thirty years, often feeling as though I'm alone on the barricades, I'd like your company. Thank you.


Brock, D. W. (2003). Preventing Genetically Transmitted Disability While Respecting Persons with Disability. In Quality of Life and Human Difference, edited by David Wasserman, Jerome Bickenbach, and Robert Wachbroit. (New York: Cambridge University Press), 67-100.

Maurer, M. (2003, August/September). The Rest of Reality. Braille Monitor, 46:9, <https://nfb.org/Images/nfb/Publications/bm/bm03/bm0309/bm030906.htm>

tenBroek, J. (1966). The Right to Live in the World: The Disabled in the Law of Torts. Berkeley: California Law Review, 54, <http://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu/ californialawreview/ vol54/iss2/22>

Wunder, Gary. (2013, April). "Blindness and the Value of Life," Braille Monitor, 56:4, <https//nfb.org/images/nfb/Publications/bm/bm13/bm1304/bm130406.htm>

Social Skills for the Younger Years: Interaction and Play

by Conchita Hernandez

From the Editor: Conchita Hernandez is a rehabilitation counselor and teacher of blind children in Nebraska. At NFB national conventions she coordinates the Spanish interpretation at general sessions, and she is famous for her salsa dancing workshops. The following article is based on a presentation Conchita gave at the 2013 NOPBC conference for parents and teachers.

"He's doing really well--for a blind child." Unfortunately, that's a statement parents sometimes hear from professionals in the field of blindness and visual impairment. All of us--parents and teachers--need to get rid of that thinking, the idea that the milestones for a blind child are different from those for a child who is sighted. When we say that something is age appropriate "for a blind child," we're saying that we expect less from that child than we do from a child who can see.

It's true that blind children sometimes fall behind their peers in certain areas, but those developmental lags are not the inevitable results of blindness or visual impairment. There are many ways to ensure that our blind and VI kids stay on track in reaching their developmental milestones; and, if they fall behind, there are strategies that will help them catch up.

One area where our blind kids may tend to lag behind is the vast realm we call social skills. Social skills are all of the subtle and not so subtle skills that help us connect with other people. For children, this means expressing themselves appropriately with parents and other adults. It also means learning to play and to enjoy being with other children. All children have to master these skills, and blind kids are no exception. However, sometimes we have to be creative and persistent to help our blind kids in the process.

Movement Is Key

Adults tend to want to keep blind children sitting down. They're terribly afraid the blind child is going to bump into things or fall down stairs or touch something that might hurt his hands. When the child is safely seated in a chair, the grown-ups around him feel less anxious--nothing to worry about, right? But actually, sitting still is detrimental to the child in many, many ways! Kids move around. That's one of the things they do. As soon as they're able, they're up and running! It's vital for your blind child to move around just as a sighted child does.

The use of a cane at an early age greatly facilitates movement. Professionals used to say, "Don't give a child a cane until she's at least twelve years old and can use it correctly." You would never say, "Don't give your kindergartener pencils and paper. She's too young to write correctly." Children learn to write through lots of practice. We give small children paper and pencils, and we let them scribble. The same applies to exposing a young blind child to the cane. He may start by dragging the cane along the floor, and that's okay. He's getting used to having the cane in his hand, and he's finding out what he can do with it. He's starting to discover some of the things the cane can tell him about his surroundings.

Exploration and Discovery

Let the blind child explore her surroundings. When a sighted child walks into a room, she can look around and see who's there. She can see what toys are in the room and decide what she might like to play with. A blind child doesn't get all that visual information. In an unfamiliar environment, let your child explore and find out what's there and where everything is. Let her use her cane and find things out on her own.

Encourage your child to listen to his surroundings. Ask him what he hears. For example, here at the hotel, if you're in the lobby, your child may hear the doors opening. You might ask, "Do you hear that swishing sound? What do you think that could be?" Get him to think about it. If he says, "That's a door!" ask another question: "Where do you think that door leads?" The more questions he has to think about, the more he'll be engaged in figuring things out on his own.

I have often heard blind adults say, "My parents never let me fall." As parents we're all afraid that our kids are going to have accidents. But all kids fall now and then, whether they're blind or sighted. When a child is learning to use a cane, adults tend to say, "Watch out--there's a chair in the way!" If people constantly tell him about the obstacles in his path, he won't use his cane. If he doesn't use his cane and he trips over something, it's okay. He will learn a lesson from that experience. He'll learn that he fell because he wasn't using his cane. But if you're always there, warning him about what's ahead of him, he'll trust you rather than trusting the cane.

The best thing you can give your child is lots of direct experience. When you talk about something, let her touch it and give her time to explore it thoroughly. Even a model is pretty meaningless until your child has a strong foundation of firsthand experiences as a basis for understanding. The more your child understands about the world, the more easily she will relate to other children and the things they are doing and talking about.

Opportunities to Play

Provide your child with plenty of opportunities to play with peers, both blind and sighted. Often we tend to protect blind children. When they go into a situation where other children are playing, parents tend to hover. Parents want to help out if the child seems to be having difficulty. In reality, the more experiences they get playing with other children, the more blind children will be able to figure things out on their own.

NFB events provide opportunities for a blind child to play with both blind and sighted children. Playdates are also very helpful. You can arrange them with either blind or sighted kids. You may be hesitant when your child is with sighted children because you don't know where the interaction is going to go, but you'd be surprised. Kids will say, "Oh, you can't see? Okay, let's play this ..." Kids may think about blindness for a moment, and then they get an idea and move on. Let the kids figure it out and try not to interject yourself and your worries.

Teach your child to express herself in words. She needs to acquire the skills to explain what she wants. Instead of withdrawing and feeling left out, she can learn to ask, "May I play with the dollhouse, too?" When she knows how to use words effectively, she will be able to ask questions and gain a fuller understanding of everything that is going on around her.

When you and your child are alone, talk with him about his play experiences. Help him think of games he can play with the children he knows. Discuss how he may explain his blindness. Until he can talk comfortably about his vision loss, he won't be able to help others deal with their reactions. If he is confident and expresses himself openly, others will feel more comfortable around him. You can teach your child to say something such as, "I can't see very well, so let me know when you leave and I'll follow you."

It has been found that children who have more conversations with their parents about peer relationships are better liked by other children in their classrooms. They are also rated by teachers as being more socially competent than others. In other words, the more you talk to your child about interactions with other kids, the more his skills will be strengthened.

Be Creative

Sometimes your child may feel excluded from a game or other activity because it appears to be highly visual. Nobody has all the answers, but with a bit of problem solving, a simple solution can often be found. NFB Vice President Fred Schroeder tells a great story about an experience he had when he worked at an elementary school. The kids would play tag on the playground, and the blind students were always the first to get tagged. Fred was about to have a conversation with them and say, "Maybe there are some things that a blind kid just can't do."

Then the next day one of the blind kids came to school with a jar full of pebbles. He said, "Whoever is It has to shake this jar. If they don't shake the jar and they tag somebody, it doesn't count." This child used his creativity and figured out a way he could play the game.

Especially when our children are small, it's up to parents and teachers to do most of the creative problem solving. Instead of assuming that something can't be done by a child who is blind, think of ways to make it possible. The NFB is a fantastic resource. You're probably not the first parent who has struggled with a particular challenge; somebody somewhere has already come up with ideas. Talk to the Federationists in your local chapter or your state affiliate, and post your questions on the Blindkid listserv to get input from other parents.

When you're problem solving, think first about the purpose of the activity. Sometimes adults focus on the idea that an activity is inherently visual and immediately conclude that a blind child can't take part. If you focus on the purpose of the activity, you can get beyond the visual way it is being done. For example, a parent might use gestures to encourage a very young child to sit up. The end result isn't seeing and following gestures; the end result is sitting up. There are nonvisual ways to encourage a child to do that. You can invent games to encourage her to push herself into a sitting position. You can use sound-making toys such as bells to get her to reach and move.

Appropriate Behavior

A blind child needs to learn many nonverbal skills from an early age. When your child is young, you need to begin teaching her body language. A sighted child looks around and sees how people move. He observes the postures they take when they sit and stand. A blind child won't be aware of those things unless you teach him. Show your child how people sit in a chair, how they shake hands, and how they hold their heads. Some blind children may start to bob their heads up and down. They may develop this and other habits because they aren't getting feedback that the behavior looks strange to people. A lot of sighted people might do the same thing if they didn't understand that it looks weird! Give positive feedback when your child is doing well.

I worked with a blind three-year-old who had a head-bobbing habit. I would give him a signal to stop by touching his head. Eventually the behavior disappeared because we gave him other things to do physically. We kept him active. The more he was sitting down, the more he bobbed his head.

Other skills that a blind child must learn are those related to table manners. There are a lot of ways you can teach a blind child to eat neatly with utensils. You can have your child practice with a knife and fork by using Play Doh to represent food. He can dig with a spoon in a pail of sand to practice getting food into a spoon and lifting it up. By exploring his plate with a utensil, he will learn that he doesn't have to touch his food to know where it is. I like to tell a child, "Your knife and fork are like your cane. You're going to use your knife and fork to find out where things are on your plate."

Eye contact is a very important concept for a blind child to master. You may ask yourself, What does eye contact mean to someone who is blind? The blind child must learn that people look at each other when they speak. Sometimes a blind person will turn his head so that his ear faces the person who is talking, or he might raise or lower his head as he listens to express that he's paying attention. It's really important to teach the child to face the speaker so that he will look like everyone else. Head position is also very important.

The Four Cs

When you think about social skills, there are four words to keep in mind, all words that begin with C. The first one is confidence. Let your child know that she can do it, whatever it is, and that you will be there with her.

Another word is cooperation. Encourage your child to do things with others. Model how she can participate and be active.

Stimulate curiosity. Ask your child questions about what he hears and notices. Kids focus on all kinds of things nonvisually. If you stay focused on the visual, you tend to think that the blind child won't know anything about the world. The more you can focus on everything else, the more you can help your child pick up on the information he has access to.

Finally, communication is essential. Encourage your child to communicate verbally, to express wishes and feelings, and to ask questions. Teach her to use body language in ways that are commonly understood by others.

Stay Positive!

When you found out that your child is blind, you probably went through a mourning process. Maybe you thought his blindness was your fault, that you must have done something wrong. Perhaps sometimes you still want to deny his blindness, or perhaps you imagine that it will go away. But your child is relying on you to move forward. The more comfortable you become with your child's blindness, the more confident he will feel.

Children are always listening to what their parents say. If your child hears a sad tone in your voice or overhears you saying things like, "We're having such a hard time with this ..." she will take it in. I don't mean to negate the fact that sometimes things really are hard! But the more you convey a positive sense about your child, including her blindness as one of her many characteristics, the more your child will absorb a healthy attitude.

I would guess that most of you here today have kids with low vision. Only 10 percent of blind people are totally blind. It may be tempting to ask your child, "Can you see this?" or to praise her when she tells you she can see something you are pointing out to her. Please don't fall into this trap! When you ask a child with low vision whether she sees something, she begins to think, If I can see things, I'm doing well and people are happy. If I can't see things, I'm not doing well, and people are disappointed in me. If she can't see the thing you're pointing out, your child may lie about it; she wants you to be pleased with her.


I want to close with a quote from a blind girl who is now in college. "My instructor always encouraged me to ask questions," she said. "It drove me crazy all the time! But the independence I gained helps me in college today."

Teachers play a hugely important role in the teaching of all children, including children who are blind. But parents are the first and most important teachers children have. As parents, you have the opportunity to teach and reinforce attitudes and skills that will equip your child for a lifetime. It may feel like a daunting responsibility, but when you see your child exploring, making friends, and tackling new challenges, you will know that your efforts have been worthwhile.

Having the Transitions Conversation:
Setting Goals for the Future

by Lydia Schuck

From the Editor: Lydia Schuck works as a technical assistance provider for a federally funded project that helps school districts support transition programs for youth with disabilities. She is the mother of a twenty-year-old blind daughter, a past president of the Michigan Parents of Blind Children, and an active member of the Lansing Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. This is the second in a series of five articles that she plans to write for Future Reflections.  The first in the series, "Starting the Transition Conversation," appeared in Future Reflections, Volume 32, Number 3, Summer 2013.

You and your child have probably talked and dreamed together about what he or she wants to be some day. Did she say she wants to drive race cars? Did he tell you he hopes to be a singing sensation? Both of these careers may be possible, but they're not very likely. You may be tempted to say, "You can't really do that." We often let young people who are sighted grow up with their dreams, helping them become more realistic as they mature. Let's do the same for our blind kids!

Opening the Dialog

How can we help all of our children, including those with very significant disabilities, keep their goals maturing as they themselves mature? One way is to have an ongoing conversation about the future. Whenever you find the opportunity, share your own story. Tell your children how you selected your path in life. Give some detail about the parts of your journey that you could control and those that were basically out of your hands.

The other half of the conversation is your child's story. Listen, encourage, and nudge your child gently to think of more and related ideas. Watch movies that may help the family learn about the work experience. One that I recommend is The Pursuit of Happyness, in which the main character has a strong motivation to find work. The movie Temple Grandin tells the true story of a young woman with autism who uses her unique interests to create a career for herself. Some reality shows may be helpful, and YouTube has a wealth of videos that show people doing their jobs.

Transition and the IEP

If your child has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), planning for the transition to adulthood should be a part of his special education services at school. The IEP document for a student age sixteen or older must include "appropriate, measureable postsecondary goals based upon age appropriate transition assessment" (IDEA 2004, 34 CFR 300.320(b)). This section of the IEP includes a record of the student's goals for the future in at least two areas, employment and education. If it is appropriate for your child, there also should be an independent living goal. Many transition professionals also consider a goal in community participation, which includes recreation, leisure activities such as hobbies, and community activities such as using the library or post office.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) also requires the IEP to show evidence that the student underwent at least one transition assessment. The transition assessment is intended to help the student discover his or her strengths, needs, preferences, and interests as he or she transitions to adulthood. Some schools use just one assessment, which is often too general to be very helpful. However, that one assessment is enough to satisfy the IDEA requirement. If no transition assessment is mentioned at the IEP meeting, the document and process are not compliant with the law, and you should inquire about assessment.

What Is an Assessment?

Assessment is a measurement at a point in time, somewhat like a snapshot. It tells a number of things about one moment, so each year a new assessment should be conducted. Conducting an assessment is a bit like measuring a room for a new carpet. You find out the size of the room, which is critical before you buy new carpeting, but the measurements do not tell you whether the old carpet is bad in some way. Similarly, they do not reveal whether the new carpet will be an improvement.

No value judgment is attached to a measurement. It is just what it is. A transition assessment does not assign points or a grade to your child. It is separate from any academic classes your child may take. The assessment is not an evaluation used in making any high stakes decision about promotion, graduation, or admission to college. The purpose of the assessment is to help you, your child, and the school team understand your child's strengths, needs, preferences, and interests. You and your child can use this information as you talk about the future, and it may help your child develop his goals. It may be useful to talk with the teacher to find out if there are other assessments that would add to your child's goal-setting process. The school should use the information to plan, with you and your child, services and activities for the next school year.

Community Activities

Although goals in employment and education, and possibly independent living skills, are the only ones that are required in the IEP, community participation is often considered as well. Services and activities to help the child reach his or her goals are required by law to be documented in the IEP (IDEA 2004, 34 CFR 300.43(a)). These services and activities are often the next steps on the way to reaching specific goals. They may be provided by the school, by an agency such as a state commission for the blind, or by the family. These services and activities are recorded so that all members of the IEP team can see the full scope of your child's plan.

The services and activities section of the IEP document is also a good place to list any activities with the National Federation of the Blind in which you and your child may be involved. You may want to identify someone in your local NFB chapter or state affiliate who would like to help your child learn some independent living skills, or someone whom your child may be able to shadow for a day at work. Attending chapter meetings is a way to form relationships with blind role models, to learn how an organization runs, and to gain political awareness. (These meetings can also be very encouraging to parents!)

While it may be difficult for your child to achieve his goal to become a pro baseball announcer, there are many related jobs that may interest him. He might consider local announcing or other radio work, or he might enjoy writing about sports for the newspaper. A sixth grader should be allowed as much wild dreaming as he or she likes. As the child matures, though, it is most productive if you and the school guide and enhance the goal-setting process, forming a realistic picture over time. Keep thinking about the long-term goal, while always remembering that it may be difficult to define the next baby step in the process. Keep the conversation about goals alive, and always ask yourself, what's next?

Josie's Story: Assessment and Planning

Josie took two formal assessments and has had good informal conversations, after which her teacher made notes. These conversations were a form of transition assessment as well. Here is a summary of Josie's assessment results.

  1. Josie took the ESTR-J Assessment. The ESTR-J, one of the Enderle-Severson assessment scales, is designed to assess youth with mild disabilities. The assessment showed that Josie needed to gain skills in cooking and home maintenance. She knew about the requirements of working every day, but didn't know about many duties specific to certain jobs. One of Josie's strengths was that she understood how to get into college.
  2. Josie took a work preferences assessment, which revealed that she preferred to work in a place with fewer than ten employees. It also showed that her ideal workplace was one where she could work closely with supervisors who could explain her duties, and where she could continue to gain new skills. Josie liked the idea of wearing a uniform, working a day shift, and being able to get to work on public transportation.
  3. Josie and her parents and teacher noticed her strong interest in working with animals. They talked about jobs that Josie could do without going to college. But Josie knew that she needed to attend college in order to become a veterinary assistant, her primary career goal. She thought she could graduate with a four-year degree if she had the right accommodations. Josie's teacher worked with her on developing self-advocacy skills.

Josie's Goals

Based on the transition assessments and her family's information, Josie, currently a tenth grader, developed the following goals.

  1. After high school, Josie will work at a pet shop or a veterinarian's office as an assistant.
  2. After high school, Josie will enroll at Mason Community College to take a class in animal care.
  3. After high school, Josie will continue to live with her parents as she develops her independent living skills.

Services and Activities for the Next School Year

Employment: Josie will job shadow a friend who works as a veterinarian. (Her parents will arrange this.) Josie will also spend a day with a friend who uses public transportation to get to work in a downtown office. (Parents will arrange this.)

Education: Josie will go with her class to the community college to visit the admissions office and the office of services for students with disabilities. She will have lunch and visit with students in a freshman writing class. (The school will arrange this.) Josie is taking health and hygiene as a junior next year, which will help her learn more about caring for herself. She will be able to apply some of her learning to taking care of pets at home. (School will arrange this).

Independent Living: While Josie plans to live at home immediately after high school, her parents are concerned that she no longer has a cooking class or a simple home maintenance class. Josie's parents will look into having Josie attend a summer program at a center for the blind. Josie may be able to learn some of these skills by spending time with friends from the National Federation of the Blind. (Parents will arrange this, and the school will contact Josie's rehabilitation counselor.)

Community Participation: Josie will go with her parents when they vote this year (parents will arrange). She is going to the community center for a sewing class. Josie is working with the Center for Independent Living to identify other opportunities for leisure activities (agency will arrange). Josie will continue her involvement with the National Association of Blind Students through its email forum (Josie will arrange).


If you would like to see more examples of transition planning, especially those for youth with significant disabilities, point your web browser to <http://www.nsttac.org/ content/web-based-examples-and-nonexamples-sppapr-indicator-13-checklist-overview>. Case studies of students with various disabilities, many that are more significant, are used to show examples and nonexamples of goals.

To browse more generally about transition, go to the National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center, <www.nsttac.org> and look around. Your state may also have a transitions website. The NSTTAC website has an interactive map that may help you to find resources in your state.

120 Minutes
How the Federation Helped One Student Bound for College

by Deborah Kendrick

Reprinted from The Buckeye Bulletin, Winter 2013

From the Editor: Members of NFB chapters and affiliates often pitch in to help parents and teachers ensure that blind students obtain the services they need. In this article, Deborah Kendrick shows how a dedicated orientation and mobility instructor built a compelling case for the training her student required, and she describes how she supported the instructor's efforts. Deborah is a widely acclaimed journalist who serves on the board of the NFB of Ohio.

One Friday afternoon in late October, I returned to my hotel room while on some work-related travel and checked my email. A message from our NFB of Ohio president, Eric Duffy, said simply at the top, "Please respond to her and copy me."

I was tired and pressed for time. I had only a few minutes till the group I was meeting would head out for dinner. But when I read the message, I knew I could not let it slide. Time was critical. I replied to Eric that I would address the issue later that evening. This is the message that Eric had forwarded to me.

My name is Staci Wills, and I am a newly certified O&M instructor in northeast Ohio. I have a very important meeting on Monday, and I'm trying to get as much supportive information and perspective as I can before I present my case. I currently provide services for a twelth-grade, college-bound student who is blind. Her IEP [Individualized Education Program] states that she will receive 120 minutes a month of O&M services. There was to be an amendment meeting to increase her O&M to five hours per week, to include outdoor travel, business districts, bus travel, and more. Now the special education director says that's not necessary and that we should be able to do all of that in the given 120-minute time frame. She doesn't understand the Expanded Core Curriculum [ECC] or O&M at all. I've tried to explain that we are preparing this student to transition into a new and more independent environment (college), and that these services are imperative.

Any suggestions you might have would be fantastic. Yes, the parents are aware of this conflict and want the extended services.

Thank you in advance.

Staci Wills, M.Ed., COMS

At 10:00 PM, back from dinner and exhausted, I wrote Staci a quick message. The essence of her problem disturbed me so much that I used the subject line that had been percolating in my brain all evening, "120 Minutes."

Dear Staci,

I am a member of the board of directors of the NFB of Ohio, and our president, Eric Duffy, has asked me to respond to your message regarding the meager 120 minutes per month to prepare a college-bound senior for the independent travel that is soon to be required. As a sometime teacher of blind kids and adults, but primarily as one who has been there, I find this lack of understanding appalling. The transition from high school to college is borderline traumatizing for every student, with or without disabilities. For a blind student, the best plan for making that transition with any semblance of smoothness is to, first and foremost, have all blindness skills mastered before entering the first class. To suggest that a high school senior could master the necessary skills of independent travel in a mere two hours per month could easily be interpreted as an abusive and unnecessarily cruel decision.

My guess is that the educator in charge is neither abusive nor cruel, but simply ill informed. You need to clarify for this individual the essential nature of travel training, particularly for a teenager soon to enter the competitive environment of a college campus, and the fact that she requires a significant amount of practical experience. As a blind professional and former blind college student, I would be happy to help in any way I can. You know what you need to teach the student in question. If you need assistance in clarifying it for managers in charge, feel free to call upon me or Eric to help. To deny this student appropriate training to enter college as an independent young person is to deny her the real opportunity to experience college as an independent young adult.

Again, please let me know whatever I can do to help.

Deborah Kendrick

Early the next morning I received this reply.

Sent: Saturday, October 26, 2013, 8:45 AM
To: Deborah Kendrick
Subject: Re: 120 Minutes

Thank you so much for your response and expertise! I spent the last two days compiling spreadsheets and background information for the special ed director. As of right now, I have a list of skills the student knows, skills the student needs to know, locations where the lessons should take place, estimated time for each lesson, and estimated number of lessons. I also have a description of the Expanded Core Curriculum from AFB [American Foundation for the Blind], minutes from the May 2012 State Board of Education referencing the ECC, a description of O&M as a related resource, and a description of O&M training from the Institute of Educational Sciences.

The parents want this extended service. The student has time in her schedule for the extended service. If you don't mind, I will also share that the NFB is willing to get involved. As the parent of a visually impaired child and a professional in the field, I truly can't thank you enough!

Thank you,
Staci Wills, M.Ed., COMS

Back in my home office Sunday afternoon, I replied to Staci with the following.

Dear Staci,

So glad my comments were useful to you. It sounds as though you are well prepared for this struggle, the real shame being that there is a struggle at all. As a board member of the NFB of Ohio, I am not in a position to say you have the NFB behind you. I'm sure that you do, but Eric Duffy, as president, is the one who officially needs to add that sanction. I can, however, say that, as a newspaper columnist (Columbus Dispatch) and award-winning writer in the disability field, not to mention former blind student and occasional teacher in the blindness field, I am 100 percent (no, 120 percent!) behind you. If I can do anything else, please let me know. You must get this student's O&M approved and done! And thanks for being the kind of advocate that you obviously are.


Within the hour Staci replied.

I truly appreciate your support in this situation, and I'm sure my student's parents will support it as well. The meeting is at 4:00 tomorrow afternoon. I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.

I have put together information on the ECC, IDEA [the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act], and O&M as a related resource. I have a spreadsheet of current skill function and skills she still needs to learn. Included in that spreadsheet is the location for each lesson, estimated time for each lesson, and minimum lessons needed to address each skill. I came up with a total of fifty-six lessons and a minimum of ninety-one hours. I also created a Braille map of a major intersection that I am currently using to teach intersection analysis, and I included a lesson plan that illustrates the length of a typical O&M lesson of this skill level. And I'm bringing my blindfold and cane. I doubt the special ed director will go for it, but I would love for her to walk from her office to her car under blindfold and then deny the extended hours. Again, I truly appreciate your support, and I will let you know how this goes.

On Sunday evening I wrote to Staci:

Wow, your preparation sounds really impressive--and brilliant. I'll be thinking of you at 4:00 tomorrow and look forward to hearing from you. Congratulations on being fully well-armed for what I hope will turn out to be just a minor struggle with a victorious outcome!

On Monday at 5:49 PM, I received the following wonderful message.

Subject: Re: 120 Minutes

You probably could have heard me celebrating from Cleveland to Toledo! I got the increase in hours and didn't even have to mention the NFB. I am going to suggest that my student and her family get involved in the NFB. Right now I'm just in celebration mode. Again, I can't thank you enough for your support and expertise.


Of course it didn't really end there. We exchanged more email messages regarding this instructor and the student's family learning more about the NFB of Ohio. I'm sure there will be further communication as this instructor and student expand their adventures and learning. What matters most, and what feels so fine right now, is that one blind student desperately needed help, her amazing advocate/instructor reached out to the NFB of Ohio, and we were able to lend our support.

The instructor won this round, but the struggle isn't over. The struggle will never be over until every blind person is treated with dignity and equality in every circumstance. And that's why it's important that we, the National Federation of the Blind, are here.

College Board Testing Accommodations: What You Need
to Know

by Jill Green

From the Editor: The journey from high school to college is filled with exciting possibilities, but it can also be highly stressful. Preparing for and taking college entrance tests such as the SAT and Advanced Placement exams is stressful for nearly all students. Students who are blind or visually impaired have the added challenge of requesting and obtaining the accommodations they need in order to take these tests successfully. Jill Green serves as senior director of Case Management Services for Students with Disabilities at the College Board. In this article, she offers practical suggestions to help students get the accommodations they need.

When you are preparing to apply to college, you will likely take the SAT and other College Board tests. In order to use a Braille test, a live reader, or any other testing accommodations, you will need to request and obtain permission prior to taking the test. Understanding the accommodations requests process and starting early will ensure that all needed test materials are ready for you on the testing day.

The College Board is a not-for-profit organization that connects students to college success and opportunity. It provides many different types of accommodations for students with visual and other disabilities to take its tests, which include the SAT, SAT Subject tests, PSAT/NMSQT, and Advanced Placement exams. Some examples of accommodations are the use of Braille or large print, a computer, a Braille device such as the BrailleNote or Braille Sense, or a live reader or scribe. There are many others. Accommodations have been provided on College Board tests since 1939--decades before they were required by federal regulations. Last year, the College Board received approximately ninety thousand requests for accommodations from students with disabilities, of which the vast majority were approved.

Before you can use accommodations on one of the College Board tests, your request must be approved by the College Board's Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD). Once approved, with limited exceptions, your accommodations remain in effect until one year after your high school graduation. Students do not need to apply again when taking another College Board exam.

Request Process and Documentation

The fastest and most efficient way to request testing accommodations is to work with your school counselor or SSD coordinator. Your school's SSD coordinator can submit accommodation requests online. Check with your SSD coordinator before your request is submitted to make sure all of the accommodations that you need are included in the request. If you are home-schooled or if you wish to request accommodations without the assistance of your school, contact the College Board to request a paper accommodations request form (also called a Student Eligibility Form).

Start the request process early--as early as your freshman year of high school. When documentation review is required, the process can take approximately seven weeks. By starting early you will have plenty of time in case any corrections or additional document submissions need to be made.

In some cases, the College Board will ask for documentation to be submitted. Be aware that requirements may vary, depending on your disability and requested accommodations. Blind students should send in a statement from their school or doctor, confirming their blindness. Students who are visually impaired but not blind should send in the full report from a current visual examination, including all visual measurements.

If you are blind or visually impaired, you may have to provide documentation to explain why you need certain accommodations. For example, if you require accommodations that are not normally associated with reading or seeing, provide documentation to explain your need for these accommodations. (For instance, provide medical documentation to support a request for food or medication during the testing session.) Similarly, if you are requesting more than one accommodation that serves the same purpose (such as a Braille test book and a recorded test book), provide information from your school or doctor to explain why you need both accommodations and how they will be used. Requests for assistive technology should include detailed information about the technology, including the model/version of the device or software and why you need it to take the College Board tests.

Tips for Accommodation Requests

When you request accommodations, discuss with the SSD coordinator the accommodations that you plan to use on test day. Be sure to request all the accommodations that you need. Don't request accommodations that you use in your classes but which would be of no use during College Board tests. While accommodations can be added if your situation changes, don't wait until test day to find out that something you need has not been requested or approved. Some accommodations that you might need include the following:

These are only some of the accommodations that are available. The College Board provides many others, and will consider all requests for accommodations, even if they have not been provided previously.

Whom to Contact?

If you need additional information about accommodations on College Board tests, contact the College Boards Services for Students with Disabilities at (609) 771-7137, or ssd@info.collegeboard.org.

Common Core State Standard-Aligned Tests: Will Your Child Have Access to Accommodations?

by Valerie Yingling, Mehgan Sidhu, Esq., and Melissa Riccobono

From the Editor: Educational testing has been with us for decades, but in recent years tests and assessments have become almost ubiquitous in our children's lives. It can be debated whether testing benefits students in the long run, but the fact is that test scores are now used in making a host of determinations that affect students, teachers, and school systems throughout the country. Therefore, it is essential that blind students have full access to the same tests that are used to measure the achievements and deficits of their sighted peers. The National Federation of the Blind is committed to ensuring that blind and visually impaired students have all of the accommodations they need in order to participate in testing wherever and whenever it occurs. In this article, the NFB team working on issues around testing explains a field testing initiative that will begin this spring. The authors share concerns about access for blind students and urge parents and teachers to document their experiences.

As parents and teachers, we want blind children to participate fully in every aspect of school life. Unfortunately and needlessly, this objective is becoming more and more difficult to attain. Besides inaccessible classroom materials and delayed or denied Braille instruction, blind students now face a fresh challenge in the form of Smarter Balanced and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) field tests.

PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and the Common Core

In 2009, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association organized groups of educators and researchers to design a nationwide, high-quality math and English-language arts curriculum for students in kindergarten through grade twelve. Since then, forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the rigorous Common Core Standards. The standards do not dictate how educators should teach. Instead, they provide the blueprint schools must follow to ensure that all students are successfully prepared for college and the workforce.

In 2010, the United States Department of Education awarded $330 million to PARCC and Smarter Balanced to design computer-based tests that align with the new Common Core State Standards. In subsequent years, it has granted these consortia millions of dollars more. At present, tests have been designed for students in grades three through twelve. The results of these assessments may be used for teacher and school evaluations, the evaluation of state education systems, and student placement. In other words, these are high stakes tests for students and teachers alike, and there will be a huge push to ensure that students perform well.

PARCC and Smarter Balanced are both multi-state consortia. PARCC is comprised of the following states and district: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Tennessee. Smarter Balanced consists of the following states and territory: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, US Virgin Islands, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. The involvement of individual states in the consortia ranges from governing to advisory, participating, or affiliate membership.

PARCC and Smarter Balanced Field Testing

PARCC and Smarter Balanced have committed to making their assessments operational in 2015. Both consortia plan to field test their assessments during the spring of 2014. Smarter Balanced's field testing window will begin on March 18th and PARCC's field testing window will begin on March 24th. The purpose of the field tests is to test the assessments themselves; test scores will not be provided to students, parents, teachers, or schools. The consortia and their participating states have identified schools and classrooms in which to conduct field testing so as to gather feedback from a diverse group of students.

Will Field Testing Include Students Who Are Blind?

Smarter Balanced maintains that its field tests will include students with disabilities and claims that accessibility and accommodation features will be available on the field test. NFB's Accessible Technology team is in the process of reviewing Smarter Balanced sample questions. It has shared its findings with technology support staff at Smarter Balanced, including findings that demonstrate accessibility barriers.

PARCC has reported that necessary accommodations, including Braille materials and support for Braille displays, will not be available during its field test. Therefore, PARCC has determined that students requiring Braille will not participate. Furthermore, PARCC has shared that it will not release its guidelines for assistive technology software, such as JAWS, until the fall of 2014, after field testing has occurred. In the meantime, PARCC has created its own text-to-speech and magnification software, which it will make available to students for field testing. This approach requires students to learn to operate new and unfamiliar software at the same time they are attempting to complete the PARCC assessment. PARCC predicts that students who use assistive technology screen reading software will be able to do so in 2015 on the operational test.

PARCC's approach to its field test will not provide the consortium with critical information about accommodations for blind and visually impaired students. It will not yield feedback regarding the quality control of its Braille transcription, the effectiveness of the interface between the PARCC screen reading software and a Braille display, the compatibility of its assessment with JAWS and other assistive technology software, or the validity of PARCC's test questions for students who are blind or have visual impairments. PARCC's approach is to wait until 2015, when test scores matter, to try out accommodations for students who are blind.

How Is NFB Addressing the Problem?

The National Federation of the Blind has been providing feedback to PARCC and Smarter Balanced about the accessibility features needed for blind students to participate in the assessment tests on an equal basis with their peers, and will continue to do so. Federation representatives have met with officials at the US Department of Education and are collaborating with other disability organizations that share a common interest in ensuring that field and operational assessment tests are fully accessible. Furthermore, because PARCC’s exclusion of blind students from the field test violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, in January 2014 the NFB filed suit against the consortium. The suit demands that PARCC administer the field test to blind students with all the accommodations it has announced it will provide for operational testing.

The Federation's work is far from complete. The NFB continues to gather information from parents and teachers regarding the consortia's field tests. Your help in this effort is critical, as it provides the NFB with comprehensive "real world" accessibility data.

How Can You Help?

For additional information, please visit the following websites:

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Life Lessons from a Tree

by Cayte Mendez

From the Editor: Cayte Mendez teaches a class of twenty-two first-grade students at a public school in the Bronx and serves as president of the National Organization of Blind Educators. She received her bachelor's degree in linguistics and Asian studies from Cornell and her master's degree in education from Pace University. At the 2012 NFB convention, she was honored with the Distinguished Blind Educator of the Year Award.

Even now, thirty years later, my mother likes to tell the story of the day I ran into the tree in the middle of our front yard. She and my father are legally blind, college-educated professionals, so when I was born with congenital cataracts and developed glaucoma at an early age, they had a pretty good idea of the challenges I would face. They made sure I received the best in terms of early intervention services, put a cane in my hand at age three, and waged an almighty battle with the district where I attended elementary school to ensure that I was given adequate Braille instruction. As a kid I went horseback riding, mountain climbing, canoeing, and go-cart driving (thanks to my little sister, who rode behind me, shouting directions into my ear). But of all the stories of my early accomplishments and hijinks, the one about the tree is still my mother's favorite.

I was only two and a half when the incident occurred, and to be perfectly honest, I don't remember it at all. According to my mom, we had just arrived home from a walk-through of the house my parents had recently purchased. Mom lifted me out of the car and turned to speak to the friend who was driving. I took advantage of my momentary freedom to bolt across the lawn--and collided headlong with the trunk of a large maple tree! The way Mom tells it, I was running so fast that I literally bounced off the trunk and landed soundly on my rear. Mom expected me to start bawling, but I just sat there for a minute, looking stunned. Then I picked myself up and kept right on going. Mom always adds here that as many times as I zoomed across the lawn after that, I never again crashed into that tree.

My mother loves to use this story as an example. She says it always reminds her that children don't enter life afraid to take risks or unwilling to try again when they fall down. She never wanted me to lose that resilience as I grew older.

Even recalled secondhand, this incident has played a large part in shaping my approach to life in general and to my career in particular. As a young adult, making my first major educational and social decisions, I was still that little girl tearing full-speed across the lawn. I studied abroad in England and Japan. I learned to ice skate and tandem bike ride with sighted friends. When it was time for me to look for a job, I chose to take the risk of moving several hundred miles away from my parents' home in the tiny suburb of a small city. I took up residence in the Bronx, where I became a kindergarten teacher in a school serving high-need students, over 90 percent of whom received free lunch every day due to economic hardship.

Teach for America

I didn't go to college with the idea of becoming a teacher. As a freshman at Cornell University, I started out taking political science courses along with my Japanese classes. My plan was eventually to seek work with the State Department. Then, midway through the year, I took a linguistics class, discovered the study of language for its own sake, and fell in love. For the next three years my goal was to get my PhD and become a professor.

Then, one afternoon in the spring of 2005, a pair of teachers made a brief presentation in my Philosophy of Language class. They were representatives of Teach for America (TFA), an organization that places college graduates with backgrounds in a range of disciplines as teachers in failing schools for a commitment of two years. The organization's mission is to help close the achievement gap in America's schools. I was so inspired by the motivation, dedication, and professionalism of these teachers that I decided to put my plans for a master’s degree and subsequent doctorate on hold. I would apply to have the opportunity to teach some of this nation's most at-risk kids.

TFA screens applicants through a rigorous process, and once accepted to the program, candidates have only a partial say in where they are placed throughout the country. I took care to include only big cities with comprehensive public transportation systems on my preference sheet. I was determined to be as independent as possible. I didn't want to end up in a place where I would be forced to take paratransit or hire a driver to get everywhere I wanted to go.

After graduation I received word that I would be joining the corps in New York City. I immediately began to go on job interviews. All that summer I traveled to school after school with my guide dog, Yogi, meeting with principals and hiring committees. Sometimes they asked me specific questions about how I could be an effective teacher as a blind person; sometimes they didn't. But as the other five hundred prospective teachers in my cohort were hired, I began to realize just how much of a liability my blindness was perceived to be by these potential employers, whether they acknowledged it or not. Could I manage a classroom and keep students safe on the playground? What about testing and keeping track of student data? How would it work having a dog in the classroom? What about all the aesthetic considerations--bulletin boards and charts and labels ... the list of concerns was endless.

My life experiences up to this point had taught me to be confident in my strengths and resilient when facing challenges. By the end of August, however, after more than a dozen interviews, when I was the only new teacher out of my incoming group of over five hundred who still had not been placed in a school, I was ready to curl up in a ball and call it quits. What good were my Ivy League education, my proficiency in three languages, my various extracurricular successes, when no one believed I could do the work I had chosen to pursue? I even went so far as to start attending interviews without my guide dog, in an attempt to appear "less blind" and to take at least that one consideration off the table. I had smacked hard into the solid obstacle that is the general misconception about what it means to be blind. I really wasn't sure I had it in me to keep pushing forward in an attempt to get past what seemed to be an impenetrable wall.

Into the Classroom

In early September, two things happened pretty much simultaneously that forced me to pick myself up and keep going. First, my parents, who had been endlessly supportive during my previous three months of frustration and self-doubt, told me point blank that moving back home and finding a filler job until I could go to graduate school wasn't going to be an option. I had chosen to make this two-year commitment, and I was going to see it through, no matter what. I know for a fact that this was not an easy stance for them to take, but they knew that the only way for me to restore my confidence and faith in my abilities was to keep pushing forward, not to turn tail and run home where it was safe. Second, one of the principals I had interviewed with earlier in the summer contacted the TFA placement coordinator who had been handling my interviews. He said he would be willing to take me on in a trial capacity, since I didn't have a site to report to on the first day of school. I was to be given a co-teacher position on a trial basis, until either he decided to take me on permanently or I found another position elsewhere.

On the Tuesday after Labor Day I reported to a public school way out at the end of the #6 subway line and was told I would be teaching kindergarten with a thirty-year veteran named Mary. I was torn between humiliation at being forced into a co-teaching position, instead of being allowed to have my own classroom, and relief that at least I had found an opportunity to get my foot in the door. Now came a new set of challenges--convincing not only my principal, but also my new colleagues and the parents of my students that I could be as effective a teacher as anybody else.

Luckily for me, Mary was supposed to be undertaking the role of English as a Second Language teacher at our school that year, and she didn't really want to be co-teaching either. With her help I quickly established my own routines, procedures, and practices, and by mid-October I had proven myself capable of taking charge of my own classroom. However, even this victory was limited. One morning my principal called me down to his office and informed me that, for legal and safety reasons, although I would be the undisputed classroom teacher, I was to be given an assistant, called a paraprofessional, as a reasonable accommodation. I could have protested this decision, could have asserted that this "accommodation" was neither reasonable nor necessary; but to be honest, at that point I was so grateful to have been given a classroom that I made the decision not to fight that particular battle. It helped that in New York City, where kindergarten class sizes reach twenty-five students or more, it is far from uncommon to have a paraprofessional working with the teacher, be she sighted or otherwise. I chose to view this development as a windfall. An extra pair of hands? Terrific! This would mean more support for my students, most of whom were entering school at an educational disadvantage, due to low literacy levels within the community and a lack of early learning support.

Nearly ten years have passed since my first day in the classroom, unsure, untried, and untrusted. I fulfilled my commitment to Teach for America in the spring of 2007. Long before that I had decided not to return to academia, which had been my original career plan. Instead, I chose to get a master's degree in education and remain in the Bronx, continuing to teach my kids. Once again, I was off and running, confident in my skills and unafraid of the obstacles that might arise to knock me flat. After eight years teaching kindergarten, this past spring I decided to try something new. In September I moved up with my most recent group of students, and I am now midway through my first year as a first-grade teacher.

Classroom Management

What about all of the concerns voiced by that dozen or so principals who interviewed me? Exactly what does the classroom look like with me, a blind teacher, in charge? How do I teach kids to read print when I myself am a Braille reader? What about the data? What about the dog?

Managing a classroom as a blind person requires structure and discipline. But then again, I would argue that any kind of adequate classroom management requires these attributes. It helps immeasurably to put in time at the beginning of each school year establishing a classroom culture of mutual respect and consideration.

Assigning seats helps--this was true even in my kindergarten room, which had work tables instead of desks. Keeping students with personality conflicts or tendencies toward distraction separate improved the learning environment for everyone. At the same time, it made it easier for me to pinpoint misbehavior, since I knew who was sitting where. When lining up to travel through the school building or on field trips, my students walk with partners in size-place order. This is a fairly standard practice for the lower grades at my school, and again, because I know where each student is in the line, I can easily pinpoint talkers or hear when shenanigans are going on. My ears are my best asset--when students are seated too far away for me to see them clearly, I constantly monitor their activity by listening in. I seldom sit down or stop moving around the room, unless I am either teaching a whole group lesson in the meeting area or am working with a small group. I have actually developed a reputation as one of the strongest managers at my school. On several occasions, students who were having behavior challenges in other rooms have been switched into my class, with the idea that my classroom culture of orderly routines and well-established expectations would improve their behavior!

My guide dog, whom several prospective principals cited as a source of concern, turned out to be almost a non-issue. When we got to school each morning, he would lie down behind my easel and promptly go to sleep. I always kept him in harness as a visual reminder to my students that he was not a pet and therefore was not to be touched. He was out of their way, although they could see him. I don't think I ever had to speak to a student about trying to pet or distract him. I never made a big deal about it with the kids, and they never really seemed to take much notice. When walking around the school building, which for me was a familiar environment, I usually left him sleeping, and on field trip days I used a cane. This choice had more to do with the crowded conditions of the school buses and my need to have both hands free to carry materials than with any desire not to make my dog a factor in my classroom.

Handling the aspects of teaching related to visual displays of information proved more of a challenge than I had expected. As a person with very limited vision, I had never really understood how much information sighted people absorb by looking at environmental print. I had never been able to see the bulletin boards and charts in my classes at school, so it came as an unpleasant surprise when my principal called me out for not having the right kind of anchor charts and print resources on the walls in my room. The situation was complicated by the fact that at our school, the expectation is that all charts and resources should be made by the teacher with the kids, the thought being that these materials will be more meaningful to student learning than storebought paraphernalia.

Through trial and error and no small amount of frustration, I finally worked out a system that meets both my students' needs and my professional obligations. Most of the time, I use the electronic white board in my classroom to help my students create anchor charts. Employing a screen reader and key commands, I can use Microsoft Word just as I do on my laptop. Everything I type is displayed on the board, where my students can see it and can contribute to the process. When the chart is complete, I print it out. Either I give the sheet to my paraprofessional to copy onto lined chart paper, or I take it upstairs to the poster-making machine on the third floor, which will enlarge the material to an appropriate size for a classroom display.

Paperwork, Paperwork!

And then of course there is student data. Each year it seems that there are more tests, more benchmarks, more notes to take, and more numbers to crunch. When I started teaching, all of this information had to be recorded on paper, which caused me no end of frustration. Even using a CCTV, I simply couldn't work quickly enough in print to get everything filled out on time. It got so ridiculous that I was literally typing all my data into a table and giving it to my para to copy onto the approved forms provided by the school--a colossal waste of my time and hers. Within the past few years, though, the use of spreadsheets and other forms of electronic documentation has become more widespread. Also, for the purposes of reporting data within the school, my administration has given me the green light to create my own spreadsheets and data forms and to attach them to any inaccessible paper forms, as long as the format is comparable. These changes have made it significantly easier for me to collect and report the important data I need to track my students' progress throughout the school year.

As for teaching print reading as a Braille user, there is really no one-size-fits-all solution. I have had to get a bit creative to figure out what works best. My residual vision is good for some things, but not for everything. As often as possible I buy, download, or create Braille copies of the books I read to my kids. Sometimes it can be a challenge to make sure that the page numbers match up with the corresponding print pages so that my students can see the pictures. I have made my CCTV a part of my classroom meeting area, so that if I need to I can do a quick comparison. The CCTV is also useful when I can't obtain a Braille copy of the text. I can pop a print book under the CCTV and read it that way. This method has turned out to have an unexpected positive side effect. As I read the words enlarged on the screen, my students can read along with me, which gives them an additional print experience--and they can never have too many of those!

What about writing and math? I will admit that teaching in the lower grades to some extent makes the challenge of accessing student work easier for me, because they tend to write with large letters and numbers. But what's also great about young children--they don't balk at adaptation! One of the norms I set in place each September is that from time to time, they may need to alter the way they do things to accommodate my blindness. If a student writes something I can't read, or puts down a number I can't make out, I ask him or her to read it back letter by letter or digit by digit. Because I work hard to establish a culture of trust and respect in my classroom, students know that when I ask them clarifying questions about their work I am seeking to help them make it better, not trying to call them out or embarrass them.

Once again, it's the lesson of the maple tree. I work every day to help my students learn the value of perseverance, resilience, and flexibility. So you made a mistake. Great! First, how can you fix it? Now, what did you learn about how to avoid making this same mistake in the future? It's the academic equivalent of not bursting into tears when you fall on your backside in the grass. Get up, shake off the dirt, and keep on going.

Final Thoughts

Despite the challenges, I can't imagine wanting to do anything other than teach. There is absolutely no feeling in the world better than the one you get as you watch children learn and grow, knowing you were an integral part of the process. It has taken me years to establish myself as an equally respected member of my school community, but every day has been worth the fight against access issues and misconceptions about blindness. Last year my principal invited me to be the project manager of our school's data committee. Over the past few years, she has also invited me to accompany her to several district-wide meetings to share some of the progressive work our early childhood classes are undertaking. And this fall, when my para was absent for two weeks due to medical concerns, my administration did not even consider hiring a sub! It was clear that I had established myself, and that finally, finally, there was no doubt about whether I could really be a teacher.

To any young blind person considering a career in education, I would say this: expect to run headlong into misunderstandings, mistrust, and misgivings. You are almost certain to get knocked down emotionally at some point during the process of achieving your goal. But when that happens, as tempting as it may be to sit in the grass and cry, get up, brush yourself off, and keep on pursuing that classroom. It will all be worth it in the end.

An Unusual and Demanding Profession

by Cassandra McNabb-McKinney

Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 56, No. 9, October 2013

From the Editor: Blind people work successfully in countless occupations. They are lawyers, physicians, teachers, social workers, business owners, and scientists. Yet there are always new challenges for us to meet and unforeseen barriers for us to break down. In a presentation at the 2013 national convention of the National Federation of the Blind, Cassie McNabb-McKinney talked about her work as an embalmer and funeral director and described the path that led her to this unusual profession.

Good afternoon, fellow Federationists. I'm glad that you're all here--alive and breathing and enjoying this convention. Before I begin my talk today, I'd like for you to do a hands-on activity. I'd like for you to take your index finger and place it at the top of your nose, and then take your thumb and place it under your nose. I would like you to keep your fingers right as they are and move them over to your ear, and it should be the same length. If it's not, well, nobody's perfect. I'll be sharing some more interesting facts about landmarks on your face a little bit later in my presentation.

In order to tell you about my unique career, I think it's important that I tell you two stories. The first story is how I came to the Federation, and the second story is about the day that changed my life, the day I became an embalmer.

I came to the Federation in 2003 at eighteen years of age. I had never been around a group of such enthusiastic, encouraging blind people before. It changed my life. At that time I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my future. I started as a chemistry major at a college in Tennessee, which is my home state. I soon found out chemistry was not for me, because calculus was just not my friend. I decided to attend mortuary school and to pursue a career in something I felt strongly in my heart. It wasn't about being a part of something that was unique as a career, but it was about following my calling.

The journey through mortuary school was difficult. It was full of challenge. I was the first legally blind student to attend John A. Gupton College of Mortuary Science. I remember the first day of embalming class; my professor and I were having a conversation about adaptations, and I asked him, "How close am I going to be able to get to these people that I'm going to be embalming?" I wanted to make sure I'd be able to get close. His response shocked me. He said, "Well, Cassie, you can get as close as you can handle." I learned in my first day of clinicals how close that was. It wasn't as close as I originally thought.

I went on to graduate second in my class, and, following graduation, the real work started. Where does a young woman in a career that is not really open to women, a young woman who is also blind, find a job? My pursuit led me to a friend who owned a corporation of funeral homes. I sent my résumé to him, and he offered his assistance. He said, "Are you willing to relocate?" I said, "Sure."

A week later I received a call from Mr. Robert Di Luzio in Keene, New Hampshire. I didn't even know where New Hampshire was. I grew up in west Tennessee; it was hard enough to figure out where Nashville was, much less another state! So I got on an airplane, and I flew, for the first time, to New Hampshire. I started working there two weeks later, and I've been there for six and a half years.

Now I guess I should get back to the Federation part of this story. In 2009 I had been an apprentice for two and a half years. Apprenticeship is a difficult challenge; every funeral director must serve an apprenticeship before being licensed to serve families. It had been two and a half years of tears and struggle, but there were accomplishments along the way.

One day in that summer of 2009, at the NFB convention in Detroit, I got up early. We were going to march. We marched for independence that day. For me it wasn't just a march for independence; it was a march for self-knowledge. During the march I received a bell; I have it with me today. I don't think there were very many of these bells made, so I count it as a very special symbol.

When I returned home to New Hampshire, I placed the bell on my desk, and many people asked me what it stood for. I said that it stands for independence. My boss, Mr. Di Luzio, heard this so many times he started to tell people the story. Whenever I had a bad day, when the struggle of the apprenticeship got to be too much, I would go to my desk and pick up the bell and ring it. I remembered the sound of the bells ringing that hot July day. The work that we were doing in the Federation, the inspiration of the people who had come before me--it helped me go on.

Now the second story. It was January 29, 2010. This is a special day for two reasons: first, it was my birthday; and second, it was the day I became an embalmer. In the state of New Hampshire, you have to perform a practical exam in front of a board member of the New Hampshire Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers. They examine every process that you do in embalming a body--no pressure, right? I got up in the morning, and I knew that this was the day. I knew it was going to be a day that would change my life.

When I arrived at work, I made all the proper phone calls to notify the board member that I had the gentleman to embalm. She informed me that I should go ahead and do the first steps of the process. I want to explain to you, very briefly, what those processes are. [nervous laughter] This is what you've all been waiting for, right? And it's right after lunch.

Okay, so, nonvisual techniques of embalming, here we go. I had never shaved a man before I became an apprentice embalmer. And so I thought, Oh my goodness--sharp object, a person that everybody's going to see; this could be interesting! I learned that gentle strokes are best, and I also learned that, after you've finished, if you gently run your hand across someone's face, you can tell if you missed anything. This is what I do to this day.

So I did this portion. I closed the person's eyes and mouth (I won't tell you how we do that--many of you probably don't want to know). This is all part of the beginning processes to make them appear as they did in life.

Then comes the surgical portion. Now, I'm going to tell you a little bit because it's important. When doing the surgical portion, there are two main blood vessels that you have to locate: the carotid artery and the jugular vein. They are identifiable by touch. For those of you who have never felt an artery, it feels like a large rubber band. The only way I can describe how you know where the vein is is to say that it's colder than anywhere else that you're touching. See, that wasn't too bad, right?

So the board member watched. I remember that, as I was doing the exam, we were talking about how to make chicken and dumplings. I explained that my mom owned a restaurant. Most of you might not know my mom, but some of you do--her name is Sharon Treadway. She is a Randolph-Sheppard vendor and also a member of the board of directors for the National Merchants Division, the organization of blind merchants. She taught me how to make chicken and dumplings.

When I finished the exam I thought it had gone very well. But at the end of the exam the board member doesn't tell you if you passed. She had Mr. Di Luzio come down, and they walked out--they didn't say anything to me.

People always ask me, "Do you ever talk to the people?" And that day I did. I remember saying, "I think we did pretty good."

Then Mr. Di Luzio came back. He had been working with me for three years. He walked across the room, and he gave me a hug. I was crying, of course. Overwhelmed. And he said, "You passed." I got even more overwhelmed then!

After I collected myself I looked at him and I said, "You know we just made history, right?" And he said, "We did."

It wasn't that I was doing something extraordinary; it was that I was doing something as a pioneer. There weren't any other embalmers in New Hampshire who were legally blind. This knowledge of being a pioneer--I think of it as a responsibility. I have a responsibility to the generations after me to show them that anything is possible. You might not become an embalmer, but you can do anything that you can imagine.

I want to speak for just a moment to the parents who are here. I am blessed with parents who supported me, who never told me that my dreams were impossible. The fact that you are here for your children shows that you believe their dreams are possible. My father is sighted. He knew when I was born that the world would be different for me. But he didn't let that stop his dreams and his aspirations for his little girl. I have one short story that deals with my dad, and then I'll conclude.

When I was three, we lived in west Tennessee, and in our back yard was a swamp. There were turtles that would come up, and my father thought it would be awesome if his little girl could see what these turtles looked like. One morning he caught one, put it in an old swimming pool, and charged my mom with the job of making sure it didn't leave the pool. Then he got me up--it was probably about eight o'clock in the morning. He got me up and he brought me outside to the pool. He was so proud. And he showed me the turtle. I was able to see what it looked like; I was able to touch it, and I still remember what it looked like.

My father didn't know about the Federation until almost twenty years later, but he had the philosophy--both of my parents did. I don't think I would be the young professional that I am today if it hadn't been for my parents.

I promised you that there'd be some more landmarks. In the geography of your face, your face is the width of five of your eyes if you measure from left to right, and you are exactly six-and-a-half heads tall. That's some Jeopardy information for you.

I am honored that Dr. Maurer asked me to speak to you today. It is an honor to stand here and be able to tell you my story. I hope that it is a positive influence; I hope that it inspires you to pursue your dreams, to go out and do whatever it is that you would like to do with your life. Dream big, work hard, and someday maybe you can say that you've made history. Thank you.

Emilie Gossiaux, School of Art Senior Blinded in 2010, Wins National Art Award

Reprinted with Permission of The Cooper Union from <www.cooper.edu/art/news/ emilie-gossiaux-school-art-senior-blinded-2010-wins-national-art-award>. Copyright 2013. Photos courtesy of Emilie Gossiaux.

From the Editor: A graduate of BLIND Inc. in Minneapolis, Emilie Gossiaux won an Award of Excellence from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in August 2013. The following article appeared on the website of The Cooper Union School of Art, where Emilie resumed her studies after completing the BLIND Inc. program. Emilie's story is documented in a podcast that can be found at <www.radiolab.org/story/1106-finding-emilie>.

August 15, 2013--Emilie Gossiaux, a senior in the School of Art, has won an Award of Excellence from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, it was announced this week. In addition to a monetary award, she will be one of only fifteen selected artists whose work will be part of the In/finite Earth exhibition organized by VSA, the Kennedy Center's international organization on arts and disability, opening at the Smithsonian Institution's S. Dillon Ripley Center in Washington, DC, in September. While any student recipient of a national art award would be exceptional, for Ms. Gossiaux it can be seen as recognition for perseverance, determination, and courage. Ms. Gossiaux has won the award for "Bird Sitting," a sculpture she created two years after a traumatic street accident during her senior year in 2010 left her completely blind. In spite of this she returns in autumn to complete her degree and graduate with the class of 2014.

Even prior to her accident Ms. Gossiaux, a New Orleans native who turned twenty-four in August, had to overcome challenges. An untreatable disorder caused her to start losing her hearing at the age of five, a circumstance that pushed her in the direction of visual communication. "I always dreamed of becoming an artist," she writes, via email. She attended arts high schools and then came to Cooper Union's School of Art in 2007. But in 2010, while bicycling in Brooklyn, a horrific encounter with a tractor-trailer left her at risk for permanent institutionalization. Her remarkable recovery, thanks to the perseverance of loved ones and her own determination, made national news, including coverage by the New York Times and National Public Radio.

Last spring Ms. Gossiaux returned to The Cooper Union to complete her undergraduate degree, which she will finish at the end of this academic year. She remains completely blind and gets around with a brace on her left leg, though thanks to a cochlear implant, she can hear and speak. She lives in the East Village and walks to class, sometimes without accompaniment. We took the occasion of Ms. Gossiaux's Kennedy Center award to discuss, via email, the award-winning sculpture, how she continues to work as an artist, and the "scary" decision to complete her degree.

At what point after the accident did you start making art again? What was the first thing you created?

I began thinking about, and making, art again in 2012, roughly two years after my accident. At the time, I had put myself into a blind rehabilitation-training program called BLIND Inc. in Minneapolis. There I took travel, cooking, Braille, and computer classes. But my favorite class, by far, was industrial arts. My instructor was also totally blind and ran his own wood shop in the city. He taught me to chisel and carve and to run different power tools without sight, including a lathe. He also taught me how to use my hands instead of my eyes to get the ideas out of my head.

What forms of expression did your art take before the accident? And after?

I mostly worked in painting and sculpture before the accident, usually with plaster casting or papier-máché. Now I primarily work with ceramic clay and plaster. Occasionally I do some woodcarving. I also paint with India ink on paper using a device called the BrainPort, which I use as part of a research study. It's basically a pair of glasses with a small camera attached to the bridge. There is a tongue piece the size of a postage stamp that I place on my tongue (the most tactilely sensitive part of the body) that uses electrodes to "draw" the contours of the shapes seen by the camera in real time. It's a process called sensory substitution.

Have your processes changed since the accident?

Usually I would begin by sketching my ideas for sculptures or paintings with pen on paper. I've come up with new ways of doing the same thing. Now, I take a flat slab of soft clay and draw into the surface by hand or with the wooden end of a paintbrush. This way I'm able to feel the drawing tactilely. The BrainPort also helps me get my ideas out on paper, even if in very simple line drawings.

Are your motivations for making art the same as always?

My motivations are still the same: to make beautiful things for people to experience.

What sort of aesthetic choices do you find yourself making now that you didn't before, if any?

Unless I am creating a representational object, I don't think about color much anymore. I stick to using white or black. I mostly focus on the different kinds of textures and surfaces I can create. Even before my accident both my paintings and sculptures were heavily focused on texture and touch. I believe that whatever it feels like, it looks like, too. If it feels good, then it looks good.

As an artist I imagine you were long used to being influenced and energized by other artists' creative works. How have you adapted this need now that all purely visual artworks would seem to be unavailable to you?

I still enjoy reading about other artists' conceptual works and ideas and listening to the audio descriptions of other artists' works. I also attended a ceramics show with Betsy Alwin, one of my instructors from Cooper. She was a friend of some of the artists in the show, and they allowed me to touch and feel their sculptures. I was very inspired by feeling the textures and forms of the pieces in that show. Another artist who really motivates and inspires me is my friend/mentor, Daniel Arsham. Over the summer I have been working in his studio; he is sharing his space so I can work on my own ideas for sculptures. Sometimes he takes me to galleries, and he'll walk around with me and describe the paintings or sculptures in the show.

Can you please take me through the decision-making process to return to school and finish your art degree?

At first it seemed impossible and scary. I really didn't want to go back to school. I doubted whether I could do it at all. It only became possible after I went to BLIND Inc. and met other ambitious blind people. I met two other blind artists who worked with me and taught me how to work with my hands again. My instructors there pushed me to try new things and to think about art differently. I really owe it to everyone there for helping me.

How did they push you to think about art differently?

When I started attending BLIND Inc. in 2012, I was still really unsure and unconfident of whether or not I wanted to continue my career as an artist. But all of my instructors at the center believed in me, and it was really helpful to have everyone pushing and nudging me forward to regain my confidence as an artist. My Braille instructor, Emily Wharton, printed out some Critical Art Theory textbooks for me in Braille and had me write my own essays about them. My industrial arts instructor, George Wurtzel, took me to his friends' studios and introduced me to other artists in the city. He was also the one who taught me how to make sculptures by carving wood. I never considered creating art with wood as a material, but I really found myself loving it. And finally, my careers instructor, Dick Davis, pushed me to sign up for night classes at a ceramics studio in Minneapolis. At first I was really nervous about taking the class, because it was the first time where everyone else in the class was sighted, so I felt a little uncomfortable. But I was able to work and learn just as fast as everyone else in the class, and I became really good friends with my ceramic teacher, Glynnis Lessing. The class only lasted six weeks, but I ended up signing up for the class again for another six weeks.

You've already started by taking some classes at the School of Art last year. How did it go?

I love Cooper Union and have always loved Cooper Union. There is no other school better suited for me. It works well because of its size--small--and the community of students all know each other intimately. All the professors and staff and students have been extremely helpful and understanding of my needs, capabilities, and limitations. Many of the staff and professors have given me extra time to work with them one-on-one. Shout out to Betsy Alwin, Gwen Hyman, Lisa Lawley, Zach Poff, and Sara Jane Stoner--all exceptionally wonderful and extraordinary instructors. I really love working with all of them.

Tell me about the artwork you submitted to the Kennedy Center.

The idea came from one of the first drawings I did with the BrainPort. It started as a drawing of two hands folding into each other, sitting on the seat of a chair. I looked at the drawing a little bit closer and the fingers appeared as bird wings, and the thumb appeared as a head. So I quickly drew a beak and it became a fat-looking bird sitting on a chair. I liked the looseness quality of the drawing and how one image could easily become two. I was interested in that quality of illusion. Anyway, when I went back to Cooper, I decided I would make a sculpture out of it. It was nice because it came about in the same way I always thought of ideas for sculptures. I would sketch them out and use the drawing as inspiration for the three-dimensional object.

What was your reaction upon learning of the award from the Kennedy Center?

I've never really won an award for my work before, so I was really excited and surprised. I found out when I was visiting my family in New Orleans. I immediately text messaged Betsy Alwin, who helped me submit my work to the contest.

What are your long-term goals?

Stay in the city, rent a studio, and keep finding new ways of making art!

Frequent Flyer: Preparing Your Child for Independent Travel with the Airlines

by Faith Rosenshein Young

From the Editor: For blind adults proficient in the skills of blindness, independent travel by air presents few obstacles. In fact, our biggest problem may be dealing with unwanted and unnecessary offers of help. However, a blind child traveling alone, like any child, needs to learn what to expect and how to negotiate the complexities of ticketing, security, boarding, and in-flight behavior. For a blind child with additional disabilities, this learning process may pose unique challenges. In this article, Faith Young explains how she taught her son, Ronen, to travel independently by plane.

Often people are surprised when they learn that our seventeen-year-old son, Ronen, travels back and forth to school independently. Their reaction takes me aback. Ronen prides himself on his independence. I never questioned that he would travel independently--everywhere.

Our situation is a bit unusual, which may help explain some of the reactions we encounter. We live in Illinois, and our son attends the Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts. Furthermore, Ronen is deaf-blind with multiple disabilities, including a physical disability. People are stunned when they find out that Ronen has mastered the art of air travel. In today's world, though, this ability should not be surprising. With a little planning and plenty of practice, almost any child can master independent air travel. Six-year-olds travel solo, so why shouldn't Ronen go it alone?

Ronen has been traveling with our family since he was an infant. Therefore, his first trip to school on the airplane was not his first plane ride. If it were, it would have prolonged our timeline toward independence, but it wouldn't have changed the outcome. Ronen enrolled at Perkins when he was fourteen, and after nine months he was able to fly to and from Boston by himself.

When Ronen began to attend Perkins, I traveled back and forth with him as an escort. During these trips, I went step by step with Ronen through the processes of checking in, requesting assistance, clearing security, and checking in at the gate. Ronen learned to speak politely to the airline and TSA agents and to answer their questions with a verbal response. He learned to ask to gate check his wheelchair, and he understood that the procedures differ, depending on the airline. Also, Ronen quickly learned that he needed to remove his laptop and BrailleNote from his backpack--and to open the BrailleNote. Most TSA agents are unfamiliar with this device, and a closed case will usually cause a delay in clearing security.

In addition, Ronen learned to ask for a male assist as he approaches security. Ronen wears orthotics that contain metal. It is very difficult to remove and replace them, so it is easier for him to submit to a pat down each time he goes through security. Finally, Ronen learned to ask to pre-board when he reaches the gate.

Once on the plane, Ronen needed to learn about airline etiquette. I recall one trip when I shadowed him. Although polite, Ronen spoke incessantly to the man sitting next to him, and he sang as if he were alone in the shower for the entire two-hour trip! Upon exiting, a kindly woman turned to him and said, "I so enjoyed your singing. You have a lovely voice." She had been sitting at least six rows behind him!

After that trip, Ronen's school social worker used an adapted version of "Riding in an Airplane," a selection from Social Behavior Mapping by Michelle Garcia Winner. The exercises helped refine Ronen's social skills and behavior when flying. With the help of this tool, Ronen learned the behaviors that others expect from him when he flies. He learned how other people feel when they notice such behaviors, the positive results of demonstrating such behaviors, and the positive feelings he experiences as a result. Ronen also learned about unexpected behaviors, the way these behaviors make other people feel, the negative results of demonstrating such behaviors, and the negative feelings he experiences as a result.

The Teaching Process, Step by Step

Eventually, Ronen mastered the skills that enable him to fly solo. Now the flight crews compliment us on Ronen's behavior. People marvel at Ronen's skill and ask how I taught him to fly independently. As with everything, the devil is in the details, and those will vary based on individual needs. A high-level teaching process, however, might look something like this.

1.         Pick one airline to fly consistently. Choose an airline that offers direct flights to your most frequent destinations. Check the website to learn about the disability services the airline offers. Services vary by carrier, but all must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

2.         Select a back-up airline, just in case. We have needed to use an alternate carrier due to changes in flight schedule, flight unavailability, or route unavailability.

3.         Join the frequent flyer programs of your selected primary and secondary airlines, and sign up your child as well. Airlines like to build loyalty. Air travel is costly, and you need to accumulate all the rewards and discounts you can gather.

4.         Contact TSA Cares. (See the Resources section at the end of this article.) Discuss screening policies and procedures and the expectations at security checkpoints. You can download a Disability Notification Card from the TSA website. This card does not exempt the holder from screening, but it does allow the holder to alert TSA agents to special concerns in a private manner. I printed off several of these cards when Ronen started to fly to school and taught him to hand them to all the TSA agents. The cards enable him to communicate about his medical conditions and disabilities without having to make a public statement. Ronen keeps a card in his wallet and another one with his passport. On the TSA Kids website, TSA also offers resources for traveling with children that explain the screening process. The website provides a video and a transcript that you can download and convert to a Braille ready file (BRF). You may also contact your local TSA office about special readiness training programs. Some TSA offices offer special programs; staff will walk children with special needs through the TSA screening process during off-peak hours in preparation for a future flight.

5.         Take a webinar. Ronen and I took a webinar through the Association for Airline Passenger Rights prior to his shadow trip. If I were aware of these webinars earlier, I would have introduced them at the beginning of the teaching process. Fortunately, you can access past webinars from the TSA archive site. Some webinars are Power Point presentations (a few with text only or RTF options), and some are audio files. Many have both options available.

6.         After you book your reservation online, call and speak with an agent. Explain your child's special needs and describe any accommodations he or she will need. You can set up a courtesy wheelchair, arm escort, and/or similar assistance when you book your flight. You may also call the airline and book directly through an agent without incurring any reservation fees.

7.         If your child is young and has not flown before, read books about travel by airplane. Some possibilities include Going on a Plane by Anne Civardi (Usborne First Experiences, E.D.C. Publishing, 2005), The Noisy Airplane Ride by Mike Downs (Tricycle Press, 2005), Airport by Byron Barton (HarperCollins, 1987), and Amazing Airplanes by Tony Mitton (Kingfisher, 2005). Though these books are written for young children, the information is relevant to the total flight experience. It is appropriate for sharing with older children who need concise information in simple terms. Unfortunately, I have not found any of these books in Braille format. Check with Bookshare, your local librarian, or your state library service for additional recommendations and options for making them accessible to your child.

8.         Do a "walk-through" at home. Create social stories for any part of the process that may be causing your child anxiety.

9.         Travel with your child several times as an escort. When escorting your child, explain what you are doing and why you are doing it. Review the success of the trip, plan modifications and adaptations, practice at home, then escort your child again until you have completed several successful (i.e., uneventful) escort trips.

10.       Plan a silent escort trip. On this trip, you escort your child, but pretend you are not there. When you arrive at the airport, inform ticketing agents of your plan. While standing nearby, let your child navigate the entire flight process alone, from departure to arrival. Only intervene if your child directly asks for help. If your child asks for help and is capable of managing the task alone, provide gentle reassurance and step back. Provide direct assistance only if necessary. Take notes so you can review the success of the trip and plan modifications or adaptations later. Remember to celebrate your child's successful trip.

11.       Plan a shadow trip. After a successful silent escort trip, the next trip should be a shadow trip. This trip is very similar to a silent escort trip, but this time you remain at a distance behind your child. Your child has the sense of being alone, yet you are there to intervene if necessary for safety. Your child should have the confidence to travel alone at this point and should not need any assurances from you once travel has begun. Again, take notes for review later (note the singing incident I shared earlier).

12.       Schedule an independent flight. Pick a route your child has traveled frequently. If possible, arrange for your child to call the airline and book the flight as well as requesting any necessary accommodations.

13.       Request a Gate Pass. Passengers with disabilities who require assistance in excess of a courtesy wheelchair or arm escort can request a Gate Pass. Airlines issue Gate Passes at their discretion at the time of flight departure or arrival, but we have never had a problem obtaining one to help our son. Staff from Ronen's school have received them without any trouble, too. Make sure to arrive at the airport at least an hour before the flight will board or arrive. You will have to clear security, so remember all TSA security requirements apply to you, also. You must present a valid identification to the ticket and TSA agents.

14.       Celebrate success!


The Internet has many resources that support air travel for children and for people with special needs. Here are a few that I find most helpful.

TSA Cares Information—
(contains link for Disability Notification Card for Air Travel)

TSA Kids—
(Main Page with Prepare for Takeoff video and transcript, and Parents Page)

Association for Airline Passenger Rights (AAPR) Archives—

Friendship Circles, A Comprehensive Guide to Special Needs Travel—

Disabled World Travel: Accessible Disability Travel Information—

Mobility International USA Air Travel Tips for People with Disabilities—

Chicago Department of Aviation Accessibility Information and Assistance— <www.flychicago.com/OHare/EN/AtAirport/Facilities/Accessibility/default.aspx>

Self-Advocacy in Spain: Curiosity, Confidence, and Commitment

by Chelsey Duranleau

Reprinted from The Student Slate, Winter 2013

From the Editor: Following graduation from college, Chelsey Duranleau attended the adjustment to blindness program at BLIND, Inc., in Minneapolis. She decided to stay in Minneapolis upon completion of the program. She plans to obtain a graduate degree in social work and to work with Spanish-speaking clients. Chelsey is active with the Metro Chapter of the NFB of Minnesota and was recently elected secretary of the Minnesota Association of Blind Students.

On a cold, snowy night in January 2009, I fastened my seatbelt as instructed. The captain came over the loudspeaker, announcing in a pleasant English accent that all electronic devices needed to be powered down. After the last few cell phones had chimed and last-minute seatbelts had been clicked into place, we slowly pulled back down the runway. It's really happening, I thought. I'm really going to a country that I have wanted to visit since I was in the sixth grade! But this would be more than just a visit as a tourist--I would be living there, living and breathing the Spanish culture and lifestyle for almost four months.

As the runway disappeared beneath us, my mind became flooded with questions. How will I access my textbooks? Will I be able to get worksheets and assignments in the appropriate formats? How will I learn to navigate a strange city? What happens if I get lost?

Admittedly, the answers to the first three questions were still unclear. However, thanks to a fellow Federationist I met at the 2008 national convention, I knew the answer to Question Four. What if I get lost? He said, "It's okay to get lost, and you will get lost; it has happened to everyone. The trick is to take a step back, acknowledge that you are lost and that you need help, and then ask for it."

Of course! I thought. It really is that simple. That is self-advocacy. As blind people, we want to be as independent as possible. We want to have the power to make decisions about our lives and about what is best for us. Part of this power is having the confidence to ask for assistance when necessary and to follow through with our commitment in order to get what we desire or to achieve a goal.


These concepts never rang so true for me as when I studied abroad in Seville, Spain. To sum it up in one phrase, Seville is the perfect city to get lost in--not to mention testing your mobility skills if you are a cane user. The streets are narrow and seem to flow into one another. There are plenty of parked cars, mopeds, and motorcycles lining side streets and sometimes blocking the Spanish equivalent of a sidewalk. My entire experience in Spain was a test of my self-advocacy skills.

I informed all of my professors at my school that I would need my textbooks and assignments in Microsoft Word so I could read them independently using JAWS. Since it was a small school and I was the only blind student, my professors and other faculty members were easily able to scan materials into a computer and convert them to Word so I could access them. It is much easier for me to read Spanish in Braille, so I contacted ONCE, a national organization made up of blind and sighted volunteers, to obtain a Braille copy of a novel I needed to read for a Spanish literature class. I contacted ONCE before I arrived in Spain, asking them if they would assist me. After signing some forms and providing copies of my passport and other necessary documents to the ONCE office, I was shown landmarks that I could use while navigating the central section of the city. If I wanted to go somewhere new, I asked my host family for directions if it was within walking distance. When I got lost, I remembered the advice I had received the previous summer. I stopped, calmed down, and asked someone for directions.

My curiosity seemed to have no bounds. Almost every time I walked anywhere I would get lost, but that didn't stop me. I was determined to go where I wanted to go and do what I needed and wanted to do.

When going into a store, I asked for assistance finding what I needed. The more I spoke up, the more comfortable I became speaking and thinking in Spanish. As my confidence and commitment to advocating for myself grew, so did my curiosity.

In April, during a week off from school, I decided to take a trip to Morocco with Discover Sevilla, a local travel agency for tourists that organizes group excursions. I was nervous, because at the time I didn't know anyone who was going, but I knew this would be the chance of a lifetime. For six days we drove across Morocco, stopping in Rabat, Fez, and other cities to explore and spend the day. The culmination of this trip was a ride by camel through the Sahara; we would sleep under the stars in an oasis.

I was more than a little excited, but one of our guides had some reservations about my riding a camel because of my blindness. "We'll just have you ride in the car," he said. "I think that would be easier and safer for you."

I laughed to myself and thought, have you ever met me? This girl doesn't limit herself because of society's misconceptions or because another option might be easier. I insisted that I would be fine, and that something could happen to any other member of our group as well. Part of the reason I wanted to go on this trip was to ride a camel through the desert, and that was what I planned on doing. Eventually, the guide gave in, and I spent the next two hours getting pelted by sand as our caravans made their way to where we would spend the night.

After we arrived at the oasis, a bunch of us decided that it would be fun to climb a giant sand dune and do some sand boarding. After all, what else is there to do in the desert? It was a hard climb, but with a little determination and encouragement from a new friend, eventually I made it to the top. It felt incredible! At that moment, as I looked over the edge, covered in sand and sweat, I realized just how far I had come since leaving the US.

This was far from the end of my travels abroad. During the 2011-2012 school year, I returned to Spain to work as an assistant English teacher in an elementary school in Palma de Mallorca. Although working with fully sighted children was challenging and frustrating at times, it allowed me to exercise my creativity. I tried to complement and reinforce what they were learning from their classroom teachers with fun and engaging activities such as playing games or incorporating popular songs into their lessons. Not only was I helping children improve their English, but I was also serving a very different and perhaps more significant purpose: that of a role model and a representative of the National Federation of the Blind, an organization that has helped me overcome my own negative attitudes and misconceptions surrounding blindness. I would not have had the courage to study abroad or return to Spain two years later if it hadn't been for the valuable encouragement and support I received from my NFB family. The most important lesson I have learned from my involvement with the NFB has been that my blindness is a small part of who I am, just like my eye or hair color; it does not define me or limit my dreams of an independent, happy, and fulfilling life.

As blind people, we must be our own advocates and work together to break down negative attitudes and assumptions imposed on us by the sighted society in which we live. Remember, you are the best and most important advocate you have. You know yourself better than anyone else does. There will be obstacles as you walk through the narrow streets of life. There will be giant sand dunes, and you may fall on your way up. But keep going, keep climbing, and you will reach the top.

Producing Tactile Materials
An Update

by Robert Jaquiss

Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 56, No. 11, December 2013

From the Editor: A longtime Federationist, Robert Jaquiss is passionate about the value of tactile materials for blind students. Like a growing number of educators and parents, he believes that blind students should be taught and encouraged to use models and tactile graphics along with other adaptive tools. As a member of the NFB's Committee on Research and Development, he has followed developments in the field closely since 1993. Currently he serves as director of the recently announced 3D Tactile Graphics Division of the American Thermoform Corporation (ATC).

In the April 2012 issue of Braille Monitor, I wrote an article entitled "Advanced Technology for Producing Tactile Materials." The technologies I described are often referred to as 3D technologies. Products are improving and prices are dropping, developments that will have a major effect on the education of the blind. Now a teacher will be able to find an image using the Internet, download it, and produce a model for his/her students. Blind and low-vision students can more easily understand the concepts being taught and will be able to explore models of natural phenomena and cultural artifacts.

In this article, I will describe two new devices, the 2BOT and the MakerBot Replicator 2. It should be noted that both the 2BOT and Replicator 2 are most likely to be useful to sighted teachers and transcribers. The software requires the user to view an image on screen in order to produce it in a tactile form.

The 2BOT

The 2BOT is an easy-to-use, computer-controlled milling machine that connects to a PC through a USB cable. The machine uses blocks of foam measuring 12 by 13-3/4 inches and up to 2 inches thick. The foam blocks are inexpensive, ranging in price from four to twenty-eight dollars per piece, depending upon the type of foam.

To operate the 2BOT, the user removes a frame from the machine, installs a piece of foam in the frame, and inserts the frame again. The software is started, an image selected, parameters set, and the job begins. When the first side of the model is complete, the foam dust is vacuumed out. The frame is removed, flipped over, and inserted back into the 2BOT. The job then resumes, cutting the back side of the model. When the job is complete, the model is detached from the remains of the foam block. Depending on the size and complexity of the model, a job can take anywhere from twenty minutes to three hours.

The 2BOT sells for $5,995. A complete turnkey system, including a supply of foam and an industrial vacuum cleaner, sells for $6,595.

The MakerBot Replicator 2

The MakerBot Replicator 2 is a 3D printer that uses spools of ABS filament  (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene , a moldable polymer) to construct models by melting and then depositing drops of molten plastic under computer control. The Replicator 2 can create models that are impossible for a milling machine to produce. The build volume is in inches: 11.2 long, 6 wide, and 6.1 high.

Like the 2BOT, the Replicator 2 is easy to use and connects to a PC through a USB cable. The models are built in layers. Imagine building a loaf of bread standing on its end. The loaf could be built by stacking up the slices until the loaf is complete. The process is similar for the Replicator 2. The user starts the software, selects an image, sets parameters, and starts the job. When the job is complete, the model is removed from the Replicator, and any support material is removed. Support material is necessary when a model has an overhanging portion--for example, the head of an animal. The Replicator can deposit material either on its base plate or on previously deposited material. If a model of an animal is needed, support material is produced to hold up the animal's head. The Replicator 2 sells for $2,400.

American Thermoform Corporation (ATC) is proud to sell both of these products. You can learn more by visiting <www.3dtactilegraphics.com>. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with me. Here is my contact information.

Robert Jaquiss, Director
3D Tactile Graphics Division
American Thermoform Corporation
1758 Brackett Street
La Verne, CA 91750
(909) 593-6711, ext. 107


Jaquiss, Robert. (2012, April). Advanced Technology for Producing Tactile Materials. Braille Monitor, 55:4. <https://nfb.org/images/nfb/Publications/bm/bm12/ bm1204/bm120407.htm>

The Horse Sense of Proper Training

by Matthew Maurer, Ph.D.

From the Editor: Dr. Matt Maurer teaches instructional technology at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. The brother of NFB President Marc Maurer, he has a longstanding commitment to improving opportunities for blind children and adults.

Recently I helped out when the Lions of Northeast Indiana held an event for blind youth. It was a fishing and camping weekend that we call Fishin' for Life. We have all experienced, or at least heard about, events that make the volunteers feel good but do little or nothing to advance the blind youth involved. Fortunately, this event is different, as a number of NFB members take part. With their influence, everyone learns something valuable, including the Lions themselves.

This was the second year Fishin' for Life took place. It had been great fun last year, and we learned some things about how to make the event even more meaningful for the participants. As an added bonus, the Lions of District 25A were eager to learn more about blindness. Last year's event was so powerful that other local organizations wanted to get involved. A nearby riding club volunteered to bring out some horses and let the kids ride.

I don't know much about horses, so I stood back and watched as the riding portion of the event unfolded. We soon discovered that many of the kids had never been around horses before, much less ridden them. It was interesting to watch each child mount the horse with the help of the riding club members. Those of us with vision have watched cowboys mount horses hundreds of times in the movies. Even if we have never gotten onto a horse ourselves, we have some basic understanding of what it entailed. When I observed the blind children, I realized that they did not inherently grasp the process of swinging one leg over the saddle. How many times have I watched John Wayne do that? These kids had never had that seemingly universal experience.

It was quickly apparent that we needed to do a lot more teaching. Which way should the rider face when mounting the horse? Which foot goes in the stirrup first? How does one get the other leg over the horse's back? As all good teachers do, the instructors attempted to fill in these knowledge gaps.

After the riding event, one of the NFB members commented that the experience was less than it could have been. The horses were led around the ring, so the children did not have a chance to ride independently. My response was that the children got firsthand experience with the horses. They learned to mount and to put their feet in the stirrups, and they felt the horse's movement as they perched in the saddle.

The differing points of view got me thinking about the idea of intended outcome. If we wanted the children to gain some basic knowledge of horses, then they had a good experience. If we wanted them to ride independently, however, the experience needed improvement.

I also thought about the children's self-perceptions. Some of them may have been thinking, Hey, look at me! I'm a cowboy! For a moment, in the saddle, they may have imagined themselves in a western adventure. Yet if an observer watched the mounting and dismounting process and saw the person leading the horse, the image would be entirely different.

A Metaphor for Training

This horseback riding experience can serve as a strong metaphor for the training and education of the blind. Former NFB president Dr. Kenneth Jernigan said many times that, with proper training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to a mere nuisance. Proper training is critical to achieve the desired outcome. In addition, an expectation of achievement is essential. First we must believe that the child can ride a horse, and then we must develop the proper training to bring that belief to fruition.

It can be very helpful to apply this metaphor to schooling. Your child's teacher may say, "Math is difficult for blind children to learn. We can't expect your child to be on grade level." Or the teacher might tell you, "Braille is difficult and slow. Don't expect your child to read on grade level with the sighted kids." Naturally, if the teacher holds these beliefs, the child is likely to fall behind. The teacher must first believe that your child can be at grade level with his or her peers. Then, the teacher must develop the proper educational program to make that happen. Due to the visual teaching methods that are often used in the classroom, math may present difficulties for blind learners. Well-designed learning experiences can overcome these difficulties. Taught early and taught well, blind children can become excellent Braille readers.

If we are satisfied with leading the child around on the horse, then that is the outcome we will have. On the other hand, if we long to see the child ride independently, we can work toward that outcome and make it so. We must remember that our expectations have consequences. When we expect blind children to lag behind their peers, that is the predictable outcome--the outcome we have worked toward. Furthermore, we tend to celebrate any achievement that exceeds our meager expectations. We say, "Look at you, Tommy! You're a cowboy!" when actually someone is leading the horse around the paddock. Such praise creates a false self-image that can have serious consequences.

Life Skills and Travel

The metaphor also sheds light on adult training programs. The NFB-affiliated training programs expect the student to "ride independently." There are other training programs that are satisfied with "leading them around." The NFB-affiliated programs strive for full integration of the blind into society. It seems that some other programs seek merely to develop survival skills. While survival is essential, it is not sufficient for a full and rich life.

More specifically, take two areas, daily living and travel skills. Most adult training programs teach cooking in their daily living classes. Some programs focus on survival cooking, mainly the use of the microwave. The programs that incorporate NFB philosophy teach the full set of cooking skills. In fact, in order to graduate from such a program, students are required to apply their skills by preparing a meal for a small group and eventually for a large group. With this set of skills, the student can engage in the rich life experience of having people over for a meal. Can you imagine asking someone over for dinner and serving food from the microwave?

A big distinction that sets NFB-affiliated training programs apart from many other centers is the style of cane instruction. The traditional approach is called route travel. With this approach, the student learns to get from one particular point to another--from home to the supermarket, school, or church. The skills to do so are valuable, but once again, they are insufficient. If you can get to the supermarket, the doctor's office, and the mall, you have the necessary skills to live independently. That is no small undertaking. However, the ability to get to those essential places does not allow for the full, rich life we all wish for our children. Many rewarding elements of life exist beyond those locations. There are outdoor concerts, charitable events, plays, movies, and friends to visit who live in distant cities.

This is where the structured discovery method of travel instruction comes into play. NFB training centers use the structured discovery approach to cane travel. Structured discovery focuses not on getting to a set of specific places, but on how to reach any desired location safely and efficiently. Teaching structured discovery is a more difficult and time-consuming task than training students in route travel. All the skills of route travel are needed and more. The additional skills include an understanding of how a particular town or city is laid out, the ability to use a wide range of environmental cues, and strategies for researching address locations. The main difference between route travel and structured discovery is in the level of thinking that is required. Structured discovery develops problem solving skills that make cane travel an effective means of getting around in the world.

Our job as parents is to work ourselves out of a job. When our children are young, they need us and depend upon us. We hope that our adult children have moved beyond needing our help in this way. By holding high expectations for our children, we can accomplish that goal. It is also essential that we insist that those who provide services to our children hold similarly high expectations. We must expect teachers and rehabilitation counselors to do their best work to make those high expectations a reality. It is perfectly fine to lead a young child around the paddock on a horse, but as children grow they need to take up the reins and ride!


For further thoughts on these ideas, explore the following materials.

Castellano, Carol. (2010). Getting Ready for College Begins in Third Grade: Working Toward an Independent Future for Your Blind/VI Child. Information Age Publishing.

Maurer, Matthew. (2010, Summer). Equal Standards for Blind Children. Future Reflections, 29:3, <https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/fr/fr29/3/fr290302.htm>

National Blindness Professional Certification Board. (n.d.) Structured Discovery Cane Travel. <http://www.nbpcb.org/pages/sdct.php>

Omvig, James H. (1999, November). Proper Training for the Blind: What Is It? The Fourth Ingredient. Braille Monitor, 42:9, <https//nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/bm/ bm99/bm991102.htm>

Training Centers for the Blind, <https//nfb.org/training-centers>

Of Parallels, Learning, and New Paradigms

by Carlton Anne Cook Walker

Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 56, No. 11, December 2013

From the Editor: Carlton Anne Cook Walker serves as president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). She is a teacher of the visually impaired, an attorney, and the mother of a blind daughter, Anna Catherine. The following article is based on a speech she delivered last October at a luncheon for parents of blind children in Iowa.

It is indeed an honor to be in this Hawkeye State that holds so much history of the blind, and to be with individuals like you who represent the future. I serve as the president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. This is my fifth year working as an itinerant teacher of blind students in south central Pennsylvania, and I continue to operate my law practice on a part-time basis. But to explain better where I want to go, I need to let you know where I have been.

I am a native North Carolinian, so, if you ask me where I'm from, the answer is Raleigh, North Carolina. However, in 1995 I met an incredible gentleman. He was a widower and the father of two lovely children, Kenny and Stephanie. Despite the fact that he was also a Yankee, we got married, and I moved up to Pennsylvania, where we all now live.

In March of 2001 our family grew with the birth of Anna Catherine. She was a healthy, full-term baby, weighing eight pounds, twelve ounces--but health problems soon developed. Like many first-time mothers, I had heavily researched the benefits of breastfeeding. Unfortunately, Anna could not latch on well, and after our first hospitalization I ended up feeding her my milk from a bottle. This worked well for a couple of months--then she developed severe reflux.

Our next three hospitalizations ended with surgery to treat the reflux and the placement of a feeding tube. Again we muddled through, as a two-pump family--my breast pump and her feeding pump.

Just after Thanksgiving, when we returned from our first family vacation, Anna's lips started turning various shades of blue. Another two weeks in the hospital, and we came home with two oxygen tanks and an overnight monitor. We were told that this first Christmas with Anna Catherine might well be our last.

In February Anna started vomiting blood. We again rushed to the emergency room, but this time we went to a different hospital, Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh. Everything was different. In Pittsburgh Anna was not treated as a pulmonary case or a neurology case. Anna was a sick little girl who needed to get better. Anna Catherine was sicker than she had ever been before, but these doctors believed that she could and would improve. They learned that she could no longer tolerate any protein, so she could no longer have my milk. Instead she needed a very elemental formula, made in England, that contained only amino acids, which her body then would form into proteins.

I had to throw out my preconception of the superiority of breast milk. No matter how I changed my diet, I could no longer provide what Anna needed. I had to give up what I wanted in order to give my little girl what she needed to survive.

Anna's early health issues hampered the development of both her macula (used for central vision) and her retina (used for peripheral vision). Nevertheless, early educators steered us toward large print--after all, three-year-old Anna could read seventy-two-point font at four inches.

Through an improbable series of events, I found the National Federation of the Blind. We attended the first Beginnings and Blueprints conference in Baltimore in 2005, we attended the 2006 NFB convention in Dallas, and we fell in love. We realized that our new NFB family could provide Anna Catherine with the skills, tools, and mentoring that we, as her sighted parents, could not.

As I reflect on the first fifteen months of Anna's life, I am struck by the parallels between my journey and those of parents of blind children--especially blind children who have some functional vision. I had researched the benefits of breast milk, and I did everything in my power to ensure that Anna got it. Parents of children with low vision are bombarded with information about maximizing sight. Just as I did with breast milk, parents and professionals bend over backward to maximize the use of vision--even when the child is harmed in the process. I remember vividly how hard it was for me to give up nursing and move to formula--you can probably hear in my voice what an emotional decision it was. Thus, it should not surprise us that sighted parents and professionals cling steadfastly to their misconceptions about the superiority of vision in all circumstances. It takes time to change attitudes and transform belief systems, but our support and patience are vital. We know the utility of nonvisual techniques. Parents' minds will be changed when they witness the increased capabilities and independence of blind children who use these techniques more efficiently and effectively than vision-maximizing methods.

Anna Catherine is now a healthy twelve-year-old seventh grader. She describes herself as blind with some functional vision. She reads Braille and uses a long white cane for travel. In truth, she has several long canes, none of which is white. Each of her canes is decorated in different colors and with different patterns--a preteen girl needs to match her cane to her outfits, you know!

Anna has always been a "math girl." We had the pleasure of meeting the late Dr. Abraham Nemeth on several occasions at NFB conventions and at the Louis Braille Coin launch in 2009. We mourn his passing this week.

I truly shudder to think of where Anna would be had we not found the Federation. Anna would not be able to keep up with her studies if she were reading print, and she would be restricted to using mental math. Instead of walking home from school and walking to the grocery store (sometimes without my knowledge), she would be fearful of moving around independently. Thanks to the skills, tools, and mentoring of our Federation family, my Anna Catherine is a headstrong, math-loving, fashionista--just as she should be!

When your state NFB president, Mr. Michael Barber, invited me to come to Iowa, I was excited. I have never been here before, but I know my NFB history. I know that our past president, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, molded many past and current Federation leaders, including our current president, Dr. Marc Maurer, here in Iowa. I was also excited to come to the home of Meredith Willson, the site of his beautiful love letter to his home state, The Music Man. This incredible musical is one of my favorites, and my family watches it often--in both live local performances and the movie versions.

Life being what it is, I soon had my own Music Man experience. I had the opportunity to lead two summer programs: one for deaf and blind students and one for blind students only. In both programs we had staff with and without experience in working with blind children. I explained that we needed to teach nonvisual skills under sleepshades, and that we, as sighted individuals, must practice those skills under sleepshades before we attempt to teach them. My viewpoint was a revelation to the other staff members. Some of the sighted people with experience teaching blind children had never used sleepshades before--either for themselves or for their students. Some argued that sleepshades are not really necessary; they were convinced that one can learn and teach nonvisual skills while using vision.

This notion struck me as a modern-day implementation of the "Think System." In The Music Man, a traveling salesman, Professor Harold Hill, holds himself out as an expert in forming boys' bands. He sells townsfolk the instruments, instruction books, and uniforms, with promises of forming their young children into the River City Boys' Band to entertain the community at the upcoming Fourth of July celebration. Unfortunately, Professor Hill does not know how to teach or even play the band instruments he sells. He cannot even read music. Professor Hill does not let this stop him. He develops the Think System, a process by which the children do not touch their expensive instruments; instead, they "think" the music.

Isn't this very much like teaching nonvisual skills through the use of vision? Just as one cannot learn to play an instrument without touching the instrument, one cannot learn the efficient and effective use of nonvisual skills while employing vision. Just as Professor Hill hid his incompetence in music instruction by teaching his Think System, too many teachers of blind students avoid instruction in blindness skills such as Braille reading and cane travel by substituting instruction in techniques that maximize vision but do not maximize students' performance and independence. Just as Professor Hill's ineffective methods failed to produce competent musicians, overreliance on vision in the instruction of blind students fails to produce competent or confident blind adults.

We know the risks of overreliance on vision. While I do not suggest that we tar and feather vision-centric instructors, I do believe that we, as Federationists, can help them improve. We can educate parents and professionals about the increased functionality that nonvisual skills provide. We can mentor blind adults and children and provide positive blind role models in their lives. We can gently but firmly insist on teaching nonvisual skills nonvisually. We can, and we must.

Let us join together to transform the Think System into the Do System. Just as Professor Hill abandoned his flawed plan, we can help parents, professionals, and blind adults realize the shortcomings of a vision-maximization approach. We must help individuals maximize efficiency, maximize effectiveness, and maximize independence. And together we will!

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math to the Extreme

by Natalie Shaheen

From the Editor: In 2004, a group of blind high school students in the NFB Jernigan Institute's Rocket On! program launched a rocket in partnership with NASA. Since that momentous occasion, the National Federation of the Blind has continued to create opportunities for blind students to gain hands-on experience in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, sometimes referred to as the STEM disciplines. In the summer of 2013, forty-five blind students and their mentors gathered at Towson University in Baltimore for a program called STEM-X. In this article, Natalie Shaheen gives readers a glimpse of the challenges the students faced and a chance to celebrate their achievements.

From July 29 through August 3, 2013, the NFB Jernigan Institute hosted a new program under its National Center for Blind Youth in Science initiative, NFB STEM-X. The X in the program's title draws inspiration from the aerospace community. Historically, programs and missions have utilized the letter X as an abbreviation for exploration, and as a statement that a particular effort seeks new solutions and new discoveries that surpass previously assumed barriers to scientific advancement. In the same way, the NFB STEM-X program challenges the notion that blind people are unable to pursue studies in the STEM fields, or on a larger scale, are destined to lives of dependence on government assistance.

Forty-five blind high school students from twenty-seven states traveled to Baltimore to participate in last summer's program. The students were not the only ones who traveled from all over the country to participate. Dozens of volunteers flocked to Baltimore to assist with classroom instruction, mentoring, recreation facilitation, and logistics. For the duration of NFB STEM-X we lived, learned, and played together on the campus of Towson University.

Before leaving home, each student had the opportunity to build his or her NFB STEM-X schedule. Each student chose one of the five focus disciplines (aerospace engineering, chemistry, civil engineering, computer science, and robotics) in which to participate, spending every morning in that class. Students also selected three enrichment classes, one for each afternoon, from the eight that were offered (paleobiology, video description, geology, nanotechnology, biology, human physiology, art, and cyber security). As is always the case with Federation programs, the learning didn't stop at five o'clock! Students spent their evenings in recreational activities of their choice. The offerings included beep baseball, goalball, accessible disc golf, ballroom dancing, rock climbing, and geocaching. (Geocaching is a game in which players use global positioning systems to locate hidden containers of objects. Learn more at <www.geocaching.com>.)

One unique aspect of NFB STEM-X was the story around which the curriculum for the five focus discipline classes was developed. ISONia, written by long-time Federationist Jerry Whittle specifically for NFB STEM-X, told the tale of a comet (@STEMXComet) that was on a collision course with Earth. It recounted the efforts of a task force of world-class scientists (including the students at NFB STEM-X) to innovate solutions to this potentially devastating natural disaster. You can read Jerry Whittle's ISONia in its entirety by visiting the NFB STEM-X wiki at <http://bit.ly/16yysmO>.

The students' work to combat ISON required constant collaboration and problem solving. Students in the aerospace engineering group worked to build a spacecraft that could reach the comet to collect vital data to be sent to scientists around the world for analysis. They also built a hovercraft for transportation on Earth and a satellite to assist with communications in the aftermath of ISON. Students in the civil engineering class built a truss bridge to replace bridges that might be demolished upon ISON's impact, and they created desalinization plants to purify water. They were also called upon to design structures that could withstand the tsunami created by ISON's crash into the Atlantic Ocean. The robotics team built robots to conduct search and rescue missions during the clean-up after the comet collided with Earth. A robotic arm was also created to attach to the hovercraft built by the aerospace engineering group. The students in the chemistry class generated ethanol to power the robots built by the robotics group. In addition, the chemistry class created esters that could be used to flavor food after ISON destroyed the huge plant that produced esters for many of the food manufacturers. The computer science students aggregated and analyzed crowd-sourced data from social networks such as Twitter to provide vital information to the groups doing search and rescue and clean-up after the disaster.

Woven into the program, unbeknown to the students and volunteers, and not even known to the majority of the NFB Jernigan Institute staff who facilitated the program, was the secret solution to a game (@#STEMXSecret). Everyone worked together to uncover the solution. Program participants young and old solved QR code riddles and searched out facts about the NFB to gain entrance to locked webpages. They assembled tangrams, tweeted, cracked a musical clue, and talked to Dr. Maurer in order to get to the ultimate secret.

So, what's the secret? That is for NFB STEM-X participants to know and for you to figure out!

Thanks to the power of technology, you are not limited to this author's account of the NFB STEM-X story. A quick glance at the tweet archive from #NFBSTEMX provides a picture of the fun and learning that took place during the program. Some of it was planned, some of it was impromptu, some was about STEM, and all of it was about living successfully as blind people.

#NFBSTEMX Tweet Archive


@Danielle_Sykora: Just got accepted to #NFBSTEMX


@setoth96: @nlshaheen I'm going to be at the #NFBSTEMX program later this month! can't wait!


@nlshaheen: The #Volunteers are coming! The volunteers are coming! Oh wait, many of them are already here!


@STEMXComet: Just cruising! #NFBSTEMX


@kea_anderson: Even if I was only there for a while, I love the #nfbstemx energy. Also love talking to teachers of blind students and learning from them.

@nlshaheen #NFBSTEMX: just showed a student how to carry a tray and use a cane in the dining hall. One of my favorite things to teach students!

@nlshaheen: blind student actively participating in science 4 1st time at #NFBSTEMX "they don't let me do this at school" she says

@IndSci: students producing ethanol from sugar #nfbstemx #stem #a11y <http://t.co/qj0lJPiJPT>

@STEMXSecrets: There's a #nfbstemx puzzle to solve! Who will be first to gain the prize?


@renfro92w: Getting ready for our video description class in the afternoon. #NFBSTEMX #videsc (@ Tubman House) <http://t.co/okKoiO9qSA>

@renfro92w: Tubman House Boo <http://t.co/SXJsQv1gNP> via @audioboo #videsc #nfbstemx

The Tubman House Boo is a short audio recording from one of the video description instructors

@NFBSCIENCE #NFBSTEMX students learn to use a drill for the first time #Independence <http://t.co/iMdbMJgtLS>

@Brooik #nfbstemx: a student has a Braille 'n speak. I think it's awesome.

@UMBCCARPAT1: Day 2 of Volunteering at #NFBSTEMX where the students are learning to do some programming in ruby to interact with Twitter

@TonyOlivero: students are gathering for today's #nfbstemx 12:00 briefing.

@deejayyungwill: #nfbstemx is going really well so far. learning a lot

@Brooik #nfbstemx: 2 members of team 7 have just found triangular puzzle pieces in their desks. is this related to the @STEMXSecret?

@Brooik #nfbstemx: my student just said this is more exciting than playing a video game! @stemxsecret

@IndSci: so many great memories from 2 days at #NFB-STEMX, wish we could have stayed the whole time. Good luck students!


@NFBScience #nfbstemx: Civil Engineering students are testing designs in the @HowardU wave tank. Here's 1 <http://t.co/CPXRRDHbrH>

@nlshaheen: some blind students are building with Legos for the first time! We need more access to Legos for our blind students! #nfbstemx

@Kansas_2000: I am having so much fun at #nfbstemx

@judgejordan: These students have so much energy. An excellent quality in a future leader. #nfbstemx

@GeorgeOnline: One parent's account of her son's #nfbstemx experience: <http://t.co/BmhexNVoGn>


@NFBScience: Final day #nfbstemx--Will the earth be saved from @STEMXComet, will the solutions be done on time, and will anyone solve the @STEMXSecret?

@SinaBahram: Just had a chance to speak with students at #NFBSTEMX about computer science, hacking, etc. It was fun! #a11y

@shaunkane: Ben demos 3d printing at #NFBSTEMX computer science track w/ @jeffbigham #umbchcc <http://t.co/kG5jkTeQu6>

@Riccobono #NFBSTEMX: Aerospace Engineers asked me to fly to the @STEMXComet: Pitch, roll, and yaw <http://t.co/3BRrO7P32K>

@nlshaheen: Leaving our mark at freedom square on the @TowsonU campus! #Braille rocks! #NFBSTEMX #TowsonU <http://t.co/cK6AbIPSZo>

@renfro92w: Getting ready to leave for Los Angeles! Had a great time at #nfbstemx. And would love to do it again next year. <http://t.co/Lc9QFyukAp>


@pulyperez1: My bag is packed. I am so inspired by all of you. I will miss you, but this isn't goodbye forever. I feel so loved and blessed. #NFB-STEMX

@setoth96 @nlshaheen: #NFBSTEMX was an excellent program. I left it wanting more!!!!!!!!

@deejayyungwill: big shoutout going to the folks at @nfbscience for allowing me to attend #nfbstemx this year. Had a great time and learned a lot.

Thank you to everyone who made NFB STEM-X a success, particularly the dozens of volunteers who gave so generously of their time and talents! A special thank you goes to our supporters--American Honda Foundation, UPS, Susquehanna Foundation for the Blind, M&T Bank, Northrop Grumman, Microsoft, and the National Security Agency; and to contributors AccessComputing and the Smith-Kettlewell Video Description Research and Development Center.

Behind the Scenes at Temple Beth El Sisterhood Braille Bindery

an Interview with Barbara Mandelbaum

From the Editor: For blind children, Braille means literacy and learning. Parents and teachers of Braille readers are always hunting for new sources of Braille books. One resource that is too often overlooked is Temple Beth El Sisterhood Braille Bindery, based in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Not long ago I had the chance to speak with Temple Beth El's Barbara Mandelbaum, and here is what she told me.

Deborah Kent Stein: I've only recently heard about the Temple Beth El Braille Bindery. What services do you offer?

Barbara Mandelbaum: We're a nonprofit organization that provides Braille books for children. Right now we have about twelve hundred literary titles in our catalog--that is, we have books children can read for pleasure. We don't transcribe textbooks. We have books for kids of all ages, from beginning readers to teens. If a child wants a book that isn't in our catalog yet, we will transcribe it on request. If you visit our website, you can browse or download our catalog--but I'm afraid the online version isn't totally up-to-date. We can send you our complete list of books by mail.

DKS: Is there any charge for the books?

BM: No. We provide all our books free of charge to families or schools that request them. However, we very much appreciate donations, as we have some costs in running the program. People are welcome to send monetary gifts or boxes of Braille paper. We use continuous sheets of 19-hole, 11x11.5 Braille paper with our Braille printer.

DKS: Are your books in contracted or uncontracted Braille?

BM: The majority of our books are in contracted Braille. We also have about one hundred titles in uncontracted Braille, and most of those are double-spaced to make reading easier for beginners. Unfortunately, our catalog doesn't designate whether a book is contracted or uncontracted. Let us know if you'd like to have the list of uncontracted titles, and we'll send it to you. Incidentally, all of our books are embossed on one side of the page; we don't do any interpoint, or double-sided, embossing.

DKS: How long has Temple Beth El been involved with Braille transcription?

BM: Actually, our program goes back more than fifty years. We got started in 1962. In the 1970s about eight transcribing groups got together and formed the Tricounty Braille Service. Over the years most of the other groups have disbanded, but we're still active.

DKS: Are you all volunteers?

BM: We don't have any paid staff. We're a group of eight volunteers, all of us senior citizens. Right now we range in age from sixty-four to ninety. We have two Braille transcribers and a certified proofreader. The other volunteers do all the rest of the things that need to be done--binding books, packing boxes, and taking shipments to the post office. There's a lot of heavy lifting involved!

DKS: How much time do the volunteers put in?

BM: Our volunteers usually come in one day a week, from nine to twelve. The transcribers and proofreader do most of their work at home. Years ago, our transcribers Brailled the books using the Perkins Brailler, but now we have computers with the Duxbury program. That makes everything faster and easier, but transcribing still takes time and patience.

DKS: How did you get involved in this program?

BM: Back in 1970 I was a stay-at-home mom, looking for something interesting to do. I decided I'd like to study Braille. I learned the Braille code, but then I ended up going back to work. Twenty years later I wanted to do something with my Braille training. I volunteered for a while with one transcribing organization, and then I moved over to the Braille Bindery. I've been here ever since.

DKS: What is the greatest challenge your program faces?

BM: Our biggest challenge right now is getting connected with kids who would enjoy and benefit from our books. We would love to hear from more readers! We're here, and we want to get our books into the hands of kids who can use them.

DKS: How can people get in touch with you to make requests or donations?

BM: We can be reached by email, mail, or phone. Here is our contact information.

Temple Beth El Sisterhood Braille Bindery
7400 Telegraph Rd.
Bloomfield Hills, MI 48301-3876
(248) 865-0634

Summer Programs


Every summer, the three NFB training centers offer intensive programs for blind children and teens. In each of these programs, students build their Braille and mobility skills; practice such daily living activities as shopping, cooking, and laundry; and gain levels of confidence they have never known before. At the same time, they have fun through such activities as camping, canoeing, and rock climbing. Students in the programs that prepare them for college and career acquire experience holding paid jobs. As a part of the program, high school students attend the NFB Annual Convention in July with their adult mentors. Blind counselors serve as role models, showing by example that blind people can live independent and fulfilling lives.

Students applying for career and college readiness programs must have an open case with their state office of rehabilitation services. Rehab services can help cover the cost of the program. Staff at the centers will assist families through the process of applying for rehab services funding.

Below is information about the programs offered by each of the three NFB centers during the summer of 2014. The programs at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM) also are listed. BISM is not an NFB-sponsored program, but its youth programs draw upon the NFB's philosophy and methods of instruction.

BLIND Inc.  (Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions)
100 E. 22nd St.
Minneapolis, MN 55404
Contact: Charlene Guggisberg, (612) 872-0100 or (800) 597-9558

The Buddy Program
July 12-August 2, 2014
Open to children ages nine to thirteen
Application Deadline: April 15, 2014

PREP (Postsecondary Readiness and Empowerment Program)
Open to high school students, ages fourteen through seventeen
June 9-August 1, 2014
Application Deadline: April 15, 2014

Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB)
2233 W. Shepperd Ave.
Littleton, CO 80120
Contact: Brent Batron, (303) 778-1130, Ext. 222
Contact Brent Batron, Youth Services Coordinator, for program applications.

Confidence Camp for Kids
June 9-June 27, 2014
Open to children ages five to eleven
Application Deadline: May 1, 2014
(This is a day program for children living in the Denver area.)

Initiation to Independence
July 14-August 1, 2014
Open to middle school students, ages eleven to fourteen
Application Deadline: June 1, 2014

Earn and Learn High School Program
June 6-August 1, 2014
Open to students ages fourteen to twenty-one
Application Deadline: May 1, 2014

Summer for Success College Prep Program
June 6-August 1, 2014
Open to students attending or planning to attend college
Application Deadline: May 1, 2014

Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB)
101 S. Trenton St.
Ruston, LA 71270
Contact: Eric Guillory, (800) 234-4166

Buddy Program
July 13-August 2, 2014
Open to children ages nine to thirteen
Application Deadline: April 11, 2014

STEP (Summer Training and Employment Project)
June 8-August 2, 2014
Open to high school students
Application Deadline: April 11, 2014

Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM)
3345 Washington Blvd.
Baltimore, MD 21227
Contact: Dezman Jackson, (410) 737-2600 or (888) 322-4567

Work to Independence
Open to students in high school

Independence 101
Open to children in fifth through eighth grades

Scholarships, Awards, and More

2014 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Program
Application Deadline: March 31, 2014

Each year the National Federation of the Blind offers thirty scholarships, ranging from $3,000 to $12,000, to recognize achievement by blind students. Applicants must be legally blind and must reside in and plan to attend an accredited postsecondary school in the United States, the District of Columbia, or Puerto Rico as a full-time student in the fall semester of 2014. All scholarship awards are based on academic excellence, community service, and leadership. Scholarship winners must participate in the entire 2014 NFB National Convention and in all of its scheduled scholarship activities. In addition to a scholarship, each winner will receive assistance to attend the NFB convention at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando, Florida, from July 1-6, providing an excellent opportunity for high-level networking with blind persons active in many occupations and professions.

Learning Ally National Achievement Awards
Contact: Hope Greenberg, (609) 520-8084
Application Deadline: March 1, 2014

Each year Learning Ally awards over $50,000 to outstanding students with visual and/or learning disabilities. The Marion Huber Learning through Listening Awards are offered to high school seniors who have learning disabilities, and the Mary P. Oenslager Scholastic Achievement Awards are open to college seniors and graduate students who are blind or visually impaired. The three top winners in each program will receive an award of $6,000 and will attend a national celebration in Washington, DC.

Microsoft Announces 5K Scholarship for High School Seniors with Disabilities
Microsoft Disability Scholarship Fund
Application Deadline: March 15, 2014

All candidates must be high school seniors with at least a 3-point GPA, who are living with a disability, require financial assistance to attend college, and plan to attend (full-time or part-time) a two- to four-year university/college or technical college in the US, in the fall following graduation, to pursue a major from the approved list targeting a career—engineering, computer science, computer information systems, legal or business fields in the technology industry (i.e. paralegal, pre-law, finance, business administration, or marketing). Apply online.

Microsoft employees will select promising high school seniors who require financial assistance in order to enter and successfully complete a vocational or academic college program.  This non-renewable $5,000 scholarship will be paid to the recipient's Financial Aid Office by the Seattle Foundation on behalf of the DisAbility Employee Resource Group (ERG) at Microsoft.

2014 California Chemistry Camp for Blind and Visually Impaired High School Students
Open to high school students ages fourteen to eighteen
Contact: Angela Fowler, (530) 902-0987
Location: Enchanted Hills Camp near Napa, CA
May 2-4, 2014
Application Deadline: March 31, 2014

How can a blind student handle chemistry as effectively as his/her sighted peers? Up to fifteen blind and visually impaired high school students will find out when they participate in the 2014 California Blind Science Camp. The program is free of charge with the exception of transportation. The location is the Enchanted Hills Camp near Napa, CA. Students will gain hands-on experience in the chemistry laboratory, working in groups of three under the guidance of blind mentors. During the weekend, students will have time to socialize with one another and with their blind and sighted instructors.


2014 Jacob Bolotin Awards
Application Deadline: March 31, 2014

Each year the National Federation of the Blind presents cash awards to individuals and organizations that have demonstrated exemplary leadership and extraordinary accomplishments in improving the lives of blind people in the United States. Recipients of the 2014 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards will be determined by the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Committee of the National Federation of the Blind. Individuals or organizations are encouraged to apply on behalf of themselves or others. To submit an application or to learn more, please visit the website listed above.


National Science Foundation Initiative

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has been awarded a grant of $1.5 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The grant will allow the NFB to continue to develop and expand the programs of its National Center for Blind Youth in Science (NCBYS). Under the expanded initiative, the NFB will partner with six science centers across the nation to conduct programs for blind youth and make the exhibits of the science centers accessible to the blind. The NFB will work with these science centers to create innovative two-day science programs for blind youth and their parents, as well as to enhance the accessibility of exhibits and activities at the science centers and provide training to teachers on ways to enhance the participation of blind students in the science classroom. Programs are already confirmed for the Museum of Science, Boston; Port Discovery Children's Museum, Baltimore; and the Center of Science and Industry, Columbus, Ohio.

Morton E. Ruderman Award for Extraordinary Contribution to Inclusion
Contact: Ephraim Gopin, ephraim@rudermanfoundation.org

Dr. Michael Ashley Stein, an international expert on disability and the law, has been awarded the inaugural $100,000 award from the Ruderman Family Foundation. The award recognizes an individual who has made an extraordinary contribution to the inclusion of people with disabilities in the Jewish world and the greater public. It is based upon past achievements and the potential for future contributions in the field. Dr. Stein is cofounder and executive director of the Harvard Law School Project on Disability (HPOD).

He participated in the drafting of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and actively consults with international governments on their disability laws and policies. He works for organizations fighting for disability rights around the world and advises a number of United Nations bodies and human rights institutions.

World of Children Awards
Contact: Brock Weaver, (925) 399-6410

Often referred to by the media as the Nobel Prize for Child Advocates, World of Children Award provides funding and recognition to support life-changing work for children worldwide. All World of Children honorees are dedicated to serving vulnerable children, some even risking their lives in the process. Awards were presented to the 2013 honorees on November 7, 2013. The following individuals and organizations were honored: C. Mead Welles, A Leg to Stand On (ALSO), an organization that provides prosthetic limbs to children in the developing countries; Michaela Mycroft, the Chaeli Campaign, a nonprofit that supports the mobility and educational needs of disabled children in South Africa; Sarah Cronk, the Sparkle Effect, Inc., an organization that has established more than one hundred inclusive cheerleading and dance teams in schools across the US; Susie Krabacher of Mercy and Sharing, an organization that provides care and education to abandoned and orphaned children in Haiti; Triveni Acharya of Rescue Foundation, dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of victims of child trafficking in India.

Braille Excellence Award
Braille Association of North America (BANA)
Contact: Frances Mary d'Andrea, (412) 521-5797

The CBA-BANA Joint Tactile Graphics Committee (comprised of BANA and the Canadian Braille Authority), that developed the publication Guidelines and Standards for Tactile Graphics, 2010, was honored with BANA's Braille Excellence Award in December 2013. The volunteer members of this ad hoc committee donated their time and talents for nearly a decade, meeting by phone almost weekly. Together they defined, refined, and established in writing a set of comprehensive, research-based guidelines and standards for the design and production of tactile graphics for Braille users.


Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium
NFB Jernigan Institute
200 E. Wells St. at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, MD 21230
April 24-25, 2014

The 2014 Jacobus tenBroek Law Symposium, held at the Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, will consist of plenary sessions and workshops facilitated by distinguished law professors, practitioners, and advocates who will discuss topics such as disability discrimination in the criminal and juvenile justice systems, next steps in Olmstead litigation, rights of parents with disabilities, supported decision making as an alternative to guardianship, and how to work with the media to get the disability rights message across. The agenda and registration form are available online.


2014 Book Angel Program
Seedlings Braille Books for Children
PO Box 51924
Livonia, MI 48151
Contact: (800) 777-8552 or info@seedlings.org
Fax: (734) 427-8552

Any visually impaired child who is under twenty-one years of age and lives in the United States or Canada is eligible to receive two free Braille books per year through the Book Angel Program. Orders will be filled as time and materials allow. Please list four books that your child or student would enjoy, and Seedlings will select two of them to send. Requests can be placed online, by fax, or by mail. Seedlings has over 1,200 titles to choose from, from storybooks for early readers to novels for teens.


Window-Eyes Offer for Users of Microsoft Office

GW Micro, in collaboration with Microsoft, is excited to provide people who are blind, visually impaired, or print disabled with a completely functional and free license of GW Micro's Window-Eyes screen reader. Microsoft is offering customers who have a licensed version of Office 2010 or later the ability to download Window-Eyes, a screen reader for Windows PCs. Window-Eyes functions with Microsoft operating systems from Windows XP to Windows 8.1 and is available in multiple languages.

Keysoft 9.4 for BrailleNote Apex
(800) 722-3393

Keysoft 9.4, the latest free upgrade for HumanWare's BrailleNote Apex, provides simple access to PowerPoint presentations. Blind students and professionals can now create and access files in PowerPoint 2007 or later versions. From the keyboard, users can read text and picture descriptions (when provided), and can move quickly from one slide to another.

Odds and Ends


TEACH Act Updates
Technology, Education and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act (TEACH), HR 3505

Electronic instructional materials have replaced traditional methods of learning in postsecondary education, but the overwhelming majority of e-books, courseware, web content, and other technologies are inaccessible to students with print disabilities. Current law mandates equal access in the classroom, but fails to provide a prescription to schools or manufacturers for how that mandate applies to technology. The TEACH Act creates accessibility guidelines for electronic instructional materials that will guide the market, give clarity to schools, and protect blind students’ rights to critical course material.  The bill results from a collaboration between the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and is endorsed by ten organizations of and for people with disabilities. Visit the webpage listed above for updates on the bill’s progress.

Blog for Educators
Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness (PDRIB)
Louisiana Tech University

The team at PDRIB has compiled a resource for educators, prospective teachers, employers, and anyone else who works with blind children and adults. A weekly blog provides tips and tricks, information about resources, research updates, and more.

Blind Math Gems
Contact: Al Maneki, blindmathgems@earthlink.net

For almost ten years, the NFB has maintained the Blind Math listserv, a lively exchange of worldwide postings on all topics mathematical. By now, finding anything of substance in the Blindmath archives has become a daunting task for all but the most database savvy users. In cooperation with the NFB Jernigan Institute, Dr. Al Maneki has spent the past three years combing through the Blindmath archives, compiling the most interesting and relevant postings. This compilation has been linked to the NFB's Blindscience.org website. Postings have been placed in categories that simplify user searches. At this point the archives have been searched through 2011. 

Kids in the House

This website is full of free video content geared toward parenting and family life. Some eight thousand videos feature experts and celebrities, who share ideas about such topics as bullying, media influence, pregnancy, and more.

Molly Moccasins Online Stories, Games, and Activities for Kids

The Molly Moccasins Book Series site offers a digital library of nearly seventy animated story adventures, complete with text highlighting and narration, for emerging and new readers. All content is free, and stories and activities are designed to encourage curiosity and exploration. Molly's magic toe-tingling moccasins lead her to a wealth of problems and mysteries to solve in backyards and museums, on the farm and at the library.


(470) 253-0909

This developmentally beneficial toy for babies and toddlers keeps a pacifier within easy reach. The toy uses a pulley device system so that when the child drops a pacifier, another slides within reach. When he/she grabs the new pacifier, the dropped one returns. Pullypalz attaches to most baby carriers and bouncers.

Bicycle Spoke Beads

Bicycle Spoke Beads are beads that attach to the spokes of a bicycle wheel and make clinking sounds at slow speeds. They come in several colors, so they can be a fun and fashionable addition to the bike. Some blind cyclists find these beads helpful because the sound improves echolocation. The beads can also enable a blind child on a bike to follow an adult cyclist.


Close Your Eyes
by Michelle Friedman, with illustrations by Nicole Fiddler
Bloomington, IN: Abbott Press
ISBN: 978-1-4582-1218-4
Ages four to seven

This picture book, written in simple rhyme, portrays the life of a young girl who is blind. The introduction suggests ways teachers and parents may use this book to help sighted children understand more about blindness.

Running with Roselle
by Michael Hingson with Jeanette Hanscome
ISBN: 0-615-90523-4
Ages eight and up

This book recounts how a blind boy and a puppy each grew up, how they became best friends, and how they survived on one of America's darkest days. While the story of their escape from the World Trade Center is an important feature, the book also focuses on how Mike grew up and how Roselle was trained to serve as a guide dog.

For the Benefit of Those Who See: Dispatches from the World of the Blind
by Rosemary Mahoney
Little Brown & Company
ISBN: 0-316-04342-7

This book is the author's firsthand account of her experiences teaching at a school for the blind in Tibet. The book reveals the shocking oppression Mahoney's students have experienced and demonstrates their resilience and strength.

Psychology of Touch and Blindness
by Morton A. Heller and Edouard Gentaz
Psychology Press
ISBN: 1-848-72653-8

This book reviews the considerable body of research that evaluates the touch skills of blind people. With an emphasis on cognitive and neuroscientific approaches, it encompasses a wide-ranging discussion of the theoretical issues in the field of touch perception and blindness. Chapters cover sensory aspects of touch; perception in blind individuals; multimodal relations and their implications for instruction and development; and new technologies, such as sensory aids and virtual touch. The research on touch and imagery in congenitally blind people speaks to the nature of spatial imagery and the lack of importance of visual experience for knowledge about spatial layout and picture perception.


The Verge

The Verge is the latest publication to be added to those available through NFB-NEWSLINE®. Founded in 2011 in partnership with Vox Media, The Verge covers the intersection of technology, science, art, and culture. Its mission is to offer in-depth reporting and feature stories, breaking news coverage, product information, and community content in a unified and cohesive manner. To access this publication with Newsline by phone, select Option 5 in the main menu, labeled Newspapers in a Different State. Then select the option for Breaking News Online, which is Option 1. All NFB-NEWSLINE publications are also available on the iPhone and through Web News on Demand.

Tactile Drawing Tablet
(888) 308-0059

The new tactile graphics system from Irie-AT allows blind and sighted users to draw raised graphics with the Tactile Drawing Tablet, store images electronically, create custom graphics with a mouse, browse an online catalog of pre-made images, and use a graphing module within the software to graph formulas that can be embossed, complete with labels in Nemeth Code.


Pen Pal Magazine

Adrijana Prokopenko, a teacher of blind students in Macedonia, is starting an electronic magazine that will list people who are seeking Braille pen pals. To learn more, contact her at the email address above.


National Geographic Travel
Contact: (888) 966-8687

Trek across mountain ranges to explore archaeological wonders, kayak or snorkel at coral reefs, cross an entire country on foot, or traverse legendary landscapes on the back of a camel. National Geographic Travel offers unique travel opportunities to students and families. Trips are tailored according to abilities, ranging from Easy to Ultimate Challenge. Groups observe local festivals, meet fascinating people, and visit private homes. Trips include the Namibia Culture and Wildlife Adventure, Mongolian Horse Trek, Dog-Sledding to the Ice Hotel in Sweden, Alaska by Sea Kayak, Costa Rica Adventure, and many more possibilities.