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120 Minutes
How the Federation Helped One Student Bound for College

by Deborah Kendrick

Reprinted from The Buckeye Bulletin, Winter 2013

Deborah KendrickFrom 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.

Best,
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.

Best,
Deborah

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.

Staci

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.

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