Future Reflections

Volume 36 Number 2                          Special Issue: The Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

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.

Deborah Kent Stein, Editor

ISSN-0883-3419

Copyright © 2017 American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults

For more information about blindness and children contact:
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, MD 21230 • (410) 659-9314
www.nfb.org/nopbc[email protected][email protected]

Contents

A LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

The Individualized Education Plan: Giving Parents and Students a Voice
by Deborah Kent Stein

FEATURE

Blind Students and the IEP Process
by Carlton Anne Cook Walker

PREPARATION AND PLANNING

Lessons Learned: What It's Really Like to Be a Riccobono at an IEP Meeting
by Melissa Riccobono

Creating a Cohesive IEP Team Is Like a Visit to the Frozen Yogurt Shop
by Terri and Aaron Rupp

When Two Worlds Collide
by Conchita Hernandez

The Orientation and Mobility Goal Bank
by Merry-Noel Chamberlain

OPTIONS AND OPPORTUNITIES

You Can Homeschool Your Blind Child, and the School Can Help!
by Darcie Whelan Kortan

Going the Extra Mile with Distance Learning
by Chelsea Page

TAKING THE NEXT STEP

When It's Time to Seek Counsel
an Interview with Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum

A Matter of Justice: Our Fight to Obtain Braille Instruction
by Holly Miller

A Chance to Learn
by Angelica Gomez

IDEAS AND PERSPECTIVES

I'm Not Sure It's Really Necessary
by Kevin and Rita O'Connor

If I Wrote His IEP
by Erin Jepsen

2017 NFB CONVENTION

#HOWWESEEIT
by Kim Cunningham

Child Care in Orlando
by Carla McQuillan

Schedule of Events for Adults, Children, and Youth

ANNOUNCEMENTS

ODDS AND ENDS

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 fifty states plus Washington, DC, 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:

Most states have an NOPBC affiliate chapter. You can find your state chapter at <http://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?

Contact Us:
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
[email protected]
<www.nopbc.org>

The Individualized Education Plan: Giving Parents and Students a Voice

by Deborah Kent Stein

I began my formal education with two years at a preschool, where I was the first blind child the program had ever enrolled. From kindergarten through seventh grade I attended a resource room for blind students; it was known as a Braille class. I learned Braille, touch typing, and arithmetic (using a long-forgotten device called a Taylor slate).

When I transferred to my neighborhood school in eighth grade, I studied the same subjects as my sighted classmates. The New Jersey Commission for the Blind provided many of my books in Braille or on flexible discs. Friends, paid readers, and my inexhaustible mother read the rest of my books to me, as well as the printed handouts that flooded my days and the books and articles I needed for research projects. I carried my portable typewriter from class to class and typed out my assignments so the teachers could read them. Through all those years of schooling, I never had an IEP.

In the Braille class my teacher mapped out my lessons, month by month and year by year. When I became fully mainstreamed I studied the same subjects as my sighted classmates. Materials weren't always accessible, but it was up to me to make do. If anyone had proposed that my parents and I meet with my teachers once a year to review an Individualized Education Plan, we would have been nonplused.

I was lucky to grow up in New Jersey, a state with strong programs to support blind students. For the most part my experience was a happy one. However, countless blind students across the country were far less fortunate. Most were excluded from the public schools. Usually a residential school for the blind was their only option. Children as young as five or even four were sent far from home, seeing their families only a few times a year. Those who did attend neighborhood schools had few resources. Braille instruction was limited or nonexistent, and few textbooks were transcribed or recorded. Blind students were routinely excluded from science labs, physical education classes, extracurricular activities, and field trips. Many blind children with additional disabilities were barred from attending school altogether.

If they felt that their blind child was receiving an inadequate education, parents had little recourse. No federal laws protected students with disabilities. The school was the ultimate authority.

In 1975 the United States Congress passed a revolutionary piece of legislation, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (PL 89-142). The act was later revised to become the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). A basic premise of IDEA is the right of every child with a disability to receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive setting possible. Furthermore, each student with a qualifying disability is entitled to an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. The IEP enumerates the child's needs and goals. The child's placement is determined by the needs and goals outlined in the IEP document.

Lawmakers intended the IEP to give parents and students with disabilities a voice. Nevertheless, the process of crafting an IEP can be overwhelming for the very people it is meant to protect. Many parents come to dread the annual IEP meetings. With their child's future at stake, they sit at a table surrounded by professionals, each presenting a detailed report about some aspect of the child's learning or behavior. My child is so much more than these reports full of jargon, parents want to protest. How will these goals and objectives ensure that my child will be able to live the life he wants?

This special issue of Future Reflections focuses upon the IEP. Carlton Anne Cook Walker offers a detailed explanation of the IEP document, section by section. Merry-Noel Chamberlain suggests a series of IEP goals pertaining to orientation and mobility. Parents recount their experiences with IEP meetings, and attorney Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum discusses what parents can expect when they seek legal counsel. Most of the authors who contributed to this issue stress the importance of taking an advocate to the IEP meeting, someone familiar with blindness who has high expectations for blind children.

Clearly, we cannot answer all of your questions about the IEP in this special issue, but we hope that this collection of articles will help to demystify the process and open the way to new possibilities. If you need support at your child's next IEP meeting, remember that your state's NFB affiliate can be an invaluable resource.

Blind Students and the IEP Process

by Carlton Anne Cook Walker

From the Editor: Carlton Anne Cook Walker has extensive experience with the IEP process as an attorney, as a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI), and as the parent of a blind child. A past president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), she currently directs Braille programs at the NFB Jernigan Institute.

Introduction

Each year public education provides millions of students with the foundational skills they need to succeed in life. Public school provides academic instruction as well as opportunities for learning functional skills such as organization, time management, and social interaction.

Federal law ensures students with qualifying disabilities access to a "free and appropriate public education," or FAPE. Schools and families often disagree regarding which services constitute FAPE; schools often wish to limit services, and parents tend to want their children to receive all services necessary for their success in school.

For many years, the courts ruled that FAPE required very little meaningful education; only an education slightly greater than de minimis (negligible) was legally required. On March 22, 2017, the United States Supreme Court revisited this matter. In a unanimous decision, the court held that schools must develop individualized education plans (IEPs) that are reasonably calculated to enable a child to make appropriate progress in light of the child's circumstances. We do not yet know how the lower courts will apply this standard, but it is clear that the Supreme Court values education for students with disabilities.

In the meantime, it is reasonable to look to sighted norms for guidance about what constitutes a free and appropriate public education for blind students. For example, if the child has no disability other than blindness, we should look to what the school provides to students in regular education as the minimum of what the blind student should receive. Within this framework, the blind student should receive accessible curricular materials; access to information posted around the school and classroom; and the opportunity to participate fully in classes, lunch, and recess. Certainly our blind student will need blindness-specific instruction in areas such as Braille, but he or she should never receive fewer educational opportunities than sighted students are granted.

Similarly, if a student has an intellectual disability in addition to blindness, we would expect instruction in blindness skills and in the educational curriculum provided to sighted students with intellectual disabilities.

While homeschooling and private schools provide excellent educational platforms for many students, federal special education law focuses upon public education. Federal law (specifically, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA) does not provide special education protections for students who are homeschooled. However, some states, such as Kansas, recognize homeschooling as a public school option, and the IDEA requirements fully apply. A number of states provide some level of protection for homeschooled students who need special education services, and parents can look to their state statutes and regulations for guidelines. Students placed in private school by their parents (outside of the special education administrative process) have only minimal access to special education services from their local public schools. If the school district determines that a private school placement best meets the child's needs, then the district must provide the necessary special education services.

Terms Used in This Article

Federal law recognizes the right of legal guardians to serve as decision makers for children in their care. When the term "parent" is used in this article, it is inclusive of legal guardians of the child.

Federal law provides legal protections for students with disabilities. These protections require that children with disabilities be identified in all areas of disability and be provided with a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). The process through which these protections arise is commonly called the IEP process. 

IEP stands for individualized education plan. The IEP is a written, legally enforceable document prepared by a group of individuals consisting of the child's parents and teachers; school administrators; other individuals with relevant information; and, when appropriate, the student with a disability. IEPs are developed for students ages three through twenty-one or high school graduation, whichever comes first. The document containing plans for infants ages birth through three years is called an individualized family service plan, or IFSP. Laws relating to IFSPs differ in some ways from those covering IEPs. This article will focus upon IEPs and the IEP process.

Some states use different terminology to refer to the IEP process. Most notably, Texas uses the term ARD, which stands for admissions, review, and dismissal process, to refer to the team meeting at which a student's education plan is created. This article will use the term IEP process rather than any state-specific variations to describe the process of developing and reviewing IEPs.

Administrative Matters

Before a student can get an individualized education plan (IEP) to meet his or her disability-related needs, that student must be identified as a student with a disability. Legally, schools have the duty to identify students in their care who might have a disability and to seek permission to evaluate these identified children; this duty is called Child Find. In addition, many children are identified based upon parental referral, and schools are obligated to take seriously parental requests for evaluation. Once a child is referred for evaluation and the school has obtained parental permission, the school must complete the evaluation in all areas of the suspected disability within a given time frame, which varies from state to state.

Federal law sets forth thirteen disability categories: autism, deaf-blindness, developmental delay, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment (including deafness), intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, specific learning disability, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, visual impairment (including blindness), and other health impairment. Definitions of each disability are contained in the IDEA regulations.

Schools perform evaluations of children for eligibility and educational planning purposes. If the parent disagrees with the evaluation, the parent may ask for an independent educational evaluation (IEE) at the school district's expense.

Eligibility and educational decisions are made by the IEP team, of which the parent is always a member. The school runs the IEP team, and, unfortunately, school officials do not always allow parents to be equal team members. Parents who are not meaningfully included in the IEP team may well disagree with the team's decision. If the parent disagrees with the decision of the team, he or she must alert the school of this fact, in writing, and must request mediation or due process within a short time frame. If the parent does not follow this course of action, the parent will lose the right to appeal the team's decision.

The 504 Plan

Many children with visual impairments have only 504 plans instead of IEPs. For a blind or visually impaired child, a 504 plan is entirely inappropriate. Children who qualify for an IEP must receive an IEP, or the school district has failed its Child Find duty.

The term "504 plan" refers to supports provided to a child so that the child may access the school building and remain there safely, pursuant to Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act. Examples of appropriate matters for 504 plans include elevator access for a child who uses a wheelchair, emergency medicine for a child with life-threatening allergies, and medical support for a child with diabetes. 504 plans are not designed to meet a child's educational needs, and they do not provide nearly as much legal protection as IEPs do. Legally, 504 plans do not even have to be in writing, and they can be changed by the school at any time with no notice to the parent. In marked contrast, IEPs must be in writing, and they provide extensive legal protections, including the right to sue if the school does not follow the plan.

Some children are entitled to both an IEP and a 504 plan. Many schools choose to merge the two and include 504 plan provisions in the child's IEP. This practice provides the child with additional protections, and it is acceptable. However, it is never acceptable to put IEP-related needs on a 504 plan.

Eligibility

The definition of the disability relevant to our children, visual impairment, including blindness, is "an impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a child's educational performance. The term includes both partial sight and blindness" (34 C.F.R. section 300.8(c)(13)). In order to be eligible for an IEP, the child must also "by reason thereof [need] special education and related services" (20 U.S.C. section 1401(3)(A)(ii)). Please note that this definition does not include any reference to acuity or visual field. Unfortunately, some states purport to add minimum acuity measures or other factors to restrict the identification of students as having visual impairment, including blindness. The use of such measurements is not legal. States may broaden disability definitions, but they may not restrict them to strip children of their federal right to special education services. To be eligible for special education services as a student with visual impairment, including blindness, a child must meet the following criteria:

Visual impairment includes any visual impairment that cannot be corrected by glasses. Children are not required to undergo surgery in order to "correct" a visual impairment. If a child still has a visual impairment when wearing prescription glasses prepared to correct the child's vision, that child qualifies under the definition.

With regard to an adverse effect on educational performance, the law is clear that this stipulation does not require a student to be failing. Instead, adverse effect can refer to difficulties the child has performing in the classroom, hallways, cafeteria, or playground of the regular education setting. Please note that, for the evaluation to determine adverse effect, the child should be provided with only regular education supports (no enlargements, special lighting, etc.). The child certainly may need these supports in school, but we cannot know what the child actually needs if we provide these supports during an evaluation.

As noted above, a child must also "need special education and related services" in order to be identified as eligible for an IEP. Typically, this requirement is not a great hurdle to overcome. Any special accommodations, tools, or instruction needed to ameliorate the adverse effect of a disability meet this prong of the eligibility test.

Once the school has completed its evaluation, a team including parents, educators, administrators, and other relevant individuals will meet to determine whether the child is eligible for special education services. If the answer is yes, the team will determine under which disability category or categories the child will be served. Once a child is found to be eligible for special education, the next step is to develop an IEP.

Pre-IEP Concerns

The development of the IEP depends on the child's needs and strengths. The school's assessments and reports should offer valuable information about the child's current needs in the school. School officials should also be capable of forecasting the child's future educational needs (after all, high school students are expected to read and write more than kindergarteners are). Parents should thoroughly and critically review these school documents to assess what should be added to the IEP.

Parents have valuable information about the child that is vital to the development of the IEP. Information about the child's likes and dislikes, time spent on homework, attitude toward schoolwork, behavior, etc., help the IEP team serve the whole child, not just the one at school. Parents should write their own report about the child and share it with the school.

Most parents of children with visual impairment, including blindness, have no prior experience with visual impairment or blindness (my daughter was the first blind person I had ever met). Furthermore, few educators and school administrators have had any experience with blind adults. For this reason, information and support from competent blind adults is very important for us as parents. The National Federation of the Blind has affiliates in every state, in Puerto Rico, and in the District of Columbia. Please reach out to your affiliate president by visiting https://nfb.org/state-presidents-list to connect with one or more blind adults. These individuals can provide you with invaluable information, and they may be able to accompany you to an IEP meeting to help you advocate for what your child needs.

Prepare for the IEP meeting. Make notes on the school's reports. Write your own statement about your child—both strengths and areas of need. Reach out to and connect with NFB members.

Attendance at the IEP Meeting

IEPs are legal documents, and there are legal requirements regarding who should be at the meeting, what must be discussed, the manner in which the IEP should be developed, and timelines related to these matters.

First, I will discuss the IEP team. Federal law sets forth necessary members of every IEP team: parent, at least one regular education teacher (unless the student has no regular education teachers), at least one special education teacher, a local education agency (LEA) representative (usually, a principal or special education director), and an individual who can explain the implications of the educational reports (this can be one of the people listed above). In addition, the law states that meeting participants may include, "at the discretion of the parent or the agency, other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel as appropriate." Furthermore, the law says that "whenever appropriate, the child with a disability" should take part in the IEP meeting.

Schools often try to excuse certain members of the team from the IEP meeting. In most cases, this is not appropriate. A team member's attendance can be deemed unnecessary only if that member's area of curriculum or related services is not being discussed at the meeting and if the parent and school agree that the team member need not attend. A team member may be excused only if (1) the parent and school agree to the excusal, in writing; and (2) the team member has submitted his or her information to the parent and the IEP team in writing before the IEP meeting takes place. Please note that one individual, the LEA representative, can never be excused from the meeting. Moreover, the parent should always be included, and the school should offer to meet at times convenient to the parent in order to facilitate the parent's attendance at the meeting.

Special Considerations for the IEP

Certain "special considerations" must be given at every IEP meeting. They are:

1. Behavior that impedes the child's learning or the learning of others.

2. The language needs of a child with limited English proficiency.

3. Braille use and instruction for children who have been identified as having the disability of visual impairment, including blindness.

4. Communication needs.

5. Need for assistive technology.

Two of these factors should be addressed for all blind children: numbers three and five. The other three factors may or may not be needs for our children.

Factor number three requires Braille use and instruction for all students identified as having visual impairment, including blindness, until the IEP team determines that Braille is not appropriate for the child (based upon an evaluation of the child's current and future reading and writing needs). In practice, schools do not typically provide Braille instruction until after the evaluation, though this practice is in violation of the law. Also, in practice, the evaluations performed for this purpose often do not meet the legal requirements of federal law. The only assessment that meets these requirements is the National Reading Media Assessment (NRMA).

(See the article by Conchita Hernandez elsewhere in this issue, and read the Braille Monitor article at https://nfb.org/images/nfb/
publications/bm/ bm17/bm1702/bm170202.htm
).

Factor number five, the need for assistive technology, should be considered for each of our children. Federal law defines "assistive technology" very broadly, and the definition includes non-electronic and store-bought items—so long as the item "is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children with disabilities" (20 U.S.C. section 1401(1). Additionally, federal law provides that IEPs may include training in the use of assistive technology devices for the student, staff members, families, and others (20 U.S.C. section 1401(2).

In general, our children should have access to their assistive technology at home and in the community as well as at school. Our children's assistive technology often makes information accessible to them. They need these tools to do homework, perform research, and access the Internet and email efficiently. Federal law provides that students may take school-purchased assistive technology home or to other settings if the IEP team determines that the student needs those devices in order to receive FAPE (34 C.F.R. section 300.105(b).

Present Levels

Present levels represent the heart of the IEP. The entire IEP is based upon the information in the present levels section. Present levels set forth the student's current abilities and areas where the student needs growth. If the student has an IEP in place, the present levels should set forth the student's progress on those goals. If a student met the goal months earlier, a new goal should have been put in place. If the student has not yet met the goal, the IEP team should discuss the reason for this. Perhaps not enough instructional time was devoted to the goal, perhaps the method of instruction did not meet the student's individual needs, or perhaps the student encountered health or other changes that made the goal unreachable. The IEP team should delve into the student's progress on each goal to determine appropriate goals for the future. In no case should a goal be continued without discussion and thought as to its appropriateness for the student.

The purpose of special education is to provide the instruction and support necessary to allow the student to reach her or his academic and functional potential. For this reason, present levels should include information regarding a student's academic achievement and how that achievement level compares with that of the student's nondisabled peers. Similarly, we must document the student's functional abilities, which include school-oriented study skills such as organization and time management as well as daily living skills, such as self-care, eating, walking, etc. In no case should we assume that blindness keeps a student from achievement. Instead, we must identify the area of need and then develop instruction designed to help the student perform the task (or at least achieve the results of the task) in a different manner.

Academic performance should include grades, but it should not end there. Information about the student's performance in class, reading and writing level, speed, and stamina must be gathered and reported to the team. Also, reading comprehension and writing legibility must be considered. If a student is not performing at age/stage expectation level in one or more of these areas, this issue must be addressed. Blindness or low vision is not a sufficient reason for substandard level, speed, stamina, comprehension, or legibility, though additional disabilities might be a factor with a particular child. We must keep expectations high for two reasons: (1) blind/low-vision students can attain age-appropriate academic levels if they receive appropriate instruction and tools; and (2) after public school, individuals will not receive extra time to perform work in a competitive workplace environment.

Present levels of functional performance are also evaluated using assessment tools, including assessments of residual vision. The assessment often used is termed a functional vision assessment. The term functional is key to this assessment. Vision is a tool, but it is useful only when it is functional. In many cases functional vision is efficient only for short periods of time. For this reason the IEP team should demand comprehensive information about vision functionality. The team should consider the current effectiveness and efficiency of the student's vision. (Does the student need bulky equipment or special lighting in order to read? Does this have an impact on the functionality of the student's vision?) The team must also consider the stability of the student's vision—that is, the degree of vision that is likely to remain available to the student over time. Moreover, the IEP team must determine the functionality of that residual vision in later years, including the years after high school graduation. If the student's current vision is functional for a first grader, but not functional for a high school or college student, then the IEP team must not rely on that vision to serve the student's long-term needs. Alternative techniques will be necessary.

Many teachers also include an assessment of the student's proficiency in each of the nine areas of the Expanded Core Curriculum, or ECC. These areas are compensatory or functional academic skills, including communication modes, orientation and mobility, social interaction skills, independent living skills, recreation and leisure skills, career education, use of assistive technology, sensory efficiency skills, and self-determination. The ECC provides a good framework of areas that need to be addressed for our children. However, it is important to remember that academic needs must not take a back seat to ECC goals. Additionally, please note that Braille literacy is only considered a "compensatory skill." However, as noted above, Braille literacy is a fundamental, federally protected right for each of our children. The fact that the ECC does not highlight the importance of Braille literacy does not, in any way, diminish its importance.

Other areas that should be included in a report of present levels include challenging behaviors and daily living skills. Please note that "challenging behaviors" do not include typical child behavior. These behaviors must be so out of the ordinary that they inhibit the learning of your child or other students. School officials should document "challenging behaviors," should set forth the disruption caused, and should have data regarding these behaviors, including events that precede or seem to trigger them. Frequently our students act out when their needs are not being met or when they are being bullied by other students.

Daily living skills should be included in the IEP, even if they do not directly relate to the school's academic requirements. A child who has difficulty putting on a jacket, zipping it up, taking it off, or hanging it on a hook may need instruction in these skills, even though these skills are not being taught to nondisabled students. Similarly, self-feeding, shoe-tying, and other skills may need to be taught in a different manner for our students than for others.

The IDEA requires schools to prepare for postsecondary education, postsecondary employment, and independent living. When the student nears high school graduation, the law requires the IEP team to consider the student's preparation in these areas through transition planning. If the student will reach age sixteen or older during the period covered by IEP (many states set this age at fourteen), the IEP team must consider transition present levels and develop a transition plan. Additionally, students in this age range must have transition goals in their IEPs.

Parental concerns make up one of the most important portions of the present levels report. While schools are not bound to accept parental concerns as valid, they are bound to listen to the parent's concerns and to include them as part of the IEP document. In order to facilitate this, I recommend that parents write out their concerns before the meeting and request that their writing be added to the IEP. Even if the school has addressed your concerns earlier in the present levels, please include those concerns in this portion of the IEP. Doing so highlights the importance of these areas to you, and it can help school staff members understand your perspective on your child's education.

Each IEP must also contain a statement of how the student's disability or disabilities affect the student's participation in the general curriculum. For most of our students, the regular education curriculum is inaccessible due to its rendering in print or graphically based electronic media. Remember that this statement is not an attack upon your child; instead, it highlights the inaccessibility of the regular education curriculum.

Lastly, present level reports should contain a list of the student's strengths and needs. This statement is vital, and the information reported here should be objective and meaningful. For example, "Is pleasant" is not a meaningful or relevant strength, but "Willingly engages in new tasks" does meet each of these criteria. Note that the Needs section is very important. Every need identified in the Needs section must be met through the IEP in the form of a goal, an accommodation, a modification, a service, or more than one of these things.

Local and State Assessments

Each IEP should list the accommodations and/or modifications your child needs for testing purposes. The term accommodations refers to alternative ways of assessing the same information. Modifications refers to changes in the information assessed. Examples of accommodations include providing the test in Braille, providing screen reader access to an electronic test, and allowing the use of a tactile ruler for measurement. Examples of modifications include decreasing the number of questions in the assessment, having an aide read passages aloud for reading comprehension tests, and reducing the number of answer choices in a multiple choice problem. In general, we aim for accommodations only. When we use modifications, we are changing the nature of the assessment so that it becomes more difficult to compare those results with the results of other students. When we use accommodations only, we can more accurately compare results with those of typically developing peers and, therefore, typical grade-level expectations.

All of the accommodations and modifications a student uses should be included in this portion of the IEP. If a student does not typically use an accommodation/modification, it should not be included. However, accommodations for breaks during testing should be included as needs for extended testing times (e.g., "When testing exceeds sixty minutes, the student will be allowed to take breaks as needed.") In this manner, the IEP is meeting the student's need only when that need is present.

Please remember that any accommodations/modifications that are listed in the IEP may or may not be available during state assessments, college entrance examinations, etc. While these testing agencies should provide all needed accommodations/modifications, this does not always occur. However, any accommodations/modifications that are not listed in the student's IEP will probably not be available in other testing situations, so it is vital to include all needed accommodations/modifications in every IEP.

Goals

The question I am most often asked by parents and teachers is, "What is a good goal?" I tend to frustrate them a great deal with my lawyerly answer: "It depends."

From the legal standpoint, IEP goals must be "measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals, designed to: meet the child's needs that result from the child's disability to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum and meet each of the child's other educational needs that result from the child's disability" (20 U.S.C. section 1414(d)(1)(A)(i)(II)). Federal law also requires that IEP goals include a description of how and when progress will be measured and when periodic reports of progress will be made.

Borrowing from the business world, many in the special education community have adopted the acronym SMART to describe goals standards. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, use Action words, Realistic and Relevant, and Time-limited. Good goals meet each of these criteria. The specificity is necessary so that anyone, including another service provider or school district, could implement the goal. Measurability is required under the law so that progress can actually be quantified; "improvement" is not a measurable outcome. The use of action words helps to describe the action we want the student to be able to perform as a result of the instruction. Realistic and relevant goals are individualized to the student; goals must not require more than a student is capable of, but the goals must also seek to provide the instruction that the student needs. For example, an average-performing student who suddenly becomes blind in fifth grade will need Braille instruction. We cannot expect that student to attain grade-level Braille proficiency in just a few months, but we must tailor instruction to get that student to grade level as soon as possible (which should be a shorter length of time than would be expected of a younger child who has not yet learned to read or write). The time limitation helps educators focus on the time in which the goal should be attained. Goals should be designed to be attained in twelve or fewer months.

Sometimes educators choose to use rubrics in goals. Rubrics allow for the assessment of multiple criteria to further an overall objective. Rubrics can be quite useful in IEP assessment. However, if rubrics are used in the measurement of the goal, the IEP team must include the rubrics in the IEP, either within the goal or as an attachment. If this action is not performed, no one knows the criteria that need to be met under that goal.

Best educational practice dictates that parents and the student should be contacted regarding goals. However, this is not legally required. Additionally, it is helpful to consult other service providers (including paraprofessionals and classroom teachers) in fashioning meaningful goals for a student. As noted above, goals should be meaningful to the student and individualized to the student's areas of need, as documented in the present levels. Also, the IEP team must be willing to change the goal if necessary. Whether the goal has been met or it's just not working, goals can, and should, be changed whenever the need arises.

Special Educational and Related Services, Supplementary Aids and Services, and Program Modifications and Supports for School Personnel

Goals are the most visible part of the IEP, but a great deal of instruction occurs outside goals. Goals typically measure important areas where needs exist. Yet goals need other special education support to be effective. For example, a great Braille reading goal will likely not be met if the student does not have access to appropriate Braille reading material throughout the school day and at home.

Special education supports can consist of many types of items. Equipment such as Braillewriters, computers, and screen-reading software is vital to support student achievement. Accessible educational materials, including worksheets, class charts, labels around the classroom, textbooks, quizzes, tests, classroom posters, and reference materials, including digital and electronic information, are vital in today's classroom.

Other support can be provided by personnel. A staff member may be assigned to produce Braille materials for a student, and that staff member's services should be set forth in this section of the IEP. Similarly, the services of a paraprofessional or other support staff should be set forth in this section.

This area might also include supports provided by the parents, which the student is allowed to have at school. Examples could include hats or visors to be worn indoors; the right to use a long white cane throughout the school; and an accessible combination lock for a school locker.

Each of the supports needed should be set forth in this portion of the IEP. If a support is not listed, it is not a part of the IEP. The support could be taken away when new staff members arrive or when the student moves to another school or school district. Outlining each and every support may seem tedious, but it is vital to ensuring that all school staff, both present and future, understand and will provide what your child needs.

Related Services

Related services include many areas of nonacademic instruction such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. Federal law specifically notes that orientation and mobility instruction is a related service and should be included in the IEP when appropriate.

While orientation and mobility instruction does not always include cane travel instruction, it often does. Cane travel instruction is very appropriate for many students identified as having the disability of "visual impairment, including blindness," including those with functional vision. As noted above, we should not lower our expectations of our children due to their blindness or low vision. Our children should be able to move and travel as efficiently and effectively as they would if they were typically sighted. For a child whose only disability is blindness or low vision, human guides, trailing walls with the hand, and probing areas with the foot are all supports that can be replaced by cane travel. If your child's vision is not efficient and effective for age-appropriate travel in all environments, your child may well benefit from cane travel.

Supports for School Personnel

This section of the IEP is sometimes overlooked, but it is very important. In children, blindness is a low-incidence disability; about one-tenth of 1 percent of children with IEPs have "visual impairment, including blindness" as their primary disability. The relative rarity of our students means that many regular educators and administrators might have no experience with a student with blindness/low vision. As a result, these individuals often need support in making the regular education curriculum accessible and meaningful to students with visual impairment, including blindness.

Services geared toward making materials accessible (including Braille transcription, creation of tactile graphics, and the creation of accessible electronic materials) should be provided for in this section of the IEP. Time requirements will vary based upon the material needs of the day, so it can be helpful to set forth this support time in monthly blocks.

Teachers of blind students often need to consult with other educators and related services providers to ensure that the student receives the free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to which he or she is entitled. Blind students are completely capable of engaging and succeeding in all classroom subjects, including mathematics and science. Art and physical education are valuable for blind students, but the instructional methods may need to be altered to allow for accessibility. Blind students can read music by using the Music Braille code, which was developed by Louis Braille nearly two hundred years ago. Your IEP team can better ensure that your child will receive FAPE by providing sufficient time for consultation by your child's teacher of blind students.

Gifted Students

On the federal level, there is no right to individualized education based upon academic or artistic giftedness. Any legal right to special education related to giftedness originates in individual states. States vary in their approach to gifted education, and some states do not have any provision for gifted students.

States also vary greatly in the term used to describe giftedness and in eligibility requirements for gifted education. Different states use different terms for gifted education including: "gifted," "academically gifted," "academically/artistically gifted," "gifted and talented," and "mentally gifted." States also vary greatly in the degree to which gifted education is a right of an eligible student. Only a few states confer a legally enforceable right to gifted education.

Typical components of gifted education include content-based acceleration (moving ahead in specific subjects), differentiated instruction (adapting the instruction to the learning needs and strengths of the student), peer gifted classes, pretesting and compaction of content courses (allowing the student to demonstrate knowledge before instruction so that the student may move on to new, unfamiliar material), and social-emotional support. These supports recognize the gifted student's need for accelerated instruction and for support where needed (which often, but not always, includes organization and peer socialization.)

Gifted education is just as appropriate for eligible blind students as it is for eligible sighted students. Schools often overlook gifted blind students for several reasons.

First, typical testing instruments for giftedness are not normed for or appropriate for blind students. However, the student should never be penalized for administrative difficulties such as this. There are alternative means of assessing giftedness, and schools should use these for our blind students.

Second, school staff members often have lowered expectations of blind students. They are so impressed by our children's ability to function as typical students that they have difficulty recognizing that our students could be academically exceptional in relation to typically developing peers.

Third, school staff members often believe that our students already receive so many services that there would be no time for gifted education. However, the blind student's need for gifted education is no less than the need would be for a sighted student. The school must creatively determine how to meet each of the student's needs, in every area of special and gifted education.

Extended School Year (ESY)

Extended school year services (ESY) are usually provided in the summer months and are designed to maintain existing or emerging skills. For this reason, schools sometimes resist providing ESY services to students who appear to function at expected levels. However, ESY services may be quite appropriate for blind students, given that the skills our students need to use may be difficult to practice in a vision-centric environment. Also, our students need access to their assistive technology during the summer months or they may not have the opportunity to utilize these devices.

Placement: Least Restrictive Environment

Placement is the last decision that an IEP team should make. Too often school officials and parents enter the IEP meeting believing that the student should be placed in an educational setting other than regular education. This is not appropriate.

Each IEP team should begin with the assumption that the child will attend regular education classes in the child's neighborhood school. Only when more restrictive environments are necessary to provide the child FAPE should they be considered by the IEP team. Additionally, more restrictive environments should be considered only to the extent necessary. For example, the IEP team may determine that the student needs some one-on-one instructional time for Braille instruction, but the team may determine that some Braille instructional time should be provided "pushed-in" to the regular education environment.

Please note that resource rooms are generally not an appropriate placement for children with no disability other than blindness. Some instruction in blindness skills might be appropriately provided in a resource room, but blindness is not a reason to segregate a child from the regular education classroom.

Summer programs that focus on blindness skills provide a good opportunity for students to learn these skills with blind/low-vision peers. A student who attends such a program enjoys the benefits of the neighborhood school and the peer learning environment that the summer program provides. Examples of these summer programs include the National Federation of the Blind Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning Academy (NFB BELL Academy, https://nfb.org/bell-academy) and the youth programs offered by the Colorado Center for the Blind (http://cocenter.org/our-programs/summer-youth), the Louisiana Center for the Blind (http://www.louisianacenter.org/programs-and-services), and by BLIND, Inc. (https://www.blindinc.org/programs/summer). Schools may use these summer programs to meet a student's ESY needs.

Post-IEP

If you believe that the IEP is not appropriate for your child, you must act quickly or the IEP will be put into place. The action and time frame necessary are based upon your state's due process requirements. Typically you must notify the school within ten days, in writing, that you disagree with the IEP and want mediation or due process. If you fail to adhere to the required timelines, you may lose important legal rights.

Even if you agree with the IEP, your work is not complete. The IEP is simply a piece (or many pieces) of paper. Human beings must implement the IEP. Throughout the year, keep up with how the IEP is working.

Is the IEP being implemented properly and consistently? If not, where are the problems? Document these issues and keep in close communication with your child's case manager and service providers. Often problems can be solved quickly and amicably through simple communication.

Is there anything still missing from the IEP? The IEP team can develop an amazing and fabulous IEP only to have circumstances change. Sometimes key school personnel move away, and the new staff members may have difficulty implementing the IEP. At other times the child may have medical issues that change his or her needs. Sometimes the child may progress more quickly than anyone imagined. In these cases that fabulous IEP needs to be rewritten so that it can meet the new needs of the child.

After the IEP meeting, you may feel as though you have run multiple marathons. In reality, you have only begun the race.

Lessons Learned
What It's Really Like to Be a Riccobono at an IEP Meeting

by Melissa Riccobono

From the Editor: Often referred to as the First Lady of the National Federation of the Blind, Melissa Riccobono serves on the board of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). Despite her deep grounding in Federation philosophy and her extensive experience advocating for blind children, she has found IEP meetings to be a challenge when her own children are involved. In this article she tells her story.

My husband, Mark Riccobono, is now the president of the National Federation of the Blind. Before he was elected president, Mark worked for thirteen years in education—first as director of education for blind children in Wisconsin, and later on the staff of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. Mark had very poor experiences with the education system while he was growing up, so he has a passion for creating more opportunities for today's blind children.

I have been blind all my life. I had quality services while I was growing up, and I attended my own IEP meetings from the time I was in first grade. For four years I worked as a school counselor, so I sat at many IEP tables in that capacity. I have advocated at many IEP meetings specifically for blind children in Maryland. I served as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, and I am now the president of the Maryland Parents of Blind Children.

Mark and I are blessed to have three children. Austin, our eldest, is sighted. Oriana and Elizabeth are both blind. "Wow, you must know exactly what services your children need!" other parents often tell us. Then they add, "I'd love to sit down at your IEP meetings with you. Your school must just see the two of you coming and give you everything you want for your girls!" If only it were so easy!

Mark and I have learned a lot from our participation in the IEP process for our girls. We certainly do not have all of the answers as to what our daughters need, and we have learned, through one shocking experience, that a team absolutely will not give us what we want simply because of who we are. Here are two stories about our IEP journey and some of the lessons we have learned.

Our Journey with Oriana

Mark and I decided that Oriana would not receive any early intervention services. We thought she could learn all she needed to know at home and in day care. After all, we are both blind people, and we were Oriana's first teachers. Also, since Oriana has some usable sight, I worried about receiving "crazy" recommendations regarding how to "optimize her vision." High contrast between food and plate—no thank you! Colored tape on stairways so she could see the steps—absolutely not! Our daughter was going to learn alternative techniques no matter what!

This approach worked all right until it was time for Oriana to enter school. Mark and I decided that it made sense for her to begin as a pre-K student. We wanted her to learn Braille, and we thought it would be best for her to start formal Braille instruction at the age of four. So I began making phone calls to figure out how to begin the IEP process.

Eventually we got the proper assessments for Oriana, but the process was complicated. The first question I was asked was, "Does she receive services from Infants and Toddlers?" When I said no, I was met with a great deal of puzzlement and conflicting information about what to do next. One lesson learned: Infants and Toddlers would, if nothing else, provide a smoother transition to school. Also, we realized, having some more people to give us honest feedback and helpful suggestions regarding things we could do to help Elizabeth (our younger daughter) learn wouldn't be a bad thing. If some crazy recommendations were made along the way, we could ignore them, and possibly we could educate someone regarding our point of view. So, while we were getting Oriana the assessments she needed to begin her first IEP, we also contacted Maryland Infants and Toddlers to get Elizabeth signed up for early intervention services.

Once we received Oriana's assessment results, Mark and I sat down at the table for her first meeting. At this meeting we were presented with draft IEP goals. A few things stuck out for us, such as Oriana only being expected to recognize 80 percent of the alphabet, but the other goals looked all right. I thought the goals seemed to be worded in a reasonable way. However, Mark suggested that we have someone else—an experienced teacher—take a look just to be sure we were on the right track. We were very glad that we did!

The teacher who reviewed Oriana's IEP pointed out that some of the goals were actually objectives. She helped us craft much more sensible goals and objectives, and she gave us valuable guidance regarding the amount of direct service hours we should request. Finally, she was able to give us many suggestions about how Oriana, as a dual media learner, should balance her day between Braille and print.

Lessons Learned

Mark and I realized that, although we were familiar with helping others through the IEP process, things were somewhat different here because Oriana was our daughter. The situation was much more personal. Also, since I am totally blind, I learned Braille only. Mark did not learn Braille until he was in college. Having a child learning both print and Braille was new to both of us. We needed to do our homework in order to figure out how best to help Oriana master both of these tools.

Our Journey with Elizabeth

Since Elizabeth is our second blind child, you would think things would be easier when it came to her entrance into school. After all, we had been through it once before. Unfortunately, we soon learned another important IEP lesson: expect the unexpected!

In the spring of 2015, Mark had recently been elected president of the National Federation of the Blind. Largely because of his new demands at work, we made the decision to move out of the house we had lived in for almost eleven years and into a house within walking distance of NFB headquarters. We were only moving across town and not across the country, but our belongings still had to be packed; things needed to be thrown away, sold, or otherwise gotten rid of; countless small details had to be taken care of; and we needed to get our old house cleaned up and ready for renters. Meanwhile, Austin and Oriana still had to go to school, meals needed to be cooked, and laundry needed to be done. In other words, it was a stressful time for all of us.

In the midst of this madness, three days before the movers were scheduled to come, an evaluation meeting was scheduled for Elizabeth, who was about to turn three. The meeting was being held to go over the results of various assessments and decide whether she would stay in the Maryland Infants and Toddlers Program or receive services at a school under an IEP. The National Reading Media Assessment (NRMA) showed that Elizabeth, like Oriana, needed both Braille and print. There was a half day preschool program at the Maryland School for the Blind, where Elizabeth could receive services, including Braille, and begin her formal school journey. (Yes, another lesson learned: Looking back, it would have made sense for Oriana to begin formal Braille reading practice a year earlier as well!)

I viewed this meeting merely as a formality. In fact, I told Mark I felt very comfortable attending by myself, since the meeting would only formalize everything we had already put in motion. Off I went to the meeting, confident in its outcome, and slightly annoyed that it had to be scheduled at this extremely busy time in our lives.

Unfortunately, the meeting did not go at all as I had expected. The powers that be would not grant Elizabeth an IEP or permit her to enter the preschool program at the Maryland School for the Blind because she was not showing any educational or developmental delays! It did not matter that Elizabeth was shown to need Braille, and that early exposure to Braille would help her become a stronger reader. It did not matter that we were not asking to have a special program developed just for her; we were asking for her to attend an existing program that was capable of meeting her needs. It did not matter that we, as her first teachers, had worked with her to make sure she learned the things she needed to learn so she would be ready to attend school and focus on new skills. All that mattered was that a team of professionals, most of whom had never even met Elizabeth, had decided that she was too "advanced" to qualify for special education services.

How did I feel when this meeting was over? In one word, I was livid! How could this be happening to Elizabeth? How could educators make such a decision with a clear conscience? How could they deny Elizabeth services now, and only grant them to her down the line when she became delayed due to a lack of services? What a horrible educational model, one that pays more attention to fixing delays and overcoming deficits than to building on strengths and providing tools early so kids can reach higher than most people would think possible!

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. After many phone calls and one memorably furious email, we managed to convene another meeting, with another team, for Elizabeth. (Incidentally, Mark attended that one with me!) At that meeting (surprise, surprise!) Elizabeth was found to need services. She was granted an IEP and a place in the preschool program at the Maryland School for the Blind.

Aside from learning to expect the unexpected, Mark and I learned several other lessons from this experience.

Lessons Learned

Once again we were touched by the support we received from the National Federation of the Blind. Although ultimately we were able to resolve this issue on our own, we were very grateful for the great legal advice and offers of help we received from many members of the NFB. If their help had been needed, I know any of these individuals would have been willing to attend meetings with us in order to get the services to which Elizabeth was entitled.

Our Journey Continues

Our IEP journey with Oriana began three years ago, and Elizabeth's journey has been going strong for two years. Now Oriana is a first grader, and Elizabeth is in pre-K. Both of our girls attend the same public charter school as their brother.

Obviously, our journey is far from over. Mark and I are still learning lessons during each IEP meeting we attend. We struggle with the same things all parents do. We want what is best for our girls. What is the best way to get them all of the things they will need to be successful? When do we push for more? When do we accept what is offered and supplement with other opportunities outside of school? How do we bring enough Braille into the classroom so both girls will become fluent readers? Which issues are nonnegotiable, and what are we willing to give up when we bargain? These are the questions we ask ourselves before, during, and after every meeting we attend. I am sure many of you have asked similar questions.

We know we will make mistakes—no parents are perfect! The important thing is to learn from those mistakes and fix them as we go forward. For us the most important thing of all is the support we receive from our fellow parents and colleagues in the National Federation of the Blind. We are all in this together. We all need to support one another. Thank you all for teaching us so many things. And thank you for allowing us to share with you what we have learned.

Creating a Cohesive IEP Team is Like a Visit to the Frozen Yogurt Shop

by Terri and Aaron Rupp

From the Editor: IEPs come in many flavors, from bitter to sweet. In this article Terri and Aaron Rupp, parents from Nevada, relate their family's experiences at the "frozen yogurt counter."

I woke up in a cold sweat. I was shaking, and my heart still raced from my nightmare. Then I remembered what day it was. It was IEP day.

I had dreamed that we were attending our daughter's IEP meeting, and there was a new person on the team. The woman was cold, condescending, and completely unprofessional. She had caught us completely off-guard and taken control of the entire room. Whew! Thank goodness it had just been a dream.

As a blind parent, and now as the parent of a blind child, I have sat through my share of IEPs. Just as the name indicates, IEPs are Individualized Education Plans. I like to think of an IEP and its team as a trip to the frozen yogurt shop. There are many flavors, textures, and toppings to add before that final signature is penned to signify the comprehensive, and often creative, cooperation required to get to the finish line. In my role as the parent, I often find it hard to stay objective and keep calm when the mixture in the room is sour, bitter, or indigestible. From our daughter's first IEP in 2014 to her most recent one in 2017, the IEP, its goals and objectives, and the faces around the room have changed so many times you would never guess it has only been three years.

Treading over Thin Ice

I look back at IEP 1 as the "Treading over Thin Ice" IEP. At the meeting the air was unsteady and frigid. Everyone's words and movements were carefully calculated so as not to crack the surface. There was no team. Phrases such as "You people," "That department," and "Those concerns" slid back and forth with no real direction. We walked out in a fog. Was this what we were facing? If so, we would not accept it. It was time to call on our Federation family, the resources and collective experience of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children.

A Rocky Road to Braille

In the fall of 2014, our little girl entered pre-K. I cannot list the roadblocks we swerved around as we tried to build her bridge to Braille literacy. I only remember a blur of comments and objections. "Your child cannot use that non-school-issued cane; she might hurt other children."..."Yes, your child will need to learn Braille, but we won't consider introducing it until she reaches second grade." We did not stand by and let those low expectations fly. We reminded the school officials of the White Cane Law, and pointed out that our child could indeed take her cane anywhere she chose to go. Was a child who used a wheelchair forbidden to enter school unless the wheelchair was issued by a school official? Would it be okay to tell a print-reading child that she would not be taught print until second grade? Absolutely not! So it is not okay to say this about a child who will be a Braille reader. 

After many, many meetings, we left pre-K feeling as though we were finally headed on the right track. Braille was introduced, integrated into the classroom, and Mrs. Cane went everywhere with our daughter. Our daughter was all set to enter kindergarten with a team willing to work with us...or so we thought.

From Sour to Sweet

To set the tone with our expectations, I emailed everyone on the education team the week before our daughter started kindergarten. To my dismay we learned that our daughter would be assigned a new TVI, as her last one had retired over the summer. The team was brought together for an informal meeting so we all could get on the same page. We walked in feeling hopeful and walked out utterly sick to our stomachs. Our daughter's orientation and mobility instructor was disrespectful toward us through the entire meeting. She discounted everything we said because we were not certified in O&M (even though Mom is a cane user). She cut us off with condescending words that triggered eye rolling, eyebrow raises, and smirks around the room since Mom is blind and would not be able to see the facial expressions. Later that day Dad wrote a Facebook post articulating his perspective on the meeting. He went into detail about the philosophy guiding our parenting compass, complete with cited references—and it went viral. Understanding our rights, our daughter's rights, and with an army of professionals and our Federation family behind us, we got that sourness removed.

Unfortunately, it took still more work before things became sweet. Somehow our daughter's case file was lost in a so-called glitch. Every week I asked her if someone came to teach her Braille, and every week she said no. By Week Six, Mom sent yet another email to get things stirring. With a creative school principal and new teachers onboard, our little girl ended out the year with a sweet taste for Braille.

Delectable Delights

My butterflies were again working on overdrive when we found out the week before first grade began that our daughter had been assigned yet another new TVI. But there was no need for those somersaults in my tummy after all. We have been graced with an incredible, amazing TVI who gets our daughter excited about Braille, creating contractions with candy and doing body Braille with singing and dancing. Each member of the education team has gone above and beyond to ensure that our daughter enjoys every last bite with a smile on her face.

If I could offer one piece of advice to a parent walking into his or her first IEP Frozen Yogurt shop, it would have to be, "You do not have to settle for the first scoop. You have the power and the right to change flavors and toppings. You can dump the entire cup and start from scratch if you are not satisfied. Sometimes you don't get to the sweet stuff at the bottom of the cup unless you've scooped through those bitter bites."

When Two Worlds Collide

by Conchita Hernandez

From the Editor: At many IEP meetings involving children with low vision, the choice of reading media is a major concern. How can parents and teachers determine whether a child should be learning to read print, Braille, or a combination of both? In this article Conchita Hernandez discusses the assessment tools that can help teachers and parents make wise decisions. Conchita Hernandez is a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) in Washington, DC, and she is earning a doctorate degree from George Washington University. At the 2016 convention of the National Federation of the Blind she was awarded the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship in the amount of $12,000. Many Federationists know her through the salsa dancing classes that she teaches at national convention each year.

I constantly observe the ways in which individuals from different religious, political, and cultural groups interact. Sometimes interactions can be enlightening. At other times they can be harsh, even violent, and it may seem that there is no way to come to an understanding.
 
One such area of controversy seems to be the reading media assessments that are done on blind and visually impaired students. These assessments are carried out to determine the media that the school will use to present information to a particular child. Media options include Braille, print, and dual (print and Braille). Sometimes the choices include audio as well.

Currently two main assessments are being used in the field. The first is the Learning Media Assessment (LMA), and the second is the National Reading Media Assessment (NRMA). Let's understand a bit more about what each of these assessments does and how it can help us gain information about our children.

The Learning Media Assessment

The Learning Media Assessment is a qualitative assessment. Qualitative data is based on observations by a professional, typically the child's TVI. As stated by Carmen Willings on her website, http://www.teachingvisuallyimpaired.com,

The teacher observes sensory preferences, learning environments, and intervention materials and methods. [The assessment] identifies sensory preferences, [and it] allows the teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) to understand how to present information to the student and identify adaptations and intervention strategies to promote effective use of the senses.

In other words, the LMA is used to gather information to determine which reading media will be used with a blind or visually impaired child. It gathers valuable data based on qualitative observations in the classroom and sometimes in other settings. It takes into account colors, clutter of images, and other visual tasks. The TVI writes down her or his observations and makes an informed decision based on these observations. Because the assessment is qualitative, the results may reflect the teacher's own thoughts and biases.

The National Reading Media Assessment

The National Reading Media Assessment is a quantitative assessment. Quantitative data is data that can be numerically measured. The NRMA website states that the NRMA seeks to:

determine the most appropriate reading medium/media for students who are blind/visually impaired; to ensure that the reading medium is appropriately identified both for current as well as for future need; and to ensure that student success is not hampered by incorrect identification of literacy needs (2017).

The NRMA takes quantitative data on a child based on standardized indicators, resulting in a score. This score places a student in Braille, dual, or print as learning media.

What Does the Research Say?

I am completing my doctoral degree in special education. One of the things I have focused on is neuroscience and how the brain works. The better we understand the brain, the better we are able to come up with strategies to work with all students. At the forefront of recent research is the idea that we have been completely wrong about the workings of the brain. We used to believe that each part of the brain has a specific task. We thought that artistic people use the right side of the brain more than the left. We believed that students have a preference for auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learning. We have now found that these beliefs are completely false! An article published in 2014 by Paul A. Howard-Jones lays out these commonly held myths. Howard-Jones states right at the beginning,

"For several decades, myths about the brain—neuromyths—have persisted in schools and colleges, often being used to justify ineffective approaches to teaching. Many of these myths are biased distortions of scientific fact" (2014).

He goes on to state that the most commonly held myth of learning is the idea that students "[learn] most effectively when they are taught in their preferred learning style" (2014). He goes on to explain,

The implicit assumption seems to be that, because different regions of the cortex have crucial roles in visual, auditory, and sensory processing, learners should receive information in visual, auditory, or kinesthetic forms according to which part of their brain works better. The brain's interconnectivity makes such an assumption unsound, and reviews of educational literature and controlled laboratory studies fail to support this approach to teaching (2014).

In other words, I may have a preference for the color red; however, that does not mean that all material should be presented in red to me. Rather, all students should be presented information in all manners possible.

The LMA gathers valuable information, but it is limited in that it seeks to find a preferable learning medium for the child, when this idea is not supported by research.

What does this mean for the instruction of blind and visually impaired students? In my experience in the field as a TVI, I have found that qualitative and quantitative data are each limited. The LMA can be an effective tool, but not by itself, as many of the indicators that it looks for are based on outdated neuromyths. The NRMA can be a powerful tool as well, but not alone. It gives great data, but it lacks qualitative information to give a more in-depth report. I believe that the only way to paint an accurate picture of a student's needs is to perform both qualitative and quantitative assessments. I personally perform both the LMA and the NRMA on my students. I find that when coupled together, they provide me more information on my students. Quantitative data gives numerical information and qualitative data helps create a richer picture that can give more information than either assessment can provide on its own.

Will we ever decide which is best, the NRMA or the LMA? I believe not, but I believe that is a good thing. Both assessments provide information. As TVIs we are constantly looking for ways to help our students and to get a more detailed picture of their needs and learning processes. I believe that the conflict over assessments can come to a resolution when we understand that the more tools that are available to educators, the better. A dual LMA/NRMA approach can be the bridge between different generations of TVI's.

I recommend that parents ask for both quantitative and qualitative data from the school. The more information the parents and the school have, the better the outcome for the child. The collision of two worlds can work in your favor and ultimately challenge the field to grow.

References

Howard-Jones, P. (2014). Neuroscience and education: Myths and messages. Nature reviews.  Neuroscience, 15(12), 817-824. http://dx.doi.org.proxygw.wrlc.org/10.1038/nrn3817

Willings, C. Learning media assessment (LMA). Retrieved from http://www.teachingvisuallyimpaired.com/learning-media-assessment.html

National Reading Media Assessment (NRMA) for Youth with Visual Impairments Quick Start Guide. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.nfbnrma.org/admin/users/about.php

The Orientation and Mobility Goal Bank

by Merry-Noel Chamberlain

From the Editor: Perhaps you are unclear about when your blind child should begin to receive instruction in orientation and mobility (O&M). Perhaps O&M instruction is included in your child's IEP, but you are unsure which goals will be appropriate. Merry-Noel Chamberlain has compiled a bank of O&M goals for children and teens. By reviewing these suggested goals, you may get a clearer idea of what your child needs to learn on the journey toward independence. Merry-Noel Chamberlain is a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) and O&M instructor in Omaha, Nebraska.

Sometimes it can be difficult to get an orientation and mobility goal onto the Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) or IEP for a young blind child. Most school districts require an assessment by a qualified O&M instructor. Often this person will first look at the child's eye condition, visual acuity, and/or field of vision. Then he or she will conduct an evaluation. The instructor will evaluate the child's ability to know where he or she is within familiar and, perhaps, unfamiliar locations. The instructor will also assess the child's ability to maneuver from one location to another, with or without using alternative skills of blindness. Focus will be placed on the child's skills and ability to maneuver. For example, does he bump into door frames, furniture, or people? Does he step on toys and other items on the floor? For babies and toddlers, only an ophthalmologist's report is necessary to determine eligibility.

Some O&M instructors are unsure where to begin when they work with toddlers or non-walkers. In fact, some O&M instructors choose not to work with toddlers or with children who have not learned to walk yet. However, some toddlers do not walk because of...well, it is uncertain what their reasons are. Let me tell you a couple of stories about former students of mine.

The first story happened several years ago when I worked with a three-year-old called Laura. One day Laura, her two-year-old sister, and her mother took a tour of the Iowa Department for the Blind. The girls rode in a double stroller at the beginning of the tour. Soon the little sister wanted out, but Laura was quite content to ride around, pushed by her mother.

Somewhere in the middle of the tour, we visited the Aids and Devices Department. Laura was lifted out of the stroller so she could be measured for her own long white cane. As little Laura stood with her cane, she began tapping items around her. She found my feet, her mother's feet, the cupboard, the table legs, and so forth. Afterward, Laura did not want to go back into the stroller. Her mother returned the stroller to the car and both girls walked for the remainder of the tour.

The second story happened at the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind. I had an eight-year-old there who did not want to walk anywhere. He had been carried or pushed in a stroller whenever his family needed to go anywhere. At school, however, he could not ride in the stroller, and we could not carry him. Sometimes he simply sat in the hallway or on the sidewalk until he was ready to take a step or two. This little guy was nonverbal, so he did not have a way to communicate what troubled him.

Soon after he arrived at the school, I gave this boy a cane to try. I showed him the basic way to arc the cane in front of his body as he moved forward. Thereafter, this little guy could not be held down. He walked proudly all over campus, his head up and his cane in front of his body.

In 2011 I began to create an O&M Goal Bank. In the bank I captured some ideas I could use when considering goals for my students. Every goal must be measurable, and it must have an end date. By no means is this Goal Bank a complete list of possible O&M goals, but I hope that it will give you some helpful ideas.

As you read through the list, remember that it is only a selection of the countless goals that can be used for any particular student. Keep in mind that not all students are the same. Not all students work at the same pace or have the same O&M needs.

Baby and Toddler Goals

Note: Substitute the # sign for the date.

By #, child will hold a small long white cane for 30 seconds 50 percent of observed opportunities.

By #, child will open hand to grip or reach for a small long white cane 7 out of 10 opportunities (70 percent) when the cane is presented or placed on her palm.

By #, child will carry own cane around the house during seven opportunities within seven days (100 percent).

By #, child will carry own cane, even when he/she is being carried, 7 out of 10 opportunities.

By #, child will tap the cane tip (with assistance) on different textures within the home environment 7 out of 10 opportunities while standing or sitting.

By #, child will tap the cane tip (without assistance) on different textures within the home environment 7 out of 10 opportunities while standing or sitting.

By #, child will carry own cane for at least 3 minutes outside the home environment on 7 out of 10 occasions even while being carried.

By #, child will reach for own cane with less than 3 prompts when exiting the home environment 7 out of 10 opportunities.

By #, child will retrieve own cane with no prompts when exiting the home environment 7 out of 10 opportunities. 

By #, child will tap the cane tip (with assistance) on different textures outside the home environment 7 out of 10 opportunities.

By #, child will tap the cane tip (without assistance) on different textures outside the home environment 7 out of 10 opportunities.

By #, child will walk three steps (with assistance) holding the small long white cane 7 out of 10 opportunities.

By #, child will walk three steps (without assistance), holding the small long white cane 7 out of 10 opportunities.

Basic Goals for Toddlers

In addition to the goals listed above:

By #, child will walk forward at least five feet, holding the cane in front of his/her body 7 out of 10 observations.

By #, child will walk forward at least five feet while moving the cane left and right in front of his/her body 7 out of 10 observations.

By #, child will walk forward at least five feet, tapping the cane left and right in front of his/her body 7 out of 10 observations.

Goals for Older Children

By #, child will develop sensory concepts within her environment related to orientation and mobility, including recognizing specific sounds and tactual information, with 90 percent accuracy on 9 of 10 occasions.

By #, child will develop sensory concepts within her environment related to orientation and mobility with 75 percent accuracy on 6 of 7 occasions.

By #, child will demonstrate the ability to travel independently to a specific location on 15 occasions with 90 percent accuracy and less than 5 prompts to continue her route.

By #, child will detect textural changes, subtle drop-off, and blended areas using the touch and slide cane technique with 85 percent accuracy in 3 out of 5 trials.

By #, child will locate the desired sidewalk in a safe, efficient, and systematic manner using the two and three touch cane technique with 85 percent accuracy in 3 out of 5 trials.

By #, child will walk in step and hold the cane correctly (in the center of his body with open palm) to a designated location with less than 5 prompts to "walk in step."

By #, child will keep the cane upright when not in motion (i.e., when standing in the hallway not walking) in 7 out of 10 opportunities outside of class.

By #, child will maintain her long white cane in a forward position as she travels and will demonstrate correct trailing skills, with 75 percent accuracy, on 4 out of 5 trials, over 5 consecutive sessions.

By #, child will demonstrate cane skills most appropriate to the travel demands indoors and outdoors with 75 percent accuracy in 3 out of 5 trials.

By #, child will demonstrate accurate shore-lining technique, maintaining the desired line of travel to specific destinations with 85 percent accuracy in 3 out of 5 trials.

By #, child will demonstrate correct hand and arm position for the two point touch cane technique with two verbal prompts and one physical prompt (touch of the elbow) for four consecutive opportunities.

By #, child will pivot his wrist from the body midline position and move the cane laterally to shoulder width arcs with two verbal prompts and one physical prompt for four consecutive days.

By #, child will adjust his line of travel when his cane contacts obstacles in the pathway with two verbal prompts and one physical prompt for four consecutive days.

By #, child will travel safely in indoor and outdoor environments, both familiar and unfamiliar, with 80 percent accuracy.

By #, child will develop and use proper cane techniques, including the open-palm grip, walking in step, a proper touch technique, and holding the cane correctly on the stairs 90 percent (9 out of 10 observations).

By #, child will demonstrate an understanding of beginning cane skill concepts such as the two-point touch, walk in step, and tap slide with 80 percent accuracy on 3 of 4 trials.

By #, child will travel safely (arcing his cane the width of his shoulders) in indoor and outdoor environments, with less than two prompts, for five consecutive times.

By #, child will use the long white cane correctly in 8 out of 10 observations outside of orientation and mobility class. This consists of holding the cane in front center of his body with his palm upward, arcing the cane from the left to the right as wide as his shoulders, and walking in step with his cane.

By #, child will demonstrate the skills to use her cane efficiently on the stairs, ascending and descending, with 80 percent efficiency on 3 out of every 5 observed occasions.

By #, child will take his cane with him to a designated location outside his comfort zone on 8 out of 10 opportunities.

By #, child will demonstrate the skills to independently navigate a simple route in a business area on 3 out of 5 opportunities with 80 percent accuracy.

By #, child will walk in step and hold the cane correctly (in the center of her body with open palm) from one designated location to another with less than 5 prompts to "walk in step" five consecutive times.

By #, child will demonstrate the skills to use her cane efficiently with the "extended grip" and "pencil grip," keeping the cane in front of her and moving it to the left and right in an arc as wide as her shoulders, on 5 out of every 10 observed occasions.

By #, child will successfully walk in step with her cane in 7 out of 10 observations. This includes holding the cane correctly.

By #, child will demonstrate the skills to use her long white cane efficiently, including using the proper touch and walking in step techniques, with 80 percent efficiency without being reminded 7 out of every 10 observed occasions.

By #, child will demonstrate efficiency with basic cane techniques with 70 percent accuracy on 4 out of every 5 trials.

By #, child will demonstrate the skills to use her cane efficiently, including keeping it in front of her and moving it to the left and right as wide as her shoulders on 3 out of every 5 observed occasions.

By #, child will arc the cane to the right and left as wide as her shoulders, with the cane on or very near the ground or floor in 8 consecutive observations with no reminders.

By #, child will demonstrate the skills to use his long white cane efficiently, including using the proper touch and walking in step techniques, with 80 percent efficiency, without being reminded 3 out of every 5 observed occasions.

By #, when standing at the curb and given the question, "Do you hear any traffic?" child will answer correctly 7 out of 10 opportunities.

By #, when standing at the curb and given the question, "Do you think it is safe to cross the street?" child will answer correctly 7 out of 10 opportunities with 100 percent accuracy.

By #, child will demonstrate safe street crossing skills by independently determining safe moments to cross at 9 of 10 controlled or uncontrolled intersections.

By #, child will demonstrate the skills needed to cross a variety of streets at controlled and uncontrolled intersections using traffic cues with 100 percent efficiency on 9 out of 10 trials.

By #, child will demonstrate beginning orientation and mobility concepts by remembering directions on simple residential routes that involve one or two turns with 80 percent accuracy on 9 out of 10 opportunities.

By #, child will arc the cane as wide as her shoulders in 8 out of 10 observations outside of orientation and mobility class.

By #, child will keep her cane in front of her body going up and down stairs in 8 out of 10 observations outside of orientation and mobility class.

By #, child will demonstrate the ability to gather nonvisual information in order to independently complete 3 of 5 basic 2- and 3-turn routes in a residential setting with 80 percent accuracy.

By #, child will demonstrate the skills to use her cane efficiently, including using the proper touch and walking in step techniques, with 80 percent efficiency without being reminded 3 out of every 5 observed occasions.

By #, child will demonstrate cane skills most appropriate to the travel demands indoors and outdoors with 75 percent accuracy in 3 out of 5 trials.

By #, child will move his cane to the left and right (the width of his shoulders) with 75 percent accuracy in 3 out of 5 trials as he travels both inside and outside.

By #, child will independently place his cane in the proper designated storage location when requested 8 out 10 times (80 percent).

By #, child will demonstrate the skills to use her cane efficiently, including keeping it in front of her and moving it to the left and right as wide as her shoulders on 3 out of every 5 observed occasions.

More Advanced Goals

By #, student will demonstrate the ability to independently navigate school or campus, using proper cane technique with 80 percent accuracy, going to and from the cafeteria, the infirmary, classroom building, and the dorm on 4 out of every 5 trials (while wearing sleep-shades).

By #, when student is brought to a particular location, he/she will be able to successfully travel to a specified location using problem-solving techniques in five consecutive occasions with less than two requests for assistance from the public.

By #, student will demonstrate the ability to independently and safely cross a four-lane road at a controlled intersection with 100 percent accuracy on 4 out of 5 trials.

By #, when student is in a particular location, she will be able to successfully travel to a specified location using problem-solving techniques on seven consecutive occasions, with less than two requests for assistance.

By #, student will demonstrate the confidence and skill necessary to independently and safely cross a street at a controlled intersection with 100 percent efficiency on 6 out of 7 trials.

By #, student will demonstrate the ability to maintain orientation while independently completing one residential route with 3 direction changes and one business route with 4 direction changes with 80 percent accuracy.

By #, student will demonstrate problem-solving skills by successfully locating 10 particular landmarks, requesting assistance from the general public fewer than 3 times per quest. 

By #, student will voluntarily use his cane properly when traveling both on and off campus on 7 out of every 10 observed occasions.

By #, student will demonstrate an understanding of basic orientation concepts at school and in the community using cardinal directions, self-monitoring and mental mapping techniques, and various sound/tactile cues to complete 4 independent routes.

By #, student will demonstrate safe maneuvering at school, including ascending and descending stairs using cane and/or handrail without cues for technique or speed with 90 percent accuracy (9 out of 10 observations).

By #, student will demonstrate safe maneuvering at school building, including ascending and descending stairs using cane and/or handrail without cues for technique or speed in 6 out of 10 observations outside of class.

By #, student will exhibit the necessary skills to cross streets safely and accurately at intersections, using nonvisual techniques that will be independently demonstrated on 9 of 10 crossings with 100 percent accuracy.

By #, student will voluntarily use his cane properly when traveling both on and off campus on 5 out of every 8 observed occasions with 90 percent accuracy.

By #, student shall be able to travel about the designated area by creating travel routes that require him to negotiate residential and business travel situations (including intersections) on 4 out of 5 lessons.

By #, student shall be able to utilize the local bus system to enhance his travel ability and range 100 percent of the time as desired.

By #, student will be able to make 10 basic stop light crossings independently with 100 percent accuracy.

By #, student will demonstrate the skills to negotiate 8 of 10 complex controlled intersections independently within the community with 100 percent efficiency.

By #, student will demonstrate the ability to travel independently to a specific location by following a predetermined route on 3 of 5 occasions with 90 percent accuracy.

By #, student will demonstrate an understanding of basic addressing systems by locating 4 of 5 businesses in the local community independently with 100 percent accuracy.

By #, student will be able to name north/southbound streets, etc. and name east/westbound streets, etc., on request with 100 percent accuracy on 5 consecutive quizzes.

By #, student will be able to recognize particular downtown streets by defining characteristics, such as: the direction-bound, one-way/two-way, residential/business/semi-business, busy/slow/steady, changes or dead-ends at any point, and other landmarks or characteristics on request with 100 percent accuracy on 5 consecutive quizzes.

By #, student will be able to document an understanding of (city/town's name) addressing system. Typically each block contains 1-99, 100-199, 200-299, etc. Typically odd-numbered addresses are found on one side of the street and even-numbered addresses on the other side. The student will demonstrate this knowledge with 100 percent accuracy on 5 consecutive quizzes.

By #, student will be able to respond to verbal scenarios (Ex. Steady traffic on perpendicular, choppy traffic on parallel, how do you know when the light changes?) on request with 100 percent accuracy on 5 consecutive quizzes.

By #, student will be able to locate 5 downtown destinations (2 addresses, 2 named businesses, and 1 personal) with 100 percent accuracy with less than three requests for assistance from the public.

By #, student will be able to successfully complete two drop-routes with less than three requests for assistance from the public.

By #, student will be able to successfully travel to 10 addresses located downtown (city/town name) or in surrounding community using problem-solving techniques with less than three requests for assistance from the public.

By #, student will demonstrate the skills necessary to travel within and make multiple purchases at a store in the local community with 90 percent accuracy on 3 out of 4 opportunities.

In order to build confidence in regarding the cane as a tool symbolizing independence, student will have (number) opportunities to use the long white cane outside his/her comfort area by #, 2017.

You Can Homeschool Your Blind Child, and the School Can Help!

by Darcie Whelan Kortan

From the Editor: Although it can be a challenge to obtain materials and special education services, a growing number of parents across the country are homeschooling their blind children. In this article, Darcie Whelan Kortan describes her homeschooling experience in New York State and offers encouragement to other families.

For a variety of reasons, many parents of kids with visual impairments consider homeschooling. Some families prefer to offer a curriculum in line with their religious values. Some feel that their gifted blind child is not being challenged in the public school classroom. Others are dissatisfied with how the school accommodates their child's need for access to books and other materials. Homeschooling is a daunting task even for the parent of a typical child. Is it possible to give your blind child what he or she needs if you are not a trained teacher of the visually impaired (TVI)?

The answer is yes. You can homeschool your blind or visually impaired child without holding a specialized degree. While many homeschooling families choose to go it alone in almost every aspect of education, this approach is not necessary or even practical for most homeschooling families of blind children. Many states ensure that students with disabilities are legally entitled to the services and equipment that they would receive to support their instruction in the public schools.

Laws in Some States Protect Blind Homeschooled Kids

My son, Tim, is twelve years old. He is legally blind and has several additional disabilities. I have homeschooled him for almost three years, and he has consistently made greater progress with me than he made in the public schools.

When we began the homeschooling journey, we knew a lot about what our special needs child was entitled to under the New York State Department of Education regulations; he had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that was long and exhaustive. However, we knew nothing about our rights as homeschoolers, so we consulted a special needs lawyer. She had never worked on behalf of a blind student, but she informed my husband and me that every child with a disability in New York State who otherwise qualifies for special education is entitled to the same accommodations offered on his or her IEP, even when homeschooled. The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that students with documented legal blindness qualify for an IEP.  

New York state law views a homeschooled child as being in a "unilateral placement," nearly identical to when a student is sent to private school. While the parents opt to offer academics through an outside teacher (in this case, the child's mom or dad), the student is still entitled to all special education supports except for the main classroom teacher (general education or special education teacher, whichever the child had).

While I can only confirm the law as it stands in New York, many states around the country have similar policies. The New York regulations can be found at https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oii/nonpublic/newyork.html.

IDEA is a federal law, and its ideals underpin policies in those states where the law requires school districts to support homeschooled special education students. Even when a seasoned homeschooler in your state says you can't get support, don't assume that this information is correct. In my experience, most New York homeschoolers of special needs kids do not have any idea how many of the items below are still the responsibility of the state and the school district. A number of states have a commission for the blind; if your state has one, it may be a good source of information about homeschooling rights and regulations for blind students. Another resource is the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) at www.hslda.org.

Related Services for the Blind

In compiling this information, I draw mainly on my experience with my son, who has low vision. I apologize for any information I may have missed. All services and supports such as technology must be determined necessary through an evaluation by a professional. In New York State, if a school district does an evaluation and says your child doesn't need a particular service or support, you can request that the district pay for an outside evaluation. The district is required to pay for this, and you have the right to choose a qualified professional to perform it.

Services deemed appropriate for a child with special needs are called related services. Related services and other supports are listed not in an IEP (the document an enrolled student has), but in an Individualized Education Services Plan (IESP) developed by the Committee on Special Education (CSE) for your child. All special education terms used in this article are relevant to New York State; other states may employ alternative terms for special education services. For us, the services for the school year and, in many cases, the summer, included the following:

Services Not Related to Blindness

We also get services that are related to our son's other disabilities. These include:

Some of the supports that my son is qualified to receive are not directly related to his visual impairment, but his visual impairment may make it more likely that he has such needs. For example, he is eligible to take part in a social skills group with a social worker to improve his conversational exchanges and use of gestures. Tim does not have a cognitive impairment, but he is below grade level because his disabilities have slowed his learning. If an academic evaluation shows that your child is significantly below grade level in certain areas, in some cases this can be considered a "specific learning disorder” with impairments in reading or mathematics. This designation qualified our son for special learning supports, including reading resource room and math resource room. I determine the materials that he is reading and the math that he studies. Although we have not accepted the resource room services in past years, I have seriously considered them of late.

We chose to homeschool Tim because the communication with the public school was very poor, and the school was not modifying most materials to make them accessible to him. Now, as I am the homeschool instructor, the resource room professionals must report to and support me as I work with my son—quite the promotion from being plain old Mom when he was an enrolled student!

Books to Read and Tech to Read Them With

The school districts in New York consider homeschools on par with private schools. As such, the districts must provide accessible books and other curriculum materials. I have learned that it is not worth my time to argue to make the school district scan documents or create books and documents in accessible formats, though by law they should do these things. In my experience it takes less time to do the scanning myself than I would spend arguing about it with school administrators. I scan all books as PDFs, which is legal under the Fair Use Act of 2007. Students who need Braille or large print (technically, 16-point font), may be able to get some materials directly from the schools or through Quota Funds (explained below).

In New York, the school district also must provide equipment necessary for the student to achieve equal access to the curriculum. If I did not have special equipment, I could not possibly create accessible materials on my own. According to our New York State Commission for the Blind, all of the equipment a blind student requires to access the curriculum must be paid for and provided by the school, even if the child is homeschooled. This also means, however, that the Commission will refuse to pay for the equipment, even though it has thousands of discretionary dollars. In our case, the technology list is lengthy because Tim gets almost all of his academic materials on the computer.

Did I get the school district to pay for all of this? Much of it, yes. After wasting many years trying to get the school district to pay for equipment, I came to the sad conclusion that it often saves me time and money to buy it myself. The most important piece for us to own outright was the laptop. Whenever anything went wrong with the school-issued laptop, it took from six months to a year (or never) before it was fixed, and forget about timely upgrades to keep it running smoothly. The district paid for a lot of the software, but we insisted on installing it ourselves and getting the original CD.

At times I made the case to the New York Commission for the Blind that items were necessary for activities of daily living (ADLs), and the Commission purchased them. Some items are available through Federal Quota Funds, funds not drawn from the school’s budget but set aside to buy materials for blind students from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH). As a homeschooler in New York, I have the right to make the case for technology to support my instruction. However, I can also talk to the TVI at the school and have him or her procure the equipment on my child's behalf.

And a Chauffeur to Boot!

Finally, and this is one that will allow you perhaps a few hours to kick your feet up and have a cup of coffee (or scrub the sticky OJ off the Brailler), in our state, the school district must provide bus transportation to and from the special education student's "related services."

While it may seem harsh to make your kid take the bus for forty-five minutes rather than give him a much shorter drive yourself, I will let you in on my dirty little secret—I don't care! I need the time to piece my life together; I need as many minutes as possible to be blessedly alone. Usually I while away those hours doing something responsible, such as poring over Tim's IESP for the next annual review (a yearly meeting you must have). But I have been known to eat a bonbon or two. Besides, Tim loves taking the yellow bus. It's his favorite part of the day.

Going the Extra Mile with Distance Learning

by Chelsea Page

From the Editor: Chelsea Page is a teacher of blind children who just earned a master's of arts in teaching blind students (TBS) from Louisiana Tech University. She plans to work with blind infants and toddlers to ensure that they get the services they need. She has taught several blind students remotely. In 2016 she was the recipient of an NFB National Scholarship.

I was born blind, and I attended a school for the blind until the beginning of ninth grade. Though I learned Braille, there was still a serious gap in my education. At the school for the blind I had very little exposure to technology. I had a Braille 'n Speak that I sometimes used, but it wasn't adequate to meet my needs.

When I was mainstreamed in ninth grade, I struggled through two computer classes. I did not have a teacher of blind students to teach me to use assistive technology. The instructor in my computer classes was eager to work with me, and he taught me everything he could, including keyboard shortcuts for navigating through various programs. However, he didn't know anything about JAWS, the screen reader I was using. 

Although I had attended a school for the blind, I had been taught that I was not really blind myself. To be blind meant that you couldn't see anything at all. I couldn't see as well as a fully sighted person, but that didn't make me blind. In 2006 my family and I attended our first NFB national convention. During that life-changing event I began to identify myself as blind for the first time.

After I attended my first NFB convention, I was hooked. I got my very first notetaker with a Braille display, and I taught myself to use it. In 2007 I attended the STEP program for blind high school students at the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB). Before I started college I attended the LCBs adult training program. Through these experiences I decided that I wanted to teach blind students and give back what I had been given. Today I have the privilege of teaching assistive technology to blind students via distance learning.

I share my personal story because I want to emphasize the importance of ensuring that your child receives adequate and appropriate services from an early age. Blind children need to know that it is respectable to be blind, and they must receive an education that allows them to compete on terms of equality with their sighted counterparts. Sometimes it is difficult to find a teacher of blind students who is qualified to teach the skills that your child needs, especially if you live in a rural area.

In recent years distance learning has had a huge impact on society. It has brought instruction within reach for millions of people who never before had such learning opportunities. Many teachers of blind students now provide instruction in Braille and assistive technology by using programs such as FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom. These are conferencing programs that allow both audio and video communication.

Exploring the Options

As a parent you are the expert on your child, and you are his or her strongest advocate. If it is determined that your child needs instruction in Braille or technology, advocate for those services. Many school districts do not have access to a teacher of blind students who is proficient in these areas. In such cases, distance learning is a great option. 

When you or the school district find someone who can provide services, make sure that the teacher has a good, strong philosophy about blindness. Furthermore, be sure that the teacher is highly qualified in the areas in which he or she will instruct the blind student. I can say from experience that a blind child should not be pressured to use vision that may be unreliable and inefficient. Blind students should be taught to use nonvisual techniques. Later they may combine nonvisual and visual methods to come up with a blend that best suits their needs. The teacher must have confidence in the areas of instruction. If a teacher does not know how to use JAWS without constantly resorting to the mouse, he will not be able to teach the student to operate a computer efficiently using nonvisual techniques.

With the help of a qualified teacher of blind students, whether face-to-face or via distance learning, students can learn to navigate the course materials their classmates are using. Blind students may even learn to scan print documents, edit their scans, and emboss files into Braille. These skills prepare students for life after high school. However, students should not be expected to scan and emboss their own course materials, as the process is quite time-consuming. 

Technology plays a central role in today's classrooms. It is crucial that our blind students have the same access to technology that their sighted peers take for granted. The blind ninth-grader should be doing whatever is expected from a sighted ninth-grade student. This goal can be reached as long as the blind student's technology is accessible with a screen reader such as JAWS, Window-Eyes, or NVDA. It is extremely important for the teacher of blind students to keep up-to-date with the most current devices and software.

Open Lines of Communication

If the blind child receives assistive technology training through distance learning, you may wonder how to make certain that all course materials are accessible. With an open line of communication, teachers and other members of the IEP team can ask you to preview materials, and they can assist in making those materials accessible. Good communication may minimize the need for a child-specific paraprofessional. With an open line of communication the team can plan for the child's future needs and make certain that he has the proper tools in his toolbox.

As long as all members of the team exchange ideas freely, the child can benefit from Braille instruction via distance education. Distance education allows our blind students to have the same opportunity to learn as their classmates, even if they live in an area with no qualified teacher of blind students.

Final Thoughts

In summary, make sure that the blind student receives the services he or she deserves. With today's technology, those services can be provided in a traditional classroom setting or through distance education. Advocate for your child to have a qualified and confident instructor to teach the necessary skills. Geography need not be a limiting factor. If a qualified teacher is not available in your school district, consider distance learning as a strong option.

Keep an open line of communication with your child's team and discuss all of the topics related to her needs. By providing good services from the outset, the school can minimize the need for a child-specific paraprofessional, saving money in the long run.

Over time the child should be encouraged to advocate for what he or she needs. The ability to advocate for oneself is very important at every stage of life. 

Distance instruction is changing the educational landscape for everyone. By working remotely with a qualified teacher, blind students can receive instruction in Braille and assistive technology more easily than ever before.

When Is It Time to Seek Counsel?

An Interview with Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum, Esq.

From the Editor: When parents feel that they have reached an impasse with their child's school district, legal counsel may be their best option. In this interview Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum, managing partner of Baltimore law firm Brown, Goldstein & Levy, discusses how parents can work with special education lawyers to achieve a positive outcome.

DEBORAH KENT STEIN (DKS): As an attorney, how long have you been involved in cases involving blind students? Have you noticed any changes in the kinds of cases that come to you over the years?

SHARON KREVOR-WEISBAUM (SK-W): I started working on cases involving blind students in the early 2000s. My sense is that over the past five years, the barriers for blind students have changed, perhaps even increased, given the proliferation of technology in the classroom, whether for homework assignments, testing, or for in-class online collaboration. Of course, we continue to experience school districts that are resistant to providing the level of Braille instruction that students need; resistant to providing orientation and mobility that ensures significant community integration; and resistant to ensuring that blind students receive timely, accessible materials, which of course makes equal access difficult, if not impossible. Many times the key is a strong Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TVI) who understands that blind students can progress at the same level as their peers as long as they are provided with the right skills and equal access. Although it is not entirely different at the college level, there has been more litigation and more publicity regarding the legal obligations on institutions of higher education, which has prompted more progress than we’ve seen at the K-12 level. 

DKS: When things aren't going well, at what point should parents bring in a lawyer?

SK-W: When parents contact me, I usually start by asking some basic questions. I'll ask them, "Have you let the school know that you are unhappy? Do you feel that you are being heard? Have you documented your concerns? Have you brought a blind adult to the IEP meeting to talk about the importance of Braille and technology?” The answers to these questions give me a sense of what is going on, how far things have gone, and where the process needs to go. Sometimes parents have been to one Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting after another, and nothing is getting done. One parent I worked with fought for three years to get Braille instruction for her son before a lawyer got involved. If the parents believe they are not being heard and that their child is losing ground, then it is time to bring a lawyer onboard.

DKS: Are there times when you feel parents turn to a lawyer too hastily?

SK-W: At times parents call for legal assistance before they bring in an advocate such as someone from the NFB. I recommend that parents take an advocate with them when they go to these meetings. Things tend to go more smoothly when an advocate is present. If parents talk about going to due process right from the start, though, the school is likely to get on the defensive, and communications can break down very quickly.

DKS: How can parents find a lawyer who knows about blindness?

SK-W: Most special education lawyers are quite familiar with disabilities such as dyslexia and autism, but often attorneys have not handled a case involving a blind child. This does not need to be a concern. Part of our job as lawyers is to educate ourselves, no matter what the case involves. A lawyer with experience in special education law can educate herself about Braille, mobility, and any other blindness need that pertains to a particular case. Interview several lawyers and look for someone who is open to talking with the NFB and with other parents of blind children. In my work, I do a lot of consulting with other lawyers. I can be a resource for lawyers who are unfamiliar with blindness cases. When a child has disabilities in addition to blindness, the lawyer needs to learn about the intersection of the different disabilities. If your attorney is willing to learn about blindness, he or she can be a great advocate.

DKS: How does the process work once a lawyer gets involved in a case?

SK-W: After meeting with the parents and the student, and reviewing the most recent IEP, a lawyer can attend the IEP meeting and help the parties communicate with each other. A good lawyer is a good communicator. In a lot of instances just having a lawyer at the table will turn things around. If the problem cannot be resolved at the table, the attorney will discuss the options that are available to the parents. 

DKS: Can you say a bit more about that?

SK-W: One option is to file a due process complaint; another may be to file a complaint with the State’s Department of Education. There may be options outside of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which an attorney might consider, such as the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. If the family decides to file a due process complaint, the family can bring experts and witnesses to the hearing. A due process hearing can stretch out over a long period of time. The court may say it will take eight days, but those days can be spread out over several months. Due process is very adversarial and stressful; it is also a very expensive process. If the parents prevail, however, they can recover a portion of their costs. If problems can be resolved at an IEP meeting, it is a lot less stressful and a lot less expensive. 

DKS: With all the down sides, have you seen situations when due process is beneficial to the family and the student?

SK-W: Absolutely. There are times when the pressure of litigation is the only way things will change.    For instance, if a student who needs Braille instruction cannot obtain this needed service at the IEP table, I would of course encourage a family to go to hearing. 

DKS: Recently the Supreme Court handed down a ruling on a disability case in Michigan. What impact do you think that ruling will have on disability cases going forward?

SK-W: The case involved a child with cerebral palsy who used a service dog. The school refused to allow her to have the dog with her in the classroom. The family brought suit against the district under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The issue before the Supreme Court was whether administrative exhaustion under the IDEA is required before bringing such claims of discrimination to the federal court. The Supreme Court held that exhaustion under the IDEA is required when the remedy sought in the complaint is a denial of a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE), but not if what is sought is something different such as equal access and equal opportunity. Although this type of analysis will be very case specific, we believe that the Supreme Court’s decision will open up direct avenues to the federal district court under the ADA and Section 504 where what is being sought is access to equal educational opportunities. Another very important recent ruling from the Supreme Court will be helpful in ensuring that districts have higher expectations for our blind children. The Supreme Court recently rejected the “barely more than de minimus progress” standard that some lower courts had deemed sufficient to meet the FAPE standard. The Court held that a child’s educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his or her circumstances, and that every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives. 

DKS: A lot of kids who have disabilities in addition to blindness tend to fall through the cracks. How can parents make sure these kids get the education they deserve?

SK-W: When a blind child also has other disabilities, he or she often gets placed in a class for children with severe disabilities, and blindness skills training is often ignored. A failure to address the child’s blindness obviously exacerbates the gap in learning. Parents must be sure that school districts are focusing on all of the child’s needs, and they may have to request an Independent Educational Evaluation if the parents’ concerns are not being addressed. 

DKS: Is there anything else you'd like parents to know?

SK-W: I recommend that parents review two guidance documents issued by the United States Department of Education and the United States Department of Justice, and I suggest that parents’ attorneys review them as well.   
https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/dcl-faqs-effective-communication-201411.pdf; https://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/brailledcl-6-19-13.pdf

DKS: Thank you so much for your time! This is great information, and I’m sure a lot of parents will find it very helpful.

A Matter of Justice
Our Fight to Obtain Braille Instruction

by Holly Miller

Reprinted from Future Reflections, Volume 31, Number 3, Summer 2012

From the Editor: In her interview with Future Reflections for the article elsewhere in this issue, Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum refers to her work in support of Holly Miller, a mother who fought to obtain Braille instruction for her son. Holly Miller's story is one of conviction and perseverance. Because his family held high expectations, Hank Miller got the chance to live up to his full potential. In this article Holly Miller relates her family's long struggle to get Hank the instruction he needed.   

On August 18, 2008, I sent an email to the special services director of our school district, suggesting that our son, Hank, might need Braille. Hank was getting ready to enter second grade. I'll admit that at that point my husband and I weren't 100 percent convinced Braille was the answer for him, but we saw signs that Hank was having trouble reading print, and we felt he should be evaluated.

Hank had enough vision to see large print, but eye fatigue limited the length of time he was able to read. It was a physical effort for him to see words on the printed page. The longer he had to read, the less he understood what he read.

Two months after I sent our original email, we were granted a meeting, at which the state-employed teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) gasped, "I'd hate to do that to him!" By that she meant Braille, of course.

Undaunted, we pressed for a learning media assessment. The assessment was done, but the results were not presented to us until February. Even though the reading stamina portion of the evaluation was left blank, we were told that Braille was not appropriate for our son.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) presumes Braille to be the primary reading method for legally blind students. Yet, although Hank is legally blind, we were forced to prove that Braille was appropriate for him.

Over the following months, we sent countless emails and letters and attended one meeting after another. We prepared for each meeting carefully, bringing articles and advocates. We secured an attorney. We switched attorneys. Evaluations were done by both sides.

The school personnel and the professionals at the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (NJCBVI) were immoveable. Nothing we did, said, or presented swayed their firmly made-up minds. They told us that Hank was a sighted reader, that he was better off as part of the sighted world. They insisted that Hank's wonderful approach to learning would be thwarted if we forced him to learn Braille. "Why would you want to make him more blind?" they demanded. They seemed to believe we were trying to do something to him instead of for him. We jokingly called it Munchhausen by Braille—a reference to Munchhausen by proxy, the phenomenon by which parents deliberately cause their children to become ill.

As the months—then years—went by, we emphasized repeatedly that our concern was Hank's inability to handle sustained reading tasks. We were assured that sustained reading wasn't a problem, even though the district never tested it. During this time, Hank was kept in the resource room for reading, five days a week, ninety minutes a day. He spent 25 percent of his school day in the resource room. When we asked why, we were given a multitude of reasons, but we were skeptical about all of them. The fact that Hank's eyes couldn't keep up with the regular classroom workload was never on the list.

The testing done by the school district showed that Hank had no reading disability on a cognitive level. However, when we asked the district to evaluate his sustained reading, the evaluation never took place. Our own experts did sustained reading evaluations, and we shared the results with the NJCBVI. These tests all showed that Hank did very well on short reading tasks, but when he read for longer periods of time (ten to twenty minutes), his speed, accuracy, comprehension, and retention fell significantly. These results clearly illustrated that Hank's vision was the problem, not his mind.

Despite our findings, the school district and the NJCBVI still declared that Braille was inappropriate for Hank. It became apparent that nothing we could do would change their thinking. The only way Hank would ever get Braille instruction would be through a court order.

By this time our story had caught the attention of Dr. Marc Maurer, President [now immediate past president] of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). With the might of the NFB behind us, we filed for due process in June 2011. Our legal team consisted of Jayne Wesler from Sussan & Greenwald in New Jersey and Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum and Jessie Weber from Brown, Goldstein & Levy in Baltimore. The hearing lasted nine days, but those nine days were spread over seven months.

The wheels of justice turn slowly, but turn they did. On May 3, 2012, we received the decision from the administrative law judge. Hank would receive Braille instruction!

The judge found our evidence to be more research- and data-based than that presented by the NJCBVI, in that it was supported by evaluations geared toward Hank's specific disability. She found that both the district and the NJCBVI had a bias against Braille. "The comment that H.M. has to stay in a sighted world shows a bias against Braille because it infers that Braille is a lesser medium than the technology that she recommends," the judge said in her ruling. "H.M. is a legally blind student who has functional vision. He can live in the sighted world, learning and using Braille as an alternative reading tool, along with assistive technology. It is more logical that doing so will enhance his learning rather than thwart it."

The ruling ordered that Hank receive Braille instruction ninety minutes per day, five days a week. This is very important, because studies show that frequent and intense Braille instruction is critical for a student to master the code. Hank will also receive three years of compensatory education. This will take the form of summer instruction, including attendance at the Buddy Program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind.

On July 10, 2012, nearly four years after we made our initial request for Braille, Hank had his first official Braille lesson. We cannot wait to see how his reading takes off from here. He is such a smart, inquisitive boy, and it was terrible to watch him avoid reading because it hurt his eyes.

We cannot begin to express how deeply thankful we are to everyone involved in Hank's case. Even though we knew we were right, we did not have the resources to prove it on our own. Without the NFB behind us, Hank never would have gotten Braille instruction. It is our greatest hope that other families can use our case as an example with their schools, avoiding the need to bring legal action.

A Chance to Learn

by Angelica Gomez

Reprinted from Future Reflections, Volume 31, Number 3, Summer 2012

From the Editor: At times the best reading method for a child with low-vision is a topic for debate. However, it seems safe to assume that a totally blind student will be taught to read Braille. Yet in some cases, Braille instruction is not provided, even to totally blind children. If a blind child has or is thought to have additional disabilities, Braille may be deemed inappropriate—even when sighted children with similar disabilities are taught to read print. The story of Melanie Gomez, an eight-year-old blind girl from Florida, is an example of what can happen and how strong advocacy can make a difference.

Our daughter Melanie started preschool when she was three years old. She was in a class where some of the children had disabilities and some did not. She was the only totally blind child in the group. We felt it was a good program, and Melanie seemed to be doing well.

Melanie was in that program for two years, but when she began kindergarten she had to switch schools. The new school placed her in a class for autistic children, even though Melanie had not been diagnosed with autism. My husband and I really didn't understand what was going on. We trusted the school. We thought the people at the school were experts, and we believed they would do everything possible to help Melanie learn.

Pretty soon, though, we started to get worried. Sometimes Melanie came home with scratches, bruises, and even bites from the other children in her class. She became afraid of loud noises, and she didn't like to play with her cousins anymore. If one of them went up to her, Melanie would scream and push her away.

We told the school we wanted Melanie to be placed in a class with other blind children. The school said a placement like that wouldn't work because Melanie didn't know Braille. "But how can she know Braille?" I asked them. "No one has tried to teach her." They would send her homework home all in print. Nothing was tactile, not even the pictures she was supposed to color. How could she learn anything from those worksheets? To her they were just blank pieces of paper!

One day when I had something else to do, my husband, Jimmy, attended Melanie's IEP meeting without me. He came home very confused. He said he didn't understand most of the things they were saying. We decided to call for another IEP meeting so both of us could be there.

The school was not happy about calling a new meeting, but they went along with our request. Some of the teachers made impatient remarks, and I saw a few of them texting or talking on their cell phones during the meeting. We found out that they had labeled Melanie autistic and learning disabled. They tried to tell us she couldn't learn because she had those other disabilities besides being blind.

After that meeting, we were very upset. We felt the school was holding Melanie back. She was getting speech therapy, and one day I asked the speech therapist what we could do. She was very sympathetic. She really listened to us, and after we talked, she got us an advocate. That's when our battle with the Dade County School District really began!

When Melanie was in first grade we went to a whole series of meetings, some local and some regional. The school got a lawyer, and so did we. I believe the people at Melanie's school really thought they were giving her what she needed. But they were convinced that she couldn't learn reading or cane travel or much of anything else. It turned out that the district's department of services for the visually impaired didn't even know that Melanie existed!

Our local lawyer ended up bringing in Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum, an attorney with Brown, Goldstein & Levy in Baltimore. That firm has a lot of experience with cases involving blind children. They helped us get a full assessment, and the report showed that Melanie should be getting Braille and cane travel. In mediation the school agreed to place Melanie in a class for blind children. It also agreed to help her make up for all her lost time by paying for Braille instruction during three summers. This summer Melanie and I will spend two weeks in Baltimore while she attends the Maryland BELL Program (Braille Enrichment for Leadership and Learning). [The program is now known as BELL Academy]. We are both totally excited!

Melanie is eight years old now, and she attends a class with two other blind children. She knows the whole alphabet in Braille, and she loves to write with her Perkins Brailler. Teachers from New York and Louisiana have come to observe her. They are amazed by the progress she has made.

I'll never forget one of our meetings, when the school's lawyer started off by announcing, "I'm not here to have my time wasted!" It is very sad when a person like that says such a thing in front of two parents who want the best for their child! It was my daughter's time that was being wasted by a school that didn't believe in her and didn't care. Melanie was being pushed aside. The more she fell behind, the less chance she had to show her capabilities.

I know there are many Melanies out there, children who haven't been so fortunate to get the help our daughter received. I am very, very grateful to everyone who helped us in our fight to get Melanie the chance to learn. I hope that other families will benefit from our experience so their children can have the excitement of learning that Melanie is enjoying at last.

I'm Not Sure It's Really Necessary

by Kevin and Rita O'Connor

From the Editor: Kevin O'Connor is a professional speaker who teaches at Loyola University in Chicago. Rita O'Connor is an attorney and real estate broker. Their son Corbb's work focuses on accessibility at US Bank.

For the final time we sat around the table at an IEP meeting for our son, Corbb. He was completing his last year of high school, and soon he would be off to the George Washington University in Washington, DC. After the psychologist gave his report, he asked Corbb's permission to tell all of us something he had shared in a private discussion.

When Corbb agreed, the psychologist set the context for us. He had finished his evaluation, testing, and interviewing, but he had one last question. "If you could change one thing about your life, Corbb, what would it be?" he asked.

The psychologist fully expected that Corbb would respond with some comment about his blindness. However, Corbb's answer took him by surprise. "I can't think of anything really," he said. "Maybe better vision ... but I'm not sure it's really necessary."

A hush fell over the room as we pondered Corbb's answer. The response we all expected was not Corbb's experience.

As parents, these are our memories of our journey with our son through age eighteen: doctors, birth-to-three programs, preschool through junior high, high school, canes, guide dog, teachers, instructors, administrators, IEPs, college applications, summer jobs...plenty was going on for us. One of our biggest concerns was how our son would interpret the curves life throws at all of us. Would he perceive them as bumps on the road to maturity or as the price to pay for having a visual impairment?

We thought that the early days would be the most difficult. They were—not for Corbb, but for us, with our uncertainty, our fears and anxieties, and our search for answers and support.

Disability in any form, at any age, knocks us off balance. Visit any school for the blind and you will see every disability imaginable, often in combination. You will also see the human spirit. Undoubtedly some students wish for perfect health and visual or auditory acuity, as their parents and grandparents wish those things for them. But something very interesting happens somewhere along the way. A realization dawns that this is life, my life, my child's life. Somewhere along the journey we recognize that it is our job to help that life happen in whatever form it takes, fulfilling whatever potential lies within it.

In the early days, we weren't ready for this lesson. Maybe, just maybe we had to fight the grief and the pain as hard as we could. C. S. Lewis said, "The only way out is through." We fight not with the pain. We fight through it.

When Corbb was diagnosed, the first call Kevin made was to an optometrist and dear friend, Dr. Stanley Dushman. Stanley had been our eye doctor, and his wife was Kevin's graduate school and private practice partner. Both of them were dear, dear people, the kind of people you call when you are in trouble.

Stanley listened to the little we knew about Corbb's eye condition at that time. Then softly, lovingly, and confidently, he said, "Let him see what he sees. Don't compare your vision to his." Those were wise words that Kevin ignored for the next ten years!

Meanwhile, Rita scoured the research and visited the doctors. Something here and something there, bits came to us, but it was never enough, never satisfying. It was never the cure we wanted, the cure that we knew deep down we would never find.

We were fortunate to get great vision services. Corbb attended a Montessori school, and later a middle school and junior high that were progressive and inclusive. His high school was one of the best in the state. Yet, like many parents of blind children, we still wanted more. We wanted sight.

Fighting against the tide is one activity that we as parents all seem to share. From experience and from our informed intuition we know what it is like to fight, to resist, to explore, and to fight again the next day. We fight the system, the doctors, and most of all the reality of the diagnosis. Though our friends and neighbors may sympathize, they never completely empathize as can another parent in the same situation. We need the research as well as the community.

Somewhere in those years we began to realize that we, too, were blinded. We could not see what Corbb did see. He could see some things from the car that surprised us. Vacations and ordinary trips to the store reminded us of what he saw. Well-meaning, but intrusive strangers and sometimes ignorant or distant classmates reminded us of what we wished he did not see. And then came those magical times when none of that mattered at all, and we were just a family unto ourselves. The sights we all saw and those that we didn't even notice became our world of discovery for one another when we took the time to notice and share.

And now we heard Corbb's answer to the psychologist, "I can't think of anything really...maybe better vision, but I'm not sure it's really necessary." Each of us felt a bit reassured, the encouragements of all those vision teachers over the years coming to the fore. We felt a little sad, too—we always had mixed feelings at these meetings. And finally we were impressed that this final IEP was a reminder that Dr. Dushman was right after all. Corbb sees what he sees, and for him it is fine, enough, perhaps even great.

We realized, too, in that distinct moment at our last IEP that our vision had changed. We had hoped for physical sight through all those years, but maybe it wasn't really necessary after all.

If I Wrote His IEP

by Erin Jepsen

Reprinted from Future Reflections, Volume 31, Number 3, Summer 2012

From the Editor: Erin Jepsen is a writer, researcher, and mother of four. For a while she taught music in the public schools. She stopped in order to homeschool her own offspring, picking up some special education training and a Braille transcriber's certificate along the way. Her family, including several members with visual impairments, lives in Idaho, where they all enjoy hiking, swimming, reading, and roasting gourmet coffee. You can read Erin's blog, A Number of Things, at http://whistlererin.blogspot.com.

As the parent of a blind child, and as someone with some training in special education, I've read my share of IEP goals. They usually read something like this: "Child shall recognize 160 out of 190 Braille contractions with 89 percent accuracy by April 30. Child shall read Braille text at a second-grade level, with 65 percent fluency and a minimum speed of 40 WPM for 80 percent of the trials."

Good grief! Are we educating children or programming robots?

I mean no offense toward special education teachers, many of whom receive little appreciation for doing a difficult job. It's just that the "system" boggles my mind sometimes. To take something as messy and organic as learning and stick it into a quantifiable little box seems more ludicrous than useful. Of course, we want to be able to measure progress; but to a parent, or worse, to a student, these numbers can seem like a bewildering mash of random statistics.

Take a hypothetical twelve-year-old boy, for example. He reads at a second-grade level, and he seldom reads for fun. He sees well enough to read 16-point print, but his vision is such that doing so becomes a chore. Should this kid be taught Braille? Should he use a CCTV? What should his goals be? How specifically should his IEP language be worded? Ought the school to expect that he learn on grade level with his age-mates, or does his visual impairment exempt him from the educational standards to which his peers are held?

In my mind, these questions exhibit all kinds of problems by their very nature. This is a kid we're talking about! His disability doesn't turn him into a robot that needs to be weighed, measured, and quantified. He is a kid, first and foremost. Someday he will be an adult who likely will want to find a job, have a family, pursue hobbies, travel and live and dream.

If I wrote an IEP for this boy, I would write something like this: "Child shall be exposed to stories about dragons or baseball or surfing until he falls in love with stories and begins devouring them in whatever format he can get his hands on. Child will send 'secret code' messages in Braille to nerdy friends and will begin programming computers. Child will spend time in the fresh air getting exercise and not worrying so much about goals and numbers and statistics until he finds out that he is passionate about auto mechanics and is willing to learn the math necessary to calculate the weight of a car's engine. Child shall be expected to do the same chores as his siblings, take an appropriate amount of responsibility for his appearance and manners, and have the same freedom to explore his world and find his place in it as anyone else."

Get down the why we learn and the how—Braille, print, audio—will fall into place. Once the boy is excited about learning, give him as many hours of Braille and print and audio as you can squeeze into the day, and let him drink it in. But for goodness sake, don't start with "thou shalt learn 35 Braille contractions," or he never will!

Children can be pragmatic, and blind children are no different from any others. If reading is a lot of work, a smart child won't bother. Only when she discovers that a world of magic lies just beyond the print or Braille page will she suddenly decide that learning to read is a worthwhile activity. For some kids, audiobooks first awaken this magic. For others, the tactile enjoyment of Braille draws them in. Once kids find out that stories open the way to friends who live only in books, that through reading they can survive on a lonely island for years, sail on pirate ships, or live with Laura Ingalls on the wild prairies, listening to wolves howl and Pa play his fiddle, they beg to be allowed to read, rather than dragging their heels. When they discover that their passion to learn about orcas can be fed by enlarged font on a computer screen or by listening to audio-described documentaries, you will find they are suddenly captivated and will spend far more than the required twenty minutes reading. A simple iPad game can open the door to a lifelong love of geography and world travel.

Math, of course, presents a whole new set of challenges. For many children, blind or sighted, the interminable drudgery of timed drill sheets saps mathematical study of any possible success or enjoyment. As children, how many of us dreaded the worksheets that plopped onto our desks as the teacher started a stopwatch? Yet I've discovered a new world of math while homeschooling my kids. Did you know that nines are tricky and zeros are humorous? Did you know that if nobody tells kids that math is boring, they will do mental math on car trips? I've had to tell my son, "Stop doing math and get your coat on!"

Algebra begins to make sense when the numbers are weights on a balance, and X is a piece of tissue covering one side. Geometry ceases to be random lines in a book and becomes necessary when it's brought out to the wood shop. Calculus can be used to draw the shape of a water droplet where no droplet existed a moment before. Yet an IEP simply states, "Child shall add four-digit numbers with 75 percent accuracy 60 percent of the time." Did anyone ever notice that 75 percent accuracy won't build a birdhouse that stays together?

If your goal is to set the bar low enough that you can check off your box at the end of the day, are you actually educating a child? Did he learn today that a dogwood flower is a square, a petunia becomes a pentagram, but a lily is actually a hexagram? Even if he can't see the magic of a maple leaf, did he touch one? Did he count the contrasting stripes across the crosswalk today like my four-year-old daughter did? Has anyone ever told him that the hum from his computer monitor comes because it is set to 60 cycles instead of being set higher?

Fortunately, thousands of wild and creative teachers out there are problem solving in wonderful ways, such as building tactile maps out of M&Ms and licorice whips. There are dedicated teachers who will give a reluctant reader different books until they find the one that captures her imagination. There are parents, too, who spend hours gluing strips of fabric to board games to make them tactile, and argue with the employees at the science museum until their child can touch the skeleton that stands behind the DO NOT TOUCH sign. There are children who learn to program computers beyond any expectation, play "Legend of Zelda" although they have never seen the screen, or perfect their skateboarding technique. There are blind children who, when they are excused from learning graphing, get books and find websites and teach themselves how to do it.

As I teach my daughter, I don't want her to meet a goal of 75 percent, and that for only a fraction of the time. I want her to dive into life at 100 percent. She will learn to read because everyone in her family reads, and she'll understand what she reads because we'll talk about it together and read it together, just as I do with all the other children I have taught. She'll learn to run and swim and do math and climb trees, just as her sighted brothers and sisters do. And thankfully, she won't do it only 60 percent of the time!

#HOWWESEEIT

by Kim Cunningham

Families, Friends, and Teachers! Now is the time to prepare to join the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) for our annual national conference, #HOWWESEEIT!

My name is Kim Cunningham, and I am the president of the NOPBC. I would like to invite all families, friends, and teachers of blind and low-vision children to join us at the National Federation of the Blind national convention from Monday, July 10 through Saturday, July, 15, 2017, in Orlando, Florida. Every year the NOPBC holds its annual national conference during the NFB National Convention. The NOPBC board has put in countless volunteer hours to provide our attendees with workshops, speakers, and activities that will be both enlightening and educational. We are here to help you with your questions about raising blind and low-vision children. We welcome all families of children who are blind or have low vision, with or without additional disabilities, to come together for a week full of fun and excitement. We believe that all children can learn with the right support and training.

Our family has attended the NFB National Convention since 2007. This summer will be our tenth consecutive year! The National Federation of the Blind welcomed us into the family from the beginning! For us, the NFB National Convention is now a giant family reunion!

When I attended convention in 2007 I had a dream. I dreamed that my blind daughter could grow into a productive citizen to her fullest potential. Whatever that was going to be would be determined by her and not others. Prior to this time, I felt as though I were living in a nightmare, unable to find anyone other than myself who had high expectations for her. No one on her IEP team believed she would be able to live alone let alone attend college. But I attended the 2007 National Convention with dream in hand and found so many people who wanted to help us with our dream. And every year after, I attended the NFB National Convention. I asked a lot of questions of as many blind and low-vision people as I had time to meet. There are usually between two thousand and twenty-five hundred blind and low-vision adults attending convention, so I found plenty of people to help me. I also attended as many workshops as I could, learning about the tools of blindness and the NFB training centers. Every step of the way there was someone to help guide us. I left each convention feeling more empowered than the time before.

And my daughter persevered. Here is my 2017 dream update: My blind daughter graduated from college a year and a half ago, has recently obtained her first full-time job, and will be moving into her own apartment in two weeks. As a parent, I have accomplished the goal of watching my daughter grow into a strong, independent woman. I will be forever grateful to the NFB! I look forward to meeting you all, and I hope we can all support you in building your dreams!

In 2016, the Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB) held a fundraising campaign called #HOWEYESEEIT. The campaign was designed to show the general public what it is like to be blind – a simulation of sorts. Various sighted people were asked to wear sleep shades and then do some type of ordinary activity such as eating dinner. The participants were not given any training or even a cane. The end result of this activity was that sighted participants left feeling fear and sadness for blind people. The activity perpetuated the myth that blind people are unable to do even the simplest tasks. These people could be our children’s future teachers or employers. We need them to know that blind and low-vision people CAN be successful!

So the NOPBC would like to show the Foundation Fighting Blindness how we see it! We see our children learning to read Braille and using the long white cane as tools of independence. We see our children cooking, skiing, riding bicycles, taking AP level courses, attending college, and much, much more. So FFB – This is #HOWWESEEIT #NFB17. Please help us to share the news that blindness is not the characteristic that defines your child’s future!

The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.

Please join us:

Rosen Shingle Creek Resort
9939 Universal Boulevard
Orlando, Florida 32819-9357

2017 NOPBC Annual Conference
#HowWeSeeIt 

The 34th Annual NOPBC Conference
Monday, July 10, 2017 - Saturday, July 15, 2017
Orlando, FL

We welcome all families and teachers of blind and visually impaired children to attend the NOPBC’s annual conference. We will hold our conference in conjunction with the 2017 National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind. We look forward to seeing you at our full-day seminar on Monday, July 10, and at our many activities held throughout the week.

Conference Registration Fees

Preregister by June 30:
$30 for an individual adult
$50 for two or more related adults
Children and youth free

After June 30:
$40 per individual adult
$70 for two or more adults
Children and youth free

In addition to registering for the NOPBC annual conference, you will also need to register for the National Federation of the Blind National Convention in order to take advantage of our excellent room rates. Registration information, as well as a variety of other convention information, can be found at https://nfb.org/convention.

Childcare is available for children ages 6 weeks to 12 years. Children must be preregistered for child care on or before June 15. Find more information below, and register here: https://nfb.org/nfb-camp-registration-form.

In addition to NFB childcare, youth ages 11-18 are invited to participate in special NFB Youth Track activities. Youth Track welcomes blind 11-18-year-olds, and also any sighted siblings in this age group. Information on Youth Track activities is provided below, and updates on the Youth Track schedule can be found at http://www.nopbc.org

Hotel Information and Room Rates

The 2017 room rates are singles and doubles, $83; and triples and quads, $89. In addition to the room rates there will be a tax, which at present is 12.5 percent. No charge will be made for children under seventeen in the room with parents as long as no extra bed is requested. Please note that the hotel is a no-smoking facility.

For 2017 convention room reservations you can call the hotel at (866) 996-6338. You may also write directly to the Rosen Shingle Creek, 9939 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, Florida 32819-9357. The hotel will want a deposit of $95 for each room and will want a credit card number or a personal check. If you use a credit card, the deposit will be charged against your card immediately, just as would be the case with a $95 check. If a reservation is cancelled before Thursday, June 1, 2017, half of the deposit will be returned. Otherwise refunds will not be made.

All Rosen Shingle Creek guestrooms feature amenities that include plush Creek Sleeper beds, 40″ flat screen TVs, complimentary high-speed internet capabilities, in-room safes, coffee makers, mini-fridges, and hair dryers. Guests can enjoy four outdoor swimming pools, a full-service spa, and fifteen dining/lounging options from fine-dining and elaborate buffets to casual dining both indoors and poolside. 

Schedule at a Glance

Monday, July 10         Seminar Day Opening Day of NOPBC National Conference            

Morning                      NOPBC General Session
Afternoon                   NOPBC Workshops
Evening                       NOPBC Family Hospitality Night

Tuesday, July 11:        NFB Registration Day, Meetings of Divisions and Committees

Morning                      NOPBC Cane Walks
Afternoon                   NOPBC Style Show
Evening                       Family Pool Social

Wednesday, July 12:  NFB Board Meeting, Meetings of Divisions and Committees

Afternoon                   NOPBC Annual Meeting and Parent Power
Early Evening              NOPBC Braille Book Fair
Evening                       NOPBC Dad’s Night Out

Thursday, July 13:      NFB Opening Day Session

Evening                       NOPBC Workshops and Children’s Activities

Friday, July 14:            NFB Business Session

Saturday, July 15:       NFB Banquet Day and Adjournment

Child Care in Orlando

by Carla McQuillan

Children between the ages of six weeks and twelve years are invited to attend child care during convention sessions this summer. The children will be divided into groups by age, with appropriate toys, games, and activities available to each group. Child care is staffed by qualified, experienced teachers, including Michelle Chacon, a certified teacher of blind children.

Child care will be open during all general sessions of the national convention; the NOPBC Conference on Monday, July 10; and Division Meeting Day on July 12. It will also be open during the convention banquet on Saturday, July 15.

Throughout the day, the preschool and elementary-school children in child care will engage in a variety of activities. Additional activities this year will include hikes to the on-site fishing lake. There will be a blind fisherman to help the children learn to fish using alternative techniques. This hotel also has large grassy areas for water play and field games.  

For registration information and additional details regarding the program, please visit http://nfb.org/nfb-camp-registration-form. The registration deadline is June 15, or as space is available. See you in Orlando!

*Important: The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children is working hard to schedule engaging activities for all children in child care. These activities will include a community service project, music and movement, sports, science, and more! A full list of child care activities will be posted on our website, http://www.nopbc.org and will also be available in our convention agenda.

Schedule of Events for Adults, Children, and Youth

Please visit www.nopbc.org for activity updates and registration information.

Sunday, July 9

7:30 - 8:00 p.m.                      NOPBC PREREGISTRATION PACKET PICK-UP
Come pick up your NOPBC registration packet early, meet other parents and families, and avoid packet pickup lines on the 10th. (In order to take advantage of this early packet pickup, make sure you register for NOPBC events by visiting http://www.nopbc.org.)

Monday, July 10

7:30 a.m. - 4:45 p.m.              FULL-DAY NOPBC #HowWeSeeIt CONFERENCE—General Session and Workshops

7:30 - 8:45 a.m.                       REGISTRATION

9:00 a.m.                                 GENERAL SESSION BEGINS

Parents, children, and youth are invited to start the morning together at the #HowWeSeeIt NOPBC opening session. This session will include a chance for all children to talk with Mark Riccobono, President, National Federation of the Blind. Kim Cunningham, NOPBC president, will share her view of #HowWeSeeIt. Dr. Denise M. Robinson, nationally known technology trainer, will share her thoughts about how technology can equal the playing field for all blind and low-vision children, and how to insure all of these children receive the technology instruction they need. We will also hear from Dr. Arielle Silverman, who will share her research on blindness simulations and what they do and do not accomplish. A panel of blind students will also share their perspectives on a variety of issues with the group.

At 10:45 a.m. children preregistered with NFB Child Care will be escorted to the children’s activity in the child care rooms, and youth ages eleven to eighteen will be escorted to the Youth Track activity rooms. Save your NOPBC registration badge for free admission to Family Hospitality in the evening!
 
11:00 a.m.                               NOPBC YOUTH TRACK ACTIVITY (ages 11 – 18) “A Little Bit about Me” 

11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.            NOPBC HANDS-ON TECHNOLOGY WORKSHOP: Technology Basics in Five Steps or Less (Low-tech Session)
Want to know how to load paper into a Perkins Braillewriter? Ever wondered if a slate and stylus still has uses despite all of the technology available in our world today? Want to learn more about the abacus? Drop in to this new hands-on technology workshop. Presentations of various low-tech products will be offered from 11:00-11:15, 11:20-11:35, 11:40-11:55, 12:00-12:15, 12:20-12:35, and 12:40-12:55. Stay the entire time and rotate through a variety of presentations, or just come for one presentation to get questions answered regarding a specific product. Please note: this workshop covers the basics of the presented items only! It is meant as a starting point—not a full tutorial on any of the items presented.

11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.          NOPBC CONCURRENT WORKSHOPS FOR PARENTS & TEACHERS
Essential 411: How to Optimize Your Convention Experience *This workshop is geared toward first-time convention attendees, but will certainly provide valuable information for all.

12:15 p.m.                               LUNCH ON YOUR OWN.

Please pick up children from NFB Child Care and Youth Track activities.

1:30 p.m.                                 CHILD CARE REOPENS

2:00 p.m.                                 NOPBC CHILDREN’S ACTIVITY (ages 5 - 12) IN NFB CHILD CARE
Spreading Sunshine to the Community - To participate, child must be signed up for child care for this day.

2:00 p.m. - 4:45 p.m.             NOPBC YOUTH TRACK (ages 11 - 18) “Let’s Talk Tech and Social Media”

2:00 - 4:00 p.m.                     HANDS-ON TECHNOLOGY WORKSHOP: Technology Basics in Five Steps or Less, High-tech Session
Ever wondered how to make an iDevice talk? Want to know how to help your child connect a Braille display to a computer or iDevice? Interested in learning a little more about the basics of screen magnification software? Drop in to this new hands-on technology workshop. Presentations of various high-tech products will be offered from 2:00-2:15, 2:20-2:35, 2:40-2:55, 3:00-3:15, 3:20-3:35, and 3:40-3:55. Stay the entire time and rotate through a variety of presentations, or just come for one presentation to get questions answered regarding a specific product. Please note, this workshop covers the basics of the presented items only! It is meant as a starting point—not a full tutorial on any of the items presented.

2:00 - 3:15 p.m.                      NOPBC CONCURRENT WORKSHOPS FOR PARENTS & TEACHERS

3:30 - 4:45 p.m.                     NOPBC CONCURRENT WORKSHOPS FOR PARENTS & TEACHERS

By 5:30 p.m.                            Please pick up children from child care and youth track! 

5:30 - 7:00 p.m.                      NOPBC FAMILY HOSPITALITY
Relax, snack, chat, meet new families and teachers, and connect with old friends. Veteran attendees will be on hand to welcome you and provide information. Admission is free with your 2017 NOPBC Conference name badge; $15/adult and $5/child without badge. Pizza and lemonade will be served. Co-sponsored by Professionals in Blindness Education (PIBE).

6:30 - 8:00 p.m.                      NOPBC YOUTH TRACK (ages 11-18) To Be or Not to Be Blind? That Is the Question

8:00 - 10:00 p.m.                    NOPBC YOUTH TRACK (ages 11-14): It’s Cool to Be in Middle School

8:00 - 11:00 p.m.                    NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BLIND STUDENTS SOCIAL (ages 14-18)

Tuesday, July 11

Child Care is CLOSED on this day.

8:45 - 10:30 a.m.                     CANE WALK SESSION I
Wondering if your child should use a cane? Curious about how a cane works? Learn and experience the Structured Discovery Method of travel at these special workshops. Parents, teachers, blind/VI children, and siblings are welcome

9:00 - 12:00 p.m.                    NOPBC YOUTH TRACK (ages 11-18) Looking Good and Feeling Good

11:00 a.m. - 12:45 p.m.          CANE WALK SESSION II

1:00 - 4:00 p.m.                      NOPBC YOUTH STYLE SHOW
(Rehearsal 1:00 p.m.-2:30 p.m.: Style Show begins at 2:45 p.m.)
Watch our young blind and low vision models strut their stuff on the runway. Come enjoy the fashions and music and support NOPBC. Tickets $5 at the door. Coordinators: Laura Bostick, First Vice President, NOPBC, and Kim Cunningham, President, NOPBC. For more information, please call Kim Cunningham at 713-501-9659.

4:00 - 5:00 p.m.                      NOPBC YOUTH TRACK (ages 11-18): Mocktail Party

5:30 - 8:00 p.m.                      FAMILY POOLSIDE SOCIAL
Join us for swimming and socialization. All family members are welcome. We will meet at the zero entry family pool!

7:30 - 9:30 p.m.                      PARENT LEADERSHIP PROGRAM—PLP
Has the NOPBC helped you and your family? Would you like to get more involved?  Come learn about leadership opportunities in your state. Coordinator: Carol Castellano, NOPBC Board Member, (201) 400-1101

Wednesday, July 12

Child care is open in the morning and afternoon. You can drop younger children off at child care in the morning, or take them with you for a visit to the Exhibit Hall and the Independence Market. You might also consider attending the NFB Board of Directors meeting—it’s open to all. In the afternoon, drop the kids off at their activities early and come to the NOPBC Annual Meeting!

12:45 p.m.                               CHILD CARE WILL BE OPEN EARLY ON THIS AFTERNOON
Give your child lunch, then drop child off early at child care on this day—so that you can attend the NOPBC Annual Meeting which begins at 1 p.m. NOPBC CHILDREN’S ACTIVITY (ages 5-12) in NFB Child Care takes place during Child Care afternoon session. To participate, child must be signed up for child care for this day.

1:00 - 4:00 p.m.                      NOPBC YOUTH TRACK (ages 11-18): Come Learn about All Things STEM! Hands On Science Exploration!

1:00 - 4:00 p.m.                      NATIONAL ORGANIZATION OF PARENTS OF BLIND CHILDREN ANNUAL MEETING
Attention parents and teachers! Be sure to attend this important meeting featuring the 2017 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children; Parent Power, Kid Power; NOPBC business, elections. Special bonus: meeting attendees receive priority entrance ticket to Braille Book Fair!

5:00 - 7:00 p.m.                      BRAILLE BOOK FAIR
A book lover's dream! Browse tables of Braille and print/Braille books. Due to generous donations, the NOPBC is proud to announce more print/Braille books at this event this year. Don’t worry; there will, as always, be plenty of books for older children as well! Volunteers will box your books and deliver them to the post office for Free Matter shipment to your home. Books are free; donations are encouraged to support our Braille programs. Contact Krystal Guillory for more information at (318) 245-8955

5:30 - 7:00 p.m.                      NOPBC YOUTH TRACK (ages 14 and Up): Dating 101

7:30 - 9:00 p.m.                      DADS’ NIGHT OUT
All dads, sighted and blind, are welcome at this NOPBC-sponsored event. Call Corbb O'Connor at (703) 309-4884 for location.

8:00-10:00 p.m.                      NOPBC YOUTH TRACK (ages 11-18): What Does My Blindness Mean to Me? 

Thursday, July 13

7:30 - 9:00 a.m.                       NOPBC BOARD MEETING

9:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.            NFB CONVENTION OPENING GENERAL SESSION
Be there for the bang of the gavel and the roar of the crowd! See the NFB Convention Agenda for program details. NFB general sessions take place all day Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Many additional events and meetings take place before the morning session, at lunchtime, and in the evenings.

1:00 - 5:00 p.m.                      NFB CONVENTION GENERAL SESSION

7:00 - 10:00 p.m.                    NOPBC CHILDREN’S CRAFT & GAME NIGHT (ages 5 - 12)
This activity will be available for children of families attending workshops during this time. NFB Child Care will not be open!

7:00 - 10:00 p.m.                    DEAL ME IN: A gathering for youth (ages 11-18)
Learn and practice various card games. Socialize with other young people. This activity was so popular last year that it is back and will be better than ever! You won’t want to miss it!

7:00 - 8:00 p.m.                      NOPBC YOUTH TRACK (for sighted siblings of blind children, ages 11-18 only): Sibling Rivalry: What is it Like to Have a Brother or Sister Who Happens to Be Blind?

7:00 - 9:45 p.m.                      NOPBC CONCURRENT WORKSHOPS

7:00 - 9:45 p.m.                      BRAILLE BASICS: A Make and Take Session to Increase Parents’ Knowledge of Braille and Use of Braille around the Home

7:00 - 8:15 p.m.                      IEP 101 – What Does a Good IEP Look Like and How Do I Get There?
Learn how to advocate for your child in school. What are smart goals? What types of assessments are available? Learn what the law says about educating blind and low vision students.

7:00 - 8:15 p.m.                      CREATING AN IFSP: How Do You Create Smart Goals for Your infant or toddler? How do you advocate for the services you believe your child needs?

8:00 - 10:00 p.m.                    NOPBC YOUTH TRACK (ages 11-18): Unconventional Convention Scavenger Hunt

8:30 - 9:45 p.m.                      IEP 202: Beyond the Basics
What do you do when you disagree with a team decision? How do you add services to an IEP? How do you handle differences of opinion effectively?

8:30 - 9:45 p.m.                      BASIC IEP ADVOCACY TRAINING
For NFB members and families who wish to help other families learn to advocate effectively at IEP meetings. How do you ask for things and get results? How do you stay calm?

Friday, July 14

9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.           NFB CONVENTION GENERAL SESSION

12:30 - 1:45 p.m.                    NOPBC BRAINSTORMING SESSION
Please come to share your knowledge and ideas with us. What did you like at this convention? What resources would help you stay connected throughout the year? What workshops might you like to see us offer next year? Be a part of this valuable conversation.
Kim Cunningham, President, NOPBC

2:00 - 5:00 p.m.                      NFB CONVENTION GENERAL SESSION

7:30 - 9:30 p.m.                      PARENT LEADERSHIP PROGRAM—PLP
Has the NOPBC helped you and your family? Would you like to get more involved?  Come learn about leadership opportunities in your state. Coordinator: Carol Castellano, NOPBC

Saturday, July 15

9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.            NFB CONVENTION GENERAL SESSION

2:00 - 5:00 p.m.                      NFB CONVENTION GENERAL SESSION

7:00 p.m.                                 NFB BANQUET

INSIDER INFORMATION

The NFB National Convention is a complicated week of events. We hope the information provided above will help you stay organized and make the most of your convention experience. The most confusing part of convention for families is often our registration system, so this information bears repeating. The NOPBC conference, the NFB convention, and NFB Child Care have separate registration forms and fees. To receive our special hotel room rates, you must register for the NFB convention.

The NOPBC is pleased to offer our Convention 411 workshop for families attending convention for the first time, or those families who would like to get information and advice from veteran convention attendees. Please take advantage of this workshop Monday, July 10, from 11:00 a.m.-12:15 p.m.

SPECIAL EVENTS & ACTIVITIES ALL WEEK LONG

The information above highlights all of the wonderful special activities for families brought to you by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children.

Other activities that you and your child might want to attend are listed in the NFB Convention agenda (this is a separate document available at https://nfb.org/convention).

Many activities will be going on at the same time. You and your child might have to make choices! Read the NOPBC agenda as well as the NFB agenda so that you don’t miss out! For example:

We hope to see you in Orlando!

ANNOUNCEMENTS

CONFERENCES AND PROGRAMS

Sense-sational Adventures in Summer Science
Contact: [email protected]
Location: University of Michigan, Dearborn Campus
Dates: July 30-August 6, 2017
Students in grades 7-12 are invited to join the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan to explore weather, the most discussed and most misunderstood force in our environment. Blind scientists will lead explorations into chemistry, nature, and physics as students experience a whirlwind of fun field trips, games, and music. The program will give students a taste of life in college laboratories and classrooms, but outdoor adventures will be emphasized. Students will use accessible instruments, tools, and media to measure, record, and crunch data as they learn about wind, humidity, and barometric pressure. 

Disability Research Consortium
https://www.disabilitypolicyresearch.org/disability-research-consortium
Date: August 2, 2017
Location: National Press Club, 529 14th St., NW, Washington, DC
At its annual meeting the Disability Research Consortium will highlight its latest research findings and their implications for the future of state and federal policies and programs that are designed to address challenges and concerns for people with disabilities. Participants will also hear insights from representatives of federal agencies that administer programs for people with disabilities, including Social Security.

ISLAND 2017 Conference
www.independencescience.org
Contact: Cary Supalo, [email protected]
Location: Kurz Purdue Technology Center, West Lafayette, IN
Date: September 15, 2017
The 2017 Independence Science, Learning a New Direction, Conference on Disability brings together educators, technology developers, and consumers to explore ways for students and professionals with disabilities to work effectively in the sciences.   

AWARDS

Braille around the World Photo Contest
National Braille Press
www.nbp.org
In its ongoing effort to promote the use of Braille, National Braille Press invited contestants to submit photos of people reading Braille in unusual settings. The first-place winner was Laura Suyasa for her photo of six-year-old Alan adding his name in Braille to NBP Valentine's Day cards. Teryll Kurokawa took second place for her photo of her grandmother reading to her grandson. Joanna Neely came in third with a photo in which she is reading Braille in the middle of a chicken coop.

INTERNSHIPS

Disney College Program
https://jobs.disneycareers.com/disney-college-program
Contact Walt Disney World Florida: [email protected]
Contact Disneyland California: [email protected]
Disney College participants become part of the magic that is known worldwide. Interns gain valuable, on-the-job experience working in the Disney parks and resorts, participate in college courses, and have the opportunity to meet and live with people from all over the country in company-sponsored housing. This unique five- to seven-month program allows participants to network with leaders, take part in personal and career development classes, and build transferable skills.

SCHOLARSHIPS

Scholly
www.myscholly.com
There is free money for college out there, and Scholly has helped students win $70 million in scholarship awards. To participate, the student creates an online profile, and Scholly delivers a uniquely targeted list of scholarship opportunities.

SURVEYS

Thinkmap Accessibility
Contact: Kim Cunningham, [email protected]
The National Federation of the Blind is conducting an investigation into reported accessibility barriers on Thinkmap websites such as Vocabulary.com, VisualThesaurus.com, and Encyclopedia Britannica websites including school.eb.com and britannicalearn.com. If your child is encountering accessibility issues in school, public libraries, or elsewhere with any of these websites, or if you are encountering difficulty using them as a blind parent or teacher, please email Kim Cunningham at the address above. 

ETS Usability Studies
Educational Testing Services
Contact: Carlos Cavalie, [email protected]
Educational Testing Service (ETS) will conduct a series of usability studies in the fall of 2017 and the winter of 2018. The overall purpose of the studies is to improve the usability of ETS products by gathering user feedback regarding test question prototypes. ETS is seeking study participants who have experience using JAWS. Each participant will receive a gift certificate valued at $100.

ODDS AND ENDS

DOCUMENTARY

Do You Dream in Color?
Uncork'd Entertainment
http://thefilmcatalogue.com/catalog/CompanyDetail.php?id=3453
The National Federation of the Blind, in collaboration with the filmmakers, is proud to present Do You Dream in Color? A new, critically acclaimed documentary about blind youth and the educational and societal challenges they face. The film, directed by Abigail Fuller and Sarah Ivy, is available through video-on-demand platforms from Uncork'd Entertainment, and public screenings are being planned. Do You Dream in Color? is a poignant coming-of-age story that captures the inspired journeys of four courageous teens as they strive to achieve their goals: to be a sponsored skateboarder, to travel the world, to become a rock star, and to be the first family member to graduate from high school. Their stories shine a provocative light on the social and institutional obstacles faced by blind people and what it takes to surmount these barriers.    

BOOKS ON TECHNOLOGY

New Books on Technology
National Braille Press
www.nbp.org
88 St. Stephen St.
Boston, MA 02115

Microsoft Outlook Keystroke Compendium
Information in this book applies to Outlook 2016, Outlook 2013, Outlook 2010, and Outlook 2007. Use Outlook to manage email, set and assign tasks, schedule meetings, and more, all using keyboard shortcuts.

Android Commands and Settings: A Reference Guide for Eyes-Free Users
by Ana Garza
Ana Garza's reference guide of Android commands with brief explanations assumes that you already know how to use Android, but may occasionally need help remembering an accessibility command or setting.

The Mac Sierra Operating System: A Brief Overview of What's New
by Janet Ingber

Getting Started with the iPhone and IOS 10: Step-by-Step Instructions for Blind Users
by Anna Dresner
The new edition of NBPs souped-to-nuts tutorial for beginners.

All of these new books are available for purchase in Braille and electronic formats.

MEMOIRS

No Barriers: A Blind Man's Journey to Kayak the Grand Canyon
by Buddy Levy and Erik Weihenmayer
ISBN: 978-1-250-08878-9
Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Press, 2017
The first blind man to reach the summit of Mount Everest, Erik Weihenmayer, continues his saga of adventure in this new memoir. He describes a mountain-climbing expedition with a group of blind Tibetan teens, the founding of No Barriers U.S.A., and his daring kayak adventure through the Grand Canyon.

Impaired, but Empowered: A Memoir of Faith, Fortitude and Fortune
by Walter Ashby
ISBN: 978-0998398709
UP-Words Press, 2017
Blind since early childhood, Walter Ashby defied the expectations of most of the people around him, who were convinced he would never amount to anything. Today Ashby is a financial advisor, and he has held several positions within the FDIC. In this memoir he recounts his story of struggle and achievement.

My Most Wondermous Crepen
by Judi Piscitello
ISBN: 978-1-512-75869-6
Westbow Press, 2017
Available in auditory and Braille formats
In this memoir Judi Piscitello celebrates the life of her husband, who was blind from birth. Charlie Piscitello was a successful musician and later became a dedicated pastor. Drawing upon Charlie's letters and personal essays, Piscitello describes Charlie's work as a pastor and his role as an advocate for people with disabilities.

RESOURCES

Insightful Publications
In-sightful.com
Contact: Christine Chaikin, (808) 747-1006
[email protected]
Insightful Publications offers a series of state handbooks listing services, organizations, and other resources for the blind and visually impaired. These screen-reader-friendly handbooks are designed for consumers and professionals. Currently handbooks exist for Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Texas.

PUBLIC POLICY

Policy Matters
www.peatworks.org/policy-matters
The Office of Disability Employment Policy's Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT) of the US Department of Labor has launched a new informational website. From the latest changes in Section 508 to progress around Section 501, the regulatory landscape around accessible information and communications technology is ever evolving. To help employers, employees, and technology providers understand the latest federal regulatory developments, PEAT has launched “Policy Matters,” a centralized resource that covers what's happening in the world of accessible technology-related public policy. Featuring plain-language articles, policy briefs, and analyses, “Policy Matters” explores how key policy developments apply to the workplace.

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