Volume 37 Number 14 Winter 2018
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
Copyright © 2018 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@example.com • firstname.lastname@example.org
Teachers' Talk: What It's Really Like to Teach a Blind Student
by Melissa Riccobono, Serena Harris, and Laura Koler
College Board Update: What Students Need to Know about Testing Accommodations
by Jill Green
TRAVEL AND MOVEMENT
Teaching Orientation and Mobility to Students with Visual Impairments and Additional Disabilities
by Merry-Noel Chamberlain and Denise Mackenstadt
Look Out! That Blind Kid Is Running Around!
by Erin Jepsen
Never Too Late
by Leslie Hamric
GRAPHICS AND ART
The Hungry Fingers Way to Tactile Graphics
by Boguslaw ("Bob") Marek
by Sarah Stewart
The Power of the Mind: Research Exploring the Capacity of the Blind
by Marina Bedny
What the Mind Believes
by Chad Allen
Our Fight for Literacy
by Lyn Petro
Questions for the IEP
by Heather Field
Found in Translation
by Trinh Ha
The Superhero Hangs Up Her Cape
by Sophie Trist
SUPPORTING THE MOVEMENT
Make a Difference
by Patti Chang and Anna Adler
Residential Summer Programs
ODDS AND ENDS
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?
by Melissa Riccobono
Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 60, Number 10, November 2017
From the Editor: As the wife of NFB President Mark Riccobono, Melissa Riccobono is sometimes referred to as the First Lady of the NFB. She is the mother of three children and a primary mover in the Federation's efforts to develop resources for blind parents. She also serves as cohost of the Nation's Blind Podcast. For a recent podcast she interviewed two teachers who have worked with her blind daughters, Oriana and Elizabeth. She compiled the following article from her interview transcripts.
Imagine yourself as a teacher in a public school. Perhaps you are a relatively new teacher, or perhaps you are a more experienced teacher. As you prepare for the start of a new school year, you learn you will have a student who is blind in your classroom. What if you have no or limited knowledge of blindness? What are your fears? What are your questions? And what will you learn from your blind student if you take on the challenge of teaching her with an open mind, high expectations, and a positive attitude?
Serena Harris and Laura Koler are teachers. They work at Patterson Park Public Charter School in Baltimore, Maryland. Serena teaches first grade, and Laura teaches pre-K. Laura is a relatively new teacher, while Serena has been teaching for well over a decade. Besides the obvious—both being teachers and both teaching at the same school—Serena and Laura have something else in common. They both taught students who are blind during the 2016-2017 school year. Serena taught my daughter Oriana, and Laura taught my daughter Elizabeth.
This past April, I had the opportunity to sit down with both Serena and Laura to interview them for bonus episodes of the Nation's Blind Podcast. I knew teachers often have questions when they find out they are going to teach students who are blind, and I thought both women would have some great information and insights to share. I was certainly correct! What I love best about both interviews is the fact that Serena and Laura, without being coached by me in any way and without consulting with one another about what they were going to say, came to the same conclusions. Yes, they had questions and concerns in the beginning. Yes, having a blind student in their classroom changed some of the ways they taught all of their students. But both Serena and Laura came to see advantages for all of their students when they changed their teaching to accommodate Oriana's and Elizabeth's needs.
Below are major portions of the interviews I conducted with Serena and Laura for the Nation's Blind Podcast. I have quoted them directly whenever possible. I have put some words in brackets to add clarity to their comments, and I have paraphrased some of what they said in order to save space. If you'd like to hear both interviews in their entirety, search for Bonus Episode One and Two of the Nation's Blind Podcast.
Melissa Riccobono: Think back to the beginning of the school year when you found out you were going to have a student with a visual impairment in your class. What concerns, if any, did you have? What things did you do initially to address these concerns?
Laura Koler: I remember my first thought was that I didn't know anything about Braille, and I thought, oh my goodness, how am I going to teach Elizabeth if I don't know anything about Braille? I also worried about the layout and size of my classroom. We have a tiny space for twenty-three kids, there's a lot of furniture, it's very divided. It's a bit like a maze. So I worried that it might be difficult to navigate. I also worried that a lot of my instruction is very visual. In pre-K classrooms they say, "Have a print-rich environment. Have pictures everywhere." There's a lot of emphasis on visual instruction at a young age. When I read books to the class, I have them make predictions based on the pictures they see. When we go to the park for science, I ask lots of "what do you see" questions. So I had a lot of thoughts about how I could adjust my teaching to have it not be so visually based.
Serena Harris: I was very concerned because I had never had a blind student in my class before. I didn't know what accommodations or supports to give her. I was concerned with how she would fit in with the rest of the students in class. Another concern I had was what types of accommodations I would need to make for her so that she could learn and not feel singled out or different.
Melissa Riccobono: What things did you do initially to address these concerns?
Laura Koler: I was really lucky that I have a teammate who taught Elizabeth's older sister Oriana in the past. So I was able to go to her for some guidance about what she had done. Also, I was very lucky to meet both you and Mark at the family picnic before the school year started. It was great to be able to talk with both of you before the year began to see if there was anything I needed to change in my classroom.
Serena Harris: I talked to Oriana's kindergarten teacher and asked her advice on strategies that she used in kindergarten that I could carry on to first grade. I also spoke with the two teachers [one teacher of blind students and one paraprofessional] who support Oriana in class about how we could work together to support Oriana.
Melissa Riccobono: Now that you have taught a blind student for almost an entire school year, what things have been easier than you expected?
Laura Koler: I realized I did not have to adjust my teaching as much as I thought I would. I was already doing things along with the visual presentations, and I just had to become more conscious of doing them all the time. For example, giving a verbal description of any visual I present. If I'm showing the front cover of a book, I discuss in detail what I see on the cover, and this kind of thinking aloud is great for my whole class, not just Elizabeth. The class gets to see me describe the details I see. That helps them build their vocabulary and helps them dive deeper into a book as well. At the beginning of the year, I modeled how to do this describing, but now toward the end of the year [Elizabeth's classmates] have taken over this role. It's great, because sometimes they see things that I didn't even notice. They are definitely more purposeful about how they look at illustrations in a book because of how much I've [described] what I see.
In addition to describing visuals, I've also purposely tried to do hands-on tactile experiences. We learn a lot about what [print] letters and numbers look like, and how they are written. So this year we have done a lot of Play-Doh tracing and worked with Wikki Stix on top [of the print] so there's a tactile component along with the visual. I know this benefits Elizabeth, but it also benefits the whole class. All the different ways you can introduce information help kids build stronger connections, and they learn more.
Serena Harris: One of the things that has been easier than I expected, and I guess it's a strength of our school, is that many of the students were already familiar with Oriana. They knew she had special circumstances, and they were willing to help her. So I didn't have to worry about children teasing her or her being isolated. Oriana's teacher of blind students also helped guide me on what I could do to support Oriana in class. It was a lot easier to help Oriana integrate Braille writing and reading into her classwork than I thought it would be. It was also helpful learning from her O&M teacher; this helped me understand more about Oriana's particular blindness and things that I could do, such as dimming the lights [to help her eyes be more comfortable]. Speaking with her O&M teacher also helped me understand the importance of making sure Oriana always has her cane with her.
Melissa Riccobono: Are there any things that are still difficult for you while teaching Oriana/Elizabeth due to their blindness only?
Laura Koler: The only time when things are a little difficult is during our message time. I try to write my print as large as I can, but sometimes it's still too small for Elizabeth, even though she sits at the front of the room. So this is an opportunity for her to come up closer [to the board] to look for letters and words that she knows.
Serena Harris: It takes a lot of planning to make sure I have all of the materials Oriana needs in Braille so she can access them. This actually makes me a better teacher because I am overly planned. But I really needed to be organized. This is not so much a difficulty, but it definitely was a challenge for me to become more organized.
Melissa Riccobono: Has anything surprised you about having a student who is blind?
Laura Koler: Elizabeth learns just like any other student. I just had to be more purposeful in what I was doing in the classroom. I didn't have to make any drastic changes to my instruction. I had to think, "When I'm doing this lesson, is it really going to reach all of my kids?" Also, this isn't so much a surprise, but my class really cares about one another and looks out for one another. They care about and look out for Elizabeth, too. So if she leaves her cane somewhere, someone will bring it to her. Having Elizabeth has also helped me stay more organized. Needing to have Elizabeth's homework Brailled helps me prepare homework in a more timely fashion.
Serena Harris: What's surprised me is that the other kids are really excited about having Oriana in class. They want to learn Braille, too. I can see them identifying things in our community that are Braille as well. It's definitely been a great learning experience for the entire class, as they are more aware of how blind people navigate through our world.
Melissa Riccobono: What techniques, if any, have you developed this year while teaching Oriana and Elizabeth that have enhanced your teaching in general? Or, what techniques were you using already which have worked especially well for teaching Oriana and Elizabeth?
Laura Koler: I am lucky because in early childhood instruction it is very whole body. So my suggestion for other teachers who teach older grades would be to look to some of those early childhood ways of teaching, where you do things by looking, moving your body, touching things, and interacting with them. I think all of those strategies have really been useful.
Serena Harris: I have realized not to just make my lessons visual. I have incorporated arts and crafts and more music and sound. I realized a lot of the things I was doing were very visually based. Making sure I can appeal to all learning modalities has been good for all of the kids. We sit in class with the lights off a lot to help with Oriana's eyes, but I realized that it's good for all of the kids because the overhead light is really bright. I've noticed that with more breaks, more types of movement in the class, that I have fewer kids who complain about having headaches or being tired. Originally I was doing these things specifically for Oriana, but they are benefiting other students as well. These are things I am definitely going to continue in my class.
Melissa Riccobono: What resources, if any, have you found helpful?
Laura Koler: Talking to you and Mark at the beginning of the year was a great resource. I was also fortunate to have Elizabeth's IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting at the beginning of the year. Meeting with that team early gave me a lot of strategies and helped explain the accommodations in Elizabeth's IEP. Also our class got to go to the National Federation of the Blind at the beginning of the school year, and that was an amazing experience. And, before the trip, you came and amazed my class by reading Pete the Cat in Braille, and you shared your dog, which was a great learning experience for the kids. This helped Elizabeth gain confidence in the classroom, because she saw that her peers liked and were interested in what she was going to be doing to learn. These experiences have helped all of the kids gain knowledge about people who are different from them, which is what we try to teach them. I would definitely recommend that other teachers visit the National Federation of the Blind, either by themselves or with their students, because it is a great resource.
Melissa Riccobono: What information do you wish you had earlier in the year, or what information are you still seeking?
Laura Koler: At the beginning of the year, I knew that Elizabeth had a visual impairment, but I didn't have the details about what her eye condition was. I wish I had asked more questions, but I don't think I knew then the questions to ask. Learning about how she adjusts to light has been really helpful and is something I wish I had known at the beginning of the year. I also wish I had known more about proper cane technique. Since the professional development [on proper cane use] I've been able to reinforce her cane use more, and I can see her becoming more confident as she uses it.
Serena Harris: I wish I had known more at the beginning of the year about how to incorporate Braille reading and writing [more seamlessly into the classroom]. At the same time, I wonder if that's something I just had to learn on the job as I got to know Oriana better. I wish I had access to resources before [the first day of school]. It would have been helpful to know what resources were available to work with so I could have planned lessons with those resources in mind, instead of getting them later in the year. I wish there would have been a simple list of accommodations and supports for Oriana so I could have looked at the list and checked off all of the things I was doing to help her. This would have helped me feel that I wasn't putting together this little box of tricks on the go. For next year, I am compiling a list of things that have worked well [for Oriana] so I can give it to the second grade teachers.
Melissa Riccobono: What advice do you have for a regular education teacher who will have a blind student in his or her classroom?
Laura Koler: Don't be afraid to ask questions. Make sure you take the time to talk with the family and the IEP team to get as many details as you can that can help you. Using resources that are given to you can really help in the classroom.
Serena Harris: It's not scary; I thought it would be scary. Speak with the parents, speak with the child, and speak with the other teachers who will also be working with the student so you are forming a team that is working together. Be aware that children need to touch things, hear things, to add to their learning experience.
Melissa Riccobono: What advice do you have for parents of blind children? Are there things parents can do to help support a teacher and his or her child in school?
Laura Koler: I think on the initial IEP parents should make sure to request enough consultation time between a teacher of blind students and the classroom teacher. Elizabeth's teacher of blind students and I try to meet in order to consult, but she and I have different schedules, so our free time does not always match. If consultation time is down on paper, then it has to happen.
Serena Harris: Parents should establish a relationship with the teacher. Open lines of communication make everything easier.
Melissa Riccobono: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Serena Harris: The thing that's been most helpful for me has been forming a team with everyone who works with Oriana so that we are all speaking the same language. If I see something [Oriana is struggling with] in small reading group, and her teacher of blind students is seeing it, too, we can talk about what we can do to help Oriana get past this. These conversations have only happened because we work well together.
by Jill Green
From the Editor: For most students, preparing for and taking high-stakes tests is stressful. The stress level can ramp up even higher for blind and visually-impaired students, who need to arrange for the accommodations they need long before the test day. In her article "College Board Testing Accommodations: What You Need to Know" (Future Reflections, Winter 2014, https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/fr/fr33/1/fr330105.htm) Jill Green explained how students can obtain necessary accommodations. Now, four years later, she provides updated information to help students get the accommodations they need. Jill Green serves as senior director of case management for students with disabilities at the College Board.
The College Board is a mission-driven not-for-profit organization dedicated to clearing a path for all students. The organization produces a variety of exams that are used by colleges in the admissions process, including the SAT Suite of Assessments (SAT, PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT 10, and PSAT 8/9) and Advanced Placement (AP) exams in many subject areas. The College Board is committed to providing access and opportunity and to making sure that students with disabilities can take tests, including the SAT, SAT subject tests, PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT 10, and Advanced Placement exams, with the accommodations they need. Accommodations have been provided on College Board tests since 1939—decades before they were required by federal regulations. Last year the College Board received over 215,000 requests for accommodations from students with disabilities, and the vast majority were approved. Testing accommodations are available for all College Board tests, but requests for the SAT, PSAT 10, PSAT NMSQT, and AP exams must be approved by the College Board's Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) before test day.
The College Board provides many different types of accommodations for its tests. Tests can be provided in Braille, large print, and audio formats. Students may be allowed to use human readers or screen readers. They may be permitted extra breaks and extended time, and they may be authorized to record their answers with the help of scribes or computers. There is no "set list" of accommodations that can be requested; the College Board frequently receives and approves requests for new types of accommodations, such as new forms of assistive technology.
In January 2017 the College Board began to use a new, streamlined process for reviewing requests for testing accommodations. The process was simplified to make it easier for eligible students to access the accommodations they need.
When a student has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), 504 Plan, or Qualified Formal School Plan, most requests for accommodations will be approved if:
In most cases, the accommodations will be approved without the need to submit documentation for College Board's review.
In some cases, documentation will be requested for the College Board's review. For example, documentation may be requested if students ask for extensive amounts of extended time or the use of assistive technology. This documentation is needed so that the College Board can be sure that the accommodation is needed and that it can be used successfully with a particular test. Documentation requirements may vary, depending on the disability and requested accommodations.
When blind students request documentation, they should send in a statement from their school or doctor, confirming their blindness. Students who are visually impaired but not legally blind should send in the full report from a current visual examination, including all visual measurements.
After a request for accommodations is reviewed, the student and the school will be sent an Eligibility Letter from the College Board listing all approved accommodations. Students with a College Board account will be sent an email telling them to log into their account to access the letter.
Once approved, with limited exceptions, accommodations remain in effect until one year after the student's high school graduation. The student doesn't need to apply again when taking another College Board test. However, some accommodations may be given differently on different exams. Students must be sure to review the entirety of the Eligibility Letter, as it may include instructions describing how some accommodations are provided on the different tests.
The College Board offers various types of audio test formats for its tests for approved students. These include:
For PSAT-related assessments and AP exams, the school can request ATC (assistive technology compatible), MP3, and/or reader scripts in the same way that it orders tests for other students. For the national (weekend) SAT, tests do not need to be ordered. However, be sure that students include their SSD number during the test registration process. The SSD number appears on the eligibility letter.
The ATC is an accessible version of the test in Word format, provided on a flash drive. It is intended to be used with screen readers and other assistive technology. In 2018 the ATC will be available for the SAT Suite of Assessments and for most AP exams. When requesting the ATC, students must also be sure to request permission to use assistive technology. Students should include a description of the specific screen reader or assistive technology they will be using and an explanation of why it will be needed on College Board tests. Each type of assistive technology must be requested and approved in order to be used on test day.
The ATC format has been tested with ZoomText (with and without a reader), JAWS, and NVDA. If students plan to use the ATC with a different type of technology, they should practice using the technology prior to test day to ensure compatibility.
This format is a full audio recording of the test, and it is used without a screen reader. It is provided on a flash drive. When students take a test using the MP3 Audio test form, they will test with 100 percent extended time. The MP3 Audio test form is available for the SAT and PSAT-related assessments. Students who are approved for the MP3 Audio format may test with a human reader when taking an AP exam, unless they request an alternative accommodation.
Human readers are available for all College Board tests for approved students. Each student is given their own reader.
Students who test with an ATC, MP3 Audio, or reader will usually test in their own school. Readers are provided in a one-to-one setting. Students who use MP3 Audio or screen readers should use headphones or test in a one-to-one setting if headphones are not available. Before test day it is recommended that students practice using the ATC or MP3 Audio test forms. Practice tests are available at https://www.collegeboard .org/students-with-disabilities/after-approval.
Students can request and be approved for Braille and large-print test formats. Braille tests are available for all College Board exams in Unified English Braille (UEB) with Nemeth Code for math.
If you need additional information about accommodations on College Board tests, visit the College Board website at collegeboard.org/ssd or contact Students with Disabilities at (212) 713-8333, or email@example.com.
by Merry-Noel Chamberlain and Denise Mackenstadt
From the Editor: Orientation and Mobility (O&M) instructors often have little training in work with children who have disabilities in addition to blindness. In their work with children in the public schools they learn from the experts themselves, their students. In this article Merry-Noel Chamberlain and Denise Mackenstadt share best practices used in public school settings by O&M instructors working with children with multiple disabilities. Both authors hold National Orientation & Mobility (NOMC) certification.
"For blind children, as for all children, the freedom to move, to be self-amused, and experience the joy of movement is fundamental to being human." —Joe Cutter (2007)
Orientation and Mobility (O&M) instructors are encountering increasing numbers of students with significant additional disabilities. These students present a variety of behavioral and physical differences, and they may have extensive individual needs for which instructors have not been prepared during their professional training (Olmstead, 2005). O&M instructors need to be open to creativity, discovery, and sometimes failure before their students can succeed. In this article we share some of our experiences in the hope that other O&M instructors may find them helpful. Many of these ideas may also be helpful to parents as they encourage their children to move and explore at home and in the community.
When a student is referred for O&M instruction, the instructor may perform an O&M evaluation. The evaluation will determine whether the student qualifies for instruction in the use of the long white cane. Usually the O&M instructor begins by examining the student's eye report from a qualified ophthalmologist. In some cases it is difficult for an ophthalmologist to do a complete eye exam because the child may be uncooperative or may lack the ability to understand verbal requests. Nevertheless, some information is better than none at all.
Next the instructor observes the student at home, in the classroom, or on the playground. Is the child stationary or active? Does he or she depend on family, friends, and/or staff members in order to move from one place to another? Observation may reveal that the child has difficulty moving from brightly lighted environments to darkened areas or has trouble with depth perception on stairs.
Based on the student's diagnosis and performance during observations, the instructor may request an audiology report. Hearing difficulties may hinder the student's success with orientation and mobility. It is wise to rule out this possibility or, if necessary, include it in the lesson planning process.
When blind students have additional disabilities such as hearing loss, autism, developmental delays, cortical visual impairment (CVI), behavior disorders, or physical impairments, the O&M instructor needs to devise some unique instructional methods. Unfortunately, some educators believe that students with severe academic delays cannot benefit from mainstream educational programs, including O&M instruction. In reality, a student with severe struggles in the classroom may be a capable cane traveler. On the other hand, a student who is successful in a mainstream educational setting may have significant challenges with spatial orientation, body awareness, or directionality. Instructors need to be aware of their own biases about students with additional disabilities.
Instructors typically follow a general checklist of O&M skills necessary for safe travel in a variety of settings. Yet lessons cannot be pulled from a curriculum or instruction manual because each student is unique and the terrain varies widely. When it comes to students with additional needs, O&M instructors draw upon their creativity, their previous experience, and the expertise of others. The O&M instructor obtains the greatest success by keeping the student involved and incorporating the student's interests. It is valuable to keep the following ideas in mind.
Self-discovery is powerful. The student is more likely to remember an action when he discovers it through experience than when he is simply told about it (Hallowell, 2011). For example, a student walks too far as he searches for the classroom door. By doing so, he finds a row of lockers with his cane. He explores farther down the hallway and finds the water fountain. At that point he hears the distinctive squeak of the classroom door. He turns toward the sound and enters the classroom. The next time he searches for the door and encounters the lockers, he is more likely to correct his mistake. For some students with additional disabilities, this process may take several tries. It may even turn into a game, with the student purposely passing the classroom to get a drink of water.
Allow the student to use the dominant hand. The dominant hand can be determined through observation and interviews with parents or teachers. It is the norm to place the cane in the student's right hand, just as it is almost automatic to place a pencil in the child's right hand. Note which hand is dominant and try placing the cane in that hand. One nonverbal student held her cane in front of her body as she walked down a hallway, but then she would switch and drag the cane behind her. An instructor noted that she did this when her cane was in her right hand and happened to swing into an open doorway. When the student was encouraged to hold her cane in her left hand, this tendency disappeared.
These points and strategies may be helpful in work with students who have additional challenges.
Wait time: Some students, such as those with cortical visual impairment (CVI), may need extra time to process their surroundings along with the instruction. This can be referred to as "wait time." Repeating the instruction may actually hinder the student from moving forward in the lesson. Each time the instruction is verbalized to the student, she may need to wind back to the beginning of her processing. The wait time between the instructor's request and the student's action needs to be extended.
Communication methods: The student's communication methods may not be self-evident. Some students communicate happy and sad feelings by emitting high- or low-pitched screams, singing slow or fast tunes, rocking back and forth, or swinging out to attack. Some students show acceptance of a person by clinging or smiling, and ignore or avoid a person to demonstrate displeasure. Such actions can speak more loudly than words. Both the student and the instructor may experience frustration while the instructor learns how the student communicates through trial and error.
The student's tolerance level: Many students are unaware of their own tolerance level or are unable to express when they have reached their maximum. Instructors need to respect the student's actions and may need to respond quickly when there is a hint of frustration. For some students, a grain of frustration can quickly turn into a sandstorm, while for others a grain is simply a grain. If a student appears to be upset at the beginning of the lesson, it may simply be carryover from the previous task. The classroom teacher may need to de-escalate the situation before the O&M lesson can begin. When frustration occurs during the O&M lesson because the student's maximum tolerance level has been reached, the instructor may need to pause the lesson so the student can take a break.
The student's behaviors: If the student intentionally drops the cane, the instructor needs to wait for him to pick it up. Sometimes the instructor may need to roll the cane closer so he knows where it is. If the instructor collects the cane and assists the student to the targeted destination via human guide, the student will expect that service every time he drops the cane. If "wait-time" is allowed, the duration of the unwanted behavior will decrease.
Be aware that dropping the cane or sitting on the floor during a lesson may be the student's way to communicate that he needs a break. Prolonged sitting on the floor may also be a behavior issue. It may be advisable to consult with the classroom teacher. A "behavior plan" may be necessary.
Reassurance and praise: Verbally reminding the student that she is not alone and that assistance is available may not always be successful, due to the student's cognitive or comprehension level. On the other hand, focusing on her success by offering a pat on the back or verbal praise using voice inflection may be quite rewarding for her. However, for some students, too much praise has the opposite effect. Overabundant praise quickly becomes meaningless. It is important to encourage the student to do as much as she can do herself, even if it means beginning with small steps.
The student's goals: Take time to be a part of the student's world. In some cases, the instructor can get to know the student's needs and motivations only through observation. If the student likes to sit in a special seat next to the CD player, he will be motivated to return to that spot. He may be frustrated when asked to walk to a location away from that spot, but he may work quickly to return to the spot he prefers. Effective lessons may begin at a location away from his favorite seat and focus on returning. Maybe the student has a special fondness for one of the cafeteria workers. The instructor might teach him the way to the cafeteria so he can turn in the classroom lunch count.
The student's preferred method of travel: Does the student tend to reach out for someone's arm as soon as she stands up? It may be that human guide technique is the only travel method she has been taught. This does not mean that she cannot benefit from O&M instruction. She may do well when she is taught the skills and expectations of independent travel.
The ultimate goal of an O&M instructor is to phase out the need for instruction as the student acquires the skills and understanding necessary for independent travel (Mettler, 1995). In order for this to happen, lessons based on the checklist must be adapted for the individual student. Instructors must have a full toolbox of individualized techniques. Time and time again, O&M instructors need to devise new plans and strategies. Here are some examples of adaptations for O&M instructors working with students with additional disabilities.
Have flexible lesson plans and allow for "teachable moments." During one lesson a student was walking on the sidewalk in front of the school. Along came a blind gentleman from the neighborhood who was using his long white cane. With guidance from the O&M instructor, the student and the gentleman had a short conversation, and the student learned that other people also use canes.
Keep the lesson successful. Even the best lesson plans may be interrupted due to unforeseen circumstances such as sudden hallway congestion, wet floors, or a fire drill. Sometimes the best lesson may be going human guide through the difficult area and then continuing to the original goal. Treat tackling unforeseen circumstances as a separate lesson.
Realize that what works in one location may not work in another. A student may be very successful in walking straight down a hallway, but may have difficulties walking straight across a pedestrian bridge. Sounds, wind, or slopes in the terrain may throw a person off.
Be sensitive to unfamiliar sounds. Since some students have difficulty with communication, they may not know how to express their fears. One student with severe cognitive delays traveled quite successfully in familiar areas. However, one day while she was traveling in the community, some construction noise appeared to make her uncomfortable. She expressed her fear by making loud noises and sitting down on the sidewalk. She would walk only when she held a staff member's arm. Once past the construction site, she was able to walk independently again.
Realize that lesson plans may need to be altered—often.
Realize that lesson plans may need to be repeated—often.
Remember that lessons and instruction techniques may need to be adjusted—often.
Allow for choices. Have a couple or more lesson goals on hand and let the student select from those choices. When a student selects the lesson goal, he often feels more in control and will perform with greater enthusiasm. Choice does not mean the student will never have to do the other lessons. It just means he does not have to do those lessons on that particular day.
Don't be afraid to abandon the lesson. Sometimes it may be best to end the lesson when unexpected problems come up. If this happens, explain to the student as well as possible why the lesson has ended. "Johnny, we need to go back to class now because it's raining very hard."
Allow the student to "scribble" with the cane. Many students don't have the dexterity to hold the cane correctly. We say that a student "scribbles" with the cane when she holds it incorrectly, as defined in the textbooks. The goal of instruction is for the student to use the cane to move about in her environment, and she may need to find her own best method. With time and gentle instruction, the student may accept encouragement to use the cane properly.
Allow the student to push the cane. Pushing the cane may not be ideal, but with time and encouragement he may begin to use it properly, especially after he has lightly bumped into a doorframe or two.
Allow the student to use the cane upside down if preferred. If she does it to get a rise out of the instructor and does not succeed, she will stop. If she likes the feel of the tactual flexibility better, she will continue. She may just be experimenting. Give her time, and she may correct herself. Remember that the student may know best. If she tends to do better when the cane is upside down, who is that hurting? She is walking independently, and isn't that the goal?
Don't wait until the student can walk before giving her a cane. Sometimes students don't realize there is anything "out there," so they have no reason to venture beyond arm's reach. A child who has not yet begun to walk can benefit from sitting and exploring her surroundings with a cane.
If the student is reluctant to hold the cane, give him something else to hold. For small children, try a push toy or paper towel roll. For older students, start with the top handle of a cane, but not the whole cane itself. The student may realize that the towel roll or cane handle finds things just beyond the reach of his hand. From here move to a wrapping paper tube or drumstick, then to the long white cane.
Allow plenty of time for the student to explore with the cane. When a student receives his first cane, he often will explore all around him, including the ceiling! Getting your first cane is like putting on your first pair of glasses. Allow students (especially those who are hearing impaired) to touch the ceiling with the cane or gently tap the walls above waist level. This is an opportunity for them to learn about their surroundings. It is fine to allow "ceiling time" at the beginning of a lesson, followed by instruction time with the cane tip on the ground. "Ceiling time" helps the student become aware of the environment, but it may put other students in harm's way. It is advisable to keep spectators at a safe distance!
Show the student other uses for the cane. The cane can be more than a walking tool. The instructor may encourage the student to use her cane to check out the height of the ceiling or the depth of a hole. The cane even can be used to measure a piece of furniture or to fish lost items from under the couch.
Be aware of weather conditions, even when working inside. Some students are very much affected by sensory changes. One student may do well on calm weather days, but he may resist completing a lesson when it is windy.
Be aware of the student's preferred environment. If a student feels comfortable only in his work station, move a necessary work item a few inches away so he has to reach for it or even take a step. Innovation is necessary when working with students who are severely affected by change.
Remember that what works for one student may not work for another. The instructor needs to find ways to motivate each particular student to move. Without motivation there is no success. One student who enjoyed going down the slide was motivated to work on her O&M skills in order to walk to the playground. Extra slide time was her reward.
Try reversing roles so that the student is the teacher and the instructor is the student. When the student provides the lesson, the instructor may learn why she is struggling in a particular area.
Remember to have fun. Students enjoy going to places of special interest. Mobility instruction provides a break in their regular routine.
Build trust with the student. If you promise something to a student, follow through.
With your guidance, allow the parent to be the teacher. When the parent has fears about letting the child use the cane, the instructor needs to teach the parent. Invite the parent to tag along on travel lessons. The parent will come to understand the basic O&M concepts, goals, techniques, and teaching methods (Castellano, 2010).
Maintain communication with the team. When you include the team, all team members can assist. Team members include parents, teachers of students with visual impairments (TVIs), occupational and physical therapists, classroom and special education teachers, and doctors. Everyone who works with or lives with the child can help, if only supplying empty paper towel tubes.
There are varying degrees of visual impairments, and there are many degrees and types of hearing impairment as well. A person may fall anywhere on the range from being hard of hearing to profoundly deaf. He may have frequency loss in the high or low range. Any level of hearing impairment can create a hindrance to the independent traveler, and it may lead to some anxiety for the instructor.
Communication with a deaf-blind student may involve signing hand-in-hand, signing within a close range or, for students with tunnel vision, signing at a distance, but bringing the signs in close to the body. A student with severe to profound hearing loss may communicate using American Sign Language (ASL). Unless the instructor knows ASL, he or she may need to work with an interpreter or intervener.
An intervener is trained to work with individuals who are deaf-blind, whereas an interpreter is trained to work with individuals who are only hearing-impaired or deaf. The intervener may provide intervention designed for a specific individual. He or she may assist the individual with access to environmental information that is otherwise unavailable or incomplete (SKI-HI, 2010). By developing a trusting relationship with the deaf-blind person, the intervener may also assist with social and emotional concerns (SKI-HI, 2010).
Unlike interpreters, interveners may not interpret word-for-word. For example, if the student is unable to understand the instruction or concept, the intervener is trained to step in and change the wording in order to convey the meaning. When working with an intervener, it is imperative for the instructor to feel that the intervener is conveying the O&M concept in its entirety.
Meet ahead of time with the interpreter/intervener to review special O&M terminology. Not all vocabulary words have established signs. The instructor needs to review the O&M terms with the intervener to create a sign to represent such terms. The instructor can teach the interpreter/intervener pre-established specialized signs such as extended grip, pencil grip, open-palm, shoreline, or walking in step.
Ask the interpreter/intervener to refrain from acting as the instructor. This can be a touchy subject. The student may be totally dependent on the intervener, and the intervener may be totally protective of the student. However, for safety reasons, it is imperative that the student not turn to the interpreter/intervener for instructional guidance outside their realm of expertise.
Establish when it is permissible for the intervener to provide information to the student outside the O&M lesson. The intervener may sign to the student "actions" or "activities" surrounding the student's environment. It isn't advisable for the intervener to disrupt the lesson to provide irrelevant and possibly confusing information.
Prepare for the use of sleepshades. Some instructors may be apprehensive to have a hearing-impaired student wear sleepshades. Sleepshade training can be successful if the instructor and student establish an agreed-upon sign that allows the student to stop the lesson and ask a question or for the instructor to provide additional instruction. Perhaps the instructor may slightly tap the student's sleepshades or give three squeezes to the student's hand. Such a sign can give the student permission to lift his shades for visual communication. The student may begin to sign or tap his own sleepshades to request permission to remove his sleepshades.
Here are some additional pointers for the instructor:
Know the escape code. If the lesson needs to be terminated immediately in the case of an event such as a fire or tornado drill, the instructor or interpreter/intervener draws an X on the student's back with a finger. Using the human guide technique she quickly leads the student. Ideally the evacuation plan can be explained and practiced ahead of time. The student can be assured that an explanation of the situation will be given once he is in a safe location.
Adjust the length of the lesson as needed. The student will need additional time to adjust to wearing sleepshades. Keep in mind that the student has depended on his remaining vision to gather information that his hearing does not provide. It is best for the instructor to begin lessons in an area that is very familiar to the student. The student will need time to gather the courage to leave his comfort zone and to trust the information a long white cane can offer.
Consider contact to be the student’s lifeline. At the beginning the student may want to maintain constant contact with the interpreter/intervener or the instructor. Contact can be maintained by holding the hand that is not grasping the cane. As the student's confidence builds, contact can be maintained by placing a hand on the student's upper arm, shoulder, or back. Later still the instructor may simply walk at a close distance and touch the student if she appears to be upset.
Allow additional time for problem solving. The student may become easily frustrated and may need an occasional break. The instructor may let the student remove the sleepshades and discuss possible problem-solving strategies. When the student is ready to return to the lesson and the sleepshades are back in place, the instructor needs to assist the student back to the spot where she became frustrated in order to continue with the lesson. In some circumstances, the lesson may need to be abandoned for the time being.
Allow time for the student to touch with the hands items found by the cane. Keep in mind that the student may not be able to determine what something is based on the sound the cane makes when tapping the object. If the cane touches a trashcan, the student may use her free hand to follow the shaft of the cane down to the object.
The student may prefer to slide rather than tap the cane across the terrain. If he is unable to use echolocation, he may gain more information about the ground or floor by sliding the tip of the cane. If the student is using a marshmallow cane tip, the instructor may consider using a metal tip instead. Metal cane tips provide more tactual information about the terrain. The tip will glide smoothly over icy areas and provide vibrations on sidewalks. It is also easier to tell the difference between carpet and tile with a metal cane tip.
When crossing a street, the student may need to depend on the instructor for the "go-ahead." The instructor monitors the crossing itself rather than the student's ability to determine parallel traffic.
Whenever possible, instruction needs to emphasize the student's other senses. Smells can indicate leather stores, restaurants, or hair salons. The feel of a breeze may suggest an alley, and a puff of heat on a cold day may suggest that the student is passing a doorway.
Instructional routes need to include tangible, unchanging landmarks. Cement posts or bus shelters, changes in sidewalk or flooring material, elevators, or stairs are clear and consistent.
Often students with physical disabilities use crutches, walkers, support canes, or wheelchairs in addition to their long white canes. These students have the potential to move independently, and they can benefit fully from O&M instruction.
Specialized wheelchairs are designed for the needs of a specific user. It is important for the instructor to be familiar with the characteristics of each wheelchair and to assess what adaptations will be appropriate for the student. Here are some suggestions for O&M instruction with students who use wheelchairs:
Use a longer cane than is typically needed. The front of the wheelchair has an extension for the user's feet. A longer cane will allow the student to detect what is in front of him when he sweeps it back and forth.
When a student is unable to move the wheelchair independently, she can still use a cane. Even though the wheelchair user is being pushed, the cane will allow her to experience environmental cues such as slopes, openings, and changes in surface or terrain.
The user of a manual wheelchair can sweep the cane to the left and right before moving forward a couple of feet. The wheelchair should move only after the user has swept the cane to clear the area in front. Students who use motorized wheelchairs need to estimate speed in proportion to their ability to sweep the cane to cover the area ahead of them. The sweep of the cane needs to be in sync with the movement of the wheelchair. The wheelchair should not move faster than the sweep of the cane in front.
Attach "curb feelers" to the wheelchair. These can be attached to the wheelchair on either side to help the student know when the chair is close to a wall or a row of lockers. Curb feelers are typically used for automobiles so drivers do not rub their tires against the curb (Wiener, 2010).
Attach a shorter children's cane to the back of the wheelchair to identify the student as someone with a visual impairment. Because not all wheelchairs are alike, it is advisable to place the cane in the best location for optimal visibility.
Attach a pocket to the wheelchair so the student can store a telescoping or folding cane. The cane needs to be within easy reach for the student to find open spaces such as doorways.
Here are some adaptations for instruction with students who use crutches:
The student needs to hold the cane loosely, using the index and middle fingers. While she walks, the cane will be extended forward in either the right or left hand as the user has his/her hands on the crutches. Between each step, the user will need to sweep the cane across the terrain to make sure the area is clear and even to step forward.
Use one of the crutches as the cane. Although this is not the most ideal method, it is successful for slow walkers and in smaller spaces. This is done by the student sweeping the crutch in front of his body the width of his shoulders then using the crutch to take a step forward.
Attach a children's long white cane to the crutch to identify the student as someone with a visual impairment.
If the student only needs one crutch, the long white cane can be used with the other hand.
Deaf-blindness is only one of many disabilities that affect a student's communication. Some students use electronic communication devices such as the DynaVox or Augmentative Alternative Communication Device. The student's educational team may provide vital communication information. In many cases it is up to the O&M instructor to unlock the student's communication around independent travel. Here are some communication pointers:
In the beginning communication may be nonexistent, due to the student's fear of strangers or unfamiliar situations. The O&M instructor may interact with the student by sitting next to her. The student may acknowledge the instructor's presence through her actions. The instructor may then imitate the student's actions and add some actions of her own. If the student imitates the instructor's actions, the odds are good that she will learn O&M.
Even the student's smallest reaction is a form of communication. The student may push or turn away from the instructor. She may frown, sit down, scream, hug, or stand very close. Through these behaviors she expresses likes, dislikes, understanding, or uncertainty. Express verbally to the student that her actions have been received and understood. "That noise tells me you don't want to hold your cane in your right hand." "I hear you screaming, and that tells me that you don't want to go outside today." Explain to the student what you expect of her, even if she isn't able to answer in words.
Sometimes asking is more successful than telling the student what to do. "Johnny, do you want to walk to the playground today?" Wait for his response.
Give choices where the student's action is the answer. "Stephanie, if you want to play in the ball pit, stand up." "Steven, take my hand if you want me to show you how to get to the water fountain."
Observe or video the student in other situations or with other staff members. Sometimes a student's behavior varies, depending on the situation or the people around him.
Greet the student as you greet others. Students may not be able to communicate expressively, but often they can receive communication without difficulty. Through tone and inflection they may be able to tell when someone is expressing praise or speaking in a derogatory manner.
Be sure that you and everyone working with the student use consistent terminology. If you have been saying, "Arc your cane from left to right," don't switch and say, "Sweep your cane from left to right."
Ask the student if it is okay for you to see him again. If he agrees, great! If not, tell him when you will be back. If you can't make it, send a note or call him directly. It seems that when a student knows the instructor is coming back, he is more willing to work at each lesson.
Be honest. "I'm sorry we need to do this today. I know you would much rather play on the computer. But this is something the school wants us to work on so you can be independent."
Explain the goal of the lesson, and ask the student if it is something he would like to do. Sometimes a student can't choose the lesson because of the Individual Education Plan (IEP) goal. "Johnny, it's nice out today, and we need to walk to the flagpole. Would you like to do that?" Rephrase the question if you think the student didn't understand. "Johnny, the sun is shining today. Shall we walk to the flagpole?" If the student cannot answer verbally, suggest an action. "Johnny, if you want to walk to the flagpole, stand up."
Individuals learn to communicate from the concrete to the abstract. At first infants know they are going to be fed when the bottle reaches their lips. Later the infant will hear her parent say we are going to feed you. Later the infant will be able to understand feeding time by hearing the preparation of the bottle with the pouring and filling sounds. Students who are nonverbal need a way to communicate needs and expectations. A student may be handed a cane to communicate it is O&M time. Later a portion of the cane will be handed to the student indicating O&M time. Later a cane tip can be handed to the student. Even more abstract would be handing a card with the cane tip attached with the name identified in Braille and large print. In the end only a verbal prompt "it is O&M time” will be used. This is taking a single act from the concrete to the abstract.
High expectations are truly individualized. The O&M instructor must always be aware of what the next step is to be taken in order to accomplish the level of independence the student needs to achieve. The instructor must never be satisfied with just what is expected of the student for today, but must focus on the achievements available for the student for his future. The O&M instructor must:
Never underestimate the student's capabilities. . . EVER! Once there was a student who didn't seem interested in walking on his own. Often he would simply sit down on the ground. Many thought that the student would not benefit from a cane because he was not walking anyway. However, when he was given a cane and some lessons, he began walking . . . everywhere!
Build upon a simple goal. Perhaps the goal for the student is simply to walk from one classroom to another. Take a look at the route. Is there more than one way to travel? Is there an opportunity to take stairs, use a different hallway, or even go outside? How about counting the doors between the classrooms? Practice walking in the middle of the hallway without shore-lining. The opportunities of the simple route are numerous.
Have high expectations, but be realistic. Adjust high expectations for students with multiple impairments: not all students have the same slope on expectations. What may be obtainable for one student may not be reachable for another. Whereas one student's goal might be to walk from one classroom to another, another student's goal may be to walk from his classroom to the lunchroom and carry his tray to the table.
For some students, success may be difficult to assess on charts because progress may be drastically slow. It is vitally important to:
Acknowledge even baby steps as successful. Take into account a student who never walks without holding on to the arm of another. The lesson may begin by sitting at a table in a familiar area and perhaps playing a game. Have a desired item nearby but just beyond reach (away from the table). Allow the student to independently take a small step to retrieve the desired item. On a later date, place a desired item a little farther away and encourage the student to walk farther and farther.
Document, document, document! Sometimes it is difficult to see the progress unless one is able to step back and look at the big picture.
Use a timer. Perhaps the student needs to travel from one classroom to another without deviating. He often becomes distracted by the noise of other children in the hallway. Measure his success by documenting the length of time it takes him to reach the classroom each day. Even the smallest improvement is a success!
When it comes to teaching O&M to students with additional disabilities, instructors are constantly learning from their students and their students' families and teachers. They also learn from their colleagues through collaboration and consultation. The O&M instructor draws upon previous experience with other students who may or may not have the same set of additional disabilities. The list above is simply a place to start. It is merely the cover of a toolbox for O&M instructors to fill as they gain experience. Each new student with multiple disabilities comes to the O&M instructor as an empty page ready, and sometimes longing, to be filled with independent travel skills.
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Fazzi, D. and B. Petersmeyer. (2001). Imagining the Possibilities: Creative Approaches to Orientation and Mobility Instruction for Persons Who Are Visually Impaired. New York, NY: AFB Press.
Hallowell, E. (2011). Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.
Mettler, M. (2008). Cognitive Learning Theory and Cane Travel Instruction: A New Paradigm, 2nd Edition. Lincoln, NE: Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
Olmstead, J. (2005). Itinerant Teaching: Tricks of the Trade for Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments. New York, NY: AFB Press.
SKI-HI Institute. (2010). Deafblindness and the Role of the Intervener in Educational Settings. Retrieved from: http://intervener.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Deafblindness-and-the-Role-of-the-Intervener.pdf
Smithe, M. and N. Levack. (1998). Teaching Students with Visual and Multiple Impairments: A Resource Guide, 2nd Edition. Austin, TX: Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
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by Erin Jepsen
From the Editor: Erin Jepsen is the low-vision mother of four elementary-school children. One child is blind, one has low vision, and two are fully sighted. Erin is passionate about teaching Braille and about education for all kids. She and her family live in Idaho.
As the low-vision mom of four kids, I'm aware of the importance of exercise for the health of the human body—especially the energetic little human bodies that try to jump on my couch or race the dog through the living room! Sometimes when wiggly little people can't concentrate on homework or listen to directions, a few minutes of running around or jumping on the trampoline gets rid of that excess energy and helps everyone feel better.
From my own sad experience with PE during school, I'm also aware that it can be challenging for blind children and adults to get the exercise their bodies need. For one thing, it's hard to catch a ball that you can't see. I remember basketballs clipping me along the side of the head during recess and losing at games of wall-ball. I'll never forget getting placed in the far, far left outfield when our class played baseball. How I hoped that the ball wouldn't come my way! Ever!
However, catching balls isn't the only issue blind children face in PE class. Anxious adults are also part of the problem. Teachers and other adults often worry that blind children will get hurt if they run or climb or chase. In our age of lawsuit-happy parents, schools tend to go overboard with safety measures, including keeping kids with disabilities out of PE classes and recess activities. Teachers simply aren't trained to adapt physical activities for blind kids or encouraged to do so. This certainly was the case for me when I was growing up. Although I had low vision, none of the activities were adapted for me in any way. I just stood there and waited for the tennis ball to come out of nowhere and hit my racket.
As an adult I've found methods of exercising that work a lot better for me. By talking to other blind adults and through personal experimentation and discovery, I've found that I love swimming, hiking, and archery. I'm not Ms. Sporty McSportypants, but I have learned that I can enjoy the outdoors and exercise, too. In the winter, I make friends with my elliptical machine in the basement, often listening to Talking Books with the BARD app on my phone.
Fortunately for the health of my blind daughter, research shows that disabled kids need exercise as much as anyone else. Just because a kid's eyes don't work, there is nothing different about her muscles and hormones and energy levels. All kids need exercise, including kids who use wheelchairs or walkers.
An informational website dedicated to teaching parents about blind children says: "It is just as important for blind/visually-impaired children to get exercise, learn how to play games, and have fun things to do in their leisure time as it is for sighted children. The more your child knows about sports, games, movies, etc., the easier it will be for him/her to talk to other kids, join in activities, and fit in" (http://www.blindchildren.org/sports_games/).
Last month our family took part in a research study comparing the movement, exercise, and eating habits of blind children with those of their sighted siblings. The researchers from Old Dominion University had all of us wear activity trackers to gather data on the impact blindness has on exercise and movement. I'm hopeful that findings from this and similar studies will help the blind community gain better health through increased opportunities for exercise.
My daughter is incredibly lucky because her PE teacher is totally enthusiastic about her participation in the class. Ms. Annette DeMyer surprised me by choosing to come to our initial IEP meeting to learn about Abi's needs. She has been proactive in researching ways to adapt activities, and she talks with me about things that have worked for us in the past. To say I've been blown away by her positive attitude is an understatement!
Because she has done such amazing work this year with Abi, who is in fourth grade, I asked Ms. DeMyer if I could interview her for Future Reflections. I want to share her ideas, strategies, and enthusiasm with other parents and teachers of blind students. Following is our conversation.
Erin Jepsen: How do you approach adapting a particular PE lesson for a blind student?
Annette DeMyer: I don't think about what can Abi do; instead, I think about how can I best include her. How can she be most included in the game. She always does a variation of what we are doing.
EJ: Can you give some specific examples of how you have adapted games the class plays?
Soccer: The ball bag. For this I put a soccer ball in an old mesh equipment bag. The soccer games we play usually involve kids kicking a ball at a target, such as a pin. The ball bag ensures that the ball will not run away from Abi, and she can be independent. The other kids play with a different ball, but they are still allowed to block Abi's ball from scoring.
Hockey: So far we are working on hitting the ball to partners. For this I tied a string to a dodge ball with a beeper attached. I then tied the ball to the bleachers in our gym. This way both partners could hit the ball with the hockey stick, and the ball stays in the area where the partners are playing. Once again, Abi can be independent and play just like the other partners are playing.
Basketball: This one is easy, because the ball makes a noise every time it hits the gym floor. I taught the technique of dribbling to Abi just like I did with her classmates. We also talked about picking up the ball when you notice the rhythm of the dribbles getting off. For shooting I attached a bell to a rope and wrapped it around the basketball net, with the bell on top. I could shake the rope and ring the bell, allowing Abi to shoot the ball at the noise coming from the hoop.
Jump rope: This worked best using a beaded jump rope so Abi could hear it hitting the gym floor. Once again it was about listening to the rhythm. Abi can determine when the rope hits the ground and when to jump.
Throwing games: We do not play dodgeball, but we do play games where we throw the dodge balls for different purposes in different games. This one takes a helpful team. I have a student use a noise-maker and stand near the target while other students supply Abi with the balls. Abi then throws the balls at the noise and gets verbal feedback from her teammates, who tell her whether she hit the target or not.
Tag: Free tag works well. The person who is "It" runs with a noise-maker so Abi knows where the tagger is.
Rock paper scissors evolution: This is a fun warm-up game that the kids love. There are three levels of evolution: egg, chicken, and Pterodactyl. The kids all start up as eggs; they pair up and play one game of rock paper scissors. Whoever wins turns into a chicken, and whoever loses stays an egg. You can only move up one step at a time and move down one step at a time. Abi navigates this game well. Her classmates just use their voices to pair up with her and let her know who wins.
EJ: Great ideas! What are some specific pieces of equipment you've used for Abi in class?
AD: I've found noise-makers you can hear well in the gym: bells, an empty water bottle with some screws in it, or large packs of TicTacs. The beepers we found online are often too quiet, and the beeper balls are too quiet for my setting [in a noisy gymnasium].
EJ: Thanks so much! Abi says that PE is one of her favorite classes, and I can see why!
AD: No problem!
Some other techniques I use to encourage Abi to get exercise are climbing trees, jumping on the backyard trampoline, or climbing on the equipment at the park. Our local NFB chapter used funds from a summer yard sale to buy a tandem bicycle that our chapter members can check out and use. Our family makes use of this whenever we go on family bike rides. We also taught Abi to ride a bike on her own by going to a large, empty parking lot.
Each summer we buy a pass to the local swimming pool. We have tried running on the track at the junior high school, both with a tether, and following someone holding an iPhone playing music. Our family takes advantage of the days when we can get into the local university climbing wall for food donations, and we have recently tried out the new trampoline park.
I've also been proactive working with the teachers and playground aides to allow Abi freedom to play during recess time. Her wonderful classroom teacher and I worked together to find jingle bells and noise-makers that Abi's classmates can use for tag and other games on the playground. I've spoken with the playground aides to be sure they don't hover over Abi, interrupting her play, and I have asked them not to restrict her from playing on the equipment. Abi has gotten a few forehead bonks, but not any more bruises than her sighted brother. She is learning to keep herself safe as she moves around, and her orientation and mobility skills have improved dramatically.
Our family also encourages outdoor time at our cabin and on family camping trips. Because she has been allowed freedom from a young age, Abi is confident navigating in a rural setting or in the woods. On outings she can run around the campsites, use good fire safety skills around the open campfire, and play games or ride bikes with the other kids. We found that the innards of a singing birthday card taped to the underside of a Frisbee work well as a locator, and we bought a beeping soccer ball online for family games of kickball.
Abi also uses her athletic ability in ballet class. She has been taking tap and ballet for three years now, and she shows a real aptitude for ballet in particular. Because she is blind she often needs alternative ways to get information on the position of her body. We pose a ballet Barbie doll so she can explore it with her fingers, and her teacher and I often stand behind her and move her body into position until her muscle memory takes over. Doing the skips, leaps, running, and spins in ballet is a bit harder. Teaching a little bit at a time and lots and lots of practice usually work well.
I firmly believe that blindness doesn't need to stop kids or adults from being energetic, healthy, and fit. Blind bloggers report that they run marathons, climb mountains, kayak rivers, ride bicycles, play goalball, compete in archery tournaments, participate in SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) role-playing leagues, go bowling, travel, hike, swim, ride horses, and play team sports. They figure out how to get the information they need and to stay safe while doing their sports. I encourage parents and teachers to learn more about how blind kids can move quickly and safely, and to participate with their peers and families in all kinds of sports and exercise opportunities. It's important for lifelong social participation and overall health. Plus, it's just plain fun.
by Leslie Hamric
From the Editor: Blind since birth, Leslie Hamric has been a dedicated musician throughout her life. However, through much of her training and career, she lacked an essential tool. In this article she recounts the long journey that finally brought her to embrace Braille music.
When I hear the word music, many feelings come to mind. Music has always been my passion and my joy. It gives my life a sense of excitement. I took lessons in piano, cello, and voice during my first three years in high school. How natural it felt when I decided to major in cello performance in college! Surely I was heading in the right direction.
I seemed to be doing fine as a blind musician, learning everything by ear. However, one essential tool was missing: Braille music.
Since I was learning scores by ear, was I musically literate? Did I really know what the composer wanted to get across? Although I had a basic knowledge about notes, dynamics, articulations, and rests, how did I know the difference between a note with a staccato on it and an eighth note followed by an eighth rest? Was I operating on an equal playing field with sighted musicians? The answer to these questions is an emphatic "no!" How was this essential tool omitted from my education when music was to be my profession?
When I was seven years old, my piano teacher introduced me to the Braille music code. I took one look at the page and frowned. No way! I thought. I would never use this method. Learning by ear was so much faster. Even though my piano teacher told me that Braille music would increase my independence, I refused to believe her.
Not wanting to rock the boat, those around me, music teachers included, followed my lead. Learning by ear was the answer, and that was that. Even some of the professionals who worked with blind people agreed that Braille music was just too much and claimed that nobody uses it anyway.
When I was in high school my teacher of the visually impaired (TVI), Cindy Starzyk, started to transcribe both words and music into Braille for me, at the strong urging of the choir director, David Danckwart. Although she made the music available, I only paid attention to the words. After all, who needed all those notes on the extra line below the lyrics? I could learn the music by ear.
Then, on a Monday during my sophomore year in high school, I had an experience that literally changed my tune. Earlier that day I had told my TVI that she only had to Braille the words and not the music for choir. I said that dropping the music would save us time, and she agreed.
I was sitting in choir rehearsal without my music as we sang an arrangement of "Deck the Halls" with an easy soprano part. Suddenly, much to my surprise, Mr. Danckwart stopped everything and asked me where my music was. I told him that I had the piece memorized and did not need to use music. He did not buy it for a minute. In front of the whole choir, he said, "Leslie, I would appreciate if you learn how to read and use Braille music. It's going to be the best thing for you."
The choir director went on with rehearsal as though nothing had happened, but I was shocked and embarrassed. He had singled me out. However, once my shock and embarrassment wore off, I began to look forward to the challenge. I realized that he treated me no differently than anyone else. He believed in me and held me to the same high expectations he had for every other student. From that day on, I always used Braille music in choir, even if I had the piece memorized.
Nevertheless, I still refused to use Braille music for piano and cello. When I was sixteen, I switched cello teachers because my technique was causing serious physical issues, and I could not play for more than twenty minutes at a time. Consequently, I relearned how to play the cello from the ground up. This was a difficult period in my life. I still had to play in orchestra using the old way of playing and go to lessons and use the new method. It took about a year for me to get my playing to a manageable level where I was relaxed and could keep up with my cello obligations of high school orchestra, lessons, and Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. With all this transitioning and activity, who had time for Braille music?
I did, however, continue to use Braille music in choir. I was surprised to discover that I could keep one finger on the line with the words and another on the line with the music. It was a big step in a positive direction.
During my senior year I visited two universities, Northern Illinois University (NIU) and Illinois State University (ISU). I decided to major in cello performance at NIU for two reasons. First, the cello teacher at NIU was strongly recommended. Second, the woman who directed services for the visually impaired at the disability services center, Linn Sorge, was totally blind and had a music education degree. She knew Braille music well, and she was willing to help me with it. She also understood my needs in terms of getting books for music theory and ear training Brailled on time so I would have them ready for my classes. I couldn't believe my good fortune!
I entered NIU in the fall of 1994, and things were awesome. Among my mentors were Linn Sorge and two graduate assistants who recorded all of my cello music. I only used Braille music for theory and ear training. Linn Sorge and one of my theory teachers strongly urged me to start using Braille music on cello, but my resistance was still as strong as a marble column. I did not have time, and I learned much faster by ear, so what was the point?
During the summer of 1997 I attended the Aspen Music Festival for nine weeks. I had the opportunity to play in many orchestra concerts and to perform in a cello master class. During my performance at the master class, the cello teacher asked me questions such as, "What's the dynamic at measure 34?" I had no idea where that was! I didn't even know what the exact dynamics were at precise places, so I had no choice but to ask my accompanist. I was the soloist, yet I had to ask my accompanist about the dynamics at various places in the piece!
After the master class, I knew that something was not right. Somehow I needed to keep better track of what was going on in the piece—but how? Pushing these questions aside, I determined to continue learning by ear. After all, my method had gotten me this far.
One day a newspaper reporter came out to Aspen to do a story about me as a blind musician at the festival. In the interview I mentioned that Braille music was too slow and difficult and explained that I never used it. Little did I know that my statement would get me in touch with a well-known Braille music transcriber who would prove to be a valuable resource.
When I returned to NIU, I received a Braille letter from a music transcriber named Bettye Krolick. She said that she had read a nice article about me in the newspaper. In her second paragraph she informed me that Braille music is not difficult to use, and she suggested several books that could help me get started.
My first thought was, not again! Now someone else was trying to talk me into using Braille music, especially on cello. However, a new idea came to mind almost immediately. Maybe the people pushing me to use Braille music had good advice. Here was someone else who might be of great help to me. Bettye Krolick took the time to write to me. She was trying to tell me that Braille music was not really difficult.
Once again, I accepted a challenge. I contacted Bettye Krolick, and we had a nice conversation on the phone. I asked her if she would be willing to transcribe a textbook I needed for orchestration class the following semester. She agreed to transcribe the book, and I promised to start using Braille music more often on cello. It was a promise I made to myself as well.
I tried to use Braille music more consistently, but it wasn't easy. Once again I came to the conclusion that it was much faster for me to learn by ear. I still had an assistant to record music for me, and that seemed to be all I needed.
I graduated from NIU in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in cello performance. Three months later I started graduate school at the Eastman Conservatory in Rochester, New York. During the first semester my cello teacher let me learn music by ear. However, he had a talk with me when the second semester started. He explained that I needed to start being more independent, learning music on my own like everyone else. He also showed me how I could tell what a cellist was doing for fingering by sound, such as shifting from first finger to fourth finger on the same string.
A new problem had come up, too. My new assistant was not a graduate student and was not as advanced as the assistant I had at NIU. I was learning the cello sonata by Frank Bridge. Since my assistant had not played the piece yet, I had to find someone who knew it well. I realized that if I learned music on my own, I could make musical decisions and do my own interpretation. I wouldn't have to worry about the level of the cellist who was recording the piece for me. Someday I would be the cellist making all the decisions about how to play the piece.
Although I got the first movement of the sonata recorded, I promised my teacher that I would learn the second movement independently with Braille music. It was slow, hard work, but I did it. I was able to play the entire piece at a recital I gave at the end of the semester in 2000.
I had five pieces transcribed for my upcoming summer session at Meadowmount School of Music in Westport, New York: four recital pieces and one string quartet. I had no idea what to expect at this camp. I only knew that it would be quite different from Aspen. That turned out to be the biggest understatement of all time!
During the seven-week session in Westport, my cello teacher, Tanya Carey, would not let either of her graduate assistants record any music for me, even after I tried to talk one of them into it. It was as though my whole world had been turned upside down. Tanya insisted that I use Braille music for everything I was working on. This time, I actually had deadlines for when I needed to learn the pieces. We only got to two of the pieces, since I still needed to hear all the notes by ear. My lessons were difficult, and I was not sure I would be able to meet Tanya's proposed deadlines.
Tanya insisted that I play the music like I meant it. "Play forte loud and play piano soft," she said. "Play a crescendo starting piano; keep it going; build, keep it going all the way to forte." "Let these notes giggle; exaggerate the accents and articulations." Little by little I learned to produce tone colors and dynamics that I had never thought possible.
Everything was slowed down for me because it took me forever to read the notes in Braille music, hear them in my head, and put them in perspective. Sometimes I would scrub the dots, running my fingers over them again and again so I could tell what the note value was; the value of the note depended on whether the cell contained a dot 3 or a dot 6. I left each lesson with new musical ideas.
Eventually, I did make progress. By the time that summer was over, I felt more confident with the cello than ever before. I also felt more confident with the Braille music, and I was beginning to hear notes in my head as I read them. Through all that hard work, I discovered that, with practice, I could learn music on my own just like everyone else. My musical independence as a cellist had finally begun.
In the midst of this musical transformation, I met a very special young man, Andy Hamric, who is now my husband. With constant encouragement from Andy and Tanya, I began to realize that many of my struggles were similar to those of the people around me. They implied that I did not need to make my blindness an obstacle. In fact, they told me, "Just do it." Perhaps blindness did not have to rule my life as it had for years. I left Meadowmount feeling I could conquer the world in every area of my life, especially in Braille music. I could not wait to get back to Eastman and apply the skills I had learned at Meadowmount.
Ever since that life-altering summer I use Braille music all the time. If I want to learn a new piece, I have two transcribers I can call upon. Sometimes Andy can Braille the music using the DancingDots software. The nice thing about using the DancingDots software is that one can transcribe a piece without having to know Braille music.
Do I still listen to recordings? Absolutely! Listening to a recording helps me put the whole piece together in my mind. When I go back to look at my part, everything makes more sense.
Recently I completed a course through the Hadley Institute for the Visually Impaired, "Introduction to Braille Music." I have been teaching cello since 2004, and I find that Braille music is a real asset. When I say, "Let's start at measure 10," my student and I both know where that is. Recently I also have taken on one student in piano and another in Braille music. With my long history of resistance to Braille music, who would have thought I would be teaching it someday?
I love the opportunity to give back. I wanted to help someone else learn Braille music earlier than I did. A month ago, my Braille music student told me that she prefers to learn music from Braille instead of from recordings. Hearing her say that means the world to me! She is now learning the piano accompaniment to the first movement of Cello Concerto number 1 in C Major by Haydn. I have played this piece before, and we plan to perform it together this year or next year.
As for me, I auditioned for the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra (ESO) in September 2017. I made it! I am in the process of learning the cello part to the Verdi Requiem, and I will be performing this piece on March 10 and 11, 2018. The ESO will be joined by the Chicago Apollo Singers. The conductor and I are pioneering together. This is his first time working with a blind musician, and it's my first time learning an orchestra piece using Braille music exclusively. We have agreed to work together and learn as we go along. Once again, I embrace another challenge: to make this performance a reality.
Turning my resistance into success was the best thing I ever did. Turning things around was a slow process, but it is never too late to make a change. Success builds upon success. As we always say in the NFB, "You can live the life you want. Blindness is not what holds you back."
by Boguslaw ("Bob") Marek
From the Editor: Boguslaw ("Bob") Marek, a retired professor of English, is director of KUL KAN, the center for students with special needs at the John Paul II Catholic University in Lublin, Poland. He founded Hungry Fingers, a small organization that develops resources for children with visual impairments. For the past twenty years he has focused on teaching English and on introducing tactile graphics to totally blind learners. He has conducted workshops in Europe, the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, India, Nepal, Samoa, Singapore, Palau, and Japan. In 2002 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II honored him with the Order of the British Empire.
Few educators today question the importance of tactile graphics for blind children and adults. However, two conflicting attitudes and approaches come into play. On one hand it is often assumed that blind persons who have little or no memory of vision cannot understand raised-line drawings and diagrams. On the other hand, tactile adaptations of highly complex visual illustrations such as drawings, photographs, and paintings sometimes are offered to blind persons on the assumption that they will be able to interpret them effectively, simply by exploring with their sensitive fingertips. In the first of these two approaches, the use of tactile graphics is limited to highly simplified maps and drawings of basic geometric shapes. The second approach, in which very complex graphics are presented with little explanation, may discourage unprepared blind persons from exploring raised images.
Drawings and other kinds of visual graphics employ a range of "sighted conventions" that must be explained to blind learners. Only with a knowledge of these conventions can blind learners be expected to make sense of two-dimensional combinations of lines and textures that represent three-dimensional objects and the spatial relations between them. Due to insufficient explanation and training, tactile graphics remains one of the most difficult areas in the education of blind students. The difficulty persists even when high quality, professionally designed raised diagrams are available.
A heartbreaking comment from a congenitally blind adult contributor to a tactile graphics discussion list summarizes the problem. "I remember being told that some set of lines was supposed to represent a 3D box," she wrote, "and that the reason I didn't understand this is because I wasn't trying. So I tried and tried to come up with a set of transformations that would take me from the real object to that flattened thing. I've memorized a few of the simplest objects, but that's not the same as understanding them."
The quotation refers to a situation from the writer's school days, but the problem still exists for her. "Is there a blind beginner's guide to understanding 3D drawings?" she wrote. "I'm serious."
In this article I will introduce a "tactile graphics primer" developed in Poland. I hope that the solutions it offers will inspire parents and teachers to engage children with visual impairments in educational and leisure activities involving tactile graphics.
Made up of several sets of tactile publications and resources, The Hungry Fingers Tactile Graphics Primer was presented as a step-by-step course and was tested in Poland over a period of several years. It proved highly effective in raising the confidence of blind children with tactile drawings and diagrams. As an ultimate test the primer was tried out in Nepal with a group of totally blind children and teenagers. These children and teens had never before been given a chance to explore or to make tactile drawings.
Introducing all of the components of the course would exceed the scope of this short article. Therefore, I will limit myself to the essentials. I will discuss the first steps in teaching about tactile graphics—geometric shapes, drawings of 3D objects, drawing people, and introducing blind learners to the concept of a map.
Understanding the relationship between actual objects and drawings that represent them is one of the greatest challenges facing blind students as they learn to "read" tactile drawings and diagrams. The student must build confidence through simpler, introductory tasks before this relationship can be understood. Straight, curved, and zigzag lines made with a stylus on paper or a thin sheet of plastic are the first steps in building a tactile vocabulary. This vocabulary is necessary for understanding new concepts and more complex drawings.
Given the opportunity, most blind children eagerly engage in drawing, often with surprisingly good results. Starting with meaningless doodles, children soon learn that the tactile lines they produce can represent rain, grass, or a fence. One child commented that his maze of lines going in all directions represented an afternoon at a shopping center.
Responsibility for tactile education must not be delegated exclusively to the schools. Blind children need as many chances as possible to explore and make tactile drawings at home. Drawing can enhance orientation and mobility and daily living skills, and it can be a leisure activity for the whole family.
When a child slides her hand up the door frame and then along the threshold, she may easily grasp the concepts of "vertical" and "horizontal." However, she still may struggle to understand these concepts in a tactile drawing. If raised vertical and horizontal lines are drawn on a sheet of paper and taped to the wall, the child will have no problem understanding them. Once the drawing is placed on the table, the vertical line is the one that "runs away" from the child, while the line parallel to her body is horizontal.
Such basic exercises are an effective introduction to other concepts, such as "diagonal" and "parallel." They can help the child discover that three lines can make a triangle, or that a square can be divided into, or built from, other geometric shapes—triangles, rectangles, or smaller squares. The "Shape Detective" series presents activities involving tactile drawings of lines and shapes. It is accompanied by the "Space Organizer," a wooden frame and a set of magnetic wooden geometric shapes. These materials make the introduction of tactile graphics to blind learners entertaining and stress free.
This simple resource, along with a supply of embossable plastic and non-slip silicon mats, made a tremendous difference for blind university students in Pokhara, Nepal, and for a group of blind children in Humla, a remote village in northwest Nepal. They opened access to subjects that had been available only to a limited extent or absent from the students' education altogether. The following comments made by Nepali students are probably the best description of their reaction to their first encounter with tactile graphics: "All I was taught at school about geometry was that it was a branch of mathematics." "I have heard the word drawing before, but only now [do] I understand what it means."
Understanding that lines and shapes can represent things is a necessary prerequisite to understanding drawings. Drawings are defined as two-dimensional representations of three-dimensional objects. A sighted person probably will not have problems recognizing a drawing of a table represented by a horizontal line and two vertical lines extending from it toward the bottom edge of the page. For one blind child, however, the drawing meant nothing more than three lines. Asked to draw a table, this child produced a rectangle (representing the table top) and four legs, represented by short lines extending from the corners. It was a perfect reconstruction of the way he explored a real table.
To help explain the concept of a projection, we developed a Hungry Fingers "Transfograph." It consisted of a simple resource transforming a set of objects into simple outlines. Six wooden models of various pieces of furniture slide into slots cut out in exchangeable box lids. Only a front or side view of a table, chair, bed, desk, refrigerator, or chest of drawers is revealed. The Transfograph helps the child understand why it is possible to draw a table with only three lines, one for the edge of the table top and two for the front legs. The child can recognize why the other two legs are "invisible," and therefore need not be drawn.
The usefulness of the Transfograph as a tool for explaining the relation between objects and drawings was confirmed by users in several countries. Its effectiveness with totally blind Nepali learners, complete beginners with tactile graphics, is particularly promising. After just one session, all of the students were able to draw a table and a chair, the two models of furniture used during training. They also provided evidence that they understood the concept of an outline by producing drawings of a bed (not used in the training) and of a chair viewed from the back. After a training session with the remaining models, all of the students made successful drawings of new objects of their choice. One of these drawings, a rectangle with a small square in each corner, initially was not recognized by the trainer. It turned out to be a drawing of a table viewed from underneath!
"I can only draw and recognize a drawing of a person standing, but not when someone is doing something." These words from a congenitally blind Polish child gave us the idea of adding "Fleximan" to the set of resources used with the tactile graphics primer. This flat stick figure can be arranged on a magnetic board to represent a person who is standing, running, kneeling, or bending down. It serves as an effective prompt to help blind students understand drawings of someone performing these actions. Fleximan also has proved useful in raising blind learners' awareness of their own bodies.
One Nepali boy had no problem copying a fairly complex pose taken by Fleximan. Later photos confirm his impressive progress in drawing a person before and after a session with Fleximan. He moved from drawing a small circle (the head) and a few lines scattered around it (arms, legs, and hair) to an easily recognizable drawing of a man.
When working with younger children, we preceded our Fleximan sessions with a tactile activity book in which a drawing of a teddy bear appears one step at a time. A wooden magnetic puzzle gives the child a chance to assemble pieces into the flat image of a teddy bear. This puzzle image works as an intermediate stage between a real teddy bear and a drawing. It was very encouraging to watch the joy of the Nepali children as they drew teddy bears and people in all kinds of situations.
Understanding that spatial relations between objects can be represented graphically is a necessary step to understanding the concept of a map. Without this understanding borders, rivers, and cities will remain mere lines and dots, with no relation to cardinal directions or parts of the world.
An approach that has proved extremely effective in introducing blind children to maps was developed at the Laski Special School in Poland. It starts by building the child's confidence with spatial relations between objects within an easily manageable space, such as a placemat. A plate, cup, spoon, fork, and knife are presented to the child. Next the child is introduced to tactile drawings of these objects in various configurations. This system provides an irreplaceable opportunity for introducing a wide range of spatial concepts and allows the child to draw his first "maps."
Next the child moves from the drawing of a breakfast set for one person to creating tactile representations of a table ready for dinner for two, three, or more persons. These drawings prepare the child for floor plans of rooms and buildings, from which they can make a painless, stress-free move to maps of larger areas—the area around the school or the child's home, maps of cities, countries, and the world. "Getting Ready for Maps 1" and "Getting Ready for Maps 2" are the two tactile publications that complete the set of resources in The Hungry Fingers Tactile Graphics Primer mentioned earlier in this article.
The Value of Tactile Graphics
There is no time or space here to enumerate all of the benefits of raising blind learners' confidence with tactile drawings and diagrams. I would like to mention just a few important points.
For more information about The Hungry Fingers Tactile Graphics Primer, please consult the website www.hungryfingers.com.
by Sarah Stewart
From the Editor: For far too long, educators have regarded appreciation of the fine arts as a strictly visual experience. Blind and visually-impaired children have had few opportunities to explore and create art. Fortunately, a number of innovative educators, as well as blind artists themselves, are proving that participation in the arts is a matter of creative thinking rather than physical vision. In this article Sarah Stewart describes her involvement with Envision Arts, a program based in Wichita, Kansas. Currently she is pursuing an expressive arts certification through the Expressive Arts Florida Institute in Sarasota, Florida. She plans to incorporate new approaches into the Envision Arts program beginning in 2019, involving music, movement, and writing.
As an artist, I have found a greater purpose for my life's work than ever before through Envision, Inc., a not-for-profit organization headquartered in Wichita, Kansas. Envision's mission is to improve the quality of life and to provide inspiration for people who are blind or visually impaired through employment, outreach, rehabilitation, education, and research. Art plays a remarkably large role at Envision, and the program serves as a model for others to follow. Parents especially need to be aware of the role art plays in the cognitive development and future success of blind and visually-impaired children.
For the past five years I have served as arts education teacher and artistic manager of Envision Arts. This program has seen unimaginable growth and success, and it has received recognition from our community and from sister organizations across the nation. Envision Arts began as an arts and crafts activity in our Eyes for Others literacy program. It has grown into an arts center serving over one hundred students of all ages, with nearly 3,500 contacts per year. We have launched an art-on-consignment retail program through which students can sell their work, and we have been recognized by the American Printing House for the Blind Insights Art Awards. Our students created more than forty works that are installed on the main floor of the Aloft Hotel in Wichita. Envision Arts is changing lives and transforming perceptions of what blind and low-vision individuals are capable of achieving.
Throughout the year Envision Arts offers an inspiring environment that fosters independence through creative self-expression. Each class, regardless of the age group, is supported under this umbrella model. Each serves as a foundation upon which to build and expand as we address the individual needs, abilities, and aspirations of our students. Our teaching methods take an individualized approach to support positive change and growth. Incoming students are asked to define why they are here, what personal goals they wish to achieve, and what they expect from a creative arts program. Students referred to Envision Arts from the Envision Rehabilitation Center may be seeking opportunities to build new life skills or to resume a hobby they gave up due to loss of vision. Individuals who enroll in Envision Arts from outside our organization may be seeking ways to enhance their creative skills, meet new friends, and find a community with common ground. No matter what draws our participants to Envision Arts, we take every measure to ensure that we inspire them and improve their overall psychosocial health through creative self-expression.
Envision Arts offers art and craft classes for adults and art classes designed for our youth and young-adult communities. Our after-school art programs for youth and young adults parallel those of an academic art education. We investigate art and cultural history, the principles and elements of design, conceptual and functional art, STEAM-inspired activities (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics), and current events. We allot plenty of open studio time for our students to express themselves freely through art.
Summer classes take us out of the classroom and into our community to find relationships between the work created in the studio and the art that adorns our public spaces, galleries, and museums. Envision Arts is committed to finding teachable moments and opportunities for inclusion, making every effort to provide the fundamental art education that is available to sighted students.
The attendance at and growth of our after-school program testifies to the value of the creative process for children with vision loss. The students express unfiltered excitement for creative exploration. They are eager to build, learn, and grow.
According to the International Child Art Foundation (icaf.org), "Research indicates that a child who is exposed to the arts acquires a special ability to think creatively, be original, discover, innovate, and create intellectual property—key attributes for individual success and social prosperity in the twenty-first century." The parents or guardians of children with vision loss want their children to receive the same quality education and access to resources that are available to their sighted peers.
When we deny children creative outlets through music, writing, and the fine arts, we withhold essential nutrients from their development. We leave them without the means to express their thoughts, ideas, and emotions safely and effectively. Nonetheless, some educators believe that children with vision loss receive little to no value by studying art.
Before I became the art educator at Envision Arts, I taught drawing, design, and sculpture at two universities in Kansas. Earning a master's in fine arts (MFA) with an emphasis in sculpture, I had experience with many media and a variety of creative processes and tools. My background prepared me for this calling through which I get to share my knowledge and passion for art with a community that is hungry for creative resources. Along my educational journey I acquired and stored multiple project ideas and detailed curricula. I draw upon these resources as I develop the syllabus and goals for each semester.
However, I cannot claim that I was fully prepared for the challenges of adapting projects and reworking steps to accommodate students with various skill sets and levels of vision. In 2015 I came across a powerful and effective teacher resource guide that has given me the direction and the confidence I needed, the VSA International Organization on Arts and Disability Art Education Guide. The guide can be found in the Department of VSA and Accessibility at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: http://education.kennedy-center.org/education/#access. Jean Kennedy Smith founded VSA more than thirty-five years ago to provide arts and education opportunities for people with disabilities and to increase access to the arts for all.
I'd like to encourage parents and guardians to consider the benefits children will gain by attending art classes, music lessons, and sports programs such as martial arts and track and field. Seek out activities in the community that your child may find interesting. Many community art centers offer mixed-media art classes. Such classes can provide tactile and multisensory activities as well as valuable social engagement skills. Call your local art center and describe your child's interest in art making. Explain how she or he will benefit from creative exploration. Most likely you will secure your child a spot in the next art class.
When we seek ways to ensure that all children are included, we inform and educate our neighbors about the abilities of people who are blind or have low vision. We show that we as human beings have more similarities than differences.
Ad Astra per Aspera is the state motto of Kansas. It means, "To the stars through difficulty." Coined by John James Ingalls in 1861, the state's motto reflects that "the aspiration of Kansas is to reach the unattainable; its dream is the realization of the impossible." There is no better way for me to describe the spirit of my students and the many blind and visually-impaired coworkers with whom I have the pleasure of working. In times of great uncertainty they continue to defy low expectations day after day.
More information about Envision and the Envision Arts Program is available online at envisionus.com.
by Marina Bedny
Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 60, Number 11, December 2017
From the Editor: In recent years considerable research has focused on neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to re-purpose certain areas usually designated for other activities. Scientists have speculated about what happens to the visual cortex in people who are blind. Does it atrophy from lack of use, or does the brain use it in new and unexpected ways? Marina Bedny is a neuroscientist who is studying the brains of blind people. At the 2017 convention of the National Federation of the Blind she described some of her findings.
My name is Marina Bedny, and I'm a professor at Johns Hopkins University in the department of psychological and brain sciences. My time is split between two things: some of my time I spend teaching undergraduate and graduate students at Johns Hopkins University; that's about a quarter of my time. The rest of my time I run a research lab. I run a lab called the Neuroplasticity and Development Lab. My lab is interested in questions about nature and nurture. Where does the human mind come from, and in particular, how does our experience in the world shape the way our brains work and shape the way our minds work and shape who we are? That is the question we're interested in. It's a very, very old question. It's been of interest to philosophers and psychologists and humans in general for thousands of years. We're pretty lucky to be living at a time when science and technology allow us to study this question using neuroscience and psychology. We can use scientific methods and techniques like functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and quantitative measures of behavior to study the mind and brain. That is what my lab does, and I'll tell you a little bit about that as we go along.
My lab specifically applies these methods to study the question of how life experience shapes our minds and brains. We base these studies on the fact that we believe in order to understand who we are; we have to pay attention not to the differences among us, but by looking at the breadth of experience. There used to be this idea in science that you can learn everything that you need to learn about people and how their minds work by studying white, male students at Ivy League colleges, right? Does that sound like the right idea of the way to do science? [chorus of no's] Right. So there's a problem with that. In reality, of course, there is no such thing as the generic person, right? Because the inherent part of being a person is the differences between us: some of us grew up on a farm, some of us grew up in the city, some of us grew up with lots of siblings, [and] some of us grew up alone. My family immigrated to this country from Ukraine when I was eleven years old, and I believe that that's part of what shaped the kind of person I am. Some of us live with vision, some of us live without. And part of understanding what it means to be a human is understanding all the ways in which humans live: blind, sighted, immigrants, women, men: all the diversity that exists.
So that is what my lab does. We work with individuals with different developmental histories and different experiences to understand how the mind and brain work. I mentioned some of the methods that we use; one is functional magnetic resonance imaging, and some is behavior. Today I'd like to share with you some of the discoveries that scientists have made over the past decade about blindness and about cognition and brain function in blind individuals. I am very honored to be here and grateful to be invited. I think it's important for the scientific community to be engaged with the blind community so that science is done better and the science delivers to the blind community and the blind community has a say in how to interpret scientific findings. [applause] Thank you.
Today I'm going to talk to you about three things quickly: some things that stay the same in blindness and cognition, some things that improve, and some cool things that the brain does in individuals who are blind. The first thing, which might sound like it's the least exciting thing, is what stays the same in blindness. But I actually think that this is a really important topic. Over the years psychologists and philosophers have had some very confused and extreme ideas about what the mind is like in blind individuals. We have scientific methods to dispel these kinds of ideas and to find out what some of the things that actually stay the same are. Probably it will not come as a surprise to you that people who are blind know what the words peek, stare, yellow, and sparkle mean. I regret to say that this comes as a surprise to some segments of the scientific community. We've been able to use cognitive and neuroscientific methods to show that what sometimes people refer to as "visual concepts" are actually known very well to people who are born blind.
Perhaps more importantly, one of the things that we've studied is numerical cognition and mathematical reasoning in individuals who are blind. There's sometimes this idea in the educational field that mathematics is particularly challenging for children who are blind. Well, we studied numerical understanding in blind individuals, both how blind people estimate number when you present them with tones and you ask them, "How many tones did you just hear?" That's a basic kind of numerical ability that actually ends up being important for mathematical learning early on. We also measured mathematical behavior. One of the things that we find is that the cognitive building blocks and the tools of math are exactly the same in people who are blind and sighted. Unfortunately, what is different is access to math education. One of the things that we found when we asked blind people is that blind children in high school get shuttled out of math courses. I'm sure that this is not news to anyone, but one of the things that this research is showing is that there is absolutely no excuse for blind children not to be achieving the same way as sighted children in math and science. [applause]
Another thing that we've been studying is some things that improve, some things that get better with blindness. Scientists have been interested in this question for a long time; it often comes up in the context of "Do blind people hear better? Do blind people have better sensory perception?" The answers to these questions are, of course, very complicated. There are some things that blind people get better at with practice, and some things that don't change at all. One of my favorite examples is tactile perception. It turns out that proficient Braille readers are better at tactile perception with their fingers, but this varies; the more proficient at Braille reading they are, the better they are at this skill, and it is specific to their Braille-reading hand and their Braille-reading finger. So they're no better, for example, at somatosensation on their lips, they're just better with their Braille-reading finger.
It turns out that there are other things that blind people are better at that are not actually sensory. Our recent research shows that blind people are actually better at understanding sentences that have complex grammatical constructions. In a second I'll talk to you a little bit about why that might be so, but we can do a little bit of an experiment right now. I'm going to tell you a sentence, and then I'm going to ask you a question about it. I want you to shout out yes or no, okay? Here we go: while the old cat licked the puppy with floppy ears chased after the squeaky toy. Was the cat licking the puppy? Shout it out. Yes? Okay, so this is a very hard question. The answer is actually no. Some of you probably got it; some of you didn't. It turns out that on average, it kind of leads you down the wrong path. But on average blind people are much better at answering these kinds of questions—obviously blind people are just as different from each other as sighted people are, so there's lots of variation among blind people--but on average blind people are better.
Another interesting thing that turns out to be the case is that blind people are better at remembering lists of words and letters—actually almost twice as good as sighted people are. They're particularly better at remembering the order of words in a list and the order of the letters. So it seems like being blind actually improves your memory. Why this is so is not clear. One potential reason is that you just have to practice more, right? When you go to the restaurant and there is no Braille menu available, what do you have to do? You have to remember what was on the menu, whereas the sighted person sitting next to you can just glance back at it. So here are some of the ways the mind changes and adapts in blindness.
One of the interesting things that my lab does is actually study brain function. People change as their environment and their lives change, and our brains change, too. One of the main things that my lab does is study the function of the so-called visual cortex in blind individuals. This is the part of the brain that does vision in the sighted. About thirty years ago if you'd asked a neurologist or neuroscientist what happens to this part of the brain in a blind person, they'd say it does nothing or maybe it atrophies, right? No. What research has shown is that the visual part of the brain takes on new functions in blind individuals. It responds to sound; it responds to touch. One of the things that my lab has been working on that I think is pretty exciting is showing that the visual part of the brain in blind individuals is actually involved in higher-level cognitive functions. So one of the things we find is that blind individuals use this so-called visual part of the brain during language processing—for example, when understanding those complex sentences I told you about before. They use it during memory tasks and when solving math equations. So this part of the brain is being used like a flexible machine to do other things when it's not doing vision.
The best technology we've got is our brain, and it turns out that everybody's brains adapt to being the best for their lives and can be used in flexible ways.
In conclusion, I'd like to say that I hope my being here is part of a broader dialog between the scientific community and the blind community. In particular it's important for the blind community to be aware and in charge of the scientific insights that are available and also to give back and give their insights for making science better. One of the things that I would love to see more of—it's already getting there, but I would like to see more of it—is leaders in the scientific fields who are blind. [applause] I'd like to see students who are coming to work in our lab becoming the next generation of blind scientists, because the only way that science is going to reflect all the right things about people is if everyone participates in science and becomes a leader in the field. Thank you. [applause]
by Chad Allen
From the Editor: In the National Federation of the Blind we often point out that blindness need not stop us from following our dreams. Chad Allen takes this message very much to heart. In this article he explains how blindness did not stop him from breaking into a highly unusual and competitive profession.
"What the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes."
— Harry Houdini
I'm a magician. I have made this claim since I was twenty-one years old. I'm also blind, and I have been now for a very long time.
I became blind several years before I even thought about picking up a deck of cards to perform a trick. It was the late 1980s, and I was a junior in high school. I knew I needed to finish school and go on. I didn't know where, but the clock was ticking. I was going to lose my vision in my thirties—there wasn't much time left.
It took another fifteen years before I discovered the Colorado Center for the Blind, the NFB, and a positive attitude about blindness. I made it to Colorado, finished school, and discovered magic. Now I am a member of the Academy of Magical Arts at the world famous Magic Castle. For over twenty years I have been performing magic at birthday parties and bar mitzvahs, in cabaret shows and burlesque, and on TV shows and commercials in Los Angeles, where I currently live. Magic is my passion.
Most magicians start as kids. I've never really thought of magic as something only for children; after all, card cheats and scantily clad women populate a lot of the magic shows out there today. I've always thought of magic as art, possessing a curious power in its unique ability to communicate. And art is for everyone—young, old, blind, sighted. I strive to practice and perform magic every day, ever since I was in my twenties, managing a magic shop inside a toy store. The shop was called The Wizard's Chest.
The Wizard's Chest in Denver, Colorado, was the laboratory where I conducted my magical experiments. Every day people showed up to see something. Whether I used cards, books, gimmicks, balloons, it didn't matter; I had the opportunity to show them anything and everything.
At that time I mostly used cards and coins—a type of magic called close-up. In close-up the magician either sits or stands and performs magic on a table. Often people are right up next to the magician. Close-up magic is incredibly impressive when done well. Watching magic in person, witnessing what is simply impossible—it's truly marvelous! It's transformative!
Every time I perform a trick, everything previously understood is now up for grabs. In that magical moment of "How did he do that?" people create a deeper understanding that anything is possible. In that moment people's minds are opened to new possibilities.
People usually think of magic as a visual art. I can understand where they are coming from, but the truth of the matter is that it's really an art form of the mind. Magic is about a transformation of thought. Blind people can imagine anything a sighted person can. As a blind magician I am able to reframe the perception of blindness in the people I meet.
So what's the trick? How do I do it? I deal with obstacles like other blind people do in their professions. People may not want to put me on stage because I might be a liability. Why take the risk? "This performer is amazing and blind, and the other performer is amazing and sighted. I'll take the sighted one." However, there are folks who seek me out because a blind magician is so unique.
Continuing to study the craft has its challenges as well. Magic is learned primarily from books, books, and more books. I access my collection mostly through human readers. I also use the latest reading app for print-impaired people called Seeing AI. It's a free Microsoft product, and in many ways it's given me back my library.
However, magic books contain a lot of diagrams that I can't access through an app. Luckily, I live about two miles from the Magic Castle, the premier magic club in the world. It's an easy fix to go there and find another magician to ask. Chances are that I'll also learn twenty variations on the trick in question, and there goes the night!
The greatest magicians on earth come to the Magic Castle to perform; it's the Mecca of magic. I've had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time there, studying and collaborating with many phenomenal magicians. My son in many ways is growing up there. Harrison is seven, the perfect age for some solid magical moments. He has a blind magician as a dad and thinks it's the most normal thing in the world. He also thinks invisible piano-playing ghosts are normal. The one at the Magic Castle happens to be named Irma, and she is an excellent pianist. Irma and Harrison are friends. Other than that, everything is normal, or as normal as it can be with a blind magician dad.
I couldn't imagine my life without magic. I hope this gives you some insight into the idea that no goal is too crazy, as long as you love it. Things seem impossible until they're not. As readers of Future Reflections, I know most of you are parents of blind kids. Expose your kids to everything and anything they imagine. That crazy thing your children find fascinating might be the thing they fall in love with for the rest of their lives. It's possible. No vision required.
by Lyn Petro
Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 61, Number 1, January 2018
From the Editor: No one disputes that literacy is a cornerstone of success in today's society. For sighted students, literacy means the ability to read and write print. The ability to read and write Braille means literacy for blind students. Tragically, as Lyn Petro explains, some school districts resist providing the tools of Braille literacy to their students who are blind. This article is taken from a presentation Lyn Petro gave at the 2017 convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Kansas.
Thank you for asking me to share our family's journey with you. Our daughter, Brooke, is a bright and beautiful eleven-year-old who also happens to be legally blind. She is a Braille reader, but she does utilize her limited vision. My husband and I feel blessed to have been chosen to be her parents.
While our family has been fortunate to be able to provide for and fight for Brooke's educational rights, other families are not as fortunate. This is why we have made our fight for Braille literacy as public as possible. This is not just about Brooke. There truly is a Braille crisis in Kansas.
We know of six students across three different Kansas school districts who have stopped receiving Braille in the past two years. Four of the six kids receive services in the school district where we pay taxes. We are familiar with two other students across the state line in Missouri that the same thing happened to. For some of these students, this was temporary, until the parents threatened legal action. For others, Braille was taken away permanently.
Less than 10 percent of visually-impaired people are Braille readers. Sometimes it's because individuals lose their sight at an older age. More likely, it's because they aren't offered proper time with a trained teacher of the visually impaired to learn Braille, or maybe the school district refuses to pay for Braille materials. While some educators say that audiobooks or paraprofessionals can make up the difference in not having Braille materials, it's not true. You can't learn how to spell or use punctuation properly from audiobooks. Audiobooks are great for pleasure reading, but not as an educational tool. You can't complete your schoolwork if you don't learn how to use technology. If your aide fills in the answers to your work after you verbalize the answer, you become dependent on someone else. In short, you are illiterate. You will not be independent in school or in life.
When we went to enroll Brooke in preschool, we were told by the Blue Valley School District that she did not need Braille instruction. Brooke has a degenerative eye condition. We knew her prognosis would not allow her to be a print reader for long. Blue Valley refused to help pay for any specialized instruction. We paid privately for Brooke to go to the Children's Center for the Visually Impaired so that she could start learning Braille at age three. My background as an occupational therapist made me realize that the best time to have the sensory and touch fibers in her hands expand their abilities was at a young age. The brain is plastic. You can mold and change your neurological abilities much more easily when you are young. This includes learning another language or a written tactile code such as Braille.
We met with the school district multiple times before deciding where to send Brooke to elementary school. At Blue Valley Brooke was offered minimal time with a TVI [teacher of the visually impaired], but we were assured that she would get support from a paraprofessional—a paraprofessional who did not know Braille, that is. As I quote from the TSBVI [Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired] website, "When simply assigned to a student without proper preparation, paraeducators may act as a barrier between the student and peer involvement, improperly direct instruction away from the teachers, or reduce independent skill acquisition. Over-reliance on a paraeducator over time can lead students to develop passivity and dependence on prompts from others." Dependence on others is not at all what we wanted for Brooke.
Because Brooke was not offered a free and appropriate public education, we chose to compromise with the school district. They agreed to pay for her Braille materials at a private school as well as offering her Braille instruction, assistive technology instruction, and occupational therapy for a total of four hours per week in the public setting. In turn we paid for her weekly orientation and mobility training because they refused to take her off the public school campus. We also provided her with three to five extra hours of TVI instruction at the private school each week. Trust me, it has been expensive, to say the least! But we have said from the beginning that Brooke deserved a chance to be independent in life. Illiteracy does not lead to independence.
This was the arrangement until January 7, 2016, when we were told by Blue Valley officials that they would no longer provide Brooke with Braille materials for the next school year. The special education director told us, "I'm sure it feels like the rug has been pulled out from under you." Kind of an understatement, don't you think? They had been advised by an attorney at the Kansas Department of Education that they could change Brooke's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) without our consent. Brooke's IEP was changed by a prior written notice. In Kansas a material change of 25 percent in an IEP requires parental consent. Blue Valley states that because they offered Brooke Braille materials of the Blue Valley curriculum, they did not change her services. They call it a "site change."
The only site change that occurred was when they moved Brooke from one elementary school to another to receive services. The new school had numerous ADA violations specific to visually-impaired students, according to federal regulations. Brooke was also not offered any O&M training prior to starting at this new building. To get that, we had to refuse to send her to the new school without safety training for emergency evacuation routes. We had to sue the school district to be able to get that done.
We also had to file due process again, due to the fact that the school district changed our child's IEP without our consent. While the Blue Valley School District states that we have no reason to sue them, since they don't have to provide our child with Braille materials because she goes to a private school, that's not even part of our lawsuit. We didn't sue them to provide Braille for Brooke. That's another matter entirely. But what cannot continue to happen is that school districts are allowed to sidestep the laws in Kansas. Just last week we found out that Blue Valley had removed the screen reader, screen magnification, and Braille translation software from the computer that our daughter uses at her school, despite the fact that they are legally obligated to provide those accommodations, according to her education plan. Brooke could not complete her work until the programs were reinstalled on the computer. Families should not have to be constant watchdogs over school officials that we pay taxes to support.
Blue Valley told us that they spent $72,000 producing Brooke's Braille materials in third grade. Last year we were able to provide her with Braille materials for about $24,000. That includes the cost of a new computer, an embosser, updated Duxbury software, and paper and office supplies to produce the needed classroom materials. We borrow some textbooks from the Kansas Instructional Resource Center or other libraries for the blind. I type the rest of Brooke's required materials. I adapted a math workbook for her to use with her CCTV. Her private TVI produces her tactile graphics. Last year we spent almost $4,000 paying a Braille prison program to produce her math materials, because we aren't able to do that ourselves. We also outsource most of her maps, since those can be difficult for us to produce.
That's a lot of materials to cover with $24,000, but I know it can be done. Instead of spending taxpayer's money providing children with Braille materials that statistics say make them much more likely to find employment, the Blue Valley School District claims to have spent $130,000 of taxpayer's money to avoid paying for our daughter's books. That $130,000 figure is only what they say they've spent on legal costs. Others claim that is not even close to what has actually been spent.
Is it a struggle for us to provide Brooke with what she needs for the classroom? Yes. I cannot work outside of the home, because I have to type materials for Brooke. It's financially draining. Is it cheating on the part of the school district? Yes. Is all of this worth it? Absolutely! Brooke is a straight-A student whose dream is to work at NASA. She is also a three-time defending champion of the National Braille Challenge. Since first grade, Brooke has won the highest score in reading comprehension once and twice has had the highest score in the spelling portion of the National Braille Challenge tests. People can say this is because Brooke is bright, but the only way it's possible is because of intense instruction with a teacher of the visually impaired.
Some school districts choose to persecute the most vulnerable students. If textbooks weren't offered to a child who reads print, there would be a public outcry. Teachers who aren't certified aren't allowed to teach mainstream students. Laws protect those kids. But the blind kids can do without books and materials as well as having teachers that aren't certified. I know, because that's what my daughter deals with every day. These kids are already blind; why rob them when it comes to an education on top of their disability? When I checked the Kansas legal statutes on Braille instruction, there were seven sentences in total. The TSBVI website has a document that is thirty-two pages long. Something has to change in our state. Braille instruction is critical.
The unemployment rate for visually-impaired people is 74 percent. School districts and colleges in Kansas are directly contributing to this high rate of unemployment when kids are shuffled through their system without proper support, materials, and instruction. Let me share with you some sobering statistics about blind or visually-impaired people in the United States from www.nfb.org.
With statistics such as these, you can guarantee that a lot of visually impaired kids are destined to require public assistance. Why not promote Braille and ensure that these kids can be productive citizens who are able to be employed? School districts in Kansas hide behind loopholes and cheap legal tactics in an effort to justify their failure to educate these children. As a family, we have proven that it can be done. With the help of a tremendous TVI and a school that allows us to provide Brooke with what every blind child should receive, it can be done. I just want to reiterate that the Blue Valley School District has chosen to spend $130,000 of taxpayer's money instead of the $24,000 that it would take to provide Brooke with Braille. At the very least, it's the definition of incompetence; it's certainly negligence, and it's evidence that there truly is a Braille crisis in Kansas. We will continue our fight, not only for Brooke, but also for all visually-impaired students in Kansas. It's not an exaggeration to say that we are changing the world one dot at a time.
by Heather Field
From the Editor: The IEP meeting is an opportunity for parents to ask questions and make suggestions that will affect their child's education. It is wise for parents to prepare for the meeting by thinking about questions they need to ask and changes they may want to make. Recently a parent asked for suggestions about preparing for an IEP in a post to the Blindkid listserv, which is sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). Here is her question and a response from Heather Field, who teaches blind and sighted students in Tennessee. You can sign up for the Blindkid listserv at www.nfbnet.org.
From: blindkid <firstname.lastname@example.org> on behalf of Judy
Sent: Sunday, September 10, 2017 11:05 AM
Subject: Questions for IEP
I have a nine-year-old daughter who is visually impaired. She has her big IEP meeting coming up in two weeks. Although she is provided with excellent services, as her parent I don't just want to go into this meeting sitting back with no questions to ask. Can anyone offer any good advice on how my husband and I should prepare to be our child's advocates? What are some good questions to ask? Thank you in advance.
From: blindkid <email@example.com> on behalf of Heather Field
Sent: Sunday, September 10, 2017 4:21 PM
Subject: Re: Questions for IEP
First, I strongly encourage you to get a copy of the IEP before the meeting so that you can review it and make additions and deletions. I advise parents with whom I work always to get a copy and to reschedule the meeting if they don't receive the copy. No one likes to reschedule, so the school usually will make sure a copy is forthcoming.
Another suggestion I would make regards the level and kind of involvement of an aide. If your daughter has an aide assigned to her, and I imagine she does, you need to know exactly what the aide does with and for your daughter. Where does she sit or stand? How does she interact with your daughter and the other students in the classroom? How much time does she spend in one-on-one work with your daughter and how much in preparing materials?
By this time your daughter should be working pretty much independently in the classroom setting. Her aide should be stepping right back and only intervening when your daughter needs assistance with an activity such as one where pictures need to be described. Your daughter can signal to her or him by an agreed-upon signal, that she has a question or needs help. The aide should mostly be involved behind the scenes, preparing materials. The aide should find out what drawings or diagrams, maps, science resources, etc. will be needed in upcoming lessons in order to prepare them for your daughter's use in class. It is desirable for an aide to be able to do Braille transcription, though many do not know Braille. It is very helpful if the aide can do the bulk of your daughter's resource preparation, thus freeing the teacher of blind students to give your daughter face-to-face time where needed.
Your daughter needs to be learning to advocate for herself in the classroom. She needs to learn to try a challenging activity before she asks for help. In small group activities she must learn to ask her peers for information and assistance without calling for intervention from an adult.
If the school still has the aide as involved now as she or he was in kindergarten, goals for the aide's stepping back are absolutely necessary. If the aide is still meeting your daughter at the bus, sitting beside her in the classroom, helping her in the cafeteria, and walking with her between rooms, it is time to put some new goals into the IEP.
When the time comes for this stepping back process, I recommend that parents purchase a copy of Carol Castellano's really great book, Making it Work: Educating the Blind/Visually Impaired Student in the Regular School. The book has an excellent and very comprehensive chapter on the role of the aide in the classroom. I recommend that parents give the book to the teacher of blind students, the student's classroom teacher, the special education teacher who collaborates in preparing the IEP, and the principal or deputy principal. If you can't give the book to everyone, photocopy the chapter about classroom aides. The teachers mean well, and they don't want to distress the student by removing supports. However, such supports are debilitating to the development of the student's independence in the educational setting if they are left in place when the student is capable of learning to function without them. The teachers need to be convinced that the process can be empowering for the student.
Teachers are usually willing to include goals on increasing the student's independence when they find such goals written for them in the book. They are reassured that the student will not be adversely affected if they see that the procedure can be done in a sequential and organized manner. If you believe it's time for these goals to be part of your daughter's IEP, but they don't appear in the draft the school has given you, speak to the special education teacher or classroom teacher. If they say that they don't believe such goals are necessary yet, you must prepare to present your argument in the IEP meeting. Provide a handout for the whole group containing the list of goals you've put together, taken from the information in Carol's book. Briefly talk your way through the list, explaining why you believe these goals are necessary. At times like these the low expectations that some educators hold for blind students may surface, but you can deal with them. You must be brave in the face of opposition, knowing that you are the expert on your child. What you believe about the competence of your child is based on the reality of what you see in your Federation family, collectively the experts on blindness.
In all the IEP meetings that I have attended with parents who have followed this procedure, teachers have agreed with our presentation and have included our goals. They are always more willing when parents have prepared in advance and they can simply copy the goals from a handout they are given. Teachers are very busy and overworked. This really shows at the beginning and the end of the school year, when so many IEPs must be dealt with.
Your daughter is fortunate to have parents who understand the importance of being equal partners in her education. All the best with your upcoming IEP meeting.
by Trinh Ha
From the Editor: The United States has always been a nation of immigrants. People journey from every part of the globe to create new lives and help to build their adopted country. Inevitably some of these newcomers are blind children. They face new customs and a strange new language in addition to the challenges of mastering the skills of blindness. Through the story of her adjustment to life in a new land, Trinh Ha provides insight into the experience of blind students who immigrate from other countries. Trinh Ha was awarded an NFB National Scholarship in 2017.
On February 11, 2012, my family arrived in Fort Smith, Arkansas. For fifteen years I had grown up in the southern part of Vietnam, where it's hot year-round. I was shocked when an icy gust of wind greeted me as soon as I stepped out of the airport. "It's too cold here!" I exclaimed. The cold was my very first impression of the United States of America. Little did I know that the climate was not the only challenge awaiting me in this new journey of my life.
My first few days were tough. Due to a twelve-hour difference in time zones, my parents, my two siblings, and I would go to sleep during the day and stay awake at night. We cried a lot, too. I missed both of my grandmothers, my relatives, my friends, my house, my dog. I even missed the old mangosteen tree I loved to hide under to get away from the hot sun. I disliked car rides; they gave me terrible headaches. I missed the way the wind rustled against my hair and my skin when I rode on a motorcycle.
To make matters worse, my grandpa yelled at me whenever I told him I wanted to go back to Vietnam. He has lived here since 1975. He worked hard for twelve years to arrange for my family to come to this land of opportunity.
About a week and a half after we arrived, Grandpa took me and my older sister to Southside High School for a meeting. Both of us have been blind since birth. At Southside I met my teacher of the visually impaired (TVI), Miss Sarah Ashworth. Initially the people in charge recommended that my sister and I should go to the Arkansas School for the Blind in Little Rock, about three hours from Fort Smith. Of course, we didn't agree. We didn't want to be even more homesick than we were already! Since we knew no English besides basic sentences, it was finally decided that we would spend the rest of the semester at Southside, working one-on-one on the language with Miss Sarah.
For the next few months I felt as though I had magically been transformed into a little kid hiding in the body of a teenager. I remember vividly that very first day I came to class. My sister, Miss Sarah, and I were the only people in the room. I sat in the first seat of the row of desks facing the door, nervously curling and uncurling a lock of hair around my finger.
"Miss Sarah, can you please say it again?" I asked shyly, trying hard to hide the little catch in my voice.
"Sure," she replied. Slowly she repeated the question she had asked me.
"I'm really sorry, but I still don't understand," I told her.
I felt hopeless. Throughout the years, I'd learned to use my other senses to master my blindness and function independently. However, nothing had prepared me for this situation. Suddenly I was struggling to communicate and understand other people.
After a few minutes of awkward silence, I heard Miss Sarah type something into her phone. "This is our classroom," she said aloud. Then she used Google Translate to provide us with the sentence in Vietnamese.
That gave me an inspiration. From my bag I pulled a sheet of paper and my slate and stylus, the only tools I had used for writing Braille back in Vietnam. "S-c-h-o-o-l," I chanted. "S-t-u-d-e-n-t." I knew the alphabet; that's what I tried to tell my vision teacher. And she got my message!
Just like that, my sister and I began to re-learn how to speak and write. We were very grateful for the fact that, except for a few minor differences, the Braille symbols for the English and Vietnamese alphabets are the same. We had to study the Braille contractions, but that wasn't too hard.
We started out by learning individual words. Before she typed each word into her phone to give us the translation, Miss Sarah would spell it out so we could write down the letters. Then she would say the word aloud and have us repeat it after her.
After a few weeks we started to work on forming complete sentences. I lost track of how many times I had to remind myself that many rules of English grammar work opposite from the rules in Vietnamese. In English, adjectives come before nouns, for instance, and my first name needs to be written before my last name.
After dinner every night I always thought about the things I wanted to tell Miss Sarah the next time I saw her. Then I would ask my grandfather to teach me how to say them in English. Most of the time during my first few months in America, I went to sleep with a working brain, silently reciting two or three sentences over and over so I wouldn't forget them in the morning.
To help with my reading and listening skills, Miss Sarah asked me to read to her, or she would read to me and ask me to answer questions. I started out with books for little kids, such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears and The Paper Crane. By the time school was out for summer, I had ventured to read the Nancy Drew series.
In the middle of June, my aunt gave me an electronic talking Vietnamese-English dictionary. The device quickly became one of my best friends. Whenever I encountered a new word I didn't understand, I used the device to translate it to my mother tongue. I also got into the habit of writing down new words I learned and putting them into a special folder I called "My Vocab List" for later reference.
When fall rolled around, my sister and I were put into regular classes along with other students. I left Vietnam in the middle of eighth grade, but I enrolled in the tenth grade. The idea was to keep me with my sister to make the transition easier for both of us as well as for the teachers. None of them would admit it at the time, but our teachers were nervous and intimidated when they found out they would have us as their students. After all, English as a second language (ESL) relies heavily on visual cues. How would they teach two blind ESL girls? Because they weren't sure what to do, our teachers tended to exempt us from any assignment they deemed too hard.
About one and a half months into the semester, the school district bought me and my sister each a Braille Sense U2. Before that, I didn't know that Braille notetakers existed. I fell in love with the device as soon as I discovered what it was capable of doing. I used it to download mystery novels from Bookshare. I used it to go to many websites to practice the rules of grammar and syntax.
A few months with Miss Sarah had helped considerably with my English, but I missed out on many aspects of social interaction. Some teachers naturally spoke very fast, and after a while I became lost and confused. It was one thing to know daily English words, but the language of subjects such as history and biology was nothing more than a jumble of foreign sounds to my ears. Most of the time I didn't understand what I was supposed to do. It was painful to sit for hours without having any clues about all the laughter or discussions in the classroom. I am still proud of myself for managing never to fall asleep during lectures.
It took me extra time to get the simplest assignments done because first I had to translate them into my mother tongue. More than once while I studied late into the night, I couldn't help wondering what made my grandpa so certain he had led me down the right path by bringing me to this country. The language was foreign, the food was foreign, the culture was foreign, and the educational system was foreign. My heart ached whenever I found myself struggling over a question that I knew was a no-brainer, simply because I didn't comprehend its meaning.
However, I didn't complain out loud. I wanted understanding from my teachers, but I didn't want them to lower their expectations for me. I would not have a chance to improve if they excluded me from class activities. They had to let me know where I excelled and where I fell short.
Sometimes during lunch at school, some friendly students who were not afraid of my blindness or my cane would come to talk to me. Unfortunately, my lack of communication eventually drove them away. I wasn't sure if they understood that just because I was blind and was not proficient in the English language yet, I was not stupid. I had experiences to share and interesting stories to tell, if they only stayed long enough, if only they were patient. I needed time to process what they said, to manipulate the thoughts in my mind, and to think of the words I could use to form appropriate answers.
I also struggled with cultural differences that led to a lot of misunderstandings. In Vietnamese culture, a person who gives a compliment never expects a thank-you in return. A verbal expression of thanks is thought to reflect a lack of modesty on the part of the person who receives the compliment. I wonder what people must have thought of me when they saw me smile and blush, or when they heard me deny their compliment by saying that I did not deserve it. Furthermore, in Vietnam hugging is reserved for relatives. I wonder what people must have felt when they saw the discomfort in my face after someone gave me a goodbye hug. It took me a long time to get used to the American way of expressing feelings.
I am forever in debt to Miss Sarah, the teacher who long ago became my second mom. She's always believed in me more than I believed in myself. She saw the adventurous, curious person behind the shy, quiet girl I seemed to be on the outside. Her love and devotion encouraged me to keep pushing to get through the difficult times. She talked to me and got to know me. She spent hours taking me around the shopping mall to introduce me to American fashion. She explained to me why people use certain phrases or idioms. She convinced me to fly to San Francisco by myself to attend a chemistry camp, even though she ended up spending a sleepless night worrying about me.
Time flies, and it's been almost six years since I stepped out of the airport on that cold February day. Currently I am a sophomore at the University of Central Arkansas, pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in nutrition. I have come to understand why millions of people dream of starting new lives in this country. I understand now why my grandpa brought my family here. I have discovered that I actually enjoy learning languages, and I have found out that I love challenges. Those months of confusion were simply a test of my diligence, creativity, and perseverance. With willpower and the right support, anything can be accomplished.
by Sophie Trist
Reprinted from the Braille Monitor, Volume 61, Number 2, February 2018.
From the Editor: Sophie Trist is a sophomore at Loyola University in New Orleans. She hopes to become a writer, and currently she is revising her first novel. In 2017 she was awarded an NFB National Scholarship.
I've always loved the limelight. I revel in the sound of applause. That's why I answered the email I received from Mrs. Sarah Cordet in August of 2016. "Dear Miss Trist," it read, "the special education coordinator for St. Tammany Parish has nominated you for Inclusion Alliance's Adult Spirit Award. After much consideration, we have chosen you as a finalist. The ceremony will take place on Thursday, September 28, 2016 at 7:00 P.M. in the Bogue Falaya Hall."
I'd never heard of Inclusion Alliance in my life. A quick Google search told me it was a local organization that helped people with special needs become involved in the community. I had no idea what an Adult Spirit Award was, but I told Mrs. Cordet that I would be delighted to attend her ceremony.
In the summer of 2004 I sat in a classroom with eleven other eight-year-olds at the Braille Institute in Los Angeles. I forced myself to stay still, remembering all of Mom's prohibitions against fidgeting. I was one of twelve finalists in the Apprentice Division (ages eight to ten) for the National Braille Challenge. We would now take a test, and the first-, second-, and third-place winners would win trophies and money.
Nervous, excited sweat broke out on my palms as a grown-up called for quiet. "We will now begin the test," she said. "I'll be passing out the booklets, but no one is to open them until I say so. As you all should know, you'll be competing in the categories of Braille reading, spelling, and proofreading. Good luck!"
All of the Inclusion Alliance Award finalists, including nineteen-year-old yours truly, were assigned companions (read chaperones) for the evening. My companion was an older, extremely nice woman named Ms. Linda. I actually knew Ms. Linda's family pretty well. Her younger daughter, Alyssa, had been in Advanced Placement classes with me in high school, and her older daughter shared my name, Sophie.
At the reception before the ceremony, Ms. Linda and I stood beside a poster covered with photos of me that Mom had emailed to Mrs. Cordet. I was skiing, I was playing the piano, I was reading Braille, I was meeting Taylor Swift. I was the belle of the ball. Hordes of people, most of whom I knew at least vaguely, came to talk to me. I was a fountain of smiles and laughter. Everyone from my hometown's special-needs community was hungry to know how my freshman year of college was going. The fact that I had pledged Delta Gamma the week before was especially interesting to them, in a town where Greek affiliations are almost as important as church and football.
"How do you think you did?" Mom asked the second I walked out of the classroom. All around us, other parents were asking their kids the same question. I told Mom that I thought I did pretty well. That was an understatement. I felt like Santa Claus had just told me it would be my birthday every single day for the next year. I still tingled with the adrenalin that shot through my veins as my fingers flew across the keys of my Braillewriter. I had been fast, and the questions had been easy.
I thought about the judges, who even now were scoring our tests. Let me win, I prayed silently. Let me be one of the winners!
I imagined what everyone at Ponchartrain Elementary would say when they found out I was one of the top three Braille readers in America for my age. I quivered with excitement as we walked back to our hotel to get ready for the awards banquet.
The Inclusion Alliance ceremony started out with the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem. The first award was presented to a business that hired people with special needs. Next, the three finalists for the Student Spirit Award were introduced, each walking onstage with his or her companion. Suddenly the image of a superhero, standing tall and glorious in a flowing cape, popped into my mind. People seemed to imagine it would be great to be a superhero, but I thought it must be a lonely life, living with extraordinary powers. Sure, superheroes have sidekicks, but we make movies about them and plaster their pictures on t-shirts and posters because they're exceptional. They stand out from the crowd.
These people think I'm some kind of superhero, I realized as a troop of girls went through a dance routine onstage. But they're wrong. I'm just a normal nineteen-year-old girl. I took AP classes in high school, I got a full ride to college, I advocate on social justice issues that are important to me. I'm proud of those accomplishments, but they don't make me a superhero. When sighted kids achieve the same things, they get a bit of praise and a pat on the back, but no one would dream of giving one of them an Adult Spirit Award.
Disabled people are often crowned with laurels for doing things that don't even get noticed when they're done by "normal" people—excelling in school, getting a college scholarship, even using a fork. Seriously! One of my blind friends once was lavishly praised for using a fork properly! I could invent a new superhero, I thought, struggling not to laugh out loud. Forkman would be right at home in the Justice League, swinging his Terrible and Awesome Silverware of Justice to save America!
But my mirth didn't last long. I pondered why people with disabilities who live full and productive lives are treated like superheroes. I suspected that nondisabled people treat them this way to feel better about themselves. While the brokers of the disability superhero mentality mean well for the most part, they fail to see that their actions are demeaning to disabled people. Congratulating someone for the ability to eat without making the table look like the scene of a Civil War battle implies that you don't believe that person is capable of truly great things. It perpetuates the low expectations that hold disabled people back far more than blindness, deafness, or any other physical or mental impairment. Treating disabled people as superheroes allows Inclusion Alliance and similar organizations to ignore the discrimination faced by people with disabilities, such as the payment of subminimum wages and the lack of accessible course materials for blind college students. The superhero mentality surrounding independent disabled people impedes true and meaningful change.
The winners from the Apprentice Division were the last to be announced. "For the Apprentice Division, we have Emily Necker from Paradise, Ohio, in third place!" the lady with the microphone announced. I clapped with everyone else; Emily had struck me as both nice and smart.
Once Emily received her trophy, the woman called, "In second place, we have Sophie Trist from Louisiana!" The cheering in that hall sounded like the best kind of thunder. For the first couple of seconds, I was too shocked to move. I'd imagined myself winning, but I couldn't believe it was actually happening!
A dreamlike calm stole over me as Dad took my hand and led me to the stage. Someone thrust a trophy into my hands; it felt almost as big as I was.
"Congratulations!" someone gushed. I tried to say thank you, but I couldn't speak. My smile was too big.
As cameras flashed, I basked in the applause like a cat basking in the sun. I'd never been happier in my life. Being recognized as the second-best Braille reader in America was a huge accomplishment.
The three Adult Spirit Award finalists were called up in alphabetical order. Owen Hart, whom I'd known since childhood, had Down syndrome. He loved horseback riding, and he worked two jobs, one as a janitor at Clear Lake Middle School and another as an assistant at the weekly farmer's market in the next town over. Mary Katherine Church was a schoolteacher who was deaf. Then the MC announced, "Sophie Trist graduated high school with a 4.2 GPA. Several years ago, she started her own business Brailling menus for local restaurants. Sophie's hobbies include reading, writing, and singing. She is a freshman at Loyola University/New Orleans and recently pledged Delta Gamma sorority."
Once we were all introduced, the MC presented Mary Katherine with the third-place award. Owen won second place. My heart rate sped up; I knew what was coming next.
"For the winner of the 2016 Adult Spirit Award, Miss Sophie Trist!" the MC exclaimed.
Applause thundered through the Bogue Falaya Hall. I beamed as Mrs. Cordet handed me a plaque and a certificate.
As cameras snapped pictures that would appear on Facebook by the next day, I thought about the other times I'd stood on stages to receive awards. Many of those awards had been earned. But tonight wasn't my first night as a superhero. In sixth grade, I'd received the Principal's Award, and just last year, a few days before graduation, I received the Dare Award at the seniors' assembly. The award was given to a student who "showed tremendous courage in the face of adversity." I'm a white, middle-class girl from the suburbs; the only adversity I've encountered is blindness. And while I have to do some things differently than my sighted peers, my life isn't hard by any definition of the word. I have always been encouraged to pursue my dreams, and I have been given every tool and opportunity I need.
As I stood on the stage at Bogue Falaya Hall, I felt like a china doll someone had placed on a high shelf. I felt like an object to be admired but not understood, something designed to make others feel better about their supposedly perfect lives. I felt more pride when I won second place at the National Braille Challenge than when I won first place at this empty ceremony.
On the way home that night, and for many nights afterward, I tried to push thoughts of the ceremony out of my head. But I couldn't forget the revelation I'd had while I sat in that auditorium.
I've always been a writer. A few months after that evening in November I decided to write about my experience. I hoped that writing would help me process my thoughts and feelings. The result is the piece you've just read. I've hung up my cape. I won't—no, I can't—accept any more awards for being myself and fulfilling my own high expectations. I won't take part in this superhero culture any longer. I want to be acknowledged for true accomplishments, such as writing a novel that makes The New York Times bestseller list, a lifelong dream of mine.
I bear no ill will toward Inclusion Alliance or my school principals or anyone else who gives disabled people awards for doing mundane things. They do so out of ignorance and misunderstanding, not out of malice toward the disabled community. But I hope to educate people, people with and without disabilities, on the harmful nature of low expectations and misconceptions. I want to change the laws and change our culture so that disabled people truly can shine, with no barriers in our way.
by Patti Chang and Anna Adler
A slightly different version of this article appeared in Braille Monitor, Volume 60, Number 11, December 2017.
We know that the NFB changes lives. We know that we foster high expectations. Recently the mom of a blind student sent a thank-you note to us that we believe tells the story of just how much impact the NFB can have on an individual family. We hope that stories like hers and many others will inspire people to support our efforts to turn dreams into reality. Here is what Angela Raske said about our Illinois Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academy:
Dear BELL Supporters,
Please allow me a moment to express my sincere gratitude as a mom for your ongoing support of the BELL program. My son, Isaac, age eleven, attended the BELL program this year for his second time. He was so excited to do it and looked forward to it from the moment he was accepted. There are many things that Isaac and I value about this program. From Isaac's perspective, it gives him a chance to hang out with peers who are blind/VI and also experiencing the same challenges/situations. This provides him with support, knowing that he is not alone as a blind young person trying to make his way in the world. He is excited to go every day. He really enjoys learning and practicing his skills that grow his independence. He loves the field trips they take where they learn valuable life skills and have fun while they do it.
This year, a highlight was going kayaking. He was so excited, and it went beyond his high expectations in fun! He came home happy and proud of himself!
He also likes having time with adult mentors. This encourages him with what is possible for him in his future. This year he came home and told me about an adult mentor who had a guide dog with her. Before this, he has always been adamantly against having a guide dog someday, but after interacting with this adult and her dog, he came home feeling different and like it was a possible option for him in the future. Now, whether or not he someday uses a guide dog is up to him, but what he came away with was the model of a blind adult who had found her preferred and successful ways of living independently—another great example for him.
Isaac also enjoyed the wide range of ages in the other students. Being around the younger students reminded him of how far he has come, and the older students gave him excitement for his future. Although our car ride to and from BELL was sometimes close to 1.5-2 hours each way, Isaac never wavered in his excitement, and in fact, told me many, many times, "Thanks Mom for taking me to BELL." I am so thankful for what the BELL program gives to him.
From my perspective, BELL gives Isaac a much-needed opportunity to grow in confidence and acceptance of himself as a blind person. As he has gotten older, he has really struggled with his identity as a blind person. He really does not like to feel "different" from his peers, very normal for any fifth-grader, but even more complicated when there is something such as blindness. Isaac is mainstreamed into his school, so this opportunity to be around other blind kids (and adults) where blindness is normalized is priceless. It gives him a much-needed break from feeling "different." It gives him equal playing ground to make friends and have fun and learn. He never feels like he is missing out on any part of the experience when he is at BELL because it is tailored FOR the blind student. The rest of his year, he is in a sighted environment and continually faces challenges and other people underestimating, judging, or sometimes dismissing him. At BELL he doesn't have to fight those daily battles, and it is like he can really "exhale" for a few weeks and just enjoy life instead of constantly having to prove himself.
Isaac has struggled to see future possibilities for himself as a blind person—as someone who can have independence and meaningful work. He knows he is smart, but he struggles to believe that his blindness will not prevent him from having a great life. The chance for him to know older students and adults who are living full and meaningful lives is critical and something that sighted people (even the best-intentioned parents) cannot give him. He needs that real-life example with flesh on—not just a mom or dad or teacher telling him what is possible. The BELL program provides this.
The BELL program is essential in showing Isaac that he CAN be independent—when they work on simple life skills such as grocery shopping and preparing food/cleaning up, to the more adventurous skills such as how to use public transportation in a big city like Chicago. They don't just talk about it—they DO it, and this shows him he is capable. As a parent, I can do my best to show him how to do these things, but the professionals and mentors at BELL know the best techniques for all these tasks and take him beyond what I as a parent can do.
During the school year, Isaac receives a certain number of hours per week of specialized training on Braille and VI technology and O&M. These are wonderful and necessary; however, the immersive two-week experience for Isaac is an important time of concentrated training and growth that cannot happen during the school year. He can solely focus on his blindness training skills, which lead to a deeper learning experience and also greater confidence.
Finally, the BELL program is not only critical for the students, but also important to their families as well. As a sighted parent, I do all that I can to educate and equip myself so I can equip Isaac well. But I can never put myself fully in his shoes. At BELL he gets this from his blind peers and mentors. This proves to him—and to me as his parent—what is possible. I can be the best mom I can be, but I am not a VI professional such as the staff at BELL. They can equip Isaac in ways that I cannot, and I cannot overstate the importance of this. It gives us insight and renewed motivation as parents to continue working hard at independence so that Isaac will someday be ready to go to college, find work he enjoys, and build a life for himself. We as parents also need BELL so we can be reminded once again of all the possibilities for our blind children.
The BELL program is a very important part of Isaac's growth. It moves him beyond limitations that are placed on him by others and sometimes himself. It shows him new possibilities and opens up new dreams and goals for him. Isaac has a lot to offer the world, and the BELL program is an important part of Isaac seeing and believing that truth for himself AND learning how to make it possible!
Thank you, BELL supporters and the BELL team, for investing in our kids!
Angela & Isaac Raske
Want to help families like Angela's? You can make a difference.
With a $50 donation, the National Federation of the Blind can send a long white cane—free of charge—to a blind person and give back mobility. With the same amount the Federation can provide early literacy materials to families, including a book with both Braille and print that empowers parents to help their blind child get an early start on Braille literacy. With a larger donation we can train our Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning Academy teachers, show blind youngsters that they can do science, too, and so much more. Be a part of this future and everything the Federation does with love, hope, and determination. We can't change lives without you. Please help starting the New Year with a gift—and it's easy to do. You can mail a donation or give online at https://nfb.org/donate. To mail your donation, simply make out your check to the National Federation of the Blind, and send it to 200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Attention: Outreach, Baltimore, MD 21230.
We all know that the Federation affects blind people's lives every day. Please be a part of our movement. Your support will be sincerely appreciated.
Each of the training centers sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind—BLIND Inc. (Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions), the Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB), and the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB)—conducts summer programs for blind children and youth. Children and teens who attend these programs enhance their Braille, technology, and mobility skills; learn to shop, cook, and clean; and have fun swimming, camping, and visiting malls and water parks, all under the supervision of blind counselors who "walk the walk." Teens learn skills and develop confidence they will need in college and career. Students in some programs gain experience with paid employment, working part-time in local businesses and agencies.
In most cases, applications are reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis, so get your child's application in as soon as possible. Here is some basic information about these exciting summer opportunities.
July 22-August 11, 2018
Serves students ages 9-13
Summer Transition Youth Learning Experience (STYLE)
Session 1: July 23-27
Session 2: July 23-August 3
Session 3: July 6-August 10
Students may choose any of these three sessions.
Initiation to Independence
June 11-June 29
Serves students ages 11-14
Earn and Learn High School Program
June 8-August 3
Serves students 14 and older who have completed ninth grade
Summer for Success College Prep Program
June 8-August 3
Serves students with focus on college who have completed eleventh grade
July 15-August 4
Serves students in grades 4 through 8
Summer Training and Employment Project (STEP)
June 10-August 4
Serves high school students
Summer youth programs at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM) are modeled on the programs at the NFB training centers. Here is information about this summer’s programs at BISM.
Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM)
3345 Washington Blvd.
Baltimore, MD 21227
Contact: Melissa Lomax, (410) 737-2600
Deadline for Applications: April 27, 2018
July 20-August 4, 2018
Serves students in grades 5-8
Work to Independence
June 16-August 4, 2018
Serves students ages 14-21
2018 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Program
Contact: Cayte Mendez, (410) 659-9314, extension 2415
Application Deadline: March 31, 2018
To recognize achievement by blind scholars, the National Federation of the Blind annually offers blind postsecondary students in the United States and Puerto Rico the opportunity to win one of thirty merit-based scholarships worth from $3,000 to $12,000. All scholarships awarded are based on academic excellence, community service, and leadership. To qualify, applicants must be legally blind in both eyes; must reside in the United States, the District of Columbia, or Puerto Rico; must be pursuing or planning to pursue a full-time, postsecondary course of study in a degree-granting program at a United States institution in the 2018 scholastic year; and must participate in the entire NFB national convention and all of its scholarship program activities. Each finalist will receive assistance to attend the convention, which will take place the first week of July in Orlando, Florida. The convention provides an excellent opportunity for networking with active blind persons in many occupations and professions.
2018 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards
Contact: James Gashel, (970) 306-9779
Application Deadline: April 15, 2018
The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards recognize individuals and organizations working in the field of blindness who have demonstrated exemplary leadership and extraordinary accomplishments toward achieving the full integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality. Such accomplishments include, but are not limited to, developing products or techniques that increase the independence of the blind, creating and/or directing programs or agencies for the blind of an unusually high quality, and mentoring blind people to fulfill their maximum potential. The awards are named for a pioneering blind physician who practiced in the early twentieth century.
2018 New Venture Competition
Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Application Deadline: March 15, 2018
Have you always dreamed of starting your own business? Hadley can help. Submit your business plan, and you may win up to $30,000 to bring your dream to life. The competition is open to legally blind US residents who have successfully completed at least one course from Hadley's Forsythe Center for Employment and Entrepreneurship and who will have a significant operational role and majority ownership in the new business. The competition is intended for new ventures in the start-up or early stages of business development.
2018 Distinguished Educator of Blind Students Award
Contact: Carla McQuillan, (541) 653-9153
Application Deadline: May 1, 2018
The National Federation of the Blind will recognize an outstanding teacher of blind students at the 2018 annual convention, July 3 through July 8, in Orlando, Florida. Anyone who is currently a teacher, counselor, or the administrator of programs for blind students is eligible. Applicants can be nominated by colleagues, parents, supervisors, or friends who have firsthand knowledge of the individual's work with blind students. The winner of the award will receive an expense-paid trip to attend the convention, a check for $1,000, a commemorative plaque, and the opportunity to make a presentation at the annual meeting of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Please help us recognize dedicated and innovative teachers who provide quality education and meaningful opportunities for their blind students.
VSA International Art Contest for Children with Disabilities
Who may enter: Children with disabilities, grades pre-kindergarten through 12
Deadline for Entries: June 6, 2018
The Office of VSA and Accessibility, a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, proudly presents an exciting opportunity for children with disabilities from around the world to display their artwork side by side in an online exhibition. A selection of artwork from the online entries will be chosen for a live exhibition in Washington, DC. Group projects are accepted as long as all artists are students with disabilities. Both two-dimensional (preferred) and three-dimensional artworks will be accepted. Work must not exceed 18 x 24 inches. This year's theme is "Yo Soy ... Je Suis ... I Am … Motivated to Create."
Automotive Innovation Award
Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, has received one of the inaugural Autos2050sm Awards, presented by the Auto Alliance and the Alliance for Transportation Innovation. President Riccobono is among twelve state and national political leaders and automotive innovators who were honored in Washington, DC, on January 24, 2018. On October 25, 2017, the National Federation of the Blind and the Auto Alliance hosted a first-of-its-kind gathering of consumers with disabilities, auto representatives, ride-sharing providers, and policymakers. The purpose of the gathering was to discuss the advances, challenges, and path forward for autonomous vehicle development. It was a key step in the conversation about how autonomous vehicles can be developed and deployed safely, while considering the needs of the 57 million Americans with disabilities.
2017 Onkyo Braille Essay Contest
On World Braille Day, January 4, 2018, the National Federation of the Blind announced the winners of the 2017 Onkyo World Essay Contest. The NFB administered the contest on behalf of the North America/Caribbean region of the World Blind Union and encouraged all countries in the region to participate. The essays were required to be written in Braille and could cover a variety of proposed topics related to the importance of Braille. There were two groups of competitors: a junior category for persons up to age twenty-five and a senior category for persons twenty-six or older. Each winner received a substantial cash prize, a plaque, and other gifts from the Onkyo Corporation. The essay contest is sponsored by Onkyo Corporation, a Japanese consumer electronics manufacturer, and the Braille Mainichi, part of the Mainichi Newspaper Company in Japan. It was created to promote Braille literacy and to encourage the sharing of social and cultural information among blind and low-vision persons.
The seven winners from the North America/Caribbean region were as follows:
Jessie Mabry, Connecticut, US
Excellent Work Award, Senior
Tammy Frost, Minnesota, US
Fine Work Award, Senior
Jennifer Spears, Colorado, US
Jamie Lloyd, St. Catherine, Jamaica
Fine Work Award, Junior
Kristen Steele, Iowa, US
Fernando Reyes, New Mexico, US
Hannah Neils, Minnesota, US
Braille Poetry Contest
National Braille Press
National Braille Press is excited to announce the winners of its inaugural Braille Poetry Contest. The winners chosen for each grade level are as follows:
K-2, Clara Scelci, "Happy Birthday Bear"
3-5, Olivia Rios, "Great Snow Time"
6-8, Nicholas Tarper, "Your Five Senses"
9-12, Gretchen Brown, "Autumn Night"
Adult, Allison Hilliker, "Loving Allyssa: A Mother's Journey in Five Senses"
2018 Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium
Location: NFB headquarters, Baltimore, MD
Conference Dates: March 22-23, 2018
Registration is now open for the 2018 Dr. Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium, "Fifty Years after tenBroek: The Right to Live in the World Today and Tomorrow." Join leading disability rights advocates from throughout the United States to examine Dr. tenBroek's impressive legacy through a present-day lens, focusing on many of the timeless themes addressed in his publications and speeches.
2018 VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Conference
A Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Special Education Program
Location: Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Atlanta, GA
Conference Dates: August 7-8, 2018
Through innovative, thought-provoking, interactive sessions, the VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Conference provides professionals in the intersecting fields of art education and special education the opportunity to share current information and research, practice, programs, and policy. The conference brings together educators, administrators, researchers, teaching artists, and more to build new skills, transfer knowledge, network, and, ultimately, help to improve educational practice for students with disabilities learning through the arts.
BELL Academy, Braille Enrichment through Learning and Literacy
The National Federation of the Blind BELL Academy helps blind and low-vision children, ages four through twelve, develop the literacy skills that will empower them to be successful in their academic and life goals. This year, with the assistance of our partners at Wells Fargo, BELL will focus on the development of financial literacy skills as well. In addition to Braille instruction, the program provides instruction in other nonvisual skills through fun, hands-on learning in a day program or residential setting. In addition to Braille-related crafts, games, and other engaging projects, children learn vital skills of independent living, interact with blind adults who serve as mentors, and enjoy field trips to sites related to the NFB BELL Academy curriculum. Through these activities the children learn that "by banking on blindness skills" they can live the lives they want. To learn more about the 2018 NFB BELL Academies in cities across the country, visit the website listed above.
Location: NFB headquarters in Baltimore, MD
Application Deadline: May 1, 2018
The National Federation of the Blind Engineering Quotient (EQ) program is a week-long summer engineering program for blind and low-vision teens from around the country, July 29-August 4. Throughout the week participants will forge new friendships while increasing their engineering knowledge, problem-solving abilities, self-confidence, and independence. Blind and low-vision teens who are ready to learn new things, meet new people, and have an adventure this summer are encouraged to apply to the EQ program.
Seedlings Braille Books for Children
Seedlings Braille Books for Children has added ten popular books to its UEB collection for independent readers. The books are A Wrinkle in Time, which Disney has made into a movie to be released on March 9; 101 Ways to Bug Your Parents; Matilda; Anne Frank: Life in Hiding; Who Was Alexander Hamilton?; Little House on the Prairie; Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business; Among the Hidden; A Dog Called Kitty; and Spiderwick 1: The Field Guide. This brings to eighty-seven the number of books Seedlings offers in contracted UEB for older children. Nearly three hundred print/Braille books for babies, toddlers, and beginning readers are available in UEB.
New Braille Titles
National Braille Press
National Braille Press announces several new Braille and electronic titles. Visit the website to learn more about NBP’s offerings.
Getting Ready for College Begins in Third Grade: Working toward an Independent Future for Your Blind/VI Child, by Carol Castellano
National Braille Press offers three print/Braille books for very young children with English and Spanish text. The books are Are You My Mother? (Eres Tu Mi Mama?), by P. D. Eastman; Besos for Baby: A Little Book of Kisses, by Jen Arena; and Sweet Dreams (Dulces Suenos), by Pat Mora. Because Books Matter and Because Pictures Matter, written for parents and teachers, are available free in English and Spanish print editions.
Academia.edu is a platform where academics can share research papers. The company's mission is to accelerate the world's research. Academics from around the world have signed up to participate. The site has launched a page that aims to create contact between blind scholars who wish to read a text and people who would like to read for or with them. Volunteers and blind students or professionals can sign up and connect on the web page.
Blindfold Games: Audio Games for the Visually Impaired Community
Blindfold Games creates audio games for visually-impaired people, with dozens of games for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod. Enjoyed by thousands of people worldwide, the games are fun and appeal to people of all ages. The suite includes more than eighty games including casino games such as blackjack, card games such as crazy eights and rummy, puzzle games such as Simon and Color Crush, and sports games such as bowling, pong, and pinball.
Based in Utrecht in The Netherlands, this site is dedicated to blind-accessible games based on sound. It began as a database of audio games, but it has broadened its scope to include an archive of audio games and reviews, articles on blind-accessible games, a forum to support the community, a submit-a-game functionality that allows users to submit new games, and a huge list of links to important resources in the field.
7-128 offers a variety of free downloadable games for personal computers and a selection of downloadable games that can be purchased for mobile devices. The "Inspector Cindy in Newport" detective games create a series of adventures that take place in Newport, Rhode Island, in the 1890s. The player is a detective with the Newport police department, traveling the streets and mansions of the city and questioning the high and the low to solve crimes. The Tyler puzzles and Woople word games are entertaining mind puzzles for children and adults.
64 Oz. Games
2714 Perry Ln
Alvin, TX 77511
Contact: Richard Gibbs, firstname.lastname@example.org
64 Oz. Games creates accessibility kits that enable blind and visually-impaired players to enjoy a wide variety of popular board games. In order to use an accessibility kit, users must have the retail version of the game available. The kit contains such items as Braille labels and Braille cards. Family-oriented games available through 64 Oz. Games include Coloretto, Eagle Gryphon, Fugitive, Wizards of the Coast, Loot, Munchkin, and many more.
Maps, at Your Fingertips
San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Adaptations Store
1155 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
Contact: Adaptations Store, 888-400-8933
Thanks to a collaboration between the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute and the Media and Accessible Design Lab at the San Francisco Lighthouse, affordable tactile maps of the area of your choosing are now available on demand. The tactile street maps depict the area around a user-specified address or intersection, using raised lines and a circle marking the point of interest in the center of the map. Braille and large-print labels indicate street names and other information such as cardinal directions and scale. This is a great way for blind and low-vision travelers to get started with tactile maps. With each order you will receive three tactile and ink-printed maps, a tactile map key, and an explainer page.