Future Reflections

Volume 37 Number 3                          Summer 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
https://nfb.org/nopbc[email protected][email protected]



Words of Wisdom
compiled by Krystal Guillory


Helpful Hints for Paraprofessionals Working with Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
by Merry-Noel Chamberlain

Blind Students Are Normal Students
by John E. Harrison


An Open Letter to Parents
by Barbara Pierce

Story of Ele
by Naomi Mills


by Justin Salisbury

Why I Love My Cane and What It Means to Me
by Jasmyn Polite

Play Ball and Teach Sound Localization to Blind Students
by Liz Wisecarver


Let's Dance: How I Dealt with Choreography
by Kelsey Nicolay

Taking Life by the Reins
by Melissa Carney

My Life in 4-H
by Kaitlyn Ryan

Mutual Welfare and Benefit
by Sara Luna


Driving Blind on the Information Superhighway: The New and Improved Rules of the Road
by Amy Mason

Why Human Readers Are No Substitute for Accessible Software
by Sabra Ewing


Our Fight for Access
by Kimberly Banks


On Being a Disabled Introvert and the Follies of Social Skills Training
by Arielle Silverman

Why Is Helen Keller the Only Blind Person Anyone Knows?
by Mike Hudson

Sharp Elbows, Sharper Thoughts
by Ryan Strunk


Two Novels by Kristen Witucki
reviewed by Deborah Kendrick



Why Join the NOPBC?

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

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

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

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

What is different about the NOPBC?

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

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

What is the mission of the NOPBC?

The purpose of the NOPBC is to:

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

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

Contact Us:
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
[email protected]

Words of Wisdom

Compiled by Krystal Guillory
Reprinted from https://uniqueunderstanding.wordpress.com/author/krystalguillory

From the Editor: Krystal Guillory is a teacher of blind and visually-impaired children in Louisiana. In her blog posts she shares her thoughts about teaching, blindness, and life.

I've talked with a number of parents of blind children and adults, and they always say that they want to hear from other parents of blind children. I try to offer advice, wisdom, and support, but I realize that it's just not the same coming from a teacher. I was inspired to create a post with words from parents of blind children.

I asked one question of each parent: What is the one thing you would want to tell your past self about having a blind child? (It can be something you wish you could say when you first discovered your child's blindness or at any time along the journey.) Here are some of the gems of wisdom I received.

Ruby Guillory (mother of Eric): I wish I would have tried to learn Braille.

Mitch Guillory (father of Eric): Nothing. I always said I would raise him as a normal kid, and we did.

Lindsay Sanderlin (mother of Jordan): I would tell my past self not to fear the unknown, but embrace it. It has been the most amazing, beautiful experience being the parent of a blind child. Fear holds you captive. Acceptance is key and teaches the child to be free.

Carla Anderson (mother of Isaiah): That it's not the end of the world. Keep the faith and be strong for your child and yourself. Your child needs his mother 100 percent strong for him. When you see everything pull together and work out somehow is when you know everything will be okay.

Frances Hammond (mother of Ari): When Ari was first diagnosed I wasn't sure about a lot of things. I'd like to be able to tell my nineteen-year-old self that everything is going to be okay and not to hold her back from ANYTHING, including trying different kinds of food and outdoor activities. I'd also like to have known how important her cane is. She didn't use it consistently until she was about seven. I wish she could've had and used a cane from the time she was diagnosed at six months old.

Diane Powell (mother of Deja): I would have been much more aggressive to fight for my daughters to learn cane travel and Braille. I do not feel that what was offered to them through the public school system was near enough. It was my job as a parent to fight for more. If I could go back, I definitely would have done that!!

Lauren Thompson (mother of Jada): I would tell my past self, don't be fearful. Human beings have the remarkable ability to adapt to their situations in an extraordinary way. In many ways, my child can do more than a child without vision problems. She is as handicapped as I let her be. Do not hold her back. Let her find her own way to do things. "Normal" is just a setting on the washing machine. This isn't the end of her world, but the beginning of your enlightened understanding.

Beth Freeborn (mother of Harley): I would say that raising a blind child is not that different from raising a sighted child. They all have weak points and strong points. You work toward helping your children reach their maximum potential, whatever their strengths are. Also, the fears that we have as parents of blind children are the same as many of the fears parents of sighted children carry. They all worry their children won't be able to take care of themselves or travel by themselves or feed themselves. We just have to figure how to teach our kids how to do things without sight.

Carol Castellano (mother of Serena): That just about everything can be done by a blind person. You just have to learn how.

Penny Duffy (mother of Abby): Right now you think everything has changed. It hasn't: She is still the same six-year-old she has always been. It will truly be okay. She will be fine. Actually, she will thrive. Be careful how your negative views of blindness change Abby's view of herself. She will pick up on it. There will be a day that you will realize as she hides her white cane in pictures that she is embarrassed. Start by using the word blind. It is not a scary demon; it is just another part of your normal six-year-old daughter. Braille is a huge key for her future. Contact the National Federation of the Blind. Don't be scared of the high expectations; embrace them. Meet many different blind adults. They are a huge key for you to see how she will be fine.

Misty Loveday (mother of Easton and Owen): I guess it would be this: "Life goes on." It REALLY does! The hurt, disappointment, and sadness will eventually fade, and love, pride, and wonder at just what your child can accomplish will bloom in their place. Easton is legally blind, and he amazes me every day at all the things he can do, even though he's nonverbal and has autistic tendencies. Little Owen is such a joy, and I believe that his blindness allows him to see straight through to the hearts of his caregivers. He knows the ones that love him and the ones that are just performing their clinical duty.

Cheryl Timmins (mother of Nola): I would want to tell my past self my child's life won't be limited in any way. I will always encourage and remind her that she is capable of anything she makes up her mind to do. It's just a matter of deciding and moving forward.

Alison Tarver (mother of Nicholas): I would tell myself to experience sleepshades earlier rather than later. It is hard to understand, have patience, and recognize the challenges if as a parent you have never experienced what they are experiencing.

April Gremillion (mother of Addison): I would say to not be scared and that the blindness does not define her but is just a characteristic. It's really hard to just say one thing. And I have to say it wasn't until after our first NFB conference that I knew she'd be okay.

Andy Thomas (father of David): Easy. Don't be afraid. The blind child will actually figure out how to do things; you don't have to learn everything and then teach them. At least, that has been the way with David. David is so IT savvy I will never catch up to him. Believe that great things will happen, because they will.

Teresa Romero (mother of Naudia): I wish my doctor would have told me, "Hey there's more people like you. You're not alone in this. Reach out to other moms just like you, and here's a number to the National Federation of the Blind."

Britney Smith (mother of Brielle): Okay, I would tell my past self one thing. It would be to remain strong. There is nothing you did to cause it. You have to remain strong and educate yourself on the things your child may need.

Carlton Anne Cook Walker (mother of Anna Catherine): Worry less, love more. Blindness is not the biggest battle you'll face—far from it. Nevertheless, blindness will taint others' expectations for your child. Stand strong with successful blind role models against the attack of low expectations.

Courtney McDonald (mother of Passion): I have so many things I would want to tell my past self, but it would mostly be encouraging words (Don't give up! Stay prepared), and MOSTLY TAKE IT ONE DAY AT A TIME.

Nicole Rammond (mother of Jayla): I would like to tell myself that having a blind child is a great advantage. They see things that we can't see. Blind people are very inquisitive and analyze everything. I've learned so much from my daughter, and I never thought she would do things she's doing now.

Kim Cunningham (mother of Kayleigh): Okay, here is what I would tell myself! A severe vision loss, or whatever you may call it, low vision, visually impaired, legally blind, partially sighted, is equal to being blind. You cannot have a significant vision loss and be educated as if you were sighted. Blindness techniques are critical for ALL children to learn (preaching to the choir). I could barely say the B words (blind and Braille) in the beginning. It was drilled into my brain that she wasn't blind, and therefore all the tools that could have benefited her were denied. I would say breathe deep, cherish the moments, and enjoy the ride!

Rosina Foster (mother of Ethan and Roman): If I could go back in time and my past self would listen to me without being in too much shock, I would want myself to know two important things. The first would be to trust my instincts. What I mean is to not just believe what everyone says. Many times I was told that it was normal for blind children to be behind in things and that they would catch up. Really? When? If they are constantly learning new things like all children, when are they going to catch up on the things they are behind in? I really wish I could go back with that one. Knowing to stick to my guns to ensure that my kids were on target would have been better than playing catch up later in life.

Second, I really wish I could tell myself about the NFB way sooner. I know everyone says it, but REALLY, I wish I had connected sooner. Not sure who my guardian angel was that got me started with Braille Monitor and my journey to NFB, but I wish with all my heart that it had been way sooner, when my kids were younger. I still hold it dear to me that I even know about the NFB at all. The knowledge, confidence, connections, and self-awareness that I garnered not only for myself, but for my children, are beyond the value I could give back. Each new valuable thing that I have learned has somehow been a connection to NFB—life-changing and overwhelming, in a good way.

Carol Martin (mother of Stephanie): Let go and let them build up their confidence while they figure out their own abilities instead of trying to limit them.

Kenneth Martin (father of Stephanie): To make sure they are supported in a loving home with a positive attitude. Don't take the easy way out, but let them set their own limits.

Sally Thomas (mother of David): Don't expect that the school system will have your child's interest at heart. They may have their own interests at heart and also may be very uninformed about blindness, blindness education, and special education law. This may also be true of the blindness professionals in your school district. Do not even expect that they will tell you the truth or be willing to admit that they don't know what they are talking about. You need to be informed about blindness education and be honest with yourself about your child's strengths and weaknesses. Stand up for your child's rights. Don't worry about whether or not the IEP team likes you. We got our best results when we pushed hard. They knew we wouldn't back down.

Okay, another VERY important piece of advice—give your children independence. Let them try things outside your comfort zone. My son is able to travel all over Perth [Australia] on the public transit system, solving problems without fear because we have confidence in his abilities and let him get out there and do things on his own. A good O&M instructor can be pure gold in this regard as well.

Camillia Herrien (mother of Jayla): Learn Braille and be your child's Number One advocate! Resources, Resources, Resources!

Estelle Konechne (mother of James): To treat the child as she would any other child and teach them to do things one-on-one, for example, baking, gardening, or riding a bike.

Natoria Womack (mother of Braylon): The one thing I would tell my past self about having a blind child is that with love and support bad dreams can have good endings.

When I first discovered I was pregnant, being a first-time mom, I wanted to ensure that I had a healthy child. I kept my doctor visits, I took my prenatal vitamins, ate my veggies, drank more than eight glasses of water a day, and stayed away from caffeine. You can only imagine the shock that I felt when the doctor told me my child was blind. Not in a million years would I have ever thought that my child would be blind! When I was a little girl I remember seeing blind people in the stores shopping and walking up and down the streets with their canes. I was so concerned for them because I thought that something would happen to them. Now I had to face the reality that my child was going to be blind. I was scared, depressed, anxious, and nervous. I felt all types of emotions all in one. I felt like I was dreaming, even telling myself "It's just a dream," but in fact it was reality. I was in denial for a while because I felt at the time that I didn't have the strength to raise a blind child. I didn't feel confident at all. I was scared of what would happen to my child. Would he ever get to live a normal life? I was even scared of the way people would view me because my son walked with a cane, but I knew that the cane meant his life. I didn't even want to go in public because I knew that people would stare and wonder what happened for my child to be blind, which only made me feel worse. I wondered how my child would ever read, how he would ever walk alone, and how he would live an independent life.

With the loving support of my mother and help from the wonderful staff and Braille teachers at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, my son and I now have the tools we need to overcome my fears as a mother. My son has had many wonderful Braille teachers and cane teachers. My son can now read Braille and walk alone while using his cane. He even has dreams of becoming a professor so he can teach Braille to other blind people. He's now eleven, and he's starting to lead his own life independently, making his own choices of what he thinks might be best for him. He goes to NFB BELL Academy every summer, and he comes back every year with more tools and information that can help him along the way toward becoming an independent person. I'm so thankful for that!

One thing I can say about this journey is that what once seemed like a bad dream has turned into a happy ending. My son and I are living life more happily than ever because he now has the tools and information to help him live a comfortable life.

Pete Harvey (father of Mike): Try to limit your stress when you realize your child is blind. Do not feel sorry for the child or yourself. Be thankful for the child and raise him in a loving home. Give him or her all opportunities, including sports, educational activities, workshops, and camps. Remember to explain everyday things to the child when needed. Above all, do not hold the child back, pamper, or baby him. Treat him or her like you would treat his older or younger sibling. In no way limit the child's ambition.

Diane Corbitt (mother of Bre): Treat them like you would any other kid. Let them experience things like a sighted child would, and they will have a more fulfilling and well-rounded life. Allowing them to experience life like any other child will help them to be better adults.

Virginia Davis (mother of April): That's a hard one because I don't think I would have done things too much differently. To her dad and me, April's intelligence was apparent from the start, and that's what we focused on. She did most everything her sighted friends did. When she was evaluated at six years old, she was referred to a gifted school, which we gladly agreed to, even though her other school was "safer" in terms of providing for her blindness needs.

For some reason, when she got to high school, we sent her to a school in a nearby suburb that didn't offer her enough academic challenges, even though she had been accepted into a gifted program in the city. As her mom, I was afraid to let her go to the gifted program because I was afraid for her safety. Looking back, I should have let her go. She was bored at her high school and was way ahead of her peers, scholastically, and she was excellent at getting around the city by herself. I think April remembers those years with some resentment.

I should mention that from an early age, she always balked at being taught Braille and using a cane because she had some residual sight and hated being labeled as different. Unfortunately, her dad and I complied too readily to her wishes. It got her into trouble later on when she got to college, where the print in books kept getting smaller and she found it harder to keep up.

Looking back, we should have insisted that she learn Braille and learn how to navigate with a cane when she was in grammar school, if not sooner. In the long run, it would have made her life a lot easier.

Andrea and Jeremiah Beasley (parents of Kyle): Okay, you kinda stumped us, and we spent time thinking about it and talking about it. We came up with a few things. Our gut reaction was "nothing." Whatever would we tell ourselves, it would change absolutely nothing we would've done. We have the benefit of knowing that blind people can be successful and live "normal" lives. We decided that we would tell ourselves not to focus on the fact that he is blind. Focus on the fact that he is a kid. Let him be as normal as he possibly can be. He needs chores, fun, after-school activities, and most of all the chance to be a kid!

Laura Bostick (mother of Lindsay): It's hard to narrow it down to one thing. For sure knowing that blindness is not a tragedy was very important. I wish I'd met competent blind role models earlier. That's what gave me the most hope for Lindsay. I wish I'd known that the "experts" aren't always experts. I wish I'd trusted my instincts more. Maybe most of all I wish I'd enjoyed her infancy and toddlerhood more. I spent so much time worrying about my blind baby and not enough time just enjoying my baby.

I hope that you have gotten something from all the words of wisdom shared in this post. I am so grateful to all of the parents who participated. I know that this was a very difficult question for everyone, but I can only hope that it is a blessing to other parents and even teachers. I think the overriding message is, "You can do it." As a parent, you can do it; and always tell your child, "You can do it." High expectations! And remember, they're children first.

I would love to hear from other parents. If you would like to share your thoughts, please leave a comment on this post. And, for all the teachers out there reading this, get ready ... I'm working something up for you, too.

Helpful Hints for Paraprofessionals Working with Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

by Merry-Noel Chamberlain

From the Editor: Merry-Noel Chamberlain is a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) and holds National Orientation and Mobility Certification. Her articles on orientation and mobility training for blind children have appeared frequently in Future Reflections. She lives and teaches in Omaha, Nebraska.

Sometimes students who are blind or visually impaired have one or two paraprofessionals available to assist them throughout the school day. These paraprofessionals seldom receive specific training in how to work with blind or visually-impaired students. Generally paraprofessionals receive on-the-job training focused on the student's individual needs. Training varies widely from one school district to another, and it may be influenced by the supervising teacher and a variety of circumstances.

This article offers some helpful hints for paraprofessionals working with students who are blind or visually impaired. As not all students have the same needs, it is simply a place to begin.

In some ways the duties of paraprofessionals working with blind or visually-impaired students are similar to those of all paraprofessionals who work with students one-on-one. Overall, the goal is to avoid promoting learned helplessness in the student. The aim of most paraprofessionals is to:

Basic Duties

For the paraprofessional who works with a blind or visually-impaired student, the basic duties go well beyond those listed above. For best results, the first person the paraprofessional needs to turn to for guidance is the teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI). The TVI works directly with the student and knows best the individual student's nonvisual or low-vision needs. Although paraprofessionals work one-on-one with students, they are not teachers. They are supporters who reinforce what has been taught by the classroom teacher, TVI, or orientation and mobility (O&M) instructor.

In a sense, paraprofessionals are reporters. They relay information back to the TVI or O&M instructor, noting problem areas they have observed or upcoming events of which the TVI or O&M instructor may not be aware.

Paraprofessionals work closely with the TVI, the O&M instructor, and the classroom or special education teacher. Because of this close working relationship they have with the student, they are part of the team. They need to participate in the student's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings. If the student attends his IEP meetings, he will be aware that the paraprofessional is current on all expectations and will support those expectations. The student will not be able to pull the wool over the eyes of the paraprofessional in order to avoid taking responsibility―not that children will ever attempt to do such a thing, mind you!

Here are some of the basic roles and duties of paraprofessionals who work with blind and visually-impaired students.


Paraprofessionals who work with blind or visually-impaired students serve as readers. In this case, a reader is not simply someone who reads printed materials such as textbooks, worksheets, or storybooks. Rather, she or he is a person who describes the environment to the student. This describing may include, but is not limited to, the following:


On occasion the classroom teacher may assign a project on short notice, without allowing time for the materials to be enlarged or transcribed into Braille. Perhaps she has decided on a teachable moment or a pop quiz. To ensure that the student doesn't miss out, the paraprofessional may not only be the reader but also serve as the scribe. A scribe is a person who does all of the writing. This writing could involve filling out a worksheet, completing a math journal, or completing an assignment on an inaccessible website. The paraprofessional needs to keep in mind that:

Here are some other helpful hints a paraprofessional may wish to keep in mind when serving as a scribe for a student:

If a paraprofessional is too helpful, a student may learn to accept unnecessary help from everyone around him, such as friends, family, office staff, acquaintances, and the general public. This behavior is known as learned helplessness. Keep in mind that the paraprofessional is not:

Adapting Materials

Paraprofessionals working with students with visual impairments may be called upon to adapt materials, that is, to make them accessible for the student. Examples of such materials are worksheets, games, diagrams, pictures, and charts. Depending on the individual student's needs, they may be adapted in three ways: tactile, outlined, or enlarged.

Tactile: There are many ways to provide students with tactile access to materials. The paraprofessional can use puff-paint, foam stickers, raised-line graphing tape, raised-line drawing kits, or tactile graph paper. Braille labels or other items can be glued onto paper, game boards, or posters.

Outlining: For low-vision students, targeted areas on a worksheet may need to be accented with a bold black marker. The marker indicates the box where the student needs to write answers or the line the student needs to cut with scissors.

Enlargement: Enlarged materials need to be discussed with the TVI. The TVI will explain the percentage of enlargement needed and the size of the paper to be used. Some students need to have enlargements on 11x17-inch paper, while others have a preference for legal-size paper. The TVI or O&M instructor may be able to provide instructions on how the materials need to be adapted for the individual student.

Finding time to adapt materials can be a challenge for the paraprofessional. The availability of such time depends on the student's schedule. Unlike teachers, paraprofessionals are seldom given official planning periods. Time may be available while the student participates in activities that do not require the paraprofessional's direct involvement, or when the student is out of school due to illness or doctor's appointments.


Paraprofessionals working with students who are Braille readers or who are learning Braille need some general knowledge of the Braille code. Beginning paraprofessionals may learn alongside their young students or their students who are just starting to receive Braille instruction. However, most paraprofessionals learn Braille through correspondence courses in order to keep ahead of their students. It is extremely important that the paraprofessional's Braille skills surpass the student's level. The TVI may provide the paraprofessional with information on available Braille correspondence courses.

Some paraprofessionals wonder why they need to know Braille since they are not the ones who teach it. Knowledge of Braille is important for several reasons:

Keep in mind that the paraprofessional (or even the TVI) who knows Braille is not considered a certified Braille transcriber.

There is more to Braille than simply learning the code. For example, Braille students need to:

Specialized Equipment

At times students with visual impairments use specialized equipment such as a closed circuit magnification device, Perkins Brailler, or electronic notetaking device. The paraprofessional is not required to know everything about the student's specialized equipment. However, it is very helpful if he knows basic functions and problem-solving techniques.

Some students use the abacus for doing math or the slate and stylus for writing Braille. The paraprofessional may wish to learn more about this equipment, and the TVI can provide information about correspondence courses or online tutorials.

Orientation & Mobility (O&M)

The paraprofessional needs to observe the student's orientation and mobility lessons. This will give the paraprofessional insight as to how to assist the student when the O&M instructor is not present. The paraprofessional is not an O&M instructor, but he can support and reinforce the techniques the student has been taught. The paraprofessional reports to the O&M instructor when he notices problem areas for the student.

School staff and other students sometimes assume that the paraprofessional is the blind student's personal human guide. The paraprofessional will learn the proper human guide technique, as there may be critical times when walking human guide is necessary. However, when given the proper skills, the student can become an independent traveler.

Orientation and mobility involves much more than teaching a student to walk from Point A to Point B. O&M involves concepts including cardinal directions, posture and gait, walking in step, problem solving, and mental mapping skills. When a paraprofessional works closely with the O&M instructor, he learns these skills with the student and can reinforce them outside of O&M class.

Letting Go

This section is mainly pertinent to students who have been blind or visually impaired for quite some time and have considerable experience working with a paraprofessional. It is not relevant for newly blinded or visually-impaired students.

When the student reaches high school, her need for a paraprofessional diminishes. The upper-level high school student needs to become less dependent on the paraprofessional; frankly, the paraprofessional is not going to follow her to college and beyond. It is important to wean the student from her dependency. However, this can be a tricky situation, because the paraprofessional still needs to be on hand in case the student truly needs the assistance of a scribe or a reader.

The paraprofessional needs to back away so the student can attempt to be as independent as possible. Basically, the paraprofessional is "on call." Sometimes it is difficult for other staff members and even administrators to understand this process. They may see the paraprofessional sitting in the back of the classroom, seemingly unengaged. Some classroom teachers give the paraprofessional other duties during this fading-out period. Ultimately, the goal is for the student not to need a paraprofessional any longer.

The second semester of the student's junior year can be the transition time for students with visual impairments, for this is a great opportunity to help prepare them for college. When students go to college, they will often be required to hire their own readers/scribes, and their senior year is a great opportunity for them to practice using a reader/scribe via the available paraprofessional. Therefore, it is important for the paraprofessional to only be available to read or scribe when requested by the student. This process is, of course, overseen by the TVI and the classroom teachers to ensure that the student is completing work in a timely manner. This is not a time for the student to fail; rather it is a time for the TVI, classroom teacher, and paraprofessional to provide guidance to the student, then step back, monitor, and provide feedback to the student, as needed.

Final Notes

The relationship between the paraprofessional and the student needs to remain professional. Sometimes when a student spends the majority of his educational experience attached to one paraprofessional, the relationship can become too close. If that happens, the student may take liberties she may not otherwise attempt with someone else. In addition, the paraprofessional may do things automatically for the student instead of waiting for the student to take the proper initiative on her own. If a paraprofessional has had the opportunity to spend several years with one student, the two can create a strong bond. If the relationship has remained professional, in that the student is aware of the role of the paraprofessional, the relationship can be successful and enriching.

Blind Students Are Normal Students

by John E. Harrison

From the Editor: John E. Harrison is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He is majoring in English, creative writing, and psychology. In 2018 he received an NFB national scholarship.

I have always believed that education is immensely important; it is an equalizer that enables people to become the best of themselves. Because education enables people to rise up and improve themselves, it is dearly needed by those classes of citizens that are held down, not by their own limitations, but by society's view of them. The blind community is no exception. Education is a key to our success. I believe that my story clearly shows how an education—and even more importantly, those dedicated teachers who strive to enable students to learn—can shape the way a person's life unfolds. My story shows not only the importance of teaching blindness-related skills to blind students, but also the tremendous value of general education in the classroom. As I said before, education is an equalizer, and my public schooling enabled me to live the life I want.

I became blind halfway through my junior year in high school, suddenly and with little warning. When I first lost my vision, I tried my best to keep my spirits up, but deep down I was miserable. I thought that my loss of sight meant the loss of any chance that I could have a normal life. I knew that somehow I could get a job and live on my own, but I really did not believe that I would actually be able to do anything meaningful. I felt as though I was doomed to a life that would never be what I truly wanted it to be.

Fortunately I returned to school soon after my vision loss occurred. Despite the changes that had taken place in my life, not much really changed for me at school. I dropped a few classes that I did not need in order to make room in my schedule to begin learning the blindness-related skills that I needed very much. Other than that, my schooling stayed relatively the same, and I learned a great deal because of it.

I learned my first real lesson about my blindness not from my teacher of the blind, but from my English teacher. When I returned to school, I was afraid that I had lost my ability to participate in the classroom. But my English teacher had a different idea. My AP English language class was starting a unit on The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. My English teacher did not ask me whether I would read the book and learn about it along with my classmates; she only asked me how I would read. She expected as much from me as she did from every other student. She held me responsible for every quiz, paper, and reading assignment, just as she did for everyone else.

My teacher's attitude really struck me as important. I saw that she did not care that I was blind. Even though I thought I was incapable of learning, she did not. She held me responsible and treated me the same as any other student. Because this teacher decided to treat me as a student who just happened to be blind, and not as a blind student, I began to realize that my blindness did not limit me.

At the end of my junior year I learned another lesson. I decided to take Academic Decathlon, (AcaDec) during my senior year. AcaDec is an intense nationwide program in which teams of students compete over a wide range of subjects, and practices started during the summer. The material for this class consisted of literally thousands of pages that were only available in print or PDF format. Most of my friends took AcaDec, and three of my favorite teachers were the coaches. Inspired by the lesson I had learned from my AP English Language teacher, I decided to take the course without thinking about whether I would be able to read the material.

It very quickly became apparent that the material for the course was completely inaccessible. There was no easy way for me to read any of the stuff I needed for the class. It was a daunting situation, but not once did any of the teachers suggest that the class might not be for me. Not once did any of them say that maybe I should pick a different class, one for which I would be able to access the materials. Not once! In fact, their reaction was quite the opposite. The teachers fought their hardest to make sure I could participate. One even offered to type up the thousands of pages of reading into a Word document so my screen reader would work. My teachers did not see me as a blind student who could not read any of the material, but as a student who deserved to be in AcaDec no matter what—and that really struck a chord with me. I realized that it did not matter that I was blind; what mattered was that I was a talented student who would do great in AcaDec.

When my teachers fought for me, they truly inspired me to know that it did not, does not, and will not matter that I am blind. I can do anything. In the end we found an app that converted the PDFs into speech. I made the AcaDec team, beating out a dozen of my sighted peers.

My teachers showed me that I am capable of anything. They did not treat me any differently than they treated their other students, and because of their attitude I stopped thinking of myself as different. I stopped believing that my blindness limited me and realized that I am capable of anything. I would like to thank all of my teachers who have taught me this lesson and so much more over the years. I would also like to send a message to teachers who are currently teaching students who are blind. Do not treat them as blind students; treat them as students first, students who just happen to be blind. Hold them to the same high standards to which you hold your other students. Show them, as my teachers showed me, that their blindness does not limit them in school or in life.

An Open Letter to Parents

by Barbara Pierce

Reprinted from Future Reflections, Volume 15, Number 3, Summer 1996

From the Editor: It is sometimes said that children in kindergarten through grade three learn to read, and after that they read to learn. When blind children are not taught an effective reading method, however, this adage is turned on its head. For decades the National Federation of the Blind has worked to ensure that blind children have the opportunity to learn Braille. The National Reading Media Assessment was developed as a tool to determine whether a child should read print, Braille, or a combination of the two. Nevertheless, too many blind and low-vision children continue to struggle through school without an effective way to read. In this article Barbara Pierce, a longtime leader in the NFB of Ohio and a past member of the Federation's national board of directors, recounts her own history with reading and makes a plea for Braille instruction.

Can you remember the intoxication of learning to read? I can. When I began first grade, the Scott-Foresman primers about the adventures of Dick, Jane, and Sally were in use. I still remember the picture of Dick standing on his shoulders in a pile of leaves, feet kicking in the air, while one of his sisters intoned the page's text, "Look at Dick! Funny, funny Dick!"

Had I but known it, those early weeks of first grade were the high point of my reading career. We gathered around the teacher in reading groups to sound out the words and falter our way through each page. I was good at it. I understood the principles of picking out the sounds of each letter and shoving them together rapidly enough to guess at the meaning. The result was that I was in the first reading group.

My success didn't last long. By second semester each page bore many more lines of print, and my mother was forced to work with me at home after school or before bedtime to help me keep up. I was what they called a low-vision child. I could see the print with only one eye. I am certain that I was legally blind, though no one ever used that word in my hearing. Mother placed a little lamp close to the page so I could see as well as possible, but the letters were still blurred, and I could never get the hang of reading an entire word at once.

By second grade I was in the second reading group, and by third grade I had slipped to the third group, despite the lamp now clipped to the side of my desk. I had to face the truth: I was dumb. I lay awake at night worrying about the increasing number of spelling workbook exercises left undone because my reading and writing were too slow to complete them in class. I still maintained an unbroken string of perfect spelling tests because my parents drilled me on the spelling lists every week. The tests were nothing, but the workbook! I fantasized about what it would be like to go to bed at night and not stare open-eyed into the black prospect of mortification when the truth about me and my incomplete work eventually came to my parents' notice.

It happened at the close of the third marking period, and it came, as such things do, like a bolt from the blue. I had actually brought home what I thought was a good report card—all As. I usually got Cs. Everybody knew that I was terrible at school because "Barbara's blind as a bat." But the dreaded unmasking of my shameful secret in the spelling workbook seemed to me to have remained hidden beneath an A for yet one more grading period. I handed my mother my report card and ran out to play. But when my brother and I were called in for dinner (Dad was out of town at the time), I knew that something was wrong. Mother had been crying, and she did not sit down to dinner with us. She said that she had a headache.

It soon became apparent that I was the headache. My report card had betrayed me after all. In all that hard-to-read small print at the bottom the teacher had given me a U (unsatisfactory) in the puts-forth-best-effort category, where I was used to getting Es (Excellent) or at least Ss (satisfactory).

Mother went to school the next day and learned the horrible truth about me. I was astonished to learn afterward that the relief of having my shameful secret out in the open actually reduced my burden. True, I had to make up all the work I had been avoiding because the reading had become too difficult. Play time was much reduced, and I had to learn all over again how to go to sleep without worrying, but things were never again as bad.

In the following years we tried magnifying glasses for my good right eye, and the summer after fourth grade I had to be tutored in an effort to learn to read with high magnification. In September of fifth grade my new teacher called on me to read a paragraph in the geography book during the class lesson. I read like a second grader, and I was mortified. The teacher never called on me again. By sixth grade I was hardly using the glasses at all. I was quick to learn as long as I didn't have to struggle to make sense of the print, and it was easier on everyone for the teacher to assign a rapid reader to work with me on in-class reading projects.

Finally, at the close of seventh grade, my parents faced the painful truth: if I were to have any hope of literacy, I would have to learn Braille. Print was no longer an option. I mastered the Braille code in a summer of weekly lessons taught by a woman who used Braille herself, though she admitted that she was not a good Braille reader. She assured me that her husband could read Braille rapidly, but I never heard him or anyone else use the code efficiently. People told me it was important to use my Braille and that practice would increase my speed. But by that point in my education, I had already worked out alternative ways of getting my reading and writing done. I was no longer eager to crawl down a page of text as we had done in early elementary school. I practiced writing Braille with my slate and stylus because I knew that in college I would need a good way of taking notes in lectures, but I never made time to learn to read Braille properly.

Now that I am a member of the National Federation of the Blind, I know hundreds of people who read Braille easily and well. Some of them could not see print when they were beginning school, so Braille was the only option for them. But many more could make out print when they were learning to read, even though as adults they cannot see it. They were lucky enough to be taught Braille along with print, and they simply and naturally learned to decide which method would be most useful for each reading task. As a result they now read Braille at several hundred words a minute.

I have never regretted learning to read print. Everyone should know the shapes of print letters. But I will always bitterly regret that I was not taught Braille as a small child. Today I am struggling to gain the speed and accuracy in reading Braille that I should have had by the time I was ten. I have now been working at it for six years, and my reading speed has tripled, but I must face the fact that I will probably never read as well as a bright ten-year-old. Setting aside the fact that the adult brain does not master new skills as rapidly as does a child's, I cannot bring myself to practice reading aloud to my long-suffering family. The time for taking advantage of such an opportunity is childhood, and I cannot inflict my stumbling reading on my husband.

If my mother could speak to you who are facing the dilemma of whether or not to demand that your children learn Braille, she would urge you to decide in favor of Braille. No matter how clearly a youngster can see print at the moment, if the vision is fragile or problematic in any way, Braille will often become invaluable in the future, even if print, too, continues to be useful. I urge you to keep your child's options open and your expectations high. All young things need space to stretch and grow within their innate abilities. Please insist that your child be given a chance.

Story of Ele

by Naomi Mills

Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 60, Number 11, December 2017

From the Editor: Naomi Mills is a nine-year-old student who attended the BELL Academy (Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning) in northern Virginia. She created and Brailled this story herself. Naomi's mother sent this story to the Braille Monitor to share Naomi's creativity and enjoyment of the BELL Program. Her note to Nancy Yeager, who coordinated the program, follows the story. We have refrained from editing to preserve the authenticity of the piece.

Far away across the Atlantic Ocean in Africa an elephant was born. Her name was Ele. At the age of five she complained about her eyes. Her mother suggested resting for a little bit.

The next day Ele's eyes hurt even more than yesterday. Finally her mother took her to the doctor. The doctor said that Ele has to go to an eye doctor. It was a couple of hours until they got there. The eye doctor said that Ele has an eye disease that could worsen. Ele was sad. Ele's birthday is January 25 and it is January 24. So Ele's birthday is tomorrow.

It was Ele's birthday and one of her presents were glasses! Ele was so excited. She wore them everywhere. She even wore them in bed. Only her family knew that Ele was blind.

When she showed up to school all her friends were shocked. They were all confused. Even the teacher was confused. Ele didn't care though.

Description of Ele

An elephant named Ele. She is blind. She uses a guide dog that is always scared of Ele's trunk. Ele has pink ears and a pointy nose, so pointy that to people it's like a knife. Ele lives in Africa with her mother, father and her brother named Jason. Ele's favorite color is yellow. Her body is plain yellow. She has blue eyes. She loves to wear just one color.

Her hobbies are cooking with her mom, looking at her cell phone, and playing with Jason. Ele is thirty-five years old. Ele wishes she could see but the ophthalmologist said that there is no cure for her disease. But she kind of likes being blind. She can do many things that her friends can't do, like learn Braille and other stuff. Ele is so happy that she's a part of this world.

The End

Miss Nancy,

I typed it the way Naomi read it. I did not add punctuation, nor change verb agreements. I really like this story. It reminds me of Naomi.

She loved BELL this year, and two years ago. We would love it if Arlington can do one next year, too! We would go!!!

Thank you, Nancy. You are a sweet blessing!

Kathie Mills


by Justin Salisbury

Reprinted from Braille Monitor, February 2018, Volume 61, Number 2

From the Editor: Justin Salisbury teaches at the rehabilitation center for the blind in Honolulu, Hawaii. In this article he shares an incident that occurred as he was on a travel lesson with two of his students, and he explains how it added a new word to his vocabulary.

When I meet my new students, I take the time to talk with them to get to know them a little bit. I like to learn each student's story, family structure, hobbies, career goals, motivations, and things like that. I enjoy getting to know people anyway, but it tends to improve the quality of instructional time, too.

Here in Hawaii we have a very high immigrant population. When I meet immigrant students, I often ask them what has brought them to the United States. Frequently I get answers about leaving areas of civil unrest or pursuing greater educational or economic opportunity. One student told me that he came to the United States to get better at speaking English. It turned out that he spoke many languages, and he had worked as a private language tutor for many years. When working with him, I always had to be on my toes to hear when he would drop a new word that I needed to add to my vocabulary. At the end of such lessons, when we would debrief in my office, I would write down these new words and their definitions. For the sake of this story I will refer to this student as Jim.

One day on a group travel lesson, Jim coined a new word that captured an important concept. I took Jim and another student to find the post office in downtown Honolulu. I gave them the directions myself and wanted to see how well they could follow them. When we got on the Number 4 bus, Jim sat somewhere down on the bottom level behind the disability seats—we don't use those during training. The other student and I went to sit near the very back of the bus.

When we got to King and Punchbowl, the stop where we had agreed to get off the bus, only Jim and I did so. The other student, it appeared, had lost his focus and had inadvertently given himself an entirely different kind of travel assignment. Upon exiting, Jim began calling the name of his classmate to regroup with him on the sidewalk. We both realized that his classmate was not there.

Jim became noticeably upset and passionately declared that his classmate had been ecorched. For pronunciation, this word begins like "ecosystem" and rhymes with "scorched." I had to slow Jim down to help him relax and focus, but I also wanted to know what this word meant. He explained that a sapling tree that has been ecorched has had all of the bark stripped off from it. The tree is still alive, but it will inevitably dry out and die. Such a sapling tree will never survive to reach its potential. I could not help but laugh at the imagery.

Jim asked if I was going to call the bus company to see what they could do. I told him that I was sure his classmate would figure something out, and I suggested that we proceed to find the post office without him.

Sure enough, after we had walked about fifty yards down the sidewalk, I received a call from his classmate. He sounded a little stressed out. He told me that he had realized that he had missed our stop and then gotten off the bus. He was at the Alapai Transit Center, a major transit center that was completely unfamiliar to him. Someone had given him directions to the post office from there, but I told him not to worry about finding the post office and just hop on a Number 13 bus to go back to the training center. I figured this would fall within his optimal level of challenge.

During our trip back to the training center, Jim and I had some time to debrief. I asked him how he spelled the word "ecorched," which he explained to me. Since he spoke so many languages, I asked him about the etymology of the word. He explained that it was derived from a French verb, icorcer, and he was making an English word out of it. He told me that another use of the word was to describe a military strategic move where a commanding officer would assign a disliked subordinate to a maneuver that was sure to get him killed. In other words, a commanding officer could ecorch a subordinate by sending him into a battle ill-equipped against much stronger forces. Jim told me it was almost a form of human sacrifice. He said that he coined the word out of his strong emotion. I was excited to finally have a word for an instructional transgression of which we are so often accused.

This experience and newly-coined word encapsulate many important themes in blindness rehabilitation, especially some misperceptions about Structured Discovery, a model developed by members of the National Federation of the Blind. The National Federation of the Blind operates three training centers on this philosophy, and three state-run training centers are accredited on this model as well. I am proud to work at one of them.

Structured Discovery is based on a belief that blind people are normal people and that we must do more than simply learn alternative techniques. We must take the time to achieve an emotional adjustment to blindness so that we truly come to think of ourselves as normal people. We must develop confidence in our own ability to function and compete. We must learn how to blend into sighted society. Good practitioners take an active role in the organized blind movement to help us move toward full equality and inclusion. Sometimes we use teaching methods that demonstrate that we expect much more of students than they expect of themselves and more than those around them have expected.

Why did I leave that student on the bus instead of making him get off at King and Punchbowl? He had struggled with paying attention to stop announcements on buses many times before. He was advanced enough in training that he would be able to problem-solve and make it back to the training center. After all, it was easier than a drop route. If I had told him that we were at our stop, it would have taught him that it was not necessary for him to pay attention for stop announcements because somebody else would do it for him.

I am writing this article about two months after this experience, and I am pleased to report that this student has been on his game with stop announcements ever since and shows no nervousness about going to unfamiliar transit centers. He had a valuable problem-solving experience that day when he arrived in a completely unfamiliar transit center and had to find his way back. I told him which bus to take in order to help him have some direction and keep him from stressing out too badly, but if it happened today, I would probably just tell him to figure it out.

As a student progresses in training, the challenges get harder. We do not set people up to fail or be overwhelmed, but we always push them to the next level. We need them to understand in their hearts, based on experience, that they can function on their own and that blindness does not necessitate an instructor to help them travel.

Some professionals in the blindness field might contend that it is unsafe or mean to allow a student to have those kinds of experiences. There are some who would say that I did ecorch my student that day. I am proud to be a part of a training center whose staff and students have cracked jokes about that word ever since that day because we understand that students can and should be allowed to make mistakes. Some blindness professionals are afraid to let their students make mistakes and contend that mistakes break a student's confidence. On the contrary, we demonstrate every day that the process of learning to overcome mistakes can build a student's confidence. I do not allow the risk of getting lost or of students being challenged to prevent me from pushing them to their limits. This is a necessary part of finding the frontier and then advancing it further. Some days my students do fail, but we talk about the problems and conquer them another time.

I would never be able to teach the way that I do if not for my training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and I feel bad for those blindness professionals who are attempting to teach alternative techniques and understandings of blindness which they do not possess themselves. It is not necessary that I be a blind person to do this; I know some sighted cane travel instructors who are proficient travelers under sleepshades and can hold a great philosophical discussion. I have no problem letting students make mistakes because I know from experience that correction is possible. When we let students make mistakes, they learn not to be afraid of making mistakes on their own. This opens the door for experimentation and innovation. Yes, blind people are capable of these things, too, and these abilities make us better contributors on the job and in society in general. I am glad that I now have a word for the thing that I never do to my students: ecorch.

Why I Love My Cane and What It Means to Me

by Jasmyn Polite

From the Editor: Jasmyn Polite has had low vision all her life. She finally became a confident user of the long white cane after she graduated from high school. In this article she writes about the sense of freedom that the cane has given her.
Imagine having limited side vision, also known as tunnel vision, where you are not able to see what's on your sides or what's coming from up and down, such as a flight of steps or a fallen branch lying across the sidewalk. This is where the long white cane comes in handy. Canes are great because they allow you to feel whether there is an object or drop-off in front of you. Let me tell you about my experience using a cane and how it has affected my life.
I started learning to use my cane in fourth grade at my school, the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind (FSDB). At that time I really didn't use my cane very much because I was afraid that people outside my blind community would make fun of me. I only used my cane at school. Even there I avoided using it outside of orientation and mobility lessons with my instructor.

One day I was running to a Christmas party near Wortman Hall in the deaf department of FSDB. I didn't have my cane with me because I thought I would be fine without it, since I had some sight. However, I was wrong! As I was running I didn't see a curb. Boom! I tripped and fell. My knees were hurt, and I scraped my hands on the concrete. I knew I should have brought my cane with me so I wouldn't get hurt. I should have remembered that I had glaucoma and I couldn't see well, especially since it was dark out. This incident taught me that my cane is very important.

Over the years that followed I started using my cane, with assistance from my orientation and mobility instructor. After I graduated from FSDB I moved to Iowa, where I met my mentor, Ted Hart, through the National Federation of the Blind. He started helping me with my cane skills. He gave me constructive criticism on how to use my cane more effectively. His advice helped me improve my travel skills and build confidence in myself as a visually-impaired person. Today I use my cane everywhere I go. I enjoy the feeling of being independent without getting hurt.

Whenever I use my cane, whether it's at school or in other places I go to, I get questions from people around me. They ask me things like, "How do you walk across the street?" and "How well can you see?" I try to answer their questions politely and educate them about blindness. My advice to anyone who is blind or visually impaired is to consider your safety and ignore what people think of you. At the end of the day, you know best what tools in your life will help you be safe!

In my heart I know that my cane keeps me from getting into trouble with things such as puddles, broken sidewalks, and parking meters. Ever since I was a little kid, I've always loved to travel. Now that I know how to use my cane the right way, I enjoy traveling more—and I'm traveling safely!

Play Ball and Teach Sound Localization to Blind Students

by Liz Wisecarver

Reprinted from Blog on Blindness
July 17, 2015

From the Editor: The Blog on Blindness of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness (PDRIB) at Louisiana Tech University provides a compendium of articles on teacher training, the education of blind students, and the lived experience of blind people. This article offers practical suggestions for teaching sound localization and encouraging freedom of movement in blind children. Liz Wisecarver teaches orientation and mobility in public schools in Louisiana and Mississippi. She also works with BELL Academies and other youth programs in Louisiana and Texas. She and her husband live in Texas, where she coordinates the Texas NFB-NEWSLINE® program.

Blind people and those who teach cane travel must learn to pay attention to the environment beyond the tip of the cane. We must listen to traffic, people around us, music from nearby shops, echoes caused by our tapping, and sometimes even the information from a GPS. Sound localization is the ability to identify the location of a sound and determine its distance from us. Students can improve their sound localization with practice.

There are several ways to help students develop sound localization. The cane travel instructor may have the student stand near a busy street, point toward approaching vehicles, and answer questions about the location of sounds in the environment. But this sort of top-down approach may not hold the interest of active young children for very long.

In my years of teaching, I have found that children learn more easily by playing games. Many important cane travel concepts, including sound localization, can be taught using accessible athletic balls with bells, rattles, or beepers inside.

Take the student to a quiet, open area such as the gym or an empty hallway. It's most fun when all of the players wear sleepshades and use canes. Start by asking the student to clap or speak so you can hear where he or she is standing. Then roll the ball to the student, who can hear it approach and stop it from rolling away.

Encourage the student to find the ball with the cane. If the ball rolls away, teach the student to find it by sweeping the cane in a wide arc and walking in a grid pattern to make certain the entire area has been searched. Clap or speak so the student can tell where to roll the ball to as well.

Once the student rolls and catches the ball a few times, have him kick the ball along the floor and follow it. The idea is to keep the ball rolling without letting it stop. Let him practice tossing or punting the ball. If you have a basketball, he can find the net with his cane and practice shooting a basket.

You will be surprised how well most kids respond to playing simple games with noisy balls. I have fond memories of rolling a rattling soccer ball back and forth in the hall with young kids, kicking it around the dark apartment with my boys in the STEP program (Summer Training and Employment Project) at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and seeing blind teenagers run and kick a ball completely uninhibited for the first time.

Unfortunately, many blind kids do not get the opportunity to run and play like their sighted peers. Playing simple games with balls that make noise may spark an interest in goalball or other adaptive sports, sports they never before considered. Students will improve their sound localization, gain confidence, and improve their perception of blindness.

Let's Dance: How I Dealt with Choreography

by Kelsey Nicolay

From the Editor: For blind and low-vision students, choreography adds significant challenges to participation in a choir or ensemble. In this article Kelsey Nicolay describes what worked and what didn't work for her when she took part in high school choral groups. Kelsey went on to complete a double major in French and communications at Ashland University. She works full-time as a record research specialist for Concept Ltd., researching and completing projects within the company's database.

I had been singing in choir since the fourth grade without much difficulty. However, one day during my freshman year in high school, the chorus director gave us the music we would be performing at the end-of-year show, and choreography was included. I was really nervous about how it would go for me. How would I learn the moves? Could I use my cane to get on and off the stage?

My choir director assured me that I would participate like everyone else. We would find ways to make it happen. The choir director chose an experienced dancer who was in show choir to come in and help me. It worked out really well.

The person the director found seemed to know instinctively that once I learned the moves, I would be capable of doing them on my own. As soon as she felt I was ready, she insisted that I do as much as I could without her touching my arms. After we worked together for a week she said, "I'm not going to help you much today. I want you to be able to do it on your own during performance."

I didn't do the moves perfectly the first few times I tried them alone. However, I knew I would learn them with repetition, and I did. By the time the performance was two weeks away, I could do almost all of it alone. My assistant could simply watch from a distance and correct me when necessary.
My choir performance went pretty well, and I was mostly successful in the show. However, I also took part in another performance during the show, and there I encountered a few setbacks.

Like most students in choir, I chose to take part in my grade's student-led ensemble. Our ensemble auditioned for the show, and we were among the groups that were selected. When it came time for me to learn our choreography, the choreographer commented that he tried doing the ensemble's dance steps with his eyes closed, and he couldn't do it. Based on that experience he concluded that I wouldn't be able to do the choreography, either.

I felt devastated. I had been working hard in choir and had accomplished so much, yet he told me I couldn't perform the choreography in the student ensemble. The choir director decided to let me perform anyway, but I would just sing the number with the ensemble without dancing. I was grateful he let me do that, but at the same time I felt robbed of an opportunity to prove myself. From this experience I learned that it is important to stay positive and keep trying to change minds, even when others don't believe you will succeed.

During my sophomore and junior years, my experiences with choreography were discouraging. When I was a sophomore the choir director found someone to work with me. However, this person did not have the same high expectations as the student who helped me when I was a freshman. Instead of encouraging me to do the moves on my own, she insisted on standing behind me and moving my arms. It took a lot longer for me to learn the moves, and on stage during performance she still had to help me with most of the choreography. The choir director allowed her to be on stage with me, overlooking the fact that she was practically doing the choreography for me.

My family, friends, and teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) all commented that there was no reason for my assistant to be helping me on stage. After both my numbers my TVI told me that I could have done almost everything myself.

I participated in the student ensemble again during my junior year. The ensemble was comprised of the people I had been with in the freshman group, but they were all in higher choirs than I was. They knew me, and my blindness didn't seem to be a big deal to them until it was time for us to learn the choreography. The group leader chose to make up the choreography herself instead of having our choreographer do it.

When it came time for dance rehearsals I encountered a lot of confusion and miscommunication. My choir director told me one person would be teaching me, my assistant told me something different, and another student in my choir said she was going to teach me. Finally, I called one of the students who had helped me in freshman chorus. She agreed to start teaching me the next day. However, by that time the performance was only a week off. I ended up dropping the group at the last minute because I could not learn the arm movements in time.

My senior year I was determined to perform well, since this was my last chance as a high school student. I told my director that I wanted someone to help me learn the choreography, and I explained that I did not want the assistant to be on stage with me. The director had a hard time finding someone who was free when choir class was held, during the first period of the day. When she finally found someone, though, it worked out fine. From the beginning this person believed that I could do the moves by myself. Once I felt confident, I did everything on my own. My assistant was right there, but he never interfered when I didn't need him. It also helped that my sister was in the same choir as I was. Sometimes she worked with me at home to correct my mistakes.

That year I also participated in senior ensemble. I got off to a shaky start. One of the girls in the group knew me from choir, and she offered to teach me the choreography. However, she had the expectation that I needed constant help, and she stood behind me and moved my arms all during our rehearsals. Then two students whom I knew from middle school told me that they had decided to teach me instead. I met with them outside of class, and we went through the dance moves together. I learned the routine in an hour. By the end of our session I was doing it with very little assistance.

The performance went really well, and my family told me that I fit right in. That is exactly what I wanted!

Based on these experiences, I have several suggestions for students in a similar situation. The most important piece of advice is to be confident. It may be difficult at times, but try to stay positive. Second, self-advocacy is critical. Whether you are not getting the help you need or you are getting help that you don't need, speak up. Talk to the person who is helping you and let him or her know that you want to do the moves on your own. It may be uncomfortable to bring this up with a teacher or a fellow student, but as long as you do it tactfully, there should be no problem. You can also ask your TVI or orientation and mobility instructor for help. One of them may be able to help if you are struggling with a particular dance move. Overall, speak up if things aren't going the way they should.

Finally, show appreciation. For example, giving the people who helped you learn the choreography some flowers or a gift card to their favorite restaurant goes a long way. People will be more likely to help you in future ensembles if they know their work is valued.

Taking Life by the Reins

by Melissa Carney

Reprinted from the blog of the National Association of Blind Students, March 2018

From the Editor: Melissa Carney is completing a double major in English and psychology at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. She won an NFB scholarship in 2017.

When most of us think of sports, we think of soccer, football, basketball, or baseball. We might love to participate in these sports, but as blind students we often dwell on the accompanying accessibility issues. It can be difficult at times to conceptualize, let alone overcome, the barriers in the path. However, certain sports automatically place us on the same playing field as our sighted peers. Horseback riding is often portrayed as a leisurely activity, but it requires just as much skill and athleticism as any other sport. Unlike team sports that involve throwing and catching balls, however, horseback riding is naturally accessible.

I began horseback riding when I was four years old. I still remember the joy that consumed me every time I sat on a horse's back. At first I didn't know exactly what that joy meant, but it didn't take me long to dissect its meaning. That joy was the epiphany of freedom, the gratification of equality.

As I grew older, I was told no or you can't more times than I can count. Horseback riding was one area of my life where I felt that I could excel without the fear of being yanked backward. When I was in the saddle, no one equated my visual impairment with fragility or an inability to thrive. For once no limitations were imposed upon me. My blindness even may have given me an advantage; my sense of touch provided me with excellent balance and a keen awareness of the horse's movements. I was free to take reasonable risks, free to fail and try again until I succeeded. I was given the same opportunities as my sighted peers.

For the first few years, an assistant helped me guide my horse around the arena while I learned to balance my weight, settle into the proper position, execute turns, and ask the horse for different gaits. Soon enough, upon my instructor's request, the assistant stepped back. The reins, and ultimately the control of the horse, were firmly placed in my hands. The instructor placed her complete faith in my abilities. She had the utmost confidence that I could be an independent rider, and she continued to challenge me. She encouraged me to create and pursue my greatest aspirations.

When I was eight years old, I began to utilize echolocation in order to navigate indoor arenas. I no longer had to depend on the verbal cues of others; I could use unique parts of my own skill set. As I traveled around the perimeter of the arena I was able to sense each wall and opening. Directions became a secondary focus. Now that I could manage the navigational aspects of horseback riding, my instructor was able to teach me more intensive balance exercises and maneuvers. Blindness enhanced my mobility, rather than inhibiting it.

When I was ten years old, I ventured out on my first cross-country ride. At first I rode through the woods alongside my instructor. She gave me verbal cues to take the proper turns and change the horse's gait. The footing and terrain were much more diverse than I was used to, so my skills were thoroughly tested. Before long I began to ride with a group of other students. My instructor focused equal amounts of attention on each of us; I was never treated as the weak link. My friends often forgot that I was blind, and didn't shout warnings about low-hanging branches until the very last minute. I wasn't offended by their forgetfulness; I was flattered. I was not treated as a liability or lesser human being. I was treated as their equal in equestrianship.

My instructor taught me to jump at the same time she taught the other students. Everyone worked as a team to show me the correct jumping position. My fellow students worked together to problem-solve tricky situations. They cheered me on over every fence, much as they had supported me over every metaphorical hurdle. My instructor counted down for the jumps while my friends gave me verbal directions for steering purposes. There were times when I made mistakes, times when I almost fell off the horse, but I was not fazed. Every false start or jolting landing was a learning experience, a reminder of what I could improve upon in the future.

For the next several years, I competed in horse shows, learned dressage, and jumped cross-country. I helped a nonprofit, therapeutic horseback riding center for students with disabilities with its fundraising efforts by giving demonstrations and speeches about my experiences as a blind horseback rider. I did everything in my power to show the disabled community that exercise, teamwork, and self-satisfaction are possible. I do not agree that people with disabilities should be sheltered or discouraged from pursuing sports. Everyone deserves a chance to take meaningful risks, explore different passions, and discover the beauty of true equality.

People have told me that I am brave because I horseback ride. I don't view my passion as an instance of bravery. My visual impairment is simply an occasional obstacle that pushes me to work harder. I ride for the whistle of wind in my hair, laughter with genuine friends, and the exhilaration of completing complex tasks. I ride for the companionship between horse and rider. I cannot drive a car or chase a silent soccer ball, but I can participate in an accessible sport that happens to be one of the most rigorous forms of exercise.

My life has never been easy or predictable, between a cancer diagnosis at two years old, discrimination in the classroom, and countless other obstacles that have appeared in my path. That is why I capture every opportunity to take the reins into my own hands whenever possible. Horseback riding enables me to find a greater sense of freedom and peace. It takes away so many of the societal barriers that work against me. In this space, there are no fights for equal access, no condescending tones, and no low expectations. There is only me, a horse, and a group of people who look at me as a horseback rider, not as a blind person. There is nothing more empowering than being seen for your ability rather than your disability. The only barriers I encounter here are literal jumps.

My Life in 4-H

by Kaitlyn Ryan

From the Editor: Kaitlyn Ryan has attended several of the STEM-based summer programs sponsored by the NFB Jernigan Institute. She is attending BLIND, Inc., in Minneapolis to build her skills and confidence before she enters college.

My family has farmed in the area around Viola, Illinois, for generations, and nearly everyone has been involved in 4-H. 4-H is a worldwide youth organization that has been around since 1902. The name comes from the organization's motto, "Head, heart, hands, and health." The 4-H slogan is, "Learn by doing," and the organization focuses on hands-on activities.

Because of my family's involvement it was naturally assumed that I would join 4-H. Nobody ever suggested that my blindness would be a problem. In fact, the 4-H leaders in my town encouraged me to take part. I have been a 4-H member since I was six, and the organization has really helped shape my life.

In rural areas most children involved in 4-H raise animals of some kind, and I was no exception. I raised goats, and when I was eight I began to show my animals at county and state fairs. At a show you lead the goat into a ring and set up its legs, which means that you put the goat into the proper stance for the judges to evaluate it. You set the legs evenly, as though each hoof were at the corner of a square. I start training my goats for showing every April. I walk them around in the yard, and then I pause and set up their legs. By the summer when I show them, they know what to expect, and they hold still when I set their legs in the square formation. It just takes a lot of patience, a lot of repetition.

Through 4-H I've absorbed many values that are important in life. I learned responsibility because I had to feed my animals every day and make sure they are doing well. Later on I learned to manage finances. I had to keep a budget to pay for feed and vet bills. Another thing 4-H taught me is self-discipline. I had to take care of my animals all year long, even in the freezing winter and in the summer when it was really hot.

I also have had the opportunity to do some public speaking through 4-H. Once I gave a talk about physical fitness. Another time I spoke about blindness and the assistive technology that I use as a blind student.

For me as a blind person, growing up in a small town has had some real advantages. Everybody knows my family, so everybody knows me. People have seen what I can do, and they're not afraid to include me and to let me try new things. The major down side, though, is that out in the country there is no public transportation. It was really hard when everybody else my age was learning to drive.

Moving up to Minneapolis to go to BLIND, Inc., will be a big change for me. I'll have to deal with city traffic and learn to take the buses and the light rail. I'll also have to get used to being around lots and lots of total strangers. Meanwhile, back home, I know my goats are in good hands. My parents will take very good care of them while I'm away.

Mutual Welfare and Benefit

by Sara Luna

Reprinted from Illinois Independent, Summer 2018

From the Editor: Sara Luna is a history major at North Park University. This article is based on a presentation she gave at the Midwest Student Seminar that was sponsored by the National Association of Blind Students (NABS) and the Illinois Association of Blind Students (IABS). The seminar took place in Chicago in April 2018.

I've been involved in judo for eight-and-a-half years. You may be wondering, what is judo exactly? Judo consists mainly of throws, pins, and submissions such as chokes and arm locks. There are more than forty throws in judo, and there is a plethora of ways to get into pins and submissions. The sport originated in Japan 136 years ago.

Here's a fun trivia fact for you. Judo is the second most played sport in the world, next to soccer—despite the fact that it is not very popular in the United States. It is hugely popular in Japan, Russia, and Brazil, and pretty much all around the world except for this country.
When I was a kid sports were not very important to me. I didn't want to play conventional sports such as basketball or soccer. I knew that as a legally blind player I would be at a disadvantage with my sighted peers. I never caught on to adaptive sports such as beep baseball; they just didn't click with me. But judo was different.

I got into judo when Chicago was trying to get the bid for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Judo is one of the few sports that is in both the Olympics and the Paralympics. I did it because my friends were doing it. The thought of learning to throw someone was pretty intriguing.

There are very few differences in the ways sighted and visually-impaired players participate in the sport. We learn all the same techniques. That meant the world to twelve-year-old me! After years of feeling left out of conventional sports and not really catching onto blind sports, suddenly I was involved in a sport where I could participate to the same extent as my sighted peers. That was so empowering! It gave me confidence I had never had before.

I look at my journey in judo as being defined by judo's principles. For my first five-and-a-half years, my participation was defined by judo's first principle, which is maximum efficiency with minimum effort. You don't need to be the biggest or strongest person in order to succeed. You can be small and agile and win against someone who is bigger than you are. You can use momentum and leverage to win.

Judo is a high contact sport. As visually-impaired players we start at the center of the mat. We begin by getting our grips, which means that we take hold of each other. If we completely break contact at any time during the match, we're taken back to the center and told to begin again. Sighted players start ten feet apart and have to fight for the contact they want.

My dojo, or club, is the Menomonee Judo Club. It is really wonderful. Everyone there is like family to me. In 2012 we were named the Paralympic Judo National Training Site. That title means that, of all the judo clubs in the country, we are the best for training people who are blind or visually impaired. The only other club with a similar distinction is the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

During my first five years I focused on competing. I was able to compete on the national stage twice, and I represented Team USA in four international tournaments. Training for these competitions taught me a lot about myself. My teammates and coaches did so much for me. They pushed me to be better than I ever imagined I could be. They forced me to do more rounds of sparring when I was tired and just wanted to curl up in a ball somewhere. They never gave up on me when I didn't understand a new technique, and they wouldn't let me give up on myself. It meant so much to me to have a supportive team of people who had my back and wouldn't let me settle for second best.

For the past three-and-a-half years, my focus has shifted to embrace the second principle of judo: mutual welfare and benefit. This principle means that we all help each other learn. I've also embraced the third principle, which states that if something is really good to you, you should give back.

I stopped competing in the summer of 2015, after my last tournament in Toronto, Canada. After that I wanted to focus on giving back. I do that by teaching classes at my club. I have helped with about 75 percent of our programs, and it has been very rewarding!

At my club we have people who participate at various levels. Some people just do judo for fun. We've had whole families get involved. We have programs for people who are visually impaired, people who are hearing impaired, people who have autism, and disabled veterans. Judo is all-inclusive—everyone can participate.

This week I helped teach four different classes. I taught a women's class, a class for the Special Olympics (people with autism and Asperger's), a class of three- to eight-year-olds (I call them my little monsters when they don't listen), and a middle-school class. It's not easy, but it's so much fun!

We don't have a lot of black belts in my club, but we have a big team of higher-ranked students who aren't black belts yet. They help out by teaching at our various programs all around the city. In a given week we may teach people who are three years old and people in their fifties and sixties. We teach people of every age and ability level.

When I was competing, I got a rush and a joy from winning a match. But the joy and sense of fulfillment I get from knowing I have helped run a good class, that the people in the class left better than when they started that day, is so fulfilling! I had many excellent teachers, and I wouldn't be where I am today without them.

I have a third-degree brown belt. That means that I am two levels away from getting my black belt. From my second-degree brown belt I need my first-degree brown belt, and then I can get my black belt. It's utterly baffling to me that I have come so far!

I remember the first time I threw someone. It was very empowering. Now I see people throw someone for the first time, and when they light up it melts my heart.

Thinking about the principle of mutual welfare and benefit, I realize that we don't just learn from the senseis (teachers). We learn from each other. If I'm struggling with something and the senseis are busy, I can ask another student who has a brown belt or higher colored belt. I can say, "Can you watch this technique and give me some input?"

I want to tell you about something that happened when I first started judo. When we bow in and bow out, we stand in two lines. A line of students faces a line of senseis and student helpers, who are called senpais. When I was a kid I would look at the line of senseis and senpais, and I would always wonder, What does it take to get into that line? What do I have to do to get there? Now, when I help teach classes, I'm in that line. Now I know that it takes years of hard work and dedication to get there.

I will close by saying what we say to each other when we bow out of class. When we bow we all say, "Arigatou gozaimasu," which means, "Thank you very much."

Driving Blind on the Information Superhighway: The New and Improved Rules of the Road

by Amy Mason

Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 61, Number 1, January 2018

\From the Editor: Amy Mason is on the staff of the International Braille and Technology Center at the NFB Jernigan Institute in Baltimore. This article is the first in a series through which Amy will try to take some of the mystery out of surfing the web for blind users. With the right tools and training, blind people can use the web as efficiently as sighted folks, and have just as much fun.

Back in the dark ages of computing (the Nineties), the world was fascinated and confused by Sir Tim Berners-Lee's 1989 invention: the World Wide Web. We didn't really know what to do with it, why or how to use it, or even what to call it. Before settling on the more commonly known terms, calling it "the web" or "the internet," we tried out some very unusual and unique terms. One of my personal favorites has always been "the Information Superhighway." The idea of a road trip, with its breathtaking opportunities for discovery, silly sing-alongs, car games, and yes, real dangers and risks, has always seemed an apt metaphor for what the internet makes possible.

According to Berners-Lee, "The power of the web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect." Sadly, on our more frustrating days, a more overused and untrue phrase has seldom been uttered.

When viewing the web and its history with a cynical eye, a blind person may conclude that we have always and will always trail behind in access to technology, and, by extension, in access to the internet. For instance, in 1995 JAWS for Windows 3.1 was released, while at the same time sighted users were humming "Start Me Up," and exploring Windows 95 with all the excitement of a child on Christmas morning or an Apple fan on iPhone launch day. We gained access to Windows 95 a year later. We have seen many products fall into this mold. By the time many notetakers make their way through development, they seem comically behind mainstream devices. Somehow, more than twenty-five years on, we still have to educate developers on the importance of labeling graphics, buttons, and form fields.

Even so, the internet has changed the lives of millions of blind people for the better. Tools such as Bookshare have unlocked more books than ever before. As we deal with correspondence and other business using print-reading technology and online applications, many of us have cut our time with human readers from an hour or two a day or perhaps two to four hours per week to an inconceivable hour or two each week. Even shopping and transportation have been transformed.

When the web was new, it was as though we had set out in a Model T. We couldn't go far or fast, but everything was new and exciting. Today we are driving on an eight-lane interstate highway. In many ways, using the web, like driving the interstate, has lost some of its thrill of adventure. To others it's still marvelous and exciting in all new ways. The road is flatter, smoother, and generally in better repair. The speeds are faster. The perils have changed. New roadside attractions, amenities, and pitfalls exist. On-ramps, off-ramps, seedy motels, gas stations, and restaurants have transformed our expectations while traveling. Even the cars we drive are unrecognizable when we compare them to those we used twenty years ago.

To get the most out of this faster, busier, more complex internet, we need to learn what the signs mean, understand the strengths and weaknesses of our browsers and other tools, and have a proper understanding of what accessibility and access to the web mean. Therefore, today I'm going to start by taking you to school—driving school, to be exact.
Welcome to Driving School!

Definitions and Concepts

Greetings, class. In today's lesson we are going to discuss what you need to know before you get behind the wheel of your shiny new car—I mean browser. If you've been using the web for a while, you may be rolling your eyes at the idea of learning anything new in a definitions and concepts course. I'm going to ask that you play along, just so we have a shared vocabulary going forward.

If you are very new to the idea of browsing the web, you will probably want to spend some time with a one-on-one coach or, barring that, some very good tutorials on how this whole web browsing thing works. But I want at least to lay out the general terms you will hear throughout the rest of these articles. If you are more experienced, please feel free to skim past this section, but do so at your own risk. Now for the definitions:

The internet: The network made up of all computers and other devices that are connected in order to allow them to communicate. Everything you do that involves your computer talking with another computer outside of your home network involves information traveling across this network in one form or another. This includes email, the bank statement you downloaded yesterday, and videos of kittens purring on YouTube.

The World Wide Web: This is often what people mean when they say they were on the internet. It is made up of many unique locations, known as web pages or websites, that are put up by government entities, companies, organizations, and individuals.

Web pages/websites: These are individual locations on the worldwide web, or web for short. Some websites you may know about include www.nfb.org, the National Federation of the Blind's website; www.google.com, the world's most heavily used search engine (a site to search for information from the web); www.facebook.com, a large website where people can communicate; and www.amazon.com, a big online store.

Web browser/browser: The software you use to view and interact with web pages. Common examples include Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.

Links: These are the connections from one website to another or from one piece of information to another. When you activate a link, you will be taken to the information it connects to.

Buttons: These perform actions, such as submitting a form or rearranging information when you activate them.

Headings: Information on websites is laid out so that people can skim for the information most relevant to them. In print, headings are bigger, bolder, or otherwise more noticeable than other text on the page. Blind users can use a screen reader to jump among headings in order to find information more quickly as well.

Landmarks: A new way to organize websites, you can think of Landmarks as big buckets that separate large parts of a website from one another, like the links at the top (sometimes called navigation) from the article in the middle.

Text Fields: This is where you can type a piece of information onto the web; some screen readers announce these as "text area" for large ones and "text field" for small ones.

Radio Buttons: Like the buttons on an older car radio, only one of these can be selected from a group at a time.

Checkboxes: Like radio buttons, they allow one to answer a question, but more than one can be chosen for any given question.

So what makes an accessible website, anyway? I'm so glad you asked. Accessible is a difficult term to define, so we are going to break it down for this series in a few different ways. In its most basic form, a website, piece of software, book, home appliance, or other device can be called "accessible" for any given user if he or she can gain access to its features and operate or use it without assistance. Unfortunately, everyone has different criteria for determining whether something works for them, so this definition, while clear, does not actually help us define the term in a way that we can all agree on. Therefore, I am going to propose a few definitions we will use in these articles to better describe how blind people interact with lots of everyday objects, including the web.

Inaccessible: The device or product has one or more essential features that someone cannot use independently, and the user is not likely to find a workaround, adaptation, or alternative that will allow equivalent access.

Usable: A state in which the item or device can be used by someone, but is not blind friendly—it may not be as efficient or straightforward as it is for others or as a blind user would wish it to be. Many websites fall into this category for a large number of blind users, even though they present accessibility challenges that would make them inaccessible for others. The usability of a device or website will depend on both the nature of that item and the user's flexibility, knowledge, or resources.

Functional Accessibility: This is the gold standard. If something is functionally accessible, it is easy and straightforward to use. A person can get done what he or she needs to do without undue hardship. Once again, this is a subjective measure.

Technical Accessibility: Accessibility based on agreed-upon standards. Websites that meet these standards will usually be usable and functionally accessible for many more people than those that do not. Technical Accessibility is not a perfect guarantee that something will be usable for everyone, but it is a pretty good indicator that it is more likely to be.

At the end of the day, usability, functional accessibility, and inaccessibility are states that are only partially based on the technical accessibility of a site. Instead, these states are made up of that site's technical accessibility, the browser and screen reader (or other access technology) conveying enough information about the site, and the user's training and experience. So, you see, we actually have quite a bit of control over the experiences we have on the web.

Rules for Road Builders: WCAG and the Technical Standards

The web community has spent a lot of time in the past debating what technical accessibility really looks like. Today, however, the community is largely reaching an agreement. The most popular technical standard is the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 at the AA Level (WCAG 2.0 AA, for short). These standards are referenced directly and indirectly by many governments crafting their own accessibility guidelines. This officially includes the United States beginning in the first few months of 2018. The US has had an accessibility standard called Section 508 since 1998, but these rules were difficult to test, and therefore they were difficult to enforce. Consequently the federal government has recently completed a refresh process for Section 508 that directly references the WCAG Guidelines going forward. This is good news for the accessibility of the web, since these guidelines are easier to test for, and because it means that government and public websites are going to be held to the same standard.

There are four overarching principles that WCAG calls on websites to meet. Each of them contains a number of guidelines that expand upon that main idea. The four principles are:

Perceivable: A user needs to be able to tell that there is something there and make out what it is. Examples of this include graphics having descriptions that can be read with a screen reader, videos offering captions and audio descriptions, and websites having enough contrast that they can be read.

Operable: An operable site can be navigated and interacted with. Items in this section include ensuring that the site can be navigated using only a keyboard, making sure that there is nothing flashing that might cause a user to have a seizure, and ensuring that the purpose of a link is easy for users to understand.

Understandable: Success criteria and guidelines under this major point include ensuring that the web page tells the user's computer what language it is written in (so that screen readers can use an appropriate voice or accent and computers can load the correct characters and fonts on screen), a user's focus won't be moved without warning, and that when filling in forms, users are provided with all the information they need to finish successfully.

Robust: This is the hardest to understand. Criteria under this heading essentially boil down to the idea that a website is going to work across a wide number of devices and in a lot of different environments. This includes telling screen readers and browsers what different controls are and how to expect them to behave so that information can be provided to the user.

The discussion of web standards is a much bigger and broader topic than we can cover in detail here, but it's helpful to understand the idea of what constitutes "technical accessibility" so that you can determine what you should expect to know to use the web effectively and what you should be able to expect from web developers (whether or not they meet those expectations).

Evaluating Road Conditions: The State of the Web Today

Let's take a moment here and be very blunt. The state of the web is really mixed. That's why we are having these lessons. It's sometimes hard to figure out when you are having a problem because you don't understand something that should work, or when the problem isn't you but that the website was created badly. The bad news is that this is the case for all of us—sighted people, too, have this question as they surf the web. However, there is plenty of good news. More web developers are coming to recognize the value of accessible and intuitive design and are trying to implement it in their products. We are seeing some very powerful and very functional sites. Increasingly because of work done by the National Federation of the Blind and many others, through legislation, education, and (when nothing else works) litigation, more sites than ever before are working with varying levels of success to reach proper technical accessibility as described in WCAG. Even better, there are some true leaders in the field who are moving beyond concern for "technical accessibility" and are working on ways to create truly functional accessibility for as many users as possible. These organizations are testing with blind and other disabled users, hiring specialists, and working hard to innovate in the field. They want to build the best web they can for everyone.

Many developers are pushing the envelope of what is possible in designing accessibly for the web, which means that we users will find lots of new information being presented by our screen readers. Think of it almost like road signs. Initially we only had a few: links, buttons, and edit fields. Now there are some really wild bits of work like calendars that allow you to choose the date from a grid or autocomplete programs that will offer suggestions for what's next, even before you hit enter. Therefore, we users must realize that we can no longer pull our Model A out of the garage and tootle down the road, expecting gravel lanes and a twenty-miles-per-hour speed limit. To make the most of the highway on which we find ourselves, we need to learn how to read the signs and make sure we know what to do to get the most out of our car/browser. If we don't, we're going to be left in the dust.

Final Thoughts

Initially I was intending this project to be a single article discussing how to improve one's web browsing experience as a blind user. But as I outlined it, I realized that this is far too much information for a single piece. Instead, over the next several months, new installments will be published in the Braille Monitor and in Future Reflections. Topics in this series will include:

Browsers: Choosing the Right Vehicle for the Journey

Screen Readers: Efficient Driving Requires the Right Sensors

Basic Navigation: Hitting the Road and Finding Your Way

Defensive Driving: Strategies for More Complex or Less Accessible Journeys

Browser Tune-Up: Customizations that Can Increase the Pleasures of the Journey

Social Media: Making the Most of Some of the Web's Finest Roadside Attractions

So, class dismissed—for now.

Why Human Readers Are No Substitute for Accessible Software

by Sabra Ewing

Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 61, Number 2, February 2018

From the Editor: In the days before screen readers and the vast resources of the internet, it was essential for blind students to use human readers effectively. No blind student could navigate college or even high school courses without readers to provide access to the reams of printed material that otherwise were out of reach. Since computers entered our lives, making more and more material available electronically through screen readers and magnification, blind and visually-impaired students have the possibility of full and equal access, the chance to study and learn without hindrance beside their sighted classmates. However, as we all know, that dream is far from reality. All too often electronic material used in the classroom is inaccessible nonvisually. At times school districts press for blind and visually-impaired students to use human readers when they are faced with inaccessible software. In this article Sabra Ewing, who spent years dealing with software issues as a blind student, explains why she feels that using a live reader is not an acceptable alternative.

The Accessible Instructional Materials Act creates guidelines for the use of accessible, education-based electronic content. The act also has a provision for alternative equal access that allows schools to provide access through other means when the current materials are not sufficient. Both school officials and blind people sometimes believe that a human reader can serve as alternative access. They fail to realize that use of a human reader creates diminished access by distorting cause and effect relationships in virtual environments, demanding impractical knowledge of a visual interface, and promoting dependence and distortion throughout the data analysis process.

Let us imagine that a school district serving a blind student is short of mobility instructors. The district cannot provide an instructor for this student, but it has the perfect solution. An instructor working with someone else will call the student, who will listen as she describes pertinent features of the lesson such as intersections, safe street crossings, and proper cane technique. As the student listens, he will participate mentally in the lesson.

Okay, so maybe it isn't the perfect solution, but schools do a similar disservice to blind students by providing a reader in place of accessible software. A virtual environment has cause and effect relationships just like a physical one. When you press a button or move to another area on the screen, the environment changes. When you enter data, the environment will respond. Because the process is very interactive, allowing a human reader to control software for a blind student will hinder the student's learning, much as virtual participation in an O&M lesson would give the student incomplete participation in a physical environment.

Some might argue that schools could minimize this effect by having the reader serve as a proxy, following the student's exact instructions from the beginning of software activation down to the last mouse click. The problem is that a blind student interfaces with the computer nonvisually. The student would have difficulty telling a reader how to locate and click on an envelope or green arrow, for example. Many blind students process information in such a way that they could not direct a reader to icons on a constantly changing screen.

Then there is the meaning. You can explain to a blind student that an envelope is what you click on to check your email, and that a green arrow means next or forward like a green light, but this process could potentially apply to every icon. For someone who has always used a screen reader, such information is not very intuitive or practical. The school should encourage students to focus on blindness skills that take less effort and allow more independence instead of asking them to master a skill that would take years of study and leave them dependent on a reader.

One more problem exists with using a reader instead of accessible software: information will become distorted and less available. A reader, even a trained one, becomes a control for how to present information and a filter for what is important. This becomes especially true with software simulations, it will take too long for a reader to describe every changing screen. But the principle applies to all instructional media, including textbooks. Blind people have learned through experience and training what information they can get with a screen reader and how to ask for it. Furthermore, the information is available when they need it, just as it is for sighted students. Blind students are not receiving equal access when they have to learn at a slower pace, wait for recordings or work around a reader's schedule, and create notes from scratch based on what a reader tells them when the school does not provide alternative software and file formats.

In short, the forced use of a reader in place of accessible instructional materials will severely stunt a student's learning and success. Students must use software themselves to understand concepts fully. In addition, schools should expect them to perform from a blindness skill set rather than mastering the counterintuitive skill of operating a visual interface. Equal access also means that both blind and sighted students should have the same independence and ease of use. We must therefore demand that where a school cannot reasonably switch to accessible software, it must provide alternative instructional materials to blind students that do not require the use of a human reader.

Our Fight for Access

by Kimberly Banks

From the Editor: One of the speakers at the 2018 NFB National Convention in Orlando, Florida, was Johnny W. Collett, the assistant secretary of special education in the US Department of Education. When he took questions at the end of his presentation, sixteen-year-old Alyssa Mendez stepped to a microphone. Alyssa explained that for the past two years she and her family have been fighting to obtain Braille materials and technology training from her school district. Sadly, Alyssa and her family are not alone, but their perseverance and resourcefulness can point the way for others who face similar struggles.

My daughter, Alyssa, had severe nystagmus when she was born. When she was six months old she was diagnosed with an eye condition called optic nerve hypoplasia (ONH). Alyssa started school in Georgia, where she got the services she needed from her TVI and the rest of her team. When she entered kindergarten she began learning Braille. Because Alyssa had some functional vision she was a dual-media learner, using both Braille and large print. As she progressed through school we found that Braille was more appropriate for her because she experiences eye fatigue and intense migraines when she reads print for more than a few minutes at a time. At best her visual acuity is 20/350.

When Alyssa entered eighth grade, our family moved to Florida. After months of research we settled on the town of Oviedo, a suburb of Orlando. We chose Oviedo because the schools were highly rated, and we wanted Alyssa to receive the best public education that was available.

We were very happy with the teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) Alyssa had in eighth grade. He was completely on board with Alyssa's need for Braille, and he even attended a teachers' conference sponsored by the NFB. Things weren't perfect, but we never expected infallibility. When an issue came up Mr. P. worked with me, Alyssa, and her classroom teachers to find a way to make things work. At one point Mr. P. even collaborated with the coach of the robotics team to make the class accessible. Alyssa was the first blind student to take robotics at her school. We were a team, and we had the same goal—to provide Alyssa with the skills and materials she needed to access her world successfully, both at school and at home.

Mr. P. was a wonderful teacher who worked diligently to ensure that Alyssa received an education equivalent to that of her sighted peers. Unfortunately, he was retiring at the end of Alyssa's eighth-grade year. Alyssa would have a new TVI when she entered high school. She was on the right track. I had no doubt that Alyssa had the academic ability to acclimate to her freshman year if the appropriate supports were in place.

The Question of Mobility Instruction

Alyssa got the Braille she needed in eighth grade, but the school refused to provide her with O&M (orientation and mobility) instruction. She started learning to use the long white cane in third grade, and since then she had always used her cane at school. Until we moved to Florida Alyssa received regular O&M instruction. When Mrs. H., the O&M instructor, evaluated her, however, she said that Alyssa used her vision well enough to get around. In fact, she didn't think that Alyssa really needed O&M at all. She didn't even think Alyssa needed a cane.

We fought for O&M instruction all through eighth grade, and we even requested to have an IEE (independent educational evaluation) done by someone other than Mrs. H. We waited and waited for the IEE to be scheduled. Finally we were told that an IEE could not be done because Mrs. H. had failed to do two key assessments to determine properly whether services were needed.

At the end of Alyssa's eighth-grade year, we also requested that Alyssa receive Extended School Year (ESY) services. ESY services would allow her to catch up on her O&M instruction, but that never happened. When I questioned the district's decision not to provide services, I was told that O&M and ESY were not academic priorities for Alyssa. To make matters worse, Mr. P. had been excluded from Alyssa's final IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting of eighth grade. To my knowledge he was never consulted by anyone on the new IEP team, other than me, about how Alyssa would transition from middle school to high school.

At this meeting we were dismayed to learn that Mrs. H. would be Alyssa's new TVI in ninth grade. I had a gut feeling that Mrs. H. was not going to be receptive to Braille.

The Most Dangerous Game

Several days before the start of ninth grade, Alyssa and I went to an open house at the high school to meet her new teachers and pick up her textbooks. We were shocked to find out that none of her Braille books had been ordered. In fact, only one of her classroom teachers knew that a blind student would be in her class. Mrs. H. assured me that she would request all of Alyssa's books on the first day of school. When I asked her how Alyssa would do her work until the books arrived, Mrs. H. said that she could use her iPad to take pictures of the standard print books and then enlarge them herself. When I asked how Alyssa would receive her assignments if the teachers didn't know that they needed modification, I was told again that Alyssa could use her iPad to enlarge the standard print work and complete the assignments in print. Alyssa had an iPad with a Braille display, and Mr. P. had used it with her successfully in eighth grade. However, the new TVI didn't offer digital copies of Alyssa's materials.

In the first week of school, Alyssa's English class was assigned to read the book The Most Dangerous Game, and Alyssa did not have the book in Braille. I had the audiobook version, but the teacher would not allow her to use it. The book was available on Bookshare, but Alyssa and I didn't know how to download books onto Alyssa's BrailleNote Apex; neither did Mrs. H. Alyssa was given a regular print copy of the book, and again she was told to read it using her iPad. This wouldn't work. Alyssa's blindness prevented her from reading even large print for more than very short periods of time.

Eventually the school got a Braille copy of the book, but the Braille was so bad that Alyssa couldn't read it. The book had been scanned with OCR (optical character recognition), but the scan had never been proofread. There were major errors on almost every page, including lines of complete gibberish.

The debacle with The Most Dangerous Game was only the beginning. There were issues in every class, and every day Alyssa received materials that she couldn't use. She didn't get a copy of her geography book until January. Mrs. H. never figured out how to make graphics accessible. Sometimes Alyssa was given handouts with poor color contrast and print that was only slightly enlarged. She received a map of Europe that was so badly enlarged that I couldn't read it myself. Alyssa never received an accessible copy of the Periodic Table of Elements, but she had numerous assignments that required her to color or visually distinguish one element from another.

After multiple emails back and forth between Mrs. H. and her supervisors, the administration told the classroom teachers that it was their responsibility to provide Alyssa with accommodations. The teachers had no idea how to do that, even if they had the time and the desire to help. I insisted that the TVI be responsible for modifying Alyssa's assignments or at least that she supervise the classroom teachers' work. To my knowledge that didn't happen.

One of the goals in Alyssa's IEP stated that she should learn to advocate for herself. Actually, she has never had trouble letting people know what she needs. Yet for some reason the teachers began to blame Alyssa when her materials were not accessible. They claimed that she did not tell them when she needed materials in Braille. According to her IEP, anything that was more than two pages long in large print had to be Brailled. Sometimes the teachers would print an assignment in large print and give it to Alyssa two pages at a time, handing her the pages every five minutes so that they could say they never gave her more than two pages of large print at once. We later found out that this was how Mrs. H. had instructed the teachers to provide assignments if they hadn't received them from her in Braille in time.

I must have sent at least fifty emails about access issues to the administration that year, but the situation never got better. In our effort to address our concerns, we called multiple IEP meetings during the school year. We wanted to make the IEP goals so specific that they could not be called into question. I brought in a supervisor from the school district; she understood what we were trying to accomplish and was supportive in the beginning. Yet, even with the supervisor's support, things didn't improve. Merry Schoch, a blind clinical social worker and active Federationist, attended the IEP meetings with us as our advocate. After she got a taste of what was going on, she told me that Alyssa should no longer attend her IEP meetings. The teachers spoke about her in such negative terms that Merry felt it was hurtful for Alyssa to have to hear. It became more and more clear to me that, no matter what we said, the administration was determined to back Mrs. H., and the classroom teachers were looking to Mrs. H. for guidance.

"Summer School"

At the end of her ninth-grade year, Alyssa had failed English. In that class Alyssa received the majority of her assignments in print. If she received Braille, the Braille was regularly not readable and arrived weeks and sometimes months after the materials were assigned. On the county's standardized assessment, however, Alyssa earned one of the highest scores in the district and the highest in her class. She received a D in geography, but she got a 4 on the AP geography exam, a score high enough to earn her college credit for the class. Those standardized tests were provided by the state or the College Board, and they were given to Alyssa in Braille. Alyssa also failed math, another class where she regularly didn't get accessible materials. We were told that Alyssa would need to attend summer school for English and Math.

Because Alyssa would need to complete summer school, she was denied ESY again, even though she had shown extreme levels of regression academically and hadn't received any instruction in technology from Mrs. H. Again I was told that ESY wasn't an academic priority. Summer school was offered via an online platform that wasn't accessible with a screen reader or a Braille display. When we brought this to the attention of the administration, we were told that if Alyssa couldn't access the program visually she would need to retake the classes in their entirety in tenth grade.

At that point the administration shared that if Alyssa could pass the competency portion of the online summer school classes, she wouldn't have to complete the full curriculum visually. Because the online test was inaccessible, I requested that Alyssa's scores on her standardized exams be used to replace the competency test. That request was denied. Alyssa decided that she use her limited vision to take the math competency exam. She completed the test with an A in a few hours. When I picked her up from school, she was experiencing a migraine so severe that she was weeping. She was in physical pain for several days, preventing her from attending summer school for English. The district still would not allow Alyssa to prove her competency for English with her standardized exam grades, nor would they provide the materials to Alyssa in Braille. However, they ultimately agreed to allow me to act as a sighted reader for the class.

"Try Harder to See!"

At the beginning of tenth grade, the school district asked us if we would like a different TVI. We said we would be willing to continue working with Mrs. H. if Alyssa got the materials she needed. The district decided to change the TVI anyway, on the basis that perhaps there was a personality conflict between us and Mrs. H. Alyssa's new TVI would be Ms. L.

Ms. L. was a lovely person, and she tried to start off on a good note. This time, when classes began, Alyssa had most of her Braille textbooks, and she started getting her tests in Braille as well. However, she still had daily problems with class handouts and worksheets. She simply wasn't getting the materials she needed to do assignments. In ninth grade Alyssa kept a log of the inaccessible materials she received. She continued documenting when she received things that she couldn't use in tenth grade.

In Alyssa's IEP we had laid out several goals for technology training. The IEP stated that Alyssa would use a refreshable Braille display to edit and format documents. Like Mrs. H., Ms. L. did not know how to use a refreshable Braille display. Alyssa struggled in English because no one could help her download the short stories she needed onto her BrailleNote Apex. She could create documents on the Apex and save them to a USB drive, but her teachers refused to let her turn in assignments on a USB. Furthermore, due to administrative blocks on the district's network and on the device itself, she could not send assignments to her teachers via email. They wanted her to print out her work, but there was no printer in the classroom. To use a printer she had to leave class and go to the office.

So that she would receive credit, throughout ninth and tenth grades Alyssa turned in handwritten work to her teachers. Her handwriting is actually very neat, but she can't read what she has written. She can't make changes or corrections to her handwritten work, and she can't use it to study. She preferred Braille, but when Alyssa turned in assignments in hardcopy Braille they regularly didn't get transcribed or graded, and Alyssa would receive a zero.

Since Ms. L. could not provide technology training, at the suggestion of the district we tried to get instruction through our local Lighthouse for the Blind. Lighthouse said that technology instruction for school-aged students was the school's responsibility. Even if we did receive training through their adult program, they would have no way to ensure the implementation of the training in the classroom.

One of the biggest problems we ran into involved math class. For the most part Alyssa had been using large print to do math. When the materials were enlarged to 24-point font it worked reasonably well for her, though getting appropriate enlargements remained an issue. At this point I thought that if we removed print altogether from the IEP, the confusion over enlargements would end. We also knew that for higher-level mathematics, Alyssa would need to start using Braille. She needed to learn Nemeth Code and to get experience with tactile graphics. However, Ms. L. did not know Nemeth Code, and her knowledge of tactile graphics was very limited.

Alyssa's IEP stated clearly that she cannot effectively use a CCTV, due to nystagmus and visual fatigue. On one occasion the math teacher told Alyssa to use the CCTV to read her graphing calculator. When Alyssa reminded her that she cannot use the CCTV, the teacher told her, "You should try harder. You need to try harder to see better." Alyssa knew she would get a zero if she didn't do the assignment, but the teacher was asking her to do something that was impossible. She walked out of class and called me. Very upset, she asked me to pick her up from school.

When I got to the school forty-five minutes later, Alyssa was distraught. "I can't do what they want me to do!" she sobbed. "I can't see better! I wish that I weren't blind! I wish I could see!" We had known for months that the problems at school were taking a heavy emotional toll, but this incident was the final straw.

Mediation and Beyond

Eventually we requested mediation to try to work out some solution to the district's inability to provide instruction in technology and O&M and to attempt to get Extended School Year services moving forward. We also needed some resolution to the ongoing access issues Alyssa faced on a daily basis. The district ultimately agreed to several conditions. One was that they would pay for Casey Robertson, a TVI and instructor at Louisiana Tech, to provide Nemeth Code and technology instruction for Alyssa through distance learning. The district also agreed to have Alyssa use a BrailleNote Touch on a trial basis. The BrailleNote Touch has a screen that would allow the classroom teacher to see Alyssa's work and actively engage with her during classes without needing a transcriptionist. The district also promised to provide sensitivity training to the school staff.

Unfortunately, the school failed to comply with the mediation agreement. Alyssa got twelve weeks of instruction with Casey Robertson on using the BrailleNote Apex, but that was all. Alyssa flourished with Casey and her staff. She picked up Nemeth skills quickly and was back on track with her BrailleNote skills. Casey attempted to work with the school staff after discovering administrative issues that prevented Alyssa from implementing the skills she had learned with Casey. Unfortunately the district was not receptive to the guidance Casey was providing.

After the failed mediation we decided that due process was our last resort. Due process is a type of court proceeding. Each party presents its case before an administrative hearings judge. The process is substantial and costly. It takes several months, and it culminates with lawyers on both sides questioning witnesses. The prep work involved is extensive, and our attorneys, Kelly Hedum and Sam Filler, worked tirelessly to get us ready for the hearing.

Entering due process Alyssa had a GPA of 2.1, which is about a C average. We wanted to show the court that she had been graded unfairly because she didn't have the materials she needed. She did well when she had Braille materials, but otherwise she did poorly or couldn't complete her assignments at all. We also wanted the district to compensate Alyssa for the two years of technology, O&M, and ESY instruction that she had not received.

During the hearing one of the first questions the school's lawyer asked me was whether I am a certified TVI. I was also questioned about my involvement with the NFB. As the questions continued and more witnesses were called, I sensed that the school's attorney was trying to establish that my expectations for Alyssa were too high. I was pushing her to take classes that were too difficult for her. The attorney for the district never questioned witnesses about Alyssa's performance on standardized tests or asked about her academic success prior to entering high school.

Ms. L. testified that Alyssa is a kind, sweet girl, but that she didn't always use the equipment she was given. Opposing counsel never asked Ms. L. to explain the difficulties Alyssa experienced when she attempted to use her equipment or to acknowledge that some of the equipment that was provided to Alyssa was never even functional. Our counsel did.

Several classroom teachers testified that Alyssa was well mannered and bright, but that she rarely advocated for herself. If she did, she'd do so too late. They didn't willingly share the emails, chat logs, and notes that Alyssa had sent to them regularly, sharing her frustration that she wasn't getting what she needed in their classes. Kelly Hedum, our attorney, was able to show through the district's own evidence that Alyssa was regularly advocating for herself, even when no one was responding to her.

Then Mrs. H. got on the stand. She claimed that she had done the two key O&M assessments on Alyssa in eighth grade that we had been told were never completed. We had been denied an IEE because those assessments were never done. During her testimony Mrs. H. said that the year she had Alyssa as a student was the hardest year of her career. She testified that Alyssa was a bully and that she used me as a weapon in an attempt to get her teachers in trouble. At one point she said we used our right to procedural safeguards "almost as a game." Mrs. H. insisted that, in her professional opinion, Alyssa did not need a cane. She went on to say that Alyssa didn't really need Braille, and that I was pushing Alyssa to be blind. She claimed that Alyssa lied about eyestrain, migraines, and back pain to get out of doing her schoolwork. Even though accommodations and goals had been written into Alyssa's IEP, Mrs. H. said she didn't need them because she isn't really blind at all. She insisted that she was the expert; everyone else, including Alyssa, me, and her own supervisors prevented her from being able to do her job properly.

Mrs. H. went on to testify that she was so uncomfortable around Alyssa that after a while she stopped speaking to her! She would simply hand Alyssa an assignment without saying a word. She testified that she felt that, even without speaking to Alyssa, she was able to provide the appropriate level of instruction. It was hard to believe that an adult would treat a child in that way. It was hard to hear a teacher say those things about my daughter.

The things we asked for were very basic: accessible books and classroom materials, O&M instruction, and training with the BrailleNote. These were things any blind student needs to receive a comparable education to that of her sighted peers. Looking back, I think that for reasons I don't understand, the school was unable to provide the things that were required in Alyssa's IEP, things that would have ensured equal access. Rather than working with me and Alyssa and the many blind and sighted professionals who offered the district support in how to appropriately provide access to a blind student, the school went to extreme lengths to avoid serving her. Eventually, the district focused almost entirely on protecting itself.

The day after due process ended Alyssa left Orlando to attend the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB) STEP program. While she was there we saw wonderful changes. She was happy again. She gained confidence in her skills. She was mentored by blind adults who understand what she's gone through because they've been there, too.

During this long and sometimes agonizing process, we received invaluable support from the National Federation of the Blind. The NFB also paid to have Casey Robertson testify at the hearing as an expert witness for our case. During these two years of struggle, I have had the loving support of my friends and colleagues in the NOPBC (National Organization of Parents of Blind Children). Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum from Brown, Goldstein & Levy, the firm that handles many of the Federation's cases, provided consultation to our legal team in Orlando, The Filler & Hedum Law Firm.

I'm pleased to share that we received the judge's ruling just before this article went to press. We won! The judge ruled that Alyssa was denied a free and appropriate education (FAPE) for the entirety of her freshman year of high school and much of her sophomore year. The district was ordered to provide Alyssa with 184 hours of compensatory service time. The ruling also stated that a teacher who is not proficient in her specialty can likely not provide a child with a meaningful education. In addition, it said that in order for a blind child to receive a FAPE, a school district must provide accessible materials to that child, at the same time her peers receive them, 100 percent of the time, with no exceptions. Most importantly, the ruling validated Alyssa's experience by stating that she was a credible witness. The ruling said that when the school district's evidence or witness testimony contradicted Alyssa's, her testimony was deemed by the court to be the truth for the entirety of the record.

Unfortunately, not much has changed for Alyssa since she went back to school last week. She is still receiving inaccessible materials daily, and she is still being told to use her vision to access the curriculum. Alyssa has been in school for a week, and we have received no indication of how the district plans to implement the court order.

I don't know what the next two years will look like for Alyssa academically. I do know that Alyssa is blind and that she is not less than because she can't read print. I know that she hasn't been broken by what has happened to her. She is strong and intelligent and kind. I know that when she receives appropriate accommodations she can and has previously proven herself to be academically successful. So I will continue to advocate for her. I will be a support to her as she advocates for herself. Her future is full of potential. I just need to get her through high school.

On Being a Disabled Introvert and the Follies of Social Skills Training

by Arielle Silverman

Reprinted from www.disabilitywisdom.com/blog

From the Editor: For generations small children have been assessed on their ability to "play well with others" whenever report card time comes around. Humans are social creatures, and teachers and parents know that the ability to interact comfortably with other people is a valuable life skill. However, human sociability falls along a continuum, with highly extroverted people at one end, extreme introverts at the other, and the rest of us ranging somewhere in between.

Because blind children and other children with disabilities sometimes have trouble understanding and responding to social cues, parents and teachers work hard to promote their age-appropriate social interactions. Children can benefit greatly from gentle encouragement, positive feedback, and carefully thought-out opportunities to build friendships. But as blind people we vary widely on the sociability scale, just as we vary in everything else. In this article Arielle Silverman reflects upon the challenges that confront blind children and children with other disabilities who truly enjoy their solitude.

In my earliest childhood memory, I am standing in a room that is not in my home. I remember hearing the words "San Diego," one of my parents handing me a piece of banana and then walking away. I was likely younger than two at this point. I remember the words "San Diego" and the taste of the banana, but most of all what I remember is the sense of peace I felt standing alone for just a moment, with nobody talking to me, touching me, or trying to engage my attention. My parent was nearby, but I was alone in my little space, and it felt glorious.

Several of my other favorite early-childhood memories involve the joy and peace I felt when I spent hours in my bedroom listening to music, lying quietly with my thoughts, and, when I got old enough, reading. I am told that in my toddlerhood, when I heard the doorbell ring or discovered that someone was visiting our home, I would head off to the quiet of my bedroom.

This behavior deeply concerned my teachers at the local blindness agency where I received early-intervention services. They worried about my socioemotional development. But when I relayed this story, my dad—a smart, funny, loving man who happens to be an introvert—told me he understood.

When nondisabled children prefer quiet activities or have quirky interests, they might be considered a little odd or unusual. Adults might make a few attempts to encourage them to be more sociable, but usually it's accepted that this is part of who they are. In contrast, when disabled children display any kind of social behavior that deviates from the developmental charts, alarm bells sound. Often an entire team of adults swoops in to try to save these children from social isolation. As my fellow blind blogger, Meagan Howell, writes,

My introversion seemed to be a source of ongoing anxiety for the adults in my life. Daycare workers, teachers, consultants, and all manner of others concerned themselves with my social development, no doubt worried that a disabled child left to her own devices would morph into a stunted mess. Their fears weren't entirely unfounded, and my isolation did facilitate certain quirks it took me a bit too long to eliminate. But my intelligence, contentment, and overall growth didn't feel impeded by my apparently tragic lack of friends. At least, that's how I tend to view it. Frequently labeled antisocial and stubborn, I noticed that my personal preferences were considered partially or wholly irrelevant. This is true for many children, I think, especially when they grow up surrounded by people who fear they'll turn out wrong, somehow. I don't know that any adult stopped to consider that maybe, just maybe, Meagan was at peace with not having many friends, and that she'd make friends when she was ready.1

Most disabilities are perceived as social liabilities, and this perception has a kernel of truth—disabled people of all ages are more likely to encounter abuse, bullying, and exclusion than their nondisabled peers. In addition, certain disabilities can change the ways in which children develop social skills. For example, children with sensory disabilities may not be able to observe directly all aspects of other people's social behavior. One common feature of autism, according to autistic self-advocates, is "difficulty in understanding or expressing typical social interaction."

While it is true that disabilities can alter the process of social development, prevailing beliefs about how to intervene are often based on problematic assumptions. Social "deficits" are often expected in disabled children, and the popular solution for these "deficits" involves top-down instruction from nondisabled educators. "Social skills training" is considered a part of the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) in the instruction of blind children, and it is popularized in the education of autistic children as well. All too often, well-intentioned social skills programs for disabled children continue to perpetuate long-lived power imbalances and societal prejudices. For example, when rooted in a culture that values extroversion, social skills programs may ignore and devalue the needs of introverts like me and Meagan. More insidiously, "social skills training" is often code for "compliance training," where the hidden curriculum involves teaching a disabled child to comply with nondisabled norms in order to be accepted. Rather than instilling competence, confidence, and a sense of well-being, inherently compliance-based instructional approaches instead can instill shame, insecurity, or self-loathing, as children may feel compelled to censor a part of themselves in order to be accepted by others.

So then, is there a better way?

In parent support groups, parents of disabled children sometimes voice concerns that their kids prefer to interact only with adults or to play by themselves for hours with a single object, instead of interacting with their peers. I tell these parents that traditional children's play activities are often rife with accessibility barriers. Solitary activities that a child invents and directs are fully accessible by design. I remind parents that adult interaction partners tend to be more predictable and more accommodating of access needs than other young children are. Thus, a disabled child's "socially inappropriate" behaviors may be highly adaptive. Furthermore, for autistic people of all ages, "special interests" may serve as a primal source of joy.

It is fascinating that the same deep, passionate focus derided in the autism intervention world as "perseverative" or "obsessive" is rewarded in the academic world with grants and tenure. As Julia Bascom, executive director of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, writes,

This is about the obsessive joy of autism. So I guess, if I'm trying to explain what an obsession (and, by necessity, obsessive joy) means to me as an autistic person, I can bring it back to the tired old image of a little professor cornering unsuspecting passersby and lecturing them for half an hour. All too often this encounter is viewed through the terrified eyes of the unwillingly captive audience. I'd like to invite you to see through the eyes of the lecturer, who is not so much determined to force knowledge into them as they are opened to a flood of joy which they cannot contain.2

There are several things we can do to support disabled children's social development. We can begin by understanding that social connection means something different to every individual. Instead of following a one-size-fits-all curriculum, we can try to understand and support a particular child's social goals, knowing that these might change throughout the child's life. We can follow the child's lead in identifying playgroups and other natural friend-making opportunities based around their interests. We can work to ensure that play settings are fully accessible and that there is a choice of activities. We can introduce disabled children to a variety of role models, both disabled and not, who can demonstrate the social skills that really matter for healthy relationships: things like sharing, empathy, and trust. We can provide guidance beforehand, and feedback after, a challenging social situation. We can support children's natural social learning processes so they can develop the connections that matter most to them, while accepting them for who they are.

As for me, my interest in relationships (both platonic and romantic) kicked up a few notches when I hit puberty. Today I am happily married, have a small group of great friends, have good relationships with my family, and feel comfortable teaching and leading others. What I learned about socialization didn't come from blindness professionals or from a book. I did what the blindness professionals said I couldn't do: I learned by observation. As a quiet person, I learned by listening to others interact and adopting the social behaviors that fit me and my personality. At my core, I'm still an introvert, and I'm okay with that.


1. https://wheresyourdog.com/2017/03/03/go-play-with-your-friends
2. https://juststimming.wordpress.com/2011/04/05/the-obsessive-joy-of-autism

Why Is Helen Keller the Only Blind Person Anyone Knows?

by Mike Hudson

Reprinted from the Blog on Blindness, blog.pdrib.com, April 14, 2015

From the Editor: This article is adapted from a presentation given at a meeting of the Greater Louisville Chapter of the NFB of Kentucky. Mike Hudson is the director of the museum at the American Printing House for the Blind in Louisville.

Founded in 1858, the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) embosses more than 16 million pages of Braille and better than 14 million pages of large print a year. We record hundreds of Talking Book titles, and we manufacture hundreds of educational and daily-living aids annually. The APH museum celebrated its twentieth anniversary this past fall, and the team developed accessible, traveling exhibits to bring the history of blindness education to those unable to visit APH in person.

When we first started asking ourselves how to market education for the blind to the broader public, we began with what we knew—or what we thought we knew.

We know blindness scares people. According to the 2010 Eye on Eyesight Survey, 79 percent of Americans say that other than their own death or the death of a loved one, losing their eyesight is "the worst thing that could happen to me."

We know that most sighted people don't know anyone who's blind.

We know that blind folks are the people who know about the history of education for the blind. For most sighted people, blindness education can be summarized in three short words: The Miracle Worker. Those moments in front of the water pump between a young teacher and her bewildered student in Tuscumbia, Alabama, have burned an indelible image into the imaginations of generation after generation of sighted Americans. Ask most Americans to name a famous blind person, or any blind person, and, almost fifty years after her death, it will still be Helen Keller. The other answers will be scattered amongst a few chart-topping musicians: Ray Charles, Ronnie Milsap, Stevie Wonder, and Doc Watson (one of the bluegrass guys).
Helen Keller's story and her career as a writer, activist, and professional fundraiser for the American Foundation for the Blind cast a shadow across the past so large that it almost seems there's no room for any more stories.

Helen lost her sight and hearing as an infant. Using techniques learned during her own schooling at the Perkins School for the Blind, Helen's legally blind teacher, Anne Sullivan, was able to break through to the girl's amazing mind and teach her the concept of language. Once Helen had language through Braille and finger spelling with American Sign Language, the world became her oyster. In terms of her accomplishments she became one of the most amazing women of the twentieth century. But she had a few things going for her.

First, Helen was good-looking. She was a pretty little girl with few scarring cosmetic disfigurements associated with her blindness, and she grew up into a pretty young woman. Most of the famous photographs of Keller as a young girl were carefully staged, always shot from angles that concealed her less attractive left eye. Later in life, she had her eyes enucleated and was fitted with perfectly normal-looking glass replacements.

Second, she came from a wealthy family that was able to provide her with the best of everything, at least during her childhood. Her parents had broad social contacts that could introduce their daughter to influential people who could ease her passage into an unfriendly world. Helen is perfectly dressed in all of her photos. Not a lovely curl is out of place. Nothing suggests disability or poverty or anything threatening to Victorian sensibilities. Even after she and Anne Sullivan were stumping the vaudeville circuit and lecturing to women's clubs across America, raising money for the American Foundation for the Blind, an amazing segment of their household budget went to elegant clothes. Helen Keller looked successful because she could afford to look successful. It was very intentional.

Third, she had an amazing publicity machine behind her. From the beginning, leaders at the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston reported her successes as confirmation of the possibilities of their modern educational techniques. Those reports found their way into newspapers and magazines eager for a good story. And, of course, Perkins used her story to advance its own development and fundraising efforts.

Alexander Graham Bell, the influential inventor of the telephone and a close friend of the Keller family, declared Helen's abilities miraculous to anyone who would listen. Keller's autobiography was serialized in the Ladies' Home Journal when she was only twenty-two years of age, and it was reprinted multiple times after it appeared in bound form in 1903.

Helen Keller knew presidents, writers, and world leaders. Her work as a fundraiser for the American Foundation for the Blind put her in front of cheering crowds across America and the world. She was, by the way, an unabashed Socialist—a fact that's overlooked in most tellings of her story. In fact, the Nazis burned her books in Germany during the 1930s. I don't know about you, but I think it's a pretty good day when Hitler unfriends you on Facebook!

Fourth, and finally, Helen Keller was a genius. She really knew how to string words together into a great quote. I'll share three of my favorites

"Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much."

"I'm only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do."

"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing."

By the time Helen Keller died in 1968, she was the most famous blind person the world had ever known and one of the most famous women of any stripe or ability. And so as we sought for a way to tell the story of education of the blind and to market that story to an oblivious world, we finally succumbed to the charisma that is Helen. We decided to use Helen Keller's story as a lens to explore the roots of education for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Anne Sullivan was writing to her mentor at the Perkins School, Michael Anagnos, in 1891 about her work with Helen. She wrote, "For the first two years of her intellectual life, she was like a child in a strange country." Anne realized that no learning was possible until Helen could overcome the communication barriers posed by blindness and deafness. We decided that was a good metaphor for all education. We're all, at some point, children in a strange country, unable to understand what we're trying to be taught, until the teacher finds that special language that reaches out to us.

Our traveling exhibit, "Child in a Strange Country," uses Helen's story as a lens to explore the gap between a population that knows only one moment, that moment at the water pump.

There's not nearly enough room for all the events that have shaped the history of education and rehabilitation over the last few centuries. Any good story starts out with "once upon a time." Once upon a time, things were much different from what they are now. Blind people, whether blind from injury or genetics, were broadly thought of as cursed, unlucky, unproductive, helpless, useless burdens on society—do I need to go on? At any time before 1800, their likely occupation outside the family group was primarily in roadside philanthropy. Now there were a few Greek philosophers, such as Hypocrites, who argued for a rational understanding of disease and disability, but most of that thinking was swept away by the fall of the Roman Empire. Martin Luther wrote, "regarding all illness and disease as being the works of Satan." Anyone who argued for the rights of the disabled could be accused of witchcraft and sin.

If Helen Keller's story is a juicy way to start a dialogue between the sighted world and that of folks with the physical limitation of vision loss, we also have to acknowledge that, for every eureka moment at the water pump, there are countless moments of quiet despair and frustration. There are mind-numbing committee meetings and efforts that fail in small ways and succeed in small ways. These will never make the history books.

A pretty girl and the magic of a eureka moment trump a history book every time.

Sharp Elbows, Sharper Thoughts

by Ryan Strunk

Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 60, Number 10, November 2017

From the Editor: Ryan Strunk is the lead accessibility specialist at Target, and he serves as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota. In this article he writes openly about some of the awkward social situations in which blind people occasionally find themselves and the ways they can affect self-perception.

Anyone who knows me knows I love a good joke, and anyone who has seen me in the right circumstance knows I love a good dirty joke. I don't know as many of them as I used to, but when I was a kid, I had a stockpile, and I let them fly pretty regularly.

Have you heard the one about the lady who . . . nah. I can't write it here. But I was perfectly happy to tell it to my ninth-grade buddies one afternoon after school, standing around in the nearly empty junior high parking lot. I was so focused on the joke, on impressing my friends, that I was completely oblivious to the world around me.

Halfway into the joke, as I was establishing the pattern, somebody kicked me in the foot. I didn't think twice about it; I just kept on chattering.

A moment later, Chad started coughing. No big deal, I thought. He just had something in his throat.

A sentence or two before the punchline, Jeremy straight-up elbowed me in the ribs, and still I didn't give it a second thought. Just wait till they hear how it ends!

It was at that climactic moment—the one with the shock-and-awe curse word in the punchline—that the adult standing nearby decided to speak up. "Young man," he said in that purposeful voice authority figures use on unruly students, a voice that, I'm sure, is much larger in my memory than it was at the time, "We don't use that language at school."

I stammered my way through the last few words of the punchline, then trailed off into silence, stunned at being caught and suddenly terrified, even though I didn't recognize the speaker. "I won't hear any more of that talk, right?" he asked. My face burning, my stomach roiling, I sheepishly mumbled that he wouldn't, and with a perfunctory "good" the man walked away.

After a moment of stunned silence, I swallowed my rising horror and plucked up the courage to ask, "Who was that guy?"

"Dude," said Jeremy, starting to snort laugh. "That was a cop. You just dropped an F-bomb in front of a cop!"

"Why didn't you tell me?" I demanded.

"I tried to," he said. "Why do you think I kept hitting you?"

I felt like an idiot, not only because I hadn't landed the joke, but because I felt my blindness had betrayed and embarrassed me in front of my friends. Had I not been blind, I told myself, I would have known there was a cop standing there, and either I would have landed the joke harder as a rebellious backhand to authority, or—more likely—I would have saved it for when the cop wasn't around.

These kinds of things can still happen to me today. I walk through the office, and my toe hits the protruding foot of a whiteboard. It clangs, and I feel like an idiot for not using my cane better. I turn down a different aisle than my shopping assistant. I realize suddenly that no one is there, and I kick myself for not paying better attention. My cane slides under a sign, and I find said sign with my shoulder. I curse my luck and myself.

For years I have struggled with negative self-talk, berating myself over every little slip-up that happens in my daily life. Every kicked whiteboard, wrong turn, and missed sign ends up being an incredible ordeal because of the stories I tell myself afterward—because of the things I tell myself about myself: "Everyone is watching you," "everyone is judging you," "you are setting a bad example for other blind people." I have spent a significant portion of my life carrying around a great deal of insecurity about who I am and what I'm capable of doing. I have spent far too much time and energy focusing on things in my life that, in the grand scheme of things, don't really matter very much.

I'm finally beginning to realize just how destructive these negative thoughts are, and I'm learning just how much they've been holding me back. Instead of shaking off my occasional mishaps, I have been fixating on them. I have worried about what other people will think and how I'll be judged until I become tense and edgy. With all this negative energy, is it any wonder that I get embarrassed, angry, and self-effacing?

One of the great truths about blindness is that, no matter how good someone's cane technique is, no matter how many skills a person has, they will eventually encounter a situation that might have been different had they been able to see. But one of the great truths about life is that, for a variety of reasons, awkward moments happen to everyone, blind and sighted alike. The difference, I'm beginning to understand, is that most people don't have blindness to blame for these accidents. When mistakes happen, most people shrug them off and try to do something better next time. Many blind people I know are good at this, too, and I haven't been one of them. I'm working on it, though.

I told a dirty joke in front of a policeman. He called me out for using bad language, and nothing else happened. My parents weren't called, the principal wasn't summoned, and I didn't get in trouble. And even if there had been bigger consequences, so what? These things happen. They will continue to happen. All I can do, if I want to be a happier person, is keep going and, if possible, do better next time.

"Okay, Jeremy, I got a good joke. Any cops around?"

Two Novels by Kristen Witucki

Reviewed by Deborah Kendrick

From the Editor: Deborah Kendrick is a journalist who has written extensively about blindness and disability. She divides her time between Cincinnati and Florida.


by Kristen Witucki
GemmaMedia, 2013
ISBN: 9781936846412
[Available from www.bookshare.org]

When Deborah Stein asked me to review Kristen Witucki's new novel, Outside Myself, I initially had difficulty locating the book. However, I immediately found Witucki's other title, The Transcriber, published half a decade earlier. I was drawn quickly into this young-adult novel, staying up into the night, unable to put it down.

Sibling relationships are complicated, and they are like no other bonds forged in our lives. Add a disability to the mix and the heat, as they say, gets cranked up.

Does the child without a disability wind up resenting the one who gets so much special attention? Does the child without a disability become marginalized or ignored? Perhaps worst of all, does the nondisabled sibling feel an obligation to take care of the less advantaged child in the family?

In Kristen Witucki's young-adult novel, The Transcriber, we get a firsthand look at the role of the sighted sibling of a blind sister. Louis tells it the way it sometimes is in real life, and families with children of varying visual acuities would do well to read—and yes, even talk about—what Louis has to say.

Emily is older than her brother Louis. She is smart, musical, artistic—and blind. Louis loves her—and sometimes (like when she trades him in, as he sees it, for some girlfriends her own age)—he hates her enough to crash a chair into her bedroom door to break it.

Louis is the only sighted member of the family who learns to write Braille. He is resentful when his mother, to get him to Braille Santa tags on Emily's Christmas presents, reveals to him ahead of schedule that Santa isn't real. "She's older than I am!" I repeated. "She should write tags for me!"
His mother tells him not to be unkind. To Louis their mother means that Emily has to be treated kindly because she is blind.

Louis wonders at the sign telling passing drivers that a blind child lives here. "Emily's not stupid," he reflects. "If she wants to play in the street and get run over, it's her decision." And he wonders why there is no sign to say that he, a sighted child, lives here, too. He experiments with what it might be like to be blind, and gets the hang of walking around "without touching walls" until he forgets and tumbles down the stairs.

Louis resents Emily, and he adores Emily. And mostly, the charm of Louis and of this wonderful little book is that Louis is perhaps the only person in the family who sees Emily as Emily, not as the blind girl. She is blind. He knows that. But he also knows that she can do all sorts of things kids who can see can't do, and that she will do more. When his father takes Louis, but not Emily, to visit an aunt and uncle, it is because the relatives don't understand about Emily and his father doesn't want to endure their pity. In keeping with their misguided perceptions, they conclude that Emily stayed home because "in her situation" she is unable to travel. "[They] figured," Louis tells us, "that if Emily didn't come, it was because she couldn't travel, because she couldn't see, and it would be too hard for her. I know that's not true. Emily is always talking about how she wants to go to places like Ireland and Japan and Kenya, and I know she'll do it, too."

When their father becomes ill and is hospitalized, Louis dreams their father is a beggar. He refers to Emily as having a disability and their father as being crippled. The meaning is clear: their father refuses to accept that his body has become different, whereas Emily just lives her life. Like so many good books for young people, this novel is one to be savored at any age. We come to love Louis in these pages and, through his eyes, to love Emily. Better still, we come to respect Louis and, through his eyes, respect his sister—as a typical girl who just happens to be blind.


by Kristen Witucki
Wyatt-McKenzie, 2018
ISBN 9781942545996
[Available from www.bookshare.org, from www.audible.com, and from NLS as DB91111]

Eagerly I returned to the pursuit of Outside Myself, for which the review was requested. Certainly, I thought, if a first book was as engaging as The Transcriber, a second book promised to be nothing short of delicious.

Beware of expectations was the applicable lesson here, as it turned out not to be quite so uncomplicated. Both books are written by an author who is blind, and both feature blind characters. That is where the similarity ends. To be fair, I needed to review them as the separate entities that they are.

Kristen Witucki's second book, Outside Myself, features a relationship that most blind readers may accept as credible. Tallie is a girl in middle school whose parents are divorced and who is obsessed with finding a cure for her blindness. When she calls the library for the blind Benjamin answers, and she asks him if there is a book about a cure for Leber's congenital amaurosis (LCA). Benjamin gently but firmly advises her to forget about a cure and live her life. Tallie is eleven. Benjamin is a grandfather. Tallie is white. Benjamin is black. Most significantly, Benjamin is the first blind person Tallie has ever known, and the two form an instant connection.

If you are looking for a book that tells the truth about blindness, there is plenty of honest representation here. Tallie was born without sight, while Benjamin's story is one of a long struggle from childhood to manhood, from painfully limited vision that diminishes over time until complete blindness as an adult. We learn about Braille and independent travel and the ridiculous behavior the presence of a blind person can spark in sighted people. In one scene, Nate, a friend from school, is mortified by his mother's fussing when he invites Tallie over to play video games. (The scene triggered a hilarious memory from my own college days when a friend's mother placed her hands on my shoulders and literally tried to back me onto a toilet seat!) We learn that blind people can participate in sports (Tallie's mother takes her on a ski weekend with other blind people), and that blind adults can be professionals (Tallie meets a blind journalist there). We also learn, largely from Benjamin's compelling story, that blind people can be parents, spouses, supportive friends, and owners of heart-wrenching mistakes. The writing has real merit, and it is sometimes poignant and insightful.

However, fiction is made memorable by characters, and I had to read the book twice before I could form any emotional attachment to the characters presented here. Witucki explains in an afterword that the book is the result, in part, of her vow to write her husband's story. She does that well. Witucki was born blind, and her husband had a gradual vision loss. Witucki is white, and her husband is black. While this book is not Witucki's autobiography or a biography of her husband, clearly their story helped shape the novel.

Examining the characters in this book, I feel that Benjamin is the more real of the two. His agonizing journey from what he later calls "half sighted" to total blindness will be recognizable to any reader who has been there or been close to someone who has. He pretends to see when he can't. He struggles to see whatever he can. His ultimate acceptance and choice to be a happy blind man rather than a miserable one will no doubt resonate with readers in much the same way that it does with Tallie. Benjamin's internal conflicts, his love of his family, his pragmatism, and his kindness comprise a real human being, a character the reader can wonder about when the book is closed.

The same cannot be said of Tallie. Tallie's story, while often educational, sometimes reads more like theory than fiction. I found myself questioning the authenticity of the eleven-year-old character more than once. Would a child this age, if born blind, really be so obsessed with wanting to see and constantly bemoaning her blindness? Would a child of eleven, even a precocious one, tell us that her school corridors smell of "chalk dust and despair?" And would an eleven-year-old experience and identify the level of transformation resulting from this brief friendship, as we are told Tallie has? If we can, however, as Coleridge prompted, willingly suspend our disbelief and put those questions aside, this is a promising novel by a new writer, a novel written by a blind person representing the truth about blindness.


2018-2019 NOPBC BOARD

At the 2018 meeting of the board of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), the following officers were elected:

President, Carlton Anne Walker
First Vice President, Penny Duffy
Second Vice President, Kimberly Banks
Secretary, Carol Castellano
Treasurer, Sandra Oliver
Board members Jean Bening, Pamela Gebert, Corbb O'Connor, Tabby Mitchell, Haley Ali, Jean Fultz, Carol Akers, Rosina Foster, Melissa Riccobono, and Michelle Murrey


National Federation of the Blind Mentoring Program
Contact: Maurice Peret, (410) 659-9314, Extension 2350
[email protected]

The NFB is actively recruiting blind and low-vision students and job-seekers to participate in a dynamic new program. Highlights of the program include mentoring—meeting and working one-on-one with blind mentors from around the country, in all professional fields; career exploration, including job shadowing and internships; development of job readiness skills such as resumé writing and interviewing; and peer-to-peer interactions around career planning. For more information, read the article in the April issue of the Braille Monitor, "Changing Attitudes Regarding Education, Employment, and Rehabilitation through the National Federation of the Blind Career Mentoring Program," https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/ bm/bm18/bm1804/bm180414.htm


2018 NOPBC Conference

Maybe you weren't able to attend all of the workshops that interested you at the 2018 conference of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). Perhaps you couldn't attend the conference at all this year. You can still gather some of the valuable information you missed. Several of the conference presenters have made their workshop handouts available online. Here are just a few examples: "Integrating Braille for Dual Media Learners," "Hands-on Math: Explore the Tools that Will Help Your Child Learn at All Levels," "IEP 101," and "Structured Discovery."

ISLAND 2018 Conference
Contact: Cary Supalo, [email protected]
Location: Princeton University, Princeton, NJ
Conference dates: September 14-15, 2018

The 2018 ISLAND Conference will be a forum for discussing issues pertaining to blind students studying the sciences. Presentations will focus on innovative ways to make laboratory courses accessible and to prepare blind students for careers in the STEM fields.


2018 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards

The 2018 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards, announced on July 8, recognize individuals and organizations that are a positive force in the lives of blind people and whose work is advancing the ultimate goal of helping transform our dreams into reality. A prize of $25,000 was awarded to the developers of Be My Eyes, a free mobile app that connects blind and low-vision users with sighted volunteers for visual assistance through a live video call. An award of $5,000 went to Peggy Chong who, for more than two decades, has documented empowering stories about blind people on her website, theblindhistorylady.com. Carol Begay Green was the recipient of a $5,000 award for creating a Braille code for the Navajo language and a plan to teach the code across the Navajo Nation. Another award of $5,000 went to iBUG Today, Inc., a nonprofit that promotes independence, social integration, and educational development of the blind community through accessible technology training and services. Tactile Maps Automated Production (TMAP) at the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired of San Francisco was awarded $5,000 for its program that creates consumer-grade, on-demand tactile maps that give blind people information and self-confidence to travel independently. The final award of $5,000 went to Ski for Light, an organization that connects the blind and sighted communities in the joy of cross-country skiing.

2018 Holman Prizes

The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired of San Francisco launched the Holman Prizes in 2017 to raise awareness about the achievements of blind people and to support ambitious projects by blind individuals. Blind persons from all over the world are eligible to apply, and each winner receives a prize of $25,000. The three 2018 prizewinners are Stacy Cervenka, Conchita Hernandez, and Red Szell. Stacy Cervenka (US) will create an accessible travel forum called the Blind Travelers Network geared toward blind users. Conchita Hernandez (US) will use the Holman Prize to provide staffing, lodging, and scholarships for an unprecedented "Changing Lives" conference, to be held in Guadalajara, Mexico, in July 2019. Geared toward families, the conference will offer workshops on cane travel, Braille, and daily living. Red Szell (UK) plans to attempt an "extreme triathlon" comprised of a 200-foot abseil followed by a swim through open ocean, a 10-mile ride through a notably hazardous bogland, and a climb up a 213-foot ocean spire called Am Buachaille off the north coast of Scotland. He plans to document his endeavor on film as a message to other blind people not to give up their passions because of loss of vision. Videos of the 2018 Holman Prize winners can be viewed on the Lighthouse website.


NBP Poetry Contest
National Braille Press
88 St. Stephen St.
Boston, MA 02115
[email protected]
Deadline for Submissions: October 31, 2018, 5 pm EST

National Braille Press will award prizes for original poems submitted in hardcopy or electronic Braille (BRF) formats around the theme "Nature." Poems will be considered in five categories: grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12, and adult. The winner in each category will receive prizes valued at $100.


The National Federation of the Blind and Kellogg's Rice Krispies® want more children to feel loved and supported. Rice Krispies® writable heart-shaped wrappers are a great way for kids to receive messages of love and support at school. And now blind children can participate, too. The new accessible love notes come in the form of Braille stickers and re-recordable audio devices. The heart-shaped Braille stickers can be placed in the white space on Rice Krispies Treats® wrappers. Each sticker sheet includes eight uplifting phrases in Braille that parents can share with their children, from "You've got this" to "Love you lots." Kellogg came to the National Federation of the Blind to make sure the love notes program reflected a positive attitude about blindness and that its materials were accessible. You can learn more and order love notes by visiting https://www.ricekrispies.com/en_US/love-notes.html.


Computer Use among Blind Adults
Major research is needed to prove how desperately blind and visually-impaired children need computer instruction in the school systems by proving what the adult population is using. Dr. Denise Robinson is conducting research to learn how blind adults use computers at home and in the workplace. Blind adults are sought to complete a 14-question survey about the kinds of technology they use and its importance in their lives.

Obesity and Physical Education
Contact: Justin A. Haegele, PhD, Old Dominion University: 757-683-5338
[email protected]

Dr. Justin Haegele is conducting a study exploring the experiences of people with visual impairments who also were obese or overweight during physical education classes. The research will look at how being visually impaired and overweight influenced physical experiences in public school. Participants must be adults between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five who will take part in a sixty-to ninety-minute interview and will afterward communicate with the researcher by email. All participants who complete the interview will receive a gift card valued at $20.

Odds and Ends


Exceptional Parent Magazine for the Special Needs Community

Exceptional Parent provides emotional support, practical advice, and up-to-date educational information for families of children and adults with disabilities and special health-care needs. Articles in the July 2018 issue include: "Creating Accessible Home Bathrooms for Kids," "Animal Therapy," and "Travel and Autism without Fear." Print and email subscriptions are available.


National Braille Press
88 St. Stephen St.
Boston, MA 02115

A number of board books for babies and preschoolers are available from National Braille Press. They can be purchased singly or, at a discount, in sets of three. Titles include Animal Kisses; Hop on Pop; Bears and a Birthday; What's Wrong Little Pookie?; That's Not My Monkey; That's Not My Pony; and That's Not My Elephant.

Writing Your Way: Composing and Editing on an iPhone or iPad
by Judy Dixon
Available in Braille and electronic formats

Most of us who have used an iPhone or iPad have done some writing on it, but how many are ready to write a term paper or full-length article with this technology? In this comprehensive reference guide, Judy Dixon explores strategies and techniques that can make writing and editing on your device a breeze.


Seedlings Braille Books for Children

Seedlings has added eight new children's books to its collection in Unified English Braille (UEB). Brand-new titles are Grumpy Bird (for toddlers and preschoolers); Just Critters Who Care and Finding Dory: Big Fish, Little Fish (for beginning readers); and Wishtree (for ages 8-12). Four more titles have been converted from the old Braille code: Where the Sidewalk Ends, The Indian in the Cupboard, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff for Teens, and Where the Red Fern Grows.


We Can Hear You Just Fine: Clarifications from the Kentucky School for the Blind
by Matthew Caudill, Haley Hall, Shane Lowe, Madelyn Loyd, Selena Tirey, Kianna Waller, and Cherish Willis
Edited by Joe Manning
Perfect Paperback, 2016
ISBN 978-0-9914765-2-7
Available in paperback at www.amazon.com

Created under the auspices of the Louisville Story Program, this unique book compiles the oral histories of seven students at the Kentucky School for the Blind. The authors come from a variety of backgrounds, but their stories share the theme that the desire for acceptance and dignity and the drive to succeed and have a meaningful place in the world are common to all of us.


Computers for the Blind

Computers for the Blind provides refurbished computers with assistive technology installed at affordable prices. Recently Computers for the Blind has partnered with VFO, whose brands include Freedom Scientific and Ai Squared. Laptop and desktop computers with monitors are available with Windows 10, and they ship with JAWS and ZoomText installed.

TechVision Newsletter

Each month Dr. Denise Robinson, a teacher of the visually impaired based in Washington State, compiles a newsletter packed with tech tips for students and teachers. A searchable collection of past issues is available on the website.


Blindy.TV: Taking the Vision out of Television

Blindy.TV is a project created by blind people who believe that blind people should be able to enjoy the same television programs that entertain and contribute to the shared culture of their families and friends. The current service provides channels of audio-only television programming in several genres, all with audio description.


Hear Ye, Hear Ye!

Did you know that the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults produces over 12,000 Braille calendars each year? These pocket sized calendars are given free to any blind or deaf-blind person in the United States.

Each calendar is embossed with the days of the week, the date, and all of the major national and religious holidays. You will love how quick and easy it is to use, not to mention the convenient size of the calendar.

If you or someone you know needs a 2019 Braille calendar, please feel free to complete the short online application at https://actionfund.org/braillecalendar. If you do not have access to the online form, you can send an email to [email protected] or call 410-659-9315 to request the calendars as well.

2019 Braille Calendars
Contact: Adrijana Prokopenko: [email protected]

Adrijana Prokopenko, a blind teacher in Macedonia, is selling 2019 Braille calendars for $6 apiece. A portion of the money raised will go to the NFB and to help the hungry around the world, and $2 per calendar will be used to help Adrijana attend the 2019 NFB convention in Las Vegas.