Volume 38 Number 1 Winter 2019
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 © 2019 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]
The 2019 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place July 7 to July 12, at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, 3950 South Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, Nevada 89119. Make your room reservation as soon as possible with the Mandalay Bay Resort staff only. Call 877-632-9001.
The 2019 room rate of $99 per night applies to singles and doubles as well as triples and quads. Hotel and sales taxes are 13.38 percent and 8.25 percent, respectively. The resort fee (normally $37 a night) will be waived for NFB convention attendees. However, fees for internet access, local and toll-free calls, and fitness center access may apply. The hotel will take a deposit of the first night's room rate for each room and will require a credit card or a personal check. If you use a credit card, the deposit will be charged against your card immediately. If a reservation is cancelled before Friday, June 1, 2019, half of the deposit will be returned. Otherwise refunds will not be made.
Rooms will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations may be made before June 1, 2019, assuming that rooms are still available. After that time the hotel will not hold our room block for the convention. In other words, you should get your reservation in soon.
Among the hotel's features is an aquatic playground called Mandalay Bay Beach, which has real sand, a wave pool, and a lazy river. The hotel is also home to an aquarium with more than two thousand animals, including sharks, green sea turtles, and a Komodo dragon. Plus, it offers top-notch entertainment, including Michael Jackson ONE by Cirque du Soleil.
The schedule for the 2019 convention is:
Sunday, July 7 Seminar Day
Monday, July 8 Registration and Resolutions Day
Tuesday, July 9 Board Meeting and Division Day
Wednesday, July 10 Opening Session
Thursday, July 11 Business Session
Friday, July 12 Banquet Day and Adjournment
The Future Is Ours
by Ronza Othman
Mama Bears Unite!
by Alison Clougherty
Helping Your Blind Child Develop Good Listening Skills
by Lesley Potgieter
The Murano Glass Candle Holder: A Letter to Parents Everywhere
by Kathryn Webster
A Letter to Sixteen-year-old Me
by Arielle Silverman
On How and Why I (Finally) Slayed the NLS Braille Certification
by Monique Coleman
Spanish Braille and English Language Learners
by Scott Baltisberger
Creating a Code, Preserving a Language
by Carol Begay Green
Authentically Blind on Stage and Screen: One Blind Actress Transforms Obstacles into Stepping Stones
by Marilee Talkington
From Actor to Dialect Coach
An Interview with Sammi Grant
Driving Blind on the Technology Superhighway—Browsers, Choosing the Right Vehicle for the Journey
by Amy Mason
Serendipity at Play: The Story of Blindfold Games
by Patricia Costantino
Busting Myths about Disability and Personal Finance
by Kane Brolin
The Daily Accidents of Life: Consequences of Blindness or Being Human?
by Sheri Wells-Jensen
Blind Child at Play
by Carlton Anne Cook Walker
The Real Challenges of the Bird Box Challenge
by Kaiti Shelton
A Blind Guide to Stinkville and A Blind Guide to Normal
by Beth Vrabel, Reviewed by Deborah Kendrick
The Megan Bening Memorial Fund
Odds and Ends
Are you the parent of a blind or visually impaired child? Don’t know where to turn?
Founded in 1983, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) is a membership organization of parents, educators, and friends of blind children reaching out to give each other vital support, encouragement, and information. We have thousands of members in all fifty states plus Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico.
The NOPBC offers hope, encouragement, information, and resources for parents of blind or visually impaired children. NOPBC provides emotional support and a network of other families dealing with the same challenges you are facing. We also provide information, training, and resources to empower you to take an active role in guiding your child’s development and education. We can provide information on your child’s rights and on the laws and legislative issues that will enable you and your child to become strong and effective advocates.
Have you ever wondered what your blind or visually impaired child will be capable of when he or she grows up? The answer to that question is that blindness/visual impairment does not have to stop your child from doing anything he or she wants to do. We can connect you with other families and blind adults who can serve as positive mentors and role models. They can teach you the attitudes and techniques that will enable your child to become independent and to succeed in life.
What is different about the NOPBC?
Our status as a division of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the largest and most influential organization of blind people in the world, provides many benefits. Our members are well informed about the societal, legislative, and technological issues that affect blind people. We also enjoy the resources, support, and expertise of fifty thousand blind people who can serve as mentors and role models for us and our children. Finally, as our children grow up, they have the Federation to belong to.
No other organization for parents of blind/visually impaired children offers more programs, activities, and training to families, children, and youth. One of our most exciting activities is our annual conference. Every year since it was established, the NOPBC has conducted an annual conference for parents and teachers of blind children as part of the national convention of the NFB. The program has grown to include five exciting days of workshops, training sessions, activities for all family members, including sighted siblings, and countless opportunities to meet blind adults and other families and children from around the country.
What is the mission of the NOPBC?
The purpose of the NOPBC is to:
Most states have an NOPBC affiliate chapter. You can find your state chapter at http://www.nopbc.org. If your state does not have a chapter and you would like to start one, please contact us. We may be able to offer training and other assistance to start a state NOPBC chapter.
What are the programs, activities, publications, and resources of the NOPBC?
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
by Ronza Othman
Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 62, Number 1, January 2019
From the Editor: Ronza Othman is an attorney with the US Health and Human Services Administration. She manages the discrimination program at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Recently she was elected president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. This article is based on a speech that she gave at the 2018 National Federation of the Blind of Maryland convention.
"I am blind." Those words are three of the most liberating words in the English language. But for many of us, they are some of the scariest words in the English language as well. Some of us need to hear them hundreds of times before we realize those words apply to us. Some of us might literally fall in a hole, and we still won't realize the words apply to us. But thanks to the National Federation of the Blind, those words are liberating—an anthem of freedom that pierces the anxiety and frustration of trying to do things the sighted way when you have little or no sight.
I'd like to tell you a little about myself, if I may. I was one of those who was slow to accept my blindness, and I was slower to use the words. I always thought I was unique. My family immigrated to the United States from Palestine just days before I was born. I spoke almost no English when I started school, and I was the sixth of seven kids. My family is loud and funny, and each and every one of us is a Type-A personality—except me (ha!). My mom figured out when I was a toddler that I had "vision issues." Like most parents she took me from doctor to doctor seeking a diagnosis, a reason, and a fix.
In the Middle East and many other parts of the world, cultural and political norms often cause families of the blind to hide a family member’s disabilities, and sometimes actually to hide family members themselves. The word blind has very negative connotations. Resources don't exist, or if they do they are inadequate. Fortunately, a lot has changed in the last quarter century in much of the world. But for most refugees and immigrants, who are already trying so hard to blend in and be unnoticed in American society, having a child with a disability such as blindness is an additional challenge. Having said that though, the Middle Eastern culture used to hide its blind people; my mother rebelled against that notion from Day One. So my unwillingness to use the word blind, though perhaps it had some societal cause, was in no way perpetuated by my mother or my immediate family.
English was my second language, and I was notoriously bad at it. I kept trying to add English endings to Arabic words, which, as a little kid, just sounded bizarre. You'll still hear my accent come out when I'm tired, sad, or angry. Anyway, I went to kindergarten at my local public school, where I have fond memories of playing with blocks. That is all I remember about mainstream kindergarten.
I remember a test—I was five, so I also remember really wanting the juice box they promised me if I finished the test. They showed me three pictures: an umbrella, an apple, and a house. I knew the words in Arabic, but I didn't know them in English. I told the juice box people what items were in the pictures, but I did it in the wrong language—no one but me spoke Arabic. And off I went to a resource school for the blind—oh, and I got to repeat kindergarten, too. And to add insult to injury, the juice box wasn't even that good!
The resource school taught me to read, write, and speak English first. But they wouldn't teach me more than rudimentary Braille or cane travel, because I "had enough vision to get by without them." They gave me large print books, and I believe that is when my need for a chiropractor began. A six-year-old shouldn't be carrying such heavy books! I was mainstreamed into the "regular" classrooms within a few months of getting there, which made me wonder even at age six why I had to commute ninety minutes each way every day just to do what I would have done at my neighborhood school. I did ask that question—in English, I was precocious—but I never got a satisfactory answer.
I remember a particular time when I got behind my regular class in reading, and I worked out that my classmates were using context clues from the pictures in the book to learn words. Large print books in my day looked like over-sized coloring books, and for a blind kid, all I saw were a bunch of wavy lines—rather disorienting. I asked my "vision teacher" if someone could color in my book like the other kids did so I could have usable pictures, too. I'm sure that was the most fun task a vision aide probably ever had, coloring my first-grade reader. I have fond memories of "See Frog Jump" as a result.
I went back to my neighborhood school after second grade and attended a religious parochial school for junior high and high school. I got occasional visits from my vision itinerant, but mostly those were excuses to skip a math quiz or visit Taco Bell. It took me longer than most to finish my homework, and I slept very little in high school in order to keep up with the required reading. Oh, and I was a total nerd, complete with the public aid glasses—you know them, the ones that are huge plastic frames with bifocals. My mother insisted I wear them on a string so I didn't lose them. I didn't go out alone at night, and I only went if I absolutely trusted the person whom I was with. I realize now that the people I was with were giving me nonvisual cues, but it was clear to everyone but me that I was blind.
All this time, when people asked me—and mind you they absolutely had to ask, I never volunteered or self-identified—I would say I was visually impaired.
When I went to college, I began figuring out that something was different about me. I realized I was the only one working so hard to complete assignments. I got a job on campus that I really liked, but I wasn't brought back after freshman year because I was "too slow in reading documents." I realized Scantron Test Sheets were everywhere (they are the devil!), and my absolute loathing for them was disproportionate from that of my fellow classmates. I fell in a hole—literally. Walking one night I jumped out of the way of a speeding car and ended up in a construction ditch. I hadn't even known it was there. Had I used blindness techniques or mobility skills, I'd have known of its existence before I fell in it. I broke my ankle and two ribs. But I insisted to anyone who would listen that I fell because of a speeding car, not because I "couldn't see well." My vernacular was changing.
I applied for scholarships with the National Federation of the Blind, and I wish so fervently that someone had contacted me for more than the annual interview. My college experience would have been so different, and I might have avoided that hole. I finally did receive a state scholarship in Illinois when I was a first-year law student. That state convention was my first exposure to adults who were blind and who were fine with their blindness. In fact, they were thriving.
I showed up at the convention fully planning to take the scholarship money and run—law school is expensive and really intense! But when I got to the hotel, I saw about a hundred blind people who were laughing, talking, walking, navigating the hotel and parking lot on their own, and doing what many of us think of as basic things. But for me, this was all new. I thought I was doing great as a "low vision" person, but surrounded by people who had much less usable vision than I did, I felt like I was missing something fundamental.
At that convention I met people like Patti Chang, Debbie Stein, Fred Schroeder, and Ryan Strunk. Fred Schroeder kept calling me "Runza," and it took me three days to figure out he was teasing me by calling me the name of his favorite Nebraska sandwich. Then he talked to me about my own as well as cultural misconceptions about blindness. This was the beginning of a lifelong conversation the two of us have been having about blindness and NFB philosophy.
Ryan Strunk kept asking me annoying questions such as, "But how do you read?" and "How do you travel?" I got defensive, because my answers didn't satisfy him . . . or, I realized, me. Later I thought long and hard about his questions and viewed them as a challenge to learn how to work smarter, not harder—and that meant learning blindness skills.
Patti Chang showed me that lawyering could be done as a blind person quite competently, which was something I was very anxious about. She took me under her wing (whether I liked it or not) and brought me into her family. Patti gave me one of my first jobs as a law clerk, and she worked me as hard as every sighted employee she had—I think she worked me harder! She taught me through words and actions what blind people could do in their lives, what blind lawyers could do, what I could do.
Debbie Stein gave me the gift of literacy. She, too, grabbed hold of me and wouldn't let go. I tried to take the money and run, but Patti and Debbie wouldn't allow it, and Debbie taught me to read Braille.
I've been fortunate to meet thousands of Federationists since that state convention, and I've learned a great deal from so many of them. One Federationist, Nathanael Wales, put a long white cane in my hand for the first time and taught me how to use it. I had to lose a bet to do it, but some of us are slow learners! Federationists taught me cooking techniques. Federationists showed me that independent air travel is not only possible but easy. Federationists helped give me the confidence to move, alone, across the country to Maryland. They showed me what technology is out there. A Federationist, Joanne Wilson, helped me get my first federal job.
Melissa Riccobono was the first friend I made when I moved to Maryland a decade ago. I learned from Melissa to be myself, that it is okay to make mistakes, and never to stop learning. The incomparable Sharon Maneki has influenced my life in so many ways. I've learned that I am capable of so much more than I thought I was. I learned that no one's brain can store as much information as Sharon's, but I like the challenge of trying to mine that brain. Sharon is also one of the funniest people I've ever known, but her humor is so unexpected that it takes you a minute to realize she made a joke. I'm so grateful for her faith in me as a leader, and I'm more grateful than I can ever express for her friendship and for her love.
These incredible Federationists and others helped shape me into the person I am. They taught me self-confidence, and they taught me that the word blind is not negative but freeing. I hope to share the gift they've given to me with those who come after me. They showed me that, with the proper skills and attitude, the future is ours. Because of them, because of you, my fellow Federationists, I can say with pride and confidence, "My name is Ronza Othman, and I am blind."
by Alison Clougherty
From the Editor: Alison Clougherty is the mother of a blind son, Finn, who is sixteen months old as this magazine goes to press. This article originally appeared on her blog, Seeing Things in a Different Way, in which she writes about her parenting journey. You can follow her posts at https://seeingthingsinadifferentway.wordpress.com/about-us.
By the time Finn was eight months old, we'd really come a long way since those early days after his birth. Doctor's appointments were less frequent. The surgeries were behind us. My husband, Patrick, and I were on the same page. We were immersed in the everyday job of parenting our son.
As I imagine most new mothers do, I was spending any free time I had immersing myself in books on "how to get your baby to sleep through the night," "how to raise a kind human," "how to make your own baby food" (a short-lived phase), and "how the hell to get your baby to sleep through the night?!?!" among others.
On top of the usual parenting books, I was also reading anything I could find about how to raise a blind child. As rare as our situation is, the amount of literature published on the topic is scarce to say the least. I did find one book that was extremely old and extremely technical, but I took what I could get. The first few chapters were a biology lesson on how the eyes work and communicate with the brain. Helpful information, I suppose, but I was well past any interest in the mechanics of it all—just tell me what my son needs already!
It turned out that a lot of what Finn needed was no different from what any other infant needs, with a few modifications. We learned to talk to him A LOT! For example, I never just swoop in and pick him up without saying first, "Mama's going to pick you up." I say this to avoid startling him. Any time I carry him throughout the house I describe where we're going, how we're getting there, the directions we're taking. I'm sure a lot of parents do this, too, but for Finn it has to be pretty constant and consistent, as he depends on these descriptions to learn about his environment.
But when I came upon the chapter in this book entitled "Early Intervention," a lightbulb went off. I studied early childhood education alongside psychology as an undergrad in college. I even went on to get a master's degree in education policy. None of this do I use directly in my job in event marketing, which has sometimes led me to look back and wonder if I have let my education go to waste. Now I think perhaps the education path I chose wasn't meant for my professional career at all; perhaps it was meant to give me a solid foundation for my career in parenting Finn.
All of that is to say that the concept of early intervention was not new to me. I knew the basics—that any children born with disabilities or delays are entitled to free government services to help them achieve and succeed to the best of their abilities. I knew this right was protected by the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). Yet not until I read that chapter did it really dawn on me that we needed to apply for services for Finn. I'm not sure why it took so long—I had accepted Finn's blindness for sure, but perhaps I was still in a bit of denial that I was, in fact, a special needs mom. And though I had basic knowledge of what early intervention entailed, I really had no knowledge of what services a blind child would need or qualify for. From what I remember of my course studies, blindness was not one of the typically identified "disabilities" on the list.
Luckily this book laid it all out there for me. The two most important services Finn would need would be a TVI (teacher of the visually impaired) and an O&M (orientation and mobility specialist). A TVI provides tools and education specifically for those with visual impairment or blindness. An O&M instructor teaches those with visual impairment to move safely and independently throughout their environment—for example, how to properly use a long white cane. I'd never heard either of these terms before, or if I had it was many years ago in school, and it didn't sink in. If only I'd known then that I'd have a blind son fifteen years later, I'd have listened a bit more closely!
After reading up on early intervention, I was a bit dismayed that no one—none of the doctors we'd seen—had yet suggested to us that we should apply for these services. Luckily, I read this book, and luckily I had the base background education that I did, or we might have gone many months or even years longer without getting Finn the services he needed. From there I asked our pediatrician, our retinal surgeon, and Miss H [a blind adult in the area], their thoughts about Finn's needs. They all agreed that we needed to apply for services through the state as soon as possible, though none seemed particularly familiar with what the services would be or the process of obtaining them. We were on our own.
I found the Tennessee Early Intervention Services (TEIS) phone number online and called them three times before receiving a call back. When I finally got someone on the phone, I was asked a slew of questions regarding Finn's medical history. From there, we had to have all of his records transferred to the TEIS offices to prove need. Once they established that there was in fact a need for services, we'd be assigned a case coordinator. This process took about a month. I told the lady on the phone that my son was completely blind. I'd sent her all of his medical records proving this fact. Yet, a month passed before they confirmed all of this to be true.
We were assigned a coordinator. We'll call her Miss C. Our first meeting with Miss C. was pretty simple—she came to the house, met Finn, had us fill out some paperwork, and let us know that we'd been preliminarily approved for services pending one other medical record they needed. I was annoyed, but things seemed to be moving along. Miss C. let us know that we'd then be assigned a developmental therapist, and we would soon know how many days a month they would allow us to see him/her. I started to ask a few questions that went something like this:
"The developmental therapist—what is "his/her role?" "What is "his/her background in vision impairment?" "Would we also be given a TVI and an O&M?"
This is where things went south for Miss C. and me—we'll call me Mama Bear. Miss C. told me that the developmental therapist (DT) is meant to ensure that Finn achieves his developmental milestones, but that he/she would have no background in visual impairment. She said she knew of one DT with a background in O&M, but that she was assigned to another county. She went on to say that TEIS had no TVI or O&M on staff in my county, so those services would not be available for Finn.
I'm sorry, WHAT?!?!?!
My follow-up questions went a bit like this: "You're telling me that my blind child is approved for services, but none of those services are specific to visual impairment?" "You're telling me that there are no TVIs or O&Ms in the state of Tennessee available to help him?" "You're telling me he's only been approved to see a developmental therapist, even though he thus far has shown no signs of developmental delays?" Her first answer was "Yes." Her second answer was "Well, there are TVIs and O&Ms, but not on our staff, so you're welcome to obtain those services privately and pay for them on your own." Her last answer, "Yes."
As you can imagine, I had some follow-up questions: "What about parents of children like Finn who can't afford to pay for services on their own?" "What about those who don't have the means to take their child to said services? Are they just left to fall through the cracks?" Her answers were again, "Yes," and my response was a simple, "Unacceptable."
Things got pretty tense with Miss C. I don't think she was prepared for me to break out the book I'd just read, or for me to reference the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). I was armed with knowledge, and I wasn't taking no for an answer.
Miss C. did agree to do what she could to get me the one DT in the area with an O&M background, even though she was not currently an actively practicing O&M. I took a deep breath and held it together until she left. I was angry. I was in full-fledged mom advocacy mode. As confident as I'd been while Miss C. was in my living room, as soon as she left I was deflated and afraid—afraid that there was nothing I could do to get my son the services he needed.
Though I knew enough about the IDEA as a whole, I didn't know much about Tennessee's interpretation of that law. I did as much research as I could online, but that only took me so far. I started researching TVIs and O&Ms in the area to see what kind of information I could gather. I then came across a TVI training program at Vanderbilt University. I emailed the head of the department, explained my situation, and asked if there were any TVIs on staff who might know more about the early intervention system. Candidly, my husband and I have the means and were willing to pay for services privately if necessary, but I wasn't about to come out and say this in my email. I knew for all the other mothers in my situation out there who don't have the means, this just wasn't right.
The person I emailed at Vanderbilt immediately responded and gave me another contact there whom she said had extensive experience in the field. She followed up a day later with two other contacts. Just when you get discouraged by one person's seeming unwillingness to help, you turn around to find another who goes above and beyond!
I reached out to all three contacts. The first one to respond, we'll call her Miss D., was a certified vision teacher and O&M instructor, as well as an early interventionist. Bingo! She could not have been more helpful or sympathetic. She explained to me that having specific vision services for Finn was an absolute necessity, and that services needed to start sooner rather than later. Furthermore, and as I'd suspected, it was the state's responsibility to provide these services. She offered to come to our house, do an evaluation of Finn at no charge, and meet with him weekly until we could get services from the state. She didn't want him to fall through the cracks for even a minute. People are so wonderful sometimes!!
Miss D. came to do her evaluation the next week, and she put together a full report that spelled out Finn's developmental status and needs. A lot of children with visual impairments have delays related to development. Thus far, Finn had exhibited no other issues—he'd hit every milestone "on time." That's not to say he didn't need a DT—he was only eight months old at this point, and who knew if his development would continue on this path. But the DT was more of a preventive need for Finn than an immediate one.
The need for a vision teacher, someone who could ensure he had the proper tools to learn without visual input, was a true, immediate need for our son. Miss D. gave us the name of the head of TEIS for a neighboring county—she told us that she knew of a similar situation that had happened years prior, and that this man had secured a private vision teacher to be paid for by the state of Tennessee for a little boy, also blind. Miss D. told me to send her report to him and give him the background. She also agreed to call him herself and let him know I'd be reaching out.
I heard back from him immediately. He said he'd be sending all of his paperwork from the family he'd worked with years back to my coordinator and her boss, his counterpart for my county, as evidence of a precedent and an example of what needed to be done. Within days of his email, we were approved for a vision teacher to come meet with Finn once a week! We were also approved for the DT with an O&M background to come two to four times a month. Hallelujah! The persistence and help of others had prevailed!
We started the process of applying for services in May. Finn was approved for a vision teacher and began seeing her in late July. It took three months of phone calls, waiting, emails, and most of all, people who cared, to help us get there.
What I learned from all of this was that my most important job as Finn's mother is going to be working as his advocate. Being his Mama Bear. At the same time, I'll be working as an advocate for all other mothers in my shoes, just as that mother in Tennessee had done years before me. I'm sure she had to go through an even harder battle to get her son a vision teacher, with no precedent yet set. I think of other mothers out there starting on this journey; mothers who don't have any background knowledge about early intervention and have never heard of the IDEA; who may not have access to or know where to find the books I've read; who may take no for an answer, simply because they don't have the knowledge, time, or energy to put up a fight that they may view as a losing battle.
As a side note, I don't want to bash TEIS or even my original coordinator (we have since moved counties and have been assigned a new coordinator; I think Miss C. and I were both happy about that, since we never fully recovered from that initial first impression). For all the stress it caused me for those few months, TEIS has provided really wonderful specialists who work with my son every week in the comfort of our own home. He is now in his seventh month of service, and it has truly been invaluable. Though they are here for Finn, they are really here to teach Patrick and me how to equip him with the tools he needs to succeed. I've learned so much! Early intervention is an amazing service any special needs parent should take advantage of—just don't be afraid to fight for what you think and know your child needs, despite what you may be told. The more precedents we can set, the better for those who come after us. Most of all, know that there are people out there who can help and who are eager to help. Including me!
by Lesley Potgieter
Reprinted with permission from www.wonderbaby.org.
From the Editor: People often assume that blind children automatically have superior listening skills. However, like any other skill, the ability to listen attentively improves with practice. In this article Lesley Potgieter suggests games and activities that can help children learn effective listening. Lesley Potgieter is a teacher and parent who lives in the UK. You can visit her website at http://www.awarebears.co.za/
Listening refers to a child's ability to attend to and distinguish environmental and speech sounds from one another. It is crucial for a child, especially a blind child, to develop good listening skills in order to cope with the academic demands of school and to learn adequate literacy skills.
A child's listening skills include determining the direction from which a sound comes, recalling or memorizing auditory information, recognizing intonation of voice, and awareness of rhythmic patterns. These skills provide the basis for the development of expressive language and are important in the acquisition of early literacy.
Listening involves many different aspects:
There are many activities and games you can play with your child to develop the skills, concepts, and abilities necessary to meet the auditory requirements of listening activities:
1. See "A Visit to Audiology," www.wonderbaby.org/articles/audiology.
2. For more information, see Gillet, Pamela. (1993) Auditory Processes. Academic Therapy Publications.
by Kathryn Webster
From the Editor: Kathryn Webster works as a consultant in strategy and analytics with the firm Deloitte Consulting, LLP. She also serves as president of the National Association of Blind Students (NABS). In this article she reflects upon the ways her parents empowered her to succeed and offers encouragement to other parents of blind and visually-impaired children.
On a cool winter afternoon in Venice, Italy, I gently ran my fingertips over a Murano glass candle holder. The long, curvy structure was hand-made with unique creativity and design. While it began as a loose bowl of powder, this precious material, fueled by fire, ignited into a one-of-a-kind piece of art. The bottom of the frame was stable in structure, the lengthy neck was molded by a steady hand, and the sharp wick at the top welcomed all possibilities. This piece of art was flawed and beautiful; imperfect and pure; sturdy, yet fragile. As my mother and I explored the small island of Murano in December of 2018, I felt an overwhelming sense of clarity.
Once they were made aware of my blindness two weeks after my birth, my parents were disheartened and frightened. They were scared about my future. They worried about how people would react and how I would navigate the world as a young woman with a disability. At two weeks old I underwent an operation to allow light into my right eye. Still blind in the simplest medical terminology, I could read large print throughout my elementary and middle school years. Without guidance from the school district, my parents pushed to get introductory Braille into my weekly curriculum.
Stubborn as I was, I refused to rely on a mobility aid such as a cane. I wore glasses with Coke-bottle lenses and linked arms with friends when I went out after dark, but I would not identify my blindness by carrying a long white stick.
Fast forward to age fifteen. What began as a severe stomach virus infected my right eye, forcing me to undergo an emergency surgery. The infection and the treatment further decreased my vision. I went through intensive Braille instruction, but I still fought back when I was told to use a cane. I wanted to be skinny, beautiful, and normal. I wanted to be just like the rest of my peers.
Throughout that time of transition, my dad often told me I could change the world. He didn't mean that I could transform the world by being an inspiration because I'm blind. He meant that I could change the world, as anyone else can, if I pushed myself, challenged the status quo, and stayed true to my core values. Even today, my mom teaches me to be ambitious, sassy, and selfless. She questions my logic during moments of hesitation; but she questions those moments for my sighted brother, too, just the same.
Even when my vision got too fuzzy for comfort, I continued with high school cheerleading. I relied heavily on thick tape across our mats to find my position in our squad's formation. I kept running track, too, following the neon jersey of one of my coaches or teammates and acting as though nothing had changed. I also went to parties on the weekends, missed curfew here and there, wore pants to school that were a little too tight, and loved the boys. My parents were not too happy with me 80 percent of the time throughout my first two years of high school. Sorry, Mom and Dad! Now I understand.
It was not until my sophomore year that I started taking school seriously. I was encouraged by uplifting words from my mom and motivated by my father's brilliant mind, and a new level of maturity seemed to slap me in the face. I enrolled in an Advanced Placement (AP) course on statistics. I was still a typical high school girl, though. I enrolled partly because I wanted the challenge and partly because I had a huge crush on the teacher.
Enrolling in that class was probably one of the best decisions of my life. I had no idea what I was taking on with an AP Stats course. I had no Braille textbook and no conceptual understanding of the material. I only knew that guidance counselors and mentors alike told me it wasn't a good idea for me to take such a difficult class. Those words made me determined to kick butt in that course!
Now I am a twenty-three-year-old blind woman in the STEM field, working at one of the top consulting firms in the world. Each day I am challenged by the highly intelligent minds of my colleagues. How did I get here? I ask myself that question a lot.
Certainly, the affluent area of Connecticut where I grew up contributed to my success. So did the overwhelming support of my friends throughout my twenty-four-plus surgeries, as well as that statistics teacher in high school who sat with me for hours on end to teach me the material in a way that made sense to me. But my parents are the single most critical factor in my success.
As parents you create the environment where your child can fail, grow, learn, and dream bigger than you ever imagined. Jennifer Dunnam, an NFB leader from Minnesota, writes, "There is a large body of evidence to suggest that what my parents gave me, the latitude to explore, is roughly defined as grit: the ability to cope, persevere, re-calibrate, and attain your goals in the face of life's obstacles."
Is blindness an obstacle? Sure, it is. It's an obstacle that is magnified by the misconceptions of society, and you and I are part of that society. Out of worry or uncertainty we ourselves often question the abilities of blind people. Sometimes we doubt our own strengths and the strengths of other blind people we know. Can we really handle the nonsensical curveballs thrown our way by a naive world? If we can't handle the judgment, the stares, the ignorant comments, and the constant questioning of our capabilities, we sure as heck better learn how!
Your children, blind or sighted, are like that Murano glass candle holder in Venice. Your children are flawed and beautiful; imperfect and pure; sturdy, yet fragile. Your children can choose a warm and welcoming scent or a vibrant and pungent fragrance. Whatever candle sits atop that priceless holder allows for a light to shine brightly through the power of the wick. As president of the National Association of Blind Students (NABS), the largest division of the National Federation of the Blind, I am counting on you to fuel the fire in your children by igniting the light within.
Your children can change the world, but you have to let them. When they are invited on a date, let them go; and make sure they answer the doorbell, not you! When they want to wear makeup or a hat turned backward, understand that they are doing it to fit in, and rightly so. Let them travel the world when they are granted the opportunity. Don't tell them you are tracking the flight number on your computer screen until they touch down in Vietnam! Instead, be proud of them and delight in the adventures they embark upon. And please, treat your blind children the same way you treat your sighted children, discipline and all!
Encourage your children to push themselves. If they lack confidence, build them up by capitalizing on their strengths, while simultaneously working to redefine their weaknesses. If they think they can't, tell them they can. Let them make mistakes. Nothing is more rewarding than making a choice entirely on my own and being incredibly wrong about it! Every individual is at a different place in life, but each child has the option to move forward one step at a time. Through reflection and feedback, your children can glow in their own ways, and you can motivate them from the sidelines.
As I have mentioned, I would not use a cane in high school, no matter what. When my instructor gave me one, I chucked it in the trash the moment our meeting was over. One day I fell down a flight of steps . . . in public. My mother let it happen. Thank you, Mom! Thank you for allowing me to learn on my own that I needed blindness skills. Thank you for letting me discover that I am blind!
Challenge the status quo. My guidance counselor pointed me toward a less prestigious college than the one I ended up attending. Wake Forest University in North Carolina would never have been suggested to the only blind girl at Greenwich High School. Nevertheless, I fell in love with the quality of the education at Wake Forest, the small classes, and the reputation of the growing business school. I got in, despite the doubts that plagued me throughout the college admissions process.
I loved nearly every second of my college experience. I served as student government treasurer, initially campaigning to prove that a blind student could hold such a prestigious leadership role. Once I was elected, I fell in love with the work and the people. The student president and secretary became brothers to me. I founded a political group on campus. I spearheaded philanthropic events, traveled across the globe on a service trip, and dug in my heels on initiatives I knew nothing about. I took these risks and harnessed these rich opportunities for myself and for every blind student who might follow in my footsteps.
Throughout times of depression and times of triumph, I believe I have held fast to my core values. Part of staying true to my core values is being happy with the way I am. In 2017 I lost the rest of my vision, but that loss pales in comparison to the loss of my father on October 1 of that year. Losing sight means nothing compared to the loss of the most important man in my life. Such heartbreaks give us an entirely different perspective on the world.
Parents, please understand that we don't crave vision as much as you crave it for us. We are adaptable, capable, and full of potential. And yes, we are different. So are you. My different may be a little bit more obvious than your different, but we are all human beings with hearts, minds, and souls.
At Deloitte Consulting, where I work today, our leaders emphasize the significance of grit. Life is a marathon, they tell us, not a sprint. At work, I walk into a room with my shoulders back and my chin high, a huge smile on my face. I approach new teammates with an open mind. I explain that my blindness does not define me, and I let them know that I want to hear their questions. I want to educate my sighted colleagues because I have a responsibility to pave the path for the next blind person who walks into the room.
This quote may ring true for you: "As a parent, I think a lot about wanting to place my kids in a bubble, about wanting to shield them from hurt and struggle and failure, but I can't help but think how wrong that is…about how great it can be to fall and to fail once in a while, because all of that is shaping them for something bigger, something great." https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/09/17/my-parents-let-me-fail-which-taught-me-how-to-live/?nnpodirect=on&utm_term=.48fa34057d03 Your children are great, your children are beautiful, and your children are enough. Pop that bubble and let them shower the world with their untapped potential.
by Arielle Silverman
Reprinted from www.disabilitywisdom.com/blog
From the Editor: Arielle Silverman is an independent consultant who offers disability research and training services to organizations nationwide. She received a doctorate in social psychology from the University of Colorado in 2014. She is a longtime member of the NFB, and she is a past president of the National Association of Blind Students (NABS).
I know you've been struggling lately, because it's all so unfair.
It's not fair that everyone seems to treat you either like you're six, or like you're sixty. You just want to be sixteen.
You're tired of people assuming you can't do anything because you're blind. You're tired of people assuming you're amazing because you do normal things and you're blind.
You're tired of being told that if you want to be accepted, you have to dress and look a certain way.
It's not fair that everyone in your class can drive but you have to wait for your parents to drive you everywhere, because you can't drive and they won't let you ride the bus.
You're going to scream if one more person grabs you or touches you without so much as saying hello. But if you do scream, you'll get in trouble for being rude, because "they were just trying to help."
You want to be proud of who you are. But everyone thinks that the way you were born is wrong. And, deep down, you start to wonder if everyone else is right. If you should just accept your limitations and stop trying to be their equal.
You have every right to be angry. Because no, it's not fair.
You were born into a world that isn't built for you. It’s a world where some people would rather be dead than blind; a world where disabled teens only recently started going to regular high schools, and many disabled adults can't find jobs, affordable housing, or health care; a world where you know more than most adults about your own disability, even Mom and Dad and Grandma.
You know more about your own capacities and limits than anybody else does. Don't forget that.
You are a whole, good, competent person just the way you are. You aren't special, amazing, or inspirational. You're just a teenager trying to find your way in a broken world.
And you aren't alone.
You haven't met most of them yet, but there are millions of disabled people fighting the same battles with you.
A whole movement that started before you were born;
Older disabled people who will show you the way,
Your peers who really understand what it's like day to day,
And the next generation, whom you'll mentor someday.
Through the community, you'll transform your anger into action.
In just two years, you'll get the freedom you crave.
Living on a college campus, building your own life
And making your own mistakes.
You'll fall down, get up again,
And with each fall you'll gain clarity and confidence.
You'll get to choose where to live, and eventually you'll move somewhere where driving is optional. You'll get to choose friends who include you and coworkers who respect you.
You'll still have those frustrating "blind days." But they'll get fewer and more fleeting.
Oh, and one more thing:
About that boy you've liked since you were twelve,
Well . . . He's not that in to you.
In a few months he'll tell you he loves you like a sister. And he does. You won't be surprised, but it'll still sting.
You want something more than a friend or a brother. Your body's primed for passion, just as nature intended. Some days, it's all you can think about.
But none of the boys see you that way.
You really want a guy who'll be your best friend, your partner, and your lover all at once. And, it'll happen, I swear.
You'll have to wait a while, and this won't be the last time you get your heart broken.
But you'll meet someone who'll love you just as much as you love him,
Who'll love your entire being,
And he'll love you with your disability, not in spite of it.
You probably don't believe me, but I'm dead serious. I even sent a picture of your wedding rings to prove it.
(Oh, and I forgot to mention—you'll get PhDs together).
And speaking of passion, don't ever lose that eagerness you have, even when you get old. Don't lose your sense of adventure, your curiosity, your humor, or your zeal for justice, because even though it doesn't feel like it now, there's a lot of excitement ahead of you, and every day is a gift.
Believe me, it'll all turn out.
Just don't believe the prom industry. Have no fear, these are nowhere near the best years of your life!
by Monique Coleman
From the Editor: To become a Braille transcriber for the National Library Service (NLS) or any of the other major providers of Braille materials in the United States, a person must hold NLS Braille certification. Since December 2017 the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has conducted the courses that lead to Library of Congress certification in Braille transcribing and proofreading. In this article Monique Coleman describes her long and bumpy road to NLS certification. Monique Coleman is a veteran TVI and president of VISTAS Education Partners, provider of learner-centered instruction and community-based enrichment to blind/visually-impaired youth of all abilities. A doctoral candidate at Rutgers University, Monique is interested in research around equity, inclusion, and expanded core access.
Last summer I had the midweek pick-me-up of my dreams. I received a package from the National Federation of the Blind, informing me that I had achieved my National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) Literary Braille Certification! This personal milestone was of such huge proportions for me that my immediate response was to hop on YouTube and dance it out to Beyoncé's "Formation," a pump-up song with cultural relevance for me.
I could not help but pause to celebrate my long-awaited accomplishment. It meant that my thirty-five-page Braille manuscript had passed intensive scrutiny and was found to have only a few errors, earning a score of 90. The minimum score to obtain the coveted NLS certification is 80, so my solid pass was even more reason for my impromptu dance celebration. The NLS sets a high standard for Braille transcribing certification, with a technically exacting grading framework for the thirty-five-page Braille manuscript.
I became intimately familiar with the demands of the NLS certification process in a painful way. Over a period of more than seventeen years, I had failed on more than one attempt. I started to think that the ultimate prize would always elude me. I share this personal triumph because it means a lot to me. I hope that my experience as a TVI who pursued and ultimately obtained the NLS transcribing certification may be helpful for someone else who is considering or is already in pursuit of this worthy credential.
"The first key fails, the second fails—it is always the third that works." This expression rings true in my story. My quest for my NLS Braille transcribing certification began back in 2000. Sheila Amato, the amazing TVI and Braille instructor who taught in the blindness and visual impairment master's degree program at Columbia Teachers College, impressed upon me the importance of solidifying my new certified TVI status. She encouraged me to take my freshly minted professional degree to the next level. Perhaps Sheila rightly sensed that I had taken a special liking to Braille during my time in her courses. She figured that I would be willing to take the big and logical next step in developing my Braille skills and knowledge. More likely Sheila encouraged most of her students to consider the NLS Braille certification. She firmly believed that it would strengthen our effectiveness and our capacity to provide quality Braille instruction to students who depended on Braille as their primary or secondary learning medium.
Without hesitation I followed Sheila's call. She took me under her wing and helped me prepare for a rigorous qualification process that included the completion of the required thirty-five-page Braille manuscript. I set out to prepare my transcription by marking up the print copy of my book selection. This was the best part of the whole manuscript preparation process. I had fun finding and bracketing all of the Braille contractions and marking up special features that needed to be produced accurately. When it was time to create the manuscript, I pecked away on a manual Perkins Brailler until I had completed all thirty-five pages.
Manually Brailling a thirty-five-page manuscript was a drawn-out, labor-intensive process. I squeezed in Brailling time whenever I wasn't working or taking care of my very young son. Fortunately, those days have faded to an indistinct memory.
Despite Sheila's genuine zeal and best intentions, I didn't prepare myself well enough to meet the strict scoring guidelines. I cannot remember my score, but I know that I didn't even come close to passing. I was disappointed by doing so poorly and sad that I might have let my teacher down. Sheila reminded me of the technical precision that the manuscript demanded. She encouraged me to pick myself up and try again. I was convinced that she was right, and I decided I was not going to abandon my quest.
It did not take long, however, for the demands of work, family, and life to crowd out my capacity to pursue the NLS certification. After all, I did not need a Braille transcribing certification for my job as a TVI, and I was not looking to become a transcriber. With all the routine and unexpected demands that I dealt with daily as a wearer-of-many-hats itinerant TVI, the NLS certification felt like a luxury item for my professional toolkit. Yet, given my passion to help increase Braille literacy among blind students, the idea of pursuing my transcribing certification was not buried entirely.
Fast forward to 2016. After more than sixteen years as an educator in the field of blindness and visual impairment, I decided to resume my long-lost pursuit. I enrolled in the NFB's distance Braille transcribing course. The course requires students to complete nineteen lessons and achieve satisfactory results on comprehension exercises at the end of each one. I added this course to my full-time TVI workload and my part-time doctoral studies. I knew I would need determination and discipline to see this effort through, so I carved out a block of time each week for the coursework.
It took me eighteen months to complete the NFB's Braille course. I was driven by my resolve to overcome my initial manuscript failure, and I was sustained by the in-depth learning of Unified English Braille (UEB) that the course provided. The tedious corrections and re-submissions that I had to do on many of the end-of-lesson exercises solidified my UEB knowledge. Admittedly, there were many moments when I was annoyed by what I thought was the teacher's nitpicking. Sometimes I wanted to throw in the towel on the whole darn thing. But with every step forward I gained a sense of appreciation for the process, and I kept an eye on the ultimate prize.
Despite what I thought were my best efforts, however, my second thirty-five-page manuscript was returned with a failing score. In fact, so many points were deducted that my grader didn't even bother to include an overall score. Yet there was cause for hope. My score was hurt largely by a few technical errors that I should have avoided. For instance, I did not pay close attention to the page margins. The first line of Braille on each page was too close to the top, which violated the manuscript's margin guidelines. There was also the problem of rubbed-out Braille dots in the first cells of the first line or two of each page, which rendered a few symbols on each page illegible. This problem was caused by the large clip that I naively thought I could use to bind the pages without affecting the Braille. I had checked to make sure the metal latches of the clip did not fall directly on any Braille symbols, but clearly I had made a misjudgment. In addition to these blunders there were a few Brailling errors which, by themselves, might not have resulted in a failing score.
As the reality of another failed Braille manuscript settled in, I felt dejected and turned off to the whole NLS certification process. A little voice in my head reminded me that I really didn't need certification. I was well established in my career as a TVI, so why should I expend time and energy on a seemingly unnecessary certification? Yet a counter voice called on me to appreciate how much the NLS certification could enhance my pedagogical practice as a TVI. Fortunately, the latter outlook prevailed, and my doldrums lasted for only a brief time. I figured that I would absorb my previous failures as growth opportunities. I would be extremely careful with my proofreading, and I would be more diligent in compliance with the NLS technical requirements. I just might get over the hurdle in a third manuscript attempt. I had come too far to turn back now.
As I pressed on, I put the utmost care into completing and proofreading my third manuscript. When I finished, I decided to package my work in the same way that I receive many of my students' Braille books. I sandwiched my manuscript between two pieces of cardboard, loosely held together by a large rubber band. At least I would not repeat the illegible dots problem! After several final once-overs, I nervously mailed off my manuscript to the Baltimore headquarters of the NFB.
After a few months, over the course of which I had many doubtful moments, I finally received confirmation that my third try indeed held the working key! I had produced a Braille manuscript worthy of the stringent NLS certification standards, and I had passed with a solid 90! Eighteen years after my initial attempt, I could tell Sheila Amato that I had finally gotten the job done. She could be proud of planting a seed that never died in me.
All these many years later, I firmly believe that Sheila did the right thing by her Braille students and new TVIs. I am convinced that more TVIs should strive for this level of UEB proficiency as part of a strong commitment to an in-depth understanding of the code that they are responsible for teaching. We TVIs wear many hats, but preserving and being the conduits of access to high quality Braille instruction is certainly a foundation of our work. Continuing education is essential in order for a TVI to be effective in the twenty-first century.
My Braille transcribing certification does not negate the need for me to keep the three-hundred-page UEB Rule Book nearby as a handy reference. Most people who read Braille professionally and/or personally cannot avoid the need to look up a symbol, type form, or rule here or there. Keeping my UEB knowledge up to par will also require me to make time to read Braille. This is not a chore for me, as I love Braille reading. What's more, I have a stack of Braille National Geographic magazines for that purpose!
While my professional learning is ongoing, the difficult journey to my NLS Braille certification warranted a pause from my daily routine. Through the last hot summer days, I was in celebration mode, and I danced it out to "Formation" whenever I pleased. "Okay, ladies, now let's get in formation, 'cause I slay."
[To find out more about Braille certification courses, visit https://nfb.org/braille-certification.]
by Scott Baltisberger
Reprinted from Sense Abilities, a publication of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Fall/Winter 2017
From the Editor: Scott Baltisberger is an Outreach Education Consultant with the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI).
In a nation with a large immigrant population, issues regarding bilingual education for learners with visual impairments arise on a regular basis. As children from Latin American backgrounds continue to comprise the majority of students with limited English proficiency in this country, Spanish is the language that is most commonly involved in these situations.
Language can have a significant impact on any area of the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC), of course, but it is addressing early literacy for functionally blind, Spanish-speaking students that often appears to be particularly daunting for school staff and families alike. Bilingual education teachers have concerns that they do not know Braille. Teachers of students with visual impairment worry about their lack of knowledge and experience in bilingual education. Families may wonder if learning Braille should take precedence over their child's need for native language instruction.
I've found that these concerns often are based on limited familiarity with the Spanish Braille code and how it compares to Unified English Braille (UEB). For the purposes of early Braille acquisition, it is helpful to remember that the uncontracted versions of the two codes are virtually identical. Both employ the same dot configurations for all letters of the alphabet as well as most function symbols. Spanish does have an additional set of seven symbols for accented letters (á, é, í, ó, ú, u umlaut, and ñ) and there are some differences in formatting that reflect differences in the two written languages (such as Spanish having question marks and exclamation marks both before and after text). Due to the close similarity in the two codes, literacy skills gained in Spanish Braille will transfer to use in English Braille with relative ease. The contracted forms of Spanish and English Braille do have significant differences, but at this time these have little relevance for primary education programs, since contracted Spanish Braille materials are not widely available in this country.
Below are some common concerns and misconceptions that I've encountered when addressing Braille issues regarding Spanish-speaking students. By sharing this document with teachers and administrators, I hope it will clarify the relationship between Spanish Braille and UEB and assuage some of the worries they may feel. I am currently working on a Spanish version of the document that can be shared with parents as well.
How does Braille work?
Braille is used throughout the world as a literacy medium for people who are blind. Braille is a system of "cells" of six possible dots. Different configurations of dots have different meanings, either as letters, words, parts of words, punctuation, or "functions" such as capitalization or accents. Braille systems used to represent languages with different print orthographical systems, such as Japanese and English, are quite different. Systems representing languages that use similar orthographical systems, such as Spanish and English (both of which use the Latin alphabet), are quite similar.
How are Spanish Braille and English Braille the same?
Within both English and Spanish there are two Braille "codes." There is an "uncontracted" code in which each Braille cell represents a letter, number, or punctuation mark. These codes are almost identical in English and Spanish, since both languages use essentially the same orthographical system. The only real variations are that Spanish has additional Braille cells to represent seven commonly occurring accented letters — á, é, í, ó, ü, ú and ñ. In addition, some punctuation symbols are different. In either language, a young blind student typically learns this basic, uncontracted code first.
How are Spanish Braille and English Braille different?
There are also "contracted" codes for both languages in which one or two Braille cells represent entire words or parts of words. For this reason, there are significant differences between contracted English and Spanish Braille, as the words and parts of words that are common in one language may not be common in the other. The purpose of contracted codes is to enable individuals to read with greater speed and fluency. Typically, students learn the contracted code after they have developed some degree of literacy proficiency with the uncontracted code.
Does it cause difficulty for a student if he or she begins to learn Braille in Spanish and then switches to the English Braille code?
No! Just as a sighted learner is able to transfer skills and concepts of print literacy from Spanish to English, a blind student will transfer skills and concepts in uncontracted Spanish Braille to uncontracted English Braille. A student will not have to learn an entirely new code when moving from one language to the other. Once students have gained proficiency with uncontracted English Braille, they can progress to the contracted form.
In the United States, Spanish Braille materials are available almost exclusively in the uncontracted code. Similarly, state-adopted materials for use in bilingual education and ESL are provided for the most part in uncontracted Spanish Braille. Materials for use in Spanish language classes at the secondary level are also in uncontracted Braille. For these reasons, there is little need at this time for a student to learn the contracted form of Spanish in order to benefit from educational activities in public schools.
Can a TVI who does not speak Spanish teach Braille to a student with limited English proficiency who is being taught in bilingual education classes?
Yes! Every student for whom Braille has been identified as his or her primary learning media must receive services from a certified teacher of students with visual impairment (TVI). The role of the TVI is to ensure that the student gains proficiency in the Braille code. In situations in which a TVI does not have fluency in Spanish and is working with a student with limited English skills, the TVI should collaborate with a bilingual paraprofessional or volunteer who can address the language needs of the student during Braille lessons.
The TVI is not responsible for teaching academic subjects, such as language arts, science, and math, to the Braille student; this is the role of the classroom teacher. The classroom teacher is not responsible for teaching the student Braille; this is the role of the TVI. With sufficient Braille proficiency, the student is able to access all classroom materials provided by the classroom teacher, assuming these materials have been transcribed into Braille. The classroom teacher is responsible for providing materials to the TVI before presenting them in her lessons with reasonable time so that they may be transcribed. Student responses will be done in Braille and will also need to be transcribed into print by the TVI so that the classroom teacher can monitor the student's work.
Because of the close similarities between English and Spanish Braille, the TVI will be able to transcribe materials with minimal difficulty. A number of easy-to-read Spanish Braille "cheat sheets" provide a quick reference for a TVI working in this situation. Some examples can be found at:
To ensure that a blind student with limited English proficiency acquires proficiency in Braille and is fully integrated into general education classes, all members of the education team should have a clear understanding of their respective roles and work together in a collaborative approach. The situation does present certain challenges, but these can be met and surmounted through ongoing communication and cooperation.
by Carol Begay Green
From the Editor: At the 2018 National Federation of the Blind Convention, Carol Begay Green received a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award of $5,000. The award honored her for her work to develop a Braille code for the Navajo language. In this article she writes about the creation of the Navajo Braille Code and her efforts to promote the use of Braille among the Navajo people.
I grew up in Michigan, but I'm Navajo on my father's side. My mother is from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and my dad was raised in Lukachukai, Arizona. I used to visit my grandparents on the Navajo reservation every other summer when I was a child. I didn't become fluent in the Navajo language, but I learned a lot of words, mostly nouns: words such as cow, sheep, knife, and spoon.
In 1989 I moved to Arizona and enrolled at Northern Arizona University (NAU), where I took a class in the Navajo language. I earned a teaching degree from NAU in 1991, and I taught on the Navajo Nation from 1991 until 2007. My work gave me a lot of exposure to the Navajo language and culture.
Since 2010 I have worked as a teacher of the blind and visually impaired (TVI) for the Farmington Municipal Schools in Farmington, New Mexico. I am legally blind myself, and I learned Braille in 2009 through the New Mexico Commission for the Blind. I earned my certification as a TVI from New Mexico State University.
After I became a TVI I wanted to practice my Navajo using Braille. In 2013 I attended my first Getting in Touch with Literacy conference, which was held that year in Rhode Island. Getting in Touch with Literacy is a conference for teachers of the blind and visually impaired that is held every other year. At the conference I met Frances Mary d'Andrea, who at that time was president of the Braille Authority of North America (BANA). I also met Judy Dixon from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Both of them are highly knowledgeable about Braille, so I asked them if they knew of a Braille code for Navajo. They had never heard of such a code. Frances Mary put me in touch with Dr. Robert Englebertson, a proficient Braille user who is a professor of linguistics at Rice University. If anyone knew about a Braille code for Navajo, it would be Dr. Englebertson.
Dr. Englebertson had never heard of a Braille code for the Navajo language, so we launched a search together. When we didn't turn up any leads, Dr. Ingelbertson encouraged me to come up with some ideas.
Depending on the word in which it is used, a vowel in Navajo can be pronounced in three different tones. There is a low tone, a high tone, and a nasal tone. As I developed the Navajo Braille Code I decided the low tone would be written as the regular Braille letter. The other tones presented some challenges. Working together over the phone and via email, Dr. Englebertson and I decided to borrow the accented vowel symbols used in American Spanish Braille to represent the high tones. Here in the Southwest, many Braille users have some experience with Spanish Braille, and we hoped this familiarity would make it easy for them to learn the Navajo system. Dr. Englebertson called it "positive transference."
In printed Navajo the nasal tone is indicated by a little hook under the letter. The Navajo Braille Code indicates the nasal tone by putting Dots 4-6 in front of the vowel. Some other symbols unique to Navajo are the glottal stop, which is indicated with an apostrophe in Braille; and the /m (somewhat like the sh sound), which we indicate with Dots 1-4-5-6.
The system we developed is concise and easy to read. The symbols for the accented letters are shorter and simpler than the indicators for accented vowels that are used in UEB (Unified English Braille). We felt these symbols would make the system easier for learners of all abilities.
We did most of the work on the Navajo Braille Code in June of 2015. In September 2015 I presented the code to the Navajo Board of Education, and the board approved it in October.
To build my fluency in the Navajo language, I recently took a Navajo class at San Juan College here in Farmington. I introduced the code to the person in the office for disabled students who assists students who are blind or visually impaired. To turn my class materials into usable Braille files, she used Perky Duck, a translation program from Duxbury Systems. She emailed the files to me, and I opened them in Duxbury and turned them into BRF (Braille Ready Files). Then I put the files onto my Braille notetaker and headed to class. I could follow along with the classwork in the Navajo Braille Code.
Even with the Braille code, though, not everything in the class was accessible. Some of the instruction involved a Navajo Rosetta Stone program that wasn't very accessible with JAWS. I think there is potential for making it work, but it certainly isn't there yet. My husband helped me, and he learned a lot of Navajo in the process!
I was the oldest student in the class at San Juan, and I was the only one who wasn't raised in the Southwest. The others were all full Navajo and grew up in this area, but ironically I was the most fluent Navajo speaker. I'd say I'm at the intermediate level. I had a lot of opportunity to hear and speak the language when I taught on the Navajo Nation at Shiprock and Red Mesa. In Farmington I'm only a few miles from the reservation, but I don't hear and use the language as much as I did back then.
The Navajo language is not spoken as widely today as it was thirty years ago, when I used to visit my grandparents. If you go deep into the reservation, though, you can still find children who are native Navajo speakers. Most of the schools on the Navajo Nation provide bilingual education services. The students have a Navajo class every day. Even here in Farmington we have Navajo bilingual classes.
In 2017 I gave a presentation about the Navajo Braille Code at EPICS, a conference for Native American parents of children with disabilities. The Navajo Times ran an article about the code, and they asked me to gather information about the number of Navajo children who are blind. As a TVI I have taught several Navajo children. Right now I have a Navajo student who is learning Braille and who is very interested in studying the Navajo language. However, I had no idea how many Navajo students are receiving TVI services. I found that in Arizona there are forty-five blind and visually-impaired students in Navajo and Apache Counties, but only five of those students are learning Braille. In McKinley and San Juan Counties in New Mexico I found about thirty-five blind and visually-impaired students, but Braille was only being taught to two of them. I don't know how many more of these students could benefit from Braille, and I still don't know how many Navajo adults are potential Braille users.
The word about the Navajo Braille Code is spreading. Vocational rehabilitation counselors in Scottsdale, Arizona, want me to do training with some of their adult blind clients. Already I have found five blind Navajo speakers who are potential Braille users or who already have learned Braille in English.
I'm using some of the money from my Bolotin grant to create a summer program for blind students that will be held in 2019. I'm trying to recruit teachers who work on the Navajo Nation and at the Arizona School for the Blind. I plan to visit children in their homes to teach them the code, using a Navajo counting book. I'll also help them practice their Braille skills in English by using a Braille cookbook. We'll shop for ingredients and cook a meal together, following a Braille recipe.
At the end of the program we'll get the students together for a field trip to Monument Valley. I had a tactile map made of the area, and we can bring it along so the students can have a deeper understanding of where we are. We'll have a guide who can tell us about the history of the area and describe its special features.
I also plan to meet with blind students in Arizona and to meet with adults at a local chapter house on the reservation. I'll be reaching out to any blind adults I can find in the community.
If you would like to contact me, please feel free to reach me by email at [email protected].
by Marilee Talkington
Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 61, Number 11, December 2018
From the Editor: In 2018 Marilee Talkington performed on Episode 350 of the TV drama NCIS, becoming one of the first blind actors ever to perform the role of a blind character on screen. At the general session of the 2018 NFB National Convention on Sunday, July 8, she delivered a powerful presentation about her life and career. It is nearly impossible to capture the spirit of her delivery through the written word. At various times in her speech she demonstrated her ability to portray a variety of characters—a child, an old person, someone with a Russian accent, a Cockney soldier—in a series of transformations meant for the stage rather than the page. You can get a truer sense of her presentation and her vibrant personality by listening to the audio recording at https://nfb.org/images/nfb/audio/2018_convention_highlights/july_8/am/06_authentcally_blind_on_
My name is Marilee Talkington; I am a professional actor. I am so, so excited to be here, because the ferocity in this room is stellar. When I walked in on July fourth, I was stunned by how many young people there are here. It inspired me so deeply because I don't remember having that kind of community when I was younger. I'm just so deeply honored and privileged to be here! Let's dive in.
One of the things I want to talk about is transformation. I hear a lot of people talking about how to turn obstacles into stepping stones. To give a little history, I was born with rod-cone dystrophy; I'm totally blind centrally. My mom has it—it's genetic. I have peripheral vision, and it's been degenerating over time. I'm light blind (lovely—these lights are shining right in my eyes!) and I'm photophobic. So I'm light blind, and light causes me pain. Those of you who have rod-cone or cone-rod dystrophy and don't have central vision will understand that to see people you look away from them.
When I was in fifth grade, I got what I like to call "The Talk" from my mom. I have the same thing she does. I want to preface this by saying that I don't judge her for saying this; she was working with the strategies and the experience she had at the time. She said, "Now, you have a couple choices—maybe one choice and a couple of options. To see people, you need to look away from their face." Okay. "Or you can look at them and not see them. If you look away from their face to see what you need to see, the world that we live in will treat you differently." I was in fifth grade. "Or you can teach yourself to look people in the face, not see what you need to see, and move through the world." As a fifth grader I wanted to move through the world with as much ease as possible, so I chose Option Number Two, and I trained myself to look people in the eyes; I still do.
This can be confusing for many, many people. When they meet me, they assume that I am fully sighted, which is not the case. But what it has opened up for me is that I play mostly sighted characters on stage. Ninety-five percent of the characters that I play are sighted. [Applause]
Let's jump forward. First, acting class: I took my first acting class at UC San Diego. I was studying psychology and mathematics at the time. My grade point average was so-so. I needed to raise it, and I was looking for classes that I could take to raise my grade point average. My friend said, "Take an acting class." I was like, "No way, no, not even close." But I couldn't fit in any other class, and I was like, "Fine, I'll take acting."
So I took acting, and something happened. I started telling stories about other people, stepping into who they were. It was the most incredible experience of my life, those first days in acting class. All of a sudden this enormous imagination of mine had a platform to play on. I'd always been good at voices and characters, but I'd never really had an avenue to walk down and express those things. All of a sudden I'm getting to live other people's lives. All of a sudden my life felt limitless. I started working with all these different characters, just like playing, and then just like doing something else, right? It's not just about the voices. You take on these completely different experiences of life.
So I realized that this is what I wanted to do, and I never thought in a million years that I couldn't do it because of my eyesight—never! It never crossed my mind.
I graduate from UC San Diego, my grade point average lifted because of that acting class. I stop off in LA—that's another whole story; we won't go there right now—but I end up in San Francisco. I go to my first theater audition, and they have what's called cold sides there. It's a cold read. A cold read is when they have the script there, and you're supposed to read it—look it over in fifteen minutes—then you go up. Well, of course I can't read the script. I ask the director if there's a photocopy machine. This is back in the day, twenty years ago. There's no technology around, right? I'm like, "Is there a photocopy machine?" He has no idea. So I go out searching for a photocopy machine, and it takes me two hours. I find a photocopy machine at a local business (I think it was a real estate place), and I say, "Can I use it?" They're kind enough to let me. I enlarge the script as much as I can, and I eventually find my way back to the theater after two hours.
The director is still there. I go in. The script still isn't large enough, so it's pretty darn close to my face. I start reading, and the director says, "If you can't read this script, you don't belong on stage." He excuses me from the audition.
This was twenty years ago. I had no mentors. I had no one to talk to about this. There were no blind actors that I had ever seen or knew of. I know that a lot of you can relate to this feeling of isolation. This is one of those pivotal moments. I went home, and I was devastated. I asked myself: "Do you believe him? Do you believe that you do not belong on stage because you cannot read this?" And the answer that came back was a resounding, "No, I do not believe him!" [Applause]
But what I did believe at that point was that I needed training. Everything is about training. Training, training, training! In this business, the acting business, you have to be well trained. You can dream of being an actor, but if you don't actually do the work, it's not going to happen.
I went to school, and this is where I began to advocate for myself. I had to advocate for myself because I was the first blind or low-vision or disabled person to walk in to those acting classes.
My first movement acting class was at a studio. It was an Alexander technique class, which is a movement class that is all about alignment. The teacher said, "I'm sorry, but I don't think this is going to be the right class for you. You really need to be able to see what I'm doing."
And I said, "No, that's not right. I'm going to be in the class, and we're going to figure this out." I had to battle my way into these classes. I got into the class, and I ended up being the top student.
I say to myself, "What is going on here, people? I have the drive. I have the willingness to go into the room, so you need to match that." This happened over and over and over again, but it developed my muscle to self-advocate.
I auditioned for grad school. At this point I had taken probably ten or twelve studio classes—night classes—Shakespeare, voice, whatever—but I wanted to take it to the next level. I wanted to audition for grad school. I did that, and I didn't get in—not because of my vision—I just didn't get in. The grad school I auditioned for is one of the top schools in the country. It's extremely competitive. But I didn't give up. I trained more that next year, prepared myself even more. I auditioned the next year, and I got in. I got in to ACT [American Conservatory Theater)', and I was the first person with a disability ever to get into that school. I believe I'm still the only person with a disability to go to that school, and at this point there are only two legally blind actresses in the country with an MFA in acting. I'm one of them.
I'm sure all of you have heard this before—I remember being taught at a very young age that you have to work twice as hard as everybody else, all the sighted people, just to get to the baseline. I said, "I don't want to be at the baseline. I want to be great at what I am doing." So I'm working three times as hard, four times as hard, and I never took anything for granted for one moment when I was in grad school, not one moment. [Applause]
I had this experience I want to share. It's less about my vision physically and more about my vision for myself. We were doing this show called The Master and Margarita, and it was directed by this wonderful Eastern European director named Adria Guirgia. I was cast in the role of Abadonn, the angel of death, and the director said, "Okay, I want your big, red, curly hair everywhere."
I said, "No, actually, if I'm the Angel of Death, I think I should be gender neutral. People shouldn't know if I'm male or female. I should be everything at all times."
I had no language. I had no lines in the script. I wasn't actually written into the script. He said, "Okay, fine, you can be gender neutral, whatever that means," because that was fifteen years ago; we didn't even know what that meant.
I realized that he wasn't calling me to rehearsal. So I thought to myself, "If I'm the Angel of Death, where would I be?" I said, "I'd be everywhere!" So I started putting myself into all the scenes. I showed up to every rehearsal and put myself in every single scene. The director was like, "This is brilliant! I had a brilliant idea. She's in every scene. I love it."
We go to opening night and the irony is that, if you ask anybody who saw the show, "Who's the character you remember?" the answer would be, "The Angel of Death."
The director comes up to me afterward and says, "Just to let you know, I am taking credit for this." [Laughter]
I said, "Okay, that's fine, that's fine."
But this whole thing really solidified for me—that moment, that particular moment—this nugget of wisdom: when the world doesn't have a vision for you, you must create a vision for yourself. [Applause] That is something that I hold in my heart very deeply.
Long story short: I moved to New York after grad school, and I don't get that fancy agent. I don't get all those auditions, because acting is really, really competitive. It's so competitive! I go there thinking, "I've got this great degree; I'm going to do it." And it doesn't happen.
So what I did is I took my career in my own hands. I started creating my own work, or I should say I continued to create my own work, because I was already creating my own work, much to the chagrin of my professors. I created my solo show Truce. I play twenty-two characters in it, half of whom are blind. And I started creating other work, too. I like to call it experiential work. I was writing and directing and acting, using site-specific scripts—not just in theaters, but at sites you walk through and experience. Because for even me, an actor, when I'm an audience member in a theater, I lose a lot of it. I can't see a lot of it. So I was creating theater that you could experience, that people could walk through, and really building my confidence that way. I was not waiting for somebody to choose me; I was choosing myself. [Applause]
I was creating work, but I'll tell you, moving to New York was tough, and I actually ended up having a nervous breakdown. I moved back to San Francisco to heal. I thought, "Oh my God, I failed. I went to New York, and I failed. I couldn't do it; I couldn't hack it. I'm not strong enough."
I went back to San Francisco, and there was this little whisper of a voice that said, "No, no, this is exactly as it should be. You're on the right path. Have faith, have faith, have faith. Take time to heal." So I stayed with my grandmother, who gave me unconditional love, and I kept writing. I wrote a play, and I directed it. I started slowly building a community in the Bay area, and I was healed. I found new strength after going through something really, really traumatic. Failing—failing—moving back, going through something really traumatic, taking the time to take care of myself, and then picking myself up and taking that next step forward because I knew—I knew—that I am an artist, that I am supposed to be an artist.
I know that I'm preaching to the choir here: this game ain't easy! It's not easy, right? There's pain involved. There's failure involved. The mark of who we are is what happens after we fail. What do we do? We pick ourselves up and keep going.
So I'm in the Bay area, and this is where the next level of advocacy started happening. I had to teach the Bay Area community how to work with me and how to open their doors to more persons with disabilities. I made an agreement with myself: "Marilee, you're going to go out and you're going to stay open and curious and engage in any and all conversations that come toward you, because half your job is artist and half your job is advocate." I walk into that, and I walk into every room carrying both those banners. Sometimes I don't want to. Sometimes I just want to be an artist. I do, I really do! But I know that because I'm the first, I have to be an advocate. It's my responsibility, because if I don't, no one will.
So I'm getting into those rooms, and I'm getting cast. My craft as an actor is getting more and more developed, and my craft as an advocate is getting more and more developed. I'm figuring out what I need and how to ask for it. That's a hard thing to do, because things can change, especially in my business. Not all theaters are the same. Not all directors are the same. I get new bosses every three months. I have to go into a new space, assess, and then communicate, and then negotiate. This is kind of a fun thing.
I was in a show, and this was me accommodating for myself, because most of the time I'm figuring out for myself how to do things. I was in a show called Salomania. It was about Salome. I played five different characters, one of which was a soldier boy, a Cockney soldier boy who's a lovely little boy. In the opening scene five of us soldiers—I was the only woman, by the way—launched ourselves over a ten-foot ledge, with a rifle and a bayonet attached to it. The first time we rehearsed it the director said, "Everybody run, jump over this thing, and land on the ground safely." I'm like, okay, this is—um—all right. Because I'm that person that's like, "I will figure it out." You tell me I can't, and I'll go off and figure out how to do it and come back, like, "Here you go." Because they're not going to know. God bless those sighted people, they're not going to know.
So he throws all of us this blocking (blocking is staging). I forgot to say, we're in full battle gear and gas masks. He says, "Okay, let's do it." And I couldn't do it. He said, "Do we need to change the blocking?" And I said, "Just give me a sec, Mark."
When I can't do things, the first thing that happens is I feel pain. I feel frustrated; I feel pain. I often shed a few tears to myself. Then I grit up. I turned around to him, and I said, "Do what you need to do. I'm going to talk to the stage manager, and I'm going to rehearse this after rehearsal is over."
And that's what I did. I got the stage manager, and I went through and marked every single spot where my foot and my hand needed to go. I did it over and over and over and over. I did it dozens and dozens and dozens of times until it was complete muscle memory. I didn't need any eyesight at all—at all—at all.
On opening night we're all running from backstage up onto this ledge. And the guys come over, and I fly over, and my body is doing what I trained it to do, because I'd been rehearsing it literally hundreds of times after rehearsal, over and over again. I fly over. I land on the ground, bayonet in hand, and I realize: I did it! I just did this! And I didn't kill anybody! This is awesome!
That's just one little story—I realize I'm going over time. Two minutes, Mark? Thank you. I want to jump fast, fast-fast-fast-forward to this NCIS experience. [Cheers] It was awesome, you'all. It was awesome! Let me tell you this: going into the room, I took this job very seriously, not only as an actor, but as an advocate, because I knew this was a big deal. I knew this was a huge deal for NCIS, for CBS, for me personally, and for the community. In the audition room, usually casting directors ask, "Do you have any questions?" I said, "No, do you?" I opened up the conversation. After I got cast, the executive director and the director called me and said, "This is so wonderful—you're going to be with us, wonderful—we—how do we—so we're going to be working—you're blind, so how—what, um? All right." This is what I said to them, "Don't worry, it's going to be great. You're going to love it." They wanted to know, though. They were scared. I wasn't; they were.
That night I wrote a cheat sheet for them on how to work with me. A cheat sheet! I'd never done that before. I wrote down, "This is my disability; this is how I see; this is how it manifests; these are the identifiers I like; you can call me blind, legally blind, partially sighted, partially blind; you cannot call me handicapped. I don't go by that." I was just laying it out: boom, boom, boom, boom. "Director: If you're giving me direction, I may not look at you, but I am listening. Also, if you could wear feathers, that would be great." So I'm throwing out a few jokes here and there.
Well, it turns out that this little cheat sheet I sent them is circulated through the entire NCIS production team, through CBS—I booked another show while I was on CBS, flew to Toronto, that cheat sheet had made it all the way over to Toronto. "We love your cheat sheet; it's really great; we get you now."
All this is to say (and I know that you all understand this) that self-advocacy is huge, especially when you are the first, second, third, and any number through the door. We have to speak up for ourselves. We have to carry a large vision for ourselves when the world doesn't have that vision for us.
I want to leave you with one thing. This is a quote that I read and that I still read over and over and over again. It is by Marianne Williamson. Perhaps you have heard of this quote; I'm sure you have: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us."
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?
The intention I want to leave with you, the intention that I have for myself, and the intention that I have for all of you is: own your fabulousness. Own it. Own your absolute uniqueness, and own your power to be the magnificent creators of your destiny and dreams. Thank you.
An Interview with Sammi Grant
From the Editor: As soon as I heard about a blind woman who has built a career as a dialect coach, I knew I wanted to connect with her. Her name is Sammi Grant, and she was more than happy to share her story with the readers of Future Reflections.
Deborah Kent Stein: Please tell me a bit about your childhood. Where did you grow up? Did you go through school as a blind student?
Sammi Grant: I grew up in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, which is a suburb of Chicago. As a child I had a whole series of problems with my eyes—cataracts, glaucoma, and a detached retina. By the time I was ten I was legally blind.
DKS: When did you become interested in theater?
SG: When I was a child I was always corralling people to watch me put on performances in the living room. My family was very supportive, and I went to acting camp the summer I was ten. From that point on, I knew I wanted to be in the theater. Nobody ever told me that because I'm blind I couldn't act on the stage. My family always encouraged me to pursue my dreams.
DKS: What blindness tools did you use in school?
SG: I went through school mostly using a CCTV. As a teenager I was very sad and angry about my blindness, and I wanted nothing to do with using a cane or learning Braille. But by my senior year I realized I had a choice. I could learn to use a cane and go to college, or I could refuse to use a cane and stay home. I buckled down and learned cane travel. Today I use a cane, I use a computer with JAWS, and I use VoiceOver and various apps on the iPhone. I've learned Braille, but I'm not fluent enough to use it for reading scripts.
DKS: Where did you do your undergraduate work? What was your major?
SG: I entered Illinois Wesleyan University in 2008 and majored in theater arts.
DKS: Was the college supportive toward you as a blind theater major?
SG: Not too surprisingly, the college had never had a blind student majoring in theater before. To their credit, they did their best to make it work for me. During my freshman year a blind actor, Marilee Talkington, came to our campus as a guest artist. My professors made sure I got the chance to meet her. We had dinner together, and we've stayed in touch ever since. Marilee has been a great resource for me.
DKS: Did your instructors work with you on things that might be challenging to learn nonvisually, such as gestures and movement?
SG: They certainly tried. People would tell me that I looked like a sighted person onstage. I thought that was a great compliment when I was in college, but now I realize it's pretty toxic. It's like saying that I'm okay because I don't look blind; I can pass for sighted. The reality is I'm a blind person, and that's okay. Is it necessary to appear sighted on stage? Should I seek to play sighted characters, or should I just be me? These are big questions to think about.
During my college years I became very self-conscious about the gestures I used on stage. My instructors worked with me a bit, and I really learned a lot from a couple of student directors. When I was a senior I did a one-woman show. The play was called The Syringa Tree. I had to portray twenty-one different characters, and they each had their own physicality. It was a tremendous challenge, and I really learned a lot.
DKS: What did you do after you graduated?
SG: I went to Chicago and started trying out for roles in plays.
DKS: How did you deal with the scripts at auditions?
SG: Handling the script really wasn't a problem. I'd sit down with a reader before the audition, and we'd go over the script together. I'd memorize the role I meant to audition for. I've developed a really good memory, and I learn lines very quickly.
DKS: How did directors react when they found out you're blind?
SG: It varied a lot. Some were very cool about it, and we worked together really well. Others were not at all open to me. The director at one small company told me, "If we don't cast you, it's not because you're blind." Now, why would they say that, unless blindness was on their mind? Eventually I learned that if a company wouldn't accommodate me, I was better off going somewhere else. It wasn't worth my time and energy to try to work with people who really didn't want me to be there. It was an unhealthy situation.
Today there is a big push for inclusivity in theater. Opportunities are opening up for actors who bring all kinds of life experiences to the stage. I think that the climate for blind actors and actors with other disabilities has improved a lot.
DKS: How did you shift away from acting and become a dialect coach?
SG: I took a couple of courses on speech and dialect when I was in college, but my formal training in that area was pretty minimal. In one dialects class we learned four or five common accents. Later I did an independent study class with another student and learned seven more. The Syringa Tree, my one-woman show, took place in South Africa, and I had to use ten different accents, some of them completely new to me.
Mostly I've been self-taught, and this seems to be true for most dialect coaches. As a blind person I've learned to listen very carefully to people's speech patterns.
One very interesting class I took in college focused on IPA, the International Phonetic Alphabet. IPA symbols represent every sound in the world's languages. English contains twenty-six phonetic vowel sounds, and other languages have many, many more. The IPA really helps bridge the gaps between hearing and spelling. I can access the IPA using my CCTV, and also one of my teachers created a tactile phonetic alphabet for me to use.
By the time I got serious about coaching, I had lots of contacts in Chicago's theater world. I started working with individual actors who hired me, and after a while directors started asking me to help on a particular show. Looking back now on those first shows I think, "I should never have done it that way!" I learned a lot through trial and error. I taught what I knew, and the actors sounded better. Somehow it worked out.
Chicago has a very rich theater scene, so it was a great place for me to start my career. I worked on about sixty shows during a six-year period. I worked with some of the major theaters in the city and the suburbs, such as Drury Lane, Steppenwolf, Goodman, Gift Theater, and the Windy City Playhouse. I have the script sent to me electronically so I can get familiar with the lines. Usually I attend the first rehearsal just to listen, and then I work individually with the actors. I might work with an actor for an hour, or we might have a couple of short sessions together. One show I worked on, Southern Gothic, ran for three hundred performances. I went in several times during the run to work with understudies and new people who joined the cast. I worked on a production of Billy Elliott, where there were a lot of kids involved. The play takes place in County Durham, a poor area of northern England, and I did a lot of work with the kids so they could get the accent down. I would check in on them from time to time throughout the run. For the most part, though, my job is finished once the show opens.
I've also had some experience working on TV productions. I worked six days on the set of a drama called The Patriot, which aired on Amazon Prime. I also worked on a remake of The Exorcist for Fox. TV work pays much better than work with a theater. I earned as much in one day working on a TV set as I could working two full stage shows.
TV is hiring dialect coaches more and more now, but you might only get to work with the actor for about twenty minutes before they shoot the scene. I'm not always happy with the final outcome. They'll do a bunch of takes for one scene, and the editor gets to choose. They might do ten takes, and they need to choose the best. The best visual nearly always wins out over the best audio.
Right now the community of dialect and voice coaches is very small. Only about ten dialect coaches are working in Chicago, and we're always recommending one another. I remember one coach who said, "There's more work than any one of us can do, so there's no need for us to compete with each other." I belong to an international organization called VASTA, which stands for Voice and Speech Trainers Association. It includes anyone who does anything with voice, such as coaches, therapists, and voice teachers.
DKS: I understand you're doing further studies right now.
SG: About a year ago I started to feel that I had reached a plateau in my skills and my career. I'd been working full time for years, but since it was freelance work, I was always a little on edge about landing the next job. I decided to apply to graduate school. This year I'm at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, working toward a master's in fine arts in voice studies.
DKS: What do you plan to do when you finish your degree?
SG: I want to continue coaching, and I'd also like to teach at the undergraduate level. It would be nice to gain a more stable and prosperous life. Maybe I can find a way to work with some clients in the corporate world.
Meanwhile, I'm doing my best to stay connected with my Chicago contacts through social media. Liking other people's posts helps keep me on their radar. Several theater companies have already asked me when I plan to come back.
Chicago has been good to me, but I'd like to try my luck in New York. When I dreamed of Broadway as a child, I always imagined I'd act on the stage. I still dream of Broadway, and I think I'll get there someday—not as an actor, but as a coach.
DKS: Thank you so much! How can our readers learn more about your work?
SG: I invite you to visit my website at www.sammigrant.com. There's even a video where I teach the basics of several different accents. Check it out, and give it a try!
by Amy Mason
Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 61, Number 2, February 2018
From the Editor: This is Amy Mason's second installment in a series of articles to help users of assistive technology get the most out of the World Wide Web. Navigating the web can be productive and enjoyable, but it can present some unique challenges for blind users. In this article Amy Mason suggests how blind users can put together a system that gives them access to the vast resources of the internet. The first article in this series, "Driving Blind on the Information Superhighway: The New and Improved Rules of the Road," appeared in Future Reflections, Volume 37, Number 3, and can be found at https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/fr/fr37/3/fr3703tc.htm.
Welcome back! It's great to see you all again. In our last class we touched on the history of using the web and the terminology of web browsing today, and we defined "accessibility," at least for the purposes of this series.
When people talk about using the internet, they are usually referring to accessing websites or web applications (programs that mimic software usually found on a local computer, but built to run remotely, using the programming languages used on the internet). Each computer is built to understand several different programming languages, but each type of computer system (Mac, Windows, Android, iOS) is pretty exclusive about what it understands. Because the internet is built to allow all sorts of devices to share the same information, it has been built with several languages of its own that are made to allow lots of machines to communicate freely. Our computers don't understand these languages by default, so we need programs that can translate the shared languages of the web into information our computers can natively understand. That is the purpose of the browser.
In its role as a translator, the browser will read the information coded onto web pages and other internet resources and rephrase that information so our computers can understand and present it to us as readable text, images, videos, and controls. The W3C (the folks who built the technical accessibility standards we discussed in the last article) and other governing bodies have created guidelines for the language of the web. They have created rules for how things should be written and what the browser should do to translate that information appropriately. However, browsers do not all follow the guidelines perfectly. Even when they do, they tend to do so in their own ways with their own unique voices (think of them as accents or regional dialects). They make sure that we can all basically understand the language of the web, but each browser does so in its own way. Returning to our driving analogy, each browser is like a vehicle. Browsers all can be used on the road, but each one will take curves differently, handle differently, and provide a slightly different driving experience. Once you've learned one, they all work similarly, but each has its own quirks you must understand to get the most out of it and even to "drive safely."
As blind computer users it's important to think through our browser options and be open to using more than one. There are three major reasons for this. First, we are adding an extra layer of "translation" in the form of a screen reader to access information that the computer is representing. We will discuss this layer in more detail later, but suffice to say that each layer plays its part in our ability to understand and access information. The web page is the road, the browser is the car, and the screen reader is the blind driver interface. For the best driving experience, the road must be smooth and well maintained, the car needs to be in good working order, and our blind driving interface needs to be receiving and passing on all the information provided by both the road and our vehicle. Therefore, we want to find the car that will handle best for the type of road we are driving on and will speak most clearly with our information gathering tools. Sometimes the ways these vehicles/browsers handle will so greatly affect our ability to access different sites that they can make the difference between a usable and functionally accessible page or even determine whether we can access some pages at all.
Furthermore, as we also discussed earlier, there are dangers to be found on the road. Not all roadside attractions are what they seem. Some are fun and diverting, others a little seedy, but if you are careful you'll be okay, while still others . . . ideally your car is fast and has good automatic locks. Otherwise, you may find that it and your luggage (personal information, computer files, etc.) could be hijacked. For these reasons it is important to use an up-to-date and modern browser. Current browsers contain fixes for known security flaws and provide you with an additional layer of safety over older models.
Finally, Henry Ford once said of his Model T, "Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants, so long as it is black." Despite this early pronouncement, today we can customize our vehicles in nearly endless ways. Browsers are the same. Early browsers didn't offer much in the way of personalization, but today most offer the user a great scope for customization, which we can use to make our lives easier on the net. As a more advanced topic we will cover customizations later, but it's useful to know that some options are tailored to the tinkerer, and that even modest customization can improve your experience immensely.
As we discussed above, browsers all do approximately the same job but offer different advantages and disadvantages for the intrepid internet traveler. Therefore, the rest of this article will focus on comparing the available options and providing some context on which of the browsers are likely to provide you with the best experience.
Operating Systems Supported: Windows Only
Screen Readers Supported: JAWS, NVDA, Narrator
Obtained from: Included with Windows Installation. Default browser on all versions prior to Windows 10
In the song, "Classified," C.W. McCall tells an amusing story of his purchase of an unforgettable vehicle. Here's how he describes it:
And settin' right there in a pool of grease was a half-ton Chevy pickup truck with a 1960 license plate, a bumper sticker says, "Vote for Dick," and Brillo box full of rusty parts, . . . Well, I kicked the tires and I got in the seat and set on a petrified apple core and found a bunch of field mice livin' in the glove compartment. He says, 'Her shaft is bent and her rear end leaks, you can fix her quick with an oily rag. Use a nail as a starter; I lost the key. Don't pay no mind to that whirrin' sound. She use a little oil, but outside o' that, she's cherry.
As the song concludes we see our intrepid hero taking life and limb into his own hands to get this relic out of the farmyard and down the road. Sadly, our reliable old friend, Internet Explorer, has come to resemble this pickup truck. Once upon a time it did most of our heavy lifting on the net. It was never fast, but by brute force and persistence we were able to use it to get an awful lot of work done. At the time, we didn't have a lot of other accessible options, so we put in a lot of miles on IE.
For this reason, many blind people continue to use Internet Explorer as their primary, or even only, browser. It's comfortable and familiar. We know all the quirks and lots of little secrets to keep it rolling another couple of miles, but it's just not fit for the road any longer, and we really need to be looking to retire it.
Microsoft has stopped active development of Internet Explorer. So new features of websites aren't well supported (when they are supported at all). This includes accessibility features. New websites increasingly rely on behavior that we can't get out of IE, so our screen readers aren't provided with the information we need to review them. Beyond this, IE is just not very stable on Windows 10 and tends to hang with alarming frequency.
Long story short, the only features of IE that Microsoft is putting any energy into at all are security patches, and even that will come to an end in the next five years or so. You don't want to still be reliant on IE when that day comes.
As such, it is my strong recommendation that you consider one or more of the other browsers on this list as your primary, and only use IE as a last resort.
Operating Systems Supported: Windows, Android, iOS
Mac OSX support is available, but very poor for VoiceOver users. It's best to find a different option on the Mac.
Screen Readers Supported: JAWS, NVDA, Narrator, TalkBack, VoiceOver (iOS)
At the time of this writing, recent updates to the underlying engine in Firefox have temporarily degraded support for Windows screen reader users. If Firefox is your preferred browser, you may wish to use the extended support version of the software for best results. This version will not be updated with new features as regularly as the primary version of Firefox, but it will receive security updates. The download page notes that it is intended for large organizations; however, individuals also are able to download and use the software for their own purposes.
Honestly, I don't know that much about cars, so I can't say what exactly we should be comparing Firefox to, but it exists. Some cars are known not for what they are, but what they can be. Firefox is the browser equivalent.
A fresh install is…fine. It will competently get you where you are going. It is engineered to be reliable, if not overly fast, and it is secure and very good at following web standards. As Firefox has offered real, robust accessibility support for quite some time, many blind folks have chosen to make it their primary or secondary browser.
Firefox is an open-source project from the Mozilla Foundation. Its goals are largely to play nice with standard bodies and other open-source projects. As such, it works especially well when paired with NVDA (Non-Visual Desktop Access), and Mozilla has even provided direct support to NV Access to continue active development. Furthermore, it is widely supported across different operating systems, and it is possible to sync bookmarks, autofill, and tabs across Firefox installs on multiple devices. If you use several machines, these features may be of interest.
If this is where your interest ends, Firefox will serve you perfectly well, but you can take it quite a bit further. Many users choose to install extensions and custom elements that will extend the Firefox experience far beyond that which is available in a fresh download. We will come back to these customizations in a later article, but for now, know that it is possible to make some extreme changes to the way this browser works. In fact, more than a thousand of the supported extensions mention "accessibility." I can't promise the quality of any of those extensions, but at least a few are bound to be helpful. As such, if you like to play, it may be the right choice for you.
Even if you don't like to play, Firefox may be a solid choice, since it is well supported overall across multiple screen readers, websites and devices. Unless you are running a Mac, Firefox would be one of my top picks for a safe and reliable primary browser.
Operating Systems Supported: Windows, Android, iOS, Mac
Screen Readers Supported: JAWS, NVDA, Narrator, TalkBack, VoiceOver (both iOS and OSX)
Obtained from: Included as default browser on Android. Otherwise can be downloaded from https://www.google.com/chrome/browser/desktop/index.html
Chrome is the browser that everybody seems to have and use. It's reliable and easy to come by, and it can provide a very nice experience. It's relatively fast, secure, and available on just about every computing device out there. The Toyota Prius is that car that tons of people have for pretty much all the same reasons…except for its cross-platform compatibility. (Strangely enough, most people don't care if their Prius works with Windows.)
Tons of people have Chrome just because it's better than the default browser their system came with, and that's good enough for them. Many others have it because it is created by Google, and that's a name they have come to know and trust.
Chrome's support for screen readers (particularly on Windows) is a more recent development than with Firefox, so there may be occasional hiccups you will notice if using this browser that you won't find in others. But on the flip side, there are times things work better here as well.
Like the Prius and Firefox, there are lots of ways to take your browsing experience with Chrome a bit further, though the out-of-the-box experience is perfectly adequate for many users. You can decide just how much customization is right for you. Extensions are available to add all sorts of features to the browser, including some that promise accessibility enhancements. Furthermore, as a truly cross-platform option, with very tight integration into Google's ecosystem, it can make traveling from one computer to another very easy. Like Firefox, Chrome allows for syncing of bookmarks and autofill information. In addition, many extensions will carry across when you are signed into the browser, so when you get things just the way you like them, you can carry the experience across to all your other machines. Chrome even allows you to set up your own custom keyboard commands, so if you want to take the time, you can get it to feel just right. Even if you don't, you should find it will adequately meet many of your needs.
I want to point out a couple of technical notes that may be helpful as you consider your browsing strategy. First, Chrome can be a bit of a resource hog because of how it keeps track of the different tabs you keep open. Each one is given its own separate chunk of memory to run in. Sadly, this means some resources end up being wasted because each tab needs things that on other browsers might be shared. But on the up side, it also means that if things go sideways in one tab, you can just close it and not affect the others you have open in the browser. Second, Chrome is the only viable third-party browser for the Mac. As we've discussed, it's always good practice as a blind user to have a couple of options available, so you will probably want this if you use OSX.
Overall, as with Firefox, I would argue that Chrome is a keeper. Most people will find that one or the other suits them a bit better, and either can be a solid choice, so give them each a test drive and see what you think.
Operating Systems Supported: iOS, Mac
Screen Readers Supported: VoiceOver (both iOS and OSX)
Obtained from: Default browser on Apple products. Installed by default on both iOS and OSX (Mac) devices.
Safari, like Internet Explorer, is an exclusive. Unlike Internet Explorer, it is still being actively maintained and improved. If you are a heavy Mac or iOS user, you are probably already familiar with this browser. It's what your device comes with out of the box, and for the most part, so long as you play by Apple's rules, it works fairly well.
That's really the main point when it comes to Safari. Apple devices, like BMWs, are something of a "lifestyle" product. An iOS device, or a Mac, is meant to be as much a fashion statement as a computing device. As such, there is a certain expected way that things will behave.
The consistency born of this tight design control is part of why so many blind people love their iPhones, and more than a few would fight anyone who tried to pry their Macs out of their hands. The predictability born of this high level of control has made for an environment where accessible software can be tightly integrated with a screen reader (VoiceOver) to very powerful effect. The BMW Mini feels very similar. It has some unique advantages and is pretty iconic, but the moment you want to start doing things in a way the creator didn't intend, things get much trickier. For example, the Mini Cooper is known for its handling; in part, this is because the company requires special nitrogen-filled tires. Mac and iOS are known for extremely tight integration, but you must use their browser and follow lots of other rules to get the best effect.
There are a few extensions available for Safari, though the list is much shorter than for Chrome or Firefox. As with those browsers, it is possible to sync autofill data and bookmarks between Apple devices, but Apple takes this one step further. When using Safari on an iOS or Mac system, you can send the page you are reviewing to another device. Therefore, you can start an article on your Mac, realize that you need to leave, and send that page to your phone to continue reading on the bus. The other unique Safari feature is the inclusion of a native "reader" mode. In this mode, the page is simplified and restructured so that only the article is present on a page, while all the noisy "clutter" of ads, comment sections, and navigation is removed.
One technical note to keep in mind for Safari is that, for best results as a VoiceOver user on the Mac, you might find it beneficial to enable full keyboard accessibility. For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, some items that should normally receive keyboard focus when tabbing do not do so in a default installation; as heavy keyboard users, we probably are going to want to rectify that issue.
Otherwise, if you are already invested in Apple's ecosystem on Mac or iOS, Safari will do most of what you need on the web and can even provide some useful additional features, so long as you like the way that Apple does things.
Operating Systems Supported: Windows 10 only
Screen Readers Supported: Best support with Narrator. Partial support with very recent versions of JAWS and NVDA
Obtained from: Default browser on Windows 10
This brings us to the final browser in our lineup today. Microsoft is not simply retiring Internet Explorer. Instead, they are working to replace it with a new browser: Edge.
Edge is... interesting. It's built to be fast, light, and clean, but nobody really cares. Very few people use it, and for our purposes, there are still some real disadvantages when compared to other browsers. In many ways, it is like the Tesla. It is intended to be the "future," and quite a lot of work has been put into its appearance and performance. But something is still not quite right for mass appeal. Tesla and other electric cars just haven't been perfected yet. They take a long time to recharge, so unlike fueling up, a pit stop on the highway is going to require an actual time investment. This will affect what you are able to do with the car. In much the same way, Edge is on an experimental platform. This means that things don't work the same, and we face real tradeoffs in the way that features behave. There are even problems in speed and responsiveness given the current interaction with screen-reading software.
Edge is only available for Windows 10, which further shrinks market share. With Firefox and Chrome readily available on the same platform, it's hard to imagine that Edge will ever claim the dominance once held by Internet Explorer over the browsing experience on Windows.
Edge is likely to improve. Microsoft is dedicated to improving the compatibility between Edge and screen readers. They want it to be adopted, but even they know there is still more to do. We don't have a great deal of knowledge about the future of browsing with this application. It's out there and available to try if you are feeling adventurous, though I wouldn't expect to count on it for now. NVDA and JAWS support are both improving, but neither is as robust as it is on other browsers, including IE, which makes Edge an awfully hard sell right now.
In short, play with Edge if you like; the experimental nature of the browser may provide you with access to things you couldn't use in the past, but I'd keep something more reliable in the garage just in case.
I mentioned at the beginning of this series that we were going to driving school, didn't I? Well, you know how school is... you can almost never escape a bit of homework. In that spirit, I invite you to pick a different browser than you've been using from the list, and give it a spin for a couple of days. If you already are using these browsers . . . what are you doing throwing spitballs in the back of the classroom? Get up here and help me teach this stuff! We blind users who are comfortable with technology are in the best position to educate developers and other blind people on what good access looks like for blind people and how to make the most of these tools.
If you want to learn more about which browser may best suit you, or if you have other general access technology questions, feel free to contact the Access Technology Answer Line at (410) 659-9314, option 5, or email us at [email protected]. We want to empower you to live the life you want by helping you understand the accessible technology available now.
by Patricia Costantino
From the Editor: Educational games play an increasingly important role in today's classrooms. Unfortunately, blind students have not had access to the inexhaustible array of games that are available to their sighted classmates. In this article Patricia Costantino relates the history of Blindfold Games and explains how game developer Marty Schultz is creating accessible games that help teach the Expanded Core Curriculum to blind students.
Sometimes the unplanned, unexpected happenings in life can lead to the most fulfilling and transformational moments. Such was the case for businessman Marty Schultz, the creator of Blindfold Games—the first ever series of gaming apps for the visually impaired.
Marty Schultz is a successful technology entrepreneur who has built and sold several software companies during his career. He lives with his family in South Florida. In 2013 Schultz noticed that his daughter, who was in elementary school at the time, would write and rewrite a new birthday wish list every day. He knew there had to be an easier way. At about the same time, the headmaster at his daughter's school got wind of Schultz's technology acumen and asked him to volunteer with an App Design Club. After meeting three times a week for six weeks, the club members created the WishToList app. The app made list-making and updating easy and shareable.
Following this successful run Schultz was invited to teach the App Design Club again. The school also asked him to conduct a programming class for middle-school students. In the programming class, Schultz challenged the students to do something truly innovative. He told them to create a game that didn't require a screen.
After considerable trial and error, the students created the model for Blindfold Racer, a game in which players drive by ear instead of by eye. Six months later teens at the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind tested the app and deemed it a rousing success. From there Blindfold Racer was launched in the App Store, where it quickly rose to the top of the charts for accessible games for the visually impaired. News of Blindfold Racer spread rapidly, and soon Schultz was receiving words of praise—and lots of game suggestions—from visually-impaired people the world over. Marty Schultz knew he had stumbled upon something truly special.
Meetings with the Carroll Center for the Blind and Perkins School for the Blind led to even more gaming suggestions. At one point four people, all leaders from organizations of the visually impaired, stayed up all night playing Blindfold Racer. Eagerly they shared their ideas about what worked, what didn't work, and what made the game special.
Unlike most accessible games, where accessibility is bolted on after the game has been developed, Blindfold Games are built from the ground up matching tactile gestures to game play. The player doesn't have to search on the screen for the right button to double tap for each and every game action. Instead, tactile gestures match game action. Not only does this innovation make game play faster and more natural; it truly opens up the world of gaming to visually-impaired people.
Two short years after Blindfold Racer appeared, the Blindfold Games collection included about twenty games and earned the Developer of the Year Award from Apple Vis. The next year, in collaboration with players in the Blind Bowling League, Schultz and his team created Blindfold Bowling. The game received high praise from many appreciative bowlers who were able to relive the bowling experience once again. The soaring popularity of the games led to a worldwide Blindfold Racer Championship. Approximately one thousand visually-impaired people played over a period of one month, and five thousand people followed along on social media. Thousands of dollars in prizes were given out to the winners.
To date, Blindfold Games has released more than eighty games that promote learning through gamification. More than 25,000 visually-impaired people of all ages from around the world enjoy Blindfold Games. Recently the games surpassed the 500,000th download.
A few years ago Marty Schultz started to hear from teachers of the visually impaired. They were using some of the games, including Blindfold Barnyard, Blindfold Hopper, and Blindfold Racer, to help their students practice skills in an educational setting. This discovery opened the door to many engaging conversations with members of the teaching community. In fact, the ideas for Blindfold Battleship and Blindfold 3D Tic-Tac-Toe came at the suggestion of a teacher.
Marty's meetings with the directors of several leading national organizations that serve blind children and adults echoed the need for more educational games. In May 2018 Schultz conducted a survey of teachers of the visually impaired and orientation and mobility specialists. He expected to hear from only a few dozen respondents. Instead he received more than one thousand responses!
Teachers told Schultz that they were using the games for two purposes. First, they were great rewards when visually-impaired students completed their assignments. Second, they helped students practice key skills. Teachers mentioned that prior to their use of the games, they might visit a child every few weeks and repeat the same lesson over and over again. When teachers let children play a Blindfold Game that exercised a particular skill, the children progressed without ever realizing that they were practicing.
Schultz wanted to determine whether a series of games based on the Expanded Core Curriculum would be supported as a viable business model. He attended several conferences across the country, soliciting feedback wherever he went. Armed with support from educators, parents, and the visually-impaired community, he and his team formed a new company, ObjectiveEd. The company's aim is to make learning more fun for visually-impaired students from Pre-K to 12th grade.
The ObjectiveEd games will be based on the goals and objectives in a student's Individual Educational Plan (IEP). They will be stored in a secure cloud so that teachers and parents can evaluate a student's progress in real time. The first ObjectiveEd games will be available for download on iPhone, iPad, and Android devices early in 2019. Initially the games will be rolled out in English, with plans for Spanish, French, and Mandarin versions to follow.
What started as a small way for a father to give back to his daughter has opened the door to providing new outlets for fun and learning for tens of thousands of visually-impaired people the world over. When serendipity is at play, there's truly no limit to the magic it can create.
by Kane Brolin
Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 62, Number 1, January 2019
From the Editor: Kane Brolin is the owner/operator of a financial planning and brokerage business based in Mishawaka, Indiana. He serves as president of the Michiana Chapter in the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana. You can read his article “Maximizing Return: How an Investment of Time in Your Blind Child Can Pay Dividends in the Financial Services Industry” at https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/
It seems the internet has become a great leveler. Just a click or two can make any of us sound like an expert. And let's face it: The only thing more stimulating than taking part in a heated debate is feeling like we've won that debate. But would you trust your child's financial future—or your own, for that matter—to an internet search engine or an online discussion forum?
Recently while perusing an email list for parents of children with visual impairments, I ran across some well-intentioned advice that was meant to help one of the listers figure out how to save for her daughter's college education. There was only one problem: the advice presented was wrong.
As a Certified Financial Planner Professional, I have learned over more than a decade that often the best thing I can do is prevent a client from making irreversible, costly mistakes. While qualifying to hold the Chartered Special Needs Consultant designation, I learned that if you're investing for the future needs of a son or daughter with a disability, some mistakes are so costly that they may disqualify your child from receiving critical government-sponsored benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Medicaid. At the very least, not understanding the characteristics of the investment product you could be buying could dramatically lower the amount of money your son or daughter will have access to when it comes time to spend some of it. So let's bust two myths that I find to be annoyingly persistent in today's marketplace.
Myth #1: If I am the recipient of SSI, SSDI, Medicare, or Medicaid, going to work will cut off my benefits. It's not worth it.1
Not only is this statement false, believing it prevents many people with disabilities from attempting to earn higher education because they think that working full-time at any job eventually will deprive them of health benefits or much-needed home- and community-based services from Medicaid. Why try for a college degree if there is no way to use that degree later without risking financial ruin?
A lot of people don't realize that the Social Security Administration has an incentive program called Ticket to Work. Its purpose is to help recipients of SSI, SSDI, Medicare, and Medicaid transition into the workforce without sacrificing their benefits. By drawing upon expert advice, keeping good records, and wisely using impairment-related work expenses to offset earnings from employment on your income tax returns, working gainfully might be more lucrative and less painful than you think.2
To find a Work Incentives Planning and Assistance program that serves your area or an employment network with a benefits counselor, call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 866-968-7842 (voice) or 866-833-2967) (TTY), Monday through Friday, between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
Myth #2: If I'm disabled, even if I have prosperous people in my family who could contribute to my standard of living, I must remain destitute, or else I lose eligibility for SSI, SSDI, Medicare, or Medicaid.
Not necessarily true. You would do well to remember a couple of facts that many people miss.
First, if you receive Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), "there is no limit to the amount of assets, cash, or resources you own." SSI and Medicaid do impose strict limits on the value of cash or investment assets that may be held in your name directly. However, thanks to the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, signed into law in 2014, disabled Americans now have access to the ABLE account. This account, which can receive contributions from many different sources, is a place where money can grow through tax-favored capital gains, dividends, and interest income. It may be used for your benefit without jeopardizing your eligibility for government programs.3
How may this money be used? It may be used for "qualified disability expenses" related to the individual's disability or blindness and made for him/her benefit in maintaining or improving health, independence, or quality of life, including:
So take heart. Living with a disability can be challenging on many levels. But don't let the fear of enforced impoverishment stop you from taking risks, gaining skills, and working toward a productive and affluent future. Do your homework, seek the advice of legal and financial professionals, and—above all—don't let the fearful things some people say stop you before you start.
1. (2018) "Spotlight on Impairment-Related Work Expenses," Social Security Administration, https://www.ssa.gov/ssi/spotlights/spot-work-expenses.htm
2. (2015) "Money Mondays: Wage Reporting—Myths, Tips, and Ticket to Work," Social Security Administration, May 15. https://choosework.ssa.gov/blog/2017-05-15-mm-wage-reporting-myths-tips-and-ticket-to-work
3. "Is There a Social Security Disability Asset Limit?" Disability Secrets, https://www.disabilitysecrets.com/page7-5.html
4. (2016) "Promoting Access and Inclusion in ABLE Programs: New Opportunities for Saving, Financial Inclusion, and Economic Security for Individuals with Disabilities and Their Families," ABLE National Resource Center, www.easterseals.com/shared-components/document-library/promoting-access-and.pdf
by Sheri Wells-Jensen
Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 61, Number 11, December 2018
From the Editor: Sheri Wells-Jensen is a professor at Bowling Green State University. She focuses on linguistics, teaching English as a second language, Braille, and the perceptions of blind people. In this article she ponders a question that troubles most of us blind folks from time to time: when I make a mistake, is it because I am blind? In this article, she comes up with a bit of concrete evidence to provide an answer.
I was standing at the counter in the world's most perfect coffee shop (which just happens to be in my hometown), engaged in the pleasant task of selecting the exact right combination of sugar and liquid caffeine. I was there to meet with some friends, and while I waited my turn, I pulled my phone out of my pocket, planning to send along a smug little text about how they were all late for once, and I was on time.
My phone came out easily enough, but it brought with it a shower of sundries: a set of earbuds, my keys, a guitar pick, some change, and a couple of folded-up dollar bills. It all rained down around my feet like an unwelcome summer shower. Embarrassed, I made a dive to collect things, fishing around among other people's shoes on the muddy floor. Then I heard that unmistakable noise that a white cane makes when it hits tile and bounces out of reach.
At least, I thought from my position half under the cash register; I hadn't completed the humiliation by cracking my head on the counter on my way down. People stepped back to clear a little space, and somebody squatted down to help me corral everything.
We all laughed and made little jokes about needing coffee and the dangers of overstuffed pockets. "Thank yous" and "no problems" were exchanged, and I got my cane back and ordered my coffee without further incident. The whole business couldn't have taken more than twenty seconds, and by the time my friends arrived, I had removed myself from the scene to a nearby table. No harm done. I don't expect myself to be perfect. This sort of thing happens. To everybody. And it's no big deal, right?
But the little incident stayed with me, and questions began bumping around in my head. Sure, everybody theoretically makes mistakes, but how often, really, does this sort of thing happen? How often is it a blind-person thing? Am I clumsier than the people around me? Or, rather, I thought, flipping the question, are the people around me more dexterous and graceful than I am? Very much despite myself, I had to admit that, at least sometimes, I sort of feel uneasily that maybe they are.
I'm a college professor, and one of my areas of research actually is the study of human error. I often joke to my students that I'm my own best subject. I notice when I drop something or miscalculate and brush the side of a doorway while passing through it or fumble with my change. I notice when I accidentally kick a student's backpack that I knew was in the aisle, lose momentary track of my direction of travel, or put the wrong key in my office door. But since they mostly happen quickly and almost silently, I rarely detect these kinds of errors when other people make them. I only notice mine.
It's worth noting that my understanding of how other people move about and physically interact with each other is to some extent shaped by scripted narrations like those in books or audio description of movies, where the action is tidied up. Unless they are central to some upcoming plot twist, there's no reason to include little mistakes or incidental miscalculations when creating a scene. So, as I read or listen to narration, I absorb the idea that the people around me do not make these kinds of mistakes very often. Logically, of course, I know they do, but I don't hear about it.
So how often do sighted people spill their pockets or drop things or take a misstep off a curb? It occurred to me that I could find out. My job, after all, is not to sit in coffee shops musing darkly about the state of the world. My actual job as a college professor is to gather data and answer questions.
I asked my sighted spouse to do a little covert observation; my expectation was that he might find one or two errors if he watched carefully. Here is what he said:
I sat in an inconspicuous corner of the student union where I had a clear view of a busy open area near a food court. It was around lunchtime, and the place was full of students. The hardest thing about the task (besides trying not to look creepy as I stared into the crowd) was that I couldn't look everywhere at once. When I did see something, I usually had to look away for a moment to write it down, which meant I wasn't watching the crowd at all for at least a few seconds. So I'm sure I didn't see everything that happened, but here's what I did see in thirty minutes of observation:
Twenty-four notable events in total, including...
Do the math; that's a sighted person making a notable error every seventy-five seconds.
I remember a story Kenneth Jernigan told about moving through a cafeteria with a friend. When a glass of water fell from a tray, he made two assumptions. First, he assumed the glass had come from his own tray. There's something I have in common with Kenneth Jernigan: despite my convictions and my training, stereotypical ideas about blind people have a way of sliding themselves into my mind. If something is bumped, dropped, or knocked over, I reflexively blame any available blind person. What, then, do I make of all this bumping, dropping, and knocking going on in a space where there were exactly zero blind people present?
The second assumption Dr. Jernigan made was that, if the glass had come from his tray, people around him would attribute the accident to blindness. This is almost certainly the case. It's clear to me that, if anybody tells a friend about my little coffee shop misadventure, the fact that I'm blind will almost certainly feature in the story as if it were pretty important. This, despite the self-evident fact that pulling a phone out of a pocket has precisely nothing to do with being able to see.
The answers to my questions, then, are: yes, this sort of thing does happen all the time, and no, it's not a blind-person thing; it's a person thing. The little physical intricacies involved in getting through the day go wrong for everybody, and for me, it's good to understand myself as an unremarkable part of the crowd. And although I can't say whether sighted people are generally more graceful than I am, I can say that whatever grace they possess does not seem to prevent them from occasionally scrabbling on the floor to pick things up or whacking each other with book-bags.
by Carlton Anne Cook Walker
From the Editor: A few years ago, parents on the NFB’s Blindkid listserv engaged in a heated discussion about the warning signs that sometimes are posted near a blind child's home or school. These signs are meant to inform drivers that a blind child may be at play in the vicinity, in the hope that drivers will use a bit of extra caution. Some parents argued that such signs reinforce low expectations for blind children, while others insisted passionately that such warning signs could mean the difference between life and death. In this article Carlton Anne Cook Walker shares her thoughts on this controversial topic. Carlton is a parent, an attorney, and a teacher of blind students. At the 2018 NFB convention she was elected president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC).
I preface my thoughts about "Blind Child at Play" signs by recognizing that parents have the best information about their children. For this reason, parents have the unfettered right to make decisions regarding their children's safety.
A number of years ago I believed that a "Blind Child at Play" sign would help keep my blind daughter safe. Over the years, however, my thinking about this issue has changed. I no longer feel that such a sign would have benefited my daughter. Here are some of my reasons.
Many people believe that blindness, by itself, disables children so much that special, blindness-specific signs are needed to alert the world to their presence. At times this stance seems to be almost ubiquitous in the general public. However, those of us who know the abilities of blind people are fully aware that this thinking is flawed. Blindness, itself, is not what holds a child back from age-appropriate behavior.
Many children, blind and sighted, live with issues that might affect their behavior and judgment. Children with autism, sensory processing issues, intellectual disabilities, or ADHD may be at greater risk than others around traffic. But all children, whether or not they have disabilities, may at times be careless or impulsive. Kids dash into the street to chase a lost ball. They're too busy texting or talking to their friends to pay attention to traffic patterns. No matter how conscientious parents may be about rules and safety, children and teenagers can, and do, put themselves at risk.
Furthermore, research indicates that any "Child at Play" sign is, at best, ineffective, and that such signs may actually put children at greater risk. Drivers can experience "sign fatigue" and start to block out signage when too many signs are present. This inattention may actually transfer into all aspects of driving, and the driver may be less attentive to the presence of children in the area. In fact, municipalities in states including Kansas, New Hampshire, and Alaska have prohibited "at play" signs because research has not proved that the signs are effective.
Parents seeking "Blind Child at Play" signs should consider the very real risks of lowered expectations and social ostracism that can result from the installation of such signs. They also need to consider the body of evidence suggesting that such signs are not effective at protecting children from injury by motor vehicles.
If your family believes that a traffic warning sign would be helpful in your neighborhood, please consider a "Children at Play" sign instead of a blindness-specific sign. If an inclusive sign is posted, drivers may watch out for any and all children. In that way no one is singled out, and, if the sign is effective, everyone will be safer.
We used to live in a small town with a very major road running through the center. It ran past our church, past the school, and past many local businesses. Long before I ever moved there, and decades before my daughter was born, town leaders posted this sign on each edge of town: "WE HAVE PLENTY OF CHILDREN, BUT NONE TO SPARE." To me, this sign sums up the issue perfectly. Every one of our children is precious, and we want all of them to be safe, wherever they go.
by Kaiti Shelton
From the Editor: Kaiti Shelton is a music therapist who works in Indiana with children and adults who have developmental disabilities. You can read a blog post about her experiences at https://nfb.org/blog/article/
Like most twenty-somethings, I'm a Netflix and Hulu junkie. With my trusty Apple TV I enjoy classics such as Gilmore Girls and Friends, and I can keep up with the water-cooler talk about Grey's Anatomy and This Is Us at my workplace. While I love that Hulu airs shows the day after they are shown on cable, I especially appreciate Netflix for its accessibility features, which include audio description.
When Netflix released Bird Box shortly before Christmas of 2018, the film understandably grabbed the attention of many blind people. My Facebook newsfeed quickly filled with critiques. Some blind people were disappointed in Netflix for reasons related to the plot of the film. For others the movie and what people were taking from it about blind people was deeply problematic.
Admittedly, I didn't want to see the film. I had made a resolution to be more positive in 2019, and I didn't want to feel angry or disappointed by yet another movie that falsely portrayed blindness. After the New Year, however, I kept coming back to the comment of a friend of mine who gave the film a positive review. "It's not a movie about blind people," she told me online. "It's a movie about people who are blindfolded. You have to get the idea that they're trying to act blind out of your head, or the movie will be ruined for you before you watch it."
On a snowy Sunday in early January I finally sat down to watch Bird Box, and I found that I agreed with my friend. It isn't a movie about blind people at all. The premise is clear; Sandra Bullock's character, Malorie, and her children only wear blindfolds because they are running from something that could kill them if they look at it. The blindfolds are not being used for a stunt. They are a necessity for survival.
Malorie and her children, known simply as Boy and Girl, adapt surprisingly well to navigating their surroundings and staying together under blindfold. They use several techniques that blind people are likely to use in somewhat similar ways in everyday life. However, they are not blind people, nor are they trying to imitate blind people.
Overall, I liked the film well enough. I thought Sandra Bullock played her part well, and aspects of the plot intrigued me. I liked that in the end of the movie the main characters meet blind people who have set up their own sanctuary and are safe due to their natural advantage in this situation. For once, blind people are not pitiable, nor are they supercrips. In Darwinian terms they truly have an advantage that makes them the most fit to survive. I do not know of any other movie that portrays blind people in this way.
While I admire the movie and respect the filmmakers for casting blind actors to play most of the blind characters in the film, I can't condone the "Bird Box Challenge." After the release of the film some sighted people, aided and abetted by the Internet, decided to wear blindfolds and attempt to perform a variety of tasks without sight. Some of these tasks were simple and had embarrassing results at best, while others were truly dangerous. There were reports of people trying to cross the street under blindfold and without a cane or any blindness skills. Someone even attempted to drive a car, which ended, predictably, with a crash. The stunts were so pervasive and out-of-hand that Netflix released a statement discouraging people from doing the Bird Box Challenge.
As blind people we know that experience and/or training are required for us to do things such as crossing streets successfully, not to mention doing some of the more specialized or potentially dangerous things some of us do for enjoyment or work. It is clear that the sighted public does not understand that it takes skill and practice to do things that confident blind people do every day. To assume that one has the inborn ability to cross the street without sight, when blind people actively work to gain and strengthen their orientation and mobility skills, makes a mockery of blindness and trivializes our experiences.
Research has shown that disability simulations evoke pity and fear rather than acceptance and understanding in the participants. Furthermore, a recent study published by the Perkins School for the Blind states that the majority of Americans are uncomfortable around blind people. The Bird Box Challenge contributes to the negative and false societal perceptions of blindness that real blind people are trying to dispel every day. Blind people are active in a variety of professions, and some of us are experts in our fields. Yet it may be hard for sighted persons to take even the most well-adjusted and accomplished blind person seriously when their reaction to blindness is one of pity or fear.
Biases may also have an impact on a sighted person's perception of blind people. Sighted people may think, "If I couldn't do a simple task under blindfold, life must be really hard and awful for someone who can't take their blindfold off." In reality, the biggest challenges faced by blind people who don't have other complicating factors such as additional disabilities are societal in nature, and the rest becomes easier with practice. This is why blind people like me, who have residual vision, still practice the techniques of blindness so we can adapt with greater ease to the eventual loss of sight or to fluctuations in our vision.
Sighted people who attempt the Bird Box Challenge do not learn about blind people. Furthermore, they do not learn what it was like to be an actor in the Bird Box cast. The actors worked with a blind film consultant to practice navigating under blindfold. This work was done not only to make the film convincing, but also to ensure the safety of the actors on the set. In terms of the plot, Malorie and her children would gain more skill over time, as wearing the blindfolds is a daily necessity. The actors and the characters would have had practice, which would improve their nonvisual abilities. Someone who wears a blindfold only to attempt an isolated task, with no practice or preparation, isn't going to have a successful experience. The Bird Box Challenge is not only harmful to blind people, it's completely pointless.
For blind people the Bird Box Challenge accentuates the challenges we confront every day. Misconceptions and misunderstandings are not new to blind people, yet simulations and stunts heighten our awareness of them. Until society stops viewing blindness as absurd or tragic and starts viewing it as a difference, we must continue to strive for equal treatment and realistic expectations. We will keep living our lives in the hope that one day more people will understand…and will leave crossing streets without looking to the pros.
by Beth Vrabel
Reviewed by Deborah Kendrick
From the Editor: Deborah Kendrick is a freelance writer and journalist based in Cincinnati. She edits the magazine Access World, which covers assistive technology for the blind and visually impaired.
A Blind Guide to Stinkville
by Beth Vrabel
DB83027 (NLS BARD)
Sky Pony Publishers, 2015, 280 pages
A Blind Guide to Normal
by Beth Vrabel
DB90816 (NLS BARD)
Sky Pony Publishers, 2016, 272 pages
Any reader who has been at that thrilling and exhausting precipice, the one where you leap from childhood to adolescence, is sure to fall in love with Alice Confrey, the first-person narrator of A Blind Guide to Stinkville. In a voice so middle school that you can see and hear her right there in front of you, Alice introduces us in the first chapter to all the key elements and players in her life. Her dad has just moved the family from comfortable Seattle to a small town in South Carolina called Sinkville (everyone calls it Stinkville). We meet Alice's lovable dog, Tooter, so named by the family for his canine quirk of rubbing his butt on and farting on everything. We are introduced to Alice's big brother James, who is struggling with teenage issues of his own; and their mom, a former travel writer whose lifelong struggle with depression has resurfaced with the move to a new town.
Miserable and bored in their new situation, Alice gets James to take her to the library every day. We learn right away that Alice loves books, and we also learn that she is blind. Alice's blindness is due to albinism, so she has an added layer of difference because of her pale hair and her porcelain skin that has to be sheathed in sunscreen whenever she steps outside.
With a mom who isn't acting like her mom and a town that stinks, due to the pervasive stench of rotting wood from the paper mill that her dad now manages, Alice is not without a sense of humor. When the librarian mistakes her silly little dog for a guide dog, she goes along with the fun. However, she comes clean in a heartbeat as soon as she meets a possible new friend.
Alice lets us know from the outset that she is blind, but she quickly clarifies that she can see some things. She loves books above just about anything else, and she reads with the magnifying glass that always waits in her pocket.
Wistfully Alice notes that in this new town blindness is news to everyone around her. Things were very different in her community back in Seattle. "Everyone knew I was blind," she remembers. "It wasn't a big deal. It was accepted; the same way everyone accepted that Josh's mom always was last to pick him up from play dates and that Eliza's hair was too curly to lie flat around her face."
Beth Vrabel has power-packed so many important issues into one small book with so much natural grace that we are barely aware she has done it. We learn about blindness framed by the inner struggles of a person who just wants to fit in, to have blindness seen as a simple characteristic. Alice is twelve, but this struggle can be part of life at any age.
Blindness is only the background as Alice encounters an assortment of life issues. The book's clarity in revealing that truth, through Alice's eyes, is what makes it so memorable. As Alice makes new friends, finds new independence, and uncovers a talent for writing that connects her to her mom, she examines and navigates a host of similarly demanding challenges—depression, racial inequality, elder care, and death. Yet in no way is this book dismal or didactic. It is a story that quickly immerses you in the lives of its characters, and it has you cheering for their successes. There is joy and humor and learning and growth. This is a book that anyone can enjoy. Anyone with a personal connection to blindness should read and share it.
Few books for young people present blindness with authenticity. This book gets five stars for that and for a host of other sparkling qualities. Alice shows us, through a child's perceptions, what fools adults can make of themselves when they realize that someone is blind. She also leads us to feel, right along with her, the relief and joy when someone barely notices that her eyes don't work well. We feel her determination when she decides to find her own way, and we celebrate with her as her white cane and keen mind help her settle into a new town.
While not quite a sequel to A Blind Guide to Stinkville, Beth Vrabel's A Blind Guide to Normal continues the exploration of blindness, this time through another character and another eye condition. We meet Ryder at the end of Stinkville, when Alice and her parents visit a school for the blind. At the outset of this second book, Ryder has left the residential school, having mastered the skills of blindness. He is about to begin seventh grade in a public school while living with a grandfather he has never had a chance to know. The book opens with Ryder saying goodbye to Alice, who is not quite finished with the residential school; she has become his best friend. Ryder is the most popular kid at the school for the blind, always cracking jokes about having only one eye, and popping out his prosthetic eye for laughs. He anticipates continuing his reign of wild popularity when he enrolls in "normal" school.
Again Vrabel presents wonderful characters and weaves her protagonist's blindness into a fabric of life issues. There are bullies, middle-school crushes, and struggles for acceptance. There is learning about the past of an elder who seems eccentric and annoying, but who actually has some merit.
Ryder has had retinoblastoma, a childhood cancer, which affected one eye. We travel with him the road of fear that cancer will come again and rob him of his remaining vision. We learn how he functions with only one eye and see the surprising compassion of other kids who find subtle ways to help him blend in.
While I think kids and parents with a blindness connection will enjoy this book, I didn't find it quite as irresistible as A Blind Guide to Stinkville. Ryder isn't as blind as Alice—no white cane, no special tools or tricks other than swiveling his head a lot to see with that single eye. But his middle-school angst is genuine, and the excessive humor he uses to cover his blindness is a recognizable trait.
Beth Vrabel has written a number of other award-winning books for this age group, some of which feature characters with disabilities and health issues. I hope she'll return to the blindness theme and exercise her talent and insight by writing about a charming kid who has no eyesight and uses Braille.
(Both of these books are available in paperback from Amazon, in audio format from NLS BARD, and in several electronic formats from Bookshare.)
At the 2018 convention of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) in Orlando, Florida, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) gave away technology worth more than nine thousand dollars. The technology was purchased through the Megan Bening Memorial Fund.
The Megan Bening Memorial Fund was created in the spring of 2017 by the board of directors of the NOPBC to honor the memory of Megan Bening, daughter of board member Jean Bening and her husband Allan Bening. Megan passed away suddenly from a brain hemorrhage in January 2017.
Megan Bening was an avid Braille reader who loved technology. When Allan and Jean were asked what they would like to do with the money raised for the Megan Bening Memorial Fund, they had an answer right away. They wanted to honor Megan's passion by providing technology to other blind and low-vision children and youth.
At the 2017 NFB convention, blind and low-vision kids went about selling Megan Bening Angel Pins. They raised more than three thousand dollars. With donations from others and a matching gift from iSenpai, the Megan Bening Memorial Fund raised over ten thousand dollars for the purchase of technology by the opening day of the 2018 convention.
Children and teens interested in obtaining pieces of technology entered a series of drawings held at the NOPBC Family Hospitality Night. Any child from birth to age eighteen who was registered for the NOPBC Conference was eligible to enter. In order to win, children had to attend Family Hospitality. Children who entered had the opportunity to examine the available pieces of technology and decide which item they wanted to win.
The 2018 Technology Giveaway included fourteen pieces of assistive technology. Following is a list of the devices and the children whose names were drawn to win them:
Kindle Fire Kids Edition was won by Luisa Monteiro-Oliveira, age 15, Marietta, GA; Layla Hildenbrand, age 8, Mills River, NC; and Jordan Young, age 11, West Monroe, LA.
APH Orbit Reader 20 Cell was won by Logan Sykes, age 7, San Angelo, TX and Ahbee Orton, age 18, Florence, AL.
Focus 14 Blue 5th Generation was won by Harley Loomis, age 7, Oswego, NY.
Victor Reader Stream New Generation was won by Mikaela Murrey, age 3, Dallas, TX and Anna Walker, age 17, Carlisle, PA.
Victor Reader Trek was won by Caiden Hooks, age 14, Delaware, OH and Hailey Baskeyfield, age 14, Norman, OK.
Perkins Classic Brailler was won by Maddie Martin, age 15, Ashburn, VA.
Focus 40 with case 5th Generation was won by Ethan Solano, age 17, Marshfield, MO.
Video Mag HD was won by Timi Olukanni, age 18, Lawrenceville, GA and Raveena Ali, age 11, Atlanta, GA.
More than six hundred Angel Pins were ordered for sale at the 2018 NFB national convention. By the last day of convention, all of the pins had been sold. The second annual Megan Bening Memorial Fund Technology Giveaway will take place at the 2019 NFB national convention during the NOPBC Family Hospitality Night.
Anyone who would like to make a donation to the Megan Bening Memorial Fund can go to http://nopbc.org/megan.
If you would like to purchase an Angel Pin in memory of Megan, contact Jean Bening at [email protected]. The cost of an Angel Pin is $5.00 plus $3.00 shipping, or you can purchase a pin at the 2019 NFB national convention. Many thanks to all who have so generously supported this memorial to Megan!
The National Federation of the Blind and the country's premier training centers for the blind offer a variety of summer programs for blind and low-vision children and young adults. These programs build blindness skills and encourage independence. Here is some basic information about summer opportunities in 2019.
NFB BELL Academy is a two-week summer program that prepares blind and low-vision children to be confident and independent adults. Children learn Braille and nonvisual skills through fun, hands-on activities in a daytime or residential setting. More than forty BELL Academies will be held in cities across the country in the summer of 2019.
Ages: 4 to 12
More Info: https://nfb.org/bell-academy
NFB EQ is a week-long summer engineering program for blind and low-vision teens. Participants forge new friendships while increasing their engineering knowledge, problem-solving abilities, self-confidence, and independence.
Grades: 9 to 12
Dates: June 16 to 22, 2019
Location: Baltimore, MD
More Info: https://blindscience.org/nfbeq
The NFB National Convention is the largest gathering of blind people in the world. Every year blind youth can participate in a variety of seminars and social activities designed to provide a meaningful convention experience, foster independence, and promote positive attitudes about blindness.
Dates: July 7 to 12, 2019
Location: Las Vegas, NV
More Info: https://nfb.org/convention
The Buddy Program is an innovative three-week program that pairs blind children with positive blind role models, teaches them alternative techniques, and includes fun activities such as swimming, tandem biking, and horseback riding.
Grades: 4 to 8
Dates: July 21 to August 10, 2019
More Info: https://www.louisianacenter.org/buddyprogram
The eight-week Summer Transition and Empowerment Program (STEP) introduces blind teens to the alternative techniques of blindness and workplace readiness skills through a paid internship. By interacting with mentors and peers (including during the NFB National Convention), students acquire the skills and attitudes necessary for living independently and productively.
Grades: 9 to 12
Dates: June 16 to August 10, 2019
More Info: https://www.louisianacenter.org/step-program
In the Buddy Program blind children learn important skills, embrace the empowering attitudes and philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind, and explore the wonderful and fun Twin Cities.
Ages: 9 to 13
Dates: June 9 to 29, 2019
More Info: https://buddy.blindinc.org
The Post-Secondary Readiness and Empowerment Program (PREP) is an eight-week summer program for blind teens where they learn new skills and become better prepared to attend college and transition into the workforce.
Grades: 9 to 12
Dates: June 8 to August 3, 2019
More Info: https://prep.blindinc.org
The Summer Transition Youth Learning Experience (STYLE) program offers three separate five-day sessions for high school students where they learn new skills, gain confidence, and have fun. Attend one, two, or all three sessions.
Ages: 14 to 21
Session 1: July 15 to 19, 2019
Session 2: July 22 to 26, 2019
Session 3: July 29 to August 2, 2019
More Info: https://style.blindinc.org
Summer College Comprehensive Program
This program is designed with the busy college student in mind. Participants enhance their blindness skills and increase their confidence during one or more summer programs at BLIND, Inc.
Ages: High school graduates (18 years and older)
Dates: June 1 to August 10, 2019
More Info: https://college.blindinc.org
Challenge and Adventure
In this program, students can run in a 5K race, play goalball and hockey, learn self-defense, and go canoeing. They can also try yoga and gymnastics and develop an exercise routine. They learn how to prepare delicious foods and how to maintain a nutritious diet.
Ages: 11 to 21
Dates: June 21 to 30, 2019
More Info: https://cocenter.org/our-programs/summer-youth
This two-week day program is filled with learning, challenges, and fun. Children meet blind role models and focus on cooking, cleaning, Braille, independent travel, and technology. They also have fun swimming, rock climbing, making a tactile art piece, and going on exciting field trips.
Ages: 5 to 10
Dates: June 10 to 21, 2019
More Info: https://cocenter.org/our-programs/summer-youth
Cracking the College Code
In this program blind students develop the skills they need to be successful in college. They learn about accessible tools and strategies for chemistry, biology, statistics, robotics, and more. In addition, they learn how to practice self-advocacy and how to navigate the landscape of higher education.
Ages: 16 to 21
Dates: July 18 to August 2, 2019
More Info: https://cocenter.org/our-programs/summer-youth
For those interested in a shorter program, the Colorado Center offers three different modules throughout the summer. In all three modules, students live in an apartment with other students and a counselor, and they build core skills in Braille, technology, home management, and cane travel.
More Info: https://cocenter.org/our-programs/summer-youth
No Limits to Learning
In this eight-week residential program, students live in an apartment and meet blind people who work in all kinds of jobs. They participate in rock climbing, goalball, whitewater rafting, and more. They also build core skills in Braille, technology, home management, and cane travel, and attend the NFB National Convention.
Ages: 14 to 21
Dates: June 7 to August 2, 2019
More Info: https://cocenter.org/our-programs/summer-youth
World of Work
In the World of Work program, students travel to the Denver metro area via bus and light rail to meet with blind people who work in a variety of professions. They develop confidence, practice their interviewing skills, and put together a résumé.
Ages: 11 to 21
Dates: June 7 to 21, 2019
More Info: https://cocenter.org/our-programs/summer-youth
National Federation of the Blind Scholarships
Contact: Cayte Mendez, [email protected]
410-659-9314, Extension 2415
Deadline for Applications: March 31, 2019
Every year the National Federation of the Blind awards more than $120,000 to blind scholars in the United States and Puerto Rico in recognition of their achievements and professional aspirations. Thanks to help from generous partners, there are thirty merit-based scholarships available, ranging from $3,000 to $12,000. All scholarships are awarded based on academic excellence, community service, and leadership. To be eligible a candidate must be legally blind in both eyes; must reside in the United States, the District of Columbia, or Puerto Rico; must be pursuing or plan to pursue a full-time, postsecondary course of study in the US in the fall of 2019; and must participate in the entire NFB national convention and all of its scheduled scholarship program activities.
Yale School of Drama Scholarship for Actors with Disabilities
The Yale School of Drama has partnered with the Ruderman Family Foundation—an internationally recognized organization that advocates for the full inclusion of people with disabilities in society—to support training for actors with disabilities. The foundation will provide an annual scholarship to fund the training of a student with a disability studying at the Yale School of Drama. The first recipient of this scholarship is Jessy Yates, an actor, performance artist, and comedian who has cerebral palsy. The scholarship provides $50,000 toward tuition plus a stipend for living expenses. Students do not complete an application to qualify for this scholarship. Instead, applicants must be enrolled at the school and must be recommended by the school to the Ruderman Foundation.
Holman Prizes for Blind Ambition
Contact: [email protected]
Deadline for Applications: February 28, 2019
The Holman Prizes are awarded annually to three blind individuals who wish to push limits and change perceptions about blindness around the world. The prizes are named for James Holman, a nineteenth-century blind explorer, who was the most prolific world traveler of anyone before the era of modern transportation. Each winner will receive $25,000 to fund an adventure. From teaching blind people to be beekeepers in Uganda to kayaking solo across the Bosporus Strait to hosting the first conference in Mexico for blind people led by blind people, the past six winners' projects are as varied as the winners themselves. Ambitious blind persons who will be eighteen years of age by October 1, 2019, are encouraged to apply.
Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards
Contact: James Gashel, 808-234-9259
Deadline for Applications: April 15, 2019
The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards are presented each year to persons or organizations that demonstrate exemplary leadership and extraordinary accomplishments in improving the lives of blind people in the United States. An application can be made by the applicant directly or by third parties who nominate an applicant. Each application requires an essay describing the work or project to be recognized. In addition, each application must have at least one letter of recommendation in support of the nominee.
2019 Distinguished Educator of Blind Students Award
522 65th St.
Springfield, OR 97478
Contact: Carla McQuillan: [email protected]
Application Deadline: May 1, 2019
The National Federation of the Blind will recognize an outstanding teacher of blind students at our 2019 national convention in Las Vegas. The winner of this award will receive an expense-paid trip to attend the convention, a check for $1,000, a commemorative plaque, and a place on the agenda of the annual meeting of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children to make a presentation about the education of blind children. Please help us recognize dedicated and innovative teachers who provide quality education and meaningful experiences and opportunities for their blind students. To apply for yourself or for a teacher you know, complete the application at the link above.
NASA Internships for Students with Disabilities
Every year NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) offers internships at centers around the country for high school and college students interested in the sciences. NASA is committed to including students with disabilities among its interns, and they are free to apply for any internship position. Internships for 2019 will be granted on a first-come-first-served basis, so it is wise to apply as soon as possible. To get announcements about opportunities for interns at NASA, join the listserv at [email protected]
2019 NFB Writers' Division Writing Contest
Deadline for Submissions: April 30, 2019
The annual youth and adult writing contests sponsored by the NFB Writers' Division are open to all aspiring writers, blind, sighted, or visually impaired. Adult contest categories are short fiction, nonfiction (including personal essay and memoir), and poetry. Youth contest categories are short fiction and poetry.
The youth contest is divided into three groups, determined by grade level: elementary (first through fourth grade), middle school (fifth through eighth grade), and high school. Youth contest winners will receive prizes up to $30 for first place, $20 for second place, and $10 for third place. The youth contest is a contest for students who write Braille. Entries must be submitted in hand-embossed, contracted Braille using a Perkins Brailler or slate and stylus. Each entrant must provide an electronic copy of the contest entry as a Microsoft Word or RTF file.
Each hard copy and electronic entry must be accompanied by a cover letter including the contestant's name, mailing address, phone number, email address, and grade level. List the titles of all submissions and the category in which they are being entered.
Attach the electronic copies to an email and send to Myrna Badgero, [email protected]
Send hardcopy Braille submissions and cover letter to:
901 Englewood Parkway, Apt. J 304
Englewood, CO 80110
2019 Midwest Student Spring Seminar: "Owning Your Future"
Contact: Kathryn Webster, [email protected]
Location: Holiday Inn O'Hare, Chicago, IL
Dates: March 15-17, 2019
Secondary and postsecondary students from the midwestern states (and anywhere else) are cordially invited to attend the second Midwest Student Spring Seminar, coordinated by the National Association of Blind Students (NABS). Students will take part in a weekend of presentations and workshops on surviving college, honing social skills, and preparing to enter the workforce. The seminar is a great opportunity for students to learn, network, build new friendships, and have fun along the way.
Jacobus tenBroek Law Symposium
Dates: March 28-29, 2019
Location: National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, Baltimore, MD
The 2019 Jacobus tenBroek Law Symposium will focus on how public attitudes about disability induce negative stereotypes of persons with mental health diagnoses, the disabled homeless, and disabled immigrants, as well as how these attitudes influence treatment under the law of persons with disabilities in education, health care, employment, housing, and the criminal justice system. Finally, the symposium will explore strategies for combatting the stigma attributed to persons with disabilities by exploring how we frame the image of disability in advocacy.
Expanding Horizons for the Early Years
Location: Sheraton Airport Hotel and Conference Center, Toronto, Ontario
Dates: April 11-12, 2019
This event is designed for multidisciplinary practitioners dedicated to the care and wellbeing of infants and young children and their families in settings such as hospitals, family resource centers, and early intervention programs. This conference will bring together practitioners from multiple perspectives to reflect on the values of scientific research and evaluation when considering the promotion of early mental health. Symposia focus on early play, the neurorelational framework, programs to support mothers who have experienced family violence, and more.
16th Annual Young Child Expo and Conference NYC
535 8th Ave., 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10018
Contact: Nancy Evangelista, Phone: 212-787-9700, Ex. 333
Dates: April 30-May 3, 2019
This conference covers a wide range of interventions for young children and allows networking among professionals from around the world. The first day of the conference, focusing on children in pre-kindergarten, is sponsored jointly by Los Niños Training and Bank Street College of Education.
K-12 and Higher Education Survey
The NFB is gathering information regarding the accessibility of educational technology used in our nation's schools, kindergarten through graduate level. If you are a student, parent, teacher, or administrator who uses screen access software or other accommodations to participate nonvisually in educational programs or services, or if you are the parent, teacher, or administrator of someone who does, please complete this survey once a semester.
Parent-Affiliate Teamwork Program
Contact: Carlton Walker, 717-658-9894
The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), a proud division of the National Federation of the Blind, announces the creation of the Parent-Affiliate Teamwork Program (PAT). National parent leaders are available to come to your state to speak at events, provide workshops, assist in creating and building a state parents' division, and serve as mentors to families. To take part in the PAT program, the affiliate can request a parent leader and/or let the NOPBC know which topics it would like to cover. The NOPBC can work with the affiliate to identify a parent leader in a nearby area or determine the speaker who would be best for the topics of interest. The affiliate and the NOPBC will work together to determine how best to cover transportation costs, meals, and lodging. To request a speaker, please contact NOPBC President Carlton Walker.
The leadership of the National Association of Blind Students (NABS) wants to provide an outlet for students to voice concerns, seek advice, and learn about resources. NABS now has a phone number where a student leader is on call to speak with blind students across the country. NABS also has an Instagram account, which you can follow at @NABSLink.
Seedlings Braille Books for Children
Seedlings Braille Books for Children just added seven more books in UEB to its collection, bringing the number of UEB titles to 155. One is a brand-new title, Magic Treehouse 34, Season of the Sandstorms. The other six books have been converted from the old Braille code: Ramona and Her Father; Ramona Forever; Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator; Star Wars: The Phantom Menace; Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom; and Walking the Road to Freedom: A Story about Sojourner Truth. All of Seedlings' 310 print/Braille books for younger readers are already in UEB.
The 2019 Book Angel Program
Blind and visually-impaired children ages birth to twenty-one in the US and Canada are eligible to receive three Braille books per year from Seedlings Braille Books for Children free of charge, but they must register for the Book Angel Program annually. List four books of the child's choosing from the Seedlings catalog and three will be selected.
DREAM Weekly News in Disability and Higher Education
Contact: Kim Elmore, [email protected]
DREAM (Disability Rights, Education, Activism, and Mentoring) is charged with advancing the interests of students with disabilities in postsecondary institutions and their allies across the United States. DREAM advocates for student rights, increased accessibility, and social and policy change. It aims to provide support and mentorship to local campus disability groups and individual students. The DREAM Weekly News highlights news stories pertaining to students with disabilities, with links to the full stories in publications from around the world.
The Blind Arduino Project
The Blind Arduino Project grew out of a community effort led by Dr. Josh Miele in late 2015 to better understand barriers faced by blind people who want to participate in the vibrant global culture of DIY hardware prototyping. A blog describing various projects is available at http://blarbl.blogspot.com.
Accessible Philadelphia Guide
Contact: Cara Schneider, 215-599-0789
Philadelphia strives to ensure that all visitors have the ability to explore the city independently. The city's accessibility compliance services work to ensure that residents and visitors with disabilities have the same rights as all Philadelphians. This website includes information about accessible transportation, sensory sensitive performances, and touch tours of museums and historic sites for blind visitors.