Future Reflections

Volume 42, Number 4         Fall 2023

A magazine for parents and teachers of blind children published by
the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults in partnership
with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children.

Deborah Kent Stein, Editor

ISSN-0883-3419

Copyright © 2023 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]

Contents

FEATURE

Thinking about My Dad
by Kevan Worley

GETTING STARTED

Developing Multisensory Skills in Blind Babies
by Amber Bobnar

Get in Your Child's Shoes
by Sarah Kassim

Images Are for Everyone: Building the Foundations for Tactile Literacy
by Chancey Fleet

FAMILY

Sharing Blindness with Family: A Conversation on the Dynamics of Blind Siblings
Moderated by Seyoon Choi

Hosting Amr
by Jennifer Duffell-Hoffman

SCHOOL

Lessons from the Pandemic: Research on the Experiences of Blind Students and Their Families
by Arielle Silverman

Meeting the Challenges: Changing Life for the Better through Congressional Debate
by Mirielle St. Arnaud

Nudges and Possibilities
by Emerie Mitchell-Butler

So, What Are You Studying?
by Rishika Kartik

CAREERS

Closing Loopholes and Opening Doors: Preparing Blind Students to Work in the Field of Cybersecurity
by Laura Bostick and Chuck Gardner

ADVOCACY

A Tool for Self Advocacy in High School
by Erin Jepsen and Abi Jepsen

A Roller Coaster of Emotion: The Highs and Lows of Federal Regulations on Website Accessibility (or the Lack Thereof)
by Kyle Walls

Progress to Make the Web More Usable and Friendly for the Blind
by the NFB Advocacy and Policy Team

PERSPECTIVES

On Medical Interventions and a Full Childhood: How We Decided Not to Treat Our Daughter's Blindness
by Jamie Principato Crane

WHAT’S NEW?

SABER Final Outcomes Report
by Seth Lamkin

Of Watches, Pages, and Healthy Competition
by Lisamaria Martinez

Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest Builds Opportunities

Announcements

Why Join the NOPBC?

Are you the parent of a blind/low-vision child? Don’t know where to turn? Have you ever wondered what your child will be capable of when he or she grows up? Are you concerned that your child’s future will be limited by blindness or low vision? Do you have questions about how to parent a blind child? We are here for you.

What is the NOPBC?

Founded in 1983, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), a proud division of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), is a membership organization of families, friends, and educators of blind children. We have thousands of members in all fifty states plus Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico.

Who is the NOPBC for?

We have a very inclusive definition of blindness which includes children who have some usable vision. Instead of focusing on what the child can or cannot see, we focus on the child and what she or he wants to be.

NOPBC is for families, educators, and friends of blind children, including those who have some usable vision. We welcome all families of blind children, and many of our children have both blindness and other disabilities.

We help families and blind children themselves maximize the child’s abilities and opportunities; we hold high expectations for all of our children, regardless of any additional disabilities they may have.

Why is the NOPBC a part of the National Federation of the Blind?

As a division of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the largest and most influential organization of blind people in the world, the NOPBC is well informed about the societal, legislative, and technological issues that affect blind people. We enjoy the resources, support, and expertise of fifty thousand blind people who can serve as mentors and role models for us and our children. When we as parents join the NOPBC, our children belong to the Federation family.

What is our mission?

The NOPBC:

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.

Why Join the NOPBC?

We have been where you are, and we want to support you and your blind child. We know that blindness does not define your child's future. 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.  

The NOPBC offers hope, encouragement, information, and resources for parents, families, and educators of blind children. NOPBC provides:

We offer a wide variety of 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. This conference 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.

Programs, activities, publications, and resources of the NFB and NOPBC

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

Thinking about My Dad

by Kevan Worley

From the Editor: At the 2023 Convention of the NFB of Illinois (NFBI), Kevan Worley of Colorado served as the national representative. In this capacity he addressed the convention banquet. NFBI First Vice President Denise Avant gave the following introduction:

Denise Avant: Kevan Worley is known and loved by Federationists all across the country. He started out in Illinois, attending the Illinois School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. He now lives in Colorado, where he is a successful businessman. He has been in the Federation for over forty years. Here is one of the nicest people I know, Kevan Worley of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado.

Kevan Worley: I've been thinking about the things I'd like to share with you tonight, and I decided I want to talk about my dad. My dad was a great American. I was talking earlier tonight to a young woman who served in the military, and her son was in the Chicago BELL® Academy last summer. She and her husband both were in the military at Fort Bliss and other places. I can identify as an Army brat. I was an Army brat myself. My dad was a sergeant in the Army. So I thought, why not talk about my dad? My dad was a great guy. He died in 2011.

What does this have to do with blindness? Whether you go blind later in life or develop low vision in the middle of life or you're blind or have low vision early in your life, we all have our stories. We all have stories about how we're impacted by our families. We often talk about the low expectations we experience. In my view it's not just the low expectations that mess us up—it's the mixed expectations and the mixed messages we get.

When he was four my father was adopted from an orphanage in South Bend, Indiana. There were eight kids in his family, as far as we know. This was in the early 1930s. The family that adopted him, the Worleys, couldn't take eight kids; they could take two. In those days things were different; it was the Great Depression. We think my father's birth family was going north from Arkansas to work in the plants or heading west toward Oklahoma. We only know for sure that there were eight kids, and the family could not care for eight children, so they dropped the children in an orphanage in South Bend, Indiana. Thanks to my Grandma and Grandpa Worley, my dad and his sister Shirley were adopted from the orphanage. (How would you like to be called Shirley Worley?) So my dad came from very humble roots.

In 1956, when he was twenty, my dad married my mother. They met at a Christian Bible school in Indiana. Dad, of course, joined the Army. I say "of course" because in those days if you were poor, the Army was one way you could get an opportunity. In the late 1950s there was no war. Korea was over, and Vietnam was only in its very, very early stages. Back in 1956 nobody even knew where Indochina was! So, Dad joined the Army, and he got transferred to Germany. It was only eleven years after World War II, and Europe was still in recovery. There were still bombed-out buildings. There was still destruction. The Marshall Plan was still in effect.

So my mother gets pregnant with me, and she gives birth in a little hospital in Germany. My parents were green. They were salt-of-the-earth people from a small town in Indiana. My mother had trouble with the delivery. My poor mother was eighteen hours delivering me. The inexperienced Army doctors didn't know what to do, so I was delivered with forceps, and my head was crushed. Dad told me later that it didn't look like I was going to live. He said, "Son, your head looked like somebody had taken a baseball bat to you!" That's how bad it was—and yet I'm still here!

Wise Advice

My parents had never known a blind person. They didn't even think about blindness. They worried about whether I was going to have brain damage. They worried about whether I would have delays. And I did have delays. Finally, after a long time, when I was about fifteen months old, they noticed that my eyes had very little movement. They noticed that I was not light reactive.

When they got back to the United States, my grandparents said, "Let's take Kevan to the famous Mayo Clinic." I still have some very early memories of my grandma and grandpa driving me in a Studebaker to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. I was eighteen months old, but I still have some very vague, wispy memories of that trip.

The great doctors at the Mayo Clinic were smarter than a lot of the doctors today. After looking at my eyes, they said to my parents, "All we can say is that he's going to be blind. We don't think he's going to have brain damage, but he's going to be blind. He's going to be totally blind. Quit searching for a cure. Just get him a good education."

I can tell you that they said that, because fifty years later I went back to the Mayo Clinic. My health was a little down. They have something at the Mayo Clinic called the Business Executive Program. You can go when you're fifty or sixty or whatever, and you can pay a ton of money, and they'll do a whole work-up on you. I was there for four days, and they did all kinds of tests. They asked me, "Have you ever been to the Mayo Clinic before?" I said, "Well, not really. Just when I was two, but that was fifty years ago."

Now, this branch of the Mayo Clinic was in Phoenix, Arizona. The one I went to when I was two was in Rochester, Minnesota. But fifteen minutes later they came back and said, "We've got your records from when you were two years old."

I couldn't believe it! That means they had to take my records from paper to microfiche to microfilm—but they thought it was necessary, they were so good and organized, and they love their data! They had that record, and they had a letter from the clinic to my father's commanding officer, a letter to the colonel. It said, "Sergeant Worley's son is blind. He's going to be totally blind. Please do what you can, Sir, to station Sergeant Worley in a place where they will have a school for the blind. He needs an education. He doesn't need medical attention."

Doctors and theologians like to heal us. But these doctors said, "He's going to be blind." For my dad and mom, this was overwhelming! I would like to say that they set high expectations for me all the time. I'd like to say they got that take-that-hill attitude Dad had as a sergeant in the Army and that attitude from the Mayo Clinic, and that everything was copasetic and a piece of cake. And yet, as I said earlier, it's not just the low expectations that we have to deal with—it's the mixed expectations and the mixed messages.

High Expectations

My dad loved me and wanted me to succeed just like he did. I can prove it. When I was five years old we were stationed back in Frankfurt, Germany. We lived on the fourth floor of one of those Army blockhouses, one of those postwar buildings that were built for soldiers. We were on the fourth floor, and the higher ranks were on the first, second, and third floors.

One day my dad said to me, "Take out the trash." I have a vivid memory of this! He handed me a paper bag. It was full. There were tin cans in that paper bag. I walked down those stairs, and I'm sure I dropped some of those tin cans. I'm sure I didn't give it much thought. I threw the trash in the dumpster and went back upstairs.

A few minutes later there was a knock on the door, and some high-ranking officer, some major or something, said, "Sergeant Worley!" I knew I was in big trouble! "Sergeant Worley!" he said. "I hear you're letting your son take down the trash."

My dad said, "Yes, sir, he's got to take the trash down."

The officer said, "He dropped some tin cans down there. We don't want him taking the trash down anymore."

And I clearly remember this, my dad said, "Well, he's got to learn to take out the trash just like every other kid. If he drops a tin can down there, he'll go find it and pick it up." That was my dad's take-that-hill attitude. That's the way he was. My dad had high expectations, right?

A year later I wanted to learn to ride a bicycle. I could see just a teeny bit—I had what our friend Mary Grunwald here calls "recreational vision." I could see a teeny, teeny bit, and I could follow the fence with my one good eye. Dad would let me ride a bicycle out there.

Well, one time I ran into a car—and of course it belonged to the same major! And my dad defended me! He said, "I'm sorry, but he has to learn to do things." Again, he had high expectations. I had to learn to do what everybody else did.

Mixed Messages

Now I'm eleven years old. We're living in Fort Huachuca, Arizona. It's hot in Fort Huachuca, Arizona! And my dad said to me and my brother Paul, who's a year and a half younger than I am, that we had to go pull weeds in the back yard.

So we're out there pulling weeds. Well, it was hot! I'm sweating, and it's hard work, and I kind of start lingering. I'm not really doing my bit. I'm lazing off. My brother figures, if my older brother's lazing off, I'm going to laze off, too.

Then I heard my dad: "Paul Arthur Worley! What are you doing? Why aren't you pulling those weeds?"

My brother said, "Kevan's not doing his share, either."

I distinctly heard my dad—and I hear him today—he said, "He's blind! He can't keep up with you, he's blind! Just get to work!"

I thought, my dad believes in me, right? I thought he had high expectations for me. I thought he believed I could do what everyone else could do. But now he was selling me short. It really disturbed me.

That's what we deal with often. It's not that all expectations are low. It's that they're inconsistent. You don't know what society expects of you. On one hand you're a hero for walking across a residential street when you're twelve. On the other hand you can't join the Boy Scouts. Which is it? Am I a hero or not?

My dad loved me, and my dad was a great guy. He was my hero. This was just one incident, but it buried itself in my psyche.

There were many other “incidents,” incidents of high expectations and incidents of low expectations.

The Case for Intersectionality

A year later I went to the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind. I thought about it the other day, because it was Indigenous People's Day. I hated the Arizona School for the Blind! I had been at the Illinois Braille and Sight Saving Institute, as they called it in those days (it never saved anybody's sight, as far as I know), but then my dad got transferred to Fort Huachuca, so I was sent to the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind.

Bless my dad, he knew how much I hated that school! He'd drive every weekend, seventy miles, to pick me up and take me home. That meant on Friday night he had to drive seventy miles to pick me up and seventy miles to take me home. Then he had to do the same thing on Sunday to take me back to school and drive home after he dropped me off. This was in 1968. Back then you didn't just get in the car and go! My dad spent every weekend driving all those miles back and forth because he knew how much I hated that school.

This isn't so much about blindness, but it is about intersectionality, and the way we all need to work together to change the world. When I was at the Arizona School for the Blind there were Hopi Indians and Apache Indians among the students. They were not allowed to speak their languages. I understood that in school they had to speak English, doing their reading and writing and 'ritmetic. But after school they were not allowed to speak their languages, either. The house parents would hit their knuckles with a ruler if they spoke their native languages. So this is not about blindness, but it's a side note that matters to me.

My dad earned a silver star. He did four tours in Vietnam. When I think of the people who went to Afghanistan and Iraq, when I think about all the people who serve our country, I think about my dad, and I decided to share a bit about him tonight. I've never done it before.

My dad would go to all of my wrestling meets, no matter where we were. He would find some way to get to my wrestling meets. I remember my sophomore year in high school, I was wrestling in Indianapolis. This was in 1972. Now, my dad was from the Old South. His family came from Arkansas and Indiana. I was wrestling for the finals of a National Council for the Blind, and I was wrestling a Black kid. There were folks there who did not want the Black kid to win. They put pressure on me as a fifteen-year-old, telling me, "You've got to beat this [N-word]." My dad came up to me and said, "Don't feel pressure. Who wins is who's going to win."

Well, I lost bad! That kid kicked my butt! I think he pinned me in fifty-one seconds! I hated to lose, but I also felt kind of gleeful that the Black kid beat me. I walked away feeling like, "Haha, you white bigots!"

It all works together in so many ways. Discrimination and prejudice are discrimination and prejudice. My dad knew that, even though he came from a very rural, oppressed background. He challenged me—mostly, but not always. We have to be careful of those mixed messages!

Messages that Empower

How does this relate to the National Federation of the Blind? The National Federation of the Blind impacted my life in many ways, the same as my dad did. But in the Federation the messages were always positive, always upbeat, always empowering.

Late in my dad's life he got involved in the National Federation of the Blind. He went to eleven national conventions before he passed away. He fell in love with the National Federation of the Blind as a sighted father. He began to recognize that some of the things he and Mom did when they raised me were right on target, absolutely great. But he also began to recognize that some of the things they did they wouldn't have done for the next child. I know they learned that, because my wife Bridget and I had an opportunity, through the National Federation of the Blind, to adopt a blind child.

Some of you know Nijat. He was eleven, and he came to the United States for eye surgery. The eye surgery didn't work. He was going to be pretty nearly totally blind, with just a teeny bit of that recreational vision. I found out about him when I was doing some work for NFB Past President Dr. Marc Maurer in New York. Carl Jacobsen, who was president of the New York affiliate, came to me and said, "We have a blind kid we don't know what to do with." I said, "Well, what do you want me to do about it?" Carl said, "They want to send him back."

So I went to Bridget, and I said, "Hey, they want me to adopt a blind kid." She said, "What? We're done with kids!" I said, "Well, I don't think we are."

We were able to talk to Nijat’s parents in Azerbaijan. He was raised mostly in an Armenian refugee camp. We were able to adopt him, and he was the apple of my eye. He was my buddy. We raised him in what we call the boot camp for the blind. We didn't have many mixed messages and mixed expectations around our house!

I remember one time we lost him. When he was sixteen he got upset with me about something, and I said, "You can just get out of the car and walk home then."

It was about 28 degrees out, and he got out of the car and slammed the door. I said, "Come on, Bridget, let's go." So we went home and left him out there.

After about an hour he wasn't home, and we thought we better go look for him. And we couldn't find him! David Maurer, who was working for me at the time, went out and cruised around, and he found him.

Nijat was a wonderful kid to raise. Once he learned English, he always said, "I vant to be lawyer." About three years ago he graduated from Creighton Law School. I'm pretty proud of him!

I want to say a couple of things about Dad here. Dad learned his lesson. He really took Nijat under his wing. He spent so much time mentoring him, taking him fishing and hunting, showing him all kinds of things he would never have shown to me.

My dad, as a sighted guy, helped start the National Association of Blind Veterans, a division of ours. In 2005 people were starting the division. Mom and Dad had started going to national conventions—they loved national conventions! Dad said, "I'd like to make a grant to help start this division." I said, "A grant? We ate mayonnaise sandwiches growing up. I don't think we're giving grants." But he gave them a thousand dollars to help start the division. I was very proud of Dad for doing that.

It has been observed that "visionaries are those who stand on the platform of railroads that have not yet been built." I think about that when I think about our founder, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek. I think about where we were in 1940, and with Dr. Jernigan where we were in the 1960s. With all the poverty that blind people faced, with all the exclusion, I think, how did they know that if they started working diligently, raising a dime here and a dime there, how did they think we could get to where we are today? They couldn't have imagined AI and all those things, but as founders they knew that with people like my dad, non-blind allies, and with the people in this room, we would ultimately continue to grow and organize a movement that would change the world for blind people. And would change the world for others as well.

PHOTO CAPTION: Ivan Bobnar sits in a car-seat playing with a toy bumblebee.
PHOTO CAPTION: Now slightly older, Ivan plays with a set of bongos.

Developing Multisensory Skills in Blind Babies

by Amber Bobnar

Reprinted with permission from https://www.wonderbaby.org/.

From the Editor: Amber Bobnar's website, wonderbaby.org, is a trove of information and resources for parents of children with disabilities of every kind and combination. In this article she considers the challenges faced by blind babies as they strive to reach their developmental milestones. She suggests a variety of toys that can help children move forward, having fun all along the way.  

Typical infant development is very visual, but this modality is missing or strongly diminished in babies who are blind or have low vision. Most of our understanding of infant development relies on observing how babies respond to visual cues. Understanding how both blind and sighted babies interact with touch and sound can help us support blind babies as they learn about their world.

Integrating Sensory Inputs

Vision acts as a way to integrate different sensory inputs. For example, if you see a dog, hear it bark, and touch its soft fur, you can use your vision to pull all those elements together and understand what a dog is. For infants who are blind, the loss of the visual component makes it difficult to understand that the soft animal they can touch and the barking sound they may hear from a distance come from the same source.

Vision is even more critical as children develop an understanding of space and how their body is oriented in a room or how objects are related to each other. A recent study entitled "Multisensory Spatial Perception in Visually Impaired Infants," published in the November 2021 issue of Current Biology, explores how sighted and blind or low-vision babies respond to touch and sound, and how this may affect their understanding of how they are oriented in their environment. The study researchers emphasize that "the important role that vision plays in the early development of multisensory spatial perception raises the possibility that impairments in spatial perception are at the heart of the wide range of difficulties that many visually-impaired infants show across spatial, motor, and social domains."

Touch, Sound, and Sensory Integration

In sighted infants sensory integration relies heavily on the visual. Sensory integration plays a role in body perception, manipulation, interaction, and coordination. Sighted babies use all of their senses together to understand their bodies and the world around them. But what if we were to try to isolate how both sighted and blind babies respond primarily to touch and sound?

This study looked at how both sighted and blind babies responded to objects that (a) made a sound, (b) vibrated, or (c) made a sound and vibrated at the same time. These objects were placed in babies' hands, and their responses were recorded.

When given objects that make both a sound and vibration, both groups responded faster than with tactile or audio alone. However, the sighted babies were quicker and more accurate.

When presented with one object that makes sounds and one that vibrates, sighted babies showed a preference for sound, and blind babies overwhelmingly preferred touch. Interestingly, when blind babies were presented with objects that vibrated but did not make noise, they showed "faster and more accurate localization of tactile stimuli on the hands when their hands were crossed" than did their sighted peers.

Some of the conclusions from the study were:

These differences are noticeable in baby development. Blind babies, for example, often won't reach out for a toy that is making sounds until they are twelve months old, while sighted babies reach for sound-making toys at around five to six months old.

Focusing on multisensory play, combining sounds and touch, and playing with toys close to your baby's body, then pulling them away to encourage reaching and exploring, can help your baby develop better spatial awareness. According to researchers, "Such approaches may help visually impaired infants make better use of auditory and multisensory space to help them link the tactile world of the body to the outside world of objects and people."

Five Toys that Encourage Development of Sensory Integration and Spatial Awareness in Blind Babies

  1. Wrist Rattles and Foot-Finder Socks

    Wrist rattles and foot-finder socks have bells inside. The wrist rattles attach with simple Velcro, making them easy to put on and take off. These are fun tactile toys designed to be placed directly on your baby's body to encourage body exploration and movement, including crossing midline.

    Toys make sounds when they shake, so your baby can learn that they can create noises when they move their hands or feet. This activity not only encourages body awareness but also introduces the concept of cause and effect, teaching your baby that they can manipulate their environment.

    Once your baby is comfortable reaching for the toys while they are attached to their body, try taking the toys off and holding them a few inches away from your baby. Encourage your baby to reach and move a bit outside their comfort zone!

  2. Toys with Multiple Textures

    Exploring toys with multiple textures can help blind infants discriminate between objects. Help your baby touch things that produce different tactile sensations and find out which they prefer. The Multi-Sensory Taco from Melissa & Doug is a great early toy because it includes differing textures, and some of the pieces make a crinkle sound. The toy allows your baby to place objects in or take them out of the taco shell.

    Sensory mats are another fun way to introduce new textures to your baby. Mats are great for tummy time, or you can place the mat under your baby's feet while they are in a baby jumper. We have a set of these sensory bean bags with different textures, and we absolutely love the quality and durability of these touchable pieces. As your child grows, this also doubles as a fun sorting or matching game!

  3. Toys That Combine Touch and Sound

    If you are trying to encourage your baby to explore more freely, large piano mats are enticing musical toys that lie flat on the ground and are great for crawling or reaching babies. Use a glue gun to add different textures to each piano key, and you've got an appealing multi-sensory musical play spot!

  4. Toys That Vibrate

    If you prefer vibrating toys that stay in one place, the Hug and Tug Musical Bug can hang from a car seat or stroller, encouraging reaching and exploring in a safe place. The bug plays music and vibrates for 90 seconds after being pulled, making it a great cause-and-effect toy and also coaxing your baby to reach out again when the music stops.

  5. Hanging Toys That Make Sound

    Simple mobiles or baby gyms are designed to motivate babies to reach and feel more comfortable exploring away from their bodies, which can be difficult for blind babies to master. Baby gyms that also include sounds, like the Wooden Hanging Activity Center available from Amazon, combine both reaching and sound prompts, making it perfect for blind and low-vision babies and toddlers.

For more toy ideas with links to specific products, visit https://www.wonderbaby.org/articles/multisensory-skills-blind-babies

Reference

Gori, M., Campus, C., et al. "Multisensory Spatial Perception in Visually Impaired Infants," Current Biology, November 2021. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/s0960982221012513

Get in Your Child’s Shoes: Learn and Grow Together

by Sarah Kassim

From the Editor: When parents learn that their child is blind, they need to think in new ways about how their child will learn and function in the world. In this article Sarah Kassim shares her journey of acceptance, growth, and discovery. She is a teacher of blind and visually-impaired (VI) students and a VI consultant. She serves on the boards of the Louisiana Parents of Blind Children and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). Sarah lives in New Orleans with her husband, Mohammad, and their children, Amir and Narjis.

Being a parent is a full-time job that requires love, nurture, attention, and care. It can be a bit of a roller coaster ride, sweeping you from fun and exciting moments to times that are highly stressful. Parenthood is a journey filled with ongoing requests, demands, and expectations.

I became a parent when my son, Amir, was born fifteen years ago. My husband and I adjusted our lives to parenthood, and we were excited at each milestone our son reached during his early stages of development. Teaching him was easy. Since he had full vision, it was just a matter of showing things to him and letting him learn and understand.

Four years later our daughter, Narjis, was born. Everything seemed the same as it had been with our son, except she was born with "dancing eyes." She could recognize the people around her, walk, and talk, but she constantly bumped into objects and fell down. We thought she was simply an active child who wasn't afraid of falling.

The Journey Begins

When Narjis turned two years old, the doctor told us that she was visually impaired and diagnosed her with optic nerve hypoplasia (ONH) and nystagmus. What did this mean? The doctor did not have any answers on how to deal with a low-vision child, other than recommending that we contact the Lighthouse for the Blind in Louisiana.

As a parent I was not satisfied with this doctor's recommendations. I started to get second and third opinions, since glasses were not the solution. Finally we went all the way to Irvine, California, to visit one of the few doctors who specialized in surgically correcting nystagmus.

It was our hope that surgery could give our daughter more useful vision. However, after a long visit with the doctor, we learned that Narjis would not benefit from surgery. The doctor told us politely that there was nothing wrong with our daughter; rather, we, as parents, had a problem. Instead of trying to find a cure for her, we should invest in ways to support her in her daily life. He recommended service providers such as Lighthouse for the Blind in San Francisco. He emphasized that low vision or blindness would not stop our daughter from reaching her dreams. He explained that he has had patients who have become successful in many fields, people who even have become physicians and lawyers.

My husband and I were exhausted after our visit to California, and we really felt lost. Countless questions flooded through our minds. How would we give Narjis the support she needed? Was she merely visually impaired, or was she blind? Would she be able to go to college and become successful? Could she learn to cook and to cut with a knife? Would she ever learn to read? Would she be able to travel independently? Why did she always make a mess and never clean it up herself? Why didn't she know such basic things as what a fire hydrant is?

When Narjis was in second grade, we met an advocate who helped support us in her IEP meeting. Our advocate highly recommended that we visit the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB) in Ruston, Louisiana, to meet a wonderful group of people who were part of the National Federation of the Blind. We took her advice and visited the LCB. After touring the training center and seeing all the things that a blind person can do independently, we got excited. I decided to connect with these blind individuals and learn from them as mentors. I learned Braille and participated in every webinar, Zoom session, and program where I could learn about blindness.

Getting involved with the NFB was one of the best decisions I have made. It opened the doors of opportunity for Narjis and for our whole family. I gained confidence, support, and knowledge.

As parents or family members, how can we support our blind children? We cannot expect them to learn everything on their own, nor can we expect the school system to be the sole gateway for our children. We can help our children by being their primary resource. We need to connect with blind mentors, to learn from them, and to have them serve as role models for our children. We need to ask them the questions we can't answer on our own. We need to set high expectations for our children and remove the fear and the barriers that may hold them back. We need to spread awareness about blindness and not to feel sorry because we have a blind child.

Ways and Means

I have learned not to tell my daughter no when she wants to try something new, but rather to have her explore and determine whether an activity is the right choice for her. Narjis is very competitive. She loves to copy her older brother in everything he does, from schoolwork to sports. Amir was on a competitive soccer team, and Narjis loves to play outside. She asked me to sign her up for soccer, too. I wondered, "How will she be able to see the soccer ball with the little vision she has? The ball moves so fast!" I knew that if I told her, "No, you can't play! It will be too hard for you to see the ball," she would be upset. I decided to sign her up, and I talked to the coach about her blindness.

The coach was very welcoming and tried to include Narjis as fully as possible. After a few weeks, however, Narjis came to me and expressed that soccer was not meant for her. She wanted to do gymnastics instead. She concluded that the soccer ball moves too fast, the players are all over the field, and it was very difficult for her to keep up with the game. The opportunity was given, and she was the one who decided whether soccer was the right choice for her.

As a family we all have learned to be more descriptive and precise when we speak so we can be understood fully. We don't limit our leisure time activities or stop ourselves from having fun because we have a blind daughter. Instead, we include her in all our activities. Together we think of ways we can adapt our activities and learn from each other. We love to play miniature golf and go bowling. Generally these are conducted as very visual activities. Narjis might not understand or like them unless they are adapted properly. We have learned to make golf and bowling engaging for the whole family. We have found that the best way to explain the golf course or the bowling lanes is to draw a replica on our daughter's back and explain the visual picture. She gets a good idea of the course and how she needs to hit or roll the ball. In golf, one of us usually stands near the hole and makes a sound so she can get an idea how far to hit the ball.

Other activities we enjoy include, but are not limited to, basketball and swimming. We take it step by step. Let's start out with basketball. First, we explain the court layout and how far our daughter is from the basketball hoop. Second, we look at how high the basketball needs to be thrown, and at which angle. One of us stands close by the hoop and bangs the rim with a pole so Narjis can get a sense of how far and hard the basketball needs to be thrown.

Throwing the ball can be a challenge. If we find that we need to do a better job of explaining, we stop and put on sleepshades to take away our visual sense. That way we get a better idea how to fill in the missing information. We may need to repeat instructions in different ways to get the main idea across.

As sighted people we get a great deal of information through our vision. No one needs to explain to us what the layout of a basketball court is like, how high the basketball net is, or in which direction to shoot the basketball. We must try to imagine the world nonvisually to understand how to benefit our blind children. Helping our children requires patience and commitment.

How is swimming approached? Narjis loves the water, and she never feared getting into the pool. We were the ones with the fears! We feared she would drown! After she learned to swim, she expressed that she would like to join a swim team. We encouraged the idea and signed her up.

Joining a swim team did not just require knowing how to float, but learning to swim many laps across the pool. The kids swam freestyle, breaststroke, butterfly, and backstroke. How could these strokes be taught to a blind child, and how would she learn to swim in the middle of the lane?

When the coach explained a new swim stroke visually, we asked him to repeat the explanation for Narjis. He guided her arms and legs while he explained the stroke verbally so she could understand. It took concentration, repeated explanation, and one-on-one guidance before she became proficient in the stroke.

Not only does Narjis need to learn particular strokes. While swimming she needs to have spatial awareness of how wide her lane is and how many strokes it takes to complete one lap of twenty-five yards. After she was on the swim team for a while, Narjis expressed to us that she couldn't swim at her full speed due to her fear of hitting the wall when she reached the end of the lane.

We did some brainstorming and researched how other blind swimmers swim competitively. We learned that a person can stand at each end of the lane and use a "tapper," a pool noodle on a pole. They tap the blind swimmer as they approach the wall, letting them know either to slow down or to do their flip turn. I hand-made our "swim tappers," and I have officially been designated as swim tapper for Narjis. At swim meets two of our family members make sure to attend so we can give her the signals she needs.

Critical Skills

Even though Narjis has a good amount of residual vision, we realized that Braille was the reading medium that would benefit her the most. At first we struggled to get the necessary support from the school. After we learned Braille and got involved with the school to make sure the proper accommodations were made, materials were adapted and Braille instructional minutes were provided. Narjis excelled in Braille proficiency. She has participated in many regional Braille Challenge competitions, where she placed first. She was even among the 2022 National Braille Challenge finalists! She also has participated in the annual Braille Readers Are Leaders competitions, and she always reaches first, second, or third place in her grade category. Narjis loves to participate in STEM activities, and she enjoys anything involving Braille reading.

Let's turn to travel and independence. For a long time I didn't believe in the long white cane, and I did not appreciate its significance. I thought Narjis had enough residual vision to walk without using a cane, and I did not want her blindness to be noticeable. She learned to use her shoes for guidance while she walked. Let me tell you, we had to invest in a new pair of shoes almost every month! She always ended up with a hole by her toes from scraping her feet along the ground.

Not until I took courses at Louisiana Tech did I recognize the significance and value of the long white cane. One of the courses I took was Orientation and Mobility. As students we had to spend three days traveling with a cane under sleepshades. After my training I realized that the white cane is a valuable tool. I encouraged Narjis to use her white cane and be proud to travel independently.

The NFB believes in the philosophy behind "Structured Discovery." Using the white cane not only allows a blind person to travel independently, but to explore the environment. Students are not guided, but learn to explore the obstacles they encounter, using the cane to create an understanding of the environment around them. During COVID I was able to join my daughter in her orientation and mobility lessons. I learned so much from each lesson, and we tried to follow up on our own. When we drive in the car, we discuss the road, the traffic, the types of lines and their purposes. We point out cardinal directions and street names so Narjis will understand where we are going. We have learned to create tactile maps so she can understand what a street block is and grasp concepts such as parallel and perpendicular.

When we join Narjis in her orientation and mobility lesson, we see that the teacher makes sure she gets a full description of the street. She allows our daughter to explore objects along the way—a light pole, a stop sign, a fire hydrant. They talk about the object and why it is there. At first I did not understand why this extra step was being taken. Then I imagined myself walking with my eyes closed. I would not get any visual information. All of my information would come through my senses of hearing, smell, and touch.

Our instructor is amazing in allowing us all to walk under sleepshades, using white canes. This experience is very enriching, and I highly recommend it to everyone reading this article. Each year during the NFB National Convention there is a Cane Walk session. Children and family members put on sleepshades and explore the convention hotel, using long white canes. Experienced mobility instructors ask leading questions and provide generous guidance.

The Next Steps

How can we as parents help our blind children? We have to understand their needs. We need to set high standards and expectations. Blindness should not be a barrier to what we do with our kids, but an enlightenment.

We need to get in our children's shoes and imagine the world as they perceive it. If they have an interest in science, let us bring science to them. Let us create a tactile experience through which they can understand scientific concepts and theories. If our children are into cars and means of transportation such as trains, trucks, and planes, take a field trip with them to explore each of these modes hands on. If our child loves food and the joy of cooking, get in the kitchen together and explain the materials used in cooking. Show your child how to hold a knife safely and what to look out for when cutting. Show them how to use the oven and to cook on top of the stove.

The world is filled with possibilities, and the only way we can achieve is by trying. We need to raise our expectations and believe in our children. As my daughter always says, "Blindness is not a disability, but a different ability." Learn to love, nurture, and grow together.

I have gained and grown so much from my daughter, and from being surrounded by successful, enthusiastic blind people who are happy to share what they have learned along the way.

Images Are for Everyone: Building the Foundations for Tactile Literacy

by Chancey Fleet

From the Editor: Chancey Fleet serves as technology coordinator at the New York Public Library's Braille and Talking Book Center. Through her work with library patrons, she came to recognize the widespread need for tactile literacy skills in the blind and low-vision population. In this article she shares ideas for preparing blind children to create, use, and enjoy tactile graphics.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but my attention rarely stuck around long enough to find out whether that was true when I was in the classroom. When math and science books in Braille or audio formats served up a careful description of a graph or the parts of a cell, I often struggled to imagine the subject matter precisely. My interest dwindled when the descriptions went into extensive detail. Sometimes I even felt resentful. Why should I do this? Why did they bury me in words about an image that wasn't there? At the time, I simply concluded that I wasn't meant to enjoy math or science. I was in my thirties before I learned the truth: I'm a blind spatial learner!

The Right to Image Literacy

Most of us who are sufficiently immersed in the blind community understand our fundamental rights. We know that we ought to have access to Braille, websites, and usable ebooks and technologies. When these things are withheld from us, when they show up late, or when they turn out to be of substandard quality, we know it's time for us to fight. But most of us—even folks with advanced degrees and careers that depend on robust information access—don't receive, and don't demand, access to tactile graphics. This access can come in the form of raised-line drawings that are embossed, produced with raised ink by a Swell-Form graphics machine, or created by various other means. Subtly or overtly, most of us have been taught to sit out activities that involve drawing, graphing, collaging, or mapping. We live in a state of image poverty, a state we have quietly learned to accept.

As a technology educator I work with blind and low-vision kids and adults in a public library. The library is filled with print and media resources for sighted patrons, and these resources are rich with visual images. I believe that we, as blind people, can and should demand access to the images that are all around us.

Full literacy should include the means to explore, create, and think with images as well as words and numbers. Any blind person or sighted family member, teacher, or ally can learn enough about the art of tactile images to make a difference in a blind child's life. When we help create an image-rich environment for that child, we open the way to spatial literacy. As with Braille literacy, strong mobility skills, or any other pillar of a blind child's success, education about what's possible, high expectations are key, supported by high-quality resources and a can-do attitude.

Early Exposure

Blind kids can start working with images very early on. Some publishers of Braille books for young learners, such as National Braille Press (NBP) and Sensational Books, offer a small but invaluable selection of books that include textures, shapes, and raised-line drawings. The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) provides a variety of educational toys and games that support image literacy and spatial learning.

Beyond these specialized resources, you'll begin to notice tactile representations all around you: cookie cutters, embossed holiday cards, cut-out foam shapes, and stencils are just a few examples. These household objects can help any child, blind or sighted, learn that a three-dimensional object can be represented in two dimensions. Experiences with two-dimensional representations help children build image literacy.

Blind children can and should draw and play with the world of figures and shapes. Wikki Stix, pipe cleaners, and boards with various magnetic shapes encourage spatial creativity. If you lay a standard sheet of paper over a soft surface such as a silicon placemat, drawing firmly with a pen or stylus will create a bold, tactile line on the flip side. Try putting a sheet of paper on a textured surface such as a piece of window screen. Draw on the paper with crayons to create tactile images. The wonderful Sensational BlackBoard, available from sensationalbooks.com, is a simple tool for creating tactile images quickly and easily.

Kids and adults can work together to create interesting collages by using a variety of textured materials. These materials can include sandpaper, tissue paper, and construction paper, as well as fabric scraps, foil, string, and a host of other household items. Stickers with bold textures and distinctive shapes are great, too. Make sure that your blind child has access to kid-safe glue, scissors, and tape once those items are age-appropriate. Basic crafting skills are foundations of spatial awareness, creativity, and confidence.

Your blind child or student should learn about shapes, charts, maps, and other spatial concepts at the same time these materials are presented to their sighted peers. The only difference is that the material will need to be presented in a way that works well for tactile perception.

Create opportunities for conversation about the shapes, lines, and images your child encounters. Add to their knowledge by pointing out details they might not notice on their own. Point out the raised logo on a jacket, the embroidered butterflies on grandma's linen table napkins, and the flower pattern stitched into mom's leather purse. Image literacy is built through exploration and dialog.

Models, Drawings, and the Real Thing

Especially for young children and for any blind person who is new to tactile images, it's helpful to touch a 3D model of something in addition to a raised-line drawing. Naturally, real objects are best of all, whenever they are available.

A toy duck is a more realistic, informative representation than the drawing of a duck. Look for toys that are realistic rather than Disney type representations wearing hats and floppy shoes. Blind children who have access to both models and drawings will learn to recognize 3D and drawn ducks in the future. Never pass up an opportunity to show your child a neat 3D sculpture, toy, or model! Every encounter with a new representation strengthens their spatial vocabulary.

When your child begins to encounter more complex spatial concepts—from spheres, cones, and cubes to the solar system—it's critical that they can experience 3D models as well as tactile graphics. This doesn't always mean that you need to find or buy something fancy. Get creative with everyday objects, clay, and craft supplies. Over time, your child will build associations between how 3D objects "really" feel and how they appear in a 2D, tactile graphic form.

Differences and Similarities

Tactile images and graphics aren't identical to their visual counterparts, so it's worthwhile to note a few fundamentals of good tactile design. Tactile perception works best when images are scaled up compared to how they appear visually. Usually, it's best to leave about a quarter inch between distinct elements or lines, and to make sure that individual symbols are no smaller than a quarter inch on a side. When it comes to tactile legibility, clutter is the enemy! It's helpful to use bold, minimalist forms and avoid unnecessary background. Line drawings tend to be easier to parse than filled-in shapes.

Tactile graphics need to impart information without the use of color. Rather than show a pie chart with red, blue, green, and yellow sections, you might use four textures such as open space, dots, parallel lines, and waffle grids. Or you might eschew textures and let Braille labels do the talking.

When you include Braille labels in a tactile image, create a small area of open space around them if they occur in the middle of a textured area. It's very easy for Braille dots to blend in with whatever texture is close to them. Remember that Braille is larger than standard print (a 36-point font size), so not as much Braille as print will fit on a page. You may need to use Braille abbreviations—AU for auditorium, LR for lunch room. Then create a key on a separate page from the graphic, expanding on what each abbreviation means.

From the early grades your child's Braille textbooks should include some maps, graphs, and figures. Children will need support while learning to interpret these graphics, in the same way they need guidance while learning to read Braille. Make sure that exploring and interpreting tactile graphics is a goal on your child's IEP and that their instructional team makes it a priority to help them understand maps and graphs when they appear.

Often your child will need or want to learn about something that's not already available as a tactile graphic. There are a few ways to create a tactile graphic when you need one. To create your own, print the mirror image of the graphic that you need, making sure that the image you choose is scaled up and uncluttered. Place the image on a soft magazine, placemat, or stack of newspaper, and trace firmly with a pen or stylus. (For the absolute best line quality, use heavyweight or card stock paper). Flip the image over, and you'll find a bold tactile version.

Embossing an Image

Many Braille embossers include the ability to create high-quality tactile graphics. The ViewPlus brand of embossers and the PixBlaster from APH render tactile graphics at an impressive 100 dots per inch. You can download ready-made graphics from APHs Tactile Graphics Image Library or the large, eclectic tactile library at BTactile.com. You can also use programs such as Paint or Inkscape to create your own graphics to emboss. Online you can find plenty of bold images on plain white backgrounds (such as coloring pages) that can be embossed exactly.

Another option for the creation of tactile graphics is a microcapsule fuser, sometimes known as a Swell-Form graphics machine. These machines are essentially heated lamps that accept a patented micro-capsule paper containing alcohol. You first run the paper through a LaserJet printer, or ink it by hand using a marker. Then, when you run the paper through the Swell-Form graphics machine, the carbon in the ink reacts with the alcohol embedded in the paper to create bold tactile lines. This method offers high-visual contrast along with tactile textures that are smooth and precise. However, the patented paper starts at over a dollar per sheet. Furthermore, most Braille readers don't favor the Braille quality that results from this method, since the dots aren't as crisp as those produced by an embosser. If your school only can purchase one method for making tactile graphics on demand, a graphics-capable Braille embosser is probably more cost-effective and versatile in the long run than a fuser.

Your child's strong foundation in spatial literacy will enrich their life, no matter what path they choose. Recently I used tactile floor plans with architectural symbols—both exploring them and drawing them—as my husband and I planned how to remodel our home. I also rely on my tactile literacy skills to understand tactile street maps (available on demand at lighthouse-sf.org/tmap), understand circuit diagrams, and draw as a way to unwind and entertain myself. Other blind people use tactile graphics to solve the logic puzzles they need to pass the LSAT, succeed in data science, and excel in careers such as architecture and engineering.

None of us needs to live in a text-only world. Everyone has their own unique need for graphics and images, and images are for everyone.

Resources

BTactile.com
Offers a vast collection of Creative Commons images that can be downloaded and printed.

National Braille Press
nbp.org
National Braille Press offers some children's books with tactile graphics as well as an extensive collection of tactile maps and other graphics created by the Princeton Braillists. Also has the free pamphlet, Because Pictures Matter, in English and Spanish.

See 3D
https://see3d.org
Provides 3D-printed models of animals, buildings, microorganisms, works of art, and just about anything else, on request and free of charge.

Sensational Books
sensationalbooks.com
Produces the Sensational BlackBoard and Sadie Can Count, a tactile picture book for beginning readers.

Tactile Image Library
https://imagelibrary.aph.org/aphb
An extensive collection of files that can be printed to produce tactile maps, charts, graphs, and images.

TMAP Tactile Map Project
[email protected]
Creates custom tactile street maps for any address.

Sharing Blindness with Family: A Conversation on the Dynamics of Blind Siblings

Moderated by Seyoon Choi

From the Editor: Because genes are responsible for many forms of blindness, it is not uncommon for a family to have more than one blind child. This article is based on a podcast in which host Seyoon Choi interviews two pairs of blind siblings about family dynamics. It is one in a series of podcasts created by the National Association of Blind Students (NABS), a division of the National Federation of the Blind. You can find the NABS podcasts at https://nabslink.org/listen-our-nabs-now-podcast.

Seyoon Choi: October is Blindness Equality and Achievement Month. We wanted to do an episode inviting two pairs of blind siblings who proudly accept their blindness. They have offered to share their perspectives on family dynamics, steering through their blindness and more.

Aida Talic: Hello. My name is Aida Talic. I'm nineteen years old, and I'm a freshman in college.

Edina Talic: Hi. My name is Edina Talic. I'm twelve years old, and I'm a seventh grader.

Joshua (Josh) Olukanni: Hello, my name is Joshua Olukanni. I am twenty years old, and I am a sophomore in college.

Tim Olukanni: Hello everyone! My name is Tim Olukanni. I'm currently a sophomore as well, and I'm twenty-three years old.

Seyoon: Thanks, guys, for coming into the studio! We're talking about family dynamics as blind siblings. How has your blindness factored in as far as family relationships? Tell us a little bit about that.

Aida: I think that's a really good question. When we were children my mother didn't know that my sister also had Stargardt's, so my sister had the fun task of being my helper.

Edina: When we go to the store, I have to read price tags and everything. It's a little annoying. It's a little difficult growing up, I guess. I try to help my sister when we walk places, but I kind of yell sometimes, and she gets a little mad.

Aida: It doesn't help that she's a little night blind, so she screams at me, and then she falls over herself.

Edina: I'm warning you before you fall!

Seyoon: Okay, Olukannis! Take a stab at it.

Tim: Me and my brother always had each other's back. We could talk about dynamics having to do with blindness, and it made us closer.

Josh: Honestly, our parents didn't really address the blindness until it was in their face, like when we were at an eye doctor. Other than that the word blind was never really used.

Seyoon: It's really heartwarming when you say you guys had each other's back.

Josh: I definitely feel like blindness made us a lot closer. It was like, “Hey man, you ran into that pole over there? I ran into that pole five minutes ago!” It's like I relate, I really do relate.

Tim: The word blindness was never really mentioned, but it was definitely implicated. My dad's friends would say, "When is your son going to start driving? He's seventeen, right?" Dad would say, "Yeah, he's seventeen, but I don't want him to be on the road just yet. It kind of scares me." And Dad's friends were like, "My kid is seventeen, and he's already doing cruise control." Dad never sat me down and said, "I'm going to start telling a lie about your vision." But clearly he wasn't comfortable telling people that I'm blind and I can't drive.

Josh: Same thing with our grandmother. When I came back from the training center and started using my cane, my grandma didn't like that very much. She'd say, "Don't go out with that! Don't take pictures with other people with that in your hand!" My brother went to his training center, he went to BLIND, Inc. As brothers we got comfortable with our disability, but the family, not so much.

Seyoon: I'm curious. I'm the oldest in my family and I'm the only blind person in the family. My younger siblings all are sighted. I'd be curious to hear how the perception of blindness has rippled across the family, there being not only one, but two of you. Do you think that has made it a little more comfortable, like that perception that you have each other's back?

Josh: There were certain events when it became more public, and people were confused. There were times when it was obvious, like if one of us ran into a pole or fell down a staircase. Then we'd say, "We're just clumsy!" and people would be more confused than ever.

Tim: It threw the family into disarray. Even if the information was out there, they didn't want to share the gravity of the situation. It was like, "Let's just be hush-hush about it." How can you be hush-hush about blindness? It's already out there, and it doesn't matter!

Josh: From my perspective, the perception of our family finding out there was not only one, but two family members, there was confusion. To my knowledge there aren't any other blind people in the family. Genetically it didn't seem to make any sense. I think people are asking each other, "Why are there more than one?" But I'm not there when they have those conversations.

Tim: It's always a closed-door discussion.

Seyoon: How about you, ladies?

Edina: Growing up they didn't know I was blind for a really long time. I think my parents were in a little denial at first. It was a long time ago. They're more open-minded now. Back then they thought I was going to have really good vision, and they thought I was going to be able to take care of my sister. I do have better vision than she has. I think ever since they found out about my vision they're more accepting about it.

Seyoon: Do you sense that they're blaming themselves?

Aida: Truthfully, I feel like all of our parents are probably in denial. I think my parents have become a lot more aware of the disability, and they do some things that are different. They have some things that are accessible. They bought a washing machine that has Braille on it, and they had no idea! Sometimes they do little things and they don't even know they're making it accessible for us. In the beginning I think our mom blamed herself, because we know that back home in Bosnia our aunt and uncle were blind. The medical system back then wasn't advanced enough to diagnose the condition; they were just blind.

Seyoon: Was there the expectation that blind people can't do anything, that they're going to have to be taken care of for the rest of their lives?

Aida: Well, my mom has a saying, even before I got associated with the Federation or any blindness organization: "Being blind is not you being handicapped. You're disabled and you still get to do what everyone else does." That's her favorite thing to say. By the age of nine I was taught to do laundry and clean and do everything like a sighted kid, to the point where now I want to achieve even more independence. I will be going to the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and my parents are very excited to send me off.

Seyoon: If there's one thing you guys could tell your parents, honestly and publicly, about dealing head-on with blindness, what would it be?

Tim: Number one, there are resources out there. Help us become more and more independent, and then you don't have to worry. I don't want my more distant relatives to be ashamed, either. Blindness is just a characteristic.

Josh: To add onto that, it's all chill. Blindness doesn't mean you have to take care of me the rest of my days. I definitely feel like my dad had some shame, for sure. That doesn't do wonders for the mental health of the kid, seeing your pop being ashamed of something you have that you have no control over. So I'd say, "There's no need for you to be ashamed! It's all good. There are lots of people out here who can help us out. It'll all turn out hunky-dory!"

Edina: Our parents worry a lot, and I think sometimes they want to put us in bubble wrap. I just want them to chill out. Sometimes they have their guard up too much, especially my dad. He gets really mad if I don't hold the door for Aida sometimes.

Seyoon: So what's one thing you would tell him on this episode?

Edina: I feel like he just needs to let us be independent. Aida's old, she's not a little kid anymore. Dad needs to let her learn and be on her own. Mom, she wants us to do things on our own.

Aida: I would agree. Mom has always been on the more rigid side about expectations. Her expectations are sometimes a little too high! But it's achievable with the mindset that you can do anything in this world. Honestly, it's a great confidence booster. I want to thank her for the confidence to be sustainable by ourselves, to be confident with our mobility tools. My dad is on the more protective side, but he's come around a lot more than when we were younger. I still don't think he fully understands what blindness is, but he's trying to understand. Sometimes he thinks I can't do things I used to do when I had more vision. My sister and I just do normal things like siblings do. We argue, we show each other clothes, we watch TV shows in Anime, we read books.

Tim: My brother and I, we used to fight! We left marks on our house, man!

Aida: When I was about thirteen and my sister was six, her favorite game was for us to beat each other up! It looked bad from the outside, but it was out of love.

Josh: I remember my brother took me by the wrist and started spinning me around the room. He let go, and my foot went into the wall. There was an Olukanni-foot-sized hole in the wall!

Aida: I have a question for Tim. As the oldest, did you feel under pressure, like you had to stand stronger and show more confidence for Josh when you were younger?

Josh: I think in Nigerian culture the dynamic was that he was the older brother so he could tell me what to do.

Tim: Like at the dinner table, he'd get the plate last if we're passing around loaves of bread. Obviously I got the biggest piece! It wasn't like, "You're older, you've got to take care of your little brother."

Aida: If you guys went to certain events, did your parents try to hide your blindness, or just not take you to certain things?

Josh: Well, like I mentioned earlier, if Dad was talking to his Nigerian friends, saying things about why I wasn't driving, he couldn't just say that I'm blind.

Tim: Their friends had sighted kids who could drive themselves and have that autonomy. Our parents just didn't want to talk about it.

Josh: The people around us were ashamed about our eye condition, so sometimes we were, too. We didn't want to use our canes. We'd just walk outside, go to Nigerian parties. We'd pick our spot and stay there. We had a little vision, so we could kind of hide our blindness until it came to something more visual. If we were playing a sport, that was the worst! Then it had to come out! Me and Tim, we're really tall people. Then we'd start playing a sport, and we were the worst people on the team. They were like, "Why are you so tall and so bad?"

Tim: I feel like that's a male thing, even without being in a blind sibling relationship. I certainly felt that!

Josh: Even when people would question us, we'd say, "Oh, we just didn't bring our glasses with us."

Tim: People would believe it, too. We were essentially doing the job of our parents. We were hiding our blindness from the people who were inquiring. We were ashamed of it ourselves.

Seyoon: I really appreciate all of you for your honesty and vulnerability on this podcast. We're going to have to close. What are some sign-off thoughts you have for other blind siblings out there?

Edina: If you have a blind sibling, I feel like you should really be there for them and help them in any way. That doesn't mean visually, but any way you can do it for them. I feel like every blind person is different. You might have a weak point or a strong point. If you have a stronger point than one of your siblings, if you can do something that they can't, you can help them out. That's what I think.

Josh: Yes, I feel like for blind siblings, you have to be there for each other. In the day and age we're in right now, we're fighting against society. If you grow up in the same family, you truly have to have each other's back, because you're going through similar things. You can kind of bounce off each other with ideas. There's so much there that can be unpacked between blind siblings! Having that solid relationship is better for both of you, the better to help you navigate the world.

Tim: Yeah, the world's already a crazy place, you've definitely got to have each other's back. It's hard enough to grow up in this world! I can't speak for those people who are super, super close with their parents, but it's important to be close with your siblings, because we're there. That's all that matters.

Aida: I completely agree! I think that's true with vision or without, or with any other form of disability. With your siblings there's always going to be a bond, even if you don't want it. I'm the cool older sibling, but now my sister follows in the same track as me. She listens to music I listened to years ago, and I think, oh my God, that's so cringey looking back! But at the end of the day, the closest person to you will be your sibling. Your sibling should be your best friend, even if they don't like it—because they don't like it when you walk into their room and leave their door open.

Edina: You don't need to be the closest, you don't need to be each other's best friend, but you need to take care of each other, no matter what. If you're both blind you just need to be there for each other and cooperate in whatever way you can. I will always help my sister—but she might lose some privileges! Like I'm not reading those prices anymore!

Aida: Uh-oh! I could end up buying five-hundred-dollar shoes!

Hosting Amr

by Jennifer Duffell-Hoffman

From the Editor: Living and studying in another country can be a deeply enriching experience for any student who undertakes such an adventure. By the same token, hosting an overseas student can be a life-changing experience for a family. Fortunately, some exchange-student programs welcome the participation of blind students and students with other disabilities. In this article Jennifer Duffell-Hoffman, a longtime leader in the National Organization of Parents of Blind Students (NOPBC), recounts her family's experiences hosting a blind high school student from Egypt. She encourages other families to consider hosting international students who are blind.

In mid-August of 2021 I read a new post in the NOPBC Facebook group from Patricia Hasty, a local coordinator with CIEE. CIEE is a nonprofit study-abroad and intercultural exchange organization. Ms. Hasty wrote, "I am looking for a family that would like to host this precious boy from Egypt from September to June! He was selected to come on a scholarship merit to the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind [SCSDB) in Spartanburg. He will spend the week at school and will spend the weekend with the host family. The family must live in South Carolina, and the school bus will bring him to a stop closest to the family. Please share with your friends/neighbors. PM me with any questions!"

Ms. Hasty attached the following letter from the student: "My name is Amr. I live with my family—my father, my mother, and my sister. We enjoy some activities such as going for picnics or sitting together at home. I'm interested in reaching and searching the internet in new fields that relate to blinds, specifically programs and technology. I have many hobbies, such as swimming. I'm a member of the Egyptian Blind Sports Federation. I'm also interested in arts. I'm a member of choirs for special needs. About my friends, I love them so much and I enjoy my time with them. I dream about receiving a high level in education. I'd love to be a specialist at the field of languages and translation. About my goal for this experience, it is to experience a different culture, improve my language, and introduce my country's culture to other people, to be an ambassador and introduce the Egyptian traditions and habits in a good way."

My husband Bob and I live in Lancaster, South Carolina, and we are both sighted. Two of our young-adult sons, Michael and Matthew Duffell-Hoffman, are blind. Matthew and I have been active members of the NFB at multiple levels since 2013. My third son, who is sighted, was in his senior year of high school at the time. Hosting a foreign exchange student was not in our plans for the school year, but we lived in South Carolina. Michael had attended SCSDB on campus for his ninth-grade year. Already it was almost the start of the school year. I knew Amr needed a host family right away, and my family and I knew that we could meet his needs. I quickly began the process of applying to become a host family.

Amr arrived three weeks later. The next morning he received his first COVID vaccination. Three days later Amr and I were in an IEP meeting at SCSDB. He began staying on campus that same day. Three days after that he was back in my home for the weekend.

School continued on schedule for the next two weeks, and then the school closed for two weeks and students were placed on virtual learning. School resumed after that, but there were other weeks when school went virtual.
 
When Amr introduced himself as saying he loved his friends, he really meant it. There were a lot of emotional ups and downs as he adjusted to life in South Carolina while his blind friends in Cairo and his family outside of Cairo continued their education and lives without him. While Amr missed Egypt, he also made many close friendships at SCSDB. He learned to be very loud! American boys certainly can be loud, and Amr enjoyed being a part of that!

Amr loves rap, and he loves beats. He quickly made friends who enjoyed producing raps and beats.

Amr began using an NFB straight cane, and he came to appreciate it, but he also wished I would be more willing to be a human guide more often. He and his sighted mother had learned Arabic Braille together while Amr was growing up. While attending SCSDB Amr learned the entire UEB Code.
 
Early on Amr began explaining to me his very exacting preferences for how his clothing was to be washed and how certain pieces should be hung to dry. I explained my very exacting preference for his doing his own laundry, which he did, week after week for the ten months he was with us.
 
Amr comes from a city outside Cairo, and he is used to a much larger and busier environment than Lancaster and Spartanburg. That aspect of American life was a very difficult adjustment for Amr, combined with it being a COVID year. There were many activities that we couldn't consider doing. Also Amr did find that the five days away from our home were tiring, and often he needed to rest on weekends. Nevertheless, we went to the University of South Carolina in Columbia to visit Matthew, who was attending there. Matthew showed Amr and Michael around campus. This was the first time Amr had ever been with other blind people without having a sighted person around.

As part of his foreign exchange program, Amr was expected to complete community service hours. He and I built a scarecrow for a local Halloween contest. During the build Amr learned to use a drill. We built the scarecrow from 2x2s and dressed it as the NFB’s logo figure Miss Whozit. The scarecrow was complete with a straight white cane and stood with one foot forward, demonstrating that Miss Whozit was autonomously walking down the sidewalk and about to cross the street. The Lancaster Chapter of the NFB of South Carolina sponsored the scarecrow and used it as a demonstration of white cane travel, along with publicizing our chapter meetings.

To give Amr more community service hours, Amr and my husband worked to clear the wooded path for our high school cross-country course. But the community service that Amr enjoyed most was tossing surplus Army duffle bags for SCSDB students into the undersides of the school buses at the end of each school week.
 
Our family will always be glad that we decided to host Amr. It was good for us, and more importantly, it was great for Amr. In my opinion, it takes significant courage for a sixteen-year-old high school junior to decide to leave their family, home, culture, language, friends, and school to join another family whose lifestyle, culture, language, social circles, and schools are very different. It is an experience that should be available to any student, without blindness being held up as a barrier to participation.

In order for blind foreign exchange students to come to the United States, there must be families willing to host them. The year Amr was with us there was at least one other blind student in attendance, but I feel certain that many sighted families will feel that hosting a blind student is beyond their abilities. I also feel certain that many families do not have the philosophy of the NFB and NOPBC. I know that my home and our strong NFB philosophy benefitted Amr, and I expect those benefits always will stay with him.

I asked Amr to contribute to this article, and this is what he provided me on September 29, 2023:

A Journey of Self-Discovery: My Year as a Blind Exchange Student in the United States

In the summer of 2021, at the age of sixteen, I, Amr Eid, embarked on a life-changing journey from Egypt to the United States of America as a foreign exchange student. This adventure not only expanded my horizons, but also opened doors to new experiences, lasting relationships, and personal growth that I had never imagined.

A Leap of Faith: Being visually impaired, many might have questioned the feasibility of such an undertaking. However, I firmly believed in the power of dreams and the potential for personal growth through stepping outside my comfort zone. So I took the plunge, and August 2021 marked the beginning of an incredible ten-month journey.

Living with a Host Family: During my stay in the US I had the privilege of living with a warm and welcoming host family. This experience was invaluable, as it taught me so much about American culture, customs, and the essence of hospitality. My host family not only opened their home to me, but also their hearts. They treated me like one of their own, making me feel like I belonged in this foreign land.

Mastering English: One of my primary goals in the US was to improve my English skills. Although I had a basic understanding of the language, immersion was key to becoming fluent. Living in an English-speaking environment, I had no choice but to communicate in English every day. It was challenging initially, but with time I noticed a remarkable improvement in my speaking, listening, and writing abilities. Conversing with my host family, classmates, and friends further enriched my language skills.

Discovering a Hidden Talent: Life in America also uncovered a hidden talent within me—music and rap. It was something entirely new to me, but my friends introduced me to this world, and I found that I had a natural knack for it. With their guidance I began writing my lyrics and even recorded some tracks. This newfound passion allowed me to express myself in a unique way and gave me an avenue to connect with people on a deeper level through my music.

Fostering Self-Independence: Perhaps one of the most significant lessons I learned during my exchange year was self-independence. My host family encouraged me to take on more responsibilities, from cooking to managing daily tasks independently. These newfound skills not only boosted my self-esteem but also equipped me with invaluable tools for my life back in Egypt.

Bringing it All Back Home: Returning to Egypt after my incredible journey was bittersweet. I had grown so much during my time in the United States, but I was eager to share my newfound knowledge and experiences with my community. The skills I acquired, especially in English, have opened doors for me in terms of education and employment opportunities. My love for music and rap has also become a means of connecting with others who share the same passion.

Conclusion: My year as a foreign exchange student in the United States was a life-altering experience that will forever be etched in my memory. It was a journey of self-discovery, personal growth, and cultural exchange. I learned the importance of perseverance, adaptation, and the beauty of embracing new opportunities. This adventure not only enriched my life, but also enabled me to bring positive changes to my community in Egypt. It is a testament to the fact that, with determination and an open heart, we can transcend the boundaries imposed by our circumstances and emerge as stronger and more enlightened individuals. As I continue to pursue my dreams, I am eternally grateful for the people I met and the lessons I learned during my time in the United States. It was a journey that helped me see the world in a new light and discover the boundless potential that lies within us all.

Some Final Thoughts

I would like to see the NFB and the NOPBC seek a relationship with CIEE and purposefully consider hosting blind foreign exchange students. Foreign exchange programs prefer that the host family have children around the same age as the participant.

Here is a link to the foreign exchange program that matched us with Amr: https://www.ciee.org/.

A number of programs that welcome the participation of students with disabilities can be found at https://www.miusa.org/resource/tip-sheets/disabilityexchanges.

Lessons From the Pandemic: Research on the Experiences of Blind Students and Their Families

by Arielle Silverman

From the Editor: The COVID-19 pandemic caused major disruptions in the education of K-12 students. Besides the stress of shattered routines and social isolation, blind and low-vision students faced some challenges beyond those experienced by their sighted peers. Arielle Silverman is Director of Research with the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). In this article she reports on a series of studies that AFB conducted to learn how the pandemic affected the education of blind and low-vision students.

We will probably always remember our personal milestones of March 2020: the last time we ate in a restaurant, the day we canceled our travel plans, and the odd shortages of toilet paper and milk in the grocery stores. During that fateful month, millions of schoolchildren left school for their regularly scheduled spring break. Some schools extended the break for an extra week, hoping that "the virus" would soon be under control. Instead, school campuses across the United States remained closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. Many schools operated partially or fully online during the 2020-2021 school year as well.

At the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), we conduct original research to understand and describe the experiences of blind and low-vision individuals. When schools first closed in response to COVID-19, AFB researchers surveyed parents and teachers of blind children in the United States and Canada to learn about the impact of school closures upon blind children. Our team conducted a second survey with parents and teachers in November 2020; at that time, some students were attending schools in person with COVID safety protocols in place, while others were attending school partly or entirely online. Finally, in the summer and fall of 2021, we conducted focus groups with parents, teachers, and school administrators to learn about students' and teachers' experiences over the course of the pandemic.

Not surprisingly, we found that the sudden onset of pandemic closures created unique challenges for blind and low-vision children, their family members, and their teachers. For example, 81 percent of the teachers in our first survey reported that they had less than a week to prepare for the initial switch to online instruction, and 52 percent were unable to reach at least one family on their caseload. In the spring of 2020, some families reported losing blindness-related instructional services for their children. Other families chose to drop out of the education system "until COVID is over," particularly if they had no reliable access to high-speed internet.

Technology challenges were an ongoing theme in all three of our research studies. During online instruction, students were expected to use a variety of digital tools to access live lessons, interact with teachers and peers, and submit assignments. Many of the commonly used digital tools were partially or fully inaccessible for blind students. In November 2020, parents of school-age blind children in our survey reported that their children needed to use an average of 4.9 different digital tools to complete their work; on average, half of these tools were inaccessible. In addition to inaccessible software, Chromebooks presented frequent challenges. The screens were small and the built-in Chrome operating system did not allow the installation of a screen reader. Finally, even if the technology in use was accessible, some students did not have the requisite technical skills to use it without hands-on assistance from an adult.

In our later focus groups, parents described the impact of these technology challenges on their children. The mother of a twelve-year-old blind child explained that she had hoped to keep both her blind and sighted child home during the pandemic to minimize the risk of COVID transmission. However, because the online learning software was not accessible for her blind son, he ended up receiving hybrid instruction. She said, "It was frustrating that I couldn't protect my kids [from COVID] the way others could because of accessibility." Other parents told us that their middle- and high-school children were stressed to the point of tears because they had such frequent difficulties with their daily class assignments or because they could not fully participate with their peers in online games.

Over the course of the pandemic, many parents voiced concerns about their children's limited educational progress. Although instructional services generally had resumed by the fall of 2020, certain blindness-specific subjects were reportedly difficult to teach online, especially beginning Braille skills and orientation and mobility/cane travel skills. Furthermore, young children in early-intervention programs and preschool, as well as children of all ages who were deafblind or had cognitive disabilities, often struggled to access online instruction. Finally, some youth preparing to graduate from high school and those enrolled in postsecondary transition programs missed out on hands-on work-based learning experiences and community O&M training.

The pandemic also had complicated emotional impacts on families and educators. Some parents reported that their children felt lonely during lockdowns or anxious about contracting the virus. These children tended to become less social than they had been before the pandemic. Families were sometimes overwhelmed, especially if their children had complex medical needs and lost in-home support providers during lockdowns. Educators, too, reported stress from rapidly shifting and unpredictable schedules, infection concerns, and difficulties maintaining their students' educational progress.

Despite these obvious challenges, the pandemic also brought unexpected benefits for some students and families. Some students preferred the quiet routines of remote learning to the chaotic sensory environment of the classroom. Shorter school days allowed more time for students to develop their interests or to gain confidence and social skills while attending virtual events with other blind students. The unique demands of the pandemic offered students opportunities to build their technical and self-advocacy skills. For example, they were expected to email assignments to teachers.

Furthermore, parents appreciated having greater communication and coordination with their child's teachers and being more hands-on in their child's learning. The parent of a blind high-school student said, "A lot of parents drop kids off, and it's out of sight, out of mind. I loved being a fly on the wall, seeing how amazing and creative our teachers at [my child's school] were." Other parents told us that the pandemic gave them a window into the accessibility and educational gaps their children encountered. The parent of a high-school student explained, "The lack of tech training in mainstream tools was a big glaring hole for us that I didn't know was a hole, because in person she could successfully complete her work. Before I had to sit with her and see where she was struggling, I didn't know how to advocate well for that." After the schools re-opened, this parent advocated for her child to receive more technology training and in-class support.

The pandemic shed light on systemic issues and inequities in the education of blind children, such as the insufficient numbers of qualified teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs); the inaccessibility of digital learning tools; and the educational disadvantages faced by blind children with multiple disabilities and those who were English-language learners. After the challenges of the pandemic caused them to re-evaluate which placement was best for their children, some of the families who participated in our surveys chose to remove their blind children from the public schools. One parent, who decided to homeschool her young children during and after the pandemic, said, "I think overall I can make [my older child's] education a priority with homeschool. I saw how quickly my daughter's education dropped to a very low priority for the district when things shut down. When things get hard my kids are going to be among the first whose education gets dropped. Once you know that, it's hard to go back."

Pandemic school closures have now come to an end. The long-term impacts of the pandemic on students' educational trajectories are still undetermined. One thing is certain, though: digital tools are still being used in the classroom to supplement in-person instruction. It is critically important to ensure the accessibility of all digital learning tools for students with disabilities, including blind students. Educational technology developers, school procurement officials, and teachers all must collaborate to make this possible. Furthermore, there is an ongoing need for parent and student advocacy to ensure the full inclusion for blind students.

Following the release of our third research report on the educational impacts of the pandemic, the AFB research team created a series of free toolkits to assist teachers, school administrators, parents, and students to advocate for full inclusion in the classroom. Each toolkit shares findings from our research on the effects of digital inaccessibility during the pandemic. Then, each toolkit presents practical tips to help teachers incorporate inclusive practices into their instruction, for administrators to champion inclusive policies, and for parents and students to advocate with school leaders and legislators around their educational needs.

You can browse or download our toolkits at www.afb.org/digital-inclusion-toolkit. You can email the research group at [email protected].

Meeting the Challenges: Changing Life for the Better through Congressional Debate

by Mirielle St. Arnaud

From the Editor: Extracurricular activities offer students life-shaping opportunities to hone new skills, build friendships, and take on responsibilities. Yet many blind and low-vision students struggle to find activities where they feel accepted as full participants. When I learned that Mirielle St. Arnaud had won fourth place in a statewide debate tournament in Illinois, I invited her to share her story with the readers of Future Reflections. As blind people we all make choices when we meet challenges, and Mirielle shares the solutions that have worked best for her. I would love to hear from other blind debaters and learn how they have dealt with similar challenges.

I first joined my high school's debate team a month into my freshman year. I am a member of my school's cross-country team, and one of my teammates convinced me to join debate. I vividly remember my nervousness when I showed up for my first ever practice! I didn't suspect how much debate would shape my high school experience.

I had always wanted to participate in sports when I was younger, but due to my low vision it was difficult for me to find sports that were accessible. I had been searching for a club and a community where, as a blind person, I could be on an equal footing with all of the other members. Debate gave me the opportunity I was seeking.

Congressional debate is an event in which students model the US Congress. Students write bills and argue whether or not they should be passed. Congressional debate requires a lot of research and knowledge about various topics, from foreign affairs to economic policy pertaining to taxes and wages. I have wanted to become a lawyer ever since I was little, which is one reason debate appealed to me so much.

Although debate is far more accessible than playing on a basketball team, I still needed some accommodations. Debate tournaments are held at a different local high school every month. At the beginning of each tournament, participants are sent a text message that displays which room of the high school they need to go to. It is important to get to the room quickly in order to be on time for the procedures at the beginning of a tournament. This situation posed a challenge for me, because I have to navigate through a new school and find a particular classroom in an unfamiliar environment very quickly.

Before I went to my first ever tournament, I realized I needed someone to assist me in finding my room so that I could take part in the competition the same way a sighted person would participate. I emailed my program coordinator at school and asked whether a paraprofessional could help me. Instead of providing the accommodation I requested, the program coordinator told me, "Debate tournaments might just not be something you're able to do."

This response almost deterred me from going to the tournament altogether. I had joined the debate club because I thought it would be accessible to me, and it seemed like that wasn't going to be the case. To this day I wonder what would have happened if I had accepted this rejection and elected not to go to the tournament.

I am incredibly grateful that my team's coach was able to assist me at my first competition. I ended up winning second place. My coach helped me find a paraprofessional to assist me at future tournaments, and I am very grateful for this support.

Regarding other accommodations, my teammates and coaches have been incredibly understanding and helpful. They are always willing to help me navigate through unfamiliar areas and pitch in if there is anything I am unable to do without some assistance. My coach always reaches out to tournament staff to make sure I am in the first row when tournament rounds are held in lecture halls. From the first row I don't have to walk down steps to get to the front of the room. I am a cane user, but I prefer not to use my cane in situations like these as a matter of convenience; during speeches I need to keep my hands free.

There are some things that sighted speakers can do that I find challenging. For example, most debaters keep notes on a large legal pad or in a notebook. They can write a lot of things down and refer to them when they speak. I have a very limited visual field with almost no peripheral vision, which means that I can't easily find specific parts of my speech on a large legal pad. There is simply too much space for me to fit into my small visual field.

For debate speeches I have to be able to find notes and read them very quickly, and I often adapt my speeches while the tournament is underway. I am a fluent Braille reader, but I find it most efficient to use print on a small notepad when I plan my speeches. This technique forces me to speak more extemporaneously. I have to memorize or improvise most parts of my speeches if I want to succeed.

I also tend to be at a disadvantage when it comes to networking with other students at tournaments. At Illinois debate tournaments, competitors vote for the people who win second and third place. Throughout the day, debaters have to be leaders as much as possible in order to maintain a presence and make sure their competitors remember them for standing out. A big part of this leadership entails taking votes on which bills the speakers should debate in which order. I am not able to lead these votes because I can't see well enough to count how many people are raising their hands. It may sound like a small thing, but it is a lost opportunity for me to stand out to the judges and to the other competitors.

Some tournaments even offer leadership awards, which are given to those who lead the chamber most effectively. I feel it is significantly harder for me to win one of those awards. In addition, my lack of vision makes it hard for me to recognize faces. I am not always able to recognize and connect with people I have competed against at previous tournaments.

Although there are numerous things that I can't do in the same way that my sighted counterparts do them, the debate community is full of incredibly kind, smart, and accepting people. My teammates are some of my closest friends, and I am grateful for all of their support. Debate has given me so much confidence in my public speaking skills, and it has improved my confidence in many other aspects of my life as well. Currently I am a captain of my debate team. In this position I am responsible for teaching new debaters every year, which has been a very valuable experience for me. I won fourth place at the Illinois State Championship last March. I highly recommend that other blind and low-vision students get involved with debate. It truly has changed my life for the better!

Nudges and Possibilities

by Emerie Mitchell-Butler

From the Editor: During the 2023 NFB Convention, Emerie Mitchell-Butler spoke at the NOPBC Conference about her experiences studying science. She acknowledged that science can be challenging for a blind student, but she finds it well worth the effort.

Hello everyone! My name is Emerie Mitchell-Butler, and I'm a senior in high school in Hawaii. I don't know how to define myself without science being in there somewhere. For as long as I can remember, science was always presented to me as an option. In fact, I think my mom probably emphasized it a little too much!

Both of my parents are scientists by trade. My dad is a computer scientist, and my mom is an industrial hygienist. As chemist Cary Supalo said this morning, if your child shows an interest in science, that's to be encouraged. But when I asked the adults in my life about a career in science for me as a blind student, the answer I often got was, "I don't know." I felt wronged! I thought, "They should know!" But it turns out the grownups don't know everything. I made it my mission to find out all the answers to the questions that my parents didn't know how to answer.

When I was in seventh grade I lived in Virginia, and in Virginia you have to take biology as a seventh grader. I fell in love with the life sciences! I also started career investigation, which is probably the most boring thing I've ever done! We had to take a survey, and I got a big, long list of STEM careers. I thought that every one of them might be interesting, but I picked three to do my project on: genetic engineer, genetic counselor, and biochemist. It turned out that biochemists make more money than genetic counselors and genetic engineers. I picked the highest pay option, and I did my project on that one. I didn't guess it at the time, but biochemistry would become my passion!

As I took more classes, I learned that chemistry is very difficult—but it's difficult in a way that I love. My first real introduction to chemistry came in high school. I hated that class so much! Well, you know you're in deep when you hate a class but you look forward to going back every day!

I now plan to study biochemistry in college. Unfortunately, in order to work in the biochemistry field you have to have a Ph.D. I believe I can do that, and several things have fostered my belief. My parents' overwhelming attitude of "Be a scientist!" is really great. I went to the Jernigan Institute STEM program over the summer, and it was a fantastic experience.

I feel like I was getting little nudges in school, hints that science is too visual, that I better not do that. People would tell me, "Be a musician! That will be easier for you!" Does that make any sense? I'd rather not just do something because it's easy! I'd rather do something that fulfills me as a person.

When we entered the pandemic I thought I knew everything! One of the things I thought I knew was access technology. Well, I didn't! I knew the BrailleNote Touch and my phone. Then online school happened, and I realized I didn't know how to do any of the things I needed to do. I had fourteen hours of tech training for a week during the summer of 2020. That training gave me nearly all of the tech skills I have today. I continue to do tech training through high school so I'll be completely prepared for my scientific career.

One tool that's very important to me is my tactile drawing board. I only remember having to do two graphs in school. One was in biology class in ninth grade, and that was great. The other one was in AP bio for my mock exam. I don't know what happened with the AP biology actual exam. The graphing did not work out. They told me to graph on top of an existing picture!

Speaking of advanced classes, I took human biology. This year I'm going to continue with Chemistry 161. I hope I'll get to take it, because apparently there's a scheduling conflict.

Somebody warned me not to tell you to shove science down your kid's throat. But if your kid wants to study science, please defend their right to make their own choices. Help them be free from all the little negative nudges that they might otherwise remember when they grow up.

So, What Are You Studying?

by Rishika Kartik

From the Editor: Rishika Kartik first connected with the blind community as a high school student, when she volunteered with Ann Cunningham in the art program at the Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB). Today Rishika is a sophomore at Brown University, where her interest in art and disability has led her to develop a unique interdisciplinary major in Disability and Design. In this article she describes this burgeoning field and explains why it matters for all of us.

Perplexed expressions permeate the room. It's 1 p.m. on a not-so-unusual Saturday. Five minutes ago you were eating a waffle in peace and joking about your family's lack of punctuality (who eats waffles at 1 p.m.?) One minute later you're thrown an all-too-familiar hand grenade, the question that may be the bane of every college student's existence. "So, what are you studying?"

This question typically favors simplicity over nuance. It's much easier to present a one-word answer and move on with small-talk salsa than it is to chart your path as an "interdisciplinary multi-hyphenate." And yet, in creating my own major, I intentionally have chosen the nebulousness of the latter. I have opted to explore "Disability and Design," a field that is not yet recognized as an academic discipline, though in my view it should be.

So what is this field? What am I studying, and why am I studying it? Why should anyone care?

My major examines the following questions: What medical, economic, cultural, and political barriers prevent people with disabilities from using objects or spaces? How do people interact with products? How do we identify user needs and create enjoyable, socially responsible designs that address these needs? How can design act as a vehicle for protest and social progress?

What Is Design?

In the words of graphic designer Ivan Chermayeff, to design is "to solve human problems by identifying them and executing the best solution." Design permeates our social fabric; it creates the products, systems, artwork, and technology we interact with every day. Yet, even though one in four of us has a disability, we currently design with the assumption that everyone functions in standard ways. Disability and Design challenges an ableist paradigm by creating interactive, aesthetic, usable products and experiences for people with disabilities. It rejects the traditional process of designing for the "average user." Instead, it reframes the creative process by designing for people with disabilities first to create innovative solutions for all.

The term "accessible design" refers to the development of ideas tailored to the needs of a specific demographic with a disability. Braille displays, tactile graphics, wheelchair ramps, and captioning systems are just a few examples of such accessible design. In addition to accessibility-specific firms, accessible designers are employed in every industry to make existing products more inclusive. Examples are tech companies such as Google, hospitals such as Hasbro Gensler, and several architectural firms.

The study of Disability and Design views accessible design as a complement to universal design, defined by the Center for Universal Design as "the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation." An example of accessible design is SMS texting, which was created to help deaf people communicate. Siri and the typewriter were both initially created as assistive technologies for the blind. While Disability and Design focuses on a specific subset of users, it results in more creative solutions for everyone.

The field of design blends art and engineering. However, it distinguishes itself as a separate field of study by exploring how people use products and the environments/communities in which designs will be used. After all, an idea can be visually appealing and technically efficient, but its value is severely limited if people can't use it or don't want it in the first place.

The field of visual arts focuses on aesthetics: enhancing our surroundings, evoking emotion, and encouraging dialogue around pertinent social issues. Engineering focuses on functionality, on understanding mechanics to create products that perform tasks under practical constraints. Disability and Design incorporates engineering to ensure that products are manufacturable/usable/resilient and art is pleasing/enjoyable/rhetorically responsible. It uses Disability Studies to socially "contextualize" designs.

What Is Disability?

According to the CDC, a disability is "any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions.)" The CDC's definition focuses on pathology and medical examination without considering disability from a social or cultural perspective. This concentration, in contrast, views disability as a cultural identity. This non-biological perspective is supported by scholars such as Beth Haller and Harriet McBryde Johnson, as well as courses such as "Pathology to Power: Disability, Health, and Community" offered at Brown. Understanding the medical perspective of disability is important. However, rather than understanding medical conditions of individuals, Disability and Design focuses on the policies, artwork, technology, social systems, and experiences that affect the everyday lives of communities with disabilities.

Disability and Design also looks at the intersectionality between disability and related cultural identities, such as race and sexuality. Disability and Design starts with a broad understanding of cultural groups with disabilities, including people with intellectual/developmental disabilities, people with mental illness, and people with mobility impairments.

"So how are they related?" people ask. "And why are you studying it?"

Disability and Design emphasizes scholar Rosemarie Garland-Thompson's idea of "disability gain." Garland-Thompson argues that because disability is a unique way of experiencing the world, understanding disability creates innovative perspectives and ideas. "Disability gain" analyzes how people with disabilities work within constraints to design adaptable and practical solutions to everyday problems; in other words, how people with disabilities engage in design thinking. Design benefits from emulating the creative approaches communities with disabilities take to solve problems; disability advocacy is design thinking. By learning how people with disabilities design systems, initiatives, and products, designers gain a new understanding of how to approach and address complex social problems.

Most of all, Disability and Design has helped me reframe my view on education and problem solving. I've grown to believe that the goal of my major isn't to be certain what to think, but to guide me in how to think. A vague metric of success? Perhaps. Yet, in my view, a far more meaningful educational aspiration than a one-word answer to a casual 1 p.m. waffle conversation, even if perplexed expressions permeate the room.

Closing the Loopholes and Opening Doors: Preparing Blind Students to Work in the Field of Cybersecurity

by Laura Bostick and Chuck Gardner

From the Editor: To operate effectively, today's businesses, schools, hospitals, and government agencies depend on a sprawling network of computers. Unfortunately, although they manage vast stores of information, computer systems are vulnerable to malicious attack. Whether attacks come from clever mischief-makers or dangerous cyber-criminals, they can severely interfere with operations, sometimes with dire consequences.

Cybersecurity is a growing field, and its importance will only increase in the years ahead. Laura Bostick, Chuck Gardner, and other innovators are working to ensure that blind students have the opportunity to enter this field and make meaningful contributions. In this article Bostick and Gardner describe initiatives that will prepare blind students to enter this growing field.

Laura Bostick: I started my professional life in biomedical engineering, and I worked at NASA’s Johnson Space Center for eighteen years. After I had a blind child, I became interested in special education, which ultimately led me to make a major career change. While still at NASA, I earned a master's degree in special education.

In 2011 I spoke to Dr. Ruby Ryles at the NFB National Convention. She encouraged me to apply for a position at the Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University. I interviewed with Dr. Eddie Bell, the director, and the next thing I knew, my daughter and I were moving from Houston, Texas, to Ruston, Louisiana.

After earning a graduate certificate in visual impairments/blind education, I began teaching in the Teaching Blind Students Program at Louisiana Tech and working on my doctoral degree. I earned my EdD in 2016. What I really wanted to do, I realized, was to combine my love of science and technology with my passion for teaching blind students. I was thrilled when I learned that CYBER.ORG wanted to partner with Louisiana Tech to work on accessibility projects. It was the perfect job for me! For the past two years I have contracted with CYBER.ORG through Louisiana Tech.

CYBER.ORG is the academic initiative of the Cyber Innovation Center (CIC), a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation that provides curricula, professional development, and resources free of charge to K-12 educators across the country. Since 2017 CYBER.ORG has been offering summer camps to students who are blind or have low vision through our Project Access. Last summer we held camps for blind students in Colorado, Missouri, New Jersey, and Virginia, as well as hosting hands-on activities for young blind children in the Louisiana BELL® Academy and for students in the Youth Track at the NFB National Convention in Houston.

Some of the hands-on skills students learned last summer include:

Chuck Gardner: Back in 2012 I was living in Bossier City in northwest Louisiana. That part of the state is best known for agriculture, petroleum, and gambling. I started to work for the Cyber Innovation Center at CYBER.ORG, which was launching efforts to modernize the region's economy. We wanted to prepare K-12 students to take jobs in the high-tech fields of the future. Today Bossier City is home to companies such as General Dynamics, a leading government contractor. A new world of job options has opened up.

Through CYBER.ORG's work in Bossier City, we received funding from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which is funded within the Department of Homeland Security. The program provides education curriculum to teachers across the country. I started training high school teachers so they could begin to prepare students for future careers in cybersecurity. We expect that hundreds of thousands of jobs will open up in this field in the coming decades.

In 2016 Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe directed the state's Department of Education to host a series of cyber camps for K-12 students. The Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired reached out, asking that blind students be included in these programs. At first we were very hesitant to engage. It seemed that nobody knew what to do or had the will to figure it out.

I think of myself as a problem solver. When I learned that the Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired wanted blind students to be included in our cybersecurity programs, I was sure there must be a way to make it happen. After some research I found that a platform from Parallax was capable of working with assistive technology. The CYBER.ORG team designed a one-week camp for blind students that covered the same content sighted students had learned in previous years.

That first summer we enrolled twenty-four blind students, and we started them off assembling bots by themselves. I had planned to have the students spend the first day assembling the bots, but the students got finished by lunchtime! Each year we test out new content, and the students never fail to surprise me. When I talk to panels on cybersecurity, I often ask if they're looking for problem solvers. I tell them that blind people possess some of the most mischievous minds across the globe. Blind people have been solving problems all their lives, and they're used to thinking in highly original ways.

Our cyber camps have evolved into camps that focus on cybersecurity. Each year we try out new operating systems, which the students install on their laptops. Last year we brought in some cyberattacks for the students to work with. I was afraid the students wouldn't be able to handle the challenges with their assistive technology. We showed them a demo of a password attack, and to our delight they figured everything out by themselves from there.

Our students' success led us to partner this year with Palo Alto Networks, an industrial-scale global cybersecurity provider. We gave the students opportunities to explore hands-on exposure to a physical firewall device. They installed a virtual next-generation firewall onto their laptops. I don't know of any other program where high school students, blind or sighted, are getting such exposure.

When our students attended their first cyber camp, many of them had very low expectations. They believed they would never hold a job, but would stay home and collect SSI. Experience at the cyber camp truly changed their trajectories. Today 94 percent of the students from our Virginia program have gone on to study cybersecurity or obtain certifications in IT. Many of them have done internships or apprenticeships in the field. A few have completed training and are moving into the industry.

When I talk with potential employers, they predictably raise concerns about the cost of accommodations for blind staff. I assure them that today, in many cases, the cost is zero. Windows, iOS, and Linux offer free software-based accessibility. If there is any cost, in most cases, it's less than five hundred dollars.

At this point we're busy hosting cyber camps for blind students across the country. We take what we learned in Virginia and bring it to other states. We've hosted camps in Louisiana, Colorado, New Jersey, and Missouri. We've worked with the Nebraska Department for the Blind, and we're trying to set up a program in Hawaii. Some camps run for two days, and some run for a whole week.

Many students who attend cyber camps during high school return as mentors during their college years. "I started at a camp in Richmond, Virginia, when I was fourteen," a former camper explains. "When I went to my first camp I didn't know anything about programming. They said I'd get a free laptop at the end of camp, so I decided to sign up. I found out I loved it, and I went back year after year. Eventually I became the lead mentor in the Richmond camp. Now I'm majoring in computer science at the University of Virginia."

The camps are very team oriented. The students learn from the mentors, and the mentors learn from the students as well. We always have staff members who are familiar with assistive technology. We use JAWS, ZoomText, and other programs. Campers start with a relatively small challenge, such as the hacking of a password. Then we move on to challenges that are more complex. The instructors can help the students step by step, but we never want to hand someone the answer!

A typical day at one of our cyber camps starts with breakfast, followed by four hours of classroom work before lunch. In the afternoon students work for four more hours. In the evening it's time for a break. Students may go bowling, enjoy some improv comedy, or simply go out for ice cream. For some of our students, cyber camp is their first taste of independence. We're building their skills with technology, and they're honing their people skills, too.

Laura Bostick: It's essential that we create opportunities for blind students to meet blind mentors who are out there working in the tech field. We also need to identify the barriers that may hold students back, such as inaccessible sections on qualifying exams. Often counselors steer blind students away from careers in technology, assuming it will be too difficult for them to succeed. Based on our years of experience in the blind community, we know better!

A Tool for Self-Advocacy in High School

by Erin Jepsen and Abi Jepsen

From the Editor: Erin Jepsen is a low-vision mom of four teenagers and a certified Braille transcriber. Abi (say Ah-bee) is a sophomore in high school who enjoys her friends, reading Harry Potter, and watching Avatar, The Last Airbender.

Erin: This year, Abi is a sophomore at the public high school in our medium-sized Idaho town. We are remote enough that most of her teachers have never taught a blind student before. Although they want to do a good job making their material accessible, many don't have the training or experience to know what to do, especially at first.

In addition, substitute teachers rarely have the benefit of much teacher training. They can make life a bit uncomfortable because they don't know the best practices for interacting with a blind student. In the past, some substitute teachers have made assumptions about how Abi should be treated. Some believe that Abi needs them to speak to her in a loud voice or a baby voice. Sometimes they offer much more help than she needs, which makes a class needlessly stressful for her.

In speaking with her World History teacher last year, we discovered that he had learned a lot about working with Abi and making her materials and instruction accessible. He shared that he would have liked to receive that information earlier in the school year. He suggested that Abi and I work together to come up with a quick one-page info sheet that we can hand to new teachers and substitute teachers. The info sheet would present a few basic guidelines for working with Abi or other blind students.

Here is our etiquette sheet in both a screen reader friendly format and a visually fun format for the sighted teachers and subs.

Blind Person Etiquette 101

Don't say:

Do say:

[No need to warn of stairs or other obstacles. Her mobility tools do that job. She is in charge of keeping herself safe and learning routes.]

Don't say:

Do say:

Don't say:

Do say:

Don't say:

Do say:

[Braille is an alternate way of reading in whichever language you know. It's no harder to learn Braille than learning all the lines and squiggles we call print.]

Don't:

Do:

Abi: I hope this paper helps me communicate with my teachers better, especially the substitutes! It's hard when you're a kid to tell the teachers what to do, but they don't know what I need, and sometimes there's nobody but me there to tell them. I try, but sometimes I wonder if they will listen to me. Hopefully reading this paper will be a way to start.

A Roller Coaster of Emotion: The Highs and Lows of Federal Regulations on Website Accessibility (or the Lack Thereof)

by Kyle Walls

Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 66, Number 10, November 2023

From the Editor: Kyle Walls serves as a research and regulatory specialist in the NFB’s Advocacy and Policy Department. He and his colleagues have worked tirelessly to review and comment on long-overdue regulations meant to clarify and implement the Americans with Disabilities Act. In this article he describes some of the most promising gains and troubling setbacks.

On a sunny summer day in Washington, DC, long before most people had even begun to imagine, let alone understand, an idea as conceptually huge as the internet, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by President George W. Bush. The date was July 26, 1990, and the location was the South Lawn of the White House. President Bush remarked that, with the signing of this landmark legislation, "Every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom."

Then, just a few short years later, as the twentieth century was drawing to a close and the twenty-first century was dawning, concepts such as the website, email, and "surfing the net" started to become household ideas all across the country. In the waning years of the last century and the early years of this century, many American children and teenagers became familiar with having a computer that was connected to the World Wide Web in their school libraries or in a home office that their parents used.

I was one of those teenagers. For all of the younger readers, yes, the dial-up noise that we heard every single time we wanted to connect to the internet was just as bad and annoying as you've been told. It was also a sort of chime, marking our passage through the doorway to a whole new online world.

Unfortunately, that digital world, much like the physical world the ADA was initially passed to reshape just a decade earlier, was not fully accessible to people with disabilities. It would take another ten years before any meaningful action was taken to rectify the problem of inaccessibility in the digital space. On July 26, 2010, on that same South Lawn of the White House where President Bush stood exactly twenty years earlier to sign the ADA, President Barack Obama held a ceremony to announce the publication of an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) to address the shortcomings in the accessibility of the websites of public entities (ADA Title II) and private companies (ADA Title III).

To be clear, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, websites are required to be accessible to people with disabilities, but frequently companies and state and local governments argue that the law does not provide a clear definition of what it actually means to be accessible. This is where a federal regulation that explicitly defines digital accessibility would be exceedingly useful, both for people with disabilities who need to access the websites and for the entities and companies that are legally required to provide that access. This is why the 2010 announcement of an ANPRM to address that very issue was met with such fanfare, enthusiasm, and anticipation for the rule that was sure to be published in the next few years. Right?

Not exactly. Nearly six years later a supplementary Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (SANPRM), seeking a response to more than 120 questions about digital accessibility, was published on May 9, 2016. Critically, this SANPRM also separated the Title II and Title III regulations, choosing to focus exclusively on Title II. Of course the Federation, along with forty-nine other organizations, submitted formal comments answering many of the questions posed by the Department of Justice (DOJ). It wasn't exactly what we were hoping for, and it was a significant hurdle to jump over, but finally, twenty-six years after the passage of the ADA, and six years after the announcement of forthcoming digital accessibility regulations, there was real movement toward making the online world accessible to people with disabilities.

Unfortunately, that small glimmer of hope would be short-lived. Just eighteen months after the publication of the Supplementary Advance Notice, the Department of Justice announced that it was withdrawing the website ANPRM altogether on December 26, 2017. The Grinch himself, with his heart three sizes too small, couldn't have stolen more holiday cheer than the DOJ did that day for all.

So, for years that's where we were. Shopping, reading, blogging, vlogging, and a host of other things that people do online became commonplace. Constantly connected smartphones had long since become the norm in American society. The 2010s gave way to the new roaring twenties, where an unprecedented pandemic made digital connectivity and accessibility more important than ever. Yet there was still no federally defined standard for accessibility when it came to the online arena. It was outrageous. So the Federation intensified our campaign to get the regulations released.

At the 2021 Washington Seminar, we unveiled the Twenty-First Century Mobile Apps and Website Accessibility Act, which was a priority once again for our 2022 Washington Seminar. On February 28, 2022, we (along with 180 other disability advocacy organizations) sent a letter to the assistant US attorney general for civil rights regarding the promulgation of website regulations. At the 2022 National Convention in New Orleans, we passed Resolution 2022-01: Regarding Need for Federal Legislation Requiring All Websites and Applications to be Accessible. On September 29, 2022, Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Representative John Sarbanes of Maryland introduced our Websites and Software Applications Accessibility Act, a more focused version of our Washington Seminar legislation, in both the Senate and the House. At the 2023 NFB Convention in Houston, we passed Resolution 2023-01, demanding the promulgation of Americans with Disabilities Act website accessibility regulations.

Though a long time in coming, finally, it seemed that someone was paying attention. On August 4, 2023, more than three decades after the signing of the ADA, and more than a decade after the publication of the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the Department of Justice published the ADA Title II Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). After thirteen years of waiting and thousands of hours of advocating, the federal government had finally taken the next step in the promise made during those two White House South Lawn celebrations. This was the moment we had been anticipating for years. This was cause for another celebration, a date that would live on in memory for decades to come as the day we finally got the regulations we had been demanding for so long. We were beside ourselves with excitement.
 
And then we started to read the NPRM. The proposed rule established WCAG 2.1 AA as the accessibility standard. We liked that.

The proposed rule defined large public entities as having fifty thousand or more residents and gave those entities two years to meet the WCAG 2.1 AA standard. Small public entities were defined as those having less than fifty thousand residents and they were given three years to meet the standard. We felt the deadlines were a little long, but we were willing to accept them.

The proposed rule maintained the defenses of undue burden and fundamental alteration that were established in the original ADA. We had no quarrel with that.

The proposed rule created seven new exceptions that entities could use to weasel out of their obligation to make aspects of their websites accessible. Wait ... what?

This was shocking and unacceptable. At no point could we have imagined that something so concerning would have been released by the DOJ. The seven proposed gateways descending into inaccessibility were:

As you can tell, these seven exceptions would allow for a tremendous amount of content to be exempt from the accessibility requirements set forth in the rule. Particularly egregious are the two exceptions regarding password-protected course content at elementary, secondary, and postsecondary schools. If the rule were to move forward as is, it would allow password-protected content on a school's learning management system (a.k.a. most of the content used to teach children and college students in our increasingly digital world) to be inaccessible. This ridiculous exception would erect a major barrier for blind students, blind parents, and blind educators.

The exception for pre-existing conventional electronic documents is just as outrageous. The NPRM gave examples of formats that would fall under this category. They include word processor files, spreadsheet files, presentation files, and PDF files. Every file type listed is easily made accessible, usually with only a few extra minutes of effort, making this exception wholly unnecessary. It is abundantly clear that the Department of Justice did not consult with blind Americans during the creation of this proposed regulation; otherwise it likely would not have created such broad and unwarranted categories of exceptions. For that reason, we wanted to ensure that our comments regarding this rule were precise, thoughtful, and well-reasoned. We studied the NPRM for several weeks, held numerous brainstorming sessions, and passed around multiple drafts. We took the time and did the research to provide the best possible answers to all questions we thought were relevant, while making our position clear that we absolutely opposed all seven exceptions created by the proposed rule. In the end, we created a powerful set of comments, answering all relevant questions posed in the NPRM and letting the DOJ know, in no uncertain terms, exactly how we felt about the proposed rule. NFB President Mark Riccobono officially submitted our comments to the DOJ on September 19, and we posted them to the Policy Statements page of our website the next day. I sincerely encourage you to go read the entire document. It's not a short read, so you might want to grab a snack and get comfortable before you begin, but I can honestly say it is perhaps the most important set of federal comments that I've had the privilege to be a part of during my tenure with the Federation.

We aren't the only ones who had something to say. At the time of this writing, the submission deadline for comments to the NPRM has just closed. Checking in with regulations.gov, the website where the vast majority of federal agencies accept comments and responses to proposed regulations, I see that 346 individual comments were submitted. Many of those comments are from Federation members. Even though the Department of Justice didn't consult with us before releasing their proposed rule, they are certainly going to hear from us now. I just hope they're paying attention, for real this time.

Progress To Make the Web More Usable and Friendly for the Blind

by the NFB Advocacy and Policy Team

Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 66, Number 10, November 2023

From the Editor: The following letter was sent to the NFB listservs by the Advocacy and Policy Team. It reports on a bill that is currently making its way through Congress and suggests the actions we can take to encourage its passage. This bill could play a critical role in our effort to use the internet smoothly and productively.

Dear Federation Family:

Thanks to everyone's hard work, the bipartisan Websites and Software Applications Accessibility Act (S. 2984 /H.R. 5813) was introduced in both the Senate and the House of Representatives on September 28, 2023. This bill is a culmination of your advocacy, beginning with Washington Seminar and continuing up to now. The Senate bill was introduced by Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, and the House bill was introduced by Representative John Sarbanes of Maryland. You can read more about the introduction of the bill in Senator Duckworth's official press release. Senator Warren and Senator Markey have cosponsored the Senate bill, and Representative Pete Sessions cosponsored the House bill.

After years of advocacy, we are proud to have champions like Senator Duckworth and Representative Sarbanes, but the real challenge has only begun. Now we have to shift our focus toward building support for the legislation in order to get it through the committees, onto the floor of the Senate and the House, and ultimately passed by both Chambers, to the desk of the president. This is where your advocacy, as blind constituents from every state in the Union who will benefit from the requirements of this legislation, is more important than ever. Please call and email your senators and representatives and ask them to cosponsor the Websites and Software Applications Accessibility Act today!

When you call or email you might say something such as: "Hello, my name is [your name], and I am a constituent of [senator/representative name]. I live in [city, state]. I would like to urge [senator/representative name] to cosponsor the Websites and Software Applications Accessibility Act, [S. 2984/H.R. 5813]. This legislation would ensure that blind and disabled Americans can have the same opportunity to independently access websites and applications as our nondisabled peers. Thank you."

You can contact your member of Congress by calling the Capitol Switchboard and asking for the office in question. The number is 202-224-3121. If you contact your senator or representative via email, please copy Jeff Kaloc at [email protected]. Your calls and emails do make a difference.

Inaccessible websites and applications are barriers that prevent us from living the lives we want. They prevent us from getting the education, employment, and independence that we desire. This is why our advocacy for this bill is so important.

On Medical Interventions and Being a Regular Kid: How We Decided Not to Treat Our Daughter's Blindness

by Jamie Principato Crane

From the Editor: When doctors discover that a young child is blind, they usually go into high gear, doing everything possible to give the child vision. In this article Jamie Principato Crane reflects on her own experience of blindness and explains her decision to refuse surgery that might improve her daughter's sight. Jamie has worked for a variety of NASA space grant programs, designing particle astrophysics experiments. She was a program manager at Google before leaving to stay at home with her two children. Currently she is establishing a startup, developing a stroller and accessories for parents who primarily use public transit and rideshare services to travel with their babies.

My seven-month-old daughter Selene was born blind. Her cause of blindness is a rare, unspecified genetic condition that causes the cornea to be cloudy and, as far as we know, doesn't affect any other part of the eye. I share her condition, though no one else in my family has it, including my two-year-old son.

This condition only affects the cornea, the thin front layer of the eye that lets in light. Because other circumstances that lead to corneal cloudiness are relatively common, many professionals in ophthalmology believe that the obvious thing to do in a case like Selene's is to perform a cornea graft or transplant. Remove the cloudy tissue and replace it with clear donor tissue.

In the hours following Selene's birth, we met at least half a dozen professionals who told us how simple this procedure would be. The most senior among them even assured us that they could do this surgery for our daughter at three months of age, and that sooner would most certainly be better.

"We do so many of these procedures," they tell us.

I know. I've had seven.

"The success rate has improved over the years," they tell us.

I know. It's about 25 percent. That's a 1 in 4 chance that clear vision will last for as much as a year. Then what?

"If repeated grafts fail, there are prosthetic corneas we could try instead."

I know. I have one, and I am still blind.

And I have an excellent life.

As a small child, I was very limited by a medical model of blindness that frightened and compelled my parents to pursue repeated attempts to "save" my vision. I have vivid memories from early toddlerhood of operating rooms, slit lamps, and eye patches. Adults scolded me if I tried to run on the playground, play catch, or dig in the sand. This scolding was less about protecting the poor blind baby and more about protecting the delicate, precarious transplanted tissue they believed would give me sight this time, if it just healed the right way without being disturbed. I used as many as four different eyedrops, as often as four times a day, and I learned early to worry about never missing a drop.

The grafts failed repeatedly, but the doctors we saw touted their great success. "This one lasted eighteen months!" they would boast, showing me off to colleagues as if I were a science fair project. This bothers me now more than it did back then. At the time I was just a scared child who didn't want to go to the hospital anymore. But my parents kept trying, encouraged by the professionals who said success rates improve with age. They promised my parents that they were doing what was best for my development.

The repeated surgeries caused me to develop glaucoma. Controlling this condition required many more surgeries and medications. Glaucoma caused constant eye pain and headaches. I faced further limitations on my activities to help keep my intra-ocular pressure low, and I experienced vision loss that no amount of medical expertise can reverse.

I want none of this for my daughter.

We were seen by some of the most accomplished experts in pediatric ophthalmology, a feature of where we live rather than an intentional search of the best doctors in the field. Whenever you need to make medical decisions, for yourself or for a family member, it's important to consider whether the benefits outweigh the risks. In this case, the benefits of gaining sight as early as possible in life are clear. However, the risks, to name just a few, include painful glaucoma, a need for repeated surgeries, scarring, infection, complications from anesthesia, complications from prolonged use of steroids after surgery . . . the list goes on. I am all too familiar with most of these ramifications.

When I asked the doctors about the risks of doing nothing, they looked confused, as if no one had ever asked them this question before. After a lot of pressing and an awkwardness that made me think they weren't sure how to answer me without saying something I'd find offensive, we understood that the only risk of doing nothing was that Selene's eyes would remain exactly as they are. She would remain legally blind.

It is important to remember that, for many in the field of ophthalmology, blindness is regarded as the worst possible outcome—the end stage of something analogous to a terminal illness. Many ophthalmologists don't know what to do with patients once blindness is imminent. They struggle to talk about quality of life as a higher priority than sight. How can you have one without the other? We in the National Federation of the Blind know that quality of life does not depend on sight.

When the doctors left, I told my husband in private that I don't want them to lay one finger on our baby girl with the goal of "fixing" her. She is not broken.

Fast forward through my own childhood to the time when my mother gave up on restoring my vision. I wish I could say it happened because she learned that it is respectable to be blind. She didn’t, and she could never bring herself even to use the B word to describe me. Nor did she embrace the social model of blindness that is a cornerstone of our philosophy within the NFB. But tragedy and loss were hitting our family hard, and our priorities had to change. The decade-long “fight for sight” ended.

And my childhood began.

Running and climbing on the playground at recess, discovering a love for soccer and fencing, going on long trips and overnight stays with friends without carrying along a portable pharmacy—all these doors were open to me at last. Most importantly, without the baggage of the medical model, there was room in my life for the skills and philosophies that would help me live the life I want.

I spent my formative teenage years learning about the NFB and what we do and believe. I learned to use a cane, a tool my parents and I had previously rejected as a symbol of failure in our fight for sight. I embraced assistive technology, and I sought out blind peers and role models for the first time. My life didn't suddenly become easy, but my confidence in what I could do with it grew and grew. Blindness was no longer the terminal stage of a disease that defined me, and I could embrace it without fear.

For a short time after baby Selene came into the world, my husband and I felt fear. The days following childbirth are incredibly vulnerable. We were exhausted and overwhelmed. I struggled with my own recovery and the postpartum rollercoaster of emotions so many women face. As the list of specialist referrals, recommended tests, and possible prognoses grew, so grew our anxieties about our daughter's future and the future of our family. The medical model of blindness was back with all its baggage at the door. Even with all my lived experience as a thriving blind woman with an excellent life, I didn't have it in me to turn it away.

But at this stage in my life, the social model of blindness and all the truths about blindness that I've learned over the years have solidly taken root. After every conversation with a doctor, after every wave of worry with my husband, the cognitive dissonance would well up and the contradictions would appear. I have a great life. Why shouldn't she? Blindness doesn't hold me back. Why should it hold her back? I'm not broken, or sick, or incomplete, and neither is she.

We discussed our priorities for all of our children. We want them to be active, healthy kids. We want to go on adventures and explore the outdoors. We want our children to have rich social lives and to learn to be leaders, creators, and problem solvers. We want to foster their independence, and we want them to grow up with choices and the skills to direct their own lives.

After we spelled out these priorities, it became clear to us that any attempt to eliminate Selene's blindness now would drastically limit these outcomes for her, just as it had for me. But if we accepted her blindness and focused instead on raising her with good blindness skills and a community of strong blind role models, we could achieve all of these outcomes for her, and many more.

And with that realization, the fear once again faded.

Am I against any treatment or cure for blindness?

Of course not. I am married to a sighted man, and I have a sighted son. I think anyone would agree that perfect sight is incredibly convenient. If it can be obtained conveniently, with minimal physical and emotional cost, that's fantastic. But I believe that medical professionals frequently understate the risks of treatment, many of which I shared here, and lead patients falsely to equate loss of sight with loss of meaningful life. That's not okay!

Am I refusing any and all medical intervention for my daughter?

No. Actually, we see a pediatric ophthalmologist regularly. She's fantastic, and she understands our decision not to treat Selene's blindness. She's happy to monitor how her eyes are developing and help us stay ahead of anything we might actually want to treat (such as glaucoma, which is often painful.) Also, we are very curious people. Very little is known about our condition, and we would like to help our hospital and others understand it better.

Will I ever change my mind about treating Selene's blindness? Probably not, but she might have a different perspective someday. My eyes are so damaged from the repeated surgeries, scarring, and resulting glaucoma that I don't have many options anymore if I wanted to try a new way of gaining sight. I can't even wear cosmetic contact lenses if I ever wanted to make my eyes look more symmetrical. I don't want either of those things for myself, but it's nice to have choices. Maybe someday Selene will want something like that for herself, and maybe I am preserving her later options by not choosing for her now.

Is there anything about Selene that still worries me? You bet! I don't think mothers ever get to not worry about their children! But I am not worried about her blindness. Sometimes I worry about what other people will think if they know I had the choice to try to give her sight and I said no. I worry about being pressured by ophthalmologists to allow radical, invasive things to be done to my daughter (or to me!) Once I stayed up all night googling myself into a panic because I thought our doctor could get child protective services involved if I refused treatment. But I am not worried about the childhood or the life my daughter will have as a blind person. She has a place within an amazing community of blind leaders, thinkers, and creators. She will grow up knowing that blindness does not hold her back, and that she can live the life she wants.

 

PHOTO/CAPTION: At the 2019 NFB EQ program, a participant tactually explores a wooden model as instructor Wayne Goodridge explains perspective.

PHOTO/CAPTION: A participant examines a wooden model inside a plexiglass box. The box has tactile diagrams showing each side of the object, teaching the concept of a multi-view drawing.

PHOTO/CAPTION: A participant takes the tactile mental cutting test (T-MCT), the instrument designed by SABER personnel to test spatial ability.

SABER Final Outcomes Report

by Seth Lamkin

From the Editor: The National Federation of the Blind has long recognized that blind people need access to employment in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). In this article, an edited version of a report submitted to the National Science Foundation, Seth Lamkin reports on the Federation's initiatives to open opportunities in STEM education for blind students.

The NFB's Spatial Ability and Blind Engineering Research project (SABER), in partnership with Utah State University and the Science Museum of Minnesota, was a five-year effort to broaden the participation of blind and low-vision youth in STEM. The project delivered informal STEM programming for blind youth, refined and published that programming in a free and nonvisually accessible online medium, created a new and unique instrument by which spatial ability can be tested nonvisually, and disseminated scientific and consumer-oriented publications and presentations to a variety of audiences.  

NFB Engineering Quotient (EQ), the primary programmatic component, was a one-week engineering program for blind youth ages fourteen through twenty-two. Supported by project partners and blind adult mentors, these youth planned, designed, built, and tested through a hands-on, iterative process. Participants mastered the basics of tactile engineering drafting, including multi-view drawings and pictorial drawings; calculating and visualizing force propagation in a structure; and basic truss analysis. They also spoke with blind engineers to learn how they mastered their craft, what alternative techniques they use, and what obstacles they overcame and how.

Project leaders developed workarounds to ensure full participation for blind youth in engineering activities, including a tactile multi-view drawing manipulative, models of post and beam construction, a column tester, nonvisually accessible construction jigs, and more.

The programs normalized nonvisual ways of learning and knowing so that participants felt safe and respected in a positive, affirming environment. In the majority of their learning experiences, blind youth are forced to conform to sighted methodologies. These methodologies limit their ability to absorb knowledge and are harmful to their feelings of self-worth, diminishing what they believe they can accomplish. For example, many participants reported that they had had limited access to hands-on STEM experiences prior to NFB EQ. Evaluation data showed that the program contributed to a better understanding of engineering, an increased interest in studying science and engineering, and a better sense of career goals. One participant told evaluators, "I am the only blind person at my school, and this week was so inspiring, meeting and talking with so many other blind people like me. This program allowed me to engage in, gain a better understanding of, and apply real engineering concepts. It was so satisfying to learn these concepts and then do something using the concepts."

The NFB EQ for Teachers: A Nonvisual and Accessible Engineering Curriculum, is now available as a free, open educational resource. It consists of lesson plans, tactile graphics files, Braille-ready files, and other resources that facilitate accessible engineering instruction. While created for blind learners, the lessons can also be facilitated with sighted learners, and the curriculum is completely accessible for use by blind educators and parents. STEM-learning toolkits for parents of blind children include STEM skill-building activities, DIY (do-it-yourself) adaptations, and additional resources appropriate for youth, ranging from preschool to high school learners.

Twelve peer-reviewed papers were published during and after the SABER initiatives. Several more articles were disseminated via consumer publications and blog posts. Additional papers are forthcoming. Numerous presentations at professional conferences and consumer organization conventions disseminated results to interested communities. For example, blind youth gave presentations at a number of conventions and meetings of blind professionals in STEM.

The Tactile Mental Cutting Test (T-MCT) was developed, tested, and refined with SABER participants and with youth and adults at conventions and agencies for the blind. The original mental cutting test, developed by the College Entrance Examination Board, was entirely visual. The T-MCT utilizes a set of three-dimensional models and tactile solution choices to represent the same experience in a nonvisual way. It is a multimodal tool that could benefit both blind and sighted individuals. It is documented as reliable and valid.

Broader Impacts

The five-year SABER initiative has come to an end, but its results have a widening reach. Here are some ways that the SABER initiative is spreading ideas and resources to an ever wider audience.

The NFB EQ for Teachers Curriculum is now available. It is a free online resource for anyone to utilize in the education of blind youth.

Accessible STEM techniques have been integrated into an accessible technology course at Illinois State University (ISU), where Project Director Natalie Shaheen is an assistant professor. Through this program pre-service teachers of blind students will enter the field with the knowledge required to engage blind and low-vision students in STEM.

Undergraduate and graduate assistants under co-principal investigator Dr. Wade Goodridge are now pursuing research on spatial ability as it relates to blind and low-vision youth and adults.

Tactile graphics and tactile graphic conventions developed for the program have been shared informally with science educators and institutions of higher education.

A greater understanding of spatial language and how to deliver nonvisual instruction to blind youth over web-conferencing platforms has been developed and disseminated.

Participants in the NSF-funded Advancing Research Impacts in Society (ARIS) Summit attended presentations and staffed interactive exhibit tables at the NFB's headquarters. Dr. Shaheen gave the keynote address and Dr. Goodridge connected with faculty interested in using the T-MCT and collaborating on future spatial research centered on accessibility.

Several universities and science institutions have benefited from accessible techniques and lessons. Spin-off collaborations are underway.

For further information, visit the following websites:

NFB EQ For Teachers: A Nonvisual and Accessible Engineering Curriculum: https://nfb.org/programs-services/education/national-center-blind-youth-science/nfb-eq/nfb-eq-teachers

NFB EQ for Parents: A STEM Learning Toolkit for Parents of Blind Children: https://nfb.org/programs-services/education/national-center-blind-youth-science/nfb-eq/nfb-eq-parents

To access free versions of the publications that came from this project, you can use this link, which will take you to the NSF publication repository search results for our award: https://par.nsf.gov/search/term:1712887.

Disclaimer: This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1712887. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Of Watches, Pages, and Healthy Competition

by Lisamaria Martinez

From the Editor: Early in the 1980s the newly formed National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) determined that a bit of healthy competition could encourage blind students to build their Braille reading skills. In partnership with the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, NOPBC launched the annual Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. With only a brief hiatus, the contest has been running ever since. In this article Lisamaria Martinez, coordinator of the 2023-24 contest, reflects on what the contest meant in her childhood and encourages Braille readers of all ages to take part this year.

It was 1988, and this seven-year-old blind second-grader from Oceanside, California, wanted nothing more than a talking watch. All the cool blind kids had talking watches! Fast forward thirty-five years, and this forty-two-year-old blind mom living in the San Francisco Bay Area, mother of three terrific kids, life coach, hiker, dancer, bookworm, cannot stand talking watches.
 
As a mother of three, I know now what my mom was up to when she insisted the only way I would ever get a talking watch was if I learned to tell the time using a Braille watch first. So of course, I had to possess a Braille watch and learn how to tell time. Yes, back in the eighties, we still learned to tell time by determining which way the clock hands pointed. We did not always have a screen flashing or digital voice announcing numbers.
 
I've been a mom now for twelve entertaining years. In that time I've learned that it is imperative for parents to have a sneaky streak in order to get their kids to do things. I learned this from the adults who raised me. When my mom told me I had to learn to tell time with a Braille watch, she was being sneaky, unbeknownst to me. I just thought this was one easily accomplishable step toward getting what I wanted. After all, what did my mom know?
 
Some of my earliest memories are of me with a book. When I was a small child and had sight, I had a series of small books my mom had ordered for me. I can't tell you what they were about, but I remember loving the feel of the books in my hands. I recall the joy I felt whenever I opened one of those books. I knew that between the covers an adventure was waiting to unfold, if I could only read.

I lost my sight right about the time I was learning to read. Literacy was taken from me and withheld for a couple of years. It wasn't until I was mainstreamed in the first grade, and I had a TVI and a resource room, that the gift of literacy was bestowed upon me again—but this time I was reading Braille!
 
I loved Braille. I loved reading. I still do. I thank my parents and my TVI and the Braille clerk in my elementary-school resource room for making Braille a reality 100 percent of the time. The resource room had a little library loaded with Braille books, and there was a beanbag or two for sitting upon. I loved running my fingers over the spines of the books. Some of the books were spiral bound. Some had hard covers, and others had soft covers. I would slip my fingers between the books to read the Braille titles and the names of the authors and how many volumes the books included. Each book was a challenge, an adventure, a journey to somewhere else. I had the wild idea of reading every book in that little library before I left my elementary school. Whether I reached that goal I do not recall, but I do know I put a good dent in that aspiration.
 
Because of my love of reading, my TVI told me and my parents about a Braille reading contest she knew I'd enjoy. She told us about the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest. It is still going strong today, sponsored by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. I was eager to enter a reading contest and document the number of pages I read each day. I just knew I could win, because I was always reading.

My parents share stories about standing in my bedroom doorway, waiting to hear a page flip, so they could tell me I needed to put the book down and go to bed—it was one in the morning, and it was a school night! I used to read under my blankets at night so no one could see what I was doing. Who needs a flashlight to read under the covers when you know Braille?
 
At the end of three months, I had read 2,081 pages! I received a phone call telling me I had won first place in my category, and that I would be receiving seventy-five dollars! Of course, I was asked what I would use that money for. I remember proudly telling everyone I was going to buy myself a Braille watch so that I could learn to tell time, and then I would get myself a talking watch.
 
I can't tell you exactly when I discovered that Braille watches are awesome! They are elegant, quiet, and a must-have for the blind professional or parent. Really, they are a must-have for everyone.
 
My love for books and reading grew as I grew. Today I mostly consume audiobooks, but that is because I haven't found a way to read Braille while I do the dishes, sort laundry, and cook. When I can, I love to curl up around my Braille display, or with a hardcopy Braille book if I am truly lucky. I love to read to my kids. I love to follow along with them as they read aloud to me. I easily read 150 books a year!
 
Earlier this summer I was asked if I would be interested in being the project lead for the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest. I said yes with no hesitation. Why wouldn't I want to promote this amazing contest and nurture the competitive spirit of blind kids and adults across the country? Best of all, I feel like I've come full circle. Once I was a contest participant. Now I have the pleasure of coordinating and helping organize the contest that strengthened my love of reading. Here is a chance for me actively to promote literacy for blind children. And who knows? Maybe thirty-five years from now, someone who won their level as a spunky seven-year-old kid will be taking charge of the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. That idea makes me smile!

If that idea makes you smile, too, I hope you will consider doing your part in shaping the lives of our future blind leaders. You can do so by promoting the contest to parents, teachers, and Braille readers at all levels. Information about the 2024 contest will be posted in December 2023 at actionfund.org, or you can learn more by calling 410-659-9315. Remember, Braille readers are leaders!

Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest Builds Opportunities

The Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest is a remarkable initiative that aims to motivate and engage blind and low-vision individuals to read Braille regularly and frequently. By fostering a love of reading, this annual contest empowers participants and equips them with essential literacy skills for a successful future. The contest, which runs each winter, has garnered immense praise from participants, parents, and educators alike.

By encouraging blind and low-vision individuals to read Braille regularly, the contest promotes the development of sustainable literacy skills. A proud parent shared their child's remarkable achievement, stating, "My child recently read thousands of pages as part of the American Action Fund's Braille Readers Are Leaders nationwide Braille reading contest ... Not only did they place first in the K-1 category, but they also read more pages than any finalist in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th grades. Because of your Braille Literacy Programs, my child will have the sustainable literacy skills needed for a successful future."

Recognition and Rewards

To further encourage participation and celebrate the accomplishments of blind and low-vision individuals, the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest offers a variety of incentives. Participants can compete for prizes such as T-shirts and twenty-five-dollar gift certificates. These rewards serve as tangible symbols of recognition, inspiring individuals to push their boundaries and excel in their reading endeavors. The Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest continues to inspire and motivate, ensuring that Braille readers truly become phenomenal leaders.

Bring Opportunity by Giving to the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults

Contribute online to the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults by visiting our homepage, https://actionfund.org.

You also can support the American Action Fund by calling 410-659-9315. You can send a check made out to “American Action Fund” to 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230.

There Is Another Way You Can Help—Join Our Legacy Society

Often the simplest and most significant way to make a charitable contribution is to plan a legacy gift. It is easier than you think. You can plan to give all or part of a bank account, insurance proceeds, investment assets, real estate, or a retirement account. You can even give a required minimum distribution from your IRA directly to charity and avoid taxes on the distribution. You can bequeath a specific dollar amount or percentage of your estate, after taking care of your loved ones, to an organization whose mission is important to you. Your bequest carries with it the values and ideals that have been important to you throughout your lifetime and supports an organization whose mission you hold dear. In addition, planning for a legacy gift may reduce the total amount of your taxable estate, which can positively impact any funds you have designated for your heirs.

The American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults Legacy Society honors and recognizes the generosity and vision of special friends who have chosen to leave a legacy through a will or other planned giving option.

If you wish to give part or all of an account, simply fill out a P.O.D. (payable on death) or T.O.D. (transfer on death) form. For pensions and insurance assets, simply designate a charity as a beneficiary. If you would like to leave a legacy to the Action Fund in your will, please include the following language:
 
"I give, devise, and bequeath unto the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, 1800 Johnson Street, Suite 100, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, a Maryland nonprofit corporation, the sum of $______________ (or) _________ percent of my net estate" or "the following stocks and bonds: ____________________, to be used for its worthy purposes on behalf of blind persons."

If you have questions or would like more information, please reach out to Patti Chang at 410-659-9315. If you have included the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults in your will or have made some other provision for a future gift to us and would like to tell us about it, please contact Patti so we can recognize you as a member of our Legacy Society.

Legacy gifts provide for generations of blind children and adults. Please consider the American Action Fund in your future.

Announcements

STEM Resources

NFB EQ: STEM Learning Toolkits for Parents and Teachers of Blind Children

https://nfb.org/programs-services/education/national-center-blind-youth-science/nfb-eq/nfb-eq-teachers

The National Federation of the Blind understands that, with the proper tools, environment, and encouragement, blind people can participate equally in any career field they choose. As a parent or teacher, you want to support your child or student in participating actively in all areas of their education, including science and math. The STEM Learning Toolkits for parents and teachers of blind children were designed to support you in guiding for success in STEM and much more.  

STEM Discussion

Contact: Louis Maher, 713-444-7838
[email protected]
Date: February 25, 2024, 8:00 p.m. Eastern

The Science and Engineering Division of the National Federation of the Blind and the National Association of Blind Students (NABS) will present a joint Zoom conference on how blind professionals and blind college and graduate students are succeeding in work and courses related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Topics will be of interest to blind students in middle school, high school, college, and graduate school. Parents and professionals are welcome to attend. Portions of the presentation will discuss how to succeed in a laboratory setting.

Braille

Braille Transcribing Certification

https://nfb.org/programs-services/braille-certification
Contact: [email protected]

The National Federation of the Blind offers courses in literary, music, and mathematics transcribing, as well as literary and mathematics proofreading for Library of Congress certification. NFB is pleased to have been awarded a contract from the Library of Congress, National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) to conduct the courses leading to Library of Congress certification. The literary Braille transcribing certificate qualifies the recipient to transcribe general literary materials and is a prerequisite for other transcribing and proofreading courses. Courses are provided without cost and may be taken through correspondence or through local classes.

Braille Music Transcription

https://www.loc.gov/nls/services-and-resources/music-service-and-materials/circular-no-4-braille-music-transcribers/

Need Braille music scores for piano lessons, band practice, or school orchestra? The National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) maintains a list of certified Braille music transcribers who are willing to transcribe music materials for individuals. All arrangements for transcribing, including financial, must be made between the transcriber and the Braille reader.

Survey

Educational Technology Survey

https://nfb.org/legal/surveys

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 the Education Technology Survey once a semester and contribute to this important research.

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