Future Reflections                                                                                       Convention, 2002

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Families Learn Techniques at School
for Blind Sessions

by Darla Carter

Reprinted from The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, Thursday, July 4, 2002.

Kids play tug-of-war at the NOPB sponsored event at the 2002 convention.

Despite sweltering July temperatures, the outdoor games organized by Debbie Bacon of California, were a popular activity at the NOPBC-sponsored family event at the 2002 convention. Kids played tug of war (above), ran races, and generally had a grand time.


Editor’s Note: The following article (with one exception) is an excellent summary of the afternoon program of the annual parents’ seminar sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) at the 2002 NFB Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. The theme of the seminar was The Serious Work of Play. The program began at the Galt House Hotel with a general session for parents and a Braille Carnival for the kids (sighted siblings, too). At noon, families were bused to the nearby campus of the Kentucky School for the Blind for lunch and a full afternoon of activities—as described below—for the entire family.

Unfortunately, The Courier-Journal article failed to mention the key role played by the Louisville-based Visually Impaired Preschool Services (VIPS). The VIPS staff organized and conducted wonderfully creative, interactive play-stations for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers for that afternoon. The Treasure Hunt, the Peek-a-Boo House, the Obstacle Course, the Book Nook, and five other play-stations showed parents how easy it is to stimulate development through play. Ultimately, that was the lesson of the entire day: Play—in all its forms—is as vital to the growth and well-being of blind children as it is to those with sight. Please see the photo report, “VIPS Play Stations Combine Learning, Fun at 2002 NFB Convention,” and reprints of two hand-outs distributed by VIPS at this event—“Recipes For Fun” and “Common Visual Impairments in Young Children”—elsewhere in this issue.

Here now is the Courier-Journal article:

In a dimly lit room of the Kentucky School for the Blind, Elaine Weisberg stroked a baby doll’s back while a small group of mothers followed along with their own children. The 20-minute session was designed to teach parents of blind or visually impaired children how to relax their children and give them a sense of body awareness, while also relaxing the adults. “It’s really a positive thing for parent and child,” said Weisberg, a certified infant massage instructor in Louisville.

The message session was among several activities at the eastern Louisville school yesterday by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, the parents division of the National Federation of the Blind which is holding its annual convention in Louisville.

The convention, which began yesterday and continues through Tuesday, is expected to attract more than 3,000 people to the city. Though most of the convention is at the Galt House, about 200 parents and their children were invited yesterday to the school for an afternoon of activities designed to educate.

“It’s important that these kids…get a good start and that their parents know what’s available for them,” said Cathy Jackson, president of the Kentucky affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind. The event also was a bonding experience for families of blind children. Parents are sometimes isolated and grappling with other health problems the children have.

“It’s hard having a child with different things that if you haven’t experienced it yourself you don’t know what to do,” said Pearl Klein of Louisville, whose son, Tomas, 3, is blind, deaf and has spina bifida. “The best people to talk to are other parents.” Mary Jo Wells of Coshocton County, Ohio, agreed, noting that being able to gather with other parents made her feel less alone.

Both Klein and Wells were among participants in the massage class. Wells, whose son, Adam, 7, has been blind since birth, wanted to find ways to calm him down, while Klein wanted to make her son more comfortable with touch.

Other activities included origami paper art, adaptive physical education techniques, teaching blind children how to cook, a tug of war and sack races.

Many of the sessions were run by blind people such as Barbara Pierce, director of education for the National Federation of the Blind and a mother of three, who taught a class for teen-agers on how to cook.

Without mentors or role models, “they really don’t know what they can be or what they can do,” said Barbara Cheadle, president of the parents group.

Students in the class learned how to make Mexican bean dip and brownies by relying on senses besides sight, such as touch and hearing to aid in cooking. Pierce said it’s important for blind children to learn how to cook because it’s something they’ll need all their lives, and they can share it with their friends. Amy Herstein, 14, of Ellicott City, Maryland, said the class was “extremely helpful” because she loves to cook and learned a lot of great tips. But “most importantly, we got a taste test,” she said before taking a bite of brownie. “Oh, delicious,” she said.

Another student, Valerie Gibson, 15, of Memphis, said she thought the class was fun. At home, she uses a toaster oven to cook pizza and other foods. Her mother affixed Braille labels to the timer so that Valerie can tell how many minutes to set the oven for. It’s one of the many activities she does that makes her feel like any other child, she said, “Most of my friends kind of forget (I’m blind),” she said.

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