Future Reflections Convention 1999, Vol. 18 No. 4


NFB Confirms What Her Students Know:

Debbie Baker Has It

by Don Baker

fr99cv50.jpg (20841 bytes)
Debbie Baker (right) receives her award at the
1999 NFB convention from Sharon Maneki,
Chairman of the Distinguished Educator of
Blind Children Award committee.


Editor’s Note: The following article was first published in the August 9, 1999 edition of the Springfield News, then later reprinted in the 1999 Fall issue of the Buckeye Bulletin, the newsletter of the NFB of Ohio.

Debra Baker was the 1999 recipient of the Federation’s Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award. Debra Baker sees the world around her through touch, smell, and sound, having been born without the blessing of sight. But she doesn’t let blindness stand in the way of doing what she enjoys most—reading a story to her elementary school students. "I like reading stories aloud to them," Baker said. "That’s my favorite thing because I ham it up and use voices and really have a good time with them." She also refuses to let blindness stand in the way of educating students with vision impairments. She has served as a special education teacher in the Springfield City School district for twenty-two years.Baker’s efforts to teach local students with impaired vision earned her national attention this summer when she was named 1999 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children by the National Federation of the Blind.It’s exciting when you receive an award from your peers who are blind," Baker said. "It’s really meaningful."A miniature chalk board declaring "Miss Baker’s Class" is framed by rulers and hangs on the door to her classroom at Kenwood Heights Elementary School, where she taught twelve children last school year. "I serve all grade levels," Baker said, while sitting on a small chair in her classroom." "It’s kind of like being back in a one-room school house."And just like in the days of one-room schools, Baker teaches her students more than just reading and writing. She is using her experience as a blind person to benefit her students. "I think I can give them insight on what to expect," she said. "There are certain aspects and techniques of daily living (taught),…such as how to pick up dropped objects." By teaching her students for more than one year, and by introducing them to many of the personal tasks they will need to master to get along in a seeing society, Baker forms a close bond with her students. "I’ve had some of my students from kindergarten through sixth grade," she said. "You do feel like the second mother. When they were young, we would have slumber parties and take them to sit-down restaurants."A native of Columbus, Baker walks to school each morning with her chocolate-colored Labrador named Cathy leading the way, an example of how she has learned to live with blindness. But her students still have a lot to learn.Tasks aren’t always made easy for blind people simply by making minor changes, such as Braille keypads on automatic teller machines at banks. "The Braille is always on the driver’s side," Baker said, throwing arms up in disgust. "What do they expect, us to play Chinese fire drill with it and jump out of the car and run around to the driver’s side?"Using a computer also takes some getting used to for blind students, who have to use voice-recognition software instead of a mouse. Baker said the mouse on the computer is useless for the blind. "You guys are definitely mouse-dependent," she said laughing. "I’d like to trap that little thing and kill it."Baker’s efforts to teach the blind are desperately needed and appreciated in the blind community, said Sharon Maneki, chair of the NFB selection committee for this award."Fewer than 10 percent of blind students today can read Braille," Maneki said. "Baker is a life-long Braille user and strong advocate for teaching blind kids to be independent and self-confident. We are proud to salute an educator who is truly making a difference. We could use her in every community in the nation."Baker also is active with the NFB to help develop legislation protecting the blind. The latest push is the legislation requiring home appliances to feature Braille controls. "We don’t want to be so totally behind that we’re going to be left out of the mainstream of being able to buy appliances," she said.The Distinguished Educator Award came with a $500 prize and an expense-paid trip to the NFB convention in Atlanta. The NFB is the oldest and largest organization of blind Americans, and its members believe that blindness can be reduced to a level of a nuisance if blind people are taught the skills they need and are given an opportunity to demonstrate their capacity to succeed.

Debbie Baker (right) receives her award at the 1999 NFB convention from Sharon Maneki, Chairman of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award committee.