Future Reflections

The National Federation of the Blind
Magazine for Parents and Teachers of Blind Children

ISSN 0883-3419

Vol. 22, No. 1           Barbara Cheadle, editor          Convention Report 2002


The big surprise at the 2002 Convention was the unveiling of the new NFB logo—Whozit. Whozit is a stylized representation of a person striding with determination, leading the way with a cane that represents freedom and advancement. Pictured above is a tactile replica of Whozit—one of thousands that were passed out at the convention. When printed in full color, Whozit is a combination of gold, red, blue, gray, and purple. The cover of Future Reflections was redesigned to harmonize with the dynamic image conveyed by Whozit. The blue is the same blue used in the color version of the logo; and the three figures—representing a blind child and his or her family—are created from the Whozit design elements. The figures are also a graphic depiction of the magazine’s name: children will reflect our values and our expectations; what we believe about blindness and what we do about it in the raising and educating of our blind children does matter.

National Office

1800 Johnson Street

Baltimore, Maryland 21230

Web site address: http://www.nfb.org

E-mail: [email protected]

Future Reflections

The National Federation of the Blind
Magazine for Parents and Teachers of Blind Children

1800 Johnson Street   [   Baltimore, Maryland 21230

410-659-9314   [   www.nfb.org   [    [email protected]

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Vol. 22, No. 1                                                                       Convention Report 2002

2003 NFB National Convention

Schedule of NOPBC-Sponsored Events for Parents, Teachers, and Youth at the 2003 NFB Convention

by Barbara Cheadle, President

NOPBC 2003 Activities Preregistration

UPS Delivers More Than Parcels! Braille Readers Are Leaders Celebrates 20th Anniversary

by Sandy Halverson     

NFB Hosts Public Release of Touch the Universe: A NASA Braille Book of Astronomy

by Barbara Cheadle

Touch the Universe: A Review

by Carol Castellano

2003 Update on the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act (IMAA)

Families Learn Techniques at School for Blind Sessions

by Darla Carter

VIPS Play Stations at 2002 Convention Combine Learning, Fun

Recipes for Fun

Common Visual Impairments in Young Children

Another Way of Seeing

by Deborah Kent Stein

Me and My PE Teacher

by Melissa Williamson

The Lilli Nielsen FIELA Curriculum in Action: The Skylands School Experience

by Cathy Bailey, OT; Rosemarie Lakawicz, PT; Toni Vidro, Head Teacher; and Linda Zani Thomas, Parent

Fit for Life

by Jennifer Butcher

Everyone Has a Cane, Just Like Me!

by Nalida E. L. Besson

A Teacher’s Perspective on the 2002 NFB Convention

A letter to the Editor by Debbie Hartz

Blind Kids Play, Too

by Elizabeth Jacobson, John Pastorius, and Amy Herstein

Missouri Teacher Receives Distinguished Educator Award

My Days Are Full

by Michael Taboada


A poem by Ryan Weatherbee

If You Love Your Children, Send Them on a Journey

by Robin Barnes and Pamela Houston

Can Blind People be Astronomers?

by Bernhard Beck-Winchatz

The NFB 2002 Scholarship Class

NFB Camp: Childcare at the 2003 Convention

For more information about blindness and children contact

National Organization of Parents of Blind Children

1800 Johnson Street

Baltimore, MD 21230

410-659-9314 ext. 360

www.nfb.org/nopbc.htm    [   [email protected]   [   [email protected]

Copyright © 2003 National Federation of the Blind



2003 NFB National Convention



The 2003 convention will be the largest meeting of the blind to be held anywhere in the world in the year 2003. The Convention is the supreme authority and policy-making body of the National Federation of the Blind and voice of the nation’s blind.

PLACE: The Galt House Hotel, Louisville, Kentucky

DATES: June 28 through July 4, 2003

Pre-convention seminars for parents and others—June 28, 2003

Division and national committee meetings—June 29-30, 2003

Plenary sessions—July 1 through 4, 2003


Plenary sessions will be held in the Grand Ballroom located on the second floor of the East Tower of the Galt House Hotel beginning on Tuesday, July 1, and continuing through Friday, July 4. During these sessions, all attendees assemble in state delegations much like a political convention.



NFB conventions give government representatives, agency administrators, and leaders in politics, business, and industry the opportunity to address and respond to a large nationwide audience primarily of individuals who are blind or visually impaired. The topics of interest include: relevant civil rights issues; current issues and trends in the education of blind children; rehabilitation of the blind for competitive employment; specialized library services for the blind; advancements in technology; and other timely topics.



The convention includes a large, well-attended banquet to be held in the Grand Ballroom at the Galt House Hotel beginning at 7:00 p.m., Thursday, July 3rd. The program for the evening will feature an address by NFB President, Marc Maurer. The banquet program will also include the presentation of over $100,000 in scholarships to thirty outstanding blind students. Banquet tickets may be purchased at convention registration.



The registration fee is $15, and registration will open Sunday, June 29, at 9:00 a.m. Please note that the various NFB divisions and committees may charge additional fees for the seminars, workshops, receptions, and other related activities which they sponsor before and after the convention plenary sessions. These workshop or seminar fees should not to be confused with the convention registration fee.

AGENDAS: Convention agendas are available when you register for the convention. Agendas are available in Braille, cassette tape, disk, and large print. Pre-convention agendas for the Saturday, June 28, events will be available on the NFB Web site and in print and Braille at the NFB Information Table in the Galt House hotel lobby.



Special room rates for those who attend and register for the 2003 National Federation of the Blind convention are as follows: singles, twins, and doubles, $57.00 a night; triples and quads, $63.00 a night. All quoted rates are subject to a tax, which at present is 12.36 percent. A deposit of $60 is required when you make your reservation. To make room reservations contact the Galt House Hotel at (502) 589-5200 and tell them you are with the NFB convention. The address of the Galt House Hotel is 140 N. Fourth Street, Louisville, Kentucky 40202.



During convention week children between the ages of six weeks and twelve years are invited to join in the fun and festivities of NFB Camp. NFB Camp offers more than just childcare; it is an opportunity for blind and sighted children to meet and develop lifelong friendships. The camp schedule is filled with games, crafts, and special performances designed to entertain, educate, and delight. Pre-registration is required. For more information about fees, hours, etc. contact Carla McQuillan, NFB Camp Coordinator, 5005 Main Street, Springfield, Oregon 97478. Telephone (541) 726-6924.



For additional information about meetings, schedule, hotel, etc., contact the National Federation of the Blind National Office at 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, telephone (410) 659-9314. Information is also available on the NFB Web site at <www.nfb.org>.

[PHOTO—Budney family]

The exhibit hall is a popular convention attraction. The Budney family from Michigan—Brian, Cindy, and daughter Rebecca—take a break from their perusal of the 2002 exhibits to pose for the NFB photographer.

[PHOTO—Zach Erickson]

Face painting is one of the more popular booths at the convention’s Braille Carnival. At the 2002 Braille Carnival, Zack Erickson of Georgia tries to hold still while Jennifer Smith paints on his name in Braille dots.

[PHOTO—Marc Maurer]

Dr. Marc Maurer presides at the NFB Convention behind a podium bearing the new NFB logo, Whozit.

[PHOTO—Crystal McClain]

Crystal McClain of Ohio looks on while daughter, Macy, examines a tactile illustration at the Technology in the Classroom workshop conducted by Bruce McClanahan and Debbie Hartz.

[PHOTO—Venona Thomas]

Venona Thomas, President of the NFB of Alaska, give the report for her delegation during the 2002 roll call of states.

Schedule of NOPBC–Sponsored Events for Parents, Teachers, and Youth at the
2003 NFB Convention

by Barbara Cheadle, President

Every year brings wonderful new opportunities for learning, networking, and having fun at the NFB Convention! 2003 will be no exception. The following is a brief description and schedule of the convention activities that will be sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Please remember that the NOPBC events represent only a very small portion of the total convention activities. More details about the convention are available elsewhere in this issue.

NOPBC Activities Fees:

*$5 Discount for Preregistration

$10 one adult (no children)

$15 one adult plus children

$25 two adults plus children

If you preregister and mail payment by June 1, 2003, you may take $5 off your fee. The fee includes NOPBC membership; lunch for your family on Saturday, June 28; and all the NOPBC sponsored activities described in this schedule of events. It DOES NOT include NFB convention registration, which is $15 per person (adult or child), or NFB Camp (childcare) fees.


Saturday, June 28

On Saturday, June 28, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) kicks-off the convention with a full day of activities for the entire family. The day’s events (all of which take place in the Galt House Hotel) include:

·        An all-day seminar for parents and teachers

·        A Braille Carnival for children age four and up

·        Small group lunches hosted by NOPBC leaders in the East Tower Suites

·        Workshops and programs for children and youth ages eight and up

·        Family Hospitality

·        Touch the Universe—Astronomy is for Everyone

An all-day seminar for parents and teachers

·        8:00 a.m. Registration

·        9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Program

The theme for the June 28, 2003, NOPBC seminar is Transition to Independence. From infancy to young adulthood, children go through many transitions; some of which are developmental—the “terrible twos,” puberty—and some cultural—the transition from preschool to kindergarten, the move from elementary school to middle school, high school graduation. Transitions, in this sense, are biological or cultural points at which children take a leap forward in maturity, autonomy, self-realization, and independence. Naturally, these transition points are junctures of great opportunities and great peril for children. In this seminar we will explore the elements that make it possible for blind children and youth to navigate these transitions successfully. Our program will feature a mix of blind adults, teachers, parents, and blind youth who will share experiences and provide practical suggestions. Whatever the age—zero to twenty-one—of your child or student, there will be lots of good information and inspiration for you at this seminar. Registration begins at 8:00 a.m. The seminar begins at 9:00 a.m. with a short program for the entire family. The program breaks at 9:45 a.m. to allow time for parents to take their children to the Braille Carnival, NFB Camp, or other youth workshops, and then resumes at 10:30 a.m. and continues until the lunch break at noon. The afternoon program resumes at 2:00 p.m. and adjourns at 5:00 p.m.


Braille Carnival

·        10:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. 

This popular activity, coordinated by Melody Lindsey of Michigan, is for children, sighted or blind, ages four and up. Volunteer Carnival Buddies, under the direction of educator Robin House, are available to supervise the kids for two hours of games, crafts, and other fun Braille-related activities. The carnival booths are sponsored by NFB affiliates and other organizations that come to participate in the convention. The volunteer carnival buddies are recruited from within the NFB membership.


Small group lunches

·        Noon – 1:45 p.m.

This year, NOPBC is sponsoring small lunch groups in the East Tower Hotel Suites. At registration your family (including kids not registered for NFB Camp) will be assigned a room to go to for a casual lunch with other families from your state or region of the country. Your host or hostess will be a NOPBC board member, state president, or other leader in the organization. NOPBC will provide sandwich buffet and drinks in each room.



The workshops described below are just that, workshops; they are not childcare services. NOPBC does not sponsor childcare services at the convention. The childcare service at the convention—NFB Camp—is provided by the National Federation of the Blind through the volunteer efforts of Carla McQuillan. The NFB Camp is open all-day (including lunch) on Saturday, June 28, for eligible children. For more information about fees, hours, etc. contact Carla McQuillan, NFB Camp Coordinator, 5005 Main Street, Springfield, Oregon 97478. Telephone: (541) 726-6924.



Because we want this day to be a learning experience for the entire family, NOPBC is also offering some great activities and workshops for older children and youth, including sighted siblings, on Saturday, June 28. Although the plans for the activities and workshops are not fully finalized as we go to press, here is what we currently plan to offer:

Babysitting Clinic (ages 12 – 18)

            Learn skills and techniques in managing and caring for children. Certificate awarded. Workshop leader: Carla McQuillan, NFB Camp Director and owner/operator of Children’s Choice Montessori School, Portland, Oregon.

Note Taking with an Electronic Notetaker (blind youth ages 14 – 18)

            There’s more to taking good notes than you think. This workshop combines instruction and tips on taking notes in class with a Q&A session about electronic notetakers. You must bring your own electronic notetaker. Slate users also welcome—bring your own slates. Workshop Leader: Ann Taylor, blind adaptive technology expert, International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind.

Braille Is Beautiful…and Fun for Everyone! (ages 8 – 11)

            Blind or sighted, competent Braille user or novice, this workshop will increase your knowledge and skills in Braille. You’ll do fun activities from the Braille Is Beautiful Curriculum Program, work in small groups, make tactile books for blind babies, and work on other Braille service projects. Workshop Leader: Angela Wolf, President of the National Association of Blind Students (NABS).

I Want to be a Writer (ages 13 – 16)

            Think you’d like to be a writer? Bring your writing tools, creativity, and enthusiasm with you to this workshop conducted by successful blind writers, educators, and authors. Workshop Leaders: Robin House, Sheila Koenig, and children’s author Deborah Kent-Stein.

Exploring Careers in Blindness (ages 16 – 18)

            Ever wonder what it would be like to teach cane travel to blind people? Ever considered being a rehabilitation counselor or a teacher of blind kids? Competitions, prizes, and the hands-on activities in this workshop makes exploring careers in blindness fun and interesting. Workshop Leader: Anil Lewis, rehabilitation job specialist and blind leader of the NFB of Georgia.

Teen Discussion Groups (blind teens ages 13 – 18)

Two groups, one for teen men and one for teen women. Engage in guided discussions about dating, grooming, making friends, being comfortable in social situations, relationships with parents, and other topics of importance to teens.

Touch the Universe—Astronomy is for Everyone (Time to be announced)

How can blind people learn about astronomy and the universe? Noreen Grice, author of the NASA book, Touch the Universe: A NASA Braille Book of Astronomy; and Dr. Bernhard Beck-Winchatz, Assistant Professor of Astronomy, NASA Space Science Center for Education and Outreach at DePaul University, will help kids and adults discover the answers to those questions during this program sometime Saturday. Mark Riccobono, Director of the Wisconsin School for the Blind will help coordinate and moderate the program. At this program, parents will be able to see and purchase the Touch the Universe book.

At the conclusion of the workshops scheduled during the day, the leaders will bring the kids to the seminar room to join the parents and other adults for a final session. Together, we will hear from the youth leaders and the kids themselves, what they did and what they learned in their workshops.

NOPBC Family Hospitality

·        7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.

Relax and chat in an informal atmosphere with other parents, teachers, and blind adults while your kids roam and play around the tables. There will be some door prizes and a few mixer games, but mostly this will be an unstructured evening where you can network with others. While parents will be responsible for the supervision of their children at hospitality, NOPBC will provide toys, books, and/or a play station to help keep your little ones happy and occupied while you talk.


Sunday, June 29

·        9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Cane Walk: This workshop will begin with a brief discussion of why the NFB promotes the use of the long cane with the metal tip, early use of the cane, and the value of blind instructors. It will conclude with an overview of the difference between the discovery method and traditional O&M instruction. After the introduction, parents, teachers, and kids will be issued a cane and sleep shades (blindfolds), and then teamed with a volunteer instructor for a “cane walk” through the hotel. Volunteer instructors are recruited from current and former students of the Louisiana Tech/Louisiana Center for the Blind O&M program as well as other experienced volunteers at the convention. A special session will be held for parents of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.

Teen Get-Acquainted Party

·        1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. 

Sponsored jointly by NOPBC and Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM). All teens are invited to drop-in anytime at this room for games and music, or just to hangout with other teens. Supervised at all times by BISM counselors.


Monday, June 30

·        1:00 – 3:30 p.m.

Parent Power: NOPBC Annual Meeting. Keynote address by the 2003 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children, roll call of POBC affiliates, updates on educational issues, committee reports, and elections.

20th Anniversary Reception and Reunion
in Honor of the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest

5:00 – 7:00 p.m.

Funded by a UPS grant and

co-sponsored by the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children

Come and help celebrate twenty years of promoting Braille through the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest!  There will be lots of FREE food, wonderful displays, great fellowship, a Braille book flea market/exchange, and a brief but inspiring program at 6:30 p.m. reviewing the accomplishments of the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. Donations from the Braille book flea market will be used to establish a permanent Braille Readers Are Leaders Reunion and Mentorship fund. Immediately following the program, NAPUB will conduct their annual program, at which a formal Braille Readers Are Leaders Mentors group will be established. Bring the whole family. Stay for the NAPUB meeting. All Braille enthusiasts are invited, but former contestants and winners are extended a special invitation. About 15 scholarships are available for current and former contest participants to attend the celebration. For more information, see the article on page 11 [UPS Delivers More Than Parcels!] in this issue.


Tuesday, July 1

·        7:00 – 10:00 p.m.

IEP’s, Transition Plans, Rehabilitation Services, and IDEA. A workshop about the educational rights of blind and visually impaired students with a special emphasis on transition issues. When does transition begin? What is a good transition plan for blind youth? What is the role of state rehabilitation services while kids are still in school?


Wednesday, July 2

The following workshops will take place the afternoon of Wednesday, July 2, sometime between 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. Some of the workshops will repeat, some will be drop-in sessions, and the Beginning Braille workshop will be an intensive two- to three-hour session.

·        Braille for the Partially Sighted: Methods and Techniques

·        Beginning Braille for Parents

·        Kids and Canes: WHEN (should a child get one)? WHO (should teach it)? WHAT (type of cane should a child get)? HOW (long should the cane be)?  HOW MUCH (instruction is enough)? WHAT ABOUT (sleep shades, folding canes, cane tips, partially sighted kids, etc.)?

·        It Takes More Than A Good IEP: Creative Ways to Improve Your Child’s Educational Services

NOPBC 2003 Activities Preregistration

Mail to:

Sandy Taboada

NOPBC Preregistration

6920 South Fieldgate Court

Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70808-5455

E-mail: [email protected]

Fees: $10, one adult, no children; $15 one adult, children;
$25, two adults, children

Adult Name(s). Please include first and last name of each adult and indicate if the adult is a parent, grandparent, blind parent, teacher, other relative, etc.




City, State, ZIP____________________________

Telephone (     )____________________________

E-mail ___________________________________

Fee enclosed (make checks payable to NOPBC)  $___________


Will you be bringing children? [ ] Yes   [ ] No   [ ] Undecided

If yes or undecided, please list names and birth dates of child(ren); reading mode (Braille, print, large print, non-reader); and brief description of characteristics of which workshop volunteers should be aware. Examples: Mild autism; wears hearing aid; has ADHD; shy— doesn’t talk to strangers.

Finally, check the workshops your child may be interested in attending. Please note the age restrictions. The lower limit on the Braille Carnival is firm. The age limits on the other workshops may go up or down by a year or two depending on circumstances. Youngsters over eighteen who are still in high school may also participate in the appropriate workshops. Please copy this form or add a sheet of paper if you need space to register more children.


1. Name & birth date_____________________ Reading mode________________________ Characteristics________________________

Please preregister my child for:

__Braille Carnival (4-up)                      10:00 – 12:30 p.m.

__Note Taking (blind, 14-18)               10:30 – 12:00 p.m.

__Baby-sitting Clinic (12-18)                11:30/12:00 – 4:30 p.m. (includes lunch)

__I Want to be a Writer (13-16)          2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

__Braille Is Beautiful (8-11)               2:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

__Exploring Careers in Blindness (16-18)         2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

__Teen Discussion Groups (blind, 13-18) 8:00 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

__Touch the Universe                           Times to be announced

2. Name & birth date_____________________ Reading mode________________________ Characteristics________________________

Please preregister my child for:

__Braille Carnival (4-up)                      10:00 – 12:30 p.m.

__Note Taking (blind, 14-18)               10:30 – 12:00 p.m.

__Baby-sitting Clinic (12-18)                11:30/12:00 – 4:30 p.m. (includes lunch)

__I Want to be a Writer (13-16)          2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

__Braille Is Beautiful (8-11)               2:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

__Exploring Careers in Blindness (16-18)         2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

__Teen Discussion Groups (blind, 13-18) 8:00 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

__Touch the Universe (9/up)                 Times to be announced

Please copy this form or add a sheet of paper if you need to register more children

UPS Delivers More Than Parcels!

Braille Readers Are Leaders Celebrates 20th Anniversary

Monday, June 30, 2003
5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

by Sandy Halverson

Every year, we say our upcoming national convention is going to be better than our last one. There is always something new to surprise and delight us. This year is no exception. We are pleased to announce that at the 2003 NFB Convention, on Monday, June 30, we will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the NFB Braille Readers are Leaders Contest. 

For twenty years the Braille Readers are Leaders Contest, co-sponsored by the  National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB), has strengthened literacy, increased Braille reading speeds, and brought the joy of reading Braille to over a thousand blind children nationwide.

To mark the accomplishments of these twenty years, NOPBC and NAPUB have planned a reception at the Galt House on Monday, June 30, between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. There will be enough free food and beverages to assuage any appetite, a Braille book flea market (more about that later), displays, and a brief, but lively, program from 6:30 to 7:00 p.m. Although anyone who attends the 2003 convention is welcome to attend the reception, a very special invitation is extended to contest participants (past and present) and their families.

So, where does UPS fit into this? Over the past several years, UPS has partnered with the NFB to promote Braille literacy and other access to information programs, such as NFB-NEWSLINE®. UPS has also provided many courteous volunteers at our national conventions who know how to give appropriate assistance and directions.

Now, the UPS Foundation has provided the NFB with a Braille Readers Are Leaders expansion grant. These funds will allow us to make the anniversary event the beginning of many annual reunions, and it will also fund some innovative new elements (such as a mentorship program) to the Braille Readers Are Leaders program. However, once we have these programs off the ground, it is our task to fund them and keep them going. And that’s where the Braille book flea market comes in!

The Braille book flea market is your opportunity to share those loved but no longer read Braille books with others, and, for a small donation, to find new treasures as you browse tables of Braille reading matter at the anniversary reception on Monday, June 30. Donations generated by this project will help us fund future Braille Readers Are Leaders reunions and activities. So start gathering those Braille books and if you don’t want to pack them in your luggage, please contact me (Sandy Halverson, see below) for information about where you can ship them in advance.

Finally, the UPS grant makes it possible for us to offer travel and lodging stipends to the anniversary event to a limited number of former Braille Readers Are Leaders contest participants. Priority for consideration for stipends will go to those age 19 and older who are willing to be a Braille mentor to younger Braille readers and their families at the convention.

There is a country song with a phrase that goes something like this, “I was country when country wasn’t cool.” Twenty years ago when the Braille Reader’s Are Leaders Contest was inaugurated, Braille wasn’t cool. We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. Mark your convention calendars for June 30, and come help us celebrate our past successes, and an even brighter future for Braille literacy.

For more information about the Braille Readers Are Leaders anniversary celebration, the Braille book flea market, the mentorship program, and/or the travel stipends, please contact Sandy Halverson, President, Virginia Association to Promote the Use of Braille at (703) 379-1141 or [email protected]

[PHOTO—pathamon #668]

Family needed for a 7-year-old girl from Asia! The World Association for Children and Parents (WACAP) is seeking an adoptive family for Pathamon, an affectionate little girl who loves her trampoline! Pathamon was born blind and with hearing loss in both ears. In January 2002 she had surgery for her hearing, which is reported to have improved dramatically since the surgery. The caregivers at the orphanage are eager for her to have parents of her own. They care deeply about her and are concerned whether they can do everything possible to help her reach her full potential.

For more detailed information, please contact WACAP’s Family Finders Team at 206-575-4550 or <[email protected] >. WACAP will mail her photos, video and medical information upon request. Financial assistance is available for the adoption of this child.

NFB Hosts Public Release of Touch the Universe:
A NASA Braille Book of Astronomy

by Barbara Cheadle

[PHOTO—NASA Marc Maurer at podium]

NFB President Dr. Maurer welcomes guests and the media to the National Center for the Blind to celebrate NASA’s release of  Touch the Universe (poster on back wall depicts the book cover).

On November 21, 2002, the National Federation of the Blind hosted NASA’s public release of the much-anticipated sixty-four-page book, Touch the Universe: A NASA Braille Book of Astronomy. Some thirty blind students from five states (Maryland, Colorado, Michigan, New York, and Washington) attended the event. The students were delighted with the full-color, tactile, large print, and Braille embossed book of fourteen photographs taken by the Hubble Telescope. They were a little awed, too, to meet the book’s author, Noreen Grice, and other VIPs from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) who sponsored this special event. On the same day, another event marking the release of the book took place on the DePaul University campus in Chicago. Students from the Wisconsin School for the Blind and the school’s director, Mark Riccobono, joined Dr. Bernhard Beck-Winchatz to celebrate with him the completion of the project he had dreamed up.

In the vernacular of today’s youth, Touch the Universe—A NASA Braille Book of Astronomy is “awesome.” I highly recommend it for literate blind students of all ages. The well-written scientific content, incredible tactile images, crisp Braille, easy-to-read large print, and stunning color photographs combine to create a book that is as beautiful as it is informative. It truly belongs in the home of every blind student, and on the bookshelves of every library, school, or other institution that serves blind and visually impaired students.

Following are several photographs of the Baltimore event hosted at the National Center for the Blind (the national headquarters of the NFB), a press release describing the development of Touch the Universe, and a review of the book by Carol Castellano.

Here’s how you can order the book: Touch The Universe: A NASA Braille Book of Astronomy is available from National Academies Press for $35.00, plus $4.50 for shipping and handling for the first copy and $0.95 for each additional copy. The book can be ordered by mail or by Internet. To order online, go to <www.jhpress.org>. To order by mail, send your request, your mailing address, and check or money order made payable to National Academies Press, to National Academies Press, 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20055.


Several officials from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) took part in the event. Pictured from left to right are Mr. Courtney Stadd, NASA chief of staff and White House liaison; NFB President Marc Maurer; Dr. Edward Weiler, NASA associate administrator, Office of Space Science; and Dr. Kent Cullers, blind radio astronomer and director of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, R&D, SETI Institute. Other special guests at the event (not pictured) were Mr. Al Diaz, director of the Goddard Space Flight Center; Dr. David Leckron, Hubble Space Telescope senior scientist; Mr. Charles T. Horner III, assistant administrator, Office of Legislative Affairs (NASA); And Dr. Steven Beckwith, director of the Space Telescope Institute.

[PHOTO—NASA Terry G Paul C Ben W]

Ben Wentworth (right) science teacher at the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind, and (left to right) students Terry Garrett and Paul Clarke describe testing the prototype images created by Noreen Grice.

Touch the Universe Book Now Available—

Students who in the past have not been able to experience some of NASA’s spectacular discoveries now have a unique opportunity to touch the stars. Some of the most majestic space images from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope are now part of a special Braille book that combines tactile illustrations with striking images of planets, star clusters and nebulae, as viewed by Hubble.

The book, Touch the Universe: A NASA Braille Book of Astronomy, is the brainchild of Bernhard Beck-Winchatz, an astronomer and faculty member at DePaul University, Chicago. He undertook the project to allow visually impaired students the same opportunities as those who are sighted to engage themselves in space science.

Teaming up with astronomer and author Noreen Grice, Beck-Winchatz developed this much-needed space science resource book for the blind with a $10,000 Hubble Space Telescope grant for education programs.

In 1999, Grice published Touch The Stars, a book with touchable pictures based on drawings of constellations, comets, galaxies and other astronomical objects. “I was fascinated by Grice’s book,” recalled Beck-Winchatz. “I thought it would be intriguing to create similar tactile pictures based on real Hubble Space Telescope images, but I didn’t think this could possibly be a new idea. There are 10 million visually impaired people in the United States; it seemed outrageous that these resources would not be available before now.”

Grice, who is based in Boston, originally began experimenting with techniques to make astronomy more accessible for the visually impaired more than fifteen years ago after having observed a group of blind visitors at the Charles Hayden Planetarium in Boston. Ever since that experience, she has worked on ways to make science more accessible to the blind and other people with physical challenges.

To allow both blind and sighted readers to enjoy the Hubble images in

Touch the Universe, Grice developed clear tactile overlays for each image. The overlays were sent to Benning Wentworth, a science teacher and astronomy enthusiast at the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind in Colorado Springs. His students evaluated each image for clarity and provided important suggestions for needed changes.

“Based on the students’ comments, I was able to revise the images and make aluminum master plates,” said Grice. With the final plates, plastic overlays were produced in a heat vacuum, or thermoform, machine. The tactile thermoform pages, placed in front of the color HST images, make these images accessible to readers of all visual abilities.

The book is for middle school students, high school students, and adults alike and is expected to attract the attention of mainstream educators, a number of whom already use Grice’s first tactile book in science classes. Four hundred copies will be printed in the first run, and the book will sell for slightly above production cost so earnings can offset future updates and production of a second edition.

For Beck-Winchatz, helping to create such a valuable resource tool has been rewarding. “Scientists often live in ivory towers,” said Beck-Winchatz. “It is only through partnerships like this that we get to share what we are doing. However, educational endeavors like this one require money. The grants for education from NASA’s Office of Space Science allow us to branch out of pure science and use some of the results of research to affect the lives of the general public and, in this case, the blind and visually impaired.”


In the large conference room at the Center, students were able to examine copies of  Touch the Universe. Here Dr. Maurer and Amy Herstein of Maryland examine an illustration together.

[PHOTO—NASA Grice and Watson]

Noreen Grice signs a copy of her book for Jessica Watson of Maryland.

[PHOTO—NASA Kent C and boy]

Blind astronomer Kent Cullers explains some fine points of astronomy to Washington state student, Chris Micelli,, as they peruse the book together.

[PHOTO—NASA Walter and Karl A]

Karl Martin Adams of Michigan is clearly delighted as he inspects his copy of Touch the Universe. Dad, Walter, who is a scientist, seems just as pleased as Karl.

[PHOTO—Ann Taylor and students]

Ann Taylor (center), staff member of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC), demonstrates the Tactile Image Enhancer Junior to a group of students from the Maryland School for the Blind and the Baltimore City public school vision program. All guests at the day’s event were given the opportunity to tour the IBTC and the National Center for the Blind.

Touch the Universe: A Review

by Carol Castellano

Many parents and teachers of blind and visually impaired children have been excitedly awaiting publication of Touch the Universe: a NASA Braille Book of Astronomy, after receiving word of the gala publication event held at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore. This wonderful book is now available from The Joseph Henry Press in Washington, DC. 

Images of the planets, stars, and galaxies captured by astronomers with the Hubble Space Telescope form the core of the book. These gorgeous full-color images are also beautifully rendered in raised line form. Accompanying each illustration is a brief explanation in large print and Braille. Author Noreen Grice, an astronomy teacher and planetarium educator who also wrote the Touch the Stars books, writes in clear, simple terms easily understandable by children from third grade or so on up. Following each explanation is a brief guide to viewing the tactile image. Grice’s enthusiasm for astronomy and wonder at the universe is evident throughout the book. Wonderful astronomy terms like “local supercluster,” “gaseous nebulae,” and “globular cluster NGC” add to the fun.

The illustrations begin with the Hubble Space Telescope orbiting Earth and proceed farther and farther away from our home planet, all the way to the most distant reaches of the universe ever photographed. How exciting that there is now a way for blind children to get a glimpse of a world they ordinarily would not get to see. I tried the book out on three blind students, a fifth grader, an eighth grader, and a senior in high school. One of the kids almost refused to give it back to me! I am sure blind adults would also appreciate and enjoy the book.

If you’ve ever marveled at the size and complexity of the universe and if you’d like to awaken or nourish that wonder in your child, be sure to get this book. 

Disability Awareness Curriculum for Schools

Braille Is Beautiful is a disability awareness curriculum for sighted students in grades four and up. It is a fun program with workbooks for the kids, videos, tons of handouts, word games, exercises, and ideas for Braille service projects. It has everything a regular classroom teacher or youth leader needs to show sighted students how to read and write simple Braille letters and numbers. 

Schools, libraries, youth clubs, and community service organizations will want to know about this wonderful and fun educational program. For a short time you can order different Braille Is Beautiful packages of materials, videos, etc. at rates beginning as low as $25 (plus shipping and handling). To order, or to request more information, go to <www.nfb.org> and click on “Why Braille is Important,” or call the National Federation of the Blind at (410) 659-9314.

2003 Update on the
Instructional Materials Accessibility Act (IMAA)

[PHOTO—Jessie Kirchner]

Following a surprise visit from United States Secretary of

Education, Rod Paige, Jessie Kirchner, a blind high school student

from Guilford, Connecticut, gives a brief but eloquent statement at the

2002 convention describing the need for the IMAA.

No, the IMAA legislation did not pass in the 107th Congress. But, we are back again this year, stronger than ever! The following is a letter written by IMAA sponsors Thomas E. Petri ® of Wisconsin and George Miller (D) of California to their colleagues in the House of Representatives. Two days after the letter below was written, on January 29, Petri and Miller introduced H.R. 490, the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act (IMAA). As we go to press, the bill already has 42 cosponsors. It is crucial that you contact your representative and urge that he/she sign onto the bill as a cosponsor. The more cosponsors on the bill, the more likely it will get out of committee and go to the floor for a vote. We anticipate that by the time you get this issue Senator Christopher Dodd (D) of Connecticut will have introduced a companion bill in the Senate. For more information about the IMAA and what you can do to help, please contact

James McCarthy

Assistant Director of Governmental Affairs

National Federation of the Blind

1800 Johnson Street

Baltimore, Maryland 21230

(410) 659-9314 extension 240

[email protected]

Here, now, is the letter from Petri and Miller:



January 27, 2003

Dear Colleague,

This week, we will reintroduce the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act (IMAA), bipartisan legislation to ensure that blind and other visually impaired students will receive textbooks in a usable format at the same time as all other students.  The IMAA (H.R. 4582) attracted broad support from 88 cosponsors in the 107th Congress. 

Currently, it is the exception rather than the rule that blind students have access to textbooks for a given class at the beginning of the school year.  Because of the cumbersome process needed to translate a textbook into Braille or other specialized format, it often takes months for the blind student to have the same materials as his or her sighted peers, by which time only a heroic effort can save this student from being hopelessly behind in class.  Although states have the obligation under IDEA, ADA, and other federal statutes to provide equivalent educational opportunities to disabled and non-disabled students, it has become apparent that specific and practical standards need to be put in place to anticipate accessibility needs in this area.  This legislation will streamline the materials acquisition process in a number of ways.  Specifically, the bill:

·        establishes a national electronic file format for instructional materials.  Conversion into an electronic format is a necessary step in the process of creating a Braille or other accessible version of a textbook.  However, the twenty-six states that currently require publishers to provide electronic copies of textbooks have no agreed-upon file format, which drives up costs for publishers and often results in unusable electronic files provided, while doing nothing to reduce the 6-month period needed for production of the specialized textbook;   

·        establishes a national clearinghouse to provide “one-stop shopping” for local school districts to acquire the needed materials (estimated cost: $1 million annually);

·        requires publishers to provide a copy of each textbook in the national electronic file format to the national clearinghouse mentioned above;

·        requires statewide plans to ensure that students who are blind or visually impaired have access to instructional materials in formats they can use at the same time the materials are provided to all other students; and

·        authorizes capacity-building grants to assist state and local educators in using electronic files supplied by publishers (authorized at $2.5 million annually).

Last Congress, the strong support and great need for this legislation prompted the Department of Education to fund the development of a voluntary standardized electronic format for specialized instructional materials.  Once completed, this national file format would implement a significant piece of the IMAA.  However, a national file format by itself will not solve all the problems which cause delays in the delivery of textbooks to visually impaired students.  That is why this legislation is still needed.  The IMAA has been endorsed by the Association of American Publishers, the National Federation of the Blind, the American Foundation for the Blind, and many other organizations representing the visually impaired.  To cosponsor please call Jason Delisle at __ (Petri) or Ruth Friedman at __ (Miller).


Thomas E. Petri, Member of Congress

George Miller, Member of Congress

Families Learn Techniques at
School for Blind Sessions

by Darla Carter

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

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:

[PHOTO—tug of war]

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.

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.

VIPS Play Stations at 2002 Convention
Combine Learning, Fun


Clown and VIPS staffer, Robin Frazier, hands out balloons and goodies.


Three-year-old Dylan Sebastian of Alabama is enthralled with the toys at the VIPS Adaptive Play Center.

[PHOTO—VIPS S Restrepo]

Mom, Dr. Sylvia Restrepo of Columbia, South America, makes a tactile book for her young son.

[PHOTO B—VIPS Rose Stockton]

Sighted siblings enjoyed the VIPS Play Stations, too. Rose Stockton of West Virginia tackles the obstacle course.

Recipes for Fun

Prepared by Visually Impaired Preschool Services

1229 Garvin Place, Louisville, KY 40203

(502) 636-3207  *  www.vips.org


1/3 cup Dawn or Joy dishwashing liquid

2 tablespoons sugar

1 cup water

Pipe Cleaners

Mix the first three ingredients in a plastic dish (one with a cover to save for later). Form pipe cleaners into different shapes and attach to unsharpened pencil for a bubble wand.



Get an old coffee can and cut a one-half-inch by two-inch slit in the lid. Get some plastic poker chips (about one- and one-half-inches in diameter) to drop through the slit. They will produce a great clinking sound, which will encourage your child to do it again and again. Great fun while working on fine motor skills.



In a five-ounce paper cup, mix two tablespoons temper paint with one-half cup water. Add three tablespoons of plaster of Paris and stir until you have a creamy consistency. Once hardened (several hours), peel off paper cup to produce a giant piece of sidewalk chalk.



2 cups flour

1-1/2 cup water

1 cup salt

2 tablespoons cream of tartar

2 tablespoons cooking oil

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Cook over medium heat stirring constantly until mixture looks like dough. Store in airtight container or plastic bag.



1 cup flour

4 cups cold water

Food coloring

Combine flour and 1 cup of water and stir until smooth. Add remaining 3 cups of water. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture thickens and bubbles. Reduce heat. Cook and stir one minute more. Pour into bowls and tint with food coloring. Cover with plastic wrap until cool enough to paint with.



1 tablespoon unsweetened powdered drink mix

1 tablespoon warm water

Several small containers

Mix water and drink mix in a small bowl. Repeat using several different flavors to create different smells and colors to paint with. Paint on chosen surface, and let finished work dry overnight before scratching and sniffing.



1 cup flour

1 cup salt

1 cup water

Tempera paint powder

Plastic squeeze bottle

Stir together flour, salt, and water. Add several teaspoons of tempera paint. Stir and pour into clean, recycled squeeze bottle. Use paint within two to three days.

Common Visual Impairments in Young Children

Prepared by Visually Impaired Preschool Services

1229 Garvin Place, Louisville, KY 40203

(502) 636-3207  *   www.vips.org


Albinism involves the absence or reduction of pigment in the eyes, skin, and hair. It may affect only the eyes. Effects on vision may include decreased visual acuity, photophobia, nystagmus, and strabismus.



Aniridia is a hereditary condition where the iris of the eye is underdeveloped. The effects on vision include decreased visual acuity, photophobia, nystagmus, cataracts, and underdeveloped retinas.



A congenital cataract is a hereditary condition in which there is opacity of the lens. The effects on vision include decreased visual acuity, photophobia, nystagmus, cataracts, and underdeveloped retinas.



Coloboma is a hereditary condition in which various parts of the eye may be deformed. The effects on vision include decreased acuity, nystagmus, and strabismus.



Cortical visual impairment is a result of damage to the vision center of the brain due to trauma, anoxia, or malformation. The effects on vision include decreased acuity, nystagmus, and strabismus.



Congenital glaucoma is a hereditary condition in which the tissue of the eye is damaged from increased intraocular pressure. The effects on vision include excessive tearing, photophobia, opacity or haze on the lens, buphthalmos, poor visual acuity, and constricted visual fields.



Optic nerve atrophy is caused by damage to the optic nerve. It can be hereditary or may result from trauma, inadequate blood or oxygen supply before or shortly after birth, or hydrocephalus. Effects on vision include decreased visual acuity, decreased central vision, decreased sensitivity in all visual fields, and nystagmus.


ONH is generally of unknown cause. It may appear by itself or in conjunction with neurological or hormonal abnormalities. The effects on vision may include decreased visual acuity, peripheral field loss, poor depth perception, and mild photophobia.



Nystagmus is an involuntary, rhythmic side-to-side or up-and-down eye movement that often accompanies other visual disorders.


Retinopathy of Prematurity is a condition in which the retinas are scarred due to an unusual growth of blood vessels in the retina and vitreous. This is usually found in premature infants, but may also be found in full-term infants. The effects on vision include retinal detachments, severe myopia, decreased visual acuity, and blindness.

2003 NFB Scholarships

Thirty scholarships ranging in value from $3,000 to $10,000 will be awarded in July at the 2003 NFB convention to blind college, vocational school, and graduate students. Award winners will also be the guests of the NFB at the national convention, and will have the additional opportunity to win four voucher awards for products from Freedom Scientific. At least three of the scholarships will be awarded to students who won NFB scholarships in previous competitions, and one award may be given to an eligible part-time student who is holding down a full-time job. The application must be received by the committee by March 31, 2003.

To request an application contact the Materials Center, National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, or <[email protected]>. Applications are also available from college financial aid offices, the NFB Web site at <www.nfb.org>, and from NFB state affiliate presidents and members of the 2003 NFB Scholarship Committee. The applications may be copied as long as both sides of the form are reproduced.

Another Way of Seeing

by Deborah Kent Stein

Editor’s Note: If the name “Deborah Kent” sounds familiar, it may be because you or one of your children once read a book she wrote. Ms. Kent makes her living as a writer and is especially known for her fiction and non-fiction works for children and young adults. Although Deborah occasionally writes about blindness or disability, by far the bulk of her work is for, and about, the broader world. Which raises an interesting question: How can a person, blind from birth, know enough about the world in all its rich details and complexities, to successfully write about it? In fact, what is it that allows any blind child to learn enough about the world around them so that they successfully work, play, and live in it as equals with their sighted peers? Deborah Kent Stein tackled that question in a speech she gave at the 2002 NFB seminar for parents and teachers in Louisville. Here is what Deborah Kent Stein has to say about “Another Way of Seeing:”

Our first memories are said to contain themes which remain crucial to us throughout our lives. When I think back, I find that my earliest memories all have to do with touch. For me as a blind child, touch meant seeing—seeing in the widest sense of perceiving and understanding. When I was free to touch things I was in my glory. I was fully connected and involved with my environment, exploring, making discoveries about the world around me. In one of my very early memories I am about two-years-old. My father is lifting me in his arms so I can reach over the edge of a large cardboard box. Inside the box my hands find a pile of warm, wriggling bodies—soft fur, bony heads, wet noses, and curious, lapping tongues. “See?” Dad says. “Fluffy’s puppies! Look!”

In another memory, I am perched on a stool at the kitchen counter while my mother prepares a chicken dinner. Patiently she shows me the cold, plucked bird lying before us. She points out the legs, the wings, the breast, and the place where the head used to be. My hands explore every nuance of poultry anatomy. This is our ritual whenever we have chicken for dinner. I get to look at the chicken.

Not all my early recollections are such happy ones. In another memory, my cousin holds a crayfish captive in a jar. I beg to touch it, but the grown-ups say no. They insist that its claws will pinch my fingers and hurt me. Someone gives me a stick and says I can touch the crayfish with that. But I can’t learn anything about this mysterious creature by probing it with the tip of a stick. I need to study it with my hands, and I am not allowed. I remember bursting into tears of frustration as the grown-ups repeated that the “Don’t touch” rule was for my own good. When I heard the dreaded words, “Don’t touch!” my quest for knowledge was thwarted. I was cut off from meaningful experience. Intriguing portions of the world were forbidden to me, and I was forced into passivity.

Sighted children, too, hunger to engage with the world through touch, though often it is forbidden to them, too. Whether they can touch or not, they can still gather volumes of information through their eyes. The figurines on a shelf, the umbrella leaning in the corner, the heavy drapes that might provide a place for hide and seek—each new object is a source of fascination. Sighted children never stop looking and learning. Blind children need to look and learn too, in their own way—by using their hands. To my immense good fortune, my parents instinctively recognized that though I was blind, I had the same need as any other child to learn about my surroundings. My parents understood that my blindness need not hold me back. My experience of the world could be rich and meaningful through the sense of touch.

My parents realized that I needed plenty of hands-on experience with the everyday objects sighted children take in almost automatically by eye. When I was a toddler my mother made time in her hectic schedule to take me on a walk nearly every afternoon. She showed me split-rail fences, mailboxes, fire hydrants, lawn chairs, birdbaths, and telephone poles. We sat on the ground so I could examine dead leaves, dandelions, toadstools, and acorns. Mom even showed me sidewalks, manhole covers, and curbstones. Nothing was too ordinary for our attention. Everything was interesting and worth inspecting.

Expeditions with my father tended to be more adventurous. Sometimes he took me on walks in the woods, where we crashed through the underbrush, fended off brambles, and got our shoes caked with mud. On other days we explored the construction sites in our suburban development. In half-finished houses I learned that doors and windows fit into frames, and discovered that bathroom pipes descend through holes in the flooring.

My parents had the wisdom to know that for me, as for all children, examining an object once was not enough. Sighted children have endless opportunities to look at trees and fences and bicycles. I needed to reinforce my perception of everyday things by touching them again and again. We stopped on countless walks so I could look at the mailbox—hot to the touch in the summer sun, mounded with snow in February—always the same, yet always new. The inventiveness and unflagging patience of my parents enabled me to create a vast library of tactile images, a mental storehouse of information that has endured and expanded throughout my lifetime. In addition, my parents’ encouragement nourished my natural curiosity. I grew up hungering for firsthand knowledge of the world. I lobbied on my own behalf to touch statues in museums, displays on store counters, and the curios my classmates brought to school for show-and-tell. I trained my friends and teachers not to forget that I needed a hands-on view.

Sight allows for distance learning, and touch is “up close and personal.” But both sight and touch are spatial senses, conveying information about the shape, size, and placement of objects. Touch and sight both show us objects in relation to one another, and convey the principles of cause and effect. Hearing is much more abstract. When a sighted toddler hears an unusual sound she looks around to investigate the cause. A blind child of the same age might hear a whole cacophony of fascinating noises and have no idea what sort of creature or instrument or set of actions is producing the commotion. Sound only becomes meaningful when it is understood within a context, when it is connected to events in the spatial world. Verbal explanations of sounds are wonderful and necessary, but they don’t help much unless the child already has a solid grasp of the basics. Suppose a blind child hears the roar of a bulldozer. His mother explains that a bulldozer is a great big machine that digs a great big giant hole in the ground. Unless the child knows what a machine is, and what digging is, and what a hole is, and has an idea about the relative sizes of things, none of it makes much sense.

In a way, everything I’m saying feels ludicrously obvious. Of course touch is the natural avenue of learning for a child who can’t see visually. But even though you, as a sighted person, grasp this concept intellectually, you may have a hard time taking it in on a real gut level. People who are visually oriented often have trouble moving from a visual frame of reference to a tactile one. As the sighted parent of a blind child, you need to find your way across the psychic divide between visual thinking and what the research psychologist Selma Fraiberg has called “hand thinking.” You need to recognize that hand thinking—forming a mental picture of one’s surroundings through touch—is effective and completely respectable.

To accept hand thinking as fully valid is not as simple as it sounds. It may require you to reflect seriously on your own attitudes toward touch. Touch is generally suspect in our society. It’s the only one of the senses that is consistently prohibited and maligned. To describe the act of searching or exploring with the hands, the English language provides us with the word “grope”—an ugly word freighted with connotations of clumsiness, dullness, and obtuseness.

Touch makes people uncomfortable; it’s a little beyond the sphere of polite society. Touch is associated with breaking things, or even stealing. Children grow up to a steady, relentless drumbeat of “Look, don’t touch! Keep your hands off!” You heard all those warnings, pounding in all those negative messages. Now, for your blind child, you have to uproot those carefully planted fears and prejudices against touch, and think about it in a brand-new way.

Ask yourself some questions. How you feel when your child explores an object with his hands? Are you eager to show him new things? Are you excited by his sense of discovery? Do you sometimes feel frustrated because he takes so long to look at an object tactilely, while a sighted child would take it in at a glance? Are you embarrassed when people stare at your child as he touches a plant, a lamp, a stack of magazines on the table? When he examines a figurine are you on edge, worrying that he might drop it? Do you let him know that you want him to have as many opportunities to touch things as he possibly can? Or do you convey the message that it slows you down to let him stop and look at things, it’s awkward and a bother? One mother of a blind son told me proudly, “We’ve always let him touch things as much as he wants to. Even though it makes us cringe and we want to snatch his hands away, we never stop him.”

The truth is that some people will stare at your child with her exploring hands. Some may frown with disapproval. Sometimes when you ask permission for your child to touch something, that permission will be coldly and unreasonably denied. You will have to be your child’s advocate, working to remove literal barriers so that she can see the things others are looking at.

I want to take a bit of a detour here and respond to a comment that I’ve heard from a number of parents and vision teachers. “Sarah doesn’t like to touch things. When I put her hands on a new toy to show her, she pulls away.” There’s even a term for this in the literature—it’s called “tactile defensiveness.” I believe that the problem stems from the technique called “hand over hand,” in which an adult takes hold of the child’s hand and places it on an object in order to show the object to the child. It seems like a perfectly appropriate way to encourage exploration, but for many children it becomes an issue of control. The adult is grasping the child’s hands, manipulating them, taking charge. Sometimes the adult even moves the child’s hands around on the object in question, trying to point out particular features—all with the best of intentions. I know when people do this to me (it still happens even to adults) I don’t like it. I want to look at things at my own pace, in my own way. I don’t want anyone else to determine where my hands should be.

Instead of bringing the child’s hand to the new toy, try bringing the toy to the child’s hand. With an infant or toddler, touch the child’s hand lightly with the object, tell him what it is, and let him find out about it on his own. As the child learns the pleasures of exploring, he will not need much encouragement. What he will need are time and opportunity.

Sadly, I have met many blind children, teens, and adults whose basic knowledge has been constricted in horrifying ways. I think of a ten-year-old girl, a good student in school, who did not understand how to use a paper fan to fan herself on a hot afternoon. I remember a teenager who had no idea how to use a garden trowel—had no concept of how to dig a hole. I think of a young man who didn’t know that light fixtures are located on the ceiling. When children grow up with such deficiencies in ordinary knowledge, they are at a serious disadvantage in life.

By helping your child explore and learn in her own way, you will give her a lifelong gift. She will know about fans and trowels and light fixtures and tens of thousands of other things around her. She will share in the pool of knowledge that is basic to her peers. That general knowledge base, combined with her desire and ability to seek hands-on experiences, will open countless doors for her as she is growing up. She will be better equipped to take part in games with her friends. She will understand the humor of other children. She will be able to join in her classmates’ mischief, and to dream up pranks of her own. By knowing the world she will be part of the world, and by being part of the world, she will know the world all the more.

All children want to learn, want to reach out and explore on their own. Blind children explore by touch, and file away memories in tactile images. It’s a different way of seeing, but it is seeing in the widest sense.

Me and My PE Teacher

by Melissa Williamson


Melissa Williamson

Editor’s Note: Melissa Williamson shatters more than a few stereotypes. For example, cheerleaders are typically portrayed as cute, perky, outgoing, and—of course—dumb and stuck-up. Well, Ms.Williamson is not, and never has been, either dumb or stuck-up. However, she is still as cute, as perky, as outgoing—and as blind—as she was almost two decades ago during her cheerleading days. Today, Melissa Williamson is an experienced elementary school teacher who puts her talents to use as a board member of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and the Blind, the secretary of the Birmingham chapter of the Alabama NFB affiliate, and the stay-at-home mom of three delightful children between the ages of two and six. In the following article (which is based on a presentation Melissa made at the 2002 parents seminar) she talks about an ordinary high school coach who had no special training in matters of blindness, but who made an extraordinary difference in her life. Her advice and insights are relevant and timely. Here is what she has to say:

Sometimes as a blind person I get lucky enough to encounter a sighted person who, in regard to the capabilities of blind people, just gets it. I met one of those people in the form of my PE coach in sixth grade. He worked with me from sixth through eighth grade in the public school system where I was mainstreamed. At a time when I didn’t quite get it, Coach John got it.

Up to that point in my life I had been physically active. I was a decent gymnast and I water-skied. I played outside, but I did not participate in team activities, and I did not intentionally modify any sport so that I could play. Therefore, when the coach said we were going to play whiffle ball, which is a game something like baseball for those of you who don’t know, I thought that he meant that “they” were going to play whiffle ball. He didn’t. With some modifications, I played. The coach put people on the bases to call to me so that I would know where to run. He watched my batting swing enough to know where to throw the ball so my bat would actually hit it. I played, and because I played I came to understood how to swing a bat and how to run bases. I understood whiffle ball, I but I still didn’t get it.

When Coach John said we were going to play football, I thought he meant that “they” were going to play football. He didn’t. I learned to pass a football with a sighted guide; I learned to run passing routes, to hand-off the ball, and how to receive a hand-off. By spring of sixth grade, I finally got it.

It was time for those who were interested to prepare for cheerleading tryouts. My friends were interested. I was kind of interested, but I was scared, too. I showed up for the first day of practice. Coach John, who was the cheerleading sponsor, didn’t miss a beat even though he had no idea I was coming. (My mom wasn’t even sure I was going to do it.) As he demonstrated various techniques involved in cheering, he also described them. When he talked about the various positions of hands, he showed me. He explained that jazz hands were splayed fingers. He explained that candle stick hands were hands held up like you were holding candle sticks. He showed me everything I needed to know. When he demonstrated a cheer, I stood behind him with my hands on his arms. As we worked on the cheers in small groups, he came by and corrected our mistakes. He corrected me just as he corrected the others. I made the squad both years that I tried out. Incidentally, Coach John was not one of the cheerleading selection judges.

I experienced full inclusion in my physical education class. My PE teacher understood that alternative techniques were equal for the purposes of education—even physical education. I cannot fully describe how my confidence grew from experiences made possible by this teacher—a teacher who seemed to instinctively understand that blindness is a nuisance, but not an insurmountable tragedy.

Participation in physical activities is crucial for maintaining physical fitness. We all know this. But just as importantly, participation in PE classes on an equal level with peers is a means of achieving self-confidence and, to some degree, social acceptance. Kids who play together early on have shared experiences. These shared experiences (which often turn into shared interests) can spawn friendships as time passes. Furthermore, a blind child gains an experiential understanding of sports and other recreational activities when he or she actively participates in a structured PE program. This can be a social asset in our somewhat sports-obsessed nation. But of most significance is the confidence children can gain from participating in PE. Through physical activities, children—blind as well as sighted—gain coordination; they gain the ability to move their bodies confidently and intentionally to achieve a particular goal. This impacts the way a child carries himself or herself. And, realistically, a child who moves and acts confidently is more likely to make friends and less likely to be a target for bullies.

Additionally, the skills a child gains in PE will be used in many ways, some unpredictable, throughout that child’s life. For example, I learned that when I throw a ball I should point my nose and the toes of my front foot toward the spot I intended the ball to go. It works. I became quite good at trashcan basketball in high school. You know—the teacher leaves the room and the students make paper-wads and throw them at the trashcan. I got good at it. Now I use that same skill to throw baseballs for my own kids so they can practice batting and catching. (To my kids’ dismay, however, I still can’t catch a baseball, and they’ll gladly tell you about that.)

However, more experience is needed in the outdoors than can be gained in a PE class. It’s vital that we give our blind kids the same kinds of opportunities that our sighted kids have. The other day my husband and I took our children to Chucky Cheese for a birthday party. It rained prior to our arrival so as we were walking toward the building across the parking lot, my sons began jumping into every puddle they could find—half-inch deep? Splash! Four-inches deep? Splash! They did not care. I started to stop them, and then I realized that puddles just seem to call to kids. They say, “Jump right in. Splash as far and as high as you can!” Mud puddles call to kids, too, not just water puddles. Mud puddles call to kids to muck about in it and make mud pies. Fences and trees beg to be climbed. Flowers call to be picked. Rocks call to be thrown (particularly if there’s water around). And large open spaces call to kids to run. Our blind kids need to do all of these things—to experience the joys of the outdoors to the fullest.

But for blind kids we must think outside and beyond the traditional outdoor kid play. Blind kids don’t need to have a stick bug described to them; they need to touch it. My experience suggests that that’s what sighted kids want to do anyway. It’s the same for worms, just-caught fish, caterpillars, plants, and anything else that we can imagine for them to touch. Our blind kids need to get messy. They need to get dirty. They need to get wet. They need to experience.

Let me give you a concrete example that will, hopefully, illustrate my point. I’ve heard since I was a kid that giant redwoods in California are huge. I know that these trees can be over one hundred feet tall and six feet or more in diameter. But until I attempted to put my arms around one of these trees, I had no concept of how big a BIG tree really is! Honestly, I still can’t fathom what a one hundred foot tall tree might look like. I said that to my husband last night and he said that we need to go find one for me to climb. (My husband is one of those sighted guys who get it.) There’s no description on earth that can compensate for touch. Touch can make objects real, just as physical education experiences can make sports and concepts of space and dimension real.

We don’t just want to give blind kids the same childhood experiences as sighted kids. We want to—we must—give them more. Sighted kids don’t need encouragement to climb a fence. They climb them because they are there, they see them, and what else are you going to do with a fence if you are a little kid? But our blind kids don’t have that visual incentive, so they might need our active encouragement to climb fences and trees and play with worms. The more experiences they have when they are little, the stronger their knowledge base about the world, and the stronger their confidence. And with this knowledge and confidence, they will eventually be ready to strike out and explore on their own. Certainly this can only help them to be more successful as they grow.

The Lilli Nielsen FIELA Curriculum in Action:

The Skylands School Experience

by Cathy Bailey, OT; Rosemarie Lakawicz, PT;
Toni Vidro, Head Teacher; and Linda Zani Thomas, Parent

It is definitely to the benefit of a child with special needs for learning to have a curriculum developed relative to his levels of development rather than simply providing the materials that are available on the shelves or using a National Curriculum that has been developed for children with special, regardless of what those special needs may be. –Dr. Lilli Nielsen


Dr. Lilli Nielsen

From the Editor: If there was a Lilli Nielsen fan club, I am sure I would be a member. So, when Linda Zani Thomas asked if I would consider this article for publication, I did not hesitate. Of course, it also helped that I already knew something about Linda. In New Jersey, Linda Thomas is known for her expertise on children who are blind and multiply impaired. She has published several articles on the topic and speaks regularly at workshops conducted by the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and the Parents of Blind Children—NJ; on which she serves as a board member. Linda’s interest in the needs of blind, multiple impaired children began with a passion to help her daughter, Marisa. Marisa is 13-years-old, blind, non-ambulatory (she has cerebral palsy), and she is severely developmentally delayed. She is also, according to Linda, “very independent-minded, outgoing, and adorable!” In 2002, Linda’s daughter, Marisa, was introduced to the Lilli Nielsen’s FIELA Curriculum when her school incorporated the curriculum into their program. According to Linda Thomas, “The Skylands School for the Exceptional is a full-day program of the Passaic County Educational Services Commission located in Ringwood, New Jersey. The school is devoted to providing the finest possible educational experience for children identified as multiply disabled and/or medically fragile.” Here is what the authors, who have worked together at the school for many years, have to say about their experience with the FIELA Curriculum:

The FIELA Curriculum was designed by Dr. Lilli Nielsen, a pioneer in learning techniques for multiply disabled children and creator of the learning approach called Active Learning. Dr. Nielsen has recently been awarded the Knight of the Cross of Danneborg in her native Denmark for her 30 years of research and development of Active Learning. Her techniques and materials, which are known in nations all over the world, have helped thousands of extremely challenged children realize their true potential.

The premise of Active Learning is that all children learn through their own actions, on their own initiative. According to Dr. Nielsen, “…if given the opportunity to learn from his own active exploration and examination, the child will achieve skills that become part of his personality, and so are natural for him to use in interaction with others, and for fulfillment of his own needs, and will gradually make him ready to develop to be as independent as possible.”

[PHOTO—Marisa in her room]

Marisa may choose from a variety of different objects presented in her Room [Lilli Nielsen designed learning environment]. Items include Essef board, daily living objects, tactile pillows, and musical instruments. The items are rotated regularly.

One of the most striking elements of Active Learning is the banishment of physically guiding the hands, even the hands of children who are blind or visually impaired. Instead, the parents’ and educators’ role is to construct a personalized learning environment that leads the child to perform learning tasks on his or her own, with no physical intervention, regardless of the extent of the child’s disabilities. In this manner, the multiply handicapped child experiences genuine independence and his/her learning becomes meaningful and relevant.

The FIELA Curriculum is unique in that it specifies that professionals must take more of a hands-off approach, and focus instead on providing rich learning environments where the child can explore and learn independently at his or her own pace and from his or her own self-initiated movements. It can be used for all children with a variety of disabilities, including deafness, deaf-blindness, and autism. [Note: By hands-off we mean that once the child has been positioned in the carefully constructed, individualized learning environment, the instructor must refrain from physically moving the child’s hand, legs, etc. Naturally, you want the child to be hands-on—that is, to touch, manipulate, and explore.]

The FIELA Curriculum requires:

* Precise observation of all areas of a child’s development level in all areas.

* The structuring of the child’s learning activities based on the
child’s own needs and preferences.

The educator’s role is to provide enriched learning environments, respect the child’s need for sufficient time and quietness for learning, and to be ready to share the child’s experience when the child is ready to share it.

The Skylands School, located in Ringwood, New Jersey, is a sensory-based program that uses a trans-disciplinary team approach of instruction to serve students with multiple disabilities. In September of 2002, the Skylands School began implementing the FIELA Curriculum with their students. This article chronicles the stages of preparation for its use and the results to date.

The First Step:
Including the FIELA Curriculum in the Child’s IEP

The FIELA Curriculum is extremely user-friendly and affordable. The basic FIELA instruction manual, The FIELA Curriculum—730 Learning Environments is available for under $50. Since many of the learning environments can be created from ordinary household items and by the creative use of existing classroom equipment, implementing the curriculum should be within the financial reach of all school systems. The FIELA Curriculum Kit is comprised of the manual, a Velcro Schedule Board, and a Velcro notebook of moveable Learning Environment cards. These items facilitate planning, scheduling, and full implementation of the program. The manual, the kit, and other specially designed Lilli Nielsen equipment and teaching tools—referred to in the FIELA manual as Perceptualizing Aids—can all be purchased at reasonable prices in the United States either from Lilliworks or Vision Associates (see the resource list at the end of this article).

The FIELA goals should be included in the child’s IEP and results tracked according to the school’s protocol. Ideally, it is best to specify a specific time period per day in which the FIELA goals will be targeted in school. For example, scheduling one to two hours per school day for Active Learning will ensure ample time for the FIELA program to be pursued.


Skylands School Results with the FIELA Curriculum

Skylands School has always maintained an eclectic approach to instruction. One of our foremost goals is to find techniques that work best for each of our students. Our staff is always looking for new educational techniques and methods of instruction that we can apply and adapt into our classroom. Two of our staff members had the opportunity to attend Dr. Lilli Nielsen’s three-day Active Learning workshop in October 2000. The information we gained was invaluable. Our staff immediately began to pull from Lilli’s ideas and to incorporate her philosophy into our methods of instruction. This past September, we officially began using the FIELA Curriculum in our classrooms.

In the state of New Jersey, the IEP goals and objectives for all students must be based on the Core Curriculum Content Standards (CCCS), which were developed by the state board of education. For students with more severe disabilities, there is an adapted form of these standards known as the Core Curriculum Content Standards for Students with Severe Disabilities (CCCSSSD). We have found the FIELA Curriculum to be a wonderful supplement to our core curriculum content standards. Our challenge was to find an effective classroom balance between our required core curriculum content standards and Active Learning.

Skylands School has incorporated time for Active Learning into our five and one-half hour school day. We are currently using the FIELA Curriculum for three thirty-minute sessions each school day. Our staff created and adapted equipment in accordance with the curriculum guidelines and philosophy in order to provide the most stimulating learning environments possible.

Our results with the FIELA Curriculum have been incredible. Not only have we found the students’ Active Learning sessions to be positive and successful, but we have also noted that the students performed better during the more structured learning activities that follow the Active Learning sessions. We find that adding three Active Learning sessions has added balance to our school day. Students respond better to a mixture of Active Learning time and structured learning activities than they do to structured activities alone. We are very pleased to have implemented the FIELA Curriculum goals for the students at Skylands School and look forward to the continued success of the Active Learning approach for our Skylands School students.

Beyond the FIELA Handbook

Active Learning Training Opportunities and Educator Resources

Training Conference: November 3-5, 2003.

Dr. Nielsen will be holding a training conference November 3-5, 2003 at the Penrickton Center for Blind Children in Southgate, Michigan. For registration information contact Patty Obrzut, Assistant Director, <[email protected]> (734) 946-7500.

FIELA Curriculum Kit, instruction manual, and other Lilli Nielsen Books: Vision Associates, 2109 U.S. Hwy 90 West, Suite 170, #312, Lake City, Florida 32055. Phone (407) 352-1200; Fax (386) 752-7839; Web site <www.visonkits.com>

Active Learning Equipment and Teaching Tools: LilliWorks Active Learning Foundation, 535 Palace Court, Alameda, California 94501. Phone (510) 522-1340;

Web site <www.lilliworks.com>; E-mail <[email protected]>

Dr. Lilli Nielsen is available to provide educational consultations via reviews of videotapes of children. For more information about content of the video, fees, etc. contact Dr. Nielsen at <[email protected]>.

Some state agencies—such as the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired—have Dr. Lilli Nielson’s books and materials available for loan. Please contact your blindness agencies, organizations, and/or public and private early childhood programs and ask about Dr. Nielsen’s books and literature.

To visit The Skylands School and see how the school has implemented the FIELA Curriculum, contact the Passaic County Educational Services Commission at (973) 962-1122.

Information about how parents and professionals can collaborate to set up a school or home Active Learning program is available from the Parents of Blind Children of New Jersey. Contact Linda Zani Thomas at <[email protected]> or call (973) 0962-9307.

Fit for Life

by Jennifer Butcher

Physical Education Teacher

Washington State School for the Blind

Editor’s Note: The following article is based on a speech given by Jennifer Butcher to the parents’ seminar on June 28 at the 2002 NFB convention. Jennifer Butcher is an exemplary model of the modern PE teacher. Smart, young, attractive, energetic, creative—and blind—Jennifer wasted no time getting to the point of her presentation: PE is about movement, and everyone—blind kids, too—can move! In keeping with the philosophy that “doing” is the best way to learn, Jennifer engaged the audience in a little physical exercise to dramatize her theme. After saying “Good morning,” Jennifer moved from behind the podium, sat facing the audience—feet flat on the floor in front of her, arms to her sides—and proceeded to take us through a rigorous workout, all the while remaining firmly seated in our chairs. Here’s an edited version of the workout and the subsequent presentation Jennifer delivered to her attentive audience:


Jennifer Butcher

Good morning. We’re going to do a small activity because you guys need to move, and because that’s my job—getting people to move. If you’re sitting really close to someone spread out just a little tiny bit. Now, put your stuff on another chair or under your chair.

What I want you to do is imagine you have a disability. I don’t care if it’s vision impairment, one arm, one leg—just think of some kind of disability that you might have as you do this exercise. Okay, so follow me. Here we go. We’re walking. [feet move in walking motion as people remain seated]. So, does someone want to tell me where they want to go? Anybody? Okay. My kids usually want to go to Disneyland. But how are we going to get there? I don’t think we’re going to walk. That’s pretty far away, so let’s fly. Put your arms out to the side, be careful—don’t hit anyone in the face. Put your feet flat on the ground. We are on a runway, so we’re going to move our feet really fast until we get in the air. Are you ready? Here we go [feet move fast as everyone pretends to be the plane moving down the runway]. We’re going to take off—feet in the air, arms out—and we’re going to fly—arms wave up and down. We’re flying. Here we go. We’re flying. It’s kind of bumpy [begin bouncing in the chair]. There’s a lot of turbulence. It’s kind of bumpy [continue to bounce, twist, arms wave up and down]. Okay, we’re getting ready to land. Ready! Feet down! And they [the feet] go fast. We land. Okay.

When we go to Disneyland we like to go on rides. So we’re going to go on a roller coaster, but it has really huge stairs that we have to climb up—high knees, high stairs [knees and legs lifted up high as if climbing up steep stairs]. Here we go. We’re on the roller coaster. It’s one of those wooden ones. So we go up and down, up and down, and around to the right, and around to your left, and move all around [bob and twist torso around while remaining seated]. It’s bumpy. It’s going, it’s going—and it stops [stop movements].

Another place kids like to go is to the park. So let’s walk to the park. Here we go. Walk your feet. Oh, my gosh, there’s a huge dog chasing us. Let’s go. Run fast [feet move rapidly in running motion]. Let’s go. Oh, you see someone you know. Wave to them. Oh, you see someone else you know; wave with the other hand. Okay, we got rid of the dog. You can walk again. At the park we like to play some volleyball. Put both hands up by your ears and let’s bump the ball up. Up and up. It’s a fast ball. It’s a faster ball. Come on! Come on! Okay [stop movements]. Now, we like to play some baseball. Hands together on a bat and bat the ball. Bat the ball on both sides—first on your right, then your left. Let’s work on our coordination—right, left. Okay, now let’s throw the ball. Throw the ball at me, throw it. Okay.

Now, we’re going to go swimming. Put your hands together, bend over, and let’s dive in the pool. Climb back up [climbing motion with hands, feet]. That was so fun, let’s dive again. Okay. Now we’re going to go swimming. Do that crawl stroke. Now, let’s do a backstroke, and a breaststroke. Okay, we’re going to kick our feet. Put your feet up in the air, and do small kicks with your feet and move your arms, too. Guess who’s chasing us? It’s Jaws! Let’s go fast. Come on, let’s go, let’s go. Okay, stop.

Now, let’s go to McDonalds. We have our food, and guess what we do? We have a food fight! So, throw the food. That’s it; throw it, throw it, throw it. Oh, the manager’s so mad at us. He’s going to make us clean it up. Put the rag in your hand and wash the walls. Wash the ceiling. Wash the floor. Okay. Now walk again, and come to a stop. [The workout is over. Jennifer returns to the head table and proceeds with her presentation.]

This is just one example of a fun physical activity you can do with children. They don’t have to be able to see anything. They don’t have to be able to walk or run anywhere, but they’re moving, aren’t they? And that is the main part of my job—to make it fun for kids to move. In fact, it’s more than a job to me; it’s my passion.

I believe that physical exercise, recreation, and sports are vital to blind and visually impaired kids. The first reason is obviously the physical reason. I don’t need to preach to you about what exercise does for your body. It helps your heart, it helps your lungs, and it gives you the energy to do what you need to do every day. Blind kids need to move and be physical active for the same health reasons that everyone else needs to move—there’s no difference.

But there are other benefits, too, and ones that I think are especially important for blind and visually impaired kids. Athletics, sports, and recreation can give you lifetime skills that are transferable to other aspects of your life; skills that can help you become successful socially and professionally.

I have been an athlete for seventeen years. I have been a competitive swimmer since the age of seven, before my vision started going bad. (My vision began going bad in grade school and I reached the legal blindness stage in late high school. Finally, in college, my visual impairment was diagnosed as Stargardt’s.) But I didn’t stop swimming, I didn’t stop competing. Regular competitions or para-Olympics, for me the competitiveness goes on. What I learned as an athlete throughout my life gives me the confidence and ability to stand here today. I’m a certified (and employed) teacher with a bachelor’s and master’s degree because of the lessons I learned as an athlete.

First, I learned the value of motivation. After I lost a significant amount of my vision, there were so many times that I wanted to quit. “Why do I have to do this? It’s not fair. Everyone else can see. I can’t even tell who’s in front of me. I can’t see the chalk board.” But athletics gave me something to live for; it gave me lots of reasons to not give up. Athletics also gave me the energy and endurance to handle the headaches, learning to do things differently, and the frustration when people didn’t understand my visual loss.

Athletics also taught me perseverance. When you do sports or compete in athletics you learn to hang in there; you learn to keep going. There are many obstacles blind kids will face in life because of blindness or attitudes about blindness. Perseverance can help them overcome those obstacles. Athletics is a good way to acquire and practice perseverance.

I learned goal-setting from athletic competition. That’s what life’s all about. That’s how you succeed. You set goals. You achieve them. You set more goals. You achieve them. I set goals for a bachelor’s degree. I achieved that. I set goals for a master’s degree. I achieved that. I learned goal setting in athletics, then transferred the skill into my daily life.

But most of all, through athletics I developed positive self-esteem. Having a visual impairment can really make you wonder how you fit into the rest of the world. This world is very oriented toward the sighted. It’s especially hard for kids to figure out how they fit in. Being an athlete and accomplishing your goals and succeeding makes you feel good about yourself. It gives you a purpose. Makes you feel worthwhile. Ten thousand people watched me compete in swimming at the para-Olympics where I won a bronze medal. Talk about a self-esteem builder. It was amazing.

So, that’s the importance of fitness, of athletics. Now, how can you help your visually impaired kids or students get moving? Let me start by describing my experiences as a PE teacher at the Washington State School for the Blind.

When I came to work at the Washington State School for the Blind I knew I had a hard, challenging job ahead of me. Most of the kids were overweight and most of them didn’t move. I heard rumors that they all hated PE—“I’m not going into that class. They’ll throw a ball at my face and it’s going to hit me and it’s going to break my nose.” Those fears were so deep that I knew that something drastic had to be done.

I began by first giving all the students some fitness tests. I used the national YMCA fitness test and the Brockport fitness test (which is designed for children with disabilities) and I came up with these results. Of the sixty-one students that I tested, fifty-four percent had a body fat percentage above a healthy limit. Seventy-six percent scored below the good standard for muscular strength. Sixty-five percent were below standard for flexibility. Forty-eight percent were below standard for abdominal strength, and ninety-one percent were below a good standard for cardiovascular endurance.

So, these statistics told me that these kids are at risk for obesity and for a variety of health-threatening diseases. These kids had too much fat mass. This didn’t mean they were all fat on the outside—it’s not what you look like on the outside, it’s what’s in the inside. It’s about fat mass around the arteries, around the muscles. You can be the skinniest person on the earth and have the highest body fat percentage. These kids needed to gain muscle mass, and lose fat mass. They needed to start moving! To do this, I needed to overcome their stereotypes about PE, and I needed to make moving FUN!

So what we did at the Washington State School for the Blind was to create the Fit for Life Program. It’s a PE class, but it isn’t. It’s more like a health club. We have treadmills, stationary bikes, a swimming pool, a gym—anything that you would find at a fitness club. When the kids come to me, I ask them, “What are you interested in?” If a kid likes to run, but doesn’t want to run with a human guide on a track, I put them on the treadmill. I show them how to use it and how to monitor their heart rate. If another kid wants to play basketball, I say, “Okay, this is a basketball. This is how it’s really played, now let’s figure out how you can play it.” They learn to run and dribble the ball, make shots. They may not be able to compete in a regulation basketball game, but they are moving, building up muscle mass, and having fun.

In the Fit for Life Program we begin with finding out what kind of physical activities each kid enjoys, because if he or she doesn’t enjoy it, he or she will not take responsibility for it, and will not do it. Once I find out what the kids like, I teach them how to access, monitor, and perform the activity. Now they love coming to PE class. They still have to dress-out, do stretching routines, do sit-ups, and things like that—but it’s okay because we do it in a fun environment. We’ve created a non-threatening “movement” environment.

I took statistics at the end of the year just to see if the program was working. We found that twenty-nine percent of all students improved their body fat percentage. This may not seem like much improvement, but when you consider that it can takes years to change body fat percentage, I think this is pretty good. Sixty-nine percent increased in muscular strength, fifty-seven percent increased in flexibility, sixty-five percent increased in abdominal strength, and forty-nine percent increased in cardiovascular endurance.

So, the statistics show it is working, and the attitudes tell me that it will keep working. No longer do we have the “I hate PE” attitudes. We don’t even call it PE anymore. It’s “Fitness Time;” it’s very social, very movement oriented, and it’s a lot of fun.

That’s what we do at the Washington School for the Blind. So, what can you do with your kids? When parents and educators ask me what sports or recreation blind kids can do, or how they can get blind students interested, I tell them to do the four e’s: expose, excite, explore, and engage.

The first “e” is expose—expose your kids to physical activity. It doesn’t matter what it is, expose them to everything—basketball, swimming, soccer, wrestling, you name it. Most of us can watch games on TV and learn about the game, but what about the kid who can’t see it? They need you to explain what’s going on, explain the rules, show them, let them try it. Your kid may not care, but that doesn’t matter—do it anyway. They have to be exposed to lots of things before they can find something that is exciting to them.

Which brings us to the second “e,” get them excited. Show excitement yourself, and nurture the interest your kids show in an activity. If your kid likes to play in the water, follow-up on it. That interest can turn into excitement and excitement can lead to swimming lessons, and maybe even competitive swimming. So first expose them, then excite them.

The third “e” is explore. Explore ways to adapt this activity so your kid can participate to the fullest extent possible. This isn’t as hard as you may think. Some activities need little or no adaptations, some need a lot. There is no one single way to adapt an activity, either. Your child may need a different adaptation than another blind or visually impaired child doing the same thing. Be creative. Problem solve. Don’t stop if the first thing you try doesn’t work. Keep trying until you find something that works. That’s how you adapt things. There’s no magical answer. There are specific rules regarding adaptations for certain competitive sports, but until your child gets to that point, there’s no need to follow rigid rules and guidelines. Your kids just need to explore and experience.

The fourth “e” is engage. Engage your kids in a variety of activities at many different levels. Get them to move, play with other kids from school or the neighborhood. Get them involved in local clubs and organizations. Join the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA). They have affiliate chapters all around the country. They can help your child develop the skills needed to become a better athlete, to become a better person. Sign your kids up for a summer sports camp. There are sports camps all around the nation—regular sports camps, sports camps for blind kids, and sports camps for disabled kids. We are very fortunate at the Washington School for the Blind in that we won a grant to have our first ever blind sports camp on campus this summer. So, engage—find ways to make recreation a part of your child’s routine life.

So, those are the four “e’s.” There is one more thing I think you need to do—help your kid find a hero. Sighted adults and kids have lots of possible sports heroes. Who’s the blind athlete’s hero? Who can be a role model for your kid? There are many athletes out there who have visual impairments who have accomplished many things—find them.

I’m really fortunate that I get to be a role model for the kids that I teach. I just say, “This is really good for you.” And, you know what? They go do it because they respect me. If I say a blind or visually impaired kid can do something, they know it’s true because I’m visually impaired, I’ve gone through the training, and I know what it takes. I didn’t win my bronze medal by chance. I worked for it. I teach them how they can work for things, too.

To summarize, remember to implement the four “e’s”— expose, excite, explore, engage—find some blind athlete role models/heroes, but whatever you do…get your blind kids moving!

Everyone Has a Cane, Just Like Me!

by Nalida E. L. Besson

Editor’s Note: At what age can blind children benefit from the experience of attending the NFB national convention?  Sixteen? Twelve? Seven? The Besson family discovered that something valuable can be gained even at the tender age of four- and one-half. Nalida Besson and her husband, Michael, have become, in a very short time, active leaders in the NOPBC and NFB. Nalida was elected to the NOPBC board at the 2002 annual meeting, and is also the NOPBC parent contact for the state of Massachusetts. Here is what Nalida has to say about her daughter’s experience at the 2002 convention:

[PHOTO—M Besson]

Mikaëlla Besson, with her cane,
at the 2002 Convention.

This past summer, Mikaëlla attended her third convention of the National Federation of the Blind. We began attending the annual conventions in 2000 when Mika was two and one-half-years-old. Mika already had a cane by then. She was a late walker, walking just two weeks before her second birthday. A few months later, we bought Mika her first cane. The NFB parents’ division (the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children—NOPBC) gave her a longer, lighter cane at the 2000 convention.

Mika is blind (but with some partial vision) from congenital cataracts and secondary glaucoma. She has problems with depth perception and would stumble and fall constantly when there was a change in floor surfaces such as doorway thresholds. When she began using her cane, she began to feel the changes and no longer fell and bruised herself. Just a few minutes of mobility lessons and Mika was up and running. Using the cane was like second nature for her.

A lot of people were skeptical when they first saw Mika with her cane. But Mika’s proficiency for her age taught them all a lesson: Never underestimate a child. An Orientation and Mobility instructor who came to do a consult was pleasantly surprised that Mika could use the cane. Mika never wanted to use the pre-cane device that the instructor had brought for her. In fact, the pre-cane was so awkward for her to use that it caused her to stumble. The O & M instructor was happy to write up a plan for Mika to use her long cane.

Mika’s grandma was worried about the cane at first. Before getting her cane, Mika had often tripped on the chair legs in grandma’s kitchen. With the traffic in that kitchen, chairs were often not pushed in and Mika would trip on the legs. Mika’s grandma thought Mika would fall with the cane. “Well, just look at her go,” she marveled as Mika safely walked around the chairs by finding the bottom of the chair legs with her cane.

Even with this early cane experience, I don’t think Mika really got a good appreciation for the cane until the 2002 national convention. At four and one-half, she understands a little more about what being blind is. She knows that her papa is blind like her and has a cane like her. She also knows that NFB members she meets at local chapter meetings are blind like her and that some use canes while others use dog guides.

At the 2002 convention, as Mika walked among thousands of people using canes, she became excited. “Everyone has a cane just like me!” she kept exclaiming. Every time her cane crossed the path of another person’s cane, she would giggle with excitement because she had “found a cane.” When we stopped to chat with other families, Mika would say, “this little girl [or boy] has a cane too.” We told her that a lot of people have canes because there are a lot of blind people at the convention.

Mika had such a great time at the convention. Everywhere she traveled, cane in hand, she met other convention attendees who liked to come up to her and show her their canes. Mika would measure hers to the much longer canes.

Here, at the National Federation of the Blind convention, Mika was absolutely at home. Almost everyone had a cane just like her. She did not constantly hear whispers of “What’s wrong with the little girl.” Instead, she constantly heard, “You’ve got a cool cane.” It is no wonder that on the last day of the convention Mika said, “I like the National Federation of the Blind!”

Parents from Massachusetts who would like to network with other parents, find out how to get involved in the NFB, or just need support and information, may contact Nalida Besson, who lives in the Boston area, at [email protected] or [email protected] or (617) 474-9572.

A Teacher’s Perspective on the
2002 NFB Convention

A letter to the Editor by Debbie Hartz

Editor’s Note: Debbie Hartz is a high school English teacher who works for the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind. Although she is not a Braille teacher, she is proficient in Braille and is a long-time supporter and promoter of the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. Debbie is also the parent of a young woman who happens to be blind. Many years ago, Debbie wrote a delightful article about her daughter which was first published in Future Reflections and then later reprinted in the NFB Kernel Books series. Although Debbie has had a long association with the NFB, she has had very little experience in attending NFB national conventions. Last year, when I heard that Debbie was interested in attending the NFB convention, I eagerly helped her find a way to finance the trip, and, in exchange, Debbie volunteered to help with NOPBC sponsored activities throughout the week. It was a profitable exchange for both. Here, in the form of a letter to me, is Debbie’s account of her NFB convention experience:


Debbie Hartz

Dear Barbara,

I had a great time at the convention in Louisville, Barbara!

I think the fact that I was working with you for the Pre-convention Activities for the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children helped! It introduced me to a number of wonderful folks and established a pattern of working together. As a result, the entire week was spent networking—getting together with individuals from around the country who have the expertise and knowledge to shed light on some of the issues that I wanted to explore and providing suggestions that I plan to implement during this coming school year.

I went to Louisville with several topics to investigate. For example, I plan to field a Mock Trial Team at the Arizona School for the Blind in Tucson, Arizona, this year. Therefore, I wanted to meet and talk to blind lawyers who could give me some ideas for how to use this opportunity to really improve the literacy and oral presentation skills of the high school students involved. A major component of preparing for the regional tournament in March that is put on by the Arizona Bar Foundation is to get students working together with attorneys to learn how to make preparations for the trial. Having such a clearly defined and practical goal for students to work towards (and connecting students up with adults working in this field) will refocus much of my work this year as an English teacher.

At the convention, I attended the annual meeting of the National Association of Blind Lawyers. I got to speak with many lawyers at the terrific reception that followed the meeting. AND I got to attend a very enjoyable Mock Trial in which Federation lawyers re-enacted the Norwegian Cruise Lines case. I came away from all of these activities with my notebooks filled with ideas and my bag stuffed with cards with phone numbers and e-mail addresses of contacts.

A real passion of mine is literacy! I love reading and writing and believe these skills vital to the success of students. As I was sitting in one of the division meetings that I attended, I looked through my class assignments for this year and realized that six of my students have been using Braille as their primary literacy medium for a number of years. Seventeen of my students are print readers who are in the process of learning Braille. Many of these students have deteriorating eye conditions that will impact their ability to continue to rely on print in the years to come. Within this group, some of the students have negative attitudes about Braille. These students usually appear at our school at about eighth or ninth grade and still have usable vision that allows them to read books using standard print. These students often equate Braille with blindness. They don’t want to become blind, so they don’t want to learn Braille.

As I stared at the lists of students—a few proficient in Braille, several familiar with the code but needing to dramatically improve in fluency, and the great majority needing a complete paradigm shift (a new way of seeing)—I realized that the philosophy and attitudes of these students needed to be turned around. I began to seek out numerous individuals who provided me with invaluable suggestions for motivating my students and helping them to develop better attitudes.

Other highlights from the week included activities sponsored by the NOPBC on the campus of the Kentucky School for the Blind. Barbara Pierce led a cooking demonstration there and had a number of blind teen-agers participating in baking brownies and making a delicious Southwestern cheese dip. I spoke briefly to Dr. Ralph Bartley, in-between various scheduled activities. (Dr. Bartley was the superintendent at our school in Tucson before moving to Kentucky.) I stopped by the American Printing House for the Blind, located next door to the school, and returned later in the week for a tour of the plant and museum.

My daughter Andrea attended the convention with me. The NOPBC assignments you gave me and my own interests kept me so busy during the week that Andrea was on her own for most of the time. Andrea made her way—on her own— through registration and to the meetings and functions that she wanted to attend. Up and down elevators and through throngs of people, she arrived at the proper conference rooms in time for specific meetings. Her favorite sessions were the technology seminars and the various displays in the exhibit hall. She connected up with several other young people (Brandy Wojcik and Rosary Talavera). They explored the skywalk between the East and West Towers and the corridors of the Galt House Hotel after midnight, or hung out in my room talking and writing notes back and forth with a slate and stylus.

Although I came with questions to be addressed and activities to attend, I got a lot of information attending general sessions and listening to the scheduled speakers or in various division meetings. When I returned home, I sat down and typed up the notes I had taken during the week. I had fifteen single-spaced pages of notes filled with information I had gleaned and contacts that I had made. I copied the notes and delivered them to my principal and to several other individuals who expressed an interest in what I had learned.

I think the lasting benefits of attending the Convention are taking place in the classroom. The week of teacher preparation prior to beginning school resulted in intense collaboration with several teachers interested in the integration of Braille into classes for those individuals still in the process of learning Braille. This activity seemed natural after all of the networking and brainstorming that I had experienced at the convention.

We have now been back at school with students for three days. This first week involves orientation sessions and my group of students has been reading and discussing expectations (parental, teacher, society, and self) while we have been reviewing skills such as using a planner and completing homework assignments. At the end of last year, Bob Kresmer of the Tucson chapter of the Federation brought me a full set of the Kernel Books in Braille. Students have been reading articles from these books that touch upon the topics we are discussing. It is fun to realize that I now know many of the individuals who wrote the Kernel Book articles.

So Barbara, thanks again for including me in the convention. I benefited immensely from the experience and I’ll see you in Louisville next year.

FAPE Provides Resource Information About IDEA ‘97

Need information about your child’s rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA ’97)? The Families and Advocates Partnership for Education (FAPE) provides a Web site, <www.fape.org>, and a toll-free phone number, (800) 248-0822, for families and advocates seeking information and assistance on IDEA  ’97. FAPE is administered by the PACER Center at 8161 Normandale Boulevard, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55437-1044.

FAPE is one of four projects funded by the U.S. Department of Education to reach parents, administrators, service providers, and policymakers nationwide with information about implementing IDEA ’97.  A primary goal of FAPE is to ensure that children with disabilities receive a quality education. The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children is one of the FAPE Community Partners.

Blind Kids Play, Too

by Elizabeth Jacobson, John Pastorius, and Amy Herstein

Editor’s Note: Adults aren’t the only ones who can be role models. Children and youth can be role models, too. Elizabeth Jacobson, age 10; John Pastorius, age 11; and Amy Herstein, age 14; didn’t know it, but that was the real reason they were asked to be on the agenda of the 2002 NOPBC parents seminar. Their panel topic was Blind Kids Play, Too; their secret mission was to be an inspiration and model to the 100 plus families attending The Serious Work of Play seminar at the NFB convention in Louisville. In less than an hour, these three dynamic youngsters laid to rest the myth that blind children are necessarily passive and inactive. They informed, impressed, and entertained a large, mixed audience of adults and kids with sometimes humorous accounts of their numerous, varied, and age-appropriate play activities. They also wowed the audience with their literacy skills. All three had composed their own speeches, and read them with ease and expression—John and Amy from Braille notes, and Elizabeth (who is a print/Braille user) from print notes. Here, now, is what Elizabeth, John, and Amy had to say about blind kids and play:

Blind Kids Play, Too

by Elizabeth Jacobson

Speech given at
“The Serious Work of Play” Seminar
2002 NFB Convention


Elizabeth Jacobson

Hi, my name is Elizabeth Jacobson. My dad’s name is Steve and my mom’s name is Nadine Jacobson. I live in Edina, Minnesota. I’m going into fifth grade and this is my tenth NFB national convention. I’m-ten-years old and go to Concord Elementary School.

I like to pretend a lot. I like to pretend house and school. When I play house I like to pretend I’m the mom and my sister, Catherine, is my daughter. Sometimes I make a car out of chairs. I like to do this because I won’t be able to drive a car.

I also like to play school. I usually play this with my old school supplies and workbooks, too. I like to play this because I want to be a teacher when I grow up and teach at Concord Elementary School.

I also like to play store. When I play store I like to be the cashier. Sometimes I also like to play camping. I play this with my sleeping bag and play tent. When I was younger I liked to play restaurant.

There are a lot of things to do outside like playing basketball. Our family has balls that have bells inside them. I also like to do switch board, which means it turns from a scooter to a skateboard. We got a volleyball net just a few months ago. There’s also a park nearby. It’s great to hang out at. My next door neighbor has a trampoline that they let me jump on. They have a swing set my sister and I can play on, too.

Inside I use my karaoke machine that I got at Christmas. My sister and I do puppet shows and plays for my mom and dad. I’ve had sleepovers. One time we played hospital. Another time we watched movies and made the sounds we heard in the movie. My mom and I play scrabble. One time I beat her.

At school we play kickball. I used to have somebody kick for me because I didn’t like to have balls come at me. But that all changed when I tried to kick it by myself. I kicked it hard and high. I was proud of myself.

Sometimes when we’re on the bus my dad thinks of a character from  TV, a movie, or a book and we try to guess it.

Thank you for letting me talk at the Parents Division meeting. I hope you like my report and that it is helpful.


Blind Kids Play, Too

by John Pastorius

Speech given at
“The Serious Work of Play” Seminar
2002 NFB Convention


John Pastorius

Hello, my name is John Pastorius and I live in Smithfield, Virginia. Did you know that Smithfield is the Ham Capitol of the world? I am glad it is because I love ham. Oink Oink!

I’m eleven-years-old and I’m going to the sixth grade. One of my favorite things to do is play. What playing means to me is to have fun. We should play a lot so we can stay healthy and happy and sleep well at night. When I am getting ready to play I feel like I have made the right decision and I feel excited. There are a lot of different ways you can play, but you have to pick what you want to do and that can be hard. I decided to do a lot of things. I started Cub Scouts as a Tiger, and was in the Cub Scouts for four years. I loved it when we used drills, saws, nails, hammers, and wood to build a pinewood derby box, a toolbox, and a CD rack. The smell of the wood and the sound of the hammers were cool. My favorite song we sang was “I don’t know, but I’ve been told, we look good in blue and gold.”

When I went to Webelos camp we made some things that the Indians used. Some of those things were medicine wheels, medicine bags, an eagle necklace, and a talking feather. It was so cool making those things that I’ll never forget. Cub Scouts was a great way to play, but when I started to get older I decided to try new activities as well.

I rode horses and took lessons for awhile. I like to do galloping position when the horse is trotting, and I also like to post while the horse trots. I plan to go horseback riding when I’m on my summer vacation in Colorado.

Playing with my Dad has always been a lot of fun. One thing I used to do with my Dad was Civil War reenacting. I always enjoyed bringing a harmonica with me so I could play it at the campsite. The smell of the uniforms and the campfire, the sound of the fife and drum, and the guns and canons made me think that I was going back in time.

Another thing I like to do with my Dad is work on his old cars and motorcycles, and ride them. My favorite one is his motorcycle with a sidecar. The bike is a 1974 Motoguzzi with a Russian sidecar. In case you didn’t know what a Motoguzzi is, it’s an Italian motorcycle. Right now my Dad is trying to teach me how to drive it. The only problem I have is letting the clutch out, but that just takes time.

I know the perfect place to go if you want to play all day—Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia. I like the rides there because I can feel the wind in my face; the rides there go fast, and I like fast rides. My favorite roller coaster is the Loch Ness Monster. I like the Loch Ness Monster because it has drops and you go upside-down. The coolest part on the ride is when you go in a cave and then when you come out you get sprayed by a mist.

One thing I’m looking forward to is being in the middle school band when I go to sixth grade. I’m looking forward to that because I play the French horn. I plan to play my French horn in the middle school band. I am excited to play my French horn in the middle school band because I get to play it at concerts. I think middle school will be a new challenge in my life and will be a big step for me. But this summer I plan to do a whole lot of playing.

I have a brand new pool in my backyard and I plan to swim in it this summer. I’m on the swim team so I am a very, very excellent swimmer. I plan to play with the toys in the pool. It will be fun when my friends come over.

I think playing is very important because when you have done too much work or homework, playing can get your mind off work. I hope everybody plays a lot so they stay healthy and happy. I want to thank you for letting me make this speech.

Blind Kids Play, Too

by Amy Herstein

Speech given at
“The Serious Work of Play” Seminar
2002 NFB Convention


Amy Herstein

Hello. I’m Amy Herstein and I’m fourteen-years-old. This is my sixth national convention. Karen Herstein, my mother, is the president of the Maryland Parents Division of the NFB.

For fun you may listen to or play music, read books, talk with your friends, shop, play games, or go on a family vacation. Any child will do these things—blind or sighted. Now ask a blind child, “Do you always participate in activities that your sighted friends do?” Often you will hear a negative response. Some of the activities they do not do very much are pranking and going to dances.

I first learned about pranking when I was very small, but I had absolutely no interest in it until I attended our NFB of Maryland Teen Retreat for Blind Youth when I was around twelve-years-old. Even then I just helped other kids fill up their water balloons. But I got a good laugh whenever someone got pranked in an extremely funny way. Now I think being pranked is fun, and one of my all-time favorite ones is to explode tons of large water balloons on people (laughter).

At the KIDS Camp and Teen Retreat events sponsored by the Parents Division of the NFB and Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM), there is always a traditional prank night. The campers, sometimes aided by the counselors who are also blind, play practical jokes on other people. Pranks can include things like pummeling people with water balloons, blasting them with water guns, tangling them in spider webs of Silly String, putting salt or big marshmallows into their beds, clogging up drains with marshmallows, soaking a bed with lots of cold water, stuffing toothpaste tubes with raisins or Nerds to resemble bugs (laughter), spreading Vaseline over toilet seats, knotting up sheets or clothes, hiding people’s belongings, applying Vaseline to door handles and faucets, and a wealth of other things. The rule on prank night is use your imagination, but keep it safe and reversible.

This year I was a junior counselor at Kids Camp. The prank night was an especially wild and crazy one, to say the least. The leader of the camp, Mrs. Loretta White, planned a joke on Tom Owens, our blind O&M teacher. First, you should know that Mr. Owens was grilling our food for the cookout that night. About half an hour after dinner we were to go to him moaning and say “This burger wasn’t done,” and,  “I feel sick,” or “My hot dog was not cooked enough and it made me get sick,” or something of that nature. Mr. Owens would think that his cooking had made everybody get sick. However, somebody blabbed and told him about it, so that was totally out of the question. That night one of the boys came into the girls’ dormitory and completely trashed it. Mattresses were pulled from the beds and clothes were strewn all over the place. We had to chase the intruders out of the room. One of the girls’ counselors caught two of the boys, Steve and Frank. So, we girls tied Steve to a railing and Frank to a doorframe. (laughter). Everyone present cracked up—letting out great guffaws of unsuppressed laughter. The defeated invaders yelled, “Help, untie us.” The boys were trying to wrap us up in toilet paper even as they screamed and squirmed. That was a true riot. I was not personally targeted by anyone but still, I got my fair share. For example, when I grabbed a spigot to fill up a water balloon, it was all slippery and gooey. “Oh, no,” I thought. The soap dispenser is busted. I started to rinse off what I thought was soap. It wouldn’t come off. It simply would not come off. Turning on the hot water, I scrubbed like a mad woman. The oily stuff stayed on my hands, and then I realized I’d gotten a-hold of a great gob of Vaseline. In fact, every faucet was covered in it. It took me an entire geological age to get all that disgusting gunk off my hands (laughter).

The other prank that happened to me was my own fault. I filled a water balloon to a particularly titanic size. Then, impatiently, I tried to tie it. Of course, my fingers slipped off the top of it. Splash! Water gushed out pouring all over the place like a small Nile river and totally drenching me to the skin. Everything was soaked—my shirt, pants, and all! Worst of all, the water was approximately the temperature of absolute zero. I nearly froze to death. Honestly, one counselor told me later, “You’ve earned the official backfire award.” Playing pranks involves being sneaky, keeping secrets, and working with other people at times. Arguments that blind children might make for not doing it could be “I can’t see,” or “People will see me, so how can I prank them?” By learning how to play jokes, they get more proof that they are like their sighted peers. It also will enable them to understand, and to participate, if their friends discuss pranking. They can volunteer to help and not feel weird doing it. Their friends will most likely want to include them.

Another activity that many blind youths don’t do much is dancing. An excuse may be “I don’t dance because I don’t know how to.” At dances blind teens sometimes won’t know what to do and they feel strange asking for help. At our teen retreat this year, blind youths were shown by other sighted teens how to do dances like the electric slide. The sighted people we worked with—who were members of Mrs. Cheadle’s Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)—were very good at showing us the correct moves and steps. We were taught new dance steps, shown how to dance with others, and learned about slow and fast dances. Through this, we were able to get rid of some of the awkward feelings associated with going to dances, and could just have a great time.

Going to dances won’t be as uncomfortable for blind kids if they are shown how to dance. It is yet another way of showing them that they are just like their friends. Participating will be fun for them, and they’ll act—and be—more confident. Even though we have technology to help us do our schoolwork, blind kids must also be given the chance to understand that they can be like their friends in other respects as well. Thank you.

Missouri Teacher Receives
Distinguished Educator Award

Editor’s Note: One of the highlights of the NFB convention is, for many parents, the keynote speech at the annual meeting of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). This address is always delivered by that year’s winner of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award. The accumulative influence of these award winners goes far beyond the power of their speeches to inspire (which they do) or the incredible amount of information they have to share. Without fail, our award winners’ greatest contribution lies within the kind of people—and the kind of teachers—they are. They are people of integrity and energy. They care deeply about their students, and, therefore, make it their business to be the best teachers they can be. It goes without saying that they have high expectations for all their students. Our 2002 winner from Wentzville, Missouri, Debbi Head, is a credit to her predecessors. In addition to her impressive experience and expertise, her warm personality made it easy for parents to approach her throughout the convention to tap her extensive knowledge. Mrs. Head truly earned and deserved the recognition she received in the form of a beautiful plaque, an expense-paid trip to the 2002 NFB convention, and the $1,000 award. Printed below is the text of the plaque she received followed by the edited text of her keynote address to the NOPBC meeting:

[PHOTO—Debbi Head]

The National Federation of the Blind honors

Debbi Head

Distinguished Educator of Blind Children

for your skill in teaching Braille

and other alternative techniques of blindness

for generously devoting extra time

to meet the needs of your students

and for inspiring your students to perform

beyond their expectations.

You champion our movement.

You strengthen our hopes.

You share our dreams.

July 2002

Keynote Address

2002 NOPBC Annual Meeting

by Debbi Head

Thank you very much for selecting me as your Distinguished Educator of Blind Children. I greatly appreciate Shelia Wright for nominating me for this award and many thanks to the award committee, the National Federation of the Blind, and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children for selecting me and providing me the opportunity to speak today. I’d also like to take a moment and recognize my husband, Glenn, and my daughter Glenna, and thank them for attending today. One of my former students, Chasity, is also here and is sitting up front with my family.

I started out getting my degree in Special Education a long time ago. I graduated from High School in 1976 and went to college at the University of Missouri-Columbia, home of the Missouri Tigers. I received my undergraduate degree in special education with an emphasis in physically impaired/orthopedic handicapped and educable mentally handicapped. My first teaching job was for the St. Louis Public Schools in a segregated building for students with health impairments. I was astonished to find out that some of my students were there—in a completely segregated building—because they had asthma or were incontinent; after all, I have asthma. Before I left that district, seven years later, a lot of that (thankfully) had changed. It was wonderful to know that more students were being educated in inclusive classrooms.

From the St. Louis Public Schools, I went to the Wentzville School District; a rural district located approximately 40 miles west of St. Louis. Last year, Wentzville had approximately 6,000 students located in 8 buildings throughout the district. When the district hired me, it was for my expertise in working with children who were medically fragile, and for my knowledge about assistive technology. For the first year or two, I had one low vision student on my caseload who required some mild environmental accommodations. However, within a couple of years, I had my first Braille student. Thankfully, I was working with a wonderful mentor teacher in the neighboring district, Gayle Lyon. I just thank God that I had Gayle. But she kept talking about a dot 1, dot 2 and dot 3—and I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about!

Being the good teacher that I am, I headed back to school. I made a deal with my district that they would pay for my classes as quickly as I could take them. Three years and thirteen classes later I received, from the University of Missouri St. Louis, my certification to work with students with the educational diagnosis of blind and visually impaired. About this time I was beginning to feel like I was a professional student, not a teacher. However, I have truly come to realize that teachers are always students because you’re always learning from your students and their parents.

By state law, my caseload begins at age 3 and goes through 21. This past year I worked with students from age 3 through 20. My district fully supports students attending their home schools; therefore, I travel to see them. This past year my job duties included teaching visually impaired/blind students, conducting assistive technology evaluations, and providing assistive technology services as determined through the IEP process. For the first time, I also had the experience of participating in an off-campus work program with one of my high school seniors. I thoroughly enjoyed working with him to identify necessary accommodations and assist with his on-the-job training at Home Depot, Schnucks (our local grocery store), and McDonalds. Through the off-campus work program, I was able to see my student successfully interact in his community, strengthen his advocacy skills, find employment, and become successful in a totally different environment outside of the classroom.

Throughout the year, I found myself working on a vast array of skills in the classroom setting as well. I taught feeding and dressing skills, pre-Braille activities, vision efficiency, Braille, and I even helped my students learn how to dissect sharks and pigs! Sometimes, I swore I’d met myself on the road as I hustled from student to student. And yes, occasionally, I’d end up in the wrong building on the wrong day to see the wrong student! I was really thrilled when, a couple of months ago, I saw an article in a professional magazine about traveling teachers ending up in the wrong place. I had instant empathy with the author, and by the head-shaking occurring in the audience, I can tell it’s happened to others besides me! Over the years, as my caseload has grown and our high schools moved to odd and even days, I’ve found myself depending more and more on my lesson plan book. I’ve learned it doesn’t matter what day the calendar says it is, what matters is what day the district says it is! In a nutshell, that’s the life of an itinerant teacher of the visually impaired. We know which road or path is the quickest, which parking lot is the closest, and most importantly, which door isn’t locked during the day!

Working with my students year after year enables me to personally witness their growth and success. I find it beneficial to be able to give classroom teachers a perspective about where their student was a year or two ago, and to help teachers to really understand the difference they are making in the student’s life. I also believe it is very helpful for the parents to have a consistent person to contact regarding their child’s progress. There is comfort in knowing that this person truly does know her or his child, and understands the child’s personal needs and goals. This past year, two of my students, with whom I’d worked since they were eight- or nine-years-old, graduated from high school. It has been a joy to see these boys grow up and become independent, young men.

In Missouri, we are working together to pool our resources and improve services for students with vision loss. In addition to working for the school district, I’m also involved in several statewide programs. Several years ago, Senator Harold Caskey, Representatives Bill Boucher, Joan Barry and Gracia Backer passed Missouri House Bill 401, which established the Missouri Task Force on Blind Students Academic and Vocational Performance. I have served on the Task Force for the past three years as one of two representatives of teachers of the visually impaired. Other committee members represent state agencies, consumer organizations (such as the National Federation of the Blind), institutes of higher education, school administrators, employers, parents, and students. The purpose of the task force is to develop goals and objectives to guide the improvement of special education for students with visual impairments in the areas of related services, vocational training, transition from school to work, rehabilitation services, independent living, and employment outcomes.

As a committee member, I’ve worked hard to improve the quality of programs and services that our students have access to. Through the work of the Task Force, the state hired two Blindness Skills Specialists to work within a specific region of our state. The specialists consult with the local districts regarding the needs of the blind/visually impaired population; and they provide in-services and training to parents, vision teachers, and regular education teachers. We have just completed our second Children’s Summit Workshop to which we invited parents, classroom teachers, paraprofessionals, and others interested in understanding and improving educational services to our students. We are reviewing the National Agenda to ensure that the state of Missouri fully understands its relevance and importance as related to the educational outcomes of our students. We stay current on blindness issues, provide support for various legislative initiatives occurring throughout our state and nation, and pass information on to other educators and parents. We complete a yearly literacy study to document the progress our students are making in all areas of the expanded core curriculum, as well as within the regular education curriculum and state mandated tests.

In addition to this Task Force, I serve on our State Rehabilitation Council, which oversees the Rehabilitation Services for the Blind program. I also work with the Missouri Assistive Technology Project on their TAP-Internet program. The TAP-Internet is a relatively new program in our state that provides the assistive technology required for a qualifying person to access the Internet or send e-mail. I have been fortunate to have participated in several training sessions and have access to numerous pieces of technology for my personal use since I serve as a consumer support provider. I’ve experienced much professional growth as a teacher by participating on these state committees.

To wrap up, I’d again like to thank the National Federation of the Blind, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, and the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award Committee for selecting me for this award. It’s a great honor and I deeply appreciate the recognition of my students and program. Thank you.

My Days Are Full

by Michael Taboada

Speech given at the 2002 NOPBC Annual Meeting

Editor’s Note: One or more blind youth are always invited to speak at the Annual Meeting of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), which is held in conjunction with the NFB convention. At the 2002 meeting Michael Taboada was our featured youth speaker. Michael is the son of Dr. Joseph Taboada and NOPBC treasurer, Sandy Taboada (or Dr. Merchant, as she is known on the job at the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine.) Michael’s smooth delivery from his Braille notes was as much of an inspiration as the content of his speech. Here’s what he said:


Michael Taboada

Hi. My name is Michael Taboada and I am from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I live there with my mother, father, little brother Robert, three cats, and lots of fish. I go to school at Villa del Rey Elementary and I am going into the fourth grade. I like going to school. My favorite subjects are technology and math. I’m learning about the Braille Millennium. Sometimes when my teacher and classmates have trouble with their Braille Millennium, I can figure out what is wrong. This is how I fill some of my day.

I have many activities when I get home in the afternoon. I take Tae Kwon Do. I have been taking classes for two and one-half years. I am a first-degree-decided black belt. I have learned many forms and know how to spar. They also teach us some self-defense moves. I also take piano lessons. My teacher’s name is Miss Melody. I have performed in several recitals. I learn music by memorizing what I hear and by reading Braille music.

Another activity I have is Cub Scouts. I am a first year Webelos. That means ‘We’ll Be Loyal Scouts.’ Our last activity was a hike to Clark’s Creek. We hiked really tall hills and saw many waterfalls. I played in the water. I felt wolf and deer tracks. We ate lunch at one of the waterfalls. We also had a space derby last year where we built our own rocket to race. I didn’t win the race but won best looking rocket. We go camping every fall and spring with our pack.

This summer, I took swimming lessons. I was in the minnow’s class. I learned the backstroke and how to dive. I practiced free style. We joined the YMCA so besides lessons, we go there to swim for fun. I am going to take a kid fitness class where you learn how to use all of the fitness machines. The rest of the time in the afternoon is spent riding my bike, playing with the neighborhood kids, doing my homework, practicing the piano, and listening to tapes. Sometimes on the weekend my best friend Michelle comes over to play. She is also in my class at Villa del Rey.

So as you can see, my day is pretty full from morning to night.


A poem by Ryan Weatherbee

Reprinted from the July 2000 issue of Slate & Style, a publication of the NFB Writers Division.

Just relax, it could be fun

Don’t do your homework on the run

Sit down with your books and you’ve begun

And soon your homework will be done

Do your Math and English too

Soon no one will be smarter than you

Your adding, subtraction, and division you’ll do

Nouns, verbs, and stories, too

Now with homework, you are through

A new day has started and as you know

Another day will not be slow

With Science, Music, French and gym

A chance of no homework will be slim

So home you go again to study

You might do your homework with a buddy

You have studied for a very long time

Trying hard to complete this rhyme

You must start your homework really fast

For fear your alertness will not last

You cannot rush the homework along

For fear of getting answers wrong

Study hard and do your work

Because good marks can be a perk

For college scholarships they will work

So do your homework and don’t be a jerk.

Editor’s Note: Ryan, who is blind, was a sixth grade student at Memorial City School in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, when he entered this poem in the 1999 NFB Writers Division poetry contest for students. The poem earned second place in the competition. For more information about the NFB Writers Division and the annual contest, send your request and a stamped self-addressed envelope to: NFB Writers, c/o Lori Stayer, 2704 Beach Drive, Merrick, New York; or send an e-mail request with the notation “Poetry Contest” in the subject line to Mrs. Stayer at <[email protected]>.

If You Love Your Children,
Send Them on a Journey

by Robin Barnes and Pamela Houston

[PHOTO—Robin Barnes]

Robin Barnes (right) chats with Estelle Schneider at a Global Options international program for and about disabled women.  [Photo compliments of Mobility International, USA]

“How do you feel about Kochi?” The newspaper reporter leans back in his chair waiting, his pen poised. My Japanese comes slowly as I try to explain something that is too difficult for my language ability. The words “challenge,” “culture,” and “friendship” come to mind and I wonder how I can explain them so he will understand how I feel. I stumble over a word, take a breath, and start again—this time in English.

Summer, 2001—Arriving in Kochi, Japan

I arrived in Kochi on a very hot, windless Wednesday afternoon just three days ago, though sometimes it feels longer. Everything is new and seems too difficult for me to ever learn. The streets are too narrow for the cars and trucks that drive on them. It is too humid for my liking and when it rains, I feel like I am in a sauna. The cicadas are so loud that when I talk, I have to raise my voice to be heard over their raucousness.

Everyone seems to know my name and I can’t figure out how or why. I’ve already had one newspaper interview and ever since, people stop me on the street to tell me that I’m great. “Erai, suggoi,” they say. I don’t like being famous. It makes me feel as if I should be doing something amazing when in actuality, I’m just trying to get settled.

I feel overwhelmed by everything. On top of the heat, the noise, and the crowded streets, I can’t understand the local dialect. I came here to teach; yet I’ve never taught before. What was I thinking? I’m not the person for this job; clearly there must be a mistake.

Late Summer, 2001—First Day at Work

The entrance to the Kochi Prefectural Blind School is hot and humid as I change from my street shoes into a pair of school slippers. Today I meet my future colleagues, none of whom, I’m told, speak much English. The stifling air seems to close in around me and I swallow a knot of nervousness as I follow Katosan, the principal, down a hall and into a large room filled with soft cushioned chairs. About six people stand and immediately bow upon my entrance. I can’t imagine that I should deserve a bow—if anyone should be bowing, it’s me. My new colleagues introduce themselves to me, but their names all run together. The heat and endless chatter in Japanese makes my head spin. Gratefully, I sink into a chair and sip cold green tea. I wonder if I will ever learn enough Japanese to make close friends. Will I be able to learn the city independently? And, because Japanese society is so group oriented and because I’m the first blind assistant language teacher at a blind school, how will I be treated? Am I strong enough to do this job?

Autumn, 2001—Settling In

The staff room window faces the baseball diamond at Jose Junior High School. On these autumn afternoons, the sound of the ball on bat and feet pounding the dirt is comforting. The breeze that blows through the room smells of freshly fallen leaves and I realize that fall is beautiful no matter where you live.

The seasonal fruit seems to change weekly—right now the markets are filled with oranges, persimmons, and pears bigger than my head! Not a day passes that I don’t leave school with some fresh fruit, Japanese crackers, or fresh bread that someone has baked.

I am the first full-time assistant language teacher Kochi Mou Gakko has ever had. They had me lined up to teach for three years even before I came! There are thirty-three teachers and twenty-seven students, but I only teach about four students. Teaching one-on-one is very hard, harder than teaching a class of forty I think. Lately I’ve felt that I’m not doing this job justice. I suppose it’s all part of the experience and a challenge, such as this one, builds character.

Not only do I teach at the blind school, but also at schools for children with mental and physical disabilities, elementary schools in the mountains, and the school located inside Kochi Medical University Hospital. All of my students are wonderful and are always giving me things, mostly sweets. I see so many different kinds of people each day and I’m thankful for my interactions with them. Sometimes, I get to go onto the wards in the hospital and teach students who can’t leave their beds. To me, that is one of the most rewarding experiences I think I’ve ever had.

Everyone speaks to me in Japanese, so I get plenty of practice. Lately, when I try to speak English, only Japanese comes out. It’s strange and I never expected this to happen to me. There are times when I almost feel immature and uneducated when I can’t express my thoughts in my native language.

Every day I go a little farther from home and speak a little more Japanese. The past few weeks have taught me to be patient, to treat each day as a gift, to laugh, learn, and enjoy every opportunity that I am given.


Winter, 2001—Holiday Season

Christmas is everywhere in the city. It is completely commercialized and sometimes I have to stop and remind myself why I am celebrating this holiday! My friends and I often spend our weekend afternoons looking in all of the little shops that seem to appear just for the holiday season. This is the first year I won’t be with my family so I’m having Christmas dinner in Mou Gakko. Celebrating Christmas is a new experience for most Japanese people and you’d be surprised to see how excited everyone is. Traditionally, New Year’s has been more widely celebrated than Christmas.

We had Christmas parties in all of my schools. I found myself playing a recorder at the Idai Bunko Pediatrics’ Ward party. It was probably the most interesting Christmas party I’ve ever been to. You don’t often see doctors and nurses singing and dancing and I can only imagine the smiles it brought those children.

January, 2002—The Journey

I’ve lived in Kochi for five months. It doesn’t feel like it—five days, maybe. It suddenly turned from hot, humid August to January, with its misty rains and cool evenings. I’m left wondering where the time has gone.

If someone would have told me upon my arrival that I would do well here, that I would be known everywhere for my blindness and the things I do every day, I would have laughed. And while I don’t like being famous, I am proud of the things I have accomplished. I speak Japanese every day, I have Japanese friends, and I love my job. What more could I ask for? While many people tell me that I am brave for leaving my home and my life, and jokingly I add that it might be stupidity, what I am doing here is one of the most amazing and rewarding experiences of my entire life. If I can give courage to others through my smile and enthusiasm, then I will.

When I was a child, my parents used to tell me an ancient Japanese proverb: “If you love your children, send them on a journey.” And I never realized until this very moment that my life now is my journey.

Editor’s Note: When Pamela Houston of Mobility International submitted the article above she included the following information about the authors, about Mobility International, and about international travel and exchange opportunities for disabled students:

About the Authors: Ms. Barnes, a recent college graduate, is a teacher in Kochi, Japan, with the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET). The program aims to enhance foreign language education in Japan and to promote international exchange at the local level through fostering ties between Japanese and foreign youth. College and university graduates have the opportunity to serve in local government organizations as well as public and private junior and senior high schools. For further information about exchange opportunities with JET, call (202) 238-6700 or visit its Web site at <www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/jet>.

Ms. Houston is the public relations coordinator for Mobility International USA. She has volunteered internationally for two years each in Peru, South America and in Kiribati, Central Pacific.

International Exchange Opportunities: Robin’s experience in Japan thus far has changed her on many levels. She has gained a new perspective on the world, she has come to thrive in a culture that is very different from the one in which she grew up and she has gained tremendous confidence. The skills Robin has developed will serve her well in future employment. As parents, you can nurture an interest in other countries and cultures in your children. You can share stories such as Robin’s so that your child will know that they can participate in international exchange programs of any kind, including study abroad, international volunteer, and short-term work abroad programs.

Parents can begin exploring options with their children by accessing the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange (NCDE). NCDE is committed to opportunities being available to people with all kinds of disabilities and to making people with disabilities aware of the value of international experience. NCDE provides invaluable information, resources, and encouragement to individuals with disabilities and disability organizations. It also provides international exchange organizations with practical how-to consulting and training on including people with disabilities in their programs. Established in 1995, NCDE is managed by Mobility International USA (MIUSA) and sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State.

I wonder how many times Robin’s story would be multiplied if more blind youth saw their lives as a journey…and knew that that journey could take them around the world?

For More Information Contact:

The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange


PO Box 10767

Eugene, OR 97440

Phone: (541) 343-1284 (voice/tty)

Fax: (541) 343-6812

E-mail: [email protected]

Web site: www.miusa.org


Can Blind People be Astronomers?

by Bernhard Beck-Winchatz

DePaul University

Editor’s Note: Melissa Williamson (see “Me and My PE Teacher” in this issue) was right—when it comes to blindness, some sighted people just get it. After you read the article below, I think you’ll agree that Dr. Beck-Winchatz belongs to that special circle of those who “get it.” And yes, this is the same Bernhard Beck-Winchatz of Touch the Universe fame (see article elsewhere this issue.) Here’s what he says:

[PHOTO—NASA bbw and students]

Dr. Bernhard Beck-Winchatz (left) discusses astronomy with blind students from the Wisconsin School for the Blind

Have you ever wondered how the universe began, how Sun and Earth formed, how life got started on our planet, and if there are worlds similar to our own somewhere else in the universe? Throughout our history we as humans have asked questions like these to understand our place in the cosmos. Some turn to religion for answers. Astronomy addresses these questions from a scientific point of view. Maybe you feel excited when you think about the vastness of space, or the possibility that someday human beings may be able to communicate with other intelligent civilizations across our galaxy. As an astronomer with a strong interest in education, I know firsthand that many students from elementary school through college are fascinated by astronomy. Some of them may choose astronomy as a career, but for the majority it is simply an exciting gateway to other areas of science and technology.

I am not blind or visually impaired, and neither are any of the members of my family or friends. But I do feel strongly that the questions addressed in astronomy are important for everyone, whether they are sighted or not. We all want to know who we are, where we come from, and where we are going. After all, this is everyone’s universe! In this article I would like to share some of my thoughts on engaging blind and visually impaired students in astronomy.

When I started to work on Touch the Universe – A NASA Braille Book of Astronomy, I soon realized that there is a basic misconception about astronomy: Many people believe that it is a visual science. They think of an astronomer as someone who looks through a telescope, and takes notes on what he or she observes in the sky. This may have been the way Galileo conducted his observations almost 400 years ago, but modern astronomy is very different. Digital cameras are vastly superior to our eyes (and even photographic film) and have long since replaced them as detectors of the light collected by telescopes. They are more sensitive than our eyes, allow us to precisely measure subtle differences in brightness, position and shape, and permit the long exposures necessary to detect objects that are many billion times fainter than what our eyes can see. Once digital cameras have recorded the light from astronomical objects electronically, it is transferred to a computer and processed using specialized software. Astronomers use their eyes to read numbers, words, and sometimes graphs on the computer screen, but never as scientific instrument to make measurements. There is nothing a blind person could not do as well.


Another misconception is that astronomers have to travel to remote mountaintops to conduct their observations. Many astronomical telescopes can be operated remotely over the Internet. For example, I conducted the observations for my dissertation research with a telescope at Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico. But I never actually traveled to New Mexico. Instead, I sent instructions to the telescope over the Internet from my office at the University of Washington in Seattle. A technician on-site was there to assist me in case there was a problem with the telescope. When I rode my bike home through the rainy streets of Seattle in the early morning after my observations were completed, I sometimes felt like I missed out on trips to the desert and long romantic nights under the stars. But my point is that you can be an astronomer even if you find it difficult to travel, or think that it might be hard for you to operate a large telescope yourself.

Another example is robotic telescopes in space. Many astronomical observations are conducted with such telescopes to avoid interference by Earth’s atmosphere. For example, I use observations from the Hubble Space Telescope, which orbits Earth 600 kilometers above the ground. Hubble is operated remotely by a team of astronomers, engineers, and technicians at Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Astronomers from around the world send their proposals to this team, which then conducts the observations for them. The data is then sent back to astronomers via the Internet for scientific analysis. Space Telescope Science Institute also maintains an archive of past observations. Any astronomer can download archival data and use it for his or her own research.

It may surprise you to hear that frequently the most important and difficult part of the work of astronomers is not to answer interesting questions, but to ask them. This requires that they continuously read the latest journal articles and books to learn everything they can about the area of astronomy they are interested in, and to keep up-to-date on what other scientists around the world are working on. Once they have formulated an interesting question, they collect and analyze the data they need to address their question. Finally, they compare their results with the research of others, and publish articles in astronomical journals to let their colleagues across the world know about their findings. Sometimes they are able to answer their questions, but most of the time they just add another piece to the puzzle. Astronomers must have very good math, science, and computer skills, but there is nothing in the work of an astronomer that prevents a blind student from pursuing this field.

Modern astronomy can also teach us something about the nature of blindness itself. Since almost all objects in space are too far away for humans to visit them, we have to extract everything we want to know from the light they send to us. Light is made of tiny waves of electric and magnetic fields. The length of these waves varies depending on the color. For example, red light has a slightly longer wavelength than blue light. White light is a mixture of waves of different wavelengths. You can see this when you look at a rainbow: when sunlight passes through water droplets in the air, waves of different wavelengths are deflected at slightly different angles. The light from the Sun is split into different colors, and the result is a beautiful rainbow.

But visible light is only a tiny part of what is called the electromagnetic spectrum. Radio waves used in radio and TV broadcasts, microwaves used to heat food and in cell phone communication, infrared radiation used in television remote controls, ultraviolet radiation used in tanning beds, x-rays used by orthopedic surgeons, and gamma rays used to sterilize meats are also part of this spectrum. But they are invisible to our eyes because their wavelengths are either too long or too short.

Each part of the electromagnetic spectrum gives us a different perspective on objects on Earth and in space. Even if we know what an object looks like in visible light, observing it again in invisible light almost always reveals new, interesting, and frequently surprising details. When firefighters look into a burning room with their eyes in visible light, all they may be able to see is that it is filled with smoke. Infrared goggles allow them to see through the smoke and perhaps discover people who are trapped inside. When orthopedic surgeons examine a leg with their eyes, they may only see that it is swollen, but when they use x-rays, which can penetrate human tissue, they can tell that a bone is fractured. Astronomers use electromagnetic waves from all parts of the spectrum to observe the universe. Every type of visible and invisible light reveals a different piece of the puzzle. When all pieces are put together, the whole picture starts to emerge.

Firefighters use infrared light to see though smoke, surgeons use x-rays to see through human tissue, and astronomers use all types of electromagnetic waves to study the universe. But do they have infrared or x-ray vision? Of course not! However, this doesn’t prevent them from building instruments that can detect the different types of invisible light their eyes cannot see. When you think about it, the difference between a sighted person and a blind person is very small. In addition to being blind in radio waves, microwaves, infrared radiation, ultraviolet radiation, x-rays, and gamma rays, a blind person is also blind in a tiny region of the spectrum we call visible light. Yes, being able to see visible light is very helpful both in everyday life and in science. But the lesson astronomy teaches us is that if you cannot see visible light with your eyes, find other ways to see it, for example, by using technology, or by “borrowing” someone else’s eyes. Never ever let blindness stop you from pursuing your interests and dreams! I hope some of you are dreaming about becoming astronomers!

Bernhard Beck-Winchatz holds an M.S. in Physics from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet in Munich, Germany, and a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Washington in Seattle. He is currently an assistant professor in DePaul University’s Scientific Data Analysis and Visualization program. Bernhard has developed and taught a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate astronomy and physics courses, and currently teaches space science courses for practicing K-8 teachers in Chicago Public Schools. He has co-developed Touch the Universe – A NASA Braille Book of Astronomy (with Noreen Grice), which makes images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. He has authored or co-authored fifteen research publications on quasars, stellar jets, globular cluster stars, and variable stars. Bernhard currently lives in Chicago with his wife Michaela, who is an assistant professor in speech communication.

Art Programs for the Blind: What’s Available? What’s Accessible?

A Panel Presentation at the 2002 Parents Seminar

[PHOTO: Art panel: 4 people standing]

Art Program panelists (from left to right) Christine Faltz,
Louise Brasher, Dr. Sy Hoffman, and Ann Cunningham.

A very important part of the parents’ seminar agenda on Wednesday, July 3, 2002, was a panel about non-visual access to art, art programs, and museums. Although time was limited for the morning panel presentation, substantial time was allotted for art-related workshops in the afternoon. Special thanks go to Art Education for the Blind (AEB) for coordinating the panel and afternoon workshops, and to Christine Faltz for moderating the programs. NOPBC was especially honored to have Louis Bratcher and Sy Hoffman from the Birmingham Museum of Art (BMA) at the seminar. They participated on the morning panel and conducted workshops in the afternoon. In 1990, Sy Hoffman founded one of the earliest—perhaps the first, certainly the longest lasting—accessible program for the blind in an art museum. Today, the BMA offers three different docent-guided accessible tours to blind or visually impaired visitors. The tours include opportunities to tactually examine (wearing special plastic gloves) sculptures and other art artifacts on display at the museum. In addition to these tactile opportunities, the program uses music and verbal descriptions by trained docents and volunteers to create a rich and meaningful art experience for blind patrons. Also joining the panel and assisting with the workshops was Anne Cunningham, an artist from Denver who designs and teaches art classes for blind students at the NFB Colorado Center for the Blind.

The NFB 2002 Scholarship Class

With every passing year we recognize the increasing value of the NFB Scholarship Program to our national organization. Members of previous scholarship classes—ninety-five past winners last year—stream back to take part in convention activities and assume responsibility, doing anything that they can see needs to be done. Everyone looks forward to meeting the new scholarship class and to hearing what its members are doing and planning to do with their lives.

Early in the 2002 convention week, at the meeting of the NFB board of directors, each scholarship winner (30 in all) came to the microphone and spoke directly to the Federation. Each speaker was introduced by Peggy Elliott, chairman of the NFB Scholarship Committee. Later in the week, at the banquet, the suspense of wondering who won which award ended when winners were called forward one-by-one to receive their awards. Following are photographs of each 2002 scholarship winner. Next to each photo is the name, home state, and school state of the student; the transcribed text of the remarks he/she made at the board meeting; and the name and amount of the scholarship he/she received.

[PHOTO] Mazen Abou-Antoun, Ohio, Washington, D.C.: How are you doing, everyone? I just want everyone to know that this is my first convention and that obviously it seems that it won’t be my last. I am going to be a law student at George Washington University in the fall. I plan to join the U.S. Foreign Service. The thing I want to mention now is that I got married last summer, and my wife is sitting in the crowd. I didn’t mention it at the first meeting. I didn’t mention it at the student meeting, and this time will be strike three and out if I don’t mention it. It is a pleasure meeting all of you. [$3,000 Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship]

[PHOTO] Josie Armantrout, Washington, Washington: Hello, everyone, good morning. My name is Josie Armantrout, and I will be finishing at Green River Community College this year and going on to the University of Washington. I plan to earn a BA in sociology and a minor in computer applications and Spanish. I want to be able to work where the changes need to be done, and that’s at the state agencies—teach them the philosophy and get people out of their homes and out into the world. Thank you. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]

[PHOTO] Jessica Bachicha, New Mexico, New Mexico: [Jessica began by singing several bars of a song.] I am Jessica Bachicha, and I am double majoring in music and foreign languages at the University of New Mexico. I hope to pursue graduate studies in Europe and then understand how I can best serve from there. I want to sing. I want to really sing beyond the notes, beyond the rhythm, beyond the dynamics. There is a relation between languages and music, and I want to find it. [$3,000 Michael and Marie Marucci Scholarship]

[PHOTO] Rick Brown, Florida, Florida: Hi. I am going to be attending the University of South Florida, and one of my biggest achievements that I have come across this month is four years of a transplant (pancreas and kidneys), so I am no longer a diabetic. I am very proud of that. I plan on going for my master’s in social work. I want to work with diabetics and people who are losing their sight. Thank you. [$3,000 Lora E. Dunetz Scholarship] [Freedom Scientific $2,500 Technology Certificate]

[PHOTO] Nicolas Crisosto, California, California:

It’s walking on the beach feeling the sun rise and a sea breeze;

It’s running without doubts or electronic routes,

Freely through the trees.

More than that it’s standing tall in class,

On stage, or on the street.

It’s cuddling up with Braille books

And slating names of new people when we meet.

It’s the joy of playing football with sighted friends

And knowing life and believing life doesn’t end with blindness.

It’s all of this and so much more.

That’s what the NFB, the CCB, and the scholarship mean to me.

And I’m a math major. [$7,000 NFB Scholarship]

[PHOTO] Moira Egan, New York, New York: Good morning. I am a Ph.D. candidate in history at the City University of New York. I am an adjunct instructor now and plan to be a full professor when I finish. I am writing on a woman who was a nun, and it’s wonderful because my being blind will be an asset. Nuns don’t generally leave records about themselves, so my field in using alternative techniques will help me seek out all the little tidbits of information that are stored in various archives. My being blind will also equip me well to write her biography because she was a nurse and an administrator and a financial expert when such things were not possible for women. I think my being involved with this group will help me to search out her ways of using different strategies and breaking new ground. I thank you all for the opportunity. [$3,000 Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship] [Freedom Scientific $2,500 Technology Certificate]

[PHOTO] Alex Gray, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Hello. My name is Alex Gray. Next fall I will be attending Boston College, where I intend to pursue a degree in education. I hope one day to be a high school English teacher. I would like to briefly say, when I first was leaving Boston, I was unsure about how my being blind would affect my travel and how it would affect a lot of my life. As I went on, it started to make more sense; it seemed possible. Over the past three days people in the National Federation of the Blind have made it seem that everything is possible for blind people and for me. I would like to thank you for all the inspiration that you have given. [$3,000 NFB Educator of Tomorrow Award]

[PHOTO] Jesse Hartle, Louisiana, Louisiana: Good morning. At last year’s national convention I listened to a speech by Erik Weihenmayer and how he felt when he stood on top of the world, on top of Mt. Everest. In my life I have never climbed a mountain yet, but I know how it feels to stand high above the ground because I have stood on the shoulders of many giants in the Federation like Dr. Joanne Wilson and Pam Allen, who at a young age lifted me up. It is a pleasure for me now to serve in the Louisiana Center for the Blind Buddy program, where I have the opportunity to lift up the future of tomorrow onto my shoulders so that they may see the horizon of what is possible. I am currently working on my master’s degree in history with plans to go into law in the field of sports and entertainment law. Thank you very much. [$5,000 Jennica Ferguson Memorial Scholarship] [Freedom Scientific $2,500 Technology Certificates]

[PHOTO] Lynn Heitz, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Good afternoon, fellow Federationists. I am a junior at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I will be continuing my education to get my master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling. In addition to that I am president of the Keystone Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania. I am also the editor of the state affiliate newsletter and have the privilege of helping to organize other state events that are run during the course of a year. I look forward to being able to continue working with the Federation and continuing its goal of improving what it means to be blind in Pennsylvania. Thank you. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]

[PHOTO] Robin House, tenBroek fellow, Missouri, Missouri: Good afternoon, fellow Federationists. I am currently a graduate student working on a master’s degree in elementary counseling. I recently finished up with a second bachelor’s degree in education, and I earned teacher certification in the state of Missouri. Another award I recently earned, which is an honor equal to this—outstanding teacher for the fall semester 2001 by the University of Missouri Department of Education, and it was quite an honor. Just like this, they named one person for that. I believe my vision for the twenty-first-century classroom is that students feel capable, connected, and contributing members of the classroom, community, and society. I want to thank the Federation for your continued guidance, support, and confidence in me. Thank you. [$5,000 Sally S. Jacobsen Memorial Scholarship]

[PHOTO] Michael Jones, Alabama, Alabama: Hello, everyone. I first want to thank all the local chapter presidents and local chapter members who raised so much money for our organization that gives great opportunities like this scholarship. I really sincerely thank you, and your hard work pays off. I am a Ph.D. student at Auburn University in vocational rehabilitation. I would like to teach university-level people and spread the philosophy of the Federation and also work in executive administration in a state agency. Thank you. [$3,000 E.U. Parker Scholarship]

[PHOTO] Sheila Koenig, tenBroek fellow, Minnesota, Minnesota: Thank you. I currently teach ninth grade language arts at Southview Middle School in Medina, Minnesota; and I am pursuing a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, specializing in English education. On the first day of class last fall I showed my students a videotape. On this videotape they saw me, their English teacher, securely fastened in a harness being raised up about 160 feet. With the pull of a cord, I dove to the ground and glided from side to side, pendulum style. I showed this to my students because I wanted them to see that their teacher wants to stretch her possibilities, wants to challenge herself to become more. This is what I expect of them in my classroom, and it is in fact what the Federation has given to me. Thank you for this honor. [$7,000 NFB Scholarship]

[PHOTO] James Konechne, South Dakota, South Dakota: Hello. I am going to be a junior at the Dakota Wesleyan University. I am studying business administration and economics, and my goal in life is to live out the Federation philosophy and prove every day that blind people can be just normal members of society. Thanks. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship] [Freedom Scientific $1,500 Technology Certificate]

[PHOTO] Deana Lambert, Arkansas, Arkansas: Good afternoon, Federationists. To get to this national convention I had to leave my mother at the airport, who was crying with tears not of happiness and excitement at my accomplishments. She was afraid. She was kind of dismayed that her daughter was going off somewhere strange to meet strangers and mentors and great people she did not know. I hope to become a coordinator of youth services. I would like to show people and teach students that I believe in them and the Federation believes in them, and most importantly, that they need to and must have every right to believe in themselves so that they can have bright and fascinating futures. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship] [Freedom Scientific $1,500 Technology Certificate]

[PHOTO] Anil Lewis, Georgia, Georgia: This is very humbling. I want to take this opportunity to express to all of you that I consider this scholarship an investment as well as an award. This award will allow me to graduate next year from Georgia State University with a master’s in public administration with an emphasis in policy evaluation. I intend to use that newly acquired academic tool to establish a nonprofit center that takes advantage of my experience in job placement and training to advocate for individuals, to create opportunities for blind individuals, to help fight for equality for blind individuals, and to insure the security of the others. As far as my promise to you for an investment you are making today, I have already demonstrated my ability to give you a good return on your investment as the newly elected president of the Georgia affiliate. I work on several boards to secure equality, opportunity, and security, but with this investment that you are making today, I want to assure you that you are going to make bigger and better returns; thousands upon thousands of blind people will benefit from what you are doing for me today. Unlike Enron and WorldCom, I won’t cook the books; I will give you a fair return on your investment. [$10,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship]

[PHOTO] Therese McCabe, California, California: Good morning, everyone. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be here with all of you. I am honored to have been selected for receiving this scholarship. I would like to take a few moments to express my gratitude to the National Federation of the Blind for providing me with the opportunity to become acquainted with the organization’s philosophy. I have had very little exposure to blindness organizations, so this week has been a real eye-opener for me. I have been impressed by the sense of unity within the organization, the immense energy of its members, but particularly by the confidence and dignity and poise with which many of the speakers I have heard present themselves. I think that there is not enough of this self-confidence in blind people I have seen in the past. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to be here and to be experiencing this organization. I plan to continue with the organization if I can. I just recently graduated from high school, and I will be a freshman at UCLA in the fall majoring in English. I am considering a double major or perhaps a minor in music or language and philosophy. After college I hope to continue on to law school and some day become a trial lawyer. Thank you. [$3,000 NFB Humanities Scholarship] [Freedom Scientific $2,500 Technology Certificate]

[PHOTO] Tony Olivero, Wisconsin, Minnesota: Thank you. I am currently working on a bachelor’s degree in computer science, hoping for a career in computer security and networking administration or computer consulting. I am on the LaCross chapter board of the NFB and the Wisconsin affiliate board, and I am the treasurer of the Wisconsin Association of Blind Students. I would just like to take a moment and thank Dr. Maurer and members of the board, the scholarship committee, and all my fellow Federationists for all the incredible opportunities that this scholarship class is getting, and I hope some day to be able to pay back everything you guys have given us. [$3,000 NFB Computer Science Scholarship] [Freedom Scientific $1,500 Technology Certificate]

[PHOTO] Jennifer Peterson, Iowa, Iowa: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I am very honored to stand before a whole room full of people who have accomplished so much. This is my first convention, and I am just blown away, not because these blind people have accomplished so much, but simply because you have all accomplished so much. I have undergraduate degrees in religion, English, and human services, and I decided to continue in social work. I have just completed my first year of an MSW at the University of Iowa. I don’t know exactly what I want to do with it, and the reason is that I would be happy working in a number of settings. I am interested in simply helping people empower themselves in whatever way is necessary. I am interested in any group who feels disempowered, any person who feels a sense of dependence on something or other, and I would like to help them to achieve independence in whatever ways I can do that. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]

[PHOTO] Ben Pool, Alaska, Washington: Good morning, or afternoon, I suppose. Like Peggy said, I am from the great state of Alaska, the home of Eskimos and snowshoes and midnight sun and the Iditarod and, of course, myself. Next fall I will be enrolling at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, where I will be majoring in psychology. Ultimately my vocational goal is to be a radio therapist, i.e., not Dr. Ruth or Dr. Laura, but Dr. Ben and no one else. So thank you. This is my first experience with the NFB, and it’s been thrilling to say the least. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship] [Freedom Scientific $1,500 Technology Certificate]

[PHOTO] Deja Powell, Hawaii, Hawaii: Aloha. Hi. My name is Deja Powell. I am originally from Salt Lake City, Utah. I graduated from high school a year ago, and I have been attending the Salt Lake Community College and have also been an active member in the Utah student division as their vice president. As of only ten days ago, I started my education at Brigham Young University, Hawaii campus. I flew in from there a few days ago on a twelve-hour flight. So if you see me nodding, that’s the reason why—I skipped a night. My career goal is to become a journalist or possibly advertising, and my minor is English. This is my second convention. My first one was a great experience, and that’s why I am here. Thank you. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship] [Freedom Scientific $2,500 Technology Certificate]

[PHOTO] Raquel Silva, Nevada, Nevada: Hi. My name is Raquel Silva, and I am very honored to be here today and very excited to be here. This is my first convention, and I just want to thank you all for being such a great support in my life. My goal is to be a vocational rehabilitation counselor. I am currently a junior at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. I would one day like to give back what was given to me by being an example to other blind individuals and helping them get a job and find their place in the world and their dreams and hopefully how to achieve them. Thank you. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]

[PHOTO] Ashley Skellenger, Florida, Louisiana: Hello. I will be attending Louisiana Tech University in the fall and will get a degree in computer information systems. Three years ago I attended my first state convention in Jacksonville, and I heard Diane McGeorge speak about the Colorado Center and what the students learn there and especially the confidence that they gained. I knew that that was something I needed and wanted to have, so as a result I attended the Louisiana Center for the Blind STEP and adult programs, and both of those were wonderful experiences. I learned so much and am still learning. I am just grateful to be a part of this convention again, and I really appreciate this opportunity. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship] [Freedom Scientific $1,500 Technology Certificate]

[PHOTO] Philip So, New Jersey, New York: Good morning, Federationists. It is an honor to be here, and this week has been overwhelming. I am from New Jersey, and I am studying economics right now at Columbia University in New York. This week I learned so much from all the people and also from the Federation’s philosophy. Through that I have also learned more about myself. It is my first convention here, and I look forward to the next one and the one after that, and even more after that. Thank you. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]

[PHOTO] Ryan Strunk, Nebraska, Nebraska: Good morning. You know, it’s interesting: I have done a lot of work for the Federation thus far, and people have asked me, “Ryan, if you’re so on fire for the Federation, why are you going into a musical education career?” I thought about this for a while, and I realized that when I stand up on a stage in front of thousands of students over the course of my career and tens of thousands of their close relatives and friends, I’m going to be showing everyone that blind people can and will participate on an equal level with the sighted population. Not only that, but I also thought it was interesting that I have to take a lot of education courses and things like that—lesson plans, working on disciplining the students, and things like this. I realized that there are only two things you really need for public education: the first is patience, which they say comes with age; and the second is philosophy. The first I’m working on, and the second I have because of the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you. [$7,000 Melva T. Owen Scholarship]

[PHOTO] Mary Jo Thorpe, Utah, Utah: Good afternoon. I am so privileged to be here today and thank you for the opportunity. My name is Mary Jo Thorpe. I am from Woods Cross, Utah. I graduated cum laude from Utah State University. I am now attending the University of Utah interning to become a child life specialist. This is an individual who works in the hospital setting as an advocate for children and their families, who supports children in a variety of hospital procedures in preparation for surgery and things of that nature. Upon my certification and completion of this program, to my knowledge I will be the first certified blind child life specialist in the country, so I am excited for that. I am also working towards my master’s in social work. I have been involved in the NFB for three years and have had a lot of opportunities to serve on the local level with our state. I am also on the Utah board of directors and serve as the Utah student division president. I am really excited to be a part of this organization. I think it is a worthy cause and has greatly helped to make me who I am and helped me come to accept my blindness and really made it easier for me to change what it means to be blind for myself. I am grateful for that. [$5,000 NFB Scholarship]

[PHOTO] Andrea Travis, Idaho, Idaho: Hello there, everyone. Isn’t this tough competition? Wow. I am going to be a freshman at the University of Idaho in the fall, and I am really excited to go, and I think I am going to major in business administration and hopefully own my own business some day. This is my very first convention, which is really cool. It’s kind of overwhelming, but it’s fun. I am the Idaho Association of Blind Students vice president. Thank you. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]

[PHOTO] David Tseng, California, California: Good afternoon, everybody. I will be entering my first semester at UC Berkeley this fall. I will be majoring in computer science and music, just to balance out those two fields. I would like to share one realization that I’ve come to. The few days that I’ve been at this convention, I have come to realize and truly believe that blind people can obtain any goal they want to aspire to. Now we can all say that, but to truly believe in it is another question, and seeing all the people here doing, going about their business is truly inspirational. It just makes me want to do more with my own life. Thank you very much. [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]

[PHOTO] Emily Wharton, Minnesota, Minnesota: Hello. Four years ago Joyce Scanlan took a chance on a young Iowan with an English degree and hired me to work at BLIND, Inc. Since then I have had the opportunity to teach and learn cane travel and life skills and computers and actually learn how to be a LAN administrator. Through BLIND, Inc., and the wonderful people I have met through National Federation of the Blind, the courage and skills and friendship that I have found here have allowed me to come with the courage to follow my greatest passion and return to graduate school so that I could earn a master’s of fine arts degree in creative writing at Hamline University. I will start in the fall, and I would like to thank you all for this opportunity. [$5,000 NFB Scholarship]

[PHOTO] Jay Williams, North Carolina, North Carolina: I am Jay Williams, and I am from North Carolina. I got my undergraduate degree, graduating summa cum laude from NC State University. I am currently at East Carolina University to get my master’s degree in counselor education. Hopefully my Eastern dialect won’t affect ya’ll. I would eventually like to open up my own private agency working with substance abuse in the adolescent population, and I guess I want to leave you with a statement that has really meant a lot to me. It is an excerpt from the children’s fable of the fox in The Little Prince. That excerpt is “One sees clearly only with the heart; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” [$3,000 NFB Scholarship]

[PHOTO] Cindee Wobbles, Connecticut, Connecticut: Hello. I really wish I had kept my maiden name about now—going last after this crowd. I will be attending Central Connecticut State University. I am in the psychology/sociology double-major program. My goal is to be a vocational rehabilitation counselor specializing in elderly services, in which I will find success because I am trustworthy, reliable, and independent. In other words, I say what I mean; I go out there and do it; and I do it on my own ability. Thank you. [$3,000 Kuchler-Killian Memorial Scholarship]

NFB Camp: Childcare at the 2003 Convention

Programs and Activities

During convention week children six weeks through ten years of age are invited to join in the fun and festivities of NFB Camp. NFB Camp offers more than childcare; it is an opportunity for our blind and sighted children to meet and develop lifelong friendships. Our activity schedule is filled with games, crafts, and special performances designed to entertain, educate, and delight. If you are interested in this year's program, please complete and return the registration form provided. Pre-registration with payment on or before June 15, 2003, is mandatory for participation in NFB Camp. Space is limited, and last year some families had to be turned away.

About the Staff: NFB Camp is organized and supervised by Carla McQuillan. Carla is the executive director of Main Street Montessori Association, operating two schools, parent education courses, and a teacher training program. Carla is the mother of two children, the President of the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon, and a member of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind.

Michelle Ros is this year’s activities director for NFB Camp. Michelle is a Montessori teacher employed by Main Street Montessori Association. Carla and Michelle will supervise a staff of experienced childcare workers and volunteers.

Activities and Special Events: The children are divided into groups according to age: infants and toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children. Each camp room is equipped with a variety of age-appropriate toys, games, and books, and there will be daily art projects. In addition, school-aged children will have the opportunity to sign up for half-day trips to local area attractions.  The planned events include trips to the park (outside play), a zoo exhibit (which will come to camp), the Speed Art Museum, the Louisville Slugger Museum, cookies and milk, and walks to the mall.  We are also hoping for a special appearance by blind singer/songwriter Daniel Lamonds.  Dates, times, additional fees, and sign-up sheets are available at NFB Camp.  Space for special events is limited to enrolled NFB Campers only, on a first come, first served basis.

On the final day of NFB Camp we will have a big toy sale—brand new toys at bargain prices.

Banquet Night: NFB Camp will provide dinner and activities during the banquet. The cost for banquet activities is $15 per child in addition to other camp fees.

NFB Camp will be open during general convention sessions, division and committee meeting day, and the evening of the banquet.  Plenty of teens are always available to babysit during evening and lunchtime meetings.

Please use the NFB Camp registration form included.


NFB Camp will be open during general convention sessions, division and committee meeting day, and the evening of the banquet. Times listed are the opening and closing times of Kids Camp. Children are not accepted earlier than the times listed, and a late fee of $10 will be assessed for all late pick-ups. NFB Camp provides morning and afternoon snacks. You are responsible to provide lunch for your child(ren) every day, except Saturday.

            Date                                                                 Kids Camp Hours

Saturday, June 28                                 8:30 am-5:30 pm (Lunch provided this day only)

Sunday, June 29                                   Camp is closed

Monday, June 30                                  8:30 am-5:30 pm*

Tuesday, July 1                         9:30 am-12:30 pm and 1:30 pm-5:30 pm*

Wednesday, July 2                               8:30 am-12:30 pm*

Thursday, July 3                                   8:30 am-12:30 pm and 1:30 pm-5:30 pm*

Friday, July 4                            8:30 am-12:30 pm  and 1:30-5:30 pm*

* You are required to provide lunch for your child(ren) each day.

These times may vary, depending on the timing of the actual convention sessions. NFB Camp will open thirty minutes before the beginning gavel and close thirty minutes after session recess.


Completed form and fees must be received on or before June 15, 2003

Parent’s Name ______________________________________________________

Address ___________________________________________________________

City _______________ State _________ ZIP ________ Phone ______________

Child(ren)’s Name(s)

_________________________________________ Date of Birth _________ Age

_________________________________________ Date of Birth _________ Age

_________________________________________ Date of Birth _________ Age

Include description of any disabilities/allergies we should know about: ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Who, other than parents, is allowed to pick up your child?


Per Week:        $80 first child; $60 siblings          # of children _____    $ ________

                                    (Does not include banquet)

Per Day:           $20 per child per day            # days  ____ x $20/child  $ ________

                                    (Does not include banquet)

Banquet:           $15 per child                    # of children ______ x $15   $ ________


Total Due         $ ________

We understand that NFB Camp is provided as a service by the NFB to make our convention more enjoyable for both parents and children. We understand the rules we were given and agree to abide by them. We will pick up children immediately following sessions. We understand that, if our child(ren) does not follow the rules or if for any reason staff is unable to care for our child(ren), further access to childcare will be denied.

Parents Signature __________________________________ Date _______________

Make checks payable to NFB Camp

Return form to National Federation of the Blind of Oregon

5005 Main Street, Springfield, Oregon 97478, (541) 726-6924