Future Reflections September- December 1983, Vol. 2 No. 5

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On July 2nd, 1983, the National Federation of the Blind once again demonstrated its concern and expertise about the needs of blind children and their parents. A well-organized, informative and thought provoking seminar for parents and educators of blind children was held as a part of the many convention activities of the NFB.

The seminar was first preceded by the elections and presentation of the constitution of the newly organized Parents of Blind Children Division of the NFB. After comments by the national president, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, the seminar began with a panel discussion entitled, "Our Family's Response to Blindness." Panelists represented a parent of a blind toddler, a mother whose blind children are now successful adults, a blind man who was blind from birth, and a father of a blind teenager. The panel was moderated by Barbara Cheadle, parent and editor of FUTURE REFLECTIONS.

The panel discussion was excellent in the way that it portrayed and brought together the perspectives parents and children have at different stages in their lives. It was obvious how the development of a positive attitude toward blindness could help both parent and child as children grow from infants to adults.

The next agenda item was a talk about, "Kansas City School for the Blind Deals with Attitudes; The Blind Child and Other Children with Special Needs," by Ralph Bartley, Superintendent of the Kansas School for the Visually Handicapped. Mr. Bartley gave some excellent advice on a variety of topics. He first assured us that, as parents, we knew more about parenting than we often think we do.

He then went on to talk about mutiplyhandicapped children. He warned parents to, "Be careful. There are some definite problems with definitions about who is blind/multiple-handicapped, or multiplehandicapped/blind, or multiple-impaired, or severely/ multiple-handicapped, or all this other jargon that is going on. Be terribly careful if your child is put in one of these classes." Some personal experiences he had while teaching multiple-handicapped/blind children taught him how often blind children are mislabeled multiple-handicapped when the kids may have just had a rough deal in life, the school did not have the program the child needed, or funding problems made it more convenient to label them so.

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Bartley described some exciting joint projects of the NFB of Kansas and the Kansas School for the Blind. For example, a local chapter of the NFB has sponsored a creative writing contest for the students at the school. Also, the National Federation of the Blind provides a vocational counseling program for the older students. Two successful blind adults meet with the students at the school once every two weeks and hold an informal discussion. To encourage free and open communication, school staff and administration (including Mr. Bartley) do not attend these sessions. He was, he said, very pleased with the results; feeling it was better than any other career education course the school could offer the children.

Before the noon break we all watched the video film, "Kids with Canes." This is a production of the Nebraska Services for the Visually Impaired. The film showed children as young as five years of age receiving cane travel instruction. The film also featured the feelings and reactions of the parents to their child's use of the cane. The film made a tremendous impact upon the audience. Several NFB child-size canes on exhibit were sold before the seminar ended, and at least one five-year-old little girl was happily exploring the hotel -- to her parents' delight -- with her new cane in hand.

Box lunches were available in the room during the noon break so parents and blind adults could have a chance to meet and talk and to check out the displays. After lunch, the seminar reconvened with some role playing about Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings.

IEP meetings can be scary and frustrating, but the role-play helped put some humor into it while giving some worthwhile guidelines and tips for parents. Doris Willoughby, an itinerate teacher for the visually impaired and author of several publications about the education of blind children, organized the role-plays and participated as the "resource-itinerate teacher." Fred Schroeder, the Coordinator of Low-Incidence Programs of Albuquerque, New Mexico schools, played a very convincing "mobility instructor" and Allen Harris, a blind coach and teacher in a regular public school in Michigan, kept everything moving in his role as "school principal." John Cheadle, a parent of a blind son, was by turns, the confused, intimidated "parent," and then the confident, knowledgeable "parent." A general discussion involving the audience followed the role-play. Fred Schroeder was able to express his "real views" about mobility and gave some good, practical advice about how cane travel should be approached.

Following the role-plays were presentations by Barbara Cheadle and Joanne Fernandes. Barbara Cheadle talked about FUTURE REFLECTIONS -- its goals and purposes -- and Joanne Fernandes described the highly successful NFB of Louisianna Seminar for Parents of Blind Children held earlier this spring. More state NFB seminars are planned for the coming year -- which was the topic of the next agenda item featuring Steve Benson of Illinois and Beverly Helmboldt of Michigan. Steve and Beverly are respectively the state president of the NFB of Illinois and the first vice-president of the NFB of Michigan.

The seminar ended in a most appropriate way with the discussion of parent support groups and ideas for the future.

Parents who attended the seminar expressed a great deal of satisfaction and pleasure from the information and exposure to other parents and blind adults. One parent commented about how the mock IEP sessions really "hit home." Most parents felt there was a real need for these kind of seminars because, "We are so scattered all over the country with no one to talk to who has the same problems we do." Parents repeatedly commented about how just talking to other parents was so helpful to them. One couple described just one of the things they learned by interacting with blind adults. They said they were, "Just about convinced there was no need for a slate and stylus." Then they began talking to the young blind people at the seminar. "There they were, whipping out slate and styluses from purses or pockets to write down our names and addresses," and we thought, "how convenient, you couldn't do that with a Braille writer!"

It takes committment to take the time to attend a parents workshop like this. It can also take courage to spend a whole day talking about blindness -- dealing with it head-on and to be around more blind people then you've ever met or seen in a lifetime. But, when it's all over, everyone agrees ... it was worth it!

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