Volume 34 Number 3 Fall 2015
A magazine for parents and teachers of blind children published by
the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults in partnership
with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children.
Deborah Kent Stein, Editor
Copyright © 2015 American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
For more information
about blindness and children contact:
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, MD 21230 • (410) 659-9314
www.nfb.org/nopbc • email@example.com • firstname.lastname@example.org
A New Obstacle for Students with Disabilities
by Kyle Shachmut
Thriving All the Same
by Marion Masek
Using Messy Play to Teach Self-Feeding Skills
by Amber Bobnar
Manners Matter (Excuse Me, but They Do!)
by Mary McDonach
TEACHING AND LEARNING
by Heidi Musser
Teaching Visually Impaired Students in Colima, Mexico
by Lynn Rock
The Journey Continues to This Day
by Steve Hastalis
Giving Independence to a Thirteen-year-old in Georgia
by Joanne Gabias
Two A.M. in a Foreign City
by Cayte Mendez
The Right to Fall: A Lesson in Independence Abroad
by Kaiti Shelton
Throwing Away the Road Map
by Sheila Koenig
by Sally Martin
Intoxicated by Braille
by Paul Hostovsky
The ABCs of Networking
by Cody Bair
Making It Count
by Shawn Jacobson
Standing on My Own Two Feet
by Ana Gschwend
Family Fun with the Crowned Prince
by Risa Shariff and Joseph Shariff
by Deborah Kent Stein
ODDS AND ENDS
Are you the parent of a blind or visually impaired child? Don’t know where to turn?
Founded in 1983, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) is a membership organization of parents, educators, and friends of blind children reaching out to give each other vital support, encouragement, and information. We have thousands of members in all fifty states plus Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico.
The NOPBC offers hope, encouragement, information, and resources for parents of blind or visually impaired children. NOPBC provides emotional support and a network of other families dealing with the same challenges you are facing. We also provide information, training, and resources to empower you to take an active role in guiding your child’s development and education. We can provide information on your child’s rights and on the laws and legislative issues that will enable you and your child to become strong and effective advocates.
Have you ever wondered what your blind or visually impaired child will be capable of when he or she grows up? The answer to that question is that blindness/visual impairment does not have to stop your child from doing anything he or she wants to do. We can connect you with other families and blind adults who can serve as positive mentors and role models. They can teach you the attitudes and techniques that will enable your child to become independent and to succeed in life.
What is different about the NOPBC?
Our status as a division of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the largest and most influential organization of blind people in the world, provides many benefits. Our members are well informed about the societal, legislative, and technological issues that affect blind people. We also enjoy the resources, support, and expertise of fifty thousand blind people who can serve as mentors and role models for us and our children. Finally, as our children grow up, they have the Federation to belong to.
No other organization for parents of blind/visually impaired children offers more programs, activities, and training to families, children, and youth. One of our most exciting activities is our annual conference. Every year since it was established, the NOPBC has conducted an annual conference for parents and teachers of blind children as part of the national convention of the NFB. The program has grown to include five exciting days of workshops, training sessions, activities for all family members, including sighted siblings, and countless opportunities to meet blind adults and other families and children from around the country.
What is the mission of the NOPBC?
The purpose of the NOPBC is to:
Most states have an NOPBC affiliate chapter. You can find your state chapter at <http://www.nopbc.org>. If your state does not have a chapter and you would like to start one, please contact us. We may be able to offer training and other assistance to start a state NOPBC chapter.
What are the programs, activities, publications, and resources of the NOPBC?
by Kyle Shachmut
Reprinted from the Braille Monitor, Vol. 57, No. 11, December 2014
From the Editor: The following article originally appeared in September 2014 in The Chronicle of Higher Education, a publication with more than 315,000 subscribers. By reaching a wide audience of educators it helped spur discussion about the access needs of blind postsecondary students and the proposed solutions. Kyle Shachmut is a leader in the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts, a doctoral candidate in educational media and technology at Boston University, and a technology consultant for the Lynch School of Education at Boston College.
It is well documented that students with disabilities are facing barriers in their pursuit of higher education, and institutions are having a difficult time fulfilling their legal obligation to ensure equal access. So it was surprising last month when the American Council on Education (ACE), in a letter to Senator Tom Harkin about the proposed reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, completely dismissed a provision that would make it easier for its member institutions to meet the needs of students with disabilities.
The provision, Section 931 of the draft document, calls for guidelines to ensure that students with disabilities have access to "electronic instructional materials and related information technologies" that are "consistent with national and international standards." Colleges that do not use materials that conform to the guidelines may opt out by showing that they offer students with disabilities access to instructional and technological materials that are equivalent to those used by nondisabled students, a standard the institutions should already be meeting.
Yet, according to the American Council on Education in its letter, this provision "creates an impossible to meet standard for institutions and will result in a significant chilling effect in the usage of new technology." It would "seriously impede the development and adoption of accessible materials, harming the very students it is intended to assist."
That statement indicates either a profound lack of understanding about what the provision actually does, a total lack of awareness that the majority of their member institutions are failing to meet existing legal obligations, or an insulting lack of interest in finding a solution for students with disabilities.
Most people assume technology expands opportunities for students with disabilities. While the potential exists, it can be realized only if technology is designed and coded with equal access in mind. Despite years of public awareness campaigns, legal challenges, and advocacy efforts, many commonly used technologies built or purchased by colleges--email systems, learning management systems, library databases, classroom materials--actually do more to prevent students with disabilities from equal participation than paper-based systems ever did. And partial solutions, like coding written material so a blind student can read the text cover to cover, are no longer equivalent. Being able to highlight, take notes, skip around, and integrate external content are essential functions of today's digital instructional materials; thus, blind students are denied equal access to the very technology that could have ensured their full participation.
Federal laws mandating equal access in the classroom for students with disabilities were written long before digital technologies were integral to the educational experience, but their meaning has not changed. Four years ago the US departments of justice and education clarified the expectations for institutions of higher learning by stating that requiring the use of "an emerging technology in a classroom environment when the technology is inaccessible to an entire population of students with disabilities--individuals with visual disabilities--is discrimination . . . unless those individuals are provided accommodations or modifications that permit them to receive all the educational benefits provided by the technology in an equally effective and equally integrated manner."
Since that guidance was issued, countless universities have upgraded or rebuilt core technology systems, but few have done so with consideration for this accessibility requirement. What lost opportunities! And those that attempt to wedge the paper-based accommodation model into today's digital ecosystem are simply leaving disabled students in the dust.
Because of this growing chasm of access, legal disputes and civil-rights complaints have occurred with increasing frequency. Most of these disputes end in agreements where colleges commit to honor their existing legal requirements to make accessible all technologies they deploy, procure, or recommend. Predictably, language from the aforementioned guidance appears in almost all of these settlements, including the most recent one between the Department of Education and the University of Montana. That agreement, in March, states that materials are considered accessible when "individuals with disabilities are able to independently acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services within the same time frame as individuals without disabilities, with substantially equivalent ease of use."
In 2008 Congress authorized the Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials to examine barriers caused by inaccessible technology and to recommend solutions. The commission's number one recommendation was to create guidelines that would stimulate the market for accessible materials.
This noncontroversial, common-sense, and data-driven solution is the basis for a bipartisan bill pending in both the House and Senate called the TEACH (Technology Equality and Accessibility in College and Higher Education) Act. The act served as the model for Senator Harkin's provision on accessible instructional material in the Reauthorization Act--the provision that ACE rejected.
With all of these problems and all of these promises, I assumed ACE would welcome the TEACH Act or any provision that results in a similar solution. Instead, the organization says voluntary accessibility guidelines will create "an impossible to meet standard." Is ACE just confused?
The TEACH Act and the proposed language to which ACE has objected merely call for voluntary guidelines for accessibility. If colleges opt in, they would ensure access via the market of accessible materials and assuage any legal concerns about complying with accessibility requirements. If they opt out, they would be free to use their own methods, but they would still be subject to the same requirement for ensuring equal access that they are today. Why would this be "impossible?" Or does ACE assert that its member institutions are resolving disputes by agreeing to equal standards that they cannot meet?
I also challenge ACE to prove its assertion that guidelines would chill the development of new technology. Have building designs ceased to evolve and architects ceased to innovate since guidelines for accessibility--think curb cuts, ramps, and elevators--were mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act almost twenty-five years ago? Of course not. Scare tactics are not a valid reason to deny inclusivity.
Finally, ACE has demonstrated little desire to engage on the issue of expanding access. It has been almost a year since the four-page TEACH Act was introduced in the House, yet this empty statement objecting to Senator Harkin's provision is the group's first and only public statement on accessible instructional materials.
As a blind student and professional in higher-education technology and an advocate for the disability community, I think we deserve a productive dialogue--not stall tactics and unsubstantiated claims about ensuring access for students with disabilities.
by Marion Masek
From the Editor: For many blind children, learning the skills of blindness is complicated by a variety of additional disabilities and medical conditions. In this article Marion Masek recounts the long journey her family traveled during her son Makkyle’s first years of life.
In order to tell Makkyle’s story, I want to begin by introducing our whole family. I am Marion Masek, and my husband is Miguel Mendez. We have an amazingly smart daughter, Makala Mendez, who is seven. Right now she wants to be a geologist and work with really cool rocks. Our son, Makkyle Mendez, is four years old.
During my pregnancy with Makkyle, I had no proof that anything was wrong. But at around five months I started getting headaches. I had a mother's intuition that something wasn't right, and I thought I was going to lose the baby. I kept telling my doctor that something was wrong, but the ultrasound showed nothing.
On December 17, 2010, at 6:00 a.m., I was scheduled to have a C-section because I had had one with my daughter. The C-section went well; the baby even gave the doctor a nice shower coming into the world! When they checked him out to make sure everything was all right, however, they noticed that his eyes were swollen shut. They told us he needed to be propped up to help the swelling come down. So Makkyle spent most of his first day out of the room, propped up in the nursery.
When the swelling didn't come down, the doctors checked Makkyle's tear ducts, and then went on to do a thorough examination of all his organs. They found that he had a micro penis, and they thought he had a heart and liver problem. They could not get his eyes to open.
Makkyle was born at a small hospital in rural Illinois. He got lots of attention there because his situation was so unusual. I believe five pediatricians came by to look at him that first day. They wanted to transfer him to another hospital that afternoon, but because I was recovering from the C-section they wouldn't release me or transfer me with him. We decided as a family to leave Makkyle with us for the time being. That was the best decision for our family. His problems were not life-threatening, so we felt there was no great rush.
Through all of this I heard one thing after another from the doctors. First they told us they didn't think anything was wrong, that the swelling of Makkyle's eyes would go away. Then they told us he had a condition called CHARGE syndrome. Then they said that CHARGE syndrome was the wrong diagnosis and told us we should transfer to a larger hospital.
Once I was ready to be discharged, we agreed to have Makkyle transferred. We had our choice of several hospitals, and we picked Loyola in Chicago. The Ronald McDonald House was right next to it, and we had family nearby. Once we got to Loyola, the real rollercoaster began! It felt like we were seen by pretty much every doctor in the place--heart, liver, back, and eye doctors, and even a genealogist. We all had blood drawn.
Finally they told us that Makkyle has bilateral anophthalmia, which means he has no eyes in either socket. They told us this condition is caused by a genetic mutation carried by one of the parents. We were never tested to see which of us carries it; we don't care or want to know.
We were with Makkyle in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for five days. They did MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging tests) and scanned his heart and liver to make sure there were no defects. He has a dimple on his back, so they scanned his back because they thought he might have a hole in his spine. It was a super emotional time for us!
After two days at the hospital my husband had to leave and go back to work. Makkyle and I finally got to go home on December 23, the day before Christmas Eve. I host Christmas Eve at our house every year, and I was home in time for that important holiday.
After we left the hospital, we still had almost weekly visits to doctors. Many of them were up at Loyola, which is more than a two-hour drive without traffic. We saw an eye prosthetic specialist who made Makkyle look as though he had teeth coming out of his eyes. (He had black prosthetics at Halloween--that was fun!) We saw a hormone doctor; she told us that Makkyle doesn't have enough testosterone in his system. That is why he has the micro penis. He went through three rounds of testosterone shots, and he will have to take testosterone for the rest of his life when he hits puberty.
For six months Makkyle did not gain weight, so we had to see a nutritionist and a gastroenterologist. We were told that our son could eat anything we could get him to eat, and that he must be strictly on PediaSure for liquids--as much PediaSure as we could get him to drink. We also saw many therapists, including a vision therapist and a physical therapist.
When Makkyle was a year old, we discovered he was having a hard time swallowing. We knew that he was tongue-tied, which means that his tongue was too tightly connected to his lower jaw. We decided to have a minor surgery performed that would untie his tongue. After the surgery he started using a Sippy Cup, but we found he didn't like it. He still was not sitting on his own, but he was starting to roll around a little. Not much crawling was happening.
At this time we were still going to the prosthetic specialist every other week. Makkyle was fitted with plastic conformers that were supposed to expand the bones around his eye sockets. Finally we decided that he needed to see an eye surgeon. We wanted to find out if we should continue with the conformers or use something called hydrogels. Hydrogels are balls or half globes somewhat like the kids' toys that grow when you put them in water. They expand the whole eye socket, not just the bone around it. If we went with the hydrogel, we also had to decide if we wanted Makkyle to have a fat graft to help fill his eye sockets. This decision called for yet another MRI.
For about two months the doctor would fasten Makkyle's eyes shut with a kind of glue to hold the hydrogels in place. Sometimes the hydrogels came out even before we got home, due to the fact that his eyelids were too small. We had to make the decision to stitch his eyelids closed to keep the hydrogels in place.
As parents we felt we needed to help Makkyle look as normal as possible to give him the best chance in life. We didn't want him to be bullied or looked down upon because of his unusual appearance. So we opted for surgery to have the hydrogels stitched into place. The stitches would pop out, and sometimes we had to see our son in pain. But with all the pain he endured, he kept a smiling face. His upbeat approach to life helped all of us keep our spirits up.
After the stitches were put in about nine times, there was enough space in the eye socket to insert the fat graft. The doctors took some fat from Makkyle's buttocks and put it in his eye. (Some day he can make up a cool story about that scar on his backside!) They placed the fat in his eye sockets and put conformers in on top. They had to stitch the eyelids closed for a while again until the fat grafts were healed in place, but we think we made the right decision. Finally Makkyle has better structural growth in his face.
By the time Makkyle was two, we were growing more concerned about his speech and feeding. He seemed to understand nearly everything we said to him, but he was not talking well, and he still had trouble eating. Our speech and feeding therapist sent him to have a cookie test, or modified barium swallow. In this test, X-rays are taken while the child swallows foods of various thicknesses, in an effort to understand any swallowing issues. Based on the test results, we were told to thicken all liquids for Makkyle to the consistency of honey. He could have no foods that excrete liquids, because he tended to aspirate liquids into his lungs.
Makkyle also had a hard time learning to walk, and we were told that he has cerebral palsy. We had to get a wheelchair, a gait trainer, and a bath chair so we could help him move and give him baths safely. After a while he graduated from the gait trainer to a walker and started to cruise around, holding onto the couch. That was exciting progress!
By now Makkyle was almost three, and it was time to get ready for preschool. We prepared for him to attend school full time three days a week. Right away we ran into a problem. In order to attend the program that best suited his needs, Makkyle would have to spend an hour on the bus twice a day. His IEP stated that he would have a monitor to accompany him on the long ride each way. However, the school was not willing to provide a monitor, even though it was required according to his IEP. We had to fight the school before they finally followed the plan we had all agreed upon.
On a Friday afternoon at the end of March, I took Makkyle for what had become our routine cookie test. Usually this test took about fifteen minutes. This time he failed a series of tests, with deep aspirations into his lungs. They called our GI doctor and told me to take Makkyle down to Admitting. We were admitted to the hospital within an hour of the test results. They had to entube Makkyle through his nose for the weekend. On Tuesday we were told that our only option was to have another surgery, this time to have a g-tube placed.
We were in the hospital for ten days due to small complications of the surgery. When we went home we were only allowed to feed Makkyle Pediasure through the g-tube. He could take nothing by mouth. I felt so bad taking all his food away!
After a few weeks Makkyle began retching constantly day and night, to the point that he was choking on any secretions in his mouth. They admitted him to the hospital and ran a series of tests, but they found nothing wrong. They were going to send us home with him still retching, but I said no. Finally they prescribed a medication that helped with his retching, and it also lessened the symptoms of his cerebral palsy.
That summer Makkyle started swimming therapy. He loves being in the water, which enables him to move with much greater freedom. We have also worked on his feeding. He still cannot have liquids, but he can eat a number of solid foods. Last July he had a seizure, and an EEG (electroencephalogram) showed some abnormalities in the back of his brain. Since it was his first seizure as far as we know, we decided not to put him on seizure meds.
Recently Makkyle got a Smart Brailler, and he loves to play on it. He now has his first cane. He was learning to hold his cane in one hand while he holds my hand with the other. Unfortunately, he has had some further medical setbacks, and right now he is back to using a walker again.
Sometimes people ask me how we manage to keep it together when we have run into so many problems. I always tell them that we actually lead a normal life. It may not seem normal to others, but it is normal to us.
Makkyle loves music, and one of our favorite activities is singing together. He can't say all of the words, but he sings along with me, "My-my-my!" Through all of his ordeals with doctors and treatments, Makkyle remains a cheerful, good-natured little boy. He is determined to thrive, whatever happens. We have had many struggles and followed paths we never imagined, but Makkyle shows us that we're on the right track.
by Amber Bobnar
Reprinted courtesy of <http://www.wonderbaby.org>
From the Editor: For an assortment of reasons, self feeding presents challenges for many young blind children. Mealtimes can become fraught with anxiety for the whole family. In this article, Amber Bobnar shares how she broke the cycle of stress by incorporating food into playtime with her son, Ivan. This article can be found at <http://www.wonderbaby.org/articles/messy-play-self-feeding-skills>.
My son, Ivan, is nine years old, and we are still working on teaching him how to feed himself. He's visually impaired, but he also has muscle tone and coordination issues that make holding a spoon or picking up a cheerio difficult.
We do our best at every meal and snack time, and of course his teachers and therapists work on feeding at school, too. It's hard work for everyone, and we all get frustrated now and then. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that Ivan also has difficulty keeping his weight up, so long, drawn-out mealtimes with little to no calorie intake aren't a good thing! How can we work on his feeding skills while making sure he's getting enough to eat? How can we do both? Recently I found a possible solution, or at least a tool to add to our tool belt: messy play!
I'm a huge fan of Pinterest, where I have found many sensory play ideas that are easily adapted for kids with visual impairments. It's inspired me to try more sensory and messy play activities with Ivan. I was surprised to find that his fine motor skills are actually better during sensory playtime than they are at mealtime! Why would that be the case? Well, maybe it's because at playtime there's no pressure. We're just playing! No one is worried about his calorie intake, and we're not "working on a skill." We're also not sitting at the dining room table, so everything just feels different.
We started with the traditional Play-doh, sand, and shaving cream bins, but it was hard to keep Ivan from putting everything in his mouth. And that's when the lightbulb went on--if he's trying to eat this stuff, why not give him things he can actually eat? So we started playing with things such as:
Our favorite so far has to be mashed potato flakes!
We fill a Tupperware bin with mashed potato flakes, and Ivan runs his hands through them. Then I have him help me add warm water and stir. We can add salt, melted butter, pepper, onion powder . . . whatever smells good!
I don't call this cooking, and I don't encourage Ivan to eat. This is purely a messy play game. We get our hands into it and feel how the dry flakes turn squishy when wet. We notice how the mashed potatoes smell different when we add the onion powder.
The best part is that I also bring out a bunch of different utensils from the kitchen, such as a spatula, a small whisk, and spoons in various sizes, and let Ivan play with them, too. And you know what? He actually starts eating the mashed potatoes off the utensils! Now, don't tell him this, but I think that counts as feeding himself!
We're still working on getting his playtime skills to translate to mealtime skills, but I think this is a great start--plus he's having fun!
by Mary McDonach
Reprinted courtesy of <http://www.wonderbaby.org>
From the Editor: Mary McDonach of Scotland is the mother of a blind daughter. She writes about raising a blind child with thoughtfulness, humor, and wisdom. This article can be found at <http://www.wonderbaby.org/articles/manners-matter>.
Behaving properly is like playing a game. You need to learn the rules in order to fit into society.
And there are so many rules!
As the parent of a visually impaired child, you could argue that other people should simply recognize your child's limitations and make exceptions for him. However convenient this idea may be, though, you would be forgetting the massive benefits your child could accrue simply by knowing the rules and playing the game properly.
Do your child a favor! Don't excuse her behavior; correct it!
We are all impressed when we meet children who are well-behaved and well-mannered. It's easier to like children who conform to our social expectations. They seem less strange to us.
This is a good thing. Children are vulnerable on any number of fronts. If, by social shorthand, they can make adults or other children feel comfortable quickly, if their behavior and mannerisms are easily understood, this leads to quick acceptance that allows them to form strong, positive relationships in new groups. This builds to a transferable skill that will serve them well throughout their lives and lead to more confident personalities.
Of course, our blind or visually impaired children need the benefits that this behavior brings, but they are significantly disadvantaged compared to most sighted children in their ability to learn and use good manners easily and effectively. They do not see the myriad visual gestures and expressions that teach sighted kids about social competence. Nevertheless, blind and visually impaired children have at least as much need to understand and utilize this behavior as other children do, if not more.
Like all taught behaviors, good manners are first learned and practiced within the family, where mistakes can easily be corrected. Here are a few tips to help you teach your child the fundamentals of good manners.
If you never thank your child, then, seriously, what are the chances that your child will learn speech patterns that naturally incorporate this small but significant pleasantry?
It can be much more difficult for a blind or visually impaired child to stop feelings of distaste, dislike, disbelief, or boredom from showing plainly on his face. As parents we are in a great position to help our kids develop the social façade that sighted kids readily adopt.
For blind and visually impaired children, polite phrases, and of course a host of other parts of speech we perceive as being good manners, can offer a shortcut to meanings and bookmark conversations. For instance, when you are at a door with someone else and you wave them ahead of you saying, "After you," you are saving yourself the confusion and banged head you both get trying to pass through the same door at the same time. When you address someone by their name, "How are you, John?" you get a much quicker response than when you call, "Hey, you!" When you don't know a person's name, even, "Excuse me!" works faster. It can be really useful to explain the functions of polite behaviors to your child, because if it makes sense to do a particular thing, she is more likely to do it.
A guideline is not a guideline in the hands of an enthusiastic child; it's an incontrovertible law. Children love to point out when others break that law (a friend's kid brother even went to the trouble of pointing out the dog's bad manners by telling her, "Be ashamed of yourself!") You should be aware that, once the pattern is set, it may take an act of God to stop your child from correcting the manners of your friends and neighbors (until, of course, he understands that "good manners" prohibit him correcting someone else's manners!).
Imagine this scenario: In a restaurant, your spouse holds out his fork and indicates with a beseeching look that he'd like to taste the appetizing meal on your plate. You nod your acquiescence, and he serves himself a bite. That's common behavior. Mimicking the same move, however, your child will have missed the nonverbal part and gone straight for your plate, which seems rude and ill-mannered to everyone but you.
It may initially appear like a good idea to cut out the nonverbal communications, but your child will live in a sight-oriented world. It's better for you to explain all that is happening so he develops an understanding of the social niceties than for you to change your behavior to accommodate his visual acuity. No one else will.
Undoubtedly, being blind or visually impaired will not hamper our children from growing into great adults, but who wants to share mealtimes with a great adult who always finishes a meal wearing the food? Sighted children do not magically learn how to behave at mealtimes; they gradually learn which behaviors are acceptable by watching what is going on around them. When a parent tells them not to chew with an open mouth, they can immediately see that other people close their mouths to eat. Blind or visually impaired children, on the other hand, need more verbal prompting and reminders because they cannot see the behavior to model. It is essential to remember, however, that the main purpose of having a family meal is to enjoy the company of each other whilst you eat. Suggestions and observations, encouragement and cajoling, all have their place here; criticism and anger do not!
The good thing for children learning about the rules in these situations is precisely that they are so rigid; it can be like learning a dance. A great example of this, for me, is the Catholic Mass. There is an emphasis on procedure and order which, once learned, has a rhythm and discipline never forgotten. Often churches and chapels have an area designated for children, the elderly, and other people who may need assistance. This is an ideal place for a blind or visually impaired child to learn the rudiments of the behavior expected of him whilst receiving the verbal prompts he needs without disruption to the main congregation.
Your eight-year-old boy may be able to entertain his brothers (and probably every other male within earshot) by passing wind to the tune of "Mission Impossible," but how impressed will other people be when he does it on the bus--or (horror!) at church? You don't want the entire congregation thinking your child is a wild animal! Contrary to popular belief, the secret of humor is often not in timing but in knowing your audience!
A good example of this is almost any situation involving a toilet. Public washrooms, in particular, have rigid rules governing behavior and manners that we, as sighted adults, rarely have cause to consider. Voices are kept muted, the queue order is rarely decided on need, and all undressing and subsequent redressing are completed within the toilet cubicle. Every one of these common ways of behaving within a public washroom is self-explanatory. Your child will need time, practice, and good reason to become adept at this.
In this type of situation, it is very important that your child is able to follow the rules. People become very uncomfortable with breaches precisely because some behaviors are so heavily proscribed.
No matter how embarrassing or distressing you find it to broach a subject, who else will? You are the best teacher and ally your child will ever have, so don't ignore inappropriate behavior now in the hope that it will rectify itself. Realistically, you know it won't.
So much is supposed or presumed on the basis of a person being well-spoken, polite, or simply at ease, that it would be silly not to help our children use this as a natural advantage. Blind and visually impaired kids have more reason than most to understand and benefit from the display of easygoing, accepting, and inclusive behavior. Their disability will ensure that they will make more mistakes such as tripping or bumping into others. Where others can make immediate sense of environments and situations by virtue of their eyesight, our children often will need a little more explanation or a little more time to check things out nonvisually.
Oscar Wilde once said, "It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious." This is a credible observation about how even outright flaws can be overlooked if your behavior is acceptable! Do your child a favor--don't excuse bad behavior; correct it!
Giving blind or visually impaired children a strong foundation of good manners will give them the ability to deal with almost any situation with grace and good humor. Currently, my four-year-old daughter waits briefly after saying thank you and, if the desired response is not quickly forthcoming, she will fill it in, saying, "It was your pleasure." It's a delightful and endearing faux pas. And (almost always) she is right!
by Heidi Musser
From the Editor: A native of Chicago, Heidi Musser is a triathlete who was nominated for the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame. In recent years she has reduced her training in swimming, biking, and running to focus on classical piano and volunteering to teach blind children Braille, piano, and swimming. This article is based on a composition she wrote for a class at Oakton Community College.
I have discovered that it is important to help people whom society thinks of as broken--children or adults--by helping them feel accepted, giving them a sense of belonging, and respecting them for who they are and what they have to contribute. The greatest emotional pain is caused by rejection and the feeling that nobody wants you. I experienced rejection and misunderstanding throughout my elementary and high school years.
Justin came into my life in October 2008 when he was twelve years old. I remember distinctly the first day he came to my home. My mother says she fell in love with him as soon as he and his mother walked into our living room. Justin was blind, autistic, and unable to speak. There was very little that he could do or wanted to do. He could walk and move around, but he showed no eagerness about doing anything.
At first I did not know how to interact with Justin. Then I started to play the piano for him. When he heard me play, our relationship started to take off. I played on my grand piano in the living room, and my mother guided Justin to my old upright piano in the dining room. When I pressed the middle C, Justin surprised me by playing the C one octave lower. That told me something! It told me that Justin has a good ear. It did not take long before he could find all seven Cs on the piano keyboard. Right then, my mother and I decided we would like to give him my old piano as a gift. A friend agreed to transport it from our Chicago home to Justin's home in the suburbs for no charge.
Justin started coming to my house once a week. His mother told us that his enthusiasm for daily practicing on the piano soared immediately. He would improvise and sound out songs on the piano by himself. He played songs he knew from school, such as our national anthem. He also played melodies he had stored away in his mind after hearing me play them for him or listening to them on TV, radio, or CDs. He had fun following his creative impulse like never before in his life.
Sitting together on my double piano bench helped Justin and me build a close bond, so important to healing social isolation. Over the next few months, I discovered that Justin could easily follow my hands as I played in major and minor keys. To my surprise, he figured on his own where the sharps and flats needed to be played. The only difference in our playing was that I used my ten fingers, while he used mainly the right index finger and, rarely, the right middle finger. He does not like to use his left hand. I assume this is due to a lack of coordination. I hope I will succeed in getting him to play with all the fingers of both hands in the future. Lately he has surprised me by using the index and middle fingers of his left hand without any coaxing.
Teaching Justin to write Braille was utmost on my mind. Many of the educators did not believe that he was capable of learning, and I was determined to prove them wrong. Justin's mother accepted my mother's suggestion that she teach herself Braille and then teach her son. In addition to holding two jobs, she became dedicated to helping her son learn Braille. She deserves big applause!
I also was determined to get Justin into the pool at my YMCA. I wanted to introduce him to swimming and physical exercise in the water to improve his coordination all around. Initially, his mother said she was afraid that Justin would catch cold. My mother and I persevered. We discovered that the real reason for her fear was that she was a non-swimmer and afraid of the water in the pool. Justin learned more quickly than his mother, and soon he could put his head underwater. Now they both enjoy swimming in the deep end of the pool. Justin swims length after length with me, holding onto my waist with both hands. He is very relaxed. My mother generally swims next to us to keep close watch. Because his kicking with his legs is still not strong, I help him put a pull-buoy between his thighs. His breathing is surprisingly regular and good. He can hold his breath for an unusually long time underwater.
At the start of the 2014-2015 school year, a new Braille teacher was assigned to Justin. About three weeks into the semester, Justin's mother informed us with great excitement that his new teacher agreed that Justin is doing well in writing Braille, including contractions. Wow! I have proved that Justin is intelligent! He can reason, and he is capable of learning Braille. His life will be very different from now on. He can express his feelings and wants by typing Braille, learning the correct spelling of words and usage of Braille contractions. That's big! He also uses a device called the Fusion that speaks the words he types.
Sadly, only 10 percent of blind children nationwide learn Braille. Couldn't this problem be solved by inviting blind adults who know Braille to come to schools as mentors for blind children? The common bond of blindness did the trick for Justin! Blind teacher/mentors could earn a paycheck working at the schools part-time. Why aren't there more workshops for parents of blind children to learn Braille? Many parents would enjoy helping their children with Braille just like Justin's mother and mine did.
I feel I have my work laid out for me, supporting Justin's Braille teacher. I plan on meeting with Justin in the pool and at my home at least once a week. In my home environment I can give Justin the opportunity to fine-tune his sense of touch. I give him a chance to handle items with which he is not familiar. Through touch blind children need to become familiar with items about which they are reading and learning. For example, during the previous school year, one of Justin's teachers was reading E. B. White's book Charlotte's Web to the class. I discovered that Justin had no idea what a baby bottle feels like or how a baby drinks from it. Yet he was expected to answer questions about Fern, the girl on the farm, feeding Wilbur, the baby pig, with a bottle.
What was my formula for success? While the educators made a long list of things Justin cannot do, Justin's mother, my mother, and I added up a list of things he can do. Six years ago, when we met, Justin's heart was filled with tension, fear, and loneliness. In his book From Brokenness to Community (Paulist, 1992, p. 13), Jean Vanier points out, "If a child feels unloved and unwanted, he or she will develop a broken self-image."
When he began visiting my home, Justin started to enjoy being part of a community, a community of my family and his. Often we ate delicious, home-cooked Burmese meals that his mother, who was raised in Myanmar, prepared for us. Justin loved my mother's banana bread and apple pie with lots of freshly whipped cream. We made sure he could take some of our dessert home for his father, proudly carrying the package himself. For Justin's birthday celebrations his father and my father joined us.
Justin's eye rubbing and arm flapping have become less frequent. When he starts a tune on the piano, I figure out what he is trying to play. Then I play back his melody with left hand accompaniment. Sometimes his smiles are as wide as back to his ears, according to my mother. I never know what he will come up with. Just recently he wanted me to play Verdi's "March of Triumph" from the opera Aída. Another time it was parts of the Brahms “Requiem.” Most often we end our piano sessions with the Brahms “Lullaby,” with which he is well acquainted. His mother sang it to him when he was in intensive care as a baby. He was born premature at twenty-six weeks gestation.
Being part of our community has helped Justin feel that he can contribute to the lives of other people. Justin sure helped me discover the immense joy of giving of myself. He has helped me heal some of the emotional wounds inflicted upon me by teachers who lacked training to work with a congenitally totally blind student and did not value my God-given gift for a classical music education.
by Lynn Rock
From the Editor: In May 2015 Lynn Rock contacted me to request a Slate Pal for a teenage student in Colima, Mexico. She and I exchanged a series of emails, and I learned that she volunteers as a teacher of English with a group of blind students in Colima. In this article she describes her work and explains how she makes her own teaching materials.
I have been a tutor for English as a second language (ESL) in the United States and Mexico for over fifteen years. Initially I went to Mexico as an ESL tutor for Casa Hogar San José, a home for orphaned and abandoned children and youth. I was enchanted by the Mexican people and their lively culture, but I was also painfully aware of the people's hardships. Although many people in Mexico enjoy what we think of as a middle-class lifestyle, poverty is widespread, and resources are very scarce. The living conditions can be primitive by US standards, with no heat or air-conditioning, no running water, and in some cases no electricity. Government assistance for people in need is minimal, and that includes assistance for people with visual impairments and other disabilities.
Medical facilities in Colima do not provide the basic amenities we expect in the States. I have an upcoming surgery, and I will need to hire people to tend to me around the clock while I'm in the hospital. I have to find people to help me bathe, get to the bathroom, and more, because the nurses don't do those things. I'll even have to bring my own soap and toilet paper!
In 2012 I became a literacy volunteer in Spanish at the Instituto Estatal para la Educación de los Adultos (IEEA), the State Institute for Adult Education. IEEA is similar to Literacy Volunteers in the US. Here we generally are expected to find our own students.
At first I had difficulty locating people to teach. Finally, I knocked on the door of the local association for the blind, La Asociación de los Ciegos Colimenses, or Association for the Blind of Colima, and asked if they could use my help. I began tutoring students and also was offered a free class in Level I Braille in Spanish.
The Association, as we call it, recently celebrated its twentieth anniversary. It began with a small group of blind and visually impaired adults and young people. The coordinator, his wife, and their two sons all are visually impaired. The coordinator started the Association with a few other people, some of whom had grown up in institutions for people with disabilities. One of the founders was a teenager. He was not allowed to sign some of the forms until he came of age.
The mainstreaming of children with disabilities into regular schools is not common in Mexico. Most blind children have to move far away from family and friends to attend residential schools--if they go to school at all. Since some of these residential schools do not have dormitories, the children actually live in homes for people with disabilities. Even when programs for students with disabilities are available in the public schools, children with various disabilities are frequently mixed together in one classroom. In one class you might find blind children, deaf children, and children who have Down syndrome, all being taught together.
Illiteracy rates are high in the general population in Mexico, and they are higher still for people with visual impairments. The Association attempts to provide education and prevent blind people from ending up as beggars on the streets. It is not a home. The students attend classes, but they live with their families or friends. Some students travel great distances to attend Saturday classes. They come from the state of Jalisco and the cities of Tecomán and Manzanillo. Manzanillo is about an hour and a half away.
Among the classes at the Association are Braille levels I and II, typing, computer, abacus, and activities of daily living. They also offer mobility training and early stimulation for very young children. Now English as a second language has been added to the curriculum.
ESL is important in Mexico because proficiency in English can open the way to jobs in such fields as tourism and industry. English is usually required in primary and secondary school, but few materials are available in Braille, and finding volunteer readers can present a challenge. One student who took beginning classes with me went on to study English in a regular secondary school. (Secundaria in Mexico is the equivalent of middle school in the US.) He was placed in an advanced ESL class with fifty other students. As you can imagine, it has been quite a struggle for him, and he has failed some of his exams. I hope to work with him further and help him improve his grades.
Orientation and mobility training is a top priority at the Association. No one at the Association has a guide dog, but canes are used widely. The Association has a tactile map of the city that was made by the Department of Architecture. The students study the map and learn the layout of Colima's streets. They play games such as goalball to help improve their orientation and ease of movement.
In addition to teaching students, the Association offers workshops for classroom teachers, special education teachers, family members, and friends. The program teaches about visual disabilities and methods for education. It also tries to raise awareness about family dynamics such as overprotection, exclusion, and denial.
The space that the Association uses is essentially on loan from the Mexican government. It is a former prison and is considered to be a historic site. The Association owns one Perkins Brailler, a Braille printer, several computers, and some musical instruments. The staff consists of an interdisciplinary team including special education teachers, social workers, social work students, a psychiatrist, and just regular folks who wish to help out. Some blind members teach classes, and everyone, including the coordinator, is a volunteer.
At the Association I started reading to one blind student who didn't have his materials in Braille. He has no mother or father. He has to commute a considerable distance, needing to get rides to the Association. He is learning to type, but he still hasn't started to learn to use the computer with the JAWS screen reading program. I am helping him complete primaria, or elementary school.
In August 2014 we began to teach ESL in earnest. We kept the classes to a maximum of five students so we could give everyone personalized attention. I printed out materials in Braille for the blind students. For those with low vision who read large print, I put together a separate spiral-bound book in 72-point type for each chapter.
For the vocabulary words in each unit, I used large index cards. I wrote a word on each card in Braille and with a large black marker. I used textures and colors for certain categories of words to make the lessons more interesting and to reinforce the learning through varied media. For the cards with nouns, I used blue on the top and bottom and added a tiny piece of sandpaper. For verbs, I used red and a bit of felt, and for adjectives I used green and a different smooth texture.
I have used songs to help the students learn the numbers, letters, family members, and more. I have printed out the words to songs in Braille and in large print. We have even done karaoke, which the teens loved!
I have used a computer program called Quizlet, making up my own sets of objects. I got someone to set the program to say the word in English with an American accent and then in Spanish.
We've also played various forms of bingo using letters, numbers, and other words, all of which I have put into Braille. For the letters, I also formed the print letter with a kind of wide string, or I wrote it on the cards with a stylus so the students could feel it when they turned the card over. I put a button over the lowercase i and j.
I have also used real objects. For one song on phonics with two words for each letter, I brought in a stack of materials such as an umbrella, plastic animals and insects, a Groucho Marx-type nose and mustache, and Mr. Potato Head. When I passed around Mr. Potato Head's hand and said, "hand," the students laughed. I even had adults wearing the nose and having fun while they learned.
When I couldn't find real objects that were suitable, I traced the image on a sheet of paper. I flipped it over and let the students feel the image while I described it.
I try to be very flexible with my students. In one class two students had some vision, and two were totally blind. The two blind students were adults, and the two with low vision were children with additional mental and emotional issues. I requested assistance, and a special education teacher and a student to help with the children appeared. I work with the two blind adults.
The Association tried to offer classes in English in the past, but for whatever reason it never really worked until now. We hope to keep up with all of the work at the Association and to advance all of the programs, including ESL. We are a bit cramped for space, and we hope that one day we can expand to a larger building or open more branches. The need here is very great.
What we are doing at the Association hardly begins to touch all of the work that needs to be done. We want to continue helping the blind people of Colima to advance and reaching out to those in the surrounding areas. By working together we hope to achieve our goals.
by Steve Hastalis
From the Editor: Steve Hastalis is a charter member of the NFB of Illinois. For thirty-five years he worked for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). He serves on several local and national transit boards and is deeply committed to promoting the use of public transportation by blind travelers.
I distinctly remember one day when I was four or five years old. I was playing with toy cars while my mother scrubbed the kitchen floor. She took my hands in hers and explained the streets of our neighborhood, as if she were showing me the significant features on a map. I thought to myself, That makes sense.
I realized at a very early age that I would not be able to drive because I am blind. Therefore, I developed a lifelong interest in mass transit, as well as intercity passenger trains and buses. My interest was fueled by the wonderful experiences my parents shared with my brother, sister, and me.
The first time my mother took me on the train in Chicago, I was frightened by the noise of the subway. Then, when we went upstairs and left the station, I heard traffic, construction equipment, and footsteps. I realized that I had arrived somewhere exciting and special--downtown Chicago!
Long car rides with the family to New York, Pittsburgh, and Detroit were also learning opportunities for me. My parents explained the toll roads, bridges, and tunnels we used. Long afterward, in his last year of life, my father reminisced about how I tried to determine the speed of the car, based on how fast the front and then the rear tires hit expansion joints in the pavement.
I have been totally blind in my left eye for as long as I can remember. As a young boy I could see a little with my right eye. In October 1958, about four months before my seventh birthday, I lost my remaining vision and subsequently had only a little bit of light perception. After I lost my sight I had no instruction in the use of the long white cane. In those days most blindness professionals believed that travel training for young children was neither possible nor necessary. Without a cane, I had great difficulty getting off the schoolbus and going up the walk to the front door of my house. The kids on the bus yelled out the windows, "You're faking!" I didn't know how to explain to them what had happened to me. I may have insisted, "I'm not faking," but they probably didn't believe me.
On a trip to the beach when I was ten years old, my mother took me to explore the rocks of the breakwater. People are not supposed to walk on these rocks, but sometimes they do. The rocks are slanted randomly in various directions with irregular spaces between them. Without a cane to give me information about my surroundings, I grew nervous and hesitant. I could not figure out where I should take my next step. My mother got very frustrated. Regretably, neither of us knew the travel techniques that would have solved this problem. Some thirty years later I walked through similar terrain with another blind person. We navigated safely and confidently, using our canes to find safe passage between the rocks.
When I was twelve years old in the summer of 1964, my parents sent me to a program for blind youth at the Illinois Visually Handicapped Institute (IVHI) in Chicago, now the Illinois Center for Rehabilitation and Education (ICRE). For the first time I received intensive mobility instruction with the long white cane. My travel teacher showed me all kinds of street crossings, including perpendicular and angled intersections. She taught me to wait for the perpendicular traffic (vehicles passing in front of me) to stop, to listen for and line up with parallel traffic, to make sure no cars were turning in front of me, and to proceed across the street.
One day my instructor showed me a railroad grade crossing a few blocks from the training facility. I heard the bells ring, and she explained that the crossing gates had come down to keep pedestrians and vehicles off the tracks while the train passed.
One of my classes at IVHI was called Self Help. The instructor was the first blind adult I ever knew extensively, and he was a wonderful role model. Part of the class involved woodworking, and the instructor had me make a wooden paperweight. He taught me to hammer nails straight without clobbering my thumb. I also learned to use power tools such as an industrial drill press. My instructor gave me some very wise advice. He repeatedly emphasized, "If you respect the tools, the tools will respect you." We also discussed repairing equipment. He observed, "When you take something apart, keep your parts organized so you can put it back together."
My instructor checked to make sure I could read and write Braille effectively, dial a phone, and tie a tie. I discovered that we had a common interest in everything related to railroads and mass transit. We both understood the importance of railroad passenger trains and mass transit for blind people. He told me about streetcars, elevated-train cars with wooden bodies, steam locomotives, and diesel locomotives.
I talked to my instructor about my model trains at home. I explained that my train set had tracks with a center third rail, but that they did not seem to have insulated mountings. "They have to," he said. "Check it out more carefully." When I went home and followed his advice, I found the plastic insulated mounting brackets holding the center third rails in place.
Every afternoon in the IVHI program we did calisthenics in the yard of the facility. The yard was right next to the elevated train line. One day the head mobility instructor asked, "How many cars went by on that train?"
"Nine," I answered, based on what I had heard.
"No," he corrected me. "There were only four."
I thought about the wheel arrangements of the model trains I played with. I realized that I could identify the number of cars on a train by counting how many wheels (and therefore axles) passed a given rail joint. The mobility instructor clearly wanted us to have a strong awareness of our surroundings, even if we did not have a specific need for the information. Later I figured out that I could determine my location relative to the rest of the train--front, middle, or rear--by listening to these sounds.
One afternoon the instructor who directed our exercises invited me to stand on his upraised hands. "Are you sure?" I asked nervously. "I don't want to hurt you."
"No, it will be all right," he and some other staff members assured me.
I climbed up, and they guided my feet. I felt the steadiness and strength of the instructor's hands and arms, holding me in place. I began to relax, and the people on either side of me let go. In that quiet moment I felt the strength, perseverance, competence, and confidence of the blind man who supported me. When I climbed down a few seconds later, I felt much more than words could convey.
Toward the end of the training, the agency arranged several other memorable activities. One day we rode a Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) bus to O'Hare Airport. My mobility instructor asked, "Do you want to do escalators?"
"Yeah!" I replied eagerly. We practiced going up and down until we could step on and off an escalator with confidence.
The group then walked along a concourse. After a while, we went up to a rooftop observation deck and listened to several planes taking off and landing. We went back downstairs and actually boarded a United Airlines Boeing 720. The captain came out of the cockpit to greet us and invited us forward. I felt the ceiling, full of many push-button switches. The captain talked to us about the instruments he used in flying the plane. We went back to the seats and he invited us to ask questions. A fellow student and friend asked which radio frequency they used. I asked if the plane had a nose or tail wheel. With today's airport security, such a visit is hard to imagine! To this day I am glad I had that experience.
Another excellent lesson occurred when an instructor from the CTA brought a bus to IVHI. We boarded, paid a fare, received a transfer, sat down, and exited through the rear door. The head mobility instructor reminded us to "sweep the seat" before sitting down. To reinforce his instructions, he blew up a balloon partway and placed it on the seat. If one of us sat on it, the balloon deflated with a loud "raspberry" sound. That was an instructive reminder!
The people who designed and ran the summer program at IVHI wanted to show us that blind people could use all forms of transportation safely, efficiently, and enjoyably. In a larger sense, they wanted us to believe that we could lead active, productive lives as blind people.
By the end of the summer, many aspects of travel made imminent sense to me. With a cane in my hand, I no longer groped with my feet to feel the line of the sidewalk against the grass, to feel curbs, or to find stairs down. I knew that no one would accuse me of faking when they saw me using my cane. It took six years for me to get the training I needed, but better late than never!
The night my parents brought me home at the end of the training program, I stood at the top of the stairs in our house and was stricken with sadness. "It's over!" I said, and I started to cry.
My parents both gave me love, encouragement, and moral support, but they did so in totally different ways. My father put his arm around my shoulders and comforted me. "I know how you feel," he said. "I cried when I left my army buddies."
My mother heard me from downstairs in the living room. She commented, "It's not over; it's just beginning."
She was right, in a very literal and figurative sense. The next chapter of my journey started that night, and it continues to this day.
by Joanne Gabias
Reprinted courtesy of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness, Louisiana Tech University
From the Editor: The Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University continues to train tomorrow's Braille, rehabilitation, and orientation and mobility teachers, and it is always looking for bright, interested persons to train in the blindness fields. For information, visit
<http://www.pdrib.com>. This article, which first appeared on the institute's weekly blog, shows the impact students have on the lives of blind children and adults across the country. Joanne Gabias is earning a degree in rehabilitation teaching with a concentration in orientation and mobility.
Even though I am sighted, sometimes I prefer walking with sleepshades on. I get bored just walking, so with a cane in my hand I have something to do while I'm traveling. Maybe that makes me weird. Anyway, thanks to a schedule change, I ended up doing a route for class while I was on vacation. As it turned out, that routine travel assignment had an impact on the life of a thirteen-year-old girl.
For our quarter break I went to visit my friend Paige and her parents in Guyton, Georgia. Their neighborhood is stereotypical suburbia--in the middle of nowhere, with multiple cul-de-sacs, a community pool, and homes that all have the same look and feel. We had been told that a new and quite strange sign had gone up in the neighborhood. It read, "BLIND PERSON AREA."
Not wanting to miss the chance for a good photo, Paige and I set out in search of the sign. She acted as an instructor, giving me very little information about the area and walking behind me. I played the role of student, using my cane and wearing sleepshades.
Thanks to the ubiquitous construction sites, the sidewalks were haphazard; they started and stopped abruptly. As we walked I heard somebody mowing the lawn. I thought nothing of it until I heard the mower turn off. Instinctively I tensed up. Oh great, I thought. They're turning off the mower, thinking this blind woman needs help going for a walk.
The next thing I knew, a woman's voice called, "Are you in training?"
Now I'm used to hearing this question in Ruston, Louisiana. Our little town is home to the Louisiana Center for the Blind and the Institute on Blindness, which trains future teachers of blind students. But here? In suburban Georgia?
We told the woman what we were doing, but we didn't mention our quest to find the sign. "My daughter is blind," she said. "Can I go get her to meet you?"
And so begins the story of how we met thirteen-year-old Makayla, who has retinoblastoma and had just undergone some major reconstructive surgery. Her mom, Stephanie, told us that the family had just relocated to the area in November, and her daughter hadn't yet had an O&M instructor teach her about their neighborhood. Stephanie suggested that we go for a walk together. That is how I headed toward their community pool with a future geneticist (Makayla) and a future Braille teacher (Paige).
Before setting out, Paige and I looked up articles and information for Makayla's mother about how blind people can participate actively in science classes, read Braille, travel independently, and live the lives they want. Toting nearly a dozen printed articles, we stepped inside Stephanie's home while Makayla was getting ready. I had brought an extra pair of sleepshades to show Paige's dad how much fun it is to travel with a cane. Makayla came into the dining room with a folding Ambutech cane with a marshmallow tip. I looked over to the window, wondering how to explain that I wanted to teach her a new approach to travel that would give her more tactile feedback and more advance notice than her current cane could provide--and I spied a straight, fiberglass cane in the corner. As it turned out, Makayla's O&M instructor had gotten that cane for her at the end of the school year but didn't have time to teach her to use it. To our delight, Stephanie encouraged her daughter to give the new cane a chance.
After walking only a few houses down the street, I was excited; this girl was an excellent traveler, even with very little instruction! Though she hadn't traveled alone in her own neighborhood before, she knew which streets connected and how she could get to the clubhouse from her home.
At this point, I convinced Makayla to give the sleepshades a try. I showed her the important technique of shorelining, where the student taps her cane on the grass or shoulder and then on the street to maintain her position away from traffic. (It also helped us avoid the on-again, off-again sidewalks that had already proved to be quite the nuisance!)
As we approached the roundabout near the front of Makayla's neighborhood, we began to hear a fountain. Makayla instantly recognized the sound of flowing water as a telltale sign that we were nearing the pool which was located in the middle of the roundabout.
We could have walked around the roundabout, but I wanted to show Makayla that the structured discovery cane technique would enable her to cross safely straight through the circular road. After successfully crossing, Makayla found the fence around the pool. But this wasn't good enough for me. I wanted her to find the pool, not just a fence. So she tapped her cane along the fence until she reached the gate. Again, she thought this was close enough. No, no, I thought. She needs to know that she can get all the way to the water's edge.
We walked through the gate, around the chairs, and up to the edge of the pool, where Makayla swished the water around with her cane. She asked, "Can I take my sleepshades off to look around?" Happy to oblige, I agreed. Makayla was overcome with joy, and so were we.
The pool is clearly a place that Makayla and Stephanie have visited before, yet in the six months that her family had lived in the neighborhood, Makayla had never ventured out on her own. Her sister is always out playing or riding her bike around the neighborhood, but Makayla didn't know that she could travel on her own to the pool. There is nothing as rewarding as seeing a student's pure joy as she gains confidence in herself. With just a little training and encouragement, Makayla learned that her cane gave her the same freedom that her sighted siblings have had all these years.
We donned our shades, turned around, and headed for home. As I've been trained to do, we took a different route back to Makayla's house. Before she even encountered them, Makayla was telling me that we had to cross three streets, even though these streets didn't continue on the opposite side of the road that we'd traveled a few minutes before. She picked up the sidewalk after that third street and immediately said, "I think this one is my house."
"Are you sure?" I asked.
"Well," she said, tapping her cane and running her hand along the car in the driveway, "I think this is Mom's car. Yes, yes, it is!"
To be clear, I don't advocate feeling up cars all over the neighborhood to find your home . . . but hey, whatever works!
Makayla made her way to the front door, opened it, and found her mom on the other side. Stephanie had been watching us come back, but she didn't want to interrupt Makayla's travel lesson. I've always told parents that if you wouldn't do something for your sighted children, don't do it for your blind child, either. Makayla's mom already seemed to know this. She knew that Makayla needed to understand she could leave home and come back all on her own. This is what teaching orientation and mobility to children and adults is all about.
We gave Makayla a few pointers, but she did the rest. She already knew how to get around the neighborhood; she just needed to know that she could do it on her own. Oh, and of course, I got my picture with that new sign.
by Cayte Mendez
From the Editor: Cayte Mendez teaches first grade in New York City. She currently serves as president of the National Organization of Blind Educators, a division of the National Federation of the Blind. She was honored with the Outstanding Blind Educator of the Year Award at the 2012 NFB National Convention. In a slightly different form, this article originally appeared in the 2005 issue of The Student Slate, the online publication of the National Association of Blind Students (NABS).
Making the decision to study in Japan was actually quite simple. In fact, making the decision was probably the easiest part of the entire study-abroad process. I enrolled at Cornell University as a political science major with a focus on international relations and East Asian studies. By the time my junior year rolled around, my academic interest had shifted to linguistics, but I was still taking six hours of Japanese a week and filling my elective slots with courses on Asian history and religion. Therefore, it seemed quite natural that I should spend my semester abroad at International Christian University (ICU) in Tokyo. The university offered a fully bilingual, multi-disciplinary curriculum in addition to intensive Japanese language courses.
Making the decision to leave the States and my native language and culture was relatively easy, compared to some of the other aspects of the study abroad process. I spent countless hours and expended a great deal of stress and energy filling out academic and housing forms, not to mention coping with the seemingly endless barrage of immigration forms that asked for everything from my mother's maiden name to where I went to elementary school. There were so many forms that I had to hire a separate reader to help me get them all filled out on time.
And then, of course, there were the blindness-related issues. I had studied abroad in the UK for ten months during high school without much difficulty, but of course, in that situation there was no language barrier. I could tell that the academic staff at ICU was a bit concerned. Several blind Japanese students attended the university at the time, but until that point there had never been a blind international student. The staff wanted to know how I was going to survive with limited Japanese language skills. Japanese is an extremely difficult language to master, and even after two years of fairly intensive instruction my vocabulary and communication skills were limited to a range of basic topics. The university staff worried about how I was going to access my textbooks and other classroom materials. In addition, the resident life staff had a whole laundry list of questions. Where was I going to live? How was I going to get around Tokyo? And what on earth did I need to do to get my guide dog licensed in Japan?
I received my visa at the eleventh hour, and the university and I finally struck a deal with the animal quarantine department so that my dog could undergo his two-week confinement on the ICU campus. Nevertheless, I was a nervous wreck by the time I departed for Tokyo. I spent the entire twelve-hour flight with my second-year Japanese textbook open in my lap, getting a cramp in my fingers as I tried to recap all the vocabulary that might possibly be useful--essentially, that meant all the vocabulary. The flight attendants kept telling me I should try to sleep, but there was absolutely no way that was going to happen!
In the end, I was surprised by how well things fell into place. I lived on campus in an apartment-style dorm inhabited by equal numbers of Japanese and international students. The arrangement provided me with excellent opportunities to meet interesting people from all over the world and to practice my Japanese. With only one major mishap, I figured out the bizarre combination of buses, trains, and subways that is the Tokyo public transit system. I derived a tremendous amount of amusement from watching people do double and triple takes when they saw me with my guide dog in the supermarket or the department store. Service animals were still relatively novel in Japan. There had been a great deal of public education about guide dogs over the past few years, but it wasn't uncommon for random businessmen to come up to me in restaurants or in the train station and ask if they could please photograph my dog.
Academically, things also proceeded without any real problems. The Japanese course at Cornell used a Romanized form of the language for the first two years of instruction, so accessing the material in Braille had never been an issue. However, in Japan, they naturally used a textbook written entirely in Japanese characters, which posed something of a translation problem. As an international student I had no access to textbooks through a program such as Learning Ally, but my professors were tremendously supportive. They recorded the Japanese language textbooks onto cassettes for me, and they were willing to give me my exams orally. Several times a week the class practiced kanji, the Japanese graphic writing system. During those times I arranged for one of the blind Japanese students to teach me Japanese Braille. I never got fast enough to do my Japanese coursework in Braille, but I did learn enough to read the Braille signs on elevators, restrooms, and the ticket machines at the train station.
Because ICU offered courses in both English and Japanese, I was able to take four mainstream academic courses in addition to ten hours a week of language instruction. Accessing the textbooks and research materials for those classes was easy. I had brought my computer and scanner with me from the States, and everything was in English.
Of course, this isn't to say that there were no problems. I arrived at my dormitory after twenty-plus hours of travel, only to discover that I had been assigned to a suite with several staff members. The idea behind this arrangement, I soon gathered, was to ensure that I would have someone available at all times in case I needed help. To say the least, I was not pleased. I didn't want to be singled out. However, Japanese culture is big on the idea of not rocking the proverbial boat, so I didn't say anything. A few difficult situations arose when I had to find indirect ways to tell my overly helpful suitemates thanks but no thanks. These situations were complicated by the need for me to remain strictly nonconfrontational.
Even when one of the staff members moved out to be replaced by another student, things didn't really improve. I'll never forget when this student came to me several days after she moved in and asked bluntly if I could cook, clean, and care for myself. When I responded that, yes, in fact, I could do all of those things, she seemed nonplussed. She told me that she was there to help me if I needed it. I discovered later that she was good friends with one of the blind Japanese students, who made a habit of going pretty much everywhere affixed to someone's arm. I suppose in part this experience explained my suitemate's initial approach to me.
I tried not to let my suitemates' attitude bother me too much, but I'll confess that it rankled a bit. After all, I was there to learn about Japanese culture. I didn't mind being treated like the foreigner I was, but I felt that my suitemates' desire to look after me added an extra barrier. My Japanese teachers seemed to relax after I aced my fifth or sixth straight grammar quiz and got full marks on the midterm. The residential life people relaxed their concerned (if relatively discreet) vigilance after I had made several extended trips to popular tourist attractions in Tokyo and the surrounding area, even taking a weekend trip to Kyoto, Japan's ancient capital. Yet my suitemates remained somewhat overprotective, until one night when I had been in Japan for nearly three months.
I wasn't usually a night owl. I generally organized my social life so that I was in bed by one or so--which seems late today, but let's face it, that wasn't too bad for a college student. However, one Friday night a group of friends and acquaintances asked me if I wanted to go out to a pub with them in another part of the city. I was curious, and I had no desire to sit in my tiny dorm room all evening. I agreed to go, but I was a bit concerned because the bus from the train station to the campus stopped running at one-thirty. I knew we most likely would be out quite late, but I figured that for once I'd splurge and take a cab.
So I went out with my friends. We had some drinks and got to talking about all sorts of things. Before I knew it, it was one-thirty. One of my friends had lost her wallet, so we wandered back to the train station together and then parted ways. I took the train back to the station near ICU, queued for a cab, and gave the driver the address using my by then much improved Japanese.
On the way home, the driver suggested letting me off at an exit that he claimed was nearer to my dormitory than the main gate to the university, which I generally used. I was eager to go home and get some sleep, so I agreed. I paid my fare, and he drove off. I turned and headed for the gate, which he had told me was about ten feet up the sidewalk. I found it with no problem; the only thing was, it was locked.
It was two in the morning, and I was standing outside an unfamiliar gate, with the main entrance to the university who knew where. Undeterred, I proceeded to follow the fence around the perimeter of the campus. I reasoned that if I kept going, eventually I'd find the main gate, which was open twenty-four hours a day. Along the way I came to several openings in the chain-link, which, upon exploration, turned out to be closed-in parking lots or storage areas. Neither my dog nor I could seem to locate any other way onto the grounds.
I wasn't wearing a watch, but I knew that by this time it must be really late. Even so, I couldn't believe that in Tokyo, one of the most densely populated cities in the world, there were absolutely no people on the street whom I could ask if I was going the right way around the campus. Wouldn't it be ridiculous, I thought, if the main gate had only been a hundred yards away from the gate where the driver dropped me off, but in the opposite direction from the one in which I was walking?
Finally I did run into a fellow pedestrian, who informed me that I was in fact going the right way, and that the gate was just around the next corner. I made it back to my room with no further mishaps. I was preparing to shower and get into bed when one of my suitemates returned from a party. We had a good laugh over my misadventure, as did my other suitemates when I told them the next day. Amazingly, after that they almost completely stopped being overtly concerned about my ability to take care of myself. It was as though I had proved to them my capacity to cope with an untoward situation. Apparently I had convinced them that I really could handle just about any situation or task that might come my way, especially the ordinary, day-to-day ones such as cooking and laundry.
Don't get me wrong. Being lost at two a.m. in a foreign city is not necessarily the best way to get people to respect you! In fact, it might possibly be one of the most dangerous situations in which you could conceivably find yourself. However, having the skills and the courage to cope with crazy, unexpected situations like that can be extremely useful. It can help you build self-confidence and help others gain confidence in you and your abilities. The experience of studying abroad, taking that giant step away from home and everything familiar, is one of the best opportunities that college life has to offer. I strongly encourage any student with an interest in study abroad to investigate the possibilities. If it seems feasible, given your educational goals, don't be afraid to give it a try!
by Kaiti Shelton
From the Editor: Kaiti Shelton is studying music therapy at the University of Dayton and serves as president of the Ohio Association of Blind Students. As the winner of two NFB national scholarships (2013 and 2015), she is a tenBroek Fellow.
In the summer of 2015 I left the creature comforts of Ohio behind for a study-abroad/volunteer program in one of the developing nations in the Caribbean. Having never traveled outside the United States before, I had only a vague idea what to expect. A few things weighed heavily on my mind as I took off from the airport in Cincinnati. I knew I was the first blind student to gain acceptance into my program. Before I applied, another had been denied entry because the administrators didn't believe her orientation and mobility skills were strong enough for her to handle the trip. I had been accepted, breaking through the first barrier to studying abroad with sighted peers, but I felt I had a point to prove.
I also wondered how I would be regarded by the local people. The country I was visiting does not have resources to provide proper education and training for its disabled population, including its blind people. Through my research I found that disabled people in the country I would be visiting are either cared for by their family members or sent to one of the government-operated care centers. I had spent the past three years of my college career as a member of the NFB, and I completely believed that, as a blind student, I was equal to my sighted peers.
As it turned out, my experience abroad was phenomenal. I was with a cohort of students from across the United States who couldn't have been more accepting toward me. We were required to stay in groups, so I was never entirely alone. However, when local people advised my classmates to look out for me or to wait for me to catch up, my new friends would say, "She's okay," or "She's got it," or "She'll let us know if she needs help." It warmed my heart to hear these words from people I had met so recently. I felt the other students recognized that I contributed to our volunteer work in meaningful ways.
On the first full day of the program, as we were being oriented to the area, I missed a rock with my cane, tripped, and skinned my knee. I wasn't hurt badly, and the injury looked a lot worse than it felt. However, I worried that by falling I had failed to prove myself capable of being in the program. I felt dejected for the rest of the day, and I was on high alert for what the staff might say or do. I didn't want them to think I had been dishonest when I told them I had good travel skills.
Sure enough, the dreaded conversation was not long in coming. One of the staff members pulled me aside and asked me not to go on the hike that was planned for the coming weekend. She assured me that she wasn't afraid I couldn't complete the hike--it was just that the program was under time restrictions.
I thought about my options. I could demand to go on the hike like everyone else, making the staff see me as a difficult student; or I could agree not to go on the hike and go to the beach instead. The beach option seemed the most appealing for several reasons. In addition to giving me more time at the beach and an opportunity to meet some of the students outside of my regular group, I would be in a better position to work with the staff as the program went on. The purpose of my trip was to volunteer, not to hike. The staff's alternative seemed like a reasonable solution, so I agreed to accept it.
As the time passed, my familiarity with the area and my relationships with my classmates deepened. By the end of the trip I could travel the area independently with ease. I was not reliant upon other students, and I worked with them as an equal. I got to know local people on my own, and I enjoyed talking with them. I learned a lot about the culture and climate of the beautiful country I was visiting.
Nevertheless, I was always conscious of the perceptions of others around me. I had had that fall on my first day, and sometimes I felt that I was still being judged for it. I wore long pants to cover up the scratches, but that didn't erase people's memories of what had happened.
Then I started to hear other students talking about their injuries. Some got hurt on the hike I did not participate in. Others were injured in the area where we were staying. Some got sea urchin spines in their feet from not wearing shoes in the water; they dealt with the painful remnants for weeks. I was the only blind student, but I wasn't the only student who got injured. Perhaps I was distracted and talking to others when I fell, but distraction and blindness are not connected. In some ways I was probably more careful than most of my sighted colleagues. I never went into the water without shoes. I received a minor sunburn early on, but I never burned again once I learned how much sunscreen I needed to use. I even used the plants the local people gave me to stop my mosquito bites from itching; they worked better than After Bite or anything else I brought from home.
It is my hope that the program will not turn away other students with disabilities in the future. Like everyone else, we have a lot to contribute. We can approach challenging new situations with as much passion, zeal, and determination as others, and we bring plenty of life experience in creative problem solving. I hope that my fall at the beginning of the trip will not deter the staff from accepting blind students in the future. Other students also sustained injuries, and I have as much of a right to fall as they do. The important thing was that I got up and carried on, as I always do when something goes amiss. I can understand the staff's fear that a blind student in an unfamiliar area is an additional liability, especially if the staff has not worked with a blind student before. Yet I was in no more danger than anyone else, and the scrapes and sea urchin stings on my classmates prove it. I wish I had not had to fight to gain acceptance into the program in the first place. Legally I should not have had to go through that ordeal. I hope that my activity on the trip will not be seen through caution-tinted lenses. I hope that the option I was given will be offered to future students who might not be able to complete the hike in the allotted time, and that disability will no longer be used as a reason to exclude students who otherwise meet all the application requirements. Travel abroad is a great opportunity for students and a wonderful way to learn. I hope that everyone--regardless of disability--gains the right to fall and get back up again while taking in an amazing country.
When I thought about writing this article, I originally planned to discuss my adventures abroad. I wanted to show how they contributed to my education and expanded my view of the world. While the trip changed life for me in those areas, this experience helped me grow as a human being as well. I needed to confront my own doubts and become more adept at handling the unspoken fears of others.
Today I am working with organizations including Mobility International USA and Abroad with Disabilities to empower other blind students to go overseas. I hope to advise others who are the first blind student in their study abroad program so they can cope with the unexpected pitfalls I faced. I certainly don't wish bumps and bruises on anyone, but these things are part of life. Metaphorically speaking, I've taken my fall in stride and brushed off the dirt to continue onward.
For more information about study abroad opportunities, visit Mobility International USA at <http://www.miusa.org> or Abroad with Disabilities at <http://www.abroadwithdisabilities.org>. Abroad with Disabilities has an active Facebook page where students can post questions, and it also hosts live chat sessions.
by Sheila Koenig
Reprinted from Minnesota Bulletin, Spring 2015
From the Editor: Blind people are generally taught to plan ahead, to gather as much information as possible about a destination before setting out. While this is sound advice, it can put a damper on spontaneity. In this article, Sheila Koenig recounts how she set off on an adventure without advance planning. Sheila Koenig teaches ninth-grade English in Edina, Minnesota, and serves on the NFB of Minnesota board of directors.
It began as a seed planted in my Writing and Zen class. In talking about being attached to plans, Ted, the instructor, mused that whenever we have road maps, we ought to throw them away. Thus began the thread of thoughts: I like getting lost. I like the adventure. I like the stories. I like bonding with my companion in our shared lostness.
But what if I were alone, I wondered. Would I still enjoy getting lost? Would I embrace adventure and novelty, or would I confine myself to my own comfort zone? I decided there was one way to find out.
Without a road map and by myself I ventured to Red Wing, Minnesota. Red Wing is a community of about sixteen thousand people located in southeastern Minnesota on the Mississippi River. I chose it because I wanted to go to a small town, a community where I could hear stories and meet people. I simply wanted to follow where the moments led.
A few days before my trip I discovered a new journaling app called Zentries. Each time the app opens, a new quote appears. When I opened the app to journal the night before my trip, I read a quote by Susan Gordon: "The lesson is letting go. The lesson is always letting go. Have you ever noticed how much of our agony is the cause of craving and loss?" We live in a society that clings to security and certainty. Though it takes various forms, consciously or unconsciously we grasp for things to steady us, for permanence. For me this quote was emblematic of my trip. I was letting go of expectations, letting go of plans, and letting go of the known.
The avenues of the trip were fascinating. In my first conversation with Lauren, the concierge at the St. James Hotel, I learned about a new bookstore. "I don't know why," he said, "but you look like someone who loves books." In amusement I told him that I teach English. And I set out to find the bookstore. I learned about a sailing group in the Twin Cities, met a man considering a career change to education, met a kayak guide with a connection to the meditation center I attend, and learned about a science/art charter school in Napa, California. From my kayak guide I learned about a local bakery, and at the bakery I learned they made the crust for the pizza at the local brewery. The crust is outstanding!
My blindness mattered very little on this trip. I hired a driver to take me from Minneapolis to Red Wing. I knew that I could access most of Red Wing on foot, and I felt that part of embracing this journey was letting go of having all of the answers. Sometimes I think anticipating potential roadblocks can keep us from fully experiencing life. I could not have planned, for example, that Broken Paddle Guiding Company would offer to pick me up from my hotel because we were near the launch site of my kayak tour. I had kayaked only once before, on a small lake at a relative's cabin, but I was determined to feed my sense of adventure without worrying about the details. As it turned out, I was the only tourist signed up for the tour. After a quick lesson on land about basic paddling strokes, I set out in my own kayak. My tour guide accompanied me in his. We paddled the backwaters of the Mississippi and navigated the flooded forest successfully. I did get tangled in some branches, but my guide's verbal directions guided me out of the tangle. We talked about turtles, education, and meditation. My blindness was never an issue for me or for those I encountered.
Looking back on this trip half a year later, I marvel at the joys I found. I had no expectations or preconceptions. In throwing away the road map, I was able to be present with the moments that evolved along the way.
by Sally Martin
(a.k.a the teacher formerly known as dot 6 S dot 6 Y)
From the Editor: Sally Martin is a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) and an orientation and mobility instructor in Chandler, Arizona. After attending a workshop on the United English Braille code (UEB), which will go into effect in January 2016, she realized that many teachers and transcribers are highly anxious about the ensuing changes. She wrote this piece as a playful way to address people's fears, and last May it went viral on the blindness listservs. Unfortunately, if you don't know Braille, this story won't make much sense. The humor is, to say the least, esoteric.
(This story is dedicated to Jason Vo and Cameron Knotts.)
Miss Sally and Miss Karen walked out over the grounds of the Braille apocalypse. They scanned the area and saw nine green tents. "Those must be the tents where the contractions that are no longer usable are going to die," Miss Karen surmised.
They scanned the field and saw AND, OF, THE, FOR, and WITH looking lost. AND kept trying to hug WITH, but WITH was shouting, "We can't do this anymore!"
Miss Karen and Miss Sally knew that they would need to talk to the "strongman" contractions. Miss Karen put on her stern teacher face and told them they could no longer snuggle together. AND protested, "I've been cuddly my whole existence! It isn't fair!"
Miss Sally patted AND on the dots and said, "We know. This change is hard. It will be difficult at first, but we will all get used to it."
AND pouted but stood alone. THE, FOR, and WITH seemed near tears but stood strong and alone.
"We'll still be close to other letters when we're used in words," THE said.
"It isn't the same!" AND lamented.
"It will have to do," said THE with finality in his tone.
"Let's leave them for a bit and look in on the tents," Miss Sally suggested.
"I suppose we should," Miss Karen said as she led the way.
BLE was in the first tent. A thermometer hung from his mouth. He saw the TVIs and immediately began his delirious rant. "I'm not that easily confused with the number indicator! I'm not bad for the reader! I'm not! I want to be part of UEB!! It can't end like this!"
Miss Karen and Miss Sally exchanged a knowing glance. "We are so sorry, BLE. You will become a zombie contraction," Miss Sally said, delivering the grave news.
"What does that even mean?" BLE asked in a panicky tone.
"It means you will continue to be read in old Braille, but we won't use you when we write new Braille. It isn't really death, but you aren't really alive anymore, either," Miss Karen explained in a calm voice.
"Will I eat brains?" BLE asked.
Miss Karen and Miss Sally laughed and thought to themselves that the change would kind of eat the brains of the transcribers who were new to UEB. However, the readers would be just fine.
"No, you won't eat brains," Miss Sally answered. "You'll get used to being a zomie, though. Try to think of it as being retired instead of being dead. You'll have way less work to do." BLE seemed calm as the TVIs left to go to the next tent.
The next tent held the first of the "cling-ons." Little TO was in his cot, looking rather pathetic. "I know, I know, there's probably no saving me. I was never all that great at saving space, anyway," he said with resignation.
Miss Karen replied, "You were everywhere. Sure, you weren't saving that much space, but you did a lot of good work. We'll still see you in old Braille, but when we write new, we will have to spell you out as T-O." The TVIs left and headed to the next tent.
BY was waiting in the next tent. Like TO, he seemed to know his days were numbered. "The best thing I can do is accept my fate and hope I don't scare any little readers when they see me doing a zombified cling-on move in old Braille texts." He sighed, but he looked accepting.
Miss Karen and Miss Sally gave him a big hug and thanked him for his selfless dedication to little readers. "Don't worry, we'll explain to the kids that all you zombies were heroes. You've all sacrificed yourselves in hopes to create better Braille for everyone."
The next tent was shaking. INTO seemed restless and frightened. "I don't know what to think! On the one hand, my IN lives on. On the other hand, we all know TO doesn't make it. What's to become of me?" He shook as he asked.
The TVIs knew they had some explaining to do. Miss Sally used her most comforting voice and said, "The word INTO will still have the IN contraction, but the TO will be spelled out. Also, there will be no more clinging."
INTO let out a huge sob and whined, "Clinging was my favorite part of my job. I'm a snuggly type. This will be awful!"
Miss Karen attempted to cheer him up and explained, "You'll still cling and snuggle in the old texts, but you'll have to follow the space rules going forward."
INTO conceded, "I suppose we have to follow the space rules. As much as I like snuggling, I love Braille readers more than anything, so we will just have to put them first." The TVIs were grateful and said good-bye, feeling like the contractions were being really great sports.
In the next tent the TVIs found COM hiding under his blanket. "COM, we need to talk to you. Things are changing. We know you're scared, but let us explain. You were getting confused with the hyphen, and the new Braille is going to eliminate some of that confusion."
COM popped his head out and pleaded, "The readers have always figured me out."
Miss Sally agreed. "They usually did, but there are also issues with back translation. We thought about it long and hard, and this is what is best for our future. We surely do appreciate your service, and we'll be sure to tell kids how well you served us all." COM seemed to accept his fate.
DD popped his head out of the tent as the TVIs walked up. "Don't come in. I already know I can't carry on because I look too much like punctuation. Obviously the period beat me out. He's everywhere! Everywhere!" DD zipped his tent closed, and the TVIs decided to move right along.
At ATION's tent there was a thudding sound. As the TVIs went in, they realized ATION was trying desperately to raise her dot 6. Miss Sally intervened and explained that the dot 6 could not be changed. It was too confusing to have what looked like a capital indicator in the middle of a word.
ATION stopped her thumping and looked defeated. Miss Karen offered further words of comfort, explaining that back translating was difficult when a symbol meant two different things. ATION asked how often that was even an issue. Miss Karen explained that technology was becoming a primary means to produce and read Braille. ATION let the TVIs tuck her into bed.
The weary teachers walked over to the O'CLOCK tent. O'CLOCK was packing a bag with sunscreen and shorts. The TVIs asked what O'CLOCK was doing.
"I'm not crying over less work," O'CLOCK replied. "I'm out of here; I'm heading to Florida. I'm not sad that my work is done!"
The TVIs chuckled and wished him well.
Before she entered the last tent, Miss Sally looked like she was going to cry. Miss Karen patted her on the back and said, "I know this one is going to be hard for you."
They walked in and found ALLY weeping. Miss Sally held ALLY's hand as she found the courage to tell her favorite contraction the hard news. "ALLY, you are a part of me. My name just won't be the same without you. I'm so very sad that you won't make it."
ALLY and Miss Sally shared a hug, and the TVIs left the tent, feeling they had accomplished their task.
They walked toward the main area of the camp and heard quite a ruckus. Miss Karen wondered aloud, "What could that be?"
Miss Sally picked up a monocular and looked out toward the gate of the camp. "That's the changes to composition and punctuation and indicators. They look restless. What should we do, Karen?"
Miss Karen replied swiftly, "RUN!"
They ran as fast as they could but knew they would soon need to face the remaining changes. For the time being, they had done enough!
by Paul Hostovsky
Reprinted by courtesy of National Braille Press
From the Editor: Although many sighted teachers and parents become fluent Braille readers, only a few master the skill of reading Braille by touch. In this article, which originally appeared as a post on the blog of National Braille Press (NBP), Paul Hostovsky shares the delights of learning to read Braille tactilely as a sighted person. The original blog post can be found at <https://nationalbraillepress.wordpress.com/2015/
I get my Braille magazines from a deaf-blind friend who passes them on to me when she's done reading them. Then I read them while driving to work, eyes on the road, left hand on the wheel, right hand deep in Syndicated Columnists Weekly [a Braille publication from National Braille Press]. I'm sighted (you're thinking, I hope so, if you drive a car!) and I think I may be the only person on the face of the planet who reads Braille while driving at 70 mph down the highway. Please don't misunderstand me--I am not promoting distracted driving. I am simply stating a fact: I like to read Braille while driving, which is no more dangerous than driving while listening to books on tape or eating a pastrami sandwich on rye or keeping time with my thumb on my knee to an old-fashioned song in my head, eyes on the road, EYES ON THE ROAD.
I've been intoxicated by Braille ever since I first learned to read it (visually) about thirty years ago when I worked as a transcriber at National Braille Press. Around that same time, I took a sign language class across the street at Northeastern University. I fell in love with the teacher, who was deaf, and whom I later married. I also thereby became rather fluent in sign language, and eventually I left NBP to pursue a career as an interpreter. But I never lost touch with Braille, and eventually I learned to read it tactilely. This is how I did it.
I was sitting in the proverbial traffic jam from hell one day, going absolutely nowhere on my way to work, when I reached over to the passenger seat, where there happened to be a Braille letter from a deaf-blind friend I'd met the previous summer at an AADB (American Association of the Deaf-Blind) convention. With nothing better to do, I tried reading it with my finger. I had no problem with "Dear Paul," but it took me the rest of my commute (about an hour) to make out the first two sentences. Concentrating on that Braille letter in my lap, shifting it to my stomach, my chest, trying to read it with my finger, my eyes never leaving the road, made the time go by. It was something to DO. And so, on the drive home, I continued reading. And the next day and the next. And lo, my habit of reading Braille in the car was born!
If you do anything for two hours a day (an hour in and an hour out) five days a week, for several years, you will get better at it. Which is exactly what happened. I now can read Braille quite proficiently with my right index finger. And I enjoy doing it! I like the physicality of reading tactilely. Am I using neurons and synapses that I wouldn't otherwise be using? I don't know, and I don't really care about the science of it; what interests me more is, for lack of a better word, the poetry of Braille. For example, a long time ago at NBP, my friend Gil Busch told me the word ice in Braille always reminded him of a little hill: the upward-climbing i, the crest of the c, the downward-sloping e. I never forgot that, and I always think of it when I come across that word in my reading. And my friend John Lee Clark has said that Andy in Braille is a square; Sandy is a square with a ponytail. Such are the little reading pleasures that are peculiar to Braille, all those pictures within words. And there are those lower-cell contractions (BY, TO, INTO) that, before UEB, would attach to the subsequent character, kind of like a barnacle or a burr or a baby sloth. And there is the tactile alliteration of a string of dot 5 contractions all in a row: "Lord knows, some young mothers work right here throughout the day," or the fun of encountering the occasional sentence or phrase made up entirely of whole-word contractions: "You can do as you like, but it's just that people like us will not go." Call me weird, but I get a kick out of these sorts of things when I encounter them in my reading.
I enjoy reading Braille in bed at night when my wife would rather go to sleep. No problem, honey, I'll read with the lights out. I enjoy reading Braille in a dark movie theater during those interminable previews, and even during the show itself if it turns out the movie stinks. I read Braille in line at the bank, in line at the grocery store, while waiting for the train, while riding on the train, and even while walking from the train (walking and reading is as easy as walking and talking!) But most of all I enjoy (see above) reading Braille while driving--driving while intoxicated by Braille!
I think I hear some of you object: But it must be illegal! Let me assure you, our esteemed lawmakers and constabularies can't even conceive of it. No one can imagine it--no one except you, that is. So it's our little secret. Okay?
by Cody Bair
Reprinted from The Student Slate, Spring 2015
From the Editor: In today's market, jobseekers must master a host of skills beyond proficiency in their chosen field. Networking at conferences and job fairs is filled with pitfalls and possibilities. In this article Cody Bair, an accounting major at Northern Colorado University, suggests ways for blind jobseekers to negotiate networking events with aplomb. As the winner of two NFB National Scholarships (2012 and 2013), Cody is a tenBroek Fellow.
Is it vital that you attend various networking events in order to attain the job you want when you finish college? Have you ever stressed out and worried for hours about how to navigate and fully participate in said busy events as a blind individual? If so, please read on for tips on how to make the most of such events. As an accounting major, I have participated in dozens of networking events. Although at the beginning of my college career I was extremely intimidated by them, I have learned to make such events enjoyable and productive. I hope these five tips will mitigate your stress level and make you excited to be a part of such events.
1. Plan ahead. Before you go to a networking event, it is crucial that you do some planning. Find out if there is a list of prospective employers who will be there or a map detailing the layout of the room. It is crucial that you prioritize whom you want to talk to and attempt to go in that order, as you often will be crunched for time. Also, conduct research about the companies that you are interested in so you can ask educated questions. If a map of the layout of the room is available to you before the event, it would be extremely helpful to have someone explain to you the location of the companies you want to visit. This information will help you find them more efficiently.
2. Come organized. Some networking events require you to have business cards or copies of your résumé available to hand to prospective employers. While this may sound tremendously easy, it can get tricky when you want to tailor your résumé to a particular employer or group of employers. For example, you might place the employer's name in the "Objective" line of the résumé. As you can imagine, nothing could be more embarrassing than giving the wrong résumé to a potential employer! Therefore, it is extremely important that you organize your portfolio. One way to do this is to Braille the potential employer's name on one corner of the résumé paper. While this method can be effective, it is imperative to have someone take a look after you Braille on the paper to ensure that the Braille does not adversely affect the print. I prefer to Braille the name of each employer on an index card, paperclip the card to the résumé, and remove the paperclip and index card before giving the résumé to the prospective employer.
3. Navigate the event. It is critical that you can navigate a networking event effectively. By moving about with ease you will send the message to prospective employers that you are confident in yourself. Although networking events can be crowded and a little overwhelming at times, it is not impossible for you to navigate them by yourself. I've gotten confused about where I am in the room numerous times, but I have found that people have always been willing to direct me to where I want to go. After all, the purpose of said events is networking. Asking for directions should be viewed as an excellent opportunity to meet and engage in conversation with people you wouldn't have had the opportunity to know otherwise.
4. Manage your business cards. After networking events you usually will come home with a massive stack of business cards. Due to the fast pace, I have found it impossible to keep the cards organized while I'm at the event. Upon returning home I place the cards on a scanner one at a time and scan them, using the Kurzweil 1000 program. I create a spreadsheet that lists each person's name, position, company, phone number, and email address. If scanning the cards is too time-consuming for your liking, you could complete the same process through the use of a human reader. It is important that you deal with the business cards the day after the event, as following up with individuals whom you meet at networking events in a timely manner is often crucial. While it may be easier to obtain such contact information through the use of a human reader, I prefer to spend the time scanning it immediately after I arrive home. This allows me to send thank-you emails on the same night.
5. Follow up. The most important part of a networking event is to follow up with the people you meet and with whom you are interested in seeking employment, to thank them for the time they spent talking with you at the event. There is a myth that handwritten thank-you notes are preferable, but I have always found it preferable simply to type up a well-written email. I believe this method is ideal, as the note reaches its recipient the instant you send it. Thus the recipient will read it while you are still fresh in his or her mind.
If you follow these networking tips, they should change your fear of networking events to a sense of excitement. They will play an intricate role in helping you attain the career of your dreams--a career that will allow you to live the life you want.
by Shawn Jacobson
From the Editor: Shawn Jacobson has served as a statistician with the federal government since 1984. Currently he works for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) at its Real Estate Assessment Center, analyzing information on inspections of public housing and other properties to ensure that they are safe and sanitary. He has also worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and on the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) survey. In this article he describes an early work experience that helped him launch his career.
When I tell people I'm a statistician, they either get a glassy-eyed look on their faces or think that my job is something like rocket science. People tend to believe we statisticians spend our lives looking at columns of numbers and doing calculations in our heads. I suppose that is what my vocational rehabilitation counselor thought when she told me that a blind person couldn't do such a job. Most people don't think getting out on the ice during shooting contests, dodging hockey pucks, or arguing with players about who scored a goal are jobs for a blind person either. Yet I had all of those experiences when I got my first taste of practical statistics as statistician of my university's hockey club.
It was halftime at an Iowa State University football game when I spoke with Coach Murdoch about becoming a statistician. He had met me through student government when he had sought student funding for the hockey club, and he remembered that I aspired to be a statistician. We started talking about hockey and statistics, and he asked me if I would like to be the statistician for the team. I learned that one of his former statisticians had gotten a job with the Chicago Cubs. Finding employment is something we blind folks worry about a lot, and a job in major league baseball sounded supremely cool. I decided to give the hockey club a try.
At the time, what I knew about hockey could most charitably be described as basic. I knew it was played on ice with a puck. I knew that players tried to get said puck through the opponent's goal, and I had heard that hockey players got into a lot of fights. Beyond that, I was pretty clueless. I tried looking up information on hockey statistics in the university library, but what I found assumed a level of knowledge I didn't have. Oh well, I decided, I would do what I could.
My first step was to find the Cyclone Area Community Center, where the games were played. The center was commonly called The Barn, because it had been a dairy barn in its former life. But where was The Barn? It was time for me to do some exploring.
I spent a beautiful autumn afternoon asking questions and generally wandering around. Finally I found a suitably barn-like structure on the south side of campus. When I opened the doors and looked inside, I saw a skating rink and bleachers. This must be the place, I thought. At least the walk, about a mile from my dorm room, wasn't beyond reason.
Next I needed to figure out which of the statistics I was going to keep. In class we were always handed nice, neat tables of numbers (spreadsheets, though we didn't use that term in those days) upon which to employ the tools of the trade. At hockey games, however, I would be in charge of actually collecting the numbers. I placed ads in the student newspaper offering free admission to anyone who would volunteer to assist me. These ads drew little interest; Ames, Iowa, was not a hockey hotbed. I would need to write down the numbers myself.
First I tried to keep track of line changes, noting who was on the ice at any given time. To do so I got behind the bench and looked at the numbers of the players as they got out onto the rink. As I was moving behind the bench, trying to keep my count, I heard a buzzing sound that reminded me of the time I was stung by a hornet.
"Watch out!" one of the players shouted. A puck flying at the speed of a car on the interstate had just missed my head by about three inches. I realized that the shields around hockey rinks are there for a reason. It was time for me to find something else to track.
Next I tried recording who won face-offs. I wore glasses that gave me pretty good vision in a really narrow range. I needed to watch something that would keep still until I found it, and the puck was pretty still before a face-off. I figured that whoever won the face-off would eventually start moving down the ice toward the other guy's goal. Even if the rest of our statistical efforts were incomplete, we always had information about face-offs. The idea was that even if I was wrong about who won the draw, I could at least provide the coach with useful information about the game.
This job began a relationship with data collection issues that has been a large part of my working life ever since. Knowing what information I would keep track of, I settled into a routine. I would go to the games and get a cup of hot cider. (You wanted something warm in a building that featured an ice rink!) Then I would head to my spot atop the bleachers at center ice. From this vantage point, I was able to watch some good hockey, though the team's performance was uneven. Coach Murdoch had moved the team out of a conference with a bunch of Illinois schools to seek stiffer competition. So the team played a variety of opponents, including other colleges, Canadian junior hockey teams, and local hockey clubs. There were many games where we won by ten goals, and a few that we lost by that much. In short, the team had to play opponents at several skill levels to get through the season.
At the end of periods, I would take my sheet with face-off numbers down to the locker room and hand it to the coach. I don't remember a lot about the locker room except that it was hot, damp, and musty. Hockey players jammed together on benches listening to the coach as he told them what they had done wrong and what they needed to work on. Once I handed over my sheet, I would leave the room and head back to my seat as the Zamboni smoothed out the ice for the next period.
One night I actually got out on the ice. My name was drawn for a contest where I could win a prize if I could shoot a puck from the blue line into the goal. I went down to the rink and stepped onto the ice. Haltingly, I moved to the blue line over a surface I had spent many an Iowa winter doing my best to avoid. At the blue line I grasped the unfamiliar stick, took a menacing swipe at the puck, and missed. At this point, and on my next miss, I knew the crowd was doing something, but I was too preoccupied with keeping my balance to pay much attention to the noise coming from the stands. Then, on my final attempt, I managed to dribble the puck toward the goal, but it did not get anywhere close. I left the ice embarrassed, but knowing I had given it a try.
The other part of my job was to keep a running total of goals scored, assists, and penalty minutes for the team and players. I would get the official score sheet from the coach and update the totals from before the game. For this work, I was able to use my CCTV system to read the reports on the game.
The task of keeping scoring totals seemed straightforward, but even this got me into an argument. On the way home from a game, the player who had given me a ride (by now the weather was too cold for a joyful walking experience) told me that the scorer had given the goal to the wrong person. He let me know that he, and not his teammate, had scored the goal. I brought this up with the coach the next day. He told me that the scorer's decision had to stand.
The two years I spent keeping hockey statistics taught me a valuable lesson that I have carried into my work life--which is very satisfying, even though it isn't as cool as being a baseball statistician. I learned that numbers are about something. Just as every goal is scored by a hockey player, every number I track in my job is about a person. Just as every statistics sheet I looked at told the story of a hockey game, so every analysis I do in my job tells a narrative about the human condition. As in hockey, my work with the government has been about making it count.
by Ana Gschwend
From the Editor: For any young person, the move away from home and family can be fraught with logistical and emotional challenges. In addition to the usual issues around leaving home, a young person who is blind may have to struggle with the skepticism of others and the self-doubt that such attitudes engender. In this article, Ana Gschwend of Winnipeg, Manitoba, tells her story of moving out on her own.
On February 20, 2010, I turned eighteen and became an adult. From that point on, I strove vigorously to become independent. However, it took a little over four years for me to feel fully ready to move out on my own. I applied to live in a transitional living facility for the disabled. This facility helps adults with disabilities transfer from a supported living environment, such as their parents' home, to a fully independent living situation such as a typical apartment building in the community.
I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly my application to the transitional living facility was accepted. I had made inquiries twice before at this facility, once in 2011 and once in 2013. On both occasions I was advised to apply when I was really sure what I wanted to do. I kept wavering back and forth, checking out my options. I wasn't quite ready to leave the nest.
My mom, on the other hand, was more than ready for me to leave home! She helped me do so last summer. On the evening I moved into my apartment, we celebrated with some neighborhood friends.
Although my mother was fully supportive of my move, she and I ran into differences around a number of issues, some related to the move and some connected with other things. Before my apartment was ready, our differences came to a head, and we concluded it would be best for us to get some breathing room. I spent a little more than three weeks living at my aunt's house until the final preparations for my move were complete.
My furniture and most of my personal belongings were moved into my apartment on August 12, 2014. More came later as my mom changed some things in her house. Because my phone and Internet connections hadn't been set up, I was not willing to stay there yet. I felt I had no way to contact anyone if I needed to. On August 15 a family friend came into the city from her rural town, and we filled my cupboards, fridge, and freezer with food supplies. I was glad that no longer would I have to search through someone else's fridge to find foods and drinks I wanted. Now I could organize my fridge, freezer, and cupboards just the way I wanted, sorting things and putting them in places where I could find them easily. I officially moved into my apartment on August 17, the same day my phone and Internet connections were set up.
The day I moved into my apartment, I went to my aunt's house for our weekly family Sunday dinner. It felt good to come home to my own apartment when the dinner was over! I looked at the start of this new chapter in my life as an adventure, as if I were going to camp in a cabin just for myself. At last I could fully take charge of my life. No longer would I be under anybody else's thumb. I no longer had to tell people when I was going out, who I was going out with, where I was going, why I was going, or how long I'd be gone. I could stay up as late as I wanted and get up as early or late as I chose, and I wouldn't have to answer for it. I was so used to having to explain myself and my actions to others. Now all that was changing--for the better!
On August 18, my first full day in my apartment, I did some shopping on my own. I went out to buy some basic household supplies. I went to a mall downtown that I was familiar with and could navigate on my own. I used our public door-to-door transportation service for the disabled to get there and back. The door-to-door service requires users to book arrival and departure times for their rides, so they have to go about their activities within a set time frame.
From the time I moved into my apartment, I was determined to do as much of my shopping as I could on my own, not relying on friends or family for help. One of the city's malls has a shopping assistance program, and I can use it when I need to, booking appointments with an assistant ahead of time. When I go to other stores, I ask one of the employees to assist me. They always do so willingly. I'm not afraid to ask for help. That's a big change from when I was a teenager and was afraid to do so. I used to find it easier to rely on others to do things for me. Sometimes I would go without something if I didn't have the nerve to ask for help to get what I needed.
My family has been supportive of my move into my own place. However, I think that deep down it has been a struggle for the people closest to me to let go of me, their little blind girl, now a fully grown blind woman. Even a year after my move, I'm not sure how far along they are in the letting-go process. As cold as it sounds, that is their problem, not mine.
It feels really good to be able to set my own boundaries about how I do things in my apartment. My boundaries aren't many. Don't come over unannounced; don't phone after ten p.m. unless it's an emergency; don't move my belongings around and put them where I may not be able to find them; and unless I've given permission, don't ever enter my suite when I'm not here. Safety is my number one priority, with privacy a close second.
Setting boundaries is an area where my family and I have had differences of opinion. I stood firm, kept my boundaries tight, and insisted that they be respected. I know I sound like a control freak, but the time I spent at the mercy of others and their choices needed to end, and end quickly. I enjoy hosting visitors, provided I have advance notice. Things with my family aren't perfect yet, but they're getting better.
As of this writing, I've been in my apartment for a little bit over eleven months. I continue to learn new things as time goes on. For example, in April of this year I started taking the regular city bus instead of the door-to-door transportation service. So far I take the bus short distances to familiar places. I hadn't used regular public transportation much before, especially not alone. Now I can take the bus from a mall downtown to the Winnipeg office of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). So far I prefer to take buses that go directly to my destination so I don't have to make any transfers. I try to balance my desire for independence against my concern for safety as a woman traveling alone, since it can be risky to travel in some areas of our city. I am a highly cautious person, and traveling on the buses by myself is a pretty big deal for me.
Since I've been in my apartment, I've learned a few new things that have made completing small daily tasks a little bit easier. In no particular order, here are some miscellaneous tips for making it on your own. I hope they will make another person's start with independent living easier.
1. If your home has lots of cupboard space, make the most of it. My kitchen, general storage, and bathroom cupboards have multiple shelves. This has enabled me to establish areas for different things. For example, I put plates, bowls, and cups on one kitchen cupboard shelf and vases and other glass dishes on another in the same cupboard. I have a cupboard for powdered drinks and assorted boxes of teabags and another cupboard for nonperishable foods in cans and boxes. Keeping things organized helps me find them more easily. My shelves are adjustable with the help of clips that connect them to the cupboard walls, so I can have items at a height I can reach on my own.
2. If you're going to use Ziploc bags, don't store them on a hot surface, such as the flat space on top of a stand-alone convection oven. I learned this from experience! I knew that plastic bags melt if they're in the heat for too long, but I thought they would be safe if I kept them in their original box. I didn't completely ruin the bags I'd put on top of the oven, but it was definitely hard to get them out of the box, as they had become pretty stuck to the cardboard! I moved them to a safe place on the counter, far away from the oven.
3. Now that others are no longer arranging your social schedule for you (or at least aren't as involved as they were before), it is important to get out and find things to do in the community. I attend several groups for blind adults at the Winnipeg office of the CNIB, an organization similar to some of the state and private agencies in the US. I also sing in my church's choir and volunteer once a week at a local food bank. I work closely with another nonprofit organization--sometimes for money, sometimes not--that serves Canadians with a variety of disabilities. Currently, I am on income assistance, and this work earns me some extra money. Eventually I intend to look for a job, but in the meantime, I'd like to save some more money for future expenses. The facility where I live is only a temporary living situation for most of its tenants. They encourage the tenants who, like me, are following their "learning through living" program to find more independent housing within two to three years. I'll stay in Winnipeg after I leave here.
4. Blind people need people in their lives to look up to, just as sighted people do. I am fortunate to have a close female friend who is totally blind, and she lives just a few streets away from me. I can share my trials and triumphs with her, and I can get advice on how to do things from the perspective of someone else who is blind. She had low vision in the past and has given me some advice on color coordination, cleaning techniques, and several other things. She is quite a bit older than I am, and she has a lot of knowledge she acquired from her own life experiences. She's always willing to share, woman to woman, friend to friend. She has been a big moral and emotional support for me when it comes to learning how to handle my family and their adjustment to the fact that I'm my own woman now. I'm not someone they can control, in any way, anymore. My friend had similar struggles with her family in her younger days.
5. Losing keys, regardless of your level of vision, is a frustrating and at times a panic-inducing hassle. Find a place in your new home to store your keys so you'll always know where they are. I keep mine in my purse at all times, and I keep my purse in a particular spot beside the wall just around the corner from my bedroom. Put a spare key onto a separate key ring and keep it where you'll be able to find it quickly if you need it. If you're close to someone you trust to access your home and belongings in the event of an emergency, have an additional key cut to give to that person. I gave my mentor/friend a key to my apartment building, a key to my suite, and a key to my mailbox. I have other keys for important things, such as my filing cabinet, on a key ring on my desk, and my friend knows where to find them.
6. Ask family and friends for advice regarding grocery stores that offer good customer service and frequent deals. My mentor/friend recommended a grocery store on our city's main street. Since its hours are long, I can go there at times of the day when I know it won't be packed with people; that way I'll have a better chance of getting help with shopping for my groceries. Some of the staff have seen my friend shopping there, so they're familiar with assisting blind customers.
7. When I first moved here, I considered having my groceries delivered. After a few unsuccessful attempts to connect with a store that delivered, I decided to go to stores myself to get what I needed. I'm glad I made this decision. It gives me greater independence and the ability to choose what I want, staying within my price range.
8. When you're on your own and living on a fixed income, it can be handy to look for household items at second-hand stores or stores that have frequent sales. I enjoy second-hand shopping. I shop for my clothes and general household items at second-hand stores and for food at a grocery store that frequently has sales. This store gives its customers some cash back in February each year as an incentive for them to keep shopping there. In short, spend wisely, look for deals, and follow the saying, "One person's trash can be another person's treasure."
9. Since I like to do as much of my shopping as possible myself, I make sure I have a way to carry my items in one hand and my cane in the other. I have a bag that has two wheels on one side. I can pull it behind me, just as one would pull a suitcase. This bag may not be as spacious as a suitcase, but it's made of waterproof material and stands upright without easily tipping over. I've tried carrying cloth bags of groceries, and my bag on wheels is a much better option for me. Even when it's filled to the top, I can still move it, thanks to its two trusty wheels.
10. To help with labeling your personal belongings, it could be a good idea to invest in a Pen Friend, a product initially put out by the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) in London. You can use its accompanying stickers to label just about anything. You put the device on a sticker and record a label with your voice. While I'm a strong supporter of Braille and Braille labels, I like using my Pen Friend's labels for folders in my filing cabinet and for important print papers. The product is a bit pricey, but I've found that it's a worthwhile investment.
by Risa Shariff and Joseph Shariff
From the Editor: Risa Shariff is a wife and the mother of two teenage sons. She earned a PhD from Gallaudet University in critical studies in the education of Deaf learners. Her dissertation focused on the educational experiences of deafblind leaders. She is a certified teacher of American Sign Language (ASL) and a nationally certified interpreter who serves on the editorial board of the Journal of American Sign Language and Literature. Joe Shariff is a high school sophomore who is dually enrolled as a college student. He is a sergeant in the JROTC program. He is an avid writer of poetry, books, and fan fiction. He hopes to pursue a career as a therapist or teacher. Risa and Joe each share their perspectives in this article.
Risa: In our family Andre is referred to as "the Crowned Prince" because of his propensity to like activities one day and roundly reject them later. As a young and benevolent monarch, he has a lot of influence on the activities in which our family is able to participate within the community. Andre is a blind, nonverbal, developmentally delayed fourteen-year-old whose best friend is his older brother, Joe. He is often happy, and he is opinionated about what he will or will not do with the family.
Andre attends a great residential school program in Baltimore, and he returns home on the weekends. Our weekends are precious, and we schedule family fun with Andre's vacillating temperament in mind.
Considering activities in the community that both Andre and my nondisabled son can share has been a challenge. The challenge has caused us to think beyond the typical family amusements. We have come to know Andre's temperament and to analyze when even the best-laid plans may need to be canceled. It can be frustrating to have to leave an event earlier than planned, but the smiles that Andre gives when he enjoys an event and even the simple experience of being able to stay for an entire event are victories in and of themselves. We have found that Andre reacts best to community events that involve rides, stimulating music, and/or employees experienced in working with people with disabilities. Some of our favorite activities occur in open rather than enclosed places. For example, we often enjoy trips to outdoor festivals, concerts, and children's activities.
On Sundays, our family attends a church service where Andre is greeted along with the other people in the congregation. This is a bigger deal than it might appear at first glance, considering that some church congregations are less than welcoming to people with disabilities. Andre relishes the songs, rocking back and forth rhythmically and clapping along with other people in the congregation. During sermons the pastor speaks quickly. Andre turns his head to listen to the cadences, sometimes rocking to the rhythm of the message as well.
Even though Andre can tolerate more activities than he could before, we have cultivated certain habits to help enhance our family experience. To attend most family activities, we make use of paratransit services that provide door-to-door transportation. By decreasing our travel time, paratransit reduces the chance that Andre will experience frustration, ensuring a smooth transition to the event. We also make use of accommodations at public events and note exit routes should an environment prove to be too stimulating.
Part of the risk of venturing into new activities is that every experience is different, and Andre does not always display a predictable response. Part of the risk of never venturing out, however, is that Andre would not be exposed to community events, and his older brother would likewise be deprived. Fortunately for our entire family, the more that we engage with the community, the more Andre practices being a member of our diverse American society. Likewise, American society is improved when children like Andre are visible and can participate in what it has to offer.
Joe: There are times when it is not possible for us to venture out into the community. During those times, we enjoy home and neighborhood activities. Andre likes to play the tambourine the most when he is home. We play various genres of music and sing karaoke. The tambourine is not limited to musical expression; Andre has created a form of communication with me through it.
The most notable neighborhood activity Andre enjoys is taking short walks outside. Typically he will grab my arm for human guide technique and will want me to help him run. Our neighborhood is a bustling area with multicultural music, restaurants, and convenience stores. During walks, Andre often displays his joy by dancing. When he displays his excitement physically, he can tire quickly, so we need to be observant for signs of fatigue. Remaining clued in to his gestures and other nonverbal communication helps us keep activities manageable and avoid tantrums.
As an older brother, I like to find activities that my younger brother enjoys, especially because Andre is unable to elaborate on his interests verbally. Through events in the neighborhood, my mother and I have gone well out of our way to expose Andre to new experiences. It goes without saying that he enjoys music-related events more than any others. He will often dance in place, and even if it's in public, we care only for his joy in that moment. We let him dance and jump as his way of expressing the ecstatic mood he has. In those moments of pure joy in neighborhood and community our Crowned Prince reigns most grandly, and we are honored just to be in his presence.
by Deborah Kent Stein
A pair of sheep shears is a lot heavier than you might expect. When you clip the wool, you have to hold the shears straight and very steady. Maybe the sheep will cooperate and stand still--or maybe not. And you have to catch the snippets of wool and drop them into your sack before they scatter in the wind.
How do I know anything about shearing a sheep? I didn't grow up on a farm, and I've never spent any time hanging around with shepherds. The explanation is simple. I tried my hand at shearing a very patient old ewe one afternoon at Old World Wisconsin.
Sprawling over more than five hundred acres of fields, woodlands, and gardens, Old World Wisconsin is the world's largest museum dedicated to rural life. It opened in 1976 after decades of careful planning and meticulous research. Teams of historians combed the state to find buildings that demonstrated the development of farming and crafts while also representing Wisconsin's ethnic diversity. Each of the sixty structures on the museum grounds today was disassembled, transported from its original site, and painstakingly reconstructed. Today visitors to Old World Wisconsin can explore the German Village, the Norwegian Village, the Welsh Village, and the African-American Village, among others. There is a working farm, a garden with heirloom herbs and flowers, and a nineteenth-century schoolhouse. There is even a bicycle shop where a visitor can mount a bike from the 1890s, its seat more than five feet above the ground.
In nearly every house, store, or workshop, costumed docents assume the roles of real people from the past. When visitors step into a house or cabin, a docent may be busy making soap, baking bread, stuffing sausages, or carding wool. In his workshop the wheelwright fashions the rim of a cart wheel, and at the smithy the blacksmith stokes his roaring fire and bends a bar of iron into a horseshoe.
Not only do the docents provide verbal explanations of the work they are doing. They also invite visitors to handle the tools of their trades. In many cases, as with the sheep shearing, visitors are encouraged to help out.
Old World Wisconsin is a place that will appeal to people of all ages. Furthermore, with its highly interactive, hands-on approach, it is fully accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. No special arrangements need to be made weeks in advance; no permission for tactile exploration has to be secured. Blind visitors can experience Old World Wisconsin as freely and fully as everyone else.
Living history museums large and small can be found across the United States, from Maine to Hawaii, from Florida to Alaska. Like Old World Wisconsin, most of these museums adhere to a hands-on approach as they present material to the public. The following list is a small selection of the living history museums you and your family may want to explore. Have fun!
Alaska Native Heritage Center
Empire Mine State Historic Park
Grass Valley, CA
Erie Canal Village
Kona Coffee Living History Farm
Kona District, HI
Lincoln's New Salem
Menard County, IL
Maine Forest and Logging Museum
Old Sturbridge Village
Panhandle Pioneer Settlement Living History Museum
Pioneer Living History Village
This Is the Place Heritage Park
Salt Lake City, UT
Vermilionville Cajun and Creole Folk Life Park
Web Accessibility Training Day
NFB Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access to Commerce, Public Information, and Education (CENA)
Contact: Clara van Gerven, email@example.com
Location: NFB Jernigan Institute
200 E. Wells St.
Baltimore, MD 21230
Date: November 4, 2015
CENA and the Maryland Accessibility Project will host the second annual Web Accessibility Day. This year both the technical and policy tracks will be expanded to pack more content into the day. If you are wondering how to implement accessibility in education, curious about the Section 508 update, or interested in learning how to test for web accessibility, this conference has you covered.
Young Child Expo and Conference
c/o Los Niños Training
535 Eighth Ave., 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10018
Contact: Nancy Evangelista, (212) 787-9700, extension 333
Location: Davenport Grand Hotel, Spokane, WA
September 30-October 2, 2015
The Young Child Expo and Conference brings together top leaders to provide the latest information about essential topics in early childhood development. Parents and early childhood professionals will learn about services, resources, and products to help all children reach their full potential. The conference integrates learning about typically developing children as well as those with special needs, including autism. The conference aims to bring together people from all disciplines who work with young children--teachers, psychologists, social workers, occupational and speech therapists, pediatricians, nurses, and students.
The Journal of Intellectual Disability Research (JIDR)
Contact: Jan Blacher: firstname.lastname@example.org
Deadline for Submissions: September 18, 2015
JIDR will produce a special issue devoted to autism spectrum disorders. Priority will be given to high level submissions pertaining to individuals characterized by one of the following: limited cognitive functioning; minimal verbal abilities; or co-morbid psychiatric disorders. However, all submissions related to autism spectrum disorders--such as causes, correlates, and consequences--will be considered.
The overarching themes of this conference are the rights of all children to develop to their full potential and to participate without barriers in all aspects of society. The conference will take place in Stockholm, Sweden, from June 6 to June 8, 2016. All sessions will be conducted in English. Abstracts for presentations may address a wide range of topics in the field of early childhood intervention involving research, training, service models, and policy. Among the topics of special interest are assessment, policy and children's rights, children with specific disorders, cultural issues, curriculum innovations, developmental studies, evaluation and accountability, families, inclusion, deinstitutionalization, intervention outcomes, mental health, peer relations, and professional development.
Leading the Way
No Barriers USA
224 Canyon Ave., Suite 207
Fort Collins, CO 80521
Contact: Kaitlyn Millen, (970) 484-3633
Developed in partnership with world-renowned blind mountaineer Erik Weihenmayer, Leading the Way unites students who are sighted, blind, and visually impaired for incredible adventures each summer. The program is open to students ages fifteen to nineteen. Program destinations have included the Grand Canyon, the Peruvian Highlands, and Mount Kilimanjaro. Information about the summer 2016 program will appear on the website this fall. Check the website to learn about the destination and application process.
Braille Challenge Mobile App
Contact: Cheryl Kamei-Hannan, (323) 343-6297
Researchers are seeking teachers, parents, and students to participate in a study that investigates the development of a new Braille Challenge mobile app (BCMA) for i-devices and Braille displays. The BCMA will include reading assessment materials and activities that can be used to identify strengths and weaknesses in literacy skills, using the Common Core Standards. The project is part of a five-year federally funded grant through the US Department of Education. Participants are currently being sought for Phase II of the project. The research involves teachers giving students a grade-level reading assessment that has been adapted to the mobile app platform, followed by several reading activities that are designed to improve reading skills for children who read Braille, monitoring their progress and giving them a final post-test. The study will take from eight to sixteen weeks with a minimum of two forty-five-minute sessions per week. Students, teachers, and parents who participate fully will be entered into a drawing to win an iPad Mini and refreshable Braille display.
Louis Braille Memorial Library
c/o Afroza Mili, Librarian
Plot 11-1, Road #06, Block E, Section #12
Dhaka 1216, Bangladesh
Contact: Afroza Mili, email@example.com
The Louis Braille Memorial Library provides books and other materials to blind children and adults in Bangladesh. Any donations of used Braille or large print books and magazines are highly welcome. The library can also use Braille paper, Perkins Braillers, Braille printers, computers, canes, and any other materials for the blind. All donations can be mailed as Free Matter for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
Growing Together Across the Autism Spectrum: A Kid's Guide to Living With, Learning From, and Loving a Parent with Autism Spectrum Disorder
by Elizabeth Marks
Lenexa, KS: AAPC Publishing
Narrated by a boy whose father is on the autism spectrum, this book promotes respect, affection, and accountability among all family members. The book celebrates the diversity of relationships that children can have with their parents and emphasizes that they are loved. According to one reviewer, this book is "a must-have for every family, therapist, and teacher."
See as No Other
by Partho Bhowmick
See as No Other is a book of photographs by blind students in Mumbai, India. It also highlights the work of outstanding blind photographers from around the world. The author believes that photography helps give dignity, a new voice, and hope to blind photographers. The book is available in print, ebook, and audio DAISY formats.
In Touch with Pictures
by Partho Bhowmick
Mumbai, India: Beyond Sight Foundation
In Touch with Pictures is a multisensory collection of photographs. It includes raised pictures, audio description, large print, and Braille to provide a holistic experience for blind and sighted audiences.
Seedlings Braille Books for Children currently sponsors two programs that get free Braille books into the hands of blind children.
2015 Book Angel Program for VI Children
P.O. Box 51924
Livonia, MI 48151-5924
Contact: (800) 777-8552
Thanks to Seedlings' generous donors, blind children in the US and Canada can receive two free Braille books per year. Register your child or student by filling out the form on the Seedlings website and create a wish list of four titles. Orders will be filled as time and materials allow. Two books from your wish list will be shipped together via Free Matter for the Blind.
Seedlings Adopt-a-Reader Program
Contact: (800) 777-8552, Extension 301
If you live in Michigan, Ohio, or Illinois, you may enroll your visually impaired child or student in Seedlings Adopt-a-Reader program. Once Seedlings matches your child with one of its generous donors, he or she will receive a gift certificate for $100 worth of free Seedlings books. Submit the enrollment form with a photo of your child so the donors can learn a little more about their adopted reader. Only first names will be used, and your contact information will not be shared.
Transitioning from School Years to Adult Services
Hadley School for the Blind
The Hadley School for the Blind is pleased to announce a new online course detailing how parents and professionals working with a child who is visually impaired or has additional disabilities can maximize the child's independence at home, school, work, and in the community. The course covers the core areas of education; advocacy; and preteen, adolescent, and adult programs, services, and activities. Familiarity with this material can help a parent or teacher prepare a child for a successful transition to adult services once traditional schooling ends. To learn more about this and Hadley's many other free courses, visit the Hadley website.
Moving to Learn Series: Adapted PE for Students with Visual Impairments
American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)
This four-part webinar series is designed to show how students with visual impairments can participate in regular physical education activities. The series is presented by known experts in the field of adapted physical education. The webinar includes an overview of adapted physical education for people with visual impairment, object control skills and motor development in children with visual impairments and blindness, locomotor skills and motor development in children with visual impairment and blindness, and physical activity for youth and adolescents with visual impairments.
Foreign Language Study
Duolingo is a free website that offers instruction in fourteen languages, including Spanish, German, Italian, Dutch, and Turkish. Each lesson includes a variety of speaking, listening, translation, and multiple choice challenges. When Flash is enabled, blind students can access the interactive speaking lessons.
College Success Program for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
This program is based on research about the needs of blind and visually impaired students. It emphasizes self-advocacy, technology skills, extracurricular activities, and more. The curriculum includes guidance from blind mentors, several of whom are former NFB scholarship winners.
Tactile and Talking Maps
San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind
Contact: Greg Kehret, (415) 694-7349
In partnership with the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute, the San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind designs and produces tactile maps of theme parks, transit systems, neighborhoods, floor plans, and more. These maps can aid mobility instructors and professionals looking to convey map information. Students can learn the layout of a neighborhood or a new school or campus. The maps consist of raised lines and four-color printing for high contrast. Audio information can be added, accessed with the aid of a Live Scribe Smartpen.
The Macaulay Library is the world's largest archive of wildlife sounds and videos. Its mission is to collect, preserve, and facilitate the use of wildlife recordings for science, education, and the arts. If you want to identify the strange birdcall you heard in your back yard, or if you'd like to find out what a nightingale sounds like, this is the site you're looking for. In addition to thousands of bird species from around the world, the library also contains recordings of mammals, amphibians, insects, and even fish.