Volume 36 Number 1 Winter 2017
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 © 2017 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 • firstname.lastname@example.org • email@example.com
2016 NFB BELL Academy Highlights
by Carlton Walker
I Don't Like That! Helping Children Deal with Tactile Defensiveness
by Casey Robertson
12 Easy Tips for Accessible Preschool Arts and Crafts for Kids Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
by Amber Bobnar
Teaching to Read in Two Weeks at BELL Academy
by Sheena Manuel
Cute as a Pig's Ear
by Aleeha Dudley
Teachable Moments: How Parents of Blind and Visually Impaired Children
Can Reinforce Lessons in Orientation and Mobility
by Merry-Noel Chamberlain
MUSIC AND DANCE
Braille: The Man and His Code for Music
by William R. McCann
Musical Bricks: Using LEGO to Notate Music
by Matthew Shifrin
Dance without Sight: Creating New Steps of Freedom
by Mana Hashimoto
BEING WITH OTHERS
The Question of Blindfolds
by Heather Field
I Feel for You: How to Teach Blind Children about Empathy and Social Interaction
by Mary McDonach
Desire2Learn: Creating Learning Management Systems that Are Accessible to Everyone
by Deborah Kent Stein with John Baker, Janna Cameron, and Clara van Gerven
How to Prevent Your Child from Becoming Blind
by Edward Bell
Adopting a Positive Philosophy about Blindness: A Story of Transformation
by Olegario Cantos, VII
The Case of the Partially Sighted Child
by Haley M. Dare
Summer Programs 2017
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 Carlton Walker
Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 59, Number 11, December 2016
From the Editor: In the summer of 2016 thirty NFB affiliates hosted forty-five BELL Academies for blind children. BELL stands for Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning. The BELL Academies offer an exciting array of enrichment activities that teach Braille and encourage independence and exploration. Carlton Walker, who manages Braille programs at the NFB Jernigan Institute, serves as BELL coordinator. Carlton is an attorney, a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI), and a past president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). In this article she provides an overview of the BELL Academies that were held from California to New Jersey in 2016.
Throughout this country, there are blind children who cannot read or write efficiently, who do not enjoy independent mobility, and who cannot engage in age-appropriate activities of daily living, such as making a sandwich. Over a three-month period last summer, hundreds of NFB members gave their time and energy to provide much-needed blindness skills to more than three hundred and twenty blind students. Through the NFB BELL (Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning) Academy, thirty affiliates hosted forty-five sites at which students learned nonvisual skills in a supportive atmosphere of high expectations. NFB BELL Academy targets students ages four through twelve. Nevertheless, affiliates welcomed older students who had not yet had quality instruction in Braille, cane travel, or other nonvisual skills.
Not surprisingly, one finds Braille at an NFB BELL Academy—a lot of Braille. On the first day, students learn about Louis Braille and his invention, which gives blind people of all ages the ability to read efficiently and independently, the ability to write and edit documents, and the freedom to read and write music. It also serves as the basis for Abraham Nemeth's Math and Science Code.
NFB BELL Academy students celebrate Louis Braille by throwing a birthday party, during which they make Braille goodies (cupcakes or cookies topped with icing on which the students and adults create Braille letters with candies). Louisiana students celebrated in style with a water slide, a bounce house, a snow cone maker, a popcorn machine, a piñata, and much more. Students at other sites Brailled birthday cards to Mr. Braille, and some, including the rookie NFB BELL Academy in Indiana, used birthday balloons to spell out "Happy Birthday"—in Braille, of course.
Other Braille initiatives included Delaware's Braille Bucks program, where students earned Braille Bucks for reading Braille books at home. The students then spent their Braille Bucks for desired items.
Braille reading and writing classes tailored instruction to students, from complete novices to excellent Braille readers. With support from caring and knowledgeable NFB members, students grew in their Braille skills. Each NFB BELL Academy student also received a free slate and stylus to keep.
Technology is also important to students at NFB BELL Academy. In addition to many opportunities to read and write paper Braille, our students enjoyed varied engagement with and instruction in technology that can provide even more Braille for them to read. In Oklahoma a representative from ABLE Tech, an agency that provides demonstrations and short-term loans of accessible technology to Oklahomans, spent a day at NFB BELL Academy, giving one-on-one demonstrations of several devices, including Braille displays, iPads, money readers, digital personal assistants (note takers), and a talking Perkins Brailler.
Students at the NFB BELL Academy in Nebraska had the opportunity to meet and speak with a published author, Travis Bossard. Travis co-authors the Oskar and Klaus books, which recount the adventures of a blind cat, Oskar, and his much less adventurous sighted brother, Klaus. Travis shared with the students how the books came about as well as his role in writing the books and producing audio versions of them.
NFB BELL Academy students gave back as well. New Jersey students taught a group of sighted preschoolers the basics of Braille and provided each of the preschoolers with a card bearing his/her name in Braille.
NFB members shared with NFB BELL Academy students the freedom cane travel provides. Several sites hosted cane scavenger hunts in various places, including malls, grocery stores, and parks. The NFB BELL Academy in South Carolina implemented a program called "Anywhere and Everywhere," geared to the purpose of increasing awareness of travel. Students learned about multiple modes of travel, including white cane travel, car travel, and bus, train, and plane travel on the local, regional, and national levels. Students used chairs and their imaginations to take train and airplane trips. Students also used tactile maps and cardinal directions in the classroom on a daily basis.
For too long, the "no-touch" policy at many museums has kept blind individuals from truly experiencing the exhibits on display. At several NFB BELL Academy sites, students and mentors broke down those "no-touch" barriers and had the opportunity to interact with museum exhibits in meaningful ways.
The NFB BELL Academy in Kentucky was held at the American Printing House for the Blind, and there was a field trip to the museum there. Other museum visits included the Museum of Idaho (where students touched Revolutionary War relics); the Jewish Museum of Maryland; the College Park Aviation Museum; the Leonardo Museum in Utah; the Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC; the American Whistle Corporation factory in Columbus, Ohio; and many others.
Students in Northern California investigated the Turtle Bay Exploration Park, and those in Southern California learned about their local history at the San Bernardino County Museum. Students in Iowa also had the opportunity to tactually explore a 3-D printer in the Iowa Library for the Blind, while Tennessee NFB BELL Academy students dissected dogfish sharks.
Our NFB BELL Academy students enjoyed many different recreational opportunities. Colorado students enjoyed exploring the Cave of the Winds and engaging in a rock climbing activity. Georgia students engaged in accessible physical activities: playing beep kickball, riding tandem bicycles, and enjoying adapted soccer at the Coan Recreation Center.
Several sites engaged in the Paralympic sport of beep baseball, and the students at the NFB BELL Academy in Indiana had the privilege of working with National Beep Baseball Association Hall of Famer Ron Brown, who later served as the head coach for the 2016 World Series Champion team, the Indy Thunder.
Bounce houses proved popular at many sites. Texas students enjoyed a trip to a trampoline park, students in North Carolina went bowling, and Mississippi students had the opportunity to go horseback riding. Students at the NFB BELL Academy in New York traveled to a movie theater to watch Pete's Dragon and learned how to use descriptive video technology.
At NFB BELL Academy, recreational fun does not require a field trip. Among many other activities, the students in Arizona had fun with life-sized games of Hungry Hungry Hippos. In this game students pair into teams of two, and each team has a scooter and a basket. One student lies on the scooter, belly down, and holds a lightweight laundry basket in front with outstretched arms. The other student holds the legs of the one on the scooter. Several teams gather around in a large circle, and all students wear learning shades (sleepshades) throughout the game. Next, an adult drops a bucket full of small, ball-pit balls into the center of the floor. Each team works to get as many balls in the basket as possible by pushing the student with the basket (the "hungry hippo") into the circle, capturing the balls with the basket, and pulling them back to the team's area before time runs out. In subsequent games partners take turns being the hungry hippo.
Every student at each NFB BELL Academy site receives a free slate and stylus to keep and, through the NFB Free White Cane Program, each student also receives a long white cane. This year students also received a water bottle bearing the NFB BELL Academy logo. These water bottles are BPA-free and dishwasher safe, and we hope our students use them all year long and remember the great fun they had and the skills they gained at NFB BELL Academy.
While the gifts noted above are important, they pale in comparison to the gift of NFB BELL Academy itself. NFB members raise money year-round to provide support for one or more NFB BELL Academy sites in their affiliate. NFB members also devote countless hours in preparation for NFB BELL Academy, including site selection, preparation of materials, planning field trips, etc. This summer, hundreds of NFB members gave freely of their time, their knowledge, and themselves during NFB BELL Academy instruction. Hundreds of students received instruction, grew in self-confidence, and built relationships that can last a lifetime.
Each of us supports NFB BELL Academy, either directly at our affiliate's NFB BELL Academy, or indirectly through support of our Free White Cane Program, our Free Slate and Stylus Program, and our promise to each blind person we meet: together with love, hope, and determination, we transform dreams into reality.
by Casey Robertson
From the Editor: Casey Robertson is a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) in the state of Mississippi and an instructor in the teacher training program at Louisiana Tech University. In 2013 she received the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award from the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). This article is based upon a workshop she presented at the 2016 national convention of the NFB in Orlando, Florida.
I am an itinerant teacher in Mississippi, and I work for the Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech, so I have a dual role. I teach teachers of the blind and at the same time I have a caseload of blind students in the public schools. We use the itinerant model in Mississippi. We often travel great distances to work with our students, from county to county and district to district.
In my teaching I work with a wide range of ages and exceptionalities. I have students who are as young as four, and I've taught Braille to a twelfth grader who never was exposed to it before.
One thing that you guys may have noticed with blind children is that sometimes they don't like to touch things, or they don't like to eat certain foods, or they don't like certain noises. Today we're going to talk about why this happens and how we can help those kids get over their fears and anxieties about touching things.
We're speaking here about blind children, but sighted children often have aversions to things, too. This isn't a blindness problem, it's a kid problem! A lot of times behaviors get labeled as blindness related when really they're about being a child.
Why do some of our children not like to touch things? Why do they touch things very lightly? You may have noticed that some kids, blind and sighted, have a very light touch; it's almost as if their arms and their bodies are floppy. Other kids are very forceful when they touch things, and you're constantly saying, "Not so hard! Not so hard!" What can parents do to help?
I bet if we took a survey in this room, everyone could tell us about something sensory that they do not like. Brown paper towels in the bathroom—I cringe if I have to dry my hands with those brown paper towels! Lines in socks—they have to be the same for me. Socks that are exactly the same except that one's thin and one's thicker, I can't do it! If you make me wear them, you might as well send me away to somewhere. My mother's here in the room, and she can probably tell you about more things I don't like.
We all have sensory things that we don't like, things we try to avoid. Most of the time our aversions don't affect us very much, but there are times when we need to address the issue. Today we'll look at what happens when avoidance becomes a problem and talk about ways we can deal with this problem in our kids.
Sensory information comes into the brain by four main pathways—the eyes, the ears, the nose and tongue, and the hands and skin. These are the four main channels that carry information from our environment to our brains so we can perceive it. Normally we process information from all of these channels at the same time; it's called sensory integration. As we touch and listen, all of that information goes into the brain at once. It's a good educational model to have students touch a thing, hear it, and say the name of it over and over. They're getting information into the brain in multiple ways at the same time. I used this multisensory method when I was a general education teacher, before I got into the field of blindness.
When the brain gets all this information at the same time, it has to decide how to respond. There's a very loud noise outside! What do I do? Some kids have trouble sorting out all the information that comes in at once. We need to teach our kids to process information and help them figure out what to do about it.
We can train our kids to respond to things in appropriate ways. Your child may be over-responsive or under-responsive to sensory stimulation. The over-responsive child is the child we call rambunctious. He or she reacts in a high-energy way to stimulation. If you give this child an object to touch, he hits it hard.
Under-responsive children are the kids who are floppy. They don't have good muscle tone—it's called hypotonia. If you ask a child like this to touch something, he just plops his hand on it and lets his hand slide down. It's as though these kids are apprehensive about touching things. They don't get the feel of an object because they touch it so lightly.
The child who is over-responsive to stimulation can easily become overwhelmed by the information coming from any or all of the senses. This oversensitivity to touch is sometimes described as sensory defensiveness. It's called tactile defensiveness when the child is overly sensitive to touch. A child may also be overly sensitive to sound, or auditorily defensive.
When we try to teach kids Braille at an early age, we often hear professionals say, "He's so tactile defensive, there's no way he's going to touch Braille right now! We need to wait a year or two." It's true that a lot of blind kids—not all of them!—are tactilely defensive when you start to teach them (if you want to use that term). They do have trouble touching the Braille and reading it, but that's not a reason to put off Braille instruction for a year or two! It's a reason for one of your goals to be helping the child become more receptive to various kinds of tactile stimulation.
Parents often call me in to do an independent assessment. They'll tell me that the school district recommends that their three- or four-year-old do pre-Braille before kindergarten because she's tactilely defensive and doesn't like to touch different textures. The team wants to spend two years working on having the child touch different textures before ever putting Braille under her fingers! There's no reason three- and four-year-olds should not have exposure to Braille, even if they're labeled as tactilely defensive. There are ways we can work through that.
I want to share a story with you about the very first blind student I ever had. I was a general education teacher with a degree in gifted education. After eight or nine years I went into the blindness field. I went to Louisiana Tech, which is one of the top programs in the nation for teachers of blind students. I started my very first job, and when I showed up on my first day the principal said, "I'm going to walk you down to the room where this little girl is." She opened the door to the special ed room and said, "This is the special education teacher, and this is your Bella. We'll talk later." And she closed the door.
There was a little balled-up bundle of a child on the floor. She was six years old. She didn't walk. She didn't talk. She didn't eat solid food. When the principal closed that door I thought, "Oh, my! What do I do!"
So I grabbed my cell phone and called Dr. Ruby Ryles, who is kind of a guru in the blindness education field. I said, "Hello! This kid's not reading Braille! She's not walking, she's not talking, she's not eating. She's pretty much in a fetal position on the floor. You didn't teach me about this! What do I do?"
She said, "You're a teacher. You've got to figure it out." [Laughter]
In the process of teaching this little girl, I had to get past being scared. Then I had to figure out what was going on. Bella was six years old and she weighed twenty-five pounds. When I started working with her she would not touch anything except her bottle and a sippy cup. She crawled around the room, but she didn't want to touch anything except the floor.
She was the only student I had for the first semester. I spent the majority of my time with her each day. It took me half a year to get her up and walking. She could swing. She loved to swing because her parents would put her on a swing to occupy her while they did yard work or things around the house. Swinging was the number one motivator I had to get her to start touching things.
My mom loves to sew. I went to the fabric store and picked out about ten different textures of fabric. Mom and I sewed squares of fabric together and made Bella a blanket that she could carry with her everywhere. It came to school with her, and it went home with her every day. In the beginning she would only touch one square of that blanket, a square that was smooth. She would hold the blanket by that one square. She wouldn't touch the blanket anywhere else or let any other part of it touch her.
Touching that one smooth square was all I needed her to do at first. Bit by bit, as we worked together, she began to touch other squares of the blanket. We had put lots of things on it, from rough burlap to a zipper and buttons—a whole palette of textures. We worked up to two textures that she would touch, then three, until finally she had the whole blanket. It became very much a friend for her.
Bella is an example of a child who was under-responsive. She was floppy, had low muscle tone, and was very reluctant to touch things. The number one thing we can do for the under-responsive kid is to get him up and moving. If Bella's parents gave her something and she didn't like the feel of it, they quit. They tried giving her baby food, and she didn't like it, so they quit giving it to her. If they gave her a cup instead of a bottle, she screamed—so they quit. She just stayed in one part of the house doing nothing. She was under-stimulated, had very weak muscles, and she didn't want to touch anything.
If there's one thing I hope you take away from this presentation, it's that all kids don't like certain things. In most cases, if a sighted child doesn't like to touch certain things, we make him touch those things anyway. But when it's a blind or low-vision kid, we tend to assume their aversion is a blindism—a behavior that's somehow caused by the blindness.
The schools generally don't like to push issues dealing with texture. They know that children tend to act out when you try to get them to touch things they don't like, and that's disruptive in the classroom. So the teacher is likely to stop and not to persevere. The child is labeled tactilely defensive, and everybody assumes there's nothing to be done.
My niece, Emily, is the first blind person I ever knew. We didn't know she was blind until she was five or six months old. She was a sensory kid—not because she's blind, but because she had sensory issues. If you put her feet on grass, she'd climb you like a monkey! She would scream and climb you! We had to take it in small pieces. We'd put her feet on the grass, she'd scream, and we'd give her something she liked as a distraction. We'd do that for a short time, take her away from the grass, and then go back later and try it again. When you introduce something to kids over and over, they become better at handling it.
For my niece it was the same with Wal-Mart and the grocery store. It took a team to go to the store with that one small kid! Before I knew her, I used to see kids acting out in public, and I'd say to myself, "Why can't that parent handle that child?" Emily proved me wrong with everything I ever thought I knew about kids. We'd take her to the store; it would be loud in there. She'd scream, and we'd have to take her out. We had to keep reintroducing her to that experience. At the time I thought it was because she's blind. Well, now she loves to shop!
Regarding tactile defensiveness, let's look at the who, what, and why, and let's look at what not to do. Occupational therapy (OT) is a field that gives professionals a lot of training in this area. Teachers of blind children usually get none. What we know is what we learn through our own research when we're trying to help a particular student. The blindness field teaches a lot about kids who are blind—whether or not they need Braille or mobility training and how to teach them blindness-related skills. We learn hardly anything about kids with multiple exceptionalities. I don't call it multiple disabilities; I call it multiple exceptionalities. To me exceptionality is a friendlier term. It doesn't have the negativity that can be associated with disability. Anyway, I'd like to see much more sharing of ideas between blindness professionals and occupational therapists. Sometimes an occupational therapist feels unable to help a blind child because she or he doesn't have any experience with blindness. The OT will sometimes try to say it's up to the TVI to work with the blind child on sensory issues. But the OT needs to work with the TVI to help the child.
When you work with a child who has a lot of tactile defensiveness, first you need to determine some things the child really likes to touch. Most of these kids like things that are really soft, or some things that are really hard. They don't like things that are in between. In my experience, these kids are more likely to prefer hard things. So find out first what the child likes, and emphasize those things. Give her lots of practice with those things. You want the child to be comfortable, to be less fearful than she was when she came in. This helps you build a trusting relationship. If I see a kid for thirty minutes every day, and all she does when she's with me is touch things she doesn't like, she's not going to like coming to me very much! She's not even going to like the sound of my name when they tell her, "It's time to go see Miss Casey!" So you give the child lots and lots of practice with things she likes, and slowly you introduce things she doesn't like, one at a time.
Some of the things we can use with these kids are Play-Doh and Silly Putty. They're not going to like it at first. But the more you introduce it to them, the more they get to accept it.
With Bella and some of my other kids, I use things they like as a way to introduce them to things they don't like. I found out that Bella loved to play in water. She would pat the water and splash the water. Once she became mobile, we couldn't keep her out of the toilet!
I set up a water and sand table, and I filled it full of water. Into the water I put whatever objects I wanted Bella to touch. In the water she might find a rock—she didn't like hard things.
I knew Bella liked to swing, so I went to the hardware store and got them to cut me a link of chain. It felt like the chain of the swing that she liked to swing on, and I'd put that into the water. We'd work on having her find the rock or the chain link. When she found the thing I asked her to find, her reward was getting to play in the water for a longer time.
Feeding was another area where we did a lot of work. Bella wouldn't eat any solid food whatsoever. She had only been given liquids such as milk and apple juice. She wouldn't even tolerate the textures of pudding or applesauce. For about six months I went home every day with pudding or applesauce spit all over me! It was gross, but we had to keep reintroducing those foods to her.
One of the first things I put in the water was a spoon. Bella had never held a spoon before. First she got to where she would touch it. Then we worked on having her hold the spoon outside of the water.
Some kids like soft things, such as a bag full of cotton balls. You can fill a paper bag with cotton balls and put an object with a texture the child doesn't like down in the bag with the cotton balls all around it. Have the child find the object. If she likes soft things, you can hide something hard in a plastic container full of feathers. You can get feathers from an art supply store. You tell the child, "Find the rock," and have him reach into the bag of cotton balls or feathers to find it.
For Bella I got a small swimming pool. Off season you can get them at the dollar store really cheap! Take a blow-up swimming pool and fill it full of dry beans. Let the child get in and play with them. It's going to be messy—if you're a clean freak like I am, you just have to get past it! We swept up beans every afternoon. You can start off soft and move to hard, or start off hard and move to soft, depending on the child. With Bella I moved from beans to rice. You would not think there's much texture difference between a pinto bean and a grain of rice, but for some of these kids the difference is very big. After a couple of weeks we took the rice out, and I filled the pool with uncooked macaroni noodles.
Once Bella got used to the texture in the swimming pool, I put in objects for her to find. She would pick them out. This activity also encouraged movement, which helped improve her muscle tone. Her improved muscle tone encouraged her to explore, and exploring encouraged her language. Once a child has experiences to talk about, she starts to gain language skills.
One of the things that occupational therapists use with some kids is called deep pressure. Deep pressure can be very calming for some children. Wearing Spandex or tight exercise clothes under regular clothing can have a calming effect, but other kids might hate it. It's trial and error until you find out what works best for a particular child.
Some kids are helped by wearing seamless socks and moccasins instead of shoes. The less uncomfortable he is, the more the child will be encouraged to move around.
Some kids love vibrating toys. If the child is scared of the vibration, let her have control over it. The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) sells lots of vibrating toys that are controlled by switches. The child pushes a big button to turn the toy on and pushes the button again to turn it off. Some of these toys may be available through APH quota funds, so talk to your child's teacher of the visually impaired before you purchase anything. An alternative is, again, to go to your local dollar store. You know those little handheld back massagers that vibrate? The dollar store has those. The button lets the child feel that he's in control of his environment. The more control he has, the more he can understand that things aren't just happening to him at random.
You're not going to find an aisle at Wal-Mart that says TOYS FOR BLIND KIDS, but a lot of the toys they sell can easily be adapted or just used out of the box. They have toys that vibrate when you squeeze them, and at the end of the vibrating they make a little musical tone. Those toys are perfect for kids with sensory issues. If you lay the vibrating toy on the floor out of arm's reach, the child can hear it or feel the vibration. That will encourage the child to move to the toy.
The dollar store sells little sand pails like the ones you take to the beach. You can fill the pail halfway with water or sand and put an object at the bottom for the child to find.
You want the child to feel just enough discomfort to work through the process of getting used to something he doesn't like. However, be careful not to go too far too quickly. You don't want the child to be crying hard or acting as though he's in pain. You don't want to scare him. A bit of discomfort is okay, even necessary. But never force the child to touch something! I remember hearing about a little boy who was always forced to hug people. After a while he wouldn't hug anybody! Introduce things gradually, and the child will learn to tolerate them, maybe even like them.
At home you already have built trust with your child, so you can introduce touch in a much less threatening environment than the school can. Your child doesn't have the same level of trust with her classroom teacher or TVI that she has with you. If you start to incorporate these methods at home, it's easier for the teachers at school to do it, too.
Once the child can tolerate touching something, don't stop there. Encourage him to pat the smooth, foamy ball or hold a ball of Play-Doh. Build upon the skills the child has gained. We call this scaffolding. "You touched the Play-Doh today, and I'm so proud of you! Let's see if you can hold it tomorrow." The child might not hold it tomorrow, but introduce it again the next day. Keep working your way up.
With the child who is under-responsive to touch, occupational therapists do what they call heavy work. Heavy work involves activities that encourage the child to move, help the child build muscle tone, and burn off the stressful energy they build about objects and textures. Lack of movement causes the child's muscles to be weak. Sometimes the child's brain doesn't know what to do with sensory input, and the child may have trouble with movement or posture stability.
An older child can help raise and lower the flag at school. She can carry items from one class to the next. I've heard a lot of parents say, "My child should not have to carry his Brailler. The aide should carry the Brailler for him." However, carrying a Brailler is a good example of a heavy workload activity. I'm not talking about carrying it a long distance, from one building to another. But moving it from one part of the classroom to another part, that's fine!
Sometimes the brain knows what the child wants to do, but it can't relay that desire to the muscles. For instance, a blind child wants to ride a bike. Because he has never seen anyone ride a bike, he may not understand what to do with the pedals. You have to physically show him what to do with his body.
A couple of weeks ago we had a BELL Academy in our state. We taught the kids to do the Cha-cha Slide. If you're not familiar with this dance, the music gives directions such as "Step to the right" and "Hop forward" and "Turn around." We thought this would be a great way to begin teaching cardinal directions. Once we did it for a day or two, we could say, "Step to the east," "Step to the west," or "Hop to the north." But these kids, who had never seen anyone dance, looked uncoordinated. We found we had to move their feet to the right or left. We also let them feel our legs as we went through the movements to help them train their brains to do the actions of the dance.
One of the things that works well with kids who have sensory issues is pushing a toy shopping cart. All of the push toys that they sell for sighted kids work the same way for blind kids. Nowadays they make the wheels very slick, so for some kids I put Velcro on the wheels. The Velcro makes the cart less likely to slide out from under the child, and that bit of resistance also helps build muscle tone. Pushing a laundry basket around on the floor is also good for toddlers and preschoolers. Kids can also push toy vacuum cleaners along the carpet.
We don't have snow in Mississippi except about once every couple of years. It's freakish enough that we shut down everything when we see a snowflake! Our kids don't have experience with shoveling snow. But if you live in a place where snow happens, let your child have a toy shovel so she can dig in the snow that's out there.
You can buy a pack of exercise bands really cheap at a sports store. Have your child put the band on his arms and pull his hands apart. He can feel that the band is floppy when his hands are together and that it gets tight as he pulls his hands away from each other. If you have an open-minded teacher at school, you can hook an exercise band around the bottom of your child's chair. He can push it like a gas pedal while he's doing his work.
Jumping or bouncing on a trampoline or an old mattress helps with movement and balance. Sitting in a beanbag chair is also a great activity.
I've never been in a school that had many supplies, so if I can make something rather than buy it, I'll make it. You don't have to go out and buy Play-Doh, you can make your own. You can find recipes on the Internet. You can buy something called therapy putty, which is a bit more resistant than Play-Doh. It's very good for kids to work with, and you can buy it on Amazon for about twelve dollars.
You can also buy sensory blankets, but they're very expensive! Some are weighted, and some are textured. As I said, my mom made one for Bella. You might be able to contract with someone to make you one. Maybe one of our affiliates would like to start making them as a fundraiser. We could sell them at convention. To make a weighted blanket, put small weights in before you sew it all together. Just use small weights; you don't want to go too heavy! And I want to mention that you must never leave a child under a weighted blanket for too long. Once she goes to sleep, take the weighted blanket off of her. Some kids get lung fatigue, so they shouldn't sleep under anything heavy. Just use the blanket to help the child get to sleep, and then remove it.
One thing I want to emphasize before we stop today—it's really important to start exposing a child to different sensory experiences when he's very young, as a baby and toddler. In those early years sensory issues have not become entrenched, and it's much easier to deal with them. If your child has sensory issues when he starts school, he may well end up being diagnosed as having additional disabilities such as autism. I'm sure if I'd been blind when I started kindergarten, I would have been labeled as having other disabilities, too, because of the sensory issues I had at that time. Having sensory issues isn't necessarily a disability; it's just something that needs to be worked through. You may not be able to work through all of the issues before your child enters school, but you can get a good head start.
by Amber Bobnar
Reprinted from <www.wonderbaby.org>
From the Editor: Arts and crafts encourage creativity and help children build spatial concepts. They also help develop tactile sensitivity and fine motor coordination, invaluable for kids who will be learning Braille. Best of all, arts and crafts can be fun for the whole family. Here are some ideas for arts and crafts projects to engage young blind children.
Can a blind preschooler be included in preschool arts and crafts? Of course!
Preschool art projects usually involve simple fine motor skills (drawing or gluing), beginning planning skills (figuring out what to draw or where to glue), and constructive play (building something). Do these sound like skills any child should be learning, blind or sighted? Yes!
You will want to plan ahead to make sure the project is accessible. Also, if your child has issues with different textures, you should probably work on addressing that problem now. You can find some tips at <www.wonderbaby.org> and in the article "I Don't Like That!" elsewhere in this issue of Future Reflections.
But if your kiddo doesn't have problems with touching different types of textures, then you're already way ahead of the game. And messy play can be really great developmental play, too! Keep reading for some tips on making preschool art time accessible for kids who are blind or visually impaired.
1. You can purchase raised-line coloring books from several sources listed below.
2. Take a regular coloring book and outline the lines with puffy paint or Wikki Stix.
3. Purchase a raised-line drawing board so that anything your child draws can be felt on the paper after he or she draws it.
4. Get a raised-line sketchpad.
5. You can always make a drawing board yourself just by placing the paper on top of a screen. When you draw on it the lines are bumpy, and you can feel them.
6. It can also be fun to draw with scented markers, so your child can smell what he's drawn.
7. Start by getting your child used to the idea of sticking objects to paper. You can try this sticky collage project with packing tape. The entire surface is sticky, so no matter where you place an object, it'll stick.
8. Work up to using glue. I think glue sticks are great, because you can make a large area on the paper sticky. Then your child can find the glue with one hand while placing objects on the paper with the other.
9. You can also dab a little glue on the object for him (like, say, a dried flower) and then have him place it on the paper. Eventually, as he begins to understand the concept, you can work up to having him apply the glue himself. He will need help to start with (as would any child).
And yes, glue will be messy and sticky, but we just have to be okay with that!
10. My son made a scented collage in school the other day. They started with a paper plate, brushed glue over the whole surface, then had Ivan place different scented dried herbs on the plate. He came home with glue in his hair ... but that's okay!
11. Set up a "wash station." I remember when I was a child that the teacher kept a sponge in a small bowl with water. We could use it to wipe our fingers on in between applying the glue. Maybe if you have a little wash station set up, that could help with the mess, too.
12. And one more idea: you could also create a glue "template" by cutting out a small circle area in a larger piece of cardboard. Your child can place the template on the paper where she wants the glue to go and just put the glue in the circle space. Now she knows exactly where the glue is!
I hope some of these tips will help you create a fun and accessible arts and crafts project with your kids. And if you have any other advice, please let us know in the comments section at <www.wonderbaby.org>.
Raised-line Coloring Books
National Federation of the Blind Independence Market
200 E. Wells St. at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, MD 21230
Raised-Line Drawing Board
Sensational Blackboard Raised-Line Drawing Board
Intact Raised Line Drawing Kit
These three products are available from the NFB Independence Market.
by Sheena Manuel
Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 59, Number 11, December 2016
From the Editor: Sheena Manuel is the outreach specialist at the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness (PDRIB) at Louisiana Tech University. She is a teacher of blind students (TBS) and a certified national orientation and mobility instructor (NOMC). She serves students in the public school setting in the north central area of Louisiana. During the summers she travels from state to state, teaching at various NFB BELL Academies.
My love for teaching at BELL Academy stems from Louisiana Tech's Teaching Blind Students program. Participating at the BELL Academy was required and expected from my professor. She understood the value of seeing good blind role models, building relationships with fellow colleagues, and getting hands-on experience before we entered the profession.
I'm always looking for adventure and different places to go, whether for work or pleasure. I decided that every year I would look for another place to visit while doing what I love, teaching kids. This year Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was the place to be for BELL Academy. As I began meeting families, I learned that most of these kids did not have teachers of the visually impaired waiting for them once they returned to the school setting. This discovery motivated me to provide as much meaningful instruction as possible for the next two weeks.
Kids are brutally honest. One student revealed that she only knew one letter, a, and she had received only five minutes of Braille instruction during her last year at school. Appalling! I explained to her that we would give her a crash course in Braille, and I would give her as much as she could handle.
This kid was highly motivated and ready to digest Braille. We started with the alphabet. I gave her between five and eight letters a day, teaching letters and whole words. She practiced writing them with my co-teacher every day. I presented the letters similar to the Mangold program, having her read lines of letters, then read lines of words. And guess what—at BELL Academy you go home with homework. Every night this kid was excited to share with her family what she learned. As her love for reading Braille grew, so did her interest in reading other words.
Then I started introducing about three to four contractions and other words commonly found in early readers. The day I decided to introduce a story, she exclaimed that she had been waiting to read a story like the other kids. The look on her face will stay with me forever and continue to remind me of why I do what I do. I want kids to know that with motivation, high expectations, and proper training, their dreams can come true.
As a kid I remember picking up a book my mother read to me every night, Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel, and thinking, "I can't wait until I can read this." As a kid in grade school I remember waving my hand and squirming in my seat so I could read a passage aloud to my class. During the summer I enjoyed walking into the library and getting as many books as I could carry to read. As an adult I am excited when I can read a story aloud to my students (in print or Braille). I hope that my love for reading will live on with this kid from the BELL program and with every other kid I meet.
by Aleeha Dudley
From the Editor: Aleeha Dudley is majoring in animal science at Louisiana Tech University. She won an NFB National Scholarship in 2011.
If it has four legs and fur or two legs and feathers, I love it. Ever since I was quite small, animals have been a huge part of my life. We always had two or three dogs in the house, along with the occasional cat and bird. I raised rabbits and bred them for show in local, state, and national competitions. I took weekly riding lessons for years, and I rode horses at several county fairs. I bottle-fed calves that were raised for meat on our farm. Not many blind children are lucky enough to have all of the direct exposure to animals that was part of my life growing up.
My childhood passion for animals never abated, and it has shaped who I am today. During high school there was only one thing I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to become a veterinarian. Later my career goal shifted somewhat. I decided that I wanted to work with horses by learning acupuncture and other therapies to help heal their damaged muscles and tissue.
When I entered college, I chose to major in zoology. At that particular university, zoology was a very scientific course of study with little hands-on experience. I knew I needed more direct experience, so I volunteered at a veterinary clinic where I could learn to handle animals successfully. I thought I had found the perfect clinic, but alas, I was very much mistaken. Because I am blind, I was not given any actual work to do. I was only permitted to stand just inside the door and "observe" whatever was going on. Basically it amounted to standing in the corner, listening and gathering any scraps of information I could, without ever laying hands on an animal.
My experience at the clinic was very discouraging, and I found myself questioning my career choice. How could I ever break into the field without any actual experience?
I had issues with my first university that eventually caused me to leave and find another school. Along the way I decided to attend an NFB training center where I could gain the skills and confidence I had never had or that I had lost through my struggles at my first school.
During those nine months at the center, I learned a lot about what it meant to be confident in oneself as a blind person and to trust one's ability to accomplish things. While I was in training, I had a work experience at a local veterinary clinic. This clinic was very different from the first one. I was permitted to handle dogs, take them outside, and bathe them. Finally, I felt that I had found a place where I could get my foot in the door. Though it did not last long, the experience taught me a lot about advocating for myself and about the alternative techniques that I would need to succeed in a very competitive field that few blind people have ever entered.
As my graduation from the training center drew closer, I wondered what I would do with my life. Although I had learned a lot and was a lot more confident in myself, many obstacles still lay in my path. My state rehabilitation counselor did not believe that becoming a veterinarian was a reasonable career goal for a blind person. Furthermore, I needed to find a better school than the one I first attended, a school that would give me the chance to learn the things I needed to know.
After exploring a few options, I selected Louisiana Tech University. It had a great animal science program, and its graduates had a high rate of acceptance at veterinary schools. At Louisiana Tech I would finally have the opportunity to get the hands-on experience I needed. So, with much trepidation and a little outright fear, I enrolled and began the journey toward the rest of my life.
My first quarter showed me very clearly that this was the kind of program I desperately needed. No longer was I in a dry, highly structured, theory-driven program based almost wholly on memorization. I was in a program that would allow me to investigate things, to get my hands on them, and to succeed at last. This change was especially evident to me in my animal science course.
First of all, my animal science professor was hilarious, and he was very interactive with the students. He did not simply stand back and lecture us. He was very open to working with me, and he wanted to see me succeed.
About halfway through the quarter, my professor told us that we would be working with baby pigs during our next class. We would be ear notching them, clipping their needle teeth, and docking their tails. Initially, I was very nervous. A din of what-ifs pounded in my head. What if my professor refused to let me participate? What if my classmates wouldn't let me see what was going on?
On the morning of the class, I dressed in an old T-shirt and jeans and prepared to give it my all. The professor told us to head outside and gather around the crate of pigs he had placed there. With much anticipation and anxiety, I followed the first couple of classmates outside and found the crate with little trouble. I set my cane down and reached into the box, feeling the pile of warm little bodies cuddled up together. I wondered if I would be allowed to participate, if I would even be permitted to hold one of the piglets.
As the professor came outside, I mentally chided myself. What was the point of all my training? What evidence did I have that my classmates and our professor wouldn't let me take part in this activity? If I didn't speak up for myself, who would? Why not give it a shot? If they said no, at least I would have grounds to fight back.
When the professor instructed us to reach into the crate, I picked up one of the warm little bodies. It wriggled, grunted, and squirmed. It kicked and struggled, but I held on nonetheless. I learned later that this particular pig was indicating possible signs of aggression. The smile on my face was unmistakable and contagious as I waited for instruction.
First up was ear notching. I was shown all of the equipment, and I restrained the pig while one of my classmates notched its ear. Its needle teeth were cut next, and, again, I was able to feel everything.
Finally, it was time to dock the pig's tail. I asked someone else to hold my pig. Then I took the clippers in my hand. Unconcerned about any possible risk, my professor showed me how to operate the clippers. He showed me where I should cut and gave me a sample that someone had cut from another pig so I could see the proper length.
Nervously, I prepared the clippers, placed them on the pig's tail, clipped, and pulled. With very little protest from the pig, I was done. I held my own, perfectly cut sample. Flushed, I smiled and bent to pick up my cane.
"Um, um, you're, um, covered in blood," one of my classmates told me. "Are you okay to get to the bathroom?"
This was one point when taking help was the best option. I didn't want to get blood on my cane.
I was proud of what I accomplished in that class. I had more blood on me than anyone else did, but it meant I had participated fully in the day's activity.
All of this was a huge step for me. Before my training at the NFB center, I never would have been so bold. I would have withdrawn into myself and not tried to share in such a wonderful, easily accommodated activity. I would have assumed that the professor thought handling a knife was too dangerous for me. I would have gone on believing that I could never do what I wanted to do.
Since that class, nearly every student has been much more open with me. My professor, willing to accommodate from the start, really decided that I could do this. I have never had so many allies in college, both professors and fellow students! I believe strongly that this university will offer me the opportunity to succeed and move on in my schooling. Through a good set of skills and the open-mindedness of my professors, I made the Dean's List for the first time in my college career last quarter.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to believe that blind people can achieve their dreams. Not only does a positive attitude help their self-esteem; it will also help them have the confidence to step forward and do things they never dreamed were possible.
by Merry-Noel Chamberlain
From the Editor: Merry-Noel Chamberlain is a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) and instructor in orientation and mobility (O&M) outside Omaha, Nebraska. At the 2005 convention of the National Federation of the Blind she received the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award. Currently she is earning a doctorate in transformational leadership through Concordia University, and in 2016 she was the recipient of an NFB scholarship.
It is often said that parents are a child's first teachers. This idea holds true whether the child is blind or sighted. Before a child begins to walk, parents, grandparents, and older siblings provide physical support to help her or him build strength and balance. When the time is right, these helpers support the child during those first shaky steps.
Children who are blind or visually impaired get the same assistance as sighted children do when they learn to walk. In addition they generally receive formal training from a certified instructor of orientation and mobility (O&M), either at home or in a daycare or school setting. I am an O&M instructor and the parent of a blind child, my daughter Ashleah. I have been teaching O&M to Ashleah since she became my daughter at the age of eight.
In most cases children of school age receive their O&M instruction in and around the school building. Ashleah receives much of her O&M instruction in the community, and mainly it occurs during teachable moments. A teachable moment is an opportunity that happens spontaneously. Such moments are highly beneficial, since the action takes place within real life situations.
When the O&M instructor is constrained by time and location, many teachable moments are lost. As a parent, I have discovered that I can use teachable moments to help my daughter gain valuable skills in orientation. On the other hand, I have sometimes put on my O&M instructor hat within the school setting to teach Ashleah. When she was in middle school I provided instruction a week before the beginning of the school year, a practice I continue now that she is in high school. Ashleah and I visit her school and walk to all of her classes in the order of her daily schedule. Each year I instruct her less and less as her mental mapping skills improve. Despite my training in the field, I recognize that the person who helps orient a student to the school setting does not have to be an O&M professional.
In this article I suggest some possible teachable moments you can use to help your child gain orientation and mobility skills. First, let us look at the words orientation and mobility so we are all on the same page. Orientation is knowledge of where you are within a given space, such as a room, building, block, or city. Mobility involves the actual techniques used for movement. It includes how to hold the cane, how to arc the cane, and how to walk with the cane from one place to another. To become competent in mobility, one may need to turn to an O&M instructor. To build and enhance mobility skills, one can use teachable moments that occur outside formal lessons.
Your child has probably learned some basic mobility skills from his or her instructor. However, as a parent you may not be aware of the basics. The following list is not intended to be a complete set of instructions on how to use the long, white cane. These are simply points you may observe; they may suggest questions you can ask to help jog your child's memory about what she needs to do to become a competent traveler.
1. Allow plenty of time for the teachable moment. This is not a time to be in a rush. Your child may need time to problem solve and to develop mental mapping skills.
2. Let your child make a mistake. If your child walks down the wrong aisle in the store, allow her to explore. She is building problem solving skills. As she explores, she gathers bits of knowledge that can be stored for future reference.
3. Problem solving opportunities help individuals develop mental mapping skills. Mental mapping is the ability to create a map of an area within one's mind. Using the example above, while your child walks down the wrong aisle at the supermarket, she may discover the ice cream section, though she is not in need of ice cream at the time. (I have yet to meet a child who is not in need of ice cream.) She may make a mental note of where the ice cream is located. The very next time your family is in need of ice cream, she can be the one to retrieve it. This knowledge is a form of mental mapping.
4. During the teachable moment, walk quietly several feet behind your child. If you are in a store, you may even walk in the next aisle. If you are at a fast-food restaurant, you might sit at your table while your child goes up to the counter. You are there, but you are not directing your child's movements. You may step forward and assist if you feel your child truly needs your help if she is seriously frustrated or confused. Again, it is best to give the child ample space and time to develop problem solving skills. Be far enough away so that she feels independent, but stay close enough to assist if needed. For safety reasons, be aware of your child's location at all times, just as you would with a sighted child.
Incidentally, if you are a parent who also uses a cane for O&M, it is important to permit your child to focus on the auditory information from her own cane without being confused by the information projecting from yours. I often turn my cane upside down when I am monitoring my daughter. In this way the steel tip does not strike the ground to create distracting sound and echoes. I learned this technique from a blind mobility instructor, and I use it when I monitor my students as well.
5. Instead of jumping in to help, offer some wait time. Wait time is the time you give your child to process the situation, determine a solution or hypothesis, create a plan, and carry out the plan to test the hypothesis. If he is successful, your child continues traveling to his destination. If not, he may need time to discover a different solution or hypothesis. If you jump in with the solution, he will not have the opportunity to process the situation himself. He may come to expect that someone always will be there to solve his O&M woes. When you provide wait time, he can build problem solving skills that may be transferred to other situations. Of course, please step in if you feel that your child is truly frustrated and needs your help. After all, you know your child best.
6. You may need to redirect people who want to be overly helpful. Often they are not aware that your child is being monitored, or they simply want to do a good deed. It is your call if you want your child to ask for or accept assistance. Personally, I think about the goal of the teachable moment. Is it to get from point A to point B? Is it to learn how to ask or receive help from others, perhaps in the form of information? For some of my students, asking for assistance from a pedestrian, customer, or store clerk is a scary experience. Practice in a safe situation can help the child overcome this fear.
Now that you have some basic mobility guidelines and some teachable moment strategies, you probably wonder how you can help your child with orientation and mobility. Here are some O&M teachable moments I have used with my daughter over the years. As I mentioned above, teachable moments are opportunities that come on the spur of the moment. They are very beneficial, since the action takes place within real life situations. The more meaningful the activity, the more memorable the experience is to the child. Concrete memories can be retrieved and used later on.
As you read this list you will probably say to yourself, "Yes, I've been in that situation," or "Yes, I can do that." Know that you are already on the right track. Have fun with these teachable moments!
Stores and Restaurants: Many stores and restaurants have similar floor plans, especially when they belong to a chain. For example, many Wal-Marts, Targets, Walgreens, McDonalds, Burger Kings, or Cracker Barrels are laid out in the same way. If a person has been in one, it is not problematic to maneuver in another. Supermarkets also are quite similar in layout. The cash register is located near the entrance. Meat, baked goods, and dairy items are usually located around the outer edges of the store. The produce section is generally near the entrance, and customer service is near the front. When you are in this type of location, share this knowledge with your child.
Sidewalks: A nice straight sidewalk is an excellent place to practice walking in a straight line. If you are out walking and find such a sidewalk, challenge your child to walk ahead of you without touching the edges of the sidewalk. The faster she walks, the straighter.
Shorelines: If you are walking along a sidewalk with a curb or building on one side, ask your child to be the leader. Have him let you know when he approaches a door, another sidewalk, or the corner of a building. He can do this by using a technique called shorelining. When the child is shorelining, the cane touches the edge of the sidewalk, curb, or building each time the tip is on that side of the body. The child then follows this tactual line. Be sure the shoreline is fairly straight. Inset doorways, bike racks, or other irregularities can lead to frustration.
Fast Food: Perhaps you're at a fast-food restaurant, and your child wants some cherry pie. Hand him the money, give him some general directions to the counter, and send him on his way. Allow him to problem solve the path back to your table. If he really has a taste for pie, his motivation is likely to be strong.
Trash bins: When everyone has finished eating at a fast-food restaurant or food court, ask your child to take the tray and empty it in the trash. She may need some directions about where the trash bin is located.
Automatic or main doors: When you are about twenty feet from an automatic door or some other main door to a large store, step back and ask your child to locate the store entrance. Sometimes the opening and closing of the doors by other customers can be heard, so this is an easy one.
Cash registers: Just out of earshot of the dings of the cash register, ask your child to locate the checkout area. Next time, increase the distance when you give him this teachable moment opportunity. For an older child, ask her to locate the cash register from all the way at the back of the store.
Shoe Section: Certain areas of department stores have their own unique smells. The shoe section is one of them. From a few yards away, ask your child to locate the shoe section. Then, to make it a little more challenging, ask her to locate the section with her size shoes. She can do this by selecting a shoe and placing the sole next to her own. If the first shoe is too big, she can go up and down the aisle until she is successful.
Fruit and Vegetable Section: Ask your child to find a sweet apple. Once he finds the apple bins, it is simple to find the sweet apples because they have bigger bumps on the bottom. The ones that are smooth on the bottom can be sour.
Malls: When you walk in the mall, ask your child to identify stores that offer great olfactory stimulation. These include Starbucks, Bath and Body Works, etc.
Street Crossings: When you stand at a street corner with your child, ask him to tell you when it is safe to cross. He can determine when it is safe by listening to the direction of the traffic.
Cardinal Directions: When you stand at an intersection, ask your child in which direction the automobiles are traveling. Try to use cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west) rather than right and left. Right and left are also important concepts for your child to know.
Restrooms: Eventually every child reaches the stage where he or she is ready to visit a public restroom unaccompanied by a parent. When an older child needs to go to the restroom, give him directions and be sure to review the return route. Whenever possible, use cardinal directions rather than simply saying right or left, as it can be confusing to reverse directions on the return trip. It can be difficult to hold back, but let your child go alone. As he returns, provide some sound clues to help him find his way back.
Elementary School: When you visit your child's school, let your child be the leader. Ask her to show you where her classroom is located. Invite her to show you how to get to key locations in the school such as the front office, cafeteria, gym, and music and art classrooms.
Middle and High School: Go to school with your child before the first day of class and discover the locations of all the required classrooms. Ask your child to walk through his daily schedule, and point out some landmarks along the way. Landmarks are stationary items that can be used as reference points, such as water fountains or differences in the texture of the floor. If the item can be moved, it is not a landmark.
Neighborhood: If you and your child are walking to the school or a friend's house, ask her to lead the way. Allow her to walk ahead, but instruct her to wait at corners, even if you are not crossing the street. Until it is appropriate for her age and skill level, do not permit her to cross the street without you.
Treats: Looking for a special treat at the store is a great way to motivate your child to explore and problem solve. Ask her to show you how to get to the bakery section, where free cookies are given away. Ask her to locate the dairy or ice cream section, which is usually at the back of the store. If your child wants a special item or two, have her go to customer service. She can ask an employee to show her to the item she wants. Once she finds it, she can go through checkout and meet you at the front of the store. This activity may be too advanced for some teens, so you may wish to practice a time or two before you send your child to do it independently. Once your child can find and purchase items at the store without your help, you can drop her off and wait for her in the car. When she is done, honk the horn to provide a sound cue so she can return to your vehicle.
After a teachable moment, pat your child on the back for a job well done. It can be valuable to talk to him about the experience. Be sure to ask open-ended questions such as "What did you like or not like about what you did?" "How did you feel when you were done?" Be sure to praise success. If your child asked for assistance, praise him for knowing when and how to ask for help. If you stepped in to help without being asked, tell him why you did so.
Teachable moments lead to nuggets of knowledge you allow your child to discover. Each teachable moment is a gift your child can treasure and build upon, even though she might find the experience a bit frustrating at the time. ("What? You're making me work?") If your child can problem solve in one location when you are with her, she will most likely be able to problem solve in another location when you are not present.
by William R. McCann
From the Editor: Bill McCann is the founder and president of Dancing Dots Braille Music Technology. He has authored numerous articles about his work to automate production of Braille scores with his company's first product, the GOODFEEL Braille Music Translator software. GOODFEEL is now in use throughout the United States and in fifty other countries. With Richard Taesch, McCann is the co-author of Who's Afraid of Braille Music? This article was written shortly before the 2009 bicentennial celebration of Louis Braille's birth.
The song is ended,
But the melody lingers on.
You and the song are gone,
But the melody lingers on.
These words by Irving Berlin were written about bringing an old love to mind. But we can apply them aptly to the important work of a genuine hero of the blind, Le Professeur Louis Braille. As we approach the bicentenary of his birth, it is a fitting time to pay homage to his memory and to his enduring legacy.
It is my privilege and my aim in this article to acquaint the reader with an aspect of Braille's work that too often has been overlooked. I try to give a relatively nontechnical description of his system for music notation and propose that it is still relevant in our time.
Once a comedian was trying to tell a joke, but he kept interrupting himself by laughing. Someone in his audience asked him why he kept laughing, and he explained that it was because he knew how this story was going to end. To properly appreciate the work of our benefactor or, for that matter, of any great figure in human history, we must engage our imaginations and transport ourselves back to a time when the story was not yet over. Nobody yet knew the ending or even whether that ending would be a happy one.
No doubt, some readers of these pages can relate quite personally to the youth of only ten years whose loving father, in 1819, brought him from his happy home in the countryside to the strange surroundings of the school for the blind in the big city of Paris. How many blind people up to our own day have had to live away from home during their developing years to gain an education? At the world's first school for the blind, Braille found not only a portal to the world of learning and ideas but also hours of study and labor in the various enterprises of the school, such as slipper making.
After his life-changing meeting with Captain Charles Barbier, who shared the technique of "night writing" with the teenager, Braille forfeited many hours of sleep to study and design his significant adaptation of Barbier's system. At the age of twenty, he published his system. But universal acceptance and recognition of his work had to wait for many years after his death.
Louis Braille worked diligently during his short life to teach other blind people not only music, but also mathematics, geography, French, and history. He took on many other duties aside from teaching, such as serving as foreman for the school's slipper-making operation. He played the organ professionally for masses and other liturgical functions. He encouraged and supported members of his extended family and his many friends.
Yet Braille suffered real adversity. Not everyone believed in his work. There was a time when a new director of the school even burned all the books produced in Braille's code! Add to all of this the fact that Braille contracted tuberculosis in his mid-twenties, the disease which ultimately took him from this world at the age of forty-three. Despite his illness he kept on working, teaching, and caring until the day he died.
But why even discuss these things? Precisely because we are the beneficiaries of the hope that Louis Braille never abandoned. Each time we read a Braille book sitting outdoors on a sunny day, learn to play a piece of music from a Braille score, or Braille ourselves a grocery list; any time we read or write for school, work, or leisure, we are collecting the dividends of a life invested fully in the conviction that an inspired, innovative idea has the power to overcome adversity, prejudice, indifference, and even injustice. Let us never forget Braille's example, especially during those times when these obstacles appear in our own paths. May his example strengthen our own resolve to prevail over adversity, improve our own circumstances, and leave a legacy to those who follow us.
Until I founded a company in 1992 to develop a Braille music translator software, I was among the majority of people who did not know that Louis Braille invented Braille music notation. Even though I had been reading and writing Braille music for many years, I somehow had the impression that the application of Braille's writing system to music came after his death. To the contrary, Braille considered music notation from the very beginning. In 1829 he published his system under the title Procédé pour écrire les paroles, la musique et le plainchant au moyen de points a l'usage des aveugles et disposéness pour eux. So music and singing were in the mix right from the start.
Braille played the piano, the cello, and the organ very well. He yearned to read music just as sighted musicians did. He tried using tactile representations of printed staff notation, but rejected it as ill-suited to the needs of blind musicians. Such scores were bulky and expensive to create, just as similar tactile editions of literary texts were. He determined that what was needed was a system that maximized the ability of the human finger to collect information. Instead of mimicking the method of input based on the human eye, Braille substituted a method optimized for the sense of touch.
Again, since we know very well how the story ends, we simply accept that the Braille cell contains six dots. But why? In fact, Louis Braille experimented with using cells of twelve or more dots. But he knew intuitively that a cell of six dots guaranteed that each dot was on an outside edge. Modern technology has brought us the marvel of paperless Braille displays, which have the option of showing an eight-dot cell. But anyone who has ever been confused by an eight-dot character that does not use Dots 1 and 4, but includes a Dot 7 or 8 knows why the six-dot cell avoids ambiguity.
But wait! The six-dot cell yields only sixty-four unique combinations. How can Braille's system express equally well text, mathematics, and musical information with such a small number of characters? The answer communicates the elegance of Braille's creative mind. He redefines each of these characters to carry a different meaning, depending on the type of information to be written. For example, Dots 1-3-4-5 represent the letter n in text, a variable value in mathematics, or a half note to be played on the musical pitch C. Braille and others since his time have developed rules of context that help readers know when which type of information is being shown in a document. The ability to change comprehension of the type of Braille code being read is called code-switching. Experienced Braille readers do it unconsciously and without confusion.
Braille's system is quite well defined. It permits the accurate transcription of minute details of a score of Western music written in conventional staff notation. That is, the Braille score shows not only the notes to be played and their rhythm (how long they should be played), but such details as the text for titles, lyrics, etc.; when to play more loudly or softly; when to speed up or slow down; when to play passages smoothly or by leaving a bit of silence between notes (staccato). In short, Braille insisted that the blind musician have access to the same information conveyed to sighted musicians; every detail of the piece that the composer thought important to write down.
A part in Braille music notation reads from left to right along a single line, unlike print notation. Braille assigned the top four dots of the cell (Dots 1, 2, 4, and 5) to represent the seven degrees of the Western scale by seven unique combinations. He used the bottom dots (3 and 6) to indicate the rhythmic value of a note. Therefore, under the tip of a single finger, one can know the pitch to be played and how long to play it. A series of seven octave signs tell us in which register the note should sound.
For example, Middle C is indicated by the fourth octave sign (Dot 5), which immediately precedes the cell showing the note. The first note of a passage must be written with an octave sign, but subsequent notes may or may not need one, depending on their musical distance from that first note. Braille established a set order for other signs that must precede or follow a note. By following this logical presentation of information, a transcriber can clearly communicate the slightest nuance of musical performance.
But can't blind people just listen to sighted musicians playing a piece of music from the score, and thus learn to perform it? There is a global tradition of passing on music aurally, and I myself have learned many a tune by listening. But if a blind musician learns a piece by mimicking the interpretation of the music notation read by a sighted player, he or she is separated from seeing that specific information the composer wished to pass on in order to help musicians faithfully realize the music to be performed. In other words, the blind musician can only follow and not lead. We know that the symbols on the page, whether print or Braille, are not the music but a means of helping us to recreate the music heard in the mind's ear of the composer. As the only blind member of our high school band, I sometimes learned to copy perfectly the mistakes of the sighted trumpet player beside me until I received my Braille scores and could play certain passages correctly with confidence. As blind people we must sometimes follow. Having the information available to sighted peers empowers us to lead when we wish. Success breeds success and points us in a positive direction.
Mrs. Bettye Krolick, the woman I lovingly refer to as the Fairy Godmother of Braille music, once told me how she got started in transcribing music into Braille. It was 1970. She had studied hard and learned to transcribe her first assignment, some clarinet music for a local elementary school student named Jeff. Soon after, at an early-morning band rehearsal, she observed the student, Braille score on his music stand, playing one of the parts before practice began. A couple of the sighted students looked on, and one said to the other in admiration, "He plays from memory!"
On hearing this remark, Jeff sat up straight and tall in his chair and played on with greater confidence than ever. This simple but eloquent gesture by a blind fourth-grader motivated Mrs. Krolick to dedicate a substantial portion of her life's time and energy to transcribing, standardizing, and promoting the use of music Braille all over the world. She quickly realized that memorization comes naturally to the blind, and that she could provide in Braille the unfiltered information the composer meant to convey to the player.
Just as we can more fully appreciate the grandeur and magnitude of a great mountain the farther it recedes in the distance, as time passes we can look over our shoulders and see our hero's stature grow as he towers over literary history in the company of innovators like Gutenberg, Edison, and Helen Keller. In fact, Miss Keller traveled to Paris in 1952 to commemorate the centennial of the death of Braille. At that time his remains were moved to the Pantheon of Heroes of the French people, amid many special events and tributes. I myself am blessed and honored to be invited to speak about Braille's system for music at our own generation's tribute, which will take place on the occasion of the bicentennial of Braille's birth in Paris in early January 2009. I hope to greet many of you there on that joyous occasion and to continue to add my own efforts to preserve and extend the heritage of this patron saint of the blind, Louis Braille.
by Matthew Shifrin
From the Editor: Matthew Shifrin is a longtime LEGO aficionado. His website, <legofortheblind.com>, provides downloadable instructions for building dozens of LEGO kits. In this article he explains how blind students can use LEGO blocks to enhance their understanding of musical notation.
As a conservatory-bound blind composer, there's one hurdle that I haven't fully overcome. That hurdle is music notation. Though accessible software exists for writing musical notation, I find it confusing and cumbersome to use.
When I started taking music theory lessons with a private instructor, Kathryn Salfelder, I knew I would have to do rhythmic dictation. Rhythmic dictation consists of a series of exercises in which an instructor gives the student a musical passage, and the student has to write down the duration of each note, that is, how long each note lasts. A note may be a quarter note, eighth note, sixteenth note, etc. I needed a way to convey this information quickly and efficiently to my instructor. When Kathryn found out that I am a LEGO aficionado, she invented a brilliant solution. She created a tactile LEGO-based notation system!
How does the system work? All of the notes are represented diagonally, top left to bottom right, on a standard 32x32 or 16x16 LEGO baseplate. The size of the baseplate depends on how many measures must be notated. LEGO blocks of various sizes are assigned to represent particular note durations. From shortest to longest, the note durations and their associated LEGO bricks are as follows:
New measures are usually notated with two rows of space between them, or they may start from the top of the board, again depending on what kind of music the student is writing.
The brilliance of this system lies in the tactile feedback that a blind person gets from manipulating the LEGO pieces. The system provides a sensory immediacy lacking in systems such as Music Braille. Using the LEGO system, a student easily can recognize and correct errors in notation. If the student realizes that two notes in a measure are in the wrong places, he or she can simply pick them up and switch them to the right locations. With this intuitive system, rhythmic dictation is now a breeze!
The LEGO system can be an excellent way to teach young blind children about musical notes and their durations. By using this method, children can learn the ways that notes can be connected to form various kinds of melodies.
by Mana Hashimoto
Reprinted from The Sounding Board, the Newsletter of the NFB of New Jersey, Fall 2015
From the Editor: Mana Hashimoto is a choreographer, contemporary dancer, and dance instructor. The New York Times has called Mana the "serene, imposing center of the storm," and in 2010 she received the Asian American Arts Alliance Award. She has toured, performed, and taught dance workshops in North America, Europe, and Asia. Mana Hashimoto is passionate about improving access to dance performance and dance education for blind and low vision individuals. To learn more about her work, visit her website at <www.manahashimoto.com>.
Do you remember what kind of child you were when you were little? I was a dreamy child, and I always loved to look at the sky. During the day I loved to ride my bike and look at the white clouds floating in the sunny, light blue sky. At night I would look at the silver moon hanging in the tranquil dark blue heavens.
I grew up in Tokyo and started classic ballet training at four years old. When I was a teenager, one day I suddenly lost my vision—half of my sight was gone. The condition was called optic nerve atrophy, and it has no cure.
The difficulties extended beyond the physical challenges. As a low vision individual in Japan, I faced stigma both from my community and from some family members. At times the stigma was obvious, at other times it was subtle, but all the time I felt helpless. I felt lost.
I needed to take a different step, so I came to the United States to pursue my artistic dream. I studied at the New England Conservatory and Berklee College in Boston and at dance schools in New York. While studying at the Martha Graham School in New York City, I began to lose more vision. For the next few months, I lived in fear as I lost the rest of my sight. Finally, six months later, I was completely blind. When that happened I felt relieved. I thought to myself, "Now I have nothing more to lose. What do I still have to fear?"
If there is one place where any dream is possible, that place is America. Even after losing my sight, wherever I went in New York, even when I went grocery shopping, I secretly carried my dance shoes with me in my backpack, hoping somehow I would find a chance to dance again. I never doubted that I could dance. I have my legs, my head, my arms, I have my body—I simply lost my sight. Most of all, I still have my passion and my dream.
Soon my opportunity arrived. A friend took me to a ballet class at Broadway Dance Center. In class I learned the movements through touching her body to follow the instructions. Three months later I performed on the stage. I was pursuing my dream again! For the next fourteen years, this dream took me to stages across North America, Europe, and Asia.
Dance has been my freedom. I especially enjoy dancing solo, because when I dance, I am in the moment of complete latitude. Unlike in daily life, where I face barriers, on stage I don't have to depend on anyone's help. I can decide where to go, when to move. I can be totally independent in the limelight.
I want to share this amazing feeling of freedom with everyone. That is why I founded Dance without Sight Workshop. In my workshop, I share with participants my own experience of how I relearned dance after vision loss. Since our bodies are an important part of dance, participants learn the movements by touching my body as I simultaneously provide verbal description of each move. They also feel various costumes and touch repertoire and dance shoes. They feel with their feet the tapes on the stage that serve as landmarks.
Without sight, dance doesn't become darkness; it becomes a rich, multisensory experience. Dance is often believed, or misbelieved, to be a strongly visually oriented art form. In fact, dance can be experienced through touch, a sense natural to many blind individuals. Through touch, participants can feel my mind, feel my energy, and feel my feelings and emotions as we dance. Through each touch, through our fingers, we all share the beauty and power of dance with our hearts.
As we dance, we learn that life is about forming your own style and creating your own steps. Dancing with my white cane is part of my style. My cane is my life partner that gives me independence. It is also a part of my body. It is like my extended fingers. Being blind helps me see dance in a new light. I used to observe my every dance move in the mirror like an outsider. But now I can focus on expressing my dance from within.
As my perspective changed, so has my view on beauty and dance. Instead of following strictly the style one is taught, each of us can create our own dance, both on stage and in life.
Now I realize why I was so mesmerized by the sky when I was little! Looking at the endless spreading sky gave me a sense of freedom. The sky exists for every human being in this world, whether you are happy or sad, black or white, Asian or Hispanic, blind or sighted, a man or a woman. The sky reflects our collective dreams. And through dance, I found my sky. I found my freedom. I could not have reached this point without my blindness or my challenges. Today, even though I cannot see the sky, I can still feel its enormity, the enormity of freedom and the dream that awaits us. And that is why I will keep working to make dance accessible for everybody, every human being, just like the sky exists for all of us.
by Heather Field
From the Editor: The Blind Homeschoolers listserv is a discussion forum for parents who contemplate homeschooling their blind children or who are actively involved in homeschooling. Last fall a graduate student named Andrew, who was writing a paper about blind children, wrote to the list with a series of questions. Below is one of Andrew's questions and a thoughtful response from Heather Field, a teacher of blind and sighted students who is blind herself. Heather's most recent article in Future Reflections is "Learn to Play and Play to Learn."
Sent: Friday, October 14, 2016 11:42 PM
In a book I saw twenty years back, it said that when parents of blind children go shopping for toys, they should take a blindfold with them so they can try to understand how their child would play with a particular toy. Is this how some folk do it? Also, should sighted children wear blindfolds when they play with blind children in order to level the playing field?
From: Blindhomeschooler@yahoogroups.com on behalf of Heather Field
Sent: Saturday, October 15, 2016 7:35 AM
Subject: Re: Question
It is important for your research to think about blind children as individuals. Blindness is a generic term used to refer to the fact that these particular children have eyes, or sometimes visual areas in their brains, that don't work well. However, you cannot usually make generalizations that work for all blind children. Some have a little bit of vision that they can use well. Some have quite a lot of vision that they can't rely on because of complicating factors such as light sensitivity, nystagmus, or eye pain. Some children have no vision at all. Some have no known eye condition, but they have brain or optic nerve complications so that the signals from the eyes aren't transmitted to or processed in the visual cortex.
Blind children are children first, and their blindness is not the characteristic that defines them or their behavior. One child may like musical toys, while another may not be interested in such toys at all. Some love to read. Some prefer rough play and like to bounce on trampolines and kick balls with noise-makers in them. Some like to play in the sand, while others despise the feel of sand, just as some sighted children do.
Each blind child differs in terms of experiences and skills, as well as in the amount of sight she or he possesses. Each child who has some vision may be affected by circumstances such as lighting, glare, or contrast. Furthermore, many blind children have other conditions as well as visual impairment. Some wear leg braces to help them walk or arm weights to help stabilize their hands for reading Braille.
Some blind children use high-powered magnification equipment to allow them to use their small amounts of vision to perform visual tasks such as coloring, painting with watercolor paint sets, or doing origami. Some children with no usable vision color by using raised-line coloring books and make beautiful origami models by touch. Some blind children with a fair amount of usable vision detest coloring and bookish activities and prefer sports, while some with the same amount of usable vision sit with their noses up against the computer screen and play video games. Still others with about the same amount of vision read books in their leisure time because they've been taught Braille and don't rely on their limited vision to enter the wonderful worlds that books can take them to.
Some children with no usable vision are good at playing board games that have been adapted with tactile materials, moving their tokens around the board with delicate touch. Some children with usable vision cannot see the game board well and are not easily able to move their own tokens. They may lose count of their squares and knock over the tokens of other players. Yet another child with no usable vision may never have been given the opportunity to play board games and move his own token around the board. He may be unable to keep count of the squares or keep from bumping the tokens of other players.
One cannot make generalizations about parents needing to take blindfolds, sometimes known as sleepshades, with them when they shop for toys in order to determine how a blind child would play with them. Any parent who spends time with his or her blind child will already know the child's play and toy preferences. The parent will try to buy toys that not only meet the child's current skills and preferences, but also stimulate the child to try new things and develop new skills.
Whether or not one requires a sighted child to wear sleepshades in a game with blind peers, or whether one requires a child with limited vision to wear sleepshades during a game depends on what you are trying to achieve. For example, if a child has a prognosis that she will likely lose her remaining vision, she needs to learn nonvisual techniques so that she will know how to function without sight. In this case it could be useful for her to wear sleepshades when she plays a particular game. However, if sighted children wear sleepshades when they play a game with blind children, the blind children may have an unfair advantage. The sighted children will not know how to function without vision.
I've been teaching for over thirty years. I've seen little point in putting sighted children under sleepshades, apart from sensory development activities where they are encouraged to touch and identify objects in a "feely bag." Putting sleepshades on sighted children doesn't in any way simulate blindness for them. They have no nonvisual techniques like those of their blind peers. They tend to feel helpless and frightened, which is not the way most blind children feel if they have been allowed to live normal lives full of healthy childhood risk, adventure, exploration, and experiment.
I have been following your inquiries, Andrew, and I'm concerned that you are looking for differences that really don't exist. I don't know the details of your research, but I hope very much that you aren't falling into the trap of believing that there is a homogenous group of children, "the blind," that can be compared with another group of children, "the sighted." The younger the children, the wider the distribution of skills, knowledge, experiences, and abilities you will find in both the blind and sighted populations. Any recommendations about how to use sleepshades in a mixed group will be guesswork at best unless you have specific children, under specific circumstances, in mind. The great range of variables to consider when doing research on blind children accounts for the fact that there are so very few large-group studies available; there just isn't a large enough sample to study and make conclusions about.
When it comes to blindness, one should be very careful of what one reads in books. I am blind myself, and some of the things I've read about blind people have been little short of fantasy.
by Mary McDonach
Reprinted with permission from <www.wonderbaby.org>
From the Editor: The mother of a blind daughter, Mary McDonach is a native of Scotland. She is a frequent contributor to the Wonderbaby website for parents of blind children, and several of her articles have been reprinted in Future Reflections.
What do you believe is the single most difficult thing that we as parents have to teach our children?
Could it be toilet training?
Teaching a child about continence can take years of cleaning up after little accidents, understanding about wet beds in the middle of the night, and being patient about finding the public toilets in the supermarket for the third time in a single visit.
That's not easy.
Or are you dreading sex education for your little monster?
Do you worry about putting a "loaded weapon"—knowledge about human procreation—into tiny, merciless hands; living for weeks at a time with every question and enquiry into the functions of the human body, complete with medically correct words?
That's certainly a tough one.
But if your child is blind or seriously visually impaired, have you thought about how you will teach him about empathy? Have you considered how important it is to educate your child about the perspectives of others, and how critically different this learning will necessarily be from the way a sighted child would learn about it?
To become whole, happy, well-functioning members of society, our blind children need us to rework and modify the lessons that sighted children receive visually every day, in order that those lessons can be of use in their primarily nonvisual world.
To empathize with someone is to understand how that person is feeling and why he or she is responding in a certain way. Empathy helps us to anticipate how others will react to us and makes us nicer people.
When I first began reading about empathy, I had a basic understanding of what the word meant, but almost no concept of just how important it is in our everyday lives. Here's a quick rundown:
Essentially, empathy is what makes society work. It is how we come to an understanding of ourselves, by looking at the world from the perspective of another as though we were that person.
If your child is blind or visually impaired, this lesson will be the most difficult, most worthwhile, and easily the most valuable thing you will ever teach him.
For most children, sight plays a crucial role in developing empathy. Babies begin by looking at you to see how you are feeling or reacting to a toy they are playing with or to a silly sound they just made. You've probably seen very young children and babies play with a toy, then turn to look at their parents. If they see a smile, then they will laugh and continue playing with the toy. That's empathy, the understanding that someone else approves of what they are doing.
A sighted child will also point or gaze at an object to indicate her interest in that object. When she sees that the same object holds both your attention and hers, she can go on to examine the object and what you know about it.
Children use these simple forms of empathy to assign mental states to others and themselves; to determine if a person knows a thing, or is being deceitful, or fair in a judgment; if someone is happy, or sad, or bored; fundamentally, it's what your child needs to build social competence.
Involved in this process is the ability to pass "false belief tasks" as a measurement of the child's ability to take the perspective of another. A false belief task is a test that shows us if and when a child knows a thing that someone else does not know. Will the child realize that the other person does not have the same knowledge that the child does?
Yes, that does sound a bit like reverse logic, but here's a simple example. A child, John, is given a closed tube of candy wafers and asked, "What is in the tube?" John answers that there is candy in the tube. The tube is opened to show the child that—surprise!—the tube is filled with buttons.
If the child is then introduced to a second child and asked, "What will Michael think is in the tube?" John will answer that Michael will think there are buttons in the tube. At this stage John is unable to differentiate what he knows from what Michael knows. He is unable to take Michael's perspective. John has failed the false belief task. A 1995 study indicated that blind children were often eleven years old before they could pass a false belief task that sighted children of four years old were able to pass.
All children have to see empathy in action in order to understand it. Thankfully, sight is not absolutely essential for this message. Unfortunately, without sight the message will take longer to impart to your child because he will not have the myriad of visual reinforcements of the message—but he will get there.
Psychologists and educators have spent many years researching how blind and seriously visually impaired children learn. As parents we need to know that there are specific challenges our children will encounter and understand how to equip them most effectively to reach their potential.
Ultimately what you want for your child is what everyone wants for their children: you want to help your child to become a moral, ethical, confident person who exhibits self-control, altruism, and dignity; a happy person, comfortable in her own skin.
It's a big job.
Don't let us keep you!
by Deborah Kent Stein with John Baker, Janna Cameron, and Clara van Gerven
From the Editor: With the proliferation of electronic learning materials, today's classroom presents exciting possibilities and daunting challenges for blind students. The electronic revolution has the potential to bring equal opportunities, but inaccessible platforms and content too often pose barriers instead. One company that has made a lasting commitment to accessibility is D2L (Desire2Learn). D2L serves as an example of what can be done by a company that makes accessibility one of its ground rules. In 2013 D2L was honored with a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award, the highest award presented by the National Federation of the Blind to organizations and individuals whose innovations have enhanced the lives of blind people.
When CEO John Baker founded D2L in 1999, he had no firsthand experience with blindness. However, he recognized from the outset that all students and teachers must be able to access materials used in the classroom. From the beginning he established accessibility as a cornerstone of the new company's commitment.
D2L is a Canadian company that serves clients around the world. It builds learning management systems for schools and universities. Learning management systems, or learning platforms, are the technological underpinnings that deliver educational content online and in the classroom. Learning platforms support syllabi, assignments, assessments, classroom discussion boards, and communications between students and teachers. Schools and publishers provide the actual content, but it is delivered by the underlying D2L platform.
"People kept bringing access issues to our attention," John Baker recalls. "We wanted to break down barriers for everybody, such as people who can't attend traditional classes due to a medical condition, people who can't hear the audio portion of a video, and people with hand limitations who have trouble using a mouse or a keyboard. Our team brought access for the blind to my attention, and it became a key challenge."
D2L established three criteria for its platforms. These "Pillars of Success" are:
1. Enjoyability. For students and teachers using the platform, navigation must be easy, content must be understandable, and communication of ideas must flow smoothly.
2. Accessibility. The platform must provide course templates with easily employed accessibility features. Such features include high color contrast and captioned images.
3. Universal design. When universal design is employed, the desired outcome can be achieved by several alternative means.
D2L works with the schools and publishers that create actual educational content. Its Course Uplift Service helps clients ensure that their materials are fully accessible. For example, the team shows content providers how to design charts and tables that can be read easily with a screen reader, and it teaches them how to create extended captions for pictures and diagrams. D2L is working with organizations and companies in the United States and overseas to develop international accessibility standards.
Platforms such as D2L encourage personalized learning. Students and teachers can hold private conversations about course material, and groups of students can work together on joint projects. Students can post their questions and ideas on class discussion boards for feedback from peers and instructors.
In 2007 at the CSUN Conference (International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference at California State University/Northridge) John Baker connected for the first time with innovators in access technology from the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). D2L quickly became one of the Federation's SNAP partners. SNAP stands for Strategic Nonvisual Access Partners. Through SNAP D2L receives feedback from blind testers on a regular basis. D2L has also added a blind screen reader user to its team.
"We know that it is a snap to ensure accessibility when websites, products, and services are developed properly from the start," says Clara van Gerven, the Federation's manager of accessibility programs. "D2L really gets it about accessibility being important. They're a star example of what can be done."
D2L systems are used in fifty countries, but the company is still relatively small. About 15 million students worldwide use D2L platforms. In the United States D2L systems have been adopted by the online program <virtualhighschool.com> and by several institutions of higher education, including Michigan State University and the University of Colorado. "I hardly ever had any accessibility issues," says Ellie Kemezis, a blind student who used D2L at Oakland Community College in Michigan. "Once in a while after an upgrade I'd run into trouble, but they always fixed the problem right away. D2L was great—I could use the website in the same way my classmates used it, without needing any accommodations."
No matter how accessible the learning management system may be, it won't work for blind students unless publishers and instructors post accessible content. "We still have a way to go in developing greater awareness," John Baker states. "Content providers need to understand their options. We're still just getting started." To encourage the efforts of schools and publishers, D2L presents an annual award to content providers who work to ensure that their material is fully accessible.
"Ninety-five percent of the time accessible design is good design," Clara van Gerven points out. "It provides a whole host of fringe benefits. It will cover lots of people with disabilities, and it also helps English language learners and people who prefer to use the keyboard rather than the mouse."
"We still run into resistance at times," admits John Baker. "In some cases making things accessible adds one or two extra mouse clicks. Some content providers see that and automatically rule us out. They tell us, ‘Clicks matter.' They don't get it that accessibility matters, too. A couple of clicks is a small price to pay."
"Once a school adopts an accessible learning management system, the teachers have to be trained to use it," says Clara van Gerven. "It takes an investment of time at the front end. If teachers post unlabeled graphics and handwritten notes, the material is still going to be inaccessible for blind students. They have to learn to think about access throughout the process. Once they get it, things fall into place."
In some areas both content providers and the creators of learning management systems still search for solutions. Nonvisual access to maps, diagrams, and pictures remains severely limited, and there is still no effective electronic means to represent mathematical formulas spatially. "It's daunting," says van Gerven, "but we must remember that the goal posts have moved. Tech companies that work with institutions of higher learning are telling them they need more access features. The technology in higher education is getting better all the time." Regarding the issues around math and diagrams she adds, "When I started here, tactile graphics was barely a consideration; there were too many other big problems. Now it is much more part of the conversation. Expectations are much higher. ‘Separate but equal' is a refrain I rarely hear anymore."
Despite the exciting progress at the university level, great challenges remain in the K-12 school setting. "One place to start is to let school administrators know that accessible learning platforms such as D2L are out there," van Gerven advises. "Parents and teachers should encourage schools to invest in learning management systems that will work for everyone. They will be in compliance with the laws, and in the long run the work will be exponentially easier."
D2L, <www.d2l.com> — The official website of D2L presents the company's learning management systems and explains how they are used to transform learning in a variety of settings.
Web Accessibility Initiative, <https://www.w3.org/WAI> — The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has developed a variety of strategies, guidelines, and resources to make the web accessible to people with disabilities. It develops guidelines widely regarded as the international standard for web accessibility and welcomes participants from around the world.
Strategic Nonvisual Accessibility Partners (SNAP), <https://nfb.org/national-federation-blind-strategic-nonvisual-access-partner-certification> — The Strategic Nonvisual Accessibility Partners certification website is dedicated to helping ensure that websites and applications are accessible to the blind. The goal of the SNAP program is to increase the accessibility of technology by developing ongoing partnerships with organizations in an effort to assist them with infusing accessibility into their corporate cultures.
by Edward Bell
Reprinted from Blog on Blindness, <blog.pdrib.com>, March 21, 2015
From the Editor: Dr. Edward Bell is the director of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness (PDRIB) at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Louisiana. He holds a PhD in rehabilitation education and research from the University of Arkansas, and he holds certificates in orientation and mobility (O&M) and educational statistics and research methods.
Significant vision loss and the thought of pending blindness are among the most fearful horrors a parent may face. The thought that your child may lose more vision is frightening; the prospect of him growing up and becoming blind may seem a fate worse than death.
How will he work? Who will take care of him? How will he be able to live a normal life? Will he ever find happiness?
We would do almost anything to help our son or daughter regain normal sight . . . we'd even go so far as to give up our eyes if that would prevent our children from becoming blind.
The statistics are depressing. Upwards of 60 percent of blind adults are unemployed; the majority of youth with visual impairments do not obtain full literacy or achieve success in college <http://www.pdrib.com/downloads/Factors%20that%20Contribute%20to%20the%20Success%20of%20
The worse one's sight becomes, the worse can be his or her prospects for living a normal life. It seems that becoming a beggar on the streets, being locked away in a sheltered sweat shop, and living a life of destitution and despair are near certainties.
Parents often ask:
We'll go to any length, spare no expense, work our fingers to the bone, and stop at nothing to save our child from becoming blind.
The purpose of the rest of this article is to provide the help you have been seeking. I am here to bring you some good news, some bad news, and—most importantly—the truth.
Why do we always start with the bad news? I guess we do it to get the worst over with quickly. The bad news is that you are already doing or have already done most of what you can do for your child's eyesight. If your child has seen an ophthalmologist, then, most likely, everything has been done that can be done right now.
Will blindness ever be cured? How many more years until we can reverse impending vision loss? How can we stop the progression of eye disorders?
Unfortunately, the best experts in the world can't provide accurate answers to these questions. This is the bad news, and this is the truth. I wish I could offer you a teaspoon of sugar or some way of making this easier to swallow, but the facts must be faced. If they are not, your child will suffer for life.
I do not know, and cannot know if there will ever be a cure for blindness. I do know that I was told twenty-two years ago that blindness would be cured in about twenty years . . . I am still waiting.
What I do know with absolute certainty, however, is that every hour, every day, every month, and every year that passes in search of the cure is precious time that is slipping away, and that's time that cannot be put back into a bottle.
So, is all hope lost? No, not just yet.
Now that the bad news is done, let's move on to the good news and the truth. The reason that I save the good news until later is so we can actually do something positive, useful, productive, and promising. We are so continuously bombarded with negative and discouraging information about blindness, what good news can there possibly be?
If you listen to the following information (I mean really listen, with your heart, your mind, and your soul, absorb it, try it, test it yourself, swallow it, and embrace it) your life and that of your child will begin to brighten immediately. I don't know if this is the cure that you were hoping for, but it is what I can offer. This treatment for blindness is closer at hand than the cure currently being offered by the medical community.
The following information is based on more than one hundred years of combined professional experience, enlightenment, research, and practice. It is virtually guaranteed to ensure that your child does not grow up to be blind.
In order to prevent your child from growing up to be blind, you must first deal with the huge elephant that is standing in the corner, stinking up the room and making life unbearable. That elephant is blindness, the "B-word," a fate worse than cancer. Yes, "blind" is the very word itself that causes fear in our hearts, depression in our souls, doubts in our minds, and certainty that the future is bleak.
Have you ever asked yourself why blindness is so fear-evoking? Certainly, if we walk around with our eyes closed, it will be scary. We will bump into things, get disoriented, and feel helpless. Just the thought causes goosebumps, shivers, trepidation, and feelings of despair.
But is that really what it is like to be blind?
President Franklin D. Roosevelt was famous for saying, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." This, I submit, is equally true regarding blindness.
Now, let me be crystal clear. Let me illuminate the subject, bring a bright light to the matter, and open your eyes to what I am saying.
Of course, the prospect of becoming blind is frightening. Of course the possibility of losing vision is scary. Yes, the thought of permanent loss of one's primary sense, never to be regained, is something straight from a horror movie. This is equally true about the loss of any sense, a limb, or a major organ function. I am not trivializing blindness. I am not suggesting that it is simple, or that it is something to which anyone would look forward. What I am saying is that fear, especially fear of blindness, can be overwhelming. It can be overpowering, so profoundly paralyzing that the mere thought of the "B-word" can—and often does—lead us to make rash decisions. These bad decisions can have lifelong impacts and negative consequences for our children. Even worse, the fear can leave us powerless to make any decisions at all and ready to acquiesce to the horrible fate that awaits.
But what is the truth about blindness? How can any sane, rational, thinking, and honest person put a positive spin on blindness? What can anyone say to diminish the fears, to calm one's nerves, to change what it means to be blind from something debilitating, demeaning, and depressing? What possible hope is there beyond full vision restoration?
What if I simply told you the truth?
What if I told you there are literally thousands of blind people across this country and the world living normal and independent lives? What if I told you it is commonplace for blind men and women to graduate from college, to obtain graduate degrees, to become employed, purchase homes, get married, have children of their own, go on family vacations, and participate in local church and social activities? What if I told you that blind men and women worked as schoolteachers, designers, engineers, lawyers, social workers, bartenders, supervisors, managers, computer information specialists, carpenters, and much more? What if I told you that blind men and women had sighted friends, blind friends, and friends of every description? What if I told you that blind people go to the movies, sporting events, and the theater; that they have friends over for cookouts, babysit each other's kids, and go on vacations; that they discuss politics, current events, and what's happening on Facebook?
And what if I told you that they even used the word "blind?"
Now, let me be clear about one unassailable fact. Between 80 percent and 90 percent of individuals in the United States who are blind have some usable vision—all the way from light perception up to the ability to read print and recognize faces. These people, too, use the big, bad word "blind" to describe themselves. They do not use it as a badge of courage; not as something they have conquered; not to elicit pity, sympathy, charity, or praise; not to cut in line at Disney; not to get preferential seating on airplanes; not to make a political or social statement. They use it for one simple reason.
Are you ready for the truth? Are you ready for the secret to success? The $100,000 answer? The top secret that will ensure that your child does not grow up to be blind?
Here it is.
These men and women have learned one simple and unassailable truth. Blindness, with proper training and education, can be reduced to little more than a nuisance—yes, a daily, sometimes irritating, sometimes frustrating nuisance, some days more so than other days. Given the right perspective, given basic blindness tools such as cane travel, Braille, and daily living skills, the average person who is blind (and this includes all children and adults whose eyesight is sufficiently impaired) can live a normal, independent, healthy, happy, and productive life.
All of this is true. There is statistical data, and thousands of blind men and women today can attest to it.
Yes, it is also true that upwards of 60 percent of blind persons remain unemployed; that upwards of 90 percent of blind youth cannot read and write Braille; and that persons with vision loss are often dependent on social and public welfare, unable to care for themselves.
Both of these truths are statistics; which side of the statistical coin do you wish for your child with vision loss to be on?
Saying the word "blind" in and of itself does not make all things better for your visually impaired child. However, refusing to acknowledge the blindness, hiding the vision problem, and downplaying the extent of the impairment will most certainly make everything worse. It teaches your child that blindness is to be feared. It puts him at risk of falling behind in class because he does not have the appropriate reading medium, and it puts him in physical danger when he does not use a long white cane.
While we are on the subject, let's get a few more facts out there on the proverbial table:
My suggestions for you include the following:
Now, you have a choice to make. I admit to you wholeheartedly that it is not an easy choice at first, but—once you have made the choice to embrace your child's blindness and abolish fear—I promise you that everything begins to get better. (Tweet this!) As you contemplate this weighty and life-changing decision, I would like to offer you a little poetry.
The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I am sorry that I can do nothing for you regarding the visual diagnosis or prognosis for your child. I cannot help you to prevent your child from becoming blind—that is bleak. What I can offer you as an alternative is the blindness I know to be true, normal, independent, happy, successful, productive, and fulfilled.
The choice you have to make is which road you'll take.
by Olegario Cantos, VII
From the Editor: Olegario (Ollie) Cantos served as associate director for domestic policy for the White House under President George W. Bush. He served as special counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights, and currently he is the special assistant to the assistant secretary for civil rights at the US Department of Education. He has been president of the National Association of Blind Students (NABS), and he won an NFB National Scholarship in 1991. You can learn more about Ollie Cantos and his career at <http://www.ollieCantos.com>.
For each of us, whether blind or sighted, it is important to challenge existing paradigms with the knowledge that there is always more to learn. Parents, children, and educators all have things to teach one another. Sometimes this teaching occurs in unexpected ways.
In May of 2010 I was working as an attorney with the civil rights division of the US Department of Justice. Oswaldo Castillo, a friend from church, worked for a local social services agency. Through a colleague, he learned about three sixth-grade boys, triplets, named Leo, Nick, and Esteban (Steven). Born in Colombia, the boys came to the United States when they were three years old. Among their many characteristics, the boys were totally blind due to retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). Oswaldo wanted to introduce the boys to me because he thought I could be of support to them. I had years of mentoring experience, including work with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program when I lived in California. I agreed to help out in whatever way I could.
The boys were frequently the targets of bullying and playground taunts. I had been bullied too as a child, and I wanted to show the boys how they could best tackle this problem. Furthermore, I learned that for the past seven years the boys had hardly ever been outside their home except to go to school, attend church, participate in Braille Book Club once a month, and take part in a week-long summer camp. They were each other's best buddies, but they had few friends. Even when they weren't being bullied, they felt out of place. Kids would ask them what it was like not to be able to see, but once their curiosity was satisfied, their peers hardly spoke to them again.
Though the boys were around their peers all day at school, they mostly felt alone. With only one another for company, they retreated into the worlds that only books could provide. Reading was their sanctuary. It helped take their minds off their biological father, who left the family when the triplets were five, never to be seen again.
Each of the boys had a distinct personality. Leo was highly gregarious. He was known for his great big smile, and teachers and administrators saw him as the eternal optimist. Nick, by contrast, had an "edge" to him. Trusting hardly anyone, he attributed the negative circumstances of his life to his blindness. In fact, as he approached the age of eleven, he felt as though his life had no value. Esteban was serious and introspective. A deep thinker, he was the most avid reader among the three. He would read anything and everything he could get his hands on, and the most peer-to-peer interaction he had was with his brothers. Against this backdrop, our journey began.
Longtime readers of Future Reflections are familiar with the philosophical underpinnings of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), a division of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). The overarching assertion of the NFB is that it is respectable to be blind and that, when blind people are provided with appropriate training and opportunity to succeed, they can compete on terms of equality with those who can see. However, for those who are not well-versed in this philosophy, it can be daunting to imagine that blind children can strive for the same achievements as those envisioned for sighted children.
Such was the case with the boys' mother, Ceila. She did not know any other blind people, and she could not picture her sons ever functioning with full independence. In fact, academic and most other achievements were outside her direct experience, and her expectations were low, whether a person were blind or not. The same held true for Ceila's mother, Margenia, who followed Ceila to America to help her care for the boys.
Consequently, when Ceila and Margenia were offered the opportunity to meet Oswaldo, who would introduce them to someone who could help mentor the triplets along, they jumped at the chance. Little could anyone have predicted the impact of that decision on the lives of all those involved.
Like the boys I am blind as the result of ROP. I was first licensed to practice law in June of 1999, having been sworn in just weeks before the boys came into the world down in South America. No one could have had any idea how our life paths would later converge. One of the chief factors contributing to my career success was my discovery of the Federation in 1989 as a college sophomore. I joined the organization in May 1990. My association with the organized blind movement had a profound impact on the way my parents came to view blindness. You can read about this transformation in our lives in the Braille Monitor (<https://nfb.org/Images/nfb/Publications/bm/bm91/brlm9103.htm#13>) and in Future Reflections (<https://nfb.org/Images/nfb/Publications/fr/fr11/Issue1/f110104.html>).
In spite of whatever personal and professional milestones I had reached, absolutely nothing could have prepared me for what was to come. What began as a mentoring relationship quickly grew into something far more powerful. I spent much of my spare time with the boys, taking them places and showing them how to travel more independently with their canes. I facilitated them in making age-appropriate decisions such as selecting and ordering their own food at restaurants and picking out items at convenience stores, where they learned to speak to the cashiers directly. I did homework with them. Eventually I accompanied them to IEP (individualized education program) meetings and strove to ensure that they themselves led discussions about their futures. Our efforts were further advanced through the outstanding philosophy of teachers and administrators at the boys' school. The school was committed to dedicate whatever resources were necessary to acquire appropriate assistive technology. Teachers encouraged strong personal accountability. With a decreasing number of prompts the boys became accustomed to initiating and carrying out responsibilities typical of kids their age. I helped establish and maintain solid lines of communication between the boys and their respective IEP team members. All the while, I worked to maintain a close partnership with Ceila and Margenia.
One day, when I took Leo to the store, something happened that I will never forget. The co-owner asked me if Leo was my son. Before I could explain that he was one of the kids I was mentoring, Leo put his arm around my shoulders and said, "Yeah, that's my dad."
His answer caught me off guard, and a whole range of emotions swept over me all at once. I had always wanted to be a father, and these boys no longer had one. By the same token, I knew nothing about how this parenthood thing worked, though I had my own parents, Orlando and Linda Cantos, as amazing examples. How should I answer Leo? What should I say, and how should I say it?
Outside the store, I bent down to his level and placed both my hands on his shoulders. Facing him, I asked, "Leo, with what you said, do you know what that means?"
"Well," he said, "you take us places, protect us, do homework with us . . ." He shrugged his shoulders and said matter-of-factly, "Sounds like a dad to me."
From that moment on, I knew that life would never ever be the same for any of us. Eventually I adopted the boys as my own. Every time they call me Dad, it still fills my heart with pride and with deep gratitude for having my sons in my life. They are now known to the world as Leo, Nick, and Steven Cantos.
Through the years since I took on the role of dad, the biggest challenges have stemmed from a philosophical clash between Ceila and me. I have often felt that Ceila does not quite recognize the boys' true potential, while I continually want to empower them to do, have, and be more than they ever thought possible. But as she has watched each of the boys thrive and grow, she has seen the benefit of assuming inherent ability rather than its opposite.
My biggest ally in convincing Ceila to dream bigger turned out to be Margenia. We all lost her suddenly in August 2014. Her legacy lives on through the boys doing more than anyone from their old lives could ever have imagined. Meanwhile, as Ceila's role as mother changes when the boys reach the age of majority, my sons and I wish her the very best as she raises yet another child.
Our adoption story was first shared with a nationwide listening audience of more than thirteen million people when it played during the National Public Radio's StoryCorps segment in February 2014. You can hear our interview at (<http://www.npr.org/2014/02/21/280277459/the-lives-of-blind-brothers-changed-when-dad-came-knocking>). An expanded version appeared in People Magazine in May 2016, reaching a readership of more than forty million (see <http://www.people.com/people/mobile/article/0,,21003008,00.html>) and featuring video coverage as well (see <http://www.people.com/people/videos/0,,21002657,00.html>). For an eight-page spread in the Washingtonian Magazine, see <https://www.washingtonian.com/2016/09/07/meet-amazing-blind-man-raising-blind-triplets-2>. We welcome these opportunities to show the public how high expectations can change lives.
My sons are now high school seniors. All three boys have been involved in a myriad of extracurricular activities at school and in the community. Leo is actively studying Japanese and aims to become a computer programmer. He has been a leader at the district level for Boy Scouts of America. He spent time with leaders at Microsoft, where he ultimately hopes to land, and he completed a paid internship with a South Korean technology company this past summer. Currently he is working four days a week as an intern in an executive office environment at National Industries for the Blind (NIB) and getting far above minimum wage. He played the French horn in his high school marching band and symphonic band.
Nick has participated in integrated sports (crew and wrestling) alongside fellow students without disabilities. He played the trumpet as part of concert band, and he successfully completed a paid internship for a South Korean company different from Leo's. He now runs his own independent Amway retail distributorship as an entrepreneur and online marketer. He also works as a paid intern at NIB.
Steven mentors underprivileged elementary school students as part of Aspire Afterschool. He was surprised to be named the organization's Star Volunteer of the Year for 2016 at a local event held at an exclusive country club. He was elected student body secretary at a school of almost two thousand students. He has played the baritone saxophone for nine years and achieved a 4.0 GPA. He is the first totally blind drum major in the nation to lead a large high school marching band primarily made up of students without disabilities. Steven hopes to become a lawyer specializing in copyright law.
All three boys love audio and video games and work on cardio exercises in a gym outside of school. They are independent cane travelers who use buses and Metro trains to go from place to place. They have gained important skills of cooking and baking, and they do their own laundry and undertake other household chores. Lifelong Braille readers, they are active proponents of Braille literacy. They have raised money for charity, have volunteered at a food bank, and have collected canned goods for low-income families. All three have served in leadership positions in Boy Scouts and church. They are poised to achieve the prestigious and coveted rank of Eagle Scout by late June of 2017, a feat only attained by 4 percent of all Scouts.
Most importantly, all three boys have adopted the unshakeable stance that it is respectable to be blind. They understand that the only real limits to stellar accomplishment are those we place on ourselves. Next stop for each: college!
Some people may think that these results are not typical, that they may not necessarily be attainable by the vast majority of kids who are blind. I respectfully caution such folks to challenge their own sometimes unconscious assumptions of what is within reach and what is not for blind kids. Upon learning our family story, be very wary if you say to yourself, "Well, they are the exception and not the rule." My response: "Then, change the rule." Why not your child or student? What is to be gained by holding lower expectations? Nothing in comparison to what could occur by embodying high expectations.
Even as progressive as we each think we are, we must constantly reassess ourselves. We must rededicate ourselves continually to improvement. On a spontaneous trip to New York in early October 2016, we were at breakfast one morning. Suddenly I heard a piece of silverware drop to the floor. "Boys," I said, "whichever one of you dropped that, can you pick it up please?"
The next thing I knew, a stranger, seated at the table next to ours said, "Sir, that wasn't one of your sons. I was the one who dropped it."
I immediately apologized to the boys for my incorrect assumption. As forward thinking as I believe myself to be, especially after having lived as a Federationist for more than twenty-six years, I am not immune to the quiet remnants of limited belief. It still lurks and waits to rise up unless I consciously take care to keep it at bay.
The more we adopt an attitude that stands against viewing blindness as an insurmountable obstacle, the better positioned we will be to enable blind students and their network of family and friends to make the very most of their lives, as every human being should. Let us each champion adoption in more ways than one. In so doing, we will make a lasting difference in unique and groundbreaking ways, forever expanding what it means to be blind.
by Haley M. Dare
From the Editor: When a child has some usable vision, professionals and parents sometimes hesitate to identify him or her as blind. The journey toward accepting blindness can be long and tortuous. However, it can open the way to new tools, new skills, and a growing sense of confidence and power. In this article, Haley Dare reflects upon her journey and that of her son, Aron. Haley Dare is president of Michigan Parents of Blind Children.
Again and again I heard the clinical words that were used to describe my ten-year-old son's eye condition. The ophthalmologists told me he had severe amblyopia, strabismus, hyperopia, accommodative esotropia, monocular, and high refractive error. Later some phrases were added to the mix, phrases such as no depth perception, suppression of the right eye, and visual processing disorder.
I did my research. I learned what all those words and phrases meant. The list was formidable, but it didn't add up to blindness.
Nevertheless, the words used by the doctors didn't jive with the behavior I was seeing in my son at home. Aron showed signs that he couldn't see. Oh, not all the time . . . just when it got dark (and in Michigan, during the winter, it gets dark at 5:00 p.m. every day) . . . or when the print in his third-grade chapter books got smaller. I noticed that he didn't want to go outside anymore (especially on bright, sunny days), and he tried to avoid unfamiliar stores. At his brother's cross-country meets, Aron clung to my hand and complained that he wanted to go home, while all of the other kids ran around freely in those wide-open spaces. All of a sudden, Aron didn't want to play in the snow—because of the glare, I learned later.
So I did what any normal, slightly panicky mother would do. I got online and tried to piece together what was happening with my son. I discovered that all those medical words and phrases I had been given amounted to functional blindness. Boy, did it offend the optometrists and ophthalmologists when I came in looking for answers for a kid who was functionally blind! Wow, were they annoyed when I went in with knowledge that challenged and/or downright rejected their tried-and-true remedies!
Aron has a visual acuity of 20/400 with suppression of his right eye. With very strong bifocals, his left eye can be corrected to 20/30. His acuity itself is pretty good. However, he struggles to see objects in his periphery. Of course, that isn't confirmed. After he took a fields test three times on two different machines recently, the ophthalmologist told me that Aron passed "with flying colors." He said that, physically, Aron's eyes are healthy.
I fail to see how either statement can be true. Aron's vision blurs in crowds; I believe the clinical term is visual cluttering. The playground, the lunchroom, the crowded hallways, and Christmas at the mall make him feel very anxious because, he says he cannot clearly see faces or details. His experience has not been validated by an expert, but it is definitely noticed by the parent and voiced by Aron himself.
So, against this background of confusion, our frustrating and never-ending fight for school-based services begins. You know the old adage about mama bears and cubs, right? If you mess with a cub, you'd better get ready to deal with an angry mama bear! I had never been a mama bear before. I was raised always to be respectful, kind, and polite. I am very patient, and I tend to think that everyone is looking out for me and for my children's best interests. Well, that is not always the case. What a reality check!
As I tried, kindly, to advocate for Aron at IEP meetings, I heard the word no so often that I started to dread going. I began to think that this narrow-minded attitude was normal for teachers of the visually impaired. Perhaps I was wrong, I thought—until I found the National Federation of the Blind.
The NFB convinced me that I was right! After five years of feeling confused, frustrated, and beaten down, of wondering whether I were crazy, I found this wonderful, shining organization that said, "You are right about your son!"
Even though I now knew the right things to do, my fight with the school district didn't end. The school was upset when I gave Aron a long white cane. The cane didn't solve all of his mobility and anxiety problems. However, he stood up straighter and walked with greater confidence, especially on those bright sunny days . . . or in the snow when glare was especially bad . . . or at night when the total blackness scared him to pieces. I also started teaching him uncontracted Braille. Then, just to be rotten and upset the school even more, I insisted that the school provide Aron with Braille instruction. Furthermore, once the National Reading Media Assessment (NRMA) revealed that Aron should be a dual media reader, my efforts intensified.
As of this writing, Aron has received Braille instruction on a six-week trial basis. The results will be assessed at his IEP meeting. Already Aron is knocking the TVI's socks off with how well he reads in Braille! (Yes, Mother knows best!)
This past summer, Aron and I traveled to as many NFB events as we could manage—by trains, planes, and automobiles! We attended the STEM2U program and visited BLIND, Inc., in Minneapolis. We attended the NFB national convention in Orlando on a first-timers' scholarship. We drove five hours to take part in an Illinois BELL Academy, and then we went to the Illinois and Michigan state conventions. At each venue I learned a little bit more about how nonvisual skills could empower Aron. I grew more and more confident in my decision that my partially sighted child could use both the skills of blindness and his remaining sight to accomplish whatever it is that he wants to do in life.
But I got something else from these experiences with the NFB. I gained friendships, support, and a passion to help other parents and their partially sighted children. I met so many lovely moms and dads! Some of them already were strong advocates for the NFB and for their children; others, like me, were still confused and frustrated. And here's the awesome part—all that research I did, that I thought was so useless because it didn't fit my situation or answer my questions, fit the situations of some of these other families perfectly and answered their questions in a profound way. When our state president appointed me to serve as president of the Michigan Parents of Blind Children (MIPOBC), I knew I had found a way to give back.
This short article cannot nearly encompass our entire story. We are still advocating strongly for our partially sighted child to be trained in nonvisual skills. To other parents who may have partially sighted children and who may feel frustrated, lonely, and confused, it is important that you trust your instincts. Oh my, how many times did I hear that? Apparently, I needed to hear it many times before I finally acted on my instincts!
If your child complains about glare or panics in unfamiliar environments, you may have a partially sighted child. If your child tells you that he can see clearly "sometimes," "sort of," or "only if the light is perfect," you may have a partially sighted child. If glasses don't seem to fix the problem, even if the acuity is good, you may have a partially sighted child. If your optometrist's or ophthalmologist's diagnosis doesn't jive with your child's behavior, you may have a partially sighted child.
At a counseling session this past fall, I confessed to the therapist that I was angry because no one else seemed to notice the behaviors that I was seeing in my son. I was always being told that I was wrong—not outright, mind you, but in subtle ways. She said something that I will never forget. "You are the parent," she reminded me. "Perhaps you are the only one seeing the truth. Perhaps you are the only one who is right."
Be encouraged, my friends! May these words be the ones that penetrate your heart and become your mantra.
Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you think I can be of help.
Each of the training centers sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind—BLIND, Inc.—(Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions), the Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB), and the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB)—conducts summer programs for blind children and youth. Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM) also operates summer programs based on the NFB model. Children and teens who attend these programs enhance their Braille, technology, and mobility skills; learn to shop, cook, and clean; and have fun swimming, camping, and visiting malls and water parks, all under the supervision of blind counselors who "walk the walk." Teens learn skills they will need for college and career. Students in some programs gain experience with paid employment, working part-time in local businesses and agencies. In most cases applications are reviewed on a first come, first served basis, so get your child's application in as soon as possible! Here is some basic information about these exciting summer opportunities.
Open to children ages 9-13
Dates: June 10-July 1, 2017
Postsecondary Readiness and Empowerment Program (PREP)
Open to students grades 9-12
Dates: June 11-August 5, 2017
Summer Transition Youth Learning Experience (STYLE)
Open to high school students age 14-21
Dates: July 17-August 4, 2017
Confidence Camp for Kids (nonresidential program)
Open to children ages 5-11
June 5-23, 2017
Initiation to Independence Middle School Program
Open to children ages 11-14
Dates: June 12-30, 2017
Earn and Learn High School Program
Open to students ages 14 and older (must have completed ninth grade)
Dates: June 9-August 4, 2017
Summer for Success College Prep Program
Open to students who have completed their junior year in high school with focus on college
Dates: June 9-August 4, 2017
Buddy Program 2017: Putting the Pieces Together
Open to children in grades 4-8
Dates: July 23-August 12, 2017
Summer Training and Employment Project (STEP)
Open to students in grades 9-12
Dates: June 18-August 12, 2017
Open to children grades 5-8
Dates: July 21-August 5, 2017
Work to Independence
Open to students grades 9-12
Dates: June 17-August 5, 2017
Application Deadline: April 29, 2017
National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Program
Application Deadline: March 31, 2017
To recognize achievement by blind scholars, the National Federation of the Blind annually offers blind postsecondary students in the United States and Puerto Rico the opportunity to win one of thirty merit-based, national-level scholarships worth from $3,000 to $12,000. All scholarships are based on academic excellence, community service, and leadership. In order to be eligible, applicants must be legally blind in both eyes; reside in the United States or Puerto Rico; be pursuing or planning to pursue a full-time postsecondary course of study in a degree-granting program at a US institution in the fall semester of the 2017 scholastic year; and must participate in the entire NFB national convention and all of its scholarship activities. In addition to a scholarship, each winner will receive assistance to attend the 2017 NFB convention, which takes place July 10-15 in Orlando, Florida. The convention provides an excellent opportunity for high-level networking with active blind persons in many different professions.
Scholarships for People with Disabilities
This website lists multiple scholarships, awards, and grants available to students with disabilities. Awards are listed according to specific disability, including chronic health conditions, hearing impairment, visual impairment and blindness, intellectual disability, learning disability, mental illness, and physical disability. There is also a general disability category.
Applications are now being accepted for the 2017 Bolotin Awards, which will be presented during the NFB national convention. Applicants must have demonstrated exemplary leadership and extraordinary accomplishments in improving the lives of blind people in the United States. An application for the award may be made either by the applicant directly or by third parties who nominate the applicant. Each application requires an essay describing the work or project to be recognized. In addition, applications must have at least one letter of recommendation.
eBooks and EPUB Accessibility
Contact: Clara van Gerven, (410) 659-9314
Location: National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, Baltimore, MD
Date: March 23, 2017
With the rapid adoption of EPUB 3, a format is now available that provides some features that outstrip those of electronic setups originally designed to be a replica of print, such as PDF. With the accessible EPUB conformance requirements now out, a framework is developing to make this super-powered format work for all readers. This one-day training seminar will focus on how to create and implement accessible EPUB 3 in a variety of settings. Speakers will discuss how the accessibility specification can help you achieve greater ease of access. This event will be hosted under the auspices of the National Federation of the Blind Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access to Education, Public Information, and Commerce (CENA), with financial support through the Non-Visual Accessibility Initiative grant from the state of Maryland.
2017 Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium
Contact: Lou Ann Blake, (410) 659-9314, Extension 2221
Location: National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, Baltimore, MD
Dates: March 30-31, 2017
Registration is now open for the 2017 Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium, "Disability Justice and the Supreme Court: The Constitution and the Right to Live in the World." Join leading disability and civil rights advocates from throughout the United States to examine the application of the US Constitution by the Supreme Court to persons with disabilities and explore strategies to raise the level of judicial scrutiny so that all may achieve Dr. tenBroek's vision of equality of opportunity. The 2017 Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium will consist of plenary sessions and workshops facilitated by distinguished law professors, practitioners, and advocates who will discuss topics such as barriers to job application accessibility and potential legal remedies; effective strategies for achieving digital accessibility and communication access; criminalization of disability; and the development of a strategy to raise the level of judicial scrutiny set by Cleburne and Garrett.
2017 Tactile Reading Conference
Contact: (46) 8-580-02-700 or (46) 10-473-50-00
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Dates: April 5-7, 2017
This conference will bring together more than two hundred people from all over the world. Participants include academics, researchers, and developers in the fields of tactile reading and graphics, and professionals who work with children and youth with visual impairment and blindness.
Location: Renaissance Phoenix Glendale Hotel and Spa, Glendale, AZ
Dates: July 26-29, 2017
The Envision Conference is a multidisciplinary gathering that offers information and networking opportunities to medical professionals, researchers, and industry representatives dedicated to improving the lives of people with low vision. Attendees include optometrists, ophthalmologists, vision researchers, special education teachers, policymakers, and assistive technology developers. Continuing education credits may be available for participants.
2017 Youth Slam
Contact the Education Team: (410) 659-9314, Extension 2418 or at STEM@nfb.org
Location: University of Maryland, Towson, MD
Dates: July 23-29, 2017
Application Deadline: May 7, 2017
NFB Youth Slam is a week-long learning opportunity that gets blind students excited about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and careers in the STEM fields by offering hands-on learning. The program is sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind's National Center for Blind Youth in Science (NCBYS). Students will stay in the dorms at Towson University and eat in the student dining halls, getting a taste of the college experience. Students need not have a strong interest in STEM in order to participate in and benefit from this academy. However students must be performing within at least two grade levels of their current grade in school. The courses are designed to be challenging for high school students. One hundred students will be selected to participate.
Annual Youth Writing Contest
NFB Writers' Division
Contact by mail: Shawn Jacobson
19541 Olney Mill Rd.
Olney, MD 20832
Contact by email: EvaMarie Sanchez, email@example.com
Deadline for Submissions: April 1, 2017
The NFB Writers' Division will award cash prizes for winning submissions of fiction and poetry in the 2017 Youth Writing Contest. Contestants will compete in groups determined by grade level: elementary, middle school, and high school. Winning entries may be published in the Writers' Division magazine, Slate & Style. Entries must be submitted in hand-embossed, contracted Braille, produced with a slate and stylus or Braillewriter. For more extensive guidelines, visit the Writers' Division website.
2016 Onkyo Braille Essay Contest
The National Federation of the Blind is proud to announce the winners of the 2016 Onkyo Braille Essay Contest. The NFB administered the contest on behalf of the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union. The essay contest, sponsored by Onkyo Corporation, a Japanese consumer electronics manufacturer, and the Braille Mainichi, part of the Mainichi newspaper company in Japan, was created to promote Braille literacy and to encourage the sharing of social and cultural information among blind and visually impaired persons. The essays were required to be written in Braille and could be written on a variety of proposed topics related to the importance of Braille. There were two groups of competitors: a junior category for persons up to age twenty-five and a senior category for persons age twenty-six and older. Each winner received a cash prize, a plaque, and other gifts from the Onkyo Corporation. The seven winners from the North America/Caribbean Region were as follows:
Otsuki Prize—Larry Johnson, TX, US
Excellent Work Award, Senior—Carol Begay Green, NM, US
Fine Work Award, Senior—Charmaine Co, British Columbia, Canada and Ann Parsons, NY, US
Excellent Work Award, Junior—Juan Avila, CA, US
Fine Work Award, Junior—Josh Andrews, IL, US and Samoya Jordan, Kingston, Jamaica
Compliance with Accessibility Agreement
Contact: Valerie Yingling, firstname.lastname@example.org
If you or your child/student have experienced accessibility issues with student loan communications, the National Federation of the Blind needs to hear from you. In 2014 the NFB entered into an agreement with the US Department of Education (DOE) to make all federal student loan information accessible to blind individuals. Under the agreement, the DOE and its loan servicers should now offer (1) accessible websites; (2) digital forms that can be filled out, submitted, and saved on electronic devices; and (3) timely provision of alternative formats for all documents, including notices, statements, and publications. If you have had difficulty receiving accessible federal student loan information in the past year, or otherwise believe that the DOE or one of its loan servicers is not fulfilling its obligations under our agreement, please contact Valerie Yingling as soon as possible.
Two new books are available for purchase from National Braille Press. These titles can be ordered in Braille, BRF, TXT, or DAISY formats from:
National Braille Press
Contact: (800) 548-7323
The Abundant Bookshelf: Reading Books on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch
by Judith Dixon
National Braille Press
The digital revolution has brought blind people the opportunity to read on many different devices, from many sources, with a wide variety of results. In The Abundant Bookshelf by Judith Dixon explores nine reading apps in depth, focusing on the user experience with human voice narrators, synthesized voice narrators, or refreshable Braille. She also offers quick glimpses of fourteen other apps for reading books on an iDevice.
Computers You Can Talk To: Siri, Alexa, Google Now, and Cortana
by Anna Dresner
Everyone, by now, is at least familiar with Apple's digital voice assistant, Siri. But how much do you know about other voice assistants: Amazon's Alexa, Microsoft's Cortana, or Google Now? They can let you play music and books, control lights and other devices in your home, and buy items just by calling them out. What are talking assistants capable of, and which ones are right for you? This book is an overview; giving you an idea what sorts of things you can expect from each assistant. It tells you how to acquire and set up each assistant, and, in the case of Amazon's product, the cost.
History of Blind People in the United States
Peggy Chong, the Blind History Lady, has been gathering information about the history of blind Americans for the past ten years. Her website includes brief biographies of accomplished blind people of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as well as games that help sighted students learn about Braille. Peggy Chong's first eBook, The Blind History Lady Presents: The First Things I Learned, is available as a free download at <https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/622573>.
Insightful Publications has added a new selection to its state-by-state series of resource handbooks for the blind and visually impaired. This resource handbook covers agencies and other resources in Mississippi. Visit the company's website for a complete list of its offerings.
The Sci-Voice Talking LabQuest 2 includes several improvements over the earlier model. It uses a faster, more robust interface for scientific data collection. It offers a larger hard drive, a bigger storage space on board the device, and a faster processor. There is faster keyboard access to speech rate and volume, and on-screen reverse is now available for low-vision users. Besides a faster talking Periodic Table experience, this device provides access to all of the Vernier software and published lab curricula under the new lab instructions page.