American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Winter 2017       BEING WITH OTHERS

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The Question of Blindfolds

by Heather Field

Heather FieldFrom 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
Subject: Question

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: on behalf of Heather Field
Sent: Saturday, October 15, 2016 7:35 AM
Subject: Re: Question

Hello Andrew,

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.

Heather Field

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