What’s Buzzing with the National Federation of the Blind?
As we enter the year 2020, many organizations for the blind are focusing on the “dream of 20/20 vision” for blind people everywhere. The National Federation of the Blind views the year 2020 differently. We have proclaimed this year as the “2020 View on Blindness.” We know that together with love, hope, and determination, the National Federation of the Blind helps transform your child’s dreams into reality. Vision is not a requirement for success. Rather, success depends on the removal of the low expectations of others since low expectations can create obstacles between your blind child and his or her dreams. During the month of February, 2020, we invite you to check out all of the love, hope, and determination the National Federation of the Blind has to offer you, your child, and your family.
We are so glad you have found our Braille Reading Pals and Early Explorers programs. Have you also found other connections for your family in your state? The National Federation of the Blind has an affiliate where you live. These affiliates are made up of local chapters. Also, many states have local organizations of parents of blind children. The National Federation of the Blind in your state is comprised of blind adults, blind children, their families, and others who have a passion to help blind people live the lives they want. By getting to know members of your state affiliate, you will build a powerful network you can turn to in order to ask questions, share strategies, celebrate successes, and overcome obstacles. You will expose your child to positive blind role models your child can learn from as he or she grows, as well as blind peers with whom your child can relate and have fun. Please visit the National Federation of the Blind’s state affiliates page to begin connecting with Federationists in your area.
As an added bonus, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) is a division of the National Federation of the Blind. You can be involved with a daylong conference as a part of the National Federation of the Blind’s National Convention that will be held in Houston, Texas this summer. There is also an email list, a Facebook group where you can ask and answer questions, Future Reflections: a magazine specifically for families and teachers, and so much more. The NOPBC offers your family one more way to connect and feel the love of the National Federation of the Blind. Please visit the National Organization of Parents of Children website for more information and resources.
*In the next two issues of The BEE, we will focus on sharing the love. The focus of this first issue is to help your child learn about animals, including how to care for a real or pretend pet. In the next issue, we will discuss ways to help your child learn about caring for dolls or real babies.
Literacy Hints from the Hive
Literacy for children encompasses reading and writing. Blind children need tactile literacy as well. In order to prepare to read Braille and explore their world, blind children need to be encouraged to use their hands to discover objects. When possible, encourage children to explore objects in a systematic way so as not to miss any details. Talk with your child about what she is touching. Discuss things like texture, color, size, shape, and other characteristics.
Sighted children are able to learn a great deal about animals from a very young age. Picture books are full of animals they can see. They may go to the zoo or an aquarium and be able to see animals up close. Sighted children might have the experience of having a pet of their own or a family pet that they are encouraged to care for. Blind children need to have the opportunity to find out about animals as well. There are many ways to help your child learn about animals in the world, both wild and domesticated.
Read Books: There are numerous books, both nonfiction and fiction, about all different types of animals. When you read these animal stories, having a stuffed animal for each type of animal in the story is a great way to help bring the story to life for your child. As your child touches the stuffed animals, you can discuss what makes each animal different from the others, such as an elephant’s trunk, or a giraffe’s long neck. You can also discuss what makes the animal the same as other animals, like four legs, size, and tails. Having these animals can also make it possible for your child to act out the story as you read.
Use Tactile Pictures: Find books with raised pictures or tactile images your child can touch. The experience of touching tactile images will increase your child’s understanding of how three-dimensional objects feel when they are made into two-dimensional pictures. The American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults has a fantastic book with print/Braille and tactile illustrations called Pedro and the Octopus. For more information about this book, and to get a copy for your child, please visit https://actionfund.org/pedroandtheoctopus.
Go on a Field Trip: Sometimes aquariums or zoos have special programs where children can interact with animals. See if there are any of these programs in your area.
Visit a Pet Store: There are many pet stores that allow children and adults to interact with animals. They can be nice places for your child to explore slightly more uncommon animals such as guinea pigs, hamsters, ferrets, snakes, turtles, or maybe even rats. Your child could also explore all of the equipment needed for each animal. Dog collars and leashes, food bowls, water bottles that clip on the side of a cage, litter boxes, and pet toys are all fun things to explore and learn about.
Writing Corner: If your child is asking for a pet, and he is old enough to write, have him write down reasons he thinks he should have a pet. Or, if you already have a pet, have your child create a chart with the chores he needs to accomplish to help take care of the pet. This chart could be as simple as notecards with a different chore on each one, and two boxes. At the beginning of the week or day, all of the notecards can be in one box. As the child completes each chore, he moves the notecard with that chore into the other box.
Read to a Pet or Stuffed Animal: Certainly reading to a pet or stuffed animal is a great way to show you care. Encourage your child to tell stories to pets or stuffed animals. As he gets older, encourage him to read stories.
When parents find out their child is blind, many families begin to look for things they feel will help their child. Particularly if a parent is a “dog person,” the possibility of getting a guide dog for their child may seem very appealing. The sight of a blind person traveling with ease and confidence with a dog, as well as media stories about the wonderful partnerships between blind people and their guide dogs, may be enticing.
I was a guide dog user for twenty years. I found working with a dog rewarding, and I recognize the pros of a human-dog partnership. I exclusively use my cane now, but someday I may return to using a dog. I am well aware of the drawbacks of having a guide dog. Guide dog users sometimes encounter discrimination using taxis, Lyfts, or Ubers, where they are not picked up because of their dog. Other times, people may be afraid of the dog or ask questions about the dog when all the guide dog user really wants to do is get from point A to point B.
Guide dog users sometimes have to deal with unwelcome comments such as, “Your dog must take such great care of you!” or “I am sure you would just be lost without your dog!” I recommend that the families of very young children considering a guide dog for their child learn as much as possible about what a dog does and does not do and the responsibilities of caring for a guide dog before making a decision. Most of the time, families have a lot of questions about guide dogs and may not know a blind person to ask these questions. Below are answers to some frequently asked questions.
What is it Really Like to Have a Guide Dog?
A human and guide dog work as a team. They both have jobs. The human makes sure the dog is fed, groomed, polite in public, and the human gives the dog directions to the places he/she wants to travel. The dog helps keep the human safe by stopping at street corners, taking the human around obstacles, and stopping at the top or bottom of stairs.
Guide dogs do not read street signs, read traffic lights, read addresses, or lead their humans from home to a specific destination with only one command.
Guide dogs do learn familiar routes, and they certainly are able to find specific doors, bus stops, and other places for their owners, but their owners need to have basic orientation to the area and still need to give verbal directions to their dogs. The human handler is the member of the team who decides when it is safe to cross a street and has to be sure her dog is taking her where she really wants to go. For example, if a pet store is next to a grocery store, and the human wants to go to the grocery store, the human needs to make sure the dog is not going to the pet store instead.
Pros to having a guide dog:
Sometimes it is easier to walk with a lot of speed, particularly through a crowd, with a guide dog.
Many dogs are very good at following a person they are asked to follow—a clerk at a grocery store who is helping you shop, a waiter at a restaurant who is showing you to a table, or a friend or family member in a crowded mall.
Dogs can be good companions; they will give affection, and they usually love to play when they are not working.
Traveling with a dog sometimes helps their humans feel safer. Humans still need to be smart about where and when they travel.
Cons to having a guide dog:
A dog is a living animal. You need to take the dog’s needs into account every day—not just when it is convenient. Dogs are a big responsibility. They need to be taken outside, even when it is cold or you are tired after a long day. They need to be taken to the vet. They need to be given very firm and consistent expectations. You must be aware of what a guide dog is doing at all times, and you need to stop bad behavior as soon as possible so it does not become a habit.
Having a guide dog often draws a lot of attention to the dog’s handler. Often, you will have to hear how beautiful your dog is, how much your dog must help you, and stories from random strangers about their own pets. Sometimes, this leads to pleasant conversations but, at other times, it makes getting from place to place quickly a challenge.
Your child might want to consider getting a guide dog someday if:
She is a good cane user and traveler in general. Having good orientation, problem-solving, and self-advocacy skills are essential before bringing a guide dog into anyone’s life. Also, when a dog gets sick, or a handler decides to leave her dog at home, cane skills are absolutely necessary.
She likes dogs, and she has experience caring for them. Experience is not absolutely necessary, but it does help.
She is willing to take on the responsibilities that come with owning and working with a dog, and she has the maturity to do so.
Your child should not get a dog just because:
A friend or relative tells her a dog would be a wonderful thing for her.
She wants a pet. A guide dog is a working dog and should work almost every day.
She thinks a dog will help solve all of the problems she has traveling. Dogs might help with some aspects of travel, but your child will still be the leader of the team. So encourage your child to get some great travel training, and then decide whether a dog is right for her.
Connecting your child with blind adults who travel confidently with their canes, blind adults who travel confidently with guide dogs, and blind adults who do both is a wonderful way to help your child get a feel for whether a guide dog might be right for her someday.
A Taste of Honey
Since we talked so much about taking care of pets, we thought we’d include a recipe for making homemade dog biscuits. Don’t have a dog? This would be a fun recipe to make for a neighbor’s or relative’s dog.
This recipe is from Stir It Up! Recipes & Techniques for Young Blind Cooks, a nice print/Braille cookbook with easy kid-friendly recipes and tips for kids and parents on a variety of cooking techniques. You can find more information about this book or purchase it on Amazon.
Doggie Paws Recipe
2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup smooth peanut butter (preferably unsalted)
1 cup skim milk
- Ask a grownup to preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Measure flour and baking powder in a bowl. Stir with a fork and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, mix together peanut butter and milk with a wooden spoon.
- Stir in the flour mixture with a wooden spoon until well blended.
- Lightly sprinkle some flour on the table or countertop.
- Dump the mixture onto the table or countertop and knead until smooth. If the mixture crumbles, add a little more milk.
- Tear off small pieces and roll into bite-sized balls and place on a greased cookie sheet 2 inches apart.
- Press down on each ball with the palm of your hand or with a fork to make the balls flat.
- Ask a grown up to put them into the oven. Set a timer for 10-12 minutes.
- Turn the oven off, but leave the biscuits in the oven for another 20 minutes to harden.
- Store treats in an airtight container or Ziploc bag for weeks.
- Don’t feed the dog too many at once—even if he begs for more!