My apologies that I got a couple of days behind on the countdown posts. The release of the new Everyday Blind Parents podcast pushed things back a bit. In anycase, I want to finish sharing some of my “Back to School” helpful strategies for blind parents, so here goes.
Today my tip is to create an electronic, braille version, or large print version of all the important school info—i.e., district, school, and homework website addresses, log in info and passwords, i.d. numbers, lunch account info, schedules, etc. and put it in one place where you can easily and frequently access it. For example, our daughter’s user id and password to log onto the school’s student portal are written in print on a label inside her take-home folder. She has a separate lunch account number which we use to purchase lunch either at the school or online for her. I’ve created an electronic version for all this kind of information related to her. This way, everything is in the same place and in a format that I can access so I don’t have to always ask her, scan something, search emails, or call the school. I try to compile all this info right after school starts so I have it when I need it. Sure, you could just memorize this info, but having it all together frees up brain space too and is good just in case your memory fails you. . I personally prefer putting it in an electronic version, but a hardcopy braille or large print version posted by your computer or on your refrigerator is also helpful—just not too public of a place if you worry about neighbors seeing your child’s info.
Second, I suggest taking a few minutes with a reader or your child to go over the school calendar right after school starts. I like to do this so that I have all the school holidays, breaks, early outs, and important school events in my phone’s calendar. (This also links up with my computer.) Typically, the school sends out a print calendar when school begins, or you can log onto the schools’ website, but I find that putting it in my calendar ahead of time not only saves me time, but assures that it’s in a format that is accessible to me. This is especially helpful if the website for the school or district isn’t the most user friendly with adaptive technology. If you prefer a hardcopy version, creating a braille or large print list of the important dates to know is also a great help.
So there you have it. Hope this helps make things a little better for you this year. Let me know what works for you when tackling this kind of important information.
I am so excited to write this post! So, my Back to School countdown posts kind of trailed off the last couple of days, but for good reason. I’ve been working on a major project (for me) for quite sometime and it all sort of came together this past week. So, if you are still waiting for the last two back to school posts, they will be coming shortly. In anycase, here is my big news!
For the last year and a half I have been putting together a podcast for blind parents. It has definitely been a labor of love and stretched my brain. I found myself faced with a huge learning curve as I knew nothing about creating a podcast. I should also tell you that I’m not exactly the most tech savvy person either. There are not too many editing and recording software programs out there that are accessible with a screen reader, so it’s taken me a little time to find the right tools to get the job done—still figuring a few things out. So, this knowledge gap, along with some personal family challenges really set me back from my initial deadline last year. After putting things on the back burner for a time, I started up again and was set to launch at the beginning of the summer. But, we ended up spending several weeks in Utah with my family as my mom has had some health problems, , so things got pushed back again. Family first right? In any case, this long explanation is all to say that it’s finally live!!!
Photo caption: Screen shot of EBP podcast page on iTunes
I can’t even tell you how excited I am about this. I don’t even care if anyone listens to it…okay, well maybe a little bit. But I’m just so glad to have it launched. This seriously has been weighing on my brain for so long and I know I’ve driven my husband crazy talking about it endlessly. It’s also taken many long hours and my kids have watched WAAAYYY too much t.v. while I’ve been finishing this up. In any case, I’ve learned so much along the way and developed some new skills, so even if it’s a bust, the lessons learned from all this work were worth it. Last week when I submitted it to itunes for review, I felt as elated as I did when I finished my Masters’ comprehensive exams.
So, if you’re interested, and I hope you will be, please check it out. There are a few ways you can listen. First, you can subscribe through your regular podcast subscription service (i.e., itunes, stitcher, etc.) by searching for “Everyday Blind Parents” or, you can visit the podcast website directly here and subscribe to the feed. . You can also read more details about the podcast and access show notes. The first episode, which you can listen to here, is an introduction episode where Jesse and I talk together about our initial experiences becoming blind parents as well as some of the everyday challenges we face.
Thank you to everyone who has helped support me in this endeavor. Special thanks to my very patient and tech savvy husband who has spent several hours figuring things out with me, searching for deleted files, and been an agreeable participant for a few episodes.
I truly hope that this will be helpful to other blind parents out there. I have so many great ideas and interviews lined up for future episodes. I also welcome feedback, so if you have something to share, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks again and please help spread the word!!!!!
Photo Caption: Spiral notebook homework page
It’s back to school time so I’m dusting off some of my blind parent “lessons learned” which I used to help us have a successful school year. Today I’m sharing some tips for dealing with those daily items that your kids bring home.
So, if you have kids in school, you already know the volume of paperwork that comes home on a regular basis. Managing all of this when you can’t read half or all of it can be a challenge. Thankfully in the past, our teachers have been pretty good about emailing all the class parents when important notices are coming home (i.e., permission forms, flyers about an upcoming school event, a class or school need, etc.) so I know to look out for it or ask my child about it. But even if your teachers do this, I’ve found it is still best to try and go through these items daily if possible (or as regularly as you can) so as not to miss anything—not to mention you can keep up on your child’s progress by reviewing his assignments. .
Photo Caption: Homescreen of a smart phone.
For starters, using apps like Seeing AI, the KNFB reader mobile app, Be My Eyes, or a magnifier app (if you have some usable vision can make daily reviewing of papers much more doable. . You could also use a desktop version of a scanning program like Kurzweil. There are a lot of different types of free or inexpensive open source scanning programs out there too, so if you’re not familiar with one, I suggest you talk to a blind tech friend, or contact a local technology assistance program to familiarize yourself with one of these tools. They will be worth their weight in gold and save you so much time and headache. I’d also suggest making this part of your nightly homework routine so that you don’t get bogged down with paperwork. Since we can’t skim these kind of items “at a glance” like our sighted counterparts, you’ll want to try and keep up on it since it may take a bit more time to review these items with whatever method you choose.
Photo Caption: Two small boys wearing floppy hats and overalls sitting on grass reading to each other.
Use a Reader
Another good idea is to include these papers in a session with a reader (like if you have someone who works with you on a weekly basis to read mail.) Using readers is also a great way to fill in things like permission or registration forms. Perhaps you have an assistant at work who could take five minutes every morning to browse through your child’s papers and notify you of any important info or read those quick handouts that often come home. You could also hire a neighbor (like a teenager who wants to earn a little extra money) to come over every day for a half hour or so and go through papers with you.
Photo Caption: laptop keyboard and tablet
Another great tip is to go paperless as much as possible. You can do this by subscribing to PTA email lists, review the school and county websites regularly, and get access to your school’s regular newsletters. For a time, our school’s electronic version of the newsletter was sent out in a non-accessible PDF format, so we arranged for the school to send home a paper version which we can scan and read ourselves. Most schools are supposed to offer both versions anyway to accommodate for families who may not have access to electronics or Internet. In any case, reviewing these things online is a more accessible way to keep up on important school info and a lot of the same announcements are replicated in handouts that come home with the students, so you can cut down the amount of stuff you have to read in hardcopy. Just as a side note, your child will probably bring scholastic book order forms home all the time. Generally, your teacher and/or school have a code that tracks your purchases to raise money for the school. You can view and order most of these items online and still use the codes, so ask your teacher to email this info to you if this is something of interest to you so that you can browse and order online and skip the paper all together.
Read in Real Time!
Lastly, here are some “out of the box” ideas: take a photo or use a service like Skype or Facetime to ask a friend or family member to browse these kinds of things for you. Grandparents especially may love being included in this way. These could be great ways to go over things like a test with your child’s handwritten answers that a teacher is asking you to review and sign, or to have a worksheet or diagram explained that can’t be read by some kind of text reading program. Services like Ira can also be helpful for this, but keep in mind that you’ll be paying for this time. Lastly, enlist your child. (Depending on their age and an abilities.) This is a great way to build reading skills, reinforce concepts, and teach responsibility.
So there you have it. WE use a mix of these same things and sometimes things work better than others, but the main point is to find what works for you and be willing to try new methods that may be more effective. Let me know what methods you’ve found that work best for you. Good luck!
Photo Caption: close up of hands writing on paper with pencil and person sitting at a desk working on a computer.
It’s back to school time around here and all week I’ve been sharing some of the strategies we use as blind parents to help us with the challenges of school life. Today I’m sharing some of the strategies we’ve figured out for dealing with homework.
After surviving years of daily, gruling endless hours of my own homework starting in junior high and finally petering off after grad school, I thought I was free of the homework albatross. . Think again…now I have my kids’ homework to do. Thankfully it’s still at a level that doesn’t require too much time or brain power for me…yet, but I know the late nights are waiting in the near future ready to torture me again in a whole new way.
Photo Caption: person holding an alarm clock
It’s hard to give strategies for every kind of homework situation, but here are a few quick things we’ve figured out so far with respect to helping our early elementary students which I felt worth sharing.
Communication with the Teacher
I could write a whole post on communication with your child’s teacher. It is imperative that you establish a good working relationship with your child’s teacher as you will most likely have to email them questions periodically or need clarification on something that is inaccessible to you and unclear to your child. Thankfully, our teachers so far have all been great about sending out regular emails in general to update parents on the goings on in the classroom. These emails often lay out what homework is expected of the students, or have links to resources online. If you don’t have a teacher who is good about sending out regular emails, I suggest that you speak to the teacher and ask if he/she would mind if you communicate in this manner with him/her; or find a method (i.e. phone calls, texting, in person meetings when you pick your child up, etc.) that would work for the teacher. This way you can feel open to ask for any assistance/clarification as needed regarding your child’s homework. For example, when my daughter was in kindergarten, her class started using online reading programs. These programs are mostly inaccessible to a screen reader, so it was challenging for my husband and I to help her with them. Thankfully, my husband is more patient and tech savvy than I am and he figured out a way to navigate the site after talking with the teacher to get a sense of what was being displayed on the screen at various points, and learning what was expected of the student while using the site. We were also able to ask the teacher to take a few minutes with our daughter at school to show her how to use a mouse since this is a very visual thing and hard for us to model for her at home since we are mostly full-time screen reader users. . I will admit that I did use a screen magnifier as well and was able to work more on the site with my daughter, but I would still need to turn it off when my daughter was looking at it so that she could navigate the site. This help from her teacher really made a difference and we were able to work through this situation until my daughter became more proficient at using the computer to work more independently. Online homework is probably one of the biggest hurdles for us as blind parents and generally, these programs are not very accessible. I have a post coming up in the future of some other challenges we’ve faced with this issue, along with some solutions we’ve found.
Signing Daily Logs
Most kids have some kind of daily log that they need to have initialed or signed regularly (i.e., a reading or practice log). There are a couple of things you can try for this. First, you could set up a daily email with the teacher wherein you report whatever info the log is designed to track. You could also use a signature guide and have your child place it on the box or line where you need to sign, or even just have your child put the pen on that spot for you to sign each night if there is nothing you really need to fill in, or it’s something that your child can fill in his/herself (teaching responsibility too. Another idea is to use a small stamp that would fit in this area. You could communicate with the teacher ahead of time to let him/her know that this is the method that you are going to use instead of signing and make sure that the teacher is comfortable with this. You may want to follow up with periodic emails as well letting the teacher know you are tracking your child’s work—just in case he/she is concerned about your child forging the stamp. It’s also a good idea to let the teacher know that you may not always sign right on the line, or your signature might not look as legible or identical each time because you are blind—just to make sure there aren’t any questions about your signing. . . (I have a whole post about a teacher who thought my daughter was forging my signature here.).
If the nightly correspondence is something like a homework guide listing assignments for that specific night, it may be helpful to have the teacher email this information directly to you each day. IN many instances like this, the teacher is hand writing on the log what your child needs to do, so it would probably not take them any more time to send you a quick email instead. If daily communication isn’t practical, you may consider asking for the teacher to email you the week’s assignments ahead of time so that you can track your child each night.
Even if your child has a text book or handout for their homework, supplementing instruction with manipulatives can be very effective. This way, you are able to use a method that is accessible for you and provide assistance to your child in a meaningful way. Brailling spelling words or times tables onto index cards are just two very easy suggestions. Math manipulatives can also be very helpful. For example, Saxon is a company that creates math resources for home-schoolers and they have great kits with a variety of manipulatives for teaching math to elementary and secondary students. With these, you can replicate what is on your child’s homework and use a hands on method to instruct your child, and your child can show you in turn what their assignment is asking. We purchased one of these kits (for grades K-3) a few years ago and find uses for it all the time. It came with things like a tactile clock for teaching time concepts, sorting objects for counting and grouping, tangrams, a peg board with rubber bands—useful for teaching multiple concepts, and tactile geometric shapes. We’ve used the kit so far to teach counting, addition, subtraction, sorting, grouping, place value and early grouping for multiplication—all along side our children’s regular learning. I never really realized until now how very blind friendly it has been and what a great idea it would be for other blind parents to invest in something like this kit to help your own kids. I’ll link to the one we use here for you to check out. .
Also for math concepts with older children, raised line drawing kits like those offered from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) may be a good resource. One last tool along these lines which I’ve found very helpful is the Sensational Blackboard. This is a piece of flat material (kind of looks like a chalkboard slate) that lets you write on paper atop it regularly and “magically creates a raised image instantly. It’s a great tool because you don’t have to invert or reverse your paper. So, your sighted children can write or draw regularly and you can view the image directly. I would recommend this tool for teaching things like shapes, print letters, reading, and math concetps with your kids. It’s hard to explain how it works, but trust me, this is a very impressive tool, and worth a look.
For things like reading along with your child, you can find a lot of books electronically now days. Even a number of text books are available commercially. Downloading one of these and following along on a braille display or listening to synthetic speech with a headphone in one ear while your child reads along can be helpful ways for you to make sure your child is reading correctly. This way, you can assist her with difficult words or vocabulary without having to stop and ask her to spell the word to you which can often take longer, or make her feel frustrated. . Another great resource is the audio book section of your local public library. Because audio books have become so popular, the selections are improving so you may consider listening to one of these with headphones along side your child as he reads, or listen together while he follows along. One last idea regarding textbooks (if you feel that having a version would be helpful for you to help your child) is to just ask the teacher to borrow an extra copy and try to dust off your old methods for locating or scanning an electronic textbook from when you were in school.
Its hard to address every kind of homework situation that you will encounter, and this is by no means a comprehensive resource list. These are just some basic ideas that will hopefully help you and get you thinking of other strategies you can use to solve homework challenges. We’ve used a combination of all of these things. We are constantly trying and tweaking things for new tasks and new grades as my kids get older. The main take away is that you find what works for you and your family, don’t be afraid to ask for help from the teacher and the school, and lastly,if something isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to think outside the box for an unconvential method.
(Photo Caption: Girl on her way to catch the school bus )
It’s back to school time so I’m dusting off some of my blind parent “lessons learned” which I used to help us have a successful school year. Today’s tip is to do a dry run of your route to school.
This may seem a little unnecessary, especially if you are traveling in areas you typically frequent, but it can be really helpful to get familiar with the route to school. Whether your child rides a bus, rides to school, or walks, it is really good for you as a parent to know multiple ways to get to/from home as well as any obstacles you may encounter along the way. Don’t feel silly doing this either. I have sighted friends who often do a dry run drive to a new location or special event too. Remember what the Boy Scouts say…be prepared. It’s also great for your kids to practice a dry run if they are a little nervous about the first day, and this can help get you back into that early morning routine.
Photo Caption: Photo from behind, blind dad using cane and walking with son down a sidewalk.
Whether you are just walking down the street to the school bus stop, or around the block to the neighborhood school, a preview can be helpful. It will help you get a sense of how much time it will take you and your child (Ren) to walk the route, as well as an idea of any potential hang ups along the way. A dry run also allows you a chance to look out for low lying tree branches, jutting up sidewalks, neighbors who repeatedly park their truck over the sidewalk (ever banged your knee on a trailer hitch? No fun.)Or other possible obstacles along your path. These are not things you want to encounter for the first time as a blind person when you’re trying to get somewhere on time on a first day. You should also think about walking on both sides of the street and even vary your route a time or two just so that you become more familiar with the area and multiple routes—not suggesting memorized route travel. Rather, this will help you in those times when you need to go an alternative way.
For longer walks than just around your neighborhood, a dry run can familiarize you with traffic patterns, crossing intersections, and any physical obstacles you may encounter on the route and need to be aware of (again, low lying branches, broken side walk that may be hard to navigate if you are pulling a wagon or stroller, places where the side walk stops, tricky intersections, etc. Again, things that you probably don’t want to encounter for the first time on the first day of school. You may even consider a drive-by with a sighted friend who can describe the route to you and point out certain things that may be a challenge, but I’d still suggest walking it as well as you’ll get a different picture and more info on foot. I would also suggest trying a couple of different routes to the same place—e.g., walking on the opposite side of the street, or taking a parallel street. It is a good idea to know more than one way so that you are prepared for any unforeseen obstacles. This might seem a bit unnecessary, but you never know when a sidewalk might be blocked off because the homeowner is pouring a new one, a water main breaks and closes off the sidewalk, or someone doesn’t shovel the sidewalk one winter morning. It’s great if you are a good problem solver “in the moment”, but a little prior preparation never hurts.
()Photo Caption: Small boy riding in kids’ car down the driveway
Whether you take your child to school with a ride (i.e. taxi, uber, public transit, etc., or they are driven by another parent/friend, it is a good idea for you still to be familiar with the route and do a dry run. Even if you are not the primary provider of your child’s transportation, there will be times when you may need to drop off/pick up your child because of unforeseen circumstances like tardiness or illness. So knowing the route is still helpful. For example, a dry run can help you determine how long it may take to install a car seat (if needed), and how long it will take you to get to/from the destination. Even though you’re not the one driving, knowledge is power and you and your child can be more empowered riders when you know how to get where you’re going. I would suggest asking a friend or family member to do a dry run with you so that you can ask questions and take time to become familiar with the route initially, rather than trying to do this on a metered fair. Asking questions like street names, places you are passing, and exit numbers are helpful. This is also helpful because while a GPS is useful, they are not always correct. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been riding with someone and had to correct the GPS or suggest a better route.
If you take public transit to/from your child’s school, a dry run is definitely a good idea. Since buses and trains are not always reliable, it is good to get a sense of your window of time, so you may want to practice this route a couple of times so that you can get a good estimate of the travel time. . If you have to make a connection or walk for a part of your route, it is a good idea to check this out ahead of time too so that you will know what to anticipate during the real deal. Also, there are always little extra things like finding the actual stop, fare machines, or entrance and exit ramps that can add time and little hang ups. A dry run will help you know where these things are so that you’re not fumbling around looking for them on a first day.
At the School:
Lastly, a dry run at the actual school is also a good idea. Our elementary school has a “Peek at your Seat” day the week before school. I find this to be really helpful for me too so that I can learn where my child’s classroom is, and familiarize myself again with other important locations around the school. Most schools will have some kind of Back to School night, so plan to take a few extra minutes to tour the building if possible. Knowing where things are like the main office, your child’s classroom, library, lunch room, gym, and rest rooms can be handy for those times when you come back for meetings or school events. This will help you feel more comfortable navigating around the school later. It will also show others that you are confident and competent as a blind parent which can’t hurt!
Good luck and happy trails!
It’s back to school time so I’m dusting off some of my blind parent “lessons learned” which I used to help us have a successful school year. I thought I’d share some of the most helpful ones with you this week as we count down our last week before school starts. Good luck with the new school year and please share any great ideas you have with the rest of us.
Okay, so this may sound a little silly, but if I were putting together a “Back to School” care package for a fellow blind parent, I’d totally include a good umbrella. AS “non-drivers, we spend a lot more time traveling out of doors or at least waiting out of doors for a ride. So, having a good quality umbrella—maybe even a couple on hand for you, the kids, and everyone’s backpacks is a great idea. I suggest having one of those really big golf style umbrellas too. I used to think they were too big and impractical, but after waiting many an afternoon at the bus stop with children, I’ve found them to be handy because you can keep yourself and your child(ren) covered fairly well. The larger size umbrellas are also great if you are carrying a smaller child in some kind of baby-wearing gear so you both stay dry and you can still use a cane. . I would also suggest having a couple of those smaller umbrellas that can fit in your bag/purse or be stored in a stroller pocket for those unexpected moments when you and your kids may get caught In the rain (Anyone singing about Pina Collatas right now?). Just don’t forget to keep a plastic bag with you too to put those soggy umbrellas back into after you reach your destination to keep the rest of your stuff dry (learned that the hard way).
If you’re like my husband and you find that an umbrella makes it harder for you to hear traffic patterns while traveling in the rain because of the way it bends or blocks the sound, I’d suggest having rain ponchos handy. These will keep you dry too and allow you to have your hands free for carrying items and using a cane/guide dog. You can find them in a variety of sizes, styles, and qualities at most stores in their camping/outdoor supply area. You can even find inexpensive $1 ones that are great to throw into a backpack for emergencies; and small storage pouches to stuff your poncho back into when you arrive at your destination and don’t want to carry a wet piece of plastic around with you. Just don’t forget to air it out when you get home. One other quick note: ponchos also work great for covering a stroller or car seat while waiting in the rain, so having a few extras on han is a great idea. Hope these tips come in handy on some upcoming rainy day.