The Role of Paraprofessionals

Earlier this week I posted a reply to an inquiry on a listserv for professionals in blindness education. After doing so, I thought this would be appropriate for my blog, So, here it is.

Original question to the list from a TVI:

“I am giving a presentation to parents about the parts of the IEP that are specific to visually impaired students. I have a question for anyone who wishes to answer. Many TVI’s use paras to teach Braille and other skills. When would you use a para for this and what should that individual’s qualifications be?”

My response:

Ideally, I would argue that paras are mostly there to assist you as the certified teacher of blind students or TVI with things like transcribing, preparing materials, assisting a child in class, etc. . Since you are the one with the specialization, degree, and or certification to teach blind students, ideally you should be providing the bulk of the Braille instruction to your students. I would recommend generally that paras be used as back ups when you as the TBS cannot provide the Braille

instruction yourself due to other priority duties, high case loads, etc. However, I

Recognize that we don’t live in an ideal educational world, so if a para is going to assist in teaching Braille, I would recommend that these

Individuals are fluent in both contracted and uncontracted Braille; know how to use a Braille writer and slate so that they can also teach these tools,

and know basic Braille rules, i.e., when certain signs take precedence, when you use certain signs like where syllables might divide a word in the

middle of a contraction–know what the rule is for these kinds of words, etc. (e.g.

you don’t use the ea sign in writing the word east). I would also recommend that if paras are going to teach Braille, they also have knowledge in Nemoth

code–at least the basics so that this is also taught along side literary Braille as it corresponds to the child’s math learning. (e.g. kindergartener should be learning nemoth numbers at the same time their peers are learning numbers; and function signs like plus, minus, divide,

and multiply should be introduced in nemoth at the same time the student is learning them in class.)

With respect to teaching other skills, I would apply the same philosophy. You are the certified teacher and therefore ideally should be providing the direct instruction, and the paras should be there to assist

you–help prepare the materials and transcribe so that your time is more free to provide such instruction, help make your job easier, and to help reinforce the skills you are teaching when you are not with that student.

Just my thoughts.

There are so many thoughts here on which I could elaborate, but basically for this post, I just want to get the point across of how paraprofessionals should be used ideally in the classroom and what I believe the role of the teacher of blind students really is. I think so often we forget that TBS’ aren’t just there to make sure the student’s materials are in accessible formats. They are there primarily to provide direct instruction in the skills of blindness: learning to read and write Braille, cane travel, problem solving, organization and time management, daily living skills, transitional skills, advocacy skills, and how to use assistive technology—just to name a few.

Happy “Meet the Blind Month” 2012

Well, as some of you may already know, October is “Meet the Blind month. The purpose of this month is to help educate the public and create greater awareness of the capabilities of people who are blind. Across the country, groups of blind and low vision individuals and their friends and family observe this month through various outreach activities such as participating in public events, speaking in public venues like schools, civic clubs, and so forth, passing out literature, hosting meet and greets, and volunteering service in their communities . Even though the month is half gone, it’s not too late for you to do something to help observe “Meet the Blind month” in your own area. So, here are a few easy ideas I came up with to help spread the word about this exciting observance and great public awareness opportunity.

  • Create a bulletin board with a blindness theme to display in your school. You should also consider making this an accessible and “blind-friendly “ bulletin board,a.k.a. tactually appealing and dual media with print and Braille.
  • Pass out “Braille Party Mix” to your neighbors, friends, colleagues, classmates, co-workers, etc. Braille party mix consists of the following:
    • 6 pieces of round candy like “Dots”, M and M’s, or Reeses’Pieces=the six dots in a Braille cell.
    • Pretzel sticks= the stylus
    • Cheese nibs crackers or other similar looking crackers with holes and ridges = the Braille cell
    • Alphabet Cereal= print letters being translated into Braille
    • Fruit roll-ups= piece of paper
  • Spotlight a blind student or adult in your school/community at a public event such as a church or civic club meeting, school assembly, class, etc. This can also be a Q and A session with a blind person about how he or she does various tasks with non-visual techniques.
  • Pass out Braille alphabet cards along with your Halloween candy. These can be obtained from blindness organizations like the American Printing House, the National Federation of the Blind, or the National Braille Press for free or a small nominal fee.
  • If you are a teacher or parent of a blind child, help your child set up a volunteer experience at a public service venue such as a food pantry, nursing home, hospital, etc. This will be a great way to teach your child the importance of “giving back” and also provide a unique opportunity for the public to see the capabilities of your child.
  • Set up a table and time to Braille names on index cards in a public place such as school lunchroom, outside a store, public library, flea market, etc. People are fascinated by Braille and will love getting a copy of their name in Braille. You can also hand out Braille alphabet cards at the same time.
  • Pass out literature about blindness in your neighborhood, school, business, etc. This could include things like Braille alphabet cards, or general blindness facts.
  • Host a tail gate party at a school football game. You can pass out Braille literature, Braille people’s names, and have blind people serving the food.

 

I hope these ideas have inspired you to get out and help spread the word about “Meet the Blind “month. I’d love to hear other ideas from you and/or the things you are doing to observe this month. Happy “Meet the Blind Month!”

Making It Work Wherever You Play

Recently my husband and I took my daughter to Storyville, this great little interactive play area which is part of the county library. It’s kind of like a children’s museum in that they have a little play grocery store, house, post office, etc. but each themed area also contains shelves of books related to that theme. There are two in our county. It’s a great, fun way to incorporate literacy into play for young children. I should mention that these play areas are designed for children ages birth to five. There is also a “BabyPark” with great multisensory areas, toys, and board books for infants and non-walking toddlers.

This is not my first visit to Storyville, and despite the fact that I’m a parent first, I always find myself looking at the activities there through my “teacher lens”, especially my teacher of blind students lens. I constantly see ways places designed specifically for children can be improved to be more meaningful and educational for a blind child.

Pic: Alphabet puzzle with wooden letters

Adaptation Note: ABC block puzzle—this is a great puzzle for blind kids in that it can help teach them tactually what print letters look like which is an important skill. However, in the case of adapting this for a blind or low vision child, I would simply place a dimo tape sticker of the Braille letter on each corresponding print letter piece. (I would give you an example of this, but this is a pic from Storyville and not my own puzzle.)

I’ve been tempted before to just show up sometime at Storyville with a bag full of clear Braille labels, wiki sticks, textured fabrics, bump dots, etc. and put them all up when no one is looking but that may be frowned upon by the staff just a little, even though it’s for a good cause.

Pic: Large wooden box divided into square sections which contain pictures of fruit and print words. Inside each square are plastic pieces of the fruit or vegetables.

Adaptation Note: Adding Braille Labels to places with Print–These fruit bins in the grocery store area are great because the fruit and vegetable models are pretty true to the real thing, thus making it meaningful to a blind child who would look at it tactually. This activity is used to teach sorting and colors and could easily be made more meaningful for a blind or low vision child by adding a Braille label with the corresponding word and placing it in the bins over the print words. Additionally, even though color is a difficult concept to convey to blind children, it is still important that they know concepts around color such as that bananas are yellow, apples are red, etc.

So this visit, I decided to take a little action through the appropriate channels. AS we were leaving, I asked the attendant at the desk to whom I would need to speak about some suggestions on making some adaptations for blind children. She seemed amicable to the idea and gave me the name of the lady in charge of Storyville. She also informed me that they have even had a small collection of braille books in the area in the past (a small start I thought, and maybe a good sign that they would be open to the idea). I haven’t called the director yet, but I’ll let you know how it goes. I worry that it might be a hard sell, even though all we’re really talking about here is a few Braille labels and inexpensive modifications—really no cost to the library—and most of which I’d even volunteer to do myself. To be honest, since blindness is such a low instance disability, making such changes may only serve one child, or may never even be used by a blind or low vision child, so selling the idea is a little bit difficult. But, on the other hand, think of how much of a difference it would make to that one child. Our blind and low vision children deserve equal access, even in play. I know the priority is not exactly to serve parents’ needs either, but making this place more accessible would also benefit blind or low vision parents like myself, my husband, and a handful of our friends who are also blind and live in the area who want to patronize these kind of places and be able to interact more fully with our children.

Another great side effect from adding such modifications would be the impact it would have on the hundreds of sighted children who come through the place on a regular basis. The exposure to some of the adaptations that would be made for a blind person—like Braille labels everywhere a print label appears—could do so much to help educate the public of the capabilities of blind people.

I think it would be so awesome if we could start this little movement to make over places like children’s museums, parks, playgrounds, children’s areas in public libraries, etc. I don’t mean that we would completely change things, but to suggest that we do more to encourage suggestions for adaptations which would help these places offer more to our blind and low vision children. Will you join this movement with me? Let me know of your experiences in this effort to improve places in your area for your blind and low vision children.