Posted in Public Attitudes and Advocacy

A Parent’s Worst Fear

Okay, don’t get too excited…today you get a double post as I’m transferring some posts from our former blind parent blog Home is Where the Hartle Is which is still active if you want to take a look, but won’t be one I’m using anymore.  I’ll be moving a few relevant posts to this one over the next few weeks as I consolidate things.  So, with that, I give you a post I wrote about a year ago as a testimonial submission for the Maryland state legislature.  Just as a side note , since writing this, the bill passed and parents can no longer be denied custody of their children on grounds of blindness only.  big Victory!

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Last Thursday, I  was slated to go and testify at a hearing in Anapolis before a committee of the state legislature.  The hearing was about protecting the rights of the blind and other disabled parents, specifically with respect to custody disputes.  Due to a big snow storm however, the entire state was virtually shut down and the hearing postponed.  In any case, I’m posting what I submitted as my testimony for the record.  I thought it may be of some interest and a good way to help draw attention to a scary reality many parents with disabilities face on a regular basis.  Currently in the state of Maryland, and others, parents can lose custody of their children for no other reason than that they have a disability.  No proof is required to show that the child or children are at any risk or danger either.  While my husband and I have never faced any real threats of this, it’s scary to know that this reality is out there and does give one pause to fear what someone’s lack of understanding of the capabilities of a blind or disabled parent could do to a family.  For example, if one of my children had to go to the ER just for a typical childhood injury (e.g., falling from a tree, bike crash, etc.) and a healthcare worker believed this accident came as result of my not being able to see and provide adequate supervision, my children could be removed from my custody with no proof being required–even if the accident was purely that, an accident and had nothing to do with my ability to see or not see.  IN most cases, health workers or social service workers have to at least provide some kind of evidence before a child is removed from the home.  Anyway, there is so much more that could be said and argued on both sides of the matter, but for what it’s worth, here is what I submitted.

Four years ago my husband and I became parents for the first time with the birth of our daughter.   Two years later, we were blessed with our son. Becoming parents has been the most amazing, rewarding, challenging, and life changing experience. For all intents and purposes, we’re just your typical average middle class “all-American” family. My husband works for the Department of Education in Washington D.C. while I stay at home full-time with our children. WE own our own home, take our children to playgroups, lessons, church, and school. WE resemble many families in our similar circumstances with the exception that we do not have a minivan or SUV parked in our driveway because, both my husband and I are blind.

Our children are healthy, smart, and thriving. They no nothing different except that their mommy and daddy use a cane to get around, have to touch things to see them, or that we take cabs and trains rather than drive places like our friends. What my children also do not know is the ever-present fear itching at the back of our minds that at any time, for any reason, our children could be taken away from us purely on the basis of our disability. Thankfully, our parenting has never been called in to question, but the threat is real and does exist.

WE worry that a future visit to the emergency room for a bike accident or fall from a tree could result in us being deemed as unfit parents. A playdate at the park could result in the temporary loss of custody because of a “well-meaning” citizen calling social services in concern for our children’s safety as we cross a busy street together. I hope I am wrong in fearing that such things will ever happen, but I’ve felt the staring looks from strangers and heard the callus whispers of concern or disgust that we as blind individuals would bring children into this world or subject them to such a life.  I’ve been literally yelled at on the bus on several occasions to be careful not to sit on the baby I’m carrying on my back as I take my seat (as if I could forget the twenty pounds I’m carrying). The misconceptions and ignorance is real and all around us. People cannot imagine how someone with a blindness disability can take care of a child,   yet it can be done and has been demonstrated by many with grace and skill.

In our legal system, individuals are declared innocent until proven guilty. Yet, present legal practices allow children to be taken from the custody of their blind and disabled parents purely on speculation with no real evidence that the child is at any risk or harm—thus declaring these parents as guilty until proven innocent. In many cases, disabled parents have a difficult time fighting legal battles to prove their parental competency because of prejudice or social stereotypes that inhibit others from being open-minded to alternative techniques or forward thinking practices about the capabilities of persons with disabilities.

I will agree that there are situations wherein a parent who is blind or otherwise disabled may not be the most fit to care for his/her child. These circumstances would most likely come as result of the individual lacking sufficient skills or capacities to care for him/herself and their child appropriately. In such cases, I would fully support the removal of a child from these circumstances. However, there should be sufficient evidence that the child’s best interest is in jeopardy and legitimate proof, not just speculation based solely on a disability label. The practice of making blanket-statements or the “one size fits all” approach should not apply.

AS a blind person, I use a myriad of alternative or nonvisual techniques to carry out my activities of daily living, manage my home, and care for my children. I travel competently with a long white cane and know how to use public transportation, take cabs, and employ drivers. I hire readers to aid me in my grocery shopping and reading mail. I use nonvisual techniques such as bells on my children’s shoes, baby carriers, child-leash backpacks, and other strategies for keeping track of my children in public spaces.   I know how to cook safely on a stove and with an oven so as to provide meals in a safe manner for my family. I communicate regularly with my daughter’s teacher and school electronically to keep up on handouts and progress reports. I communicate with pharmacists and physicians when necessary to make accessible medicine dispensers to administer appropriate doses of medicine to my children when they are sick. I utilize a host of technologies that provide me useful information for caring for the needs of my family.

I cannot anticipate how I will accommodate for, or handle every situation in the future as I rear my children, nor should I have to justify myself, have all the answers right now for every circumstance, or defend my practices to maintain my rights as a parent when most parents are not held to the same scrutiny in as much as their children’s best interests are not in question. I know I have the skills to do so and that I am the most qualified person to be raising my children. I support the call for stronger legislation that will prohibit the practice of using one’s disability as reason enough for terminating one’s parental rights. And I encourage better practices that promote the rights of such parents and families to co-exist in equality and harmony in our society.

Posted in Tips, Tricks, and Hacks

10 Strategies for Keeping Track of Your Children Non-visually

As parents, we are often out in public with our children whether at the playground, going to the library, or even just the grocery store. I’ll admit I still sometimes feel a little anxious before and during such outings because I worry about keeping track of my children and keeping them safe, but I don’t want my anxiety to ever limit my children’s experiences. This is also a question I’m often asked by other blind moms and even sighted friends. So, I thought I’d share a couple of general strategies I use with my children to keep track of them. I do some things differently depending on how old my children are at the time, and where exactly it is that we are going, but hopefully these are generic enough to apply to a variety of circumstances. (By the way, my children are 5 and 2 and I’ve been using these techniques with both of them since they became mobile.)

1. Bells on shoes: This is such a great technique and definitely one for use at home as well. From the time my children became mobile, we put bells on them in some fashion. You would be surprised how much of a difference it makes and how valuable a strategy it is for keeping track of young children, especially when they are not very verbal yet. If you have a child who is prone to ditching his/her shoes, you may want to consider attaching a second pair of bells on a belt loop or button hole. I’ve even used a bell bracelet as an anklet that is on tight enough so as to not slide off the child’s foot—great for times when your child isn’t wearing shoes like at the pool or beach.

2. Helicopter Mom: This is probably the best strategy for young toddlers, and children who are not very verbal yet or whom you don’t feel you can let stray a bit from you yet. If you want to know where your children are, you need to be with your children. Yes, it would be nice sometimes to sit back on the bench at the park and chat with other parents or read a book while your children play and only have to occasionally look up to see where your children are, but unfortunately we don’t have that ability although sometimes the bells do allow for this to some extent. But, on the positive side, this allows us to engage with our children, teach them, explore with them, and fosters a closer relationship with them when we are engaging and interacting with them. And, your children love having your attention! This means following them onto the big toy, or standing near-by underneath it to monitor where they are playing, sitting down on the side of the sandbox, or doing puzzles with them at the library. Some critics may argue that you are hovering or being too over-protective, but I’d rather err on the side of being a little too over protective rather than not know where and what my child is doing. I also don’t want to always have to rely on others to keep track of my children for me. Yes, there may be the occasional need to ask a by stander if they spot your child if he/she has gotten away from you, but I try to minimize these times, especially when it comes to relying on other parent friends with whom you are hanging out. You want to avoid placing any question in another’s mind about your abilities as a blind parent. I’ve also found in my own experience that as your child gets older, you are able to pull back on how much you need to hover.

3. Previewing the Area and Setting up Camp: Before turning my children loose to play when we are out somewhere, I often survey the area first before letting them go play freely. This gives me a chance to become familiar with the space before I have to turn my focus to keeping track of them. It also allows me to determine any boundaries I may want to set for them, and I can also designate names for the given areas for us all to use so that we are on the same page about where they are going to be playing. For example, “the big kids’ big toy,” “the little kids’ big toy,” and the sand box, etc. This way, if my children are old enough to play without me following or hovering behind them, they can tell me which area they are going to be in and they know not to leave the area without telling me where they are going. I can also periodically check on them as I feel I need to. Previewing the area can also help you to determine the best area to “camp out” so to speak instead of frequently making rounds if your children are playing in different areas. For example, maybe you want to hang out by an exit to make sure they don’t slip passed you, or at a kind of mid-point so that you can keep tabs on a couple of different places at the same time. This strategy is probably best when you feel like you can give your children a bit more freedom and trust them to answer you when you call.

4. Border Patrol or “Making the Rounds”: This strategy builds on the previous one, but instead of staying in one central place, it can be very helpful to make rounds between the different places where your children are, or just walk the perimeter frequently to keep track of them and what they are doing. This will also keep you visible and engaged in their activities and they will be more likely to check in with you when they are moving to a new location or activity.
5. Marco Polo Technique: Most of us are familiar with the pool game “Marco Polo” in which one person yells “Marco” and the others who are trying to avoid being tagged yell “Polo.” This technique works much the same way and is pretty self-explanatory. From an early age I started training my children that when I called them, they needed to answer me, even if I was close to them. This is my nonvisual way of “spotting” them. If they didn’t answer me, there was a consequence of a time out or loss of a privilege, etc. Because I started this early on, it’s become second nature for my children to answer me. If I’m just calling them to see where they are, I’ll answer by saying something in reply to them like, “Just checking to see where you were,” and “thanks for answering me.” I give them a couple of chances to answer me too before there is a consequence just in case they are not paying attention, or cannot hear me because I’m too far away or because of other noise. You may even want to use a code name for outings, or nick name that your children are used to you calling them so as not to share your child’s name with strangers if that makes you concerned or uncomfortable.

6. Boundaries and review of rules and consequences: This again is pretty self-explanatory, and maybe not technically a strategy, but something to keep in mind. Before turning my children lose to play, I remind them how important it is that they answer me when I call them and that they stick to the boundaries and other rules we have for outings. I sometimes will physically walk the boundaries with them and show them where they can go so there is no misunderstandings, especially since I can’t exactly point to what I’m talking about and be sure they follow. The important thing is to be consistent with consequences so you’re your children do not take advantage of your lack of sight and try to get away with things. Again, the earlier you can start training them in this practice, the better.

7. Child Harnesses: Child Harnesses: I used to think this was a terrible thing and vowed never to use one of those child harnesses http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2/185-7236510-1484769?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=child+harness+ or backpack or wrist leashes and treat my child like a dog, but when I had an active, mobile toddler, I soon reconsidered. Most of these kind of devices come like a harness or backpack the child wears around their chest. Children like them because of the colorful styles, some of which look like you’re wearing an animal on your back, and the range of the leash lets them venture away from you a bit and explore while you still have control of where they are. Obviously, these work best for very young children who are not yet good at staying with you, hanging on to your hand, or responding consistently when called. One down side however that I found with these was how often my child or I would get tangled in the leash. I would find myself tripping over it as my toddler ducked in and around my legs, or that it interfered with my cane, so there are some drawbacks to consider, but there are definitely some places and times when these can come in handy, especially in really crowded areas.

8. Child/luggage locators: Much like what you put on your keys, there are a variety of audio sound producing devices that are made specifically for children. (Most blind and/low vision people are familiar with luggage locators ) Basically, you attach a transmitter device to your child and you keep the remote. You can actually find child locators that come in different styles like an animal face which you can attach to your child. When you press the remote, the transmitter portion emits a loud noise letting you know where your child is. These have a fairly long range and can be very useful with children when in areas that are extremely noisy (like a children’s museum or Chuck E. Cheese place) or for a wide open park. I generally use these as an “in case of an emergency” tool because they emit a loud, piercing sound and can draw a lot of attention to your child even in a noisy place. Sometimes when going to a place with a lot of environmental noise or that is more spread out, I will attach these to my children because it is harder for me to hear them or their bells. In these places, I generally use the “helicopter mom” method for the most part, but I like the security of the locators just in case.

9. Corralling/Timer Technique: This technique is again useful if you have more than one child. When in an area that has a number of different places to play, you can corral your children into one room/playground and set a rule that everyone is going to play in that area for a given time. This will give you a smaller space to need to monitor and be an easier way to monitor all your children at the same time. If you have children who want to play in different areas, you can take turns in each by setting a timer on your phone that will tell you all when it’s time to rotate to the next place.

10. Know how to describe your children: This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s a little thing we may forget from time to time. If you have older children who can choose and dress themselves, it’s a good idea to ask them what they are wearing in case you need to describe them. With younger children whom you still dress, make sure you know what color their shirt, etc. is, or if it has a picture or logo on it. Often as blind people, we identify clothes by feel or style, but may not always think about the color or pattern—just that we know it matches something else, especially when it’s not our own clothing. Knowing these kind of details can help you if you are in a situation where your child gets lost from you and you do need to enlist the help of a sighted person to locate them.

Well, there you have it. I hope these may be helpful to some of you. Whether it’s keeping track of your own children, nieces and nephews, or children you are babysitting, I hope these will be useful. I’d also love to hear what other techniques you use for keeping track of your children nonvisually.

Posted in Uncategorized

Changes for the Playground

I started this site about five years ago as a way to blog about my passion as a teacher of blind students and “keep my foot in the door” so to speak in the field of education for this population. . It initially served as a resource for parents and teachers of blind children, and had a fair running for a time. But I feel like the time has come to take things in a new direction. While I am still passionate about the education of blind children, I’ve been out of the professional field of education for some time now—by choice—to be a full-time stay-at-home mom to my children. I feel that my talents and passions now may be better served in other ways. As a busy mom of two small children, (with one on the way), I’ve also found it challenging to write consistently on topics that I’m not dealing with on a regular basis. So with that, I am combining my passion for blindness education in general with my passion for motherhood in an effort to redesign this site to serve as a place to share my experiences, tips, tricks, and strategies as I go along as a blind parent.

 

There are a number of great resources out there for parents and educators of blind and low vision children, but not nearly as many available for blind and low vision parents trying to “make it on the playground” out there among all the sighted parents. . So, with that, I thank those of you who have stuck with me over the years, and hope to keep your support through this transition. I also hope to serve an even broader audience with this new endeavor.

 

When my first child was a few months old, I started attending a play group with members of my church at a local playground. It was a great way for me to meet other moms and get out of the house with my small child. Over the next couple of weeks as I participated, I remember feeling more and more overwhelmed as my responsibilities as a mother became ever more present. I watched all these moms tending to their children and began to realize just how different my parenting techniques were going to need to be as a blind parent. Sure, I had good blindness skills training, and a pretty positive attitude about blindness, but now could I really “make it on the playground?” I believed that a blind person could be a good parent…in theory. I’d even observed a handful of other blind people who had children and seemed to be relatively successful parents, but were they just the exception? Could I really do it, especially with both my husband and I being blind? I’ll admit, the task seemed daunting and I felt a little alone in this endeavor with few resources at my disposal.

 

As a parent now for some time, I’ve invested a great deal of time and energy reading books, articles, and blogs on parenting and motherhood in general. I’ve listened to great podcasts, participated in mom’s groups, attended parenting workshops, observed other parents, and conversed often with friends about the joys and challenges of parenthood all in an effort to figure out how to be the best parent I can be for my children. All of these things, along with just my own experience “on the playground” thus far have taught me a great deal and I’ve gained a lot of valuable knowledge along the way. But while there is a plethora of support and resources out there for parents—whatever your style or needs—the resources on how to deal with the challenges of blindness and parenting are few and far between. Most that do exist, in my opinion, focus on things related to legal issues of blind parents retaining custody of their children. While I certainly agree that this is a very important topic and not to be ignored, I felt that information about practical day-to-day “how to’s” was somewhat lacking. I often feel like I’m kind of muddling along, or cobbling bits and pieces of information shared by other blind parents together to figure things out as I go.

 

I recently did a google search for “resources for blind parents” which resulted in four results—ONLY FOUR RESULTS! Do you know how many general parenting platforms are out there? How many moms’ resource sites, support groups, organizations, publications, and mommy blogs there are? HUNDREDS! There’s something for everyone no matter what your style. Of these four search results, two of them were from the same resource, the National Federation of the Blind (great resources by the way and from an organization that has been a great support to me in general). I’m sure varying the search phrase may result in a few more hits, but the point is that there are very few platforms where blind and low vision parents share knowledge—not only with ourselves, but with the sighted public. So, the more of us that join in this effort, the better.

 

Not too long ago, I found myself again standing on a playground and contemplating how far I’ve come as a parent. I worry less about how I’ll keep track of my children nonvisually, what others are thinking when they see me show up with my cane, and how I’ll deal with all the “how will I…” questions that are sure to present themselves in the future. My confidence as a blind parent has definitely grown. I know there are still challenges ahead, but I feel better equipped to face them. My hope with this site now is that I can help share what I learn as I go along, and learn from others along the way.