When Santa Lost His Eyesight

When I attended the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston, LA, (the best blindness training center in the country in my humble opinion) I remember seeing a presentation of a short humourous play at one of our Christmas parties there in which Santa goes blind and comes to the LCB for training. I’d forgotten about it until I saw this post in a blog written by a friend of mine. I thought this was a fun read and have reposted it here for you. Some of your blind children out there might enjoy hearing about a Santa with whom they can identify. Just to give you a little background, the original play about Santa losing his eyesight was written by Jerry Whittle, the former Braille teacher at the LCB. Mr. Whittle is known for his plays in which he always shares some kind of story of an individual’s journey to overcome his/her blindness through training and gaining of a positive attitude towards blindness. These plays are usually performed at local and national conventions of the National Federation of the Blind. This post came from a post in the blog “Slate and Stylish”,found on blogspot, and one of my favorite blogs I follow which is written by a friend of mine, Deja Powell. I hope she won’t mind me sharing this. I hope you enjoy reading it too and that it brings you a little Christmas joy.

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Posted: 18 Dec 2012 10:03 AM PST

*This is a cute little story written by my good friend Alex Castillo adapted froma play from one of my heroes, Jerry Whittle. Enjoy!

When Santa Lost His Eyesight

Santa winking/

By: Alex Castillo

Most people know about Santa Claus. He’s the Jolly old fellow who along with a team of flying reindeer and tireless elves, work year round so that on one night out of every year, they can bring presents to children and adults all over the world. What many people are not aware of, is that one year, Santa began noticing that his vision was not what it used to be. Of course, he did not want to admit it to himself, but driving that sleigh at night, and being up there in the sky with all of those airplanes zooming by, made him feel quite unsafe.

It was no surprise when news started being gossiped about in the North Pole that Santa had gone blind, and that he was quitting the holidays. He became depressed, and without his work, he lost his sense of purpose in life. The man was a real sad mess. On one of those special Holiday nights, everything started going downhill and Just got worse and worse. The naughty and good lists were becoming a blur, and he handed out the wrong toys to more than 1 billion people. I know what you might be thinking at this moment, If Santa had gone blind, you would have surely heard about it. I’m not saying this is all true, but was there one year in which you received absolutely the most unlikely gift ever? Well, if the answer is yes, then this story might make a little sense.

After getting home that night, Santa could do little more than lock himself up in his office at the toy factory, and no matter how hard anyone tried to cheer him up, he could do absolutely nothing for a very long time. This is the story I heard last year when I was visiting friends in Ruston, Louisiana. They say that one year after he had lost his vision; Santa came down there to receive training at their blindness center. “He could barely even see Rudolph’s nose,” they said, “He had lost about 75 pounds when he had first arrived, and wouldn’t even touch a cookie.” “he’d get real close to ya when he was talking,” they would all whisper, “Couldn’t tell north from south even if he was holding a compass: bless his heart.” And apparently the entire town knew about this phenomenon. So well-known was the story down there that a writer by the name of Jerry Whittle wrote a play about the whole ordeal, and everyone in town came to see the production.

When I asked how come Santa didn’t choose Nebraska to come and train, after all, we have an awesome center right here, and it would seem the familiar choice with all the snow we get, howling winds, and freezing weather, the answer I received was: “well, Nebraska? With all that snow up there? He’d be recognized in a heartbeat if he stepped outside dressed in all red in his Husker gear. “They said: “Down here, he’s just another blind guy with a beard.” The more I thought about the story, about this blind and depressed Santa Claus, the more sense it made. Often when people start to lose their eyesight, they feel ashamed, and even worthless. People find themselves almost transforming from a productive and contributing member of their family, or community, to just sitting passively, watching life and everyone else pass them by.

We often confuse the inability to do, with the inability to see. And all that it would take for us to get back into our routine, or even find a more exciting and challenging one is to simply understand that with some blindness training, many doors can open up with the promise of opportunity. Training centers do not create Santa Claus’s. But they can help Santa figure out how he can do his job as a respectable blind person non-visually. As I recall, the play ended with Santa making the decision to keep the toy factories open and to stay in the Job as Santa Claus, and arriving at the North Pole to continue his yearly duties, with some new blindness skills and alternatives. It was a true happy ending. But the people in Ruston tell a different story. They say that he didn’t go back to the North Pole right away. “Oh, he had some trouble with the training,” they said. At first, he was always lifting those sleep shades. They said he would use the excuse of being overheated to lift them and peek during every class. He didn’t like travel very much, they said: “Oh, Santa, Santa, you would see him just hiding when it was time for travel class,” But what surprised me the most was when they told me: “the first time Santa stepped into the wood shop and heard those live blades running, he almost fainted.”

One would think that someone who has been working with factory machinery their whole lives would be able to handle an arm saw. As time went by, he settled into the center and became an excellent student. But, after training, he didn’t go back to the North Pole right away. He wanted to try out a new career. He went to work at this Cajun restaurant as a cook in the next town. During training, Santa had discovered that he had let Mrs. Claus do all the cooking their entire marriage, but he actually enjoyed working in the kitchen. “Could you imagine that?” they said, “Santa as a cook in a Cajun restaurant?” I suppose he just felt like he wanted some independence.

Like many people after they finish blindness training, he must have felt a bit rebellious and must have wanted to prove to anyone that he could go far beyond the common expectations for a blind person. It wasn’t until the Mrs. Threatened to come and get him that he decided to go back up north. Sometimes the path to independence isn’t obvious and clear. Sometimes, like Santa, we need to figure ourselves out for a little while. Sometimes, blindness gives us an opportunity to learn and make decisions which vary greatly from our past, and that we would have never thought possible if we had not lost our eyesight. And sometimes, we just get a stronger sense of who we are.

But, The first step toward independence, and starting your life, or getting it back is recognizing when it’s time to receive training, and then going through that training in a program that will allow you to fully realize yourself as a respectable blind person. After all, this is our life, and we live through our choices. As for Santa, You can decide to believe this story or not, but the children and grownups are still receiving presents on time and without any strange mix-ups. Polls show that he’s been doing a better job year after year. And just the other day, I read a review about some new restaurant opening up on the North Pole which specializes in southern cuisine. Note:

This Story was based on the play written by Jerry Whittle.

Link: http://nebraskacenterfortheblind.blogspot.com/2012/12/blind-santa-goes-back-to-work.html

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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.

Essential Elements for Success #2: The Monkey Bars—Blindness Skills

It is my opinion that there are five essential elements needed for a successful playground: swings, monkey bars, a big toy (complete with slide), kickball field, and tetor-tautor.  Without these elements a playground is just, well…not as great as it could be.  Similarly, there are five essential elements for success which I believe help blind individuals to be great.  They are qualities which parents and teachers should help foster in blind children to help them navigate life’s playgrounds as successfully as possible.  Over the next few posts, I will be introducing you to all five of these elements.  So, here is our second element.

When I was younger, it seemed like the most popular thing for girls to do on a playground—aside from playing jump rope or chasing boys—was climbing across the monkey bars.  No matter how much I tried though, I was never good at crossing them. I’d reach from the platform for the first one and be able to make it to the second bar, but after my feet left the platform, it was all over.  I wasn’t the most athletic kid, and didn’t have the arm strength I needed.  (By the way, this was before I lost my sight, so that wasn’t an excuse either.)  After awhile, I gave up on trying because it was embarrassing and I didn’t know how to get better at it.  Instead, I resorted to just being the cheerleader for the other girls, or time keeper as others tried to see how fast they could cross the whole set.  A part of me was always a little jealous of the other girls, and disappointed in myself for giving up on this activity as I watched the other girls.  Fast forward a few years to my last year in college.  I had been selected to serve on a student leadership group that was quite important on our campus and at least to me, seemed like sort of a “Who’s Who”.  I was really excited for this opportunity and looking forward to some of the social aspects as well because there were some really great people on this council.  A few weeks before school started, the council held a leadership retreat weekend up at a lake resort near the campus.  Like many team building conferences, one entire day was devoted to participating in a ropes course.  For those of you who are not familiar with a ropes course, it is a series of physical activities where you are usually tied into a waist harness while participating in tasks with your team such as climbing a rock wall, repelling, walking along a cable as a group, swinging on a sip line–in short, an adult version of the monkey bars.  There are also some leadership or team building elements incorporated into a lot of the activities.  Needless to say, I spent the whole day sitting alone under a pavilion with absolutely nothing to do except talk to the occasional passer-by getting water.  SO BORING!! I missed out on so much that day.  This is so humiliating to admit now, because this wouldn’t even be an issue for me today, but I was scared to participate because I couldn’t see.  I didn’t know how I could do these activities without sight, and I didn’t want to admit to anyone that I was afraid, or be seen as different because I probably would have needed the group to make some accommodations for me.  (Yes, this was pre-cane using days, and before I was “okay” with my blindness.) So, I opted to sit out of the activities that day.  It was like being back on the playground in elementary school and watching from the sidelines as all the cool girls crossed the monkey bars and had fun with each other, only this time, I was letting blindness hold me back, and not just a lack of coordination.

So what does all this have to do with blindness skills?  Well, there are two parallels I can draw from these examples.  The first one is that we can’t let our blindness be a barrier that keeps us from doing hard things, just because we don’t know how to do them non-visually.  The second is the parallel that monkey bars have to blindness skills themselves.  So what are blindness skills?  It’s things like reading braile, using adaptive technology, learning non visual or “alternative” techniques to perform certain tasks like identifying money, cleaning, or cooking, , using a cane and knowing how to problem solve in various circumstances, and knowing how to advocate for ourselves. Blindness skills are techniques blind people do to perform the same tasks as sighted people, just without vision, or non-visually.  These are not inferior methods, rather just different ways of doing the same things.  For example, Braille is not inferior to reading print.  It’s just a different method for accessing the same material.

In order to be a successful blind person, our children need to learn these skills and become proficient at them.  Just like starting out on the monkey bars, these skills can often be hard and even physically challenging to master. But it is imperative that we give our children the support and training they need to master these skills so they can compete equally with their sighted peers.  You could argue that being the theoretical “cheerleader” or “time keeper” on the sidelines like I was from time to time isn’t such a bad thing.  I mean I was still involved and seemingly part of the group right? But I felt forced to these roles because I lacked the skills I needed to interact in other ways.  I want our blind and low vision children to have all the options of these proverbial roles available to them, and not to feel forced into a certain role as result of their lack of blindness skills.

So how do blind and low vision children learn these skills?  You as parents will have to advocate for these skills to be taught by your child’s TBS or TVI and O and M instructor.  There are also a number of summer training programs around the country that teach these skills in a concentrated way to children and youth.  Additionally, you can talk to other blind adults who can help share some of the techniques they use with your child.  Most rehabilitation agencies focus on teaching these skills to blind individuals once they reach adulthood, but how much better off will your child be if they learn these skills early on?

And for the rest of the story…I’ve never really mastered real monkey bars, (haven’t really tried since elementary school I guess), but I’m proud to say that I’ve become pretty good at the proverbial ones.  After college, I attended the Louisiana Center for the Blind where I learned the skills of blindness in full force.  It took a lot of effort, and was even physically grueling at times—just like real monkey bars can be—but I made it to the other side!  Learning these skills opened so many doors to me and really changed my life and my attitudes about blindness.  Interestingly enough, while at the LCB, I attended another ropes course, only this time I had to participate under blindfold the entire time.  I am proud to say that I participated successfully and had such a great time.  I’ve since become a huge fan of ropes courses and have participated in a number of these, and similar activities now that I know it can be done as a blind person.  Never again will I let my blindness be a barrier to me like I did that day.  And, can I just say, it feels great!