Let’s Kick off “Meet the Blind Month” 2013

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.  Additionally, October 15th is “White Cane Safety Day” which recognizes the use of white canes by blind individuals.   

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, church groups, and so forth, passing out literature, hosting meet and greets, and volunteering service in their communities .   So, I’d like to invite you to join with me and others in helping to provide public awareness this October.  There are lots of simple, easy things you can do in your own area too.  Here are a few easy ideas we as blind individuals or friends or family of blind people can do to help spread awareness to the public about the capabilities of the blind.  So, get a group together and get going!  I’d love to hear what you do to observe this month. 

*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.  (for ideas, visit the education page at the NFB Jernigan Institute at www.nfb.org)

  • Pass      out “Braille Party Mix” and a Braille alphabet card 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 or a slate
    • 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 for a small nominal      fee. 
  • 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 for us as blind individuals to “give back” and can also      provide a unique opportunity for the public to see the capabilities of those      with vision impairments. 
  • 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, fair,      farmer’s 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 or FAQ’s about      Blindness (you can generally get this kind of literature from a blindness      related organization). 
  • Participate      in a tailgating event at a school football game.  You can pass out Braille literature,      Braille people’s names, and have blind people serving the food. 
  • Participate      in a local Halloween  “’Trunk or      Treat” event wherein you set up lawn chairs in a parking stall instead of      a car and pass out candy and Braille alphabet cards.  Decorate your canes or guide dog and      yourself instead of your vehicle in Halloween décor.
  • Volunteer      to be on a speaker’s list at your local library or to read stories in Braille      at a children’s story hour. 
  • Give a      presentation to your school class about an influential blind individual such      as Helen Keller, Louis Braille, or Dr. Abraham Nemoth.  You could even come dressed like this person      and pretend to be him/her telling his/her story.
  • Make a      sign to display in a window of your home or vehicle that recognizes “Meet the      Blind Month or the capabilities of the blind.  For example, it could say, “I’m the proud      parent of a blind child”.  Or “Sight      is not a requirement for Success.”
  • Make a      t-shirt with a positive message about blindness written on it which will promote      discussion by those who see it when you wear it.  For example, it could say something like,      “I’m blind and I am a _____ (fill in with something which is stereotypically      unlikely to be done by a blind person like “a dancer, skier, black belt,” etc.)       


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!”


Pioneers on the Playground

As most of you know, I am a native Utahan. I love my home state and miss it often—especially at times like these. July 24 is known back home as “Pioneer Day” and is the anniversary of the day when the original Mormon pioneers first entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 after months of an arduous journey pulling handcarts and wagon teams across the frontier. I am an original descendent of Mormon Pioneers who left their homeland and migrated to unknown territory in the west in search of religious freedom and better opportunities. I cherish this heritage and am proud of my ancestors for their sacrifices and great examples.

Outside of Utah, members of the LDS church often commemorate this anniversary by celebrating the “pioneer spirit” exemplified in our members who have sacrificed or been modern day pioneers in other ways for their religious choices. As I have been reflecting this week on “pioneer spirit”, I had an idea to write a post to honor the lives of a couple pioneers in the field of blindness whose influence and hard work has made an impression on me and the lives of many blind and low vision individuals.

The first pioneer I’d like to recognize is Louis Braille. Of course, this may seem like an obvious choice and he’s probably one of the first “pioneers” you’d think of with respect to blindness. I am very appreciative of his creative mind and diligence in creating what we know today as the Braille code. Louis Braille definitely faced his own share of nay Sayers and doubters. Braille (the medium) has opened up so many opportunities to me with respect to literacy. I drug my feet for a long time in learning it, and will admit I’m not the fastest or best Braille reader, but I’m grateful for this method which opened up the world of literacy to me again in new ways . Yes, I may be able to read very, very large print, use magnification, or even audio sources for reading, but there is truly a different part of your brain which is engaged when you are engaging in “active” reading and taking the words on the page and interpreting them yourself. I love the ability to be able to read aloud to my daughter from a Twin Vision book in Braille, or be able to write notes for a presentation. I also love that Braille allows my husband to read aloud to us when we read our scriptures as a family, or that I can go to a meeting and read an agenda along side my sighted peers. Thank you Louis Braille.

The second pioneer I’ve chosen is Jacobus tembroek. This is probably a lesser known individual to most, but I chose him for his work in orchestrating the first organized blind movement. Whether you’re a member of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), American Council of the Blind(ACB), any other blindness group, or none at all, your life as a blind or low vision person has been impacted in some way or another by advocacy work of blindness organizations. temBroek’s work as the founder of the NFB in 1940 blazed the trail for advocacy for and by the blind. We as blind people today enjoy many more rights and civil liberties as result of organized blindness groups. For example, the right to carry a cane, better employment opportunities through anti-discrimination laws, access to educational opportunities, and so much more.

Lastly, I’ve chosen Joann Wilson, the founder of the LouisianaCenter for the Blind. Her influence may not be as far reaching or broadly known as the former two individuals; nevertheless, it has had quite an impact on the lives of hundreds of blind individuals and innumerable ripple effects. Wilson founded the LCB in 1985 as a rehabilitation and training center for blind and low vision individuals. Her center was based on the model of training used by Kenneth Jernigan (another pioneer in the field of blindness in his own right) originally at the Iowa Commission for the Blind in the sixties and seventies. The style of training and methods implemented at the LCB was vastly different from conventional training methods used in traditional rehabilitation programs at that time. Because of its high expectations, structured discovery learning methods, and philosophy based on empowerment and independence, the LCB has flourished over the years to become one of the top , if not the top training and rehabilitation center in the country with alumni from across the country and other countries . Many state and private training agencies around the country model their training practices after the practices of the LCB, even sending instructors there for professional development and training. The LCB also established a partnership with Louisiana Tech University under Wilson’s guidance and now has several teacher training programs which help train orientation and mobility specialists and teachers of the blind in the philosophy modeled at the LCB. I too am a graduate of the LCB and of the teacher programs at LTU and have a strong testimony of the practices used there to teach blindness skills. This model truly surpasses conventional approaches to training in blindness skills. I could go on for hours pointing out the differences, and giving examples of individuals who initially received conventional training, but whose lives and abilities were changed by the training they received afterward from the LCB. I know personally the confidence and empowerment this model of training can have on the lives of someone who is blind or low vision. Mrs. Wilson’s work continues on through the actions and examples of all those who pass through the doors of this center. Thank you Joanne Wilson for your hard work and dedication in establishing this center.

I know there are dozens of other individuals about whom I could go on who have exemplified a unique “pioneer spirit” that has greatly impacted the lives of many blind and low vision individuals. I hope this pioneer day you will join me in honoring the pioneers in our lives who have blazed trails, overcome adversity, and who have made sacrifices to improve the quality of life for those with vision loss. Whether it be developing new technologies , breaking ground in new arenas where the blind have not been before, , or leading by example, I am grateful to these individuals for their time, talent, and confidence in the abilities of the blintwin vision books,teacher of blind students trainingd.

I’d love to hear whom you would recognize as an individual who demonstrates the “pioneer spirit.” Please leave a comment with your picks and reasons why.

Happy Pioneer Day!

Need some Ideas for New Years’ Resolutions?

Happy New Year to you all and welcome to 2013! Unless you’ve been living in a cave or something for the past seventy-two hours, you’ve probably been bombarded with commercials, TV shows, church sermons, or friends and co-workers talking about New Year’s resolutions”. Generally, when it comes to resolutions, there are two kinds of people: the optimists who make them (myself), and the realists who don’t. But whatever your personality or feelings on the matter, I thought I’d share a couple of ideas of New Year’s resolutions you could try with respect to your blind or low vision child. Below is a list of ideas. I’d encourage you to check them out and choose one or two which you think might be possible for you and your circumstances. Don’t worry if you’re the type whose resolutions typically peter out around Jan. 10th either. There are ideas for you too.

1. if you don’t already know Braille , enroll in a class at a university with a program for certifying teachers of blind students, , enlist a blind braile reader or individual who knows Braille to teach you, or sign up for a program like the National Library Service Transcribers course or a correspondence class from the Hadley School for the Blind.
2. If your child doesn’t know Braille either, and would benefit from it (even children who have residual vision and can read large print can benefit from being dual media readers), make the decision to incorporate braille instruction into their school day by adding it to your child’s IEP this year. Or, if this isn’t an option at present, you could implement one of the ideas given above where you and your child could learn together.
3. Choose one book a week or even a month to transcribe into Braille. Either way, you’ll add 12 to 52 new books to your child’s library by the end of the year. If brailing your own books isn’t a realistic option right now, you could set a goal to purchase one Braille book a month for your child. There are a lot of sources for Braille children’s books online. Seedlings, National Braille Press, and the American Printing House are good places to start. Selection is a little limited when compared with the wide variety of children’s books out there, but it’s a good start to building a library for your child, no matter what the age.
Quick ideas for brailing your own children’s books: You can do this using a slate and stylus and some dymotape , or use contact (sticky clear sheets) onto which you can directly type with a Braille writer. You can then cut out these passages, or apply the dymotape strips directly onto the corresponding pages of the book.
4. Label appliances in your house with dymotape or other tactile markers to help make them accessible to your child (i.e., microwave, stove, oven, washer and dryer, etc.) Even if your child is not old enough to use this appliance yet, as he naturally explores his environment, he will find these indicators and start becoming familiar with them just as a sighted child would do with print.
5. Tackle one new chore which is age appropriate for your child and begin teaching her how to perform the task appropriately. For example, if you wanted to teach your child how to wash dishes, instruct her in a hands-on way how to rinse the dishes and feel whether they are free of food residue. If you use a dishwasher, help show your child how the dishes stack into the dishwasher and how she can use her hands to feel where each goes in the shelves of the dishwasher. Remember to hold the same expectations of cleanliness as you would for a sighted child—no excuses for a sloppy job because your child is blind.
6. Give your child an age appropriate “independent travel” assignment. For example, if your child is pre-school age, this may be something like taking something by his or her self next door to the neighbor’s house wile you watch from your house. For a young school age child, this could be something like going alone to get a gallon of milk at the store and meeting you back at the register. For an adolescent, you may want to start encouraging him or her to take a bus to the mall or public library independently. Look around or talk to friends and family members to see what kinds of activities their children are doing solo and incorporate something into your child’s experience which she has not done independently yet. You could even set a goal to give your child one of these experiences every week or once a month.
7. Help your child find a blind mentor in your area with whom he may be able to use as a resource. This individual should be someone whom you feel will help your child develop good skills and positive perceptions of blindness. (i.e., you may want to steer clear of a blind person who cannot travel independently, is unemployed due to a lack of skills or ambition, or who is negative about his/her blindness).
8. Encourage your child to take up a new hobby or interest. This is a great way to help your child develop new skills, meet people, and learn to try new things without letting blindness hold them back.
9. Teach an etiquette lesson to your child about table manors. Often, blind children don’t learn appropriate table manners because they are unable to watch others and learn through observation, or no one has taken the time to show them. So, set a place setting and go through some important tips with your child. Some topics you may want to address could include: posture, not eating with one’s fingers, using another utensil or piece of bread as a “pusher” to scoop food onto your fork, and sliding your fingers along a table rather than reaching out across the table when looking for things like glasses or dishes. If your child is a teen, you should consider teaching him or her more formal dining skills. This is a good time to begin preparing them for adulthood where they are bound to have experiences attending special occasion dinners, dating, or even dining with future employers and collegues.
10. Consider sending your child to a summer skills training program. Most of these programs begin taking applicants around January-March, so this is a great time to begin researching such a program. I would recommend one of the Buddy or STEP programs offered at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, Blind Inc. in Minnesota, or at the Colorado Center for the Blind. The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, MD typically offers some kind of STEM related program during the summers as well. There are also a multitude of sports or music camps for blind children and teens as well. I’ll be posting some helpful tips on what to look for in a good summer program very soon.
11. If you are a teacher of blind students, there is a twitter discussion group which meets on Thursday evenings at 9 p.m. ET. Consider joining/following #BRLchat on Twitter. (BTW, you can follow me on twitter as well: @MJHartle23.)

I hope a couple of these resolutions will appeal to you. I’d love to hear what you choose and how things go. Please share other ideas you may have as well. Happy new year to all!

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.