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!

Blindness Skills, Uncategorized

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.


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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