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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!

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