Blindness

Quotes and Questions When Raising/Teaching Students With a Visual Impairment

A couple of quotes that have stood out for me, over the years I have been raising my children who are bright, loving, independent, unique and blind. Also some questions to be continually asking ourselves.

A number of Early Childhood Educators working with children with visual impairments used to tell me they did a lot of “hand-sitting” (as with teenagers one does a lot of “tongue-biting”).

Hand over hand manipulation, and too much information without experiencing, fosters an environment of little or no learning; the information or experience is not assimilated into the life of the learner.

A couple of teachers for students with visual impairments have said that a good integration aide will “do themselves out of a job”.

The object is not to integrate the aide/assistant into the life of the student, but to have the student integrated into their own community of peers; thereby no longer having any need to be present, the student having become independent, and interdependent with their own group of peers.

A past presenter at the South Pacific Educators In Vision Impairment (SPEVI) said that the two skills he used every day of his life were orientation and mobility, and social skills. These were the two neglected for his entire schooling!

All the information in the world, and even access to it, will mean nothing if I cannot move about in, and interact with the world…my world. If I cannot belong, I will have no purpose or hope.

Some questions to leave in a personally prominent, but nevertheless private, place to foster a regular consideration of one’s motives and interactions.

Am I interacting with (name) in ways that make me an indispensible attachment to him/her?

…or…

 Am I interacting with (name) in ways that make my constant presence redundant?

 

 Are my interactions with (name) moving her/him toward independence, and interdependence within his/her peer group?

 

 Who can and will I talk with about resources, ideas that have worked already, suggestions and my own accountability in these things?

I would suggest that the student/child be named (whether this is for school or home) as one is then considering the particular person one is interacting with.

10/8/2015

Cane Verses Guide Dog

By Christine Casey…Teacher, musician, friend

Since I received Lainie, a number of people have asked me how using a guide dog is better than using a cane. I’m still not sure that I can explain it well, but here is a comparison of how I felt the other week, walking along Swanston street with Lainie compared to how I have felt doing it with a cane earlier in the year.
With a cane:
I must listen carefully as concentrating to hear voices, footsteps, traffic and the echoes off buildings, posts and pedestrians helps me to keep myself orientated. Despite my careful listening resulting in a greatly reduced number of collisions with objects and people, my cane is constantly becoming entangled in signs, seats and legs. Every thirty seconds I seem to be muttering an apology. My speed varies considerably as I focus my concentration on dodging things and people and listening for clear paths. The appearance of a street sweeper or similar constant and loud noise causes frustration as it reduces my ability to hear potential obstacles. I secretly wish the Melbourne City Council would ban all buskers as they attract crowds which block my way and require careful negotiation. While I realise that my fellow humans are probably not paying me any attention, I feel incredibly conspicuous and somewhat awkward. By the time I make it to my destination, I’m longing for a rest and some quiet.
With a guide dog:
As the dog picks a path through the crowds, I am able to relax and appreciate the sounds of the city. I hear the tram bells, and notice music drifting out from doorways and I catch snippets of conversation from passing people. A wide variety of scents waft on the air. There is a gentle sun, and a slight breeze. I feel the dog’s movements through the harness handle and follow where she guides, only paying enough attention to ensure that she continues in an overall straight direction and to detect if she should become distracted or uncertain and require encouragement or instruction. My steps flow and there is little need to vary speed, except for especially crowded patches. The music of the buskers adds something special to the atmosphere and I feel a great fondness for them and this city which I now call home. The free-flowing nature of the journey makes me feel equal to my fellow pedestrians and, while I do overhear the occasional comment on the clever dog, I feel as though I blend into the crowd. When I reach my destination, I am somehow both energised and relaxed: ready for the next task of the day.

Coaching the Blind

People who use their eyes to receive information about the world are called sighted people or “people who are sighted.”

Sighted people enjoy rich full lives, working, playing and raising families. They run businesses, hold public office and teach your children!

 

HOW DO SIGHTED PEOPLE GET AROUND?!

People who are sighted may walk or ride public transportation, but most choose to travel long distances by operating their own motor vehicles. They have gone through many hours of training to learn the “rules of the road” in order to further their independence. Once that road to freedom has been mastered, sighted people earn a legal classification and a “Driver’s License” which allows them to operate a private vehicle safely and independently.

 

HOW TO ASSIST A SIGHTED PERSON

Sighted people are accustomed to viewing the world in visual terms. This means that in many situations, they will not be able to communicate orally and may resort to pointing or other gesturing. Subtle facial expressions may also be used to convey feelings in social situations. Calmly alert the sighted person to his surroundings by speaking slowly, in a normal tone of voice.

Questions directed at the sighted person help focus attention back on the verbal rather than visual communication.

At times, sighted people may need help finding things, especially when operating a motor vehicle. Your advance knowledge of routes and landmarks, particularly bumps in the road, turns and traffic lights, will assist the “driver” in finding the way quickly and easily. Your knowledge of building layouts can also assist the sighted person in navigating complex shopping malls and offices. Sighted people tend to be very proud and will not ask directly for assistance. Be gentle yet firm.

 

HOW DO SIGHTED PEOPLE USE COMPUTERS?!

The person who is sighted relies exclusively on visual information. His or her attention span fades quickly when reading long texts. Computer information is presented in a “Graphical User Interface” or GUI.

Coordination of hands and eyes is often a problem for sighted people, so the computer mouse, a handy device that slides along the desktop, saves confusing keystrokes. With one button, the sighted person can move around his or her computer screen quickly and easily. People who are sighted are not accustomed to synthetic speech and may have great difficulty understanding even the clearest synthesizer. Be patient and prepared to explain many times how your computer equipment works.

 

HOW DO SIGHTED PEOPLE READ?!

Sighted people read through a system called “Print.” This is a series of images drawn in a two dimensional plain. People who are sighted generally have a poorly developed sense of touch. Braille is completely foreign to the sighted person and he or she will take longer to learn the code and be severely limited by his or her existing visual senses. Sighted people cannot function well in low lighting conditions and are generally completely helpless in total darkness. Their homes are usually very brightly lit at great expense, as are businesses that cater to the sighted consumer.

 

HOW CAN I SUPPORT A SIGHTED PERSON?!

People who are sighted do not want your charity. They want to live, work and play along with you. The best thing you can do to support sighted people in your community is to open yourself to their world. These people are vital contributing members to society. Take a sighted person to lunch today!

Be nice to them, some of my best friends are sighted people.

Author unknown.

 

Adversity, What’s yours?

My middle and third children have a friend who has included a quote with her photo online. The quote is by Neil Marcus…

Disability is not a brave struggle or courage in the face of adversity. Disability is an art.

Now, I’ve not yet met a person who has a ‘disability’ and loves to be told that they’re amazing or brave or special or beautiful or clever or…because they can’t do some of the things someone else can. I am a parent who doesn’t really get much of a boost from being told I’m great at it just because I happen to have children who can’t see, especially by strangers. Having said that, if a person who has lived with me in some form of close relationship and/or observed my parenting as it occurs, and then says that it’s great, I may be a little chuffed. My children, likewise, will be encouraged by acknowledgement of their work and achievements; but if all the speaker knows of them is that they exist but can’t see…not much to be enraptured with there.

My children don’t see being blind as an adversity. I don’t see having children who are blind as being an adversity. In my case of course, it was not what I had imagined or knew much about, but my children have never known any different. So, what is adversity? My dictionary search suggests that the origins of the word (from French and Latin) meant to turn towards, be opposite (adverse) and the like. Being a person who can’t see or having children who can’t see isn’t adverse to us, opposing us, turning towards us; it is how we are, how it is, the direction we are travelling already.

So, what is our/my adversity?

I remember some years ago talking to a friend who gets around in a wheelchair. I was discussing with her the fact that the hazard and directional tiles that are installed to encourage independent travel (and possibly more safe travel) for those who are blind are often not placed correctly as those installing them don’t realise there is a particular way they are used, and don’t seek to be informed. During the course of the conversation though, she mentioned that they are often a risk to her as she can be thrown from her chair as she travels over them (like corrugation on a gravel road, I imagine!). I was sharing my new learning about her sometime-experience-in-life when child number one mentioned that the phone boxes installed to encourage independent use of a public phone for chair users can be a hazard for those who use a cane, as they don’t reach the ground where the tip is (bump of head, shoulder, face). What do I see in these things? Environmental and societal adversity or disability.

Similar adversity occurs in the school ground, within the education ‘system’ (teaching method, delivery, reception and learning difference, work production, submission method etc.); in the health and medical environment; in the myriad sporting genres. I guess I needn’t go on.

In all honesty, my adversity is those who see me as their adversity! And I am the adversity that someone else faces.

Realising who we are averse to and who is averse to us, or realising what is adverse to us or another is not enough though. If, in adversity, we (person, family, culture, environment, system…) only recognise that we are in a ‘face-off’, we may do battle; we may control/conform; we may add programs, equipment, beliefs etc. to others, compounding responsibility and requirements. Alternatively, if after recognising that we’re facing adversity we communicate our desires and needs and goals and experience and expertise each with the other, perhaps we can unlock a new pathway we walk together, facing the same direction. Not turned toward each other in opposition, but together turned toward a common goal, destination; an agreed path; by a new or negotiated and amalgamated system.

I think that I’m not opposed to adversity, mine or yours (but I don’t like it!). I am opposed to remaining averse to each other on all things. If we must walk or desire to walk together, we will most likely need a new mode of walking and possibly a new route or even goal to walk along and towards. Continuing along our familiar but separate paths, in our familiar but separate ways, attempting to impose these ways and paths onto those we are averse to will exacerbate not relieve adversity.

We each have adversities in life. Perhaps the question is not what they are so much as what will I do when they are revealed. Am I a heel-digger or a malleable, teachable listener and adapter and path-turner? Independently individualistic or a community-minded team player.

Permanent and persistent adversity may not live well in community, but it can be a trigger for turning towards it.

 

Positive Educational Experiences

So, thought I would share some of the positive experiences we have had with the formal education of our children. From local school, education department, and/or blind-specific educators and instructors. Not all-encompassing by any means, but a taste of some of the good stuff.

When child number one began life in formal education, the school accessed funding and attended to every recommendation of the Orientation and Mobility Instructor in regard to making sure the grounds of the school were reasonably suitable and safe (to the best of my knowledge).

When child number two began school, the teacher approached a local group and spoke to them in request of funds to make up a short-fall enabling the purchase of a particular piece of equipment; mentioning that for our children to share in one of these pieces of equipment was the equivalent of asking sighted siblings to share one pencil. Brilliant.

Child number three had a role in the last school production before heading to secondary school. The staff worked with this child to ensure that this one would be able to enter and exit the stage independently throughout the show. So well was this accomplished, that another member of the local community commented to someone that they had thought there was a blind student in the play, which one?

When child number one began secondary school and the art class were drawing around their shoes/feet, the teacher had prepared for our child to wrap wire around this one’s foot making a sculpture of it. This staff member also sought out and purchased equipment that would enable safe but more independent use of some equipment (bringing grateful tears to my eyes at my first parent/teacher interview).

A secondary school teacher sought out equipment that would make for a smoother road in the production of the curriculum in our children’s preferred format. Another secondary school teacher automatically produced comments on corrected work in a format independently accessible to our eldest (eliminating the need to rely on an aide or parent to read them), without being asked. One teacher also sought input from another teacher, who had previously taught our children, for ideas – without being instructed to.

We have had instructors and teachers from ‘blindness agencies’ go out of their way to serve our family. Working at providing time with male instructors in a female-dominated environment. Sacrificing time to, not equal but, provide somewhat more time than we had been receiving as ‘country/rural clients’. Phone instruction for our children and debriefing for me, the parent, on occasion. Time for conversation and incidental learning for me as a parent, and the validation of seeking my input into the services provided.

There is much to be thankful for, and which has been appreciated by our family. No one and no system is perfect (which may be reflected on in the near future also). But imperfections and mishaps, though they need to be addressed, do not take away from times of great provision, consideration and even excelling.

I am indeed grateful.

 

This, Too, Is Ok…

One of my children had a favourite type of toy; a series of multiple sized plastic fish, in a scoop shape so that they stacked together. These ‘fish’ went everywhere. They were the best kind of favourite or security toy as they were able to be washed regularly throughout the day – in the bath, in the sink. Whenever washing of the child took place, so did washing of the fish. Although the washing had to be taught as part of the bathing etc. process, it was not automatic. As I said, the fish went everywhere. Learning to climb the ladder of the slide was done, fish in hand. Swinging was done, fish in hand. The fish went to kindergarten, to church (and tapped out the rhythm of the songs), weddings…everywhere.

It turned out, that the ‘scoop’ shape was a large part of the attraction. As the scoops from the ground coffee made their way into the toy collection, they became favourites as well. As did the washed scoops from the laundry detergent, and eventually we moved on to egg shells. Not plastic, real out-of-the-bum-of-a-chook egg shells. Every time I/we cooked with eggs, the most complete halves of the shells were washed and left on the window sill to dry. As one shell broke, it was replaced with another from the window sill. Eventually, vegetable peelings were the go, and as this one would fall asleep in the car the peelings would collect beside and behind car seats and on the floor.

Though none of these things were a bother to me in themselves (as my son with hair clips and nail polish were not, nor my girls wearing tiaras and wings to church or weddings, and one with band-aids on clothes), I was concerned that some learning was actually hindered by the constant presence of something in the hand, about an obsessive attachment to the objects themselves (which was in the nature of the child in question) and perhaps a few other considerations. So we embarked on a progressive process of experience and detachment.

One step we walked through was to leave the fish in one’s bag at kindergarten, and take them out again for the trip home. Once we got to egg shells, this particular child was part of the cleaning process (though probably only once in a while, I did most of this). We then began to use whole eggs to play with in a bowl. We would practice cracking them open into the bowl with, hopefully, two whole halves. Then my child was allowed to ‘play’ with it all, swishing hands in the raw egg, stirring etc. Once the play was completed, to end the experience the shell was crushed and stirred in as part of the fun. The shell was then known to have been destroyed and told that it could not be repaired. The shells on the sill were still available for a time while this play continued. Eventually I told this child how many shells were left on the window sill, and that once they had all been broken I would not be leaving any more up there. They were counted down as we went through them, giving fair, advanced notice of the time/day when they would no longer be available. The plastic toys were still available until the child grew out of the desire for them, as children usually do throughout their development.

This all happened over some years. It was not accomplished in a week, or a month. It was not begun because I, or someone else, was uncomfortable or embarrassed with this child’s preferred method or objects of play. It was not attended to so that this child would conform and be like any other child (or, heaven forbid, any adult). We took this child’s personality and temperament, age and interests, foreseeable future needs and potential desires into account. Then thought outside of the square, while looking into the child and our own family life.

And the result…a practically grown, independent, well-adjusted young adult – who just doesn’t happen to be able to see.

Don’t fret, be creative and imaginative… this, too, is ok.

Yes I’m Okay.

Guest post poem written by my daughter, Emma-Mae Schmidt. 1/9/2011.

 

Some may not think this,

but lots certainly might.

How do I get on with life,

without any sight?

So I think I’ll sum up,

in a fun kind of way,

exactly what is wrong,

with the sighted world today.

“How are you darl,”

you often say.

Wow, that conversation really made my day!

Please understand,

I’m not three years old.

Oh how many times,

do you have to be told?

You say I’m smart, amazing and clever,

blah blah blah,

yeah righto,

whatever.

But don’t you get it?

I’m just like you.

Every-day things aren’t that hard to do.

And every day,

or nearly every day.

“Are you okay?”

you often say.

Oh just how can I politely say,

yes I’m okay,

please go away.

 

And when you speak in that childish tone,

oh sometimes your heads are as hard as stone.

I want to shout “JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!!!”

How hard it is to speak in a patient tone.

You just assume it’s help I need,

no matter how I beg and plead.

You take me in your direction,

like a criminal arrested for inspection.

I tell you for the millionth time,

yes I’m fine.

And my body’s mine.

 

What is it? Are you half awake?

How long will all this learning take?

Just give it a break,

for goodness sake!

 

Please, I don’t need your sympathy.

It doesn’t matter that I can’t see.

You’re so thick and you irritate me,

sometimes I wonder,

if it’s you that can’t see.

 

Now the aim of this rave is not to offend,

no. It’s merely to warn you my friend.

My blindness I’d be happy to lend,

if it would make you comprehend.

You ask “how do I live without sight?”

I really don’t want to put up a fight.

So I’ve moaned and groaned the day away,

now it’s time to have your say.

“Are you okay?”

you often say.

Yes I’m okay,

well I am anyway…

But are you okay?