independence

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.

International Day Of People With A Disability

Please

Please don’t make uninformed assumptions about my needs or requirements.

My peers and I will learn prejudice from good-intentioned ignorance.

 

Please don’t demand my independence without teaching it.

My peers and I will learn dis-ability.

 

Please don’t demand I ask for or receive help at your demand.

My peers and I will learn that I’ve no right to my own life and choices.

 

Please don’t decide my contribution based on your time constraints, energy level, prejudices, fears, and assumptions.

My peers and I will learn my only right is to live by another’s leave.

 

Please don’t decide what provision you can offer me after the funding’s been spent on everyone else’s needs first.

My peers and I will learn that my needs are wants, and not necessity.

 

Please don’t decide to ‘do for me’ what would make you feel good, important, needed, helpful.

My peers and I will learn that how you make me feel is irrelevant.

 


 

Please ask me what my needs or requirements are, or someone who has already found out what my needs are.

You can then meet the ones you are equipped and/or employed to.

 

Please ask me what independence means to me, or someone who has already found out what independence could mean and how it can be achieved for me.

You can then make informed choices about teaching it.

 

Please ask if I want/need help, and what help that might be.

You can then ‘help’ instead of hinder me.

 

Please ask me what contribution I would like to make.

You and I together can then negotiate and problem-solve our mutual contributions.

 

Please ask yourself and/or us all how our funds will best meet the needs of the group, school, community, family, country…

You and I will then each be acknowledging and meeting each other’s needs.

 

Please ask me how I feel.

You may develop:

empathy more so than sympathy

compassion more so than frustration

growth more so than ignorance

community more so than isolation

 

3/12/2014

The Seed

A seed was planted in good soil, unseen by anyone, in a personal act of love by one who desired to watch it grow and flourish and become what it was designed and planted to be.

The seed began to shoot and sprout up through the soil that had been prepared by the sower.

The sower then employed a variety of people to feed and nurture and protect and make space for the seed. The seed, once dead, now alive with fresh green growth, full of vibrancy and enthusiasm to become and produce all it was designed and destined to be.

 

The bank manager knew that growth comes from financial investment. So he surrounded and covered the small green shoots with money. But the sun could not break through to give the shoots the vital nourishment they required to continue to grow.

The librarian knew that growth comes from reading and gaining new information. She loved books of good quality so she surrounded and covered the small green shoots and the money with fine leather-bound books full of knowledge. But the rain could not penetrate the beautiful leather to moisten the good soil and nourish the seed with its roots beneath the surface, which was necessary for its growth.

The vermin controller knew that growth comes when protected from predators. So he covered the small green shoots and the money and the books with wire and a baited wooden trap to keep at bay and catch any that would come to devour the shoots or dig up the seed before it could grow to maturity. But the shoots were smothered and had no space to feed and grow.

The agronomist knew that growth comes with the absence of weeds. So she sprayed over the small green shoots and the money and the books and the wire and wooden traps. But the good soil became poisoned and made the roots and shoots sick.

 

And beneath all the good intentions, the new plant began to wither.

 

The sower was watching the seed he planted and those he employed to feed and nurture and protect and make space for the seed to grow…

…and his heart was breaking.

The sower had prepared the soil, the space, and the nourishment for the seed to grow to maturity as it was designed to, but chose to share the joy and fulfillment of contributing to its growth with others.

 

The sower called together the bank manager, the librarian, the vermin controller and the agronomist to discuss the withering of the plant.

To the bank manager, the sower explained the need for sunlight to reach the shoots to nourish them. Though he meant well, the new plant was malnourished.

To the librarian, the sower explained that the beautiful books prevented the rain from moistening the soil. Though she meant well, the new plant was dying of thirst.

To the vermin controller, the sower explained that the protective measures were smothering the plant. Though he meant well, the new plant was suffocating.

To the agronomist, the sower explained that poisoning the weeds in turn poisoned the soil in which the seed was planted. Though she meant well, the new plant was sick with poison.

 

“I chose each of you for the good you might contribute to the growth of this seed I have planted. But you have each been working independently instead of interdependently. The librarian can contribute to an informed approach to vermin and weed control, plant and soil nourishment. The bank manager can contribute to financial provision and management for this education and the necessary resources. The vermin controller and agronomist can use their new education and resources to promote the plant’s growth instead of its demise.”

 

As each one stepped back and observed the tender plant, they were able to recognize what its needs might be. In turn they also enquired each of the other to learn from observations they may not have recognized, or had prior knowledge of to have even been considered.

Most importantly…

…as a team in constant communication , those employed for service to the growth of the new plant – in fact to service of the plant itself – began to listen for and hear what the little plant was telling them. They heard and could see when the plant needed moisture, or sunlight or protection or space; because they were attending to the needs of the seed instead of what they wanted to give or to do.

 

The little plant grew tall and strong and was borne of new seed so that more plants could grow, providing clean air and beauty to enjoy.

 

The workers and the sower lived with much joy and with a profound and unfathomable sense of accomplishment as they witnessed the growth, and maturity, and provision, and beauty of the little seed, which became great.

 

Gina Schmidt 26/6/2014

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?

Equality and Equity

So, my last child just completed her last NAPLAN (National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy). Whew, are we glad that’s over!

While I was on school council at one of our children’s schools (mainstream government school) I enquired as to whether there was any way of  obtaining comparative information from the NAPLAN for vision impaired students around the state and the country. The principal said that there wasn’t. My children were not obligated to complete the NAPLAN because they are blind, but that would be another difference between them and their peers; and a ‘testing’ environment experience they would not have been able to learn from. Over the years though, we have had one NAPLAN go ‘missing’ completely, one not assessed properly because some of the responses were not in the appropriate format (they were in braille, my child’s preferred format – and only possible one for mathematics, music or languages other than english, “LOTE”), and a third followed up by a very diligent teacher who recognised the assessment of my son as not reflecting what she knew to be his level of ability and achievement (again an issue with no provision for his braille submission’s appropriate assessment, I believe).

Much of what they are assessed on is visual, and the reflection on the Education Department is an implication of no interest or expectation that my children’s outcomes from being in the public system are of importance to the department or the future contribution (or lack-there-of) my children’s impact may have on society; including the contribution they may/will make to the retirement and end-of-life environment government ministers and educators will experience.

Equality and equity are both necessary. My understanding is that equality will give us all the same things; equity will make things fair, just. I realise that this is very difficult to accomplish, especially in an environment where we desire to meet the needs of all, and to do this justly and fairly for ALL is a mammoth task of time and resources.

I’m led to reflect in all of this on the differences between: public and private education, home and institutional education, integration in the mainstream and disability/health or giftedness/remedial-specific education, distance and face-to-face education. To be equitable, I believe all should be on offer, as standardising may be economically efficient but it denies individuality of person, circumstance, belief, value…and discourages the healthy social outcome of diversity and unity as opposed to conformity, and growth both personally and corporately from differences of relational interaction. Having said that, many of these growth opportunities can be frightening, time consuming, financially costly and will require a much more personal, intentional and discerning observation and assessment method. There are places where this is done, but they are few and far between and not readily accessed or publicised.

We expect to be able to choose our career, but circumstances may dictate what it will be. We expect to choose our place of habitation, but circumstances may dictate where it will be. We don’t always get what we expect, or prefer, or even require. But shouldn’t we develop the desire and willingness to try to offer equality and equity? I expect my children to live in a society that does not cater for them automatically, as is true now. They accommodate for the sighted world every day; they submit their school and university work in the teacher or lecturer’s preferred format (in primary school they produced a braille and print copy of nearly everything); they will have to expect that uncovered man-holes may not have been fenced off; they expect we sighted folk to get our left and right mixed up when directing (they do occasionally as well). I’m curious as to why those of us who comfortably live in the mainstream and rarely have to alter the way we prefer to ‘do things’, balk at the slightest suggestion that we accommodate for someone who accommodates for us every day of their lives. I’m not just talking about blindness or disability either! What about different cultures from our own, a perceived different status (I don’t like that word) from our own, someone from a different town or state, a different age group…the list could be endless.

If only we could all embrace the attitude of teachability, being malleable and willingly conscientious to consider another as I go about my day. It is possible, I see it happen. But not as often as I’d like, I guess. Offering a choice is a good start, instead of demand or guilt-ridden compliance.

Just a few thoughts.