Individuality

Quotes and Questions When Raising/Teaching Students With a Vision 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 who have a vision impairment 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 a vision impairment 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

The Family’s Experience – For the Educator and Professional

Paper presented at SPEVI 2015

Gina Schmidt

 

 

Smidkids

 

Reading of  “The Seed”

 

Today I have two observations I’d like to highlight.

Perhaps more by way of reminder than anything else, or maybe things you hadn’t considered yet.

 

Both observations I’d like to share relate to our tendency to forget, or at least relegate to the back blocks of our mind the understanding we may already have of our diversity, individuality and uniqueness – both personally, as families, cultures, and communities.

 

One of the most precious, and most threatening aspects of the family’s experience can be the medical and educational professionals’ involvement in our lives.

Sometimes the diagnosis you give, or the therapy you prescribe, or the new way of modeling and teaching you offer is the greatest relief, or hope, or validation for us.

Other times, these things cast us off into grief, or despair, guilt and/or isolation. Hopefully our journey involves some experience of all of these things, which would be considered ‘normal’.

From now on, you are part of our lives and our families. We may come to your office, but often you enter our homes. You observe us as we interact, play, eat, walk, read, cook…I could go on. Because our interactions are connected with many intimacies, as well as general functions of life, we may become close.

Alternatively, we may feel you’re more a part of our family than you do. Or you may feel more a part of our family than we feel you are.

We need to help each other understand what the nature of our relationship needs to be.

We need you to remember that we are a family, as you have your own family. Sometimes we need you to remind us that you contribute to our family, but we are unique and will determine our own family’s path.

 

 

I have experienced both. A very close and personal relationship with professionals built over time and three children. Also the intrusion of some; presuming positions and responsibilities within our family which were not offered, nor welcome, nor helpful.

The latter can be confusing for our children and blur the lines between roles and to whom our children are accountable. The former can be a beautiful collaboration of security, fostering growth and confidence in families – also a tangible illustration of the popular African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

 

 

My second observation is something we usually associate with those outside of the disability or, specifically this week, the vision impairment community.

 

We all hold to particular biases or preferences. Some biases are unhealthy because they are hurtful and damaging to someone else or ourselves. They may stem from false assumptions as opposed to being informed. Others though, are differences because each of us is unique, and each of our families, cultures and communities are unique.

There are choices we can make in relation to developing our young people or in maintaining the life choice of an adult with a vision impairment, and they are just that – choices.

Choices about the medical procedures we will, or will not embrace.

Choices about learning grade 1 or 2 Braille first off.

Choices about handling reactions to sensory stimulation, or lack thereof.

…toilet training, private or public schools, which piece or brand of technology best suits, city or country…

The list is endless!

I’ve learned that you all have your preferences, as do I. As does each individual, family and professional here.

Helping us to be informed but not overloaded would be the greatest gift of service you could offer us. Perhaps let us know the options, maybe another we can ask. Then help us follow up on the thing that interests us most. You never know, we may end up with the same preferences as you.

 

I’ve noticed that smaller communities are often a reflection of the broader community or culture, but the smaller may influence and therefore be reflected in the broader instead.

Looking forward to our little community being a positive influence in the broader community at large.

 

Let me finish by reading the end of the story, “The Seed,” to you again.

 

…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.

 

 

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 Opportunity of Adversity – Aimee Mullins

Aimee Mullins speaking at TED.

Aimee says it all, need I say more?

“Adversity isn’t an obstacle that we need to get around in order to resume living our life. It’s part of of our life.”

“Our responsibility is not simply shielding those we care for from adversity, but preparing them too meet it well.”

“There’s an important difference, and distinction, between the objective medical fact of my being and amputee, and the subjective societal opinion of whether or not I’m disabled.”

“We have to be careful that we don’t put the first brick in a wall that will actually disable somebody.”

“By not treating the wholeness of a person, by not acknowledging their potency, we are creating another ill on top of whatever natural struggle they might have. We are effectively grading someone’s worth to our community. So, we need to see through the pathology and into the range of human capability.”

“Adversity is just change that we haven’t adapted ourselves to yet.”

“No prognosis can account for how powerful (could be) the determinant of the quality of someone’s life.”

…And, as others have said…

“I think that the only true disability, is a crushed spirit.”

 

Your Story

Since reflecting on TED talk by

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, ‘The Danger of a Single Story’

 

You are not a single story

You’re not one day, or year, or scene

You’re not an isolated statement

Nor one act, or choice, belief

 

You’re not defined by one relationship

Whether healthy, whole or torn

You are not your job entirely

Not your sport, school, song or storm

 

You’re not the family who bore you

Not those who raised, rejected or embraced

Neither those you’ve borne and chosen

Nor the one’s you wish would be the case

 

You’re not the nation you were born in

Nor the air space, nor the sea

Not the style of hair and body

Whatever they may be

 

You are, who you are

You will be, who you’ll be

You are every piece within your journey

Just as it is for me

 

22/8/2014

The Crocodile Farm

There once was a crocodile farm that had two swamps for the crocodiles to enjoy; one great big one, and one teeny tiny one (that a frog barely fit into).

The crocodile farmer had two beautiful crocodiles who loved to lay in the sun beside the great big swamp to get warm. When they got too warm the two beautiful crocodiles would slide down the bank and into the cool murky water to cool off.

The two beautiful crocodiles loved their great big swamp; they loved sharing it together; they loved it when visitors to the crocodile farm came to look at them from over the fence.

One morning a truck drove up to the gate in the fence, which kept the crocodiles in and the people out. The two beautiful crocodiles, lying in the sun, didn’t move, but kept watch to see what would happen.

The gate opened…and two more crocodiles were taken out of the truck and left inside the fence, with the farmer’s two beautiful crocodiles. One of the new crocodiles was very similar to the two beautiful crocodiles, almost the same size even. The other of the two new crocodiles was HUGE! ENORMOUS! Very Impressive!

The two beautiful crocodiles thought it would be great to have the HUGE! ENORMOUS! Very Impressive! crocodile in their great big swamp with them. They thought that visitors to the farm would love looking at them even more with this HUGE! ENORMOUS! Very Impressive! crocodile sharing their swamp.

But the first-of-the-new-crocodiles was a bit skinny. The two beautiful crocodiles thought he didn’t look strong at all and also thought it was best if this one shared the teeny tiny swamp with the frog.

The HUGE! ENORMOUS! Very Impressive! crocodile enjoyed sunning himself on the bank of the great big swamp and sliding into the water when he got too warm. The two beautiful crocodiles were very glad he was in their swamp, surely the visitors to the farm would love seeing two beautiful crocodiles and one HUGE! ENORMOUS! Very Impressive! crocodile all together.

The first-of-the-new-crocodiles enjoyed being with the frog. They became great friends. But this crocodile couldn’t enjoy the teeny tiny swamp. There wasn’t even enough room or water for the frog and definitely not enough room or water for the crocodile. Some times the first-of-the-new-crocodiles became so hot that he got sick because he couldn’t slide into the murky water of the swamp to cool off. But the frog would sit beside him and they would share stories together about all the swamps and farms they had lived on and about their families. They were very great friends.

One day the crocodile farmer brought some visitors to look over the fence at his crocodiles. The visitors watched the two beautiful crocodiles and the HUGE! ENORMOUS! Very Impressive! crocodile sunning themselves on the bank and sliding into the murky water. These three crocodiles heard them saying how much they liked being able to see them there.

Not many visitors looked over the fence at the first-of-the-new-crocodiles and the frog. But they were happy being friends and the first-of-the-new-crocodiles began to sing while the frog jumped a dance to his song.

When the visitors to the farm heard the first-of-the-new-crocodiles sing they moved to his end of the fence to listen. They loved hearing the song and watching the frog dance.

After the farmer and the visitors left, the two beautiful crocodiles had a think.

They thought that the visitors liked seeing that they were beautiful; and seeing the HUGE! ENORMOUS! Very Impressive! crocodile; and enjoyed hearing the first-of-the-new-crocodiles’ song; and were amused watching the frog dance.

So, the crocodiles and the frog all decided that they would share the great big swamp because they each were special – beautiful, HUGE!, musical and funny.

They all became friends and they all had visitors come to see and hear them at the crocodile farm. Which made the farmer very pleased.

 

6/7/2014

Gina Marie

 

 

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.

 

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