Social Life and Recreation
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Instructions for Beeping Easter Egg Hunt for Visually Impaired Children
by Scott Truax on 3/4/2013 4:30:23 PM
Category: Social Life and Recreation
We're delighted to turn the blog over to guest blogger David Hyche, a NAPVI dad and ATF agent, for his tips on hosting a beeping Easter Egg event for children who are blind or visually impaired.
Holding a Beeping Easter Egg Event
To hold one of these events you will need a large flat grassy area with no holes, large rocks or fire ants. If you are from the northern US or a country that does not have fire ants, count your blessings.
I mark off an area appx. 50 meters square with stakes and crime scene tape as a safe boundary. Leave a space for easy entry and exit for the kids and helpers. I then have helpers turn on the eggs and place them on the grass around the area.
I use appx. 40 eggs at a time. As the kids find the eggs and pick them up the helpers turn them off and put them back in the child's basket so that the noise is only coming from the eggs that are still in play. VERY IMPORTANT that partially sighted kids and sighted siblings wear blindfolds or they will find all of the eggs. During the event we make sure that all kids find eggs by placing more on the ground if needed.
My sighted son also has been caught looking under his blindfold so watch out. I also advise that you limit or exclude sighted participants as much as possible because it is difficult to tell small kids not to find all of the eggs. We will have a separate area for a small traditional egg hunt for sighted siblings and this works better.
After the kids find all of the eggs I have them go to a table and we exchange the beeping eggs for candy eggs and start over again. I run about 8-10 kids at a time and keep it going as long as they like.
We also have other activities for the kids that make the event more special. We have had hay rides, fishing, horse back riding along with police and fire equipment and personnel for the kids to meet and learn about through touch.
Constructing the Beeping Easter Eggs
There are several methods for constructing the beeping Easter Eggs and my way is simple but durable and dependable. I purchase the components from Radio Shack. The items I have been using are:
- a small steel toggle switch (275-635) or a cheaper small toggle switch if available
- a 3-24v piezo beeper (273-066)
- a 9v battery and 9v connector (270-325)
- electrical tape
- large plastic Easter eggs
Many stores have these eggs for sale in packages of six or twelve and I usually buy them after Easter at Hobby Lobby for about 99 cents for 6.
1) I construct the eggs by drilling one hole in the long end of the egg just large enough for the threaded end of the toggle switch to fit snugly through.
2) I then drill several holes around the egg with an appx 1/8 inch bit to allow the sound to escape.
3) I solder one lead from the 9v clip to one connector on the toggle and solder one lead from the beeper to the other toggle connector. The solder is needed on the toggle connections to keep that connection secure through rough handling.
4) The second beeper wire can be attached directly to the remaining 9v battery lead. This creates a single switch series circuit that allows the battery to be replaced by simply removing the 9v clip and re-taping the new 9v in place. The wires can be twisted together and secured with electrical tape.
5) I secure the toggle switch to the hole drilled in the long end of the egg using the nut and washers supplied with the switch. Tight but not so tight the egg cracks.
6) The piezo beeper must be secured to the 9v with electrical tape. Make sure that you attach the battery to the beeper with the long ends of the beeper running the length of the battery so the egg will close securely. You might want to put a small piece of tape on the outside of the egg holding the two halves together.
Please contact me if you have questions or need assistance.
Work Number 205-583-5972
David.firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
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Having Fun During Free Time with Our Kids Who Are Visually Impaired
by Susan LaVenture on 12/16/2010 10:53:25 AM
Category: Social Life and Recreation
At a recent NAPVI conference, we had a great discussion about ways to keep your child interested and engaged during longer periods of free time like weekends or vacation. I think we've all experienced that moment when everyone starts getting a little stir-crazy.
The parents attending the panel discussion had some great ideas about how to remind their children about all of the great options they have, and encourage them to make their own choices. After the conference, I asked two parents to write down their own perspectives on what has worked well for their families, so that we could share them with the FamilyConnect community.
What works best for you and your kids? We hope you'll add your voice to the conversation by adding comments on this post, or even by sending us your own "parent's perspective." You can submit pieces for publication on FamilyConnect by sending a Word document to email@example.com.
Summertime: A Time to Connect with Families
by Susan LaVenture on 8/6/2010 3:17:22 PM
Category: Social Life and Recreation
Hope you and your families are enjoying the summer and are able to keep cool as the country is experiencing unusually extreme hot temperatures. Summertime is always a busy time for the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI) State Affiliate and Regional family outings, conferences and parent meetings because the children are out of school and families get to enjoy a more relaxed schedule.
This summer NAPVI State Affiliates held family retreats, events, and conferences throughout the United States—including one of our longest established affiliates, Michigan Parents of the Visually Impaired, who held their annual family retreat. They are an amazing example of a strong statewide parents association led by their President, Gwen Botting.
NAPVI and the National Industries for the Blind (NIB) co-sponsored a "Disability Employment Forum" for parents of children with visual impairments and multiple disabilities at the Parents' pre-conference at the Texas Focus statewide conference coordinated by the Texas Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (TAPVI) and the Texas School for the Blind's Outreach staff. The purpose of the forum was to bring blindness and disability employment leaders together with parents to learn and discuss issues about future employment options for their children and how to prepare them for future employment.
NYC-NAPVI Affiliate developed and organized an Eye Health Education Conference Program for Families of Children with Visual Impairments that was held on July 10, 2010, at the New York Institute for Special Education in Bronx, New York. The program for the parents included three keynote presentations and an open opportunity for discussion and Q&A with the audience. Invited speakers were experts in vision care from the medical and vision rehabilitations fields; ophthalmologists and optometrists gave presentations on pediatric eye conditions, the latest treatment methods and eye-health-related information such as low vision and nutrition; vision rehabilitation specialists who work with children with visual impairments from private agencies and schools in the New York City community also attended and exhibited.
National resources such as National Eye Health Education programs' materials were displayed. We provided a very creative and interesting children's program which included a yoga class taught by a visually impaired instructor to encourage physical activity for visually impaired children, and Art Beyond Sight of NYC coordinated an activity that the kids designed their own clothing from stencils of dresses and suits and decorated them with a variety of materials.
Next week, August 13-14, you are all invited to join us in Minneapolis for a regional family conference hosted by one of our newly formed parents' associations in Minnesota, MN-NAPVI, led by David Bushland, President and organized with Pam Stern, NAPVI Region 3 Representative. Families living in surrounding states are welcome. MN-NAPVI will also be holding a special sports day to encourage children who are visually impaired to be physically active and to enjoy sports activities in collaboration with the United States Blind Athletes (USABA). The regional conference program includes national and local experts and resources from the vision education, rehabilitation and medical fields. Please see the posting of this event and others in the Activities and Events section of www.FamilyConnect.org, and sign up to receive e-mail notifications whenever a new event is posted on the calendar!
Inspiring Your Child to Become Involved in Sports and Physical Activities
by Lauren Liebermann on 3/15/2010 11:12:13 AM
Category: Social Life and Recreation
I have a passion for bringing the world of sports and physical activity into the world of individuals with vision loss. Much of my professional life has been devoted to supporting the inclusion of students with visual impairments and blindness in physical activity and sport. I founded Camp Abilities, a developmental sports camp for children who are visually impaired, blind, or deafblind, in 1996. There are now eight Camp Abilities programs across the nation and in three other countries. Camp Abilities empowers children with visual impairments to become involved in physical activity and sport and teaches future teachers how to teach children with visual impairments.
It is important that children be given these experiences for all the benefits they provide to improve both their physical well being and the self confidence that results from these skills. You may explore the FamilyConnect directory of agencies to locate programs and the FamilyConnect calendar of events will help you to find activities. This article provides a deeper look into the subject of getting children with visual impairments involved in physical activities. For more detailed information, including audio interviews and book recommendations, visit Lauren Lieberman's advice on recreation and leisure skills.
It should be noted that many teachers do not learn how to teach children with visual impairments. Physical education teachers often do not receive very much or any instruction on how to teach children with visual impairments in their professional preparation courses. But research has shown that the best way to learn how to teach children with visual impairments is to teach them.
Children with visual impairments will learn best in any setting with a 1:1 ratio for instruction and feedback purposes. This 1:1 can come in the form of a peer tutor or a teacher assistant/paraeducator.
If your child has a visual impairment severe enough to impede their ability to see a demonstration, it will take longer to learn the basic elements of a skill or sport than their peers. For example: a child who is learning to play volleyball may take 30 minutes to an hour to feel the court, understand positions, learn the different skills used, comprehend the serve, the scoring, and rotation of players. By the time the child who is visually impaired learns the basic concepts, his/her peers will already be learning the bump, serve, and set skills.
By adding an additional class and some one-on-one instruction, the child with a visual impairment will have a clear idea what volleyball is and the variables that are involved in a game so they can keep up with the pace of the instructions and so the class does not have to slow down for them. These classes could be before school, for 15 minutes before each class, or other open spots in the child's schedule. It would be best to schedule these at the beginning of the year.
When your child knows how to play the same sports and recreational activities as their peers, they have more in common with them and can have conversations and keep up with social discussions. If they do not know basic sports and recreational activities, they are often left out of everyday conversations.
There are many sports opportunities for children with visual impairments. Children with visual impairments have the right and often the ability to play after-school sports and have been successful in swimming, track and field, soccer, wrestling, football, basketball, and gymnastics. In addition to after-school sports, they can participate in any community sports programs.
Nationally and internationally, children with visual impairments can compete against their peers who are visually impaired through the Unites States Association for Blind Athletes (USABA). The USABA sports consist of swimming, track and field, 5-a-side football (soccer), goal ball, Showdown (a sport similar to air hockey but with a ball with bells and no air), Judo, tandem cycling, wrestling, power lifting, skiing, and ten pin bowling.
In order to get involved in USABA, the athletes must try many of these sports and determine which one(s) they like the most. Then they must find a place to practice and gain skills, either with other individuals with visual impairments or with their sighted peers. A great book to help them gain this information is Going PLACES: A Transition Guide to Community Recreation and Sports for Adolescents who are Visually Impaired, Blind or Deafblind (2006) Lieberman, Modell, Ponchillia, and Jackson through the American Printing House for the Blind.
The following are a few web sites that may be helpful to instructors, parents, and vision teachers who are helping children with visual impairments to become physically active:
- Project INSPIRE provides information about adapted physical education, adapted aquatics, and sports for children of all disabilities.
- Camp Abilities—Check out the video "Teaching Children with VI, Blindness, or Deafblindness in Physical Education" which includes information on assessments, instructional strategies, guide running techniques, and more.
- United States Association for Blind Athletes has videos of guide running techniques and Judo, and includes information about Sports Education Camps.
- Blind Judo Foundation has information for parents and instructors about the benefits of Judo and instructional strategies.
- Texas School for the Blind offers ideas on how to teach children who are visually impaired or have multiple disabilities in physical education.
- The American Printing House for the Blind Parent/Teacher Resource for Children with Sensory Impairments offers an entire resource list, including everything from equipment companies, organizations, research, books, and products. If you click on products you will see a list of APH products that will help promote sports and physical activity. Many of these products are on quota funds.
Brian McKeever to Make Olympic History
by Susan LaVenture on 2/18/2010 1:51:20 PM
Category: Social Life and Recreation
I was excited to see that a Canadian cross-country skiier named Brian McKeever qualified to compete in this year's Winter Olympics. McKeever, who has Stargardt's Disease and is legally blind, will be the first athlete to compete in a Winter Olympics after competing first at the Paralympics. His 50-kilometer cross-country ski event will take place on February 28. McKeever will also be competing in this year's Paralympics in Vancouver, March 12-21.
This ESPN article provides an interesting history of other athletes with disabilities who have competed and even earned gold medals in the Olympics—really an inspiring read for those of us who have struggled at times to get accommodations for our children to compete in sports. There is also a nice interview with McKeever available on YouTube, in which he talks about the progression of his disease, and how he reacted initially. Brian, good luck in your race! We will all be cheering you on.
Parents, I'd love to hear about your children's experiences with sports. Have you checked out organizations like USABA, the Blind Judo Foundation, or Ski for Light? I recently learned that one of AFB's employees, Tara Annis, is just back from a week-long ski trip. We asked Tara to tell us a little bit about how she got involved in skiing. I am happy to introduce her as our guest-blogger this week!
by Tara Annis
I love any type of sports or recreation activity, and am interested in learning about other visually impaired persons participating in sports.
I have to honestly say that cross-country skiing is one of my favorite activities, mainly because it is an endurance sport and allows me to be outdoors.
2009 was my first year at Ski for Light, and I loved it so much, I decided to return this year. It was in Provo, Utah, at Soldier Hollow ski resort, one of the sites of the winter Olympics in 2002. It was interesting to note that Brian McKeever was at these Olympics in Utah that year, so I felt a particular interest in his story.
I had no idea that so many disabled persons had participated in the Olympics; I had only heard of Marla Runyan, the visually impaired track athlete, since last year I read her biography, No Finish Line, which was definitely thought-provoking.
I wish the media would expand on these stories, since I am sure the public perceptions of persons with disabilities would become more positive. Education is the way to dispel myths and stereotypes, and eliminate ignorance.
I got mixed reactions when I informed family and friends I was going skiing. Some said, "That's great," and did not ask any more questions, or doubt my abilities. Yet, I did have one particular neighbor ask, "What are you trying to do—kill yourself!? I have tried skiing, and it needs a lot of balance and good visual acuity. I couldn't do it, so how can you?"
There is not much adaptation that a VI person needs for cross-country skiing, mainly just a person who serves as a guide, describing the terrain, such as size of the slopes of a hill, sharpness of turns, etc.
I have some usable vision, and can see if objects are in front of me, such as a tree or another skier, but cannot see the tracks that are used on the trails, so my guide did assist in making sure I knew which direction the tracks were going.
I had a great guide, just wanting to help me out, and have us work as a team; I did not have to worry about him being condescending, having to "spend my day with a special blind person."
He was there just to have some fun, and meet new people, the same reason everyone was at Ski for Light. It wasn't about "conquering blindness" or any other type of feel-good lines sometimes used to describe disabled sporting events.
We spent five days skiing various trails, perfecting technique, and just enjoying the scenery. I remembered skiing technique from last year, all of the skiing positions, the diagonal stride for flat areas, snowplow for downhill, and herringbone for uphill climbs.
My guide and I also discussed ski equipment, in particular non-waxable versus skis that need various kinds of wax for different kinds of snow conditions.
I competed in the 10K race again this year, and had a time of 1 hour 9 minutes, which I thought was okay—I'm extremely competitive with myself, and am a perfectionist, so I do wish I had pushed myself more to get a faster time, but I always have next year when SFL will be in Colorado.
I loved this year so much, and want to keep skiing. I called my local ski club, and will be attending their next meeting in March. I discussed going on one of their ski trips to one of West Virginia's local resorts.
I want to participate in recreational activities specifically for the visually impaired, but also want to be active in my community in recreation that is for anyone, not just for the VI, which is why I contacted the ski club. I think that persons with vision loss should use all the resources available to them. I have seen VI persons who will only go to blindness-specific recreation activities, and are afraid to try stuff in their community. I have also seen persons who feel that there is a stigma attached to VI-specific events, and feel they will offer no challenge. Both of these statements are incorrect, and I want to get the word out about this fact.
Did I Mention Social Networking?
by Joe Strechay on 2/11/2010 4:41:50 PM
Category: Social Life and Recreation
Social networking, social networking, and more social networking! My name is Joe Strechay and I work for the American Foundation for the Blind as an associate in the AFB CareerConnect® Program. I am grateful to have the opportunity to share something that I am passionate about with you through this blog. Encourage your children to network and connect with other kids, students, adults, and professionals who are visually impaired.
There are many benefits to children with visual impairments interacting with each other. These can range from promoting the adjustment to blindness, finding friends with similar life experiences, and just making more friends. The truth is that other children with visual impairments can relate on many levels with each other. They most likely have dealt with similar situations at school, home, and in life. Because blindness is a low-incidence disability, children with vision loss are most often isolated from each other and we must find opportunities for interactions.
I strongly suggest that you and your family attend events where other children or teens with visual impairments will attend. This can be such a great experience for the entire family because it allows a visually impaired child to be in the majority, which is rare experience for them. Events could be hosted by statewide organizations of people who are visually impaired (NFB, ACB), parent organizations (NAPVI, POBC), or an event from your state's blind services program. Some schools for the blind offer camps or events that are open to students from outside of the school. The FamilyConnect website maintains both a directory of agencies who are active in your state and a calendar of events where you will find a variety of activities listed.
Getting involved in Paralympics sports is a great opportunity for students to network with other athletes who are visually impaired. The United States Association of Blind Athletes has representatives in most states, and they would be a great organization to contact. Most states have athletes who participate in Paralympics sports. These organizations sometimes provide clinics and expos on these sports. There are beginners skiing clinics—and more—available nationally.
The American Foundation for the Blind offers a number of message boards aimed at people who are blind or visually impaired. One of these message boards is called TeenConnect. TeenConnect was developed so teenagers could interact with each other regardless of where they live. Teens have the freedom to discuss most issues and there are a number of regular users ranging in age from 12 to 22 years old. The teens share advice on issues that they are currently experiencing including technology, career, school, college preparation, hobbies, blindness, and more.
The TeenConnect message board is monitored daily by AFB Staff to make sure the content and language are appropriate, but teenagers will be teenagers and some things slip through the cracks. We strive to provide the users with a quality experience and freedom of self-expression.
I want to make sure I mention that it is important for children with vision loss to be active in their community. Encourage your children to participate in organizations such as the Future Business Leaders of America, Distributive Education Cooperative of America, Key Club, student government, debating, model congress, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, sports, and more. There are scholastic sports that all students can participate in with a few accommodations.
Some social networking opportunities and resources to check out:
- The AFB Press book, Teaching Social Skills to Students with Visual Impairments, edited by Karen Wolffe and Sharon Sacks, would be a great resource for parents, families, and teachers who are hoping to help promote and teach appropriate social skills to their children. This book offers methods based on theories that have proven effective.
- AFB CareerConnect, where users can send messages to mentors who are employed in many fields. The safe message system will allow users to explore careers, interests, accommodations, and more. AFB CareerConnect offers many other resources and teen-appropriate material. Check out Aaron's Adventures in Employment and experience some entertaining educational multimedia materials.
- NAPVI, the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments is a national parents and families group with chapters around the country.
- NFB, National Federation of the Blind, is a consumer group.
- ACB, American Council of the Blind, is a consumer group.
- AFB, American Foundation for the Blind, is a national organization that offers many resources including web, publications, technology evaluations, professional development, career exploration, educational resources, content for parents/families and more.
- USABA, United States Association of Blind Athletes, is a membership organization that promotes sports for persons who are blind or visually impaired.
- Camp Abilities is a program that helps develop and conduct sports camps for individuals who are blind throughout the country.
- FBLA, Future Business Leaders of American, is an organization that allows students to learn business skills and participate in competitions.
- DECA, Distributive Education Cooperative of America, is a student organization that allows students to learn and compete in marketing-related events.
- Key Club is a service-related student organization that offers opportunities for students to give back to their school and community.
- Boy Scouts of America is an organization that allows males to learn skills, leadership, and participate in activities.
- Girl Scouts of America is an organization that allows female youths build skills, leadership, and participate in activities.
I challenge you all to get your children out and involved in social networking online and in person! Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and let me know your thoughts.
Holiday Ideas for Families
by Susan LaVenture on 12/1/2009 4:47:52 PM
Category: Social Life and Recreation
It's hard to believe that it is December already and that the traditional holiday season began with Thanksgiving this past weekend in the United States. Hoping your family had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend sharing time with your loved ones cooking, eating, and some maybe some R & R, or at least being able to have a looser schedule?
Around the world many families are beginning to plan and celebrate their family's cultural and religious holidays during the month of December and January to give thanks and to bring in the New Year. The FamilyConnect team has gathered together some great resources and ideas in preparation for the holidays for you and your family by creating a Holiday Guide for Parents of Children Who Are Visually Impaired. For those who celebrate by giving gifts we have the Toy Guide and a blog post written by Emily Coleman with her mother's perspective and ideas for sharing the holidays with a younger child who is blind or visually impaired. Others have added great suggestions in the comments section, and we hope that you will add your ideas as well.
I recently asked a mother of a teenager who is legally blind with low vision what the latest rage was for gifts for teens and she said video games, CDs, iPods, and cell phones were popular—to figure out which gadgets are accessible, you can visit AFB's AccessWorld magazine, which is a consumer guide to the latest technology for people who are blind or visually impaired, including cell phones and other electronic gadgets that kids love.
Gift cards are always good for teens so they can pick out their own movies and music. Audio-described popular movies for any age are also available through WGBH in Boston. Books and games are always a great gift for children of all ages. There are some great companies that offer wonderful books and games such as the National Braille Press and the American Printing House for the Blind. Both organizations have catalogues available.
For families that will be traveling during the holidays to visit family and friends or choose to celebrate by taking a family vacation—we found a great resource, Road Trip! Tips for Travel with a Visually Impaired Child, that was developed by Hadley School for the Blind, one of our FamilyConnect National Partners. Whether you stay close to home or travel afar this season it is a wonderful opportunity for you and your child to enjoy each other, whether it be interacting and socializing with others, learning to cook a new recipe, trying new foods, or just hanging out watching movies, playing games, or listening to music! Let us know how you're celebrating, either by posting your comments below, or by joining the conversation on our message boards.
All the best to you and your family this holiday season!
Tips for Travel with a Visually Impaired Child
by Sue Melrose and Ginger Irwin on 12/1/2009 3:59:28 PM
Category: Social Life and Recreation
A driving trip or resort vacation for the whole family can be lots of fun, but how do you maximize the experience for a child with a visual impairment? Below, instructors Sue Melrose and Ginger Irwin, from The Hadley School for the Blind, which offers free distance education courses for family members of a person with a visual impairment, provide their expertise and some ideas to make your family getaway fun for everyone:
Share the plan: Keep the whole family involved in the travel planning process. Children and teenagers who know where they're going and what to expect are more willing travelers, especially if they have the opportunity to help pick out fun activities.
Map it out: Once plans take a definite shape, create a simple, accessible map of the travel plan for your child to trace with his/her finger. If traveling by car, a map consisting of paper and string, pipe cleaners and tape, or string over an existing map will do. This helps children understand the travel plan, track the distance traveled, and learn about maps as a useful tool.
Keep busy en route: If you can't see out windows, the world becomes very small when you get in a car. Combat confined-space fatigue by creating a travel bag with favorite activities like braille playing cards, an audio player, puzzles, and reading materials. "Making braille notes as little surprises along the way can make the trip more fun," says Ginger Irwin.
Stop and stretch: Be prepared to make more stops on the trip to get fresh air and take short walking tours of new locations, especially points-of-interest. Go on small gathering missions and collect simple tactile souvenirs provided by Mother Nature, including interesting rocks, pinecones, leaves, and sand. Melrose has a collection of bottles of sand from many road trips throughout the years.
A replica can be just as good: Trips to the gift shop are essential if you're at a large tourist destination. Buying miniatures of your location, like the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, or the Golden Gate Bridge, can help your child understand and tactically navigate your location.
Inquire about special tours: If you plan to go to museums, always call ahead and inquire about tours and accommodations for people with visual impairments. It is best to speak with management, as seasonal employees don't always know about these opportunities. Some museums and tourist attractions offer audio tours or special "behind the scenes" tours that are not advertised. The same rule applies to special activities and day trips off cruise ships and resorts. By calling ahead and explaining her visual impairment to managers of different day trips during a cruise, for example, Melrose was able to swim with dolphins and go zip-lining. "Explaining my abilities and limitations as a blind person helped the tour staff understand that it wasn't a risk to let me do these activities, they just had to communicate with me. It's important not to assume you won't be able to participate in fun vacation activities because you're visually impaired."
About Hadley: Founded in 1920, The Hadley School for the Blind's mission is to promote independent living through lifelong, distance education programs for people who are blind or visually impaired, their families, and blindness service providers. The world's largest educator of braille, Hadley enrolls more than 10,000 students in all 50 states and 100 countries each year. For more information, visit www.hadley.edu or call 800-323-4238.
Sharing the Holidays with Your Child Who Is Visually Impaired
by Emily Coleman on 11/16/2009 10:00:00 AM
Category: Social Life and Recreation
Again it is the time of year that has families gearing up for another holiday season. For those of us with a child who is visually impaired we not only have to think about organizing our families, but also how to include our visually impaired children in a way that will be enjoyable to them. As a mom of one such child, I happen to have a few thoughts on this very topic. Important things to remember over the holidays are keeping with tradition, teaching in the moment, adaptation, and time management.
I understand that my four-year-old son who is blind, Eddie, doesn't always love every family activity, but neither does my older child who is sighted. However, I feel it is very important to stick with family traditions. I don't mean those traditions handed down to you that you've always hated and now think your children should suffer through. (Admit it; we all have a few of those.) I'm referring to family traditions that are important to you and to your family and give meaning to the holidays.
It might be hard to take our children to a big Thanksgiving dinner because it is loud, chaotic, and totally out of their routine. But, if family gatherings are something you like to do, you should definitely attend and take the opportunity to work with your child on adapting to new social settings. Show them around the unfamiliar house, introduce them to everyone (or have them say hi to family they know), and help them feel comfortable in their surroundings. Families should not skip traditions due to their child with a visual impairment; we all have been surprised to find new things they like that we never thought they would.
One reason I find it hard being the parent of a visually impaired child is because you are always teaching, which happens even during the holidays. As all of us know, without sight a child with a visual impairment needs everything explained to them in detail. Lengthy explanations can be tiring, and for those with visually impaired children that are communicating verbally, the questions can seem endless. That is why it is important to take advantage of common holiday occurrences by teaching in the moment.
With three children, I hardly have time to sit down with Eddie and explain all aspects of the holidays. So, while we are selecting a Christmas tree, baking cookies, or making a turkey I try to describe every step of the process and let him get his hands dirty. For example, in the process of preparing the turkey, I let him feel the skin and discuss the parts of the turkey. This includes where the stuffing goes, even though that explanation tends to make stuffing a little less appetizing, understandably. Including him in the process is surprisingly easy. Making the turkey is something I'm going to do anyway, so I might as well have him experience the process along with my sighted children.
For children who are visually impaired, we also are often required to adapt activities so they can enjoy them, which is just as true during the holidays. For instance, we all have our favorite Christmas stories and many kids just like to listen to those wonderful tales, but we need to remember to let them experience the stories through braille or real objects as well. For braille readers, be sure to get copies of these stories in braille so they can read aloud to the family. For all children with visual impairments, including nonreaders, simply take your favorite book or song and find as many real objects from that story that you can and put them into a bag. Then, as you read the book or sing the song, you can hand your visually impaired child the actual item mentioned. Since they are not able to view the pictures, it will help their imagination define what they are hearing.
The final item I want to mention is time management. Adapting activities, trying to maintain traditions, and teaching in the moment do require some extra time when considering our children with visual impairments. We tend to rush our way from Thanksgiving through the New Year, so I recommend trying to stop, take a breath, and enjoy the season.
Instead of cramming the month of December with multiple plans, pick your favorites and take the extra time needed to help your VI child fully experience this time of year. Revel in the look of understanding we get from our kids when we do an activity justice. I feel gratification in explaining something in its entirety and feeling I succeeded and that success is multiplied during the holidays.
I've only mentioned a couple quick examples of how I include Eddie, but we would all enjoy hearing how you include your child with a visual impairment in holiday activities. Do they help you bake cookies, wrap presents, or make ornaments? If you have any great suggestions or tips please post them to share with the rest of us. Your pearls of wisdom might be just the idea someone else could use to make this holiday season truly memorable.
Video Description and Summer Movie Fun
by Paul Schroeder on 6/2/2009 9:16:52 AM
Category: Social Life and Recreation
Ah summer, beloved by children anxious for the freedom and fun of lazy days and family time! There are indeed many great family activities to do during the summer, and Hollywood is hoping that seeing movies is high on your list. I know the new Harry Potter movie (coming out in July) will be on my family's list. This month I'm using this space to help familiarize you with "video description" (also sometimes called audio description), which is designed to make movies, TV programs and educational media more enjoyable and accessible for people who are blind or visually impaired. And I suspect, more enjoyable for their sighted family members too.
This week I'll try to explain video description and focus on movies. After that, I'll turn to the challenge of video description and TV programs and on DVDs. And, although school is winding down, I will also address video description as a method for making the video media used in classrooms more accessible (please be sure to visit our newest partner page to learn about the Described and Captioned Media Program, which I'll say more about in a later post). Finally, I hope we can have a discussion about your experience with video description.
First, a Word or Two About Me
I am AFB's Vice President in charge of programs and policy. I am also blind, having lost my sight when I was 18 months old. I am married and have two children (both of whom can see and who LOVE going to the movies and watching TV).
As a child, my parents encouraged me to be curious and indeed I was and still am. I am the guy in the room who won't stop asking questions. While I suspect that I would have been curious regardless of my vision loss, I think that everyone who is blind probably has experienced far too often the frustration of not being able to see what is happening on a TV show or in a movie. I'm sure I drove my parents and brothers crazy always asking "what happened?" while we were watching TV or a movie together, and I'm still bugging my family today with the same question. Unless you have tried watching a movie or a TV show from another room or while driving a car you might not even realize how much of a story depends on the action that takes place in between or in place of dialogue. I know that my wife and daughters look forward to going to movies that are video described so that we all get the full experience of the movie without "shushing" from other patrons and without the stress of trying to decide what to describe in a quick whisper without interfering with the dialogue.
What Exactly Is Video Description?
Video description is a technique that incorporates a recorded, narrated description of visual action and key information in a scene into natural pauses in a program's dialogue (WGBH, a public broadcasting operation in Boston, brought the concept of description to TV and movies in 1990). Now, new movie releases often come out with video description and/or closed captions (the technique for providing access for people who are deaf or hard of hearing to see captions of the dialogue). You can see and hear some examples on the WGBH web site:
If you are interested in finding out about movies being released with video description, the best place to go is the "MoPix" website at www.mopix.org (established by WGBH). If a theater is equipped with MoPix technology, a blind customer simply goes to the theater, obtains a pair of headphones at guest services, and listens to the description of onscreen visual action taking place during the movie (through the headphones) while listening to the movie audio in the theater. Generally, the description is timed so that it doesn't interfere with the movie dialogue and sound effects. Because the description is transmitted through special headphones, sighted patrons are not disturbed by the additional audio track. This way, the movie can be enjoyed by moviegoers who are blind and sighted simultaneously.
Unfortunately, not every community has a MoPix-equipped theater. I'm lucky to live in a place where we regularly attend movies at four convenient, MoPix-equipped theaters, but I know this isn't true, yet, in very many places. However, you can change this by working with your local theater to urge them to add the technology. Be warned, it probably won't be easy, but there is a great story on the MoPix website about how it can be and has been done successfully.
Not every movie comes out with video description either. But, an increasing amount do. Right now, if you can get to a theater with the MoPix technology, you might be able to choose among such movies as "Up," "Night in the Museum 2: Escape from the Smithsonian," "Star Trek" and others. And, you might be surprised to find that some movie studios will agree to add description if asked. We actually requested description for two movies, and the studios agreed to add it before the movies were released. You can read about the story on the AFB blog.
One other caveat: The MoPix headphones I've used aren't perfect. They're kind of bulky (pretty old school for iPod users) and you have to balance the headphones on the edge of your ears so you can simultaneously hear the movie soundtrack along with the narration. As is true of all technology, I believe that as more theaters add Mopix and more consumers seek out theaters with the technology, the headphones will be improved due to customer demand.
OK, your turn, I'd like to hear from families about your experience with video description. How was the description experience? If you can, please take in a movie this weekend with video description and write to tell us about it.
Space Camp: Where Blind Kids Can Reach for the Stars
by Dan Oates on 5/7/2009 12:29:40 PM
Category: Social Life and Recreation
Hi! My name is Dan Oates and I currently work at the West Virginia School for the Blind as an Educational Outreach Specialist. I have been in that position for 14 years and for the previous 14 years I was an Orientation and Mobility Instructor.
Since 1990 I have had the privilege of working with the staff at the U. S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, as a consultant for their programs for special populations. I initially started with the program for the blind and visually impaired called Space Camp for Interested Visually Impaired Students (SCIVIS) and since have assisted with programs for other populations. Most recently, I helped co-found Little People Space Camp, which just aired on The Learning Channel program "Little People, Big World" in April of 2009. Everyone gets 15 seconds of fame and that was mine! Now that it is over and the booking agents haven't called, I can get back to my life and realize that acting isn't my strong suit.
SCIVIS provides a camp-like experience for children and adults based around the central theme of astronauts or aviation. There are two possible tracks: Astronaut Training and Pilot Training (based loosely on the "Top Gun" theme). In each track there are programs for children at the elementary, middle, and secondary school level.
Space Camp runs throughout the year with students attending from all over the world. Our program, SCIVIS, occurs during the later part of September each year and attracts between 150-200 students each year. Many foreign countries have sent children in the past—Canada, Australia, Ireland, England, to name just a few.
I am often asked, "Why should my child go to a program just for the blind and visually impaired when they are placed in a 'mainstreamed' situation all year long?"
This one takes a while to explain but I'm assuming that a blog allows one the time to do this. When I first became involved in 1990 I learned that the program stressed math and science, and I thought this was a great place to learn those areas of a curriculum. As the years passed and as I got wiser, I began to notice something. Campers from the mainstream setting don't get to spend enough time with their blind and visually impaired peers, and when they do they really enjoy it. All kids need to spend time with their peers. Blind and visually impaired kids are lucky to have two peer groups—their sighted peers and their blind or visually impaired peers. Spending time with each is important.
So often kids who are in the mainstream environment may be the only blind or visually impaired person in the school, county, or district. I've heard more than one child over the years with albinism say, "Look over there, Mom, there's someone like me!" Powerful comments, and Space Camp gives kids a whole week to explore "someone like me" doing really cool stuff.
Space Camp obviously isn't the only possible camp experience for our children, but what it does provide is a chance to be surrounded by some of the coolest simulators in the world.
The other question I often get is why our program runs in September, during the school year and not during the summer. Space Camp's peak season is the summer and there are about 600-800 campers there each week from the middle of June to the middle of August. Tuition at that time is about $200 to $300 higher than our program in September. Also the adaptations that are made for the SCIVIS week are many, and those could not occur in an environment of 600 other students.
All of the programs are closely monitored by Space Camp's Education Director. National Standards for Math and Science are closely followed by all programs offered to children in grades 4 through 12. If you think about it, your child is just transferring from one school to another for one week and learning specific curriculum in a couple of content areas. Don't know if that helps, but it has provided some assistance in the past. Each district takes a different spin on how out-of-school learning occurs and what is defined as an excused absence.
Please feel free to ask me any questions you have about Space Camp, and I hope to see some of your children there in the years to come!
Practicing Social Skills During the Holiday Season
by Sharon Sacks on 12/17/2008 11:00:45 PM
Category: Social Life and Recreation
Hello, and happy holidays to all. My name is Dr. Sharon Sacks. I have worked in the field of education for students with visual impairments for over thirty years as a teacher of students with visual impairments, a university professor in teacher preparation for students with visual impairments and students with multiple disabilities, a school administrator, and a researcher.
Because of my own personal experiences as a person with a visual impairment, I am passionate about working with children, their teachers, and families on the acquisition of socially competent behavior. This vital area of the Expanded Core Curriculum is the key to developing friendships with peers, learning to interact with adults and others in the community, improving self-advocacy skills to make appropriate decisions, and even getting and maintaining a job as a teen or young adult.
The holidays are a perfect time for families and friends to gather together. Children with visual impairments should be expected to be part of all of the excitement and fun of the holiday season. Providing your child with opportunities to experience all the sounds, smells, tactile, and visual images of the holidays allows your child to share memories with others.
For example, giving your child opportunities to cook and bake special recipes, shop for a special gift for a friend or relative, or attend a holiday movie or show helps students to feel capable and reach beyond themselves. Also, the holiday season allows children who are blind or with low vision to practice their manners at family meals, social greetings when visiting others, and expand their ability to engage in meaningful and age-appropriate conversations.
Finally, I believe strongly that being a socially competent person means giving to others who are less fortunate. Think about having your child purchase a canned good or a toy for another person. I hope as you listen and read my interview about social skills instruction, you will use many of the ideas and strategies with your child while enjoying the beauty and joy of these winter holidays.
What Toy to Buy for My Visually Impaired Kid?
by Scott Truax on 11/17/2008 5:32:14 PM
Category: Social Life and Recreation
Greetings to all. I am very pleased to introduce this month's expert who will write about a subject that I know is important to many families at this time of year. Emily Coleman is the mother of Eddie and is assisting us by sharing her expertise on the subject of play and toys.
With the holiday season upon us this topic is on the minds of many families. I invite you to not only read the blog but also to actively participate by adding what has worked for you. I would love to see examples of games that are accessible for children and teens. Ideas for homemade as well as purchased toys would be an excellent addition in these troubled economic times. If you would like us to post a picture of your favorite toy please e-mail it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The FamilyConnect web site has a wonderful resource in our Toy Guide as well as articles for families of infants and toddlers such as Choosing Toys and Creating a Play Area for Your Child and Teaching Your Baby to Play with Toys.
By Emily Coleman
Right before a birthday or the holidays, I wander through discount stores wondering what would be the perfect toy for my visually impaired son. Let me tell you, he is one kid that is hard to impress. Most toys keep his attention only long enough for him to throw them out of his way.
So, I keep my eyes open for toys he'd enjoy while I also try to pick the ones that serve a secret purpose. You may wonder how a toy could have a "secret purpose" but some of them do. The ones I look for are fun to play with and also meet educational or therapeutic goals, teach him what real-life objects are, or simply help him play with other kids.
Therapists and teachers love it when you buy a toy to meet one of their goals. When Eddie was an infant, or when he wasn't able to manipulate toys well, I purchased a lot of "cause and effect" toys. You know, you hit a button and it sings, or you shake it and it rattles, etc, etc. He loved those simple toys and quickly grasped the concept of "cause and effect."
Now he is a toddler and although he likes the easy toys, I have higher expectations. So, I buy toys that do multiple things and that also motivate him to activate them. For example, he has a shape sorter that also has beads that rattle when you shake it, and when you drop the shapes in, they make a funny noise. So, there is a motivator for him to fit a shape into the right hole, because the funny noise makes him laugh. He is then having fun, learning shapes, and working on fine motor skills.
Finding educational toys isn't too hard, but finding "real-life" objects that he likes to play with can be tricky. My son loves music and therefore most of his toys have a musical component. I wanted to get him a toy instrument of some kind last Christmas and I looked at the toy keyboards. Like most toys, they have that "dinky" electronic toy sound that drives us crazy. So, instead I looked at real keyboards at the discount store. He is three, so I'm not going to buy him an expensive keyboard from the music shop, but for twenty dollars I could get him a keyboard with a good range of keys, buttons that played different beats, and a tonal quality that wouldn't make me cringe every time he played with it.
Another simple example of a "real-life" object is a book. He gets braille books for every holiday and although he doesn't read yet, he is still learning what books are and that they are important. While shopping, any time I can substitute a "real" object for a toy, I get the real thing.
My final "secret purpose" for a toy is to help my son gain social skills. Basically, he needs to have some of the same toys that all little boys do to interact with peers. One thing most boys like to do is play with cars and trucks. Well, they don't make much noise and my son can't see them zooming across the floor so he could care less about them. Therefore, I seek out vehicles that do more than just "zoom." I've found him a bus that sings when pushed, a dump truck with all the right sounds, and a train that sings and toots its horn. Sure enough, we recently had a sighted child his age over and they pushed those vehicles back and forth across the floor and both kids enjoyed it.
Other good toys that draw kids to my son are balls that make any noise; like jingling, beeps, or funny "dog toy" noises. Again, they'll roll it back and forth and because of the noise, my son can go after it too when it rolls away.
I have one more piece of advice when wrapping those toys this holiday season. Be sure to take them out of the packaging before you wrap them! Isn't it better to have the final result of all that unwrapping be a toy and not a package? It can take me quite a while to get toys out of the packaging these days so I don't want him waiting while I find the essentials to access the toy(i.e. scissors, screwdriver, jackhammer).
Finally, even though these "toy goals" are great to use, it is also fun to buy something just because your child will like it even if that is the only purpose it serves; so don't be afraid to do that either. We'd love to hear from parents with toy suggestions for kids of all ages. Please post your favorite toy and where you can find it or your favorite place to shop. Also, if you made a creative toy for your child, we'd love to know how you did it. I'm always looking for new ideas so please share your great insights with the rest of us.
Toys Are Tools to Encourage Your Child's Social Interaction through Play
by Susan LaVenture on 6/9/2008 5:06:45 PM
Category: Social Life and Recreation
Learning to play and finding ways for your child with visual impairments to socialize with his or her sighted peers can be a unique challenge. Finding toys that your child will find interesting is a great step toward teaching your child to play with others. And a great resource for parents to find toys that encourage playtime for kids with visual impairments is a free booklet, Let's Play; A Guide to Toys for Children with Special Needs. It's also a great guide for you to give to grandparents, family, and friends to select gifts for your child for birthdays and holidays. You can find it at www.familyconnect.org/toyguide.
There are so many different types of toys that have multi-sensory appeal to encourage learning and toys that can encourage interaction with your child's friends. Playtime is an integral part of how all children learn to develop skills and to socialize with their friends, and the same is true for children with visual impairments. We can help them along and have fun at the same time by selecting toys that encourage playtime.
I've noticed there have been a lot of inquiries between parents on the message boards about how to encourage their child's social interaction with friends. We'd love to hear from you—what toys has your child enjoyed playing with friends and family?