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Adult with a Visual Impairment Describes Learning to Use the White Cane While Using a Motorized Wheelchair As a Teen

Editor’s Note: Ms. Kim Shepherd shares her experience learning Orientation and Mobility while using her motorized wheelchair in hopes that children and teens with multiple disabilities pursue O&M training. Thank you, Kim!

collage of children using white canes, and the slogan Keep Calm, It's Just a Cane

To the FamilyConnect family,

I received Orientation and Mobility training in 1977, at age 15, while attending Chico Junior High School in Chico, California, thanks to the brilliance and compassion of Mr. Jerry Early, a teacher for the visually impaired and mobility specialist. I asked Mr. Early if it would be possible for me to learn to use a white cane to travel independently like my classmates despite my severe cerebral palsy, which made walking extremely difficult and slow for me. He had the idea of my using a motorized wheelchair, allowing me to have my right arm and hand free to learn to navigate with a cane. Before O&M training began, I spent about 14 days learning to operate a motorized wheelchair safely with the help of a marvelous physical therapist named Marsha Davis.

Mr. Early was very patient teaching a very clumsy and stubborn 15-year-old visually impaired kid with physical disabilities independent travel. The only thing different about my cane travel technique from my classmates was that I used an extra-long white cane so I would not accidentally hit my feet, which were elevated because of my wheelchair’s height. It helped me locate curbs four to five feet before my front wheels touched them so my chair would not tip over. Prior to using a mobility cane I never left my yard because I became frustrated injuring myself running into things I could not see.

I then spent about half the school day traveling and studying under blindfold to sharpen my echolocation, cooking, and braille reading skills.

I’m so grateful for training under blindfold because it helped me deal with the practical and psychological issues of changing vision throughout my adult life due to complications from retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) and cataract surgery. O&M also gave me the confidence and ability to work with professionally trained guide dogs from my wheelchair for 13 years after severe arthritis in my shoulders prevented me from using a cane to travel independently. It has opened up my world!

Kim Shepherd

Orientation and Mobility Resources for Children with Vision Loss

Orientation and Mobility Skills for Children in Strollers and Wheelchairs

Gene's Story: O&M with Multiple Disabilities

Adaptive Mobility Devices, Precanes, and Long Canes

Getting Around
Low Vision
Orientation and Mobility
Personal Reflections
Planning for the Future

How Music Therapy in the Expanded Core Curriculum Can Improve Your Visually Impaired Child’s Life

Michael Bertolami is a Board-Certified Music Therapist at Perkins School for the Blind and, for the last 18 years, has been observing the benefits of music as an auditory experience, a method of communication, and as a facilitator for social interaction and connection. As Perkins is a multi-program school with an early learning, elementary/middle, deaf-blind, and high school program, the music therapy department considers their role as therapists, instead of educators, to be interdisciplinary and integral to the full development of its students.

Meeting Kids Where They Are Through Music

During one of his first sessions, Michael Bertolami was introducing his group of students to a variety of musical instruments and explaining some of the ways that they were going to use music during their time together—playing together, individually, and above all, creating sounds and harmonies that they’d never heard before. One student wanted nothing to do with it. He didn’t want to play the instruments, he didn’t want to sing, and he was adamant.

“I think there’s a misconception that everybody likes music and that music therapy is a modality or treatment option for everybody, and it’s not," Bertolami said. “I had to find a way to honor the fact that he didn’t want to make music and still find ways for him to be part of the group experience.”

Bertolami set out to learn more about the student’s interests and, as it turned out, he was a big Scooby Doo fan. “So, as a class, we started doing music storytelling based on Scooby Doo dialogues so he would do character voices and we did recording projects where his peers could create the music for these stories, and it became a big success for everybody.”

About a year later, he showed up in Bertolami’s group class and said he’d bought a guitar; he was wondering if Michael could teach him how to play it. He wanted to play rock and roll and wanted to participate in every group session. “I realized that he and I needed to go through that process together. He never felt that I was pushing an agenda on him and that created a lot of trust between us. Luckily, I’ve had that same experience repeat itself many, many times. It’s all about meeting the student wherever they are at.”

Music Therapy vs. Music Education

While many residential schools for the blind and public school districts have music programs built into their core curriculum, the active and passive benefits of a Music Therapy Program are clear. The therapeutic approach uses music and non-musical approaches and interventions as a way to develop an individual’s ability to effectively communicate with their environment, interact comfortably in social situations, build self-awareness, self-motivation, and ultimately, perform in academic and post-academic settings.

“Music has always been at Perkins School for the Blind and Music Therapy has been here almost since the beginning of music therapy as a field,” Bertolami said. “I’ve noticed that for our blind and visually impaired students, the most critical skills we are looking to develop are social skills, communication skills, and emotional regulation.”

Experiencing Music, One Kid at a Time

As Michael Bertolami has found, there’s no secret recipe when creating a musical experience for his visually impaired students. It varies, naturally, from kid to kid. He and his colleagues are committed to getting to know the kid and then developing the most effective interventions and adaptations for each kid individually.

Still, Bertolami has found that there are certain measurable outcomes of music therapy that seem to present themselves over and over with each class. He’s watched it build self-awareness, create an understanding of one’s role within a group, create comfort in social interactions, and facilitate connection and communication between the individual and their various environments. Bertolami and his colleagues are constantly finding new ways that music therapy taps into the Expanded Core Curriculum in areas such as self-determination, self-expression, social interaction skills, and basic orientation and mobility skills.

Social Immersion in Collective Musical Experiences

While music therapy at Perkins exists in both individual and group settings, the group model has proven to be very beneficial for students who are blind or visually impaired.

“Regardless of their level of visual impairment, these students can hear each other and experience what their instrument and music sounds like in relation to the instrument of their peers.” Playing in a group introduces them to what it feels like to be an integral part of a group, something that goes beyond just themselves. This lesson is valuable for all elements of social development, social awareness, social interaction, communication, and connection.

Preparing the Music Therapy Space

For students who are non-verbal or students with multiple disabilities, the music therapists at Perkins are committed to creating a space that is comfortable and accessible for the goals of the music therapy lesson.

“There is no incidental learning with a lot of our kiddos, so we want to make the experience as accessible as possible and look to provide opportunities for experiential-based learning. When I’m asking the students who have some functional vision to use their vision, it’s crucial to reduce the auditory, tactual, and visual complexity of the environment. This is particularly crucial when working with students that have cortical visual impairments (CVI), where accommodations are a necessary element to promote better use of their vision and to help facilitate progress.” These strategies include removing or covering distracting decorations around the classroom, reducing glare, or removing light all together as well as adapting instruments and playing spaces so the session can be as productive as possible.

“For students with low vision or cortical visual impairments, I am always looking for ways to help shape the environment to allow them to better maximize and develop the ways in which they are able to use their existing vision.”

Feeling Out the Music

With his students who are blind or visually impaired, Bertolami has found many ways to use auditory and tactual skill building. Unable to see his demonstration of how to play a scale on the piano or guitar and unable to see how to hold the drumstick or beat on the tambourine, their musical understanding comes from feeling it out and training their motor patterns as well as their ear to reproduce certain rhythms and tones.

“We really work in a collaborative or co-active experience so they can learn the instrument through playing with me or repeating what I’ve played or adjusting their own playing to match that song their peers are playing across the room.”

Bertolami implements this tactual learning through hand-under-hand techniques to help the student develop a better understanding of how to utilize an instrument to express themselves musically each musical notes and theory, holding the mallet or drumstick to learn the rhythmic composition between notes and beats, and training vocal chords to hit certain pitches.


Bertolami emphasizes the importance of assistive technology such as iPads with music-based apps or computer programs in the music classroom/music therapy setting. “With some of my students, with just the tiniest touch of the screen on an iPad, they can receive a huge expressive response, musically.”

With these students, Michael has found it so valuable to bring in clinicians from other disciplines—physical therapists, speech and language pathologists, orientation and mobility specialists—to assess the most wholesome approach for introducing each student to music or engaging them in active-playing. Bertolami also recognizes the adaptive workshop at Perkins as one of his greatest resources. At any time, with any adaptation issue, he can head down to the adaptive workshop for help creating or redesigning instruments so that they are less distracting, visually, or easier to play for a student with physical disabilities.

Arts and Leisure
Low Vision
Social Life and Recreation

Hands-On Summer Activities for Children with Visual Impairments

Editor's Note: Today's post is from guest blogger Paula Korelitz. Paula, a Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TVI), offers her suggestions for hands-on activities for your child who is visually impaired.

Summer’s officially here! This extended vacation time provides an opportunity to add to your child’s general knowledge base and encourage self-confidence and growth. It’s also a great time to start asking your child what he wants to be. Believe it or not, your child’s age doesn’t matter, even toddlers may have a ready answer to that question.

So, what can we incorporate this summer that’s hands-on, super fun, meaningful, and promotes knowledge, self-confidence, growth, or career awareness? Let’s take a look.

Hands-On Summer Activities for Visually Impaired Children

Explore professions! Special trips can be arranged for a wide variety of professions; you just need to be brave enough to ask! Consider this a time to cultivate an understanding of the types of jobs available in your community. This not only gets your child thinking about career choices for himself but also gives him valuable information that makes books or lessons about these occupations come alive!

  • Firemen will be happy to show off their equipment.
  • Pilots of small planes will often take a blind child not only into their cockpit but also up for a short flight. Finding a small airfield near your home is the easiest way to accomplish this goal.
  • Careers for people who are blind or visually impaired now seem to be unlimited. There are blind doctors, lawyers, judges, models, opera singers, astronomers, and architects. Start early letting your child know that knowledge and technology are the tools needed for a successful career in almost anything that interests him. Why not visit job sites where people who are blind are employed? Contact a local Division of Blind Services or Vocational Rehabilitation office and ask for if there any adults who are blind who may be willing to provide tours of their workplaces.

Enjoy summertime adventures together! Now that there’s likely more free time in your schedule, it’s time to explore the great outdoors.

A boy bending over petting several farm animals
  • All children should learn to swim. Whether you take your child to a local swimming facility or you teach your child yourself, it should be a must on your summer to-do list.
  • A great outdoor activity that will enhance your child’s listening skills is identifying birds by sound. The Audubon Society has a free app available for Apple and Android products.
  • Take a trip to the zoo to learn about animals. Because many (well, most!) animals are off-limits for touching, a trip to a Cabela’s or Brass Pro Shop allows your child a truly unique experience. Call the local store near you and ask to speak to the manager. Tell them your child is blind and arrange for your child to touch the taxidermic animals on display.
  • Another truly informative way to have your child have a hands-on opportunity is by contacting Safari Clubs International and finding a local chapter. They will provide a great deal of information about the animals and sometimes make the sounds the animals would make if they were alive.

Beat the heat and head to a museum! Take advantage of the educational and hands-on activities museums provide.

  • The "Do Not Touch" signs in many art museums are gone. Special tactile tours are available at such notable museums as the Smithsonian, MOMA, the Guggenheim, and the Whitney. Check your local art museum to see if parts of the museum offer audio description and tactile exploration.
  • There are some wonderful hands-on museums where science can be experienced through a variety of senses. Most major cities will have a Children’s Museum and a multitude of things to experience firsthand.

Encourage your child to enjoy a sport! Introducing new sports will give your child more self-confidence and also provide recreational opportunities year-round.

A father holding his two children in a swimming pool looking t the camera and smiling

Take a family vacation! Venture near or far to explore the world, play together, and build memories.

Resources for Summer Activities

Summer Camps and Programs for Teens who are Blind or Visually Impaired

Assisting Your Blind or Visually Impaired Teen in Obtaining a Summer Job, Part One

Assisting Your Blind or Visually Impaired Teen in Obtaining a Summer Job, Part Two

The Best Special Needs Vacation Spots

Arts and Leisure
Getting Around
Social Life and Recreation
Social Skills

Dancing Dots and Summer Music Academy

Editor's Note: Today's blog post is from guest blogger Bill McCann. Bill is the founder and president of Dancing Dots Braille Music Technology and director of a summer music academy for young musicians who are blind or visually impaired.

Summer Music Academy for Youth with Visual Impairments

By Bill McCann

Once again this August, I will be heading out to Northern California to lead our fourth annual Summer Music Academy session at the Enchanted Hills Camp near Napa. The session will run for 10 days: a week at Enchanted Hills Camp in the mountains above Napa, California, followed by three days of cultural events, presentations, and our closing performance at the headquarters of the San Francisco Lighthouse, sponsor of the Summer Music Academy.

I’m looking forward to spending 10 days with a group of young, visually impaired musicians who have a passion for playing, composing, arranging, and recording music. What a great experience it has been for me during these summer sessions to introduce motivated young musicians to reading music in braille or magnified print. It’s gratifying to see how, during our music academy session, they begin to make the connection between improved literacy and technology skills that naturally lead to new opportunities for creative self-expression, educational advancement, and possibly even a career path in music.

Although our camp is not at all a traditional performing arts camp, the participants tend to be natural performers. We do take a break each day for a swim, but this camp is definitely not primarily a recreational experience. Each day is filled with time to learn to read music, learn techniques of audio production, and jam with other campers and staff. This year, we plan three shows: Napa, August 11, EHC on August 12, and at the San Francisco Lighthouse on August 15 at 5:30 p.m. In addition to solo and small group performances, our EHC Summer Music Academy chorus will sing while reading braille or large print scores.

I am also looking forward to jumping back into the pool up there, breathing in the cool morning air of Mount Veeder, sitting under one of those enchanted redwood trees, and enjoying some of the most peaceful sleep of the year. And, when we get to the city, we will be spending an entire day at a local recording studio getting some hands-on experience on both sides of the control room glass. The city portion of the session is open only to campers who are age 18 and older.

If you are a visually impaired musician between the age of 16 and 24 who is serious about improving your music literacy skills and making music with like-minded musicians, I encourage you to apply for the few remaining spots.

But first, I invite you to enjoy listening and watching some excerpts from our 2016 closing performance.

Excerpts from 2016 Performance

Daniel Gillen at the Lighthouse Performance from the Summer Music Academy

Daniel Gillen playing the piano during a performance

Our chorus performs my own composition, a silly song about a blind guy’s dream of his first solo ride in his Google Car, a self-driving car. Our soloist that night was a stand-in and, although she missed a few of the lyrics, we still got a few laughs.

EHC chorus and band perform The Glorious Dream: Ballad of the Google Car.

Daniel Gillen plays Liszt’s Liebesträume (Dream of Love).

A trio of advanced students perform a song called Flor by Fernando Apan.

Luz Madrigal sings Gershwin’s Someone to Watch Over Me accompanied by Sky Taylor.

Classical: Fernando Apan plays Two Motions in One Movement.

For further information and to apply, visit our website.

Related Resources

A Plugged-In Music Major

Profile of Richard Donald Smith, Instrumental Music Teacher Who Is Blind

Sounds of the Seasons

Arts and Leisure
Low Vision
Social Life and Recreation

10 Ways to Keep the Dust off the Video Magnifier (CCTV) This Summer for Children and Teens with Visual Impairments

Students often use video magnifiers or Closed-Circuit Televisions with magnification (CCTV) to complete homework and classwork during the school year. Summer CCTV-use is often a drastically different story! Here’s to transforming the norm and avoiding the summer assistive technology regression!

If your child has access to a CCTV at home or the local library, here are a few creative uses for the device:

  1. Lego directions—invite your child to "help you" build a Lego masterpiece.
  2. Word searches or Sudoku puzzles—a blistering hot afternoon calls for an indoor puzzle.
  3. Look and find books or "I Spy" sheets—if your child wakes up [way too] early, have him start the day with independent play.
  4. Recipes—whether you’re increasing kitchen independence in your preschooler or enlisting the assistance of your master chef teen, ask your child to help review the recipe images or read the recipe.
  5. Beading craft—whether for a birthday party gift or a friendship bracelet for a neighborhood friend, jewelry can be a fun creation under the CCTV.
  6. Coloring books—I foresee a fun coloring session for you and your child. Remember, adult coloring books are quite popular!
  7. Pokemon cards—it’s hard to believe Pokemon is once again immensely popular. Take advantage and read the print with a video magnifier.
  8. School Yearbook—Take a walk down memory lane with your child as you study the magnified images.
  9. School supply list—because summer is over before you know it!
  10. Ask for your child’s suggestion—remember to avoid liquids/messy items.

For older students, try looking at magazines, completing job applications, or reading nutrition labels.

There are endless tasks that can be done under the video magnifier. Your child will practice moving the tray, tracking, and adjusting magnification while beating summer boredom. As your child is working, make sure they are positioned without having to extend their neck upward. You may be able to adjust the screen’s height or use a taller chair or shorter table.

Whatever you choose, have fun! Let’s work together to keep the CCTV dust free!

Assistive Technology Resources

Overview of Assistive Technology for Families with a Visually Impaired Child

Low Vision Devices

Taking Care of Assistive Devices

Assistive Technology
Low Vision
Planning for the Future

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