FamilyConnect: A Parent's Voice

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Paralympics and Our Newly Motivated Children

Gold Medal on a red ribbon

Parents, I know you are as impressed with the Paralympic athletes as I am!

Absolutely remarkable displays of power, speed, strength, agility, resolve, and grit: unequivocal athleticism.

I watched them, just as I watched the Olympic athletes, and felt a surge of adrenaline…like I needed to pick up a set of boxing gloves and release my inner athlete.

I realize that’s because these individuals are champions, whether or not they have a disability, and champions inspire us to get in the game.

My hope is your children and my children watched this year’s games and/or listened to the audio descriptions and are inspired to take up a sport, exert their bodies, and gain strength.

While I stated the athletes are champions regardless of disabilities, the fact that the Paralympians do have disabilities hits close to home in our community. And though I’ve heard a handful of Paralympic athletes state they wish to simply enjoy their sport and not be put on a pedestal, I daresay our children with visual impairments need to see skilled athletes who pursued their hobbies into excellence.

They need to see it and we’re watching; we’re celebrating the Rio achievements of blind athletes; and we’re allowing our children to be motivated to get in the game!

Now that our kiddos are motivated, here’s what to do:

So, thanks Paralympians for your dedication to your sport; we want in!

Sports and Recreation for Children with Visual Impairments

5 Reasons Why Recreation Is so Important for Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Physical Education and Sports for Students with Visual Impairments

Three Things Parents Should Know About Recreation and Leisure

Go for the Gold As a Visually Impaired Athlete: Paralympic Games 2016

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Social Life and Recreation

When You’re Second Guessing a School Placement or Teacher for Your Child with a Visual Impairment

parents, teachers, and the teenaged student gather around a table for a meeting

Now that school is in session, my hope is that a smooth routine has begun and the chaos of a new school year is behind us all or nearly there.

But what if the chaos shows no signs of relenting? Maybe you’re certain your child who is blind or visually impaired is not receiving adequate services. Perhaps the new school isn’t meeting your communication expectations. Maybe the new-to-you-teacher isn’t ensuring lessons are accessible to your child.

If you are questioning whether or not your child is in the most appropriate school placement and/ or whether or not you’d like to request a different teacher, read on.

While it is possible to change schools or teachers, I suggest doing so after exhausting the following efforts:

  1. School isn’t providing adequate services? Utilizing the strategies within Working as a Team: How to Resolve Differences of Opinion, call a meeting and ensure your child is receiving services based on the recommendations of his or her assessments. (The federally mandated assessments for a child with a visual impairment include a Functional Vision Assessment, Learning Media Assessment, Assistive Technology Assessment, and an Orientation and Mobility Assessment.)
  2. School isn’t meeting your communication expectations? Utilizing strategies for success with your blind child’s educational team, it’s time to problem solve with your blind child’s school.
  3. Teacher isn’t ensuring lessons are accessible? Let’s give him or her the benefit of the doubt; she likely hasn’t had to make lessons accessible for a child who is blind. I recommend creating a document about your child for his or her teacher; include your child’s interests, strengths, sensitivities, learning styles, and functional vision information (how your child best uses any vision). Additionally, talk with your child's TVI (teacher of students who are visually impaired) about your concerns; the TVI can help the teacher understand accessible teaching strategies and your child’s functional vision.

You’ve got this, Mama or Daddy. You are a strong advocate and will ensure your child is receiving a quality and accessible education.


Advice for September from a College Freshman

Michelle standing in foyer with luggage and dog guide

It is the start of September which means two things: 1) summer is almost over, and 2) it's officially back-to-school season. It's the time of year when millions of students across the nation are returning to elementary, middle, and high schools. It's also the perfect time of the year for me to introduce you to a former student of mine, Michelle. Michelle graduated from high school in June and is now attending a local community college as a freshman. She knows firsthand what the journey from kindergarten through high school can be like for students who are blind or visually impaired. Michelle understands the journey can include academic challenges, awkward social situations, apprehension, frustrating experiences, and overwhelming decisions. She also realizes school experiences can even cause feelings of loneliness, denial, and disappointment.

As a high school graduate, Michelle recognizes that beyond the frustrations and challenges that students might have in school lie accomplishments and exciting moments for those students who persevere, are motivated and self-determined. Michelle credits her thirteen years of experience in school for shaping her into the person she is today. "The challenges I had were instrumental in helping me learn how to advocate for my needs, strive for what I want and to become more accepting of my disability".

As Michelle embarks on her new journey into college, she took time to reflect on her earlier school career to share her story with AFB's readership of parents of children who are blind or visually impaired, students who are blind or visually impaired, teachers of the visually impaired, orientation and mobility specialists, etc. Michelle's hope is the parents, instructors, counselors, etc. who read her story will learn from her personal experiences and find something positive to impart on a student who is blind or visually impaired. Her greatest hope is students reading her story will aspire to learn from and not be defeated by their own personal challenges in school as a student who is blind or visually impaired. Michelle knows that students like her who choose to learn from their experiences will achieve greatness this school year and beyond.

Read more about Michelle's journey from kindergarten through high school.

Be sure to visit the FamilyConnect website again later this fall to learn about Michelle's experiences as a freshman in college.


Introducing Coding to Middle and High School Youth Who Are Blind

5 students, volunteers, speakers and staff gathered for a group shot

Our Space Our Place (OSOP) was founded by a person who is blind whose passion is to improve the lives of youth who are blind. OSOP is an after school and career exploration program for middle and high school youth who are blind. Two-thirds of people who are blind and want to work are unemployed. Our goal is to change this reality for future generations.

By offering a year-round program, we provide a place where being blind or low vision is not a student’s defining characteristic, and we allow students to explore and develop important and valued aspects of their personalities, talents, and skills. In so doing, we fulfill our mission of preparing students who are blind to involve themselves in activities in their local community, develop friendships, lead activities, gain self-confidence, and explore career and educational options.

Technology touches many aspects of our daily lives. This reality coupled with the fact that there is a persistent high rate of unemployment among people who are blind, led to two questions:

  1. What can be done to position youth who are blind to pursue careers in the technology field?
  2. What can be done to have people who are blind as creators and not just users of technology?

Working with a group of advisors, we investigated tools which are used to introduce youth to programming. Programming or coding was selected because this is the underlying structure which gives instructions to the technology on how to function. Our research showed that there are many programs which introduce youth to coding but they are not accessible to youth who are blind. Our goal was to identify a coding language which someone who is totally blind can easily learn, write independently and check independently. We learned that the basic programming tools such as Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), Cascading Style sheets (CSS) and JavaScript with Notepad are accessible to students who use speech and students who use large print to access the computer. Therefore, we decided to teach HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

As one instructor said, "Within a week we can begin demystifying what makes computers and the web function." Our instructors were blind and therefore knowledgeable about the programming language and the accessibility tools needed to efficiently use the computer. The result was a week-long learning opportunity for middle and high school youth who are blind.

Five students participated in-person and 1 student joined us via Skype. Microsoft MA provided space and the laptops. Freedom Scientific provided JAWS and MAGIC. Volunteers who were professional coders and students of computer science joined us. The volunteers partnered with each student and provided one on one assistance as the instructors led the classes.

Days were spent learning coding and meeting professionals in the technology field. One student commented that before taking the class she thought she knew a lot about computers but the class showed her that there’s a lot more to learn.

The Coding Camp achieved its goals of introducing youth who are blind to computer programming and providing opportunities for students to interact with professionals, some of whom are legally blind, who work in the technology field. All of the students said that they really appreciated the chance to hear from people working in the technology field. The students were proud of their accomplishments. By the end of the class, each student created a website. This link shows the students’ websites.

Moving forward, the Coding Camp will be offered from October to March. Students will meet the first Saturday of the month beginning Saturday, October 1. If interested in participating, please call: (617) 459-4084.


Do Students Who Are Blind or Low Vision Face a Digital Gap?

young boy holding iphone close with tablet on his lap

We read a recent news article in the Salt Lake Tribune highlighting “just how difficult it can be for disabled parents, students and others to access school websites and curriculum available to their peers,” in part because American schools still are awaiting specific guidance from the Department of Justice to take effect six years since DOJ announced its intentions to issue regulations on website and computer access for disabled people.

You can read more about the delay in issuing accessibility guidance on the AFB Blog.

You can also learn more about your child’s educational rights on FamilyConnect, including how to plan for IEP meetings, what kind of assessments might be helpful, and what kinds of accommodations and modifications you and your child’s TVI may want to request.

The AFB Directory of Services can help you find schools and local agencies that provide assistive technology training, and you may also want to explore the AFB product database to get a better sense of what tools and devices are available these days.

Technology is everywhere in today’s society, and it can be a powerful tool for children who are blind or visually impaired. But being an effective advocate for your child is still an important part of the process.

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