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For parents of children with visual impairments

American Foundation for the Blind® | National Association of Parents of Children with Visual Impairments

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Erik Weheinmayer Employment Interview

Erik W. rock climbing

You might know it is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and I was offered the opportunity to share some information with you. I manage the American Foundation for the Blind's CareerConnect program. AFB CareerConnect is a career exploration, job seeking skills, navigating the employment process, and e-mentoring web program. You might guess that I am quite passionate about employment and the transition from school to work. In my work with AFB CareerConnect, I have been able to connect with fabulous and inspiring individuals who are blind or visually impaired. One of the coolest and one of my personal favorites has been Erik Weihenmayer, world-renowned adventurer and a man who has summited the highest peak on each continent. He has navigated the Colorado River the length of the Grand Canyon in a solo-kayak. Just in case you didn't get it, he is blind too.

The reason I wanted to bring this up to you all, is that Erik Weheinmayer founded an organization called No Barriers and an event, the No Barriers Summit, and Erik is the living embodiment of the No Barriers Lifestyle. Erik believes that we can overcome our obstacles through our planning, attitude, confidence, and community. I had the great opportunity to attend the No Barriers Summit this past July to provide clinics for youth and adults. I was truly in awe of the programming, inspiration, and clinics provided at the event. The event is much more than a sports camp, it is a university experience of a higher level. You are provided lectures from true innovators from around the world. There happens to be a large dash of athletic and recreational pursuits provided and adapted for the needs of the individual. If you are willing to try it, they are willing to attempt to adapt it.

Each day youth, families, and adults push themselves physically and in their thinking about their own perceived or real obstacles. I was able to see the growth in the participants from start to finish, and I vowed that I would spread the word about the event. But, don't take it from me. I reached out to get Erik's input on how you can bring your child into a No Barriers Lifestyle. This is just one step toward self-confidence, motivation, and breaking down the door to success in life and employment.

FamilyConnect: What advice would you give families to get their children involved in activities? Erik Weihenmayer: I think that we grew up and evolved as human beings. There were small groups, and we banded together to survive. People are meant to be part of teams and clubs. Blind people and persons with disabilities need to do this too. They should not just be sitting and using a computer. It is a fundamental human trait or need. You have to be part of something.

FamilyConnect: What is the overlying purpose of the No Barriers Summit? Erik Weihenmayer: When we think about breaking through barriers, it is not just a motivational slogan. It brings together real tools and real experiences to help us break through barriers. We asked ourselves, "What can we all relate to and learn from." We bring in speakers and real life human examples of people who were overwhelmed. We provide clinics that test your limits, and they are surrounded by people who have all broken down barriers and searching for the same thing.

Joe Strechay: National Disability Employment Awareness Month is all about creating awareness specific to the employment of individuals with disabilities. The No Barriers Summit assists individuals in building the much needed self-confidence and drive to push past perceived or real obstacles. Parents and families have an opportunity to provide their children with the most experiences possible. The more comfortable youth are with who they are as an individual and a person with a disability, the better off they will be for their path toward employment. The employment process is all about bringing that level of comfort and understanding to your interactions with employers. At the No Barriers Summit, I spoke about "the elephant in the room." Every time I walk into a room with employers, I bring an elephant. The elephant is my differences, and it is my job to make that employer comfortable with those differences. My blindness is a difference, and I have to address that elephant with employers. If I am not comfortable addressing my own disability, an employer will not be comfortable with me. Further, an employer will typically not hire someone they are not comfortable with.

The No Barriers Summit brings a different understanding, and provides us the opportunity to push our own perceived or real barriers. Take the time to push your obstacles to the side, and read more about the No Barriers Summit.

No Barriers Summit Information
Where: Copper Mountain, CO
When: June 23 – 26, 2016

Social Life and Recreation

Parents, I Present You with “Your Roles” in Readying Your Child who is Blind or Visually Impaired for Future Employment

Collage of families and children

You know preparation for adult roles begins early. For this reason AFB FamilyConnect provides a “Transition to Independence” section within each age-specific category: Babies and Toddlers, Preschoolers, Grade Schoolers, and Teenagers. These (linked) sections provide you, parents of a child with a visual impairment, with an assortment of concepts and skills to impart to your child; concepts and skills that set the course for your child’s self-sufficiency and preparedness for employment.

In addition to the role of intentionally teaching concepts and skills to your child, you have the following broad and extremely significant roles in setting the stage for your child’s successful employment:

  • Your role is to love your child for who he is, no matter his range of attributes, abilities, or disabilities. You give your child the understanding and foundation that he is valuable and lovable. This will be the backbone of his self-confidence (that will not only increase his quality of life, but also his employability).
  • You have knowledge of your child like no other supporter in his life. Your role is to continue to understand your child’s preferences, interests, skills, and limitations. You will help your child identify these attributes. He will benefit from the self- awareness as he makes career-related decisions.
  • You provide continuity and consistency as you support your child’s development and education throughout his childhood. You know what motivates him and how he best learns, and can therefore educate his educators on “what works and does not work” during IFSP or IEP meetings, and in any personal futures planning meetings for your teenager with multiple disabilities.
  • You are your child’s advocate, ensuring he is as prepared as possible for future employment. You speak up for the needs of your child, including accessibility requirements, proper evaluations, and appropriate education (general and blindness-specific).
  • Most of the skills and experiences your child will need to live independently can be rehearsed and mastered while he is still living at home, and only you can insist your child takes responsibility for them. For example: A math teacher will provide lessons on counting money and a Teacher for Students with Visual Impairments will provide lessons on money identification and an Orientation and Mobility Specialist may travel with your child to a bank, but only you can expect your child to integrate money management into his everyday life. Your high expectations will translate into your child’s employment readiness and comfortable transition to independence.

It’s easy to see that your role is extremely significant. When it comes to your child, you love; you learn; you teach; you support; you coach; you advocate; and you provide an environment for your child to mature into his adult role.

On behalf of your child, thank you. There is no substitute for you.

*The information in this blog post is based on "Beyond High School: Preparing Adolescents for Tomorrow’s Challenges; ch. 5 Working with Parents: Using Strategies to Promote Planning and Preparation, Placement, and Support" which states that (and I quote), "For students with disabilities, in particular, family support and involvement contributes to successful transition and positively impacts post school outcomes."


October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Street sign with the text 'New Job' and an arrow.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and we plan to give you information throughout the month on employment issues. The path to employment begins at home as well as in school and that destination may now seem far away. The promotion of skills and independence are criticalfactors in this process and begin at an early age. Last year we brought you the series of articles in the Transition to Independence section of each age range including;

These articles are filled with tips and thoughts on how families can and do teach and reinforce the skills at home.

FamilyConnect will also share resources on this topic from other AFB programs such as CareerConnect and VisionAware as well other resources. Please share any thoughts, suggestions or information you have found.

Not signed up yet? We welcome everyone to join FamilyConnect so you can then receive important announcements by e-mail, track your favorite blog and keep up with conversations on the message boards.

Planning for the Future
In the News

Seeking Family Members for a Focus Group Study on Unified English Braille eLearning Platform

Plain braille page, macro and blue-toned.

Editor's note: This is the second blog entry that both informs and requests the assistance of families in answering important questions that impact all who use braille. Please help Holly Lawson and Kathryn Botsford with this effort.

Unified English Braille (UEB) is almost here...

Braille is getting a makeover. In January 2016, students, adult consumers, their teachers, and their families will be starting to learn changes to the braille code with the United State’s adoption of the Unified English Braille (UEB) code.

UEB Prep

At Portland State University (PSU) we realize that not everyone learns best from taking a traditional online class. We are developing an online braille learning platform that will incorporate eLearning exercises, educational gaming, and social networking that can be used by both braille readers and their friends and family members. In its first phase, the platform will help people learn some basics about the braille code and the new UEB rules.

Because Families Are Teachers

We know that parents are the most important influences in the lives of their children. Moms and dads are a child’s first and most important teachers.

For children with visual impairments, families must take an extra step to learn braille in order to support their child as he or she learns braille at school.

Share your Experience

We’re asking families to share their experiences with online learning and braille (anywhere from having no experience with braille to being an actual braille reader yourself).

Please join us on October 6th at 6:00 PM (Eastern) 3:00 PM (Pacific)for an online discussion.

Joining in is easy, all you need is:

  • a computer with a microphone so you can speak to the group and share your experiences and
  • the call-in code for the secure webinar site.

We’d love to hear your stories! If you are interested in joining the discussion please contact us today and we’ll get you the log-in details to join the call.

To sign up, please contact either Holly or Kathryn by Friday, October 2nd.

For more information about the UEB focus group please email or call:

Holly Lawson or 503 725 5495

Kathryn Botsford

UEB Resources to Help Families Learn About UEB

There are resources to help families learn the braille code changes. Here are some links:


Parents Can Now Learn ABCs of UEB

Editor's note; we bring you more resources for the topic of the transition into UEB.
By Sheryl Bass, The Hadley School for the Blind

An exciting new introductory braille instructional course has just become available through the Family Education Program at The Hadley School for the Blind entitled Introduction to Braille, UEB Edition. The Hadley School for the Blind is the largest provider of distance education for people who are blind and visually impaired worldwide. Beginning in 2016, new braille materials will be produced in Unified English Braille (UEB) throughout the United States. This course provides the tools for those interested in learning to read and write braille so they can communicate with family members and loved ones who use braille. It presents fundamentals of the new braille code, including the letters of the alphabet, numbers and punctuation. The goal of this course is to enable parents and loved ones to read and write uncontracted UEB. A follow up course will be available soon for those interested in going on to learn contracted braille.

Since January 2015, Hadley has been offering a “Transitioning to Unified English Braille” course. This advanced course is designed for individuals who already know contracted braille. It provides a structured approach to learning the differences between EBAE (English Braille American Edition) and UEB. Prerequisites for the course include strong contracted reading and writing skills in EBAE or SEB (Standard English Braille). More than 2,000 students (most of whom are teachers of students who are blind) have already completed this wildly popular course.

The good news is UEB courses offered through the Family Education Program are free to parents and other eligible family members!

Toutle, WA resident, Donna McNew is the parent of a child who is blind. Donna is also this year’s winner of Hadley Robert J. Winn Family Education Award. Family is Donna’s primary focus in life and she is a homeschool educator for her children. Her family looks a little different from that of a more traditional model. First, it includes dairy goats, ducks, chickens, honey bees, dogs and cats. Second, it includes four now adult children, ages 40, 30 and two in their early 20s as well as their children. And third, it now also includes three additional special needs children whom she and her husband adopted from China in 2008-2011. Interestingly, her adopted children are all within months of the ages of her biological grandchildren.

One of these adopted children, 10-year-old Adelyn Rose, is blind. However, it was long before Adelyn arrived that Donna actually completed her first Hadley braille course. Therefore, she already had the necessary prerequisites to take Hadley’s more advanced “Transitioning to Unified English Braille” course. Donna was a very enthusiastic student. She said, “I couldn’t get enough of it fast enough – to the point where I completed and submitted three or four lessons in one week. My instructor had to have been tearing her hair out – she kindly suggested that I slow down a bit!”

Adelyn shadowed Donna throughout her completion of the course, and mother and daughter learned together. Adelyn actually knew UEB before her teacher of the visually impaired learned it and has even been able to teach her some of the code changes—thanks to Hadley.

Parents, loved ones, educators and children who are blind and over age 14 can register for a Hadley braille course by visiting or calling 800-323-4238.

In the News