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An Overview of Assessments for Children Birth Through Three Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

A warm hello to you, parent or family member of a young child who is blind or visually impaired. My assumption is you are here because your child has recently been diagnosed with an eye condition, or you suspect your child has a visual impairment. You likely wonder if your child is eligible for vision-related services at home and/or at daycare, and if so, what types of assessments will be conducted to determine the type and amount of services which will prepare your child for a successful school experience.

Early Intervention Services

If your son or daughter is under three years of age and has been diagnosed with low vision or blindness, your family qualifies for early intervention services through your state; these services are typically free of charge to families. If you have yet to obtain these optional, yet highly recommended services, begin by consulting your local school district. These services will generally include a teacher of students with visual impairments and an orientation and mobility specialist whose main goals are to equip you, primary caregivers, to confidently raise your child.

Assessments

In order to plan an appropriate educational program for your child, the teacher of students with visual impairments should conduct a Functional Vision Assessment, and the orientation and mobility specialist should conduct an Orientation and Mobility Assessment. The team may also choose to conduct a Learning Media Assessment and one or more general developmental assessment.

  • The Functional Vision Assessment identifies how your child uses his vision in a variety of environments and contexts. This provides helpful information regarding how your child can best use any remaining vision such as recognizing your child sees best in a well-lit environment, when sitting to the left of an object or person, when high color contrast is utilized, when told in advance what to look for, or when focusing on a moving object.
  • The Orientation and Mobility Assessment identifies if your young child is age-appropriately motivated to move, gaining an awareness of his body, gaining an awareness of his environment, utilizing his remaining senses to obtain information about his environment, and moving within the environment.
  • While a Learning Media Assessment is typically conducted when your child reaches school age, the teacher for students with visual impairments may opt to conduct the assessment at an earlier age. This assessment identifies how your child uses his remaining senses to obtain information. It provides helpful information such as recognizing your child is most attentive and responsive to sounds, which may shape how you teach your child. This assessment also helps the educational team (yourself included!) decide how your child will learn to read and write. It should be noted that according to the law, your child should learn braille unless it is determined and documented as an inappropriate choice for your child.
  • General Developmental Assessments are used to identify your child’s strengths as well as developmental milestones where the team can provide motivation and skills necessary for progression. The assessments are also utilized to chart your baby's progress over time.

Individualized Family Service Plan

After the assessments have been conducted, the parents or primary caregivers and the team of teachers and service providers create specific goals for the child in a meeting. It is here that the types and amount of services needed are defined and documented in the Individualized Family Service Plan.

Now services can begin!

Additional Resources You’ll Want to Read

Assessments for Infants and Toddlers Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Know Your Rights as the Parent of a Blind or Visually Impaired Child

Your Child's Educational Team: Understanding and Working with Your Blind Child's Teachers, Specialists, and Aides


Topics:
Ask the Experts
Braille
Education
Low Vision
Orientation and Mobility
Planning for the Future

BrailleBlaster Question and Answer: Braille Software for Everyone

Editor’s Note: Parents, would you like to create braille at home for your child? Now you can using the American Printing House for the Blind's (APH) BrailleBlaster™ software. All you need is access to an embosser or a refreshable braille display, and you can provide materials in braille for your visually impaired child. We've partnered with APH to answer your questions about this new, free software. Read today's post, share your questions and comments, and tune in on Wednesday, January 17th, as we answer your questions about this helpful resource.

boy sitting on the couch with his father reading braille

Home Is Where the Braille Is: BrailleBlaster™ Software Is for Everyone

By the American Printing House for the Blind

Software for transcribing braille has been available for many years, but due to cost, it has been out of reach for most home users. The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) is changing that by offering the most powerful transcription software available free-of-charge! Originally designed for braille transcribers, BrailleBlaster™ can be downloaded and used by everyone, including parents, teachers, and students. Download at www.brailleblaster.org.

Special Question and Answer Event on January 17th

More about BrailleBlaster in a moment; we first want to invite you to an APH/AFB partner event right here on the FamilyConnect blog. If you have questions about how the BrailleBlaster software can make life easier for you and your child, type them in the comment section below or send them to info@aph.org. Return to the blog next week on Wednesday, January 17th, where we will be answering questions in the comment section starting at 9 a.m. EST.

You Can Create High-Quality Braille at Home

What would you braille for your child? Reminder notes, to-do lists, homework assignments, stories? Transcribe these and more into braille using the BrailleBlaster software. As a public service, APH is making its advanced transcribing software available free of charge. Although it is powerful, creating basic braille documents in BrailleBlaster is easy and does not require an in-depth knowledge of braille.

After you download and install the software on your Windows® PC or Mac®, simply copy and paste text from any document into BrailleBlaster. Instantly, excellent quality simulated braille will appear on your screen. This braille can then be edited for formatting in a similar way you edit text in a word processor. For example, to center a heading, put your cursor in front of the words you want to be centered, go to the toolbar, click on the headings button, select center, and the heading will automatically center.

Have an older student? BrailleBlaster is fully accessible and can be used by students to create their own braille!

Getting Braille Into Your Child's Hands

Now that you've created a braille document, there are two ways to get it into the hands of your braille reader: using a braille embosser or using a refreshable braille display.

If you have a braille embosser, you can create hard copy braille by sending your braille-ready file (.brf) from BrailleBlaster to the embosser.

If your child uses a refreshable braille display, you can save the file as a braille-ready file and e-mail it to them.

Frequently Asked Questions About BrailleBlaster

Have questions about using BrailleBlaster at home or at school? Find our FAQs here. You can also e-mail questions to APH at info@aph.org or ask your questions below in the comment section.

Gaining Access to Braille Technology

Braille Embossers: Although prices have decreased, the cost of braille embossers remains high. Fortunately, there are now more options than ever! Here is a list of possible resources for locating or purchasing an embosser. The list includes local places, such as libraries, that may have an embosser, a list of lower-cost embossers, and ideas on how to raise funds for buying assistive technology.

Refreshable Braille Displays: There are many good options for refreshable braille displays. One device is APH's upcoming Orbit Reader 20™, which has a significant price breakthrough.

How Will You Use BrailleBlaster?

We know BrailleBlaster will be useful in the home and in the school. It's free, so you can download it and experiment all you like on as many devices as you like. Let us know how you use BrailleBlaster; we're sure users are going to find more uses for it than we have imagined!

And remember, feel free to send your questions to info@aph.org and mark your calendar for our Q&A event next week, Wednesday, January 17th!


Topics:
Books
Education
Low Vision
Online Tools
Planning for the Future
Reading

How Does a Visually Impaired Child or Teen Travel in the Cold, Snow, and Ice?

I can hear it now—Frozen’s beloved Anna grasping her stiff, emerald dress and murmuring, "cold, cold, cold, cold, cold" as she tiptoes through the snow. Then there are the famous Dalmatians trudging through knee-deep snow, "Mama, my ears are cold and my nose is cold." Disney does a fine job of depicting the distress of traveling in wintry weather when unprepared. So, how do we elude those scenarios with our children who are blind or visually impaired? How does one prepare for winter weather orientation and mobility?

parent and two children playing in the snow

Optimal Winter Gear

If your child will be traveling in cold weather, snow, and/or ice, quality, winter gear is a top priority. Read on to learn the most appropriate cold-weather gear.

  • Want to know the ideal winter hat for a traveler who is blind or visually impaired? A beanie-it can be folded above ears, so as to not impede auditory clues.
  • Want to know the ideal glove for a traveler who is blind or visually impaired? Knit mittens or mittens you've adapted to tube shapes—they allow for optimal feedback while providing warmth.
  • Want to know the ideal shoe for a traveler who is blind or visually impaired? Winter boots with maximum traction or warm boots with YakTrax—they minimize slipping on icy surfaces.
  • Want to know how to minimize glare? Good sunglasses (likely amber tinted lenses will be recommended) are a must, and a visor will provide additional protection.
  • Want to know the best mobility cane for freezing conditions? A non-collapsible cane—your child won’t have to worry about freezing joints, and it will hold up well if it is leaned on in icy conditions.
  • Want to know the best cane tip for snow conditions? There’s no easy answer here! The cane tip of choice will depend on the technique your child is using. If your child is poking snow which has been iced-over, a thin tip is best; if your child is gliding over soft snow, a broad tip is best.

Winter Weather Mobility Techniques

Guide dog in the snow standing with handler

Now let’s talk mobility techniques, skills, and strategies used in the snow and ice:

  • Your child will learn a light cane touch for fluffy snow and a heavier touch for icy conditions. Additionally, your child will learn to poke the snow with the cane to gauge its depth and consistency.
  • Your child will learn to choose a route that has been recently plowed (when possible).
  • Your child will learn to ask for assistance to navigate around icy terrain.
  • Your child will learn to call for a taxi or call a friend if conditions worsen, and it is no longer safe to travel.
  • Your child will learn to leave the house with ample time when weather conditions are poor.
  • Your child will learn to utilize a GPS, a particularly helpful tool when landmarks are unrecognizable.

Alright experts, do you have additional mobility tips and tricks for the snow and ice? We would sure appreciate your suggestions!

Additional Resources

A Mother's Advice on Community Orientation and Mobility Skills

Orientation and Mobility Questions and Answers

Mobility in the Snow for People Who Are Visually Impaired: The Art of Travel on Hidden Landscape


Topics:
Education
Getting Around
Independence
Low Vision
Orientation and Mobility
Planning for the Future
Social Life and Recreation
Transition

The Indelible Impact of Louis Braille

miniature portrait of Louis Braille

When I decided to go back to school to become a teacher of students with visual impairments, I shared my decision with a friend and teacher’s assistant in special education for over 21 years. While her class is not specifically for students with visual impairments, she has always made a point to read the story of Louis Braille to her students and to use it as an example to discuss the important life lessons it presents. "The life story of Louis Braille is universal," she said. "It has a lesson for all of us, sighted or visually impaired."

The Life Lessons of Louis Braille

Her reasons were simple, and she walked me through them: Louis Braille was a curious kid, like all kids; his story gives the kids an example of how to accept ourselves as we are, use our healthy brains, bodies, and talents to their best outcome; his story teaches kids how to leave their mark in the world. "While Louis Braille was an exceptional human being," she said, "I believe all children have the potential to take that story, find their personal strengths, and create something great for the world around them in their lifetime. That’s why I tell the story of Louis Braille."

The Impact of Louis Braille

Each year, many take pride in celebrating the life and work of Louis Braille around his birthday on January 4th. We look to the way Louis Braille broke through the alleged barriers of visual impairment by using his intellect, his creative instinct, and his relentless determination to invent, design, and innovate until education for people who are visually impaired was improved.

Although the original written braille code has evolved and undergone several revisions since Louis Braille’s first published version, the principle of this code and its logical sequence has remained firm. In the original braille code, Nemeth, contracted and uncontracted braille, and even in braille musical notation, Louis Braille put an accessible, sensible way to read and write into our fingertips. Most importantly, braille paves the way for an active future with broad opportunities. Louis Braille was a visionary and a change agent whose work is still moving mountains centuries later.

The Success of the Braille Code

The great success of Louis Braille’s written and musical braille code system is the simplicity and logic upon which it was founded. Rules and patterns are strategic; learning the code, while it can take time and practice, eventually becomes intuitive if you put in the time to learn and follow the rules. The braille literary code and braille music system have their own rhythm of sorts, so it makes sense that music was a stronghold in the life of Louis Braille from the time he was very young.

Just like he learned language and transposed it into literary braille code, Louis Braille learned the way music functions—the theory and scheme of musical notation and composition—and he created a system with which other visually impaired musicians could read and write music as their sighted peers. Louis Braille was an accomplished cellist and organist and taught many students to read and write music. His logical system of modified six-dot cells to represent the various tones of the scale and the notation on the musical page.

The Beneficiaries of the Braille Code

For organizations and academic institutions around the world serving our visually impaired brothers and sisters, Louis Braille’s impacts on academic, musical, and social fronts are indelible. He saw clarity where centuries of civilizations saw barriers and impossibilities. We are endlessly improving our teaching methods and finding ways to fund the research and engineering of new accessible and refreshable braille display technologies.

As we continue to raise disability awareness and implement universal design in public spaces, the presence of braille signs, symbols, and important landmarks continues to expand. Members in the community don’t need to know the individuals benefiting from the braille in the apartment elevator, on the subway ticket machine, or in the doctor's office lobby; exposure to braille throughout our daily routine reminds us what inclusion means. Through his six-dot system, Louis Braille has eternalized the value of inclusion for blind and visually impaired men, women, and children.

Louis Braille is not just a hero for braille readers. As my friend has been doing with her students and the presence of braille code in public places has done for centuries, we can all spread the key lesson of inclusion in school, work, and in life through the genius invention of Louis Braille.

Additional Resources


Topics:
Braille
Education
Employment
Independence
Low Vision
News from FamilyConnect
Planning for the Future
Self-Advocacy

To Use Person-First Language or Intentionally Not Use Person-First Language, That Is the Question

"When speaking or writing about a person who is blind or visually impaired, it’s important to use person-first language: ‘the boy who is blind’ is preferred over ‘the blind boy’," I distinctly remember learning in my coursework to prepare to become a teacher of students with visual impairments.

Here I am, a decade-and-a-half later, writing for FamilyConnect and making the daily decision, "To use person-first-language or intentionally not use it?"

As you, family members and teachers, talk and write, I know you also wrestle with this question. I wonder if you’ll hear my take on the matter and more importantly, share your take. I want to learn from you.

In most cases, I agree with what I was originally taught; person-first language seems the obvious, respectful choice, as a person is not defined by any one feature and especially not by something he or she doesn’t have. However, I don’t want to have my opinion set in concrete, especially considering I, myself, am not blind or visually impaired. I don’t get the last word here. I want to raise the questions:

  1. What do people who are visually impaired think about person-first language?
  2. Doesn’t it depend on context?

Consensus on Person-First Language

It’s important to understand the preferences of adults and young people who are blind, particularly the one in your or my home, workplace, school, or community, and to be willing to use his or her preference; I say this because there is no consensus on the matter and your family member will have a personal preference.

Your family member may find person-first language most respectful, or he may feel like that of the deaf community, acknowledging a difference or a disability is an identifying feature, one that needn’t be avoided or concealed. In other words, to many individuals, saying "the guy who is blind" instead of "the blind guy" is declaring being blind is something you don’t want to be identified with—such as myself, a redhead, not wanting people to tip-toe around the issue by awkwardly saying "the lady with red hair" instead of "the redhead." Not a great example on my part, but it does make the point that red hair is not something I want to be disassociated from, and well-adjusted folks with visual impairments don’t want to be disassociated from vision loss.

Evaluate the Context

In addition to acknowledging the preference of your family member, I think it’s important to evaluate the context.

  • If you or I are talking to or writing to an individual who has not yet adjusted to blindness, perhaps it’s most important to use person-first language.
  • If you or I are talking or writing in a professional setting, such as at an IEP meeting, perhaps person-first language is the best choice as it reminds the educational staff that your child is first a child.
  • If you or I are identifying an individual we don’t know well, such as "the girl at the picnic table," person-first language may be the best choice as we don’t yet know the girl’s preference.
  • If you or I are talking with teachers, daycare workers, doctors, etc. who are unfamiliar with blindness, perhaps it’s best to use person-first language as the listener may need to be reminded that the individual is more similar to a sighted peer than different.

FamilyConnect’s Take on the Matter

FamilyConnect generally uses people-first language because we are talking to a large audience, many of which could use the reminder that individuals who are blind are first individuals, more similar to sighted peers than different.

There are intentional scenarios when we write "visually impaired children," "blind child," etc. because we want our articles and blogs to appear in search engines, such as Google, when a user types "blind child," and at times, it’s awkward to write "the child who is blind" and "daughter/son who is blind or visually impaired" a handful of times in a paragraph. The wording is bulky!

What Is Your Take?

That is our take; we’d love to have you join the discussion. Hearing a variety of opinions and preferences educates us all.

Resources on Blindness

Learning About Blindness

What Do You Want the World to Know About Blindness?

Questions and Answers Regarding Your Child’s Low Vision


Topics:
Low Vision
Personal Reflections
Self-Advocacy

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