Posts Tagged ‘Blindness’

Totally Accessible

November 16, 2012

It’s been an interesting day, and one of those days that reminds me what a different view of the world I have than some of the people who came before me and fought so I can have all the things I take for granted.

Fatos Floyd, a member of the NFBN Lincoln chapter and director of our training center here in Nebraska, has filed a complaint against our local election office. She wanted to take advantage of the early voting that is offered in Nebraska, but when she called she was told the automark wouldn’t be available for several more days. We passed a resolution about this at our recent state convention, and today there was a hearing on the matter. Lots of people testified, as people are want to do at these things, and I admit that I was largely bored. But a part of me was thinking, we already fought for the right to vote privately and independently. Are we maybe asking for a bit much here? Most of me believes, knows, that we should have equal access. But there was that tiny voice in the back of my head.

Tonight I went to start on a paper that’s due Monday. (I know, shocking isn’t it?) It’s the third in a series of five papers I have to write after raising a virtual child on the internet. I was pretty apprehensive at the beginning of the semester because I figured that the raising of the actual child would turn out to be inaccessible, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could raise the thing independently. In another shocking turn of events, I decided to fully raise the child. It was my attempt to be proactive and not have as much to worry about when it came time to write this next paper. However, when I logged in and went to review the decisions I’d made while raising my child I discovered that this part of the program was inaccessible. (Tony messed around with it and says it should be better if I upgrade to JAWS 14.) Even so, I had that panic moment of “Oh my god how am I going to write this paper?!” followed by the muttered, “Half-assed accessibility sucks.”

And then it hit me. That little voice that had whispered in my head earlier this afternoon that maybe we were asking for just a little too much needed to shut up. Because this is what it looks like when we don’t ask for it all. 90% accessible does not equal accessible enough. I have the right to be able to review something I’ve done online for school. And Fatos has the right to vote when she wants to, and to get to do so privately and independently. That’s why the NFB is as powerful as it is. My email to Pearson might get a response, but I feel a whole lot more powerful with an organization as big as the Federation behind me. It’s easy to say that one thing or another doesn’t matter as much to us, or that it doesn’t really apply to where we are in our individual lives. But if we want people to stand behind us when it comes time to fight our giants, we have to be willing to support them while they fight theirs.

Play Signals

October 22, 2012

Today in class we talked about friendships and play in young kids. Yep, I get to go to class and learn about play. (It’d be that much better if we could have some practical experience, but you can’t have it all.) One of the things we talked about is the fact that play is a child’s way of learning social competence. When kids play, they learn to read social cues, called play signals, that they’ll be building on or the rest of their lives. We went on to talk about the fact that adults aren’t good judges of what’s really happening on a playground. They are not always good at judging whether kids are playing or fighting, and as a society we have started to lean toward protecting our kids from all conflict possible, including conflict in play. As an example, the Lincoln Public Schools won’t let kids lay tag on the playground, because they don’t want them getting hurt and they don’t want there to be bullying or conflict on the playground. My professor, who has done a good bit of research in this area, said that because we’re taking away so much of the conflict in children’s’ early play they’re not learning to read some of those play signals. Consequently, they’re less socially competent and confident as they get older.

For as long as I’ve been working summer programs I’ve seen blind students who lack social skills. I imagine a lot of it is because they didn’t learn to read these play signals as children, either because they weren’t invited to play by kids their own age or because they were overprotected by their parents. They never had the opportunity to learn that when someone runs up to you, taps your shoulder, and says “tag, you’re it” they’re inviting you to play and not being aggressive or mean. But now this is something that society is seeing as a whole. So my question is, are there ways to help kids catch up on those social skills they miss out on? In particular, how can we help our blind kids fill in these social gaps and learn to read the play signals?

Media and Outreach

September 20, 2012

Today was World Day on the Mall in Lincoln, which was really more like “World Day in the Arena” since Centennial Mall is under construction. A couple of us put together a little slide show, and we brought our usual brochures and other things to help illustrate that blind people are pretty much the same as everyone else, and spent our requisite 4 hours at the table.

I was all kinds of excited, because events like this always bring out some of the best “how do blind people do this” questions. I was sadly disappointed this time; no one asked me how I go to the bathroom, and no one even asked if blind people have sex. (True story, can’t make this stuff up.) And, while Kayde’s dog did get lots of attention, no one asked if she can read signs or if she has a boyfriend. But I didn’t go home empty handed.

This guy came up to the table and says that he saw us on the bus yesterday. This is impossible, since I didn’t leave my house yesterday and definitely didn’t take the bus, but I understand that time sometimes blurs together so I’m not sure if he saw us on the bus on a different day or a different set of blind people on the bus yesterday. Regardless, he took a Kernel Book and started talking to us. It was all pretty normal stuff, until, “So do blind people have a designated religion?” There are just so many things I could have said, had this guy not been one of those nice old men who just doesn’t know. The first thing that came to mind was, “Do blonds have a designated religion?” closely followed by Kayde’s suggestion, “Yes, we must all practice Braillism.” But I had absolutely no fun with it and told the guy that I’d met blind people who were Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

One thing that World Day on the Mall reminded me about was what a diverse community Lincoln is. I saw at least two groups of people who spoke Chinese, and got to explain to them about Braille. I also saw at least one Spanish speaking woman, and it was neat that one of our Latina friends, who happened to be working at a table directly across from us, was there to help explain things and give her a positive impression of blind people. It did make me wish we had some materials out in other languages, and I’m making a mental note to ask my state president about ordering some materials from the NFB in Spanish, at the very least.

The other thing that preparing for this event brought home to me was just how much we don’t do with the media we have as an organization. I’m guilty of it too, we take all these pictures and they get buried on our personal cameras never to be seen again. If we’re really ambitious the pictures might make it onto Facebook, or into a folder on our personal computers or the servers at the national office. But, as far as I know, we really don’t have a lot of good material put together for events like this. Most of the videos we have are designed to be played for our members, or obvious prospective members. As many cool things as the Youth slam videos highlight, they’re each at least 15 minutes long. They’re not designed to catch someone’s attention as they’re walking by a table. I would love to see us put together a PowerPoint of pictures from events we have, particularly on a national level. Things like Youth Slam could have a PowerPoint that was prepackaged and could be downloaded from the website. Ideally this would contain some of the cool pictures we get, along with captions so they meant something to the blind people manning the table, along with short video clips showing blind people participating in these awesome programs. Another option would be to have a database containing all the pictures, again with captions, and videos we get from these events. Members could be given access upon request, and we could build our own presentations from there. This has the advantage of allowing members to tailor a presentation to an event, but it does mean that putting together the presentation would take a fair bit more time and effort since there would be thousands of videos and pictures to dig through. Honestly, I think the best option would be a combination of prepackaged presentations and access to individual pictures for those of us who want to make presentations for a specific event. But, whatever solution we go with, I think we need to do something to beef up our outreach efforts and grab attention. We have all these awesome events we put on, and so much innovative stuff we’re working on, and I would love to see us have the ability to share that with the general public in a way that’s engaging for them.

Attachment Theory and Older Children

August 31, 2012

In the past, it’s been very rare that I’ve read articles for class and had past experiences come to mind. However, after reading the article on attachment theory, I immediately thought of one of the students I had last summer.

I should probably explain the program before I go much farther. The idea of the program was to teach blind students skills for independence. Blind adults, many of whom are college students, are hired to teach things like how to travel around independently using a long white cane, how to cook, how to read Braille, and how to use a computer. Students come and live with us in a specific location, usually in apartments on a college campus or something like that, for the duration of the program. Last summer I worked with middle school kids, and that program lasted 3 weeks. There are also programs for high school students that last between 6 and 8 weeks, which also give the students a chance to hold a part time job and get some experience to put on their resume.

John was one of the more challenging students I’ve worked with in programs like these. He was terrified of things like sirens and weed whackers, largely due to traumatic experiences when he was a young child. This made the program difficult for him, particularly since we were living on a college campus in one of Baltimore’s suburbs where sirens passing was an every day occurrence. John and I walked around outside almost every day, and he would freeze exactly where he was if he heard a siren anywhere near by. John also had a great deal of trouble managing his emotions, which often resulted in him lashing out in anger. At the time I realized that the anger was a way for him to deal with other emotions he wasn’t sure how to handle, and I found a couple of occasions to sit down and talk to him one-on-one. By the end of the program John and I had developed what I would consider to be a close relationship. When he was upset or frightened, he would come to me, and was willing to try talking things through with me.

This semester I’m taking a class that’s talking about families, and the different types of relationships formed in different families. (It would be a really interesting class if the teacher wasn’t so monotone, but that’s neither here nor there.) For class this week we were assigned an article that talked about a program called Through the Looking Glass. It was a program for children ages 1-3, and involved care providers as well as parents. Basically, when the children were at daycare, they were assigned one person who would be their primary caregiver. This person was with them for things like diaper changing, meal time, and play time. It wasn’t that kids weren’t exposed to other people, but they had that specific person to come back to as a sort of home base. The idea was that if the kids were secure in knowing they had someone to come back to, they would gradually be more willing to go out and explore things on their own. The primary care giver also formed a relationship with the child’s parents so that expectations and consequences could be the same at home and at daycare.

Reading the article brought to mind an experience John and I shared in the last week of the program. We were coming back from somewhere and were almost home when we came upon someone trimming weeds in the parking lot. With my encouragement, John was willing to keep walking, despite the fact that he was terrified. Sure, it took a lot of me reminding him that I knew he could do it, but he eventually managed. Thinking about this experience made me wonder if there are ways we could use attachment theory to help some of our older students thrive. In many ways we’re asking them to learn things their sighted peers learned as much younger children. Consequently, I’m wondering if using an approach similar to that described in the article might help our students go farther. Maybe rather than having three or four different people working with everyone we should have one adult assigned to work with two or three students. That adult would teach them during class time, and also help them after hours with things like cooking meals and socialization.

I’m not sure this is the answer, and I realize it has its own problems, especially when you consider that a female staff member can’t live with male students, and vise versa. Still, I would be interested to hear what others think. Has anyone tried anything like this before?