Raising a Blind Child - Parents' Views

I am going to start today by reading some definitions to you. HANDICAPPED: A disadvantage that makes progress or success difficult (it does not say impossible only difficult). DISABLED: To be unable or incapable. Because I do not consider people with visual impairment to be unable or incapable, I prefer to use the word handicapped. So if you hear the word handicapped today this is why. Today we are going to talk about how we can help children with visual impairments attain independence. Are we, any of us, truly independent? Few of us grow our own food, milk our own cows, churn our own butter, or even make our own clothes. We are actually interdependent. We depend on others to provide services and products for us and we in turn provide something for them. This is how our society works, and this is how our families function. It is just as important, if not more so, for children who are blind or have low vision to learn interdependence. They need to feel like they are contributing to the family unit.

As Educators we have a responsibility to help parents understand how important it is to help their children be a part of the family unit and not the center of it. By being a part of the family and expected to pull their own weight, so to speak, the child learns self-confidence and a sense of self-worth. These are big steps towards independence.

Over the past twenty to twenty-five years many laws have been implemented to see that the special needs of children with visual impairments are met. These services are truly remarkable. The low vision aids and special equipment for the blind are far beyond what we could have imagined fifteen years ago. We have IEP meetings that specialists, parents, and even the child may attend to design a personalized plan for educating the child. These children receive a comparable, if not superior, education to their peers...So why is there a 75% unemployment rate among the legally blind and up to 90% for those who are blind from early infancy?

There are two books I am going to talk about briefly. JOB'S TO BE PROUD OF gives profiles of workers who are blind or visually impaired, and CAREER PERSPECTIVES...interviews with blind and visually impaired professionals. These books are from "The American Foundation for the Blind." Mentioned in these books is a mechanic, a receptionist, a medical transcriber, a massage and acupressure therapist, a Customer Service Agent, a factory worker, there is a Deputy Assistant Counsel to the Governor of New Jersey, an executive with Xerox, a Senior Planner with the Fulton County Department of Parks and Recreation, an Assistant Attorney General in the Land and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, a Feature Writer with the Fort Worth Star Telegram in Texas, a Vice-President and general manager of KKOB AM & FM in New Mexico, a stockbroker, a judge, a lawyer, and a professor, just to mention a few. Then we have my son Keith who teaches Language Arts at s middle school in Yorba Linda ... and he likes to read by the way. And my son Daniel who is an O&M instructor as well as the Youth Out Reach Coordinator for Blind Children's Learning Center. Visual impairments and blindness are not stopping these people.

There are many areas of development that children need to achieve. Intellectual development is only one of them and perhaps not the most important. These children need to learn how to function in a seeing world. They need to be a part of society as it is. The rules are already in place and like everyone else they must learn how society works and what is expected of them. But first of all, as educators, we need to evaluate our expectations for these children. Most children...most people will only achieve what is expected of them. If we expect less from children with visual impairments than we do from children who are not visually impaired...that is what we are going to get. These children are children first and their visual impairment is only a small part of what they are. We need to work on their social development. Instead of providing a sheltered environment where these children can have their social needs met among other visually impaired or blind children why are we not encouraging them to go to their school dances, to join clubs, to participate in other school functions. What about joining community activities...like Brownies and Cub Scouts. After all ultimately this is where they will learn the social skills needed in the seeing world of employment. If we expect them to be productive adults, to hold jobs. Then they will need all the experience they can get to develop these social skills. Let's not make them more handicapped than they need to be...lets stop thinking of them as blind children. They are children with feelings, wants, needs, and dreams just like all children.

We must help parents to start teaching interdependence within the family unit early in life. By the age of two a child can help put their toys away. By three they can learn to help fold some clothes...like wash clothes. (At age 3&1/2 Daniel could help me fold Keith's diapers.) By four they can set the table, put their own clothes away and help feed the pets. By five they can make their own beds, pour their own cereal and milk, and make a sandwich. There are many things children can do to help... to contribute. Children need to experience first hand: Failure, success, helping others, respect for themselves as well as respect for others. They must learn to take responsibility for their actions. We need to let them grow to allow them the ability to make choices. All people deserve the right to make choices. This is independence.