A quarterly newsletter about visual impairments and deafblindness for families and professionals a collaborative effort of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and Texas Commission for the Blind

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A collaborative effort of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and Texas Commission for the Blind

Winter 2004 Volume 9, No. 1



Preparing for the Workplace

Pays Off for Children with Disabilities……………………...3

Do You Believe in Your Child?...............………...........……......7

Creating Pathways for Children with Deafblindness –

The NTAC/NFADB Parent Training..……….………….....14

Keeping the Bar of Expectations High....................……...…...22


Active Learning and the Exploration of Real Objects.…..…....27

What’s Up with Interveners in Texas?..............………….…....33

Cochlear Implants .............................................………….…..46


TCB Ending Its Seventy-Two Year History....….………...…...53

The Evolution of the Texas School for the Blind and

Visually Impaired in the 21st Century, Part Four ......…...57

When Planning for Adult Life, How is a

“Life-style” Different than a “Program”?....…...….…...….64

Beyond Programs: A Parable.................................................70

Solving Their Problem: a Strong Recruitment Strategy...…....72

Families of Children with Deafblindness SPARKLE................75

American Council of the Blind Scholarships On-line........…...77

New on the TSBVI Website................................…..………....77


Regional, State and National

Training Listings and Events………………………….…...79

ection Editor’s Introduction:
The Family Section in this edition continues a series of family-focused articles dealing with the subject of the expanded core curriculum for students with visual impairments, including those with deafblindness and multiple disabilities. The last edition addressed recreation and leisure skills. This issue focuses on career education. We asked Gene Brooks and Brandy Wojcik to share with our readers what they thought was critical to helping a child with visual impairments or deafblindness to succeed as an adult and to find their career path. We appreciate their insights and reflections. Career education begins at birth and is relevant to all children, including those who may not follow traditional work paths. For some individuals, like Brandy and Gene, career education means preparing for the world of work. For others, like Corry, Melanie and Keith’s children, career education expands its focus to preparing for a self-determined life-style in adult life.

Preparing for the Workplace Pays Off

For Children with Disabilities

Reprinted with permission from the

Summer, 2001, issue of the Pacesetter,

A publication of the Pacer Center, Inc.,

Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Abstract: This article lists eleven practical and effective strategies parents can do to help their child develop the skills they will need to be successful in the world of work. Although the article was written for children with a range of disabilities, the strategies listed can be used for any child.

Key words: blind, deafblind, parents, practical suggestions, career education, expanded core curriculum

The article is an excerpt from When I Grow Up, I Am Going to Work, a PACER Center Project Youth book for children; Diane Hovey, project coordinator, and Caryn Pernu, editor. The booklet may be purchased from the PACER Center at $8 per copy ($6 for 10 or more). For more information contact the PACER Center at 8161 Normandale Blvd., Bloomington, MN 55437-1044; (952) 838-9000 voice; (952) 838-0190 TTY; (952) 838-0199 fax; . All rights reserved.
arents may feel mixed emotions about the child with disabilities growing up and going to work. They may share the child’s excitement about future possibilities, but they may also worry about the child’s vulnerability of possible failure at a job. Helping children develop job skills is one of the biggest gifts parents can give because it enriches children’s sense of self and builds potential for their future.
How can parents assist their young children to become ready for work? Here are some helpful ideas:
1. Teach social skills

More people lose jobs because of personality conflicts and the inability to work with other people than for any other reason. Providing children with opportunities for social interaction is very important. Preschool groups, religious groups, scouting groups, and community recreation programs are examples of good places to learn social skills.

2. Give children specific chores

Parents can help their children choose chores they can do with little assistance. Even children who have physical limitations that require assistance can still be given chores. For instance, the tray on a wheelchair can be used to deliver dishes to the table or folded laundry to the correct room. Occupational therapists can provide assistance if adaptations are needed to accomplish the chore. Not only will children be proud of their work, but they will also be contributing to the needs of the family.

3. Provide daily opportunities for children to make choices


arents can start by asking children to make simple and familiar choices such as what to wear or what to eat. They must be sure the choices are ones their children are able to make and be careful to avoid offering options that are not possibilities. At first, parents can limit options by offering children a choice between two items. Later, the number of options can increase as children develop skills.
4. Teach communications skills

Children need to learn communications skills, as well as how to express feelings in a socially acceptable way, take criticism without becoming outwardly upset or angry, cooperate with others, ask for help when needed, and ask for more work once initial tasks are complete. Role playing can be an effective tool in learning communication skills.

5. Help children identify interests

Parents can provide opportunities for a variety of activities so children can explore different interests. Hobbies are an enjoyable way to learn skills and can lead to job opportunities. Children who like sports, for example, may eventually work in a sports store or at a camp.

6. Keep a notebook

Parents can keep a list of their children’s interests and the places where they seem most comfortable. Parents can also note their children’s skills and strengths and what motivates them to follow through on their tasks. In this way, parents learn more about their children and also better see the progress their children make.

7. Help children to be punctual



arents can teach their children to set an alarm clock and wake up on time for school. Children can learn to prepare for the next day by laying out their clothes the night before. Parents can assist their children in calling if they cannot attend an activity.
8. Allow children to experience natural consequences

Parents often want to shelter their children from any pain or sadness, but this is a natural part of life for children with disabilities as well. When children make a choice and it turns out to be a bad decision, parents can provide the opportunity for their children to learn about natural consequences. Everyone learns from mistakes. Parents can be there to support their children but let them make mistakes and learn from them.

9. Talk to children about jobs

Parents can talk to their children about different jobs. They can point out what people are doing in their jobs and ask their children’s opinions about the tasks. Children can visit their parents’ workplaces and help.

10. Encourage volunteering

Volunteering can teach children much about what is expected at work without putting too much pressure on them. Volunteer experiences provide opportunities to learn job skills, meet new people, learn to communicate with people who are not used to being with people with disabilities, and learn to do a task in a certain time period and do it well. It is a great opportunity for career exploration.

11. Promote self-advocacy


y providing choice and opportunity and teaching decision-making skills, parents are helping their children build

a foundation for self-advocacy. Parents can teach their children about their disabilities and how to communicate their needs.

They can provide opportunities for their children to express their thoughts and opinions and exercise control over their environment. Later in the workplace, these skills will assist young adults in asking for what they need, especially for any special equipment or necessary changes to the workplace that will help them better do their jobs.

Starting early in preparing children for work will ensure they have better opportunities to be successful in their employment. Most importantly, parents can expect that their children will grow up to work, and they can help their children build dreams.

Do You Believe in Your Child?

By Gene I. Brooks, Ph. D. ,

Governing Board Member for TSBVI, Austin, TX

Abstract: The author of this article shares his personal story of growing up as a person with visual impairments in the days of segregation and the steps he took to develop effective job skills that have helped him become successful.
Key words: blind, deafblind, personal story, career education, expanded core curriculum
hen I was first approached about writing this article, my immediate reaction was that I don’t have any helpful information to share with parents of blind children. However,

after giving the article some thought, I realized that just maybe m

y story might help give hope to someone. After all, had it not been for my uncle and a handful of very special teachers along the way, I wouldn’t be who and where I am today. These were special people because they believed in me, and they verbally let me know that they believed in me. But unfortunately, there are many children currently in special education who never hear encouraging words such as: you’re going to grow up and do wonderful things or you’re going to be a doctor when you grow up. Therefore, this article is about how I came to believe in myself and to say to parents: Let your children hear you say to them, “I believe in you!” But first some background.

Kingsville, Texas and the Early Years

Much like my grandfather before him, my father found himself working for the railroad in Kingsville, married and with five children. My twin sister and I are the youngest children. We were born on June 14, 1951. We grew up with lots of love from a large extended family and a community that cared. During my sister’s and my delivery everything appeared to be normal with the exception of my starting to be born feet first. Over the next several years, my mother watched me to make sure that I hit all of the developmental milestones, not knowing if there had been some type of birth defect. At the age of three, my mother and aunt noticed that my left eye was pulling, and decided to take me to see an optometrist where the diagnosis of lazy eye was made (strabismus). The prescription for lazy eye at that time was for me to receive a pair of glasses and to wear a patch over my stronger eye, trying to make the weaker eye stronger. In short, over the next two years, I received two unsuccessful operations attempting to correct the problem.

Separate But Not Equal

In 1955, our mother enrolled my sister and me in a kindergarten class at a Catholic school even though our segregated school was doing a good job of educating black children. Our mother felt that we would receive a better education from the Catholic school in spite of the fact that all of our black teachers in our segregated school were hand picked from black teacher colleges and were thought to be some of the best and the brightest. While we were allowed to attend parochial school with Mexican-Americans in the early grades, we were not allowed to attend school with Whites at all until the late 1950s, and even at that time we were not educated together with Whites until the seventh grade.

y first school experience proved to be traumatic for me. Early on, I remember telling my mother that I didn’t like going to the Catholic school because the nuns were mean. I felt they were mean because they used a ruler to hit me on the back of the hand when I made any type of mistake. And because I made lots of mistakes, my little knuckles stayed sore. After listening to me complain for months, my mother decided to withdraw both my sister and me and put us in our neighborhood school. Over the next three years I continued to have problems learning. After being retained in the first and the second grade, it was decided that I was mentally retarded and needed to be sent to a separate school that served children with mental retardation. After being there for about six months, I remember my teacher sending a note home with me asking my mother for a parent conference. It was at that time my teacher told my mother that she didn’t think I was mentally retarded but that I might have a visual problem. So over the next several years my mother took me to Houston to undergo numerous medical exams. In 1960 I received the diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa (RP), and it was at that time my mother decided to move us to Houston so I could receive a better education.

In 1961 we made the move to Houston, I started a sight savings class, and I loved all of it. For the first time I was learning. I was learning because the special materials that were used allowed me to see what was on the blackboard, read from large print books, and for the first time to interact with other children who had visual impairments like myself. I remained in the Houston school system until the fall of 1966 and at that time my mother enrolled me in the Texas School for the Blind. I was first scheduled to attend the school in the fall of 1965, but my start date had to be pushed back one year due to desegregation. At that time, all blind black students attended DB&O, which stood for Texas Deaf, Blind, and Orphan School, and all white blind students attended the School for the Blind.

In the fall of 1966, I arrived on the campus of the School for the Blind and I thought I was in heaven. Again, I saw other children who had visual impairments like me and, for the first time, I had the opportunity to participate in competitive sports and to date. However, my transition from Houston to the School for the Blind wasn’t all good. Like the rest of society, the school was going through desegregation and there were some who didn’t want us there and they tried to make our lives difficult. But as for me, I didn’t really let it bother me that much because I thought I was in heaven, being surrounded by so many beautiful blind people.


When I first arrived at the School for the Blind I was placed back into the first grade. It’s important to point out here that in 1966 - 1967 I was fourteen years of age and in a classroom with children who were only six years of age. Some of those students only came up to my knees when they stood up. After the school saw I could do the first grade work, I was moved into the third grade and I stayed there until I, along with many other black students, was placed back into a nonacademic track. I stayed there until about 1969. In the 1969 - 1970 school year, several teachers began to question why so many black students had been placed into the nonacademic track. I remember overhearing a parent talking with one of the concerned teachers telling her to go to the administration and demand that her child be placed back into the regular academic track. After hearing that conversation I decided to go to that same teacher and tell her that I wanted to be placed back into the regular track and that I wanted to graduate with a regular diploma. She suggested that I call my mother and ask her to make an appointment with the superintendent so she could discuss placing me back on track. A week later, I saw the superintendent in the hallway and I told him that my mother was concerned about me being in the nonacademic track and would therefore be calling him about placing me back into the regular academic track. Well, two weeks later, I was back in the regular track and very happy. What was interesting about me being moved back was that I never told my mother anything about the earlier conversation I had with the teacher or the superintendent, and therefore, my mother was never apprised of what was going on. But it worked! I was out of the nonacademic track and I loved it.


Remember me talking earlier about my uncle and the handful of special teachers that believed in me and let me know that they believed in me? Well, had it not been for them, I don’t think I would be where I am today. In fact, I know I wouldn’t. As a child, my uncle loved me unconditionally and I always heard him tell me that I would grow up to become a doctor some day. So when things got really tough for me, I would always hear him saying to me or to others around me “Gene’s going to grow up and become a doctor some day.” And you know what? It really did help me to get through the difficult times. And believe me, there were some difficult times. I also could not have made it without those teachers who always told me that I had the ability to be in the regular academic track. Guess what? I believed them!

n 1970 after I was placed back into the regular academic track, I was also selected to work in a pilot program that used students as residential aides with the younger students on campus. There were four of us selected to work in the program that year and all four of us worked in the program until we graduated from high school. I had a dorm with 16 boys and my job was to wake them up and make sure that they were dressed and ready for breakfast. After breakfast I was responsible for getting those that needed medication to the health center for their meds and then get them off to class. In lieu of monetary compensation for our services, we were given our own private rooms instead. And believe it or not, the private room was the selling point for all of us who participated in the program. We were the only four students on campus who had their own private rooms, and we were envied by the entire student body. Because we had demonstrated a strong work ethic, good leadership skills, and someone believed in us, all of us were offered full-time employment by the school after we graduated.

After graduation, in the fall of 1973, I was hired by the school and asked if I would like to work in a special program called deaf-blind. I knew then that my earlier high school work experience had helped me to explore whether or not I wanted to work in the field of special education. So I accepted the position and over the next eight years I received some of the best preparatory training for working in special education. I’m not talking about formal preparatory training but rather the day-to-day work experiences.
Shortly after I started to work at the Deaf-Blind Annex I realized that I was surrounded by a group of young people who were extremely bright, goal oriented, and who thought they could make a difference in the lives of each and every family we came in contact with. Therefore, it didn’t take me very long to realize that I loved the Annex culture and that I too wanted to continue to grow individually and professionally. So I decided that I wanted to attend college and to someday be in a position to help visually impaired people and their families achieve their goals. Finally, in 1975, while I was still working at the Annex, I decided that my goal was to graduate from The University of Texas at Austin and to passionately pursue a career that would be used to ultimately change the lives of people with blindness and visual impairment.
hat goal ultimately led to my receiving a doctorate of philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin in 2000. I am now a researcher and rehabilitation consultant and was appointed by Governor Perry in April 2003 to serve on the Governing Board of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, where lives of young people are indeed changed.

Creating Pathways for Children with Deafblindness –

The NTAC/NFADB Parent Training

By Edgenie Bellah,

Family Support, Texas Deafblind Project

Abstract: This article provides a brief overview of person-centered planning and shares three parents’ stories about how they are using the tool to plan for their child’s future.
Key word: blind, deafblind, family, person-centered planning, career education
When children have disabilities such as deafblindness, sometimes it is hard to envision their long-term future. Having information and connections to individuals who can serve as role models is helpful, but ultimately each family must create a personal dream for the future that is based on their loved-one’s interests, talents and available community supports. There are a number of tools that have been developed to help families and significant people influencing the individual’s life create a positive vision for the future. One such tool is person-centered planning as process often referred to as mapping because it creates visual images to reflect the person’s life experience and path.
n September 18-20, 2003, I joined three other parents from Texas in Tampa, Florida for the annual parent workshop

sponsored by The National Technical Assistance Consortium for Children and Young Adults who are Deaf-Blind (NTAC) and National Family Association for Deaf-Blind (NFADB). This year’s training focused on person-centered planning as a tool to help parents plan for all the transitions their child with deaf-blindness might experience from birth through adulthood. Person-centered planning is not new. As Keith Fansler, one of the parents from Texas, pointed out to me in a later conversation, parents create maps for all of their children’s futures.

According to Dr. Beth Mount (1991), person-centered planning:

• Works to support the contribution of each person in local community life

• Finds and develops the gifts, strengths and talents of each person

• Develops a vision that expresses these gifts

• Builds a support group to make these ideals happen

• Builds a community network of acceptance

• Changes services to be more responsive to the interests of people

hile there is much written about the benefits of person-centered planning, the most meaningful way to gain a true picture is through the words of parents who have already experienced this process. The first story below is written by Corry Hill, who is the Family Specialist for the Utah Deafblind Project and NFADB Region 8 Regional Director. Corry shared her story, written in 1994 after her family’s initial experience, at the kickoff of the training. Her story inspired me to ask the parents from Texas who went through the training to share their experiences. Two of these parents are Keith Fansler of Amarillo and Melanie Knapp of Missouri City.
Corry’s Story

I am the mother of an adorable six-year-old daughter, Laurie Lynn Hill, who just so happens to have a dual sensory impairment and is multiply handicapped. Before I had experiences with mapping, I would introduce Laurie as someone who couldn’t talk, walk, eat and who couldn’t hear or see very well. Futures Planning helped everyone who works with Laurie and myself view her as a whole person with strengths as well as weaknesses.

Those people who have worked with Laurie have always been good, but prior to Personal Futures Planning (Maps), it felt like a disjointed effort. Each person was concentrating on what Laurie couldn’t do or what she needed to learn in their own specific fields. For example, the OT’s goals were written before she had met Laurie, written directly from a text book, not changed for two years, and not incorporated with anything else in Laurie’s school day.

e were first introduced to futures planning at a deaf-blind conference in 1992. Our family attended a session learning about Maps and then the conference broke into small groups to actually make some maps. We had the privilege of using Laurie as the example. In attendance at that group were several people who worked with Laurie, both directly and indirectly, including her teacher, intervener and several service providers. We began by creating a Background Map. Laurie’s intervener, her father and I were the major contributors because we had known her all her life. By the time that map was finished I felt the group begin to have some cohesiveness. We were at a common starting point. Everyone in the room knew of Laurie’s struggle to live and we all looked at her with the “same eyes.” While creating the Relationship Map we were all pleased to discover the many people who worked with and cared for Laurie. I was especially pleased while the Preferences Map was being created to see everyone giving input. They knew Laurie better than I thought they did, and we came up with even more “things that work” than “things that don’t.” Service providers wrote down specific ideas to try that they didn’t know about before, things that someone else had success with. The Dream for the Future Map was the hardest for me to work on. It is difficult for me to dream for an uncertain future. Everyone in the room was very encouraging and urged us to dream high. We were very proud of our accomplishments as a group. Three years later a speech therapist commented that mapping session helped her greatly and was the best thing she had ever seen. Even though Laurie’s maps have been updated many times, I still have those original maps and cherish them.

After the mapping session, I noticed a change in all those who had been part of the process. Fences were down - it was no longer us against them, but a team with everybody an equal partner. The attitude toward Laurie was positive. That is, everyone treating her as a whole person and sharing ideas about how to achieve goals together.
Keith’s story


he Fansler family has been in the deafblind business going on sixteen years now. My wife, Leslie, and I have been together for a little more than seventeen years. We have two sons. Our oldest son, Chance, is a junior in high school. Chance is a ranked fencer and on the varsity wrestling team. Preston, our youngest son, was born blind and is now carrying the deafblind label. Labels — you’ve got to love them. Preston loves the water and is a gold medallist bowler in the Special Olympics. He has several jobs, one of which requires him to swim for his paycheck. We are longtime members of Deafblind Multihandicapped Association of Texas (DBMAT) and NFADB. For several years, I served as Member-At-Large and Vice-President of DBMAT. I also have attended the NTAC-NFADB parent trainings since one of the earliest trainings in St. Louis.


his NTAC-NFADB parent training was a little different than the ones I attended in the past. They had me moderate our group’s mapping process. I had been to a session on mapping before, but we have never done it for our son, Preston. It was amazing to see how much information our group came up with for the lady who was picked to have her child be the focus of our mapping training. This was the first time our group had met. We were total strangers. I loved the experience I had with moderating. It let me see how easy it really is to build a program on a child’s strengths and not his/her weaknesses. Our group built a program for a total stranger based on her likes and dislikes. Just think of what you can do for your family member or even somebody you know. Being the moderator gave me the confidence I need to do a mapping on my son. If you think about it, we all do person-centered planning for ourselves. Leslie and I have done person-centered planning with our oldest son, Chance. To an extent, we have done it with Preston. We try to find jobs and activities that coincide with what he likes, not with things he does not like.

The only problem I see with mapping is getting everybody together at the same time, so it might take two or maybe more sessions. You might want to break it down into groups, like family and friends, professionals, church and community. Getting your person-centered planning ideas into the IEP can be a challenge, but it is a must. I hope to be starting a mapping process on Preston soon because I learned it is never too early or too late to do mapping. My advice to all parents is to map throughout your child’s life so you will know where you have been and where you are going.

Melanie’s Story

Christian was born in July of 1980, the second son to Gary and myself. We were told we might have a premature birth, but never in my wildest nightmares were we prepared for what was to come. After his birth at 28 weeks gestation, Christian spent his first two years in the hospital. I can’t even remember how many surgeries he had or how many times we almost lost him. As a result of his prematurity and long hospitalization, Christian had numerous medical difficulties. He is now 23 years old. He is deafblind. He is incredibly strong, and has a great sense of humor (Knapp humor). He also is a really good-looking guy. Christian has a wonderful big brother, Landon...and now a sister-in-law, Christi. Christian thinks Christi is HIS girlfriend. I am the Momma, and Gary is Dad. We have had tremendous family support over the years. Christian is in his last year of school. He has made AMAZING progress over the last three years. He understands a lot of sign language. We have had many years of incredible support from his educational team.


few years ago, David Wiley and Craig Axelrod came to our home. We went through the person-centered planning process for Christian then. It was just the four of us that night. So many events have taken place in our lives and Christian’s life since then.

What did I learn from my training in Tampa? Well, I volunteered Christian to be the focus person. While I was quite proud of myself, I realized during the process that since I was the only one that knew Christian, it was a very subjective mapping. The training did give me the tools to take on a better, less subjective mapping, and it was up to me to make it happen for real.

Upon my return home, I was determined to have a person-centered planning party. Gary and I were happy with how many people were able to make it. I invited the family that was in town: Landon and Christi, Mimi, Aunt Cheryl. A few members of my family were unable to come for the first meeting, but hopefully will jump on the wagon next time. Chantel Simon (Christian’s caregiver) was there as was Ann Bielert (his intervener), Mrs. Parker (his classroom teacher), and Gloria Vaughn (his vision teacher through the years). I was ecstatic that Craig Axelrod, David Wiley, and Edgenie Bellah from Texas Deafblind Outreach at TSBVI wanted to help.

I think the mapping process went great. We had so much input from everyone, not just from me. The process was also therapeutic. There were a few tears and a lot of laughs. I definitely feel like the mapping was a success.

What came out of our first meeting is a plan. We have looked at what Christian would want, what he would want to do


s work, where he would want to spend his time, and who he would like to spend it with. We have determined as a team what will work for him and what won’t work. We have already put our plan into action. Christian now owns a small vending machine and has started training with it at school to learn how to stock it. When he graduates, we will move this one to his Dad’s office. Who knows? He may become quite the vending machine entrepreneur!
Other Resources

These stories are far from ending. Families will continue to build upon their initial dream through ongoing mapping. Just like you and I, the dream is ever evolving in response to our actual experiences and changing needs and interests. I want to thank each of the parents for sharing their personal stories about their recent learning experiences and for allowing me to tag along for the wonderful journey they are on with their families.

For a more detailed description of planning for adult life for individuals with multiple disabilities such as deafblindness, be sure to read the article, When Planning for Adult Life, How is a “Life-style” Different than a “Program”? by David Wiley on page 29. Families are also welcome to call the Texas Outreach program for assistance in developing a person-centered plan. Kate Moss and David Wiley have written A Brief Guide to Personal Futures Planning, Organizing Your Community to Envision and Build a Desirable Future With You: a paper that provides an overview and step-by-step directions for the process. The Outreach Program is also available to help with individual plans.


Keeping the Bar of Expectations High

By Brandy Wojcik,

Discovery Toys Educational Consultant, Austin, TX

Abstract: Meet a young lady whose life speaks volumes about the value of self-advocacy at an early age. Parents and professionals alike will gain much from her story of a determined path toward a career choice.
Key words: blind, deafblind, personal story, career education, expanded core curriculum
I am a 23-year-old attending the University of Texas, majoring in Early Childhood and Special Education. I currently work two part-time jobs, one at St. Luke Infant Care Center and the other as an independent salesperson for Discovery Toys®. I frequently baby-sit for extra money and to gain valuable experience. In my spare time I enjoy playing my flute, reading, helping others succeed, and singing in my church choir. When I was approached to write this article, I was asked to respond to several questions: What guided me to make this career choice? What and who helped me arrive at my decisions? There is not a simple answer, as I believe many intricately woven experiences and special people got me where I am today.

ooking back, the first ten years of my life experiences played a large role in my success. When I was first diagnosed with Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis, a counselor came to my home to talk to my mom and she said, “If you overprotect her now, you will have to overprotect her for life.” It was then that my mom removed the pillows, and raised her bar of expectation for what I could become. For as long as I can remember, my blindness was never an excuse. I was taught that, yes, I was different, but this was no problem. Yes, I may have to do some things differently, but that was the key: differently I would still complete the task or goal. From as far back as I can remember, I was expected to play an active role in my family chores, in school, and in extracurricular activities, such as Girl Scouts. During my preschool years I began to learn braille while attending class daily, to clean up my room, to clear my place at the table and to respect others. As the years passed and I got older, the responsibilities increased, as did the expectations. I continued to do chores, along with homework and helping with my younger sister. I also started to take an active role in making decisions about my educational program.

During junior high and high school, many things remained the same but many things also changed. The thing that changed most dramatically was my school arrangement. Because I attended eleven different schools during the first twelve years of life, I had fallen way behind academically. There was no doubt I had the ability; I just lacked the resources to learn. When I completed fifth grade, I had twelfth grade comprehension skills but my other reading skills and math skills were on the second- to third-grade level. To help me catch up, the decision was made that I needed to attend the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI). I

already had a good foundation through doing chores at home, but now that I was older and living away from home, I learned to cook, clean, set goals, travel independently and be a part of the decisions made about me at a whole new level.

t was around this time when I became very active in extracurricular activities. I continued to be active in Girl Scouts, sharing the responsibilities of the troop’s success. I began being active in sports, student council, choir, piano lessons, the Pal Program, and drama class.

Even though I attended every ARD since I was in third grade, I only contributed by giving my opinions on what was already decided for me. In sixth grade, my advisor began meeting with me before the ARD to let me have a say in what was being planned for my education. I think this was important because I started learning how to decipher if I wasn’t happy about a decision because I didn’t like it or I had a good reason for not agreeing with the ARD committee. It allowed me to be honest about my abilities and to take control of my life. In the eighth grade, I returned to my public school. When I started getting concerned that I wasn’t receiving the education I needed to be successful in college, I called my own ARD to advocate that I be on an equal playing field as my sighted peers. I didn’t care what type of work I needed to do; I wanted a fair chance to compete with them to attend college. As part of the ARD committee, we made the decision for me to return to TSBVI. Once I asked to be treated equally and to have high expectations, I got it. I think in many ways, because I had to work so hard to receive a good education, it means more to me than one can imagine.

n sixth grade, I also began volunteering so that I could get work experience and to compete in the annual community service award. The first volunteer experience I had was at Magic Years Day Care where I worked in the infant room assisting the teacher in feeding, changing, and entertaining the children. I loved this work and my dreams of becoming a teacher began to blossom. I figured out that I wanted to teach babies, but I didn’t know how much I wanted to do this until high school. That was when I learned that to make the difference I was wanting to make, I would need to teach children with special needs. It was the Pal Program that fostered this portion of my goal. The Pal Program is where older students were paired with elementary students to take them places on campus, help with homework, and in general be their mentor.


During high school, I participated in the TSBVI Dual Enrollment program, where students attend a portion of the day at a local high school and a portion of the day at TSBVI. I became active in theater, and later in band, while learning to play the flute. As you may or may not know, in high school, teens are encouraged to begin thinking of life after school. I knew college was a must for my goals, and I set my standards high and arranged my high school classes to give me the educational experience I needed to reach my goals. I took classes such as Home Economics and Child Development. I also participated in a summer work program where I worked at a local child care center sharing the classroom responsibilities of caring for the children. During the summer work experience, I also lived in an apartment with two other teens who were participating in the program. This work experience only strengthened my desire to teach. I graduated valedictorian of my class at TSBVI, and was ranked 57th out of 430 at McCallum High School.

hile all the activities and expectations I have shared in the previous paragraphs played a large role in my choices and goals, a few things made a significant difference in who I am today. The first is the attitude people had about my blindness, that is, “no big deal.” The second is the level of responsibility I was given and expected to keep. My involvement in Girl Scouts for twelve years was also a key factor; for it was here I learned to set my own goals, keep a calendar, interact appropriately with peers and adults, and to do my part. I have also always been held accountable for my actions — good and bad. I truly believe it is that which molded me to be who I am.


As an adult, I continue to set new goals to achieve. I now know I want to work with infants with special needs, and have found the college path to get me there. I have had two kidney transplants and took care of my own home dialysis while waiting for the second kidney. I am currently caring for my younger sister who lives with me while I independently clean my house, shop and cook my own food, attend work, and school. I am active in my church helping to teach Sunday school, taking Bible classes, taking my turn in cooking for fellowship events, and baby-sitting.
I am often asked how I got into selling Discovery Toys®. I decided to sell them when I needed some toys for the children I cared for at my home. I quickly discovered it was fun and easy, and I could work just one day care job instead of working two. The best part about selling is that I feel like I’m able to help parents with children of all abilities.
he one thing that had the most impact on shaping my decisions and goals today is what that counselor shared with my mother when I was just a baby. If she hadn’t told her to let me have normal life experiences, I may not have ever made it

this far. I want to be that teacher for others, guiding them to help their children to be all they can be in all aspects of life.


I’d like to thank the people who played valuable roles in my growth and independence: my mom for insisting from the beginning that I be normal, living out my dreams; Lisa Birr, my first blind adult role model and teacher; Jan Walker, my first braille and O&M instructor when I was three years-old; Debra Sewell, my teacher at TSBVI, for helping me improve my braille skills and catch up academically; Nancy Voots who was my advisor and teacher throughout the seven years I was at TSBVI; Robyn Koenig, residential instructor, for continuing the expectations my mom started; Elise Ragland, my Girl Scout leader, friend, other mom, and sales director in Discovery Toys®; and Helen Weiker, my Boss and director at St. Luke, for insisting I play an equal role in my work, and for being flexible in adapting the work site by doing things such as putting braille labels on the children’s storage bins. Thank you all for always being there!

I love helping others, and if any readers wish to talk with me about my story or to get more information about Discovery Toys® you can reach me at 512-453-0975 or . You can also check out my website at .

Active Learning and the Exploration of Real Objects

By Stacy Shafer, Early Childhood Specialist, and

Ann Adkins, Education Specialist,

TSBVI Visually Impaired Outreach
bstract: This article describes some of the techniques of Dr. Lilli Nielsen’s Active Learning Theory.

Key Words: blind, deafblind, Active Learning, Lilli Nielsen, real objects, Little Room, resonance board, position board, play
Editors Note: In the last edition of See/Hear, we printed “An Introduction to Dr. Lilli Nielsen’s Active Learning” and promised to provide additional information on active learning in each issue this year. In this issue, we’d like to examine some of Dr. Nielsen’s learning strategies and the importance of using real objects. We would also like to hear from others who have used active learning, and encourage you to contact Stacy Shafer at or Ann Adkins at to share your experiences.

Visually impaired children learn by exploring and manipulating the objects in their environment and by comparing new objects to familiar ones. They need as many experiences as possible with real objects and textures. Hands-on experiences with a variety of objects, made out of as many different materials as possible, allow students to work on a variety of skills and learn about their environment. Concrete experiences with real objects also facilitate concept development. It is important to give students ways to actively impact their environment and teach them to be active participants in their world instead of passive recipients of stimulation from adults. The active learning techniques developed by Dr. Lilli Nielsen provide excellent opportunities for visually impaired students to gather information through the exploration and manipulation of real objects. Dr. Nielsen’s approach encourages children to be active learners, and helps them discover that they can control events in their lives.



Some of the active learning equipment and materials that we have observed include:

The Little Room

The Little Room is described in detail in Dr. Nielsen’s book, Space and Self, and in the article in the last edition of See/Hear. It is a piece of equipment that provides students with a safe environment for independent play and exploration. Many children are more willing to tactually explore objects when they are in control of an activity and can anticipate what might happen. The objects in the Little Room are attached with elastic and go back to their original positions when the child lets go of them, enabling him to find them again and repeat an action as quickly and as often as he wants. It gives students the opportunity to work on object exploration and manipulation, object comparison, object permanence, cause and effect, spatial concept development, problem solving, independent play, recognition, anticipation, sensory integration, and spatial memory. The Little Room also provides the opportunity to learn about the different materials from which objects are made (paper, leather, wood, metal, etc.) and the different attributes of objects (size, weight, temperature, etc.). As students experience these different objects and learn about their specific characteristics, they will discover that some objects are better for some activities than others. They will learn that some objects make better sounds when batted at than others, some are better for mouthing, some are more interesting to touch, etc. Although the Little Room is an independent activity, it MUST be supervised at all times.


The Position Board

This is a piece of pegboard to which objects are attached with pieces of elastic and is also described in Space and Self. It may be used as an independent activity if the position board is placed so it will remain stationary, or it may be used with an adult. It can be attached to a student’s wheelchair tray, attached to a wall, or placed on the floor or table. Like the Little Room, objects should remain in the same position to encourage the development of object permanence, and the elastic attached to the objects needs to be long enough for students to be able to bring the objects to their mouths. Be sure to include objects with different weights and textures.

The Scratching Board

This is a piece of wood with different textures attached to it. These textured squares are approximately 3” X 3". Examples of textures to include are: leather, carpet, cork, shiny wrapping paper, packing “bubble” sheets (if there is not a danger of the student tearing off a piece and getting it in his mouth), corrugated paper from a box of chocolate candy, shiny ribbon, suede, etc. Fine screening, like tea strainers or cooking strainers, can also be used if the edges are covered to prevent injury. The scratching board can be attached to a student’s tray or positioned so that it can be used while the student is lying on the floor, with either his hands or feet. The Scratching Board can be stabilized so it is an independent activity.

The Tipping Board


his is a board that is fixed in an upright position. Hang objects from the top of the board so that students can receive sensory feedback by batting at them. Again, it can be positioned so that a student can use both his hands and feet. Some objects to consider using include: shiny bead necklaces, strings of interestingly shaped beads, chains (such as those used in the 70’s as belts and necklaces), bells, a plastic or metal slinky, wooden spools strung on cord, etc. Inexpensive necklaces can be restrung with nylon fishing cord or dental floss to prevent breakage. The Tipping Board is an activity that students can do independently, with supervision, if the board is stabilized.
Vest with Objects

The Vest is like a cummerbund with Velcro. Objects and interesting textures are attached to it for students to explore independently. Headliner fabric may be used instead of Velcro to reduce the possibility of abrasions.

The Resonance Board

Playing on a resonance board can be a very rewarding activity for students, providing them with sensory input from the vibrations created by their play. Position the student on the resonance board with several interesting objects around him to encourage him to explore his immediate environment. Playing on the resonance board can be an independent activity, or it is an activity that could be shared with an adult or another student. The child should be on the Resonance Board when using a Little Room.

ll of the activities described above encourage students to use their hands to explore their environments. Visually impaired students need repeated opportunities to tactually explore and examine real objects every day. They need a variety of experiences that require active responses. Additional information on active learning can be found in Dr. Nielsen’s books, Space and Self and Are You Blind?. These books also include information on suggested objects to use with the activities. The student’s educational team should work together to choose appropriate objects. Objects should be pleasurable, graspable, and have tactile, auditory, and visual qualities. Real objects from everyday experiences and daily activities are recommended because they can provide more meaningful and rewarding experiences than toys. Toys and commercially available objects are often made of plastic, and plastic provides little information that is tactually meaningful for visually impaired students. Objects should also be presented in such quantities that the child will have the opportunity to choose, compare, and play counting and sequencing games. They should also vary in weight and texture. Caution is advised because some objects are not appropriate for use with all students. Teams should ensure that all materials and boards used in active learning activities are splinter free, that rough edges are covered with heavy layers of masking or packing tape (especially pegboard), and that any paint, acrylic, or finishing agents used are nontoxic. Even though these are independent activities, they MUST be supervised at ALL times.

Nielsen, Lilli. Space and Self, SIKON, 1992.

Nielsen, Lilli. Are You Blind?, SIKON, 1990.


What’s Up with Interveners in Texas?

By Jenny Lace,

Education Specialist, TSBVI Deafblind Outreach

With help from Jim Durkel,

Statewide Staff Development Coordinator, TSBVI Outreach

Abstract: This article discusses training for Interveners in Texas and shares key components of intervention.
Key Words: Deafblind, intervener, intervention, training, No Child Left Behind, courses, portfolio
Intervener Model Growing in Texas

Did you know that fifty-six interveners have been identified in the state of Texas? The Intervener Model is recognized by the Texas Education Agency and Texas Deafblind Outreach Project as a supplemental service or modification consideration in the IEP (see “Documenting Instructional Considerations for the Student with Deafblindness”

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