Moving: How to Pack Up and Relocate Without Going Mad

by Satauna Howery, Clifton Park, New York

In 2005, my family decided to relocate from the Northwest to the Northeast. If you’ve ever hauled your worldly possessions from an old home to some new digs, you know how daunting this task can be! Since most of us will go through such a transition more than once in our lives, here are some tips to make the process easier.

LOSE WHAT YOU DON’T USE. Letting go of material possessions may be hard, but if you’re paying by the pound you’ll want to consider the cost of dragging that old fridge or extra couch with you. Reacquiring things after you’ve settled into your new place may be cheaper, or you may discover you need less than you thought.

LABEL EVERYTHING. You’ll be glad you did when you get to your destination and need to find something that has yet to be unpacked. I used Embossables, which can be purchased from (American Thermoform Corporation), phone: 909-593-6711 or 800-331-3676. These are 8.5 by 11-inch sheets of paper that have a sticky backing and can be cut to any size, giving me the freedom to be as verbose as I wanted when creating braille labels for my boxes. Each label had a box number, the room where the box contents originated and a comprehensive listing of everything the box contained.

I certainly didn’t pack every box myself, but since I’m the only blind person in the family, I did create every braille label. Printed labels containing the same information were taped to the boxes by those who packed them. Be sure to let sighted helpers know that writing down the box contents and putting printed labels on finished boxes is a way to ensure your access to your stuff.

You may choose to pack and label some boxes yourself as time in each frantic day permits. When the packing frenzy is done for the day, have a sighted person read the labels on boxes that you didn’t pack. Create the braille labels for those boxes and help the sighted person create the print labels for the boxes you handled.

In addition to directly labeling boxes, I kept a list of box numbers and their contents on my BrailleNote. When I got to my new space, this list helped me find which boxes had the items I wanted. A printed copy served my husband in the same capacity and also assisted the movers as they carried everything in off the truck.

KEEP CLOSE WHAT YOU NEED. There are items I use daily, such as a slate and stylus, my cell phone and BrailleNote. Your list will be unique to your situation. Ours was very long because we drove cross country and had the moving van come later. Regardless, there will be things you’ll want to have at your fingertips, so take time to think about what these might be and make sure they stay off the moving van. Don’t forget to include print and braille (or electronic) copies of your box list!

Whether you’re moving across the street, across town or across the country, packing up accumulated treasures–and, let’s face it–junk, can be an overwhelming and stressful experience; but with a little forethought and a lot of labeling (and deep breathing), you can groove through your move and land smoothly on the other side.

Out of the Cookies and Into the Yarn

by B. T. Kimbrough, Salem, Oregon

Davey Hulse has plenty to occupy his mind. As CEO of Braille Plus, Inc., he is a supervisor of ten skilled employees and a provider of braille and other accessible materials to governmental agencies and local school districts. Evidently, his hands are full as well, but with something else entirely. This is the story of how Hulse’s busy hands have drawn the rest of him into challenges, adventures, and enough writing success to write home about.

It was just about three years ago that Davey Hulse decided to try knitting as a possible hobby. “I had to have something to keep my hands busy; they just kept straying into the bag of chips or the cookie jar–and that was a bad thing,” Hulse told me during a telephone interview. “I’m the kind of guy who’s got to have something going on even when I’m sitting reading on the computer.”

He had tried making hooked rugs but gave it up because it required too much sighted intervention. “You’ve got to label your bundles of yarn, and somebody’s got to read you the patterns. I like to be as independent as possible.”

It was that possible independence which attracted him to knitting. Knitting patterns are readily available via the Internet, and all the supplies for a particular project can be readily labeled and organized in advance.

The next question was how to learn. Was there a good set of step-by-step instructions out there for a blind beginner who wanted to learn to knit from the ground up? “My wife went out on the web and found some ‘learn-to-knit’ instructions. There wasn’t any real guidance in terms of what kind of yarn to use for your first project–needle sizes or lengths–all that kind of advice wasn’t around that I could find.”

“I fought my way through it, and also found a blind knitters’ group where I could ask questions. But I swore up and down that once I learned how to knit I was going to write it down in a way that was so concrete that anybody could learn it–even children.”

Hulse became so frustrated by the learning challenges with those inadequate instructions that he nearly gave in to the temptation to throw those big needles and twisted balls of yarn into the trash and walk away. But he persisted, eventually progressing to the point where he could keep that pledge to write it all down.

“A lot of the kits that are out there start people out with a scarf. Well, if it’s four inches wide and about six feet long, which is about the size of a usual scarf, that’s about eighteen or nineteen thousand stitches. That’s a long project; and to my way of thinking that was too big a project to start people on. I decided that I’d start writing down the instructions, and I would put in very short, simple one- or two-hour projects that somebody could do, feel a sense of success, and go show it off.”

Hulse explained that his goal was to craft a simple but multilevel teaching guide. “If they only took the first two or three lessons of the thing they could knit for the rest of their lives and do simple stuff–scarves, baby blankets, and all kinds of stuff. But I also wanted the book to be comprehensive enough that you could make your way through pretty much advanced beginner kinds of patterns on the Internet and you’d also know pretty much how to pick your knitting needles. I have a pretty good sized chapter just on knitting needles, because they are made out of just about anything you can imagine that’s hard–acrylic, wood, bamboo, glass and metal of various kinds–and they all have different characteristics.

“And then what kind of yarn? Anything that has a long fiber can be turned into yarn–and that’s everything from the regular wool to acrylic to steel. And so there are discussions about that.

“In the book (entitled TOUCH OF YARN) I start people with big needles and big yarn. That way, they can feel exactly what they’re doing, and they can see exactly what they’re doing whether they’re low vision or not.”

One specifically blind/low vision friendly feature of TOUCH OF YARN is an appendix containing suggestions for organizing knitting work without vision, plus a description of gadgets and gizmos which might prove helpful. In a further attempt to make it inclusive, Hulse prepared both a large print PDF version and a braille-ready BRF version of the finished book.

Members of the stitchers’ Internet group helped with fact checking and provided lots of positive feedback. One of the group’s members happened to be Nancy Miracle, the webmaster for Lion Brand yarn. She was so impressed with the book that she asked if she could show it to her boss and pursue the possibility that the company might sell it as an instant download from the Lion Brand Yarn website.

“Her boss, the lady in charge of the sales and marketing effort, said ‘Oh, this is good. I hate knitting but I could even do this.'”

After a suspenseful ten days during which the lawyers and the company president had the final say-so, Nancy Miracle phoned Davey Hulse with some amazing news. The files were posted and waiting for him to check out using his screen reading software. “It worked perfectly; and I said, ‘does this mean that it’s going live soon?’ She said, ‘It’s live right now!’ If I’d have gone and tried to sell the idea to Lion Brand that they needed to do this, the chances are I’d have still been talking to them.”

Before long, one of Hulse’s employees heard the remarkable TOUCH OF YARN story, and volunteered to set up an interview with the local newspaper, the Salem, Oregon, STATESMAN JOURNAL. Although the new author understood about the importance of marketing and publicity, he wasn’t so sure he was ready for all that. “I’m not a self-promoter; I don’t necessarily want to be in the spotlight. But my wife and I talked about it and I decided if there’s a couple of people out there who, whether they decide to knit or they decide to take on a project they were kind of hesitant to, as a result of publicity about me and the book, then I guess it’s worth it. I’ll put up with dealing with reporters and all that kind of stuff.”

Hulse realizes the phenomenal extent of his good fortune as a new writer to have his first book offered for sale, not as a self-published work, but as a recommended title through a highly reputable entity. Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that he is already hard at work on a second book–even though that means sacrificing some extremely valuable knitting time.

TOUCH OF YARN by Davey Hulse may be ordered directly from the websitewww.lionbrandyarn.com, or it may be ordered directly from the author. The price for either the large print PDF or the braille-ready BRF file is $19.95. Those who want a full transcription in hard copy braille should contact the author directly for pricing of the two braille volumes. Contact Davey Hulse by e-mail, davey@brailleplus.net, or by regular mail at PO Box 3686, Salem, OR 97302.

This Trip Pushed My Limits

by Marty Klein, Woodstock, New York

I am an optimist. In fact some friends like to call me the eternal optimist. I’ve always felt good about my ability to see the positive side of any situation. I’ve also been a strong believer that blind people need to get out and experience all of life, even if it’s more difficult because of the lack of sight.

Blind? So what! I’ve been encouraging blind people for years to go to the movies, concerts, and sports events, and on trips, cruises, or any adventure that could enrich their lives. The more blind folks out in the world, the more the sighted majority will get used to seeing us around everywhere. And I think that’s a good thing.

That’s been my philosophy and it still is. However today I find myself questioning things … just a little.

I just got back from a four-day cruise to the Bahamas. I could go on about the things I enjoyed and there were a number of them, but I’m writing this article because I found myself in many very challenging situations due to my blindness. I cannot remember a four-day period where I felt so dependent so often.

My friend was an excellent ally–assisting me around to all the meals, walking with me up and down hundreds of flights of stairs, escorting me from one activity to another, helping me get on and off the boat when we docked at different ports and continually weaving us through huge crowds of cruise passengers. I am happy to report that I have no broken bones and no bruises. We walked many miles without incident–a pretty good feat in itself. But I feel physically and emotionally exhausted from the trip and must do some honest evaluating to see if it was all worth it.

Our room was fine, but every time I left the room I instantly found myself in dependent mode. The halls of the boat were narrow so I always had to be behind my friend with her leading the way. Any time I would venture out from behind her I would inevitably bump into a person or something protruding from the walls. Very frustrating! The loud music throughout the cruise ship was annoying but when we were around large crowds of passengers it was downright painful and a bit overwhelming at times. I could barely hear my friend, and I felt totally isolated from the rest of the people on the boat.

Stopping at different islands had its positive moments, but I needed help everywhere I turned. Back on the boat the food was good but getting it was challenging. Most of the waiters and waitresses were from other countries and spoke very little English. They were sweet and friendly but often didn’t understand me and most of the time I had no clue what they were saying because of all the noise in the restaurant areas.

I am pretty good at handling tough situations until they pass. They always do. But this trip certainly pushed my limits.

As a blind man I must learn to balance my desire to live life to the fullest with an honest and sober assessment of the danger or difficulties involved with any adventure I am considering. The key word in the prior sentence is “honest.” Being such an optimist has made honestly assessing things quite confusing for me. How many times did I tell myself, “it would be no big deal!” But in retrospect it was a very big deal!

Maybe this optimist has a bit of denial mixed in with the positive viewpoint. I don’t plan to give up my optimistic attitude, but I think it would be healthier for me to be more realistic about the difficulties involved with any activity in which blindness figures to be a factor. This may very well be a hard lesson for me to accept, but one that may prove to be a blessing in disguise. And that’s an optimistic thought.


If you have a question, comment or tip for “What Do I Do When …?” please send it to magazine@blindskills.com.

“B” Is For Build Your Network

by Antonio Guimaraes Jr., East Providence, Rhode Island

I am planning a series of articles which will follow novelist Sue GraftonÂ’s idea of titling the work based on a particular letter of the alphabet–“B” is for build your network, “S” is for schedule your priorities, and so forth. I hope these articles prove helpful and useful to many, and that you, in particular, will derive something of value from it.

“Thou Shalt Build Thy Network,” sayeth the career coach. Most people have heard some statistic or other about how many jobs are acquired not during a job search, but because of networking. Some probably wonder how this is done, and how you can network without appearing self-interested.

When you make a concerted effort to be in touch with friends and associates, they will be more willing and able to help you whether you are hoping to change jobs, or simply doing a bit of research. Building a network is more than making contacts and asking them for help. It is a continuous process of turning acquaintances into meaningful contacts by nurturing the relationship and staying in touch.

There are some sound reasons for you to build your network and keep it growing, even when you think you don’t need it anymore. Say you are fresh out of college and you have no network of trusted professionals in your field. You go about the business of collecting business cards and building up your contacts until you get a job. You get settled in your job, and you let go of your contacts. You think the network youÂ’ve built has served its purpose, and you abandon it as soon as you reap the benefits you seek.

This sort of “networking” is shortsighted. “But,” you might say, “I got the job, didnÂ’t I?” Yes, but how useful will that network be when you encounter your first serious job crisis or when it’s time to look for your next job?

According to Mike Auzenne and Mark Horstman, the career executives who host the Manager Tools Podcast at www.manager-tools.com, building a meaningful network that lasts is a three-step process: 1. Build your contact list indiscriminately. 2. Give, give, give. 3. Stay in touch. LetÂ’s take each step and go over how it can be accomplished.

1. Build your contact list indiscriminately. Don’t try shooting for the CEO or other specific VIP’s. Your brother, teacher, a high school friend, roommate, and coffee shop barista are all game for your network. Keep in mind to diversify your contacts. Horstman said in the Manager Tools Podcast that a network should be “diverse in roles, in culture, in the background, in industry, in skills, in locations, and hobbies.” He continued by saying that the diverse network will become powerful over time. This means you have more leverage in your career, and you have more people to call on.

Keep all your contacts in one easy-to-find location. Staying organized makes it easy to just pick up the phone, or write that e-mail. I am actually just starting to build my network, even though I have many contacts. If you are starting out like me, add one person a week to your network, and follow steps two, and three below.

2. Give, give, give. You may not have much to offer, but you should seize the opportunity to help in any way you can, at any time you can, and learn more about the person you are helping every time. If you can afford to, offer to take a colleague to lunch, or out for coffee. A face-to-face will solidify your relationship that much quicker.

Just remember you are not in it only for yourself. If you are, your network of associates will be on to your game in a hurry and will not be very helpful for very long. To be sure, you are making connections, and favors will be exchanged, but approach the network as an intricate web of relationships, where there is always give and take. Just remember your guiding principle: give, give, give.

3. Stay in touch. Managers and good reliable employees have a consistent pattern of behavior. Staying in touch should follow a pattern of behavior for you. You should be in contact with each person in your network at least once every quarter. If you go beyond three months, and you forget to call or e-mail, you will not have enough contact with your associates.

You should find and use the most reliable way for you to stay on top of recurring appointments. Whether it is your notetaker’s calendar or a list of names on a website such as www.tadalist.com, you should have weekly, monthly, quarterly, and birthday get-in-touch lists, just for starters.

You will have to work hard to find a system that functions well for you. Perhaps you can test drive the new Handy Contact Management System (CMS) at www.handycsm.net. This is a CMS designed with accessibility in mind from the ground up. Call or e-mail, and even if there is no response on the phone, you can always leave a friendly message.

It goes without saying that you donÂ’t tell people in your network that they are part of your network. You simply act naturally, find new and diverse types of people, remember to give, give, give, and stay in touch.

Toward The Finish Line

by Sara Bennett, Brampton, Ontario, Canada

Canadian Kevin Frost has his sights set on the 2014 Paralympic Games in Moscow, Russia. Not only does the 43-year-old deaf-blind speed skater want the sport included in the Games for the first time, he wants to compete and win a medal.

Born in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1967, Frost and his family moved to Ottawa in the early 1970’s where, a few short years later, he was diagnosed with a hearing impairment. Despite this, he had a paper route during his school years, and upon graduation he embarked on a 16-year career at a local grocery store. Then, in 2002, after a friend encouraged him to see an ophthalmologist because he was bumping into things, he was diagnosed with Usher Syndrome, a genetic disease that causes progressive hearing and vision loss.

Today, Kevin Frost has tunnel vision and can only hear sounds at 90 decibels or higher. He lip-reads, uses 20 to 24-point fonts on his computer, and travels with a cane and dog guide.

From an early age, Kevin Frost loved sports and even became a hockey referee at age ten. Perhaps it was only natural, then, that a friend with ties to speed skating would encourage him to try this new sport once his vision began to deteriorate. Frost was now without employment and a driverÂ’s license, two things that often signify independence and self-confidence. Maybe the mastery of a new skill and the rediscovery of his love for sports would restore a sense of competence and normalcy. And so it did.

“I realized I still had a love and talent on the ice,” said Frost in an e-mail. “IÂ’ve been competing for six years now in speed skating.” Since 2004, he has won medals in competitions in Ottawa, Calgary, Lake Placid, and Germany. At the Russian Paralympic Open Blind Cup in November, 2009, Frost won four gold medals and set new world records in the 500, 1,000, 1,500 and 3,000 meter races, feats he considers his greatest accomplishments. “In Russia, the skaters have a person who follows them at all times around the oval,” says Frost. “I also use an FM system for my coaches to communicate with me on the track, big orange cones to indicate when to turn (IÂ’ve had many falls and disqualifications) and a large orange flag to indicate my last lap because I don’t hear the bell.”

When I asked him about keeping his balance with reduced hearing and vision, Frost said it takes great core training, determination and practice. But he isnÂ’t alone. His “team” includes coaches, fitness and mental-training specialists, yoga instructors, and public relations and website experts. As he is on a fixed disability income, a variety of sponsors help with equipment costs and competition expenses.

“With my support team behind me, I know my dream to be the first deaf-blind speed skater to achieve a winning medal at the Olympics will one day come true. This will also raise awareness for others with disabilities: You can reach your goals if you have the will and the heart. There is support out there. Find it, and don’t be afraid to ask for it, or accept it.”

Kevin Frost has “officially” been delivering educational and motivational presentations in schools, businesses, etc. for the past eight years. “I have done over 200 presentations,” he says. “I travel to Mexico and throughout the US and Canada. I sometimes use interveners, ask someone to stand with me at the front to repeat a question, use my FM system, or lip read.” Frost also helps in practical ways. According to his blog at http://kevinfrost.wordpress.com, he helped a blind girl from Ottawa get tickets to see the Black Eyed Peas in concert and assisted another in dealing with teasing and bullying after she e-mailed him for help. Frost has also delivered hearing aids, white canes, and special glasses to children with hearing and/or vision impairments in Mexico.

When I asked him what advice he would give others who are deaf-blind, he replied, “My best advice to deaf-blind people is that you have great talents to be discovered. DonÂ’t give up, and keep a positive attitude. I was in your shoes at one time and hit rock bottom. I turned my life around, and I am doing more things than I ever imagined. For deaf-blind athletes, the secret is to always smile, give 110 percent, be persistent and try new sports. I had to lose lots of races and competitions before becoming one of the best. I am always learning something new every week in speed skating and rowing–another sport I love.”

What does the future hold for Kevin Frost? “My goals,” he says, “are to try to get speed skating into the Paralympics for 2014 in Russia, establish a foundation to help disabled athletes make their Olympic dreams come true, and travel the world giving talks.”

Since it was summertime at this articleÂ’s writing, FrostÂ’s near future includes continued training as a rower. Although he has been rowing competitively for three years and has won medals in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Victoria and Boston, he dreams of participating in the Olympics in rowing. To that end, heÂ’s been invited to the Canadian Paralympic Rowing Camp Trials. The father of three would also like to get into golf and curling!

For more information, call 613-298-9291, e-mail kevin-nemo@hotmail.com, or visit www.ushersyndromeskater.com or http://kevinfrost.wordpress.com/

Legally Blind Author’s Book Strikes Back At Bullies

by David Block, Ardmore, Pennsylvania

Insults can hurt worse than a fist. A black eye and a bloody nose can heal rather quickly, but bruises from insults can take years to mend, and Maureen Ryan Esposito of Flemington, New Jersey, author of MY FAIR CHILD (2009), knows that firsthand. MY FAIR CHILD is a children’s book about a little girl with albinism who encountered a bully.

“The little girl in the book is me,” said Maureen. Maureen was born with albinism, a condition which causes difficulty seeing and little or no pigment in the hair, skin and eyes. While growing up, bullies sometimes inundated her with stinging insults such as “Casper” and “Whitey”.

“I never confronted the bullies,” said Maureen. “I’d just walk the other way. My friends were the ones who’d get confrontational with them. I’d just tell an adult. The insults never got me physically worked up, but inside I was hurting.”

Her pain never fully disappeared. Indeed, numerous accomplishments covered it up, such as making her high school cross country and basketball teams.

Speaking of accomplishments, she also earned her undergraduate degree from Rutgers University, and her MBA from the University of Tampa. She went on to represent the US in the international blind team sport of goalball at three different Paralympic games: Seoul 1988 in South Korea, Barcelona 1992 in Spain and Atlanta 1996 in Georgia. She even ran four 26.2-mile marathons. But these achievements did not completely wipe away the pain that the bullies caused.

Six years ago, she realized that her childhood wounds were far from healed when she had to reduce her physical activities due to a back injury.

“Before, I was always active,” said Maureen, “but when I hurt my back, I couldn’t run out of my house like I normally could. I slowed down. My thoughts became really clear. I came up with the idea for MY FAIR CHILD and I began writing. First I wrote the book on scrap paper, then my computer.” She then hired an illustrator and used her two children, Erin and Patrick, to help illustrate MY FAIR CHILD.

“I wanted to write MY FAIR CHILD because of my personal experiences growing up. I had a story to share with other children who might have been in my circumstances.”

She described her book as a tool to help children maintain high self esteem, should they encounter bullies. “This book could help many children, not just those with albinism, but those who feel different and who get treated differently. That’s why, when I wrote MY FAIR CHILD, I was careful not to use the words ‘albinism’, ‘albino’ or ‘bully’.”

Maureen has read portions of MY FAIR CHILD at preschools, elementary schools and libraries–also including songs that she wrote about self acceptance and the wrongs of bullying in her presentations.

Maureen’s work has not gone unnoticed. She won the National Education Association Read Across America “Individual Champion” Award and the New Jersey Magic FM 98.3 Radio “Women Who Make Magic” Award.

More information about Maureen Ryan Esposito and MY FAIR CHILD is available on the Internet at her publisher’s website: www.jacketflap.com/profile.asp?member=musicmomme.

Choosing to Homeschool: An Alternative Path

by Satauna Howery, Clifton Park, New York

“Cookie time,” my daughter announced, tossing her math book aside and heading for the kitchen. We had agreed that when the clock struck midnight, she could take a break from her schoolwork to bake chocolate chip cookies.

I knew it wasn’t a break, though. She had simply switched from formal instruction to a more relaxed educational setting. Measuring ingredients teaches fractions. Following a recipe is an exercise in reading, comprehension and sequencing. Safety skills are learned through using the oven–and don’t leave the kitchen a mess, or this mom will have you learning more about clean-up than you ever wanted to know!

What sort of crazy family bakes cookies and does math at midnight? We do! There is no homework here, no inhaling breakfast in a 7 a.m. stupor to catch the school bus on time, no permission slips or parent/teacher conferences. We are homeschoolers, and our classroom is the world.

My daughter is 12 and we are finishing up our second year of homeschooling. I’d been considering this alternative for awhile but kept coming up with reasons not to pursue teaching her myself. How would I get her to activities? Could she and I put up with each other all the time? Where would I find the resources to teach her?

I stayed wrapped in my own fears until a family situation abruptly tore them loose. The worst I could do was discover that homeschooling didn’t work for our family and send my daughter back to public school. Instead, after two years, I have what I hoped for: Community for myself and my daughter, an abundance of educational and social resources, and a child who once again truly enjoys learning.

Why would anyone choose this path? Some families homeschool for religious reasons. Others may want a more rigorous education for their children than what their school district provides. Still others prefer to “unschool”, using no curriculum and trusting that children will find their own interests and learn everything in their own time. We chose to homeschool because we wanted something more for our child than school-day acquaintances. Kids don’t have a lot of time to socialize at school, and many are so busy outside of school that developing meaningful friendships with them is extremely difficult.

Reporting our homeschooling status to the district was fairly simple. Googling “New York homeschool resources and regulations” gave me all the info I needed. This search also turned up various e-mail discussion groups throughout the state. By subscribing to groups in my area, I gained immediate access to a support system of veteran homeschoolers and a wealth of information about upcoming classes, field trips, and events specifically for homeschooling families. I had actually subscribed to these groups almost a year before I began homeschooling my daughter, and I highly recommend this approach. Throughout that year, I struck up e-mail conversations with group participants who all warned me that the first year would be the worst. Then it would get better, and eventually the schedule would be so packed that we’d have to choose between too many awesome offerings. They were right.

At first, we went to an unschooling social group that didn’t meet our needs, sticking it out because we needed the social interaction and because some of the members were willing to give us rides to group activities. In addition, I was completely overwhelmed with the myriad of curriculum choices, but the unschoolers were the wrong people to ask for assistance! My daughter needed print and I needed braille.

We tried some online curricula. Either we didn’t like them or they were based on Adobe Flash and were completely inaccessible to me. Transportation continued to plague me. I live in a rural area where public transit is only sporadically available even to those who can drive to a park-and-ride four miles down the road. I saw goodies like skiing and wilderness programs, and I couldn’t get my daughter to them without paying out a lot of money that I didn’t have.

The answer to all my troubles was patience and perseverance. I chanced upon a local writing class at a used bookstore. The parents chatted while the kids worked in another room. My daughter and I made our first friends during that class, and they had space in their carpool to the wilderness program! I bartered fresh eggs from our chickens for transport.

I found another social group and met more friends who were willing to assist with transportation in exchange for eggs or gas money. I borrowed curriculum from them and learned to relax by listening to their stories. A year with inconsistent formal academic work wasn’t going to significantly damage my child. Better to sit with someone else’s hand-me-down books for a bit instead of throwing money away on something that wasn’t a good fit for our family.

I paid more attention to how my child learned and how I might teach. The curriculum slowly came together.

These days, we do indeed have to choose among too many activities. I lead a homeschool 4-H group. My daughter still attends wilderness and writing classes. In winter, there is swim team, rollerblading and ice skating. When the weather warms, there are park days, trail hikes and berries to pick. I haven’t even touched on the museums, festivals, music, and science opportunities.

Curriculum isn’t so hard to find, either. NLS, BookShare, RFB&D and the Louis database from APH are all good resources. There is also a Blind Homeschoolers Yahoo group. Most of the members are parents who are homeschooling blind children. But there are a few of us blind parents homeschooling our sighted kids. Subscribers sometimes part with curriculum they no longer need, and I’ve been privileged to receive some of that braille bounty.

There is no one right way to educate or raise a child. For us, homeschooling provides a flexibility, freedom and community that we couldn’t find in public school. It’s not for everyone, but if you choose to journey into the homeschool arena, be prepared for an interesting and life-changing ride.

RESOURCES

To subscribe to the Blind Homeschoolers list, send a message to BlindHomeschooler-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

SOURCES OF CUSTOM-PRODUCED BOOKS: BRAILLE, AUDIO RECORDINGS, AND LARGE PRINT can be found at http://www.loc.gov/nls/reference/directories/index.html. This is a good resource for getting something brailled or recorded if you can’t find it anywhere else.

GUIDELINES FOR ACCESSING ALTERNATIVE FORMAT EDUCATIONAL MATERIALS: www.loc.gov/nls/guidelines.htm.

Time to Stop Driving

by June Nessler, Redding, California

It is time. I have decided that I can no longer drive.

It happened so gradually–this decrease in my vision brought about by macular degeneration–that I hardly noticed the many compensations I was making to facilitate my driving. For instance, I was driving slower in order to be sure that I could react quickly enough should an obstacle that I could not see from a distance of a few hundred feet suddenly loom across my path. I was avoiding unfamiliar roads. I was becoming more alert–a good thing for drivers in general–but this constant alertness was producing tension in my body that tended to tire me.

I had stopped jumping into the car at every excuse to go somewhere. I, who had enjoyed driving hundreds of miles even on unfamiliar roads, was now making up excuses to stay home. I realized I could no longer see road signs clearly and found myself relying more and more on their shapes for information. Besides, I was familiar with our local area, and I knew what practically all of our signs had printed on them. But what of those new ones that I wouldn’t know?

Then there was the fact that there were fewer straight lines in my life. The white and yellow lines in the road appeared to me as somewhat wavy. The telephone poles were no longer straight, but seemed to list and appeared crooked. It was easy to compensate for this problem by simply pretending everything was straight and normal.

Then it happened: I was driving in the right-hand lane of the Interstate, having done my usual shopping in a town 20 miles from ours, when I saw a large box about 40 inches square protruding from the side of the road into my lane. It was easily avoided, and everything would have been fine if I had seen the other box–the same size–directly in front of me. Perhaps it was just as well that I plowed into it at 55 or 60 miles an hour because, had I seen it at the very beginning, I might have reflexively swerved into the cars on my left to avoid it, thereby causing a terrible crash.

As it was, the box I had hit and carried on my bumper off the freeway contained soft divan pillows. Both boxes had probably fallen from a delivery truck. No one was hurt nor was our car damaged. I was luckier than the person who ended up with a pillowless divan.

Perhaps this mishap could have been avoided if I had been able to see the box, say, from 500 feet away. Maybe I could have slowed down the traffic behind me. Then again, maybe the accident could not have been avoided in any case. But it made me think about what could happen if, for instance, I did not see a stray animal or a pet run into the road in front of me until it was too late. What if I couldn’t discern a person in a crosswalk in time? I could never survive injuring anyone–or even worse, causing a death! It would be too much for me. So I know that the time has come to give up the driving keys.

I live in a town where there is no taxi or bus service. My husband is very willing to drive me to wherever I want to go. My friends have assured me that all I need do is call and they’ll help. This I will do only in a dire emergency or if we are going to the same place at the same time. There is also Dial-A-Ride, through which one can arrange local transportation for a small fee. Also there is an intercity bus.

Of course, none of these options is as convenient as driving my own car. But when compared to injuring myself or someone else–well, it’s a no-brainer.

I remember how angry my uncle became when he was told that he should not be driving. He insisted on his right to drive and continued to do so until his grown children took his keys from him. With my dad it was the same way. It was a humiliating experience for both of them. They had been forced to cede control of that part of their lives to persons whom they themselves had raised from birth.

My decision to stop driving is my own and no one else’s. I do not want my husband or my children to have to tell me something I already know. I want to spare them the embarrassment of having to treat me like a child whose favorite toy is found to be too dangerous to play with. The situation would be too painful for all of us.

Pondering this event in my life, I have come to the conclusion that, like birth, puberty, marriage, giving birth, and entrance into midlife, I will consider this giving up driving simply as a rite of passage. Willy-nilly, it should and must be faced and undergone with dignity.

BEHIND OUR EYES: A Review

by Sue Tullos Duffy, Champaign, Illinois

EDITOR’S NOTE: This book is listed in the NLS Talking Books Catalogue as RC 65632 for audio cassette, DB 65632 for the digital format and BR 17432 in braille. Readers with the required registration codes may download the book from the NLS BARD website.

BEHIND OUR EYES: STORIES, POEMS, AND ESSAYS BY WRITERS WITH DISABILITIES is the brainchild of Sanford Rosenthal, who for a long time has wanted to show that disabled people are more like others than society realizes. Disabled people, as human beings, feel the same emotions and have many of the same experiences that non-disabled people have, even though we must often do things differently. Edited by Marilyn Brandt Smith, the book consists of eight parts, all unified by the escape/journey motif.

In “My Health Care Nightmare,” Sanford Rosenthal narrates his horrific stay in two hospitals, where he wants desperately to escape from both. Admitted for breathing difficulties and concerned about the Naproxen his physician had prescribed, Mr. Rosenthal is already upset, and the hospital workers simply make things worse. They have no idea how to speak to or interact with a blind person. They tell him to “turn this way,” instead of specifying right or left. The pulmonologist displays his ignorance by ordering Mr. Rosenthal to “look” at the amount of fluid removed from his lung cavity.

His stay at the second hospital proves just as frustrating. Despite a sign in his room identifying him as blind, hospital personnel still don’t get the message. They hand him things wordlessly, as if he were sighted. When a nurse and a social worker literally pull him from bed, they refuse to tell him where he is going, even though he repeatedly asks. After outright rebellion, Mr. Rosenthal finally learns that the hospital needs to evaluate how well he walks, since patients in the rehabilitation center where he is going must be ambulatory.

In “Beyond the Call of Duty,” Bobbi LaChance and her two children barely escape being robbed, thanks to her protective dog guide, Wicket, who keeps the burglar “penned up in the kitchen.” The compelling dialogue and auditory imagery underscore the terror of the whole family, and the burglar’s fear of Wicket is palpable. On the phone with a policeman, Mrs. LaChance forgets her address, which her seven-year-old son fortunately remembers. Boldly, he vows to “protect” his mother and sister with his baseball bat until the police arrive.

Nicole Bissett’s two poems, “Prison” and “Ice,” describe both her longing to leave an abusive marriage and her loneliness in the world afterward. She hates her “prison” but recalls the good times, as she ponders both “freedom” and “colors” she can hardly see. “Ice” emerges as bittersweet. As air turns “colder,” she sadly ages alone. In “Madness,” Janet Schmidt seeks both escape from a psychiatric ward with its tyrannical nurses and her own destructive voices that taunt her for yearning to be independent. Valerie Moreno’s “Rebel with a Cane” recounts her first solo mobility trip, a walk home from school. She admits her fears, “sings in the rain,” and stands up to her overly protective parents, who insist that her cane belongs “in the closet.” Though deprived of television “for a week,” this blind teenager never regrets her first step toward becoming self-sufficient.

Roger Smith’s “Tell That Blind Man to Move His Truck,” relates the conveniences and inconveniences of having access to wheels. His article gives sound advice and is, simultaneously, a humorous travelogue. The blind person, he stresses, should own the vehicle being driven, pay for all licenses, hire only a driver with an excellent behind-the-wheel record, and, at all times, keep the tank full.

Michael Coleman’s “The Wandering Butterfly” is the tale of a trip gone wrong. He does not meet his traveling companion, “a friend of a friend,” until the trip begins, and she proves to be miserable company, “exploding like Mount Vesuvius,” then withdrawing into long silences. When she finally dumps Mr. Coleman and his possessions out in the rain, he finds a bed-and-breakfast near the sea and revels in a “more relaxing environment.”

Though planning is, to a large extent, possible in physical travel, more difficult journeys occur without warning. In “Will You Be My Mommy?” Ernest A. Jones relates his journey into and through blindness from retinitis pigmentosa. He must relinquish his nursing career, cope with and heal from his wife’s abandonment, and take care of his young son alone.

In “Make Lemonade,” Kate Chamberlin relates her often-painful journey into blindness from Eel’s Disease, the cause of which eludes her. Despite her deep religious faith, she nevertheless has many questions. She heartily dislikes her doctor’s instructions to “sit” and “stay” but gives up her nursery school teaching when she begins “bumping into the children.” She decides at last that, though she has no choice about being blind, she can still choose her reaction to blindness. She finds new ways of doing household chores, procures a dog guide, and begins speaking to groups about her loss of sight. But she never pretends that her journey is easy. Total blindness, she tells us, “can be intimidating,” and, for a long time, she experienced “nagging guilt,” because she could not be “the super sighted housewife” she once was.

The most frightening story for me is Brad Goldstein’s narrative about becoming a stroke victim literally overnight. He awakens “dizzy,” unable to walk, deprived of “understandable” speech, and can barely scribble a note to his parents asking them for help. Later, at the hospital, he can speak with them only by spelling out words on an “alphabet board.” Though he comforts himself that “this is all a bad dream,” and believes that he will “wake up at home” in his “own bed,” he realizes the next day that his stroke is painfully real. At just 25, he is a completely changed person.

Goldstein doubts that anyone “would like to trade places” with him and has no patience with those for whom misplaced luggage and late flights are the worst things that can happen. There are no “compensations” to soften the stroke’s effects.

BEHIND OUR EYES, then, portrays numerous journeys, and often rending glimpses into these journeys. Some are optimistic, like Nancy Scott’s “Keeping an Artist’s Journal,” and Marilyn Brandt Smith’s “The Best First Job.” Others are preparatory, like DeAnna Quietwater Noriega’s poem, “Dog Gone,” in which she imagines grieving for her departed companion. Still others are fanciful, like Roger Smith’s imaginative “The Team,” told in the voice of each of his four Seeing Eye dogs. This book is well worth reading more than once, and the biographies of the 27 contributors are very impressive. Bon voyage!

Sparking That Desire to Read

by B. T. Kimbrough, Salem, Oregon

Arizona School for the Blind Principal Samuel Ace is not one of those educators who believe that talking notetakers and personal data assistants have made braille obsolete. He doesn’t see electronic access as a barrier to braille utilization; in fact, he believes that synthetic speech can actually help students become better braille readers with the right combination of equipment and practice.

During Ace’s 13 years on the Tucson, Arizona, campus, access technology has become a major force in the daily lives of the 50 or so academic students at the school. As he told me during a telephone interview, “We have 47 32-cell braille notetakers on campus, so that almost any academic student who needs one does have one to use and take to the dorm. Most have braille keyboards as well–we made that decision early on because students are writing and reading in braille–and it increases their braille skills all ’round.”

One advantage of those notetakers is that they enable students to download and read electronic books in text and DAISY formats from such providers as Bookshare and Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. Under a major grant from the US Department of Education, Bookshare has extended free memberships to eligible K-12 students in the US and expanded its collection of textbooks and recreational reading to more than 70,000 titles.

Principal Ace told me that the ready availability of all those books is paying off outside the classroom. “We find that they’re actually reading a lot more–even reading in bed or at any time of the day–it’s always there for them.”

Some of this access is having an impact on classroom assignments. Deborah (Debbie) Hartz, a high school language arts teacher, says she uses Bookshare extensively as she tries to merge the needs of her students with curricular demands of individual courses. “When we develop a reading program to maximize student achievement, it is critical to locate books that students are motivated to read and that are sufficiently challenging, but not frustrating.

“When I began teaching, I believed that students would get better at reading if they just read more. Unfortunately, when given a choice, students pick books that are comfortable to read. They fixate on an author or genre and read several books without encountering new vocabulary. Most of the new words that people learn are absorbed inadvertently through books, newspapers, manuals, or other types of reading material. Students who do not read or who read only materials that are easy often find that their reading levels plateau at about the sixth-grade level.”

Where possible, Principal Ace and his colleagues seem to prefer having students use electronic books they can read on their braille displays, as opposed to listening to material supplied by Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic or the Talking Book program of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Of course, the school readily uses these providers for books which are unavailable elsewhere.

As convenient as they are in some cases, some electronic files still present serious challenges, especially when braille translation is involved. Most downloadable literary works don’t overtax the automatic braille translation which is to be found on a braille notetaker, but many textbooks, especially those for mathematics or science, require hours of special preparation. There are two specialists on the school staff who add image descriptions and carefully format textbook files so that they can be easily read on a refreshable braille display.

I asked Samuel Ace whether the use of refreshable braille displays backed by speech synthesizers leads to improved braille reading and writing by students, compared with older study methods employing paper braille. He said yes–explaining that the electronic tools seem to offer four advantages: The audible feedback makes for instant corrections of spelling mistakes; working with the electronic equipment increases the motivation of low vision students who might otherwise reject working with braille; the electronic environment offers quicker access to looking up problem words in a dictionary; and electronic tools allow students to instantly edit their own work, which seems to boost both motivation and productivity.

Of course, none of this would be happening without some unusual sources of funding. Many of the braille notetakers were purchased under a grant from the US Department of Education. The Arizona State Library also helped out by loaning the school thirty Victor Reader Streams.

Since the basic school budget from state funding sources is unlikely to allocate for assistive technology on this scale, Principal Ace knows that continuing to stay current with the latest new gadgets will present an ongoing challenge. For all that, he can’t keep the enthusiasm out of his voice when answering a question about what the future might hold for the school’s access program. “I know that the iPad has braille support built into it. We’d be able to use Bookshare right down to an iPad off the shelf with braille support just to get more of anything we can directly into our students’ hands. I think the availability of it has a direct connection to sparking that desire to read.”

Basic Facts

The Arizona School for the Blind serves between 90 and 100 students on the Tucson campus it shares with the Arizona School for the Deaf. About half of the students are enrolled in the K-12 academic program. Some of these students spend part of their time in public school classrooms. Although it has only one campus, which is the Tucson location, the school is responsible for supporting the education of blind children throughout the state of Arizona.