[Ohio-talk] Sightless Children's Club

Kaiti Shelton kaiti.shelton at gmail.com
Tue Dec 9 10:24:45 UTC 2014


Hi all,

I am writing with a few thoughts on an organization based out of
Vandalia called the Sightless Children's Club.  There are several
reasons for this post, but I'm writing mainly to see if anyone from
the affiliate has tried to speak to them in recent years, and to see
if something can be done.

Some of the members of OABS had parents who were involved in this
organization when we were much younger.  The organization was a
non-profit which helped blind and visually impaired children across
Ohio get assistive technology they needed.  I remember receiving my
first laptop, printer, and a Blazey embosser from them which I used
from the time I was 12 through most of my high school years.  This is
also where the braille book lending library my mom and I started
almost 10 years ago is kept.  The most recent thing I received from
them was my copy of the Goodfeel Music Suite from Dancing Dots, which
I desperately needed in high school in order to take music theory (By
my senior year, my school district seemed to view the software
purchase proposal from my TVI as a bad investment rather than a way of
meeting their requirements according to the law, but that's another
story).  Anyway, they were really good when my mom first joined.
Cindy Conley was president at that time, and it seemed like a way to
bridge the gap between what the school could provide and what I needed
for doing homework at home since BSVI doesn't cover equipment for
children as young as 10 or so, and we really didn't have the money for
all the equipment.  However, there were changes in leadership over the
years, more and more restrictions were added so families needed to
jump through more hoops to get equipment for their kids, and the
philosophy was appalling.  The president of the organization did not
know much about the assistive technology, and would describe requests
for technology that she didn't understand as "All the bells and
whistles," but she and the organization in general made it clear that
they had the notion that braille was on the way out.  Some of the
requests for things seemed ridiculous to my mom and I.  6 year olds
were requesting and being granted Victor Streams so they could listen
to audio books that their sighted peers were reading in class.  One
girl requested and was granted an audio talking bible, and others
requested and were granted the KNFB Mobile.  While I fail to see how a
bible and a cell phone are necessary for school work (or at least the
cell phone wouldn't have been in that day and age since it was before
the advent of Bluetooth and the notetakers weren't as sophisticated),
very few requests were granted for braille-related things by that
point.  My mom was astonished when the 6 year old at the time was
granted the stream and other equipment like it that would provide
speech output for text.  I wrote in my monitor article that she became
a huge braille supporter, and she really didn't understand why one
wouldn't want to establish literacy skils in their child first, and
then give them access to these other options as a means of providing
an alternative choice once they had the hang of reading.  It seemed
that audio wasn't another option, but it was being presented as the
substitute for braille.
The lending library was almost never used, and the director, in a
misguided attempt to look good, said that braille labels should not be
placed on the spines of the books like my mom and I wanted because it
would look weird if media ever filmed in there.  This totally defeated
the vision my mom and I had for the library, where while parents were
at the meeting students could come into the library room, find a book
independently, and sit down to read braille.  The catalog system was
also envisioned as a braille and print system, so that if I or a
sighted parent was supervising that night we could check the kids out
if they wanted to take the book home to finish it.  Of course, this
philosophy says a lot about the philosophy the organization has
towards independence too.

Sometime in my sophomore year of high school I questioned why the
parents were required to do the service hours for the club if it was
the Sightless "Children's" Club.  It just seemed weird to me,
especially since my mom and I worked together on our project, that
other kids weren't getting involved when they were directly
benefitting from the group.  Nothing came of that either.  Most kids
didn't even come to the meetings even when they requested things.  I
know some parents wrote the thank you notes for their kids after they
were granted things.  It was just not very conducive to independence
or braille literacy.  My mom and I were very outspoken advocates for
braille.  I even submitted a paper on the braille literacy chrisis
that I wrote for my sophomore honors English class to the group's
newsletter for publication.  It was printed, but no one seemed to pay
attention to the information I sighted from the NFB's 2009 literacy
report, information from AFB, and why literacy is crucial for people
regardless of whether they read print or braille.  I also spoke to the
group about my experiences that year, when in November my personal
laptop as well as my Old Faithful BrailleNote Classic crashed
unexpectedly.  I had to do all of my homework on the Perkins for 3
months until the school district broke down and got me an Empower, and
very little of my homework was done on a computer because if I wanted
to use JAWS for assignments I needed to work through my lunch break or
in the morning before homeroom and could not leave school with the
laptop the district owned.  That paper on braille literacy was written
with the aid of my mom because the family computer still had a floppy
drive and Windows 98, and therefor could not run the version of Jaws
that I had.  I talked about how I would have been totally helpless and
reliant on my parents to do all my homework like I was as a young
elementary school student had I not known braille.  Like with
everything else, people nodded in agreement but nothing changed.
Eventually, my mom eneded up really butting heads with the president
over this and left.  By then I was set up with BSVI so all we lost
were the books in the library, but the problems there have been
something my mom and I have talked about on occasion ever since.

I bring this up because recently at a scholarship dinner for UD, one
of the guests I was paired with for the evening talked about her
granddaughter who is blind and has parents in this group.  The girl is
9 or 10, and doesn't know much braille although it is very difficult
for her to read.  The woman asked me a lot of great questions about
technology, cane travel, and braille.  She asked me how much I use it,
and when I replied, "Almost every day," she was surprised.  This club
had told her daughter that braille was on the way out, and that it
wasn't something the little girl needed to learn as long as she could
learn the technology and use her vision to read.  I politely pointed
out the cons associated with this line of logic, and thankfully the
woman is very interested in staying in touch with me and we've
exchanged some emails.

SCC has almost slipped my memory in recent years, but I'm worried by
the fact that things have not changed for the better since my family
and I have left the organization.  This could very well be a big part
of why we have so much trouble recruiting parents for our NOPBC
division, and also why the student division has been sleepy in past
years and isn't geographically diverse now.  If parents in this group
and others that may be like it around the state are being told that
braille is a waste of their child's time, then why would they want to
Ally with the NFB.  Especially if they think technology is the end all
beat all, and they know an organization which can give the equipment
to them, then they would logically see themselves as stable where they
are.

I have contacted the group in the past about the student division, but
no one has ever answered me.  Now either I've been blocked from their
facebook page, or they no longer have one.  I'm wondering out of
curiosity if anyone from the NFB has ever tried to work with these
people or addressed their philosophical problems which are definitely
having a negative impact on braille literacy for students in Ohio.

-- 
Kaiti Shelton
University of Dayton 2016.
Music Therapy, Psychology, Philosophy
President, Ohio Association of Blind Students
Sigma Alpha Iota-Delta `Sigma



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