Blind Child in the Regular Elementary Classroom
Reprinted from Future Reflections
Note: Carol Castellano is the very capable president
of the Parents of Blind Children Division of the National
Federation of the Blind of New Jersey, and Second Vice
President of the National Organization of Parents of
Blind Children. Over the past few years she has organized
and conducted numerous workshops for classroom teachers,
aides, and other school staff who are expected to work
with blind children in their schools and classrooms.
Her own daughter, Serena, will soon be moving on to
middle school. Serena began life as a premature infant.
She experienced many developmental delays in her early
years. Today, however, she is right on track with her
peers. Serena's academic success owes much to the effectiveness
of the approach outlined in the following article:
sighted people believe that blind people need a lot
of help. It's almost always the first reaction people
have when they meet my daughter"How can I help
this dear, sweet, helpless child?" I have even
seen so-called sensitivity exercises, designed to develop
awareness and understanding of blindness, which have
as their explicit goal, "the understanding of what it
is like to be helpless."
What do you believe about blindness? How do you feel
about blindness and the blind child you will be working
with every day? Do blind people need a lot of help?
Are blind people limited in certain ways? Can blind
people know as much as sighted people? Can they be competitive?
Is blindness a tragedy? Do blind people need compassion?
beliefs are important because what we believe affects
the way we behave. Our beliefs about blindness will
affect how we act toward the blind children with whom
we work, our expectations for them, the way we teach
them, the messages we give them. I strongly encourage
you to examine your feelings and beliefs about blindness
frequently as you work with your blind student this
do sighted people believe blind people are helpless?
I think it is because sighted people can't imagine doing
things without eyesight. We use it almost all the time.
And we tend to think that anyone who can accomplish
tasks without it is extraordinary or amazing.
professionals in the blindness field who work with and
write about blind people often base their conclusion
on what they believe blindness must be like and on ideas
about the difficulties, deficiencies, and frustrations
they believe blind people must have. I have come to
think of these negative assumptions about blindness
as "sighted bias." Unfortunately, you will encounter
it in much of the professional literature you read.
if I were to lose my eyesight tomorrow? If I were to
lose my eyesight tomorrow, I would be relatively helpless.
What would I need to do? I would need to learn how to
function as a blind person, how to use the tools and
adaptations that allow the accomplishing of tasks without
eyesight. The skills and tools of blindness are the
key to being able to function competitively without
frustration and with success. And the more you learn
about them, the more you will be able to help your students
be successful in school and in life.
I'd like to tell you what I know about blindness. Every
year my husband and I attend the National Convention
of the National Federation of the Blind. At this convention
there are about twenty-five hundred blind people. Now,
you can learn a lot about blindness by spending a week
with twenty-five hundred blind people! And what we have
learned is that blind people are a cross section of
humanitythat there are tall ones and short ones,
bright ones and not-so-bright ones, very dear people
and pretty obnoxious people. And what does that say
about blindness? That blind people are just like everyone
else. There is no one "blind personality," no "psychology
Federation conventions, my husband and I have met or
heard speak a blind mathematician, lawyer, college professor,
industrial arts teacher, elementary school teacher,
NASA engineer, chef, car body mechanic, transmission
mechanic, Foreign Service Officer, triathlete, and a
man who sailed solo in a race from San Francisco to
Hawaii, twice, and came in third!
what do I believe about blindness? I believe that everything's
possible. We (parents and teachers) need to have high
expectations, provide good training and education, and
keep all the doors of opportunity open for our blind
children. I know that blindness certainly does not have
to stop a person from accomplishing goals and fulfilling
believe that our job as adults is to assist the children
in becoming independent, self-sufficient, competent
adults who will have a job, a family, friends, options
for leisure time, and the ability to go where they want
to go when they want to go there.
Teachers and Teachers' Aides Can Do
and teachers' aides who adopt this goal of self-sufficiency
will expect their blind students to participate fully
and independently in the class. To achieve this goal
Keep expectations high.
Provide the same or equivalent information, experience,
and education for the blind child as for the sighted
children in the class.
Build in the expectation, the instruction, and the practice
time for independence in all areasacademic, social,
The classroom teacher will assume the same responsibility
for the education of the blind child as he or she assumes
for the education of the sighted children in the room,
e.g., speak directly to the child at all times, grade
the child's papers, know the child's work, interact
with the child daily, discipline the child, and so forth.
Understand and respect the alternative skills the child
will be learning, e.g., the use of Braille, cane, sound,
touch, memory, various special tools, and so forth.
Specifics for the Classroom Teacher
After you work with a blind child for even a little
while, you will probably find these simple adaptations
have become second nature to you. Many classroom teachers
report that they enrich the classroom experience for
all the children. Here are some specifics:
Be more verbal. Verbal description will help the child
interpret what is going on in the classroom.
Use names when calling on children.
Provide precise verbal description in place of vague
statements and/or motions when modeling an action. "Fold
the paper lengthwise" instead of "Fold the paper like
Explain your routine a bit to help the blind child interpret
situations which he/she cannot see. "I'm so glad you're
all being quiet as I get the snack ready."
Verbalize what you write on the board or on overheads;
spell out words when appropriate.
Add a few words of explanation when the illustrations
in a storybook carry the plot (the blind child will
not have access to the picture).
When referring to objects, think about attributes other
than color, such as shape, weight, texture, size, and
Use normal language such as "look" and "see."
2. Help the child learn the workings of the classroom.
Blind children in the early grades, like all children,
have much to learn about classroom routine. You may
need to teach the child:
to focus on the teacher;
to respond quickly to instructions;
how to respond (raising the hand, answering aloud, answering
in unison, etc.);
when and where to move in the classroom;
how to determine what others in the room are doing;
to work at an appropriate pace (please see the section
on pace at the end of this list).
3. Organize the child's desk area and materials storage
area for maximum independence.
Adapt materials or parts of the lesson when necessary.
Provide hands-on opportunities. These will make experiences
more meaningful for the blind child.
Model movements for songs, fingerplays, etc. that you
want the whole class to learn by moving the blind child
through the motions. Sighted children get the benefit
of watching and the blind child can learn by experiencing
his/her own movement.
Offer information instead of help. Instead of getting
an object for the child, for example, give the child
a chance to find it by describing its size, shape, and
location. Then give the child enough time to explore
and correct mistakes before you give more prompts.
Understand and respect the skills of blindness. Learn
the general sequence of the skills, provide opportunities
in the class for the child to practice, and offer appropriate
support as the child is working toward mastery.
Braille reading and writing is the equivalent of print
reading and writing.
Information can be reliably perceived through the sense
The blind child should be moving about more and more
independently as time goes on using orientation and
The child will learn to use sound, memory, mental mapping,
and various special tools and will learn to ask for
information when needed.
Here are a few ideas for helping your blind student
learn to work at an appropriate pace if you find that
he/she is working more slowly than the others in the
class. The sighted children have visual cues that tell
them how fast they should be moving. They might look
at the clock on the wall; they might glance at their
classmates' papers to see who is still working on the
first side of the page and who has gone on to side two.
can provide equivalent nonvisual cues for your blind
student. Point out to the blind student the rustling
sound of pages turning so he/she can listen for how
fast classmates are going. If the child can tell time,
a Braille watch or a talking clock could help. Periodically
give verbal cues such as "About half of our time is
up. You should be on number four or five by now."
is another aspect of pace to consider. Classroom teachers
are often told that the blind student will take longer
to accomplish schoolwork and therefore should be expected
to do only part of the assignment. Teachers are often
advised, for example, to have the blind child do only
the even-numbered problems or every other row or only
enough to demonstrate that he/she understands the concept.
It is true, especially in the early grades, that blind
students might take longer to complete an assignment.
This is so because the student is also in the process
of mastering a specific blindness skill necessary to
perform the task.
example, the student might be learning how to set up
math problems in Braille with his/her Braille machine
(Braille writer) or the child might be physically doing
moremoving from a workbook page on the desk to
an answer sheet in the Braille writerwhile their
sighted classmates are simply writing in the answers
on the workbook page.
it might seem sensible to cut back a little on one part
of the workload while the child is learning or mastering
a new skill. If you do, make sure you build in a plan
to get the child working up to speed as soon as possible.
When blind children become adults and go out on job
interviews they won't get the job if they have to say,
"I can only do half the work" or "I can only do the
even-numbered problems!" Again, we must keep in mind
that we are preparing children for adulthood.
situation in which a child might work at a slow pace
is if the child reads print slowly and/or painfully.
Perhaps the child requires a closed circuit television
(CCTV) for magnification of all print work. If a child
works at a slow pace for this reason then you might
want to consider Braille for this child. Again, think
of the future.
student will need to be competitive, efficient, and
versatile in this information age. Will slow reading,
inadequate self-communication skills, and generally
sub-standard literacy skills be adequate when the child
competes as an adult in the job market? This is not,
by the way, an either/or choice. Children can learn
and use both print and Braille.
The Role of the Teacher's Aide
A teacher's aide can truly enhance a blind child's educational
experience, especially when she or he understands the
goal of independence. The aide can help ensure that
the student gains a firm understanding of basic concepts,
experiences, and situations and is not missing chunks
of information. If the blind student's foundation is
solid, then he/she will be able to learn higher level
material in later years without (or with very little)
assistance. In addition, the aide can help the blind
child learn the skills of blindness which enable the
student to work and move about independently.
various functions of an aide can be divided into four
behind the scenes work,
the Scenes Work
The behind the scenes work is probably the most important
work a teacher's aide can do. It consists of the background
planning and coordinating that enables the child to
function independently in the classroom. If the behind
the scenes work is done well, the child will be able
to participate on an equal footing with his/her sighted
classmates and will have the opportunity to learn all
of the concepts and skills presented.
are some specifics:
Set up the desk area for maximum independence and organization.
The blind child needs to know where books and papers
will be kept, where to put completed work, where any
special items will be, and so forth. Items should be
within the child's easy reach.
Purchase or use poster board to make oversize folders
which can accommodate large Braille sheets; label folders
Vertical snap-together bins from the stationery store
can be used on the child's desk to organize and hold
books and folders.
Place the correct volume of each Braille textbook at
the child's desk. Later the older student will take
over this task.
Make sure special supplies, such as Sticky-Wikki, tactile
dice, Braille labeler, etc., are ready and in logical
places for the child's use.
Remember, the desk must be set up for use of the child,
not the aide! If the aide has a desk in the room, it
should be in another part of the room, not next to the
blind child's. This way the teacher and the other children
view the blind child as a real part of the class and
the child learns to focus on the teacher and not on
2. Continually re-evaluate the situation to keep pace
with the child's progress. Identify tasks that are being
done for the child which the child could begin doing
Keep track of any special items that come in. Know where
they are and learn their uses.
Coordinate and plan in advance with the classroom teacher
and teacher of the visually impaired. Have a copy of
the lesson plans so materials can be adapted in advance
and will be ready when the teacher presents that lesson.
Organize Braille or large print worksheets in advance
and give them to the teacher to hand out along with
those for the other children.
Adapt materials for classroom subjects, music, and art.
Often adaptations will be quite simple; at times you'll
need to analyze the lesson to be learned and then decide
upon a good way to present it. Collect materials useful
for adapting, such as cardboard, Glu-Colors, Sticky-Wikki,
Braille labeler, various self-stick textures, drafting
taping, tracing wheel, and so forth.
If an adaption for a lesson consists of something entirely
different from what the other children will be using,
let the teacher know about it. It might be appropriate
for you to show it to the blind child during the lesson
and unobtrusively supply information or instructions.
Check Braille books to see if diagrams, charts, or maps
were omitted (they often are). If you have learned Braille
(many school districts provide tutoring courses in Braille
for aides), check to see if charts, etc. which have
been transcribed make sense and are usable. Plan appropriate
alternatives if needed.
Collect any special materials or manipulatives required
for the day's lessons; transport them to other rooms
if the children change classes.
If Braille worksheets are going home for homework, staple
a print copy on top for the parents.
If you have learned Braille, transcribe the child's
work by writing the print above each Braille line, instead
of waiting for the Braille teacher to transcribe the
work. The classroom teacher can then mark and grade
the blind student's papers along with all the rest of
the children's papers. Remember, the teacher must know
the blind student's work as well as he/she knows the
work of any other student in the class.
If the school has a Braille printer and a Braille translation
program, the aide can use a computer to produce many
items in Braille. Worksheets, tests, last minute items,
school announcements, programs for assemblies, the lunch
menu, and any other materials not Brailled by the transcribing
service can be produced. The aide does not need to know
Braille (although some rudimentary knowledge is suggested)
to produce Braille by computer.
A Braille printer can also be used to Braille out the
teacher's comments and corrections. These may be attached
to the child's papers so that he/she gets feedback on
schoolwork in the same manner and at the same time his/her
classmates get it.
Use Glu-Colors, bits of Sticky-Wikki, or other tactual
materials to mark mistakes on papers that the teacher
has graded so the child can analyze his/her own mistakes.
the behind the scenes work is automatically done for
sighted children so that they can perform at their best.
Desks are designed so that books and pencils fit and
can be put in logical places. Books, manipulatives,
and other learning tools are all ready on the first
day of school. Diagrams, maps, and charts are included
in their books in usable formats. Posters and bulletin
boards in the classroom provide additional learning
opportunities. The behind the scenes work for a blind
student serves to set up an equivalent learning environment.
As time goes on, less and less behind the scenes work
will need to be done, as long as the blind student has
had a strong base in elementary level academics and
blindness skills. With a strong foundation in these
skills the older blind student can be expected to learn
how to take on the behind the scenes tasks him/herself.
When people think of the function of an aide in a classroom
with a blind student, they most often picture the aide
sitting at the child's side helping with every task.
While the child may indeed need assistance in the early
years, it is crucial to keep in mind the goal of independent
participation in school (and in life). The child must
learn to do tasks for him/herself and should be expected
to learn to do any task that is going to be repeated
every day, such as opening the milk carton in the cafeteria
or placing homework papers in the homework basket.
is appropriate help? In general, appropriate help is
the kind that teaches the skill. One way to think about
it is to ask yourself, "Is the help I am giving the
kind that will teach the child how to do the task on
his/her own? Or am I doing the task for the child?"
For example, putting the child's papers into his/her
backpack at the end of the day is one form of help,
but teaching the child to pack the bag is a much better
form of help.
useful way to judge the kind of help you are providing
is to think about age-appropriateness. It might be appropriate
for an aide to help a preschooler locate the hook in
the cubby and hang up the backpack or to help with zipping
up the child's jacket. However, this would no longer
be appropriate for a fourth grader.
appropriate times for direct assistance might be in
art and gym. In gym, for example, an aide could help
the child locate a certain area of the room that is
not tactually marked or could help the child participate
in activities such as soccer or basketball. Even then,
an aide should be as unobtrusive as possible. They should
also be alert at all times to ways they can promote
interaction between the blind student, the teacher,
and other students in the class. Of course, in all cases,
when the child is able to participate on his/her own,
the aide should not interfere. When an aide does directly
assist a child, they should make sure they respect the
child's personal space (see "My Body Belongs to Me,"
Future Reflections, Volume 14, number 3).
general, if the planning is built in for independence
and if sufficient instruction and practice time are
provided, less and less help will be needed as time
goes on. From the beginning there should be a plan for
the time when the aide will no longer be present or
providing direct assistance.
Facilitating involves helping the child learn to perform
tasks as a competent blind person. Facilitating requires
the aide to have an understanding of the goal of independence,
familiarity with the skills and tools of blindness,
an overall sense of where the child is in the development
of these skills, and an idea of what the next logical
step would be.
are some ways an aide can facilitate:
1. Encourage appropriate exploration. The young blind
child, especially, needs certain information about the
environment in order to function independently. Guide
the child so the child can make discoveries.
Help the child understand the classroom scene and learn
how to respond appropriately.
Give cues rather than help; keep stepping back.
Serve as a reader. A reader is someone (paid or volunteer)
who reads print material to a blind person either directly
or by recording it onto tape. Blind adults use readers
on the job and in their homes for personal mail and
other material. A child's need for readers will increase
in the higher grades and in college. In order to direct
and use a reader effectively, the blind student must
be familiar with various print page formats, headings,
captions, contents, indexes, etc.
Facilitate social interaction and friendships.
Give the child discreet feedback on appropriate postures
and behaviors. Correct the blind child the way you would
a sighted child who was facing the wrong way or was
otherwise situated incorrectly.
Help the blind child learn and do what is expected in
activities requiring partners, for example, in cooperative
learning activities in the classroom; square dancing
in gym; or preparing for a concert or a play in music.
8. Remind sighted children (and adults) to identify
themselves to the blind child "Hi, Sarah, it's
Jennifer." Remind the blind child to ask the identity
of those speaking to him/her or those next to him/her
at lunch or in line. "Hi. Who's this in front of me?"
Give the blind child information about what classmates
are doing during in-class and playground recess. If
needed, teach appropriate responses to what other children
say and do.
If necessary, teach the blind child how to play the
games classmates are playing. Teach the blind child
ways to get into games. Teach them playground manners
and protocols children (and adults) expect everyone
to follow. For example, Jennifer has just gone down
the slide. She walks around back to the steps. A line
has formed. Does she know she is supposed to find the
end of the line and wait? Does she know how to ask for
the end of the line? Do the other children know they
should call out and let her know where the end of the
line is? It's a simple matter to stand back and teach
this when the opportunity occurs. "Jennifer, there are
five kids in line. You need to wait your turn. John,
call out so Jennifer knows where you are so she can
find you and wait behind you for her turn."
Teach the sighted children how to get the blind child's
attention. "Mike, Jennifer can't see you wave your arm
to her. If you want her to come over you need to say,
`Over here Jennifer, by the big swing set.'"
Be matter-of-fact about blindness. Teach everyone to
think, "Let's figure out a way to get a blind kid into
Facilitate independent mobility. Go to orientation and
mobility lessons; follow through when the cane teacher
is not there.
Help the child master daily routes such as changing
classes, trips to the school office, going to the bathroom,
getting a drink of water, and so forth. First talk the
child through the route, then follow at a close enough
distance to give verbal cues if needed, next watch from
a distance. Don't always rush to help. Be sure to allow
time for independent problem-solving. Finally, get out
of the picture as soon as possible. The goal is for
the child to move about within the school with the same
degree of independence as sighted peers.
15. Don't lead the child around!
A teacher's aide has the potential to enrich the blind
student's educational experience in meaningful ways
that can deepen the child's understanding and appreciation.
An aide, for example, can ensure that the blind child
is exposed to the many concepts presented through "environmental
print," the posters, bulletin boards, announcements,
children's work, etc. that surround them in the classroom.
Once the blind child is aware that this kind of information
exists, then he/she is on the road to learning how and
when to get it for him/herself.
is another way in which an aide can enrich the child's
experience. Print books are full of photographs which
illustrate many concepts for the students. At times,
the aide might be able to provide real objects for the
blind child to examine or could mention the need to
the classroom teacher, teacher of the visually impaired,
and family, one of whom might have access to the item.
An aide might also notice an area in which the child
has incomplete information and could alert the teachers
and family to this.
examples of enrichment are providing verbal description
of videos, school assemblies, school programs, plays,
and school field trips. Showing special objects related
to the assembly or trip to the child before or after
the activity is also an important enrichment experience.
The Importance of Good Judgment
As an aide, you will find yourself making decisions
every few minutes throughout the day. Should I intervene
in this situation or not? We're running out of time,
should I do this for the child this one time? Would
this be a good time to interrupt the teacher? Should
I run into the classroom and give the child this information
right now? When can I find some time to fit in these
"extras" I've been saving to show the child?
good understanding of the teacher's routine and priorities
and of the functioning of the classroom will help you
make these difficult decisions. Another aid to decision
making is gauging your decisions against the goal of
independence. In general, over the course of time, make
sure that your decisions are helping the child to progress
in independence. Don't fall into the habit of assisting
too much. Try to develop a good feel for when to step
in and when to step back.
Another useful exercise is to think about the consequences
of the decisions you make. How will what I am about
to do affect this child? What unspoken messages are
my actions sending?
for These Common Danger Areas!
The most common pitfall of having an aide in the classroom
is that instead of learning more about independence
each day, the blind child learns more about dependence.
It is easy to assist too muchto open the book
for the child; to find the page; to lead the child around.
The appropriate role for the aide is to teach opening
the book, to give the child practice in finding the
page quickly, and to encourage independent movement.
If the aide gives too much help, the child will not
learn to do the tasks and will not develop an inner
expectation that he/she should be doing them.
hover. Don't overprotect. Keep a watchful eye. Use good
judgment. Step in when necessary, but base your interventions
on the idea of an independent future for the child,
not on the idea that blind people cannot be expected
to do certain tasks.
is the aide referred to at your school? Is she considered
a personal aide to the child or an aide to the teacher?
If the aide is referred to as the child's aide, then
the blind child and his/her classmates might get the
impression that the blind child is helpless or in need
of constant protection or supervision. You might want
to use the term "teacher's aide" or "classroom aide"
instead. As always, think of the futurethe child
must be encouraged in normal steps toward independence
and responsibility for him/herself.
is important, too, that the school principal understand
the goal of independence and that this goal means that
there may be times (more and more as time goes on) that
the aide is not giving any assistance at all to the
blind child. At all times when the child is able to
work unassisted, the aide must feel free to "do nothing."
If the aide feels that she will be criticized for "doing
nothing" she will be more likely to hover near the child,
thereby interfering with the process of independence.
school administrators' input and approval, a plan could
be set in place for the gradual and sensible lessening
of the time the aide spends with the blind student.
For example, if the child is able to participate in
music class unassisted, then the plan could be for the
aide to leave that room and use the time to consult
with the teacher or adapt materials. At first, the aide
might walk with the child to and from the class. As
time goes on, she would help the child learn the route.
Next, as the child became more and more able to handle
classroom activities unassisted, the aide could begin
to spend less time in the classroom, again using that
time to prepare materials and plan.
the time came that the aide was only rarely needed in
the classroom and all materials were prepared, the plan
could be for her to spend her "free" time assisting
in another room. Better yet, if the school has had the
foresight to provide Braille training to the aide, the
aide may take on more and more Braille transcribing
tasks. As the child gets older and the print reading
demands get heavier and more varied, Braille transcribing
If the principal consciously supports the blind student's
movement toward independence, then he/she will not inadvertently
edge the child toward learned dependence.
2. A Private Conversation
Another pitfall to avoid is a private conversation developing
in the classroom. The aide and the blind child become
a separate class in the back of the room. The teacher
teaches the class; the aide teaches the blind child.
Occasionally this might be appropriate, for example
when the blind student is using completely different
materials from those of sighted classmates. But the
goal is always for the child to be a full participant
in class. The child needs to learn to focus on the teacher,
to listen to the instructions, translate them if necessary
into what would make sense for Braille or other adaptations,
and then get going! Likewise, the teacher needs to focus
on the student and direct all questions, statements,
instructions, and so forth to the student, not the aide.
aide might enjoy the private conversation; the child
might enjoy it. But it won't get the child where the
child needs to go.
3. Special Relationships
A related danger area is that of special relationships.
Blind children can develop extremely close bonds with
the people who work with them one-to-one. These are
often warm, enjoyable relationships, but they can interrupt
the process toward independence. A special relationship
can keep a child from mastering a task. From the time
my daughter was in Kindergarten, for example, a sixth
grade "big sister" walked her down the long hill outside
their school. Each year a wonderful relationship developed
between Serena and the older girl. But Serena never
learned her way down the hill! At the beginning of third
grade we finally realized that we had to tell the girls
to come down the hill without chatting until Serena
learned her way. Serena did learn her way down the hill,
but not until we intervened.
relationships can be a problem in another area. Because
they are usually with adults or older children, these
relationships can prevent friendships with peers from
developing. Everyone gets used to seeing the blind child
with the aide. The adults at school get used to it and,
of even greater concern, so do the other children. It
also becomes so normal and comfortable to the blind
child that he/she does not develop the self-expectation
for normal social interactions with peers.
is very tempting to let special relationships developthey
come out of the goodness of people's heartsbut
they are not, in the long run, in the best interest
of the blind child.
4. The Special Helper
Sometimes a teacher cannot think of a way to include
a blind student in an activity or does not think the
blind child is capable of doing a certain task. To solve
the dilemma this presents, the teacher might make the
child a special helper. All the other students are doing
an academic task and the teacher says to the blind student,
"You sit next to me and help me pass out the pencils."
When situations like this occur, the blind child is
not getting the equivalent educational experience. Occasionally
this might be acceptable, but certainly not if it occurs
you are having trouble figuring out how to include your
blind student in an activity, analyze what is to be
learned and think about possible ways to get the message
across. There is almost always a simple adaptation that
can be made. If you can't think of a way, ask someone
elsethe teacher of the visually impaired, the
parents, a blind adultfor ideas. But don't leave
the child out.
Acting on Assumptions of Help Needed
So many times sighted people assume that the blind child
cannot do something independently. The assumption is
usually based on that old idea of the helpless blind
person or the idea that eyesight is necessary to accomplish
the task. So often the assumption will not be true;
the child can actually do the task. Perhaps you think
the child will be unsafe on the stairs. Perhaps you
think the child lacks the ability to find the door handle
to open the door, or you can't imagine how the child
will be able to carry a lunch tray and a cane.
But believe me, working blind people do all of these
things every day. We've got to get our blind children
to be able to do all of it, too, so that they will be
working blind people someday! So question your assumptions.
Read the literature provided by the National Federation
of the Blind and the National Organization of Parents
of Blind Children for guidance. Proceed carefully in
what you assume are areas where the child will need
help. And always be open to changing and raising your
the Day of Independence Closer
Remember that the goal is for the child to be a full,
independent participant in class and in life. The child
should become more and more independent as time passes.
The balance must shift from more individual help and
less independence in the early years, to less individual
help and more independence as the child grows older.
Think of it this way, the job should be done by the
time the child is eighteen. After high school we want
our children to go to the next step. For other children
this means a job, vocational school, their own place,
by age eighteen, a blind student cannot take care of
him/herself, travel independently, make his/her own
arrangements for readers or transportation or whatever
else he/she might use, then that student is not going
to make it in the "real" world. And all of us want these
children to be able to make it. So somewhere between
the assistance we might give to the preschooler and
the independence the student must have by the senior
year, the shift must occur. Build it in; plan for a
future of independence.
job of a blind child sometimes seems huge to sighted
people because we just can't imagine doing things without
our eyesight. But I think the kids take it in stride.
Life as a blind person is no more frustrating or stressful
to them than life with eyesight is to usas long
as they are taught the skills and given the tools they
need to accomplish tasks with independence and with
If the adults in the child's life understand the progression
of the skills the blind child is learning, they can
help move the child along and bring the day of independence
closer and closer. The bottom line is, we've got to
work ourselves out of a job!
Note: With heartfelt thanks to Debbie DeHaven, instructional
assistant, whose creative ideas, good judgment, and
spirit of partnership enabled my daughter to speed along
on that road to independence.