Monday, September 28, 2009

Blind presenters teach first graders about independent living

From The Daily Herald in Killeen, Texas:

A group of visually impaired presenters enlightened Peebles Elementary School first-graders in Killeen Wednesday about independent living without perfect sight.

Five adults connected to a group called VIP for Visually Impaired People who are also Very Important People, showed students a machine that types in Braille, a computer that talks and numerous other tools available for the legally blind.

In three sessions that dealt with mobility, technology and Braille, the speakers reminded the sighted children that the visually impaired can do anything they could do, but in different ways and with different tools.

Cindy Castillo, who said she lost most of her vision due to a genetic condition, showed students a clock that announces the time verbally and a scanning device that identifies the color of clothing.

Kenny Norton, another presenter, turned his laptop computer around so students could see it and showed how he could enlarge the type. Students laughed when they saw a mouse arrow icon taking up most of the screen.

Talking computers, cell phones and dictionaries make life easier and allow many visually impaired people to maintain employment, Castillo and Norton told the first-graders.

Deanna DeGraaff introduced students to Princess, her 2-year-old Labrador retriever recently trained as a guide dog. She told the children to never pet a guide dog without asking the handler, to never call a guide dog and to pick up food they drop in a restaurant to prevent guide dogs from eating improper food.

In a third session Jennifer DeGraaff and Cynthia Washington showed students a Perkins Brailler, which looks like a typewriter and a slate and stylus used to emboss Braille symbols on paper.

Answering questions from curious students, the pair said again and again "We do it just like you," and pointed to their tools and said, "That's my paper and pencil."

DeGraaff showed students a board book for young children that she said her husband labeled so she could read it in Braille while her daughter followed along reading the words and looking at the pictures.

Castillo said the visually impaired group members travel around the community speaking and presenting to help change public perception of the blind.

She recalled an older family member who started to lose her sight and became homebound and said independence is much easier today because there are so many tools to help those with poor vision to function.

"If we can change kids' perception early, maybe some of these students will hire a blind person."

First-grade teacher Heather Self said the visit fit well with the grade level's unit about learning differences in senses, which teaches about how the disabled handle life differently that others.

"They see that they are the same," Self said, emphasizing the importance of tolerating people of all ability levels.