Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Why inclusion saved my kids.

First lets start off with a definition of inclusion.  The original source is unknown me.
Inclusive Education:  All Students educated in age-appropriate regular education classrooms, in neighborhood schools, AND the supports provided so that the students, teachers, and classrooms can be successful.
small boy wearing hoodie
Sam looking a little scared his first day
 Inclusion minimizes or eliminates 'pull-outs'. Its not mainstreaming. Students are still getting the same supports as before just in the classroom. Things like OT, PT and even speech can happen in general education classroom. The key here is support.  It doesn't work without proper support. Inclusion is a journey for a school and district and sometimes the path is smooth and other times there is missteps and you get lost. Its never perfect but so worth it. This isn't a post about educational placements because that should be child driven. Sometimes due to lack of supports alternative placement is the better choice. I do believe strongly that inclusion when properly done can be done for ALL students regardless of behaviors or disability.

Abby does leave the classroom for Braille and other blindness skills instruction. Braille instruction is required for Abby to be successful in school. We have requested that more appropriate times be used. She in in her class most of the time.

Girl in puddle, wearing rainboots with wet hair and white cane.
Abby loves to explore
 What happens at a school where inclusion is practiced regularly is that culture of the school changes.  The whole idea that certain kids are different and what that means changes.   Let me tell you why I will fight for inclusion and why you should to.

Boy with backpack on, plaid shirt, monster tshirt and shorts. He has a big smile.
Sam's first day of 1st grade
I will never forget the day before Sam started first grade.  There was a meet the teacher time and with excitement we went to go check out Sam's first grade classroom and teacher. I am going to share something very personal and something I am not proud of. I am STILL ashamed of my initial gut response. My attention was directed at a boy that was going to be in Sam's class.  A child I don't think I would even have seen growing up and if I did it would only be in the halls as he went to that scary room called many names but no child wanted to ever been seen going into.  I thought in my head. "He doesn't belong in same classroom as Sam.  He will hold Sam back. Something is wrong" I forced a smile.  "Do I say something?"  Then quickly a light turned on.  Sam will no be the only child with a difference in the classroom.  Sam has had a speech disability his whole life. He doesn't talk like other kids.  When you flash forward 4 years later when both boys where in 5th grade I remember thinking how much of a positive experience it was for both kids. Both were part of a community. A community that accepted them as part of their class. A community that was patient with Sam when he shared in the class. I actually tear up when I think of my fears and how silly I was.   For this reason alone I will fight for inclusion.

girl with brown hair. blue shirt and a big smile.
Abby First day of First Grade
Wait wait I have more.  This tale also starts when Abby starts first grade. She started the year with some kind of unknown vision issue.  I remember just flinging her to school not knowing what to do while we focused on trying to figure out what was going on. Even before we found Abby's diagnosis. A math teacher enlarged materials for her. I recall Abby telling me about the teacher taking Abby into the office with the math book. And enlarging the page over and over again to get it the point she could kinda see it. The school set up Abby getting seen by the districts awesome Teacher for the Blind & Visually Impaired. The hours before we got Abby's official diagnosis we had her first IEP meeting.  Things moved that quickly because the school wanted to make sure Abby had the tools to be successful.  The lunch lady was always willing to tell Abby which one was milk and which one was juice while making it seem like it was no big deal. Abby was embraced by the whole school. There have been times that teachers have fought for Abby during field trips. Then when you look around Abby wasn't the only student with a disability, she wasn't the only student who was just a little different because we all learn differently. She was part of a community that saw her as just another kid. The kids really don't see it as that much of a big deal beyond thinking braille is pretty cool.  So for this reason alone wouldn't you fight for inclusion?

It may be scary if your school isn't there yet. I can tell you there were trailblazers before my kids entered the school. It has to start with someone. Why not you?
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Resources:

Ally’s allies help her wings to grow
http://www.concordmonitor.com/news/10408955-95/ray-duckler-allys-allies-help-her-wings-to-grow

Including Samuel http://www.includingsamuel.com
Who Cares About Kelsy? http://www.whocaresaboutkelsey.com/
Both Including Samuel and Who Cares about Kelsey DVDs has the option for audio descriptions. 

"The Least Dangerous Assumption", Cheryl Jorgenson, Ph.D., Presenter
  http://vimeo.com/18545415

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A full basket.

I realized Its been since Septembers since I made an entry.   I honestly  have sat down and write half a blog about 20 times since then.  I am going to really try and keep posting at least once a week.

The issue isn't that I have nothing to write about. The issue is I have too much to write about.

Since September I have taking part of this amazing program call NH Leadership.   Its a 7 session series from September to April to provide information and build leaders in the disability community.

I plan to write about a lot of the topics but wanted to share a few things.

1.  Our society still has so much work to do to not only accept people with disabilities but to see them as full members of society.

2. Any child with the given proper supports can be fully included in the regular classroom.

3. Mainstreaming and Inclusion are siblings they are not the same thing.

4.  You don't speak up how can you expect someone else will.

5. Every child deserves high expectations.
A girl with dark hair wearing a wolf long sleeve shirt and holding a white cane smiles
Its not Abby's disability that hold her back its how society views her disability that's the problem. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Thank You..

I tried to think of a funny title but Thank you works best.   Thanks to everyone amazing support from all over the state, the country and even the world. Abby won Marty the Smart Brailler.
Braille liberates Abby.  It allows her to write and than read what she has written.  The SMART Brailler computerized features will really kick it up a notch with her learning.  She will know instantly that she made a mistake and she can fix it.

child's hands reading Braille.girl typing on a SMART brailler.

I am touched and overwhelmed by the support.  Abby is very exited. For the first moment she heard about a SMART Brailler visiting us she was very upset that it would be leaving after two weeks.  Today she knows when it arrives its staying. Not only am I excited for Abby to have this wonderful tool. I am excited I am going to be able to share my love of braille by sharing the SMART Brailler with other.

This is a little Thank you video that we made a few days ago.  Abby has been so busy since she found out that I am lucky she finished her homework much less give everyone a proper thank you.

video

I hope to have some kind of opportunity soon in the Concord NH area to give people a chance to check out the SMART Brailler.

Where you motivated by love shown with the voting for everyone.  Check out the old voting link towards the bottom.  because some of the other kids are holding fundraiser for SMART Braillers. Donate a $1, $5 or even more.  Lets keep that love going http://www.wonderbaby.org/backpacking-smart-brailler-vote

Monday, August 26, 2013

Adventures in Boston: Museum of Science

This is the second part of our Boston adventure a few weeks ago. (Part 1). We spent the morning at National Braille Press and made our way to the Museum of Science for lunch and than explore the museum. This museum is one of my favorite places in Boston.  I have been visiting it since I was a kid myself. One of my favorite childhood memories was sleeping overnight in the museum.  We used to go the museum a lot when the kids were little (a lot is code for once a year).  We haven't been since Abby became blind. I wish we hadn't waited.

girl withe cane in front of a case with a raccoon.
Abby wanted me to take this picture I forget why but its cute. 

The museum is a great place to bring children of many ages. (toddlers to old folks.) I didn't realize how wonderful an experience it would be for my blind daughter.

There was auto description stations throughout the museum
First off the museum is very accessible.  There are auto description stations throughout the museum. When I say through out I don't mean a FEW places I  mean MOST places where there is print.  There is so much fun things to interact with and and touch.  Oh the food in the cafe is very yummy. They have cool shows. Abby got to see an opossum up close (much closer in than she could get int he wild and its was ALIVE). Its just a great place to visit.  Here is a link about the museum's MANY accessible features. http://www.mos.org/accessibility

Here are some of the highlights. (only some, there was so many wonderful exhibits)

1. You can get up close and touch a huge engine.
a really big engine and a father showing his daughter.

2. You can put your brother on a bed of nails.
bed of names one kid on the bed one kid on the side
3. You can build a claw (there are some great  hands on engineering activities that different days. On our day it was build a claw. ) Check out the funny video of me telling Abby how her first claw was doing. (the second time it did pick up some of the items.)
girl with cane and boy building a claw video

4.  You can use really big manipulatives to  better understand balance and weight.
 4. You can explore a tactile graphic of a mountain (with braille)
2 diffferent kinds of tactile maps showing the same thing different ways. (3d vs 2d)

5. You can be silly when you see a big bug.
boy reacts with humor of a big bug

6. You can push a really big block of stone using science. 

girl pushing handle dad pointing at large stone attached to handle.
 7. You can make new friends.
girl with cane in front of a Triceratopsboy in front of a Triceratops

 8. You can put the whole world in your hands and have a blast.
girl and boy in front of a large globe.
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oooh don't forget to vote for Abby (Duffy Family) every day so she can win a Smart Brailler. http://www.wonderbaby.org/backpacking-smart-brailler-vote

Vote for Abby: Help bring Marty the Smart Brailler home.

Remember when we had Marty the Smart Brailler came for a visit in the spring? (our Marty posts in April) Well he visited 6 different families during him tour.  One of those families will win Marty to own. All the families are very deserving. Help us bring Marty home.   You can vote every day till September 8th (so two weeks)  please consider supporting Abby.

http://www.wonderbaby.org/backpacking-smart-brailler-vote

So I know you are asking How do I vote?  Just visit the voting site at Wonderbaby and pick Duffy Family ---> Vote---> http://www.wonderbaby.org/backpacking-smart-brailler-vote  

You can re-vote every 24 hours.  Vote and vote often. 

Abby using the smart brailler (its blue she is wearing a white shirt)

To find out more about the Perkins Smart Brailler visit http://www.perkins.org/smartbrailler/features-benefits.html

Thank you everyone for your support.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Adventures in Boston: National Braille Press

Last week the whole family had a wonderful day trip to Boston.   As I have explained before Boston isn't really that far from us but we generally only get a chance to go a few times a year.

We went to National Braille Press and the Museum of Science. I will be talking about our Museum of Science visit in my next blog post.

Abby's first ever braille book was from National Braille Press. NBP has been there from almost the very start.  I remember the excitement the book caused in the house. It was a regular print children's print book that has its binding removed (usually but not always) and braille added.  We have a cabinet almost full of these books. They are beautiful.  They generally release a new book every month as part of the Children's Braille Book Club  http://www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/programs/cbbc/cbbc.html .   They also offer many other titles for children.  National Braille Press one of my favorite sources of braille.
I have known for years that NBP offer tours of their facilities and I have wanted to go for years.  You can find out about how to book a tour your self here http://www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/aboutus/tour.html . The link also provides some information on the process of braille production.

So we parked near the science museum and than took the T (subway) to NBP.  It was easy and fun way to get there.  Its also great for Abby to get travel experience in a big city.

at the door of National Braille Press
 It was exciting when we got to the door because it was locked and you had ring the buzzer to get let in. But wait remember this is National Braille Press and on the door in braille was the directions to hit the buzzer.  Abby read the door for us and hit the buzzer so we could be let in.

exploring NBP titles
We were led into a conference room and encouraged to explore some of the titles that NBP sells.  Abby loved Make Way for Ducklings and read a few pages whiles we waited.  (its been added to our wish list) 



We than viewed a video about  National Braille Press.  Then were lead through all the departments including Transcription, Proofreading, Embossing, Pressing, Tactile Graphics and Finishing.  It was a wonderful learning experience and a lot of fun.   It was fascinating watching the big presses add braille from the plates.



I loved learning from the whole process. What was the biggest surprise was the level of work done by hand through out the process.  All the people we met from the different departments were so nice. It was an extra treat for them to have a braille reader as part of our party.   They were so kind to us and so wonderful with Abby.  



Abby and Sam were put to work at one point and they both loved that.  Abby said when it was all over her favorite part was the wonderful ladies down stairs and how nice they were to her and all the great things they showed her. I could really go on an on how wonderful everything was. We learned a lot and I really recommend a visit if you have a chance sometime.   Special locations  sometimes times have a mood, a vibe and this was one of those places . You couldn't help but feel the LOVE .. a pure JOY of braille through out the whole building.  Thank you to everyone at National Braille Press who gave our family such a wonderful experience. 

Abby being shown great stuff by one of the wonderful ladies in the basement. There was two that were very special to her. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Girl , The Cane and the Museum revisited.

I have been trying to figure out how to appropriately revisit this topic. I thought about doing a 'year later' post in August but I didn't want it to get lost in the back to school craziness.

You see late August of 2012 Abby  was denied entry into a museum with white cane. Yes that story.  I have been thinking a lot about it lately.

I have only posted about it twice on this blog. The original blog (http://visionfora.blogspot.com/2012/08/cane-denied-when-good-policy-fails.html)  and a very short follow up posting the link to one of the news stories related to it.  That it.. I have remained pretty quiet on the matter.  You can find a story I wrote about it in the most recent  Future Reflections https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/fr/fr32/2/fr320213.htm .
screen shot of the story on Huffington Post
I shared and still share the story for two reasons.

1. To educate others that it wrong. Legally and morally.
2. To remind parents that it is important that BOTH parents have a basic understanding of ADA and their child's rights.

Search Blind Girl Museum. how sad that the top results on Google and Bing is about THIS story and not something more positive.

This topic is still  pretty raw for me.  Abby doesn't like to talk about it anymore.    The whole story went a little bit out of control. The story was not completely accurate but it never is.  I was extremely nervous during the TV interview and you can tell. I don't regret us saying yes to the media inquiries.  No child and No adult should ever have this happen to them. The sad thing is it happens every single day.  It more common for a guide dog to be illegally denied access into a public location but the same thing does happen with  canes. Just a lot less often.
Screenshot from the Daily Mail website in the UK
So what was August 27th 2012? To most most people it a blip in the long stream of stories it our mass media world.  To our family it was something quite different. While I knew Abby would be discriminated against because of her blindness there is no way to prepare yourself for it when it first happens.  

I also realized that while I already knew this I saw first hand how poor some people's view of the blind and visually impaired is.  To really get an idea of what I mean visit the Huffington Post article and read the comments.  (its an very old article in internet time so its not wise to make comments to them)  I saw comments about why would any blind person want to go to a museum. Who would let a kid bring a 'stick' into a museum.  That the museum was justified because blind kids (and blind people in general) could damage the exhibits. There was good responses to but it didn't soften the blow for ignorant ones. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/31/museum-apologizes-to-blind-girl_n_1846645.html

I get asked sometimes ..What was the result? What did the museum do?  They pretty much didn't respond to this story at all. The executive director talked to the media but never called or wrote us.  I realized that they were posturing themselves in case we filed a formal complaint. That was never my intention. I just didn't want it to happen again.  Abby is still very upset with the museum. It is over.  We have moved on.  I hope some parents and others were educated by the incident.  I could write many more blogs on this topic.  Like how Abby's cuteness had a lot to do with why the story spread and other topics but I simply can't talk about it anymore. Its over. So much good is going on. Now why couldn't my blog post about the braille summit get as much exposure?  The future of Braille is so much more important.