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Fall 2000 Table of Contents
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Ten Reasons to Introduce Blind Role Models to Families

By Jean Robinson, Family Support Specialist, TSBVI, VI Outreach

During my ten or so years of working with families I have found that children cannot effectively make progress in isolation; they come with parents. Parents can be a teacher's or administrator's best advocate or worst nightmare. Either way they cannot and should not be ignored. Often I have heard comments about parents like these: "They always want more." "They are never satisfied." "They always complain." "They don't `get it." "They don't see the big picture." Too many times I feel parents are patronized when they express their concerns or ask questions.

Professionals in the small field of vision impairments are immersed in the world of blindness. They tend to forget sometimes that parents don't know the basics. Most parents have little, if any, experience with blindness. Often they are too scared to think about their child becoming an adult. But these parents are just like us. We all need dreams, even unrealistic ones, to motivate and challenge us each day. I'm sure I am not the only parent who told her children they could be rocket scientists. I have also been known to buy a lottery ticket or two, even though the odds of winning are ridiculous. Parents of a child with a disability become short-circuited when they cannot nurture dreams in their own lives, dreams that include the lives of their children.

A practical, informative way to help parents build dreams for their child's future is to connect them with blind mentors or role models. Our last "Future Horizons Family Gathering" gave over seventy parents an opportunity to ask basic questions about living with a visual impairment. It also helped them to begin to look into the future of their child with joy and expectation instead of fear. The mentors were solicited from Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) caseworkers and counselors, vision teachers, and also from consumer groups (National Federation of the Blind Texas, American Council of the Blind Texas, Texas Federation of the Blind). The mentors varied in ages (14 years and older) and background. Students with visual impairments, along with their siblings, were able to spend individual time with a variety of mentors. In some cases, it was the first time they ever meet another person with a visual impairment. That alone was a powerful experience.

The parents also spent both informal and structured time talking with mentors. Two mentors sat at each of five tables while the parents rotated to each table to discuss a variety of topics related to living with blindness and visual impairments. Topics of discussion included daily living skills, educational experiences, employment issues, social skills, as well as orientation and mobility skills and transportation issues. The mentors were asked to share their experiences, both good and bad. Of course these topics overlapped some, but they gave a focus and starting place to the discussions. Parents spent fifteen minutes at each table learning how an individual lives his or her life with blindness or visual impairments. Although the group was too large to share a lot of information in such a limited time, parents had the chance to meet all the mentors and hear a variety of experiences. The families made an initial connection with mentors and can keep in touch as they need to in the future. This activity was a great success.

So what are the ten reasons to introduce blind mentors or role models to families? The reasons are evident in the families' comments:

  1. "I learned that children should still be children and be treated as normal as possible."
  2. "My outlook has become more positive after listening to and speaking with the mentors. I'd previously thought assisted living would be the only option for my son, and I realize now the only future that is completely closed to him is the one he doesn't try."
  3. "I was very much inspired by the mentors and by seeing the success of other students with visual impairments."
  4. "I realized that there really are no limits. It's a matter of getting my child the exposure he needs to be able to have many options."
  5. "I enjoyed talking with the teens about social situations and independence. They calmed my fears about social interaction. I also learned a great deal about the value of incidental learning."
  6. "The best part of the weekend was being able to talk to other people who are having similar problems and find out how they are handling them."
  7. "I learned that kids with visual impairments can be successful... college graduates and business owners."
  8. "Now I believe my child can be anything she wants, and more."
  9. "The best part was meeting other parents and mentors and gaining support and information."

Do these comments surprise you? They are the feelings that most parents want to have about their children with visual impairments. These parents do "get it" now. They heard real stories from real people living every day with 

blindness and visual impairments. The whole weekend was an uplifting experience for everyone. The mentors enjoyed meeting the families and sharing their stories as much as the families enjoyed listening and questioning.

By the way, I didn't forget the tenth reason.

10. Parent training is included in the law (See IDEA 300.24(b)(7)). Related services not only include things like orientation and mobility, physical therapy, occupational therapy and the like, but may also include recreational opportunities and parent training. State special education funds may be used for training of parents (300.382(j)).

Obviously, there are more than ten reasons to introduce families to blind mentors or role models. Many of you could add several more reasons to this list. Those of you who have regional family events please spread the word about the mutual benefits of involving mentors. Enlist a family member to write about their experience and take the opportunity to brag in this newsletter. These family/mentor events are worth doing. They promote partnerships between parents, professionals, and blind and visually impaired leaders in the community. They also give students a chance to understand the need for and to develop and practice lifelong skills that lead to independence.


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