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Winter 2000 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Encourage Children to Reach for the Stars

By Terrell J. Murphy, Executive Director, Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind)

Preparing for a conference speech last year, I was searching for some inspiration. This particular conference theme was "Building Confidence Through Understanding," and the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) 's staff from across the state would be there. The conference logo was a person at the edge of the earth with outstretched arms reaching toward a bright star. The logo made me wonder how many children and adults who are blind have been encouraged to reach for the stars over the years and why some still perceive them to be beyond their reach.

Once more, I pulled out one of my favorite books, Walking Alone and Marching Together, A History of the Organized Blind Movement in the United States, 1940-1990, by Floyd Matson. Published by the National Federation of the Blind, this hefty book of more than a thousand pages is a collection of speeches and articles written over the years by people who are blind. Along with Matson's narration, the book is a window into what a number of NFB members have done for themselves individually and collectively and what they have thought and felt along the way. Reading through it is one of the best ways to understand what people who are blind want understood about themselves and their organized movement.

I began to look for clues about what common thread connected each of the people in the book other than blindness. Early in the book is Jacobus tenBroek's 1948 "A Bill of Rights for the Blind", in which tenBroek says that idleness can confine people who are blind to the "sidelines of life, warming the bench in the game that all should play". Reading on, the common thread is soon evident. Not one of the people in this book could be described as an idle bystander in any facet of life! Each spent a lifetime energetically reaching for his or her own star individually as well as collectively.

It's imperative that parents and their partners (Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) and the educational and community organizations) encourage and work with kids to set goals that keep them involved and active in the full spectrum of life. A study came across my desk sometime back. It noted a survey had indicated that the kitchen is the most popular place in the house for family members to gather: all the activities of busy mealtimes; kids' homework spread across the kitchen table; mom or dad paying the bills; neighbors talking. It was the next part of the study that disturbs me. The survey found that children who are blind spend more time in their bedroom than in any other part of the house - out of the mainstream of daily life and activity. How unfortunate for these particular kids. They are missing out on some of the best day-to-day opportunities available for growing into confident adults.

As I mentioned before in other issues of SEE/HEAR, TCB recently completed a project called "Opportunities 2000" in which we developed a blueprint for creating the ideal children's program. When we met with families, educators, and advocates across the state, we heard the same message: children need more opportunities in their home communities to build those foundational skills we all know are vital to being successful in life - independent living, orientation and mobility, social, career exploration, and recreation/leisure.

We've been working in partnership with families, educators, and community volunteers to put on special projects throughout each year that concentrate on these skills. During last fiscal year, there were 131 special projects throughout the state that gave approximately 3,400 individuals opportunities for learning and growth. Although these special projects are geared specifically for families who have children with visual impairments, many more opportunities are awaiting our children through camps, involvement with extracurricular activities, church involvement, organized sports, scouting, etc. Since we are in the process of camp registration, I encourage you to check out Ron Lucey's article about camp

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Last Revision: September 4, 2003