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Published 2 times a year. Fall and Spring

Contributions to the newsletter can be mailed to TSBVI Outreach, 1100 West 45th Street, Austin, Texas 78756 or emailed to section editors (below).

To request an email alert when a new issue is posted on the web, or to discontinue a mailed subscription, contact Melanie Schacht at .

Publication Staff

Editor-in-Chief: Ann Adkins   

Editor: Cyral Miller

Proofreader and Archivist: Suzanne Becker 

Assistant to the Editor:  Melanie Schacht

Production: Steven Landry  

Family Wisdom Editor: Kathi Garza

Effective Practices Editor: Sara Kitchen

Effective Practices Editor: Adam Graves

News & Views Editor: Juanita Barker 

News & Views Editor: Julie Johnson 

Special Thanks

The audio version of TX SenseAbilities is provided by Learning Ally, Austin, TX. 

This project is supported by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP).

Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the U.S. Department of Education. 

The Outreach Programs are funded in part by IDEA-B Formula and IDEA-D Deaf-Blind Federal grants. 

Federal funds are administered through the Texas Education Agency, Division of Special Education, to the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. 

Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age or disability in employment or the provision of services.

Selected Resources

Ten Issues to Always Consider When Intervening for Students with DeafBlindness

Winter 2010 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By David Wiley, Texas Deafblind Outreach

Abstract: This article provides a framework for analyzing ten common issues a teacher, intervener, or caregiver must address when effectively supporting a student who is deafblind. Questions are provided to help guide a team in planning the best sensory access for the student in all environments.

Key Words: , deafblind, access, vision, hearing, tactile

A primary role for those intervening with a student who is deafblind is to make accommodations to provide the best possible access to information, spaces, and materials. These accommodations should be planned in advance for the best visual, auditory, and tactile access. This planning is most effectively done as a group including teachers, interveners, related service professionals, the student, family, and other caregivers.

  • During advanced planning, write strategies that will help the student be more successful when each of the following basic issues are considered, taking into account vision, hearing, and touch:
  • physical space – qualities of the room and activity area;
  • positioning – where the student, instructor, and materials should be;
  • materials – how teaching materials look, sound and feel;
  • devices and equipment – adaptive aids used for sensory impairments;
  • orientation & mobility – knowing where you are, and getting around;
  • communication – getting information from, and giving information to others;
  • trust and security – feeling supported, connected, and safe;
  • literacy – recording information for future reference, and retrieving recorded information;
  • pacing – how quickly the lesson should move forward; and
  • content of the activity or coursework – adding to, reducing, or changing what is taught.

It might be easiest to divide a planning sheet into three columns for vision, hearing, and touch, so each is considered for each issue. The strategies developed should help the student access as much information as possible, as easily as possible. This will help the student use his or her energy for learning, rather than trying to figure out what is happening, or what is expected.

Despite the best planning, however, the student and staff will encounter some settings and situations that are new or unexpected, before there is a chance for advance planning. For this reason, those intervening for a student with deafblindness should always have these ten issues in mind in every situation. At the point when making accommodations for these ten issues becomes second nature for the person doing the intervention, the student has the best opportunity to have the fullest access to instruction.

For each of the ten issues, the following are examples of questions that the planning team should consider, and that the person doing the intervention should always keep in mind. Please remember that these are examples, and there are many other things to consider, based on the individual student’s settings, situations, abilities, and challenges.


Primary question. How should the room and activity area look, sound, and be arranged so the student can move freely, easily gather materials, easily access information, and not be distracted by visual, auditory, and tactual clutter?

Examples of other questions to consider:

  • Is the lighting bright enough, or is there too much glare?
  • Does the room decoration create a good visual background?
  • How are the acoustics in the room?
  • Is there a lot of distracting background noise?
  • What kind of furniture is best to help the student be in the best position, and have clear convenient access to learning materials, communication partners, and activity areas?
  • Is the workspace clear enough to easily explore tactually, or visually scan?


Primary question. What positions for the student, instructor, and materials would maximize the student’s access to and understanding of information?

  • Examples of other questions to consider:
  • Where should the student sit or stand to see and hear most easily?
  • Are there specific parts of the room to be avoided because of shadows, glare, or background noise?
  • Does the time of day affect what position is best in this setting?
  • Does the student need permission to move when necessary to improve his or her ability to see or hear, or to tactually explore what the other students are exploring visually?
  • Are materials placed so the student can easily observe or get to them?


Primary question. Are all teaching materials easy for the student to recognize and use? Consider color, contrast, sound quality, texture, etc. These materials could include anything from a toothbrush to a washer, or a picture symbol to a computer.

  • Examples of other questions to consider:
  • Do learning materials have good color and light/dark contrast when compared to the background, and between the different parts of the materials?
  • Are the materials large enough to easily see?
  • Do materials have distinctive sound qualities, that make them easy to recognize, or interesting to explore?
  • Are tactual elements, such as raised lines and textures, added to reinforce visual materials?
  • Whatever possible, are tactile models and symbols made from real objects that are tactually distinctive, rather than plastic replicas?


Primary question. During the activity, how should the student use any adaptive devices or equipment such as magnifiers, assistive listening devices, electronic Braille notetakers, or switch activated appliances?

  • Examples of other questions to consider:
  • In what situations would magnification be helpful, and which devices would be most effective, efficient, and easy to use?
  • Do the student and others in the environment know how to use any amplification, or other sensory devices?
  • Are computers, telecommunications equipment, or other tech tools equipped with accessibility features?
  • Does the student need help setting up and using devices quickly enough to keep up without missing instruction or other essential information?


Primary question. What would help the student know where he or she is, be able to find people and things, and go to familiar and unfamiliar destinations?

Examples of other questions to consider:

  • Are rooms and hallways free of clutter to promote ease of movement?
  • Are materials stored in consistent locations that are easy to access?
  • Are landmarks for orientation identified or created?
  • Has the student learned clear consistent routes to independently move through familiar settings?


Primary question. What strategies would help the student express him or herself to staff or classmates, and what strategies would help staff or classmates be more clearly understood by the student?

Examples of other questions to consider:

  • Does the person intervening need to learn new vocabulary or create new communication symbols in order to be prepared for a new lesson or activity?
  • Which communication partners in any setting can communicate directly with the student, and in which cases is there a need for someone to interpret or facilitate interactions?
  • In any situation, does the student have an effective way to communicate both expressively and receptively, and all the materials and equipment necessary to do so?
  • Are symbols, devices, and other materials available if necessary for the student to communicate about unexpected concerns or topics?
  • Does the student need to switch to different communication strategies based on the situation, such as during group discussions, when the room becomes noisy, or when the lights are dimmed?


Primary question. What would reduce anxiety for the student, so he or she can feel secure and focus on learning?

Examples of other questions to consider:

  • During the activity, how does the student remain connected to someone he or she knows, and with whom he or she has a trusting relationship?
  • How does the student know what is about to happen, and what other people’s expectations for the student are?
  • Does the student know who else is involved in the activity, and what they are doing?
  • Does anything in the situation or activity create confusion or uncertainty for the student, and what can be done to reduce it?
  • Does the student need instruction in how to advocate for appropriate modifications, such as asking a teacher or classmate to repeat something, slow down, or change position?


Primary question. What would help the student be able to read or otherwise retrieve recorded information, such as tape recordings, pictures, tactile symbols, object symbols, etc?

Examples of other questions to consider:

  • What medium would be most effective in this setting: print, Braille, voice output, pictures, tactile graphics, tactile symbols, object symbols, etc.?
  • Is all print easy to read, considering size, color, and type style?
  • If the student uses voice output, is there a good listening environment?
  • Would the student benefit from headphones or an alternative listening device?
  • If the student reads Braille, are Braille materials available in advance?
  • When pictures cannot be visually accessed, are tactile graphics or tactile symbols available?


Primary question. How do the student’s needs related to vision, hearing, and touch affect the pace at which information is given to the student, how long the student needs to explore materials, and how much time he or she needs to respond?

Examples of other questions to consider:

  • Before beginning a lesson or activity, is time set aside to allow the student to explore the area, become acquainted with materials, get into proper position, prepare and test equipment, or otherwise assure accessibility?
  • Does the student need extra time to orient to a communication partners, especially in a group?
  • Is the student given extra time when needed to pause for gathering and/or processing information?
  • Are breaks needed to prevent fatigue for the student, or for the person providing intervention?


Primary question. How should the content of the lesson be modified to account for the student’s needs related to vision, hearing, and touch? For example, do demands need to be reduced? In addition to the regular content of the lesson, do other skills (e.g. visual scanning) or information (e.g. background concepts) need to be added?

Examples of other questions to consider:

  • Because of the student’s pace, does the amount of work need to be reduced?
  • If some of the lesson must be omitted due to time, which elements take priority, and which can be removed?
  • Are there concepts in the lesson or activity that are unfamiliar to the student, so that additional explanation or background information must be provided?
  • Does the student need pre-teaching before a lesson, or does extra instructional time need to be set aside later to fill in gaps in the students understanding, or to reinforce concepts?
  • Do the goals of the activity or instructional methods need to be modified to take into account the student’s sensory needs and capabilities?
  • Are activity routines and materials used consistently, so the student can more easily recognize them?
  • In addition to subject area content, does the lesson need to include instruction on sensory issues, like how to effectively use vision, hearing, or touch to actively participate in the activity?

By answering such questions in each area, accounting for vision, hearing, and touch, educational teams will provide better intervention for students with deafblindness. Students will have better access to information about the environment, what is happening to around them, and what others are communicating. They will be able to concentrate on learning, rather than struggling to gather information. Access to information and environments is a right.

It is important to keep in mind, the purpose for these accommodations is not to provide a crutch, or make to students dependent on the people providing the intervention. When done well, this intervention will increase students’ independence by providing better access. For that reason, staff people doing the intervention should always be trying to help others in the environment, and the students themselves, be aware of these issues so better access can occur more naturally, even without assistance. This access makes things easier and fairer for everyone involved.

Abstract: this article describes a free sign language instruction program available on the internet

Keywords: blind, visually impaired, deaf, deafblind, Family Signs Program, sign language, Educational Resource Center on Deafness, ERCOD, Texas School for the Deaf, TSD

Family Signs is a free sign language instruction program powered by Skype and ooVoo that provides one-on-one classes using computers with a high-speed Internet connection or videophones when available. This program is intended for parents of deaf or hard of hearing children who want to improve their sign language skills but do not have easy access to traditional sign language classes. Family Signs is coordinated by the Educational Resource Center on Deafness (ERCOD) at Texas School for the Deaf (TSD).

If you are a parent or guardian of a deaf or hard of hearing child and you reside in Texas you are eligible for this program. We encourage you to visit the Program Overview and Student Information pages for more information about the program.

Instructors are advanced sign language students of college/university Deaf Education Programs, advanced sign language students of college/university Interpreter Training Programs, sign language interpreters, and volunteers with advanced sign language skills

Fall 2009 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By Ruth Ann Marsh, COMS, TSBVI Outreach Orientation and Mobility Consultant

Abstract: The author discusses the importance of not protecting students too much so they may have opportunities to learn to solve problems and gain independent skills.

Keywords: visually impaired, orientation and mobility, problem solving, independence

As teachers of the visually impaired (TVI) and orientation and mobility specialists (COMS), our roles are to help out students develop the skills that will enable them to be successful, not only in school but in the world outside of and beyond school. Part of the goals we have for our students is to teach the expanded core curriculum such as Braille, use of visual aides, adaptive technology, cane skills, use of public transportation, daily living skills, etc. While all of the skills are needed for success both in school and out of school, the skill that will help them the most is the ability to recognize and solve the inevitable problems that are encountered through one's life.

Most professionals in the field of visual impairment are there because they want to help their students. But what we learn early on is that helping a student sometimes means letting them learn to deal with problems without our interference and interventions to "fix things". It's not an easy thing to do - to stand back and let your students learn from their own mistakes. I, personally have had to literally bite my lip to keep from blurting out information that my student would, given ample time, figure out on her own; keep my hands clasped behind my back to keep from reaching out to physically rearrange something so that it was less of an obstacle; remind myself to wait and give her time to discover her options and then act upon them; etc. I often have invited parents to accompany us on O&M lessons, reminding them to also not interfere, so that they can see how their children are able to handle naturally occurring challenges. Often parents are amazed at what their children can do when given the opportunity.

Of course, making sure that your students are safe is always paramount, but making sure they succeed by falsely removing all or even some of the challenges actually keeps them from developing the problem-solving skills needed to become independently successful. And it ultimately has a negative effect on the self-confidence as they quickly learn that they only "succeed" when an instructor is present. They are not fooled for long.

In his best seller self-help book, The Road Less Traveled, Dr. Scott Peck begins his first chapter with the sentence, "Life is difficult." He goes on to say,

"What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one. Problems, depending on their nature, evoke in us frustration or grief or sadness or loneliness or guilt or regret or anger or fear or anxiety or anguish or despair... Yet it is in this whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning... It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually. ...when we avoid the legitimate suffering that results from dealing with problems, we also avoid the growth that problems demand from us."

None of us want our students to suffer. But dealing with frustrations, and learning that one can work through them and be a better, more capable person is a life affirming, powerful experience. Our students learn not only that they can get around physical obstacles on campus, but that through determination and persistence they can deal with similar obstacles in other environments. Our students learn how and when to be an advocate for their needs, but also how to be creative when problems need to be solved. They learn how to manage frustration and to channel that energy in constructive ways. If students were guided everywhere on campus, they would not have had the opportunity to learn and practice these problem solving skills.

Our O&M specialists, while always ensuring students' safety, have to stand back and give them the time and encouragement to work through some puzzling, frustrating experiences. But the result is young people who are developing the confidence they need to be successful when they don't have an O&M specialist along. In her article, "Frustration While Traveling", Amanda states, "I will deal with the same things for the rest of my life. I am happy that I can deal with things." A famous quote by Hodding Carter, Jr. comes to mind: "There are two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots. The other is wings." May we always have the courage, fortitude and patience to give our students roots and wings. 

Winter 2009 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By Suzanne Becker, Teacher of the Visually Impaired and Classroom Teacher, Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired, Austin, TX

Abstract: A TVI and classroom teacher describes how she serves her secondary-level students who are visually and multiply impaired using Lilli Nielson’s Active Learning approach along with other strategies.


Keywords: Effective Practices, blind, deafblind, multiple disabilities, active learning, centers, Lilli Nielsen


I’ve been a TVI and classroom teacher at Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) since the 2001 school year.  My classroom is designed for older students (13-22 years) with severe multiple impairments who are functioning below three years of age across most developmental skills (i.e.: emotional development, fine and gross motor skills, object perception, communication, etc.).  My teaching has been guided primarily by the educational approaches of Lilli Nielsen (using “Active Learning” and evaluating skills with the Functional Schemes Assessment), Barbara Miles (engaging in conversations with students based on their topics, and being extremely sensitive to the communication of our hands), and Jan van Dijk (interacting with students using meaningful calendars, resonance activities and consistency).

This type of programming existed at TSBVI for students with severe impairments of elementary school age, and I advocated expanding it to include at risk students at the secondary level.  I did so by writing a proposal to TSBVI administration in 2006, and received a grant in 2007 from the A+ Federal Credit Union to support the program.

I was led to develop this approach by a student who came to the school in 2003 at 17 years of age with many challenges to his learning.  He had a neurological disorder resulting in cortical visual impairment (CVI) and central auditory processing disorder (CAPD), which means his brain had difficulty making sense of visual and auditory information; cerebral palsy impacting mobility on his right side causing fatigue so he’d sit down often and use a wheelchair for long distances; autism; a speech impairment; and a seizure disorder monitored by high doses of medication administered during meals.  He also came with well-established behaviors, including self-abuse (dropping to the floor and head banging) and aggression (throwing, biting, head-butting and pinching).

The medical conditions this student had, and those of other students I have since taught, create a tremendous amount of confusion, pain, frustration and disruption in their lives, leaving the students in little control of their bodies and the events that happen to them.  I’ve worked hard to empower the students and let them be in control of their learning experience as much as possible. To do this, I’ve structured the classroom into distinct learning environments or centers differentiated from one another by themes, the materials stored there, the seating arrangements (tables/chairs, couches, beanbags, rugs), and the physical landmarks dividing them. This organization has helped my students make associations between the centers and the interactions, activities, materials and sensory experiences that occur in each.

The centers derive from natural occurring themes in the student’s lives.  These include:

 Image 1: A calendar center that includes an area with each student’s communication system located nearest to the door, where we communicate about past, present and/or future events.


A hygiene center with soaps and lotions of various smells and different sized containers, toothpastes and toothbrushes, hairbrushes, sponges, foot baths and hand dryers.

Image 2: a kitchen or cooking center which includes utensils such as measuring cups, stirring spoons, mixing bowls, cups, placemats, appliances such as a microwave and refrigerator,  as well as supplies such as food, spices.

Kitchen Center

A clothing center with a standing closet rack upon which clothing of various textures hang, as well as hats, jewelry, shoes and fabrics.

Image 3: sensory centers including a tactile vibration area with vibrating pillows of various sizes, and acoustic musical instruments; and an electronic visual/auditory center which contains the beloved keyboards, CDs and cassette players, light boxes and computer.


Image 4: a vocational center that includes a can crusher, cans, trash receptacle on wheels, plastic bags, a broom, watering cans, smooth stones, planters, shovels, scoops, water hoses, paint rollers, dusters, mop heads and containers with lids.

Vocational Center

A gross motor center with a swing, mats, scooter boards, roller skates, and rocking chair.

Image 5: a throwing center with balls of various shapes, sizes, colors and weights, plastic bottles with different materials on the inside and textures glued to the outside.












 In my earlier teaching days, I was in a smaller classroom equipped with one table where activities of very different topics took place: cooking, hygiene, vocational.  Some activities were in a one-on-one setting and some a group setting.  While each activity was differentiated by its own object symbol, the students taught me that conducting many activities in one place caused them confusion, stress and distrust, resulting in behaviors like shutting down, body or hand tension, hitting, leaving the area, or dropping to the floor.  In my attempts to be efficient in a small space, I was also controlling access to materials by keeping them in storage bins and determining when they would make an appearance based on the schedule I created.

When I moved to a larger classroom, I released control of the materials and the time frame in which to use them and gave the students more freedom to explore.  I scheduled students’ time in the various centers based on their interests, preferences, and sensory needs. I observed the actions they performed with their hands and bodies, with various materials, and with other adults, keeping a pen and paper (and at times a video camera) handy to document and make changes as needed.  I noticed students initiating more actions by reaching out and moving their bodies with greater independence, increasing their motor skills in the ways they handled objects, and increasing their social and emotional skills as the time spent in the various centers expanded.  I created a matrix for each student that outlined the IEP goals each center addressed, and hung these documents in the centers so all adults interacting with or observing the students would have a reference of what skills to target.  I also advocated for a more flexible schedule to allow the students time to continue to grow at their own pace.

Based on my observations, I purchased objects for the centers that contained properties I noticed held the students interest. One student fixated on tickling himself—using his apron strings at meals, paper towels in the bathroom, and his pillow when he woke up in the morning.  I made sure to have familiar items for tickling in all centers, and used his attraction to soft materials as a way to get him interested in the less desirable vocational center where I showed him the tickling potential in dusters, a car wash mitt, paint rollers, and a mop head.  Another student, who refused most materials, paid attention to jewelry worn by staff providing sighted guide while walking together.  He was scheduled to visit the clothing center.  We increased our jewelry collection and had interactions with him where we would put on different types of jewelry for him to notice (various beaded bracelets, a springy phone cord on my wrist, metal rings).

A different student with total blindness, a severe hearing impairment, and severe sensory integration deficits was particularly withdrawn. Touch and interaction stressed him out, causing him to drop to the floor and at times try to remove his clothing.  He primarily stood in one place twisting his upper body rapidly from side to side, or sat in a rocking chair with his legs crossed close to his body, tucking his head and arms onto his legs.  He could tolerate being in a center if it meant he had room to sway, but he was fearful of touching anything.  Presenting an object to him was too demanding, so we hung objects where he could accidentally bump into them in the process of swaying.  He felt extremely threatened by interaction, so my goal was for him to allow my presence near him.  I stood and imitated his swaying, near enough so when he chose to reach out he felt me resonating the same body movement as his. Over the entire school year, this non-demanding interaction built trust between us, and that trust helped him remain in contact with me as I invited him to follow me as I then reached out to experience objects in the centers.

When I look back at videotape from 2003, my first teaching year with the student who inspired me, I notice ways I had made learning more challenging for him than it should have been.  I limited his access to objects because I wanted to prevent his mouthing, throwing and banging them. I had an expectation about how he should manipulate objects based on their function. I placed him in group activities with multi-step sequencing and tried to have him share materials with peers.  When he attempted to leave the activity, I responded by trying to keep him in the area, but he was skilled at getting away.  When he dropped to the floor, I focused on getting him to sit back up to keep him from banging his head.

Our second school year together, I realized that group activities were too fast paced and over-stimulating to his senses, causing him to leave the area to regulate sensory input. Also, when he was on the floor, he felt stable and could bend his legs into a certain position to ease stiffness from his CP; it helped when he had stomach pain; and it also communicated that he needed to take a break. I struggled less with him when he was on the floor and instead brought materials to him. I surprised both of us by changing this conversation and it strengthened our relationship.

Our third year together, I was guided to look at Lilli Nielsen’s Functional Schemes Assessment by staff experienced in her approach from working in TSBVI’s specialized elementary level classroom. Sure enough, the assessment confirmed that my secondary level student wasn’t ready to take turns with peers nor was he at the level of multi-step sequencing.  He needed lots more time handling materials of many different properties and lots more practice having positive interactions with trusted adults who would offer him objects, imitate his actions, model object exploration, and accept him for who he was.  His competence and confidence grew!

In our fourth year together we were in the larger classroom and there was now a balance of learning centers where certain activities occurred in chairs and others occurred on the floor.  He learned to travel around the classroom and retrieve materials from consistently stored locations. His self-abuse decreased and he learned to express when he felt challenged using language and actions that we modeled. After having extended time to explore objects, he expanded his actions beyond mouthing, throwing, and banging to also include shaking, rotating, twisting, waving, scratching, and sniffing. His functional use of objects increased. He gained significantly more ability to use both hands, even the one impacted by CP, and increased his visual skills as well.

This student had a huge, positive impact on my understanding of how to teach older students with severe impairments. He taught me to listen to him and his peers with greater sensitivity, and to develop an organized environment with motivating materials, in which students can experience decreased stress and increased learning despite the many challenges of their multiple impairments.


Spring/ Summer 2008 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Excerpt from

Abstract: This article describes a free service that allows blind and visually impaired people to have printed documents read to them over the telephone.

Key Words: blindness, visual impairment, free reading service

ReadThisToMe is a free reading service for blind and low-vision people, powered by volunteers and Internet collaboration.

ReadThisToMe allows blind and low-vision people (clients) to have printed documents read to them over the phone. All a person needs is a phone line and a fax machine (no computer is required.) Here’s how it works:

  1. The client faxes the document to be read to the ReadThisToMe toll-free fax number: 1-877-333-8848. The first page of the fax needs to be a cover page that includes the client’s first name and callback (voice) phone number. The document itself can be just about anything: a handwritten letter, a bill, a can of food, a multi-page magazine article -- just about anything that can be faxed.
  2. One of ReadThisToMe’s volunteer readers will call the client back—usually within an hour—and read the document.
  3. That’s it!

The service is available throughout the U.S. and Canada and is absolutely free (though donations are gladly accepted).

Because the reading is done by people, this service can handle documents that electronic reading hardware and software cannot, such as handwritten documents, documents with complex graphics, etc. The cost of entry is just a phone line and a fax machine. A flatbed fax machine is slightly more expensive but can be more versatile, allowing clients to fax pages from books, food containers, and other thicker items.)

ReadThisToMe needs more volunteer readers: all volunteers need are a few minutes a day and willingness to make a long-distance phone call. More info about volunteering.

The service was created and is maintained by Savetz Publishing. Businesses that wish to help sponsor ReadThisToMe can send e-mail to info @ . Sponsors and other friends of Read This To Me are listed here.

Spring/ Summer 2008 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Press Release, American Foundation for the Blind, April 29, 2008

Abstract: This article describes the new FamilyConnect resource that provides support and information for parents with children who have a visual impairment.

Key Words: News & Views, blindness, visual impairment, American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI), FamilyConnect,

When parents learn their child has a visual impairment, it can be overwhelming. Parents wonder, Will my child fall behind at school? or Will my child make friends? or Will my child have a successful career? With only 93,600 visually impaired school-aged children in the U.S., over half of whom have additional disabilities, it's easy for families facing vision loss to feel alone.

To help these families connect with each other and give busy parents, grandparents and other caretakers a place to find comprehensive resources and support 24 hours a day, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI) today launched FamilyConnect", an online, multimedia community for parents and guardians of children with visual impairments.

Located at, FamilyConnect gives parents access to message boards where they can talk to other parents, compelling videos featuring real-life families, parenting articles, a mom-authored blog, a glossary of more than 30 eye conditions, and links to local resources. The site also features sections dedicated to multiple disabilities, technology, education, and every age group from infants to teens.

We created FamilyConnect to give parents the support and information they need to ensure their children can achieve their dreams - whether that is playing sports or music, learning to read braille, getting a first job, surfing the web, making the cheerleading squad, traveling the world, or going to graduate school, said Carl R. Augusto, President & CEO of AFB.

A recent NAPVI/AFB survey of parents of children with visual impairments showed that parents/guardians turn most commonly to physicians (82%), educators (76%), and web sites (65%) for information and support regarding their children's vision problems. This is consistent with national statistics from the 2006 Pew Internet & American Life Project that show 80 percent of American adult Internet users have searched for health information online. For parents living in rural areas with fewer resources, the web is particularly important to finding relevant, trustworthy information and the right services.

When I talk to parents of visually impaired children, they almost always ask about three things: they want to talk to other parents who have children with the same eye condition as their child, they want access to the latest health and education information, and they want to know what the future holds, said Susan LaVenture, Executive Director of NAPVI. FamilyConnect offers parents all these things - and more - in one place.

In addition to joining a community of parents, visitors to can create a personal profile and receive information on news and events based on their child's age, eye condition, and location. Families can also find articles written by parents and professionals on topics such as:

  • Finding the Right Eye Care Professionals for Your Child
  • Developmental Milestones: What Do They Mean?
  • Your Child's Individualized Educational Program
  • Friendship in the Teen Years
  • College Life Begins

In designing this web site, AFB and NAPVI partnered with leading national organizations and hundreds of local agencies that serve children who are visually impaired to keep FamilyConnect content complete and up to date. AFB and NAPVI also solicited input from families across the country.

The goal of is to provide connections and support. By providing accurate information and creating a forum for meaningful discussion, families and their visually impaired children will feel empowered to reach their full potential.

FamilyConnect is generously supported by grants from the Lavelle Fund for the Blind, Inc. and Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Morgan Stanley.

Spring/ Summer 2008 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Excerpt from National Center on Severe and Sensory Disabilities website:

Abstract: This article describes a popup guide available on the web to help parents of visually- or hearing-impaired children advocate for their child's educational needs in ARD meetings.

Key Words: blindness, visual impairment, deafness, hearing impairment, National Center on Severe and Sensory Disabilities, special education, IEP, ARD, NCSSD

With the help of parent organizations across the country, the National Center on Severe and Sensory Disabilities (NCSSD) has developed a series of disability specific help guides for parents, teachers, and administrators. Each one includes a series of commonly heard objections followed by some possible responses and the law that justifies those responses.

The Pop-Up IEP is intended to help parents respond to school administrators who can sometimes have priorities that are not clear to parents. As such, these tools provide administrators with the information they need to petition local school boards for the funding necessary to help each child reach his or her full potential.

The Blindness and Visual Impairment version provides information specifically intended to help parents, teachers, and administrators deal with the issues specific to students who are blind or have a visual impairment.

The Deafness and Hard-of-Hearing version provides information specifically intended to help parents, teachers, and administrators deal with the issues specific to students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The Significant Support Need version provides information specifically intended to help parents, teachers, and administrators deal with the issues specific to students who have some highly debilitating disability.

Spring/ Summer 2008 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By Kathy Geiger, TVI and VI Specialist, Region 5 Educational Service Center

Abstract: This article provides information about the National Braille Association.

Key Words: blindness, visual impairment, braille, National Braille Association, NLS certification

National Braille Association (NBA) is the national organization for Braillists in North America. It was originally composed of volunteers who provided Braille material for blind people. The changes in NBA have been varied and not only benefit those who have NLS certification, but all teachers of the visually impaired. Over the years, NBA has realized that Transcriber and Educator Services have become a big issue. Therefore, there is an additional committee for this group. I enjoy attending the meetings not only to learn all the new rules, but to also learn better ways of presenting materials for my students. Even if you were not able to attend the NBA conference in Dallas in April, be sure to check out the NBA website at . One especially helpful feature is the Ask an Expert section, which is divided into topics and moderated by experts in tactile graphics, mathematics notation, computer assisted transcription, foreign language, and many more. This is a great way to get very specific and current information.

Winter 2008 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Preparing Young Texans for a Successful Future

By Barbara J. Madrigal, Assistant Commissioner, DARS-Division for Blind Services

Abstract: This article describes Division for Blind Services activities to promote self-confidence and self-empowerment in young Texans who are blind or visually impaired.

Key words: blind, visually impaired, self-confidence, self-esteem, self-empowerment, self-advocacy, Texas Confidence Builders, American Council of the Blind (ACB)

Over a number of years, the DARS-Division for Blind Services (DBS) has developed a philosophy known as Texas Confidence Builders. This philosophy is the backbone of planned activities designed to help our consumers acquire the skills necessary to develop positive self-confidence and self-empowerment, and it represents an especially critical component for younger consumers as they explore the world around them and begin making personal decisions that will have a lasting impact on their future.

The principles incorporated into the philosophy include the development of strong independent living skills such as personal communication and self-advocacy skills, orientation and mobility skills that allow the individual to travel safely in different environments, and the daily skills we all use in everyday life to prepare nutritious meals, select and take care of our clothes, make new friends, and develop a healthy lifestyle through a balance of work and recreation.

At the core of all these skills is the development of positive self-esteem and self-confidence, traits every young person needs to cultivate to be a truly independent adult. If you are a parent, you are keenly aware that these can be very difficult traits for teenagers to acquire. For that reason, DBS services for youth and young adults include workshops, conferences, and other functions to help young consumers participate in the kinds of experiences that create a solid foundation for their future goals.

One such activity, the Carolyn Garrett Legislative Leadership Conference, is an ongoing collaboration between the DBS Transition Program and the Texas Chapter of the American Council of the Blind (ACB). Fourteen young consumers from across the state independently traveled to Austin to attend the 2007 conference, based on the theme Advocacy Builds Leaders. Events included a keynote address by Secretary of State Roger Williams on the importance of exercising the right to vote as well as a discussion about the responsibilities and tasks involved in his duties as an elected official; a presentation by Vince Morvillo, based on his many successful accomplishments as a blind sailor, encouraging the youngsters to always work toward making their individual dreams a reality; and several breakout sessions that focused on self-advocacy skills in different situations such as ARD meetings, workplaces, and local communities. The conference participants also enjoyed a tour of the state capitol building and a visit with Representative Sylvester Turners legislative aide, who discussed a range of current legislation and provided an overview of the duties performed by legislative aides.

Another very successful conference, the Fourth Annual Texas Confidence Builders Foundation for Life Conference, was held in Corpus Christi and attended by over 50 consumers from across the state along with their parents and siblings. The core theme at this years conference was that families should have the same high expectations for a child who is blind or visually impaired as for any of the childs siblings. A variety of presentations covered diverse topics like the importance of acquiring solid independent living skills, developing a resume for college or work, and the value of community volunteer work to gain experience and promote self-confidence. The consumers and their families were also offered numerous hands-on activities and opportunities to hear from gifted speakers who shared their personal perspectives about blindness. As one parent observed, The entire program was important to my family. It gave us a shot of confidence that will help us focus on what is important for a successful life.

These types of activities help our young consumers internalize the belief that success is an achievable goal. Being a young adult is never easy, but developing a sense of self-confidence and self-empowerment through positive experiences helps open doors, creates a solid foundation for each youngsters dreams and goals, and begins preparing our young Texans for the very successful futures they deserve.