Memory Monday – Vanilla Blind

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When I was finishing my bachelor’s degree to become a teacher of the visually impaired, I can remember my professors talking about their ability to pick and choose the people they taught. These people were consistently referred to as ‘vanilla blind.’ The phrase means these people had no other disabilities. We were all warned that our caseloads would not be full of ‘vanilla blind’ and to be prepared. What I find sad, is that few of our professors lived what we were about to do.
I have to say, I wasn’t scared, but this was because of my volunteering with students with other disabilities. Some of these students have taught me more about myself than I can say. Here is a glimpse.

As a recent graduate of a very small field, one of my first positions was working with two veteran TVIs. These two teachers were trained decades before me – possibly before public law 94-142. They were used to ‘vanilla blind’ and wanted to keep their caseloads that way.

I was asked to evaluate a young girl, about six, who attended a special day school for students with more significant cognitive disabilities. I thought nothing of it and went to work. I determined that this young girl had some great usable vision and the team of teachers was working on figuring out a communication system. I remember recommending services once a week to work with the student and team together.

When I reported to my two colleagues they were outraged I would recommend services at all. This blew my mind. This was such a difficult thing, going against two TVIs whom I respected. I continued with my recommendations but it ended up to my detriment. These two TVIs retaliated in ways I won’t share but suffice it to say I quit that position within the year. I refused to be told not to work with students with other disabilities. I refused to believe students with significant cognitive disabilities could not benefit from services from a TVI. While this memory isn’t exactly happy, it did show me I am strong in my beliefs and I continue to enjoy working with ALL students with visual impairments.


Memory Monday – Mother Hen

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I have worked with a good number of paraprofessionals hired to work with my students. One student was located in a remote part of the state. I visited twice a week to provide direct services. This student was new to my caseload so I only had the previous teacher’s notes to review. When I walked in the fourth grade classroom I decided to observe for a while. I noted all I could about the student but soon found I needed to document the paraprofessional as well.

This well-meaning lady had not been given any formal training for working with a child with vision loss. The student, Kim, dropped a paper; the paraprofessional picked it up. Kim was about to start her math homework; the paraprofessional paper clipped the page in the braille book so Kim could find it. Kim was getting ready to go home; the paraprofessional handed her the mittens, coat, and scarf.  Kim was a capable young lady who wasn’t required to do anything independently. Kim didn’t know any different because this paraprofessional had been with her for the last three years. I knew I had to step in but also knew this woman was only doing what she thought was best. I proceeded to make the paraprofessional my ally for independence.

I took the paraprofessional aside and asked her what Kim could do independently. I told her I wanted to know what skills Kim needed to learn. I asked the paraprofessional to document all of the activities during the day for which Kim could do alone, with a little help, with help, or not at all. I demonstrated by verbally documenting a scenario similar to the one I had just witnessed.

I returned in few days to find a wonderful list of skills Kim performed during the day. The paraprofessional was happy to have a task to do (recording) while she let Kim show all she knew how to do. It was a win-win. I know paraprofessionals often see their job as one of helping someone. It is up to the teacher of the visually impaired to show the paraprofessional how to work themselves out of a job and into a better one – such as a braillist!

Memory Monday – Candy Detective

During a mobility lesson I directed a student, Claire, to walk to her favorite convenience store. She had been given a few dollars and was going to spend it on what many kids decide – candy! Claire did a great job and arrived quickly at the store. After directing her to the candy aisle, Claire began examining all of the choices.

She did not want me to identify them so I asked her how she knew the difference between the candy she touched. I can tell the difference between a KitKat and a Hershey Bar but did not think the chocolate bars would be identifiable. Claire showed me how she places her fingers on the top of the bars and she could textually tell the difference between the bars. She showed me a Snickers, Milky Way, and Three Musketeers…they all have different patterns of chocolate on the top. I was thrilled to see someone had allowed Claire the time to feel the candy in a candy aisle long enough for her to learn the identity of candy just by touch. Well, either that or she really gets a lot of chocolate!


Memory Monday – Hot Dogs

I started working with ‘Mary’ when she was in the fourth grade. She lived in a rural town over 50 miles from the nearest mall. She was enrolled in the local school and doing quite well educationally, so I started with social skills that needed fixing.

There were two things which bothered me most. The first was Mary’s method of eating a hotdog. Now I know what you are thinking, ‘What’s the big deal?’. I did not want Mary to be teased during lunch and I could already see some of the older students snickering. When first handed a hotdog, no one had given instruction on how most people eat this food. Mary picked it up from each end of the hotdog, twisted the hotdog so it went ‘bun, meat, bun’ and proceeded to take a bite just like eating a ham sandwich. Now this was wonderful transferring of a skill from something familiar, eating a sandwich, to something unfamiliar, eating a hotdog. She couldn’t see how others held a hotdog so she made her best guess. No one explained that hotdogs were eaten from end to end. Mary was shown once, and quickly picked up how to eat a hotdog and actually thanked me because she found it so much easier.

I’ll share the second bothersome thing in another Memory Monday post.

Memory Monday – Fireworks

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One year the county I was working in had five students who were visually impaired all entering pre-kindergarten at the same time. We decided to have them all attend one together instead of all the teachers traveling around to see them. I offered to run the program which was two days a week from 9-3. While I had assisted with a VI preschool once before, this time it would be all mine. I found lots of helpful information at a website called Stormie’s Preschool. Websites were in their infancy at that time so it was wonderful to look into someone else’s brain for ideas. The sensory table ideas were some of my favorites. My five students practice cutting, watering and cutting real grass, and playing with beans in the sensory table. One student remarked ‘fireworks!’ when he dropped a few beans at a time back into the sensory table. Some of the other sensory table ideas were: lots of different kinds of paper and scissors to practice snipping, cottonballs and digging through them to find hidden objects, and snow with sand tools. The site is now gone, but I am forever grateful to Stormie!!!

Memory Monday – The Sound of Soda

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Sometimes our students come up with a unique way of doing something. I had one student who did not just use weight to determine how much soda was left in the can. She thumped the side of it to hear how much was in the can! She used the sound as a more reliable way to determine this- never thought of that myself though I will admit to trying to peer into a can to see the liquid!

Memory Monday – Dissection, Anyone?

One of my students was the pioneer for her district – the first student completely blind to go from kindergarten to graduation in the district (little, tiny district). People were always concerned about her participating but soon learned there was no slowing her down. During biology, the class was about to start dissection. The teacher was hesitant but willing to let the student try. It turns out the student was excellent at dissection! She had the most delicate cut and was willing to reach into the creatures and feel the parts. The worm was challenging but the frog was quite a success. Maybe she should have gone into the medical profession??