Happy White Cane Day 2016!
We had another amazing celebration of White Cane Day here in Utah. It was my biggest event ever! Many, many thanks to the Utah's Hogle Zoo for hosting our special day. This year the theme was Wild About Mobility!
I will share our highlights with tips on how you can pull off your own special event at the zoo. I know you might have reservations initially about going to the zoo with students with vision impairments and students who have multiple impairments. I'll admit the zoo isn't the first place I thought of as the most exciting place for our kids. BUT, think again because the zoo can be a fun place for every child--our kiddos included. It requires a little creativity and support from the zoo. Utah's Hogle Zoo has a special education program director dedicated specifically to working with kids with disabilities. Vision impairment, as you know, is a low incidence disability so it can be tough to find adaptations that meet our kids unique needs. Nevertheless, it can be done!
The first thing that I did to get our event going was to reach out to the zoo about this idea. This is what led me directly to Elise Plumly, special ed program director at the zoo. She had already some of our kids come to the zoo for her special Zoo For You classes and had monoculars and textured items for our kids to touch. That was helpful but I also had to think of White Cane Day and how to make this a blend of zoo interaction and mobility instruction. I emailed our faithful mobility instructors and we all met at the zoo. I did a walk through with Elise in the morning and then met the mobility instructors that afternoon and we walked the zoo! They took notes, discussed instruction and we really looked at the zoo through mobility eyes. We wrote a mobility challenge course for White Cane Day.
I also am very aware of the difficulties that our kiddos with multiple impairments and are in wheelchairs have about coming to public events especially when it comes to changing needs. I am a big supporter of updating ADA or accessible restrooms for people that have unique toiling needs (such as changing a brief/diaper). Those little counter top changing pads are meant for a toddler not a 14 year old young man. I know that many families struggle with this so I made sure that not only did we have an accessible restroom, it was an accessible restroom with a large changing pad suitable for an older child. I brought a large mat that I have designated as a changing pad and we converted the restroom to accommodate my larger students that would need to be changed. This is important for these students and I wanted them to be part of this activity.
I wanted my students to have something that would help them remember or follow up on their special trip to the zoo so I organized experience book packets for each student. Inside the packets had an information page about making an experience book (with a link for more information on experience books at Paths to Literacy), fabric pelts (I bought every type of fabric pelt Joann Fabrics had!), 65lb card stock paper and pictures of animals. Teachers could customize the experience books based on their students needs and vision. One teacher made animal foot print stamps out of different textures for art while making their books (see picture above). What another fun way to discuss animals! I loved it.
Students had the option of coming for the whole day or just for the mobility challenge for White Cane Day. I took the mobility challenge notes that the OM instructors wrote and turned them into different challenge courses for students. We then donated the large print copies (the font was in Arial 28 size) and Braille copies to the zoo for other kids with vision impairments who may come to the zoo and want an activity.
The Hogle Zoo made arrangements for seven different animal interaction stations throughout the zoo. This was a huge help and what made learning about the animals a true learning experience. Each station was identified for White Cane Day and had many artifacts that could be touched, animal facts and environmental facts to learn about. These stations were awesome! Take a look at the station pictures. There is an actual elephant ear, a rhino horn, skull and cast of footprints---so many ways to learn about the animals. I also encouraged the zoo to provide other things to help with concept development such as touching the food the animals eat and a measuring stick or rope that show how long or tall an animal is.
I also included our birth-three program with the help of our early intervention division. We had a special area of the zoo designated for them and then invited them to walk through the zoo to see the stations and older children with vision impairments. Our early intervention station had all kinds of sensory activities to participate in with an experience book for them and plastic animals to interact with.
Our students had the best time at the zoo! We learned about mobility, animals, environment and had the best ECC day. Can you see all the areas of the Expanded Core Curriculum that we covered in our White Cane Day at the zoo? Here are some examples:
Compensatory: using a magnifier device (monoculars and magnifiers), read Braille signs and information, understanding how animals are organized, using different communication modes
Orientation & mobility: we had tactual and large print maps made for the zoo--reading maps, scanning, identifying different environments,
Social skills Development: interaction with zoo staff, public, friends, eating lunch with new people at the zoo
Independent Living Skills: gracefully eating lunch in public, accessing public bathrooms, keeping personal items organized during the zoo rotations.
Recreation & Leisure: Enjoying the zoo!
Career Education: Learning the roles of the workers at the zoo from husbandry to gift shop employees
Assistive Technology: Utilizing a variety of AT devices to access information
Sensory Efficiency Skills: So many ways to use all the senses to enjoy and learn about the zoo
Self-Determination: Making choices, understanding abilities and relation of self in an activity.
The zoo is a real possibility for children with vision impairments. I hope parents are encouraged to get out there and see what possibilities are there with a little creativity for being in the community.
I can't end this blog post without giving a huge shout out to Elise from Hogle Zoo, Becky Weeks (faithful staff who cut all the fabric for experience books and helped assemble them) and all of my colleagues from the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind who came out to support for the celebration of White Cane Day 2016!