Monday, December 30, 2013

Let's Get This Girl a White Cane!!

Hello friends, I hope everyone had a good holiday season so far. My family has. We took our kids to the American Girl store in NYC this past week. My two girls were, of course, amazed with all the AG accessories, clothes and dolls. The store was alive with lots of little girls (and maybe a few big girls) lovingly carrying their dolls around. It is rather exciting to be there. There's the salon, the big display cases with these beautiful dolls of all ethnicities and ALL the accessories that can go with them.  We passed by the display of the AG dolls with disabilities and much to the credit of AG, they were just as beautiful as their "non-disabled" counterparts. They have lovely dolls with no hair, dolls that use a wheelchair, girls with hearing aids (one ear or bilateral--the owner's choice) and lastly the doll with the service dog. I smiled at the lovely dolls and at the environment they were in. There are big girl empowering quotes on the walls---encouraging girls to be their best selves, be true to who they are, be kind. I loved it. Except for one thing---where's the doll for the blind girl? 
Like I mentioned, they have a doll with a service dog. I am making sure that I am calling it a service dog because it can't be a guide dog for the blind. I am sure someone, who is well-meaning, thinks this is for a blind girl. But it is not. Guide dogs are not given to eight year old girls. White canes are. 
Side note story: I was commenting on this to my husband (okay, I was a little loud as I voiced my opinion of the missing white cane doll…) when the well-meaning manager came up to me, as helpful as ever, and indicated to me that they had AG dolls with hearing aids. Hearing aids. Now to any vision professional that comment is no surprise. It's the first question we are asked when we say we teach kids who are BLIND ("Oh, you must know sign language!" followed by the next comment, "That must be VERY rewarding."). Telling me that they had an AG doll with hearing aids is like me asking for chocolate chip ice cream and getting a duck. It is not the same thing. 

Back to my post---why the fuss over the white cane? Why can't we just give our girls a service dog? Is this even a big deal? Well, it is not a big deal but it can be significant. How many of us know the AG age group girls who have significant vision impairments and struggle with feeling "apart of the mainstream crowd"? The girls who are not fans of the mobility lessons or sticking out from their friends? The white cane means something. It is not just a white cane. It is a tool of independence. Many of our kids struggle with accepting it. BUT how great would it be if there was more positive love to the white cane? ….say maybe an extremely popular line of dolls like the American Girl line? AG's site and store is filled with tackling issues of self-discovery, acceptance, empowerment, etc. They need to know that having a white cane doll would help a lot of girls be part of something that is "cool". That the white cane doll could help with acceptance and removing the stigma that the white cane is to be dreaded. Besides, they make snow shoes, braces, earrings, and every other imaginable accessory for the AG dolls, how hard would it be to make a white cane? Wouldn't it be cool if there was a story? Maybe one of the other girls (like Saige--I know them by name now) had a friend who read Braille? 
Here's what I did today: I called AG and gave them my feedback for the white cane accessory. I also emailed them. It took 5 minutes. I don't know how many AG developers are going to read (or care) about my feedback but it's worth a shot. I made sure that I explained the fact that the AG demographic age receives white canes not service dogs. Most of our girls will never get a guide dog. I further stated that the white cane has significance to a girl with a significant vision impairment especially when paired with the AG line. It would mean something to them. I don't exactly know if I am changing the world by suggesting the white cane accessory or if any of you agree with me. But if you do, would you please email and call American Girl? Let's see if we can help change the perception of blind people and make it so that the white cane is the accessory that most blind girls can't live without? Wink, wink!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Hi friends,
I just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and happy new year! I will be back within the next two weeks but until then, you can find me updating my Pinterest board, This Works for Blind Kids, Too!
Have a great holiday season.  Your friend, Robbin :)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Group Games Fun

Let me share one of my new favorite resources! Sometimes it can be a bit tricky to find group games, ice breakers, etc. for kids with vision impairments. This summer I found some super fun ideas for Minute to Win It games but it was slim pickings as not every game was vision friendly. I was perusing the web looking for leadership games and activities with some fun group games and got lucky!

First, here's the website:

Don't get overwhelmed by the amount of categories and games! I spent some time going through the site and found a handful of great ideas that require very little (to none) modifications for our kids. I tested these games out at our recent Girls Weekend and they were so fun! Now just in case you are still overwhelmed by the amount of games on the site or you or not tech savvy, I made a handout of the several of the games that are awesome. I've posted them below as well as some pics and video that I took of us playing. Now I kept the author's original text because I didn't want to be copy. This is all from the site that I posted above. None of these are my original ideas (the twist and modifications are all me though :). Thanks to my dynamic duo PE teachers, Craig Boucher and Alex Specht, who led these games modules. In order to keep privacy of my students, my own children are mostly the models (as well as my handsome husband, Todd, and Craig).

Here are the games:
Many thanks to Catherine Bryant who posted this game to the Guide Mailing List!!
Relay teams compete rabbit-style: Choose three "landmarks" (if you meet in a gym, lines on the floor work well or you could use corners, doors, chairs...) The teams line up at the same mark. When the contest starts, the first player on each team must hop on one foot to the second mark, skip from there to the third mark, and then jump all the way back on two feet to tag the next team-mate in line. The first team whose members have all completed the course wins.

Please Note: "Tri-hop-A-Thon" comes from the magazine "Family Fun" magazine -- a great source for games and crafts.

The Yell (Scream Race) 
Equipment: None      Number of kids: makes no difference      Ages: 5 and up
Category: Outdoors   Source: Calgary Parks and Recreation Department

Get the kids to line up, like a race. They are to run as far as they can on one yelled breath. Get them to take a good breath before hand. When they have to stop yelling, they are to sit down where they are. (Discourage cheating on this, but it is an energy user!)

Can be played with any number.
The Guider calls out various types of beans and the girls perform the correct action.
Runner Beans - run around
Jumping Beans - jump
Baked Beans - lie out in the sun
Chilli Beans - shiver
Frozen Beans - Stand still
Broad Beans - Stand with legs as far apart as possible
French Beans - say "Oh La La!"
String Beans - stand still, arms straight up.
Dwarf Beans - squat down
Has Beans - fall on the floor
Captain's Coming
Equipment: None
Category: Large space required   Age: 5 and Up      Number: Any number
Source: A Brownie Pack with Black Forest District, Germanica Division

The girls assemble in the center of the gym. The commands and actions are as follows:
Captain's Coming - all line up, stand at attention and salute.
Bow - run to the 'front' of the gym.
Stern - run to the 'back' of the gym.
Port - facing the 'front' of the gym, port is the left wall. Run to port.
Starboard - facing the 'front' of the gym, starboard is the right wall. Run to starboard.
Man overboard - lie on back and swim
Submarines - lie on back and stick on leg straight up. (for the periscope)
Man the Lifeboats - find a partner, sit together, and row!
Torpedoes - lie on tummy, with hands together over head to give a stream lined look. One person (usually a leader) does the calling and the girls rush around performing the actions, which are mixed up and used more than once. Once everyone knows the rules it is not a problem to join in as you go.

Mouse Trap
Equipment: None      Age: 5 - 12 years
Number of participants 10-30 (with 30 participants start with a bigger trap!)
Mouse Trap Source: I think this one was in a Canadian Guider

Four children become the Mouse Trap. They stand in a circle, facing in, holding hands with their arms extended and up high. The other children are "mice" and they run in and out of the trap. One person facing away calls "Spring the Trap" and the girls of the trap bring down their arms catching (hopefully) some of the mice inside. The caught mice become part of the trap. The game continues until only a few "mice" haven't been caught. Then they become the trap and the game begins again.

Portage, Pyramid, Piggyback
This game is suitable for playing in a gym or in a large outdoor space. If you are playing outdoors, you will have to mark a 'start' line and a 'halfway' point. Divide the group into teams of equal size - it works best if you have teams of six or more players. Each team begins behind a 'start' line. On "Go!", the team selects one team member that they will carry, 'portage'-style, down the length of the gym to the other end. When they reach the end of the gym, the entire team must construct a human pyramid on the spot. Once the pyramid has been approved by a leader, the team breaks up into pairs and piggyback each other back to the start line. In this leg of the race, players can only move towards the start line if they are (a) carrying someone or (b) being carried (i.e., if there is an uneven number of players, someone will have to remain back where the pyramid was built until a team-mate can come and piggyback them). The first team to have all its players back at the start line wins!

Divide the girls into teams 3-5 girls each. At the start line have the girls sit down with their legs wrapped around the waist of the girl in front of them. This forms the caterpillar. With the girls attached as a team, the Guider yells go. The girls move together as a unit by using their arms by their sides and lifting and moving their bottoms. The teams race to a designated line or spot. At the line, the girls let go of their link to reform their caterpillar with the girls in the opposite order. The teams continue racing back to the start line.

Back to Back
Players stand back to back with a partner with their elbows interlocked. Using each other's back for support, the partners must try to sit on the floor and stretch out their legs. Then, while keeping their elbows locked, the partners must now try to stand up without slipping or falling down! (Not as easy as it sounds!)

Here we are playing Caterpillar!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Selectively Handicapped

Hi Friends,
Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving/Hanukkah holiday. I was loving the turkey dream and ate a great feast. Hope you did too!  This week I am happy to let one of my favorite guest bloggers, mobility instructor Dave Ferland, write another insightful post.

Selectively Handicapped
by Dave Ferland, COMS

The first time I was here I wrote about ABS (Adorable Blind kid Syndrome) during which cute blind kids (no cuter than any other kids!) are treated like public petting poodles. This treatment gets in the way of independent mobility and reinforces a false picture of the real world. Visual people learn incidentally and experientially that there are consequences to not paying attention and not asking for appropriate help. For example, they look stupid or don’t get where they need to be on time and then get into trouble. Adorable Blind Children learn incidentally and experientially that if they stand around looking clueless then someone will eventually take pity and bail them out. Almost every time. They don’t pay attention to the environment around them and they don’t ask for help. Why should they? They are Adorable Blind children and someone will solve their problems for them.
Something else that reinforces helplessness was called to my attention recently and now I am noticing it more in the community of families with blind children. Have you ever experienced that? Something has been going on in plain sight unnoticed and now you can’t not see it? This phenomenon which I can’t ignore is the use of handicapped parking placards by the parents of blind children. Not blind children with physical disabilities affecting mobility. Just regular kids who happen to be blind. I went back and forth on this. Is this really important? After all, I don’t have a blind child. Can’t I just let it go? What’s the real issue here?

On a practical level, we know that blind children often get an incomplete picture of the world and how it works. We want to be careful that things don’t “magically” happen for our students, that they understand the process and work that goes into all daily living tasks. I think we all know that parking lots are not the safest places to practice independent travel. But they are great places to use sighted guide while listening and identifying potential dangers. What are the sounds when a car is about to move? Why do cars pull in and back out? Or vice versa? Why is it harder for a driver to see while going in reverse? Can we tell where other people are going? Can we listen for an opening in traffic to cross to the door? Once across, can we stop sighted guide and have the kids listen for clues then walk to the entrance or to the shopping carts? Finding the entrance is a great skill for real life. These are just the little things that add up to real experience and a full picture of the real world. Better to practice now with supervision then to have no clue later on.

More crucial is the message being sent loud and clear to the kid and to the public: “Blind people are handicapped!” The corrosiveness of this message is clear when I talk to independent and successful college students or adults who are blind. They usually tell a different story: “My parents never treated me like I was handicapped. I folded laundry, did chores, made plans with my friends, walked to the neighbors by myself, arranged rides, took the bus. I was forced to ask a lot of questions. We looked for ways, for modifications, to function in the real world. My parents didn’t change the rules for me. They did not make me handicapped. They did not allow me to be handicapped.” That’s the real issue here. It’s dangerous to overplay the blind card in order to make life easier and more convenient. Do blind kids need modifications and techniques to get ready for the real world? Yes, of course. Are blind kids handicapped? We all want to say, “No! Of course not!”. But we need to model and reinforce that answer whenever and wherever possible.