Wednesday, July 30, 2014

It's a Way of LIFE

I love the summer time. It's not just about beach trips, summer nights and camp fires that make the summer awesome. It's two of my favorite programs, LIFE and Camp Abilities CT, that make the summer a total blast!

I learn a lot during these two programs. My students spend time with me and together we teach each other concepts from the Expanded Core Curriculum. The LIFE program is held at a college campus. Students come for about 5 days. We do work experience (thanks to our friends at Old Navy), have direct mobility instruction, TONS of ILS with me, an adventure to NYC and pizza. We always eat pizza at least once.

This year I thought it would be interesting if my students helped me write about LIFE. I asked a student that has attended several times and one that attended for the first time. I hope parents are reading this post. I have several parents who are nervous about sending their students to programs or worse, they send them to these expensive, intensive programs but when their children return home, they don't carry it on. That's the real problem: our kids get motivated but a major factor why they don't see success is because parental interference. Meet two of my students who attended LIFE and successfully implemented the skills they have acquired.

This is Gissel. She's been my student for years and has attended LIFE several times. She's a print reader whose central field is fading. I am so proud of her. I have watched her develop from a some-what shy, anxious girl into this confidant young woman. We've taken on challenges together (she learned how to do something she's always wanted to do with me), we have learned together and I have watched her take every lesson I have ever taught her to heart.

Emrah, from Old Navy, Dionna and Gissel at our our work experience day at Old Navy. 
Here's her thoughts:
LIFE as I Know It
Once upon a time, at a college two hours from where I live, I attended a week-long college prep program for students with vision impairments called LIFE. I was nervous, since I didn't know what to expect, and was new to the program, but I had a lot of fun and learned a lot of new, helpful skills that I was able to apply to my daily life. 

Now, four years later, after coming to this program four times, I still find myself learning new skills, refining previously learned skills, and overall benefitting from the program.

This year, our week at LIFE was packed with educational and fun activities that covered areas from job experience to public transportation. We learned how to plan a trip for a day in New York City and about disclosing our vision impairments to sighted people in a conversational manner.

Despite the fact that I have been coming to the LIFE program for years, there are always new techniques to pick up. I've always been afraid of traveling in the city because the layout seemed so confusing and the streets are very crowded. After working with our stellar mobility instructors, however, I was able to see the organized grid system of the streets of New York City, and when we stepped off that subway, I felt ready to take on the world and own those avenues!

LIFE is such a unique, diverse, and educational program that there is always something new to learn every time you go. We tackle new challenges and get exposure to new situations.

Aside from the changing program, new students always come along. The most beneficial part about coming to LIFE, and the reason it is so successful (aside from our amazing staff members who know how to teach us important skills in engaging ways) are the students. New students always come along, and even though I have come to LIFE many times, it's always those new students who can really teach an old timer like me new abilities from their personal experiences that really work. They aren't typical, out-of-the-book, run-of-the-mill, heard-it-a-million-times skills, but fresh new plans of action that I love being able to apply to my life.

LIFE is an amazing program with so much support and education, paired with a heavy dose of fun and ESP (energy, smiles, and personality), and no matter how many times you've been, there is always something new to learn. As a legally blind student, I will never know everything there is to know, but I can continuously improve and build on my skills. Even though I have been to the LIFE program many times, I keep coming back because I can't get enough of the supportive, positive, atmosphere and fresh, new feeling I get every single time.

Dionna at The Met in NYC during our LIFE program
And now meet Dionna, my newest student. Dionna is top-notch talent. She's successful in school, sports and with friends. The only thing missing was how to keep doing it all with her vision impairment. She decided to come to LIFE for the first time and basically entered ECC bootcamp with me. After the first five minutes of meeting her, I knew I had to recruit her for my intern program. She accepted and the rest is happily ever after! Here's a little from Dionna:
My first year with LIFE
I started LIFE for the first time this summer. I absolutely loved it, Since i am legally blind i thought i wouldn't be able to go away to college or do my desired profession. I basically felt as if i had limited options compared to sighted people. But let me tell you, this program has completely changed my outlook on things. I have a lot more confidence in myself now, i also feel more comfortable in my decisions, especially when it comes to going away for college, getting a job, and taking on whatever profession i wish. I gained life long tools that will help me throughout the rest of my life.

These residential intensive programs are the starting point to getting our kids closer to the quality of life parents want them to have. They are based on the Expanded Core Curriculum. The learning cannot stop at the conclusion of these programs. Parents, you must get familiar with what the programs really teach and how you can keep it going at home.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Jimmy Has Magic on the Water

Jimmy has some serious magic on the water! Okay, I can't even begin with details about how awesome Jimmy is at waterskiing but here's my attempt. I messaged Kristi, Jimmy's mom, about getting some video of Jimmy because I thought it would be too fun to share with everyone. So quick recap of the amazing Jimmy. He has retinoblastoma, is a Braille reader,  and ADVENTURE should be his middle name!! 

Here's why I want you to see this: I hope you get the message that it's not about what our students see, it's about what they do! Parents, let's encourage your children to take on the world! It may be scary at first but there are great resources out there to help you, guide you and teach you how to do this. Students, do not let your vision determine what you can and cannot do. You may not be a waterskier like Jimmy but there is a lot of ability that stretches past your vision disability. 

Just in case you don't get that Jimmy has a vision impairment, let me tell you he is totally blind. He has been inquisitive, insightful and sharp as a tack since the day I met him as a preschool student. I told his mom when I first met to make sure she start working those ECC skills because I knew that this kid was going to go far in life. Remember, the ECC is what makes quality of life for our kids. She's taking that advice.  It's a challenge at times to recognize which ECC skills are deficient but Kristi can tell you that she takes it year by year as he grows up. I thought it would be fun to pick Kristi's brain and get ideas as she navigates life as a mom of the adventurous Jimmy. Look for her interviews and posts soon!!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Blindness Friendly Washer & Dryers

One of the many lessons I am called out to do in my student's homes is the laundry lesson. Laundry is one of the many essential independent living skills that all of our students need (and can participate in). Laundry lessons can start as early as infancy and go all the way up to adulthood.

Here's a quick sidebar of a easy peasy laundry lessons (then back to the original post):
Infant/Newborn: Dressing/undressing (just being part of the dressing routine is pre-teaching about dirty/clean concepts). The same goes with diaper changes (again it teaches about dirty/clean). I know you may think I am crazy to say that it starts this young but the pre-teaching seeds cannot be planted early enough!!
Toddlers/Early Childhood: More exposure to the laundry and dressing routines. Have you ever been a mom that had to get the laundry and have a toddler tag along? Have your toddler jump in the basket and push her to the washer with the clothes (towels tend to be the easiest). Have fun with loading clothes into the washer then unloading from the dryer. Let your little one sit in the basket as warm clothes come tumbling out of the dryer and into the basket. You can also work laundry skills into the dressing routine by having your toddler put her dirty clothes into a laundry basket (make sure you label it as "the laundry basket"). Whatever you do, don't let the laundry basket be some far and away place that your child never learns about! Let them be part of the routine (which of course naturally teaches about orientation and mobility, reinforces ILS and even dabbles in sensory efficiency skills and self-determination. You can also begin basic sorting. If color sorting isn't an option, go for sorting based on clothes vs. towels (or non-clothing items).
Primary grades through intermediate grades: Continue with the foundation of putting dirty clothes in the basket but build on to  retrieving the clean laundry, loading/unloading laundry independently, folding towels, putting away clean clothes. Pour laundry soap and use dryer sheets. Take time out to check out all the hundreds of options of laundry detergent, stain remover and dryer sheets. 
Middle school through high school: Keep working on those skills from intermediate grades!! Build on: start learning the control panel and set the washer & dryer with assistance/supervision until mastery. The goal is that by senior year, your child can independently wash their own laundry!  Bonus lessons: go to a laundry mat to compare and contrast washers or do what I do, go to Best Buy and check out all the different types of machines!

Back to the original post! I was just saying in the side bar that I hit up Best Buy stores and peruse all the different types of home appliances so I can stay up to date on what's out there. One epidemic that has come our way is in the laundry department. A few years ago it started to become all the rage to have electronic displays on the washers and dryers. It wasn't too bad because there used to be dials that our kids could use to help set the machines. Those days are gone because for the past couple of years the laundry game has gone completely visual! A smooth flat surface that just dings a quiet bell (if that) at settings. These new settings have really thrown a red sock into our laundry world!

 "old school" washer control panel

Enter 2014 with all fancy flat panel, visual, smooth display panels! I have done quite a few lessons with our kids (even our brightest, most typical) and yet the smooth visual displays have bested them. The new dials spin completely around with no auditory or tactual marking to align to. Even our kids with vision struggle because the contrast usually isn't strong enough for them to see with 100% accuracy. The new modern designs can really be a thorn in our kids' sides because everything modern is smooth, usually white on white (or gray on white) and just down right not blindness friendly.

I have frequented Best Buy several times looking over all these new washer and dryers. Even the cheapest models are ditching their tactual markings. What's a blind person to do? It can really be a pickle of a situation. 
Fortunately there is a light at the end of the tunnel! (The tunnel may be long but there is hope). LG and Samsung both offer smart phone apps to control their washer and dryers.  These smart phone apps are not available on every machine but at least there is a start. Do not confuse these machines with the "smart washers" (or anything close to that title). The "smart" title just means that the machines can diagnose problems by itself. You really have to read the details to find out if it is a smart phone app machine. I found 1 from LG and 1 from Samsung: LG's Smart Thinq Top Loader and Samsung's 4.5 Front Load. 
I then went online and read some reviews from and some consumer reviews. These machines weren't exactly consumer favorites (complaints about the smart phone app working properly was the main problem) but at least they are a step in the right direction. I also hit up the App Store and read over the reviews for both machines. The app reviews had a lot of complaints as well. But again, at least it's a step in the right direction. I'm thinking we will see major improvements in the next year or two. Until then, our kids are just going to have figure out how to make it work. Remember there is nothing wrong with them receiving help as long as the task has them doing most of the work and (in this case) the parent just setting the machine. If anyone has a system that works or can recommend a washer/dryer, I'd love to know about it. I've spent several hours with the Best Buy staff researching machines that would be blind friendly. 

Ambutech Cane Giveaway!

I was excited to receive an email from Amber Bonbar over at about the Ambutech colored canes. She read about the canes here on The Bee and was able to put together a cane giveaway. FUN!! 

Here's the link:

Enter soon! Drawings are all in July!