[nfbwatlk] Fwd: [Chapter-presidents] Article about our continuingstruggle for Braille literacy
Prows, Bennett (HHS/OCR)
Bennett.Prows at HHS.GOV
Tue Mar 3 15:11:54 UTC 2015
I'm pasting what I could read of Marci's post including the article. Don't know what you are using to read email, but this was pretty clear. The pictures included in the article were identified, but of course not described. Let me know if you can't read this.
The article below illustrates well the problems parents are having acquiring braille instruction for the blind children. Hopefully the situation in New Jersey will improve with Dan Fry as director of the New Jersey commission. They have a unique situation with the commission providing braille instruction in the schools. We are still having problems here in Washington getting braille instruction for blind children in our school districts. Just one more reason why we need the national Federation of the blind and why it is good we are starting our local parents division.
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------ Original Message ------
From: Chris via Chapter-presidents Danielsen
To: chapter-presidents at nfbnet.org
Sent: March 2, 2015 at 9:13 AM
Subject: [Chapter-presidents] Article about our continuing struggle for Braille literacy
Dear Fellow Federationists:
Below is an article which appeared today in a New Jersey newspaper. I thought it would be of interest, this being read Across America Day, as our struggle for Braille literacy continues. Enjoy.
In N.J., a battle over Braille instruction
Kim Mulford, Courier-Post
9:56 a.m. EST March 1, 2015
(Photo: Chris LaChall/Courier-Post)
Like his fellow first-graders at Springville Elementary School in Mount Laurel, Henry Norton is learning how to read and write. It's a skill he'll need to become an independent, working adult.
But his parents, Kim and Philip Norton, had to fight to get literacy instruction for their son - and they aren't alone.
Born deaf and now nearly blind, Henry is among the few students in New Jersey who receive formal Braille instruction in school. The bright 7-year-old now spends four hours a week with a teacher of the visually impaired, as he learns to interpret tiny raised bumps with his fingertips.
His parents believe that's not enough. If Henry's sighted classmates spent only that much time a week on literacy skills, Kim Norton said, "I'm sure there would be a lot of (ticked)-off parents. But, because we're in such a minority, it's OK."
Indeed, within the state's blind and visually impaired community, Henry is among the lucky few. Visually impaired children rarely work with a Braille instructor each week, let alone four times a week.
In New Jersey, families believe, Braille instruction is doled out according to what state resources are available in a child's geographic area, not according to a child's educational needs. Like the Nortons, many spend their savings to hire lawyers and experts to bolster their cases with school districts, state agencies and judges.
And sometimes, frustrated parents pull their kids out of school altogether.
7-year-old son Henry Norton, who has limited vision, uses a Brailler to write as Henry does his Braille homework in his Mount Laurel home. 02.23.15 (Photo: Chris LaChall/Courier-Post)
The problem, parents say, often centers on the NJ Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a state Department of Human Services agency with a $27.4 million budget and 48 instructors on staff. The agency provides services, visual aides, and supportive equipment for the state's blind and visually impaired residents.
That is, when the commission agrees residents need such services.
Of the 1,904 schoolchildren receiving education services from the commission, just 24 receive Braille lessons at least four times a week, according to the state Department of Human Services. The vast majority - 1,521 - don't get any.
Jeffrey and Holly Miller of Oceanport had to sue their school district to obtain Braille services for their visually impaired son. In 2012, nearly four years after first requesting Braille instruction, the Millers won. A judge found the commission and school district were biased against Braille, and ordered them to provide 90 minutes of Braille instruction each day, five days a week. The case won national attention.
For decades, the notion of teaching Braille to children who aren't totally blind was not popular, said Barbara Shalit of Morristown, a retired commission teacher of the visually impaired, who now works independently. Today, she believes the pendulum is swinging back the other way.
"Logistically, I think it's a matter of resources," Shalit said. "I don't think the commission would begrudge Braille if they had the resources."
Daniel Frye, executive director of the NJ Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired since October 2013, said he believes his agency has enough Braille instructors to supply the identified need, and that families should advocate for their children if they want Braille taught to them in school.
Michael Corman, a blind attorney who is fluent in Braille, sits next to his 7-year-old visually impaired son Jon Paul as he reads Braille in their Barrington home. Jon Paul, who has only one eye and significantly limited vision, is learning how to read and write using Braille. (Photo: Chris LaChall/Courier-Post)
He welcomed parents to call his office with concerns about their children's education and said his commission will work with school districts and families to "achieve what is appropriate and necessary for all students."
"There is nothing inherent in state policy that limits Braille," said Frye, who himself was visually impaired as a child and learned Braille when he lost more vision at age 12.
"As we develop our strategic plan at our commission, I have made it clear to my staff that we will provide Braille to any student who asks for it and whose parents believe that it's necessary - that we will provide Braille instruction without regard to a child's existing residual vision, because we believe that Braille complements and strengthens a child's ability to function, whether he or she has some vision or not."
But families say that's not happening yet. Documents provided to the Courier-Post reveal a pattern repeated from one school district to another.
Federal and state law protects children with disabilities and entitles them to "free and appropriate" educational services tailored to their needs. Those services and goals are laid out in a child's IEP, or Individualized Education Program. Once school administrators, teachers and parents agree to the plan, a district is required to provide the necessary services.
The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act protects a blind or visually impaired student's right to learn Braille, unless the child doesn't need it, either now or in the future. New Jersey's own special education code requires Braille instruction for blind and visually impaired children, unless the IEP team finds it's not appropriate after an evaluation of the child's reading and writing skills.
Faye Corman, assists her 7-year-old visually impaired son Jon Paul to read Braille in their Barrington home. 02.23.15 (Photo: Chris LaChall/Courier-Post)
Parents interviewed for this story said school districts view the commission as the expert, and said it is difficult to get the commission's teachers of the visually impaired to attend their children's IEP meetings. When they did, they refused to provide specific goals for their children's educational progress. Some parents reported they had a hard time even getting an evaluation.
Pam Ronan, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services, said in an emailed response that commission teachers regularly attend IEP meetings and "often provide written goals for their students and the commission is working to make this a more consistent practice."
If that's the case, it hasn't been that way for long. In 1993, the Edison School District sued the commission for refusing to pay for educational services for one of its blind students. A judge ruled the federal disabilities law applied only to local school districts, not to the state agency, since it does not receive IDEA funds.
The commission has a long history in the state and that history has become part of its culture, explained Carol Castellano, former president of the national Parents of Blind Children, and a member of the commission's strategic planning committee. With a new leader at the commission, she expects things will improve.
"It's not so much that (teachers of the visually impaired) don't have goals," the Madison, Morris County, resident said. "It's that the goals have not been shared with the school system and put into the (IEP). I think that's about to change. ... I think that's probably a good thing."
A bigger concern, Castellano believes, is a long-held philosophy among teachers of the visually impaired that Braille should only be taught to those who are completely blind.
"This is what teachers across the country have been taught," Castellano said. "It's not a 'New Jersey' problem."
Indeed, instead of offering Braille to visually impaired youngsters, the commissions' teachers and supervisors often recommend using devices to magnify print, families said.
That's what happened to Jon Paul Corman, a 7-year-old in Barrington. The first-grader needed one eye removed, and has one remaining eye with low vision, thanks to corrective surgery and thick glasses.
He can read very large print if he pushes his face up close to the material, but it's tiring, said his mother, Faye Corman.
"They seem to have this kind of unwritten policy that, unless you're totally blind ... you don't qualify to be a Braille user," Corman said. "What happens down the road, when the print is tiny, and he's required to read pages and pages of it?"
It's especially infuriating to Jon Paul's father, Mike Corman. Completely blind and a Braille user since kindergarten, the lawyer said using the tactile language is critical to his ability to communicate. He learned it as a young child, when it's easier to pick up the complex system.
"The fact that the commission is balking at teaching him Braille is, I would dare say, criminal. The fact that it seems to be an unwritten policy is horrible," Corman said.
Faye Corman assists her 7-year-old visually impaired son Jon Paul in reading Braille, as Faye's husband and Jon Paul's father Mike Corman, a blind attorney who is fluent in Braille, sits close-by in their Barrington home. Jon Paul, who has only one eye, and significantly limited vision, is learning how to read and write using Braille. 02.23.15 (Photo: Chris LaChall/Courier-Post)
To make up for what Jon Paul isn't getting at school, Corman tries to teach him at home during the weekends.
"But that's not where he should be getting it," Corman said. "He needs to be getting it at school."
Tired of watching her daughter struggle in school without Braille, Amy Darlington of Moorestown pulled her out of the system about a year and a half ago to teach the little girl herself. Born with significant visual impairments, 7-year-old Chloe has trouble focusing on print and needs assistive technology just to make out the words. Though she is smart and excels at math, reading even enlarged print quickly exhausts her.
"When we asked about Braille ... we were told it was not an option," Darlington said. "We kept pressing the issue."
Darlington said a commission teacher of the visually impaired and her commission supervisor told her Braille was not appropriate for Chloe, without conducting an evaluation. Over an 18-month period, the Darlington family sought several independent assessments, all of which recommended Braille instruction.
The commission rejected them.
"The school, along the line, told us to look to the commission as the experts," Darlington said.
By October 2013, Chloe was falling behind her peers in school, and her parents decided to teach her at home. That means they no longer receive any commission services or equipment, or assistance from the school district.
They still receive a few hundred dollars a year from the federal government for Chloe's special educational needs, but it's "a drop in the bucket," Darlington said.
Still, she believes pulling out was worth the cost to their family.
"We were just exhausted," Darlington said. "I felt like we were putting a tremendous amount of energy just to get her evaluated. We felt they were a gatekeeper. We were just pounding and pounding on them ... so we withdrew our daughter."
Darlington bought their own assistive equipment and Braille curriculum, and took a course on teaching Braille. Last summer, Chloe enrolled in a Braille summer camp offered in Philadelphia. She loved it. Today, Chloe and her mother are learning Braille together.
"We're getting there, day by day," Darlington said. "In a way, it's a gift I've been given, and there are no barriers."
The Norton family continues to battle with the commission and the Mount Laurel school district. At an IEP meeting last week, after requesting a full-time teacher of the visually impaired for Henry, they were told the district cannot accommodate his needs. Instead, he can be bused to a parochial school for the blind in Philadelphia.
Mount Laurel Superintendent Antoinette Rath was unavailable for comment.
Kim Norton, 42, estimates she and her husband have spent around $50,000 of their retirement funds on their fight with the district, which included a state investigation into their complaint about Braille instruction.
Now, to keep Henry in his school, she said, they will need to hire another lawyer.
"My husband and I have seen our life savings hatcheted," Norton said.
"There's no end in sight. That's the scary part. This is why parents whose children have special needs can't fight. They just don't have a bucket full of money to fight the Goliath in the room. They have to take whatever they're given, because fighting costs money."
Reach Kim Mulford at (856) 486-2448 or kmulford at courierpostonline.com. Follow her on Twitter @CP_KimMulford
Christopher S. Danielsen, J.D.
Director of Public Relations
National Federation of the Blind
200 East Wells Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
Office: (410) 659-9314, extension 2330
Mobile: (410) 262-1281
Email: cdanielsen at nfb.org
The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.
Make a gift to the National Federation of the Blind and help ensure all blind Americans live the lives they want.
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From: nfbwatlk [mailto:nfbwatlk-bounces at nfbnet.org] On Behalf Of Debby Phillips via nfbwatlk
Sent: Monday, March 02, 2015 9:12 PM
To: mjc59 at comcast.net; NFB of Washington Talk Mailing List
Subject: Re: [nfbwatlk] Fwd: [Chapter-presidents] Article about our continuingstruggle for Braille literacy
Hi Marci, I can't read any of your email, and the attachments are
jpeg, which I can't detach, either. Sorry. Debby
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