Navigating My Blindness by Kerry Kijewski

We love featuring stories of people making a difference in the blindness community. Kerry and her brother Brian are making waves – radio waves – on their show Outlook. We hope you enjoy Kerry’s post about growing up with sight loss and finding her voice in advocacy.

Guest post by Kerry Kijewski

In disability activist Judy Heumann’s book Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Activist, she says she believes she was meant to have a mother who would not give up on her daughter who was born with a physical disability. I don’t know about that in my case, but I do know I am lucky to have been given the advantages and foundation from my parents. I recognize my privilege, having them firmly in my corner.
This doesn’t mean I have it all figured out (no matter how much I wish I did), even as I am staring down forty in a few short years. I am further along because of the support I grew up with and still count on today. Continue reading “Navigating My Blindness by Kerry Kijewski”

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Feel the Facts by Kai Owens (17)

To wrap up our month of braille literacy guest blogs, I’ve asked Kai to share his thoughts about braille literacy. Kai has helped several families, with children who are losing their sight, to understand how braille is helpful & relevant in 2020. Kai is now a college-bound senior in a mainstream, public high school and he is at the top of his class. Here’s what he wants you to know about braille.

Feel the Facts by Kai Owens

30% of all blind people are employed, which means 70% are not. 90% of the employed are braille readers. This means that if you do not read braille then there is only a 3% chance that you will be employed in your lifetime. THREE PERCENT!

So, for every 100 blind people who do not read braille there will be only 3 who are employed. 

Continue reading “Feel the Facts by Kai Owens (17)”

Becoming a Certified Braille Transcriber by Elizabeth Symington, Founder UEB Study Group

July is braille literacy month on Navigating Blindness and we are honored to feature a blog post by Elizabeth Symington, CBT. She is a fearless leader in the Braille Community and a dear friend.

My Story of Becoming a Certified Braille Transcriber
By Elizabeth Symington

I was introduced to braille while attending art school in San Francisco, CA. One day while at the library, I discovered a picture book for children who are blind. At this point, I’d never met a blind person, nor did I even know there were picture books for the blind. I was instantly captivated.

The braille picture book is one of my childhood favorites, “A Color of His Own,” by Leo Lionni. The pictures looked like a wall fresco; they rose off the page. Instead of using color, different textures were utilized to describe the pictures. It was also a fun decoding game since the story was in braille and in print. Continue reading “Becoming a Certified Braille Transcriber by Elizabeth Symington, Founder UEB Study Group”

Aille Design: Clothing that Speaks

July is braille literacy month on Navigating Blindness and today we are excited to feature Alexa Jovanovic, founder of Aille Design!

By Alexa Jovanovic, Founder of Aille Design

Braille is much more than a communication tool. It enables freedom of expression, provides independence and increases literacy. When combined with mainstream fashion, it symbolizes the importance of inclusive representation in the fashion industry and empowers communities to advocate for social justice. Continue reading “Aille Design: Clothing that Speaks”

We Are Not Blind To Injustice. The 2020 College Board Experience.

July is braille literacy month on Navigating Blindness and we are excited to feature high school student Kaleigh Brendle who successfully advocated for Braille accommodations on the 2020 College Board exams — globally!

Guest post written by Kaleigh Brendle, high school student. 

My name is Kaleigh Brendle. I am 17 years old, and since birth, I’ve possessed a condition called Lebers Congenital Amaurosis, which left me visually impaired.

Four of the courses I was enrolled in this past school year are classified as Advanced Placement, or AP, courses. The course curriculums and final exams are created and administered by a corporation called the College Board. This corporation also presides over the PSAT and SAT exams, among others. Under normal circumstances, I receive all my College Board exams in Braille, and before the onset of the pandemic, the AP exams were going to be no different. If I performed well enough on these high-stakes tests, I may receive college credit for the completion of the course. Thus, these exams are extremely influential. Many blind and deaf-blind AP students had Braille specifically stated in their accommodation plans. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the College Board was forced to shorten and digitize their exams. In doing so, they communicated to us that Braille would not be provided this year. For exams that feature maps, coordinate planes, and other highly visual graphics, a “No-Braille” decision meant that these images would not be embossed. One of my courses, AP Biology, is extremely diagram-heavy, so I grew concerned about the prospect of not possessing the visuals in hard-copy format to tactilely navigate. According to the College Board’s website, 65% of my exam score would be dependent upon my ability to successfully interpret a single graphic. The solution that College Board provided was something called Alternative Text, a description coded into an image or graphic so that a student’s talking software will read the written text when their cursor encounters the image it describes. So when an image of, say, a phospholipid bilayer appears on my screen, my software will start speaking at me and reading the description. It became not so much how well I could interpret the image, but how much of that description I could memorize. If a graph appeared on the screen, it would read out every point on the graph, even spelling out the word “comma”. The given student would be inundated with details. We tried to explain to the College Board that providing us with a large block of text was not a substitute for the actual graph. We need that spatial information as anyone else would; the College Board executives were adding another cognitive burden to an already stressful situation. In addition, with the exams being administered through technological mediums, I sought to clarify what would transpire if a glitch were to occur with my accessible software. For instance, what if VoiceOver does not read the question? What if Jaws shorts out my computer during the exam? When posing this question, the response I received was troubling. I was informed that however long it took me to resolve a tech glitch in my exam, I would have that much less time to complete it. If it took me forty-five minutes to resolve an issue, and the exam was an hour in length, I would have fifteen minutes. The suggestion of both a representative and an executive that I spoke to about this was “use a device with less problems”. Unfortunately, in the world of accessible technology, it is impossible to anticipate what devices will pose complications on that given day. Continue reading “We Are Not Blind To Injustice. The 2020 College Board Experience.”

Seedlings Braille Books for Children: A Small Non-profit Making a HUGE Difference

We, at Navigating Blindness, are strong believers in the power of braille! For the entire month of July, we will be featuring a variety of braille literacy resources for students, teachers, transcribers, and families. Please check out our Instagram and Facebook pages for additional features and posts. Today, we are excited to learn more about Seedlings Braille Books for Children!

Guest post, written by Katelynn Lucas
Community Outreach, Seedlings Braille Books

Have you heard of Seedlings Braille Books for Children? If not, get ready to learn all about this small non-profit in Metro Detroit that produces free and low-cost braille books for children with vision loss. Seedlings’ mission is to increase the opportunity for literacy by providing high-quality free and low-cost braille books for children. They produce three types of books: Print-Braille-and-Picture books for toddlers and preschoolers, Print-and-Braille Easy Readers for beginning readers, and braille books as big as The Hunger Games for ages 6-21. By offering these different types of books, Seedlings is opening up the possibilities for children with vision loss to read together with their sighted family members and peers. The best part about Seedlings’ books is that, thanks to generous grants and donations, they cost an average of just $10 per book! Continue reading “Seedlings Braille Books for Children: A Small Non-profit Making a HUGE Difference”

Unique Braille Gift Idea

I’m excited to introduce you to Lucky Touch Braille Fortune Cookie Company! The company is run by students at the California School for the Blind.  The students are involved in every aspect of the company’s operations. And as far as I know, they are the only company in the world creating braille fortune cookies! WHAT A COOL IDEA!

Lucky Touch Braille Fortune Cookie Company is run by a student board of directors at the California School for the Blind.  They make decisions about prices, pack cookies and sell cookies at events and by mail.  They also interview candidates for open positions on the board and select new members. — Judith Lesner, Board Advisor

About 2 weeks before Valentine’s day I reached out to them to place an order for 50 braille fortune cookies. I chose “plain” and “standard uncontracted braille” but they also offer chocolate dipped, contracted braille and customized messages.  The cookies arrived individually wrapped and in perfect shape — not a single broken cookie! Continue reading “Unique Braille Gift Idea”

Preparing for Battle: Support & Organization

Hi friends, This is my final post in a 3-part series about my family’s Special Education Formal Complaint and Mediation proceeding. If you are a new visitor to this blog, I’d recommend starting with the previous posts: Special Education Mediation Experience and  Formal Complaint & Mediation Processes Explained. Continue reading “Preparing for Battle: Support & Organization”

Formal Complaint & Mediation Processes Explained

As discussed in my previous post we filed a Formal Complaint against our school system. This post will give an overview of what I learned about the complaint and mediation processes.

In early September, I downloaded the “formal complaint form” from our state’s education website. The document was four pages and asked a series of questions about the issues, and how we believed they could be resolved.  The Formal Complaint only covered issues that occurred within a 1-year time period. Near the bottom of the form, there was a question asking if we would be willing to mediate?  I selected “yes” thinking that I wanted to do everything possible to come to a resolution for my son. I submitted the complaint along with 20 pages of detailed records outlining the issues along with two recommendations for resolution.  Then I waited. Continue reading “Formal Complaint & Mediation Processes Explained”

Special Education Mediation Experience

It’s been 5 days since our 8-hour mediation proceeding with the school district. (Yes, 8 long, emotionally draining hours.) The mediation was in response to a formal complaint we filed in September. Our allegations were that the school was not providing a Free Appropriate Public Education and was not upholding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in the areas of Accessibility and IEP Implementation.

I’m writing this article to assist other parents of blind children who are facing these issues. I hope to convey the process as we experienced it, as well as the immense emotional toll it took on our family. Continue reading “Special Education Mediation Experience”