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Article from interview with NFBI President, Patti Chang on WLDS 1180 AM and WEAI 107.1 FM.
Group balks at ISVI “bumping” process
Several state and national organizations are speaking out against the “bumping” process used replace employees at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired.
The contract between AFSCME and the Department of Human Services allows laid off workers at the Jacksonville Developmental Center with seniority to “bump out” employees at ISVI.
Department of Human Services spokeswoman Kayce Ataiyero says eight ISVI workers have been “bumped” by more senior employees from JDC. She says they’ve accepted other positions within state government.
Ataiyero says union members have the opportunity to file a grievance if they disagree with the decision. To date, the state hasn’t been given any grievances.
A letter sent from the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois was sent to Governor Pat Quinn claims the staff at ISVI is being replaced by those without proper training.
Patti Gregory-Chang, president of the NFB of Illinois was among several who signed the letter.
“Some of these people, for example, work in the dorms and will work in transition programs,” says Gregory-Chang. “How do you work blind and visually impaired kids if you have no knowledge of how we travel, no knowledge of cane travel, no information on how blind people actually orient themselves in space, no knowledge of how you do adaptive cooking or laundry? Obviously, reading is another issue and if you have no background in how we function at all you’re not going to be able to work with these kids effectively.”
The letter was also signed by president of the ISVI Parents’ Association Tracy Orr, member of the ISVI Advisory Council Geoffrey Goodfellow, president of the ISVI Alumni Association Joe Lanier, chair of the ISVI Advisory Council Jeff Schulte; and former ISVI superintendent Marybeth Lauderdale.
The letters asks that the “bumping” process be stopped and the school be exempt from it.
Gregory-Chang says she’s still waiting for a response from the state.
“And it was copied to deputy governors, the lieutenant governor and [DHS],” says Gregory-Chang. “I didn’t expect, necessarily, the governor himself to give me a phone call but I would have expected some response from, at a minimum, the Department of Rehab Services with the Department of Human Services. We’ve received none.”
Gregory-Chang says it’s not clear if the NFB will pursue legal action but it will be taken under consideration.
NFBI President Patti Chang was featured in an April 23, 2009, Bloomington-Normal Pantagraph article.
Braille still has place in education of blind even in age of technology
By Phyllis Coulter
NORMAL — When Sara and Travis Edwards of Hudson discovered that both their children were blind, they did the research, accepted support and decided early that learning Braille would be part of their education.
They are in a minority today. With so many technology-driven communication options for people with impaired vision, some believe that Braille, a system of raised dots read by touch, may be fading away.
Not so here. Thomas Metcalf School in Normal currently has seven students learning Braille, including the Edwards children. At Illinois State University, where Metcalf is a laboratory school, students studying to teach visually impaired students must learn Braille.
Ethan Edwards, 6, and his sister, Elissa, 4, have a genetic condition, Leber’s congenital amaurois (LCA), that allows them to have only limited light perception and no functional vision. There was no doubt they would learn Braille.
“I felt if they didn’t learn Braille, they could not learn to be independent or successful,” their mom said.
“Ethan comes home excited about learning to read,” she said. She frequently buys him new Braille books because he memorizes the stories so quickly.
They are lucky to have access to a school that teaches Braille to so many students, said Patti Gregory-Chang, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois.
“That is awesome and unusual,” she said of having such resources in a community of this size.
She said many parents have to fight their school districts to get access to Braille for their children. Some may not offer Braille because of cost, a lack of training among special education teachers or a bias toward teaching print reading to even low-vision students.
‘“Blind’ is not a four letter word,” said Gregory-Chang who is an attorney, mother of two, community volunteer and avid Braille reader. She couldn’t have the career and lifestyle she has without reading Braille, she said.
Fewer than 10 percent of the 1.3 million legally blind people in the United States read Braille, and just 10 percent of blind children are learning Braille, according to a National Federation of the Blind study released in March.
“If it was a racial minority with only a 10 percent reading rate, we’d be going nuts,” Gregory-Chang said. “Or if it was a suburb with that level of literacy , we’d be going nuts. Why is it OK (for people who are blind)?”
In the 1950s more than half the nation’s blind children were learning Braille. Many teachers ask students to rely on audio texts, voice-recognition software or other technology, according to the report.
Audio learning is no substitute for Braille, said Gregory-Chang, noting audio recordings don’t spell and don’t punctuate.
Jan Harrell, a vision facilitator at Metcalf dismisses critics who consider Braille “to be difficult, too outdated, a last resort.”
Far from dying out, Braille is flourishing at Metcalf, she said. “It’s unusual for us to have so many Braille readers,” she said.
Some parents and students are reluctant to learn Braille. Sometimes it’s because it is part of accepting blindness; other times it’s because it means a new school and new teachers.
“A lot of parents are going through grief” about their children’s vision loss, said Chris Clark, ISU special education assistant professor specializing in teaching future teachers of children with vision impairment.
Korbin Anderson, 13, now a Metcalf seventh-grader, didn’t want to learn Braille, and he didn’t want to leave his friends at Lexington Elementary School when he was in second grade.
“I didn’t want to switch schools,” he said. But he is glad for his new skills and the resources available at Metcalf.
“If I didn’t learn Braille, I probably couldn’t even get through elementary school,” he said as a printer chugged out the homework he had written in Braille for his sighted teacher.
“They don’t give me any slack,” he said of his teachers.
He takes classes with his sighted peers, and he does homework using a PackMate, a device that resembles a small laptop. He can listen to what he types on the keyboard and can have the Braille displayed so he can read what he has written.
Computer technology, while providing options to Braille, also has made Braille easier and faster to use.
Just as sighted people still need pens and paper for notes despite having computers, Braille users need to be able to use a stylus and slate for taking notes, Gregory-Chang said.
Lisa Tabaka, a Metcalf school teacher for visually impaired students, said her students need literacy skills so learning Braille is essential for them.
Harrell agrees. A person can’t spell or advance as far in education without learning letters, she said. More students reading Braille have jobs, she said.
“About 70 percent of legally blind people are unemployed. Of the 30 percent who have jobs, 85 percent can read Braille,” said Gregory-Chang.
Associated Press contributed to this report
NFBI President Patti Chang was featured in an April 13, 2009, Chicago Tribune article.
Braille report: Few blind people use Braille alphabet, and fewer visually impaired children are learning it than in the 1950s
Report by the National Federation of the Blind details the state of Braille use today
By Bonnie Miller Rubin | Tribune reporter
April 13, 2009
Justin Egle was born at 23 weeks, before his retinas had a chance to fully develop, leaving him blind.
Now 13, the Glenview boy has fallen behind academically—and his mother believes it’s because he hasn’t received adequate Braille training. His school offers him 40 minutes of Braille instruction four days a week.
“They have mislabeled him as retarded, but the problem isn’t that he can’t learn … it’s that he never got the skills needed to be a good reader. I constantly ran into roadblocks,” said Tina Egle, who now takes her son to a private Braille tutor.
By all accounts, Justin’s experience is not unusual. Fewer than 10 percent of the 1.3 million legally blind Americans read Braille, the system of raised dots that has represented the alphabet to the visually impaired for almost two centuries. Moreover, just 10 percent of visually impaired children are learning the system compared with more than 50 percent during its heyday in the 1950s, according to a recent report by the National Federation of the Blind.
“Either people aren’t learning it, they don’t have access to it, or they just don’t have enough faith in it,” said Chris Danielsen, spokesman for the Baltimore-based group.
The report ticks off a multitude of reasons that Braille is in decline, from a shortage of qualified teachers to mainstreaming in money-strapped schools to parents who discourage kids from learning it in favor of voice-recognition software, audio-texts and other technology.
One point is clear: Without Braille literacy, the chances of pursuing higher education and better-paying jobs are greatly reduced, advocates say. Even before the recession, the unemployment rate among blind adults hovered around 70 percent.
“I challenge anyone to learn geometry from an audio text,” said Barbara Perkis, director of the Illinois Instructional Materials Center at the Chicago Lighthouse on the West Side.
The 125,000-volume collection furnishes textbooks for any visually impaired student in the state and has served as a national model since its inception in 1965.
While Perkis doesn’t see Braille vanishing any time soon, she laments the gaps in instruction for many of the state’s 3,600 visually impaired students.
While there are some “amazingly dedicated” teachers, they frequently must shuttle long distances between school districts and are only available at certain times, making scheduling tricky.
“Consistency can be a real problem,” she said.
Bias and low expectations are issues too, said Patti Gregory-Chang, 45, a Chicago lawyer who started losing her sight at age 12. She said teachers tend to steer people like her, who have some residual vision, toward large print rather than this essential tool.
“It’s the Braille that got me through law school and it’s Braille that I use in court, but teachers see any kind of vision as better [than using Braille],” she said. “What kind of message does that send to kids?”
In an earlier era, many blind children attended residential institutions, which often immersed them in Braille.
But in 1974, the federal law changed, and students with disabilities of all kinds were guaranteed public education in the least restrictive environment—often a neighborhood school, where parents and staff may be at odds over what will best prepare the child for the future.
Convinced that Justin, who is also autistic, wasn’t receiving enough instruction, Egle decided to find private Braille tutoring.
“Without Braille, he will always be dependent on other people … he’ll always be a second-class citizen,” she said.
Due to confidentiality, the North Suburban Special Education District—which serves 40 visually impaired students, including Justin—said it cannot comment on instruction provided for an individual child.
For those who live outside urban areas, access to any kind of Braille instruction can be an obstacle.
Beth Sturman has been frustrated in efforts to get her 12-year-old son’s reading fluency to age-level in Collinsville, Ill., near St. Louis. He was born blind in one eye and with 20/400 vision in the other.
“Never once did his vision teacher suggest Braille,” said Sturman, a special-education teacher.
Traveling to Chicago isn’t an option, and the district won’t pay for services in St. Louis, just across the river, because it’s out of state.
Then there’s the problem of kids wanting to fit in.
“Kids don’t want to be different … and technology just looks cooler than Braille,” said Ray Campbell, who works at the Lighthouse and is president of the Illinois Council of the Blind. His fingers fly across the raised dots at 122 words per minute.
At 44, he is young enough to empathize with youngsters—but he also knows their life without the skill will be more difficult. “And that makes me very sad,” he said.
To help promote Braille literacy, the U.S. Mint last month launched the nation’s first coin with readable Braille.
On one side of the silver dollar is a portrait of Louis Braille, who invented the tactile code as a teen.
The commemorative coin, which celebrates his 200th birthday, costs about $32 and can be ordered at www.usmint.gov. Proceeds will help fund a national campaign to double the number of visually impaired children learning Braille by 2015, Danielsen said.
Adnana Saric, a senior at Walter Payton College Prep, is doing her part to raise Braille’s profile. She recently competed in the Illinois Braille Challenge and hopes to qualify for the nationals in Los Angeles this summer before attending Loyola University in the fall.
“I wouldn’t be at this point without Braille,” Saric said.
“If you rely on audio, it takes something away. Reading is such a pleasure. … There is no substitute for having the book in front of you.”
The NFBI 2008 Convention was featured in ISVI’s monthly newsletter for November 2008. (Requires Adobe Reader)
Ronza Othman was published in the Letters to the Editor in the Southtown Star.
Lipinski: Group needs to talk to you
Dear U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski:
I am writing to you using this forum because you have failed to respond to all my other attempts to meet with you to discuss issues of importance to my organization and me.
I am a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois. Each year, we attempt to persuade our elected officials that our political agenda is the one they should support when it comes to determining policies and programs that will enable those who are blind to live independently.
We are concerned about a number of issues, including the impact of quiet cars on blind people’s ability to travel independently, Social Security reform, funding the National Library Service’s Talking Book Program and others. I have attempted to schedule meetings with you no less than six times in the past two years. I’ve tried visiting you at both your Chicago and Washington, D.C., offices. I’ve made no less than eight phone calls asking that you respond to requests to support or oppose certain issues. I have sent you at least eight e-mails.
A colleague of mine, who also lives in your district, has attempted to contact you six times by phone and twice by e-mail. Our legislative chairman has made numerous attempts to contact you. None of us have had a response. Members of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois have been able to make personal contact with every other member of Congress; you remain the only one with whom we have not met.
Therefore, congressman, I am asking you, using this medium, to please respond to our requests to speak with you on issues of importance to the blind. However, we cannot convey the information you need to consider the issues if you won’t meet with us.
David Meyer was published in the Forest Park Review Letters to the Editor
Lipinski offers anonymous leadership
As election season approaches, I’m sure you are asking many questions about how you should vote for someone whose duty it is to represent you in Congress.
It seems to me that the simplest way to answer this question would be to find out if your congressman voted to support the issues that you as a citizen cared about. Other questions you might ask when making a decision on how to vote for a public official are these. Is he responsive to the constituents in his district? Does he appear to be hard working? Is he visible? Is he accessible?
With these questions in mind, I wish to reiterate experiences that I, along with two of my colleagues from the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois have experienced when attempting to work with 3rd District Congressman Dan Lipinski.
Each year, we attempt to persuade our elected officials that our political agenda is the one they should support when it comes to determining policies and programs which will enable those who are blind to live independently. We conduct visits on Capital Hill as well as to local offices of our elected officials. We also articulate our position on issues through phone calls and e-mails.
Over the past two years I, along with at least one other constituent from Congressman Lipinski’s district, and our legislative chairperson, have attempted to reach him to discuss the issues we consider to be most important. As a constituent in Lipinski’s district, I have called his office about six times asking for his support on various issues. I have also e-mailed him on two other occasions, requesting a response each time I have done so. To date, I’ve heard nothing.
In the case of my colleague, whom Congressman Lipinski represents, she has tried to visit him on Capital Hill. She has called him and e-mailed him at both his Washington and Chicago offices, asking for his support on each of six or seven issues during this period of time. She has yet to hear from him directly.
In the case of our legislative chairperson, he has spoken to his staff members on six separate occasions attempting to make appointments for my colleague and me to see Congressman Lipinski personally. In spite of these efforts, we have yet to communicate with him.
It is interesting to note that Congressman Lipinski is the only congressman we, in the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois have yet to make an appointment with in the Chicago area as an organization. What does this lack of interaction suggest? To me it suggests that Lipinski cares so much about his constituents that he would rather ignore us than deal with us.
During the primary season, it was revealed in the Forest Park Review on one occasion that Lipinski has the lowest power ranking of any congressman that has served as long as he has. If others out there have experienced the same lack of accessibility that we in the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois have experienced, it is easy to understand how one would come to this conclusion.
As I see it, a vote for Dan Lipinski is a vote for anonymity.
In closing, I ask you, with this kind of performance does Dan Lipinski deserve your vote?