BELL Academy

BELL (Braille Enrichment for Literacy & Learning ) Academy

Thank you for participating in the 2018 NFB of Illinois BELL (Braille Enrichment for Literacy & Learning) Academies in Chicago and Springfield. We will soon be posting pictures from this year’s BELL Academies. Stay tune for details for the 2019 BELL Academies.

2018 BELL Academy

The National Federation of the Blind recently wrapped up the 2018 Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academy. We conducted programs in Chicago and Springfield. This was a great opportunity for Braille skills to be addressed in a fun and new environment.

We would like to thank all of the parents, teachers, volunteers and kids who participated for making this years program a hit! Read our Newsletters to find out more about how the program went. To read the newsletters, please visit the BELL Academy Newsletters page.

hear from one of our BELL parents

Dear BELL Supporters,

Please allow me a moment to express my sincere gratitude as a mom for your ongoing support of the BELL program. My son Isaac, age 11, attended the BELL program this year for his second time. He was so excited to do it and looked forward to it from the moment he was accepted. There are many things that Isaac and I value about this program.

From Isaac’s perspective, it gives him a chance to hang out with peers who are blind/VI and also experiencing the same challenges/situations. This provides him with support, knowing that he is not alone as a blind young person trying to make his way in the world. He is excited to go every day. He really enjoys learning and practicing his skills that grow his independence. He loves the field trips they take where they learn valuable life skills and have fun while they do it. This year, a highlight was going kayaking. He was so excited and it went beyond his high expectations in fun! He came home happy and proud of himself! He also likes having time with adult mentors. This encourages him with what is possible for him in his future. This year he came home and told me about an adult mentor who had a guide dog with her. Before this, he has always been adamantly against having a guide dog someday but after interacting with this adult and her dog, he came home feeling different and like it was a good possible option for him in the future. Now whether or not he someday uses a guide dog is up to him, but what he came away with was the model of a blind adult who had found her preferred and successful ways of living independently—another great example for him. Isaac also enjoyed the wide range of ages in the other students…being around the younger students reminded him of how far he has come and the older students gave him excitement for his future. Although our car ride to and from BELL was sometimes close to 1.5-2 hours each way, Isaac never wavered in his excitement, and in fact, told me many, many times “thanks, Mom, for taking me to BELL.” I am so thankful for what the BELL program gives to him.

From my perspective, BELL gives Isaac a much needed opportunity to grow in confidence and acceptance of himself as a blind person. As he has gotten older, he has really struggled with his identity as a blind person. He really does not like to feel “different” from his peers, very normal for any 5th grader but even more complicated when there is something such as blindness. Isaac is mainstreamed into his school so this opportunity to be around other blind kids (and adults) where blindness is normalized is priceless. It gives him a much-needed break from feeling “different.” It gives him equal playing ground to make friends and have fun and learn. He never feels like he is missing out on any part of the experience when he is at BELL because it is tailored FOR the blind student. The rest of his year, he is in a sighted environment and continually faces challenges and other people underestimating, judging, or sometimes dismissing him. At BELL, he doesn’t have to fight those daily battles and it is like he can really “exhale” for a few weeks and just enjoy life instead of constantly having to prove himself.

Isaac has struggled to see future possibilities for himself as a blind person—as someone who can have independence and meaningful work. He knows he is smart, but he struggles to believe that his blindness will not prevent him from having a great life. The chance for him to know older students and adults who are living full and meaningful lives is critical and something that sighted people (even the best-intentioned parents) cannot give him. He needs that real-life example with flesh on—not just a mom or dad or teacher telling him what is possible. The BELL program provides this.

The BELL program is essential in showing Isaac that he CAN be independent—when they work on simple life skills such as grocery shopping and preparing food/cleaning up to the more adventurous skills as how to use public transportation in a big city like Chicago. They don’t just talk about it—they DO it and this shows him he is capable. As a parent, I can do my best to show him how to do these things, but the professionals and mentors at BELL know the best techniques for all these tasks and take him beyond what I as a parent can do.

During the schoolyear, Isaac receives a certain number of hours per week of specialized training on braille and VI technology and O&M. These are wonderful and necessary; however, the immersive 2-week experience for Isaac is an important time of concentrated training and growth that cannot happen during the schoolyear. He can solely focus on his blindness training skills which leads to a deeper learning experience and also greater confidence.

Finally, the BELL program is not only critical for the students, but also important to their families as well. As a sighted parent, I do all that I can to educate and equip myself so I can equip Isaac well. But I can never put myself fully in his shoes. At BELL, he gets this from his blind peers and mentors. This proves to him—and to me as his parent— what is possible. I can be the best mom I can be, but I am not a VI professional such as the staff at BELL…they can equip Isaac in ways that I cannot and I cannot state the importance of this. It gives us insight and renewed motivation as parents to continue working hard at independence so that Isaac will someday be ready to go to college, find work he enjoys, and build a life for himself. We as parents also need BELL so we can be reminded once again of all the possibilities for our blind children.

The BELL program is a very important part of Isaac’s growth. It moves him beyond limitations that are placed on him by others and sometimes himself. It shows him new possibilities and opens up new dreams and goals for him. Isaac has a lot to offer the world and the BELL program is an important part of Isaac seeing and believing that truth for himself AND learning how to make it possible!

Thank you, BELL Supporters and the BELL Team, for investing in our kids!

Sincerely,

Angela & Isaac Raske

Additional Information

To learn more about the NFB of Illinois BELL Academy programs, please read the affiliate-specific Frequently Asked Questions brochure for Illinois at https://nfb.org/bell-academy-faqs-affiliate/il. For more information, please contact Amy Lund, our state BELL coordinator, at or by phone at 2178165060.