The Pros and Cons of Being Blind in 2020

In this episode of the Challenge Solutions Podcast, Caitlyn, Cole, and Macy discuss the pros and cons of being blind in 2020 from murder hornets, to Covid, to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Be sure to stay tuned for the bloopers at the end!

Tips for Band Directors with Blind Students

Many blind students take an interest in music and participate in school band programs. In this video, Macy gives ten tips for band directors with blind students in their programs. The following text is a summary of the video.

Tip 1: Have reasonable expectations for your blind student. Like sighted students, blind students differ in musical knowledge and ability. As a teacher, you should not expect your blind student to be an advanced musician when they walk into beginning band. You should assess their skills just like you would with any sighted student. 

Tip 2: Cater to your student’s needs. There is no right or wrong way for a blind student to learn music. You could make recordings explaining and playing the student’s part, or you could opt to use braille music. There are pros and cons to each method, so it is up to you and your students to decide which will work best for your situation.

Tip 3: Ask questions about what works best. Ideally, your student will tell you exactly what they need, but when it comes to music, many blind students have little experience and are not sure what will work best for them. It is important to ask if the methods you are using in the classroom and when transcribing or recording music are actually beneficial to your student.

Tip 4: Do not substitute learning by ear for music theory. Your blind student may be able to learn his or her pieces just by listening to them, but it is still important that you explain the concepts associated with print music. Rhythms, time signatures, and style markings are important for any musician, and if your student decides to transition to braille music, these skills will be necessary.

Tip 5: Keep the band room as organized as possible. The more organized your room is, the easier it will be for your blind student to navigate. If possible, arrange the chairs and stands before class so they can learn the layout of the room. In addition, if it is possible to put them on the end of their row without sacrificing your sound, this will make it easier for them to access their seat without bumping into their neighbors’ equipment. Also, have specific places for oil, grease, reeds, and percussion equipment so your student can find what they need when they need it and not have to worry about tripping over misplaced supplies. 

Tip 6: Assign a band buddy. There are going to be times when your student needs help, both in rehearsal and at concerts and events. It can be a good idea to assign one of their peers to help whenever necessary so they are not continuously teaching someone new how to help them. Look for someone that your student naturally gravitates toward. Be sure not to choose someone who will be condescending or try to help too much. If you are unsure about who would be best, you can always ask your student in private if there is someone they would like to help them. 

Tip 7: Be descriptive. Remember that your blind student cannot see you when you are conducting or writing on the board. If you want a specific expression that is not written in the music, you should explain it verbally. Also, if your student is memorizing their music, they are probably not familiar with the rehearsal markings in the piece, so you may need to explain exactly which section you are referring to in their part. 

Tip 8: Give your student one-on-one instruction. This is especially important in beginning band because you are building their musical foundation. Make sure they are holding their instrument correctly, sitting with good posture, breathing properly, and grasping all the music concepts you are teaching. Even after beginning band, it is important to work closely with your student to be sure they aren’t becoming overwhelmed or falling behind. . 

Tip 9: Include your student. You should be sure your student has everything they need, but try not to call them out in class or treat them any different from their peers. Don’t walk on egg shells or constantly worry about offending them. Also, consider them when planning band activities and trips, and try to find things to do that everyone in your ensemble can enjoy. 

Tip 10: Give your blind student as many opportunities as possible. Many band competitions and activities are not ideal for blind musicians, so you shouldn’t pass up any opportunity for your student to participate in activities that are accessible for them. Involve them in honor bands, solo and ensemble, and community performances. These extra events mean extra work for you, but your blind student will definitely thank you for giving them those opportunities and making them the best musician they can be. 

Helping the Blind One at the Holiday Gathering

In this video, Caitlyn shares five tips for helping the blind one at the holiday gathering. Large gatherings can be somewhat overwhelming and difficult for blind people to navigate independently, so these are some ways you can help.

1. Include them in conversation. Blind people do not have the luxury of walking up to whoever they want and starting a conversation. It is difficult for them to pick specific people out of a big crowd and walk up to them independently. Also, blind people cannot make direct eye contact, so sighted people often do not notice when blind people speak to them. You can help by simply going up to the blind person and starting a normal conversation. If they don’t know you very well, make sure you tell them who you are. You don’t have to make it awkward, just say something along the lines of, “Hey, (insert name of blind person), it’s, (insert your name). How’s it going?”

2. Offer to help them with food. Blind people have a difficult time in buffet settings and when people are passing dishes around the table. they can’t see what is in those pans, and no one wants them putting their hands in the pans to identify the food by touch. The best way to handle this situation is for a sighted friend or family member to serve the blind person. You can either guide your blind friend or family member through the buffet line, or you can let them know what is available, and they can sit down while you go through the line for them. Just ask them what they prefer, and they can let you know how to best help them.

3. Describe things. Blind people can enjoy holiday decorations, but they won’t know they’re there unless someone tells them. You can describe things like lights, Christmas cards, interesting wrapping paper, ornaments, etc. If there are tactile decorations like snow village pieces, you can guide their hands so they can feel of them. Be sure to describe what is happening in games like Dirty Santa, and let them know what they are opening if you exchange gifts.

4. Offer to sighted guide them. It can be very difficult for blind people to navigate in party settings. even if they are very familiar with the setting, they will have a hard time knowing who and what is between them and wherever they’re trying to go if the place is crowded. If you’re going outside or to another room, ask if your blind friend or family member wants to come with you. This gives them an opportunity to move to a different area if they want without having to specifically ask someone for help.

5. Don’t make them feel like the blind one in the room. It is okay to ask questions about their blindness if you’re curious or not sure how to interact with them, but try not to make every conversation you have with your blind friend or family member center around their disability. You can have an interesting conversation with a blind person that has nothing to do with blindness. Most blind people do not allow their lives to revolve around their disability, and while most of us are happy to answer questions, we also get tired of constantly educating people. Try asking your blind friend or family member about school, work, their hobbies, or anything else that you’d talk to a sighted friend or family member about.

Christmas Activities for Blind and Visually Impaired Children

In this video, Macy shares ten Christmas themed activities to do with blind or visually impaired children. These activities can be done as a family or with a group of friends. However, the blind or visually impaired child will most likely need a significant amount of one-on-one interaction, so be sure that they are fully included if you choose to do these activities with a group of sighted friends or family members.

1. Ice-skating. Many blind and visually impaired people do not fully understand the concept of ice-skating, so getting to experience it for themselves can be exciting and help them understand it better when their sighted peers talk about it. Of course, you shouldn’t just set your blind child free on a public skating rink full of other people. It is ideal to rent the rink so you have it to yourselves or go at a time when it is mostly empty. Your blind child will also need a sighted guide to stay with them at all times while they are skating. It is best if the guide is already an experienced skater. Also, remember that it is normal and okay if your blind child falls down. Sighted people fall while they are skating all the time, so it is fine for your blind child to do the same.

2. Christmas music. Music is something that blind children can enjoy with little to no modification. Take your blind child caroling, help them learn to play a Christmas song on an instrument, or simply listen to Christmas music together.

3. Decorating. Decorating for the holidays is an excellent opportunity to teach your blind child valuable life skills. Blind children cannot see the decorations around them, so they may need specific instructions on where to place decorations so that they are visually appealing and appropriate. Teach them how to arrange the decorations by height, make sure everything is facing the correct way, put the nicest ornaments at the front of the tree, etc. Remember that the goal is for them to be decorating their own house as an independent adult some day. Try to keep the activity fun though. It should be an enjoyable learning experience.

4. Shopping for friends and family. If you are able to shop in a physical store, this is an excellent opportunity to work on orientation and mobility skills. Explain the layout of the store to your blind child and have them work on their cane skills while you shop. If you’re shopping online, older children can work on their technology skills and control the device with their screen reader while you describe the items. If your child is younger, you can simply describe the items and explain what you’re doing. You can also work on financial skills by giving your child a budget and having them identify, count, and pay with their own money.

5. Christmas crafts. Most Christmas crafts that sighted children do are already appropriate for blind children since many of them are tactile. Try making clay ornaments, decorating stockings with jewels, making beaded ornaments, etc. The possibilities are endless when it comes to crafting with your blind child.

6. Baking. Baking is an opportunity to teach your blind child many skills like measuring, stirring, frosting, using cookie cutters, and so on. Older children can learn to use the oven and read their own recipes using a screen reader or smart home device, and  your blind child can set the timers using a phone or other accessible device.

7. Making Christmas cards. There are many ways to make Christmas cards tactile. You can use puff paint to outline shapes for your blind child to fill in, there are all kinds of tactile stickers available, and children who are fluent in braille can use braille to create Christmas designs and braille their own messages. Click here for some braille Christmas designs.

8. Wrapping presents. This is a skill that is difficult for blind people of all ages, so don’t expect perfection from your blind child. Gift bags and decorative boxes will probably be their best friend, but you should still teach them the skill of wrapping presents so they understand the concept. Teach them which way the tape should go, how to fold the paper and make nice creases, and how to tie the bows. Try to buy textured wrapping paper and bows that will match everything, especially if your child is totally blind. Let your child braille on label paper, and place the braille next to your print on the name tags. Remember that it’s okay if the packages look like a blind person wrapped them as long as they try their best and learn some new skills.

9. Watching Christmas movies. Movies are a huge part of our culture, and it is important for blind children to have context for the movies that their sighted peers are referencing. Not all blind children will be interested in watching movies, but if they do express an interest, try to find audio described Christmas movies or describe them yourself while you watch the movies together.

10. Writing letters to Santa. Have your blind child braille the letter or type it on the computer depending on their skill level. Let them hand write the address on the envelope if they are able to write print legibly, or create the address label on the computer if they are using a screen reader. Take this opportunity to discuss where the information goes on the envelope and explain how the mail system works. Consider having Santa write them a braille response.

Gift Ideas for the Blind and Visually Impaired

You don’t necessarily have to go out of your way to find a blindness-specific gift for the blind or visually impaired person in your life. You can pretty much give blind people anything you would give a sighted person as long as it can be appreciated without vision. Blind people appreciate Amazon gift cards as much as the next person. However, the following list contains some suggestions for super special gifts that you might want to give the blind person in your life.

1. Adapted games. You can find accessible versions of most mainstream games like Uno, Chess, and Monopoly. Accessible games can be an excellent gift, especially for younger blind children, because it allows them to participate fully in game time with family and friends.

2. Apple devices. If you’re looking for something at a higher price point, Apple devices can help the blind person in your life be successful and independent in many aspects of life. All Apple devices are completely accessible due to a built-in screen reader called Voiceover. If you’re buying for a younger child, the iPod Touch can be a good starting point. The iPad is useful for blind people of all ages, and the iPhone is extremely beneficial for older blind children and adults. The Apple Watch is also an excellent gift for blind people who already have an iPhone and want to track their fitness goals and other health related information.

3. Headphones. Blind people can never have enough headphones. Apple’s AirPods are a good multipurpose option for most blind people who use iPhone’s and/or other Apple products. They have good audio quality but don’t block so much sound that they interfeer with the blind person’s ability to hear their surroundings. Bone conduction headphones are excellent for blind people who spend a lot of time traveling independently and need a good way to hear their phone while also listening to traffic. AfterShokz is a good brand that works well with Voiceover. You might also consider getting them something from the Beats line as all of the Beats headphones work very well with Voiceover. However, Beats headphones are meant to be used for music and audio books and will not be suitable for navigation or completing basic tasks with technology. Try to avoid buying bluetooth headphones that are not Apple branded in some way as many off-brand bluetooth headphones do not play nice with Voiceover and other screen readers. Cheap wired earbuds are also always useful.

4. Mighty Mug. The Mighty Mug looks like a normal travel mug but has a suction cup on the bottom to prevent it from falling over. Once it is placed on a table, it can’t be knocked over; it has to be lifted straight up. This is an excellent gift for anyone who works around a lot of technology and likes having a drink close at hand.

5. Smart home devices like the Amazon Echo, Google Home, or Apple HomePod. The Amazon Echo will have the most integrations with services and other smart home devices. The Google Home is very similar to the Echo but slightly better at certain skills. The Apple HomePod has the best audio quality but the fewest integrations with other services.

6. Braille jewelry. There are many online shops that sell customizable braille jewelry. This can be a super special gift for the blind person in your life.

7. Way Tags. Way Tags are labels that can be read with an app using Voiceover. Once you’ve written text to the tag, you can have Voiceover read the label by tapping the tag with the top of the phone while the app is open. The tags come in many different styles like buttons for clothing, clips, magnets, and stickers, and they can be used in many different contexts.

8. Tiles and other bluetooth trackers. Tiles are small devices that can be attached to keys, canes, wallets, and other things that people lose often. You can use an app to make the devices play a sound in order to locate the lost objects, and you can ring your phone using your Tile in the event that you lose your phone.

10. Audio books. Not all blind people are readers, but many blind people love listening to audio books. Consider gifting the blind person in your life an audio book or a gift card so they can purchase their own audio book and play it on a device of their choice.

Tips for Paraprofessionals with Blind and Visually Impaired Students

In this video, Macy gives ten tips for paraprofessionals working with blind and visually impaired students. The following list is a summary of the video.

Note: The need for a classroom aid should be decided on a case-by-case basis. All blind students do not need a para pro, and each student who does need extra help will need an individualized plan of action.

Tip 1: Maintain communication with the TVI. Every student’s needs are going to be different. The TVI should be able to give specific guidelines as to how best to help. TVI’s also have access to resources that might benefit the student and his or her teachers.

Tip 2: Let the Student be as Independent as Possible. If there is a way for them to do it on their own, they should be doing it on their own. It may be hard for the student to complete some activities independently, and it may take twice as long, but they will gain valuable skills by performing their daily tasks without help.

Tip 3: Let the student mess up. This applies to playing on the playground, walking to class, completing assignments, and almost every other aspect of life. It is important to remember that sighted students fall down and make mistakes every day, and a blind student is no different. Independence means messing up sometimes, but every mistake is an opportunity to learn.

Tip 4: Hang back when the student socializes. Every student has different social needs, but most blind individuals are capable of socializing with people their age without assistance. Some may need encouragement, but once they are with their peers, they should be left alone to have conversations and form bonds independently.

Tip 5: Don’t talk down to the student. Blindness is considered a disability, but being blind does not make a person any less capable of carrying on a normal conversation. Talking to a blind student more slowly, loudly, or simply than any other student is unnecessary and degrading.

Tip 6: Don’t walk on eggshells. Blindness is nothing to be ashamed of. It is ok to ask blind students questions about their vision and encourage them to talk about it. Blindness is a part of who the student is, and it probably always will be, so it is best for everyone to become comfortable with the subject.

Tip 7: Let others ask questions. No one should be scolded or punished for bringing up the topic of blindness. Punishing a student for discussing blindness is only going to make everyone more apprehensive around the blind student. Instead, questions should be encourage. Have the student read in braille to the class or blindfold their sighted peers and have them perform simple tasks. Then open the floor for questions. This encourages conversation about blindness and makes everyone more comfortable around the visually impaired student.

Tip 8: Let the teacher teach. By law, the teacher is required to prepare materials for and explain concepts to the blind student. There may be gaps to fill in, and the student’s education is always the first priority, but the teacher should be encouraged to interact with the blind student.

Tip 9: Encourage self-advocacy. Advocacy is one of the most important skills that a visually impaired person can have, and students should be practicing this from a young age. Have the student tell the teacher if they do not understand a concept or if an assignment is not modified correctly. Make them explain exactly what they need. Confrontation may be hard for them at first, but it will help them in the end to be able to articulate exactly what they need.

Tip 10: Constantly be teaching the student more skills that will help them be independent. If there is something the student cannot do on their own, teach them how. Find a way for them to do it independently, and be patient while they learn. The goal is for the student to eventually be an independent member of society, so it s important to prepare them for that as much as possible.

Submitting Assignments in Google Classroom for iOs

 In this video, Macy gives a tutorial on submitting assignments in Google Classroom for iOs and describes the various options for assignment submission. The following post lists the options for submitting in Classroom and when to use each.

Drive: This option allows you to submit files from your Google Drive. You can submit any file type in this way, as long as you have uploaded it to Drive.

Link: This opens a textfield where you can paste any URL.

File: This allows you to select from the Files app on your device. It is very important that you are familiar with your file hierarchy and know where your document is saved because Files typically opens within a folder that you use often.

Pick Photo: This allows you to select photos from your device’s camera roll. Blind students may need help with this as pictures are not labeled.

Use Camera: This opens the camera on your device and allows you to take pictures and videos to attach to your assignment.

New Doc: This option will automatically launch the Google Docs app. It will place you in a document that is already named and attached to your assignment. When you turn the assignment in, the document will be automatically shared with your teacher. The new Slide and new Sheet options work in the same way.

New PDF: This opens a virtual canvas where students can draw on the screens of their devices. It is completely inaccessible for blind students.

Halloween Activities for Blind and Visually Impaired Children

In this video, Macy gives some examples of Halloween activities that blind and visually impaired children can enjoy with parents, teachers, and friends. Below is a list of these activities. 

Carving or Painting Pumpkins: If your child is young, you can do all the carving and let them scoop out the inside of the pumpkin and pick out the seeds for baking. When you’re finished carving, let the child feel the face or picture on the pumpkin, and you can place the candle inside together. If your child or student is a little older, you can guide their hand and cut the outlines of the shapes together. Another option is to use puff paint to outline the face of a jack-o-lantern and let your child or student fill in the shapes with flat, black paint. 

Hay Rides: Hay rides are a common activity for Halloween parties and fall festivals, and they can be fun for blind and sighted children. A parent or teacher might want to accompany the visually impaired child for their first ride, but after that, if sighted children are riding alone, it is probably perfectly fine to let your blind child or student ride alone. Just be sure to orient them to the trailer before the other children get on. 

Bonfires: Along the same lines, bonfires are fall activities that people all over the world enjoy, and this should not be any different for a blind child. Let your child hold a stick and roast a marshmallow. Let him or her smell the smoke and feel the warmth of the fire, and if the child is young, teach them about fire safety, and show them how to stay a safe distance away from the heat. Invite some friends and family members to join in on the fun, and allow your child to socialize. Maybe play some fun party games and make it an event. 

Decorating: Whether you’re decorating a house or a classroom, preparing an area for fall can be a fun learning opportunity for blind children. Keep in mind that children with low vision cannot see decorations in houses, classrooms, and stores. They may not understand which places are appropriate for which decorations, so decorating together gives you the perfect opportunity to teach those skills

Halloween Scavenger Hunt: Hide some braille clues around a large area, such as a house or park, and be sure one clue leads to the next. If sighted students are playing, print out braille decoder sheets for them. You can hand out prizes at the end of the hunt or make it a competition to see who reaches the end first. To add a Halloween twist, place slime, plastic spiders, or other spooky items around the clues for the kids to feel. 

Skeleton Game: Buy some plastic skeletons, and be sure their heads and limbs are detachable. Take the skeletons apart and place the pieces of each in its own bag. Blindfold any sighted children, and hand the bags out. The first person to put their skeleton together correctly wins the game. 

Texture Games: Mix two types of Halloween materials together in a big bowl, such as candy corn and plastic spiders. Blindfold any sighted players, and give each player a small bag. The goal of the game is to pick out one type of material and not the other. For example, each piece of candy corn in a child’s bag might be worth one point, and each spider might be negative five points. The person with the most points at the end wins. You can make this game harder by changing the materials (for example, using similar candy bars) or by only allowing the players to use one hand. 

Make Costumes: This activity will look different for everyone. Find a costume idea, and have your blind child or student help make it. This could be an opportunity to teach sewing, gluing, knot-tying, and many other valuable skills. 

Read Books and Watch Movies: A lot of the Halloween culture today is based off of popular books and movies. Be sure that any child who is interested has the opportunity to experience this part of our culture. The American Printing House for the Blind and are two good resources for finding popular books in braille, and Halloween movies with audio descriptions can be found on streaming services such as Netflix and Disney+. However, many blind children prefer to read and watch movies with family members and friends, so you can take turns reading aloud and describe your movies verbally.