Unfortunately, SJS can result in permanent vision loss and blindness in many of its survivors. Michelle Chacon, a mobility specialist for Adams County School District 50 teachers blind and low vision students. Michelle is also blind herself so she understands the difficulties her students face every day. Michelle educates her students in Braille literacy as well as cane training and is an advocate for her students within their school. We took a moment to talk to Michelle about many of the issues the newly blind survivor and their family will need to face in their new life and she was able to supply us with a wealth of information. We asked Michelle how the family of a visually impaired student finds the resources that are available to their child. Michelle responded by saying "doctors that make the diagnosis usually do not have knowledge of resources that are available to the blind, they just send the family on their way. Michelleís advice to parents is be proactive in your childís care, ask questions. Fellow parents of visually impaired students have already experienced many of the challenges you will be facing. Also the childís school has programs and services that are available through the school district and through the school social workers. "The internet is an AMAZING tool available to us now".
Michelle stresses the importance of Braille literacy. Depending on the individual learning Braille can come easily or it can be difficult, just as reading is in sighted individuals. She believes that Braille must begin to be implemented soon after being given the diagnosis, the sooner the better. She also believes that if a studentís low vision causes them to strain to see words or leaning in to see their paper better, causing them discomfort Braille should be in introduced.
Michelleís insistence on educating the blind with Braille comes from the alarming percent of illiterate blind citizens; about 80 % of all blind people are illiterate and unemployed as a result.
When Michelle was asked what the advantages of being Braille literate she said with a laugh "Well you can read in the dark!" Along with simply being able to read it also allows an individual to become independent again. Being blind doesnít mean that your life has to stop; you just have to learn a new way of doing things. You can still cook travel, read meet new people anything you need to do you can do. There are only a few disadvantages to Braille, for example the books in Braille might be in volumes because of the amount of space that Braille type takes up and sometimes graphs are a little confusing when they are translated into Braille.
We asked about the importance of a white cane, Michelle said that the cane is a tool used by the blind to help them achieve increased independence, it is also an indicator to the public that someone is blind, it allows the sighted to be able to yield to the cane user and it brings an element of safety to the user. Michelle stated "When youíre blind you have to work much harder to be on a level playing field, the cane helps level that playing field". When asked about guide dogs she responded by saying, It is a personal option, animals are a lot of responsibility, feeding and watering them as well as bathroom breaks may be too much for a person trying to be as independent as they can be. When you have a dog you must travel a lot to keep the dogís memory fresh so that they can remember the commands. Also when you are traveling you may miss some landmarks that are passed over by the dogs, you can become lost and the dog will not know where to go. "Itís a preference, but it seems like too much responsibility for me, with my cane I can just throw it in the corner and not have to worry about feeding it." Says Michelle, but she wants the student to pick the method whether it be cane or dog that will help them live with greater independence.
We asked Michelle what some of the everyday struggles she comes into contact with when educating a blind student, she when on to say what frustrates her most is when other professionals within the school setting do not support the student. They can do this in a number of ways, the first one being that they put the child in the corner and donít even attempt to teach them, or another is when they attempt to do everything for the student. These methods show the child that people think that they are not capable of doing anything and can be detrimental to their self esteem. "When children are treated as second class citizens they start to believe it, and itís just not true" she goes on to say that parents shouldnít enable their kids, they need to follow through with the education at home. "Parents and family are a childís biggest support center".
With a blind student extra materials are necessary to the success of the student at school, they may need Braille writer assistive technology books in Braille and manipulative tools, They also may need extra time on certain tests, preferential seating in the class room and more space to spread out their equipment since Braille reading and tools can take up a lot of space. An IEP (Individual Education Plan) put in place at the students school is a legal document ensuring the school districts responsibility to provide the student with these accommodations.
Michelle becomes a mentor, friend and supporter for her students and believes that support from the family is a key factor to the success of an independent individual. "Blindness is nothing more than a characteristic"
For more resources and information visit: The National Federation of the Blind