I’ve been around a number of people with all sorts of different disabilities. When I served on the State Independent Living Council, I had a colleague, Loretta Moore, who was blind. Loretta became a dear friend of mine. Loretta and I both lived in San Diego and since she didn’t drive, I often drove us both to meetings around southern California. Early on in our friendship Loretta told me how she became blind and what assistive technology (AT) helps her accomplish different tasks. On our long commutes we’d often share and say funny things about our disabilities and malfunctioning AT with each other. It was the perfect crip friendship.
Most of you who read my blogs know that my daughter, Olivia, was born with multiple disabilities. She’s also a fun kid who’s always trying new gizmos, gadgets and assistive technology that her mom or teachers think might assist her in her development.
My daughter’s also been working with a Vision Specialist from Blind Babies Foundation (recently merged with Junior Blind America), since she was about 6 months old. Up until recently (just last month) we never really knew the extent of her vision lost, but I knew there was something going on even when the doctors told me I was just being a paranoid, first-time mom. So, we went on with our lives, but her Vision Specialist and I were were always looking for more ways to engage my daughter visually.
After many ophthalmologist and optometrist appointments, my daughter finally recently got her first pair of glasses… I wasn’t just a paranoid mom after all! And, now that we know that her vision is conservatively 20/200, life has slowly been changing around her. Olivia enjoys books, especially touch and feel books. And, now that we finally understand her vision, I know why. Like most parents, my husband and I want to encourage Olivia to play with and enjoy her books, so I did some research and found that high-contrast children’s books exist. My daughter isn’t color blind, but she seems to see much better when things are in high contrast black and white. These types of images and books -along with her touch and feel books- ensure us that this girl is going to be happily studying her books for a while.
The Ability Tools AT Exchange and the American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. have been wonderful resources for our family. Their free device lending services have allowed us to try out different assistive technology toys and devices before buying them. One of my daughter’s favorite toys has also been very educational – her mini light box and clear colored blocks. These two toys together are both very entertaining to her while also helping her learn about shapes and colors. The colors of the blocks are much easier for her to see and recognize when using with her light box. Together, we talk about the colors of each block, stack them, knock them down, and make shapes and designs out of them.
The Ability Tools AT Exchange has a Light Box that you can try out. They also have blocks and other types of toys you can use with it.
Have you ever heard of a 3-in-1 board? Olivia has one and it’s super fun! It’s a white board, magnet board, and foam board all in one. It’s also large, and tilts so that you can put it upright, flat or at a slant. The point is that you can stand it up in whatever way works best for you personally and your field of vision. For Olivia, that generally means upright at about a 90 degree angle.
Loretta didn’t teach me everything there is to know about vision loss, but the single most important thing that she did teach me is that there is a lot of Assistive Technology in the world. Provided that I can navigate through many resources, I will get to what I need or, in this case, what Olivia needs.