A View from the Other Side of an Open Door
Keynote Address From the 136th Annual Meeting of Ex Officio Trustees of the American Printing House for the Blind, October 14, 2004, Louisville, Kentucky
Dr. Sally S. Mangold
Braille Curriculum Specialist
Dr. Tuck Tinsley III: Our keynote speaker tonight is Dr. Sally Mangold, the queen of our field. Although we regard her as a friend and colleague, I want to take this opportunity to review a few of the accomplishments of this truly remarkable professional.
Sally taught visually impaired students from kindergarten through high school for 18 years, received her Ph.D. from University of California-Berkley in 1977 and was a professor in Special Education at San Francisco State University from 1977 to 1995. She’s published more than 45 books, articles, and videos, including the braille Basics 1: Introduction to braille for Teens and Adults, Selecting the Most Appropriate Learning Medium: Print or braille, and The SAL System: A New Era in braille Instruction.
Dr. Mangold’s awards include the AER Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Award in 1996, CTEVH’s Fred L. Sinclair Award in 2001, the Holbrook-Humphries Literacy Award in 2001, and then last year AFB’s Migel Medal and APH’s Creative Use of braille Award.
Dr. Mangold is both a friend and treasure to us all. So please join me in welcoming her as she shares with us a View from the Other Side of an Open Door. Welcome, Dr. Mangold.
Dr. Sally S. Mangold: Thank you. Thank you very much for that warm welcome. I love to come here because they have a riser for Mary Nelle, …
… and we both are only five feet tall, so I feel quite tall when I talk here.
I’m so honored and happy to be here. I truly am. It’s always so exciting to join this annual celebration of advancements in education for the visually impaired and to witness the rededication of all those assembled to providing even better services in the future. It’s very exciting. It fills me with hope every year.
Opening the doors to opportunity is a wonderful theme for a meeting because we all need to challenge ourselves to open our minds to new possibilities. And I’d like to share a view from the other side of the open doors to full educational inclusion.
I know there are visually impaired people in the room and we’re going to be showing a few pictures, but you’re not going to miss a thing. Because all they’re going to do is show pictures of the children that I’m going to be talking about. There’s no other information there.
I’ve been an educator for 47 years. It’s gone quickly. But you know, one gains a certain historical perspective in that length of time. And I can tell you with great certainty that things are much better today for visually impaired people of all ages than ever before. We certainly had our trials, but we’ve had far more triumphs along the way. During the last seven years I’ve had so much fun because I’m back working directly with students so often.
And I’ve worked with dozens of students of different ages in a lot of different educational settings and it’s been a real reality check for me. I’ve discovered that there’s a whole world just filled with daily challenges for visually impaired students, both blind and low vision, challenges that I knew very little about. I’ve met a generation eager for changes and services-changes we don’t know much about. They’re generally very, very happy. From my perspective, they’re doing very well in the mainstream, most of them. But they want more. They want recognition as unique individuals, especially from the special educators, and that surprised me.
They want to be empowered to help manage the inclusion process. There are legions of courageous young students that I see all the time. They pass through the doors that we have opened for them, but too often, I’m afraid, they really have no idea what to expect on the other side. Nor do they always have the skills necessary for instant inclusion, something we’ve come to take for granted by putting them there. And it doesn’t happen that way.
I think one of the things is it’s misleading is that we have documented the obvious aspects of the inclusion process. We’ve collected a lot of data on that. But the more elusive interactions between visually impaired students and their peers, between our students and their teachers, those interactions have escaped us for the most part. And these events, as I see it, can be the most important to determine the extent to which an individual student is able to participate in daily instructional activities.
I have walked through the open doors with many visually impaired students who are entering the regular classroom for the first time. There are some striking differences between mainstreamed education and specialized instruction. It looks the same to us, but it can feel very differently for the students who are participating. There are strange sounds, unfamiliar voices everywhere every day.
I have been concerned to hear probing questions, see lack of understanding and realize there are many stereotypes held by the regular teachers, teachers of the visually impaired, and the para-educators. And these bombard these mainstreamed students from a very early age. They seem to continue throughout their education.
For the students who move more gradually into the mainstream, and go from specialized services to the mainstream, it can be an advantage because they have time to learn coping skills. And I think we need to re-evaluate some of the placements sometimes.
I was interested to notice as I sat in the regular classrooms with these children, that there were frequently three questions asked of young visually impaired students. One was, "What happened to their eyes?" And about 80% of the young children that I sat with who were visually impaired couldn’t answer that question-not with any satisfaction to themselves or other people.
They also asked, "Does it hurt all the time?" That’s a sensitive question from young children because they’re always falling down and bumping elbows and scraping arms. And they have a lot of sympathy. But we don’t want it to become pity, so we need to answer their questions.
They also asked, "Is it catching?" You know many of the visually impaired children didn’t know. They weren’t sure about that.
So the teachers should prepare these children for the questions they’re going to hear. An adult needs to go into a new classroom with the student and sit there to be a support, but also to model appropriate answers. "Oh, he was born that way" or "He was sick when he was little."
It only takes a few words, but it sets a model for what children can learn to say for themselves about themselves. You really need to demystify blindness for the visually impaired child as well as the sighted children.
Now the older students, I noticed, were asked different kinds of questions. Sighted teens want to know about how you adapt sports. They want to know about special technology, a lot of questions about dating. And they want to know favorite stores in the mall. It’s a good way to make friends sometimes. I saw one girl say, "Oh, I like that store, too. We’ll go together sometime."
We must, I thoroughly believe, stop mainstreaming visually impaired students. I think it’s time that we really teach students to mainstream themselves whenever possible. And that’s a very different process and it needs to go on for a very long time so that we can help them move forward with confidence.
This generation of students needs more multi-faceted support systems than did their predecessors. Now I’m not suggesting that we withdraw any of the things that we’re doing. But what I do feel strongly is that we must expand and really reconstruct instructional strategies and our priorities. Children need much more information about themselves and about the world around them. We want them to grow to understand how like other people they are and what makes them unique individuals.
Teens want to know about the acquisition of the special materials that they’re using. They want us to make it possible for them to organize their resources differently. They often asked if they could work with the Braillist directly. And as one girl said to me, "Then I can get the pages I really need on time."
They want sometimes to be allowed to substitute assignments to study something they’re really interested in and haven’t the time to do that. So you’ll see in this slide a teacher working with a high school student to plan an in-depth research paper for the science class all about this girl’s visual impairment. She wanted to know more about it.
We must teach students when we can to negotiate. They negotiate all the time with peers and teachers and changes and bus routes and everything. But in the regular classroom there are problems that arise. They arise quickly and solutions must be found quickly if they’re to keep pace with instruction.
So what am I saying? I think teachers are doing a wonderful job. I don’t know how they do it sometimes with all the different topics in the different schools they work in. But I think we do need a more enlightened teacher training approach. Teachers of the visually impaired, orientation and mobility teachers, and para-educators need to learn new strategies and new content. We want them to continue to facilitate, advocate and teach all those important basic skills. And they’re going to need to teach the three characteristics of the really successful students in the mainstream. And that is: good problem-solving, organization, and persistence. They need to understand functional modified braille. They need to know how to teach smart elbow techniques for mobility. They need to teach applications of technology that go far beyond the basic commands. These teachers need to be helped to overcome their own stereotypes and misunderstandings. They need to learn to listen to what the students are saying. You know, a mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be lighted.
Not everything can be taught within the framework of the regular classroom. There isn’t time. There isn’t privacy enough. And there often aren’t resources. So the only solution, it seems to me, is to expand our selection of after-school, weekend and summer courses-things that focus on special skills and special needs.
I had a wonderful time last summer. I had the opportunity to interact with a tech camp in California. Students from different school districts were brought together to learn about new technologies. The ages ranged from 11 to 17. We gave them an assignment-a simple assignment-to write a letter to a new student who was entering the mainstream for the first time. They named him Eric. And they were each asked to assume that Eric was their age. They were asked to give him advice and just tell him what goes on in the mainstream so that he would have some idea of what to expect.
They took this assignment very seriously. Some of their statements surprised me. In this group of three students there’s a young lady who wears glasses. She’d been mainstreamed all her life, had never met a totally blind student before this week. She usually used a CCTV, but she had a little exposure to braille.
The next student is Tomas, 14, very articulate, very opinionated. His advice was, he said, "Hi, Eric. Welcome. Only believe the regular teacher. I’m not kidding," he said, "only believe her. She knows what’s going on. The other teachers just don’t keep up; they don’t know."
And then there was Victor. Victor is 11. Victor’s advice was, "Eric, of all else, be nice. Always be nice, but learn to stay tough."
He’s the most street-wise young man I have ever met. He really understands the cultures in his neighborhood. He understands the academic and social cultures at school. He’s an excellent listener. He went on to say, "Kids and teachers say really dumb things sometimes, but it doesn’t matter; they mean well."
And he said, "When the TVI says you won’t be able to do something like a sports or some kind of technology, don’t believe it ’till you try it."
Then there’s Derek. He’s really good in mathematics, but he’s a star at using specialized technology, has his own website and e-mail and has fun doing everything. His advice was, "Use smart elbows whenever you can at the beginning because it’s hard to learn your way around a new school." He says, "You know what a smart elbow is-that’s one that knows where you need to go and gets you there."
He went on to say, "I can use a cane just fine when I want to, but," he says, "sometimes I’d rather take an elbow, just so I can talk to my friends.
"Learn all the techniques," he recommended. "I do e-mail a lot. I have so many friends on the e-mail. Most of them don’t even know I’m blind, but it doesn’t matter because e-mail is e-mail."
Then there’s Shelby. She’s the girl with glasses. She said, "Eric, I don’t know if you can see anything. I’m not blind. I see a lot. I never met a blind kid before this week-they’re okay!
"I’m trying to learn more braille; it’s sure easier than print. You should try it."
Tomas wanted to learn more in technology, so he went to the greatest source. That was Derek. And Derek’s been tutoring him almost every day over the telephone.
Now I think maybe using some of our star students is the way to fill in a lot of the gaps in our instruction where there just isn’t time to provide it.
We see in the next slide, we see Derek demonstrating with a microphone a new voice-activation software. In it they were showing web access and they were interacting in a chat room. He says, "This is the way it’s all gonna go." And I’m sure he knows.
The next young lady is 17. Her name is Jen. She started out by saying, "Eric, I don’t know much about you, but my mom had to fight to get me braille. I have cerebral palsy and I’m also totally blind. I read with one hand, but it works just fine. The TVI’s told my mom I would never be able to learn braille, but my mom insisted. My favorite pastime now is reading. I’m not very fast, but I just finished Gone With the Wind and it was as good a book as everyone said.
This young lady, Mary, loves music, so she’s joined the band and plays the clarinet. But she said, "Eric, join the band. It’s lots of fun. Make time for things that are fun. I’m trying to get braille music if there is such a thing."
Those things make me shudder; don’t they you? Yeah.
Victor, the little savvy 11-year old, had a transportation problem this year. Just before school started, his mother took a new job and she had driven him last year by car to school. It took 15 minutes from home. So Victor signed up for the special ed. bus. And when the schedule was sent to him, it showed that it would take an hour and ten minutes to and from school every day. Victor stayed tough. He said, "No way am I going to do that. I never will have time to see my friends."
So he called his TVI. He called the O & M instructor for support. And they said, "No change is allowed, Victor; get used to it. That’s life."
And Victor said, "Forget that nonsense."
So Victor called the bus company.
He asked them to send him a schedule and a map of the bus route. So Victor and his three young friends got together, came up with a solution. They said if Victor took the special ed. bus for ten minutes, they could drop him off at Jimmy’s house. Then he could walk to school with his three friends.
So Victor took the new plan to the principal. And the principal said, "It’s okay with me if it’s okay with Mom."
Then the principal and Mom met and they agreed and gave him permission to try the new schedule-and it works just fine.
The last student I want to tell you about is really not a student anymore; he’s older. His name is James and this photo shows him sitting at a drill press. He graduated from college in Canada last year with a double major both in history and mathematics. He’s always been a fine student, but he has a passion for woodworking. And that passion for woodworking started when he was nine years old. He’s learned to remodel bathrooms. He’s made three beautiful armoires. And he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life, but he knew he wanted more training in woodworking. He could do more than he knew how to do.
And he went on-line and searched and found that there was, to his surprise, a master’s program in woodworking at the University of Alberta. It’s part of the Fine Arts Department just on one campus. There was a six months application process and they only take seven students a year. This – James is here with a beautiful china cabinet that he made as a presentation piece during his last interview for admission to the program. He is now part of the program. They’ve never had a blind student before. He mainstreamed himself.
There is an unrecognized revolution, particularly among teens and young adults who are visually impaired. They want the right to try new solutions to everyday academic and mobility challenges. They want adults to listen to what they have to say. They describe in great clarity the complexities of contemporary education that make maintaining full inclusion so demanding and often so stressful. They want to be able to use creative mobility, unusual braille codes for first drafts. They want ongoing technology training and flexible scheduling wherever possible.
I really see many strong leaders emerging in this generation-people who are and will continue to demand to get changes until they get them. We must take time to know every student more as a person-know their dreams, their passions, their curiosities and their talents. We have great knowledge in our field, but very little wisdom, it seems to me. Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.
We can only take these students part of the way toward independence and then we need to let go. So it’s so important that we keep searching for new ways to entice these students to reach a little further than they think they can.
This is a short little poem I’d like to share. It’s called Come to the Edge.
Come to the edge.
I can’t; I’m afraid!
Come to the edge.
It’s far too high!
Please come to the edge.
And he came to the edge.
I pushed him off,
And he flew.
Do you know sighted people have a strange curiosity that’s very difficult to satisfy? So when you know someone or work with someone that does direct service with people who are visually impaired, would you please ask them to stop expecting people to verbalize how they do things? It gets very tiresome.
I had a resource room in a public school one time, a resource room for visually impaired children. And the children moved from my room to their regular classrooms as they needed to. I often had student teachers come and help me and learn in our classroom. One year a very bright young man arrived at my doorstep as a new student teacher.
I also had a kindergarten student five years old named Kevin. So I asked the student teacher to teach Kevin a route from my classroom to the kindergarten. Seemed like a nice way to start.
So I’m told that the first day they left my room, turned left, went a few feet, and the student teacher said, "Kevin, where are you now?"
And Kevin said, "I’m by the drinking fountain."
"How do you know that?" said the teacher.
Kevin said, "It’s always there."
So they went a little further and they turned the corner. And the student teacher, he didn’t get it yet, you know.
And the student teacher said, "Kevin, where are you now?"
And Kevin said, "I’m by the cafeteria."
"How in the world do you know that?" said the teacher.
And Kevin says, "It sounds like a cafeteria."
So this went on until they got to the kindergarten. And the next day the same routine happened with the teacher asking about different points along the way.
The third day, Kevin’s getting really tired of this routine. So they left my room. They went a few steps.
The teacher said, "Kevin, where are you now?"
And Kevin said, "If you don’t know where you are by now, I won’t tell you!"
I guess if you don’t know where you are by now, I won’t either!
But on behalf of all the people, the children in particular that you serve every day, thank you for caring. Thank you for coming.
Dr. Tuck Tinsley III: Sally always gives us something stimulating to think about. I’ll be thinking about what she said for the whole meeting. We have probably 7% of the kids are in the 48 residential schools now. And the rest it’s almost automatic that they’re mainstreamed, so we’ve got a lot to think about.