The contents of this column reflect the letters we had received by the time we went to press, Nov. 3, 2011. Letters are limited to 300 words or fewer. All submissions must include the author's name and location. Opinions expressed are those of the authors.
** How Do We Revitalize State Schools for the Blind?
Recently someone asked me if I would be willing to talk with parents of two newly blinded children about educational opportunities. I wanted to locate a good residential school near them that they could attend for a couple of years to learn the basics: braille, mobility, general physical skills, etc. I couldn't find one. All the schools I researched either provide only "services" or are so far into multi-disability support that tossing people who are only blind into the mix may not be something parents would go for, or be good for the kids either.
Some may ask, "Why should a blind child attend a residential school?" Learning things like mobility and braille are natural blind school things. Some public schools might teach that to a limited extent. Things like archery, swimming, small engine repair, running, gymnastics, wrestling, sailing, basketball, climbing, weaving, sewing, cooking, building a fire, putting up a tent, folding a flag, music reading and playing, woodworking, electrical repair, geography, painting, etc., will almost never be taught to blind kids in public school. But such skills teach kids to be part of everyday life. Blind children deserve to learn a wide variety of skills and be exposed to the same types of experiences -- and public schools will never be equipped to provide that kind of education.
I think there is a critical need for both residential and mainstream educational services for blind children, and without both, the equality gap will grow larger over time. We are leaving kids behind. In the past, the idea was to get blind children in "normal" school; now it should be to get them educated well, and included in "normal" life.
So how do we get this conversation restarted -- to bring back the blind school to provide a high level of quality education, clearly delineate the benefits, and support blind children in mainstreamed settings as well?
-- Allen Hoffman, Fredericksburg, Va.