For your reading convenients below you will find all the Movers and Shakers published in 2018
American Printing House for the Blind (APH)
Who: APH is a non-profit organization that researches, develops, and produces educational, workplace, and independent living products and services for those who are blind and visually impaired. APH was founded in 1858 in Louisville, Kentucky. It is not only the oldest organization of its kind in the United States, but the world’s largest.
Where: American Printing House for the Blind is located at:
1839 Frankfort Ave, Louisville, KY 40206.
There are two different guided tours offered at APH. First, you can tour the plant and museum. During this tour, you will see how Talking Books and braille books are created, view demonstrations of educational products, and visit the museum. This free tour is held Monday through Thursday at 10:00 & 2:00. Secondly, there is the guided museum tour, which is available by appointment Monday through Saturday. This tour focuses on the historical and educational components of the museum. The free museum is open from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM Eastern Time Monday-Friday, and 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM on Saturdays. Also, once each month, there is a special program presented by Museum education staff. The list of events is available online at www.aph.org/museum
What: The American Printing House for the Blind provides several services:
*Textbooks and tests in accessible format
*Tactile Graphic Image Library (TGIL), has a collection of well-designed templates to assist in the development of tactile graphics.
*Custom Media Productions, can make your materials accessible to your employees, customers, partners, etc.
*Accessible Magazines, Reader’s Digest, Newsweek, and Scholastic News are available in accessible formats. The first two mentioned magazines may be free to those U S citizens who meet the necessary criteria.
*Braille Tales; eligible US families receive six print/braille books per year, until the child turns six years old.
APH has a large collection of products that include:
*Product Information, downloadable product manuals and parts lists
*Technology software and downloads, has demos, product information and support
*Videos and webcasts, about products and services
*Instructional Products Catalog, except for textbooks, this catalog list all APH products
Latest Product: Indoor Explorer is a new feature of the Nearby Explorer iOS app, now available in an experimental version. Indoor Explorer helps you navigate within supported venues that have been mapped and equipped with beacons. This exciting new feature has similar functions to the outdoor Nearby Explorer; it allows you to independently learn about the location of entrances, rooms, elevators, restrooms, and more and then navigate to those locations.
APH, just last month, featured and is testing the Indoor Explorer app at Louisville International Airport. From their public release: “APH has taken advantage of Bluetooth, beacon technology with the app for use on iOS devices. Once travelers download the app, they can easily navigate every aspect of the airport from the ticket counter, through security and directly to their gate. It gives travelers the freedom to independently find the baggage claim, security, bathrooms, emergency exits, airport shops, restaurants and specific gate numbers.”
Saturday January 20 (10 am – 3 pm): APH celebrates Louis Braille’s 209th birthday and the gift of literacy he brought to people who are blind by unveiling our newest museum exhibits. The focal point of The Birth of Braille is Le Procédé – the book he published in 1829 to tell the world about his new code. Only six copies are known to be in existence. Two of them are in the United States and the copy in the museum is the only one on display for the public. The Boy Named Louis exhibit tells the story of this remarkable individual.
Tuesday January 23: APH celebrates 160 years of operation in Louisville. Representatives from the governor’s and mayor’s office will each speak. Tours of the plant and museum will be held throughout the day. Employees, along with some teachers and students from the Kentucky School for the Blind, will showcase APH products that provide the essential ingredients for education and independent living. Also, a writing contest will be kicked off for students and adults who are blind and visually impaired, along with the professionals who work them. Nancy Lacewell can provide details to people who are interested. Contact her via phone at 502-899-2339 or email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
American Printing House for the Blind
1839 Frankfort Ave
Louisville, KY 40206
Toll-Free Customer Service and Technical Support: 800-223-1839 (U.S. and Canada)
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Brent Harbolt of the Harbolt Company. This business was created in 2014 by the Harbolt family. Currently, Brent is the CEO, and manages just about all aspects of the business.
Initially Brent was selling a variety of items to other people on the side, just for fun. Then, as more and more people began to ask Brent to find or get them something, things started to snowball. Brent decided to create the Harbolt company in order to offer items and special products at great prices to the public.
Brent, a blind individual himself, started the business with the intent to be for both the sighted and visually impaired community. Sighted individuals can visit the website and see pictures of all the products that are available. However, about 99 percent of his customers are visually impaired. Brent does not focus on blind specific items. He takes everyday items, makes sure that they are all accessible, and then post them on the website.
A wonderful feature that Brent has, and receives positive feedback for is his recordings. Brent is very proud to offer recorded audio descriptions for all items that he has for sale. These audio recordings are placed on the web site for listening at one’s convenience. They can also be downloaded to a computer in order to have them so you can come back later and listen.
I met Brent at a convention last summer. This is just one of his ways of introducing the public to the variety of products they carry. Their products can also be viewed via Facebook, the website and through an email newsletter that you can sign up for directly on the web site. They do not have a catalogue as their products are constantly changing.
The items that The Harbolt Company offers are affordable because they do not pay retail. Therefore, they pass the savings on to their customers. They accept most major credit cards, PayPal, and phone orders. Also offered is a layaway option with no fees if paid in full in thirty days. How nice!
For those living in the continental United States there is a flat shipping rate of seven dollars for the first item, and an additional three dollar shipping rate for each additional item within the order. The Harbolt Company ships to Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and many other countries as well.
Brent purchases products from suppliers that he has built relationships with over the years. Brent has a product request form on the website for customers looking for specific items. All one needs to do is complete the form, and Brent will look for it. If he finds it, he will contact the customer and discuss the details and whether or not to purchase it for them. He has some longtime customers that continually are looking for certain items that they want or collect, and Brent will search for them.
The Harbolt Company carries many electronic products, and a variety of other items. Brent says the best thing to do is check the website weekly since the inventory changes so often. Many items are limited in the quantity available. They even have an “only one left” category, so if you want it, better grab it quick!
There are some items that they do continue to keep in stock. For example, the 15,000 mAh accessible portable battery and the reversible micro USB cable. The battery charger can give you nearly seven charges for your iPhone before you need to recharge the battery itself. This battery gives you tones and vibrations to inform you of how much battery is left. It has two reversible USB ports, allowing you to charge two devices at the same time. When the battery starts to run low it will begin to beep. The cost for this product is 89 dollars and 99 cents plus shipping. The reversible micro USB cable is very convenient since it does not matter which way you plug it in, either way will work! The same holds true for the USB side, either way will work. This cable comes in two sizes; 4-foot for 16 dollars and 99 cents, and 6-foot for 21 dollars and 99 cents plus shipping.
The Harbolt Company has a newsletter list which you can subscribe to via their website. Once signed up, you will receive a daily email that will include featured deals of the day at a special price. Those on this list, now at 500, will also receive announcements of new products, featured deals for the day, new features to the website, and any contest that they may be running.
Brent is offering our readers five dollars off their first purchase using coupon code movers5, and this is good until April 1, 2018!
Demetra Edwards, O&M Instructor
This month I had a Q&A with a very special person, Demetra Edwards. Demetra is an orientation and mobility instructor. However, she is not just any O&M instructor, she was my first teacher.
I am sure that I wasn’t the easiest student to teach. But, with Demetra’s patience, persistence, and belief in me, I not only developed good O&M skills, but a wonderful friendship.
Q. What made you decide to become an Orientation & Mobility (O&M) instructor?
I was working as a Physical Therapist Assistant treating people with multiple disabilities. Many of my clients were visually impaired and, through a colleague, I found out about the profession of orientation and mobility. I did not know the profession existed and after a bit of research decided it was the profession for me.
Q. Where did you get your training to become an O&M instructor? Briefly explain the process.
I was trained at University of Massachusetts at Boston. It was a rigorous on-line program culminating in an extensive blind-fold practicum that took place in the city of Boston. After completing the on-line portion of the program, we began the blindfold practicum which entailed about ten to twelve eight-hour, in-person, meetings where we experienced travel under blindfold.
We also had the opportunity to teach our fellow students as they were under blindfold. We learned to teach community travel using buses, trains and the subway. We spent many hours learning to teach street crossings and how to use the environment to remain oriented. We also learned how to use and how to teach white long cane techniques and sighted guide skills as well.
Q. How long have you been an instructor?
I have been an instructor for twelve years.
Q. What ages do you work with?
I work with people from three-years old to elderly.
Q. What is the difference between orientation, mobility, and cane skills, if any?
Orientation skills may include but are not limited to: use of landmarks; use of environmental cues or clues; auditory cues; echolocation skills; types of routes and shapes of routes; mapping skills; use of gps system; cardinal directions; clock-face directions, and self-familiarization techniques.
Orientation also includes awareness and understanding of the many way-finding components in any given environment such as: locator tones, aps signals, tactile warning plates. One must also be aware of curb cuts, blended curbs, shapes and configurations of intersections, traffic patterns and traffic sounds. Orientation skills help one to know where they are at any given moment.
Mobility skills may include but are not limited to: white long cane skills; sighted guide skills; hand-trailing skills; voice guide skills; travel with a guide dog; echolocation skills; cane skills; street crossing skills; and use of public transportation.
Cane skills may include use of a white long cane, pre-cane, identification cane or support cane. It may even include use of a support cane paired with a white long cane. There are many techniques associated with a long cane and the situation and or environment will dictate the techniques used.
Q. Do you have certain steps you follow when teaching blind individuals mobility/cane skills?
Each consumer’s situation is different from the last and training is rarely the same for any two people. However, the first and most important step, is to take the time to learn about the consumer and his or her needs, wants, desires, and concerns. The initial interview is helpful with determining the direction of instruction but it frequently happens that the first few lessons bring more clarity to the consumer’s needs.
Q. How do you deal with difficult clients?
To remind myself to not take anything personally. To remind myself to teach from a place of love and respect. To take a few breaths, be patient, remain mindful of the objective, to remain mindful of my consumer’s place of frustration and anger and to do my best to understand.
Q. Can you share one great experience you may have had with a client?
One client took the cane from my hand, put it in her kitchen drawer, slammed it shut, stood in front of the drawer and said, “good bye.” On a lesson she got lost in a park and became so frustrated she repeatedly smashed her cane against a bench. She said she would “never” use public transportation. On a lesson, she insisted she knew a shortcut and refused to use the route she had been taught and promptly got lost and very frustrated. Mobility instruction for her, at the beginning, was difficult and she lashed out. The process was very difficult for her but I knew she was processing through and knew she would be okay. I felt tested and had to use all my “dealing with a difficult client techniques” and they worked. This was one great experience because of witnessing her work through her frustration and anger and returning to the successful woman she always was.
q. What are the hardest things about your job?
The most difficult thing about this job is closing a case. I never want to stop working with my consumers and have a very difficult time closing their cases.
Pay With Chip
I would first like to thank reader Judy, from New York for suggesting the following person to interview for this month’s Movers & Shakers segment. Thank you, Judy, I found this very fascinating, and I hope you all will too!
I had a Q&A email session, along with a great skype interview with Michael Vinocur, founder and CEO of Pay With Chip, Inc.
Q. What is the Pay with Chip marketplace?
The Pay With Chip marketplace is an assistive software designed to create an easy to use and highly accessible online shopping experience across many online retailers, both in the United States and overseas.
Q. How does it work?
The software works by eliminating the clutter normally found on most retailer websites, and then presents the important parts in a way that is streamlined and well organized. Consumers can casually browse or search for any item, from a variety of retailers, using just four keyboard keys; up, down, enter and escape. Checkouts are a breeze with the complimentary chip payment card reader, which facilitates a safe an independently completed checkout that anyone can do. Because of the consistency in the way we present stores, once a customer is comfortable shopping at a single store they can quickly and easily shop any other store on the marketplace.
Q. Who is this designed for, and what is needed in order to use the software and reader?
The software is primarily designed to address the obstacles or concerns faced by consumers using assistive technologies, such as screen readers or screen magnifiers when navigating or checking out of online shopping websites. A customer who is interested in trying out the experience, will need a Windows based PC and an available USB port. They can download the software from our website at www.paywithchip.com. After the download, the customer will need to install the application to their computer, where an icon will then be placed on the desktop for the Pay With Chip Marketplace. When launched, the first thing a customer should do is register, which will trigger a card reader to be mailed and allow access to the marketplace for browsing. We have a library of recordings available from our home page which walk customers through a full tour of the software.
Note: The Pay With Chip software is currently available for Windows. The Mac and iOS apps have been delayed due to programming changes, but it is being worked on. Michael is hoping to have these two options along with Android devices up and running by late Spring.
Q. Who are the current websites on board?
We have over 30 online shopping websites available at the moment which range from large consumer shopping sites like Amazon, Wal Mart, Petco and eBay to smaller stores like Brookstone or Russel Stover’s chocolate. We have an additional 40 merchants that are awaiting their stores to be added to the marketplace. We will have access to a shopping experience that puts more than 100 million products from around the world at the fingertips of our customers by the beginning of April 2018.
Note: Currently Pay With Chip has the following three categories live; shopping (various stores & products), e learning (free courses), and entertainment (audio & e books). They are working on adding finance and travel platforms to the marketplace. The finance avenue is projected to cover things from home loans, banking, credit information, to investments.
Q. How do you get other websites to join your platform?
Initially we reached out to merchants using the available channels for companies that wish to engage in creating business relationships. That has begun to shift as our platform has grown and now companies are sending requests to us.
Q. Is there technical support?
Yes. Our technical support desk is available everyday and we try to maintain a response time of one to two hours up to midnight eastern standard time. Questions or comments can be sent directly to us from the conveniently located help option inside of the marketplace.
Note: currently this is a two-person operation. Michael is hoping to have two more people on board in the future. This will then enable those late night orders to be processed in real time.
Q. What is the chip payment card reader and how does it work?
Our chip payment card reader is a secure technology for online and in-person commerce, which connects to a Windows based computer with an available USB port. It is designed to allow a checkout at a speed comparable to saving the information online (ex. PayPal or Amazon) to avoid re-entry, but significantly safer. This is because chip card technology also known as EMV and present in most stores that consumer shop at today, is a fast and secure method of sending encrypted payment details that can only be used one time and that a merchant is unable to read or save. Consumers have a faster and safer way to shop at their favorite online stores, without ever typing or saving their payment card information.
Q. Is there a cost for this reader?
Reader’s do not have a cost.
Q. How secure is one’s payment information? Explain.
Microchip payment technology is the safest form of payment technology available. It has been the gold standard for secure commerce in most of the world, and has been mandated as the required payment technology in the United States by 2019. By nature, the information generated by microchips for payment purposes can only be used for a single transaction and are then invalidated by a customer’s bank unless re-occurring use is authorized by the consumer.
Q. Can you tell me what motivated/inspired you to create this software?
I developed the idea working with my father who lost his vision about 10 years ago, and has had to develop the skillsets required to successfully navigate online websites. Online shopping in particular is a challenge, and it’s one that many share. I spent a great deal of time matching what I was seeing on his computer screen and compared it to what JAWS was telling him and there was such a gap in the quality of the information. I decided that I would create an alternative approach to solving the problem of accessibility in ecommerce. The idea for the marketplace was born. A place where consumers could log on to with any assistive technology they were comfortable with using and regardless of the level of training they might have, and be able to exit with a product they want in less than 10 minutes.
Q. What has the feedback from users been like?
The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Our customers have referred to the software as the easiest and in many cases, fastest way to shop online. The beautiful thing about what we are doing is that customers send us a wish list everyday of the stores they would like to rely on the marketplace to experience in the future.
Michael’s ultimate goal is to be able to offer the Pay With Chip to those in other countries. This would enable those in other parts of the world to download the marketplace in their native language, and have it already tailored for them. Then they too could have access to stores that are specific to them.
Michael Vinocur: Founder and CEO
Be My Eyes
Early last month I had an eye-opening interview with Alexander Hauerslev Jensen. Alexander is the Community Director for Be My Eyes. Please read on to learn about this fascinating app and its newest features.
Hans Jørgen Wiberg is the creator of Be My Eyes. As a visually impaired person himself, he was interested in creating a platform to link sighted volunteers with blind/ visually impaired individuals in order to assist them with a variety of tasks. After two and a half years in development, the Be My Eyes app was launched in Denmark on January 15, 2015.
Be My eyes had no formal marketing prior to its launch, just word of mouth. Apparently, that worked quite well since after just 24 hours, Be My Eyes had 10,000 volunteers, 1,000 subscribers, and was available in 30 countries! Be My Eyes continued to grow by word of mouth by both the volunteers and the subscribers. Be My Eyes became a global phenomenon, breaking down barriers among sighted and blind individuals. As well as different languages, cultures, and time zones.
The Be My eyes app is free and available on iOS and Android devices. You do not need to have wifi, the app will run off your data usage. The volunteers are available 24 / 7, around the world! Check out these impressive numbers, as of the writing of this article:
Blind/ Visually Impaired Subscribers: 70,000
Languages: over 180
The app is very simple and easy to navigate. Once downloaded, tap onto the “Call first available volunteer” button. Then, usually within 30 seconds you will be connected with a volunteer. Next, point the camera on your phone in the direction of what you want the volunteer to help you with. Users ask for assistance with such things as reading an expiration date, stating the color of a piece of clothing, reading mail, finding something that fell on the floor, sorting a CD or record collection (which I did do recently), and many other tasks.
According to the volunteers, most calls tend to run 2 to 7 minutes long. Although there is no limit to the length of the call, it would be considerate to inform the volunteer at the onset of the call that your task may take a considerable amount of time to complete. If the volunteer is able to devote the time to help with the task, then great, if not, then you can always call again for another volunteer that is able to assist you.
Be My Eyes recently launched a new feature called Specialized Help. Microsoft is the first company to be highlighted here. Once on the app, blind/ low vision users can tap on the Specialized Help button, and then the Microsoft button. Users will then be connected with a member of the Microsoft Disability Answer Desk to get support on questions about their Microsoft product or service.
Be my Eyes has received over 600 suggestions for other company’s support lines to add to this platform. They are currently working with several other organizations in hopes of adding them soon. There will be different categories within the Specialized Help. These may include assistive technology, banking, and transportation, just to name a few.
B My Eyes latest feature is Community Stories. On the main page of the app, in the lower left-hand corner tap onto the Stories tab. Once in there, you can flick through the different story titles. If you want to listen to one, just tap on the title, then the play button. These are inspirational, funny, and educational stories from both volunteers and users from around the world.
Alexander concluded the interview with these words:
“there are different solutions for different demands & needs. We at Be My Eyes, have a philosophy that our accessible product should always remain free for our blind and low vision users.”
the Perkins School for the Blind
Part 1: History & Blind Education
In late April Kevin Hartigan, Director of Volunteer Services and Tours, took me on a wonderful journey through the Perkins School for the Blind. Kevin has worked at Perkins for 33 years, 30 years directly with the students.
We began the tour with the history of Perkins, the oldest school for the blind in the United States.
Dr. John Dix Fisher: One of the founders of Mass General Hospital (Boston, MA), first doctor to ever use the stethoscope in the United States, and first doctor to ever use anesthesia for women during childbirth. While working in Paris, he visited a school for the blind. He saw something in that school that he had never seen in the United States, blind children being children; they were running, playing, laughing, and singing in the classroom. Dr. Fisher decided that this needed to happen in Boston. So, when he returned home he persuaded family and friends he knew had both the means and the conscious to help fund an American version of the Paris school. On March 2, 1829 the Boston legislature incorporated the New England Asylum for the Blind. Two years later Dr. Fisher recruited his friend Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe as the superintendent.
Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe: After visiting the European schools, he felt that they were too protective and focused too narrowly on academics. Dr. Howe wanted to teach everything; athletics, arts, music, and most importantly vocational skills. He hired two teachers and in the summer of 1831 he opened the school in his home.
Within a year the demand grew so high, his house wasn’t big enough. It so happened that one of the men who initially helped fund the school was also one of the richest men in Boston. Therefore, Dr. Howe, not one to be shy, asked him for his mansion to house the school, and he said yes. After eight years, the school outgrew the mansion, and a bigger place was needed.
Dr. Howe found a hotel that was for sale, he just needed the money. He again went to the owner of the big mansion. Dr. Howe asked him to sell the mansion and give him the money to purchase the hotel for the school. The rich man once again said yes. The Mount Washington Hotel, located in South Boston remained the school’s location for 73 years. Thankful for his sustained generosity, the school renamed itself The Perkins Institute for the Blind, after the rich man, Thomas Perkins.
The Perkins School for the Blind moved to its present location, Watertown, Massachusetts in 1912. There is now a total of 33 buildings on this spacious campus. I began my tour in the Howe building, named after Dr. Samuel Howe who was acting director for 45 years.
One of the first things Dr. Howe did was to create a system of reading for the blind called Boston’s Line Print. This consisted of raised line letters, excluding capital letters. A printing press was made and books were then made for the students to read. In addition to its difficulty and slowness to read, one challenge since it was made by a printing press was how would they teach writing.
In the classroom, every student was given a wooden frame which had lines in it. They also received a box with letters made of metal. Students would then fit the letters on the frame with other letters to create words, sentences, and paragraphs. This is how the concept of writing was taught. I tried this and it was not easy!
Once students developed the ability to build letters into words, then they were taught to write. The Perkins method of writing was to use all straight lines. For example, the letter o was not a circle, but rather a square. To organize the page so that the lines were straight, and that one doesn’t write on what they already wrote, students were given writing guides. The paper would be inserted into the guide and students could then write on the line. However, there were four trouble makers, the letters g, p, q, and y because they fell below the line. This problem was remedied in the creation of the guide by simply pushing the line down to complete those letters. When the entire line was completed, students would open the guide and slide it down to the next ridge, and so on. This writing guide was from 1890.
When braille was first introduced, the Perkins School didn’t like it. Their philosophy was to always treat a blind person exactly the same as a sighted person. In addition, they saw braille as separating the blind world from the sighted world. Philosophically their reasoning made sense, but practically braille was much faster, efficient, and easier to write. So, eventually Perkins fell in line behind everyone else and accepted braille, and became the makers of the Perkins Brailler.
The original Perkins Brailler was produced in 1951. It has remained the most widely use mechanical braille writer in the world. This durable metal case writer has a key that corresponds to each of the six dots of the braille code. It also has a space key, a backspace key, and a line space key. Similar to a manual typewriter, it has two side knobs to advance the paper, and a carriage return lever.
In 2014 Perkins released the Smart Brailler. This is a regular mechanical Perkins brailler, made of plastic, and with a computer built in. It has a speaker that provides text to speech feedback. As the user is writing braille on the paper, what they are writing appears on the screen, and a sighted person can read along.
Then I had the experience of learning and touching the most important artifact in the Perkins museum. This being the tactile globe that was made in 1837! It is made from 700 pieces of wood that were glued together. The Continents were added in plaster afterwards. It is no longer used in the classrooms since it is not tremendously accurate.
In 1837 the United States only went out to the Mississippi River. Therefore, they painted the rest of the US to please the sighted people. However, none of the tactile features have ever been changed. The important thing about the globe is who touched it; Helen Keller, Anne Sullivan, Charles Dickens, JFK, George H W Bush, and many other famous and well-known individuals. I too, delighted in feeling my way around the world on this impressive tactile globe.
Stay tuned for next month’s article when I write about three important women at the Perkins School for the Blind.
Perkins School for the Blind
Part 2: Three Women
There are three famous women from Perkins history. Two of them, most of us know. However, the third person, most of us do not know. Until this tour and the story Kevin told me, I did not know of this woman. Read below to learn about these amazing women, what they overcame, and the impressions they made.
Laura Bridgman: (1829 – 1889)
Before Laura’s second birthday, she and her two older sisters developed scarlet fever. Her sisters died, and Laura’s parents thought the same would happen to her. However, Laura survived but with side effects from the fever. She only had one of her five senses left, that being her sense of touch.
Dr. Howe heard of Laura from a friend and said that he could teach her. Laura arrived at Perkins when she was seven years old. But before she arrived, Dr. Howe labeled everything with raised print. Laura learned to read the raise print and associate it with the items to which they referred. Dr. Howe then mixed up the raised print. For example, he put the word table on the lamp. Laura new the words, and could correctly match the raised print words with the different objects. Next, Dr. Howe cut the raised print words into individual letters. Laura was then able to take the single letters and form them into words. Gradually, in this way, she learned the alphabet and the ten digits. Finally, Dr. Howe taught Laura sign language, by signing the letters into her hand so she could feel it.
Despite other doctors and professionals who stated that it would be impossible to teach a deaf/ blind child, Dr. Howe did just that. Laura was a brilliant student, who learned rather quickly. She could read raised letters, communicate in tactile sign, and she could write. Laura Bridgman was the first ever deaf/ blind child to be educated. Laura’s favorite thing to do when away from her lessons was to sew.
Special visitor to the Perkins School in 1842:
On a tour of America for his book, American Notes, Charles dickens visited the Perkins School. His tour was planned for 30 minutes, however he stayed for the entire day. He was fascinated by the 12-year-old girl named Laura Bridgman. He observed her in the classroom. He watched her talk with her friends. He saw her sewing. Through an interpreter, Charles asked her questions about her life. He was blown away by her.
In 1844 American Notes by charles Dickens was published. For the most part, the book does not offer a favorable view of America. However, there were a few things Dickens liked. But, there were only two things he loved; Niagara Falls and the twelve-year-old girl in Boston, Laura Bridgman. He devoted one entire chapter to her.
At that time, Dickens was the biggest author and everyone read his books. Perkins then became world famous, as did Dr. Howe. For the next 15 years, Laura Bridgman was the most famous person in the world after Queen Victoria. Little girls tied ribbons around their dolls eyes to be like Laura. Thousands of people visited the Perkins School.
Laura graduated and went back home to her family and farm in New Hampshire. With no friends or job, she became depressed. Her mother worried about her and contacted Dr. Howe. He visited and took Laura back to Perkins with him.
Once there, Dr. Howe made Laura the seamstress for the school. She made clothes for the students, mended them, and taught sewing to the girls. She worked there for 40 years. She also opened a small gift shop where she sold the things she made.
Laura died at age 60, and she was almost immediately forgotten. Most people saw her simply as a seamstress. No one gave her credit for what she overcame to be employed and to have a purpose in life. The point is, Laura Bridgman is important for two words; Helen Keller. Laura made Helen’s story possible, and it’s the same exact story, up to a point.
Helen Keller: (1880 - 1968)
Helen Keller lived on a farm with her parents and older brother. When she was around 19 months old she developed a fever, and lost her hearing and vision. The difference was Laura’s farm was 100 miles from Perkins, while Helen’s farm was half across the country in Alabama.
Helen’s parents did not know about the Perkins School or Laura Bridgman. When Helen was 6 years old someone gave Helen’s mom a book by Charles Dickens., American Notes. Helen’s parents saw some hope for their daughter. Her father was given the name of a teacher of the deaf in Washington, D. C., who he wrote to. This person was Alexander Graham Bell and he asked Perkins to send a teacher for Helen.
Anne Sullivan: (1866 - 1936)
Anne and her little brother were sent to a workhouse in Tewksbury, Massachusetts after their mom died and their alcoholic father couldn’t take care of them. While in the workhouse people were forced to work 12 – 14 hours a day in exchange for food and a bed. The food was horrible, but in Anne’s case the bed was worse. Her bedroom just happened to be where they kept the dead bodies. Three months after they arrive, one of the dead bodies was her little brother.
Anne developed an eye infection that was left untreated, and she went blind. She never went to school. She couldn’t count to ten, and couldn’t spell her name. One day an inspector from the state came to inspect the workhouse. Unlike all the previous inspectors who just walked passed Anne, he went over and talked to her. He asked her if there was anything in the world she wanted. Anne told him that she wanted to go to school. The inspector knew Dr. Howe and arrangements were made for Anne to attend the Perkins School.
At age 13, Anne attended school for the very first time. She knew less than the kindergarteners. She was a terror with a major attitude. She was not liked by the other students and spent most of her time alone in her room.
Then after a few months, a couple of good things happen. First, doctors looked at her eyes and were able to restore some of Anne’s vision. She had eleven total operations on her eyes. Each time she got a bit of vision back. When her eyes worsened, she had another surgery and some sight was restored. She always had pain in her eyes, and she was sensitive to sunlight, but she could see for the first time in many years.
The second thing that happened, and was better than seeing again, Anne had a friend. Her very first friend ever. This person was not another student, but someone 30 years older and who worked for Perkins. This female employee heard about the girl who was not liked and who spent most of her time alone in her room. Anne’s first friend was Laura Bridgman.
In order for the two friends to communicate, Laura taught Ann tactile sign. She also helped Anne with her studies, and Anne went from the worst student to the best.
Anne graduated valedictorian and wanted to teach. She was offered a teaching job for a young girl in Alabama. However, Anne said no, she wanted to teach the blind students at Perkins. She said that she didn’t know how to teach a deaf/ blind child, even though her friend was deaf/ blind. It was Laura who convinced Anne to go to Alabama and teach the young deaf/ blind girl named Helen Keller.
Again, Laura was forgotten because she was seen as a seamstress, and that was it. But she made Anne possible and she made Helen possible. And, Helen changed the world. Fifty years after the experts said that a deaf/ blind child couldn’t be educated, Helen Keller graduated with honors from Radcliffe University (Harvard's women's college).
Perkins School; Part 3: Education
After Laura Bridgman was educated at Perkins, the school always had a small number of deaf/ blind students, usually 5 to 10. However, during the 1960’s there was an epidemic of the German Measles (Rubella). A side effect for women who were pregnant and contracted the German Measles was that they gave birth to a deaf/ blind baby. Suddenly, there were fifty deaf/ blind students, with many more wanting to attend. The Perkins School expanded.
The Perkins School has several buildings located on its campus. The tall building with a tower is the Howe building. This is the main building which houses two gyms, two running tracks, a swimming pool, president’s offices, and where the high school students attend classes.
To the left of the Howe building there are four cottages, originally these were for the boys. After the deaf/ blind expansion, they became the deaf/ blind cottages. To the right of the Howe building there are five cottages for girls. The reason there was an extra cottage wasn’t because there were more girls, it was the domestic cottage. This was where girls would learn things that they thought boys didn’t need to know; cooking, sewing, cleaning, etc. In the sixties, they moved the boys in with the girls, and the cottages were all for deaf/ blind students.
Perkins built two new deaf/ blind buildings; a school, and an evaluation building. The evaluation building was for parents to stay at, while their child was getting tested. In addition, the parents would receive advice to take back home with them.
In 1887, Perkins School added and opened the first kindergarten in the world for blind children. Perkins has a preschool with the youngest students being five years old. They recently built a 60 million dollar new school, called the Lower School; essentially a grammar school. At either 12 or 13 years of age, students would then graduate onto the high school, which is residential. They would continue there until age 22, when educational funding stops. Perkins has basically six schools running simultaneously; preschool, lower school (grammar), and high school for both the blind and the deaf/ blind students.
Funding is paid for by the town in which the students live in mostly. Federal law states that public schools are run by the town. However, if the public school cannot educate a child in their town because of a disability, or multiple disabilities, they are financially responsible for someone else to educate the child. Other funding may come from the parents, if they have enough money, or from charitable organizations.
On average, there are about 200 students on campus. Most of the students go home every weekend. Most students come from the New England states and upper New York. Occasionally exceptions are made to accept international students.
Perkins teaches an expanded core curriculum consisting of nine subjects that are not taught in traditional schools. Some of these subjects are braille, orientation & mobility, assistive technology, independent living skills, and life skills.
Perkins education begins with teachers going in the home after a baby is brought home from the hospital. These teachers help the parents. Mom, dad, and baby come to Perkins to meet with five other similar families. The babies are put into groups to do activities. Parents are given time to socialize with other parents, creating a support system.
Every Fall Perkins sends 12 blind students from public schools to Huntsville, Alabama. There, they attend Space Camp at National Aeronautics & Space Association (NASA)!
During school vacation weeks and weekends, Perkins allow blind students from public schools to come for what is known as Camp Abilities. Students will focus on activities from such themes as sports, theater, music, and arts. But more importantly, these blind students will be able to interact with others who are like them, and make friends. There are also three options, 1, 3, or 5 weeks of camp offered during the summer. Perkins is closed during the month of August.
The Perkins School has just recently developed a Pre- College Program for blind individuals that will begin in September. Perkins has found that although blind students get into college, many drop out within their first year. Furthermore, this is not due to the academics, but rather the social aspects.
They have nine blind high school graduates signed up for this “gap year” program. These students will stay in a college like dormitory on the Perkins campus. They will visit all of the neighboring colleges (and there are a lot) to attend meetings, maybe take a class, and to socialize.
I ended my tour in the technology/ student center. The Grousbeck Center for Students & Technology opened in 2011. This was made possible with a 10 million dollar commitment from the Grousbeck Family Foundation. Wycliffe and Corinne Grousbeck have a blind child who attended the Perkins School.
The center is a place for students to gather and experiment with cutting-edge technology, ultimately promoting their independence and socialization.
As you walk into this building there is what they call the wavy bench. And, like its name, it is wavy. This makes it easy for students to meet others by saying something like, meet me at the wavy bench at 4:00.
Also located in the entrance is a very large tactile map of the world. This map design is based on elevation. I was able to find and touch the Andes!
The center offers state of the art video games, music, and movies for students to enjoy. The music room has a variety of musical instruments and software. Students have access to a recording studio to record their own music. There is the Perkins Radio studio, home to Radio Perkins which you can access via the internet. Students create and host their own radio shows. There is the Perk Café where students not only eat there, but they also run it! While touring this building, there were many students hanging out chatting with one another, playing music and games; just having a whole lot of fun!
After Susan Lowry Mason read last month’s Perkins article she sent me the following email.
I want to provide feedback on your articles regarding the Perkins School that appeared in the past two issues of “The Blind Perspective.”
The story of Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller remains close to my heart as a result of a childhood experience when I was twelve years old. In August, 1962, Academy Award winning actress Rita Moreno was scheduled to perform as Anne Sullivan in a theatrical production of “The Miracle Worker” at the Playhouse in the Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This was an outdoor Theater-in-the-Round under a large tent within Fairmount Park in west Philly.
My mother received a phone call from the Overbrook School for the Blind where I was then a student. The director of the play was requesting a group of visually impaired girls to play the roles of the Perkins students in the farewell scene before Anne Sullivan departs for her teaching assignment with Helen Keller in Alabama. A large group of OSB students were interviewed; I was one of four who were chosen to perform in the play.
We rehearsed for two weeks then performed 8 shows within 6 days. The cast was dressed in 1885 attire; we girls were paid a small stipend for our participation in the performances. We were so much involved in the production for three weeks that we had memorized every line of the play. There were other notable actors involved in the production, one of whom I remained in contact with for many years. I also met a young woman outside our dressing room door who presented me with a beautifully illustrated book about the movie “Westside Story” for which Rita Moreno received her Academy Award;” we corresponded long into my adulthood.
It was loads of fun and I have several souvenirs to remember the event such as pictures, autographs and the program for the show. Unfortunately, the “Playhouse in the Park” was demolished in 1997 due to neglect and abandonment; however, I will remember the unforgettable summer at the “Theater-in-the-Round” in which we portrayed the beginning of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan’s successful journey. This was just one of the many extraordinary events that I have experienced during my lifetime.
Thank you for bringing back such a fantastic memory!
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