NFB EQ–A Summer Program for B/VI Teens

From the mailbag:

National Federation of the Blind Engineering Quotient (EQ): A Summer Program for Blind and Low-Vision Teens

NFB youth programs and academies change lives. You can see how by listening to our parents and students in our Thank You Video. We have another dynamic life-changing week planned for thirty students.

NFB EQ is a weeklong summer engineering program for blind and low-vision teens from around the country. The week is jam-packed with fun and learning. Participants spend each day engaged in activities designed to strengthen their knowledge of engineering as well as their problem-solving abilities. In the evenings, students hang out with the 29 other teen participants while exploring the local community and participating in various recreational activities. Throughout the week, attendees will forge new friendships while increasing their engineering knowledge, problem-solving abilities, self-confidence, and independence.

NFB EQ’s project-based curriculum, which was collaboratively developed by an interdisciplinary team of educators and engineers, will provide participants with the opportunity to turn a dream into concrete plans. Participants will apply various engineering concepts during the iterative design process to ensure their ideas are feasible in the real world. Teens will also learn how to communicate their dreams and designs to others using narrative, graphical (e.g., drawings and models), and mathematical presentations.

NFB EQ will be held July 29-August 4, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland at the NFB Jernigan Institute and will serve thirty teens. There are no registration or application fees associated with NFB EQ; additionally, travel, room, and board will be covered by the NFB for all participants. Blind and low-vision teens who are ready to learn new things, meet new people, and have an adventure this summer are encouraged to apply to attend NFB EQ by May 1, 2018.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1712887. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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Ring my BELL

I am absolutely delighted to share that the NFB’s Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) academy is finally coming to Kansas City!!  Unfortunately, it conflicts with KSSB’s K-S.E.E. ESY program–the first week of BELL overlaps the last week of K-S.E.E.  Still, it’s a great start to have the program finally come to our area, and maybe next year things will be better coordinated.  (It may be ok to go only for one week if this conflict impacts you–I would suggest contacting the local coordinator to find out.)

BELL Academy is beyond affordable–only $50 for a two-week program.  It may be challenging to get your kiddo there if you work full-time, however:  the program runs from 9:00 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. weekdays from June 18 through 29.  If you’d like more information about BELL, visit the NFB at  Our local BELL is listed under Missouri.

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It’s time to Trolley

Trolley Run Logo

It’s time to register for the 2018 Trolley Run!!  The race happens rain or shine on April 29th–we hope to see you there!

Sign up by visiting

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It’s Time to Read Across America!!

Photo of young boy reading a braille copy of Getting a Feel for Eclipses.

Peanut reads Getting a Feel for Eclipses before the big solar eclipse last year.

Finally, I can say that my little boy loves to read.  It’s been a journey with many helpers over many years, but we are finally there.  He still prefers listening to audio books to reading with his fingers, but he’s willing and able to do both–a major win in my book.

Today, we celebrate reading with Read Across America day.  The date was set by the March 2nd birthday of one of my favorite authors, Theodore Geisel. (You may know him better by his pen name, Dr. Seuss.)  You can find out more about Read Across America day at the National Education Association’s Web site here:

In the spirit of reading, I offer the following:

Getting a Braille-Resistant Kid to Read

I am a voracious reader with a profound love of words.  This made my son’s previous absolute hatred of reading an emotional stab to the gut for me.  Efrit and I would tell him reading is fabulous; reading is amazing; we would have given anything to be able to read in the dark way past our bedtimes without our parents catching us when we were your age.  Nothing worked.  He would scream, cry, and resist in every way imaginable when reading time came at home.  Countless braille books met untimely ends.  It was not a good time.

Last year, we finally got through to him.  What finally made it click was this:  a combination of talking books and braille books.  Efrit introduced Peanut to the world of Percy Jackson.  Peanut fell in love.  The listened to every book in the first series on Axis 360, and Peanut was always begging for more.

My mother then bought Peanut his very own braille copy of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book One:  The Lightening Thief.  (You can get one from Seedlings here:  The day it arrived, the most magical thing happened:  Peanut sat down and read.  I told him he’d gotten a package; we opened it, and I handed him the first of the three enormous braille volumes.  He asked what it was; I told him to read the cover and tell me.  He read it.  He got excited.  He flipped the book open right there in the middle of our living room floor, package detritus all around, and kept going.  He’s been reading ever since.

Will this work for you?  I don’t know, but it’s worth a try.  Try audio books until you find one your child falls in love with–there are many fantastic series out there.  Once you find that beloved character, author, or series, find a copy of one of those books in braille and see what happens.  Peanut’s never complained about re-reading the books he’s listened to–he’s actually become somewhat impatient as we attempt to find the next volume when he’s finished the last.  It’s improved his reading exponentially.  Maybe it will work with your braille-resistant kid, too.


A photo of the Little Golden Book cover of The Monster at the End of this Book

Realistically, am I going to post a picture of myself here with a book?  No.  I am, however, going to note the book I loved most as a child:  The Monster at the End of This Book, starring Lovable, Furry Old GROVER.

My mom read this book to me when I was small, until I was finally able to read it to myself.  I read this book to Peanut before he was born and before he left the NICU.  I read this book to Sprout.  I discovered a fabulous highly-interactive app of the book for the iPad that allows them to read it to themselves.  (You can get the app here:

I cannot recommend this book enough–you need to go out and discover it for yourself.  There’s even a sequel–Another Monster at the End of this Book–that includes Elmo.



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Summer Care in Kansas City

As we hurtle through the spring semester, parents start planning their kids’ summer activities.  If you’re like us, you need full-day care so you and your partner can work; this limits the camp options in the Kansas City metro area.  If you have a child with disabilities, it can be even harder to find good places for your kids.

Peanut and Sprout spent last summer at a variety of day camps around town.  Here’s a round-up of our experiences with each:

Camp:  Alphapointe Adventure Camp

Cost:  $100, scholarships available. ($)

Web site:

Alphapointe Adventure Camp was tied for Peanut’s favorite summer adventure with Bear Camp.  It’s fun, affordable, and designed for children with visual impairments.  If you’re looking for an adventure for a B/VI child in the metro area, you can’t go wrong with Alphapointe.


Camp:  Cub Scout Bear Camp STEM Camp

Cost:  Varies.  Each Cub is required to have an adult camp with him/her ($$)

Web site:

I’m the den leader for Peanut’s Cub Scout Bear den, so I got to go with him to Bear Camp last year.  He loved it.

  • The paths in Cub World are generally wide and graveled, so they’re very easy to navigate.
  • There are some trails that you’ll need to take.  These are a bit more challenging, but Peanut did fine with his cane, a hiking pole, and adult (my) supervision.
  • Activities are largely hands-on, which is good for a tactilely-oriented kid.  Peanut got to throw stones at targets, shoot a BB gun, practice archery, climb through old ‘mines’ looking for gold, build a bird house, and explore the Pirate Ship water park.  You’ll be there with your kid, so you can adapt things as needed (I did a lot of aiming).  The water park is zero-entry and wide enough for wheelchair access.
  • Bring a wagon–you’ll be hiking a fair distance from your car to your camp site.
  • Sunscreen and bug spray are musts.
  • You get a good start on a LOT of Bear required adventures.
  • Dinner is a bit more challenging–Peanut had a hard time navigating on his own, and of course didn’t want to ask for or accept help.
  • There is coffee.  (I wondered.  Now you don’t have to.)


Camp:  Girl Scouts Day Camp

Cost:  Varies by Service Unit ($)

I’m also the co-leader for Sprout’s Girl Scout troop (yes, I scout a lot), so I also got to experience GSA Day Camp.  Our Service Unit went out to Camp Prairie Schooner for a week last summer; girls had to be at the drop-off point for busing by 7:45 a.m., so it worked well from a work standpoint.  Pick-up was a bit earlier, so some wiggling might be required for full-time employees.

I didn’t spend as much time at Camp Prairie Schooner as I did at Cub World, so I’m not able to say as much about its accessibility.  The main “drag” is graveled and wide enough for a vehicle, so definitely navigable.  They have a standard swimming pool; it did not appear to be zero-entry.  The older girls are the camp counselors for the younger girls, so might not be as prepared to handle a child with a disability as an older counselor might.  I think this is one that would be ok with a lot of parental involvement:  be involved with your service unit, help in the planning, and consider attending camp with your kid.  Volunteers are always welcome, and you can help meet your kiddo’s accessibility needs.


Camp:  Johnson County Parks & Recreation Summer Escapades

Cost:  Varies, depending on residency and how many kiddos you’re sending. ($)

Web site:

Peanut and Sprout’s longest camp experience last summer was with Johnson County Parks & Recreation’s Summer Escapades program.  This is an outdoor camp that has locations in several Johnson County parks; our kiddos hung out at Antioch.  The kids are separated by age group, and each camp group has its own picnic shelter as its home base.  Kona Ice comes to visit once a week (your kiddo will need money for this); they go swimming at least once a week; and each camp takes field trips.

We prepped Peanut to do well at Summer Escapades.  I called Parks and Rec before enrolling him to ask which of their camp options would be best (they have both indoor and outdoor camps); they suggested the outdoor camp for a child with his disability.  We made sure to attend his orientation session and let the counselors know that he was coming, answer their questions, and offer suggestions.  This year, I may go a step further and provide a deck of braille playing cards (they play a lot of board/card games at camp, and Peanut’s vision has declined).


Camp:  Kansas State School for the Blind’s K-S.E.E. Program

Cost:  Depends on whether you’re in-state or out-of-state and the support given by your school district ($$$)

Web site:

Technically, this is an extended school year program, not a summer camp.  I know some parents are wary to try it, however, so I wanted to cover it here.  Put simply, if you have the option to send your kiddo to the K-S.E.E. Program, DO IT.

Peanut has attended the K-S.E.E. Program annually since kindergarten, and each year has been a positive experience.  He’s gotten three weeks to spend with other B/VI kids in an environment designed for B/VI children.  He’s gotten to do all sorts of activities, from riding bikes and catching fish to visiting local attractions like the Mahaffie Stagecoach and the Kansas City Zoo.  He’s worked on expanded core curriculum skills, particularly self-care and cooking, and practiced his braille.  Even though it’s school, KSSB makes it FUN, and Peanut loves it.


Camp:  YMCA Summer Day Camp

Cost:  $175/week/child ($$$)

Web site:

As much as we love YMCA Challenger, we hated YMCA’s Summer Day Camp.  Peanut and Sprout only attended for a week (thank God), and we were not impressed.  This was by far the most expensive of the camps we sent the kids to, and it absolutely had the most problems.

The site Peanut and Sprout went to is not open this year; this may be because of a number of problems they experienced at the camp last year (we stayed on the mailing list, so we got weekly updates of the misadventures occurring at that location).  I think part of the issues we personally had were because of the counselors’ youth and inexperience with children with disabilities:  Peanut’s an independent kid, and they weren’t prepared to allow that independence.  He reacted badly to being given too much assistance.

The Y did have the most impressive field trips of the camps our kids attended–the week they were at the Y, for example, our kids went to CoCo Key Water Resort.  Even so, Efrit and I would go out of our way to keep our kids from attending YMCA Summer Day Camp this year.

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Yes, sweetie, you may touch your elf

We have a standing rule at Casa de Phouka:  Peanut may touch his Scout Elf once a day.  We’ve lifted him up to feel the elves when they made a hanging carousel out of his and his sister’s underpants and our ceiling fan; we’ve helped him find them when they were hiding in a  Lego elf house on the dining room table.  It is absolutely, 100% ok for your B/VI child to touch his or her elf–Santa, in fact, expects it.

I had plans to modify my son’s Elf on the Shelf book when I found this letter from Santa posted at

I encourage you to follow the link, check it out, and maybe print a copy for your own kiddo’s book.  If you have multiple Scout Elves like we do, maybe make an elf cane, too, to help your B/VI kiddo tell which is which (Girl elves have lipstick and little silver earrings.  The hairstyles on boy and girl elves are slightly different.  I’m not convinced Peanut could tell them apart without Spot’s cane.  Yes, he named his elf Spot.).  I’ve posted instructions on how I made ours here:  Holiday Craft: Elf cane.

If you want your B/VI kiddo to be able to find his or her elf on his/her own, a fellow parent on Facebook suggested using a beeping key finder:   the beeping portion stays with the elf, and the kiddo gets the toggle that sets off the beeper.  (Peanut generally uses his sister as his elf-finder, which works just as well for our household.)

Happy elfing and Merry Christmas everyone!




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Holiday Craft: Elf cane

An elf-sized long white cane lays on a white blanket.This year, we’re giving Elf on the Shelf our first try. After the kids were looking for invisible elves last year, we decided to make them visible using post-holiday sales (seriously–they’re half price if you can wait until 12/26, but shop early because they move fast.). I told Peanut that Santa understands that he doesn’t see very well, and it was ok for him to touch his elf. In fact, his elf was also VI! Peanut was, of course, terribly excited.

Almost a year has come and gone, and it’s time for me to make O&M devices on a small scale. Since Peanut uses a long white cane, that’s what I picked for his elf, rather than a guide polar bear or reindeer. It turns out this is a shockingly easy craft choice.

What you need:

  • A lollipop stick. These come in packages of about 100, or you can be creative with Halloween leftovers.=
  • A red ball-end push pin.
  • A small (1″ or so) piece of black yarn or string.
  • Black electrical tape.
  • Red electrical tape, duct tape, or a red marker (I used tape).

Construction is easy. Make a loop with your yarn and secure it to one end of the stick with black tape. Color the end of the stick with black marker if you want it to look like a full wrap. About midway down your cane, add a band of red tape. Slide the pin in the end opposite your handle. Viola! Long white cane, elf sized.

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ETS Research Study

Are you 18+, visually impaired, and need to take the GRE?  Read on:

From the mailbag:

Educational Testing Service (ETS) is seeking blind and low vision adults 18 years or older who are currently in their senior year of undergraduate school and plan to attend graduate school or who have obtained a college degree and are actively pursuing graduate school to participate in a Graduate Record Examination (GRE) usability study. The study will examine the accessibility and usability of the GRE exam for screen reader users and screen magnification users. This research study will help ETS improve the accuracy and fairness of assessments for students with visual disabilities. This is an evaluation of the methods (formats) of testing, not of the participant’s ability. Participants who are blind should have at least a working familiarity with JAWS 18 and be Braille readers. Those participants who are low vision should have at least a working familiarity with ZoomText. Participants should have plans to take the GRE within the next 12 months.   The study will take place over two days. On the first day participants will take a complete GRE testing session, estimated to take 3 hours and 45 minutes plus time and a half if requested by the participant. During their testing session participants will be asked to provide feedback on any usability and accessibility issues they encounter. There will also be a break from testing for a lunch break. On the second day of the study, participants will take part in a focus group discussion related to their experience taking the GRE. As a thank you, participants will each be paid $1000 for their participation. Travel, lodging, and meals will be covered by ETS.   This study has been approved by the ETS ethics board. Individuals who meet the inclusion criteria and are interested in participating in the study should contact Carlos Cavalie at

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BELL Comes to Kansas!

I am BEYOND EXCITED to share that the NFB’s BELL Program is finally coming to Kansas this year!  I’ve pasted the email I received regarding the program below.


The National Federation of the Blind of Kansas is excited to support the 2017 Kansas BELL Academy. This summer program for blind and visually impaired children is designed to bring a focus to the important special skill sets they will need throughout life. Please follow these links and forward this email to anyone you think might be interested.

Here is a link to the BELL general information website:

Here is a link to the application form:

Here is a link to our Kansas BELL FAQ page:

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Urban Air

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Location:  14401 Metcalf Ave, Overland Park, KS 66223

Cost:  Pricey.  The amount you pay relates to the options you choose.  In my instance, I had a 5-yo, 8-yo, and an adult; I paid for two hours bounce time for the three of us, and two hours access to the indoor playground for the kids.  This cost $55.  No, really.  $55.

Web Site:

After watching Lex Gillette go to Sky Zone (you can see the video on YouTube here: and getting a gift certificate to Urban Air, I figured Peanut could probably handle a trampoline park and decided to give it a try.  So, last month, over Spring Break, I packed Peanut and Sprout in the car and drove across town to Urban Air.

There are two main parts to Urban Air:  an indoor playground and an indoor trampoline park.  The playground is like a four-story tall McDonald’s play structure.  It has slides, a ball pit, air guns, giant blocks, and soft toys.  The trampoline park includes two “bowl” systems with multiple trampolines attached together and trampolines on the walls, a warrior course (this costs extra–we skipped it), two dodge ball courts with trampolines (we skipped these too), two long trampoline runs for gymnasts, and a set of trampolines by an air bag you can flip or jump into.

I bought a pass for myself to jump because I honestly thought Peanut would need a sighted guide to navigate the park.  I was wrong:  he took off at light speed in the big bowl and was just fine.  The trampolines are black and the pads between them are bright orange, so they’re high-contrast enough to work with his low vision.  My sighted five-year-old was much more trepidatious.  Peanut had some issues with being able to see smaller children, but as long as I acted as a spotter he was fine on his own.

Both kids adored the indoor playground–there was lots of tactile stuff to play with, tons of places to climb, and I wasn’t particularly interested in climbing with them, so they largely got to go on their own.  There’s a wall around the playground so kids can’t wander off, but the space between the structure and the back walls is plain concrete.  It was hard for me to keep track of the two kids by myself (I imagine that’s true regardless of how well your kids see), and climbing up in the structure to help wasn’t the most comfortable for my adult-sized frame.

Both of my kids had a great time and would love to go back; I was less impressed and am not likely to take them.  It was a lot of money for a relatively short play time, and I think we could get more bang for our buck elsewhere.

Final thoughts:

  • The Indoor Playground is for ages 8 and under.  Most of the smaller children (think babies and toddlers) were gathered here, so there’s a huge range in ability level of the kids playing in the structure.  This can make things difficult:  big kids aren’t always good at playing with and around little kids.
  • The facility is not remotely accessible.  If you need a wheelchair, gait trainer, or other assistive device, Urban Air is not for you.  You need to be able to put your equipment aside to really play with their equipment.
  • No shoes are allowed in the facility; I’m guessing they would also frown on braces.  They only allow “approved” socks; I’m not sure how closely that is patrolled, however.
  • You’ll need to sign a computerized release form before you enter the park–it’s to the right of the entry area, across from the sales counter.  It basically says trampolines are inherently dangerous and you’re not going to sue if you or your kiddo gets hurt.
  • I learned that trampolines are . . . interesting . . .  for mothers.  Things are not as well attached post-children as they were pre-children–you may wet yourself on the trampoline.  (No, I didn’t.  Yes, the sensation was odd and it was a definite possibility.  Yes, I know women who have.)  If your kiddo has issues with continence, a trampoline park may not be the best idea.
  • Both Lex and Peanut had fun, so this is a workable place if your only issue is vision.  If you have other mobility issues, however, I would suggest skipping Urban Air.


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