Back to School Information for Students with Vision and/or Hearing Impairments

Going back to school during a normal year can be nerve inducing by itself but throw in the current unknowns with the Coronavirus and it becomes a whole new level of anxiety. There are other things that are a given though from school year to school year. This blog will look at tips and trips for students with vision and/or hearing impairments returning to school, advice on how to write better IEPs, and Covid-19 information for persons with vision and/or hearing loss.

Back to School Tips for Blind and Low Vision Students

The information provided in this section came from the article 9 Best Back to School Tips for Blind and Low Vision Students.

  1. Starting fresh- If you are moving to a new school district, or this is your child’s first year in school, take your child’s eye report to the administration office and ask to speak with the special education director. If they don’t know, they can’t help. The special education director will help notify your child’s school, specifically your child’s teacher, of his or her needs prior to the start of the school year. 
  2. Go to Back-to-School Night – Back-to-School night, Meet the Teacher, or any type of open house their school hosts before the school year begins, is a great opportunity for your kiddo to explore their school at their own pace. It’s also a great way to chat with their teacher about any specific tips to help your child have their best school year, like not having a seat near a window or having additional lighting depending on their vision needs.
  3. Glue sticks – Purchase glue sticks that are purple instead of clear or white.  This helps your son/daughter see where they are applying glue.
  4. Markers – Consider markers that have a smell so they have an additional sensory factor in play so they know what color it is if they can’t see it, or so they don’t have to hold it as close to their eye.
  5. Scissors and pencil boxes – When it comes to anything your child can choose their own color of, be sure to choose a bright color you know your child sees easily.
  6. Folders for older students – As your son/daughter gets into middle school, organization will become more and more important. Consider a brightly colored and easily identifiable folder for each subject they are taking. Making sure each class has a different color folder will help them organize their papers/homework.
  7. All in one keeper (trapper keepers) - If your school asks for an all-in-one keeper for middle school students, consider finding one that is easy to find in a crowd.  All black ones might not stand out and get lost.
  8. Lockers – Prior to school, they will assign lockers to students. Lockers in the middle of a long hallway may be hard to locate. Prior to school starting call the school building and talk to your school’s administration. Let them know about your child’s vision impairment and ask if your son/daughter can have a locker on the end. 

Back to School Tips for Deaf and Hearing Loss Students

The tips provided in this section came from the article Tips for going Back to School with a Hearing Loss.

  1. Meet with teachers and tour the school before starting. This is a great way to get to know the environment which your child will be learning in. It’s also good to meet with the teachers to discuss what’s best for your child and how they can help. It’s a good idea to share some deaf awareness tips.
  2. Make sure they get the right support for their level of hearing loss. Children with a severe-profound hearing loss can be entitled to support in class, such as a note taker, interpreter, or classroom assistant. This can be discussed with school prior to a new school year. Without support, deaf children can struggle in classroom situations, and it can impact their grades and they might not achieve their full potential. They might also be entitled to regular support from a Teacher of the Deaf, this will vary on the Education System.
  3. Invest in equipment to improve their learning. Phonak has some great technology, such as the Roger Inspiro for younger children and the Roger Pen for older children. These microphones amplify the teacher’s voice over background noise, which will help them lipread or understand better. One tip specifically for going back-to-school: If you do use this equipment, always make sure it is charged up the night before class!
  4. Encourage them to join clubs/societies. This is a great way of helping the student make new friends, by joining a club or group where they share similar interests. Commitment to this kind of activity also looks great on your CV/ resume for the future.
  5. Store spare batteries! It’s a good idea to always keep spare hearing aid batteries in your bag, locker and with your support worker!
  6. Balance schoolwork with social life. As well as working really hard, it is also important to take time out to relax, socialize and enjoy other hobbies.
  7. Deaf children can achieve, let them try new subjects! Don’t doubt deaf children’s abilities, they can do anything they set out to achieve with the right resources!

Strategies to Creating the Individual Education Plan (IEP)

These strategies, including further resources, come the article 7 Powerful IEP Strategies.

Strategy 1: First, know your rights! Take the time to investigate Federal legislation pertaining to special education supports, as well as the adopted regulations within your individual state. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the civil rights section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 are all critical pieces of legislation for you to understand – and there are many more.

Strategy 2: Next, always remember that YOU are the expert on your child! Professionals often have important information to share, but they will come and go through out your child’s life. YOU are there for the “long haul” and have critical knowledge about your child’s areas of strengths and needs that the professionals will never observe. Listen to the opinions of others but be sure to make your opinion heard as well.

Strategy 3: Stop professionals from using their “Alphabet Soup” jargon. Every profession has its own “language” and set of acronyms. It is perfectly fine for professionals to speak to each other during their own meetings using such verbal shorthand, however this is YOUR meeting – staff need to speak in full words and define any terminology that you do not understand.

Strategy 4: Take the time to write out your own Present Levels of Performance (otherwise known in the schools as the PLOP, one of the more humorous acronyms at the table) and share this information with your IEP team. Allowing the team to read how you view your child is very helpful and often brings out strengths or areas of need not yet identified.

Strategy 5: Bring a “significant other”, fellow parent, friend, or anyone you consider a support person with you to the meeting. It can be a time of high emotion and having someone there with you can help reduce your anxiety, as well as help you later recall conversations from the meeting – sometimes it’s hard to remember and to listen when topics are so emotional.

Strategy 6: If you are fairly confident the meeting may be a bit tense, consider bringing to the meeting an adult who has the same or a similar disability as your child. Even if that person never speaks, it is difficult to dismiss critical areas of need when a true “expert” on the topic is sitting at the table!

Strategy 7: Ask for all written information that will be presented at the meeting to be given to you ahead of time and with appropriate time to allow for your review. This includes any assessments as well as any goals or objectives that school staff may have written in advance. It is too difficult to review such information under the emotional pressure of sitting in the meeting. You need time to read, process, and make any written changes you would like to discuss well before walking into the IEP meeting.

Covid-19 Information

The National Federation of the Blind offers a Covid-19 resources page which  is closely monitoring the COVID-19 emergency, which is changing everyone’s lives but has unique effects on blind people. From this page you will find links to General News and Information, Access to COVID-19 Vaccine and Testing Survey, Medical and Healthcare Services, Government Payments and Benefits, Education, Transportation, Affiliate Connection for State and Local Resources, Breaking News from the NFB, Jernigan Institute, and Ongoing Efforts.

The National Deaf Center is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with customized resources, tips, and events for deaf youth and the educators, disability services professionals, VR counselors, parents and others who support them. Their page, which is a little outdated at the time of this posting, provides information on Updates and Events, COVID-19 Resources for Teachers and Instructors of Deaf Students, COVID-19 Resources for Disability Services Professionals, VR Counselors, and Employers, COVID-19 Tips for Deaf Students and Their Families, Remote Services for Deaf Students and Employees, Other Helpful Resources, Free Online Professional Development, In the News, and Past Updates and Events.

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Reinecker’s Mano CCTVs: An Overview of the ManoTouch 4, 5, & 6.

ILA is proud to offer Reinecker Mano Portable Electronic Magnification devices to our customers. Reinecker’s Mano CCTVs are a great way to have portability and quality in an electronic magnifier. For the past 50 years, Reinecker has specialized in the development, production, and distribution of Assistive Technology/Low Vision Aids for people with special needs in vision and blind persons. This blog will look at what Portable CCTVs/Video Magnifiers are and go into more detail the benefits available for each of the ManoTouch 4, ManoTouch 5, and ManoTouch 6.

Portable CCTVs/Video Magnifiers

An electronic magnification device (often known as a CCTV) is a great device for a person who requires a high level of magnification.  An electronic magnifier, or a video magnifier, displays that magnification on a digital screen, freeing the user from small, physical magnifying lenses.  Portable electronic magnifiers can range from a 3.5″ screen up to something as large as a 12″ screen. Handheld cameras/magnifiers are designed for bringing the camera to the material to be viewed. They can magnify almost anything within reach, including labels on packages of food and medicine. There are lots of sizes, styles, and functions in an electronic magnifier, so be sure to find something that works best for your needs.

ManoTouch 4

MANOtouch 4 demonstrates the next generation of electronic magnifiers. By combining function with operating comfort and design, the MANOtouch is user friendly and contemporary. It has been developed and manufactured with the highest of German quality standards.

With its high-resolution HD camera and auto focus capabilities, the displayed text and pictures are enhanced and crystal clear. The system operates with virtual buttons on the contrast enhanced touch display and can be organized in a clearly, customized manner including tactile feedback if desired.

The MANOtouch offers a variety of functions for individual needs, e.g., distance viewing mode, HDMI-port for the connection of an external monitor (e.g., TV), and a large image memory.

Innovative camera technology

Highest image quality – contrast enhanced, flicker free, in high resolution, Full HD+ quality:

  • LVHD-technology (Low-Vision-High-Definition): Optimal image processing always ensures a high-quality picture with minimized blurring of characters even when reading at speed.
  • NELE-technology (Natural-Evolutionary-Light-Experience): 
    Minimizes reflections of high gloss text and pictures.
  • TPZ-technology (distortion correction): The image will always be displayed with no distortions, even in inclined position of the electronic magnifier.

Your benefits at a glance:

  • clearly arranged touch display (approx. 3.5″ diagonal)
  • continuous magnification ranges from approx. 1x – 20x
  • approx. 2.3x – 23x, due to modern camera technology
  • intuitive operation via virtual, customizable buttons with optional tactile feedback
  • multifunctional protective cover that serves as comfortable reading/writing stand
  • distance view mode, time display, HDMI-port, Auto ON/OFF

If you are interested in purchasing this model, please click on ManoTouch 4.

ManoTouch 5

Reinecker’s MANOtouch 5 portable CCTV offers innovative touchscreen technology.   All operating controls are managed through a simple and intuitive touch screen display, with all of the controls highly customizable according to a user’s specific needs. Magnification ranges from 1X to 33X on the 5” touchscreen, or from 2.8X – 28X while in the writing stand mode. Innovative camera technology offers LVHD (Low Vision High Definition) technology to produce optimal image processing with flicker-free viewing. It also minimizes reflections from high gloss papers and removes all image distortions.

Other Features

  • HDMI port for export to an external screen
  • Multiple color modes
  • Distance viewing mode
  • Freeze frame, up to 100 snapshots
  • Autofocus, with on/off
  • Multifunction protective cover also serves as a writing stand
  • 2.5-hour battery life, on a 4-hour charge
  • 9.5-ounce weight

If you are interested in purchasing this model, please click on ManoTouch 5.

ManoTouch 6

MANO 6 is equipped with a high-resolution touch display as well as with four tactile buttons for easy and comfortable operation. In addition, magnification level can be adjusted, and the image can be scrolled by zoom gestures with your fingers. By means of the tactile buttons at the right and the left-hand side of the display, different contrast modes, magnification levels and pictures can be adjusted and taken.

With a height of only 9cm MANO 6 sits well in your hand. Due to the widescreen format, the reading flow is not interrupted because even at a high magnification level you can view several letters at the same time.

MANO 6 turns ON automatically when you fold out the stand. You can now place the magnifier on top of your reading template and start reading in an ergonomic reading angle. Alternatively, you can also use the handle to have closer looks at items such as price tags while shopping.

Your benefits at a glance­:

  • intuitive operation with only four buttons and touch display (diagonal of approx. 14cm)
  • magnification adjustment either via tactile buttons or by zoom gestures on the touch display
  • continuous magnification of approx. 2x – 35x
  • equipped with an infinitely variable fold out handle which can be used as stand
  • images can be saved in picture gallery and transferred to a micro-SD-card
  • artificial colors, line ruler, line masking, auto ON/OFF, button beep, etc. 

If you are interested in purchasing this model, please click on ManoTouch 6.

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August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month

Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month is a timely reminder to prepare our children for the classroom and athletics. A good rule of thumb is to have your children’s eyes examined during well-child visits, beginning around age three. This blog will cover Vision Screenings vs Eye Exams, Blue Light and Your Eyes, and resources for Financial Assistance. Information in each section was found on the Prevent Blindness Website with direct links to specific articles linked in each heading.

Vision Screenings vs Eye Exams

Both vision screenings and eye examinations may play an important role in your child’s vision and eye health, so it’s important to understand their distinctions.

An eye exam is performed by an eye doctor (ophthalmologist or optometrist). An exam diagnoses eye disorders and diseases and prescribes treatment. A comprehensive eye examination is generally understood to include an evaluation of the refractive state, dilated fundus examination, visual acuity, ocular alignment, binocularity, and color vision testing where appropriate.

A vision screening is not a diagnostic process and does not replace a comprehensive examination by an eye doctor. The purpose of a vision screening is to identify vision problems in a treatable stage, provide education, and provide a referral to an eye care provider for a comprehensive eye exam (if needed). These screenings should be routinely done by your child’s medical doctor (and may also be conducted in your child’s preschool, school, or other community settings).

Children Who Should Bypass Screening*

Vision screening identifies asymptomatic children with possible vision deficits who, then, require a comprehensive eye examination for diagnosis and treatment. Certain children should bypass vision screening and, instead, be referred directly to an optometrist or ophthalmologist for a comprehensive eye examination because these children have a higher rate of vision problems.

Children who should bypass vision screening include those with:

· Readily recognized eye abnormalities, such as strabismus (cross eyed) or ptosis (drooping of the eyelid).

 · A known diagnosis of a neurodevelopmental disorder (e.g., hearing impairment, motor abnormalities such as cerebral palsy, cognitive impairment, autism spectrum disorders, or speech delay).

 · Systemic diseases known to have associated eye disorders (e.g., diabetes and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis).

· A known family history of a first-degree relative with strabismus (cross-eyed), amblyopia (lazy eye), or high refractive error.

· A history of premature birth and low birthweight (<31 weeks and 1,500 grams/3.3 pounds birthweight) who has not already had a normal comprehensive eye examination.

· Parents (or caregivers) who believe their child has a vision-related problem or have concerns regarding their child’s reaching age-appropriate developmental or academic milestones.

* Note, where specific state protocols exist, screeners should follow those guidelines for screening children as part of the Individualized Education Program process.

Blue Light and Your Eyes

Sunlight is made up of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet light. When combined, it becomes the white light we see. Each of these has a different energy and wavelength. Rays on the red end have longer wavelengths and less energy. On the other end, blue rays have shorter wavelengths and more energy. Light that looks white can have a large blue component, which can expose the eye to a higher amount of wavelength from the blue end of the spectrum.

The largest source of blue light is sunlight. In addition, there are many other sources:

•          Fluorescent light

•          CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs

•          LED light

•          Flat screen LED televisions

•          Computer monitors, smart phones, and tablet screens

Blue light exposure you receive from screens is small compared to the amount of exposure from the sun. And yet, there is concern over the long-term effects of screen exposure because of the close proximity of the screens and the length of time spent looking at them. According to a recent NEI-funded study, children’s eyes absorb more blue light than adults from digital device screens.

Blue light is needed, however, for good health:

•          It boosts alertness, helps memory and cognitive function, and elevates mood.

•          It regulates circadian rhythm – the body’s natural wake and sleep cycle. Exposure to blue light during daytime hours helps maintain a healthful circadian rhythm. Too much exposure to blue light late at night (through smart phones, tablets, and computers) can disturb the wake and sleep cycle, leading to problems sleeping and daytime tiredness.

•             Not enough exposure to sunlight in children could affect the growth and development of their eyes and vision. Early studies show a deficiency in blue light exposure could contribute to the recent increase in myopia/nearsightedness.

If constant exposure to blue light from smart phones, tablets, and computer screens is an issue, there are a few ways to decrease exposure to blue light:

Filters: Screen filters are available for smart phones, tablets, and computer screens. They decrease the amount of blue light given off from these devices that could reach the retina in our eyes.

Computer glasses: Computer glasses with yellow tinted lenses that block blue light can help ease computer digital eye strain by increasing contrast.

Anti-reflective lenses: Anti-reflective lenses reduce glare and increase contrast and also block blue light from the sun and digital devices.

Financial Assistance

There are many available resources for obtaining financial assistance when it comes to eye exams and procedures. The following are just a few examples that offer such assistance to persons under the age of 18. These resources are in addition to the most known options of Medicaid and Medicare.

The HealthWell Foundation: The HealthWell Foundation provides financial assistance to eligible individuals to cover co-insurance, copayments, healthcare premiums and deductibles for certain treatments. Phone: (800) 675-8416 Fax: (800) 282-7692 www.healthwellfoundation.org

The Hill Burton Program: Participating hospitals and other healthcare facilities provide medical care for free, or at reduced cost, to those who meet eligibility requirements based on family size and income. Procedures covered vary from hospital to hospital. A list of assisting sites available in your state is located online. Phone: (800) 492-0359 (Maryland residents) (800) 638-0742 www.hrsa.gov/get-health-care/affordable/hill-burton/index.html

InfantSEE: InfantSEE optometrists provide a no-cost comprehensive eye and vision assessment for infants within the first year of life regardless of a family’s income or access to insurance coverage. Phone: (888) 396-EYES (3937) www.infantsee.org

Lions Clubs International: Provides financial assistance to individuals for eye care through local clubs. On their website, go to “Club Locator” to locate your local club. Phone: (630) 571-5466 or (800) 747-4448 www.lionsclubs.org

National Federation of the Blind: NFB works to improve social and economic conditions of blind persons by providing evaluations of present programs and assistance in establishing new ones; awards scholarships to blind persons; has a public education program including speakers’ bureau; and has several special interest divisions, including those for diabetics, educators, lawyers, parents of blind children, students and public employees. The National Federation of the Blind has affiliates in all fifty states plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, and over seven hundred local chapters. Phone: (410) 659-9314 www.nfb.org

New Eyes for the Needy: New Eyes provides a basic pair of single or lined bifocal lenses. A New Eyes voucher is for individuals who have no other resources with which to obtain a basic pair of eyeglasses. Applicants must have an eye exam including their pupillary distance (PD) measurement before applying. Phone: (973) 376-4903 Fax: (973) 376-3807 www.new-eyes.org

VSP® Eyes of Hope®, Sight for Students®, and Eyes of Hope® Materials Only: VSP® Eyes of Hope® and Sight for Students gift certificates provide adults and children in need (families’ income is at or below 200% of the federal poverty level) with access to eye care and new glasses (if needed) at no cost through a VSP network doctor in their community. VSP® Eyes of Hope® Materials Only gift certificates provide individuals who have coverage for an eye exam but not eyewear with no-cost prescription glasses. Contact your local Prevent Blindness affiliate or Prevent Blindness for more details. Phone: (800) 877-7195 https://vspglobal.com/cms/vspglobal-outreach/gift-certificates.html

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Bathroom Safety: ILA Product Suggestions

Older adults and people with medical problems are at risk of falling or tripping. This can result in broken bones or more serious injuries. The bathroom is a place in the home where falls often happen. Making changes in your bathroom helps lower your risk of falling. (Source MedlinePlus) ILA offers many safety conscious items perfect for the bathroom. Keep reading for product suggestions based on area or purpose.

Bath or Shower

The bath or shower can be a dangerous place for anyone with balance or vision issues. There are things you can do to ensure the environment is as safe as possible including non-slip pads or mats both inside and outside of the shower. A few other suggestions include:

Padded Bath Safety Seat with Backrest: This safety seat comes equipped with padding so that it does not feel as hard to sit on as your typical bath chair. Other features include a backrest and adjustable legs allowing you to change the height from 14” to 18”.  The seat dimensions are 16″ wide x 11.5″ deep and supports up to 300lbs.

Easy Install Bath Safety Grip Handle: Movable shower handle can give you extra stability and security, wherever you need it in the bathroom.  Just place and activate the strong suction mechanism wherever you feel you need a stability aid. You can grip and grab it with confidence. Red/green color indicator buttons clearly and immediately tell you if you have a secure suction. You can mount the Easy-Install Bath Safety Grip Handle either vertically or horizontally. (Note: This handle should be used to aid and maintain stability; not intended to support full body weight.)

Vertical Bath Bar: This bath bar attaches to tub walls up to 6” wide and extends 14” above the tub edge to provide extra stability getting into and out of the tub.

General Organization and Labeling

Keeping clutter up and out of the way is the first step in ensuring everything is organized in as safe a manner as possible. If you have vision issues, or just want to be able to feel by touch the items you’re looking for in the case of water cascading over you in the shower, using some of the following items could prove beneficial.

CAN-DO Bumps Assortment (6 Pack): Included are 25 each of transparent small, medium, large and orange small and medium bumps, plus a package of Spotters. They can be used to help identify things in the bathroom including medication bottles, shampoo, conditioner, or lotion containers.

Texture 3D Paint – Set of 6 Colors: Squeeze this paint onto any surface and it will puff up as it dries leaving a textured, tactile line or dot. It can be used to create a tactile mark on just about any surface you can imagine, and it can even be washed in the washing machine without coming off.

Braille Label Maker: This braille labeler is perfect for a Blind person wanting to organize their belongings. This labeler has a tactile dial with Braille letters, as well as print letters so a sighted friend can help. The dial has the complete alphabet, as well as number signs, commonly used contractions, and punctuation marks. One roll of labels included.

WayAround Starter Pack: The WayAround product line is a combination of smartphone app and physical WayTags™ that allows you to tag and label nearly everything in your environment. Some waterproof tags can attach to awkward objects like bottles or cartons using clips, safety pins or rubber bands. You can reuse your WayTags again and again. To change a description or add details, edit the information in the app and retag any item. Or move a tag to a different object and completely change the information. Tags can be purchased in individual packages of 25 tags per shape, or you can purchase starter packs for various applications.

Toilet

Having the proper height toilet can help ensure the bathroom stays a safer environment for those with balance issues and/or physical disabilities. This does not necessarily mean needing to install a brand-new ADA compliant commode. The following items could prove helpful in maintaining a safe environment.

Raised Toilet Seat 4 w/ Lid: This toilet seat riser adds 4 inches of height to your toilet and is made with convenient hygienic cutouts on both the front and backside of the unit. Product is easy to install with adjustable twist and lock clamps. Unit has a 300 lb. weight capacity.

Foldeasy Toilet Support: Provides safe support for people who need help getting on and off the toilet. No need to modify your bathroom or toilet; portable, adjustable & foldable for storage or travel. Designed for comfort and safety.

Stander Curve Grab Bar: The Curve Grab Bar is a space saving support rail that allows the user to easily rise from a sitting position by providing 4 hand grips at 4 different heights. This pivoting grab bar locks in place every 45 degrees and can also be locked flat against the wall when the bar is not in use. Made of rust resistant, zinc plated steel, it installs quickly into two wall studs.

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