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The Ultimate Equalizer

Photos and article by IBCF Board Member, Toula Oberlies
Date: 3/30/17

"I can't wait to do this again next week!"

That was the exuberant proclamation from a young boy after his first session on the bikes provided by Nine13sports to students in gym class at Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. As stated on their website, this non-profit organization “promotes health, wellness, and exercise for local youth between the ages of 5 and 18” through their Kids Riding Bikes® program. This fun program has proven to be a huge success at many area schools, including at ISBVI.

Tom Hanley, CEO and Executive Director of Nine13sports, says “the bicycle is the ultimate equalizer, with kids of all ages and capabilities doing exactly the same thing.” The bikes are set up on a stationary system and connected to a computer program and screen simulating various situations. The riding is harder going uphill, and then easier going downhill and as the course ultimately levels off.

Pictured at Right: Tom Hanley and Ashley Acuff from Nine13sports

Pictured: Ashley & Tom HanleyTom first visited and toured ISBVI in October, and states he quickly “fell in love with the physical beauty of the campus, the staff, and the energy and excitement of the students.” Soon thereafter along with the sponsorship of Regions Bank represented by Ms. Kim Borges, VP and Area Marketing Manager, the 4-week bike program was set for January and February 2017. The kids fell in love with the entire experience, and comments such as “this is so fun,” “when do we get to do this again,” and “I can’t wait till next week!” could be heard in the gym and the entire campus.

The mission of Nine13sports is one that will impact these students well beyond the bike. Tom Hanley said it best… “This is just a great way to enable students to realize they can do anything they put their minds to, and they can achieve and find success with hard work.”

On the final day, Larra Overton of WXIN News and a camera crew from Fox-59, came out to ISBVI to cover the bike-riding sessions and to interview Tom Hanley and one of the students. “It’s fun because I’m independent. It helps me stay strong and makes me get some energy, more energy,” an elementary student exclaimed! Smiles abounded all around.

To view the entire segment as aired on Fox-59 WXIN, please click here!

The Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation is proud to acknowledge our partnership with Tom Hanley and his colleagues at Nine13sports, and Regions Bank. We are grateful for their interest in ISBVI and support of its students in first through twelfth grade. The program will continue in the fall semester, when they will return to work with students of various grade levels.

2017 Braille Challenge

By ISBVI Student, M.B. (M.B. is pictured second from the right in picture)
Date: 3/29/17

MB is pictured second from the rightThe Braille Challenge is an academic competition designed to motivate students who are blind in grades 1-12 to participate in a braille assessment of skills. There are annual regional state competitions throughout the U.S. from January to March. The Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) has been hosting Indiana’s regional competition for the past nine years. Braille students in five contest age categories exhibit their skills in reading comprehension, speed and accuracy, proofreading, spelling, and reading tactile charts and graphs. The five contest age categories in the Braille Challenge consist of: Apprentice, Grades 1-2; Freshman, Grades 3-4; Sophomore, Grades 5-6; Junior Varsity, Grades 7-9; and Varsity, Grades 10-12. Each category is proctored and scored by volunteer teachers with final scoring completed by nationally certified braille transcribers. At the end of the all-day competition, students receive certificates and medals in braille and valuable feedback on their performances in each skill level. The top three contestants in each of the five age categories receive prizes. The top 50 contestants nationally are invited to the Braille Institute in Los Angeles, California in June, for a two day competition.

This past February, I participated in my eighth Braille Challenge here at ISBVI - the theme being, “Indiana Braille Challenge 2017: A Carnival of Fun.” Each year, the school does a fantastic job organizing not only the competitions, but workshops and activities for all family members to fill their day while they wait for us to finish our respective levels. We end the day with an awards banquet. One big difference in this year’s challenge was the move from EBAE (English Braille American Edition) to UEB (Unified English Braille, the official Braille code for the U.S.) for Apprentice and Freshman levels. Participants in the Sophomore Level had a choice of UEB or EBAE this year with the move to all UEB code next year.

I have been fortunate to have won the regional Braille Challenge five times now and have been selected to travel to California six times to compete with the best braille users in the nation.

In the national competition in California, the testing periods are longer and we have double the work. It requires practice, practice, and more practice! For me the best part of the Braille Challenge is meeting other braille users and seeing my “old” friends again whom I have met over the years. The most difficult part of the Braille Challenge for me has been the speed and accuracy category --the one you HAVE TO master. We have to braille quickly AND accurately at least seven pages of braille from listening to an audio recording and transcribing. The pressure is really on for this challenge!

Being braille literate is very important to me. Braille helps me to connect with the outside world and I love all the braille technology that enables me to produce my braille more efficiently (not to mention sharing it with others in braille, print, or electronic format). I enjoy writing and I am grateful that I have mastered the braille code to be able to write independently and communicate with the world.

The Indiana Blind Children's Foundation was a proud supporter of the 2017 Braille Challenge thanks to the support of the Junior League of Indianapolis.

A Walk in the Dark

Photo and article by IBCF Board Member, Toula Oberlies
Date: 2/1/17

A walk in the dark with the aid of a cane is every day practice for many students at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI). Learning how to better use their cane and recognize the environments around them is the job of ISBVI Mobility Specialists, who through funding from the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF), now have a new stock of 171 canes and 26 different cane tips to use with their students.

Mobility Specialists work with students to teach them to safely navigate the school’s hallways, stairways and the campus’ grounds, and to be aware of outside environments such as sidewalks, street crossing, busy intersections, riding a bus, and going into stores and restaurants. Mobility Specialist, Jessica Hunt, explains that specialists work with students as often as they need it, one or two quarters per year for some, and year round with others.

Photo features Jessica Hunt, Mobility Specialist, working with ISBVI students.There are three techniques to walking with a cane, Diagonal Trail, with the cane next to the wall, Constant Contact, sliding the cane between 10:00am and 10:00pm, and Two-Point Touch, tapping it outside of each shoulder. Cane training begins by walking up and down a school hallway, with the specialist walking behind the student to observe their manner.

Photo features Jessica Hunt, Mobility Specialist, working with ISBVI students.

Having a supply of canes available is necessary because as students grow taller, they are provided with new, longer canes, and as cane tips wear out after a period of time, new tips can replace the old. It’s also important to have a healthy supply of canes available in stock to loan-out when a student’s cane suddenly breaks.

There are many varieties of cane tips, the least expensive of which, is the Marshmallow. It comes in a variety of colors. There is also the Roller, the Ceramic, and the High-Mileage, all at slightly higher cost, and available for students at ISBVI. What a student chooses to use comes down to personal preference.

Mobility training involves setting goals for skill learning, with points earned at completion. These points add up, and at a certain point privileges such as walking on the Monon Trail, traveling to Broad Ripple for pizza, or to Kroger at Nora to buy milk and bread, are earned. Jessica Hunt explained how excited the students are to venture out into the community. Along with their mobility training, they are encouraged to use Google Maps to locate their destination by putting in addresses for a walking route.

Just how valuable canes are for a student’s mobility was demonstrated on a recent visit to ISBVI with Mobility Specialist Jessica Hunt, and students M.T., age 17, and M.V., age 15.

M.V. has been blind since birth, and received her first tiny cane in pre-school. She had a specialist to work with her in learning how to use it in her home city of Richmond, IN. She was recently shown her very first cane, and said “Was I really that small?” M.V.’s current cane is 56” long. Her cane broke on the day we visited the school, so she consequently missed the bus to take her to North Central High School, where along with ISBVI, she also takes classes.

M.T. developed a vision impairment at a young age, and became totally blind when he was 10. That is when he came to ISBVI. His current cane is 54” long. Among his many activities, M.T. is a musician and World Series Champion Beep Baseball player. He proudly wears his World Series Champion ring. He’s excited about earning enough mobility points to go on an outside excursion, exclaiming with a big smile, “Broad Ripple, sounds like my kind of thing!”