Program News and Updates
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September, 2004 (Part 1)
September, 2004 (Part 2)
Kaizen Program News: September, 2004 (Part 1)
Sylvie Kashdan has been an American Foundation for the Blind CareerConnect mentor for many years. Her story, below, is featured this September, 2004 in the "Window on the Working World" section on the AFB CareerConnect web site:
The Job: Instructor/Curriculum Coordinator for New English Learners with Visual Limitations
The Story: What would you think of a job that allows you to combine your love of languages, caring for people, and a steady income? Interested? Then read on...
I teach English as a new language to blind and visually impaired adult students for a small nonprofit organization; develop curricular materials appropriate for students' individual goals and needs, which may include finding or writing materials and producing them in braille; and research and develop effective methods for teaching such students. My partner, Robby Barnes, and I give informational presentations and training workshops for rehabilitation and mainstream teachers and volunteer tutors, introducing them to the most effective methods for assisting blind and visually impaired students. I also correspond with people all over the world and share resources via e-mail.
I generally start my day by spending at least an hour or two answering e-mail and sharing resources with people in various parts of the United States as well as other countries. Then, I focus on preparing instructional materials for my students. This may include finding news stories on the Internet and rewriting them in simplified English to meet the students' language proficiency levels, or finding stories or health articles on my own computer that are already written in simplified English. I translate some of the articles into braille files, and spend some time embossing whatever is necessary. Additional time is spent going over students' homework and writing responses to the students regarding their work. I also maintain individual learning logs for each student.
On the days I teach students, I typically spend two to three hours helping them learn their new language. Some days we ride the bus to neighborhood stores, local parks, or the Talking Book and Braille Library, or we visit other interesting places. We record on tape some of the things that interest us as we go, and I later help the students write about their field trips.
I am one of two staff members of the Kaizen Program, and as one of the founding Board members, have a lot of control over what I do. I am able to be creative and explore new avenues with the approval of my partner and the Board of Directors. I consider my working situation very positive, thanks to the cooperative and sympathetic nature of our Board of Directors.
I have been teaching English as a new language to fully sighted students since 1988. In 1997, Doug Hildie, a rehabilitation counselor at the Washington State Department of Services for the Blind, asked my partner Robby Barnes and me to help some blind and visually impaired immigrants and refugees he had on his caseload. He felt that these individuals were poorly served by the available mainstream adult literacy programs.
At first, we worked as independently employed teachers. After a year or so, Doug Hildie suggested that we form a nonprofit organization. We did, and that was how Kaizen came to be.
I use all of the skills I developed in previous jobs in my current job. I worked my way through college performing manual labor jobs in factories. After graduating from college and getting my MA, I taught working adults beginning and advanced sociology courses at the University of the City of New York. I also taught arts and crafts and current events classes to senior citizens in public housing projects.
I progressed to become an editor, writing understandable English translations of advertisements for various health care, games and educational items originally produced in French and Spanish. I started teaching English as a new language to fully sighted immigrants and refugees before focusing my skills on teaching the visually impaired.
I currently use a braille writer for working with students during lessons and I also use a braille slate for my own note taking. I use a PC computer with the JAWS screen reader. About three years ago I was able to get a Basic D embosser and the Duxbury braille translation program, which streamlines my preparation for classes. Before I had the embosser and the braille translation program I was producing all students' lesson materials (including two entire textbooks for students attending community college classes) on my Perkins Brailler. It took a bit of an effort to learn how to use the Duxbury translation program in a way that produced braille that satisfied my students' needs, but it was worth it.
I love teaching students, sharing ideas with other teachers, and training volunteer tutors. I dislike the bureaucratic procedures my students have to go through, and I don't like having to compromise when there are not enough resources available to help students.
On the positive side: I think that a career in teaching can be a very rewarding one. Teaching adults (especially immigrants and refugees) who have visual impairments is both fulfilling and very necessary. Teachers that are blind or visually impaired provide vital role models for visually impaired and blind students. They know from experience the best ways to solve problems, are familiar with the resources available, as well as those that are missing. They know what it feels like to be in the students' position, and therefore can be respectful and compassionate. They give students hope of what can be accomplished. Fully sighted teachers can also help, but they have much more learning to do before beginning and on the job, and they may suffer from unconscious prejudice which can be unproductive for students.
On the negative side: There are not very many well-paid teaching jobs in the field of adult education today, and the ongoing budget cuts are impacting the situation further. Teachers in large public and private organizations are being asked to do more and more bureaucratic paperwork, leaving less time for preparation for class and teaching. More limitations are being placed on teachers' creativity in the current climate. Blind and visually impaired people continue to experience discrimination in the field of teaching because of their disabilities.
This link will take you to Sylvie's Career Connect story on the American Foundation For The Blind Web Site.
Program News: September, 2004 (Part 2)
New Online Course from the American Foundation for the Blind Provides Vital Continuing Education Opportunity
Free, Flexible Web-Based Class Bridges the Gap Between Vision Impairment and Adult Literacy Education Fields
NEW YORK (September 21, 2004) -- Participating in "Bridging the Gap: Best Practices for Instructing Adults Who Are Visually Impaired and Have Low Literacy Skills" just got a lot easier. The American Foundation for the Blind's (AFB) National Literacy Center has launched an online version of their long-standing program that integrates visual impairment and adult literacy issues for educators.
Originally developed as a three-day group workshop, "Bridging the Gap" is now available to individuals, free-of-charge, at
Participants can register for the class online, and by simply choosing a username and password they can work their way through several content sections on their own time, at their own pace, and in a manner that suits their specific needs.
"'Bridging the Gap' is a tremendous opportunity to reach more educators -- and ultimately students -- than ever before," said Frances Mary D'Andrea, director of AFB's National Literacy Center. "The challenges of having a visual impairment and low literacy skills can be overwhelming. It is crucial that professionals in these fields have knowledge and awareness of both issues in order to have the most positive educational outcomes when they interact with adult learners."
"Bridging the Gap" online is made up of various content modules designed to provide an understanding of the social, legal, and practical issues educators face when working with adults with vision and literacy problems. The course also aims to familiarize participants with the full range of instructional theories, technologies, and resources they can draw upon for their work.
Five of six content modules are currently available online. A sixth module on the topic of technology will be launched in Summer 2005. For more information on "Bridging The Gap" and how to enroll in the online course, visit
Media Contact: Carrie Fernandez, AFB Communications, 212-502-7674, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kaizen Program News: August, 2004
On behalf of all of the braille users served directly and indirectly by the Kaizen Program for New English Learners With Visual Limitations, I want to thank Amy McGarrah, of Amy's Braille Printing, for the generous donation of 29 uncontracted 2004 braille calendars.
This generous donation is especially helpful as our students learn to use braille calendars. Many of them have been finding the contracted braille in most calendars a bit confusing. All of our students are learning English, and most are still in the process of getting used to reading with braille. So, we generally provide them with lessons and other reference materials in uncontracted braille until they are comfortable with both reading and writing in English and using braille as one of their literacy tools. But, until now, we had no uncontracted braille calendars to give them.
Amy McGarrah has filled this gap by providing us with neatly embossed uncontracted braille calendars, on sturdy high quality paper. This will make it easier for our students to learn both English and the use of braille calendars.
So, we want to express our appreciation for the contribution Amy has made to our students' braille literacy.
We very much appreciate the time, skill and effort Amy put into this donation.
Based on the good quality of this generous donation, we highly recommend her work.
If you are assisting any new English learners who are blind or have low vision, and would like to ask some questions or for some advice, feel free to contact me at the Kaizen e-mail address below.
Amy McGarrah, of Amy's Braille Printing, can be reached at:
KAIZEN PROGRAM for New English Learners with Visual Limitations
New English Learners with Visual Limitations
810-A Hiawatha Place S., Seattle, WA 98144, U.S.A.
phone: (206) 784-5619