2012 Disability History and Awareness Weeks

Guest blog by Monica Verra-Tirado, Ed.D
Chief, Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services

The first two weeks of October are Disability History and Awareness Weeks in Florida. These two weeks are set aside each year to call attention to the history of the disability rights movement and to emphasize the outstanding abilities and achievements of individuals with disabilities. We here at the Florida Department of Education, along with school districts and schools throughout the state, are celebrating with a variety of activities.

For example, many districts ask their school boards to pass a resolution recognizing Disability History and Awareness Weeks and use their district website to promote disability awareness. At the school level, morning announcements are used to provide information on famous people with disabilities, banners and posters are hung, school libraries sponsor a book exhibit to expand students’ understanding and awareness of individuals with disabilities, and guest speakers with disabilities are invited to share their stories with students.

In the classroom, students can design their own awareness posters, fliers, or buttons, search the internet for positive stories about people with disabilities, learn about specific disabilities and the assistive technologies that help students learn.

These are just a very few of the possible activities. For more information and activity ideas, check out our DHA website at http://www.fldoe.org/ese/history.asp. If you have a great idea for an activity, send it to us at BRIC@fldoe.org so we can share it on our website.

Holly Idler: The Coach, The Cheerleader and Part of Their Team

Note from Florida Blind Services Director Joyce Hildreth: Holly Idler from the Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired recently received the Dean W. Tuttle Professional Education Award from The Hadley School for the Blind , which is considered to be the Heisman Trophy of furthering education for persons with visual disabilities, especially with John W. Heisman being visually impaired himself. We are very proud of her, and I asked her to share how her knowledge has affected her client instruction:

Holly Idler receives Dean W. Tuttle Professional Education Award

As a teacher at the Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, I teach Orientation and Mobility to our adult clients. Here at the Center, the clients are taught assistive technology, home management, personal management, Braille and mobility. Being visually impaired myself, I want to assist my clients by giving them tools to make their day-to-day activities and responsibilities easier to manage in a more effective manner.

Here are just a few ways Hadley has influenced my teaching style: 

  • In use for thousands of years, the abacus is an efficient, accurate tool for doing math, by people with or without vision. I’ve taken a few classes using this device, and enjoy reviewing new techniques and competing with clients, during breaks, to see who can solve a math problem first. I am getting better, with practice.
  • Guide dogs are just one of the many mobility aids our clients can choose to utilize to get from point “A” to point “B” in a safe, effective and graceful manner. Many of my students are new cane users, and are interested in learning about guide dogs and possibly applying for one in the future. One of the key points of the class, Guide Dogs,  that stood out to me was how much the owner’s daily routine would change once they got a dog – they have to allow time to feed, walk and groom the dog each morning, prior to going to work or college.
  • I teach orientation and mobility classes and have to be careful with my students who have diabetes. Mobility activities can cause their blood sugar to drop during a lesson. In the Diabetes: Toward Self-Management course, I learned that having the client drink water BEFORE the lesson can help the body regulate the sugar levels. It is still important to drink water during and after a lesson.
  • Joyce Hildreth, the Florida DOE Division of Blind Services Director, once said persons with visual impairments need to look at self-employment as a viable option. I took two employment classes, Finding Employment and Self-Employment with a Minimal Investment. These classes provided some insight on what type of person would be cut out for self employment and what he or she would need to accomplish when creating their business plan. I feel I now have the knowledge to encourage my students to go in whatever direction they want to go in, including starting their own business – and at least one has!
  • One of the classes that I enjoyed the most was Using Raised Markers.  This class discussed many different options of marking and labeling household items such as the microwave and stove, personal items: such as shampoo and conditioner, ways to identify canned foods and medications, independently without having to know Braille.

I take Hadley classes myself, for my own education. If I can learn one new piece of information to share with my clients/students, my family or my coworkers, then the time the class took was worthwhile. I am not just their teacher. I am their coach, cheerleader and a part of their team.

Exceptional Teachers for Exceptional Students

Guest post from Bambi J. Lockman, LL.D

Chief, Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services (BEESS)

Congratulations to Prekindergarten Exceptional Student Education Teacher Belinda Nease of Southside Elementary School in Nassau County  on being named a Macy’s/Florida Department of Education Teacher of the Year finalist!

“I am a teacher.  It is as much a part of me as the air I breathe,” states Ms. Nease, who helps her students maximize their potential in spite of the physical, academic or emotional barriers they face.  She turns every situation, in and out of the classroom, into a learning opportunity and takes advantage of available programs and techniques, both high and low tech.

Just a few examples – Ms. Nease initiated the use of a program at Southside that changes the brain’s pathways, increases processing skills and impacts reading ability in a short period of time.

On the low-tech side, but equally as effective, she uses mentoring as a tool to foster positive relationships to help her students learn.  Southside’s second graders spend time with and assist her pre-K students and both groups benefit from the process. 

I am so thankful for the efforts of Ms. Nease and of all Florida teachers who work tirelessly to ensure that all of our children learn. I wish Belinda Nease, and all of the other finalists, the best of luck and look forward to the Teacher of the Year announcement in July!