I just read an article in the most recent issue of Future Reflections (the magazine of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children). Of course, it was about equal expectations, as this organization aims towards the “good enough” standard for disability rights: blind children should be expected to achieve at least the same as sighted children.
What struck me, however, was how the writer emphasized completely the same expectations. For example, blind children should be expected, according to him, to have the same reading speed in braille as sighted children do with print: the commonly-accepted belief that braille readers read only 120 words per minute, while sighted print readers read at least 300, should be abandoned.
I have no problem with encouraging reading, and stimulating a child to read faster than what is believed to be the norm. Automatically giving braille reades double time on reading tests (as happens in the Netherlands) is stupid. After all, we won’t have double time to complete our job projects either. However, if a child cannot read as fast as his sighted peers, this is not in itself a dramatic problem. I have always hated reading test, cause I was very slow even for a braille reader. I have no idea of my current reading speed, and don’t know how it would be measured most accurately, as I rarely if ever read from braille paper now (I read using my braille display), so I think measurign my braille display reading speed would be more realistic than having me read from paper. In any case, I’m pretty certain that I won’t even reach the 120 words benchmark believed to be the norm for blind readers. However, I rarely required extra time on tests in school (I was entitled to 20% extra time), even foreign language reading tests. The reason is that, while I cannot read as fast as my sighted counterparts, I don’t need to read something as often in order to remember it.
I did have academic problems due to my slow reading speed. For instance, in Dutch literature, where my sighted peers didn’t read a book multiple times either, it took me considerably longer to finish the project. In foreign languages, I was closer to my peers, because of my better fluency in these languages (for example, most people take longer to read an English book than that same book in Dutch, but I don’t).
I was a good student with above-average grades in high school and college and got an excellent grade on the one test I took at university, three days before my hospitalization. I was not a straight A student. Maybe I would’ve been one if I’d been able to read 300 words per minute, but I didn’t reach that point. Still, I was better than most of my sighted age peers academically. I may not have been better than my imaginary sighted clone – or whatever that “full potential” thing is considered to be -, but there is no such clone.
I am all in favor of equal expectations. If possible, this includes stimulating a child to reach the same objectives their non-disabled peers reach. After all, you don’t want to have the situation where you expect the child to go to college somehow when she’s grown-up but don’t care how she’s going to manage her reading now that she’s in third grade. Just because a child is blind, doesn’t mean she cannot achieve the same academic goals as her sighted peers – and that may include, for some, that they will eventually read 300 words per minute as an adult. However, if a child happens to not meet a particular expectation that her sighted peers do meet (such as 130 words per minute reading speed in third grade), that doesn’t mean there is no way she is eventually going to go to college. If a child, blind or sighted, lacks particular skills, do you need to force her to acquire them exactly as her peers do, at any cost (and note how much extra training children with disabilities already get to normalize them, leaving hardly any time for them to be children), or can you also encourage her to use the skills she does have (such as an excellent memory) to compensate for her weaknesses? Setting short-term objectives (such as a third-grader reaching age-appropriate reading goals) is important, because it will encourage a chidl to learn when she’s capable of it and it will allow you as a parent or teacher to spot potential deficits if she still turns out to have difficulties. However, just because a child doesn’t read at his grade level, doesn’t mean she won’t go to college or get employment. Not all sighted children read at grade level, either.
As a side note, of course my slow reading was influenced by factors relating to my blindness and the expectations set for a blind child. For one thing, I started out as a print reader even though my vision was too poor for print. However, I was stimulated to read (my mother and sister are both avid readers). Maybe I would’ve achieved higher if the double time standard hadn’t existed in the Netherlands or if I’d been exposed to braille from an early age on. I just want to say that just because a blind child doesn’t have the exact same abilities that her sighted peers do, doesn’t mean she cannot achieve, or that she’s not expected to achieve in the long run.
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