Grains of Sand

Who said each man is an island,

shouting lies across a sea of misunderstanding?

And who said no man is an island?

We are simply grains of sand

flung upon a rocky shore.

Somedays we come together—

pave the way for children at play,

or spin ourselves into frozen prisms of light.

Most days we lay side by side in silent isolation,

unaware of tidal waves beyond our reach.

Only the wind shows us what we’ve missed– swirling

dust clouds, fitful frenzies that jar our previous notions

as we collide into one another,

finding common ground only when the Unseen

Hand once more scatters us like seeds.

Old Dog, New Tricks

Just so you know, Ari may be a retired GuideDog now, but that doesn’t mean he simply lays around all day, watching TV and eating peanut-butter snacks.

*Isn’t that the dream of every working dog?*

In fact, he’s back in school, learning new things every day. And so is his teacher.

It was a natural progression. Ari and I worked together for nine years, and as expected, I fed and cared for him exclusively. But once he neared retirement, my husband J asked to be mor involved. So little by little, we have come to share various tasks, including playtime.

Here’s how it goes:

As always, I feed Ari breakfast.

J accompanies him outside.

J and I eat breakfast.

I hide Ari’s favorite toy, Chaver, a few times, and he searches and retrieves.

Then J and Ari play a rollicking game of toss and skid as Chaver is thrown down the hall and Ari runs, pounces, slides, and retrieves.

At last, class begins.

Ari grabs his pal, joins J in the living room, heels and sits. A few kibbles are placed on the kitchen floor, Chaver is tossed past the “bait” and Ari is asked, “Ayfo Chaver?” (meaning, where is friend?) Ari trots past temptation, snatches Chaver and brings him to J.

Chaver is placed closer to the “bait” and the command is given, “Ayfo Chaver?” Ari approaches, grabs his friend, returns.

Finally, Chaver is in the midst of the “bait”. J says, “Ayfo Chaver,” and Ari retrieves.

Or so it should go. A pile of kibbles on the floor is a mighty powerful temptation for a Lab, you know, even a GuideDog, who thinks with his mouth. So Ari had to learn step by step to think beyond the “bait”.

He already knew how to retrieve Chaver. He needed to be literally walked past temptation several times over several sessions to succeed at the new task. And once he succeeded, , the command “Okay, go get ‘em,” released him to follow his instincts.

But one slip of the tongue, one “okay” out of place, one erroneous pointing of the finger…

Obviously, Ari is not the only one who’s learning!

Spontaneity

Spontaneity

has always been hard for me.

I love creative types,

envy them, really.

Their quippy words and phrases–

Creatives just shake them off

so easily,

naturally,

like my dog shakes off rain—

unconcerned

for bystanders,

for carpets or walls.

Predictability

is a good thing too, right?

I mean, we need patterns sometimes.

A kind of checkerboard

to guide our steps.

Back , two, three.

Left, two three—

we really should waltz

more often, Darling.

Today

You know how it is—

today is out there,

and you can’t wait to be

a part of everything in it.

Never mind slamming doors,

freshness abounds out there—

in twitching grass,

push-pull breezes,

and all your winged comrades.

Your bike is sniffing the air,

straining at its tether–

daring you to resist.

 

 

Book Review: The Seeing Glass

The Seeing Glass: A Memoir

by Jacquelin Gorman

copyright 1997, Penguin Putnam Inc., New York

375 Braille pages

Disability, Memoir

Robin was not like the rest of the family. He had a special way of viewing the world—and it wasn’t just because of his seeing glass. But as Jacquelin Gorman interweaves sweet and bitter childhood memories of her autistic brother Robin with her devastating experience of blindness, readers are left groping to find any insights she may have gained.

The Seeing Glass chronicles Gorman’s sudden vision loss and her terrified self-imposed isolation in excruciating detail. A gray wall of blindness separates her from everything known to her, but it is she who refuses to move beyond it. She reaches back to her childhood, basks in the vivid colors of dreams and memories, and looks to Robin for answers.

Written in present tense, Gorman’s tale is immediate and emotionally charged. But, as a person who experienced sudden, permanent blindness at the age of twelve, I found Gorman’s self-absorbed attitude both irritating and disturbing. She continuously stumbles and falls, bitterly ignores the pleas of her four-year-old daughter, and only reclaims hope and the love of her family when her sight shows signs of returning.

In my opinion, The Seeing Glass is worth reading–not because of Gorman’s encounter with blindness. By telling Robin’s story, she presents a brief but fascinating glimpse into the life of an autistic boy before Autism was readily diagnosed.

Playtime

I station Ari in the laundry room with our "wait" sign, and hide myself around the corner and down the hall behind the bathroom door.

"Ayfo atah? (meaning where are you?)," I whisper.

The search begins.

Not in the office. Not in the bedroom.
Back up the hall to the living room…nope.
Down the hall to where Jeff is working, another check of the office,…then voila, finds me!

Another "wait" sign, and I steal away, hide behind the office door.

Ayfo Atah?"

Finds me right away.

"Wait."

Ayfo Atah?"
Bingo, nails me in the living room.

**Okay, either I’m leaving a trail of breadcrumbs, or Ari, this amazing elder-dog is still Ari the WonderDog!

Only Human

I tried my best to learn,

Honest.

Calico Manx stressed

geometry—

always sprawled

near sunlight slant,

angling for attention.

The Stray one

Taught me magic tricks–

levitation

to dinner tables,

mind-control,

disappearing into mid air.

I’m too slow, I guess.

Too slow and thick-witted.

Too distracted by purring motors

to grasp CatWisdom,

too fascinated by the color green.

Jewish Disability Awareness Month

February is a lot of things to a lot of people. It’s Black History Month,it’s the time for Phil the GroundHog to predict the length of winter, and it’s when football fans (and fanatics, alike) glue themselves to the TV for the SuperBowl.

**And it happens to be Jewish Disability Awareness Month**

Hebrew School Inclusion for Children with Special Needs Is Possible, Here’s How

By Lisa Friedman

As part of our month-long series dedicated to Jewish Disability Awareness Month, Lisa Friedman, a Jewish Special educator and advocate for inclusion, shares her guiding principals for creating a learning environment that is accessible to all students.

In my role as an Education Director of a synagogue’s Hebrew school, I have the good fortune to be able to use my skills to develop programs that enable students of all abilities to learn and thrive in a religious school setting. As an advocate of inclusion, I help guide my community to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities to participate and find meaning through all aspects of synagogue life. Yet, not all synagogues have a Jewish Special Educator. Not all synagogues have a professional who advocates for inclusion. What can parents of children with disabilities do to ensure that their children are fully included in Hebrew school?

First and foremost, open and supportive communication is essential for a successful Jewish Hebrew school experience for any child, but especially those with special learning needs. Be forthcoming about your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Do not assume that the school will turn you away or will not be able to accommodate your child’s needs. Share your child’s IEP, successful strategies from home and other information that will make it easier for your child to be successful. I am not suggesting that this is a magic bullet. There may be bumps and disappointments along the way. But without the willingness to have the conversations, you will never know what is possible.

Here are some guiding principles to start the conversation:

1. Students with special learning needs and disabilities CAN learn Hebrew.

It is a misconception that students with learning challenges struggle so much in learning to read English that they should not even try to learn Hebrew. While it is true that some children who have difficulty with their primary language will encounter similar struggles when learning a second language, some children have a natural propensity toward language acquisition, regardless of their formal classification. Hebrew, in many situations, is taught traditionally through read & repeat exercises that require children to sit still and wait their turn. Multi-sensory strategies that cater to a wide variety of learning styles can enable all students to learn Hebrew in ways that meet their individual needs.

2. Special Education (or inclusion) DOES NOT hold back the “other” students.

A classroom rich with activities to meet students at their current level of functioning maximizes all students’ potential for success. It is proven that ALL students benefit when children of varying abilities learn together. It is a misnomer that having different expectations for different students within in the same classroom isn’t fair. All students should be working toward progress from their current level of functioning. When this is done successfully, no student is “held back” or exposed to less challenging content than he or she is capable of encountering.

3. Negative behavior can ruin a whole class.

This is a tricky one in Jewish education classrooms. And the honest answer is this: negative behavior can “ruin” a class dynamic if the teacher lets it. When parents serve as partners with teachers, openly discussing behavior challenges and strategies, teachers can gain the necessary skills and understanding to manage student behavior in a way that provides all students with a warm, supportive and meaningful environment.

4. It is reasonable to ask for a bar/bat mitzvah experience that is tailored to your child’s needs.

Individualized bar or bat mitzvas do not take anything away from other students. Rather, such an accommodations demonstrate flexibility and a willingness to embrace a wide variety of needs within a synagogue community. When and if children question why another student “did less” than he/she did, it is up to parents, teachers and clergy to explain to our children how to welcome differences and to be proud of what we each accomplish without comparison to what anyone else may be doing.

Strong relationships are key. Communication is necessary. Myths and misconceptions are perpetuated by a lack of understanding; but when we join in conversation with real-life examples and hands-on experiences, attitudes can change, and inclusion will be possible.

Book Review: Good Kings Bad Kings

(Updated 2/26/2018)

 

Good Kings Bad Kings

By Susan Nussbaum

Copyright 2013, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

373 Braille pages

Disability, Fiction

When a book opens with a teenage girl in a wheelchair shoving another teenage girl in a wheelchair to the pavement, you know you’re in for a rocky ride. Susan Nussbaum’s novel Good Kings Bad Kings smacks readers right in the conscience as she weaves together an important message about greed, America’s failing care facilities, and the rights of disabled persons.

Meet Yessie. She is already in the “time-out” punishment room on her second day at the Illinois Learning and Life Skills Center (ILLC) when the story begins. A tough, motherless sixteen-year-old, Yessie was raised to defend her Puerto Rican identity, and taught that three is the magic number.

“…and when three things happen to you that are so, so bad and you feel like the whole wide world is just throwing up on your new shoes,” she says,  “don’t worry. Your bad luck is about to change.”

But Yessie’s “number three” has delivered her to the ILLC. She is less of a commodity now, and simply a costly burden. As with the other 80 teen residents, Yessie is not only disabled, she is critically dependent upon houseparents and teachers whose personalities may be kind or twisted, whose desires may be innocent or dastardly. Like the inhabitants of any small kingdom, their fates are forever at the mercy of good kings and bad.

The author’s raw and gritty language realistically channels the voices of ILLC residents, staff members, a bus driver, even a recruiter. And while juggling the various characters was a challenge for me at first, I found Nussbaum’s technique dramatically effective. She skillfully crafts layer upon vivid layer to set the tone—Yessie’s best friend Cheri disappears without warning, Pierre’s obsession with food doesn’t compare to his need for Ricky’s protection—and as tension builds, the action drives you deeper and deeper  into yourself, until your heart wants to explode.

Susan Nussbaum is a playwright, novelist and longtime disability rights activist. Good Kings Bad Kings earned her the 2012 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. As she puts it, “When I became a wheelchair-user in the late ’70s, all I knew about being disabled I learned from reading books and watching movies, and that scared the sh** out of me.” She subsequently became most interested in creating authentic disabled characters.

Like Yessie,  who doesn’t wait long to take destiny into her own hands.

Good Kings Bad Kings is not an easy read, but I urge you to take it on. As electrically charged as modern society, this book ignites disability awareness like nothing I’ve ever read.

Hearing Voices

January 2018 is rounding the corner to February. So I’m grabbing one more chance to honor Louis Braille’s birthday (January 4) with a repeat post.

Blessings!

***

Sitting in my office across the hall from the Braille production room…

And all I can say is “Please, please, grant me a bit of silence!”

Because it is true–the Braille embosser is an amazing device. It somehow, almost magically, converts a computerized word document into an actual Brailled document in my hands.

But it is SO VERY NOISY! The rowdy, rapid-fire punching as the cylinders move across and down the paper make conversation—and sometimes even thought– nearly impossible.

So I turn to my faithful computer, outfitted as it is with speech so that I may access the world of print locally and globally.

And, what do you know? It is so chatty!

And here’s my IPOD, not to mention old friends like the Franklin talking dictionary, and the BrailleLite notetaker—they are wonders of human ingenuity, indeed.

But do they have to be constantly yammering at me?

Oh, sure, I can’t read the words on the screen…but good grief, I hear so many voices throughout muy day!

**sigh**

Okay…

I will accept with humble gratitude the gift of Braille text you offer me.

My fingers will dance with delight over these textured curves and sways, these graceful ups and downs

As images and ideas tumble and swirl into and out of existence.

And I will slow my breath,

unclench my eyebrows,

unfurl my white flag in peace.

For your rumble is no longer growling in my ears,

But like thunderclap on Mt. Sinai—

Whose word is liberation.