By Deborah M. Walker
Started in 1978 the Blind Children’s Fund (BCF), located in the Lansing area, offers information and resources for children who are visually impaired and helps to give them a chance to live meaningful and productive lives. According to the American Council of the Blind, more than 600,000 children living in the United States do so with some degree of visual impairment.
In the beginning, the organization now known as the BCF was called the International Institute for the Visually Impaired informed Popp. Its roots were in the Ingham Intermediate School District as a program to help pre-school blind children and it was closely affiliated with both the Michigan School for the Blind and Michigan State University said Popp.
In its early days, the organization received federal funding under a program allied with Head Start, called First Chance. The primary people responsible for the program were Jane Scandary and Sherry Raynor. According to Scandary, they were assisted by a very capable staff that helped them to grow as an organization that taught teachers throughout the United States and in several different countries.
“At the time we started, there were very few intervention services for preschoolers who were visually impaired,” said Diana Popp, Executive Director for BCF.
Today thanks to the efforts of several non-profit organizations, such as BCF, there is significantly more information and resources available for the visually impaired child and his or her family as long as you know where to look said Popp.
“Like many nonprofits that were hard hit during the recession, the Blind Children’s Fund is emerging from a financially challenging period. However, the organization has survived and is looking towards the future and the services they can provide,” said Carrie Owens, President of BCF.
For now, the board of directors is focused in three primary directions: (1) the development of a website clearinghouse of information and resources that will be helpful to parents and teachers, (2) providing consultant services to parents and teachers of blind and visually impaired children, and (3) helping blind and visually impaired people to understand assistive technology options declared Popp.
“Even today with the explosion of the Internet,” Popp said. “It is sometimes difficult for parents and general education teachers to find resources. Sometimes you have to think of the right key words for your browser, such as Google, to find information and, even then, you don’t know if it is considered valid by experts. That’s one of the reasons we’re rebuilding our website. In addition, some school districts, because of funding issues, have cut back on visual impairment consultants to general education teachers. Often school districts have to share the more limited services of visual impairment teacher consultants.”
BCF’s new website (www.blindchildrensfund.org) will compile a significant amount of information in one place and make locating information and services easier for families and teachers said Popp.
“Although we have been offline while the new website is under development, the BCF website will be up and running soon. In the past, we averaged 2,000 unique visitors each month from nearly 50 countries and nearly every state in the U.S. We hope to significantly increase that number with the new website,” said Popp.
In addition to information and help with finding resources, Popp said BCF offers certain consulting services free of charge to parents and teachers. This allows families and educators a chance to ask questions and get personalized information. Consultants can also advise parents on low-cost learning activities they can do at home.
The BCF can also advise parents on the benefits that are available to their child and can help them to understand their child’s rights to an education under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) informed Popp. For example, children with diagnosed visual impairments are entitled to receive individualized educational plans said Popp. There are different requirements based on the age and diagnosis of the child. The development of these plans is done by a team that includes parents, educators, and specialists.
Since its beginning, BCF has helped many families in different ways said Popp. Before the Internet age,BCF provided printed newsletters and also wrote books for parents and teachers, some of which are still in circulation. In addition to working with families regarding visual impairments, BCF helps about 30-40 families each year by providing hearing aide batteries for children who also have hearing impairments Popp stated.
“We currently have a limited supply of hearing aide batteries in different sizes and hope to be able to continue this service in the future,” said Popp.
Popp added that there are many stereotypes concerning people who are visually impaired.
“One of the things we will be doing with our new website is to show people with visual impairments who are successful in various fields. We think this will help young people who are blind or visually impaired to understand that although their visual challenges can be significant, they can also have productive lives that are not defined by limitations,” said Popp. “We plan to do this with blog posts from various people who are blind or visually impaired.”
Owens said while there may be challenges for the visually impaired, there are numerous visually impaired people who have overcome those obstacles.
“Each child can learn to learn in a way that can help him or her become successful in the world,” saidOwens. “We will share how people do that through education and the use of assistive technology.”
Currently the BCF exists on donations and has an annual silent auction fundraiser, An Interlude with Art.
“Many well-known local artists and a number of local businesses – especially The New Citizens Press -- have been very supportive of the Blind Children’s Fund,” said Owens.
Each organization that works with blind and visually impaired has a board member that has some expertise or personal experience with the topic.
“At BCF, we have a significant part of our board who were teachers at the former Michigan School for the Blind. Two of our board members are also blind as is one of our consultants. This education and experience gives the Blind Children’s Fund a first-hand account of the challenges and triumphs of the blind and visually impaired.” said Popp.
Popp said not to let visual impairment impact quality of life and learning. With the right information and resources, the blind or visually impaired person can be a valuable asset to any society.
There is no fee for the BCF consulting or resource referrals.
“Anyone who has a child who has been diagnosed with a visual impairment can contact BCF for information and referrals,” said Popp.
For more information about Blind Children’s Fund, contact BCF at 517- 488-4887 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This was printed in the December 14, 2014 - December 26, 2014 edition.