Several weeks ago we had the pleasure to visit Perkins School for the Blind. Just outside Boston USA, it is the oldest school for the Blind in America opening in 1829. It is famous for its education of Helen Keller, and its subsequent deaf-blind programme, but it is also an institution that trains teachers and develops new technologies.
The Perkins campus – and indeed it was a campus – was a blind child’s dream. There were the careful consideration of the stone floor tiling, to enable easy navigation throughout the building. There was the gym whose floor boards changes to help those speeding around on roller skates keep their direction; and a running track with hand bar for safe navigation. There was also the echo chamber just underneath the tall steeple and the grand piano in the performance hall.
BUT – what we liked best was the Touch Library. From a visual perspective, it looked like a room you might find in an old English mansion with stuffed wild animals and musty cabinets with lots of little trinkets. From a tactile perspective, it was incredible. There was a large stuffed bear to hug and waddling swan to put one’s arm around. Open one cupboard and find models (not plastic ones!) of all possible modes of transport from a canoe to an airplane. Open another and feel a collection of beads from around the world.
We had never considered that Ronan might go to a special school for the blind. In this visit, we realised that coming to a school like Perkins would be for a blind child like putting on a glove that fits just right for the first time. Unfortunately, with budgets being cut, it seems that Perkins, like similar schools in the UK, are focusing their educations efforts on those with multiple disabilities for which mainstream school adaptation is much harder. Ronan is therefore most likely to be educated in a mainstream school
School is far in the future for Ronan however, but our visit to Perkins has focused our minds on trying to find ways to give Ronan concrete experiences even at the tender age of 16 months. We have replaced child size pots and pans with the ones we use in the kitchen for example. With these, he can feel the weight and experience the volume in a way not possible with a toy pot. Even the sound it makes when things bang against it is slightly different. Next we are headed for the zoo. Still haven’t figured out the best way to introduce Ronan to lions, but hoping he’ll get the experience that a lion can roar louder than he can.