Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Letter: Keep Helen Keller in the Texas Curriculum

This e-mail was composed and sent to our Texas State Board of Education representative for District 5, Mr. Ken Mercer, on September 26, 2018.

Dear Mr. Ken Mercer,

I am writing to you concerned about the State Board of Education’s recommendation to eliminate Helen Keller from Texas’ 3rd grade textbooks and curriculum.

I’m a Deaf mother of three children with different hearing/deafness etiologies. My oldest son is Deaf and in 8th grade, my daughter is hearing and in 7th grade, and my youngest son, Orion, who is DeafBlind is in 3rd grade. I am currently studying for my M.Ed. in Special Education focusing on orientation & mobility via Texas Tech University. Meanwhile, I will be receiving my academic certificate in DeafBlindness in December 2018.

I understand a rubric was used to evaluate historical figures, with the goal that decisions can be as objective as possible. However, with this rubric, Helen Keller was given 7 points and recommended for removal, yet Billy Graham a pass to be kept in the curriculum regardless of a rubric scoring that was lower than others slated for removal. The rubric configuration that was used is clearly not working and is inconsistent, thus not credible in my eyes.

Helen Keller caused change and enlightenment to take place worldwide. Taking 40 minutes of instructional time to talk about Helen Keller is not only the tip of the iceberg, it opens a door to further development understanding, empathy and many friendships with people who are different. Approximately one out of five Americans have a disability. Our curriculum needs to reflect that. We need to retain exemplary role models who have disabilities for children with or without disabilities.

Although Helen Keller was not the first DeafBlind student in the U.S., she was the first DeafBlind graduate of Radcliffe College. She co-founded what is now known as Helen Keller International, an organization that brings awareness and prevention of blindness worldwide. Helen Keller met several US presidents, she challenged the Lion’s Club to aid the blind and visually impaired which they proudly still do to this day, she worked for the American Foundation for the Blind until her death in 1968. Her body [lies] in rest at the Washington National Cathedral. Keller was so famous that anywhere she went, people paid attention to her and what she had to say, making a positive difference. Helen Keller was not only an extraordinary DeafBlind person, she was a notable, exceptional person regardless of her abilities.

The Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults (HKNC) was established in 1967 after the Helen Keller National Center Act was passed to provide rehabilitation training for individuals who are DeafBlind.

In 1964, Helen Keller received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Baines Johnson, our US president who hailed from Texas.

Governor Greg Abbott, proclaimed June 2018 as “Helen Keller DeafBlind Awareness Month” in the state of Texas. (Direct link to an online image of the document:

Initially people are impressed by Helen Keller’s story as a person who is DeafBlind. Eventually, people will see quite a resume of accomplishments by anyone regardless of ability. I will be satisfied when the Texas State Board of Education withdraws their recommendation for removing Helen Keller from the curriculum. I thank you and the State Board of Education for your time spent on considering this very important, far-reaching matter on hand.


Heather Lightfoot Withrow
Austin, Texas

Monday, August 27, 2018

Insights on Similarly-Sized Hands

By Heather Withrow

Orion always seemed to have a little more patience for little hands, even as a toddler in center-based early intervention programs (Kendall School's Parent-Infant Program & Texas School for the Deaf's Toddler Learning Center). He spent more time allowing and thinking about the hands of his similarly-sized peers. People who know Orion have recognized that there is something special about little hands for him!

I had a conversation with Eddie Madera at the National Family Association for Deaf-Blind (NFADB) conference that was hosted in July 2016 in Austin, Texas. He brought up hand sizes, how similarly sized hands were easier for him to feel/receive. That made sense... Orion liked little hands perhaps because he could recognize the other hand's dimensions quickly due to it's similar small size.

Enjoy this video of Orion's big brother and I talking about similarly-sized hands! Skyler's clip was from July 2016 and my part was from early 2018.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Orion's First Year at TSD (Video)

God knows how long this has been sitting unpublished in Blogger!  Let this video fly free! This is of our precious Orion during his first year at Texas School for the Deaf, at 2 years old in what was then called the Parent-Infant Program (now called Toddler Learning Center).

It is a delight to present to you this collection of moment snippets of Orion and Amy, his teacher, during the 2012-2013 school year at TSD. This video was created in May 2013.

Video Notes:
The video opens with two women working on swinging Orion in his blanket. The woman on the left is Carolina, she is a certified orientation and mobility specialist (COMS), a key person on my son's IEP team. Amy, his teacher of students who are Deaf/HH, is on the right.

If your child is DeafBlind, blind or visually impaired, he has the right to have an orientation and mobility (O&M) evaluation and if a need is found, to then receive services. Orientation and mobility is listed as a related service under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004). No baby is too young for O&M services. Like you saw in the video, Orion received O&M at 2 years old.  Movement development starts at birth!

At 3:07 in the video, Orion is sitting in his stroller and giggling along with the honking geese. While wearing his CI processors, he appeared to find the honking amusing! (He doesn't like his CIs anymore.)

At 3:27, in the shot where Orion is sitting at a floor table, he is surrounded by his early intervention team which included a speech-language pathologist (Tracy, in the video), occupational therapist and of course an ASL interpreter so the team and parents could communicate with each other.

Communication: We signed on Orion's body, also known as "touch cues", during the 2012-2013 school year. We wanted Orion to have control of his hands, so we avoided touching his wrists or shaping his fingers in any way. You will see him sometimes covering his hands over the adult signer who is signing on his body.  It's my thought that this helped Orion realize his hands were powerful, that he could get more information via hands by searching his environment, people, things and finally, tactile sign language- where he could tactually observe signs at a distance (a signer signing normally and not on Orion). This work is still in progress...

Source: IDEA (2004). Related Services, Section 300.34. Retrieved from (Direct link to related services: