Now celebrating its 20-year anniversary, Creative Adaptations for Learning is a one-of-a-kind organization with a one-of-a-kind mission: to make pictures “visible” to people who are blind that way printed words have been made “readable” through Braille.
“Stop for a minute and think about when you were a kid. What was the first picture you remember seeing?” asked Shirley Keller, executive director of CAL. “Don’t worry — sighted people can’t answer that question. But when the question is asked of people who are born blind, they can tell you what it was and when they ‘saw’ it. Children who are born blind often grow up without ever experiencing pictures until later in life. CAL offers a truly unique product that brings the experience of pictures into a blind child’s world.”
Ken Cerini: Since our readers can’t see the products you’re referring to, could you explain in detail what they are?
Shirley Keller: CAL embosses, manufactures and publishes illustrations for children who are blind. We’re dedicated to bringing pictures to the visually impaired through a process of raised-line drawings that enable people who are blind to ‘see’ a picture that they can interpret by touch.
Essentially, the books and other pieces we produce use the same concept as your typical children’s books — the ones you and I grew up with. CAL has introduced activity books, flash cards, nursery rhymes and even greeting cards. One example is our flash cards teaching the alphabet, where the first card will have the letter ‘A’ and the picture of an apple.
However, the pictures on the cards are raised and accompanied by a guide with the written description of the picture in both print and Braille. Each card is made out of a thick plastic so the shape is very noticeable and detailed. This seems like such a simple concept, but would you believe that absolutely no one else in the world is producing anything like it for young children? It’s astounding!
Cerini: What are the benefits of using these types of books?
Keller: A congenitally blind individual will often not be introduced to pictures until later in life. Maybe they will have experiences with maps in their history class or graphs in their math class, but their books are solely test-based. Over the past 20 years, we have discovered that kids with a .number of learning disabilities have been using our products, and so have sighted adults and children who interact with blind people.
I’m reminded of a story about a woman who is congenitally blind. She was reading the rhyme of Humpty Dumpty to her 3-year-old granddaughter. Suddenly she stopped, and with a shocked and excited tone in her voice, she said, ‘Humpty Dumpty is an egg?’ Nowhere in the rhyme does it say that he’s an egg, but we all know he is because we’ve seen the image so many times. Now this woman could easily have gone through life without that information and would’ve been just fine, but isn’t it nice to have that little bit of extra knowledge? That’s one example of why we’re so driven to start children out learning how to interpret a picture. Let them experience pictures early on, just like the rest of us do.
Cerini: You’re bringing some wonderful things to the visually impaired community. You mentioned earlier that your products are used by sighted people as well. How so?
Keller: Imagine you’re a blind parent with a sighted child. You want to be able to share the reading experience with your child or grandchild. Typically, adults in this situation either memorize a book so they can ‘read’ it to their child or the child becomes the reader to the parent, which can sometimes make a parent feel awkward. Our products allow them to share the experience together because, as I mentioned before, each page has both print and Braille. The same goes for a blind child with a sighted parent. By having pictures they can both ‘see,’ it makes for a more equalized process.
Cerini: How do people get these products?
Keller: That’s one of the things we’re hoping to expand on. Right now we’re in a number of catalogs. We see a lot of teachers, schools and agencies/rehab centers buying our products. We have a great Web site from which people can purchase the products. The site is ‘Bobby approved,’ which means the text on the page can be read by everyone, including blind people using a screen reader. What we really want is to get the word out to the broadest possible community. Right now, we’re pushing to attend more conferences and make more presentations so we can really spread the word about our unique products. We’re seeking contacts in the business community to help us spread the word.
Creative Adaptations for Learning
Address: 38 Beverly Road, Great Neck, NY 11021
Executive Director: Shirley Keller
Telephone: (516) 466-9143
Web Site: vwvw.cal-s.org
Annual Budget: $100,000
Fund-raised Budget: $60,000
Program Services: 100 percent