Parenting with a visual impairment

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Vicky Prahin, who is visually impaired, is an instructor at The Hadley School for the Blind in Winnetka, Illinois, USA. She describes the parenting courses currently offered by the school.

The Hadley School for the Blind has offered distance education courses for 85 years. We have students around the globe, studying everything from English and science to birdsong, from Braille to chess.

Through our family education programme, The Hadley School offers free courses for parents and families of blind children, helping them learn what they can do to ensure that blind offspring grow and develop as fully as possible and that they find resources for toys, aids and appliances, education and career opportunities.  Many of our blind students, however, are parents or hope to become parents, and they want information about coping with parenthood, especially as blind parents of sighted children.

Course content

The Hadley School currently offers three courses for blind and visually impaired parents, for those who hope to become parents, or for anyone who is interested in childcare. These courses provide down-to-earth information about parenting, offer  suggestions from experienced parents on how to accomplish everyday tasks, and give tips and techniques for coping with everything from organising the nursery, bathing, and dressing infants and toddlers to keeping up with adventuresome tots as they explore their environment.

Denise Baumann, the blind mother of a sighted college student, who helped pilot one of these courses, said “I wish this course had been available when my son was born (18 years ago). It would have helped so much to know how other folks handled things”.

Equipment ideas and techniques

We have adapted the book Caring for your baby and young child, birth to age 5 by the American Academy of Pediatricians, to include ideas and techniques used by blind parents.  Hadley instructors encourage those who are taking the courses to share ideas they have or information about equipment they have discovered.

“Discussion of various kinds of equipment forms an important part of the course material.”


In ‘Parenting: Preparation’ students find information about the importance of prenatal care and preparing for the birth, choosing between breast and bottlefeeding, using cloth or disposable diapers, baby carriers available, and descriptions of some of the other essential equipment for the nursery.

There are good suggestions for planning the hospital visit and finding a pediatrician, helping other family members prepare for the new arrival, and fitting the newborn into the household. The Hadley staff collected and added tips and techniques specific to parents with limited or no vision, including taking temperatures, bathing, and dressing the newborn.  Discussion of various kinds of equipment forms an important part of the course material.

Some of these things have been adapted for use by a blind or visually impaired person; others are products on the market which need no adaptation.

The first year of life

‘Parenting: Infancy’ takes the student through the first year of life. Topics include expectations of growth and development, safety when travelling, finding childcare, and assessing physical, emotional and social milestones. Ensuring the safety of both child and caregiver is a significant component of this course.

Up to age five

‘Parenting: The Early Years’ describes what to expect up to age five. It presents developments in language skills, mobility, techniques for potty training, how to cope with sibling rivalry, social development, eating and sleeping habits, and discipline. Suggestions for preparing the child for starting school are covered near the end of the material.

All three courses include resource lists to help parents find supporting organisations, locate sources of tools and aids, contact other parents with limited vision, and discover where they can find important items such as print/Braille books.

One student, a grandmother of a two-year-old, shared these tips with the instructor: she has hung different windchimes throughout her apartment so that she knows where the child is as she moves from one room to another.  She also found a musical bracelet on the internet for the child to wear so that she can keep tabs on her.

Jess Cummings, a high school student who has taken all three courses as part of her plan for a career as a childcare provider, comments

“The parenting courses from The Hadley School for the Blind are both informative and useful. The development chapters clue parents in on where children should be in their development at certain ages. The caregiving chapters are also really useful for their specific content and advice about children’s needs. I appreciate the advice from other blind parents that has been placed in relevant chapters. It helps a new blind parent feel more confident and gives her more ideas to work with when it comes to giving her child the best possible care”.

If you are interested in learning more contact The Hadley School for the Blind, 700 Elm Street, Winnetka, IL 60093, USA, and receive an application form and course catalogue by mail. You can also learn about Hadley’s history, get an overview of Hadley’s free programmes, apply for enrolment, or enjoy the ‘fun page’ by visiting the website:

November 16, 2016

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