“Sight Connection supported our families when we had nowhere else to go.”
During the Rubella epidemic between 1962-65, more than 20,000 children were born with disabilities resulting from infection during pregnancy, including vision and hearing loss. This epidemic impacted families in Seattle, and, with the seeds of support from Sight Connection, launched an increase in advocacy for children with disabilities for the next 50 years.
Open just six months; Sight Connection (then Community Services for the Blind) launched a parent-child support group for families with low-vision children. The group met at 9:30 every Thursday. Parents received counseling and support, while their children learned how to interact with their environment and communicate through constructive play. Without access to visual and auditory information, children who are deaf-blind must rely on additional ways of learning, such as learning through touch.
Each child received one-on-one attention from a volunteer trained in tactile learning strategies for children who are blind. At the end of the group meeting, parents were taught these learning strategies to practice at home.
“Meeting weekly allowed us to really get to know one another. It’s easy to feel isolated when you are the parent of a deaf-blind child, but being able to connect with other parents was invaluable.”
In addition to learning how to teach their children, Bonnie credits the program with connecting her to other parents and providing the foundation of knowledge she needed to advocate for Lynnette.
She says, “Meeting weekly allowed us to really get to know one another. It’s easy to feel isolated when you are the parent of a deaf-blind child, but being able to connect with other parents was invaluable. We stayed connected, and supported one another for years after we “graduated” from the program.”
Believing that children with vision and hearing loss had a right to be in school, Bonnie and Lynnette went on to navigate the public school system. Through the work of Bonnie and the other parents of the four deaf-blind children in the program, the first day school for deaf-blind children was opened in Seattle in 1969. Lynnette was eventually accepted to the Washington State School for the Blind in Vancouver, where she graduated. Bonnie became a Parent Advocate, participated in the Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment and was on the Commission for the Blind.
Today, Lynnette works with Bonnie at a family business in Lynnwood, helping out with office tasks such as shredding old documents. This year, Lynnette celebrated her 50th birthday, along with Sight Connection.
Bonnie says, “Sight Connection supported our families when we had nowhere else to go. We learned how to interact with our children, and what kind of life we could expect for them. Knowing how to support our children empowered us to advocate for them, and to expect more for them from the system than we might have. The parents from that group are still in touch today. We have gone on to lobby the state legislature, write books, and volunteer. I believe none of that would have happened without the parent-child program. Sight Connection was ahead of its time.”