Homeschooling is challenging for everybody. We all have our own individual issues that make this journey somewhat less than smooth sailing. In my case, my “challenge” is that I am nearly blind. Before I continue, I think it is important to say that I am not seeking pity or special consideration. It is simply how God has made me and as a result of my disability, I have had to learn to adjust and adapt in every situation. It has helped to make me who I am and I wouldn’t want to change that. Perhaps by reading this post, others may feel empowered to do things that they didn’t think they could. Like homeschooling their kids.
I have had some level of visual impairment my entire life. I have had somewhere north of 25 different eye surgeries for cataracts, retinal detachments and glaucoma amongst other things. Soon after our second child was born, I suffered a detachment in my right right eye that could not be repaired and I lost all of my vision in that eye. What I am left with is about 40 percent of my visual field in my left eye which means I do not have much peripheral vision on that side but I can see some. The lack of peripheral vision makes playing sports an interesting experience which usually ends in getting whacked somewhere on my body with whatever ball is being tossed around. I can see at about a 20/80 level while wearing corrective lenses. Without lenses, it’s pretty much all blurry all the time.
Challenging? Yes, very much so but as noted earlier, it has been my life for so long that I do not even really know what life would be like if I could see perfectly. While life is challenging with my condition, I still feel so blessed because I can still see something. I can still see my beautiful wife’s smile, I’ve watched my kids grow, I can still work and even teach. That’s where this post is going now that I have covered the background of my “challenge.”
I feel like due to my life experiences, I have been uniquely prepared to be where I am at this point in time. You see, I love gadgets and technology and because of my passion for it, I work with it everyday. I have learned how to problem solve with technology to help me do things that most people do without thinking. As an example, I carry a pocket magnifier with me everywhere to help me to read things like serial numbers for software or even a menu at a restaurant. I also know that I am so incredibly blessed to live in a time where because of that technology, I can do so much more than I should be able to.
Specifically, I do computer repair, software programming, website design and even video editing. Think about that. A nearly completely blind guy doing graphic design and video editing. How you may ask? Mostly with gigantic displays on my desk and much larger than normal tablets and smartphones. It is these same types of devices, the knowledge and experience to use them and the software that I run on them that frees me to not only work, but to teach my children.
It’s important to note that all the tech that I use is just part of the solution. I have to spend more time preparing, researching and I have to be creative in how I teach. I simply can’t just grab a book and start following the lesson plan. The combination of my disability and what I am trying to accomplish creates a uniquely challenging situation. There simply are no YouTube videos that I can watch or articles that I can read to provide insight into solutions. Therefore, I have to use my imagination to solve for my needs. This is something that I can and do pass on to my kids. They see how hard I have to work but they also see that I am not defeated by my lot in life. They see that, they too can overcome their own mountains. They can succeed despite difficult situations and that most of all, that our God is faithful in His provision. I firmly believe that I am living in this time, in this place, with these skills and tools, for larger reasons than just happenstance. It is because of His favor.
Here are a few of the adjustments and solutions that I have come up with. First of all, I pretty much cannot read printed books any more. Talk about challenging. Most curriculum is printed in book form and are not available digitally in any way. What is even more frustrating is that I LOVE to read. I love the feeling of a book in my hand and the smell and the texture of the pages. But, I have given them up and am essentially a digital only reader. So, to get around the whole “I can not read ink on paper because it is too small” thing, I use a scanner and software to make a paper book digital.
Allow me to explain. If I am unable to purchase a version of the curriculum in some sort of digital format and the book is essential to what I am teaching, I purchase the dead tree version of the book. As this point, I do what I so often have to do in life, I lean on someone else. Someone who has the heart to help, who has access to equipment that I do not and also has the skills I need. In this case, it is my dad. He utilizes a mechanical paper cutter to chop the spine off of the book to make all the pages loose leaf. He then use a copier/scanner that has a large automatic paper feeder, then loads the loose pages in and starts scanning them to a digital file. He uses software to compile the scans, creates chapter bookmarks and then generates a PDF of the book. The loose pages are then re-bound back into a book form in case it is needed in the future. What I end up with is an eBook that I can then load onto my computer and iPad Pro (the huge, 12.9 inch version) and get to reading and teaching. The ability to zoom in to text is invaluable and has changed so much for me. So that’s one thing that I do to get around the issue.
Another thing that I do is use that previously mentioned iPad Pro. The screen is amazing and the size of it allows me to access all the things that I might need. Whether it be online resources like articles, videos or even audiobook materials. There’s pretty much an app for all that and so much more and I honestly believe that my job as a teacher would be much more difficult without it. While it is an expensive device, it truly has been transformative for me.
A final technology thing that I would like to mention is the Internet itself. Yes, you have to curate what you use with your kids but, if used carefully and appropriately, the amount of material available to us is simply mind-boggling. Especially when you teach like we do, as a mix of structured curriculum and unschooling concepts. The Internet, with its streaming video services, free and for-pay online curriculum, audiobooks, podcasts and printables galore is such a blessing to us modern homeschool parents. Especially, this homeschool dad.
Going forward, I will surely mention other ways technology helps in our schooling and in life in general, but this post had to be written first. Thank you for taking the time to read through this and allowing me to share my victories and yes, even my challenges, with you.