Imagine you have a first grade child. And he must learn to read, write, count, know nature. But you can’t see it. So how do you do the homework, who will control their student? Pavla Maišlová also had to find the answer to all these questions. Her husband and I are blind and are raising their daughter Míša, whose only visual impairment is three and a half diopters.
Although of course they face some obstacles, in reality it is much easier than you think. An assistant from the Okamžik organization, who comes to the Maišlovs once a week, will help her with what she cannot manage at home. This organization helps, among other things, blind parents in the education of their children. What will the assistant do and what will the parents and Míša do alone?
The assistant started coming to you in first class, at the same time it was in the first wave of covid, when there were quite strict restrictions. How did you do?
At first it was fun, because we solved everything thanks to video calls and WhatsApp. So I tried to make a manual on the video so she could see what I needed. Eventually, of course, we found a more efficient system, when I started taking pictures of her and sending her. Then, when the epidemiological situation improved in May, she started coming to see us in person.
It’s been going to be slow for two years now, the assistant still comes to you, but only for an hour a week. Is it sufficient?
Yes. He helps us with tasks where there are mostly images and that I don’t dare. It’s mostly primary school things, where you have to complete something, or English, where they add and color something in notebooks, I don’t check. But we manage common things like reading, math, Czech, where my daughter is able to read my homework, together.
Does the teacher help you, for example?
We have a wonderful teacher, I praise her everywhere I go. When they were given the task, they had to circle it and the teacher explained it to them verbally, so when Míša came home she knew exactly what to do, so we didn’t have to solve the assignment.
But still – at the beginning of the first year, when children learn to write and read, it must have been difficult.
In fact, I had to trust him to do it right. When either grandmother was with us, I always asked her if she could check. An assistant from the Okamžik organization comes to us, which helps the families of the blind. Once a week she checked that the writing was in order and that there was no need to practice anything. The assistant also helps to fill in the papers that the girl brings from school, or we sign the student together.
Aren’t you afraid she’ll keep a rating or a low rating from you if you don’t see her?
Not yet. Also, the teacher always wants her parents to really sign the information or the notes, so she should tell me. Also, as I said, the teacher is really amazing. At the very beginning we were given a phone number that if we didn’t know something or needed to ask something we could call at any time. For example, during the first wave of coronavirus, we often called him when we did not understand the mission as our daughter explained it to us.
And has the trust in Míša paid off so far?
She paid. We have been growing it together since we were little, otherwise it doesn’t even work. I’ve established that if we don’t have eye contact, we’ll talk all the more. And it works.
I would say they should introduce her to other families from time to time… Míša probably had to grow up earlier too, right?
Certainly something. But when a child is a child in a certain environment, he takes it for granted. He’s used to being more affected by his parents, he’s used to taking his parents’ hand and showing him what he needs. On the contrary, it was funny to see friends coming to us, so Míša took their hand and showed them the pictures from the book and could not understand that it was not necessary. Of course, she learned that over time.
What does Míša go to school for, did you come across anything that would be unsolvable for you?
It is intractable for me to go to his class. It is a surreal maze. But that’s probably the only problem I have. But I have now agreed with our volunteer to accompany me to school.
How did she learn to draw, for example?
Moment volunteers, or my mother, who showed her how to grip a pencil correctly, practiced with her. When Míša was a preschooler, we also went with her to a special pedagogical center for graphomotor exercises.
When your daughter was little, weren’t you afraid to go to the playground with her?
Not exactly. Such an adjustment helped us. The girl had a bell on each shoe, so her every move could be heard. But it is true that we only started going to the playground when we were three years old. Until then, I didn’t dare alone, but my grandmothers or friends accompanied her, for example. But at the age of three, she was so mentally well that I could tell her, “Take me to the bench” so I could be near the slide or the swing and hear her. And when she needed help from me, she drove me.
Handling the stroller must have been difficult, right?
I only used it for about two months, driving it behind me and only using it around sighted people. Instead, I bought an ergonomic stretcher and have been wearing Míša ever since. It was much easier, we suddenly had our hands free. And then in about fourteen months, we bought golf carts, which I dared to go to the store. But we actually only used them for a while, Miša didn’t want to drive much.
We agreed that she could have a cup next to me, but she still had to hold my hand. I explained to her that she must not let me go, otherwise we would get lost or she would be hit by a car. I’ve seen horror scenarios, but my daughter took it this year and a quarter. For example, in the store at the checkout, when I needed to keep my hands free, Míša grabbed her pants or her poles, for example, and got up and waited. She knew that if she ran away, we wouldn’t be here.
What if she still couldn’t walk?
That’s what I taught him to say. So when I called her, she may have stomped on or shook the toy she had at hand.
Has anyone tried to talk you out of being a parent?
Probably my grandmother, unlike my mother, who believed I could handle it, couldn’t imagine it. When Misha was about a month old, she had to come and see for herself. But even though she saw that I could handle it, she always came up with an excuse like “Lie down for now, but wait until he walks”, so in her subconscious she was probably still afraid of a obstacle that we could not manage.
How do people on the outside react?
There are still prejudices and people who can’t imagine it and sometimes they take us for terrible poor people. How many times have I heard, especially when my daughter was younger, that “When you grow up, you will help your mother” or “You are poor, that you have a mother who cannot see”.
It’s probably hard for people. I would say a lot of them don’t really know how to treat blind people, how to help them and if they are worth it.
When someone wants to help me, it’s best to contact me and ask how they can help me. On the other hand, he is terrible when he tries to help me through a child. For example, they took Míša’s hand without addressing me, which was unpleasant for me. Suppose you get off the tram and suddenly the child is in the air and you don’t know what is going on. And before you say anything, the person is gone. She has just taken Miša down the stairs. If she asked me, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. But I didn’t like it. So I taught Míša that if someone takes her hand without being addressed to her, she should walk away.
You talked about a class teacher who is perfect. On the contrary, have you encountered a negative attitude in the region?
The negative approach is probably a strong statement, but at first it was more difficult with our pediatrician. I don’t think she had any experience with a blind mother, and I don’t think she could have imagined such a person raising a child. So she always asked me if someone was helping me, if we had an assistant. My little girl didn’t want to eat much, she ate less than the doctor imagined, and she even told me when she was eighteen that she was malnourished. And she advised me to try to feed my daughter with an assistant or a friend of mine when she was with us. So I had to defend myself at the time that it was not because of my disability. I tried to explain to her that if I didn’t get anything from her, she probably wouldn’t take anything from others either. Since then it’s been fine, the girl is fine and the food has settled.
How do you deal with injuries, for example? How do you know if it’s serious or just a minor abrasion?
Misha had his first abraded knee when he was three and a half years old.
When you need a patient, how do you dose the medication or take your temperature?
I learned it with a syringe. For everything else, we have a speaking device, for example a thermometer will indicate the measured temperature. The only thing that was difficult when Míša had conjunctivitis at the age of four and I had to put the ointment on her eye. Because the dosage was with this tip, I was scared, but I had the grandmother who helped me. Later, my assistant taught me to drip in my eyelid when she had something in her eye, for example.
Okamžik’s goal is not only to help blind parents and their children, as in the case of Míša and her parents, but also to help visually impaired people lead more independent and active lives. They coordinate 140 volunteers who accompany the blind to the doctor, surgeries or shopping or provide long-term visual assistance to the blind at home, sports, cultural activities, readings, etc. They organize leisure activities and exchanges for the blind, provide them with advice and offer personalized support.