Blind Babies Play Program: A Model for Affordable, Sustainable Early Childhood Literacy Intervention through Play and Socialization

By Jacko, Virginia A.; Mayros, Roxann et al. | Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, May-June 2013 | Go to article overview

Blind Babies Play Program: A Model for Affordable, Sustainable Early Childhood Literacy Intervention through Play and Socialization


Jacko, Virginia A., Mayros, Roxann, Brady-Simmons, Carol, Chica, Isabel, Moore, J. Elton, Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness


The Miami Lighthouse, in its 81 years of service to persons who are visually impaired (that is, those who are blind or have low vision), has adapted to meet the everchanging needs of clients of all ages. To meet the significant needs of visually impaired children--more than 80% of early learning is visual (Blind Babies Foundation, 2012)--the Miami Lighthouse introduced its Blind Babies Program in 2003 after reviewing a number of effective early intervention program models from around the country. The early intervention program is designed to serve more than 80 children each year, along with their mothers or primary caregivers. The goal of the Blind Babies Program is to make it possible for young children who are blind or severely visually impaired to grow and develop to their maximum potential.

The Blind Babies Play program began in 2007 and operated for its first three years with volunteer support as a project of the Junior League of Miami. It is a twice-weekly, twohour supplement to the in-home intervention program (in which vision rehabilitation specialists work with blind babies and their parent or caregiver at home or daycare for one hour a week). The Blind Babies Play program therefore provides an additional four hours of group interaction weekly to this vulnerable client group.

A total of 73 blind or visually impaired children (unduplicated) have participated in the play program since 2007. Since data collection began (2009-present), the demographics of the children who participated are as follows: 36% female, 64% male, 58% Hispanic, 31% African-American or Haitian, 3% Caucasian, 8% other. Most (66%) of the children have an additional disability.

The structured playgroup approach has enhanced the Blind Babies Program objectives to provide ongoing, individualized, one-onone rehabilitative services to participating children according to national standards of best practice; offer training and support to parents or caregivers so they can enhance their child's growth and access needed services and resources; and provide training to professionals who work with visually impaired children to increase the capacity of community organizations to meet the needs of this underserved group.

In recent years, early intervention programs funded by the Division of Blind Services (DBS) in Florida receive approximately $2,500 per child annually, yet some members of the Florida Association of Agencies Serving the Blind (FAASB) estimate the actual cost per child exceeds $5,000. Therefore, supplemental funding from donations or grants is required to fully cover the cost of such services. In contrast, excluding the in-kind support of volunteers and the cost of transportation, playgroups can cost agencies about $500 per child annually. (Playgroup cost estimates per child assume an average class size of 10 children, in-kind volunteer support, staff support at 10% effort, and miscellaneous supplies and snacks.)

HISTORY OF FLORIDA'S EARLY INTERVENTION PROGRAM

In 1999, a grandfather who was working fulltime and taking care of his two-year-old blind grandson; the child's mother, who was a young teenager at the time; and a disabled wife asked the Lighthouse in Port Richey, Florida, what services were available for his grandson, who did not crawl, walk, talk, or play independently. The closest early intervention program was at the Pinellas Center for the Visually Impaired and Blind, attendance at which would have involved a 140mile round trip for an already overburdened grandfather. At that time, only 3 of 14 nonprofit vision rehabilitation centers provided services for children under age six in Florida. These three programs were entirely funded with private donor dollars, and the centers were struggling to keep the programs alive.

With the help of a freshman legislator, FAASB members organized a grassroots effort to advocate for funding from Florida's legislature for vision rehabilitation programs. …

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