Blind Traveler is Coming Home! :-)

What is it like being the mom of a blind international traveler, as well as an Orientation & Mobility Specialist? My emotions are conflicted. I think, as a mother, you always hold some worry in your heart whether your child is blind or sighted when they go off on their own to travel around Europe. As an Orientation & Mobility Specialist I know my son is equipped with excellent travel skills. So my head fights with my heart and sometimes the worry is stronger than the peace of knowing he can skillfully address the challenges he faces. Brandon’s year with his Study Abroad Program in Italy through California State University East Bay is coming to a close next month. My husband and I are flying to Italy to join him and the three of us are going to travel south and then back north again where we will be joined by his delightful Italian girlfriend. We will have an opportunity to meet her family while we are there. Brandon will be our tour guide and we are looking forward to attending the World’s Fair in Milan, visiting Rome, having an exciting boat ride around the island of Capri, and experiencing a gondola in Venice. While Brandon lived in Italy, he had the opportunity to travel to London, Austria, and Sweden. These are experiences that he will savor for the rest of his life. All students, blind or sighted, should have an opportunity to experience studying abroad for a year to give them a more global view of the world. One of the most impressionable experiences in Brandon’s year has been the variety of foods that are so different from the United States. He has enjoyed the new foods while still missing some of his favorite foods that are not available in Italy…like peanut butter. Brandon has learned to make homemade pasta and other tasty treats. He has also shared some of his favorite American recipes with the locals when he can find the right ingredients. Being a blind traveler has opened the doors to many interviews and public appearances in the newspaper, on television, and on the radio. Brandon was frequently sending us links to yet another article or interview. You can read more about Brandon at www.brandonkeithbiggs.com. We are very excited to see our blind traveling son very soon!

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Brandon Keith Biggs with his girlfriend visiting London eating Shakespeare cookies!

Blindness Unlimited

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Blindness Unlimited is a video series being produced by Sonja Biggs Educational Services, Inc.  The series features Brandon Keith Biggs sharing tips and ideas about living life successfully as a blind young person.  Have you ever thought about how a blind person plays computer games? Or fixes his breakfast in the morning? How does he identify money and be sure he was given the correct change?  What apps are the most useful and how does someone blind use the touchscreen or send text messages? How does a blind person clean a toilet or mop the floor? Brandon takes the time to answer these questions and more in his video series, Blindness Unlimited, using his sense of humor and practical outlook on blindness to inform us and capture our hearts.

Brandon Keith Biggs is a 26-year-old blind actor and vocal performer.  He has a B.A. in Music Vocal Performance.  His favorite genre is opera. In addition to a beautiful bass-baritone voice, Brandon is familiar with the stage, having performed in 19 musical theater productions between California and Washington State.  Brandon is currently working on his M.De. from OCAD University in Toronto, Canada in Universal Design. We are pleased that Brandon has chosen to work with us in doing these videos for Blindness Unlimited!

Episode 1: Audio Games

Episode 2: Music Magic

Episode 3: iCan with the iPhone Part 1

Episode 4: iCan with the iPhone Part 2

Lee Castillo, COMS/TVI Intern

PS_IMG_6808Lee Castillo, COMS/TVI Intern

Sometimes people come into your life for just a short time.  I had the privilege of working with Lee Castillo for the past year.  Lee was an Orientation & Mobility Specialist and TVI Intern working with me at the San Benito County Office of Education. His students loved him very much as I did, too. He had a great sense of humor and enjoyed sharing his music with others. Lee passed away January 13, 2014. He will be missed by all who knew him. He brought joy into our lives and I would like to honor Lee here on my blog. A memorial fund has been set up in his name with the Community Foundation for San Benito County.  Donations can be sent made out to the Community Foundation for San Benito County with Lee Castillo Memorial Fund written in the Memo line of your check.  You can mail your donation to:  Community Foundation for San Benito County, 829 San Benito Street, Hollister, CA  95023. All proceeds will go to benefit the blind children in San Benito County, as Lee would have wanted if he were still with us in body.  We carry his spirit in our hearts.  He was a great man and I am proud to have known and worked with him.

Brandon’s Dream Helps Fund Cure for Blindness

Photo of children's picture book, Brandons Dream.

Photo of children’s picture book, Brandons Dream.

Our family just read your book and saw all the photos, what a compelling
story!–Texas

Have been meaning to say the beautiful book arrived. It’s quite
inspirational and the photos and text are great!–Washington

Blind Cinderella Boy Becomes a Prince

Gilroy, California – April 28, 2013 – New children’s picture book inspires others through the story of a blind young man achieving his dream to be an actor and opera singer.

Brandon’s Dream tells the compelling story of a blind boy who has a dream of acting and singing on stage and how he achieves his dream through hard work, perseverance, and the full support of his family. The beautiful photos by Atom Biggs reveal the life of a young boy born blind who grows up with hopes and dreams just like every other little boy and who is achieving his dreams one step at a time.

A native of Washington State, Brandon was born in Spokane, WA and grew up in the Walla Walla Valley where he attended Dixie Elementary, Walla Walla High School, and was homeschooled. His grandparents are Dick and Shirl Phillips, active members of the Walla Walla community through their volunteer service to Ft. Walla Walla Museum, the Rose Society, and 4-H. Brandon began his acting career in middle school when he debuted in The Frog Prince and won awards for his monologues in speech contests. He received his first role in community theater through the Touchet Valley Arts Council’s “Oliver” where he was cast as Noah Claypole, the cowardly teenage bully. He was cast in TVAC’s “Beauty and the Beast” as the Prince and in WWCC Foundation’s “Cinderella” as a guard. Since then, Brandon has had numerous roles in musical theater throughout the San Francisco Bay Area including Rolf in the Sound of Music, the Bishop in Les Miserables, and Ron Taylor in Bat Boy the Musical. Brandon has performed in two operas and one operetta, as well as numerous private vocal performances where he has delighted audiences with his beautiful bass-baritone voice. Brandon is currently pursuing a B.A. in Music with honors from California State University in Hayward, CA where he is studying vocal performance in opera. To find out more about Brandon you can visit www.brandonkeithbiggs.com and like his Facebook music page Brandon Keith Biggs.

Brandon’s mother, Sonja Biggs, is a native of Walla Walla graduating from Walla Walla High School in 1977. Sonja authored this delightful children’s picture book so others can be inspired by Brandon’s life and achievements in spite of the challenges he faces every day as a blind performer. “He is my inspiration and has pushed me to achieve in my own life,” says Mrs. Biggs. Sonja teaches other children who are blind and does independent evaluations throughout the state of California. You can find out more about Sonja at www.sonjabiggs.net or follow her blog at www.visionteachersonja.com. Brandon’s father, Atom Biggs, is a B.S.N Registered Nurse and professional photographer. While living in the Walla Walla Valley, he worked at Walla Walla General Hospital. His photographs in the San Francisco Bay Area show the action and beauty of the musical theater performances and provide quality headshots to the actors in the area. His photos can be viewed at www.atomsportraits.com.  Joshua Biggs, Brandon’s younger brother, attended Dixie Elementary and Pioneer Middle School, as well as being homeschooled. He recently completed high school in his Junior year and has been accepted at DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, WA where he is excited to return to Washington to pursue a B.A. in Game Design.

Brandon Biggs was born with a rare retinal blindness called Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis (LCA). There are 18 known gene mutations that are affected and Brandon’s gene is the CRB-1 gene. Brandon’s parents, together with other parents whose children have CRB-1 blindness, have joined together to create a foundation that raises money to find a cure for LCA-CRB-1. The Curing Retinal Blindness Foundation (www.crb1.org) consists of several families that are hosting a variety of fundraisers and the dollars raised are given to organizations doing the research into finding a cure for this particular blindness. All the proceeds from this book are donated for this purpose.

To purchase a hardbound, autographed copy of Brandon’s Dream, please send a check for $38.00 to Sonja Biggs, 7483 Dornoch Ct., Gilroy, CA 95020. Shipping is already included.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving cornucopia with corn, apples, pumpkins, and candles

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my readers! Today was an amazing day. All four of us were in the kitchen together working, making some aspect of our delicious meal. My oldest son is blind and he made some delicious fudge from scratch and an amazing salad with everything imaginable in it. Josh, my youngest made a lemon cake and a vegeterian meat loaf. Atom made the tofurky with veges around it, mashed potatoes, and baked the yams. I made the dressing, gravy, and butternut squash. I also set out an assortment of cheeses. What a delicious meal it was!

It is so important to teach our children with visual impairments to be just as skilled and comfortable in the kitchen as the rest of the family. Growing up with chores to do just like everyone else helps our children grow up with self-esteem and feeling like they are important members of the family, as well as build important skills for independence.

Not only should families include these chores at home, but these skills of learning to cook, clean, and live independently are an important part of the Expanded Core Curriculum for children with Visual Impairments. As a TVI, I need to be sure my students are learning these skills…and it makes my job so much more fun, too!

Working in the kitchen together

Dear Santa…

Santa Atom, Mrs. Santa Sonja, Brandon and Josh

Tis the Season and little ones are looking forward to visiting Santa in the stores, thinking about presents to receive and give, being in awe of the tree, lights, and smells of Christmas, and writing letters to Santa!

According to the NFB website, Santa Claus has made the staff at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute honorary elves. Santa has asked the staff to help him send letters in Braille to very young blind boys and girls (those under the age of 10) in the United States. You can fill out the form on their website and Santa will get your child’s request.  You will receive a reply from the North Pole in print and contracted Braille. Merry Christmas! Hurry and do this! All requests must be submitted by December 17, 2012!  Click here: Santa Letters

Touch N Tap

This video, Touch N Tap,  is about my work as a Vision Teacher and Orientation & Mobility Specialist. I think it depicts my passion for my students, my districts, my students’ parents, and Vista Center for the Blind & Visually Impaired, where I had the privilege of working for five wonderful years before stepping out and privately contracting.