The first thing you notice while walking into the home of Brittany and Nathan Clarkson is that itâ€™s very tidy. The main living room is in perfect order, and the hallways are clear of any stray items that so many of us often disregard. In most part, this is to accommodate their 5-year-old daughter, Addy, who has been blind since birth.
Addyâ€™s condition is known as optic nerve hypoplasia, which in her case, has resulted in complete lack of sight. Because of this obstacle, the Clarksons have had to take certain considerations in furnishing and decorating their home. You wouldnâ€™t notice these changes as they are mainly subtle, yet however subtle they may be, they are all well thought-out and hugely necessary.
â€œReally, she adjusts to the house on her own, and we kind of put things that we donâ€™t want her to have within reach out of the way,â€ says Brittany. This method of helping Addy get used to the house over time has consisted of some trial and error, but the Clarksons value Addyâ€™s independence.
The couple emphasizes the importance of Addyâ€™s freedom in dealing with her disability: â€œI think the biggest challenge is that itâ€™s hard for me to not do everything for her and to let her do things by herself, even if it takes longer or if itâ€™s something she gets frustrated with,â€ Brittany relates.
In Addyâ€™s room, her cane hangs from a butterfly hanger near the light switch. Across from her bed is a bookshelf that holds her braille writer and a collection of books the Clarksons have collected through The American Printing House for the Blindâ€™s Braille Tales program.
Brittany and Nathan asked Addy, who is a student at Visually Impaired Preschool Services, to read to me what each drawer of her dresser held by using the adhesive braille tags on the right side. She started at the top with her sock drawer, moved down to shirts, then to pants and finally, enthusiastically, to pajamas.
The Clarksons also keep braille magnets on the fridge and around the kitchen to help promote Addyâ€™s braille literacy skills. She also spends a lot of time with her grandmother, who has incorporated braille into her own home and helped Addy get used to its specific layout as well.
In Addyâ€™s closet, she has all of her toys stacked within easy reach on top of her toy box. Most of her toys are electronic and work off of batteries. Many of them move or make sounds. â€œWe want to keep her toys where she has access to them and where she can put them up on her own and get them out by herself,â€ Brittany describes. â€œHer toy box is labeled in braille and says toys on the front of it. I just want her to be able to put them up and get them out like a sighted kid would.â€
When discussing her favorite toys, Addy mentioned some of her favorite classical music, naming composers like Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Mozart. â€œEverythingâ€™s an instrument to her,â€ Brittany says. Thatâ€™s why itâ€™s important for so many of her toys to make sound. The American Printing House for the Blind also provides Addy with some of her toys, such as a plastic ring of different textures she can move around into different shapes.
Addy has learned the layout of her home well and can get from room to room by herself by trailing her hands along the walls. When asked if Addy ever needs assistance getting around, Brittany assured me that Addy has learned quickly and has an unbelievable memory. â€œSheâ€™s completely independent. She knows the layout of the house and how to get around, so we just try to keep everything out of her way and let her do her own thing.â€ VT
Story by NICHOLAS SIEGEL, Contributing Writer
Photos by BILL WINE