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SBES, Inc. Blog


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Partnering in education and accessibility for all students!


VI student petting a bunny for the first time.

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It's Summer!
by Dr. Sonja Biggs, June 14, 2022

School's out for summer! What do we do with our VI children over summer? Give them lots and lots of real life experiences where they can touch and do!


Summer Camps: Enchanted Hills  or Camp Bloomfield

Summer Camps are a great way for our VI children to gain lots of real life experiences in Recreation and Leisure (an important part of the Expanded Core Curriculum) such as horseback riding, swimming, water sports, arts and crafts, hiking, and more.


Field Trips:

National Parks offer free passes for people who are blind and visually impaired and their families. When Brandon was young we toured all of the Ranger Stations along Mount St. Helens. He even was able to feel simulated lava flow inside a simulated volcano, as well as touch stalagmites and stalactites in Ape Cave.


Petting Zoos for young children offer a chance for our VI children to actually touch and feel what farm animals are. Many have no clue what a bunny or a goat are and petting zoos are awesome for children to discover exactly what these animals feel like.


Grocery Stores offer a great opportunity for VI children to learn shopping skills, making grocery lists, comparing prices, and exploring a variety of fruits and vegetables that they normally would not be knowledgeable of such as passion fruit, plantain. Try cooking or eating some of these little known fruits and vegetables so your child can have a broader experience.


County fairs  offer lots of learning opportunities for VI children where they can touch and experience animals and agriculture, as well as exciting carnival rides.


Children's Museums and Science Centers offer many hands-on opportunities for learning that are fun and exciting. You can do a Google search for Children's Museums or Science Centers in your area.


Summer Reading Programs

Sign up for a Summer Reading program with Bookshare.org. You can also get braille books from Braille Institute or Seedlings. Challenge your child to read a certain number of books/pages for prizes your child can earn.


Chores

Give your child home responsibilities that they are responsible for. You can set up a reward system for them to earn money for extra responsibilities so your child has something to show for doing extra. Then you can teach them about being responsible with money, budgeting, saving, and spending. Brandon was responsible for his animals, emptying and loading the dishwasher, making his bed and keeping his room clean. He earned extra by washing the car or helping dad with an outdoor project. He also had a home industries where he learned entrepreneurship at an early age. 


Experience Books  are a great activity to do together with your child. Have them dictate an experience they had that was fun or meaningful to them. Then read it back to them as they braille or type it. Then have them illustrate it with real or tactile materials. Bind it and you have a beautiful experience book your child will cherish and want to read over and over.



Brandon wearing a braille Google shirt and black leather jacket at the airport with a big smile and his long white cane.

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White Cane Day or Blind Americans Equality Day
by Dr. Sonja Biggs, October 15, 2021 2:47 PM

White Cane Safety day has been honored on October 15 since 1965. In 2011, President Obama renamed it Blind Americans Equality Day. The white cane is a symbol of independence and equality for blind and low vision people around the world. In the photo you can see Brandon Biggs, our CFO, traveling independently at the airport using his white cane. He has been using a white cane since he was 18 mos. old. Brandon feels like his white cane is just an extension of himself. He uses it everywhere he goes whether he is running, walking, traveling around the world, or walking in his neighborhood. Orientation and Mobility Specialists are the teachers trained to teach Orientation & Mobility skills to blind and low vision individuals. SBES, Inc. provides Orientation & Mobility Specialists that work in the schools training individuals how to use their canes and live independently. Here is a shout-out to all of our blind and low vision friends who are living independently and using their white canes, as well as to our Orientation & Mobility Specialists  who give so much of themselves to teaching.




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Cross-Sensory Art Work

by Dr. Sonja Biggs, October 11, 2021 11:16 AM

Cross-Sensory Art Work is making visual art inclusive for all people who wish to enjoy it. For the visually impaired/blind it means making it tactile and adding an audio component to the art work. Listen to the podcast where Brandon Biggs, CFO of SBES, Inc., is interviewed about his work with the Smith-Kettelwell Eye Research Institute in making art accessible using audio techniques. A visually impaired artist, Haley Goodlett, makes art inclusive by adding tactile components to her art. Working with children with visual impairments/blindness has led me to be more creative in using hands-on materials such as Wikki Stix, glitter glue, a screen under crayons, adding tactile or real items to the pictures, using a tactile drawing board, using clay or playdough, finger/hand/foot painting, and so many more ideas. Here are some ideas on Pinterest for tactile art ideas for blind children. Here are more ideas for working with visually impaired/blind children: SBESInc Pinterest.  Image Description: A blue background with yellow, white, and black lines and splatters. Embedded are buttons, yarn, seed pods, and string that has been painted over and provides a tactile experience to the painting. The sign says the painting is titled, "The Vantage Point of an Ant" and is part of a two-part series. Painting done by Haley Goodlett.




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Accessible COVID Tracker

by Dr. Sonja Biggs, July 23, 2020 1:48 PM


The Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute from San Francisco has developed a COVID case tracker that has data in both tabular and sonified formats: https://covid.ski.org. If you have any comments or feedback, please email the creators at: [email protected].


Lee Castillo, COMS/TVI Intern

by Sonja Biggs: Posted on Saturday, March 22, 2014 11:10 PM

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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 was set up in his name with the Community Foundation for San Benito County. Funds were used to purchase a ViewPlus embosser for the San Benito County Office of Education. 

Brandon's Dream

Sonja Biggs: Posted on Sunday, April 28, 2013 8:43 PM

Click this text to start editing. This block is a basic combination of a title and a paragraph. Use it to welcome visitors to your website, or explain a product or service without using an image. Try keeping the paragraph short and breaking off the text-only areas of your page to keep your website interesting to visitors.

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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

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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 Cure 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.

Sonja Biggs, MA, TVI, O&M: Posted on Friday, August 02, 2013 5:52 PM

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Sonja Phillips Biggs: Posted on Thursday, June 14, 2012 7:54 AM


What an amazing honor! I am so humbled by the support of my colleagues in the field of blindness. I work with an incredible team of people and without them nothing would be accomplished for children with visual impairments. It really does take a team to make a difference in the life of a child and we all have to work together. I am reminded of this daily as I work with the wonderful children who have visual impairments in California. Thank you, NCAER, and all of my colleagues.


Another surprise came when I was invited to the San Benito County Office of Education Board of Directors meeting. I thought I was just going to show them my NCAER award, but they surprised me with a special recognition award of their own for my service to the children in San Benito County who have visual impairments. Their affirming comments and attitude of gratefulness brought tears to my eyes. Again, I am reminded that it takes a team working together to make a difference and without the wonderful administrators, special education directors, parents, teachers, and para-educators, I would not be able to do the work I do. I love the people I work with and the students I work for! Thank you, San Benito County Office of Education!