Jennifer Harnish

Guest post by Jennifer Harnish. Dr. Harnish is the Director of Rehabilitation services at the Carroll Center for the Blind with a doctorate in clinical psychology. She is an advocate for policy, training, and therapeutic support for those with visual impairments. Jennifer has been legally blind since 1997 from Retinitis Pigmentosa. She is the mother of three teenagers.

This post is referred to in Chapter 11: Personal Recovery, in my new book When You Can’t Believe Your Eyes: Vision Loss and Personal Recovery, a How To guide for people losing sight and their friends, being published this month including accessible versions

Jennifer contributed extensive notes which I have turned into a list divided into babies, toddlers/pre-school, and children. Resources are at the end.


  1. Daily use of diaper cream treats diaper rash before you have to wonder if it is there

` Remember that even fully sighted adults learn how to change diapers in the dark

  1. Label dresser drawers and toy bins with visual labels and also ones you can use so that others learn what items belong where
  2. Lightweight strollers can be pulled behind you while using a cane in front. Extension handles for strollers are available for this purpose
  3. Choose a backpack rather than shoulder bag for carrying baby/child supplies so it isn’t falling off your arm
  4. Baby and toddler backpacks and front carriers can allow you to have both hands free for cane or guide dog
  5. Consult with your physician or pharmacist on ways to label child medications and how to mark oral syringes (the dropper kind for giving liquid meds to babies and toddlers)
  6. Use a talking thermometer for checking on fevers and a talking food thermometer for measuring heat level of liquids being fed to a baby
  7. Making and applying labels is a fun task for sitters or friends or a retired neighbor who might enjoy time out of the house to have fun with a little one
  8. Babyproofing is essential when you cannot see your child well. If your budget allows, there are professionals who can help complete such tasks.


    1. Sneakers with bells are good for toddlers
    2. Search for classes and playgroups for adults and their kids. Music, crafts and more in an enclosed setting where you can speak with the leader of the class or group in advance about what visual assistance you might want.
    3. Invite a friend to join you and consider offering to pay for their kids being in the class as a thank you for doing the driving and helping out. Or treat her for coffee or lunch afterwards
    4. Host a playgroup at your home where you can control the level of childproofing
    5. If space allows, make one room a childproof room using a baby gate to block it off
    6. For outdoor play consider using a fencing that is used around a garden to create a “corral” that you can keep clean of debris but that allows your young one to roam in the outdoors.
    7. For outdoor play consider using a fencing that is used around a garden to create a “corral” that you can keep clean of debris but that allows your young one to roam in the outdoors.
    8. Engage in play with your child that you can also enjoy such as tactile crafts like edible playdough, finger painting with yogurt, markers that have a variety of smells, large markers of contrasting colors if you have low vision, foam or magnetic letters and numbers for word play. Everyday household items are often the most fun for young ones such as playing drums with a pot and cooking spoon or stacking plastic containers then knocking them over. Resist the urge to load up on toys because that will make clean up and organizing even harder and time consuming.
    9. Let your child enjoy the blindness or low vision products that you use. For example, children may be enthralled by having their fingers, drawings, or an ant held under a video magnifier. when my toddler got a cactus spine stuck in his finger, his cries silenced when he saw the enlargement of his finger and the spine sticking out of it under the video magnifier. The magnification allowed me to accurately place the tweezers to remove it while he was distracted by the big image.
    10. Some parents use a tether that goes around the toddler’s waist that you can hold to keep the child from running off in busy or wide open environments. However, be sure to allow plenty of opportunities for play where the child is safe to move freely.
    11. Know the colors your kid is wearing if you take them to a playground or playgroup so if you want to check in on them you can ask another parent where the kid in the red polka dot top is.


  1. Choose clothing that can be mix and match so that any shirt can match with any pants. Also, 21. Socks all the same color are easiest to match up than a variety of colors
  2. Use picture books labeled with Braille to read to your child if you learn Braille or enjoy audio books with your child. Many blind adults find that the children in their lives become very adept at describing the environment around them. Listening to reading material develops cognitive skills that visual reading of books may not do
  3. Advocate with your child’s school and the teachers for how they can provide you with school materials in format that you can access such as sending homework assignments by email
  4. For special events like birthdays engage a friend or another family member to serve as the photographer of the event. Consider taking video recordings rather than tons of photos so that you can enjoy the sounds happening even if you cannot see the images clearly.
  5. A friend, family member or babysitter can help put together photo albums or online collections of photos that they help label with text that can be read audibly. For example, using audio labeling stickers like the Pen Friend where the photo can be described gives you long-time ability to enjoy the photos and also to describe them to your child
  6. Find a sitter with lots of energy for assisting with visual tasks such as photos, reading books, and art projects.
  7. For medical appointments and parent-teacher meetings come prepared with a note taking method such as a recording device or large print pen and paper
  8. When enjoying TV with your child, identify shows that offer audio description so that you know what is happening
  9. Children of blind parents often become avid walkers and users of public transportation when they are along for the walk or ride . these experiences are so beneficial for the child and are something they might be deprived of if always riding in a vehicle
  10. Although children can be eager helpers, remember that it is not your child’s role to provide you with daily assistance for tasks you are not (yet) able to do with less vision. Seek training or ideas from others with vision loss for how to complete tasks you want to be able to do.


American Council of the Blind (ACB) has a monthly conference call for parents with vision impairment and other family members with vision loss. Search under “families.” has information for parents and grandparents. Search under “blind parenting.”

Caring for babies and children can also be addressed during a rehab program

Ingber, J. and Terlau, T. (2014). Parenting with a Visual Impairment: Advice for Raising Babies and Young Children. Louisville, American Printing House for the Blind. Regular print $79 with audio CD’s.

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