I have recently developed an enormous passion for teaching blind kids. I wrote the following article for the Ruston Daily Leader on Thursday April 14, 2011.
Finding Hope for Blind Kids
By: Deja M. Powell
When I was nine months old, my parents learned that I was blind, the doctors did not give my parents a very optimistic outlook on my life or my potential. My parents enrolled me in a school for the blind when I was four and that is the first time they had ever met another blind person, and they were all kids. They never met a successful blind adult until much later in my life.
Early on my parents saw the potential for me to receive a good education and enrolled me in public schools. Here they were told that like most blind people, I had some “usable” vision and braille was too difficult to learn and large print was best. They also said that I didn’t need a cane as the goal was to make me look as normal as possible. My parents listened to the so-called experts, as any parents would.
I struggled all the way through high school with large print, magnifiers, hours of uncomfortable reading, very thick glasses, no confidence and a hatred for reading.
It wasn’t until I was 23 years old, had graduated college (with mediocre grades) and now had no blindness skills to keep a job that my life felt like it was crumbling. I hit rock bottom and that was when I decided to come to the Louisiana Center for the Blind. It was then that I dug deep, learned to read and write braille proficiently, began using a cane and finally developed some confidence. It was life changing for me, but I always wonder, what if I had gotten all of that earlier?
I went to Shreveport this weekend for the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana state convention. A gathering of more than 200 blind people from around the state attend this conference every year. The convention offers workshops and presentations on many different topics related to blindness such as braille literacy, adaptive technology, advocacy skills and presentations of personal stories from successful blind adults.
The highlight of this convention came early for me. I met a young blind couple from Baton Rouge who has a little girl who is six and has the same eye condition as I, loves clothes, shoes and jewelry like I and who is scared to use a cane, like I was. Marissa is bright, loves to dance, has a lot of personality and energy; she is like any other 6-year-old except she is blind.
When first meeting Marissa’s parents I could sense how scared, anxious and over-whelmed they seemed. Their little girl is blind and they clearly wanted to do what was best for her. They attended several meetings with other parents of blind children, talked to many successful blind adults, met with some of the national leaders in braille literacy and even did a cane walk under a blindfold.
According to the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), less than ten percent of blind kids today are learning braille. Can you imagine if Americans were told that less than ten percent of their children would be literate, there would be an uproar of enormous proportions. Yet this is happening with blind kids across the country. It should be unacceptable and yet we don’t have enough teachers who know braille to teach these kids so they never learn to read, a totally deplorable outcome.
Thankfully Marissa does have a good teacher and started learning braille at an early age, she is in kindergarten and reads at a high first grade level, in braille; she will be literate and sadly she is a rare case. Those who use braille efficiently, and early on, are 85 percent more likely to be employed as adults. You simply can’t argue with those numbers..So why is it so many blind kids get left behind?
While many things could be taken from the convention this weekend, the most important to me was that a little girl left Shreveport with a cane and two highly motivated parents who will give her every tool she needs to be whatever she wants to be. For any child, sighted or blind, the key to success is having someone, a parent, teacher, friend, organization that will stand up for them and fight for the education they deserve.