Thank you Annie

Photo of a girl with a white cane

By David Hyde

Photo credit: FamilyConnect.org

I went to school at a school for the blind, much like ours here in Wisconsin. There I was surrounded by children who had some kind of visual impairment. That was, however, the only thing we had in common. Some were older than I was, some were younger. Some were smarter, more popular, or better in sports. We were just like students in every other school. For us, being blind or having a visual impairment was normal.

This was before Least Restrictive Environment was even in the language of education. Then it was expected that students like me would go to a school for the blind. As I remember, only a couple of the larger school systems in the state had teachers who worked with blind children. Orientation and mobility teachers in schools didn’t even exist. Today, things are different. In many districts, there may be one or two blind students. For them, their situation is unique. They don’t have blind friends, or blind adults from who they can learn. When they come here for the Braille Challenge and Braille Olympics, or to one of our summer programs, all of a sudden there are students like them. This is important for it gives them the opportunity to share experiences, make friends, try new things, and most importantly, learn that they are not alone.

When I see such things happen, I am always reminded of a little girl I met in Oregon. I was chairing a convention, and so I introduced speakers, asked questions, dealt with voting, and did those other things that come up in a meeting of sixty or seventy people. After I dropped the gavel for the morning session and started for lunch, a young lady of about eight years old reached out and grabbed my arm.

“You’re the man who was doing all that talking,” she admonished.

“Yes,” I replied, “I was running the meeting.”

“That must be fun,” she said, and ran her hand down my arm to shake my hand. That hand was full. It was holding my white cane. “What’s this,” she asked.

“It’s my cane,” I replied, having answered this question only a few thousand times before.

It got very quiet. “You can’t be blind,” she opined, “You’re grown up.”

Some things are much more important than lunch. I missed it that day. I learned her name was Anna and I spent a couple of hours with her, explaining that blind boys grow up to become blind men, and blind little girls grow up to be blind women. We talked about how she might raise children, go to work, clean her house, and all those things that adults do, whether they can see or not.

In fairness, I really don’t know whether her parents had tried to explain this to her before, or she just didn’t believe them. I think she believed me.
 
Anna would be around thirty-five today. I have lost track of her, and regret it. Until that Saturday afternoon, I just took it for granted that blind children knew that they would probably grow up to be blind adults. We both learned something. I learned that there are more important things than the next agenda item. She learned that she had a future, and that being blind did not mean that she couldn’t be successful.  I learned that I could be surprised about what children learn, or don’t learn, about themselves. She learned that being blind was not the most important thing about her.

I remember Annie when I meet with children and parents. She is probably one of the reasons I do what I do now.   The perspective she gave me has served me well over the years, and I will always wonder if nobody had talked with her about growing up, or if she just didn’t believe.

Thank you Anna, where ever you are.

David Hyde is a Parent Liaison and the Professional Development Coordinator at WCBVI. You can contact him by email at david.hyde@wcbvi.k12.wi.us or by phone at (608) 758-6152 or toll free 1-866-284-1107 x6152.