The Braille Monitor                                                                                       May 2003

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Disability Is No Hindrance for Blind Teacher:
Blindness Enhances Her Mission to Make Children Independent
by Eric Bradley

From the Editor: The following article appeared in the November 6, 2002, edition of the Oshkosh Northwestern. Ginger Lee is one of the leaders of the NFB of Wisconsin. She is also the kind of teacher who makes a lasting impression on her students. Here is the article:

For students to be successful in Ginger Lee's family and consumer education class, they need to learn how to stitch on a button, cook a healthy meal, and pay all their bills at the end of the month. For herself, the Perry Tipler Middle School instructor measures success a little differently. "I know I'm successful when people don't know I'm blind," Lee said. "But I hope they (students) realize they should be accepting of people with disabilities. They are people, too, that can have families and lives and careers. They just do things in a different way."

These days Lee is a champion for educating the populace on what it means to be blind in American society. She is a board member of the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin and regularly speaks at conventions. This week she will talk to parents of children who are blind. She will urge them to maintain high expectations for their children, regardless of their kids' ability. Just like in her classroom. "Kids don't fool around any more (in) here than in other classes," said Ted Procknow, twelve, one of Lee's sixth-graders. "Yeah," agreed Jacob Thornton, twelve. "She can hear a whisper across the room."

Each of her eleven years in the classroom has gotten easier for Lee, she said. She only has two special requests of students: that they keep their chairs pushed in and refrain from petting her guide dog--a golden retriever guide named Windy--when she is working. Lee opens her classroom to questions at the start of every year. But even though the children are different, the number of questions about being blind has dwindled. "I don't know if the kids are talking or maybe because I've had their siblings," Lee said. "It seems the kids are showing more understanding."

That understanding has been a long time coming, even for Lee. The stigma of being blind was so great that, when she was a college student, Lee refused to join disability support groups or otherwise affiliate with "those" people. When she got her job at Tipler, she took extra steps to become a member of the team and not an exception. Her role as a teacher, however, makes her exceptional. She said statistics on blind educators show that only 25 percent of blind people with a degree in education are employed. "It's perfectly fine to be blind," she said. "People focus on the viewing so much, but there are five senses. In a way I get a whole sensory image of what's going on around me." The climate at Tipler is better for it, said DuWayne Unbehaun, Tipler's dean of students. "Her personality comes through in the way she deals with the kids," Unbehaun said. "Students see her strength, confidence, and kindness, and I think it inspires them. "She sets a very good example, and the kids see that and pick up on that." That's Lee's ultimate goal: to be a good role model and shape her students' lives through high expectations and practical lessons.

She sets those same expectations for herself. "That's why I'm the person I am," she said. "Without that, I wouldn't have made it as far as I have."

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