The Braille Monitor                                                                      _______    December 1997

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Seeing No Limits

by Don Melvin

From the Editor: The following article appeared in the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution on Saturday, August 23, 1997. The subject of this story, Amanda Wilson, is a very determined Federationist who has read the Braille Monitor for a number of years and clearly understands the importance of having high expectations. Here is the article about her:

Despite losing her sight and borderline retardation, Amanda Wilson has managed to attain her master's degree.

Don Wilson doesn't remember anyone speaking the words aloud, but he remembers what the tests showed.

His daughter Amanda, though, remembers.

She was ten years old, maybe a little older. Steadily, inexorably, she was losing her sight. And tests conducted at the Georgia Academy for the Blind in Macon showed she was borderline retarded.

She was not college material, she was told. Her best bet was to pursue a career as a vendor or perhaps as a telephone customer service representative.

"I told them I wanted to work with children," she remembers.

"And they said, `You can't do that.'"

Sunday, Amanda Wilson, now twenty-eight and nearly totally blind, will be awarded her master's degree in special education from the State University of West Georgia in Carrollton. With honors.

She plans to work with children--to encourage them, she says, rather than discourage them.

"I want them to hear that, if they apply themselves and get proper training, they can be whatever they want to be," she said.

Wilson has suffered from retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary, progressive eye disease, and is legally blind. She struggled through grade school and even high school, sometimes bumping into things, sometimes not seeing the blackboard.

This May she returned to the Georgia Academy for the Blind to apply for a job as a teacher. She was asked, she said, whether her Seeing Eye dog, a black Labrador retriever named Sison, would be a distraction in the classroom or whether he had ever shown aggression toward children.

Wilson did not get the job, but she said she does not know the reason.

Her father was incensed.

"I guess I thought that they, of all the people in the world, should be aware of what a Seeing Eye dog is and what it helps a person accomplish," Don Wilson said. "And I was frustrated, amazed, and angry."

Richard Hyer, the director of the academy, said he does not believe such questions were ever asked. He would not comment on the academy's evaluations of Amanda Wilson's potential.

"I don't have any comment," he said. "I'm not going on the record with you at all."

Amanda's anger only fueled her desire to succeed.

She has lived independently in Carrollton, using Sison to guide her.

People read course material to her, her computer speaks, and the university has a scanning machine that reads printed material aloud.

Neither she nor her father ever accepted the evaluations of experts regarding her potential.

"I'm redheaded and hard-willed and stubborn," Don Wilson said. "And we always said we don't really care what the experts say. This is what we're going to do."

He would like to take credit for his daughter's success, but he said he can't.

Fortunately, Amanda plans to return to her parents' home in White, a town in Bartow County northwest of Atlanta, and look for a job working with handicapped children.

"I think I'm a determined person who would like to show disabled people they can be who they want. They can be independent. It doesn't matter what your disability is; you have to be a person first."

Her father, meanwhile, expects to shed tears of pride Sunday when his daughter receives her master's degree.

"I'm more glad than I can live with, almost," he said. "I'm very proud of her."