Future Reflections Winter/Spring 1998, Vol. 17 No. 1

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But Will He Be Safe?
by Dawn Neddo

image of Kyle Neddo

Kyle Neddo using his cane on the
boardwalk up to the sand dunes.

Editor's Note: Dawn Neddo and Gary Wunder's parents have at least one thing in common—a child born prematurely and blind. But there is one difference, one very important difference—unlike Gary's parents, Dawn does not have to "re-invent" the wheel. Because of the National Federation of the Blind, she has the support and information she needs, and just as importantly, her son Kyle does not have to wonder—as Gary did as a child—what it is that blind people can do. Here is Dawn's story:

There have been many times in my son's young life that I have heard the words "But will he be safe?", "I don't think he's developmentally ready" and "We have to think of liability." And with those words I have seen the looks on the faces of teachers, relatives, and parents of sighted children—looks of pity, disbelief, and general concern for me because I am not "accepting" my child's blindness.

Sometimes I doubt my own decisions about pushing Kyle too much or expecting too much from someone so young and determined. When I look back at when he was a baby, so frail that everyone around me was looking at him with heartbreak and at me with feelings of compassion, I think it was then that I drew my strength from Kyle. If God had given Kyle the will to live he had also given me the will to fight for the best life possible for Kyle. That meant a life full of laughter, playing with friends, riding bikes, swimming, and learning. I wanted for Kyle what every parent wants for their child.

Having Kyle for a son has been easy compared to the strain of fighting for his rights as a blind child. I remember one time feeling very defeated because it seemed that no matter how hard he worked and how very much he had accomplished there was always another negative standing in his way.

At these times I usually call our friends Allen and Joy Harris for support and encouragement. (Allen and Joy are both blind. Allen is the president of the NFB of Michigan.) I realize that the "fight" has been going on for a long time, and it's only because of the NFB that Kyle has even been allowed on the playing field of life. I tell Kyle that just as the NFB blind members have made it possible for him to succeed, he is helping the younger children that follow him.

On vacation this summer in the Traverse City, Michigan, area, we spent a lot of time at the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes. All of our children love climbing the dunes with boundless energy and running down the mounds of sand as fast as their legs will allow. It is truly a beautiful scene as the sun is setting to watch them running and laughing to reach the bottom of the dune. When I watch Kyle running up the dune I am amazed at his energy, and I think back at the professionals who said he would never walk. When he calls out to his dad and I to watch him "fly"—he is running full force, back straight, head high, arms down in a natural running position—I think to myself that this is what it is all about—having the freedom to do what you choose to do and the skills to know how to obtain it.

Sometimes Kyle gets a little dependent and tries to see if he can get away with hanging on me and getting me to guide him when I know he can do it himself. We had started up the steep hill headed toward the top of the sand dunes and a lookout point when I realized that Kyle was hanging on me. Thinking that I would rather be hanging on him up that long, steep walk I said, "You know Kyle, this would be a perfect place to practice being independent. I could walk a ways behind you, and you could walk ahead of me using your cane following the wood walkway. When your cane hits the sand you'll know you have to get back on the wood." Because Kyle likes adventure I added, "Now don't yell back at me every two seconds to see if I'm there. That way no one will know that we are even together, and people will wonder "What is that kid doing up here all by himself?" I said. They will really think you are independent and grown up.

He thought this was great as I knew he would. People that he passed looked at him and smiled at each other as if they were proud of him also. No one knew we were together or who he was with. Only once did he get off the walk where the sand had blown over the wood. He was using his cane to get back on track just as an elderly lady tried to pull him over to the walk. But Kyle very politely said "No thanks, I can do it myself" before I could even intervene.

Kyle had walked on his own all the way to the top and back down. We were almost to the parking lot when I recognized the assistant director of special education services coming up the walk. She walked past Kyle, and as I approached her I said "Hi." She introduced Kyle to her husband and told him what a wonderful student Kyle was. As we walked away I told Kyle that he picked a perfect time to be independent and how all the people that saw him being independent would remember him, and the next time they thought about the blind they would remember this. His younger blind friends might have an easier time being able to do the things they want because he is showing others what can be done. The next time this assistant director is at a meeting and people ask "But how will a blind child even find the bathroom?" she can tell them how she saw a blind child independently climbing the sand dunes.

I was very proud of Kyle that day. He is starting 4th grade with confidence he has learned through the National Federation of the Blind. I have learned from going to NFB Conventions and reading the NFB publications—Future Reflections and the Braille Monitor— that fighting for Kyle's rights and having the high expectations that I have for him is what will enable him to have the best life possible.

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