Blind Kids Can: Krystal Guillory's Federation Story

Krystal Guillory smiles with Carla McQuillan who just presented her with the Educator of Blind Students Award.

Blind Kids Can: Krystal Guillory's Federation Story

By Krystal Guillory

Editor’s Note: Krystal Guillory is our 2023 Distinguished Educator of Blind Students. She teaches students in Lincoln Parish, Louisiana, and has had over twenty years of experience. She serves on the board of the Louisiana Organization of Parents of Blind Children, and is the coordinator of the NFB BELL® Academy in the state. She was also instrumental in the coordination and execution of the first NFB BELL® In-Home Edition.

Entrepreneur and philanthropist Jim Fiebig famously said, “There is a wonder in reading Braille that the sighted will never know: to touch words and have them touch you back.” These words beautifully encapsulate the great joy I am privileged to receive in teaching Braille and other essential blindness skills to my students. Simply put, Braille makes literacy possible for the blind. When one is able to implement the reading and writing of Braille in concert with the use of assistive technology, and far more importantly, curiosity about the broader world and the ability to problem-solve, their opportunities far exceed not only their expectations, but those of an often well-meaning but uninformed public.

While growing up in a tightly-knit community in suburban New Orleans, my exposure to people who are blind and low vision generally consisted of stereotypical tropes found in popular culture—ones that were (and are), to say the least, demeaning and insensitive. Thanks to poignantly effective awareness initiatives and authentic interactions with competent role models, attitudes are now evolving. Some may say that change is occurring at a glacial pace, but I believe we must embrace and celebrate progress while continuing to educate and advocate for further change.

In my freshman year of college, I accepted a job as a part-time student worker at the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired (LSVI). I met students and staff there who were blind and low vision—a diverse group of individuals whose competence and confidence spanned a range of abilities. Their internalized and externalized beliefs about the world and their place in it gave me considerable food for thought.

A pivotal moment occurred approximately two years into my time at LSVI. A fairly new hire, my future husband, asked me out. While embarrassing, I recount my trepidation here in hopes that it will prove beneficial. I was interested in getting to know him better, but had reservations about joining him at a public restaurant. In all candor, as a student worker, I had observed less-than-desirable table manners from people whom I otherwise held in high regard as wonderful mentors and friends.

Long story short: we have happily dined at many restaurants in our more than twenty years together. Thankfully, my initial apprehension was quickly dispelled. As I became acquainted with the Federation and the use of alternative techniques of blindness, I realized that everyone’s lived experiences are different, and that opportunities to acquire edifying skills are neither universal nor equitably distributed.

I began to attend state and national conventions, and to witness the challenges and victories in the pursuit of curricular and life access for students and families from across the nation. My expectations were raised, and my belief in the Structured Discovery approach was galvanized. Observing the genuine emotion and enthusiastic buy-in of students whose skills and attitudes were strengthened—individuals whose belief in themselves and their own capabilities buttressed and shaped my philosophy. Say it with me: Blind Kids Can!

My bachelor’s degree is in Secondary English Education. Literature, and by extension literacy, are close to my heart. Once I connected the dots (pun intended) between competence in Braille and the doors of opportunity thrown open in one’s life, I was hooked. I am privileged to teach and/or reinforce Braille literacy, including the use of tactile graphics and refreshable Braille, serving students in a vocation I truly love. The beloved and boisterously-shouted phrase “Braille Rocks!” is just as true in 2023 as when that wonderful pioneer, Louis Braille, dared to make literacy readily accessible two centuries ago.

In the Federation, we understand that, given proper training and opportunity—a more inclusive playing field if you will—blind people can compete in terms of equality with their sighted peers. This belief guides my approach and is one of the most important messages I can convey to students, their families, and society as a whole. Far too many people continue to assume that blindness or low vision automatically diminishes a student’s ability to live a fulfilled life and to contribute to the rich and vibrant tapestry of our shared world. This assumption is not only false but damaging.

I am often called “blind at heart.” I proudly embrace this description. As a teacher, it is critical that I not only provide access to prescribed materials, but also to the skills of blindness that will ready them for all that life has to offer. This includes friends and mentors in the National Federation of the Blind. Some students and their families feel truly alone as they walk life’s difficult road, but this need not be the case. I am one of thousands who are ready to journey with them, and look forward to celebrating their successes!