Braille Monitor                         August/September 2020

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Presenting the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award

by Carla McQuillan

Carla McQuillanFrom the Editor: Carla is the chairperson of our National Federation of the Blind Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award Committee. Here is the presentation she gave at the meeting of the national board on Wednesday, July 15:

CARLA MCQUILLAN: I would like to start by thanking the members of the committee: Michelle Chacon, Emily Gibbs, Eric Guillory, and Dan Wenzel. Thank you very much for going through the applications and making the tough decisions.

In the National Federation of the Blind we understand that a solid, quality education in early childhood is critical for the success of our blind children. Since 1988 we have been giving the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award to those educators who distinguish themselves in the field by going above and beyond the expectations of their job description.

This year our recipient has not only been in the field of education of blind children for over twenty years, but her volunteer work in her community (in the state of Texas) has been inspirational, to say the least. She has worked with children, their families, seniors, and in our BELL Academy in Texas as a volunteer for many years now.

Let me tell you what this individual will receive. She will be speaking to the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children at this convention. She will receive a check in the amount of $1,000, and she will receive a plaque. The plaque reads as follows:

The National Federation of the Blind honors
Graciela L. Olivo
for her skills in teaching Braille
and other techniques of blindness,
for devoting graciously extra time
to her students to meet their needs,
and for empowering her students
to perform beyond their expectations.
You champion our movement,
you strengthen our hopes,
and you share our dreams.
July 15th, 2020

Graciela, would you like to say a few words to the convention because you certainly tell your story better than I?

GRACIELA: I would like to extend a grateful and heartfelt thanks to the following persons for choosing me as this year's National Federation of the Blind distinguished educator of blind children: Mr. Mark Riccobono, Mrs. Carla McQuillan, Mrs. Carlton Anne Cook Walker, Ms. Kimberly Banks, Mrs. Norma Crosby, and Ms. Liz Wisecarver who nominated me for this position, Mr. Daniel Martinez who was my former student and who initiated this nomination, and to our local NFB chapter here in the Rio Grande Valley for all of its support. I want to give thanks to God for giving me this ability and who made it possible for me to serve those students whom He has placed in my path to teach.

Thanks to all of you for thinking so highly of me. I'm humbled and honored to be a part of NFB and for this prestigious award, as well as for the opportunity to serve others through the National Federation of the Blind. I only ask that I may be permitted to continue working with the blind and visually impaired for many more years to come and that I make you proud. May God bless you.

Mrs. Carlton Anne Cook Walker asked me what the title of my speech would be, and I said, “Virtual Reality Versus Reality.” How is that, you say? Well, I never thought of teaching blind or visually impaired students. As a matter of fact I was teaching home economics food service skills to middle school students when I was approached about a blind student requesting to be in my class.
"What? No, way! I don't know anything about working with blind students. I'm not trained to work with blind students." God has other plans. This blind student’s VI teacher told me she had every right to be in my class and that I had the responsibility as a vocational teacher to teach her, just as I was teaching all the other students in that class.

Well, by the time the conversation was over, we were both a mess. She walked out of my classroom crying, and I walked over to the principal's office crying my eyes out, telling him there was no way this was ever going to happen and that I would rather quit than do this. He calmed me down and he said, “Let's talk tomorrow.”

When I came in the next day, before me as I signed in, there was a poster that read: “University of Texas teachers of the blind will be coming down to the Region One Education Service Center and will be offering classes for educators to become certified teachers of the blind and visually impaired.” This made me really angry, and I tore it off the wall. I took it in to the principal, and I told him, "You did this on purpose!" He told me that he hadn't seen it, but maybe it was a sign from a higher power.

He said, "Maybe we need to work on this, and you and I can do this together?" By that afternoon he had gotten the information he needed, and this was the beginning of my entry into the world of VI. The information stated that I would need to go to Edinburg, which is a city about forty-five minutes away, to take classes every other weekend starting Friday noon and ending Sunday late afternoons. This meant cutting out of my classes and getting a substitute—all too much for me to handle—but my principal made all the arrangements for me to go out and not stress too much. This also meant that I would be traveling back and forth, which meant gas money. Times were hard then, and money was tight in my family. It was suggested that we make arrangements to stay at a nearby hotel to avoid so much traveling. Again, more money. But soon the university paid for everything, including books and registration, all at no cost to us. Things started falling into place, and I really couldn't believe it.

After all my course work was done, I got a call from the special education department in my school district saying they were in need of my VI services. At that time I reluctantly left home economics. But in hindsight I've never looked back as this was definitely my calling. Now I know that you do what the Lord has planned for you, not what you want. This is reality.

Thank you for this recognition, and I look forward to continuing my journey in helping the lives of the blind and visually impaired in my community and in other communities that I might be able to help out. Thank you very much.

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