American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections Winter 2017 LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES
by Aleeha Dudley
From the Editor: Aleeha Dudley is majoring in animal science at Louisiana Tech University. She won an NFB National Scholarship in 2011.
If it has four legs and fur or two legs and feathers, I love it. Ever since I was quite small, animals have been a huge part of my life. We always had two or three dogs in the house, along with the occasional cat and bird. I raised rabbits and bred them for show in local, state, and national competitions. I took weekly riding lessons for years, and I rode horses at several county fairs. I bottle-fed calves that were raised for meat on our farm. Not many blind children are lucky enough to have all of the direct exposure to animals that was part of my life growing up.
My childhood passion for animals never abated, and it has shaped who I am today. During high school there was only one thing I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to become a veterinarian. Later my career goal shifted somewhat. I decided that I wanted to work with horses by learning acupuncture and other therapies to help heal their damaged muscles and tissue.
When I entered college, I chose to major in zoology. At that particular university, zoology was a very scientific course of study with little hands-on experience. I knew I needed more direct experience, so I volunteered at a veterinary clinic where I could learn to handle animals successfully. I thought I had found the perfect clinic, but alas, I was very much mistaken. Because I am blind, I was not given any actual work to do. I was only permitted to stand just inside the door and "observe" whatever was going on. Basically it amounted to standing in the corner, listening and gathering any scraps of information I could, without ever laying hands on an animal.
My experience at the clinic was very discouraging, and I found myself questioning my career choice. How could I ever break into the field without any actual experience?
I had issues with my first university that eventually caused me to leave and find another school. Along the way I decided to attend an NFB training center where I could gain the skills and confidence I had never had or that I had lost through my struggles at my first school.
During those nine months at the center, I learned a lot about what it meant to be confident in oneself as a blind person and to trust one's ability to accomplish things. While I was in training, I had a work experience at a local veterinary clinic. This clinic was very different from the first one. I was permitted to handle dogs, take them outside, and bathe them. Finally, I felt that I had found a place where I could get my foot in the door. Though it did not last long, the experience taught me a lot about advocating for myself and about the alternative techniques that I would need to succeed in a very competitive field that few blind people have ever entered.
As my graduation from the training center drew closer, I wondered what I would do with my life. Although I had learned a lot and was a lot more confident in myself, many obstacles still lay in my path. My state rehabilitation counselor did not believe that becoming a veterinarian was a reasonable career goal for a blind person. Furthermore, I needed to find a better school than the one I first attended, a school that would give me the chance to learn the things I needed to know.
After exploring a few options, I selected Louisiana Tech University. It had a great animal science program, and its graduates had a high rate of acceptance at veterinary schools. At Louisiana Tech I would finally have the opportunity to get the hands-on experience I needed. So, with much trepidation and a little outright fear, I enrolled and began the journey toward the rest of my life.
My first quarter showed me very clearly that this was the kind of program I desperately needed. No longer was I in a dry, highly structured, theory-driven program based almost wholly on memorization. I was in a program that would allow me to investigate things, to get my hands on them, and to succeed at last. This change was especially evident to me in my animal science course.
First of all, my animal science professor was hilarious, and he was very interactive with the students. He did not simply stand back and lecture us. He was very open to working with me, and he wanted to see me succeed.
About halfway through the quarter, my professor told us that we would be working with baby pigs during our next class. We would be ear notching them, clipping their needle teeth, and docking their tails. Initially, I was very nervous. A din of what-ifs pounded in my head. What if my professor refused to let me participate? What if my classmates wouldn't let me see what was going on?
On the morning of the class, I dressed in an old T-shirt and jeans and prepared to give it my all. The professor told us to head outside and gather around the crate of pigs he had placed there. With much anticipation and anxiety, I followed the first couple of classmates outside and found the crate with little trouble. I set my cane down and reached into the box, feeling the pile of warm little bodies cuddled up together. I wondered if I would be allowed to participate, if I would even be permitted to hold one of the piglets.
As the professor came outside, I mentally chided myself. What was the point of all my training? What evidence did I have that my classmates and our professor wouldn't let me take part in this activity? If I didn't speak up for myself, who would? Why not give it a shot? If they said no, at least I would have grounds to fight back.
When the professor instructed us to reach into the crate, I picked up one of the warm little bodies. It wriggled, grunted, and squirmed. It kicked and struggled, but I held on nonetheless. I learned later that this particular pig was indicating possible signs of aggression. The smile on my face was unmistakable and contagious as I waited for instruction.
First up was ear notching. I was shown all of the equipment, and I restrained the pig while one of my classmates notched its ear. Its needle teeth were cut next, and, again, I was able to feel everything.
Finally, it was time to dock the pig's tail. I asked someone else to hold my pig. Then I took the clippers in my hand. Unconcerned about any possible risk, my professor showed me how to operate the clippers. He showed me where I should cut and gave me a sample that someone had cut from another pig so I could see the proper length.
Nervously, I prepared the clippers, placed them on the pig's tail, clipped, and pulled. With very little protest from the pig, I was done. I held my own, perfectly cut sample. Flushed, I smiled and bent to pick up my cane.
"Um, um, you're, um, covered in blood," one of my classmates told me. "Are you okay to get to the bathroom?"
This was one point when taking help was the best option. I didn't want to get blood on my cane.
I was proud of what I accomplished in that class. I had more blood on me than anyone else did, but it meant I had participated fully in the day's activity.
All of this was a huge step for me. Before my training at the NFB center, I never would have been so bold. I would have withdrawn into myself and not tried to share in such a wonderful, easily accommodated activity. I would have assumed that the professor thought handling a knife was too dangerous for me. I would have gone on believing that I could never do what I wanted to do.
Since that class, nearly every student has been much more open with me. My professor, willing to accommodate from the start, really decided that I could do this. I have never had so many allies in college, both professors and fellow students! I believe strongly that this university will offer me the opportunity to succeed and move on in my schooling. Through a good set of skills and the open-mindedness of my professors, I made the Dean's List for the first time in my college career last quarter.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to believe that blind people can achieve their dreams. Not only does a positive attitude help their self-esteem; it will also help them have the confidence to step forward and do things they never dreamed were possible.