A Chance to Belong

by Crystal McClain

Reprinted from Advocacy in Action, a publication of the Ohio NFB Parents Division.

The chance to belong. Isn't that one thing we want for our kids? Just because our kid is blind doesn't mean we erase that natural instinct of wanting them to be a part of something. As parents of blind children we may be tempted to let "belonging" slip away. Here is one example of how I helped to make sure my daughter Macy did belong.

SEA is a five week program offered to kids in grades K-8 in Logan County. This program is for two hours on Saturday morning and offers a variety of enrichment courses for the children. I eagerly signed up my twin kindergartners (Madison & Macy). You might like to know that Madison is sighted and Macy is blind. Madison chose an animal class and Macy chose a puppet class where you make puppets and then have a puppet show. Both of the girls were excited. We got back their admission slips after we sent in the twenty-five dollar course fee.

Things were going well until I received a phone call saying that because Macy was visually impaired she would not be permitted to participate unless I provided and paid for a private assistant. I was very upset. This program was sponsored by the very school system that Macy attends.

I started to investigate and after six phone calls (including one to Ohio Legal Rights and one to Eric Duffy, Ohio NFB director of field operations), I got to the source of the problem. One woman (the director of the program) was responsible for this. She had many misconceptions about blindness, and she wasn't about to let go of them. She used class size and dangerous equipment (glue guns) as an excuse. She said no visually impaired student would be allowed to participate in any SEA class. I asked her if the other kindergartners in the class would be using hot glue guns unassisted. (I hope not!) Finally, when push came to shove, she had me call the Special Education Director, Melinda.

The Special Education Director said that the other woman stated that I was requesting a paid assistant because I didn't want to pay for it. Once again I was shocked. I told Melinda (we're on a first name basis) that I did not want an assistant. I want Macy to continue to grow in her independence and that was impossible with a personal aide continuously at her side. Melinda knows me and said she understood, and that I was to take Macy to the class on Saturday.

SEA classes are over now and Macy enjoyed hers immensely. She got to be with her friends from school, make puppets (maybe not the prettiest ones), and perform a puppet show. The lesson here is that I could have accepted a refund of my twenty-five dollars, or paid for an aide, or accepted an aide that was paid for me, but I didn't. I stuck to my convictions and Macy was able to belong to something (SEA) without hurting her independence.

The result is worth the battle. How many kids lose out because someone said "No"—they couldn't belong—and their parents let it happen. Please don't let it happen to your child. Make sure your child participates in school activities, church, and activities within your community.