Signs. They are everywhere. Sometimes they alert us to danger, sometimes they send us on a detour. Our sign was created specifically to create a safe space for our blind son to traverse his high school parking lot filled with student drivers.
A couple of weeks ago in a Facebook forum for parents of blind kids, a parent asked how other people handle school drop off/pick up. I read several responses and decided to post a picture of our solution: a sign.
We live in a small rural town with very few VI/Blind kids. There are no local advocacy groups and as a family dealing with our son’s unexpected, rapid vision loss we simply do the best we can. We do what works for us. However, after reading the absolutely vicious responses to my FB post I deleted it.
After deleting my post and discussing the comments with my family, I reached out to a few well-connected people in the VI/Blind community and asked for their advice. They were able to help me navigate the comments that called me an “ableist” and said that I was “stigmatizing my son.” My friends know me to be a “thoughtful yet fierce advocate” for my son — not a “mom with a special spot for my special ego…” (I couldn’t even bring myself to read the rest of that comment.)
I’ve had my head down for the last 6 years — helping my son navigate blindness through grief, acceptance, training, tools, and resources. I’ve done a lot of advocating locally, but FB and blogging are new to me, so my VI/Blind community friends listened, shared their thoughts and pointed me to articles about this hotly contested topic. I understand the issues as outlined in this NFB article, but I disagree with the correlation between our parking situation and pedestrian signage in general. (If you are interested please read: NFB.org: Signs of Regress)
After reading, researching and pondering, I stand by our sign and here’s why: In elementary school, before we had ever heard the word Retinitis Pigmentosa, Kai rode the bus home. The bus would stop at the end of our street. I’d wait in the yard and watch him meander home. If the corner church’s camellias tree was in bloom he would make several circles around it to find “the perfect flower” to give to me. Then things unexpectedly started to change. He would run home anxiously or ask me to meet him at the bus stop. Then, we began to notice bruising at the edges of his eyes. The doctor said it was anxiety and allergies. These changes sent us on a year-long journey that ultimately led to a diagnosis of Retinitis Pigmentosa. He finished elementary school as a car rider, with a teacher delivering him personally to my car.
Then came middle school, where I was asked to pick him up in one of the handicap spots since it was difficult for him to identify our car in the pickup line. The problem was that there was no crosswalk leading to the handicap spaces, and several rushed parents would zip around the carpool line and idle their cars at the curb in front of the handicap spaces making crossing difficult. I began parking behind the school and having his parapro walk him to my car, as I fought for a crosswalk, yellow curb and for signage that read: NO PARKING NO IDLING – clearing the way for my son and other disabled kids to have safe passage.
In high school, the parking lot was filled with student drivers of big, loud farm trucks, and silent electric cars. The school, knowing about my advocacy at the middle school, decided to be extremely proactive and after brainstorming with us agreed to add a new handicap spot with a sign that read: Parking for the Visually Impaired Only. This “safe space” allows Kai to enter/exit the school independently while using his mobility cane. He is able to walk out of the school and hang out with his friends, then make his way independently to my car without having to cross through a busy, loud, student parking lot. This works for us. This is a blessing for us. I will not be ashamed. I am so proud of my son! In the last six years, he has gone from 20/20 vision to being legally blind. He’s learned to read braille, learned to use a Braille Note Touch, learned to walk with a mobility cane. His orientation and mobility skills are so solid that he was recently approved for a guide dog. He’s well adjusted and he’s not ashamed of his blindness. He knows he’s an overcomer and he participates in his IEPS and the decisions that impact him.
To all the parents out there who are doing their very best to make the next best decision for your child: YOU DO YOU. Do not allow haters to drag you down. Do what you feel is best for your children. Below is a collage of signage we use to raise awareness and keep our son (and others) safe.
Image collage description:
- The crosswalk, yellow curb, and signage that was added to our middle school reading: No Parking No Idling
- Kai wearing a neon yellow jersey over his wetsuit that reads: BLIND ATHLETE
- The sign where I meet Kai afterschool each day at the high school which reads: Parking for the Visually Impaired Only.