Hindsight 20/20 Featuring Mary Woodyard

Hi friends, I’m super excited to share another Hindsight 20/20 article.  This article was written by Mary Woodyard about raising her son, Tommy, who is currently a senior at the University of Georgia. Tommy also happens to be legally blind. I’m so grateful that Mary took the time to share her wisdom with us parents who are still in the thick of advocating for our children’s accessibility needs in school.

Each 20/20 interview will be unique because blindness is a spectrum and each child, parent, and family has different circumstances, goals, and expectations.  As parents, we need to educate ourselves and consider advice from reliable sources — foundations, doctors, teachers, and so on (the list seems endless) — but ultimately, we are our children’s greatest advocates. I strongly believe that other parents who have “been there, done that” are our best resources. So, let’s navigate blindness together!

Alright parents, grab a cup of coffee or your beverage of choice, get comfy and enjoy.

Meet Mary
Contact via Facebook

1. What was the first symptom you noticed and what was your child’s age?
He was born at 26 weeks during what I thought was a normal pregnancy. He had contracted an infection which made him very sick; but, it did not impact me at all. When he was born, there was confusion as to his gestational age. The doctors were not sure if he was 25 weeks or 26 weeks. There was no consensus until he was a month old. Doctors warned me his brain was underdeveloped and felt that he would have GI issues. In addition, he had: a hernia, a hole in his heart and a pound of fluid in his body that was not supposed to be there. They were worried that his brain was not developing. He was 1.9 pounds when he was born. They told me not to worry about his eyes – they would be fine.

In the NICU, eye doctors check a premature baby’s eyes, as the eyes grow last and Tommy’s eyes were still developing. By the time he was 6 weeks old, eye doctors began disagreeing about his eyes. The Junior Doctor felt his retinas were not developing normally and wanted to operate, the senior doctor wanted to wait. These changes were not visible to the normal eye, you need special equipment to monitor the blood vessel growth. There was no way for me to monitor the retina or observe any problems. Eight weeks after birth, the doctors performed ROP laser surgery for both eyes and hernia surgery. He was four pounds and the hole in his heart was closed, his bilirubin was resolving and his neurological function was still in question. He came home from the hospital after 93 days, 10 days prior to his due date. Within two weeks, he had cataract surgery – so the first thing I noticed was the developing cataract. He wound up having 28 hospitalizations for either eye surgery or eye evaluations under anesthesia before he was 6. He only vaguely remembers one, for a cornea transplant.

When he was one, the doctors ordered an MRI to look at his brain, as despite the eye surgeries, the doctors thought he should have developed more vision. They ruled out Cortical Vision Impairment (CVI). Thankfully, the doctors found that his grey cognitive matter was fully formed. Some of his white matter was missing though which they thought might impact his visual processing and coordination. Also, he had a neurological blockage and they were determining whether he needed a shunt. They determined that the blockage was slowly resolving and he would not need a shunt. The doctors were wrong about his neurological function and he was an honors student in high school and is currently a senior at The University of Georgia.

2. What was the official diagnosis and prognosis?
There are really too many to share from his initial journey. From a vision perspective, he wound up with Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) in both eyes. This is his primary diagnosis. He has nystagmus secondary to the ROP. He had ROP surgery and Glaucoma surgery on both eyes. He had a vitrectomy in his left eye after the cataract surgery. His left retina detached and was reattached as a baby. He had a corneal transplant in the left eye around the age of 5 and donated heart tissue was used for glaucoma surgery (Molteno tube) to regulate his eye pressure. His retina detached again after the cornea transplant and the left eye lost any vision. It was about 20/800 prior to the detachment; his right eye corrects to around 20/200 – 20/250. His vision fluctuates daily. His prognosis is guarded vision. He has residual vision in his right eye with field restrictions and also a small cataract that is stable.

3. Aside from vision loss, does your child have any additional disabilities?
No, although he was delayed in all developmental areas as a young child because of his prematurity. He caught up by the age of 7.

4. In the days immediately following diagnosis how did you cope and to whom did you turn for support?
In Florida, at Lee Memorial Healthpark’s NICU, the retina doctors told us not to worry. We airlifted him to Memphis after 6 weeks in the Florida NICU because I was out of state when he was born. His first vision diagnosis was in a NICU in Germantown, Tennessee where he stayed for 6 more weeks. I tried to talk with as many doctors and nurses as possible but did not find them to be much help as they did not agree with each other. My first concern was whether the eye doctors should have operated two weeks earlier when the first one wanted to. At that time, there was no information. Later, I learned from a Texas retina doctor that earlier is better, but you have to deal with the information you have when you are making decisions.

You have to deal with the information you have when you are making decisions. — Mary Woodyard

The first time the reality that he would be at least legally blind (if not totally blind) struck me was after his fifth eye surgery when he was about 2. His retina doctor headed a research institute for babies with blindness so they were a resource. Texas provides Teachers of the Visually Impaired (TVIs) to vision impaired children from birth; his TVI was a resource. Texas also has a very strong Commission for the Blind so they were a resource. He had a retina doctor, glaucoma doctor, low vision doctor, cornea doctor, and pediatric ophthalmologist. The Commission for the Blind had a seminar titled “Through Your Baby’s Eyes” which was informative as well. We moved to Georgia when he was 6 and most of his support here has come from the American Foundation for the Blind and his eye doctors at Emory. His TVI was more focused on what happened at school versus Texas where his TVI came into our home.

5. In the first days following diagnosis, what specific fear(s) haunted you the most?
Fast-forwarding through the cataract surgeries and vitrectomy, complications from the ROP surgery, this is the first time someone mentioned the word “Blind” to us. There were so many other things (neurological, shunt, feeding, OT, PT and speech delays) to worry about; this was the first time the reality he would be blind or visually broke through the clutter to us.

Strangely, the specific fear that haunted me was my son having to feel the braille in a public bathroom. The potential for germs and the image of reliance on tactile markings just really bothered me. I never doubted his ability to prosper. My husband was haunted by the responsibility of a lifetime of taking care of a child. Looking at the employment and education numbers of blind people was daunting. Even today, the high school graduation rate for blind students nationally is 40% and 29% in our state. The college graduation rate is 16% in our state. My husband incorrectly assumed he would never graduate from high school and was overwhelmed with the changes that he assumed would come to our life. As Tommy entered kindergarten, I had my first experiences with administrators telling me that he did not have to take the same tests as other students did and this was not okay with me. Thankfully the law changed right about that time so this practice was not allowed. The fear that he would not have access to the same education as sighted students bothered me as well.

The high school graduation rate for blind students nationally is 40% and 29% in our state. The college graduation rate is 16% in our state. — Mary Woodyard

6. How much information about the diagnosis and prognosis did you share with your child and how did they react or process the information?
When he was 3, he was in a gymnastics class and the aide helping told the other children that he would do the same gymnastics as other kids but might need some different equipment and I adapted this message for his early schooling. He received technology and adaptive devices at a very young age and we told the other kids in kindergarten through 12th grade that the equipment that he used would allow him to do the same work they were doing… he would just do it differently. He would tell others that “His eyes worked differently than theirs.” He did not have any issues with doing things differently in elementary school. It helped that the other students loved his magnifiers, CCTVs, and computers.

By middle school, he could explain his medical history to teachers and grew a little more resistant about using large print. He definitely liked his CCTV and electronic text, but he tried to be like everyone else with print for a while except in math. This gave him headaches and his grades started to slip so he quickly used large print again, especially at home later in the day (when he had vision fatigue) and for math and science. He did almost everything electronically that he could except for math and science. He had a CCTV video magnifier that would hook up to the whiteboards at school so frequently his science teacher would teach everyone with his CCTV (with his permission) and with him sitting up close. She projected the magnified images of the frog dissection to the class so it included him and enabled him to see. The school obtained an electronic microscope with magnification that also enabled him to participate in Science.

By high school, he could easily explain his medical history and was comfortable with his need for assistive technology, material adaptions and for test extensions. He ran into resistance from some teachers in advanced classes about his use of adapted materials and was very comfortable advocating for himself about both his visual need for the adaptations and his right to have them. Other students were used to his adaptations, and it was not a big deal for him to use a different kind of media or technology when working either alone or in groups.

Now in college, he is adept at explaining to professors what his visual needs are and advocating for any accommodations he requires. He is an Ambassador for the Disability Resource Speakers Bureau and speaks out about access issues on campus. He just spoke to the safety managers from all buildings on campus about emergency needs for different disabilities. In groups, he easily negotiates the responsibilities that work for him – for instance in his Biology lab when the group was doing a hybrid worm experiment, one person counted the matches, he recorded the information and the other partner created the excel graphs illustrating the results.

There was only one doctor’s appointment that I shielded him from being present in the medical discussions and that was with a facial cranial doctor when he was in 1st grade. There were discussions about whether his eye that no longer had sight needed to be removed. Ultimately, it was decided that he needed to wear a prosthetic eye over his natural eye to ensure that his face would grow evenly because if your eyes are different sizes as a child, it can impact the way your face grows. I shielded him from the entire discussion, but if the decision had been made to remove his eye, obviously I would have had to inform him. I told him about it later when he was in high school but he has no memory of the appointment. He really learned of it from proofing this blog.

7. In which state(s) did your child receive service/attend school?
My child began early intervention in Tennessee, which is where we lived when he was born. We moved to Texas when he was one; he received services from the school system with a Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI) and Orientation and Mobility Specialist (O&M) coming to our home when we moved there. He was also enrolled in their baby early intervention program and Texas Commissions for the Blind’s home support system. He transitioned to their school setting at the age of 3 and attended the public preschool for children with disabilities two days a week where he received his vision services. I also enrolled him in a regular preschool for either 2 or 3 days (depending on his age) a week for the next few years. In addition to TVI and O&M services, he received Speech, Occupational Therapy, and Physical Therapy. His vision teacher gave him his first dome magnifier and monocular when he was 4.

Still in Texas, he completed kindergarten in the private school while traveling to the public school in the afternoon for vision, speech and occupational therapy services. He repeated kindergarten the next year in public school – starting in Texas and moving to Georgia – for the second half of the year. This is the year he had a cornea transplant and a glaucoma surgery involving transplanted heart tissue, so he missed school for several months. The Georgia public school sent a home teacher to our home several days a week. Georgia’s school system does not usually provide magnifiers or monocular to children so young, but because his Texas IEP specified their use, Georgia honored this part of his IEP.

He graduated with honors from Georgia K-12 primary school system and is currently attending the University of Georgia. He has completed summer classes abroad at UGA’s UGA at Oxford Program (England) and also a Florida State College of Law Summer for Undergraduates Program in Tallahassee.

Georgia does not have a Commission for the Blind like Texas did so he has not received services from them. When he was in 3rd grade he met an individual from the American Foundation of the Blind (AFB) filming an Emory Eye Care Fox News Special about low vision devices in education. The AFB and specifically Ike Pressley supported him during primary school. We live north of Atlanta and the Center for The Visually Impaired supported him with braille instruction over several summers. Forsyth Country Schools supported him with Assistive Technology, alternative media and orientation and mobility services. He received support from the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) attending their youth Summer Technology Program in Baltimore, MD at Towson University. He also received scholarships from the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and has attended four of their national conventions. The workshops at these conventions have been very helpful in covering everything from travel abroad, to public transportation to assistive technology. The Council for Citizens with Low Vision (CCLVI) has supported him with a scholarship and workshops. Christian Record Services has also provided scholarship support and Learning Ally provides reading services and emotional support as they have a location on campus in Athens that supports him. The Georgia Council of the Blind (GCB) supports him with scholarships and emotional support and the Disability Resource Center at the University of Georgia is his biggest supporter with alternative media, assistive technology, and alternative testing and transportation assistance. In addition, they provide amazing emotional support!

8. Describe your child’s K5-12 educational setting (public, private, home). Did your child have an IEP? If so, briefly describe the people on your child’s support team (Para, TVI, O&M, etc.)
He was in private and public Pre-K. We continued the private half-day kindergarten for one year with vision support being provided at the public school in the afternoons in a resource class. Then he needed two eye surgeries which necessitated him missing 80 days of school. Concurrently, we were moving to a new state so we repeated public kindergarten. He was in a regular classroom and had pull out services for vision, orientation, and mobility, occupational therapy, and speech.

He had many people supporting him including his classroom teacher and parapro, TVI, O&M, a speech therapist, an occupational therapist and an adaptive PE teacher in elementary school. In addition, he had a case manager in the school that coordinated his services, managed his IEP and school district personnel who supported him by obtaining assistive technology, state testing accommodations and some alternative media through Bookshare and Learning Ally. He collaborated with the local school Information Technology (IT) personnel to give him access to the network in his classroom and printing facilities.

By middle school, he had a dedicated parapro who was tasked with helping facilitate his assistive technology connections and scan his work so he could have it prior to class in an electronic format except for math and some maps and science which were put in large print. His school district also formalized and had a more central Assistive Technology Director that worked with the school IT personnel to make sure his equipment (computer, video magnifier, CCTV, accessible calculators, and printers) worked in each classroom.

9. Describe your child’s accessibility accommodations including Braille, Assistive Technology, Orientation & Mobility (cane, guide dog, etc.) 

Assistive Technology (AT): Keyboarding goals started in Texas in kindergarten and was initially taught by occupational therapy, but had transitioned to a vision goal by 2nd grade. He continued pull out or before or after school TVI or O&M services throughout his primary school education. He had preferential seating for classrooms and assemblies. In third grade, we decided to introduce a CCTV for classroom use and a laptop with electronic text for reading and writing.

By 4th grade, he was using electronic text for all worksheets except map and science charts, which were enlarged. All math was enlarged and extra space was provided between problems. He was allowed to write with a bold marker and used bold line paper for handwritten work. The graph paper was enlarged. PDF worksheets were scanned and then he added text, the completed work was enlarged after it was printed so that he could study from it later in large print. He was allowed to use manipulatives when appropriate (especially in math and science). He was allowed to have extended time for tests and timed assignments. There were certain educational benchmarks like Mastery of Computations, where he was allowed to use a talking calculator after he had passed the state testing that required the mastery of the mental calculation skill. Once a class required a standard calculator or scientific calculator, he was allowed to use an accommodated one. He was permitted to use voice dictation in his school for note-taking and papers because the skill to learn to write had been adequately mastered in earlier grades. He was allowed to use screen magnification software – Zoom Text – from elementary school on. Assistive technology was taught by a district AT person once he was in high school. He had to fight to be able to use screen readers/human readers in high school, but was successful and was able to use screen readers/human readers in his later high school years. He used readers on the ACT, SAT, and LSAT.

Braille: My son had 9 different vision teachers and they all had different views on Braille. His preschool TVIs did not think he would be a braille reader so they focused more on Low Vision devices (monocular and magnifier) to maximize the vision that he had. His kindergarten TVI was not a Braille advocate, but his first grade TVI was blind himself and felt he should at least be familiar with how Braille was organized. He had a more aggressive Braille teacher in second grade that began to really teach him more about Braille. Third grade he had three different TVIs and he had Braille for the beginning of the year…but transitioned more to CCTVs and electronic text and more keyboarding.

He did take Braille over summer classes for several years in elementary school to try and keep his Braille skills current. In middle school, he definitely preferred technology and we spent the summers working on Braille at The Center for the Visually Impaired in downtown Atlanta. I drove him there twice a week and he had private lessons. He did have some Braille in school, but it was all they could do to get his materials on time (prior to class) in large print and E-Text so they focused on that and focused on tactile accommodations more for math or science if needed (instead of Nemeth). In addition, he picked up some new technology goals like him downloading his own books from Bookshare using a regular digital recorder and Victor Reader Stream (audio recorder) which he mastered quickly. His 8th-grade vision teacher probably was not very Braille literate herself as I reflect back on this as she had him drawing braille cells on the blackboard and he was way more advanced than that. The only reason I can think of for her teaching it that way as I think back on it is that she was not braille proficient.

This TVI was the most difficult working relationship for both him and our family. I removed his Braille skills as they just seem to bicker through them. The district had committed to giving him a new TVI in 9th grade for several reasons but this did not work (mainly staffing). He did not have Braille this year but did have a heavy increase in other technology (staffed through the school district’s Assistive Technology Department) and O&M (bus and train instruction). In 10th grade, he got a wonderful TVI who was a first-year teacher who was very technology literate and worked more on developing skills for screen readers and human readers. She quit at the end of the year to move back to her home state and he received a new TVI who was amazing. She brought back his Braille goals and also worked on increasing his typing speed. I don’t think he was the most motivated Braille student she had, but she did refresh his Braille skills.

We did evaluate braille notetakers (a computer that can input and output braille or QWERTY keyboards) during his middle school years to decide whether to take him all braille or keep using E-text. His low vision doctor recommended that we go to the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) in Orlando and look at the different types of technology as he had kind of “outgrown” the devices in her office. After meeting with Humanware, we decided that even if we purchased a Notetaker he would probably use a QWERTY keyboard as he had already mastered Microsoft Office commands the visual way so we made the decision to keep braille knowledge accessible to him but to pursue E-text and large print for most education. (Braille commands were different than the visual commands for MS Office.) By his later high school years – and definitely in college – he has used more E-text and audio and a little audio description. I’m glad that he knows braille though. He has definitely used tactile graphics throughout high school and college with Math and maps even though braille is not his primary print literacy medium. Some people don’t realize you can use tactile graphics even if you don’t use Braille because I personally don’t think all TVIs understand this concept. For my son, tactile graphics were added to maps, some math (like triangles inside circles) and some science charts – especially if a 3d element was in the curriculum like in centers and out centers in geometry.

Orientation & Mobility started at home with our school district in Texas helping him learn how to navigate his home safely and suggesting modifications in our home to help him like high contrast tape on stairs and counters. She also started teaching him directional concepts like in front of or behind him. She taught him how to protect his head when crawling under things and how to use his arm as a protective aid when walking crowded halls. Next, she taught him sighted guide technique and started teaching him cardinal directions. From there she introduced the cane and taught him proper sweeping techniques and how to care for his cane.

Next, they learned to listen to traffic, identify danger zones when crossing the street, and navigate stairs and find building entrances. She took him to malls and shopping centers to learn how to map out a store; he also learned bus and train travel. She tried to take him to the airport but did not have much luck, so this fell to me. He definitely received good thorough O&M training, although our district had to contract with a trained MARTA specialist in order for him to learn public transportation on MARTA our public transportation system in Atlanta.

Tommy uses a cane in either an unfamiliar location or for ID when he travels. He has had extensive mobility training and is adept with his cane. He has used the mechanical dogs they have at the convention to assess his readiness for a dog and is ready if he wanted one. He does not really like dogs and does not want to have to take care of one at this time of his life. He does have several friends who have gotten dogs their sophomore year of college and they are all quite happy. He has the skills to have a dog. He just does not want the responsibility at this time in his life.

10. Describe your child’s extracurricular activities and hobbies.
In elementary school, he was in the cub scouts, choir and loved science camps and Spanish camps. He also really liked making movies and computer science and participated in the district technology fairs. He was in karate until the end of elementary school. He also was in some drama camps.

In middle school he moved to more swimming, joining the neighborhood swim team in the summers. He continued going to summer graphics and technology camps and began to love travel. He got very involved with our church small group and enjoyed outings with them.

In high school, he swam year-round and all four years for the high school swim team where he lettered. He also swam on the neighborhood swim team getting hired his last summer before college for his first paid job. He tried drama, anime club, Beta club, Rho Kappa National Social Studies Honor Society. He started volunteering weekly at church on the technical team for the elementary environment and also was very involved with his church small group participating in the fall, winter and summer trips.

11. Looking back, what was the biggest sight-loss related challenge you had to overcome and how was it resolved?
The biggest challenge was either low expectations or incorrect beliefs from the special education department from his high school. He had several staff members that forbid him to use vision accommodations in advanced classes. For some reason, they thought it was okay to use them in on-level classes, but not honors or AP classes. This was resolved through several meetings with school and district administration. There was a Special Education Director that did not believe any students should use readers – screen or human – so that also took administrative intervention and an email from the American Foundation of the Blind. This took many, many conversations. Fortunately, high school academic administrative personnel were extremely supportive of my son and his vision accommodations being used in advanced and honors classes, so this worked out for him. The state and district were even involved.

12. Ultimately, what resources were the most beneficial to you and your child? (Online, educational, state, community, books, media, etc.)
When he was a baby, books were very helpful and the early intervention programs and TVIs. The Texas Commission for the Blind is an amazing resource! The most beneficial resources for my child were really personal connections and state and national organizations. Early in his education, an Assistant Director of Education from his school system became involved in his technology and education and this person was key to resolving many stressful IEP issues. His 1st grade Special Education Facilitator eventually became the Director of Special Education and the fact that he felt comfortable with both of them enabled him to effectively advocate for his educational rights.

The Assistant Director guided me through many difficult situations. Support organizations like the American Foundation for the Blind also provided a lot of guidance for me. When he was in 3rd grade, his low vision doctor at Emory asked him to be in an Emory Eye Center/Fox 5 news special about low vision devices. They were highlighting CCTVs which were moving more into the schools. He met an adult blind man from the AFB who was also in the news special and the bond they formed from the shared experience helped both of us feel comfortable getting information we needed for the school when the need arose. This was particularly helpful for the reader issue in high school and state testing as common core was implemented nationally with all its testing challenges his junior year of high school. In the first few years of common core there were no vision accommodations established for state testing. This gentleman was an accomplished author and actually wrote the AFB Assistive Technology book that his 10th grade TVI used in her college classes.

As he aged into high school, his connections with the administration of his high school were instrumental in resolving some of his vision-specific issues, particularly the reader and testing issues. He was an Office Aide in the counseling office and found that the personal connection he made with the administration was valuable for him to facilitate some of the educational issues he needed assistance with. One of the most effective resources I used was calling a Georgia college (UGA) and asking their Disability Resource Center to speak to his high school staff about vision accommodations in college so this personal connection/organization utilization was very helpful in helping all of the high school staff working with him understand what vision accommodations he could reasonably expect in college and what skills the high school needed to be working on to help him be successful in college.

The state connections we made working through the reader issues were very helpful as Georgia has a Department of Education Vision Director and we worked with her through the reader issue and also state testing accommodation issues.

13. Are you actively involved with any blindness advocacy groups or parent groups? If so, please tell us more.
He is a member of the Learning Ally College Success Program which matches blind college students with adult mentors. One of his mentors is currently president of the Georgia National Federation of the Blind Organization. He has reached out to the student chapter of this organization but has not heard back.

He is an ambassador for the UGA DRC Speakers Bureau which is not blindness specific but focuses on raising disability awareness on campus.

He participated in the NFB Pearson Career Exploration Mentorship Program. This program matches students with disabilities with Pearson lawyers.

We are both members of the Georgia Council of the Blind, which is part of the American Council of the Blind – Hall County Chapter.

We are both members of the Council of Citizens with Low Vision (CCLVI).

We have been members of the National Federation of the Blind, but I do not believe our membership is current.

I have been a member of several vision parent groups, although I am not sure what my membership status is currently.

We were members of the Georgia Coalition of the Blind – We are now transitioning to be members of the Georgia Alliance for the Blind.

I have previously been the parent representative on the Smokey Powell Assistive Technology Board for K-12 at the Macon School for the Blind.

I was very active in the general PTA or PTOs of my child’s school and typically was their Special Education Liaison. I held the positions of Treasurer and Vice President and chaired several committees.

I was on the Special Olympics Fund Raising Board for my school district for five years.

14. Did your child have a mentor? If so, tell us about their relationship.
Ike Presley from the AFB is definitely one who has helped him many times through his education; I have mentioned him before in this blog. Paul West, with Forsyth County Schools, would also be a huge mentor for Tommy as he was the Assistant Director of Special Education that helped us navigate some of the trickier IEP issues and explain some vision-specific accommodations that school systems do not run into every day. Other mentors included: Laura Wilson, his high school Vice Principal (currently Principal), helped him through many high school state testing issues; Tom Wolff, his AP US History Teacher who believed in his academic ability and taught him in his first AP class; his high school counselors who helped focus the school on his academic talent rather than his disability.

Moving into college, he connected with the Director of his Freshman Odyssey Pre-Law Learning Community who was also the Director of the Pre-Law Program at his university and she has been a huge mentor and advocate. He participated in Learning Ally’s College Success Program and had two mentors, one of which is currently the president of the NFB for Georgia. He also participates in the Pearson Career Exploration Mentorship program where he has two mentors. He has job shadowed with seven lawyers, one of which is blind and allowed him to come into court to shadow him. He also has a very close relationship with the Learning Ally Athens location, which is located on his campus. He has spoken to their volunteers and been featured in their training videos.

15. Did your child independently attend any blindness-specific camps or training centers? If so, please describe the experience.
My son attended the NFB STEM camp while he was a rising 9th grader. This was a mostly positive experience, but he declined going back for other years.

He did not attend any other blindness specific camps as we felt he had strong technology and orientation and mobility skills. We both went to the Ohio American Council of the Blind convention and attended the Audio Description Institute to learn how to create Audio Description. He was the youngest attendee at the time – a junior in high school.

16. Did your child graduate high school and go on to receive higher education? If so, what course of study?
He graduated high school with honors and two pathway certificates. He is currently an International Affairs Major in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia. He is double minoring in Public Policy and Management and History. He has earned a Global Certificate from the Office of International Education. He is working on earning a Global Certificate from the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA). His ultimate goal is to be a lawyer and he is in the process of applying to law school.

17. Is your child currently employed? If so, what is their job and/or career goal?
My son is currently a fulltime student but has had two short term jobs. One was the summer he got out of high school and he was a paid Swim Team Manager for our neighborhood swim team. He was a liaison for 250 swimmers, coaches, their parents, and opposing teams.

He also was a paid ‘Reacting to the Past Preceptor’ for the PreLaw English Class at UGA; he was a Teaching Assistant for a Continental Convention simulation. This was a 6-week position.

18. Describe your child’s current living situation.
He lives in a residence hall on campus and eats in the dining hall. He either walks or travels in university-provided buses where he needs to go. The city his school is located in also has a robust city bus system with paratransit buses.

19. With hindsight being 20/20 what do you wish you could go back and tell your younger, less experienced self?
My younger self was really worried about making everyone happy and getting agreement, which was easier in elementary grades. By middle school, it became really difficult. By high school, I no longer cared if you agreed; you just needed to do what was in the IEP. If you think about it, a high school IEP meeting may have 15 people in it; it would be hard to get them to agree on what to have for lunch, much less this complex agreement. I would tell my younger self to be comfortable in the decisions that my child, my husband and I make and not worry so much about getting agreement, as long as it’s in the IEP and the school follows the IEP.

20. Please describe your philosophy or motto for raising a blind/VI child.
Just do it. You can do anything that you want; you may just have to do it differently than a sighted person.

tommy uga
Hal, Tommy & Mary standing together. Tommy is in the center with his arms around his parents. They are smiling and wearing black and red “Georgia” winter clothing.

 

Other 20/20 Hindsight Articles:
Hindsight 20/20 Featuring Jill Richmond


More about the Hindsight 20/20 Segments: I, Kim Owens, am the mom of a high school student who has recently lost his vision to an aggressive form of Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). I may not personally agree with everything that will be shared by each parent, but I don’t have to because: Parents need to trust their own intuition with regard to their children. These answers are in the parent’s own words with only a few edits for clarification and/or space.  These answers have been shared with the permission of their adult children. Most stories are from the US because that is where the majority of my network resides. As this segment’s content grows, I hope to receive responses from international parents as well.  

If you are a parent who is interested in sharing your journey please contact me! Thank you. 

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