by Bob Branco
There seems to be an ongoing discussion about whether blind students should attend private schools for the blind or be mainstreamed in public school. Being that I spent several years in a local elementary school sight-saving class as well as 8 years at Perkins School for the Blind, I wasn’t really mainstreamed, accept for kindergarten and college. However, I can draw my own conclusions about this subject based on existing pros and cons.
During my time at Perkins, from fifth grade through my senior year in high school, I received a quality education. Most study material was in Braille, meaning I had total access to it whenever I needed it. The teachers were already trained on how to teach blind students, and there was a lot of emphasis on independent living skills, sports, and social recreation. Being that we lived on the Perkins campus, the school curriculum as well as the extracurricular activities were easily arranged to meet the needs of the blind.
As a result of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and other related legislation, blind students were allowed to leave private schools in order to attend public schools. I wonder if that was such a good idea.
Even though I wanted to spend my teenage years in my own community instead of living away from home for 8 years, I believe it’s much harder for the blind in public schools to have the same education as in a private school for the blind. Let’s face it. By nature, public schools do not have accessible reading material on hand for the blind students. You have to know where to get it. A lot of public school teachers never had the experience of teaching blind kids, so there is quite a learning process. For kids in public school, parents are expected to teach them independent living skills in the home.
However, more often than I care to admit, parents won’t teach their blind children. They either don’t have time, assume that blind children are taught much differently than sighted children, or they simply believe it’s up to the public school system. How can a mainstreamed blind student easily participate in organized sports? Society frowns on this because it’s believed that blind kids either can’t keep up athletically or will get injured.
On one hand, blind children should be able to live at home and go to school like other children, but all the necessary accessible tools are readily available at private schools. The Americans with Disabilities Act is a wonderful law which mandates equal treatment between persons with and without disabilities. However, it must continue to be enforced in public schools in order for the educational model for the blind to work equally as well as on a private school campus. Materials should be more readily available. Regarding blind children practicing sports and independent living skills in a public school setting, those are subjects that require additional education about the concepts of those issues, and given the problems I pointed out earlier, a lot of work needs to be done in order for these ideas to work well. Until then, I am much more in favor of blind children studying at a private school for the blind.
About the Author
Robert T. Branco resides in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and is the author of five self-published books. He is a community organizer, tutors persons with visual impairments, has written columns for local and international organizations, and publishes a monthly online newsletter, The Consumer Vision. Bob’s website, with full information about his books, is http://www.dldbooks.com/robertbranco/.