I Believe Opportunities Matter
Authors: Emily Coleman, Superintendent, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI)
Keywords: inclusion, engagement, opportunities, contribute, active participation, meaningful experiences, shared experiences, supported participation, empowerment, self-determination
I took time last summer to step away from Austin and TSBVI to catch my breath. My family embarked on a multi-state road trip which helped me gain perspective about the previous school year and reminded me of the importance of family and relationships.
During our road trip, one of our stops was Yellowstone National Park. Everybody knows that you can’t go to Yellowstone and skip Old Faithful. Yet, I wondered how an erupting geyser would have any meaning for my son Eddie, who is blind, when he was sitting meters away on a concrete path. However, we took him with us to the geyser prepared to keep him happy with music and snacks, because surely there would be no other excitement for him. As usual, we were wrong.
Old Faithful erupts about every couple of hours these days. However, as it is pondering an eruption, it fakes everybody out constantly. There was a huge crowd in a semicircle watching this geyser and cheering, even if briefly, every time any amount of water came out of the top. Eddie was in heaven because he absolutely loves cheering. When there was a lull in the geyser’s performance, Eddie would yell, “Shall we cheer?”. And with that, he had the crowd cheering for nothing except his own happiness. When the geyser finally did erupt, it lasted a few minutes, and that was when Eddie got bored and was ready to move on.
After the eruption, we pushed Eddie in his wheelchair stroller on the boardwalk that snaked through the bubbling, sulphur-scented environment. As everyone was pausing to take pictures and observe nature’s wonders, Eddie was simply laughing hysterically about the way his wheels bumped on the boardwalk as it glided over the planks. Every individual on the path met us with a smile at the sound of Eddie’s laughter, which resulted in literally dozens of happy faces. We were right. He didn’t care about the geyser or the spectacular views, but the shared human experience meant the world to him…and to us.
As Eddie’s mom, I can speak firsthand about how easy it is to enable him and diminish his opportunities to be independent and experience new things. Why? Because it’s easier. There are 100 times a day I can do something for him or excuse him from something, because it’s easier and faster if I do it myself. I’m embarrassed to admit how many experiences he has missed because I deemed it too hard to support his participation. It’s also embarrassing because when extra time and attention are given to include him in an opportunity, the benefit always outweighs the cost.
Therefore, I landed on the following “I believe…” statement for TSBVI’s students…and for Eddie :
“I believe every student can contribute to every event and opportunity.”
Why contribute and not participate? Because participation can be passive, and we want our children to be actively engaged. That’s how they feel a sense of belonging and empowerment. Yes, it’s easier to make assumptions about what our kids may or may not want to do, but let’s work hard to empower them to be included and to WANT to be included. They may not find joy in the obvious, like an internationally recognized geyser…but they may contribute to the collective experience in other ways…like cheering.
Please read more on “I believe…” statements for TSBVI’s students in a related article by Emily, “TSBVI Believes in Our Students”, in the News and Views section of this publication.