A Love Letter to Mentors and Role Models

Authors: Emily Coleman, Superintendent, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, (TSBVI)

Keywords: mentors, role models, ACB, Braille Revival League, NFB, transition, engagement

Abstract: TSBVI’s Superintendent Emily Coleman describes the importance of mentors and role models for students with visual impairments.

As the parent of a child who is blind, I engaged early with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the American Council of the Blind (ACB), and the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). My son was the first blind person I’d ever met, and I needed role models to show me what his future could be like. In no time at all, I had an understanding that his choices were just as vast as those available to my sighted children. 

For students who are blind, low vision, or deafblind, mentors and role models are perhaps the most important aspect of their education. When they see themselves in an adult with a visual impairment, they truly realize the world is their oyster. Through these connections, they have an opportunity to ask questions that educators can’t always answer. For example, what did you say to your first employer about accommodations? Or, how do you label your clothes to make sure they match when you leave the house? I can share techniques I’ve learned, but I’ve never put them into regular practice. Only blind, low vision, or deafblind adults have those real experiences to share.

TSBVI values providing mentors and role models to our students in many ways as demonstrated in the following examples. In January, the Braille Revival League and ACB of Texas provided an assembly for our students. They shared the history of braille through videos from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH). Maybe more importantly, they shared their own journeys learning braille—not just the positive impact, but some of the struggles, too. Larry Johnson candidly shared, “Braille is a bumpy road to knowledge.” As evidenced by the students’ chuckles, this sentiment clearly rang true.

Within our transition program at TSBVI, we also work closely with NFB mentorships. Our students travel with them to attend the state and sometimes national conventions and are surrounded by support, guidance, and advice. The relationships built and maintained through the mentoring program help our students be successful as they make the scary leap from school to adulthood. TSBVI will not be with them forever and our students need positive role models for years to come.

When I was a new itinerant Teacher of Students with Visual Impairment (TSVI), I felt like the time commitment to coordinate mentors was more than I could bear. However, I  quickly learned that by engaging blind, deafblind, and low vision adults, they took so much of the learning out of my hands. Typically, students would ask questions that I’d have to research, and then I’d teach a lesson. With mentorship, students just ask them questions, no research required, and the lesson is way more valuable. I encourage all TSVIs and COMs to engage with their blindness organizations to enrich their work.

Finally, TSBVI’s greatest mentors and role models are our own blind, low vision, and deafblind employees, volunteers, board members, and collaborators. Your commitment to the 11,000 students in Texas with visual impairments is evident through your work and the examples you set. Our students’ academic success is impacted greatly by you. 

Love, Emily

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