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How to Find Your Niche As a Blind Student

As a blind or visually impaired student, there are all kinds of things that the others kids do that people say you can’t, and, to be honest, there are a few you will have to cross off your list. If you’re a boy, you’re never going to be quarterback of the football team, and, if you’re a girl, it’s not very likely that you’ll be the star basketball player. Unless you’re one of the very small percentage of visually impaired high-school students who can drive when they turn sixteen with highly specialized equipment, racing down Main Street is probably not in your future either.

Unfortunately, a lot of blind and visually impaired students buy into the idea that, because they can’t do these things, they can’t participate in the extra-curricular activities that their friends do. With rare exceptions, nothing could be further from the truth. It may take more work. It may mean that you do it a little differently, but you can do it.

To begin with, make a list of the school activities that you could do. If you’re not sure whether or not you could do it, put it on the list anyway. This is your own private list; you never need to show it to anyone else if you don’t want to. There will be things on the list that you may not want to do and things that you’re Not very good at, but, for right now, just list as many activities as you can think of. For example, a list might include theater, chorus, orchestra, Spanish club, and the school yearbook.

Next, check everything on the list that you might be interested in. If there are things that you know for certain you want to do, so much the better, but, for right now, if you have any doubt as to whether or not you’d be interested, mark that activity. School activities are a great way to meet people, make friends, and expand your horizons. I’ve served on more than a few college scholarship committees and know that they often are interested in an applicant’s outside activities (beer drinking doesn’t count).

Finally, select the two or three activities you are most interested in and join. Go to at least two or three meetings before you decide whether or not this is an activity you want to continue. When in doubt, become involved. Not everything will turn out to be something you want to stick with, but, if it is, it can be more beneficial than you might imagine.

I did this myself, both in high school and college, and it was one of the smartest things I ever did. I was a very average reporter for our high-school newspaper, a below-average tenor in the glee club, a barely adequate interviewer for the campus radio station, and a conscientious, but undistinguished, member of student government, all activities that didn’t required vision. It would have been nice if I had been really good at these things, but that wasn’t really the point. They gave me an opportunity to get to know a lot of interesting people that I otherwise probably never would have known. In addition, I had the opportunity to expand my horizons in ways that you just don’t get by taking a class.

Let me give two examples. First, when in college, I was fascinated by the passion that theater students gave to putting on plays. It was a subculture I was completely unfamiliar with. I had absolutely no desire to go into theater myself but thought it would be interesting to see what all the fuss was about. So, one summer I worked on props. All I had to do was attend all of the rehearsals and, along with a couple of other students, move and rearrange all of the props between scenes. Anyone could do it. It didn’t take any special skill. As a result, I have a better appreciation of the theater and the people who are attracted to it, and it turned out to be a lot more fun than I thought it would be.

Without question, the best experience I had in school came out of joining the debate club. My high school had over 3,000 students from sophomore to senior, and it was easy to get lost in the crowd. The coach was an old-fashioned, died-in-the-wool racist and assigned the only African-American student on the team to be my partner. By putting the blind kid with the black kid, he might as well have taken an ad in the school paper announcing, “These guys are the biggest losers on the team.” As it turned out, we were pretty good, winning second in the State my senior year. If, however, I had only been average, the experience would have still been worthwhile. I learned a great deal that I still use today and had the opportunity to meet some of my best friends in high school. I would have missed out on all of this if I’d never gotten involved in extra-curricular activities.

I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit that sometimes it’s necessary to think of how to do some of the things that are involved in outside activities differently because of your vision. This isn’t really any different than what you have to do with classes. However, the extra effort is more than made up for by the fun, friends, and sense of personal accomplishment.

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