May 17, 2005
Dear Mr. Lonsberry:
Your March 22, 2005 article on Special Education has generated a lot of reactions from concerned people. I read the thumb up and thumb down responses from people who reacted to your article. It occurred to me that all of the people, thus far, who responded to your article, either were in favor of eliminating or changing special education, or of advocating on behalf of disabled children, employees and students.
I am blind. I was primarily educated by nuns, priests and Christian Brothers, but I spent a short time as a student in the public school setting. After I graduated from a Catholic high school, I went on to college and I eventually received my Master’s degree. I think I’m reasonably intelligent. After I completed my graduate work, I was hired to teach College level and high school level students. I worked in this capacity for almost twenty years.
My teachers did a pretty good job with me, yet I was not a happy student in elementary, high school and college. It took me a while to figure out that my frustration was due to how I was perceived as a blind person. I could never read the blackboard regardless how close I was put to face it. I had to struggle with reading texts two inches from my face. However, studies became easier after computers were made adaptable to blind people.
I prepared a statement for you about your Special Education article, but I changed everything after I read your article about the damage that was done following the recent Newsweek article about the Holy Book of Islam being flushed down the toilet. I don’t think Christians would respond favorably if, in retaliation to the desecration of the Qur’an (Koran), Muslims reciprocated such an action with the Bible. I agree with you that it is physically impossible to flush a book, let alone a magazine, down the narrow pipes of a toilet. I also agree with you that the loss of life from the Newsweek article was a tragic result of inaccurate information. But the damage has been done, and Americans will have to work harder for years to come to undo the damage done by this article.
You also need to be aware that words can be as harmful as actions; and the message in your March 2, 2005 Special Education article presents only one narrow side of a very complicated issue.
The teachers in the public school didn’t know what to do with me as a blind student, so they put me in a special education math class for a short period of time. I was moved back into a regular class as my teachers discovered I did not have a learning disability and I was very good at math.
I was, however, harassed by other students on and off of school property. Once as I was on my way to my public school class, a gang of about twenty fellow students caught up with me and they surrounded me. The leaders of this gang pushed me around; and other members of the gang pushed me from one side of the circle to the next. I realized that to fight these guys was insane and I would get beaten up pretty badly if I fought back. They got bored with me and they left me alone in the street as they wandered off.
On the playground of a Catholic elementary school, another bully and his band took it upon themselves to push me around. When I got the leader of this group alone, he found out I was not an easy guy to push around, and he left me alone from that point on. However, he was never my friend as he didn’t want to associate with me because I was the blind guy who fought back and beat him at his own game.
I wrote a short statement to you in the comment section following your education article, and I stated that change was okay. All of us benefit from change. But it is not accurate for you to impress upon other people that disabled people don’t work, pay taxes, and that we’re looking for handouts. That is simply not true.
Seventy nine percent of the blind population is unemployed. That doesn’t mean they are unemployable, but they are not hired and discrimination is a prime reason why some employers won’t hire these highly talented people.
In my article on transit cuts, I recommended to the Governor of Minnesota and the entire House of Representatives should go about their daily activities under blindfold for five years. By the end of this time, they might start to understand how difficult it is for the blind to navigate on and off of buses.
This is a sight dominated world, but it is not a world exclusively made up of sighted people. It takes a lot of planning to navigate around crowded places as a blind person, and we’ve learned useful skills that make it possible for us to do just that.
As a high school student, I wrestled for three years. I did not have an attendant on the mat with me telling me every movement of my opponent. The referees would not allow anybody but the two of us wrestlers on the mat at the same time. I won many matches under my own strength and intellect.
About two years ago I was cut from my job along with over two thousand other school employees because of budget cuts. I’m in training to be an assistive technology instructor and I intend to return to the public school classroom once I’ve completed my computer training. I am afraid, however, that there is a growing trend to exclude the blind from education and employment. Such actions will have dire consequences to the livelihood of many people.
For example, I was told to go home within ten minutes by a school principal of one school because he didn’t want me around. He made it difficult for me when my district put me at his school to work. Nevertheless, I worked with this same district for over eight years. I eventually received my license to teach around the time of massive budget cuts and teacher layoffs.
Hopefully, you are beginning to understand that the employment/education prospects in front of blind people are not rosy. We work hard and that is all that can be expected from us. You have a right to share your opinions with your readers as I have the same right to share my viewpoints because of the constitution. Evidently, we don’t agree on many points, but that is the beauty of living in this great country. So, keep on writing, and I will continue to respond and speak out against such writings that encourage discrimination against the blind.
Clarence Schadegg, M.Ed.