Op Ed with Bob Branco – Integrating Blind Students

In 1969, during my last year as a student in a local sight saving class, my parents were informed that there was nothing more that the New Bedford School Department could do for me, and it was recommended that I attend the Perkins School for the Blind.  I expressed my objections as most any other youngster would.  Who wants to leave home and spend their teenage years far away from their roots?  In those days, most, if not all blind students attended schools like Perkins.  I spent eight years there until I graduated in 1977, and received a quality education.

During the 1970’s, blind students began leaving private schools to return home, because new legislation was passed allowing the blind to be integrated with the sighted.  Many college bound blind students were leaving Perkins, so in order for the school to keep its existence, the director brought in more and more special needs students.

I never had the experience of being integrated with sighted high school students, so I can’t comment on that.  Based on what I’ve heard from younger students who had this experience, I will assume that the students needed to make more of an effort to keep up.  At Perkins, everything was accessible for a blind student, so the job was simple–pick up your books and get to class.  I would imagine that if a blind student was integrated in a sighted high school class, he or she would need to find their own adaptation; whether it be tutors, readers, outside resources to have books recorded on tape, etc.

Though it may be a little more difficult for a blind student to keep up with his peers in public schools, I feel that they would be fully prepared for the sighted world once they graduated.  Although I had a quality education at Perkins, the fact remains that I ate, played with, went to class with, and lived with blind people exclusively–so in a sense, it was a blind world, for lack of a better term.

While making these observations and reaching these conclusions about which students were prepared more for the sighted world, I’m not necessarily blaming anyone, particularly the guidance departments.  They try their best. The guidance department at Perkins did what they could for me by helping me with the necessary paperwork for college.  However, paperwork is just what it is.  It’s not a social environment or a new living arrangement.  It’s simply a means to a goal.

What are your feelings about student integration into sighted schools?  I welcome your comments in the Readers’ Forum.

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