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The Best Choice I Could Have Made

There are varying opinions on the role that schools for the blind play in increasing independence. Although I cannot speak to the situation today, I can certainly say that my decision to attend such a school in the early to mid 90s was one of the best that my parents and I have ever made.

I started losing my vision when I was six. I attended elementary and junior high school in the integrated school system for these early years. In order to help me deal with my vision loss, itinerant teachers were provided and they taught me braille and computer skills. This intervention at an early age assisted me with the integration into a mainstream classroom. It wasn't until the age of 14 that I started attending a provincial school for the blind, and I can say without a doubt that this was the biggest factor in helping me to develop my independence. The five years that I spent at this school were the most influential years in my life as an independent person. I had the opportunity to learn all of the academics required for post-secondary education but more importantly, I learned the everyday things that one needs to succeed in life. I was taught how to go grocery shopping, how to prepare a meal, how to do various household chores and how to get around my environment with orientation and mobility lessons. Furthermore, this school provided opportunities to blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted students that, at the time, would never be experienced in a regular school system. All sports were adapted and the students were encouraged to take part. I was actually given the opportunity to be a normal teenager for those five years. Everyone needs to feel that they are part of a group. While I know I could have been part of a group in the regular school system,

I still always felt that I was different in some way. For those five years, I was a teenager, as opposed to a blind teenager. The teachers and the residence counselors encouraged independence but were also there to provide support when needed. In my final year of high school, I had the opportunity to move into my own apartment off campus and pay the bills, prepare meals and do all other tasks associated with living independently. At the same time, I also was responsible for traveling back and forth to school each day. Because this was a school-run program, I had the residence counselors there to support me if I ran into any problems. I feel that this program was perfect for me in preparing for the transition from high school to university.

This school gave me the academics I required, the life skills I needed, and the experiences that every teenager, disabled or not, should have. All of these things in combination are why I am as independent today as I am. My time at this school prepared me for university, employment and life in general. And although I realize that these schools are not for everyone, I know that it was not only the right choice for me, but also the best choice I could have made.