When I was finishing my bachelor’s degree to become a teacher of the visually impaired, I can remember my professors talking about their ability to pick and choose the people they taught. These people were consistently referred to as ‘vanilla blind.’ The phrase means these people had no other disabilities. We were all warned that our caseloads would not be full of ‘vanilla blind’ and to be prepared. What I find sad, is that few of our professors lived what we were about to do.
I have to say, I wasn’t scared, but this was because of my volunteering with students with other disabilities. Some of these students have taught me more about myself than I can say. Here is a glimpse.
As a recent graduate of a very small field, one of my first positions was working with two veteran TVIs. These two teachers were trained decades before me – possibly before public law 94-142. They were used to ‘vanilla blind’ and wanted to keep their caseloads that way.
I was asked to evaluate a young girl, about six, who attended a special day school for students with more significant cognitive disabilities. I thought nothing of it and went to work. I determined that this young girl had some great usable vision and the team of teachers was working on figuring out a communication system. I remember recommending services once a week to work with the student and team together.
When I reported to my two colleagues they were outraged I would recommend services at all. This blew my mind. This was such a difficult thing, going against two TVIs whom I respected. I continued with my recommendations but it ended up to my detriment. These two TVIs retaliated in ways I won’t share but suffice it to say I quit that position within the year. I refused to be told not to work with students with other disabilities. I refused to believe students with significant cognitive disabilities could not benefit from services from a TVI. While this memory isn’t exactly happy, it did show me I am strong in my beliefs and I continue to enjoy working with ALL students with visual impairments.