Blind boy striding toward adulthood
SPECIAL TRAINING HELPS PREPARE HIM FOR INDEPENDENCE -- AND HIGH SCHOOL
The exuberant 13-year-old Afghan-American is something of a daredevil, who prefers to navigate through the campus relying on his senses as he rushes from one class to the next. Using sounds, sensing shadows and having memorized the buildings on his way to class, Abdullah cruises past other children tapping their way along with their white canes.
For now, he likes being in a school where he's not exceptional or out of place. ``People make fun of you when you're the blind boy'' at a regular school, Abdullah said. ``They cuss at you and try to run into you. When you're the kid who can't see, everyone knows who you are.''
Fay Miles, a teacher of the visually impaired at Blacow Elementary School, has been Abdullah's tutor since kindergarten.
``He's such a lively, enthusiastic boy,'' Miles said. ``He's very bright and quick and is good at math, although long division was difficult for him until he mastered the abacus at the blind school.''
It was Miles who talked Abdullah into enrolling in the Middle School Preparation Program. ``This is an intervention to learn the technology of how to work independently,'' she said.
Abdullah was used to being around sighted children in regular school, where Miles said ``a blind person has to move fast to keep up. Abdullah is very quick and because he sees at the side of his eyes, that's a fantastic help.''
This month, Miles attended Abdullah's first progress report along with his family and an interpreter for his mother, Zubaida. She was happy to learn that he is doing well. ``Any child would do well with the one-to-one help we give these children through the visually impaired program,'' Miles said.
The Nikzad family fled the war in Afghanistan in 1980 under harrowing circumstances and lived for several uncertain years as displaced persons in Pakistan, Iran and Texas before settling in the Bay Area in 1987.
A hereditary disease
Abdullah, who is light sensitive and can see the outlines of objects, has five siblings who are sighted and a 23-year-old sister, Zahira, who also was born with retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary disease that causes blindness. She lost her vision at the age of 8; now she has a family of her own and attends the University of California-Berkeley.
With his sister as his role model, Abdullah treats his blindness matter-of-factly. He doesn't dwell upon things he can't do. He said he wants to be a lawyer when he grows up. He concentrates on what he likes: using the computer and listening to music.
On weekends, he often helps his father and his brothers at their body shop in Hayward. His specialty is changing tires. Cars are his passion, and he can tell how new they are by listening to the suspension.
At school, Abdullah spends his mornings in Ron Mayeda's class, where he is learning to organize. ``Blind people have trouble organizing their lives,'' said Sharon Sacks, the assistant superintendent, who is herself visually impaired. ``We teach these seventh- and eighth-graders organizational skills . . . literally how to organize folders, to pack a backpack, how to outline material.''
After lunch, Abdullah learns to master Braille-Lite, a small keyboard with six large, black keys that works like a court stenographer's machine. It prints out both in Braille and in letters. Abdullah will use this for taking notes for classes when he goes back into a regular school.
The machine also does math, spitting out the answers in a tiny voice. Annie Gelles, who is blind, teaches both reading and math Braille. Every time the disembodied voice gives the correct answer to a math problem, Gelles says: ``Now isn't that wonderful?''
Abdullah is one of 165 students at the School for the Blind, which was established in 1865. The school moved from Berkeley to Fremont 20 years ago. There are 15 local day students, including Abdullah. The rest live at school during the week and go home for the weekend. Unlike the nearby California School for the Deaf, which has more than 600 year-round students, the School for the Blind is more like an agency that trains students to be mainstreamed at schools in their communities.
``People help you out, here,'' Abdullah said of the School for the Blind. ``They get you out of danger.''
Being blind is almost ordinary at the CSB, where many of the students have other disabilities as a result of being born prematurely. They cannot see or hear and are often in wheelchairs and are accompanied by aides.
Forays into independenceIn the Middle School Preparation Program, Abdullah is learning how to get around independently by bus, how to make a phone call and how to go shopping with Cheryl Betsden of the Orientation and Mobility Program.
On a recent morning, Betsden and Abdullah went to the Mission Valley Shopping Center in Fremont. Betsden had briefed him on how to make a phone call, starting with how to find the public phone. Using the cane he normally disdains, Abdullah passed soft drink machines. ``I can tell because there's a buzzing sound,'' he said.
At first, he had trouble putting the quarter in the slot and the dime dropped into his sleeve. After a few tries, he was able to successfully call the secretary at the School for the Blind. It was the first time he'd used a public phone by himself.
Then he went to Albertson's supermarket. Using his face as a sensor, he turned toward the sound of the cash register to find a customer assistant who would help him buy a head of iceberg lettuce. As he handed the cashier $5, he said carefully: ``Here's five dollars,'' so the cashier would tell him how much change he would get back.
Abdullah learned to carefully fold $1, $5 and $10 bills in a particular way in his wallet so he could tell the difference.
His errands accomplished, he went to the doughnut shop and bought a powdered cream doughnut, which he ate with a big smile, sprinkling sugar all over his chin and clean white shirt.
|Back to News Archirves of 2000|
Disclaimer: This news site is mostly a compilation of publicly accessible articles on the Web in the form of a link or saved news item. The news articles and commentaries/editorials are protected under international copyright laws. All credit goes to the original respective source(s).