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Walking Blind MAG
I saw my classmates' expressions transform into perverse amusement as they turned toward the source of the disturbance.
A white cane used by a 15-year-old girl scuffed the floor with her every step.
I shifted my eyes to see that she was nearing a descending staircase.
Click. Click. Click.
Everyone stood frozen, staring at her. In movies, stressful situations are shown with time moving in slow motion. In reality, time accelerated, forcing me to forget my classmates' stares and my apprehension, and take action. With one last look at classmates, I threw down my backpack and ran toward her. I caught her arm and led her to her next class. When we reached the special education wing, she thanked me for helping, and as she turned I heard her mumble, “It is nice to know I am not invisible.”
With that stunning confession, it was like a blindfold being ripped from my eyes. I had often seen special-needs students wandering the halls escorted by the administration, but I had never made a personal connection. They were my peers, yet I did not know their stories or even their names.
Do I use my sight to see the realities of society? Or am I blind to the injustice experienced by people with disabilities? I may never fully comprehend their individual situations, nevertheless, I can try to understand the everyday difficulties they face. How would it feel to suffer in the dark?
I walk through my school's hallways, hearing the sounds of flip-flops slapping the ground, the high-octave screeches of cheerleaders, and the constant tap-tap of my cane. It is almost like breathing, monotonous and steady. It is the only consistant sound amidst this chaotic deluge of noise.
My cane creates a different noise depending on what's beneath my feet. On the tile floors of the high school it makes a cracking sound. The worst is the disgruntled moans when my cane hits a person. I try to ignore the foul language that usually follows an accidental strike, but some seeps through my carefully cultivated facade nonetheless. When they realize my disability, their tone becomes apologetic and guilt ridden. The chatter quiets, the person moves out of my path, and I continue down the hall. My presence is quickly forgotten; I am unseen by peers except for those rare brief encounters.
I will never see the clock strike three at the end of a school day, or the squeamish smiles of embarrassed students who encounter me around school. I am locked in the darkness of my mind, with nothing to distract me but the casual conversations of teacher and counselors. The silence can be deafening at times. In classes teachers surround special-needs students, separating them from the general public. They create a shield between us and our peers, making it almost impossible for others to see us as equals when so much attention is focused on our disabilities.
The special education wing in school has unintentionally created an impenetrable barrier that few dare to cross. Our hall is not filled with conversation about Friday's football game or upcoming quizzes. It is eerily silent, and the only person I hear is me.
When I enter my classroom, I hear muted speech, feet shuffling, and the comforting voice of the teacher. Everyone is here for a unique reason – some physical, others psychological. This is the one place I don't feel out of place among my peers.
My friends call to me, and I feel a sudden jerk from my isolation. It's nice to have friends here, but my mind often wanders to the social life I desperately want to experience outside this wing of school.
The only time we mix with the other world of school is when peer leaders, students my age, arrive to volunteer in our classrooms. Quiet at first, they slowly shed their cautious personas and join in our discussions. In those moments we bridge the seemingly vast gap between special education and the general population. Yet, at the end of the day, I walk through the halls, once again invisible.
Humans tend to shy away from the unknown. People with special needs are an enigma to most members of the general public because we are typically separated in both the classroom and the workplace. Lack of familiarity with those with disabilities breeds fear and fear of saying or doing the wrong thing discourages us from reaching out.
People may have disabilities, but their disabilities do not define them. Feeling invisible alienates special-needs students. In order to change perspectives, we must take the first steps toward understanding one another.
Change begins with us seeing the error of our ways. Try to imagine living life with a disability. I opened my eyes to the perspective of special-needs students, and became a peer leader at my school. My first days working in the special education classes were uncomfortable at times, because I was unsure of my actions. I was afraid I would make a mistake and upset one of the kids. But my unease passed with time. I began to relax and truly enjoy their unique personalities.
I learned that if we want our culture's perception of special needs to change, we can no longer turn a blind eye and allow this population to be marginalized and fade into the shadows.