Education

My High School Experience at the Perkins School for the Blind

A beautiful aerial photo of the Perkins School for the Blind Howe Building Tower, located in Watertown, Massachusetts.

Aerial view of the Perkins School for the Blind Howe Building Tower, located in Watertown, Massachusetts.

From 1998-2004, I attended high school at the Perkins School for the Blind, which was a life-changing experience! Prior to attending Perkins, I was in public school, which did not work out well because the school district did not know how to successfully assist me so that I could reach my full potential. However, because Perkins is one of the most famous schools for the blind in the world, I knew that they were prepared to assist me so that I could learn as much as I could. Perkins was founded in 1829, and is located in Watertown, Massachusetts right outside of Boston. Such famous students as Helen Keller, Laura Bridgeman, and Annie Sullivan attended the school.

When I went there, I felt integrated into the Perkins community, because the students were in the same situation. It was great to talk about our experiences, our forms of adaptive technology, and what we enjoyed doing for fun. One great thing about Perkins is that they adapted everything to meet our needs, that way we could all successfully participate and become as independent as possible. Perkins had such activities as sports, traditional academics, daily living skills classes, as well as many extracurricular activities.

Perkins has many sports as part of their curriculum. They include wrestling, swimming, goalball, which is an adapted version of baseball, and cheerleading. When I was a student there, I was on the swim team for a few years, wrestling for a year, and participated in track for a few years. Some of the adaptations included, for instance, in track a wire along with a ring ran the length of each lane on the track. So, for the short races, we each held on to the ring in our lane and followed the cord, that way we wouldn’t get lost. Additionally, for the longer races, we had guides that ran with us. Meets and competitions were held regularly throughout the year, usually on-campus. However, besides having sporting events on-campus, Perkins is a part of the Eastern Athletic Association for the Blind (EAAB). This organization consists of many schools for the blind on the east coast, including the Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia, PA, the New York Institute for Special Education in New York City, the Maryland School for the Blind in Baltimore, MD, and the West Virginia school in Rodney, WV. Each year, the teams would travel to these schools for the different sports. When I was participating in track, our team traveled to Baltimore one year, New York City another year, and to Philadelphia another year. It was great to travel around the country, because we were able to check out different parts of the east coast in general, as well as learn how other schools for the blind were different from ours.

Since Perkins was, ultimately, where I attended high school, academics of course should be a priority! I took the traditional subjects, including English, US History, French, and Math. Different from public school, all of the materials, including the textbooks and handouts, were in Braille. Additionally, the teachers moved much slower, to make sure that we really understood the material. The most challenging class was French, because not only did I have to learn a new language, but learning French Braille was challenging as well, since it is slightly different from English Braille. Another meaningful part of the academic experience was Another essential component of my education there was the different plays that our English class attended. These plays were audio described, which means that during the visual elements, descriptions were made via a headset, so as not to disrupt the performance itself. These plays were held at different theaters throughout the Boston area. Some of the plays that we heard included Our Town, The Prince and the Pauper, and the Mikaddo. Prior to attending each play, we read the corresponding book thoroughly, and the teachers made sure that we understood the story prior to attending the performance. Thanks to the dedication of Perkins staff, the academics were much more positive there than in public school.

Perkins had an abundance of extracurricular activities, and music was one in which I was very involved. Perkins has many musical ensembles, including the Handbell Ensemble, Music Makers, Upper School Chorus, and Chamber Singers. Instead of reading music, the teachers would teach us the songs step by step, we would memorize each part, then just keep memorizing more and more of each song. It was awesome because the teachers were always enthusiastic and encouraging, and since we had good musical ears, it was easy to memorize the songs. I was in the Secondary Chorus for the majority of my time there, and there were many concerts. There was the holiday concert, which has actually been going on since 1913, the Spring Concert, and more recently, collaborations with different groups have formed. For instance, since 2001, the Perkins Chorus collaborates with a group, also in Watertown, called Revels. They do a performance which focuses on springtime music from around the world, and acting is involved as well. It takes place in the Spring, usually in late May. Additionally, another collaboration that was recently implemented is one between the Secondary Chorus and Emanuel music, based at the Emanuel church in Boston. While this collaboration started after I graduated, it is a great collaboration, and each year they do a performance based on a specific musical theme. Some past themes included strings, duets in music, nature, conversations in music, and Summertime.

Ian sitting on the stone wall with a friend during a visit to his former high school, the Perkins School for the Blind. The wall was a frequent hangout for students as it was situated between all the cottages in the secondary school area of Perkins.

Ian sitting on the stone wall with a friend during a visit to his former high school, the Perkins School for the Blind. The wall was a frequent hangout for students as it was situated between all the cottages in the secondary school area of Perkins.

Besides the many concerts that are held throughout the year, many assemblies are held as well, and the musical groups also participate. These include the Founder’s Day Assembly, where Perkins pauses to honor their founder, Michael Anagnos, as well as previous directors and their contributions. There is also a Holiday Assembly and a Final Assembly, where reflections are thought about. These assemblies were one of my favorite parts of my time there, and even today, I still go back and enjoy the great remarks as well as the great music!

We also used to go out into the community a lot during my time at Perkins. For instance, we lived in cottages, which resemble dorms. Each cottage had its own cook, staff, and other living arrangements. We went into Boston and ate out, we went to sporting events, and other community activities. During my last year at Perkins, I actually applied for and got the independent living apartment. Within this environment, I had a lot more freedom than in the past, which prepared me for life following Perkins.

Overall, Perkins was definitely a life-changing experience! I developed so much confidence to be more independent, and because of this, I’ve gotten through college, graduate school, meaningful internships, and I am currently working at a bank in Boston, assisting them with accessibility projects. Because of Perkins long history, traditions, and dedication, I bet that it will continue to grow as time goes on, and thanks to Perkins, I am at this point in my life!! As there slogan says, “all we see are possibilities!”

My Keene State College Experience

Photo of brick pillars with arched sign that reads Keene State College.  Keene State College is a public liberal arts college in Keene, New Hampshire and is part of the University System of New Hampshire.

Photo of brick pillars with arched sign that reads Keene State College. Keene State College is a public liberal arts college in Keene, New Hampshire and is part of the University System of New Hampshire.

From 2004-2008, I attended Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire. This experience was one of the best experiences of my life! I chose Keene State because of its remarkable disability services office, the size of the school felt right, the campus was easy to navigate, and the location was good too. Prior to attending Keene State, I enrolled in the summer Link Program, a pre college program that allowed me to successfully prepare for this life-changing experience. During the link program, I was able to become comfortable with living on-campus, I learned about college resources and services, and took a few classes for college credit. As a result of attending college at Keene State, my overall confidence increased, and it was great to join clubs, make new friends, and realize my full potential.

During my time at Keene State, I lived on-campus all four years. During this experience, for the first three semesters I had a roommate, and for the remaining semesters I, fortunately, had a single room. Having a roommate was a struggle for me, because my roommates had never met someone who is blind. However, by educating them about what it’s like, the amount of obstacles were greatly mitigated. For example, ensuring that I was completely organized, respecting different lifestyles, and realizing people’s differences were some of the skills that I acquired as a result of having roommates in college.

In addition to having roommates, living on-campus in general was one of my favorite parts of my college experience. I met so many out-going people every day, and I really enjoyed being able to go out with them, enjoy dinner and classes together, and I even met some of my tutors for classes as a result of living on-campus. Some of the other conveniences of living on-campus included being close to classes, the library, dining locations, and to downtown Keene.

One of the most important parts of my college experience was working with the Office of Disability Services. This office assisted me in getting accommodations for each of my classes that I believed to be necessary for my success. Examples of accommodations included note-takers, books in audio or in Microsoft Word, tutors, and readers for exams. I really enjoyed utilizing this office, because the staff member that I worked with not only assisted me with receiving accommodations, but he also assisted me in studying for my courses, since he found the subjects interesting. Additionally, we frequently went off-campus and studied at coffee shops and at other locations around Keene. Another aspect of utilizing this office was the ability to self-advocate for myself. One major difference between college and Perkins is that unlike at Perkins, in college, materials are not automatically provided. Because of this, self-advocacy was extremely important, and by advocating, I was able to receive appropriate accommodations and services. Additionally, self-advocacy greatly prepared me not just for my success in college, but for life as well.

Another component of Keene State was the many clubs and organizations that I joined. I joined the Social Activities Council for two years, and they are responsible for planning the large events on-campus. Examples of events included Welcome Back weekend, Spring weekend, comedians, carnivals, bands, and other large college events. It was great to make new friends, assist in preparing for these events, and being part of a team to make these events happen.

My final experience at Keene State was traveling off-campus. Keene had a small bus system, called the City Express, and it was great to be able to take the bus to Starbuck’s, Target, and to other destinations, whenever I felt like it. Unlike at Perkins, where I could not leave campus except with staff, it was great to have increased freedom during my college experience. In addition to the bus, it was great to attend frat parties, I went bar hopping and met new people, and went out of town as well. Traveling off-campus gave me the opportunity to be more independent, as well as to experience all that Keene had to offer, and I was able to apply the skills and confidence to Boston, where I am currently.

My University of Massachusetts Boston Experience

Exterior photo of the main building at the University of Massachusetts Boston (stylized as UMass Boston) is a public research university in Boston, Massachusetts. It is the only public research university in Boston and the third-largest campus in the five-campus University of Massachusetts system.

Exterior photo of the main building at the University of Massachusetts Boston (stylized as UMass Boston) is a public research university in Boston, Massachusetts. It is the only public research university in Boston and the third-largest campus in the five-campus University of Massachusetts system.

From 2013-2015, I attended the Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) graduate program at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Prior to enrolling in this graduate program, I had several meaningful internships, that assisted me in further defining my career goals. I chose Public Administration because since I enjoy ensuring that services such as web sites, public transportation systems, and other crucial services are accessible to the visually impaired, I felt that this was an appropriate program to pursue. Additionally, a blind friend enrolled in the program the previous year, and according to him, both the disability services office and the program itself are accommodating and understanding about various disabilities.

There were many differences between graduate school and college. For example, unlike Keene State College, the University of Massachusetts, Boston is a commuter school, and classes were held two nights a week, rather than on a daily basis. Additionally, weekend seminars were occasionally held, that focused on specific topics related to Public Administration. Another difference between Keene State College and this program was that in this program, the cohort model was utilized, which means that all of us participated together, in the same courses, as a team for the duration of the program. This system was both helpful and beneficial, because we were able to successfully collaborate on assignments, we were able to give each other assistance, and being in a cohort was a great networking opportunity, both socially and professionally.

Prior to the official start of the MPA program, I took a class with the previous cohort, Program Evaluation. This program often has perspective students take a course, to see if this program is right for them. During this course, I was able to learn how to evaluate programs in general, meet the members of my cohort the following year, and to learn the structure of the MPA program. More specifically, I learned how to evaluate programs by using various tools, and for my semester project, I even evaluated a program of the Boston transit system, with which I was previously involved. Additionally, I was able to learn the structure of the disability services office, and was able to prepare for the actual MPA program.

During the MPA program itself, our cohort took classes such as the Introduction to Public Administration, Statistics, Economics, Human Resource Management, and Structure of Organizations. In addition to these weekly classes, there were weekend seminars, which included Ethics in Public Policy, Media and Public Policy, and Systems Thinking. As a result of taking these classes, I learned how organizations are structured, as well as how to be part of a team, when working for an organization. As a culmination of my studies, my master’s thesis was on the accessibility of the Boston transportation system for the Visually Impaired. During this process, I had to conduct outside research, which included interviewing both riders and staff, I had to find outside literature that also focused on transportation accessibility, and I had to evaluate findings, draw conclusions, and make recommendations for accessibility improvements based on the findings and research. It was great to work as a team to collaborate on projects, to give each other assistance, and to ensure that we all were making sufficient progress toward graduation.

Similar to Keene State, the disability services office at UMass Boston was excellent in terms of ensuring that I had the necessary accommodations for my success. For example, one of the staff is blind herself, so she understands what it’s like to ensure that the best services are received. In particular, since Statistics is a highly visual class, the Public Administration department actually hired someone to skype with me for three hours a week, so that I could understand the material as meaningfully as possible.

Overall, my experience at the University of Massachusetts, Boston was a meaningful one, because it prepared me to work in the field of Public Administration. As a result of completing the MPA program, I am now prepared to contribute to organizations, and I have become more analytical as well. Thanks to the program and to the disability services office, this program was a great experience, and I look forward to applying the skills and tools to my future employment and other endeavors.