Sight saving? What do I remember? How did a class for those with vision disabilities prepare me for the future? It is hard to remember all that occurred within that class that influenced me. I was diagnosed before I entered first grade with extreme farsightedness. The farsightedness was so extreme that my mother was told that I could not clearly see her face or see the leaves on trees, and that I did not know what she looked like.
For a parent to receive such information must have been a shock. But my mother is a strong woman and she determined that my vision difficulties would not be a hindrance to my life. My father was equally supportive. A sight-saving class to help me adjust to the farsightedness was recommended. Sight-saving classes used a number of tools not ordinarily available in public schools. (The term is no longer used today.) There was no such class in my home town of Wheaton, Ill., and I remember being picked up by a large station wagon that made the rounds of the other suburbs and picked up students to attend classes in Villa Park, Ill. The classes were taught by a marvelous teacher -- Mildred Toms.
Mrs. Toms had grown up with a vision problem herself, so she was especially aware of what was needed for the class and how she could help each student. There were two students to each grade. There were six grades and 12 students. I had the same teacher for four grades. My glasses at that time were a quarter of an inch thick. I know one of the students did not wear glasses. His eyesight was extremely bad and I think he lost his sight later on. I remember him struggling to read the large print books with his eyes two inches from the page.
The doctor who treated my vision problems told my mother that it would not hurt my eyes to read and I remember being a constant visitor to the public library. Our home was filled with books. I read fairy tales when I was young and enjoyed them tremendously. I did not realize until later in life how much they influenced me. There was always an emphasis on the good. That emphasis on the positive was also present in my sight-saving class; I learned that I should not place limits on myself. I expected to be able to do what everyone else did and not be held back.
Though the positive was emphasized, there was also a concern that we must be able to manage should we lose our vision. As a consequence, I learned to type in the third grade. There were no letters on the keys. We had to learn them by heart. There was a reading machine in the class and a record player. The equipment for the class was partially supplied through the Lions Club; once a year we would put on a program to thank them for their support. As my vision improved, plans were made to mainstream me back to public schools. I hated to leave the friends I had made during four years of sight-saving, but my parents wanted me to resume as normal a life as possible. However, there were problems returning to public school. I could not see the lessons written on the blackboards and I was a stranger to the other people in the class. I had few friends. Still, I progressed and my vision continued to improve. Having a visual disability can cause problems. I remember that in many classes from junior high on, teachers seemed to rush to erase the blackboard before I could completely copy lessons that I could not see from my seat. It was frustrating. In high school, I did not take driver's education. I could not read signs for streets until I was right on top of them. That problem persists. So, I do not drive a car.
There was one thing I learned in growing up: keep trying to pursue my dreams. I wanted an education and I obtained three master's degrees. I believed in myself and I remember Mrs. Toms' actions and words as an inspiration to succeed. I was also fortunate to have the support of my family.
My dreams always involved writing and my education eventually led me to work first in libraries and then in the newspaper world. A newspaper person often goes out and covers stories. I could not drive, but I found ways to pursue stories either by phone or in person. Now that I look back on my life, I realize how important those dreams I had as a child were. I learned to set my own limits, thanks to Mrs. Toms. I learned how tremendously supportive my family was. And, most of all, I learned not to look upon my visual difficulties as a handicap but an incentive to succeed in life.
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