I did half of my schooling in catholic school and the other half at a school for the blind. I can say I had good and bad experiences in both.
In mainstream schools I didn't really have difficulty when it came to accommodation, and I wasn't bullied very often either. Actually I was well liked by my support workers who worked with me one-on-one most of the time.
The problem lies in the fact I wasn't a part of anything. I was out of the classroom 90 percent of the time, because my braille was too noisy for the rest of the kids to learn and because my workers always had to be talking to me when teaching me math on the abacus. So the other kids weren't seeing me in class. At recess they would talk to me, but it was mostly curiosity about my cane and that sort of things. It wasn't like I was included in their play all that often.
Then I got a computer in grade 5, and because it was a desktop it was permanently placed in a room. So I graduated from the hallway to behind closed doors most of the time.
On the family front, it wasn't like they could put me in hockey or something like my brother and sister. Sometimes they'd try to teach me life skills, but not being themselves trained to teach it and having the extra burden of fears about my future, they had absolutely zero patience -- if I didn't master the skill in one or two attempts there'd be consequences. The consequences were never severe, but they were enough to make learning hard because you were in fear knowing you had one kick at the can or else your next few days wouldn't be so great.
Then I left in grade 6 to go to blind school. It was my idea, I told my mother I wanted to try it and she let me go.
For the first two years I didn't like it very much. There were 3 main classes of residence, based on age and maturity level. Back then they were called Junior, Intermediate and Senior, but since then the names have changed. After Senior there was a chance you could make it into a special house where independent living training was more intense, and there were a couple of other categories like deaf blind.
As I started in grade 6, I begin in the junior residence. I hated it. It was bootcamp -or prison- like. Extremely structured like some of the earlier posters described. Every moment of your day was preplanned; exactly where you went and exactly what you did. When you played, when you did homework, when you changed into your pyjamas, when you ate, when you showered, when you exercised or did sports; all these things were scheduled to the minute.
Needless to say I looked forward to the weekends when I'd go home (by commercial airline!).
I don't know how I got through those first two years without saying Screw this, I want to go back to mainstream school at home; but I did, and I'm glad I did.
Once you moved up to the intermediate class, things were much better. There was still some structure; there were specific sporting events and other things everyone attended. but that became not so bad because being intermediate gave you the freedom to make some decisions on your own and to have some choice over how you spent your time.
As well, being part of things like extracurricular
sports was nice. It was far more than I'd have ever had back at home.
Even if I didn't enjoy all the sports all the time, there were the ones I liked and at least it was much better than never having the chance to participate in anything.
I spent ten years there. I moved up to the senior class and then got into the house after that.
In the house, we learned to cook our own meals, do our own cleaning, go grocery shopping, etc. The biggest problem I see with the school is that these things should be everyday activities right from the get-go, not just at the very end of your time there if you happen to make it that far up the residence "ladder".
Instead of assembling in the lunch room and being served, students should be taught -- and expected -- to pack their own lunches in residence the night before and bring them to school with them like any other kids would do.
We should have been involved in preparation of meals instead of having dinner delivered to us in residence on a big trolly at 5:00 every evening.
Other than that, I'd say I got more out of my education there than I would have gotten back home. When I started there in 2001, it was all braille and then it slowly transitioned to being mostly computer based. For me at least, this was a welcome change. Reading and doing school work got much faster, and bringing your homework home was now a matter of carting a USB key instead of a massive heavy bag of books. It was almost exclusively Jaws. They got a few Macs towards the end of my time there, but I never really explored anything other than Jaws until much later.
To the issue of being unprepared for the real world, unfortunately there's some truth to this. For me it was mostly the fact that I knew my home for the past ten years was just going to be gone one day that was the hardest part. I was always adept at self advocacy, though to be fair it wasn't like we never had to fight for things at the school either. There were overzealous staff, unfair decisions made from time to time and that sort of thing. Having a gradual transition period could be helpful, where you do a little bit of mainstream school, increasing as you get closer to the cutoff day. Most of the mental preparation for moving on I had to do myself, and it went better than I ever thought it might.
So I think this is a double edged sword. Blind school can be good if it's done right. Mine got a lot of things right and set me on a good path, but the things it got wrong actually did cause some problems.
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