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Empowering Blind Students

by Precious Perez

Precious Perez poses, showing her muscles.From the Editor: ViStars is an organization in Massachusetts that was created to empower blind students. In this article Precious Perez, one of the group's original members, explains how ViStars has helped members become more confident and active. You can learn more about ViStars at <www.vistars.org>.

My name is Precious Perez. I am seventeen years old, and I live in Chelsea, Massachusetts. I grew up learning to adapt to the world around me, and I have always gone to public school. At first I believed I was the only blind kid around, because I was the only one at my school. I am very lucky to have found the support and encouragement to be independent and pursue my interests, but many blind and low vision students don't get this backing from their families and communities.

On scholarship I take private voice lessons and sing in the Handel and Haydn Society's Young Women's Chorus, and I hold leadership roles within the NFB of Massachusetts. In addition, I am part of a nonprofit organization called ViStars. ViStars focuses on empowering blind students in and around Boston by bringing us together and providing after-school activities such as sports and community service.

ViStars was created by two teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs) who wanted to form a group of blind students that would provide support, encourage independence, and build lasting connections and friendships. I was one of the first members of the group, which began about four years ago.

ViStars has taken away the sense of isolation that many blind kids feel in their communities and replaced it with empowerment. One of the first things we did in the group was apply for the MBTA Ride Service, a transportation service for people with disabilities. Through this service we gained a means of transportation to get to our meeting place. Every activity allows us to build confidence and enhance our skills. For example, when we planned a visit to a trampoline park, we researched the costs and made phone calls to set up the activity. We reach a consensus on proposed activities based on our interests.

On holidays, as part of community service, we all make Braille holiday cards for a program called Hugs for Soldiers. The program distributes handmade cards to soldiers in the US Army who are stationed overseas. We also brainstormed ideas for educational posters about blindness to put up at our schools. This idea is still a work in progress, but since I recently was accepted into the National Honor Society, it is something I will most definitely put into action.

I also play on the ViStars goalball team we started. We are registered as a club sport with the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA). We went to the National High School Goalball Tournament in 2013. Goalball has provided me with the chance to be part of a competitive team where I can play independently. I wouldn't have gotten this experience at my school, since I would require assistance or guidance to participate in most of the sports played there. Goalball also has strengthened our bonds as a group.

In 2013 we had the opportunity to speak about our group at the state convention of the NFB of Massachusetts, and we spoke about goalball at the 2013 NFB National Convention. Our group currently has ten members. Before they joined, some of the students who have low vision rejected the idea of blindness and would not use the resources available to them. Now two of these students have started to use long white canes. Because they have been around other blind students their age who are successful, they have come to realize the cane's significance. Another student started to utilize social media to connect with me and another member, something he would not have done before.

The environment that surrounds me when I am with the other ViStars students is one of openness, friendship, and acceptance. It is so powerful for me to listen to everyone else's stories about dealing with misconceptions, or to hear a person who is taciturn in school jump into conversations, completely at ease. I can call up a fellow member and get input on a situation I am struggling with. I can express my doubts about inclusion in a particular situation without feeling judged. Above all, I can be who I am.

ViStars is not only a way to gain access to community service and extracurricular activities such as sports. It is a lasting foundation of support and a network for all of its members. I am honored to have been a part of this organization since it began. I am grateful for the opportunity to help other blind students embrace their blindness and achieve independence as I have.

For more information, email us at vistarsnet@gmail.com. You can find us on Twitter with the handle @vistarsne, and we’re on Facebook at Vistars Inc.

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