Thursday, July 09, 2009

Junior Miss Garner 2009 fights for the rights of the visually impaired

Rachel Elizabeth Petherbridge, Junior Miss Garner 2009, attended an ice cream social Saturday, June 14 with the N.C. Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments.



A lifelong resident of Garner, Rachel, 12, was diagnosed at an early age with ocular albinism, nystagmus and exotropia, a combination of visual impairments that are not completely correctable with glasses (though surgery has mostly resolved the exotropia).

A regular volunteer at the SPCA, a violinist, dancer and singer at the Garner Center Stage School of Performing Arts, Rachel hopes to inspire others with physical challenges to participate in regular activities to the fullest extent they possibly can.

Rachel met some amazing children at this event who enjoy the same things that all kids do: playing games, hanging out with their friends and even learning to play musical instruments. Many of these children now attend regular public schools thanks to early intervention, including the preschool program at the Governor Morehead School for the blind. Unfortunately, current state budget cuts include a proposal to close the Governor Morehead School, a very real concern for the visually impaired community.

“I hope they really think about the kids before they do this,” Rachel said of the proposal. “When a child is visually impaired, sometimes parents don’t know what to do and will need help.”

Rachel’s mother, Donna Petherbridge, agrees with her daughter, noting that parents of children with disabilities often struggle to understand what their child’s abilities and limitations are and how to best support them.

“We are fortunate that we’ve had excellent support from the schools and various organizations to assist Rachel - from vision, orientation and mobility specialists that have helped Rachel use low-vision aids in both schoolwork and in the community to organizations such as the N.C. Library for the Blind where we can obtain large print books,” Donna said.

“The partnerships [the Governor Morehead School] has made with the community result in an important awareness of the needs of visually impaired persons and training and outreach for the teachers that have worked with students such as Rachel.”

Budget cut discussions aside, Rachel simply hopes when people come across children with disabilities, they will focus on what these children can do, rather than on what they can’t.

“If you just look with your eyes, you might think that someone can’t do something because you can see they have a disability,” Rachel said. “But you can’t always depend on your eyes. I would know. You have to see with your heart.”

Submitted by Donna Petherbridge


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