Disability Inclusion in “The Good Doctor”

On the set of the Good Doctor: Nic Novicki (left), Freddie Highmore (right) Antonia Thomas (middle)

(ABC/Jack Rowand)
Nic Novicki (left), Antonia Thomas (middle), Freddie Highmore (right)

Our guest blogger today is Nic Novicki. He’s an actor, producer, disability advocate, Founder/Director of the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge, and Board Member of Easterseals Southern California. Nic makes a guest appearance in ABC’s The Good Doctor, on an episode that will air on Monday, March 9 – tune in! 

Easterseals’ purpose is to change the way the world defines and views disability. This amazing organization exists to make profound, positive differences in peoples’ lives and has been doing so for more than 100 years.

For the past 7 years, the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge’s strategy has been to advance disability representation in entertainment and cast disability in a new light. We are actively partnering alongside the entertainment industry to advance disability inclusion, break down misconceptions and stigmas, and make sure people with disabilities are included in front of and behind the camera.

Our work is paying off. In recent years, there have been a number of new TV shows that devote more airtime to giving dimension to disability and providing exciting new opportunities for actors with disabilities. Groundbreaking shows like Netflix’s Special, ABC’s Speechless and The Good Doctor have been leading the charge in hiring and featuring people with disabilities both in front of and behind the camera.

The Good Doctor in particular has been a great example of not only featuring a young surgeon with autism and savant syndrome in a lead role, but also continually hiring actors with physical and cognitive disabilities as guest stars on the show. The show recently won the Visionary Award at the 2019 Media Access Awards. It helps that the writing staff includes David Renaud, a wheelchair user who can authentically speak to disability and often writes it into his episodes. I was lucky enough to get to know David through my involvement with the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge and he was gracious to think of me while writing an episode this season. This Monday night I have the honor of being a guest star on The Good Doctor.

It’s so exciting to experience a real-life example of how Easterseals is advancing careers for people with disabilities in Hollywood, and how it is having a tremendous impact on the way the world defines and views disabilities as a result. The power of quality storytelling is its ability to influence, inspire and change people’s perceptions about who we are, how we see ourselves and how we understand and empathize with other people. Having the opportunity to be on The Good Doctor is incredibly flattering. It fuels me as I look forward to this year’s Easterseals Disability Film Challenge in April to ensure we continue see our participants get jobs as a direct result of the film challenge. We’ve had great success stories of participants guest starring on hit shows like Loudermilk and many exciting soon-to-be-announced projects, as well as opportunities to work behind the camera in film and TV.

This is an exciting milestone, and I will continue to do everything I can to make sure others like me have every opportunity in show business, or in life, to do and be whatever it is they dream.

TUNE IN MONDAY, MARCH 9

“Heartbreak” – Dr. Claire Browne and Dr. Shaun Murphy treat a patient with a rare form of dwarfism. Meanwhile, Dr. Morgan Reznick, Dr. Audrey Lim and Dr. Alex Park treat a young man who had both arms torn off in a previous farming accident and Shaun reacts to an emotional situation, on a new episode of “The Good Doctor,” MONDAY, MARCH 9 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST), on ABC. (TV-14) Episodes can also be viewed the next day on ABC.com, the ABC app and Hulu.

Watch a clip below:

 

 

Ready for your close-up?

close up of a camera lens Are you a person with a disability who is interested in modeling? Or do you support someone with a disability who would like to be a model? Now’s your chance!

Illinois ABLE is putting together a new web site and promotional materials and is looking for models with disabilities of all ages, gender, disability type, and ethnicity to represent the diversity of disability and let other individuals with disabilities and their families know about the many benefits of saving through an ABLE account.

What’s an ABLE account, you ask? Well,back in 2014, thanks to the support of Easterseals and countless other advocacy organizations, lawmakers came up with a savings tool to help families save for the future needs of their children with disabilities. The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) ACT was signed into law that year, introducing a way for families with special needs to save in a tax-advantaged ABLE account as a supplement to private insurance and government benefits.

But back to the casting call. Participation requires travel to either Chicago or Springfield, Illinois at the participant’s own expense, but models will receive $300 if chosen. Photo shoots will occur in Chicago on Monday, March 9, 2020 and in Springfield on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. Not every applicant will be selected to participate, but hey, you don’t even have a chance if you don’t apply! Fill out the application here no later than Monday, March 2nd, 2020 and add an optional photo if you wish. If selected, you may appear on the Illinois ABLE website, social media channels, brochures, and/or in promotional ads for Illinois ABLE. Good luck!

 

Alicia’s First Solo Flight, Part Three: The Seasoned Traveler

Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of Alicia’s story.

The week I spent in Houston was one I won’t soon forget – I met new friends, visited new places, and got to experience a different perspective on the blind community. The drive back to William P. Hobby airport one week later didn’t make me nervous at all. I’d been through this before, and I knew what to expect this time. Juan’s dad was the one who took me to the Houston airport, and the walk from the parking lot to the entrance of the airport was long, and that wasn’t all: we had to walk even further inside to get to the ticket counter.

Once again, I requested assistance, but this time I didn’t have to sit there by myself waiting for the skycap to get there. Juan and his dad waited with me at the designated waiting area.

So I’d be flying on my own again, but this time everything felt different. The wait felt different because I was less anxious. I knew they wouldn’t forget me. The prospect of flying alone again felt different because I wasn’t nervous. I felt more confident, this sense of freedom and independence, and happy that Juan and his family made it possible.

When the airline assistant arrived, he was a bit confused to see Juan and me standing together. “Oh, am I helping both of you?” he asked – not in a patronizing way, but just for clarification. “I can get someone else to come and assist too,” he added.

“Oh, no, it’s just her traveling,” Juan clarified. His dad looked my way and added, “We’d like to walk with you just to make sure you make it to security, if that’s okay.”

“That’s fine,” I replied, and we all four chatted as we walked – Juan’s dad, Juan, the assistant and me. This assistant wasn’t as energetic and talkative as the one I’d had in Chicago, but he was still nice and I was impressed to have learned that they were prepared to help both of us if need be.

I did not take the wheelchair ride on the way back, deciding to walk instead. The walk was long, and we stopped at the security line to say goodbye. I thanked both Juan and his dad for having me, and they both said they hope I visit soon. “I’m glad you finally got to fly yourself,” Juan said.

Having known me for quite some time, he’d heard me talk about how much I’d wanted to fly all by myself and I finally did. But hearing it – hearing someone say they were happy I finally accomplished this – made me smile. “Text me when you land,” he added.

The security line was not long, and after we were done at TSA I did the same things I’d done at Midway Airport in Chicago – I stopped at the family style restroom, I filled up my water bottle, and I got assisted to the gate.

The only thing that made me nervous this time was when the airline assistant informed me that the gate agent wasn’t currently present. “Okay, but…but someone needs to know that I’m doing pre-boarding and need assistance,” I said, trying to keep the panic out of my voice. When I get too nervous and anxious, my tone tends to come off more forceful than I intend, and I wanted to prevent that.

“They will,” he assured me. “And I’m going to put you in this wheelchair, because they’re more likely to notice you, and they’ll know you need help.” He did just that, and five minutes later, he approached me again to tell me that he spoke with the gate agent who would be coming to talk to me shortly.

The agent approached me a few minutes later just to check on me. He asked how I was doing and assured me that he knew I needed assistance. When it was time to pre-board, I held the agent’s arm as he guided me down the jetway and on to the plane. From there the flight attendant took over and led me to my seat.

The flight home felt short. Maybe that’s because I slept through more than half of it! When we landed, I sent a text to my parents to let them know. My mom texted back to let me know she was at baggage claim. I was the last one

off the plane, and the “meet and assist” (what they call the person helping you at the gate) was chatty and full of energy, even for the late hour of 11pm.

We talked about the weather, my trip, and my first solo flight. All the chatter made the walk from the gate seem shorter than it was, and my mom was there at baggage claim waiting for me with a cheery, “Hey! We missed you!”

I am writing this having been home for two weeks, and the feeling of liberation still hasn’t left me. Flying alone has always been a goal of mine, and at the very start of 2020, I checked it off my list. I hope that means things can only go up from here, and I’m in for a good rest of the year.

 

Alicia’s First Solo Flight, Part Two: Taking Off

an airplane taking off on a runwayHave you read the first part of Alicia’s Story? Check it out!

My parents drove me to Chicago Midway airport for my flight. I had been a little nervous that morning, but once I realized weather wasn’t going to stop me, excitement took over. The anxiety about my first time flying alone started to fade, and I could sit in the car and enjoy the ride.

A good 45 minutes later, my dad was driving circles in the parking lot while my mom led me inside to the ticket counter. My dad had told me they could get special passes to take me from the ticket counter to the gate, but I said no. “The point of this is for me to do this by myself,” I explained to him. He understood. I think. No matter how old you are, or how much you’ve prepared for something, parents always worry about their kids. Then, add a disability to the mix.

At the ticket counter, I showed my ID and requested assistance to my gate. Mom led me to a seat to wait for airport assistance, said goodbye, told me to have fun, and left.

This was the worst part. What is considered a normal wait time? “I’ve been waiting for like 10 minutes,” I texted my friend Juan in Houston. “Is this normal?” He replied in less than a minute: Yes!” Another friend I texted sent a reassuring reply: “They won’t forget about you.”

And they didn’t.

“Ali?” a man said, standing a few feet away. I stood up, smiling. “Hi! Yep, that’s me!”

“Do you need a wheelchair?” he asked me. I thought for a second. I had anticipated this question — when I asked my blind friends about what to expect from airline assistance, they told me that this wheelchair question is very common. Oddly enough, I didn’t have an answer. I wasn’t sure I wanted the ride. “I mean…I don’t need one, but if it’s faster, sure.”

He helped me into the wheelchair, and I laughed and made some light-hearted joke about how I didn’t know what I was doing. “I’ve never been in a wheelchair in my life!”

We zoomed down some hallways, took an elevator down, zoomed down more empty hallways, and wound up at the front of the security line with two people ahead of us. I was instructed to put my phone in my purse, so I did. The skycap took my things, I stood up, and walked through security.

“Okay, you’re through,” the TSA agent said. She sounded friendly and I could tell she was smiling. I smiled back.

“Okay, awesome!” I said – which, okay, probably isn’t your typical response at TSA, but I was feeling so excited and proud of myself that I couldn’t help but call it the way I saw it: it was awesome. The TSA agent laughed. “Is this your first time flying?”

“Sort of,” I said, explaining this was my first solo flight. “I’ve always flown with my parents.” Just then the airline assistant returned with the wheelchair, my purse and my cane. Once I was seated and situated again, the skycap placed my suitcase on my lap. “Before we go to the gate, can we stop at a restroom?” I asked, letting him know I prefer the family style ones. “Those are one-person, right?”

The skycap confirmed that yes, they were, and we started moving again. “Okay, then that would be great if possible, and not too much of an inconvenience. I just hate public restrooms, you know? Wandering around looking for everything,” I laughed. The assistant laughed, agreeing with me. As we rode along, I pulled out my phone and texted my parents that I’d made it through security.

After the restroom I asked for one more request. “Can we go somewhere to fill up my water bottle?” I apologized after I asked. That’s something I’m trying to work on. His job is to assist me; I don’t need to apologize for said assistance. We filled my water bottle and then headed for the gate.

“Can you let the gate agent know I’m here? I’m doing pre-boarding, so I’ll need help,” I told the airline assistant as I got out of the wheelchair and sat at a regular seat. “Absolutely,” he said.

I tipped him when he returned, and he thanked me and went on his way. A lady across from me called out to me then. “Excuse me, mis?” she said. “I can help you as well, if you’d like.”

“Thanks…the airport provides assistance, though, so the gate agent knows I’m here,” I replied. It’s not that I didn’t trust her, but I felt more comfortable having an airport employee help me on the plane than anyone else, just for the sake of assurance that they knew I was there. Or that I’d actually get on. And that’s when I texted my parents (and Juan) to let them know I was waiting at the gate. I’d promised my parents I would text them with updates along the way.

Stay tuned for Part Three, where Alicia talks about how her second solo flight, the trip back to Chicago from Houston, compared to the first time she’d ever flown on her own, and how it feels now to be a seasoned traveler.

 

Studies Show You Can’t Trust Diabetic Alert Dogs to Detect Blood Sugar Levels

a heart monitor graph illustrationI have Type 1 diabetes and have never trusted dog-training companies that claim that dogs can help detect low and high blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. A story called The Hope and Hype of Diabetic Alert Dogs that aired yesterday on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered program tells me I was right to have my doubts.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that can be difficult to manage. We use handheld glucometers or other technologies throughout the day and night to check the amount of sugar in our bloodstream. Low blood sugars can lead to poor judgment, loss of consciousness, even death; over time, high blood sugar levels can cause kidney disease and sight loss. I was diagnosed at age 7, before home blood sugar monitoring was available. Type 1 diabetes is what caused my blindness.

The story mentions a lawsuit where a group of more than a dozen people with diabetes, each of whom had spent $15,000 for a so-called diabetic alert dog sued a trainer for fraud and won a judgment for $800,000. It also reported that Virginia’s attorney general sued a service dog vendor after customer complaints about its dogs, which were marketed as “backed by science” and “100 percent effective.” The piece referred to research on diabetic alert dogs in a 2017 study done by psychologist Linda Gonder-Frederick at University of Virginia. From the story:

Before the study, their owners believed the dogs would prove more accurate than their glucose monitor devices. That didn’t happen.
“Overall, they really were not that reliable or accurate,” she says.

Another Oregon researcher did a study of diabetic alert dogs in 2016 and found only 12% of the dogs’ alerts happened during actual low blood sugar events, and the dogs also had false positives.

The NPR Story comes right out and says it: diabetic alert dogs can’t reliably detect blood sugar changes from diabetes. More than a million Americans have Type 1 diabetes, and many of us with Type 1 wish desperately that dogs could help. I am grateful to NPR for setting this straight, and leave you with this very important warning for parents from the story:

Her research also contradicted what some believe — or hope — is true: That the dogs can be a good safety net for those who worry about blood sugar dropping as they sleep. Some parents have turned to the dogs to safeguard their children during the night.
“The accuracy just plummeted during the night. Dogs have to sleep too. Obviously, a dog cannot work 24/7,” Gonder-Frederick says.

 

Alicia’s First Solo Flight, Part One: Getting to the Airport

I Three luggage bags of different colorlove traveling. I don’t need a big, extravagant trip to feel pleased about my travel abilities, either. Just taking the train to downtown Chicago is enough to make me feel proud of myself, simply because I did it by myself – or at the very least, without my parents.

I’ve taken cabs, buses, Ubers, Amtrak and Metra trains all by myself. I’ve flown many times before, but always with my parents.

I have friends who are also blind and have flown countless times, and thinking about them always left me feeling a mixture of pride and envy. I was proud of them for their independence, but also envious, wishing I had that kind of courage. I really wanted to challenge myself, so I set a goal: this year, 2020, I would fly alone at least once.

A friend of mine who is blind flew out to Chicago from Houston in November to celebrate my birthday with a group of friends, and while Juan was here we discussed my “first solo flight” idea further. I asked him question after question about everything. What airline do you recommend? Any specific airport? Do you do curbside check-in or go to the counter? How did your parents react? Juan’s parents seem similar to mine, especially in how they raised us as children with disabilities. So hearing how his parents reacted to him flying alone gave me the last boost of confidence I needed. Juan invited me to come to visit him and his family in Houston, and I started looking up flights. Imagine how hard it was to get through finals week – my last finals week, no less, as I graduated in December! – spending every minute of my free time looking up airfares. The affordable prices were taunting me.

I was so tempted to act first and think later – buy the tickets, then tell my parents about it. Realistically, I’d never do that, but checking fares and checking my bank account, knowing I could actually afford this…it all amped up the excitement. I can do this!

My parents were very encouraging, and my dad helped me book my flight on the Southwest website. I was pleased that the Southwest website provided me the option to check a checkbox indicating I am blind and needed gate assistance. A few days before the trip I had been waiting so long for, an anticipated snow storm threatened to ruin the entire thing. I spent the day before and the day of the trip asking our Google home device how much snow was expected, already jumping ahead and asking Juan for alternative dates for me to fly from Chicago just in case. He wasn’t worried at all. “This is how Chicago always is!” he laughed. “You’re always supposed to get a storm – it won’t happen.”

And it didn’t!

Stay tuned for Part Two, where Alicia talks about waiting for airport assistance, getting through airport security with a white cane, and, eventually, sitting in the plane ready for take-off.

 

How to Let the Department of Transportation Know Your Thoughts: Service Animals on Planes

A service dog lying down

Late last month the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) concerning traveling by air with service animals. What that means is that the DOT has once again released a document proposing new regulations governing air travel with service animals.

So here’s where you come in: DOT is giving the public 60 days to comment on the proposed regulations, and the NPRM can be accessed here along with a summary created by DOT with the main points. Some tips for locating the section if you wish to comment:

  1. Find a link at the end of the summary with the docket number associated with the NPRM
  2. Hit enter on the docket number and you’ll get to a page with a “comment now” button
  3. Hit that button to get to the form where you can submit your comments

Remember, the proposed regulations are not yet law. So far they are just proposals to change the law. I just flew home to Chicago from Newark a couple weeks ago, so I can vouch for that: laws regarding service animals on planes have not yet changed. The DOT says they will not issue final new regulations until they have reviewed public comments.

All that said, given DOT’s current enforcement priorities, you might want to check on your specific airline’s policies before you fly. Think about keeping your animal’s health record with you when you’re taking a plane anywhere: it is sometimes difficult to determine if a specific airline will ask you to show it, so may as well be prepared.

 

The First National Journalism Contest Devoted Exclusively to Disability Coverage

a microphoneWhile at the Seeing Eye training with my new dog, a woman in a dorm room across the hall introduced herself to me as Katherine Schneider. The name sounded familiar. Guess what? She’s the very Katherine Schneider who funds the Schneider Journalism Award for Excellence in Reporting on Disability. Here from the American Media Institute web site:

The Schneider Award is the first national journalism contest devoted exclusively to disability coverage. It is administered by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, under a grant from Katherine Schneider, a retired clinical psychologist who also supports the Schneider Family Book Award. That award is administered by the American Library Association and honors the best children’s book each year that captures the disability experience for children and adolescents.

Pretty cool, eh? Katherine was born blind, and at dinner last night she told me the winners of the Schneider Family Children’s Book Award will be announced in a few weeks. I’ll publish a post announcing those winners when that announcement is made.

Winners of the Katherine Schneider Journalism Award have already been announced, and Katherine told me the work for the committee choosing those award winners gets harder every year. “This year they reviewed over a hundred pieces of journalism from all over the world,” she said. Judges for the journalism award make their decisions by considering how well submissions:

  • Explore and illuminate key legal or judicial issues regarding the treatment of people with disabilities
  • Explore and illuminate government policies and practices regarding disabilities
  • Explore and illuminate practices of private companies and organizations regarding disabilities
  • Go beyond the ordinary in conveying the challenges experienced by people living with disabilities and strategies for meeting these challenges
  • Offer balanced accounts of key points of controversy in the field and provide useful information to the general public

Special consideration is given to entries that are accessible to those with disabilities (for example, broadcast pieces that are available in transcript form and text stories that are accessible to screen readers.)

For 2019, first place in the large media market category was awarded to Right to Fail, Living Apart, Coming Undone an in-depth investigation by ProPublica and PBS Frontline in collaboration with The New York Times. First place in the small media market category was awarded to You’re Not Alone, a collaborative documentary between the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Milwaukee PBS that followed the lives of four young people from Wisconsin as they navigated mental health challenges — the final product included a suicide prevention toolkit at jsonline.com/yourenotalone. Second and third-place awards went to Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, Radiolab, The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina,
and Searchlight New Mexico. Judges also awarded honorable mentions to The Arizona Republic as well as the Texas Tribune.

Visit Katherine Schneider’s blog, Kathie Comments, to learn more about Dr. Schneider, the Schneider award for journalism, and the Schneider Award for children’s books. What can I say? I always meet amazing people during my stays at The Seeing Eye, and getting to know Katherine has been a real privilege. I’d say more, but it’s time to head outside with our new dogs. Today’s a solo route!

 

What’s it Like to Train with a New Seeing Eye Dog?

a service dog in a harnessEarlier this month, we published a post I wrote about flying to the Seeing Eye School in New Jersey to spend three weeks training with a new Seeing Eye dog. I’m very happy to report I made it safely to Newark International Airport, caught my ride from there to Morristown and have already been matched with a sweet one-and-a-half-year-old female Black Labrador Retriever. Well then, you ask, how’s life at the Seeing Eye? Here’s an account of how a typical morning goes here — this all happened last Friday:

    • 5:30 a.m. Music comes through intercoms to wake us up. The day before we were matched with our dogs it was Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.” This morning it was The Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love.” Every day, a different song to wake us up.
    • 5:35 Dress up warm, then out to the courtyard for “park time.” Twenty blind people circle their dogs around them, all urging our dog to empty. Trainers are with us and call out to let us know when we’ve had success: “#1 for Dilbert!” and Dilbert’s owner whoops it up to encourage him to always go on command. “Harry has a #2!” And his owner squeals with delight. Today was a red letter day, my dog did her #1 AND #2 fairly quickly: once they do both you can have them lead you back into the building (and warmth!) using the “inside!” command.
    • 5:45 Enter room, command your dog to “Go to your place.” Her “place” is her crate, and you leave your dog in her crate while you dish out one-and-a-half cups dry dog food from the tightly-closed bin on the floor near our dorm room door.
    • Zip open crate, say and repeat the word “rest” as you place the dish in front of her. Keep saying “rest” until you stand up, clap your hands and happily call out, “Take it!” Your dog must stay in the crate by the bedpost until you say those magic words. If they go after the food before those magic words, you pick up the food and go through the entire routine again–she can’t have her food until she stays in her place.
    • 5:50 Your dog inhales her food, then you “heel” her to the bathroom (heel as in walk with leash, but no harness), measure out two cups of water, she drinks what she wants, and you empty
      Photo taken during warm weather of an obstacle course that trainers use to teach dogs how to lead their eventual companions.

      The dogs work hard even before they meet their human companions. Here, a trainer teaches a dog how to lead around common obstacles.

      out any water she didn’t drink. She only gets water when you give it to her, part of the “bonding.” She better follow my commands and keep me safe so that she can have water!

    • 5:57 Clean out empty bowls with a little squeegee thing they gave us to do so, put bowls back on their shelf (above toilet) in bathroom.
    • 6:05 a.m.: I don’t know what others do, but I make myself a cup of instant coffee using this groovy collapsible “hot pot” my husband bought me for my birthday last month.
    • 6:15 Check email.
    • 6:30 Shower.
    • 6:45 Call “6368” on desk phone to hear what the menu for today is, check blood sugar and take appropriate insulin to cover breakfast.
    • 6:55 Announcement over intercom “first floor ladies, head down to the dining room” or “men from upstairs, start heading to breakfast.” We all parade down to the dining room, our dogs leading the way.
    • 7:00 Each student has an assigned seat in the dining room, we give dogs a series of commands to go “left” “forward” or “right” to get to our seat and praise them when they achieve their goal.
    • 7:15 Breakfast. The dining room is lovely, white tablecloths and all. Waiters and waitresses come to get our orders so the dogs will know how to act in a restaurant.
    • 8:00 Off in vans to training center in downtown Morristown.
    • 8:15 Today we are practicing our “solo” route. We’ve been practicing a route around Morristown for the past couple days. The route includes T-intersections, four-way stoplights, a two-way stop sign, talking walk signals, left turns, two right turns. Our “solo trip” is Sunday, and during the solo the trainer is still behind us, but quite a distance.

Uh-oh. Announcement over intercom just sounded: time to head to the vans to downtown Morristown. It’s not even 8:00 a.m. yet!

 

Enjoy the Sounds of Ohio’s Blind Marching Band

members of the marching band hold up banner and play instruments during a paradeWhat? You didn’t see the Ohio School for the Blind (OSSB) Marching band leading the Outback Bowl Parade on New Year’s Eve? I didn’t, either.

I have an excuse,though: I can’t see!

I can tell you this, though: the world’s only blind marching band sure sounded fabulous, and if you missed it, don’t fret:you can see – and hear – highlights here.

Comprised of 7th through 12th graders from across the state of Ohio, the OSSB marching band not only marched in the parade but also performed with other high school bands during the halftime show on New Year’s Day.

Community volunteers act as marching assistants to guide the musicians while on and off the field. “They know their steps already,” a marching assistant named Sandy Wilson explained in a Bay News story about the OSSB marching band. “We just sort of help them make sure they stay in line.”

The Music Intstruction page on the Ohio State School for the Blind web site explains their emphasis on music:

Music is an essential part of the education at OSSB. Since most of our students have little to no vision, music takes on added significance as the most approachable art form in which they can participate.

All students at OSSB take music classes, and students learn to play by ear and read music Braille as well. Guests from the Artist in Residence program present lessons that expose the students to music of other countries, allowing educators to promote cultural diversity and tolerance. The emphasis of music at that school is obvious from their scheduling:

  • Private lessons occur once a week
  • Multiple students with disabilities have music three times a week
  • Jr. High Students have music five times a week
  • High School Choir meets five times a week
  • High School Marching Band meets five times a week, holds a marching practice once a week during football season, and Participants must also attend a week long band camp during the summer

The blind marching band plays at area football games, performs as a pep band at the Ohio School for the Deaf basketball games, and travels to events in and outside of Ohio –they marched in the Rose Bowl parade a few years before appearing at this year’s Outback Bowl. A 14-year-old drummer in the band did a beautiful job expressing the importance of performances like these in that Bay News story: “Some people think that even though we’re blind that we’re not capable of performing,” she said. “I want them to be happy and amazed after our performance, I want them to think like, ‘wow, they really are the only blind band in the world and they can play music and they can do everything just like any other band.'”

Back in high school I was in the marching band.

Back in high school I was in the marching band.

I was in my high school marching band back when I was a teenager. I was a pretty gawky teen, never had a boyfriend, never went to prom. But I had a ball in the band, especially on bus rides to and from performances at other schools and in other states. Many of my closest friends today are kids I met in marching band, and I trust the same will be true for these kids from Ohio. March on!