9 Questions Kids Ask About Blindness

My Seeing Eye dog Whitney and I took a commuter train to a Chicago suburb last week to talk with third graders. It was Disability Awareness Week at Wilmot Elementary in Deerfield, and I was there to talk about what it’s like to be blind and get around with a Seeing Eye dog.

Whit's always up for a class visit.

Whit’s always up for a class visit.

I started our presentation to the eight- and nine-year-olds explaining three rules to keep in mind if they happen to see a guide dog with a harness on: don’t pet the dog, don’t feed the dog, and don’t call out the dog’s name. “Those things can distract a Seeing Eye dog,” I told them. “It’d be like if someone nudged you or kept calling your name while you were working on your spelling words at school. You wouldn’t be able to concentrate on your work.”

I suggested we come up with a fake name for Whitney. “We’re going to be here at your school for a while today, and you might want to say hello if you see us in the hallway,” I said, explaining that if they use my Seeing Eye dog’s fake name to say hello, Whitney wouldn’t look their way and get distracted from her work — she wouldn’t realize they were talking to her.

I asked the kids what their principal’s name was. “Mrs. Brett!” they called out. “Does anyone know Mrs. Brett’s first name?” I asked. After a moment of silence, one sweet little voice rang out. “I do! It’s Eileen.” And so, it was agreed. The kids would call Whitney by her code name: Eileen.

Most of the questions during the Q&A part of the session had more to do with blindness than dogs:

  • Your dog is really cute. Do you know what she looks like?
  • How do you drive, I mean, like, can you?
  • How do you know what to wear?
  • Did you ever bring your dog to the vet and then he had to stay in the hospital?
  • How do you get in and out of bed?
  • Do you ever even get into a car?
  • Do you know what made you blind?
  • Isn’t it hard to get around when you can’t see?
  • Does it ever make you feel sorry being blind?

I tell kids at school visits they can ask me anything. I promise to give an honest answer, so when that last question was asked I had to say yes, sometimes I do feel sorry being blind. “Not right now, though,” I was able to answer sincerely. “Just being here with you guys, hearing your smart questions? That makes me feel happy!”


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